Tuesday, October 17, 2017

How to unlock your inner Leonardo da Vinci

By Alexander C. Kafka
October 12, 2017
Image result for leonardo da vinci walter isaacson
Would you hire this guy?
The candidate is hopeless with deadlines and alternates between undisciplined meandering and grandiose hyperactivity. When he isn’t sketching birds, he’s making fruitless plans to reroute rivers, build cities or create absurd flying machines. When he does focus on a project, it’s with a febrile intensity, drawing, say, page after page of triangles or sadistic war machines. More disturbing, he habitually dissects corpses — humans, pigs, whatever’s at hand. He’s restless, moving with proteges and hangers-on from one town to another, leaving contractual agreements unfulfilled.
A risky prospect at best, this mercurial Leonardo from Vinci.
Then again, he did create arguably the two most iconic works of art in Western history: the Last Supper and the Mona Lisa. His drawing of Vitruvian Man is the classic representation of the Renaissance spirit. And if it weren’t for those thousands of pages of forward-thinking sketches on geology, geometry, light, anatomy, astronomy, biblical history, military strategy, hydrodynamics, flight, neuropsychology, ophthalmology and countless other topics, his few surviving paintings wouldn’t be the masterworks that they are. Nor would we know so much about this peculiar, haunted, wonderful man who was, in so many ways, centuries ahead of his time.
He comes to life in all his remarkable brilliance and oddity in Walter Isaacson’s ambitious new biography, “Leonardo da Vinci.” Isaacson’s previous biographical subjects include Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs — restless, driven men who, like Leonardo, had bisected personalities: one half solitary pioneer, the other half inspirational team leader. For all of them, the unifying element was an insatiable, lifelong appetite for knowledge.
Tinkering and touching up his work for years upon years, Leonardo took quality over quantity to an extreme. He hauled the Mona Lisa around with him, sometimes strapped to a mule, for 14 years, adding a minute speck of new paint here or there until the 30-some layers of brush strokes over a special lead white undercoat on wood vanished into that spookily three-dimensional visage with eyes that follow and a suppressed smile that teases and taunts. Leonardo’s obsessive dissections of lip muscles were key, as were his studies of the eye, to his virtuoso sfumato, a technique of working shades and colors into one another to form indistinct boundaries that feel psychologically subtle and alive.
In “Leonardo da Vinci,” Isaacson’s approach, true to his background, is fundamentally journalistic. No intellectual peacocking for him, and though his writing is certainly graceful, it is never needlessly ornate. But make no mistake: He knows his stuff, crowdsourcing, with extreme diligence, an array of art, historical, medical and other experts to arrive at a vigorous, insightful portrait of the world’s most famous portraitist. Da Vinci groupies won’t find startling revelations here. Isaacson’s purpose is a thorough synthesis, which he achieves with flair.
He seems drawn to da Vinci’s own reportorial instincts. The artist often carried a notebook tied to his belt for his observational sketches as well as his questions, lists, fantasies and jokes. He moved easily among not just artists and musicians (he played the lyre and the flute) but scientists, doctors and engineers, peppering them with questions and sometimes collaborating with them.
Isaacson, ever seeking the human aspects of the icons he studies, sieves off as much gelatinous mystique as he can from the obscuring label of “genius.” Charmingly, he ends his book with worthy lessons to be learned from Leonardo. Among these are “be curious, relentlessly curious,” “seek knowledge for its own sake,” “start with the details,” “go down the rabbit holes.” Not listed, but surely helpful, would be “possess a one-in-a-billion innate visual talent” that early on astonished Verrocchio, the Florentine artist with whom Leonardo apprenticed. Isaacson’s vote of confidence in the rest of us is uplifting all the same.
It’s fun when Isaacson occasionally discovers that despite or because of his research, he’s got some opinions of his own, thank you very much. The esteemed art historian Kenneth Clark, for instance, although finding the Last Supper “the keystone of European art,” considered the movement of its characters snapshotty, or “frozen.” “I think not,” pipes up Isaacson in an endearingly rebellious turn. “Look longer at the picture. It vibrates with Leonardo’s understanding that no moment is discrete, self-contained, frozen, delineated, just as no boundary in nature is sharply delineated.” You go, Walter! Don’t let those tweedy types push you around.
If Leonardo’s life reads like a wide-screen epic, that hasn’t escaped Hollywood’s attention. Paramount has bought the rights for a movie adaptation of Isaacson’s book with Leonardo DiCaprio playing his namesake. Here is Machiavelli (oh, please let it be Joaquin Phoenix), lip muscles of his own in full enigmatic, conniving overtime, working his connections with Cesare Borgia and Leonardo. Here’s Francis I, king of France (Russell Crowe or Hugh Jackman?), finally offering to the artist in his final years the no-strings-attached patronage he’s always sought, and cradling Leonardo’s gray-bearded head as he expires. Or not. But it’s a good story, and Ingres couldn’t resist it in his painting the Death of Leonardo.
Where the historical record is a little scant, the imagination kicks in — and Leonardo wouldn’t have had it any other way. Enjoying his own reportorial sfumato, Isaacson writes: “As always with Leonardo, in his art and in his life, in his birthplace and now even in his death, there is a veil of mystery. . . . As he knew, the outlines of reality are inevitably blurry, leaving a hint of uncertainty that we should embrace.”
Alexander C. Kafka has written about books and the arts for The Washington Post, the Boston Globe and the Chicago Tribune.

