Bigger than “Goodfellas”: Miami Brinks heist mastermind speaks for the first time

Karls Monzon

Karls Monzon

Karls Monzon hadn’t seen the film “Goodfellas” when he carried off a nearly identical heist to the one organized by the movie’s protagonist, Henry Hill.

“I just found out when I got arrested. A couple of days later I heard the news and. . . they was telling me I was copying the movie,” Monzon said of the Martin Scorsese film which depicted the 1978 Lufthansa heist at New York’s JFK airport that netted an estimated $5.875 million — and eventually led to the deaths of most of the people involved.

Yet “Goodfellas” wasn’t a big deal to Monzon; he prefers crime movies and court procedural television shows like “Law & Order: SVU” and “Dateline NBC.” Using these shows as his guide, he orchestrated a crime that netted him and his associates approximately $7.4 million. The robbery of a Brinks warehouse at the Miami International Airport in 2005 could have been ripped from the script of a police drama.

Unlike the Lufthansa Heist, no one involved with the 2005 Miami robbery was killed. Monzon and his crew of accomplices had planned to live carefully, storing their stolen cash until the heat died down. But when Monzon’s brother-in-law started flaunting his money, he invited trouble from envious criminals and the FBI, and the scheme came crashing down.

Monzon spent nine years and two months in prison for his crime before being released in April 2016. He hasn’t spoken to the press until now; he spoke to Salon over the phone during a break from his job as a tow truck driver in Miami.

An opportunity too good to be true

Monzon is about 6 feet tall with green eyes and is solid at 240 pounds. He speaks quietly and unemotionally with a Cuban accent.

In 2005, the then 32-year-old immigrant was living in Miami and working as a driver for United Rentals, which leases construction equipment. His wife, Cinnamon, was pregnant with a daughter. He had no criminal record at the time.

That April, Monzon got a call that would change his life. His friend Onelio Diaz, who worked as a Brinks security guard at Miami International Airport, had noticed some serious security issues during a daily cash transport. In a 2013 deep dive into the robbery and subsequent fall-out (for which Monzon was not interviewed), Bloomberg reported:

Every day, [Diaz] explained, a Lufthansa jet from Frankfurt landed at the airport carrying bricks of $50 and $100 bills in bags. The shipments were from Germany’s second-largest bank, Commerzbank, and averaged between $80 million and $100 million per flight. Brink’s employed Diaz and a few other guards to escort the bills from the tarmac to a warehouse at the airport perimeter to clear customs. The guards would examine the bags for tampering or tears and drive them in armored cars to the Miami branch of the Federal Reserve, about four miles away. The whole process took about two hours.

The security guard didn’t want to rob his employer; instead, Diaz told Monzon that he should.

“I told him, ‘Hey, I don’t know. That sounds like it’s too easy to be true, too good to be true.’ Then he told me, ‘No, it is. It is because [the guards are] so used to it and comfortable,” Monzon said.

The guards didn’t close the doors to the warehouse when they stored the money because there is no air conditioning, Diaz added, and the count doesn’t happen inside a cage as it should. There was no armed guard and the warehouse had a door that faced the street — perfect for a getaway.

Scheming and casing

Monzon’s time spent watching crime shows was about to pay off, but he knew that he had to suss out whether this heist was even possible first. He started by renting a room at the Miami Hilton Hotel, which overlooked the airport’s warehouse and tarmac; from there, Monzon could watch the guards transfer money from the airplane to the warehouse. He did this about eight or 10 times.

From a room that looked south, Monzon said he could see the pilot and guards taking bags of cash to the warehouse. When his view was obscured, he would rent a north-facing room the following week.

“I was just back and forth every week. One week in the north side, one week in the south side to make sure they never changed their routine,” Monzon said.

Twice Monzon drove onto the tarmac pretending that he was looking for a job. “I wanted to make sure the money is there, because it’s maybe a setup. . . . [then] I saw the bags of money. I knew the money was true.”

Mozon was also scouting for an area of the tarmac that didn’t have security cameras — a place where he could stash a getaway car. Monzon and a friend had stolen two Ford F450s from a dealer near Jacksonville, Florida, which they had loaded onto a United Rentals tractor-trailer for the 100-mile drive to Miami, then stored in a warehouse until the heist.

Everything was falling into place for Monzon, who dreamt of having enough money to retire some day. He had also assembled a crew with a mixed criminal history and different ideas on how they would spend the loot: Monzon’s uncle-in-law, Conrado “Pinky” Perera, had a criminal past but planned to start his own legitimate business; his brother-in-law, Jeffrey Boatwright, who struggled with drug addiction, would be the driver; United Rentals co-worker Roberto Perez would join as a lookout.

Monzon’s wife Cinnamon was pregnant with a baby girl while he planned the warehouse robbery. He said she had no knowledge of his scheme until later. About two months before the heist, Cinnamon went to the hospital with high blood pressure and gave birth to a stillborn child. The event changed Monzon’s vision of his financial future.

“I wasn’t just doing it just to take all that money,” Monzon said quietly, adding that his wife had had trouble conceiving multiple times. “Recently I lost my baby, so I just want to have enough money to adopt a kid. Adopting a kid is expensive.”

Planning pays off

On Nov. 6, 2005 Boatwright, Monzon and Perera headed to the Miami airport in one of the stolen black pickup trucks. Despite all his planning and casing, Monzon was wracked with nervousness.

“My blood pressure went through the roof. I’ve never done nothing like that before. I was like, I don’t even know what to do,” Monzon said. He breathed and continued to convince himself. “I just keep my cool and I keep doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”

Just as the group arrived at the Brinks warehouse, they heard sirens and saw a van full of U.S. Customs police speed toward the post office building — just in front of their target. Boatwright, who was driving, slowed down to watch the action and wait for the police to leave, but the presence of police shook everyone up. Boatwright and Perera wanted to go home.

“I just put my foot down,” Monzon said, telling his team. “This has to get done and don’t worry about distractions.”

Ironically, the police had created the perfect setup for Monzon and his crew. By the time Monzon had convinced Perera and Boatwright to continue with the robbery, around 3 p.m., the bag exchange was underway at the warehouse. “That’s when we decided to go around and jump out and go inside the warehouse because . . . there was no security. It was just open. They can walk to the tarmac and nobody is going to stop you.”

Here’s Bloomberg’s description of what happened next:

Monzon and Perera got out, pulled bandannas over their faces, hauled themselves onto the loading dock, and went through the open doors. Inside the warehouse they saw what Diaz had described: a gaping space littered with crates and plastic packing wrap. Right by the doors, a handful of guards, including Diaz, sorted through canvas bags stuffed with cash. The day’s shipment, 42 bags, added up to $88 million, about $2.1 million a bag.

Monzon and Perera pulled out their guns and ordered the guards onto the floor. They grabbed six bags of cash, each weighing about 38 pounds. When they ran to the bay door, one bag dropped. They left it on the warehouse floor. They threw the others into the bed of the truck and made off with $7.4 million. The only clue the guards would report to the newspapers was that the thieves were speaking in both Spanish and English.

No one was hurt, but Monzon later heard that a security guard had to go to the hospital for cardiac issues following the robbery.

The group loaded their loot into the bed of the truck and sped away to the first getaway car on the tarmac, where Monzon frantically checked the bags for trackers and markings (he found none), then transferred the money into plastic bags. They switched trucks once more, this time to Monzon’s personal car, which was stashed about five miles away on a residential street. The first two cars would be burned as evidence.

“When I was watching TV, everyone was getting caught with DNA, fingerprints, so I decided to burn the trucks,” Monzon said. “Till this day I don’t even know where the trucks are. . . . Somebody got paid good money to do that.”

Monzon sounds both nonchalant and disbelieving when he talks about pulling off the robbery, almost as if he was picking up a straight paycheck.

“I didn’t even know it was a big deal. I don’t even know how much money was there. We got a couple of bags and we left,” Monzon said. “Everybody got a good cut. That way we knew there would be no issues.”

Mostly smooth sailing

A couple of days after the robbery, Monzon stopped feeling nervous and untrusting. No one knew that he was involved in the heist, which made national news, and he started feeling “pumped up . . . a lot better.” He said Cinnamon, too, had begun to be less angry and disbelieving that her husband had pulled off a massive crime.

“I just got plans to put the money away because I don’t want to change my lifestyle or the level of my lifestyle,” Monzon said. He stashed most of his $1.6 million cut on his family’s property in Homestead, a rural area halfway between Miami and the Florida Keys, mostly in the attic and buried in PVC pipes.

The dramas of ordinary life continued. Monzon kept his job at the rental company and Cinnamon kept working as a receptionist at Vista magazine.

But Monzon believes that a slightly less ordinary familial drama was his undoing. His brother-in-law Boatwright was “spending money like crazy” — including buying a car in cash and showing off stacks of bills. During sentencing in 2006, Boatwright’s lawyer said his client spent nearly all of his $1.4 million share on “utter decadence” — jewelry, drugs, alcohol, prostitutes and nights at strip clubs.

“That’s the first thing I told him, not to spend no money, so I know something is going to happen,” Monzon said. He visited Boatwright to try to convince him to ease up on spending, telling him, “I gave you 100 grand in $100 bills. . . . That’s supposed to last at least a year or two years. The street [is] hot. Now, so you’re supposed to stay down low, you’re supposed not be flashing the money.”

But it wasn’t the heat from the police that Monzon feared; it was “people just looking to kidnap or to take the money from you.” Boatwright wouldn’t listen and went into hiding, though Monzon eventually tracked him down at a Miami hotel. He brought a baseball bat with the intention of knocking some sense into his brother-in-law, but was convinced by Cinnamon to go easy on him.

