Why citizens protest


1. Catharsis

2. Meeting new people with whom you can exchange information about donations to friendly organizations and future rallies and protests.

3. Using the adrenaline to get you to call and email congressmen.

4. Scaring Democratic lawmakers into resisting the Trump administration’s coming assault on voting rights, women, LGBT, public land, clean air, safe drinking water, and public education.

5. Introducing their children to what we owe each other as citizens.

After years of reading how the Tea Party studied Saul Alinsky, what a relief to take him back.

Singles 1/20



– Katherine St. Asaph has a point in her blurb: I’m tired of eighties pastiches too. May my praise for The Weeknd and Daft Punk’s take on “Baby Be Mine” without a hint of sweetness mark its end. That’s why I’m glad Rachael Yamagata’s guitar fouled up the proceedings.

– Sam Hunt’s sales monster provoked more responses than any country song with Miranda Lambert’s name in the credits.

Click on links for full reviews.

Rae Sremmurd ft. Kodak Black – Real Chill (7)
The Weeknd ft. Daft Punk – I Feel It Coming (7)
Rachael Yamagata – Let Me Be Your Girl (6)
Miranda! – 743 (6)
Elbow – Magnificent (She Says) (5)
Sam Hunt – Drinkin’ Too Much (4)
Yelle – Ici & Maintenant (Here & Now) (4)
Brett Eldredge – Wanna Be That Song (3)
Ed Sheeran – Castle on the Hill (3)
Ed Sheeran – Shape of You (3)
Chris Brown ft. Gucci Mane & Usher – Party (2)
Tom Zanetti ft. Sadie Ama – You Want Me (2)
Noah Cyrus ft. Labrinth – Make Me (Cry) (1)
Starley – Call on Me (Ryan Riback remix) (0)

Best films of 1951



I like the bookends: sexy-creepy Robert Walker and sexy-cloddish Farley Granger, sexy-creepy Maj-Britt Nilsson, both films in creamy black and white.

1. Strangers on a Train (Alfred Hitchcock)
2. Diary of a Country Priest (Robert Bresson)
3. Early Summer (Yasujiro Ozu)
4. A Streetcar Named Desire (Elia Kazan)
5. The River (Jean Renoir)
6. The Idiot (Akira Kurosawa)
7. Tales of Hoffman (Michael Powell)
8. The African Queen (John Huston)
9. The Lavender Hill Mob (Charles Crichton)
10. Summer Interlude (Ingmar Bergman)

Votes trump hate: living in the Trump era



I wasn’t on the Mall or Pennsylvania Avenue. I was at work in Miami a couple thousand miles away, listening to Chuck Todd and Tom Brokaw in a live stream offer laxatives cut with bipartisanship and national comity. Watching protestors, the former shook his head and said, “I don’t care who you are…you walk into this capital and democracy is raining on you.” To watch an inauguration ceremony in which Charles Fucking Schumer has to mention the due process rights of blacks, women, and LGBT citizens because the new president did not — would not — in his own speech is a country that, I’m reminded, is in a continual state of vacillation: between reaction and advancement, between thuggishness and human decency. Every midterm election is a new start to remind the neighbors who say hello to us every morning of how awful they are.

The new president’s inaugural address came down on the side of reaction and thuggishness. There was no sense in which he acknowledged the three million-plus margin that thought Hillary Clinton would have made a better Chief Executive. Like a legislator in a one-party state, he painted an America in which drugs and crime are clawing at his own supporters. He is partly right, but not in the form of blacks pushing crack on whites in Dearborn, Michigan. Acknowledging this truth would be as incongruous to a Trumpist as acknowledging that the elimination of the Affordable Care Act would condemn these smokers and addicts to an early grave.

Staff members and Cabinet officers pledge their loyalty to a Chief Executive; Americans do not. Although as sentient adults we should be expected to defend our votes when challenged, we owe politicians nothing. A politician isn’t an employee of the American polity. He or she depends on votes; he or she must reassure a base and attempt to woo a percentage of skeptics; but it’s not quite the same relationship that an employee has to a boss, and James Madison would have scowled if someone had floated this suggestion.