Yes, Trump is Winning

October 15, 2017
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President Trump signed an executive order on health care in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Thursday. (CNN)
Last week, I went to a dinner event at social club of which I am a member but rarely patronize. You will guess why when I tell you I ran into a friend of longstanding—someone I know well, but hadn’t seen in a couple of years—and she greeted me with the exclamation, “Here’s a Trumpster!” I could see that that was partly for the benefit of the gents she was talking to, a sort of tribal-marking announcement (“He’s one of those, boys”) but I couldn’t immediately tell whether the glint in her eye was friendly or otherwise. She soon cleared up that ambiguity. I said something about “our president.” “He’s not my president,” she snapped, adding that Donald Trump was deeply unpopular and would probably be driven from office soon.
“Actually,” I offered, “his approval ratings are on the rise.”
“So were Mussolini’s,” came the icy rejoinder.
Got it. At least I knew where we stood.
One is encouraged to leave politics at the front door of this particular club (unlike London’s “Other Club” where Rule 12 stipulates that “Nothing in the rules or intercourse of the Club shall interfere with the rancour or asperity of party politics”). But so thoroughly pink is the majority of the membership that the issue rarely arises. For the herd of independent minds, unanimity is a consoling patent of authenticity. “We all believe this, ergo it must be true—indeed, it is invisible. It simply is.”
Hence a defining irony of the contemporary progressive (one cannot truthfully call it “liberal”) dispensation: convinced that their opinions represent not their opinions but, on the contrary, that they mirror a virtuous state of nature, they regard dissent not as disagreement but as either heresy or insanity. The former calls for condemnation or ostracism, the latter for pity tinctured by contempt.
Donald Trump has introduced several novelties into this dynamic. From the point of view of my (I suspect former) friend, Trump is both (never mind the contradiction) an impossibility and an affront. Everyone she talks to knows this.
And yet on the ground, in the real world, Trump is methodically pushing ahead with the agenda he campaigned on. That includes:
  1. Nominating judges and justices who can be counted on to interpret and enforce the law but do not endeavor to use the law to promote their social agenda;
  2. Addressing the problem of illegal immigration and securing the borders of the United States;
  3. Developing America’s vast energy resources;
  4. Rolling back the regulatory state, especially the administrative overreach of agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency;
  5. Pursuing policies that put America, and American workers, first, not to the detriment of our relationships with our international partners but through a recognition that strength and sovereign independence make nations more reliable actors;
  6. Restoring the combat readiness and morale of the United States military;
  7. Simplifying the U.S. tax code, making it more competitive for U.S. businesses and more equitable for individuals;
  8. Getting a handle on the unconstitutional and shockingly inefficient monstrosity ironically called the Affordable Care Act;
  9. Putting a stop to the obscene violation of due process that Title IX fanatics brought to college campuses across the country.
And many other initiatives large and small.
In all of these areas, Trump is proceeding not as a wrecking ball but as a deliberate, if often voluble and sometimes exasperating, agent of change.
On the campaign trail, Trump promised that, if elected, the American people would start “winning” again. “You’ll have so much winning,” he said, “you’ll get bored with winning.”
Now, almost nine months into his first term, how is he doing? Real unemployment is on the wane. The stock market is at an historic high. So is consumer confidence. Illegal immigration is down nearly 70 percent. America is now a net exporter of energy. Just a few days ago, Trump declined to re-certify the malevolent nuclear deal that Obama made with Iran, winning from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu this commendation: “I congratulate President Trump for his courageous decision today. He boldly confronted Iran’s terrorist regime. . . . If the Iran deal is left unchanged, one thing is absolutely certain—in a few years’ time, the world’s foremost terrorist regime will have an arsenal of nuclear weapons and that’s a tremendous danger for our collective future.”
Just a couple of days ago, Trump, having been disappointed by a supine Republican Congress, issued an executive order that will make it easier for people to band together to obtain health insurance tailored to their needs (instead of being forced into federally defined, one-size-fits-all plans) while also ending the unconstitutional federal subsidies (unconstitutional because the money wasn’t appropriated by Congress) to big insurance companies, amounting to some $7 billion per year (the price of getting those companies on board with Obamacare in the first place).
In any normal world, these would be called significant accomplishments. But in the NeverTrump bubble, none of these victories can evade the protective refracting mirrors that intercept and distort the message. For months, the Huffington Post ran the following disclaimer after every article about Trump: “Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims—1.6 billion members of an entire religion—from entering the U.S.” Even now, according to the Pew Research Center, only 5 percent of news stories about Trump are positive.
Moreover, in the surreal and paranoid precincts of the NeverTrump bubble, fake news and outright fabrication proliferate. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is going to quit—say “sources”—only he isn’t. Chief of Staff John Kelly is keeping people from seeing Trump, is irritated by his tweets, is frustrated by the president’s behavior. Only he isn’t. As Kelly said at a press conference last week, Trump’s agenda is pursuing “what’s good for America.” Asked directly whether Trump’s tweets made his job more difficult, Kelly said “No.” Trump himself he described as a “decisive” and “thoughtful” man of action who was sometimes impatient with the slow-moving habits of Congress. His chief frustration, said Kelly, was with the press for reporting things that were simply not true. Asked by one reporter what he expected them to do, he said: “Maybe develop better sources.”
Kelly’s presser represented a wrinkle in the bubble—there are more and more of them these days—and it will be interesting to watch what happens when the wind finally changes.
Trump’s victorious battle with the NFL represents another wrinkle in the bubble. Football is supposed to be a beloved American pastime, not an opportunity for overpaid beefcakes to act out their adolescent political grievances. So far, it’s Trump:1. NFL: 0.
Over the past several weeks, one source of putative moral authority after the next has been snatched from the Left. The Harvey-Weinstein-Ben-Affleck-Oliver-Stone sexual assault nexus has broken a spell that not even mega-donations to the Clinton Foundation can redeem. When Donald Trump went to Warsaw and spoke up in defense of “Western civilization,” the NeverTrump bubble vibrated with cacophonous vituperation. How dare he!?
But he did dare, and just this week Trump upped the ante and announced that his administration was “returning moral clarity to our view of the world,” “stopping cold the attacks on Judeo-Christian values,” including those who condemn people for wishing one another “Merry Christmas.”
There’s a disturbance in the bubble. What just happened to the NFL and Hollywood is happening in many other avenues of our culture. Sometimes, when a thunderstorm is nigh, the wind suddenly shifts and picks up, the birds get nervous, and you can feel the storm arriving before the rain actually starts. I believe that is about to happen in American culture, though who exactly will be left standing out in the rain is a little unclear. I do expect, however, that fewer and fewer redoubts of anti- or NeverTrump complacency will remain as his policies continue to deliver winning scenarios for Americans. Maybe the next time I go to that club there will be less Mussolini and more comity.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Review: In ‘Blade Runner 2049,’ Hunting Replicants Amid Strangeness

