Thursday, November 24, 2016

In Defense of 2016

On Thanksgiving Day, it seems appropriate for me to give some thanks. 
In his last episode of the season for his show "Last Week Tonight", the comedian and social commentator John Oliver dedicated his last segment to a condemnation of the year 2016.  It included a series of people, famous and not, directing profane insults toward 2016.

Now, let me say first that I am a John Oliver fan.  There are few that can write and deliver better-aimed streams of insults toward the deserving than he, and I do appreciate his sense of humor.  I paid good money to see him ring in this new year in a Chicago theater.  I do want to differ with him in his characterization of the current year, though.

Yes, this is what they refer to as an "Election Year", in the US anyway, and this year's  model was a disappointment--worse, a massive error of historic proportions, an epic failure, a sin against history and against all of humanity.  So, yeah, bad outcome, but certainly an entertaining spectacle, a three-ring circus (the two party primary contests, and the general election) generally worth the price of admission--a price that seems to have been entirely charged for future payment.

It was also a Leap Year--love that extra day!--and a year of the summer Olympiad.  Oliver put down the Rio Olympics in his excoriation of the year, but I disagree:  the coverage here in the US may have been the usual narrow-cast, parochial, patriotic commercialized rot, but the competition itself was outstanding, and the hosts did not embarrass themselves at all.  Not even when Ryan Lochte chose to slander them to try to excuse his juvenile hijinks.

A few more positives from sport:  Chicago and Cleveland each had major sports triumphs to celebrate:  the Cubs' first World Series victory in 108 years, and Cleveland's first major sports championship in any sport in something like 50.  Both championships were exciting comebacks by the winning team after coming back from 3-1 behind in full, seven-game series ending in a thrilling finale. There was also one of the most dramatic finishes in NCAA basketball history, won by Villanova with a buzzer-beating three-point shot (by Kris Jenkins).

Some wonderful people passed on from this life in 2016, particularly in music  and arts--we have chronicled a few (some additional ones noted below); however, we have their contributions to our civilization which survive them.  "Ars longa, vita brevis," that quote, attributed to Hippocrates, is appropriate.

Finally, I will point out that the year 2016 should be one entirely governed (in the US) by President Barack Obama.  This will surely be the last year we will be able to say that.  He has been one of the best; we will rarely, if ever, see his like in the office again.  It may well be that we--even the deluded Trump voters, and the skeptic and constant complainer John Oliver--will all look back at 2016 as one of the good years.

Some Exits, Hasty and Not

I love you in a place where there's no space or time
I love you for my life
You're a friend of mine
And when my life is over
Remember when we were together
We were alone and I was singing this song to you
 --Leon Russell "A Song For You"

A bit of a rush for the exit around Election Day--I'm sure it's just a coincidence:
Leon Russell (died Nov. 13) was a musician with a unique talent and character, most famously one of the late '60's touring rock bunch fronted by Joe Cocker called Mad Dogs and Englishmen. He was in the first group, being from Oklahoma originally.  A songwriter with a generous spirit, he played piano and sang with a charming drawl.  His was the second major rock concert I ever saw (after Steppenwolf, in 1970).
Leonard Cohen (Nov. 7)-- A particularly gifted songwriter, his performances often disguised his limited vocal ability with beautiful arrangements and sidepeople.  Many of his songs were best performed by others, but he ranks with Dylan and a few others for the quality of his lyrics in the field of "popular" music.
Pete Burns  (Oct. 23) --  Age 57, he was the writer and creator of the 1984 new wave/disco hit
"You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)", with a group called Dead or Alive.  There have been many remakes.
Mose Allison (Nov. 15) - Speaking of many remakes, there are few songs that have been covered more than Allison's "Parchman Farm", a classic rock favorite referring to the Mississippi penitentiary near his hometown.
Gwen Ifill (Nov. 14) - This spectacularly good-natured, fair-minded journalist's death came as a complete surprise to me.  She hosted "Washington Week" for many years and PBS' high-quality "News Hour" for a recent few.  A great loss to the field, and to us who depend upon journalism for information.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Oct. 13) - On the other extreme, the last "King of Siam" was known to be dying for a decade or more.  He reached age 88 and served for 70 years, the longest in the history of Thai kings. The reverence the Thai people had for him was extraordinary--though mandated by law, it was more than that.
Tom Hayden (Oct. 23) - one of the original '60's radicals, he was a founder of the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) in the early '60's, then one of the defendants in the so-called Chicago 7 trial after the 1968 convention and police riot (charged with inciting violence, but acquitted)).  In his later life he was married to Jane Fonda (for 18 years--a record?), and made a couple of bids at elective office.
Janet Reno (Nov. 7) - She was the Attorney General for two full terms under Bill Clinton;.  She is remembered for ordering the siege on the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, which turned out rather badly.  She was responsible for the Federal prosecutions of Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.  This was domestic terrorism before Al Qaeda's heyday.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Lessons Learned/ Escape Plans

It's All Bad
When I am king you will be first against the wall 
With your opinion which is of no consequence at all
--Radiohead, Paranoid Android 

It is difficult for me to express the strength of my feelings about this disastrous electoral result from last week. We have had nights of severe disappointment before:  Nixon '68, Nixon '72, Reagan '80, Reagan '84, Bush '00, Bush '04, but this is worse than any one of them.  Trump combines the worst characteristics of each Republican protagonist--Nixon's paranoia, profanity, ethical shortcomings, and closet bigotry; Reagan's opportunism and unchallenged appeal based on celebrity; Dubya's blissful ignorance and disinterest in detail or governing.  What makes the disappointment even more extreme was the widespread expectation, near universal, that this year's election, though close, was more likely to turn out favorably.

Of those (miserable) memories, I would select 1968's election as the one most resembling 2016's. Passions ran similarly high all the way through the campaign that year.  Other shared characteristics include the dissatisfaction with both the major party nominees, a significant third-party effort,  appeal to "law 'n order", and the Republicans' rallying around the notion of challenge to a  liberal Democratic administration. As in 1968, the popular vote ended in a photo finish, though the Republicans had a more decisive Electoral College win decided late on Election Night.

In spirit Trump might wish for a Nixonian type of administration--like Nixon, his ideology is flexible, and he takes more interest in the personal struggle for power and prestige.  His quotations of alt-right dogma have sounded more like the verbal equivalent of red meat for the rabid dogs than real conviction.   Like Nixon, he seems to long for the dramatic, surprise result (and he got one Election Night). If he wanted to, Trump could immediately change the dynamic of the relationship with the opposition by asking Mitch McConnell to consider the highly-qualified moderate President Obama proposed for the Supreme Court vacancy, Merrick Garland. Unfortunately, he seems to be painting himself into a policy corner in which he will only hear the extremists like Steve "Race" Bannon,  Jeff "Beauregard" Sessions, Lt. General Michael "Wacko" Flynn, and the sycophantic shills and trained liars like Reince "Rancid Priapus" Priebus and Kellyanne Conway (see this takedown of her, posted by a good friend).

Given the advice he is choosing to surround himself with (we can disregard as feints the invitations to the likes of Mitt Romney or Nikki Haley), it is hard to imagine anything positive coming out of Trump's administration.  It may be worth the Democrats' time to participate in the negotiations on topics like tax reform or infrastructure investment, or electoral reforms (I haven't heard anything about that since the election), but we should expect that the ultimate proposals will not be accepable. I would humbly suggest that Trump consult Romney about what changes to "Obamacare" might make sense from the Governor's point of view, since the reform could equally be called "Romneycare" (though he said he would have done it differently), rather than wasting Romney's time talking to him about a Cabinet position offer that will not be forthcoming.

What to do Now?
Greed is a bottomless pit
And our freedom's a joke we're just taking a piss
And the whole world must watch the sad comic display
If you're still free start runnin' away
'Cause we're comin' for ya.......
So I'm up at dawn, putting on my shoes
I just want to make a clean escape
I'm leaving but I don't know where to
--Bright Eyes, "Landlocked Blues"

I've moved fairly quickly through the stages of coming to terms with grief:  denial lasted only a dozen hours or so that awful night; anger (the second) was definitely present; I've been through bargaining (I was entertaining the thought that Trump might have a plane crash or something and we could live with Pence, who is at least a known quantity); depression was threatening me but a luxury I cannot afford, and now I accept that Trump as President does seem to be unavoidable. 

Yes, I briefly considered the extreme measure of quitting my job on Jan. 21 and heading for some other, less benighted land  (call it "Denial of Service" to Trump's project).  Italy, naturally, came to mind--it has its downside, but also a superior quality of life.  I recall my analysis, made back in the '80's, that Mauritius (look it up--middle of the Indian Ocean) would be the last major settled place to receive the radioactive cloud if the general nuclear annihilation of the Northern Hemisphere comes to pass.  But who really wants to be On the Beach watching it come in?  I don't. Ultimately, I am an American born and bred and will never be anything else, much as I might want to transcend my humble, parochial origins. 

So, I will stay and try to Keep America Great (or at least some of it, somewhat great), a defensive posture to be sure, but all that is left to one whose opinion "is of no consequence at all" (see the epigraph under this post's headline).  What does that mean, to me?  Frankly, I am not going to get too hung up about Trump's domestic agenda, except when it comes to inhumane  proposals or offenses against our liberty.  There is a basic economic scenario that I expect from this four year period:  irrational exuberance, deficit-expanding spending and tax cuts, inflation, and economic recoil--either a tightening of rates leading to recession, or an accelerating inflation cycle.   Either should lead to a definitive defeat of this President, or his party's successor as candidate, in 2020, and we should make that an absolute priority.  Trump has control of Congress, he will have the Supreme Court, and whatever he works out with Paul Ryan will be hard to prevent--at least, temporarily. 

