Monthly Archives: March 2016

Deadpool: Movie Review

Stephen Greenblatt, in one of the seminal essays of new historicism, “Invisible Bullets,” argued that Shakespeare’s The Tempest engaged in a pattern of ‘subversion/containment’ regarding colonialism, both deconstructing its cultural imperatives and simultaneously re-constructing them. The play teases us with its transgressive possibilities, but ultimately affirms the status quo.  If poststructuralism expresses, as Jean-Francois Lyotard put it, ‘an incredulity toward metanarratives,’ those same metanarratives nonetheless reemerge, if now tempered by irony. That incredulity itself may be healthy, can lead to reexamination and change, but it can also spend itself in ironic self-reflection. Or put another way, Deadpool may be the coolest, funniest superhero movie ever made. Deadpool himself may even be the first super-anti-hero. It makes fun of every narrative trope common to movies of its genre. It’s self-referentially meta whenever possible, and it’s nicely subversive.  An apt movie for a political season characterized by the complete deconstruction of a major political party’s ruling metanarrative.

It’s still just a superhero movie.

The tone is set during the cheeky opening credits, in which the film is listed as starring ‘some douchebag,’ ‘a hot chick,’ ‘a British villain,’ ‘a CGI character,’ and so on. The director is ‘overpaid tool,’ while the writers are ‘the real heroes.’ I laughed out loud for that one. Of course, Deadpool himself offers metacinematic commentary on the fact that he, the character, is in a movie, and Ryan Reynolds jokes abound. Deadpool is played by Ryan Reynolds.

And it’s all R-rated. Very very definitely R-rated. R-rated for violence, for sexuality, for nudity, and for language. It’s not just that the characters cuss a lot; the movie feels R-rated. It’s grim, dark, grubby looking and cynical. Very un-Marvel in tone, with Stan Lee’s inevitable cameo in a strip club scene.

It’s also a superhero/origin story movie. Wade Wilson is a kind of vigilante/mercenary. He’s a bad guy who makes a living ripping off even worse guys. He’s got advanced military training, and he spends his free time in a bar run by his one friend, Weasel (T.J. Wilson), the bartender. The entire bar caters primarily to other purveyors of violence; hence a betting ‘dead pool,’ where you can gamble on who is going to die next. Wade meets a hooker, Vanessa (Morena Baccarin), and they fall madly in love. They plan to marry. And then Wade is diagnosed with cancer. Terminal. No treatment possible.

Except maybe not. A Recruiter (Jed Rees, whose face you will remember from Galaxy Quest–just how intentionally meta is the casting?), says he can offer a medical procedure that will cure Wade’s cancer, make him invincible, and give him super powers. Wade bites. And meets the British Bad Guy, played by Ed Skrein, who asks to be called Ajax, but whose name is in fact Francis. (Being called that, turns out, enrages him). And Francis does indeed have a life saving/superpowers transforming medical procedure. It involves an injection, followed by a lengthy course of torture, to force a genetic transformation. If he survives.

See what I’m saying? It’s a normal superhero backstory movie, an origin story movie. But it’s also brutal and ugly and chock-fulla swears. And, in a sick kind of way, it’s funny. In fact, I laughed out loud, often, and so did the other dudes in the theater when I saw it. (Dudes only, btw; the male/female ratio in the house was 18-0).

When Wade’s medical treatment is over, he’s got the ability to heal from any wound, no matter how severe. He’s also hideous; his face and body look like he survived the worst house fire ever. A walking burn wound. So he thinks that Vanessa can never love him again; that no one can. Weasel helpfully suggests that he star in a series of horror movies. His other best friend, Blind Al (Leslie Uggams), an elderly blind women he moves in with, has never actually seen him, so he doesn’t believe her assertion that true love can overcome even the most hideous countenance.

So, now as Deadpool, he searches for Francis. He thinks that perhaps Francis (a medical genius, though of course, also a sociopath), can fix his face. He also wants to kill him. In other words, he’s conflicted.

The film is also a Marvel movie, and as such has to somehow connect to the larger Marvel metanarrative, which it does in the most unlikely and contrived possible way. See, two of the X-men, Russian accented Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapacic), and his emo teen sidekick, Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand) assign themselves to serve as his conscience, and also try to recruit him to join the other X-men. They’re both kind of ridiculous superheroes, which fits a movie in which Deadpool certainly has super powers, but tends not to use them heroically.

And yet, every element is there. Hero/Heroine/Comic Sidekick. A really bad bad guy villain, who has a sidekick of his own. Troo Luv. A mixture of comedy and seriousness. An origin story, combined with a ‘save the day’ climax. It makes fun of superhero movies. And it also is one. Subversion/containment. Deconstruction/reconstruction. Just like that other superhero narrative, The Tempest, by the Stan Lee of the 1600s, dude name of Shakespeare. Which is also, come to think of it, a pretty cool superhero handle.

If you want cartoon violence, PG-13 humor, and a redemptive hero, you probably should give Deadpool a pass. But if you want a funny and endlessly inventive movie infused with a darkly satirical, sexy and violent energy, Deadpool is amazing. Just don’t expect it to actually, you know, change anything.

The Ted Cruz National Enquirer story

What does journalism mean anymore? What constitutes news? What are the ethical standards to which journalists should hold themselves? If you know something, or have a source that insists that he/she knows something possibly significant, at what point do you publish? What does it even mean, ‘to publish?’ Is there a point at which a news story is so slimy you can’t bring yourself to touch it?

Did Ted Cruz do it?

In a panel discussion on Larry Wilmore’s show the other night, Wilmore asked where people turned first for news. One of the panelists said she went to Twitter first. ‘If there’s a big story breaking, Twitter will have it before anyone,’ she said. Another panelist said ‘Reddit.’ No one said, you know, ‘CNN.’ News is what it’s always been; information about the world. What’s changed is that the mediation of editors and publishers and institutions has become increasingly passé. We’ll do our own mediating, thank you. We want to know what’s going on.

And of course, a lot of what passes through Twitter and Reddit and the internet is prurient and unimportant and quite definitely Not News, in the traditional sense in which News is presumed to be consequential, not just tabloid gossip. But tabloids serve their own purpose, do they not? And can become consequential.

On Friday, news broke that the supermarket tabloid National Enquirer had published allegations that Ted Cruz had had affairs with five women, and also published oh-so-artfully distorted pictures of the women. It’s a salacious story, ugly and tawdry and vicious. I would very much prefer not to be writing about it, or even talking about it. But we’re in the middle of a Presidential campaign. Ted Cruz is one of the four people who has at least a chance of being elected President of the United States. Does a story about alleged infidelity count as news? Yes.  All the more so because everyone knows about it.

