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Where I write all things Justin. Call me a Daydream Belieber!
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Rhymes with “Gay Jizzum”


Confederate flag for sale at Vermonster 4x4 Rally

I got into it with an old friend from high school on Facebook the other day about the Confederate flag. It’s funny, because I have not seen this person in about twenty years, and I have nothing but good memories of him. We weren’t best buddies, we never slept over or anything, but we ran in the same circles and I always liked him. He was a fun, funny guy who I was always happy to see when we showed up at the same parties, and there were a lot of those.

Other than being Facebook friends, we’ve had no contact at all in a million years, but through Facebook I was aware that he is married with kids in North Carolina and just a bit to my right politically. That’s fine by me — my whole family is to my right politically, and we don’t yell at Christmas dinner. To me a difference of opinion between friends is just that, and I remember this person as a friend, so I have no interest in fighting with him about matters I’ll never change his mind about, nor he mine.

I was on vacation in Grenada with my family when the shooting in Charleston happened. I was slow to read about the story because I was on vacation, consciously trying not to look at my phone every five minutes. We found out about it from a taxi driver, who was deeply upset about it, and over the next few days everywhere we went people asked us about it because, in a 99% black country, we stood out as obviously American.

These people were far more upset about it than, from what I could tell on social media, the average person in America was. When the national discussion turned to the Confederate flag, my old friend posted the following:

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I didn’t reply to this post right away, but it stayed with me for a couple of days, on the plane back to Brooklyn, into the next night. He seemed to be angrily arguing against a straw man position. No one is blaming the flag, they’re suggesting that we stop poking African Americans in the eye with it. And by the way, while I’m sure that not all people who wave that flag are racist, let’s not pretend that when racists want a flag, it’s overwhelmingly the one they turn to.

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Flowers Every Day

 

Performed May 28, 2015 at Manhattan Neighborhood Network as part of the NY Funny Songs Festival.

Assholes Can’t Understand GoodFellas

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Maybe you saw this piece where the New York Post’s film critic mansplains (I am not a fan of this expression but this article is the purest example of it of all time) that “women are not capable of understanding GOODFELLAS.” I almost didn’t read it when I saw the headline, because it sounded like typical chauvinist horseshit, which is what it turned out to be.

I ended up clicking on it because GOODFELLAS is one of my favorite movies, and though I have no doubt at all that women are capable of understanding it, I wondered what this dude thought there was to “understand.” GOODFELLAS is a great movie and it does operate on a couple of different levels, but it’s not exactly 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.

So I read his piece, and the sexism in its insistence that women can’t understand the movie is every bit as grotesque as I imagined it would be. But there is a rather delicious irony at work here, because it turns out that Mr. Kyle Smith, professional film critic, doesn’t understand GOODFELLAS either.

Women don’t get “GoodFellas.” It’s not really a crime drama, like “The Godfather.” It’s more of a male fantasy picture — “Entourage” with guns instead of swimming pools, the Rat Pack minus tuxedos…Women sense that they are irrelevant to this fantasy, and it bothers them.

The wiseguys never have to work (the three friends never exert themselves except occasionally to do something fun, like steal a tractor-trailer truck), which frees them up to spend the days and nights doing what guys love above all else: sitting around with the gang, busting each other’s balls.

Ball-busting means cheerfully insulting one another, preferably in the presence of lots of drinks and cigars and card games. Women (except silent floozies) cannot be present for ball-busting because women are the sensitivity police: They get offended, protest that someone’s not being fair, refuse to laugh at vicious put-downs. In the male fantasy, all of this is unforgivable — too serious, too boring. Deal another hand, pour another drink.

To a woman, the “GoodFellas” are lowlifes. To guys, they’re hilarious, they’re heroes. They rule the roost.

I guess if you are the kind of shithead that thinks “women cannot be present for ball-busting because women are the sensitivity police,” then maybe GOODFELLAS does look like a fantasy. But even if you do see it that way, it’s still a fundamental misreading of the movie.

The key detail to remember about GOODFELLAS is that it’s narrated by Henry Hill, the main character. Except for a couple of short interjections by his wife, GOODFELLAS is entirely Henry Hill’s story, told — and this is important — in hindsight. In the last few moments of the movie, after two-plus hours of Henry’s voiceover narration framing the events we see on screen, we see Henry in court, testifying against his friends, and for the first time he delivers his narration in person, rising from the witness stand to address the camera, tipping us off that his whole story has been told from the witness stand.

