The Theory of Everything

[3.5 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

This movie won an Oscar for Eddie Redmayne, who plays physicist Stephen Hawking. Good for Eddie, but as this WaPo story notes, a majority of best-actor wins since 1988 (Dustin Hoffman for Rain Man) have gone to those portraying a character with some sort of malady or disability. So Eddie kind of got a leg up on the competition, so to speak.

The movie also got nominated for Best Picture, Felicity Jones (playing Jane Hawking, Stephen's first wife) was nominated for Best Actress, and there were also nominations for "Best Writing, Adapted Screenplay" and "Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score". The movie was based on Jane Hawking's memoir of their relationship—making it a bit light on the physics.

The movie follows the arc of the Hawkings' relationship. They met at Cambridge in the early 1960s, when they were both students. In brief, Stephen developed Lou Gehrig's disease, he and Jane got married, they managed to have kids, but (spoiler alert) their relationship grew strained, and they both Found Other People: Stephen with one of his nurses, Jane with Daredevil.

It held my interest, which is saying something for a movie of this type. I knew next to nothing about Hawking's personal life. The consensus seems to be that the movie makes him "nicer" than he is in actuality; that's understandable. But I tend to cut geniuses with serious debilitating illness some slack.

The Phony Campaign

2015-09-13 Update

PredictWise is down this morning for some reason, so we'll assume the same phony lineup as last week:

Query String Hit Count Change Since
2015-09-06
"Jeb Bush" phony 1,010,000 -180,000
"Hillary Clinton" phony 435,000 +14,000
"Donald Trump" phony 392,000 +11,000
"Joe Biden" phony 183,000 +25,000
"John Kasich" phony 166,000 -9,000
"Bernie Sanders" phony 128,000 +5,000
"Ben Carson" phony 112,000 -8,000
"Scott Walker" phony 109,000 -3,000
"Marco Rubio" phony 103,000 -2,000

  • On Monday, the NYT reported yet another planned makeover for Hillary. Key ludicrous paragraph:

    There will be no more flip jokes about her private email server. There will be no rope lines to wall off crowds, which added to an impression of aloofness. And there will be new efforts to bring spontaneity to a candidacy that sometimes seems wooden and overly cautious.

    Planned spontaneity—that's the ticket!

  • Hillary also, sort of, kind of, "apologized" for using her own e-mail server to conduct government business while she was Secretary of State. James Taranto offers a perceptive take (as is usual for him). But first he quotes Paul Waldman of the WaPo, and Waldman's article is also worth perusal. Waldman's thesis "authenticity is baloney" (italicized in original):

    The truth is that all campaigning is a performance, by its very nature. When you stand up in front of a group of people, whether five or five thousand strong (not to mention the cameras that will carry the event to untold numbers more), you’re presenting a version of yourself crafted for an audience. That’s true of a politician, it’s true of a teacher in front of a class, and it’s true of you or me when we tell a joke at a party. You may be trying to communicate something substantive — say, an argument about why we should cut taxes or impose emissions limits on coal-fired power plants — but you’re also communicating something about yourself. The persona we present in public settings isn’t necessarily “true” or “false,” it’s just a particular version of ourselves.

    How postmodern! Taranto lets Waldman off pretty easy, but it seems to me that Waldman is trying way too hard on the "c'mon, everyone does it" defense. Practical presentation tactics are just tools in the pol's belt: not inauthentic in and of themselves. Using them to prevaricate and obfuscate—that's where true phoniness horns in.

    To that point, Taranto's conclusion seems on-target:

    Regarding the current scandal, [Hillary] told [Ellen] DeGeneres: “I am now trying to be as transparent as I can.” In a way, she is succeeding. She is delivering scripted evasions, and it is obvious to everybody that is what they are.

  • Another couple of read-the-whole-thing insights: "The MacGuffinization of American Politics" at Ace of Spades HQ and Friday's G-File from Jonah Goldberg; Jonah's piece expands and extends Ace's thoughts.

    Ace's thesis is that "politics as spectator sport" has gone from an apt metaphor to the more-or-less literal truth to a large chunk of the population. Specifically:

    This is a movie. And Barack Obama is the Hero. And the Republicans are the Villains. And policy questions -- and Obama's myriad failures as an executive -- are simply incidental. They are MacGuffins only, of no importance whatsoever, except to the extent they provide opportunities for Drama as the Hero fights in favor of them.

    Explains a lot of otherwise mystifying behavior. Like why David Muir thought it would be appropriate and interesting to ask Hillary "Is your [late] mother's voice in your ear?" Because who hasn't seen a movie where that's been a thing?

    As said, Jonah expands on the idea. Key paragraph:

    Ever since Hegel or maybe Plato, statists have been telling a story about government in which government itself is the hero in an epic struggle. At least for Hegel, the state was the mechanism by which God worked out His will. For Marx, the State was an expression of cold immutable forces. For the socialists who followed, control of the state was a kind of MacGuffin but over time it became the hero itself.

    I've recently been thinking of statism as a kind of secular religion; but Ace/Jonah may have a more insightful take on it.

  • Walter Olson notes Hillary's Labor Day speech in which she pledged "to make sure that some employers go to jail " for various misdeeds alleged against their workers.

    Olson points out that some employers should, and do, get in trouble for employee-related misdeeds. But once you get past the easy questions, the Federal law is "vague and hard to interpret", and "anticipating what is lawful is often a matter of guesswork." Just the right situation for demagoguery!

    This is bait and switch terminology and there is no reason to give it a pass. Reporters should ask Hillary Clinton which cases, specifically, she has in mind when she talks of jailing employers, and whether that includes cases in which managers were obliged to guess what the law required of them.

    But "reporters", see above, are far more interested in asking Hillary whether she hears her mother's voice in her ear.

  • It has come to this:

    “When Ben Carson makes a phony statement, I am going to attack him.” Trump said on Thursday. “Ben Carson is not going to be the next president, that I can tell you.

    Trump and Carson are currently debating who is religiouser. Personally, I liked Bobby Jindal's comment about Trump:

    “When asked, he couldn’t even name a specific or a single Bible verse that was important to him, that had an impact on him,” Jindal said. “Well, do you know why? It’s clear Donald Trump has never read the Bible. The reason we know he’s never read the Bible? He’s not in the Bible.”

    I chuckled, but can't help but think this is the wrong road for the GOP clown car to drive down. Questioning the amount and quality of the religious faith of others is a negative sum game. I suggest the candidates ponder the wisdom expressed by the modern sage Mike Birbiglia: "What I should have said … was nothing."