Never My President
“He will never be my president because he doesn't read books, can't write more than a sentence or two at a time, has no strong loyalties beyond himself, is more insular than any New Yorker I ever knew, and because I don't see anything admirable or honorable about him. This sets him apart from other politicians. The disaffected white blue-collar workers elected a Fifth Avenue tycoon to rescue them from the elitists — fine, I get that — but they could've chosen a better tycoon. One who served in the military or attends church or reads history, loves opera, sails a boat — something — anything — raises llamas, plays the oboe, runs a 5K race now and then, has close friends from childhood. I look at him and there's nothing there.”
-- Garrision Keillor, “Life After the Election,” on SF Gate. It's mostly about changing a light bulb but includes some lovely, spot-on thoughts about being Minnesotan.
Movie Review: X-Men: Apocalypse (2016)
There’s a lot of in-jokes in this thing, winks to the franchise and its fans, that don’t make much sense given its timeline. Right: timeline. There are different timelines to “X-Men” movies now. We should be handed Playbills before entering the theater. Charts should be set up in lobbies. Professors should give lectures.
This is how I believe it goes. The first three “X-Men” movies are on the same timeline, but director Brett Ratner screwed the pooch with the third one by killing nearly everyone: Prof. X, Jean Gray, Cyclops. So the next two movies, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” (2009) and “X-Men: First Class” (2011), were prequels, while the most recent “X-Men” movie, “Days of Future Past” (2014), created an alternative timeline in an attempt to retcon the shit out of Ratner’s shit.
In “Days of Future,” Wolverine goes back to 1973 to stop a minor incident (the hush-hush assassination of an anti-mutant scientist) and unleashes a major one: the outing of all mutants in Paris and the near assassination of Pres. Nixon on live TV by Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who wrecks both RFK Stadium and the White House in the process. But Mystique stops him, showing there are good mutants, and thus humans become less fearful and less likely to create anti-mutant machines in the future.
Right. Because if there’s one “good one” in a group of scary people, everyone automatically trusts all of them. Cf., for counter examples, the whole of human history.
A long time ago
Anyway, we’re now on a timeline in which mutants have been outed in 1973. Here’s the thing: This knowledge doesn’t seem to change much. Ronald Reagan is still elected president in 1980, probably meaning Jimmy Carter in ’76, probably meaning Nixon was still impeached in 1974. A being lifts RFK Stadium and drops it like a ring around the White House, yet the Watergate scandal still tops headlines in the summer of ’73? It’s like a Bizarro version of the Butterfly Effect: Magneto’s shit storm in D.C. doesn’t affect a butterfly flapping its wings in Asia.
Oh, and it doesn’t affect George Lucas’ story ideas, either.
This a petty complaint but hear me out. Before the shit goes down in “Apocalypse,” which is set in 1983, new Xavier Academy students Scott Summers (Tye Sheridan, looking disturbingly like Andy Sandberg), Jean Grey (Sophie Turner of “Game of Thrones,” ubiquitous actors these days), Kurt Wagner (Kodi Smith-McPhee) and Jubilee (Lana Condor) all go to the mall. It’s an odd moment. The introverted Scott suddenly becomes extroverted to get everyone there—to show Kurt this newfangled thing called a “mall.” (Fact-check: they’ve been around since the 1950s.)
The real purpose—for the plot anyway—is to get the kids away from Xavier Academy when it’s attacked, so they won’t be taken hostage like the others. The other purpose is a wink. We see our superteens walking out of a mall theater where “Return of the Jedi” is playing and get the following conversation:
Jubilee: I’m just saying “Empire” is still the best. It’s the most complex, the most sophisticated. Wasn’t afraid to have a dark ending.
Scott: Yeah, but come on, if it wasn’t for the first one you wouldn’t have any of the rest of the movies.
Jean: Well, at least we can all agree the third one’s always the worst.
Ha ha. Get it? It’s for X-Men fans who hated the Ratner movie (which was truly awful), and maybe a self-effacing acknowledgement that this movie, too, the third of the prequels, will get slammed. Ha ha.
Except it got me thinking. In their world, in 1973, everyone becomes aware that there are creatures so powerful they can control our minds with theirs. And George Lucas still creates a movie with something called “the Force”? And Americans still flock to see it even though it’s no longer wish-fulfillment fantasy but a very scary part of their own reality? Really?
Plus the first “Star Wars” is obviously the best because it actually has an ending. “Empire” is just “to be continued,” and that’s not a movie.
We get another nonsensical, annoying wink after the Wolverine cameo. In one of those super-steel, underground government fortresses, where Mystique and Quicksilver (Evan Peters) are being held captive by Col. Stryker (Josh Helman, who has a powerful screen presence even if his character is so done), our teen sleuths, Scott, Jean and Kurt come across Wolverine, who’s been experimented upon. He now has the adamantine skeletal structure as he did at the beginning of the first “X-Men” movie, so check that box for the alt timeline. By this point, he’s half mad, and kills about two dozen federal agents, so Jean uses her powers to ease his mind by removing memories. Which means he’s got amnesia again, as he did at the beginning of the first “X-Men” movie. So check that box, too. And as he flees into the woods, Scott says the following:
Hope that’s the last we see of that guy.
Ha ha. Get it? Cuz Wolverine will become his future rival for Jean’s affections. But that’s just the first timeline, right? Or does love transcend timelines? And does that mean poor Scott Summers is doomed to play third fiddle throughout eternity while Jean and Logan forever burn for each other? Rough role, dude.
