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Another New Book Available: States of the Union, The History of the United States through Presidential Addresses, 1789-2023

Mount Greylock Books LLC has published States of the Union: The History of the United States through Presidential Addresses, 1789-2023.   St...

Friday, August 30, 2013

From Bush to Obama

Since July 4, 2010, I have been suggesting here that George W. Bush, not Barack Obama, was the key President of our third great national crisis, and that he set us on a course which we are fated to keep for some time.  That course involved lower taxes and a permanent deficit that made a drastic government response to economic crisis impossible at home.  Abroad it included a new definition of America's role in the world: essentially, it asserted a unilateral right to remove any regime that either supported terrorism or developed or used "weapons of mass destruction," broadly defined, that we believed should not have them. That doctrine repudiated more than a century of American adherence to international law, as well as the charter of the United Nations.  Sadly in Syria the Obama Administration has adopted a modified version of that doctrine. The United States reserves a unilateral right to take any military action it finds appropriate against a regime that seems to have used chemical weapons against its own people.

Barack Obama is not a starry-eyed idealist like George Bush, but some of his foreign policy team fit that description, and he is at heart a compromiser. He has long resisted calls to get directly involved in the Syrian civil war, although he foolishly stated that it should end with the removal of Bashar Assad.  That was foolish not only because there do not seem to be any "good guys" in the Syrian civil war and because the fall of Assad's regime will mean a bloodbath and millions of new Shi'ite refugees, but because the Syrian government, which on a per capita basis commands one of the half-dozen largest armies in the world (along with Israel and the two Koreas), is clearly winning the conflict.  Somehow, however, Obama was persuaded some months ago to declare a "red line" regarding the Syrian government's potential use of chemical weapons.  This echoed the Bush doctrine: the United States government, it seems, still reserves the right to decide what weapons other governments should use, and what weapons they should have.  (The President has repeatedly taken the latter position regarding Iran.)  Now, some one has used chemical weapons in Iran, and we are rushing to judgment.  The Administration claims to have a radio intercept definitely implicating the Syrian government.  The Johnson Administration claimed the same thing about Hanoi and the "incident" in the Tonkin Gulf in 1964, and not for decades did we definitely learn that the intercept referred to an authorized attack that had taken place some time previously.  I hope the Administration has real proof.

I spent 22 years of my life, from 1990 until 2012, teaching policy and strategy to American and foreign military officers.  Military action, we taught, should serve a clearly defined political objective, and strategy should make sure that it actually reaches that objective.  The Obama Administration, like the Bush Administration in Iraq, is failing that test.  Leaks imply that our cruise missile strikes will once again target elements of the regime, including military headquarters and the security forces.  The leaks insure that they will probably be empty when the missiles hit.  Based upon the Administration's statements, the best case scenario now would be for Assad to win the civil war without further resort to chemical weapons--assuming that he has resorted to them.  Will this leave us in a stronger position if he does?  About ten weeks ago, on June 14, I suggested what a truly statesmanlike approach to the Syrian civil war and the broader Sunni-Shi'ite conflict that threatens to tear the Middle East apart might look like.  Obama has done nothing remotely similar.  He has set himself up, it seems to me, as the world's parent, doling out praise and spankings as he feels it to be appropriate without approval from Congress or the UN Security Council and with only the smallest coalition of the willing.  Even David Cameron could not get a majority for action in the House of Commons.  Once again, as Andrew Bacevich might put it, we have a President evidently convinced that American military power is the only possible response to any serious military problem. I do not see how it will help this one.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Europe and the US

Three years ago, a Chicago labor lawyer named Thomas Geoghegan--a nearly exact contemporary of mine and a fellow Harvard graduate--published his sixth book, Were You
Born on the Wrong Continent? How the European Model Can Help You Get A Life.
It got very little attention and not a single public library in the state of Rhode Island, where I was still living, decided to acquire it.  I finally got my hands on it this month and I have just finished it.  In some respects I was disappointed.  Geoghegan makes clear that is was a miracle that this book (or his others, which deal with issues drawn from his own working life) was written at all.  Like most trial attorneys, he is ridiculously busy, but he arranged in the 1990s and 2000s to spend a good deal of time in Germany, which is the focus of the book.  It isn't particularly well organized and it could have used a lot more hard data to make its points.  But it still leaves a powerful impression.  By the middle of the twentieth century, the North Atlantic world had discovered the secret to modern society: combining an industrial plant, a well-organized working class, and a government that would provide public goods for all with the help of progressive taxation.  In the last 40 years the Europeans have focused on improving that model and, more recently, on keeping it alive.  The United States meanwhile has focused on destroying it.  The results are obvious.