It’s been interesting to see how mainstream news outlets have covered it, how gingerly they’ve brought it up, how uncomfortably awkward news anchors have appeared. Rachel Maddow both began and concluded her segment by telling us that she felt as though she needed to take a shower. The big news organizations would really rather not deal with this. They won’t want to be citing The National Enquirer. Marital infidelity is an uncomfortable subject. They feel bad for Cruz’s wife. Also Donald Trump’s wife. Which is where the whole thing began. Possibly.

A Cruz super PAC created and ran a meme showing coyly nude photos of Melania Trump, from a GQ shoot some fifteen years ago.  Intended for Utah markets, just before the Utah primary, the implication was that Mrs. Trump would make a morally unfit First Lady. Trump was furious, and went on a Twitter war with Cruz, including a tweet with two contrasting photos of Melania, a former model, and a particularly unflattering one of Heidi Cruz. And the two men exchanged insults. In the midst of that unelevating back-and-forth came the Enquirer story, which Cruz insists was planted by Trump fans at the magazine. The story did source one guy only, Roger Stone, a Trump ally. And the CEO of the Enquirer is known to be a Trump friend.

And that’s what our Presidential politics has become. Insults and bullying, back and forth.

So when the story broke, Cruz gave a press conference, in which he appeared quite livid, called the story ‘garbage,’ and blamed it all on Trump. The Donald’s response, again on Twitter, was quite splendidly Trumpian: “Ted Cruz’s problem with the National Enquirer is his and his alone, and while they were right about O.J. Simpson, John Edwards, and many others, I certainly hope they are not right about Lyin’ Ted Cruz.” In other words: ‘it’s probably true. But I sure hope it isn’t.’ The perfect blend of sanctimony and smarm.

Okay. Personally, I couldn’t possibly care less if Ted Cruz has had consensual affairs with other consenting adults. Whether or not it happened does not, in any sense whatsoever, make me more or less inclined to vote for him. (Of course, there was never the tiniest chance I would vote for him anyway. Part of what I’m feeling right now is schadenfreud). Enough really consequential and important Presidents have also been adulterers to suggest that this particular sin probably shouldn’t be disqualifying.

But I do think the American people have a right to know one of two things. On the one hand, since the most important commitment a person can possibly make in this life is to his or her spouse, adultery would seem to tell us something pretty fundamental about someone’s character. Or, on the other hand, what does it say about Donald Trump if Ted Cruz is right, and Trump got a friend to publish an ugly and false story about a political rival? Did Ted Cruz cheat on his wife? I don’t know, and neither do you, but I do think that’s information voters should have in front of them when deciding who to vote for. Did Donald Trump plant a lying story? I don’t know, and neither do you, but if he did, that’s also information we should have.

So this story is news, and needs to be covered as news. And that means some digging, some in-depth reporting. Here are some questions I would like to know the answers to:

A PAC associated with Cruz gave half a million dollars to the Carly Fiorina campaign. That’s very unusual. It may have a perfectly innocent explanation. But on Friday, we learned that a Fiorina aide, Sarah Isgur Flores has been identified as one of Cruz’ paramours. Fiorina has also endorsed Cruz for President. A payoff, carefully laundered?

Another of the women, Katrina Pierson, is a former Tea Party congressional candidate and former Cruz aide. She now works for Trump, as his official spokesperson. She would seem to be central to the story either way. She has, however, insisted that both sides of it are false; she didn’t sleep with Cruz, and she didn’t pass the story on to Trump.

What’s the Marco Rubio angle? The Daily Beast reported on Friday that someone from the Rubio campaign had been peddling a Ted Cruz infidelity story for months, including to But Breitbart had decided not to run it, since it didn’t meet their sourcing standards.

Why is nobody talking about suing The National Enquirer? I’ll grant you that a lot of people are reluctant to sue anyone, whatever the provocation. Not everyone has Donald Trump’s itchy-suing-trigger finger. I’m just saying that if a national publication ran a story saying that I had committed adultery, and I hadn’t, I would insist on damages and a retraction. I’d sue. Cruz denied the allegations, and looked good and angry about it, but no law suit was threatened. Neither have any of the women threatened to sue, though three of them have denied the story.

There are undoubtedly other angles to this. And I do think it needs to be looked at, by actual, real, journalists. I understand that this sort of story makes everyone uncomfortable. I understand that it’s a grubby little story, and you feel gross reporting on it. But this is a genuine news story. It needs to be investigated. And, I think, it will be.



Responding to Brussels

President Obama was in Cuba when suicide bombers killed over 30 people in Brussels, with over 200 injured. The schedule called for the President to attend a ballgame with Raul Castro, and so that’s what he did. So, of course, he was criticized for the bad optics, the President doing the wave in the ballpark while all the news networks were obsessed with terrorism. An Arizona Congressman called it “disgusting” and Ted Cruz opined that the President should have cut the Cuba trip (which he hated anyway, this President going to Cuba) short, and fly to Brussels. Or the White House. Or something.

Guess what? They’re wrong. The President did exactly what he should have done. Except maybe dab a little more mustard on his hot dog, if ballparks in Havana sell hot dogs.

The point of terrorism is to terrorize. Terrorism is a tactic intended to disrupt; it’s what the anarchists used to call ‘propaganda of the deed.’ In Brussels, suicide bombers hit the city’s transportation grid, killed innocent people. That’s horrifying, and it’s meant to be. We’re supposed to feel shocked, angry, appalled, disgusted. And we’re supposed to want revenge. The intent is for the us, the west, the civilized western world, to overreact. Terrorists want us to go after the bad guys. Because they’re trying to disrupt mainstream western society, suspend civil liberties, expose ourselves as the hypocrites they’re convinced we are.

Which is why Ted Cruz’s response to the attacks was so unhinged. He suggested that the United States “empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.” He also reiterated his intention, if elected, to carpet bomb ISIS territory. That’s a war crime. So is torture, which Donald Trump has recently embraced.

It seems to me that an effective response to terrorist attacks is simple enough. Internationally, ISIS has a disciplined army, occupying territory in eastern Iraq and northern Syria, possibly spreading to Libya. They’re a threat to western interests in the region. Our current efforts are reasonably effective–the territory they control is greatly diminished–and should be continued.

But in Europe, terrorism is essentially a law enforcement issue, and should be treated as such.

