Paul Wellstone and Being Respectful to Conservatives

Sixteen years ago today, Senator Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash. It wasn’t until after that happened that I knew who he was. I came to learn more about his life, his extraordinary body of public service, the compassion he felt for everyone, and the conviction with which he held his beliefs, and I have since considered him my number one political hero.
 
One of the great things about Paul was that he was as far left/liberal/progressive as it got in U.S. politics, but he was never mean or nasty or anything but friendly and congenial toward his conservative colleagues. He showed that it was very much possible to hold his own principles and beliefs while still being respectful towards those who disagreed with, rather than vilifying them. Being a strong liberal didn’t require being mean to conservatives. Nor was being mean to conservatives an automatic qualifier for being a strong liberal. Paul showed us that.
 
I bring this up now because lately there’s been a rash of incidents where individuals on the left (in a general sense) have been confronting and harassing conservative politicians and Trump administration officials in public spaces not normally reserved for political business, such as restaurants. They have been loudly yelling at these politicians, and in one recent case, a politician’s property was stolen. On social media, these incidents have, from those ostensibly on the left, generally received praise and have been justified based on all the bad governance these politicians have been responsible for. Furthermore, those who speak out against this kind of behavior (namely, me) have been labeled as being “moderate”.
 
I heartily condemn this kind of behavior, including any verbal or physical harassment of any politician or government official, just as I would if it were directed toward those on my side politically. It’s wrong no matter who it’s directed towards. Knowing what I know about Paul Wellstone, I think he would have been very unhappy about this sort of thing happening as well. And the idea that this would make me or Paul Wellstone “moderate” is laughably ridiculous. I hardly agree with conservatives on anything, and neither did Paul. But like him, I find a way to focus on the ideas and policies that need to be championed or criticized, rather than the individuals. That’s something a lot of my fellow leftists really need to learn to do.
 
Let’s look to Paul Wellstone for guidance on how to be principled about ideas while still retaining our humanity and our compassion for all individuals, even our political opponents.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Won

Wow.

I haven’t been posting much about politics lately (haven’t had the time, energy, and spirit, really) but I have been following the elections, of course, especially the ones involving liberal and progressive candidates running in Democratic U.S. House and U.S. Senate primaries.  Just as in election cycles past, the road through this election season has been littered with the corpses of campaigns of promising liberals.  These liberals could have and should have been the future of the Democratic Party, but for a Democratic Party too centrist, too anti-government, too backwards-thinking, too dependent on corporate money, and too enthralled in corporate ideology to do the right thing and be the party of the people again.

To me, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was slated to be another sacrificial progressive lamb at the altar of the corporatists who still very much control and run the Democratic Party.  Especially since her particular would-be corporatist butcher was Representative Joseph Crowley, number 4 Democrat in the U.S. House and the undisputed mob boss of the Queens Democratic Party, who was outspending her 10-to-1.  Ocasio-Cortez was, in order of importance, very liberal, compassionate, earnest, dynamic, and – yes, I’ll say it, sue me – stunningly beautiful.  In a just world, she would be a big part of the future of the Democratic Party.  Instead, in this world, she would just show up as a minor bump in Crowley’s otherwise smooth renomination and reelection.  June 26 2018 would be yet another election night where I tune into the news to get my regular dose of electoral disappointment.  I would just check to make sure that all my favorite candidates went down in crushing defeats before I go to bed, where liberal victories at the polls and a truly liberal Democratic Party can actually exist in my dreams.

Then June 26 2018 actually happened.  I load up the news to find that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won her race – and by a hefty 57-43.  This was easily the best political news I got since Bernie Sanders somehow overcame a 23-point polling deficit to win the 2016 Michigan Presidential primary.  Ocasio-Cortez wasn’t just one more liberal candidate who started way behind only to finish way behind.  She wasn’t yet another no-chance progressive I supported who would get her requisite 30-70 drubbing prior to a swift and orderly disposal into the dustbin of history.  I didn’t have to spend another Election Night completely defeated.  I was still mostly defeated, to be sure – Dylan Ratigan lost his primary, for instance – but not completely defeated.  Like a starving mouse clinging to a fortuitous bread crumb, just for once, I got to have one victory to celebrate.  Let me have this one.

Okay, because it’s me, I have to include the bad side – the reverse silver lining, if you will – involved with this otherwise exhilarating good news.  The media analysis right now is focusing a lot on the district being heavily Latino and choosing a Latina over a white person.  Ocasio-Cortez ran mainly on the issues but she did bring up her Puerto Rican heritage and the fact that her majority-minority district has never had a non-white Representative.  In my own state of Texas, Sema Hernandez, a liberal Latina Democrat running against Beto O’Rourke, carried most of the counties in the heavily Latino Rio Grande Valley.  I voted for Hernandez because she was the more liberal candidate, but I can’t help but think that voters in the Rio Grande Valley went with her based on her ethnicity rather than ideology or issues, and I can’t help but wonder if the same thing happened with Ocasio-Cortez.  Let me be clear: I do not want voters to vote primarily based on race or other non-substantive factors (like gender, which also could’ve helped Ocasio-Cortez), even if it so happens to help the candidate I’m supporting.  Ideology and issues come first and are far more important than whatever intangible feeling of “representation” voters may get from having someone of their own ethnicity in office.  How will liberals feel when a liberal white man loses a race to a more conservative person of color because of race or ethnicity?

