Making one rich tone of your voices: 2013 in review

Averse to reflection in public, I won’t waste my readers’ time because in 2013 I learned what having readers meant. This blog got the highest number of visits ever — by some distance. I read more books than ever. I published more professional articles and reviews than ever, some of which represent my best work to date. As a reader I often forget the pleasure a writer receives knowing the work is appreciated. To quote Henry James, hearing from friends and admirers “making one rich tone of your many voices, the whole story of my social experience…There is scarce one of your ranged company but makes good some happy train and flushes with some individual color.”

The richness of my writing life is a compensatory pleasure for a drab personal one. May I learn to join my vocation and avocation in 2014.

Buhloone Mindstate: “Much soul on the down-low tip”

To commemorate its twentieth birthday, Oliver Wang celebrates Buhloone Mindstate, De La Soul’s excellent third album:

“We went to Japan and experienced hip-hop that we could not understand one bit, but felt a flow, felt something that made us feel like, ‘Wow! These guys are amazing!’ ” says Trugoy. “Not knowing what they were saying, what they were talking about, but you felt the energy and you felt that they had it.”

The album also included the candid “.” The song was an accident of sorts, says producer Paul Huston, aka Prince Paul. “‘I Am I Be’ — I actually made for myself,” he says. “The guys came by the house one day and I was just playing music, and I kind of passed through that one. They were like, ‘Yo! What’s that?’ ‘Eh, that’s not really for you guys. Let’s go to the next one.’ They was like, ‘No no no, what is that?’ And they said, ‘Yeah, we want to write it and use it for the album.’ I was like, ‘Are you sure?’

I flirted with glibness in this 2006 reassessment I published in Stylus Magazine, but the larger point stands: 1993 and ’94 were superb years for keyboard-heavy, big-bottomed, swinging hip-hop as buoyant as the sampled Maceo Parker riffs. Think of Digable Planet’s (A New Refutation of Time and Space) and Blowout Comb (Mark Richardson wrote a lovely appraisal of a recent vinyl reissue), A Tribe Called Quest’s Midnight Marauders, Warren G’s Regulate…G Funk Era.

“The Darkling Thrush”

Thomas Hardy wrote the best NYE poem:

I leant upon a coppice gate
When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter’s dregs made desolate
The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
Had sought their household fires.

The land’s sharp features seemed to be
The Century’s corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.

Dull, duller, Dulles: John Foster and Allen Dulles

In Stephen Kinzer’s The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War, the last vestiges of the nexus between Christian messianism and imperialism emerge, triumphant. Thanks to the patronage of Dwight Eisenhower, the Dulles brothers — Secretary of State John Foster and CIA director Allen — represent the culmination of their grandfather John Watson Foster’s policies. Foster was himself secretary of state to Benjamin Harrison and who arranged for tidy ferment on the Hawaiian islands that led to the abdication of Queen Liliuokalani. But John Foster and Allen surpassed him. Mossadegh, Arbenz, Patrick Lumumba lost first favor and then power after the CIA at Ike’s orders destabilized their respective regimes with psy-ops that included leaflets, the bribing of nascent oppositional forces that pledged their troth to the American free market, and the suppression of journalism critical of the dirty tricks. Foster was the starchy prig with halitosis (“Dull, imaginative, uncomprehending,” Churchill said once. “So clumsy I hope he will disappear.” Also: “Foster Dulles is the only case I know of a bull who carries his own china shop around with him”); Allen the pipe-smoking womanizer besotted with the romance of cloak and dagger heroics, an enthusiast of Ian Fleming (the agency’s failure to duplicate Fleming’s inventions for James Bond disappointed him). When Foster died of stomach cancer at the end of the Eisenhower administration, the white European world aligned with the U.S. mourned his loss. Allen got a new DC airport named after him. And dat’s dat for the last fifty years.

