Sunday, October 16, 2016


Yesterday, I watched the movie "Mud", which I enjoyed very much.  The indie film is a coming of age story in the style of Twain's Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn of two 14 year old boys, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland), who live on or near the Arkansas River in Arkansas.  On a small island in the river, the boys meet a stranger, Mud (Matthew McConaughey), who's living in a boat stuck up in a tree that Ellis and Neckbone hoped to claim for themselves.  Mud convinces the boys to bring him food, because he has no money.  The boys later discover that Mud is on the run and can't go into town.

As the boys are drawn deeper and deeper into the relationship with Mud when his requests escalate beyond food, tension rises as the viewer suspects that no good will come from the boys' association with him.  The young actors are superb and completely believable. McConaughey's performance is somewhat mannered, which actually works in this instance, since Mud is a con man. Reese Witherspoon performs well as Mud's girlfriend, Juniper, as does the always excellent Sam Shepard as the father substitue in Mud's life.

Writer and director Jeff Nichols grew up in Arkansas and fought hard to have the movie filmed on location in the state.  The scenes filmed on the river and the island are gorgeous.

Picture from Wikipedia.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016


Saturday night, I started to watch Fair Game, the 2010 movie based on Valerie Plame's memoir of the same title that tells the story of the events that led to Plame's outing as a covert CIA officer in a column in the Washington Post by Robert Novak.  Novak attributed the leak to two senior officials in the Bush administration.

Plame's husband, Joe Wilson, had served as a diplomat and ambassador in several countries in Africa. In 2002, at the request of the CIA, Wilson traveled to Niger to investigate a claim that the government had sold yellowcake, a refined form of uranium, to the Iraqis.  In his report to the CIA after he returned, Wilson concluded that documents upon which the claim was based were forgeries and, after speaking to several government officials in Niger, that no such sale ever took place.

In January, 2003, George W Bush claimed in his State of the Union speech, "The British government has learned that the government of Saddam Hussein recently sought  significant quantities of uranium from Africa."  When Wilson learned he was one of the supposed sources for the yellowcake claim, he wrote an op-ed in the New York Times, titled What I Didn't Find in Africa, rebutting the claim and undermining the Bush administration's case for the invasion of Iraq earlier in the year.

As the story unfolded, my feelings of despair during the run up to the Iraq war and the immediate aftermath came flooding back.  When the real-life filmed scenes of the bombing in Iraq appeared on the screen, I stopped the film, because I knew I would not sleep at all if I continued to watch.

Sunday morning, I watched the rest of the movie from were I'd left off.  Though I fully realized at the time that the invasion of Iraq was launched on the basis of lies, I remember being shocked and incredulous that people in the Cheney/Bush maladministration would destroy the lives and reputations of two faithful public servants.  The Wilsons believe that the purpose of Plame's outing was to discredit Joe and the information in the op-ed in the NYT.  The attacks took a toll on the personal lives of Plame and Wilson that cannot be overstated.

Launching a war on lies and deception is the larger evil, and the tragic consequences of the unnecessary invasion continue today.  Why then did I find the attacks on Plame and Wilson so shocking at the time?  In hindsight, I think the revelations of the Plame/Wilson affair confirmed my worst fears about the Cheney/Bush maladministration in a way that made the ugliness of the larger picture of the Bush years easier to comprehend and all the more distressing.

Naomi Watts and Sean Penn are utterly believable as Plame and Wilson.  I loved Sam Sheppard in his brief appearance as Sam Plame, Valerie's father.

After I told Tom about the movie, he wanted to watch it, and, since my viewing was interrupted, I wanted to see the film again without interruption before I mailed the DVD back to Netflix.  We watched together - for me this time with more detachment and somewhat less distress.  When fictional movies are disturbing, I always tell myself it's only a movie, but Fair Game is the story of the lives of real people that I watched play out in the news not so very many years ago, years that I would not wish to relive under any circumstances.

Sunday, August 14, 2016


A couple of weeks ago, I watched Carol, a wonderful, slow-paced film that focuses on relationships and conversations.  I know people who hate this sort of movie, in which "hardly anything happens", but so long as they're done well, as Carol is by director, Todd Haynes, and the actors, I enjoy them. Haynes has no fear of pauses in action and dialogue that allow the presence and facial expressions of the actors to speak.  The slow pace of the film makes the brief scenes of violence all the more shocking.