That said, I’m elated that Ocasio-Cortez was able to win her race by running a strong campaign based on the idea of a government that truly represents and helps ordinary people.  This is especially important after years and years of watching just about every liberal candidate I supported lose – and usually very badly – in competitive primaries.  2018 wasn’t much different, until now.  Now, we have a victory that gives us a little crack of hope.  We liberals can run on a liberal message and liberal positions on the issues and win uphill battles.  And we need to do just that in a thousand other races if we’re going to take the Democratic Party back from the corporate elites and make our politics work for the people.

P.S. And then there were two: liberal candidate and Kenneth Huang endorsee Ben Jealous won his primary too.  I didn’t expect this one.  Jealous was slightly behind Rushern Baker in most of the recent polls and of course in this world we live in the progressive always loses.  Nope, not this one!  He’ll get to lose in the general election to unfortunately popular Republican Governor Larry Hogan, but for this night, let me have a second victory to celebrate.

Life Update at 31

Last year, when I turned 30, I wrote a blog post about how old and sad I felt.  It was more for myself than anything else since I didn’t expect anyone to read it (and I’m not really expecting anyone to read this post either), but to my surprise I got a fair amount of feedback on Facebook.  I appreciated everyone’s concern and good intentions, but no one told me anything I hadn’t already heard before.  Really, there’s not much one can actually say in these kinds of situations to make anything better.

Since then, life has improved, if only just a little bit.  Old pests went away, only to be replaced by new pests.  My job got better before it got worse and then a little bit better again.  I have gone out and seen more of Austin over the past month, in this narrow band of time in the year when it’s not too hot and not too cold.  I’ve made a few trips to see other places outside of Austin as well.  I’m still poor and unmotivated and plagued by a bunch of life problems that probably wouldn’t be present if I weren’t poor and unmotivated.  Life still feels like a baseline of dull nothingness with some small pleasures here and there: seeing a good movie, eating a good dish, exploring a new place.  I think about my past less and less and some of it is starting to be forgotten, but the changes the past has left on me are still here to stay.

I’m 31 years old now and I’m resigned to being in a not good place for some time.  I’ve always had two selves in me and I’m stuck with the worse self for now.  A part of me wants to do better but vague desire doesn’t go far.  It’s not ambition, and I don’t have the will in me to act on it, especially not when I’m still treading water trying to keep my life together.  I hate thinking about or hearing about possible plans for my future, because I know it’s just more difficulty and stress for possibly nothing.  The most I can do right now is try to make my life a little bit better day by day so that I can keep improving down the road.  Maybe one day I’ll reach a point where I have enough stability in my life that I can set my sights higher.  But if nothing else, over the past two years I’ve learned how hard life can be, in a way that I never knew before, and not just for me, but for lots of other people in similar economic and financial and social and mental situations as I am.

90th Academy Awards: Predictions and Choices

I watched every nominee for the Academy Award for Best Picture prior to the ceremony, which is today, March 4 2018.  Here are my preferences, predictions and comments for the top eight categories in a table format.  I’ll put the movies and performances I haven’t seen at the bottom, separate from the actual rankings.

 

Best Picture

Nominees by alphabetical order Nominees by my preference, from highest to lowest My predicted winner
Call Me by Your Name The Shape of Water Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Darkest Hour Lady Bird
Dunkirk Darkest Hour
Get Out Dunkirk
Lady Bird Get Out
Phantom Thread Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
The Post Call Me by Your Name
The Shape of Water Phantom Thread
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri The Post
To me, what really distinguished this year’s field for Best Picture was how they were all so… decent.  In recent years, there have been usually a few movies that I really disliked and a few that I thought really stood out.  In this year’s field, all the movies are pretty good – even my lowest-ranked The Post – but none of them really blew me away either.  That means that even though I can produce a relative ranking among the nominees (if just barely), in terms of quality they’re all pretty much clustered together.  The Shape of Water is my top pick by default, because it was slightly more enjoyable than the rest.

For the ranking, I knew which ones I wanted as my top two and which ones I wanted as my bottom three.  The hardest part was figuring out how to rank the middle four – Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, Get Out, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – and in particular, whether to place the two World War II movies Darkest Hour and Dunkirk above or below Get Out and Three Billboards.  In the end, I decided the two World War II movies were more weighty so I put them ever so slightly ahead.

