Monday, January 21, 2013

"Les Miserables." A Great Movie!

Portrait of "Cosette" by Émile Bayard
From the original edition of Les Misérables (1862)

Dear John,

Yesterday, Danny and I saw Les Miserables. More than a musical, nearly an opera, it is extraordinary in every way. Stem to stern, Tom Hooper's film is a tour de force.

The story is based on Victor Hugo's eponymous novel. 

Notably, Hugo (raised a devout Catholic) entered manhood a conservative royalist, then converted to liberalism. Thus began his unstinting insistence that "los de abajo" be lifted up, while royalty and aristocracy be humbled. 

“Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain shall be made low.”

Although Les Miserables was my Dad's favorite novel -- or so I remember him saying -- I have never read the 1200 page tome. (I will now!)

Since I am more intimate with "A Christmas Carol" than "Les Mis" I have long regarded Dickens' tale (and its many cinematic derivations) as a high water mark of literary liberalism. 

My familiarity with "Christmas Carol" also cast Scrooge as my model of "the ponderously wealthy," class-bound plutocrats who (occasionally) give away what they should give back.

Lest we forget... The French Revolution eventually succeeded: our own... not yet.

John Kenneth Galbraith offered scalpel-sharp analysis: “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercise in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”

Having seen Les Miserables, I am now struck by two telling parallels between Dickens and Hugo.

Both men were keenly aware that any nation's "mean streets" abound with vile, vicious people. They did not -- as liberals are often accused -- see the world through rose-colored glasses. It is, in fact, the ungodly rich who gaze through rosy lenses, tinted by the blood spilt by self-aggrandizement.

Unlike modern "conservatives" who revile low-life malefactors -- then employ their smarmy revulsion to damn the degraded and downtrodden -- Dickins and Hugo saw reprobate evil-doers as a scummy penumbra that will "always be with us."

More important to both men was the sacred obligation to manifest sympathetic consciousness in loving acts of mercy, to make "the Word flesh," to benefit the legions of crushed people whose exploitation-and-abandonment leave them deprived, depraved and destitute.

The second parallel between "Les Mis" and "Christmas Carol" is the spiritual kinship shared by Scrooge and Javert, two men whose uncompromising conviction of impeccable perfection obliges them to impose "perfection" on others. 

Consistent with every generation of Pharisess before them, Scrooge and Javert arrogate to themselves an absolute right to jettison every n'er-do-well to whatever sordid fate they have "brought on themselves."

I urge you to see "Les Miserables."

But don't just see it "when it comes out on DVD." 

You must see it on "The Big Screen." 

From the stunning first scene -- a breathtaking confrontation between the real "makers" and "takers" -- throughout continual closeups of singers' faces, only The Big Screen can convey the travesty, majesty and salvation of "Les Miserables."

To close... 

During last night's viewing, I struggled to prevent myself breaking down in heaving sobs.

Barely I succeeded. 

Had I not, the packed theater would have thought a lost soul just informed of his children's death in sudden calamity.

See this movie.



Hugo's Last Will:

« Je donne cinquante mille francs aux pauvres. Je veux être enterré dans leur corbillard.
Je refuse l'oraison de toutes les Eglises. Je demande une prière à toutes les âmes.
Je crois en Dieu. »

I leave 50 000 francs to the poor. I want to be buried in their hearse.
I refuse [funeral] orations of all churches. I beg a prayer to all souls.
I believe in God.


The Washington PostMonday, January 21, 2013
Ezra Klein's WONKBOOK

Welcome to Wonkbook, Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas’s morning policy news primer. This is a special inauguration edition. To subscribe by e-mail, click here. Send comments, criticism, or ideas to Wonkbook at Gmail dot com. To read more by Ezra and his team, go to Wonkblog.

Wonkbook’s Number of the Day: 4. That is, quite obviously, the number of years President Barack Obama has left in the Oval Office. From the budget, to gun control, to immigration reform, the President has begun to lay out an ambitious agenda for the second term. As Washington, D.C. celebrates another Inauguration Day, Wonkbook takes a look at what we should expect from Obama’s next four years in office.

Wonkblog’s Graph of the Day: The history of Inauguration Day weather, by noon temperature, from 1789 to the present.