The film is set in New York City in the early 1950s during the formative years of my late teens, a time I remember well.  Cate Blanchett wears 50s fashion chic beautifully, as though she owns them, and is a joy to watch. Blanchett and Rooney Mara perform beautifully as Carol Aird, a woman in her late 30s, married to a successful businessman, and Therese Belivet, a young woman in her early 20s, who works in a department store as she pursues her passion for photography.  The two women meet and fall in love.  Carol and her husband, Harge, have a young daughter, which greatly complicates the story set in a time when attitudes toward lesbian and gay relationships were nearly universally hostile. Couples of the same sex paid a terrible price for their love in those days.

Scenes in the movie are heartbreakingly sad, but rather than wanting to turn away, such is the excellence of entire production that I was drawn further and further into the lives of the characters.  For me, a suspension of disbelief is vital to my enjoyment of a movie, and Haynes and the actors succeeded far above and beyond meeting my standards. Altogether gripping for a film filled with silences, in which "hardly anything happens".  I will watch this one again.

The screenplay by Phyllis Nagy is taken from the novel, The Price of Salt (also known as Carol), by Patricia Highsmith.

Edit: I forgot to mention Carol's and and Therese's "Thelma and Louise" type road trip out west; the cinematography is stunning.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016


Yesterday, Donald Trump gave an economic policy speech in Detroit in his subdued persona, speaking from a teleprompter. He offered a replay of the old, failed GOP trickle down economics, which results in great benefits to corporations and the very rich, but, from past experience, we know that very little benefit trickles down to people who need it most.  In the greatest exercise of self control I've seen, Trump did not strike back at several protesters who were quickly removed from the venue, though if looks could kill....

Trump spoke to a group of corporate executives at the Detroit Economic Club, who probably approved of his message. If Trump's goal was in any way aimed at attracting the votes of ordinary people, living in an economy that is struggling to recover from bankruptcy in 2013, his promise to repeal the "death tax" stood out as particularly ironic. The estate tax affects only a very small number of people in the entire country.

Though I assume Trump was also speaking to the wider world, his supporters among working class white men could hardly have been moved by the promise, unless they greatly misunderstand how few people actually pay the "death tax".
The Tax Policy Center estimates that some 10,800 individuals dying in 2015 will leave estates large enough to require filing an estate tax return (estates with a gross value under $5.43 million need not file this return in 2015). After allowing for deductions and credits, 5,330 estates will owe tax. Nearly 85 percent of these taxable estates will come from the top 10 percent of income earners and over 40 percent will come from the top 1 percent alone.

Saturday, August 6, 2016


Usually, I admire what Charles Pierce writes, but when he wrote about the question and answer period following Hillary Clinton's speech at the Conference of the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, he was obviously still feeling the Bern. Apparently, he can't get past his Sanders love to give Hillary Clinton a break, for this is one of a series of blog posts in which he, at best, damns Clinton with faint praise, or, at worst, is outright critical, often about trivia.  Read his post; it's not long. I repost my comments to his blog post below; they are long:
Oh my gawd, Charlie. You sound like nitpicking Chuck Todd. Is this your version of bothsiderism? Clinton is who she is, and she's not going to have a personality change to suit you or anyone else before the election. Get over your issues, or at least write about something else so you do no harm.
Further, still me:
By the end of the primaries, I liked watching Clinton speak a lot more than I liked watching Sanders speak. If I chose my candidate by likability or by which one I wanted to have a beer with, Clinton would have won hands down. But, if Sanders had won the primary vote, I'd have supported him without thinking twice.

What I would not have done is suggest that if he just changed this or that about his personal style, or if he'd just say something in a different way, he'd gather more support. Sanders is who he is, and expecting him to be other than he is, would have been completely unrealistic. It's the same with Clinton. If you don't like her, vote for Trump, write in a name, or vote for Stein or Johnson, and enable a Trump victory, but stop the bloody nitpicking about style.

TV talking heads do that stuff every day on TV, and I don't understand why a usually sensible blogger would join in. This is not even a serious policy discussion, which would be different and welcome from what we see all day, every day on TV. Yeah, I'm way down in a long thread of comments in a reply, at that, and I expect few people will read what I typed, but I sure feel better for having written.
Though my comments were way down in a long comment thread, I do have a Facebook page of my own and a blog, and I thought my comments worth sharing. I share; you decide.

Friday, July 29, 2016


The GOP and others on TV and the internet remind us early and often about polls that show large numbers of people in the US believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. Keep in mind that our president is not a dictator, and Republicans will have held the majority in both houses of Congress for six years of the president's two terms in office.

Republicans were determined to make Obama a one term president from the day he took office. They failed and were angry and frustrated and further motivated to block nearly every initiative the president put forward to Congress, even to the extreme of shutting down the government when they didn't get what they wanted.

At this moment, it's hard to believe that no matter which party held the presidency and the majorities in Congress, the two parties once worked together to govern the country. The list of things left undone when Obama leaves office would be much shorter if he'd had even a minimum of cooperation from Republicans in Congress.

