Monthly Archives: September 2013

“Breaking Bad” – a few thoughts

breakingbad_finale_waltLate to the “Breaking Bad” paneygrics, I loved it nevertheless by the time I finished the first half of Season Five in June. I have friends who prefer the discursiveness of “Mad Men” plots; that’s too kind a description of what I think is the listlessness of a show suffering from late term burnout. “Breaking Bad” offered the pleasures of pulp – momentum, narrow escapes, sudden violence – and the virtues of character drama. Perhaps the latter tendency contributes to the fascination with Walter White’s putative “redemption” at the end of the series. I found White’s admission to Skyler didactic; most viewers will have figured out two seasons ago that White is most alive when cooking. That howitzer or whatever had amazing aim: an automated entity worthy of Skynet.

Matt Zoller Seitz notes how well writer-director-creator Vince Gilligan shot last night’s episode:

In scene after scene, Walt doesn’t so much enter significant spaces as materialize within them. The cleverest and most breathtaking shot in the episode is that slow push-in on Skyler’s kitchen that reveals that Walt was there the whole time, his body obscured by a narrow beam. In the wide shot of Walt sneaking into the Schwartzes’ mansion, it takes an unnervingly long time for Gretchen to notice him there, even though he’s just a few feet away from her, and then directly behind her.

Best Albums – Third Quarter

In no order except chronological.

ALBUMS

1. Tegan & Sara – Heartthrob
2. My Bloody Valentine – m b v
3. The Joy Formidable – Wolf’s Law
4. The Mavericks – In Time
5. The Men – New Moon
6. Gary Allan – Set You Free
7. Ashley Monroe – Like a Rose
8. Kacey Musgraves – Same Trailer Different Park
9. Wire – Change Becomes Us
10. Dawn Richard – Goldenheart
11. DJ Koze – Amygdala
12. Suede – Bloodsports
13. Fantasia – Side Effects of You
14. Paramore – s/t
15. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Mosquito
16. The Knife – Shaking The Habitual
17. Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
18. Pistol Annies – Annie Up
19. Tricky – False Idols
20. Chance The Rapper – Acid Rap
21. Ciara – Ciara
22. Killer Mike + EL-P – Run The Jewels
23. Pet Shop Boys – Electric
24. Superchunk – I Hate Music
25. Haim – Days Gone By
26. Arctic Monkeys – AM
27. Sleigh Bells – Bitter Rivals
28. Danny Brown – Old
29. Sky Ferreira – Night Time, My Time
30. M.I.A. – Matangi
31. Brandy Clark – 12 Songs

Compromise schompromise

From Jonathan Rauch’s essay “Rescuing Compromise”:

Of course, Tea Partiers are hardly the first to argue that compromise has undermined or distorted the Constitution. Barry Goldwater inspired millions (though he alarmed millions more) with his declaration that “moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue” and his claim that much of what the government did was unconstitutional. The antebellum South developed an elaborate ideology holding that any compromise on slavery would sabotage the Constitution, while many abolitionists believed that any compromise that allowed slavery to persist in any form was anathema to America’s constitutional ideals.

The Tea Party, however, stands apart by being strategically focused. Instead of mainly aiming to defeat liberals or moderates in national elections, it aims to defeat conservatives in primary elections — if they have compromised on fiscal matters. In that way, it deters a specific behavior (compromise) rather than merely promoting a general ideology (fiscal conservatism). Although many Tea Partiers would certainly like to build a constructive national majority and hope someday to do so, they are more than willing to begin by building an obstructive congressional minority.

Even those who disapprove of the Tea Party’s goals may grudgingly admire the canniness of its asymmetrical political warfare. A firm anti-compromise minority, if willing to play the spoiler, can exert leverage far disproportionate to its numbers. The Tea Party Republicans have sought to use that leverage to change the basic calculus of compromise in American politics. If Madison’s premise was that politicians don’t compromise because they want to but because they have to, the Tea Party’s premise is that politicians can and should be deterred from compromising even when they want to.

As hard-edged and ideological as Barry Goldwater or Ronald Reagan could be rhetorically, both were accomplished legislative deal-makers. And both could get away with cutting deals because their conservative base trusted them to bargain in pursuit of conservative goals. For anti-compromisers, by contrast, the very fact that a deal is a deal makes it suspect, never mind who presents it. If the other side would agree to it, after all, something important must have been given away, and that is the kind of horse trading that got us into today’s mess.

But if liberals and conservatives — hell, moderate and conservatives — can’t agree on the terms of the debate, what’s the use? A world in which deficit elimination, pleasing Wall Street, the sequester, and Simpson-Bowles exist is a world in which Reaganism and Clintonism have triumphed; a world in which conservatism has triumphed. Try persuading a Tea Partier, for whom the existence of Social Security and Medicare and someday making illegal immigrants citizens means it’s world he must free from statism.

PS: Dylan Matthews has a laugh over the Beltway obsession with Tip ‘n’ Ronnie:

If your metric for quality governance is “ability to avoid shutdowns,” then Reagan is absolutely the worst president of the modern era. The government shut down eight times under his watch, more than any other president, representing nearly half of all shutdowns that have occurred under the modern budget process. And O’Neill is an even worse speaker, if that’s our criterion. He presided over 12 funding gaps or shutdowns, or almost 71 percent of all shutdowns to date.

