Monthly Archives: July 2016

I’ll tell you about her for you oughta know : Best of 1963

A trio of songs about erotic devastation, followed by the euphoric release.

Roy Orbison – In Dreams
The Ronettes – Be My Baby
George Jones – You Comb Her Hair
The Crystals – Then He Kissed Me
Jan and Dean – Surf Party
Dionne Warwick – Don’t Make Me Over
Bill Anderson – Still
Martha and the Vandellas – (Love Is Like a) Heat Wave
Buck Owens – Act Naturally
Lesley Gore – It’s My Party
Johnny Cash – Ring of Fire
The Drifters – Up on the Roof
Jackie Wilson – Baby Workout
Solomon Burke – If You Need Me
Sam Cooke – Another Saturday Night
Ray Charles – Take These Chains from My Heart
Bobby Bare – 500 Miles
Garnet Mimms & The Enchanters – Baby, Don’t You Weep
Wilson Pickett – It’s Too Late
The Surfaris – Wipe Out
Marvin Gaye – Hitch Hike
The Chiffons – One Fine Day
Ben E. King – I (Who Have Nothing)

Barack Obama, master synthesist


Drone wars. The killing of a “radicalized” American-born cleric without due process of law. The deportation of illegal immigrants. Daring to think he could treat with John Boehner. The hilarity of hiring former Wall Street people to run the economic recovery in 2009 when eighty years ago Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a worldwide depression on his hands and wouldn’t even let Andrew Mellon onto the South Lawn. I can enumerate the ways in which Barack Hussein Obama reminds me of every egomaniac who’s run for the presidency. That his much vaunted cool allows him to put Malia and Sasha to bed at night while signing off on who gets vaporized by a drone strikes me as sociopathic or psychopathic is the kind of passing judgment I’ll leave to the Robert Dallecks and Jon Meachams.

But the speech he delivered at the Democratic National Convention last night ranked with his best works: a reminder that as the child of mixed race and a lover of literature he has the talent and the ego to situate himself as the person on whom the audience projects its grandest aspirations. Obama’s self-regard and his constituency’s desire for self-realization are indivisible: as he acknowledged, he wouldn’t be on that stage without their faith in him; he wouldn’t be president without the audience defining him. Aware of his role as a synthesist, he dared the audience to disagree: “That’s why we can take the food and music and holidays and styles of other countries, and blend it into something uniquely our own.” The cords that bound him and them gave the speech’s most stirring bit its pathos:

We’re not a fragile people. We’re not a frightful people. Our power doesn’t come from some self-declared savior promising that he alone can restore order as long as we do things his way. We don’t look to be ruled. Our power comes from those immortal declarations first put to paper right here in Philadelphia all those years ago: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that We the People, can form a more perfect union. That’s who we are. That’s our birthright—the capacity to shape our own destiny

Charles Pierce, the white writer who has come closet to divining Obama’s mystery, shakes his head in wonderment:

If he has done nothing else, and he has done a great deal, Barack Obama has developed an aesthetic of cool that is his alone. It expands and extends from the way he does his job; the video prior to his appearance emphasized how he always was the calm presence in the middle of heated policy debates. It also includes the way he has carried himself in office, and the way he has carried the office itself—lightly, in its ceremonial aspects, but carefully and reverently in those parts of the job that belong most importantly to the rest of us.

He remains a graceful, cosmopolitan democrat, not unlike Thomas Jefferson, not unlike Langston Hughes, not unlike Albert Murray. His patriotism is wide and generous. It has no definite frontiers. And that’s what was born in Louisiana, in the streets and the clubs and the brothels. It came from there and it fought racism to at least a draw. It came from there and it conquered the world.

His legacy I’ll leave to the historians, but as personage he defines his historical moment as much as Bowie did his musical one.

