Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Arsenal Comeback for the Ages

Arsenal's 3-2 come from behind victory on Sunday was a huge boost to a reeling club. Down 2-0 at halftime, with fans booing, it looked like yet another loss in a season that was sinking toward true mediocrity. And then a penalty was called and Van Persie scored. A few minutes later Walcott made a nice run down the right sideline and got a lucky rebound goal after a rather poor attempt at scoring. And a second penalty sent Arsenal ahead 3-2, the final score. It was an important victory for the club, particularly in the wake of the very disappointing loss to Man U at home after the bizarre Chamberlain substitution and with the Chelsea tie today, we can move 3 points from the final Champions League spot with a win over largely hapless Bolton tomorrow. Yet all the news out of the Gunners is not good.

To see the transfer window close with no real signings beside a young, promising German who already has had serious injury worries just reinforces the sense that Wenger (and Gazidis if we are to believe his comments last weekend) are dedicated to continuing Arsenal's collapse into profitable mediocrity. I understand the club cannot compete with the likes of Chelsea or Man City, but does that mean they can't spend 10 to 20 million every once in a while to bring in reinforcements we really need as we try to win the FA Cup (which is a real possibility) and secure fourth place? Can they bring in a few big names to make Van Persie happy and ensure that he stays with a club he clearly loves? Can they please unload useless tripe like Arshavin and Chamakh and replace them with at least decent players? The answer to all of these questions appears to be no and if this augurs our behavior next summer, I expect us to fall out of the top four and move toward a mediocre team until things change. Yes the Chamberlain signing paid off and yes they have cultivated a lot of young talent, but what is the use if that young talent then moves on to win trophies with other clubs? Are they really such penny pinchers that they can't get a decent left back on loan (which QPR somehow did) or a striker that can backup Van Persie? Or anyone halfway talented to bring in in the place of Arshavin? These are short term questions that could have long term ramifications and I must admit being disenchanted by the answers we are getting.

Wenger refuses to listen to anyone and the ownership and management at the club seems too inured to the idea that he can again catapult the club to past glory by finding diamonds in the rough. The truth is he still occasionally does, but also brings in a lot of flops who he stays with too long and the network of European scouts that once helped him locate talent like Henry that no one else knew about is now matched by all the top squads. The real question is how long will the club remain tone deaf to not only the voices of reason from analysts and the media but their own fans who are tired of hearing "we are still in four ... three .... two .... one competitions ... oh sorry, next year" over and over again. We had a real chance to beat Man City in the Carling Cup, but Wenger was more interested in ensuring the Top Four. And yet, when we had no full backs left, he refused to buy or even take one on on loan and we arguably lost two games we could easily have won (which would have put us even with Chelsea with a game in hand for those who can't count). We clearly need a backup striker and he brings in Henry, which is nice, but what happens in March, April and May when he's gone and we're stuck with Cha-schmuck as our backup "no impact" player? Do we really have to see the silly little Russian scamper onto the field like a lost rabbit yet again when we could have sold him and brought in some winger or middie in the hole to take his place? And why didn't we bid on a great centre back like Samba and just admit Mertesacker is a nice fella that is too slow for the EPL (which was the critique when we signed him)? Finally, as I have been saying for weeks, we need a creative midfielder and better holding midfielder to give more competition to Ramsey and Song -- particularly now that Wilshire appears set for a longer rehab. 

In any case, maybe that magical, though somewhat lucky, comeback will revitalize the squad and get them back into the top form that saw them win 7 of 8, but I worry that another second-half collapse could end our long run in the Champions League and see another year go by without a trophy. If both those occur, one hopes Wenger either steps down or is escorted toward the door with the respect and encomiums to past glory he deserves. Otherwise, I feel like I could soon find myself like a Everton fan, happy with the occasional big win and finishing in the top half of the table ...

Friday, January 27, 2012

Debating the Debates

Bill Maher on CNN debates the quality of debates and hails Obama for, well, speaking the truth, something the GOP candidates just don't seem very good at: CNN. As Florida looms right around the corner, the war of attrition continues with essentially two horses left in the race -- Gingrich and Romney. Unfortunately, few in the establishment want either and the people are suspect on both as well. Either could bode well for a second Obama term, where he will hopefully try to actually enact some of his policies. On a side note, after wondering about the long term impact of the OWS movement, it did get a sitting president to use it's rhetoric, by talking about the 99% versus the 1%. The GOP, unsurprisingly, suggested the move was class warfare, a tired old ploy to undermine any discussion of the other elephant in the room.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Average in the Jobless World

A new phrase that has emerged in recent years is the "jobless recovery" and at the more radical end the "jobless economy." Fears of the technological replacement of workers go all the way back to at least the Luddhites, but certainly accelerated in the 80s, though we are just starting to see the full force of the ability of technology to replace workers on a grand scale. But that is, of course, only half of the story. The other is the displacement of both manufacturing and more recently service jobs in the Global North by workers in the Global South. This long term change will not abate in the near (or probably distant) future and thus demands a new Western workforce with different skills. Ironically, we still have a lot of low skill jobs, though most barely pay a livable wage anymore. But if you look at the unemployment rates by education level, it is clear that the "segmented" laborforce, as Marxists labelled the two-tier compensation system that reemerged in the 70s, has become more pronounced in the past three decades. 

Yesterday, New York Times columnist Thomas Franks wrote an op-ed about the changing landscape of work today: Average is Over. I have never been a huge fan of Friedman who tends to write from the perspective of the business community conventional wisdom, supporting now quite suspect ideas about the global benefits of globalization and the opening of markets. He has begun to temper those opinions a little in the last year, but is still largely a cheerleader for corporate America and globalization. But he makes a lot of good points about how average is just not good enough anymore. Average workers can be easily replaced. Those with only a high school education are finding it hard to even find jobs. And the best jobs demand not only hard work but advanced education and training -- and often creativity. But the one area where average is still largely okay, appears to be in two arenas where we can't afford it: our politicians, who have essentially run out of ideas, and our corporate leaders, who seem intent to follow naked greed at the cost of everything else. 

In the end, there is a solution to the rather calamitous economic forecast for most in the Global North (except the 1%, of course) and that is a return to Keynesian notions of maintaining full employment. Yes it will cut into profits. Yes it will reduce efficiency and productivity rates. But it will ensure markets for products. It will ensure that consumption remains high without the concomitant increase in debt that has been occurring in America for far too long. It would reduce social unrest. And yes, it would return us to a political and economic system that actually strives toward the common good. And it is certainly worth asking if the common good is necessarily an "average" outcome.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Gingrich Forges Ahead

Well as is often the case in making predictions, some including me have apparently been premature in announcing the moribund fate of a Gingrich presidential run. After the surprisingly strong victory in South Carolina, Gingrich now leads in Florida and is building momentum to become the de facto right-wing candidate for the Presidential nomination contrasting with the slick, well-funded campaign of Romney. The reality appears to be that bold face lying and suspect conservative bonafides can undermine the "most likely to win" argument Romney has been cultivating. In the spectacle society it is plausible to argue that "authenticity" has become the key attribute voters are looking for, at least on the right. And the Bain Capital backs story might well become the bane of Romney's latest effort to secure the nomination.

