Band of Brothers re-watch: you should do this

Every year or two I feel compelled to re-watch Band of Brothers, the HBO miniseries that first aired in 2001, and I am always rewarded for it. It’s flat out amazing, a stunning achievement in so many ways.

The true story, based on the book of the same name, by Stephen E. Ambrose, follows a parachute infantry company (E or “Easy” Company from the 506th Regiment of the famous 101st Airborne) over the course of two years of training for what was then a new element of the military, and then a full year of combat, from D-Day (June 6th, 1944) and across France, through the “low countries” and the harrowing and brutal Battle of the Bulge, and finally into Germany itself through to V-E Day and the end of the Second World War.

The cast and scope of the show is incredible, but if you had to choose a main character it would be Dick Winters, portrayed by Damian Lewis. The heroism and leadership of the real life Winters is nearly larger than life, and Lewis plays the role with an understated dignity and grit that does honor to the man (the real life version of whom you meet along with other surviving alumni of E Company in interviews during each episode). Lewis is best known nowadays for his roles on Billions and Homeland and he’s always great, but Band of Brothers is by far my favorite role of his.

With all the deserved hoopla over Game of Thrones, it’s fascinating to go back and watch an HBO show that’s approaching 20 years old and see how well the battle sequences hold up. For example, “Carentan,” the third episode, which focuses on the tenuous post-D-Day advance of the allies past Normandy beachheads, showcases battle sequences that easily rival the brilliant Saving Private Ryan. It also portrays utilizes the medium and its 10-hour running time to showcase quiet moments and character moments amid the chaos of war. And it also delivers moments of tremendous suspense and shocking surprises.

And Band of Brothers does a great job too of focusing on one or just a few characters within an episode to showcase the different kinds of individuals who made up a company (and an army) that helped to win the war. “Carentan” spends a lot of time with Private Albert Blithe (played by Marc Warren) for example, a young soldier clearly suffering from PTSD (a term that didn’t exist 75 years ago). It’s painful to watch Blithe struggling to fight and help his comrades while being debilitated by his condition.

And then we get doses of wartime philosophy, such as from Lt. Ronald Speirs (Matthew Settle), who notes:

  • It’s all just a game, all of it… It’s simple: Just do what you have to do. We’re all scared. You hid in that ditch because you think there’s still hope. But, Blithe, the only hope you have is to accept the fact that you’re already dead. And the sooner you accept that, the sooner you’ll be able to function as a soldier’s supposed to function. Without mercy, without compassion, without remorse. All war depends upon it.

On a final Band of Brothers note, special shout out to Ron Livingston, who portrays Lewis Nixon, an intelligence officer and comrade to Winters. Livingston, likely best known for the 1999 comedy classic Office Space, is one of my favorite actors from the time I first caught him in Swingers (a movie I’m sure I’ll do a deep dive on at some point). In Band of Brothers he shows off a darker side, playing a competent military officer for whom the war takes a psychological toll.

This post originally appeared in The Berlin Files e-mail newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.

2020 Democrats: state of the race (May 12th, 2019)

Ed Gilgore asks, “Will the Mountain West Become Pivotal in Future Elections?” In terms of presidential elections, the short answer is “no.” The Rust Belt — Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania in particular — are most likely to be pivotal to winning the Electoral College in 2020.

The Five Thirty Eight gang recently did a live podcast from Austin, Texas and among other things discussed whether or not Texas would be a “battleground state” in 2020.  While there wasn’t a clear consensus among the panel, Nate Silver made the important point that if the Democratic candidate wins Texas, it’s very likely that it means he or she would have won by a large margin nationally and that the “tipping point” state, or the state that puts the winning candidate over the 270 electoral vote threshold to take the White House, is likeliest to come out of the Rust Belt region.

So, in short, if we’re channeling the late, great Tim Russert, it may well be all about Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania.

Which is where the notion of “electability,” always a squishy term, does get more interesting. If Joe Biden were to come in to help win a single state beyond his home state of Delaware, it would be Pennsylvania. And that’s also why I’m really interested to see polling out of Pennsylvania specifically, lining up Biden versus Trump in addition to as many of the other Democratic contenders as possible.

