They let it happen

8 Feb

Donald Trump is our President. It seems incredible, surreal, like a bad joke the cosmos are playing on us. Is the reality show guy, the guy from Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, actually sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office occupied by Barack Obama just 18 days ago? Life in America right now is so maddening that I, someone who lives firmly outside of the right-wing bubble, have to ask, how on Earth did we get here?

I keep going back to Reince Priebus. Spineless little worm Reince Priebus. He was the nominal leader of the Republican Party. Reince Priebus never discouraged Donald Trump from running for the Republican nomination. Once he began winning elections, Reince Priebus didn’t pull Trump aside and ask him to drop out for the good of the party. He didn’t ask Trump to tone it down once his rallies became ugly and violent. Throughout the long primary and then general election campaigns, the man in charge of the Republicans let Trump highjack the party, foregoing the good of the country for political gain.

And Paul Ryan? He felt empowered enough to criticize candidate Trump, but now? He is lockstep behind his party’s President. Hard to recall that just four years ago he was Mitt Romney’s vice presidential candidate. I suspect that neither Ryan nor Priebus is driven by right-wing talk radio-driven hate and xenophobia. Priebus’ RNC produced the infamous 2012 autopsy that recommended that Republicans expand outreach to minority communities if they were to thrive in an increasingly diverse America. Ryan’s GOP pays lip service to vague concepts like liberty and opportunity, but when these ideas are made concrete and put on the chopping block by President Trump (I still shudder to type those words), like badmouthing federal judges and not divesting from his businesses, the Republican Speaker stays silent. There is no room for principle when there is a seat at the table and one is thirsty for power.

The ascension of erstwhile Ted Cruz supporter Kellyanne Conway, former RNC hack Sean Spicer, and the aforementioned Ryan and Priebus all show how tempting it is to succumb to access to power. I also suspect that there is an element of fear at play here- these people feared that if they couldn’t beat him, they’d have to join him. And so they joined him. So how did we get here, with a cruel ignoramus as President, with his slender fingers just one push away from the nuclear button? It happened because, one by one, people with scruples fell all over themselves to accommodate him and aid his ascension. They let it happen. Don’t ever forget it.

Jamás Será Vencido

25 Jan
Women's March

Women’s March

Tengo ganas de expresarme pero no sé qué decir. Durante el día de hoy, he sentido rabia, ira, tristeza, y un profundo sentimiento de impotencia. Ya siento que han pasado días desde el Women’s March que asistí en San Francsico el sábado, donde salí sonriendo y con mucha esperanza. Pero hoy, Trump promete construir el muro fronterizo. Pero la noticia no termina ahí.

Según una copia de los planes iniciales de Trump sobre qué hacer con las ciudades santuarias que darán refugio a los inmigrantes indocumentados, se publicará una lista semanal de delitos cometidos por los indocumentados en dichas ciudades. Cuando lo leí en Twitter, mi primer pensamiento fue, “esto provocará una ola de odio”. Cometerán delitos inspirados por esta campaña de odio que viene desde el hombre más poderoso del mundo. Creo que esta lista odiosa es el aspecto mas fea de todo lo que he leído hoy, además del bloqueo de refugiados de países asolados por la guerra, el 35% arancel sobre importaciones mexicanas, y la mentira que votaron miles de millones de “ilegales” que le costaron al pobrecito Trump su voto popular. El término ilegales- un adjetivo para referirse a seres humanos- es ofensivo. Pero suponer que todo voto latino era un voto ilegítimo es sumamente racista. Me molesta que los medios masivos no habla del aspecto racista de esta mentira; lo critican como falso e impreciso, pero no lo ven como parte de la vasta campaña en contra de la comunidad mexicana de Estados Unidos.

Quiero que la esperanza de la marcha femenina se traduce en acciones concretas en las semanas y los meses venideros. Quiero que toda persona decente se declare en contra de este odio. Más que nada, espero que nuestros líderes tanto en California como en Washington reflejen la decencia de su gente. Los latinos están bajo amenaza. Es hora de parar, organizarnos, y manifestarnos. De nuevo.

Fear

15 Jan

It starts as a shudder, a dawning

Realization of

Impossibility

The door closing,

The window, swinging shut

The horizon, extending ever further

And further beyond

Suffocation,

Air whistling and hissing as it escapes

The room

Trapped inside as things close in,

Get smaller and smaller and smaller

And all you can do

Is cower

In fear

Moonlight: A Dissent

23 Dec
Moonlight

Moonlight

I was eager to see “Moonlight”, after reading so many rave reviews. It is being hailed as the best movie of the year by many critics, who call it a masterpiece and a revelation. Such praise places high expectations on a new movie. So I watched it with eagerness, and there were aspects of it that I loved. But there was one key aspect that I didn’t like, and which kept me from fully embracing it.

