Gay couples granted protection from deportation

Good news from the Obama administration:

In letters sent late Wednesday to several Democratic lawmakers, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said she was clarifying guidelines that enforcement officers had used when applying a policy of prosecutorial discretion in cases of illegal immigrants with no criminal convictions.

Under the guidelines, which were first issued in June 2011, officers can consider “ties and contributions to the community, including family relationships” when deciding whether to halt a deportation.

Ms. Napolitano wrote that she had ordered her department to issue written instructions specifying that those “family relationships” include “long-term same-sex partners.”

The Cause and its effects: The Master

What a judicious decision of Paul Thomas Anderson’s to give the audience so many closeups of Joaquin Phoenix’s face, especially when The Master goes to pieces in the last forty-five minutes. What contrasts: the dark thick eyebrows against the drawn, sallow skin, cheek muscles receded into crags, cartoonishly large eyeballs. Most impressive is a mouth that squeezes words out of its left side. When Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Stepford Wife Peggy (Amy Adams) take turns hectoring him in speeches we heard in the first half, Phoenix is the only thing to look at. He rewards the attention. Béla Tarr should shoot a nine-hour physiognomy as if Phoenix were Dreyer’s Falconetti: a more rewarding project than yet another PTA joint in which the director humiliates Hoffman for being fat or gay or something.

Because a filmmaker as rigorous as Anderson believes, like Clint Eastwood’s William Munny, that deserve’s got nuthin’ to do with it, The Master must transform into a monodrama as surely as There Will Be Blood and Punch Drunk Love did with Daniel Day-Lewis and Adam Sandler respectively. It’s also possible that Anderson has lost the ability to write other characters off whom the leads can set off sparks. We should probably be grateful — for about forty-five minutes The Master promises to be not just a study of a character in crisis as ruthless as Bergman and as conversant in the language of film as anything we’ve seen, but career-highs for Phoenix, Hoffman, and production designer Jack Fisk. With the possible exception of Soderbergh, no one in the generation of American directors born after 1970 gives a damn about history — specifically, man’s place in the times in which he lives — so the recreation of a New York brownstone party in 1950 gibes with one of Mary McCarthy’s memoirs. Beginning with partying sailors on an island who are about to hear the end of the war against Japan, The Master follows Freddy Quell (Phoenix) as he fails to adjust to normality: jobs as a photographer in a department store and picking cabbage alongside Japanese migrants don’t keep his alcoholism and self-contempt at bay. He does, however, excel at concocting moonshine out of photographic chemicals, four kinds of whiskey, and — my favorite — paint thinner, the excellence of which attracts Lancaster Dodd, referred to most often as The Master, who is officiating the wedding of his daughter on the ship bound for New York on which Freddy is a stowaway.

Whether the audience finds Dodd sinister depends on its taste for “self-empowerment” and other New Age bromides. Hoffman plays him as an ascetic who relishes let’s call it the bounties of earth: booze, smokes, and women (the age difference between Hoffman and Adams is most pronounced). In two long scenes — in Dodd’s bunker and in jail (Dodd is arrested on a civil offense for failing to register his consortium as a medical school) — Dodd interrogates Freddy, and it’s to Anderson’s credit that Dodd’s mesmeric power and Freddy’s willingness to confess to hating himself, fucking his aunt, and abandoning the only girl who loved him become confused; Dodd is a charlatan, and Freddy, to use the psychobabble of our age, “confronts his demons.” But to what end? Anderson hedges, at which point this fascinating movie sputters to its unsatisfying conclusion. In one of those Hoffman humiliation scenes (this one sexually), Anderson hints that Mrs. Dodd is really The Master, and he sets Adams up to play her as such (she’s shot and told to act as if she were a 19th century daguerreotype), but nothing happens. Long ago, when Anderson didn’t dream of sixty millimeter, the story of an aging lonely man played by Philip Baker Hall saving John C. Reilly’s life one cigarette and coffee cup at a time had the outlines to support a number of compelling ambiguities. Hard Eight remains Anderson’s most realized film.The Master is a hundred thirty-five minutes of a huckster losing interest in a promising protégé, as we should with Anderson.

