Resurrecting Lochner

The_Fuller_Court

Besides a fabulous name, Rufus Peckham is remembered in American jurisprudence for penning one of the most notorious decisions in the era between Reconstruction and the New Deal. Lochner v. New York invalided state laws regulating maximum hour laws. Something called “liberty of contract” existed in what William O. Douglas would later (in)famously call the penumbras and emanations of the Fourteenth Amendment: SCOTUS assumed for the purposes of law that labor and management as equal partners could negotiate without governmental interference. Besides, bakers have it better than most, according to Peckham: “The average bakery of the present day is well ventilated, comfortable both summer and winter, and always sweet smelling.” Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., not known for protecting those unblessed by destiny and birth, threw up his hands and wrote the most famous dissent in Supreme Court history: “The Fourteenth Amendment does not enact Mr. Herbert Spencer’s Social Statics.”

Many citizens still have trouble recognizing that an employee and its employer do not bargain on equal term. There is some truth to this dictum. If I don’t like my employer’s starting salary and job responsibilities, the employer is under no obligation to change them for my sake. However, the employer is required to follow minimum wage laws, maintain a drug free workplace, offer overtime and bathroom breaks, observe occupational safety standards, and so on. Until the New Deal, however, American businesses observed the Latin phrase known as caveat emptor — buyer beware. Worker beware.

Brian Beutler explains how young lawyers, unmoored from thirty years of post-Warren Court conservatism, define themselves as radicals. I’ve heard whispers about a Lochner revival since the publication of David E. Bernstein’s Rehabilitating Lochner, which I haven’t read. It continues:

To anyone who lived through Bush v. Gore it might seem strange that a judiciary as conservative as the Rehnquist and Roberts Courts would rule for the government so regularly. But the dominant strain of conservative legal thought for the last half-century has largely been shaped by the right’s backlash to the social revolution stemming from the 1960s and the Warren and Burger Courts’ use of the Constitution to further progressive ends like desegregation and access to abortion. For conservatives, the main villain of the last 50 years has been creeping liberal judicial activism and a willingness to overturn legislative action. Conservative legal scholars and jurists like Robert Bork held that judges should refrain from projecting personal or political values into their judicial opinions. This principle became a cornerstone of traditional conservative legal thought, but it effectively created a presumption that democratically enacted laws are constitutional…

Lawyer Clark Nelly has other plans:

“Ten to 15 years ago, conservatives who were in positions of influence—educating young lawyers, or in a position to hire them to politically desirable positions—were unified by what you might call Borkian restraint, or knee-jerk deference,” Neily said. “What has really changed in the last four or five years is a real skepticism, particularly but not exclusively among young law students, toward this kind of acquiescence to whatever government does.”

The election of a black president named Barack Hussein Obama has not acted as a restraint on their efforts. The election of a Hillary Rodham Clinton or Jeb (!) Bush wouldn’t either, according to one of the firebrands:

Conservatives, Barnett said, “have to decide, ‘Well, why am I furious? What am I furious at? … They put John Roberts on the court. I didn’t put him on the court. Bill Clinton didn’t put him on the court. George Bush put him on the court, and he was considered by the Ted Cruzes of this world as a superstar, and then look what he does. There’s something wrong with this picture.”

There’s something wrong with this picture.

‘If my heart could do the thinking, will my head begin to feel?’ — Van Morrison remastered

It can’t have escaped the grouch’s notice that his seventieth birthday lands three days after his catalog gets digitized. I’m not much of a Van Morrison fan — I prefer Saint Dominic’s Preview and Tupelo Honey to the earlier classics when I remember I own them — but it took this kind of availability for me to immerse. The serenity of the eighties albums has a cumulative power; “Did Ye Get Healed,” the title track of A Sense of Wonder, and “Into the Garden” boast synth patches that shimmer like puddles on a forest floor (Brad Nelson, author of a beautiful reconsideration published a few months ago, came up with the sentence, “Synths and reverb are applied gently to these albums, on songs that are intended to have the gauzy depth of a pool, or a memory”). Roxy Music’s Avalon, particularly “Tara,” sounds like an inspiration: New Age without wind chimes.

