Friday, November 20, 2015

2016 Primary

I'm having a tough time getting this one going. I have really become indifferent...

I thought I should write something about this primary season before I miss it altogether. As with everything else, my level of interest in the process seems to be diminishing with every cycle. I still care enough about the overall well-being of myself the country that I think it matters a great deal that a Republican is not ultimately elected president, but beyond that I do not have a lot of enthusiasm or positive feeling for anything political that seems likely to happen. My waning interest, especially with regard to the primary, may be a symptom of things always appearing more interesting when we are younger and encountering them as a novelty and growing stale upon repetition; that said, I have the impression that the New Hampshire primary is getting a lot less intimate and spontaneous and all of the things that it prides itself on being, every time around. Perhaps as we get closer to the vote--we are still three months out--more of the traditional stump campaigning and the atmosphere that accompanies it will take place; still, the major, big money candidates increasingly eschew this approach when they can, preferring to stick to staged events with carefully selected and prepped audiences, with all public appearances calculated to maximize national media coverage.

My wife, who in contrast to me is known to and liked by the progressive crowd, was invited to a Bernie Sanders house party, but she declined to go because she supports another candidate whom she believes to be the inevitable nominee anyway and she does not think that the presence of Bernie in the campaign serves any useful purpose to the goal of electing this other candidate. I have not as yet been invited to anything other than a generic robo-message inviting me to a Chris Christie pancake breakfast in a town about twenty minutes away. This event took place at 8am on a Tuesday however, which is not a convenient time for me. I guess I am pretty close to being a stereotypical representative of the Bernie Sanders constituency, persuaded as I am that the economic arrangements of the New Deal era were not that terrible, appreciating his efforts to conduct his campaign at at least a high school graduate level of discourse,generally wanting no part of the Darwinian aspects of the capitalistic arena while hoping to maintain some respectability. The conventional wisdoms that he is so far outside the mainstream and that his positions are in some sense absurd strike me as odd. The most fervent supporters of his in New Hampshire whom I know tend to be quite affluent and seemingly successful in the various meritocratic and capitalistic competitions which define our society, and do not give off the least indication that they are concerned about the confiscatory taxes on their substantial and hard-gained incomes that would inevitably follow upon their man's election. The gentleman who hosted the house party referenced above, while something of a new age type, is a lawyer with an international background who travels all over the world and one of whose children at least attended the famous St Paul's Prep School. The other big supporter I know of has a stylish modern house on a good plot of land in the country, and her children also attend boarding school. I do not know what the source of either her or her husband's income is, but they both project the easy, comfortable force of the capable professional class.

That part of Bernie Sanders's platform where he says he wants college to be free has been much mocked by the practical men and ideologues who have a vision of their coffers being raided yet again to throw away on worthless people, but I have heard him (Sanders) explain the rationale behind this on several occasions, and it is not without a certain logic. The argument, as I understand it, is that in the past, when society, for lack of a better word, or some substantial or influential portion of the collective polity, determined that it wanted as many citizens as possible to enter upon adulthood with a high school education, and to in many cases require that either as a condition for employment, or for advancement to a more secure and lucrative position within employment, it was grasped, eventually anyway, that the providing of this education, or the opportunity for it, on the mass scale required would be the responsibility of organized governing bodies at various levels, which public version at least should be free. Bernie Sanders argues that we have come now to the same state with regard to college, or post-secondary training resulting in certification or a degree at any rate, and that if society is going to insist on people having these credentials in most instances to have any hope of earning a sustainable income, that it must, as formerly with high school, offer the opportunity to obtain this education to everyone at no personal cost. I do not know that I agree with this position, and I am not optimistic that it would work in the way that it would be supposed to work anyway, but there is a practical issue of too many people not being productive or self-sufficient or otherwise engaged or positively contributing well into adulthood, if ever, and there being very little structure or guidance or apparent interest on the part of the greater society to assist them to become so. This is a gesture at addressing a part of that problem anyway.      

