One of the great political jokes!

TUESDAY, JANUARY 28, 2020

Morning Joe puts the "wit" back in Wittes:
We're willing to agree with Kenneth Starr on one point. As our political norms melt down, we have begun to flirt with life inside an "age of impeachment."

Two of the nation's last four presidents have now been impeached. That's out of a total of three in all of American history!

Back when Starr was the Javert doggedly tracking Bill Clinton, people sometimes said that a Clinton impeachment might tend to lead to future impeachments. That struck us as far-fetched at the time. But whatever one thinks of the Trump impeachment, it seems less far-fetched now.

That said, it was odd to see Ken Starr, of all apparent people, wringing his hands yesterday about the age of impeachment. On this morning's Morning Joe, this led to one of the best political jokes we've ever seen.

Joe Scarborough started the program by staging an epic rant about the dunce-like behavior of the Trump lawyers at yesterday's hearing.

Below, you see part of what Scarborough said about Starr. Then you see the dry-as-dust reply from Benjamin Wittes, a legal journalist and the cofounder of Lawfare:
SCARBOROUGH (1/28/20): This is a man who put in the impeachment report allegations of "oral, anal contact." That’s what Ken Starr did. That’s what a [potential] Supreme Court justice did. That’s what they put in their impeachment report.

And we’re talking now about a president who’s not only asking a foreign power to interfere, he then goes on national TV a week later and asks China to interfere in America’s democratic elections, a risk that Donald Trump’s own intel agencies say is the greatest threat to American democracy. And Ken Starr is lecturing America about taking impeachment too lightly? When I told you what he filled his impeachment report with?

It's just—it's preposterous...

WITTES: Yeah, so I was sitting with a colleague yesterday watching Ken Starr’s presentation. And she turned to me and said, "Does Ken Starr know he’s Ken Starr?"
Does Ken Starr know he's Ken Starr? It was Wittes' dry delivery which totally sold the remark. You can watch the award-winning quip at this link, just after the three-minute mark.

The Morning Joe panel broke for laughter after Wittes relayed his colleague's remark. "I think that kind of, you know, captured the whole thing, that there was so little self-awareness," Wittes finally said when he continued speaking.

In fairness, a certain lack of self-awareness can perhaps be spotted at various present-day venues. That said:

Does Ken Starr know he's Ken Starr? Even as our systems melt down all around us, scholars say there's no reason to avoid the occasional mordant quip!

THE RATIONAL ANIMAL'S LONGINGS: Is the new Little Women confusing?

TUESDAY, JANUARY 28, 2020

And other heretical tales:
We'll start with a bit of full disclosure—we've seen Greta Gerwig's film adaptation of Little Women three (3) separate times.

On Friday, December 26—it was one day after Christmas—we tried to see the well-reviewed film. We headed off with our sister, our niece and our niece's two transplendent daughters, ages 13 and 7.

Alas! Despite the well-documented refusal of men to attend the film, the theater was sold out—and we were on the train for home the very next day.

After returning to our sprawling campus, we attended the film the following Monday. We're forced to admit that we found it confusing, due to its many flashbacks, flashforwards and memory insertions.

Since then, we've seen the film two more times, and we may go yet again. We never haven't found it confusing, which doesn't necessarily mean that it actually is.

Critical judgments differ. Some people thought Proust went on too long; some found Ulysses confusing! It's said that there's no accounting for taste, and critical judgments are, in the end, inevitably subjective.

Is Little Women confusing? In chopping the narrative up into bits, did Gerwig's screenplay turn Little Women into Les Demoiselles d'Avignon?

Inevitably, assessments will differ! That said, it turns pout that we aren't alone in our reaction. Consider what happened when the New York Times blew the whistle on the instant boycott of the film—a boycott quickly put in place by angry American men.

Kristy Eldredge based her whistle-blowing on some rather shaky evidence. Most remarkable was the tweet by Janet Maslin, the long-time New York Times film and book reviewer, in which Maslin set off an angry stampede by reporting that she knew three men who weren't planning on attending the film.

You'd almost think that three (3) would seem like a rather small "N," even to a career Timesperson. In this case, that bit of caution was bypassed. Maslin's tweet touched off an angry panic, with the Eldredge exposé not real far behind.