What is interesting to contemplate is how Gingrich emerges as the "authentic" conservative candidate. For all the other valid critiques that have been leveled against the architect of the conservative Congressional takeover and the "Contract with America," Gingrich neither fits snugly into the conservative veil. He is twice divorced, is known to have cheated on at least one of his previous wives, refuses to blindly follow conservative orthodoxy and, it can be argued, often argues for making government better rather than relentlessly seeking to undermine it. So how did he win? Well he is running against one of the most disingenuous, flip flopping candidates in history (see post on flip-flopping below) and one whose business background might actually work against him in the new conservative populism that might still champion markets over government, but might not want a president that once destroyed companies and fired workers. They might want a president who actually stands behind what he says and doesn't have a background implementing liberal (now known as "socialist" of course) policies. But what does Gingrich stand for on the positive side of the equation? Well, as Washington Monthly columnist Steve Benen argued yesterday (Washington Montly), he is essentially hitting all of the key conservative buttons of the moment. He is playing the victim card of Limbaugh and Beck, condemning the "liberal" media and adding a nice dose of racism to the mix. And he is winning the debates which, like Gore 12 years ago, Romney assumed were his domain. 

One wonders if Gingrich can actually make it through the next few weeks without saying something so stupid he loses that base he appears to have recovered and, on a more positive note, whether he has any realistic chance of taking down Obama. My great hope is that the remaining candidates continue to batter each other in pursuit of the prize and leave the eventual candidate wounded beyond repair. As is often the case in American politics though, the election could very well come down to those independents who make up their minds at the last second based on the economic news and their visceral response to the candidate. And I'm rather sanguine that Newt loses on those fronts. Of course, I thought the same of Bush 11 years ago ...

Do Republicans Like People?

The long march toward conservatism that arguably started in 1968 and exploded in 1981 appears to go on undaunted by the financial crisis of 2008, the worsening social, economic and political conditions in America and the potentially imminent collapse of our status at the top of the global economic order. And while the election of Obama in 2008 certainly offered a glimmer of hope for fundamental and philosophical change, the past three years have demonstrated the stubbornness of entrenched power and hegemonic ideas. I have often written about the GOP's lack of fondness for democracy, but I have been thinking recently that they seem to have lost interest in something even more profound than freedom, popular sovereignty and social justice ... adding humanity itself. Is this a radical claim? Well it certainly will be to conservative supporters, who think they somehow hold the monopoly on realism and authenticity, but if we actually step  back and consider their positions, there does seem to be a general contempt for those creatures that they tend to argue god created to reign over the natural world. Some examples to start the conversation (with myself, I suppose):

1.  The 2000 election was interesting in that Republicans consistently used the argument that machines can be trusted more than people in any potential recount of the ballots in Florida. This argument seemed to provide a fundamental perspective of the party -- which is that the people really can't be trusted to make impartial or fair decisions; or at least ones that serve their interests.

2.  The only reasonable explanation for their continued disregard for environmental degradation and the real peril we are putting the planet and all its living creature in is a disregard for the long term fate of the planet and humanity. How else can we explain continuing to support carbon-friendly policies? To continually chose corporations over the environment or concerns about social health and well-being? The Bush administration was the apogee of this "environment last" policy, but it is a long-standing problem that can only be explained by belief of the end of days.

3.  Republicans like to fight wars and seem uninterested in the human cost of those wars. This was most obvious with Iraq, where not only thousands of soldiers but 100s of thousands of Iraqi civilians have been killed. War, of course, always has human costs, but fighting a war for no good reason but Real Politiks certainly begs questions about the, well, "humanity" of those making them.

4.  Attacks on social programs over the past several years, known collectively as the "welfare state," show a distinct and strident disregard for the poor, elderly and really anyone who doesn't have a golden parachute awaiting them upon exit from their cushy jobs. This near hatred of the poor, old and disfortunate has obviously paid huge dividends as it plays to a white working class (and even middle class) that need someone to blame for the collapse of their fortunes. But in the process of scapegoating this group and providing huge tax cuts to their rich patrons, they have recreated the American ghetto in a form that has not been seen since the heydays of the Great Depression.

5.  While this list could go on endlessly, I will conclude with the most obvious example of their general distaste for those who use up oxygen without contributing to the bottom line -- their policy of proffering increased power and freedom to corporations while taking it from everyone else. This troubling trend started in the Supreme Court soon after the turn of the last century when freedom of speech expanded to institutions whose sole purpose is maximizing profits, but since then a series of GOP and Supreme Court decisions have made this the law of the land -- corporations are just like individuals except with a lot more money and substantially less liability. And while I fully understand the importance of these organizations having limited liability, this is also the fundamental problem. We charge these entities with driving the global economy while claiming that they are only criminally negligent for the most obvious of intransigence (and even then, global and even national legal systems often make it hard to prosecute, with that becoming increasingly true after a number of supreme court decisions last year (see my old post)) and the actors behind the scenes from CEOs to accountants are largely immune from  prosecution altogether. Republicans have consistently chosen the interests of corporations over people in even the most egregious of cases (life and death, education of our children, economic fairness, safety, health, etc.) showing a lack of interest even in their own children or grandchildren or that most inconvenient of decision-making facets -- the future. 

So one wonders how a party that consistently seems to side against the people continues to reign over them. Well, much of history certainly followed this pattern, though often with the power of brunt force and violence to sustain it. With democracy and a relatively free press this travesty goes on largely through the power of ideas and rhetoric and the ability to get people to vote against their interests or at least the long term interests of their families, communities, nations and, maybe, humanity itself. Is unsustainability a sustainable platform? It could be for the short term, but in the end it appears to just end in the end of us all.

Review: Contagion (2011)

Contagion is that oddest of films, a thriller without many thrills, an ensemble cast that could have been cast aside without much lost and a story where I ended up caring about no one at all. It is the latest film from Steven Soderberg, the mercurial director who vacillates between art films like the salacious Sex, Lies and Videotapes (1989), bizarre and ultimately unfulfilling Bubble (2005) and beautifully shot The Limey (1999) and more mainstream fare like the engaging Out of Sight (1998) and megahits like Erin Brockovich (2000), Traffic (2000) and the Ocean triplet (2001, 2004, 2007). With Contagion we see a mixture of the two ends of his cinematic bipolarity. On one hand, the film is beautifully shot, with lovely long shots, pans, transitional editing and even sound editing. There also appears to be the artistic pretense of making a thriller without the actors acting terribly thrilled, or for that matter scared, happy, angry or sad. Instead there is a deadpan quality to the acting that seems to belie the action that surrounds them. One assumes this was done on purpose, or that Soderberg just achieved the worst collective performances by actors in recent history. On the other hand, this was a major studio release with a budget of $60 million and that aforementioned cadre of stars including Kate Winslet, Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law and Marion Cotillard, among many others.

Yet the bipolarity of the film doesn’t really save it from failure in my estimation. It seems to lack a clear point, compelling acting or even a narrative that will stick with the audience. The plot plods along as the list of dying increases and officials race to figure out the source of the disease and a way to vaccinate the living. In the end, humanity is saved, after serious bouts with our darkest animal instincts (shown through a serious of small riots and violence), and a central character is outed as a corrupt media personality faking overcoming the disease for profit. Family life is restored, friends and lovers are reunited and makes a grand gesture to a janitor. But it is all done with so little emotion and verve, I ended up wondering what the point was? Is it a critique of a culture of fear? Pure artistic pretense to create a thriller that breaks all the conventions of the genre? If so, the obvious answer is why? Or is it merely a film that fails to capture the essence of its charge – to entertain, engage and ultimately ask some question of the audience? Instead it appears to have all the answers, and most of them provide a rather cynical portrait of America and humanity in general.