To begin with, Europe in general and Germany in particular have not de-industrialized to anything like the same extent as the US and, for that matter, the UK.  While the US has used globalization to outsource jobs and become the world's financial center, the Germans decided to make the machinery that the newly developing countries would need, and they are running huge export surpluses, the goods produced by well paid unionized workers who, like all Germans, take six weeks of vacation every year.  But the book's best chapter isn't about the working class, it's about the well-to-do middle class--and it's here that Germany comes out the furthest ahead.  Because their health care and their children's higher education is provided by the government out of taxes, their middle class does not have to run up enormous debts.  Because they also provide excellent public transportation and much better schools, they don't have to live further and further out in the suburbs, either.  (Geoghegan lives in Chicago where this is evidently an enormous problem.  I must say that my own Boston metropolitan area, because of its compact size and, by US standards, excellent public transportation is more like a European city in that respect.)  Geoghegan thinks this has kept artistic and intellectual traditions more alive in Germany, and real bookstores do continue to thrive in Europe.  What impresses him the most is the role of the work force in German firms. Not only does the law guarantee them half the seats on the board of directors, but they also staff Works Councils in most firms, making all sorts of decisions on how the firm operates and how any profits and productivity gains are distributed.  Nationalization never went as far in postwar Germany as in Sweden, Britain or France, but this system has done the same job even better--giving average people a stake and a role in fundamental economic decisions.

The terrible problem we face in the US, as Geoghegan finally stresses in his last chapter, is that we allow public goods to become sources of profit, including education and, above all, health care.  The financial sector is also treated in effect as a public trust in Germany, where a parallel set of banks, Sparkasse, does the things the big US banks can't be bothered to do, like providing capital to small enterprises.  By the time he published this book it was clear that the Obama Administration was not going to try to change any of these essential aspects of American life, and indeed, Geoghegan frequently refers to Larry Summers as the no. 1 apostle of the new American model.  And there is no political movement of any significance whatever that will attack these problems on the US horizon now.

For most of the period in which Geoghegan was working on this book, Germany had considerably higher unemployment than the US.  That is no longer the case. Much of the rest of Europe has serious problems, and some of them are tied to the Euro and Germany's role in it.  Yet I think the Europeans will cope better with their problems than we will, because they have not forgotten the lessons of the first half of the twentieth century.  The reason, of course, is that they suffered so terribly from their failure to learn them.  My grandparents' and parents' generation of Americans were the big winners of that era.  Alas, my own generation decided to throw our inheritance away.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Jackie Robinson, GI

    Some months ago I reviewed the film 42, which I found very disappointing because the Jackie Robinson on the screen had so little in common with the real man.  Two weeks ago, at the convention of the Society for American Baseball Research, I picked up a copy of his second autobiography, I Never Had it Made, which was published just before his sudden death from diabetes and heart disease (the same combination, as it happens, that killed my paternal grandmother long before I was born), in 1972, when he was only 53.  The book was written with the help of Alfred Duckett, a black journalist and poet who was two years older than Robinson.  Only a few of the books' 24 chapters deal with Robinson's playing career.  It goes in depth into his early life and especially into his very active life after baseball, when he became an executive for Chock Full o- Nuts, a chain of coffee shops, a newspaper columnist, a fundraiser for the NAACP, a political activist--mostly inside the Republican Party--and a banker.  Robinson and Duckett both came from the GI generation, and blacks of that age believed they had to dress, behave, speak and write just as well as the best whites did.  It shows.  The book is incredibly moving and incredibly literate.  It also bears out an insight that has been spreading among students of generations: that generational archetypes show up more clearly among minorities and immigrants even than they do among the mainstream population.