Singles 9/28

Missy Elliott leaks two tracks and Singlesjukeboxland shrugs. I mean, listen to the boy band track: that’s some crazy shit.

Click on links for full reviews.

Nicki Minaj ft. Rick Ross & Cam’ron – I Am Your Leader (7)
Death Grips – I’ve Seen Footage (7)
Orange Caramel – Lipstick (6)
The Wanted – I Found You (6)
Missy Elliott ft. Timbaland – 9th Inning (6)
Robbie Williams – Candy (5)
Wanting – You Exist in My Song (5)
One Direction – Live While We’re Young (4)
Busy Signal – Reggae Music Again (4)
Alt-J – Something Good (4)
Trouble – Molly World (4)
Missy Elliott ft. Timbaland – Triple Threat (3)
L.O.C. ft. Barbara Moleko – Helt Min Egen (3)
Christina Aguilera – Your Body (2)

“Off-puttingly bitter” about elder statesmenship

The final word on the new Pet Shop Boys. Douglas Wolk:

As always, the Pet Shop Boys’ latest studio LP has a resonant single-word title. “Elysium” is a reference to Elysian Park, near where they recorded the album in Los Angeles, but it’s also a high-class sort of word for paradise, in the specific sense of the afterworld of the blessed. The implication is that, somewhere in there, Pet Shop Boys slipped into the great beyond, and Neil Tennant is now singing to us from the other side. But Tennant and Chris Lowe’s relationship to pop and its audience has changed over time, and not in a loss-and-beatification way. For Pet Shop Boys’ first decade or so, they were impostors so studious and inspired that they were better than the real thing. Now they’ve settled into being elder statesmen of pop at a time when pop has little use for elder statesmen, and they’re off-puttingly bitter about it.

My review here.

Droning on…and on…

Children must keep a watchful eye on their parents. We simply don’t know what mad behavior they’ll indulge in, despite years of advice, if left alone. I may have to vote for Barack Hussein Obama because if Mitt Romney is elected their beloved granddaughter will have no Medicare. Not that it matters in reliably blue Miami-Dade County. But I understand Conor Friedersdorf’s anger:

I am not a purist. There is no such thing as a perfect political party, or a president who governs in accordance with one’s every ethical judgment. But some actions are so ruinous to human rights, so destructive of the Constitution, and so contrary to basic morals that they are disqualifying. Most of you will go that far with me. If two candidates favored a return to slavery, or wanted to stone adulterers, you wouldn’t cast your ballot for the one with the better position on health care. I am not equating President Obama with a slavery apologist or an Islamic fundamentalist. On one issue, torture, he issued an executive order against an immoral policy undertaken by his predecessor, and while torture opponents hoped for more, that is no small thing.

What are those facts? Foreign policy ones:

1. Obama terrorizes innocent Pakistanis on an almost daily basis. The drone war he is waging in North Waziristan isn’t “precise” or “surgical” as he would have Americans believe. It kills hundreds of innocents, including children. And for thousands of more innocents who live in the targeted communities, the drone war makes their lives into a nightmare worthy of dystopian novels. People are always afraid. Women cower in their homes. Children are kept out of school. The stress they endure gives them psychiatric disorders. Men are driven crazy by an inability to sleep as drones buzz overhead 24 hours a day, a deadly strike possible at any moment. At worst, this policy creates more terrorists than it kills; at best, America is ruining the lives of thousands of innocent people and killing hundreds of innocents for a small increase in safety from terrorists. It is a cowardly, immoral, and illegal policy, deliberately cloaked in opportunistic secrecy. And Democrats who believe that it is the most moral of all responsible policy alternatives are as misinformed and blinded by partisanship as any conservative ideologue.

2. Obama established one of the most reckless precedents imaginable: that any president can secretly order and oversee the extrajudicial killing of American citizens. Obama’s kill list transgresses against the Constitution as egregiously as anything George W. Bush ever did. It is as radical an invocation of executive power as anything Dick Cheney championed. The fact that the Democrats rebelled against those men before enthusiastically supporting Obama is hackery every bit as blatant and shameful as anything any talk radio host has done.

