Thursday, October 30, 2008

Diner is a great movie, worthy of the popular comparisons to Federico Fellini's I Vitelloni, another coming-of-age film in which the male director turns a bemused, pitiless gaze on the behavior of young men who don't get enough tail or for whom tail is no longer enough. James Wolcott remembers his favorite moment: the roast beef sandwich exchange between Paul Reiser and Steve Guttenberg, watched by Daniel Stern and Kevin Bacon as grinning Furies. Sure, Quentin Tarantino no doubt rewound this scene at the video store at which he worked many times; the rhythms predict what he'd do with a half dozen hit men in a coffee shop discussing the decline of Madonna's songwriting.

According to Wolcott, Pauline Kael (whose review of this unreleased film in 1982 was instrumental in getting it played somewhere, anywhere) admitted her own bafflement at the screening -- the young Wolcott served as "interpreter to [Diner's] strange tribal ways." Even acknowledging how familiarity dulls us to an older generation's shock, I can't say what struck her as so weird about the roast beef scene. My favorites moments in Diner rely on the "disjointed" rhythms that Wolcott mentions. The post-introductory credits school dance, for example, at which we meet most of the main characters, features Mickey Rourke descending to a basement to rescue a shockingly young, callow, harmless Kevin Bacon. Rourke interrupts Bacon smashing windows. When asked why, Bacon shrugs and says, "For a smile." As we later discover, it's a perfect encapsulation of this spontaneous, doomed character, but in that minute it has the smell of something offhand that analysis can't contain -- it evokes life as lived. I felt protective of Bacon, and Rourke's slight pause as he tries to figure out how to respond is an echo; he wants to protect his buddy too.

Another gem: the close-up of Tim Daly as he stares stolidly into space, while Guttenberg and his mother reenact their habitual coming-home argument: he wants a bologna sandwich, she won't make it, he insists, she surrenders. Daly, also home for the holidays, knows how this scene will play, and he's bored stiff; but we know he'll be back next year, and he'll protect his integrity by signaling his boredom again.

It's true: with the exception of Bacon, and maybe Barkin, not one of the actors has struck these grace notes, or pulled something notable out of themselves this notable again (I say this as a fan of Reiser's King Smarm turn in Aliens). Nor Levinson, for that matter.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

McCain the Socialist

At an October 2000 appearance on "Hardball," before a college audience:

Sarah Palin's an even bigger egregious apostle of Marx, Hendrik Hertzberg reminds us:
For her part, Sarah Palin, who has lately taken to calling Obama “Barack the Wealth Spreader,” seems to be something of a suspect character herself. She is, at the very least, a fellow-traveller of what might be called socialism with an Alaskan face. The state that she governs has no income or sales tax. Instead, it imposes huge levies on the oil companies that lease its oil fields. The proceeds finance the government’s activities and enable it to issue a four-figure annual check to every man, woman, and child in the state. One of the reasons Palin has been a popular governor is that she added an extra twelve hundred dollars to this year’s check, bringing the per-person total to $3,269. A few weeks before she was nominated for Vice-President, she told a visiting journalist—Philip Gourevitch, of this magazine—that “we’re set up, unlike other states in the union, where it’s collectively Alaskans own the resources. So we share in the wealth when the development of these resources occurs.” Perhaps there is some meaningful distinction between spreading the wealth and sharing it (“collectively,” no less), but finding it would require the analytic skills of Karl the Marxist.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Silly, but I'm a sucker for pastiche like this -- in this case, Edmund Morris' fictional recreation of how Theodore Roosevelt, John McCain's political hero, might have said about the presidential campaign had he been a paid consultant on FOX News or MSNBC (fat chance). As author of one of the great multi-part biographies of the last thirty years, Morris understands how his subject's conflict between staying loyal to an instinctual embrace of muscle-flexing and respect for "logothetes" might have provoked an unprecedented throwing up of hands by the great Bull Moose himself.

On Obama:
A. He may and probably will turn out to be a perfectly respectable president, whose achievements will be disheartening compared with what we had expected, but who nevertheless will have done well enough to justify us in renominating him — for you must remember that to renominate him would be a very serious thing, only to be justified by really strong reasons.