“[Boatwright] opened the door [and] he was high as the sky. I saw cocaine and pills and ecstasy. I don’t know what else he had done. I know he was trying to hide. He got two hookers in there and they were high too,” Monzon said. Boatwright eventually promised to leave Miami for a couple of years, but never kept his word.

Monzon worried that Boatwright would soon be targeted by envious criminals or the police, so he asked his friends to rob his brother-in-law as a lesson. His friends tied up Boatwright and took his money.

“In my mind, if I take all his money, he got no money to spend,” Monzon said. But the lesson only lasted a few weeks before he was at it again. “I know he wasn’t going to change, so I was making plans to leave the country. I was going to go down maybe to Mexico.”

You can’t trust anyone

The FBI was already investigating the heist under the direction of Special Agent Alex Peraza, who suspected that a supervisor at the warehouse was the inside man, but he couldn’t prove it. Brinks (which did not return calls for comment on this article) offered a $150,000 reward for information, which eventually netted a tipster from within Monzon’s circle.

“By February 2006, Peraza had wiretapped Monzon’s phone, but instead of just uncovering details of the robbery, Peraza and his agents arrived in the middle of a second kidnapping,” Bloomberg wrote.

Monzon believes that a group of friends-of-friends decided there was more money to be had. In December 2005, a gang abducted Boatwright outside the Gold Rush strip club in downtown Miami and set a ransom of $1 million, which Monzon paid. When Boatwright arrived at the hospital, he was beaten and his fingernails had been torn with pliers.

Boatwright’s injuries didn’t stop his partying, however. On Feb. 16, 2006, he was back at the Gold Rush when two women lured him out of the club and into an SUV in the parking lot. Once inside, two men got in and hit Boatwright on the head with the butt of a pistol and tied a shirt over his face.

Twelve hours later, Robert Salty, a friend of Boatwright’s who was secretly collaborating with the kidnappers, called Monzon asking for half a million dollars in ransom. The kidnappers threatened to kill Boatwright if Monzon didn’t pay up. “I said, ‘You know what? Good. You do me a favor, bro.’ So, I hang up the phone,” Monzon said.

The kidnappers proceeded to call Monzon’s wife, who called and begged him to cooperate to save her brother’s life. “I don’t care. I ain’t doing 20 years because of his stupidity,” Monzon said before hanging up on her, too. Monzon then received desperate calls from his mother-in-law and his wife’s grandmother. He relented, but rather than drop off the cash, Monzon wanted to see the kidnapper’s faces. He waited for their call.

On his way to a doctor’s appointment for Cinnamon, Monzon was stopped by the police, who had tapped his phone. Initially, Monzon thought the kidnappers had followed him to the clinic. “I didn’t see so many cops once in my lifetime; there was about 200 people in there. They got FBI, SWAT, ICE, Homeland Security.”

The FBI took Monzon to its Miami headquarters and asked him about his role in the Brinks robbery. “They told me we know your brother is kidnapped. I said, ‘Screw him too.’ [An officer] said, ‘No. If something happens to your brother, you’re going to get charged for it.’” Monzon agreed to participate and kept Boatwright’s kidnappers on the phone for five to six hours until police could track their location to the Brickell neighborhood of Miami.

“My brother-in-law was in the back of the truck, tied up. They tied up his hand and feet and they cover his eyes. They beat him up,” Monzon said, adding that he didn’t know any of the kidnappers.

In all, the FBI arrested five men for the second kidnapping of Jeffrey Boatwright. Robert Salty, Michael Sanfiel and Guillermo Del Regato all pleaded guilty and were given from 7 to 15 years. Manuel Palacio and Michael Hernandez went to trial and received 34- and 26-year prison sentences, respectively.

The police also caught Onelio Diaz with about $80,000 in his vehicle and found $80,000 in Monzon’s attic. “Right there and then, there’s no way for me to go to trial and win. They got too much everything against me,” Monzon said.

Everyone involved in the robbery pleaded guilty. Diaz received a 16-year sentence, Boatwright was given a 13-year sentence. Pinky Perera got 11 years, Roberto Perez was given six years, and Alex Leon received three. Cinnamon Monzon was sentenced to three years for being an accessory to theft.

Monzon led the FBI to the $1.2 million he had hidden, but that was all the FBI would recover. “There’s supposed to be $6 million unaccounted for but I don’t know where it is. I don’t have it.” Monzon said. The other men involved in the robbery said they spent their loot.

Monzon agreed to a plea deal of 17 years in federal prison, though six years were taken off his sentence for cooperating with investigators around Boatwright’s kidnapping. He was released on April 1, 2016 and spent eight months living in a halfway house. He will be on probation for two more years.

Learning lessons in prison

Monzon doesn’t have much to say about his time in prison, beyond the fact that he got his GED and lost 160 pounds. The toughest part, he said, was “just what my family went through. My mom almost died twice because she got a heart attack and my brother is sick, he’s got mental issues. My other brother, he went through a big accident and almost lost his legs. I was just like there was nothing I can do.”

Today, Monzon works as a tow truck driver and lives with his girlfriend and her child in Miami (Monzon and Cinnamon are no longer married). He hopes he can “help people not go make the same mistake.”

“I’m not a guy who does drugs, I don’t hang out with nobody. I just go work and go to my house and that’s it. I don’t feel bad for me,” Monzon said matter-of-factly. Monzon does feel bad for travelers, however, who he believes are unsafe at America’s airports. “The security for the airport, it’s just an illusion. They want you to make you feel safe but in reality, you’re not safe.”

Monzon pointed to the recent shooting at Fort Lauderdale’s airport that left five people dead, and a Canadian man who drove a baggage-towing vehicle across the tarmac at Orlando International Airport. “It made me feel bad because the economy is not doing so good and they’re spending billions and billions of dollars and . . . anybody can break in at the back of the gate.”

Monzon added that stronger fences and a different pass system for entering the tarmac would improve airport security. Security expert Jeff Slotnick, whose company Setracon does risk consulting and security assessment, told Salon that he believes airports are much more secure than they were 10 years ago when Monzon masterminded the robbery.

“Technology continues to evolve. I would say we are better protected on the port side of airports than the business side of airports,” Slotnick said.

Robbing the right place at the right time

Monzon and his crew may have gotten away with the heist if it weren’t for Boatwright’s antics. But just four years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, how was it so easy for someone who wasn’t a career criminal like the Lufthansa Heist crew — a person who didn’t even have a criminal record — to mastermind a successful robbery?

“I think this was an anomaly. Armed car theft happens very infrequently in the U.S. [because] the penalties are high, the guards that are protecting the money are generally armed. . . you have the FBI and federal marshals and secret service on you almost immediately,” Slotnick said. Yet Virginia-based risk assessment company Lowers Risk reported 34 armored car robberies or attempted robberies in 2016, while FBI stats from 2011 (reported by Bloomberg) showed 42 thefts.

Slotnick believes the success of Monzon’s heist largely rests on timing; the technologies in place to keep airports secure weren’t as sophisticated in 2005 as they are today. “Years ago, physical security systems were standalone systems and now they’re integrated systems that share data. This makes it all that much more difficult [to penetrate an airport’s system],” Slotnick said.

While Monzon was able to find an area of the tarmac that didn’t have security cameras, “video is all over the place” today. Slotnick said an airport’s tarmac will have everything from motion sensing equipment and video analytics, to complex logarithms that look for anomalies on site, as well as fence detection sensors and microwave sensors “that are all used in combination to created a layered defense and defense in kind.”

“I think this may have been possible in the year that it occurred but would be very, very difficult to accomplish today,” he said.

Beyond technology, Slotnick suggested that the Miami heist was possible because of dissent among Brink’s employees, perhaps over their low salaries (the median wage for an armored car driver or guard is around $27,000 today).

“I can’t understand why we take people in security pay them minimum wage and expect them to be responsible for millions of dollars,” Slotnick added. “You want to make someone’s pay a livable wage so they don’t have to resort to compromising thefts.”

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Individual vs. institution: Can Trump overcome his personality and make real change as president?

Mideast Palestinians Trump

File – In this Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016 file photo, President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Giant Center, in Hershey, Pa. After a pair of diplomatic victories, the Palestinians are now setting their sights on a Mideast peace conference in France next month in a bid to rally support as they prepare for the uncertainty of the Trump Administration. The Palestinians are hopeful that a strong international endorsement in Paris will insulate them from what they fear will be a close alliance between President-elect Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File) (Credit: AP)

Based on his erratic behavior during the campaign, many fear what Donald Trump will do in office. Some believe that his strong personality could lead to disastrous policies that could negatively affect health care, nuclear warfare and other aspects of our lives.

As a scholar of presidential power, I’d suggest such concerns are likely overblown. Despite his distinct individuality, Trump faces the same institutional constraints as any other president. In the end, he may be a more predictable president than many would believe.

From individual to the institutional

Political scientists have long been interested in explaining the American presidency. Looking at how their approach has shifted over time can help us understand why some presidents are more successful than others — and even predict what’s to come during the Trump administration.

Princeton’s Fred Greenstein, an early scholar of the presidency, viewed the office through the lens of the individual who occupied it. He argued that presidential actions and success can be explained by the president’s leadership abilities, such as personal style, political skill and communication abilities.

Others offered a more psychological approach. Notably, Duke’s David Barber suggested that presidents’ personalities are a critical predictor of their behavior in office. According to his theory, energetic individuals with a positive outlook will prove to be the most successful presidents. Examples of presidents with personalities well-suited to the job, Barber argued, included Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy. Those who lack these traits are inherently flawed and have frustrating, or even dangerous, presidencies like those of Richard Nixon or Herbert Hoover.