According to major anthropologists, when the rational animal has a point to make, almost any evidence will do! In reaction to Eldredge's essay, waves of Times readers appended comments in which they explained what "men" will and won't do.

Like so many other colloquies, the foolishness of this discussion surpassed all standard understanding. That said, quite a few comments to Eldredge's piece came from people who had seen the new film and said they'd found it confusing. Just the way we had!

Most of Eldredge's three million commenters hadn't yet seen the new film. (Actual number: 1,390.) Some who had seen it said that they loved it. But also, just in the early going, others made comments like these:
COMMENT FROM NEW YORK CITY: I saw it at an awards screening where Ms. Gerwig spoke for an hour afterwards. I found her much more interesting than the film.

There's nothing wrong with this adaptation of LW. It's well done and beautifully shot. Like many others who have commented here, I found the back and forth narratives confusing and don't think it embellished the storytelling.

COMMENT FROM RALEIGH: I saw it. It was a beautiful film. But the jumping back and forth in time was unnecessarily confusing.

COMMENT FROM WESTERN MASS: I recently watched the 3-part series on PBS and liked it more than the new film. I thought the time-shift, out-of-book-sequence production was confusing and ruined the delicious tension of the major plot lines.

COMMENT FROM CALAIS, VT: I didn't like all the time-jumping. 1994's version was—to me, a boomer white male—the finest of all. The girls were actually seemed like girls and not obviously-20-somethings trying to act younger and visibly un-changed throughout the entire film...My female wife agrees!

COMMENT FROM OTTAWA: I saw it last night with my adult daughter and we enjoyed it. It looks beautiful. The cast is good, (though I think Amy and Beth should be played by adolescents in scenes from the early years of the story.) But it’s not a great adaptation. Gerwig’s choice not to be chronological in her story telling was VERY confusing and this is coming from someone who has re-read the novel and seen every movie adaptation multiple times. It is not a flawless film by any means.

COMMENT FROM NIAGARA FALLS: We saw it at a special preview, and you’d be hard-pressed to explain to me, who loves the book and loves movies, why a story set during the 1860s needs to feel like a busy contemporary romantic-comedy. Additionally, the flashbacks and flashforwards were annoying and distracting.

...All that plot jumping around was a mistake on the part of the director, who should have let Louisa May Alcott’s writer’s voice carry along the moviegoer.

COMMENT FROM NEW YORK CITY: I adore the book "Little Women." I have read and re-read it many times over my 60+ years. I am a full-time working woman with three adult daughters. I have seen many of the previous film and television versions... I saw this movie.

And I didn't like it.

Certainly it is beautiful, with much attention to detail in clothing and location. But the back and forth of time is a style that I personally find unlikable: sure, I know the narrative and the actual timeline of events. But was this film made only for devotees of Louisa May Alcott?

COMMENT FROM ALASKA: Both my wife and I were quite disappointed with this latest film version of Little Women. Perhaps our disappointment was compounded by the generally glowing reviews the film has received; so, we had high expectations...[T]he rapid fire flash forwards and flashbacks were often at least briefly confusing. The confusion was due, in part, to the fact that the very young March girls were played by the same actresses as the March women in their later years...
We haven't read through all the comments to Eldredge's piece, or even through most of the comments. But these early commenters gave us our self-esteem back!

We weren't the only ones who found the film's chronological slicing-and-dicing confusing! That said, we also tended to agree with comments which suggested that the casting added to the problem.

In our view, the oldest sister looked like the youngest, and the youngest sister seemed like the oldest. At least for us, this added to the difficulty in managing the confusion brought on by the endless time shifts.

In fairness, we've learned, since then, that you're supposed to know what year the film is in by noting the length of Amy's bangs. These and other tips have come from the many devoted fans of the film found among our liberal journalists in these wild west journalistic years.

At any rate, how about it? Is the new Little Women confusing?

Left on our own, we would have thought that Gerwig was a perhaps bit over-ambitious with her screenplay, and that the screenplay basically failed. Plainly, though, that doesn't seem to be the view of Gerwig's professional peers.