But enough with the timelines. There’s worse stuff.
Walk like an Egyptian
Here’s Jean Gray in “X-Men” from 2000:
Ladies and gentleman, we are now seeing the beginnings of another stage of human evolution.
This movie upends that. Turns out the most powerful mutant of all, Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac), who can transfer his being from one body to another, accumulating powers as he goes, was an Egyptian ruler, En Sabah Nur, in ... 3,600 BC. So much for “now.”
In 1983, spy shenanigans by CIA agent Moira Mactaggert (Rose Byrne, last seen in “First Class) wakes up ol’ En Sabah, who recruits, in quick fashion, young versions of Storm (Alexandra Shipp), Angel (Ben Hardy), Psylocke (Olivia Munn), and Magneto, who’s been living for the past 10 years as a Polish steel worker. Prof. X (James McAvoy) uses Cerebro to try to find Apocalypse, but Apocalypse discovers him instead, and kidnaps him, and is going to transfer his essence into Xavier’s body, after which this new Apocalypse will destroy the world in order to see what rises out of its ashes. Because apparently having four billion slaves is a bore. But rubble—that’s entertainment!
This transference is being done within a newly constructed pyramid in the rubble of Cairo, while, outside, for the zillionth time, good mutants battle bad ones. They also try to turn them toward the good side. And this is where we get another goddamned “Return of the Jedi” moment. Rip off or homage, you decide.
Remember how long it took Darth Vader to turn from the dark side and attack the Emperor, and thus save his son, Luke, in “Jedi”? And how boring that was? That’s Magneto here. He even has a long-lost son to save— Quicksilver—but it takes him forever to switch sides. We all know where it’s going but the filmmakers draw it out. As if waiting for the obvious makes the obvious exciting.
Future Stars of 1963
The other night I watched an old TV doc from 1963, “Hollywood: The Great Stars,” hosted by Henry Fonda, which had been sitting in my Amazon queue forever. It's about the star system, and the end of the star system. It's not great but it's intrigues for three reasons.
The first reason is its now-historical perspective of movie history. At one point, for example it updates stars from the silents to the talkies. So Douglas Fairbanks leads to Errol Flynn, which makes sense to me. But Rudolph Valentino leads to ... Charles Boyer? Similarly, William S. Hart, the first great cowboy, becomes ... Gary Cooper? I guess? A lot of what it considers important, in other words, we no longer do. The doc has the voice of authority but time has eroded it.
The second reason it intrigues is near the end, when the doc shows the unrelenting pressure of the public on a star like Marilyn Monroe. “These are the sights and sounds in the life of Marilyn Monroe,” Fonda narrates at approximately 41:10 in, and for several minutes we get just that: shouting and pushing and cameras and microphones being shoved in her face. Eventually she crumbles. You watch those several minutes and wonder why any of us pursue fame.
Finally, having dealt with the past and the present, the doc talks up the future stars of Hollywood:
Hollywood's younger people today, some now aspiring to stardom, others already reaching for greatness, will not easily become the Garbos and Gables of tomorrow. But by their films, the public shall know them and decide.
Then we get a list from that year:
- Frank Sinatra in “Come Blow Your Own”
- Debbie Reynolds in “My Six Loves”
- Geraldine Page and Dean Martin in “Toys in the Attic”
- Anthony Perkins and Sophia Loren in “Five Miles to Midnight”
- Jack Lemmon in “Irma La Douce”
- Shirley MacLaine in “Two for the Seesaw”
- Hope Lange in “Love is a Ball”
- Peter O‘Toole in “Lawrence of Arabia”
- The young Sue Lyons in “Lolita”
- Yvette Mimieux and James Daren in “Diamond Head”
- Nancy Kwan and Pat Boone in “The Main Attraction”
“Books find a grave as deep as any,” Updike once wrote, and so with most of these movies. And of the young stars they chose, only O’Toole really went on. Boone and Daren and the like died a swift death in post-Beatles America.
That said, I probably wouldn't do any better with “Future Stars of 2017.” Worse, most likely.
Movie Review: Arrival (2016)
I remember reading “Slaughterhouse Five” by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. in about 1990 after a breakup with a girl I loved, and taking some small comfort in the concept of time as perceived by the aliens in the novel:
I am a Tralfamadorian, seeing all time as you might see a stretch of the Rocky Mountains. All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is.
I was mourning the loss of this girl in my life, but, from the Tralfamadorian POV, she, or us—it, the relationship—would not be lost; it wouldn’t be gone; it would be right there. Dude, why are you heartsick over missing something that’s as clear as Mount Rainier? Just look at it. It’s right there. Look how glorious it is.
I’ve thought about this concept of time—from time to time—ever since.
Ian walks, Louise translates
“Arrival” is another tale of an alien race that has a less linear view of time than we do, but the initial comparison is less with “Slaughterhouse” than with “Contact,” the 1997 Robert Zemeckis film in which Jodie Foster tries to contact an alien race and winds up seeing her long-dead, beloved father.
This one begins (or “begins”) similarly: We get 20 or so years in the life of a mother, Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams), and her daughter Hannah (various actresses), who, at the end, dies of cancer. The father is never in the picture. The synopsis is so expertly handled by screenwriter Eric Heisserer and director Denis Villenueve (“Sicario,” “Incendies”), that for a moment I flashed on Carl and Ellie’s preamble in “Up”—high praise. I particularly liked the quick cut between the young girl telling her mother “I love you” and the teenage girl saying “I hate you!”
