Some Men Just Want To Watch The World Bern

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Hey Bernie Bros!

What’s up, fellas? First, I feel you. To a certain extent, I am you. I love me some Bernie, and, to establish some obligatory street-cred, actually knew who he was (and admired him) many years before he decided to run for president.

Secondly, I get it. Check this out.

I have to say, you younger dudes are reminding many of us of the obdurate blowhards who claimed, in 2000, that their only choice was Nader since (as Nader himself said, to his eternal shame) Bush and Gore were essentially two sides of the same soiled coin.

Here’s the thing: quite a few folks knew not only that this was bullshit, but that the feckless and untested Bush wasn’t remotely up to the job. Yes, it was infuriating to witness some of the most irresponsible media negligence of our lifetimes (little did we know it was a test run for the run-up to Iraq), but at least, without the literal benefit of hindsight, it was impossible to prove Bush would be incompetent in ways that made even our most cynical suspicions seem…naïve. Here’s the other thing: we already know, without even the slightest iota of uncertainty, that Trump is not merely a reckless, obscene and ignorant buffoon, but that his election will put the very concept of American democracy in jeopardy. Speaking of Iraq, imagine Trump…no, let’s not even go there.

So, with condolences and admonition, let me toss fifty well-intended turds into your oh-so-pure punch bowl before your precious, but increasingly nihilistic “Bernie or Bust” antics do our nation irreparable harm.

Joan Gage Photo Donald Trump
1. Donald Trump.

2. Trump’s VP? Google “Pence. Abortion bill”.

3. Take a quick gander at the GOP platform. And read this.

4. Imagine, for one moment, that you’re not white, or had a vagina. Or were gay. Or, if that’s too frightening and uncomfortable, what our country will be like for any and all of these folks.

5. Pretend (and this is probably the biggest stretch of all) that you ever, under any circumstances had to work a blue collar job.

6. Contemplate Newt Gingrich as Secretary of State.

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  1. Contemplate Chris Christie. (Not even necessarily in any position of power; just contemplate him.)
  2. Imagine, for one second, this idiot feeling vindicated.
  3. The fact that the cowardly and cretinous Rudy Giuliani has recently inserted himself into the public eye with the typical grace of a rabid ferret in a crowded train, and could easily be named Attorney General, should be enough to make you not only vote for Hillary, but get excited about canvassing for her.
  4. If you seriously believe, for one second, that living under a Trump regime will be in any way cathartic or cleansing, do us all a favor: go live in North Korea for a few months and let us know what you’ve learned.
  5. Have you actually ever read anything by Orwell or Kafka or even the pre-9/11 Christopher Hitchens? Didn’t think so.
  6. “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”, right? Trump’s another word for it, too — for people who’ve never lost anything, or have excellent jobs or benevolent parents to shelter them from shit when it gets real. Speaking of freedom: everything this concept conveys is something Trump had handed to him or has fought to obstruct his entire life.
  7. Hillary a tad egocentric for your tastes? Fair enough. Think she puts herself first too much for comfort? Okay. Compared to Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton is Florence Nightingale, Mother Teresa and June Cleaver rolled into one.
  8. Think of Hillary Clinton as the pâté of politics: overvalued by the wrong type of people, appalling in its pretensions, bought by well-connected sorts, but undeniably created through expertise and time-tested processes. It, in short, might not be especially appetizing for all kinds of reasons, but fast food it ain’t. Think of Trump, on the other hand, as a worn out chicken breast raised on a chemical and steroid mash inside a rank, concrete factory that is months past its inflated expiration date, then had bleach poured on it for coloration before hitting the meat aisle at Food Lion.
  9. Everyone who really wants Trump to win really hates everything about you.
  10. And they would not hesitate to harm you, physically, if they could get away with it.
  11. And they would be encouraged (and, perhaps, exonerated) by Trump, if he had the power.
  12. Read the short story “Mario and the Magician” by Thomas Mann.
  13. Read something by any writer who lived through a dictatorship.
  14. Read this excellent piece from founding Weeklings editor Greg Olear.
  15. Imagine all the right wing radio listening, bigoted and elderly dunces who detest Obama (because he’s black) and fantasize about them spending their miserable last years ranting in their futons because a woman just became president for two terms.
  16. I would say, imagine Secretary of Defense John McCain, but The Donald prefers Secretaries of State who didn’t get captured. You know who definitely never gets captured? Short-fingered cheese-dicks whose daddy helped them avoid military service in the first place.
  17. At a certain point you just have to grow up. There are few things more appalling than the way sausage is made (literally and figuratively). There are also few things more enjoyable, or American.
  18. You know how you love Bill Clinton despite the ways he drives you crazy because he’s such a gifted natural politician with such cripplingly poor judgment? Hillary Clinton, in virtually every regard, is his opposite.
  19. Read this.
  20. Read this, too.
  21. More knowledge dropped by Mr. Olear.
  22. Put this in your pipe and smoke it.
  23. Donald Trump is the tragi-comic apotheosis of the GOP successfully, for decades, side-stepping all reality-based criticism by insisting the media is liberal. (The only way that story ends happily, and appropriately, is if Trump loses in spectacular, historically humiliating fashion.)
  24. Also, the Fox News-enabled transition from low information voters to no information voters has been deliberate, if cynical, and will have one of two results: epic comeuppance that will rend the GOP into several desperate, greedy and angry (always angry) factions, or the utter collapse of democracy, assuming Trump wins.
  25. Seriously, the distance between Hillary and Bernie, though profound in some regards, is like the gap between Starbucks franchises in any major city. The distance between Hillary and Trump, on the other hand, is not even calculable by man-made means; we’re talking quantum physics black hole time space continuum type shit.
  26. See how long you can make it through this:

33. Am I the only person who, whenever Donald Trump is speaking (invariably about himself), thinks he is a much dumber and more dangerous realization of this classic character?

34. You notice how the Republican Establishment has, of late, tripled-down on calling itself “the party of Lincoln”? That’s not accidental. This election needs to ensure that for the indefinite future they are, correctly, known as “the party of Trump”.

35. Getting back to that Republican platform. Did you know they’re against medical marijuana?

36. And that they are still shamelessly anti-gay marriage, anti-gay adoption and for the farcical “conversion therapy” snake oil? (Follow the money, opportunism and denial, always the GOP Unholy Trinity.) It’s one thing to be unrepentantly bigoted and call yourself “traditional”; it’s another to essentially fly your flag of intolerance and dare people with their hearts and minds on the moral side of history to do something. Now’s the time to ensure you do something.

37. Hey, smart guy: can’t be bothered to be appalled by anti-abortion (even in the cases of rape and incest!) laws? How about when your online porn habits start being monitored and persecuted?

38. Still unmoved? Get a load of this exhaustive (and yes, epic) takedown of all-things Trump by our own Brother Sean Beaudoin.

39. You’ve got your panties in a pretzel over Hillary’s emails, but you don’t realize Trump University alone should be enough to ensure Trump is doing the hardest possible time at Rikers Island?

40. Ever seen Dr. Strangelove? Donald Trump is Buck Turgidson, General Jack D. Ripper, Colonel Bat Guano and Ambassador Alexei de Sadeski, all in one. Only dumber and more dangerous. And much less amusing.

41. Remember this?

42. Just vote for Hillary and then complain and whine as much as you want. That’s what blogs are made for.

43. For the sake of the country, be the one saying “I told you so” each time the media, on rinse, wash, repeat, blasts out the latest manufactured Hillary-related outrage. We can take it; we’re prepared for it. Don’t be the person being told “I told you so” by the rest of us, as our collective future flatlines.

44. Ensure another essential Democratic win just to see if it finally causes this evil motherfucker to implode.

45. Just because Batman had some megalomaniacal tendencies doesn’t mean you rooted for The Joker. (If you did root for The Joker, it’s time, at long last, to move out of your parent’s house. Also, too: see #9.)

46. Every great leader, including FDR, had personal foibles that, if scrutinized the way Hillary’s have been for decades, would prevent them from being elected to their home owners association, much less president of the United States.

47. Imagine the good Bernie can continue to do in support of a (grateful, and accommodating) Clinton administration.

48. Visualize every hero who has fought for social justice in the history of the world. Who do you think they’d want you to vote for? (Hint: not Trump, never.)

49. Have the courage of your convictions: go light your house on fire and send every penny you have to Donald Trump. That will allow you to get it out of your system and repent before you help usher in the apocalypse. Win/Win.

50. Seriously. President Trump? You’re better than that. We’re better than this.

Final words from the man himself.

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Dr. Strangelove, A Half-Century (Almost) Later

Stanley Kubrick’s Dr.  Strangelove was released 49 years ago, today.

In a longer piece entitled “Making the Case for Kubrick”, I assessed his remarkable career (find that HERE).

Here is some of what I had to say about what might ultimately be his most perfect (if not best or most important) movie:

Is it possible to get tired of a tour de force like Dr. Strangelove? Understanding that Kubrick intentionally asked George C. Scott to add one “over the top” take for each scene (knowing full well that those were the takes he planned to use) causes one to further appreciate the perfection.

