BULLSH**TER OF THE DAY: Rush Limbaugh, for setting us all straight on this whole fake news business

Rush Limbaugh

Rush Limbaugh (Credit: Jeff Malet, maletphoto.com)


“I really – fake news has been so blown out of proportion anyway. What it largely is, is satire and parody that liberals don’t understand because they don’t have a sense of humor, particularly if it’s about them. You can’t laugh at them, you can’t mock them, you can’t make fun of them like they can laugh at and mock and make fun of everybody else.”

–Rush Limbaugh, “The Rush Limbaugh Show,” Nov. 28, 2016

Who said it?

Fake news craftsman, cigar aficionado and post-truth advocate Rush Limbaugh

What was the context?

Reports that fake new are now more shared than real news (read: based on facts) have (at least) half the country worried. This is particularly significant after a reality tv star with no political experience whatsoever ran a campaign for president based largely on fake news, lies, and the fears that those inspire. And won. To these concerns about our living in a distorted reality, Limbaugh responds that it is just a harmless little joke.

Is there any merit to this claim?

Of course not. But that’s the problem. Limbaugh’s whole radio show and persona exist merely to fabricate conspiracy theories and fake news. It is not satire when someone falsely writes that Pope Francis endorsed Trump or that Hillary Clinton sold arms to ISIS. That is outright voter manipulation. Are we then supposed to believe that Donald Trump was joking when he took credit for saving Indiana jobs that were never in danger? Sorry, but calling a fraudulent, misleading article a “joke” doesn’t make it so.

Is this the first time he has come out with a load of bullshit?

For some reason, Limbaugh was the Leonardo DiCaprio of our Golden Turds. Everyone was expecting it, but days turned to weeks and still he hadn’t managed to bring one home for his trophy case. But worry no more. We are making up for lost time: he was awarded a Golden Turd just a few days ago, and if he continues with his “”””journalistic”””” mantra, he might even get a Lifetime Achievement Turd.

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Space cowboy: Donald Trump told to leave the planet and given directions

Space station in Earth orbit and Trump

(Credit: AP/Evan Vucci/Getty/Inok)

Donald Trump in space. It may sound like wishful thinking for many of those in a particularly dark mood about the result of the election, but  the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) and the Citizens for Space Exploration (CSE) are quite serious when they suggest that Trump put America on a road map to space. They’ve even drawn out directions for him.

As Space Flight Insider reported on Monday, the Coalition for Deep Space Exploration (CDSE) has released “A Space Exploration Roadmap for the Next Administration,” one that has been endorsed by both the AIA and the CSE. As CDSE Director Mary Lynne Dittmar explained to Space Flight Insider, “The endorsements of the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) and the Citizens for Space Exploration (CSE) represent the spectrum of the aerospace industry and interested members of the public and demonstrate broad support for NASA’s deep space human and science exploration programs.”

The paper provides seven general recommendations that the partners feel will help guide the United States to reclaim its position in aerospace endeavors, as quoted below:

  1. Develop and maintain close alignment between the new Administration and Congress on space policy, priorities, and funding levels, building on the bipartisan consensus reflected in the 2010 NASA Authorization Act and in the annual appropriations bills adopted over the last six fiscal years.
  2. Ensure robust and dependable U.S. access to deep space missions, including the near-term uncrewed test flight of the SLS rocket and the Orion spacecraft in 2018, and a 2021 test flight with a crew that will enable American astronauts to lead the way into deep space.
  3. Advance U.S. leadership and achievement in space science with the 2018 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope and the Insight mission to Mars, funding for upcoming Mars and Europa planetary missions, and ongoing investment in missions across NASA’s science portfolio.
  4. Ensure use of the International Space Station as a technology test bed and cornerstone of NASA’s comprehensive plan for future deep space exploration.
  5. Focus new transportation services on supporting NASA’s low-Earth orbit activities and missions without sacrificing safety and mission assurance.
  6. Strengthen NASA’s effectiveness by streamlining its institutional footprint, bureaucracy, and procurement practices to ensure effective deployment of existing resources.
  7. Ensure development of new technologies and space capabilities which directly support science, exploration, and national security needs.

The CDSE acknowledges that the roadmap was written up in direct response to Trump’s surprise election earlier this month. There have been strong indications that Trump could pursue an ambitious space agenda. As The New York Times reported on Monday, “two of President-elect Donald J. Trump’s advisors have been pushing for a reboot of the mission of NASA, focusing more on exploration of extraterrestrial space and less on studying the one planet we know is inhabited by 7.35 billion people.”

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A superhero for the 21st century: NYC’s first trans firefighter battles male-dominated culture of FDNY

Brooke Guinan

Brooke Guinan (Credit: J & J Photography)

As an 11-year-old growing up in Seiden, New York, she came out to her mother as gay after staying up every single night crying. A theater kid who felt most at home when she was on stage, playing a part, Brooke Guinan always knew that she didn’t fit into the role assigned her.

Upon graduating college, she enrolled in the Fire Department of the City of New York after going to work with her father, George, who is a firefighter like his father before him. During her childhood, Brooke worshipped superheroes, people she believed “set their own moral compass.” By becoming part of the family business, she wanted to be her own hero.

Shortly after joining the department, Brooke came out once more — this time as a transgender woman. Transitioning on the force made her the first out trans firefighter in the history of the FDNY, an agency that has been notoriously slow to change.

That journey is documented in “Woman on Fire,” a new film by Julie Sokolow that premiered last week at Doc NYC. The Pittsburgh-based filmmaker reached out to Brooke after a photo of her went viral on the internet in 2014, in which Guinan posed for an LGBT awareness campaign. Dressed in her gear, Brooke stands defiantly with her hands on her hips. Her T-shirt is proud and unapologetic. It reads, “So Trans So What.”

Sokolow, whose previous feature followed a man with Asperger’s syndrome as he navigates the dating world, said Brooke’s story was one she hadn’t seen before.

“What I like about all the documentaries I’ve done to date is that they’re about people I find heroic or fascinating,” she told Salon. “It was the story, first and foremost, of a trans person coming into the spotlight as a hero and not as a victim of some horrible tragedy, as often happens.”

Continued Sokolow, “This is the future of the trans narrative going forward — getting away from trans people only being in the headlines when there’s been a murder or someone’s been deprived of a basic human right. I’d like to know about the accomplishments of trans individuals.”

After coming out to their families, many trans people are ostracized or forced out of their homes. Forty-one percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT, according to the Williams Institute, an LGBT think tank at the University of California Los Angeles. Brooke, however, was accepted by her conservative father, a Republican 9/11 first responder who became one of her biggest advocates.

Being New York’s first out trans firefighter hasn’t always been easy, as Guinan told Salon. This reflects the struggles that the FDNY continues to face in embracing diversity within its ranks, especially when it comes to women on the force.

