A very popular movie on how the terrorists win


A group of terrorists attempts to steal a weapon of mass destruction by driving a truck through the gates of a government compound in the capital city of an African nation.

The terrorists are stopped by a special forces team led by a legendary American soldier. The leader of the terrorists vows revenge against the American and detonates a suicide vest. But the explosion is deflected, becoming an airborne projectile which rips through a nearby office building, killing innocents.

In this opening sequence from “Captain America: Civil War”, the filmmakers evoke the 1983 Beirut barracks bombings, the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the rationale for the invasion of Iraq as well as the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001.

While “Civil War” may not be a great or lasting movie, it exploits our recent political history in an attempt to dramatize an important claim.

When Captain America was first created over 70 years ago, his first public act was to punch Adolf Hitler in the face. In “Civil War”, there are no Islamic mujahideen, no falsified evidence of WMD, no oil-rich monarchies nor power-hungry neocons.

Instead, the movie’s villain is a man who lost his wife, son and father as casualties of righteous American imperialism; an ordinary soldier from a failed state who is hell-bent on revenge. His motivation echoes the movie’s stated premise, presented convincingly by a grieving employee of the U.S. State Department: what is the difference between avenging and revenging? between violence in the service of justice and violence in the service of emotional satisifaction?

While the titular hero is proven right in defending unilateralism – by acting against the wishes of the United Nations, Captain America finds a cache of WMD – his is a hollow victory. The WMD have been “deactivated”; they were a ruse to turn the Americans against themselves.

In the end, “Civil War” is unwilling to state its case as clearly as the movie “War Games” did in 1983 – “the only winning move is not to play” – but that it questions our ability to fight terrorism is significant. Can America respond rationally in the face of an emotional provocation?

I hope its fans clamor for an answer.

Ghost in the Shell

Emily Yoshida makes a subtle argument for the changing political context of art:

Japanese audiences, unlike American audiences, don’t understand Motoko to be a Japanese character, just because she speaks Japanese and has a Japanese name. This speaks to the racial mystery zone that so much anime exists in…

Of course, it’s a different issue for Japanese Americans… For us, anime is something from our country, or our parents’ country, that was cool enough for white kids to get into just as fervently.

In summary: Japanese artists chose to draw protagonists with non-Japanese features. Said characters became popular in the U.S. where they are treated as Japanese characters. Should the actors chosen to portray those characters represent how they were received or how they were conceived? If both conditions cannot be satisfied, which audience is more important?

the nadir in “midnight run”

In the first image, the protagonist is defeated.

He faces away from us, towards the past. The road ahead of him is indirect and would take him away from us. He is pushed up against an enormous wall. There is no exit. The scene is clear as day.

And then, in the very next shot, a door that reads “Closed” opens, and the protagonist enters, facing us. The diagonal of the road is replaced by the diagonal of the counter which leads him towards us – away from the shadows and towards a warm light.

In this scene, he will be redeemed.


From the superb movie “Midnight Run“.

beside the lake, beneath the trees

How Trees Calm Us Down:

Urban environments can certainly elicit involuntary attention… but they do so in a harsh, peremptory way that requires voluntary attention to override. Natural environments, on the other hand, provide what Berman calls “softly fascinating stimulation.” Your eye is captured by the shape of a branch, a ripple in the water; your mind follows.

the cruel myth of the rugged individual

Jesse Singal:

In other words, it may simply be the case that many people who lived in less equal, more “traditional” times were forced into close companionship with a lot of other people, and that this shielded them from certain psychological problems, whatever else was going on in their lives.“I often think about my grandmother on my mother’s side, who ran a farm in rural Minnesota with my grandfather,” said Twenge. “They had seven children, and they had to get up at five o’clock every day to milk the cows. My uncle tells me stories about her pushing a plow and stopping to barf because she was pregnant so many times.” It was a tough life, in other words, but: “She was always surrounded by people — not just her immediate family, but she had extended families, brothers and sisters, living in the farms around her. She was virtually never alone — and that can be a bad thing, clearly, but from a mental health perspective being surrounded by people is a good thing.”



special interests

Luke Harding on findings in the Panama Papers:

There is no explanation in the files of why the banks agreed to extend such unorthodox credit lines.