The set of issues which concerns me the most and will bring the most forceful actions from me are those which deal with America's relation with the rest of humanity.  They (the rest of the world, with the exception of a couple of other demagogic autocrats) are all alarmed, confused, uncomprehending (much as many of us here are).  First item to mention is that Trump has made statements saying he intended to go back on the US' commitments to the Paris accords on reducing greenhouse gases and limiting the damage caused by climate change.  This myopic failure has not yet come to pass and must be blocked.

Alongside that is the urgency of trying to prevent Trump's immaturity, ignorance, and wrongheadedness on foreign relations from creating a massive international disaster.  He will face pressures to renege on the international agreement which has stopped Iran from moving forward on its nuclear program toward possibly developing a weapon; this must not happen.  He seems to think he can play footsie with President Putin of Russia.  I will say this:  the leaders of Iran and Russia are not rubes that he can gull; they are sophisticated, ruthless survivors of brutal environments who will look for soft spots and exploit them--this can cause an overreaction which could be tragic.  

A professor at the University of Chicago business school, Luigi Zingales, posted an excellent article in the Times Friday on "The Right Way to Resist Trump".  Zingales drew upon his observations from the political struggles against Italy's version of Trump, Silvio Berlusconi, who combined elements of nationalist demagoguery, celebrity status, mastery of media, and ethical compromise which would be very familiar to watchers of the Drumpfenphenomenon.  (Trump also shows some elements of a previous Italian leader, Benito Mussolini.)  What Zingales found was that the successful challengers against Berlusconi, over his 20-odd years of political prominence, treated him as just a normal political opponent, not someone to be demonized.  (The names of the leaders were Romano Prodi and Matteo Renzi, both people with formidable intellects and the confidence to rise above Berlusconi's bluster.) 

A few more points about what to do: 

  • The objective is 2020.  We can see right now that the elections in 2018 are going to be a disaster:  there are a number of Democratic-held Senate seats which will be at great risk; the party is certain to have a net loss of seats, and a 8-seat gain, giving the Republicans a filibuster-proof supermajority, is not impossible.  Democrats must do what they can to minimize the coming short-term disaster by: 
  • Building a 50-state strategy (or maybe 40 states, there might be about 10, in the upper Rockies, deep South, and Great Plains, for which efforts are clearly going to be futile); 
  • Reorganizing for success.  I support Keith Ellison's candidacy for head of the Democratic National Committee; I think he's the right person.  I heard him this morning on the topic, and he seems to have read Zingales' article. 
  • Give Trump enough rope.  As I said above, his domestic program will lead to disaster and failure, and there will be no way for us to stop it.  When it comes to ethics and self-dealing, Trump is blind and foolish--I predict that this area will be his downfall.  We will let him set his own rules there, and then he will ruin his own cause (as was the case with Nixon).  

As for me, my checkbook is closed for political contributions, for the time being.  Although there were a few Congressional candidates who I supported and who won close races, there were a lot more disappointments (Feingold, Clinton, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the Democratic Governors' Association).  I particularly was disappointed in PAC's performance, and especially the End Citizens United group, which abandoned their core position in favor of being an ineffective Clinton cheerleader.  If we want to end Citizens United, we will need to get Republican politicians to understand (or to agree publicly) that the system works against them, and their constituents, too.  (The same goes for the Electoral College, a longtime personal bugaboo.)  I will only give to groups that explicitly and exclusively will use the money to develop grassroots organizations across all the country, and nothing that may or will go to TV ads. 

Update-- A couple more quick lessons learned:   
 Dumb it Down.  It has been demonstrated that any thought above an 8th-grade level of reading is wasted effort, politically.  The 10-point program is derided, but largely because it's too many points, and not enough of them tend to be completed.  No more than five; probably three is best. And no big words. 

And, closely related, Get some Starpower Candidates.  Think of it:  Has there ever been an American celebrity running for a major office who has not won? (I am pointedly excluding intellectuals.)  Actors are OK, but that's not the only kind.  Sonny Bono, Darryl Hall (of Hall and Oates), Jesse Ventura--and of course, Reagan, Trump, Al Franken, Arnold Schwarzenegger.   Here are some thoughts:  Tom Hanks.  Bruce Springsteen. Robert Redford.  Leo DiCaprio. Van Jones, or Anderson Cooper, or Megyn Kelly!  There is no substitute for name recognition, and as we are seeing now, particularly if that comes from something other than association with political activity.  (I'm not talking about Kanye West, who is a blockhead.)

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Deplorable

adjective - lamentable; deserving strong condemnation..  synonyms:  disgraceful, shameful, dishonorable, unworthy, inexcusable, unpardonable, unforgivable. 
"lamentable" is the first definition in Merriam-Webster; I believe that would be because it is the original meaning of the word. The rest of it--the more judgmental meaning, and the synonyms--is the more modern usage, as provided by Google.  That word--both definitions--is the perfect one to describe the result of the 2016 Presidential election.  Hillary Clinton didn't have it right when she said that half of Trump's supporters were a "basket of deplorables".  Deplorable is an adjective; describing a person as "a deplorable" is incorrect.  I don't believe that people are deplorable, though some of their opinions and actions may be.

That the result itself is deplorable I think is self-evident--if not, I will not explain it here, but refer you to my previous post, in which I listed the probable consequences of a Trump victory.  The causes are many
--bad tactical decisions by the Clinton campaign on the use of their many resources;
--FBI Director James Comey's blundering and harmful messages on the Weiner laptop emails (which slowed Clinton's momentum, probably not changing many minds but suppressing some turnout among some of her likely supporters);
--the randomness of decision by Electoral College (a switch of some 0.05% of the national vote in three states would've changed the results);
--the lack of focus on change initiatives from the candidate herself;

--and yes, it is possible, though unprovable, that Bernie Sanders might have done better against Trump, though the die had already been cast for Clinton by the time Trump locked up his nomination.

The real blame for the result belongs entirely on those people who voted for Donald Trump. They should have known better.

I'm not talking about the personal peccadilloes involved, in this era of indiscretions--I suppose we can cancel the misdeeds of Trump against those of Bill Clinton (if they are at all relevant to Hillary's candidacy) or the BFD issue of Hillary's choice of server for her emails-- I never cared much about these, and apparently the supposed moral conservatives didn't, mind much, either.  With regard to my own insistence that it is foreign and military policy that matters in a President, it was no contest (Clinton) but not critical; to the extent Trump's actual positions are known, they don't differ much from Clinton's (except for questions like sucking up to Putin, supporting our allies, or abrogating our treaties and international agreements).

Even if one focuses on the domestic issues that people of both parties would have cited as being important, such as jobs, taxes, education, and entitlement programs, Clinton's positions were clearly articulated, grounded in reality, and generally ignored; Trump's were vague and unrealistic. Try going to his website and look for something about Medicare or Social Security--you will find nothing, only his blather about "Obamacare", his positions on which are rapidly evolving to something not appreciably different from Clinton's "enhance and improve" stance.   But enough about that--there is plenty of evidence that voters did not know the candidates' positions on these issues, nor care about them, nor was there more than a smattering of attention to them in the media's coverage of the campaign.

What I am talking about is the reasons people give for their votes for Trump, a subject which is getting excessive attention now that it is too late to remedy those fatal errors.  Voters' decisions are typically emotional ones, and it is there that I am most amazed.  Why they would choose to put their trust in a person who continually lied (or misstated facts, if that is something different), who has a long history of defrauding his employees, customers, contractors, business partners, and investors, I will never know or understand the answer.

The reason often cited that he is "one of them" does not hold water. He is even more an elitist than the Clintons, and his interests are those of the moneyed class.  Far from being a press-the-flesh politician (or even salesman) he actually has an aversion (well-hidden) to physical contact with the proletariat.  Although he is an outsider to Washington politics, he is very much an insider in the larger game of the American economy, and as an agent of change, there is a lot of bluster, very little beef:  what is new about tax cuts for the rich?  Where is the evidence that immigration is harming our economy or security?  There is this "tribal" theory of voting, but it hardly explains to me the 30% of Hispanics and 50% of white women who voted for this anti-Hispanic misogynist.  Some seer on one of this morning's talking heads shows said that the election was the 21st century intruding on our politics; I think it was the opposite--an intrusion of mid-20th century politics.

There is one group I think can be readily identified as the core Trump supporter:  the older, white, working-class males without a college degree.  They have been Trump's most consistent source of support throughout, and they turned out in unprecedented numbers for him on Election Day.  Though they don't appear to be appreciably poorer than average, there is a consistent thread of resentment, a claim that they are not getting their fair share anymore, and that some "others" are getting it instead.  No need to call people names, but it is this nativist, nostalgic, willing suspension of disbelief in this fraudulent con artist which is at the heart of this terrifically close, terrifying and disheartening result.

Well, I can't complain that the night lacked drama, though it was a slow-moving one.  Let's call Part I of our drama done; Part 2 will be "The Donald Trump Era and the Decline/Rebirth of the American Empire", presumably beginning January 20 and ending four years later.

Enough rant.  I will proceed immediately to another post, with lessons learned and escape plans, as promised.



Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Election Night Live blog

11:20 p.m. It's not over, but I can't continue blogging right now. Michigan is now looking possible; Wisconsin does not look good.  Clinton is going to need Nevada, New Hampshire, and maybe one of those Maine or Nebraska districts. 

10:45 p.m.  Very strong trend for Trump on Predictit.org, now up to around 80%, depending on the market.  The markets are moving very quickly.  It's too late to sell out any positions, I'm going to hold on and hope Michigan turns.  Or that Arizona, which no one is yet mentioning, becomes an upset the other way.  I am hearing a lot of rationalizations, rather than panic, from a journalistic community that is absorbing a possible shocker.   New York Times is expecting Pennsylvania to end up extremely close.  I think it's time for another drink (my third).

10:30 p.m.  I see Wisconsin ultimately being a Clinton win, but Michigan is looking very bad.  Also North Carolina. New Hampshire is basically tied; on Maine 2nd Congressional District I have not seen any results.  Right now I am rooting for Evan McMullin in Utah!

In the Senate, it is looking good for McGinty in PA, not so good (so far) for Russ Feingold in Wisconsin, which would be an unmitigated disaster.  New Hampshire's Senate race is, like the Presidential one there, a toss-up.  Nevada not yet reporting.  Not looking good for Democratic control of the Senate, either.


10:00 p.m. Michigan is appearing as the possible death blow to Clinton, with Florida and Ohio seemingly out of reach and North Carolina unfavorable. Predictit.org is now projecting 276 Electoral votes for Trump, but 16 of those are Michigan's.
The possibility to me is something that Nate Silver discounted:  Clinton winning the popular vote, but Trump winning the electoral vote because of close wins in some large Electoral College states.

On CNN they are talking about that missing thing that the modelers and pollsters missed, they don't know what to call it.  I call it the "David Duke Effect"--people who are getting their revenge by voting for Trump,, though they may have pretended otherwise.

9:25 p.m. WTF?  A bit of a low point, with Clinton showing some trouble in Michigan, Virginia, and with Florida and Ohio getting away from her.  If she loses Michigan, even North Carolina (still totally up for grabs) would not protect her.  I feel this may be her low point on the night.  Let's hope so--after an early strong start, my Predictit account is bleeding money.

As I thought, it looks like a late night.

9:05 p.m  (EST). - No news to report so far in the Presidential contest.  Florida, North Carolina are as close as expected; Ohio and Virginia maybe a bit closer.
The Senate isn't moving too well in the Democrats' direction, with disappointing results for Evan Bayh in Indiana and against Marco Rubio in Florida.  The other Eastern states with competitive races (NH, NC, WI, MO) have not been called, though most of the attention is still on the Presidential race.
Only real news is strong turnout for both the red and blue districts/states.  This probably means less ticket-splitting, as regards the Senate, which is not so good for Democrats' chances to regain control.
One good thing NBC had was a projection of the House--presumably on the strength of exit polls (generic).  They are projecting 235-200, which would be a gain of 12 for the Democrats.  Probably a 3-5 seat plus or minus.
I didn't get the nap I had proposed (I focused on getting some takeout), but the 7-9 p.m. was, in fact, a news dead zone.

Monday, November 07, 2016

Election Eve Guide to Sleeping Through Election Night

I want to keep this somewhat short so I can get some sleep tonight, as it may be hard to find tomorrow night. Here are a couple of guides tomorrow night that might help you catch a few moments of shut-eye during the evening, even if--as I am fairly certain will be the case--it goes very late.

When to Start --There is something to say for the argument to take a nap early, assuming your nerves will allow it.  There will be a period from about 6 to 8 p.m. during which there will be little in the way of solid returns, the networks will talk about certain characteristics in their exit polls but not the results themselves, and there will be a lot of talk about what to expect, what are the themes, etc., none of which will be very surprising.

The first first two states to report in something like full measure will be Indiana and Kentucky, both of which will be easy Trump wins.  Kentucky will be the first state in history to be called for Donald Trump in a general election, a dishonor for my native birth state.  There will be a couple points of interest in Indiana; the main one is the race for the Senate seat which Evan Bayh is trying to reclaim. He joined the race late, was favored to win, but has been damaged by the charge of being an outsider, and now is perceived from recent polling to be trailing narrowly.  If Bayh can win his race, the Democrats' chances to regain control of the Senate move from likely to highly probable, though that may take some hours to emerge.  The other is the governor's race which I interests me most, in which Democrat John Gregg is a slight favorite to take the chair being vacated by Mike Pence.

Virginia (closing 7 p.m.) will be the first good indication of the nature of the Presidential race.  Hillary Clinton is favored to win by about 5% there, and the votes should come in fairly quickly.  If she wins narrowly, or if the race is not called within an hour or two, that will be an indicator of possibly a bad night for Clinton (much worse, of course, if she doesn't win it--that would be disastrous).  So, you could tune in at 8 and see how it looks.

The Game is Underway - It gets faster and is fully engaged after 8, when the returns from both time zones begin to report for the critical state of Florida (there will be some partial, indeterminate results in the hour before). Florida is not just a bellwether, though; it is the state which will tip the balance, the whole race in a nutshell, where most of the themes will be tested--turnout and the extent of Trump support among poor whites, turnout of African Americans, and, above all, the extent to which Latinos will turn out, one-sidedly, against Trump.  We can expect the statewide outcome to be close enough that it will take a couple of hours to see who is likely to win it.  If it's Clinton, it will not be such a late night for the Presidential race; if it's tied or Trump winning, we will have to stay tuned.

Ohio and North Carolina will close their polls at 7:30, but we should not expect either of those states to resolve quickly. In the case of Ohio, unusually, it does not appear to be critical.  Trump is perceived to be leading, though the gap may be narrowing, but his victory there does not presage Electoral College success.  North Carolina's demographics are shifting and becoming more diverse; it's actually one of the states where the Latino vote will be critical, but I have learned not to trust the outcomes from there.

The next main tests will be Pennsylvania and Michigan, both of which will have their polls close at 8 p.m. I expect there will be huge lines in both states, heavily contested but without significant early voting, and they will necessitate the polls staying open in some locations, so the returns may be delayed.  In any case, PA and MI will test whether Trump has a real chance to pull off a major upset--if he can win either, the electoral map for Clinton will be dramatically more challenging.

Two Somewhat Risky Approaches - One could actually suggest extending the early-evening nap until 9:30 or even 10, with the expectation that VA, PA, and MI will go according to form,that  NC, OH, and FL will not be decided early, and one can be fairly certain that the race can not officially be called until 11 p.m. Eastern, when the polls close in California.  The following hour--between 11 and 12--will probably be the climax,, when the close Eastern time zone states will finally resolve.  There is a bit of a risk, though, that the dominoes could fall faster and you could miss the decisive moments when the outcome will be indicated.

A different approach would be to skip the nervous hours, between 8 and 10, when things may unfold somewhat predictably but also slowly.  Get those early indications before 8, and decide whther to resume viewing at 10:30 or 11 for the climax and the call, or if it looks bad early for the Democrats, set the alarm for midnight--that is probably the earliest that a Trump victory, a dead heat-type outcome, or a contested outcome could fully emerge.

Predictit.org Status and Final Predictions
In the past 48 hours, as Clinton's poll numbers stabilized, then improved (helped by FBI Director Comey's announcement that the Weiner laptop was, investigatorially speaking, a big nothingburger), the uncertainty in the betting markets has reduced dramatically.  The odds for most of the Electoral votes--with the exceptions of  Maine's 2nd Congressional District, NC, OH, and FL, in rough order from closest to a pure toss-up--have moved toward the extremes.  Those positions for the Democrats at 15% in Texas or 25% in PA have been closed out.

I have done the same, as I have unwound some of my perfectly hedged positions, like I had in Georgia, Iowa, and Nevada, shifting it toward the favorite.  I have always favored the Democrats in NH, PA, VA, and the upper Midwest states, even in the tough times.  I have moved out of most of my true underdog positions (I have some small ones on Democrats in Montana, the Indiana and Florida Senate races).  I still am hedged on the big 3, FL, NC, and OH, which will allow me to move toward one side or the other if I am so inclined, and the Nevada and New Hampshire Senate races.

Some of the more interesting markets are on some "point spread" type bets--on 1) the Electoral votes for the winner, 2) the margin of victory on the popular vote, and on 3) the final number of Republican Senate seats and on 4) the number (ranged) of Republican House seats.  My positions on each are as follows:

  1.   spread somewhat evenly on four ranges between 280 and 359 Electoral votes  (and no on the other ranges); 
  2.   evenly between 2-4% and 4-6% (holding to my original prediction of a 3.9% margin, the same that Obama had over Romney in 2012;
  3.   49 or less Republican seats (and a smaller bet on 50); and 
  4.   218-230 Republican seats (231-240 is the favored position). 
A late, welcome addition to the predictit.org is their Election Map, showing where the
markets are by state, color-coded for the strength of sentiment.  It is updated continuously, or at least has been recently.  It is currently showing 307-215 for Clinton, with ME-2 and NC classified as toss-ups.  Larry Sabato's respected political science blog had much the same, 322-216 with NC to Clinton and ME-2 to the Republicans.

As for me, I am stubbornly sticking with most of my Sept. 11 predictions.  A gain of five Senate seats (WI, IL, NH, PA, and IN, holding NV narrowly), a 3.9% popular vote margin for Clinton (though the 3rd-party vote has dropped more than I expected), but a decrease in the final Electoral Vote count for Clinton from 296 to 278 (the difference being Ohio's 18).  In other words, Obama's 2012 332 votes, minus Florida, Iowa, Maine's 2nd, and Ohio.

