HOLE CARDS

Commenting
on the Republican primary in Florida tonight Tom Brokaw used a poker
analogy to describe Mike Huckabee's current position in the race –
“He's holding a pair of twos.”  In other words, he doesn't have a
premium hand, especially compared to what the other players at the
table are holding, but it's still a hand.  What Brokaw was getting
at was that Huckabee, by taking votes from Romney among “values voters”
in the Southern states, could still affect the race in a decisive way
and earn political capital in the process, specifically with John
McCain, who might seriously consider Huckabee as a running mate.

That got me to thinking about what hole cards the other candidates are
holding at present (thoughts that admittedly won't make much sense
unless you know the game of Texas Hold-em.)

On the Republican side, of the three players still in the pot,
Huckabee
has his ducks (a pair of twos), McCain has cowboys (a pair of kings)
and Romney has jack-ten suited — or maybe jack-ten unsuited, or maybe
jack-queen suited, or maybe . . . well, with Romney it's hard to be
more precise — apparently he has a bunch of mediocre cards up his
sleeve which he can play at will.  In any case, McCain has a
made hand and Romney
is on a draw.  Romney has enough chips in front of him to call
McCain down to the river but he's chasing.

On the democratic side, Hillary is holding big slick, ace-king, and
Obama is holding little slick, ace-queen.  If neither hand
improves, Hillary wins.  Obama has to catch a queen and Hillary
has to miss catching another king.  For Obama, a queen would be a
last-minute surge next Tuesday that keeps the delegate count close and
convinces the old-guard Democratic party hacks that he has an unstoppable
momentum which it would be too costly to get in the way of.

We'll see the flop in both games on Tsunami Tuesday.




In the big game, the general election in November, it will be heads-up
(probably).  If it's Clinton against McCain, Hillary will be
holding seven-two off-suit and John will still have his cowboys, his
two kings.  Only a miracle would give the pot to Clinton.  If
it's Obama against McCain, Obama will be holding two queens against
McCain's two tens.  Obama would have the edge, but McCain could
still get lucky, catch another ten and take it down.

Either way, we've got some interesting poker up ahead.

THE FRONT LINES

Participating
in the Nevada Democratic Caucus last week gave me an interesting
perspective on the Presidential race this year — a look at things on the front
lines, where actual votes are cast and recorded.

Prior to the caucus I got a phone call from a live Clinton supporter
who urged me to vote for Hillary (“because she has the experience to
get things done”) and told me where my caucus site would be.  I
got a recorded message from Edwards, inviting me to a meeting of his
supporters in Henderson.  Nothing from the Obama campaign. 
That struck me as odd — I thought perhaps his campaign had decided to
cut back on the expense of outreach calls because of the boost he got from his
endorsement by the Culinary Workers Union.  If so, it was a big
miscalculation.

My caucus site was the auditorium of an elementary school a few blocks
from my house.  When I got there, one side of the room was filled
with Clinton supporters, mostly older white women wearing yellow
Hillary T-shirts that the Clinton coordinator was handing out. 
Behind them sat five or six undecided voters.  On the other side
of the aisle were the Obama supporters, mostly blacks of all
age-ranges.  Behind them were a handful of Edwards supporters, and
later in the proceedings a single Kucinich supported identified himself.

I sat with the Obama supporters.  The Obama coordinator had no
T-shirts, just some campaign stickers to put on your shirt front.

There were 55 voters in total present for the caucus.

At one point I overheard two of the Clinton supporters, older white
males, whispering to each other about caucus strategy.  One of them said, “We've got
to make sure none of the undecideds go over to the dark side.” 
They smiled conspiratorially at the phrase, which I didn't feel was a
reference to Stars Wars.

There's a lot more of this sort of casual prejudice abroad in the land
than people might like to believe and I think the Clintons have made a
deliberate decision to exploit it — to position Obama as “the black
candidate” and make people feel o. k. about indulging their sense of
blacks as “other”.

It's pure, cynical Rove-ian politics, morally sickening in itself and
even more sickening because it will probably work, at least as long as
Hillary can make plausible denials about her involvement in the
statements of her supporters, including her husband Bill.  To me,
such denials are not plausible, and I won't vote for Hillary in the
general election if her tactics succeed, unless it's absolutely
necessary to defeat an even more objectionable candidate, like Mitt
Romney.  In other words, John McCain has become my second choice
for President this year.

If the Clinton tactics can so thoroughly alienate an old-time lefty
like me, I hate to think how she would fare with more moderate
Democrats and independents in a general election.  I think we
might see a Democratic defeat of McGovern-like proportions.

