It is not an overstatement to say that everyone in Trump’s entourage is prepared to lie, without second thoughts, about easily provable things, dismissing indisputable evidence – like the one from the entire US intelligence community – as irrelevant and even fraudulent. I think that to maintain a veneer of plausibility, trying to defend Trump’s shifting narratives, becomes such an impossible task that they decide to discard it completely. At this point they know no one believes them and they don’t care. Trump’s spokespeople have graduated from behind the scenes manipulations to an outright skullduggery, then even further to a ‘what are you gonna do about it, sucker’ public stance. I wonder then, given this level of shamelessness, what has stopped his handlers from giving him his ‘deliverable’ – that is a public announcement by Zelensky of the start of investigation into Bidens – by hiring a Zelensky’s double, putting him in front of an officially-looking setting with a podium with Ukrainian flag on the background and have that double announce the investigation into Bidens? The assortment of self-appointed GOP errand boys, would then go on TV and with a straight face tell a befuddled news anchor, that it was, indeed, the real Zelensky and to suggest otherwise would just show the depths of depravity the fake-news media is willing to go to ‘get’ Trump, etc, etc. Would they consider this kind of stunt as totally bonkers? Would they be concerned that the world would gasp in disbelief at the audacity of such a performance? But why would they care? We have seen them promote easily disprovable bullshit before. Why stop now? With this stunt they would be creating a reality – an ersatz, cargo-cult, make-believe reality for internal consumption, and that’s kind of the point. If reality is what they make it to be, then WHAT stops them, at this very late point in this insane game, from doing just that?
Next time, during the Democratic debates (and later in the general election), when a moderator is going to ask a stupid or ‘provocative’ or ‘gotcha’ question, Democrats have to call him/her out on that rather than respond. Just throwing some ideas out there:
Q: Where do you stand on providing sex change operation to transgender people in jail?
A: Nice try, motherfucker. What is the purpose of this question? Do you ask this question because you feel like this is a pressing issue of our times? If your goal here is to show that Dems are crazy and spendthrift, then, whoo-boy, have I got stories for you! Did you know (proceeds into a long rant about the cost of Trump’s golf trips and McConnell’s wife channeling federal money to Kentucky).
Q: Do you want to provide access to free health care to illegal immigrants?
A: No. And let me say this: the journalist who asks this question knows better than you what’s going on. If he doesn’t he’s a bad journalist and didn’t do proper research. But since (insert name here) is a seasoned media veteran he/she surely knows that there’s no provisions currently in our healthcare system to give healthcare to illegal immigrants. What he’s trying to do with this question is to create a ‘controversy’ (makes air quotes) where there’s none. And by the way, we currently spend $750 per person per day on immigrants in detention camps, but, if you’ve seen the pictures, those people barely get $10 of service per day. A better question is: where does that money go? Why don’t you ask that question (insert name here)?
Q: Some people call you a socialist…
A: Some people call me a ‘cocksucker’ when I beat them in poker. That doesn’t make me gay. But let’s talk about socialism (proceeds to describe Norway).
I hope you get the idea.
Reading movie industry press one can surmise that there’s a huge demand for women-driven stories. Hollywood, after sorting through every book with a ‘Girl’ in its title, in its newfound zeal to prove its ‘female empowerment’ bona fides, has been stamping female-lead movies by the dozens, each more mediocre than the other. In a frantically adjusted social narrative, empowerment is king and, as the stories go, it can be drawn from the following activities: salesmanship – overcoming the long odds to become a businesswoman (Joy), revenge – being a crafty cheat (Gone Girl) or a kick-ass in tight pants (too many to name), con (Ocean’s 8, The Hustle, The Kitchen) and self-discovery – leaving everything behind to eat, pray and fuck in exotic locales. All of the above are offered as acceptable avenues of female empowerment. But they are mere diversions to prevent us from considering what a real empowerment would look like.
I have long felt, when looking at social media posting of women in contrived power poses, that there was something wrong with it. Displays of power is sort of like being a lady – if you have to tell everyone you’re one… well, you know the rest. Dana Loesch posing with a gun in tight sexy clothes doesn’t have the power. NRA does. Dana is a mere cog. Also, there’s a peculiar dichotomy in the image that is lost on many: a gun is supposed to convey the ‘don’t fuck with me’ message, while sexy tight clothes simultaneously undermine that message with ‘although I’m quite fuckable.’ Or vice versa. It’s does not speak of power. It speaks of schizophrenia. If I was writing an NRA shill character, for example, I would dress her in a conservative Chanel suit, sitting behind an imposing desk in a dark, wood-paneled library, probably missing an eye or a limb. That would convey ‘gravitas’. But I digress.