Joshua Hersh, writing in The New Republic recently (I’m having a hard time linking to the article, sorry), described the neighborhood of Molenbeek in Belgium, where he spent several months embedded as a journalist. He points to neighborhoods of petty crooks, drug dealers, high unemployment, seedy bars, few opportunities where the terrorists who attacked recently in Brussels came from. Here’s his suggestion:

. . . the answer to the scourge of homegrown terrorism in Europe is not to be found in more abstract notions of defeating radical jihadist ideology, or in militarized responses. It is to be found in the basic tools of routine police work: learning the ins and outs of a tightly knit neighborhood where dozens of people could lend support to a plot, and only a few of whom would know, or care, that it was terrorism.

Or, as a friend of mine on Facebook put it:

Dear Senator Cruz:
I live in a neighborhood populated by Muslim Immigrants. Please do send people to police this area. The kids need more spectators for their football (soccer) games, and someone to teach them the fundamentals of baseball; they suck at it, but they do try. It’s sad, but it’s sweet to watch.
While you’re at it, please send more teachers to the local elementary so the kids aren’t crammed into their class rooms. And maybe that cop could stand at the school bus stop for the older kids so the parents won’t be late to work because they feel they have to protect them. A translator would be welcome as well.
While you’re at it, please strongly encourage their landlords to actually fulfill their contractual obligations and fix the plumbing, electric, structural, and other deficiencies of their apartments.
I think these small things would help their lives be better “like the old days” and to help keep “terrorists” from growing here.
We try in our own way by giving money to charity, but I think they need more help. Perhaps you could.

What we can’t do is overreact. As the Onion helpfully put it:

Growing increasingly tired and frustrated as they pored through tens of hours of footage packed with usable material, members of the militant group ISIS informed reporters Friday that they’ve been struggling to narrow down which GOP debate sound bites to use in their new recruitment video. “We’ve spent days cutting down our video to feature only the most inflammatory anti-Muslim statements that will attract new soldiers of jihad, but it’s still over 40 minutes—no one’s gonna sit through something that long.”

In other words, when we, not just the US, but the broader ‘we’ including the other nations of the west, when we give in to Islamaphobia and the atavistic desire for revenge and retribution, when we talk irresponsibly about blowing things up, we play ISIS’ game by their rules. We give in to terror, precisely what terrorists are trying to get us to do. Relax, watch a ballgame, have some cracker jack. Mourn, sure. Feel; absolutely. Otherwise: Namaste.


Utah caucuses

I didn’t vote yesterday. I wanted to. I went to the polling place with the intention of voting. It just proved impossible. The lines were too long, parking nonexistent, access inaccessible. For a Democratic primary, in Utah County, in Utah. In Provo.

I always vote. I can’t think of an election in my lifetime when I haven’t voted. School board bond issue votes, I’m there. Every municipal election, every county caucus. And in past years, I’ve attended the Democratic caucus meetings in Utah County. They were usually held in an upstairs room in the Utah County Library. Maybe a hundred people would attend. Usually, I would be elected a precinct captain, because I was the only person from my precinct to attend. I was a completely worthless precinct captain. I never had the faintest idea what I was supposed to do, and nobody ever contacted me, at all, ever. Back in the day, that was the Utah County Democratic party. Moribund. (Consulting a thesaurus) declining. At death’s door.

Last night, we were told the caucus began at 6:00, at Dixon Middle School. Driving there, my wife wondered what was going on; where all the traffic was heading. There was zero parking, not for blocks and blocks. We finally got close enough to Dixon to see the line, and it stretched forever. Even if I’d brought my wheelchair, it would have been impossible; the door people were going in was handicapped inaccessible. I am physically able to walk a block or so, stand for ten minutes or thereabouts. There was no way. I later heard that people waited in line for hours, that polling places ran out of ballots, that the party was completely unprepared.

It’s really quite astonishing, to see the way people are responding to this race. This morning, I went grocery shopping, and got to chatting with the check-out clerk; asked if he’d been able to vote. He said he’d tried, but he had a test in one of his classes this morning, and just didn’t think he could spare the hours in line. The bagger said she’d voted with her boyfriend: took three hours. The woman behind me chimed in: “you thought the Democratic caucus was nuts, you should have been there for the Republican one. I waited four hours!” A woman in another line weighed in: “We were visiting my sister, in Sandy. She was going to vote, and then we were going to a movie. Hah!” And then we all laughed. The whole thing was nuts.

Whenever I talk to anyone about this election, that one word keeps coming up: nuts. This election is nuts. Certainly, it’s unlike anything I’ve seen in my lifetime. Our choices last night were, from right to left: Ted Cruz, an ideological extremist who wears, as a badge of honor, the fact that he’s genuinely and widely loathed. Donald Trump, a reality TV star, who extols, in his rallies, violence towards protesters, and whose views are xenophobic to an extreme. Essentially, they represent the ghosts of conservative ideologies past: Cruz, the John Birch society, and Trump, the Know-Nothings. Moving leftwards, there’s Hillary Clinton, the velcro candidate. If Reagan was teflon (nothing stuck to him), every hint of scandal gets attached to her, like burrs. Finally, Bernie Sanders, a 74-year old democratic socialist. Oh, yes, there’s also John Kasich, who gets an unearned reputation for moderation by just sounding, very occasionally, like an actual human being.

Those are our choices. Nuts. That’s what the Republican field looks like, winnowed down from the seventeen varsity letterman of their very deep bench. Remember when the putative favorites were Scott Walker and Jeb(!) Bush? And when the Trump joke was how he’d hired actors for his announcement speech, so there’d be someone, cheering, in the room? How long ago that all seems.

Watching the folks queuing up to vote last night, I was astonished to see how many of them were young. Bernie supporters, I think; he did win last night, in Utah. That’s been the pattern so far in this election. Bernie sweeps up the young folks, while Hillary does well with minority voters. Utah has lots of the former, very few of the latter, so of course Bernie did well. And it’s really awesome.

Had it been possible for me to vote, I would have voted for Hillary. But if Bernie Sanders is the nominee, I will cheerfully campaign for him, send him donations, make phone calls, vote for him. What scares me about the Bernie phenomenon is not that his followers won’t vote for Secretary Clinton, if she’s the nominee. It’s that the enthusiasm and excitement Sanders generates seems, so far, to be Bernie-centric. There’s so much work that needs to be done. This shouldn’t be about a single candidate. I mean, sure, Presidential election years mean a lot of work, and a lot of passion and excitement and fear. And then the election’s over, and guess what? There’s even more work waiting afterwards.