Out in Tinseltown, the full academy gave Little Women an Oscar nomination for Best Picture, one of nine such nominations this year. The academy's screenwriters gave Gerwig a nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay, one of ten screenplay nominations overall.

That said, the academy's directors denied Gerwig a Best Director nomination, a category in which only five nominations are given. This was widely denounced as a sexist "snub." Within a journalistic realm in which the comments of three (3) men can touch off a furious tribal stampede, the mathematics of ten nominations versus five will inevitably be too hard to ponder or to parse.

We now live in the world of Donald J. Trump. According to leading anthropologists, "a vast stable dumbness" helped bring us to this perilous place.

These experts claim that this remarkably stable dumbness isn't all found Over There, They claim that the remarkable flaps about Gerwig's film have often been embarrassing, tilting over toward comical. But in that sense, these experts say, the flaps have been highly instructive.

Tribal longings serpentine though the volumes of punditry surrounding this well-reviewed film. As we all sit here "on the beach," awaiting the outbreak of Mister Trump's War, we think there may be a lot to learn from the frequently comical pundit wars surrounding the latest Little Women, and from an array of current claims concerning related matters.

How do tribal longings drive the rational animal's conduct? Tomorrow, with expert scholars on hand to help, we'll consider a few of the ways Gerwig changed her source material.

Tomorrow, we'll start with Professor Bhaer. In the book, he marries Jo March. Jo even marries him!

Jo March marries Professor Bhaer. But was the fat fellow too "stout?"

Tomorrow: Also, too "unattractive"

By the end of the week: The transplendent My Brilliant Career, with all its ties to Gerwig's new film. With great pleasure, "we recall the night the audience gasped when Judy said no to Sam."

Three recent dispatches from Slate!

MONDAY, JANUARY 27, 2020

Plus, the world's many teen-aged victims:
Just to keep you up to date, here are three more recent posts from Slate:
FRED KAPLAN / JAN. 26, 2020 / 7:00 PM
Let's Not Forget: Donald Trump Still Has the Power to Destroy the World

HEATHER SCHWEDEL / JAN. 27, 2020 / 12:10 AM
What, Exactly, Did Nick Jonas Have in His Teeth?

RICH JUZWIAK / JAN. 27, 2020 / 5:54 AM
I’m a Heterosexual Woman Who’s Politically Opposed to Heterosexuality
Three recent posts from Slate. People, we're just saying!

Kaplan's piece is adapted from his new book, The Bomb: Presidents, Generals, and the Secret History of Nuclear War. As you may recall, the entire liberal world, including Rachel and all her colleagues, disappeared Kaplan when he offered this instant critique of Comey the God back in July 2016.

Kaplan's critique was highly relevant, but it went unmentioned, and Kaplan himself went uninterviewed. In those days, careerists didn't mess with Comey the God, a "made man" inside Establishment Washington. This helps explain why Donald J. Trump has the power described in that new headline.

As for the other two posts, you can probably pick up our point.

We'll also note this post about the late Kobe Bryant's daughter, who lost her life yesterday. Our comment would be this:

When we stage our various wars, 13-year-old children all over the world end up dying beside their parents. This happened all over Iraq not long ago because the people we still revere and copy on Our Own Cable Channel spent several years punishing Candidate Gore for the perceived sins of President Clinton.

Before that, upper-end journalists hid in the bushes outside Gary Hart's home to see if he maybe did have a girl friend. Anthropologically speaking, these are key facts about the wiring of our currently flailing species.

The dying to which we've referred goes on all over the world. Our world has a long way to go, and our tribal stars helped arrange to send Trump to the White House.

Also in The Autumn of '99: It was during this time that our biggest stars began referring to Hillary Clinton as Evita Peron, as Nurse Ratched, and as someone who reminded them of their first wives.

This continued for quite a few years before anyone so much as said boo. People wanted to get on Hardball, and Olbermann was a new star.

Our tribal leaders are ostentatiously MeToo now, but they kept their traps shut then. This too helps explain how Donald Trump got to the Oval.

THE RATIONAL ANIMAL'S LONGINGS: Reinventing Professor Bhaer...

MONDAY, JANUARY 27, 2020

...while fixing Little Women:
Does Jo March marry Professor Bhaer at the end of Little Women?

