She’s got the moves, baby: Madonna’s best album tracks

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Revisiting after Prince’s death Eric Henderson and Sal Cinquemani’s 2013 list of Madonna’s best album tracks led me back to 1989’s co-write/co-production “Love Song,” which in turn reminded me of what I already knew: boy, Madonna has more essential album tracks than her singles reputation suggests, and they proliferated after 1989.

To note those tracks is difficult at first: the eponymous debut kept “Think About Me” and “I Know It” to itself yet I heard the former often in early ’85 when public ardor matched her chart ambitions (Jellybean’s Madonna-written “Sidewalk Talk” got Miami airplay much earlier than its Hot 100 chart peak, for instance). But if I concede that Like a Virgin is her weakest long player, then I have to explain what “Stay” is doing on my list and I don’t feel like it; like all her Stephen Bray collaborations from this period its joi de vivre justifies itself (you can do what you like with “Shoo-Be-Doo”). Plus — it’s got firework effects! Even greater is “Over and Over,” whose symmetrical title emphasizes the will to power inseparable from physical and even spiritual attraction that was Madonna’s contribution to the language of pop semiotics. Plus — it’s got the best wordless hook of her career, rendered even more thundering in its You Can Dance remix version.

Matters were still simple for True Blue and Who’s That Girl; not much unreleased shit. Two of my closest junior high girl friends adored “Jimmy Jimmy,” while “The Look of Love” was a British top ten but a nothing here beyond the playground; I included it because it’s the period’s most poignant ballad, showcasing the best of co-writer Patrick Leonard’s atmospheric keyboards and in “All the books I’ve read, and the things I know/Never taught me to laugh, never taught to let go” some of Madonna’s best ah-bitter-fame lyrics.

Finally, let me point out “Supernatural,” a Like a Prayer outtake with fabulous self-harmonizing and sharp drumming that shows what a roll she and Leonard were on in 1989.

1. Words (Erotica)
2. Bye Bye Baby (Erotica)
3. Over and Over (Like a Virgin)
4. Let It Will Be (Confessions on a Dance Floor)
5. Where’s The Party (True Blue and You Can Dance)
6. Stay (Like a Virgin)
7. Love Tried to Welcome Me (Bedtime Stories)
8. He’s a Man (I’m Breathless)
9. In This Life (Erotica)
10. Forbidden Love (Confessions on a Dance Floor)
11. Gone (Music)
12. Love Song (Like a Prayer)
13. Sky Fits Heaven (Ray of Light)
14. Thief of Hearts (Erotica)
15. Till Death Do us Part (Like a Prayer)
16. I’d Rather Be Your Lover (Bedtime Stories)
17. Impressive Instant (Music)
18. Forbidden Love (Bedtime Stories)
19. Swim (Ray of Light)
20. Gang Bang (MDNA)

Getting out of doing these things twice: Blonde on Blonde

Facts are facts: “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” remains a horror, and among the examples of malfeasance perpetuated by Forrest Gump in the mid nineties was insisting that this #2 hit is representative of Bob Dylan. Representative of his playfulness? You bet. Of his way with horns? Sure. Of his ability to laugh mid sentence and keep truckin’? Of course. But the results are at best a whirring trifle. Blonde on Blonde has other songs I don’t like. “Pledging My Time” is twelve-bar blues filler. “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” can’t sustain its eleven-minute length; when I played my Columbia House copy in 1994 I’d fast forward through it. Without Hargus “Pig” Robbins’s piano I find it hard to remember a note of “Temporary Like Achilles.” Looking at what I’d cut reduces the album to my least favorite released between The Times They Are A-Changin’ and New Morning.