Finding the personality focus of these early theories somewhat limited, contemporary scholars now largely view the presidency as an institution comprising not just an individual but also the Executive Branch offices that help it function. This approach recognizes that presidents have policy or electoral incentives that motivate their actions, but they are restricted by checks from Congress and the judiciary who may have different objectives. In this view, presidential behavior and policy outcomes are determined by institutional constraints rather than individual characteristics.

Underlying this institutional perspective is the assumption that presidents are rational individuals who anticipate the actions of others and adjust their behavior to obtain their goals. Consequently, many scholars believe that presidents, who operate under the same set of restrictions, should be largely predictable.

Trump as an individual and an institution

From his dark horse victory to his Twitter account, Trump has proved far from predictable. Many point to his personality flaws, leadership style and political inexperience as reasons to worry about the man taking office.

Such concerns mirror previous academic claims that personal characteristics dominate presidential politics. But to get a full picture, we must also consider the constraints of his office and ask ourselves if Trump will be rational as many contemporary scholars expect presidents to be.

A rational actor?

Given Trump’s volatility, few would characterize him as perfectly rational. The inconsistencies in his statements and policy positions make it difficult to identify his motives.

Yet, despite his unique personality, Trump faces the same institutional constraints as any other president — Congress and the courts.

If Congress disagrees with Trump’s policy agenda, it could block his legislative proposals or overturn his unilateral actions. Additionally, it could hinder his control over regulatory actions by blocking executive nominees. Finally, legislators have the power to hamper his agenda through oversight and funding cuts. In short, Trump needs congressional backing to significantly change policy.

Yet, he is unlikely to receive widespread support. Republicans have only slim majorities in Congress. It would take only a small number of defectors voting with Democrats to block his policies. This scenario is likely given that many Republicans are reluctant to support Trump based on their personal beliefs and electoral considerations. Moreover, the GOP remains internally divided between the conservative and moderate wings of the party. This makes large partisan support for the new president even more difficult.

Trump also needs judicial support to prevent his actions from being overturned. This too may be difficult given likely congressional opposition to his Supreme Court nominees. In particular, if a polarized Congress refuses to confirm his candidate, the Supreme Court could remain deadlocked. This scenario is feasible given that Senate Democrats can filibuster these nominees and the Republicans do not have enough votes to end debate. Deadlock on the Supreme Court could lead to widespread anti-Trump rulings from liberal-leaning lower courts. Even if the federal judiciary does turn conservative, they may still be inclined to overturn any Trump attempt at outrageous abuses of power.

While Trump’s actions could be unpredictable, our separation-of-powers system ensures that the final policy outcomes during his administration will not be. Most likely, he will be unable to drastically change the status quo.

Of course, Trump could act rationally and choose to pursue more moderate actions in order to avoid possible sanctions from Congress and the court. If he does so, however, the outcome is the same: marginal change at best.

Even the success of other strong-willed presidents was ultimately due to the degree to which they were politically restrained. Lyndon Johnson is praised for his political skill, but he gained legislative victories mainly through strong partisan support in Congress. Though Nixon is viewed as one of the most emotionally flawed presidents, opposition from Congress was ultimately his undoing.

History suggests that institutions tend to dominate personalities, and Trump will not be the exception.

The Conversation

Sharece Thrower is an assistant professor of political science at Vanderbilt University.

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Sea change: As desalination technology advances, oceans may hold the answer to the world’s water crisis

Rocky Shore

(Credit: Getty/gaiamoments)

Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink. That’s (almost) the reality of a planet whose H2O — or at least 97 percent of it — is nonpotable ocean. Much of the remainder is trapped in glaciers, ice caps and soil. In other words, accessible freshwater is scarce — and getting scarcer. But some scientists say this may be changing. As desalination technology advances, the sea may hold the answer to the world’s water crisis. But at what cost?

The desal concept isn’t new — even the ancient Romans used clay filters to separate salt from water in order to make it potable. But there’s never been more incentive for large-scale implementation. Nearly three billion people currently live without access to clean, reliable drinking water. And with the population expected to hit nearly 10 billion by 2050, the problem is set to get worse. According to the United Nations, our water usage is increasing twice as fast as population growth. In America, the average family of four blows through 400 gallons per day. Exacerbated by man-made climate change, water scarcity — the “petroleum of the next decade,” according to Goldman Sachs — will increasingly be a force of international conflict in years to come.

For these reasons, countries around the world are turning to desalination, which usually involves reversing the process of osmosis. Typically, water flows naturally through a semipermeable membrane from an area of low salt concentration to an area of high salt concentration. But, in order for desalination to work, water is pumped in the opposite direction through a very fine (less than a hundredth the diameter of a human hair) synthetic filter. Because brine is left behind, the water becomes usable for irrigation, industrial processes and, yes, drinking.

Worldwide, there are more than 18,000 desalination plants in operation, the largest being in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Israel. In 2008, the latter nation faced catastrophe after a devastating, ten-year drought. But, because of desal technology, one of the driest countries on earth now has a surplus of freshwater. In the U.S., the fourth largest market for desalination, the industry is growing. The Western Hemisphere’s biggest plant, able to purify 50 million gallons per day, was brought online in San Diego in 2015. The facility, called Carlsbad, produces seven percent of the county’s water.

And yet, more than half the country is still suffering drought, and California is still on track to run out of water. So why aren’t we implementing desalination technology more quickly? For critics, the answer is two-fold.

First, there is price. A larger facility can cost billions. And on average, 1,000 gallons from one of these plants will run the consumer between $2.50 and $5, whereas the same amount of conventional tap water costs approximately $2. In San Diego County, this translates to between $5 and $7 more a month on the average household bill.

“What you often find is that, as costs go up, people tend to use less water,” Heather Cooley, Water Program Director at the Pacific Institute, a global water think tank, told Salon. “And if a plant is not operating at full capacity, then the cost per gallon goes up, which further reduces demand. This can create a downward spiral.”

But the more troubling costs are environmental. When seawater is sucked via pipe into one of these facilities for treatment, larger marine life are smashed against water intake screens. And the creatures that are vacuumed through — plankton, fish larvae and others — are killed once inside. Since these organisms are an important part of the food chain, this is already thought to be having a negative effect on ocean biodiversity. For this reason, engineers are increasingly utilizing subsurface intakes which are placed underground, where sand can act as a natural filter for marine life. A $277 plant in Monterey has dedicated $51 million of its budget to this type of infrastructure.

Additionally, there’s the problem of leftover brine. Bill Maher recently joked that we should save this supply for seasoning “fucking almonds,” but in reality it’s often dumped back into the ocean, and at a salinity level twice that of normal seawater. Because salinity necessarily impacts ocean circulation and evaporation, this may end up worsening the droughts we’re seeking to counteract.

Finally, desalination plants require an enormous amount of energy, which means their carbon footprint is more formidable than any other water supply and treatment option. While Bill Nye the Science Guy says solar-powered desalination plants could be “key to the future,” and while the world’s first large-scale iteration of such a project is slated for completion this year in Saudi Arabia, the majority of desal plants are powered by fossil fuel. Here again, this means these facilities could end up making worse the very climate change-related problems they’re meant to assuage. To avoid these greenhouse gas emissions, the World Nuclear Association advocates running desal plants with nuclear power.

Eventually, new types of membranes could allow for smaller plants that require less energy. Some engineers even envision small mobile units for use in rural areas far from water. And researchers from Cairo’s University of Alexandria are working on a not-yet-commercially-viable method of desalination that doesn’t require energy at all, but relies, rather, on vaporization. Other potentially more efficient methods involve nanotechnology, bioreactors and forward osmosis (which mimics the water transport of plants).

“A lot of it is in the R&D phase,” Cooley told Salon. “It’s hard to say what’s going to happen in 20 or 30 years, but there’s certainly a lot of interest in finding ways to reduce the cost and environmental impact.”

Not everyone’s convinced these advancements will pan out. “This is going to be the pig that will try for years to find the right shade of lipstick,” said Marco Gonzalez, an Encinitas attorney who sued on behalf of environmental groups during the construction of the Carlsbad plant, to the San Jose Mercury News.

There are alternative solutions to desalination, including the purification of sewage water, which California is embracing in a big way. And the fix for our water crisis will likely involve employing many of these strategies. In the meantime, the best thing we can do, experts say, is to be more mindful of the water we’re wasting in our homes.

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With “The Salesman,” Iranian writer-director Asghar Farhadi creates another spellbinding domestic drama

Still from "The Salesman"

Still from “The Salesman” (Credit: Memento Films Distribution)

Oscar-nominated Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi has created a niche for himself in contemporary world cinema, by crafting spellbinding dramas about the simmering tensions between married couples. His films often pivot on small, seemingly random events, which trigger great consequences for the characters. The writer-director’s latest work, the outstanding drama “The Salesman,” which has been shortlisted for this year’s Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar, continues this tradition.

In Fahadi’s best and most famous film, “A Separation” — the first Iranian feature to ever win an Oscar — a confrontation in a stairwell is perhaps as devastating as the central couple’s impending separation. The acclaimed writer/director’s other films, “The Past,” about a couple divorcing, and “Fireworks Wednesday,” a taut chamber piece about a wife suspecting her husband of infidelity, were equally riveting.

“The Salesman” harkens back to Farhadi’s excellent 2009 feature, “About Elly,” not only because it stars the same actors, Taraneh Alidoosti and Shahab Hosseini, but because it parallels the earlier film thematically as well. Both dramas explore themes of guilt, honor and morality as the main characters grapple with situational ethics.