This is why, although Henry admits to being involved in multiple crimes, he minimizes his involvement as much as he can. The way he tells it, he mostly just stands around during the really bad stuff: standing guard at the door while Jimmy and Tommy beat Billy Batts to death; opening the trunk and standing back when it turns out Batts is still alive so his pals can finish him off. He puts himself in the shower when news of the Lufthansa heist comes over the radio, as though he’s not directly involved, even though Jimmy cuts him in on the score moments later. When Jimmy wants to whack Morrie the wigmaker so he doesn’t have to give him his cut of the same score — even Morrie was instrumental in the heist — Henry insists (in narration) that he wants to talk Jimmy out of it, even though he never says a word to dissuade him — he’s just “biding his time.”

Almost every detail of the story, as it pertains to Henry, either paints him as innocent or relatively innocent, pushing all the bad stuff off on others, or as a victim (like how his father beat him and how stoically he took those beatings). When Paulie cuts Henry off toward the end of the movie, in response to Henry’s having directly betrayed him and gone against his specific orders to stay out of the drug business, he still gives him some money, and even then Henry complains, like he’s the victim.

Martin Scorsese did not invent the device of the unreliable narrator, but GOODFELLAS is just about the best use of it I can think of, particularly because this aspect of the movie doesn’t call any attention to itself at all. It’s like RASHOMON, but with only one narrator. (Except Karen, whose narration also plays like witness courtroom testimony when you see it in this light.) You can enjoy the movie just as much even if you never grasp that Henry is completely full of shit, much the way Kyle Smith is completely full of shit. All that bluster about the great women and the easy money and the ballbusting is a massive rationalization to explain all this awful behavior and make himself sympathetic to the jury. On some level it’s a macho fantasy, but it’s the macho fantasy of a liar and a criminal who cheated on his wife and betrayed his best friends — and that’s HIS version of events. If you see that as a lifestyle that you’d emulate if you could, that says a lot more about you than it does about the movie, or how women relate to it. Asshole.

The Caitlyn Jenner ESPY Outrage

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Caitlyn Jenner introduced herself to the world this week with a spread in Vanity Fair and a trailer for her new reality show, and unsurprisingly, the Internet had a lot to say about it. Mostly, it seemed to turn into a contest to see who could be the most supportive, and that’s great. If you had told me in 1982 that the chiseled decathlete on my Wheaties box was going to change into a woman, and not only that, that if you made any kind of joke about it everyone would call you out as a small-minded bigot, my head would have exploded, and yet here we are. There’s hope for us yet.

Soon after Ms. Jenner went public, it was announced that she would be the recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at this year’s ESPY Awards, and that’s where this thing got ugly.

These people are right! How dare they give the Arthur Ashe award to Caitlyn Jenner?! It besmirches the long, proud tradition of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, and belittles the accomplishments of past winners, like last year’s winner, um… hold on, let me Google it… okay, I don’t actually know who last year’s winner was. I didn’t actually even know there was an Arthur Ashe Courage Award. BUT STILL.

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Make Amy Schumer The Bachelorette

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This week the most exciting news since Justin Bieber peed in a mop bucket hit the Internet: hot off a rapturously received appearance on ABC’s reality “reality” dating “dating” show THE BACHELORETTE, comedian Amy Schumer has been invited to take a dip in Lake Dudebro.

Yes, in a show-business moment that could only happen in 2015, ABC mucky-muck Robert Mills invited Schumer to be the next Bachelorette via Twitter. Even better, it appears that Schumer is game:

Of course, the Internet never saw a piece of good news that it couldn’t poop all over, and right on time here comes The Verge with an essay called ABC completely misses the point, invites Amy Schumer to be The Bachelorette, pleading with the comic not to do the show:

The show is beneath Amy Schumer; it’s beneath all women. Where previous seasons at least flirted with the notion of empowerment, presenting a woman with the same “human buffet” that men receive on The Bachelor, the show is now about giving a woman the illusion of power, then reprimanding her when she doesn’t act in line. ABC and the producers have been compared to pimps before, and it feels especially true now, as we watch the men tell a woman when and where she can have sex, and punish her when she disobeys. Such a dated system is the kind of thing we’ll never tire of seeing Schumer burn to the ground, but from a safe and critical distance.

Well, Mr. “ABC Completely Misses the Point,” I dare say you’re completely missing the point.

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Game of Thrones Is Starting To Suck

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Nobody seems to want to say anything, but I think we’re all slowly coming to recognize an uncomfortable truth, and I think we need to acknowledge it. It’s painful, and I know no one wants to be the one to say it, so I’ll start:

I think maybe Game of Thrones is starting to suck.

The very idea that this could happen seems counterintuitive. Impossible, even. Whereas the normal course of entropy for a popular TV show is that it starts to lose steam around the second or third season, as the writers start to scrape for ideas and the actors start to turn the characters into caricatures, everyone watching Game of Thrones is fully expecting this show to keep getting better and better every season. No one has ever even considered the possibility that this show is headed anywhere but up.

Partly this is because of the construction of the show’s plot: Season 1 ended with the birth of the dragons, so the logical thing to expect is that those dragons are going to get bigger and bigger, and kick more and more ass as they do so.

