Weingrad rates the movies of 2016

Here we are. Amid the political chaos, we still all be able to sit around the fireplace, cozy up with a cat on our lap, enjoy some fine wine and watch the Oscars.

I have a very warped view of how people watch TV.

Last year, controversy surrounding the Oscars centered on the lack of diversity within the acting nominees. This year is one of the most diverse ever, and instead, the biggest fear is whether the Trump administration will even allow the Best Foreign Film category to exist anymore.

All jokes aside, let’s stick to movies here. I’ve studiously watched every noteworthy film that came this past year, and have carefully crafted my rankings — with one small exception. For the second consecutive year, I have not seen the Star Wars movie.

When I compiled my list last year, I said that when I did see it, I would insert it into the Top 12 if it belonged there. I finally saw it weeks later, enjoyed it, but decided it was not one of the best 12 movies of 2015. When I see Rogue One, I will apply the same rule. If it deserves to be included on this list retroactively, I will return and add it.

Before I begin, please feel free to check out my previous rankings for 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009. As you can see, this is one of this blog’s most storied traditions.

One last note — the streak of my top-ranked film failing to win the Academy Award ended last year when Spotlight took home the top prize. Will it start a new trend? Probably not.

Let’s go!

 

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12. Nocturnal Animals

This year was probably the hardest yet to settle the Top 12 – too many films deserved to be here. But Nocturnal Animals evoked such a visceral reaction in me while I was watching it that I couldn’t leave it off. A tour de force of drama and suspense, led by stellar acting by Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor Johnson, while vividly imagined by director and fashion icon Tom Ford, Nocturnal Animals puts you in the middle of a situation that we all have nightmares about – being terrorized by young hooligans on a deserted road with no cell service. You can’t help but become personally invested into what happens to these characters, even though, deep down, you know it won’t end well. It probably won’t happen, but Michael Shannon is a dark horse to win Best Supporting Actor.

 

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11. Eye in the Sky

Another movie that takes you on a whirlwind, suspenseful ride. Eye in the Sky is an extremely relevant drama that takes you behind the scenes of 21st century warfare, where wars are no longer fought in the trenches, but in situation rooms and through computer screens and cell phones. It takes place in real time, with military officials making the life-or-death decision to order a drone strike on suspected terrorists in Africa. As the officials weigh the moral components and collateral damage of such an attack, we witness the bureaucratic protocols in which leaders from multiple countries must go continuously up the ladder to receive approval for the strike. All the while, we witness the varying mindset of the players as we get further away from the thick of the action, from the drone pilots with their fingers over the trigger, to defense secretaries who are in foreign countries engaging in a ping pong tournament. A powerful performance by Helen Mirren adds credibility to the action, while Alan Rickman, in what was tragically his final performance, is another scene-stealer, and delivers by far the most poignant line in the movie at the film’s close.

 

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10. Hidden Figures

This is just a heartwarming story wrapped in important American history. It depicts three black women in NASA who were instrumental in getting our country’s first astronaut, John Glenn, to orbit Earth. The film does not sugarcoat the hardships these women endured in the years immediately preceding the height of the Civil Rights movement. But the film does not serve to critique the obvious injustices of the time, but focuses on the incredible resolve displayed by its three heroines, portrayed wonderfully by Taraji P. Henson, Oscar nominee Octavia Spencer and the beautiful Janelle Monae.

 

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9. Hell or High Water

The story behind Hell or High Water is nothing too original: a local sheriff in a game of cat and mouse with two low-life, sibling bank robbers down south. But the film is as much a character study as it is a crime story. An engrossing script mixed with beautiful visuals and highly believable acting by Jeff Bridges, Chris Pine and Ben Foster makes this a highly entertaining and deeply fulfilling watch on many levels. Think of it as No Country for Old Men-lite.

 

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8. Captain Fantastic

Captain Fantastic definitely takes the crown for being the most original film of the year. It’s about a father who raises his six children in a small home in the Washington wilderness, far away from civilization. They live cell phone free, and the father (Viggo Mortensen) makes sure that his kids are well-read, physically fit, resourceful and intellectually independent. But when a death in the family forces them to travel into the “real world,” the consequences of their isolated lifestyle begin to show, as the kids start to experience all of the things that they’ve missed out on. Viggo Mortensen is the driving force of the film, and I’d have been incensed has he not been nominated for Best Leading Actor. It’s a family drama mixed with many laughs, though it does get a bit corny at the end.