But because it recalled “Contact,” I worried what the connection between Hannah and the aliens would be. I worried that the most momentous event in humankind—contact with an alien species—would once again be reduced to the personal tragedy of the protagonist.
Thankfully, “Arrival” is smarter than that. Dr. Jones, on her way to class, is the last to realize that 12 alien ships, looking like giant versions of the eggs from the “Alien” poster, have touched down, or slightly hovered above, 12 different places on Earth, including Montana. While China and Russia gird for war, we send in a linguist, Dr. Jones, and a scientist, Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner)—along with a few soldiers, of course. We’re not stupid.
There’s great tension, fear and wondrous mystery as they enter the ship for the first time and gravity ceases taking hold of them. I also like the early attempts to communicate—although I probably would’ve begun with “Hello/Hola/Ni hao” rather than “Human.” I also would’ve gone with “Why are you here?” before, for example, “Ian walks.” But then I’m no linguist.
The aliens—and there’s no way to state this without seeming to diminish the movie—are giant squid-like creatures who communicate with Louise from behind a glass partition. Their language is circular rather than linear. They squirt an ink-like cloud in the air that forms versions of circles that clump and form almost artistic ridges at different points. Our heroine’s goal is to figure out this language before the bastards of the Earth—Russia, China, or rogue soldiers within the U.S.—attack. Or, I suppose, before the aliens attack us. But this being an indie movie rather than a summer blockbuster, the likelihood of that is rather small.
We also get some false tension. At one point, Louise translates an alien pictograph as “weapon.” She tries to calm fears by saying that the aliens might not know the difference between “weapon” and, say, “tool.” But this is presupposing that she does, in their language. Meaning she can already parse that difference but can’t even ask them, “Why are you here?”
Seems a stretch.
And it turns out it’s not just the language of the aliens that’s circular—their concept of time is, too. And the more Louise learns their language, absorbs it, lives it, the more she begins to lose her own (our own) linear sense of time. She keeps flashing to moments with her daughter, and they’re less reveries than fugue states. She seems dazed, unsure where she is.
I’ll cut to the chase.
- Why are they here? They’ll need us in 3,000 years, which, to them, isn’t the future, but, you know, right over there.
- How does Louise save the day? By phoning Gen. Shang (Ma Tzi) and getting him to call off his attack by telling him something only he would know: his wife’s dying words.
- How does she find out Shang’s wife’s dying words? In the future, when the giant-squid aliens are part of a kind of bigger U.N., Gen. Shang will thank her for the phone call, and he will tell her both his personal phone number and his wife’s dying words. So she learns in our future what she’ll need in our present. But to her, of course, it’s all right over there.
Maybe my favorite part: The long-lost daughter is not past but epilogue. She’s the future—the result of Louise’s eventual marriage to Ian. Even her name, Hannah, a palindrome, reflects this origin. In other words, the personal story augments and deepens the story of alien contact, rather than reducing it as with “Contact.”
That said, “Arrival” is a good not a great movie. The ending is Pollyannaish—humans wreck everything, and they would most definitely wreck this. Suspicious masses would rise up and attack. But I liked that it was an effort to keep up intellectually with the movie. That’s rare. It was nice to see something smart in this dumbest month in American history.
This was a prominent headline on the New York Times site a day or two before the election.
I long for that baggage. The parade of racists, dumbfucks and sycophants that Trump is vetting, or “vetting,” reminds me of the last chapter in the great ESPN documentary, “O.J.: Made in America,” when our title character, post-exonneration but pre-incarceration, is living the saddest of lives in Florida with the scummy and the porny. It indicates how far he's fallen. The other indicates how far we've fallen.
Shame on you, New York Times.
USA Today Reports Trump's Spin, You Decide
On Twitter, writer Molly Ditmore posted the following image of yesterday's USA Today (B section) in the wake of Donald Trump settling a $25 million lawsuit for fraud—which, by the way, is unprecedented for a president-elect:
She wrote, “Much of US has a @Gannett -owned newspaper. This is nat'l news section. This is what the country is being fed news of POTUS-elect. Shame.”
Indeed. And immediately beneath that tweet? Like the first comment? Brad Heath, investigative reporter for USA Today, asking, “Curious: What's your objection to the piece?”
One more time for the hard-of-thinking.
The PRESIDENT-ELECT. Settled a LAWSUIT. For FRAUD. And the headline was his team's SPIN. So was the subhed. So was the secondary subhed. The entire thing is Trump's SPIN. “We report the spin, you decide”: Is that the motto?
I replied to Heath, stating as much. Please do the same. Hound these fuckers until they get it.
Other Than That, Mr. Pence, How Did You Like the Play?
Original cast. Raise a glass.
I don't really have time for this but what the hell. It's the intersection of my favorite thing about 2016 with my least-favorite thing about 2016. Maybe my least-favorite thing in my lifetime.
Vice-President-elect Mike Pence went to see “Hamilton” last night and got booed by the crowd beforehand.
Really, it's like the beginning of a joke. A homophobe in favor of gay conversion therapy went to Broadway and... What did he expect? Open arms? A hug? No, worse: A homophobe who is VEEP to a man who came to power by promoting racism, went to see a hugely popular Broadway show famous for its diversity, and ...
Anyway, during the curtain call, the players welcomed him and addressed him, and Brandon Victor Dixon, the new Aaron Burr, said the following even as Pence was walking out: “We, sir — we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us. We truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of all of us.”
