Oh Fuck You, Gloomy Cloud

The despondency circulated through the streets. Street cleaners, students, secretaries, lawyers, businessmen, the unemployed, the overly employed, the overtaxed, the overstressed, the overworked, the over and out susurrating speculative horrors about the Night We Lost America. Those Ohio hicks, those motherfuckers. How could they vote for Bush? How could America betray itself? How could they give the two houses to the rampant Republican gastropods? How many Supreme Court justices would be lost on the slime trail? Fuck, fuck, doublefuck in a clusterbun. Can you super size that?

Options: 1. Roll into a ball and sob, damning the moronic masses. 2. Move to Canada, Mexico, Australia, wherever (if you could get the cash). 3. Contemplate crazed national scenarios such as splitting the States up into three separate nations: the West, Intolerance Central, and East Coast Schizophrenia.

And then there was the other side: Watch those liberals squirm! Funny shit. They’re so incensed. Merciless mirth, no chance of eclat. Viva la revolucion! Well, boys, we took away their hope. We darn near smashed it with a rubber mallet and banned them disgusting faggots from marryin’ to boot. Fire the rifles, boys, and pass the bourbon. Sheet. In no time, them uptight bitches will be controlled and we’ll all hold hands and SING to the Lord!

The immediate impulse was to give up and give into bile. And for several hours, I did. A scowl was permanently affixed to my face and several people thought I was upset with them. At one point, “God Save the Queen” was sung (in a corporate environment, no less) and restylized to fit in with the U.S. 2004 template. It killed me to see my faith in humanity destroyed by a torrent of misinformation and to become an elitist overnight. But there it was — the indisputable proof on the chalkboard. Nothing to understand about it. Joe Sixpack and I parted ways last night. Not that I had much to do with him.

I wish I could tell you that John Kerry’s concession speech was the proper panacea. It was a damn fine speech, but oh I’d be lying, dear readers. I hadn’t felt such a horrible feeling of powerlessness since September 11. I wanted to work. I wanted to keep going just to spite the bastards. But it was no good. I was ready to give up politics completely, say to hell with my long-term goals, and offer a tepid report here on the end of Great American Government.

But then I started to realize that it’s not over. And that’s the thing that got me out of the shell.

The problem in thinking about next year’s demolition crew is that we’re giving into our worst fears. Sure, it’s probable that the Patriot Act will be broadened, that more people will die and unjust folks will be thrown into the can, that the draft will be reinstated, and that several neocon horrors will jet out of the loom faster than anyone can say Oliver Wendell Holmes.

But none of it has happened yet. And that concerns me. Because aren’t these paranoid fantasies exactly the kind of black helicopter bile that drips out of Limbaugh’s maw and passes for fact? Isn’t this exactly the same tactic we’ve been condemning the GOP for?

They have turned 48% of us into malicious sons of bitches. And the Republicans are loving every damn minute of it.

The time has come to stop feeling helpless and start getting on the offense. And here are a few things to chew on:

1. You don’t have to be afraid. This is precisely what the Rove machine wanted. Live every day with courage.
2. If new laws go down, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to. (It’s a little something called civil disobedience, folks.) We are not cattle and we need to stop being treated like such.
3. Write letters to your representatives. Block doorways. Stop the wheels from rolling.
4. Write letters to your newspapers. Get the word out to the media conduits. Let the money men who control the airwaves know that you are watching. And when they deliberately lie, send letters to the producers and their sponsors threatening to boycott.
5. Have the cojones to go to jail for a cause (that means you, you trendy parvenus!). Our grandmothers and grandfathers did. Where the fuck are your balls? Stop worrying about the black marks on your record and just do it.
6. Begin the fight today. Lobby everyone you know. Hold meetings in your neighborhood. Read Congressional Records, take notes, and communicate.
7. Be eloquent. We have no heroes. It’s time to start being one.
8. Above all, oh fuck you, gloomy cloud.