Their reputations in abeyance and pedigrees forgotten as declassified documents by the hundreds of thousands reveal their skullduggery, the Dulles brothers deserve reexamination and renewed opprobrium. Forget the maxim about their legacies living on. Our foreign policy remains spellbound by a neo-Wilsonian vision of the soothing power of Starbucks opening in Guinea, of Gap in Suriname. In 2013 you will find few liberals who question the dictum that capitalism and democracy are synonymous.

Thank the Dulles boys. Foster got his start in Sullivan & Cromwell, the law firm whose tentacles would have terrified Frank Norris and whose transactions would re-energize Trilateral Commission conspiracists. Like many blueblood plutocrats and conservatives of his type he had sympathy for the Nazis because they stabilized a chaotic post-Great War nation-state that was bled dry by loan obligations. At debt conferences Foster negotiated what Kinzer calls “complex restructurings” of debt that eased German access to American banks. As an anti-Bolshevik Hitler won Foster’s affection. “In his mind,” Kinzer writes, “defending multinational business and fighting Bolshevism were the same thing.” Allen meanwhile partnered with “Wild Bill” Donovan at the OSS — the World War II precursor to the CIA — and recruited the likes of Julia Child and Sterling Hayden. By the time Harry Truman signed National Security Directive 68 and thus made containing Soviet Communism the express goal of American foreign policy, CIA operations changed from the collection of data to White House secret police. To the end of his life Truman insisted that the CIA “was intended merely as a center for keeping the president informed on what was going on in the world.”

I’ve praised Ike as the best of the Cold War presidents, a judgment tempered by knowledge that he rarely met an intelligence operation that didn’t arouse him. He personally authorized the overthrow of Third World potentates like Arbenz , whose crime was resisting the transformation of Guatemala into a United Fruit Company fiefdom; and of Iran’s Mossadegh for daring to take literally the anti-colonial rhetoric of FDR and Truman (if free peoples could buy U.S. goods instead of from a malnourished British state, FDR reasoned, all the better). Thanks to the Dulles axis in State and the CIA, Ike received counsel unmitigated by bureaucracies that knew much more about these non-European peoples. Kinzer, who writes with force and clarity but will say in two paragraphs when one will do, savors the historical ironies, such as the prominence of Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt; Kim’s talent for deposing governments came almost fifty years after his grandfather TR brought the United States into the regime change era. The credulity of the American press, steered and cajoled by a phone call from Foster, cannot be overstated. Thus assertions like the following in Life magazine:

To call Mossadegh a fanatic maybe correct, but it explains almost nothing. Mossadegh is a far more complex character than the most baffling men the West has yet to deal with, including misty yogis like Nehru and notably unmisty commissars like Josef Stalin…Mohammad Mossadegh, with is faints, his tears and wild-eyed dreams, is a whirling dervish with a college education and first-rate mind.

Whirling dervishes. Commissars. Yogis. Thanks to Henry Luce and the Dulles brothers, universities boast thriving programs in orientalist studies. In his place the Americans placed the pliant Reza Pahlavi on the Peacock Throne; as shah he ruled as a feckless cruel despot until student fundamentalists abetted by the Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew him in 1979. The sapience of this fact matters because Hollywood liberals like Ben Affleck helm critically and Oscar-validated bosh like Argo that propagandizes the CIA mythos of ugly men in worse rooms smoking and hatching plans for freedom’s sake.

Drunk with success, the Dulles brothers turned to Cuba and the Congo, whereupon their determined ignorance of popular unrest caught up to them at last. Belgium had done such a magnificent job purloining resources and treating its subjects as savages that the erratic, bumbling Lumumba briefly became a hero, which was a no-no to Ike. With the help of Belgians and rebels bought by CIA dough Lumumba was placed under house arrest. He escaped, was recaptured, and tortured. No evidence could exist though. Disinterred, the corpses were dismembered and thrown into barrels of sulphuric acid. When it ran out the men burned what remained. Kinzer: “The skulls were ground up and the bones and teeth scattered during the return journey. The task proved so disgusting and so arduous that both Belgians had to get drunk in order to complete it.” They completed it. The Cuba story we know well. Allen’s late life torpor meant his assistant Richard Bissell supervised the Bay of Pigs operation, planned and approved by Eisenhower in the last months of his term and accepted without question by John F. Kennedy. Keepers of the holy flames of Camelot accept JFK’s version of the events: the tearful young president seeking Ike’s counsel at Camp David; Ike gently excoriating him for not allowing dissent (for eight years Eisenhower tolerated no dissent regarding his conduct of foreign policy); JFK accepting the criticism. He should have done, received wisdom says, what Ike boasted he would have done under similar circumstances between 1953 and 1961 and somehow never did, to the despair of Hungarians in 1956: once committed, send in the goddamn army. Kennedy accepted the resignations of Allen and Bissell.