However, I think the film does bring up three themes in the subtext that are quite fascinating. The first relates to the role of fear in the spectacle society, where mediated reality is always heightened for affective impact. Most of the paranoia that streams through the public and characters in the film is overwrought. They believe there is a huge government conspiracy, when that is not the case. Millions listen to an online “journalist” (Jude Law) who is so clearly framed as unlikable I’m not sure why we care when he turns out to be a fraud. There are charges of corruption levied against one of the leaders in the fight to stem the disease (Dr. Ellis Cheever) that are also proven largely false. In fact, one of the major weaknesses of the film is a general lack of deeper tension or character arc. The characters are drawn as thin as the shavings from the paper the script was printed on. This moves us in the direction of the second major theme, which is an underlying sociopathology that springs up in many of his films. Yes the main characters in this film are doctors and epidemiologists who must divorce personal feelings from their jobs, but even the father who loses his cheating wife and son, appears largely unaffected except for the scene when he is told his wife is dead. From then on, we either see humans acting as savages in pursuit of food or a cure or as robotic technocrats that can’t seem to add any emotive inflection to anything they say or do, from a CDC doctor that is about to die to a WHO agent in Hong Kong who is kidnapped. This lack of emotional connection to what they say or the scene around them seems to comport well with our age and maybe speaks to an extremely troubling broader trend that I have touched on in this blog.

The final theme, which I believe is true of most of his films, though in some cases it works out, is a strong inclination for style over content. Soderberg is a filmmaker who is interested in film as an art form, and I respect him for that. But like Gus Van Sant, he too often makes mainstream films that forget that movies are supposed to entertain as well as push the boundaries of artistic creativity and ingenuity. Godard and Trouffaut, to name two, were consistently pushing French cinema in new directions, but they did it in a way that was compelling to the audience. The same can be said of Woody Allen in the 70s, Fellini, Antonioni, Altman, early Welles and even the often disappointing De Palma. And while many critics seemed to like this film, I’m not sure why. Just as Adorno and Horkheimer argued in their famous essay about the culture industry, style too often trumps content, leaving the audience wanting something more. I find this as true of this film as so many action or romantic comedies these days, so tied to their formulaic genre codes that they can’t seem to even make the jokes funny or the story interesting. As style trumps quality from the high art film to the basest pop culture flick, we are on the cusp of destroying yet another of the artistic forms available today. Is this why cable television is pulling in so many stars? In total, this is a film that seems to fall short of the genre to which it is attached. I would actually rather watch Dustin Hoffman overact his way through Outbreak (1995), watch the disturbing 28 films or find a copy of the excellent old HBO film And the Band Plays On than subject myself to this tripe. C-

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Wenger Swan Song?

I think the distressing and depressing 2-1 loss to Manchester United today might be the one that ultimately costs Wenger his job -- or should do. We should probably wait to the end of the season and see if we can snatch Martin O'Neill (probably wishful thinking) or someone else of that stature, but it is clear that Wenger's best days are behind him. After a nice comeback to 1-1 and looking the likelier to win it, Wenger made the worst substitution of his career -- taking out the liveliest presence on the pitch Chamberlain and replacing him with a man who is wanted by the fans about as much as Romney by the South Carolina voters. Within nine minutes of that substitution, Man U scored the winner, after some poor defending that centered on the little Russian who couldn't. Rather than go through a report card, which included subpar performances from Djourou, Walcott (please sell this constant disappointment), Ramsey (who has lost all confidence from what I can tell) and Rosicky (can we take the money and run on this player I like but who is past his prime), together with average performances from almost everyone else (a decent game for Mertesacker and Van Persie scored, but he really should have had a hat trick), and instead explain why I think it is time for Wenger to move on, or retire.

1. The most obvious issue is the lack of depth on this squad and his unwillingness over the past few years to sign proven talent and unload unwanted players like Almunia, Arshavin, Rosicky, Chamakh, Diaby and Denilson. Some of this dead weight is the only choice we currently have to come in and try to score goals for us late and this has been a major reason for many of our losses or late draws. Every other top team in the league has impact substitutes that can come on the pitch -- from the best second team in the world at Man City to a number of good options for Man U and Chelsea to a world class striker that often doesn't start for Tottenham. This summer Wenger was hailed for finally spending some money, but Park has turned out to be a waste of money, Mertesacker is decent but better centre backs were available and Gervinho and Santos have been decent (Arteta was definitely a good pickup, though I would have preferred us spending money on Mata earlier in the summer). There were also rumors of a move for Demsey and that looked like a big miss given his form this season. In fact, if we had picked him up, maybe the season would not have begun so poorly. In any case, Wenger's stubborness in this area is just costing us to much and making us a mediocre team. The latest example is obviously not shelling out the 3 to 8 million pounds that could have brought in a fullback. That arguably cost us in all three of our losses this year (though to be fair they wouldn't have been around for the Fulham collapse). 

2. Tactics. As I said earlier, Wenger is extremely stubborn when it comes to putting in players just because they are on the bench. Arshavin has been truly terrible all season and we just don't benefit from him being on the field, even if he does pick up the occasional assist. We were looking the stronger squad at the time of the equalizer and the second Chamberlain leaves we look weak again. The same can be said of continuing to play the consistently terrible Chamakh and the average Rosicky in game after game. They tend to make the side worse and the lack of any consistent scoring threat outside of Van Persie makes the team too one dimensional. 

3. Related to 2 is something both Nasri and Fabergas said after leaving the squad. Essentially they claimed that the lack of competition for first team football does affect motivation. Fabergas was talking in general, though he is unbelievable with Barcelona since leaving, but Nasri (who is not my favorite player anyway) also made this point and I think he's right. Walcott should have been sat on a couple of occasions in lieu of Chamberlain (made clear today) to push him to improve. He had a nice spell during a part of the season but is now truly terrible again in his decision-making and finishing (and yes I know he scored a goal last week for those who pretend he's anything but a fast guy who doesn't really understand the game). The same can be said of the major drop in form of Ramsey, who has lost the edge he was demonstrating earlier in the season and just can't seem to put the ball in the net, even with all his talent. 

4. Training/Injury Management: I know it might be a mistake to criticize the man who modernized diet and conditioning in football but something is wrong with the medical staff at Arsenal. They consistently underestimate the time players will be out and have misdiagnosed several injuries in the past couple of years. It might also be true based on the number of injuries that something is wrong with the training regiment, as far too many players are getting injuries (both short and long term). This might also relate to 2, given that the general lack of depth forces players to play too much. This three game losing streak, in fact, together with the loss to Wolves show the effects of the crowded holiday season and our lack of quality and depth.

5. Tactics: to me the substitution today was just the latest mistake in a long run of tactical errors by Wenger that even maligned him during our better years (when we lost a lot of close finals including the champions league finals). The Gunners attack has just gone stale and nothing has really been done to address it. Depth and injuries have played a role but clearly something has to change strategically if we are to compete.
6. Finally is the most important thing to me. Too many players have lost faith in their manager. From Walcott claiming he should be playing in a central forward role (though he hasn't shown why at all) and Fabergas and Nasri leaving to Van Persie screaming "no" in his direction for what become known as "the substitution" (or "from Russia we loath") and all the quality players that have said no thank you to transfer inquiries -- not to mention five goals after the 70th minute in our three game losing streak -- he just doesn't seem to have the golden touch he had for much of his career. 

