Monthly Archives: June 2018

Worst Songs Ever: Neil Sedaka’s ‘Bad Blood’

Like a good single, a terrible one reveals itself with airplay and forbearance. I don’t want to hate songs; to do so would shake ever-sensitive follicles, and styling gel is expensive. I promise my readers that my list will when possible eschew obvious selections. Songs beloved by colleagues and songs to which I’m supposed to genuflect will get my full hurricane-force winds, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t take shots at a jukebox hero overplayed when I was at a college bar drinking a cranberry vodka in a plastic thimble-sized cup.

Neil Sedaka – “Bad Blood”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #1 in October 1975

After writing for himself and others a number of early sixties hits, Neil Sedaka went into eclipse as the Beatles created the impression that his kind of songcraft was obsolete. Then a decade later he signed with Elton John’s Rocket Records and boom — there they were again. “The Immigrant,” “Laughter in the Rain,” “Love Will Keep Us Together” for Captain & Tennille. But “Bad Blood” yanked the ears of youngsters who were in 1975 buying Elton John albums and singles in astonishing numbers — not since Beatlemania had an artist created such an insatiable demand for product. Continue reading

‘Say hello to your boy’

Distrusted by conservatives, mocked by the late Antonin Scalia for encasing helium gas instead of writing sturdy opinions, Anthony Kennedy was a unique figure on the bench, and like self-constructed so-called moderates like Susan Collins and Joe Manchin he encouraged supplicants, including, as the New York Times reports, the current occupier of the Oval Office: Continue reading

Worst Songs Ever: The Bangles’ ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’

Like a good single, a terrible one reveals itself after airplay and forbearance. I don’t want to hate songs; to do so would shake ever-sensitive follicles, and styling gel is expensive. I promise my readers that my list will when possible eschew obvious selections. Songs beloved by colleagues and songs to which I’m supposed to genuflect will get my full hurricane-force winds, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t take shots at a jukebox hero overplayed when I was at a college bar drinking a cranberry vodka in a plastic thimble-sized cup.

The Bangles – “Walk Like an Egyptian”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #1 in December 1986

Until 1988’s “In Your Room,” the Bangles had written not a note of their three top ten singles to date, but no one minded because the other two were “Manic Monday” and “Hazy Shade of Winter.” Continue reading

Looks like I picked the wrong day to quit readin’ Derek Walcott

With the retirement of Anthony Kennedy the Supreme Court becomes the first conservative-majority one since the early Hughes if not Taft eras. Charles Evans Hughes at least had mild Progressive roots that gave moral strength to his canny political instincts (he and Louis Brandeis torched FDR’s court-packing scheme from the Court’s side); John Roberts was incubated in the Reagan administration, which means that besides a fealty to states rights and an executive branch untrammeled in national security matters Roberts believes, like Reagan and Mike Deaver did, in the appearance of things. To believe in the Supreme Court As An Institution requires preserving epochal decisions as Potemkin villages while a host of narrow rulings erodes their core and reach.

A Trump administration protected by a supine Congress and a cooperative SCOTUS has accelerated the atomizing of the Union. Citizens in liberal-leaning states can depend on their local elected officials and governors to preserve their essential liberties and everyday matters like access to health care and collective bargaining. Elected officials in conservative ones let their citizens die. Thanks to the latest, ah, jurisprudential directions, we’re reverting to a miscellany of states reminiscent of the Progressive or pre-Civil War era. Income inequality exacerbates this sense of every-man-for-himself.

I’ve seen a number of proposals floating around this morning about how to handle a Senate vote on Kennedy’s replacement. Here’s one:

Earlier this month, University of Miami political scientist Gregory Koger, a specialist in filibustering and legislative obstructionism, explained on Vox.com that, according to Article 1, Section 5 of the U.S. Constitution, “a majority … shall constitute a quorum to do business” in the Senate — meaning that Democrats can basically shut the place down by refusing to vote on anything.

With only the barest 51-vote majority — and one of their own, Arizona Sen. John McCain, on extended leave in Arizona as he grapples with what is likely to be terminal brain cancer — Republicans would have difficultly mustering a quorum without at least some Democratic help. “In the month of June, there have been an average of 1.8 Republican absences across 18 roll call votes,” Koger wrote, “so even if McCain returned to the Senate, the majority would struggle to consistently provide a floor majority.” If McCain doesn’t return, and all 49 Democrats refuse to participate, the 50 Republican senators left in Washington would fall one short of a quorum. (The Senate precedents on quorums do not mention whether Vice President Mike Pence could contribute a 51st vote.)

In that case, “the Senate can do nothing,” Koger concluded. “No bill can pass, no amendment can be decided on, no nominations can get approved.” The Senate would screech to a halt for lack of a quorum — and Democrats could conceivably delay a confirmation vote until a new Senate, perhaps with a narrow Democratic majority, is seated next January.

I’m unpersuaded. Can you imagine Mitch McConnell and the GOP senators taking credit for being the responsible party, the party that Wants To Get Things Done?

