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This just opened in France. The reviews are good to very good—better than in the US—and with friends asking what I think of it (as I saw it in the US last month). My succinct take: the film is brilliantly cast and acted—particularly Christian Bale, whose performance is exceptional—the politics are impeccable—Dick Cheney was/is a right-wing reactionary de la pire espèce, not to mention a despicable human being—and is well-done overall and entertaining, but it’s just a little too un-nuanced and heavy-handed. The pic is a red meat crowd-pleaser for liberals and lefties: agitprop for that very sizable portion of America’s citizenry—of which I am a part—who despised and loathed the Bush-Cheney administration, indeed the Republican Party tout court (don’t even talk about the Trump regime).

Journalist-writer James Mann—who authored the most important book on the war cabinet of Bush-Cheney’s first term—had a spot-on critique of the film, dated December 28th, in The Washington Post, “The Dick Cheney of ‘Vice’ just craves power. The reality was worse.” The lede: “The former veep’s ideological agenda did far more damage than his quest for clout.” The film does indeed focus mainly on personality and gives short-shrift to key historical moments, e.g. the 1990-91 Gulf War—which is barely mentioned—as well as to Cheney’s ideological motivations, which, as we know, were deep, and on domestic policy as well as foreign.

I also had a problem with the implicit suggestion that the Iraq war was driven by oil and Halliburton contracts, which was not only nonsense but stupid, boneheaded nonsense (for my own view of the Iraq war, go here). In short, while Adam McKay’s film may certainly be seen, my assessment of it is mixed.

Another movie about US politics I’ve seen of late is Jason Reitman’s The Front Runner, about the sudden demise of Gary Hart’s presidential campaign in May 1987. The film opened in France in mid-January, vanishing from the salles obscures after two weeks (I caught it in the nick of time). Hollywood movies on subjects of little interest to the French public (e.g. baseball, US politicos almost no one has heard of or remembers) usually linger a little longer. The film is based on journalist Matt Bai’s 2014 book All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid, which chronicles what was the first-ever media-fabricated sex scandal (or “scandal”) that felled a presidential candidate. Bai’s book—which the NYT’s reviewer called “a miniclassic of political history”—is also an indictment of the behavior of the media—the Miami Herald and Washington Post in particular—during the miserable episode. Bai is still indignant three decades later at the media feeding frenzy that ended the political career of the Democratic Party’s most promising politician of the time—and certainly one of the smartest—and its strongest candidate by far going into the 1988 presidential campaign. Hart’s downfall, as Bai wrote in the NYT Magazine, forever changed American politics. And not for the better.

Bai is not the first author to take on the media for its role in Hart’s fall. John Judis published an enquête, “The Hart Affair,” in the July-August 1987 issue of the Columbia Journalism Review—unfortunately not online—which begins:

Sooner or later Gary Hart would probably have destroyed his own candidacy. Hart, the Washington Post‘s Meg Greenfield wrote in retrospect, was “living a life he could not justify or reveal.” But the inevitability of Hart’s political demise does not justify the press’s singular role in precipitating it. In reporting about Hart, the mainstream press departed from its past standards in covering a candidate’s private life and displayed unwonted recklessness in reporting what it had discovered.

We’ll obviously never know if Hart would have self-destructed if he had never crossed paths with Donna Rice in Florida. Perhaps, but perhaps not.

Before the 1984 presidential campaign I was aware that Hart was a senator from Colorado but didn’t know much about him until he emerged as a serious candidate, unexpectedly winning the New Hampshire primary and giving Walter Mondale a run for his money. I wished Hart well at the time—though voted for Jesse Jackson in the Illinois primary in March—as I didn’t find Mondale—a good man and decent liberal—too inspiring, and doubted his chances against Reagan. I was an enthusiastic Hart supporter from the summer of 1986, as he prepared his candidacy for ’88, though was pretty much alone in this among my lefty friends in Chicago, where I was living at the time, who thought of him as a neoliberal (which was absolutely not the case). The one time I saw Hart speak was at a Citizen Action convention in September ’86, at a hotel near O’Hare airport. The reception was indifferent. I remember him speaking, getting no questions, and leaving unnoticed. And needless to say, I was stunned and incensed by the media feeding frenzy over the Donna Rice/Monkey Business business and its denouement, as there was no evidence that Hart had done anything wrong or unethical, let alone illegal. Quel gâchis.

I was reminded of the Hart debacle last November, before hearing about ‘The Front Runner’, in reading an article in that month’s issue of The Atlantic by James Fallows, “Was Gary Hart set up? What are we to make of the deathbed confession of the political operative Lee Atwater, newly revealed, that he staged the events that brought down the Democratic candidate in 1987?” Now James Fallows is quite simply one of America’s best journalists—and has been for decades—whose signature is a mark of quality, and whom I will read on any subject. And while I am allergic to conspiracy theories of any sort, if Fallows is speculating that Hart was indeed a victim of a plot in 1987—that the Monkey Business was a Republican dirty tricks operation and with there being no evidence that anything happened with Donna Rice—then I need to take that seriously. And John Judis, who was a Hart supporter when the thing happened, informs me that a number of level-headed observers have indeed suspected all along that it was a set-up.

