Monthly Archives: August 2018

What we’ve learned

The last few days have been among the most consequential and remarkable in American history. On Tuesday, President Trump’s campaign chairman and his personal attorney each were found guilty of multiple felonies, with an hour of each other. In pleading guilty to felonies of campaign finance reform, Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s attorney, declared that he had committed his crimes at the behest of and with the full knowledge of the President.

I hardly need say that this series of events is essentially unprecedented. It feels much as Watergate felt; disorienting, terrifying, and heartening in equal measure. The word everyone seems to be using is surreal. Commentators and friends alike have invoked Lewis Carroll. We’re going down a rabbit hole, we’re behind the looking glass, our only companionship a mad hatter, and a Cheshire cat. It is indeed brillig, and slithy toves are gyring and gimbeling their frantic lives away. Fortunately, our vorpal blades have one last charge in them. We can’t just beware the jabberwock. We have to kill it.

During Watergate, amidst the daily revelations of Richard Nixon’s utter contempt for the rule of law (and remember that he, no less than Trump, ran under a ‘law and order’ platform, promising to restore American stability after the chaos and disorder of the late 1960s), we were reassured to see the basic mechanisms of governance stepping up and providing a counterbalance to Nixon’s cynical and lawless power grab. First, the press investigated and published daily revelations of misconduct by Nixon and his associates. Congress launched an investigation. The Justice Department, in the event known as the Saturday Night Massacre, gave us the stellar examples of integrity Elliott Richardson and William Ruckelshaus.  Special prosecutors did their job, as did the Supreme Court. Above all, Republicans in Congress only stood by their man up to a point. When party loyalty became untenable, they ended their support for the President. Had he not resigned, he would have been impeached and removed from office.

The system worked. Not perfectly, not smoothly, but eventually, the right people stepped up and did their job. A Nixon henchman, John Dean, flipped. (Just as Cohen, fingers crossed, seems to be doing). Sam Ervin investigated. Woodward and Bernstein became American icons of investigative journalism. America survived.

The Trump situation strikes me as different. I have no crystal ball, no prophetic powers, but I remember Watergate vividly, and this is different, and a good deal more dangerous. The gatekeepers envisioned by the Framers of the Constitution seem enervated, or corrupted, or cowardly. We’re in this alone now.

For one thing, the press is not the force it once was. The great echo chamber of the internet has reduced the power and impact of good journalism. There’s great journalism being done, of course, dedicated reporters and editors trying their best to sort out what’s actually going on and what it all means. But it feels at times like they’re in a losing battle. Powerful forces prefer obfuscation to fact-based revelations, and the most powerful man in the country most especially profits from nonsense. Donald Trump has emerged not just as a moral relativist–we always knew that–but as an ontological relativist unmatched in the history of solipsism. Or rather, as the ultimate cynic, as someone perfectly willing to distort absolutely any notion of facts or reality. “Truth is not Truth,” said Rudy Giuliani (Trump’s astonishingly pliable attorney-spokesman: remember when he was looked up, admired?) recently. Any revelation inconvenient to this most astonishingly narcissistic of Presidents becomes ‘Fake News.’ And the internet enables the proliferation of fantasies, conspiracy theories and outright lies because it is built on a foundation of pure subjectivity, absolutely democratic. It is our collective subconsciousness, and from time to time, on social media, its true hideousness–the hideousness we learn, to our horror, of which our fellow citizens are capable–comes spewing out. 4chan, incels, the alt-right, Infowars, Breitbart, QAnon.  At its worst, the internet is pure chaos, unmediated and without any underpinnings in any worldview or moral stance, including the ones we learned as children: don’t lie. Liars are bad people. Presidents, however, are patriots. They’re here to protect us. Not anymore.

(“What is truth?” the oh-so-sophisticated Roman Pilate asked Jesus, and then dismissed the possibility of an answer. He could have answered it himself, though. Truth is power. “I am the Truth and the Light,” would have struck Pilate as absurd. Truth: a prisoner executed on a cross. How absurd).