In this scenario, a late-night nail-biter, New Hampshire and Nevada become critical for Clinton to hold, above and beyond the states like WI, MI, PA, VA, and CO.  I am nervously expecting all of those to be held.  I have only hope, but little expectation, for Democratic wins in MO and NC, despite strong campaigns against incumbents and regret that the opportunity to defeat Marco Rubio in the FL Senate race seems unlikely to succeed.

Election Day Update:  I neglected to mention the House of Representatives.  My bet on 218-230 Republican seats was primarily because I liked the price; the median estimate is more like 235.  The two contests I will be looking for are, first:  Illinois-10, a third-time-around matchup in the suburbs (where I have my "principal", though not "permanent", residence).  Democrat Schneider won it in 2012, "Republican" Dold won it from him in 2014, and this year Dold, though nominated by his party, is running essentially as an independent.  The other is California-25, where a Democrat named "Colonel Doug Applegate" has a chance to knock off the odious Darrell Issa.  That one I will have to research the next day to find out what happened.

I plan to blog live tomorrow for at least some of the evening (no funny stuff with font size this time, sorry about that), and then the next day to review lessons learned, if Hillary wins, and escape plans if she should lose.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Looking for Relief -- Different Takes

There must be some kind of way outta here

Said the joker to the thief
There's too much confusion
I can't get no relief
--Bob Dylan, "All Along the Watchtower"

First, Bob himself has provided me a spot of relief, with regard to the Nobel Prize for Literature he has recently been announced to have won.  After the announcement, the silence from Dylan was troubling:  was he going to refuse the award?  Was he, a person with at least some nodding acquaintance of literature (I say that, based on some of the literary references in his songs), planning on disparaging the artistic quality of his own life's work?  Well, no--he was either too busy with his current concert tour, or he didn't know what to say about it at first.  In an interview with Rolling Stone, he acknowledged the honor, didn't opine on whether he deserved it, and said he would attend the ceremony if at all possible. 

How Do You Spell Relief?
This phrase has insinuated itself into American dialogue, though it does not have a natural sense outside of its original context.  That context, I must explain for you Gen X and Millennial readers, was the TV ad for Rolaids antacid tablets in the '70's, one that used the "fake testimonial" approach with actors answering the question in a variety of ways describing the product's many benefits, with the ad concluding with the 'correct answer', spelling the product name out. 

It didn't mean much to me, though the phrase embedded itself in my mind through repetition; however, in the past couple of years I have had a bit of an issue with acid reflux, so I have tried the various products.  Rolaids are OK, maybe a little better than their close cousin Tums (which is recommended for the heartburn suffered by pregnant women because of its calcium), but for me, I spell relief "GAVISCOM".  

A final note on this obscure subject:  Has anyone ever noticed, with regard to this slogan, that "to spell" has a meaning almost the same as "to relieve"?  The only difference is that spelling would seem to be always a temporary form of relief.  But then, is any form of relief permanent? 

The Endless Campaign
Certainly that question has arisen, several times, with regard to the presidential campaign.  We have felt relieved after each debate, as Clinton demonstrated her mastery of the issues and her ability to trade verbal punches with the big bully on the other side.  We have felt relieved a couple of other times when her lead in the polls seemed safe, usually because Donald Trump said something or did something so outrageous that even loyal but sane Republicans wavered in their support for him. 

Always, though, like lost lambs, they seem to wander back to their political home base.  So, recognizing this, I have resisted the temptation to revise during those brief "spells" of relative comfort my somewhat cautious prediction, made back in September. I will stand by those predictions (on the Presidential side, a 3.9% margin for Hillary in the popular vote, and a 296-242 Electoral College victory). 

Indeed, the gap has been narrowing in the past few days, even before this latest "bombshell"--the letter from FBI Director James Comey to Congressional committee chairmen that the investigation of Hillary Clinton's emails will take a new turn.  With the discovery of a large cache of unknown emails involving top Clinton aide Huma Abedian on a computer owned by former Congressman Anthony Weiner (Abedin's estranged husband), the FBI has something new to examine for any possible crime related to Clinton's use of a private server, and the volume of emails linked to the Weiner laptop (I have read the number 650,000!) will ensure that resolution will not be swift. 

"Bombshell" is the term I have seen applied to this news item in most of the articles, along with "October surprise" (it just made it in time to fit that cliche).  "Bombshell" is a bit exaggerated when it is used in most cases, but I think it is appropriate here:  to carry the metaphor further, it is a powerful bit of unexploded ordnance that has embedded itself in Clinton's "electoral firewall".  We do not yet know if it will prove to be a dud, or a lethal explosive, one that will break open what has frequently appeared to be an Electoral College fortress ensuring her victory. 

It does seem farfetched that this recycled story would produce such a breakthrough for Trump, though he has already declared it a clincher for his "Crooked Hillary" characterization. First, they will have to "de-dupe" those emails found against all the ones they have already reviewed--that alone could take weeks.  If they were ever to find anything new, there would be issues about chain of evidence and the legality of the warrant; issues have been raised about the propriety of the letter, and so on.  The story likely has already done all that it can do in the run-up to the election, which is to raise another momentum-stopping round of negative press for Hillary, distracting the public from Trump's transgressions, and possibly reducing the damage to the Republican Senate and House campaigns which appeared to be developing. 

I can understand the logic which drove FBI Director Comey to take the action he did.  Though he is a regular Republican, I do not accuse him of partisan motives (others have been quick to do so), but I would say he was playing office politics. The word came out that many in the agency were dissatisfied with the recommendation against referring any possible charges against Clinton in July, so when this new angle opened up, the pressure was heavy to follow it--even if it seemed that the case had already been closed.  His manner of communicating it--in fact, the fact that he did communicate it--left much to be desired, as his letter was so vague that it was unclear whether there had already been any significant discovery. It even was vague about the circumstances of the discovery (though various leaks soon made it clear whose laptop, and the investigation--of Weiner possibly violating the law through sexual texts sent to an underage girl--which led to it).  Despite Comey having a 10-year term which would go to 2023, I think President Clinton would be well justified if she requested his resignation, sometime after inauguration, when the emails have been reviewed and nothing new found.  Meanwhile, Congressional Republicans are already talking "pre-impeachment" hearings! 

At any rate, though this may be a story ultimately about nothing--it will increase Election Day uncertainty, perhaps, but I do not believe it will change many people's minds, not there are that many open to change for any reason--it is certainly the most dramatic event (so far) of Act IV, Scene 4 of our 2016 Political Drama.  Further, going back to the "no relief" theme, we can see that the bickering will continue unabated after the election, with now some new danger of a contested outcome, followed immediately with the beginning of battle cries for the 2018 campaign (in which the Democrats will go back to being the underdogs), and before long, talk will be turning  to the dreaded 2020 campaign.  I can see it clearly (with my "20/20 Vision"--sorry!)  

Surely you don't want to go through this again, do you, Hillary?  You should relieve yourself (and the rest of us) of this misery and announce, after the 2018 midterm elections, that you will choose not to stand for re-election. 

Relief from Tragedy
One topic which Donald Trump briefly brought up in the debates which might have been more convincing was on the assistance the Clinton Foundation has provided to Haiti over the years. ("billions"?)  He mentioned simply that "they don't want your Foundation over there anymore", or words to that effect, but he failed to connect the dots.  Hurricane Matthew showed that, whatever the combined efforts of the many organizations, with the Clinton Foundation prominent among them, over so many years, the place is still, literally, a disaster area, even when it hasn't just been victimized by an earthquake, tidal wave, epidemic, or hurricane.  

Clearly, Trump was not the best messenger to announce the failure of Clinton Foundation philanthropy, what with his miserable tax-dodge, self-serving joke that is the Trump Foundation. I'm guessing that the Haitians that Trump talked to in South Florida are probably more peeved that the flow of graft to them has been interrupted. Still, when it comes to convincing donors for their causes, most of the arguments coming from the relief organizations seem to be much more pleas for sympathy than arguments of proven effectiveness. Not that we shouldn't feel the urge to help our fellows when they suffer, clearly we should, but we can look back at the causes of the past and have our doubts--in spite of Live Aid, they starve in East Africa; Farm Aid recipients are still losing their farms;  Bangladesh is still Bangladesh, and Haiti is, as much as ever, still Haiti.   Relief, too often, is not just temporary, but deceptively unrelieving.  Can we hope for better? 

Baseball:  Overuse of Relief? 
Well, baseball is one area in which relief can be final: the "closer" gets to be that guy who is expected to provide finality to his relief pitching.  Unfortunately, most relief in real life is more like that of the middle reliever, who can expect no more than to pass on to others an acceptable intermediate result, or worse, the mop-up long reliever, sent in to get the team through to the other side of a hopeless scenario, in whatever condition.  

One thing that seems to have changed, perhaps permanently so, is the role of relief pitching vs. starting pitching in the postseason.  Even though team rosters have shifted toward more pitchers and less hitter/fielders, squads cannot rely on their deep bullpens to get them successfully through the 162-game regular season.  They need a strong rotation of four to six healthy starting pitchers to win with enough consistency to make it to the postseason playoffs.  In the playoffs and the World Series games, though, getting a strong starting pitching outing seems barely necessary, and certainly not sufficient.  Managers are now routinely pulling playoff game starters after less than five innings, even when they are effective, and using six and seven pitchers in a nine-inning game. 

