Thursday, February 28, 2008

This is the best recent interview of George W. Bush I've read, especially surprising considering its source. Written after the President's tour of Afrida a couple of weeks ago, Bob Geldof is an interlocutor of surpassing modesty; he is scrupulous about observing the laws of hospitality, stays mum on Iraq, and remembers that he once sported hair as offensive aesthetically as Bush's Iraq policy was geopolitically. This Bush is chatty, cheerful, immodest, insulated, and a little stupid:
I don't know how, but eventually we arrive at the great unspoken. "See, I believe we're in an ideological struggle with extremism," says the President. "These people prey on the hopeless. Hopelessness breeds terrorism. That's why this trip is a mission undertaken with the deepest sense of humanity, because those other folks will just use vulnerable people for evil. Like in Iraq."

I don't want to go there. I have my views and they're at odds with his, and I don't want to spoil the interview or be rude in the face of his hospitality. "Ah, look Mr. President. I don't want to do this really. We'll get distracted and I'm here to do Africa with you." "OK, but we got rid of tyranny." It sounded like the television Bush. It sounded too justificatory, and he doesn't ever have to justify his Africa policy. This is the person who has quadrupled aid to the poorest people on the planet. I was more comfortable with that. But his expression asked for agreement and sympathy, and I couldn't provide either.

"Mr. President, please. There are things you've done I could never possibly agree with and there are things I've done in my life that you would disapprove of, too. And that would make your hospitality awkward. The cost has been too much. History will play itself out." "I think history will prove me right," he shoots back. "Who knows," I say.
It's almost touching the degree to which Bush can only defend his policy in the longview, as if he's lost faith in the present. Geldof is right to promote the only international policy for which history will remember Bush (and Bono) without horror: quadrupling the amount of U.S. aid to AIDS-ravaged sub-Saharan Africa.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Kudos to the sober mind of Jeff Weiss for detailing my problems with the Clipse better than I could. The new mixtape is almost totally uninvolving -- so far -- and the great-beats-blah-narratives defense seems specious now. In addition, his review of Vampire Weekend is a necessary antidote to the classist bilge we've endured for weeks.

William F. Buckley, Jr. – RIP

How fitting that this sunny, loquacious man with a wit and grace notably absent in his successors should die when all signs point to the demise of the revolution he helped lead. A storied resumé: devout Catholic, a late convert to the stupidity of a "war on drugs," spy novelist, a Howard Hunt employee, Gore Vidal's most famous antagonist, and an apologist for the most pernicious forms of American imperialist adventures, especially if the conquerors palliated the eradication of Communists with bleats about free enterprise and civilization. I doubt that wit could palliate his infamous advocacy of tattooing homosexual AIDS victims (which he later retracted). We can argue about the worth of the ideas Buckley espoused – he introduced important criticism of the New Deal's influence's on Americans' relationship with federal power but had no trouble accepting aggressive foreign policy – but I prefer him as a spokesman of conservatism to any of his putative followers. Case in point: John Boehner's uproarious eulogy.

This 1969 "Firing Line" episode with Noah Chomsky shows Buckley at his most charming and wrongheaded: while Chomsky correctly insists that no differences exist between self-interest and altruism when it comes to invading sovereign nations, he' s also a grind and a bit of a clod; meanwhile Buckley crosses his legs, winks coquettishly, and waves aside Chomksy's points ("This is a matter of nomenclature").

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

My take on the Goldfrapp album, an uneasy simulaton of Everything But the Girl's Walking Wounded -- melancholic electronica, incarnated by a vocalist unable to summon a sliver of Tracy Thorn's presence.

The wit and wisdom of Nixon

Remarks from our 37th president, by far our funniest, given to acolyte Monica Crowley and published in Nixon Off the Record (1996):
He changed his tone again and said, "Murphy Brown sounds like a man. Is that that Candice Bergen Show?" I answered him, and he continued, "I met her once when she was about sixteen and I went to a party at the Bergens'. Anyway, I cannot believe that a fictional character made it into the Oval Office. The press was wrong to ask Bush about as he was standing there with [Canadian prime minister Brian] Mulroney. `Oh, gee,' I would have said, `I don't follow the show. Next question.'"
"'The 1960 election was probably the greatest election of this century because the candidates were both outstanding,' he said on September 4, 1992."
"Well! Look at that Cabinet. Aren't they an awful-looking group? My God! [Health and Human Services Secretary Donna] Shalala and [Attorney General Janet] Reno? They are so far to the left that I don't know what they are. And Hillary! She's so steely! She even claps in a controlled way. She's a true-believing liberal."
Nixon was very interested in [the Gennifer Flowers case] and its political ramifications. "They've got tapes? Well, then, he covered it up. Just like Watergate?" he asked with a smile. "At least ours was for a good cause. And no one ever profited from it."

