The Death of Stalin

[4.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

It's billed at IMDB as "Comedy , Drama , History". But prospective viewer be warned: it's very dark humor. And as that Stalin t-shirt proclaims: dark humor is like food; not everyone gets it.

But I pretty much got it, I think. It is a based-on-fact movie about the events in 1953, beginning shortly before the Boss's demise, continuing until shortly after his funeral, and the inevitable power struggle is resolved. It is a only slightly sped-up good-parts version of actual events.

It is a satirical picture of a society powered largely by terror. Violence is rarely pictured directly; the movie's R rating is based mostly on its language. If people running afoul of Stalin are lucky, it's off to the Gulag; otherwise it's a bullet in the head. No less fearful are those ostensibly in power directly underneath the Beloved Leader and Teacher of Progressive Mankind. But neither are they bound by any silly rules; when it's clear that there will need to be a new ruler, the competition quickly becomes feral, as former "comrades" realize it's betray-or-be-betrayed.

You ask: how can that be funny? It's hard to explain. Certainly because of all the absurdity involved, and knowing that we're watching this from our comfy couches, and not as a participant or victim.

Acting is first-rate. According to IMDB's trivia page, the director decided to not even try for Russian accents. So Steve Buscemi as Nikita Khrushchev sounds… just like Steve Buscemi.

And Michael Palin plays Molotov as the totally craven toady that he was; a Monty Python parody without mercy.

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[Amazon Link]

  • A week after the election, I think it's safe to evaluate the predictions I made.

    As previously noted, I thought that the UNH Survey Center's Granite State Poll was too Democrat-lening on the three races it reported. I was right.

    I also thought Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight website was too Democrat-leaning; when I typed, the average of their models predicted a GOP Senate pickup of 0.5 seats; it appears they'll get at least 2, probably 3.

    FiveThirtyEight was pretty close on the House side. Although, in the early AM of Election Day, their average model predicted a gain of 39 House seats for the Democrats. I didn't think they'd do that well. And, although there are a number of races still to be called, the Democrats are +32 at Real Clear Politics, so I'm claiming victory here too.

    So, five for five. Bottom line: you can bet on Republicans to beat the spread, even if they don't win.

  • I really liked this article by Matt Welch in the current print Reason: Mad Genius. It's about the late Lanny Friedlander, who cranked out the first issue of Reason fifty years ago.

    (And when I say "cranked", I mean that literally. On a mimeograph. Youngsters may need to look that technology up.)

    Anyway, Lanny had psychological problems. After selling Reason to Robert Poole, Tibor Machan, and Manuel Klausner, he wound up institutionalized, on and off his anti-schizophrenic medication, losing touch with (a) the magazine he founded and (b> to a certain extent, reality.

    Do you find this as touching as I do?

    Yet so complete was Friedlander's break from his Reason-founding past that even [late-in-life attorney and fiduciary George] Murphy did not believe his friend's account of his own biography. "Lanny was telling me that he was this great graphic artist and he started a magazine and everything, and of course I'm thinking that this was the psychosis, you know. I was all incredulous."

    Interesting throughout.

  • How unprincipled is Donald Trump? Specifically, Thomas Firey of EconLib wonders: Will Trump Join the "Fight for $15?".

    As is now well understood, Trump has few policy interests beyond managing trade and suppressing immigration. Further, he’s an economic populist who has championed plenty of left-wing causes in the past. So he’d have little compunction about abandoning a Republican economic policy and embracing a Democratic one that has blue-collar appeal—and one that would impose hardship on immigrants and minorities to boot.

    That’s why I believe Trump will become a loud proponent of increasing the minimum wage—perhaps all the way to the political left’s ideal of $15 an hour.

    A horrible idea, but as the tariff thing shows, Trump is no friend of free markets.

  • Daniel J. Mitchell writes a longish article with many links describing The Harmful Campaign Against Vaping and E-Cigarettes.