All of that said, and speaking of nerding out on polling, according to one poll (OH Predictive Insights), Biden is the only Democrat of those polled beating Trump in Arizona (49%-45%). The others — Sanders, Warren, Harris, Buttigieg, and O’Rourke — all trail Trump between five and nine points. If Arizona becomes a “true” battleground state in 2020, that will have all kinds of implications for strategy, resources, and the electoral map.

All of this polling stuff always comes with the caveat of “but it’s still very early.” Other tea leaves to sift through include endorsements. Five Thirty Eight has put together a 2020 Endorsement Primary tracker, with points allotted based on the the prominence of the endorser: 10 points for a former president or vice president, three points for a U.S. representative, for example.

Not surprisingly, Biden is currently in the “lead” with 80 endorsement points as of this writing. His backers include some real star power within the Democratic Party, including Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, and former DNC Chair (and Pennsylvania Gov.) Ed Rendell. Cory Booker is in second place with 57 points, mostly thanks to a large group of home state New Jersey congresspeople who have publicly backed him.

From there, it’s interesting to sift through other endorsements to see if anything can be made. California Gov. Gavin Newsom has endorsed Kamala Harris (eight points banked!), for example, but fellow California Sen. Diane Feinstein has opted to back Biden. Sens. Klobuchar and Warren have amassed some home state support but little else thus far. Sanders has the backing of some liberal public officials from around the country (including fellow Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy) but only has 22 points thus far.

It’s debatable how much influence endorsements have at all, of course. And the ones that might make the most difference — from Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton specifically — may stay on the sidelines until there’s a presumptive nominee. In the meantime, let the caffeine consumption, tea leaf (coffee ground?) reading continue!

Okay, let’s take this into next level nerding out. If you’re like me, this is where it gets good. From my guy Harry Enten:

  • If you were to take an average of polls since the beginning of the year, you’d get something like… Biden 30%, Sanders 18%, Harris 9%, O’Rourke 7%, Warren 6%, Booker 4%, Buttigieg 3%. Last week: Biden 38%, Sanders 16%, Warren 9%, Buttigieg 7%, Harris 7%, O’Rourke 5%, Booker 3%.

I’d say that’s a perfect snapshot of the state of the race, with the trend tilting more toward Biden for now and away from nearly everyone else. In fact, in looking at recent national polls, Biden and Sanders collectively grab very close to 60% support regularly. The “next tier,” those candidates seeing mostly low to mid-single digits at this point (Harris, O’Rourke, Warren, Booker, Buttigieg) are collectively seeing around 25-30% support.

From Matt Grossman:

  • Biden continues taking support from Bernie, suggesting: 1) Left takeover of the Democratic Party was quite exaggerated 2) Many Democratic voters do not see the race as an ideological contest 3) Bernie was benefiting from prior media focus, now Biden is; Pete bubbles also popping:

Nate Silver:

  • The big mistake everyone made was to overestimate what share of Bernie’s vote in 2016 (43%) reflected people on the left rather than some combination of i) the left, ii) the #NeverHillary vote, and iii) people behind him for personality, identity or other nonideological reasons.

More from Enten:

  • I’ll have more on this, but while Biden and Sanders have different coalitions in a number of respects… They share something in common: appeal to non-college whites. This is markedly different from Clinton in 2016 who struggled with this group.

The fact that Biden is able to appeal to non-college whites within the Democratic voting electorate in a way that Hillary Clinton was not plays into part of the reason why Sanders — at least so far — is struggling to gain the level of support that he did in 2016. Again, it’s early and a lot can happen. But the huge and seemingly ever growing field mapped against Biden’s significant polling bounce after his official entry into the race, in addition to a large number of fellow liberals in the race is going to make a path to victory for Bernie Sanders fairly narrow.

Quoting me:

  • At least for the moment, Biden is looking more like a traditional frontrunner with a wide and varied field chasing him.

Greg Sargent thinks Elizabeth Warren is the best candidate to take on Trump:

  • Only one 2020 Democrat fully grasps the threat that Trump poses. And only one of them has offered a suitably detailed and comprehensive response to *all* the challenges and perils of this particular moment. It’s @ewarren.

Pull quote from Sargent’s WaPo piece:

  • Thus, Warren is treating this two-sided coin of authoritarianism and corruption as a systemic problem in need of reform, one linked to the broader imperative of actually “draining the swamp,” as Trump vowed, only to plunge into full-scale corruption himself.

