‘My question is, what are you going to replace it with’

Before the demise of DOMA and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, I use to imagine ratfucking a candidate forum by asking him or her what he or she could do for me, a gay man. Then watch the fumbling. Senator Ted Cruz got an impolitic question in a Hubbard, Iowa cafeteria, only the citizen was sincere. His brother in law is immoral enough to use Obamacare:

“He had never been to a doctor for years,” Mr. Valde, 63, of Coralville, Iowa, said. “Multiple tumors behind his heart, his liver, his pancreas. And they said, ‘We’re sorry, sir, there’s nothing we can do for you.’ ”

The room was silent.

“Mark never had health care until Obama care,” Mr. Valde continued. “What are you going to replace it with?”

Mr. Cruz expressed condolences and pivoted quickly to a well-worn answer assailing the health care law.

Mr. Cruz said “millions of Americans” had lost their jobs and their doctors as a result of the law, and that many had “seen their premiums skyrocket.”

He said he had often joked about a pledge by Mr. Obama that premiums would drop: “Anyone whose premiums have dropped $2,500, as President Obama promised, should vote for Hillary Clinton,” Mr. Cruz said. “I’ll take everybody else.”

Many in the room laughed.

Mr. Valde — who said in an interview later that he did in fact intend to caucus for Mrs. Clinton — pressed on.

“My question is, what are you going to replace it with?” he said.

Mr. Cruz said he was getting there, but had to lay out the problems with the law first. “There are millions of stories on the other side,” he said, describing voters who had liked their insurance plans and lost them because the plans did not provide the level of coverage the new law required.

He went on to describe elements of his plan, which includes an effort to allow people to purchase insurance across state lines.

Mr. Cruz turned back to Mr. Valde. “Your father-in-law, he couldn’t afford it,” he said.

“Brother-in-law,” Mr. Valde said.

“Your brother-in-law couldn’t afford it,” Mr. Cruz said.

“Right,” Mr. Valde said. “But he could afford it — he finally got it under Obama.”

“He would have gotten it earlier, if he could have afforded it earlier,” Mr. Cruz said. “But because of government regulations he couldn’t.”

Of course it isn’t fair to expect a candidate to deviate from the campaign script — if he’s no good. Even a student body president would blurt, “And I want to come up with a plan to help your brother. I’m glad he got care. I want to come up with a better plan.” To call Cruz a lousy candidate, though, suggests he can learn. He does intend to strip the brother in law of his insurance. He thinks if you can’t afford insurance you’re a loser.

Best movies of 2015, part four

Magic Mike XXL, dir. Gregory Jacobs.

The queerest of recent Hollywood films, this smashing entertainment outdoes the original. The cheapo attitude — no name director, same cast, no script besides routines and one-liners that sound improvised — is just what this concept needed (the ignominious exit of Alex Pettyfer is a plus too). How refreshing to watch a film helmed by white men that showed interest in the sexual desires of black women without sniggers. What a relief to watch the studs perform with gusto and insouciance at a drag club (and hang with the headliner at a beach party). How wonderful that the absurdly named Channing Tatum is in even better absurd shape for a reprise of the “Pony” routine (it’s more fun the second time around).

Creed, dir. Ryan Coogler.

From my review: I hope I insult no one when I point out that Creed is a better directed movie than the 1976 Rocky, in which John G. Avildsen often forgot he was holding a camera. It’s the Rocky Balboa movie that Rocky should’ve been. Director Ryan Coogler’s touches — a dolly, for example, from Bianca’s second story window to the street where Adonis awaits — keep the material humming. Philadelphia is a character too, a grey wintry city of cheese steaks and neighborhood kids popping wheelies; Coogler gazes at each new face as if hoping to meet a new friend. As the son of Apollo Creed, Michael B. Jordan is as trim, alert, and deadly as his character’s ringside moves.

Heart of a Dog, dir. Laurie Anderson.

From my review: No performer can drain the affect from her voice as quickly as Laurie Anderson. Besides its formidable rhythmic accomplishments, Heart of a Dog is inseparable from her flat, pensive, Midwestern tone. This brief meditation on death has a lovely shimmer; in a career spent weighing the import of sentences, Anderson finds the right visual correlative. The glance can be as unforgettable as the stare. The pause is strategy, not tactics. As she says herself, “It was just. The way, you know. Things have to be.”