I would certainly like to believe the theory but in reviewing the affair after seeing the movie, I don’t know. Hart was, after all, a reputed coureur and there was no reason for the comely Ms. Rice, who had no known political convictions at the time (nowadays she’s a conservative evangelical and Trump supporter), to have paid him a visit at his Capitol Hill townhouse except for we know what. But whatever. It was their private business and no one else’s. In point of fact, the biggest mistake Hart made during the media frenzy was to have abandoned his candidacy, particularly as public opinion was with him. If he had stonewalled the reporters and continued campaigning, he would have likely survived intact—as did Bill Clinton five years later after the Gennifer Flowers eruption.

As for the movie, which covers the final three weeks of the ill-fated campaign, it’s not bad. Hugh Jackman is well-cast as Hart, as is Vera Farmiga as his wife, Lee (portrayed by the media at the time as a silently suffering martyr). Leaving the theater I wondered what the point was in making the film, particularly today. Perhaps as a reminder to the Fourth Estate that it is not exempted from critique—for its herd mentality, obsession with ratings, etc—while we’re all celebrating it—and rightly so—in this age of Trump? Whatever the reason, one thing we do know—and do not regret—is that it is no longer conceivable that an American presidential candidate could be driven from a race for having had a sexual relationship with someone who was not his (or her) spouse. Good for that.

Another Hollywood movie with a US politics theme I’ve seen of late is the biopic of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, On the Basis of Sex, directed by Mimi Leder. This one has had more success at the box office in France than ‘The Front Runner’, perhaps in part because of its title, Une femme d’exception (which is superior to the English one), even though not too many here know who RBG is. The reviews have also been positive, including among Allociné spectateurs, whereas they were mixed in the US. It’s a perfectly serviceable biopic, beginning with RBG—ably played by Felicity Jones—at Harvard Law School in the 1950s as one of the tiny handful of female students, and who had a baby to boot; then the sexism she had to confront in the 1960s, being rejected by major law firms despite her brilliant law school record; career as a professor at Rutgers Law School, where she pioneered the study of gender discrimination; and which ends with her victory in the SCOTUS’s 1975 landmark ruling in the Weinberger v. Wiesenfeld case, for which she wrote the brief. It’s a feel-good movie about a remarkable person, and which, entre autres, shows that women can indeed “have it all”—how I hate that expression—of leading an exceptional career and doing great things, and while raising a family (having a loving, supportive husband certainly helped).

Someone on Twitter last month made a tongue-in-cheek comment about how nice it would be if we could all subtract one day from our respective lives and add it to Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s (which would certainly prolong it into the next millennium). We’re all crossing our fingers that she remains in good health to at least January 2021…

Photo credit: Guy Bop/Sud Ouest

Today is Act XIII—designated in Roman numerals—of the Gilets Jaunes, a,k.a. Yellow Jackets (or Vests), which is to say, this is the 13th Saturday in a row that the movement has held demos in Paris and around France. It’s become routine (with the weekly numbers albeit steadily dropping). The GJ movement is fairly well understood outside France by now, in terms of who they are—lower middle class small town/non-farming rural folk—and what issues initially drove the protests (gasoline taxes, a new speed limit law, cost of living; which have since been superseded by others). The English-language reporting has been quite good on the whole, not to mention analyses from France specialists, a few of which I linked to in December. One of the best Anglophone journalists on the GJ beat, whose reports have been first-rate, is John Lichfield, formerly Paris correspondent of The Independent, now of The Local. Lichfield knows France comme sa poche and whose analyses are invariably spot-on. One of his latest on the GJs is a talk he gave in Brussels on January 31st, sponsored by a group called BEERG and which published a transcript on its BEERG Brexit Blog dated February 2nd, which I have copied-and-pasted below (and taken the liberty of correcting a few spelling errors). As I almost entirely subscribe to Lichfield’s analysis, this has spared me from having to elaborate my own. The transcript is lengthy (some 4,400 words) but well worth the read.

