“The Florida Project”: how the poor really live near the big theme parks (especially the kids)


The Florida Project”, directed by Sean Baker, confronts the viewer with the “real life” of poor people living in transient motels near the Disney theme parks in Orlando.

In the past, we could have gawked and scorned.  We probably can’t get away with that now.

Halley (Bria Vinnaite) is a single mom raising a seven year old, Moonee (Brooklyn Prince) and, as the film opens, taking care of two other kids.  The kids are always annoying other residents and getting into trouble, and Halley becomes combative in trying to defend them when the motel manager Bobby (Willem Dafoe) challenges her and repeatedly threatens to evict her.

Bobby has a tough job, implementing rules demanding by corporate, and uses his people skills to the fullest.  One of the most telling scenes occurs about 40 minutes into the film when he chases an old man off the premises once he suspects the man is a sex offender.

But mischief occurs constantly. The kids somehow get into the power room and turn it off.  Later, they set fire to a nearby vacant motel to watch the fire department come. Toward the end, the police will get involved with CPS as to whether Halley is a fit mother, which means a need for foster care.  But the kids may get to see the Magic Kingdom.

The film shows the quasi-attractions around the parks for low income people pretty well.

Picture: My trip, July 2015  (Pulse would happen in 2016.)

Name:  “The Florida Project”
Director, writer:  Sean Baker
Released:  2017
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Landmark West End, 2018/1/3, afternoon show, surprisingly well attended, appears to be young adults from GWU
Length:  115
Rating:  R
Companies:  A24
Link:  official

(Posted: Wednesday, January 3, 2018, at 8 PM EST)

“Downsizing”: Go get small

Downsizing”, directed and written by Alexander Payne (with Jim Taylor) seems like a modern telling of Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels”, at least the Lilliputian part, with the same purpose, to poke fun at the way our political systems neglect global problems.

Some time soon a scientist in Norway discovers a way to “downsize” almost any organism by a mass of about 2500:1 with a single injection and heat chamber treatment. Soon companies are offering it to people with enough money, and setting aside “model train” communities around the world, somewhat hidden or perhaps “Under the Dome”, or perhaps like The Truman Show. It’s a way to save the planet from overpopulation (although the film doesn’t mention the whole problem of “the right babies” going along with population demographics).

Matt Damon plays an occupational therapist Paul Safranek working in Omaha.  He has lost out on the chance to go to medical school because he had to care for his mother. One day he and his wife see a former boss (Jason Sudeikis) like a doll on a table, and Paul asked why did you “go get small.” Pretty soon Paul and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) visit Leisureland in New Mexico (having seen the small people in a box on the flight down) and take the sales pitch. They can live like millionaires.

Paul takes the bait.  The scenes tracing the medical “downsizings” are scary enough.  Paul’s body hair is removed as well as the usual Army buzz cut, and his teeth are pulled.  The actual downsizing chamber part takes only a few minutes.  Paul wakes up, bald everywhere like a chemo patient and checks his private parts.  Then he gets dental implants with microteeth (because they don’t shrink and could cause his head to explode).  I’ve had implants myself, and companies like Clear Choice must be laughing at this.  Then Paul finds out that Audrey bailed out of the procedure and wants to divorce him.

The hair grows back, fortunately. A year later, after downsizing to an apartment on Leisureland and starting to date single moms, and after hearing about the political consequences of downsizing in the media, specifically the surreptitious trafficking of downsized immigrants (despite travel bans!) Paul finds out, from a housekeeper (Ngoc Lan Tran) that immigrants like her live in “barrios” for downsized undocumented immigrants.

As with his mom, Paul is very susceptible to moral pressure to give direct service to those in need, and finds himself as a “doctor” working in the barrio. Then the movie takes a turn to Norway, as a neighbor (Christoph Waltz) takes Paul on a trip to Norway to see the original colony.

And here comes the other political consequence: the Earth has reached its tipping point with the chain release of methane gas, so the little people in Norway have set up a “Noah’s arc” underground. Indeed, will the “normal people” become “the Leftovers”?