Yet! It’s still a doozy. Just when I imagined clickbait-obsessed editors would have to offer pencil shavings and organ grinders on the fiftieth anniversary of its release, Rob Sheffield forced me today to think about the Smokey Robinson influence; the singer-songewriter-producer whom Dylan, perhaps apocryphally, praised as America’s greatest poet is all over the sound of “Just Like a Woman.” Sheffield unearths the lineage between it and “The Tracks of My Tears”; I hear “The Love I Saw in You Was Just a Mirage,” recorded a year later: a lovesick ballad in which Smokey can’t resist leavening his scorn with a melody that conveys his determination to believe in the mirage anyway. His high tenor gives him the mien of a chastened seraph. Straw men who dismiss Dylan’s own melodic facility get fooled by the tug of his vocal, reluctant to leave a syllable unyanked until he can invest it with an ironist’s skepticism and a troubadour’s submission. More than twenty years later, thanks in part to repeated viewings of Annie Hall, “Just Like a Woman” still unnerves me; I’m not sure sometimes Dylan gets away with what I claim he does. To my ears he mastered this venomous admixture on 1974’s Planet Waves and 1975’s Blood on the Tracks. The two most Smokey-drenched tracks, as Sheffield argues, are “”Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine” and “I Want You,” the latter drunk on couplets, with Al Kooper’s organ the moonshine; the former a lurching beast with a surly guitar line, even angrier when The Band put eight years of experience into it.

But when I remember to play Blonde on Blonde I go to “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again,” a train going round the bend whose passengers include Shakespeare with his pointed shoes and bells, Mona with her sage advice about railroad men drinking your blood like wine, sociopathic Grandpa buried in the rocks after shooting up Main Street, and other products of Dylan’s addled brain, reeling from wine and rocks and god knows what else. With Ken Buttrey’s assured fills and more chirping Kooper organ, “Stuck Inside…” is Dylan’s happiest song; the song is in the middle of discovering itself, of sorting itself out. As gruesome as despair is to sustain, joy is hardest.

General Ross Douthat and his civil war

A time will soon come when our descendants will look at writers like Ross Douthat like the speaker in Shelley’s “Ozymandias” staring at ruins. Here’s another meteor slamming into Pangaea:

With Marco Rubio’s grudging, painful statement this week that he intends to support “the nominee” (for many Republicans, He Who Must Not Be Named), and with Paul Ryan possibly contemplating assimilation, it’s a good time to take one last look back at what I got wrong — oh, so very wrong — about the Republican Party’s leadership in the age of Donald Trump.

You and I both know this look won’t be the last. Five months and several thousand words await, not to mention the inevitable post mortem on November 9.

Before Trump’s emergence, the Republican elite was in the midst of a long-running civil war, pitting the much-hated “establishment” against the much-feared “base,” the center-right against the Tea Party, the official party leadership against a congeries of activists, media personalities and up-and-coming right-wing politicians.

The scare quotes give the game away. The “establishment” vaporized on January 20, 2009 when a black Democrat called Barack Hussein Obama put his hand on the Bible, looked Chief Justice John Roberts in the eye, and delivering the oath of office (and causing Roberts to himself fumble the words of the oath). The vapors faded when several months later a congressman named Patrick Wilson called the president of the United States a liar on national television.

But beneath the noise of battle, the establishment’s leaders and the base’s tribunes were often in near-agreement on policy (or, in some cases, on the absence thereof). The establishment wanted a more cosmopolitan and compromise-oriented party and the base a more socially conservative and combative one.

The first sentence – yep. The second – well, if you consider cutting taxes for the rich and stepping away from Mitt Romney and Bob Dole’s health plans and example of being compromise-oriented, I’ll order a round of Cosmopolitans.

Then the person whom Lord Dothan calls The Great Exposer complicated this game of bridge.

Beyond confusion and incompetence, though, there was also flirtation, normalization and finally acceptance, as a wide array of figures whose own commitments seemed incompatible with Trumpism decided that he was worth defending and eventually supporting.

Hell, no legislator wants to pass up an invitation to Sunday brunch at Cokie’s or lukewarm coffee on Chuck Todd’s show. Besides, legislators need to send their kids to private school too. They remember how good they had it in, oh, 2005.

Of course many converts to Trumpism were motivated simply by expediency, ambition, power worship.

“Many” = “all.” “Simply” = “inevitably.”

But many were clearly motivated by grudges and fears instilled by the party’s civil war, and by a sense that even though Trump might represent a grave threat to their vision of Republicanism, it would still be better to serve under his rule for a season than to risk putting their hated intraparty rivals in the catbird seat.

Now I’ve reached the diseased heart of the column. After digging a chasm as deep as a puddle between himself and the participants in his invented civil war, Douthat hints at how he’ll write the terms of his own surrender.

