Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Becoming Jane

I watched 39 minutes of Becoming Jane (2007), until the DVD player began to skip and stutter, and the whole entertainment ground to a halt. From the first scenes, I wanted to ask: "How do we know how people lived their private lives? How do we know how they behaved, what they thought, how they passed their time?" For Jane Austen, we know little. There are her writings, some letters, some biographies based on second- and third-hand accounts. But there is little else. Her novels may have been to some extent autobiographical, though attempting to reach conclusions about a writer's life based on fictional novels is always risky if not reckless. Austen lived with her poverty-stricken family deep in the English countryside, in Steventon, Hampshire. She never married. For all we know she never had a love affair or even felt love for another soul outside her family group. The novels came from somewhere, of course. She must have been a deeply imaginative and perceptive woman.

For me, there is not a true note in this film, at least in the first 39 minutes of it. Every detail, every image, every glance, every small act or behavior, seems false and artificial. The film gives us Jane Austen's era as viewers in the first decade of the 21st century want to envision it. Jane in the film is a frustrated and ambitious writer, young and earnest, always scribbling away while her sisters worry about potential suitors and clothing and her mother toils away at housework. Jane speaks out. She is witty and ironic, she holds herself apart from the rest of her family and their crowd, she feels smothered and stultified without even knowing that she feels so.

A young man named Tom LeFroy studying for the bar in London is sentenced by his uncle for ungentlemanly behavior to live for a time in the country with his cousins. Jane catches his eye. He lectures her on the necessity of widening her experience so that she can be a better writer. He suggests she read Tom Jones, and she does with much avidity. I suppose the novel will inspire her at some point after the 39th minute (though Fielding and Austen have virtually nothing in common). I suppose some sort of relationship with this man will provide the catalyst that makes her a great writer. If I make it to the 40th and 41st minute, perhaps I'll find out.

This film is earnest and high-toned. It reveals nothing about the mystery of Jane Austen's life and novels. It speculates and imagines and leaves us gaping, grasping. Anne Hathaway as Jane can be appealing and earnest, but she cannot act, and she never for a moment convinces me that she connects meaningfully with Jane Austen, and I know virtually nothing about Jane Austen.

. . .

Well, I did watch the rest of the film. It was better than I had anticipated. The film does a good job of taking elements from Austen's novels—details, character-types, events—and weaving them into the story it tells of Jane's early life—implying that she created her novels by drawing from her own life, which she undoubtedly did to an extent. I am still suspicious of the film's authenticity and of Hathaway's portrayal of Jane. The idea that Austen may have had some sort of friendship or bond with Tom LeFroy, while based on sketchy information and a comment from LeFroy himself that he had loved Austen, though in a "boyish" way, is mainly fictional speculation. In the film, LeFroy and Jane fall in love and elope. But on their way to be married Jane discovers that LeFroy (who will be disowned by his uncle for the elopement) supports his impoverished mother and sisters in Ireland with the allowance his uncle gives him. She refuses to go on with the marriage and returns to her family home. The film portrays this act of self-sacrifice as the event that made her into the writer she became (although she is already at work in the film on the book that she would later revise into Pride and Prejudice).

So the image this film puts forth for our consideration is that of a noble and suffering artist who gives up the man she loves for the welfare of his family. We all want our artists to be noble and better than we are. In this case, the story is largely invented and involves some events (the elopement, for instance) that almost certainly did not occur. Again, the film gives us the Jane Austen that our modern era wants to envision without telling us much about the historical person or about the motives that enabled her as a writer.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

In the Valley of Elah

In the Old Testament, David fought and vanquished Goliath in the Valley of Elah. That valley is the metaphoric setting for In the Valley of Elah (2007; dir. Paul Haggis). In a sense this film is about the war in Iraq, though most of the action takes place in the United States. A father receives a phone call informing him that his son has gone AWOL. The father doesn't even know his son has returned from Iraq. He feels he knows his son well. He is sure the boy wouldn't go AWOL, and that there will be a good reason for this misunderstanding. He drives to the Army base where the boy is stationed, two days away, and starts looking for him. Tommy Lee Jones plays the father, Paul Deerfield, a former military detective who in retirement drives trucks and hauls loads of gravel.

