Saturday, February 23, 2008
Your 2008 Oscar predictions!!
The Oscars are upon us yet again, and yet the writers strike deprived us of all the pre-Oscar campaigns by the various nominees. In other words, it's the best of both worlds!! And what better way to provide this blog's sixth (!!) annual Oscar predictions!!
Except the nominated movies are mostly downers. You know you're looking at a depressing set of films when the conclusion to Michael Clayton ranks as one of the happier on-screen endings among the Best Picture noms.
The pressure is on your humble blogger -- I got absolutely creamed last year, a fact that the Official Blog Wife has lorded over me for quite some time now. This time, it's personal.
OK, same rules as always -- predictions of who will win followed by who should win. Once again, I'm pleasantly surprised that the wife and I got to see many of the top-nominated films:
Best Supporting Actor
Bardem and Daniel-Day Lewis are vying for the Official Mortal Lock this year, and he gives a great performance. But I'm truly flummoxed why Breach got no love from the Oscars. If the film had been released in October instead of February, it would have earned a slew of them -- and none more deserving than Cooper's portrayal of the bewildering Robert Hanssen.
Chicks playing dudes + Blanchett's ability to mimic anything and anyone = Oscar love as a general rule. However, Garner pulls off an astonishing turn in Juno. When you first see her, she seems like your stereotypical uptight yuppie professional. As the movie progresses, however, Garner is able -- sometimes with little more than a widening of her eyes -- to show the very valid reasons for her outer shell. In a movie filled with dead-on characterizations, it was Garner's character that provided the most surprising and yet thoroughly believable arc.
Cards on the table -- I loathed There Will Be Blood . [See the Boston Globe's Ty Burr for a defense of the movie] I've had it up to here with Paul Thomas Anderson movies that hint at interesting themes before taking the most obvious metaphor and whacking you on the head repeatedly until you "get" it (also, I find it interesting that Anderson's film scores are always praised. As a general rule I find that when critics praise the soundtrack, it's because the director is going all Brechtian and making things obvious to the movie-goer. It's the ultimate backhanded compliment of the director. Contrast the overbearing music of There Will Be Blood with the silence of No Country for Old Men -- the latter is much more affecting). The final reel of There Will Be Blood is far worse than the frogs from Magnolia, in part because the promise of this movie was greater -- and because the final scene in this movie is so impossibly ludicrous that the "I drink your milkshake!" line deserves to be debased in every way imaginable.
As for Lewis' performance, it's the same thing as the movie -- quite good at the start and then descending into utter hamminess by the end of it (see this David Spade spoof and tell me he doesn't nail Lewis' shtick). He's already received every pre-Oscar award, and clearly knows how to give a good acceptance speech.
However, to repeat my objection from last year:
One of the absudities of Hollywood's value system is that someone who can sing or dance can win an Oscar for one show-stopping number, whereas stars in action films are thought to be tawdry and commercial.Damon's performance in all of the Bourne movies, but especially Ultimatum, highlights the contrast between Bourne's coiled physicality and his repressed emotions.
I haven't seen Away From Her, but if the trailer is any clue, Christie is no doubt the winner. Linney, however, was just sublime in this serio-comic role of frustrated writer/liar who is forced to deal with the institutionalization of her senile and mostly unloved father.
With the exception of the ending (a problem way too many of the nominees had this year), No Country for Old Men had the best combination of camerawork, cinematography, sound, pacing and acting of any live action movie I saw this year.
Unless Oscar-voters really care about endings, No Country for Old Men will win (if they do really care, then Juno pulls off the upset).
I liked No Country for Old Men a lot, but like State's Dana Stevens, there's something about a Coen brothers' movie I just can't love. Brad Bird, on the other hand, has me eating out of the palm of his hand. And the simple fact is that none of the nominated movies contains anyting in it that compares to the scene in Ratatouille when the critic Anton Ego tastes the titular dish for the first time. Nor is there anything in any other movie that can top this speech a few minutes later:So there.
Tyler Cowen thinks I'm rational
In his New York Times column, Tyler Cowen articulates my basic attitude towards evaluating presidential candidates:
[T]he public this year will probably not vote itself into a much better or even much different economic policy. To be sure, the next president — whoever he or she may be — may well extend health care coverage to more Americans. But most of the country’s economic problems won’t be solved at the voting booth. It is already too late to stop an economic downturn. Health care costs will keep rising, no matter who becomes president or which party controls Congress. China is now a bigger carbon polluter than the United States, so don’t expect a tax or cap-and-trade rules to solve global warming, even if American measures are very stringent — and they probably won’t be, because higher home heating bills are not a vote winner. A Democratic president may propose more spending on social services, but most of the federal budget is on automatic pilot. Furthermore, even if a Republican president wanted to cut back on such mandates, the bulk of them are here to stay....