Sunday, February 24, 2008


Why not.

Best Picture

WILL WIN: No Country For Old Men.
SHOULD WIN: I'm not a fan of There Will Be Blood either, but it and No Country are "dark" enough to satisfy Oscar fans who complain about the terrible films that usually win.

Best Director

WILL WIN: Les freres Coen
SHOULD WIN: Maybe giving Paul Thomas Anderson an Oscar will give his future films the middlebrow clarity that his enthusiasts look down on.

Best Actor

WILL WIN: Daniel Day-Lewis, There Will Be Blood
SHOULD WIN: DDL. ("No ticky, no laundry" -- Jack Nicholson, The Departed)

Best Actress

WILL WIN: Julie Christie
SHOULD WIN: She's the most overrated thing in a very fine film (and I can't fathom why Gordon Pinsent enlisted no critic-group support; were I him, I'd fire my agent), but Christie's class and grace made this perennial Oscar bait role the most thoughtful in recent memory. She's cool and precise without hinting at concealed depths, a bit like a certain Democratic Party presidential front-runner. Meanwhile her only competition should have it so good. I hate her film so much that there's a certain relief in eliminating her. But support's building for her.

Best Supporting Actor

WILL WIN: Javier Bardem
SHOULD WIN: I can't comment on Hal Holbrook or Philip Seymour Hoffman, while Casey Affleck demonstrated in Gone Baby Gone that he could accept the blue-eyed neurotic parts Joaquin Phoenix is too old for. Bardem should have won for his work in 2000's Before Night Falls, but the mass audience's been jonesing for a great villain since Anthony Hopkins won in 1991.

Best Supporting Actress

WILL WIN: Amy Ryan, Gone Baby Gone
SHOULD WIN: The most difficult category -- everyone except the lass from Atonement's got a shot. If there's any surprises tonight, it'll be in this category, which for once includes no young ingenues who win and then promptly disappear into made-for-cable movies. I'd be happy if Ryan or Tilda Swinton won. Rewatching Michael Clayton last week, I wished for the hundredth time that screenwriters made their ostensibly secondary characters their leads, since, for all the bullshit I've flung at Tony Gilroy since October for the closeups of sweaty armpits, he creates a character whose own compromises and moral failure are more devastating than George Clooney's.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

How political parties die, and rise again

Ned describes the process by which men birth ideas and then, after several convulsions and wheezes, die:
But there’s a larger if extremely obvious point to be made, that the definitions of what is assumed as conservatism, as much as liberalism, changes with time — carrying [William F.] Buckley’s point back in time, for example, he’s essentially saying that in the 1910s he would have been standing athwart history yelling ‘Stop!’ at said securing of the right to vote, an attitude which I rather doubt any right-leaning female voter or politico would stand for these days (though I gather Ann Coulter made one of her usual heavy-handed ‘jokes’ about that once, but who cares?).
Parties coalesce around ideas, and the continual division, dissolution, and reorganization of Democratic and Republican nomenclature is precisely why I no longer have a party affiliation. As an irrepressible contrarian, I've great sympathy for Buckley's definition of conservatism (which owes much to Burke and 19th century Toryism); in the days of the 24-hour news cycle, we need to take a deep breath and not let our enthusiasms occlude our judgments. That his party didn't observe his adage is only natural, as power creates its own rules, and Republicans have been in power for a long time, often with a lot of help from their friends "across the aisle."

For most of the years between 1865 and 1965 little separated a Republican from a Democrat; the surrender of the GOP to the Democratic South's stranglehold on the Supreme Court and Senate regarding civil rights remains one of the shameful episodes in our history. This same Democrat-controlled Congress backed away from the promise of the New Deal (the period in which "liberal" began its storied association with the party). Until FDR only once would the Democrats produce a candidate willing to discard old paradigms, and with all we know today, would you prefer the status quo of watchchains and laissez-faire as incarnated by Henry Cabot Lodge and Warren Harding or that vile messianic prig known as Woodrow Wilson? We also know how the events of the late sixties cleaved the parties into the shapes we know today. Ronald Reagan was the figure around whom disaffected Southerners and conservatives would rally, a solid bloc that would last until 2004, when these kinds of Republicans discovered that, while you can ignore evolution, you can't do the same to entropy.