In his characteristic way Tommy Lee Jones plays the father as an expressionless but likable man who takes charge. He assures his wife that he'll find their boy and that he doesn't need her help. Jones doesn't play Deerfield as a man capable of great depths of introspection. He's a man who lives on the surface. He's never had to question himself or his actions or his relationship with his sons, or with his wife for that matter. He's never questioned how he raised his sons or the pleasure he feels in their military service. He believes without question in the Bible story he reads to a young boy in the film—the story of David and Goliath.

Deerfield and his wife had two sons. Their older son was killed in a military helicopter accident 10 years before. Michael, the AWOL soldier, is the surviving child.

There are a number of different ways to look at this film. It is a detective story about the search for a missing son and about the search for the murderers when the son turns up dead. It is also about parents and their children, about the responsibility parents bear for the people their children become. And it's about parents coping with a son's death. It's true that in this film the boy doesn't die in Iraq. But he dies as a result of Iraq--that much is clear. But that much is not entirely relevant either.

Deerfield's self-confidence and certainty that he can find his boy are quickly challenged. He no longer knows anyone at the military base where he once worked. The Army believes his AWOL son is blowing off steam after his return from Iraq and that he will surface soon. The father seeks help from the local police, but they regard the missing soldier as a military problem. He tries to trace the boy's movements and is only moderately successful. Then the boy's body turns up on an isolated road outside town--chopped into pieces and burned.

Some time ago I read a comment that cited In the Valley of Elah as an example of how films about the war in Iraq are not marketable or popular. I'm not sure Iraq is the reason for this film's lack of popularity. The target audience for most popular films is the 18- to 25-year-old age bracket. This film is about a father and his search for his lost boy, about the father's search to discover who his boy really was, a boy he never really knew. The film demands that you watch it from a perspective totally foreign to the target demographic audience. You have to be a parent with adult children living independently outside the home to understand this film. What do parents really know about their adult children? Most parents love and idolize their children. They are not always prepared for those moments when they discover that their children might have become something different than what they hoped for or expected. They especially are not prepared for the discovery that they're the ones who made their children into the strange and unfamiliar beings who shock them. This is certainly the case with Hank Deerfield.

Tommy Lee Jones is excellent as Deerfield. I thought he was good in No Country for Old Men, but he is even better here. Charlize Theron is also effective in her role as a police detective who befriends Jones and assists in investigating his son's disappearance. She occupies her own Valley of Elah. She's the only woman on the police force, and the other detectives believe she slept her way into her current position. She's unwilling to say whether this is true. There is some kind of relationship she apparently had with the chief of police. She's recently divorced, and she admits that her son was not fathered by her ex-husband. Much of this seems totally irrelevant to the point of the film. It's enough to know that she's a woman, an excellent detective, and that the police force for which she works is dominated by men who take every opportunity to make fun of her.

To Hank Deerfield, the Valley of Elah is the stolid and impenetrable wall of the military, which resists his investigation into the mystery of his son's disappearance and death. It's that gap of understanding between himself and his missing son—the son he thought he knew and who he learns he didn't know well at all. It's the gap of understanding between himself and the identity of his son's killers. It's that knowledge he comes to grasp of his responsibility for the man his son became in Iraq. It's the realization he comes to about his failure, in a crucial moment, to understand certain facts his son was trying to convey to him.

When Deerfield learns who murdered his son, the discovery seems incidental. The discovery at the heart of this film brings knowledge he has to live with for the rest of his life.

Susan Sarandon is excellent as Deerfield's wife, Joan.

An awkward element is the series of video clips Deerfield finds on his son's damaged cell phone. They are jerky and corrupt and difficult to watch. At first they make no sense, but as Deerfield assembles information about his son, he begins to understand what the images convey. Their use in the film seems an unnecessary gimmick.

In the Valley of Elah is a very fine film.

Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay

I asked my youngest son whether I should see Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008). His answer was clear: I shouldn't see the film. He said he didn't even want to think about the possibility that I might see it and didn't want to know if I did.

