AEI Conference Reflection & Can You Ever Forgive Me?

The AEI conference was very enlightening, as I got to hear from many fascinating speakers regarding political discourse as well as where much of the best policy research is leaning towards. There was a fascinating dialogue between current AEI President Arthur Brooks and Professor John A. Powell that did a great job of outlining how we can have a political discussion, which is vital for more people to here.

Some panels were better than others but another panel that stood out was a panel on the American World Order and a career panel were both very helpful for young college students. It created for fascinating thought and discussion which I appreciated immensely.

Much of what the conference suffered from was repetition, and in constant mentioning of the ideas that we are “divided” and that we need to find the “humanity” in others. This is not news to people who read this blog and to the people who go these conferences, but I recognize the value of mentioning it and making sure people do not forget it.

Also the timing for this conference could not have been worse. Right in the middle of midterms across the country in Berkeley put unnecessary stress on me and many others, This problem could have been avoided with more conferences or having it earlier in the semester. That aside, it was a great conference and I highly encourage those of you who know nothing about Arthur Brooks or AEI to watch his movie The Pursuit when it comes out on Netflix.

I can’t say that I regret any of my actions. In many ways this has been the best time of my life.

Can You Ever Forgive Me? – Melissa McCarthy has shown a tendency to play one-off comedic characters, which makes her role in this film that much more surprising. She does an amazing job of giving Lee Israel humanity and pain, allowing for us to sympathize with a serial forger. This movie is shockingly melancholic at times, and sometimes that works to its detriment. Regardless, McCarthy is a stand out and this film has a fascinating character for a fascinating story. 8.5/10

 

The Old Man & The Gun, A Simple Favor, and Ezra Klein vs. Andrew Sullivan

I was on a long plane ride this morning so naturally I watched movies.

The Old Man & The Gun – Robert Redford and Sissy Spacek are great, as this film takes on a fascinating life of its own. It reminded me a lot of No End In Sight, another love story with a charming bank robber. Robert Redford’s Forest Tucker is more entertaining and more fun than Clooney was in No End in Sight, and his old man charm create for some hysterical moments as people get robbed without even knowing it. My one problem with this film is that it seems to be content with allowing these two great leads to just be themselves. While that is in many ways a strength there I would have appreciated more risk in making this film. Regardless, this is a fun movie to see, especially if you are looking for a fun, relaxing, and charming film. 8/10

A Simple Favor – Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively make this movie better than it has any right to be, as there characters and personalities play off of each other in exciting and tantalizing ways. Unfortunately, much of the plot becomes confusing and downright obscure, as it tries to hard to sub-verse the genre of “gone missing” films. It has moments of great humor and insight, but it just lacks clarity. Worthwhile for the two leads, but other than that I would skip. 6/10

Also Ezra Klein and Andrew Sullivan duel it out on this fascinating podcast, and it is absolutely worth a listen, especially if you want to see where political debate is heading. I think both make good points, but I generally side with Sullivan. That being said, he at times makes straw-men of views that fall apart, and Klein rightly points this out. Nevertheless, it is a very interesting interview, and one I highly recommend.

Game of Thrones Quote #5 & Robert Sapolsky

The following post contains spoilers from the book series A Song of Ice and Fire.

It is not me she wants her son to marry, it is my claim. No one will ever marry me for love (A Storm of Swords, 776).

Sansa grew up singing the songs of her grandmother and believing that a beautiful prince would sweep her off her feet and marry her. Now, through death and a failed marriage, she has come to realize that in this world, no one will want her for who she is. This is a bitter pill to watch her swallow, and her character arc makes it all the more moving.

Throughout the first book A Game of Thrones, it was really hard to care about Sansa’s complaints. Her constant pettiness and ignorance was frustrating to read, and each time she complained I found it to be insufferable. However, her experiences have caused her to grow immensely, and in many ways she is one of the strongest characters in the story. She refused to let the horrible men in her life take away what mattered to her, and she remained dignified throughout.