The New Girlfriend, dir. François Ozon.

Although devoid of the lunacy that Pedro Almodovar would’ve provided, the can-you-handle-this deliberateness of the gender swap drama The New Girlfriend generates its own kinky momentum. Using Ruth Rendell’s novel, François Ozon sets himself up with an original thesis: can a man who feels most comfortable as a woman replace his dead wife in the affections of her best friend? Scene by scene he answers the question. If it’s not his best movie, it’s close.

Glenn Frey: Nobody knows where you’re goin’

Friends know the depth of my adoration for Glenn Frey. The survivors confirm his devotion to honing the Eagles sound, Dionysian spirit, and considerable gut, the latter of which he lost after a rigorous workout regimen. In retrospect this looks stupid but, really, how many rock stars in 1988 made a virtue of their clean lifestyles? Bob Seger and J.D. Souther share their memories from this period:

Seger: He became super-healthy after the Eagles. He had colon problems his whole life. He kept them at bay with a workout regimen. He was serious about it, being sober and healthy.

Souther (on Frey’s fitness ads in the late Eighties): I remember seeing that first newspaper ad with the picture of him from the Eagles. He’s got his hair real long and he’s smoking a cigarette, and on the left side of the page, it says “Hard Rock.” On the right side of the page, he’s in the gym with his hair short and he’s buff, and it says, “Rock Hard.” It was an odd time. We all went through a lot of changes and some of those changes were easy for the others in the group to take and some weren’t. Glenn was just smart enough to do it with money attached to it. I thought it was brilliant, actually. I looked at it and thought, “That’s a smart move.”

I will hand it to Henley and Frey: they made it past their excesses until they couldn’t handle it anymore. I don’t doubt though that Frey’s eventually lead to his death, even twenty years after the fact.

Singles 1/29

Don’t let a couple of those 7s fool you. The best week of the new year occasioned skeptical relistening, and it turns out Laura Mvula’s Nile Rodgers’ collaboration is too vaporous for my taste and Esperanza Spalding’s too scattered. But put them beside Grimes’ demented cheerleading anthem and Morning Msume’s good cheer and there’s a compelling anti-canon, destined never to trouble the Billboard Hot 100 top ten.

Click on links for full reviews.

Grimes – Kill V. Maim (7)
Seventeen ft. Ailee – Q&A (7)
Morning Musume ’15 – Tsumetai Kaze to Kataomoi (7)
Esperanza Spalding – Good Lava (7)
Laura Mvula ft. Nile Rodgers – Overcome (7)
Dal Shabet – Someone Like U (6)
Turbo ft. Yoo Jae-suk – Again (5)
Puff Daddy & the Family ft. Ty Dolla $ign & Gizzle – You Could Be My Lover (5)
Cole Swindell – You Should Be Here (5)
Granger Smith – Backroad Song (5)
Bonnie McKee – Wasted Youth (4)
Maren Morris – My Church (4)
Hailee Steinfeld – You’re Such A (3)
X Ambassadors – Unsteady (3)
Coleman Hell – 2 Heads (2)

GOP debate: Justice Barack Obama edition

Having a couple drinks with a friend, I forgot about this boondoggle. Let’s give it a shot, pun intended.

11 p.m. Marco Rubio croaks nonsense about American porch lights getting switched on again when he’s president.

10:57. Saints preserve us, Ben Carson recites the Preamble to the Constitution, and I hold my breath, as one would on knowing the man memorized it in front of his dressing room mirror.

10:55. “On Sept. 11, my wife was two blocks from the World Trade Center,” Chris Christie intones in his closing statement.

10:48. “We’re blessed with tremendous energy in this nation,” Ben Carson said after awakening from a refreshing nap.

10:45. For the third time in half an hour, Jeb Bush mentions Donald Trump. Separation anxiety, they call it. He has no existence apart from Trumping Bag.

10:43. Rand Paul says the CEO of a company would be fired for behavior like Bill Clinton’s: admitting to a consensual affair with a woman.