I’m sort of glad I didn’t offer my views on AWAV last month, as I posted more than one comment on Facebook expressing my exasperation, indeed fed-upness, with the GJs (here, here, and here), which I pronounced to be—or to have objectively become—a movement of the extreme right, on account of the violence of a significant number of GJs—the Saturday casseurs were not only neofascists, black blocs, and loubards from the banlieues—the proliferation of conspiracy theories among the GJs and which have been rife on their Facebook pages—N.B. without Facebook, the GJ movement would not exist—overt expressions of antisemitism at GJ-occupied ronds-points and gatherings (e.g. here, here, and here), their hatred of the media and particularly the all-news TV stations—with only the Russian RT France meeting with approval (this has been widely reported); though without the saturation coverage of BFM, CNews, and LCI, the movement would have never attained the proportions it has—not to mention of politicians, indeed of the institutions of representative democracy, a.k.a. the Republic. E.g. the incessant, insistant demand that Emmanuel Macron resign. However one feels about Macron—I am personally not a fan—he was legitimately elected president of the republic for a five-year term. Who do these people think they are to imperiously demand that he pack his bags and quit the Elysée, tail between his legs? To throw the institutions of French democracy into grave crisis and with no clue as to what would come out of it? The verbal violence against Macron was indeed attaining a virulence never witnessed against a major political figure, let alone a president of the republic, since the Second World War. Macron has a number of issues, as it were, and bears some responsibility for the emergence of the GJs—more on this another time—but a lynch mob atmosphere around his person by GJs quickly developed. If Macron had tried to dialogue with a critical mass of GJs on a Saturday in December—of working men and women in their 30s and 40s, indeed older—he would have likely not made it out alive. His physical integrity was indeed in danger.

But it hasn’t only been Macron. GJs who accepted the invitation to meet with PM Édouard Philippe at the Matignon on December 4th renounced after receiving death threats. One of the more moderate public faces of the GJs, the 51-year-old Bretonne hypnotherapist Jacline Mouraud, told Le Figaro (December 7th) that she and her family had received death threats on account of her televised appearances as an informal GJ spokesperson. The climate of intimidation in the movement was palpable.

None of this is acceptable, regardless of the difficult economic situation individual GJs find themselves in. Barely being able to make ends meet—which is the case for the majority of GJs—does not give one the right to smash stuff and threaten people with violence. The abject political inculture of the GJs is breathtaking. A number of intellectuals and high-profile journalists, e.g. Libération’s Jean Quatremer, have been denouncing the GJs for all this since November, drawing historical parallels with the fascist factieux of February 1934 or the Poujadist movement of the mid 1950s, which started out as a non-political anti-tax reaction of shopkeepers and artisans but veered to the extreme right. I didn’t accept the views of the said intellos and journalists at first but then started to get on board. And then my friend Claire Berlinski published a lengthy (6,700 words), somewhat incendiary piece on the GJs in The American Interest on January 21st, expressing her dim view, to put it mildly, of the movement and how it was playing out, and with which I agreed.

But now I have to pull back. J’allais un peu vite en besogne, i.e. I was getting ahead of myself. It was not right to pigeonhole the GJ movement as extreme right tout court. Some of it clearly is but a lot of it is not. The operative word is hétéroclite: politically-speaking, the GJs are made up of men and women who vote for the left and right, or don’t vote at all, in more or less equal proportions. The grab bag of GJ revindications include as many that may be seen as left-wing—particularly the denunciations of the filthy rich and demands for greater redistribution—as right-wing. What is noteworthy, though—and why the GJs cannot be classified as extreme-right—is the absence of immigration and identity in GJ rhetoric. Individual GJs interviewed in the media will say that immigration is a problem—as do the majority of Frenchmen and women; the classes populaires tend not to be cosmopolitan—when the question is posed but it simply has not been an issue for the movement. Moreover, the quiet, under-the-radar effort by Marine Le Pen and her renamed Rassemblement National to co-opt the GJ movement at the ronds-points appears not to be bearing fruit (and with some RN strongholds, such as the Hauts-de-France region, not having witnessed significant GJ activity). The GJs are allergic to the established political parties, including the RN. If the GJs manage to structure themselves into a lasting movement that contests elections—which is doubtful—it will surely resemble the Italian M5S, i.e. politically unclassifiable.

It is commonplace to refer to the GJ movement as inédit, i.e. unprecedented. There’s never been anything like it in France: a mass social movement in which the urban population is all but absent. There have been plenty of rural movements and protests in the course of history but of farmers and who are concerned solely with farmer-related issues (and who care about nothing else). The GJs are not peasants, as we know. They are the union of non-urban “petits-moyens,” in the words of sociologist Isabelle Coutant, or the “société des petits,” dixit Pierre Rosanvallon, and with a large participation of women (a few of whom have taken part in the violence). The inter-generational character of the GJs is equally noteworthy, forged in the fraternization on the ronds-points (the latter was the subject of a remarkable reportage by Florence Aubenas in Le Monde dated December 16th-17th). The movement has also evolved since November. The GJs were initially over-represented in the “diagonale du vide“—the swath of central France that has suffered population decline and economic stagnation—but the locus has shifted to the southwest and Mediterranean rim. The central role played by local leaders has also been observed, with GJ activity in a given locality dropping significantly with the arrest or departure of the charismatic personality.