I did go through my own downsizing in a real estate sense, from inherited house to condo, recently. And I had full dental implants in 2013.  I have yet to undergo a forced shaving.

Also, ponder the fact that certain big cats underwent downsizing thousands of years ago and became the domestic cats, one of the planets most successful mammals. Sometimes it pays to “go small”.

There was a short film with another Marriott “Storybooked” artist, this time sculptor Felix Semper, who visits San Sebastian, Spain (I visited it in 2001), in the Basque area, and then Barcelona, which is dealing with a new Catalan separatist vote today.

La Concha Bay in San Sebastian (wiki).

Name:  “Downsizing”
Director, writer:  Alexander Payne
Released:  2017/12/21
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2017/12/22
Length:  135
Rating:  R
Companies:  Paramount (independent)
Link:  official

(Posted: Friday, December 22, 2017 at 11:15 PM EST)

 

“Journey from Invisibility to Visibility” covers a lot more than women over 60

The book “Journey from Invisibility to Visibility: A Guide for Women 60 and Beyond”, by Gail K. Harris, Marilyn C. Lesser, and Cynthia T. Soloway, turns out to be a broad discussion of family values and roles as they pertain to individual identity at all stages of life, not just “the afternoon” of life, where 60 is the new 40.

The book is filled with very long quoted inserts of personal accounts, and with spaces for note taking and review, like a guide or handbook.  That isn’t my own particular interest in the way I write my own books.  But at a certain level I can see how some people believe they would help the books to sell.

The book presents Erikson’s “phases” in the growth of individual identity as they emerge in childhood and go into adolescence and adulthood.  These might be compared to other books that examine how consciousness emerges (“I Am a Strange Loop”). As life progresses, new stages emerge, along with the ability to recall earlier formations of the self right out of space-time.

The book also pays a lot of heed to the way gender roles have evolved over the past fifty years.  It is quite frank about the fact that women (and men) generally didn’t get to choose their missions in life the way millennials insist on today.  The fact that women – and men – find independent meaning out of family is seen as a challenge to those who are more vertically socialized. The authors give an anecdote of a woman who was shocked at the success of her middle-aged son without marriage, and without concern over who would take care of him in old age.

Old social norms then meant channeling sexuality to become attached to adaptive family roles.

The book starts with a long rhymed poem in 4-line verse “A Woman’s Perspective”, by GW.

Author: Harris, Lesse, Soloway
Title, Subtitle: “Journey from Invisibility to Visibility: A Guide for Women over 60 and Beyond”
publication date 2017.  I received a review copy
ISBN 978-1534751897
Publication: Amazon Create Space (N. Charleston, SC) 373 pages, 9 chapters, paper, endnotes
Link: see Amazon   Or review site.

(Posted: Tuesday, December 19, 2017 at 1 AM EST)

“Lady Bird” is someone else besides LBJ’s spouse

Lady Bird” (directed by Greta Gerwig) does not refer to LBJ’s First Lady, who though everything was “so good”.

Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson, played by Saoirse Ronan (“Brooklyn”) is a senior in Catholic high school, and is growing up in a working class family in Sacramento, CA.  Dad (Tracy Letts) has lost his job, after the parents took on more mortgage debt to send their kids to Catholic school.  Mom (Laurie Metcalf) chides Christine on leaving her room and clothes a mess after she goes out, saying that potential employers for dad get a bad impression when she is sloppy, even at home.

Sister Sarah (Lois Smith) encourages Christine to get into legitimate school activities, including the school musical (it’s not “The Sunbonnet Girl”) or play (it’s not “Wise Guys”). Improve her chances to get into college, as her grades are mediocre.  She even negotiates with the appealing young male algebra teacher (Jake McDorman) when he loses his grade book (a catastrophe for a teacher).

