The bleating of a besieged minority

The loco weed that Governor Mike Pence and the GOP-controlled state legislature of Indiana is the latest and perhaps last gasp of the anti-homo movement. It knows it has lost and probably will lose when SCOTUS hears Obergefell v. Hodges in April. These state legislature are all the religious right has got. Which is why Dems consistently suck at playing the long game. They don’t give a shit about local politics until their paymasters at Apple et al. get miffed.

Having finished Zelizer’s onion-skin-deep but well-reported and forcefully argued account of the passage of lib legislation during the Eighty-Ninth Congress of 1965-1966 The Fierce Urgency of Now, and noted how quickly support for voting and civil rights for black Americans from clergy to chambers of commerce turned — so quickly that necks snapped — to Northern odium stoked by fears that blacks would move next door and hence start a riot, I fear a backlash, or, better, a whiplash. All it will take is a child accusing a gay parent of molesting him. Or litigants who actually do want the state to legitimate a triad. Silly, but events have moved at such blinding speed that to think of gay life before Lawrence v. Texas is for me to imagine Lucy Hayes so afraid of electric light in the White House that she refused to switch on light bulbs herself.

In the meantime — for a long time yet — we endure the bleating of a besieged minority, empowered by a self-pity as chronic as leukemia. David French, who compensates for his last name by writing the most overwrought shit for a warmongering rag, laments:

It serves to demonize the last significant constituency standing in the way of sexual revolution radicalism. After all, unless you demonize your opposition, the general public will have little appetite for forcing Christians to pay for abortion pills, forcing Christian groups to open up to atheist leadership, or forcing Christian bakers or photographers to help celebrate events they find morally offensive

I won’t link because I don’t give NRO the unique view. But I recognize the posture. After years of media tolerance, these Christianists and their lobbyists are alone for the first time in modern history.

Eminem as ‘pop fixture’

Internet-based criticism was in its Pre-Cambrian phase, but I still read a formidable number of essays, rebuttals, columns, and dismissals of every kind on The Real Slim Shady in 2000. “My Name Is” having passed me by in 1999 (don’t ask), I was prepared to love “The Real Slim Shady” the rest of my life. I objected to the dumb boy band references. Em was pretty, was played alongside “It’s Gonna Be Me,” wanted to be pop. But “The Real Slim Shady” was every bit the landmark on Clear Channel radio he wanted it to be; not since mid nineties Mariah Carey had a performer so reveled in the vocal dexterity at his command (he had a few things to say about her too). The Marshall Mathers LP remains a slog: what’s awesome and novel at 4:44 is exhausting at an hour, like listening to a decent Rush Limbaugh skit in loop (I listened to “Under the Influence” again to be sure). As usual Tom wonders what revolution “The Real Slim Shady” was talkin’ about Tom:

In “The Real Slim Shady” his enemies now stop being the world and himself and start being more specific parts of pop culture. Which is where the “soft targets” problem comes in. Eminem is announcing his arrival as a pop fixture – and the success of his first album had made that inevitable – by taking on the weakest of imaginable enemies. He knows his tribe, and their prejudices well, but this stuff is the opposite of shocking. He’s consciously consolidating the audience he’s found. But the arrival of Slim Shady in the real world loses something. In the twisted universe of “My Name Is” he’s a force of chaos, a self-destructive trickster. Here he presents himself as just another cultural commentator, needling away at the entertainment biz’ foibles and hypocrisies. What’s his actual critique of those “little girl and boy groups”? They annoy him, and maybe Christina Aguilera slept her way to the top. It’s less Loki, more Perez Hilton.

The loud majority, as it were, symbolized by the MTV Video Music Awards appearance of Eminem leading the Slim Shady Army onstage, sticking with him as he braved every trend in the next decade, keeping his sales largely intact.

The long obituary for the compact disc

For as long as CDs have been around I’ve read these stories. Before CDs it was vinyl (no one much liked cassettes). Starbucks has joined the planned obsolescence of the CD:

The CD, never a much-loved object, is inching toward critical endangerment. At the end of this month, Starbucks plans to stop selling CDs from those comforting cardboard counter-display cases, where they were as convenient an impulse buy as mints and biscotti. The company’s decision does not come as a shock; what’s most surprising is that Starbucks continued to hawk CDs for this long

This may surprise readers, but I own one external hard drive. I still prefer physical copies. When I accumulate a certain number of songs on my desktops, I burn them — the same way I used to compile mix tapes in the nineties. Because I love wine and books, I simply buy or create fewer physical copies. My memory’s gotten good. What I don’t keep or remember I can conjure through YouTube. I must own the music or delete it.