Now it is depressing to read her realization of what she is and how she is viewed by others. She will never be as happy as those songs, but in a sense she is a better person because of it. Sansa was a character in desperate need of a wake up call, but this feels to harsh to for anyone to deal with.

We have been alluding away at the ideal of the self with recent scientific discoveries.

While I must admit I have not read a book by Robert Sapolsky, his arguments made on a few podcasts about why free will is an illusion are incredibly intriguing. My favorite of these was on an episode of Radiolab, in which the crew reexamined a case of someone who changed after a brain surgery. It is a genuinely shocking story and I highly encourage everyone to listen to it.

Most recently, he had an interview with Ezra Klein, in which he discusses stress and how it should be seen as a fault in machinery not as in a fault of the user. It is seriously fascinating stuff.

I guess it intrigues me because the narrative seems to be subject to so much abuse. Why do my actions matter if they are all pre-determined or not controlled by me? It is certainly reasonable to believe people would use this narrative to run amok, claiming that none of this is in fact their fault. However, I think this explanation could help in a lot of ways as well. I was born with a language learning disorder, and I blamed myself for my faults. It took me time to figure out that my handwriting was bad not because of a fault of my own, but because I had an impairment, that my interactions could feel awkward because of my ability to comprehend.

How then can we attempt to make a balanced explanation while also valuing the sanctity of humans themselves? It is a tough task, but I tend to think we should try to explain why we have certain behaviors and not act as though we are sole contributors to our own faults. Anyway, I hope to read his books at some point and have more to say on the subject!

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs & Howard Schultz

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs – In a movie that is anthological in structure, some stories work better than others. That being said, there are a lot of very fun stories, full of the crudeness of man the Coen Brothers are known for. Liam Neeson and James Franco’s respective stories both standout, and the ending is one that will surely leave when you stop watching. This is one of those movies that I liked the more I thought about it afterwards, but for me it still does not live up to its potential. The breaking up of the stories allows for some creativity, but also takes away from the film’s success. It is worth watching but that unfortunately takes away from the score. 8/10

Finally, the hallmark of fanatical centrism is the determination to see America’s left and right as equally extreme, no matter what they actually propose.

I feel a little silly arguing with this piece, as Paul Krugman has accomplished more in Economics than I can hope to accomplish in any other field. That being said, his characterization of “radical centrism” and Howard Schultz’s thought process are fairly disappointing in my view, and lend itself to some criticism.

I do not think that Krugman is being crazy when he calls out “centrists”. There is absolutely a growing group of people (albeit still very small in comparison to those on the political extremes) who hate everything about party politics. These people use terms like “identity politics” and “virtue signaling” to describe the behavior of these other sides, rather than try to engage in what they are trying to say. While there are plenty who I seriously enjoy who feel this way and there are those who have genuine reasons to interpret both sides in this light (Sam Harris, David Frum, Andrew Sullivan, etc.) there are those who most likely do not know what they are talking about in the hopes of appealing to everyone (“The Podcast bros“).

However, his ultimate argument is wrong. The idea that Howard Schultz’s consideration of running is somehow doing undue harm to our system is slightly absurd. To me, rather than telling Schultz he is apart of a dangerous American ideology, maybe try to figure out what he is appealing to that maybe people who would vote for him like. That would be significantly more productive than yelling at him to take a seat and run within the system. People can run for President, and while if I were him I would not run, he has the money and power to make that choice himself. He may be a welcome change to the two-party elections of old, and even if he is not a genuinely good politician, at least he can add an option.

Also here is a piece from Bret Stephens on the subject that is much better than Krugman’s.

Unbreakable, Your Name, & The Plight of P.E.

