Friday, December 14, 2018

More of the Same

The Threepenny Opera (1931)

Director: G.W. Pabst

Notable Stars: I have the impression that Lotte Lenya is something of a name. Doubtless several of the other actors are substantial figures in German cinematic history but none of them are as yet familiar to me.

Did I like it? I found it difficult to self-generate any kind of response to it, positive or negative.

What I remember: All of these Weimar Republic era movies, especially the very late ones, are almost impossible to have any thoughts about without reference to the period that followed. This has the oppressive atmosphere, the hard characters and the air of cynicism that I associate with this family of movies, though I was unable to break through this impression to detect anything I thought was grand. Based on the 18th century John Gay play The Beggar's Opera, it is nominally set in London, but there is nothing about it that evokes any sense of London in any period whatsoever. While this may be an unimportant detail, it is nonetheless strange.

What I associate it with: M

Immortal (2004)

Director: Enki Bilal

Notable Stars: Charlotte Rampling

Did I like it? No

What I remember: It's set in 2095, when my daughters will be 80 and 84, and my sons, if any of them are still around, 86, 89, 92 & 93. The future, as always, appears to be even more seriously horrible than the present. There's no romance, no fun music, no sunshine actually--is that a side effect of climate change? People are killed a lot. Some of them are genetically enhanced, which seems to make them more coldly rational and heartless. It's based on a comic book/graphic novel. I don't care about it.

What I associate it with: Avatar? I don't know, I don't watch these kinds of movies for the most part.

The art of the modern world is absolutely killing me.

About Time (2013)

Director: Richard Curtis

Notable Stars: Rachel McAdams, Bill Nighy, the guy who played Levin in Anna Karenina.

Did I like it? I am ashamed to admit it, but at the time, yes. The explanation in the next section will hopefully put this in some context.

What I remember: This was not on any of my lists. My wife had seen it on an airplane, and when I had my kidney stone last December at this very time and was laid up in bed for a week and had a catheter in and was feeling like my life was essentially over she made me watch this ridiculous English movie (from the same team that foisted the gross Love, Actually, which I genuinely detest, on the world) about a young man of the geeky type who has the ability to travel in time, though generally only in short distances, because when you go back too far the consequences of changing your past have too many other effects, including altering the genes of people not yet born, etc. However if you make a false step in talking to a girl or not being aggressive enough in bed or whatever, you can keep going back 5 minutes or a half an hour and try something else until you get a more satisfactory outcome. Rachel McAdams is a sweet-faced Canadian. She is also renowned as a activist for environmentalism and other left-wing causes, I am not sure how ferociously. Apparently Zooey Deschanel was originally supposed to have her role and she probably would have carried it off well enough too, but it would have been more playing to type for her, and I liked Rachel McAdams' presentation of the character. After being shell-shocked from all of the nihilistic modern movies full of mumbling dialogue, I was softened up enough to find the Bill Nighy (an actor I usually find annoying) character's propensity for quoting Dickens and finding consolation in the civilized pleasures of life a welcome diversion. If one were more critical one could take issue with the family's self-satisfied bourgeois smugness and apparently unassailable comfort and financial security--I believe they are all academics and lawyers in the most respectable tracks of those professions--but obviously I would like nothing more at this point than to have those comforts myself, my desire for which is much stronger than any I have to man the barricades (which desire Rachel McAdams, a participant in the "Occupy" movement, ironically does have). The occasion on which the Levin actor met Rachel, his love interest, for the 1st time, took place on a blind date type event in London in which the various opposed types--this is the kind of movie that wants to present itself as believing that same sex and other non-heterosexual orientations and couplings are completely socially mainstream--go separately into a basement restaurant in complete darkness where they are seated at a table with possible dating partners who they are supposed to talk to while being served a meal by blind waiters. It struck me as a quintessentially ridiculous 21st century ultra first world rich city idea while also making me kind of wistful at having both aged out of and been largely priced out of taking part in such scenes. The mere thought of having to sit alert for two hours and try to eat a meal and try hopelessly to make out what any women I might be talking to looked like in complete darkness caused my eyes to be possessed by a kind of panic though.

I associate this with: Four Weddings and a Funeral, which the only other modern British movie of this type (romance among young professionals) that I can bear.

The Man With the Golden Arm (1955)

Director: Otto Preminger

Notable Stars: Frank Sinatra, Kim Novak, Eleanor Parker.

Did I like it? Yes. I love the down and out 1950s (cinematic version) pretty much everywhere it turns up.

What I remember: Great jazz soundtrack by Elmer Bernstein (we'll see him again later). I've always thought Frank Sinatra was quite good as an actor. He did not, prior to 1960 or so at least, often play Himself, or the popular image of Himself, that has come down to us. He frequently played a scrappy underdog or deeply troubled type of character, and played them endearingly. The atmosphere of the dingy bars and apartments of this era in glorious black and white. Eleanor Parker's hair and skin tone. Kim Novak's hair and skin tone. Connection with late 40s/50s literary scene through the novel on which the movie is based, which I haven't read however.

Associated in my mind with: On the Waterfront, Edge of the City

Far From Heaven (2002)

Director: Todd Haynes

Notable Stars: Julianne Moore, Dennis Quaid, Patricia Clarkson. I'm not a great fan of any of these people, but I can't pretend to not know who they are.

Did I like it? I have to admit I do like it. The story was not anything I thought great, but it is a gorgeous movie, and as a visual homage to the Sirk pictures of the 50s and the general nostalgic fantasies that have grown up around that period it strikes the right note a lot.

What I remember: While I don't have any better suggestions for what might have been done with the plot other than having more original treatments of the two major themes of repressed (though by the end not very) homosexuality and vile racism against the backdrop of evil 1950s society. The black character who befriends Julianne Moore checks off every box in the educated white liberal imagination: he is dignified, cultured, hardworking, entrepreneurial, an expert botanist, (tragically) a widower who is devoted to his daughter as well as an aging parent, he is constantly harassed and condescended to by moronic whites who don't have a tenth part of his intellect, grace, or character. Not that a person like this couldn't have existed, of course, but all of these qualities existing in the same person while suffering from oppression seems a little heavy-handed. Dennis Quaid's secretly gay corporate 50s man in the gray flannel suit on the other hand is so physically overwhelmed by the pull of his true orientation that everything else in his life has to be cast to the winds so that he can indulge whole hog in the love he craves. That aside I do love this particular recreation of 1957 Connecticut, though it is over the top in its preciousness as well, down to the dreamy blue title letters and the soundtrack by authentic 50s composer Elmer Bernstein, the same guy who wrote the music 47 years earlier for the just catalogued Man With the Golden Arm. He died in 2004 at the age of 82.

I associate this with: What you would expect. The authentic 50s movies, Sirk, et al, plus the more recent Mad Men type stabs at the era. But no direct companion stands out.

Trainspotting (1996)

Director: Danny Boyle

Notable Stars: Robert Carlyle became kind of famous, and Ewan McGregor I think became even more famous, though he isn't someone I usually take note of even when I see something he is in.
Did I like it? Yes, it is really good. I actually saw this in a theater in Prague when it initially came out, and I'm sure I thought it was good then, but when it came up now I had my doubts as to how well it would hold up, but upon seeing it again I was really impressed by how good it is, it's fantastic even. It's hard now at a remove of some months to exactly explain why this is so, but it gets so many things right, pace, energy, mood, the various scenes feel authentic but also feel like something actually important is at stake, which is remarkable for a movie about a bunch of heroin addicts and thugs in Scotland whose lives in conventional terms "aren't going anywhere." It is inventive in a genuinely interesting way. It never feels dated or obsolete even though it obviously takes place in a different time and predates the internet and other systems and attitudes characteristic of the present.

