X-Meh

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X-Men: Apocalypse is not a terrible film but it’s a terrible waste of the talents of its director and cast.

There’s a variation of a particular line that always suggests to me that the writer of a sci-fi blockbuster isn’t over-endowed with the ability to craft original dialogue. In Terminator: Genysis (sic) the skynet hijacked John Connor tells Arnie’s nearly destroyed T-800 “you cannot defeat me” and Arnie replies “no – not alone”, at which point Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese burst in and save the day. In the truly awful, Fantastic Four Reed Richards tells the rest of the quartet that Dr Doom “is stronger than any of us but not stronger than all of us”. And in X-Men: Apocalypse Professor Xavier tells the titular villain that he will lose because “you’re alone and I’m not”.

Sadly this is the very generic place the X-Men franchise finds itself. Once a great innovator that largely created the blueprint for modern superhero genre, it now appears unable to vary that blueprint in any especially interesting ways.

Director Bryan Singer, the guy behind the Usual Suspects, is one of the few people able to make large amounts of CGI work. And he uses that talent to deliver some cool set pieces. In particular, and once again, Quicksilver’s big moment.

But this only goes part way towards mitigating the disappointment of the rest of the film. That’s largely a product of an uninspiring and unsatisfying script. As I’ve already the dialogue it contains is lazy and pedestrian. It also manages to both drag and feel rushed. Apocalypse is two and half hours long and large chunks of that run time are ponderous. Yet the film is so cluttered with characters and subplots that no single element has the space to develop satisfactorily. No character’s arc ever engages because it’s hard to tell what you are supposed to be investing in.

To make matters worse for Fox, they will inevitably face (unflattering) comparisons with Marvel. The obvious reference point is the recently released Captain America: Civil War, which is substantially better. But perhaps more striking is that the current run of Agents of SHIELD which more or less the same story as Apocalypse is also superior. The first mutant yells and relies on brute power but the first inhuman is a quieter and more insidious threat. The pain he causes the heroes feels more real and his actions are less predictable. Now we have moved on from the days when TV was considered necessarily the inferior to film. And I would argue that SHIELD is underrated and would cite as evidence for that the fact that Rolling Stone just put it on a list of the greatest sci-fi shows of all time. Nonetheless, nobody thinks SHIELD is Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones. It has a decent sized fan base but basically zero cultural resonance outside of it. If a studio spends north of $200 million and hires the guy who made the Usual Suspects, it presumably wants something a cut above a third-tier Marvel project. Certainly if you’ve made Oscar Isaac’s less compelling than Brett Dalton you’re doing something wrong.

Indeed the weakness of the titular villain is one of the most striking aspects of the film. One area in which Fox has had an edge over Marvel is in its villains. Where the Avengers would – Loki aside – face some blue guy yelling about destroying this or taking over that, the X-Men have always confronted psychologically complex characters with real depth. Sadly Apocalypse could easily be a Marvel villain: he’s a blue guy yelling about destroying this and taking over that. He may be massively powerful but that just confirms that more is not always better.

Isaacs is not alone in being wasted. Apocalypse has a seriously impressive cast. Not good in superhero terms, good in any terms. Like, there are Spielberg films with worse casts. Between them, Lawrence and Fassbender have six Oscar nominations and one win. McAvoy, Isaacs and Byrne each have BAFTAs, Golden Globes and Emmys. Munn, Hoult and Turner while not huge stars are clearly bankable supporting actors, who are good at what they do. Given all this it’s not surprising that the acting in Apocalypse is good but it is not applied to anything with that justifies such an assembly of talents. Characters just show up, do their thing and get placed in position for the next film. Professor X is bald – check. Storm is now an X-men – check. The potentially apocalyptic nature of Jean Grey’s powers have been hinted at – check. Magneto has been shown, despite his myriad homicides, to actually be a decent bloke – check. What’s particularly strange about moving all these characters around the franchises chessboard is that Apocalypse is supposed to be the endgame. It’s the culmination of the current trilogy and while there are Wolverine and Deadpool films lined up, the fate of the X-men films themselves appears unclear. It’s not obvious that Fassbender, Lawrence or McAvoy will be back and without those characters it’s hard to see it continuing successfully. Thus the all too common feeling in franchises that the quality of the film you are currently watching is being sacrificed for the sake of some future instalment is compounded by the sense that it might all be in vain.