A McCain profile in this week's New Yorker is indicative: we learn how shrewdly the GOP's likely nominee courts the good press he's accustomed to getting (not anymore, heh heh), and his kinship with the long-extinct Robert Taft wing of the Republican Party, which dissolved in the wake of Eisenhower's electoral landslide in 1952 and Senate Majority Leader Lyndon Johnson's muscling his legislative body into supporting the president's foreign policy, resulting in the bipartisan conduct of Cold War geopolitics which would hold, despite several bumps, until 1989.

The history of McCain suggests that his reign as Emperor of the West would resemble Richard Nixon's in some way: enough disinterest in domestic affairs to let inevitable developments like national acceptance of gay marriage, abortion rights, and brown-skinned people cutting Mitt Romney's lawn run their course after a few disconsolate bleats for The Cornerklatch's sake; and a "muscular" foreign policy dominated by the realpolitik technocrats who, despite the loathing of the party's intelligentsia, still sneak into the Heritage Foundation's buffet line. In The New Yorker, the same David Frum whom Ned quotes understands what's happened to his party:
“The people who turned twenty between 1985 and 1990 were eight points more Republican than Democratic,” [Frum] told me. “People who turned twenty between 1970 and 1975 were eight points more Democratic than Republican. People who turned twenty between 2000 and 2005 are twelve points more Democratic.” He sees a country moving slightly to the left as Republicans are “left stranded on the right.” He told me, “If what you are is a pragmatic, business-oriented, moderate-minded person who wants things to work in a fairly competent and ethical way, and you’re under thirty—the kind of person who would have been an Eisenhower Republican and a Republican in the Nixon years and in the George H. W. Bush years—you are a Democrat today.” Frum added, “As the country becomes more single, more childless, more secular, more non-white, more immigrant, it becomes more Democratic. And all of those groups are growing.”[emphasis mine]
What we're seeing then is another realignment. If Obama wins the nomination and presidency we will have elected the first unabashed liberal Chief Executive in history; he may be "post-Vietnam" and all that, but Obama's honeyed words bespeak a role for the federal government with which George McGovern might have agreed in 1972. As for McCain, whether he wins is immaterial. The GOP of Terry Schiavo, executive secrecy, and, right, the war in Iraq is dissolving. At my university I meet lots of young conservatives, but most don't give a damn about homosexuality or illegal immigration -- what they want are jobs, and the GOP exists as a vehicle through which they funnel their anxieties. Buckley's vision of the Republican Party acknowledged no anxieties; liberals fretted about the State of Things. When parties resemble talk show audiences they don't shuffle towards Bethlehem to be born anew. In the GOP's case let's hope they no longer look at Bethlehem as someplace important.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Ted Macero - R.I.P.

I own only a dozen Miles Davis records so I'm wet behind the ears, but it's impossible to listen to the devastating segue from "It's About That Time" to In a Silent Way's title track without concluding that the man behind the boards understood, perhaps better than the creator himself (at the time, anyway; Davis' seventies records suggest he learned plenty), how violence taints even the quietest moments.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I don't agree with Stephanie Zancharek's lamentation on the Kabuki hysterics to which Daniel Day-Lewis resorts in There Will Be Blood: to these eyes it's a tensile, spare, quiet performance. If there's one way in which it could be criticized, it's how easily Paul Thomas Anderson's movie follows Day-Lewis' cue. An actor can suggest tumult and mystery; it's much harder for a film, especially one with epic ambitions. It is possible: Lawrence of Arabia found storytelling correlatives for Peter O'Toole's neurotic moos, one of the few performances in film that fuses the introspective with the histrionic (O'Toole would spend the rest of his career splitting the two, equally capable of Becket and My Favorite Year).