Such half-baked and superficial depiction of female empowerment have found a receptive audience in various hucksters, like Ivanka, or right-wing entrepreneurs like Tomi Lahren or the above-mentioned Dana Loesch. It’s appealing to mediocre personalities because it doesn’t require much thinking or work. Tomi, Dana and Ivanka have eagerly adapted modern feminism (flawed) tactics and language and now use it to undermine true equality and, coincidentally, to peddle their wares. Liberal Hollywood, wittingly or unwittingly (although I think there were genuinely good intentions behind all those horrible movies) basically gave them a blueprint. Selling shit, cheating others, killing rivals and, in the most benign case, to go on a ‘journey of self-discovery’ are offered as possible avenues, and equated with having real power. It is an unoffensive and unthreatening way of emancipation, even when it includes cheating and murder, because it doesn’t challenge the system that created that need in the first place. We find it entertaining seeing people put in a vice and forced to go on a spree. Hey, it is merely a way to survive within the system, and we totally understand it, the way we understand Walter White. You gotta do what you gotta do.
It’s a narrative of capitulation not empowerment. But I understand the producer’s logic. The story has to be driven by tension, by drama, and in order to show that on the screen, the forces of antagonism should have a human (or a monster) face, rather than a faceless LLC or a corporation. A physical confrontation is always more preferable than a courtroom back-and-forth. It’s more cinematic. (Yes, I’m aware of Aaron Sorkin, but there’s only one Aaron Sorkin).
There are ways to write good female characters. Clarisse Starling and Ellen Ripley come to mind. What separates them from Ocean’s 8 or The Kitchen characters? They’re not driven by self-interest or revenge. They seek to save others, at high cost to themselves. They lack an empty, unearned ‘you go girl’ exuberance. They’re thoughtful, reserved, and self-possessed even when they’re sabotaged, left and right, by lesser men. But there can only be one ‘Silence of the Lambs’, and ‘Aliens’ have been sequeled to death. Another important quality that Clarisse and Ellen possess is their sense of duty. Duty is a very uncinematic quality, as I have explained above. The ‘duty’ storyline has to be wrapped in a more compelling visual of chasing a serial killer or evading a monster. It’s hard to do, without the script sliding into pandering or a sermon, which is why movies like this can be counted on one hand. But if Hollywood is really serious about women’s stories, this is where they should direct their attention and efforts, not sugar-high, feel-good, superficial ‘girl-power’ crap.
On a closing note, I’m very excited about the upcoming ‘Dune’ series, that, from what I read, are going to focus on a secretive and powerful women’s order of Bene Gesserit. Sort of like The Family. But for girls.
Ivanka, with her talent for branding, but lack of ability to ‘read the room’ will convert all the negativity and vitriol directed at her into something to be ‘overcome,’ a ‘character building experience’, a great material for a book about how she never gave up and persevered. It’s her own version of ‘and yet, she persisted.’ (We will see a whole slate of these books, from Kellyanne, and Sarah Sanders, and Kirsten Nielsen in a few years, mark my words.) There will be no self-reflection, no admission of guilt. Guilt is bad for business. Macron and Lagarde gave Ivanka a cold shoulder? It’s on them, not on her. She was just being nice and they chose to be rude. She doesn’t understand the cause of their rudeness. Conveniently, she will attribute the hostility to misogyny. Ivanka is a creature of anodyne self-help books, of ‘Lean In’ platitudes, of appearances that she confuses with substance. She thinks that throwing around words like ‘women’ and ‘entrepreneurship’ should shield her from criticism. Ivanka (unlike Kellyanne, that bitch knows what’s going on) doesn’t have the capacity to understand the legitimacy of her critics claims. No, Ivanka, we are not attacking you because you’re woman and because we’re anti-business. We’re attacking you because you insisted on being a public figure – an unelected, unqualified and entitled public figure – with a private agenda.
It’s disheartening to watch Democrats cower in the corner again. Democrats can’t flex their political muscles even when in power. They let GOP get away with the most atrocious behavior, while attacking their own for some minor offenses. It’s just too depressing. I don’t understand the logic behind this cautious posture. You’re not going to get any brownie points for good behavior from GOP or the public. Is American left innately incapable of playing hardball?
I write and play poker just to distract myself from this clusterfuck. Both of these activities don’t work at the same time. If I cash in tournaments, I have a total writing blockade. And vice versa: when I’m in the middle of a writing breakthrough, I can’t cash in a tournament. I’m now in the middle of finishing up a short story that’s been progressing very smoothly. As a result I couldn’t cash in any WSOP tourneys I played in last week. I can, of course, blame it on being card dead the entire time. I missed all my draws and flips.