The opening credit sequence in “The Salesman” features shots of a stage where a production of Arthur Miller’s classic play, “Death of a Salesman,” is being mounted. (Farhadi is paying tribute to his own work in and memories of the theatre.) Emad (Shahab Hosseini) is the production’s Willy Loman; his wife Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) is playing Willy’s long-suffering wife, Linda. Life does not quite imitate art. What transpires between Emad and Rana does not involve his affair or his death, as in Miller’s play, but issues of character and freedom. These ideas echo throughout “The Salesman.”

Farhadi connects the stories of the play and the film emotionally. As such, Emad and Rana’s performances on stage reflect their characters’ off-stage mindset at a particular time. When Emad improvises some hostile lines in a scene with Babek (Babek Karimi) during a production, he is channeling his anger at his friend and co-star. The conceit is more effective than heavy-handed because viewers understand what drives the character’s behavior — even if the characters being addressed in the particular scene are unaware. This strategy is used to a wrenching degree in the film’s climactic scenes, where various characters try to protect themselves from having their family members discover some painful truths. (Not unlike Willy Loman.)

The film’s story begins with Emad and Rana having to evacuate their apartment building when the foundation starts collapsing. Cynics can read this as a clunky metaphor, but given that this event happens as the characters are being introduced, that is an unfair pre-judgment. In fact, viewers get a glimpse at what a good character Emad is because he stops to help rescue a neighbor’s son.

Babek offers the unexpectedly homeless couple an apartment he manages that has become available. The previous tenant, however, left a room full of her things. When the woman fails to come pick up her stuff, her belongings are left on the roof. Emad, true to his kind nature, covers her possessions with a tarp when it rains to protect them. No one else seems to care.

All this action unfolds in the film’s leisurely first half hour, at which point the drama kicks in. Rana, returning home from the theatre early, proceeds to take a shower. She leaves the apartment door open for Emad, who is expected to return at any moment. When he does arrive, however, he finds blood on the stairs, broken glass in the bathroom, and his wife missing. He tracks Rana down in the local hospital being treated for a head wound.

“The Salesman” soon turns into a slow-burn mystery in which Emad becomes a detective sorting out clues as to what happened. He also seeks revenge on the perpetrator. Farhadi is certainly not crafting an Iranian version of “Death Wish,” with Emad going off, gun in hand. He takes a characteristically more thoughtful approach to the situation, wanting to humiliate the criminal (if and when he finds him) in front of his family.

Emad learns that the apartment’s previous tenant was a prostitute, and the attacker was likely one of her regular clients. He discovers the man’s keys and cell phone, as well as a stack of money he left behind. He wants to go to the police, but Rana, feeling traumatized and guilty, refuses to let him. Farhadi lets the viewers and characters draw their own conclusion about the relationship between the apartment’s former tenant and Rana’s attacker so as not to incur the attention of censors. Moreover, censorship is mentioned in connection to a passage from the play during a rehearsal, reminding everyone what is permissible in Iranian society.

The tension that develops between husband and wife forms the emotional crux of “The Salesman” — again, a parallel to the Miller play — and the actors make that anxiety palpable with every expression and every silent glance between them. How Emad tries to comfort Rana but also give her some space shows how caring he is. But these scenes also reveal how difficult things have suddenly become between them.

A remarkable scene has Rana serving dinner to Emad unaware that it was paid for with her attacker’s money. He stops eating in mid-chew and has a look of disgust on his face that Rana does not comprehend at first. She thinks there is something wrong with her cooking. When he reveals why he is upset, the dynamic between them again changes. Likewise, when Rana freezes on stage during a performance of the play, Emad only later understands she was responding to a trigger in the audience that reminded her of the attack.

These are minor examples of the tensions that exist and escalate between the couple, before things intensify in the film’s stunning last act. The less revealed about where “The Salesman” goes in its last 40 minutes, the better. What can be said, however, is that Emad’s efforts to track down his wife’s attacker lead to some unexpected discoveries. As various characters gather in the couple’s old, evacuated apartment, ultimatums are issued, prayers are offered, and the suspense ratchets up to an almost unbearable degree.

What Farhadi does so expertly in this extended sequence is that rarest of high-wire acts: he succeeds in being an ironist and a dramatist at the same time. Farhadi magnifies the conflicts that have developed between Emad and Rana by reflecting them in this scene’s other characters as well as in Willy and Linda from the play.

One of the reasons “The Salesman” crackles is because Hosseini gives such a remarkable performance. (He justly won the Best Actor prize at Cannes last year.) Hosseini calibrates Emad’s emotions so skillfully that, like Emad, viewers may be so inside his mindset that they will flinch — as he does — when noise from a toaster startles him. As he gets deeper into resolving his wife’s trauma, his character starts to transform. He drives distractedly. He schemes to entrap a suspect under false pretenses. Emad displays a capacity for violence that seems out of character. Is it really his deep, abiding love for his wife that prompts him to behave so relentlessly? Does he feel a sense of guilt and responsibility that needs absolution? Or has he been this vengeful all along? Hosseini’s masterful performance allows for multiple interpretations.

In support, Alidoosti gives a very compelling, internal performance that makes Rana’s despair resonate.

Farhadi’s astonishing film ends with a sequence that is telling and fitting; the characters are haunted by what has transpired. Viewers will be too.

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Free market for drugs? It won’t work, but here’s what might

prescription drugs

The United States faces a major problem with prescription drug prices. Even as the prices of most goods and services have barely budged in recent years, the cost of drugs has surged.

During the presidential campaign, both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump cited the high cost of prescription drugs as an issue that needed to be addressed. Most recently, the president took direct aim at the pharmaceutical industry, saying it’s “getting away with murder” and arguing “new bidding procedures” are necessary to lower drug prices.

Trump didn’t get into specifics about what that would mean, but the most often suggested way to lower drug prices has been to expand the ability of major government buyers, such as Medicare, to negotiate prices.

While such negotiations could result in lower prices, we believe, based on our experience as economists and public policy experts, an alternative using public utility pricing would work better and ensure the discovery and distribution of important new medications.

“Medically necessary”

The recent drug price data are indeed frightening.

In 2015 spending on prescription drugs rose by 8.5 percent to $309.5 billion, compared with a rise of just 1.1 percent for consumer goods and services. Spending for specialty drugs increased by an even heftier 15 percent, on average. Individual examples that made big headlines, such as Turing Pharmaceuticals raising the price of Daraprim (a lifesaving drug for people with weakened immune systems) from $13.50 to $750 a tablet, are even more extreme.

In a competitive market, prices of a product are forced down to their costs plus a fair profit. Drug companies, on the other hand, can get away with raising prices without losing customers because the demand for certain medications is insensitive to their cost. If a drug will save your life, you’ll probably pay whatever the cost, if you can.

The problem may soon get worse. Last May, Washington state’s Medicaid program was ordered to provide the hepatitis C drugs Sovaldi and Harvoni after a court ruled they were “medically necessary.” The Washington State Health Care Authority had previously provided Harvoni — which costs $94,500 for an eight-week course of treatment — and Sovaldi — $84,000 for 12 weeks — to only the sickest patients.

Since then, other participants in Medicaid and private insurance plans have filed similar suits. Some states, including Florida, Massachusetts and New York, have already altered their Medicaid programs to pay for such life-preserving expensive drugs.

If “medically necessary” rulings become more common, producers of these drugs will have no need to worry that higher prices will reduce sales. They will be able to charge whatever they want and increase revenue and profit without hurting unit sales because insurance providers will need to make such drugs available to their policy holders.

A proposed solution

So what can be done to fix the problem?

Allowing more government agencies to negotiate prices is one option. While this has lowered the prices paid by the Veterans Administration, it may not be the best way to go in a market like the one for many innovative new specialty drugs in which consumers have no good substitutes to choose from.

Economists have shown that negotiated outcomes are not always the most efficient ones. As an example, if the government were to push drug producers too hard in negotiations, the public could get a great deal on prices in the short term but that could end up discouraging the development and testing of new drugs, which would hurt everyone in the long run.

A better approach is to start with a public utilities method, which is frequently used when there is a natural monopoly in production, such as for water or power. In these cases, state and local governments typically allow a company to have a monopoly over the market but also establish regulatory commissions to determine “fair” prices. Such prices take into account current costs, the need for investment in production facilities and the need to earn a rate of return on capital invested.

A wrinkle with drug developers is that they can incur substantial costs in their quest for new medications, including dead-end ideas and extensive testing. A 2014 report put the cost to develop a new drug at $2.6 billion, while others put it at around half that.

Under our proposal, an independent federal panel consisting of scientists, medical professionals, public health experts and economists — perhaps working as part of the FDA approval process and called on when the price of a drug is above a specific threshold — would determine the maximum price a government buyer such as Medicare or Medicaid could pay for a new drug. It could also do the same for existing treatments — for example, it could have turned down Turing’s huge Daraprim price hike.

A key element of this idea is that the panel would develop methods to identify and set maximum prices for existing and prospective drugs that cure a serious illness, improve the quality of life, limit contagion or otherwise provide large benefits to society. These procedures would need to make sure that producers of these important new drugs are sufficiently rewarded for those costly efforts.

A defensible drug-pricing system

Tough negotiations can help lower how much the government has to pay for its purchases, yet they’re not always the optimal way to achieve intended long-term results. With drugs, we definitely need to lower prices but we also need to ensure drug companies can “win” as well to avoid compromising their ability to develop lifesaving medicines.

While economists generally oppose government intervention in a “free market,” the current situation cries out for change. It is time to establish a defensible system for pricing drugs, one that both protects the public from price-gouging and encourages the development of new drugs.

The Conversation

Marcelle Arak is a professor of commodities and editor of Global Commodity Issues at the University of Colorado DenverSheila Tschinkel is a visiting faculty member in economics at Emory University.

