Saturday, January 28, 2017

Opiate of the Masses Now Officially Opiates (and Booze)

UPDATE: Maher's second show had Eva Longoria bringing up voter suppression, and Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan chiming in that 2 million voters had been purged from the rolls in his state. This prompted Grover Norquist to bring up exactly what Greg Palast has been saying: that Pew found 2.8 million people are registered to vote in more than one state (thus the Crosscheck list). This is the real voter fraud we need to look at, people. Read more

Bill Maher's season opener on HBO's Real Time started with Tokin' Woman Jane Fonda, included his observation that Toby Keith ought to be head of ATF because he writes so often about booze, and ended with startling statistics about the states and counties that voted for Trump and their pain pill or heroin habits.

Maher put up maps demonstrating that the 14 states with the highest number of painkiller prescriptions per person all went for Trump, who won 80% of the states that have the biggest heroin problem.West Virginia, Trump's best state, downs 433 pain pills yearly for every citizen of the state. In Wisconsin, heroin deaths nearly quadrupled between 2008-2014. Even Muskogie, Oklahoma about which Meryl Haggard penned "Oakie from Muskogie" has nine drug treatment centers, Maher noted.

The stats stemmed from the findings of several observers, including journalist Chris Arnade, who has spent the past four years traveling the US to document the opioid crisis, according to Business Insider. "Wherever I saw strong addiction and strong drug use," Arnade said, he saw support for Trump.

Maher also noted that most of the counties in Pennsylvania and Ohio that flipped Republican had higher overdose rates than average. That  correlation was made by Shannon Monnat, a rural sociologist and demographer at Pennsylvania State University. She found that counties that voted more heavily for Trump than expected were closely correlated with counties that experienced high rates of death caused by drugs, alcohol, and suicide.

Historian Kathleen Frydl found that six of the nine Ohio counties that flipped from Democrat to Republican in 2016 had overdose death rates far above the national rate, and 29 of 33 Pennsylvania counties with overdose death rates above 20 per 100,000 conformed to the same pattern and/or flipped from Democrat to Republican entirely. (You can see Frydl's comparison of county vote totals and overdose death rates here.)

Noting the irony of hippies long being called unpatriotic for their drug use, Maher joked, "Kids, don't do heroin. It's the gateway to becoming a Republican," and added, "You're doing the wrong drugs. Stick with the stuff that comes out of the ground. Ninety percent of you are farmers!"


The full quote from Karl Marx translates as: "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."

"I expected to see [the correlation] because when you think about the underlying factors that lead to overdose or suicide, it's depression, despair, distress, and anxiety," Monnat told Business Insider. "That was the message that Trump was appealing to."

In the 2002 Dutch film Twin Sisters, two young girls are separated from their twin, and grow up in very different ways. One has loving, enlightened parents and is educated and happy; the other is abused and kept ignorant, and ends up marrying a Nazi who promises her something better than her desperate life.

And so the fix is to address the factors that are causing so many Americans to reach for opiates, actual or trumped up.

UPDATE 2/9/2017 - Professor Irwin Corey, the World's Foremost Authority who has died at the age of 102, used to joke about Moses and the burning marijuana bush, and once said, “Marx, Groucho Marx, once said that religion is the opiate of the  people. I say that when religion outlives its usefulness, then opium will be the opiate.” A head ahead of his time.


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Good Girls Revolt (with Ganja)

Just as I discovered the excellent series Good Girls Revolt on Amazon Prime, it was announced that it won't be picked up for another season.

The series is based on the 2012 book by former Newsweek staffer Lynn Povich about the 1970 lawsuit filed with the EEOC by 46 women who were denied the chance to write under their own bylines at the magazine as part of a company-wide policy.

The suit was filed by none other than Eleanor Holmes Norton, the former ACLU lawyer who currently serves as the Congressional representative from DC. Eleanor Clift, who rose from "Gal Friday" at the Atlanta bureau to Newsweek's White House correspondent, writes, "I owe my career to the women who put themselves on the line to right wrongs embedded in our collective psyches about the roles of women and men."

Making an appearance as Nora Ephron is Grace Gummer, which is fitting because her mother Meryl Streep was pregnant with her when she filmed Ephron's movie Heartburn. Nora left Newsweek before the suit happened, and went on to a writing career. Also appearing is actor Hunter Parrish, who played Nancy Botwin's older son on "Weeds." Katherine Graham, the publisher of Newsweek at the time, is fictionalized in the series but her line, "Which side am I supposed to be on?" remains.

There isn't any marijuana in the book, apart from a single scene where researcher Kate Coleman, a "proud member of the Berkeley Free Speech movement" who worked on a 1967 cover story about the rise of marijuana use, hosted a male editor and his wife at a pot party. But the lead character Patti Robinson, who's hip to the hippie scene and leaves a joint in her boss's desk for him to try, seems to be based in part on Coleman. Patti admits to turning on to watch the nightly news and is depicted in one scene doing so (shown above). Even the goody two-shoes lead researcher Jane Hollander, played by Anna Camp of The Help, tries pot (shown), declaring it did nothing for her (but letting it change her life anyway, after she encounters sexual harassment and discrimination on the job).