Top story: What to expect in President Obama’s second term
Obama’s second term has officially begun. “Barack Hussein Obama officially began his second term as the 44th president Sunday, setting the stage for him to lay out his vision in an inaugural address on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. More than half a million people are expected to watch from the Mall, four years and a day after the nation's first African American president was sworn in the first time.” David Nakamura and Robert Barnes in The Washington Post.

Here’s what David Plouffe says Obama will talk about in his inaugural address. “President Obama will underscore the importance of seeking common ground in Washington and encourage the American people to engage in the political process in his second inaugural address, White House senior adviser David Plouffe said Sunday…It's helpful to think of Monday's speech and the president's upcoming State of The Union address as a ‘package,’ Plouffe said, with the former serving as a platform for a broader message and the latter drilling down on more specific policy details.” Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.

Eye on legacy, Obama developing a second-term plan. “Amid his fiscal negotiations with Congress and the shootings in Newtown, Conn., President Obama has managed to hold several ‘think-big’ meetings recently with senior advisers in the Roosevelt Room, and this month he dined with historians in the White House, searching for a rough road map for second-term leadership.” Scott Wilson in The Washington Post.

Obama, a gifted orator, has yet to leave a lasting line. “The academics who study political communication say Obama has unfinished business. They point out that, although Obama has some signature speeches -- including the healing speeches after the mass shootings in Tucson and Newtown, Conn. -- he still has no signature line as president, no trademark statement.” Joel Achenbach in The Washington Post

Wonkbookmark: Check out The Washington Post’s special tab on the inauguration,

Read also: A viewer’s guide to the inauguration. Emmarie Huetteman in The New York Times.

Many (not all) of the President’s men are making an exit. “For the first time since Mr. Obama became president, none of his Big Three political counselors -- Mr. Axelrod, David Plouffe and Robert Gibbs -- will be working in the White House. Now they are in the top rank of Obama alumni, a status that confers benefits of its own.” Mark Landler and Jeff Zeleny in The New York Times.

The inauguration, only a brief respite from ongoing fights. “Rather than a moment of renewal, Monday's public presidential swearing-in is likely to serve as only a brief cease-fire in the fights that have consumed the White House and Capitol Hill since Republicans swept the House two years ago.” Rosalind S. Helderman in The Washington Post.

The modern second-term president has a short honeymoon. “[I]t used to be that presidents enjoyed a ‘honeymoon period’ at the beginning of their second term, with a large number of Americans who had failed to vote for them nevertheless expressing their best wishes…With partisanship being what it is today, and political attitudes being so hard-wired, presidents don't seem to get the benefit of the doubt from voters in the same way they once might have.”Nate Silver in The New York Times.

What you need to know about ‘Organizing for Action.’ “The group will be built on the election machinery that drove Mr. Obama to victory in 2008 and to a second term last year. Its goal is to use Mr. Obama’s voter-contact operation to promote his legislative agenda, building public support for gun control, immigration and other priorities that face a challenging road in Congress.” John D. McKinnon in The Wall Street Journal.

Who will be the next black president after Obama? ”President Obama's historic election in 2008 and his reelection last year proved decisively that race is no longer an insurmountable hurdle to high political office in the United States. But the current pool of possible candidates suggests that the next black president will not be taking the oath of office anytime soon…The notion of a post-Obama reformation of black politics has not been borne out at the ballot box, as black politicians continue to struggle to win the statewide offices that are the traditional paths to the presidency.”Vanessa Williams in The Washington Post.

…And what about Biden 2016? “When Joe Biden took the oath Sunday marking the start of his second term as vice president, around the room were a few clues that he may be thinking of a promotion four years down the road.” Peter Nicholas in The Wall Street Journal.

DIONNE: The liberation of Barack Obama. “Barack Hussein Obama can begin his second term liberated by the confidence that he is already a landmark figure in American history. His task is not to manufacture a legacy but to leave his successors a nation that is more tranquil because it finally resolved arguments that roiled it for decades.” E.J. Dionne in The Washington Post.

