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Thursday, July 11, 2024


In July, my spouse and I traveled to Portland to link with our youngest daughter (and her boyfriend). While out there we also saw my spouse's father, her brother, and an old friend of mine from graduate school, Paul (a former blogger here (!) and best man at my wedding decades ago). 

We had a nice outing along the Columbia River Gorge, stopping at Cape Horn: 


In addition to visiting Powell's Books, I tried to drink some good beers in that terrific beer city. For example, I had the World Beer Cup winning Australian pale ale, Dragontail IPA, and the World Beer Cup winning Nonalcoholic Deschutes Black Butte Porter.  The latter was consumed at the brewpub in the Pearl District. 

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Sunday, June 30, 2024

Canadian Film Festival

In late May my spouse and I drove to Canada and attended the Blue Mountain Film Festival at the ski resort just outside of Collingwood. From there we ventured over to Toronto for a few days, took in a Blue Jays game versus the Orioles, and then had a final stop in Rochester for a few days. 

At the film festival we saw three very good films. I think the best was probably Girls Will Be Girls, though I also really enjoyed The Missile and the Teacher Who Promised the Sea. These were all international films and each arguably offered some lessons about global politics.

The Orioles easily won the matchup against the Jays, but the home team was giving away Vlad Guerrero bobble head dolls and Vlad hit a HR that night. Loyal readers may recall that I saw Vlad on a Michigan vacation years ago (2017!) when he was playing for the Lansing Lugnuts. Bo Bichette was a teammate on both occasions.

In Toronto we enjoyed walking around downtown and in the Beaches neighborhood. We had some excellent ethnic food including Indian and Thai. Departing Canada, we crossed and visited Niagara Falls from the NY side.

In Rochester we ate some delicious local strawberries, some on a short cake served with ice cream and whipped cream, and drank a very tasty local beer, Unfettered Soul from Strangebird, that recently won a Bronze for its Hazy IPA at the World Beer Cup. 

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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Blood of Angels

Until tonight, I think the last film I saw in a theater was "Little Women," which would have been December 2019 -- in Long Island, when COVID was secretly circulating in the greater NY area. We didn't get sick, but the pandemic kept me out of theaters for years. Inertia and home streaming kept me away even longer, though I live just a couple of blocks from a movie house.

Tonight, my spouse and I attended a local showing of "Blood of Angels" by Bobby Fowler (and friends), son of two of my colleagues in Political Science. It was a really fun evening and I'll be going back to the movies sooner rather than later. The movie seemed quite professional, and I mean that as sincere praise. 

Here's the trailer: 


It is a western, obviously, but also a thriller. Every scene was shot on the farm my colleagues inhabit -- and the film features their horses as well as their children. Mom has a prominent role too!

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Saturday, April 13, 2024

2024A Louisville Sluggers

This post is going to highlight the fantasy baseball team I've built for the first half (A) season of the OBFLB (Original Bitnet Fantasy Baseball League). As I've explained before, this is a 24 team league I joined in 1991 and we play 2 seasons each year, divided basically by the all-star break. There is an annual mid-year draft.

It features head-to-head competition in 10 categories. Five are offensive -- HR, steals, plate appearances, on base percentage, and "runs produced" (runs + RBI / ABs). Five are pitching -- ERA, WHIP, wins, innings pitched, and 2xSaves plus Holds. 

I'll note the 8 players I retained from last year in red and will indicate draft rounds for the other players. 


C Will Smith LAD
1B Vinnie Pasquantino KC
2B Isaac Paredes TB
3B Gunnar Henderson BAL
SS Anthony Volpe NYY
OF Ronald Acuna ATL
OF Kerry Carpenter DET (10)
OF Will Benson CIN (14)
DH Jordan Westburg BAL (13)


C Freddy Fermin KC (26)
2B Michael Massey KC (23)
UT Zack McKinstry DET (21)
OF Trent Grisham (20)
OF Roman Anthony BOS (22)
OF Jason Hayward LAD (24)
OF Estevan Florial CLE (28)


SP Sonny Gray STL
SP Nick Pivetta BOS (9)
SP Seth Lugo KC (11)
SP Luis Severino NYM (12)
SP Reynaldo Lopez ATL (15)
SP Clarke Schmidt NYY (16)
SP Keaton Winn SF (19)
SP Matt Waldron SD (25)
RP Adbert Alzolay CHC 
RP Hunter Harvey WAS (17)
RP Jason Adam TB (18)
RP Steven Wilson CHX (27)

My 2023B season team won the championship, which I'm fairly sure I did not previously note on the blog. I had also won in 2021 A (linked above) and the only carryovers from that team are C W. Smith, OF Acuna, and SP Gray. 