Roisin Murphy and Nice as Fuck

Roisin Murphy – Take Her Up to Monto

Seven years separated Overworked and last year’s Hookless Tunes – uh, Hairless Toys. Now that the Irish singer’s on the assembly line it’s time to face facts. To her credit, she has no interest in recording a dance pop classic as febrile and playable as Overpowered, but quasi ballads with exquisite latticework aren’t her strength. I fooled myself into admiring Hairless Toys and still listen to “House of Glass,” but Take Her up to Monto can’t shake itself out of its mid tempo rut. As a headphone experience, though, it’s a trip. After a brisk start with “Mastermind,” in which Murphy vocoders a stream of consciousness monologue over “I Feel Love” sequencers, the orchestral swells, synth string pizzicatos, marimba, and theremin-like whistles of “Pretty Gardens” buttress a performance of beguiling divahood; Murphy excels at playing the grand dame, treating her scratched contralto as a pair of green fingernails, as a feather boa tossed over a shoulder. Solo George Clinton is not an inapposite comparison. The “Girl From Ipanema”-inspired “Lip Service” is pretty – they’re all pretty, all appropriate changes of pace on a dance pop album. Take Her up to Monto has nine of them.

Nice as Fuck – Nice as Fuck

Well, they’re right. Also boring as fuck. Au Revoir Simone’s Erika Forster and the Like’s Tennessee Thomas join Jenny Lewis for the post punk heebie jeebies: the oddest of detours for Lewis, who solo and in Rilo Kiley has mastered the southern California singer-songwriter ethos of wrapping a stiletto in a handkerchief. Imagine Lewis singing over Joy Division bass pokes and drum accompaniment and Seventeen Seconds-era Cure grimacing through the affected gloom and with enough echo to give the impression that she’s singing from the basement of a Manchester steel plant. Of course you can’t: imagine Linda Ronstadt fronting Wire. An estimable one-off if the songs had been any good. “Home Run” sounds like Blondie’s “Rapture” taken seriously. “Cookie Lips” wants to be libidinous but finds no hook worthy of its title or sampled screech. As project, this 25-minute album is innocuous. As a piece of trolling, it’s expert.

Somebody’s watching me

Through the haze of a news cycle in which Democratic supporters used the word “treason” to describe Donald Trump’s encouragement of Russian eavesdropping, this story first reported by Buzzfeed a few weeks ago looks more interesting:

At Mar-a-Lago, the Palm Beach resort he runs as a club for paying guests and celebrities, Donald Trump had a telephone console installed in his bedroom that acted like a switchboard, connecting to every phone extension on the estate, according to six former workers. Several of them said he used that console to eavesdrop on calls involving staff….

…The managing director of Mar-a-Lago, Bernd Lembcke, did not respond to emails. Reached by phone, he said he referred the email query to Trump’s headquarters and said, “I have no knowledge of what you wrote.”

At the 126-room Mar-a-Lago mansion, Trump keeps an apartment set aside for himself and his family, and rents the rest out to guests and members.

BuzzFeed News spoke with six former employees familiar with the phone system at the estate.

Four of them — speaking on condition of anonymity because they signed nondisclosure agreements — said that Trump listened in on phone calls at the club during the mid-2000s. They did not know if he eavesdropped more recently.

They said he listened in on calls between club employees or, in some cases, between staff and guests. None of them knew of Trump eavesdropping on guests or members talking on private calls with people who were not employees of Mar-a-Lago. They also said that Trump could eavesdrop only on calls made on the club’s landlines and not on calls made from guests’ cell phones.

Each of these four sources said they personally saw the telephone console, which some referred to as a switchboard, in Trump’s bedroom.

None of the four supports Trump’s bid for president. All said they enjoyed their time working at Mar-a-Lago.

Visitors of Walt Disney World know that paper or card tickets don’t exist; guests get “Magic Bands,” which not only have the magical power to store tickets, hotel and dining reservations, and hotel room access, but magically act as remote GPS units tracking guests around the park. I imagine WDW’s IT headquarters rivals the NSA. Which is to say that this creepiness is legal. But the story if true adduces his Nixonian tendencies. Just stop using landlines, okay?