So the Press is trying. But there are alternative voices ceded equal authority by many, even when they’re clearly and obviously lying. Congress, meanwhile, is under control of a Republican party that has abdicated, completely and thoroughly, any pretense of paying anything but lip service to Congressional oaths of office. They want their tax cut fraud, and they want nutjobs in the Supreme Court. Which is about to be joined by a man who has opined in the past that Presidents are above the law. In fact, that’s likely the reason Kavanaugh was chosen.

Some of us hold out hope that rule of law will yet prevail, and cling to the integrity and patriotism of the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller. His fight is an uphill one, however, with a President willing to fire and pardon his way out of trouble. That leaves us. We, the People. And we have to win in November. That’s what this comes down to; we have to win. We have to prove the basic decency and patriotism of the American people. And in my opinion, it won’t do just to win back the House. We need to win the Senate too (a much tougher challenge), and we need not just to win the House, but obliterate Republican candidates for the House.

But here’s what I keep coming back to. What, actually did we learn this week? We learned that Donald Trump’s closest associates are hopelessly corrupt and dishonest, and that not just his associations, but his fundamental understanding of the world is that of a criminal. (John Dean is ‘a rat.’ Flipping witnesses should be illegal.)  But didn’t we already know all that? We learned that the Trump campaign went out of its way to keep the American people ignorant of the most unsavory sexual escapades of their candidate. Nothing new there. We learned that Trump hasn’t the faintest idea what is legal and illegal when campaigning for national office. No big revelation there: he knows nothing, and has no interest in learning anything, at all, ever.

Slate Magazine recently published an article by William Saletan arguing that we don’t actually need any new revelations of kompromat or sex tapes or money laundering to prove that Donald Trump betrayed the United States. All the evidence is already out. He puts the story together convincingly–of course Trump has committed high crimes and misdemeanors. We know that; it’s obvious. We don’t need further Mueller revelations to prove it, though of course we want the Special Counsel to keep after it, and we do anticipate a lot more criminality to be revealed. Still, argues Saletan, the case has been made. The evidence has been provided. Haven’t we always known Trump to be what he is now revealed to be? A conman and a grifter, a career white collar criminal, a racist and a sexual predator, and the most arrogant ignoramus imaginable? How is any of that news?

Our country remains in a state of emergency. The story is racing towards its conclusion, and unlike Hollywood, there’s no guarantee the good guys will win. If we love our country and its freedoms, this next election may well be our last chance to save it. Sorry, but it’s so. This guy’s instincts are all authoritarian. We can only keep our Republic if we fight for it. Vote, call, give rides, give money, post. Do what you’re able to.


The first salvos in the 2020 Presidential election

Last week, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced the Accountable Capitalism Act, a bill that would, among other things, require that certain very large corporations change the composition of the membership of their boards of directors. On Thursday, Kevin Williamson of the conservative National Review wrote a scorching article attacking Warren’s proposal, calling it, among other things, ‘batty,’ and charging that it would require the nationalization of essentially all American businesses. Matt Yglesias, one of the editors for, responded at length, calling Williamson’s article ‘unhinged,’ and questioning if he had ever read Warren’s actual proposal. The kerfluffle has been, to say the least, entertaining.

Let me admit right up front that I’m on Team Yglesias on this one.

Here’s what Warren’s proposal calls for. This proposal would only apply to businesses with over a billion dollars in assets, which would be required to apply for a federal corporate charter, not state charters as happens now. A federal charter would include these stipulations. First, corporate boards would be instructed to take into account the interests of all relevant stakeholders–not just shareholders, but communities, workers, customers–when making decisions. Currently, boards are generally instructed to consider only shareholders, the value of publicly traded stocks. Second, boards of directors would no longer be elected by shareholders only, but also 40% of them would be elected by workers. Third, executives would have to hang onto stocks received as part of their compensation for five years. Fourth, any political actions by the corporation would require approval by 75% of shareholders and board members.

