Movie: American Woman (the English pay attention to our white working class)

Since the California elites who control our film industry won’t pay attention to the American heterosexual cisgender working class, it has fallen to the English (Ridley Scott and his son Jake) to make American Woman (streaming on HBO).

What does a working class white grandmother at age 31 look like? Sienna Miller, the daughter of a banker and a model. She loves cigarettes, sex with married guys, and alcohol. This carefree existence is interrupted when her teenage daughter disappears and she is left to care for her toddler grandson.

I don’t think it spoils the mystery of the movie to say that the main plot, which transpires over more than a decade, is that the American woman has to learn to stop depending in any way on the American white man (there are a couple of good black guys, one of whom happens to be gay). The choices in white men are (1) the abusive, (2) the unfaithful, and (3) the murderous. Grandma has to grow up, stop enjoying the Tinder lifestyle, get an education, and get a job that pays enough that she doesn’t need to trade sex for financial support.

The movie is worth watching for some good performances, but I wonder about the accuracy. Is the American working class primarily made up of slender good-looking people with perfect skin?

Readers: Have you seen this movie? What did you think?

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Harvard art museum exhibit on migration closing soon

Folks near Boston: an exhibit on migration at Harvard’s Fogg Art Museum is closing on January 5.

Don’t touch the cardboard beer boxes:

Sign admonishes visitors not to touch the used tampons:

But maybe it is okay to touch the bricks:

Photos contrast the border with Mexico with the border with Canada (over which most of our Hollywood stars are fleeing?):

Europeans welcome migrants into their welfare states and rip up their streets while the Chinese build superhighways and 24,000 miles of high-speed rail:

From the permanent collection, an idea for repurposing your analog multimeter:

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Who has seen Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker?

What’s the verdict on Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker? Is it safe for casual fans of the movies? I’m still in recovery from having watched Episodes I, II, and III (all three plagued with Jar Jar Binks) and I’m having difficulty distinguishing the plots of VII and VIII from IV and V.

Worth rushing to the theater or wait to watch on airline seatback video? (separate question: why do airlines include films in which machines are blown out of the sky?)

Also, what age child can watch this movie without getting upset? (assume that said child is ordinarily mostly sheltered from the dangers of all things screenish)

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Marriage Story movie

Marriage Story is a movie on Netflix that centers on a divorce lawsuit.

Warning: *** spoilers ***

As in about 50 percent of American marriages (source), the wife loses interest in having sex with the husband. After sleeping on the couch for about a year the guy eventually has sex with a single co-worker subordinate (the sequel will be #MeToo Story?). The wife finds out by getting into his email. Combining the outrage regarding the infidelity with her lack of interest in being in New York or with the father of her child, she decides to move to Los Angeles with their son and pursue a divorce.

The wife agrees to mediate, but a producer in LA tells her about the big wins she had in court with the litigator to whom she refers the wife. The wife secretly meets with the litigator and initially expresses reservations about the likely negative effects on her son of cutting off the child’s access to his father. The litigator urges her to think “I want something better for myself.” The wife quickly comes around to the idea of “adult plaintiff first” and surprises the husband, who still expects a cooperative mediated process, with a Petition (what in other states would be a Complaint; see this chapter on California family law). As often happens in real life, the surprise puts the husband on his back foot and he is never able to recover.

At this point in the movie we have a divorce plaintiff with one child played by a divorce plaintiff with one child (see “Scarlett Johansson Files for Divorce From Romain Dauriac”: “Scarlett Johansson’s husband was ‘shocked’ by the star’s divorce filing and sees the move as a ‘pre-emptive strike’ in a battle over custody of the couple’s toddler daughter, his lawyer said.”)

How will viewers be educated about important LGBTQIA+ issues if the movie is about a divorce lawsuit between two cisgender heterosexuals? Simple: Have everyone else be part of or touched by the LGBTQIA+ community. The plaintiff’s 64-year-old mother says that she has “a dead gay husband”. Apropos of nothing, a grip on the mom’s TV show says that he was “raised by two mothers.” An actor in the defendant’s theater company advises him to adapt to the departure of the wife by having sex with a lot of women… and men.

If the movie suggests that divorce litigation, as opposed to mediation, is caused by women hungry for big victories, it patiently explains, through the seasoned litigator (Laura Dern, who was herself a divorce, primary custody, child support, and alimony plaintiff in 2012), that actual divorce is caused by men “getting sick of” wives once they become moms. (Contrary to the statistics that, at least when it comes to who stops agreeing to sex and who initiates divorce, it is wives who get sick of husbands.)