But the Dulles clan persists. Foster’s son Avery became a cardinal. According to Kinzer he criticized the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for “being too ‘extreme’ in seeking to expel accused pedophiles from the priesthood.”

“This is already a mass extinction event. The question is, how far is it going to go?”

These developments make long-term planning easier, I must say:

“The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on the planet,” climate scientist James Hansen has said. “There are potential irreversible effects of melting the Arctic sea ice. If it begins to allow the Arctic Ocean to warm up, and warm the ocean floor, then we’ll begin to release methane hydrates. And if we let that happen, that is a potential tipping point that we don’t want to happen. If we burn all the fossil fuels then we certainly will cause the methane hydrates, eventually, to come out and cause several degrees more warming, and it’s not clear that civilization could survive that extreme climate change.”

Yet, long before humanity has burned all fossil fuel reserves on the planet, massive amounts of methane will be released. While the human body is potentially capable of handling a six-to-nine-degree Celsius rise in the planetary temperature, the crops and habitat we use for food production are not. As McPherson put it, “If we see a 3.5 to 4C baseline increase, I see no way to have habitat. We are at .85C above baseline and we’ve already triggered all these self-reinforcing feedback loops.”

He adds: “All the evidence points to a locked-in 3.5 to 5 degree C global temperature rise above the 1850 ‘norm’ by mid-century, possibly much sooner. This guarantees a positive feedback, already underway, leading to 4.5 to 6 or more degrees above ‘norm’ and that is a level lethal to life. This is partly due to the fact that humans have to eat and plants can’t adapt fast enough to make that possible for the 7-to-9 billion of us—so we’ll die.”

If you think McPherson’s comment about lack of adaptability goes over the edge, consider that the rate of evolution trails the rate of climate change by a factor of 10,000, according to a paper in the August 2013 issue of Ecology Letters. Furthermore, David Wasdel, director of the Apollo-Gaia Project and an expert on multiple feedback dynamics, says, “We are experiencing change 200 to 300 times faster than any of the previous major extinction events.”

Wasdel cites with particular alarm scientific reports showing that the oceans have already lost 40 percent of their phytoplankton, the base of the global oceanic food chain, because of climate-change-induced acidification and atmospheric temperature variations. (According to the Center for Ocean Solutions: “The oceans have absorbed almost one-half of human-released CO2 emissions since the Industrial Revolution. Although this has moderated the effect of greenhouse gas emissions, it is chemically altering marine ecosystems 100 times more rapidly than it has changed in at least the last 650,000 years.”)

“This is already a mass extinction event,” Wasdel adds. “The question is, how far is it going to go?

These are worst-case predictions, but our flailing energy policies don’t help. We still dither about the Keystone Pipeline. We’re very proud of our producing more oil than Saudi Arabia:

All these steps are particularly toxic because we’ve learned something else about global warming during the Obama years: Most of the coal and gas and oil that’s underground has to stay there if we’re going to slow climate change.

Though the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009 was unquestionably the great foreign-policy failure of Obama’s first term, producing no targets or timetables or deals, the world’s leaders all signed a letter pledging that they would keep the earth’s temperature from rising more than two degrees Celsius. This is not an ambitious goal (the one degree we’ve raised the temperature already has melted the Arctic, so we’re fools to find out what two will do), but at least it is something solid to which Obama and others are committed. To reach that two-degree goal, say organizations such as the Carbon Tracker Initiative, the World Bank, the International Energy Agency, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, HSBC and just about everyone else who’s looked at the question, we’d need to leave undisturbed between two-thirds and four-fifths of the planet’s reserves of coal, gas and oil.