Williamson says this would involve nationalizing all of American businesses. Yglesias responds that it would national zero businesses, and wouldn’t even apply to most smaller businesses. Williamson also uses a conservative slippery-slope argument, insisting this would result in the creation of a huge federal bureaucracy. Nothing like that appears in Warren’s bill. As Yglesias puts it: “I’m not sure he even read it.”

Any argument in which words like ‘deranged’ and ‘bonkers’ appear is surely entertaining, and both articles make for fun exercises in political vitriol. I’m on Yglesias’ side, though, for one main reason.

Surely corporate power is massive right now. And while capitalism is great and good and market economies rule, money is power, and big companies can surely be said to wield too much of it. Certainly corporations want to be profitable, and investors want to see a positive return on their investments. But corporate profitability is not the only national interest, nor the only natural interest. Communities want big companies to be good community citizens. Workers want to be paid a living wage. And the role of government is, it seems to me, to be an honest broker between competing interests. Not automatically side with business or labor, but work to find a balance between what they both want.

Corporations are people, we’re told. That legal fiction is in force in our society. Fair enough. We don’t want corporate ‘people’ to be vicious, selfish sociopaths (Hello, Amazon!).

In the meantime, why does there not exist a national service workers union? Why aren’t Walmart and Amazon and McDonald’s union shops? One issue in the last Presidential campaign–and I suspect in the next one as well–was the minimum wage. Bernie Sanders wants it to be fifteen dollars and hour nationally. While that’s an attractive proposal, it’s seems to be ham-handed and short sighted. After all, both wages and cost-of-living expenses differ wildly by region. Instead, how about increasing unionization? Let the workers at each company collectively bargain what their compensation will be.

And, as Yglesias also points out, the new boards of directors Warren imagines is hardly a radical proposal. What Warren is describing is called codetermination, and it’s common throughout Europe. In Denmark, any company with 35 workers has to include workers on its board. In Germany, half of the board can be workers, depending on the size of the company. Maybe there are good reasons to question whether codetermination would work here. But it’s worth studying. In short, Warren has made a proposal that is the norm in many other prosperous countries internationally, which she thinks we should try here. That’s hardly ‘batty.’

But I’m not sure this is necessarily about a Senate bill that, at least for now, will never so much as come to a Senate vote. I think it’s about 2020. I think Elizabeth Warren is going to run for President. I think this bill is her first major campaign proposal. And I think Williamson is preemptively trying to label her. Suggest she’s an extremist, suggest that her proposals are extreme and socialistic and untrustworthy. Suggest that she’s too batty to be a good President.

That’s all normal political positioning and a certain amount of rhetorical overkill is surely not unknown in major party politics. I like Elizabeth Warren a lot. I think she’s probably going to compete effectively for the Party nomination, along with Kamala Harris, Kristen Gillibrand, Corey Booker, a few others. But I like this proposal. I like the inclusion of labor in board decisions. I like requiring boards to include perspectives in addition to those of shareholders. I like codetermination. And I like a major party candidate taking a imaginative and creative solution to an important issue to launch her campaign. Team Yglesias all the way.

Korihor’s Children: Part 6.5

I had intended my next post in this series to be a) a lot sooner and b) a continuation of the arguments made earlier. Illness has intervened, however, and I thought a brief side excursion first might be helpful. I want to talk about a challenge I see a lot. My conservative friends frequently ask this: where in the scriptures does it suggest that the coercive powers of government can or should be used to help alleviate poverty? Isn’t charity a private matter? Doesn’t the Church oppose public welfare; isn’t our obligation to the poor supposed to be a matter of agency? Everyone agrees that the scriptures urge us to help the least of these, Christ’s brethren. But do we partially fulfill that through a government program?

