November 24, 2012

Go see #Lincoln — that's an order


Movie poster photo via Wikipedia
Folks, you just gotta go see “Lincoln.” It’s a winner for this year and beyond. I cried more than once as well as laughing more than once.

Even someone more skeptical than me about just how great Lincoln was, versus possible hagiography? In the movie he clearly admits pushing the law’s boundaries on some of his acts, like habeas corpus. He doesn’t claim to be an equalitarian, unlike Thaddeus Stevens. Except for the very end of the movie, there’s little hagiography; beyond that, the laughing? Lincoln is portrayed as a canny and skilled politician who also happens to be President of the US during a war that killed the equivalent of 7-8 million people today. And, whether or not he could have fought the war better, or even a lot better, and ended it (with the right results beyond “just” battlefield victory) sooner, or even much sooner, he felt the pain of the war throughout, and the movie shows it.

And, as a movie in general? There’s not a bunch of CGI or other special effects. Like a good, classic movie, it depends on acting first, followed by good cinematography (and that’s good here, too).

As for acting? Beyond Daniel Day-Lewis, Tommy Lee Jones was great as Thad Stevens. Likewise, David Strathairn was great as Seward. Sally Field had a strong performance as Mary Lincoln, with one scene of the two of them showing the tensions and dynamics in that marriage. (Oh, and I don’t care how old she is, she’s still quite a “handsome” woman.) Hal Holbrook does a nice brief turn as Francis Preston Blair. (And, I think Day-Lewis was the better person for the title role than Liam Neeson.)

I can’t believe that, so far, it’s only gotten a 7.9 on IMBD.


As for the central focus of the movie? People who aren’t Civil War buffs, or general American history buffs, may not “get” Lincoln’s rush to get the 13th Amendment past Congress.

Well, it’s simple, and the movie explains this well. We had a part-time Congress back then. Other than selection of its new officers, the new Congress would do nothing until December. Lincoln, perhaps rightly worried about how a postwar Supreme Court would view the Emancipation Proclamation even within the seceded states and knowing it didn’t apply to the border states, and thinking that Southern states would reclaim “full statehood rights” after the Civil War, felt that he had to get the amendment past Congress ASAP.

The movie does a good job, through various people’s mouths, of setting this up, above all, showing Lincoln’s intensity on the issue. And, his willingness to use political means to achieve moral ends.

I don’t put Lincoln on too much of a pedestal myself, but, I think April 14, 1865 was clearly the most tragic single day in American history. Lincoln probably would have toughened up his “rosewater” reconstruction plans when he saw the rise of the Klan, while yet extending carrots to smart-minded Southerners. He would have put down the Klan and related groups immediately, unlike Andrew Johnson, that’s for sure. And, from 1869 on, he would have been a Republican elder statesman to guide President Grant.

That said, the one bit of hagiography? After Lincoln’s deathbed, Spielberg ends with Lewis doing Lincoln’s Second Inaugural. And that leaves me in mind of what Tony Kushner, the screenwriter, said recently on Fresh Air on NPR.

Bluntly? He needs to read Eric Foner's "Reconstruction." (Or his latest, "The Fiery Trial.") Kushner was claiming that the "lost cause," the rise of the Klan, etc., were due to nobody in the North listening to Lincoln's “Malice for none.”

WRONG!

Reality? The Klan arose during the first half of Andrew Johnson's administration, precisely because Johnson was too soft. And, as partial illustration? The Klan's leadership was first offered to Robert E. Lee, before Nathan Bedford Forrest. Lee turned it down but not on moral principles. Rather, it appears he thought such type of work was beneath him and his position in the Southern social hierarchy and caste.

But, as I said, above, I think Lincoln would have become sterner when necessary. As a great politician, he would have known that Radical Republicans could constitutionally bar Southern states from Congress, to the point of threatening to run against him in 1866, like they actually did against Johnson, and even overriding his vetoes, perhaps.

I have a more detailed follow-up here on how and why Kushner is wrong on this issue. And, it's important. A lot of people will see this movie and talk more about Lincoln and his ideas and goals, and too many people already think the way Kushner does about Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address. Per that link, if we want to do the ratings game, the movie gets five stars for drama but just four for historicity. It's not that it's inaccurate, but it is incomplete in how it frames emancipation and who besides Lincoln was a "driver" of the issue, and when, why and how. (See the poll at right and cast your own vote.)

For links to interviews with Spielberg and the actors, and more, see the movie’s Facebook page.
 

The wingnuts of Burnet County, Texas and nearby areas

The darker the purple, the more secessionist-minded the county.
Per the picture on the map at top, Blanco County, by percentage of population, has about the highest rate of signers of secessionist petitions in all of Texas.

See that dark, purplish-red, vertical-oriented, wedge-shaped county just south of dead center Texas? That's Blanco County, just west of Austin and Travis County.

Just north of it, similarly shaped, and almost as purplish, is Burnet County, home of my previous newspaper job.

That's no surprise, given active tea partier groups both there and in neighboring Llano County to the west.

And, to be honest, I wouldn't be totally surprised if the publisher of my old newspaper back in Marble Falls, the Highlander, were a signer. I wouldn't be even close to surprised if he at least gave moral support. This is the person who once told me he wanted zero advance, or day of event, coverage of a protect-Medicare type rally locally by the AARP and allies.

Oh, and if you're unfamiliar with Texas, the county seat of Blanco County is Johnson City. Guy named LBJ grew up there.

Details of seccessionist numbers here and at links off that page.

November 21, 2012

Forget 4C — what if #globalwarming goes to 6C?