If we're speaking about Louisa May Alcott's famous novel, then yes, she plainly does. You can confirm this fact in the Project Gutenberg text, which appears online, free of charge.

Because it was published so long ago, Little Women is now in the public domain. Anyone can publish the book, or borrow its name, or change its events all around.

That said, in the actual book which Alcott published, Jo March does marry Bhaer. It happens in the book's final chapter—and the lovebirds are even said to have two children before the chapter ends!

Briefly, let's take a look at the record concerning these fictional facts.

In the penultimate chapter (Chapter 46), the aforementioned fictional persons do agree to marry. According to Alcott's narrator, the fictional Jo, newly engaged, "was very far gone indeed, and quite regardless of everything but her own happiness."

The professor was said to be happy as well. The moment when he and Jo agreed to marry "was the crowning moment of both their lives." Or so Alcott fictitiously wrote.

In the book's final chapter (Chapter 47), an engagement of several years takes place. Eventually, Aunt March dies and leaves her Plumfield, her sprawling estate, to Jo. Jo decides to turn into "a school for little lads."

Things move rather quickly from there. The book's fictional values seem clear:
ALCOTT (Chapter 47): It was a very astonishing year altogether, for things seemed to happen in an unusually rapid and delightful manner. Almost before she knew where she was, Jo found herself married and settled at Plumfield. Then a family of six or seven boys sprung up like mushrooms, and flourished surprisingly, poor boys as well as rich, for Mr. Laurence was continually finding some touching case of destitution, and begging the Bhaers to take pity on the child, and he would gladly pay a trifle for its support. In this way, the sly old gentleman got round proud Jo, and furnished her with the style of boy in which she most delighted.

Of course it was uphill work at first, and Jo made queer mistakes, but the wise Professor steered her safely into calmer waters...
Thank God for Professor Bhaer! Or so Alcott had it, for better or for worse.

That's the way things actually went in the actual fiction. Alcott notes that Jo did no more writing at this point, although she'd already written a novel, receiving payment of $300, facts which had been conveyed to readers way back in Chapter 27.

Jo does no more writing? For better or worse, for whatever reason, that's what Alcott devised at the end of her book.

Two books later, in Jo's Boys (see chapter 3), we learn that things have changed. Jo, now a mature women, has returned to writing and has published a highly successful novel based upon her own life.

"A book for girls being wanted by a certain publisher, she hastily scribbled a little story describing a few scenes and adventures in the lives of herself and sisters," Alcott fictitiously writes. "The fame she never did quite accept...The fortune she could not doubt, and gratefully received; though it was not half so large a one as a generous world reported it to be."

Quite a few years later, Mrs. Bhaer has returned to writing, but nothing of this kind occurs at the end of Little Women. The successful book about her own life is published many years later—and, as Professor Matteson notes, "the Professor not only tolerates Jo's writing, but creates conditions under which it can flourish."

(We'll hear more from Matteson before our week is done.)

The book Little Women ends with a marriage and with the creation of a school. For better or worse, and for whatever reason or reasons, those are the fictitious events which occur in the actual book.

Also for better or worse, those events suggest the values, however dull or disappointing, which the actual book seems to endorse.

That said, the book is now in the public domain. Anyone who wants to change it around can do so without the kind of legal fight which descended on Aaron Sorkin's head when he decided to transform To Kill A Mockingbird, based in large part on some crazy ideas.

The book Little Women ends with a marriage and also with a school—but for better or worse, Greta Gerwig seems to have had a better, or at least a different, idea. When Jessica Bennett discussed Gerwig's Oscar-nominated yet Oscar-snubbed film in the New York Times, she quoted Amy Pascal, one of the film's producers, telling a tale out of school:
BENNETT (1/2/20): “One of the first things Greta said to me was, ‘You know we can’t actually have her marry Professor Bhaer,’ ” said Pascal.
Say what? We can't have her marry the professor? Why the Sam Hill not?

We'll answer your understandable question as the week proceeds. But this resolution apparently led to the ending, or the meta-ending, of Gerwig's film, in which some viewers think the pair of lovebirds get married and some folk feel sure that they don't.