I omitted context. Check out the article.

Enough Said

A L.A. masseuse named Eva (Julia-Louis Dreyfus) meets Albert (James Gandolfini) at a party. They’re so different that these two divorcees hit it off: Albert, prone to mumbling his sandpaper-dry one-liners as his eyes narrow and expand; Eva injecting nervous giggles every other phrase. Both, however, have daughters going away to college in a few weeks. Then Eva realizes that a client whom she also met at the party and has befriended, a poet named Marianne (Catherine Keener), is the ex-wife who gave him shit for separating onions from guacamole and not owning bedside tables.

Henry James would have loved this twist, and writer-director Nicole Holofcener makes her point early and with surprising surefootedness in this ninety-three minute comedy: although learning about Albert’s unpleasant habits does poison her affections, they also adduce the misgivings of a wary divorced woman in her forties whose life will transform again with the departure of her daughter. I don’t blame her, in other words; neither does Holofcener, to her immense credit. But there are consequences. The pain and regret with which Gandolfini shades his four-word response in the last third — which I won’t repeat but everyone who’s seen Enough Said knows which sentence I mean — is one helluva valedictory for the actor. Holofcener writes po-faced one-liners that had the audience in stitches every time: “I got bedside tables.” “Really?” “No.” Dreyfus is his match. An Emmy winner for “Veep,” she still exists in my mind as Elaine of “Seinfeld,” a show I don’t much like. Here she titters and double takes like prime Diane Keaton; she’s a woman who acts as if she’s still getting used to the idea of being a mom, and the concept tickles her. With her long sun-kissed hair, wraps, and quiet line readings, fussing over her garden, Keener plays an idealization of a L.A. flake, the kind who writes poetry to accessorize the massaging and garden (it’s a good thing we don’t learn what she writes, only that it’s “difficult” or something). But Holofcener and Keener don’t condescend to her; I get why Marianne and Eva would become friends. It’s a mistake when after the denouement she disappears from the movie. Holofcener includes a wrinkle that made the same audience squirm: Eva’s rapport with her daughter Ellen’s best friend Chloe (Tavi Gavinson), to whom she gives sex advice (go ahead: fuck your boyfriend) and offers Ellen’s bedroom. Chloe even walks in on Eva and Albert — did she have keys to the house too?

Holofcener’s best film to date — I’m fond of her, as I wrote in my review of 2010’s excellent Please Give — still suffers from pedestrian filmmaking. In movies filled to surfeit with walking and talking, she shoots conversations like Dreyfus was still on TV: medium shot, reaction shot, medium shot. Without the throwaway glimpses of California license plates, or Eva’s job itself, pinning down the movie’s geography would be impossible. But the writing and acting compensate. This is a movie with bits of business: characters leave baseballs and hair brushes in kitchen drawers and warn others about bad breath.

Stanley Kurtz, you’re a riot: “Calling people socialist seems rude, especially when they are.”

Stanley Kurtz, you are a funny man. To answer the question, “Shall we call Bill de Blasio a socialist?” he lists the following:

In favor:

1) He is one.

2) He called himself one.

3) There is no evidence of an ideological shift.

4) He supports the Sandinistas who are socialist and admit it.

5) He supports ACORN, Occupy, the New Party, and the Working Families Party, which are socialist and don’t admit it.

6) Honesty is the best policy.

7) American democracy works best when people know what they’re voting for.

Against:

1) Calling him socialist may cost him the election: bad for Democrats.

2) Calling him socialist may not cost him the election: even worse for Democrats.

3) Calling people socialist seems rude, especially when they are.

4) Respectable Republicans would rather not seem rude.

5) Obama parallels uncomfortably close.

6) Honesty is not the best policy.

7) American democracy works best when people pretend not to know what they’re voting for.

Conclusion: To risky. Best not.

Kurtz, who wrote a book called Radical in Chief in which he accuses the Wall Street-accosting, natural security state-loving Barack Hussein Obama of concealing radical roots, and the American media of aiding him, must have giggled and smirked as he posted this entry. I’m fairly certain de Blasio is as radical as American leftism allows, and, yes, the blank NYT piece published earlier this week shows his careening in the eighties. Kurtz, however, thinks calling him a socialist would hurt his chances to become New York City mayor. In 2013. We’ll see.

Eww gross — Republican states tend to have more government jobs

States whose economies most depend on government employment will most likely vote Republican, the New York Times reports:

Consider one measure, the proportion of civilian employees in each state with government jobs, whether federal, state or local. Nationally, the proportion last month was 16 percent, the lowest figure since 2001.

But the variance among the 50 states is large. At the top of the list, with one out of four workers employed by the government, is Wyoming. At the other extreme is Pennsylvania, with just one in eight.

Wyoming is among the most Republican states, and that is part of a pattern. Of the 15 states with the highest proportion of government employment, 10 voted for Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, in last year’s presidential election. (The District of Columbia, with more than 30 percent of the employees working for the government, is not included in the list because it is not a state, but it voted for President Obama.) Of the 15 states with the lowest level of government employment, only two — Indiana and Tennessee — voted for Mr. Romney.

If only the 25 states with the lowest level of government employment had voted in the election, Mr. Obama would have won the national popular vote by a landslide margin of 7.3 percentage points, much larger than his actual margin of 3.9 percentage points…

Check out the chart.