(h/t Digby)

DNC, Day 3: No more war edition


11:59. Good night!

11:45. As tactics, a masterful speech, moving into the center that the GOP thinks it has occupied. As rhetoric, it meshed his gift for the demotic with the phrasemaking, the latter not often among his strongest suits. I suspect “homegrown demagogues” and “We don’t look to be ruled” will be alluded to for many years.

11:38. “You are the best organizers on the planet, and I appreciate the change you made possible.”

11:26. Magnaminous salute to #feeltheBern.

11 p.m. “Our promise doesn’t come from a self-proclaimed savior; we don’t look to be ruled….America has never been what one person can do for us. It’s what we can achieve together.”

10:55. I will never escape — we will never escape — “City of Blinding Lights.”

10:46. The pundits aren’t wrong: Barack Obama’s hair has greyed damn fast.

10:40. Conor Friedersdorf

I just figured out the Tim Kaine pick: he is too bland and indistinct for any conceivable Donald Trump insult nickname to stick.

10:35. Presidents Jefferson and Wilson will not comment on the use of their Christian names.

10:31. Guys, he’s cutting of his g’s, it’s serious.

10:26. The crowd loves Kaine’s awful Trump impersonation. He looks like he tries to cop a a feel after a sip of Icehouse. But I think of Gandalf: “A fool. But an honest fool.”

10:19: “Can I tell ya a funny thing about the Senate?” Tell us one funny thing, please.

10:18. Ohhhhh…I’m sure he regretted that well-intentioned Bernie remark.

10:16. “Tough times don’t last; tough people do” — I’m bored of this muscle flexing.

10:15. I can’t imagine Tim Kaine getting mad at a shoe that won’t fit.

10:11. man do I pick on my straight Jesuit-trained friends for “Men for others.” Campaign slogan?

10:07. SEMPER FI! Trump’s remarks earlier today called for the flag-waving.

10:06. I dunno about that tie and shirt combination on Kaine: red, black, and grey-striped tie against slate grey shirt.

10:01. Senator Tim Kaine looks like a nice, innocuous man, i.e. a traditional vice president.

9:58: Tonight’s Jay Nordlinger Watch: @jaynordlinger

It’s Lisa Bonet’s husband! Ah, Lisa … #memories

9:58: Chris Matthews on Bloomberg: the speech was a defense of “pure capitalism at its finest.”

9:54. Bryan Williams: “This could be a law firm: Kravitz, Scott, and Kaine.”

9:48. Meanwhile on Earth-3, Tucker Carlson chooses to address Nancy Pelosi’s remarks, which are “under fire” for attacking Trump supporters. Not a word about Panetta, Biden, and Bloomberg. This tells me they’re worried.

9:42. Stone cold silence when he said Democrats got in the way of education reform.

9:41. Bloomberg letting his New Yawk accent out: “I don’t understaynd!”

9:39. “I’ve often encouraged business leaders to run for office…but not all.”

9:36. Understanding the strategic imperative for having Michael Bloomberg as the spokesman for independent voters doesn’t mean I have to like his prissy-smug Joe Lieberman act.

9:26. “We lead by our power rand the power of our example” is too jingoistic a line for me to endorse, but Joe Biden is the only one whose rhetorical force can give it poignancy.

9:24. “Literally.”

9:19. “Listen to me without booing or cheering.”

9:10. I still brace when an official calls the president by name. Impossible, for example, to imagine Spiro Agnew calling Richard Nixon “Dick.” Actually, I can.

9:04. Glossy promo film prefacing Vice President Joe Biden’s address. Cool clip of the young Biden, with hair and a firm voice, berating Secretary of State George Schultz for the Reagan administration’s coddling of South Africa’s govenmen.