Fighting for inclusion in the FDNY

George Guinan remembers what happened “that night” differently than his daughter does. In a heartbreaking moment in “Woman on Fire,” he recalls an altercation between Brooke and her co-workers shortly after she began being more open about her identity at her firehouse.

“At social events, she found herself being mocked and made fun of,” Guinan claims in the documentary. “There was a social gathering, a boys’ night out. One of the people who was not accepting of Brooke took a pitcher of beer and poured it over her head.” He adds, “Why should anyone have to stand for something like that? You’re in a place where everybody’s having a good time. Why do you need to make fun of somebody to that degree in front of all your comrades and people you work with?”

Brooke, who is reluctant to speak about what took place, called it “her father’s story.”

For one, Brooke said, it was a fundraiser for throat cancer not a social gathering. She appeared at the benefit in tight jeans and a lavender shirt, carrying a tote bag emblazoned with the phrase “Love and Peace.” Brooke also began growing her hair out, much to the dismay of her colleagues, who she claimed simply “didn’t know how to handle it” and lashed out. 

“They felt a need to let me know how much of a freak they thought I was,” Brooke said. “For the first time ever, I felt unsafe. I had to leave.”

Sarinya Srisakul, the first Asian-American woman to serve in the FDNY, said that such altercations are common as women and LGBT people fight for inclusion in a department that remains overwhelmingly white and male. Just 58 women are active firefighters in New York City in a workforce of more than 10,000, the lowest such total in the nation. What’s particularly sobering about that figure is that while small, it’s actually a record for the department. When Srisakul graduated the academy in 2005, there were fewer than 3o other women in the department.

“I used to be the only woman in my firehouse,” Srisakul said. “Now there are a bunch of us.”

Female firefighters were formally admitted into the FDNY in 1982 following a lawsuit by Brenda Berkman. Her gender discrimination suit alleged that the physical requirements of the department test set up women to fail, and after she won her case, new policies were put in place. Forty women passed the test that year, but they faced numerous obstacles in the field. One woman, Ella McNair, was stabbed by a co-worker, as reported in the 2006 documentary “Taking the Heat.” Another was sexually assaulted outside the firehouse.

More recently, Srisakul said, a female firefighter had feces smeared on a toilet seat after a co-worker broke into the women’s facilities. The FDNY has investigated the incident but no action has been taken. Most houses in New York City, however, are not equipped with female bathrooms at all, representing a challenge for the women receiving a placement after graduating from the academy.

We’re still having fundamental issues making sure our hygiene is taken care of as women,” said Regina Wilson, who has served as a firefighter for 17 years. When she was hired in 1999, Wilson said, she became the first black woman hired in 15 years — following the wave of recruits after the initial gender discrimination suit in the 1980s. Throughout her time on the force, many rank-and-file members have remained hostile to basic gender accommodations, viewing them as “special privileges,” she claimed.

 “A lot of the guys on these jobs think that us having a female bathroom, we are getting something extra,” Wilson said. “We don’t deserve it.”

There are many other formal and informal barriers that keep the numbers of women in the FDNY low. For a long time, there was an organization called Merit Matters that actively discouraged the department from doing outreach to women and minority communities. The group used phrases like “dumbing down the job” and “lowering standards” to send the message that increasing the number of female firefighters would be an affront to the profession.

In addition to reports of hazing during the testing process, many women aren’t able to try out for the FDNY at all. New York sets its age cap for recruits at 28 years old, the strictest requirement for any department in the country. Although younger recruits are viewed as having greater stamina than their older counterparts, most departments in other cities set the limit at 35, if they have age restrictions at all. Legislation proposed this year by New York Councilman Andy King would set the cap at 36, which he believes would open the job to a greater pool of candidates.

“If you’re not in shape, you’re not going to get hired anyway,” he told the New York Daily News. “In this day and age, 36 is not old.”

Srisakul argued that many women raise families and send their children to college before entering the workforce. Thus they might not think about joining the FDNY until their 30s or 40s.

“It’s too late for you, and it sucks,” she said.

The slow road to progress

Brooke’s example, though, shows that the FDNY is changing — even though that process will take years, likely decades. Mayor Bill de Blasio passed legislation last year that requires increased reporting on the racial and gender makeup of FDNY recruits, in order to promote transparency in the hiring process.

Guinan claims that the department has been “incredibly supportive” of her transition.

After she was moved out of her firehouse, Brooke accepted a position working behind the scenes, helping to boost diversity in the FDNY through recruitment. Following a stint back in the field, she became the department’s first-ever LGBTQ outreach coordinator last year, a role the FDNY created specifically for her. In her new position, Guinan works to create opportunities for mentoring LGBTQ youth. She is also developing a training plan to help firefighters deal with the increasing diversity in their ranks, as well as arranging for the department’s first trans-inclusive bathrooms.

“There’s a lot of work to do,” Brooke said. “Unfortunately, the fire department doesn’t exist in 2016. The fire department is running a couple decades behind, and so we’re playing catch up.”

In the meantime, one of the biggest challenges in bringing the department into the 21st century is having women view themselves as capable of doing the job. Although boys might grow up seeing examples of firefighters that look like them, girls rarely do — especially when it comes to women of color. Frequent hit pieces from publications like the New York Post, which frequently targets female recruits who fail the physical exam, further discourages women from trying out for the force.

Wilson sees this all the time. The first female president of Vulcan Society, an African-American group pushing for greater racial inclusion in FDNY, she gave a talk last year where she asked audience members close their eyes and to visualize what a firefighter looks like. Did that person look like her? The majority said no. When she’s out in the field, dressed in her gear, Wilson said, people still ask if she’s really a firefighter. They can’t believe it.

“I’ve been fighting to belong for 17 years,” she said/ “And I’m still fighting to this day.”

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Why Donald Trump is going to have trouble dismantling the EPA

Environment Photo Project

(Credit: AP)

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

During the Republican primary debates, President-elect Trump threatened to gut the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), saying, “We are going to get rid of it in almost every form. We’re going to have little tidbits left but we’re going to take a tremendous amount out.”

History suggests that it may be harder to make radical cuts to the EPA than Trump and his advisers think. While many politicians have called for eliminating entire cabinet agencies, none has succeeded.

Such efforts run into two empirical realities. First, government departments are rarely eliminated. Second, in my research I have found that, paradoxically, over the past six decades Democrats have been more likely to enact big cuts to programs than Republicans. Furthermore, while climate change programs may be an easy target, other presidents have found that voters like clean air and water and do not support gutting the agency whose job it is to protect them.