In drama class, she encounters interesting acting exercises, such as being the first to cry (sounds like “The Ninth Street Center” earlier in my own life  — “did you cry about it?”  “Why not?”  Oct. 18, 1974, a day of confrontation in my own life).  But the she meets the star senior of the class, Danny O’Neill, played by the lanky Lucas Hedges.  O’Neill sounds like a proper Irish Catholic name, but Lucas is, as in a few other films, presented as a kind of Smallville-teen Clark Kent looking for powers, ready to save everybody.  Danny (aka Lucas) dates her, and is so properly respectful when they look up at the stars.  But, as in “The Zero Theorem”, Lucas (who has done juggling on Jimmy Kimmel) is “nobody’s tool”  Christine sees him making out with another young man at a party, and soon confronts him that he is gay, a scene where Danny does cry.  Bur Danny really is better than everyone else (even if, in a way, Shaun Murphy on “The Good Doctor” is likewise.)

So Christine dates the next best boy, Kyle (Timothy Chalamet), who admits he is not a virgin. The intimate scenes with him are intriguing and well done and make Kyle interesting.

Then, Lady Bird starts getting her college application letters.  Rejections, and finally a wait list.  But she finally gets into a college in New York School.  After her tearful sendoff, she meets another (truly heterosexual and less than superman) boy friend and gets into trouble with underage drinking, winding up in the emergency room.  But finally, everything is all right.

The film is not all that impressive technically, being mostly indoors, with a few shots of Sacramento commercial highlights and hangouts. The sound track sounded a little muddy where I saw it.

Sacramento downtown (wiki). I was last there in 1995.  The immediate countryside is flat, as it is part of the San Joaquin Valley.  My own picture is from the Texas Hill Country, maybe not too far from the original Lady Bird’s ranch.

Name: “Lady Bird”
Director, writer:  Greta Gerwig
Released:  2017/11
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Regal Ballston Quarter, 2017/11/21, fair crowd, late evening
Length:  94
Rating:  R
Companies:  A24
Link:  official

(Posted: Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2017 at 2:45 PM EST)

“God’s Own Country” does seem like a “Brokeback Mountain II”

God’s Own Country”, directed by Francis Lee, may come across as a “Brokeback Mountain II” from Ang Lee a dozen years ago.

This time, the setting is in Yorkshire in northern England, apparently in the 1960s or so, before modern technology. Johnny Saxby (Josh O’Connor) seems a little squeamish over his farming duties – in the opening scene is vomits when getting up on a day he has to help a sheep deliver a baby.  His parents, especially mom, seem concerned about his manliness.  In a nearby town, he finds nelly boys who make him feel a little manlier by comparison. Gay life went on in rural England, even only a couple decades after Alan Turing’s tragedy (Britain decriminalized sodomy in 1967). When a roughshod immigrant, Georghe (Alex Secareanu) arrives from communist Romania, the new guy first intimidates Johnny because the comrade really is very good at doing everything on a farm.  The time of this movie may have actually been intended to coincide with the fall of the Soviet bloc and Ceausescu.  But soom Georghe’s dominating (very cis-male) behavior entices Johnny and they fall in love, with some passionate scenes when out on the range with bedrolls.

A family crisis ensues when dad has a stroke, and Johnny has to really take care of dad personally.  That leads to a whirlwind plot climax in the men’s relationship.

The film has graphic cinematography of the live animal birth scenes, with how farm boys really do this.  The animals “know” and “trust” them (“it’s only me”). I’m reminded of a live birth scene in Walt Disney’s “The Vanishing Prairie” (1954), a bit of a sensation at the time.

The film was preceded by a 10-minute short “Breakfast” by Tyler Byrnes. A young man David (Altan Alburo) invites a boyfriend Alex (Tommy Bernadi) (quite handsome but apparently with dysmorphia) with an eating disorder to share a fattening breakfast. The film contains David Lynch-like scenes with chest tunes invading.

The show, sponsored by Reel Affirmations of the DC Center at the Gala Hispania theater in the Columbia Heights area of Washington DC,  was preceded by a stand-up by Rayceen Pendarvis, advertising himself as 68, who got everyone one into a brief hug-fest.  That isn’t my own personal message, but that’s for another time.

Link for Yorkshire picture (wiki).