 

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7. Hacksaw Ridge

Directed by the always controversial Mel Gibson, Hacksaw Ridge is definitely a bit heavy on the religious allegories. But if you let those slide, then you’ll enjoy a no-holds-barred, violent war drama (at least in the second half – the first half is basically just a love story, which has its endearing moments). If you’ve seen Apocalypto, then you’d know that Gibson holds little back in terms of physical brutality. And war offers plenty of room for brutality. We watch a single battle in Okinawa, where conscientious objector Desmond Doss (fantastically played by Andrew Garfield) becomes a combat medic. At first shamed and mocked by his peers for his pacifism, he proves heroic as he risks everything to save dozens of lives that had been left for dead in the battle’s aftermath. What makes it more stirring is that it’s based on Doss’s real-life achievements. It’s a definitely a story worth knowing.

 

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6. Silence

Silence got almost no love from the Academy Awards, possibly because it came out too late in the season, or because its subject matter is too esoteric for most moviegoers. But quite simply, it’s a work of art. It involves two priests (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver) who travel to Japan to promote Catholicism and discover the whereabouts of their former teacher (Liam Neeson). But as you will learn, Catholicism was not welcome in Japan at the time. It’s slow-paced, but is full of elegant scenery and poses a relevant reminder of religious tolerance. Again, there’s no other words to describe it but as a work of art, and what else would you expect from Martin Scorsese? It may not have gotten a lot of love in the short term, but I think Silence will be fondly remembered in the future.

 

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5. Manchester by the Sea

Yes, we know. It’s sad, depressing and will probably leave a lot of viewers feeling unfulfilled. But the bottom line is that Manchester by the Sea is a beautifully crafted, intricate film about dealing with tragedy. Life isn’t always about happy endings or redemption. Sometimes it just goes on. And in a strange way, it tells us that dealing with everyday trivialities can be a healing remedy through this beautiful and horrible thing we call life. A lot of people will be pulling for Casey Affleck to take home Best Leading Actor, and he’s got a fighting chance, but I personally believe that the award will go to Denzel. Stay tuned.

 

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4. Arrival

This movie could not be more relevant, given the political and international landscape we’re living in now. Yes it involves aliens, but the entire movie is basically a commentary on how civilizations treat outsiders. It also shows us the deep problems that can arise from even the subtlest differences in language and mindsets. Most importantly, Arrival encourages us to try and look at things from a different perspective, and to be empathetic towards those who think differently than us. It’s a very thought-provoking movie, and driven by a deeply tense and suspenseful tone generated by director Denis Villenueve, and by a compelling, natural performance by Oscar snub Amy Adams.

 

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3. La La Land

The movie that was loved by all. La La Land is impossible not to like. First of all, you can’t take your eyes of the screen, as your dazzled by the allure of its attractive leads, Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling, the beautiful Los Angeles scenery and enjoyable music and choreography. It’s an ode to all those who dream of making it big in Hollywood. And it’s pretty evident that it sets the landmark for the 21st century musical. It tied the record for most Oscar nominations, and while director Damien Chazelle and Emma Stone may take home some trophies (though Natalie Portman or Isabelle Huppert might have a say in the latter), look for La La Land to take home a bunch of awards in the set design, costume and musical categories.

 

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2. Moonlight

I’ve heard this movie referred to as “Boyhood for black people,” but I think that comparison is a huge disservice to both films, as each are their own unique works of art. Moonlight depicts a young black boy during three stages of his life as he progresses into adulthood. There are three acts and the boy is played by a different actor in each. What makes Moonlight so extraordinary is that it depicts the everyday struggles of being black and poor in America, while not shoving race in your face. It’s a personal, intimate story that can apply to everyone. And that’s not to ignore the racial component. After all, it’s what gives the film its identity. But at the end of the day, it’s a story of life, well told by director Barry Jenkins. Look for Mahershala Ali to take Best Supporting Actor, and pay attention to his speech. In my eyes, it’s between Moonlight and La La Land for Best picture. I’m calling Moonlight.