The difficulty is that the scriptures describe a variety of societies very distant from our own. We are a religiously pluralistic society, with a democratic republic governing. We believe in a separation of Church and state. Throughout most of human history–and certainly every society described in scripture–none of that was true. A public v. private understanding of charity would have been nonsensical in ancient Israel, for example. The predominant political structure throughout most of history was monarchy or, occasionally, theocracy. Most nations had, and enforced a state religion. And caring for the poor was rarely any kind of governing priority. And even so, there are still a number of scriptures in which political/governmental entities engaged in supporting charitable activities.

To begin with, the Israelite practice of Jubilee was surely intended to alleviate poverty. As described in Leviticus 25, every fiftieth year, all prisoners and slaves were freed, and all debts canceled. Fields were to lay fallow, and everyone urged to celebrate the bounty of the earth. It was to be a year of simple living, with class distinctions erased. Property would revert to hereditary ownership. What that means in practical terms is that you couldn’t really buy or sell land–you could only lease it.

The existence of jubilee years would seem to preclude the possibility of income inequality, or at least reduce inequality. After all, if land is money, and land is power, the fact that anyone would have to return land purchased from other people every fiftieth year would militate against the accumulation of wealth.

So what we have described here in Leviticus 25 is a divinely mandated, but legally enforced anti-poverty, pro-equality program. Every fiftieth year, everyone’s debts were cancelled, and purchased land reverted to its previous owners. Would you say that’s a private anti-poverty mandate, or a public one? The context is so radically unlike our own, those terms are close to meaningless. But it was, in pre-exile Israel, a requirement, not optional. The coercive powers of the state could be said to enforce it.

What about the practice of gleaning? Leviticus 23 is clear enough about it:

And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not make clean riddance of the corners of thy field when thou reapest, neither shalt thou gather any gleaning of thy harvest: thou shalt leave them unto the poor, and to the stranger: I am the Lord your God.

Again, the practice of gleaning was not an option. It was a requirement of the law of Moses, legally enforceable. When harvesting, you were expected to leave the corners of the field alone, and the edges of the fields as well. The grain in those areas was free pickings for poor people. Farmers were not allowed to discriminate–decide which poor people they’d let into their fields, nor frighten away gleaners with dogs. They were required to harvest so that gleaning could follow, and they were supposed to allow gleaners in.

That practice is central to understanding the book of Ruth, which I consider one of the most beautiful works found in scripture. Boaz obeyed the law, and seeing Ruth gleaning in his fields, was impressed by her. And the rest of the story followed.

No one knows how long gleaning took place in ancient Israel, or by what legal mechanisms it was enforced. It’s quite possible that the book of Ruth was included in scripture to encourage the practice. Many European nations continued doing it up through the mid-nineteenth century, and in Israel, some communities practice it today. You could argue that this was an example of private, not public charity. But if communities enforced it, and likely some did, then it wasn’t optional. It was a mandate.

What conservatives really object to, of course, is tax revenues being used for charitable purposes, as legally required and enforced by a strong central government. That’s the system we have today in the US (and elsewhere), and the conservative argument is that coercion, with the threat of violence, corrupts the giving of alms. ‘Let me keep my own money, and I will use it to help the poor, as God requires of me.’ (I hope I haven’t misrepresented the conservative argument here–let me know if I have).

The difficulty is that the situation of today, with a large, centralized, somewhat distant central government collecting taxes from us (under threat of violence if we don’t pay) doesn’t really have much of a parallel in scripture. That didn’t really describe the political situation found in most of the Bible, or in LDS scripture.

There is, however, one exception: Rome. When the New Testament was written, Palestine was under Roman occupation. Rome was big, distant, powerful, violent and rapacious for taxes. Taxes were collected by publicans, public contractors, member of the conquered community, who took a percentage of taxes collected for his own use, and also maintained public buildings. So, Jewish publicans were, well, Jews. And the profession was much hated, as you can imagine. It’s no accident that the phrase ‘publicans and sinners’ so frequently is found in scripture.

