Author: Lars Emerson

Marvel’s Phase Four is Reminiscent of its Phase Two

It was an event that had been anticipated ever since Marvel Studios President Kevin Feige laid out Marvel’s Phase Three in 2014, and expectations were only heightened off the clean slate provided by Avengers: Endgame. In our post-Iron Man and Captain America world, our main champions and throughlines of the Marvel Cinematic Universe are gone. This leaves Marvel with an opportunity to grow and evolve in new directions. And this weekend, at SDCC, Marvel finally revealed its plans for Phase Four — indicating it will do exactly that.

We’re currently sitting in a period of time that we haven’t really had since 2015, a point in time where there will be no Marvel movie in the next six months. But what follows promises to be an onslaught of content — to quote Doctor Strange — “on levels hitherto undreamt of.” Some of it will be in an entirely new format: series streaming on the upcoming Disney+ product that will more directly tie into or lead into the films than Marvel’s previous television endeavors like Agents of SHIELD or Daredevil. What’s interesting is that, unlike the Netflix or ABC shows Marvel has released so far, these have been officially categorized as within Phase Four, and seem to matter more consequentially to the plot of the existing universe, rather than to complement it. Feige’s announcement provided this list of content (films in bold, Disney+ series left unstyled):

Black Widow (May 1st, 2020)
Falcon and the Winter Soldier (Fall 2020)
The Eternals (November 6th, 2020)
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (February 12, 2021)
WandaVision (Spring 2021)
Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness (May 7th, 2021)
Loki (Spring 2021)
What If…? (Summer 2021)
Hawkeye (Fall 2021)
Thor: Love and Thunder (November 5th, 2021)

In addition to revealing this schedule, Feige also assured the audience that Marvel would begin developing a Blade movie starring Mahershala Ali, as well as Black Panther 2, Captain Marvel 2, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3, and projects featuring the Fantastic Four and “Mutants” (read: X-Men) whose release dates have yet to be scheduled. 

That list of ten Phase Four properties should be taken with a grain of salt, since Marvel has made adjustments to their plans before – tweaking release dates, canceling Inhumans in favor of Ant-Man and the Wasp (thank goodness), and surprise revealing Captain America: Civil War with Chris Evans and Robert Downey, Jr. taking the stage at the El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles and revealing Chadwick Boseman as the Black Panther. But considering we’re out of Phase Three and this announcement was not made two years in advance of the upcoming phase like the last announcement was, we can expect it to be a fairly good guide for what might come (any intentional surprises aside). 

This list gives us some familiar faces: Black Widow, Doctor Strange (whose new film will include Scarlet Witch, and with WandaVision acting as a lead in), Falcon, the Winter Soldier, Hawkeye, and Thor, indicating that there will be strings of continuity, even if these largely serve to give previously underdeveloped characters a bit more time. However, we’re also getting a couple of brand new entries, like the Eternals and Shang-Chi, that initially may make you go “who?” This is what makes this start to feel a lot like Marvel’s Phase Two, where we were met with familiar faces: Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America — the headliners from the last phase — and then saw the obscure Guardians of the Galaxy and the punchline-worthy Ant-Man get tacked on. Marvel is surely hoping to replicate the success and mainstream-ization of Guardians and push the Eternals and Shang-Chi as soon-to-be household names as well. It’s a risk,1Not that they can’t afford a little risk, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has made more than twice as much money as the next-closest franchise, and can also boast to have the highest-grossing film of all time (unadjusted for inflation). but much like Marvel’s success coming off the original Avengers, they can afford to bring their trusting and eager audiences along for the ride – and take a step back if things don’t pan out quite like they had hoped.

Marvel’s going to be packing some star power (Angelina Jolie and Salma Hayek are set to star in The Eternals) alongside some relatively new talent (Simu Liu, who is largely known for Canadian television, will play the titular character in Shang-Chi); which is true to how Marvel got so big in the first place: signing on relatively unknown or out-of-demand actors as their leads for multi-movie contracts, while complementing them with Hollywood fame to really focus the spotlight and star power. Unlike the torrent of dread, despair, and tragedy of Marvel’s Phase Three, which handled its heroes coming to blows, half of the population going to dust, and the death of the universe’s most significant protagonist, Phase Four seems primed to begin anew and introduce audiences to those who they did not expect would quickly become their favorite. There’s not quite a lingering threat yet, as there was through Phase Three, and there’s not quite a blank slate as there was with Phase One; instead Marvel has the opportunity to build a universe off the rules of the old, and induct a new generation of audiences to the journey.