The Kansas City Royals showed the way last year, using a thin starting rotation relatively sparingly and relying upon the quality and quantity of their bullpen pitching.  This year, the Cleveland Indians are following in their path.  The Indians' rotation has been decimated by injuries, though in all honesty, their starters have generally been well-prepared and have improved upon their regular-season level of performance.  It has been their relief pitching, though, which has made the difference in their surprising run through the first two rounds of playoffs and to the brink of World Series victory. 

At the same time, though, the Royals and Indians' path is not such an easy one to duplicate.  The Dodgers had a premier closer, Kenley Jansen, who remained basically untouched, though overworked, but gaps appeared elsewhere in the bullpen (and, in one game at least, a starting pitcher was pulled too soon), which allowed the Cubs to pull out late-inning victories and defeat them.  The Cubs have shown similar weakness in the depth of their relief corps, despite having one of the best in the business, Aroldis Chapman, as their closer.  The pattern in their three World Series losses has been falling slightly behind in the battle of the starters, then the deficit opens up as their relievers are outpitched by the Indians'. 

It has long been true that, in the World Series, good pitching generally can shut down even the best hitting teams. While there have been more 1-0 games than usual in the postseason this year, it is not that runs have been hard to find, and the trend seen during the regular season for an increase in home runs seems to have continued.  The game seems to be a matter of pitchers with great ability to throw curves of various kinds for short periods of time and batters who can't hit those pitches.  And woe to the team that can't produce 4-5 innings per game of star quality relief. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Act IV, Scene 3: Live Blog from the 15-rounder

I will try an experiment and post updates through the evening.  I have to warn you that I may interleave my comments on the debate with ones on the Cubs-Dodgers game, in which I have also considerable emotional investment.  As I've said previously, I'm rooting for the Cubs to win it all, on behalf of my father, a lifelong Cubs fan. 

13th Round:  Entitlements
Wallace criticizes both sides' programs.  Social Security and Medicare:  will you consider a grand bargain with tax increases and benefit cuts?
Trump:  Obamacare (not an entitlement program)
Clinton:  raise Social Security tax on wealthy ("assuming Donald can't figure out a way to get out of it" Donald "such a nasty woman!")  No cuts to benefits!   Affordable Care Act - extended Medicare Trust fund.

14th Round Closing Statements"
Wallace:  Why should you be President?  (No closing statements agreed by the campaigns.)
Clinton:   Help all of you.  Jobs, education.

15th Round Trump's Turn
Trump:  She's raising the money from the people she wants to control. (What?)  Immigrants. Policemen and women disrespected, law and order.  I will do more for African-Americans and Latinos.  We can not take four more years of Barack Obama, and that's what you get with her.

Closing! They do not shake hands. 

First reaction on CNN:  Astonishing he would not agree to abide by the results of the election.
Second reaction:  he was well-prepared, except for that.


I apologize for the small-type formats--I've tried to fix them four times and Blogger has not yet cooperaated. 

Result:  the slight edge Clinton had became a technical knockout. 

10th Round:  Free-for-all--What about Aleppo? 
Trump quotes John Podesta (Wikileaks) and Bernie Sanders against her.  Poor choice of Clinton "opponents".   He says Assad is a lot smarter than her and Obama. More about appeasing Iran.  He is opposed to helping the anti-Assad rebels?  Syrian refugees Trojan horse. "Lots of luck, Hillary"--he believes he will lose!

11th Round:  No-fly Zone
A provocative policy, contrary to Obama's--she answers carefully.  Refugees--the 4-year-old boy. She hasn't talked enough about Americans, though.  Trump butts in and insults our military/diplomatic leadership.

12th Round:  Our National Debt
Wallace quotes some group saying debt would increase a lot under Clinton and much more under Trump. Trump:  They're wrong, we are creating an economic machine. Take back our jobs--we don't make anything anymore.  We should use businessmen to negotiate our trade deals, instead of "political hacks". (He ignores the fact that the deals are done to benefit US business, will she?)
Clinton's off topic a bit with her attack on Trump for attacking Reagan (in the same terms as now); she has a natural edge on this.  "Middle-out growth" her new phrase to try.

Ninth round:  Syria
Wallace asks about the attack on Mosul, whether we would put troops in to hold it.  Clinton has the first answer, gets to express her position (but no troops, including no-fly zone, negotiation with all parties)..  Trump:  why didn't we make a sneak attack?  She is helping Iran.  Their leaders (ISIS) are smart. 

Sixth round:  Fitness
Wallace asks Trump a tough one, on the women who accused him.  Trump blames it all on the Clinton campaign. The stories have been "largely debunked".  "I want to talk about something slightly different--the emails."
Clinton hits deeply; Trump accuses Clinton campaign of provoking violence at Trump rallies.

Seventh round:  Conflicts of Interest  
Battle of the foundations--slight edge to Clinton over the laughable Trump foundation.  Clinton successfully turns it to his lack of tax payment. Trump going over the top:  you should have changed the law. Clinton doesn't get to answer:  Trump does not know how a bill becomes law.

Eighth round:  Election rigged
That proposition bet goes to Yes--would "rigged" be mentioned by the moderator.   I bet Yes at 57%, market was at 54%. at the debate's start, but it had dipped to 20%.

 Trump refuses to endorse the outcome of the election.  He's a LOSER, and a bad loser at that.  Wallace lectures him on that failure.  Clinton wins big here.

4th round: Russia
The punches are thrown wildly on this topic, which Wallace does not introduce:  Hillary with very effective body blows against Trump, who brings up nukes--Hillary well-prepared for that one.  10 people who have had the codes have said Donald should never have them.  Donald calls her a liar.

Fifth: Taxes
Hillary:  wealthy will pay their fair share--will she avoid the dig at Donald for not paying his? Yes!
Trump: Does not answer the question about his tax plan.  Instead goes back to other countries:  why aren't they paying us? Trade - NAFTA.  
Hillary does well to defend Obama's program and avoid criticizing its scale (as Wallace suggested). 
Trump: India grows at 8%; CHINA - at 7% and its a terrible problem.  Last jobs report, it was so bad. All because of the bill her husband passed.   Trans-Pacific Partnership:  they actually fact-checked, and I was right. (for once!) When you ran the State Department, $6 billion dollars disappeared (a new one!)
Went on long, not decisive.

First Rounds
The debate begins:  Trump to his corner, Clinton goes to hers as well.  0 for 1 on the bets.  
The next one that may get decided is whether the words "Merrick Garland" will be mentioned by the moderator, with the topic being the Supreme Court.  I bet Yes at 42%; that has now gone down to 10%.  I won't sell at that price; I will hold and probably lose.

Donald Trump on the Supreme Court:  lame attack on Justice Ginsburg (I'm looking for Hillary to appoint Barbara Mikulski to replace her as the "aggressive woman" on the bench), for him it's all about the Second Amendment.

Guns:  Trump Chicago blah-blah, sniff.  Abortion:  Trump overturn Roe v. Wade. Clinton:  Trump said "women should be punished".   Chris Wallace puts out the partial-birth abortion chum for Trump.

Immigration: Trump - Strong borders; no drugs; all the border police, they want the wall. Then we'll decide what to do with the people (no deportation talk today).  Clinton takes on Trump on the deportation force, that Drumpf "choked" with the Mexican President. Trump:  Clinton wanted "the wall". Clinton:  takes on the question about what to do about undocumented workers, throws some shade on Trump's employment of them.

"Open borders" - a proposition bet as to whether the moderator would mention it. Trump thanks Chris Wallace for it.  Hillary uses it to turn on Trump for encouraging Russian espionage.  "Nice pivot"--says Trump--fair enough!

Setting the Scene
This is Las Vegas, and I feel that Trump will feel at home and ready to gamble it all.  The pattern I expect is a reasonably sane exchange for an hour, and a last half-hour when they both let it all loose: Trump will bring out his heaviest opposition research ammunition, and Clinton will probably counter-attack.

Predictit.org has set up several proposition bets on the night, which I will go through shortly (time permitting), particularly around whether various words will be uttered, by the moderator, the participants, or by either.  One proposition that I would have liked to see is whether the word "fraud" will come up.  It would need some severe provocation for her to pull it out, but I expect that will be present.  As in:

Your pretense to represent the working families' interest is a fraud.
Your tax plan is a fraud designed to benefit you, your businesses, and a few cronies.
Your attempts to present yourself as a patriot is a fraud:  you are a draft-dodger who doesn't pay his fair share of Federal taxes.
You defrauded your investors and took the losses for yourself; you defrauded thousands of persons who enrolled in your university, performed services for you, or trusted you enough to be employed by you.
You have defrauded the Republican primary voters who chose you thinking you were a Republican, you have defrauded those who thought you were a populist and not a snobby elitist; you have defrauded those who believed you had integrity, morals, ethics.
Your hair is fake, your complexion is fake, your posture as a successful businessman is largely a fake. You have shown amazing audacity in the scale of your frauds, and now you want to take it to a gigantically new level.
My fellow Americans, the Drumpfster is a fraudster!

I have recouped some paper reversals of gains suffered when the polling gap narrowed almost to the vanishing point--I am back to about 50% profit on my account. The response since then has overshot somewhat, which has given me the opportunity of hedging certain bets.  I don't anticipate any major flips from here to the finishing line, but I am edging somewhat toward a narrowing of the gap by Election Day.  I will post later some of my principal positions, and what action is going on with them tonight.
In the meantime, the first proposition bet is whether they will shake hands at the beginning.  I bet yes at 53%; it has moved to 64% Yes,

And now, we start, with Chris Wallace--for Fox News, a very fair moderator.