I can’t be the only one who concludes the opposite from the following: “Now, when record labels send physical copies of CDs rather than email digital files, it seems like an imposition.” For those of us who fetishize deleting, digital files are cheese on a trap: if I don’t want the file, I erase it. I hate keeping songs I don’t listen to on my phone or laptop. I’ve got several digital albums waiting in my inbox for me to stream them, a procedure less onerous than finding space, digital or physical.

An adviser for a college station whose students looked at me funny when, after volunteering for a special alumni slot last August, I brought a small case of CDs, I still signs of the medium’s dominance. Every day the kids reeive two dozen albums. They get assigned for review and ripped for MegaSeg but the physical copy remains in the station’s archives. My office is insulated with thousands of CDs (and a forlorn copy of Olivia Newton John’s Soul Kiss). These kids know land lines when they visit their grandparents and have never seen a fax but conduct their business with compact disks. The paradoxes of modern life.

Elizabeth Warren for Senate ’16

Elizabeth Warren is wonderful, and at the moment I don’t want her anywhere but in the Senate. To run for president means soliciting money from the people whom she’s opposed; it means thinking like them. Little by little her distinction would vanish. It’s worth remembering that far from being a radical Warren wants an efficient, fairer capitalism — liberalism’s two favorite adjectives. That’s why I’m with Janelle Bouie:

A Warren who leads the Democrats in the Senate isn’t a Warren who, for example, could derail a White House pick for the Treasury on the basis of his Wall Street ties. As soon as she took the position, she would lose her voice as a vocal and influential liberal, lest she alienate her colleagues and fracture her caucus. Reid’s trajectory is instructive: He entered office as a pro-life Democrat and will leave it as operationally pro-choice, a result of his place in leadership.

Warren is best where she is: a valuable and influential senator who pressures the party from the left. No, it doesn’t come with a title, but it isn’t a small thing. In his eight years in the Senate, South Carolina’s former Sen. Jim DeMint was hugely powerful as an ideological leader, using his base in the conservative movement—and later, the Tea Party—to pull Republicans to the right during the 2012 presidential election. He enforced ideological discipline, and it worked. Warren doesn’t have to lead the Democrats—or run for president—to make the party more liberal. She can build power from the outside.

The DeMint comparison makes sense, but DeMint, alert to shifting political winds, did push his party in his direction. It remains to be seen whether the Democratic Party has any interest in representing any but a corporatism with humane social policies.

The virtues of doggedness

One of my favorite media appearances by Christopher Hitchens in the five years before his death was on the Hugh Hewitt show, to which I won’t link in accordance with the rule that one doesn’t invite vampires into one’s home. He made a passing reference to Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, the “Mormon mediocrity.” Hewitt, in the midst of illustrating a coloring book dedicated to Mormon mediocrity Willard Romney, knew he couldn’t let even this crack go.

“Come on, Christopher. Harry Reid is wrong on everything, but I’m not going to pick on him because of his religion.”

“Why not?”

“Because you can’t.”

“Why not?”

“Alright, Christopher Hitchens. You’re listening to Hugh Hewitt. We’re going to a commercial. Christopher, we’ll be praying for you.”

“The hell you will.”

I stand by this transcript because, words in the wrong places be damned, I remember Hitchens swollen with merry contempt when he said that last line. Now that the Mormon mediocrity has announced he won’t seek reelection it’s time to reflect on his legacy, which isn’t luminous but is better than mediocre, not least of which is the holding together of a fractious caucus while realizing that Barack Hussein Obama was touchingly, consistently wrong about the GOP opposition. Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell became senators during the Reagan administration. Each took the measure of the other long ago. Each recognized the other’s capacity for resistance and the flouting of protocol. In March 2015, I can say their assessments were correct.

As the obituaries get filed, the salient fact that emerges confirms what many of us suspected: this hack product of the Nevada casino establishment, no liberal and in another lifetime a back bencher his own mother wouldn’t have lauded, revealed again and again how well he understood demographics by winning close race after close race. I was one of the people who thought he would lose in 2010 to noted wiccan Sharron Angle; instead he won, and comfortably. One of the reasons, it’s clear now, has to do with his decision to support the DREAM Act. VOX quotes a staffer:

“His words to me, back then, and to other staffers, were: ‘You know what? The people who are going to vote against me are going to vote against me. And the people who are going to vote for me, I need to give them a reason to vote for me.'”