Name:  “Gods Own Country”
Director, writer:  Francis Lee
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Reel Affirmations, 2017/10/19 opening night, Gala Hispania, Washington DC, sold out
Length:  104
Rating:  NA (explicit enough for NC-17, artistic and dramatic film for adults, not considered pornographic)
Companies:  Samuel Goldwyn, Orion Pictures
Link:  official

(Posted: Friday, October 20, 2017 at 7:45 PM EDT)

“The Big Sick”: romantic comedy about caregiving covers Muslim assimilation

The Big Sick”, directed by Michael Showalter, written by comedian Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, does, even as a romantic medical comedy (if there is such a thing) lay out the issue of assimilation for religious minorities, especially Muslims.

Kumali, playing himself as having come with his parents as a little boy from Pakistan, does comedy gigs at Chicago nightclubs, more or less on Rush Street. His more conservative but well assimilated Muslim parents urge him to go to law school and become respectable.

Kumali falls in love with a (Gentile) girl Emily (Zoe Kazan), and they start sleeping together.  One day Emily twists her ankle in a supermarket, and a few days later is in a medical coma with what looks like a life-threatening opportunistic pneumonia.  Kumali is the only one present until family arrives and pretends to be the husband.  The doctor asks if she has HIV, which could mean that Kumali has been exposed to AIDS himself. (Yes, heterosexuals can spread it.)

But it turns out that Emily has an unusual automimmune disorder, related to genetics (and probably an earlier infection like mono).  Eventually she pulls through, and the end of the film will deal with whether they still have a relationship.

The film presents a few social issue confrontations. Early in the film, when Emily shouts out at him, he scolds her for harassing a  comedian, which is considered rude behavior in comedy clubs.  (Ask Kate Clinton, whom I have watched on Netflix.)  Nevertheless, that helps start the relationship.

While Emily is in the hospital, a caricature of a while nationalist and “Trump supporter” harasses Kmali in the club as a recruiter for “ISIS”.  The boorish troll gets tossed by security, but not before he is told he is  “bad person”, part of Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables”.

Then there is the scene where Kumali is confronted by his parents.  Why doesn’t he think about his family instead of himself, they say.  Why is an arranged marriage to a Muslim girl not god enough for him?  Why won’t he grow his beard?  (He looks quite handsome and charismatic as he is, clean-shaven but with his hairy body;  most middle Eastern people are actually “white”, a fact that gets lost on a lot of people.)  Why won’t he kneel and pray five times a day facing Mecca?  Kumali does not such formality is necessary to have the personal faith.

I worked in I.T. or 30 years, and I always encountered software people from India and Pakistan. Until 9/11, nobody thought about religion in the office.  Everyone was assimilated. The parents are shown as well off, with beautiful Islamic interior decorations and art work in the house, and well assimilated into American capitalism and business.

At the end, Kumali moves to New York to start in a new club, and Emily has to make a choice.

Chicago picture (wiki).

There was a short film called “Murphy” about a boy, a dog and an animation in the pre-show (M2M).

Name: The Big Sick
Director, writer:  Michael Showalter, Kumail Nanjiani, Emily V. Gordon
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Angelika Mosaic, 2017/9/10
Length:  120
Rating:  R
Companies:  Amazon Studios, Lionsgate, Apatow
Link:  official

(Posted: Monday, September 11, 2017m at 12:30 PM EDT)

Nathaniel Frank’s encyclopedia history of LGBT marriage equality

I’ve covered some of the argumentation about gay marriage in a review of a film about it here July 5.  But an encyclopedia-like book like Nathaniel Frank’s “Awakening: How Gays and Lesbians Brought Marriage Equality to America” (2017) can cover a lot more detail than a documentary film or video. Still, this particular issue seems to have both sides talking at or past one another, playing with the subtleties of language itself, like in “Paul’s” Youtube videos.

I have to admit  some distraction.  I had to finish reading the last chapter on Obergefell and then the philosophical Epilogue (Arnold Bax-like) just as the news exploded this morning with Donald Trump’s edict by twitter banning transgender troops from the military.  Different topic (I’ll come back to the military thing soon with another post) – and indeed a marriage with a transgender person can turn into a straight marriage but without the possibility of procreation, exactly like a heterosexual marriage when the woman is past menopause.  I guess that shows partly why tying marriage to procreation gets so problematic.

