World record-shatterer Usain Bolt and the Jamaican sprinters dominated the Olympics track and field championships as the US team mostly disappointed.
** HILLARY CLINTON RELEASING HER DELEGATES. According to a well-informed source, Hillary Clinton is releasing her delegates from their pledge to vote for her at the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Clinton herself, as a super-delegate, will be voting for Barack Obama.
So much for a much bandied-about fantasy of a close vote between Obama and Clinton.
** OLYMPICS THOUGHTS. I’m a huge Olympics fan. And one of my little rituals as a one-time track guy is to run a time trial on the same day as the 4 x 100 meter relay. My experience ended up better than the American team(s), in the sense that I met my goal. The US men and women both dropped the baton in the prelims — in an amazing display that saved them from losing in the Olympic finals — whereas I merely dropped my chassis in the form of what has turned out to be a very sore lumbar area. Chalk it up to advancing age, and spending far too much time sitting looking and typing in front of computer screens.
So on to some thoughts on the Games. A fantastic Olympiad. Clearly a major marker in China’s emergence as a great power on the global stage. Spectacular venues. Spectacular performance by Chinese athletes, who bested our Americans in the gold medal hunt though losing in the overall medal count.
Russia, already asserting itself again as a global military and energy power, was third in the Olympic medals count.
Michael Phelps. What to say. Eight gold medals. Seven world records. The one performance not a world record was a victory by 0.01 seconds. Which I can’t show you because NBC won’t allow it. More about NBC’s obnoxious coverage in a moment. Phelps shades the great Mark Spitz of 1972 Munich Olympics fame — the same Games scarred by the Islamic terrorist murders of Israeli Olympians — as the greatest Olympic swimmer in history. Barely. Although part of me says Spitz could beat him with today’s techniques and high tech swim suits. He’s certainly more articulate.
But is Phelps the greatest athlete of the Games? As a former age-group swimmer, I say yes. As a former track guy, I say no.
That other choice would be the amazing sprinter Usain Bolt of Jamaica. He won three gold medals, all in track world record fashion. Which happen to be among the most important world records around the globe. No one since Carl Lewis at the LA Olympics of ’84 has won those three gold medals. And Lewis didn’t set any world records. Bolt is the first to set world records in the 100 and 200 at the Olympics. And naturally, the first to do it in the 4 x 100 relay, as well. The guy just turned 22. Uh-oh.
100-meter dash. 200-meter dash. 400-meter relay.
Unlike the swimming records, track records don’t fall by the bushel-full. Swimming records require more endurance. Track records require more pounding. Nobody gets injured in a swim meet. In track … well, meet 2007 world 100-meter dash and 200-meter dash champ Tyson Gay, American’s great hope for these Games. Who didn’t actually make a final in the 2008 Olympics after hurting his hamstring in the national meet.
Also, swimming has more events available. I could construct a schedule in which Usain Bolt wins 7 gold medals. To his easy world record wins in the 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash, and 400-meter relay … add the 60-meter dash (a world indoor champs event), the 200-meter low hurdles (an old-time event), the 4 x 200-meter relay (Jamaica owned the sprints), and the sprint medley relay. All have equivalent swimming events.
So it evens out. Call Phelps and Bolt the co-MVPs of these spectacular Olympics. Jamaica, incidentally, which dominated the Olympic spring events amongs both men and women, is one one-hundredth the population of the US.
Now, the US men’s basketball team achieved redemption over past failures by absolutely dominating the rest of the world. NBA’s stars like LA Lakers great Kobe Bryant and Dwayne Wade of the Miami Heat joined with other stars to play as a team and destroy every opponent they faced. The US women’s team also dominated. As did, after an opening misstep, a new generation US women’s soccer team.
There were many other great American performances.
But the rest of the world, especially China and Russia, is closer to America. Which actually reflects the emerging balance of power.
One other thought about the Olympics. NBC achieved the biggest ratings for its Olympics coverage in American history. (Uh, so much for all the inside baseball coverage of politics during the Games …) But, frankly, as much as I appreciated seeing it on my TV, I hated NBC’s coverage.
That is because I already knew what was happening. For the events most important to me, MANY HOURS IN ADVANCE.
I knew about Usain Bolt’s utterly spectacular world record performances in the 100-meter dash (he broke his own record despite celebrating 15 meters before the finish), 200-meter dash (breaking Michael Johnson’s record which many thought would last till 2040), and 4 x 100-meter relay (shattering America’s record which many thought would last another decade), 12 to 16 hours before NBC got around to airing them.
In the cyber age, this is preposterous and unconscionable coverage. Equally preposterous and unconscionable is NBC’s practice of knocking down all full-motion video depiction of these amazing events.
ESPN is talking about showing these events live in 2012 with the London Olympics. Let’s hope they get the chance to take Olympics coverage out of the 1960s.