What I remember: I kind of summed up my impression above, but I still haven't put my finger on what is so effective about this movie. It is very good at inducing a sense of longing, for love or some approximation of it, or comfort, or joy or some thrill, and occasionally something like these desires actually come to fruition, but very fleetingly, at matter or seconds or minutes at best. I suppose the whole pattern of life is very much like this, which is why the movie works so well.

I associate this with: I don't know. Itself? It seems like there must be other movies like this, but they are all kind of rip-offs of this in one way or another.

Throne of Blood (1957)

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Notable Stars: Toshiro Mifune. Isuzu Yamada is a legend among film snobs but this is the only thing I've seen her in so far.

Did I like it? I know it's a classic. I sometimes have trouble connecting with Kurosawa's samurai pictures (my favorite movie of his is The Idiot, which I love). I would love, at least in theory, to join some kind of film club that showed these films on a big screen and had some kind of drinks and hors d'oeuvres reception afterwards with light but intelligent discussion. However whenever you go to one of those things, at least if you are me, the people are never the crowd you were looking for.
Yes, this has come up here previously. This is another title that I watched on VHS while the DVD languished in the Netflix "unavailable" purgatory for eight years or so before suddenly appearing in my mailbox.

What I remember: I know it's Macbeth translated to a medieval Japanese setting. I remember a lot of scenes in the rain. The woods of Dunsinane scene was very well done. The madness of the two lead characters was by Western standards highly exaggerated but I guess it is characteristic of the Japanese tradition.

I associate this with: the 1950s Kurosawa canon

This stretch ended with quite a few good movies in a row. Our luck will not hold out (entirely) into the next set.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Movie Reviews End of November 2018

Silent House (2011)

Director: Chris Kentis & Laura Lau

Notable Stars: None, although Elizabeth Olsen is a sister of the once-famous child actors the Olsen twins. She was cute.

Did I like it?: No. It was boring.

What I remember about it: Not much. It was a remake of a Uruguayan movie, of all things, which I'm sure was awesome. For some reason which was never clear to me the titular house that was being remodeled had no electricity and the windows were all boarded up with boards that were effectively impossible to wrench off so that if you misplaced your flashlight you were in complete darkness. I have no recollection of what happened in the movie.

I associate this with: The third movie in this set, maybe, but really nothing.

King of the Ants (2003)

Director: Stuart Gordon

Notable Stars: George Wendt; late-80s era MTV bimbo Kari Wuhrer

Did I like it?: In spite of the excessive violence, I am going to say yes. It held my interest.

What I remember: There is an interesting dynamic going in that this starts out like a 90s era Generation X slacker movie--aimless guy sleeping on a futon looking for odd jobs, the presence of at least the 2 actors named above in an apparent indie movie--and then it transitions rather abruptly into the more sinister, ruthless, dystopian cinematic world that has been familiar to audiences since around this time. The George Wendt character is introduced as the kind of schlumpfy, house painter type guy that you would expect a 90s era George Wendt character to be, but he turns out to be a brutal, sadistic administer of violence, and a good one. He also wears t-shirts and shorts throughout so you can see how enormous he is, which is considerably more so than I had realized previously. I don't like Kari Wuhrer even though I find her alluring, which is unusual with me. She radiates bitchiness, which in itself of course is not an admissible criticism anymore in itself, but she doesn't compensate for this by ever being witty or incisive or any fun at all, so what's the point?

I associate this with: Some combination of Quentin Tarantino meets Kevin Smith meets Traffic meets whoever the big 21st century nihilists are in a dystopian California.

The Others (2001)

Director: Alejandro Amenabar

Notable Stars: Nicole Kidman. Christopher Eccleston, who has appeared in a couple of things that have been written up on this blog.

Did I like it? No. It's another movie full of scary weird people or people-like entities who obviously have something off about them. Not my type of film.

What I remember: The house is very nice. It's set in Britain in the 1940s, but since the children who live in it cannot be exposed to sunlight this is another movie that takes place largely in the dark, which having just seen Silent House was a plot device I was already weary of. This was a good example of how I have a hard time discerning by the style of filmmaking or theme in what year many movies since around 2000 were made, especially period pieces that don't give themselves away by what technology the characters have. By the time it came in the mail I had forgotten it was on the list or what year it was from, and I thought it was a relatively new movie. As such I found myself thinking throughout that Nicole Kidman, who I believe is older than I am (she is--she is 51 now, which would have made her 33 at the time this was filmed), looked remarkably good, and that the 1940s era hairstyle she was sporting really worked for her compared to the usual way of she wears her hair. It did not occur to me that the movie was actually 20 years old until I looked it up.

I associate this with: Everything wrong with modern movies. The production values are lush and beautiful, but the result is lifeless and unsatisfying.

Imitation of Life (1959)

Director: Douglas Sirk

Notable Stars: Lana Turner; Sandra Dee; Mahalia Jackson. Juanita Moore, who played Lana Turner's black maid, is much lauded for her role in this, for which she received an Oscar nomination. I have to admit I had never heard of her before this, though.

Did I like it? I think I like All That Heaven Allows better among the Douglas Sirk oeuvre, but compared to all the more recent stuff I've been making myself watch, this was like cultural oxygen.

What I remember: Personally I found it somewhat uneven and clunky. Sirk has come back in fashion  to a certain degree, but I don't always find that whatever it is people like about him overcomes his well-documented shortcomings, such as the extreme artificiality and heavy-handedness of his movies. This film is an adaptation of a novel by Fannie Hurst, a book which I have not read, though I did read another of her novels, Back Street, which is one of the most relentlessly depressing books I can recollect reading, though one which admittedly tackles some often overlooked subject matter. I wrote about it on my other blog. This story has a similar unsentimental and pessimistic underpinning though proximate to and in this instance even achieving a certain degree of worldly success. The most memorable storyline involves Juanita Moore's mulatto daughter who wants to pass as white once she becomes a teenager and is consequently resentful of her mother and wants nothing to do with her, though the mother has devoted her entire life to her. I have always been rather cold to my own mother in a similar way over the years, and have always wanted nothing more than to get away from her, because of my various unhappinesses with regard to my own social status and popularity and education level. I don't exactly believe that my failures in these areas were her fault, but she would never acknowledge, or more probably had no idea how serious and angry I was about them, and in any event she was incapable of doing anything that might improve my relative standing in any of these areas. Most people would say that at this point of my life I would have been able to move past this but no, I haven't, or at least do not want to. I may have come to some amount of peace with who I am now, but I have not been able to do the same with what I was in the important, formative years of my life. Anyway I have gotten away from the movie. The appearance of Mahalia Jackson was a highlight, and a surprise.    

I associate this with: Nothing, really. It doesn't specifically remind me of anything else.

Wilderness (2006)

Director: Michael J. Bassett

Notable stars: No one I am familiar with.

Did I like it? No. It's a British movie, and I think they have an even more dystopian view of life in the 21st century than we do.