Like so many other memoirs by contemporaries, Robinson's spends a lot of time on people he knew.  They include a favorite older brother who was killed in a motorcycle accident in Los Angeles when they were both quite young; a minister who was the most inspirational figure in his youth; Branch Rickey, of course, who brought him into baseball; Nelson Rockefeller; and many more.  And he treats everyone, black and white, with the same fairness he demanded as a ballplayer.  Like John F. Kennedy (on whom more later), he never forgot than an enemy one day could be a friend the next.  I was particularly struck by his treatment of Dick Young, a most obnoxious reporter for the New York Daily News and a political conservative who began criticizing Robinson privately and publicly when in 1950 Branch Rickey allowed his second baseman to cast off sainthood and be himself on the field.  Young warned him that he was going to alienate a lot of people, as indeed he did.  He alienated so many, as he explains, that in 1962, when he first came up for eligibility for the Hall of Fame, he did not expect to be chosen by the writers.  On the eve of the announcement, Young wrote a column stating that Robinson deserved to be chosen, and that he expected him to be--and the book quotes the column in full.  It's a wonderful column, because Young is in effect acknowledging how much he and Robinson had in common.  Jackie, he wrote, had made enemies, because he always spoke his mind.  "He has the tact of a child," he wrote, "because he has the moral purity of a child."  But Young, another GI, said Jackie would get into the Hall because he deserved to--and he was right.

Robinson's most famous foray into politics occurred in 1960, when he met with both Kennedy and Nixon and endorsed Nixon.  The reason, he explained, was that Kennedy made such a terrible impression on him, failing even to look him in the eye.  There must be quite a story behind this, one which we unfortunately do not know, because rare indeed were the individuals whom Kennedy did not win over in person.  Robinson had some doubts about Nixon but he seemed to have a much clearer vision about civil rights.  Interestingly enough, Dr. Martin Luther King had a similar reaction a few years earlier when he met Nixon: either the Vice President sincerely supported civil rights, he said, or he was a very dangerous man.  Robinson had second thoughts about his choice during the campaign.  After Kennedy helped secure Martin Luther King's release from jail in Georgia while Nixon stood aside, his wife Rachel--a huge figure in the book--tried to talk him into withdrawing his endorsement, but he did not do so.  He was loyal.  By the time of Kennedy's death, Robinson's view of him had changed.

In 1964 Robinson, who lived in Stamford, Connecticut and worked in New York city, was a devoted Rockefeller Republican.  He was shocked by Barry Goldwater's capture of the Republican nomination and appalled by what he saw at the convention in the Cow Palace in San Francisco when delegates tried to boo Rockefeller off the stand.   "The hatred I saw was unique to me," he said, "because it was hatred directed against a white man.  It embodied a revulsion for all he stood for, including his enlightened attitude toward black people. A new breed of Republicans had taken over the GOP.  As I watched this steamroller operation in San Francisco, I had a better understanding of how it must have felt to be a Jew in Hitler's Germany."  Robinson was standing near the Alabama delegation shouting "Come on, Rocky," during the governor's speech, and a white delegate began moving menacingly towards him.  His wife restrained him. "Turn him loose, lady, turn him loose!" Jackie shouted.  She didn't.

But meanwhile, Robinson details at length the development of his family and his three Boomer children, Jackie Jr., Sharon, and David, and the changes experienced during the 1960s by his wife, who returned to her career in nursing and became an administrator.  A typical husband of his era, he frankly describes his own ambivalence about her desire to strike out on her own, but he accepted it and eventually welcomed it.  He came to understand to an unusual degree how hard it was to be the spouse or child of a celebrity and how much people will do to escape the burden of it.  When a new colleague once asked Rachel Robinson if she was Jackie Robinson's wife, she instantly denied it--and then sought therapy to explore the feelings that had revealed.   Jackie and Rachel were typical GIs in another way: they thought home should be a quiet place where no one raised his voice.  Their Boomer children, like so many millions of others, could not play by those rules.

The life of Jackie Robinson, Jr., was truly tragic.  When he was very young his parents proudly moved into nearly all-white Stamford, Connecticut.  Some of his teachers understood his needs; others did not.  He was an indifferent student and an increasingly troubled teenager who at one point ran away from home to California and eventually, in 1964, joined the Army.  He survived a tour in Vietnam but returned a heavy user of marijuana and heroin.  Eventually he was arrested, but he was fortunate to enter Daytop, an early treatment program for addicts.  His father was never one to shy a way from a problem once it was recognized, and he listened carefully to what the Daytop counselors said and came to understand the background role that parents had to play.  Jackie Jr. kicked the habit and became a Daytop counselor himself.  He testified on youthful drug addiction before Congress and his testimony, a credit to his generation and mine, appears in the book.  He threw himself into raising money for Daytop. Then, one night, returning from New Haven to Stamford on the Merrit Parkway, he lost control of his car--perhaps falling asleep at the wheel--and was killed.in July 1971.