The nineties stuff after Enlightenment is grittier, with Back On Top a delight years after its prominent placement in Barnes & Noble music sections fascinated me (i.e. who was buying new Van Morrison records in 1999?). I’m fond of “When The Leaves Come Falling Down” and the title track — has Morrison ever sung or written a poor title track? A Spotify playlist would include these tracks, plus “Hymns to the Silence,” “Ivory Tower,” “Days Like This,” a wee ingratiating thing called “Coney Island,” and the forgotten “I Forgot That Love Existed,” which asks the eternal question: “If my heart could do the thinking, will my head begin to feel?”

Jonah Goldberg in 2005: ‘I think it’s time to face facts’

Thank Digby for reminding me what my right wing confrères were writing ten years ago after Hurricane Katrina doomed New Orleans residents poor enough to watch their homes join the Gulf of Mexico:

ATTN: SUPERDOME RESIDENTS – I think it’s time to face facts. That place is going to be a Mad Max/thunderdome Waterworld/Lord of the Flies horror show within the next few hours. My advice is to prepare yourself now. Hoard weapons, grow gills and learn to communicate with serpents. While you’re working on that, find the biggest guy you can and when he’s not expecting it beat him senseless. Gather young fighters around you and tell the womenfolk you will feed and protect any female who agrees to participate without question in your plans to repopulate the earth with a race of gilled-supermen. It’s never too soon to be prepared.

Never one to miss a chance to sound the wrong note if it means he can sound tuff, Rich Lowry ‘s got his back:

Personally, I thought the Jonah Superdome riff was funny and clearly was poking fun at the media frenzy around Katrina at a time when it seemed especially over-blown.

Lowry, author of the moistest valentine ever penned to a putative political titan that he would never forgive from a liberal, is having a ball.

Readers know I link to NRO only when necessary. NRO itself, understandably, has buried the posts under a pile of dead links. Recall that this is the publication responsible for Barry Goldwater, resistance to the Voting Rights and Civil Rights acts, supporting Franco, and war at any time and at all costs unless a Democrat is in the White House and he (or she next November) is not committing the appropriate number of troops endorsed by the military officer or spook de jour.

Postscript: Today also marks ten years since I started reading NRO to substitute for the triglycerides and saturated fats I was no longer ingesting.

Safety in numbers: The Wolfpack

Few items have the cultural ubiquity of a Pulp Fiction DVD. The six Angulo brothers and one sister, homeschooled and kept as virtual prisoners in their Lower East Side apartment, have had little to no contact with the world but their list of favorite movies is no different and no less boring than what I’d find on IMDB lists or my students’ Letterboxed accounts. The Godfather. Gone with the Wind. Casablanca. As entertainment they dress as their favorite characters and do note perfect imitations of the “Stuck in the Middle with You” segment from Reservoir Dogs (the second brother, Narayana, who looks like a hawk-nosed Tom Cruise with a hurt gleam, does a good impression of Christian Bale’s absurd growl in The Dark Knight).

In Crystal Moselle’s documentary The Wolfpack, the Angulo siblings are receptive to the infinite gradations of each other’s movements; they’re like septuplets. During their playacting they evoke what we’ve learned about the Brontës, outcasts in the moors who peopled their fantasy world with an admixture of historical and fictional characters with a generous dollop of Walter Scott. The picture is one of the more touching depictions of how people can assemble bits of art and culture to nutritive and self-sustaining ends; the Angulos lives were saved not by rock and roll but by Tarantino.