 

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1. Lion

I grappled with #1 and #2 on this list, but at the end of the day, I gave it to the film that impacted me the most personally. Lion is a remarkable story about a Indian toddler named Saroo who gets separated from his brother one night, and accidentally ends up traveling thousands of miles away by train. And he has no idea where home is. Bear in mind this is in the 1980s, where you can’t simply look it up on Facebook or Google Maps. He is later adopted by an Australian family. But once he hits his 20s, Saroo, now a college student played by Dev Patel, returns home to find his family. And it’s all true. What the movie does so well is convey the inner conflict that is raging within Saroo, knowing his birth mother never knew his fate and the grief that his displacement must have caused her. The movie hits its sentimental peak at the end, and unless you’re a robot, it’s almost impossible not to be emotionally affected. It won’t win Best Picture, but it tugs on the heartstrings and, in my opinion, is the most moving film of the year.

On the outside looking in:

I, Daniel Blake: I really wanted to include this brilliant English film in the Top 12. It’s about an elderly man named Daniel Blake (an excellent Dave Johns), who just suffered a heart attack and is told by doctors he cannot work, though he needs to file for welfare to make ends meet. But the complex bureaucracy of the system fails him, and he struggles to get the help he needs. Along the way, he meets and befriends a poor single mother who endures the same struggles. The film is obviously sending a political message, but also provides you some insight into the lives of people who rely on welfare to survive.

Sing Street: Another movie that everyone should see. Right now. La La Land may have been the best musical of the year, but Sing Street is not far behind. It’s an ’80s Irish high school drama wrapped in a musical, starring a teenage outcast (Ferdia Walsh-Peelo) who starts a band to win over a girl. It’s just a feel-good film with superb music and lots of laughs. It will be especially endearing to those who love ’80s music. Again, see it now.

Moana: It’s the first time in a while that I left an animated film off the Top 12, and that’s a little saddening, but it’s mostly a testament to the caliber of quality films that came out this year. Anyway, Moana has all the ingredients of a top-notch animated film: a fun and sunny setting, humor, a courageous heroine, animals and The Rock. OK, that last one perhaps isn’t compulsory, but you know what I mean. It also has a catchy Frozen-esque song in “How Far I’ll Go,” which might stun some people if it it beats La La Land for Best original song (it would also make Lin-Manuel Miranda an EGOT winner). More importantly, Moana sends a pivotal message to kids about preserving and protecting our island nations.

Loving: This is another film that portrays a piece of American history that everyone should know about. It’s about an interracial Virginia couple (stunningly portrayed by Joel Edgerton and Oscar nominee Ruth Negga) who break state law by getting married, and are subsequently kicked out from the state. Advocacy groups learn their story and sue on their behalf, and the case eventually becomes a landmark one before Supreme Court, which legalizes interracial marriage nationwide. But the story is mostly about the couple’s desire to simply live a normal, peaceful life with one another, which is what we all want, but sadly, history had not always allowed.

Fences: Two words: Denzel. Washington. And Viola Davis. And August Wilson. This fim is all about the acting and script. Some people may become frustrated by its play-like atmosphere (the whole film only takes place in like three different places), but you just have to go with it. It’s 1950s Pittsburgh, and Troy Maxson (Denzel) is raising his kids with the same tough love his father raised him. It doesn’t always work out well for them. In fact, more times than not, it doesn’t. It’s an important film about the African-American experience prior to the Civil Rights movement. Viola Davis is an Oscar shoe-in, and Denzel may very well follow. I’d bet on it.

Other solid features from 2016 you should see:

Jackie: Highlighting the days following John F. Kennedy’s assassination through the eyes of his widow, Jackie Kennedy (Natalie Portman), the film presents a grim and funereal mood as it takes us through a pivotal time in American history. Natalie Portman is the heart and soul of the film, as she becomes Jackie Kennedy, capturing her wispy, dreamlike voice with eerie authenticity. She probably deserves to win Best Lead Actress, but ultimately I think it’ll go to Emma Stone.

Paterson: This is a charming, simple movie about finding art and beauty in everyday life. It takes us through a week in the life of a New Jersey bus driver (an endearing Adam Driver) who is also an amateur poet. We see his routine of going to work, coming home to his girlfriend (the beautiful Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani) and sneaking off for a nightcap during his nightly dog walk. It’s a pleasant, voyeuristic glimpse into a life of an everyday man that encourages us to see the beauty in places where we’d never think to look.

