November 9, 2017 in 3,197 words

Henry Rollins: Don’t Sleepwalk Through Life — Get Out There and See the World

I’ve been in Taipei, Taiwan, for a few days. I’ve got a routine. By day, I do my desk work, go to the gym, then back to the desk until around 1845 hrs. After that, I hit the streets, eat cheap, find a place to write, drink coffee, listen to music and keep on grinding until near closing time. Then more walking and, finally, back to the hotel room.

Walking around here, checking things out, it occurs to me that I’m in the right place, doing the right thing, not wasting time. When I look around at all the lights, traffic and people, it all seems eventful.

I’ve tried but so far have been unable to make life off the road nearly as meaningful. In Los Angeles, I drive around at night and install myself at different coffee places, trying to feel I’m somewhere like where I am now. Sometimes I can get it but most of the time, I can’t.

Many years ago, the best part of my day was walking back from my job to the apartment. It wasn’t that the workday was over but the feeling of freedom being between the two points. I used to have a few different routes, all of them several blocks out of the way.

Ed. Today’s post is short because I’m taking Henry’s advice. I’m going outside to experience being outdoors… and to play.

The resistance to Trump is blossoming – and building a movement to last

n astounding number of new grassroots resistance groups, at least six times the number the Tea Party could boast at its height, have emerged. That’s incredible.

‘All around the country, people have channeled the restless, do-it-yourself political energy.’

There’s a shiny bright spot on the dismal American political landscape: one year after the 2016 election, it’s now abundantly clear that this extraordinarily toxic and menacing presidency has sparked a truly unprecedented grassroots response, different in both scale and character from anything we’ve seen before.

The activist resistance to Trump played a vital role in the impressive wave of progressive electoral victories this week, after having already succeeded in stalling or derailing key parts of Trump’s agenda, most dramatically the Republican attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

Galvanized by huge protests at the beginning of the new presidency, the ground-level opposition to this presidency has evolved into a sprawling and decentralized movement of many movements, using many different tactics to pursue its aims.

While established progressive organizations have seen important upswings in membership and provided important guidance and resources, the most striking and novel aspect of the resistance has been the creation of an astounding number of new grassroots groups, at least six times the number the Tea Party could boast at its height. Locally focused, self-organized, and overwhelmingly led by women, these groups show every sign of digging in for the long haul.

In Beijing, Trump should get acquainted with Xi Jinping’s “Steve Bannon”

America Against America

The brain.

As Trump sits down with Chinese president Xi Jinping for official meetings in Beijing today (Nov. 9), a quiet, low-profile Wang Huning is almost certain to be at the Chinese leader’s side. Wang was part of Xi’s overseas entourage in April when the two leaders met for the first time, but now he has emerged much stronger. The 62-year-old political-theorist-turned-official just won a seat on the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee—the apex of China’s decision-making power. Well before that, he’s been widely described as the intellectual force behind the ideologies espoused by China’s three most recent presidents, including Xi himself.

If political strategist Steve Bannon was Donald Trump’s “brain,” shaping his thinking from trade to immigration, then Wang Huning is Xi Jinping’s. While Bannon has been fired from that role, Wang’s thinking—already considered to be on display in Xi’s “Chinese dream” slogan— is expected to guide the Communist Party chief through his second term (and perhaps beyond). Wang has written extensively on anti-corruption, national sovereignty, and China’s political system—works that are crucial to help understand where is China headed today. He is known as an advocate of “neo-authoritarianism,” the doctrine holds that political stability is fundamental for economic development, and that democracy and individual rights should come later when the time is appropriate.

Wang’s theorizing isn’t restricted only to China. In 1988, Wang spent six months in the US as a visiting scholar, traveling over 30 cities and nearly 20 universities. Back from the trip, he wrote “America against America,” a 400-page Tocqueville-style personal memoir of his impressions of American life, from the economy to politics to society. The idea, Wang wrote, was to compare the real America he saw against the imagined America that many Chinese have gone to extremes to either admire or despise. More than two decades old, some of those observations might still resonate today.

