Monthly Archives: April 2016

Marco Rubio, pundit

Six weeks after losing in the most ignominious way possible, the junior senator from Florida is rested and eager to play pundit. The brief exile has deepened his wisdom, sharpened his wit, and added hair to his legs:

“If he keeps winning delegates like he did the other night in New York, I think he’s going to reach that number,” Rubio said on Al Punto Florida. “But let’s see. There are still other states to go.”

Rubio, who continues to hold onto more than 100 delegates, has said he disagreed with Trump about the delegate system being “rigged.” But Rubio did echo the argument that if Trump is close to 1,237 delegates, he should get the nod.

Well and good. These are facts. Then:

On the Republican presidential race, which Rubio dropped out of last month after losing the Florida primary to Donald Trump, Rubio reiterated that he’s not making an endorsement but will support the Republican nominee in the general election. He said Trump’s “performance has improved significantly” in recent weeks.

That didn’t take long. Given how the contempt Trump showed him during primary season, I’d have expected Rubio to hold out and say nothing; he’s still got a few delegates pledged to him. As usual his instincts are as cloddish as his oratory and butt.

Singles 4/29

I can’t remember when we last reviewed two songs about Peter Pan, or when I last sorta liked a song with both Mr. 305 and Enrique Iglesias (also a 305) and that I’d like this song better than Martina McBride and Carrie Underwood tunes, but, hell, that’s the kind of post-Prince week it was.

The stunner, though, is “Lake by the Ocean,” Maxwell’s shimmering return to music making. In this post-Prince week, I needed it.

Click on links for full reviews

Maxwell – Lake By the Ocean (9)
Katy B + Chris Lorenzo – I Wanna Be (8)
P!nk – Just Like Fire (7)
Snakehips ft. Anderson .Paak – Money on Me (6)
Kent – Egoist (6)
Pitbull ft. Enrique Iglesias – Messin’ Around (6)
Kelsea Ballerini – Peter Pan (6)
Martina McBride – Reckless (4)
Carrie Underwood – Church Bells (4)
Miles Davis, Robert Glasper & Bilal – Ghetto Walkin’ (2)
Twenty88 ft. K-Ci & JoJo & Detail – 2 Minute Warning (2)
Cheat Codes x Kris Kross Amsterdam – Sex (1)
Ruth B – Lost Boy (1)

The ‘rethinking’ of leftist

Amazing if true. Greg Sargent:

A recent Harvard Institute of Politics poll found that pluralities of young voters believe that government has a responsibility to guarantee a basic standard of living as a right — both in the form of basic health insurance and basic necessities such as food and shelter. Large majorities of them see a federal government role in regulating access to higher education and health care, and in combating inequality.

Yes, Hillary Clinton broadly agrees with these goals. But Sanders has been far more forceful in giving voice to the idea that society has an overarching moral imperative to do more, a lot more, to boost minimum standards of living and break open channels of economic mobility and opportunity — not just incrementally, but in profound and far reaching ways. Sanders’s basic case is that the rules of our economic and political systems have been hijacked and perverted over the decades to bake in deep inequities at every level of society. This, and the colossal scale of the future challenges we face, require a fundamental re-imagining of the American social contract. Sanders’s candidacy is part of a broader rethinking underway on the left about how our political economy really works…

I don’t know if the last sentence is true. “How our political economy works” has been a topic sentence for leftist criticism of American capitalism since at last the New Deal (like me Sargent seems wary of the word “rebranding”). But if the Beltway class long ago accepted austerity, deficit reduction, and eviscerating Social Security and Medicare as acceptable topics for consideration, then Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and Sanders have reminded these satraps of income inequality and the ruinous state of our penal system. Repeat them often enough and they become modes of being.

‘Naïve cynicism remains obdurate in the face of varied events’

You’ll search my published writing in vain for “cynical” and its noun form. I dislike them. The rare times I’ve used them I’m afraid I’ll get misinterpreted.

A cynic is often confused for a realist. Cynics often confuse themselves with realists. In fact, cynicism is the opposite of realism. The latter, having studied facts, makes a forceful conclusion that draws upon the best of his abilities and knowledge up to that moment; the former, a romantic gone to seed, has drawn conclusions before studying the facts. So afraid of being fooled (again) is the cynic that he will dismiss entreaties to look at information that will foil his predetermined conclusions.

Another definition of cynicism: the flouting of one’s own principles for the sake of short term victory (e.g. Reagan pulling Marines out of Beirut days after implying Tip O’Neill was a coward for making the same suggestion; Mitt Romney denouncing the Affordable Care Act for a federal-level mimicking of his health care plan for Massachusetts).