Republicans have figured this out. Conservatives have. Right now, the headlines are about disarray and confusion on the right–Trump’s upset a lot of apple carts. But I take my hat off to the conservative movement. They’ve done a much better job than progressives have at organizing at the grass roots level. There’s a reason Republicans do so well in local elections, in races for state legislators and city council members and county commissioners. Conservatives know what they want to achieve, and are willing to wait, with infinite patience, to organize and persuade and inform and build coalitions. We, on the left, can’t come close to matching it. President Obama did build a tremendous infrastructure for winning national elections. Then come the off-years and we lose more ground.

Just one example, of many, is ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council. Last year, the US Congress passed 120 bills. State legislatures passed 29,000. ALEC writes templates for legislation, models for what a bill might look like, an immensely helpful shortcut for state congresspeople. They’re all conservative, of course. And of course progressives are fond of attacking ALEC, as nefarious and malign, as evil incarnate. As my son is fond of asking, though, is this: why isn’t there a progressive ALEC? ALEC’s not doing anything illegal, or unconstitutional. They’re just really effective.

So, if you’re a Bernie-phile, and you want to change society in positive ways, then get involved. Run for office. Work within the system. This isn’t, and shouldn’t be, about Bernie vs. Hillary. This is about creating a political system that actually helps poor people effectively.

I sucked as a precinct captain, and that’s on me. But to that long line of people waiting for hours outside Dixon Middle School last night, let me say this. I’m thrilled that you voted. I’m delighted that you’re engaged in the political process. Use that energy and commitment, help make the world a better place to live in. Do a better job than I did, than my generation did. Don’t stop with one vote, in one election. Keep going.

Baseball in Cuba

I watched a baseball game today; not all of it, a couple of innings. It was between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team. For Tampa, it counted as a preseason game, which is to say, it didn’t matter at all. For the Cuban team, it was likewise an exhibition. But in the crowd were two Presidents: Barack Obama and Raul Castro. Big deal game, in other words.

But why? Because this: for the first time since the good ship Maine’s boiler blew and we blamed it on terrorists, the United States is edging, tip-toeing towards a policy towards Cuba that makes a tiny bit of sense. In 2014, President Obama normalized relations with Cuba, and re-opened the US embassy in Havana. The next step would seem to be lifting the US trade embargo, which absolutely cannot happen in 2016, because it’s an election year and Florida is a swing state. And Cuban emigres vote.

There remain serious barriers to overcome, the biggest of which remains Cuba’s human rights record. Human Rights Watch’s 2009 report sadly concluded that Raul had kept Fidel’s repressive security apparatus largely unchanged. Freedom House continues to list Cuba as ‘Not Free,’ the category they reserve for the world’s most repressive societies. And so, at the ballgame today, as Castro urged the US to continue normalization efforts–specifically by lifting the embargo–President Obama kept the pressure on for Castro to end arbitrary arrests of dissidents.

But despite the attacks in Belgium early in the day–a situation the President was, of course, able to monitor throughout his Cuba visit–President Obama stayed for the ballgame. And that’s significant. Because baseball is one thing both countries have in common. In fact, baseball is probably now only the third most popular sport in the United States, after football and basketball. In Cuba, it’s still number one.

There have been 193 Cuban-born players in major league history, including two Hall of Famers. Tony Perez is the one Hall of Famer you’ve probably heard of. Slugging first baseman for the Big Red Machine of the ’70s. Martin Dihigo came earlier, with most of his career taking place in the ’20s and ’30s, making the Hall of Fame as a Negro League player in 1977. But there have dozens of brilliant star-quality Cuban major leaguers over the years, including Luis Tiant, Cookie Rojas, Bert Campaneris, Minnie Minosa, Tony Oliva and Mike Cuellar. And of course, some of the brightest stars of the game today are Cuban, including Yasiel Puig, Jose Abreu, Jose Fernandez, and Yoenis Cespedes.

Fidel Castro was an amateur baseball player, scouted, according to legend, by the old Washington Senators. He was a pitcher, had played some college ball in Cuba, but simply didn’t have the stuff to stick professionally. Still, he loved the sport, and the Cuban national team has been an international powerhouse.

But the stories of escaping ballplayers and their threatened families remain. Yasiel Puig is exactly the kind of young superstar that Cuba was always particularly anxious to keep home. He risked his life to escape, though, in a story so spectacular as to seem improbable. ESPN covered it, but I can’t link for some reason. But it left Puig in debt, to the tune of millions of dollars, to some very sketchy customers.

And of course, the whole situation stinks. A young Cuban ballplayer should have the right to play baseball where ever his talent leads him. When the Olympics or the World Baseball Classic rolls around, why not let him go back and play for the national team, just as Dirk Nowitzski does for the German national team in basketball.

And it will happen. Raul Castro is 84 years old, Fidel’s 89. The brothers won’t be in power for much longer.

No, the real question is whether raising the trade embargo even without significant human rights advances by the regime will help, or hurt. Personally, I think it’s likely to help, and think we should proceed as quickly as possible. But I understand the feelings of Cuban-Americans who disagree.

Meanwhile, the crowd in Havana watched a ballgame. The Rays won 4-1. Dayron Varona, from Cuba, led off for the Rays, and hit the first pitch he saw for a routine popout. And then the ball was retrieved, and will be sent to the Hall of Fame. James Loney, from Houston, hit a big home run. Mike Moore was the winning pitcher. And President Obama and Raul Castro did the wave. Normal ballgame stuff, at a meaningless exhibition game. A game that also couldn’t have been more important.

The High Mountains of Portugal: Book Review

I know I’m not alone when I say that Yann Martel’s Life of Pi was one of my favorite novels of the last twenty years. A boy on a lifeboat with a tiger; what a spectacular premise for great fiction. But it wasn’t just a white-knuckle adventure yarn. It was also a thoughtful meditation on world religion, an exercise in unreliable narratives and narrators, a mystery and a puzzle. And then Ang Lee turned it into a movie as rich as the novel itself. It’s also the last novel I read aloud to my children, before they, inevitably, grew, left, scattered.

So to say that I eagerly anticipated reading Martel’s latest novel, The High Mountains of Portugal would be an understatement. I read it with great interest and enjoyment, though it’s certainly a slighter work. When I say that it is one of the stranger novels I’ve read in my life, I don’t mean that as a criticism or dismissal. I just want to describe accurately my experience with what I found to be a very weird book. Let me add, as well, that I couldn’t put it down, and have been thinking about it for days.