Smog over Los Angeles, 2011. The city’s air quality has improved greatly over the past 50 years, but the Los Angeles-Long Beach area still records some of the highest pollution levels in the nation.
Pam Lane/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Easier to grow than to cut

When I was a graduate student researcher updating a budget database, I was puzzled when I searched the 623 pages of the fiscal year 1983 budget for the budget of the Department of Education and couldn’t find it. There simply wasn’t an entry for the Department of Education because President Reagan had proposed to abolish it. Yet the budget for the Education Department increased in seven out of Reagan’s eight years as president, and it is still here today (Trump has also called for eliminating it).

Proposals to eliminate agencies have become pro forma for Republican politicians, recently including Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich and Ted Cruz. But these proposals rarely come to fruition.

Most instances in which agencies were eliminated over the past 20 years were either reorganizations – for example, merging 22 agencies to create the Department of Homeland Security in 2002 – or involved small, obsolete agencies like the Board of Tea Examiners, which was closed in 1996. When Republicans proposed cutting government after winning control of Congress in the 1994 elections, one of the few agencies that was actually closed was the the Office of Technology Assessment, a small agency that provided technical and policy research to Congress itself.

Through this period, a surprising trend stands out. When Laurel Harbridge and I analyzed spending on more than 1,500 subaccounts in the federal budget from 1956 through 2003, we found that more large cuts to these accounts occurred when Democrats controlled two or three lawmaking institutions of government (House, Senate, and presidency) than when they controlled only one. (One limitation of our analysis was that we did not have data for periods when Republicans controlled all three branches.)

William Ruckelshaus is sworn in as administrator of the newly created Environmental Protection Agency, Dec. 4, 1970.
AP Photo/Charles Tasnadi

Why would Democrats, who traditionally support a more expansive role for government, make more large cuts in federal spending than Republicans?
In social psychologist Dan Kahan’s words, “individuals … fit their processing of information to conclusions that suit some end or goal.” So we expect Democrats to make lots of small increases to programs.

But after making all those changes, the party must make corrections to balance its prior decisions. And when parties ignore information that runs counter to their ideology, they end up having to make big corrections. So we’d expect Democrats to occasionally make large cuts to programs.

For example, in 1993, after increasing the budget in four out of the prior five years, the unified Democratic government cut spending to the Bureau of Land Management’s land acquisition subaccount. Although Democrats are generally supportive of acquiring land for conservation, President Clinton had pointed out that buying property was coming at the expense of maintaining existing federal lands. The budget for land acquisition was cut by more than 56 percent. It took until 2000 to reach the 1992 level of spending again.

Starting in January, when Republicans will control Congress and the presidency, this perspective suggests that they will make lots of cuts, consistent with their ideological stance in favor of more limited government. But we can also predict that they may make more big increases than Democrats when the evidence shows that they have cut too far and they have to make big corrections.

EPA’s history is illustrative. Its budget was volatile in the early years under Republicans Nixon and Ford, with both huge growth (including a 238 percent increase) and big cuts. Since the funding became more stable in 1981, the budget has essentially been flat. During the period of unified Republican government from 2003-2007, the budget slowly declined. EPA received a 35 percent increase under President Obama in 2010, but since then has experienced another slow decline.

Americans value core environmental benefits

To reduce the EPA to “tidbits,” President Trump will also have to contend with public opinion. Air and water quality have greatly improved in the United States over the past 50 years, thanks to enactment of landmark laws like the Clean Air and Clean Water acts. But Americans are still concerned about these issues.

Last March 81 percent of respondents in a Gallup poll said they worried a great deal or a fair amount about pollution of waterways. More than three-quarters of Americans have held this view in Gallup surveys dating back to 1989. The same survey found that more than 70 percent of Americans had similar views about air pollution.

Trump’s EPA transition team leader is Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Ebell is known for arguing that climate change is not a serious problem and that the U.S. should not take action to reduce carbon emissions. We can expect that under President Trump EPA will focus on rolling back Obama administration climate change policies, such as the Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon emissions from power plants.

But the EPA is unlikely to disappear. While cuts on a lesser scale certainly would reduce the agency’s ability to enforce existing law and would dismay environmental advocates, the agency has been through reductions on this scale before and continued to function. But if the Trump administration makes too many cuts, lawsuits and public pressure to keep environmental quality high are likely to limit the administration’s ability to decimate the agency.

We are more like to see a period of slow decline similar to what occurred during George W. Bush’s presidency. The motivated reasoning that encourages Republicans to cut spending showed in many small cuts across EPA’s budget. And these matter in the long run. By all accounts, the agency is being asked to do more with less and has been roundly criticized for failures like the one in Flint, Michigan. On the other hand, even Republican presidents recognize that people want a clean environment and are therefore limited in how much they can cut the EPA. If they do cut, they may even be forced by the public, the environmental movement, and lawsuits to reevaluate and make corrections.

The Conversation

Sarah Anderson, Associate Professor of Environmental Politics, University of California, Santa Barbara

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Stop calling them the alt-right: Conservative trolls deserve a name that fits (and it’s not Nazi)

Pepe the Frog Sign

A man holds a Pepe the Frog sign at a Donald Trump rally in Albuquerque, New Mexico, October 30, 2016. (Credit: Reuters/Carlo Allegri)

What does alt-right mean? Literally, it means an alternative version of right-wing politics; can’t get blander than that. The movement doesn’t deserve such a neutral description.

So should we call it a Nazi, fascist or extreme faction of the GOP? That may feel right and there’s nothing wrong with calling a spade a spade. Still I don’t think that nails it, and it’s not a strategically smart choice. Breitbart fans like it when we call it that. Name calling is useful but only when it lands and sticks, a bullseye at the target.

Breitbart, however fascist or Nazi, is not really about politics, morals, principles or beliefs. It’s about the fun of being naughty, the kind of puerile fun little bullies have. Our indignation at their naughtiness fills them with “we glee,” the glee of being part of their naughty little gang.

My guess is we should call them the brat-right and bratbart news.

Linguist and political analyst Geoffrey Nunberg nails a point that’s often overlooked by those I call the left’s “backfirebrands” — the leftist firebrands whose understandably passionate indignation backfires. This is from Nunberg’s Fresh Air commentary in 2006 about Ann Coulter’s comment that 9/11 widows were enjoying their husband’s deaths.

Coulter’s celebrity is a good measure of what has become of political discussion. You’d scarcely describe her as a political thinker, no more than you’d describe Simon Cowell as a critic of the arts. But like Cowell, she has an unerring gift for media theatrics. It isn’t just her penchant for making snarky or outrageous remarks. Plenty of people do that without being invited onto the Today Show, and in fact Coulter doesn’t get a lot of national attention for her run-of-the-mill ruminations about giving rat poison to Justice Stevens or fragging John Murtha. But the remark about the 9/11 widows was irresistible for its brazen tastelessness and the obvious pleasure Coulter took in the consternation she created.