This may sound like Marvel’s just trying to repeat what they know already works – but they’re also making bold choices that will turn the tables on how film, television, and the entertainment industry operate. Including major characters and stories in series exclusive to Disney’s streaming service and billing them as critical tie ins is not without its own set of concerns. If audiences don’t partake in Disney+ despite the interconnectedness of the tv show with the films, there’s bound to be some gaps in storytelling that’ll leave audiences wondering how characters got from one place to another. It appears Marvel (and Disney) know this, and have made the importance of these Marvel series a key selling point for Disney+, using them to market the platform and set a stake in the streaming market. This is uncharted territory for both Disney and the greater entertainment world, and Marvel is in the unique position to test it. They are the only institution with so many films built up amongst such a loyal and massive fanbase, while simultaneously entering a new phase in their grand entertainment journey as the previous Infinity Saga of the last three phases has come to a close. 

Multimedia aside, Phase Four is continuing on Marvel’s commitments towards a more diverse slate of characters that can truly give each and every viewer someone to relate to. Introducing their first Asian headliner, finally giving Black Widow her own movie, and delving into their first LBGTQ hero in Thor’s next journey are but a taste of how Marvel is willing to grow and broaden its horizons. Marvel has spent eleven years cultivating and curating its style, wit, personality, and following, justifying why it matters in the great fight for audience’s attention. With Phase Four, Marvel seems determined to prove it is not just a vessel for Iron Man, but a teller of many different and diverse stories, and daring enough to tell these stories in a brand new format.

Steve Bullock Has an Opportunity to Come Out Swinging

Image Credit: New York Times/The Postrider Illustration

The next two Democratic debates will take place on July 30 and July 31 with largely the same cast of characters from the first two in June, save for one loss and one addition: with California Congressman Eric Swalwell out, Montana Governor Steve Bullock is in. Bullock will be the only newcomer to the debates from the last go-around, which makes him the only candidate with an opening to make a first impression, as well as a unique opportunity to seize it by playing up his characteristic style that has been relatively absent in the primary thus far.

Bullock joined the race a bit late, on May 14th, which put him behind the curve in terms of  fundraising and polling, precluding him from qualifying for the first round of debates. He has stood by his decision to enter the race late due to his commitments as governor, which included working with the Montana legislature up until their session ended at the end of April. This allowed him to focus on expanding Medicaid in Montana with bipartisan support, no easy feat in a state where only 36% of voters went for Hillary Clinton in 2016, as well as securing rules blocking foreign governments from spending money in state elections, a college tuition freeze, and infrastructure spending. This late entry tracks with his governing ideology and how he has been pitching himself to voters ever since: as a moderate Democrat, a dedicated public servant, and, considering that he’s the only one of the current 2020 hopefuls who won a statewide race in a state that Trump also carried in 2016, an electorally-viable candidate. Bullock has proven himself able to appeal to and win rural voters while standing steadfast by marriage equality, Medicaid expansion, net neutrality, campaign finance reform, abortion rights, energy consciousness, and gun control in a very Republican-leaning state. As of the second quarter of 2019, Morning Consult has him at a 54% approval rating in Montana, which makes him the 15th most popular sitting governor in the United States.

Bullock has positioned himself in a manner similar to that of South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg: in line with the moderate Democratic mainstream and able to reach out and win voters in rural districts that threw Trump the election three years ago. But despite the fact that, unlike Buttigieg, Bullock has held a major statewide office, Buttigieg is the one with momentum. With his entrance into the debates, Bullock has a small opening to set off a spark for his campaign, and the lineup could not be more perfectly suited for him to do so.

On July 30, Bullock will be joined by (bear with me here…) Buttigieg, former Maryland Congressman John Delaney, former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, and author Marianne Williamson. The major candidates in this debate are Warren and Sanders, both of whom are on the left end of the Democratic Party, in stark opposition to where Bullock stands. Unlike the almost identically-minded and similarly-placed (though quite a bit nerdier) Hickenlooper, who was overshadowed by Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and instant Internet sensation Williamson in his first debate, Bullock can make Hickenlooper’s exact point — that he was the “one person up here who’s actually done the big progressive things everyone else is talking about,” let alone in a purple state — while being the only fresh face. And that was a valid point, if one left to a relatively uncharismatic campaigner who was stuck between the eye-grabbing Williamson and outright confusing Andrew Yang.