The villain is their father Oscar, an earnest sort who babbles about how “we” are “victims of the circumstances of life.” Afraid of a hostile, dangerous world, Oscar confines their expeditions outside to nine or ten a year. Even mother Susana can’t leave without permission — he’s got the only house key. Dad, the oldest child Mukunda explains, is like a landowner — he doesn’t like socializing. But the experiment in social control crumbles when fifteen-year-old Mukunda steps out in January 2010. Moselle is good at capturing the subjectivity of the experience. How must Manhattan look to an adolescent whose knowledge of the city stops with YouTube clips? Eventually he and his brothers make it to Coney Island. Trains frighten them. On the shoreline they clop along in black pants and shoes like sullen Jehovah’s Witnesses. “It’s salty, man!” one of the Angulos shouts in disbelief on stripping and getting in the ocean.

But the documentary doesn’t know what to do with the Angulos after they’ve tasted liberty. A description of a police raid (Oscar had weapons, they claim) gets shunted off, although not before one of the Angulo kids compares it to Spike Lee’s Inside Man. And Moselle is so besotted with the children that she doesn’t limn the pathology of Oscar except to freeze him with quotes like the one cited above. Her reluctance to judge helps. Not once do the kids come off as freaks. This isn’t The Wild Child and Flowers in the Attic — the Angulos can use words intelligently (they even cook lasagna). One of The Wolfpack‘s subtler points is how the natural rhythms of the Angulos, formed by imitating people on the internet, aren’t necessarily advanced by contact with outsiders. However much scolds come down in 2015 on the atomizing effect of social media and Grindr, The Wolfpack shows that while the internet can only get you so far, it’s often far enough.

The Wolfpack is available on pay per view.

‘I thought I was doing everything right for you’

Working my way through the glitz and thud of Smokey Robinson’s eighties productions, I found this track from 1987’s One Heartbeat album. The home of “Just To See Her” also accommodated this narrative about a home wrecker: a father announces that he’s walking out on his family, to their astonishment. Then the situation repeats itself when the singer’s an adult — in reverse. “I just don’t know about love,” the author of “You Really Got a Hold On Me” and “Cruisin'” sighs. And it was a single.

Jimmy Carter and voting rights

Last week I took a stab at a James Earl Carter obituary. Rick Perlstein, who will presumably finish his trilogy about post-sixties Republicanism with the triumph of Ronald Reagan in 1980, concentrates on Carter’s lifelong interest in voting rights, a subject that his southern colleagues knew much about after Congress’ 1965 act pushed the most rebarbative among them into Strom Thurmond’s GOP. The result?

He asked Congress to allot up to $25 million in aid to states to help them comply, and for the current system of federal matching funds for presidential candidates to be expanded to congressional elections. He suggested reforming a loophole in the matching-fund law that disadvantaged candidates competing with rich opponents who funded their campaigns themselves, and revising the Hatch Act to allow federal employees “not in sensitive positions,” and when not on the job, the same rights of political participation as everyone else.

Finally, and most radically, he recommended that Congress adopt a constitutional amendment to do away with the Electoral College—under which, three times in our history (four times if you count George W. Bush 23 years later), a candidate who received fewer votes than his opponent went on to become president—in favor of popular election of presidents. It was one of the broadest political reform packages ever proposed.

It was immediately embraced. Legislators from both parties stood together at a news briefing to endorse all or part of it. Two Republican senators and two Republican representatives stepped forward to cosponsor the universal registration bill; William Brock, chairman of the Republican National Committee, called it “a Republican concept.” Senate Minority Leader Howard Baker announced his support, and suggested going even further: making election day a national holiday and keeping polls open 24 hours. House Minority Leader John Rhodes, a conservative disciple of Barry Goldwater, predicted it would pass “in substantially the same form with a lot of Republican support, including my own.”

A more perfect democracy. Who could find this controversial?

You guessed it: movement conservatives, who took their lessons about Democrats and “electoral reform” from Republican allegations that had Kennedy beating Nixon via votes received from the cemeteries of Chicago.

Ronald Reagan had been on this case for years. “Look at the potential for cheating,” he thundered in 1975, when Democrats proposed allowing citizens to register by postcard. “He can be John Doe in Berkeley, and J.F. Doe in the next county, all by saying he intends to live in both places … Yes, it takes a little work to be a voter; it takes some planning to get to the polls or send an absentee ballot … That’s a small price to pay for freedom.”