Like politics, poker is a cruel, unjust game. Just because you run badly for days, doesn’t mean that the next day you’re guaranteed a deck finally hitting you.
WSOP tournaments take place in three hangar-sized conference halls at the Rio casino. There are hundreds of tables and thousands of players at one time in the same room. As the tournament progresses and the field winnows out, around 9-10 hours in, a certain late game lull sets in. The buzz and chatter is gone, the tiredness is palpable, and everyone is counting minutes to bagging (that is bagging chips for the next day). The room, still holding hundreds of players is quiet, only interjected with the sound of shuffling chips. Amid the calm, there’s some big action at one table, manifested by several players standing up from their seats. They look, intensely, at the community cards, still to come, which will decide the players’ fate.
“I hate this game!” Finally one of the players exclaims, as the cruel deck announced his fate. His cry and frustration echoed around the hall and found immediate heartfelt solidarity with every single player in the room. The whole floor broke into applause and laughter, for they, too, hated this game many times. They, too, have been ahead, only to be busted by a one or two-outer.
That guy will be back and everybody knows it. That’s why everybody laughed.
“We can not defeat the armies of Mordor.”
“No. We can not. But we’ll meet them in battle nonetheless.”
Lord of the Rings. The Return of the King.
Democratic Congress needs to start impeachment proceedings even if they think the impeachment will die in the Senate. Yes, it probably will. But that’s not the point of the proceedings. The point is the process, not the outcome. The process will demonstrate to the public that there are still some public institutions that are functioning as they were intended to.
Democrats are very good at stroking their chin and weighing pros and cons in different complex situations that, instead of arriving at a concrete course of action, they twist themselves into an eventual paralysis. Already now, some leftist intellectuals are calling on Democrats to avoid going through with impeachment, arguing that it will turn the public against them. But where is the evidence that it will? A more popular Democratic president was impeached for a far lesser crime, but the opposition party still won the next election 2 years later. There’s no evidence of the possible damage to the brand as the Democrats brand has been damaged already from an opposite end: not that they’re too aggressive, but that they’re too timid. No, this situation opens an avenue for Democrats to flex some muscle. There’s a real public hunger out there for a more muscular opposition party. If Democrats show that they have a willingness to fight, it may sway some swing voters or disaffected voters back into Democratic fold. It will show the public that here’s another party, and it’s willing to fight for the rule of law.
Further, the process will keep Trump’s treachery in the spotlight. Like in 1998, it will force the low-information voters to pay attention to Trump’s conduct in office. No, he did not collude with Russians, but he welcomed their help. He obliged their entreaties with a shrug and a wink. A man like Trump can sit behind his desk and commit no crime, while knowingly allowing private entities and foreign agents to do the job for him. No court would convict him, even when it is clear to anyone who cares to look that he’s a traitor to the republic. For this reason impeachment was not supposed to be an instrument of a criminal justice system; no proof beyond the reasonable doubt is required. It was designed to be a political process. This is the reason why founding fathers placed the impeachment powers within the Congress and not within the Supreme Court.
And finally, Pelosi is a shrewd and seasoned politician. She will have credibility on the issue as she repeatedly spoke against impeachment. Now she can come out, with a grave posture and concerned look, and declare in an urgent tone: “I don’t want to do this but it must be done”.
I’m amazed at the sheer variety of ways Democrats commit unforced political errors. It takes real talent. The way we attack our own for committing minor sins almost does the job of Republican strategists for them. People whom I always regarded as smart and politically savvy, like Vox guys and a couple of feminist writers I follow, are choosing to keep piling on on Joe Biden. It’s been going on for weeks now.
Biden is the only Democrat that has 10 points on Trump in a hypothetical match-up. Everyone else is a toss-up. Is Biden really that bad that we should risk another 4 years of Trump? We have two things on the scale: on one side is inappropriate touching; on the other side is a completely remade Supreme Court that will decide on matters much more consequential for the entire women’s rights agenda. There will be a time and place to talk about it, it’s just not fucking now.
And it’s not just Biden. People are digging into Kamala Harris’ past as a prosecutor and finding out that, as part of her job, she, gasp, put some black people to jail! She was doing her fucking job! That’s what prosecutors do. Also, Kamala is black. If one decides to use black identifier on one side of the equation, then the same weight should be given to Kamala on the other side of the equation.
The thing is, for the past year I was defending what many derisively call Social Justice Warriors on my Facebook. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with social justice, and thus I don’t even find this moniker offensive. My main argument was that complaining on liberal excesses is barking at the wrong tree, because college professors and ‘safe space’ crowd are not the equivalent of Trump and his ochlocratic administration. Trump, possessing the power, can inflict far more damage on our democracy that a few leftist professors.