But Bullock has the chance to take that argument and champion it. He is one of the few state executives in the race, and Washington Governor Jay Inslee and Hickenlooper are struggling to even scrape the bottom of the barrel of support needed to carry on. And as the only newcomer on stage, Bullock may get just the eye draw from audiences he needs. At this point Williamson is, as they say, a “stale meme,” and the exciting rematch of the Biden-Harris showdown will take place during debate night two. Bullock is arguably the most experienced and accomplished candidate and executive who will be on stage on July 30 (other than Hickenlooper, who was in all fairness a two-term governor of a state over five times bigger than Bullock’s), and he has more credibility than anyone else that night to explain why he favors a pragmatic and moderate approach to policy and on how to appeal to independent flyover state voters. Bullock has an opportunity to come out swinging on that point and come across as the new and surprising adult in the room with that homey, down-to-earth, paper route-riding charm that has made his story so inspirational. 

If he is able to rise above the technicalities that Warren and Sanders will be arguing about, and above the Millennial and wonk-charming of Buttigieg and O’Rourke, Bullock has a chance to go from the odd man out to a household name – and make a compelling argument for why he is a candidate who can win a national election the rest of them could not.

Christine Lagarde is a Good Pick to Run the ECB, and Mark Carney Should Get Her Current Job

Christine Lagarde is to head the European Central Bank

 

In the last few weeks, a consensus finally emerged over who will head perhaps the second-most-important financial institution in the world, the European Central Bank. Though her name was not prominent in the list of initial candidates for the job, after some lengthy negotiating and horse-trading between French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the leading forces in European politics settled on Christine Lagarde as their choice for the ECB presidency. The French Lagarde, currently head of the International Monetary Fund, is a unique but deeply-qualified choice to head the ECB, and will become the first woman to helm the institution on November 1 of this year.

Lagarde is a major name and player in international economics, despite having – in an odd similarity to America’s central bank chair, Jerome Powell – no traditional or technical economics schooling, instead bringing a legal background to the central bank. Nonetheless, she served as France’s Minister of Commerce; Minister of Agriculture; and Minister of the Economy, Finance, and Industry before being named IMF director in 2011. As IMF director, she presided over much of the extended IMF bailout for Greece during their sovereign debt crisis – an already rocky situation that was further complicated by the need to work in tandem with European institutions to handle the crisis. This supranational approach — which required delicate negotiation and consensus-building between the austere European North, international backers, and a debt-laden Greece — marks exactly the kind of leadership that is necessary as president of the ECB. In this episode, during which Greece became the first developed country to fail to repay an IMF loan in time, Lagarde was forced to buck pressure from key creditors, most notably Germany, and displayed the independence needed from a central banker in a Europe that is currently so politically and economically sensitive. 

Lagarde lacks a scholarly economic background and technocratic experience helming a monetary policy body, which makes her unique for a central bank head. This is unfortunate but does not disqualify her, if only because she has acted as a major figure in international economics for nearly a decade and should still bring credibility to the bank’s independence and stability. She is largely expected to carry on the policies of the Italian Mario Draghi, who has served as the bank’s president since 2011 and worked extensively alongside the IMF and European leaders to deal with the fallout of the Greek sovereign debt crisis and the extended Eurozone crisis. Draghi’s tenure has been marked by bold and proactive monetary management of the Eurozone that owes much to his academic, political, practical, and technical understanding of economics. While there is no doubt that Lagarde has political and practical experience in economic management, she would be well advised to lean on the ECB’s executive board and on the governors of the European countries’ national central banks for the technical economic analysis that made Draghi’s term so effective. If she can manage to work closely with Phillip Lane, the chief economist of the ECB, and rely on other technocrats at the bank, her political and supranational leadership will make for a strong tenure, and she will be prepared to whether the storms Europe is sure to face in the next eight years.


But who should take her current job?

