State of the Union (& “The Plot to Hack America”)

“The bigger issue here is why Trump and people around him take such a radically different view of Russia than has been the case for decades.” (New York Times, 2/16/2017)

No doubt. But when it comes to Trump’s philo-Tsarist turn (and the Republican Party’s “surprise surrender”), the time-scale cited above (“decades”) fails to take in the full weight of the past: “Hostility to Russia is the oldest continuous foreign-policy tradition in the United States…”

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The Next President

Senator Schumer’s teary response on Saturday to Trump’s modified Muslim ban wasn’t namby-pamby. It felt right. Yet Bernard Avishai wasn’t wrong to point out in a piece posted last week at Talking Points Memo that Schumer (and Nancy Pelosi) aren’t made for this moment. Avishai argues Democrats must coalesce fast around figures who can appeal to voters who once supported the party.

The Democratic party, in other words, must have a clear message that speaks to the anxieties of the traditional Democratic voters it lost. And the message needs a tough, plausible messenger: a leader, or small number of united leaders, who embody—in their persons, their logic, their stories, and their demonstrated courage—integrity that advances what they are saying. If the message is right, and the messenger is authentic, you get a winning charisma.

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Where the Heart Is

They [Mexicans] brought their third-world ****hole here and while it’s a little bit better than what they had in the process of doing it they dragged us into the gutter with them.

What’s one more racist projection now when Alt Rightists give Nazi salutes and the President-elect’s consiglieres are (brutish or kinder/gentler) white supremacists? Acts speak louder than spew. Still, the line above jumped out at me because of where I came across it. Not at an Alt Right conclave or website, not in a bar or…locker-room, but in an email by a distinguished D.C. cardiologist, Dr. Oskoui, to a group who read and sometimes respond to William Greider’s Nation articles.

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French Provincial

being17

 

On my way to Andre Techine’s Being Seventeen, I stopped by Patisserie Claude for savory take-out and felt nicely sated as I found my seat in the theater, but the film stoked other appetites. (We cannot live by quiche alone, not even Claude’s.) Techine’s french lessons sky beyond “grub-first, then ethics” materialism. His scenarios feed your head and your heart, tuning every organ to desire’s pitch. I sensed Being Seventeen would be one of Techine’s full body-and-soul workouts early on when Thomas (Corentin Fila)—lovesome, bi-racial bully-boy (who’ll end up taking it like a man once he beats his fear of being gay) humps it up the mountain, past where his adoptive parents have their farm. The snow looks freshly fallen—perhaps it’s not that frigid?—and his secret brook hasn’t frozen over yet. He strips and dives in…

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Common Sense

Meredith Tax’s A Road Unforeseen: Women Fight the Islamic State is a book of revelations about life during wartime in Rojava—the autonomous region in Syria led by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which is linked to (what Tax terms) the “Kurdish liberation movement network.” Readers should be inspired by PYD’s experiment in secularism, radical democracy, pluralism and feminism. Tax’s reporting certainly gave me a lift. Her take on Rojava, though, may be a little too rosy.  In this review, I’ll try to touch on what’s iffy about her positivity without undercutting her effort to cultivate solidarity with Middle Eastern women who fight the Islamic State.

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Telegraphing the Future

Johnny Cash’s cover of “Sea of Heartbreak” fades out with the guitarist in his band (the Heartbreakers) locked on the familiar, insinuating riff from Bob Dylan’s “I Want You.”[1] Cash’s endgame mixes up his story of lost love with fanship. It’s a rootsy, Prousty lesson in counterpoint that hints what Dylan’s song owed to Don Gibson’s 1961 hit, even as it bows to what Cash’s old friend found down by the “Sea.”

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Sixties Trips II

Part two of an essay that begins here.

Richard Goldstein’s approach to the sixties was shaped by his sense “race was at the core of nearly everything.” But his lucidity about race matters is most evident when he’s writing about “revolution.” As rock ‘n’ roll turned into rock, Goldstein’s pop life got whiter.

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Sixties Trips

“WHERE CAN I GET MY COCK SUCKED? WHERE CAN I GET MY ASS FUCKED?” Mick Jagger’s second pass at the chorus of “Cocksucker Blues”—and the feral moan that launches the track—“I’m a looooooonesome schoolboy…” seem to echo Richard Goldstein’s line in his new memoir on why he identified with rock stars (and girl groups) who started out with him in the 60s:  “they were as hungry as me.”

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The Man with the Purple Guitar

For a long time, my image of the Ugly American was a thick-necked Prince hater I met (early in the Age of Reagan) when he drove me around the Upper West Side as I delivered Christmas gifts for a package store.  This piece of work (who had a familial connection to the owners and wanted me to know he was tight with my bosses) had seen Prince open for the Stones in 1981. He’d been among thousands in the overwhelmingly white crowd who booed the “faggot” unmercifully.

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Side by Side

Bobby Keys and Jim Price put some horns on the end of “Honky Tonk Women” mixed down so low you can only hear them in the very last second and half on the fade.  Chuck Berry had a saxophone just for the very end of “Roll Over Beethoven.” We loved that idea of another instrument coming in just for the last second.  Keith Richards, Life

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The Witnesses

Whittaker Chambers is my idea of an exemplary conservative. He dug Beats and Sorrow Songs, did in Ayn Rand in a definitive National Review piece, distanced himself from William Buckley, hung tight with his old friend James Agee, and tried to convince other conservatives Khrushchev wasn’t Stalin.

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Group Grope: The Theory of Microaggression

Eugene Goodheart has invited responses to his new First piece (posted below) which takes in student protests against microaggressions and the more macro analysis of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me.[1] I’m skeptical of Goodheart’s attempt to hook-up the world-view of those students with Coates’s World. (More on that anon.) But his critique of the protesters has pushed me to think through the theory of microaggression.

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Roots Moves II

Part 2 of an essay that begins here.

It is absolutely false to imagine that there is some providential mechanism by which what is best in any given period is transmitted to the memory of posterity. By the very nature of things, it is false greatness which is transmitted. There is, indeed, a providential mechanism, but it only works in such a way as to mix a little genuine greatness with a lot of spurious greatness; leaving us to pick out which is which. Without it we should be lost.—Simone Weil, “The Need for Roots”

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Roots Moves

“Loss of the past, whether it be collectively or individually, is the supreme human tragedy, and we have thrown ours away just like a child picking off the petals of a rose… We owe our respect to a collectivity, of whatever kind—country, family or any other—not for itself, but because it is food for a certain number of human souls.”—Simone Weil, “The Need for Roots”

Simone Weil once lived in a building around the corner from Tiemann Place in West Harlem where we held our 29th annual “Anti-Gentrification Street Fair” in October. 

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Southern Changes

Dylann Roof almost didn’t go through with it–“everyone was so nice to me.” The thought of him waiting/wondering in the church before he used the gun he bought at “Shooter’s Choice” reminds me of this passage in Intruder in the Dust where Faulkner claimed every white Southern boy could lock into the moment before Pickett’s Charge–the disaster at Gettysburg that came to stand for the Confederacy’s mad gambles:

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