For a while, it looked like Reid had made a tremendous blunder. “Our tracking poll,” says Parra, “actually showed Reid bleeding support” after he announced he was going to call a vote on the DREAM Act. “And people were wringing their hands in the campaign office because this decision was probably a big blunder.” Other Reid staffers would say to Parra, “This could cost us the election.”

The tracking polls, of course, were built on the assumption that Latinos wouldn’t turn out to vote in high numbers. That’s also the assumption Angle’s campaign made. The day after Reid committed to the DREAM Act, she released the first of a series of ads using stock footage of Latinos sneaking past fences to attack Reid on immigration. One ad called Harry Reid “the best friend an illegal ever had.” Another asked, “What does Harry Reid have against you?” — assuming that the “you” in question was, of course, white.

Gosh, even the normally useless POLITICO published a well-researched overview, although it’s cavalier on his donor base. His elimination of the sixty-vote cloture requirement for Supreme Court nominations may prove to be his legacy. Notice Mitch McConnell has made no moves to rescind Reid’s changes. He understands how his archenemy made things easier for future Republican presidents too.

Singles 2010-2014


When I compiled my favorite albums from 2010-2014 last week, I wouldn’t have known that women would dominate this list of my favorite singles released during the same period. I tried as usual to avoid singles whose albums made last week’s list unless these songs generated their own unstoppable momentum. My biggest surprise: the degree to which a year’s worth of radio play made OneRepublic’s electro-Mumford anthem very necessary (even Greil Marcus says so!).

In no order:

Azealia Banks – 212
Paramore – Ain’t It Fun
Future – Same Damn Time
Miguel – Adorn
Sade – Soldier of Love
Mariah Carey ft. Miguel – #Beautiful
Todd Terje – Inspector Norse
Sevyn Streeter ft. Chris Brown – It Won’t Stop (Remix)
Classix – Hanging Gardens
Nicki Minaj ft. 2 Chainz – Beez in the Trap
Martina McBride – Wrong Baby Wrong
Beyonce – Love on Top
Japandroids – The House That Heaven Built
Kelly Clarkson ft. Vince Gill – Don’t Rush
Robyn – Dancing On My Own
Javier Mena – Piedra de Luz de Luna
Santigold – The Keepers
Holy Ghost! – Wait and See
Carly Rae Jepsen – Call Me Maybe
Angel Haze – New York
Eric Church – Springsteen
Migos ft. Young Thug – YRN
Jazmine Sullivan – Mascara
Taylor Swift – Blank Space
Chairlift – I Belong In Your Arms
OneRepublic – Counting Stars
Mykki Blanco – Wavvy
Rick Ross – B.M.F.
Rihanna – Diamonds
Robin Thicke – Love After War
Haim – If I Could Change Your Mind
Tim McGraw – The One That Got Away
Lady Gaga – Alejandro
Ledisi – I Blame You
Usher – Climax
Dierks Bentley – 5-1 5-0
Britney Spears – Till The World Ends
Beach House – Myth
Chief Keef ft. Lil Reese – I Don’t Like
Solange – Losing You
Kylie Minogue – Get Outta My Way
Kira Isabella – Quarterback
Le1f – Wut
Kiesza – Giant in My Heart
ASAP Rocky – Purple Swag
Gary Allan – Pieces
Brantley Gilbert – Bottoms Up
Schoolboy Q – Man of the Year
Ke$ha – Tik Tok
Tinashe ft. Schoolboy Q – 2 On

Call this. Do it now. Tell them their money is no good here any more’

With Harry Reid retiring, Elizabeth Warren should consider how rudely she’s talking:

Big Wall Street banks are so upset with U.S. Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren’s call for them to be broken up that some have discussed withholding campaign donations to Senate Democrats in symbolic protest, sources familiar with the discussions said.

Representatives from Citigroup, JPMorgan, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, have met to discuss ways to urge Democrats, including Warren and Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, to soften their party’s tone toward Wall Street, sources familiar with the discussions said this week.