Bush to Grow Moustache to Seal Orwell’s Prophecy

“The hallway smelt of boiled cabbage and old rag mats. At one end of it a coloured poster, too large for indoor display, had been tacked to the wall. It depicted simply an enormous face, more than a metre wide: the face of a man of about forty-five, with a heavy black moustache and ruggedly handsome features. Winston made for the stairs. It was no use trying the lift. Even at the best of times it was seldom working, and at present the electric current was cut off during daylight hours. It was part of the economy drive in preparation for Hate Week. The flat was seven flights up, and Winston, who was thirty-nine and had a varicose ulcer above his right ankle, went slowly, resting several times on the way. On each landing, opposite the lift-shaft, the poster with the enormous face gazed from the wall. It was one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption beneath it ran.” — George Orwell, 1984

Fuck You, America

Right now, it looks like Bush has got it. There are no words to express my sorrow. There are no emotions left to expend. I have no faith in the commonweal. I watch as this nation crawls into an atavistic morass. And so the old Jefferson adage goes, we clearly deserve the government that we get. My heart aches for the future of this country. Not much there. Pass the bottle.

Election Day AM Roundup

Return of the Reluctant Endorsements

Well, since George is doing it, here then are Return of the Reluctant’s endorsements for the 2004 California election:

President: John Kerry
Senator: Barbara Boxer
Rep: Nancy Pelosi
1A: No
59: Fuck yeah.
60: Fuck yeah.
60A: Yes.
61: Yes.
62: No fucking way.
63: Yes.
64: Absofuckinglutely no way.
65: No.
66: Fuck yeah.
67: No.
68: No.
69: No fucking way.
70: No.
71: Yes. (This was the hardest decision, given my fury over states being squeezed by an ineptly managed federal government. But my sister, who apparently is more of a pessimist than I am, made a compelling point about the lack of federal funds for stem cell research given a Bush victory.)
72: Fuck yeah.

Fear and Voting in San Francisco

I was officiailly Voter No. 1 in my precinct. Even at 7 AM, there was a queue heading out the door. Young ones, old ones, various persuasions. The people who got to the polls early had giant smiles on their face. They longed to communicate their ecstacy to their brethren. This Kerry vote, apparently, was the new zen. Forego your moring jog and cast thy ballot. Better than the morning newspaper and coffee routine, better even than morning sex.

The people I talked with were prepared to commit representative revolution. And they were all ten minutes early. One woman panicked when she discovered that her name wasn’t on the roster. Would her vote count? Would they take that away? She had recently moved and was prepared to go back to her old neighborhood to vote, if necessary. The needs of her job could wait.

I chatted with a poll worker and he said that this was the largest crowd he’d seen in eight years. I asked him if it was going to be a busy day. “Well, you get the morning crowd before work. But this is a big crowd.”

I came back later, and the line was longer at 7:30. Had these people gone through the Tolstoy-length voter information packet in toto? Well, yes and no. “I only vote for the props I feel passionate about. I’m really here for Kerry,” said one of my neighbors. A man told me that he had holed himself up over the weekend and was prepared to incinerate the expensive campaign literature that had been lodged under his doorstep. “Those fuckers don’t know when to quit,” he said. “There oughta be a law.” I knew what he meant. I’d received five automated voicemails the night before that I’d quickly erased.

A young lady of twenty was passing out pamphlets for a supervisor in front of my polling place. I told her that she was less than 100 feet away from the polling place and that current laws prohibited dissemination of campaign literature. She pointed to the door. I pointed to the clearly marked sign that laid down the limit. “Do you really want to be as bad as the bad guys?” I asked. Across the street, an unshaven foirtysomthing man popped his head out of his window and boomed a sterner warning. The young lady ambled down the street, but anyone could see that she’d be there all day.

When I fed my ballots into the machine, there was another young lady with a video camera who captured my efforts to simultaneously hold onto my morning cup of coffee and tear the receipts from the top of the sheets. I could have pointed out to her that she needed a release. But I kept silent. Like the others, this race had emboldened her to shoot a spontaneous documentary. Of what, who knew? Did she foresee another battle in Florida? Was this B-roll for a nonfictional narrative that no one could predict?

If there was any consolation about 2000’s Florida fiasco, it was this: the sham had reminded everyone how important it was to vote. It had awakened the dormant democratic pulse. And even if King George ascends to the throne again, I know that this time it won’t go down without a fight.