Response to that plea? Early this morning, President-Elect Donald Trump issued two tweets. Here's the first:
Our wonderful future V.P. Mike Pence was harassed last night at the theater by the cast of Hamilton, cameras blazing.This should not happen!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 19, 2016
Here's the second:
The Theater must always be a safe and special place.The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 19, 2016
So Dixon and the cast got their answer. All of us got our answer. As if we didn't already know it.
The punchline is that I awoke to #BoycottHamilton trending on Twitter, which is so absurd I can't even come up with a metaphor for it: Asking to boycott a thing so popular you can't even buy tickets for the next year? Right. Send your tix care of me.
On the awful morning of Nov. 9, I actually thought of “Hamilton” lyrics as a response to the election of Donald Trump. I thought this:
Alex, listen. There's only one way for us to win this
Provoke outrage, outright
Don't engage, strike by night
Remain relentless 'til their troops take flight
Make it impossible to justify the cost of the fight
Hit 'em quick, get out fast
Stay alive 'til this horror show is past
We're gonna fly a lot of flags half-mast
Raise a glass!
Apparently provoking outrage won't be hard.
Elsewhere yesterday, our president-elect settled a lawsuit for fraud for $25 million. That's right. Our president-elect. Settled a lawsuit. For fraud. Not enough outrage on that one. Not enough press. The horror show is just beginning.
Movie Review: Bad Moms (2016)
I can get behind bad moms; but “Bad Moms” is just bad.
It begins with Amy (Mila Kunis), a ridiculously pretty and super harried mom doing everything for everybody. She makes her kids breakfast, drives them to school, hands them their lunch (which she made) and their art projects (which she also made), goes to her part-time job (a kind of coffee company with a tech atmosphere), goes to a PTA meeting, goes grocery shopping, makes dinner, and helps the kids with their homework. The boy is spoiled and shrugging; the girl, 12, is anxiety-ridden about whether she’s going to get into Harvard. The husband is a T-shirt wearing, ruffle-haired doofus who is somehow also a high-paid stock broker. Plus he’s cheating on her. Online. Ironic since, in real life, men cheat online with Mila Kunis.
The point is she’s a ridiculous figure: nervous, forever running around in high heels, semi-cowed by the catty PTA moms, particularly the ultra-perfect PTA president Gwendolyn (Christina Applegate). Plus: she doesn’t allow her kids to grow the fuck up. She reminds me of Louis C.K.’s one-time nemesis, Jezandapuss’ “weak piece of shit” mom: “You’re raising Hitler, motherfucker, do your job!”
So what happens? She goes to the opposite extreme, of course. One day, like Popeye, it’s all she can stands. She refuses a task from the ever-demanding Gwendolyn, and she and two other moms go to a bar and get drunk. Then they go to a grocery store and create havoc—chugging a gallon of milk mixed with chocolate syrup, spilling half of it on themselves and the other half on the floor. They make a security guard flee and knock over a display. They abuse and harass minimum wage employees. All in slow-mo and to rock ‘n’ roll. It’s thesis/antithesis.
And in the final act? Right: synthesis. Plus all good things happen to her. She winds up with the hard-bodied Latino widower all the moms are crazy about (Jay Hernandez). She’s fired from her job but without her the company falls apart so she comes back at twice the salary + remote work days. Her daughter is pissed off but comes around; her spoiled son who couldn’t pour cereal makes a frittata; and she takes on and trounces the ultra perfect Gwendolyn for PTA president.
Hooray for synthesis!
There are a few good jokes. But what a waste of opportunity from writer-directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who are best known for writing “The Hangover.” They also gave us “Four Christmases,” “Ghosts of Girlfriends Past” and “The Change-Up. I think they owe us an apology.
Originally, the movie was supposed to be produced by Judd Apatow and star Leslie Mann, which could’ve worked. Leslie Mann would be perfect as the mom—nice looking but obviously a mom. Apparently Mila Kunis really is a mom, but c'mon. So the scene where she goes to a bar for the first time to try to pick up guys, and fails? Well, that ain’t exactly cinema vérité.
“Bad Moms” also does this odd thing of making everyone a cartoon, and then, in defeat, allowing them a sliver of humanity. So hubby Mike (David Walton) is a super-doofus until, post-divorce, Amy needs help and a hug; then he morphs into a regular guy. Gwendolyn is a major bitch—actually planting pot in Amy’s daughter’s locker to get her kicked off the soccer team—but after she loses the PTA-ship to Amy she cries in her car, and the two women bond. Then Gwendolyn takes Amy and her friends on her private plane because Hollywood has no clue what it’s like to be a person in America in 2016.
Five years ago, Kunis blew us all away in “Black Swan.” Since then? “Friends with Benefits,” “Oz the Great and Powerful,” and “Jupiter Ascending. And this. Who is helping her choose her movies—Ashton Kutcher?
Mariners on Top Again! (In Years Since Postseason)
It's time for this again. I would've posted a few weeks ago but I've been distracted by the end of American democracy.
Mariners on top, Cubs on bottom! Except you want to be on bottom. It's the list of teams who have struggled the longest without a postseason berth. For most of this period, eight of out 30 teams made the cut, so in an ideal situation, you think you'd go every four years? On average? Then it became 10 out of 30 teams. A 33% chance! Yet my M's have still been postseasonless for 15 years; 16 next year.
