The Trump-Putin Connection is an *American* Concern
Here's the Independent's report on the findings of the MI6 agent, with the movie-ready name of Christopher Steele, who uncovered the dirt on our president-elect, Donald J. Trump, and his connections to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. Everyone should read it. It's astonishing that it's happened. That it's happening.
It's astonishing on two levels. The first is the quid pro quo—the details of just how much Trump is in Putin's pocket. How much he is Putin's puppet:
In the same month Mr Steele produced a memo, which went to the FBI, stating that Mr Trump's campaign team had agreed to a Russian request to dilute attention on Moscow's intervention in Ukraine. Four days later Mr Trump stated that he would recognise Moscow's annexation of Crimea. A month later officials involved in his campaign asked the Republican party's election platform to remove a pledge for military assistance to the Ukrainian government against separatist rebels in the east of the country.
The second is how little FBI director James Comey did about it; and what he chose to do instead:
By late July and early August MI6 was also receiving information about Mr Trump. By September, information to the FBI began to grow in volume: Mr Steele compiled a set of his memos into one document and passed it to his contacts at the FBI. But there seemed to be little progress in a proper inquiry into Mr Trump. The Bureau, instead, seemed to be devoting their resources in the pursuit of Hillary Clinton's email transgressions.
The New York office, in particular, appeared to be on a crusade against Ms Clinton. Some of its agents had a long working relationship with Rudy Giuliani, by then a member of the Trump campaign, since his days as public prosecutor and then Mayor of the city.
As the election approached, FBI director James Comey made public his bombshell letter saying that Ms Clinton would face another email investigation. Two days before that Mr Giuliani, then a part of the Trump team, talked about “a surprise or two you're going to hear about in the next few days. We've got a couple of things up our sleeve that should turn things around”.
The mainstream American press is almost reporting it as if it were a partisan concern—New York Times, I'm looking at you, assholes—when it's an American conern. Or should be. But Republicans are too busy dismantling healthcare for 30 million Americans.
The world is mad.
Tweet(s) of the Day
Reading Obamacare opponents as they explain their reason for their position is like listening to a 3 year old explain thunder.— Kurt Eichenwald (@kurteichenwald) January 13, 2017
I say “Tweet of the Day” but believe me, in these troubled times, there are a lot of good options out there.
ADDENDUM: Case in point...
Oppposition I’ve heard to ACA:— Casey Liss (@caseyliss) January 13, 2017
• it cost me money
• it’s not perfect
• I would have died without the coverage it guaranteed
Joe Posnanski has begun archiving some of this stuff over on Medium.com and I spent a late lunch hour (or, really, a late snack 15 minutes) reading his piece on Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, the Freese/Cruz game, and I came across this gem, mentioned in passing during a graf on the Rangers' closer. It's about a better closer:
Part of the magic of Mariano Rivera is the placid look, the slumped shoulders, as if this is all just a formality, as if he had already saved the game a few hours before and is only performing it once more for those people who missed it.
God, that's nice. Nice to read Joe, on a day, and a week, and a month, and a year, that will continually enrage me as Republicans pretend that the 2016 election wasn't fixed by Russians and the director of the FBI, and thus work at sawing away at our already frayed social safety net.
What I wouldn't give for a large sock with horse manure in it
“It was only a couple of questions in the middle of a hearing, but the queries posed to FBI Director James Comey by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) during a Senate intelligence committee gathering on Tuesday afternoon had potentially explosive implications, for they suggested that Wyden believes the FBI has been sitting on information regarding ties between Donald Trump's inner circle and Russia. ...
”The most dramatic exchange came with Wyden's questions. He noted that several media outlets have reported that Trump campaign associates, including Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, had maintained connections with Russians tied to Putin. He asked Comey, 'Has the FBI investigated these reported relationships?' Comey answered, 'I would never comment on investigations...in an open forum.'“
Movie Review: Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)
I’ve been hearing end-of-the-year buzz that “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” is a way underrated movie; that it’s actually, you know, good. Some go further: Some suggest it’s this generation’s “This Is Spinal Tap.”
If so, pity this generation.
I know it’s unfair to compare a contemporary with a classic. But since others raised the issue...
Why ‘joke’ is less funny
“Spinal Tap”’s humor grew out of the conventions of real music documentaries, while “Pop” feels as if it’s riffing on copies of copies of copies of copies. “Tap” is grounded. Its cities on the tour are real. Its main characters may be idiots but there’s something human about them. They’re half caricature/half character, while “Pop”’s Conner4Real (Andy Samberg) is all caricature. There’s no there there. Conner is just a joke, and the movie treats him as a joke. When you do this, ironically, you remove a lot of the funny.