Whichever! In the hands of Gerwig's many admirers, the ending to her film presents an analytical challenge which matches that confronting Mayor Pete when he decided to tackle Finnegan's Wake in the original middle Norwegian.

At Slate, two observers argued over whether a marriage does or doesn't take place. Warning though:

If you decide to click this link, you may end up feeling Schwedeled!

Did Gerwig really make that statement to Pascal? We have no way of knowing! But Gerwig's improvements on Alcott's book help us ponder the longings of the rational animal at this dangerous point in time.

Gerwig is hardly alone in her desire for change. In his Broadway adaptation, Sorkin improved To Kill A Mockingbird in endless ways, based in part on the crazy idea that Harper Lee's famous book actually ends with a murder.

Some tribal changes are brought to old texts; some contemporary changes are being brought to mere facts. Out in Tinseltown, Tarantino has dreamed a better world in which the Tate-LaBianca murders funnily didn't take place. We refer to his current Oscar-nominated film, an apparent Dumb and Dumber prequel and in that sense an homage.

Why should we tether ourselves to mere facts when we can let ourselves dream? In another Oscar-nominated film, Martin Scorsese built a very long drama about a character named "Jimmy Hoffa" out of a book everyone knows to be bogus.

Along the same lines, we recently watched The Imitation Game, an Oscar-nominated film, for the first time. Though the film was supposed to be "based on" real events, it seems the film was larded with factual readjustments.

Judged as a drama, we can say this—it had all the verisimilitude of a film in which Homer Price saves the western world thanks to his doughnut machine. It got very dumb as it went along, but nobody noticed or cared.

As Donald Trump destroys the known world, the rational animal almost seems to be lost in a type of longing. We seem to be living in Michael Moore's fictitious world, rather than a world anchored in facts and in texts.

Let's be clear! There's nothing "wrong" with what Gerwig has done, unless you think there is. There is something wrong with the silly dreams we liberals keep dreaming as Donald Trump takes down the world. Also, with our inability to come to terms with even the simplest current facts.

Gerwig changes Professor Bhaer. She also reinvents Marmee.

She changes the way the story ends, with other pleasing flips. She does retain the various characters' famous names, and she keeps the famous book's title.

As with Sorkin, so too here. Whatever else a person might think, this is surely a sound business practice. But as the wealth and fame roll in, is our society going down in the face of our childish longings?

Gerwig's fans know what to say about the various changes Gerwig has made to the famous book. They also know what to say about Gerwig's Oscar snubs, which have resulted from sexism, as with just about everything else.

Nietzche wrote about the dreamer who just wanted to go on dreaming. As we'll be noting all this week, we're currently surrounded by dreams, some of which may even be silly, Over Here in our liberal tents as our world goes down.

Tomorrow: Longings, dreams, tribal scripts

Commander's approval soars, Post says!

SATURDAY, JANUARY 25, 2020

Our own top concern goes missing:
Fearlessly, we decided to take The Top Policy Issue Challenge.

It was a bit of a throwaway by our favorite blogger. In fairness, the project was capsuled as shown:
DRUM (1/24/20): Here’s a little weekend survey for you. I’m just curious about which things are most important to you in this election cycle. It’s limited to policy issues, so it doesn’t include things like “beat Trump” or “elect a woman.”

The choices are presented in random order. You may select up to five.
Drum listed 27 policy issues from which survey-takers could choose. That said, the "thing [which is] most important to [us] in this election cycle" didn't appear on the list. It didn't even make his list of the two things which aren't policy issues!

What's most important to us in this depressing election cycle? It isn't exactly a policy issue, but it comes fairly close.

We're most concerned with the nation's increasing tribal schism, an artifact which can also be described as our "partisan divide." An unknown, highly talented young politician discussed a form of this massive cultural problem way back in The Summer of '04:
OBAMA (7/27/04): The pundits, the pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around in our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and yes, we’ve got some gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and there are patriots who supported the war in Iraq.

We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America. In the end, that’s what this election is about.
Four years later, this unknown pol was himself the Democratic nominee. But on that first encounter, he was discussing a form of the most important problem we currently face.