8:59. Hi! We’re back. Long day. The former defense secretary and CIA director Leon Panetta was shouted down by, reportedly, Bernie Sanders’ California delegation. Of course this offends Very Serious People. I don’t care. It’s creepy as hell to have a former defense secretary and CIA director Leon Panetta endorse a candidate and watch a crowd shout “USA!!!” even if I’m offended by Donald Trump’s remarks.

How political establishments decay

This Corey Robin post has made the rounds. His smugness aside (“Though I’m a political theorist, one of the things I benefited from growing up when I did was that I had incredible history teachers…”), he’s right in the abstract, and the tendency to value the social sciences over history serves the interest of corporate media; but it’s got me thinking for the hundredth time about when to distinguish a world-historic thread from a terrible but familiar one. Whether Donald Trump presents a “unique” (a word I hate in any context) threat to American democracy when Richard Nixon served five and a half years as president or is part of a lineage of bellicose ignorami is a question I can’t answer until a putative Trump administration begins next January. but I wonder if Trump is Pat Buchanan in ’92 with a presidential nomination.

I keep thinking about Reagan in ’80, and the prism through which the Beltway class viewed him as a two-term governor, near winner of the ’76 primary, and media personality. The guy’s ignorance and indifference to details – which he boasted and joked about – were legend. The difference is, Ronnie can smile and quip while Trump can only do the former. So hallowed is the ground on which he tread that evidence of his detachment and unacquaintance with many of the policy points of his own administration get adduced as evidence of his kingly acumen; I don’t even need hyperlinks. Social media aggravates nominally informed citizens. If VOX isn’t uploading a lovely chart showing how Trump exists on a continuum and our friends aren’t posting the link on Facebook, I wonder who would explain it.

An hour ago Donald Trump, according to the lead in the New York Times’ story, “essentially encourag[ed] an adversarial foreign power’s cyberspying on a secretary of state’s correspondence.” My liberal friends have asked rhetorically if it’s treason. Never mind John Marshall’s opinion when the Supreme Court heard the Aaron Burr case. Never mind English common law and the Constitution. This morning liberals were hinting that Donald J. Turmp had committed treason in the hopes of shaming their conservative relatives and friends: You’ve been calling Democrats traitors my whole life? Here’s some of your own medicine. A stupid and dangerous ploy. When liberals try to beat the right at their own game they look like fools and wannabes (e.g. recall Walter Mondale attacking Ronald Reagan for suggesting he’d meet with the Soviets) or admit to their own affinities with the right (Clinton and Ricky Ray Rector, Clinton and NAFTA, Clinton and “welfare reform,” I’ll stop). Cheap, meretricious, and shriller than the competition.

And now, according to Marcy Wheeler, Clinton has trotted out Leon Pancetta. What’s next — Sandy Berger, the expert in purloining national security documents in his pants? I expect the neocon establishment that has lined up behind her in recent weeks to fulfill its end of the bargain and defend her. There are reasons why I don’t drink at 1:45 p.m.

Best films: 1995 and 1996


Satantango (Bela Tarr)
Secrets and Lies (Mike Leigh)
Walking and Talking (Nicole Holofcener)
Goodbye South, Goodbye (Hou Hsiao-Hsien)
A Summer’s Tale (Eric Rohmer)
Portrait of a Lady (Jane Campion)
Flirting With Disaster (David O. Russell)
La Ceremonie (Claude Chabrol)
Looking for Richard (Al Pacino)
Trees Lounge (Steve Buscemi)


Before Sunrise (Richard Linklater)
Wild Reeds (André Téchiné)
Safe (Todd Haynes)
Exotica (Atom Egoyan)
A Short Film About Killing (Krzysztof Kieslowski)
Crumb (Terry Zwigoff)
Babe (Chris Noonan)
Clueless (Amy Heckerling)
Devil in a Blue Dress (Carl Franklin)