Unbreakable – The hype around the new movie Glass got to me, and so I felt I should see Unbreakable in order to gauge my interest in watching it. Unbreakable is certainly creative, but at times very dull. I found the twist to be interesting even if it was slightly predictable. Regardless, I do not think this movie is as creative as Shyamalan thinks, nor does it affect me quite the same way as Sixth Sense did when that twist ending was revealed. M. Night Shyamalan often seems to think he is more clever than he truly is, and at times that comes off pretty poorly in this movie. It is fine but not a must see by any stretch. 6.5/10

Your Name – This film is so beautifully made, that it is hard to have a lot of genuine qualms with it. The animation is stunning, watching how the contrasting landscapes work in unison is truly special. What impressed me most about this movie was it took a concept that could have easily been used in a cheesy and ineffective way and it made it incredibly meaningful. My one problem is that the timelines can get slightly confusing, and I wish the resolution helped resolve a little more of the time jumping. In one of my favorite movies Arrival, it takes a similar view of time and in my judgment works better simply because it uses its template to effectively narrate the story. While this movie certainly does a great job, it missed some opportunities to make it even better. Regardless, it is a must watch but not quite as good as Spirited Away. 8.8/10

Students are more likely to be bullied in middle school than at any other point in their academic careers, and P.E. presents a particularly ripe opportunity for abuse, whether because the class forces them to use a locker room, where adult supervision is limited, or because it facilitates the teasing of overweight or unathletic kids.

This story by Alia Wong has had me thinking about my experience in P.E. in school and wondering how it helped or hurt my interest in fitness. For me, it helped as it gave me an environment where I felt confident and could excel. Then again, I am sure P.E. would be very discouraging for others who could not quite keep up or even were slightly below the curve. All this seems to do is decrease fitness at older ages, as many use their middle school memories of Physical Education and associate that with any form of working out in general.

Fitness should be made enjoyable and worthwhile to the people who are participating, especially for those at a young age. It is not surprising that putting people in an environment where they can feel exposed and bullied is not the most rewarding experience for kids who maybe are not quite as talented. I wonder if we could spark enjoyment in activity without reducing fitness to timed runs and arbitrary benchmarks, and if that would make it more fun for everyone involved.

If we want to be a healthier society, it is vital that we focus on making fitness fun for kids. Frankly, while I understand we live in a society that is “coddled” or “soft”, putting kids in an environment where they feel horrible about their athletic abilities will only further isolate kids not make them stronger. All it seeks to do is alienate kids from something important to their health for the rest of their lives. We can keep kids having fun outside and make P.E. more about having fun and then get into the more challenging competitions as kids get older.

Spirited Away, Incredibles 2, and Covington Catholic

Spirited Away – It is hard to think of a movie that genuinely had me on the edge of my seat quite like this one. Chihiro’s story is so absorbing, and her conviction is so strong, it is hard not to root for her the whole time. The screen is so full or richness and mystery, and the story is genuinely exciting and thrilling. Seeing this on the big screen at Michigan Theater was a great choice, and if you can see it that way I recommend it. This movie is so full of fun moments and little nods to Japanese culture it can easily be missed on DVD. While I felt certain things were still ultimately lost in translation, it is a delightful story that follows no conventions and surprises until the very end. 9.3/10

Incredibles 2 – I saw this first over summer and was disappointed. I figured something might have been wrong with my interpretation so I decided to wait and watch it again later. I watched it again and I was disappointed again. I think much of this has to do with how much I loved the first film, no sequel could ever live up to that film. However I found the villain to be incredibly lackluster, which is unfortunate considering how compelling the villain was in the first film. The film is also incredibly predictable, which while it is a kids movie, made it frustrating to watch. Especially in light of Spirited Away, this film at times seems uninspired. Jack-Jack is easily the best part of the film, creating numerous laughs as he discovers his powers. However, in spite of my desperate attempts to like this film more, it is simply disappointing. 6.5/10

It’s about reducing a complex human life into one viral moment and then banishing him to oblivion.

This is from David Brooks’s latest article about the Covington Catholic High School boys, which I think is the best take on the subject. This subject quickly came to dominate the weekend, and much of it was unprecedented in which how one narrative was quickly spun. This school is by no means a model for society and has done some unsavory things, however we should not demonize high school boys because they are not the type of people we want to be.