Some of the cash obtained from RCB was also lent back onshore in Russia at extremely high interest rates, with the resulting profits siphoned off to secret Swiss accounts.

Truly the best way to rob a bank!

Curl a word


The first stage is anger. Then bitterness. The third stage is laughter and irreverence and understanding that, “Oh! I can have fun. Don’t take it too seriously. Have fun with it.” So twist a phrase, curl a word, paint on a mustache.

“Se Vale Soñar” by Juan Cierro

My own hasty translation of the lyrics:

I wish that when it rained
instead of water, cocaine fell
that beer would run along with tequila
through the rivers and to the sea

That in the gardens
instead of flowers,
carnations and lilies
Marijuana plants, coca and opium – 
how pretty!

There would be no cartels
Much less mafia types
Mother nature would
take care of us
making sure we’re happy
Drunk and out of our minds

Things would be so great
if the shitty government didn’t exist
We would live more comfortably
without coveting what’s not ours

It would be so cool
To have the cat’s seven lives
So I could get into a shootout
with the gangbangers and hitmen

But God doesn’t make daydreams come true
Nor does He heal the lame
All I can do is be happy with what He’s given me
It’s important to dream my brother
I don’t think that’s a sin

Quisiera que cuando llueva
En vez de agua, cayera perico
Y que corriera cerveza,
Tequila por mar y ríos

Que en los jardines hubiera
En vez de flores, claveles o lirios
Matitas de marihuana,
Coca y opio, ¡Qué bonito!

Los carteles no existieran
Mucho menos los mafiosos
La madre naturaleza
Se encargaría de nosotros
De tenernos bien contentos
Todos borrachos y locos

Estuviera a toda madre
Que no existiera el perro Gobierno
Viviéramos más a gusto
Sin amantes de lo ajeno

También fuera una chulada
Tener las siete vidas del gato
Para agarrarme a balazos
Con los chotas y soldados

Pero Dios no cumple antojos
Ni endereza jorobados
Solo queda conformarme
Con todo lo que me ha dado
Se vale soñar pariente
No creo que eso sea pecado

Boba is Yuca

Before I could talk, I was eating yuca. In the way that Americans upgrade a fast food meal by adding fries, Cubans add yuca. It’s cheap, filling and thus as central to Cuban food culture as hunger. (It was Cuba’s first commercial crop and thus predates its nationhood.)

Today I live far from the Caribbean city where I first learned the taste of food. The distance can feel absolute. Los Angeles is a “hot pot” of North American, Central American, European and Asian cultures but Caribbean food in general and Cuban food in particular is not really in the mix. At least, not on the surface.

Recently, I’ve begun to drink iced milk teas with boba on an almost daily basis. Invented in Taiwan in the 1980s* and now marketed as bubble teas, boba teas typically come in Asian flavors: Thai, matcha, jasmine, taro†, etc. When I consume boba tea, I feel more like a citizen of LA and less like a native of Cuba.

And yet… it turns out that boba is tapioca and tapioca is cassava and cassava is…


Boba is made out of yuca.


The earth is round. Cultures circulate. Coincidences mulitply.

*so-called “Cuban coffee” is similarly multinational; not just because coffee was first cultivated in Ethiopia and sugar cane in Southeast Asia but because espresso coffee, a process that requires industrial machinery, was invented in Italy in the 1880s.

†Taro is what Cubans call malanga; one of my earliest memories is of eating boiled malanga mash covered in warm milk.

Image of yuca on the right from GoodMotherDiet.com


Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato:

Workers with less education are more likely to take jobs with more workplace stress, such as those involving shift work, experiencing frequent layoffs, or demanding long hours. Occupations requiring more years of education also experience some of the same stressors, but those stressors are unlikely to have the same impact.

