Notes
First thoughts, running arguments, stories in progress

Quoted: The 'Who You Gonna Call?' Edition

Tomas Bravo / Reuters

“Guess what? It’s like Ghostbusters, man. When there’s a problem anywhere else, call Ghostbusters. We’re Ghostbusters,” Joe Biden, vice president of the U.S., on America’s international role.

“Our market is to appeal to a very irrational customer,” Randy Treibel, who buys Trump and Sanders campaign merchandise in bulk to sell on Amazon.

“Oh shit, I might’ve started a church,” —what Jodi Houge, a Lutheran pastor, said when people began attending her weekly services in a coffee shop.

All notes on "Quoted" >

Q of the Week: Trump’s Stand-in For Clinton's Debate Prep?

In the coming months, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton will face off in what will surely be some of the most riveting television showdowns of all time. But many campaign watchers are wondering how Clinton is going to prepare for a debate with such a notoriously brash and unpredictable candidate. She is reportedly struggling with that question herself.

So this week, we asked readers to recommend who they think could artfully play Trump in a debate rehearsal. Turns out, you have given this a lot of thought, as nearly a hundred responses came in. Props to reader Marc Boissonneault for the winning suggestion of actor Alec Baldwin. You probably remember Baldwin from his role as wealthy businessman/news exec Jack Donaghy on NBC’s 30 Rock:

Marc writes:

Alec Baldwin has the physical presence and acting ability to be a believable Trump. Also, he is smart and politically savvy, so he would know what Trump would say and how he would act. He would totally kill this gig.

But who else could take on Clinton without holding back?

All notes on "Question of the Week" >

Track of the Day: 'Nothing Else Matters' by Macy Gray

A reader writes:

Macy Gray just released a new song from her upcoming album Stripped, a jazzy cover of Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters.” It’s available to stream via Spotify [and a live performance is embedded above]. It was premiered Wednesday on Vulture, who noted that the song is “performed now as if she were on the marquee at a local jazz club in the ‘30s.”

(Submit a song via hello@. Track of the Day archive here. Pre-Notes archive here.)

All notes on "Cover Songs" >

Do Cautionary Measures Let Rapists Off the Hook?

A reader pushes back on the comments from a mother of two daughters, who said in part:

I’m about as politically correct a person as you can imagine, but I refuse to pretend that there is nothing a woman can do to make rape less likely. Staying in control of one’s faculties may not prevent all attacks, but it will make them less likely to happen. Rapists choose their victims for their vulnerability, and a woman fully aware of her own surroundings is safer than one who is drunk—not absolutely safe, but certainly safer.

The latest reader writes:

My stomach turned when I read that. That kind of thinking is based on the idea that “rapists gonna rape,” as if assault is an unstoppable constant and our only hope is to rape-proof ourselves and our daughters in the hope that someone else ends up being selected as a victim.

I graduated from undergrad in 2011. In my last year at university, I had a textbook removed from my kinesiology course that told its female readers that they could avoid being sexually assaulted if they didn’t touch men on the arm or accept an invitation into a man’s home, because, presumably, doing either of these actions triggers that unstoppable rape compulsion that men are incapable of shutting off.

I followed every rule that I was told when I was younger: don’t drink, don’t go out alone, don’t dress “provocatively.” The last time I was sexually assaulted, I was wearing a pair of jeans and my father’s windbreaker, taking a cab back to my sister’s house. I was not intoxicated. I did not touch the cab driver’s arm. I did not follow him. I was a young woman and I got in a cab. When the police arrived to take my statement, they told me that the reason that I had been assaulted was because I told the driver I was from out of town (when he asked me how to get to the address I had given him).

The point of me sharing this story is this: We can and will always find an excuse to explain why assaults happen until we decide that rape and assault are not inevitable constant forces. I’m tired of hearing excuses for why men assault women. Let’s stop excusing away assault and actually hold perpetrators accountable rather than accepting a scenario where we encourage young women to police themselves in the hope that some other woman will end up being the rape victim.

If you’d like to respond, or have an experience to share, send us a note and we’ll post.

All notes on "Discussing Rape With Kids" >

How the Method Made Acting Personal

Earlier this month, Anjelica Jade Bastién pointed to Jared Leto’s performance in Suicide Squad—the preparations for which involved watching footage of brutal crimes and sending his fellow cast members used condoms—as evidence that “Hollywood Has Ruined Method Acting.” A reader who’s been a member of the Actors Studio for 15 years is outraged by Leto’s antics and the commentary surrounding it:

The pop understanding of Method Acting is that an actor walks around the set in character, goes home in character, does weird stuff, and ruins the environment for everybody else on set. And that is just NOT what Method Acting is. It’s not Method Acting is using your own experiences to make a role deeply personal, particularly when your character has moments that diverge from your experiences.