Q. He doesn’t have Mr. McCain’s foreign policy experience. As president, how would he personify us around the world?

A. It always pays for a nation to be a gentleman.

Q. There’ll be Joe Biden to counsel him, of course. Assuming Mr. Obama can keep track of what he’s saying.

A. (laughing) You can’t nail marmalade against a wall.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

If I'm to believe Mom's complaints, ACORN is this election's bugaboo. Two of the best rebuttals to claims of voter registration and voter fraud -- or, rather, the conflation of voter registration with voter fraud: Christopher Hayes himself votes twice (sort of); and Dahlia Litwick, who ignores now irrefutable evidence that the presidential election of 1960 was rigged but nevertheless points the finger at the public figures responsible for perpetuating the paranoia as recently as last year (hint: the acronym rhymes with "bloatus") .
These two posts offer comfort. It's hard to consider art when you're constantly checking political blogs until November 4.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Should John McCain win in 11 days, he can't credit his team, which has run the shallowest, most image-centered campaign since the 1988 presidential race. Robert Draper's excellent NYT Magazine story (published this Sunday) may have the same effect as Ron Suskind's infamous Bush White House piece published shortly before Election Day. What emerges from Draper's story is the pathetic fumbling of a man whose eminently marketable virtues – virtues he has never stopped trumpeting – failed to mesh with the designs of his advisers. 

Oh dear:
Despite their leeriness of being quoted, McCain’s senior advisers remained palpably confident of victory — at least until very recently. By October, the succession of backfiring narratives would compel some to reappraise not only McCain’s chances but also the decisions made by Schmidt, who only a short time ago was hailed as the savior who brought discipline and unrepentant toughness to a listing campaign. “For better or for worse, our campaign has been fought from tactic to tactic,” one senior adviser glumly acknowledged to me in early October, just after Schmidt received authorization from McCain to unleash a new wave of ads attacking Obama’s character. “So this is the new tactic.”
"Tactics." When you rely on "tactics," you doom yourself to play defense. The real tragedy is how a person who depended as much on literal and metaphorical war wounds to bolster his integrity as John McCain found, too late, that these wounds and the "tactics" of modern campaigning are irreconcilable. He can talk to Bob Dole about it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pokey in spots, and Juliette Binoche's dye job makes her look like she's auditioning to play Courtney Love, but I rather loved The Flight of the Red Balloon, especially since the original film is oh-so-precious. Rewatching a scene in which Binoche and Song Fang gently argue over the acceptance of a gift in the former's apartment, I was struck by how wittily Hou pans between the child and the adults; it's like James' What Maisie Knew -- this child barely cognizant of what these confused adults are up to; yet there's enough distance between his perceptions and ours that the two women's interactions are regarded quizzically, affectionately (the apartment in which most of the drama unspools becomes a fourth main character). As a Hou dilettante (I've only loved The Flowers of Shanghai and the silent bit in Three Times), I accepted the substitution of Paris for Taiwan, and the injection of Binoche's starpower into a scenario which under different circumstances might try my patience as much as it did Godfrey Cheshire's; if we can accept this beautiful woman as harried to the point of desperation, we can absolve the visual didacticism enforced whenever that damn red balloon bumps against a window. Star power as jus' folks.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Ned and I had the same thought about the most important part of Colin Powell's endorsement of Sen. Barack Obama: he emphasized the damage that repeated invocations of "Muslim" does to young men in Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Pakistan watching Al Jazeera:
We have two wars. We have economic problems. We have health problems. We have education problems. We have infrastructure problems. We have problems around the world with our allies. So those are the problems the American people wanted to hear about, not about Mr. Ayers, not about who’s a Muslim or who’s not a Muslim. Those kinds of images going out on Al-Jazeera are killing us around the world.

And we have got to say to the world, it doesn’t make any difference who you are or what you are, if you’re an American, you’re an American. And this business, for example, of the congressman from Minnesota who’s going around saying, “Let’s examine all congressmen to see who is pro-America or not pro-America” — we have got to stop this kind of nonsense, pull ourselves together and remember that our great strength is in our unity and in our diversity. And so, that really was driving me.
And Ned's anecdote is wrenching.
A scary loop:

Friday, October 17, 2008


Paranoid Park: By far the most effective of the series of teen anomie films that Gus Van Sant has released since abandoning a potentially lucrative career grinding out Good Will Hunting clones. The Warholian stoner ogling of vacuous, pillow-lipped boys around which Gerry, Elephant, and Last Days were centered still dominates, but the chronological games awaken him. Exploiting non actor Gabe Nevins's wan interest in sex and the world of adults is a shrewd move; when things go wrong, so completely is the film's sensibility tied to Nevins that we get no sense of imminent doom, which makes PP's impact vaguely horrifying hours later.