Friday, October 07, 2016

Political Drama 2016, Act IV: A New Hope

After Act III, with its back-and-forth trends and increasing levels of tension, Act IV opens with a dramatic Scene 1: the Hofstra debate, which ends with Trump babbling about Rosie O'Donnell and Alicia Machado over a raucous, discordant soundtrack. 

Good News for All Humanity 
It is not my habit to invoke a higher power, but Thank Goodness! for Hillary Clinton and her performance, and for her opponent's, in the first Presidential debate. Of course, that is shortchanging the credit she deserves for her determined, well-prepared assault on The Wherever Man's psyche, and the result was not a matter of luck:  a psychiatrist would probably insist that, given the Drumpfenkopf's makeup and the correct stimuli, his disjointed, incoherent rants were to be expected.

Still, there was a sigh of relief that could be heard 'round the world after the September 26 encounter. By the time it was over, it was clear that Donald Trump's campaign for Presidency had passed its high-water mark, having reached Clinton's level in the polling, or even slightly higher.  She had demonstrated a full recovery from her medical setback with pneumonia and a bad run of publicity; Trump, meanwhile, had his bubble of invincibility thoroughly punctured in their initial showdown.

In my opinion, the critical attack was Clinton's well-prepared listing of the many possible reasons, all of them devastating to his manufactured image, of why he would not release his tax returns. Although there is no legal requirement that he do so, neither does his excuse of an ongoing audit have any merit. He might still publicly release a tax return--for example, his 2015 return, which must be filed in the next couple of weeks, and which could not possibly yet be subjected to audit--but the questions about his missing past returns are not going to go away.  He had his chance to make the argument, "I know all the tricks and loopholes, and I will sweep them away,"  but his tax-cut-for-the-rich proposal does no such thing.  It is too late for him to redeem his populist credentials.

I would think it likely that, in at least one of the two remaining debates (assuming he dares to take the stage for both), he will be able to retain his composure through its duration.  (His calm, attentive pseudo-Presidential demeanor lasted about 20 minutes for this first one.)  He may even find a series of more effective attacks, or more impressively, more effective defense, but he will not be able to wipe that big "L" off his forehead, the virtual image of which has now burned into our memories.

It doesn't hurt that the third-party candidacy of Gary Johnson seems to be flaming out.  Perhaps it was inevitable, but he has exhibited a series of blunders which show that he is not a serious aspirant to become Leader of the Free World, and his running mate William Weld has accepted reality and announced his focus from now until Election Day will be on opposing and exposing Trump.  So, as the third-party support drifts, it seems unlikely that Trump will gain more than half of the drifters.

Finally, the percentage of undecided seems to be dropping quickly, so there is less of an unknown unallocated factor.  There remains the possibility that a significant percentage of the American electorate is hiding its intention to end up supporting him, something not to be ignored, but I don't think indifference or complacency will cause Clinton's defeat.  The final straw should be a series of popular heavyweights--Obama, Biden, Gore, Sanders, Warren, Jesse Jackson, and others--who will hit the campaign trail after the debates are over, in order to help enforce the essential truth:  a Trump presidency is unacceptable.  I would say "unthinkable", but in the days before that fateful debate, we have indeed had to think of what it might mean, even to the point of considering what we, individually, might have to do.

To put it briefly, it does not strain the imagination to think that the damage done by a single term of a Trump presidency could exceed that which Dubya produced in eight years.

The Consequences of a Trump Victory
Certain, or Near-Certain: 
--There would be a serious, immediate  persistent drop in US equity markets, and in the value of the dollar relative to other currencies.  The first, due to the uncertainty; the second, due to the likelihood that the deficit would once again balloon.
--The Senate would remain under Republican control; the Supreme Court vacancy would eventually be filled by a Trump nominee.
--The recovery of America's prestige in the world that President Obama has broadly achieved, especially with our closest allies, would be immediately reversed.  With few exceptions, the whole world finds it hard to believe we could elect a person like him, and most nations' leaders and people would take direct offense at the lack of "a decent respect to the opinions of mankind". *
--Acceleration of income inequality; rampant corruption and favoritism.

Very Likely
--Trade barriers would rise all around the world in response to Trump's unilateral actions to impose new tariffs and other restrictions, leading to a deep global recession.
--A rash of new barriers to human migration and to normal travel, ranging throughout Europe, to East Asia, Australia, and Latin America.
--A serious reversal of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas release in the US, which would lead to collapse of the global agreement.
--Widespread protests and demonstrations, in the US and elsewhere, by minority groups and any  political sympathizers, which are likely to be repressed violently..
--Russia tests the resolve of its newly empowered "friend" with provocations of hostile neighbors, which will either embarrass the US or entangle it in unwanted new conflict.

Easily Believable
--Mexico might decide to retaliate against American injuries by opening up the floodgates and pushing forward refugees from Central America, other Western Hemisphere nations, even from the Middle East, and from among its own prison and criminal populations, fulfilling the negative characteristics that Trump fancifully described. (In this scenario, Trump's Wall might not yet be completed, yet even if it were, it could not effectively prevent the incursion of a determined, massive effort to compromise the borders.)
--New fascist-oriented dictatorships.
--Global depression.
--Major conflicts in multiple regions--world war around the "clash of civilizations"?
--Nuclear brinkmanship; a new round of nuclear proliferation  (South Korea, Saudi Arabia, Iran abrogates its treaty, Egypt, Turkey...)
--Collapse of the Western parliamentary democratic consensus.

Historical Context
I have previously referred to Donald Trump as a modern-day Alcibiades, the ancient Athenian demagogue of dubious loyalty during the Peloponnesian War.  I am rethinking this, though;  in general, analogies to the Roman Empire are more appropriate for this American era, and, though Trump is erratic, I would be surprised if he turned up in the Kremlin directing strategy against us.  In this regard, the historical persona to which Trump most resembles is Caligula, the degenerate emperor who mocked and degraded everything and everyone, and, in so doing, became a figure of ridicule for history.

The fourth act of this play, which is still waiting for its title--it will either be the historical drama "Hillary Clinton" (I'm thinking it's not "H.C., Part I") or the farcical "Donald Drumpf and the Downfall of the American Empire, Part I"--sets itself up for us to anticipate fairly clearly.  The VP debate was a brief interlude in front of the closed curtain after Scene 1; Scenes 2 and 3 would presumably be the two upcoming Presidential debates, leading to the frantic Scene 4 in the weeks before the Election, and the unpredictable, climactic Scene 5 (and the denoument, the day after, Scene 6, which would normally be expected to end the show).

*a phrase quoted from the introduction to the Declaration of Independence.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Pastimes - Pt. 2

Our "National" One
The regular season of baseball will wrap up in the next week, and there will be plenty of critical moments in games with direct effect on the qualification for postseason play. For this, we can thank the addition of the Wild Card (1995), and particularly the second Wild Card (2012).  All six of the division championships are now basically locked up (the clinching games in a couple should occur early this week).  Without the wild-card spots, the last week of the season would now be just a mop-up exercise; instead, there are 10 teams with a mathematical possibility of making the playoffs in the American League, and eight in the National League, of which five in each league will actually participate in the postseason.  The positive effect on late-season attendance is what you would expect.

The prospect of  a wild-card berth, one game to win or go home, might seem a tease, but it is not so. Because of the tightly contested races for the spots that seem to occur every year, typically at least one wild-card team will come into the playoffs as a red-hot meteor which can blast through a round or more of the longer series.  In fact, in the 21 years since baseball introduced the wild card, six wild-card teams have won the World Series and five more ended as the World Series losers; seven more made it to League Championship Series of one league or the other.  In two years, 2002 and 2014, both teams in the World Series were divisional also-rans.

In the National League, where the postseason matchups are basically set, I would be surprised if one of the wild-card teams made such a run.  Although Miami and Pittsburgh are technically still alive, the two spots will be divided among three teams:  St. Louis, San Francisco, and the New York Mets, The survivor among them will face the best team in the major leagues during the regular season, the Chicago Cubs, who will come in well-rested and with their starting pitching rotation set.  An upset is always possible (the Giants may have some even-year magic going for them), but I would expect the Cubs to pass through and face a tough match-up in the League Championship Series, against either the Washington Nationals or the Los Angeles Dodgers, both formidable squads.

In the American League, everything is up for grabs:  seven teams are in the running for those two wild-card berths, while the three division leaders are virtually tied in their contest for home-field advantage in the playoffs. I would pick the Boston Red Sox, and either AL West winner Texas,or the survivor of the wild-card playoff game, to meet in the League Championship Series.

As for my preseason picks, though I had only two of the six division winners correctly (Cleveland and Chicago), if the Houston Astros, Mets, and Toronto Blue Jays win wild-card spots (not at all unlikely), I will have picked eight of the 10 playoff teams.  Of my picks, only the Arizona Cardinals are definitely out (I believe the Pirates are still mathematically in it).   My World Series pick--Astros over Mets--would get me somewhat astronomical odds at this point, if I were to bet upon them; they are unlikely to make one of those vaunted wild-card runs for the same reason they are on the outside trying to get in:  too many injuries to starting pitchers.

