Best albums 2016: second half report

I’m a little past the halfway point, but I wanted to post these for the record. In no order.

KING – We are KING
Anderson Paak – Malibu
Pusha T – King Push – Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude
The 1975 – I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it
Kevin Gates – Islah
Bonnie Raitt – Dig In Deep
Corinne Bailey Rae – The Heart Speaks in Whispers
Margo Price – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter
David Bowie – Blackstar
Parquet Courts – Human Performance
Beyonce – Lemonade
Anohni – Hopelessness
Katy B – Honey
K Michelle – More Issues Than Vogue
Brandy Clark – Big Day in a Small Town
Maxwell – blackSUMMERSNIGHT
Maren Morris – Hero
Schoolboy Q – Blank Face LP
Shura – Nothing’s Real
Alex Anwandter – Amiga
Paul Simon – Stranger to Stranger

‘There’s not much to talk about’

In which Luther Vandross discovers the possibilities of MIDI. At the time some may have mourned the interplay between piano, backup vocalists, and bass that were hallmarks of his early sound; here, the machine-sponsored precision forces Vandross into finding new vocal nuances: harmonizing with the quiet guitar line, experimenting with his low end, the controlled anguish of the chorus. The coda dissolves into space, uncertainty. “Give Me the Reason” needs none.

Tim Kaine’s debut

To repeat what I wrote about Senator Tim Kaine last night, I’m not overwhelmed but why should I have been? Before the expected death of FDR at the start of his fourth term (by the way, keeping Harry Truman in the cold remains one of the trickster’s worst mistakes in office) and the onset of Cold War exigencies, vice presidents got chosen by conventions for regional balance; the head of the State Department was the plum. With the exception of Martin Van Buren, one of the creators of the Democratic Party and a confidant of Andrew Jackson, only the obscure Garret Hobart could be said to be an “assistant president” with the charm and talent to press the Senate for legislation that the Chief Executive wanted passed. Hell, vice presidents didn’t get an office in the West Wing until Walter Mondale, one of the few Carter-era innovations that the Reagan people kept. It’s possible that younger men and women who lived through George W. Bush’s first term think the vice president is an omnipotent #2, but that’s not how American history has unfurled. Dan Quayle and Sarah Palin were the most irresponsible picks of my lifetime if you discount Cheney as a historical outlier, and Quayle had no influence on Poppy Bush.

As for Pence, I agree with Scott Lemieux

The pick is…fine. He wasn’t my first choice and still wouldn’t be, but the pick accomplishes the basic minimum of what is necessary in a vice presidential candidate, which is minimizing the downside risk. (As I will return to later, he’s far from unique in this respect, but he meets the standard.) He’s a moderate but not a Lieberman or anything. He’s not unqualified to be president, the media likes him, and Clinton seems comfortable with him.

– With all due respect, the concerns about abortion are specious. Trying to figure out what a politician REALLY THINKS is a useless mug’s game. Maybe his 100% NARAL rating is a product of shifts in the party. So what? It’s not shifting back, and Kaine would have no means to impose some kind of secret anti-abortion agenda even if he wanted to.

– I have two reservations about the pick. First, it unnecessarily puts a Senate seat at risk. It’s not a dispositive factor like it is with Sherrod Brown — there’s a Democratic governor in Virginia, and the Democrats can probably (although not certainly) retain the seat in an off-year election. But it’s a negative factor. The second problem is that it plays into the narrative that a “safe choice” means “white guy.” What risk, exactly, is involved with Tom Perez, and [sic] extremely intelligent and well-educated person who has numerous public offices without scandal or notable gaffes?

I’ll answer Lemieux’s rhetorical question. After Richard Cheney, no sentient aspirant for chief magistrate should consider risk anything more than of tertiary interest. Also, Trump. Look at Mike Pence, a vice presidential pick whose mien is as risky as a Kraft Singles Slices sandwich; he looks like a Kiwanis Club president who hated that sip of beer he took in 1985. That’s why he’s dangerous.