Let us return momentarily to discussing Isaacs. One of my (female) viewing companions complained that his good looks hidden under prosthetics and CGI. From my (male) point of view Apocalypse seems vulnerable to an equal and opposite criticism. Why does Olivia Munn’s Psylocke fight in what is essentially a bathing suit? Ok that’s a rhetorical question, I mean I get that it’s so the audience – presumed to be mostly men and (especially) teenage boys – can ogle her. But that seems disrespectful to character, actress and audience alike. Perhaps instead Psylocke’s inclusion could have been justified by actually giving her something of significance to the narrative to do.

That’s a fairly minor gripe. Had I really bought into what else was happening in the film, I’d have barely noticed. But while X-Men: Apocalypse is not as sloppy as Batman v Superman nor as obnoxious as Deadpool, it’s still deeply underwhelming. Which is kind of odd because on a certain level it’s spectacular. The visuals are stunning and unusually for a superhero film it actually gains momentum when it moves into a climax full of obscene amounts of CGI. But that mostly underlines how weirdly inert the rest of the film is. There’s little point marrying such a talented director and cast with a script that is so flat and uninteresting.

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5 things Civil War has that Batman v Superman needed

Why Marvel won the battle of the battling superheroes

*Abundant spoilers from the get-go*

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil War are in many regards very similar films. Both films feature superheroes. Both films centre on those heroes fighting each other. In both films, the impetus for that conflict is the collateral damage that resulted from the superpowered battles in previous films. Both films begin with a scene in which the parents of one of those heroes is murdered, which allows them to inherit the vast wealth they will one day use to build the suits of armour than will enable them to become superheroes. After these murders, both films then move onto an action sequence in Africa, the casualties of which turn the public against heroes.

Yet they differ in one really important regard: Civil War works, while BvS doesn’t. That’s not just my view – though it certainly is that too. On Rotten Tomatoes, Civil War has a resounding score of 90% whilst BvS elicits a measly 27%. There are cases where audiences and critics, whose reviews power Rotten Tomatoes, disagree but this is not one of them. BvS hasn’t lost money, in fact it’s made rather a lot of it. But a film featuring Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman would always manage that. It has, however, underperformed. A project this massive ought to be aiming to be one of the year’s biggest hits. Yet it’s not only been comfortably outgrossed by Civil War but also by Zootopia. The Jungle Book is not far behind and had Deadpool opened in China it would almost certainly have topped BvS too. And it’s only May.

Worse still its failure has likely depleted the supply of goodwill surrounding the franchise which will likely hurt the box office takings of future instalments. So where did Marvel go right and DC/Warner Bros go wrong? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Humour

Let us start with the most commonly voiced complaint about BvS: it is a bit of a slog. Its combination of brooding characters, a gloomy colour palette and a story that focussed on the suffering of ordinary people that superheroes create. That makes it a rather dour affair.

The same could be said of Civil War – it is a film where at one point it appears that Steve Rodgers is going to smash in Tony Stark’s face – but for the fact the darkness with jokes. Falcon and the Winter Soldier bickering over legroom in a Renault Clio is not simply amusing: it also helps us relate to those characters and prevents the tone of the film becoming morose.

That said, I don’t think this is the crucial distinction it is made out to be. It’s quite possible to make a superhero film of any quality in any tone. The Dark Knight is gloomy and fantastic, the Fantastic Four is gloomy and excruciating.

The sad reality is that the problems with BvS went way beyond a lack of jokes and couldn’t have been fixed just by throwing some in.

2. A function for its shoehorned in hero

The narrative of BvS did not require Wonderwoman. Likewise Spiderman is more or less extraneous to Civil War’s story. But in order to set up future films they had to be in there.

Both films make a virtue of this commercial necessity. Wonderwoman’s entrance into the final battle is the only fist pumping moment in BvS. However, she is underused and her presence appears to have confused Chinese audiences unfamiliar with her character.

Spiderman is better used: a wisecracking, exuberant and innocent teenager gatecrashing the film counterpoints the darkness that would otherwise pervade the proceedings.

3. A plot that makes sense

After the aforementioned scene of Bruce Wayne’s parents being (once again) murdered and an impressive flashback to the carnage at the end of Man of Steel, BvS moves to a scene in Africa. Louis Lane and some of her colleagues are kidnapped by a warlord they are supposed to be interviewing. As soon as the hostages are out of sight, a group of private military contractors arrive and begin shooting people. Then Superman arrives and rescues Lane.

Something probably has been lost in the process of summarising that scene but not much. It’s as nonsensical as it sounds. None of the elements besides Superman and Lane have previously been introduced. Nor is there a proper through line between this scene and the one before or after. This makes it hard for the audience to place it in context.