And Ezra Klein sees some similarities between Warren and 2020 Dem and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee:

  • With Warren bouncing back to 3rd/4th, the 2020 Democrat polling at the worst substance-to-popularity ratio is Jay Inslee. His climate policy is way ahead of the rest of the field. His record as governor is impressive. He deserves more attention.

As I’ve noted before, I’d like to see Inslee get more of a look as well. If nothing else, I hope the debates devote a significant amount of time to climate change policy.

Here’s a good backgrounder on Amy Klobuchar  which talks about her family, her “Midwestern celebrity journalist” father Jim, and “reports of a fierce temper.”

Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld is the only 2020 GOP candidate making a go at knocking Trump out in the primaries. Here’s a good Politico piece bibbbcovering his history in law enforcement and politicsSome pull quotes:

  • In the 1990s, Weld was Massachusetts’ socially liberal, budget-hawk Republican governor, but in the 22 years since he last held office he has strayed from the center of the GOP. He endorsed Barack Obama in 2008 and ran as the Libertarian candidate for vice-president in 2016. Now, Weld’s trying to foment a revolt against Trump in live-free-or-die New Hampshire, where an open primary system offers him a chance to lure persuadable independents to the polls.
  • “Bill Weld is the base of the Republican Party 50 years ago, not the current base of the Republican Party,” says Elaine Kamarck, a Brookings Institution senior fellow and author of the book Primary Politics.

I grew up in New York at a time when there were still vestiges of an old guard moderate/liberal Republicanism that you don’t really see today. Sens. Jacob Javits and Al D’Amato came out of this tradition, for example. Weld does indeed seem to hearken back to a different time.

Anyway, to close, this is pretty fantastic:

  • This was Weld’s opening to pivot to an attack on Trump for being attracted to “the autocrats and the despots” like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un. “The president, early on, said, ‘Hey, what a tough kid! He is a tough kid! Imagine, he iced his own uncle!’” Weld complains. “This is in tones of admiration! I used to hear a lot of that when I was listening to wiretaps of the organized crime families we took out in Boston.”

This post originally appeared in The Berlin Files e-mail newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.

The Game of Thrones podcast geek pyramid

This edition of On Media is about Game of Thrones-related podcast content specifically.

Even if you’re not a fan of the HBO show turned cultural phenomenon, you’re probably aware that we’re now in the final stretch of episodes — in fact, the series finale will debut on May 19th.

And if you are a fan as I am, you’re probably binge reading and listening to as much GoT stuff as you can because, you know, it’s cool and all. And it’s probably one of the very last true “water cooler shows” that we’re going to see for a long, long time.

With that in mind, here’s a quick and handy guide to finding the right “level” of GoT podcasting content, based on your level of geekery with relation to the show. All of these podcasts are part of The Ringer network, which produces a remarkable array of shows, of which I’ll have to get into more fully in another edition.

Apex-of-the Geeky-Pyramid Level: Binge Mode 
Hosted by “Mother of Dragons” Mallory Rubin and “Grand Maester” Jason Concepcion, these two are my pop culture geek spirit guides. In each episode, they go deep for around two hours, parsing through the episode, how it relates to the series as a whole, the books (which themselves are quite dense and include a Silmarillon-like backstory and history), and fan and media expectations.

They’re also scholars of the art of fantasy storytelling and don’t hold back at all when and where they feel that the show comes up short. For example, there’s a lot of focus of late on how Game of Thrones may or may not pay enough attention to the core fantasy and magical underpinnings of the story.

They are also freaking hilarious. If you love Game of Thrones and a sigil for House Geek lurks in your soul, check out Binge Mode.

And if you’re a Harry Potter fan, there’s an oceanic archive of stuff that Binge Mode has produced as well that you’ll want to check out.

Mid-level Geekery: The Watch 
Overall, The Watch is my favorite pop culture podcast. Usually, it’s pretty TV-centric but will also do some film and music stuff. Lately, there has been a Game of Thrones-centered episode each week that’s really fun as well. Hosted by Chris Ryan and Andy Greenwald, this podcast has a great adoration for Game of Thrones while making sure to note its successes and failings with expert analysis.