Standard Operating Procedure: Although much more effective than Errol Morris' hagiographic portrait of former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara called The Fog of War (it could have been called The Fog of Interviewing), it fetishizes blood and guts (closeups of dripping noses and mouths) and intercuts dramatic recreations of events that look like "Unsolved Mysteries" stock footage. Another strike: who told filmmakers that Philip Glass-inspired scores suggest mystery and seriousness?

Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist: In 2020, teens will watch this on their computers and smirk at the fashions, attitudes, and music. Director/screenwriter/retired child actor Michael Cera will explain their intentions on a rueful, punchy commentary track. Adults will note that hackneyed plot contrivances and vomit jokes still charm the young (and some adults). Michael Cera is smart enough to note it publicly too.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Ross Douthat's latest post is rather stunning, considering its source. Lacking the national profile of a David Brooks or George Will as the Liberal's Favorite Conservative, he's quietly plowed a steady, unnoticed furrow this last year, pointing to the upcoming GOP disaster all year with grace and insights.

But now he's had it. Specifically mentioning Victor Davis Hanson, Mark Steyn, and Mark Levin, he questions the logic of casting out apostates from a party too beholden to an orthodoxy that can no longer attract the young, gays, women, blacks, and military families:
Even if Brooks and Noonan and Buckley and Dreher and Kathleen Parker and David Frum and Heather Mac Donald and Bruce Bartlett and George Will and on and on - note the ideological diversity in the ranks of conservatives who aren't Helping The Team these days - are all just snobs and careerists who quit or cavil or cover their asses when the going gets tough and their "seat at the table" is threatened, an American conservative movement that consists entirely of those pundits with the rock-hard testicular fortitude required to never take sides against the family seems like a pretty small tent at this point. And if I were Hanson or Levin or Steyn I'd be devoting a little less time to ritual denunciations of heretics and RINOs, and at least a little more time to figuring out how to build the sort of ship that will make the rats of the DC/NY corridor want to scramble back on board, however much it makes you sick to have them back.
Former Bush speechwriter David Frum's in the same snit, after a series of posts questioning Sarah Palin's qualifications and John McCain's sanity:
I receive emails from readers every day who tell me that the only possible motive I could have for expressing doubts about the McCain ticket is my desire to attend cocktail parties, appear on TV, apply for a job in the Obama administration etc. Now I see this line of accusation appearing in the Corner too.

Let's develop this thought a little. Suppose it were true? Suppose I were indeed a venal, light-minded chaser after television appearances and social invitations. What difference would it make?

Do my correspondents (and now my Corner colleagues) truly believe that - but for my pitiful media and social ambitions - nobody in America would have noticed that Sarah Palin cannot speak three coherent consecutive words about finance or economics?
I'm tempted to say, "Eat me." But every political party faces a moment of similar crisis: the Democrats did after the 1980, 1984, and 1988 presidential elections. The Dems had their version of crackpots like this, the paranoia exposed when you teeter on the edge of defeat. The wilderness can be refreshing.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Just when you think the right can't get any more desperate, it accuses William Ayres of ghostwriting Barack Obama's Dreams From My Father. Their argument? Since before the memoir's publication Obama's paper trail was thin, we have no way of ascertaining how Obama developed as a writer. Further: since Ayres' own memor includes descriptive passages (which are, actually, the most leaden bits in DFMF; it's Obama flexing his creative writing class muscles), we must assume that his "associate" had a hand in them. In short, the book is too well written.

Friday, October 10, 2008

A sweet, mild-voiced crooner, Ne-Yo was best enjoyed in singles. "Sexy Love" topped my 2006 list, and "Because of You" came up one notch short of doing the same last year. Co-written with the Norwegian team Stargate, these exquisitely upholstered songs nevertheless were as basic and fleet as MINI Coopers. They said what they meant, incrementally elaborating on lyrical tags atop pizzicato harp and thwackety percussion. In My Own Words was hits-plus-filler, though, and Because of You more so. I had no expectations for Year of the Gentlemen, especially after first single "Closer" irritated me.