For those of us who have long been frustrated precisely by the smallness of those differences, the narrowness of the G.O.P. policy debate, it’s a particularly staggering result:

Sez the man who ten days ago explained how he and everyone else, including libs, want a king for president. Sez the man who wondered why gays have to be so goddamn pushy to churchgoers.

It is possible that a dishonorable, cowardly, unprincipled course will yield the result that many in both G.O.P. factions clearly crave: Trump defeated in the general election, his ideas left without a champion, and then a reversion to the party’s status quo ante, to the comforts of a tactically narrow “wacko birds versus RINOs” family feud.

But then again it’s possible that the establishment and the Tea Party are more like Byzantium and Sassanid Persia in the seventh century A.D., and Trumpism is the Arab-Muslim invasion that put an end to their long-running rivalry, destroyed the Sassanid Dynasty outright, and ushered in a very different age.

George Will is the only conservative columnist allowed to make inapposite historical and literary allusions, buddy!

Downtown Life: The Urban Voices of Daryl Hall

Now that we’re set, here’s my paper topic for EMP Pop Conference 2016:

“Downtown Life: The Urban Voices of Daryl Hall”

“Rich Girl” created the stereotype Daryl Hall would coast on in the ’80s: a sleek panther sheathed in Armani, out for kicks. The Rich Girl—c’est Daryl. Then he collaborated with Robert Fripp on metronomic beats, anarchy in the Bowery, and fractured boogie. A fallow commercial period followed, unbroken until “Kiss on My List”—their second No. 1, not long after Reagan’s inauguration. The Daryl Hall Story in the ’80s is also New York’s under Ed Koch: bust to boom, boho chic to yuppie isolation.

Philly soul clichés told only one story—a familiar one. For Hall, finding a voice meant figuring out his relationship to Philadelphia soul roots and the new sounds coming out of the Lower East Side. In 1979 he and Oates shimmied to the beat of Manhattan with a failed disco-lite crossover. On the appropriately titled Voices, Hall & Oates left tradition behind with an aggressive synthesis of new wave and R&B. But working with Arthur Baker to build that NYC electro groove resulted in Hall’s best work. Crucial to the Hall M.O. as freelancer for INXS and Diana Ross was injecting the shows of tread soul that he eschewed in his own work.

Eventually, Hall’s smugness did him in. In 1988’s “Downtown Life,” Hall wrote about “Velvet Lou,” a neighbor, now walking a dog in Jersey. “Yuppies in black with the white collar crime/They scared away the local color,” he sings over syndrums and MIDI, a student of Black music who can’t see past his exoticist clichés. The suggestion? Hall kept his street cred, Lou Reed didn’t.

Nonetheless, through assists, collaborations, and a shrewd eye on the marketplace, Daryl Hall kept his—to quote one of his songs—head above water, syncopating his artistic identity to the beat of the city.

‘Your party, not Bernie Sanders’

When I wonder, as I do when reheating black beans, “Why is Chris Matthews allowed on TV without a tuxedo and Paula Abdul judging his singing?” I realize why. Here’s what he said this afternoon in an interview with the grateful to be alive Hillary Clinton:

Look, the history of the Democratic party—your party, not Bernie Sanders. He’s not a Democrat—your party has produced the New Deal, the progressive income tax came from the Democrats, Social Security, the greatest anti-poverty program, came from Roosevelt, health-care and civil rights, and all these good things, and in every case, you had to battle Republicans against it to the last person. It’s always been a tough fight. You need 60 votes in the Senate, and you need 218 in the House. And if you don’t have them nothing gets done. Can the Bernie people be taught—not him, he can’t be taught—can the kids behind him be told that this is how it works in our system? You can call for a revolution but it ain’t gonna happen. There isn’t going to be a revolution. There’s gonna be an election and an inauguration and then there’s going to be a Congress sitting next to you that you have to deal with. Revolution sounds like a pass. You don’t have to have logic any more. We’re going to have a revolution and pay for anything.