10:39. Chris Christie: “All of us can take ISIS out.”

10:36. Tapping his finger on the podium, Marco Rubio says  he will “cancel” the Iran agreement his first day in office, presumably on his first day as the manager of a baseball memorabilia store in 2017. He is confident “other nations” will “choose” “the United States of America” “over” Iran.

10:30. When Rand Paul speaks movingly about getting drug offenders out of jail and scoffing at the platoon of sadists onstage who consider Vlad the Putin Vlad the Impaler, he then speaks passionately about the Tenth Amendment and throwing the poor to the mercy of the platoon of sadists onstage who may show charity.

10:18. Marco Rubio is such a bimbo that when asked if he’s still the GOP savior and he says, of course, “The only savior is Jesus Christ,” the applause is tepid. He even fucked up a simple line about Bernie Sanders as qualified to be president of Sweden.

10:16. Wait — did Hillary Clinton say she wants to put Barack Obama on the Supreme Court?

10:13. With Donald Trump gone, the GOP candidates look like the shriveled, shrill sadists they always were and without the bombast. Clarity!

10:10. Every time a Republican candidate quotes John Adams’ “Facts are stubborn things,” I want to hit these guys with the Constitution and say, “My aim is a stubborn fucking thing, buddy.”

10:06. So weird to hear Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio argue about who was more wrong about immigration and “amnesty” when their positions are the same.

The continuing adventures of the Florida pepper mill


Ever since Marco Rubio received a samurai sword from Governor Jeb Bush in the mid 2000s on the floor of the Florida House I’ve heard miracles about his speechifying ability. My parents are Cuban, after all, so why shouldn’t I identify with a story about a hardscrabble life in exile, right? But since winning the 2010 senatorial contest Rubio keeps coming across as a puffy dogmatist who recites anecdotes like a preschooler does the Lord’s Prayer. I haven’t seen one example of the junior senator from Florida’s putative charisma: not during that race, not during the delicious interval between November 2012 and summer 2013 when Charles Krauthammer anointed him the brown-skin wonder who would lead the GOP out of its demographic doldrums. In the last few months as he’s failed to convince even a Kiwanis club treasurer in Des Moines about his ability to serve as president, the political media’s finally realized what I have. What a pleasure to read this dispatch from Leonid Bershidsky, who catches a candidate who inspires nothing more than golf claps from an Osceola audience while Cruz has them by the throat:

Rubio is earnest, humorless, prone to long stories about his poor childhood in an immigrant neighborhood and his gratitude toward the country that gave his family a home and him a chance at a bright political future. Cruz is full of malicious fun. “They had a blizzard in Washington, closed down the government,” he said, grinning in that freezing barn. “Praise the Lord,” came a voice from the back of the room, and everyone, including the candidate, laughed. “It was so cold I actually saw a Democrat with his hands in his own pockets,” Cruz continued.

Where Rubio sounds idealistic, selling a bright future for an exceptionalist America, Cruz is all about a war for the conservative values he says are being eroded, a crusade in which every day counts, everyone is a soldier, and the biggest question is, “Where were you when the battle was fought?”

You can’t wage perpetual war when you sound like a blender. You can’t inspire troops when your voice trembles like a sophomore asked to read an essay after he hides behind the student in front of him. You can’t vote for a man who wears a suit like a lamppost, parts his hair like he’s been bald since twelve, and has the charisma of a pepper mill.

The sorrows of dead Goethe

In my sophomore year at university I took Continental Literature. The vague nomenclature didn’t hint at what the extraordinary Butler Waugh’s lectures encompassed: the European novel of the twentieth century, with which undergraduates are unfamiliar but once composed an essential part of an education. His selections were heterodox: André Breton’s Nadja, Italo Svevo’s Confessions of Zeno, Ernst Jünger’s The Glass Bees, Natalie Sarraute’s The Planetarium. My graduate school curriculum as an English student didn’t so much as hint at the existence of literature not written in English.