And there were many kinds of taxes. Land taxes, estate taxes, taxes on manufactured goods and traded commodities, a tax on widows and orphans specifically earmarked to pay for upkeep of military horses, a tax on unmarried men, a special tax if you owned slaves, another one if you freed slaves, and a third if you sold slaves. So many taxes, for so many purposes. And all of them massively unpopular.

What did Jesus think about them?

Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Cæsar, or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Cæsar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s. (Matthew 22: 15-21)

It was a verbal trap. Let’s ask this Jesus guy about taxes. If he says ‘taxes are evil; don’t pay them,’ the Romans will arrest him. If he says ‘taxes are fine; pay ’em,’ he’ll alienate everyone. Instead, Jesus presents a third alternative. Pay your taxes; obey the law. And worship God. It’s a beautiful answer.

The Romans had a tax for everything, and a use for every tax. And most of those tax dollars were spent on the military, or on civic infrastructure. But taxes were also used to . . . alleviate poverty. In fact, a major Roman expenditure was for what has come down to us as ‘panem et circenses.’ Bread and circuses.

Romans were conquerers, and brutal ones. Roman circuses–the Roman Games–were horrific, bloody, violent spectacles. But panem? The grain dole–the annona–was instituted by Gracchus in the second century BCE, and continued under the emperors, and literally could be the difference between life and death for the Roman poor. It was also, of course, a way to prevent civil unrest and the potential for violent revolution. It was hardly benign. But people who might not otherwise get to eat did get to.

Should we have to pay this tax? At least one of those taxes was used to feed poor people. Did Jesus endorse it? No, he sidestepped the question. But he did not condemn it.

Certainly, the scriptural record does not unequivocally endorse public charity. Nor does it condemn it. And there are scriptural passages that support at least some form of public assistance for the poor. Of course, our best, most relevant scripture on the subject is found in the Book of Mormon, with King Benjamin’s address. I’ll address that next.


The Meg: Movie Review

It’s about a really big shark. The shark eats some people; other people heroically try to kill it. You already knew all that, and you already know the story. Plus I saw it last week, amid health issues. So rather than actually review it, here’s a different approach:

Fifteen responses The Meg.