This need to destroy people’s lives also went contrary to further evidence later presented by other videos, which only make the rush to judgment by so many that much more troublesome. We have all done and said things that we regret. However, most of us were given the benefit of the doubt, and do not have to go to everyone explaining why when they were young they said something they maybe shouldn’t have. These boys may not get that luxury, which is slightly disturbing considering they are only in high school and they are not guilty as tried. People change, and yet we want to box people in at a very young age and destroy their futures. That has to stop.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind & Charles Murray’s The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind – I was hesitant to watch this movie because I simply assumed it would use a clever convention to tell a different permutation of the same rom-com story. This movie differentiates itself by investing in the characters, those in and outside of the main relationship. What kind of people would do this and what kind of people would perform these procedures? All of these questions are tackled in unique perspectives, and the twists at the end create for a satisfying narrative. That being said, I found this film slightly lacking emotional bite, which I think may have been solved by watching this in a theater. Regardless my experience was never quite as impactful as I hoped, bringing down my overall score. It is still worthwhile, and I have a feeling with the right audience it would be incredibly impactful. 8.5/10

“If something about your prospective spouse bothers you, but you think that you can change your beloved after you’re married, you’re wrong” (135).

Charles Murray was caught up in a wave of controversy in 2017, as his book The Bell Curve became a source of seeming unending controversy at universities, including the University of Michigan. While I did not attend the event with Charles Murray, it was a sad state of affairs for everyone involved. While I understand the implications behind his study, and why people would be concerned, I have no reason to believe the data collection was done incorrectly. Regardless, the reasoning for including racial IQ scores does not seem to have been entirely thought through, which makes me feel slightly uneasy about him. We all make mistakes, and I feel as though he is important to still listen to, even though some of his past work may be questionable at best.

The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead had been sitting on my desk for a while and I was not sure how to really look at it. However, after reading through it, I found parts of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to be genuinely enlightening, and it has left me with many thoughts and questions to ask. Tips about testing yourself and thoughts about non-judgmental society have left me in deep contemplation, and I hope to get to ask him questions about it in the future and write a review on it. While I was not as enthralled with the advice on how to present yourself in the workplace, other sections make this book important reading for all 20 year-olds. This one of the more important books I sat down to read, and even if you hate Charles Murray, you will find something in here that is valuable.

My Guide to 2018

I am a bit late on this but I thought it would still be a good idea to go over my year in smaller tidbits. It was a year of personal growth and change, and while many seem to despise 2018 I could not have asked for a more incredible year. Here are some highlights.

Favorite Movie: Minding the Gap – Bing Liu’s masterful documentary struck a cord with me I could never quite shake, as its chronicles of skateboarders transitioning into adulthood are joyous and heartbreaking. I used to skateboard when I was little, and so I understood the motivation these three people felt. It was a way to break rules and to rebel from what was expected of you, or to challenge yourself in new ways. The underlying motivations for skateboarding turn to their home situations and also towards domestic abuse, creating a powerful portrait of life in America. A must watch. I gave it a 9.7 and I think that is modest if anything.

Runner-up: First Reformed – Paul Schrader’s haunting tale of a Reverend having a crisis of faith is the most topical and relevant film to come out in 2018. It is slow and intentionally still, creating an austere sense until it breaks its own rules. Amanda Seyfried is most impressive, as she plays the woman who can most understand the two men who are at the focal point of this story. Please do me a favor and see it. It is truly special.

Favorite Book: When Breath Becomes Air – A book I picked up off of my uncle’s shelf quickly turned into one of the most searing and poignant books that I read this year, as the pain, trauma, and delight of a neurosurgeon in his final days was a beautifully rendered story. It is tough and heartbreaking, but it finds a way through sheer determination to find its voice, and for Paul to get the auto-biography he always deserved. A book I loved and I think others will as well.