The book also explores the generational split within the civil rights movement.  GIs believed that men and women of good will, white and black, could make a better world, and Robinson was appalled by the anti-white and anti-Semitic statements of younger black activists by the late 1960s.  He stood up to them publicly both in his newspaper columns (which I would like to see published as a book) and in broadcast debates.  He also helped start, and then save, the Freedom Bank in Harlem, which nearly went under because of bad management. 

Robinson survived Jackie Jr. for only one year.  He had never smoked nor drank, but he had carried rage around inside him all his life and suffered terrible losses.  His death undoubtedly deprived this book of much of its impact.  It remains a remarkable record of an extraordinary man and the long lost times that he lived in.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The collapse of international politics?

In 1990 I published Politics and War: European Conflict from Philip II to Hitler, which was in many ways my most ambitious book and the one that took the longest time to write.  It was a comparative study of four periods of general war in European history:  1559-1659, years characterized in general by anarchy and civil war; 1661-1715, during which Louis XIV created a much stronger national state, leading other European nations to follow suit; 1789-1815, when the French Revolution set the European state system aflame and introduced a new scale of warfare; and 1914-45, when European war became world war.  The field of European international politics had lain at the center of scholarship at least since Ranke in the late 19th century, but I can now see that I finished that book at the moment that it was dying.  Offhand I do not know of a single college or university that still offers a course on the development of the European state system and its spread around the world to include nations like the United States and Japan in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  Thus graduates emerge from our finest institutions knowing nothing about these subjects, and without learning French, German, or Russian.  One such was Barack Obama, who graduated from Columbia in the early 1990s.

The world depends upon diplomacy for peace and stability because it is divided into independent sovereignties capable of unleashing war.  European and Atlantic civilizations in the eighteenth century made enormous progress, especially intellectual progress, because war, while frequent, had become a small-scale enterprise, and diplomacy always managed to bring it to and end within a maximum of about seven years.  War before 1791 was not sufficiently destructive to halt the progress of civilization or bring down states.   After the cataclysm of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic era, the great age of European diplomacy began.   In the wake of the Congress of Vienna in 1815 the Holy Alliance of eastern European monarchies kept order and maintained peace throughout central Europe, while Britain and France did the same in western Europe.  Several wars created modern Italy and Germany in 1859-71, but none of them lasted as long as a year and clever diplomacy kept them from becoming general.  After 1871, Bismarck, the creator of modern Germany, insisted for twenty years that Germany had no more ambitions and strove successfully to maintain European peace.  Customary machinery had developed to settle important disputes.  In 1878 and 1884, meetings of high officials in Berlin settled a Russo-Turkish war in the Balkans and partitioned much of Africa.  Lesser crises were solved by conferences held in one European capital, where the home foreign minister would negotiate a settlement with the Ambassadors of other major European countries.  All diplomats spoke French and carried on their business in that language.  Although in the 1860s huge civil wars erupted in the United States and in China, Europe remained at peace for a century.

In the two world wars Germany and then Japan explicitly abandoned diplomacy in favor of force in an effort to turn themselves into worldwide empires.  The task was beyond their means, and catastrophe resulted.  The United States entered both those wars on behalf of certain principles, including the self-determination of peoples and the respect for international law--principles that commanded widespread support around the world.  The victory of two ideologically very different powers, the United States and the Soviet Union, led inevitably to the Cold War.  That war had three fronts.  The first front developed at the point where Soviet and American troops met at the end of the conflict, in central Europe and at the 38th parallel in Korea.  The second, which developed in the 1950s, was the nuclear front, on which each threatened to destroy the other.  The third involved a highly complex contest for power and influence in the Third World, where nearly all the wars of the period took place.  In the more developed world, the victors in the Second World War organized coalitions--to be sure, in very different ways--and kept the peace for 45 years.  Civilization once again advanced.