In an essay explaining how Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter have been defined as failures, Rebecca Solnit explains cynicism in a way that coincides with my definitions:

Cynicism is first of all a style of presenting oneself, and it takes pride more than anything in not being fooled and not being foolish. But in the forms in which I encounter it, cynicism is frequently both these things. That the attitude that prides itself on world-weary experience is often so naïve says much about the triumph of style over substance, attitude over analysis…

…If you set purity and perfection as your goals, you have an almost foolproof system according to which everything will necessarily fall short. But expecting perfection is naïve; failing to perceive value by using an impossible standard of measure is even more so. Cynics are often disappointed idealists and upholders of unrealistic standards. They are uncomfortable with victories, because victories are almost always temporary, incomplete, and compromised — but also because the openness of hope is dangerous, and in war, self-defense comes first. Naïve cynicism is absolutist; its practitioners assume that anything you don’t deplore you wholeheartedly endorse. But denouncing anything less than perfection as morally compromising means pursuing aggrandizement of the self, not engagement with a place or system or community, as the highest priority.

I’ve said disparaging things about OWS myself, based on my brief experience at a Miami gathering. But the way in which the Democratic Party and to a far lesser extent the GOP has absorbed its platform impresses me — and shames me. To say that consequences aren’t immediately apparent is a banality. Barack Obama, in another display of his curiosity and understanding of dialectics, spoke at length about it to the NYT’s Andrew Ross Sorkin:

When you’re talking about inversions,” Obama said, referring to the practice whereby American companies effectively move overseas, “or you’re talking about C.E.O. perks or the gap between what the assembly-line worker is making compared to what the C.E.O. is making, all those things used to be constrained by the fact that you live in the city, you’re going to church in that city, your kids might be going to the same school as the guy who is working on the assembly line because public schools actually were invested in,” Obama said. “And all those constraining factors have been greatly reduced or, in some cases, eliminated entirely. And that contributes to the trends toward inequality. That contributes to, I think, a divergence between how the people who run these companies and economic elites think about their responsibilities and the policies that they promote with political leaders. And that’s had, I think, a damaging effect on the economy overall.”

Rejecting policy ideas for the sake of the lower middle class that also help the plutocrats strikes me as a cynical gesture.

Hillary Clinton has often been wrong and even dangerous. A president Trump or Cruz would be more wrong and even more dangerous. The cynic would counsel the hell with the three of them.

Over-plotted ‘Louder Than Bombs’ fritters away its tension

The last time I saw a creepier image than Jesse Eisenberg holding a newborn was Ted Cruz smiling at a podium. A brief scene, sure, and Louder Than Bombs offers others just as grisly. This Norwegian-French production shows how an American family deals with the aftershocks of their mother’s death. Eschewing chronological narrative storytelling, Louder Than Bombs scatters shards of meaning on the pavement; the tropes of novels and movies about the so-called emptiness of suburbia come down as a drizzle of revelations, banal and in some cases hysterical.

The mother is, or rather was, Isabelle Reed, a “combat photographer” often gone for months while husband Gene (Gabriel Byrne) raised the kids and made goo goo eyes at his son’s teacher (Amy Ryan). As played by Isabelle Huppert with her uncanny freckled stillness, Isabelle is a brisk, impatient woman who gives Gene no firm answer when he hints that photos of massacres excite her more than a family. This scene is a flashback – there are lots of them in Louder Than Bombs. The peg on which the film hangs is Richard (David Straithairn), a colleague of Isabelle’s who wants to assemble a retrospective for the Sunday paper; he asks Gene if he can look at her stills and unused photos. This plunges Gene into a funk, unrelieved by the indifference of youngest son Conrad (Devin Druid), a sullen teen who delves into video games whenever Gene wants Meaningful Conversation. Early in the movie Gene follows him after school to a graveyard. He watches as Conrad stops at a headstone and collapses on the grass as if, like the man in Henry James’ “The Beast in the Jungle,” he wanted to hurl himself into an open grave. The kinks don’t stop there. His brother Jonah (Eisenberg) giggles uncomfortably after finding a trove of unpublished fantasy writing on Conrad’s computer.

Louder Than Bombs‘ narrative instability reflects its interest in important questions: what do we owe the dead, and what debt do they leave the living? But writer-director Joachim Trier, who made the powerful Oslo, August 31st, reduces the answers to mere incidents, as subjects for further study; he’s made a cold fish American Beauty. As these incidents accumulate, they distract. Jonah is visiting Conrad and Gene because he can’t deal with being a new father, the horror of which sends him into the bed of a former girlfriend whom he’d bumped into at the hospital. Gene can’t bring himself to tell Conrad how Isabelle died. Richard had an affair with Isabelle. Conrad can’t consummate his crush on a classmate (Ruby Jerins). As a final insult, Gene drives a station wagon.