As James Murphy said, that’s where it starts. Chief Justice John Roberts cut his teeth in the Reagan White House as an assistant to the attorney general, specializing in sardonic memos in which he made clear that claimants must show “clear proof” of discrimination instead of “effects.” What concerned Roberts was “the most intrusive interference imaginable by federal courts into state and local processes.” Twenty-one years later, John Roberts wrote the majority opinion in Shelby County v. Holder, and Jimmy Carter is the worst president since Herbert Hoover.

Bare cupboards: H.W. Brands’ ‘Reagan’

10/22/1983

As Republican super PACS prepare to Brylcreem candidates who babble about liberty and marauding Mexican invaders, yet another biography about the greatest leader in world history emerges from a reputable publishing house. But H.W. Brands, who distinguished himself with fine FDR and U.S. Grant bricks in 2008 and 2012, respectively, emerges no less stunned and stunted by the Sage of Dixon than Edmund Morris at century’s end did but quite a bit more hornswaggled. Pace, an absence of jargon, and scrutiny of the supporting cast keep Reagan lively. New facts are rare. One of those known facts concerns the fortieth president’s intellectual lassitude, unwillingness to question subordinates, and a fealty to communist-free plutocracy so thorough that he fell prey to every free market bozo, Central American caudillo, and paramilitary moron in Jim Baker’s appointment book. Brands’ own lassitude is almost as thorough.

Readers for whom the interaction of personages makes history will enjoy Reagan. Sentence for sentence this book has less whiz-bang and flaccid insights than Bob Woodward’s stenographic efforts. But Reagan synthesizes—it doesn’t analyze. Reading this biography saves one the trouble of perusing the memoirs of Alexander Haig, George Schultz, Robert McFarlane, and other figures, minor and major, whose tell-alls sink used bookstore shelves. Its focus on Reagan’s diaries, published in the late 2000s, adduces a president in command of his administration, quick to anger when required but sober about weighing pros and cons; he emerges as a president.

Now, I’ve read those diaries, and while they reveal a monarch who grasped the subtleties of serving as head of state, they also glaze the eyes with the unrelenting vapidity of the observations, canned patriotism, coy language: legal and international phenomena buried in leather. Wedded to momentum, Brands shows little interest in consequences. What Gramm-Latta in 1981 did to school lunch programs and the effects of “simplifying” the tax code in 1986 did to eviscerate the middle class gets scant attention; the delicious anecdote is his governing principle. Brands would rather recount the familiar story of OMB director David Stockman’s abasement before a damp-eyed Reagan after admitting to an Atlantic Monthly reporter the loophole-dotted racket that was the ’81 budget; or of the misadventures of Donald Regan, the president’s hapless second term chief of staff who exploited Reagan’s mental torpor to run the West Wing like a Wall Street boardroom and, naturally, became the Beltway press corps’ scapegoat when the Iran-Contra story broke.

The tome does boast two deviations from Prayer to Saint Ron. The first is a an impressive sifting through documents showing that Reagan campaign manager and former spook William Casey skulked through Spain “for purposes unknown” in the summer of 1980 at the same time as Iranians who later said they would release the American hostages after the 1980 election. Adding to the suspicious pattern was the George H.W. Bush administration’s reluctance to surrender any paper related to that period; FOIA requests in the intervening years have taken care of the rest. The world learned the results in November 1980, including the subsequent appointment of Casey as, what else, director of the CIA (he was distraught when he didn’t get the State Department). How this felonious and deplorable chain of events presaged the malfeasance perpetuated by Casey, McFarlane, Poindexter, Oliver North, and others is unremarked on by Brands, nor are the number of creeps and quasi-fascists with West Wing access (the absurd Al Haig, fired in 1982, was said to have growled to Reagan about Cuba, “Give me the word, give me the word and I’ll turn that island into a fucking parking lot”).