What other director could oversee a scene like this (albeit with the considerable assistance of the brilliant cast he assembled)?

This truly is one of those exceedingly rare movies that can be enjoyed, over and over, for the simple joy it provides. It’s hilarious, and the intelligent viewer innately understands –and appreciates– the grim alternative reality simmering constantly below the surface. It is one of the out-and-out funniest films ever made, and it boasts what has to be one of the all-time great casts. For much of this, Kubrick deserves credit and kudos. His ultimate achievement, aside from the steady craftsmanship and originality, might be the realization that Dr. Strangelove had to be a comedy. The novel he adapted, Red Alert was a dead-serious potboiler; Kubrick instinctively understood how poorly that would play on screen (at least in most director’s hands) but also how crucial it was to satirize. The results, equally a tribute to that crackerjack cast, are a testament to Kubrick’s intelligence and vision.

Where so many of our most renowned directors cultivate a particular style, Kubrick—perhaps because of his fixations—made movies about so many different people and places it seems impossible (in a good way) that the same man was responsible for them all. Of course, there are the familiar nuances and compulsive touches that connect certain moments as Kubrickian. There is the long, disconnected stare (think Alex from A Clockwork Orange, Jack from The Shining or Leonard from Full Metal Jacket). There is the soundtrack music: aside from Scorsese, has any other director made more songs indelibly associated with specific scenes? There is, above all, the irony. Some see pessimism, but attentive viewers understand that Kubrick, for all his precision, always removed himself from the acting and the action. If his films have moments that are more aesthetically perfect than emotionally convincing, Kubrick could never be accused of being cynical. Like our very best directors, he consistently conjures up other times and places while offering profound comment on the here and now.

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Strange Love

ON THIS DAY:

On Aug. 30, 1963, the hot-line communications link between Washington, D.C., and Moscow went into operation.

Kubrick (1964)

Arthur Lee (1967)

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Making the Case for Kubrick

Three Key Films: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love The Bomb (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971)

Underrated: Full Metal Jacket (1987). A naturalistic tour into the dark heart of modern war, preceded by a disquieting tour into the darkness of the hearts that prepare our soldiers to survive there. The second section, on the front lines, a surreal sort of cinéma vérité, is more plodding than cathartic, which is probably the point. The first part of the film, devoted entirely to a group of Marine recruits at Parris Island, is a quicksilver tour de force—at turns riotous and harrowing. It is some of the most assured, affecting work of the decade: not too many movies can take you from hysterical laughter (the initial scenes where drill instructor R. Lee Ermey lambastes the boys is piss-your-pants funny) to disgust and, inevitably, despair. The blanket party scene, where the incompetent “Gomer Pyle” (Vincent D’Onofrio) is savaged by his fellow cadets lingers in the mind as one of the most disturbing scenes in movie history. It manages to illustrate a great deal about conformity, the military, the perceived necessity of truly breaking someone before they can function and what we must kill inside ourselves in order to survive. Most directors would inexorably play this scene for pathos; Kubrick films it matter-of-factly and his shrewd use of subtlety makes it many times more disturbing.

Unforgettable: Kubrick’s films are celebrated precisely for their myriad iconic moments, but if obliged to pick the single scene we could call “Kubrickian”, it would have to be the unforgettable sequence where “our humble narrator” Alex is given the Ludovico Technique. Presented as a revolutionary—and quite controversial—form of behavior modification, the subject is given a daily dose of medicine and obliged to endure scene after scene of depravity and violence. During one of the more intense treatments Alex—eyes forced upon with metal prongs—must watch Nazis marching while Beethoven, his favorite composer, plays on the accompanying soundtrack. He cringes and then screams as he realizes not only is he being “cured”, but listening to Ludwig Van (the one civilizing influence from his former life) will henceforth be verboten. The image is at once ironic, amusing and appalling, and speaks volumes about science, sadism and the ill-effects of cynical sociology. From A Clockwork Orange.

The Legend: Has any director covered more ground, stylistically and historically, than Stanley Kubrick? From Lolita (1962) to The Shining (1980) to Eyes Wide Shut (1999) he made movies from books few directors could—or would—even consider adapting for the big screen. Incredibly, he made movies thatarguably transcended the source material; however much viewers (or the original authors) loved or loathed them, they most definitely were not deferential reproductions of the text.