But in this case, "no expectations" prepared me for "surpassed expectations."Not only is YOTG his best album, it's one of the most assured R&B albums of the decade (this review was encouraging). By honing his lyrics and vocals to the restraint of the Stargate productions, Ne-Yo comes damn close to recording the modern equivalent of a Smokey Robinson and the Miracles album. His wordplay isn't particularly clever, but he's mastered a way of adapting a shopworn phrase so that it illuminates an unpredictable situation -- the situations in which all lovers convince themselves that no one else has been in them. Ne-Yo says what he means and then some; he's the gentlest, most pliant love man around. He avoids bathos by virtue of the unstinting precision of his singing and writing. In "Mad" and "Fade in the Background," he's passive without being a pushover. "Why Does She Stay" asks a question that implicates the interlocutor as much as the subject. But he's a horny bastard: "Single" presents a challenge that makes you worry about her endurance. Only "Stop This World" gets goopy.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

People just float

A couple of reviews of Bob Dylan's Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Volume 8 have praised the directness of the demos and alternate arrangements of several songs that producer Daniel Lanois subjected to the Lanois Treatment on 1989's Oh Mercy and 1997's Time Out of Mind. While I've never balked at revisionism, this is unfair. Were I to pitch an Idolator column, I'd title it "Most Overrated Comebacks by Major Artists," and TOOM would head the list. Although this Dylanphile listened to it as much as any other product in 1997, admiring especially how that croak harmonized with Augie Meyers' organ, I thought the album itself played like a collection of sketches of a mood, and a mood the artist could not limn beyond broad strokes. Eleven years later, I still can't hum or mention a single memorable line in "Can't Wait," "Til I Fell In Love With You," and "Million Miles" (the titles should have been dead giveaways, or DOA's). Lanois' voodoo consists of conjuring heavy drapes he can drop over songs of questionable merit and poorly conceived intent, and he exacerbates the problem by ordering several guitarists and keyboardists to search for the melody line that Dylan himself hasn't written; Time Out of Mind is Dylan's version of a late eighties Bryan Ferry record.

Oh Mercy's another story. I'm sentimental about the record, admittedly. I bought it after the four old farts and wannabe old fart in the Traveling Wilburys convinced me with their album that their respective back catalogues were worth the exploration. My local library owned the OM cassette, and I listened to it obsessively in the spring of 1990, getting off on how Dylan's aged sneer jabbed at Lanois' atmospherics; it was a draw, but I loved both, and naive me preferred Dylan's voice to his lyrics even then. But Dylan was on some kind of songwriting roll. As Chronicles confirms, he felt sufficiently jazzed by the New Orleans setting in which he recorded the album to bolster his flagging self-confidence. I'll take "Man in the Long Black Coat," "Where Teardrops Fall," "What Good Am I," "Shooting Star," "Most of the Time," and "What Was It You Wanted" over the TOOM deadweight I cited above. As much as I adore Blood On The Tracks, I also have a lot of time for Dylan albums which reflect the artist's confused miscellany of influences and moods: Blonde on Blonde, New Morning, Empire Burlesque. For all its craft, TOOM sounds like Dylan on a creative writing assignment: define despair. Oh Mercy's relaxed groove and we'll-try-anything-once spirit (embodied by the boneheaded "Political World" and "Disease of Conceit") suits a newly middle aged man who's just beginning to turn inward in order to confront the world.