“The state now owes me $1,400 for eight weeks of unemployment.”

I’m glad to see websites through which millions of people get essential services work:

Florida’s ongoing claims for unemployment benefits plummeted to the lowest level in six years from mid-October to early December. The average of 20,000 fewer weekly claims from the prior nine weeks represents a plunge of 18 percent, the sharpest decline in 15 years.

Yet rather than herald an improving job market, chalk up Florida’s shrinking claims numbers instead to the troubled debut of the state’s unemployment claims website, CONNECT.

Since its October launch, the $63 million website has been plagued by glitches, sowing confusion and despair among many of the 235,000 claimants who file every other week to help pay for essentials like food and rent. Difficulties in logging on or navigating CONNECT have precluded thousands from collecting.

“I’m about to be thrown out on the street,” said Allen Schwalb of Seminole, who was laid off from a warehouse job in October but as of this week had yet to receive any benefits despite many attempts to file. “The state now owes me $1,400 for eight weeks of unemployment. I don’t know what I will do if I don’t receive it soon.”

To those who live in other states, a reminder of how Florida law affects the unemployed:

Florida is notoriously tight-fisted when it comes to unemployment benefits, which makes CONNECT’s failings even more glaring.

The state’s proportion of unemployed people who actually get jobless benefits was 16 percent in 2012, the lowest in the nation. Because of a 2011 law passed by the Legislature and signed by Scott, recipients must register online, a requirement that a federal report found earlier this year violated the civil rights of the unemployed.

In other words, those least likely to afford internet providers suffer the most trying to get benefits (we’re having troubles paying for libraries too).

The life of a schnook: The Wolf of Wall Street

Thinking about the work of Martin Scorsese while watching The Wolf of Wall Street, I wondered what was a worse fate: Henry Hill wearing a terricloth bathrobe to pick up the paper and returning to a pasta dinner made of ketchup instead of tomato sauce; or Jordan Belfort teaching sales techniques to gobsmacked and clueless New Zealanders. Casino came to mind too. I was closer to The The Departed‘s Frank Costello when he disgustedly hurls a cloudful of white dust at two hookers and growls, “You want some coke? Here it is. Don’t move till you’re numb.”

The story of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his pals’ adventures selling penny stock in the early nineties matters less to Marty than the Belfort and his pals’ adventures spending the millions they make on the penny stock market. A three-hour Apatow comedy in which the wishes of the Jonah Hill types are fulfilled, complete with ass-slapping and homoerotics, The Wolf of Wall Street allows DiCaprio and Hill as best friend and owner of the paisliest eighties glasses ever Donnie Azoff to indulge in every coke-on-tits and fuck-me-on-a-bed-of-Benjamins fantasy. Losing his job after Black Monday in 1987, Jordan is advised by a too-gaunt Matthew McConaughey that as long as Jordan can afford drugs and whores the sky’s the limit. A personals ad leads him to Long Island’s Investor Center, run out of a horrifying strip mall by rotund men who smoke too many cigarettes and think a night out is cheese biscuits at Red Lobster. Jordan’s pinstripe suit and verbal dazzle charm them. Hiring a crew of penny ante weed dealers he’s known since high school as his crew, Jordan transforms Investor Center into Stratton Oakmont, a change he thinks is blue blood enough to lure investors who called Diana the People’s Princess and meant it (was he worried “Jordan Belfort” wasn’t blue blood-sounding enough? It’s practically out of Fitzgerald). His lawyer (Jon Favreau) can shake the Securities and Exchange Commission; the FBI is another matter, but this doesn’t faze Jordan. In the movie’s best scene, Jordan plies agent Patrick Denham (Kyle Chandler) and partner with shellfish and hookers under the mistaken impression that Denham can be bought, and Denham, unspooling inch after inch of line, patiently lets his fish nibble at the bait. Chandler, whose long face and years spent playing Coach on “Friday Night Lights” have made him a master of using kindness for selfish ends, meets the charm of Scrunchy Face like a pro.