Low-level Geekery: The Bill Simmons Podcast 
This is predominantly a sports podcast, so don’t be fooled, please (though Simmons will interview non-sports figures semi-regularly as well). That said, they’ve been doing a very funny segment called “Throne Game” at the end of episodes of late, in which Simmons and his guests (typically Ryen Russillo or Joe House) run through the most recent episode for 5-10 minutes from an extremely casual fan’s standpoint. This yields ridiculously funny bits such as how the dragons should wear gender neutral-colored collars to tell one another apart, and how Bronn and The Hound’s PER (= Player Efficiency Rating, a sports analytics term) is extremely high.

I’ll be sad when GoT is over, but as the Drowned God would say, “What is dead may never die.”

This post originally appeared in what had originally been called The Eric Berlin E-mail Newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.

RZA and Wu-Tang Clan (again and again and again)

RZA is one of the more fascinating figures in American culture. Rapper and member of the iconic hip hop collective known as the Wu-Tang Clan, actor, author, and filmmaker, his most impressive work of all may be as a record producer.

And on top of all that, he’s just a really interesting dude. Check out the way he answers a pretty broad question in an interview (“What are the most important rules that you live by?”) with passionate specificity:

  • The most important rule is just keeping it 100 percent with myself, preparing myself for what’s in front of me and making sure that I complete my goals. First you set your goal, right? Identify what it is, envision it and then I prepare. If my goal was simply to climb a tree, I’m gonna study a tree-climbing book, understand the tools and equipment that I need to do it, understand that if I gotta go up, you know, that may be easy. But what about coming back down, right?

If you’re ever of a mind, sample a book called The Tao of Wu (by “The RZA”), which digs into his personal philosophy, a combination of deep humanism and compassion matched with an aggressive attitude and hustler’s spirit that came out of his growing up in the projects in Staten Island, New York (neighborhoods that would later get mythologized by the Wu-Tang Clan as the “slums of Shaolin”).

If you’re down for a mixture of Buddhist philosophy and spiritualism, hardcore underground hip hop influence, and samurai culture, you’re just starting to get an inkling of what RZA brings to the table.

And then he shows up for character arcs on shows like Californication and you’re like, what?

RZA and Wu-Tang are back in the news recently on a number of fronts. They were given a street sign and honored with a Wu-Tang Clan Day in Staten Islandfor one, and later this year there will be “a 10-part scripted series co-written by RZA detailing the clan’s history and formation” that will be released on Hulu.

And if that’s not enough, Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men, a four-hour documentary miniseries now available on Showtime, is here to remind us of even more of the RZA and Wu-Tang legacy.  For example, there’s the part where the large and rambunctious Wu-Tang crew were given the ability to go off and do solo projects while still maintaining allegiance to the Wu-Tang collective. Method Man recalls:

  • We had labels that would usually be competing against each other actually working with each other, for our cause. Insane. Unheard of. RZA had the plan, but who knew? And, uh, I guess I got lucky. I guess we all did.

This move set the table for hip hop masterpieces such as GZA’s (not to be confused with RZA) Liquid Swords

If you’re into hip hop music at all and you haven’t given it a listen in some time, get your ears in front of Wu-Tang’s debut album from 1993, Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)right now. It’s a shockingly good album and still sounds fresh and rambunctious as ever. It’s somehow raw, rocking, groovy, jarring, and ear pleasing all at the same time, the lyrics at turns unsettling and hilarious, weird and weirdly profound. And if you had to pick an album that was The Most NYC Album Ever, you could do worse than this one.

When I was discussing Wu-Tang with my man Dave recently, he also advised including the greatness that is Wu-Tang Forever.

I must also include this work of pure ebullient genius, a Wu-Tang vs. The Beatles mash-up, called Enter the Magical Mystery Chambers.  I don’t know how this masterwork entered our plane of existence, but I think it’s best to not question such things.

This post originally appeared in what had originally been called The Eric Berlin E-mail Newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.

2020 Democrats: state of the race (May 5th, 2019)

Joe Biden is showing a major post-announcement polling bump in five national polls out this week, ranging from a not insignificant 14 to 30 point lead (a Harvard-Harris poll out on Saturday has Biden crushing the field at 44% support to only 14% for second-place Bernie Sanders).