Why have we built a paradise for offshore billionaires?

We endure potholes and live in fear of collapsing highway bridges because our leaders wanted these very special people to have an even larger second yacht.

‘This is their democracy today. We just happen to live in it.’

It’s not enough to say, in response to the Paradise Papers revelations, that we already knew that rich people parked their money in offshore tax havens, where their piles accumulate far from the scrutiny of our government. Nor is it enough to say that we were already aware that we live in a time of “inequality.”

What we have learned this week is the clinical definition of the word. What we have learned is how much the rich and the virtuous have been hiding away and where they’re hiding it. Yes, there are sinister-looking Russian capitalists involved. But there’s also our favorite actors and singers. Our beloved alma mater, supposedly a charitable institution. Everyone with money seems to be in on it.

We’re also learning that maybe we’ve had it backwards all along. Tax havens on some tropical island aren’t some sideshow to western capitalism; they are a central reality. Those hidden billions are like an unseen planet whose gravity is pulling our politics and our economy always in a certain direction. And this week we finally began to understand what that uncharted planet looks like; we started to grasp its mass and its power.

Think about it like this. For decades Americans have been erupting in anger at what they can see happening to their beloved middle-class world. We think we know what the culprit is; we can see it vaguely through a darkened glass. It’s “elitism.” It’s a “rigged system.” It’s people who think they’re better than us. And for decades we have lashed out. At the immigrant next door. At Jews. At Muslims. At school teachers. At public workers who are still paid a decent wage. Our fury, unrelenting, grows and grows.

We revolt, but it turns out we have chosen the wrong political leader. We revolt again: this time, the leader is even worse.

5 Things The US Still Doesn’t Understand About Latin America

When it comes to Latin America, the U.S. behaves like a drunken bully. This is kinda hard for me, as I consume American pop culture obsessively. So I might be enjoying me some Parks And Recreation or The Good Wife, when suddenly the show will start cruelly mocking Venezuela. Or I might be watching Friends when, out of nowhere, Phoebe starts to sing about how you can buy a human spleen in the streets of Buenos Aires for a couple bucks. (I’ve tried; you can’t.)

This kind of thing affects more opinions about Latin America than you think, and it’s an issue that has stunted the region’s growth. It’s also an issue that, like a salsa-dancing ouroboros, comes back to bite America in its ass. Let me explain. First, you should know that …

5. “Latino” Is Not A Uniform Race

I live in Uruguay, the nation Homer Simpson once pointed at on a globe and read “U R GAY.” Mine is one of the southernmost countries of Latin America, a tiny spot between Argentina, Brazil, and the Atlantic Ocean. It doesn’t get much more Latin American than that. But strangely, I’m white. I know, right? A white Latino? Yeah, that’s the point.

Latin America is a big fucking place. 645 million people. 19 sovereign states, plus Puerto Rico and a few European “overseas territories” (slang term for “colonies”). There are myriad indigenous tribes. There are white people, black people, brown people, people of Asian descent. Mixed-race people abound — the local word is mestizos. Brazil is home to the largest Japanese community in the world outside of … well, Japan. Peru had a president of Japanese descent, Alberto Fujimori. This kind of diversity may seem like a no-brainer when I describe it, but American pop culture’s view of Latin America seems to check out when it goes any deeper than Mexican food or Colombian drug lords.

When people think “Latino,” they mainly picture the Mexican, Puerto Rican, and/or Dominican people who live in the U.S. Maybe they’ve sprinkled some Cubans in there after they watched Scarface and, based on Al Pacino’s performance, assumed all Cubans sound like they accidentally swallowed a bottle of topical anesthetic. One member of any nation is not representative of the tapestry of its entire culture and its encompassing subcultures. Imagine a foreigner amazed that African-Americans exist because they thought America was only white people of European descent. That’s what it feels like. If it helps, imagine the nation you live in and all of its cultural complexities. Now imagine all of that happening in another country that isn’t your own. Boom! You just got learned about how other nations can be a vast tapestry of multi-ethnic cultures, just like yours!