If you are playing Catherine the Great and want me to call you “Your Highness” on set, that’s perfectly fine. That’s your process. But if you treat the PAs like serfs, you’re just a jerk.

Or, as another reader puts it:

In order to play a killer, one does not need to go out and kill people. That is not acting; that’s insanity.

In a previous note, my colleague Chris had much more on method acting from other readers and actors. What’s striking to me about these comments—with the distinction they draw between literally experiencing something and using an actor’s art to imitate it—echo a debate from more than a century ago, when acting in movies was something entirely new. Back then, as Annie Nathan Meyer wrote in the January 1914 issue of The Atlantic,

Many good souls to-day—after attending their first performance of the modern highly perfected moving pictures—pronounce the death of the art of acting. … Now I am frankly of the opinion that it is not the art of acting that is in any danger, but that it is rather that a certain tradition of acting is indeed passing away. … The stage in many ways has held curiously aloof from the spirit of its age. … The truth is that the freedom of the theater, its right to mirror life untrammeled and unquestioned, has not been won in the sense that such freedom has been won in the other arts.

She goes on to argue that the theater of her time—when it isn’t prioritizing historical or allegorical subjects over realistic, relatable narratives—is caught up in attempts to make settings and costumes seem real, while representations of character remain grandiose and stilted. In this way, the advent of film provides an opportunity for theater:

Will the drama cease to concern itself with an eye-deep realism and concern itself with the soul-drama in which the cinematograph will scarcely attempt to rival it? … This is my hope. … Hopelessly outclassed in realism, in the apotheosis of the commonplace, by the modern photographic invasion, the drama will—even as painting did before it at the oncoming of the photograph three quarters of a century ago—escape into the realms of a heightened personality and an enriched imagination. … The modern actor must … give us an art so personal, so elusive, that the camera cannot follow him into the new realm at all.

Twenty years later, in his 1936 essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” the German critic Walter Benjamin was also skeptical that film could ever capture an actor’s art:

The stage actor identifies himself with the very character of his role. The film actor very often is denied this opportunity. His creation is by no means all of a piece; it is composed of many separate performances. … Let us assume that an actor is supposed to be startled by a knock at the door. If his reaction is not satisfactory, the director can resort to an expedient: when the actor happens to be at the studio again he has a shot fired behind him without his being forwarned of it. The frightened reaction can be shot now and be cut into the screen version. Nothing more strikingly shows that art has left the realm of the “beautiful semblance” which, so far, had been taken to be the only sphere where art could thrive.

Enter method acting, the modern acting technique that promised all the “heightened personality and … enriched imagination” that Meyer had called for in 1914.

The (Intentional?) Silence of the Republicans

Last night, in Time Capsule #88, I noted the deafening silence of Republican officialdom, after Hillary Clinton delivered her calmly devastating indictment of Donald Trump’s racist themes.

After this frontal attack on their own party’s chosen nominee, the rest of the GOP leadership said ... nothing. The cable-news Trump advocates were out in force, but senators? Governors? Previous candidates? Wise men and women of the party? Crickets.

A reader who is not a Trump supporter says there’s a logic to the plan:

I think you might be missing the GOP strategy here regarding Sec. Clinton’s bigotry speech, and the fact that no Republican came forward to defend Donald Trump. Republicans know that she spoke the truth—the indefensible truth about Donald Trump—and they want to squelch any discussion about it. That’s what they are doing.

Because they don’t want this speech on the airwaves, debated on panels, over several news cycles, with more and more of the dirty laundry getting debated in the mainstream news cycles, leading the Nightly News with dramatic music. Screaming headlines. Any any—ANY—statement by a Republican will trigger that discussion that no GOPer wants.

The mainstream news guys are sitting there at their email boxes, waiting, waiting, for statements, so they can write a piece on it. Benjy Sarlin mentioned it on Twitter, which you probably saw. [JF: I have now] And a couple of other journos, agreed.

But without some outraged statement from Ryan, Cruz, anybody, the mainstream journos have nothing to write about, there is no news cycle, no panels, no screaming headlines, no multi-news cycle. Just a Wow! Clinton gave a rough speech!” End of story. And that’s the strategy. Bury this story. And it’s working.