Two months after the Newsweek complaint was filed, 96 women from Time Inc. filed a similar suit, and in the next few years, women at Reader's Digest, Newsday, the Washington Post, the Detroit News, the Baltimore Sun and the Associated Press did the same, Povich reports. In 1974 six women at the New York Times filed sexual discrimination charges on behalf of 550 women there, and in 1975, sixteen women at NBC initiated a class action lawsuit covering 2600 past and present employees.

Lest we think this kind of thing is ancient history, Povich's book starts with the story of Jessica Bennett, who "grew up in the era of girl power" in the 1980s, and yet found similar obstacles when she started working at Newsweek as an intern in 2006. She watched male interns get hired before her, and when she was finally hired a year later, she had to fight for assignments. Her best friend at the magazine, Jesse Ellinson, experienced similar difficulties, discovering that the man who was hired for her former job made more money than she did, and being told by her boss to take advantage of her looks.

Like the women in the consciousness-raising era of the 60s, Jessica and Jesse eventually realized their problems stemmed from sexism, instead of personal failings. Like most of us, they were unaware of the Good Girls lawsuit until they were given a copy of Susan Brownmiller's book In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution which has a chapter on the suit.

This was in 2009, when the scandal about David Letterman sleeping with female staffers hit the news (and it was noticed by another Newsweek staffer Sarah Ball that neither Letterman or any other late night show had a single female writer). Jessica, Jesse and Sarah pitched a story on the lawsuit set in modern times to their editor, and found Povich during their research.

Good Girls Revolt ends with the filing of the lawsuit, but so much more happens after that. Executive producer Dana Calvo reported on Instagram that efforts to shop the series to another network had failed: "Good Girls Revolt won't be airing on another network. We made what felt like a 10-hour play, and I will miss the world and the characters that our cast brought to life. Mostly, I will miss hearing from all of you who said it had an impact. Sending love and thanks today for the privilege of being able to tell stories that bring us closer and make us stronger," she wrote.

Brownmiller, BTW, is one of the interviewees in the Netflix documentary "She's Beautiful When She's Angry" along with Kate Millet, Muriel Fox, Rita Mae Brown, Eleanor Holmes Norton, the Our Bodies Ourselves collective and more. Along with Good Girls Revolt, it's a good watch just before the women's marches on January 21.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (and Pot)

I had expected Private Benjamin Goes to Kabul. But no. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (WTF), has heart, and brains. And courage.

Tina Fey stars in the story of a journalist who travels to Afghanistan to cover the war, based on Kim Barker's The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Fey purchased the rights to Barker’s book and created the adaptation, which is why, unlike Mozart in the Jungle—which was written by a woman but turned into an Amazon series starring a man—WTF remains the story of a woman.

Kim doesn't wait for a man to validate her or tell her what to do, like Diane Keaton did in Reds or Little Drummer Boy. She's able to anthropologically speak to the women of the tribe and get the real story about why the well keeps getting blown up, a little like Sigourney Weaver as Dian Fosse in Gorillas in the Mist.  Kim blackmails rather than using sex to get what she wants, saves her love using all the resources she can muster, and makes all of her own choices.

So often when a woman gets a choice role, she's paired with actors who aren't her match, like when Nicole Kidman got to play Tokin' Woman Gertrude Bell and someone cast Robert Pattinson as T. E. Lawrence. But here we are treated to Martin Freeman—who was so endearing as the Shy Guy in the British The Office, Love Actually and Sherlock—in a spot-on performance as a Scottish scamp with surprising depth. He and Fey play one of the funniest love scenes ever, with one of the most honest aftermaths.

WTF even adds Billy Bob Thornton—who's hot even in the Bad Santa movies—as the brassy, brass tacks general Kim needs on her side. Also notable are Alfred Molina (Chocolat) as the clownishly threatening public official she also must tango with, and Josh Charles as the man she leaves behind. The cherry on top is the stupendous Cherry Jones in yet another formidable role.

It even has my money shot: Fey puffing a hookah, with no less than Margot Robbie by her side—a 15 in Kabul or anywhere and winner of the 2016 Tokin' Woman Phattest Fashion Award—who portrays a worthy rival to Fey's character.

This is generally how pot should be depicted, as an adjunct to the story. Not that you smoke it and have idiotic Seth Rogan-style misadventurers. That it's just one of your experiences. The scene in WTF where Fey and her Afghan driver (Christopher Abbott) discuss drugs of all types and the high they produce is one of the best written and acted I have ever seen.

Skip the sappy LaLa Land and see Whiskey Tango Foxtrot instead, now on Amazon.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Hollyweed Makes a Comeback






Once again, someone has altered the iconic Hollywood sign to say "Hollyweed," in honor of California reforming its marijuana laws (this time with Prop. 64, which legalized the adult recreational use). Snoop Dogg, Margaret Cho, and Mindy Kaling are some who tweeted their reaction. 

The sign was altered with fabric, in the same manner that Douglas Finegood originally altered the sign on January 1, 1976 to celebrate the decriminalization of marijuana, the same year Bette Midler famously planned to tape a joint under every seat at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion in LA for her New Year's Eve show.

After altering the sign a few more times, according to the LA Times, Finegood died in 2007. City officials beefed up security around the sign with a fence, alarms and eventually installed a closed-circuit surveillance system. They restored the sign by mid-morning, and have tape of this year's "vandal," who ironically faces a misdemeanor charge if caught. (UPDATE: An artist who goes by "Jesus Hands" and his partner Sarah Fern have taken responsibility for the prank.)

Hempy New Year to all!