What I remember: It's about a bunch of juvenile delinquents sent to a remote island which is already inhabited by other criminals, and in the ensuing conflict almost everyone dies by some kind of extreme violence. The dialogue does not share any lineage with the fizzy British stage  tradition either. I remember people being killed every few minutes, ambushes, things being burned, 2 girls being on the island among about 20 or 30 guys and one of them having sex, which I think was sort of consensual, in that she seems to picked a favorite out of the crowd, though abstinence probably would not have been a option. I was not into this. I am watching more of these modern movies to try to get a more nuanced understanding of what's going on in the present day world of my own adulthood. They are by and large not helping me.

I associate this with: Fish Tank, modern British crime shows emphasizing the psychological and physical hellscape that apparently a lot of people think England has become.

We're a long way from Stolen Kisses.

The Train (1964)

Director: John Frankenheimer

Notable Stars: Burt Lancaster, Paul Scofield, Jeanne Moreau. Now these are movie stars.

Did I like it? Of course. I cheated a little here, since I watched this and wrote about it for the blog back around 2010-11, and I have a policy generally about not repeating myself. However as I had watched it on VHS on that earlier occasion, and as it came available after sitting in my "saved" Netflix queue for the better part of a decade I took advantage of the opportunity to see it again. It does feature Nazis and there are firing squads and bullets to the head and crowds sprayed with machine gun fire and all of the well worn associations of the 2nd World War, so to criticize the other movies for their fixation on murder and blood while enjoying the wartime body count in this one because I find it more aesthetically to my taste seems not wholly consistent. The 1964 take on World War II does nod at least to the former existence of a fairly advanced civilization and the continued existence of individual people who have some such idea as a reference point, which saves films of this type from just being pointless demonstrations of depraved man's savage butchery without any redeeming higher qualities, which is how I experience these more modern movies.

What I remember: As I noted before, I love all of the old European railroad stuff, the stations, the yards, the iron and steel and grinding wheels, the little offices with their wooden file cabinets and their coffeepots. This was filmed in France and while my memory of that country is that much of the railroading scene had been modernized and suburbanized by the 90s, the aesthetic in Eastern Europe, the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, et al, was still similar to that depicted in this movie. The France presented here, while still somewhat romanticized, is nonetheless done so in a grimier and more elemental way than it is usually presented, especially by Americans. I even like Jeanne Moreau here, who in her immortal ur-French art movie roles is usually a little too complicated and lofty for me to appreciate.

I associate this with: Closely Watched Trains (for the railroad connection). I have not seen a lot of the classic World War II action movies that were ubiquitous in this era, to which family I imagine this movie belongs somewhat. They must not be rated very high.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001)

Director: Chris Columbus     

Notable Stars: You probably know.

Did I like it? Maybe it is because I have children and have been overexposed to them, but it seems that, in part because of the popularity of this series, there are so many movies like this now, and to me this didn't stand out from any of the other hundreds of kids' fantasy movies that have been released during the last 20 years. Ho hum. But obviously it is beloved by people of a certain age.

What I remember: There is a school story, and traditionally I have liked school stories. Maybe it is a generation gap problem, but the characters in this world do not grab me. Nor do I have any interest in the problems they face. The story isn't beautiful, or poignant, or profound, that I can see, and an air of self-satisfaction and arch runs through it that I find annoying.

I associate this with: Every carefully formulated kids' series of the last 20 years.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Post-Mortem on the Mid-Terms

Though I don't have anything pertinent to say about it, I did want to acknowledge the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that was marked the other day 2 and a half weeks ago. I don't know how important or how much influence the occasion of the World War has had on my life and thought compared with other people, I think something at least. In any event the anniversary seemed too important to let it pass without saying anything.

A couple of days before the mid-term election I took to Twitter for a rare 5-tweet "storm" expressing my feelings at the time about that spectacle, which fortunately I don't believe anyone read, but not willing to let any opportunity for emoting pass I will reproduce it here:

(1) I have no passion for voting in this upcoming election. Nothing is going to happen as a result of it that is going to make me happy. The exultation that others may feel if results go their way is nothing I will be able to share in (2) The left are the good people, I know, and I should desperately want them to prevail, but they are grown so obnoxious and condescending that the wailing and gnashing of teeth and rage that will emit from them if they lose is the only satisfying prospect to look forward to (3) even though they are so, so good and decent and high-minded and the only bulwark against a complete moral catastrophe and collapse and such national disgrace as can never be overcome. Yet somehow their goodness is of such a repellant quality that one dreads to see them triumphant. (4) The hope I suppose is that continued defeat and repudiation will humble them enough that some degree of introspection and re-humanization in their interactions with other people can take place and we can move forward soberly with the better of their ideas without all of the (5) militant posturing, self-righteousness, cackling and demonizing and hideous moral certitude. Until there are signs that such an evolution is underway, I am unable to take any interest in the success of these so very good people. Their goodness is too opaque to me.

I'm boiling off a little frustration here. In reality nobody cares much about me or has any interest in winning me back, or over, to their side. I am not a coveted entity, politically or otherwise, in 2018. Yet I must be subjected to the endless existential drama of everyone else's passions and righteous fury. I will admit, I am jealous. If I could just pick a position and throw myself into it whole-heartedly and pour out endless and unrestrained vitriol on my opponents secure in the love of my political allies all of this would be a lot more fun. But I cannot do that because I am not secure enough that the barbs of my enemies on either side do not sting.

As to the results I guess I am glad that the Democrats won the house, though I would not have been overly emotional if they had lost. I still voted for them, though they seem in their own way awful enough that I feel some need to justify myself in doing, though most people I know believe to do so is to be on the side of the angels. In New Hampshire, identity politics don't come into play, nor for the most part do culture war issues that elsewhere inspire outrageous demagoguery or behavior so as my overall leanings are in that direction, pro-workers, pro-keeping business interests somewhat under restraint, I am not conflicted about voting for them in state elections. I suspect that my congresswoman doesn't have any great love for men and would welcome the opportunity to be more antagonistic towards them and gloat over their comparative downfall but she has been able to maintain enough discipline in this area that I do not have any real cause for voting against her on these grounds. Overall I still suspect major political shifts and tumult are on the horizon over the next few cycles, though this election just past does not seem to be as momentous or decisive as may have been anticipated.

The prolific religious conservative blogger Rod Dreher, whom I read because he produces a lot of content and is attracted to the collapse of Western civilization narrative much like I suppose I am, had a post recently in which he encouraged people to write about their "political mental maps" by which he meant the events in one's (mostly) earlier life that had the most influence on his later political attitudes. This seemed like an interesting exercise. I never comment on other sites, but I started to write up a response to this. However it was taking so long and was so unwieldy that I abandoned it, though I thought it might be a good idea for a post here.

