“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.

“If he’s talking about the Republicans coming to their senses, he’s just wrong.”

Charles Pierce: If he’s talking about the economy and we, somehow, come out out of this with a bogus “bipartisan” solution along the lines of the bogus Simpson-Bowles extravaganza, the Republicans will have won more than the Democrats have, because feeding Vaal on entitlements is their policy, not that of the Democrats. If he’s talking about the Republicans coming to their senses, he’s just wrong. I know I can get boring on this point but, to reconfigure the party the way Purdum and others seem to believe the party will be reconfigured in the wake of the fiscal apocalypse the Republicans have brought upon us, you would need a party establishment powerful enough to force the issue, and there…is…no…Republican …establishment. There are independent centers of power, none of whom are particularly indebted to the party, and all of which have the money to pursue their own interests and their own imperatives regardless of what may happen to Reince Priebus and Mitch McConnell, and, frankly, regardless of whether or not the party ever elects another president. These independent centers of power already are working their wills out in the state legislatures, which is where the next generation of Republican congresscritters will be produced. Those people are deeper into the izonkosphere than Ted Cruz is. When will this great reconfiguration show itself? Two decades from now? Three?

Singles 9/27 – M.I.A., Katy B, Sleigh Bells, Avicii

A week after hearing it I’ll temper my enthusiasm for Katy B’s latest and give M.I.A.’s Frankenstein number an extra point. No points for Avicii, though, who may replace Guetta as South Florida’s EDM king.

Click on links for full reviews.

Katy B – 5 AM (7)
MØ ft. Diplo – XXX 88 (7)
M.I.A. – Come Walk With Me (6)
Kara – Damaged Lady (5)
Sleigh Bells – Bitter Rivals (5)
Chris Young – Aw Naw (5)
Wiley – Flying (5)
Britney Spears – Work Bitch! (4)
Au Revoir Simone – Crazy (4)
Shishido Kavka – Love Corrida (4)
Mike WiLL Made It ft. Wiz Khalifa, Miley Cyrus & Juicy J – 23 (3)
Spenzo – Wife Er (3)
Avicii – You Make Me (3)

Look but don’t touch in paradise

I’ve recorded how I came to Ferry/Bowie-inspired British music at the nadir of its popularity: the early nineties. In the summer of 1996, I swallowed a beer and performed ABC’s “The Look of Love” at karaoke. Every mirror move I’d rehearsed in three years came on cue. The crowd loved it, I must admit. I loved it. For the next three months I lived ABC: The Lexicon of Love, of course, but also How to Be a…Zillionnaire!, whose garish title and cover attempt an update of Hall & Oates’ Big Bam Boom in summer ’85, complete with the latest Emulator technology, hip-hop-drenched beats, and lyrics decrying eighties materialism even as the beats were testaments to record company dough. I mourned the disappearance of 1987’s Alphabet City from America record store shelves (I bought it in a HMV in Tottenham the following summer).

But I spent the most time with a European import bought in Best Buy, at the crazed peak of the mid nineties box store craze, that was the best sort of mishmash: half of Lexicon and 1983’s Beauty Stab, and two Zillionaire and Alphabet City cuts apiece (album tracks; no “Be Near Me”). “Garish” is a word I want to revisit; it’s a compliment that Martin Fry and keyboardist-guitarist Mark White deserve like tinsel bows on a Christmas tree. The compilation was all of a piece, outlining lurid fantasies buttressed with synth bass, Mantovanni strings, and power chords, but garnished with what Robert Christgau called ad man’s copy. Who needed Elvis Costello and Morrissey when Fry shouted/sang/barked lines like “Look but don’t touch in paradise/Don’t let them catch you damaging the merchandise” and “Everything is temporary, written on the sand/looking for the girl who meets supply with demand.” If the voice of Bryan Ferry prepared me for Fry, it was the latter who taught me how to concoct gay fantasies in Douglas Sirk Technicolor. On Lexicon’s “All of My Heart” the fantasy curdles into an elegy: a straightforward lyric that codes as a valentine to a man in love with a friend. “Once upon a time when we were friends/I gave you my heart/the story ends,” Fry sings as Ann Dudley’s string arrangement responds on cue, mocking him.

Marcello revisits one of the greatest albums of the last thirty years. I want to believe they were Americans for whom The Lexicon of Love represented a way of looking at the world, a prism, a sensibility, as much as it was for the English for whom “no other record seemed to matter; everybody owned it, and played it, and kept playing it.”

Bush 41 and Barbara witness same sex marriage ceremony

Well, lookee here: George H.W. and Barbara Bush attend same sex marriage of friends. The former president went further. More:

No big statement from the ex-prez’s office. His rep Jim McGrath confirmed his and wife Barbara’s presence at the Kennebunkport wedding: “They were private citizens attending a private ceremony for two friends.”

In an e-mail from their honeymoon in London, Clement told us they’ve known the former first couple for years and were thrilled they accepted the wedding invitation. Thinking about “how monumental this time is in our lives” and “how blessed we are to be in their lives,” they decided to ask them “to really personalize it for us” as witnesses.

“No one cared more about getting this right than LL and I.”

“Accidental Racist” wasn’t a boon to Brad Paisley: it didn’t ignite sales for a mediocre record, and as a statement and performance it was garbage. On Facebook last night a couple of critics noted that Paisley has seen a decline in sales. He doesn’t chart the top of the country charts with each single, and, as I can attest, “Beat This Summer” — the vodka tonic after a day’s worth of beer that was “Accidental Racist” — got to Number Two on momentum alone; it got little airplay on our heretofore Paisley-addicted country station (you’d have thought 2011’s duet with Carrie Underwood “Remind Me” was Santana and Rob Thomas’ “Smooth” if you’d listened to South Florida WKIS FM).

After a weekend of listening to every Paisley album since Mud on the Tires, I can confirm that the self-produced Wheelhouse marks a loss of imagination commensurate with Paisley’s universalist intentions. Instead of writing and playing the hell out of Songs About Stuff like “Toothbrush” and “Water,” and conceits like “If Love Was a Plane” and “Ticks,” he resorts to tired images like runaway trains (“Southern Comfort Zone” is accurate in more ways than one). Loath to adduce biography, I nevertheless enjoyed the thoroughness with which Paisley explained himself in last week’s interview with Jody Rosen, although, as Ta-Nehisi Coates remarks in his admonishing but sympathetic response, I still doubt Paisley gets why the Confederate flag is so offensive to black Americans — and why his tap-dancing with Southern tropes may not be enough anymore.