The Best Picture contest is mostly down to Three Billboards holding a small edge over The Shape of Water, with Get Out hanging in the wings to exploit a possible split in the voting.  Lady Bird and Dunkirk have small outside chances as well.  I really don’t want Three Billboards or Get Out to win so I’m hoping one of the other three will prevail.

 

Best Director

Nominees by alphabetical order Nominees by my preference, from highest to lowest My predicted winner
Paul Thomas Anderson for Phantom Thread Jordan Peele for Get Out Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water
Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water Guillermo del Toro for The Shape of Water
Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk
Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk Paul Thomas Anderson for Phantom Thread
Jordan Peele for Get Out Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird
While I liked Lady Bird, the movie’s direction wasn’t particularly noteworthy to me.  The rest of the nominees are fine examples of great directing.  In particular, Get Out might be one of the most tightly-crafted movies I’ve seen in recent years, which somewhat made up for its iffy plot.  I thought Guillermo del Toro also did really well in The Shape of Water but in the end I have to give it to Jordan Peele by a hair, even though Get Out itself was nowhere near being my favorite among the nominees.  In any case, my very close second choice Del Toro is slated to win, with Christopher Nolan, one of my favorite directors, having an outside chance.

 

Best Actor

Nominees by alphabetical order Nominees by my preference, from highest to lowest My predicted winner
Timothée Chalamet for Call Me by Your Name Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour
Daniel Day-Lewis for Phantom Thread Daniel Day-Lewis for Phantom Thread
Daniel Kaluuya for Get Out Timothée Chalamet for Call Me by Your Name
Gary Oldman for Darkest Hour Daniel Kaluuya for Get Out
Denzel Washington for Roman J. Israel, Esq. [[[ Denzel Washington for Roman J. Israel, Esq. (haven’t seen) ]]]
Yes yes, we all knew as soon as we saw the first trailers for Darkest Hour that this would be the year Gary Oldman easily wins his long-overdue Oscar.  And I would agree with that choice.  But it’s funny: as I was watching Daniel Day-Lewis in Phantom Thread, I was thinking, this guy is good… this guy is really good.  If there was any performer who could upset Oldman, it’d of course be Day-Lewis.  That said, while Day-Lewis is at the very least a very close second and arguably as good as or better than Oldman, I still say give it to Oldman for the way he was able to just melt into the role of Winston Churchill.  Besides, I don’t want Day-Lewis to win another Oscar because I want it to remain that only one actor has ever won four acting Oscars (brownie points if you know who it is!).  There’s been a lot of buzz around Timothée Chalamet as having an outside chance of winning but I don’t get it; Chalamet did fine in Call Me by Your Name but he didn’t seem to be particularly exceptional, and if any performance is going to beat Oldman’s it would be Day-Lewis’s.  I don’t know why Daniel Kaluuya was nominated; he did a fine job in Get Out but again, nothing terribly exceptional.

 

Best Actress

Nominees by alphabetical order Nominees by my preference, from highest to lowest My predicted winner
Sally Hawkins for The Shape of Water Sally Hawkins for The Shape of Water Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Margot Robbie for I, Tonya
Margot Robbie for I, Tonya Frances McDormand for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Saoirse Ronan for Lady Bird Saoirse Ronan for Lady Bird
Meryl Streep for The Post Meryl Streep for The Post
One positive development is that, compared to recent years, this year’s Best Actress field is quite strong.  I can’t say there’s an unworthy performance among these five – yes, not even that of Meryl Streep, who I have repeatedly maligned as being overrated and nominated out of routine rather than merit.  She was actually quite good in The Post.  Still, I’m gonna put her last anyway just because of how good the rest of the field is.  In a just world, Sally Hawkins would win – her performance was so captivating and it just blew me away.  I’m largely unfamiliar with her previous work but she’s made me a new fan of hers.  The middle three are tough to rank because they’re all so close and all so good!  At the same time, I feel like each of their characters are largely one-note: outwardly crude and angry with only fleeting hints of underlying vulnerability.

By the way, I think this is the first time in years that I’ve seen all five Best Actress performances prior to the ceremony.  That’s in large part due to the fact that four out of five of these performances are from Best Picture nominees.  That’s a sign of how strong this year’s field is.

 

Best Supporting Actor

Nominees by alphabetical order Nominees by my preference, from highest to lowest My predicted winner
Willem Dafoe for The Florida Project Sam Rockwell for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Sam Rockwell for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Woody Harrelson for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Woody Harrelson for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Richard Jenkins for The Shape of Water Richard Jenkins for The Shape of Water
Christopher Plummer for All the Money in the World [[[ Willem Dafoe for The Florida Project (haven’t seen) ]]]
Sam Rockwell for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri [[[ Christopher Plummer for All the Money in the World (haven’t seen) ]]]
Eh, this is a weak field.  The frontrunner Sam Rockwell is my top pick but largely by default, as the other two that I’ve actually seen were not particularly exceptional.