Interestingly, Elizabeth Warren slipped just ahead of Bernie Sanders in the Quinnipiac poll, though both trail Biden badly in that one (Biden: 38%, Warren: 12%, Sanders: 11%). So really the top line story is that Biden has — for the moment at least — transitioned from a “factional” candidate, as Nate Silver puts it, to a front running candidate. In no way does that guarantee or even mean victory for Biden is likely, but obviously being out in front with a healthy lead is a good thing and with it brings the good problems of being the one that all of the many and myriad other candidates are aiming to surpass.

And as Silver himself puts it:

  • Feel like the conventional wisdom is lagging the polls. Today’s data doesn’t suggest a Bernie vs. Biden standoff so much as Biden as a flawed but formidable-enough frontrunner from the Obama-Clinton wing of the party, and 4-6 alternative visions with a decent shot to beat him.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Biden’s appeal of late, and part of it is figuring out who I want to support in the Democratic horse race. I’ve been pretty clear that my top priority is to vote Donald Trump out of office (I offered up Baron the dog as a potential opponent just this morning, in fact). There are appealing things about many of the candidates, and I genuinely like Joe Biden and find him really smart and competent when it comes to foreign policy (even with his vote on the Iraq War). But the age thing bothers me, as does the nagging sense that it’s time to usher in a younger generation of leadership.

It’s often noted that each new president represents a “reaction” to the one before: Obama’s cool professorial demeanor followed George W. Bush’s cowboy machismo, for example. Therefore, I can see Joe Biden representing a “return to normalcy” for many people after the chaotic, disturbing, and democracy-unsettling Trump era. The question for Democrats and the country is: what does normalcy even mean, and is that something we want to “return” to?

As Andrew Sullivan sees it:

  • For those who simply want to defeat Trump at all costs, Biden, for now, seems the safest bet. He can run on a platform deeply informed by the left’s critique of the market, without the baggage of left wokeness or those eager to play into the GOP’s hands and explicitly avow “socialism.”

There’s a lot of outspoken liberals who kind of hate Joe Biden, at least as much when it comes to the notion of the former VP as the Democratic nominee for president of the United States:

  • Still, all this flak, which accurately reflects elite progressive disdain for Biden, has had approximately zero effect on his standing in public opinion. He’s not simply leading in the polls: He has remarkably positive favorability ratios among Democrats (75/14 in the latest tracking poll from Morning Consult), with a diverse base of support that lacks just one component: the young voters least likely to participate in caucuses and primaries (viz, in the 2016 Iowa Democratic caucuses, 64 percent of participants were 45 or older).

And well put, this:

  • At this point Biden can run as a unity/consensus candidate who is the best bet to beat Trump, until something happens that calls that strategy into question. And if that does happen, he can always fall back on the option of running as the factional candidate of Democrats who fear a lefty nominee would play right into Republican plans to depict their party as having lurched off into socialist extremism.

Digging into the numbers on Biden’s support, from Five Thirty Eight: 

  • Biden’s support is driven by older Democrats and by nonwhite Democrats — two groups that aren’t always well-represented on social media or in other forums that sometimes dictate the conventional wisdom about the candidates. Biden had 50 percent of nonwhite voters in the CNN poll, well ahead of Sanders’s 14 percent. In Morning Consult’s poll, Biden polled at 43 percent among black Democrats, compared to Sanders’s 20 percent. Biden had 46 percent support from Democrats age 50-64 in CNN’s poll and 50 percent support from those 65 and older.

Steve Kornacki adds:

  • I think one of the biggest misconceptions out there was that Biden’s pre-announcement support represented his ceiling — that he was universally known and the only place to go was down.

And more from Kornacki:

  • Biden’s been angling for the presidency for decades, but now for the first time will get to run for the Democratic nomination as the front-runner. His potential to stumble is well-documented. He may also get the benefit of the doubt from Dems in a way he never could before.

And David Axelrod:

  • Old CW: @JoeBiden is a fragile frontrunner, hobbled by age, record and excessive touching. New CW: @JoeBiden is a behemoth astride the primary field, the dragon-slayer-in- waiting. Conclusion: CW is usually overdone.

More from Axe, on Warren versus Sanders:

  • …the tentative signs of progress by the “persistent” and policy-laden @Ewarren should add to concerns in the @BernieSanders camp, as they are very much working the same side of the street.