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President Trump’s first actions involve making home ownership a lot more expensive for the middle class

Donald Trump, Melania Trump, Tiffany Trump, Reince Priebus, Donald McGahn

President Donald Trump leaves the President’s Room of the Senate at the Capitol after he formally signed his cabinet nominations into law, in Washington, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. He is joined by his wife Melania Trump and and daughter Tiffany Trump. At far right is Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, with White House counsel Donald McGahn, second from right. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, Pool) (Credit: AP)

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump quickly assumed the mantle of the White House and began setting up his new administration on Friday, signing a bill that allows retired Gen. James Mattis to serve as his defense secretary, as well as the nomination papers for his other Cabinet choices.

Less than an hour after delivering a stinging rebuke of the political status quo in his inaugural address, Trump sat in an ornate room steps from the Senate floor to officially assemble his core team. Flanked by Vice President Mike Pence and congressional leaders, he praised each of his nominees as he signed the papers and handed out the pens he was using. He also engaged in banter with his new congressional rivals, including Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

Trump also signed a proclamation declaring a national day of patriotism, according to a tweet from White House spokesman Sean Spicer.

Although Trump campaigned on promises to get to work immediately, he has since backed off some of his promised speed, downplaying the importance of a rapid-fire approach to complex issues that may involve negotiations with Congress or foreign leaders. Trump has said that he expects Monday to be the first big workday, his effective Day One.

The bill passed by Congress last week granted Mattis a one-time exception from federal law barring former U.S. service members who have been out of uniform for less than seven years from holding the top Pentagon job. The restriction is meant to preserve civilian control of the military.

Mattis, 66, retired from the Marine Corps in 2013. He was confirmed by the Senate as Trump watched his inaugural parade from a stand outside the White House. The Senate later confirmed retired Gen. John Kelly to lead the Homeland Security Department.

While Trump participated in the rituals of the day that included the inaugural parade and balls, there were signs his new government was up and running. Federal websites and agencies immediately began reflecting the transfer of power, and was revamped for Trump’s policy priorities as pages about LGBT rights and the Obama administration’s climate change plan were eliminated.

But the Trump team kept a section of the website that let voters petition the White House. Two new petitions were posted Friday: one calling on him to release his tax returns and verify that he is not receiving payments from foreign governments, the other asking him to divest of his holdings or put them in a blind trust.

Shortly after Trump became president, the Department of Housing and Urban Development suspended the Obama administration’s planned reduction of mortgage insurance premium rates, a move that had been intended to make buying a home more affordable.

At the signing ceremony at the Capitol, Pelosi jokingly objected to receiving a pen used to nominate Rep. Tom Price of Georgia to lead the Department of Health and Human Services. House Speaker Paul Ryan interjected, “I’ll take it.”

Trump has affirmed parts of the 18-point Day One plan he campaigned on, indicating that significant policy announcements may be teed up in the opening days of the Trump administration.

He still intends to withdraw from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, which he views as detrimental to U.S. businesses and workers. He has also promised to renegotiate the two-decades-old Clinton era North American Free Trade Agreement or withdraw from it.

Given Trump’s opposition to Obama’s immigration actions, he could also cancel the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which has protected about 750,000 young immigrants from deportation. The program also offered those immigrants work permits.

Trump also faces an early choice of naming a Supreme Court justice to fill the vacancy left by the late Justice Antonin Scalia. Trump has said he will announce a nominee in about two weeks.

Other issues poised to receive early action include energy, where Trump is likely to undo regulations on oil drilling and coal, and cybersecurity, where he has already said he will ask for a report on the strength of the nation’s cyber defenses within 90 days of taking office.

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Do third party candidates actually influence the polls?

Jill Stein, Jill Stein Campaign

(Credit: AP)

Green Party candidate Jill Stein does not see herself as a spoiler in the 2016 presidential race.

Her voters, Stein claims, would not have come to the polls had she not been in the race.

But what if Stein were wrong and she didn’t bring new voters to the polls? The number of votes Stein got in Michigan and Wisconsin exceeded the gap between Clinton and Trump in those states. If you assume that Stein voters were more liberal than conservative and therefore more likely to support Clinton than Trump, Stein could have been a spoiler in those two states.

Of course, winning Michigan and Wisconsin would not have given Clinton the presidency. But the question of whether third-party candidates expand the electorate has important implications in last year’s election – and in presidential elections in general.

We are scholars of politics and the presidency, but you don’t need to be an expert to know that a shift or addition of just a few thousand votes in one or two key states can determine the outcome of a presidential election. In other words, a handful of voters in the right place at the right time can truly change the course of American history.

And so, we decided to test the notion that third-party candidates increase turnout in presidential elections.

Third-party candidacies in history

To start, we collected voter turnout data going back to the election of 1868. That election was the first after the Civil War and represents the earliest days of the modern two-party system.

We looked at how voter turnout interacted with the voting performance of third-party candidacies. We took into consideration the expansion of the voting franchise through the 15th Amendment, which granted universal male suffrage; the 19th Amendment, which extended the vote to women; the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18; and the Voting Rights Act. We also compensated for historical and demographic trends.

We found that not only do third-party candidacies fail to increase turnout, they are actually associated with a statistically significant reduction in turnout. Put simply, fewer people vote in elections in which third-party candidates receive a substantial portion of the vote.

Potential causes for decreased turnout

Be careful. That’s not the same thing as saying third-party candidates reduce turnout.

Establishing causality here is a little bit tricky. To say that one thing is related to something else is not to say that one thing causes the other. You may have a cup of coffee every morning, but drinking coffee doesn’t cause the sun to rise.

We think it’s unlikely that third-party candidacies actually dampen turnout. Rather, we believe that their success represents dissatisfaction with the choices offered by the two major parties. Voters are then less likely to turn out, and those who do are more likely to choose a third-party candidate.

We would like to test that theory by examining voter attitudes at the individual level. This would involve isolating and comparing the voting behavior of third-party voters with the general voting population in large-scale national surveys such as the American National Election Study.

In the meantime, there are some much more plausible explanations for our results. It may be that third parties encourage the turnout of new voters – as Stein claims – but that what is happening at the same time is that the major party candidates dampen turnout even more. That scenario seems unlikely to us simply because it involves too many moving parts.

The more likely explanation, we believe, is that there is an existing pool of habitual voters and that third-party candidates draw their support from voters who would have gone to the polls anyhow.

This hypothesis is supported by research that suggests the decision to vote is not necessarily motivated in the same way as the choice between candidates. Most voters first make the decision to vote, and only then choose for whom to vote. Most voters go to the polls out of a sense of obligation and patriotism, not in support of an individual candidate. These voters who are motivated out of habit or by a sense of civic duty are what we call habitual voters.

The number of habitual voters may vary marginally according to the rules of the game. Making voter registration more difficult or elections less competitive tends to dampen turnout.

It is also the case that expanding the right to vote has had the perverse effect of appearing to lower voter turnout. As the pool of eligible voters increases, the turnout percentage decreases.

On the other hand, our results show that the Voting Rights Act had the effect of significantly increasing turnout because it expanded participation within an existing voter pool.

But the overriding fact is that when controlling for the expansion of the voting pool, turnout does not vary widely from one election to the next. That suggests that most voters go to the polls because they want to vote, not because they are motivated by any particular candidate. The one exception to this rule appears to be Ross Perot’s candidacy in 1992. But the one thing that distinguished his candidacy was the US$100 million of his own money he had to spend. By way of contrast, Jill Stein raised and spent about $3.5 million in the latest campaign cycle.

In the 2000 election, Ralph Nader’s candidacy affected the outcome in Florida. Nader campaigned actively in Florida and received about 97,000 votes. The winner in Florida between Bush and Gore was determined by less than a thousand. As a result, the Nader campaign swung the election in a direction that from his and his supporters’ perspective was less favorable than the election of Al Gore.

Most voters anticipate this problem and abandon third-party candidacies as the election approaches. However, those who insist on voting for third-party candidates are often actually voting against their own preference.

Of course, third-party candidacies can promote ideas out of the mainstream. However, our research suggests that voters need to think long and hard about voting for a third-party candidate – especially if they live in competitive states.

The Conversation

Daniel P. Franklin, Associate Professor, Political Science, Georgia State University; Abigail C. Bowen, Political Science Graduate Student, Georgia State University, and Judd Thornton, Professor of Political Science, Georgia State University

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WATCH: Mexican drug lord El Chapo’s extradition to the U.S. seen as political

Mexico Drug Lord Extradition

Soldiers walk at the airport after the extradition of drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department announced Guzman was handed over to U.S. authorities for transportation to the U.S. on Thursday, the last day of President Barack Obama’s administration and a day before Donald Trump is to be inaugurated. (AP Photo/Christian Torres) (Credit: AP)

Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman’s abrupt exit to face charges in the U.S. marks the end of an era in which he was Mexico’s most notorious drug cartel boss and, for some, the stuff of folk legend.

It’s also seen by many in Mexico as a delicately timed maneuver aimed at limiting political fallout for President Enrique Pena Nieto, already deeply unpopular in part for his perceived mishandling of Donald Trump’s tough rhetoric on Mexico.

Deputy Attorney General Alberto Elias Beltran, asked at a Thursday night news conference about the timing of Guzman’s extradition, said the federal government cannot interfere in court decisions.

“It was resolved today, and we under terms of the international treaty had to make the handover immediately,” he said.

But observers still considered the timing to have been carefully planned.

“It could be a coincidence, but I think that’s unlikely,” Mexican security analyst Alejandro Hope said, noting it came the last full day of Barack Obama’s presidency and hours before Trump’s inauguration.

“They could not send him after Trump was inaugurated because the interpretation would have been that of a tribute,” Hope said. “But maybe they wanted to do it close enough so that both administrations — the outgoing and the incoming — could really make some political hay out of this.”