The second deviation: the inclusion of generous excerpts from the Reagan-Gorbachev duels in Geneva and Reykjavik without much comment, showing a nimbler president than expected, worth the credit that the sycophants lavish. As James Mann’s The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan documented, the president by this point had to fight leaks from Cabinet officers like Caspar Weinberger and the bitching from footstools like George Will for the apostasy of believing that the threat of nuclear war wasn’t worth American posturing.

El Salvador, playing coy with Botha’s apartheid regime in South Africa, Ed Meese’s conflicts of interest — they get paragraphs and in the case of Grenada a few pages because there was shooting and skullduggery and flags and things (a retired and less demented Haig said the Provincetown police department could have handled the invasion better). Meanwhile the banalities quietly fall, a grey drizzle. And the wrongness. In 1972, Nixon seemed “formidable” because of “his shrewd maneuvering between liberals and conservatives and his clever conduct of American diplomacy.” Bill Clinton defeated George Bush “aided by the wild card and sometimes wild-eyed candidacy of Texas billionaire Ross Perot.” For all his research Brands doesn’t seem to have an article that challenges Beltway clichés. To find credible critical biographies, look to Lou Cannon’s President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime and Morris’ batty and ridiculed Dutch; even Steven F. Hayward’s two-volume special manages to situate Reagan in the conservative ferment in ways that anticipate Rick Perlstein’s The Invisible Bridge. Instead of reading H.W. Brands’ book, study the included photographs. They show depth of field, personality, and texture.

‘How come you’re so calm?’ — A Bigger Bang

Two weeks ago, I aired a reappraisal of Dirty Work, the Rolling Stones’ most misunderstood album. Almost ten years ago I reviewed the album around which consensus has hardened, notably now that we have seen no followup. The second side has title that Poison thunk up, but otherwise the record boasts a concision I doubt we’ll see again. Admittedly the narrative sold this album: Charlie Watts, laid up by cancer possibly forever, forced Mick Jagger and Keith Richards to write and record songs by themselves at a frenzied clip. They share guitar and keyboard duties; Jagger even played bass and showed the recovered Watts the rudimentary drum parts he’d recorded on demos. Too young to give a good goddamn about the Stones’ place in history, I nevertheless get off on Jagger’s dumb Dick Cheney kiss off “Sweet Neo Con.” And “Laugh I Nearly Died” is the kind of sarcasm that uses pain for fuel.

My Stylus review of A Bigger Bang:

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Rolling Stones
A Bigger Bang
9/9/2005

History’s a bitch. Since 1974’s It’s Only Rock & Roll and probably earlier, Ye Olde Rolling Stones have existed in moral twilight. Too rich, complacent, and cynical to escape a historical nightmare from which they have never fully awakened, leaders Mick Jagger and Keith Richards have shown occasional glimmers that they’re aware of the bad faith in which they’ve trafficked for 30 years, and still they discover that their awareness isn’t enough for world-historic-moment fanboys like Greil Marcus. No, if you dance with Mr D., you best make damn sure you can pirouette with more finesse than Jagger at Madison Square Garden, and rock’s most evergreen narcissist knows no one will try. So let Keith crank out his 1679th variation of the Chuck Berry riff, let Ronnie Wood (the band’s Ringo) stay on for the ride, and let Charlie Watts—good old Charlie—glower from his drum kit, as bored by the shenanigans as the rest of us.

Only now, on the new A Bigger Bang, has Peter Pan Jagger begun to savor the paradox of one of his best lyrics, found on 1986’s Dirty Work, the last time their bad faith produced compelling music: “I look towards the future, keep on glancing back.” Lester Bangs, speaking with the trenchant irony of a spurned lover, got it right in 1976 regarding Black & Blue: “This is the first meaningless Stones album, and thank god.” A Bigger Bang is their fourth or fifth meaningless album, and their best yet. In its no-frills pleasures, A Bigger Bang recalls Some Girls and Emotional Rescue, two great meaningless albums. Imagine a record filled with the likes of “Summer Romance,” “Respectable,” and “Hand of Fate” and you get an idea of the Stones’ accomplishment: an album of choice throwaways. As an exercise in formalist pleasure, only the New Pornographers have topped the Stones’ achievement this year.