That’s how the GOP handles this kind of story. And it works just fine, every time. The mainstream journos can't find a both-sides hook, and they are nervous about this alt-right stuff anyway, so the story dies. Journos fear the brutality of GOP pushback. So it goes. Every. Time.

Contrast that with the non-story about the Clinton Foundation. Every GOPer was sending out a truckload of statements to keep that story going. Chuck Todd has stated in the past that he—they—have no choice but to write about whatever the GOP is upset about because they all put their shoulder to the wheel. And the GOP always has something for journos to write about. Controversy! And no fear of brutality from the Democrats. That’s how that goes.

That’s why we hate the media. Still. Even more than ever.

All notes on "Trump Nation" >

Trump Time Capsule #88: Crickets

Hillary Clinton in Reno today Aaron Bernstein / Reuters

As with a previous “Crickets” installment, #13, this one notes something we have not heard, and whose absence is remarkable in the history of presidential campaigning.

Today the Democratic nominee for president said this about the Republican party’s chosen nominee:

From the start, Donald Trump has built his campaign on prejudice and paranoia. He’s taking hate groups mainstream and helping a radical fringe take over one of America’s two major political parties….

He promoted the racist lie that President Obama isn’t really an American citizen – part of a sustained effort to delegitimize America’s first black President.

In 2015, Trump launched his own campaign for President with another racist lie. He described Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals….

Since then, there’s been a steady stream of bigotry.

And she went on, in detail. It amounted to as blunt a criticism as one nominee has made about another since … well, I can’t remember a comparable case.

And here is a list of the first ten senior Republican party officials who sprang to their nominee’s defense. These were the senators, governors, cabinet secretaries, former candidates who rushed to say that of course he’s not a bigot, of course he’s not playing on prejudice, of course he’s not legitimizing racism:

1.

2.

3.

4.

5.

6.

7.

8.

9.

10.

***

All notes on "Trump Time Capsule" >

Trump Time Capsule #87: Land of 10,000 Lakes but Not Even 1 Republican on the Presidential Ballot

One-time wrestling-world figure Jesse Ventura, shown while he was governor, won the support of voters in Minnesota. One-time wrestling-world figure Donald Trump might miss the chance to get Minnesotans' votes. Eric Miller / Reuters

The sample ballots recently sent out by the Minnesota Secretary of State included, as presidential candidates: Hillary Clinton of the Democrats, Gary Johnson of the Libertarians, Jill Stein of the Greens, Dan Vacek of the Legal Marijuana Now Party, and a variety of others. But neither Donald Trump nor any other Republican candidate was listed.

Why? The GOP had apparently missed the deadlines and procedures for getting on the ballot—deadlines that the Legal Marijuana Now Party, to name one, had been able to meet. The story from City Pages is here.

Presumably the Republican party will figure out a last-minute workaround. And anyway, Minnesota has a modest total of 10 electoral votes, which have gone Democratic in every single election for the past 40 years. (The estimable Walter Mondale carried two states when running against Ronald Reagan in 1984: the District of Columbia, and his own home state of Minnesota.) So maybe it wouldn’t make a difference one way or the other.

But once again, I’m not aware of anything like this having happened with a major party before. Managerial excellence is of course central to Donald Trump’s promises of what he would do in office. What he’s managing now is his campaign.

All notes on "Trump Time Capsule" >

Track of the Day: 'Hackensack' by Thelonious Monk

If sidemen and backing musicians are the unsung heroes of music, and producers are the even-less sung heroes, where does that leave the engineers?

Few of the men and women who arrange microphones, sit in the booths of recording studios, twist knobs, and commit music to tape (or digital files) are known to the public. But Rudy Van Gelder’s skill and talent were such that his name rightly rose to the top echelons of jazz. Van Gelder died at 91 on Thursday, Nate Chinen reported.

Van Gelder, a trained optometrist, began recording jazz sessions at his parents’ house in Hackensack, New Jersey, as early as the 1940s. Like many of the greatest studio geniuses, RVG (as he was often known) was basically a self-taught amateur, who gradually figured out how to make what were probably the best recordings in the world. By the 1950s he was recording top-flight professionals. Sessions recorded at the house included Miles Davis’ Walkin’, Relaxin’, Workin’, and Steamin’, as well as Bags’ Groove; the Modern Jazz Quartet’s Django; Sonny Rollins’s Tenor Madness and Saxophone Colossus; and Cannonball Adderley’s Somethin’ Else.

In 1959, he moved his studio to a new, purpose-built space in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Around the same time, he quit his day job.