I was born in 1970. I do not have a focused political attitude, but if I had to describe myself as anything I think I would most qualify as a New Deal Democrat, 30s-60s era. Even in my childhood in the late 70s this model of government seemed to be so much the natural order of things that whatever complaints one might have about the system would necessarily have to be addressed within a general New Deal framework. Perhaps to my regret, I grew up in an environment where business people and anybody who appeared to care about money as a life pursuit more than the typical English professor would have found acceptable were regarded as more or less a danger to all normal people, and requiring strict oversight from the regular population to keep them in check. One of the interpretations I took from this was that I must be so firmly embedded among the anti-money grubbers that I would always be able to find some degree of protection among them from the worst depredations of capitalist society, which has not exactly happened, though at least I am not yet homeless or in prison. The AI and techno-driven future does not hold a lot of appeal to me, though as I get older and the years that I will have to try to navigate it grow smaller and perhaps more manageable, combined with the general and increasing hopelessness of huge masses of people younger than I am, I think I am less afraid of it. I don't have any idea how to specifically help my children get on (i.e., make enough money to not live in squalor) in this new age, though I guess they at least won't have some of the extreme handicaps that disadvantage other young people before they can even get in the arena. With regard to specific events/phenomena in historical time that had a big influence on me, I would say:

1. The decline of the great eastern cities and the accompanying crime explosion after 1965 which lasted through my entire childhood up to about my mid-20s. Growing up in the mid-Atlantic (predominantly just outside Philadelphia) this sense of everything having been considerably more lively and functional and cohesive until relatively recently cast a significant shadow over my youth and doubtless contributed to the propensity for nostalgia and living in an imagined past that I so often exhibit. I also feel like many of the real crime problems of that era have disappeared down the memory hole, or are laughed off now, but crime was a major election issue in every cycle I remember up to Clinton's first term in a way that it simply is not now. Our house was broken into on numerous occasions, and it would have been unthinkable for me to leave my bicycle or a football out or unattended on the lawn for two minutes, let alone ever leave a car or house unlocked. I lived in New Hampshire for years before I could get used to leaving my door unlocked when I was at home. Paranoia about being robbed especially, and to some extent being violently assaulted, though this latter never happened to me, was a mild concern of day to day life that has kind of gone away. How this influenced me politically I am not sure other than that it instilled the belief in me that the institutions and schools and social order that prevailed during the 1920-1965 period were more effective and conducive to human flourishing than what I knew in my own time. Something like the paternalistic liberalism that I identified as being predominant in that era informs my political sense to this day, though I don't think it is coming back as a force in the national life.

2. The hyperactive (hetero-)sexual environment of the 1970s and 80s, or at least my perception of it as a young person, has clearly had an ongoing negative effect on my whole outlook on and approach to life. I won't begin to get into it all today, but in general the desire (never realized of course) to be a great sexual winner in life overwhelmed every other interest and pursuit, stunted my development in other areas of life and totally warped my morals. For example I don't like Donald Trump and in theory I find some of his sexual behavior objectionable but, perhaps with the exception of the prostitutes and porn stars, which I am a little prudish about, it seems normal to me, the way any man not setting himself up as a moral paragon would behave if he could figure out how to get away with it, or could bring himself not to care about getting away with it. This affected my politics in the sense that, especially living in the northeast, by high school I had determined that the attractive girls I might have the best chance of getting any attention from tended to be the super squishiest liberals, which in truth at the time did make the prospect of leaning in that direction more appealing, since these girls I am thinking of were actually pretty nice and reasonable and didn't tend to make blanket condemnations of men and Western civilization on principle the way everybody seems to now (though judging by their social media presences some of them have definitely moved with the times in this regard).

3. The Berlin Wall falling. This was easily the most exciting political development at the time it happened that I can remember. In that fall of 1989 I was out of high school but not yet in a  college, total social isolation, misery, etc, and I remember being riveted by all of the people around my age who were shown celebrating and so on in the countries where this transition took place peacefully and being more convinced than ever that I was missing out on everything interesting that was going on in the world. This did end up being an event of no small significance in my own history since I did go to Prague about six years after that for a year or so, and while everyone assured me that already by that time it had been completely transformed from what it had been prior to 1989, I am sure life there has changed a great deal more than that since I left in 1997, since besides the changes in technology and the acceleration of the movement of peoples, a whole generation has grown that has no direct experience of nor to the same extent the ingrained habits and worldview of the Communist era. How this influenced my politics is hard to pinpoint, but certainly the bewildering direction that the world has gone in following the collapse of the Soviet Empire has not been anything like the future I anticipated, most of all culturally, I suppose. I am well aware that change and innovation and the possibilities unleashed by the aforementioned new technologies and cultural cross-fertilizations have been invigorating for most people, but these have tended to leave me disappointed and unfulfilled in my search for meaning as an adult in this world.

4. My college, at the time I went there anyway, was pretty non-political, and if anything being any kind of fanatical partisan was discouraged. A vending machine selling The Washington Post had been installed in the coffee shop within a couple of years of my matriculation, and this had been attended with some controversy apparently as introducing worldliness and contemporaneity where it was generally considered neither necessary nor desirable. This was in 1990. The idea I took away from all of this was not that one should not have sophisticated political views to the extent that that was possible so much as that attaching oneself exclusively to a particular faction or viewpoint made it unlikely that any such nuanced understanding could possibly come about.

5. The Internet and the Iraq War. The negative effects of the Internet on the politics and general psychology of modern man cannot be emphasized too strongly. One reason for this is doubtless the awareness of the amount of hatred so many people on all sides of the socio-political divides--including many of one's friends--apparently harbor towards those they consider their enemies, which I certainly was not aware of before the internet. The constant drama and grandstanding that internet platforms seem to inspire, with their tremendous outpourings of heat and limited quantities of light, is another development of my adult years that I have found discouraging and unsatisfying.
At the time it happened I regarded the rhetoric accompanying the Iraq War buildup, which I was convinced from the beginning by the bullying tone which its promoters adopted in pressing the issue on the public was nothing that the ordinary American citizen had any reason or obligation to support, as a defining test of the intellectual strength and courage of the portion of the population at that time, in which I then included myself, whose education and upbringing should have enabled them to effectively offer some opposition to this manner of governing and the naked, unabashedly enthusiastic pursuit of war at the very least. But there was a complete failure to do this, and to establish the existence of any capable movement or opposition that had to be engaged. The political discussion has only deteriorated since, which is in part why I am kind of numbed by the whole Trump debacle. I might have hated him and his supporters more vehemently if so many people were not hating them with impressive reserves of vitriol and contempt already. There is no need for my input when most of the people I come in contact with are dropping scorched earth denunciations on anyone who even appears to be thinking about trying to defend any isolated aspect of any Trump position, or supposed position. But we have gone over this and I want after 3 full weeks to get back to my movie reviews....

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Going to do a Few Movie Posts Now

I'm still about 31 behind even though I haven't seen too many in the past few months. Needless to say I don't remember most of these very well now. I will do these accounts in a formulaic fashion and see if anything comes of them:

The Westerner (1940)

Director--William Wyler

Notable star(s) (to me; every character actor in old Hollywood has his own cult on the internet): Gary Cooper. Dana Andrews apparently had a small role in this but I don't remember him
Did I like it? Yes. I didn't love it, but it's a Golden Age Hollywood Western, it's William Wyler, I have been weaning myself away from so many old movies because they are too comforting so any time one comes up now it is a great treat.

What do I remember most about this? The bar at the saloon and the bedroom off of it which I believe they have to shoot themselves out of at one point.'

Associated in my mind with: The Gunfighter; Destry Rides Again.

That's Entertainment III (1994)

Director--Bud Friedgen and Michael J Sheridan

Notable Stars--Many fixtures of MGM musicals. A lot of Cyd Charisse, Lena Horne, Ann Miller, etc

Do I like it? Yes. As the third installment of reminiscences about the glory days of MGM, my impression is that That's Entertainment I and II covered most of the true watershed moments in the studio's history and that this one is mopping up with its coverage of the June Allyson era and other now lesser known films. I was (am) supposed to be seeing the first two compilations as well, but they haven't come up available in my Netflix queue yet (yes, I still get DVDs mailed to me), which is what I have been working off of exclusively for about a year now, with a long backlist of stuff, mostly old, that they don't have.