I still love Wenger "the philosopher" but he is moving dangerously close to turning by beloved Gooners in a mediocre mid table squad -- or worse. It is time for the owners to sit down and find an adequate replacement this summer and to demand that that replacement spend money to restore our past glory. Yes we have young talent coming up, but without seasoned veterans around them, we end up collapsing in key matches. Maybe Wenger will simply retire, which would be best for all, but I hope with some sadness to not see him roaming the sideline next season.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

OWS as a New Front in the Semiotic War

Is the Occupy Wall Street movement to be swept aside into the dustbin of history or is it to become part of our collective consciousness, a first parry in a battle to reaffirm democracy and the common good? What is interesting about the movement to me is one of the major critiques levied against it – its lack of a coherent message. This puts it squarely within the realm of the postmodern problemic: the inability to find solidarity in our diversity. And yet OWS attempted to do just that by speaking as a collective of individuals united under the banner of the 99%. In this sense it was an oppositional movement against the 1%, signaled by the phrase often chopped off of its epithet as the “Occupy” movement. Wall Street became the signifier for that 1% that was being opposed, a floating signifier of discontent at the lack of voice and power given to the odd conglomeration of others. In this sense, it is an attempt, in many ways, to reenact the battles of old, settled on the question of class over the various lines of demarcation that have splintered the left and dispersed the middle and working class as largely external to the broader cultural wars.

OWS thus returns us to the critical theory perspective of placing class at the fulcrum of leftist politics, aligning the various elements of what is often labeled identity politics under the banner of a collective, comprised solely as a vast majority aligned in its oppositional stance. Is this the multitude of Hardt and Negri? If it is a new dispositif to struggle toward the production of new subjectivities, then the answer is a resounding yes. But does this simultaneously reaffirm the central problem of our moment – the inability to articulate the unspeakable shared resistance to the capitalist construction of subjectivity? Can we align as a 99% against the 1% that wields increasing power over our lives? Who is the 1% and does the affirmation of their stance as an other demand a material instantiation or stand in symbolically for a group that often expands well beyond that 1% to the cultural intermediaries, new managerial class, technocrats and others that support the system in uncomfortable alignment with the power elites?

The Occupy movement gave voice to the central paradox in any movement for social change today: an unwillingness or inability to find the common goal that could unite people in struggle toward an end. If the end is itself open, does that in fact offer a way out of the paradox? In other words, is OWS an incantation to change from the bottom up where the project is not predefined but emerges within the performance of opposition to power writ large? The fascinating nature of the critique then becomes its openness to possibility without preset parameters, to attempt to unite without the necessity of the utopian projects that reaped so much death and destruction in the wake of World War II. Whether in fascism or state-sponsored communism, the problem emerges from both sides of the equation and hearkens back to the critique of Lenin and Lukacs and their belief in the vanguard party as the spark of revolution. An anti-elist, bottom up revolution almost demands incoherence as a strategy that invites diversity toward unity in fighting a collective enemy. It coheres divergent interests into a shared goal of forging a new world for the many. It finds a common enemy and attempts to escape the problem of cooptation, by refusing the liberal push toward increased opportunity within the system of exploitation, domination and control. In other words, its radical openness, critiqued by a media and political system that relies on concreteness, affirms its political power and subversive potential. Lyotard argued that radical critique was impossible as long as it was articulated within the discourses it was trying to overcome. A new language and rationality is necessary to escape the trap Foucault and Marcuse argue exists in the prison house of language and the instrumental rationality that make that opposition a central feature of reaffirming the very system being critiqued. Radical democracy demands a new vocabulary of opposition, a negative dialectic, imminent critique and the ability to remain open to change as inherently good.

2008 seemed to provide an opening to fundamentally question the prevailing logic of neoliberalism and its central arguments for market liberation, deregulation, small government and the dismantling of the social safety net. By aligning an open 99% percent against the repressive 1%, it asks us to think beyond meritocracy to a world that serves the needs of the many over the few. But going beyond classic liberalism, utilitarianism and even socialism, it asks us how we can create a society that serves the collective needs of the vast majority of society. This is actually an argument that transcends democracy itself – founded on the needs of the many over the few. The problem of democracy has always been the balance between majority rule and pluralism. A 99% that all have a voice in decision-making have the conceptual power to overcome this aporia, to contemplate new forms of sovereignty and to displace foundational questions brought up by thinkers like Benhabib, Butler and Laclau and Mouffe with a more collectivist mentality. The practicality of such a political project may seem suspect, and would certainly need to formalize mechanisms of decision-making and legitimation over time, but as an attempt to overcome the limitations of democratic debate and engagement today it certain provides a possible outside to the semiotic war of meaning that has stifled the left for far too long. So let the 99% unite in solidarity in their diversity and stave off the destruction the 1% seem so intent on pursuing!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

iPad 3 Coming Out Soon! And iPad25 by 2015

The iPad 3 is rumored to be coming out in March of this year. And it can't be soon enough for those of us suffering under the weight of the clunky old iPad 2s we bought, umm, last year. Apple has irrevocably altered the now outdated idea of planned obsolescence by making products obsolescent before they even come out. Why buy the new iPad or iPod or iBook when you know that a better one will be out in less than a year? Thank God we have Apple to keep us progressives comfortably cloistered from the evil monopoly Microsoft!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Flip-Flopping Like a Clubbed Seal

Yesterday the man who has called Mitt Romney out for his flip-flopping more than any other candidate dropped out of the race and then almost inexplicably gave his endorsement to the man he has maligned over and over again (see previous post). And yet the reality is that most of Huntsman's attacks are  based on easily verifiable information. While I have often critiqued those who think a politician should be steadfast and stubborn in adhering to their beliefs throughout their careers -- even as the world changes -- it is fair to argue that someone whose core principles seem to blow with the wind is not necessarily someone we can count on to represent the interests of the Nation in a strong and coherent manner. And there is plenty of evidence from Huntsman and others that Romney is indeed a flip-flopper of the first order. In fact, he seems to change his position on key issues so often and radically it almost seemed like a new word should be coined to describe it. Maybe we should just give him the credit he deserves and just call it "Romneying" from now on. We might have to wait until the election cycle is over, but I think it has a nice ring to it and is quite clear in its implications.

As to those charges from Huntsman and others, the Washington Post had a great post in its "The Fix" section yesterday, replete with plenty of video clips to bring  the story alive: WP. I think the most interesting theme emerging from this nomination period is that the candidate being picked by the GOP could come out of the primary season so beat up he becomes easy fodder for the President, who can use many of the charges levied falsely against the last two losing Democratic nominations. In any case, I congratulate the GOP for continuing to beat up their heir apparent and hope they continue to do it right up to election night!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Huntsman Quits: Ironically Offers Support for Romney

After a campaign as a moderate in a party that has given reigns to its most extreme ideas unsurprisingly fell short, Jon Huntsman dropped out today after poor showings and the recognition there is no place for a centrist in the GOP (even though Romney might be one, while wearing a radical cloak to suit his cause at the moment). Huntsman, who seemed to be a principled nominee in a field of misfits and liars, called on the Republican party to stop with the negative advertising and "toxic politics" that now reign supreme: MSNBC: "As candidates for our party's nomination, our common goal is to restore bold and principled leadership to the White House," he said. "Yet rather than seeking to advance that common goal by speaking directly to voters about our ideas … this race has degenerated into an onslaught of negative and personal attacks not worthy of the American people." It's a lovely thought, of course, but unlikely to stir a party that seems to win most of its campaigns at all levels of government in this fashion. In fact, the Citizens decision should make this the ugliest Presidential race in history, particularly as Romney has already shown a moral  laxness in his own advertising that rivals his strategically mercurial position on core issues.