Now, plenty of liberals — I’ve mentioned their names repeatedly over the years — oppose the president’s drone policy and disregard for the habeas corpus rights of American citizens accused of terrorism, but they don’t have much cop in the Democratic Party, which has come full circle to 1948 as the party of robust enforcement of American principles abroad, for better or worse. The new Democratic Party, for war before it was for it, is represented by Vice President Joe Biden, whose deep organ notes extolling the death of Osama bin Laden at the convention a few weeks ago were so bellicose that I expected him to whip out and chew on Osama’s severed hand. A report commissioned by New York University finds that the effects of drone warfare are brutal: carnage, yes, but also a stoking of paranoia. Friedersdorf cites devastating moments:

Faheem Qureshi is still just a teenager.

Back in 2009, he was the sole survivor of the first drone strike that President Obama ordered. He was “one of the top four students in his class before the drone strike fractured his skull and nearly blinded him,” the report states. He’s struggled ever since. “Our minds have been diverted from studying. We cannot learn things because we are always in fear of the drones hovering over us, and it really scares the small kids who go to school,” he told his interviewer. “At the time the drone struck, I had to take exams, but I couldn’t take exams after that because it weakened my brain. I couldn’t learn things, and it affected me emotionally. My mind was so badly affected.”

A new generation of evildoers gets radicalized.

Meanwhile in Mittensland our sovereign would declare war on everyone: Iran, Russia, Syria, Canada, Uruguay, Sierra Leone, Luxembourg, and Papua New Guinea. A bad state of affairs, friends.

Sense and sensibility: Damsels in Distress

Damsels in Distress is the sort of movie for which adverbs look silly. You know: “charmingly,” “perplexedly,” “oddly.” Since Last Days of Disco, Bill Clinton got impeached and writer-director Whit Stillman is five years shy of collecting a Social Security check, but his attention to hyperarticulate characters testing their moral codes against a perplexed universe has produced his most beguiling movie to date. Violet (Greta Gerwig), Rose (Megalyn Echikunwoke) and Heather (Carrie MacLemore), moving through Seven Oaks college like versions of Mary McCarthy’s Vassar girls in The Group, recruit Lily (Analeigh Tipton) for their suicide prevention peer counseling team and for berating the fraternity system (a “Roman” system, as goonish Ryan Metcalf explains) with which the men have dominated social life for generations. Although some jokes don’t pop like you’d expect and the last twenty minutes are a haze of dance routines and poorly conceived resolutions (how can anyone find resolution here?), pace and blocking are less of a problem in Stillman’s fourth feature; he’s mastered the craft of depicting a milieu. Stillman doesn’t abandon the other women for the fascinating camera subject that’s Gerwig. Echikunwoke steals the movie with dry-as-gin line readings, while Tipton makes her miscasting work in her favor; she’s too infatuated with what Thomas Hardy would call the earthly pleasures, one of which involves a roll on the couch with a serious-as-a-deacon graduate student named Xavier (shouldn’t it be with a “J,” the characters wonder?). The seduction almost works: he plies her with wine and Truffaut’s Stolen Kisses (“It’s in color,” he reassures Lily) when his confession of Catharist tendencies doesn’t work.

If Xavier’s obsessions remind you of Jean-Louis Trintignant’s Jansenism in My Night at Maud‘s, it’s not the only frisson. With its pastel hues and ascetic air, it evokes Moonrise Kingdom without the fear and trembling, its dessication of feeling. In Stillman’s view, brittleness is a tease, a way to hint at hidden depths. It’s why he includes a scene in which an English professor praises the novels of Ronald Firbank. A glancing away from the articulation of sentiment defined Jean-Pierre Léaud’s work in Stolen Kisses too, and there’s something of this lightness in Adam Brody’s work as Charles, a po-faced con artist who claims to work for Strategic Development under the name of Fred. Thanks to crackerjack TV timing, the elfin Brody’s a snug fit in Stillman’s world, a worthy foil for Tipton and Gerwig. I’ve met a few guys like Charles around campus: well-connected young Republicans already doing “consulting” work or “networking” for international clientele.

But Damsels in Distress is Gerwig’s movie, and what a star turn: a conceit made sensual, thinking flesh; as improbable as the lady in Alexander Pope’s “The Rape of the Lock.” Ridiculous mini speeches like “During these formative college years, we should try to learn as many cliched and hackneyed expressions as possible. Furthermore, I think we will” she turns into manifestos without a hint of a wink. Gerwig is what a few of us thought Stillman would do with Metropolitan‘s Carolyn Farina: write a whole movie for Audrey Rouget, finding Lionel Trilling’s take on Mansfield Park wanting.

