Author Archives: humanizingthevacuum

Walter Mondale — RIP

Someone with a knowledge of Minnesota politics can disabuse me of pieties, I trust. I…really have nothing bad to say about Walter Mondale. He was often right when fighting Jimmy Carter, who selected him as a running mate, empowered him like no other vice president in our history (and set the standard for every successor save Dan Quayle), and listened to him except when it upset his ego. He didn’t lie to his constituents about the good of liberalism. He didn’t pander to Democrats in 1984 — he told them he would raise taxes! A decision whose obstinacy showed his debt to Carter after all. He had no chance against Ronald Reagan anyway yet defeat didn’t embitter him. Continue reading

I’m outta here as soon as I fix the flux capacitor: The best of MF Doom

A storyteller whose couplet-by-couplet sequences conjure realities as bent as Julio Cortazar’s, the late Daniel Dumile was a world-class rapper and first-rate producer. Only RZA matches him in the fluency with which he weaves musique concrète and samples of Fantastic Four and other cultural detritus. And as with other garrulous musicians like The Minutemen distinguishing songs from textures and attitudes is a mug’s game. You may not be able to tell the difference between tarragon and thyme at a good restaurant, but you’ll remember how rich the chicken tasted. Continue reading

Eastern European Cold War film ‘Isaac’ as precise and mysterious as poetry

Few Americans get to watch films set in the Baltic states over which the West and the former Soviet Union haggled for decades. On that basis alone Isaac is worth watching. It’s also an ambitious piece of work: as precise and mysterious as poetry. The young Lithuanian writer-director Jurgis Matulevicius took his film to Tallinn’s Black Nights Film Festival two years ago in 2019; it streams now as part of Miami Jewish Film Festival’s excellent lineup. Confident and dialectical, Isaac deserves a wide audience who warmed to, say, Toni Erdmann and The Square and especially the inferior Cold War. Continue reading

Singles 4/16

This week I hope to post a review of Brockhampton’s forty-seventh album, of which “Buzzcut” is a part. Friends dislike the hip-hop collective, considering them unserious or something. I admire their commitment saturation, like undergraduates concluding professors want adverbs and six pages instead of subject-verb-object and word counts; and in a pop culture of increasingly saleable queerness, they can be dirty and nasty. Danny Brown aids and abets.

Click on links for full review.

Brockhampton ft. Danny Brown – Buzzcut (8)
Brave Girls – Rollin’ (7)
Beabadoobee – Last Day On Earth (6)
All Time Low – Once In A Lifetime (6)
Twenty One Pilots – Shy Away (5)
Tenille Arts – Somebody Like That (5)
Central Cee – Commitment Issues (5)
Royal Blood – Limbo (4)
Bree Runway – HOT HOT (4)
Years & Years – Starstruck (4)
Julia Michaels – All Your Exes (1)

Ranking #1 singles, U.S. edition: 1976

What I love most about “Love Hangover” is how it wants to have it both ways about the mid seventies’ most prominent trends: agreeable talk show/supper club balladry and thumpin’ disco anthem awash in lust. Few singers of any gender could’ve amiably straddled both tendencies than Diana Ross. The Sylvers and Ohio Players didn’t brood over these differences. Continue reading

Ranking #1 singles, U.S. edition: 1977

A milestone: this post is hourglass-shaped. The Hague nominees and great ones cancel each other out. As decades approach their ends, tendencies get more pronounced, underscored. Fucking around on your spouse because growing mutton chops is an entitlement was a trope during the Ford years, and, alas, it wasn’t just David Soul and Leo Sayer responding: “Torn Between Two Lovers” at least expresses a semi-healthy statement about making do with infidelity. Continue reading

Reading Octavia Butler’s ‘Kindred’

“Nearly all of Butler’s protagonists face the accusation that their survival is a form of complicity,” writes Julian Lucas in a review of the Library of America edition of Octavia Butler’s fiction. I circled the volume when I spotted it last month at the bookstore, but it took a friend’s self-portrait reading Kindred that persuaded me to check out a library copy. I’m glad I did: I inhaled the book so quickly and thoroughly I got lightheaded, needed to slow down. Continue reading

The GOP on transgender rights: ‘They’ve chosen a war they can actually win’

Republicans insist on home rule unless they think besieged minorities are getting uppity. Behold the Florida House:

Florida’s House bill is similar to legislation passed in Idaho, which was quickly challenged in federal court and is now on hold after a judge ruled the state cannot ban transgender students from sports teams. Similar bans have been signed into law by Republican governors in Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee. Lawmakers are debating them in dozens of other states.

The Senate version would allow transgender athletes to join girls’ or women’s teams if their testosterone levels are below a certain limit for a year before they begin competition.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kaylee Tuck, R-Lake Placid, denied that the bill would ban transgender girls from playing. She argued that the bill “does not even mention the transgender language” and repeatedly referred to transgender girls using an anti-trans slur: “biological males.”

Having discarded with the relief of the morally constipated the fiction of believing in “fiscal conservatism” when Donald Trump raided the public larder, Republicans can turn their attention to what animates them: wanton cruelty to American citizens they can caricature. The attitude is not new. Writing during the Clinton impeachment about a political press whose nepotism and venality didn’t prevent them from affecting an unearned sanctimony, Greil Marcus remarked, “The secret weapon was that some belong in the United States, and some people don’t; that some are worthy, and some are worthless; that certain ideas and opinions are sanctified, and some are evil.”

No GOP legislator can point to a case where the boogeyman of a rapist preys on girls in bathrooms by pretending to be trans. “Perhaps they believe that, in picking a fight with children, they’ve chosen a war they can actually win,” Adam Serwer writes.

Conflicts between civil rights and religious freedom can certainly present thorny legal dilemmas, but most of what I’m describing here involves Republicans consciously choosing not to leave people alone. There was no threat to life or liberty that demanded same-sex-marriage bans, Sharia bans, or draconian state-level immigration laws. They embraced these causes because they believed that picking on these particular groups of people was good politics, because of their supporters’ animus toward them, and because they believed that their targets lacked the votes or political allies to properly fight back.

He refers to the attacks on trans Americans taking place in state after state with Republicans in the governor’s seat and majorities in legislatures. Thanks to ghouls like Samuel Alito, “religious freedom,” a concept as foreign to the Constitution as “liberty of contract,” has turned into a considerable weapon.

Finally, the human cost. To be queer is to dislike oxygen because it tastes like fear; to be queer is to dwell in a world where relatives and friends know its language and have learned its habits without sharing either with you. Transgender adolescents deal with an additional layer of disruption. “The capacity to invoke fear, whether of gods or humans, is all about power: who can act coercively, who can control thoughts and behaviors,” Ashon Crawley writes this week in a marvelous piece about the impact of Lil Nas X’s “Montero” video on her. It’s as if conservative legislators had indeed watched the video, and felt afraid themselves: their assumptions, appeals to an old order, and perhaps their own suppressed desires stirred by forces they can stifle with pieces of paper signed by governors.