And really there's no one close. Marlins,sure, but the last time they went, in 2003, they actually won the World Series. The Mariners have never even been.
Really, only the San Diego Padres comes close to us: nothing for 10 years, and just two LDSes this century. Maybe that's why they're our natural rival.
Genocidal Old Party
“On November 8, the most powerful country in world history, which will set its stamp on what comes next, had an election. The outcome placed total control of the government — executive, Congress, the Supreme Court — in the hands of the Republican Party, which has become the most dangerous organization in world history.
”Apart from the last phrase, all of this is uncontroversial. The last phrase may seem outlandish, even outrageous. But is it? The facts suggest otherwise. The Party is dedicated to racing as rapidly as possible to destruction of organized human life. There is no historical precedent for such a stand.
“Is this an exaggeration? Consider what we have just been witnessing.
”During the Republican primaries, every candidate denied that what is happening is happening—with the exception of the sensible moderates, like Jeb Bush, who said it's all uncertain, but we don't have to do anything because we're producing more natural gas, thanks to fracking. Or John Kasich, who agreed that global warming is taking place, but added that 'we are going to burn [coal] in Ohio and we are not going to apologize for it'...
“It is hard to find words to capture the fact that humans are facing the most important question in their history—whether organized human life will survive in anything like the form we know—and are answering it by accelerating the race to disaster.”
-- Noam Chomsky on truthout.org. He added that he, one of the most renowned linguists in the world, is at a loss for words.
Reader Comment, Post-Trump
This was in my inbox this morning. It helps. Every bit helps. Thanks, Daniel.
I thought I'd let you know that this election reminded me of what you wrote about Philip Seymour Hoffman's character from the movie Patch Adams, and the way in which the humanity Hoffman lent to that character ultimately revealed Patch to be in some significant sense anti-intellectual and anti-expertise—vacuous even.
I knew that my country did not care very much about, to put it simply, knowing things, but I did think that a much higher percentage of people understood that when push comes to shove, for important jobs for our society such as the office of president, knowing things actually matters a lot. I had regarded our country as accepting an appalling level of ignorance, but I really thought someone like Trump simply could not win partially because knowledge OBVIOUSLY matters. And Trump's manifest ignorance is not even his most disqualifying characteristic.
I could say more, of course, but I'll leave it there. I'm glad you're out there writing and thinking, for what it is worth.
I stopped drinking early on election night—probably around 6:30 PM PST. Once all of the pundits started sounding confused, once the numbers began to come in badly, I sobered up fast. The impulse is to get trashed, blotto, sedated—for four years. But drinking suddenly seemed a luxury in a country so stupid it would actually elect Donald J. Trump its 45th president.
In the wake of that awful, awful night, a lot of pundits are suggesting the Democratic party needs to “soul search” about its loss. Except Hillary won the popular vote by more than 2 million votes. What's the point of “soul searching” for why you lost when by any reasonable measure you won?
That said, the thing the Dems need to work on? Plain talk. And sticking the knife in when you get the chance. They were altogether too classy, too removed; they let Trump hang himself and he didn't. Or when he did, his supporters were there to prop him back up.
This is the bottom line for the divide between the Dems and the GOP, and it needs to be repeated and repeated and repeated:
The GOP wants to give more to those who have most; and they want to take away from those who have least.
That's it. Say it over and over and over again. Don't be distracted. The discussion isn't the federal government; the discussion is what you do with the federal government. And the GOP wants the federal government to (what is it again?) give more to those who have most, and take away from those who have least.
At bottom, it's an anti-Christian message. It's anti-Christ. They are anti-Christ. Definite article optional.
That's my soul searching. I find that the Democratic party has one, the GOP doesn't. Now just make sure people know.
A Cold and Broken Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen and the 2016 Election
Having one of the great songwriters of our time die within two days of the election of Donald J. Trump was like the rancid cherry on top of the shit sundae that is this awful, awful year. So SNL's decision last night to “cold open” with Kate McKinnon playing Hillary Clinton singing Leonard Cohen's “Hallelujah” was inspired. Particularly when she sang this verse:
I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I told the truth, I didn't come to fool ya
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah
I really love that third line as it relates to the election. I love the implication in it—that someone did come to fool us. And got away with it. And is still getting away with it.
A lot of Cohen had been bandied about on social media in the wake of his death and the aftermath of the 2016 election. How could it not? “Cohen's songs are death-haunted,” David Remnick wrote in his great profile of Cohen in The New Yorker last month, and this week, even before Cohen's death, many of us felt death-haunted.
On Thursday, my friend Jamie (and later, separately, my friend Jim) posted these lyrics, nothing else, no other commentary, from Cohen's “Everybody Knows”:
Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died
Everybody talking to their pockets
Everybody wants a box of chocolates
And a long-stem rose
To Jamie I wrote, “I see your 'Everybody Knows' and raise you 'The Future'”—another great Cohen song that feels less resigned, more apocalyptic, which is how I'm feeling at that moment:
There'll be the breaking of the ancient western code
Your private life will suddenly explode
There'll be phantoms, there'll be fires on the road
And the white man dancing
You'll see your woman hanging upside down
Her features covered by her fallen gown
And all the lousy little poets coming 'round
Trying to sound like Charlie Manson
Yeah, and the white man dancing
At last, we know who the white man dancing is.
Leonard Cohen (1934-2016)
It's must've been 1997. I was living in the upper Fremont neighborhood of Seattle with a girl named Brenda, working in the bookstore warehouse at University Book Store, and trying to make a living writing.