I’ll no doubt come back to all this, particularly as teams of social scientists are studying the GJs—whose early findings have been extensively reported in Le Monde—and with edited collections of essays by academics and intellectuals already hitting the bookstores. And then there’s the Emmanuel Macron part of the equation, which I’ll take up soon, as well as some of the institutional revindications of the GJs, such as the citizens’ initiative referendum (to which I am hostile). In the meantime, here’s John Lichfield’s January 31st Brussels talk:

I’m here to explain the Gilets Jaunes. It might be easier to explain black holes. I’ll do my best. But there is no simple explanation of the Gilets Jaunes, no monolithic, single-minded movement, no leadership structure, no single, accepted programme of demands. That’s what makes them fascinating. And baffling. And worrying. I will give you a brief narrative of the story so far. Then I will offer some clues on how to understand the movement. And what may happen next.

Are the Gilets Jaunes just another example of the French being French? Is it all Macron’s fault? Or Putin’s fault? Or is it an internet phenomenon – Facebook populism – which could have happened anywhere? What are the similarities with other populist movements Continue Reading »

Venezuela and the left

[update below] [2nd update below] [3rd update below] [4th update below]

I’ve been off AWAV for the past month, which a few friends have noted and asked me about. Pour l’info, I spent two weeks in the US in January (NC & DC), where I inevitably drowned in news about Trump (and the shutdown, Mueller probe, etc)—MSNBC being on every evening chez ma mère, preceded by NPR during the day—though I did try to keep up with the Gilets Jaunes in France, the Brexit psychodrama, and other stories. I have plenty to say about these and will do so in due course, but need to weigh in right now on Venezuela, which is provoking polemics on my social media accounts among progressives and other lefties, a certain number of whom are mouthing rubbish on what’s happening there. Now I do not claim to possess specialized knowledge of that country, loin s’en faut—I have had but two posts on the place in the life of AWAV (here and here)—but that’s okay, as no one else I know or see on Facebook does either. But as a social scientist who has been formatted to think in certain ways, I have a certain respect for specialized knowledge and know how to identify it, and, moreover, to know what is good or valid and what is not. On Venezuela, I will further acknowledge the indirect assistance of the excellent University of Washington political scientist Jamie Mayerfeld, who has been posting tons of good stuff on his Facebook page and with incisive commentary of his own.

One must-read piece Jamie linked to a couple of days ago is a “Letter to a friend on my left,” by Tulane University sociologist David Smilde, who curates the excellent Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights blog, hosted by the Washington Office on Latin America, where the letter appears. It’s dated March 12, 2018, but is entirely relevant today. Money quote:

[T]he idea that the US is the main or even a main cause of Venezuela’s crisis does not withstand even cursory examination. US financial sanctions came into effect at the end of August [2017]. By chance, the recently released ENCOVI survey carried-out its fieldwork in August 2017 just before US sanctions and shows the extent of the devastation. Poverty, in the way the survey measures it, has increased from 48.4% 2014 to 87% 2017, which is astonishing. 80% of respondents said they had eaten less in the previous three months because can’t get enough food. 60% said they had gone to bed hungry at some point in the previous three months because they did not have enough food. 64% say they have lost weight in the past year, on average over 11 kilos.

This is not hard to understand. If you have a fixed exchange rate, emit enormous quantities of inorganic money and have price controls, the combination of inflation, scarcities and contraband is the only possible outcome. You do not need a conspiracy theory to explain something that is fully understandable by just looking at the Maduro government’s destructive policies.

The Maduro government is not the only government to preside over an economic disaster. What makes it different is that it has violated the people’s rights to choose their leadership. In the past two years the Maduro government has: for all practical purposes annulled the democratically elected National Assembly, suspended the presidential recall referendum, unconstitutionally called a Constituent Assembly, stacked the voting bases to ensure a government win, committed fraud in the ANC election (as denounced by Smartmatic, a company with everything to lose by taking the stand they did), changed the voting centers within 48 hours of the October governor’s elections causing mass confusion, committed old fashioned vote-count fraud in Bolivar State.

Now the unconstitutional ANC has moved up the elections, violating Venezuela’s electoral law (which says elections have to be declared 6 months in advance). On top of that all of the most popular opposition figures—Leopoldo López, Henrique Capriles, Freddy Guevara, David Smolanksy, Ramon Muchacho, and more—have been disqualified, jailed or fled the country because of judicial pursuit. The most popular opposition party, Primero Justicia, has as well. I defended Chavismo for many years not because I thought their model of governance was particularly convincing, but because they had the support of the people and an electoral system that allowed people to express that support. But now Chavismo is transparently doing everything possible to undermine electoral institutions so that the people cannot throw them out of power…

Another must-read piece in this vein, dated January 28th, is by Indiana University political scientist Jeffrey C. Isaac, “To hell with Maduro and with Trump: Thoughts on socialism, Venezuela, and freedom,” posted on the Public Seminar website, in which, among others, he skewers the très gauchiste NYU historian Greg Grandin, who has long been a reference for Chavismo supporters on the North American left (Isaac also salutarily lays waste to NYT columnist Bret Stephens and his recent column on Venezuela, which Isaac properly concludes is “a despicable piece of red-baiting [and] also idiotic.”).