This is an intermittently amusing, occasionally hilarious film. In this sequel to Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004), our multicultural stoner heroes are recovering from an epic feast of hamburgers. They decide to take a trip to Amsterdam so that Harold can hook up with a girlfriend whose acquaintance he made at the end of the first film. Midway across the Atlantic Ocean, Kumar is spied trying to light a homemade bong by an old woman already convinced he and his friend are terrorists. Kumar and Harold are arrested and accused of bring terrorists who are trying to blow up the plane. They are sent to Guantanamo Bay, which the film depicts as one of the veritable pits of hell. The prison guards are glowering, towering buffoons who expect inmates to service them with oral sex on command. Harold and Kumar manage to escape soon after they arrive, and the remainder of the picture consists of a series of sometimes funny sketches about their efforts to get to Texas, where Kumar's former girlfriend is about to marry. He wants to prevent the wedding and at the same time prove that he and Harold are not terrorists.

One of the funniest parts of the movie involves a drive through Alabama, which neither Harold nor Kumar has ever visited. Not surprisingly, this part of the film makes comedy out of stereotypes about Southerners. First Harold and Kumar drive into the middle of a group of large hulking African American men playing basketball. When the men approach with threatening looks on their faces, Harold and Kumar assume they're going to be beaten up or worse. They jump out of their car and run away. Instead, we learn, the men were planned to ask Harold and Kumar if they could be of assistance. In another scene, they are surprised by the hospitality and friendliness of a young Southern couple that takes them in. The film seems to be suggesting that stereotypes about Southern rednecks are wrong. Yet it turns out that the couple is the incarnation of those stereotypes--they are a married brother and sister. The freakish product of their union is locked in the basement—a one-eyed monster. Later Harold and Kumar find themselves at a Ku Klux Klan meeting, listening to Klansmen trade stories about how they have mistreated minorities.

In the penultimate scene of the film, after Harold and Kumar have been recaptured by Homeland Security agents and sent on their way back to Guantanamo Bay, they overpower their guards and parachute out of the plane. They fall through the roof of a house in Plano, Texas, that happens to belong to President George W. Bush. The boys become friends with Bush--they toke up with him in his garage and trade stories about their difficult parents. Bush grants them a full pardon and also makes it possible for Kumar to get to his girlfriend's wedding in time to stop the proceedings.

The humor in this film is often gross but also broad and relatively gentle. The film exploits every opportunity it can find for comedy, but unfortunately this isn't often enough. Much of the film is just plain silly, aimed at a college-age audience that doesn't have especially high standards for humor. In particular the film doesn't exploit the potential for satire aimed at racial and ethnic stereotypes. After all, Harold is Korean and Kumar is Indian. There are only a few moments of such satire. In one, an African-American airport security guard mistakes Kumar for a potential terrorist because of his dark skin. Maybe this is supposed to be ethnic profiling in reverse.

Despite the title, there is not much political satire either. George Bush comes off as buffoonish but sympathetic. The film aims its most biting satire at the Homeland Security agents who trail Harold and Kumar. The vice-director of the Homeland Security agents is an ignorant clown who is constantly jumping to illogical conclusions even when the obvious truth stares him in the face. One example comes when Harold's parents speak to him in very clear English: he thinks he's hearing Korean. Yet the broad slapstick nature of this satire strips it of any real power or impact. The film is serious about its humor, but not so serious about any political message.

So, despite my son's warnings, I saw Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. And I think I recognized the scenes he was worried about.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (2008, dir. Alex Gibney) narrates the life and career of new journalist Hunter S. Thompson. The film pays appropriate homage to Thompson while at the same time maintaining a certain objectivity as well. It divides Thompson's career into halves. The first begins in the early 1960s and continues on through Thompson's early magazine journalism to his book, Hell's Angels to his fantastic and outrageous novelistic screed Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream (1971)
to his wonderful manic articles on the 1972 presidential campaign to his 1974 Rolling Stone article on a speech that Jimmy Carter gave at a Law Day convocation at the University of Georgia. The latter article helped make Jimmy Carter nationally famous and paved the way towards his successful bid for the presidency. The second half of Thompson's career begins with a trip he was assigned to take to Zaire to cover the Rumble in the Jungle, a boxing match between Mohammed Ali and George Foreman. This became one of the most famous boxing matches of the 20th century. Foreman was heavily favored. Thompson was so convinced that Mohammed Ali would lose that he didn't bother to attend the fight. The film marks this failure as the turning point in Thompson's career, the beginning of a long decline. Thompson published occasional books and articles and a series of newspaper columns in the 1980s and 90s. Two volumes of his letters were published. Occasionally and sporadically Thompson seemed to recover some of the brilliant energy that characterized his best work. The film suggests that Thompson was swallowed up by celebrity, alcohol, and drugs and by his own inability to distinguish his invented persona Dr. Gonzo from his real self, the writer Hunter S. Thompson.