It’s essentially three connected novellas, entitled Homeless, Homeward, and Home. They’re narratively and thematically connected; they’re also all three about exploring possible spiritual relationships between humans and chimpanzees. Chimps are not monkeys, but apes, and are the closest mammals genetically to human beings. As such, they’re our closest evolutionary cousins. Hominids may have split from our ape relatives as recently at six million years ago. At least one question this novel poses, therefore, has to do with the religious connections between men and apes, especially as it might emerge in a theologically Christian context.

The first novella, titled Homeless, begins in Lisbon, with a young man named Tomas, in 1904. Tomas works as a researcher, and makes very little money at it, but he is from a prominent family. His Uncle Martim, who loves him dearly and who he loves in return is the only member of his family still living. Tomas’ father, his girlfriend, Dora, and their son, Gaspar, all died in quick succession a year earlier. Since that time, crushed, destroyed by grief, he has been unable to walk forwards. He only is able to walk backwards.

He has become obsessed by a diary found in his research, by a priest from the previous century. Ulisses, this priest, created some object of singular religious devotion, he thinks, probably a crucifix. He is desperate to find it. He has decided that this religious object must have ended up in the church of a small village in the high mountains of Portugal. He has gotten a short leave of absence from work, and has persuaded his uncle to lend him a car, which he intends to drive on his quest. Most of the novella, then, has to do with Tomas’ journey, in a car he is barely able to drive, to find a crucifix made by Father Ulisses. That journey, both comical and horrifying, is at the heart of the novella. I must apologize now for this spoiler, but it’s necessary: when he finds the crucifix, it is not of Christ, but of a crucified chimpanzee. I’ll let it go at that.

In the second novella, Homeward, Dr. Eusebio Lozora works as a pathologist in the basement of a hospital, on the last day of the year 1938. He’s catching up on work; writing up some autopsies. On that night, he is visited by two women. The first is his beloved wife, Maria, a relentless unorthodox theologian, much feared by the local priest. She has come to a realization about Jesus’ miracles, and can’t stop herself from stopping by his office and telling him about it. And it genuinely is an extraordinary new reading of the gospels. Heavily informed by the works of her other favorite author, Agatha Christie.

Who murdered Jesus of Nazareth? We all did.

It is not the guilt of the Jews that goes down through history, it is the guilt of us all. But how quick we are to forget that. We don’t like guilt, do we? We prefer to hide it, to forget it, to twist it and present it in a better light, to pass it on to others. And so, because of our aversion to guilt, we strain to remember who killed the victim in the gospels, as we strain to remember who killed the victim in an Agatha Christie mystery novel.

It’s very long, Maria’s exegesis, and takes up at least half of the novella. And then, she brings him a present; the newest Agatha Christie novel. And he is overcome with gratitude and love.

And then she leaves, and he is alone with his thoughts and his new novel. And then his second visitor knocks on his door, another woman named Maria, a good deal older than his wife, from the same village visited by Tomas in the first novella. And she has brought a body with her, and wants him to autopsy it. Her dearly beloved husband. And the autopsy becomes increasingly surreal and strange. And inside that body, curled up inside it, (and again, I apologize for the spoiler), he finds the deceased body of a chimpanzee.

In the third novella, Home, a Canadian politician, Peter Tovy, in the early 1980s, is incapacitated with grief when his wife dies. Barely able to function, he accepts a position on a junket to Oklahoma, where he visits an animal refuge. He becomes obsessed with a preternaturally self-possessed chimpanzee. On a whim, he buys it. He then turns his life upside down; quitting his job, selling his Canadian home (too cold for a chimp, he thinks), and moving to his ancestral home, a small village in the high mountains of Portugal. And in a very real sense, the chimpanzee becomes more than his companion, certainly a good deal more than a house pet. The chimpanzee becomes his guru. And when his grown son comes to visit, Odo, the ape, becomes beloved by them both.

I won’t give away the ending of the third novella, except to say that, narratively and thematically, it ends up, in an odd sort of way, tying all three stories together. Also, as strange as they are, these three stories have kept me up three nights in a row. So I blog, not so much to review this book, but to discharge it. It is, in any event, an extraordinary accomplishment.


The freeloader myth

One of the great mysteries of contemporary politics has been how ubiquitous and enduring the conservative narrative remains that Barack Obama is a uniquely sinister figure, a Muslim socialist terrorist-coddling America-destroying catastrophe. Often expressed in anguished cries of ‘our country can’t survive four more years of this,’ it’s frankly comical. Which explains the omnipresent “Thanks, Obama” joke.

President Obama was elected in the middle of a financial crisis of historic dimensions, which he had nothing to do with creating. His Presidency has coped with the crisis aftermath with resolution and intelligence. The economy is recovering, growing, creating jobs. By any estimation, he’s done a good job. He’s been an excellent President.

At the same time, prosperity has not blessed everyone, and for a lot of people, the last seven years have been terribly difficult. Hence the phenomenon of Donald Trump. People are angry, and that what they’re angry at can be summed up as ‘whoever’s in charge.’ Presidents make for easy targets, and voter anger is growing. And those who are feeling it, and those who respond by embracing Trump, tend to be white, rural, working class and poor.

The National Review’s Kevin Williamson took a stab at explaining why. Which, of course, since it’s TNR means an explanation compatible with movement conservatism. Guess what? It’s their fault:

It perpetuates a lie: that the white working class that finds itself attracted to Trump has been victimized by outside forces. It hasn’t. Nobody did this to them. They failed themselves. If you spend time in hardscrabble, white upstate New York, or eastern Kentucky, or my own native West Texas, and you take an honest look at the welfare dependency, the drug and alcohol addiction, the family anarchy, you will come to an awful realization. Nothing happened to them. There wasn’t some awful disaster. There wasn’t a war or a famine or a plague or a foreign occupation. Even the economic changes of the past few decades do very little to explain the dysfunction and negligence — and the incomprehensible malice — of poor white America. The truth about these dysfunctional, downscale communities is that they deserve to die. Economically, they are negative assets. Morally, they are indefensible. The white American underclass is in thrall to a vicious, selfish culture whose main products are misery and used heroin needles. Donald Trump’s speeches make them feel good. So does OxyContin. What they need isn’t analgesics, literal or political. They need real opportunity, which means that they need real change, which means that they need U-Haul.

On top of all that, they’re dying. The death rate among white is rising. Suicide, alcoholism and opioid abuse mean that the US is unique among all industrial nations in having a sizeable sector of the population with a rising death rate. And counties with high death rates among whites also tend to swing Trump’s way electorally.