Even if you manage to, there’s still a definite lack of internal logic. The confrontation in Africa was apparently orchestrated by Lex Luthor, so Superman would be blamed for the deaths caused by the mercenaries. But it’s never explained why anyone thinks Superman, who has super-strength and can shoot laser beams from his eyes, would shoot people.

There are definitely problems with the plotting of Civil War but they are relatively minor. The introduction of a number of the heroes is rather contrived. But I’d rather be thinking “it’s so obvious what the writers are doing here” than “I haven’t got the faintest idea what the writers are doing and apparently neither have they”.

It’s also probably fair to say that appreciating Civil War depends on having seen the proceeding Marvel films. But at this stage we really need to accept that Marvel isn’t making films but a TV series new episodes of which are shown in cinemas biannually. You can’t join the MCU after 13 episodes and fully comprehend it, anymore than you could Breaking Bad.

While Marvel lean heavily on things they have previously shown in their movies, DC/Warner Brothers rely on you knowing stuff they’ve never shown and don’t explain. The formation of the Justice League and the arrival of the villainous Darkseid are foreshadowed. In a Marvel movie, this would have been done in post-credit sequences or easter eggs. Batman v Superman sticks them into the main body of the film. If you’re an audience member who realises these sequences are basically irrelevant to the story you’re currently watching, they are jarring and mess up the rhythm of the film. If you don’t and you, therefore, try to incorporate them into your understanding of that story, then it becomes even more baffling.

4. An understanding of what its heroes are fighting about

In Civil War, the UN gives tells the Avengers that their activities need to be regulated. A faction lead by Tony Stark wants to accept that regulation, whilst Steve Rodgers and his allies reject it. There are wrinkles and complications but fundamentally that is what the audience needs to know to follow the film’s conflict between superheroes.

Any decent hero vs hero story needs to be able to boil down its central conflict to a sentence or two. Six X-Men films are a battle about whether Mutants can co-operate with humans or whether conflict is inevitable. In Season 2 of Netflix’s Daredevil, the Punisher thinks it’s acceptable to stop criminals by killing them, whilst Daredevil rejects that view and tries to stop him.

In Batman v Superman, Batman and Superman are not two sides of a single dichotomy. Indeed, their reasons for fighting each other are tangled and rather hypocritical. Batman thinks Superman is too powerful and produces too much collateral damage, even though he is himself rather powerful and has himself produced plenty of collateral damage. And Superman dislikes Batman being a vigilante despite being a vigilante himself. The lack of clarity about why they were fighting in the first place makes it hard to invest in the conflict or to understand its sudden resolution.

5. A decent villain

Speaking of unclear motivations let’s turn to Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor. I like Eisenberg and think he does a good job with the material he’s given. But that’s not great. Luthor as an entitled tech bro could work – indeed I predicted it would – but the execution is really sloppy. It’s clear what his immediate objective is: kill superman. But what lies behind that? He seems to have been damaged by his abusive father and – for some reason – that makes him resentful of Superman. At points he seems to share Batman’s misgivings about the inherent danger of the existence of a being as powerful as Superman but later goes on to create one himself. There seems to be some religious thing going on but what it means is unclear. There are no signs of Luthor having a faith that might be feeding into his motivation. I suppose he could have become a disciple of Darkseid but if so that only happens in the film’s final act long after his plan began. Alternatively maybe it is his self-belief that is powering his actions: his arrogance is palpable and perhaps killing the most powerful creature on the planet is to him what stealing paintings is to Thomas Crown. But why then all the ponderous Revelation lite warbling? Perhaps, he simply wants Superman out of the way, so the Man of Steel can’t intervene with his plans to blow up California in order to inflate the values of his landholdings in Nevada or whatever supervillains are into these days. But if Superman is an obstacle that must be cleared away in order to carry out a larger plan, what is that larger plan? Any of these would have been fine – ok maybe not the abusive father one but the others seem OK – but rather than choosing one or finding a way to mesh several together BvS leaves Luthor to blunder directionless through a film he’s supposed to be driving the narrative of.

By contrast, Daniel Bruhl’s Zemo is an understated highlight of Civil War. A lack of screen time means that Marvel villains often wind up being rather generic. They are vaguely evil, they want to destroy and/or rule things, which they will proclaim in a booming voice before being killed in the final act.