The Wolf of Wall Street also shows Jordan’s attempts to secure a fortune in Swiss bank accounts (the accounts manager is Jean Dujardin, doing an unconvincing Charles Boyer impersonation) using his wife Naomi (Margot Robbie)’s aunt Emma (Joanna Lumley) as signatory agent. To look for anything other than T&A in this ponderous bacchanal is like being the guy at the party who won’t go out for more beer, but Scorsese and screenwriter Terence Winter are too quick to indulge the audience’s prejudices, its supposed reluctance to figure shit out. There’s a scene in which Jordan begins to explain IPOs until he cuts himself off. Who cares, right? More ‘ludes, please. To shake Denham off, Jordan alludes to sinister manipulations practiced by Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch — something called collaterized debt obligations. Those algorithms, devised by Ivy League math majors blessed with brains that Jordan’s crew doesn’t envy (it’s like comparing Paulie’s goodfellas and the Corleone family), destroyed the world when as Jordan admits upon his arrest the chickens came home to roost in 2008 (and coke and prostitutes remain essential parts of this world too).

If it’s not clear whether Scorsese sympathizes with these vandals a scene involving Jordan’s daughter in the last act should make up minds. But Scorsese does not show the victims of Jordan’s scams; they’re at best timid male voices on phones who must consult their wives (which causes the guys to titter). Margot Robbie as Naomi reprises Karen Hill from Goodfellas: a woman bedazzled by wealth and no qualms about consuming it until the noose tightens. Joannan Lumley’s insouciant turn excepted, the women don’t register. The disgust shown weaklings (Jordan fires a colleague for cleaning a goldfish bowl, to the taunts of coworkers), Donnie’s panic when Jordan in a Quaalude haze falls on his dick, the understanding that the enjoyment of wealth and fucking women requires the company of other men — were Robin Wood alive to critique this homosocial world! Rodrigo Prieto’s frenzied pans and glides adduce Scorsese’s distance and devotion to mimesis; DiCaprio’s voice-overs signal the movie’s fidelity to Jordan’s perspective (Richard Brody is even better on the subject). Indeed, the most consistent closeups Scorsese and Prieto lavish on DiCaprio are during his sales meeting monologues to the Stratton Oakmont staff, which have all the wit and messianic power of an ESPN commentator on a Gators game, and I guess that’s the point. For a woman to enter this demilitarized zone requires sacrificing her autonomy as a woman. Aya Cash as Jordan’s assistant Janet submits to a head shave, again set to the accompaniment of jeering coworkers; with a couple of low angle shots Scorsese establishes her isolation and her determination never again to be an object of ridicule. By the end of the movie she’s weeping in gratitude to Jordan.

A culture rendered with meticulous detail, reveling in ungentlemanly behavior; a protagonist who gets his comeuppance; a performance by DiCaprio that exploits his half-formed qualities (those monologues synthesize the styles of every Method actor since Newman) and impressive physical commitment to the role, most notably in a sequence requiring him to crawl like a worm from a country club payphone to his car after consuming a half dozen expired ‘ludes — The Wolf of Wall Street‘s bravura is a promissory note to a pleasure that’s withheld. We’ve seen this before. Limos, yachts, helicopters, lines of coke on office desks, jiggling breasts — it’s Casino, it’s Goodfellas, it’s Boogie Nights, it’s La Dolce Vita, with a nullity at its center because Jordan’s arrested development generates an interest as fleeting as the effect of snorting a line. Although there’s no danger that business school majors will repeat Jordan’s “There’s no nobility in poverity” routine, some will repeat it anyway. They already believe it. The apolitical amber in which Scorsese and Winter embed The Wolf of Wall Street protects them from creating a product that challenges its own status as a good time — with a little sex in it, to quote Sullivan’s Travels. A three-hour movie about an asshole. Great! “I’m an average nobody, and I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook,” Henry Hill says at the end of Goodfellas in that epochal walk to get the morning paper. Jordan started and ended as a nobody, and in the middle was a schnook. We knew this at the beginning, middle, and end of The Wolf of Wall Street.