The Birth of a Nation: This movie was essentially ostracized from Hollywood and the mainstream because of revelations of past rape allegations of the film’s actor and director, Nate Parker. Which is a shame, because Birth of a Nation depicts a little-known but integral piece of the history of the abolitionist movement, a slave revolt led by slave preacher Nat Turner in 1831, which was a key event leading up to the Civil War. Judging the film alone, it’s a powerful watch and I’d encourage everyone to see it.

The Edge of Seventeen: In case you didn’t know already, Hailee Steinfeld is a star. This coming-of-age, dark comedy focuses on the struggles and expectations of high school life through the eyes of a mostly unpopular female student. Steinfeld makes the film what it is, though a great supporting role by Woody Harrelson also gives it a boost.

20th Century Women: This is a brilliant film, and the sole reason it’s not higher on this list is because I’m simply not its target audience, and it really did not resonate with me. But it shows us the life and struggles of three women of varying ages in the late 1970s, and succeeds in delivering us well-rounded, independent female characters. Brilliant performances from Annette Bening, Greta Gerwig and the emerging Elle Fanning.

Kubo and the Two Strings: The second best animated film of the year. It’s fantasy-action-adventure film in ancient Japan starring Kubo, our guitar-strumming, papier-mache-wielding hero who is joined by two friends as they try to elude his evil grandfather. You’ll learn the backstory along the way. In the meantime, enjoy the magic.

Sully: Most people probably forgot that they saw this movie and enjoyed it. Tom Hanks is Chesley “Sully” Sullenburger, the hero pilot who carefully landed a doomed airplane in the Hudson River without a single casualty. But the film shows us the incredible aftermath of the incident that few knew about, where Sully was basically victimized by airline officials for what they believe was unnecessary actions on his part that resulted in the loss of an expensive plane, forcing him to appear at a hearing to justify his life-saving decision.

Passengers: This film got mostly lampooned by critics, and though it has serious flaws in regards to the scientific aspects of the film, the whole movie worked in my eyes as a futuristic love story. If you’re a fan of either Chris Pratt or Jennifer Lawrence, you will like this film. if you’re a fan of both, you’ll really like it. And I also must credit an enjoyable performance by Michael Sheen as a bartending cyborg.

Christine: One wonders why this film was even made, or why anyone would watch it, when you consider it’s about a troubled local television reporter who commits suicide on air. A great film to watch with the family! But seriously though, it’s a fascinating character study of Christine Chubbuck, and features an incredible performance by Rebecca Hall. If the film was more popular, she would have been nominated for an Oscar.

Patriots Day: This film takes us into the immediate manhunt to catch the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombings, which we all still remember like it was yesterday. It showcases the amazing job done by local, state and federal law enforcement in collaboration, and gives us a major emotional release at the film’s end by highlighting the real life victims and their inspiring stories.

Southside With You: The best movie of the year according to liberals, and the worst according to conservatives. But seriously, politics aside, this is just a charming movie that highlights the first date between an ambitious black couple in the south side of Chicago. Those two people just happen to be Barack and Michelle Obama. With great performances by Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpters, the film does give some interesting insight into the life developments that lead a man to want to pursue the highest office in our nation.

Indignation: Based on the Phillip Roth novel, Indignation shows us the anxieties and fears that abounded in America during the Vietnam War era. Young Marcus Messner (Logan Lermer) is able to avoid enlistment by attending college, but his own sense of righteousness and indignation — as well as his love affair with a troubled girl (the beautiful Sarah Gadon) — puts him at odds with the university’s dean (Tracy Letts) and jeopardizes his academic career. A fascinating, multi-layered film.

The Lobster: I said earlier that Captain Fantastic was the most original film of the year, but the Lobster might have something to say about that. In a dystopian society, residents in a quasi-detention center are given a certain length of time to find a life partner, or they are transformed into an animal. Colin Farrell’s best performance since In Bruges.

There you go folks. We’ll do this all again in 2018. Just remember one word: Dunkirk (you’ll know why in about five months).