Ironically, Huntsman then threw his endorsement behind Romney, the man he has been critiquing throughout the campaign. One assumes it is the pragmatic nature of the man and the party in general, which ironically will probably lead to the selection of Romney -- just as it did McCain four years ago. But for a party that prides itself on conviction, selecting two candidates in a row that they just feel are more apt to win certainly highlights the "win at any cost" mentality symptomatic of a party that has largely run out of ideas. In announcing his decision, Huntsman actually offered the opposite perspective claiming: "At its core, the Republican Party is a party of ideas. But the current toxic form of our political discourse does not help our cause. Today I call on each campaign to cease attacking each other and instead talk directly to the American people."

Again, a lovely thought, but what exactly can they say to the American people at the moment? Can they continue to blame the government for our economic troubles while pretending wall street and big business are innocent? Can they continue to offer tax cuts to the rich even as inequality and poverty increase? Can they seriously continue to call for deregulation after the debacle of 2008? Of course they can and will, hoping that the American people forget how bad things got toward the end of our eight-year affair with one of the worst Presidents in history. 

The Golden Globes

The French are coming! The French are coming! And they won a bunch of awards, all for the silent film "The Artist" (Best Comedy/Musical, Best Actor in a Comedy/Musical and Best Score). Among the highlights of the less serious warm-up for the usually utterly boring Oscars was Ricky Gervais who was surprisingly signed on to host again after offending all sorts of people last year and signing off with the line "I want to thank God for making me an atheist." This year he was much less offensive, though still really funny. In introducing Natalie Portman he said "Last year, our next presenter won both the Golden Globe and the Oscar for her work in Black Swan. This year, she took some time out to have a baby. Consequently, she’s been nominated for nothing. Really pathetic. But she learned that valuable lesson you all already knew: Never put family first. Please welcome the very foolish Natalie Portman." He introduced the seemingly staid Colin Firth with this short gibe: "What you don’t know is that he’s very racist. Very. And I mean, really nasty stuff. I’ve seen him punch a little blind kitten." And finally, regarding Eddie Murphy quitting as Oscar host to protect asshole director and homophobe Brett Ratner: "He walked out on them. Good for him. When the man who says ‘yes’ to Norbit says ‘no’ to you, you know you’re in trouble.” He finished the show by congratulating the guest for enjoying their free drinks, party bags and "gold" and helping us forget about the recession for a night (a rather lovely gibe, I thought). It's kind of nice to see someone undermine the self-congratulatory pseudo-liberalism of Hollywood while forcing them to smile; though the surrounding smugness almost snuffed him out.

The rest of the show was a rather dull affair though. Most of the jokes fell flat, the speeches were mostly just lists of people to thank, with a few exceptions and nothing truly extraordinary came out of the event -- except a continued inability of actresses to keep weight on (maybe they should pass on their anorexic secrets to the masses). Meryl Streep won again for The Iron Lady, which I haven't yet seen, again robbing anyone else of the prize, and gave an odd speech like she always seems to. A young black actress, Octavia Spencer, won best supporting actress for The Help, Idris Elba won best actor in a TV series for Luther and Morgan Freeman was honored with the Cecil B. DeMille award for lifetime achievement, making a black trifecta (without any being negative roles, something the Oscars have rightly been called out for -- make a movie with a bad parent, corrupt cop or mother who beats her kid and sleeps with a white racist and you are bound for the award). There were other examples of what seemed to be an affirmative action year with Peter Dinklage (who is quite good in films like The Station Agent) winning Best Supporting Actor in TV Series, Mini-Series, or Made-for-TV Movie, George Clooney winning simply for being one of the few people with a personality in the room and Matt LeBlanc winning for his "acting." The extraordinary Iranian film The Separation did win for best foreign film, Scorcese picked up another award for Hugo, and Woody Allen, in absentia as usual, won best screenplay for the clever Midnight in Paris. Surprisingly, Clooney was not the only one rewarded for the mediocre The Descendants, as pompous Alexander Payne won best drama and the poorly reviewed Tin Tin won best animated feature, with Spielberg giving an utterly dull speech. Finally, two of our best young actresses -- Kate Winslett and Michelle Williams both won in their categories. However, I noticed the camera spending a considerable amount of time hovering over Katharine McPhee, who may very well be the cutest woman in the world at the moment (soon to be seen on the hyped new TV show "Smash" about how a star is made, not born).

I still don't understand why the actors can't give interesting speeches and thank people we've never heard of on their own time (or Harvey Weinstein at the beginning of the show for everyone who wins, as he was named by at least half the acceptance speeches, or "husband/wife/kids" as Dustin Hoffman and Gervais tried to make fun of). I remember a great speech by Hugh Grant years ago, but feel like absolutely nothing except Gervais will be remembered from this year, except for maybe the absence of Jack Nicholson. Maybe it should be expected from one of the most mediocre years in recent Hollywood history, though 2012 does show some promise of improvement. Let's hope so ...

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Arsenal Second Half Collapse Coming into Form

Arsenal have had a tendency to suffer unacceptable and often unnerving results in the second half of the past several seasons. Last year it came later, after the heartbreaking loss to Birmingham in the Carling Cup final and then the red-card infected second leg loss to Barca. The year before some inopportune losses toward the end took us out of the title race. This year, it appears to have started right as the new year was ushered in. And it reminds us of the fundamental problem for the past several years -- we don't have the quality or depth to consistently win throughout a full season and obviously need to spend money. When Vermaelen is out the defense look quite average. When Arteta isn't in the middle, or we rely too much on Ramsey we actually get outpossessed. And even a goal from Van Persie is often not enough to win.

Since our 4-0 win over Wigan on December 3, we lost 1-0 to Man City, had a tough 1-1 draw with Wolves we should have won, lost late to Fulham 2-1 and then the 3-2 loss today. Sandwiched in there was a 2-1 victory over Aston Villa, the 1-0 squeaker over QPR. It is a drop in from that has seen us fall four points below Chelsea three weeks after we finally reentered the top four. Next up? Just Man United who finally won after a two game losing streak. While I think Liverpool's inability to score do not make them a serious competitor and Newcastle will probably fade a little we will need to do better to beat out a very average Chelsea team. We cannot lose games to the likes of Swansea, even when they play such a lovely brand of football. In fact, if Walcott had finished his first very good opportunity, the 2-0 lead probably would have ended things. Instead three defensive lapses and a really off night for Sczcesny cost us mightily.

So what is to be done? While Arshavin had a nice through pass to assist on the Van Persie score he just isn't really good enough for this team anymore. It is time to unload this player that does little to help the squad. While Walcott scored, I think he needs to spend some time on the bench to realize that average (and at times terrible) form is not acceptable at Arsenal. We need a mixture of young up front and experience in the middle and back and we just aren't deep enough to do that right now. Park was a wasteful signing and we should get rid of him if he's never going to play. Chamberlain should be getting more time in the first team and I can't imagine why Arshavin started over him and why he haven't accepted the rumored interest from Zenit. Song needs competition for his holding position and there is no one obvious to do so yet (though Coquelin could take up that role in the future). Ramsey should also spend some time on the bench as he seems to look worse every game I watch him -- after a nice start to the season. He cost us two out of the three goals and the first was just beyond stupid with three defenders in front of Dyer. Maybe that makes Wilshire's inclusion more obvious when he soon returns, but we need more scoring threats up front and more decent service into them. Van Persie converted his best chance of the afternoon, but was not really given enough service to shine. 