One night, I don't know why, maybe because she was an art history major, we rented the 1996 film “Basquiat,” starring Jeffrey Wright, and directed by Julian Schnabel, both of whom would soon become favorites. The movie? Meh. Great soundtrack, though—Schnabel's soundtracks are always great—and over the closing credits they played a song that began:
I heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do ya?
It goes like this: The fourth, the fifthThe minor fall and the major lift
The baffled king composing HallelujahHallelujah
By this point, Brenda had gone down the hallway, done with the movie, but I stayed and listened to that song. I was kind of stunned by how good it was. The movie was on VHS, so I rewound the tape and listened to it again. And again. And again. I think I listened to it 10 times. I checked the credits for who sang it. The next day at work I was excitedly telling everyone about it.
“It's this song called 'Hallelujah' by John Cale,” I said.
The beauty of working at a book store, or any similar place, is that you're surrounded by people who care about art, literature, music. They were would-bes like myself. And there was a guy there, Jeff V., a would-be musician, who shook his head at me.
“Cale has a version, yeah, but that's Leonard Cohen.”
Later that day we walked down to the music section at University Book Store and he showed me some of Cohen's music. He recommended some CDs. (This is how it used to work, kids.) I bought “The Songs of Leonard Cohen” and “New Skin for the Old Ceremony” and I was off and running. He was my constant companion. I remember cleaning the apartment one day while listening to “Various Positions,” and “Night Comes On” came on, and something about the turn in the melody, and the images of the lyrics, stopped me, stunned me, and tears began to well up in my eyes. This part:
But my son and my daughter
Climbed out of the water
Crying, Papa, you promised to play
That simple but that complex. I kept going back to “Joan of Arc” and “Famous Blue Raincoat” from “Songs of Love and Hate.” They sounded like the resigned sadness of the world; they sounded more mature, more wise, than I would ever be. Most of his songs did. Cohen was with me whenever I received a rejection notice from a magazine or newspaper or journal, which was often, because I always thought this:
And I thank you, I thank you for doing your duty
You keepers of truth, you guardians of beauty
Your vision is right, my vision is wrong
I'm sorry for smudging the air with my song
I recall going to the Edina Theater in Minneapolis 10 years later to watch the documentary/concert film “Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man,” and hearing all of these great interpretations of his songs by Rufus Wainwright, Teddy Thompson, Anthony. By this point, I knew most of his work, but one song was new to me—sung by Julie Christensen and Perla Batalla. They actually bugged me a little, to be honest. Too tremulous; they overwhelmed the song with their own emotion. But then they got to the chorus and I heard these words for the first time:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in
I sat upright in that nearly empty theater, thunderstruck. I looked around. Did anyone else hear that? Shouldn't we all be shouting for joy? That a human being could write that? That sentiment?
If you haven't read David Remnick's profile of Cohen, “Leonard Cohen Makes It Darker,” which was in the Oct. 17 issue of The New Yorker, just a month ago, do so now. It's one of the best profiles I've ever read.
He's gone now, in this most horrible week of this most horrible year, but what a gift he left us. What gifts. So long, Leonard.
Sincerely, E. Lundegaard
Quote of the Day
“In his brief remarks [with President-Elect Trump], the President [Obama] left a great deal unsaid. Perhaps it was better this way. We need not contemplate the fact that his signature policy achievements, the Affordable Care Act and the Iran nuclear deal most notably, will be undone immediately. More distressingly, the very nature of Trump's campaign—its venomous bigotry, its radioactive contempt, its tribalism—may have already diminished Obama's significant cultural achievements. We revelled in the small moments of this Presidency: the image of a black man standing behind the Presidential Seal, quietly broadening our frame of reference for black men in this society; his open adoration of his wife, Michelle; the sight of his two daughters flourishing into young womanhood, recognizing along the way that we, a vast, sprawling, unwieldy entity, had common affinity for these two African-American teens. Trump's moment seems to represent an inversion of this. We now occupy an altogether less honorable place culturally. In the short term, at least, it seems that divisiveness has prevailed.”
-- Jelani Cobb, “Barack Obama in Defeat,” The New Yorker, Nov. 10, 2016
I Wanted to Be Wrong: The Morning After the Worst Night in My American Life
I forget which day it was. Last Thursday? On that day my sister phoned me with more news about our mother, who suffered a stroke at the end of September, and we'd been talking every day ever since, working on details: ER, therapy, TCU, long-term care. That day when she called, my voice on the other end was flat and lifeless. “What's wrong?” she asked. “You sound terrible.” I felt terrible. And I felt terrible about why I felt terrible. It wasn't because of our mother, because at least we could do x, y and z for her; we could keep pushing to make things better; we were involved. No, I finally said, it was the election.
“We're going to lose. Donald Trump is going to be president of the United States.”
Pause at the other end. “Nu-uh,” my sister said.
She buoyed me for a time. So did the turnaround on the numbers on 538. So did everyone's upbeat predictions on the final electoral college numbers. So did James Comey's 11th-hour declaration that the other email stuff was bullshit, too. But even that was a problem; that sent a shiver. He didn't say it right and the press didn't report it right. Headlines read things like: “Clinton Won't Be Charged”; “No Criminal Wrongdoing.” Two days before a presidential election.
