Saturday, June 25, 2016

Taxi Driver

Out of curiosity saw the movie Taxi Driver today. Not impressed.

There were some striking visuals - Sybil Shepherd looked breathtakingly beautiful in 1976 and the first shot of De Niro with a mohawk wearing sunglasses was cool. The gloomy-disturbing music was a plus.

But it was boring to follow an idiot around for two hours. I've seen De Niro interviewed on TV a few times and if there are any brains in his head, he hides it well. So I don't even know if there was much acting going on here on his part. I mean, he's unlikely to be violent, but the rest of it...

Scorsese is definitely smart, but most scenes here lasted too long and the whole thing just wasn't very interesting to me.

Instead of whatever it was that the filmmakers wanted me to think about I started noticing stuff like office furniture. I got my first full-time job in 1999 and for the first month I worked at the kind of ugly metallic desk that Sybil Shepherd and Albert Brooks use in this movie. But then we moved to a new office which had modern plastic-topped desks and cloth-bound cubicle walls. I think there was a general improvement in the look of offices around the turn of the millennium, with that particular type of ugliness gradually fading away.

The robbery in the bodega looked realistic from the ethno-cultural point of view, which made me question whether Scorsese has any liberal illusions about contemporary American society. I thought back on his other movies that I've seen - Raging Bull and Casino - and the possibility of him and his screenwriters understanding some bits of what's going on remained intact. It helps to be cynical to get that right. Which reminds me that the ending of this movie is likely a drop-your-hands-in-resignation type joke about the randomness and unfairness of life.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Watching the Spanish Debate

I recently became fascinated by the fact that in many international public opinion polls the leftiest, cuckiest answers are given by Spaniards. Spain is also one of the few European countries without any "far right" parties of note. Why?

In a few days there will be a parliamentary election in Spain, and to satisfy my curiosity, as well as to keep my ability to understand spoken Spanish from getting rusty, I watched a recent 2-hour debate between the leaders of that country's four main parties.


The current prime minister is the center-right Popular Party chief Mariano Rajoy, a man who looks like an aging, bookish hidalgo. Not a don Quijote type - too tame for that - but noble. Next to him on stage stood Pedro Sanchez, the leader of Spain's socialists, who is visually a Latin lover/soap opera hunk type of guy. On the left end of the podium was Pablo Iglesias, the leader of the leftist United We Can party. In crumpled jeans, without a jacket and sporting a ponytail he looked like a radical Hispanic student activist from a high-end US university. He may be the smartest one of the bunch though. The group was rounded out by the centrist Citizens Party's candidate Albert Rivera, who looks like a low-testosterone guido. He is the only one of the four whom I ended up disliking as a person by the end of the debate.

After brief homages to the Ell Ehheh Beh Teh victims of the Orrrlando massacre the men quickly dug into each other's public records and electoral promises.

Spain has a 21.4% unemployment rate, and its center-right government has been trying to lower it by decreasing labor protections. The lefty parties are of course opposed to this, calling the new jobs, many of them temporary, garbage. This is a classic left vs. right, quality vs. quantity of jobs debate in which I sympathize with the left.

The international economic downturn that started in 2008 hit Spain very hard and is simply called The Crisis by Spaniards. The candidates lamented that a lot of young people have left the country because of it. A web search implied that they've mostly gone to wealthier European nations, not Latin America.

When the debate inevitably turned to the subject of refugees, Sanchez and Iglesias (the left) attacked Rajoy (the center-right) for not being welcoming to them enough. I got a feeling however that if Rajoy is less pro-immigration than the others, it's not by much. I don't want to look up how many immigrants there are in Spain right now because such numbers are always extremely unreliable. Anecdotally there are a lot, from Sub-Saharia, Latin America, the Middle East and everywhere else.

The main issue on which the two leftist candidates disagreed with each other was separatism. Iglesias says that he would like Spain to remain united, but supports a referendum in Catalonia and calls the Basque country Euskadi. Sanchez calls the latter by its Spanish name "Pais Vasco" and is against any referendums. The center-right Rajoy is even more anti-separatist than Sanchez, saying that any referendum about Catalonia would have to be conducted in all of Spain. Rivera, who described himself as a Catalan, is anti-separatist.

The pony-tailed Iglesias boasted that his very lefty United We Can was the only non-separatist party that has won any recent local elections in Catalonia and the Basque region. This is similar to the Scottish situation - Scots vote either for Labor or Scottish nationalists, never for Tories, who are perceived as implicitly English in the same way that the GOP is perceived as implicitly White in the US. So I guess PP is implicitly Spanish Spanish.

At one point, while stressing the desirability of developing Spain's ties with Latin America, Rivera said "we are Europe's Latinos", using that last word in its US meaning.

The only social issues mentioned were equal pay for women and violence against women, but since no one argued over them, the cultural side of politics was basically ignored.

The only allusion to Spain's historical heritage came when Rajoy, on the defensive over his lenient handling of members of his party involved in corruption scandals, said that he doesn't want to repeat the mistakes of the past by starting a new inquisition.

The polls are showing the center-right party with a lead, but the lefty parties could form a government if they agree to enter into a coalition with each other, which they failed to do the last time, apparently because of disagreements over how to deal with separatism.

While I saw a lot of leftism in this debate, this experience did not move me any closer to understanding why there's more of it in Spain than pretty much anywhere else in Europe.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

A Poem

I'm not the kind of person who,
I'm not even quite sure what.
And anyway, what's that to you?
Are you, perhaps, some kind of nut?

A friend keeps visiting my mind
Who is a person of your kind.
He argues fiercely for a lot
Of what I am quite sure is not

And could have never even been.
But I'll ignore that with a grin
Because I'm not the person who,
And anyway, what's that to you?