I’ve got several topics I’ve been trying to finish a blog post about, but I keep finding myself running around in circles… when I’m not getting lost down fractal rabbit holes.
So tonight I want to just post here this list that I’ve calling:
Gene’s Postulates of Bad Faith Argumentation
The shortest distance between two blowhards is a common enemy.
An argument can be extended into an infinite line of malarky with just the occasional application of a sea lion.
All circular reasoning can be defined by a single point and an iterative diversion.
Every false equivalence is congruent to every line of B.S.
If two persons are having a sincere misapprehension a single troll can cause an infinite number of irrelevant squabbles.
There may eventually be some Axioms and Definition of Elements to go along with this eventually.
A group of friends and I have been having a weekly movie night during quarantine. Each of us have nominated some movies, we put them into a rotation in a shared spreadsheet, and each Sunday night we all cue up the movie to stream or otherwise watch together and we text each other comments while we watch, then talk about it afterward. This last Sunday the movie was The Thomas Crown Affair /(the 1999 remake/).
There were at least two of us in the group old enough that we remember watching the 1968 version starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. So while we were contrasting the newer version versus our recollection of the original, a young friend in the group mentioned that the 1960 version of Ocean’s Eleven was awful compared to the newer version. I started to get affronted, but fortunately before I typed anything my second thoughts pointed out that I haven’t watched the old version since I was about fourteen years old.
And I honestly couldn’t say whether I would agree with 14-year-old me about the merits of the movie.
So, since it was available to stream for free on one of the services I subscribe to, I watch the 1960 version of Ocean’s Eleven that night.
Short review: I still really enjoyed it. However, I completely understood why younger viewers would not enjoy it at all. It was a great reminder that no creative work stands in isolation.
More detailed review: One of the film’s greatest weaknesses is that there is virtually no character development. As more than one contemporary review pointed out, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop — also known as the Rat Pack — aren’t playing fictional characters unique to this movie, but rather just playing the personas that each had become associated with over the course of several movies and other performances over the years before the release of this film.
Cesar Romero–who was never considered part of the Rat Pack–is essentially playing the same character he played in a large number of movies before this. And much less famous members of the cast (Richard Benedict, Norman Fell, Hank Henry, Robert Foul,, Richard Conte, and Henry Silva to name a few) were all playing a type of character that they were frequently cast as. So for a vast portion of the 1960 audience of the film, the script didn’t have to do any work to establish the characters—the audience knew what to expect when they saw the actor walk into frame.
A further example of this is the recurring gag during the first half of the movie. For no apparent reason, Sinatra’s Danny Ocean keeps doing or prompting others to do things that greatly upset the mastermind of the operation, Mr. Acebos /(played by Akim Tamiroff/). Nothing about this sub-plot ever contributes to the end of the film, let alone moving forward any part of the plot. Tamiroff was an exceedingly well regarded actor who had been nominated for an Oscar a few times in his early career, but by the late fifties he was often cast in roles like this one of a easily excitably, overly worried character. His main role in those sorts of files was the be the easily wound up character who was unnecessarily worried about the ability of the main character to do whatever he was supposed to do for the plot.
Slight digression at this point, Tamiroff was an Armenian-American who was never able to shed his accent, and thus enjoyed a 60-some year career in Ho0llywood being cast as virtually every ethnicity except Armenian. The character he played in 1940′ The Great McGinty is often cited as the inspiration of the character of Boris Badenoff in the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons.
Another big shortcoming of the movie for modern audiences is the heist itself. The way that Danny Ocean’s eleven comrades go about stealing millions in cash from five casinos simultaneously is not even slightly as intricate or clever as the plots of later caper films such as The Hot Rock or either version of The Thomas Crown Affair or even any single episode of the television series Leverage.
But, to defend the movie (which made a tidy profit for the studios at the time), one doesn’t have to ignore all of those deficits. Rather, one should ask what sort of story was it trying to tell?
First, even though it usually presented as a stand-alone movie, that wasn’t at all how the movie executives (nor most of the audience) perceived it. If you were a studio making movies at that time, you didn’t cast Sinatra, Martin, Davis, Lawford, et al, to portray a new and unique character. You cast them to play a particular type of character they had become famous for. Similarly, if you were an audience member going to the theatre to see this film, you were expecting those actors to deliver a certain kind of entertainment.