What do I remember most about this? It's got a decent amount of old Hollywood "movieness" about it if you are the kind of person who has romantic ideas about Grauman's Chinese Theater and Schwab's Drug Store. At the time that they made it in the 90s a lot of the old stars of the 40s and 50s were still alive and were able to be interviewed, almost, in fact probably all, of whom have since died.

Associated in my mind with--The Band Wagon; On the Town.

No one evoked Old Hollywood nostalgia like Tammy herself, Debbie Reynolds

For Love of Ivy (1968)

Director--Daniel Mann

Notable Stars--Sidney Poitier, Carroll O'Connor, Beau Bridges

Do I like it? I found some of it morbidly fascinating.

What do I remember most? Evokes what a weird time 1968 was as well as recalling what is now very much a lost world, one that I have some memories of though from my childhood. The white family makes its comfortable living by owning a suburban department store of a type that I do remember hanging on as late as the 70s at least. The repeated attempts of Beau Bridges and his sister (the young people) to talk to Sidney Poitier in some kind of jive is equal parts painful and bizarre, but it doesn't seem to be intended as particularly satirical and emphasizes how the average sheltered white person evidently had no idea how to go about talking to black people in any kind of regular way at that time. Lauri Peters, who plays the sister, did not go on to have much of a film career but her look, clothes, voice, etc, were quite striking to me in this as being a perfect 1968 suburban babe. I was quite taken with her. All of the period touches. The loud trucks, the gas guzzling cars, the pollution, the lounge lizard inspired basements, the New York skyline looking rather grimy and shabby in an orange-ish light. I have to confess, the romance between Sidney Poitier and Ivy, Carroll O'Connor's family's black maid, which is ostensibly the point of the movie, did not excite me that much.

Associated in my mind with--Diary of a Mad Housewife. It is similar in its unintentional late 60s-early 70s weirdness.

Yes, posting a picture of the white girl is too predictable, but this chick is such a quintessential 60s babe I could not resist.

I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang (1932)

Director: Mervyn Leroy

Notable Stars: Paul Muni. A highly respected actor of the 30s, I think this is the first movie of his I've ever seen.

Do I like it? Yes, it's great.

What do I remember most? As I frequently note, classics from the 30s, particularly the early 30s, have the most extreme variation with me with regard to holding up across the years or communicating in a cultural idiom which has become completely incomprehensible. This is an example of the former, as the major themes in it, corruption and injustice in the legal system and the brutal indifference of the greater society, are equally pressing problems today. But even aside from this realism the tone and psychological approach to the material seem much more modern than what is usual in that time. It's an unnerving movie.

Associated in my mind with: The Bicycle Thief.

It's All True (1942--released 1993)

Director: Orson Welles, primarily

Notable Stars: Welles, I guess

Do I like it? It's an unfinished documentary. The footage is interesting.

What do I remember most? Not very much. It's Orson Welles set loose in Brazil with a camera. There is a carnival, old time South American beach scenes, fishermen. The impetus behind the movie was that it was going to contribute to the war effort, Brazil being one of the Allies. I'd like to see it in a theater. It is worth seeing, but at home I found it to be somewhat sleep-inducing.

Associated in my mind with: Mutiny on the Bounty, Cruise of the Zaca.

Here Comes Mr. Jordan (1941)

Director: Alexander Hall

Notable Stars: Claude Rains

Do I like it? I found it disappointing. Given the era in which it was made, the presence of Claude Rains, and its status as a classic, I was especially looking forward to seeing it, but I couldn't get into it.

What do I remember most? This disparate ingredients of it failed to coalesce for me. I never understood whatever it was I was supposed to be getting. Maybe I'm too eternally tired to do this anymore.

Associated in my mind with: Carousel

L'Argent (1983)

Director: Robert Bresson

Notable Stars: No one I am very familiar with.

Do I like it? Yes. This was the third time I have seen it. I did not get much out of it the first time, but on both the second and third viewings I have been able to appreciate more and more how good it is.

What do I remember most? Though not exactly what the movie is about, it is always great to see Paris in the early 1980s, which is very much the city I encountered when I first went there in 1990, and which I suspect is not very much at all the city that one encounters today. There was an excellent little extra on the Criterion DVD called "Bresson A to Z" which elaborates on a number of common themes in his work, as well as a lively Q & A session from Cannes. The darkness, for lack of a better word, since Bresson would probably argue that the truths portrayed in the movie are just truths that are morally ambiguous, weighs more on me with each viewing.

Associated in my mind with: Sauve Qui Peut (La Vie), French in Action TV Show.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Top ___ Pitchers Who Used September to Get Hot Going Into the Playoffs--Something That Apparently Isn't Done Anymore

I wanted to do some kind of top ten list for this post, but I couldn't think of anything inspiring, such as my ten favorite opera houses, or ten favorite hotel bars in East Asia, that I had enough variety of experience of to make a decent list from, and at the moment doing another "10 favorite gas stations" or "10 favorite McDonald's" type of post strikes me as depressing. Then I pondered why oh why have I no imagination nor anything to say and this led me back to the eternal explanation that not having a proper profession, to say nothing of multiple awesome careers, has caused me to be this way, and I thought to do a list of "Top 10 professions besides writer/generic 1960s style academic that did not require an extraordinary amount of Talent" that I might have pursued, but after coming up with "demographer" and "director of a small obscure museum that receives 500 visitors a year" I was stumped by that topic too. So then I tried to think of anything that had caused me to be angry or had stirred any resemblance of passion in recent days, and I could only think of a handful of these (ed--I started this post before the national brouhaha of the Kavanaugh hearings, which I may or may not make some comment on, if it is still a burning issue when I get around to it), one of them being my rage at the increasing coercion used by companies to make you sign up to pay bills by automatic bank draft, which besides causing a certain amount of strain on people like myself who cannot always be certain of having adequate funds on hand on the exact date of these transmissions, also represents another maddening loss of any sense of control one has over one's life; and the other was concerned with the various infuriating (to me) trends with regard to the way pitchers are used in baseball, from 'bullpenning' (the use of a tag team of nondescript pitchers for 1-2 innings from the start of the game) to the ever shrinking number of pitches and innings and games that such regular starting pitchers as remain are allowed to throw. The arrogance and self-satisfaction exuded by the new generation of managers, GMs and baseball intellectuals that has promoted and adopted these methods I find harder to take than I should as well. I am writing about baseball a lot lately. It's probably one of my phases. Now that my children are interested in it I'm paying more attention to it/watching a lot more games, etc, than I have in some years, and these extreme changes in the role of pitchers is perhaps the most jarring development to me, though not the only one...