The answer? “The Democratic oligarchs need a Third Way hack whose apprenticeship with Tip O’Neill can remind viewers of the permanent government in Washington that wants nothing done that isn’t bipartisan.” The gall of Matthews to patronize Sanders and his followers. Sanders has served in the Senate longer than Hillary Clinton. Sanders has been in elected office as long as O’Neill. I’m sure he needs no reminders of the magic numbers.

Looking fondly at her husband off camera, who nodded sagely and thickly with corners of his mouth curved downwards, Clinton recited twaddle along the lines of “We’ve got to get back to the middle.”

But return to Matthews:

Your party, not Bernie Sanders’.

Remember that sentence. He and his allies on the Hill and Wall Street are going to stop these revolutionaries in jeans from taking back what’s theirs.

The long obituary for the CD, pt. 325

Put compact disks on the list with the great auk and terrapin duck:

The discount retailer sold 1 million copies of her new album, 25 in the first 10 days of the blockbuster’s release, a company spokeswoman told Fortune. That is a record for Target.

Adele’s third CD sold 3.38 million copies in the U.S. in its first week, a new record, and is now up to 4 million sold, meaning Target accounts for 25% of the album’s total sales. And, as Billboard reported, sales of 25 have been evenly split between CDs and digital, so Target is behind half of the physical sales of the smash album.

As per a tried and true marketing tactic the retailer has used with previous hit albums, notably Taylor Swift’s Red, Target was offering three extra tracks in its exclusive edition of 25.

…As Cornell told Fortune last week at a store in Jersey City, N.J.: “Adele dropping when it did, the weekend before Thanksgiving, really helped bring in people.”

Think about it: Target accounted for at least a quarter of her total sales. Demand created supply: because Adele chose not to stream the album, fans resorted to other means. This means that, contra John Seabrook, streaming is an end, not a means.

As recently as last March, Nielsen was reporting an almost 15 percent drop in CD sales in 2014. When the fiscal year 2015 closes, I will bet that Adele’s 25 and no doubt its two predecessors as catalog albums will account for a considerable fraction of CDs sold in the United States. I don’t intend this post as a valentine to the CD, but it’s hard not to conclude that, fluke or not, phenomena like 25 subvert orthodoxy. If a Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Bieber, or Maroon 5 decides to skip Spotify, I can see a model whereby the 1 percent can continue to sell their product in the semi-traditional pre-streaming way.

Suck it, media

Regular readers that I enjoy few things so much as the continued decline of Sunday morning punditry’s influence. Like the white rural stranglehold on the GOP consciousness, the shadows cast by Washington’s permanent class of lobbyists, conflicts of interest, WaPo columnists, torture apologists, and higher education shills is redolent of another time.

Trying to explain Trumpery, David Roberts concludes that punditry and by extension reporters’ diminished influence began twenty years ago: since the Newt Gingrich era, the right “has used coordinated institutional power and the explosion of new communications technology to sap the media’s power to do damage.” Still, a truce emerged, whereby “a certain style of lying has become more or less acceptable, as long as it follows unspoken rules.” What’s acceptable to Chuck Todd and Wolf Blitzer — lies about the IRS, the Affordable Care Act, John Kerry’s war service — wasn’t to the rest of us, but, hey, the club protects its own. Who’s in, who’s out — that’s the game. Roberts:

1) Lies about policy are fine; lies about trivial, personal, or easily verifiable claims are not.

The media has been cowed from making any judgments about policy, which is why Jeb Bush can claim he’ll create 4 percent growth by fiat and not become a laughingstock. Every Republican candidate who has put out a tax plan has relied on a whole series of fantastical judgments about the ability of regressive tax cuts to spur economic growth, but Chuck Todd hasn’t denounced them as liars.

But when a politician lies about little things, personal experiences and anecdotes, the media pounces. This was notoriously on display during Al Gore’s 1999 presidential campaign, during which reporters uncovered (or in many cases, fabricated) endless misstatements or contradictions about trivial particulars. When Hillary Clinton said she once landed in Bosnia “under fire,” the media went nuts. They went nuts about the details of Kerry’s war record. They’re going nuts now about Ben Carson’s biographical anecdotes. Exposing (or hyping) stuff like this is what the media now views as “tough.”