At my caucus, there weren't enough Edwards supporters or Kucinich
supporters to make either of them eligible for delegates from our
district.  In the end, all the Edwards supporters and almost all
the undecideds moved over to the Obama camp and the vote ended up very
close to even, with Clinton edging out Obama by a few statistically
insignificant votes, as it turned out.  We awarded 5 delegates to
each candidate.  This mirrored the way things went throughout the
state, with Hillary getting more votes overall but splitting the
delegates just about evenly with Obama.  (The press tended to
report only the vote totals, which gave Clinton the “beauty contest”
win, barely mentioning that in the race for delegates the Nevada
contest was essentially a dead heat.)

When it came time to elect the delegates themselves, most of the
volunteers on the Obama side were undecideds who'd crossed the aisle
that day.  I thought that was a good sign for my guy.

SCARLET STREET

This film by Fritz Lang, from 1945, is essentially domestic noir — the story of an unhappy, ordinary middle-aged married man led into a life of deception and, ultimately, crime by a fetching femme fatale
It was Lang's favorite among the films he made in America and has a
considerable reputation but I find it curiously dead emotionally and
lacking in real suspense.

The problem is that the fatal femme
is so obviously on the make, so obviously not attracted to the ordinary
man, so cynical and so dumb, that we feel only pity for the guy, a pity
laced with scorn.  We can see what attracts Walter to Phyllis in Double Indemnity
– the two are hot together — and even if we suspect that Phyllis
might be using Walter, part of us thinks it might be worth getting used
by a woman like this.  This implicates us morally and emotionally
in Walter's transgressions, makes us care about his fate.

It's impossible to care about Chris in Scarlet Street
on that level — watching his life come apart at the seams is like
watching a train wreck from a distance.  It's fascinating and
horrifying but we're not involved.  In Double Indemnity, like it or not, we're passengers on that trolley hurtling towards the end of the line.

The ending of Scarlet Street
achieves a kind of tragic power, because things go so horribly
wrong, and Chris's moral collapse is so complete and so bleak. 
It's not a genuine tragedy, though, because in a genuine tragedy we
could imagine ourselves in Chris's place.  In Scarlet Street we're denied that identification, that implication in his fate.

JAMES SHEEHAN PAINTING AT NIGHT

My
sister Libba Marrian is making a documentary about the wonderful
painter James Sheehan.  I've seen a rough assembly of part of it
and it's fascinating.

You can see a short sequence from the film, James Sheehan Painting At Night, on YouTube here.  The painting and the images recording Sheehan at work on it are beautiful.

You can see more of Sheehan's work here.

TALES OF THE FELT

A couple of nights ago I played no-limit Hold-'em for about eight hours at the Monte
Carlo casino poker room (above) — from just before midnight to just before
8am.  This is the optimum time to play poker in Las Vegas because
most of the other players you're likely to encounter then are either
drunk (and getting drunker by the minute) or staying up all night on
their last day in town.  You drink iced tea, play tight and take
their money.

I didn't have a great session financially — I only made a bit over
$70, but that still beats minimum wage.  On top of that, all the
iced tea is free and at the end of the session the card room will give
you a voucher for a free breakfast.  It's also a very entertaining
way to make a little extra cash.

Last night I played with a sales rep for a Mylar manufacturer who sells
to the aerospace industry.  He was in town for a friend's wedding
– Elvis-themed.  I played with a Canadian guy who used to own a
commercial fishing boat but sold it and retired, in order to devote
himself to travel.  I played with a guy from Mexico who's now a U.
S. resident and a successful businessman.  He said what he liked
about America was that he now could afford to have white guys do his
yard work.

I played with a succession of riotously drunk thirty-somethings whose
patter was often fairly amusing.  One guy, who looked about
sixteen, sat down wearing a green pullover and bright green sunglasses.

“Hey, monkey boy — where'd you get the glasses?”

“Monkey boy?”

“Where'd you get the glasses?”

“I got them at the Excalibur — with my kids.”

“You've got kids?”

“No, I don't really have kids.  You see that guy standing at the rail there — he's my gay lover.  His name is Jason.”

“Yeah, I've met him before . . . only he said his name was Jimmy.”

Meanwhile these guys were knocking back the beers, drawing doggedly to inside straights and calling big raises with middle pair.

What more could you ask for at a poker table?

REDISCOVERING PREMINGER

Following
up on a recent post in which I suggested that Otto Preminger was
overdue for a critical re-evaluation, I notice that Film Forum in New
York is hosting a 23-film retrospective of the director's work — which
coincides with the recent release of a new Preminger biography by
Foster Hirsch, which Tony D'Ambra of the films noir site recently
directed attention to here.

The Film Forum site offers this from Andrew Sarris — Otto
Preminger is still the most maligned, misjudged, misunderstood and
misperceived American filmmaker. His films have stood up better
stylistically, thematically and subtextually than I ever imagined they
would.”

Indeed,
Preminger's films are so interesting and so good that all this
attention should lead to the restoration of his reputation in no time
at all.  (Let's hope it leads to a widescreen DVD edition of Anatomy Of A Murder as well . . .)