The film and various commentators celebrate Thompson's propensity tall tales, exaggerations, and outright lies. These are one of the most prominent elements in his best work. One of the most notorious examples is a rumor that Thompson started during the 1972 democratic primary campaign that Maine senator Edmund Muskie was addicted to a drug called Ibogaine. Thompson readily admitted to the fabrication, which may have done real damage to Muskie's campaign. Thompson favored McGovern and fiercely opposed everyone opposing him. Fabrication is a major component of Thompson's writing. He was, as one commentator notes, able to tell a larger than life truth while distorting or inventing his own version of reality. In the end, however, do we praise him for using an invented rumor to harm a candidate's campaign?

The film uses clips from other documentaries about Thompson's life and career and features Johnny Depp reading selections from Thompson's writing. Depp played Thompson's character in the film version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and remained friends with the writer for the rest of his life. He helped pay for the funeral at which Thompson's ashes were shot up into the sky over his ranch near Aspen, Colorado. The film includes interviews with various writers and political figures and other people who knew Thompson. They comment on his life, his reportorial abilities, his wild exaggerations, his unusual personality. They attest to the fact that he was a true individual, but they really don't move us very far towards understanding exactly why Hunter S. Thompson was like he was. (One commentator suggests that growing up in an impoverished family left him feeling excluded and mistreated). Some of my favorite commentators in the film are Jimmy Carter, Pat Buchanan, Tom Wolfe, and Thompson's first wife, Sandy. Juan, Thompson's son, also appears. He suggests that the closest he ever got to his father was when Thompson taught him how to use guns. Thompson was obsessed with guns.

This is an entertaining and informative portrait of Hunter S. Thompson's life. It's a sad film given that the last 25 years of Thompson's life were a long period of decline. One commentator suggests that Thompson's suicide was a kind of victory, an assertion of his right to end his life on his own terms. But his first wife Sandy suggests that his suicide was a failure. She points out that, given the current state of affairs, with the war in Iraq and George Bush as president, we need a writer like Hunter S. Thompson. I couldn't agree more.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Brave One

A moody faux noir, The Brave One (2007; dir. Neil Jordan) pays homage to revenge films of the 1970s, films with Charles Bronson and Bruce Dern and others where everyday citizens suffer horrible tragedies and take revenge on the criminals responsible. These films, along with the Dirty Harry and Billy Jack and Walking Tall series, and others, reflected a white middle-class belief in the breakdown of law and order in American society. In particular, they showed law enforcement agencies as ineffective if not corrupt, a justification for vigilante justice.

In The Brave One a couple soon to be married is attacked by thugs in a city park. The man is killed while the woman is gravely wounded. When she recovers, she finds that she is afraid in places and situations where she had never felt uncomfortable before. She buys a black-market gun for protection. One evening she walks into a grocery store and witnesses a murder. When the killer realizes she is watching, he moves to shoot her, but she kills him first. When hoodlums threaten her on the subway, she shoots them. She sees a man sitting in his car with a prostitute. He invites her to get in. The prostitute is barely conscious, heavily drugged. When the woman tries to help the prostitute out of the car, the man locks her in. She shoots him.

The woman increasingly chooses to walk isolated parts of the city at night, to expose herself to risk and to menacing people. Ultimately, she begins seeking those people out.

Her name is Erica Bain. She is a late-night radio show host who specializes in recording city background noises and on-the-air monologues about urban life. Her recovery from the tragedy she suffered is a gradual descent into murder and near madness. Jody Foster as Erica Bain is excellent. She plays the role in a flat, mute, depressed way. Terrence Howard as the police detective Sean Mercer investigating the murders plays his role in a similarly restrained and affectless manner that suggests deep emotions within.