To begin with a little backstory. On September 20, 2017, Chris Sale, the ace pitcher of the Boston Red Sox, 1 strikeout shy of 300 for the season, after having pitched 7 shutout innings with a pitch count of around 100, was sent out for the 8th inning, ostensibly to reach that strikeout milestone, which he did, completing another scoreless inning in the process with a seemingly reasonable pitch total of 111, which was his final number for the game, as obviously he did not come out for the 9th inning. The Boston sports media and fan base were apoplectic about this unnecessary and highly incautious extra inning of work, concerned that with the team starting the playoffs in approximately two weeks, it was wearing out its best pitcher. After resting for five days, Sale appeared in one more regular season game, the sixth to last, throwing 5 innings and 92 pitches (and giving up 5 runs) in a loss to the Blue Jays, after which he took 8 days off before starting Game 1 of the Division series against the eventual World Series Champion Astros, in which game he got shelled, giving up 7 runs in 5 innings (and throwing 100 pitches). 3 days later he came out of the bullpen in an elimination game and pitched well for 4 innings but could not get through a 5th, giving up what turned out to be the two decisive runs that ended the Red Sox's season. The club's manager John Farrell was fired within days of the loss, and one of the dominant themes was his mishandling of Sale, burning out the pitcher due to overuse during the season, though until recently his total of 214 innings with a high single game pitch count of 118 (as well 29 innings over 5 starts in September) would have been considered a fairly light workload. This season, with a new manager and the team being on a 110-win pace for most of the year, the strategy for keeping the ace pitchers fresh for the playoffs has gone from not burning them out early in the season to basically having them take most of the 2nd half off. There are injuries involved, I suppose, but even so the extent of the precautions taken before putting Sale and David Price, the $45 million a year duo the Red Sox are counting on to lead them to the World Series, back on the field is at the point of being ludicrous. Sale has pitched a total of 17 innings since the end of July--12 in September. While the plan was for him to hopefully work his way back into something resembling mid-season form before the playoffs started, he gave up 5 runs in 8 innings in his last two starts and has not been able to complete 5 innings in a game since August. Price has been a little more active, though a season total of 176 innings is not overwhelming, especially for a guy on a seven year contract at $31 million per annum. He made 4 appearances in September for a total of 23 innings, and is not exactly entering the playoffs on the kind of roll baseball fans of a certain age were once accustomed to in anticipating the championship series(es?). With the roster expansion in September, most of the recent games have featured endless situational experimentations with an army of relievers and onetime starters to see who can come in and get an out with 2 on in the 4th inning or whose makeup is particularly suited to the 7th as opposed to the 6th. For me all of this inevitably calls to mind the days when September was the month when the pitchers of the year were not leveling off or winding down but were rolling along like locomotives at high speed barreling towards the playoffs, or at least the Cy Young Award. Just recalling a few that especially stand out:

Orel Hershiser--1988

This is perhaps the ne plus ultra example of a pitcher who went on an unstoppable tear at the end of the season and all the way through the playoffs and the World Series. At the time Hershiser was regarded as having pretty much carried his otherwise underwhelming team to an improbable championship, though I am not sure that the new analysis would acknowledge that it was possible for a single pitcher to have that outsized of an impact. Certainly no one appears to regard this as a formula for postseason success in 2018, though the Giants pulled something of the sort off (riding a hot pitcher to the title) with Madison Bumgardner as recently as 2014.

At any rate, going into his start on August 19, 1988, according to Baseball-Reference, Orel Hershiser, already established for several seasons as one of the better pitchers in the National League, was, using the archaic statistics, 16-7 with a 3.06 ERA and had thrown to that point 185 innings. He threw complete games in each of his 3 remaining starts in August, including one shutout, though one of the other games was a 2-1 loss to the Mets. Moving into September, with his team driving towards the division championship, Hershiser made six starts, throwing 9-inning shutouts in the first five, and in his final tune-up for the playoffs, throwing 10 scoreless innings in a no-decision. That 10th inning in the last game famously allowed him to break Don Drysdale's record of consecutive scoreless innings with 59, a situation analogous to that of Chris Sale's "extra inning" to get his 300th strikeout in 2017. Naturally there was no controversy, that I can remember anyway, at the time with Hershiser pitching 10 innings in a meaningless game a week before the playoffs in a month and a season in which he had pitched 54 and 266 innings respectively already. By this point much was expected of him. There is pitch count data available for these games and the totals are actually quite reasonable, regardless of whether anyone was paying attention to them or not. In the 6 September starts the numbers were 109, 109, 103, 96, 112 and 116 (the 10 inning game), though even these modest totals are more than what almost anyone would be allowed to reach today, at least over a six game span in the course of a single month. For what it's worth his high pitch game for the year was 153 in a complete game loss on June 4, but his 2nd highest was 127, and he only had over 120 pitches in 3 of his 34 starts, in spite of which he managed to throw 15 complete games, 13 of them accomplished in 118 pitches or fewer.

As many will recall, he was so exhausted by this historic run that he went on to be the MVP of both the League Championship and World Series. Until Game 7, in which he pitched another shutout, his LCS performance was more heroic than impeccable. He started off by throwing 8 more shutout innings to open Game 1, but then the unthinkable happened in the ninth and he gave up 2 runs and ultimately the game (though his final pitch count was a still impressive 100). After a rainout pushed Game 3 in New York back a day, he came back to start that one and pitched 7 gritty innings in what I remember as a gray, windy, chilly afternoon though the Dodgers went on to lose that game as well. He then came out of the bullpen to get the final out in a very dramatic Game 4, which the team was believed to have found inspiring, before winning the aforementioned 7th game, for which no pitch count seems to be available. In the World Series he threw another shutout in game 2 (no pitch count), and threw a 4-hitter, 2 runs allowed, in the clincher in Game 5 (117 pitches).

He came back to have another fine year in 1989, posting a 2.31 ERA in 256 innings, his sixth straight outstanding year. However in the final game of that season, which was completely meaningless as the Dodgers finished well out of the playoff race, he was allowed to throw 11 innings and 169 pitches. He consequently missed most of the 1990 and 1991 seasons with an injured shoulder and when he came back he was never as good as he had been in his prime, though he did have eight more seasons as a more or less full time pitcher, until he was 40.

Mike Scott--1986

What I remember about this year offhand is that Mike Scott, after being something a bust after coming up with the Mets, went to Houston and salvaged his career, having a nice 18-8 season in 1985 before exploding as a dominant pitcher in 1986, racking up 300 strikeouts and eventually the Cy Young Award. He culminated the regular season by throwing a no-hitter in the Astros' division-clinching game, after which he pulverized the 108-win (and eventual World Champion) Mets with a 14 strikeout 5-hit 1-0 shutout in Game 1 of the NLCS (125 pitches), followed up by a 3-hitter in a 3-1 victory in game 4 (111 pitches). The Mets, desperate, so the storyline went, to avoid facing Scott again in Game 7, outlasted Houston in 16 innings in an epic Game 6 to win the Series 4 games to 2. How was his September leading up to this memorable postseason, I wonder? 6 starts, 4-1 record, 46.1 innings, 11 runs, 65 strikeouts, only 2 complete games though, including the no-hitter. Scott would go on to have three more very good seasons before his arm gave out (and by the way, it isn't like people's arms are still not giving out, and after a lot less work and accomplishment, despite being protected more than ever).

John Tudor--1985

John Tudor's incredible 1985 season has always been somewhat underappreciated, due to being overshadowed by Dwight Gooden's even more incredible season in the same division, and also because he unfortunately melted down badly in Game 7 of the World Series, a game which, if he had won, might have elevated his season to at least quasi-legendary status. I have very vivid memories of this season. I grew up as a fan of the Philadelphia Phillies, and this was the last full year when I lived in Philadelphia and really followed the season. The Cardinals and Mets were of course in the same division and had an outstanding pennant race that year, and while the Phillies finished far behind them they played both teams 18 times, and while I did not like either of their superior rivals at the time, they were both compelling teams with lots of stars, and I would often watch them when they weren't playing the Phillies on the national Game of the Week or on WOR-TV in New York, the Mets' flagship station, which we got on cable (this was my big lonely teenager year when I also began reading a lot). John Tudor started out that year at 1-7, but he ended it on a 20-1 run, and threw 10 shutouts, remaining to this day the last pitcher to attain that feat. I am aware of how much we are supposed to disdain "wins" for pitchers nowadays, and while this does make sense in terms of assessing players and handing out contracts, there is still the circumstance that the ultimate object of all this assessing is to actually win games and championships, so I am still galvanized by these kinds of streaks.