Is Coulter sincere about the things she says? That’s a silly question, like asking whether schoolchildren are sincere in the taunts they throw at each other across the school yard. But that doesn’t make her a satirist, as her defenders like to claim, usually with the implication that her literal-minded liberal critics don’t get the joke.

It’s a formula: Say outrageously heartless things with the gleeful attitude that you’re “telling it like it is.” Don’t worry if you don’t mean what you say or haven’t even thought about whether you do. The point is to entertain enough to gain audience.

Audience will come for the entertainment but stay for the smugness. They won’t know that’s why they stayed. They’ll say “I thought it was entertaining but the more I listened to it, the more I realized that it what they were speaking truth.” They think they were drawn in by the content, but they may not have thought about the content any more than Coulter thinks about it. The audience really stays because they learned a new formula for feeling invincible. That’s what Coulter, Limbaugh, Trump and Bratbart really sell.

It’s a simple formula. Any idiot can use it:

  1. Dismiss and ignore any truth, facts, evidence and reality that challenge your confidence.
  2. Turn any challenge back on the challenger using a handful of rhetorical tricks for saying “I know you are but what am I?”
  3. Treat your confidence as evidence that you have graduated from debater to supreme judge presiding over all debates you enter.

The know-it-all formula is a drug. You come for the high; you stay for the addiction. The drug is deliverable wrapped in beliefs of any stripe. You can buy the drug from self-help, spiritual or religious gurus, from pundits on the right and on the left. The beliefs on the right happen to be a perfect wrapper for the drug since the right prides itself on faith in moral absolutism. But there are plenty of people on the right who aren’t addicted to the drug.

Many of us were addicted to the know-it-all formula in our teens or earlier as elementary school bullies back when we had little impulse control and little conscience, guilt or critical thinking skills that would make us nauseous when we used the drug. When conscience, guilt and critical thinking eventually kicked in, many of us kicked the habit. We sobered up out of childish self-certainty.

Some never kicked it. Some kicked it but returned to it as adults when life got too uncertain. Trump may have won because white middle-class Midwesterners feel trapped, frustrated and alienated. That’s true, but an incomplete account without noticing their solution. They bought the drug. For them, expedient self-certainty trumped thought.

Trump is the most successful drug-pusher of our age. Bannon is his enabler. He’s been made head of strategy as his reward for goading Trump to push the drug harder instead of softening toward electable sobriety. Bannon said in effect, When you’re in a hole, keep digging, and helped with the shoveling.

Our best strategy is to focus on their addiction to the bratty know-it-all formula. Bratbart supporters think they’re rebels with a cause but their cause isn’t the cause of their rebellion. The cause is the self-satisfaction of giving offense and dismissing the offense taken by others as a result, feeling like they’re standing up for what’s true, even though they’ve given what’s true as little thought as possible.

The know-it-all formula is the shortest, cheapest path to feeling like the expert, much shorter than actually gaining any expertise. It winds people up like a watch’s self-winding movement. No matter how the addict is shaken, their confidence gets wound up tighter and tighter. If people agree with them, it confirms them. If people disagree with them, it confirms them. They’re like drug addicts who take interventions as evidence that they should double down on their addiction. That’s why it’s useless or counterproductive to call them fascists. It’s not just that they have no shame, they take pride in having no shame. It’s all part of the know-it-all game.

Recognizing and understanding the know-it-all formula puts the right’s attacks on “Political correctness” in context. What is it really? I’d define “political correctness as taking offense not because you’re really offended but because it’s fun to act offended. And “political incorrectness” is the reverse—giving offense not because the situation demands it, but because it’s naughty fun, an indulgence.

Among the rhetorical tricks for saying “I know you are but what am I,” one of the easiest is ambiguous name-calling you apply to others and not yourself. Political correctness is just that, an accusation that the right levels exclusively at the left. How is #boycottHamilton not an example of political correctness, taking easy, proud, indulgent offense? The left has had its share of indulgent punks over the decades, folks who gave offense for the glee of it like little brats. These days, the right is out-punking the leftist punks. Bratbart is just that. Punks without a cause pretending they have the cause that trumps reason once and for all.

Yes, what they’re doing is dangerous. Brats can gain enough power that you can no longer afford to call them brats. But we’re not there yet and to keep from getting there we’re best calling them names that are more likely to land and stick, getting them where they live, in their little fantasy of superiority, infallibility and invincibility.

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Remembering Bowie: New Chuck Prophet video chronicles what we’ve lost


(Credit: Charlie Homo)

Even before the results of the recent presidential election became official, this was shaping up as the worst year in memory, at least for rock music fans. We’ve still got a month and change left, and we’ve already lost David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen and Sharon Jone. This leaves out the artists in other fields who’ve passed on as well.

San Francisco musician Chuck Prophet apparently feels the same way and has released one of the first new songs to delve into what a shitshow 2016 has been. A former member of Green on Red — the Tuscon, Arizona-based band that had a foot simultaneously in the Paisley Underground and ’80s cowpunk — Prophet has been releasing solo albums since 1990. His new song, “A Bad Year for Rock and Roll,” deserves to become 2016’s grim anthems.

The song begins with a tribute to Bowie: “The Thin White Duke took a final bow/ There’s one more star in the heavens now.” The related video — which is is premiering today — begins with Bowie as well, with appearances by Prince, Beatles producer George Martin, a middle-aged Leonard Cohen who looks eerily young and other late and lamented figures including boxer Muhammad Ali, country singer Merle Haggard, comic Garry Shandling and actor Gene Wilder.

The song itself, grounded in a nicely chiming, almost Byrdsy guitar riff, is a lament for the fallen. I must admit I don’t entirely get the 2016 song reference in the line “Now I’m sitting here in my Mohair suit/ Watching Peter Sellers, thinking of you.”But Sellers was such a genius and a hero to my fellow Californians — despite being English — that I won’t complain. (Are the two or three scenes from “The Graduate” homages to Mike Nichols, who died in 2014?)

I’ve only lightly spun through the Prophet’s upcoming album “Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins” (on which this single appears) but it’s got the kind of West Coast sunshine and noir that I dig very deeply and that bands like Love and the mature Beach Boys traded on. Death and California seem to be the big themes here. (Fuller is best known for his covers of “I Fought the Law” and “Summertime Blues” as well as his mysterious death inside his car in 1966 Los Angeles. Was it a suicide or a well covered-up murder? It’s not clear. He was just 23.)

The album closes with song called “Alex Nieto”: The name, of course, belonged to a San Francisco security guard killed by four policemen while he was eating dinner before his shift in March 2014, in a kind of brutal precursor to the kind of violence against men of color that has become increasingly common. Nieto was an immigrant from the historic Mexican region of Guanajuato, had graduated from City College of San Francisco and was a Buddhist. The officers, who fired 50 bullets at him, were cleared of all charges in March.