Staging Bird Murders to Save a Species

A contentious way to teach captive animals what to fear in the wild.

A Puerton Rican parrot at the Caribbean National Forest in El Yunque, Puerto Rico.

The chatty green parrots had a front-row seat to a spine-chilling show. Tethered to a tree branch not far from their cage, another parrot, similar in appearance but of a different species, was armored in a small leather vest. As the green parrots looked on, a man approached the lone parrot with yet another bird leashed to his arm: a red-tailed hawk. The hawk lunged at the parrot in the vest, wrapping its talons around it. The parrot screamed, a sound only made when death is imminent. Satisfied, the man pulled the hawk off.

This simulated attack—don’t worry, the parrot was unscathed thanks to the vest—was a ruse, aimed at Puerto Rican parrots about to be released into the wild for the first time. A critically endangered species found nowhere else in the world, those chatty green birds had never known life outside of captivity. So they were being taught what to look out for when they headed into hawk territory.

“We wanted an experience that would instill in those birds a very real fear and recognition of a red-tailed hawk as a deadly predator,” says Tom White, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Puerto Rican Parrot Recovery Program. In 2001, White helped spearhead this fear-based training regimen for parrots before reintroducing them into the island’s forests. The training involves several other phases before the simulated attack, including “flying” a hawk-shaped cutout over the parrots’ aviary, playing recorded hawk calls, and having a live hawk attack their cage.

For endangered species, even a small boost in numbers can help shift the needle away from extinction. But isolating animals for safe breeding comes with a cost. Captive “insurance populations” of endangered species, like the protected group of Puerto Rican Parrots, can lose their survival edge, both behaviorally and genetically, in just a few generations. Once they become easy prey, they’re less likely to survive if released.

Breathing New Delhi’s air right now is the equivalent of smoking 45 cigarettes a day

Gasping City

Can’t see or breathe.

In what has become a chronic condition for the city of 22 million, New Delhi is once again choking on extremely high levels of air pollution. In parts of the city, air quality index (AQI) readings have hit 999—the equivalent of smoking 45 cigarettes a day.

But 999 is the maximum reading on air monitors, which means actual levels are likely higher.

AQI is based on measurements of PM2.5, the tiny particulate matter pollution produced through combustion—it’s released by burning coal, running diesel engines, and burning crops in neighboring states, all major sources of pollution for the city. PM2.5 is small enough to slip deep into lungs, aggravating asthma and contributing to a range of health effects.

“I feel breathless even inside my car. I can’t keep the windows of my house open,” New Delhi businessman Nishank Dadu told the BBC. “Delhi has become a gas chamber and nobody seems to be doing anything to improve the situation.”

The dense smog is being blamed for car crashes, including a 24-car motorway pileup just outside the city, according to the Telegraph.

Have You Ever Tried to Decline an Airplane Napkin?

It’s difficult.

In the interest of cutting costs, airlines have taken away everything that used to be free—so the refrain goes. Gone are the meals that used to be included in the ticket price for flights that verged on mealtime hours. First checked bags started carrying an additional charge, and now sometimes you have to pay for a carry-on.

On planes, I like to joke to whoever is seated next to me that soon we’ll have to pay extra if we want oxygen masks to fall from the ceiling in case of emergency. My seatmates pretend to be listening to their headphones, because I’ve been talking a lot, but I think they get the point.

The one thing that hasn’t been taken away, I continue, is soft-drink service. And with every drink comes a three-inch-by-three-inch cocktail napkin—which, unlike pretty much anything else, the airlines really, really want to give you.

Have you ever tried to decline a cocktail napkin on an airplane?

Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Here’s the heartbreaking truth about the voters that Trump has lost.

Norilsk, Russia. Population 177,000. It’s the northernmost city in the world — and the most toxic. Filmmaker Victoria Fiore spent two years trying to gain access to this closed-off city. After a dozen failed attempts at a visa, she was finally allowed to enter.

This film is part of The Atlantic Selects, a showcase of short documentaries from independent creators, curated by The Atlantic.