** SUNDAY — WHERE THEY ARE TODAY.
Barack Obama is in Wisconsin. He visited a Lutheran church and is holding a barbeque in Eau Claire. Obama is hitting key Midwest and Mountain West states heading into his Thursday acceptance of the Democratic presidential nomination in Denver.
John McCain is off the campaign trail. His campaign has another attack ad out on the Obama veep pick, this one charging that Hillary Clinton was left off the ticket because she spoke the truth. Unclear where it’s airing on a paid basis.
The Dark Knight is clearly the movie of the year.
DARK KNIGHT AMERICA *
A lot of chatter about veeps, much more focus on the Olympics. There’s one thing we do know about where America is now.
When America is in a dark mood, Batman pictures do well. America is in a very dark mood. As we note pretty much every day on my New West Notes.
The presidential candidates are trying to punch through the Olympics, and a deep summer malaise, prior to their back-to-back national convention infomercials.
With very limited success for all the effort. One thing they know they can’t alter is the national mood. The national mood is dark. And in this milieu, The Dark Knight, sequel to the 2005 franchise reboot Batman Begins, is shattering box office records. Fastest to $100 million. Fastest to $200 million and $300 million. Fastest to $400 million, over twice as fast as the previous record.
The Dark Knight has continued and expanded upon the recent vogue of superhero movies. After last weekend, the picture, released on July 18th, has rocketed to number two on the all-time domestic box office list. With a stunning $475 million today, it’s second only to Titanic.
John McCain says this is his favorite movie. But does he really get it? I happen to know that a number of his top people have not seen the picture.
Naturally, lots of explanations are offered for the success of this dark and violent movie — hardly a date movie — moving into titanic territory. The Dark Knight is a darkly epic comic book picture starring the late Heath Ledger as an anarchistic terrorist calling himself The Joker, the always excellent Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman, and an all-star cast of actors filled with Oscar winners and indie film faves. It’s expertly directed by Christopher Nolan, with hugely expensive set piece action sequences and plenty of memorable lines.
Then there is the late Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker. As much as I enjoyed Jack Nicholson in the same role 19 years ago, Ledger is far more impactful. Fittingly, like the shark in Jaws, which he greatly resembles in a metaphorical sense, the Joker has his own musical motif signaling danger. An electronically twisted one-note affair from Hans Zimmer that is notably unsettling.
Perhaps all this is why Dark Knight quickly roared past such recent blockbusters as The Lord of the Rings movies, the Star Wars prequels, and the Spiderman and Pirates of the Caribbean franchises, not to mention this year’s return of Indiana Jones, finally passing the much re-issued original Star Wars last weekend.
But all that probably doesn’t account for the phenomenon that Dark Knight, suddenly in a tie for best movie of all time with The Godfather on the Internet Movie Database, has become.
Many on the right amusingly claim that Batman is a metaphor for George W. Bush. Or, heh, Dick Cheney.
Meanwhile, it has Aaron Eckhart as Bobby Kennedy-type District Attorney Harvey Dent, the shining knight of the picture. Not a Bushie in sight. And somebody as the bin Laden analogue, naturally.
While some on the left say it’s really a liberal movie about the problems of the war on terror. That would be, ah, a liberal movie about a vigilante who nonetheless triumphs in the end.
The Dark Knight “takes the viewer on a sometimes traumatic but ultimately redemptive and humanistic journey towards a post-9/11 ethic”, writes Michael Dudley, of the Institute of Urban Studies, on AlterNet.
Kind of like, say, that noted liberal Dirty Harry. Count me as a Callahan fan. He’s no lefty, that is for sure.
More darkly on the left, it’s suggested that Batman actually attracts the evil he ends having to destroy. That Batman is happy to beat a confession out of the Joker, as American soldiers and agents have done at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. And even more sardonically, that the people of Gotham Batman thinks have opted to “believe in good” actually vote to blow up hundreds of people in order to save themselves. Batman wins in the end, but at what cost?
At much the same cost encountered by the heroes and heroines in another middle film of a trilogy, The Empire Strikes Back.
While the claims from the left are wrong-headed or sardonic — which is not to say they are wrong — those from the right, which have gotten much bigger play, are unintentionally amusing.
“There seems to me no question that The Dark Knight is at some level a paean of praise to the fortitude and moral courage that has been shown by George W Bush in this time of terror and war,” conservative screenwriter Andrew Klavan wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “Like W, Batman is vilified and despised for confronting terrorists in the only terms they understand. Like W, Batman sometimes has to push the boundaries of civil rights to deal with an emergency, certain that he will re-establish those boundaries when the emergency is past.”