I'd been feeling the doom since Comey's announcement, his bullshit intervention, on Friday, Oct. 28. That afternoon I took the 1-90 bike route to Lake Washington, then biked around part of the lake to our vet, Four Paws, to get a specific kind of cat food for our cat; I carried it back in my backpack and stopped to gaze at the lake. It was a gray afternoon and I felt gray. I also felt a cold fury inside me. But there was no outlet. There was nothing to do. Later that week I donated money to Hillary's campaign; last Saturday I knocked on doors in Capitol Hill. But that wasn't outlet enough. It felt useless.
But the day I'm thinking of was probably last Thursday after I spoke with my sister. In late afternoon I took another bikeride, this time down to the Seattle waterfront and through the Olympic Sculpture Garden and Myrtle Edwards Park. I was still trying to shake my sense of doom, but no amount of bike-riding helped. At one point, I just sat on a big rock next to the bridge that snakes over Elliott Ave. Behind me was the old Seattle PI globe, representing a now defunct profession, and in front of me was Elliott Bay, sparkling in the sun. Sailboats were out. Couples walked by with kids; women walked dogs. And I kept thinking, “They don't know. They don't know this awful thing that's about to happen.” It was like a scene in a movie. It felt like everything I was watching was about to get washed away.
I got a lot wrong in this election. I thought Trump would go down after his “I like guys who weren't captured” dig at John McCain in July 2015, and I thought Megyn Kelly got the best of Trump after the first GOP debate in August 2015. I also thought Hillary was the better choice for the Dems although maybe it was Bernie Sanders after all, in this “change” year.
In the last two weeks of the election, I wanted to be wrong again.
Susan B. Anthony's Tombstone in Rochester, NY
This was from a few weeks ago.
Today, Election Day, finally Election Day, there's a long, long, long line of people waiting to add their sticker.
Rock on. #Vote.
Two Quotes that Sum Up the Final 10 Days of the 2016 Election
Both quotes appeared in today's New York Times.
The first is in an investigative piece from inside the Trump campaign—an astonishing document prematurely called “Donald Trump's Last Stand,” about the candidate's various meltdowns and flopsweats and chest-thumpings; about wresting away a Twitter account from the man we're supposed to entrust with the nuclear codes. It's sad and worrisome and frightening.
There's a section in that investigative piece called “An Injection of Hope.” The injector, of course, was FBI director James Comey, whose name will live in infamy for the way he belly-flopped into this campaign: tarnishing one candidate over an unknown that turned into a nothing; putting himself and his reputation above country; absolutely changing the narrative of the campaign and then offering a Sunday afternoon “Never mind” without so much as a mea culpa. Or resignation. But hopefully we'll get to that.
The astonishing thing is Trump didn't even know what it meant at first—Comey's letter on Friday, Oct. 28: “'What do you think this means?' he asked the small circle traveling with him...” And that's where we get the first quote:
To the assembled men sitting in white leather seats, the answer was simple: It could turn the election around.
I hope Comey reads that; I hope he understands what it means. I hope he's lost four times the amount of sleep that I've lost since he opened his piehole. And if Trump somehow wins this thing? Which he still might? It's a sign, one of many, that his election was illegitimate, propped up by Russia and Wikileaks and the FBI. It was, to coin a phrase, “rigged.”
The second quote is from Paul Krugman's column about that very subject. The column is called “How to Rig an Election” and in it Krugman says what I've been saying for weeks: that Trump's repeated claims of a rigged election are more GOP projection. It's he, and the GOP, that have attempted to rig this thing—from voter suppression campaigns to false equivalencies within the mainstream media. It's a great column. It's got everything that went wrong in a neat little package. And this is the beginning of the paragraph that—surprisingly, since it's hardly news—pissed me off the most. Krugman writes, “The election was rigged by partisan media, especially Fox News, which trumpeted falsehoods, then retracted them, if at all, so quietly that almost nobody heard. For days Fox blared the supposed news that the F.B.I. was preparing an indictment of the Clinton Foundation. When it finally admitted that the story was false, Donald Trump's campaign manager smugly remarked, ”The damage is done to Hillary Clinton.“
That's the second quote. It's from Kellyanne Conway:
”The damage is done to Hillary Clinton.“
Truth will out? One hopes. But Fox News, and people like Kellyanne Conway, keep hoping otherwise.
There are still ”plague on both your houses“ people out there who are either part of the GOP smear campaign or who bought into it; who didn't see the bullshit for bullshit; who think Trump and Hillary are ”both bad." Those people are lost to me; nothing we can do for them. The rest of us know the difference between a smart, tough civil servant with decades of experience who actually cares about people, and a stupid, thin-skinned, racist, xenophobic, groping megalomaniac, with poor impulse control, who has only ever cared about himself.
We also know this: It can happen here. It still might.
GOTV on Capitol Hill
Yesterday I went canvassing in the rain, knocking on doors in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle to get out the vote for Hillary Clinton.
I know: pointless. Or near pointless. Clinton isn't going to lose Washington, and she's sure as hell not going to lose Capitol Hill (although ... Bernie Bros). But ever since FBI Director James Comey's stunning and unethical announcement last Friday of potential new emails, and the misdirection of U.S. Rep, and professional worm, Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), that Comey was “reopening” the investigation, and because the mainstream media pounced on this story to get eyes and ears and clicks in what was otherwise becoming a rout of a presidential race, the narrative in the U.S. election has changed, and I've been a mix of anxiety, sadness, and pure cold fury. So I figured better to do something than nothing. Or something rather than firing off more useless tweets into the void.