We also need to go out and buy a versatile defender who can play on the wing or in the middle. I know Arsene thinks he has enough back up, but the combination of Miquel playing and Djourou playing out of position has probably cost us two games. And I'm not convinced that Gibbs is not another of those Gunners who will spend more time recovering from injury on the pitch. I'm also not convinced that Mertesacker is the long term answer to our central defender role. He had a sitter that he should have slotted in for the tying goal, but by some miracle of ineptitude scuffed it wide from the middle. We heard about his height and ability to occasionally score, but that has not come to pass. The reality is that many top players don't appear willing to come to the squad at present because they see what we all do -- a team that isn't committed enough to winning at the moment (off the pitch), a group of players that too often underperform at key moments and a manager who may just be too stubborn to restore his prior glory. While I love the return of Henry, it doesn't necessarily bode well for our future, as it indicates no real resolve to bolster our offensive potency. A healthy defense could be good enough, as we were cruising along until the injury list grew, but we need a creative midfielder, a winger that is a better scoring threat and provides better service to Van Persie and a backup striker that can actually, well, strike the ball into the net. Chamakh, Squillaci and Arshavin need to go and be replace with impact players that can start and/or come off the bench and do something. How many points have we lost this season at the end because of defensive lapses or not putting games away? The list is long and, one forgets, would have included Chelsea but for our wonderful late charge. If Wenger refuses to change, I have to admit it's time to change the manager (and god would I love Martin O'Neil to come over  from Sunderland). But let's see if Wenger actually makes a move before the transfer window closes. 

P.S. It appears Wenger has ruled out any transfer activity this winter. With that decision and the aforementioned stubbornness, I think it's time to admit that Arsenal has to change managers, force increased spending or get ready for a period of mediocrity that could continue for some time. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Two in Three Americans are Socialists

The most recent evidence that a socialist revolution is just around the corner comes from the latest Pew Research survey, which found that 2 in 3 Americans now think there are "strong" or "very strong" conflicts between the rich and poor: Pew. Conservatives who have long argued that any discussion of class is "class warfare" before switching to the Socialist meme in 2008, are apoplectic over the ignorance of Americans listening to those hippy Occupy folks or the silly Economists who have been highlighting this 30-year trend of late. The major uptick in this belief now trumps the perceived battle between immigrants and "natives," whites and blacks and the young and old. But is the conflict justified? Here the population is more circumspect with 46% believing the rich were born into privilege while 43% believe it was a result of their "own hard work, ambition, or education." The GOP plans daily screenings of Rocky and Cinderella Man and hope the return of Dallas and Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous will again turn the tide toward the poor and middle classes celebrating wealth without any real ambition to achieve it themselves.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Man Who Noone Wants

Mitt Romney took another step toward securing the Republican presidential nomination yesterday with a big victory in the New Hampshire primary: CNN. He pulled 40% of the vote, while second place Paul only mustered 23% and Huntsman 17%. Oddly, the press appears to be joining the fray to find someone, nay anyone, else that can challenge the preemptive nominee now. Reports from the media last night and today focused on who would win second place and the latest potential challenger, largely ignoring the fact that Romney was the first non-incumbent to win both Iowa and New Hampshire. It will still be interesting to see what happens in the South, but one wonders if the media simply doesn't know what to do if they have to discontinue their "horse race" coverage so early. They might have to actually, gasp, report on the issues and check out whether Romney is as big a liar as so many are charging (hint, he is!) So while the GOP has been attempting with tireless resolve to find someone who can challenge the money and electability rhetoric of the Romney campaign, they are clearly running out of time and, well, money ... Ironically, one could argue that the GOP might pick a candidate who sometimes skewed too close to Obama to beat him, assuming none of their radical choices can actually get the job done. One hopes they are wrong.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Henry Comeback Magic Lifts Arsenal

Arsenal were rambling through their 3rd round FA cup tie against Leeds United without much creativity and with nothing even close to resembling a good finishing touch. And then the moment Gooner fans have been waiting breathlessly for arrived -- Thierry Henry took to the pitch in the 65th minute. It took him less than 15 minutes to deliver on the growing anticipation, slotting a lovely pass from Song across the goalkeeper and into the back right corner of the net. The goal proved to be the decisive one in an otherwise uninspired Arsenal 1-0 victory that saw them through to the fourth round of the competition where they will meet Aston Villa on the 28th. It was a glorious return for the most beloved of Arsenal players, who left for Barcelona in 2007 after eight seasons as one of the best players in English football history. Now on loan with the New York Red Bulls, watching him charge the field and then celebrate his goal brought back memories of our former glory -- the FA Cup and division titles, the heartbreaking losses in the final of the Champions League and League cup and, of course, the Invincibles. It was truly a sight to behold and one hopes there is more to come in the future.

As to the rest of the squad, it was a rather lackluster performance. Chamakh again demonstrated that he does not belong on this squad, even if the relative absence of good delivery helps explain his lack of productivity. He might be hard to unload in this transfer season, but one hopes he goes now or this summer as he consistently makes us a weaker team whenever he is on the pitch. I would also like to see Arshavin move on. He had some decent spells and some lovely passes and dribbling, but again showed the drop in quality in front of the net, as he could easily have scored a brace. And the third person I would love to see depart (along with Almunia, obviously) is Squillaci, who is so bad that he couldn't even keep a midtable Champions division squad in check, almost allowing them to go ahead with his terrible positioning and lack of pace. He is utterly useless on defense and should be gone now rather than wasting a space on the squad until May. As to the rest of the team, Coquelin looked good until departing early with what one hopes is only a minor hamstring tweak. Song was average except for the lovely throughpass to Henry, Arteta relatively average, Miquel and Yennaris were adequate (the latter looked menacing going forward a few times), Sczcesney largely untested and Kocielny fine. 

Ramsey looked lively in spells but really needs to work on getting his shots on target. I think he has the best of our midfielders but it too often goes high or wide. But he controlled the middle and was decent, if not overly creative. One thing that seemed clear to me again in this low scoring game is that we need to get out wide more often to keep teams honest, as they are clogging the middle against us and making it hard for us to get through. Chamberlain was one player attempting to do that on occasion and looked good for large parts of the game. I like the kid and hope we get to see more of him. Walcott came on with Henry but did nothing to speak of and must wonder at his future as Chamberlain again impressed. What is clear overall is that we need to find more offensive threats this January -- hopefully a winger and creative midfielder that can score. I know Wenger is suspect on this, but if Henry is really only to be here for two months are we really going to rely on Chamakh and Park (who seems to be a wasted signing) as backup and late replacements? Are we really going to have to continue watching Arshavin flub about and miss far too many opportunities? Are we going to have to count on Van Persie alone week after week? If we do, I fear we may fall out of the top four and suffer through a miserable summer season where it is even harder to sign top players than it has been this year (nos from Mata, Goetze, Podolski, Reus, etc.). 

And in the other big match from this round, one has to ask again what the referees are thinking. In the 3-2 redemptive victory for Manchester United over hated crosstown rival City, a refs decision again had a huge impact on the match. The red card against Kompany seemed completely overwrought, happening early in a 1-0 match and all but guaranteeing a victory for United, which they still almost blew. When are these refs going to wake up and stop having such a huge influence on games. It has always been a problem, but exploded at the 2010 World Cup and has been particularly noticeable in the Premiership since early 2011. When even respected ex-referees are commenting on the poor quality of decision-making it's time for the FA to get involved and do something about it.