One aspect of the movie that seems unrealistic is how fond the litigants are of each other, constantly hugging and pecking with kisses. The plaintiff wife has launched the family into a process that will consume 100 percent of everything that they’ve earned together and the defendant husband is as fond of her as ever. On the other hand, the legal fees portrayed are realistic: $950/hr for a divorce litigator partner and $400/hr for an associate; $450/hr for a old solo practitioner (who informs the defendant that he’ll end up being stuck with the bill for the wife’s superstar litigator and explains that “You’re [defending the custody lawsuit] because you love your kid. And in doing so, you’re draining money from your kid’s education.”).

Another realistic touch is that the father, once his lawyer tells him that he is almost guaranteed to lose, seeks a different lawyer. This is consistent with the near-universal loss aversion cognitive deficit described in Thinking, Fast and Slow (Kahneman), in a chapter on why lawsuits aren’t more frequently settled when the parties are pretty sure how it is likely to turn out.

The wife pursues a conventional-for-plaintiffs real-life strategy of conflicting out all of the high quality litigators she can find in the Los Angeles region by consulting with them briefly, thus denying her defendant the opportunity to use any of them. She meets with at least 11 law firms with her young son in tow, plus an unspecified additional number without him. The husband is playing checkers while the wife is playing chess. He expresses his faith in her character and says that he knows he wouldn’t have done something like this on purpose. The receptionist who has to turn down his business at a law firm due to a failed conflict check and tells him about this strategy says “You’d be surprised.”

The Mother’s California litigator tells her client that mothers are held to a higher standard than fathers and that the mother needs to be worried about losing custody if she admits to drinking a few glasses of wine. If true, the average California father must be a pretty sorry example since it seems that nearly all of them end up losing custody lawsuits (94 percent of the people in California collecting child support are women).

As seen in the movie Divorce Corp., a custody evaluator shows up to observe the dad and soon-to-be-ex-son in his crummy mostly bare rental apartment. As with the litigators, she delivers a convincing performance as the kind of person who makes money off children and spouses who want to have sex with new friends. The mother gets top-quality coaching from her attorneys on how to interact with the evaluator while the father is winging it.

Double spoiler alert: By the end of the movie, the father has suffered a complete defeat on every issue that was important to him. The boy will have access to the father 45 percent of the time, but only when the father is in Los Angeles (so if he were able to show up to LA for, e.g., 20 percent of the year, the son would see the father about 9 percent of the year). Since the mother, having moved into TV, is on track to make more money than the father, the parties supposedly settle without her being paid. (But if she is taking care of the child most of the time, it is tough to believe that a judge would approve the settlement without her getting a child support revenue steram.) The father had loved living in Brooklyn and walking around New York City. He ends up impoverished and spending a lot of time driving around Los Angeles in a crummy compact car. He is so compromised as a human being compared to what he used to be that he is essentially a different person than the father that the boy once had.

The mother ends up with a great career, a boyfriend who is younger and more cheerful than the discarded MacArthur Genius director, and a fabulous West Hollywood house.

The movie is not set in Massachusetts, but it suggests that “yes” is the answer to “Men in Massachusetts should simply not show up to defend restraining orders, divorces, and other family law matters?” (California is also a winner-take-all state in which courts like to find a “primary parent” to anoint as the winner.) In the middle of the movie the mother’s attorney threatens the father with a default judgment if he doesn’t pause the theater work that he loves in New York, fly out to Los Angeles, hire a lawyer, and respond to the mother’s petition (complaint).

But custody decisions aren’t final. The father had to go out to LA to see the child anyway. He could have moved out there after losing the divorce lawsuit by default and just asked the court to set a new parenting time plan based on the new circumstances of him being available in LA. On the financial side, the mother couldn’t have hoped to take away from the father any more via a default judgment than she and the lawyers on both sides took away via litigation. He could have stayed in New York, concentrated on his work and friends, and seen his son when convenient. By focusing on defending the lawsuit, he transformed his life into concentrating on negative relationships with (a) his plaintiff, (b) the lawyers on both sides who were bleeding out all of both sides’ assets, (c) the custody evaluator, (d) economy airline seats, etc.

The research psychologists say that children are better off in states such as Arizona, Nevada, et al. with 50/50 shared parenting rules, but the movie also shows that fathers and children are better off in countries, e.g., Switzerland, that have simple “mom wins” rules. Instead of spending the children’s college fund and years of time trying to prevent the mom from winning “primary parent” status (and almost inevitably failing in this endeavor), the father who gets sued in these countries can pay a few $thousand in fees and see if the mother wants any assistance with child-rearing beyond the conventional one weekend/month and 3-4 weeks of summer holiday.