Runner-Up: A Storm of Swords – While I am still not finished with this book, George R.R. Martin continues to amaze me with his deep and empathetic take on characters most of us would have looked away from. This was the first in the series to dig deep into many of the villains of this story, and it makes for incredible reading and deep emotional thought. Certain scenes killed me, and the major deaths in this story keep the incredible shock-value, but what I was consistently amazed by was Martin’s care for everyone in the story.

Favorite Moment: NIRCA National Championship Meet – It is hard to overstate how incredible my experience was running in freezing cold Shelbeyville, Indiana with my club track team. All of our hard work came to fruition, and we had a blast while doing it. I can not thank my team enough for all they have given me and I hope to get to go to more incredible meets in the future.

Defining Change in Character: Openness – So much of my time before 2018 I spent my time in a bubble, resulting in stereotypes about people who live outside of my own. After spending a year away from home and traveling the midwest as well as meeting people from all over, I had the incredible opportunity to meet people from the furthest corners and reaches of the midwest and beyond. This has allowed me to be much more open to new experiences and new people, and my slight fear of breaking my bubble has turned into exuberance to discover others.

What will define 2019: Resolve – 2019 looks to be a year that will be hard, with a lot of goals set and plenty of things to achieve. My hope is that by the end of 2019 I can be in an even better spot than I am now, and that will take strength and resolve to get through it. I know I, as well as you can, but it will take time. To an amazing 2018 and an even better 2019.

Vice Review, Jane, & Inception

This movie often seems to equate clever filmmaking with good historical commentary, and that simply is not the case.

This is from my latest Michigan Review article, a movie review (I can see how shocked you are) of the movie Vice. If I had to give a score out of 10 it would be a 3. No I was not a fan, and much of that is due to its aimlessness and lack of clear ideas. My review is essentially a hybrid of Brian Tallerico’s review and Kyle Smith’s review. Kyle Smith also does a fact-checking article which for those of you looking for a conservative perspective may want this take.

I also watched a few other movies, Janethe terrific documentary on Jane Goodall, and Inceptionthe trippy and brilliant Christopher Nolan genre-blender. One thing I loved about these films was there differences in scale and approach but both do a marvelous job of bringing out their subjects. While Jane Goodall is real and the people in Inception are not, what makes both films exceptional is there sincerity towards finding out their characters motivations. Each of these films could have become distracted but neither did.

Perhaps why I am saying this is to address my problem with Vice. It never gets an argument and it never takes time to truly develop the characters, which makes the film dull and lackluster. It is disappointing, especially with such a great cast and crew. Regardless, Vice did not impress me as the other two I mentioned did. I would give a 9/10 to both Jane and Inception.

 

No End in Sight & First Reformed

No End in Sight – In preparation for a film review I am writing for The Michigan Review on the movie Vice, I decided to watch this documentary about the Iraq War. This is the best critique of the Iraq War I have ever watched, as it interviews public officials who were in charge of implementing policy and change in Iraq. It shows the numerous misfires and missteps, and focuses particularly on the months before and following the invasion. It shows an inexplicable level of ignorance, by those at the heights of power. I was impressed with how thorough and honest it was, it never felt like I was watching a Michael Moore film. For anybody interested in knowing more about this period in our history, this is a must-see. 8.7/10

Will God forgive us for what we have done to his creation?

First Reformed (Available on Amazon Prime)This quote comes from Paul Schrader’s latest effort First Reformed, a haunting portrait of our present moment in America. Reverend Ernst Toller loses one of his parishioners in a suicide due to his anguish over climate change, and that begins a crisis of faith for our Reverend. The movie is meticulous and almost shockingly still, but evokes a calm that disturbs and cuts deep. Ethan Hawke is terrific, in his pained performance, and the earnestness of this film ultimately comes through. Of all the films to come out in 2018, this is perhaps the most important. It captures religiosity, our changing world, and what happens when we are left behind. It is necessary viewing.   9.6/10

Also I know I have been late to it but I will do a guide to 2018, so stay tuned for that if you are interested!