Singles 7/22

Notes:

– As much as I admire Rabbit Fur Coat, several Rilo Kiley tunes, and 2014’s “She’s Not Me,” Jenny Lewis leaves me cold. With this echo-laden production, she’s trying hard to alienate. It’s like she decided to go for the Interpol dough but being half-assed about it. Jenny Lewis recording “Evil” would be awesome!

– After a few years’ absence, what a relief to learn that Fergie maintains her standard of appearing, solo or otherwise, on execrable singles.

I wrote about Dierks Bentley’s album a couple months ago — more solid than I thought at the time. “Different For Girls,” though, is the kind of bad song that deserves a listen.

– I endorse “I Like That.”

Click on links for full reviews.

Sistar – I Like That (7)
Flume ft. Tove Lo – Say It (7)
Chris Young ft. Vince Gill – Sober Saturday Night (7)
Nice as Fuck – Door (6)
Tory Lanez – Luv (6)
Didrick ft. Amanda Fondell – Smoke (6)
Rae Sremmurd – Look Alive (5)
Frenship ft. Emily Warren – Capsize (5)
Dierks Bentley ft. Elle King – Different For Girls (4)
Demi Lovato – Body Say (3)
Fifth Harmony ft. Fetty Wap – All in My Head (Flex) (2)
Fergie – M.I.L.F. $ (1)
Calum Scott – Dancing On My Own (1)

Enter: Tim Kaine

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Look, on first glance Virginia senator Tim Kaine looks like the dude who wavers and falls after taking an Irish Car Bomb at a campaign stop in Pittsburgh. He was DNC chair during a dark time. His eyebrows frighten me. But I’m willing to be educated. His abortion convictions, of which I’ve been dimly aware for a couple years, have never, to my knowledge (correct me), conflicted with what he views as his obligations as the chief magistrate of the Commonwealth of Virginia — the most estimable kind of conservatism, in my judgment. Besides, I laugh at anyone who thinks any vice president other than Richard Cheney would cast spells on the president — and a president like Hillary Goddamn Clinton, married to a former president. Late this afternoon I watched an hour of Advise and Consent, one of the most prescient and far-seeing of political films. The affable vice president, a favorite of housewives, hasn’t spoken to the president in six weeks; as played by Lew Ayres, it’s a minor masterpiece of embarrassment. He has to ask the majority leader (Walter Pidgeon, made for the part) for the skinny. Dan Quayle looked like the last person who fit this description; Tim Kaine may be another.

A week ago, the Richmond Times-Dispatch published a story that looks at his tergiversations as governor and comes away mildly impressed, especially after an election year campaign not to raise taxes that he promptly rescinded seven days after taking office. The conclusion?

He also has a 100 percent rating from the pro-gun-control Brady Campaign, and recently joined the House sit-in for gun control organized by Democrats. He gets high marks from Environment America, and is liked by the teachers’ unions. (Kaine has supported expanded pre-K since his gubernatorial days.) He has sponsored legislation to raise the minimum wage, favors higher spending on social-welfare programs, opposes privatizing Social Security, and so on. In fact, it’s hard to think of a single position by which Kaine deviates from liberal Democratic orthodoxy.

Yet!

But the public should not be seduced by efforts to put Kaine in the center of the political spectrum when he is so far from it. Think of it this way: Suppose Kaine had a mirror image in the GOP — a Republican former head of the RNC who repeatedly tried to cut taxes, who sought to restrict abortion, who got high marks from the NRA and low marks from environmentalists, who wanted to cut social programs, who supported privatizing Social Security, and who was, in all visible respects, a down-the-line soldier for the political right.

Would the press term such a politician — no matter how genial and friendly — a “cautious centrist” and a “pragmatist”? Or would he be labeled an “arch-conservative” and an “ideologue”?

A hack, I’d say, but a good hack.

And, no, fellow liberals/progressives, Elizabeth Warren should stay in the Senate.