“If you think your gun is powerful, this is mine”

South Florida politics at its finest. All it proves for the moment is that Representative David Rivera picked nice playmates.

A self-described “Republican bad girl,” Alliegro doesn’t appear to be cooperating with authorities investigating Sternad’s campaign. The political newcomer and part-time hotel worker lost the Aug. 14 Democratic primary race to Rivera rival Joe Garcia, who faces Rivera in the Nov. 6 general election for the Kendall-to-Key West seat.

Alliegro initially planned to cooperate with the FBI and make a statement on Thursday, Sept. 6. But she was a no-show.

The day before, she met with Rivera, who faces a separate criminal investigation into his personal and political finances.

The investigation into Sternad’s campaign concerns laws prohibiting money laundering, intentionally filing false campaign reports and conspiracy. No charges have been filed against Sternad, Alliegro or Rivera.

And it’s not the first time Alliegro has faced legal problems.

Two weeks ago, right after FBI agents raided her apartment and seized her computer, Miami Police arrested her on an old warrant for driving with a suspended license. She spent the weekend in jail, where she complained about the smell and view from her cell.

In 2009, she was arrested for shoplifting a pair of $29.99 sandals from Ross on Biscayne Boulevard. The charge was later dropped.

In January 2007, she was arrested in a dispute with her ex-husband, Moshe Cosicher, at his Tigertail Ave. home in Coconut Grove. They had been divorced for two years, but Alliegro wanted to get remarried, according to reports from Miami police and prosecutors.

“We are going to Vegas,” she told Cosicher, a report said. The report noted that when Cosicher refused, she grabbed a gun, which appeared to be a .45 that she kept at bed side.

She then sat naked at a desk with her leg up and compared the gun to a male sexual organ.

“If you think your [expletive] is powerful (showing the gun), this is mine,” Alliegro told Cosicher, who tried to ignore her by going to make coffee, a report said. Alliegro followed him and told him to sit on the couch.

She fired a round into the ceiling.

“You see. It’s loaded — this is business,” Alliegro allegedly said. He tried to leave.

Yoko’s approximately infinite world of sound

Skeptics of Yoko Ono’s power to hold musical interest — quite a few remain, alas — are directed to Approximately Infinite Universe. This 1973 album, boasting John Lennon on guitar, is the closest Ono, well, approximated studio rock verities until Double Fantasy, 1980’s collaboration with John. Because Ono preferred unusual chord combinations and sprung rhythm tempos, few tracks sound like Doobie Brothers, Eagles, or even Steely Dan; the musicians seem to respond to her inflections and stresses instead of working out conventional arrangements. The results are the familiar refracted through the strange: check out “Kite Song” and “Move On Fast.” This double album also redefines “sprawl” as a vital kind of counterpoint: when she essays singer-songwriter balladry, she complements it with a tongue in cheek permutation, complete with saxophone. In the cred department, she includes a howling rocker called “Yang Yang” anchored by boogie piano, hand claps, and Lennon’s unhinged guitar that might have scared the hell out of any punk graduate, class of ’76. If there’s a must-hear Ono album, it’s Approximately Infinite Universe.

Our men in Havana

At the height of the Depression my family lived a half mile from the Tropical beer plant. “From our yard you could see the bottles of green, cut in half, piled as high as the eye could see,” she said. I learned about her uncle — her father’s brother — who accused her of stealing five pesos. The rupture was so complete that her parents never spoke to him again. For the fiftieth time l learned about her executive job for the Royal Bank of Canada, where she met my grandfather and she defied stereotypes about submissive Hispanic women; although subtler forms of sexism may exist in my family, every woman was encouraged to work, and every relative appreciated the potency of wage earning.

