RIP — Donald Trump

How history will remember the Trump presidency:

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Protesting against protesters

Black Lives Matter eroded the cerebral cortex of many state legislators. Consequently, legislators wrote bills exempting drivers who think it’s fine to run over protestors if these drivers were late for a nail appointment or a PTA meeting. The trend began with a North Dakota state representative named Keith Kempenich in January:

He proposed a piece of legislation that would waive a motorist’s liability for any damages caused by striking any person who was “obstructing vehicular traffic on a public road, street, or highway,” including injury or death. Kempenich’s proposal was born in the wake of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protests and was a not-so-subtle jab at the anti-DAPL crowds that stalled construction on the pipeline, in part, by blocking area roads.

Kempenich explained at the time how protesters on the road were catching drivers off guard—“This isn’t their issue,” Kempenich said of motorists—but lamented the fact that, “if something had happened, [motorists would] wind up being accused of it.” He added that when a protester “comes up on the roadway and challenges a motorist… that’s an intentional act of intimidation—the definition of terrorism.”

The bill died in committee. So did Florida’s Senate Bill 1096, which would have made protesting a second-degree misdemeanor (emphasis mine) if cops decide (and a judge rules) that the protesters are blocking traffic. Clearly unconstitutional, most likely declared so by every state supreme court. But it doesn’t matter. These bills signal to chamber of commerce types that legislators have their backs. Legislators were set to approve bills that sanctioned one set of citizens driving three-ton vehicular weapons into other citizens. I suspect the events at Charlottesville put a stop on future versions. It’s chilling how often our dreams and desires eventually become real.

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Mope for the Confederate dead

So this happened:

Durham, N.C. — A group of protesters in Durham toppled a Confederate monument Monday evening.

Protesters chose to gather near the courthouse for a reason, calling the Confederate Soldiers Monument a symbol of oppression and racism.

A succulent detail:

Several men used a ladder to reach the top of statue, which had been sprayed with cooking spray by authorities to make it more difficult to climb, and it was pulled down with a strap.

My reaction.

We will read calls to arrest these protesters to vandalizing city or county property; they may go to jail, and lawyers may defend them pro bono. Admitting this outcome relieves me of the duty of mentioning it again.

I’ll assume most liberals call the Democratic Party home, and the vandals were liberals, so I wonder how the ghosts of James Vardaman and “Pitchfork” Ben Tillman and Theodore Bilbo will sleep tonight.

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Done worked a groove: the best of D’Angelo

With a slim oeuvre for which my colleagues have made grand claims, D’Angelo has used writer’s block as a kind of incubator: for thirteen years he watched as Brown Sugar and Voodoo matured into R&B touchstones, unsullied by mediocre contractual follow-ups. At the turn of the century I preferred other Soulquarian releases like Mama’s Gun and Things Fall Apart, not to mention his fellow mononym, the crucially Sade-besotted Maxwell; what they lacked in accretive density they compensated with forthrightness. A dumb binary, I realized later, especially when the accretive density was as tasty as devil’s pie without the addictive qualities.

Speaking of “Devil’s Pie” — it inspires D’Angelo’s ambivalence. Not lyrically — he’s an example of why submission to the eddies of his bass lines and the silt of his harmonies produces useful tensions. The moment in that track when hand claps joins the scratching and granitic groove laid down by Questlove as D’Angelo repeats the title hook reveals the potency of devil’s pie as an aphrodisiac, mephitic and deadly. 2014’s Black Messiah reached new heights of studio craft: the stentorian piano of “Another Life”; yet another tumbling opening of a groove in “The Charade”; the sitar as bridge joining East and West, engaged in diplomatic back channel communications with Roy Hargrove; the mumbled imprecations meant as prayers but, despite their unguent qualities, sharpened with menace.

Still, I reach for Brown Sugar most in 2017 — the impishness with which he scrubs a metaphor of Mick Jagger’s eros-inspired sensationalism.

1. Brown Sugar
2. Devil’s Pie
3. Jonz in My Bonz
4. The Root
5. Send It On
6. 1000 Deaths
7. Shit, Damn, Motherfucker
8. Till It’s Done (Tutu)
9. Chicken Grease
10. Betray My Heart
11. She’s Always in My Hair
12. The Charade
13. Lady (DJ Premier’s Just Tha Beat Mix)
14. Untitled (How Does It Feel)
15. The Line

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The best films of 2017 – August update

With the year more than eight months over, it’s time for a recap of its best films to date, an even dozen.