‘Cosmos’ makes baffling sense

Most films, even art houses selections, observe formal conventions so slavishly that when something like Cosmos appears it’s the knee in the groin I need. Paced like a sit com and not entirely successful, Cosmos nevertheless embraces a verbal surrealism that’s often absent from movies. That Andrzej Zulawski’s first film in fifteen years is released in the United States several months after his death turns Cosmos into an elegy for an idea of cinema that disappeared with the deaths of Dušan Makavejev and Luis Buñuel.

There is no plot so much as a pitch, an excuse to get the project financed. This adaptation of a 1965 novel by Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz begins in a time that looks suspiciously like the present with the hero Witold (Jonathan Genet), a young law school dropout who redefines “gaunt” and “vampiric” retreating to a Lisbon country home as a guest to a bizarre family. Why is he named after Grombowicz himself? His parents were fans. Oh. With the first scene unfolding in the forest as Witold walks toward André Szankowski’s camera, it’s clear Zulawski traffics in vertigo, in placing the audience on shifting sands. Accompanying Witold is Fuchs (The Witnesses‘ Johan Libéreau), a doll-faced and thick-browed trickster whose taste for rough trade leaves him covered in bruises. The patriarch, Leon Wojtys (Jean-François Balmer), is the sort of man who picks salt off this knuckles and is besotted with a dialect of his own devising in which, as translated into English, words end on the suffix “um.” His wife (Sabine Azéma) projects bafflement, as well she should. Witold becomes obsessed with the significance of a sparrow hanging from a string; each of his pellucid thoughts, hashed out with a game Fuchs, gets put down on typed paper. His other obsession is with a maid with a deformed lip, whom Zulawski shoots in profile and extreme closeup as a series of montages or flashbacks. Never one to let a correspondence go unannounced, Witold finds similarities between her and Leon’s daughter Lena (Victoria Guerra), married to an architect.

I’ve made Cosmos sound coherent; any confusion has nothing to do with the sequence of events. Rather, Zulawski’s playing with the limits of subjectivity and his sense of verbal play forces the audience to work on the balls of its feet; whether the film’s events are filtered through Witold’s sensibilities isn’t clarified, to its credit. As if in a dream the actors speak dialogue that bears no relation to what was just said. “A triangle with the sparrow and the wood!” a character says with the zeal of a coffee drinker discovering half and half. Casting Sabine Azéma, the late Alain Resnais widow, is another of Cosmos‘ self-referential moves, as are the slugs that crawl on breakfast items like their cousins in Buñuel’s adaptation of Diary of a Chambermaid. To enjoy Cosmos in the conventional sense requires patience and a sympathy with Genet’s overheated performance (is his name another and coincidental tip of the hat?); he gets excited about matters that elicit a shrug. But as a swan song to an honorable career Cosmos makes its own kind of infuriating sense.

The GOP’s vision for the future: no future

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Not long ago the media got copies of Donald Trump’s acceptance speech. The third, fourth, and fifth paragraphs:

Our Convention occurs at a moment of crisis for our nation. The attacks on our police, and the terrorism in our cities, threaten our very way of life. Any politician who does not grasp this danger is not fit to lead our country.

Americans watching this address tonight have seen the recent images of violence in our streets and the chaos in our communities. Many have witnessed this violence personally, some have even been its victims.

I have a message for all of you: the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end. Beginning on January 20th 2017, safety will be restored.

In two centuries of speeches and off the cuff demagoguery I’ve never read a more terrifying depiction of the authoritarian mind. This, after all the blather about fascism, is what fascism looks like. Turn to me. I’ll stop the crime. Now. On this date. Never again. With this speech, Donald Trump hopes to attract the middling number of independent and undecided voters. Further:

On January 21st of 2017, the day after I take the oath of office, Americans will finally wake up in a country where the laws of the United States are enforced. We are going to be considerate and compassionate to everyone.

Study the juxtaposition of those two sentences. “Finally.” Laws “enforced.” The causal link between enforcing the law and compassion.