Second–and possibly most important–this film is not part of the modern genre of caper film. The title itself foreshadows the ending. Early in the film Sammy Davis, Jr. sings a song called "Ee Oh Eleven." The song is about a person who is trying to claw their way out of a less than advantaged background, and almost reaches financial success, but life is a crap-shoot, and the character rolls an eleven, losing everything he had amassed. And that is the clue that was meant to tell audiences what was coming. The title appears to refer to Danny Ocean and his ten army buddies who, as a gang of eleven, are going to do the impossible. But the eleven in the title actually refers to that moment in a game of Craps where the person rolling the dice rolls an eleven and loses everything.
While I was looking things up about the film to make sure I remembered all the details of its release and so forth correctly, I happened upon a quote from a contemporary review of the movie: "In the end, it is just an amoral tale told for laughs."
I think the reviewer who wrote the line thought that it was a scathing rebuke of the film. But when I read the line, my thought was, "Yeah? So?" Because an amoral tale simply told for laughs sounds like a quite wonderful way to spend an evening. We don’t usually come to stories and other works of art hoping for a deeply profound life-changing exploration of a erudite philosophical question.
We just want something that makes us laugh and feel entertained. And there is nothing wrong with that.
So last month, in reaction to the Q-people and their conspiracy theories, I wrote about the State of the State of the Union Address which was mostly an opportunity for me to be nerdy about the Constitution and presidential history/trivia. Which I love doing.
Tonight President Joe Biden is giving his first address to a joint session of Congress, which some people are incorrectly calling his first State of the Union Address. I predicted in that post seven weeks ago that a typical address wouldn’t happen any time soon, and I’m only technically correct. Joe will deliver his speech in the House Chamber, per tradition. The Vice President and the Speaker of the House will be seated behind him, per tradition. There will be members of both houses of Congress in the room, and representatives from all three branches of government, also per tradition.
However! It’s only going to be 60 Senators (30 from each party), and 80 Representatives (40 from each party) in the chamber. There will be only two cabinet members, instead of nearly the entire cabinet. There will be only one member of the Joint Chiefs, instead of the all of them. There will be only one member of the Supreme Court (the Chief Justice) instead of all of them. And instead of the gallery being packed with guests invited by nearly every member of Congress and a bunch invited by the President, there will be exactly two guests: the spouses of the President and the Vice President. And since they will be observing social distancing, all of these people will be spread out from each other.
The rest of Congress, the cabinet, and the Court will be watching from their homes or their offices. This means that another tradition isn’t being observed: the official Designated Survivor. For the last few decades, it has been the practice of the Secret Service to guard one member of the President’s cabinet who is in the succession of the presidency in an undisclosed secure location somewhere. The reasoning is that if someone hit the capitol building with a missile or bomb or something during the speech, that potentially everyone in the line of succession could be killed.
It’s kind of a creepy tradition, when you think about it. On the other hand, just a few months ago a murder mob invaded the capitol and at least some involved intended to kill certain members of Congress. So maybe we should be more worried about possible attacks.
Tomorrow will be the Biden’s 100th day in office. Presidential candidates often talk about things they plan to accomplish in their first 100 days in office. It all started with Franklin D. Roosevelt, who managed to get Congress to enact 76 new laws during his first 100 day. Something never accomplished before, and a record that has never been matched since.
Since FDR, journalists have treated the President’s first hundred days as an important benchmark. While it might be a self-fulfilling prophecy (because we pay attention to those days, they become important) it is also true that new administrations only get to focus most of their attention on their own agenda before events beyond their control begin to require more attention.
Anyway, here are a few takes other people have on how they thing Biden’s first 100 days will be remembered:
This started as a twitter rant, but I wanted to flesh things out a bit.
First, I saw a lot of people sharing the above tweet from Senate Majority Leader, Chuck Schumer with comments ranging from "LOL!" to "That’s some fine trolling!" Which I had me scratching my head. Were there literally people who didn’t know that all beer is made from fermenting grains and hops — plant products?
To be fair, one of the ingredients in beer making is yeast, which is technically a fungus, and therefore no long considered part of the plant kingdom. But most people don’t understand the difference between a plant and a fungus, and usually retailers and food producers use the term "plant-based" to refer to any a meat substitute.