Thursday, February 21, 2008
Hello, pot? It's Hillary Clinton's kettle calling!!
Hillary Clinton, February 21, 2008 debate with Barack Obama: "You know, lifting whole passages from someone else's speeches is not change you can believe in, it's change you can Xerox."
Hillary Clinton, later on in the same debate: "You know, the hits I've taken in life are nothing compared to what goes on every single day in the lives of people across our country."
Jack Stanton speech, in Primary Colors (New York: Random House, 1996), p. 162: "Y'know, I've taken some hits in this campaign. It hasn't been easy for me, or my family. It hasn't been fair, but it hasn't been anything compared to the hits a lot of you take every day."
I can't find the actual 1992 Bill Clinton speech upon which this fictional version was based, but I suspect there are some strong similarities. [UPDATE: Thank you, Josh Marshall -- "The hits that I took in this election are nothing compared to the hits the people of this state and this country have been taking for a long time."]
9:46 PM ... That was an interesting final moment to end on for Hillary. Candy Crowley is on CNN now saying how it was a good connect moment for HIllary, which I suspect it may have been. But we all do remember that those words were borrowed from Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign, right?Right.
Grading the candidates on trade
The Cato Institute has a new handy-dandy website: "Free Trade, Free Markets: Rating the Congress," in which you can grade members of Congress on their attitudes towards trade barriers and trade subsidies.
Just for kicks, I figured it would be worth seeing how the presidential candidates stack up:
Hillary Clinton: interventionist (votes in favor of barriers and subsidies);[So where's your Obama love now?--ed. This would seem difficult to rebut. The only caveat on Obama's score is that the support of subsidies is based on a whopping two votes -- so we're talking small sample size.
Otherwise, Ohio and Pennsylvania should love both the Democratic candidates.
UPDATE: Thanks to the anonymus commenter who linked to Lael Brainard's January 2008 Brookings brief that compares the major candidates on trade. There's not much difference at all between the two analyses.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Eagle soaring... for the moment
International relations scholars are/should be familiar with a series of edited volumes on U.S. foreign policy entitled Eagle ________. Eagle Entangled, Eagle Defiant, Eagle Resurgent, Eagle in a New World, etc.
With all the talk of lost hegemony, my latest column for Newsweek International points out that even if U.S. power is waning, it hasn't exactly disappeared. It's called, "The Eagle Still Soars." The take home point:
There is a difference between forming expectations about future trends and believing that the future is now. If anything, recent events reaffirm the primacy of American power....Go check it out.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
McCain vs. Obama.... oh, right, and Clinton too
John McCain went right after Barack Obama in his victory speech tonight. A few thoughts:
1) Matthew Yglesias beat me to the punch on this point -- it's a bit strange for McCain to critique Obama for saying the U.S. should unilaterally use force against terrorists in Pakistan on the same day the Washington Post reports that the U.S. is using unilateral force against terrorists in Pakistan.POSTSCRIPT: Mickey Kaus relates a possible anti-momentum theory that could help Clinton:
Hillary does best when Democratic voters sense she's about to get brutally knocked out of the race, as in New Hampshire. That prospect taps a well of residual sympathy for a woman who has devoted her life to politics, etc. But when Hillary is triumphant she seems arrogant and unbearable, and voters feel free to express those perceptions at the polls. It follows that Hillary will do better in the crucial states of Ohio and Texas if she loses in Wisconsin and has her back to the wall.The problem with this logic is that.... if it were true, she would have actually won Wisconsin. Clinton's back was already against the wall after eight straight losses, and there had been a week for these losses to sink into the electorate. The cable nets delighted in discussing her massive losses in the Potomac primaries. That combined with more favorable demographics should have pushed her to victory in the Badger state -- and yet it didn't.
ANOTHER POSTSCRIPT: Jamal Simmons observes the eerie similarities between the 2008 campaign and the fictional 2006 campaign that played out on The West Wing. My only quibble -- Hillary Clinton isn't Abby Bartlett -- she's John Hoynes.
LAST POSTSCRIPT: Worst... surrogate... ever:The most painful part is the background derisive laughter you can hear at the tail end of the clip.
Musings about the Obama backlash
It's just so three hours ago to talk about how an Obama cult member gets through the day or how Barack Obama can help sustain marriages that cross party lines or how Obama is feeling the love in Japan and Europe. Right now it's all about the backlash!!
Kevin Drum is all over this meme. Deep within the Obama cult, The New Republic's Christopher Orr implies that Republicans like David Brooks were just waiting for Obama to surge... so they could then pull the super-secret double-cross and drag him down into the mire.