But my greatest compassion will be for our own struggling citizens. My plan is the exact opposite of the radical and dangerous immigration policy of Hillary Clinton. Americans want relief from uncontrolled immigration. Communities want relief.

Yet Hillary Clinton is proposing mass amnesty, mass immigration, and mass lawlessness. Her plan will overwhelm your schools and hospitals, further reduce your jobs and wages, and make it harder for recent immigrants to escape from poverty.

Never mind the lies in this passage — if I can even write “never mind.” What the hell in Clinton’s platform demands a horde of three million Mexicans swimming across the Rio Grande? Paul Manafort has already hinted that FBI crime statistics can’t be trusted because people don’t feel safe in their neighborhoods: the kind of sly elision and conflation from which law and order campaigns are made.

In the seven years since Barack Hussein Obama’s inauguration the deficit has shrunk, gays and lesbians can marry, regulatory agencies like the EPA and OSHA can boast chiefs who believe in them, climate change is a priority. This year the Republican Party completed its degeneration, begun on January 1969, into a loose confederation — their favorite word — of white straight panic.

Best films 2009-2010

2009

Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas)
A Serious Man (Ethan and Joel Coen)
Fantastic Mr. Fox (Wes Anderson)
Bright Star (Jane Campion)
The Headless Woman (Lucretia Martel)
Me and Orson Welles (Richard Linklater)
Julia (Erick Zonca)
Two Lovers (James Gray)
Tetro (Francis Ford Coppola)
Still Walking (Hirokazu Kore-eda)

2010

Inside Job (Charles Ferguson)
Carlos (Olivier Assayas)
Everyone Else Else (Maren Ade)
Dogtooth (Yorgos Lanthimos)
35 Shots of Rum (Claire Denis)
Mother (Bong Joon-hoo)
Of Gods and Men (Xavier Beauvoir)
The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski)
The Kids Are All Right (Lisa Cholodenko)
Wild Grass (Alain Resnais)

The consequences of Trumpism

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Of course Ted Cruz was setting himself up for 2020. Rallying his talent for offense and assholism one last time in 2016, he gambled that enough spectators would remember his refusal to endorse Trump in four years when he would join, presumably, Jeb!, Marco Rubio, and John Kasich for a rematch. But Cruz is as loathsome and dangerous as the head of the GOP:

Trump’s mix of cocky ambiguity and predation could scarcely be better primed to trigger the kind of great power confrontation that could push the world from smoldering to fire. It is no exaggeration to say that were it not for the relative confidence that Trump will be defeated in November that interview alone could trigger a genuine international crisis.

Indeed, it still may.

Trump brings together aggression and narcissism with a kind of militant ignorance which can be harmless or even amusing in the make believe world of reality TV or New York real estate but becomes positively dangerous on a national and global stage, thrashing about like a hose spewing fire. As Will Saletan memorably put it, the GOP is a failed state and Trump is its warlord. On his own Trump is simply a bracing case study in abnormal psychology. But he didn’t shoot to within reach of the most powerful office in the world by happenstance. He is the product of a political and cultural breakdown on the American right, a swaggering reductio ad absurdum of every breach and breakdown and violation of extra-statutory norms we’ve seen over the last two or three decades.

Josh Marshall refers to the New York Times interview in which Trump said he would leave NAFTA “in a split second” and questioned the idea of coming to the aid of NATO allies. The full extent of Trump’s dangerousness is becoming known even to elites. I suspect most supporters would read – or, more accurately, hear about them second- and thirdhand – Trump’s remarks and wonder what’s the trouble. Of course we shouldn’t help our allies blindly – look at what happened in Iraq and Syria!But ideas have consequences, one of which is the national security Trump and his supporters purport to believe in requires the comity of allies. How these allies respond to the first ISIS or ISIS-inspired attack on the American mainland during the Trump administration will depend on how the president treats them beforehand. If anything, the lawlessness that Trump espouses should reassure ISIS that “the West” lacks the moral authority to fight it.

And guess what? Should this attack come, Trump will blame it on the Obama administration’s policies anyway.