BALZ: New term, but old divisions. “The theme of many presidential inaugurations is renewal, the marking of a moment when the nation vows to put aside past divisions and unite behind its leader to confront the challenges of the day. Events that have taken place since President Obama won reelection in November suggest that another reality colors this Inauguration Day…[W]hat takes place on the Capitol's West Front, with all its pomp and grandeur, will be less a new beginning and more a moment of tempered expectations.” Dan Balz in The Washington Post.

MARANISS: No, this is a new Obama. ”[H]e comes to this term in a new place as a man and as a politician, not only forged by the experience of his mistakes but also more integrated in character. His will to survive is less likely to contradict his will to do good. That's likely to be evident in how he handles his larger agenda.” David Maraniss in The Washington Post.

SLAUGHTER: A grand strategy for Obama’s second term. “First terms are about justifying your place in office. Second terms are about justifying your place in history…In Washington, the period between an election and an inauguration is a fertile time for big, ambitious ideas, reports and essays. Foreign policy wonks are partial to laying out ‘grand strategies’: sweeping statements of the means through which the United States should achieve its goals in the world…Obama's choice of a grand strategy for his second term could help drive a more proactive foreign policy, defining a legacy that is more than the sum of responses to crises.” Anne-Marie Slaughter in The Washington Post.

KRUGMAN: Why Obama is a big deal. “F.D.R. had his New Deal; well, Mr. Obama has his Big Deal. He hasn't delivered everything his supporters wanted, and at times the survival of his achievements seemed very much in doubt. But if progressives look at where we are as the second term begins, they'll find grounds for a lot of (qualified) satisfaction. Consider, in particular, three areas: health care, inequality and financial reform.” Paul Krugman in The New York Times.

CILLIZZA: Second-term Obama is older and wiser. “The President Obama who will be publicly inaugurated to a second term Monday is a very different political man than he was four years ago. He is harder and harder-edged, both more confident in what he can do and more aware of what he can't. He remains a political pragmatist, but a far more wary one. He is older and, it would seem -- politically, at least -- wiser…Obama seems to have learned the right lessons from what was by any measure a surprisingly rocky first term in office.” Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post.

KING: What ambition looks like inside the Obama administration. “Obama has attempted to realize ambition in ways not often applied to great presidencies…So, if Obama's presidency is deemed great, it must be in terms not often applied to presidents: compromise and consensus…With a calm hand, he has steadied the ship of state. He has pursued big changes but hasn't been afraid to compromise for much less than he's sought.” William Casey King inThe Washington Post.

ROTHKOPF: Managing the Oval Office. “Mr. Obama and his team would benefit, as they begin the second term, by acknowledging that many of the biggest problems facing the administration flow directly from the man at the top. Mr. Obama is a lousy manager…The administration has not done a good job of delegating to and empowering cabinet officials. Nor does it seem to have built necessary teams and coalitions or anticipated and planned for likely challenges.” David Rothkopf in The New York Times.

SELF: Is this the Obama political realignment? “The second inaugurals we remember bear witness to political realignment…In 1936 and 1984, Roosevelt and Reagan each won big. Their triumphs consolidated political transformations that had been building for some time and allowed their respective parties to reset the nation's political center of gravity. Without the benefit of historical distance, how do we judge whether we are in the midst of such a realignment? Are the country's deepest political instincts undergoing fundamental change?” Robert O. Self in The New York Times.

DOHERTY: Why the campaign will never end. “Presidents are frequently criticized for campaigning instead of governing, but in a highly polarized era without lasting Congressional majorities, the stakes every two years grow ever higher: witness the gridlock between the Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican majority in the House. For the White House, campaigning does not come at the expense of governing but facilitates the possibility of more effective governing -- not to mention the establishment of a political legacy.” Brendan J. Doherty in The New York Times.

JOHNSON: Who will Obama nominate to replace Bernanke as Fed chairman? “Janet Yellen, the current vice chairman, must be considered the front-runner. Support her if you like the current trajectory of the Fed with expansionary macro policy and a go-slow approach to regulation…Timothy Geithner, who is stepping down as Treasury secretary, wants the job of Fed chairman.” Simon Johnson in Bloomberg.

Music recommendations interlude: U2, “City of Blinding Lights,” 2004.

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