Related:

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Baseball fans throng an art museum

I happened to be in downtown Washington, D.C. on the same day as somewhere between 500,000 and 1 million Nationals fans gathered to celebrate the recent World Series victory. The parade ended with a bunch of activities right next to the National Gallery of Art, which was my intended destination. I was fearful that the museum (free admission) would close early to avoid being overwhelmed, but the guards told me that they would be open the usual hours.

The sculpture garden was closed against the mob:

Maybe fans would want to come into the museum, use the luxurious restrooms, and see the Rembrandts before the parade started?

Vermeer proved equally popular:

Also a special exhibition:

Maybe the crowd outside wasn’t as big as expected, a Trump inauguration tempest situation?

My favorite part: a 2-year-old throwing, batting, and running bases.

What else were they avoiding? An interesting show on pastels, whose rising popularity in the 18th century turns out to have been driven by a technical innovation (plate glass) and globalization (English traveling to Italy):

The museum features a painting related to the latest news about older guys paying young women to have sex:

The painting is from 1520.

Speaking of current events, Matisse weighs in the Gillette v. Dorco shaving question:

While waiting for the crowds on the Metro to abate, I also ducked into the National Museum of American History. From the professional historians at the Smithsonian and the images that they selected I learned that war is primarily a female endeavor:

The path to peace, therefore, would be to persuade Americans who identify as “women” to give up the warpath.

For fans of CRTs:

If you miss the San Francisco scenery:

Or yearn for the American Dream:

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Three-way Zombie Apocalypse

Native American and Eskimo/Inuit mythology is full of stories about human overpopulation leading to a catastrophic winnowing of the herd. (And then Europeans showed up and dumped about 350 million immigrants into what had been the Natives’ land! No wonder they love us!)

U.S. population is trending toward levels previously seen only in China and India. I wonder if that has inspired a batch of movies and literature about the near-end of the human race.

Maximum fun and minimum effort: Zombieland: Double Tap (i.e., Zombieland 2). I didn’t see the first one, but this left three of us in stitches. Rotten Tomatoes shows that our cultural overlords liked it (67%) while the rabble loved it (90%).

Maximum awards from critics: Severance, by Ling Ma, a “Best Book of the Year” from NPR, New Yorker, Amazon, et al. “Shen Fever” makes it to the U.S. as fungal spores in the containers of stuff that Americans keep ordering from China. Prior to the plague, the protagonist enjoys a life of casual sex and partying with other young people in Manhattan:

We’d created a makeshift Trump-themed dining table in our living room by arranging collapsible card tables end to end. Over this, Jane had laid a metallic gold tablecloth, weighted by a thrifted brass candelabra, and bouquets of fake plastic flowers she’d spray-painted gold. On the table were ironic predinner canapés: salmon mousse quenelles with dill cream, spinach dip in a bread bowl, Ritz crackers, and a ball of pimento cheese in the shape of Trump’s hair.

She works in a company that organizes book printing in Asia:

Things were different in Art. The clients weren’t so fixated on the bottom line. They wanted the product to be beautiful. They cared about the printing, color reproduction, the durability of a good sewn binding, and they were willing to pay more for it, alter their publication schedule for it. They donated to nonprofits that advocated against low-wage factories in South Asian countries, even as they made use of them, a move that showed a sophisticated grasp of global economics.

The author constructs a CDC-style handout:

In its initial stages, Shen Fever is difficult to detect. Early symptoms include memory lapse, headaches, disorientation, shortness of breath, and fatigue. Because these symptoms are often mistaken for the common cold, patients are often unaware they have contracted Shen Fever. They may appear functional and are still able to execute rote, everyday tasks. However, these initial symptoms will worsen. Later-stage symptoms include signs of malnourishment, lapse of hygiene, bruising on the skin, and impaired motor coordination. Patients’ physical movements may appear more effortful and clumsy. Eventually, Shen Fever results in a fatal loss of consciousness. From the moment of contraction, symptoms may develop over the course of one to four weeks, based on the strength of the patient’s immune system.

Suffice it to say that Manhattan becomes a ghost town and the protagonist strikes out on the road to meet up with a band of fellow survivors to mine shopping malls, houses, etc. Read the book and you’ll enjoy the plot similarities to Zombieland 2, which I don’t expect to be celebrated by NPR any time soon.