This serves as a long preface to the song I really wanted to write about. The OM outtake "Series of Dreams" appears on Tell Tale Signs unblemished by the synths and echo -- no doubt this is how Dylan prefers it, as the outtakes of "Love & Theft"'s "Mississippi" make the original sound like New Order by comparison. I understand why Dylan didn't include "Series of Dreams" on OM: it's portentous in a way none of the other songs are; it would have been like including "Every Grain of Sand" on Knocked Out Loaded, or hell, "Blind Willie McTell" on Infidels. "Series of Dreams" does its title justice -- the demos don't. Lanois' instincts, finally, were correct. The keyboard swells that hug the sudden chord change signaled by the perfect line "Dreams where the umbrella is folded" evade common sense much like Dylan's vocals. It's the best self-written song he recorded before 2000's "Things Have Changed," only this time you can't separate the singer's authority from the production in which it's safely encased. Dylan doesn't bleat or bellow; as in all his best work, he trusts the path his lyrics trod. It's the culmination of what he attempted on 1985's Empire Burlesque (around which there's a thriving cult anyway) on tracks like "Something's Burning, Baby" -- there's something happening here, he don't know what it is, yet he's old enough to guess, with a little help from his friends, even if they wear their hair in ponytails or sport "Miami Vice" jackets.

So do me a favor and remember the possibilities in Dylan's voice, and how Lanois and Jack Frost (har har) best served him.
This really sucks. Learning how bad it looks dumps cold water on a recent positive development, about which I'll have more to say soon.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

James Wolcott, in prose so purple it looks like Dino the Dinosaur's skin tone, spells out what's at stake for me in November:
I harbor no grand illusions about Obama, he isn't my messiah (I don't have a messiah, the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson supplying more than enough transcendence to last a lifetime), and I'm still not sure how much he comprehends how gravely this country has been gutted over the last decade. My rooting interest is less about Obama himself than about how big a hurt he can put to the Republican Party. I don't want the Republican Party simply defeated in November, I want to see it smashed beyond all recognition, in such wriggling, writhing, anguished disarray that it can barely reconstitute itself, so desperate for answers that it looks to Newt Gingrich for visionary guidance, his wisdom and insight providing the perfect cup of hemlock to finish off the conservative movement for good so that it can rot in the salted earth of memory unmissed and unmourned in toxic obscurity.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Not quite human

Although their two previous albums are firmly in the okay-to-pretty-good category, The Killers have been a consistent singles band (their only dog is "Bones"). The Jacques Lu Cont remix of "Mr Brightside," "When You Were Young," and the Pet Shop Boys' remix of "Read My Mind" have made my singles best-of list for the last three years; only Missy Elliott has a comparable winning streak. Brandon Flowers' voice, while pinched and too wispy at the high end, is attractive in a Phil Oakey sort of way: if it wasn't for his band, he'd probably be the manager of a chic cigar bar in Chicago, one who selects the in-house music, most of which is composed of selections from New Romantic synth-duo acts. He's so awkward. They're so awkward. Every song, even the ones I like, teeters on the edge of collapse as a result of a misplaced guitar riff or Flowers' overwrought emoting.

But it's endearing. Flowers and the three ugly guys in his band hide behind the glossy mirrorball pulse, and when it throbs as insistently as it does on their new single "Human," they can make you forget that the bland roundness of Flowers' face isn't the only indicator of how whitebread his ambitions and lusts are. Andrew Unterberger writes, "They idolize David Bowie, but sound awkward and confused singing come-ons. They wanna be as important as U2, but don’t care about anything in particular." I would say, "Like Bowie, they're awkward and confused singing come-ons; like U2 they want to be important but care about nothing in particular." Which is why a chorus like "Are we human/Or are we dancer?," positing an ontological tease as mere mirror moves, is his most convincing twaddle yet. David Keunig's treated arpeggio, with its echoes of Lu Cont's work on Madonna's "Sorry," adds the right kind of tinsel.

The Killers make excellent targets: those absurd mustaches, their Texas ties, the symphonic pretensions. Flowers' gay envy is touchingly misplaced, but without it they'd be one more modern act with revved-up sonics and a dry jockstrap. The Killers need it; beneath the pulp they're emotionally opaque. I'd tempted to classify them as "post-adult" for the clumsiness with which their lyrics inflate teenage melodrama into teenage poetry, and the distance between Flowers and the din of the music.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

As economic and political news have dominated headlines, the Hurricane Ike recovery effort has received little coverage. This account of what dead or missing victims told surviving loved ones is grim reading.
Dolores Brookshire, a 72-year-old part-time cashier, called her niece, Joann Mier, at 5 a.m. on the day the outer bands of the storm arrived. She had no car and lived in a house in Port Bolivar with her son, Charles Allen Garrett, 42, who used a wheelchair.

Ms. Brookshire told her niece that the street was already filling with water and that a neighbor who had promised them a ride to Dallas had never shown up.