As a potential Obama-can, I'm still on the fence. This is not because of Brooks' column today though he is clearly one spur for this conversation. Rather, Clive Crook got at it a bit better in his Financial Times column:
Mr Obama is a paradox, as yet unresolved. His plan and his votes in the Senate show that he is a liberal, not a centrist. And he is no wavering or accidental liberal. His ideas are of a piece. He sees – or convinces people that he sees – a bigger picture. And yet this leftist visionary is pragmatic, non-ideological and accommodating of dissent. More than that, in fact, he seems keen to listen to and learn from those who disagree with him. What a strange and beguiling combination this is.Now, on the one hand, Steve Chapman soothes my anxieties here when he compares Clinton's mortgage plan with Obama's:
Obama is not a staunch free marketeer, but he grasps the value of markets and shows some deference to economic laws. Clinton, however, tends to treat both as piddly obstacles to her grand ambitions.On the other hand, we get to what Obama is saying right now, and I start to get very worried. The Financial Times' Edward Luce explains:
Barack Obama on Monday made an aggressive pitch at Ohio’s blue-collar workers by proposing a “Patriot Employers” plan that would lower corporate taxes for companies that did not ship jobs overseas.Clive Crook, correctly, concludes that this plan is, "on its economic merits, remarkably stupid." And I haven't even gotten to Obama's NAFTA-bashing.
So what's a possible Obama cultist to think? I can offer four words of solace in considering whether to embrace a President Obama:
1) Part of this is the remaining primary schedule. Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania are all fertile ground for economic populism, and this is presumably why Obama has been tacking in this direction. As John Broder and Jeff Zeleny point out in today's New York Times:[B]oth candidates appear to be looking for ways to avoid taking positions that would give them problems in the general election or expose them to a business backlash....2) Chapman is still right -- compared to Hillary, Obama remains the more market-friendly candidate. Indeed, this might even remain true if Obama is compared to McCain. The latter's first instinct on other issues (campaign finance) has been to regulate.
Best title for an economics paper.... ever
Peter T. Leeson, "An-arrgh-chy: The Law and Economics of Pirate Organization," Journal of Political Economy, vol. 115, no. 6 (December 2007): 1049-1094.
Here's the abstract:
This article investigates the internal governance institutions of violent criminal enterprise by examining the law, economics, and organization of pirates. To effectively organize their banditry, pirates required mechanisms to prevent internal predation, minimize crew conflict, and maximize piratical profit. Pirates devised two institutions for this purpose. First, I analyze the system of piratical checks and balances crews used to constrain captain predation. Second, I examine how pirates used democratic constitutions to minimize conflict and create piratical law and order. Pirate governance created sufficient order and cooperation to make pirates one of the most sophisticated and successful criminal organizations in history.
Castro's final revenge
I have only
1) Good riddance -- the man succeeded at little beyond creating repressive state structures designed to stifle individual thought and perserve his power;UPDATE: You can hear my thoughts on the Cuba embargo over at Radio Free Megan.
Monday, February 18, 2008
With my deepest apologies to Abraham Lincoln....
My latest commentary for Marketplace concerns whether the penny should be abolished. In light of plagiarism accusations currently running rampant, I should acknowledge that I was "inspired" by a previously published work. Here's how it opens:
Four score and nineteen years ago, our national mint brought forth on this country a new coin, conceived to honor Abraham Lincoln, dedicated to the proposition that all coins bearing his image would be worth exactly one penny.You know it just gets worse from there.
Click here to listen to it... we were going for stentorian.
Reviewing the reviews of The Israel Lobby
I have a subscriber-only essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education this week that takes a critical look at the public critiques of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. Longtime readers of the blog will not be surprised to learn that I have a mixed take:
Does the public understand how political science works? Or are political scientists the ones who need re-educating? Those questions have been running through my mind in light of the drubbing that John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt received in the American news media for their 2007 book, The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007). Pick your periodical — The Economist, Foreign Affairs, The Nation, National Review, The New Republic, The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post Book World — and you'll find a reviewer trashing the book.Space constraints prevented this section of the essay from appearing in the final version, so it seems worth putting it here:
What [Mearsheimer and Walt] do not do, however, is systematically compare Israel to similarly-situated countries in order to determine if the U.S.-Israeli relationship really is unique. An alternative, strategic explanation for the bilateral relationship would posit that Israel falls into a small set of countries: longstanding allies bordering one or multiple enduring rivals. The category of states that meet this criteria throughout the time period analyzed by Walt and Mearsheimer is relatively small: South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, and Pakistan.On a related topic, Kevin Drum has an excellent post about conducting research on the web that political scientists and non-political scientists alike should read.