So for a second I thought this might be like the phenomenon I remember at the height of the gluten-free craze: where foods that have never contained glutens were labeled gluten free (corn ships, for instance) leading some people to think that any other brands of the same food contained gluten.
Nope. Turns out that a former Trump administratin member over the weekend started the lie that President Biden was going to outlaw meat (he can’t legally do that on his own, btw). And the specific lie that they ended with was a claim that because of this, come the Fourth of July "No burgers on July Fourth. No steaks on the barbecue. … So get ready. You can throw back a plant-based beer with your grilled Brussels sprouts and wave your American flag." Source: Befuddled Larry Kudlow Rails That Biden Will Force Americans To Guzzle ‘Plant-Based Beer’ – So no more beer made of grains, yeast and hops? Oh, wait …
But the kicker is that Repubs (including Donald Jr) started repeating specifically that claim about plant-based beer, right?
Now I have to pause for a moment to point out that grilled Brussells sprouts are f-ing delicious, and go particularly well with a juicy rare New York steak. Most barbecues I have attended in my six decades of life, including those hosted by my much more conservative relatives, have usually included a number of grilled vegetables along with the typical burgers and hot dogs. I mean, in parts of midwest it is practically illegal to have an outdoor barbecue without grilled cobs of sweet corn as part of the menu!
But back to the beer: all beers are plant based. It doesn’t really surprise me that Donald Jr. has no clue what beer is made of, but surely at least some of the MAGA people who are seeing the claim being shared on social media have been home brewers! Why aren’t they speaking up?
For those who surprised to learn what beer is made from, I have a few other revelations that some may find shocking: All ciders are plant-based, as are all whiskeys, all rums, all tequilas, all gins, all vodkas — booze is basically fermented plant parts. Similarly it may surprise these people to find out that hamburger buns are plant-based and always have been. French fries? Plant-based. Ketchup? Plant-based. Mustard — yes, even the cheapest, yellowest, most generic mustard is made from ground mustard seeds, not just the fancy Grey Poupon. So that big burger you assemble with the extra tomatoes (plant), sliced onions (plant), lettuce (plant), et cetera, has a whole lot of plant-based stuff as part of the package.
Unless you’re making a burger out of three hamburger patties and a couple of slices of cheese and just holding the greasy thing in your fingers (yes, I’m looking at you, Uncle Gerry), you’ve eaten a lot of plant-based stuff at your previous Fourth of July barbecues.
This whole lie springs from conflating a few studies out there that have shown how reducing how much of our agricultural activity goes to raising various sources of meat could reduce carbon emissions and help mitigate some of the problems of climate changes. These are mostly private studies. The only one I could find (in what was admittedly only a few minutes of Google searching) that was published by a government agency was commissioned by the Trump Administration.
But for many years now neither facts, truth, nor logic have been exactly the strong points of Republicans.
The finale of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was a lot of fun. This is a superhero story, so there was a lot of superheroics. They did a much better job wrapping up most of the problematic plotlines than I had feared in the middle.
I’ve been reading a lot of other people’s reviews of the earlier episodes, and someone made an observation that echoed something I had been thinking about, but I can’t find the review where I read it so I can credit them. Marvel had a plan for this phase of their cinematic universe, which was to be kicked off by the Black Widow movie last summer, and then we were supposed to get The Falcon and the Winter Soldier series and then after that we were supposed to see WandaVision.
Instead, that part of the schedule was reversed. WandaVision was a very out-of-the-box story and didn’t follow typical superhero combat outlines. Because we saw it first, it raised the bar. So when The Falcon and the Winter Soldier is more of a typical superhero story, we keep expecting something more because WandaVision was so different.
It has also been revealed that at least one character who was introduced in this series is also in the Black Widow movie, and that was supposed to be our introduction to them. Not sure how, if we had been able to see Black Widow first that might have changed some of our perceptions of this series.
I think the series overall was fair, but not entirely good and certainly not great. I know opinions vary on this.
But to talk about the finale and what I thought worked, I’m going requires some spoilers. Before we jump into that, because this is a Disney owned property and for some time Disney has been refusing to pay some writers royalties owned, it is nice to note that Disney and Alan Dean Foster approaching settlement on royalties
Okay, so, let’s get into it:
Warning: Spoilers Below!