One year after Donald Trump wins the presidency, Democrats sweep state and local elections.

THANKS to Comedy Central and The Daily Show with Trevor Noah for making this program available on YouTube.

If thoughts and prayers can’t protect real Americans, maybe we can finally try legislation. The Harlem Gospel Choir has some ideas.

When all we have are thoughts and prayers, the Harlem Gospel Choir can at least help us pray for Paul Ryan to grow some balls.

For the low, low price of $200, you too can control the fate of any American election.

THANKS to TBS and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee for making this program available on YouTube.

After a big win on Election Day, Democrats try to remember what celebrating looks like.

Jon and Stephen have a night of too many spit takes while revealing details about Jon’s upcoming ‘Night of Too Many Stars’ hosting gig on HBO.

THANKS to CBS and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for making this program available on YouTube.

Seth takes a closer look at how Trump and his supporters on Fox News are doing everything they can to downplay the Democrats’ big wins in New Jersey and Virginia.

THANKS to NBC and Late Night with Seth Meyers for making this program available on YouTube.

Donavon investigates.

THANKS to Comedy Network and The Beaverton for making this program available on YouTube.

Max is seeing a boogeyman in his room. Then decided to forget about it and just get into trouble.


Deeply Moving BPM Finds AIDS Activists Fighting and Dancing Through the Epidemic

Nahuel Perez Biscayart plays boisterous Sean, whose developing relationship with another man becomes the focus of Robin Campillo’s profoundly moving AIDS-crisis drama BPM.

One year, back in the early 1990s, an uncle of mine didn’t show up to our family Christmas. I was only 10 and didn’t understand his sudden departure and why nobody would speak of it. A year later, I was at his funeral. He was a playwright and actor in Chicago; to honor him, several of his male friends performed a modern dance routine. Each dancer was muscled and handsome and clad in a solid-white unitard, and I remember wanting to giggle because this wasn’t the kind of memorial service that I, a Catholic girl in Michigan, had become accustomed to. But when the music started — a grand number of cascading crescendos but still mournful all the same — I was transfixed by these men and their movements, as they acted out their grief, leaping with powerful limbs into the air, taking turns catching and lifting one another up into the spotlight, each for one halting moment. My heart pounded. I will never forget those 5 minutes of grace and compassion.

That’s the same feeling I get when I watch Robin Campillo’s profoundly moving AIDS-crisis drama BPM. In the beginning, we’re plopped into a meeting for the Paris chapter of ACT UP, one of the most effective international AIDS-activist organizations during the crisis of the late 1980s and early ’90s. Campillo uses the meeting dynamics — all that riffing and banter — to quickly introduce us to at least 10 or so integral characters. They include Sophie (Adele Haenel), who’s miffed about the way a protest devolved into a public official getting splattered with fake blood and handcuffed to the stage, and the charming/thorny Thibault (Antoine Reinartz), the de facto leader with thickened skin from settling organizational infighting.

For the first third of the film, there’s no clear protagonist. We rove into the POV of activists as they hold demonstrations at the offices of a pharmaceutical giant and in a local school, spattering walls with fake blood and passing out condoms to kids. Campillo presents theme as an indivisible group, working in unison, faltering and then quickly righting their ship, before he focuses the story toward the developing relationship between two men, Nathan (Arnaud Valois) and Sean (Nahuel Perez Biscayart).

Quiet, handsome Nathan is HIV negative, while the boisterous Sean is “posi.” The first night they spend together, Sean reveals that his high school math teacher transmitted the virus to him — it had been Sean’s first time. Nathan, on the other hand, just got lucky. Sean is so very alive in every frame — with every moment to speak, to kiss, to crack a wicked joke seized — and yet we know he will almost certainly die. But Campillo’s focus on these charismatic characters, who bicker constantly but pick one another up the second they fall (sometimes literally), makes their present so thrilling that we don’t focus on what bleak future may await them.

Ed. More tomorrow? Probably. Possibly. Maybe. Not?