But what is happening now is shaping to be a 2016 repeat, when the primaries will divide the Democrats and it will be of our own making. The ‘offended’ will take a ‘principled’ stand and will demand to be ‘convinced’ to vote in the general for a candidate that is not their first choice. And then, when Democrats lose again, the ‘offended’ will shrug and point at some obscure issue so dear to their uncompromising heart that the candidate X didn’t spend enough time on.
I wrote about it before, but the victimhood culture is turning a part of the electorate into picky customers who view the political process as some kind of product that has to meet all of their expectations in order to go and ‘buy’ it, that is vote. If they thought of themselves as citizens called by duty, and not as customers expecting a service, perhaps, we would not be in this mess.
I think that outward, deliberate assholishness, the kind that Roger Stone ostensibly displays in an attempt to shock an audience (Nixon tattoo?) and cement his ‘notoriety’ — a label that he’d wear with pride – really betrays some deep internal hurt and insecurity. In normal times, such need for attention, and as a way to deal with a trauma, would lead one to become an actor or a comedian. But being notorious and being talented are two different things. In today’s Hollywood a propensity for a wide-eyed affectation on camera will not cut it: it’s all about Method acting, and Method acting is hard in a way that it requires a degree of self-negation — an impossible demand in the age of celebrity.
But lo! Who needs Hollywood when there’s plenty of other venues that welcome the type. The B-rated actors wannabes can sharpen their showmanship skills in the world of TV punditry or in the current Administration. For a while it worked like magic: The affect and the histrionics of the talking head brought an audience in a win-win for both the platform and the actor. But as with any fad, the novelty shock value wore off and the audience became gradually immune to more and more outrage, even as the performance often veered into the grotesque in order to keep the eyeballs engaged. (Like, who will want to watch Kellyanne Conway now? At this point she’s just boring.)
And that is where it becomes scary for the performer. That future book, the twitter following, or a speaking tour on a conservative circuit becomes more problematic when the audience is not engaged anymore. One stares at the possibility of ending up old, alone and poor.
Roger Stone himself, while on the steps of the court, waving a Nixonian victory sign, acknowledged this sad fact, declaring that “the only thing worse than being talked about is NOT being talked about.” That’s the main difference with the crooks of today and the crooks of old. In 1970s no one from Nixon’s entourage wanted the attention that Trump’s entourage craves; they wanted everything to be quiet.
And that encapsulates the desideratum of the modern right: it’s a business selling a product in need of salesmen. When the product – fear – doesn’t change in decades, the salesmen have to get more and more creative. And at this point we’ve seen everything: Tucker defending Nazis, Jeanine Pirro justifying getting stolen info from the Russians, Kellyanne outright lying about easily verifiable facts, Sarah Sanders tweeting a deliberately doctored video, Sam Nunberg showing up drunk for an interview, and Stone doing a Nixon (itself a pathetic parody, a second time farce).
But celebrity is also a sword by which one dies. Once they’ve run out of tricks, once the only avenue to hold everyone’s attention has been reduced to shitting on a carpet and Instagramming it, they will become a subject to a punishment that neither courts nor law enforcement can ever top: oblivion.
When I drive I usually listen to classic rock stations. As a result, over the years I have internalized a man’s despair as a primary marker of human condition, as this music genre has been a perfect medium to telegraph his existential ennui.
An unhappy man – the main hero of any rock song – searching for a culprit of his unhappiness, often turns his gaze to his romantic partner (‘The Woman’). His lament can be broken down into following categories:
- I come home from hard work and you’re not home. (Santana, Led Zeppelin)
- Why did you leave me, woman? (Allman Brothers, Led Zeppelin)
- Can’t get laid (ZZ Top)
- Stay away, woman, I can’t take you anymore (The Guess Who).
- She’s so annoying I have no choice but to kill her (Jimi Hendrix, Guns’n’Roses).
Maybe because the birth of rock coincided with the peak of Beat generation culture, with its heroes ‘rebelling’ against ‘the system’ by simply leaving women and children behind and running away from responsibilities by going ‘on the road’, it was easy for rock pioneers to designate a woman as the main culprit of a man’s unhappiness. She was just the lowest hanging fruit. Still, it could have been worse. I think we have to give credit to classic rock bands for avoiding singling out the other usual suspects: minorities and immigrants. Even Lynyrd Skynyrd dodged a bullet there.
So my TV pilot made it into Screencraft semi-finals. I submitted it last year, too, and only advanced to QFs. Rewrote it and scored a deeper run this time around. This script also got an 8 on Blacklist.