Here’s hoping that Prophet defies his surname and that his dark album arrives in a brighter 2017. Until then, watch the video for his new song and weep for what we’ve survived in 2016.

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The teen cult classic you’ve been waiting for: Catch “The Edge of Seventeen” in theaters while you still can


(Credit: STX Entertainment)

Nothing happens quite the way you might expect it to in “The Edge of Seventeen,” the wisest and smartest teen comedy in years. That’s a pretty good metaphor for the unbearable lightness of being a teenager, those uncertain years when everything you want feels unreachable and everything you are feels unbearable.

As Nadine points out, one of the worst parts about life is knowing that you’re stuck with yourself for the next 60 or so years and not being able to do anything about it. How lame.

Even as a young girl, Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) always felt she lived in the shadow of her older brother. Darian (Blake Jenner) is the definition of a golden child, a varsity jock and straight-A student who still puts his report cards on his refrigerator. Nadine has been the type of girl who would lock the car door to keep herself from having to go to school, where she had few friends.

Her mother had to drag her out kicking and screaming and she still does this. Nadine wouldn’t let a thing like maturity — or whatever passes for maturity when you’re 16 — stop her from continuing the ritual. She’s the kind of girl who looks at “Daria” like it’s a Bible.

As a blossoming malcontent, Nadine spends her days terrorizing her de facto favorite professor Mr. Bruner (Woody Harrelson). She likes him because, at least on the surface, he isn’t very nice to her, and this more or less validates her view of herself. “I’m probably gonna jump off an overpass in front of a semi or a U-Haul — just not a bus,” Nadine warns him. “I’m not gonna be a dick and make people watch.”

Good luck with that,” Bruner responds.

What’s so refreshing about “The Edge of Seventeen” is how expertly it upends all the tired tropes of teen comedies, ranging from “Love Finds Andy Hardy” to “The Breakfast Club.” Unlike the plot in “Easy A,” which expects viewers to believe that Emma Stone can’t get a date, Nadine isn’t cosmetically an outcast. She jokes about killing herself, but her problems are real.

After her father died, Nadine was left to be raised by her mother, Mona (Kyra Sedgwick), an online-dating addict whose way of bonding with Nadine is to moan about how she doesn’t understand her. Nadine’s best friend (Haley Lu Richardson) begins dating her brother and hanging out with his popular friends, seemingly confirming how alone Nadine truly is.

The film slyly comments on its own subversion and refusal to conform to stereotypes, in favor of becoming something more honest and true to life. “The Edge of Seventeen” is filled with moments that are at once acutely observed and unlike anything you’ve seen before from the genre. For instance, her love interest is her dorky Asian best friend, a role traditionally relegated to the wacky sidekick, like Long Duk Dong in “Sixteen Candles.” On their first date, Nadine thinks she has him pegged. “Your mom gets on you about your grades and practicing your instruments,” she says, guessing what his family is like. Nadine quickly realizes her assumptions are totally racist.

Erwin (Hayden Szeto) is actually a parachute kid whose wealthy parents live in South Korea and left him to fend for himself. His house, as large as it is empty, is so ornate it looks like it belongs to Norma Desmond. It even has a waterfall in the backyard. Erwin should be living the teen dream, a life of infinite riches and no supervision, but he isn’t. If Nadine could see past her own issues, she would understand that she isn’t the only person who is lonely.

As a protagonist, Nadine is selfish, infuriating, self-deprecating, observant and altogether wonderful. In most teen comedies, young people talk like jaded graduate students and act like adult screenwriters living out their high school fantasies. There’s a too-grown-up wisdom that comes with looking back and knowing how you would do it all differently if you could.

But first-timer Kelly Fremon Craig, directing from her own script, astutely allows her teenagers to sound like teenagers. Nadine struggles to talk to the guy for whom she pines (Alexander Calvert), who is quiet enough to seem mysterious and has indie band hair. Nadine pours her pent-up emotions into a Facebook message: “We can do it in the Pet Land stockroom.”

Nadine’s reveries of illicit romance are ruined when her crush turns out to be less than her ideal, but no one in “The Edge of Seventeen” is a villain. Darian, who is looking at colleges close to home because he knows his mother will fall apart without him, is responsible and wants what’s best for his family. Craig has such empathy for her characters that you can see parts of yourself reflected in all these people. It’s reminiscent of James L. Brooks, the man behind “Broadcast News” and “Terms of Endearment,” who writes flawed characters with love and understanding. He serves as a producer on the film.

Best of all, Hailee Steinfeld makes the most of what should be a star-making role for her. Steinfeld has always been good. At age 12, she was nominated for her first Oscar as the plucky Mattie Ross in the Coen Brothers’ remake of “True Grit” and became one of the youngest people ever shortlisted for an Academy Award. Steinfeld, an accomplished singer, proved her considerable musical talents in “Begin Again” and “Pitch Perfect 2.” But the promising young star, now 19, has never been better than she is here, and it’s as if the fullness of her talents have finally come into focus. Sometimes you just have to see an actor in the right part to know what he or she is truly capable of.

That’s why it’s such a shame that the movie that should be Steinfeld’s breakout is behind falling behind in the box office. Its studio, STX, unwisely decided to open the film against “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” which plays to the exact same demographics. A spin-off of “Harry Potter,” one of the most beloved film franchises in history, it made $74 million its first weekend in theaters. “The Edge of Seventeen” earned just $4 million.

In a movie landscape where everything is a copy of something else, “The Edge of Seventeen” is unique and unforgettable, a movie that captures alienation and the fear that comes with it. Like “Ghost World” and “Heathers,” other movies aimed at smart girls and their older sisters, Craig’s film will find its cult following as its audience catches up with it. If “The Edge of Seventeen” doesn’t become a huge hit when it starts streaming on Netflix, then clearly I don’t know anything about teenagers. This sure-to-be classic will get its due sooner or later, but let’s hope it’s the former.

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Resurrection is possible: We will move forward with hope, but Donald Trump should apologize

Donald Trump

FILE – In this Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Mich. (Credit: AP)

This piece originally appeared on BillMoyers.com.

There’s a saying for public figures: Don’t believe your own press. In this presidential election, it should have been: Don’t believe ANY press, polls or policy leaders. They all got it wrong.

Protesters and others shocked by the results, from coast to coast, continue to march and cast blame. They say, “Do away with the Electoral College. Hillary Clinton got more popular votes than Donald Trump; she should have won.” Going forward, America can deal with challenging the wisdom of the Electoral College, but for election 2016, the damage is done.

Making the decision to run for any public office is a risk, a sacrifice. You dare to enter the arena to win, you stand on your truth, but there are no guarantees. As a 2016 candidate for New York’s 13th Congressional District, I did not receive the most votes. Yes, it saddened me, my family and my followers, who had all given a year and half of our precious time, energy, funds and support. It was disheartening. But at the end of the day, campaigns are not lost or won on emotions. They are won by how well you play “the game,” who out-campaigns whom and what you’re willing to do to win.