Most of A Bigger Bang was recorded by Jagger, Richard, and Watts, with Darryl Jones filling in the bass parts Richards or Jagger (!!) couldn’t play. While the record is, yes, too long, here’s the thing: I don’t know which songs I’d cut. I have the same trouble singling out any one band member for praise, so I’ll start with Jagger. He’s in great form, seeing Goyas and paranoias and playing quite credible slide guitar on “Back of My Hand,” and talking trash about reality TV on “Rain Fell Down.” “Look What the Cat Dragged In” would impress Rikki Rockett and Brett Michaels. There’s even a cogent political song called “Sweet Neo-Con,” in which Jagger calls shit on Brown & Root, gas prices, and Christian hypocrites; this is no “Undercover of the Night.” Of course it’s cogent: threaten his pocketbook or tut-tut him in the tabloids and Jagger gets mad. Self-interest as public interest—the Stones’ great gift to the world.

The realization that a band is a collaborative enterprise and not merely the first draft of a solo career empowers A Bigger Bang’s (many) good songs. On “She Saw Me Coming,” he and Richards provide the two-guitar interplay we expect from Wood and Richards (but Wood doesn’t coast: his slide solo on “Let Me Down Slow” descends the scale as swooningly as Jagger’s voice). As for Richards, we depend upon him to deepen his partner’s commitment to professionalism with a coupla croaked ballads which always become somebody’s favorites. Richards sounds great on the lachrymose “This Place is Empty” but it’s Jagger’s falsetto harmonies that provide the pathos. Who would have thought that Jagger could return the favor?

The Stones could fuck it up on the next album (Jagger can ask his homey Bob Dylan how to do it); these songs could disappear from the next tour’s setlist. Whatever. These four grizzled plutocrats have at long last bought VIP seats to their own show and had a great time dancing to “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” The Stones have completed the cycle: they are now us. Fuck history: get your ya-ya’s out, you indie mopers.

Singles 8/28

In 2012, Angel Haze issued Reservation, one of my favorite mix tapes in recent years. Although lumpy as such things are, it included tracks about being about being a young woman accepting how her sexual dynamism will forever cause conflict with relatives. She wasn’t sentimental about it either. “Impossible” is at the level of Reservation‘s middling tracks. Besides Gerardo Ortiz’s number, Jamie Woon’s “Sharpness” is the week’s catchiest track: a spare bit of electro R&B that should appeal to fans of Jason Derulo and Luke James.

Also: Alabama!

Click on links for full reviews

Angel Haze – Impossible
Gerardo Ortíz – El Cholo (7)
Jamie Woon – Sharpness (6)
Hyukoh – Wi Ing Wi Ing (6)
FKA Twigs – Figure 8 (5)
Pvris – Fire (5)
Delia – Da, Mama (5)
Nico & Vinz ft. Kid Ink & Bebe Rexha – That’s How You Know (5)
Dam-Funk – We Continue (5)
Ricky Martin ft. Yotuel – La Mordidita (5)
Alabama – Wasn’t Through Lovin’ You Yet (5)
Lana Del Rey – High By the Beach (5)
Bea Miller – Fire N Gold (4)
Zara Larsson – Lush Life (3)
Raghav ft. Abishek Bachchan & Nelly – Until the Sun Comes Up (3)

Screenings #8

Imagine the embarrassment of having cocktails with a friend and watching a movie and the cloddish meat-carved head of Henry Kissinger appears on screen and you spill the drink. I felt like Bugs Bunny coughing out his carrot juice on learning he was drafted. Worse, “Dr. Kissinger” is presented in Last days of Vietnam as a sad sage, unchallenged and unrepentant. As an account of a story not often told – the ignominious departure of American embassy staff and the thousands of Vietnamese lucky enough to escape too – it’s not bad, but nowhere is it suggested that this was the only denouement possible. Poetic symmetry and history required it.

