Trump Rex

I went to see Parasite this week, and, fair play to the Academy, it is a better film than Little Women. I still think Saoirse Ronan should have won Best Actress though.

In other class-struggle-related news, it looks like Donald Trump is determined to live up to accusations that he is a fascist, by openly comparing himself to a king, and loudly proclaiming his belief that he has the right to use the supposedly independent Justice Department to persecute his political enemies. This latter boast has prompted much hand-wringing among liberals, who seem to have forgotten that selective prosecution on ideological grounds has a long history in the US – just ask the Black Panthers.

Now that Trump has upped the stakes by going after people who would consider themselves part of the establishment, it’s likely that there will be some sort of institutional response that he will be able to characterise as a deep-state backlash, of the kind existing in the fevered imaginations of Q-Anon enthusiasts, thus furthering his narrative that he is on the side of the ordinary man in the battle with unaccountable elites, and boosting his chances of re-election.

Tempting though it is in these circumstances to cheer on whatever elements of the government machine Trump is taking aim at, that would be a bad mistake – the FBI are not our friends. Getting involved in the internal squabbles of the ruling class can only be a distraction; we need to remember that all of them are our enemies, and concentrate on building a movement that can sweep aside the whole rotten system, liberating us from the leech of capitalism once and for all.

New Hampshire 2020

The last time we had a post title referencing the Granite State was back in 2012, when we surveyed the Republican primary field, and mocked the inadequacy of the candidates they were putting up to challenge an impregnable incumbent. How times change.

Anyway, the results from New Hampshire this time around confirm that the Democratic primary race is shaping up as a contest between leftists and centrists, though who will emerge as the champion of each faction is still uncertain. Bernie Sanders is making the running on the progressive wing, but Elizabeth Warren can’t be written off, despite her poor performance so far. Joe Biden is at risk of being eclipsed by Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, but may bounce back in more diverse states. Throw in the wildcard of Michael Bloomberg’s candidacy, and it’s clear there are more twists to come before this is settled.

On the bigger question of whether consolidating the base by going left is a better plan than trying to appeal to swing voters in the centre, progressives can cite the example of Hillary Clinton, who failed badly with the latter strategy last time around. However moderates might point out that Clinton actually won the popular vote, and that racking up big majorities in Democratic strongholds doesn’t always help when it comes to the all-important Electoral College. Both sides might be looking at the result of the UK election, where, at first glance, it seems like turning left was a disastrous choice for Labour, but it’s not certain that the lessons of that race are directly applicable to the very different political terrain of the US.

Of course the biggest unknown in the whole process, like it was in 2016, is Donald Trump. He is in office, which is usually a massive advantage for any candidate, so if he just avoids any major scandal between now and November he should be home and dry. The final result may turn on whether he has the insight to recognise this, and the self-discipline to stay on-message, both of which are very questionable propositions.

So, the primaries, and the general election, look sure to be even more of an unpredictable roller-coaster than they were four years ago. That said, I do feel obliged to follow our tradition of making an early forecast of the eventual outcome, so here it is: President Sanders.

Oscar predictions revisited

So, how accurate was my forecast?

For the films and actors I thought should win, I scored 3/10, and for those I reckoned would win I got a slightly better 5/10. I evidently liked Little Women a lot more than the Academy did (though it did get the award for Costume Design), and they had a better opinion of Parasite than I, which I guess might be because I haven’t actually seen it yet. We did agree on the brilliance of Laura Dern at least.

I’m not sure if my interest in this is a sign that I’m getting back into tune with popular culture, or if I’m just paying more attention to the review section of the newspaper, in a probably doomed attempt to maintain the illusion that I’m still in touch. Either way, I’m going to try to keep up my weekly trips to the matinee show, at least until the weather gets a bit better.

Oscar predictions

Thanks to my recently-reinvigorated cinema-going habit, this is the first year for a while that I have actually seen, or at least read about, enough of the films with Oscar nominations to have an opinion on who is going to win.

So here are my tips for the main awards, in the format Category – Should win; Will win:

Best Picture – Little Women; 1917

Actor – Leonardo DiCaprio; Joaquin Phoenix

Actress – Saoirse Ronan; RenĂ©e Zellweger

Supporting Actor – Brad Pitt; Al Pacino

Supporting Actress – Laura Dern; Laura Dern

Cinematography – The Lighthouse; 1917

Directing – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood; 1917

International Feature Film – Parasite; Parasite

Adapted Screenplay – Little Women; Little Women

Original Screenplay – Knives Out; Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

I’ll check in tomorrow to see how many I got right…

Iowa, finally

After two days of confusion, the Iowa caucus results have just about trickled in. If the disorganisation of the local Democrats is any reflection of the preparedness of the national party then we may be in for a very rough time once the general election comes around, but it’s not all gloomy news; Bernie Sanders seems to have maintained the momentum he built up four years ago, while Joe Biden’s campaign looks to be running into trouble already. This is encouraging, because, in a highly polarised political contest, maximising the turnout of your base is a better strategy than trying to chip away at the weaker elements of your opponent’s support, and Sanders’ promises of social reform are likely to generate more excitement among core Democrat constituencies than Biden’s lukewarm centrism. Of course there is the risk that even a moderate (by European standards) leftist like Sanders will have an equally strong rallying effect on the Republican right, but, as things stand, it’s difficult to see what other course of action could lead to a Democrat victory in November.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, the Trump impeachment process ended in the entirely predictable anti-climax of aquittal. Trump has been crowing about his “victory”, but again, it remains to be seen whether, come polling day, the encouragement this gives to his followers will be outweighed by the motivation it provides to those who want to see the back of him.