 

Lagarde’s track record at the IMF has covered two major sagas in the fund’s history: the Greek crisis and the Argentinian bail-out, the results of the latter of which remain to be seen.1And, as the largest loan in the history of the IMF, will be a major validator for the successes (or failures) of the institution and of Lagarde’s leadership. Maintaining the continuation of the Argentinian program will require navigating through tricky waters there, soon to get trickier if Argentina’s current president, Mauricio Macri (who has been willing to work with the IMF and impose reforms needed to straighten out the domestic peso), loses reelection to Alberto Fernández in October.2Alberto Fernández’s running mate is Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Macri’s predecessor, whose policies, along with those of her predecessor (and husband) Nestor Kirchner, are to blame for many of Argentina’s current economic ailments. Other than Argentina, the IMF faces some daunting challenges to come: Turkey is undergoing its own rapidly deteriorating currency crisis, with the lira down over 30% against the dollar since the start of 2018 (though Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan currently seems unlikely to seek IMF aide); resistance from the United States to raising IMF members’ quotas (financial commitments which also translate to votes within the institution) which has required the IMF itself to rely on borrowing to fund its loans; and a new loan to the persistently reform-hesitant Pakistan (it is now on its 13th IMF program in the last 30 years). Lagarde’s steady hand and ability to assuage concerns across the spectrum of contributors, while boldly embracing new goals such as income inequality and climate change, will be missed, and leaves the IMF in desperate need of a strong successor.

Due to a long-standing (despite recent hesitation with David Malpass’ nomination and subsequent approval to head the World Bank, what with him being nominated by acclaimed anti-internationalist Donald Trump) understanding between the United States and Europe wherein America selects the World Bank president and Europe selects the IMF Director, there is one European name that stands out above the others as the most qualified (and likely) choice to replace Lagarde. That is Mark Carney, the current Governor of the Bank of England, also formerly the Governor of the Bank of Canada. A British, Canadian, and Irish citizen with a wealth of experience guiding Canada through the financial crisis (he boldly slashed rates in 2008, even while the ECB raised them), Carney was later named to the Bank of England, where he has been an avid realist about the economic threats Brexit will pose on the United Kingdom.  He’s worked diligently to guide a drop in the pound since the Brexit referendum, steer through fears of currency and trade-induced inflation, and attempted to provide forward guidance on the implications of Brexit’s uncertainty. His background also includes a lengthy stint as chair of the international Financial Stability Board, serving within the Bank of International Settlements, and work for Goldman Sachs on South African bond markets and on the Russian financial crisis of 1998. 

Carney (and his Irish citizenship) will no doubt garner him support within  “The Hanseatic League”, a group of Northern EU states that were unable to secure any of the big EU jobs, as they may feel they’re due some representation in international institutions. His cross-Atlantic experience, enviable resume, and internationally-renowned record despite his ostensibly domestic roles should more than make up for whatever he lacks in worldwide institutional management experience.

This is to say, Carney is a highly technically proficient central banker, which makes him a nice complement to Christine Lagarde. One will move from a key international role to a technocratic central bank, while the other might move from a technocratic central bank to a key international role. Both will be trading out of their traditional comfort zones, but in an era soon to be marked by new and increasingly interconnected global economic conditions, their experience and disparate backgrounds may be immensely useful when it comes to working together to build a cross-Europe and global consensus, and finding new solutions to the next economic crises they each may face.

The Chef Geoff’s Bulletin Introduction

Washington, DC is a city of great institutions — the foundations of our republic, historical landmarks, monuments to great men and women, and so many exciting events that you can spend years living here and never make it to all of them. But, throughout my six years in DC, there is one institution, above all, that has soaked up a disproportionate amount of my time and attention: Chef Geoff’s, a classic American establishment not far from the alma mater of myself and my fellow The Postrider co-founders, American University. Just off of New Mexico Avenue, it’s a beacon of great happy hour deals and good times, camaraderie and friendship, with burgers to die for and their infamous “supermugs” to wash it all down in a statement of thrilling excess. 

In fact, I go to Chef Geoff’s almost every. single. week. Weekly happy hour became a tradition amongst The Postrider gang back when Michael and I first began working together. It’s now a lynchpin in our lives, as we’ve grown personally and professionally in this great city, and brings us all together each week to have a good time and talk about work, life, love, politics, drama, and everything else over some good food.