On the issues that Democratic voters care about, an interesting bit from the CNN poll, via Vanessa Yurkevich on Twitter:

  • The most important issues for voters surveyed (in order) are: Climate Change, Healthcare, Gun laws

Adam Best on Elizabeth Warren:

  • Elizabeth Warren is top three in all the latest 2020 polls and moved up to second (behind Biden but ahead of Bernie) in the new Qpac one. She’s dominated the policy primary and it’s encouraging to see voters start to take notice. She should be considered one of the frontrunners.

Harry Enten notes: “Biden’s doing 21 points among better w/ nonwhite Democrats than white Democrats in our poll. Prior polls showed Biden doing very well w/ black voters, a power center in the party.”

Going deeper into that CNN poll, it’s interesting to note that the Democratic party is more complex than a breakdown of “liberals” versus “moderates.” The “somewhat liberal” group also leans strongly toward Biden, though not quite as heavily as the “very liberal” group.

From Nate Silver:

  • How many of the Democratic candidates could effectively articulate in a sentence or two why they’re running? Biden, Bernie, Warren and Inslee do well by that metric. And Yang, I guess? Maybe Buttigieg and maybe Gillibrand, actually. But I have no idea about some of the others.

Blackjack! We have “major” Dem 2020 candidate #21 in Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet.  I don’t know a lot about Bennet so will be interested to learn more, but I’m reminded that running for president at any stage and with any level of experience takes a certain amount of bravery, grit, and, well, mega ego. But to be the 21st major candidate to throw your hat in the ring as though to say, “Take a step back, everyone, what you’ve been up to is cute and everything, but I got this y’all,” is pretty amazing.

As I’ve mentioned a few times, I’ve been enjoying what seems to be a Pod Save America series where they’re bringing on many of the “below the fold” 2020 Dems. This week it was former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who for me transitioned from another guy running (slotted into the Western governor category along with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee) to someone who impressed me with both his optimism and his bipartisan bona fides as both governor and, before that, mayor of Denver. Like with so many other qualified candidates, it’s going to come down to when and where they have an opportunity for a breakout moment, either if or when a “higher polling tier” candidate stumbles or nosedives, or during some other moment that they might be able to break through the noise to have what we would call a “moment.” And that’s where the early debates are going to become extremely interesting indeed.

And if that’s not enough for you this week, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio is expected to announce a 2020 presidential run next week.

Beto news of the week: “Beto O’Rourke’s first substantive policy plan is here, a $5 trillion proposal that aims for net-zero carbon emissions in the U.S. by 2050.”

And finally, quoting myself on Twitter:

  • I like aspects of many of the candidates. Let’s have some debates, learn more about the candidates, see who can handle the big stage, and who has the right message to take on Trump best. This seems to me be a reasonable approach.

That guy’s good, right?

This post originally appeared in what had originally been called The Eric Berlin E-mail Newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.

Re-visiting The Doors movie

I find myself revisiting some of the more important or influential pop culture artifacts from my youth-type days of late. I’m re-reading Stephen King’s The Gunslinger, for example, the still astoundingly good first chapter of The Dark Tower epic.

I re-watched the Oliver Stone-directed The Doors recently as well. I saw the movie in the theater when it came out in 1991, and I was at just the right age for that movie — and more importantly for me at the time, the music — to punch me in the metaphorical gut. The music has stayed with me over the years (even though my wife has forever maintained that the talent of Jim Morrison is akin to the character Michael Bolton’s take on the real life Michael Bolton in Office Space), but I had not re-visited the movie since at least the late 1990s.

It holds up in many ways — it’s visually striking and screams 1960s stylized excess and “loving your neighbor until it hurts.” And the music concert scenes are great, fronted by Val Kilmer’s scary good performance as the Lizard King himself. But as with many biopics, it falls apart mid-way through and gets dull and dreary as Morrison descends into addiction and is a non-stop a-hole to everyone around him.

As is my wont, I then went down the YouTube rabbit hole a bit, landing on an early 1990s Ray Manzarak interview in which he pans the movie and the portrayal of Morrison, saying that the singer was a genuinely nice and non-abusive guy, with the caveat that he did have his demons. Manzarark then pitched a documentary that he had just put out at the time, called The Soft Parade (which is also the name of a really good if pretty long song off a Doors album of the same name). The documentary is very under produced by modern standards, but as Manzarak notes it does show a different side to the band, both offstage and on versus the general persona and image that the Stone movie in part helped to impart as the singer and band’s legacy.