02022020

Today, the 2nd of February 2020, or 02/02/2020, is a palindromic day. The previous one of these was 20/02/2002, but that didn’t work in the US, where they inexplicably put the month first when writing the date, nor in China, where, more logically, they use the yyyy/mm/dd format. The last global palindromic day was way back on 11/11/1111, though I guess no one in North America or the Far East would have been interested in the Julian calendar in those days. The next one is due in 2121, on the 12th of December.

I’m fond of things like this, that seem as if they must have some deep cosmic meaning, even though the scientific part of my mind knows that it’s all quite arbitrary. I’m self-aware enough to recognise that it’s an attempt to ward off existential despair by imposing narrative order on a chaotic universe, but even an absurd hero has to embrace irrationality sometimes, so I’ll allow myself this little foible.

Last exit to Blighty

So, today was my final day as a citizen of the European Union. On a practical level, this is a bit of a non-event for me; the UK’s departure will not have any huge consequences in the short term, since there is now a one-year transition period where everything stays much the same, and even in the longer term I’m not likely to personally suffer any significant detriment, because I’m an old, middle-class, white male, and we generally do OK, whatever the circumstances.

Still, I’m feeling rather bereft. The EU, for all its many faults, represents an optimistic vision of an internationalist future, born from the ashes of a terrible war. That we are now retreating behind a national frontier, trying to regain a mythical past, seems like an ominous development.

Then again, it probably won’t work out as badly as I fear. The social gains of the last seven decades are not just going to disappear, however much the right try to turn the clock back, and in years to come we might look back on this episode as a minor bump in the highway of human progress, the last stand of reaction against the tide of history.

Anyway, whatever it says on my passport, nothing can change how I define myself; I’m a proud member of the worldwide proletariat, and I will be until I die.

Trump and tribulation

As expected, after the excitement of the election, politics around here has pretty much gone into hibernation, and is unlikely to become interesting again until efforts to negotiate an EU trade deal get started next month, when we’ll find out whether Boris Johnson actually has some sort of plan, or if we’re going to be back into another period of no-deal brinkmanship.

In the meantime we must turn for amusement to the US, where the Senate trial of Donald Trump for a small sample of his many high crimes and misdemeanors is finally getting under way. While the short-term outcome may not be in much doubt, since most Republican Senators have already declared themselves ready to acquit without burdening their minds with consideration of the evidence, it will be interesting to see what effect the demonstration of Trump’s rampant criminality has on his public standing, and his chances of re-election.

I suspect that the answer to that question will be “not much”. People already know what they think about Trump, and confirmation that he is a crook seems unlikely to make much impression on his core support. If he can sit back and let it wash over him, the process might even work to his advantage, by fuelling the narrative that he is the victim of the liberal elite, persecuted for the “crime” of standing up for the little guy.

The main danger that Trump faces is from himself; it’s possible that he will allow the impeachment to goad him into some action so outrageous that it tests the loyalty of even his most ardent supporters. It’s hard to imagine what would be bad enough to do that though; perhaps cancelling the election and declaring himself dictator-for-life. Failing that, this trial may turn out to be just a minor inconvenience on his march to another term in office.

 

Neil Peart RIP

When people ask me what the first record I ever bought was, I usually tell them Heart of Glass by Blondie, which was the first single I purchased, but the first LP that I bought was Moving Pictures by Rush. I’ve been a little reluctant to admit that over the years, as Rush are not generally felt to be the coolest act on the planet, but I was definitely a big fan for a while, and they were one of the first bands that introduced me to the idea that music could be something beyond an ephemeral distraction.

After Moving Pictures I quickly acquired all their previous albums, and their next release Signals, but my initial enthusiasm didn’t last, partly for reasons I’ll mention below, and I hardly listened to them at all over the following three decades, until some nostalgic impulse prompted me to get 2012’s Clockwork Angels, which in turn led me to revisit my collection of their old material. I’m not sure that I would sit and listen to any of the albums all the way through, but there are certainly some highlights, especially on Fly by Night, Permanent Waves, and the aforementioned Moving Pictures.

So I was sad to read in the paper this morning that Neil Peart had passed away, at the early age of 67. Much of the appeal of Rush’s work lies in the storytelling of his lyrics, particularly on the earlier albums, where he crafts some intriguing Tolkienesque fantasy, while (mostly) avoiding any lapses into ridiculousness.

There are some problematic elements to Peart’s legacy though; 2112, dedicated to “the genius of Ayn Rand”, is difficult to forgive. It’s said that Peart later disavowed Rand and identified himself as a “bleeding heart libertarian”, but the official Rush website featured a sympathetic portrait of the alt-right icon as late as 2012, and in 2018 Peart was still describing 2112 as the story of “a hero who fights against collectivist mentality (depicted by the evil red star)“, so I probably won’t be putting that back on the turntable any time soon.

I much preferred Peart when he stuck to the elf-related whimsy, so I think that’s how I’ll remember him.

Six hundred

Before we unveil the new, reinvigorated, Second Life Shrink, we should note that this is our six-hundredth post. The latest century has taken us a little under two years, much faster than the last one, but not as quick as we were back in our heyday.

According to the ever-informative WordPress statistics page, the 599 pieces preceding this one have contained a total of 176,801 words. If one believes the advice given to would-be writers on the internet, that would equate to roughly two novels. I will leave it to you, dear readers, to decide if the contents of this blog are adequate compensation for those potential masterpieces that the world will now never see…