Bank officials said the idea of withholding donations was not discussed at a meeting of the four banks in Washington but it has been raised in one-on-one conversations between representatives of some of them. However, there was no agreement on coordinating any action, and each bank is making its own decision, they said.

The amount of money at stake, a maximum of $15,000 per bank, means the gesture is symbolic rather than material

These details are so revolting they’re worth savoring. IF the gesture is “symbolic,” then why are “big Wall Street banks” so upset? If each bank is making its own decision, why leak its activity?
Charles Pierce
is correct:

Call this. Do it now. Tell them their money is no good here any more. Give these brigands the 86 the way any respectable saloonkeeper gives the heave to a chronic deadbeat who’s run up an unpayable tab. Show the country in simple (and not necessarily civil) words what these people really are. Demonstrate, speech by speech, that they have no loyalty to the political entity that is the United States of America, that they are stateless gombeen bastards who would sell this country’s democracy off like a subprime mortgage to put another ten bucks into their pockets.

When the likes of Ted Cruz denounces crony capitalism and Charles Schumer is mentioned as a replacement as majority leader, then it’s time for Democrats to distinguish themselves from the bipartisan plutocrat class.

Singles 3/27

Because I loathed his last couple of singles and love “Want to Want Me,” explanations are required. Even when the absurd falsetto grates, the arrangement doesn’t: the background ooh-ooh-oohs, fuzz guitars, the way the rhythm crunches at unexpected moments. My other surprise was not turning off anything with The Weeknd’s name in the credits; maybe Ariana Grande’s “Love Me Harder” softened me. The other banger is “Shake That Brass,” garnished with snazzy horns. The week’s disappointment was Musgraves’ tepid return to the “Follow Your Arrow” template, which wasn’t that great anyway and was my case in point for why that album didn’t transcend “promising.”

Click on links for full reviews.

Jason Derulo – Want to Want Me (7)
Amber ft. Taeyeon – Shake That Brass (7)
Sun Yan Zi – Radio (6)
Kacey Musgraves – Biscuits (6)
Waxahatchee – Under a Rock (5)
Eden xo – The Weekend (5)
The Weeknd – Earned It (5)
Maná ft. Shakira – Mi Verdad (5)
Paulina Rubio ft. Morat – Mi Nuevo Vicio (5)
Björk – Lionsong (5)
Nick Jonas – Chains (4)
KYLE ft. Kehlani – Just a Picture (3)
Empire Cast ft. Jussie Smollett & Yazz – You’re So Beautiful (3)
Muse – Psycho (2)

Big red

Typical of the cowardice undergirding its creation, the Indiana bill affirming the “religious freedom” of proprietors was signed in private (although the governor’s office leaked a helpful photo, seen above), Governor Mike Pence and mentions not a word about homosexuals (look the weasel language; like “right to work,” “religious freedom” means the opposite of what it says).

Paul Waldman:

The bill in Indiana doesn’t mention words like “gay” at all. It merely says that the government can’t “substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion.” And a key element of the conservative Christian argument about religious freedom is that “exercise” of religion isn’t just about rituals and prayer and worship; it extends to everything, including commerce.

The implications are therefore enormous. Forget about the baker — what if you own a restaurant and think homosexuality is an abomination, and therefore you want to hang a “No gays allowed” sign in your window? Under this law, you’d be able to. Or what if you’re a Muslim who owns an auto repair shop, and you want to refuse to serve women, because you say your religion tells you that women shouldn’t drive?

I suppose the GOP majority in the Indiana legislature has bet that the state doesn’t boast enough Muslims who would act in the way Waldman describes, and if they did, boy, Bill O’Reilly would have something to say about it. But expect to hear him say stuff in the next sixteen months. Other bills like it, including one simmering in Georgia, will energize the faithful. Ed Kilgore is right: “This fight is going to go on for a long time.”

The horror, the horror: It Follows

From Vampyr to Halloween and Friday the 13th, horror films have trafficked in the disgust of the sexuality of young women, as if the filmmakers wanted to punish them for taking boyfriends to lovers lanes. Mediating this disgust are shots of jiggling breasts and asses; male filmmakers like a little lust with their contempt. It Follows, a well shot and better than average horror film by David Robert Mitchell, omits the contempt and keeps audiences at a football field’s distance from the sex and the characters. As a “post-modern” take on horror tropes, It Follows is better than the inexplicably beloved Scream — and scarier.