By A.O. Scott
October 2, 2017

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A lot of the movies released in the late 1970s and early ’80s have spawned franchises, merchandising empires and what we are now invited to call “cinematic universes.” “Blade Runner,” Ridley Scott’s initially underrated1982 adaptation of a novel by Philip K. Dick, accomplished something more unusual. It sent tendrils of influence — pictorial, conceptual and spiritual — into every corner of the culture and inspired a mystery cult.

Like other sacred texts, the film invites doctrinal arguments and esoteric inquiries. One of my fondest memories as a father and a film critic is of an impromptu post-screening seminar with two 11-year-olds about occult meanings and hidden clues in the director’s cut. How do we know (if indeed we do know) that Harrison Ford is a replicant? What is the significance of the origami horse? Are Sean Young’s shoulder pads for real?

Alongside these basic interpretive questions, an academic subfield has blossomed, isolating “Blade Runner” as one of the original symptoms ofpostmodernism, a terminal and interminable disease of the mind. The film’s blend of curatorial nostalgia and dystopian prophecy captured a mood of self-conscious melancholy in its moment and set a tone of melancholy self-consciousness that has endured ever since. Maybe the real world never quite achieved the smoky neon-noir glow of Mr. Scott’s Los Angeles, but the map of our collective dream world was permanently redrawn.

The precise future “Blade Runner” projected is now less than two years away, and the next chapter, once something to be dreaded, seems, if anything, overdue. “Blade Runner 2049,” directed by Denis Villeneuve from a script by Hampton Fancher and Michael Green, tries both to honor the original and to slip free of its considerable shadow. That’s no easy feat, and it’s worth noting right away that, in narrow movie terms, Mr. Villeneuve, who also directed “Arrival,” mostly succeeds. From the opening aerial shots of a thoroughly denatured agricultural landscape and the lethal confrontation that follows, we know we are in the presence of a masterly visual tactician and a shrewd storyteller.

We are also in territory that is both familiar and disorienting. A brief note explains what has and hasn’t changed in the 30 years since the events in the first “Blade Runner.” Three-wheeled spinners still zoom through the California skies, and the building-size video advertisements have evolved into seductive, R-rated holograms. The titular profession — hunting down and “retiring” renegade members of the almost-human, genetically engineered android species known as replicants — is practiced with the same brutal doggedness as in the old days.

A new, more obedient type of replicant has been developed by a corporation led by a tech visionary played by Jared Leto. (His lieutenant Luv is played by Sylvia Hoeks, a far more vivid and persuasively terrifying presence than the mannered Mr. Leto.) One of these models is our hero, an L.A.P.D. employee known as K. (It’s an abbreviation of his serial number and also, maybe, an allusion to Franz Kafka’s avatar of modern alienation. That poor fellow’s full name was Josef K; when this K acquires a human pseudonym, it’s Joe.)

Speaking of avatars of alienation, K moves through his days with the unhurried shuffle and downcast baby blues of Ryan Gosling. This is impeccable casting. Mr. Gosling’s ability to elicit sympathy while seeming too distracted to want it — his knack for making boredom look like passion and vice versa — makes him a perfect warm-blooded robot for our time. He is also, in 2017, something close to what Harrison Ford was 35 years ago: the contemporary embodiment of Hollywood’s venerable ideal of masculine cool, a guy whose toughness will turn out to be the protective shell encasing a tender soul.

At first, of course, we must take that sensitivity on faith. K does his grim job thoroughly and without complaint, showing the weary, cynical patience of an old-time shamus. His commander (Robin Wright) is a human who believes that everything depends on policing the border between her kind and K’s. The whole point of “Blade Runner,” though, is that such boundaries are always blurred and porous. K comes home each night from work to the company of Joi (Ana de Armas), his devoted girlfriend, who happens to be a commercially produced artificial intelligence application.