Note the Amnesty International report from last September, “Venezuela: This is no way to live,” that Isaac links to.

The reports on Venezuela of Human Rights Watch may also be profitably consulted.

The article (January 28th) by English journalist James Bloodworth in Foreign Policy magazine, “The left keeps getting Venezuela wrong,” is well worth the read. The lede: “Anti-imperialists prefer a Russian-backed dictator to a public revolt.” True that.

And there’s the recent tweet storm by University of Warwick Latin Americanist Tom Long, in which he critiques the “open letter to the United States” on Venezuela signed by some seventy academic gauchistes and other sundry anti-imperialists, among them Noam Chomsky and the inevitable Greg Grandin, for giving Nicolás Maduro “a near total pass” on the current crisis and “saying almost nothing about the Venezuelan government’s role.”

In their open letter, Chomsky and Grandin et al assert that “[i]f the Trump administration and its allies continue to pursue their reckless course in Venezuela, the most likely result will be bloodshed, chaos, and instability.” Yes, indeed. An outright US military intervention would be the height of folly, as The American Conservative’s senior editor Daniel Larison rightly insisted the other day. Not only would it be disastrous, ça va de soi, but would be opposed by the majority of Venezuelans, so David Smilde, citing polling data plus his own research, asserted in a piece in The Conservation dated January 9th.

Retired US Navy Admiral James Stavridis, who was the 16th Supreme Allied Commander at NATO and Commander of the US Southern Command, has penned a pertinent ‘ideas’ piece (January 31st) in Time magazine, “I commanded the U.S. military in South America. Deploying soldiers to Venezuela would only make things worse.” Dont acte.

It is, in any case, most unlikely that the US will take military action, so says Washington Post editorialist Jackson Diehl in a column (January 31st) that, par ailleurs, grossly distorts Bernie Sanders’s recent statement on Venezuela. Despite the Trump regime’s bombastic agitations of the past two weeks and reinforced sanctions regime, which constitutes “cruel collective punishment” on the Venezuelan people, dixit Daniel Larison, the US has not been the principal international actor in the Venezuelan crisis. The notion that what’s happening in that country is being manipulated by the Yanquis is, in the words of Frédérique Langue of the CNRS-Institut d’Histoire du Temps Présent in Paris—and one of France’s leading Venezuela specialists—the product of a “faulty interpretation or ideological parti pris.” The front line international actors are Latin American states in the Lima Group, particularly those that are bearing the brunt of the mass exodus of Venezuelans fleeing the economic collapse of the country (e.g. here, here, and here), which is attaining Syria-like proportions—and is all the more incredible given that Venezuela is not at war.

À propos of all this, see the opinion piece on the NPR website (January 30th) by Amherst College political scientist Javier Corrales, “Foreign forces did not start Venezuela’s transition. Venezuela did.”

Also this one in Mother Jones (January 24th): “Two presidents. Huge protests. Trump saber-rattling. An expert explains what’s happening in Venezuela.” The expert in question is Georgia State University political scientist Jennifer McCoy.

Political scientist Fabiana Sofia Perera, who is presently Assistant Research Fellow at the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies in Washington, has an opinion piece (January 26th) on the CNN website on “What’s really going on in Venezuela.”

I’m pleased to see that my friend Eva Bellin, who teaches political science at Brandeis University, has a co-authored post (with David Pion-Berlin of UC-Riverside) in WaPo’s Monkey Cage blog (February 1st), “Will Venezuela’s military back—or abandon—Maduro? Here are the 4 things it will consider.”

If one has 25 minutes to spare, Al Jazeera English’s Inside Story of January 29th on the Venezuela crisis is worth the watch (on YouTube). The interviewees are Jairo Lugo-Ocando of Northwestern University in Qatar, and formerly of Andres Bello Catholic University in Caracas; Diego Moya-Ocampos, a country risk analyst at IHS Markit in London and a former chief secretary of the Venezuelan Attorney General’s office; and Charles S. Shapiro, a former US ambassador to Venezuela.

Here are a few articles published last year, before the present bras de fer between Nicolás Maduro and Juan Guaidó, that are good for background:

Venezuela’s suicide: Lessons from a failed state,” by Moisés Naím—of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, among others—and Francisco Toro—founder of the indispensable Caracas Chronicles website—in the November-December 2018 issue of Foreign Affairs.

A New York Times op-ed by Javier Corrales from last September 25th, “The Venezuelan crisis is part of Maduro’s plan: The president has done very little to solve his country’s collapse. There’s a reason. Economic deprivation helps him stay in power.”