Others saw it as a reward to Obama and a shot across the bow of Trump, who has called immigrants coming illegally from Mexico criminals and “rapists” and vowed to build a border wall and make Mexico pay for it.

“The Mexican government decided to move up the time frame because they didn’t want Trump to be in the presidency when they sent him over,” said Michael Vigil, the former head of international operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. “They wanted Obama to take credit. They wanted to send a message to Trump that they won’t be bullied.”

Guzman’s departure came the same day Mexican officials announced high-level talks Jan. 25-26 in Washington. The discussions will include Mexico’s newly installed top diplomat, Luis Videgaray, and key Trump administration officials such as chief of staff Reince Priebus, son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and senior adviser Stephen Bannon.

So, Hope said, the timing also sends a message that Mexico is serious about anti-drug cooperation regardless of who occupies the White House.

Sen. Miguel Barbosa of the leftist opposition Democratic Revolution Party seized on the extradition to take a swipe at Pena Nieto. He said it was apparently the only choice after Guzman twice pulled off embarrassing escapes from maximum-security lockups.

“We should not celebrate that the Mexican state was not capable of processing the greatest criminal that has ever existed in Mexico and was not capable of guaranteeing his incarceration,” Barbosa said in a statement.

Pena Nieto currently has the lowest approval ratings for any Mexican leader in the polling era. Besides his handling of Trump, Mexicans are also angry about corruption, rising drug gang violence and a Jan. 1 deregulation that led gasoline prices to spike by as much as 20 percent.

Guzman lawyer Andres Granados accused the government of trying to distract the public.

“They handled it politically to obscure the situation of the gas price hike,” Granados said. “It’s totally political.”

Some Mexicans feared Guzman’s extradition to the United States, where he will surely be kept from communicating with underlings, could unleash a cartel power struggle and more bloodshed.

“All the different bands are going to start fighting among themselves, no? Drug traffickers, to see who ends up being No. 1,” said Roberto Lascurain, an architect in Mexico City.

However, Vigil said the operations of Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel are unlikely to be affected.

Guzman associate Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada is believed to be running the cartel following “El Chapo’s” recapture last January. Some analysts believe Guzman’s sons may have also taken on increased roles.

“Most cartels have a vertical structure, but … Sinaloa has a horizontal one with cells that operate in a semi-autonomous manner,” Vigil said. “They have a strong bench. They have a respected leader in Ismael ‘El Mayo’ Zambada.”

On Twitter, some saw humor in Guzman’s extradition the day before Trump takes office.

“‘They’re sending the worst, they’re bringing drugs, they’re criminals,’” tweeted Jorge Guajardo, Mexico’s ambassador to China in 2007-2013, echoing Trump’s comments about illegal immigration. “Ok, you won. Here’s our very worst, El Chapo.”


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Wayne Coyne, mad scientist: “If the Flaming Lips make a wrong move, so what?”

David Lynch Foundation's DLF Live Presents The Music Of David Lynch - Red Carpet

(Credit: Getty/Kevin Winter)

The title of the Flaming Lips’ 14th album, “Oczy Mlody,” was somewhat of a happy accident. Frontman Wayne Coyne encountered the bizarre conglomeration of consonants in a Polish translation of an Erskine Caldwell novel that he had found in a used bookstore. Things like plot and character and setting were inconsequential because Coyne couldn’t read the language. Instead, he was fascinated by the alien clusters of letters, the exotic diacritics, the general indecipherability of the words. Skimming the pages at random, he would underline phrases that suggested some mysterious idea or sparked a set of lyrics. He explained the creative strategy in the following:

Later Coyne discovered that the phrase “Oczy Mlody” can be roughly translated into “Eyes of the Young,” which is serendipitous for an album about age and youth, energy and wisdom. Of all the words in the translation of Caldwell’s novel, what are the chances that he would have chosen the two that have such a profound resonance? Astronomical, it would seem.

But this is the way the band operates: It makes music with enough room for inspiring accidents, for revelatory mistakes, for some force in the universe to exert its will upon the band. Or, as Coyne put it: “You don’t know what to do and you want any little hint out of the darkness, something that says, let’s do it this way or let’s do it that way.” Sometimes those hints take the band through a creative obstacle or to the next point in the process; other times they reveal some unknown truth about the music the group is creating.

That may be the secret to the band’s unlikely longevity: The Flaming Lips are still experimenting, still tinkering, still trying to figure out what a Flaming Lips album can be. Nothing is ever settled, nothing ever concrete. When the musicians released their debut album, “Hear It Is,” in 1986, who could have predicted that this band of Okie misfits would not only survive 30 years but actually thrive?

Even when “She Don’t Use Jelly” became a hit in the early 1990s, the Lips seemed more like hapless one-hit wonders than lifers. Somehow they even managed to convince Warner Bros. to release 1997’s “Zaireeka,” an experimental album and mad scientist experiment that demanded that a listener play four CDs at once.

The departure of founding guitarist Ronald Jones in 1996 might have spelled the end of the band, but instead this turned out to be another happy accident, forcing the three remaining members — Coyne, bassist Michael Ivins and drummer and multi-instrumentalist Steve Drozd — to dramatically reimagine the group’s sound. That process resulted in the fantastical pop symphonies of 1999’s breakthrough “The Soft Bulletin” and 2001’s “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots,” endlessly imaginative albums that made the group one of the most popular indie rock bands of the new century (despite the fact that it hadn’t been on an indie label in more than a decade). It didn’t hurt that Flaming Lips’ live shows became legendary for resembling trippy cult gatherings that played well on the summer festival circuit, dousing listeners in sweat and glitter and imbuing a sense of community onto the crowd.

Following two of the band’s best and most inventive albums — 2009’s rambunctious “Embryonic” and 2013’s gorgeously bleak “The Terror” — the Flaming Lips’ latest might be the most cryptic and challenging. “Oczy Mlody” toggles between extreme whimsy and extreme gravity. There are songs about wizards and demon frogs mixed in with meditations on suicide and death. There are carefully crafted lyrics about a world full of purple-eyed unicorns and there are tossed-off lines about police brutality. It can be almost defiantly off-putting, yet there’s a sparkly melancholy suffusing all of those tinny synths, distressed guitars and unruly hip-hop beats, as though whimsy is the truest defense we have against the persistent tragedies of life.

This album seems to inhabit a very specific world. Is that something you develop at the outset or does that come to you later?

Usually in the beginning we’re working on leftover concepts that we had from our previous record or our previous concept, so it always feels like OK, here we are making another record. We have a feeling like we really know what we’re doing. We’re moving along. We’re figuring out what the next thing needs to be because it has to have its own flavor, its own trip.

Sometimes the album cover itself will tell us where to go. If we like an image, then it’s almost like the music has to look like that. That’s the way I work a lot of the time. With the “Soft Bulletin” cover, I had that image before we even started to make it, and there would be times when I wouldn’t know what to do with the music, and I would ask myself, does it look like it would go on this album?

You look for any stupid, panicked reason you can hold onto to push you further along this subliminal path. If you get five or six of those going at once, then these little accidents can happen that lead you down that path a little bit. I’d say for me that’s where part of the confidence and the satisfaction comes from because in my mind, of course this character would say this. Of course they would sing about unicorns. Of course this is what the song is going to be about. That helps you barrel through a lot of insecurities that would usually come along.

It almost sounds like making music becomes an act of faith that you can find your way to some place worthwhile and interesting.

You want to believe that, yeah. If you’re lucky and it does prove to be true, then maybe you acquire some help along the way, people who can help you decide when you’ve gone too far, when you should stop, when it’s working and when it isn’t. But initially you want to be immersed in it long enough that some little quirk or some little accident can happen and lead you through.

I hate analogies like this, but I think it’s true: It’s like when you do yoga everyday and there’s a sense that you’re trying to do something difficult, something you couldn’t previously do, some difficult headstand or something. You’re hoping you’re going to make this breakthrough, and you have to keep trying. The instructor tells you, just try. You can get there. But if you stop trying and stop trying new ways of getting there, you’ll never there. You just give up.

When you’re doing music, you want the excitement and the charge of knowing something you played was great. But you had to play something horrible first. The first thing was horrible and the thing you played after was horrible, but that other thing was great. You can feel it’s right because you don’t feel all the things you feel when something is wrong. Maybe none of that is really true, but when you’re in the middle of making something, those little ideas push you along.

So you have to be fearless in a way. You can’t be afraid to make those decisions and call something good or something else bad.

I think so, but it is just music, after all. All of it is just dumb music and art. It’s not like we’re trying to extract some bacteria from a dying infant’s brain in one long move. If the Flaming Lips make a wrong move, so what? We’ll move on and 10 seconds later we’ll be doing something else. If you can’t be fearless making music and art, then I would say get out of the way. This is easy compared to real jobs, hard jobs.

You mentioned imagining these songs as movies, and there definitely seems to be a visual element to what the Flaming Lips do. Are you taking a lot of inspiration from visual art?

Perhaps, but I would be the only one who would secretly know. I say this all the time when we’re doing artwork for album covers and videos and things like that. Somebody has to say, that little square there needs to be purple. It’s not a pink square. It’s not blue. It’s purple. And so it’s a purple square. It has no value, no merit, not truth, no falsehood; it’s simply that I want it to be purple. If it doesn’t matter, then I want it to be purple.

It’s the same way with the arrangements and the sounds. Everyone that I’m working with — they trust me, but they also don’t care as much as me. That’s not a bad thing. They say, You’re fucking obsessed with this thing. We love it, but no one is ever going to love it as much as you do. So I get to pick and choose all the insignificant little details. And unless they absolutely hate it, they’ll say, Sure, OK.