From September 1 until the end of the 1985 regular season, which ended on October 6th that year, John Tudor made 8 starts, in which he pitched 67 innings, surrendering 10 runs. His record in those games was 6-0. He threw 5 complete games and 4 shutouts, one of them a 10-inning shutout. In one of the no-decisions, he threw another 10 scoreless innings, which would have given him an 11th shutout for the season. He made his final start of the season on 3 days rest following the 10 inning no-decision and threw a 4-hitter against the Cubs. In the NLCS he did lose Game 1, again on 3 days rest, giving up 4 runs in 5 2/3 innings, but rebounded to pitch 7 innings in a 12-2 win in game 4. In the World Series he was the winning pitcher in Game 1 (6 2/3 innings, 101 pitches--I am surprised he was lifted so early) and Game 4 (shutout-108 pitches), before losing in Game 7. He went on to pitch 5 more seasons with pretty good numbers, though he would only reach 200 innings in one more season (1986). He went 12-4 with a 2.40 ERA in 146 innings in 1990 and called it a career.

Where pitch count data is available, it does seem to indicate that it was much easier and common to complete nine innings in fewer than 125 pitches in the past than it is now, at least in the National League.

Steve Carlton--1980, 1982, 1983

I choose these three seasons because, besides all of them involving pennant races, the Phillies being my team I have distinct memories of how they unfolded. One note of interest about Carlton's 1980 campaign is that is the last time anybody pitched over 300 innings in the regular season. This was not recognized at the time as any particularly notable feat, since many pitchers had thrown over 300 innings throughout the 1970s (Carlton himself had a high of 346 in 1972). If the Phillies had not clinched the division in the 2nd to last game of the season Carlton was due to start in the finale as well and would have thrown even more innings that year. As it was he made 8 starts from September 1st on, 5 of them on three days rest, going 4-2, pitching 66 innings, allowing 19 earned runs, with 3 complete games and 1 shutout, and a 4th game in which he pitched 9 innings in a game that went into the 10th. Pitch count data is not available though I suspect his numbers were often high. Carlton had what was considered at the time an extreme training regimen which included moving his arm around in a vat of rice and was widely thought by coaches and the media, at least publicly, to be indefatigable. The idea that he might ever have gotten tired on the mound was evidently inconceivable, since it was never brought up and never seems to have influenced the way managers handled him. He was good, but not dominant in the playoffs, going 3-0 and pitching 7, 5.1, 8 and 7 innings in 4 starts, with relatively reasonable pitch counts of 106, 97, 159 (OK) and 110 respectively.

In 1982 the Phillies ended up 3 games behind the Cardinals and missed the playoffs but Carlton, who as late as August was not one of the frontrunners for the Cy Young Award, went on a late season tear that year and ended up winning it pretty convincingly. He made 8 starts in September, the last 5 on 3 days rest to maximize his appearances, something that a manager might get shot for attempting to do now, going 6-2 with 5 complete games, 2 shutouts, 64 innings pitched and 13 runs allowed, and 75 strikeouts. In 1983 he finished with a record of 15-16 and that season is often remembered as the beginning of the end for him, and in a sense it was, however he did have 275 strikeouts and finished with an identical ERA to that of the Cy Young season the year before. In my memory a lot of those losses that year came late in games where he had been very strong through 7 innings and faded in the 8th or 9th. He only made 6 starts in September that year and did not complete any of them, going 3-2 with 43.1 innings and 46 strikeouts, but 20 runs allowed. He pitched very well in the LCS that year, allowing 1 run over 13.2 innings in 2 victories (pitch counts 100 and 110), and was decent in his only World Series start, a losing effort in which he lasted 6.2 innings and allowed 3 runs, throwing 107 pitches.

Curt Schilling--2001

Trying to think of a somewhat more recent example. Curt Schilling made 6 outstanding starts in the expanded 21st century playoffs, totaling 48.1 innings, which combined with his regular season work actually put him over 300 for the season. He did take 12 days off between starts in early and mid September that year but still managed to appear 5 times in the final month of the season, going 8 innings in 4 of those games as he tuned up for the post-season. He then threw complete games in his first 3 playoff starts, with pitch counts of 101, 121 and 127, followed by three starts in the World Series of 7, 7 and 7.1 with pitch totals of 102, 88 and 103, though you see by this that managers were already being more careful even with ace starters, at least on short rest.

Bob Gibson--1968

Of course it's a completely different era, and I was not even born yet, but this is one of this most legendary seasons of this type of all time. After having dominated the World Series in 1967 and racking up a 1.12 ERA and 13 shutouts in the 1968 season as his Cardinals rolled to another easy pennant, Gibson loomed like a colossus over the impending Fall Classic that year, famously the last one before the introduction of divisions and preliminary playoff series. The Cardinals effectively knew by August that they would be playing for the championship, but Gibson did not exactly shut it down to rest up for the big event. For the season he would make 34 starts and throw a complete game in 28 of them. After going 7 innings in his 1st 2 starts he would pitch at least 8 in every single start afterwards. Between May 28 and September 2 he completed 19 out of 20 starts, pitching 11 innings in the one game he was not able to finish. After his 10 inning shutout on September 2nd, his ERA actually dropped to 0.99 for the season. But he would be comparatively roughed up in September, giving up 9 runs in 52 innings over 6 starts (1.56 ERA), 5 of them complete games. In the World Series he was famously matched up in games 1 and 4 against 31-game winner Denny McLain of the Tigers and while the sabermeticians probably have a more nuanced take on the dynamic, the impression made at the time was that the intimidating Gibson personally humiliated McLain in those contests, striking out 17 hitters in a 4-0 shutout in Game 1 in which McLain bowed out after 5 innings, and whiffing 10 more in a 10-1 massacre in Game 4 in which Gibson also hit a home run, though that was not off McLain, who only lasted 2.2 innings. Of course Gibson would just as famously meet his Waterloo in a duel in Game 7 against the supposedly more game and pugnacious Mickey Lolich, when the Tigers broke through for three runs in the 8th inning to break a scoreless tie and stun the seemingly invincible Gibson, who would never return to the World Series though he did have several more fantastic seasons as a pitcher.

What is the point of all this, you ask? Well, I like the stories that the old set-up of baseball could produce, and I like seeing superstar pitchers pitch and pitch to the point that they actually decide games and pennants and championships, and the modern game is not giving me what I like (I also like the old simplified playoff system and pennant races. I can easily remember who made the playoffs and the World Series in every season from 1903 until the expansion in the mid-90s, but since then I generally I have no idea who played whom and who had the best record in the season or anything); so I have to look back to the past to feel even a little fulfilled.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Notes on Current Events

The most recent mass emotional trauma to convulse the internet was the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation fiasco. I wasn't going to offer any commentary on it because I am not intensely invested in the political aspect of the matter on either side, and everyone has already weighed in on it at great length, though without saying anything that is novel or interesting to me at this time in my life. In addition, given my life experience, or lack thereof, and position in society, I wasn't able to regard the controversy and all of the feminine rage being expressed as having anything to do with me. However while the immediate fervor of the days during the process has died down, it engulfed so much of the professional/college graduate social media conversation for several weeks and continues to influence it, that I thought I should try to make some note of my impressions in the case.