At the very beginning, Frank says that marriage law is important by indirection:  logically, those who are not married or do not have the benefits of marriage can be excluded from some of society’s benefits as a consequence of mere logic.  In fact, that generally describes how things were in my own life in a world that (until very recently) where being married usually meant having minor dependents that one had sired – but it didn’t always mean that.  And single people and same-sex couples have always had dependents.  But someone without dependents can find his life disrupted by the needs of others anyway – as I found out with my own eldercare situation. There is a “dynamic imbalance” in life (like in a chess position, say a Sicilian) between having fewer responsibilities and more disposable income, and at the same time being less welcome in some situations,

The debate over “gay marriage” has become sometimes interchangeable with “gay rights” or “equality”.  Or let’s say “the right to marry” is a tricky idea.  As a logical matter, anyone has the same “right” to marry a consenting adult member of the opposite gender (when gender is binary), but not the same capability to procreate or even enjoy penetrative heterosexual activity in a relationship.  Frank talks about discussions about marriage as early as 1963, and then about the Baker case in Minnesota in the early 1970s.  Frank also explains how marriage became a focus (among gay “activists”) as to whether gay people should assimilate (and share risks and responsibilities, including serving in  the military) or resist. Did liberation mean walling off the outside world and creating your own (like in the East Village and the Ninth Street Center, with its polarity theory, in the 1970s)?

Indeed, overseas, “gay marriage” as been illogically comingled with gay rights in general, as in Nigeria with its draconian law in 2013.

Frank indeed covers the history of gay rights in general, including Stonewall, Anita Bryant, the Moscone-Milk assassination in San Francisco in 1978, the Briggs Initiative in California that could have banned gay teachers (1978), the AIDS crisis and Reagan’s indifference, the sodomy law litigation (Hardwick v. Bowers in 1986 and Lawrence v. Texas in 2003), and the history of “don’t ask don’t tell” in the military.  In the 1990s, particularly in Hawaii, debate on gay marriage for its own sake as a marker for personal equality in general, started to develop, even as cases like Romer v. Evans (Colorado Amendment 2) grew.  Then, of course, Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, under political pressure.  Frank presents the 90s as more negative for gay people than it really was for me. Frank gives many side anecdotes that are important for other issues:  Dan Choi and don’t ask don’t tell as a valued Arabic translator needed for intelligence purposes; the fact that one of the important marriage cases involved a person who died of ALS;  the male couple in Florida who took care of foster kids with HIV.

Then , in the 2000s, the cascade of litigation started, with Massachusetts in 2004, leading eventually to Obergefell, with many steps along the way.  These included the idea that you could encourage the states to go their own way and experiment first, before solving it federally, although then you had the Full Faith and Credit issue (to be resolved in Obergefell).  Along the way came Gavin Newsome’s marriage day, and then the whole Proposition 8 saga in California.

Frank has a few juicy quotes that show how gay marriage became a cover for a bigger question about hyperindividualism and sexuality.  On p. 236 he refers to the risk that the “gradual transformation of marriage from a pro-child societal institution into a private relationship designed simply to provide adult couples with what plaintiffs say is personal fulfillment.  It was a sinister echo of the old canard that homosexuality was primarily about indulging individual selfishness, while somehow heterosexual pairing was about contributing to the greater good.”  When was this canard actually stated?  Is the greater good to be found in protective courtship and doting?  It strikes me that this is like a three-lane highway in Virginia (indeed, Marshall-Newman, 2006): it can be more challenging to raise adopted kids in a same-sex relationship that survives a few decades of aging than a conventionally heterosexual one with biological children.  If marriage is expanded to include relationships with no penetrative complementarity, will heterosexuals decide that it isn’t important to marry before having kids?  Indeed, the record so far is that gay marriage does not encourage heterosexual divorce or discourage heterosexual marriage.  (Baseball player Bryce Harper beamed his Mormon heterosexual wedding celebration on Superbowl Sunday on Facebook.)    Later, on p. 349 (in a chapter on Obergefel there appears, “While defenders of gay marriage bans in 2015 did all they could to avoid appearing anti-gay, the notion that letting gays marry would transform the institution from being ‘child-centric’ to ‘adult-centric’ fit squarely in the tradition of demonizing gay people as selfish and indulgent, and gay rights as the triumph of a narcissistic culture over a responsible and temperate one committed to the common good.”