We are prepared to acknowledge the pathos and the paradox of her condition, which is a version of K’s own. The idea that synthetic humans harbor feelings, desires and dreams — that they are mirrors of us, that we are replicas of them — has long been a staple of speculative cinema. “Blade Runner 2049” does not wander as deep into this ontological thicket as, say, Steven Spielberg’s “A.I.” or Spike Jonze’s “Her,” but like those movies it uses the conceit of the suffering cyborg as ethical and emotional ballast, a spur to the audience’s curiosity as well as our compassion. A political theme also asserts itself: These replicants are an enslaved labor force; their exploitation is the fuel on which this civilization runs.

There is a something to think about here, a fair amount to feel and even more to see. Mr. Villeneuve has conspired with the cinematographer, Roger A. Deakins; the production designer, Dennis Gassner; and the special effects team to create zones of strangeness that occasionally rise to the level of sublimity. The movies Mr. Villeneuve has directed — his recent English-language features include “Sicario,” “Prisoners” and “Arrival” — are full of violence and psychological intensity, but what distinguishes them from other high-end genre spectacles is an unnerving calm, as if he were exploring and trying to synthesize the human and mechanical sides of his own sensibility.

Movies are by their nature hybrids of technology and sentiment, machines for the delivery of human emotion. The first “Blade Runner” approached this as a philosophical problem and an artistic challenge. Mr. Scott used imagery borrowed from old Hollywood, German Expressionism and the nascent art of music video to create a dazzlingly artificial environment where authenticity was out of the question. Except, of course, that it wasthe question: How do we know what is real, ourselves included?

“I know what’s real,” says the hero of that movie when — at long last! — he shows up in this one. K finds Deckard, the original Blade Runner (Mr. Ford, as if I needed to tell you), in an abandoned Las Vegas casino, surrounded by shimmering bottles of whiskey and primitive 3-D projections of Elvis and Frank Sinatra. Mr. Gosling, suddenly overmatched in the masculine cool department, acquits himself well enough, and Mr. Ford does exactly what you expect him to do.

Which is not something I’m going to explain, at least as far as it relates to the story. The studio has been unusually insistent in its pleas to critics not to reveal plot points. That’s fair enough, but it’s also evidence of how imaginatively impoverished big-budget movies have become. Like any great movie, Mr. Scott’s “Blade Runner” cannot be spoiled. It repays repeated viewing because its mysteries are too deep to be solved and don’t depend on the sequence of events. Mr. Villeneuve’s film, by contrast, is a carefully engineered narrative puzzle, and its power dissipates as the pieces snap into place. As sumptuous and surprising as it is from one scene to the next, it lacks the creative excess, the intriguing opacity and the haunting residue of its predecessor.

As such, “Blade Runner 2049” stands in relation to “Blade Runner” almost exactly as K stands in relation to Deckard before the two meet: as a more docile, less rebellious “improvement,” tweaked and retrofitted to meet consumer demand. And the customers are likely to be satisfied. But now and then — when K and Deckard are knocking around the old gambling palace; when K visits an enigmatic mind-technician played by Carla Juri — you get an inkling that something else might have been possible. Something freer, more romantic, more heroic, less determined by the corporate program.

Then again: Who knows at this point if that sense of loss, of lost possibility, is even real? It might be nothing more than an artificially implanted memory.

[Harrison Ford and Ryan Gosling Discuss “Blade Runner 2049”]

[The “Blade Runner 2049” Look]

“Blade Runner 2049”: The Mysteries Deepen

By Anthony Lane
October 16th Issue

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The good news about life on Earth, thirty-two years from now, is that people still listen to Frank Sinatra. In “Blade Runner 2049,” the land is the color of a corpse, and the skies are no better. The only tree is sapless and dead, and the only farmer is harvesting weevils for protein. The Voice, however, is unimpaired. True, Sinatra is no more than a hologram, crooning to a couple of folks in the shell of a Las Vegas hot spot, and yet, when he sings the words “Set ’em up, Joe,” you soften and melt as if it were 1954 and he were singing them to Doris Day, hushing a crowded room, in “Young at Heart.”

By a nice twist, there is a Joe around. He’s with the L.A.P.D., and he’s officially called KD6.3-7 (Ryan Gosling), or K, for short, but somebody suggests Joe, and it lends him a little flavor. He needs a real name, not least because it makes him sound like a real person—shades of Pinocchio, who longed to be a real boy. In fact, K is a Blade Runner: a synthetic human known as a replicant, physically redoubtable and emotionally dry, whose job is to find and to “retire” (a ghoulish euphemism) any early-model replicants who are still out there. They have “open-ended lifespans,” and immortality, as ever, is not to be trusted. Such is the premise of Denis Villeneuve’s ambitious sequel to Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner,” which came out in 1982 and was set, with startling powers of premonition, in 2019. It starred Harrison Ford as Deckard, a cop who hunted down rogue replicants across Los Angeles—a joyless Babel, blitzed by neon glare and lashed by the whip of dirty rain. That was the future back then. How’s it looking now?