Which is to say that while I accept Donald Trump as the president he is a loathsome bug. Because he hates me. I didn’t vote for him, therefore from the point of view of the White House I don’t exist. Even the most cynical Reagan, Bush I, and Bush II staffer could not have prevented their bosses from leaving a room before they had converted the last skeptic. Trump has sycophants and enemies. It’s all he’s ever known.

Fellow liberals, when I see you carrying posters that say LOVE TRUMPS HATE I think you’re being fools, easily mocked. Votes trump hate. You want to fight “hate”? Call and email your congressmen. In the last two weeks we have seen that the dividends, however small, have paid out. The only way to combat what the new president called American carnage is to destroy his legitimacy as an elected figure: drive a wedge between his approval-obsessed self and the grifter parasites on Capitol Hill; force them to accept the cost of depriving people of health care; remind them of the minorities that will die and keep dying as a result of an indifferent Justice Department reluctant to pursue federal investigations into their deaths. John Harwood of NBC just said, “We don’t know how interested Donald Trump is in running the country.” John Harwood!

Call it hate. I call it resistance. Politics, if you like. But, yes, I accept that we live in a divided America. I don’t want to live in a country where a courtier press defines the terms of unity, most of which take their cues from whoever sits in the Oval Office. Lose Facebook friends if you must. The president and the GOP created this state of affairs. Let’s get them to choke on it.

‘Paterson’ a leisurely, warm tour of a poet’s mind


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A poet of abrupt accelerations and fanciful asides, William Carlos Williams is the last artist I’d associate with Jim Jarmusch. This director, whose fascination with stasis has produced some of the most enervating films of the last thirty years, has released Paterson, its title a nod to the New Jersey writer and its protagonist a different kind of stand-in. As played by Adam Driver, Paterson can live in his head because the contours of his routine delight him. This lanky goofball tries to reassemble the world into imaginative patterns; he thinks like a poet. The rhythms of Jarmusch’s film are inseparable from Driver’s own beats, and the result is a movie of rare, light charm.

The wisp of a plot is a parody of minimalism. Paterson drives a bus. Passengers and sights inspire verses, heard in voice-over. After hours he hangs out at a bar called – har, har – Sam and Dave, accompanied by his rather dim English bulldog Marvin. At home wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), clad in cheap rubber sandals, projects a pathological optimism, encouraging him to publish his work and discomfiting him with strange recipes; observed from a distance, she seems proud not to have an inner life (Jarmusch obliges). With an insistence that borders on the lulling that’s reminiscent of South Korean master Hong Sang-soo (whose 2016 Right Now, Wrong Then experiments with the ritual of repetitions), Jarmusch restages scenes: overhead shots of Paterson and Laura in bed; Paterson, alert to the ephemerality of inspiration, noticing his shoes and their position relative to the floor; Paterson in profile or in isolation on his bus, operating on two discrete levels of experience.

Jarmusch permits one ripple: coming home from dinner one night, Paterson and Laura find that a contrite Marvin has chewed Paterson’s notebook to bits. Driver uses his hangdog looks and air of immobile melancholy to shrewd effect; for Paterson rage would have been out of character, a violation of the spirit of his observational, po-faced verse. He will not decapitate Marvin with a scarlet cross-hilt lightsaber. Paterson’s moment of Zen grace occurs the day after the disaster: the would-be poet refreshes himself by sitting on a bench before the Great Falls of the Passaic River; a Japanese man familiar with William Carlos Williams gives Paterson an appropriate gift.

Synopsizing this moment would make it look like purest corn. That’s why I enjoyed it. After startling me in 2014 with a juicy vampire film called Only Lovers Left Alive, Jarmusch succumbs again to observing the weirdness of humans when they strive to be most normal. On a whim, Laura paints their apartment black and white. She wants to start a cupcake business (she’s a little late for that, if my Food Network viewing is to be trusted). Then she buys an awful guitar online in the hopes of becoming a country singer. Other directors would have reduced her to a figure of fun, a dumb housewife; the Jarmusch of Mystery Train and Night on Earth would have had no attitude towards her at all. Thanks to his attention to patterns and Driver’s warmth, Laura emerges as a woman whose caprices are her poetry. Similarly, Paterson and the regulars at Sam and Dave, middle-aged black men, interact with ease – no elitism about the poet’s position vis-à-vis the working class here.