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Amid calls for tolerance, let’s not forget the Jews

There’s a popular school of thought in America that anti-Semitism no longer exists.

People assume that because the Holocaust was so long ago, that because Jews have held prominent government positions, and because calls for religious tolerance are becoming more and more frequent, that the battle against anti-Semitism has long been won.

Unfortunately, that is far from the reality.

Not only do hate crimes against Jews still occur, they are on the rise. And that may come as a surprise to a lot of people.

In the last decade, we’ve expended so much energy pushing for income and gender equality, for equal treatment of African-Americans in our criminal justice system, gay and transgender rights, and presently, for greater acceptance of Muslims, immigrants and refugees — and all rightfully so.

But too often when we have a conversation about discrimination, we leave out anti-Semitism. Which is too bad. Because then more people would know that more than 50 percent of anti-religious hate crimes in the U.S. are motivated by anti-Jewish bias, according to the FBI.

As someone who grew up in a Jewish and Catholic household, living in a community with a large Jewish population, and who traveled to Israel three years ago to gain a greater appreciation of my Jewish heritage, it obviously peeves me a little that there isn’t a greater grassroots commitment towards protecting Jewish Americans.

And Trump isn’t helping.

Now, again, I always feel the need to clarify. I don’t believe Trump is anti-Semetic (I also don’t believe he’s the “least anti-Semetic person”), just like I don’t believe he is truly racist. I just think he’s ignorant and lacks any sense of empathy.

But he has unquestionably opened the door for mainstream acceptance of the “alt-right,” an ideology with a doctrine that includes white nationalism, homophobia and, yes, anti-Semitism.

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This year alone, 68 bomb threats have been made to Jewish community centers across the U.S. In most of these facilities, emergency evacuation drills have become standard operating procedure.

Given the simmering tension within the Jewish population, wouldn’t it be comforting to hear our nation’s top executive make a firm and declarative statement condemning anti-Semitism? He has to say, something, anything, right?

And then you hear what Trump did say on the topic … and you wish he never spoke at all.

In a span of three days last week, he responded to two questions from Jewish reporters regarding a rise in Jewish hate crimes by, first, bragging about his electoral college victory, and the second time, essentially telling the reporter to sit down and shut up.

I don’t care what your political ideology is. There’s no other acceptable reaction to have towards those responses than that of disbelief and disgust. (Though I will give Ivanka — a converted Jew — credit for speaking out.)

Shortly after, during a trip to the newly opened African-American museum, Trump delivered a clearly canned statement against discrimination, one that lacked any noticeable sincerity and that Jewish leaders were not yet ready to accept.

But that doesn’t mean that others haven’t stepped up to the plate to protect our Jewish brethren.

Remember earlier this year, when a mosque in Victoria, Texas burned to the ground? Not only did a subsequent fundraising campaign come about to help with the rebuilding efforts, but a nearby Jewish synagogue generously offered to share its space to accommodate the Muslim membership.

Well, we now have a new instance of religious camaraderie.

You all may have heard of the terrible vandalism that took place this week in a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis, where hundreds of tombstones were broken and damaged.

This time, a fundraiser urging Muslims to raise money to repair the cemetery raised $20,000 in three hours. They’ve now far surpassed $100,000.

It’s now becoming a common theme.

When our president fails to inspire and properly lead, everyday common people are doing that job for him.

It took a while, but that “coexist” bumper sticker you always see on the back of cars, where each letter is formed by a different religious symbol, is finally starting to come to life.

Great, new planets for Trump to ban immigrants from!

The news of the discovery of seven Earth-sized planets orbiting around a dwarf star 235 trillion miles away rattled the scientific world on Wednesday, as it provides us with the best opportunity to possibly discover alien life outside of our solar system.

Within minutes of the announcement, Donald Trump proposed a travel ban from the seven exoplanets, declaring that they would only send us their rapists and their terrorists.

OK, that didn’t actually happen. But does it honestly seem that far-fetched?

The 235 trillion miles is equal to about 40 light-years, meaning we have to learn to travel at the speed of light to one day get there.

Whether we hear about this again anytime soon, who knows. But sometimes it’s nice to remind ourselves that in the grand scheme of things, our planet is an infinitesimal speck in the endless universe. Meaning all the chaos and disorder we are currently experiencing is simply a flash in the pan on a cosmic level.