The collapse of Communism in 1989 ushered in a new era--one whose consequences were deeply misunderstood.  George H. W. Bush had fought in the Second World War and had a natural flair for diplomacy, and he tried to handle the shift to a new order in a way that took account of the legitimate interests of other states.  He was in effect preserving the traditions established by Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt.  Thus, when he and James Baker insisted over Gorbachev's objections that a united Germany join NATO, they also promised that the newly freed former Warsaw Pact states would not do so.  But to the new Boomer-dominated foreign policy establishment that emerged in the US during the 1990s and seized total power after 2001, the new situation looked very different: it gave the US the chance to impose its will all over the world.  The new states were welcomed into NATO during the 1990s.  The entire UN security council, including the Russians, backed the war against Iraq in 1990-1, but in 1999 the Clinton Administration fought to free Kosovo despite the opposition of the Russians.  George W. Bush, as I have discussed many times, openly embraced a world founded on social Darwinism and embarked upon a campaign to take down hostile states--one that began and ended, as it turned out, in Iraq.  And after 2001, the US became more and more focused on the Islamic world.

Barack Obama's decision this week to forgo a brief meeting with Vladimir Putin during a broader summit shows how far things have gone.  The United States and Russia do not, like the Soviet Union and the United States in the Cold War, threaten each other with instant destruction and they are not engaged in a worldwide struggle for power and influence.  Their militaries are shadows of their former selves.  But incredibly, they seem to lack any common principles upon which to build better relations and promote a more peaceful world.   Even in the days of Kennedy and Khrushchev and Nixon and Brezhnev, the two sides acted on their interest in preventing nuclear war and reducing tensions.  Now the United States in effect claims the right to help overthrow any government violently opposed by a substantial portion of its people--a claim the Russians understandably, and in my opinion sensibly, reject.  On the other side, Putin has returned to the pre-modern traditions of his country, blaming foreign influence for everything that goes wrong in his country, and evidently dreaming to restoring some of the lost influence of the Russian and Soviet empires in some of the other successor states.  Neither they nor the Chinese leadership is offering the world a model in which all nations will live together in peace--much less attempting seriously, as the Europeans in the late 19th century would have done, to halt violent civil wars in places like Syria, or to make peace in the Middle East.  (John Kerry, whose father was a diplomat, is bravely going through the motions on these issues, but without the backing to actually bring them to fruition.)

The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama has turned out to be most unfortunate.  At no time in his Administration has he shown any particular talent for diplomacy and his record is largely bereft of achievement.  He did reach a new strategic arms treaty with the Russians in his first term, but that process seems to be at an end.  (Putin, to be sure, bears just as much blame for this.)  Regarding China, with whom we also lack common values, the US has been returning to the traditions of John Foster Dulles and trying to organize some sort of anti-Chinese coalition rather than establishing some common ground about the principles of international affairs, to include, for instance, a moratorium on hacking into one another's computer systems, as well as an agreement on freedom of the seas.  The President is remarkably wooden and embarrassingly repetitious in photo ops with foreign leaders.  He and his administration have treated the European economic crisis as none of our business.  That may be because, as good American neo-liberals, they would just as soon see the whole European economic model fail.  (I'll have more to say about that during the next month.)

I was a product of the earlier age of diplomacy.  Because my father became a diplomat when I was 14 I had to live abroad and learn two foreign languages.  That in turn made me, originally, a European historian.  But in that respect as in others, I was one of the last survivors of a dying tradition.  The world may be flat in cyberspace, but it has much less of a common value system than it did 100 years ago.  Values are key to politics, both domestically and internationally, because they set the limits of what people and governments will attempt to do.  The statesmen of the last era--the last saeculum, as Strauss and Howe put it, from about 1867 to 1945--had greater ambitions, and greater achievements, than those of our own.  Like domestic anarchy, international anarchy is a new disease whose progression cannot yet be foretold.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

Sleepless in Hollywood--addendum

   I realized today I had forgotten a very important point from the weekend's post, and I am making it a separate one to try to make sure everyone sees it.

    Ms. Obst talks a lot about the obsession with a film's first weekend gross, and at one point, in a footnote, she explains why it's so important: because the distributor receives a higher cut of the receipts during the first weekend.  After that the exhibitor does better.  This obviously makes the marketing ten times more important than it otherwise might be and it is probably one of the biggest reasons that studios don't want to take a chance.  I can't imagine why they ever wanted to make this deal, unless they are confident that they can consistently fill the first weekend by sticking to the same formulas.  Obviously more good movies would be made if the studios could allow them to take some time to discover their audience, and vica verca. 