J-Franz Returns

Rake points to a new story from J-Franz in the New Yorker. Our immediate impressions can be summed up as follows:

  • Hey, J, ever heard of paragraph breaks?
  • Was there ever a clunkier lead sentence wrought in Remnick’s pages?
  • This “young husband,” does he have a name?
  • “The divorce was done by mail.” How convenient!
  • “[H]he feared his only purpose on the planet was to insert his penis in the vaginas of the greatest possible number of women.” Mock clinical language is so 1986, Franz.
  • “But Ron insisted that he had never seen this word before, that her vocabulary was much larger than his, and, absurdly, that he had never in his life scored eighty-seven points in one Scrabble play.” Dave Eggers-style nonsequiturs are a sudden influence on J-Franz?
  • “..but he was forty years old, and it was time to grow up…” Or autobiographical?
  • “In later years Antonia never, in her stocking-footed friends? hearing, spoke of him with anger, always only pity, because, she said, he knew himself so poorly.” Comma, comma, commala!

Take That, Birnbaum!

Today’s Word of the Day is “jejune.”

jejune \juh-JOON\, adjective:
1. Lacking in nutritive value.
2. Displaying or suggesting a lack of maturity; childish.
3. Lacking interest or significance; dull; meager; dry.

Were I to make this public now, it would be dismissed as the raving of a mind at the end of its tether, unable to distinguish fiction from reality, real life from the jejune fantasies of its youth.
–Ronald Wright, A Scientific Romance

By the inflection of his voice, the expression of his face, and the motion of his body, he signals that he is aware of all the ways he may be thought silly or jejune, and that he might even think so himself.
–Jedediah Purdy, For Common Things

A while ago, Michael Kinsley wrote that Jewish Americans envied Israelis for living out history in a way that made the comfort and security of life in New York or Los Angeles seem jejune.
–Geoffrey Wheatcroft, “The Big Kibbutz,” New York Times, March 2, 1997

Jejune derives from Latin jejunus, “fasting, hence hungry, hence scanty, meager, weak.”


I have to concur with the esteemed OGIC, although for entirely different reasons. Sideways kicks serious butt, but it is because Alexander Payne has somehow found a way to combine the smooth comedy jazz of Blake Edwards (complete with the Sideways Jazz Orchestra!) with the realism of Cassevetes. That’s no small achievement, particularly when you consider that this is the first of Payne’s films that has gone out of its way to avoid the usual social satire (with the exception of a funny Grapes of Wrath television reference, some DeLilloesque moments in fast food restaurants, and a waitress played by Missy Doty who appears near the end of the film).

It helps that Sideways rides largely on Paul Giamatti’s limitless talent. Giamatti’s hounddog eyes are capable of almost every expression in the human spectrum. Necessary, given that Giamatti portrays a fantastic midlife neurotic. But amazingly, Giamatti somehow finds a way to underplay his larger-than-life character, even when he’s guzzling pinot while scampering down a hill. That’s a real actor in action, folks.

I should remind OGIC that Payne’s softness is nothing new. His last film, About Schmidt, with its unexpected existential angle, suggested a filmmaker that vowed to look hard into the human heart, no matter what the costs. In this sense, however, I don’t think Sideways succeeds quite as well, particularly during a treacly monologue delivered by Virginia Madsen midway through the film. (Bad enough that the monologue was unabashedly poetic, but were the syrupy strings necessary?)

This modest fumble is but a small price to pay for such a remarkable character study. Details are introduced and paid off with revelatory glimpses that express contradictory motivations. And for those who fear that the mischevious Payne has departed, be aware that there are flapping penises, a great gag involving a golf ball, and one extremely twisted moment involving the excellent Thomas Haden Church at the Days Inn, whereby he attempts to explain the reasoning for his actions and we are not certain to believe him because he is, after all, an actor.

Sideways also demonstrates that Payne’s quite willing to go the distance in the visual department. This was, I must confess, quite a lovely surprise. There’s a fantastic sequence where Giamatti gets staggeringly drunk at a restaurant. We see the sequence entirely in close-ups and the events are so fabulously discordant that we immediately find ourselves emotionally connected with Giamatti’s plight and desperation. I also appreciated the casting and deployment of Sandra Oh. I should point out that I have been in love with Oh’s acting abilities since I first saw her in Last Night. Here, Payne presents a character who appears sexually uninhibited and then focuses tight on Oh’s angelic complexion (despite simultaneous events), only to tear out the carpet from under us and provide a glimpse into her true feelings when certain revelations come to light.