Maximum aviation theme and max popularity from readers: The Dog Stars, by Peter Heller. The protagonist is holed up at a mostly abandoned residential airpark with his 1956 Cessna 182 (that was the first year of production, so this may not be realistic). The remnants of humanity left in North America mostly attack each other with guns and knives (but why? there is plenty of land for everyone!)

In the beginning there was Fear. Not so much the flu by then, by then I walked, I talked. Not so much talked, but of sound body—and of mind, you be the judge. Two straight weeks of fever, three days 104 to 105, I know it cooked my brains. Encephalitis or something else. Hot. Thoughts that once belonged, that felt at home with each other, were now discomfited, unsure, depressed, like those shaggy Norwegian ponies that Russian professor moved to the Siberian Arctic I read about before. He was trying to recreate the Ice Age, a lot of grass and fauna and few people. Had he known what was coming he would have pursued another hobby.

I don’t want to be confused: we are nine years out. The flu killed almost everybody, then the blood disease killed more. The ones who are left are mostly Not Nice, why we live here on the plain, why I patrol every day.

Mostly the intruders came at night. They came singly or in groups, they came with weapons, with hunting rifles, with knives, they came to the porch light I left on like moths to a flame.

Due to some small but telling lapses in accuracy, I don’t think the author is a pilot (e.g., he writes that the Nearest button on a Garmin GPS “gave my vector” to the nearest airport; vectors come from ATC, “the heading” or “the bearing to” would come from the GPS; he refers to his “pilot’s license number” instead of certificate and says it is “135-271” (FAA certificate numbers are 7 digits with no dash)), but he writes well about the experience of being in a small plane and landing in the backcountry.

Back then I took up flying with the sense of coming to something I had been meant to do all my life. Many people who fly feel this way and I think it has more to do with some kind of treetop or clifftop gene than with any sense of unbounded freedom or metaphors of the soaring spirit. The way the earth below resolves. The way the landscape falls into place around the drainages, the capillaries and arteries of falling water: mountain slopes bunched and wrinkled, wringing themselves into the furrows of couloir and creek, draw and chasm, the low places defining the spurs and ridges and foothills the way creases define the planes of a face, lower down the canyon cuts, and then the swales and valleys of the lowest slopes, the sinuous rivers and the dry beds where water used to run seeming to hold the hills and the waves of the high planes all together and not the other way around. The way the settlements sprawl and then congregate at these rivers and mass at every confluence. I thought: It’s a view that should surprise us but it doesn’t. We have seen it before and interpret the terrain below with the same ease we walk the banks of a creek and know where to place our feet.

The protagonist’s best friend is his dog:

I used to worry about the engine roar and prop blast, I wear the headset even though there is no one to talk to on the radio because it dampens the noise, but I worried about Jasper, even tried to make him his own hearing protector, this helmet kind of thing, it wouldn’t stay on. Probably why he’s mostly deaf now.

They bred dogs for everything else, even diving for fish, why didn’t they breed them to live longer, to live as long as a man?

The typical virus apocalypse book or movie assumes that humanity is in this together. One interesting twist in The Dog Stars is that, as best as the survivors in North America can tell, there are societies on the other side of the planet that are continuing to function normally.

Readers: Are we entering the golden age of zombie apocalypse literature?

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Visit to the National Museum of the American Indian

From September, some photos of an awesome exhibit of commercial exploitation of Native American culture at the National Museum of the American Indian. The building itself is as beautiful as ever.

Hundreds of products are featured, including a Tomahawk missile:

Elvis played Indian characters twice in films. Also depicted is Justin Trudeau’s cousin:

Let’s not forget South Park:

Sorry for the poor image quality, but this Post Toasties ad is essential:

Adjacent to this exhibit is one that claims Pocahontas “saved America.” As much of a Pocahontas fan as I am, to the extent that she helped European invaders, wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that she helped destroy America?

It is interesting to compare this museum with the nearby National Museum of African American History and Culture, also run by the Smithsonian. More than 95 percent of Native Americans were killed by European immigrants, either through violence or the diseases that Europeans brought (which then spread via mosquito). Their land was stolen. Yet their museum is mostly positive and celebrates Indian achievements in art and culture. The African American museum, on the other hand, is at least 2/3rds negative, focusing on African Americans as victims. A railroad car with identical (but separate) seating for blacks and whites, for example, gets a sign explaining how the black passengers were deprived of “oversized luggage bins” and a chair inside the restroom:

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Visit to the Hirshhorn Museum

From a late September visit to the Hirshhorn Museum

Walk past the Smithsonian Castle:

In front is a crushed car sculpture by Jimmie Durham, who identifies as a Native American (see “Why It Matters That Jimmie Durham Is Not a Cherokee”):