The NYT op-ed, dated last November 7th, by University of Pennsylvania political scientist Dorothy Kronick, is also worthwhile: “The last statesman of the Venezuelan democracy: A restless defender of democratic values, Teodoro Petkoff never stopped criticizing Hugo Chávez’s autocratic tendencies and never gave up on his country.”

One interesting piece is by writer-filmmaker-translator Clifton Ross, “The Bolivarian God that failed,” published February 1st in Quillette. Ross was a longtime leftist activist with a Latin America focus, who reported extensively from the region—particularly Nicaragua and Chávez’s Venezuela, regimes he naturally supported—for lefty publications (notably the ultra-gauchiste Counterpunch), until he woke up and smelled the coffee, became disillusioned with leftist dictatorships—which have turned out to be as bad, when not worse, than the political orders that preceded them—and abandoned his gauchiste politics. His essay is long but worth the read.

The FT’s Brazil correspondent, Andres Schipani, has a useful review (January 29th) of “Seven books that help explain Venezuela’s current crisis.”

Finally, there’s the tweet storm below by The Wall Street Journal’s Latin America editor David Luhnow (click on the icon for the thread).

UPDATE: The well-known economists Francisco Rodríguez and Jeffrey D. Sachs have a sensible op-ed (February 2nd) in the NYT, “An urgent call for compromise in Venezuela: The risk of a winner-takes-all approach in the country’s political crisis is extraordinary. It’s time to seek a negotiated transition.”

See also the very sensible NYT op-ed (January 31st) by University of Wisconsin historian Patrick Iber, “The U.S. needs to stay out of Venezuela: Yes, the country’s people deserve a better government. But Elliott Abrams and John Bolton shouldn’t have a say in what it looks like.”

2nd UPDATE: Stanford Law School professor Diego A. Zambrano settles the matter in regard to the Venezuelan constitution in a must-read post (February 1st) on the Lawfare blog, “Guaidó, not Maduro, is the de jure president of Venezuela.”

3rd UPDATE: James Bloodworth had a fun piece on international leftists and Venezuela, “Six types of ‘useful idiot’,” last June 13th on the UnHerd blog.

4th UPDATE: University of Albany-SUNY sociologist and Latin Americanist Gabriel Hetland has a piece (February 5th) in the très gauchiste Jacobin with exactly the same title as this post, and with which I almost entirely agree.

Amos Oz, R.I.P.

He died six days ago but the remembrances and obituaries continue to come in, the latest by Tom Segev—one of the first of Israel’s “New Historians”—in Foreign Policy. One nice tribute is by Gideon Levy in Haaretz, whom I normally find tiresome. N.B. Between Oz’s unceasing support for the two-state solution malgré tout and Levy’s one-statism, I entirely adhere to Oz’s position.

The main thing I’ll say about Amos Oz, apart from a general sympathy for his left-wing Zionism, is how much I enjoyed his autobiographical novel Tales of Love and Darkness, which is as beautifully translated as translated books can get. I’ve heard likewise about the French translation.

Coldplay in São Paulo

It’s New Year’s Eve but as both my wife and I are getting over the flu, it’s been a soirée tranquille at home. No parties (not that we were invited to any). I noted on the télé that NRJ12—a station it never even occurs to me to watch—was broadcasting a two-hour concert by Coldplay in São Paulo, from November 8th 2017. I was riveted to it from beginning to end. If one had any doubts that Coldplay is the greatest rock band of the past twenty years—and with Chris Martin one of the greatest rock singers and stage performers of all time—they will have been dispelled after watching this incredible concert. What a spectacle! And what a great band! As the concert has been made into a movie, only clips of it are available on YouTube. Just watch the four-minute one here, of ‘Viva la Vida’. The entire concert is like this: non-stop high energy and exuberance. I think I’ll buy the CD and/or DVD at FNAC come Wednesday.

With that, I wish all a Happy New Year and Bonne Année.

Best (and worst) movies of 2018

Voilà AWAV’s annual list (for last year’s, go here). The movies here opened in theaters this year in France or the U.S. I see a lot of movies in the theater—two a week on average—but inevitably miss a few worth seeing. As usual, several well-reviewed Hollywood movies that have come out over the past couple of months have yet to open in France, and I have yet to see certain Netflix exclusives, e.g. ‘Roma’, which has been praised to the high heavens by all and sundry. Will do so after the new year.