A figure whose that isn’t pronounced correctly even by people who wish him well, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe remains the most profound influence on European lit, the greatest writer if not necessarily the best, but according to Adam Kirsch “strangely neglected in the English-speaking world.” I read Faust my senior year of high school because I was a sponge and a nerd and Penguin Classics offered $4 editions of both parts. David Luke’s couplets didn’t jangle; often it approximated the great good humor of the original, or so I’m told. That’s the trouble. Has anyone taken the trouble to proselytize for Goethe? And how man American undergrads read German? As Kirsch reminds readers in his appreciation, students and scholars of British literature in the nineteenth century, whether reading Carlyle or Matthew Arnold, couldn’t escape his influence; the awe in which he was held tempered criticism. Kirsch:

To get a sense of how Johann Wolfgang von Goethe dominates German literature, we would have to imagine a Shakespeare known to the last inch—a Shakespeare squared or cubed. Goethe’s significance is only roughly indicated by the sheer scope of his collected works, which run to a hundred and forty-three volumes. Here is a writer who produced not only some of his language’s greatest plays but hundreds of major poems of all kinds—enough to keep generations of composers supplied with texts for their songs. Now consider that he also wrote three of the most influential novels in European literature, and a series of classic memoirs documenting his childhood and his travels, and essays on scientific subjects ranging from the theory of colors to the morphology of plants.

Then again, Arnold and Carlyle read German, as did most Oxford and Cambridge students. His influence on the novel is incalculable. With Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship Goethe invented the bildungsroman, or novel of education: the young man whose self-knowledge comes at the price of his precious illusions. Enjoying The Sorrows of Young Werther eighteen years ago, I noticed Goethe took the neurasthenic suicide seriously but often mocked him – an approach Goethe’s descendants ignored. Last year’s Jessica Hausner film Amour Fou, about a wannabe suicide in the nineteenth century tempting young women to follow, is the first modern work to understand the Goethe tone.

Best movies of 2015, part three

* Appropriate Behavior, dir. Desiree Akhavan.

Desiree Akhavan, working from her own script, plays a young woman of Persian descent who hasn’t explained to her family that she’s bisexual, despite having broken up with a girlfriend. This whirling comedy of embarrassment displays a healthy sense of self-parody, and after years of lugubrious gay coming out pictures Appropriate Behavior, from its title on down, is a rebuke.

* Results, dir. Andrew Bujalski.

From my June review: Filmmakers approach the world of fitness and health as if it were a poisonous snake in the road. Think Perfect, the John Travolta-Jamie Lee Curtis stinker from 1985. Results works. Andrew Bujalski, who helmed Computer Chess, is so low key about setting up jokes and situations that in the first hour Results plays like a mid nineties comedy: 40-watt Nicole Holofcener. Then it clicks in a thirty-minute denouement, a miracle of possibilities going from missed to realized, a series of cues picked up.

* In the Name of My Daughter, dir. André Téchiné.

Releasing in the last decade with little fanfare the best films of his career, André Téchiné has such a light, darting touch that on first viewing his themes don’t connect; it’s as if he doesn’t give a damn whether you get them. This movie based on a true story about a Riviera casino mogul (Catherine Deneuve) outmaneuvered by her daughter and the daughter’s lover pushes nothing but suggests much. As usual with Téchiné sunlight, hills, air, and beaches aren’t setting — they’re characters.

* Timbuktu, dir. Abderrahmane Sissako.

In the Timbuktu depicted in Abderrahamne Sissako’s film, dogmatism comes in the form of neighbors, the people whom you once trusted. Petty rivalries turn rancorous when poverty, guns, and religion mix.The centerpiece is a confrontation between Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed) and the fisherman who speared one of Kidane’s cows to death. As Kidane and the assailant wrestle in the river a rifle report crackles. For a few seconds it’s unclear who’s been shot – if anyone’s been shot. Sissako observes the happenings in extreme long shot, the characters captured amid the immensity of Mali’s desert. A bravura piece of filmmaking, evoking Kiarostami and Paul Bowles, and typical of Sissako’s approach.

Latinos against Trump


Latino organizers sensed an opportunity when they heard Donald Trump was bringing his presidential campaign to Marshalltown, a small farm city that is home to an increasing number of Latino immigrants and their children.