In 2010, Nathaniel Frank had published “Unfriendly Fire: How the Gay Ban Undermines the Military and Weakens America” through St. Martins, about nine months before Congress approved the gradual dismantling of “don’t ask don’t tell”, the certification of which was completed in September 2011.

Related post on my “Do Ask Do Tell Notes”.

Legacy movie reviews about Proposition 8:  “The Case Against 8” (2014); “8: The Mormon Proposition

Author: Nathaniel Frank
Title, Subtitle: Awakening: How Gays and Lesbians Brought Marriage Equality to America
publication date 2017
ISBN 978-06774737228
Publication: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 441 pages, hardcover, 16 chapters, Epilogue
Link: Author

(Posted: Wednesday, July 26, 2017 at 2 PM EDT)

“The Matchbreaker”: the comic antithesis of the next best thing to unrealistic romantic fantasy

If you’re 74 years old, it’s generally not too appropriate to expect an intimate relationship with a 21 year old, however legal.  My own mother used to say (back in 2000, when I was 57) that even 30 was too young for me, even for “friendship”.  So what’s the next best thing?  To play match maker, as “Uncle Bill”, on Facebook and Twitter.  Yes, I’ve done that.  I know of much younger men who should meet each other.   Sorry, I don’t use Snapchat, although there is a lot of snappy smartphone chat in this film.

This is, “The Matchbreaker”, directed by Caleb Vetter. Wesley Elder (sounds LDS-like) plays the energetic, articulate, socially charismatic Ethan Cooper (Wesley also helped write the script and story). He’s skinny, cis-male, and hairy chested.  I could say that this comedy is “Milo” for straight people. He gets fired by giving too much away to customers as a computer tech in a store that looks like Best Buy (I think of the Nerd Herd in the store Buy More in the old NBC series “Chuck” where Zachary Levi plays a spy disguised as a repair techie).

So Ethan goes into business for himself, somewhat by accident, as a matchbreaker.  Parents hire him to break up relationships of their teen kids (first daughters and then sons too) by double-dating them and causing his clients to make faux pas.  Like in one case, a gawky male (Olan Rogers) isn’t able to jump off a river boat to save a girl who jumped in.  It’s all sexist and chauvinistic.  Ethan has a best friend and roomie played by Osric Chau as part of a tag team.

The film doesn’t have the outrageous social setups that made sitcoms in the 1950s funny, but that may be what it needed, rather than playing itself as a Shakespeare-inspired comedy.  Eventually, he’ll be exposed in a comic near-finale (rather like “All’s Well that Ends Well”) and face the idea he could lose his own girl friend (Christina Grimmie), an only half-willing accomplice.

The film is shot in “KCMO” – Kansas City, Missouri, with many spectacular shots of downtown, all the way out to the famous shopping malls (the Country Club Plaza, south of downtown, near most of the bars), with some scenes on the Kansas site, and some scenes in Leavenworth, KS.  I was last in the area in the summer of 2006 but I know the area well because I earned my MA in Mathematics in 1968 at the University of Kansas in Lawrence.  Army service followed.  I would have liked to have a scene a Royals Kauffman Stadium (been there once).

Downtown KCMO wiki

Kaufman Stadium wiki

Leavenworth wiki

Picture: Kansas City Star plant, downtown KCMO, my trip, 2006.

Name: The Matchbreaker
Director, writer:  Caleb Vetter, Wesley Elder
Released:  2016
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Netflix Instant, 2017/7/19
Length: 94
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Stadium Films
Link:  official

(Posted on Wednesday, July 19, 2017 at 5:30 PM EDT)

“Dream Hoarders” (Richard Reeves): what about equality of opportunity?

I used to rehearse the phrase “equality of opportunity” in my own mind when I was younger, because I thought providing that would provide a moral basis for looking at people through my own distant guise of meritocracy.