Well, the rain hasn’t stopped. Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink; most of it is contaminated, and when K takes a shower it’s over in a two-second blast. The director of photography, Roger Deakins, delights in drowning our senses: enemies clash by night in a frothing torrent, at the foot of a dam, and, in one telling image, K’s boss, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), is barely visible through a window, such is the deluge streaming across the panes. “It is my job to keep order,” she says, and that order is coming adrift. K has been sent out of town to confront a hulking replicant named Sapper Morton. (He is played by Dave Bautista, who gets better and more solid, if that is possible, with every film.) What K discovers, buried on Morton’s property, is a box of bones, and what the bones reveal is unthinkable: a secret that could undermine the near-fascistic system, upheld by Joshi, whereby replicants do the bidding of humanity. If replicants were to rise up or—perish the thought—to reproduce, there might be no way to contain them.

Not that the film is a hymn to revolution. It runs for nearly three hours, and it looms as large as an epic, with a score, by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, that feels at times like an onslaught of monumental thuds. Yet the bastions of power—the corporate ziggurats of L.A., cliff-high and elephant gray, which viewers of the first film will recall with awe—remain in place, unbreached, and the hordes at ground level seethe not with a lust for liberation but with a busy trade in high-tech assistance and lowly sexual favors. Moreover, the plot is a small and coiled affair, involving a missing child, and the mood is as inward as anything in the annals of Philip Marlowe, with a dose of Marlowe’s glum self-bullying, as K investigates not only historical crimes but his own potential presence in the labyrinth of the past. The movie doesn’t seem slow, but its clues are minuscule—a single piano key depressed beside its neighbors, a serial number visible only under a microscope—and the action sequences flare up against a backdrop of inaction and an existential dread of getting stuck. The result is at once consuming and confounding, a private puzzle cached inside a blockbuster.

One coup, for Villeneuve, is the return of Harrison Ford, as Deckard. The surprise was sprung in a trailer, months ago, raising expectations that the new movie might clear up the conundrum that has plagued the brains of “Blade Runner” fans since 1982: Is Deckard himself a replicant? I am pleased to report that I still can’t decide. Undying he may or may not be, but he is certainly aging, with a halting gait and a bottle of Johnnie Walker close at hand. He lives alone with—guess what—a shaggy dog, pouring whiskey onto the floor for the mutt to lap at. Ford is splendidly grizzled and gruff, giving the film a necessary rasp, and he even shakes up Ryan Gosling. I happen to like Gosling in hangdog mode, when he yields to the pressure of sentiment, as in “Blue Valentine” (2010), but many of his worshippers prefer the cool constraint that he showed in “Drive” (2011), and that is mostly what we get here. K is an android, after all, who can walk away from a bloody fight without a squeak of complaint, and one purpose of the film is to probe that calm fa├žade. Hence the two scenes in which, after a mission, he is interrogated not by a superior but by a computer that stares at him, with an unblinking lens, and performs a “Post-Trauma Baseline Test.” K must respond to certain words and phrases: “Cells,” “Interlinked,” “A Tall White Fountain Played.” The first time he takes the test, he passes. Later in the film, he fails.

What the hell is going on here, and what does it tell us about the relation of “Blade Runner 2049” to the original? Decode the test, and you realize that the computer is quoting verse:
Cells interlinked within cells interlinked
Within one stem. And dreadfully distinct
Against the dark, a tall white fountain played.
The lines come from Nabokov’s “Pale Fire,” a novel that wraps a poem inside a commentary. The mixture is rich in murder and madness, and you can go crazy, too, piecing together the components of the book; what matters is that each gorges on the other, and so it is with the two parts of “Blade Runner.” The second film doesn’t explicate the first so much as compound its mystery, and, in some respects, I envy those who don’t have to wrestle with the comparison. Younger viewers who’ve never seen Scott’s movie will be granted a delicious jolt as the fully formed dystopia rises out of nowhere to greet their virginal gaze. They can relish the spectacle of K’s police car in flight, while we veterans get a kick out of the newfangled drone that detaches from its roof and, at K’s casual command, goes sniffing around like a gundog. And, if the newbies thrill to Sylvia Hoeks as a Terminator-style replicant, assigned to track the hero in his quest, try not to ruin their fun by mentioning Rutger Hauer, who, shouldering a similar role in 1982, brought us the poetry of implacability. The new film’s idea of an arch-villain is Jared Leto, who has milky orbs for eyes, and who gives the impression, as in last year’s “Suicide Squad,” of an actor straining a little too hard, with dialogue to match: “You do not know what pain is. You will learn.”

Despite all the overlaps, this is not a simulacrum of a Ridley Scott film. It is unmistakably a Denis Villeneuve film, inviting us to tumble, tense with anticipation, into his doomy clutches. “Prisoners” (2013) was as welcoming as a dungeon, and, in “Blade Runner 2049,” the light is no longer, as Nabokov had it, “dreadfully distinct / Against the dark,” for the darkness has overcome it. San Diego is a waste dump, and Las Vegas lurks in a tangerine dream of radioactive smog. And yet, within the gloom, what miracles unfold. Brace yourself for the delivery of a new replicant, not born as a baby but slithering out from a plastic sheath as an instant adult, slimy with fabricated vernix and quaking at the shock of being alive. Suddenly, the lofty questions that swarm around artificial intelligence—Could the feelings familiar to mankind abound within the man-made? Could an operating system grow a soul?—reach a breathtaking consummation, and become flesh.