Unfortunately, we are currently right smack in the middle of that pan, and Donald Trumprefugees-welcome is taking a giant shit in it.

On Tuesday, his administration laid out an outline to target and deport illegal immigrants, giving very wide and broad lattitude to border agents and other immigration agencies that undoubtedly will raise constitutional concerns.

Yes, in theory, this is a lot less disgusting then the travel ban, which we all knew the true intent of.

These directives target illegal immigrants, a faction of people that countries across the world are trying to expel from their borders. So Trump’s goal is nothing new or evil. And yes, mass deportations occurred under Obama. We know that.

But this time, the context is totally different. Immigrants – legal or illegal – are barricading themselves in their homes, fearful at who will come knocking. The priorities for who is to be targeted for deportation have been erased. Under Obama, illegal immigrants who committed serious crimes were the clear primary focus. Under Trump, it’s the Wild West.

Does anybody fully expect that Homeland Security will execute a peaceful, systematic process for identifying illegal immigrants and removing them?

It’s doesn’t take a genius to predict that this wide dragnet is going to result in hundreds, if not thousands, of legal citizens who fit the physical description of an immigrant being stopped and frisked, and that ugly stories are going to come to light in droves.

More than 2.5 illegal immigrants were thrown out under Obama, under his specific guidelines. That’s more than any other president.

Trump is acting on the ridiculous and unpopular campaign promises he made to pander to his most fervent supporters, and it’s putting political action over common human decency.

It’s easy to sit back, grab some popcorn and watch as it continues to implode in his face. But while that happens, millions of people, including all those who immigrated here legally, are living in fear. That’s what’s happening right now as you read this.

Unexpectedly (and thankfully), the orders have motivated activists throughout the country. So much so that someone actually found a way to unfurl a giant banner on the Statue of Liberty that reads in big capital letters: “REFUGEES WELCOME.”

The banner has since been removed.

But for a short while, for the first time in the last 33 days, the Statue of Liberty lived up to its creed.

Sweden to Trump: Cash me ousside how bah dah

I hope everyone had a wonderful Not My President’s Day!

Sadly, I think we’ve reached a point now where the difference in opinions between Trump supporters and Trump opponents are irreconcilable. Because if you watched Trump’s press conference late last week and thought, “This is a fully sane man with complete control of his faculties who should be leading the most powerful country in the world,” then you are probably just as disillusioned as he is.

And I understand how important it is for both sides to at least try to find common ground.

Poll numbers show how starkly polarized we are right now. Eight percent of Democrats approve of Trump’s performance so far. Eighty-seven percent of Republicans think he is doing a good job. That’s crazy.

Because we all live in our own bubbles, the average person rarely finds themselves in conversation with someone they strongly disagree with politically — except on the Internet. Which is dangerous, because people act their very worst on the Internet, protected by the anonymity afforded behind a computer screen.

When we engage with someone who has different ideologies, more times than not, we will realize that they are truly harmless. And once you acknowledge the person at the other end of the political spectrum from yourself as human, their words become less damning.

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Look at Milos Yiannopolous’s appearance on Real Time with Bill Maher on Friday. People were disgusted about him being invited onto a liberal talk show. One panelist even canceled his scheduled appearance.

But because Bill Maher sat and talked with Milo person-to-person, you realized that he is just a sad, misinformed and unsophisticated figure. Almost to the point where he’s pitiable.

Milo, meanwhile, is now facing his own troubles this week. But that’s a whole separate blog post in itself.

There’s a lot to be concerned about with this president. The question isn’t whether we will backslide as a democratic nation under his watch, but how much we will backslide. That being said, America will survive. We’ve been through worse. We’ve survived a civil war. The Dust Bowl era. Stock market collapses. America will prevail.

What I am extremely worried about, however, is Donald Trump ruining the minds – and futures – of many of our brightest young thinkers.

Right now, budding and impressionable kids are listening to the president’s incoherent ramblings that are devoid of logic and reason — and in many cases, truth — and seeing him be validated. They’re learning that it’s OK to be unread. That it’s OK to lack empathy. That it’s OK to bully others.

Not only will these behaviors be rewarded, but they’ll earn you our highest office in the land!