We don't see an obvious way out of this terrible problem. Obama blamed it on "the pundits," and to a certain extent he was right. It's hard to see a way out of this mess when major corporate interests are selling Pure Tribal Belief at our three cable news channels and all over the Internet.

Social media doesn't help. It helps us see how badly we within our floundering species have always needed guidance from capable "thought leaders." Absent them, the deluge!

Within our own liberal tribe, we can see the deceptions Over There, and we love to discuss them. On the other hand, we have a very hard time seeing the way we ourselves are being propagandized by the multimillionaire corporate hirelings who present as cable news stars.

For us, it's hard to see a way out of this mess as long as this highly profitable communication system remains in place. That said, this problem is almost never discussed, except in the form of complaints about what's being said by The Others.

Major experts keep telling us that this is simply the way our species' brain is wired. Throughout human history, this unfortunate wiring has led on to war, or so these experts have said.

These scholars may well be right! In the current context, these hard-wired impulses may have helped produce this troubling news report in this morning's Washington Post.

Hard-copy headline included:
Post-ABC poll: Trump's approval rating matches highest of his presidency

President Trump’s approval rating has climbed to match the highest of his presidency
, boosted by majority approval of his economic stewardship even as Americans remain deeply divided on whether the Senate should remove him from office, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The Post-ABC poll finds 44 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s overall job performance and 51 percent disapprove. While views of Trump remain negative, Trump’s approval rating is significantly improved from his 38 percent mark in late October.

A 56 percent majority approves of Trump’s handling of the economy, up 10 percentage points from September and his strongest rating on his marquee issue since entering office. By contrast, 39 percent approve of Trump’s handling of his impeachment, while 50 percent disapprove.

The findings suggest the country’s strong economy and heightened support from men and independents are helping Trump weather an impeachment trial
in which Democrats have argued Trump abused his presidential powers and obstructed a congressional investigation of his actions. Trump’s 44 percent approval mark is similar to other recent national polls, though other polls have shown Trump’s rating stable or increasing slightly.
How strange! In this one particular poll, the commander's approval rating has "significantly improved" since impeachment started in earnest!

It's true that this is just one poll. None of its numbers can be regarded as "accurate," though that's the way the jugglers and clowns treat every new poll out of Iowa as they kill time and entertain us on cable.

It's also true that 44 percent isn't a high approval rating as judged by traditional standards. That said, traditional standards and norms are almost certainly gone—and the commander's approval is bumping up even as we, Over Here in our own tents, feel most sure that his deviant behavior is being most fully exposed.

Why would Those numbers bump up at a juncture like this? Also, why does anyone approve of the commander at all?

As we enjoy the blandishments of our multimillionaire corporate stars, we liberals rarely ask such questions. When we do, we quickly provide memorized versions of our standard answers.

The mugging and clowning of our tribal stars can be quite entertaining! Along the way, we're rarely asked to wonder about this part of the Post's report:
The poll also finds a 57 percent majority of men approve of Trump, up 12 percentage points from October to the highest level of his presidency. By contrast, 33 percent of women approve of Trump’s performance, little changed from 31 percent in the fall. The 24-percentage-point gender gap in Trump’s approval rating is the largest in Post-ABC polls since he took office.
None of those numbers can be regarded as "accurate." But why might the gender gap be so large? We liberals tend to have our standard answers and the cable stars we love rarely take us beyond them.

Drum listed 27 policy issues which may be "most important" to the individual reader. That said, nothing will change in those policy areas as long as this tribal division continues to widen and harden.

Everyone knows this, and nobody cares. Experts say we're wired that way as well. As always, they could be right. (Their credentials are in order.)

That said, the outcome of such divisions tends to take a common form. As our most astonishing talent from nowhere once said:

"...And the war came."

It's always easy to see what's going wrong Over There. It's harder to see the limitations within one's own harbor and tribe.

Our analysts cheered Ed Kilgore a few days ago as he noted a few of the flaws with some of our current tribal constructions. But we don't see a good way out of our current partisan mess, and we rarely see anyone describe this mess as our nation's growing ur-problem.

We scanned that List of 27 for our own current greatest concern. It isn't exactly a "policy issue," but then too, it wasn't included.