This film's moodiness stems not only from the performances of the lead actors but also from the music and the cinematography. Most of the film takes place at night, in shadow or darkness, on streets hemmed in by towering buildings. The film is deliberately claustrophobic. The urban landscape is hostile and threatening. People avoid glancing at one another on the streets. The places Bain frequents are seedy and run down. There is little that is swank or high-toned about the New York of this film.

Unlike the vigilante films, the focus in this one is not on revenge but on the changes that occur in Bain's character and her developing friendship with detective Mercer.

Why in 2008 should a vigilante film fueled by the breakdown of law and order be relevant? Erica Bain early on asks herself why the police, who are investigating her fiancé's murder, seem like the enemy. Other than an unhelpful and impersonal desk detective, the police are sympathetic to her, although they do not manage to identify the people who attacked her. The breakdown of law and order in the United States is not a major issue these days. What is an issue is the breakdown of international law and order, the threat of terrorism in the United States, the fact that military and law enforcement agencies no longer seem able to protect individuals such as Erica Bain from threats and menaces that arise, whether this means thugs in a public park or men with bombs beneath their clothing. Erica's response to the violence in the city may be the film's way of expressing the unsettled state of world affairs in general.

The Brave One is well made, but it has its flaws. It's difficult to believe that Bain could get away with the murders she commits. She does not seek out most of her victims—but most of the time she kills, coincidentally or not, when no one is around to watch. Detective Mercer's gradual realization about who is committing the crimes is not credible. Arbitrary clues and guesses and a significant dose of intuition lead him to the discovery too soon. He himself is recovering from a difficult divorce, and his own traumatic experience allows him to sympathize to an extent with what is happening to Bain.

The Brave One ends in a resolution that betrays the basic principles of film noir. But it is the kind of ending that popular cinema must deliver. It is also, ironically, the kind of ending that confirms the underlying assumptions of 1970s vigilante films about law enforcement. Of course, numerous events in the last several decades seem to confirm those assumptions.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Harlan County USA

Harlan County USA is a 1976 documentary directed by Barbara Kopple about a 1973 strike at the Brookside Mines in Harlan County, Kentucky. There is no narration. Only a few on-screen messages provide basic information about the strike or about national developments in cold mining labor relations. Instead Kopple organizes the film so that the words and faces of the coal miners and coal mine owners and others tell the story. (Her voice is often heard in the background of the film, asking questions of the miners). This approach works extremely well. It is a small and focused story. But it becomes a microcosm for a study of labor relations in the American coal mining industry in the 20th century.

The film documents a strike against the Duke Power Company in a small Kentucky coal mining community. The people who live there are for the most part not especially educated. They live in shacks and rundown shanties. They live hard lives in general, both in and out of the mines. Harlan County has a long history of difficult coal mining labor relations going back into the 1930s. Several of the older miners and their wives reminisce about that era.

The personalities and voices of the miners and their wives make this film memorable. They speak with simple eloquence. They may not be highly educated, but there is nothing unintelligent or ignorant about them. The film is shot in color, but the black-and-white hues you would expect in a coal mining community dominate the film. For the most part the miners and their families are lower-class whites. Only a few black coal miners appear, but they seem to get along well with the other miners even though this is a 1973 rural Appalachian Kentucky community.

The film highlights the role of women as part of the Brookside Mine strike. They support their husbands and often stand on the front lines, opposing the goons and thugs hired by the coal mining company to intimidate and threaten the striking miners. When the men seem to be losing interest in the strike, the women upbraid and encourage them to press on. During a meeting that follows a particularly violent attack on the striking miners, one woman pulls a pistol from her blouse and announces that she is ready to answer violence with violence. The women are a fundamental part of the struggle against Duke Power.

Folk and mountain songs about coal mining provide background music for the film. Some of the miners are shown performing music, singing and playing banjo or guitar.

The film is about the exploitation of the coal miners. It makes clear that the exploitation is not only the fault of the local managers of the Brookside Mine and the Duke Power Company but also that of the upper administration of the UMW. The film implies, or at least the coal miners believe, that deals have been cut between the coal mining owners and the UMW bosses and that the coal miners themselves are powerless to negotiate agreements that will change their working and living conditions. When this film was being made a major transition was taking place in the UMW. New individuals were challenging the UMW leadership. In 1969 reform-minded Joseph A. Yablonski ran to unseat the long-entrenched Tony Boyle as president of the UMW. In December of that year, Yablonski and his wife and daughter were found murdered in their home. Boyle himself was convicted in 1974 of commissioning the crimes. These events are all covered in the film.