Straight Outta Compton (Gray, 2015) 6/10
Last Days of Vietnam (Kennedy, 2014) 6/10
Tom at the Farm (Dolan, 2008) 6/10
The High and the Mighty (Wellman, 1954) 2/10
* Sunrise (Murnau 1928) 10/10
* Simon of the Desert (Buñuel, 1966) 8/10

* Indicates at least a second viewing.

Weightless, semi-erotic: Interpol in 2007

As nostalgia objects, Interpol are more fun than when they fooled a lot of us into thinking they were going to be a great band. Few kids of either sex took Duran Duran seriously — those sassy boys with impeccable makeup and two-finger synth hooks. Turns out I was the one who took Interpol too seriously. Fooled by singer/acne casualty Paul Banks’ indebtedness to Ian Curtis, I was afraid he’d die so a generation could worship lines like “She says brief things, her love’s a pony, my love’s subliminal” over rolling drums and pimples. In a Miami Herald concert review I wrote about their Ice Palace show in October 2003, I was like the Rolling Stone reporter at a Ramones concert in 1977 worried about Crosby Stills & Nash’s album sales. The kids were right: Interpol were cute. 2004’s Antics mixed the bass up high to match Banks’ poesy, which on tracks like “Evil” now reached Himalaya heights. And drummer Sam Fogarino is a Miami native — give it up, Soto! I almost did during my second show in spring 2005 when I stood like a statue in the park as a couple thousand Broward kids shouted back the words to “C’Mere.”

We had a lot of fun with Interpol in Stylus. A piece by Andrew Unterberger preserving Banks’ best bon mots was responsible for a quarter of our web traffic for years. Most fans will agree that the fun stopped on 2007’s Our Love to Admire, an album as sodden, lugubrious, and interminable in a deluxe fashion as the second side of Arcadia’s So Red the Rose but without Sting. Aligning themselves with the flailing Killers in the mustache department wiped out five years of glass table fashion magazine chic. I don’t retract my review because I haven’t wanted to relisten to the album. I can, however, confirm that there is an “I” in threesome.

The review:

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Interpol
Our Love to Admire
July 8, 2007

Interpol are too easily made the butt of a joke, but so what? Jokes require no explanation. Since 2002’s Turn On The Bright Lights they’ve been making us chuckle thanks to infinitesimal variations on their rumbling minor chord meaninglessness, and Our Love to Admire should inspire their biggest belly laughs yet.

The last time I heard from these guys, they were pummeling a crowd into submission with clipped versions of “Evil” and “C’mere” at a Fort Lauderdale show two years ago. The bond between audience and band was Springsteenian. I counted at least twelve guys that would have traded places with unexpectedly paunchy singer/guitarist/poet Paul Banks in a second, were it not for the presence of their girlfriends, who got off projecting their kinky reveries on Banks and his boys as if they were as cynical as the girls imagined them to be. An update of the Dave Gahan formula, I thought, and more power to Interpol for almost pulling it off. There’s a lot to be said for selling fantasies about subways being pornos and love in the kitchen with a culinary eye, especially when bassist Carlos Dengler swung his hips so becomingly and the lead guitarist was licky as trips.

A shame that Our Love to Admire won’t do much beside inspire more fan blogs devoted to Banksian poesy. A grotesque example of luxury hardened by luxury, Our Love promises as much decadence as its Econoline van spare tire cover art. When you watch Dengler and Killers frontman Brandon Flowers grow mustaches as ugly and thick as their recent music you ask yourself, “God, they can’t be this stupid.” Mortified, like countless pretentious pinups before them, at being objects of desire, they let their tempos drag and mix up their singers’ vocals. You can fill the distance between “Evil” and Our Love to Admire’s “Mammoth” with a hundred invitations to Dengler’s hotel room. In this context Paul Banks makes Simon Le Bon look like Grant McLennan; and before I’m accused of favoritism, Duran Duran essayed similarly contemptible purploid dirges like “The Seventh Stranger” that no one remembers but their publishing company.