More wondrous still is Ana de Armas, who plays Joi, a digital program that in turn plays K’s live-in girlfriend. It is no coincidence that Villeneuve’s best films, “Sicario” (2015) and “Arrival” (2016), feature a woman at their center, and, whenever Joi appears, the movie’s imaginative heart begins to race. Upon request, she manifests herself in K’s apartment, switching outfits in a shimmer—a vision that smacks of servility, except that it’s he who seems beholden to her. Gosling looks happiest in these scenes, perhaps because happiness, albeit of the simulated sort, hovers within K’s grasp. And what a simulation: at one point, Joi uses an Emanator, which allows her to escape her virtual self and to experience mortal sensations—the prick of rain on her skin, naturally, and a tangible embrace. Has science fiction, you want to ask, ever conjured a moment quite as romantic as this? And how can it possibly last? It can’t; K gets a voice mail that overrides Joi and freezes her, inches short of a kiss. Love is deleted, and the Blade Runner gets back to work. The future, unlike Heaven, can’t wait. ♦

This article appears in other versions of the October 16, 2017, issue, with the headline “Replicant Redux.”Anthony Lane has been a film critic for The New Yorker since 1993. Before coming to the magazine, he worked at the Independent, in London, where he was appointed deputy literary editor in 1989 and, a year later, a film critic for the Independent on Sunday. In 2001, his reviews received the National Magazine Award for Reviews and Criticism. His writings for The New Yorker are collected in the book “Nobody’s Perfect.”

Friday, October 13, 2017

No Documents in Obama Library? No Mystery There.

By Jack Cashill
October 13, 2017

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A rendering of the Obama Presidential Center.
Courtesy of the Obama Foundation

The Fox News headline sums up the issue at hand: "No Obama documents in Obama library? Historians puzzled by Chicago center plans." 

The article continues, "The Obama Foundation is taking an unconventional approach to the presidential center and library being planned in Chicago. It's opting to host a digital archive of President Barack Obama's records, but not keep his hard-copy manuscripts and letters and other documents onsite." 

The Chicago Tribune broke the story that, to this point, has attracted no major media attention.  Its headline raises much the same question Fox News did: "Without archives on site, how will Obama Center benefit area students, scholars?"

The Tribune tries to answer that question but succeeds only in pacifying Obama fanboys.  There is no good answer, but there is an answer, and it is this: Obama is not a literary genius.  In fact, Obama is not a particularly good writer.  His reputation would wither if researchers were allowed access to original documents.

To this day, Obama supporters in the media refuse to accept what is obvious to anyone who has looked carefully at his literary track record.  (Sorry, but I have vowed never to use the word "oeuvre" except as a punch line).

Earlier in 2017, when the question of Obama's gazillion-dollar presidential memoirs first surfaced, the publishing community showed just how much its studied ignorance affected its judgment.

"Mr. Obama's writing ability could make his memoir not only profitable in its first years but perhaps for decades to come," Gardiner Harris observed matter-of-factly in a September 2016 piece in the New York Times.  Harris speculated, in fact, that Obama's newest effort would be a book for the ages, not unlike the memoir of Ulysses S. Grant, which continues to sell.

The most vulnerable documents in the Obama treasure chest are the early drafts of his 1995 autobiography, Dreams from My Father, a book that Joe Klein, then with Timedeemed "the best-written memoir ever produced by an American politician."

On the strength of Dreams, British author Jonathan Raban designated Obama "the best writer to occupy the White House since Lincoln." 

This is all nonsense.  As I first documented at length in the American Thinker, Obama had massive help with Dreams, a book he publicly claimed to have written by his lonesome.  The evidence overwhelmingly points to Bill Ayers as the neighborhood muse.

I could write a book about this.  Come to think of it, I did.  It's called Deconstructing Obama, published by Simon & Schuster, the company that terminated Obama's first contract on the book that would become Dreams.

In his massive recent biography about Obama's pre-presidential years, Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama, Pulitzer Prize-winner David Garrow chose to cut this literary baby in half.

Yes, Obama had help with his 1995 masterpiece, Dreams from My Father, a lot of help, but it did not come from Ayers.  The help, Garrow argues unconvincingly, came from a law school buddy and economist named Rob Fisher.

Oddly, although denying Ayers's involvement in the book, Garrow reveals just how strong was the relationship between Ayers and Obama and how deep was the lie that protected it.

Dreams, of course, is just one reason the original documents cannot be shared.  Obama did not write his book Audacity of Hope in any meaningful sense of the word, either.  Ayers, in fact, dismissed Audacity as a "political hack book," and he was right.  The book seems to have been written by committee.

Then there are the speeches.  Raban was admittedly "disconcerted" to learn that Obama worked with twenty-something speechwriter Jon Favreau on his 2009 inaugural address.  The Obama of Raban's imagination did not need speechwriters, but, in fact, Obama had been relying on Favreau since the convention of 2004.

Obama has been relying on others all of his life.  To protect the lie that has sustained his literary reputation, he is willing to subvert the very function of a presidential library.

Indeed, the gleaming white Obama Presidential Center promises to be a $500-million shrine to the ethereal emptiness of the Obama experience.  It is a fitting tribute.

Read more: http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2017/10/no_documents_in_obama_library_no_mystery_there.html#ixzz4vOdjLzmp
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What Happens in Vegas Doesn't Stay in Reno

By Mark Steyn
October 12, 2017

Image result for stephen paddock
Stephen Paddock

As readers know, I have a low regard for conspiracy theories, mainly because the reasons the world is going to hell are pretty much staring us in the face. But I can't honestly blame anyone following the Las Vegas massacre story from taking refuge in any conspiracy theory, no matter how wild and zany. Almost a fortnight from the moment when 58 people were gunned down at a country-music festival, officialdom has so bungled the case that almost every single one of the most basic facts about the act are up for grabs.