Partly it’s because of the book readers out there, who have been smugly insisting to all of us non-readers for four and a half seasons now that we ain’t seen nothing yet, wait till we get to next season, oh my god you’re not going to believe what happens, etcetera etcetera. For a while, those people were right: season two was better than season one, season three was better than season two, and season four was better than season three.

But now the show is running out of track, as it has just about caught up to the books; each of the first two ten-episode seasons were direct adaptations of the first two 600-page books, and seasons three, four, and five have been a mishmash of the third, and fourth books. Author George R. R. Martin has been slow to deliver the sixth book in the series, and showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss seem to be holding off on getting into the fifth book because once they do that, there’s nothing left, so they’re kind of vamping, like a band would do when the singer accidentally splits his pants and has to leave the stage for a few minutes. Obviously the show has been changing things from the books all along: you can’t make a 10-hour omelette without breaking a few hundred pages of eggs. And anticipating that the show would outrun the books, Martin has told Weiss and Benioff where he plans to take the story, but without the (supposedly) rich text of the books it’s like the difference between a compass and a map.

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Mansplaining Manspreading

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The Earth is getting warmer, people’s heads are getting cut off in the desert, women are still paid 75% as much as men for the same work, the police are murdering people, the NSA is collecting all of our communications, Republicans are pushing for yet another ill-advised war in the middle east, and another trade deal to send American jobs overseas is being fast-tracked through Congress, but none of that is getting half as much play in my Facebook feed as manspreading.

If you live outside the New York City area, you probably don’t know what manspreading is. Those of us in NYC didn’t know what it was until a few months ago, but it’s suddenly the hottest local topic since the Ebola doctor went bowling.

“Manspreading” is where someone takes up too much space on the subway by spreading their knees apart, and it’s created one of the dumbest online food fights I’ve ever seen.

The first problem here is with the term itself, which I object to on a purely linguistic level. It seems to be a variation on the term “mansplaining,” which is another social media meme that popped up not long before “manspreading.” “Mansplaining,” I have gathered, is where a man pedantically explains something. I’m not sure how condescension got to be the sole province of men, but on the other hand one could argue that this whole piece (indeed, all 200 entries on this blog) are examples of mansplaining, I won’t fight that part too hard. Being a man myself I’ve never been on the receiving end of a mansplanation, so maybe it’s more widespread and annoying than I realize. In any case, as an English major and Professional Writer I find the term distasteful just because it’s a clunky, made-up word. (I hate made-up words.)

“Manspreading” is even clunkier, and is not a variation on any other term — it’s just adding “man-” as a prefix to a verb. We don’t say “manfarting” or “manreading” or “mandrinking” (yet). The way things are going “man-” is going to end up like “-gate”: overused, annoying, and ultimately meaningless.

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Kurt Cobain Might Be Better Off Dead

Kurt Cobain File Photos

The intrusion of real life prevented me from watching KURT COBAIN: MONTAGE OF HECK live when it premiered this past Monday, but that was no indication of my interest in the movie. I loved Nirvana and Cobain (same difference, really). Nevermind was released during my first semester at college, so needless to say I heard it a lot, both by choice and by osmosis. It was one of those records you didn’t have to buy your own copy of, because it was coming out of every dorm room and every bar and every frat house and every passing car everywhere you went.

I vividly remember getting the news of his suicide, as the first guests arrived at my 21st birthday party; it put a decided damper on the proceedings. I bought and read two different Cobain biographies, as well as his published Journals, I went down the rabbit hole of the Courtney had Kurt killed theory, I sat through LAST DAYS, I covered “Drain You” with my old rock band. I still have a copy of this magazine around here somewhere. I follow Frances Bean Cobain on Twitter. I’m still pissed I didn’t try to get into the Nirvana reunion in Brooklyn after their RNRHOF induction but I loved their solution to performing without Cobain. Favorite Nirvana album: In Utero. Favorite Nirvana song: “Breed.”

I thoroughly enjoyed MONTAGE OF HECK when I found the time (made the time) to watch it a couple days after its premiere. It is a brilliantly directed film, making spectacular use of the wealth of drawings and writings and paintings and audio cassettes and home video that Cobain left behind, bringing it all to cohesive life in an extension of the techniques that director Brett Morgen brought to the equally brilliant Robert Evans documentary, THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE. Hearing Cobain muddle through embryonic versions of songs that would become iconic was a particular treat.

But I have to say, when the movie ended, I was not sorry to leave his company.

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Clinton Is Still Running Against Obama

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Maybe I’m projecting, but there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of enthusiasm for the presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton. Much has been made about the fact that she’s the inevitable nominee, that the Democrats don’t have anyone else, and that we’d all better get in line if we don’t want to spend 2017 watching King Bush III start a war with Iran, outlawing Islam, appointing the cast of Fox & Friends to the Supreme Court, and arming elementary school students.