Despite Bruhl having even less screen time than his predecessors, he makes a far greater impression. The comic book character with whom he shares a name is a leader of Hydra who has surgically attached a purple mask to his face. The name turns out to be a red herring. The film’s Zemo is a villain rather than a supervillain. He’s a soldier whose family was killed during the events of Age of Ultron and, not unreasonably, blames the Avengers. With no powers of his own, he can’t possibly defeat them in a direct confrontation, so he manipulates them into battling each other.

He works better than the average Marvel villain for a number of reasons. Having gone in expecting him to be a character similar to the one Reed Diamond plays in Agents of SHIELD, he came as a welcome surprise. And Bruhl is a very capable actor able to bring plenty of pathos to his performance without becoming hammy in the way many of his counterparts do. And his character meshes with the film’s broader theme: that revenge is an inherently destructive motivation. It’s also true that being less objectively dangerous, makes him seem more sinister. His motivation is mysterious and his cruelty is more apparent: killing someone by drowning rather than using some supernatural mcguffin just feels more real.

To wrap up…

Zack Snyder’s vision for the DCU has come in for a lot of criticism and there is plenty to criticise. His pursuit of darkness for darkness sake leads him to, for example, complain that in the Nolan Batman films, the hero goes to “a Tibetan monastery and…[is]…trained by ninjas. Okay? I want to do that. But he doesn’t, like, get raped in prison. That could happen in my movie.”

But the errors that really bothered me were not to do with the concept but the execution. The visuals and some of the action sequences are clearly the product of the kind of obsessive craftsmanship that can only arise from a genuine love for the task at hand. But that just makes it all the more glaring when everything else is so slapdash.

This contrast is clearly a reflection of Snyder’s priorities. His back catalogue makes clear that what matters to him is whether stuff looks ‘epic’. If it does then nothing else seems to matter. What is less clear is why Warner Bros – having spent $250 million on the film and presumably wanting to see a return on it – apparently collaborated in this indifference. Man-child auteurs may disdain narrative coherence and relatable characters but audiences probably won’t. Had the studio pushed for an additional rewrite to rationalise the plot and the character motivations – and perhaps also throw in a joke here or there – Snyder’s grisly vision intact would have remained intact but would have led to a far better film. Indeed, Warner Bros might have wound up the with something like Captain America: Civil War.

Some quick thoughts on ‘Super Thursday’

Britain voted, I hapzardly analyse.

THE LIBERAL DEMOCRATS NEED TO REALISE WE ARE STILL AT RISK OF EXTINCTION

Yesterday was a novelty for Liberal Democrats. The public voted and we came away in a better position than we were before. We not only gained councillors (and a council) but our absolute gains were more than anyone else’s. And there were some impressive wins in the constituency section of the Scottish Parliament. The sense of near elation at not being battered by the electorate again is palpable.

However, these results do demonstrate that the end of the coalition will not end the damage it did to the Party. We have gone from being Britain’s 3rd party to one of a number of minor parties. We are now only the fifth largest party in the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and GLA.

It would be tempting to think we’ve turned a corner. And we may well have done but yesterday could also simply be a stay of execution. While the good outweighed the bad, there were some depressing results too: notably big losses in the Welsh Assembly. And things could quite easily start getting worse again. We faced Labour and Conservative Parties that were both unpopular and divided. If they get their acts together we could be in trouble.

I’m also concerned that renewed successes for our old approach of burrowing in and building at a local level may lead us to neglect building a brand that resonates nationally.

SADIQ KHAN IS NO OBAMA BUT HIS WIN IS STILL INSPIRING

With so much of European politics currently revolving around Islamophobia, the fact that the continent’s largest city now has a Muslim mayor is encouraging. That London’s voters chose him despite a Conservative campaign that sought to remind everyone that Khan was a Muslim and that Muslim’s are all scary extremists, makes it more heartening still.

After 16 years of big egos using the Mayoralty as a platform for their clowning, it’s actually rather refreshing that London now has a rather average machine politician as it’s Mayor.

WE MAY HAVE BEEN LEARNING THE WRONG LESSONS FROM THE SCOTTISH REFERENDUM

A trope of discussions about the ‘Remain’ campaign’s tactics is that ‘No’ to independence was too negative and calculating. The argument is that frightening people about the consequences of breaking up the Union stopped people voting ‘yes’ but energised no one. That set the stage for the freshly fired up nationalists to sweep all before them in the subsequent General Election. Their new political dominance will eventually lead to independence. The moral apparently is that ‘Remain’ can’t just warn about the consequences of Brexit, it needs to make people feel good about the EU.