TOP 10:
A Star Is Born
Amin
In Safe Hands (Pupille)
Leto (Лето)
The Captain (Der Hauptmann)
The Death of Stalin
The Guilty (Den skyldige)
The Looming Storm (暴雪将至 Une pluie sans fin)
The Shape of Water
Wildlife

HONORABLE MENTION:
In the Aisles (In den Gängen)
Leave No Trace
Shoplifters (万引き家族 Une affaire de famille)
The Insult (قضية رقم ٢٣)
The Silent Revolution (Das schweigende Klassenzimmer)

BEST MOVIE FROM KENYA:
Rafiki

BEST MOVIE FROM MOROCCO:
Sofia (صوفيا)

SECOND BEST MOVIE FROM MOROCCO:
Razzia (رازيا)

BEST MOVIE FROM TUNISIA:
My Dear Son (ولدي)

BEST MOVIE FROM ISRAEL:
Foxtrot (פוֹקְסטְרוֹט‎)

BEST MOVIE FROM IRAN:
No Date, No Signature (Cas de conscience بدون تاریخ، بدون امضاء)

BEST FEMINIST MOVIE FROM IRAN:
Cold Sweat (La Permission عرق سرد)

BEST MOVIE FROM SPAIN BY A DIRECTOR FROM IRAN:
Everybody Knows (Todos lo saben)

BEST MOVIE FROM DENMARK BY A DIRECTOR FROM IRAN:
The Charmer (Charmøren)

BEST MOVIE FROM ICELAND:
Woman at War (Kona fer í stríð)

BEST MOVIE FROM POLAND:
Cold War (Zimna wojna)

BEST MOVIE FROM RUSSIA ABOUT A WEEK IN THE LIFE OF A NON-CONFORMIST WRITER DURING THE BREZHNEV ERA:
Dovlatov (Довлатов)

BLEAKEST MOVIE FROM RUSSIA ABOUT A JEWISH FAMILY IN KABARDINO-BALKARIA:
Closeness (Теснота)

BEST MOVIE FROM ITALY ABOUT PEASANTS WHOM MODERNITY HAS PASSED BY:
Happy Like Lazzaro (Lazzaro felice)

BEST MOVIE FROM ITALY ABOUT DOWN-AND-OUT PEOPLE IN SARDINIA:
Daughter of Mine (Figlia mia)

BEST MOVIE FROM ITALY ABOUT TRANS-MEDITERRANEAN MIGRATION FROM LIBYA:
The Order of Things (L’ordine della cose)

MOST TOUCHING MOVIE FROM CUBA:
Candalaria

BEST MOVIE FROM PERU THAT IS MAINLY IN QUECHUA:
Retablo

BEST MOVIE FROM PARAGUAY WITH AN ALL-FEMALE CAST:
The Heiresses (Las Herederas)

MOST OPAQUE MOVIE FROM ARGENTINA:
Zama

MOST INTERMINABLY TEDIOUS FIVE-PART MOVIE FROM JAPAN:
Happy Hour (Senses ハッピーアワー)

MOST UNPLEASANT MOVIE FROM SOUTH KOREA:
Burning (버닝)

MOST RIVETING GEOPOLITICAL THRILLER FROM SOUTH KOREA THAT IS PARTLY SET IN NORTH KOREA:
The Spy Gone North (공작)

MOST MAWKISH MOVIE FROM SINGAPORE:
Ramen Teh (情牽拉麵茶)

MOST LIGHTWEIGHT HOLLYWOOD ROMANTIC COMEDY FROM SINGAPORE:
Crazy Rich Asians

MOST BRILLIANTLY CAST HOLLYWOOD MOVIE ABOUT THE WHITE TRASH STRATUM OF THE AMERICAN WORKING CLASS:
I, Tonya

BEST MOVIE FROM TEXAS ABOUT THE PLIGHT OF THE WHITE WORKING CLASS AMERICAN MALE:
Thunder Road

BEST ETHNOGRAPHIC-LIKE MOVIE FROM SOUTH DAKOTA:
The Rider

MOST RIDICULOUSLY OVERINTERPRETED MOVIE BY AMERICAN LEFTISTS:
Black Panther

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT THE FRENCH REVOLUTION:
One Nation, One King (Un peuple et son roi)

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT LUMPEN IMMIGRANT-ORIGIN YOUTHS IN MARSEILLE:
Shéhérazade

MOST SUBTLE MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT COLLATERAL VICTIMS OF TERRORISM:
Amanda

MOST HARD-HITTING BUT OVER-THE-TOP MOVIE FROM FRANCE DENOUNCING NEOLIBERALISM:
At War (En guerre)

MOST MILDLY AMUSING HIT COMEDY FROM FRANCE:
Rolling to You (Tout le monde debout)

MOST OCCASIONALLY AMUSING HIT COMEDY FROM FRANCE:
The Trouble with You (En liberté!)

MOST FRANKLY OVERRATED HIT COMEDY FROM FRANCE:
Sink or Swim (Le Grand Bain)

MOST DOWNRIGHT IRRITATING HIT COMEDY FROM FRANCE:
Nothing to Hide (Le Jeu)

MOST UNSATISFYING AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL MOVIE FROM FRANCE ABOUT AN EXTREMELY IRRITATING CONTEMPORARY FRENCH WRITER:
An Impossible Love (Un amour impossible)

BEST INACCURATE BIOPIC ABOUT A GREAT ROCK AND ROLL SINGER:
Bohemian Rhapsody

BEST MOVIE WITH DENZEL WASHINGTON IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Roman J. Israel, Esq.