“She says, ‘I’m calling you to tell you that I love you and to tell you bye,’ ” Ms. Mier recalled, “and I said, ‘Why? Where are you going?’ and she says ‘Nowhere. Me and Allen are going to drown.’ ”

Then Ms. Brookshire told her niece she was going to try to push her son through the rising water to a brick grocery store where she worked. They have not been seen since.

Friday, October 3, 2008

There are plenty of hacks in the Democratic Party, and plenty of starstruck twaddle uttered in Obama's behalf, but Rich Lowry and Peggy Noonan are supposed to be adults.

I'm sure I'm not the only male in America who, when Palin dropped her first wink, sat up a little straighter on the couch and said, "Hey, I think she just winked at me." And her smile. By the end, when she clearly knew she was doing well, it was so sparkling it was almost mesmerizing. It sent little starbursts through the screen and ricocheting around the living rooms of America. This is a quality that can't be learned; it's either something you have or you don't, and man, she's got it.

The heart of her message was a complete populist pitch. "Joe Six-Pack" and "soccer moms" should unite to fight the tormentors who forced mortgages on us. She spoke of "Main Streeters like me." A question is at what point shiny, happy populism becomes cheerful manipulation.

Sarah Palin saved John McCain again Thursday night. She is the political equivalent of cardiac paddles: Clear! Zap! We've got a beat! She will re-electrify the base. More than that, an hour and a half of talking to America will take her to a new level of stardom. Watch her crowds this weekend. She's about to get jumpers, the old political name for people who are so excited to see you they start to jump.
Have Noonan and Lowry ever gotten laid?

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Live blogging the Veeps

10:38: Andrew Sullivan on the real loser: "Gwen Ifill. She was intimidated, peripheral, neutered. The rules didn't help. But Ifill put in a dreadful performance." Time for a smoke!

10:33: More Reagan talk. More talk about Mellencampian small towns.

10:30: We're out of wine. Perfect timing!

10:27: "I've never questioned their judgment," Biden said admirably regarding his Senate colleagues, throwing in a cute reference to the late Jesse Helms' adopted son. Interpret that as you wil.

10:21: Biden chokes up when discussing his dead wife and son. Palin looks thrown. Her scripted answer looks heartless and tinny. Can't she improvise a response?!

10:16: Iffill asks her first intelligent question: the expanded authority of the vice president in the post-Cheney age. Biden reminds us that the vice president's powers are defined under Article One of the Constitution. Palin was clueless. It's possible that this empty-vessel approach to the job means her implied powers would be...restricted. She'll be no Cheney, doubtless.

10:13: Palin gave a shout-out to third graders. This is getting great.

10:12: Palin said "Doggone it." Reagan never said "doggone it."

10:11: Why does Palin glow with good humor when she mentions higher taxes and lost jobs on Main Street?

10:09. Palin: "What do ya expect? We're a team of mavericks!" Third glass of wine.

10:04: My own EKG meter is flatlining. Biden, transforming himself into a Smart Warmonger, dithers on his Iraq votes, yet supports intervention in Darfur; Palin just chirps anti-Washington banalities.

9:59: Re Biden: so "more troops" in Afghanistan isn't a "surge"?

9:56: I Love Everything's Autumn Almanac: Biden on Israel "he totally Gandolfini breathed."

9:53: After a desultory quarter of an hour, Biden's warming up. "The only thing on the march is Iran. Its proxies now have a major stake in Lebanon, as well as on the Gaza strip." The eagerness with which Israel becomes the Lil' Bo Peep of American foreign policy pisses me off, though.

9:49: This is the part of the debate in which each side shows which has the bigger foreign policy dick.

9:47: The more I think about Palin's answer on same-sex rights, the more angry I get that Iffill let it go.

9:46: Did George H.W. Bush ever call Reagan "Ron"? Did Al Gore ever refer to Clinton as "Bill"? Stop this phony informality.

9:44: Palin's breath control is impeccable. Can't say the same about her smile control.

9:37: Palin won't even say "gay" aloud. She and Biden both support visitation rights and insurance benefits, which is less heinous than what we're used to...but still. The determined way in which both chomped down hard on the "No" regarding gay marriage tells me we still got a long road to travel before candidates talk like adults.