Meanwhile Alex Pareene, taking nineteenth century precedent as his lode star, wonders why the Court couldn’t conduct its business with eight justices:

And if there is no need for a ninth member, and if President Trump is not qualified to appoint one anyway, the way forward is clear: Deny quorum until everyone accepts the eight justice status quo. Senate moderates in both parties, including pro-choice Republicans Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, should be thrilled with an evenly balanced Supreme Court, with the four conservatives and four liberals being forced to find common ground, and persuade one another, instead of deciding things on nakedly partisan grounds. Anthony Kennedy has given centrists, and all who regret the incivility of the current moment, a gift, and it would be irresponsible to waste it by replacing him.

I have friends who are friends with Pareene, and I know him well enough to see the tongue in cheek (hell, many commenters took to heart his remarks about the moderateness of Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, and John McCain).

Back to calling Bill Nelson and reading Derek Walcott on my lunch break

Worst Songs Ever: Blind Melon’s ‘No Rain’

Like a good single, a terrible one reveals itself after airplay and forbearance. I don’t want to hate songs; to do so would shake ever-sensitive follicles, and styling gel is expensive. I promise my readers that my list will when possible eschew obvious selections. Songs beloved by colleagues and songs to which I’m supposed to genuflect will get my full hurricane-force winds, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t take shots at a jukebox hero overplayed when I was at a college bar drinking a cranberry vodka in a plastic thimble-sized cup.

Blind Melon – “No Rain”
PEAK CHART POSITION: #1 on Modern Rock Chart, September 1993; #20 in October 1993.

As much – as strenuously in spots – as I try to expound on the flaws of these songs I despise, I occasionally bump into a “No Rain,” for which no explanation is reasonable. Every note is objectionable, every lyric an incitement. Continue reading

So it has come to this — the retirement of Anthony Kennedy

Nothing showed Anthony Kennedy’s character than the manner in which he left. The crucial vote on Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Romer v. Evans, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, and Obergefell v. Hodges has ceded his seat to a successor that will destroy the nuances of his majority opinions and concurrences and take a portable fan to the gaseous vapors of his rhetoric. But of course Presidents Jeb!, Plankton, and Cruz would have replaced Kennedy with a Federalist Society dragon too, which nominee would have reminded MSNBC libs that Anthony Kennedy also wrote the majority opinion in Citizens United, was in the minority in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius

If there’s one thing the GOP has gotten right since the Reagan era, it’s obsessing over SCOTUS. In the next decade, as the Court makes the 1930s Court look like Earl Warren’s, Dems may learn that lesson too when they send fundraising emails. Because, my readers, the landscape looks as storm-blasted as I’ve ever seen. Those religious exemptions carved out for bakers? Watch more religious exemptions than there are Protestant sects emerge from the gay marriage decision Obergefell. John Roberts wouldn’t dare take on Brown v. Board of Education and Griswold directly; as he demonstrated in Shelby County, the Voting Rights Act case of 2013, why overrule when you bleed by a hundred cuts? Already I imagine wicked little men and women in Nebraska or Mississippi sending a test case through the state and federal appeals courts that will, inevitably, land in DC. The Court will grant cert. The Court will vote 5-4 to allow Nebraska or Mississippi to ban abortions if the state saw fit, perhaps using a religious exemption clause. Thus, the end of Roe. You’d have to live in a state that allows Planned Parenthood clinics.

Like every Republican, Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski were created in labs that programmed their DNA with an anti-Roe animus. They won’t fold, I don’t think. Let me not sound hopeless. But it would take every constituent in Maine and Alaska ringing their phones off the hook for weeks for them to waver. By all means let’s try it. My senior senator, fighting for his life against a governor who should be in jail, voted no on Neil Gorsuch in 2017. Whether Joe Manchin, Heidi Heitkamp, and Joe Donnelly hold the line is another matter.

(I’ve no regrets about Harry Reid’s eliminating the judicial filibuster in 2013. First, it had practical consequences: many more Obama-nominated judges are on the bench for years to come. It also was a positive gesture. We know what Mitch McConnell is. He would have eliminated that filibuster himself had he had the chance. When he threatened Democrats last year during the Gorsuch nomination battle with eliminating the filibuster for SCOTUS justices, everyone knew that if the Dems acquiesced we’d be right back where we started in 2018 with nominee Judge Roy Moore…and McConnell would have killed the filibuster for SCOTUS justices anyway).

Chuck Schumer and his aides may be consulting the Senate parliamentarian to learn what tricks they can pull, but in this amateur’s opinion it ain’t much. By all means let’s fight. I’ve already called Bill Nelson’s office; I hope my readers with Democratic senators in Trump states will do the same. Endorse any procedure to gum things up. The fight is all; the fight gives life meaning. With a Court and a pathology dedicated to vaporizing the remains of the New Deal and the Fourteenth Amendment in an attempt to get us back to Andrew Jackson’s times, being a person on the chopping block gives one a certain freedom.

Bookchat 2018 #2

Barbara Pym – Excellent Women (1952) and A Glass of Blessings (1958).

Mid twentieth century British literature boasts many figures who specialized in miniatures. Call it a response to postwar scarcity or an acknowledgment that their American cousins had the aptitude and patience for the Ike-era equivalent of the nineteenth century’s loose, baggy monsters, in Henry James’ curt dismissal. Continue reading