Someone has to say this song in these words instead of those words. Someone has to say it’s this texture, not that texture. That’s usually given up to someone like me who’s just so utterly obsessed and energetic and argumentative. I’m not complimenting myself. It’s all equally meaningless, but someone has to say, No it means something to me.

The Flaming Lips seem to inspire that same sort of obsessiveness in your fans.

I think all obsessive people want a little bit of permission to be like, Am I an asshole or am I OK? When you read or find out that other people are that way, you’re like, Yeah, see? I’m just doing my thing. You’re either driven to do that or you’re not. I don’t think you could just acquire it as a way to be.

I remember when I was in third grade, the teacher gave us these giant pieces of paper to draw on. We had a little bit of time in the afternoon to draw on it, and I remember asking if I could stay after school to keep drawing. It’s so big and I want to make this great giant picture. I didn’t have any pieces of paper that big at my house. So I stayed after school probably for a week or two finishing this drawing with crayons. It was a drawing of a building collapsing from the Chicago fire. Everybody else in class did theirs in three or four minutes: Fuck it, it’s good enough.

But I sat there and worked on it for weeks. I got a lot of reward out of it, too. There would be girls who would stay after school to watch me draw, and the teacher would talk about me in front of the class. I got a great boost to my young ego because I was into this thing. I would have done it anyway, but all those things help. It’s attracting other people and it seems like it’s working and you’re communicating your thing.

I’m always curious about the end of a big project, whether it’s a drawing or an album. How do you know when something is ever done?

Luckily we’re always working on a bunch of things at the same time, so it’s never fully one thing and nothing else. By working on other songs sometimes you can more clearly see what this one song might be missing. Painters do that. Anybody who is creative, they want to be working in a lot of different areas because you get a fresh perspective on things. You get stuck on this thing, so you go look at that thing.

I have paintings in my house that I’ve been working on for years that are still sitting there, and one day I’ll go make another mark and oh, I like it better now. You shouldn’t try to force it because you don’t want to have to convince yourself that something is good. With “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” certain elements seemed very forced. I don’t know . . . really? But a couple of things happened that made me see it differently. Of course it would be like that. Of course the Flaming Lips would make this record. Suddenly it seemed very believable.

But I don’t think it’s ever absolutely right, and sometimes the more people like it, the more it encourages other people to like it. Popularity has a force of its own. I remember hearing Coldplay’s first big megahit, that song “Yellow.” Their manager played it for us and said it was the single they were going with. I was like, It just seems boring to me. And then I heard it again after it was No. 1 on the charts in the U.K. and, Man, this is a fucking great song. Why didn’t Coldplay pick this song? And they did. So my dumb state of mind had absolutely changed and I was free to hear it and think it was a great song.

So you can’t always be trusted. You have to keep trying and looking and looking. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do but say, I like this and I’m going to put it out. Other things you get an easy vibe from and you can tell they’re having an effect on people. There’s no map of how to get there.

Does that every happen with your own songs? Do you revisit a song from 10 or 20 or 30 years ago and find that your opinion has changed?

You mean like listening to our first record that came out in 1984 or something like that? Almost everything of ours that’s that old — I hear it and I’ll forget it’s even us. Who is this crew? I’m going to download them. They sound cool. And someone will say, “It’s you guys. Don’t you fucking remember?” But I really don’t remember. It always strikes me as fresh and unexplainable. Why would they do that? Why would they put these songs together?

There are a few things we’re all collectively embarrassed about, but we’d rather be embarrassed about doing something like the 24-hour song than feel regret that we didn’t have the balls to do it. When we get on a roll, we can barrel through any creative roadblock that might get in our way. But that doesn’t mean they should always be barreled through. We know we can go too far.

I’m always curious how artists live with their songs. As a listener I go back to something from “The Soft Bulletin” or “Clouds Taste Metallic” and I hear it differently now. I pick up on things my younger self never understood.

That’s a great thing you said there. I don’t think people realize that their lives go on. I’ve done that not just with music, but books and movies and everything. I always say I’m going to read it with my new mind or watch it with my new mind. I want this movie to have an effect on the things that I know now. That’s absolutely vital. You may think you know what a song or an album is about, but you’re always growing and hopefully having new experiences that make you wiser.

I think Radiohead might be a good example. There was a time when they were clearly trying to move on in an artistic direction, which led to “OK Computer” and all that great stuff they did. So they didn’t want to play the “Creep” song. I remember going to see them when “OK Computer” came out, and they didn’t play it. Oh, come on. We’ve come all this way and we all know this song. What would it hurt? I think a couple of years later they probably started to feel the same way. It’s a song that we wrote, so what does it matter? Sometimes I think artists should relax and say, Yeah, it’s all cool. Or it’s stupid but let’s not worry about that.

But I think there are times when artists need to be saying, This is what we are doing right now and it negates everything we’ve ever done. Nothing matters except this one thing. They have the right to say that. When we made “The Soft Bulletin,” it was a mission statement: Now that we’ve made this, none of the other music we had previously made matters. But after about six months or so, I don’t think we really believed that anymore. It gets you through all the self-doubt and all the insecurity of doing something new. And, of course, what we used to be doesn’t have to have any bearing on what we are now. Those things help you become something different.

As far as living with songs and singing them every night, I wasn’t very young when that scenario was playing out for us. By the time “She Don’t Use Jelly” was being played on the radio and on MTV, I was already in my 30s. I loved playing the song because people liked it and responded to it. We always liked that. Half the audience would know every word and the other half would be enthused and empowered by the people standing next to them. But I wasn’t in my early 20s when we had to play “Jelly” every night all the time. Maybe I would have acted differently then, but I was older and thought, Hey this is cool. Most of the things we play, people hate them, but they like this song!

I remember we were touring with a group called Candlebox, which was not meant to be a band with much longevity but they were hitting at the time. It was grunge and all that. We played about 80 shows with them, which was insane, and the arenas kept getting bigger and bigger as the year went on. I remember playing to their audience every night. We’d come out and the place would only be about half full, which was still a thousand people.

They’d be indifferent to a lot of stuff we played. They didn’t seem to hate it or like it. They were more like, Whatever. But when we played “Jelly,” we’d notice a lift in their appreciation: Oh, that was nice. Do more like that. At that age I could appreciate that. It’s when you’re younger that you feel like you’re deeper and smarter and cooler than everybody thinks you are. I don’t give a shit about that — none of us really because none of us are that young anymore.

Tell me about “We a Family.” That’s one of the songs that stands out to me.

It’s an absolutely fucking catchy song. It was the very first track, so we had bits of that all along. Miley Cyrus was touring down in South American when we sent it to her. She was going to spend an afternoon in a studio down there, and we were already starting to supply her with tracks. We sent her this track that sounded pretty radically different from the way it does now, but we all thought it had something. Back then it was a lot slower, and we didn’t have the lift of the chorus in there. For the longest time, we couldn’t find a good solution for it. We’d always say it nearly works, but it’s good enough that it feels like it should have something else. Why can’t we make it work?

I remember when we went up to Dave Fridmann’s studio. Sometimes he can be a good new ear listening to something, and he’s like, I’ll tell you why it doesn’t work: It’s too fucking slow. He sped it up about 10 times faster than it had been previously, and he was absolutely right.

Then I stumbled across this little version of a different type of melody that could also be part of the song along with a great title, “We a Family,” this funny ghetto little thing that we felt like the song was saying. We would have never made that up on our own. It’s not heavy-handed, but it’s a very fun, sentimental little song. I don’t know what the Jesus and spaceship stuff means, but I think it means something epic and big and druggy and religious. It all swims around in your mind. We struggled with it, though.

It’s the same vocal take Miley did going on three years ago, and there’s something special about it. I think she would say so, too: I really nailed that first bit. And she did. A lot of the stuff she does is first take, which is amazing. She knows what she’s going to sing and she sings it. And as long as she didn’t technically fuck something up, she always hits it. She and I like the same types of tones and longing in voices. I sing quite high for a weird, old guy, and she sings slightly low for a really young, energetic gal. We do sometimes meet in the middle where it’s not mega high or mega low. Most of the singers I like are women. If I had to make a list, I think I like more women singers than men. Who can say why?

Who are some of your favorites?

I like someone like Björk or Gladys Knight. They make it sound so effortless. I know I love them, but I wouldn’t be able to say why I love them, at least without going to therapy and having it dissected for me. Oftentimes when you realize something like that is inexplicable, it makes you go, Why is that? To me the mysteries are the things you’ve tried to penetrate and there’s not much of an answer to it. For sure that would have happened when we were younger and there wasn’t so much access to every piece of music that’s ever been made. I think that can bog you down because you’re thinking, It reminds me of this or it reminds me of that. And there are other times when you hear something and it’s like you’re listening to another world.

I remember hearing that Beach House record “Bloom.” I didn’t know anything about them. I didn’t even know if it was new music or old music. It remained a little bit . . . I just let it be a mystery. The sound of it and what it was invoking in me at that moment was enough. It wasn’t too long that we actually played with them, and I knew I stood a chance of having this perfect thing messed up by meeting them and seeing them play. But that only made it better. I loved them even more after watching them play and hanging around with them and getting drunk with them. I loved them absolutely a thousand times more. I think they know that. I think they’re aware of the power that their music is having on people, probably because it has that effect on them as well.

And that’s why I wanted to ask about “We a Family” because it seems to express an idea about how the Flaming Lips make music. For a band that collaborates so much, you always seem to be reaching out and pulling musicians into this loose family, whether it’s Miley Cyrus or Beach House or whoever.