Kubrick is famous—or infamous—for his meticulous, some might claim obsessive quest for “the perfect shot”; anecdotes abound of actors being forced to produce take after take to the point of exhaustion or distraction. His control freak tendencies may have had a great deal to do with the fact that he “only” made thirteen films over the course of a career that spanned five decades. On the other hand, it’s difficult to name many directors who made as many works that are today considered masterpieces, or a director who is cited more frequently for his innovation and influence. Detractors have claimed that his perfectionism resulted in films that were too cold or clinical; some find his work pretentious. Interestingly, if not revealingly, his work has aged well and seems to attract more converts (inside and out of critical circles) than detractors.

Is it even necessary to review the films? There are none that are not worth seeing at least one time; there are several that can be watched anytime, and there are a handful that must be revisited often, for all the right reasons. Is it possible to get tired of a tour de force like Dr. Strangelove? Understanding that Kubrick intentionally asked George C. Scott to add one “over the top” take for each scene (knowing full well that those were the takes he planned to use) causes one to further appreciate the perfection. Speaking of irony, how about the use of Rossini during a rape scene, or Purcell post-modernized as early—and eerie—electronica in A Clockwork Orange?


Special mention, of course, must be made for 2001: A Space Odyssey. As time passes and computers make special effects ever easier to produce (and less satisfying to watch), the scope of what Kubrick achieved remains hard to fathom. It’s one thing to reasses an older film and marvel at how impressive it was for its time; we can—and should—watch 2001 and still be astonished, today. It’s probably not possible, nor is it important to isolate Kubrick’s best film. His ultimate achievement, aside from the steady craftsmanship and originality, might be the realization that Dr. Strangelove had to be a comedy. The novel he adapted, Red Alert was a dead-serious potboiler; Kubrick instinctively understood how poorly that would play on screen (at least in most director’s hands) but also how crucial it was to satirize. The results,equally a tribute to the considerable skills of that remarkable cast, are a testament to Kubrick’s intelligence and vision.

Where so many of our most renowned directors cultivate a particular style, Kubrick—perhaps because of his fixations—made movies about so many different people and places it seems impossible (in a good way) that the same man was responsible for them all. Of course, there are the familiar nuances and compulsive touches that connect certain moments as Kubrickian. There is the long, disconnected stare (think Alex from A Clockwork Orange, Jack from The Shining or Leonard from Full Metal Jacket). There is the soundtrack music: aside from Scorsese, has any other director made more songs indelibly associated with specific scenes? There is, above all, the irony. Some see pessimism, but attentive viewers understand that Kubrick, for all his precision, always removed himself from the acting and the action. If his films have moments that are more aesthetically perfect than emotionally convincing, Kubrick could never be accused of being cynical. Like our very best directors, he consistently conjures up other times and places while offering profound comment on the here and now.

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Tasting China The Way Peter Chang Intended

And I only am escaped alone to tell thee.

Well, it felt that way as I drove alone, into the deep country dark of 29 North, heading for the place I used to call home. But I knew, as I put distance between where I was going and where I had been, the fulcrum that balanced my appetites, my bearings and possibly my sanity had been permanently put asunder. That a destination had been forever elevated to a point of depature, a siren song that would assail my ears and lure me back again and…

Well, not necessarily.

But having drunk deeply from the broth of the gods, and, filled with that savory and soul-affirming stuff, I could never possibly look at the world the same…

Okay, not exactly.

But I had eaten a meal from a menu designed by a man that some seem to worship, and others have treated like a holy pilgrimage, travelling great distances not unlike those three sojourners followed the brightest star, which guided them through the desert to a manger on that cold night over two centuries…

Well, you get the picture.

I had come to Charlottesville to visit my boy Jamey, the genius behind Barlow Brewing (and I don’t throw that word around lightly: this guy makes homebrews like nobody’s business; so much so that I want it to become his business and I can buy his beers, all the time, in support of his eventual, inevitable empire), and, in his blessed company, eat, drink and be merry. There was some drinking and merriment, but after we got around to eating, that was all she wrote. All that was left, after that meal, was surviving.

I’ve heard, and been guilty of using, the banal expression “food coma” before, and while I’ve stuffed myself beyond what I figured was a reasonable capacity on a couple of occasions, I’d never really had any firsthand experience with what some people must be talking about when they talk about food comas. For starters, I ate more than my fill; we all did. I ate the way an indulged golden retriever will scarf down snausages so long as an irresponsible owner continues making them available. (I don’t want to shoehorn, or belabor the implicit Pavlovian metaphor, but there is no question that, after only one meal, I am confident Chef Chang could make me salivate on command as soon as I smelled whatever he was tossing inside his magic wok.) You think I’m kidding? Get a load of this appetizer:

Oh, did I mention that I was eating at Taste of China?