BEST MOVIE WITH GARY OLDMAN IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Darkest Hour

BEST MOVIE WITH DANIEL DAY-LEWIS IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Phantom Thread

BEST MOVIE WITH RYAN GOSLING IN THE LEAD ROLE:
First Man

BEST MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH LÉA DRUCKER AND DENIS MÉNOCHET IN THE LEAD ROLES:
Custody (Jusqu’à la garde)

MOST FORGETTABLE MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH TAHAR RAHIM AND STACY MARTIN IN THE LEAD ROLES:
Treat Me Like Fire (Joueurs)

MOST BLOOD-DRENCHED IMPECCABLY RECONSTITUTED NAPOLEONIC ERA VIGILANTE CRIME MOVIE FROM FRANCE BASED ON A TRUE STORY WITH VINCENT CASSEL IN THE LEAD ROLE:
The Emperor of Paris (L’Empereur de Paris)

MOST FLAWED MOVIE FROM FRANCE WITH ROMAIN DURIS IN THE LEAD ROLE:
Our Struggles (Nos batailles)

BEST DOCUMENTARY ABOUT A TRUE FRENCH HERO FOR OUR ERA:
To the Four Winds (Libre)

BEST DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE SYRIAN REFUGEE EXPERIENCE IN GERMANY:
Central Airport THF (Zentralflughafen THF)

BEST DOCUMENTARY EVER ABOUT THE 2008-09 ISRAEL-GAZA WAR:
Samouni Road

BEST DOCUMENTARY BY MERZAK ALLOUACHE:
Enquête au paradis (تحقيق في الجنة)

BEST MOVIE BY NURİ BİLGE CEYLAN:
The Wild Pear Tree (Ahlat Ağacı)

BEST MOVIE BY JAFAR PANAHI:
3 Faces (سه رخ)

BEST MOVIE BY STEVEN SPIELBERG:
The Post

BEST MOVIE BY GRETA GERWIG:
Lady Bird

BEST MOVIE BY ABDELLATIF KECHICHE THAT’S NOT ABOUT ANYTHING IN PARTICULAR:
Mektoub My Love: Canto Uno

BEST NOT BAD MOVIE BY WOODY ALLEN:
Wonder Wheel

BEST NOT PERFECT MOVIE BY SPIKE LEE:
BlacKkKlansman

BEST NOT PERFECT MOVIE BY FATIH AKIN:
In the Fade (Aus dem Nichts)

MOST ENTERTAINING OFFBEAT MOVIE BY JACQUES AUDIARD:
The Sisters Brothers

MOST LUDICROUS MOVIE BY STEVE MCQUEEN:
Widows

MOST MISERABILIST MOVIE BY NADINE LABAKI:
Capernaum (كفرناحوم)

MOST SUCCESSFUL FIRST MOVIE BY WALID MATTAR:
Northern Wind (Vent du nord)

MOST FAILED FIRST MOVIE BY JÉRÉMIE & YANNICK RENIER:
Carnivores

MOST FAILED FIRST MOVIE IN THE UNITED STATES BY DENİZ GAMZE ERGÜVEN:
Kings

MOST UTTERLY FAILED MOVIE BY CLINT EASTWOOD:
The 15:17 to Paris

MOST EXCRUCIATINGLY AWFUL MOVIE BY CLAIRE DENIS:
High Life

WORST MOVIE ABOUT THE LEBANESE CIVIL WAR IN AT LEAST THIRTY YEARS:
Beirut

Credit: Sipa

And Emmanuel Macron. Everyone who’s anyone who habitually writes about France in English is publishing analyses and/or reportages on the Gilets Jaunes, and with friends and AWAV fans asking me when I’m going to offer my own brilliant thoughts. As a lifelong procrastinator I’m taking my time, but will soon. Promis juré. And hopefully before the GJ movement has fizzled out—which it will—and we’ve moved on to other things. In the meantime, I have to post three terrific articles that have gone up in the past twenty-four hours by A-list Anglophone France observers.

The first is Arthur Goldhammer in Foreign Affairs, “The Yellow Vest protests and the tragedy of Emmanuel Macron: How the Gilets Jaunes brought the French president low.” After reading Art’s piece I thought, ‘Zut, now that he’s said 85% of what I have to say—reading my mind, as is often the case—what’s left for me?’.

Then there’s David A. Bell in The Nation, whose knowledge of French history is deeper than mine will ever be—and who totally nails it on Emmanuel Macron: “For Emmanuel Macron, how did things get so bad, so fast? The fault lies with both the French president himself and the political and cultural elite that formed him.”

And finally there’s Paris-based freelance journalist Elisabeth Zerofsky in The New Yorker, who was on the ground in the quartiers chauds last Saturday: “The complicated politics of the Gilets Jaunes movement.”

À bientôt.

 

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