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December 29, 2012

rewatching it's a wonderful life

So I watched (rewatched) "It's A Wonderful Life" over the holidays, for the first time in probably fifteen years.  When I was a kid, it was a holiday tradition to gather at my friend Tina's house and watch the entirety of the movie with Tina and her parents.  No idea why I stopped watching it — maybe I figured that I knew it inside and out? — but I'm glad I did, if only for this exchange between George Bailey and Mr. Potter, when Potter attempts to dissolve the Bailey Building and Loan following the death of George's father:
Potter: Peter Bailey was not a business man. That's what killed him. Oh, I don't mean any disrespect to him, God rest his soul. He was a man of high ideals, so called, but ideals without common sense can ruin this town. Now, you take this loan here to Ernie Bishop...You know, that fellow that sits around all day on his brains in his taxi. You know...I happen to know the bank turned down this loan, but he comes here and we're building him a house worth five thousand dollars. Why?

George: Well, I handled that, Mr. Potter. You have all the papers there. His salary, insurance. I can personally vouch for his character.

Potter: A friend of yours?

George: Yes, sir.

Potter: You see, if you shoot pool with some employee here, you can come and borrow money. What does that get us? A discontented, lazy rabble instead of a thrifty, working class. And all because a few starry-eyed dreamers like Peter Bailey stir them up and fill their heads with a lot of impossible ideas.

I've seen a lot lately bemoaning the death of the liberal movement, citing the facts that the president is actually a center-right technocrat, and the progressive wing of the Democratic Party consists purely of Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alan Grayson.  There's something to that, of course.

But Frank Capra's movies were not exactly subversive at the time.  They were popular entertainment, financed by the studios, exhibited in movie houses for all the people across the land.  And the progressive ideas embodied by Capra's heroes were absolutely in the mainstream.

So, I'm suggesting that if the sentiments of Mr. Potter above, bellyaching about "takers" and "moochers," basically,can easily be found out in the public discourse of 2012, then there's no reason that the ideals of George Bailey, or Mr. Smith, can't be as well.  We just have to imminentize that shit.

And while we're at it, we could use some Building and Loans these days, don't you think?

Posted by mrbrent at 2:48 PM

the end of the republican party, or not

Here is a bit of punditry from The Economist (as aggregated by Business Insider, surprise), concerning the slow motion plane crash of the Republican Party, drawing interesting parallels with the nation of Israel, which totally makes sense when considering things like intractability and tone-deafness.
Israeli conservative parties have no disincentive to pursue disastrous settlement policies that produce antagonistic results which only reconfirm the support of their ever-more-anxious and militant base, any more than Republican tax or gun maximalists have any incentive to compromise with Barack Obama in the face of mounting public antagonism that only confirms their own supporters' feelings of embattled fury.

This is from an organization that would ostensibly support both the Israeli right and the Republican Party, mind you.

I'm sharing this not as an exemplary example of this thinking, but rather as representative.  Even if you don't waste time reading such things in the course of a day, it's obvious to everyone but partisans that the GOP is in an unenviable position right now, forced by principle to paint itself into a corner.  And of course it's a trap of their own making — after a generation of manipulating voters with false flags and demagoguery, they've created somewhat of a Frankenstein's monster, a vociferous and rabid base that never understood that all that scary talk about taxes and the debt was just talk, man.  It's certainly fascinating, and I'd be lying if I didn't admit to wishing to see the influence of the Republican Party winnow down to that of, say, the Larouchites.

Two caveats, though:  First, as the news cycle/attention span is not what it used to be, don't count on this auto-defenestration being anything like permanent.  It's entirely likely that the press corps will get bored with the GOP Doom stories and start running GOP Resurgent! stories by Wednesday.  And second, and more importantly, if the Party does fracture and fissure and immolate itself in internecine warfare, then what comes next?  All that power meticulously accumulated and hoarded since the Reagan Administration won't just dissipate, and the wingnuts won't suddenly become smart.  Maybe the evil we know is better than what comes next.