There’s a trajectory to Tap’s downfall, and it follows their American concert tour—east coast to west coast. Their humiliations start small but grow: a canceled date in Boston (“I wouldn’t worry about it, though, it’s not a big college town”), a misplaced hotel reservation in Memphis, flak over the album cover. For a time, Tap seems oblivious to it all; they still think they’re on top of the world. Then the humilations deepen: second billing at a Holiday Inn, a no-show album signing, playing an Air Force Base. Their onstage humiliations are human-sized and serve to prick their pomposity: Nigel can’t stand back up again after bending back in classic rock-out pose; Derek’s “pod” doesn’t open; they get lost beneath the arena in Cleveland and the Stonehenge props are tiny rather than towering.
Conner’s humiliations are outsized and less funny. To jazz up his act, he goes for a quick-change bit, but has to hide his junk to make it work, and a wardrobe malfunction reveals him to be seemingly dickless. (I like that, backstage, his handlers try to assure him that no one noticed.) To bury that story—as if it wouldn’t be a meme forever—his publicist (Sarah Silverman) suggests he propose to his girlfriend (Imogen Poots), which he does, with Seal singing her favorite song and her favorite animals (wolves) nearby. But the singing upsets the wolves, who attack the guests and turn the garden party into bloody chaos.
Meanwhile, his opening act, Hunter (Chris Redd), eclipses him in popularity, not to mention vindictiveness. But when Conner asks his manager, Harry (Tim Meadows), to kick him off the tour, he discovers Hunter is Harry’s client, too. It’s Conner who goes back home, the tour a failure, his career seemingly over.
So what happens? He becomes a better person, of course. He once fronted a boy band, The Style Boyz, and he reconciles with the estranged members he screwed over: DJ Owen (Jorma Taccone), and lyricist Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer). All along, we’ve been following the latter, who, after a stab at a solo career, has been farming and woodcarving in Colorado. Both are treated as jokes—as if anyone could enjoy such things, so far away from the limelight—with the former having a typical comedy punchline: he’s been farming weed, yo. All three reunite on the “Poppy” awards, and are back on top. Added bonus: Hunter is a dick to Mariah Carey onstage, so no one likes him anymore. Because it’s never enough for you to succeed; your enemies have to fail.
‘I feel young again! I feel ... 38!’
It’s interesting to note the need for a villain. Does “Tap” have a villain? You could argue the Yoko-Ono-ish Jeanine Pettibone (June Chadwick), who controls David, and causes the riff with Nigel, and who takes over from their seemingly incompetent manager, Ian Faith. She has a bit of a comeuppance as well: Ian returns, and in Japan, where Spinal Tap is resurrected, the two eye each other warily. But all of it is much subtler than “Popstar”'s disimissal of Hunter.
You know what’s amazing to me? Andy Samberg is actually older in “Popstar” than Michael McKean and Christopher Guest were in “Spinal Tap”: 38 years vs. 37 and 36. I still think of Samberg as the next generation but “Lazy Sunday” was more than 10 years ago.
The Lonely Island guys give us a few good parody songs: “Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song),” along with Conner’s would-be testimonial to gay marriage, “Equal Rights,” in which he continually insists, “I’m not gay.” But there’s nothing as clever as marrying the bombast of gangster rap with a very ordinary, very white Sunday afternoon.
One of the biggest problems for me is that “Popstar” doubles down on the very thing it should be satirizing: celebrity culture. 50 Cent, Carrie Underwood and Simon Cowell, as the mockumentary’s talking heads, act like they’re in the on the joke, when, to me, they’re part of the problem. But the movie sees them as part of the solution.
A few years ago, Samberg co-starred as the son of Adam Sandler in the dreary comedy, “That’s My Boy.” Not yet, but he’s becoming dangerously close.
What Liberal Hollywood? Part 94
“Although many members of the entertainment industry espouse, often publicly, a left-leaning political slant, Hollywood is still dominated by white men who prefer to make movies and television shows that revolve around other white men — men beset by feelings of alienation, who often wield guns, who fight (or represent) corrupt government, and generally attempt to survive and/or save a world run amok.
”Across galaxies, through the centuries, in every genre imaginable.“
-- Mary McNamara, ”The notion of a liberal agenda in Hollywood is absurd," in the LA Times, as part of a series on Hollywood values/elites in the Trump era.