Trump Time Capsule #86: Presidential Economists Offer No Support

Early this month, a group of 50 national-security officials who had served in Republican administrations—Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush I, Bush II—released a statement opposing Donald Trump and saying that he would be “the most reckless President in American history.”

A few days before that, a former head of the CIA formally endorsed Hillary Clinton, saying that Trump had become “an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation.” That was a day after President Obama declared Trump “unfit” for the presidency, and a former prime minister of Sweden said Trump was “a serious threat to the security of the West.”

Today Ben Leubsdorf, Eric Morath, and Josh Zumbrun of the WSJ published the results of a survey of all living former members of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers, with service dating back to the time of Richard Nixon. Not one of them expressed support for Donald Trump. All of the Republicans who expressed a preference opposed him.

From today’s WSJ

The story quoted a post by Gregory Mankiw, chairman of the CEA under George W. Bush:

“I have Republican friends who think that things couldn’t be worse than doubling down on Obama policies under Hillary Clinton. And, like them, I am no fan of the left’s agenda of large government and high taxes,” Mr. Mankiw wrote. “But they are wrong: Things could be worse. And I fear they would be under Mr. Trump.”

I’m not aware of anything like this having happened before. Noted for the record, with 74 days to go until the election, and with no tax returns or plausible health report yet on public offer.

All notes on "Trump Time Capsule" >

Is NATO Redundant? We'd Better Hope So

This month, Jeffrey Tayler wrote a piece responding to Donald Trump’s unprecedented shrug over whether the United States would uphold its treaty obligations if a NATO ally were invaded during his hypothetical presidency. Tayler argued, in effect, that Trump had stumbled on a good idea in thinking about radically reassessing America’s commitment to NATO, an alliance that raises no end of trouble with Russia and is, anyway, an anachronism. Tayler advocated what he called a “Détente 2.0,” pushing for American foreign policy to do whatever it takes to return to the halcyon days of the Brezhnev era when, Tayler said, things were trending friendly with Russia.

I agree that détente likely did produce better results than its alternatives in the Brezhnev era, and that NATO’s post-Soviet expansion in central and eastern Europe may have been a strategic blunder. As I noted in a recent interview with the NATO scholar Michael Mandelbaum, Russia under Putin has made numerous military incursions into Chechnya, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine—all non-NATO countries. Tayler is also right in his analysis that Russia’s geopolitical ethos is based on grievance—grievance as a great historical society laid unfairly low, subject to perceived disrespect and mistreatment by the West—and so Putin is likely to respond more favorably to flattery and bribery than to threats. But something’s off here.

Tayler asks us to “see matters from Russia’s perspective.” While this may be a necessary exercise for policymakers trying to make predictions about Moscow’s policies, it often entails assuming untruths and accepting false moral equivalence between Western action and Russian “reactions” on the world stage. The West inviting an independent country to a defensive alliance should not be equated with Russia sending tank columns into Georgia to seize territory. This is not a matter of perspective. Yet Tayler frequently argues as though Russia’s self-pitying viewpoint is the salient one.

NATO, too, is perturbed by Tayler’s claims. Tayler published a response to his piece by alliance spokesperson Oana Lungescu as a note, along with his own rebuttal. Lungescu complained, rightly, that while Tayler has tremendous sympathy for Russia’s viewpoint, he carefully avoids assigning any blame to Moscow. For example:

All notes on "NATO Debate" >

America by Air: Hills Over Duncan Mills

Jimmy Rollison

Here’s the latest from Jimmy Rollison, one of our ace photographers for the series, who’s provided stunning views over Monument Valley, Dinosaur National Monument, and the Continental Divide. This colorful one was captured over Duncan Mills, California. “It’s west of Sacramento,” he writes, “looking at the coastal range that separates the Sacramento Valley from the Napa Valley in a 1939 airplane.” Update from another reader, Frank:

That “1939 airplane” is a Beech Model 17 “Staggerwing” biplane, and I think it is the most beautiful single-engined propeller driven aircraft ever produced (although the Supermarine Spitfire is very closely competitive). The Staggerwing is, truly, Walter Beech’s masterpiece. Notice how the upper biplane wing is mounted aft of the lower, a rare feature called “negative wing stagger” that gives the airplane its unique appearance and grace.

Next time you are in DC, wander by the National Air and Space Museum on the Mall and make your way to the Golden Age of Flight gallery. Therein, a yellow Model 17 is suspended for your examination and admiration.

Thanks for the series; the photos are great.

So are the emails! Here’s the beauty that Frank mentions:

Smithsonian

All notes on "Aerial Views of America" >

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