Image from TragicPlanet.org
World Bank economists say forget about a 2C rise in temperatures by the end of this century. The expect a full 4C, or 9F change, is already pretty much “cooked in the books.”

Brad Plumer gives a good summary of just what’s at stake with that kind of change … including the fact that we probably don’t really know yet everything that could be at stake.
-->That said, the World Bank pulls together its and others’ best, latest estimates as to what it might mean.

The detailed report of what all this could mean is here (PDF). Oh, and US climate scientists at Boulder agree with theWorld Bank on potentially needing to worry.

This is not just scary … it’s scary as shit.

Poor countries will suffer the most … while the energy-gluttonous USofA adds most to the problem as people crank up the AC even more and demand more cheap electricity if this comes to pass.

That said, the World Bank report trying to worry us away from “cooking in” a 4C temperature rise due to greenhouse gases makes a point I never thought of before. These estimated temperature rises are for the whole world including oceans. Per the World Bank, if worldwide temps rise an average 4C, the rise on land could be 6C or higher:
“The largest warming will occur over land and range from 4°C to 10°C. Increases of 6°C or more in average monthly summer temperatures would be expected in large regions of the world, including the Mediterranean, North Africa, the Middle East, and the contiguous United States.”
How you like them apples, denialists? Did you see “contiguous United States” mentioned there?

Rick Perry and other wingnut Texans, do you really want to risk Texas being 11F hotter in summer? Picture Houston with an average high temperature in late August of nearly 110 degrees. (If you can.)

Today’s Phoenix with 3x the humidity … picture them apples, denialists; that’s what Houston could be by the end of the century.


Update, Nov. 29:

The International Energy Agency also expects the world’s global warming to hit 4C by the end of the century, as Alternet notes in this in-depth report about the future of world oil.

November 19, 2012

Forget 2C — World Bank says 4C global warming ahead

Will the big business wing of the GOP listen to its fellow plutocrats at the World Bank on climate change, or will the tea partier wingnuts continue to rule the roost?

World Bank economists say forget about a 2C rise in temperatures by the end of this century. The expect a full 4C, or 9F change, is already pretty much “cooked in the books.”

Brad Plumer gives a good summary of just what’s at stake with that kind of change … including the fact that we probably don’t really know yet everything that could be at stake.

The full report is here (PDF).


Oh, and US climate scientists at Boulder agree with theWorld Bank on potentially needing to worry.
This is not just scary … it’s scary as shit.

Poor countries will suffer the most … while the energy-gluttonous USofA adds most to the problem as people crank up the AC even more and demand more cheap electricity if this comes to pass.

Newspapers continue to ignore #Rosen and #Shirky

Looks like major American newspapers continue to ignore New Media “gurus” Jay Rosen and Clay Shirky, among others, on their strenuous insistence that newspapers should not put up paywalls.

E.W. Scripps will start rolling them out in 2013.

That’s after daily newspapers in the US passed the 20 percent mark this year, on how many of them have paywalls.

And, though just with its toes at first, the Houston Chronicle is also joining the paywall world. And, more Canadian papers are liking paywalls now, too. And, CJR's Ryan Chittum is giving the new media fluffers a well-deserved smackdown. His bottom line on paywalls? Some revenue (and he clearly shows paywalls are producing NET revenue, i.e., more profit) is better than the NONE you get without a paywall.

Just maybe, as part of that, more newspaper execs (and “Webbies” in general), are reading the full paragraph that contains Stewart Brand’s “information wants to be free” statement.

If you aren’t familiar with it, I’ll post it now:
On the one hand information wants to be expensive, because it's so valuable. The right information in the right place just changes your life. On the other hand, information wants to be free, because the cost of getting it out is getting lower and lower all the time. So you have these two fighting against each other.
The issue at hand is what “free” means, whether to Brand himself, or others.

A number of people argue that it means “free to access,” and not “free of cost,” though the free to access may include lowered cost. It’s unclear which one Brand meant.

That said, because the “free” part is one have of a polarity, it’s clear that Brand was NOT saying that information should be free. There’s no blanket espousal of that by him.

And the Rosen and Shirkys of the world simply won’t tell you that.

Update, Feb. 22, 2013: Massimo Pigliucci weighs in well on this issue. 

The reality of BRIC nations' futures


Seeing who the Chinese Communist Party elected to top state leadership positions for the next five years, I think we can say serious political reform isn’t happening there in the near future. That means state-owned enterprises will continue to be propped up, and corruption will continue to happen. Add in the “demographic cliff” of the longer term, and it’s an open question as to how great an economic power China will be 20 years from now.

Russia? It’s clear that it’s all Putin, all the way down, until he croaks or a revolution knocks him off. And, as Pussy Riot shows, he’s only going to tighten his reins the longer he stays in power. That level of control stifles the non-corrupted part of the Russian economy. And, as the Middle East, Alaska and Texas show us, oil money corrupts. Declining oil money will corrupt even more, in Russia’s future.

What about India? Actual working, or theoretically working, democracy. Well, I just got done reading “Behind the Beautiful Flowers.” Beyond the poverty of Mumbai slums, the corruption, on a far more endemic, bottom-up level and way than China, is staggering, if what happens with local police, small-level politicians, city inspectors, etc., in poorer areas of Mumbai comes close to translating to the country as a whole. Add in India’s “demographic bomb” rather than “cliff” — that is, a deliberate push to surpass China in population, along with even worse resource degradation, and India’s sadly, but realistically, not a long-term economic power either.

That leaves Brazil.

Its democracy is newer than India’s but long enough now to seem reasonably stable. It’s got the best overall natural resources of the four, if it doesn’t overexploit them. It may just be the one BRIC that actually breaks through to the next level in the relatively near future.