Trump campaigned hard and appealed to the fear, hate and ignorance of those he calls the “forgotten” America. He spewed out misogynistic, racist, bigoted, name-calling rhetoric to large rallies, on television and on Twitter. He had found his crowd: people who were waiting for someone like him to come along. Given all this, is being “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” truly possible, and how do we move forward?

First, people of faith must respond in a manner that is not divisive, but unifying. At the weekly lunchtime worship service I host at the John Street Church, people came in on Nov. 9 feeling the pain of defeat, shedding tears and expressing feelings of hopelessness. It reminded me of how people felt after 9/11, and was a great contrast to the dancing in the aisles that happened eight years ago after Barack Obama was elected. As a faith leader, I brought the message of hope, tolerance and respect. Believers of any faith must hold on to the hope that is modeled by our historical and contemporary faith leaders — resurrection is possible. We can pray for Trump and all those who surround him, pledging to do our share as Americans.

Second, Donald Trump should speak with a conciliatory tone and apologize, and with two very small words — “I’m sorry” — can begin healing America rather than further stoking the flames of hate. I would love to hear him say something in this vein to begin that process of healing: “Campaigns get heated, even sometimes hate-filled, but now, I’ve met with President Obama, and America will continue to be great — with courage, unity and dignity, with a stronger economy and our working TOGETHER. Yes, there are areas we don’t and won’t all agree on, but I pledge to stay true to partnerships and excellence, speaking across the aisles, and with you and as many as we continue to be a great UNITED States of America. YOU will not be forgotten.”

Third, America must deal with one of the reasons Hillary did not win: sexism. Eight years ago, a fellow traveller told me that in Ohio, when Clinton’s image came on the screen, some men yelled, “I’ll be damned if any woman will rule over or lead me.” I heard variations of the same message several times throughout the 2008 presidential campaign, and even worse chants, too crude to repeat, throughout this one.

I wrote in my Huffington Post column that America now needs to deal with three Rs — “Race, Religion and Respect for Women.” All three of these were disrespected (Mexicans, Blacks, Muslims) in this election, but the one least-often addressed was respect for women. As Bryce Covert put it in her Daily News editorial on sexism in America: “While men are told they have drive, women are told their ambition is off-putting … high-achieving women experience a backlash because the very fact that they got ahead violates the gender rules that women are supposed to follow: that they be cooperative, nurturing, nice.”

Elections don’t lend themselves to “nice” — they are a blood sport. The hours are long; the journey is cruel, grueling and some days just outright cold. And yet Clinton endured, not just once but twice. I like to say she did not get the most Electoral College votes, but for women everywhere, she is a winner.

Going forward, there is a new political order. The upset victory has changed the landscape for Democrats and Republicans. But we must not stop working to do what is right. We must turn bitterness into bravery. Brave men and women must continue to step up and be candidates. Character and integrity must become the hallmarks of our leadership once again. Prayer and faith must be the glue that undergirds us, and conversations, connections and partnerships must happen.

At my alma mater, Union Theological Seminary, Bill Moyers and I participated as panelists in a post-election analysis. The chapel was filled to capacity with folks from every walk of life: some media, some mourning, others mending, and others seeing this, as Maya Angelou called it, “the pulse of the morning.”

Old chapters being closed, new ones opened. We can remain startled, or use this as a new start. On Monday evening in Washington, D.C., I hosted a ProVoice/ProVoz conversation and gathering of black and brown women who provided leadership in both campaigns, and who, for the first time, will meet one another. We talked and walked together — perhaps not with one voice, but with one agenda: to help the American people. As Hillary Clinton quoted from the New Testament, “We must not get weary while doing well.”

And on Jan. 20, 2017, Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. “So, help me, God!”

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We can’t all be the Bluths: Are we too quick to call our families “dysfunctional”?


(Credit: Fox)

When I was growing up, my mom said we were cursed. Whether we were celebrating a birthday or a Friday, the last day of the school year or our first night on vacation, when we went out for dinner, storm clouds followed our family. One or many of us — me or my parents or my siblings — got sarcastic, snippy, sad, sensitive. There were tears, shouting matches, epic demonstrations of silent protests, storm-outs, thrown-down napkins, dozens of plates of food, untouched and relegated to doggy bags.

In the aftermath of what she called a “blow-up,” my mom would take a sagacious view of our little nuclear bunch.

“Maybe it’s just us,” she would say. She seemed to find scant consolation in the diagnosis, but she offered it anyway. “Our dysfunctional family.”

I wonder if she knows. I remember giant meatballs from a restaurant in Wisconsin and au gratin potatoes from a supper club in the state, too. I remember a slice of spumoni pie at a white-tablecloth place in Michigan and a bowl of chowder outside Gettysburg and the first time I saw someone fling food on a flat grill, at a Disney World hibachi, where I also remember, as clear as five minutes ago, my baby sister gnawing a turkey drumstick on a hill outside Epcot. And then there were the regular spots: I remember fried ice cream rolled in cornflakes, Blizzards on the way back from dinner, the fried zucchini — I don’t even like fried zucchini — from a place a mile or two from home, the spoonable cornbread from a Mexican chain in the mall, the green Jell-O from a Bohemian place: it always came with Cool Whip.

I wonder if my mom knows: I don’t remember the subject of a single demonstration of our family’s dysfunction. And that makes me wonder if the word isn’t a failure of imagination and a missed opportunity for greater empathy.


In half a second, Google pulls up 450,000 results for the search term “dysfunctional family.” The Counseling Center at Texas Women’s University presents a PDF handout on the topic, “Dysfunctional Families: Recognizing and Overcoming Their Effects,” which identifies parents — “Deficient Parents,” “Controlling Parents,” “Alcoholic Parents” and “Abusive Parents” — as the prime culprits of unhealthy function. Bustle recasts the problem with everyone’s favorite corporate black label (3 Problems People From Toxic Families Often Struggle With” — and the verdict is “Anxiety,” “Trouble Interacting with Others,” and “Difficulty Trusting Reality”). There’s a Thought Catalog offering (“15 Signs You Come From a Dysfunctional Family”), a barrage from BuzzFeed (“32 Ways You Know You Grew Up In a Dysfunctional Family,” which equates the condition with bad haircuts and awkward holiday photos, garnering a reaction of 213 LOLs, 145 emoji hearts, 25 Fails — the same number of Cutes it received, along with 1 YAS), and a veritable treasure trove at the Mudrashram Institute of Spiritual Values, where George Boyd’s 1992 handout, “When You Grow Up In a Dysfunctional Family,” allows readers to assess — so long as they’re down for some heavy journaling and chart-drawing — whether they have a “Whole Self” or a “Damaged Self.”