It’s a hell of a story, everything but the bloodhounds yappin’ at her rear end, to quote Thelma Ritter in All About Eve. It’s not so much that Louder Than Bombs doesn’t gel, it’s that Trier has arranged his actors and scenes so that they hit the same wan note. Byrne, who’s been playing a variant on this heavy treading sad sack for years, doesn’t come up with anything fresh. It has grace notes: I was taken with Conrad’s rewriting of a story he’s reading into speculative fiction about how his mother may have died. I laughed at an Eisenberg line during a post-coital scene: “Did we have sex with your mom’s condoms?” And thanks to Huppert’s vivid presence, I can believe her children and husband would be haunted by her years later (Huppert’s seeming smarter and more self-assured than the other actors helps).

Making his English language debut, Trier shows no fear. If anything, Louder Than Bombs is too ambitious. Part of the problem is that title: Trier’s movie is as loud as a whisper yet as crowded as a rush hour train. But he’ll be back.

David Brooks and his gruesome moments


Still in the throes of a nervous breakdown, David Brooks returns to the NYT op-ed page to find all gods dead, all wars fought, all faiths in man shaken:

I was surprised by Trump’s success because I’ve slipped into a bad pattern, spending large chunks of my life in the bourgeois strata — in professional circles with people with similar status and demographics to my own. It takes an act of will to rip yourself out of that and go where you feel least comfortable. But this column is going to try to do that over the next months and years. We all have some responsibility to do one activity that leaps across the chasms of segmentation that afflict this country.

In which Brooks admits to being a bobo with parasites. But he’s got something called an “act of will” bought in Target as part of his vow to spend less time in bourgeois strata. Two AA batteries required, David. Also: months and years! You’re so optimistic about your continued employment with the paper that Henry Jarvis Raymond built.

We’ll probably need a new national story. Up until now, America’s story has been some version of the rags-to-riches story, the lone individual who rises from the bottom through pluck and work. But that story isn’t working for people anymore, especially for people who think the system is rigged.

“I’m going to come up with another tissue of well wrought lies about how Americans live that I’ll pimp on book tours in college towns.”

I don’t know what the new national story will be, but maybe it will be less individualistic and more redemptive. Maybe it will be a story about communities that heal those who suffer from addiction, broken homes, trauma, prison and loss, a story of those who triumph over the isolation, social instability and dislocation so common today.

His eagle eye focused on word count, Brooks repeats “new national story.” Maybe it’s a mantra.

We’ll probably need a new definition of masculinity, too.

“I have gay friends who watch college basketball.”

There are many groups in society who have lost an empire but not yet found a role.

Okay, I don’t know what the fuck he’s talking about.

Men are the largest of those groups. The traditional masculine ideal isn’t working anymore.

*Eagle eye steals glance at word count again*

It leads to high dropout rates, high incarceration rates, low labor force participation rates. This is an economy that rewards emotional connection and verbal expressiveness. Everywhere you see men imprisoned by the old reticent, stoical ideal.

“I have gay and lesbian friends who’ve laughed at me for years.”

Trump will have his gruesome moment. The time is best spent elsewhere, meeting the neighbors who have become strangers, and listening to what they have to say.

I imagine Brooks knocking doors, a box of Entenmann’s pound cake in his hands, hoping he gets invited to a Game of Thrones watch party.

‘I catch a body at a party, sort of herbal with the verbal’ — more favorite things

k d lang – All You Can Eat (1995)

Three years after her pop breakthrough Ingenue, k d lang and collaborator Ben Mink went the other way: space. With a basic drum pattern and the simplest of guitar parts (when a harp appears it’s like a shot of bourbon) lang drops the twang and goes torch — absolutely. All You Can Eat is closer to trip hop than country, which explains its poor commercial performance. I love the album’s grace and power; lang has never sung this well and for so long. At the time “Acquiesce” made a couple of C-90 love song mixes.

Pete Rock and CL Smooth – Mecca and the Soul Brother (1994)

A retrospective addition: I was too young to get hip hop, and this duo didn’t get much airplay beyond rap stations. One of the greatest elegies, “They Reminisce Over You (T.R.O.Y.),” did. The key to my loving this album is way in which the buttery mix complementing CL Smooth’s rolling polysyllables, which form the base for some of era’s most mellifluous raps. And with “The Basement,” “Skins,” and “Ghettos of the Mind” on this album, “They Reminisce Over You” has strong supporting actors. This album still doesn’t get the love it deserves.