The Ornithologist, dir. João Pedro Rodrigues
The Lost City of Z, dir. James Gray
A Quiet Passion, dir. Terence Davies
Get Out, dir. Jordan Peele
Staying Vertical, dir. Alain Guiraudie


Personal Shopper, dir. Olivier Assayas
Harmonium, dir. Kaji Fukada
Baby Driver, dir. Edgar Wright
Frantz, dir. François Ozon
A Ghost Story, dir. David Lowery
It Comes at Night, dir. Trey Edward Shults
The Death of Louis XIV, dir. Albert Serra

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Responses to violence

Julia Azari reviews the history of presidential responses to acts of violence on black citizens:

In 1906, for example, a group of African-American soldiers in Brownsville, Texas, was accused of shooting multiple people. They were acquitted by a court and there was no real evidence of their guilt — but President Theodore Roosevelt issued a dishonorable discharge for all of the accused soldiers. Roosevelt’s critics accused him of placating the angry mob for political reasons, as Roosevelt’s Republican Party had long tried to make electoral progress in the South.

Later in the 20th century, several presidents struggled to respond to lynchings, the violent, extra-judicial killing of African-Americans accused of crimes. (Recent estimates suggest that nearly 4,000 people died this way in the South between 1877 and 1950.) The NAACP had to lobby both Democrat Woodrow Wilson (who held and acted on racist views) and his Republican successor Warren G. Harding. Wilson did eventually speak out against lynching, but it took several years of lobbying by the NAACP to convince him to do so. As political scientist Megan Francis has written, “Only through an unyielding onslaught of protest was [the NAACP] able to obtain support from Wilson.” Harding, meanwhile, made some initial statements about lynching, Francis found, but did not continue to pressure Congress to adopt anti-lynching legislation. Like Theodore Roosevelt, he was limited by his party’s ambitions in the South.

Including Wilson among them is a tonic. Readers may recall a time in the early Obama administration, sometime around 2010 and 2011, when the legacy of Wilson obsessed Glenn Beck and his ilk; in Barack Obama they saw the Wilson who signed legislation creating the Federal Reserve and approving a federal income tax. This segment of the right was more obsessed with Wilson the than the left. As the incarnation of early twentieth century Progressivism, Wilson was a complicated figure who should have lost his re-election bid (Charles Evans Hughes may not have kept us out of the Great War, but this is an argument for another time). The left hasn’t had trouble assessing his legacy. When National Review and its kind smugly confuse the Democratic Party and liberalism, their writers act as if they didn’t know the two weren’t synonymous and, more importantly, forget that the Republican Party was the more liberal party – the more Progressive party – between Reconstruction and 1920.

Democrats and leftists have long since come to terms with Woodrow Wilson. The GOP and conservatives have not come to terms with Ronald Wilson Reagan’s legacy.

Meanwhile a belief in progress continues to be a symptom of the economically secure. “The belief that America is somehow better than its white-supremacist history is sometimes an excuse masquerading as encouragement, and it’s part of the reason why the K.K.K. is back in business,” writes Jia Tolentino, a University of Virginia graduate, in a disturbing essay for The New Yorker.

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On William Wyler

I bet if you asked young cineastes in 1967 if they considered the director of Dodsworth an excellent director they’d cough politely and change the subject to Howard Hawks, but William Wyler understood the long take and deep focus; Andrew Sarris has noted a poignant, sophisticated moment in The Best Years in Our Lives when Fredric March looks at Hoagy Carmichael and maimed compatriot Harold Russell playing “Chopsticks” while in the background Dana Andrews calls March’s daughter Teresa Wright. Developing uncharacteristically subtle deep focus scenes that avoided facile close-ups, Wyler let his actors develop performances independent of montage. This approach could molder into stodginess, as Mrs. Miniver and Ben-Hur prove. Yet look at this list.

1. The Heiress
2. The Letter
3. Dodsworth
4. These Three
5. Jezebel
6. Carrie
7. The Little Foxes
8. The Best Years of Our Lives
9. Come and Get It
10. Funny Girl

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Singles 8/11

After two stellar weeks, I’ve got solid Kesha and Charli performances, an earful of corn by Billy Currington that country radio won’t let go of, and more post-1D swill. Welcome to August!

Click on links for full reviews.

Kesha ft. The Dap-Kings Horns – Woman (7)
Charli XCX – Boys (6)
Billy Currington – Do I Make You Wanna (6)
Sigala & Ella Eyre – Came Here for Love (4)
JinSoul – Singing in the Rain (4)
Louis Tomlinson ft. Bebe Rexha & Digital Farm Animals – Back to You (4)
J Balvin ft. Willy William – Mi Gente (3)
Dua Lipa – New Rules (3)
Major Lazer ft. Travis Scott, Camila Cabello & Quavo – Know No Better (3)
Manuel Turizo – Una Lady Como Tú (2)
Indochine – La Vie Est Belle (2)
Axwell /\ Ingrosso – More Than You Know (1)

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The modern roots of Charlottesville

On Sunday, Aug. 3, 1980, the Republican candidate for president made the following remarks at the Neshoba County Fair:

Today, and I know from our own experience in California when we reformed welfare, I know that one of the great tragedies of welfare in America today, and I don’t believe stereotype after what we did, of people in need who are there simply because they prefer to be there. We found the overwhelming majority would like nothing better than to be out, with jobs for the future, and out here in the society with the rest of us. The trouble is, again, that bureaucracy has them so economically trapped that there is no way they can get away. And they’re trapped because that bureaucracy needs them as a clientele to preserve the jobs of the bureaucrats themselves.