On Sundays I visit my grandmother for ninety minutes. We watch Paula Dean’s show, both of us marveling at the cheerfulness with which the bauble on her left ring finger gets dunked in damp flour or egg batter. A recipe will remind her of a delicacy her own mother cooked in Cuba. I will hear for the twelfth time about the Chinese man who sold cherry tomatoes for pennies. I will hear about the house she and my grandfather bought for nine thousand dollars. Like a song whose chorus cuts into two-line verses, each memory she punctuates with a variant on the phrase, “How I miss Cuba. We were so happy.” Memories harden into pieties after fifty-two years. It’s useless and not a little cruel to explain the burden of history: how Cuba, from the Jefferson administration until the Spanish-American War, was a prize sought by the United States, a potential slave state, a verdant land with the best natural resources in the Caribbean. If a middle class flourished in the autumn of Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship — it became a dictatorship after a coup d’etat in 1952 to which the intelligentsia responded with a shrug that my grandparents acknowledge was a grievous mistake — it evinced a self-protective streak that would not win support after Fidel Castro’s own golpe de estado.

In a piece for The New York Times Magazine, novelist John Jeremiah Sullivan recounts a trip to visit his wife’s homeland. I’m struck by a comment by one Ernesto Llano:

My entire family used to live in a series of modest homes on one street in the Regla neighborhood of Havana. When each of the many young girls in the family neared her 15th birthday, all of the cousins would get together to learn and practice a choreographed dance for the party. The terms “friends” and “family” were almost indistinguishable, both because your best friend was usually your cousin and because any friend you made outside of the family was quickly added to the family tree. People didn’t dream of leaving Cuba because, why would they?

What startles me, fifty-two years after my maternal and paternal grandparents boarded a Miami-bound flight, is the degree to which the tradition persists — the degree to which tradition persists. Sullivan doesn’t address a couple of the other realities about which brave young blogger Yoani Sanchez has written in the last several years and with which I’m familiar from teaching the children of the Cubans who didn’t leave in 1961, 1980, or 1994, the ones who are my neighbors: the prostitution, the impressive educational system which prepares them for success in the States but in their home condemns them to read, in the words of the late Christopher Hitchens, state-sponsored agitprop that isn’t worth reading and actually numbs the spirit of rebellion; any American leftism worth its pedigree must see past its own recidivism and acknowledge these facts. Leftism that ignores the average Cuban’s spiritual death must reckon with its attraction to a necrophiliac romanticism as gross as the American right’s fascination with plutocracy.

But this essay of mine will neither recount the ancient hurts nor redress the waning influence of the Cuban hardline which has wielded so much power over foreign relations for half a century — an influence that mystifies Beltway elites and calcifies stereotypes. As Sullivan’s narrative makes clear, as my grandmother’s biography demonstrates in a wealth of detail buttressed by regret and pain, the gnarled ties between Cuba and the Unites States — the most fraught relationship with a foreign power in its two hundred-year history — there are no answers that don’t come in sighs or the anguished, embarrassed staring of feet. And no stories in which prayers are expected to be answered.

Workers “never passed” Romney’s lips

I suppose this explains the popularity of “leadership” as an ennobling concept. To work you must be in charge. Krugman:

But here’s the question: Should we imagine that Mr. Romney and his party would think better of the 47 percent on learning that the great majority of them actually are or were hard workers, who very much have taken personal responsibility for their lives? And the answer is no.

For the fact is that the modern Republican Party just doesn’t have much respect for people who work for other people, no matter how faithfully and well they do their jobs. All the party’s affection is reserved for “job creators,” a k a employers and investors. Leading figures in the party find it hard even to pretend to have any regard for ordinary working families — who, it goes without saying, make up the vast majority of Americans.

Am I exaggerating? Consider the Twitter message sent out by Eric Cantor, the Republican House majority leader, on Labor Day — a holiday that specifically celebrates America’s workers. Here’s what it said, in its entirety: “Today, we celebrate those who have taken a risk, worked hard, built a business and earned their own success.” Yes, on a day set aside to honor workers, all Mr. Cantor could bring himself to do was praise their bosses.

Lest you think that this was just a personal slip, consider Mr. Romney’s acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. What did he have to say about American workers? Actually, nothing: the words “worker” or “workers” never passed his lips. This was in strong contrast to President Obama’s convention speech a week later, which put a lot of emphasis on workers — especially, of course, but not only, workers who benefited from the auto bailout.

Read the rest.