And on top of that, the president is simply spreading lies. He’s spreading untruths and it’s actually making people less informed and less intelligent.

“Look what happened last night in Sweden” is emblematic of that. These are things that can be Googled and fact-checked within seconds, and yet, it’s not a deterrent for him to stop lying.

It’s scary.

Don’t believe the “fake news” media who debunked Trump’s Sweden claim? Well, read it yourself directly from Swedish newspapers. Or are they fake, too?

For young people who are only becoming politically aware right now — I sincerely apologize.

From an educational standpoint, America was already falling behind internationally. But after four years of this guy, we can only hope that our youth have not been permanently corrupted.

And if Trump’s ignorance somehow doesn’t pollute their intelligence, needn’t worry. Betsy DeVos will.

Donald Trump and the practice of doublethink

Shortly after I graduated college in 2009, I decided to read a book that somehow eluded me during my high school and university studies: George Orwell’s “1984.”

But even when reading it, I lacked the proper context needed to fully appreciate the book. While I knew it depicted a dystopian version of society where everyone is under constant surveillance by an authoritarian government, it came off to me as pure science fiction.

What was lost on me was that Orwell wrote the book shortly after World War II, and at the beginning of the rise of the Soviet empire, where civil liberties were being increasingly threatened around the globe.

It was uncertain time in the world, and this novel painted a grim photo where totalitarianism prevailed.

In America, where we are freely able to insult our leaders on social media without consequence, a government like this is hard to imagine. But in other parts of the world, this is reality. And in 1949, when the world was realigning itself into multiple spheres of influence following a fascist regime’s unsuccessful attempt at global domination – you can’t blame Orwell for being paranoid.

1984 has once again become a bestseller in the United States, and it’s not difficult to understand why.

Add me to the list of people who are re-reading it. This time, I have context. And this time, reading it is not simply a leisure activity. It’s chilling.

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Now don’t get me wrong. Even with an incompetent leader at the helm who is trying to delegitimize the press and appears indifferent toward protecting civil liberties, America will not turn into a fully repressive and authoritarian state. We have too many protections in place to prevent that.

But that doesn’t mean that some of the things that Orwell warned us about aren’t coming to fruition.

One of the most significant parts of 1984 that has become increasingly relevant today are the concepts of newspeak and doublethink: which, in Orwellian terms, are a way of controlling language and thought to fit the regime’s ideas of reality.

Newspeak, the official language of Oceania, one of three superstates in 1984, dictates how people speak. It limits freedom of thought and freewill.

Doublethink requires individuals to believe certain facts as truth, even if it contradicts reality. It means to tell lies while genuinely believing in them simultaneously. If our government says that 2+2 equals 5, it’s not enough to just believe it’s right, but you must believe that 2+2 always equaled 5.

Now think about what is happening today. Trump’s attacks on the press is minimizing independent thought.

His perpetual lying is presenting an alternative view of reality, and it’s an attempt to condition his followers to believe that everything he says is the truth, even when it clearly isn’t.

And in some cases, his most ardent followers oblige.

Trump says it wasn’t raining during his inauguration, so by virtue of this, it did not rain.

Trump says his electoral win was the biggest since Reagan, so it is now recorded as such by his followers.

Millions of people voted illegally, says Trump. They didn’t, but he said it, so it must be true.

Believing what Trump says and at the same time ignoring the truth is indeed the very essence of doublethink, and the same style of authoritarian rule that George Orwell feared 68 years ago.

This is why we record and preserve history.

Because one day we will need to know where we went wrong, and how we can avoid this shit happening again.

If you’re not scared yet, please read 1984.

It’s eye-opening.

California crisis: that damn dam

A little over a year ago, I wrote about California’s alarming drought issues and why people should care about it more.

Well, don’t worry. The drought that you likely never knew about is no longer a problem. It’s started raining in California. A lot.

In fact, the volume and intensity of the rain is so great that it’s created an environmental crisis by damaging the nation’s tallest dam, causing nearly 200,000 people to evacuate. The Oroville dam impounds Lake Oroville, the second-largest man-made lake in the state of California, which sits in the Sierra Nevada foothills in the north.

When the river floods, water is released down the concrete spillway in controlled fashion.