  1. Far and away the most compelling, engaging and enjoyable performance by an actor in The Meg is delivered by an eight-year old girl, Shuya Sophia Cai. She plays Meiying, the daughter of Suyin (Bing-bing Li) the main marine biologist at a research center off the coast of China. Little Meiying has all the best lines in the movie, delivers them with aplomb, and is just insanely cute. My daughter thinks the movie’s costume designer took Cai to a particularly cool shopping mall and let her get anything she wanted, including moon boots with flashing lights, plus angel wings. Having no idea what he was doing, The Meg‘s director, Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure, Cool Runnings, The Kid) had Meiying disappear for the middle third of the picture. Yep; the movie had exactly one character you cared about, and she was gone, for no reason, for a good chunk of the movie.
  2. But Bing-bing Li is terrific too. She’s been a top actress in China since 1994, though not in movies most Americans will have seen. If this is meant to be her Hollywood breakthrough role–probable–it’s just a shame it’s not in a better movie. She’s outstanding–heroic and brave and nuanced. And old enough that her romance with Jason Statham isn’t all creepy.
  3. And Statham, playing the movie’s putative hero, Jonas Taylor, an underwater rescue expert, gives a perfectly acceptable Jason Statham action movie performance, no better and no worse than he’s given in twenty other movies. Statham’s 51 now, and looks terrific–most guys his age would kill for those abs. Short, bald and British do not preclude a long action-movie career. (Still, isn’t Statham the guy you get if you can’t get Bruce Willis?)
  4. Big roles for both Caucasian and Chinese movie stars, and long scenes in Chinese, with titles–they’re marketing this in China, and it might do pretty well. I mean, it’s not like the story is culturally specific–sharks are scary everywhere. There are, what, 300 million regular movie attenders in China? And that number is growing exponentially? I loved the casting of this movie, and loved seeing really good Asian actors doing good work. What I did think was weird was how many Asian extras get chomped. I would have thought that they would have made some effort towards equal opportunity shark victims.
  5. The movie does waste a bit of time with pseudo-scientific gibberish meant to explain why a megalodon, extinct for around a million years, still survives and why it’s starting snacking on homo sapiens. I get that movies have to do that, make the improbable premise of the movie seem probable. But it went on a bit long for my taste. Not that I mind movie science-y gibberish. The flux capacitor!
  6. My goodness, though; the characters in these movies make some dumb decisions. These kinds of movies always have scenes where all the characters sit around going ‘how do we fix this?’ But someone, in at least one of those scenes, has to say ‘no. Come on, that’s idiotic.’ They’re dealing with a shark maybe thirty times bigger than any shark ever, and they think someone will be safe in a shark cage? Seriously?
  7. Sheriff Longmire is also in this. That is, Robert Taylor, who plays Sheriff Longmire, is like the whitest guy in the movie. My daughter and I immediately decided he was going to be first character to die. We were wrong. He was second. But he does get to die heroically. Of course.
  8. I desperately hope, and do actually believe, that Rainn Wilson is a prince of a guy. I bet he is. I bet he’s a really good guy in real life. Because, my gosh, he’s great at playing obnoxious twerps. Or privileged rich jerks, which is what he plays here. I mean, check out his IMDB page: he voices Gargamel! Gargamel!
  9. Boy, that’s one scary shark, though. The Meg is a seriously ugly, exceptionally mean antagonist. And convincing.
  10. In fact, both of them are. Sorry! Spoiler! But, yeah, there are two Megs.
  11. Meg Ryan is not one of them. Another spoiler: Meg Ryan does not appear in a movie called The Meg.
  12. There exists, apparently, a new beach toy (new to me, anyway). Basically, it’s a big bubble, and guys climb into them, and you can run on the water, kind of like a hamster ball. It looks really fun. And it pops very satisfactorily when a ginormous shark bites down on it.
  13. There’s an actress in the movie, Ruby Rose, who plays an engineer named Jaxx. I don’t remember having seen her before, though I actually have seen several movies she was apparently in.  But she’s great in this. I liked her character in part because I could never quite decide if she was going to die or not. That’s a lot of the pleasure of a movie like this: guess who’s going to buy the farm, and in what order. Quiet Likeable Asian Family Man? Doomed. Comic Relief Black Guy? Probably okay. Cute little lapdog? Action Movie Dogs are immortal. My daughter and I guessed right every time.
  14. The Meg isn’t trying to be anything it’s not. It’s a movie about a really big prehistoric shark. It’s exceptionally predictable and nothing in it is likely ever to surprise you. The shark CGI is nicely done, but that’s Hollywood standard nowadays–you just don’t see a lot of crappy CGI anymore. It’s a popcorn movie, and perfectly acceptable on those terms. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth seeing. My daughter and I enjoyed ourselves very much.
  15. Just don’t make it a priority.

The Incredibles 2: Movie Review

When my wife and I went to see the new Incredibles sequel, it started with what honestly felt like an apology: Holly Hunter and Samuel L. Jackson and Craig T. Nelson helpfully explaining why it had taken Pixar so long to do an Incredibles sequel. I thought that was weirdly unnecessary. In fact, Incredibles 2 required nothing of the kind. It’s an energetic, imaginative family/superhero comedy, a perfectly enjoyable piece of popular entertainment. With–tread lightly here–some non-intrusive-but-not-uninteresting political overtones and ramifications.

Both of the Incredibles movies posit a world where superheros exist, do good,save people, catch crooks–especially supervillains– but due to the property damage they sometimes cause, have become politically problematic. I think that’s a funny conceit, and I also totally get it. How many cities have been wrecked in the Avengers‘ movies? A popular superhero movie cliché is the fight scene where one superhero flings another one into a building, which is wrecked, though the superhero remains unscathed. I think that particular trope started with Richard Donner’s Superman, way back in 1978, which might be the first one where special effects were sufficiently advanced to make things like Christopher Reeve flying and smashing up things look realistic. Anyway, if any of that were real, someone would have to pay for all those ruined buildings, and probably means government, and that means tax increases, which no one likes, least of all politicians. So, yeah, ban superheros. Absolutely. Make ’em get normal-people jobs, put away the capes and skin-tight lycra costumes, punch a clock. Darn right too. Why do they get all the excitement and, you know, celebrity? Not fair.