We finally see Sam in a Captain America themed costume. That favor Bucky called in really paid of, because Sam’s new flight suit is a major upgrade. This episode had lots of fights, and those were all thrilling.
The identity of the Power Broker is revealed as being Sharon Carter. I was a bit disappointed in this development since in the comics Sharon was never a villain. I’m also disappointed because all the previous clues pointed to Sharon so obviously that I was certain they were red herrings. I think this is another one I have to chalk up to WandaVision having raised my expectations too high.
The political parts of the plot don’t hang together well. Camestros Felapton opined in a previous review that this is because the writers are attempting to riff on the original Captain American’s unwavering moral compass, but the writers don’t seem to have the same moral compass. Cora Buhlert pointed out more than once that the supposed villains, the Flag-Smashers, are mostly right in objecting to the policies of the Global Repatriation Council, while the GRC’s policies amount to genocide under real world international law.
I have a really hard time believing, even when half the population of the planet disappeared five years previously, that the remainder of most of the world’s governments would cede all decisions about international travel and so forth to a single committee. If you can suspend your disbelief enough to at least see the GRC’s vote as having something other than symbolic value, you can kind of muddle through that part of the plot.
The fights play out, with Sam and Bucky each getting to be probably heroic. Captain Nationalism shows up in the middle of things and for a bit it looked like it was just going to be a repeat of him murdering one or more members of the Flag-Smashers. Instead, when Karli endangers a truck load of hostages, he breaks off from the fight and tries to save the hostages.
The Karli does get killed before everything is said and done, but it is Sharon Carter who does it, under circumstances where it appears to Sam that Sharon was just acting to save him. The viewers know that Sharon had tried to recruit Karli and the remaining super soldiers to come work for her, and then Karli refused, Sharon needed to kill her or be exposed as the villainous Power Broker.
Sam gets to have a debate with the members of the GRC, the entire thing filmed not just by news camera but by dozens or more bystanders. So the whole world heard him talk about being a Black man wearing the Stars and Stripes. The speech was moving, but we still didn’t take a very deep dive into the problems of systemic racism.
Isaiah Bradley’s stories gets a good closure. We get a scene where Isaiah sees that the story of him and the other black soldiers involuntarily experimented upon is now part of the Captain America exhibit at the Smithsonian. I’ve been trying to avoid reviews until I finished writing this but I did notice something on Twitter and Tumblr. Fans (as far as I can tell) are white, thought this scene wasn’t very important to the plot or was too superficial a take on the troubling relationship between the American Medical Establishment and the African American community. Whereas fans I know are people of color found the scene very moving; some declaring it the most important moment in the whole series.
I thought it was a good scene, though I would have liked a bit more of an examination of the meaning of Isaiah’s earlier declaration that no Black man should want to become Captain America. But I’m going to defer to the opinions of the PoC on how well this scene really worked.
We get to see Zemo one more time, but he isn’t talking to anyone, and that’s a shame. The rest of the super soldiers in the Flag-Smashers are killed by a bomb. The Contessa has a short scene with Captain Nationalism and his wife, where he gets a new uniform and the name USAgent. Bucky goes to the elderly man from episode one and finally confesses that he was the one who murdered the man’s son, and apparently explains about the whole Winter Solider thing. And Sharon got her pardon–which she is going to use to steal secrets from the government.’
And it seems that the powers that be are all okay with Sam declaring himself Captain America. We get a final wrap up with Bucky and Sam back in Louisiana with Sam’s sister, nephews, and all the community members we met earlier. I have to say I like that Bucky is able to smile again.
And the final title card changes the name of the show to Captain America and the Winter Soldier.
One of the jobs this series set out to accomplish was to show us that Sam could step into Steve Roger’s boots and be a great Captain America. It pulled that off, but it’s fair to say it did that in spite of the main plot of the show, rather than because of it.
The show is uneven. It worked for me, I think, because the character arcs for Bucky, Sam, and USAgent held together, again, sometimes in spite of the plot, not because of it.
At least for me, I’m left wanting to see what happens next for Sam, and Bucky, and Zemo. I want to know what kind of trouble the Contessa is going to get USAgent into. And I want to know how Sharon’s plots will be thwarted.
And I’m hoping that Loki is better.
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