That’s because it’s so much easier nowadays to do collaborations. We can be making some music in the morning in my studio and email it off to some people sitting in their studio an hour later. They can mess it with it for a couple of hours and then send it back to us. All these things can just happen without people having to be in the same room at the same time. Being able to mess with something in your own time and space really frees artists and musicians up a lot. A lot of the stuff we’ve done with Cyrus, we would make the tracks, but she would think about it and fuck around with them on her own. She can engineers her own sessions, so she can do anything. We’re all pushing the song along. If you’re open to it, it gives you a new flavor, a new dynamic.

My life isn’t unique, but I do think it’s a lot like any artist who has been barreling along for as long as I have. You wouldn’t keep doing it if all you wanted was to just sit in a corner by yourself and not be fucked with. Some artists don’t like anybody else coming in and doing anything else. I was like that when I was younger, but as I’ve gotten older, less and less do I think like that. I like it when I’m doing it by myself and I like when I’m doing it with other people.

Sometimes we’ll be working on something very intensely and we don’t want someone to come in and tell us they don’t like it. Fuck you, we like it! Leave us alone. But most of the music you ever listen to is a collaboration. Even if you’re listening to a symphony by Mozart, even though he may be the chief creator of it, it does require the cooperation from a lot of musicians and conductors to play the music that he wrote down on paper.

Of course there are plenty of artists that you get the feeling are just barreling through and making music wholly for themselves. Like Kevin [Parker] from Tame Impala. He really is making and recording most of that music by himself. Steven [Drozd] and I are the same way. We don’t need a big group of people sitting there in front of us. We can easily make music by ourselves, but we also want there to be something else coming in and pushing us along and giving us these unexpected things. We love it when somebody fucks with us. Music can be a universal language, and when it’s unpredictable, when it’s got these little twists and turns, that makes it better. That makes it a bit more like real life.

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With his role as the baddie in “The Daughter,” Paul Schneider completes a hat trick of films: “In my teen years I was surrounded by older, crazy rednecks that I was desperate to impress”

Paul Schneider

Paul Schneider in “The Daughter” (Credit: Roadshow Films)

In “The Daughter,” Paul Schneider stirs up trouble as Christian, a man returning home for his father Henry’s (Geoffrey Rush) wedding to a much younger woman. The film — the feature directorial debut of Simon Stone, who adapted Ibsen’s “The Wild Duck” — is a juicy, engrossing chamber drama about bad behavior. And Christian is one of the chief instigators. He “can’t handle his liquor,” or it turns out, keep secrets, as when he reveals a long-buried truth that tears two families apart.

The magnetic Schneider is charming, insouciant and snaky as Christian, and the actor plays the role with noticeable aplomb. Playing a prodigal son who becomes an unwelcome guest, Schneider provides an adroit performance that shifts from friendly to fiendish — sometimes within the same scene.

Schneider has become in-demand character actor since he made the critically praised (and underseen) indies “George Washington” and “All The Real Girls,” with David Gordon Green. He garnering attention for his scene-stealing performances in “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford” and “Bright Star,” and last year appeared in Woody Allen’s “Café Society” and Warren Beatty’s “Rules Don’t Apply.”

The actor spoke with Salon about making “The Daughter,” his drinking habits, tattoos and telling the truth.

There is a line in “The Daughter” about how we all wish to be born somewhere else. You are from North Carolina and went and made this film in Australia. How did that happen?

What’s more interesting is how I got cast in “Bright Star.” I am from North Carolina, and I saw “The Piano” when I was 17. I wasn’t an artsy kid; I was into music. I remembered the two women who made it, Jan Chapman and Jane Campion; both had JC as their initials. It was one of those things that sticks in your memory.

The film resonated deeply with me. Michael Nyman’s score did, too. Because of his scores, I kind of don’t know how I did this, but I followed him. That film sent me to film school, which was not at all in the cards. Fourteen years later, when I got a call from Jane Campion, that was weirder, and then we made “Bright Star.” Now, Jan Chapman and I are friends, and that to me is extraordinary.

If you grew up in Buncombe County, [North Carolina] and listen to Led Zeppelin, the people who are making movies might as well be from Saturn. The reality is so far away from your experience. And then you realize there’s a place for you at the table if you fight hard enough. And I want to sit at the table of Jan Chapman and Jane Campion. How that preference came from western [North Carolina] who fucking knows?

In a six-month period, you have made the romantic comedies “Café Society” and “Rules Don’t Apply” by veteran filmmakers and this heavier, Ibsen-inspired drama by a first-time director. What observations do you have about the collaborative process of making movies?

It’s funny because, I think, as in everything, people want to try to create a pattern out of stimulus. There’s nothing drawn from one experience of making a movie to another. There are infinite variables; physical productions have no lessons that can be applied from one to another. The personalities are all new and it’s such an intense work environment. It’s like the first time every time, whether it’s [working with] Woody Allen or Warren Beatty, who isn’t as prolific as he used to be. But the demands of an actor are so specialized and unique and unpredictable every moment of every working day.

I just did this TV series, and people on the street were apologizing to me that they haven’t seen it yet — as if it was a child of mine. I showed up and did my best. And they say they like it or don’t like it, as if I alone made this thing. I have a specific role to play. The rest is a massive group of people. This idea of the “auteur” we learned in film school . . . Stan Brakhage is an auteur, but people who have a slanted vision or show things that people aren’t used to or haven’t seen before, that’s not them making the film by themselves. What is “The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover” without Michael Gambon? It’s not that films work in a vacuum; it’s that they work at all.

You are a character actor in a leading man’s body. Do you prefer working in ensemble films, doing TV series or starring in indie comedies like “Goodbye to All That” and “The Babymakers”? What do you see as your strength as an actor?

I am a great collaborator. It’s what I enjoy doing — scripts that give you a chance to really collaborate and flesh things out and try things. Not every film experience is a glorious creative experience. I made the choices I’ve made with what I know at the beginning of it and how collaborative it will be. I can’t predict trends, what’s big or small or a hit or not. You get information when you receive a project and I make my decisions on the script, the people and how collaborative an experience it will be.

Christian has anger towards and contempt for his father who is marrying a much younger woman. His friendship with Oliver [played by Ewan Leslie] gets tested, and his interactions with Oliver’s daughter Hedvig [who is portrayed by Odessa Young] border on inappropriate. How did you find the character’s mix of charm and insouciance?

As far as finding the character, what I’m looking for is a script with enough meat to chew. I was reading a [new] script last night, but I didn’t love it, and good ideas weren’t popping into my head. Sometimes great scripts don’t inspire you, but Simon’s script for “The Daughter” was really balanced in that everyone had their moment. There were a lot of characters, but no character was unnecessary and they each had plenty to do. That’s good stuff to play. The script has to be gasoline and I have to be a match, then we get the fire afterwards. Simon wrote a great fuse.

The idea I had about Christian was that in some way he would reject his father and run off to America to make it on his own. But when he came back, I had this idea of someone who had come out of drug rehab or was newly converted to a religion, or who was wrestling with things and projecting it onto others: We all have to tell the truth all the time and that is what will save you.

He was someone who is not taking in info but all about giving it out — a transmitter not a receiver. The info is only going one way. Something helped him [discover this]. So he’s convinced it will help everyone: The truth will wash us all clean. He doesn’t think through what it all means.

The characters in “The Daughter” are scared of the truth. Christian certainly is when it comes to his relationship with Grace, his girlfriend, [played by Ivy Mak]. What can you say about the issue of truth and trust which are at the heart of the film?

We all lie a little bit sometimes. We all tell the truth. I feel that this idea that the distance between what someone says they are and what they actually are could be a yardstick for sanity. The craziest people I’ve met heavily advertise one thing and behave very differently. Living with that kind of duplicity must be exhausting.

I’m married, so I don’t know much about it, but talking to my single friends about the Tinder world and dating multiple people at once and which cleverly worded message did you text to which guy or girl makes my head spin. Our ability to text things and flip-flop in our technology crept into the way we think.  

I don’t know when to lie or when to tell the truth. It’s not a black and white thing for the character or the rest of us. I do like a little compassion and honesty. I’m more a fan of a kindly worded truth about why I didn’t show up somewhere than some lie about my grandmother.  

Christian doesn’t “handle his liquor well,” he admits in the film and goes on a bender at one point. What can you say about your experiences with alcohol?

Yeah, I think early on in my life I hit things pretty hard. I’m not much of a drinker now, but in my teen years I was surrounded by older, crazy rednecks that I was desperate to impress — so that meant drinking more than everyone and doing crazy things. But before I went to college I stopped all that. I’m glad I did.

What about Christian’s comment about not wanting to grow up? Do you feel that you are still a big kid?

[Laughs]. That line was an ad lib I threw in and people attached meaning to it. It was something I used to say to my friends when I was young and we were drunk. I thought it was funny. I think people are funny when they are drunk and get poignant. I used to say that in this redneck valley we grew up, “Let’s never grow up!” when we were drunk in the back of a cemetery. Of course we should grow up — we need to get out of here.

Can you talk about Christian’s or your tattoos? What do they symbolize?

I have a bunch of tattoos, and I’m not big on them meaning much of anything. It was probably me being 16 and desperate to differentiate myself from the group I was in.

I just saw on Instagram that someone got a tattoo that read, “What do you got to give?” which was one of the lines I improvised in “All the Real Girls.” I responded to him, and he wrote back citing another line I said offhand in that same movie . . . authorship, symbols, words.

Christian talks with Oliver about when they were young and he chased a woman who got away. Was there ever a “one who got away”?

Of course, yeah, sure. But no one who keeps me up at night. My wife is very intelligent. I love her past and she loves my past. I’m not cyberstalking any old flames. I’ve got enough trouble! 

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