Like my mom, our culture seems divided about this term. Is it a condition, with signs and symptoms, a serious and affecting phenomenon, or something to revel in? After all, doesn’t acknowledging dysfunction give us a sort of free pass in life? We don’t have to pass the bread nicely at the dinner table — that’s for those other families.

The barometer of the Internet shows there’s an appetite for depictions of screwed-up kin. At Thrillist, Rose Maura Lorre brings together the Bunkers and the Bluths on their list, “The 20 Most Dysfunctional Families in TV History,” which even digs up the backstory dirt on Lorelai Gilmore, whose “passive-aggressive rapport” with her buttoned-up mom and “stoic father … as prickly and vexatious as a scratched PJ Harvey record” give her a spot with The Bundys and The Sopranos. And then there are the reality offerings — okay, what reality show doesn’t celebrate family strife? — and even shows like CMT’s series “My Dysfunctional Family,” which is like “What Not to Wear” for interpersonal existence, wherein “family fixer Dave Vitalli brings troubled teens and their sometimes wayward parents back from the brink of disrepair.”

And, truly, what art or literature hasn’t found a little — or a lot — compelling about dysfunctional clans. “All happy families are alike,” Leo Tolstoy wrote in “Anna Karenina,” “each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”


I’m not looking to discount the realities of life with a mentally ill parent, the horrors of abuse, or the many other struggles people encounter in and around those they’re closest to. Nor am I suggesting a gauging or ranking of psychological, emotional, or physical woundedness — anyone who has ever had to “Rate My Pain” at the doctor’s office knows that, on the wrong day, in the wrong weather, after the wrong night of sleep, sniffles can be a 10. Pain and our experience of injury is subjective, which is why, I imagine, so many people relate to dysfunctional families. All groups of people sharing a bathroom and a cooking space and a television experience conflict, right?

And context is everything. I have a friend whose father is a functioning alcoholic, the sort of man who comes home from work and, without missing a beat, goes through half a case of Budweiser. My friend doesn’t like this, but neither he nor his mother nor his siblings do more than acknowledge this as a sub-prime situation. “That’s Dad,” they seem to hint. Is my friend’s family in denial of the dissent among their cheery ranks? (They’re so happy! They rarely go out to eat, and when they do the tension at the table isn’t a fog.) Or are they just blessed with empathy, a quality that all signs and sources seem to acknowledge as lacking in dysfunctional families?

What I do wonder, though, is whether self-diagnosis isn’t … well, the path to a self-fulfilling prophecy. “Fake it until you become it,” Dr. Amy Cuddy touts in her gone-viral TED Talk. That’s the line I always remember from that lecture, but Cuddy arrives at that wisdom by talking about body language, how the smallest readjustments of posture can radically alter the presence we emit in our lives.

Maybe, I want to believe, for many of us, dysfunction is a choice.


I’ll admit to being biased. Though the materials from Texas Women’s University cast blame on parents, I know firsthand that being a kid with mental illness doesn’t make the family ship sail smoother. Maybe I don’t remember so many of those mealtime fights because I was the instigator, a teenager who didn’t want to get along with her parents, who didn’t want to eat another this or that, who resented being cast as dysfunctional for suffering from depression or bulimia; or maybe, in the big scheme of things, those fights didn’t matter.

It’s easy to make a narrative out of our problems or discomfort — it’s an endless rope ladder of blame, and one can climb it all the way down the family tree, until she’s neck-deep in genealogy. My great grandmother had depression and migraines, I recently discovered from an uncle. But you’d never know because that’s not how she acted.

To Google “dysfunctional family” is to confront a series of questions “People Also Ask.” “What constitutes a healthy family?” tops that list. With the holiday season upon us, I hope that more of us can strive to see the ways in which our families are functional, blessed and whole, alike in their differences, and not always anyone’s first choice of dinner companions.

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Art is not an escape — it’s our most powerful weapon against apathy

The 50th Annual CMA Awards - Show

(Credit: Getty/Rick Diamond)

The opening passage in Zadie Smith’s brilliant new novel, “Swing Time,” deals with two mysteries. First, the protagonist is wrestling with despair and distress from some public defeat and humiliation, unknown to the reader. Acting as an invitation, the assumption is that should the reader continue reading, eventually the details of whatever scandal has harmed her reputation will emerge. The second mystery is one of beauty, and forever insolvable. It is mystery of the power of art.

As Smith’s protagonist wanders the cold streets of London, distraught over her suddenly troublesome future, she seeks emotional asylum in a theater hosting a conversation with an Australian filmmaker. She is pleasantly surprised to find that the director and his interlocutor are in the middle of an exchange about one of her favorite childhood movies, “Swing Time” starring Fred Astaire. They select a scene of Astaire dancing with three silhouettes to exemplify their theories on the film. Suddenly, she is transported out of the terrestrial world of her problems, and elevated to a higher, more peaceful intellectual and emotional plane:

“I felt a wonderful lightness in my body, a ridiculous happiness, it seemed to come from nowhere. I’d lost my job, a certain version of my life, my privacy, yet all these things felt small and petty next to this joyful sense I had watching the dance, and following its precise rhythms in my own body. I felt I was losing track of my physical location, rising above my body, viewing my life from a very distant point, hovering over it.”

For many Americans, including me, one of the most immediate and intense feelings in the aftermath of Donald Trump’s electoral victory was loneliness. I felt lonely, even though I still had my wonderful wife, my loving family and generous friends, because I felt detached and isolated from half of my country. I felt detached and alienated from my country itself. The America that excites and inspires me is the multi-ethnic, multicultural America in continual expansion of liberty and opportunity to people previously excluded. Suddenly, that America felt distant, and certain assumptions about how Americans respect pluralism, and require probity from people in power, were no longer safe to make.

There is the risk of overstating the problems. When some people, including Robert DeNiro, compared Trump’s victory to the 9/11 attacks, it seemed crude, distasteful and disrespectful to the thousands of people whose friends and family died on the planes, in the Towers or at the Pentagon. Loneliness, however, is legitimate. There are people who feel disconnected from their own friends or family members over the election. It might seem extreme, but not in modern history has a presidential election appeared to act as a referendum on the very virtues essential to the maintenance of decent, civil society — racial equality, hospitality for immigrants, acceptance of religious minorities, equality for women. If comparably moderate Mitt Romney had defeated Barack Obama in 2012, liberals would have felt disappointed, but not devastated. Donald Trump is a new mutation of the radical right — hostile to diversity and democracy — and it is difficult to have communion with anyone who supports the mutant.