Harlan County USA is a wonderful example of how a documentary can illustrate and explain history through the voices of people who themselves are making history. This is an eloquent, extremely well made film. It's moving and sometimes emotionally draining. But it's also uplifting and inspiring. When the strike is over, the coal miners get their contract. It's not exactly what they wanted, but it's better than what they had. The national UMW succeeds in negotiating a contract for the national coal mining industry and even that is imperfect (it denies miners the right to strike on the local level). At the end of the film the miners return to the mines for the first time in thirteen months, resolved to continue with the only occupation they know, resolved to continue struggling to improve their circumstances.

Harlan County USA is widely respected as one of the best examples of documentary filmmaking in America. It deserves that reputation. It won the 1976 Academy Award for Best Documentary film.

Sarah Palin

John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as his vice presidential candidate is an example of pure and transparent political cynicism. You can understand why he would have leaned towards a woman or a person of color as his vice presidential choice. Such a candidate provides an ideal way of deflating the Barack Obama bandwagon. It's also an ideal way of countering the notion that a vote for Obama is a vote for making history by electing the first African-American president of the United States. Now you can vote for a Republican woman as vice president and also make history though not quite as dramatically. What's so disturbing about the choice of Sarah Palin is the fact of her profound inexperience. Yes, she combated corruption in Alaskan politics. Yes, she opposed some of the biggest and most long-established moguls in the Alaskan government. But when you look at her qualifications and when you consider her position on fundamental political issues, she's not at all impressive. In fact, she's frightening. She is right wing in the extreme in a way that contrasts markedly with John McCain's self-styled moderation. She's taken a right-wing position on practically every issue you can name, from her opposition to abortion rights to her enthusiastic endorsement of and membership in the National Rifle Association to her belief that polar bears should be removed from the endangered species list to her advocacy for drilling for oil in one of the most pristine and beautiful natural habitats in the world. She's a right-wing evangelical. She favors the teaching of creationism in public schools. There are some who say she hasn't hesitated to use her position as governor of Alaska against people she dislikes--currently she is under investigation for trying to have her sister's ex-husband removed from his position as a state patrolman. Of course, the facts are not all out on this issue, but it is certainly worth keeping in mind. Sarah Palin has a profound lack of experience not only in Alaskan politics--she has been governor for only two years--but also on the national and international stages, where she has no experience whatsoever. The notion that this wholly unproven individual could suddenly be thrust into leadership of the free world is most disturbing.

McCain's choice of Sarah Palin is perhaps the most disappointing choice he has made in this presidential campaign. I don't support John McCain's candidacy for President and will not vote for him. I don't agree with him on many basic issues. But he has over the years acted and spoken in a way that suggested he has his own mind and that he has a streak of independence and integrity. He has consistently attacked Barack Obama for his purported inexperience in government. Now he chooses as his vice presidential running mate a considerably less experienced person who has never served in national government and who has served only two years in state government and whose positions are so far to the extreme right that we have to believe that McCain is not only pandering for the votes of disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters but that he is also pandering to the far right. Television newscasters and pundits have suggested that this appointment by McCain is a Hail Mary pass, the kind of gamble a candidate would take when he recognizes that his campaign and his prospects for the presidency are foundering. Yet McCain has been faring fairly well in the polls of late, and just before the Democratic convention he had pulled almost even with Obama. Of course Obama is now experiencing the kind of bounce in the polls that presidential candidates experience right after the conventions. But McCain is not out of the running. At least he wasn't out of the running until now. Surely Hillary Clinton supporters will not be deceived by this ploy. Surely no intelligent person who supported Hillary Clinton and all of her important positions on women's rights, on the war in Iraq, on healthcare, on the role of government in servng the welfare of American citizens would even consider for a moment voting for McCain because of the gender of the candidate he has chosen as his running mate. The choice of Sarah Palin should mark the realistic end of John McCain's hopes to be president of the United States.