Dry direction

Jason Guerrasio:

“We’re all standing there and Malick hands out these pieces of paper to all of us,” Lennon said. “And the one he gave me said, ‘There’s no such thing as a fireproof wall.’ And I ask, ‘Is this something I’m supposed to say in the scene?’ and he said, ‘I don’t know.’”

Lennon learned, after talking to the director, that there was no script, just a phrase that might inspire him when cameras started rolling.

“And then Malick goes, ‘Would you like some more? Because I have a whole stack of these.’ And I was like, ‘I think I’m good,’” Lennon said.


From West of Eden: An American Place by Jean Stein, excerpted by Andrew O’Hagan:

I was very young in 1955, when Warner Brothers did Rebel without a Cause – 18 or 19 years old. We’d started shooting in black and white, and two weeks into it Jack clearly saw that something was going on with James Dean. He said, ‘Change this picture to colour. The kid’s going to be a star.’ He’d found his new Rin Tin Tin.

Then one day, the next year, Jimmy Dean and I were coming out of the commissary on the Warner Brothers set, and Jack Warner came up to introduce the banker Serge Semenenko to Jimmy: Semenenko put out his hand to shake hands, and Jimmy reached into his pocket, threw a bunch of coins at their feet, and walked off. They looked completely stunned. I followed Jimmy like a puppy dog and said: ‘What the hell was that all about?’ So he told me that Jack had convinced [his brother] Harry that they should sell the studio, and they sold it to Semenenko; then, the day after, Jack bought back in. All he had really done was to buy his brother out. So that was Jimmy Dean’s reply to what Jack had done.

Where coincidences come from

Julie Beck:

Beitman in his research has found that certain personality traits are linked to experiencing more coincidences—people who describe themselves as religious or spiritual, people who are self-referential (or likely to relate information from the external world back to themselves), and people who are high in meaning-seeking are all coincidence-prone. People are also likely to see coincidences when they are extremely sad, angry, or anxious.

“Coincidences never happen to me at all, because I never notice anything,” Spiegelhalter says. “I never talk to anybody on trains. If I’m with a stranger, I don’t try to find a connection with them, because I’m English.”

Beitman, on the other hand, says, “My life is littered with coincidences.” He tells me a story of how he lost his dog when he was 8-or-9-years-old. He went to the police station to ask if they had seen it; they hadn’t. Then, “I was crying a lot and took the wrong way home, and there was the dog … I got into [studying coincidences] just because, hey, look Bernie, what’s going on here?”

“In translation it doubled in size”

Bruce Webber on the late Rosario Ferré

Ms. Ferré began writing in English in the 1990s in the hope of reaching a wider audience. Interviewed by The New York Times in 1998, she said that writing and thinking in another, less familiar language changed her style, making it less flamboyant and less complex.

“When I get into Spanish, I go crazy with words,” she said. “In English, I don’t have the same linguistic repertory. I have no choice but to wear blinders and go straight.”

The result, she said, sometimes ended up surprising her, rendering changes in her characters. “The House on the Lagoon” — a multigenerational story about a wealthy and problematically haughty family that begins in 1917, when Puerto Ricans were granted American citizenship, and ends in the 1980s — is told with rival narrators, a husband and wife, with often conflicting points of view. She wrote it first in Spanish, as “La Casa de la Laguna,” but as she recalled in a 2011 reminiscence (recently published in English as “Memoir”), she decided to translate it into English and send it to an American publisher; it ended up at Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

In translation it doubled in size and changed so much that after it was published, she had to retranslate it back into Spanish. In English, Ms. Ferré said in the Times interview, she found that the patriarchal husband, Quintin Mendizabal, was “less unpleasant, nicer and more human,” whereas in Spanish, he was “a scoundrel who is not worthy of forgiveness.”