Which means that Trump’s candidacy isn’t about the supposed power of reality-show celebrity, it isn’t about the cretinous stupidity and foolish cupidity of uneducated folks, and it probably isn’t much about xenophobia and racism. It’s built on a foundation of desperation and fear and panic and hopelessness. I’m not saying that Donald Trump has any solutions to any of this. He doesn’t. But when he says he’s going to make America great again, that’s enormously appealing to people who might otherwise give up. And when conservative talk radio talks about the Obama apocalypse, it resonates. In their towns, communities, homes, life can seem pretty daggone post-apocalyptic.

But, I have to say this: National Review is wrong. The analysis in this odious article is wrong about absolutely everything, except for one sentence. What the rural poor need is precisely what the urban poor need: opportunity. Everything Williamson describes–the breakdown of families, the drug and alcohol addictions–are symptoms, not causes. In fact, Williamson’s entire article is an exercise in arrogance and false judgment; blaming the poor for their misery. The Book of Mormon offers this riposte:

Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just. But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent; and except he repenteth of that which he hath done he perisheth forever, and hath no interest in the kingdom of God.For behold, are we not all beggars? Do we not all depend upon the same Being, even God, for all the substance which we have, for both food and raiment, and for gold, and for silver, and for all the riches which we have of every kind? Mosiah 4: 17-19

Start there. Start by refuting the way modern conservatism preaches a gospel of selfishness, the false Ayn Randian world-view of heroic achievers and worthless moochers, the 47% canard. Poor people, white or black, are not freeloaders. As Paul Krugman points out: “the argument that the social safety net causes social decay by coddling slackers runs up against the hard truth that every other advanced country has a more generous social safety net than we do, yet the rise in mortality among middle-aged whites in America is unique: Everywhere else, it is continuing its historic decline.”

What’s the answer? First and foremost, we need to recognize the sad truth that income inequality leads inexorably to opportunity inequality. The codified selfishness embodied by anti-tax fanatics like Grover Norquist, the faux compassion of Paul Ryan’s condescending description of a social safety net that becomes “a hammock that lulls able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency,” any and all explanations for poverty that blame it on the poor have to be immediately and emphatically rejected.

What’s needed are jobs, and to qualify for those jobs, education. Improved public schools, in which teachers are respected (and compensated like the dedicated professionals they are), and creativity and imagination are fostered and encouraged and rewarded, in which every child has a computer and internet access, let’s start there, in our inner cities and in our outer small rural areas. And yes, absolutely, provide social safety nets: food stamps and housing help and health care and child care for working moms.

It will mean, politically, raising taxes. It means telling the truth about trickle-down economics–which is that it doesn’t. Nothing trickles down, except misery and despair. It means abandoning, forever, the myth of welfare dependency. It means investment. It means giving people a hand up when they need it, a chance to better themselves. It means that those who rail against taxing those who have prospered in this economy need to be called out as the cowardly traitors they are.

Do you think corporate taxes could, or should be lower? (In fact, I do). All right, Mr. CEO. Here’s a list of five struggling communities. You want a tax break? Build factories in any two of them.

Donald Trump’s actual proposals, on his website, won’t help. He’s all bluster, with no real ideas. But we could enlist him. I think it’s possible he may actually care. In any event, the success of his candidacy is remarkable, and, if it leads to genuine change, could be a positive thing. But he shouldn’t be President. What we need are people in office committed to actually helping poor people. That’s the bottom line.

Let’s just recognize that the poor are still among us. And they’re dying. And their poverty is, absolutely and inequivocally, Not Their Fault.

10 Cloverfield Lane: Movie Review

10 Cloverfield Lane is generally listed as a horror movie, and described as a sequel to Matt Reeves 2008 found-footage fright-fest Cloverfield. In fact, it’s neither. It’s not really a horror film, and it’s not remotely a sequel. Cloverfield had an urban setting, a young cast of terrified-out-of-their-minds millennials, and used the found-footage gimmick to build scares and thrills. This new film is something else entirely. It’s a powerfully suspenseful psychological drama, with a sci-fi twist at the end. Imagine Room set in the world of Independence Day, and you’ve just about got it.

Which leaves us with a powerfully engaging film with an essential weirdness that you don’t really notice until you leave the theater. It’s awfully well-acted though. And well enough written, aside from the fact that it doesn’t make a lick of sense.

The movie begins with a woman named Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), packing her stuff in a box, very emotional, leaving an apartment in a city. She finally walks out, leaving behind her room key and an engagement ring. All this is handled quickly, a fast-paced montage, no dialogue. She drives along lonely highways, and her phone keeps buzzing. She answers, and a male voice begs her to give him another chance. She disconnects the call without responding. Just about at the point when I thought ‘she’s paying too much attention to that phone to be able to drive safely,’ a truck smashes into her car, which careens off the highway. Blackout.

When she wakes up, she’s chained to a bed in a featureless concrete room, with an IV in her arm. Enter Howard (John Goodman). He’s not terribly communicative, but does explain that he saved her life, that she was in an accident, that he found her and brought her to his, well, shelter. Which she can never leave. Because something terrible has happened.

Howard is, we learn, a survivalist, and this shelter is his refuge from a disaster that he always anticipated, and which now has come. He’s not sure what the nature of that disaster might have been. He’s the kind of person who always anticipated catastrophe, and is a little jazzed now that one’s taken place. But what exactly is the problem? He doesn’t know, if the air outside is poisoned by chemicals or biological agents or aliens or radioactivity. But he’s sure that the area outside is uninhabitable. He shows Michelle the front door, up some stairs, and she can just barely see his livestock in a pen, two pigs, dead now of some dreadful skin disease. A woman comes to the door, her face ravaged as well, screaming to be allowed in, raw with disease, and then dies just outside.

There’s also a third person down there, a local guy, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who helped Howard build the shelter, and was similarly rescued, though he did sustain what appears to be a major burn on his arm. Emmett’s clearly a few sandwiches shy of a picnic, but he’s the only potential ally Michelle might have. Assuming that Howard’s wrong, and they can actually escape. But who knows?

Because, of course, the central dramatic question in this film is ‘which is more dangerous, the world outside this shelter, or Howard.’ Because Howard is clearly crazy. And potentially lethal. And weird and creepy.

I mean, the shelter’s actually kind of nice. There’s a TV, not hooked up to any cable system or anything, but available for DVD and VHS movies, of which Howard has quite a collection (mostly of the John Hughes variety). There’s even a jukebox. There’s a kitchen, with electric stove, and plenty of victuals. And there’s plumbing, but that belongs more in the weird category.