“An estimated 1.3 million people will be cut off when the federally funded unemployment payments end Saturday.”

Happy new year!

WASHINGTON (AP) — More than 1 million Americans are bracing for a harrowing, post-Christmas jolt as extended federal unemployment benefits come to a sudden halt this weekend, with potentially significant implications for the recovering U.S. economy. A tense political battle likely looms when Congress reconvenes in the new, midterm election year.

For families dependent on cash assistance, the end of the federal government’s “emergency unemployment compensation” will mean some difficult belt-tightening as enrollees lose their average monthly stipend of $1,166.

Jobless rates could drop, but analysts say the economy may suffer with less money for consumers to spend on everything from clothes to cars. Having let the “emergency” program expire as part of a budget deal, it’s unclear if Congress has the appetite to start it anew.

An estimated 1.3 million people will be cut off when the federally funded unemployment payments end Saturday.

Some 214,000 Californians will lose their payments, a figure expected to rise to more than a half-million by June, the Labor Department said. In the last 12 months, Californians received $4.5 billion in federal jobless benefits, much if plowed back into the local economy.

Ignore the perfunctory demurrals issued by Democrats, who showed their mettle when in a press conference Paul Ryan touted the new budget’s adherence to GOP principles while Patty Murray cooed about bipartisanship. If Obama and his party had wanted to make a fight of this, the public supports them. If they had emulated Tea Party tactics in the summer of 2009 over this holiday break — calling the GOP scrooges and underscoring how little the GOP cares about governance — their precious poll numbers might recover to pre-October 1 levels.

It’s Time: an Elvis Costello poll and ballot

At twenty, opacity was its own reward. Steeped in Eliot and Elvis Costello, impervious to hints about my true sexuality, I valued dense music and lyrics that refused to yield to interpretation. The Elvis Costello of Spike and Mighty Like a Rose was a good mascot. My college station — not to mention my Top 40’s “post-modern music show” — played the hell out of “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror,” “Veronica,” and “So Like Candy.” The two-basses-and-four-percussion-loop that characterized EC’s approach to record making had resonance to this Beatles fan.

Long draughts of the Rykodisck reissues of his classic albums removed the opacity goggles; while he still resorted to putdowns when eloquence failed him the rhythm section was so lithe and Steve Nieve’s keyboards so colorful that I thought he could do anything. Through Trust, that is (no Ryko tape — a shitty Columbia press that got serious car rotation). The scary number of B-sides, Frida rejects, and outtakes on the second half of the Imperial Boredom reissue were a better album than their host. As for the nineties, a Spotify playlist including the best of The Juliet Letters (“I Almost Had a Weakness”), Brutal Youth (“Sulky Girl,” “13 Steps Lead Down,” “London’s Brilliant Parade”), and All This Useless Beauty (“Little Atoms,” “You Bowed Down”) is easy. Toss in stuff from the Bacharach collab and When I Was Cruel and you’re ready to go, but if a friend recommends anything after 2004’s North I’d wonder whether he’s gotten toxic levels of NPR exposure.

1. No Action
2. I Want You
3. New Lace Sleeves
4. New Amsterdam
5. Indoor Fireworks
6. This Year’s Girl
7. I’ll Wear It Proudly
8. Motel Matches
9. The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes
10. Oliver’s Army
11. Hoover Factory
12. I Hope You’re Happy Now
13. Clubland
14. Accidents Will Happen
15. Big Sister’s Clothes
16. America Without Tears
17. King Horse
18. Home is Anywhere You Hang Your Head
19. Couldn’t Call It Unexpected #4
20. Watch Your Step
21. Peace in Our Time
22. Beyond Belief
23. Welcome to the Working Week
24. Possession
25. Watching the Detectives
26. I Still Have That Other Girl
27. Talking in the Dark
28. It’s Time
29. Everyday I Write the Book
30. Pump It Up
31. Luxembourg
32. Uncomplicated
33. Veronica
34. White Knuckles
35. Pidgin English

U2’s War: “It…felt like being hit on the head with a rolled-up copy of the Christian Science Monitor for forty-two minutes.”