I’m lucky enough to have seen Manzarak perform live twice, and once with fellow Doors alums John Densmore and Robby Krieger. That latter performance was an anniversary show at West Hollywood’s famous Whiskey a Go Go, the venue where The Doors honed their craft before launching into super stardom. Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction fame stood in as the band’s front man. It was a pretty wild night. Slash from Guns n’ Roses walked right by me at one point, and then I got to speak with Manzarak very briefly. It was very much a “don’t meet your idols” moment, the story of which I’ll hold for another installment.

This post originally appeared in what had originally been called The Eric Berlin E-mail Newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.

2020 Democrats: state of the race (April 28th, 2019)

Former Vice President, Senator, and all around old dude who’s been on our TVs forever Joe Biden is officially in as a 2020 Dem. He’s about the 400th Democrat in the race at this point, but to be fair I’ve lost track. Pull quote:

  • The former vice president and longtime Delaware senator joins a historically diverse field of first-time presidential candidates who reflect the party’s yearning for fresh faces and women and candidates of color — a paradox that the 76-year-old white Washington insider is hoping to reconcile through his association with a Democratic president beloved by the party base: Barack Obama.

So what I’ve been really wanting to write for some time is: who’s ridin’ with Biden? 

Two theories of the case for Joe, from Politico Playbook:

  • — ONE: Twitter isn’t real life, and the former VP is more popular among the Democratic voting rank and file than the Acela Corridor conversation would suggest.
  • — TWO: Biden’s station at the top of the polls simply reflects his name ID, and once primary voters get a look at the 76-year-old, bipartisan-touting, gaffe-prone Washington insider, they’ll dart in the other direction.

This Slate piece does a good job of making the case against Joe Biden winning the nomination from the perspective of the other (many) candidates:

  • Biden is something more like a 2016 Jeb Bush: a weak establishment favorite whose time might be past and—should voters deprioritize his top perceived strength, electability—who could soon face the wolves. He leads in national and some earlystate polling, but not by much. The only potential candidates who’ve bowed out because Biden took their space were Terry McAuliffe and Michael Bloomberg. And though he may have far more charisma than Bush did, the financial resources will be harder to come by.

And here’s how Matthew Yglesias at Vox frames it:

  • Mainstream Democrats like other mainstream Democrats. But what it means to be a mainstream Democrat has changed significantly since Biden entered the Senate 46 years ago. As Democrats gear up to take on Trump, the party’s best shot is to do anything possible to avoid repeating the 2016 experience of defending decades’ worth of twists and turns on various issues from the Iraq War to LGBTQ rights to banking deregulation.

William Saletan reviews “10 Questions Joe Biden Needs to Answer About His Views on Race.”

On the electoral front, Nate Silver adds from Twitter:

  • Overall, I think [Biden’s] the frontrunner. We can debate what that means; it does NOT mean odds-on favorite. (He’s clearly an underdog vs. the field IMO.) But he’s ahead in the polls. He’s the biggest brand-name out there. And he appeals to the sorts of Democrats the media ignores.

More from Silver on Five Thirty Eight: 

  • A well-known candidate polling like Biden (about 28 percent in national polls) should win the nomination about 35 percent of the time, other factors held equal.

Biden raised $6.3 million in the first 24 “official” hours of his campaign, putting him just ahead of Beto’s $6.1 million for the lead in this particular race that absolutely no one will care about another 24 hours from right now.

I haven’t written that much about Bernie Sanders to date, though he’s been polling mostly in second place, occasionally in first, in nearly every poll both nationally and in early primary states to date. This Five Thirty Eight piece sums up Sanders’ current status in the race pretty well:

  • To be clear, I think Sanders can win the Democratic nomination. He’s probably the 3rd- or 4th- most likely nominee, in my estimation — slightly behind Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and roughly tied with Pete Buttigieg, but ahead of everyone else. All of these candidates (and others such as Elizabeth Warren and Beto O’Rourke) have their own assets and liabilities, so I wouldn’t go to the mat if you put them in a different order.