I end this section with a sad note:  Jose Fernandez, the 24-year-old pitcher for the Miami Marlins, died this morning in a boating accident.  Fernandez, a defector from Cuba, was having an outstanding 2016 season, after two years marred by injury (including a "Tommy John" elbow surgery) after winning NL Rookie of the Year honors in 2013.  If he had remained healthy, he was on a trajectory for a career of Sandy Koufax-type proportions, as he had that kind of talent--great ability to get strikeouts and keep runners off base.  I don't know about his personal qualities, though I have heard they were sterling, but his passing is certainly a great loss to major league baseball.

I will get on the sandbox and argue on another occasion for one or more major league teams based in the Caribbean/Central America (and another in Canada, some consideration for East Asia), but I will say that Fernandez is just another example of how the game has transcended mere "national" status, and that with more quality marketing such as the Wild Card expansion (an idea somewhat stolen from the masters of the craft, the National Football League), baseball could become a sport with global fan support comparable to that of soccer (or at least of rugby or cricket!)

Other Sport, Briefly
Speaking of soccer, the global football season started about a month ago.  As the British might say, in the English Premier League "normal service has been resumed" after the shocking upset championship run by Leicester City last season.  My team, Chelsea, has recovered its mojo somewhat after a disastrous season; with its talent, and a new coach, the Blues should aim at least to rejoin Champions League play next season.  The two Manchester teams are likely to finish in the other two top spots--City is packed with talent (headed by ex-Chelsea player Kevin DeBruyne), while United has ex-Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho (our new nemesis), has added depth, and also has an ex-Chelsea star, Jose Mata (who didn't get along with Mourinho at all when they were both with Chelsea).  Arsenal and Liverpool are also typical top teams that seem to have the means to return to contention.

Otherwise, I see Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Bayern Munich as the teams which have the depth of talent to compete for the Champions League title and dominate their national competitions.

American Football:  I don't get too interested in the season until Thanksgiving or so; I have no opinion on the NFL after Peyton Manning (though it seems the Patriots will take the Brady-gate suspension for ball-tampering in January, 2015 in their stride and do just fine).  In college, I am for any team playing against the SEC or Ohio State; in this regard, I will probably be rooting for the U. of Louisville, which pounded pseudo-SEC team Florida State, ranked #2 at the time, scoring 63 points against them.

Basketball:  I am a little disheartened by the fact that the return of Cleveland and Golden State to the NBA finals, which would be for the third straight year, seems assured before the season even starts (barring season-ending injuries to LeBron, Stephen Curry, or new G.S. Warrior Kevin Durant).  There is some hope that the Indiana Pacers may provide some competition in the Eastern Conference, while in the West, with Oklahoma City and San Antonio weakened, one must look to the  L.A. Clippers, or maybe Portland, to be the opponent in the conference finals.  In any case, GSW will be very hard to stop at any level, and the preseason discussion is about how close they will come to their record-breaking regular season performance last year.

As for the college game--which I should say I enjoy greatly--every year is basically a new beginning, with last year's teams erased by the effects of the NBA draft. I don't spend too much time looking at it until MLK Day or so.  As always, I will be rooting for the Kentucky teams, and against those from North Carolina.  It's petty, but one must stay loyal to one's tribe.

TV
I watched the Emmy awards show this week, something I have rarely done in the past.  For me, it is a way to hear about some of the shows that I never see, not being a subscriber to Netflix or any of those other Internet-only sources.  I was a bit appalled to see all the awards given to "The People vs. O.J.", which for me is just a rehash of one of television's greatest historical failures--the elevation of a sordid celebrity crime scene into a major topic in the national agenda.  I was pleased to see the awards for "Veep", a show that entertained, informed, and then knew when to quit.  I was duly impressed by the diversity of award nominees and winners--apparently some changes were made to the voting process which helped make it possible.  I hope the Motion Picture Academy was paying attention.

I was not that impressed with the hosting by Jimmy Kimmel, who seems to have filled the Jay Leno hole for middle-brow inoffensive comedy.  I will admit that he gets good guests on his show, though if I were in NYC and wanted late-night exposure I would go to Stephen Colbert to be on his show,.  

In the new TV season, I have seen a couple of decent new shows.  One is the wacky comedy set in Heaven, "The Good Place", which posits that the omnipotent essences are "only human", in the sense that they make mistakes, too.  No doubt this paradox will be explained at some point.  

"Designated Survivor", a series which premiered last week, has an interesting, though alarming, premise:  a terrorist attack on the Capitol during the State of the Union address (not impossible) eliminates the President and all of the Cabinet except the titular Cabinet member who is held out from the event for just that eventuality.  I am hoping it doesn't just become "24" redux, with the same star (Kiefer Sutherland); I was pleased to see the lovely Natasha McElhone as his wife--I can't say I've seen her in anything since "The Truman Show", but she looks just the same.
Three bones of contention in the first episode:

  1. The Sutherland character met with "the Iran Ambassador" after the event and played some brinkmanship with him, on the suspicion  that his country may have caused the outrage.  It's not impossible that it could happen, but Iran has not had an ambassador to the US in over 35 years. 
  2. The script started with the Sutherland character being designated for immediate firing at the beginning, effective the day after the SOTU, being offered the alternate job of "ambassador to the ICAO" (you can look it up; it's an actual minor international organization).  Sutherland character (Secretary of Housing and Urban Development) was actually considering taking the job. 
  3. The President would not designate someone who was to be fired the next day to potentially take his job in the case of catastrophe.  Nice irony, but not realistic. 
I must mention "The Night Of...", the miniseries on HBO that concluded a couple of weeks ago. Criminal justice drama is a genre that I am deeply bored with, but this one was remarkable for the performances, for the deep understanding of its real-life practice in New York (or other major US cities), some interesting casting choices (not least John Turturro as a lowlife defense lawyer afflicted with psychosomatic eczema), a nice resolution, and an OK opening for a possible sequel should the moneymen greenlight it.

Then there is the first debate tomorrow.  The election of the Presidency is serious business, but the first debate is basically a TV entertainment show.  My plan is to DVR the debate, watching Monday Night Football (Atlanta at New Orleans), or, if that gets too boring, some televised program (I have recorded "Defying the Nazis:  The Sharps' War" from PBS and may watch that).  After the great event is over, I'll fast forward through the debate after the opening statements, watching for those all-important visual cues.  There might be some substance in the subsequent debates, but I don't expect the solid to outweigh the froth coming out of this one.

I do have some recommendations for Hillary Clinton, who I am sure is fully prepared from a content and strategy point of view:

  • Sleep late on Monday.  Make sure you get plenty of sleep. 
  • Don't skimp on the time needed to get a real good makeup job--cover those wrinkles, get the lipstick just right.    
  • Get the best fashion advice available on 7th Avenue to make sure your clothes give the right message--happy, youthful, plenty of energy, maybe a little shiny.You have the privilege and advantage of being able to wear something other than that boring dark blue suit and red tie that male Presidential candidates always have (though I was impressed by the quality of Romney's suits, and I am sure Trump will go off his branded product for some Armani or something). 
  • "There you go again"--this phrase, which would resonate with all those moderate Republican-leaning folks who long for St. Ronnie as their candidate, and are disappointed by This Year's Model--could be the witticism which punctures Trump's pose of reserve and triggers his unbridled anger--something that would be a huge payoff.  It should be reserved for the second or third baldfaced Drumpf lie in a single night, so you might have to wait for the second or third debate.  I am anticipating Trump will keep it more low-key, avoiding overexertion, excessively provocative language, or hyperbole in tomorrow's pilot episode. 

Finally, moving off the small screen to the stage, "Hamilton", the historical rap musical which took Broadway by storm, is coming to our town this week.  I bought some high-priced tickets several months ago (for the third performance here), the proceeds of which will go to a charity, the Foundation Fighting Blindness (HQ a couple hundred yards from my home).   I recognize that the future first American Cabinet Secretary for Culture,* Lin-Manuel Miranda, has withdrawn from the cast, but I'm hoping he will show up to thank the crowd for their contributions. (He is coming to town for the premiere, I believe.)


*I just made that up--France has a Minister for Culture; I don't think it would hurt the US to consider having one.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Pastimes - Pt. 1

Fall Movie Preview
Until very recently, 2016 has been a poor year for film.  To be more precise, I'm speaking of movies in general release (as opposed to showing only in film festivals) that are not mere titillation, action, silliness, nor animaion (more later on this).  I would name only three that have made a positive impression on me:
1) Hell or High Water--Nominally, this is a standard cops-and-robbers story about two bank robbers and the Texas Rangers tracking them down.  What makes it special is the combination of well-drawn characters, great acting, a powerful script with humor and edge, and devastating East Texas locations that make a statement about modern poverty in white America.  Once again, Jeff Bridges makes an Oscar bid with his Ranger, something seemingly stuffed "between teeth and gums" in his lower mouth throughout; Chris Pine was just as strong as the brains of two brothers' convoluted Robin Hood-ish spree.
2)  The Free State of Jones - This one came out too early in the year; Matthew McConnaughey's ground-breaking performance (once again!) will be long forgotten, superseded possibly even by another of his roles, but I loved the way this largely-factual story turned Confederacy-lovers' false narratives of the Civil War upside down.  It was loved by neither the public nor critics, but we don't really care about that, now, do we? I recommend trying to find it if you missed it.
3) Snowden - This was a near-ideal subject for an Oliver Stone flick--lots of opportunity for his investigative journalistic-style conspiracy forays.  The film focuses on Snowden's career as a spook through flashbacks from the climactic release of his material to Guardian journalists in Hong Kong. To Stone's credit, he handled this one well, not straying from the known factual record, and concealing effectively the line where Stone's speculation begins.  An excellent performance by the title lead, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and by two supporting actresses, Shailene Woodley as Snowden's girlfriend and Melissa Leo as the documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras (I'd like to see Poitras' film at some point).