In total, the Sluggers have won 11 World Series (in 14 appearances) competing in 65 championship seasons. Another team (the Men of LA) has 10 titles in 16 appearances, but the teams have never met in the World Series. We have met at least once in the playoffs when Men of LA beat the Sluggers in 2021 B. Prior to 2012 the playoff matchups are not clearly delineated in the records.   

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Sunday, March 10, 2024

Oscars 2023

This is my annual post about the Academy Awards. I'm not predicting who will win, but instead ranking the nominations in my preferred order of finish. I'll only rank the films and performances I've seen and will update this list in the future once I see a film. Those changes will be noted in yellow highlights. 

You can find my post about last year's Oscars here and work backward if you want. 

Best picture

“Killers of the Flower Moon
“Poor Things”
“Past Lives”
“The Holdovers”
“American Fiction”
“The Zone of Interest”

Frankly I'd be OK if any of the top 4 5 win. They are all very good films. The Holdovers is the one I could imagine watching again in a few years because of the humor. Maybe Barbie too. Oppenheimer conceivably could be a film for my political science course.

Update: Poor Things was terrific with lots of interesting stuff going on. It explores some of the same themes about science as Oppenheimer but in a very different manner.

Zone of Interest could also be a film for my course, but it is almost impossible to rate here. It is a singular work of art that is not meant to be entertaining. The other films that feature horrible deeds, including Killers of the Flower Moon, have moments of light humor. The Zone of Interest is unrelenting, but also masterful. See it once. 

“Anatomy of a Fall”


Christopher Nolan, “Oppenheimer”
Yorgos Lanthimos, “Poor Things”
Jonathan Glazer, “The Zone of Interest”
Martin Scorsese, “Killers of the Flower Moon”

Justine Triet, “Anatomy of a Fall”

Actor in a leading role

Paul Giamatti, “The Holdovers”
Cillian Murphy, “Oppenheimer”
Jeffrey Wright, “American Fiction”
Colman Domingo, “Rustin”
Bradley Cooper, “Maestro”

Giamatti was excellent. He may not win, but the performance was award-worthy.

I've seen a lot of Murphy in 2024 because my spouse and I have watched several seasons of Peaky Blinders on Netflix. He's talented and I would not be disappointed if he won.

Wright and Domingo were also excellent though I have not heard serious buzz about their winning and I probably would vote for one of the other performances. But this is a tight category. 

Cooper was fine but the movie really didn't click with me. 

Actor in a supporting role

Robert Downey Jr., “Oppenheimer”
Robert De Niro, “Killers of the Flower Moon”
Mark Ruffalo, “Poor Things”
Sterling K. Brown, “American Fiction”
Ryan Gosling, “Barbie”

We were well into the movie before I recognized Downey in his role. It's a very good performance. 

DeNiro played his usual type, a type he has long perfected. Brown was excellent too. I hope this pushes him into larger roles.

Gosling has had many better roles.

Actress in a leading role

Emma Stone, “Poor Things”
Lily Gladstone, “Killers of the Flower Moon”
Annette Bening, “Nyad”
Carey Mulligan, “Maestro”

Last fall, my spouse and I saw Gladstone in a 2016 Kelly Reichardt film, Certain Women. It was a strong performance and I'm not surprised she delivered an Oscar-caliber performance this year. It's not as loud as Bening's role. If I had to re-rank them from scratch, I could just as easily put Mulligan over Bening. Update: Emma Stone was excellent. 

Sandra Hüller, “Anatomy of a Fall”

Actress in a supporting role

America Ferrera, “Barbie”
Da’Vine Joy Randolph, “The Holdovers”
Emily Blunt, “Oppenheimer”
Jodie Foster, “Nyad”

I don't have strong feelings here though apparently Randolph is the overwhelming favorite. She was very good in her role. I've seen Ferrera's speech more than once on TV and wonder if it will carry her to a victory. It was impressive. 

Blunt was fine, but the role was perhaps not Oscar-worthy. Surprisingly, Foster was somewhat mannered in Nyad, delivering a character not a lot unlike some others she has performed in the past. 

Danielle Brooks, “The Color Purple”

Documentary feature film

So far we have not seen any of these. There's work to do, no none of them sound especially uplifting. Most are available on streaming services that we can access, so it is inevitable that I will see some.

“Bobi Wine: The People’s President”
“The Eternal Memory”
“Four Daughters”
“To Kill a Tiger”
“20 Days in Mariupol”

International feature film

United Kingdom, “The Zone of Interest”
Spain, “Society of the Snow”

I've discussed The Zone of Interest above. I am curious as to why it is listed as UK rather than Poland, which is credited in the film.

Society of the Snow is an interesting film (on Netflix right now) that had me recalling the press coverage of the crash and aftermath. 

Of the others, I really want to see The Zone of Interest, which is also on the top list above. 