Hillary Clinton. Yes, I think she is probably, if not precisely evil, more corrupted of soul even than is standard for a professional politician, at this point. But for all that I still don't think she actively wishes the American public, or the completely docile and harmless portion of it anyway, ill will if it can be conveniently avoided. We are constantly assured by the media of how brilliant she is, and doubtless she is possessed of a high general intelligence, but her public speeches, campaign literature, and so on are aimed, clearly intentionally, since her husband did the same thing, at voters in the vast middle of the intelligence distribution, which is politically savvy in the current system I suppose, but is frustrating because the country really needs a more sophisticated political discourse, especially from its leadership Though no one seems to be saying this, I assume that her entire campaign and the lack of any serious opposition to within the ranks of the party establishment is premised on the idea that somehow she, and the people around her, presumably veterans of her husband's administration, will be able to restore some semblance of the fondly remembered prosperity of the late 90s, that perhaps all of the difficulties in the intervening years really could have been avoided with competent leadership. What else is she running on? She has a commercial out about the pay gap between men and women, which takes a tone that seems to me likely to be unnecessarily divisive, especially in the general election, given that most men do not, and cannot regard themselves as riding especially high these days, and probably are not in much of a mood to be taken down any further pegs by feminist political candidates. The pay gap anyway is one of these issues that is always presented as an absolute truth, and an evil one at that, without regard to context, fruitful examples, explanations of whether these wage differentials where they exist reflect some kind of official policy, whether there is any legal recourse if this be the case and if not why not, and so on. I don't doubt that there is something to the pay gap, but the reasons for it are a little more complicated that some of the rhetoric would have you believe, and I doubt in most instances it is of a kind that Hillary Clinton or anyone else will be able to legislate across the board pay raises for every woman in the country (or pay cuts for the men, if you prefer that).

I actually saw a couple of twenty-something girls wearing Carly Fiorina t-shirts walking around my decidedly off-the-beaten-track neighborhood one day passing out flyers. I happened to be driving and in my usual hurry at the time, so I didn't have the opportunity to speak to them. I really would have been curious to know why they were working for her, why they thought it would be a good idea for her to be president, etc. They looked very normal, almost as if they lived in the neighborhood. No make-up, no jewelry, no expensive hairstyle or clothes, none of the air of impatience or educational or financial hauteur that often marks the young political operative or even volunteer from out of state. I know we are supposed to get over the fact that everything Carly Fiorina says or does basically screams out that she is a flat out bitch, because that is sexist, and we love it when Donald Trump behaves in an equivalent manner (though I don't), but I don't understand what her redeeming qualities might be supposed to be. I can't see any.

Among the Republicans, Christie, though I guess the evidence points to him as being more than ordinarily evil too, strikes me as the most interesting candidate, and certainly the most convincing as a person who might actually believe, in a self-generated manner, the things he says. Perhaps it is because he is from the northeast and his persona is familiar to me. Ted Cruz might as well be from another planet, the same with Rubio, Carson needless to say, nothing in their entire worldview has relation to mine. I guess Christie does not come off to me as a rigid ideologue, though I do not like his displayed tendency to personally attack and even savage ordinary people who are opposed to his positions...

I'll have to end this now and maybe do an update in January before the big day. I couldn't even get to stating my positions on the college racial insurrections, the Paris terrorist attacks, Syrian (and other) refugees, the obsessive and unquenchable fury of good modern people about the Japanese detention camps set up in America during World War II (Yes, they were wrong, but people seem to have gotten over the Japanese, you know, bombing Pearl Harbor and waging aggressive war against the United States, while the detention camps and atomic bombs dropped by the Americans on Japan are crimes eternally unforgivable). But as I say, I'll have to get to all this some other time...

Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Three Movies From 1925

1925 was the high point, in terms of spiritedness, of the silent era. Of course there would still be further development and notable achievement, artistically, in the form up through the end of the decade; but by then the end of the silent period was obviously at hand, and while the self-consciousness of this inevitability does not diminish the quality of these later works, it imposes an air of artificiality and constraint on them that is missing from the efforts of 1925, which are not yet afflicted by this consciousness.