The premise is neat: men and women carrying a mysterious curse pass it sexually; the recipient will see a force that can shape shift into anybody and walk towards them; if caught, the recipient dies. That’s the way Hugh (Jake Weary) explains it to Jay (Maika Monroe) after a movie date ends with his anestheticizing her with chloroform and tying her to a wheelchair. He had sex with her, thus passing the curse (I think of Isabella Rossellini in Blue Velvet proudly murmuring, “He put his disease in me!”). Now moments we’ve seen make sense. Hugh had earlier suggested they leave the theater after he says he sees a man who’s invisible to all but he. The opening scene, shot in a scarily beautiful suburb, shows a terrified woman fleeing a pursuer; it ends with her broken body on a lakefront beach. Literally broken — her right leg, cracked at the knee, faces her head. Keeping his camera at a distance, Mike Gioulakis films the body as if it were an art installation.

Watch It Follows for its camera work. Mitchell’s favorite device is the one-point perspective, perfected by Stanley Kubrick in The Shining . In this shot the cinematographer freezes the subject and moves the camera at varying speed towards it, as if to entrap the subject and remind the audience that options for this character are limited. As impressive are the 360-degree pans, providing the expansiveness of vision that he denies his harried heroine. A hospital scene, dull on paper, Mitchell and Gioulakis imbue with anticipatory dread when, like the apartment building across from James Stewart’s in Rear Window, each room hosts its own banal domestic moment, reenforcing Jay’s helplessness. She can’t have a normal convalescence; she’s the one who has to keep awake in case the mysterious stranger appears in who knows what form. A couple of those forms are terrifying enough to cause night sweats: an old nude man on a roof; a boy staring through a hole in a door.

Mitchell’s lucky his eye doesn’t fail him. Set in an unidentified past or present in which kids still use land lines with curly cords, It Follows doesn’t have jokes and makes no effort to explain the teens’ relationships or situate them in a recognizable milieu. As Jay, Maika Monroe projects anomie and lust as well as Chloe Sevigny did in her nineties pictures, but the other actors are pretty blurs (Mitchell’s 2010 film The Myth of the American Sleepover was better at this). When Jay’s friends finally believe her there’s no sense that they share a thrilling and dangerous secret; they could be planning a kegger. Mitchell’s ear has no relation to his eye; he overdoes the arena-synth pretensions of the soundtrack, at times as loud as a Loverboy concert held in a fishbowl in 1983.

Still, It Follows doesn’t outstay its welcome, and the last third has a grueling inevitabiblity. The gang sets up lamps, fans, blow dryer, TVs, and other electrical appliances around an indoor swimming pool to electrocute the ghost as it lunges for Jay. This leads to a denouement I haven’t seen before in a movie: a sick-suspenseful take on the last-man-standing trope of westerns. If the ending is to be believed — I want to — teens in love won’t let a ghost get between them and the sheets.

‘Were you in the yard with your wife and children?’

One of the better responses to Ted Cruz’s 9-11-inspired affection for the values of country:

But I’m hard-pressed to think of any rockers, classic or otherwise, who were disrespectful in the aftermath of 9/11. Certainly it wasn’t Bruce Springsteen or Paul McCartney or Neil Young or Fleetwood Mac or literally dozens of other rock and pop artists who penned heartfelt songs about the event. But then Cruz undoubtedly didn’t want to hear poetic songs about loss and pain. He wanted songs of revenge and killing, like Toby Keith’s famous anthem, “The Angry American” which featured the kind of language that gets Cruz and his voters very, very excited.

“Better” in that she doesn’t dismiss country outright like Charles Pierce did earlier today, and writes, “Obviously, these songs are no more responsible for the behavior of the goons who are doing it than rap music is responsible for gang violence.” But she gets Toby Keith’s title wrong: it’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue.” And there’s subtleties to the “bro country” she dismisses; she should try Eric Church and Brantley Gilbert for wrinkles in the denim, not to mention Brad Paisley, the male artist whose music has benefited and, alas, lately has become constricted by what he thinks his audience needs to hear and what songs he thinks he should write for them. I’m proud of the women. “Girl in a Country Song” is an easy pick though. Let Digby’s considerable smarts wrestle with Miranda Lambert’s “Automatic,” Reba McEntire’s “Going Out Like That,” and Kelly Musgraves’ “Biscuits.” Not responses to bro country, much less 9-11, but fraught answers to marketplace demands.