Friday, August 23, 2013

Ben Affleck will be Batman in Man of Steel sequel

He wasn't one of the names floated to play Batman. Some wanted him to direct the next Batman solo movie. But given his comments about not liking playing Daredevil I guess people just assumed he wouldn't be up to playing another superhero. But Batman isn't just another superhero. I'm not sure how you turn this role down. I'm not sure if there's another job in the world I'd rather have than playing Batman in a movie, even being president. So I doubt it was a tough decision for Affleck.

I'm optimistic about the choice. He's got the look. He's 6'4 with a solid build. He's 41, which is only two years older than Christian Bale. And he's a good looking guy, not that Bruce Wayne necessarily has to be good looking. I'm not sure he's as versatile an actor as Christian Bale. How many are? But I think Affleck has the ability to be a good Batman. Most of his roles lately have been more serious than those of his early career. He spent much of Argo (which was good but a bit overrated) brooding, which is an important aspect of Bruce/Batman. And he spent much of The Town being intense without overdoing it, which is another thing Batman is asked to do. The key will be switching from the brooding, rage filled Batman and non-public Bruce to the billionaire playboy persona of the in-public Bruce. Based on his Kevin Smith movies I think he can bring the charisma when he needs to.

So again, I'm optimistic. But I'm not going to make any predictions or give a more definitive opinion because we just can't know how it will come out. Everyone loves George Clooney. But Batman and Robin was terrible. I'm not sure Christian Bale could have done much more than Clooney with that script. The script is the bigger question than Affleck's ability. If the role is written well and the plot is intriguing, I'm sure Affleck will be fine. If not, he might have trouble pulling it off. Making movies is a team effort. Hopefully it all comes together to make a great movie. Congrats to Ben Affleck and good luck.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Tennessee judge changes kid's name because Jesus was too awesome

I feel sorry for kids who could catch crap just because their parents gave them a certain name. But my sympathy can't justify any kind of limitations on the choices parents have in naming their kids. And the 1st Amendment can't justify this:

A judge in Tennessee changed a 7-month-old boy's name to Martin from Messiah, saying the religious name was earned by one person and "that one person is Jesus Christ."
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The boy's parents were in court because they could not agree on the child's last name, but when the judge heard the boy's first name, she ordered it changed, too.

"It could put him at odds with a lot of people and at this point he has had no choice in what his name is," Ballew said.

It was the first time she ordered a first name change, the judge said.

Messiah was No. 4 among the fastest-rising baby names in 2012, according to the Social Security Administration's annual list of popular baby names.
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"The word Messiah is a title and it's a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ," the judge said.

A lot of names could put kids at odds with other people who don't like their name. But as this judge admits, this is the first time she has ordered a first name changed. So why is this the first? Because the judge finds it offensive that a parent would name someone with a title that she personally holds religiously significant.

The judge might have an argument if a kid was named something like "Ihatejesus" or "Fuckchristians". The kid could reasonably be threatened because of its name. I'm still not sure we should force the name to be changed because it's still the responsibility of other people not to hurt the kid. But it's a stronger argument than what the judge gives in regard to Jesus' title, which clearly violates the 1st amendment and should lead to some kind of punishment for not understanding this basic tenant of constitutional law. But this is Tennessee, after all. I'm sure this will put her on the fast track for becoming governor or senator in this ridiculous state.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Breaking Bad's Hank and masculinity norms

As with all tv it seems, I'm a late-comer to Breaking Bad. Luckily for people like me, AMC has been showing the series from the beginning leading to up to the final season's premiere this Sunday. I've got three episodes left in the 3rd season. While the show had been good through about half way through the 3rd season, I didn't think it was great. But my brother said that it gets better. I trusted him and the general consensus that the show has been great of late. So I figured the further I got the more it would pay off.

Well, I think the latter half of the 3rd season has taken a step to the next level from good to very good. Everything had kind of been building to the moment when Hank tracks down the RV, which he thinks solely belongs to Jesse, but which he doesn't know also belongs to and at that moment, contains Walt as well. This might have been the most tension-filled moment of the series up to that point and it helped create some dramatic moments shortly thereafter, such as Hank beating the crap out of Jesse and Hank almost being killed by the cartel twins.

I mention Hank a lot because I find him to be the most compelling character on the show. Walt is obviously interesting. But he's turned into such a monotone asshole that he's grown unlikable, if he ever was likable. Skylar is ok. I mostly just feel bad for her having to deal with everything. Jesse is ok. I feel a bit more sympathy toward him than I do Walt at this point. And I'm intrigued by how far down a similar path to Walt's he's headed. But the most interesting arc so far is Hank's.

From the beginning, Hank is depicted as a bombastic, enthusiastic, hyper-masculine DEA officer who is good at his job and therefore has a fairly high moral standing. He seems to genuinely care for Marie and the rest of his family. He is particularly friendly with Walt Jr in a very stereotypically masculine (almost bro-like), uncle way. And he is very supporting of Walt upon hearing of his cancer despite not wanting to appear overly emotional, which wouldn't be very manly of him. That masculinity Hank depicts is what I found interesting even early on because while he displayed it well, he never seemed fully comfortable with it. It always seems like kind of a show, especially when he was at work, which, being a cop, is a very male-oriented environment. But ever since he killed Tuco he's been suffering from what seems like post traumatic stress disorder.

Before being promoted and leaving for El Paso, he throws Tuco's teeth in a river because that event has been haunting him. But that didn't make his problems go away. He was constantly having difficulties dealing with pretty much every part of his job in El Paso. Seeing Danny Trejo's head explode, killing and wounding his fellow officers just sent him into and even more pronounced state of PTSD. The difficulties are transparent to us as viewers, and even in part to Marie. But Hank can't come out and say he is having problems related to those two events because he's scared of the social ramifications. Not just that, but he can't even fully confront the issues he is having because admitting he has problems in the first place is just not something men do.