In case I have not made myself abundantly clear, Sideways is a kickass flick bristling with humanity. Who else but Payne could avoid the pretentious Whit Stillman WASP schtick in a film set entirely in wine country?

“Don’t Film Me” — the Last Cry of a Scoundrel

Joshuah Bearman: “Which is why we drove them away. The trick with Republican staffers running dirty tricks, we discovered, is to turn cameras on them. They wilt like shrinking violets. Stephen Elliott and I are out here with a documentary crew, and when the film started rolling, the GOP?s bogus Gay Pride parade came to a quick end. ‘Don?t film me,’ the ringleader said when we stuck to them. ‘I?m expressing my freedom of speech.'” (via Bondgirl)

Politics is a Sham

I’d express my malaise about tomorrow, but Jeff and Maud have ably covered this ground. I’ll only say that I’ve never felt so much disgust for politics. On the national, state and local level, we have been inundated with lies, ultimatums, and outright blackmail if we don’t abide by one party line or the other.

Tomorrow’s election is perhaps the most important election in the last sixty years. So I encourage all Return of the Reluctant readers to vote. However, to put my own personal partisanship aside, I also urge all voters to vote who they feel is right for the job. Contrary to the leaflets that clog the mailboxes, no one is holding a gun to your head to abide by some austere answer key. You can vote any combo you want. You can vote any candidate you want. Just don’t become a drone.

Song of Solomon

It’s official. Deborah Solomon now rivals Rex Reed as the least distinguished interviewer of the past forty years and comes perilously close to Ann Coulter as the most deliberately hateful writer working today. One is tempted to unleash limitless fury against such a bilious interlocutor. But that would only involve resorting to her level.

Nevertheless, Solomon’s interview with Christine Schutt sets a new low for the Times. It smacks of an anti-intellectual hubris that, at the risk of invoking Godwin, one might associate with the 1933 Opernplatz incident, whereby brownshirts tossed “un-German” books (in Solomon’s case, books that aren’t published by a mainstream press) into a raging conflagration of pure destruction. The actual quality of Schutt’s work isn’t discussed. But the publishing circumstances and Schutt’s lifestyle choices are. It is a complete disgrace that such a fixation would be encouraged, let alone published, in a major newspaper. It suggests that the New York Times (possibly in collusion with Tanenhaus’ diminishing returns on the literary fiction front) has openly declared a war on literary culture. And, as such, it has no substantive value to any serious newspaper reader.

Not only does Solomon compare literary excellence with a washing machine, but, in inveighing against Schutt for the formulation of a story idea, she is utterly incapable (perhaps deliberately so) of comprehending how art originates, let alone understanding the distinction between art and reality. This lack of comprehension is interesting, given Solomon’s roots as an art critic for the Wall Street Journal. But even then, Solomon was hungrier than a gravid wolf. She was fired by Raymond Sokolov because she insisted on writing for several other publications on the WSJ‘s dime. But that didn’t stop her from tossing soda onto Sokolov’s lap.

Solomon has a long history of failing to get the job done. In 2001, Solomon attacked the Milwaukee Art Museum without bothering to visit the museum or its collections. And, as Charlie Finch has suggested, Utopia Parkway, Solomon’s biography of Joseph Cornell, is the rare case in which the author clearly despises her subject.

So what do you do when you’re a jaded biographer dissatisfied with your work? You lash out at your subjects. Instead of confronting a major politician about the history of his remarks, you ask him about his hair. You ask one of the greatest figures in rock and roll history if he’s dying. You take the easy route and go after the easy targets.

What does Solomon’s continued employment (and corresponding attack dog tactics) prove? It suggests that the Times is more interested in catering to devout readers of People or Maxim than actually probing its subjects. It communicates to its loyal readership that they are dumb, dumb, dumb, and that the Grey Lady (ridiculously enough) is oh so cool. It perpetuates a sad chronicle of a major newspaper that consistently undervalues literature.

And in adopting and reinforcing this stance, the Times has demonstrated that it is no different from the half-literate country bumpkins.