I’d say that Elizabeth Warren is making the most impressive effort of all the 2020 Dems to date in terms of staking a claim on the liberal/progressive side of the Democratic base. Not only has she stepped out in front of the pack to state that President Trump should be impeached, but she’s delivered a steady stream of detailed and ambitious progressive policy proposals. The latest is to wipe out $640 billion in existing student debt, “funded by a tax on the rich.”  This is also fascinating strategy in that Warren is seeking to cut through the noise to appeal to young people and voters in lower income brackets, both groups of which are not necessarily her natural constituencies.

Here’s a pretty striking tidbit with regard to Sanders and Warren, pulled from a mid-April Emerson poll:

  • 26% of current Bernie Sanders supporters said that they would rather vote for President Donald Trump over Senator Elizabeth Warren, if that were the eventual 2020 matchup

It seems like every week I write something like, “yet another 2020 Dem is now running for president.” Well, this week ain’t not different: Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts is running for president. “Moulton, an Iraq War veteran who led an infantry platoon while serving in the Marines, plans to make foreign policy, national security and defense his key issues.”

Moulton appeared on Pod Save America after his announcement, and I was impressed with his commitment to service (the guy did four tours of duty in Iraq before running for Congress) and his emphasis on foreign policy as a focal point to take on Trump next year.

If nothing else, we’re getting a wide and varied field running for president this time around — and I hope we get some additional serious candidates on the GOP side. This is the first presidential cycle where I personally am hearing from a wide swath of candidates directly this early on, which has mostly to do with catching them on podcast interviews (versus other forums such as Sunday morning shows or late night shows, which I stopped watching many years ago).

A Top Adviser To Beto O’Rourke Has Left His Presidential Campaign” is usually not a great headline or sign for a candidate, with all the caveats that it’s still super early. That said, I’ve been thinking about O’Rourke of late, and I don’t have a ready answer on why he should be the 2020 presidential nominee from the Democratic Party. Reporting has him tacking “more towards the center of the party,” which is probably good for strategic reasons (the liberal “lane” is jam packed with candidates) and practical ones (his voting record as a Congressman from El Paso, Texas is relatively moderate).

There’s a “conventional wisdom” of sorts that says that left-leaning voters on Twitter are seeking a liberal standard bearer for 2020, something along the lines of a Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren. While this is highly anecdotal, I found the results of a Twitter poll that Jon Cooper, the chairman of, to be quite interesting:

  • Which ONE factor do you consider MOST important when deciding which candidate to back in the Democratic presidential primary?

The results, with close to 24,000 votes at the time of this writing: a full 60% selected “ability to defeat Trump,” with “positions on key issues” a distant second at 36%, and “gender, age, race, etc.” at 2%. Whether this tracks with the electorate at large or voters’ true inclinations remains to be seen, but if nothing else it showcases the wisdom — for lack of a better word — of scrutinizing conventional wisdom.

More strident liberals, such as Abby Martin, help to set that conventional wisdom on Twitter, the digital platform that the media industry spends the most time on. Here’s an example from Martin:

  • Obama picked Biden specifically to pander to moderate Republicans. The fact that he is being rolled out to lead us through a slow, painful repeat of 2016 is incomprehensible to me. They don’t even have to try when Americans are this deeply brainwashed

It remains to be seen too whether Biden’s official entry into the race will shift what has been a relatively stable polling environment with the exception of Buttigieg’s emergence — at least for now — as a legitimate contender.

What I’m looking forward to, polling-wise, is seeing how Biden and the other 2020 Dems stack up against Trump in Pennsylvania, which could emerge as the most important swing state in the coming presidential election.

Speaking of Buttigieg: he’s starting to get the scrutiny that front-of-the-pack candidates get. Example, from Ezra Klein:

  • Buttigieg responding to a question about why his web site is devoid of policy plans by saying Democrats shouldn’t drown voters in the minutia of policy is ridiculous. It’s okay to say it’s coming soon. It’s ludicrous to dismiss the value of policy proposals.

And meanwhile, former Republican Sen. Bob Corker, an outspoken Trump critic while he was in office, says that a credible primary challenger would be a “good thing for our country.”

This post originally appeared in what had originally been called The Eric Berlin E-mail Newsletter. To get a weekly blast of pop culture, digital media, and politics that helps make sense of an increasingly frazzled world, sign on up for The Berlin Files here.