GOP convention: Day III

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump walks off the stage with his wife Melania during the Republican National Convention, Monday, July 18, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/John Locher)

10:46. Strange pivot from #Reagan to “my wonderful wife Karen Pence.”

10:41. Jay Nordlinger

@jaynordlinger

I wonder if Mike Pence will take the opportunity to defend religious liberty. #BetterLateThanNever

10:40. Speaker Ryan’s introduction did not set the place on fire.

10:38. My cold’s worsening. If I watch Mike Pence, I might cough up my toenails.

10:30. From a rhetorical point of view, Gingrich has been the best tonight. And my boo at NRO agrees:

Jay Nordlinger ‏@jaynordlinger 2m2 minutes ago Manhattan, NY

One thing about Newt: He speaks in normal cadences. Not in stagey, slo-mo applause lines. This is a first-rate performer. (And ex-prof.)

10:28. Gingrich’s measured, civil way of distinguishing ISIS-supporting Muslims from the rest would have been a grace note in 2004.

10:24. Fuck you, Newton Leroy Gingrich, for using gays, lesbians, and transgender citizens as fear-mongering ISIS drivel.

10:22. If Eric Erickson is to be believed, the Trump junta knew that Cruz would not endorse and warned him that he’d get booed if he didn’t yield. Cruz did it anyway. The crowd booed. As ILX poster daria g wrote, “so the trump campaign is so incompetent they feel it’s more important for them to put cruz on and orchestrate boos/walk out at the end of his speech to try and make him look bad, rather than.. negotiate some kind of resolution that wouldn’t make this the big story tomorrow because everyone looked ridiculous?”

― arts and crafts THIS GUY (daria-g),

10:16. I can’t see the Trump goon pressing the pistol into the small of Scott Walker’s back.

10:10. Golf courses, real estate projects, steaks, wine, vodka — Trump has built an exemplary empire.

10:04. Another Cruz spawn, who pledges love like a New York delegate does support for Trump. He babbles about Trump not sitting idly while the Pledge of Allegiance is removed from schools as a result of “political correctness.” Right.

9:58. Boos smothered Ted Cruz’s peroration. Hilarious — no one trusts him.

9:55. “Stand, and speak, and vote your conscience, vote for candidates up and down the ticket who you trust to defend our freedom.” Well, there’s the rebuke.

9:54. “Love” will bring hope to a “grieving” girl in Dallas. When Ted Cruz mentions love, he snarls.

9:48. “A government that stops admitting ISIS terrorists as refugees.” Another lie.

9:45. Not everybody’s getting up from his or her seats. Despite his mellifluous tones, Cruz isn’t winning them all.

9:44. For the first time in his political career, it seems Cruz mentions “gay”….in a sentence following one in which he calls for “religious freedom.” Nice tip of the hat to Mike Pence.

9:35. Ted Scott, the only person on the planet more oleaginous than Ted Cruz, got a haircut; I can tell because it looks like it’s pressed down with margarine. But he’s not there for charm: he’s there to plant the seed for his 2020 candidacy. Hence the repugnant story about the dead Michael Smith, one of the Dallas cops who died “protecting the protestors who mocked him.” This is a lie. A repugnant lie. The Dallas shooter was a military vet — care to explain how this fact inconveniences you? “Did we do all we ever could?” he asks in Reagan-esque tones.

9:01. Well, maybe if someone shouts the Declaration of Independence as shrilly as Cleveland preacher Darrell Scott he or she will get attention.

8:32. Speaking of things we can’t control, my attorney general Pam Bondi is enunciating like a fifth grader kicked by a mule. “I know Donald, and I’m proud to know Donald,” she says, a reminder that thanks to her buddy and her open purse in the attorney general’s office Donald Trump’s university will not be investigated in Florida. Apparently cocaine and heroin are problems in Florida, smuggled in by illegals who can’t afford to contribute to Bondi’s reelection fund.