Kyle Smith, film critic for the New York Post, says that Batman isn’t Bush, he’s Cheney! “Batman isn’t popular, partly because he’s a zealot and partly because he doesn’t bother to explain himself to the press. He is independently wealthy, having spent years as the head of an industrial company. His methods are disturbing, his operations bathed in darkness. He is misunderstood, mistrusted, endlessly pursued by the attack dogs of the night. And he lives in an undisclosed location. Isn’t it obvious? Batman is Dick Cheney with hair.”
What’s obvious is that the Joker is a much smarter and more capable — not to mention far funnier — version of Osama bin Laden. And that Bruce Wayne/Batman, for all his vigilante ruthlessness, is a much more scrupulous and competent character than the current cast of characters in La Maison Blanche.
Let’s go through the movie without spoiling it entirely for those few of you who haven’t seen it.
The Rendition. Bruce Wayne, in his guise as Batman, joins forces with Bobby Kennedyesque new DA Harvey Dent and good guy cop Jim Gordon to crack down on the Mob that has corrupted Gotham’s politics, journalism, and legal system. They decide to go after all those ill-gotten gains. Which are largely secreted offshore, where the legal system can’t get at them.
But as the Joker notes when he offers himself to the Mob bosses as their most unlikely of contractors, “Batman has no jurisdiction.” In a dramatic action totally outside the law, Bruce Wayne kidnaps the Mob’s financial mastermind, who is intimidated into giving up his clients.
The Big Roll-Up. With this intel, gotten outside the normal system, the organized crime system of Gotham is taken down in one fell swoop.
The Joker Empowered. As a result, the Mob hires the Joker to take down Batman. But the now empowered Joker, with huge resources at his command, has more in mind than that.
The Joker Creates Havoc. With a few well-placed blows, he creates havoc in Gotham. He’s not out to do what the Mob hired him to do, i.e., kill Batman. He’s out to unravel Gotham’s systems themselves, including the organized crime system. And he’s out to do something more.
The Forces of Order Escalate. As the Joker anticipates, Dent, Gordon and Wayne escalate in their efforts to bring him in, going further over the line as they become more frantic.
Batman Embraces Torture. Finally, Batman embraces torture, something he’d urged against earlier. But unlike on, say, 24, where Jack Bauer always quickly learns the truth from his swift torture sessions, what Batman thinks he learns isn’t quite right. Tragically.
The Joker Rolls Back The Plans. In fact, the Joker has anticipated their moves. He has baited them into doing what he wants. Kind of like Al Qaeda embroiling the US in the Middle East.
Batman Creates The Surveillance State. As Bruce Wayne realizes that the Joker is playing them perfectly, he uses his corporation’s technowizardry to turn Gotham into a surveillance state. All geared to finding the Joker. Which prompts Wayne Enterprise’s CEO, unlike the CEOs of our telecom giants after 9/11, to balk at this intrusion into private lives.
“Beautiful. Unethical. Dangerous … This is WRONG,” intones Lucius Fox, played by the great Morgan Freeman, as he examines Wayne’s program. And unlike Bush and Cheney, Wayne insists that the surveillance will be for one purpose only, time limited.
In the end … well, I’m not going to give away the ending. Some of you have undoubtedly not yet seen the movie, which I highly recommend.
In the end, Batman wins. And he loses. The Joker loses. And he wins.
Let’s give the final quote to the Joker, as he runs it down for Batman. “You see, madness, as you know, is like gravity. All it takes is a little push.”
Does this really sound like a movie extolling the greatness of the Bush/Cheney White House in its war on terror?
So the new Batman picture, for all its material success, ends in the same place as the current America, with the latter in rather less spectacular fashion.
Actually, without giving away the ending, The Dark Knight ends up in much the same place we find ourselves today.
Bereft of a clearcut hero. Having narrowly survived a fundamental assault against our essential selves. And wondering what comes next.
Both in terms of our attempts to protect ourselves against a threatening world. And in terms of our attempts to protect ourselves against our own worst instincts to protect ourselves.
John McCain’s attack ad against Barack Obama’s selection of Joe Biden as his vice president. Unclear where it’s airing for paid showings.
** BIDEN SEEN AS MUCH LESS LIBERAL THAN OBAMA. The new Rasmussen poll, owned by Republican Scott Rasmussen, which tends to report higher unfavorable numbers than other polls, shows Joe Biden to be the best known of all the potential veeps in play on the Democratic side. He’s viewed favorably by 43%, unfavorably by 38%. (He’s only at 65% amongst Democrats, so the favorable can go up.)
Intriguingly, he is viewed as a liberal by only 41%, far less than the number which sees Obama as liberal. Obama is viewed as a liberal by 63%, in this sounding.
Now here is an interesting question: When was the last time John McCain was above 44%?
** SO IT’S JOE. Not a surprise. Most players and strategists in the Democratic Party felt that Joe Biden, first elected to the Senate in 1972, current chairman of Foreign Relations and former chairman of Judiciary, was the best choice amongst the names in play.