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Cultural decline at the movies

  This week I have been reading Sleepless in Hollywood,  by a Hollywood producer named Linda Obst. She is a Boomer, born 1950, and she got into the movie business because, as she puts it, she loved movies.  (Our youths were probably the greatest movie-watching age in American history.) Her first major credit was on Flashdance and she produced an old favorite of mine, Adventures in Babysitting.  Her career peaked in the 1990s when she produced Contact, The Siege, One Fine Day, and Hope Floats, and co-produced the great Sleepless in Seattle.  Her tastes, in short, overlap with mine,. although they are not the same.  But she's a product of the same literate culture I grew up in, apparently, and she wrote her book to try to explain what has gone so wrong in Hollywood and why it has become almost impossible to get the kind of movie either she or I like produced. I will attempt to summarize her findings.

It will not come as a surprise to anyone to realize that the studios focus relentlessly on their bottom lines, but I think the nature of their market will come as a surprise.  I have known for a long time that young males (and "young," it turns out, means 24 or under) are their main target, but things have gotten much worse than that now.  Since digitization and the net effectively destroyed the DVD market early in the last decade, the studios depend for their profits on foreign markets, led increasingly by China and Russia.  Chinese and Russian audiences love action pictures and have no use for anything that requires an understanding of the actual facts of western history or the details of the western cultural tradition.  There is another key aspect to the business that has done even more harm: marketing costs are immense. The best way not to pay them is to make an instantly recognizable movie that people will automatically want to see.  The easiest way to do that, obviously, is to use the title of a successful movie and add a II, III or IV to it.  (Which reminded me of one of my favorite stories: the play The Madness of George III became The Madness of King George on screen, so that viewers wouldn't stay away, having missed the first two films in the series.)  So the highest-demand kind of project is what is called a tentpole, that is, a movie that became a series, or better still, a franchise. (The 1960s movie that had by far the most impact on the movie business was Dr. No.)    That is why movies based upon superheroes keep appearing again and again, retailored for each new generation.  That's why Harry Potter and The Ring were so successful and why, at this moment, dozens of Hollywood folks are looking for the next one.  It's also why we've seen a good many movies based on TV shows, which are also seen worldwide.  Now if you're in your mid-sixties and you've been a serious movie-goer all your life, as I have, it's easy to let most of these films slip by your radar, but they are, as Obst shows with charts, the lifeblood and almost the sole preoccupation of the film industry.  And a movie without foreign appeal or any possibility of a sequel has very little chance of being made.

Indeed, most of the more dramatically ambitious films that do get made, like Argo or the Life of Pi or Lincoln or Good Night and Good Luck, owe their life to one superstar actor (Clooney, Damon, or Affleck) or director (Spielberg, Ang Lee) who wanted to make them.  And some of them are still good enough to make some money for all concerned.  But there's the rub: while they may make some money, they can't possibly make the kind of money a Superman or Batman movie can make, if only because they have little appeal outside the United States.  So the success of one isn't going to spawn very many others.  Similar phenomena dominate the publishing industry, which markets names, not books.  And that's why sheer creativity plays so little role in the process.

I would love to meet Linda Obst, although it's hard to see how that could happen, and I really appreciate her book, but I must say I think her tastes have been affected by her role in the industry and in certain cases by friendships.  She is fascinated that Inception, which was very hard to market because the plot was so absurdly complicated, did so well, and she profiles the marketing genius--a friend of hers--who made it happen at some length.  But I thought Inception was a terrible movie, and essentially that the plot was an excuse to put three simultaneous chase sequences on the screen at once.  In other words, to borrow a slogan from our youth, part of the problem, not part of the solution.

There is, it turns out, a parallel universe of independents who are making films for almost nothing, putting them on youtube, and, occasionally, getting an invitation from a major festival and becoming a critical success and making some money.  Beats of the Southern Wild was one such (although again, for very different reasons, I was underwhelmed by it.)  In addition, Woody Allen still manages to get financing, and I am told that his latest, Blue Jasimine, a serious drama, is outstanding, making three good movies in a row, all in his late 70s.  (Midnight in Paris was wonderful and I thought To Rome with Love was quite good, although it was less successful.)  My local multiplexes are filled with films from Europe.  The kind of creativity that generated the best films of the period 1970-2000, though, is now going into cable television.  That provides a different kind of experience. Obst explains why we mustn't expect things to get any better very soon--if ever--at the movies.

  Coincidentally, this appeared today. . .