Italy, “Io Capitano”
Japan, “Perfect Days”
Germany, “The Teachers’ Lounge”

Animated feature film

I have not watched many animated films the past few years. I saw a few minutes of the new Spider-Man at a brewpub and will probably see it before any of the others. 

“The Boy and the Heron”
“Robot Dreams”
“Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse”

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Thursday, February 22, 2024

American Feelings

I used some "Feeling Thermometer" data in a class recently and was struck by an insane result reflected in the recent data. You'll see that below, where I've linked to the original polling agency, 

First, definition: A "Feeling Thermometer" is a commonly used research measure. Here's a reasonable definition from a recent piece of scholarship:
The feeling thermometer, or thermometer scale, is a rating procedure to measure respondents’ feelings about an issue using a scale that corresponds or makes a metaphor to temperatures in the thermometer.
Political scientists often derive these numbers via public opinion polling. Sometimes, respondents are specifically asked to provide a number on a scale (0 to 100 is typical) and the results reflect averages, often broken down by specific demographic information.

For example, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs asks Americans in a regular poll what they think about foreign countries. 

As this data reveals, Americans feel quite warmly about Canadians, but have quite cold feelings about North Korea, Iran, Russia, and China. Likely not coincidentally, these are four states specifically identified as threats to American interests in the Director of National Intelligence's annual (public) assessment report. Question for another day: which way does the causal arrow run?

With those numbers in the 19 to 32 range in mind (and 85 for Canada), take a look at this next polling result, showing how Americans feel about other Americans -- limited by their political party. Americans like other Americans of the same political party just a little less than they like Canadians.

And Americans' feelings about members of the opposing political party are comparable to their feelings about North Korea!

Some recent political science research is particularly interesting about the meaning of such data, suggesting that these positive and negative feelings can have real-world consequences, at least in international politics:
This research note utilizes novel country feeling thermometer data to explore the [Democratic Peace Theory] debate’s micro-foundations: the underlying drivers of international amity and enmity among democratic citizens in the US, UK, France, and Germany.
No wonder some scholars are studying the allegedly growing risk of American civil war.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2024

Best films of 2023

The graphic below identifies the top 25 films from 2023 that critics ranked on their end-of-year "best of" lists. The full list goes to 100 and if you are interested in seeing it, I'm sourcing the list from a different website this year. The methodology for compilation is ostensibly the same. Here's the detail:

Films are sorted by the percentage of lists they are included on.* This is typically the same as sorting by number of lists included, but can vary when films make lists across multiple years.  For example, if one film makes 10 lists in a year with 100 lists available, it’s ranking will be higher than a film that makes 15 lists when 200 lists are available.  The times a film appears at the top of a list is used as a tie-breaker.

*punctuation errors corrected 

Basically, this is an annual best films comment that I'm posting for 2023. This is the post about the best films of 2022. Below this graphic, you'll find my rankings of these films (by tiers) with a list of the ones I still need to see. As I watch them over time, I'll edit the post but note the changes with yellow highlighting.  

This "best of" comment is distinct from both the annual post on "films of 2023," which is my end-of-year musing about all the films I saw in a calendar year and my annual Oscar post. 

Top-tier films. These are very serious Oscar contenders:

Killers of the Flower Moon
Past Lives
American Fiction
The Holdovers
May December

I've seen all but May December since the new year, which means they were not on the December list for 2023. The top 4 5 on this are excellent and are well worth your time. Warning: Oppenheimer is exceptional, but it is both very long and about a subject that I have studied off-and-on since the 1980s. Your interest may vary from mine.  

Incidentally, I joined Letterboxd last October and you can find  my brief reviews of films there. I think I backfilled for all of 2023 and most of the films used in my political science course. 

Second-tier films. These are very good and may garner Oscar support:

Showing Up

Maestro was well-made and well-acted, but I wasn't nearly as interested in this story as I was in the stories from the first-tier of films. I didn't find Bernstein's life especially interesting.  

The 2 films after Maestro were both calendar year 2023 viewings. Honestly I thought about putting Barbie in the following tier. 

Third-tier films. These are entertaining but flawed films:

The Killer
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret
Asteroid City

Again, nothing new here yet. My spouse and I are trying to find time to see the Oscar nominated movies. 

Fourth-tier films. I found these to be disappointing and do not recommend (if necessary, could remain blank):


Films yet to see (16 of 25 as of today):

All of Us Strangers
Anatomy of a Fall
The Boy and the Heron
Fallen Leaves
Godzilla Minus One
John Wick: Chapter 4
Poor Things
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse
The Zone of Interest

Glancing through the rest of the top 100, I've seen the following films already and rank them roughly in this order:

Tar (tier 1, a remnant from last year's list for some critic)
Fair Play (tier 2 or 3)
They Cloned Tyrone (tier 2 or 3)
Reality (tier 2 or 3)
Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part I (Tier 4 material)