I don’t care much for War, and Marcello explains why:

So U2 felt moved to prove they were Men. The cover star of War – Peter Rowen, who had also been the cover star of Boy some twenty-nine months earlier – was still youthful but now scowled, looked both angry and afraid, hands up behind his head as though a gun were being pointed at him. Listening to the record itself was not a dissimilar experience. It gave me a headache and felt like being hit on the head with a rolled-up copy of the Christian Science Monitor for forty-two minutes. All credit to the group for wanting to essay convincing and powerful Christian rock music without the Anita Bryant trappings in an age where it was felt smart to believe in nothing, but I felt that I was trapped in a lecture.

It also convinced me that I really didn’t like Bono very much, and he remains the chief obstacle to my appreciating U2. On nine of the ten songs of War he is perpetually in your face, frantically waving and shrieking (“Wipe your tears away,” “Take my hand,” “Hold on tightly,” “I sing it for you”). He never shuts up and never seems to listen. He is like Chris Evans or The Fast Show’s Colin Hunt, forever sandbagging the hapless listener. But then take Bono out of the equation – as occurs on “Seconds” which is largely sung by The Edge – and you have little more than a proficient Comsat Angels B-side with a few Full Metal Jacket effects sprinkled on (the military drill sample comes from a gruelling [sic] 1981 Nick Broomfield and Joan Churchill documentary entitled Soldier Girls, about US Army women training in Augusta). So with U2 it’s Bono or nothing, bigness or next week’s Kid Jensen tip for the top.

Palin: “Keep in mind that I come from a big Irish Catholic family on my mother’s side.”

National Review’s Kathryn-Jean Lopez interviews Sarah Palin. I will not link to it:

LOPEZ: You don’t seem as enamored of Pope Francis as, say, Time magazine is, which just made him their “Person of the Year.” What’s your beef? In your last book you highlighted the work of some Catholics, including the Sisters of Life. Without getting into theological differences, would you like to see Christians working together more through churches with global reach on issues of human rights — including the rights of the unborn, the elderly, the poor, immigrants, the trafficked?

PALIN: Why do you say that? Because I answered candidly one simple tweeted question about the pope in Jake Tapper’s CNN interview? Let me clear this up again: I have great respect for Pope Francis. The answer I gave about Pope Francis in one interview was blown way out of proportion, so c’mon NRO, be professional about this. I even clarified on my Facebook page that I apparently wasn’t as clear in my response as some wanted. In that particular interview I was trying to say that I don’t trust the media to get it right when reporting on much, much less the Vatican, which is why I think it’s important to do your own research when it comes to things the media report about the pope. I have many Catholic family members and friends, and many assure me they believe Pope Francis is just as sincere and faithful a shepherd of the Church as his two predecessors, whom I greatly admired. (Keep in mind that I come from a big Irish Catholic family on my mother’s side. I heard from friends and relatives when my taken-out-of-context comment about the pope went viral, because these respected people in my life know who I am.)

I’ve posted few comments about the former governor of Alaska, vice presidential nominee, and professional green room occupant, so I’m allowed one in a slow time of year. She clarified on her Facebook page that she apparently wasn’t as clear as some wanted but it’s NRO not being professional. I also liked the use of what Gore Vidal will agree we should call the Nixonian assurance. On the campaign trail he used to say things like “I am sure President Johnson is a patriot”; Palin says relatives and friends “assure” her that Francis is a sincere and faithful etc and so on. It’s reassuring to know she has friends and relatives who so worry about “taken-out-of-context” (whew, lots of hyphens) remarks that they watch when they go viral.