First, what makes the film moving: the acting. No Best Actor or Best Actress statues will be given to any of the actors from “Moonlight”. It is truly an ensemble piece, which makes sense given that the movie is all about a handful of key people who revolve around the protagonist, Chiron- three individuals who believe in him and support him, and his mother, a mercurial crack addict. No man is an island, and Mahershali Ali, Naomie Harris and Janelle Monae do fine work- especially Ali, whose Juan says so much with a glance, a weary look. Kevin, the friend who knows Chiron from childhood to manhood, is expertly played by three different actors. And the three actors who play Chiron illustrate his interior life with their sad eyes, their hunched figures, their sullen faces. Look at the picture that accompanies this post.

But this is where my main criticism lies. The actors playing Chiron rely so heavily on physically manifesting the character in their faces and bodies because they are not given much dialogue. Chiron is practically written as a mute. Rather than think this is a profound statement of how alienated he is, I saw it as a cop out. Someone who is neglected and lonely throughout childhood will certainly not socialize like a normal boy, but he could act out. Rant. Rave. Be awkward and make weird jokes that fall flat. Talk back to his mother. He could confide in one person, and have a moment to reveal something about himself. But because he is so underwritten, we get no sense of his interiority. We only see this wounded soul with sad, puppy dog eyes, but nothing is revealed about him. For most of the movie, we see someone who is barely present in his own life. It is deeply touching to see others reach out to him, especially in the last scene. But I was frustrated at how opaque Chiron remained throughout.

 

Top 5 Movies of 2016

18 Dec
La La Land

La La Land

It’s time for my annual review of movies that I saw this year that I found particularly funny, enjoyable, insightful, moving, or otherwise memorable. 2016 was a dumpster fire of a year; these movies made things better for the two hours of their running time. Who knows what future generations will make of the movies released during this last year of Obama’s presidency: are they the relics of a dying culture, a burst of creative energy before our society fell in 2017? Who knows what this list will look like next year. But here are my favorite movies from 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.

Midnight Special: I argue that this is a better first contact movie that the over-hyped “Arrival”: more spectacular, more thrilling, more human and more urgent than the one in which Amy Adams teaches heptapods the rudiments of English grammar. “Midnight Special” starts with a bang, as we see a boy, wearing goggles, taking off in the night with two grown men. They are fleeing- but from whom? The movie is tautly paced, tossing clues out to the audience slowly but surely so that we may put the pieces together about who the boy is, and why he is so desperately sought by a religious movement and the government. The score is spare and haunting, the acting is superb, notably Adam Driver, Michael Shannon, and the young Jaeden Lieberher as Alton, the young boy whose special powers are at the heart of the movie.

A Hologram for the King: I enjoyed the Dave Eggers book that this movie was based on, but didn’t think that it’s meandering plot lent itself to a film adaptation. But I was happy to be proven wrong when I saw this movie starring Tom Hanks, who has had a knack in this latter half of his career for playing decent men in extraordinary circumstances (Captain Philips, Sully). But here he plays an ordinary man who finds himself in an extraordinary place: the Saudi Arabian desert. Tasked with landing the biggest pitch of his life and making a sale to a Saudi prince, he ends up feeling free being so far from home. He strikes up a friendship with a local driver and begins a flirtation with a doctor. This isn’t the “Lost in Translation” version of being far from home and alienated; this is the liberation of becoming a newer, fuller version of oneself in a distant place. It’s a lovely little film.

The Girl on the Train: This is the rare case of a movie being better than the book. I read the novel earlier this year, and was disappointed in the flimsy plot, since I was expecting something akin to Gone Girl. Well, “The Girl on the Train” proves to be an effective thriller, while also serving as an effective showcase for Emily Blunt. Academy voters will most likely forget about her performance come award season, but she plays a tricky role- alcoholic, desperate, obsessive- and deserves to be recognized.

Southside with You: This movie will feel even more bittersweet as the Obama years fade into memory, I imagine. I already felt nostalgic when watching it this summer, an intimate story of two young, black professionals falling in love over the course of one long, first date….and those two young people are Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson. “Southside with You” takes its time, lingering over the hesitant face of Michelle as she opens herself to her confident, assured suitor. We witness the spectacle of two people getting to know each other through conversation, and it is a joy to behold.

La La Land: Unlike the movie described above, “La La Land” gives us the chance to see a young couple fall in love not so much through long conversations, but through song and dance and visual spectacle. And what a spectacle it is. It is gorgeous, with clever nods to French new-wave cinema and classic Old Hollywood musicals, while still being entirely original. This is the rare musical that has you humming the original tunes as you leave the theater, the sure sign of a good musical (can you sing any tune from “Wicked”?). But “La La Land” is more than a musical: it is a love story and a story about the age-old conundrum of safe career paths vs bold creative choices. What if one’s creative dreams clash with one’s pursuit of true love? That is the story told here in loving detail, expertly directed by Damien Chazelle. It’s because of movies like this that we go to the movies.