As I had cause to remark over a week ago, I dislike the contamination of police press conferences by various politicians and bureaucrats all indulging in an orgy of mutual self-congratulation. But, in this case, the self-congratulation is entirely unwarranted. From the beginning this seemed an unusual crime that didn't seem to line up with any other mass shooting by a nutter who flips. It has only gotten weirder in the days since.

Earlier this week whichever branch of the Keystone Kops is running this show (apparently the Feds) completely reversed their timeline of the case. Previously we were told that Mandalay Bay security guard Jesus Campos had gone up to the 32nd floor to investigate an "open-door" alert and was a hero because his intervention had distracted the perp from killing even more people - and fortunately, even as Mr Campos was taking a bullet in his leg, the cops were already pounding up the stairs.

We're now told that that timeline was, in fact, back to front. Instead, Jesus Campos was investigating the door alert before the massacre even began. At 9.59pm, Paddock responded to Mr Campos' arrival by emptying 200 rounds into the 32nd floor corridor. Which seems a tad excessive. Paddock then apparently took a leisurely six-minute break before going over to the window and beginning his massacre. Which seems a tad excessively relaxed. What was he doing? Having a nice cup of tea? Calling down to room service? Your guess is as good as the coppers'.

But, at any rate, it seems someone else was on the scene - maintenance man Stephen Schuck, who was also forced to take cover from those 200 rounds:

As Mr Schuck says above, when the shooting began, he used his radio to call in what was happening - including the precise location of the room from which the shots were coming. That was six minutes before Paddock began firing on the crowd. So in theory the police could have gotten there in time to prevent, if not all, then many or most of the deaths at the concert.

But they didn't. Instead, Paddock fired on the crowd for ten minutes and then, despite having apparently prepared for a siege, decided to call a halt and shoot himself.
The Mandalay Bay resort is now disputing the police's revised timeline. They say that officers were already in the building when Campos radioed in that he was shot and, within 40 seconds, both police and hotel security were on the 32nd floor.
So that's three timelines. We're now told:
Police say the current timeline will be revised again by Friday.
I'll bet. While we're waiting, I'll confess that I dislike the current preferred jargonizing whereby the Sheriff announces that they're "working" various crime scenes. I don't know quite what's involved in "working" a crime scene but one would assume it includes at minimum securing the crime scene. Yet apparently not. Last weekend, Paddock's home in Reno was burgled. Just consider that for a moment: On Sunday night someone pulls off the worst single-shooter massacre in American history - and yet it's insufficient of a priority to the multiple federal, state and local agencies investigating it to prevent the supposed perpetrator's property being broken into under their noses.

That seems odd, don't you think? Sometimes, in unusual cases, sleepy small-town two-man police departments find themselves a wee bit overwhelmed, and sloppy things happen. But how can it happen with these resources in the most prominent investigation in the country?

It is unclear to the Keystone Kops what was taken from the Reno home. Of course. Since Day One, this entire case has been about what's missing, and what's missing seems to be getting larger. There appear to be four photographs of Stephen Paddock - three from many years ago, and a fourth that shows him with closed eyes. That's quite unusual in the age of Facebook and selfies. But it seems even more absurd for a guy who spent much of his time in a town where humanity is under closer scrutiny than almost anywhere on the planet. Long before computers and the Internet, Vegas casinos had cameras everywhere filming their patrons for the benefit of unseen eyes in the back office concerned to know what their customers are up to at every moment and from every angle. Yet there's only one solitary image that approximates to how Stephen Paddock looked on the night of October 1st?

Where's the footage of him bringing those bags into the hotel? When, come to that, did he check in to the Mandalay Bay? By now, this ever shifting, reversible "timeline" should at least have a verifiable starting date, shouldn't it? As "empty" as Paddock was a week and a half ago, he's getting emptier, and blanker: We're asked to believe that he made "millions" playing video poker - which is as likely, as Ann Coulter put it in an excellent column, as making millions by smoking crack. If, in the all but statistically impossible event he did manage to relieve the casinos' machines of millions of dollars, he would certainly not be additionally enriched by free hotel suites and complimentary $500-a-glass vintage port, as his brother claims. On the other hand, Steve Wynn, whose hotels Paddock stayed in over many years, says that the only unusual thing about the guy and his "girlfriend" was that neither was ever seen to take a drink.

Sheriff Lombardo referred last Wednesday to what he called cryptically Paddock's "secret life". But Las Vegas has a "secret life", too. The new Disneyfied "family-friendly" Vegas is a veneer, underneath which prostitution, money laundering, organized crime, etc, chug along much as before. Paddock supposedly availed himself of prostitutes; did he also use Vegas for laundering cash? That's a better reason for the time he spent there than that he was "winning" millions at video poker.

But it doesn't get us any closer to what happened on Sunday October 1st. I said over a week ago that Paddock seemed more like a professional assassin than the usual mass-murdering nutjob. On the other hand, a think-tanker in London wrote to me to argue that the sheer superfluousness of all that firepower suggested that the weaponry itself was the message. As one of the officers said a few days ago, the hotel room "looked like almost a gun store".
Maybe it was - and maybe something went wrong on a deal. And maybe this and maybe that. And maybe it will all become clear at tomorrow's revised timeline. Offered the now wearily familiar line that the police remain completely baffled as to motive, Tucker Carlson responded: forget motive; right now he'd settle for the basic facts. What are the odds we'll get them at the Friday presser? Better than video poker?