Yesterday was a blow to that theory. The SNP is not unstoppable. It lost its majority at Holyrood. Independence may not be inevitable after all. Of course, Brexit will be inevitable if ‘Leave’ wins the referendum as polls suggest it very well might. Stopping that should be our priority and if raising valid concerns about its results is the way to do it, then let’s do that.

THE RISE OF THE SCOTTISH CONSERVATIVES IS AMBIGIOUS FOR THE INDEPENDENCE DEBATE

On the one hand, the fact that the main unionist voice in Scotland is now the Conservatives makes it easier for the nationalists to equate opposition to independence with support for Conservatism. But the fact that the Conservative Party is winning elections in Scotland makes it harder for the SNP to present it as an alien force imposed from London. Expect them to try anyway.

JEREMY CORBYN’S LABOUR PARTY IS THE KIND OF LABOUR PARTY THAT LOSES SEATS TO THE CONSERVATIVES IN GLASGOW!!!

During an episode of Have I Got News For You from week of the first elections to the Scottish Parliament, Angus Deayton turned to the camera and reminded viewers that ‘this program is being recorded before the announcement of the results. So we cannot tell you how Labour, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, Greens or Scottish Socialists are doing. However, we can tell you the Conservatives have done extremely badly.’

How times have changed.

Scotland was supposed to be the proving ground for Corbynism. The voters who’d rejected Blairism for Nationalism would supposedly be won back with red blooded socialism. To say the least, that’s not really worked.

More generally, I find the notion that because these elections were not quite a total disaster for Labour they were therefore a vindication of Corbyn’s leadership rather mystifying.

Opposition parties with new leaders basically never lose seats in the first round of local elections of a parliament. Given that the Government has a) split over the EU referendum and b) inflicted the junior doctors strike, academisation and an unpopular budget on itself, Labour slipping backwards is even more damning for Labour.

THE CONSERVATIVES MAY NOT QUITE BE BULLETPROOF

An understandable inference for a Conservative to draw from these events is that as long as Corbyn is Labour leader, they can do whatever they want without electoral repurcusions. That’s probably true up to a point. If their splits on Europe develop into schisms or they elect a leader even less qualified to be PM than Corbyn (*cough* Boris *cough*) then trouble could lie ahead.

UKIP ARE NOT DOING AS WELL AS THEY THINK

UKIP IS FULL OF IT

You know how UKIP loves to go on about corruption in the EU? Do you think this reflects an honest disdain for corruption or knee jerk Europhobia?

Well if they actually wanted clean politics, then they’d want nothing to do with Neil Hamilton. He is after all the personification of the sleaze that engulfed John Major’s government; the man who took money for asking parliamentary questions. But he’s now in the Welsh Assembly under UKIP colours. Which is all a bit yucky.

THE GREENS ARE CAUGHT IN A WEIRD FLUX STATE

My reading is that the fate of the Greens is in Labour’s hands. If Corbyn survives or is replaced by somebody like himself they’ll struggle. If the Labour moderates reassert control of their party, then there will be a lot of seriously pissed off lefties ripe for the taking.

Until Labour choses what direction to go in, the fate of the Greens is likely to be ambigious.

Lib Dems in glasshouses

Liberal Democrats should denounce Ken Livingstone’s antisemitism but our own record on dealing with out of order grandees is pathetic.

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The Labour Party appears to have an Anti-Semitism problem. Many of its own members say so. That fact was hard to dispute even before Ken Livingstone’s intervention. But a former mayor of the nation’s largest city expounding on a spurious connection between Zionism and Nazism displays the issue on an IMAX scale.

It is absolutely correct that Liberal Democrats – and every other right thinking person – should be condemning this. It was quite fair for Tim Farron to say:

The sight of Ken Livingstone – a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee and former Mayor of London – touring television studios spouting more and more ill-informed, divisive rhetoric was truly unbelievable and grew in offensiveness with every interview.

And most of the harsher words spoken by Lib Dem activists on social media were also justified.

What is not merited, however, is us developing any sense of superiority over the Labour Party. As a Party we have been terrible at dealing with wayward members. The most obvious example of this is the fact that despite being accused of sexual assault by multiple women, Chris Rennard still takes the Lib Dem whip in the Lords. The reason being that this he said/she, she, she and she said story was judged according to a criminal standard of proof, despite the fact that party membership is clearly a civil matter. The deeply unsatisfactory outcome is that Rennard is still in the Party but his victims have been pushed out.