But Donald Trump’s outsize fame and dough has created its own world, impervious to the Beltway, FOX News, and even the Koch brothers. This explains the faintest of urgency fueling the Todd-“Morning Joe” crew’s questioning of Trump about Muslims cheering in Elizabeth, New Jersey or whatever. But they created him, airing every one of their gasps alongside his drivel, like the old biddies in The Picture of Dorian Gray who tittered when Lord Henry Wotton said the most outrageous things at the dinner table (they kept inviting him).

Too late, guys. Iowa beckons.

Love streams: Adele’s ’25’

attends the Oscars Governors Ball at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 24, 2013 in Hollywood, California.

John Seabrook:

If you are an Apple or a Spotify subscriber (I am both), you are faced with a quandary over what to do about “25.” In the old days, you would have just gone out and bought the album. But streaming complicates the picture. You don’t want to buy the record because that would be giving in to what feels like a heavy-handed attempt to make us purchase the music twice—to pay another ten dollars on top of the ten-dollar monthly subscription (I have the Apple family plan, which is fifteen) for an album that will show up on streaming sooner or later. But how long do you have to wait? It could be a couple of weeks, it could be a year, or it might not be until Adele gets her diamond. How long can you wait? At least with DVD rentals, you have a pretty good idea of how long it’s going to be. But Adele and Taylor are making up the sales-to-streaming rules as they go along.

The rhetorical question on which Seabrook bases these conjectures baffles me. He assumes only casual fans use Spotify or Apple subscriptions, therefore these casual fans wouldn’t buy a physical or digital copy of Adele’s 25 — really? (“You don’t want to buy the record because that would be giving in to what feels like a heavy-handed attempt to make us purchase the music twice”). Those who care about music in the United States, casual listeners and fans, rewarded 25 with the biggest first week in music biz history. I’ll ask a rhetorical question myself: has Seabrook been to Target? I visited mine the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend. I saw a modest display in the shrunken and rather sad CD section, another by the registers; that’s where the action was. Waiting for a self-checkout lane to clear, I counted four customers buying copies of 25; one customer bought three copies. The pattern repeated all weekend, no doubt. I will bet one of my Merona dress shirts that some of those customers streamed the album or sampled it on YouTube. More consumers than Seabrook thinks use streaming services to sample the cuisine before buying.

I don’t know what Seabrook’s point is. He asks an awful lot rhetorical questions. “Album sales are profitable, but they are not the future of the music business—streaming is,” he writes for the sake of The New Yorker’s audience, many of whom bear the same relationship to ownership of 25 as the Target customers in suburbia: consider the album’s ubiquity in most stores of every stripe a fact of holiday life. Seabrook: “Could it be possible that the record business, pursuing a strategy of inflating sales by keeping an album off Spotify, Apple Music, or Deezer, is choosing short-term profits over long-term growth? (Perish the thought!).” Please, perish it. Unless I’m reading him incorrectly, he’s confusing record company profits and the revenue that artists make. That’s why Adele and Taylor Swift have reneged on streaming — the record companies are, by their calculations, less relevant than ever but just as greedy as in the days of Billy Joel and Paul McCartney making a dollar or whatever off every album sold. Of course Swift and Adele would allow their material on streaming services if their royalties were commensurate with their labor. To submit to streaming means acquiescing to caprices. I don’t understand why contributing to “significantly increased streaming subscriptions” would “benefit” artists when the system as it exists wants to drive them to penury.

Details – RIP

With Details joining the great auk, let’s take a minute to praise the stable of writers under James Truman’s stewardship in the mid nineties: Rob Sheffield, Chris Heath, Rob Tannenbaum, Glenn O’Brien, and countless others who contributed to a magazine whose vision of masculinity as insouciant, sexually ambivalent, and comfortable with objectification educated thousands of confused young men like me.

The peak of the early Truman years was the July 1992 music issue, bought on a family trip to Cancun. A Q&A on fashion advice with Bryan Ferry, Robert Smith cover story, Deee-Lite interview, exposé on rave culture, and columns penned by Anthony Kiedis and Neil Tennant. The latter’s column on the benefits of hating was one of the most eye-opening pieces I’d read, shaping my sensibility for years. I reprint it below:

If not for hatred, I wouldn’t be doing what I do now. I became a pop star because I hated football at school. I hated that whole attitude of being one of the crowd. Becoming a pop star was my revenge. Revenge for being bad at football. For not being athletic. For being mocked.