Although I am a strong supporter of privacy rights, I have not been one of those to make a hero of Snowden's whistle-blowing.  First, I didn't find much surprising about the fact the NSA can and does snoop into any and all transmissions (the one thing in the movie/Snowden's disclosures that really bothered me is the ability to turn on and use the camera of sleeping laptops); second, he clearly broke his oath of secrecy, so I don't think the US should or will offer him total amnesty, only some eventual leniency.  Finally, though, I don't think too much has changed as a result--if we didn't already know that any device that's turned on and online is fair game for the spooks, we do now, and the revised FISA regime provides very little protection for the innocent.

Enough about that and those--the good news is that the fall season will be rich in releases.  Some are guaranteed box office, and several appear to be prizeworthy.  A quick rundown of the notable release with expected dates follows.  I've classified them into four groups--the Serious Contenders, Pretenders (to serious contention), Interesting Variations (creative and different from the usual), and those that will be light enjoyment and/or big box office.  Clearly, the border between the first two categories could be blurry and I could guess wrong on some, but as it is, with 13 films I list as "contenders", I am expecting some spreading around of the Oscars (as there was in 2015), which is generally a good sign. A quick rundown, with expected release dates, follows.

Serious Contenders
10/21 American Pastoral --from the Philip Roth novel, directed by Ewan McGregor, starring McGregor, Dakota Fanning, and Jennifer Connelly.  Roth= HEAVY! It will not be enjoyable, it may be indispensable, but will it be watchable?
11/11 Loving - an interracial couple whose bid to marry in Virginia violated the law, the case going to the Supreme Court.  Ordinary follks oppressed by reactionary government--looks like a winning formula for Hollywood awardgivers.
11/18 Nocturnal Animals - a story-in-a-story thriller with Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, directed by fashion superstar Tom Ford.  The starpower looks irresistible if the movie is any good at all.
11/18 Manchester by the Sea  - Michele Williams tearjerker with good buzz from Sundance; a possible breakthrough role for Ben Affleck's little brother Casey. If I have to.
11/25 Lion - The star of Slumdog Millionaire (Dev Patel) with a Life of Pi-kind of story and Nicole Kidman, Rooney Mara in the cast.  Have to take it seriously.
12/2 La La Land  - Romance between Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, who plays a jazz pianist.  I'm skeptical, but the buzz is persistent, and if Gosling's keyboards are real and convincing, he could have a Best Actor play.
12/9 Jackie  - Natalie Portman as Jackie Onassis.  The miracles of camera angles will make up for any height deficiency, and I expect Portman can handle the demands of the role  and earn an Oscar nom.
12/9 Burn Country - James Franco's serious role, with Melissa Leo.  A war journalist returns from Afghanistan and finds trouble in the homeland.
12/16 Collateral Beauty - Will Smith trying a serious dramatic role, with a cast full of stars.  Michael Frankel, a prolific TV and movie director, making his own bid for the big time.
12/16  (limited release) The Founder - I don't like the limited release game, and I'm not that fond of Michael Keaton, but this story of the original McDonalds, and how Ray Kroc took it over and took it worldwide, sounds very interesting to me.   One to see in early 2017.
12/25 - Gold  - Matthew McConnaughey strikes gold in the wilderness of Indonesia, gets bilked out of it.  I've seen the trailer, and it told me too much.  It should play well in the US, maybe not abroad.
12/25 Toni Erdmann -  Germany's submission for best foreign language film - serious drama of a man and his grown daughter, directed by a woman- Maren Ade.
12/25 Fences - Like Will Smith, Denzel Washington seems to have put aside his action playthings and is looking for some recognition (additional, in his case).  Story by the famed playwright August Wilson.

Pretenders
9/30 -  Deepwater Horizon - seems to be more about the tragedy of the platform workers than the endless cleanup which got the news.  Stars Mark Wahlberg.
10/7 - The Girl on the Train - this year's missing woman Gone Girl-type story.
11/4 Hacksaw Ridge - This was a tough call:  the true story of an American conscientious objector who won the Medal of Honor for WWII exploits saving lives sounds like a winner.  The director was Mel Gibson, though, and we know how much Hollywood hates him now.
11/11  Elle - Isaelle Huppert tracking down her rapist.
10/14 The Accountant - A weird story premise, with Ben Affleck as an Asperger's genius accountant for the mob who has to take up arms.  Seems ludicrous to me (but I do love the use of the Radiohead song in the trailer).
12/9 Miss Sloane - Although I'm a fan of its star, Jessica Chastain, I'm picking this story of a woman challenging the gun lobby to be a miss.  It has been done, and gun control does not seem to be welcomed as a real issue these days.
12/21 (limited release) Patriots Day - Another Mark Wahlberg effort, investigating the bombing of the Boston Marathon.  It might work for some, but I am totally sick of crime forensic dramas.

Interesting Variations
10/7 -The Birth of a Nation -  This account of the slave revolt of 1831 in Virginia led by Nat Turner and violently repressed is like the bookend to The Free State of Jones.  It is likely to be even more controversial--in the current Black Lives Matter/Charlotte riots context, and because it will differ so markedly in perspective from the William Styron novel The Confessions of Nat Turner.  When it's released, you will be forced to endure discussion of who, exactly, is entitled to tell the story of a tribe/ethnic group/nationality, and who is not.  I'm more interested in whether the film will present the entire arc of the story--the motivations of the rebels, of the frightened, vengeful slaveowners, and of those who were neither one nor the other.  If it works, it could be another 12 Years a Slave. And, finally, note the title, an intentional disrespectful reference to the "classic"1915  KKK movie by D.W. Griffith.
10/21 Moonlight - This is to be the first of a three-part narrative about a black man living in Miami. Once again, high potential for controversy, and the serial film strategy is an unusual one (for something that's not science fiction or fantasy).
11/11 Arrival - Amy Adams plays a linguist recruited by the military for a secret mission:  translating alien communications.  I will take a chance on Adams on almost anything, so I hope it will not be a waste of my time and money.  The alien arrival thing has potential but it has also been done a bit too much, considering how low the likelihood.
12/16 Neruda - a Spanish/French production of the life of the radical Chilean poet, played by Gael Garcia Bernal. Chile's submission for Best Foreign Language consideration.
12/24 Inferno by Dante - I saw a trailer for this:  it is very unusual, with narration by Eric Roberts and veteran Italian actor Vittorio Gassman, both about Dante's creation and with some presentation of it with paintings providing visuals.  Will not be a big hit, but I will see if it if I can find it.
12/31 Strangers in a Strange Land  - 12 comedic shorts set in 12 global cities.  Interesting idea, and I like the reference to Heinlein's sci-fi classic.

Just for the Fun or Box Office of it - 
9/23- Magnificent Seven - big hype, big cast, been done too much already.  Pass.
9/30 - Miss Peregrine's home for Peculiar Children - a Tim Burton creepfest, from the young adult novel by Ransom Riggs, with a pretty big-time cast.  If my children insist on my going.
10/21 Keeping up with the Joneses - Zach Galifianakis/Jon Hamm/Isla Fisher/Gael Gadot (new WonderWoman).  A comedy about spies (or terrorists) and ordinary people in the suburbs.  I've seen the preview twice and it had me in hysterics both times--I hope they didn't use all the good stuff in the trailer.
10/28 -Inferno - Tom Hanks re-reprises his DaVinci Code role in another Dan Brown mystery thriller, directed by Ron Howard, and including the felicitous Felicity Jones.  I will watch it for the locations:  Florence, Venice, Istanbul.
11/18 Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - The other movie on my teenage daughter's must-see list,  J.K. Rowling's new Harry Potter prequel.  I will not contribute directly.
12/16 - Rogue One - A pretty good idea, a Star Wars spinoff between #3 and #4 (the original), starring Miss Jones again.  Better idea than the new series, I'd say. 
12/25 Why Him? James Franco as the boyfriend unappreciated by her Dad, Bryan Cranston.  Seems pretty lightweight.
12/31   Mata Hari - David Carradine (Kung Fu series, Kill Bill series) tries his hand at directing the classic story of the WWI woman spy.  Could be interesting, more likely howlingly bad.   It's listed for 12/31, but I'm thinking its release will be held up.
1/6  F.U. Woody Allen - A black man's true story of trying and failing to get in a Woody Allen movie (it seems he never casts African Americans).  Not a 2016 release, apparently, but could have some sneaky support from Hollywood elements who are a bit peeved at Allen's snotty weirdness.

Finally, there is the strange saga of Terrence Malick, who might be both the most-loved and most-hated American auteur director.   His 2016 oeuvre has two parts:  First was The Knight of Cups, a delayed-release early-2016 flop with a big cast (including Christian Bale), which appears to be the only film this year to which perennial top cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki contributed.  It disappeared before I could ever find it.   The other part is a documentary short, Voyage of Time: Life's Journey, which appears to have some astronomical outtakes from The Tree of Life (if you've seen that movie, you'll have a good idea what I mean) and was narrated by the impeccable Cate Blanchett.  It would be a good pick for that obscure Oscar category if nominated.

P.S. If you're wondering about The Lobster--I saw it, and I have to admire the sheer weirdness of it.  Did not like it--at all.  Satire is my favorite movie genre, but that was not recognizable to me as such--maybe because I'm not a paranoid single.