It wasn't a bad four hours to spend. Of the people I spoke with, about 50 percent had already voted, and had voted a straight Democrat ticket. Another quarter were voting that weekend. Of the others ... Well, one guy, 30s, was an artist—he showed me his work—and he seemed in his own world. He didn't know this Tuesday was election day. He'd gotten his ballot but wasn't sure he was registered. “If you got a ballot,” I told him, “then you're registered.” He went looking for it; two minutes later he came back shrugging. He invited me in; I opted out. Work to do. Plus I'm a little put off by Americans who don't even know when election day is.
At another apartment, a young woman on her cell answered, but it was her roommate we were looking for—and she was away for the day, with her ballot still on the dining room table. So I spoke to the woman who answered the door.
Me: Have you voted?
She: I'm Canadian.
Me: Ah. Well, we may be neighbors soon.
It took a second for the other shoe to drop; when it did, she laughed. I didn't. I'm past a sense of humor on it.
Today, of course, James Comey announced that there was nothing in the emails, but it's hardly vindication—for anyone. To me the headlines should read:
Clinton still innocent.
Comey still guilty.
Trump still vile and disgusting and pandering to the worst instincts in people.
Poz Waxes (On)
“Still, we had Game 7. This beautiful and boring and riveting and flawed game of baseball, invented by nobody and everybody, taught to children by Civil War soldiers, national pastime when America was ascending, symbol of hope for integration before Birmingham and 'I Have A Dream,' this game of messy labor fights and various scandals but also of Henry Aaron and triples and hot dogs smeared with mustard, this game, even now, in the CGI world of 2016, this game can still grab us by the hearts.”
-- Joe Posnanski, “The Wonder of Game 7,” on the final game of the 2016 World Series.
John Lewis GOTV
This was shared yesterday on Facebook by Rep. John Lewis. It should be imbedded in all of our minds and hearts and souls. The arc of the moral universe may be long, and it may bend toward justice, but it doesn't do it on its own. It needs our help. It'll need our help on Tuesday.
And it's not just Trump. He's simply the most noxious form of what is going on within the GOP. They are a party of denial and obstruction. They only stay in power (and they know they only stay in power) if they deny votes and obstruct legislation and progress, and then confuse the issue for the rest of us. Pay attention. Right now, the GOP is a party of rich bastards, racists, and people with zero (nada/nil) bullshit detectors. The above is still happening, just in more muted form. I think some of Trump's supporters would like to unmute it. Don't let them.
I posted this last night on Facebook:
According to 538.com, Hillary's chances have gone down more than 20% in the last week—from 85% to 64%, with many of the swing states now swinging the other way. This is a direct result of FBI director James Comey's unprecedented, unethical, possibly illegal meddling, which somehow he's gotten away with, just as Trump has gotten away with not disclosing his taxes, being caught on camera bragging about groping women, chastising a Gold Star family, etc., etc. He's a disgusting, incompetent, race-baiting SOB who never did anything for anyone but himself. He may be, as the ghost writer for his book “The Art of the Deal” called him, a sociopath.
And he's this close to being president of the United States.
So today I donated to Hillary's campaign again, and I'll be part of the “get out the vote” campaign this weekend. I'd recommend anyone who can do this, do it. Donate or GOTV. Or both.
If you have any friends on the left who are not voting for Hillary, warn them. If you have friends on the right, tell them about all of the Republicans who are voting for Hillary. I don't want to wake up Wednesday morning with a President-Elect Trump. I can't even imagine the consequences to America and the world.
So do what you can. GOTV. Or just the V: vote.
This Sums It Up
“As far as anyone can tell, Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House — and the leader of what's left of the Republican establishment — isn't racist or authoritarian. He is, however, doing all he can to make a racist authoritarian the most powerful man in the world. Why? Because then he could privatize Medicare and slash taxes on the wealthy.
”And that, in brief, tells you what has happened to the Republican Party, and to America.“
-- Paul Krugman, ”Who Broke Politics?" in The New York Times
Joy in Mudville
I had some friends over last night to watch Game 7 of the World Series, and it was fun, and the Cubs won in extras, and it was great to see those players, and those fans, celebrating the team's first championship since 1908. But it was all muted for me because of the machinations behind the looming presidential election. I should let go of it but I can't. It's the bullshit that gets me. The fact that a week ago FBI director James Comey changed the narrative and possibly the election based on NOTHING. Nothing. And the same right-wring frothbots are at it again. With NOTHING. They create smoke and they hope you think there's a fire.
But enough of that. Enjoy this. And rest easy, Steve Bartman.
Now that the Cubs have finally done it after 108 years, which current team has the longest championship drought? That would be their opponents last night—the team that came back in the bottom of the 8th with three runs to tie it. The team that couldn't hold on in the top of the 10th to win it. The Cleveland Indians.
Here's the new chart. “Pennants Since” means how many times they've been to the World Series since they last won a championship. Again, Cleveland is on top here. Any errors, report to me:
|Team||Last Title||Yrs Since||Pennants Since|
* Have never won a championship
** Have never been to the World Series
I still find it fascinating that for every year MLB has expanded, only one of the teams from that year has ever won a World Series championship. Even in 1969, when there were four teams that entered the Majors, only one of those teams, the KC Royals, has won a title. They've won two, in fact. The others? Padres went twice, lost twice. Brewers went once, lost once. Expos/Nats have never been.
Am I the only one who's noticed this?