Each of them has a personal space; Michelle has her featureless concrete room, Howard has a nice bedroom, and Emmett sleeps in the corner of a storage room. But the only bathroom facilities are in Howard’s room, and he insists on being present when Michelle uses those facilities. She does get a shower curtain to draw, for privacy. But she knows he’s right there. Which frankly creeps her out, and who can blame her? It is creepy.

So every plot twist has to do with Howard, some new revelation about him and what he stands for and what he intends. And, of course, there are twists and turns, moments when he seems genuine and decent, moments when he seems dangerously nuts. The entire film is a battle of wits, Michelle vs. Howard, with Emmett in the middle. In fact, I kept wondering if it wouldn’t make a better play than film.

You’d need three great actors; this film has them. John Goodman is genuinely one of the legendary American character actors ever, is he not? John Gallagher retains an air of mystery, and just a hint that this character may be brighter than he appears, that he’s hiding behind a clueless rube facade. And Mary Elizabeth Winstead is tremendous. I love the character’s intelligence, her wary vulnerability, the way the character plots and schemes and hides and thinks her way through problems. It’s a fine, nuanced performance. In an action thriller.

Why is Mary Elizabeth Winstead not a bigger star? She’s so good in Mercy Street, on PBS.  She was marvelous in Smashed, and in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Those are great movies, and she shines in them, but she’s also been charismatic and fun in crappy movies; a splendid Mary Todd Lincoln in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. That’s a ridiculous film, of course, but she was honestly the best thing in it.

This is, of course, also kind of a ridiculous film, especially the last ten minutes, when something suggested by the ‘Cloverfield’ of its title happens. But it’s an acting tour-de-force, genuinely suspenseful and nicely directed, by first-timer, Dan Trachtenburg. It was such a pleasure to see a film that didn’t rely on gross-out bloodiness or cheap shocks, that instead just relied on two dangerous human beings, trying to figure each other out.

Zootopia: Movie review

I wasn’t going to see Zootopia. The trailer I saw featured a colorful world of anthropomorphic bipedal animals, mammals all, walking around on their hind legs in an urban environment, chatting on their cell phones and sharing apps and riding around in trains. It looked cute, a fun kids’ movie, but probably a bit one-joke, maybe a little content-free. And then my son saw it, and called it a ‘must-see’ and my wife and I figured we’d give it a shot.

What I did not expect to see was a thoughtful, intelligent allegory about racism and exclusion and prejudice and politics and how fear can lead to a mob mentality. What I did not expect to see was a movie about bullying and violence and how scarring childhood violence can be, even years afterwards.

What we did not expect to see is a movie in which the main character, one of the most plucky, smart, courageous, undaunted female characters I’ve seen in any movie ever, would nonetheless succumb to culturally inherited racism and do tremendous damage to her own society.

It’s a wonderful movie. What it isn’t is a cute Disney kids’ comedy.

Okay, so, Zootopia is set in an idyllic possibly-even-millennial future, where carnivores have overcome their hunting instincts and embrace herbivore lifestyles, where accommodations are made for mammals of every shape and size–very tall drink stands for giraffes, trains with different sized doors–and predators and prey co-exist happily enough.

Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) is a country bunny, a cute (only ‘cute’ has become racially problematic–rabbits can call each other ‘cute,’ but non-rabbits? Better not.) little rabbit with a winsomely twitching nose, and with the unrealistic dream of becoming a cop. A police officer. Except cops are all predators, or at least very large veggiephiles; chief of police Bogo (Idris Elba) seems to be a cape buffalo. Judy was first in her police academy class, but no one really takes her seriously. But she does land an assignment no one else wants, to find a missing, possibly kidnapped, otter.

To which end, she meets Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a fox, a street smart, world-weary hustler and con man. Although he exists on the fringes of the law, he considers himself unprosecutable–but Judy goes the Al Capone route with him, nails him for tax evasion, a charge she promises not to pursue if he helps her find the otter. And so, a cop-buddy comedy ensues, a mismatched pair of underfoxbunnies sorting through clues and solving a crime that turns out to be bigger and more widely spread than they first imagined. And becoming ever more unlikely friends.

As they search, we join them in visits to the various Zootopia ecosystems, from tundra to rain forest to savannah. All beautifully realized. And, along the way, we meet Mr. Big, a mafioso vole (wonderfully voiced by Maurice LeMarche), a sheep-run meth lab (where we hear that they have to hurry, as ‘Walter and Jesse’ are on their way), and in my favorite conceit, a DMV office entirely staffed by three-toed sloths. I should also mention the recurring character of Gazelle, a pop star voiced by Shakira, who also sells an app where you can replace her head on your own, as she sings her one big hit, “Try Everything.” Not to mention a bug-infested hippie yak, voiced by Tommy Chong, a chubby feline desk clerk, Clawhouser (Nate Torrance), and assistant mayor Bellwether (Jenny Slate), a peculiarly obsequious sheep civil servant, with, it turns out, larger political ambitions of her own.

So, yes, it’s a brightly colored Disney confection, lots of fun. But underneath all of that is the ubiquitous issue of race. And in this film, race is, initially, more about difference than about class or oppression or post-colonialism. Animals have evolved. Predators no longer predate; prey are no longer eaten. Animals live in harmony, and cities clearly take measures to accommodate essentially any mammal, tiny or massive or anything in between.

I don’t want to give away the film’s biggest plot point. But our own culture’s falsest notions about race make an ugly appearance in this film, brought into the narrative by the unlikeliest of characters. By Judy, our plucky, brave, bright-eyed bunny heroine. The film actually raises the idea of biological determinism. Some creatures can’t help themselves, posits Judy (falsely, it turns out). Just as contemporary racists insist that certain racialist characteristics are inborn and fundamental, this film raises the possibility that change, ultimately, is impossible.

Nick, the fox, street-wise and damaged, sees right through it. He knows better–he knows that diversity is strength, or can be, or should be. Not because he’s some kind of liberal weenie idealist, but because that’s what the world has taught him. And eventually Judy figures it out too, and the film has an appropriately happy ending. Still. This is a Disney animated film, for children. And yet, amazingly, also a film about how damaging racism is to us all. And a film in which every character, at some level, is both victim of racism and perpetrator of it.

It’s fun and funny and smart, and of course, it’s Disney; it’s a great looking film. More than that, though, it has intelligent things to contribute to our society’s continuing conversation about race. I was amazed. You will be too.