    In an ideal world, the discussion and debate about how (or if) to tax e-cigarettes, heat-not-burn, and other tobacco harm-reduction products would be guided by science. …In the real world, however, politicians are guided by other factors. There are two things to understand… First, this is a battle over tax revenue. Politicians are concerned that they will lose tax revenue if a substantial number of smokers switch to options such as vaping. …Second, this is a quasi-ideological fight. Not about capitalism versus socialism, or big government versus small government. It’s basically a fight over paternalism, or a battle over goals. For all intents and purposes, the question is whether lawmakers should seek to simultaneously discourage both tobacco use and vaping because both carry some risk (and perhaps because both are considered vices for the lower classes)? Or should they welcome vaping since it leads to harm reduction as smokers shift to a dramatically safer way of consuming nicotine?

    I don't vape or smoke anything, but as previously noted, my default position is that the state should not be in the business of telling people what they can and can't imbibe, ingest, inject, or inhale. Unfortunately, that's a very minority position.

  • I still watch Saturday Night Live, mainly out of habit, and it's still funny in spots. The TiVo makes it easy to skip commercials and the (usually not-my-cup-of-tea) musical guests. But last Saturday's was kind of special. At NR, David French The Dan Crenshaw Moment.

    Given the spirit of our times, things could have gone so differently. On November 3, when Saturday Night Live comic Pete Davidson mocked Texas Republican Dan Crenshaw’s eye patch, saying he looked like a “hit man in a porno movie” — then adding, “I know he lost his eye in war or whatever” — it was a gift from the partisan gods.

    A liberal comic had gone too far. He had mocked a man who was maimed in a horrific IED attack, an attack that had taken the life of his interpreter and nearly blinded him for life. He mocked a courageous man’s pain. And thus Crenshaw had attained the rarest position for a Republican politician: aggrieved-victim status. He was free to swing away.

    But that's not what happened. You can click through for David's description, which I recommend. Here's the clip, though:

    I was moved. Honest.

  • An interesting post at the Volokh Conspiracy, by the head Volokh, Eugene, looking at the recent addition to our state's constitution: N.H. Constitution Now Protects "Right to Live Free from Governmental Intrusion in Private or Personal Information". He asks:

    My question: What do you think this means?

    1. That all governmental searches of private or personal information (and all subpoenas of such information) are now unconstitutional, so that the government can't, for instance, get your e-mail records even with probable cause and a warrant?
    2. That such searches and subpoena require a probable cause and a warrant (language that the provision does not contain, though section 19 of the New Hampshire bill of rights, the existing search and seizure provision, does)?
    3. That such intrusions may be allowed, but only if they are narrowly tailored to a compelling government interest, to borrow a test that has sometimes been used for other facially categorical rights?
    4. That traditionally accepted intrusions are grandfathered in as legitimate, but that ones introduced after the amendment is enacted are not?
    5. That the public is essentially delegating to courts the responsibility and authority to turn this into some meaningful test that accommodates both privacy rights and the need to gather information in order to enforce the laws?
    6. Something else?

    My only observation (as a comment on the post): this is an add-on to the NH Constitution's existing Article 2, in place since 1784: "All men have certain natural, essential, and inherent rights among which are, the enjoying and defending life and liberty; acquiring, possessing, and protecting, property; and, in a word, of seeking and obtaining happiness."

    I'm very much not a lawyer, but I can do arithmetic: The state has somehow managed to muddle through 234 years with this "natural, essential, and inherent" language. I don't know how many times Article 2 has been invoked in court decisions, but the new language shouldn't be any more difficult to interpret than the previous language.

  • Elliot Kaufman writes at the (maybe paywalled) WSJ: Even the Libertarians Get Luckey Sometimes.

    What do you call a Silicon Valley Republican who wants to have friends? A libertarian.

    Ask virtual-reality pioneer Palmer Luckey. Oculus, the company he founded, was acquired by Facebook in 2014. Last year Facebook fired Mr. Luckey amid fallout from his $10,000 donation to a pro-Trump group founded by internet trolls and extremists. The Journal reports that before Mr. Luckey’s firing, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg hatched a plan to rehabilitate him. Internal emails show Mr. Zuckerberg personally drafted a public statement and pressured Mr. Luckey to use it. The crux was a denial that Mr. Luckey supported Donald Trump. Instead, he was to say he’d be “voting for Gary”—Johnson, the Libertarian nominee.

    I was employed for a long time by the University Near Here, which was about as friendly to dissenting political views as you might expect. Still, it was nowhere near as hostile as the Silicon Valley biggies.

Last Modified 2018-11-14 11:35 AM EDT