He has long claimed to be Cherokee but that claim has been denied by tribal representatives: “Durham is neither enrolled nor eligible for citizenship in any of the three federally-recognized and historical Cherokee Tribes: the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians of Oklahoma, and the Cherokee Nation.” He has “no known ties to any Cherokee community”

A sculpture by a white cisgender heterosexual man:

Viewers of this Andy Warhol might have imagined that we were never experience a worse president than Richard Nixon (who created the Environmental Protection Agency):

Artists who identify as “women” and call themselves the “conscience of the art world” establish a 10 percent quota for an art gallery not to be shamed:

Then they discuss how to identify “an art world token” (“8. Everyone knows your race, gender and sexual preference even when they don’t know your work.”):

Some more from this group…

(If art by people who identify as “women” costs only one third as much as art produced by those who identify as “men,” wouldn’t all real estate developers and hotel owners purchase art exclusively from “women”? Why pay 3X the cost for the same quality?)

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National Museum of African American History and Culture

The crowds are thinning out at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. I simply showed up on a recent Sunday afternoon and was able to walk in (in theory this is possible only on weekdays in the off season).

The most prominent funders of the museum are white do-gooders:

And they are challenging stereotypes by serving fried chicken and collard greens in the cafeteria:

Slavery is presented as something that white Europeans did to African blacks. This sign regarding Olaudah Equiano is about as close as the museum ever gets to noting that black Africans were predominantly captured and sold into slavery by fellow black Africans and/or Arabs.

The museum confidently presents an economic history in which black labor is the basis of American wealth:

The Smithsonian does not explain how it is possible that enslaved blacks generated most American wealth and yet the South was much poorer than the North, to the point that it lost a war where the defense had a big advantage.

Suppose that the $250 million number for the value of cotton produced by slaves in 1861. A guesstimate of U.S. GDP at the time was $4.6 billion (source, in which it is noted that the $8.3 billion number for 1869 might be good, but earlier numbers are extrapolations).

Also, if slaves guarantee long-term wealth, why aren’t the other parts of the world that had a lot of slaves in the mid-19th century very rich today?

Most of the exhibits consist of “artifact plus explanatory written sign” that would have been familiar to a visitor to the British Museum circa 1759. And the collection is actually kind of short on artifacts, so much of the experience becomes reading while standing in a crowd. Will this be compelling for visitors in 25 years after everyone has grown up wearing AR glasses?

That said, there are some cool artifacts. A Stearman open-cockpit biplane trainer used by the Tuskegee Airmen:

The most shocking revelation to me was that the future P-51 fighter pilots were also doing needlepoint:

A KKK hood from New York and Chuck Berry’s Cadillac:

An updated touch-screen lunch counter for sit-ins:

The museum explicitly notes that “the critical role played by women in the Civil Rights Movement has not received enough recognition,” that attention should be paid to a “black lesbian feminist group,” and that the Third World Women’s Alliance “encouraged women to recognize their ‘triple jeopardy’: racism, imperialism, and sexism.”

After telling visitors that women are important, the museum shows that one man’s achievements far exceed those of all women collectively:

The shrine to Barack Obama, whose connection to formerly enslaved African Americans is never explained, continues in the bookstore:

A giftshop section “Because of Her Story” does not come close to tilting the scales in favor of women against Barack Obama:

(Unrelated, but fun:

)

Does black gay man beat black straight woman in the Victimhood Order of Hands? If so, the museum is ready:

African Americans are the group whose prosperity is most injured by low-skill immigration (Harvard study) and the museum notes that “Caribbean immigration increased 1,000 percent from 50 years earlier.”

(Result: lower wages, but some awesome calypso albums.)

The art museum part of the museum has some great pieces that are conventionally organized and presented:

The first African American to star in a TV drama is a challenge for the curators:

Fortunately, we will always have Oprah:

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Vanity Fair on Amazon Prime

In preparation for three weeks away from decent Internet, I downloaded a five-hour adaptation of Vanity Fair, the mid-19th century novel, from Amazon Prime.

To appreciate the achievement of Gwyneth Hughes, the screenwriter, download the Project Gutenberg text of the novel. It is heavy sledding compared to modern works and contains minimal dialog. Hughes had to create characters’ speech patterns from whole cloth. A woman refers to Becky Sharp as a “treasure-hunting jade”, but I couldn’t find this phrase searching the text of the book. I’m not sure to what extent she leaned on previous TV miniseries, but very little seems anachronistic.

Readers: If you’ve seen this, what do you think? Can anyone compare it to previous adaptations?

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