9:34: Totally incoherent responses on drilling from Biden and Palin.

9:26: Ugh. Why must Biden give Palin (bless her heart) credit for a "windfall profit" tax refund when it's basically a huge dole?

9:25: Second glass of wine.

9:23: "Bless their hearts," Palin purrs, regarding the heads of Alaskan oil cartels.

9:21: After a long-winded answer in which Biden recites a litany of figures that scared the shit outta me, he inserts his first zinger -- something about the Bridge to Nowhere, naturally. No sweat glistens.

9:17: "Redistribution of wealth" = 'nother buzzword. Biden really needs to stop smiling: the reflected gleam doesn't work against the power of Palin's glasses. And she's so DEE-lighted when she scoffs at the federal government.

9:14: Palin's first use of the gutter populism to which she and her supporters have turned when logic fails ("I'm not going to answer the questions the way you and the moderator may want"). It doesn't play as well here as it did at the GOP convention.

9:10: Cut to Biden during Palin's response: he's shooting General Zod death-beams from his eyes.

9:08: Oh I see. What McCain really meant when he said that "The fundamentals of the US economy are strong," he was referring to the "strength of our workforce."

9:05: Palin says "You betcha!" like Fargo's Marge Gundersen. She's staring right at the camera, and her answer as a result was admirably direct. So was Biden. I suspect these two are gonna be like two taciturn geezers at the saloon, except their teeth gleam.

9:04: Biden makes the first reference to "Main Street."

9:00: Bryan Williams, out of the gate with the evening's first generalization: "We've never had an election like this one." Tom Brokaw notes Gov. Sarah Palin's "puckish sense of humor."

9:03: Palin approaches Biden and gushes, "Can I call you Joe?!" Biden beams.
In a little while I'll attempt to live blog the vice presidential debate, over a couple of glasses of wine, gin and tonics, and a couple of loud friends. In the meantime, let me post this excerpt from Adam Gopnick's review of a new John Stuart Mill biography:
[Mill] was often hooted, and became notorious for having once described the Conservatives as “necessarily the stupidest party.” What he meant wasn’t that Conservatives were stupid; Disraeli, who was running the Tory Party then, was probably the cleverest man ever to run a political party, and Mill’s own influences from the right were immense and varied. He meant that, since true conservatism is a complicated position, demanding a good deal of restraint when action is what seems to be wanted, and a long view of history when an immediate call to arms is about, it tends to break down into tribal nationalism, which is stupidity incarnate. For Mill, intelligence is defined by sufficient detachment from one’s own case to consider it as one of many; a child becomes humanly intelligent the moment it realizes that there are other minds just like its own, working in the same way on the material available to them. The tribal nationalist is stupid because he fails to recognize that, given a slight change of location and accident of birth, he would have embraced the position of his adversary. Put him in another’s shoes and he would turn them into Army boots as well.
This reminds me of that remark of F. Scott Fitzgerald's, drawn from Keats' theory of negative capability: the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. This calcifying of thought is the contagion with which politics, even in the purportedly febrile environment of the think tank and magazine blog, is afflicted. Which is why Scott's response to the scrutiny of Palin is where I'm at today.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Hello October

The Dreadful Has Already Happened
The relatives are leaning over, staring expectantly.
They moisten their lips with their tongues. I can feel
them urging me on. I hold the baby in the air.
Heaps of broken bottles glitter in the sun.

A small band is playing old fashioned marches.
My mother is keeping time by stamping her foot.
My father is kissing a woman who keeps waving
to somebody else. There are palm trees.

The hills are spotted with orange flamboyants and tall
billowy clouds move beyond them. "Go on, Boy,"
I hear somebody say, "Go on."
I keep wondering if it will rain.

The sky darkens. There is thunder.
"Break his legs," says one of my aunts,
"Now give him a kiss." I do what I'm told.
The trees bend in the bleak tropical wind.

The baby did not scream, but I remember that sigh
when I reached inside for his tiny lungs and shook them
out in the air for the flies. The relatives cheered.
It was about that time I gave up.

Now, when I answer the phone, his lips
are in the receiver; when I sleep, his hair is gathered
around a familiar face on the pillow; wherever I search
I find his feet. He is what is left of my life.

-- Mark Strand