•A friend and I made a seemingly simple bet four years ago about whether Bush or Obama would expand government faster, and we ultimately decided to abandon the bet after realizing it’s gotten more complicated – and dependent on highly contingent factors – than we’d foreseen, even with his sophisticated suggestion of breaking the bet into three parts, two dependent on the size of government relative to GDP (I think I won those two parts, albeit largely because the economy has done so badly) and one dependent only on percent change in absolute spending (I think I lost that part, due mainly to Bush ratcheting up spending so much for bailout purposes in his final months in office).
Ironically, if I had constructed the bet alone, I probably would’ve included only the third portion, since it arguably has the clearest ideological implications, and would thus have lost the whole bet, even though Obama still spends like a socialist (and does so without even an official budget in place, disturbingly).
But as it is, there were not only the ambiguities above but the whole question of whether we were to remain bound by the “2000-2004” vs. “2008-2012” formulation we first agreed to or whether (as we’d probably both now agree) it’d make more sense (for purposes of gauging presidential influence as opposed to inheriting a budget from one’s predecessor) to use Fiscal Years 2002-2006 vs. Fiscal Years 2010-2014...which would then lead (if we settle up now) to having to estimate 2014 spending, and...
Well, we just decided to call the whole thing off. Real-world politics, much like history, is a disappointing, contingent mess compared to political philosophy. This much is clear: We are doomed.
•The same friend will join my small band of Hobbit-goers (tomorrow night, 68th and Broadway, pre-assigned seats in the back middle, IMAX 3D, in intriguingly controversial feels-too-real 48 frames per second). One member of our group asked me if hobbits are libertarian, to which I reply that they (and Tolkien) are more nearly paleoconservative, opposed to both governmental and industrial aspects of modernity (as the Shire coda at the end of the Lord of the Rings books – left out of the movies – suggests).
Tolkien was sort of a holdover from nineteenth-century Tory agrarian thinking, though the right and capitalism have now become thoroughly entwined.
•Garth Franklin makes a good point in an essayabout well-done films that nonetheless feel like a “remarkable chore” instead of just being enjoyabale. Will Hobbit prove to be one despite seeming kid-friendly and effects-filled? “Remarkable chore” is roughly how I feel half the time I’m at the Angelika – and pretty much every time I try once more to enjoy a Pedro Almodovar or Gus Van Sant movie.
•I am more inclined than Tolkien to be wary of nature, much as I love it, and to want some technological distance from its ravages most of the time. After all, one wouldn’t want to end up being chased and molested by a deer, like the young woman in this video.
•Much as I would love to have forests and plenty of cats – preferably talking cats – around us, if the world were remade according to my imagination, it’d probably end up looking like these spectacular double-page comic book spreads (h/t Jeffrey Wendt) by the legendary Jack Kirby.
Kirby, as I’ve noted before, was also hired to do costume designs on that fake sci-fi movie the CIA pretended to be making in 1980, which inspired Argo.
•We all now know the CIA can fake producing a sci-fi film, but one Facebook friend of mine still questions whether the government could ever get its act together enough to build real giant robots, as in the new trailer for Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim.
•One unexpected bit of epic sci-fantasy news in the past couple years is Michael Jackson/James Brown-like singer (and dancer and model and tux aficionado) Janelle Monae doing “concept albums,” sort of like Pink Floyd except dancing like this.
•One way Disney minimized its losses on the underappreciated John Carter earlier this year was by pairing it with the hit Avengers at drive-ins (if you live in New York City, there’s a good chance you didn’t even know there still are drive-ins). I suspect it was the failure of John Carter (exactly 100 years after the first serialized portion of the novel came out) – and resulting bad blood between Pixar and the Disney Pictures head who resigned over the film – that clinched the Disney decision to acquire animation-savvy Lucasfilm and the reliable Star Wars franchise.
I’m as intrigued about what new Star Wars movies will look like as the next nerd, but my main regret about the John Carter franchise being abandoned is that we won’t get to see Carter slugging demagogic theocrats in the series’ second entry, Gods of Mars (ah, the era of Nietzsche-readers and Teddy Roosevelt fans fighting it out in fictional jungles, all too soon replaced by the days of Nietzsche and TR fans fighting in disease-ridden European trenches).
Instead of seeing John Carter fight false gods, let us commemorate the late Christopher Hitchens in tomorrow’s blog entry, on the eve of the first anniversary of his death.