So they organized protests at the high school gymnasium where Trump spoke Tuesday, with about 50 young Latinos marching silently outside as a smattering of Trump supporters hurled insults and laughed at them.

But the protest was only the beginning. Down the street, advocates held a drive to register voters and educate immigrants on the complexities of next week’s Iowa caucuses, the kickoff for the presidential nominating process.

Amen, I say.

Advocacy groups have launched unprecedented voter registration efforts aimed at the state’s small but rapidly growing Latino population. The nonprofit Henry works for earmarked $300,000 for outreach in Iowa shortly after Trump got into the race, and the group’s field workers have led Spanish-language caucus training sessions for voters in most of the 11 counties where Latinos constitute more than 10% of the vote.

Democratic and Republican campaigns have also been wooing Latinos angered by Trump’s rhetoric. When Jeb Bush’s Latino outreach workers field questions about Trump, they often tell voters that caucusing for Bush is the best bet to combat the real estate mogul.

Whether a similar movement takes shape across the country remains to be seen, but many Latino leaders are hoping Trump could be the catalyst to push their growing but chronically underperforming electorate to the polls. There is talk of a “Trump effect” rivaling Proposition 187, the anti-illegal-immigration measure that jolted California Latinos to action 20 years ago and is credited with helping create the state’s current Latino power structure.

“My gut is that it’ll be substantial,” Democratic consultant Bill Carrick said of Latino turnout in November. “They have been activated.”

The anger is so raw and obvious that it requires the right catalyst. I don’t know if Sanders and Clinton are the catalysts though. In my home state, the local satraps have done everything except grunt, “We don’t serve your kind” to Bernie Sanders. On the other hand, this MSNBC-Telemundo poll released earlier this month shows Latino registered voters preferring a Democratic to a Republican nominee 56-36. “Preferring” isn’t the same as “voting,” recall.

Best films of 2015, part two

* Mad Max: Fury Road, dir. George Miller.


The claque was boisterous enough for me to consider omitting it, but rewatching it over the holiday break I marveled over its mad inventions, expert pace, and determination to treat Tom Hardy as if he weren’t human.

* Tangerine, dir. Sean S. Baker.

Not as uproarious as reviews suggested, this debut shot on smart phone gets by on its uproarious performances, especially ‎Kitana Kiki Rodriguez as the transgender hooker out for vengeance.

* Amour Fou, dir. Jessica Hausner.

The author of The Marquise of O couldn’t persuade women to become accomplices in suicide until he meets Henriette. This droll study of the post-Werther sensibility benefits from Jessica Hausner’s precise compositions. When a woman is supposed to complement floral arrangements and latticework, following a young drip into an early grave sounds fabulous.

* Aurora, dir. Rodrigo Sepulveda.

A middle-aged teacher finds a dead baby in a trash heap. Shaken, she petitions for the authority to bury the body before deciding it’s easier to adopt her. As of this writing, this fine Chilean drama, which made its domestic debut at the Miami International Film Festival last spring, has no American distributor.

The surly bonds of earth: the Challenger explosion

For South Florida it was an astoundingly cold day: low to mid thirties. The morning the Challenger exploded coincided with the Jose Marti parade, an annual ritual during which Miami private schools commemorated the Cuban journalist-poet-patriot by wearing leotards too tight to fit puberty-swollen bodies and instruments too adult to handle. I don’t remember if the cold or the explosion caused the cancellation of the parade; a few days later, however, we and the other schools marched in silence, kept from playing to honor the dead men and one woman on board the Challenger. I played the xylophone — even by sixth grade standards not well.

I watched Ronald Reagan’s eulogy to the astronauts with my great grandmother, his words dubbed in Spanish. She wiped a tear. Although I’ve written thousands of words dismissing his administration’s rule by abstention, indifference, and abstract cruelty, I nevertheless remember that eulogy, written by Peggy Noonan, as his finest public moment, delivered with all the polish and unforced pathos of a pro; when he delivers the famous final line, cribbed from a poem, about the crew slipping “the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God,” Reagan goes hollow for a second; he’s nothing but the line. Ronald Reagan was at last a great actor.