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Where I write all things Justin. Call me a Daydream Belieber!
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Game of Thrones Is Starting To Suck


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


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


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


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:




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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Shut Down The Daily Show


I love The Daily Show. I’ve always loved The Daily Show. I have been watching it faithfully since Craig Kilborn was smashing heads with his “5 Questions” segment (and I still think that version of the show was pretty funny). I have witnessed the show at its highest highs (when Stephen Colbert and Steve Carell were correspondents) and its lowest lows (the Mo Rocca years, admittedly concurrent the Carell/Colbert years — I just find Mo Rocca painfully unfunny and worse, oddly smug about it. Am I digressing?). It’s had up-cycles and down-cycles and I have stuck with it through them all.

From around the time of the debacle of the 2000 election recount, The Daily Show became an indispensible part of my life, of how I consume news, of how I interpret it. And for several years I became very focused on trying to get a job there as a writer, and it still hurts that I wasn’t able to make it happen.


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Tidal Might Not Be Completely Evil


It was a scene very easy to ridicule: sixteen multiplatinum musicians lined up on a stage, announcing the launch of a new streaming music service that costs twice as much as Spotify, and promising to “change the course of music history” before signing a high-minded Bill of Rights like they were the friggin’ Continental Congress.

Tidal is a streaming music service recently purchased by Jay-Z, who brought in a lot of heavy hitters, including Beyonce, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Madonna, Jack White, Kanye West, Daft Punk, and Alicia Keys, as partners. It purports to be the first artist-owned streaming service, and promises to pay artists more fairly than services like Spotify or Pandora, which famously streamed singer/songwriter Aloe Blacc’s song “Wake Me Up!” 168 million times and paid him a paltry $4,000.

Most people saw that objective as a tone-deaf plea for more money from the people who need it least; indeed, the people on the Tidal stage are just about the last 16 people artists to make real money in the music business. Oh, Madonna and Kanye don’t have enough money, so they want me to pay $20 a month?


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Bootsy Collins Castle, 2001-2015


Bootsy was a good boy. He was a pure-bred border collie. If we had known how neurotic border collies are, we might have chosen a different breed, but I once had a friend whose border collie was a terrific frisbee dog, and I wanted a frisbee dog too — I kind of insisted on it — so Jen bought him from a breeder in Kentucky, not far from where we were living in the fall of 2001.

We had only been married for a year, and we had left our adopted hometown of San Francisco when we both lost our jobs in the dot-com crash. We were broke and had no idea what to do next, so we decided to try Cincinnati, where my parents and my brother live, because we knew it was cheap. We got a crazy cheap apartment across the river in Newport, Kentucky — we moved in on 9/11 — and tried our best to settle into an unfamiliar town. We got Bootsy a couple of months after we got there. He was the cutest little puppy. Jet black and snow white. He loved to play. I remember coming home to that second-floor apartment and seeing him peeking over the top step, waiting to greet me. Jen and I had been a couple for a few years, but Bootsy made us feel like we were starting a family.

Cincinnati didn’t really work out. It was nice being close to my family, but we didn’t really connect with anyone we met there. Bootsy made it a lot easier. Every day I walked him to the elementary school down the street from our apartment and taught him how to catch the frisbee in the baseball field. He could go for hours. I would say “Bootsy! Go deep!” and he would run full speed away from me for 40 feet or so and then curve to the right, and I would throw the frisbee as far as I could. If I could get it within ten feet of him in any direction, he caught it, and I would cheer for him as he brought it back. If it was raining, I threw him tennis balls from the couch. He always caught those too.

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Ted Cruz Can’t Win

The 2016 presidential race has finally, officially, really begun. All those articles and videos and news pieces you’ve been seeing for the last 18 months about 2016? They were just the pregame show. This week the starter gun went off at last with the entry of the first declared candidate in the race: Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz.

Cruz started his campaign off with a bang this week, announcing his candidacy at Jerry Falwell’s (fully accredited, seriously) Liberty University during the morning convocation, which is a compulsory part of the school’s curriculum. The excitement was palpable!

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The Gayes Are Ruining Everything

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 3.03.08 PMJust as the near-universal outrage at the verdict in the “Blurred Lines”/”Got To Give It Up” plagiarism trial seemed to be dying down, the controversy over whether it was a just ruling seems to have morphed into a contest to see who can be the more unsympathetic party: the loathsome Robin Thicke, or the heirs to Marvin Gaye’s estate.

It seems that a $7.4 million judgment — nearly half of “Blurred Lines”’ total earnings — is not enough for the Gayes. Per The Hollywood Reporter:

The Gaye family is now pushing for the judge to “correct” the jury’s verdict to add Universal Music, Interscope Records and Star Trak Entertainment to the list of infringers. Additionally, the judge is also being asked to set aside the jury’s decision to give Clifford Harris, Jr. (aka T.I.) a pass and hold him accountable too.

They are also hitting Thicke with another plagiarism suit for having a superfluous ‘e’ at the end of his surname.

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