The Duran Duran analogy is mine; Joy Divison is everyone else’s. For those interested in such things, Our Love to Admire shows an advance: now they ape New Order’s Movement, surely that combo’s most static and dullest album. Dengler and rather good drummer Sam Fogarino don’t get many chances to shine, letting guitarist Daniel Kessler create the kind of textures that often get mistaken for progress. Shockingly, the anonymous numbers like “Who Do You Think” and the Pat Benatar wannabe “All Fired Up” offer less punch and more crunch, but there’s the problem: who would want anonymity from Interpol? The tune you’ll probably find on the most CD-R’s is the awesomely titled “No I in Threesome,” which shows Banks’ command of the poetics of illiteracy at its most fulsome. “But there are days in this life / When you see the teeth marks of time” is worthy of scribbling on the cover of a senior yearbook, especially when it’s framed by a piano and Kessler’s keening peals. But it’s no “The Reflex” (and “Pioneer to the Falls” is no “New Moon on Monday”), not when you confuse Banks’ wailing “Life is a wine” for “Life is a whine.”

The rest is unworthy of anyone’s teeth marks, although when it comes to sexuality I’m no elitist. Kudos to Interpol’s PR guys, though, who’ve straddled the alt and teenpop crowds as unself-consciously as Duran Duran did, while fooling another generation of alienated youth into thinking that Ciara and Ashlee Simpson have as little to say about Real Teen Problems as Deniece Williams and Cyndi Lauper in 1984. There’s little chance that an album as terrible as Our Love to Admire (the album title even sounds like translated Japanese) will go splat in 2007, not with so much invested in Interpol’s sucess. All I ask is this: if your boyfriend (or, hell, girlfriend) grew a mustache for your sake, in the hopes that you’d notice, would you love them or laugh? Is this love to admire?

‘A Good Journalist must pretend they have no opinions…’

This morning’s Washington Post:

Untitled

In thirteen words, we see a classic example of false equivalence, abetted by reporters conscripted by phony both-sides-do-it twaddle. Helen Thomas got the same treatment during the Bush administration. Because her questions didn’t defer to the authority of a Cabinet secretary or vice president, she got ridiculed by her sometime colleagues. From the WaPo:

While the 89-year-old Thomas is renowned as a trailblazer who aggressively questioned 10 presidents — including President Obama, whom she pressed last month on Afghanistan — her hostility toward Israel has been no secret within the Beltway. Though she gave up her correspondent’s job a decade ago, she retained her front-row briefing-room seat, even as colleagues sometimes rolled their eyes at her obvious biases.

“She asked questions no hard-news reporter would ask, that carried an agenda and reflected her point of view, and there were some reporters who felt that was inappropriate,” said CBS correspondent Mark Knoller. “As a columnist she felt totally unbound from any of the normal policies of objectivity that every other reporter in the room felt compelled to abide by, and sometimes her questions were embarrassing to other reporters.”

Or as Glenn Greenwald wrote:

A Good Journalist must pretend they have no opinions, feign utter indifference to the outcome of political debates, never take any sides, be utterly devoid of any human connection to or passion for the issues they cover, and most of all, have no role to play whatsoever in opposing even the most extreme injustices.

Thus: you do not call torture “torture” if the U.S. government falsely denies that it is; you do not say that the chronic shooting of unarmed black citizens by the police is a major problem since not everyone agrees that it is; and you do not object when a major presidential candidate stokes dangerous nativist resentments while demanding mass deportation of millions of people. These are the strictures that have utterly neutered American journalism, drained it of its vitality and core purpose, and ensured that it does little other than serve those who wield the greatest power and have the highest interest in preserving the status quo.

If I wrote, “A columnist is not a journalist,” reporters would protest, correctly. David Brooks, Maureen Dowd, and Jonathan Chait are journalists. Asking a source to explain a point of view and refuting him, as Ramos did Trump, is journalism.

As for the piece whose headline I screen shot, he also wrote the one-sentence paragraph: “For Ramos, conflict has become a career.” Even when including chunks of Ramos’ experiences with childhood poverty, Michael Miller can’t resist banalizing him.