This stuff isn't said explicitly. So technically I am speculating. But I'm pretty sure Hank doesn't open up to Marie sooner or tell his boss the truth about why he doesn't want to go back to El Paso because showing emotion isn't the "manly" thing to do. Hank feels like showing any emotion other than strength is a sign of weakness. Not talking or making jokes is easier than opening up. But he has a gradually harder time dealing with things because his feelings are so overwhelming that he can't just hide them or laugh them away. Holding those feelings is causing him to lash out violently and keep him from sleeping. The struggle between social norms and PTSD symptoms are eating him up inside.

It's only after breaking down and telling Marie what's wrong that he starts to think clearly and does the right thing in regard to beating up Jesse and his status as an active officer. Of course, right after that is when he's nearly killed by the cartel twins. But by finally opening up he was able to make a good decision and hopefully fully confront what has happened to him.

Update: Just one episode after I wrote this Hank seems to have hardened, not opened up. He snaps at Marie about a hospital bed in "his" house and says he isn't leaving the hospital until he can walk. So far it doesn't look like almost dying has changed Hank.

Update 2: Wanted to post this fantastic overview of the entire show through the lens of masculinity, not just Hank: http://www.pajiba.com/think_pieces/the-heisenberg-masculinity-principle.php

Monday, August 5, 2013

Explaining conservatives, part...I lost count

There's been a debate on the right lately about whether the conservatives movement has any room for libertarian populism, whatever that is. I'm not sure there is such a thing, at least not in country with our past. But assuming it can, some liberals have offered their thoughts on the debate and have come up with some good stuff that conservatives/libertarians should do. First from Noah Smith:

The five big pieces of Conservative White America’s Grand Strategy that I think need reevaluation are:

1. “White flight” to suburbs and exurbs
2. Rigid and inflexible “family values”
3. Hostility toward immigrants and minorities
4. Excessive distrust of the government
5. Distrust of education, science, and intellectualism

Completely agree. But Mike the Mad Biologist explains why those reevaluations very likely won't happen, much less actually lead to change, which is taken from his excellent piece on Sarah Palin and why she was loved by conservatives:

In Palin’s case, it’s an emotional appeal to a romanticized, mythical past of “real America.” And that’s why I think the fixation people have on Palin’s complete policy incoherence and ignorance is missing the point.

Her policy ignorance isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. Palin is conceptually and intellectually poor because her politics are not about policies, but a romantic restoration of the ‘real’ America to its rightful place. The primary purpose of politics is not to govern, not to provide services, and not to solve mundane, although often important, problems. For the Palinist, politics first and foremost exists to enable the social restoration of ‘real’ Americans (think about the phrase “red blooded American”) and the emotional and social advantages that restoration would provide to its followers (obviously, if you’re not a ‘real’ American, you might view this as a bad thing…). Practicalities of governance, such as compromise and worrying about reality-based outcomes, actually get in the way. Why risk having your fantasy muddied by reality?
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But that romanticism is at the heart of Palinism. It’s not a forward-looking utopianism, but a desire to return to a mythical, halcyon America that was Christian, low-tax, small government, and had less racial and ethnic discord (the latter is the most absurd, but, if you were white, there weren’t racial problems: you were white–no problems!). This vision has not existed for decades, if at all, but it is a predictable reaction to the loss of primus inter pares status of Christian whites; they are no longer the default setting.

What’s potentially dangerous about Palinism is that it is not the usual form of ‘identity politics.’ Even in its crudest, bluntest form–or when policies influenced by identity politics are implemented poorly–identity politics are ultimately about inclusion: a group believes it has been excluded or marginalized and wants to be included into the mainstream. What makes Palinism worrisome, and why I think it can be labelled ‘para [or proto]-fascist’ is that it is marginalist. For ‘real Americans’ to take back ‘their’ country–and note the phrase take back–they, by definition, are taking it back from an Other, whether that Other be a religious minority, racial minority, or some other group.

Sorry to quote so much but I think he really gets at the core of modern conservatism. I'm not sure we can completely overlook their policy preferences in explaining conservatives. But I think those, what I like to call 'tribal', feelings are a very important component to what is driving conservatives. Tribalism drives everyone to a certain extent, even liberals and the Democratic party. But liberal tribalism is different. They seek inclusion into the mainstream just as conservatives do. But they do so from within a larger group that seeks to include everyone. Conservative tribalism seeks inclusion, but at the expense of excluding those they don't want, which are non-white people.

It's easy to lose sight of this when people like Palin aren't leading the party, or when you don't listen to FoxNews or conservative radio. But even those latter two have done what Republican politicians have learned and couched those tribal motivations into political rhetoric often in advocation of specific policies. So you kind of have to decode what they're saying to get at the heart of the matter. Palin was loved by the right and loathed by the left because she largely didn't speak in code, or if she did it was crafted in a way that we all knew exactly what she meant anyway.

Back to Mike for what it all means for the 'libertarian populist' debate:

When you strip away the Palinist impulse, you’re left with Bruce Bartlett or David Frum–and they aren’t just in the minority, they are considered apostate and heretical.

Movement conservatism is grounded in a virulent politics of mythical identity. It, at its core, is not a set of policy objectives, but a comprehensive belief system. Like all belief systems, it is incredibly resistant to change. For many, to abandon it will require some kind of personal trauma (though it could be collectively experienced)–one doesn’t change or alter identities based on a few speeches.

Hopefully, I’m wrong, but I think movement conservatism is only at the beginning of the forty years in the wilderness. Much to the detriment of us all.

I hope he's wrong too. But I fear he's right.