Richard Reeves, senior fellow in Economic Studies and co-director on the Center on Children and Families in the Brookings Institution, and himself a naturalized U.S.  citizen from England, takes on this aspect of inequality in his brief new book “Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What We Can Do About It”.  That’s a mouthful of words for a book title.

One of Reeves’s key observations that it’s not just the top 1% who show their privilege, it’s more like the top 20%.  And it is true, kids of affluent parents tend to do better in life than kids of poor people. And it’s true that affluent parents are more often European or Asian and Christian or Jewish.  Poor parents are more often African or Latino or Native descent.

And affluent parents to dote on their kids. David Callahan had covered this problem in his 2004 book “The Cheating Culture”.

But Reeves goes particularly after policy patterns that give affluent parents to “hoard” opportunity fr their kids in what he sees as a zero-sum game of “positional play” (as in chess, you have a finite set of pieces and sometimes you make small sacrifices).

He does support individualism (as supported by meritocracy), for adults.  He thinks that grownups need to accept the idea of downward mobility to balance things out (I remember that period after my forced “retirement” at the end of 2001 and what the pimpy job interviews were like). But for kids, we need to keep them raised up.

He has a number of specific policy proposals.  These include backing down on exclusionary real estate zoning laws so that people of different incomes and their kids mix, and the end to legacy preferences in college admissions and internships.  He does take up the student loan problem to some extent, not going as far as Peter Thiel to call it a scam.  And he waffles on condemning unpaid internships (compare to Ross Perlin’s 2011 book “Intern Nation”). He thinks that Charles Murray (“Coming Apart”) and Robert Putnam (“Our Kids”) are too nice to rich people, for different reasons.  He does take a swipe at the lenient treatment of inherited wealth in our tax code.

Putnam thinks that much more needs to be done to help disadvantaged kids in person, but he seems to want big government behind it.  He wants teachers to pay their dues by working in poor neighborhoods, and he wants to see home visits.  He sees this sort of escalated interpersonal intervention into poor families as a job creator.

Reeves makes the point that legally married parents who wait until marriage to have kids raise better kids.  He takes a libertarian position on adult consensual sex as long as unplanned pregnancies don’t happen. (There’s a whole world of population demographics that he does not touch.) He supports planned parenthood programs and criticizes the GOP for its hypocritical moral squeamishness. He would not be too sympathetic to single moms because they usually result from carelessness.  He also notes that higher income and better educated people are more likely to marry and also more likely to avoid bad health habits (like cigarette smoking) and generally avoid obesity – and indeed higher income teens are much less likely to be obese and generally are better able to balance screen time and Internet use with real world physical activity and opportunity.  He does not consider same-sex marriage but probably the same observations would hold;  same-sex couples seem able to provide the same supervision for kids.   There’s one outlier he does not mention:  single gay men, who don’t fit the marriage profile.  But in upper classes single gay men often compete very well because they have more disposable income and haven’t had kids, ironically part of Milo’s (and my) “dangerous” argument.

Author: Richard V. Reeves
Title, Subtitle: “Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What We Can Do About It”
publication date 2017
ISBN 978-0-8157-2912-9
Publication: Brookings, Washington DC; 196 pages, hardcover, endnnotes, indexed
Link: Author

(Posted: Friday, July 7, 2017 at 12 Noon EDT)

“The Freedom to Marry”: a chronicle of how same-sex marriage became legal in the U.S.

Freedom to Marry was the legal assistance organization, largely under Eva Wolfson, that helped steer the many courtroom victories that finally made gay marriage legal in the United States, under the Full Faith and Credit clause in our federal system, in June 2015.  Wikipedia has a detailed factual history of all of the separate cases here, finally leading to a cadence with Obergefell.

The Freedom to Marry”, directed by Eddie Rosenstein, is a relatively new documentary chronicling the entire achievement.  It ends with a happy shutdown – of the offices of the group at the end of 2015, when its work is done.  It makes a good companion piece to “Love v. Kentucky” (April 17).  There was some call for people to sponsor screenings of the film, but now it is available on Amazon and iTunes.