In the first Incredibles, that’s precisely what Bob Parr (aka Mr. Incredible), voiced by Nelson, has done. His superhero costume has been put in a closet, and barely fits anyway. He works as an insurance executive, and hates everything about it. But that’s what you do when you have a young family. Nights, he sneaks off with Lucius/Frozone (Jackson), and monitors police radios. And dreams of doing superhero things. And Bob’s wife, Helen/Elastigirl (Hunter), is the occasionally nagging voice of domestic conventionality. And then a really nasty supervillain shows up, and Mr. Incredible is again needed, along with Frozone and Elastigirl.

Now, in the sequel, the politics are ever so slightly more front-and-center. A business mogul/political operative, Winston Deavor (Bob Odenkirk), is into superheros, about the way Elon Musk is into space travel. Winston’s plan is to choose one particularly appealing and personable superhero, and send her out to rescue people, stop bad guys, do superhero stuff. Generate some positive public support. (He’s assisted in all this by sister Eleanor (Catherine Keener). And the hero he chooses is Elastigirl. And Helen is both intrigued and reluctant. But the money is good, hubby would seem to be temporarily unemployable, plus she really likes being Elastigirl. So she jumps at it.

So the movie splits focus, and we cut from Elastigirl’s heroic antics, to Bob’s best attempts at parenting. And he has some challenges. Daughter Violet (Sarah Vowell), is busy negotiating the terrifying world of junior high crushes and romance. Son Dash (Huck Milner), is a boy’s boy, flunking math, into sports,  hyperactive, and also possessed of a super-speed superpower. And they’re the easy kids. There’s also baby Jack-Jack (voiced by Eli Fucile), who has a baby’s energy, a baby’s lack of discipline, plus a whole raft-full of emerging superpowers, some of them truly freaky. Bob is quickly exhausted. And seeks help, from, obviously, his favorite costume designer, Edna Mode (Brad Bird). And boy does she come through.

That’s the main body of the film, those intercut scenes, with Elastigirl’s heroing, and Bob trying to be a good Dad. Meanwhile back at the ranch. And the scenes with Bob and the kids are far more engaging. I mean, Elastigirl is an awesome hero, and her action sequences are cleverly conceived and beautifully drawn. But a very long extended scene of a battle royale between Jack-Jack and a racoon is a comedic masterpiece, brilliant and also terrifying (Jack-Jack is , after all, a small child, and racoons are predators! And susceptible to rabies! Yikes!) All the stuff with Bob at home is quite brilliant.

The last third of the film feels more pro forma. There is, inevitably, a supervillain, and convention requires that it be someone we’ve already met, which means either Winston or Evelyn, or both of them. I figured out which one it was ten seconds after the character made an appearance, and, it turns out, got it right. And of course, the kids have to ride to Mom and Dad’s rescue. There are also a bunch of lesser superhero characters, with amusingly varied powers, who also have to be exploited, then rescued. The final action sequences are, I suppose, sufficiently exciting and fun for the movie to work. But Bob and Jack-Jack are such comic gold, they overshadow the rest of the movie.

But I also like the film’s take on, well, politics, on irrationality and fear and prejudice. Superheroes, in the world of this film, are extraordinarily talented and capable individuals with almost limitless capacities. But they ‘cost too much.’ And must therefore be discriminated against, guarded against, regulated. Much the way immigrants are today. The Incredibles handling of weighty issues of xenophobia and prejudice isn’t remotely heavy-handed. It’s in the background, ever-present but not front-and-center. But it’s still there. So nice to see Pixar take a stand.