Review: Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011)

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011) sometimes feels like a film that is several decades late in arrival and yet simultaneously quite refreshing in challenging the nature of a genre that has become so enamored with action sequences it too often forgets the intricacies of strong narrative structure. In fact one could argue it is an action thriller without any real action scenes, other than a short violent opening and a few sequences that hint at deeper suspense. Instead this Tomas Alfredson directed thriller instead relies most audaciously on a now antiquated form of suspense -- one that sprouts from our own minds.  Following up the success of his startling original 2008 vampire film Let the Right One In, here he demands much from the audience who get much in return for the effort.

The success of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy also relies heavily on an ensemble cast led by the always outstanding Gary Oldman, as forced out spy George Smiley, who is brought out of retirement by Downing Street to hunt down a mole in the highest echelon of the British Secret Intelligence Service ("the circus") after his mentor Control (John Hirt) kills himself in the wake of a failed Hungarian mission to unearth the mole. The narrative then unfolds at a leisurely pace as a combination of flashbacks, document combing and interviews lead us toward the Russian double agent. Among the list of suspects is the charming womanizer Bill Haydon (Colin Firth) who had an affair with Smiley's wife, the dark, mysterious Roy Bland (Ciaran Hinds), the brooding, oily Percy Alleline (Toby Jones) and the largely nondescript Toby Esterhase (David Dencik). We are used to seeing Oldman play bad guys with an unapologetic verve, but here he gives a fascinating and relatively muted performance as the dutiful, perspicacious civil servant combing through the mendacity around him to unearth the truth. The plot requires the full attention of the audience, but a careful eye to detail rewards the viewer with an intriguing plot that begs fundamental questions about human nature, the cold war and really the role of masculinity in politics.

One reason the film does feel a bit dated in its Cold War intrigue is the fact that it is based on a 1974 John Le Care thriller of the same name. But while we might have long passed the days of the East-West chasm, yarns of this nature continue to impress through their intricate character studies and compelling tales of the behind the scenesbattle between communism and capitalism. Like The Russia House (1990) and The Tailor of Panama (2001) before it, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy continues the rather sparse tradition of making cerebral spy thrillers that reward the audience willing to do that most retrograde of things in a movie theatre -- actually think. A

Mendacity: Romney Style

Now that Mitt Romney appears to be closing in on the Republican Presidential nomination it is time to start focusing more attention on this candidate who has been challenged by so many crackpots it makes him look downright normal. But is he? Well, in describing him I think it's fair to say one word keeps coming up, even from rival candidate Newt Gingrich ... "liar." Yes, as big daddy once exhorted in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, mendacity is all around us, particularly when we are talking about the presumptive nominee Romney. Several examples should serve as a template of his tendency toward purposefully getting facts wrong (most are courtesy of Washington Monthly blogger Steven Benen):

1. Romney campaigning in Iowa: “[W]hen the president went around at the beginning of his term and apologized for America around the world, it made us just heartsick.

He’s lying; the president never apologized for America. Romney knows this, but he keeps making the claim anyway. 

2. Romney on Fox News: “I’ve still got the same positions on the issues I had four years ago. My record as governor and my positions are pretty darn conservative.”

That’s not even close to being true. At the top of the list, of course, was his support for healthcare reform that looks a hell of a lot like Obama's now unpopular plan.

3. Romney talking about his jobs record on Fox News: “[At Bain Capital], we helped create over 100,000 new jobs.”

Actually, no, he didn’t. As I reported in a previous post, based on a New York Times profile, the company actually closed down several firms, gutted others and made a fortune in the process.

4. Romney in New Hampshire last Wednesday said President Obama seeks “a ‘European-style welfare state’ to redistribute wealth and create ‘equal outcomes’ regardless of individual effort and success.”

This isn’t just a lie, it’s also “Glenn Beck-level insane.” I have mentioned this one before as well, but worth reiterating given its centrality as a tiresome GOP strategy that unfortunately keeps on working.

5. Romney in a new campaign ad airing in South Carolina: “The National Labor Relations Board, now stacked with union stooges selected by the president, says to a free enterprise like Boeing, ‘You can’t build a factory in South Carolina, because South Carolina is a right-to-work state.’ That is simply un-American. It’s political payback of the worst kind.”

Romney has said this before, and he’s been told every time, he’s lying. 

6. Romney continues to make wildly misleading comments about the president’s jobs record, too.

The hosts of CBS’s “The Early Show” this week seemed taken aback when Newt Gingrich called Romney “a liar,” prompting the disgraced former House Speaker to say they shouldn’t be “shocked” given Romney’s constant dishonesty. 

7. As I mentioned in a previous post back in November, there is the infamous television ad where Obama's statement is taken completely out of context: Mediate. This one was telling as Romney's campaign manager and the candidate themselves were unwilling to acknowledge the misleading nature of the ad saying that the President said it. Sure and I'm sure he said I love the Nazis if we piece together three speeches as well.

8. Romney and his campaign appear to be lying about the effect of partial or complete repeal of the Obama Healthcare bill: America Blog.

A site that has been keeping track of his lies is available here: Fact Check. But while all candidates engage in bending of the truth at times, the acuity and ubiquity with which Mitt does so seems downright appalling. 

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Iowa Results

So after all the stops and starts, it appears that Romney probably is the man to beat in the Republican nomination process: LA Times. His slim victory in Iowa yesterday over Rick Santorum (by a mere 8 votes) was not convincing, but it did further solidify the idea that he will be the candidate -- though without the kind of widespread support one has come to expect from the party faithful. In fact, one could argue that the primary pre-season so far has been a costume show of anyone that could possible challenge him for the nomination from Michelle Bachmann to Rick Perry to Herman Cain, Ron Paul and now Santorum (made infamous among Savage Love readers for his hateful comments on gays). But the GOP has been largely practical in electoral politics, while being increasingly radical in everything else, and will probably soon put their support behind Romney if he continues to win. 

The question that emerges now, though maybe a little premature, is what kind of campaign will he run if nominated? Well, when you are short on ideas and have a checkered past that puts you close to two individuals/groups that people are not enamored with at present (Obama and Wall Street), the answer is of course ... fear! As Talking Points Memo reported, Romney claimed that 2012 is about nothing less than the soul of America (TPM). And more specifically? The problem, of course, is Obama's socialist tendencies and his desire to "turn the merit-based America into an America of entitlements, where the government doles out the rewards regardless of effort." This absurd claim in the midst of growing poverty and inequality (where the greatest "merit" you can have is rich parents) reaffirms the GOP magic trick of the past 30 years -- push blame away from the source of the collapsing quality of life of white, working class (and increasingly middle class) Americans toward affirmative action, government policy (including the New Deal and Great Society) and now anything that doesn't support the neoliberal push for free market liberation, government deregulation and welfare state dismantling. 