That’s the thing about negative energy, about hatred. It can be positive. It throws into relief all the things you know you like. It tells you, by elimination, what you’re about. Sometimes you can only define yourself by what you hate. Hatred becomes an inspiration; it makes you think, “What I’m doing now I totally believe in, and I don’t care what other people say.” Guided by hatred, you don’t have to follow the herd.

I hate the way people all like the same things at the same time. I’ve never understood it. When people are told about Coke – “It’s the real thing” – they should think, “No, it’s a hideous soft drink that is fantastically unhealthy to drink, full of sugar that turns into glucose that turns into fat.” They should look around America and think, “God, there are so many fat people here! Why? Because they all eat hamburgers and drink cola.” And they should hate the people who represent that. They should hate Michael Jackson for trying to foist Pepsi onto them, to make them fat victims of their own society. They should hate more. Hate Pepsi, hate Coca-Cola, hate Michael Jackson. Hate George Bush. And think about the alternatives. That’s another good thing about hatred. It makes you think about the alternatives.

Of course, these days it’s more fashionable to be positive. I hate positivity. The problem with positivity is that it’s an attitude that’s decidedly about lying back, getting screwed, and accepting it. Happily. It’s totally apolitical. It’s very, very personal and one-on-one. It’s not about changing society, it’s about caring about yourself. In fact, it’s totally about ignoring one’s economic role in society, and so it works in favor of the system. Just look at work years of personal consciousness theories have given us: those icons of the status quo, George Bush and John Major.

Positivity is fundamentally middle-class. It’s about having the time, the space and the money to sort out where your head is at. Therapy is just another side of positivity. It’s a leisure activity, a luxury for people who don’t have any real cares. It’s new age selfishness, the new way of saying that charity begins at home.

And positivity makes the world stay the same. Hatred is the force that moves society along, for better or for worse. People aren’t driven by saying, “Oh wow, I’m at peace with myself.” They’re driven by their hatred of injustice, hatred of unfairness, of how power is used.

That’s as true for pop music as it is for politics. I always feel the reason so much music comes out of Britain is because there’s so much hatred. You see or hear something and grow envious. Whereas if your positive reaction is, “Wow, that’s great,” you just sit back and think how great it is and you don’t do anything. You relax.

Luckily, I’ve never been a very relaxed person. When I look at pop music, I immediately hate things. I look at singers who say they are taking two years off to work for charity when, in fact, they’ll spend two years working on their album, and I hate them. Right now I really hate performers who make a big deal out of playing benefits and donating the proceeds from the sales of their records to charities. They could give plenty of money to charities and not tell anyone, but instead, they cash in on the fact. That’s not charity, it’s marketing. It’s about selling albums under the guise of a moral imperative. They say they’re trying to raise consciousness, as if being a celebrity gives them power and endows them with the answers to the world’s problems. But really they just want to be seen as heroes. I think it’s breathtakingly cynical and I hate it.

Another thing I hate, and another inspiration for what the Pet Shop Boys do, is the way people misunderstand pop culture. It annoys me that after more than twenty-five years, Top of the Pops, Britain’s most important pop-music TV program, changed the rules so that you have to sing live. Why? Because the people in control are the kind of conservatives who think that in the ‘60s, everything was much more talented than they are now. It’s all about Rolling Stone rock culture, which is essentially a fear of the new. Rolling Stone’s idea of a musician is Jerry Garcia, from the 60s. Look at all the ‘new’ artists – Curtis Stigers, Michael Bolton, Lenny Kravitz – all of them living in the past. I think you have to live in the future. Or at least in the present.

The Pet Shop Boys have always hated most of the prevailing attitudes and tried to do the opposite. Our hatred of what other people do has always helped us redefine our actions. To hate a lot of things is tantamount to really caring about others. If you like everything, you deal with nothing. When people hear Chris and me talking, they’re sometimes shocked by how negative we are. We’re constantly critical of everything, including ourselves. But I come from a generation that liked its artists to say what was wrong with our lives. I retain the old-fashioned belief that pop music is meant to be a challenge to society as well as an affirmation of it. And so I consider it my duty to hate things.