I have written several times that the idea of a Supreme Court made up of partisans whose opinions on cases will be predictable 90% or more of the time based on political leaning does not make any sense to me. The point of having it is not supposed to be merely to produce desired outcomes for one party or another but to subject legal questions and disputes to wise and considered judgment producing at times unexpected insights and decisions. This seems obvious, but this is not how the more energetic partisans who drive political discourse think about it at all.

Now the mid-term elections are approaching and I am least am being bombarded at all hours of the day with dire warnings that the Republicans must be defeated at all costs or unimaginably terrible things, evidently far worse even than the hell most people are already living in, are going to befall the country. I don't disbelieve this, and I certainly wish that Donald Trump were not the president. I did not vote for him, and even if the Democratic candidate in 2020 were to make skinning straight white men alive one of the campaign planks my conscience as currently manipulated would still probably demand that I vote for a third party candidate so as not to be 100% complicit in the dreadful consequences for everyone else that will doubtless follow upon a Trump re-election. The problem with all this of course is that for all Trump's awfulness the result that defeating him and his party will bring at present is the ascension to power of a Democratic coalition that appears to be out of its mind, and so hell-bent on revenging and punishing anybody who might fit the profile of a Trump supporter, that this prospect is actually more disheartening to me than even Trump is. Trump is one person who supposedly is not very organized, does not know what he is doing, and is hated by everyone who is either competent or important. This is admittedly disturbing but he will likely be gone in ten years and I doubt given the massive amount of opposition to him among powerful interests that he will be able to abolish the constitution and establish some kind of dictatorship. If anything his enemies seem almost equally likely to do this in the name of preventing someone like Trump from ever being elected again.

Kavanaugh himself seems like somebody I would probably not like if I knew him. I am not sure if jealous would be the exact word to describe the real nature of the feelings I had towards him apart from whatever popularity he had with girls, which seems like it may not have been as high as what it would have appeared to be from such a vantage as I would have had as a youth. It would have been nice to have grown up with a little more wealth and with a somewhat clearer vision of how to successfully embark on a career more in keeping with my self-perception but I got to go to pretty good schools and I was probably even handsome enough to have achieved most of my fairly modest social dreams if I had had any personality at all. I have no idea whether he is "qualified" to sit on the Supreme Court or not. The only Supreme Court Justice I have any personal experience with is David Souter, who lives near me and whom I have run across a couple of times and had occasion to speak to and to hear speak just in passing. My fleeting impression in these instances was that even in the casual exchange he spoke a very clear, precise English, with excellent diction, "proper words in proper places" such as I at least have not heard in the past twenty years. My wife and her family speak in a clipped, direct 1920s-1940s-ish idiom that when they are on is delightful as well, but the polish and fineness of Souter's speech is quite striking to come upon in one's day to day life. This may well have nothing to do with qualifications either, but it informs my idea of what a Court justice ought to sound like. I have also known a number of people over the years who went to public high school with him, and there does not appear to have been so much as a hint of scandalous, Kavanaugh-esque behavior attaching to that part of his life. Indeed to make the suggestion among people who knew him at that age generally elicits a laugh, so far-fetched apparently is the mere idea of such a thing.

But, (apart from partisan politics generally), the question hovering over this whole controversy was,  how seriously do you take the problem of sexual misconduct/criminality, and how angry are you about it? the correct answers to which of course are, Extremely seriously, and, I am furious about it, so much so that I cannot tolerate that any plausible suggestion of an instance of its having taken place at any time in the past should not have some serious consequences. Naturally I lack the full intensity of rage and enthusiasm for retribution that the times call for. Given the disparity between the number of alleged rapes and sexual assaults (and the fury these arouse) and the official police statistics on these crimes (which indicate that perpetrators can get away with their villainy 99% or more of the time in some jurisdictions), it would seem that either the legal system as a whole needs to revamp the entire way that these offenses are defined and prosecuted to satisfy the activist left and, if not send men to prison in enormous numbers, at least bar them from holding any kinds of lucrative or influential employment (what other retribution can there be?), or eventually the rhetoric and hysteria are going to lose a lot of their power, if they aren't already. I, and doubtless many other men, have long passed the point where the most obvious means of self-preservation from this ongoing crisis, for college women at least is, "how about not going to these damn frat-type parties?" But given the response any time this is suggested, one must come to the conclusion that the men at these events who are getting girls to do shots with them and go to their bedrooms at 2 in the morning--something that the overwhelming majority of men never experience--where they proceed to behave too aggressively and take things too far, are comparatively just too desirable and high status for this to be realistically considered. The object I suppose is to train these highly sought after men to behave better, or more in line at least with what the women are looking for, but what incentive is there for these guys, the absolute pick of the litter in their social worlds, to change their behavior when it has given them everything most normal boys would like to have whether they admit it or not, has done so pretty much forever, and continues to do so even in these supposedly more enlightened times. People complain that they are entitled. Well of course they are entitled. What does anybody imagine these kinds of parties are for? Why do people think that young men endure the ridiculous rituals they endure, such as drinking other people's vomit and eating grapes out of  another guy's bunghole, to get admitted to exclusive fraternities and other social clubs, for the opportunity to perform community service at a higher level? Of course not, they want access to good career prospects and to the most desirable women, that other (usually lesser) men pointedly do not have, and will never have, which is, while not a violent matter, a pretty serious one to many in the latter group as far as certain of their ultimate life prospects are concerned.

None of this, I will be told, is to the point, but unfortunately I cannot see how this is not at all times a substantial part of the point. The bad behavior, though I believe (primarily based on reading novels and memoirs from the 1960s and 70s, mainly by morally oblivious men) it to be less prevalent overall in current society, continues generation after generation among a subset of the population because for the most part it is from the male point of view rewarded by young women as far as attaining its objects goes. The movement over the past few decades to put some restraint on heterosexual male entitlement, ego, conduct, and in much of the population their comparative power and wealth, has been quite successful but I have got to think it may be approaching its reasonable limits. I am, I think, in my behavior pretty much the model of an inoffensive person and causing anybody trauma is the last thing I would want to do but still, as I get older and can see the end of the active part of my life at least in increasingly clear sight, the main regrets that I have are not having been able to more aggressively (though not violently or criminally) go after things, experiences, relationships that I would have liked to pursue. It's a big hole in my life and to have done it would have required risk, which people ultimately demand of you before giving you any respect anyway, and likely would have involved being offensive in some way to somebody. There are built-in conflicts to life, and certainly to most forms of masculine ambition, which if you forego in youth has the tendency to wither you before your time. I don't know how many more generations full of men with no role or positive expectations to fulfill, and consequently no fire or talent for living we can seriously expect to endure.

Yes, I know, this still has nothing to do with the topic in question, the women that Kavanaugh allegedly sexually assaulted 35 years ago and whether this should have disqualified him from sitting on the court. If the accounts were true, given today's environment, and the circumstance that he does not appear to be regarded as such a superlative legal genius that there might be cause to overlook some (quibbles?--there is another word I am looking for here but I cannot think of it. I cannot remember words anymore), I would probably think it prudent to move on to someone else, though Donald Trump's own acknowledged behavior, to name but one example, seems to be considerably worse, and his followers don't care, or don't care very much, so why would he do that? But I don't have any cause to say whether they (the accounts) are true or not in the exact way and using the exact terminology which was used to recount them. So I wouldn't do it.