However, more relevant to Livingstone’s case is that of another Lib Dem peer: Jenny Tonge. Whilst  she was eventually pressured into resigning from the Lib Dem group in the Lords, she remains a member of the Party. That is despite saying things that make Ken sound like a semitophile. The most gobsmacking came about in the wake of the 2010 Haitian earthquake. Medical assistance came in from across the world (including Israel). Tonge suggested that there should be an investigation into an allegation originating that the Hezbollah Youtube channel that Israeli medical teams were harvesting organs from the earthquake’s victims.

It is disturbing to say the least that a known menace to women and a propagator of a modern day blood libel are still Liberal Democrats. The scandal that followed the unearthing of Rennard’s misdemeanours led to the Party’s procedures being tightened but it remains to see how effective these will be in practice. More disturbing, is that both Rennard and Tonge still enjoy the support of vocal minorities within the Party.

We should by all means criticise Labour’s shortcomings but we must also recognise our own.

The best things I’ve read recently (01/05/2015)

A Spell Deferred (the New Republic) by David Hajdu

“[Nina Simone’s] voice, in pointed contrast to her piano playing, was untutored, informal—blistered and gray. She sounded oldish at twenty-five, and her quivery vibrato gave her music the quality of a haunting. Simone was mocked sometimes for sounding masculine, and the tinge of the transgressive likely contributes, too, to her enduring appeal to the pop audience. There is no cheesy chanteuse continentalism or cutesy pin-up sass in her singing. Her tone, always acrid, grew more stinging over time. She tended to sing a couple of microtones sharp—not quite out of key, but on the top end of the notes, an effect that gave her voice some of its spikiness. To hear one of Simone’s recordings on a playlist today, popping up between tracks by singers such as Björk or Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Simone sounds among sisters. She pioneered the caustic severity that pop singers, male and female, have learned to adopt to show their seriousness.”

Two men dancing in their underwear – Boris and Ken (the Guardian) by Mariana Hyde

“One of the greatest acts of comic sabotage in the entire Tony Blair premiership came during prime minister’s questions, when a Labour backbencher, Tony McWalter, stood up and inquired solicitously: “My right honourable friend is sometimes subject to rather unflattering or even malevolent descriptions of his motivation. Will he provide the house with a brief characterisation of the political philosophy that he espouses and which underlies his policies?”

Despite four days’ notice of the question, Blair was more than momentarily silenced. Yet compared to Boris, Tone was John Locke. You’d have more luck finding Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction than you would a sincerely held view not predicated on Boris’s personal ambition. I shrieked when he attempted to map himself on to the space occupied by Winston Churchill by publishing a book about the man who frequently polls as Britain’s greatest ever leader. It called to mind a great line in Working Girl: “Sometimes I sing and dance around the house in my underwear. Doesn’t make me Madonna. Never will.””

Why I’m too selfish to have children (Vox) by Sung J. Woo

“As a child of war, the Korean Conflict forced my mother and her family to literally run for their lives. She was 5 when the tanks started rolling and 8 by the time it was over, and during those years she learned what it meant to lose her home, to have all her essential belongings in a burlap bag, to have not enough to eat €— which is why Costco is now her favorite place in the world. When she walks into that warehouse stacked full of everything, her shoulders relax.  She smiles as she hugs the enormous rolls of paper towels and loads it into the cart. As she gazes at the giant bin of bananas, I’m certain she’d like to swim in them, like the way Scrooge McDuck wades in his pool of gold coins. Her closet in her condo is like a survivalist’s dream, triples and quadruples of toilet paper, kitchen gloves, Ziploc bags, because in her uncertain upbringing, nothing was permanent. Nothing could be counted on.”

Leave Root Causes Aside—Destroy the ISIS ‘State’ (the Atlantic) by James Jeffrey

“Defeating ISIS-as-state is not dependent upon solving Syria as a social, historical, cultural, religious, and governance project, let alone doing the same with Iraq. ISIS feeds on the conflicts in both countries and makes the situation in both worse. But it is possible to defeat ISIS as a “state” and as a military-economic “power”—that is, deal with the truly threatening part— without having to solve the Syrian and Iraqi crises or eliminate ISIS as a set of terrorist cells or source of ideological inspiration. Of course, even if ISIS is destroyed as a state, we would still have the Syrian Civil War and Iraqi disunity, but we have all that now, along with ISIS, which presents its own challenges to the region and the West.”