David Foster Wallace often said that part of the purpose of good literature is to make people feel “less lonely.” Politics unifies in only its best moments. More often, it divides people according to ideology and class interest — and that is fine. Calls for unity are typically naïve and hollow. Especially now, when the president has surrounded himself with medieval thinkers as he prepares to vandalize decades of social progress, it is much better to follow the wise words of Christopher Hitchens, who advised readers to “look for encouraging signs of polarization and division.” Art, as Wallace understood about literature, is what has the potential to unite — unite the lone individual to a larger sense of belonging in the world, unite different individuals to the universal human experience connected only by what Walt Whitman called the “invisible roots.”

It is for this reason, among others, that Honoré de Balzac brought political debates among friends to a close with the admonition, “Let’s talk about more important matters,” and then ask a question about poetry, music or theater.

The more important matters for me, since the election, are those that offer reminders of human potential, rather than spotlighting the human propensity for stupidity. Engagement with art is not disengagement from politics, but the demolition of cynicism. Art that gives hope is the most powerful weapon against apathy, as cynicism only produces paralysis.

The new record from Metallica takes its inspiration from the failures of the human spirit — the suicidal reaper resting within every heart. James Hetfield, lead singer and chief songwriter, has often used his own struggles with alcoholism and capacity for self-harm as bitter muses for his creativity. The title of the new record, “Hardwired to Self-Destruct,” confronts directly the ugly reality of human catastrophe — the countless disasters carried out on individuals in private and on communities in public. The title track begins the record, and with thunderous intensity and velocity, Metallica demonstrates that despite all of the seasonal jeering accompanying their more recent music, they are still the masters of metal. The first line of the chorus, given the record’s release a mere week after election day, makes one wonder if in addition to their musical genius, the members of Metallica also possesses psychic powers. “We’re so fucked!” Hetfield shouts in his characteristic growl.

Many people relegate heavy metal music to an expression of rage, but when done well, it is also the amplification of rebellion. As Albert Camus opined, every act of rebellion is both against and for something. Metallica’s music not only expresses rage against the darkness — the injustice, the masochistic aspects of human nature — but seeks to revolt against it with music that is loud, violent and aggressive. It channels rage into an artistic enterprise. Although Metallica deals mainly with matters of the heart, their example of controlling the chaotic whirlwind of feeling into creativity seems particularly relevant right now.

The timing of Metallica’s release, purely coincidental, took on larger meaning to those interested parties, just as Bruce Springsteen’s performance of “Thunder Road” at the election eve rally for Hillary Clinton, was, in hindsight, a tragic forecast of lost dreams. “Thunder Road” is a romantic anthem of triumph — a musically dynamic tribute to the faith in love’s capacity to conquer all enemies. “The Promise” seemed like a more resonant song the day after the election. Near the song’s conclusion, the narrator, perhaps the same pleading lover of “Thunder Road,” reminisces on years of disappointment and betrayal. What once held such promise now only signals heartbreak: “Thunder Road / Now, baby you were so right / Thunder Road / There’s something dying down on the highway tonight.”

Few songwriters capture the sweeping drama of betrayal better than Bruce Springsteen. His masterpiece, “Backstreets,” with its irresistible romance and guttural passion, is the finest example among many of his ability to melodize personal heartache. He has often claimed that his songs follow the format of “blues verses and gospel choruses.” The blues, as Ralph Ellison described them, are a “chronicle of pain expressed lyrically.” The gospel is the substance of faith giving one the means to escape that pain. On the same record as “Backstreets” is “Born to Run,” and many years later, with political and historical inspiration, Springsteen would write and record “The Rising,” “My City of Ruins” and “Long Walk Home.” The promise that still survives is the eventuality of a homecoming. Springsteen gives a soundtrack for the trek back to a world of joy and hope — a world still recognizable to those searchers on the highway moving toward that “place we really wanna go.”

The so-called “white working class” is now the subject of much attention in America. Few songwriters have depicted the lives of white people in rural America as brilliantly and complexly as John Mellencamp. With “Paper in Fire,” Mellencamp wrote a song about self-destruction following the death of his uncle, who was a bitter drunk and a member of the John Birch Society. Economic hardship does not justify hatred, and in the role of songwriter-as-reporter, Mellencamp “looked out his window” to discover that many people in small towns throughout Indiana were allowing their instincts of fear to overtake their faculties, creating bigotry and hatred in place of community and hospitality.

“Bigotry and hatred are enemies to us all,” Mellencamp sings in “Walk Tall,” one of the songs he says he wrote in an attempt to “make people feel good about themselves.” Another feel-good song also had death as its inspiration, the death of John Mellencamp’s grandfather. “Minutes to Memories,” one of the most lyrically beautiful rock songs in the American canon, tells the story of a man who “worked his whole in the steel mills,” “earned every dollar that passed through his hand,” claimed his family and friends as the “best things he’s known,” and rested comfortably at night because “an honest man’s pillow is his peace of mind.” The rollicking, 1960s style rock of the song, along with Mellencamp’s full-throated vocal delivery, gives powerful contrast to the poignancy of the lyrics and offers the reminder that in the small towns of Trump’s America, much like the town where I live, there are good souls.

If I could award one band the title of “best band in the world,” I would bestow that honor on Gov’t Mule. Led by musical typhoon Warren Haynes, Mule is a southern rock, blues and soul jam band. Haynes’ voice, larger than a mountain, accompanies his Hendrix-style guitar virtuosity to express everything all at once — anger, lust, love, and despair. Whether they are playing their own original compositions, ranging from hard rock to reggae, or covering anything from Ray Charles to Black Sabbath, Mule gives amplification to the absurdity of borders. Resistance and resilience against the wall builders will require the spiritual nourishment of art that defies borders and evades category. With every performance, Mule accomplishes that feat.

A particularly powerful performance in the wake of Trump’s election was the unexpected duet between the Dixie Chicks and Beyoncé at the CMA Awards. The usual suspects, always guilty of boring anyone within earshot, criticized the collaboration because Beyoncé is not a “country” singer. Petty classifications are useless. There is good, and there is bad. Beyoncé and The Dixie Chicks are good singers. They combined artistic force to offer exciting instruction in the close connection of American musical forms. Country and rhythm and blues emanate from the same region. Beyoncé and The Dixie Chicks singing a song that sounds equally hillbilly, urban, pop and traditional is the exact picture of America necessary to maintain under the assault of Trump. It is the America of enormous ambition — the America where icons like Nina Simone, Elvis Presley, Prince and Bob Dylan proved that the only limit on human synthesis and affection is the size of an artist’s imagination.

The embodiment and creation of community is easier in art than politics, but the art always acts as a target of aspiration. Even when it seems miles into a cloudy future, the artful citizen knows where to aim.

One of America’s most artful citizens, the late Kurt Vonnegut, offered wise words for the beleaguered: “No matter how corrupt, greedy, and heartless our government, our corporations, our media, and our religious institutions become, the music will still be wonderful.”

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