~Tomorrow, Friday, Mark will be launching a brand new nightly audio adventure for Mark Steyn Club members in Tales for Our Time. We hope you'll tune in! If you're not a member of the Steyn Club, you can sign up for a full year, or, lest you suspect a dubious scam by a fly-by-night Canuck scamster, merely a quarter. Aside from our monthly radio serials, we have a quarterly newsletter, The Clubbable Steyn; some rip-roaring video poetry; and our Clubland Q&As. Among the other benefits of membership are our Comment Club privileges, so if you have any theories on what these competing timelines mean do please log-in and let us know.

For more on The Mark Steyn Club, please see here - and don't forget our new gift membership for a friend or loved one.

Thursday, October 12, 2017


By Ann Coulter
October 11, 2017

Image result for stephen paddock

Now the media are just taunting us with their tall tales about Stephen Paddock, the alleged Las Vegas shooter. Reputedly serious news organizations are claiming that he made a living playing video poker. That's like claiming someone made a living smoking crack. 

The media are either doing PR for the gambling industry or they don't want anyone considering the possibility that Paddock was using gambling to launder money. 

NBC News reports, with a straight face: "Las Vegas gunman earned millions as a gambler." A Los Angeles Times article is headlined, "In the solitary world of video poker, Stephen Paddock knew how to win." The story says that Paddock's gambling "was at least a steady income over a period of years." 

I don't know all the ins and outs of Paddock's life, but that's a lie. 

How do reporters imagine casino owners make a living? Any ideas on how all those glorious lobbies, lights, pools and fountains are paid for? How do they think Sheldon Adelson and Steve Wynn became billionaires if gambling is a winning proposition for people like Paddock -- and therefore, by definition, a losing proposition for the casinos? 

The media think about money the way Democrats do. They have absolutely no conception of where it originates. Those casino owners sure are generous! reporters think to themselves. Economist Thomas Sowell is always ridiculing journalists for not understanding basic economics. It turns out, they don't understand the spreadsheet of a lemonade stand. 

The New York Times explained that the "top" video poker machines pay out 99.17 percent. That's great that Paddock was only losing cents on the dollar (if true), but it's still losing. The Times quickly explained that he could have more than made up his losses with all the "comps" -- the free rooms, meals and "50-year-old port that costs $500 a glass," as his brother Eric said.

Gamblers who are beating the house are not given $500 glasses of port. Refer to the profit/loss spreadsheet. And yet, according to his brother, Paddock was treated like royalty by the casinos. Which means he was losing. 

Apart from outright theft, the only way to have an advantage over the casino is by card-counting. That's not cheating and it doesn't guarantee a win. It merely allows the gambler to make a more educated guess as each card is played, thereby tilting the odds ever so slightly in his favor. Still, if the casinos suspect a customer is counting cards, he will be promptly escorted off the premises. 

And counting cards only helps with blackjack. Paddock's game of choice was VIDEO POKER. That's a computer! It's programmed to ensure the house wins. Not all the time, but at least often enough to make casino owners multibillionaires. Anyone who plays video poker over an extended period of time will absolutely, 100 percent, by basic logic, end up a net loser. 

So why are the media insistent that Paddock was getting rich by playing video poker? 

I don't know what happened -- and, apparently, neither do the cops -- but it's kind of odd that we keep being told things that aren't true about the Las Vegas massacre, from the basic timeline to this weird insistence that Paddock made a good living at gambling. 

The most likely explanation is that the reporters and investigators are incompetent nitwits. But the changing facts from law enforcement and preposterous lies from the press aren't doing a lot to tamp down alternative theories of the crime. 

Among the questions not being asked by our wildly incurious media: 

Why would Paddock unload 200 rounds into the hallway at a security guard who was checking on someone else's room before beginning his massacre? 

How can it possibly take eight days to figure out when the alleged shooter checked into the hotel? 

Why was Paddock wearing gloves if he was about to commit suicide? 

Have any other solitary mass shooters ever had girlfriends? 

If Paddock wasn't making money on video poker -- and he wasn't -- why would he be cycling millions of dollars through a casino, turning every dollar into, at best, 99 cents? 

Maybe Paddock enjoyed video poker. But if the allegedly serious media are going to keep telling us he was making a living doing it, they're just begging us to say that losing a percent or two on millions of dollars doesn't make sense as an investment strategy, but it does make sense as a money laundering operation. 

And the probable illicit business requiring money to be laundered that leaps out at us in Paddock's case is illegal gun sales. If true, it would not only explain the arsenal in his hotel room, but also raises the possibility of either an accomplice or different perpetrator altogether. 

If this were a movie script, a terrorist would go to Paddock's room on the pretense of buying guns, kill Paddock, commit the massacre, put his gunshot residue-covered gloves on Paddock's dead hands and slip out of the room when the coast was clear. 

According to the all-new timeline given by the Las Vegas police -- pending a third revision -- this is at least possible. The hallway was empty, except for a bleeding security guard down by the elevators, for at least two minutes after the shooting stopped. The stairwell was clear for more than half an hour. It also explains the gloves. 

There's no evidence for any of this, but on the other hand, there's no evidence for the version the media are giving us. At least the movie script version doesn't require us to pretend that Paddock was making "millions" from video poker.