Dishonorable mention: Hail Caesar. Sadly, I have to call out the Coen Brothers’ “Hail Caesar” for wasting two hours of my life that I will never get back. This film might be enjoyable for old Hollywood aficionados who can guess the real-life inspirations behind the goofy cast of characters. But otherwise, I was left thinking…why? Why watch this movie? Why make this movie? It was all a story not worth telling, in my view.

Disrupt This Ad

6 Dec

When he spoke in front of a room of media professionals at Code/Media earlier this year, Gabe Leydon of Machine Zone, the mobile gaming giant, spooked the room with his view that brand awareness, CPM-based digital campaigns will soon go the way of the dodo. There is such a fondness among Silicon Valley types for disruption, or at least the appearance of disruption, that this seemed newsworthy. A young Turk taking on the dinosaurs. But Leydon’s experience with digital media buying at Machine Zone is not representative of the myriad needs of different brands and publishers across the web. To think his experience is universal would be a mistake.

Leydon talked about his company’s revenue model of in-app purchases within a mobile game. For the very particular product that he is selling, heavy advertising on Facebook has proved very successful. Machine Zone pays Facebook a click per install rate, and the more people install the app, the more people get hooked and pay for in-app purchases, which is where the real money is made. Fine. But not all advertisers are Machine Zone; their objective isn’t installs or in-app purchases, but the purchase of flights to new airline routes, or a public awareness campaign to sign up for healthcare, or a sale on stylish sunglasses. The aforementioned examples are just some that I remember from my days running ad campaigns on display, mobile and video. Different advertisers have different goals. Installs are not the only metric that matters. Far from it.

In the talk, Leydon also indicated that publishers avoid quantifying their media, that they are all in on the racket.  That is simply not borne out by my experience. What I found when working with publishers is that they are often not as knowledgeable as they need to be about how to earn money online. Publishers are not the enemy; along with Leydon, I blame ad tech. There are always studies showing that bots make up a huge proportion of web traffic. Moat recently made the New York Times with its new product offering, a traffic verification tool. I worked at an ad network that sought to be transparent by using Moat’s technology. But in this age of programmatic buying, transparency and quality fall by the wayside. Digital advertising provides so many more opportunities for advertisers to glean insights into consumers, to create partnerships with publishers, to sell products effectively. I wholeheartedly support more transparency and efficiency in online advertising. Can a one-stop shop really handle the creation, placement and trafficking of online campaigns? Is Leydon’s insistence on disrupting online media buying prophetic or shortsighted? I am reminded of the saying “When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” One company’s needs do not represent the trends of the rest of the industry.

 

 

A Moral 9/11

16 Nov
Awful Trump

Awful Trump

Thomas Friedman articulated my feelings after last Tuesday so well: the election of Donald Trump is a moral 9/11. Except the only difference is that the damage from 9/11 was inflicted from outside, whereas we did this to ourselves.

Sometimes it takes a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist to articulate what we are feeling. The fact that Trump’s victory represents a self-inflicted wound. It means that rather than looking at the Obama years as a shining moment in American history, we will look at it as just a period of calm between the W years and the Donald years. It is proof that Americans learned nothing from the Bush years. We watched as a thoroughly unprepared man tiptoed into the White House and proceeded to surround himself with Batman villains that toppled the economy and started two simultaneous ground wars in the Muslim world and thought, how can we go lower?

One reason that November 8th, 2016 feels like 9/11 is that we will all recall where we were when we realized that Donald Trump would succeed Barack Obama as President. When we realized that the campaign of Yes We Can was replaced with America First. When those of us who are not rural, white men realized that millions and millions of our fellow citizens had no problem affirming a campaign of white nationalism and wanton cruelty. Speaking of wanton cruelty, contemplate the picture that accompanies this post. Donald Trump is mocking a disabled journalist. Why was that not a thoroughly disqualifying moment? The fact that it was treated as a non-issue by the media- just another gaffe by wacky Trump- should have been the first sign that  nothing would stick to him. The Republican party saw what an incompetent hateful sociopath they were dealing with…and yet they chose to step aside and let him take over their party. Why? Because they thought he was an empty vessel that they could control. They decided they were okay with a candidate who would rip apart the social fabric of America and make our country’s diversity an issue to be contested rather than a simple fact of our society. And it turned out to be a winning strategy.

I’m sad and angry. Feelings of resignation alternate with feelings of rage. I’m angry that there have been at least 400 documented incidents of hate and intimidation in the last WEEK alone. That is only incidents that have been reported to date. I try to overcome my fear by speaking out, but I admit, I’m scared. I’m glad I tweet under a pseudonym. Although I look pretty white for someone of my background (call me an undercover minority), I still am fearful for myself and others, like my family and my friends who stand out more than I do. I am angry as hell that widespread fear for our safety is the result of a presidential election. It bears repeating over and over and over again: this is not normal.

This is a moral 9/11. We did it to ourselves.
http://content.jwplatform.com/players/JuufWlrh-EAYoNgFe.html