8:26. This story, as has been written eight dozen times since July 2016, would have buried anyone else:

John O’Donnell, who was president of the Trump Plaza Hotel & Casino and later wrote a memoir about his experience, said Trump blamed financial difficulties partly on African American accountants.

“I’ve got black accountants at Trump Castle and at Trump Plaza — black guys counting my money!” O’Donnell’s book quoted Trump as saying. “I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day. Those are the kind of people I want counting my money. Nobody else. . . . Besides that, I’ve got to tell you something else. I think that the guy is lazy. And it’s probably not his fault because laziness is a trait in blacks. It really is; I believe that. It’s not anything they can control.

8:15 Former Marco Rubio staffer Bernie Navarro, who looks like several thousand men of Cuban descent with whom I attended school, said the crowd couldn’t wait for the junior senator from Florida’s speech, which shows Rubio has learned nothing in two months. At the moment he seems likely to win reelection to a Senate for which he has contempt.

8:01. Rick Scott, experimenting with a smile as warm as a orthodontists, exhorts voters to cast party labels aside and vote for “the survival” of the United States. “Who better to let the politicians know they’re fired than Donald Trump?” Scott asks. “We need a president who’s politically incorrect and tells it like it is.” Scott, responsible for the greatest Medicare fraud in the history of the United States, is just the man to deliver the anti-politician message.

Best films 2006-2008

2006

Clean (Olivier Assayas)
Children of Men (Cuaron)
Miami Vice (Michael Mann)
Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro)
Battle in Heaven (Carlos Reygadas)
Marie Antoinette (Sofia Coppola)
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Cristi Puig)
L’Enfant (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne)
Inside Man (Spike Lee)
Volver (Pedro Almodovar)

2007

4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days (Cristian Mungiu)
The Host (Bong Joon-Ho)
Zodiac (David Fincher)
Ratatouille (Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava)
No End in Sight (Charles Ferguson)
Syndromes and a Century (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)
Away from Her (Sarah Polley)
No Country for Old Men (Ethan and Joel Coen)
Eastern Promises (David Cronenberg)
The Bourne Ultimatum (Paul Greengrass)

CHEATING: Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett)

2008

Summer Hours (Olivier Assayas)
Still Life (Jia Zhang-ke)
Rachel Getting Married (Jonathan Demme)
The Witnesses (André Techiné)
Up the Yangtze (Yung Chang)
Happy-Go-Lucky (Mike Leigh)
WALL-E (Andrew Stanton)
Paranoid Park (Gus Van Sant)
Taxi to the Dark Side (Alex Gibney)
The Class (Lauren Cantet)

RNC: How Donald Trump has lost — and won

I said at work a couple hours ago that Melania Trump’s plagiarism didn’t matter: it would move approximately zero voters into the Hillary Clinton camp. But “politically” doesn’t encompass the ways in which Meliana Trump’s offense was grievous. A campaign that has spent a year ridiculing Barack Obama’s achievements and a party that has defined him as illegitimate and fraudulent since January 2009 if not earlier — the avatar of this party let his wife deliver a speech that stole its most aspirational passages from the spouse of the man it has belittled for seven years. Worse, the man’s spouse is a black woman and a lawyer. A friend posted a complaint published in something called Current Affairs whose substance rested on questioning Michelle Obama’s use of the “right-wing rhetoric of self-reliance.” Reminds me of those straight friends who wonder why I, a homosexual, would want to get married, “this institution perhaps one should say enterprise” to quote Marianne Moore: look, if the Constitution and Declaration of Independence afford me the right to live a life as soporific as my straight pals’, then Michelle Obama can use rattling platitudes.

Finally, a word on a presidential convention at which Scott Baio, the president of the UFC, and Antonio Sabato, Jr. had the chance to throw thick blood-soaked cuts of meat at the audience. For a movement that prided itself on being outsiders and upsetting establishment types, allowing these people to risk the heckles from the Beltway commentariat means they’ve won. Grand Old Party, your future looks like the present. And that includes plagiarized texts.