I believe that there are programs like that, programs like education and others, that should be turned back to the states and the local communities with the tax sources to fund them, and let the people [applause drowns out end of statement].

I believe in state’s rights; I believe in people doing as much as they can for themselves at the community level and at the private level. And I believe that we’ve distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the constitution to that federal establishment. And if I do get the job I’m looking for, I’m going to devote myself to trying to reorder those priorities and to restore to the states and local communities those functions which properly belong there.

Conservative boilerplate perhaps, familiar to anyone following Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon. The Neshoba County Fair took place, however, in Philadelphia, Mississippi. Sixteen years earlier, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney, arrested for a traffic stop in the same town, vanished from the earth. These members of CORE had also worked during the Freedom Summer registering black Americans to vote. Investigations later showed that local police had pulled them over, driven them to another location, shot them at point blank range, and dumped their bodies in a makeshift dam. A chapter of the Ku Klux Klan had collaborated with police.

Picking Philadelphia as a campaign stop was no accident. Making forthright statements about states rights, about federal overeach in “programs like education and others” was no accident.

A year after the murders, Everett Dirksen of Illinois delivered the Republican votes for the Voting Rights Act, completing the work started by Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney. The minority leader, at best a “laggard” in the words of critics when it came to securing the civil right of black Americans, voted for cloture. By January 1969, a Republican once lauded for his own commitment to civil rights began the work of undoing Dirksen’s legacy.

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On David Cronenberg

Introducing Slant Magazine‘s own list of David Cronenberg’s best work, Chuck Bowen praises the Canadian director’s “uncommon authorial focus, directness and clarity, which is reflected by the films’ deceptively unfussy, nearly sculptural mise-en-scène (honed in significant part with a group of longtime collaborators).” I noted in my review of Cosmopolis his obsession with the gleam of appliances. One of his innovations, based on The Brood, Videodrome, The Fly, and so on, is to treat appliances like people and people like appliances, or, further, to see the purposeful emotion-free nature of machines as a trait inherent in humans too.

1. Dead Ringers
2. The Fly
3. Naked Lunch
4. Scanners
5. Videodrome
6. A History of Violence
7. Eastern Promises
8. The Brood
9. A Dangerous Method
10. The Dead Zone
11. Cosmopolis
12. Spider

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‘And the boys’

I’d no idea John Podhoretz was going to play literary critic and re-post Esquire‘s list of eighty books every person should read chosen by three women, published in January 2015. Toni Morrison’s Sula made the list — a novel I checked out of the library yesterday morning, coincidence of coincidences. Amid writing that is at once trenchant and sharp in conjuring the years entre les guerres in a sun-baked Southern town is this small masterpiece of lyrical evocation:

The summer came. A summer limp with the weight of blossomed things. Heavy sunflowers weeping over fences; iris curling and browning at the edges far away from their purple hearts; ears of corns letting their auburn hair wind down to their stalks. And the boys. The beautiful, beautiful boys who dotted the landscape like jewels, split the air with their shouts in the field, and thickened the river with their shining wet backs. Even their footsteps left a smell of some behind.

A rebuke to the white supremacists in Charlottesville, Sula also rebukes insinuations like Podhoretz’s that “sheer PCness” got it on the list.

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Good ol’ Lipton’s Tea: The best of Roman Polanski

His best films are funny! Rooted in a tradition of absurdist theater that was itself a reflection of a grisly reality, Roman Polanski made movies whose laughs stuck in your throat. He would’ve been the ideal adapter of Roald Dahl. I remember the sun-dappled dream sequence in Rosemary’s Baby, climaxing with shots of the sunken nude flesh of her officious neighbors; the visual ID in Chinatown of Jack Nicholson’s slit nose bound in gauze; Pierce Brosnan’s acerbic rotter of a PM in The Ghost Writer. Pirates excepted, his failures are muddles, not farragoes, and he might’ve found stable funding for more pictures had he not plied a girl with pills and fled to Europe.

The surprise on my list is Tess, a prestige hit from 1980 that no one remembers, re-watched a couple years upon its Criterion restoration. Closer to minor English pastoral poetry than Hardy, it captures a sense of menace behind dew-moist heath.

1. Chinatown
2. Repulsion
3. Rosemary’s Baby
4. The Ghost Writer
5. The Pianist
6. The Tenant
7. Knife in the Water
8. Tess

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