As I’ve suggested Paterson is not a film in which audiences understand the sensibility of a force that, to quote Williams’ half great gnarly epic after whom Jarmusch’s hero is named, conjures “the air full/ of the tumult and of spray/connotative of the equal air, coeval,/filling the void.” I recoiled from the Jack Handey earnestness of Paterson’s poems, particularly the work in progress called “We Have Plenty of Matches In Our House,” but criticism is beside the point. It doesn’t matter whether Paterson is a good poet; his alertness to possibilities – to seeing beyond three dimensions – is its own reward. Williams understood: self-evaluation can inhibit the imagination in the act of creating new art.


Keeping data safe from Trumpists



Scientists in Soviet bloc nations wanted to defect because they envied our liberties. Now the United States has men and women afraid that an incoming presidential administration will shred documents:

Their undertaking, at the time, was purely speculative, based on travails of Canadian government scientists under the Stephen Harper administration, which muzzled them from speaking about climate change. Researchers watched as Harper officials threw thousands of books of aquatic data into dumpsters as federal environmental research libraries closed.

But three days later, speculation became reality as news broke that the incoming Trump administration’s EPA transition team does indeed intend to remove some climate data from the agency’s website. That will include references to President Barack Obama’s June 2013 Climate Action Plan and the strategies for 2014 and 2015 to cut methane, according to an unnamed source who spoke with Inside EPA. “It’s entirely unsurprising,” said Bethany Wiggin, director of the environmental humanities program at Penn and one of the organizers of the data-rescuing event.

Back at the library, dozens of cups coffee sat precariously close to electronics, and coders were passing around 32-gigabyte zip drives from the university bookshop like precious artifacts.

When Rick Perry and a Treasury secretary designate hint in congressional testimony that they want to return to the ripe old days of Albert Fall and Teapot Dome, these scientists don’t look so paranoid. The worst part? Conservatives will read this article and find their basest fears confirmed: a rogue element in the bureaucracy may obstruct their goals.

Ten pop culture touchstones with which I’m unfamiliar


Let me qualify the headline: I’ve read Dickens but have gone no further than a couple novels and still prefer Trollope and George Eliot. The Beach Boys don’t inspire my courage.

1. Walking Dead, Orange is the New Black, Game of Thrones
2. PC Music
3. Beach Boys
4. Charles Dickens
5. Curtis Mayfield
6. Frasier
7. The Giver
8. Broken Social Scene
9. Dostoevsky
10. Sports. Of any kind.

Extra credit: pancakes, French toast, any sweet breakfast.

The fallacy of ‘access’




When I refer to The Press, I mean David Fahrenthold. Robert Costa. Like that. Men and women who sift through public documents and interview Important People on the record, often embarrassing them. Chris Cillizza, Mark Halperin, and Chuck Todd are courtiers, not press. They whine the loudest because without access they have no MSNBC shows or, indeed, jobs that don’t involve selling fishing equipment at a Bass store. Josh Marshall:

Trump is the most unpopular incoming President in American history. We only have data on this going back a few decades. But there’s little reason to think any President in previous decades or centuries has been this unpopular. Indeed, he’s getting less popular as he approaches his inauguration. People need to have a bit more confidence in themselves, their values and their country. As soon as you realize that the Trump wants to profit from the presidency and that the Republicans are focused and helping him do so, all the questions become easier to answer and the path forward more clear. His threats against the press are the same. He’s threatening to take away things the press doesn’t truly need in order to instill a relationship of dominance.

There’s nothing more undignified and enervating than fretting about whether the President-Elect will brand real news ‘fake news’ or worrying whether his more authoritarian supporters can be convinced to believe – pleaded with, instructed to, prevailed upon – actual factual information. The answer to attacks on journalism is always more journalism.

Real journalism is dull, a continual frustration – and thrilling when the pieces come together. Sometimes it fails to produce the consequences we want: Fahrenthold’s stories on Donald Trump’s finances didn’t keep residents of west Pennsylvania from voting for him. But the information becomes part of the scrim.