But somehow it just doesn’t feel right. Maybe it’s because the accumulated weight of 20-odd years of (unproven) scandals makes us all feel like there’s something shady about her. Maybe it’s because she spent her time in the Senate buddying up to the same Republicans that treated her like Joan of Arc when her husband was president, going so far as to vote for their unthinkably stupid war. Maybe it’s the fact that she was supposedly “inevitable” last time, and couldn’t close the deal.

In 2008, Clinton had everything going for her: she had massive fundraising, she had a campaign staffed entirely with proven warhorses, she had the most popular Democratic president since Kennedy stumping at her side. But she could not match the charisma and verbal intelligence and integrity of Barack Obama. He gave better speeches. He wasn’t shackled to that stupid, stupid war. His campaign understood the Internet, understood the youth vote, understood the need to go out and earn every vote.

She seemed genuinely offended, during that campaign, that her place in line was being jumped by this upstart who’d only been on the scene for a couple of years, whose main claim to fame was a single speech, who had no real accomplishments to point to. And the funny thing is, eight years later, she’s still running against Barack Obama, and she’s still losing.

Because what Obama did, more than any politician I can remember, is give us something to vote for, rather than just being the means by which we could vote against.

Almost every vote cast in America, it increasingly seems, is a vote against. When Republicans vote for whatever dipshit they vote for, they’re not voting for the dipshit — they’re voting against Libruls and all their limp-wristed pussified Save The Whales tax-and-spend crapola. They’re voting against gun control, against regulation (any kind of regulation), against gay marriage, against corrupt unions, against the safety net, against Obamacare, against, against, against.

Likewise, Democratic voters are not generally voting for the Democratic candidate, they’re voting against belligerent foreign policy, against restricting women’s reproductive choices, against trickle-down economics, against repeating the exact mistakes that capsized the economy — against, against, against.

For a lot of left-leaning types like myself, who had generally lost whatever faith we might have had in the political system, Obama represented something totally different than what we were used to. We didn’t just want to vote against John McCain, or rebuke George W. Bush. I mean we did, but there was something more than that. We wanted (or at least I wanted) this guy to be the president. I wanted to see where he could lead us. I wanted a guy who was visibly intelligent, who knew what was happening in the cities, who had obviously done the reading. Everyone who says we only voted for him because of his race is in deep denial about his bone-deep appeal to people who believe in facts, logic, curiosity, and doing the right thing.

I certainly wouldn’t argue that he has delivered 100% on that promise, but when you look at where we were in 2008 and where we are now, I really don’t see how anyone could argue (though some do) that we’re not in a better place — the only reason we haven’t climbed even farther out of the hole that Bush and Friends dug us into is the ceaseless Republican opposition to everything Obama wanted, without regard to its actual value. For all its flaws and shortcomings, I think history will look back on his tenure as one of the best ever.

So Hillary Clinton following Barack Obama is like Gordon Lightfoot following Led Zeppelin. She just doesn’t have the charisma or the vision to inspire voters the way he did, and she’s suffering a severe enthusiasm deficit because of it. There is still an awful lot of campaign left, and her recent speech about the horrifying events in Baltimore is certainly a step in the right direction — it’s nice to see her speaking, rather than shouting, at an audience — but it’s hard to imagine that she will inspire anyone. She certainly isn’t now.

The exception, I suppose, is people who want to see a female president, and I don’t mean to belittle that goal. But speaking for myself, the fact that Hillary Clinton is a woman doesn’t enter into my impression of her as a politician or a leader at all. Maybe it should, I don’t know.

I don’t plan to vote for Clinton in the primary unless I truly think she is the best candidate, and there is plenty of time for her to persuade me. There’s also plenty of time for someone else to step in and make a case. But in November, if she’s the Democratic nominee, I will probably fall in line like everyone else to the left of Joe Lieberman and pull the lever for her, but it will probably be a vote against. I would much rather have someone to vote for.

Batman v Superman v Han Solo v Hillary

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It has been a very big week for trailers, as two-minute peeks inside the biggest productions of the next year landed on YouTube over the last ten days: MAD MAX: FURY ROAD. JURASSIC WORLD. TERMINATOR: GENISYS. TOMORROWLAND. There is a lot riding on each one of these trailers, as they are all Summer Tentpoles, expected to prop up their backers’ bottom line for the next calendar year.

But they were all just appetizers for the three trailers that set the entire Internet ablaze:

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

BATMAN v SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE

HILLARY CLINTON: GETTING STARTED

These three productions have three things in common: they all have huge budgets, they are all sequels, and they are all expected to bring in a billion dollars.  So which one made the biggest splash?

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