Where? You may have heard of it. No, really. This place, and especially its enigmatic rock star chef Peter Chang, have been the subject of recent features in The Oxford American (by brilliant food critic Todd Kliman) as well as a slightly popular publication called The New Yorker (by Calvin Trillin).

I wish I could say I discerned an awkward tension in the air, a sense of urgency muted by ambivalence: a sort of preemptive resignation that the chef, the great man who had made these crowds flock to an unassuming strip mall on the first warm Saturday of the year (following the longest and most brutal winter most folks can recall ever having suffered through and who would, under any other circumstances, be grilling out or sunbathing or washing their cars or scooping dog shit in their backyards —anything so long as they were outside soaking in this sublime air) was about to do what he always does. Leave.

But the reality was that it looked like exactly what it was: an extremely busy restaurant during dinner service. No more and no less. But there was an electricity in the air; the type of heat that is generated when a particular event is lit by the combined buzz of hope and expectation. Everyone in the restaurant was aware of it: looking at each other, looking at the plates in front of them and especially on other tables, looking at the wait staff gliding and humming through the maze of tables like tuxedoed worker bees, looking toward the kitchen door at the back of the room to see if perhaps he would make an appearance. This was the kind of vibe that people in urban hot spots crave and people who can only read about them covet. This must be what it’s like to secure a reservation at a hot new club in New York City, except for the refreshing lack of hipsters, posers and the fat-walleted fuckwads who cash in their souls for cachet, all out of a sybaritic impulse to separate themselves from the hoi polloi.

Well, let’s keep it real: how many people (like myself) were here because they read about it and knew they had to come here? Certainly, there were more than a fair share of folks who just reckoned this was the hip (but not hipster!) place in which to add a notch to their culinary belts. But any venue, in any town, is going to inexorably attract the remoras who want to latch on to cultural shark. Bottom line: Taste of China is located in a fucking strip mall! That’s called keeping it real ’til it flatlines.

Back to that food coma. We ate, and ate, and we ate some more. If they had kept bringing food, we would have packed it in until we crumbled out of our chairs. And then we would have fallen on all fours and lapped it up like the aforementioned golden retriever. You’ll notice I’m not talking about the actual dishes or what they tasted like. For a sense of how good the food is, and the types of flavors and surprises it combines, check out the Kliman article: it’s a fantastic piece of journalism and Kliman is a more than capable food critic. I will say that while I’m unabashed about going deep as often as I can afford to (financially and gastronomically), most of my previous experiences ill-prepared me for the explosion of competing and, at first, discordant sensations this meal contained. That appetizer, pictured above, had a heat that numbed the lips, setting the tone for the spices to fight it out with the sweetly flavored slices of chicken: it was like lighting a match under an icicle. Suffice it to say, it was the type of (exceedingly rare) meal where you are already mentally recalling which items from the menu you will need to try next time, and the time after. But mostly you are transfixed by what is happening around you and inside you.

And then it’s over. You don’t linger; in part because you are able to see the line extending out the door, and mostly because once it looks like you’re done, the wait staff lets you know you’re done. They may have filled my water glass three times in an hour but they came back to see if we’d eaten our last bites five or six times. “We get the picture,” we would have said if our insensate tongues could form the words. Getting to the front door was a combination of concentrated effort (it was difficult to walk) and amusement (looking at all the eager faces of imminent diners who could read their futures in the strands of sweat dropping from my steaming dome). Getting to the car was a commitment. Thinking about following this meal with the beers we intended to drink was, inconceivably, inconceivable. And, being in a college town, we gave it the old college try. It wasn’t happening. Barlow The Brewer and I could barely finish our post-meal pints, and that has to be a first in our collective life stories. The only thing left was to call it a night and make the long, lonely drive back to the Chang-less city I call home.

Even as I sent the obligatory message, ruminating about available weekends for subsequent road trips, I had a feeling (based mostly on Chang’s notorious history, detailed in Kliman’s article) that he could not be long for C’Ville. A line out the door at 5:20 P.M. at an establishment without a bouncer means it has reached a tipping point. How long before Chang, compelled by his own internal mechanisms, or genuinely burnt out from a ceaseless crowd of insatiable clients, packed up his proverbial knives and went? How many more meals can I squeeze in, I wondered. Can we carry this dream through the end of summer?

Any questions?

Turns out my sense of urgency was well-warranted: Chang has left the building. We were there for his last shift.

This hurts. And, if you live in or around Charlottesville, it hurts you more than it does me. You missed your chance.

Or are you the lucky ones who will never have to wonder and worry if you’ll get another opportunity to have a meal that looks like this?

I am confident Chang and I will meet again.

Until then, I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to taste China the way he intended.

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