Earlier this month during a period of heavy rain, when water started shooting erratically from the dam, it was discovered that a giant fissure had opened in the spillway.

oroville-dam

And fissure probably isn’t the right word. At 300 feet wide and 45 feet deep, it’s more like a crater. Officials diverted the floodwater to the dam’s emergency spillway, which had never been used, and thus never properly maintained.

In 2005, environmental groups warned that the emergency spillway should be lined with concrete to prevent a potential disaster if it is ever needed, but officials ignored their requests.

Not unpredictably, the emergency spillway, which is basically just a natural slide down a mountain, is quickly eroding, and towns that lie near the water runoff now find themselves in mortal danger. Hence the evacuations.

This environmental crisis is important for three reasons: it highlights the need to improve oroville-dam-craterall of our nation’s dams.

Second, it emphasizes the danger of global warming, which is responsible for these sudden and severe patterns of weather. How the f&8%$ else did California go from a horrific drought to one of its rainiest seasons in history in just over a year?

Third, it shows that while politicians like to introduce legislation to create new infrastructure – so they can brag about all the fancy bridges and buildings they had built – when, in reality, money needs to be spent on fixing old stuff. It’s not as glamorous, but it’s important. Clearly.

But aside from the big issues like infrastructure and global warming, we need to keep in mind that when nearly 200,000 people are forced to evacuate, that’s tends of thousands of lives that are being suddenly upended. Who can’t go to work. Who must leave their homes with an uncertainty if they’ll ever return.

And if the goal of 2017 is to have more empathy for our fellow men and women who we share this great planet with, then this is an appropriate time to do so.

Leaks in California.

Leaks in the White House.

Stay tuned, folks.

Trumpocalypse 2017: the first casualty

Disorder. Chaos. No one knows who to trust. The enemy is closing in. And one by one, people are disappearing.

No, I am not describing an episode of the Walking Dead.

It’s the Trump administration.

Initially, people described Trump’s rise from outsider candidate to presidential hopeful as a reality show. At times during the first couple weeks of his presidency, with Trump rewarding those who remained loyal to him with cabinet positions and scorning those who didn’t, it resembled a soap opera. Now? It’s a straight up horror show.

Michael Flynn’s resignation as national security advisor – the first casualty of this tumultuous administration – comes amid reports of near anarchy within Trump’s security council.

And this dysfunction comes at a time when other regional powers – Russia, China, Iran – are feeling emboldened and are testing the limits of this new regime.

Flynn’s resignation ties directly into the Trump campaign’s – potentially illegal — dealings with Russia prior to his election, and raises more questions of how complicit the two sides were in undermining this past election.

michael-flynn

It also raises the question of whether Flynn violated the Logan Act, a statute that forbids private citizens from speaking with foreign leaders to influence policy. Flynn’s conversations with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak (the source of the controversy) happened around Christmastime, when Flynn still had no official position. No one has ever been persecuted under the act before.

These discoveries are just circulating now, a couple days after President Trump was dining with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Trump’s Mar-A-Lago club when reports of North Korea’s ballistic missile launch surfaced, and pictures immediately hit the Internet of the two leaders reacting to the news with their respective administrations.

All in the public eye.

People wanted change in Washington. They wanted an outsider. They wanted to “drain the swamp.”

They got what they wanted. And we are witnessing the consequences of it. This is what happens when incompetent people are put in charge of the most powerful and complex agency on earth.

In the waning days of the Obama administration, I wrote that these pockets of incidents between the United States and Russia had all the makings of a second Cold War.

But we now know that Obama was right to be stern on an audacious Russia.

The attitude between the two countries suddenly softened when Trump took over, and now we’re trying to figure out why. And it all dates back to Flynn.

It would be an insult to our intelligence to assume that Trump was completely unaware of Flynn’s actions. And in the midst of an investigation into Russia’s interference in our election with the goal of electing Donald Trump, it’s equally as insulting to tell us that the two are not interconnected.

News media, I know you’re basically viewed by half of this country as scum, but we need you to bear down more than ever.

Investigate this like you’ve never investigated before. The 21st century is still waiting for its Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. We need answers. Me and Dan Rather demand it of you.

Until then, we wait and see.

Oh, and Happy Valentine’s Day, people. I devoted the proper amount of attention to that in this post, right?

I’m clearly alone and have no one.