 

Best Supporting Actress

Nominees by alphabetical order Nominees by my preference, from highest to lowest My predicted winner
Mary J. Blige for Mudbound Laurie Metcalf for Lady Bird Allison Janney for I, Tonya
Allison Janney for I, Tonya Allison Janney for I, Tonya
Lesley Manville for Phantom Thread Lesley Manville for Phantom Thread
Laurie Metcalf for Lady Bird Octavia Spencer for The Shape of Water
Octavia Spencer for The Shape of Water [[[Mary J. Blige for Mudbound (haven’t seen) ]]]
Octavia Spencer is a great actress, but I feel like she’s becoming the Meryl Streep of the Supporting Actress category – someone who’s being nominated for good but not great performances out of routine because there’s no one else to fill that slot.  And she’s always playing the same basic character – a sassy woman from the 1960s!

For the top spot, it’s a battle between two actresses who both played angry mothers who mistreated their daughters in their respective movies.  Frontrunner Allison Janney was very good but I’m giving the edge to Laurie Metcalf because I think her performance was more nuanced and layered.

 

Best Original Screenplay

Nominees by alphabetical order Nominees by my preference, from highest to lowest My predicted winner
The Big Sick The Shape of Water Get Out
Get Out Lady Bird
Lady Bird The Big Sick
The Shape of Water Get Out
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Off the top of my head this is the first time in a while that I’ve seen all the Original Screenplay nominees – four out of five being Best Picture nominees as well – prior to the ceremony, so that’s a good sign.  The Shape of Water and Lady Bird easily stand out in this field; the other nominees weren’t that great in terms of story, plot, or dialogue.  In terms of the race, Get Out is currently in the lead but Three Billboards isn’t too far behind.  That’s too bad, seeing as how those are my two lowest-ranked ones.

 

Best Adapted Screenplay

Nominees by alphabetical order Nominees by my preference, from highest to lowest My predicted winner
Call Me by Your Name The Disaster Artist Call Me by Your Name
The Disaster Artist Logan
Logan Call Me by Your Name
Molly’s Game [[[ Molly’s Game (haven’t seen) ]]]
Mudbound [[[ Mudbound (haven’t seen) ]]]
Oh this one easily goes to The Disaster Artist.  I don’t even have to think about this one.  In fact I think The Disaster Artist is better than many of the Best Picture nominees.  But Call Me by Your Name is slated to win easily.

 

My Thoughts on Turning 30

Today I turned 30 years old.  Yay?  NO.

Looking back on the twenties that I just departed, I see that I’ve changed so much – some for the better, more for the worse.  When I turned 20 in 2007, I wasn’t exactly riding high, but life was looking promising.  I had a direction, I had a goal, and I had reasonable confidence that I would eventually make it there.  Now, ten years later, I feel like I’ve seen so much, done so much, and fell so far.  I’m the total opposite of what I was at 20.  I’m 30 and I’ve been told I look like I’m 22 or 23, but inside I feel like I’m 60 – worn, weary, and bitter from what has been a brutal decade.  A decade that I feel was largely wasted on battling against myself and constantly learning lessons the hard way.

I’ve been meaning to blog about what’s happened in the last year, this last mostly-horrible year of my twenties, and how my new life has been going.  I haven’t had the time.  I barely have the time right now, which is why the quality of this writing probably isn’t up to par.  I’ll hopefully write more later, but suffice to say, my life for the past year – really, for the past several years but especially this past year – has been mostly miserable, punctuated by occasional moments of blissful happiness when I somehow manage to escape and forget the pain of my regular life, until I’m brought back down to earth and have to go back to it.  Every day feels like yet another round of trudging through a cycle of regret, longing, and confusion.  I was at work today and the enormity of turning 30 and being so damn old already and having wasted most of the past ten years hit me hard.  I just wanted to collapse on the ground, and in fact I nearly did so.

I normally like to do special trips for my birthday and other occasions but my life has turned so bad that I’ve lost much of my previously held enthusiasm for doing so.  I originally was going to go to Dallas for this birthday but I changed my mind because my life has too many problems right now. (I’m planning on going in a few weeks instead.) This has been a pretty miserable and meh-whatever birthday so far – I got a few hours of sleep, spent a few more hours catching up on a week’s worth of emails that I haven’t had the time to get to, and all around I feel like crap.

This isn’t an auspicious start to a new decade.  I guess I’ll post again in 2027 and offer another short and hasty retrospection of the preceding ten years.  I wish I could say it’ll be much happier than this one, but I’m really not expecting it.  My thirty years of life so far have not turned out anywhere near what I ever hoped for.