Thursday, July 28, 2016


Progress is often slower than we'd like.  I never thought I'd see an African-American as president in my lifetime, but I thought I might see a woman. The order will be reversed if Clinton is elected, but boys and girls growing up will know the reality that African-Americans and girls can grow up to be president. That may not be a revolution, but it's enormous progress.

Also, I never thought I'd see a 74 year old senator lead a movement that drew many enthusiastic young people into politics to work hard and contribute to his candidacy. Bernie Sanders will not be the nominee of the Democratic Party, but I hope Sanders supporters do not view their efforts as having failed. The platform is the most liberal/progressive in history, thanks to their hard work. Sanders will be a force in the Senate working to implement his policies.

From now on, the campaign is not about Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, but rather about the people of the country working together for the election of politicians, from the presidency, to the Congress, to state and local offices, who are focused on implementing liberal/progressive policies, which the president cannot do alone. Last night on MSNBC, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) reminded us that some of President Obama's legislation was blocked even during the two years when Democrats had a majority in both houses.

Also, the Supreme Court could have as many as three vacancies during the term of the next president, and a Democrat in the White House is vital to prevent a conservative court that could pull us backward for decades to come.

UPDATE: Sanders announced he will return to the Senate as an independent, because he was elected as an independent.  My thought is he could have effected more change from within the party, but he was only a Democrat for the sake of convenience, so I'm not too surprised.

Sunday, July 24, 2016


According to the Miami Herald, Trump National stiffs a small business by refusing payment for the full amount of the paint contract because it has “paid enough”.

In this instance, Donald Trump was penny wise and pound foolish.  Why not just pay the $34,863? Now he owes nearly 10 times the amount. Here's why: Trump has pulled the same stunt on other contractors, but not all small businesses have the funds to take him to court. In this instance the attorneys took the case with the agreement that they would not get paid if they lost.
Circuit Court Judge Jorge Cueto, presiding over a lawsuit related to unpaid bills brought by a local paint store against the Trump National Doral Miami golf resort, ordered the billionaire politician’s company to pay the Doral-based mom-and-pop shop nearly $300,000 in attorney’s fees.

All because, according to the lawsuit, Trump allegedly tried to stiff The Paint Spot on its last payment of $34,863 on a $200,000 contract for paint used in the renovation of the home of golf’s famed Blue Monster two years ago.
Note that the judge is Latino, but he is of Cuban descent, so perhaps Trump will not demand that he recuse himself from the case, as he did for Judge Gonzalo Curiel, who is of Mexican descent.


Excellent post by Josh Marshall at TPM on the Trump/Putin relationship.
To put this all into perspective, if Vladimir Putin were simply the CEO of a major American corporation and there was this much money flowing in Trump's direction, combined with this much solicitousness of Putin's policy agenda, it would set off alarm bells galore. That is not hyperbole or exaggeration. And yet Putin is not the CEO of an American corporation. He's the autocrat who rules a foreign state, with an increasingly hostile posture towards the United States and a substantial stockpile of nuclear weapons. The stakes involved in finding out 'what's going on' as Trump might put it are quite a bit higher.
According to Trump, Obama vs, terrorists - weak and wrong; Putin vs. terrorists - strong and right. "There is something going on," but not with Obama and terrorists.  

And that, my friends, is only one of the reasons why Trump's tax returns from the last 10 years will never see the light of day.

Marshall's entire post is well worth a read.

Monday, July 4, 2016


To the Hon. Charles P Pierce (title bestowed by me): This superb post is an example of why I read your blog. The patriotic holidays leave me in such a state of inner conflict that I have no words for the celebratory days. I made a sign for my Facebook page that says, "HAPPY 240TH BIRTHDAY USA" (below right), and that was it. Your post expresses in words what is in my mind and heart on this holiday especially. You did the homework and added your own eloquent words to form the perfect post.

Peace and thank you, Brother Pierce and thank you:

Marcy Otis Warren
Frederick Douglass
Susan B. Anthony
Martin Luther King
Lyndon B Johnson

There's no way to do Pierce's post justice except by reading it in its splendid entirety, with quotes from the distinguished names listed above and Pierce's own words.
So, here's to Marcy Otis Warren, and to Frederick Douglass, and to Susan B. and MLK and poor old LBJ, too, kickass women and kickass men who understood that we are children of Revolution, but that this Revolution was based on an enormous bluff that demands to be called by every American generation in its own way. And on this weekend, as we celebrate our independence with bright explosions across the night sky, take a moment and listen for the low rumbling of that land mine in history, detonating again and again, in a thousand places, like a heart that grows stronger with every beat.