Posted by mrbrent at 2:03 PM

December 28, 2012

white house petitions are silly

I don't know if I'm early or late on this, but the petition mechanism that is offered by the White House is pernicious and evil and it must stop.

You might have heard of this very popular petition, asking to classify Fred Phelp's Westboro Baptist Church as a hate organization.  "That's awesome," you say to yourself.  And maybe you also heard about this one from before the holidays, begging to have Piers Morgan deported because he says mean things about the NRA.  "That's heinous," you say to yourself.

Actually, neither.

These petitions are about as useful as any other petition that might have crossed your inbox in the past fifteen years ago.  Oh sure, the White House sets a threshold that, if met, triggers a "response" from the White House.  As far as engaging via social media, brilliant.  But in the zeal to affix John Hancocks to these, the point lost is that if the petition is for some impossible thing, then the only White House response possible is, "Hey, thanks for playing."

Take the awesome one: sorry, the White House does not declare groups hate groups by fiat.  In fact, I don't even think that the Department of Justice does for any other purpose other than statistics.  Westboro sucks and they cause a lot of pain, but remember that they are trolls in the perfect sense: they are agitating so that people do stupid things so that Westboro can sue them.  Label them a hate group?  That might hurt their feelings, until they find someone to file suit against over it.

And take the heinous.  Foreign nationals here on work visas (which is what I presume Morgan is) cannot be deported on the basis of speech.  There's an amendment, I forget which one, which stands in the way of that.  Of course, if you get enough signatures, then, well, nothing changes.  But, again, thanks for playing.

It's misplaced ardor, and a litany of exercises in uselessness.  It's a bit of the Facebook business plan being employed to foster some sense of civic engagement.  And ultimately it's just silly, so just cut it out, please.

Posted by mrbrent at 12:45 PM

December 27, 2012

advice from fairy godmother david mamet

I have a new little short thing up at The Awl.  It's the end of the year series, slotted to run between Christmas and New Year's so everyone can take a vacation, and the theme this year is "advice."  So my contribution is about David Mamet, of course.

And in it you will find that I conflated dangling participles with split infinitives.  Embarrassing!  But, at least it gave something for the eagle-eyed commenters to comment about.  No-prizes are in the mail.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:47 AM

December 26, 2012

prilsoec and larry the cable guy

Still in a news-free zone.

But I have been awash in what passes for network television these days — i.e., ESPN, and all the ESPN sub-channels.  Not that I don't ever watch ESPN, but I rarely wall-to-wall it.  And on this ESPN there's a commercial that runs with some frequency, featuring either Larry the Cable Guy or Larry the Cable Guy's dad.

It's about how he loves America and everything American or something.  Looks like he's at a state fair?  And it segues from American things he loves to heartburn.  Maybe that's another American thing he loves?

The product if Prilosec, and the upshot is that Prilosec has some sort of pill that you take once a day, in the morning, and then all day long, you won't get heartburn.

So basically we have finally advanced to the point where, instead of not eating food that would give a person heartburn, a Big Pharma company got FDA approval to manufacture, market and sell a pill that will protect the eater from heartburn regardless of dietary choice.  And Larry the Cable Guy (or his father?) is the celebrity that was chosen to accept hundreds of thousands of dollars to pitch it.

Twenty years ago I wrote a joke about how someday a drug manufacturer would make some sort of pill or stent to allow humans to eat and digest glass, and then find someone to sell glass for eating.  Joke now obsolete!

I miss my news-cocoon.

Posted by mrbrent at 9:24 PM

December 24, 2012


I am Holidaying, and I have been since last Friday.  You keep thinking that you'll have a moment to yourself, but then you remember that that's not why we have holidays.

I highly recommend that you all do the same, if you are not already.  And try to think of it as an irreligious thing, and instead as a Federal holiday in which one is forced to target friends and family with gifts.  That's what it is in practice.

But I can't wait til Wednesday, when I'll finally hold a newspaper in my hand again.  (I've been working on a bunch of Wayne La Pierre jokes that I can't wait to try out.)

Merry Christmas, you wonderful old Savings and Loan!


Posted by mrbrent at 8:20 AM