Of course, that was about the time that Trump’s campaign was getting going.  Donald Trump has even said that he views same-sex marriage as settled law, but Neil Gorsuch’s behavior in his first days as the new Supreme Justice replacing  Scalia leads one to be concerned.  Remember, back in 2003, in his dissent in Lawrence v. Texas, Scalia (“a peaceful man”, by his own self-description) predicted a coming legalization of gay marriage.   I want to take a moment here to note the passing of freelance writer Phil Chandler, who wrote many columns on gay equality, from ending sodomy laws to marriage.

The new film does give a useful history, particularly of the 1990s, when there were pioneering cases in Hawaii and Vermont while the parallel debate over the military “don’t ask don’t tell” got going (and when Romer v. Evans was resolved).  In 1996, President Clinton signed DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, meaning that the federal government itself would recognize only heterosexual unions as marriages, even if states wanted to experiment on their own.  In my 1997 “DADT-1” book, I even encouraged this approach, that it had to start with the individual states to go anywhere.  My own “29th Amendment” has proposed that.  I did not see how quickly the tables could turn, starting in 2004 in Massachusetts, even with George W. Bush (the “sanctity of marriage”) in office.  I remember those times.  In the summer, Rick Santorum had tried to propose a federal marriage amendment limiting federal marriage to “A Man and a Woman” (like the 1966 French film), while Diane Feinstein excoriated Santorum for wasting the Senate’s time when it needed to pass an anti-terrorism bill.  I recall the C-span program, with a Bruckner symphony playing during the intermission.  Earlier that year, then editor Chris Crain (“global citizen”) had penned his famous editorial in the Washington Blade, “Piddle Twiddle and Resolve”.

The film also shows the vigorous counter-demonstrations at the Supreme Court in 2015 (the film has shown the countdown of days until oral arguments, to maintain the impression of suspense), even the Westboro Baptist Church.  There seems little doubt that what they object to is not just gay marriage but the permissive practice of homosexuality (and now gender fluidity, which is something different) itself. The opposing sides seem to talk past one another.  There is one passage where an anti-gay group makes no apologies for demanding abstinence from people who find only homosexual attraction interesting.  For several years, the conservative paper “The Washington Times” always used quotes this way: gay “marriage”.  Earlier arguments against gay marriage in conservative periodicals frankly talked about babies.

The arguments for marriage have always centered around “Equal Protection” rather than “due process” (the latter was more relevant in the sodomy law litigation). There is a tendency to divide society into affinity groups, and especially define suspect classes of people who have rights abridged by being members of the group (or of a “people”).  I am not very comfortable personally with arguing things this way.

Of course, it is true, if you have, for example, an elderly same-sex couple and one depends on the other for eldercare, or one dies, and then the couple is hot treated the same by the courts as a heterosexual couple would have been, this is a personal problem for the survivor and represents unequal treatment. (I can remember sitting next to a lawyer on a plane in 2006 whose legal specialty was this problem.) But I also recognize that, at an individual level, talking about “equality” as an absolute concept gets one running around in circles.  One can say, for example, that all of us have the same equal right to marry a member of the opposite sex (assuming sex is always binary, which it isn’t, even in most of nature).  But then I am left with the idea that I get much less reward from the prospect of heterosexual intercourse (which could have led to procreation earlier in life) than a “typical” male. So my life takes its own individualized course.  Equality becomes very situational.  My parents are deprived of a lineage since I as an only child.  I develop the ability to find a lot of satisfaction in the projection of certain fantasy material, which can have artistic and expressive value.  I take on fewer responsibilities (not having kids) and less debt, so I have more disposable income even if I am in a sense “less than equal”.  But I can be called upon to make sacrifices for those who have kids – that might happen in the military (it didn’t, but it could have), or I could wind up having to raise a relative’s child (again, it didn’t, but the “Raising Helen” scenario has happened in other families).  What does equality really mean in this interpretation?  It seems that personal morality encompasses a lot more that owning up to one’s own choices in the narrow libertarian sense.

Name:  “The Freedom to Marry
Director, writer:  Eddie Rosenstein
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Amazon 2017/7/4, also iTunes
Length: 88
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Roco
Link:  official

(Posted: Wednesday, July 5, 2017 at 11:30 AM EDT)