Romney thus turns to European Social Democracies (which are themselves being dismantled in many cases) and argues: "“This is an election about a choice of direction or America,” Romney continued. “Not just policies, but a choice of whether we’re going to remain true to the principles that made us who we are or instead we’re going to take a sharp turn left and become something that we would hardly recognize.” It sounds troubling, except that it could be a speech by Hoover in 1932. We have long turned to government to solve economic and social problems and the fundamental change of the New Deal was, in fact, supported not only by large percentages of the population but some members of the business community. The great lie continues to persist even as it's effectiveness continues to fail. How long will people continue to believe that "free" markets and small government can solve their problems? The answer might be more sanguine than we imagine, as exemplified by the Wisconsin and Ohio protests, the Occupy movement and the current abysmal ratings of the new Congress: Washington Monthly. One thing we can be sure of if the election to come will be ugly and filled with lies and fear mongering. One just hopes the people are tired of both ...

Review: Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011)

Released at almost the same time, two sequels continued popular originals. Mission Impossible 4 was a refreshing update to the franchise, that found a way to make the series compelling again. The second Sherlock Holmes film, on the other hand, was stuck in the awkwardness that sequels so often elicit. Should it follow the successful formula of the first and, if so, how closely? How referential should it be? Do you bring the same characters back? What happens if the passage of time makes the original storyline hard to continue? And, in a general sense, how much does the filmmaker pander to the fans of the original versus ensuring that the new film is actually good?

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows clearly grapples with all of these questions. In some cases it answers them in interesting ways but too often director Guy Ritchie falls prey to repetition over innovation. This can be said of his career in general to-date. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998) was a brilliant film that offered a new take on the gangster picture, with slick camera work, great dialogue and intriguing characters coming together in a well-paced and seamlessly connected narrative. The follow-ups, Snatch and RocknRolla (with a few duds in betwee), essentially followed the same formula but with diminishing returns. This is the case here as well, as his adherence to the jump cut, the slow motion scene, the immediate, narrated foreshadowing of a fight and the sometimes ridiculous action scene seemed less impressive here. The humor was also more muted and Holmes seemed to take on a lonely geniusthan lovable rouge role here.

The narrative follows Holmes and Watson on the eve of the latter's wedding, again intertwined in a battle of wits with a genius -- though in this case it is Holmes' mortal enemy Professor Moriarty. Moriarty is growing weary of Holmes' involvement in his latest nefarious plot and sets out to end his involvement by hurting those around him, including Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) and, of course, Watson (Jude Law) and his wife to be Mary (Kelly Reilly). Things begin to heat up as Holmes chases down the brother of a Gypsy somehow involved in the plot. This takes us to Paris, Germany and then to a majestic castle in the Alps for the rather predictable though exciting denouement. The film is again impressive at the level of cinematography and the narrative is engaging, if a little far-fetched -- asking a rather obvious but nonetheless important question about the real motives behind war. But the lighthearted, fun aesthetic of the first film seems more forced here, with far fewer laughs, darker undertones, more outrageous and unbelievable action sequences and a less compelling story in the end. For big fans of the first film, like me, this is worth a viewing, but for those who are circumspect of the genre, I might take a pass. B

Arsenal Blues Redux

Arsenal reentered the top four for the first time this season on the 31st of December renewing hope that they can indeed secure their Champions League spot again (for the 17th straight season). And then, two days later, they fell back to fifth. The very disappointing 2-1 loss to Fulham in the waning moments of the match brought back memories of the past few seasons, when second half collapses led to us falling out of contention for the title. This year we are simply struggling for that 4th spot and to build a squad that can actually compete for silverware next season but doubts certainly resurfaced after the draw at Wolves when we could have moved to fourth and then the late collapse after the Djourou red card, with a goal in the 84th and 93rd minute. The most disappointing thing about the game was that it should have been sealed much earlier, but for a number of missed opportunities yet again (from Walcott, Gervinho and the gang). 
In fact, if we review Arsenal's performance since the 4-0 thrashing of Wigan, we have scored more than a solitary goal in only one match, the late winner against Aston Villa. Other than that, we had one relatively late goal for a 1-0 victory over Everton, were shut out by Man City (with several good chances), drew with Wolves with more chances than I can count (and a missed hat trick from Gervinho who didn't score even one) the tight 1-0 victory against a reeling QPR and then the heartbreaking loss to Fulham (who have taken five points from us in our two matchups and we can look to as the killers of our season if we finish outside the top four). We clearly need to score more goals to make these games more comfortable. It's clear the holiday season is too busy and everyone suffers, but Chelsea's late winner and our late collapse does not bode well as a starting point for the new year.

So what's to be done? I think the Fulham game brought out four issues that need to be resolved. 1) Sczcenzny is doing a good job in goal, but needs more training on when to come out for the ball. He often misses it and needs to be saved by someone else or the ball ends up in the net. All goalkeepers make this mistake, but I've seen it a few too many times from our talented youngster. 2) We need a short term solution to our problem on the wing and we really need to get rid of Squillaci (and maybe, after this season, Djourou as well). Squillaci is terrible and his terrible clearance cost us a point. Djourou just doesn't think sometimes and gets caught out of position and but for his red, we probably win the match 1-0. Sagna should be back soon and Santos, Jenkinson and Gibbs will hopefully follow, but we will lose more games if our wings remain this weak. I think we can see the difference in the squad without Vermaelen and it's troubling that one player has such a huge impact on our defense. We need a winger like Santos who is good in the back (or at least improving) and can push forward effectively. Teams are clogging the middle, because we too infrequently get crosses in from the edges of late. 3) We need more creativity in the midfield. Maybe Wilshire will provide it, but that isn't really his role at present. And he has not shown any great ability at scoring goals. So I think we either need Ramsey to start stepping up and pushing forward and scoring goals, or look elsewhere. Arteta is doing a good job but I would like to see him put it in the net a little more. 4) And obviously up front we need another scorer who can finish the opportunities the wingers so often have. Walcott is just not doing the job and really does seem like a player that will disappoint even as he bedazzles with his speed. He doesn't have the finishing touch, his shots are often terrible and he makes poor decisions way too often. Gervinho is growing into his role on the left, but he really needs to finish more as well. We would have pulled all nine points if either of them converted even one of their numerous chances in the past three games. Podolski seems to me to be the best solution up front and I heard that he is again a possibility after he had put a damper on the rumors. Please join us! On the defensive end, the rumors are rampant, but hopefully we get anyone besides Wayne Bridge (ugh). Finally, we are obviously interested in Hazard, Goetze or Granero, but not sure if any of them is realistic at present. Hopefully, some creative midfielder is brought in now or next summer. 

On a related note, what are the prospects of our nearest competitors? I think Man City looked back in form in dismantling the Suarez-less Liverpool. Man United got through a tough period by continuing to win most of their matches and is now scoring in droves again. The defense might be a little suspect with the loss of Vidic, but I think they will do what they always do -- challenge for or win the title. Chelsea, on the other hand, looks like a team in trouble. Yes they pulled a late winner (set up by a lovely pass from Torres, of all people) against Wolves, but this is a team that is old, out of sorts and weaker than usual on the defensive end. Cahill might shore things up, but the reality is that he has been off form for far this year. Terry vacillates between being one of the best defenders in England and quite average. Liverpool is a really odd team. They have among the best defenses in the league and a nice attacking squad. But they don't score enough goals. And the absence of Suarez makes them appear a little too predictable to me. Carroll obviously needs to find his form, Downing could do to put a few in and Gerrard's return should help, but I sense that they are not ready to crack the top four this year. And then there is our hated rival Tottenham. They have been on incredible form his year, but looked a little less convincing in their past few matches. They could challenge for the title, or start their more common second half swoon. And I don't believe Newcastle will continue to challenge for the top four, though I await the match against Man U today. In any case, should be an exciting race that goes down to the wire.