I find myself in an odd position, politically, these days. I’m a liberal Democrat, which means my ward/neighborhood tends to regard me, with a bemused chuckle, as our resident amiable eccentric. But Donald Trump’s ascendancy has alarmed the natives–Utah is not Trump territory, and the thought of him becoming the Republican candidate for President is regarded with horror by nearly all my church friends and neighbors. Trumpism has led, both here and nationally, to a certain amount of Republican soul-searching and navel-gazing: with anguished cries of ‘how could things have gone so terribly wrong?’  How indeed.

I’m a big fan of the Deseret News, the more right-wing of the two Salt Lake City newspapers. Its editorial page is such a splendid guide to Utah conservatism. And today, the paper published this letter to the editor:

I believe the Republican party has reaped the result of ignoring their base for too long and this is the reason we are angry. I was blown away after the last two elections, when Paul Ryan, the House Speaker, passed the huge deficit-laden budget two months ago. All we conservatives want is for the federal government to live up to Constitutional Principles, including limited government, balanced budgets, secure borders, lower taxes (particularly corporate type, which are the highest in the world), eliminate our national debt, obey the rule of law and to get the federal government out of the healthcare and welfare business, which is a personal and state responsibility. At this late date, Mitt Romney and other leading Republicans will not be able to reverse the damage that has been done to their base. They deserve what is happening.

All right: the big sin of the loathed ‘Republican establishment’ was to compromise with President Obama in negotiating and passing a budget. Beyond that, I think this letter does a dandy job of listing the policy positions of Tea Party conservatives. Let’s take a look.

‘Constitutional Principles, Limited government.’ These are conservative First Principles, and everything else flows therefrom. Government should stop doing lots of things it’s currently doing; the federal government should get smaller. That’s where we start.

‘Balanced budgets.’ The federal government should live within its means. Got it. It would be snarky of me to point out that the two most conservative Presidents of my lifetime, Reagan and Bush 43, both vastly increased the deficit. Still, I’m generally sympathetic to the argument that Congress should not vote to spend money without specifying where it’s going to come from. Generally, spending=taxes. But that’s Republican heresy.

‘Secure borders.’ We disagree here; I’m pro-immigration and don’t see the distinction between ‘illegal’ or ‘legal’ immigration as particularly significant. If we have people coming across the border looking for work, the obvious solution is to issue more green cards. But, okay, let’s assume that ‘securing borders’ is important. That means hiring more border guards, building stronger barriers, hiring more customs’ officials. It’s an expensive proposition. How specifically should it be paid for?

‘Lower taxes, eliminate deficits, pay off the national debt.’ Well, if you lower taxes, you lower tax revenues. The government collects less money, and therefore has less money to spend on fences and border guards. We’ll get back to this point later.

‘Obey rule of law.’ Fine. So that means hiring police, building courts and prisons and jails, supporting an entire legal system. I’m not opposed; I do think that’s something else you’re going to have to pay for.

‘Get the federal government out of the health care and welfare business.’ So you want to eliminate Medicare, Medicaid, and the Veterans Administration? Good luck with that. I think you may find getting rid of Medicare a little tricky politically. Older folks like it, and older folks vote.

But that’s only the start. You also want to eliminate the Indian Health Service, the Center for Disease Control, the FDA, the Agency for Healthcare Research, The Agency for Cancer Research and fifty other agencies tasked with supporting research into a whole variety of diseases. OSHA and CHIP? The entire Department of Health and Human Services? Those programs are all really popular. You want to get rid of the CDC? Seriously?

And that’s only the health care part of the equation. This letter also wants to eliminate all federal welfare. For starters, that means getting rid of Social Security. That’ll be a fun political fight; it’s the most popular federal program of all time, basically. Still, you’re committed, as a matter of principle, to eliminating welfare. That means Social Security.

But that’s not all. Getting rid of welfare means getting rid of the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is maybe the most successful anti-poverty program now running. It means getting rid of food stamps, which feed 45 million Americans, including a lot of military families. There are special programs for blind and disabled Americans, a big variety of housing assistance programs, Pell Grants, Head Start, Child Nutrition programs, Job training programs. I’m a big fan of TANF, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which moves families from welfare to jobs. How about WIC? I’m not sure if it fits under welfare or health care, but it’s a program providing healthy food for pregnant women in poverty and their small children. How about LIHEAP? The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Because for poor families to freeze to death on cold days strikes me as unAmerican.

Now, this letter writer insists that welfare is a private responsibility. And in fact, Americans spend 1.6 trillion dollars of their own money on private social welfare expenditures. We do a lot. It’s not terribly realistic to expect us to do more.

More to the point, if we Americans hard-heartedly cut all welfare spending (including Social Security and Medicare), yes, that would enable us to balance our budgets; sure. Unless we cut taxes by too much. And all of the Republican Presidential candidates, without exception, are running on platforms that include massive tax cuts. The two worst are the two front-runners, Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. The trillion dollar tax cuts those two propose would leave us with massive budget deficits even if we eliminated Social Security and Medicare.

But don’t tax cuts stimulate the economy enough to pay for themselves? No. It just doesn’t happen. A small, carefully focused tax cut can have some small stimulative power if the biggest problem in the economy is a lack of investment capital. That’s absolutely not the situation we find ourselves in now.

When Donald Trump talks about how he can balance the budget by eliminating wasteful spending, that’s a sound bite that sounds terrific, and also really familiar, because it’s what Republican office seekers have been saying for years. It also isn’t true. To make government small enough to simultaneously cut taxes AND eliminate the deficit/pay down the debt would require cutting a whole lot of very popular government programs. It’s politically impossible, and rightfully so; caring for the health and welfare of its citizens is a legitimate function of government, and also, entirely constitutional.  But this kind of grumpy-old-man ‘kick all them lazy bums off welfare’ tirade does not add up to sensible or feasible policies.

And that’s the problem. Because the contents of this letter could have been lifted straight from every speech by every Republican seeker of national office over the last forty years. People have been systematically lied to. They’ve been promised impossibilities. And they’ve gotten ticked off when the politicians they elect can’t deliver miracles. Which, of course, they can’t.

Conservative ideology is built on a foundation of falsehood, a foundation that says that ‘government can do all the things we want it to do, but remain small and cheap.’ (To some extent, liberal ideology is similarly dishonest: ‘the government can fix everything, and cheaply too!) And so the electorate is saying ‘you didn’t deliver!’ And, now, has turned to one of two buffoons, Trump and Cruz, who won’t be able to deliver either, but who sound outrageous enough that it’s harder to tell that they’re also lying. Conservatives have sowed; now it’s time to reap. And this preposterous election season is the harvest.