The Phantom of the Opera 

One of the most legendary silents, famous for the performance of Lon Chaney as the title character, fresh off of his similarly dominating portrayal of The Hunchback of Notre Dame (which I have not yet been seen), the previous year. People love this story, and a sense of Drama pulses through one at the mere contemplation of the title and the outline of the plot. So I was fired up to see it, and I have to admit I was a little disappointed, though I believe in this instance the fault is probably my own. I don't feel like the print I saw was very good--it was sepia-tinted and was neither sharp nor striking to me. I found my mind wandering a lot, to the point of frequently losing the track of the intertitles and the flow of the story, so that I needed to backtrack to the beginning of a scene, at which my brain would immediately drift off again. Perhaps I was too tired during the particular stretch of days that I took on this movie. Perhaps I am simply too stupid to watch it, though I don't think the basic story is overwhelmingly difficult to follow. I have frequently maintained that it is not reasonable or desirable to expect that one will click with everything even that is good, at least on the initial run, and I think something of that kind happened here. I would be attentive at the beginnings of scenes, in anticipation of some promising development, and then for whatever reason it would not go off with me. I accept that some grand things probably escaped me. What is to be done? I will have to come back to it some other time.

The Freshman

Harold Lloyd comedy, the first of his movies that I have seen. Even though it is enshrined indisputably as a classic, I had to watch it on Youtube because I could not procure a copy of it in any physical form for less than $20 or so. I love it. It has great energy, and while most of the jokes are ridiculous on the surface and to the faculty of higher thought, they are hammered through so relentlessly and elaborately that they extract a feeling of delight in spite of one's modern defenses. Hollywood, being after all not devoid of people who approach things from the artistic mindset, figured out early on that what is really significant--the essence, if you will--about 'college' as far as the general public, even some of the more intelligent levels of it, are concerned, is not professional credentialing, STEM training and research, debates over the Canon, or finding innovative ways to put the whole experience online so as to save a few bucks, but football, parties, and girls. The Freshman goes light on the academics--indeed it leaves them out altogether--and organizes itself around these other often absurd but nonetheless highly formative experiences. And then who, who is a kindred spirit to the likes of us, at least, does not love the image of the 20s that survives in artifacts like this? Such beautiful clothes and rooms and an outdoor physical environment that to contemporary eyes is attractive, manageable and not an overwhelming mess, parties and other activities that look as if they may actually have been fun. At some point in our history the emphasis on having 'fun' seems to have given way in more instances to that of being cooler or smarter or otherwise more dominant than other people in social settings, though perhaps this is not true within true peer groups.

Jobyna Ralston, who in mainly remembered now for frequently appearing as the love interest in Harold Lloyd movies, was pretty beautiful in this. So much so, in fact, that the plot contrivance that Harold requires the whole movie to figure out that she is the one who likes him and that he should be with should be ludicrous, but she is so sweet, so unneurotic, so unconniving, so apparently unnoticed in her ridiculous beauty, that I appreciate the effort and doggedness to create such an unreal but highly satisfying sentiment.

Stella Dallas (silent version)

This was included in the extras for the DVD of the more famous 1937 version starring Barbara Stanwyck. It had no accompanying music, so it was a truly silent hour plus long movie. Ronald Colman, who later transitioned successfully to talkies, appearing in A Tale of Two Cities (1935) among other noteworthy roles, was the big star in this version. Stella was played by the more obscure Belle Bennett, who at the beginning of the movie was more appealing and wholesome than Barbara Stanwyck but in the inimitable old Hollywood style quickly metamorphosed into every man's (or at least cutie-pie lover's) worst nightmare. It was directed by Henry King, who would keep working into the 60s and who has turned up a couple of times in my dabbles in film history (The Gunfighter and Carousel, both from the 50s). I wish I did not take so long to get around to filing these reports, because while I remember that I liked the movie, and liked it about equally with the 1937 version, I no longer remember, what, if anything, was substantially different about the two versions, which have now kind of blended together in my mind. Some of the aspects, such as the squalid Ed Munn character and the extremity of Stella's lower class habits and mindset, stand out more from the sound version, but that may be because they can be emphasized more fully and directly with the aid of sound, especially to the more unsubtle viewer.