He’s a motormouth, to be sure, who can talk so much he’s bound to say something dumb, he earned the enmity of the far right by leading the fight against would-be Supreme Court Justice Robert Bork (look for lots of attacks from the talk radio/blog crowd), and he had that plagiarism thing when he tried to run for president in 1987. He kept quoting a passage from British Labor leader Neil Kinnock, and one or two from Bobby Kennedy, which he usually attributed. Naturally, his opponents found footage when he neglected to do that.
The McCain campaign, of course, blasted the pick. But Republican Senators Dick Lugar and Chuck Hagel praised it.
That said, he’s a good pick. He’s a strong debater and a very good platform speaker. He’s smart, funny, charming, energetic and very knowledgeable. He’s Irish-Catholic, a native of Pennsylvania though he reps Delaware, relates well with white working class folks and is a longtime labor favorite. He’s also been strong on feminist issues. He has a compelling personal story, which you’ll hear a lot about, his son the state attorney general is deploying to Iraq shortly with his National Guard unit, and so on.
More to the point, he knows geopolitics very well. Has traveled the world extensively, and just got back from a mission to Georgia, where he was requested by the beleaguered young president who played right in to Russia’s hands. He’s been right on Afghanistan for years — next week I’ll run video of my asking him about Afghanistan — and has been predicting for a long time that Pakistan was going south.
I explained in my column yesterday, linked below, what Obama needs in a running mate.
He’s also a good-humored attack dog with a strong bite, as Rudy Giuliani learned to his chagrin last year … “A noun, a verb, and 9/11.”
More to say later.
** SATURDAY — WHERE THEY ARE TODAY.
Barack Obama is in Chicago and Springfield, Illinois. He appears at noon Pacific time with his vice president pick, Senate Foreign Relations chairman Joe Biden of Delaware at the historic Old State Capitol where he announced his candidacy in February 2007.
John McCain is at his ranch in Sedona, Arizona, off the campaign trail.
** “NEW COLD WAR” LEAVES VOTERS COOL BUT SHOWS OBAMA’S NEED. Given how tentative Barack Obama is in discussing geopolitics, his running mate is unusually important. But there’s some good news for Obama with regard to John McCain’s New Cold War rhetoric. If he and his team can engage successfully with the Vietnam War hero.
McCain’s hot rhetoric in the wake of the Russia-Georgia War — “We are all Georgians,” which of course hasn’t done a thing for Georgians — isn’t catching on. But McCain is still seen as the national security/geopolitics maven.
Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin’s plans are working and there are some bad repercussions for US policy coming down the pike. After a visit to Moscow by Syria’s president, Russia may be getting a naval base in Syria. And sending a task force with an aircraft carrier and subs to the Mediterranean, all the better to bollix up US strategy in the Middle East. And oil power Kazakhstan, not to be confused with the Borat fantasy, is moving under Moscow’s umbrella. … Yesterday’s column from my other blog.
** DARK KNIGHT AMERICA. All the hyperpartisan spin aside, here is where we are in a deeper cultural sense. The Dark Knight ends up in much the same place we find ourselves today. Bereft of a clearcut hero. Having narrowly survived a fundamental assault against our essential selves. And wondering what comes next. … From my other blog.
** FROM THE ARNOLD FILE. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is in LA, where he will have no public events this weekend. His recuperation from athroscopic knee surgery for a workout injury is proceeding without a hitch. So to speak.
** 24/7 LIVE TV NEWS FEED FROM RUSSIA TODAY. Russia has re-emerged as one of the world’s great powers. Click here for a live TV news feed on your computer, bringing you English-language, jargon-free, fast-paced coverage of global and Russian news from the new Russia Today channel. You probably already know about CNN International, BBC World, and Al Jazeera. Russia Today, which also features culture, entertainment, and sports, is based in Moscow and is owned and operated by the TV Novosti division of Russia’s state news agency, RIA Novosti.
While it’s quite foolish to expect to see, say, criticism of Vladimir Putin on Russia Today, which I know as a former DemRussia advisor, the channel is very interesting nonetheless. With U.S. cable news chattering away as it does, this sort of respite can be informative. The NWN live link to RT does not constitute an endorsement of the channel’s views. It’s presented as an otherwise unavailable new media window.
** TRACK GLOBAL AND U.S. ENERGY PRICES IN NEAR REAL TIME VIA BLOOMBERG ENERGY MARKET WATCH. After crashing over $147 for yet another record on July 11th, crude oil closed on Friday at $114.59 per barrel. Energy markets are closed on the weekend.
The drop of over $33 per barrel comes on acknowledgement that the weak US economy will cut future demand and the easing of geopolitical tensions in the Middle East. The Russian war with Georgia, confounding much speculation and reporting to the contrary, actually decreased the geopolitical risk premium. Though the repercussions may not.
Your posts are welcome in the Forum.