Reading Details in the nineties, it summoned a mode of presentation that looked as fictional and distant as Oscar Wilde’s carnation in the lapel. Look around you. Men live in Details‘ world now.

Hack vs Hack

George Will has been a walking conflict of interest ever since he prepped Ronald Reagan for his debate with Jimmy Carter in 1980, didn’t disclose the info, and on ABC congratulated him on his performance. He lunched often with Nancy Reagan, his columns feasting on the scuttlebutt. Will’s purported Toryism and mastery of polysyllabic words serve as tokens of erudition; his vacuous columns, which adduce Edmund Burke and Madison, coat received Beltwayisms in prolix displays of learning. Using his wife as the prime witness in his attack on Bill O’Reilly for “slandering” Ronald Reagan as a querulous guest in his own administration is the lamest trick ever. Does this wannabe know how reporters work? Still, O’Reilly calling Will a hack is self-loathing taken to unseen heights of hubris. And it upsets accepted boundaries of FOX News politics.

The slow death of white men

This story wins the internet. From the looks of the statistics the GOP can’t waste any more time courting middle aged white Americans, who are dying fast:

David M. Cutler, a Harvard health care economist, said that although it was known that people were dying from causes like opioid addiction, the thought was that those deaths were just blips in the health care statistics and that over all everyone’s health was improving. The new paper, he said, “shows those blips are more like incoming missiles.”

Dr. Deaton and Dr. Case (who are husband and wife) say they stumbled on their finding by accident, looking at a variety of national data sets on mortality rates and federal surveys that asked people about their levels of pain, disability and general ill health.

Dr. Deaton was looking at statistics on suicide and happiness, skeptical about whether states with a high happiness level have a low suicide rate. (They do not, he discovered; in fact, the opposite is true.) Dr. Case was interested in poor health, including chronic pain because she has suffered for 12 years from disabling and untreatable lower back pain.

Dr. Deaton noticed in national data sets that middle-aged whites were committing suicide at an unprecedented rate and that the all-cause mortality in this group was rising. But suicides alone, he and Dr. Case realized, were not enough to push up overall death rates, so they began looking at other causes of death. That led them to the discovery that deaths from drug and alcohol poisoning also increased in this group.

They concluded that taken together, suicides, drugs and alcohol explained the overall increase in deaths. The effect was largely confined to people with a high school education or less. In that group, death rates rose by 22 percent while they actually fell for those with a college education.

Twenty-two percent. No wonder this “cohort” blames Mexicans, Communists, Wall Street, free range chicken, vaccines, and Beyonce for their miseries.

‘The President was sore as blazes’

Meeting_LBJ_and_Drew_Pearson_(4)

Reviewing the journals of Drew Pearson, Thomas Mallon notes the most notorious instances of conflict of interest:

Robert Novak, known as “the Prince of Darkness,” records in his autobiography of the same name how the social connections of his writing partner, Rowland Evans, sometimes put their column in the tank for J.F.K. Things got even more complicated with the President’s brother Robert. In 1966, unbeknownst to Novak, Evans, over lunch at the Sans Souci, helped New York’s junior senator draft a statement calling for a coalition government in Vietnam. When the proposal was issued, Novak wrote a column attacking it—in keeping with the policy position that he and Evans had already established. Evans let the column run with only a little softening and then headed to Hickory Hill to apologize to Bobby. The little affair nearly ended the Evans-Novak double byline.

And on the Democratic side:

On November 13, 1967, Pearson records being told by Johnson, “You might write a paragraph showing what Wilbur Mills and Jerry Ford are doing to the country. They entered a conspiracy to prevent new taxes until there was a cut in spending. I only asked for $4 billion in new taxes this year to help pay for the war and head off inflation, but they are adamant.” It took Pearson nine days to comply. A search of his columns turns up, on November 22nd, a paragraph reporting the “inside fact” that “the President was sore as blazes” at Mills and Ford “for conspiring together to block the President’s request for a tax increase.” Newspaper readers didn’t get to see how L.B.J. urged the information on the columnist,

With George F. Will a walking, breathing ode to conflict of interest, it’s good to know that using “blazes” in a sentence is the only thing that’s changed.