Kooky horror show: Tilda Swinton and Ralph Fiennes in Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel
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What’s the secret to a long and happy relationship? Disagree about everything

My friend Emma worships Wes Anderson; I can’t stand him – so we were looking forward to a good row after The Grand Budapest Hotel

I went to the cinema this week with my friend Emma Kennedy to see the Wes Anderson film. He only makes the one – the one in which the characterisation consists of giving an actor glasses and a moustache, the plot is someone telling you what happened in their dream and it all takes place in a world where everyone is kooky so no one is.

Now this is where Emma and I differ, Anderson being her favourite film director and my least. You have never heard two people argue about a film until you have heard Emma and I argue about The Royal Tenenbaums. Still, I am always willing to be persuaded and I thoroughly enjoy disagreeing with Emma, so on that basis we went to see The Grand Budapest Hotel.

It was as I feared and I spent a bleak hour and a half clutching a glass of wine for comfort while all around me people linked arms and chuckled warmly at the wry cleverness of it all. Oooh, a pink hotel! Look at their lovely suits! Oh, he’s drawing on a little moustache, how delightful!

As we leave the cinema, Emma is lit up with joy, while I am basically Muttley from Wacky Races, head down and muttering incomprehensible syllables under my breath: “Grrr, effing nimby-namby nonsense . . . Whimsical piles of tosh . . . Grrr . . .”

Emma is unperturbed, gleeful even. “Look at you, you’re like the dad in Steptoe,” she says happily. And I scowl at her happily. Neither of us budges an inch.

You see, I think it’s good to disagree. I’ve always hated that Kenneth Tynan quote, “I doubt if I could love anyone who did not wish to see Look Back in Anger.” I picture poor Mrs Tynan, trying to stick up for herself: “Darling, I just don’t fancy it, all that complaining and self-pity. Can’t we go to see something funny instead?” Or even: “Look, I’ve read the reviews – this Jimmy Porter sounds like a shit and the women have no good lines. For those reasons I’m out.” Nope, it wouldn’t have washed in the Tynan household.

It’s an attitude I see all the time on Twitter, which is usually one of my favourite places. People are forever banging on about how they couldn’t love anyone who didn’t appreciate this particular film or record, as if that were a very grown-up marker of taste, or passion, or commitment, or something or other. Whenever I make a disparaging remark about a new movie, I am unsettled to get a flood of replies saying, “Thanks, I’ll save myself the ticket price,” or, “Phew, won’t be going to see that then!”

“No!” I want to shout. “Do go. Don’t take my word for it. It’s sweet that you value my opinion but it’s more than likely that on several things – possibly even important things and very possibly this film – we might disagree.”

I’ve told this story before but it bears repeating. On one of my first dates with Ben (who I’ve lived happily with for over 30 years), we went to the cinema but, failing to agree on a film, went in to different screens: he to see Southern Comfort, I to see Tess of the d’Urbervilles. That might strike some as unromantic or revelatory of a deep incompatibility but to me it says the opposite: if there is a key to the success of our relationship, it’s been our ability to agree to differ. He loves football, I like the garden; he adores University Challenge, I prefer Strictly Come Dancing; he runs, I walk. We’ve learned not to recommend a book to each other, counting on the fingers of one hand instances when we’ve both enjoyed the same one. It’s almost as if we’re different people or something.

But this just won’t do nowadays. We live in adversarial times, in which we’re encouraged to look at a thing, come up with an opinion and stick to it. When we encounter the opposite view, we’re supposed to throw stones at it and then run away. Not me, buddy. I’m proposing a greater, Zen-like tolerance for all the foibles and failings of those we love, so that we reach a higher plane where we can even allow for the continued existence of people who like Wes Anderson films. Peace.

Tracey Thorn is a musician and writer, best known as one half of Everything but the Girl. She writes the fortnightly “Off the Record” column for the New Statesman. Her latest book is Naked at the Albert Hall.

This article first appeared in the 14 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Easter Double

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Donald Trump wants to terminate the Environmental Protection Agency - can he?

"Epa, Epa, Eeeepaaaaa" – Grampa Simpson.

 

There have been countless jokes about US President Donald Trump’s aversion to academic work, with many comparing him to an infant. The Daily Show created a browser extension aptly named “Make Trump Tweets Eight Again” that converts the font of Potus’ tweets to crayon scrawlings. Indeed, it is absurd that – even without the childish font – one particular bill that was introduced within the first month of Trump taking office looked just as puerile. Proposed by Matt Gaetz, a Republican who had been in Congress for barely a month, “H.R. 861” was only one sentence long:

“The Environmental Protection Agency shall terminate on December 31, 2018”.

If this seems like a stunt, that is because Gaetz is unlikely to actually achieve his stated aim. Drafting such a short bill without any co-sponsors – and leaving it to a novice Congressman to present – is hardly the best strategy to ensure a bill will pass. 

Still, Republicans' distrust for environmental protections is well-known - long-running cartoon show The Simpsons even did a send up of the Epa where the agency had its own private army. So what else makes H.R. 861 implausible?

Well, the 10-word-long statement neglects to address the fact that many federal environmental laws assume the existence of or defer to the Epa. In the event that the Epa was abolished, all of these laws – from the 1946 Atomic Energy Act to the 2016 Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act – would need to be amended. Preferably, a way of doing this would be included in the bill itself.

Additionally, for the bill to be accepted in the Senate there would have to be eight Democratic senators who agreed with its premise. This is an awkward demand when not even all Republicans back Trump. The man Trum appointed to the helm of the Epa, Scott Pruitt, is particularly divisive because of his long opposition to the agency. Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine said that she was hostile to the appointment of a man who was “so manifestly opposed to the mission of the agency” that he had sued the Epa 14 times. Polls from 2016 and 2017 suggests that most Americans would be also be opposed to the agency’s termination.

But if Trump is incapable of entirely eliminating the Epa, he has other ways of rendering it futile. In January, Potus banned the Epa and National Park Services from “providing updates on social media or to reporters”, and this Friday, Trump plans to “switch off” the government’s largest citizen-linked data site – the Epa’s Open Data Web Service. This is vital not just for storing and displaying information on climate change, but also as an accessible way of civilians viewing details of local environmental changes – such as chemical spills. Given the administration’s recent announcement of his intention to repeal existing safeguards, such as those to stabilise the climate and protect the environment, defunding this public data tool is possibly an attempt to decrease awareness of Trump’s forthcoming actions.

There was also a recent update to the webpage of the Epa's Office of Science and Technology, which saw all references to “science-based” work removed, in favour of an emphasis on “national economically and technologically achievable standards”. 

Trump’s reshuffle of the Epa's priorities puts the onus on economic activity at the expense of public health and environmental safety. Pruitt, who is also eager to #MakeAmericaGreatAgain, spoke in an interview of his desire to “exit” the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. He was led to this conclusion because of his belief that the agreement means “contracting our economy to serve and really satisfy Europe, and China, and India”.

 

Rather than outright closure of the Epa, its influence and funding are being leached away. H.R. 861 might be a subtle version of one of Potus’ Twitter taunts – empty and outrageous – but it is by no means the only way to drastically alter the Epa’s landscape. With Pruitt as Epa Administrator, the organisation may become a caricature of itself – as in The Simpsons Movie. Let us hope that the #resistance movements started by “Rogue” Epa and National Parks social media accounts are able to stave off the vultures until there is “Hope” once more.

 

Anjuli R. K. Shere is a 2016/17 Wellcome Scholar and science intern at the New Statesman

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