In honor of Chef Geoff’s, to live out my dream of being a food critic, and, in part, to finally get noticed for my unusual adoration of this dining establishment, I’ve decided to start what I’m calling the Chef Geoff’s Bulletin (CGB) here at The Postrider: a periodical chronicling every visit, using data and metrics (I am the lowly State & Science editor, after all), and providing a critical assessment of the restaurant. The CGB will be a near-weekly blurb on our visits that can be expanded into a larger analysis over time. In each addition, I’ll list what I ordered, and provide the R-Score for the experience.

I covered the R-Score metric last month as a comprehensive measure for evaluating a dining experience in a fairly objective and standardized way. For more information on the methodology, you can read all about it here, but here’s a fairly quick analysis of how it will be used for the CGB:

  1. Fare (value over price): This is the quality of the food and drink relative to the price. If the price for the meal was perfectly worthwhile, the score will come out to a 1. If the meal wasn’t worth the price, it’ll come out to less. And, if it’s the greatest meal I’ve ever had relative to the price, it’ll be higher than a 1. This is also how we track price over time. Chef Geoff’s recently raised many of its prices,1Much to my dismay as a consumer, but to my delight as an economist wanting to occupy more of a scarce resource (seats at Chef Geoff’s). so this should make for an interesting starting point. The methodology on evaluating my perceived value is a bit long-winded, so I do recommend reading the R-Score article if you’re more interested in the details, but, in Chef Geoff’s case it revolves around a classic question I face every week: order the burger or order the pizza?
  2. Service (1-5): This is fairly straightforward. It’s the quality of the service. Waiting a long time for food, drink, the receipt, etc. would bring this score down, while attentiveness and  surprise bread for the table bringing it up. Service is weighted the same as fare.
  3. Atmosphere (1-3): This is the general vibe and pleasantness of the space. Clean bathrooms, good music, and a good crowd are better to have than not to have, after all. Atmosphere is weighted half as much as food and service.
  4. Time-to-Seat (TTS) (in minutes): This is a frequent struggle at Chef Geoff’s. Happy hour there can be popular, and there are a limited number of seats. TTS factors into the equations as a subtraction from the total score over a standard time of 10 minutes. This means that 10 minutes is roughly equal to losing out on one point of quality in another area or 0.10 overall.
  5. Above and Beyond (AAB) (binary): This is a potential way to reconcile something else going awry. AAB accounts for anything the restaurants does that’s not usually expected of it (like comping a meal or giving you a free drink). This is a simple binary yes or no indicator accordingly, and it can only increase the score.

These components contribute to a metric that generally fits squarely between 0 (very bad) to 10 (very good) for any given time at the restaurant. And that metric will give numerical data to plot countless visits from here onward. It should make for a unique data story once we’re in the thick of it, and serve as useful testing-grounds for the R-Score methodology. We’ve already got three visits and their data up, and you can track the CGB overall right here.

Which Avenger is Each 2020 Democratic Presidential Candidate?

Image Credit: Marvel

There are now 23 major candidates running for the Democratic nomination for president, and one or two more that seem likely to run or have expressed interest in doing so. That’s a lot of people to keep track of. Some are big names who have been around a while, and some are small names you probably will never hear from again. But they all got me thinking: in this, the year of 2019, there is really only one other newsmaking phenomenon that has the same star power, intrigue, cultural ubiquity, and overwhelmingly-large cast of characters: the Avengers.

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The R-Score: A Metric for Evaluating Restaurants

Baseball stars, politicians, cars, and even credit cards are associated with sophisticated mechanisms for grading and scoring that weigh the various components of their actions and abilities as well as their costs and benefits. These metrics offer an easy way to assess and compare the objects of their focus to other units. In anticipation of an upcoming column here on The Postrider, I believe it’s time to bring a scoring metric to restaurants, and – after failing to find one subjective enough to capture a wide range of options and personal tastes but objective enough that its methods could be standardized and generally applicable to a diverse array of locations and users – I decided to invent one myself. I’ve named it the Restaurant Score (or, if you’re looking for something that sounds cooler, the R-Score), a metric on the restaurant experience between worst (0) and best (10).1There is some possibility of run-over in the negatives and scores above 10 in extreme situations, but I’ll discuss this later.

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