Of course, I've been saying this for years, but it's nice that this notion is getting a wider audience.
For Jan. 20, 2017
Here'a a passage from “The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds” by Michael Lewis
The central question posed by Gestalt psychologists was the question the behaviorists had elected to ignore: How does the brain create meaning? How does it turn the fragments collected by the senses into a coherent picture of reality? Why does that picture so often seem to be imposed by the mind upon the world around it, rather than by the world upon the mind? How does a person turn the shards of memory into a coherent life story? Why does a person's understanding of what he sees change with the context in which he sees it? Why—to speak a bit loosely—when a regime bent on the destruction of the Jews rises to power in Europe, do some Jews see it for what it is, and flee, and others stay to be slaughtered?
Raising this last question for a friend.
Movie Review: Doctor Strange (2016)
Am I the only one who sees a metaphor for the 2016 election in this movie? Hear me out.
Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch, doomed to play brilliant but pompous) plays a brilliant but pompous neurosurgeon who gets into a car accident and damages the nerves of his steady hands, rendering him useless and purposeless. But after hearing of a paraplegic who learned to walk again, he travels to Katmandu and trains at Kamar-Taj under the Ancient One (a bald Tilda Swinton), with the idea of eventually curing himself and returning to practice. Instead, he becomes “Master of the Mystic Arts”; and instead of saving one person, or several people, he saves the whole damn universe.
But he makes an enemy in the process: his friend, and one-time mentor, Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Why?
OK, back up a bit, because it’s actually fairly clever what Strange does.
The movie opens with Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) and his team of bad guys/one hot girl stealing pages from an ancient book that allow them to tap into the power of Dormammu, the dark dimension. For some reason, these guys also invite Dormammu into our universe, and that’s destroying everything, particularly Hong Kong. So Strange uses the Eye of Agamotto (don’t ask) to turn back time; then he travels to the dark dimension, where he creates an infinite time loop so that every time Dormammu kills him, he returns to battle again. It’s sort of like “Groundhog Day” or “End of Tomorrow” but in miniature. I like this bit. He knows he can’t beat Dormammu so he lets it get bored until it agrees to leave the Earth alone. He outsmarts it.
So why does Mordo have a problem with this? Because bending time is forbidden.
Mordo, you see, is a stickler, a puritan. He’d rather have the world end than break the rules to save it. He was earlier incensed that the Ancient One tapped into Dormammu’s dark power to keep living, even though, in the long run, she was doing good.
And that’s the metaphor:
- Ancient One = Hillary
- Dormammu = Trump
- Tapping into Dormammu's power = Paid speech to Goldman Sachs
- Mordo = Bernie, or a Bernie Bro
Things worked out better in their universe.
Overall, “Doctor Strange” is efficient and fun but it’s hardly breaking new ground. On the contrary, it’s going over much of the same ground that “Iron Man” did eight years ago: The vainglorious man with Ronald Colman moustache (now goatee) brought low, then raised higher with greater powers and greater purpose. I guess Stan and Jack liked that storyline.
Once Strange arrives in Katmandu, the various concerns/tensions are all resolved with such facility as to seem facile:
- Will the Ancient One accept him? Yes.
- Is he too egotistical to learn the mystic arts? He is ... but he does anyway.
- Will he just cure himself and go back to his pompous ways, lording it over second-raters like Michael Stuhlbarg? Nope.
- Will he be seduced by “the Dark Side” like Kaecilius? Nope.
Oddly, once the battles begin, Mordo begins to worry not that Strange will be seduced by the dark side but that he doesn’t have the will to fight the dark side. It’s a concern introduced at the 11th hour and dismissed at 11: 10, and was never a concern of ours. If there’s one thing Strange isn’t, it’s a quitter.
Collecting comics in the 1970s, Doctor Strange was never one of my favorite superheroes. I didn’t understand his powers, I don’t like alternative dimensions that look like a sketchy part of outer space, and I’m generally not a fan of vainglorious men with Ronald Colman moustaches. But somehow Marvel Entertainment makes this movie work.
Think of that. Marvel can take one of its lamest characters, run him through three screenwriters, hand him off to a director mostly known for shitty horror flicks (“Devil’s Knot,” “Sinister 2”), and wah-lah: a fun flick that mixes elements of “Kung Fu,” “Groundhog Day,” and the mindbending landscapes of MC Escher. Hell, they even throw in a bit of “The Greatest American Hero”: a man doing comic battle with his superpowered clothes.
Cf., DC, which can’t even put the two most popular superheroes in the world together without making a crap salad.