I’m telling you now – The best of the Smiths



The era when I was old enough to discover music coincided with the first peak of Morrissey’s solo career, during which he released a run of fabulous singles between 1988’s Viva Hate and 1991’s Kill Uncle* (his commercial peak wouldn’t come for another three years). My friend Greg assembled a fab mix tape that began with “Bigmouth Strikes Again,” ran through most of the marvelous first third of Louder Than Bombs, and ended with “Asleep” and “How Soon is Now?” Continue reading

The worst movies of 2016


Soon I’ll mention my favorite films of 2016; I’m still catching up, but at some point I have to acknowledge I can’t catch every bumper (I’m glad I waited for The Other Side, though, and I watch Silence and rewatch 20th Century Women and Toni Erdmann this week). The following list of 2016’s biggest disappointments or most execrable failures acknowledges I don’t watch many blockbusters. Besides, I don’t see much point in mentioning an obvious stink bomb. The movies that deserve mention are the most larded with complimentary intensifiers. What four of my five picks have in common is a reliance on at times startling command of form that doesn’t obscure so much as accentuate a moral complacency.

Jackie, dir. Pablo Larraín

I know the audience is supposed to leave thinking that the story of good King Kennedy and the Knights of Camelot was a campfire tale spun by a grieving but devious widow to credulous journalists who disliked LBJ’s choice of suits and obvious flimflammery; but we still get a movie about good King Kennedy and the Knights of Camelot. Intelligent lighting and an inapposite score aside, Jackie is a sarcophagus in which the mythos clinging to the most absurd political dynasty in modern American history is allowed slow rot. As for Natalie Portman, I can’t do better than Nick Pinkerton’s obit.

Nocturnal Animals, dir. Tom Ford

From my December review: Tom Ford’s adaptation of Austin Wright’s Tony & Susan, about the owner of a gallery whose dead marriage and empty life get a jolt while reading her ex’s book, is what you might expect from a director who knows about glamour and nothing about art. Based on Jena Malone and Amy Adams’ costumes, I have my doubts about the former too.

The Neon Demon, dir. Nicholas Winding Refn

From my June review: Abjuring realistic narrative in the last fifteen minutes for a series of gruesome, expert montages and tableaux, [Nicholas Winding] Refn shows a rhythmic command that would be more impressive if it served material that didn’t expect the audience to go gaga over his supposed perversions. He’s like the guy in high school who told me his dog once made him hard. Whether I said, “I’m gonna call the cops” or “Gee, that’s cool” the trap was set — he was daring me to react. Andy Warhol isn’t cited much these days, I suspect because film and, more crucially for the former magazine illustrator, advertising have long absorbed his ethos: the affect-free, cryogenic motionlessness. These diamond dogs were civilized. The Neon Demon would rather be defined by what it fails to do than what it purports to give an impression about. To give an impression, to give a shit, after all, would cloud the sheen of Refn’s film. The Neon Demon is more accomplished than Only God Forgives, the 2013 farrago that should’ve gotten Refn sent alongside Henry Kissinger to The Hague for human rights violations. But it’s a gold-dusted trap, a stylized nothing, and I’m sure audiences will reject it. For all his distancing devices, The Neon Demon presents a series of well-dressed and attractive women who, to a symphony of yawns, get hurt. That it’s women hurting women instead of men is supposed to be progress in 2016.

X-Men: Apocalypyse, dir. Bryan Singer

Marvel movies in the 2010s are TV westerns in the early sixties: interchangeable and innocuous, fit for passive viewing. There’s a difference between the latter and a film written, directed, and acted as if it were a tax write-off. It’s possible to praise Oscar Isaac’s acumen: so well-hidden is he beneath the blue paint that he can claim he was never in the movie.

The Birth of a Nation, dir. Nate Parker

Don’t worry: I hated this film despite what Nate Parker may or may not have done offscreen. “Repeatedly in The Birth of a Nation, Nate Parker aestheticizes violence, avoiding nuance as if it were a snake in the road,” I wrote in October. “This account of Nat Turner’s slave rebellion is the kind of thing about which audiences will resort to the word ‘powerful’ without much liking it — unless they’re fans of the vigilante pictures in whose lineage Parker’s film belongs.