But, with all apologies to Pauline Kael, Lawrence didn't shirk geopolitics; we learn something about how the Sykes-Picot treaty provoked ancient enmities that weren't buried deep enough in all the sand that Lean and cinematographer Freddie Young imbued with Bowles-esque menace. As I've written already, PTA's the kind of filmmaker whose ascetics adduce his superiority to the temporal, "dated" nonsense of politics. Day-Lewis understands how the discovery of a new resource to be exploited warps Plainview's already perverse view of human relations. We see Plainview at his plainest in exchanges with fellow plutocrats (Ned says that one encounter "makes [us] wish [we] were anywhere else in the world other than opposite the table from him"). But these scene crumble into set pieces; they don't accrete into the bluntness we expect from Upton Sinclair. Maybe PTA has it in him to surpass the source material, in the same way that Orson Welles injected so much tension and nuance into The Magnificent Ambersons that it momentarily turned Booth Tarkington into Henry James (David Thomson once joked that it makes film adaptations of Henry James look like Booth Tarkington).

I can't stop thinking about this film. I want more than I got.

As for Day-Lewis, what now? Do you let yourself slum in a Ridley Scott film? When he's collected his second Oscar next Sunday, will he decide that shoemaking is the best vehicle for his talent after all?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I'm unnerved by how calmly Cuban exiles have reacted to El Jefe's abdication. Maybe I shouldn't be. My parents, who left the island in junior high, have said many times over the years, with equal parts weariness and bitterness, that they don't care anymore; neither does my 81-year-old grandmother, who left in her late thirties. It has something to do with the way in which odium and vengeance have ossified into paranoia – a mild kind in this case, since so many locals you talk to sincerely believe that Castro died in August 2006 and whose disembodied form rules from an empyrean similar to the one from which Kim Il-sung smiles down on North Korea.

In Miami, still the best book about the motivations of exile culture, Joan Didion described the exile community's Fidel hate – a rage that surpassed all understanding – as a cosmic, comic, unavenged antebellum slight that, like the spirit of pure revolution itself, moved to sights unseen:
[The exiles] shared not just Cuba as a birthplace but Cuba as a construct, the idea of birthright lost. They shared a definition of patria as indivisible from personal honor, and therefore of personal honor as that which had been betrayed and must be revenged. They shared, not only with one another but with virtually every other Cuban in Miami, a political matrix in which the very shape of history its dialectic, its tendency, had traditionally presented itself as la lucha, the struggle.
With the object of hatred removed from the scene, what now? Andy nails my own feelings. I can only begin to understand the inchoate tangle of my parents' feelings: you spent your life waiting for something to happen, only to have nature intervene and stop the game. And a game it remains, for part of what non-Floridian journalists never understood about the exile community was its inability to separate its honest, earned sense of aggrievement and its relish in the politics that enabled this aggrievement for almost 50 years (which is why a site like this, while laughable to many of my readers, embodies a paradigm -- a pathology, if you must -- that's all too common in South Florida). Despite the nonsense you'll read in the coming hours about the miracles of Castro's reform of the educational system (the literacy rate before 1959 was well past 50%, a miracle at the time) and, in a notable example of unsubtle leftie nostalgia, the "inroads" he made in "rooting out racism" (the junta's elite is as white as a Republican fundraiser), the only results Castro's revolution achieved was in unleashing the intellect and political acumen of Cuban exiles into Florida and D.C., a diaspora which required the mediating forces of American constitutional republicanism to prosper. The richness of Cuban culture could bloom only on foreign soil.

Monday, February 18, 2008

I adore semicolons; they're so redundant, aren't they? While helping college reporters with headlines, ledes, and the basics of grammar, I don't seem them fretting over semicolons much: it's rarely used in journalism unless you're compiling a list or series. They denote a pause, the intake of air, before the final elaboration. Journalism doesn't work that way. Since our culture values concision and pithiness, a bit of punctuation whose overwork by the likes of Dickens, George Eliot, Henry James, and Virginia Woolf probably required a moratorium on its use. The only living writer who puts his semicolons through the more traditional paces -- following a conjunction, say -- is Gore Vidal.

Anyway, this article about a grammatically perfect subway station placard made me smile. It didn't make John J. Miller of, where else, The Corner smile, though; maybe he smirked. At any rate, he balked at a quote from linguist/noted anti-imperialist Noah Chomsky, who demonstrates a wry sense of humor.
Don't let the results of our state's aborted Democratic primary fool you: Florida is a state whose conservatism runs deep. For example, almost three years after Pennsylvanian school districts settled the matter, we're still arguing about evolution:
The outcry at so many public hearings led the Florida Department of Education to schedule an extra hour of public testimony and, late Friday, offer an alternate version of the standards that calls every theory a ''Scientific Theory'' -- whether it's about evolution or atoms -- and identifies every natural law as such.

Many want more. One expert who sat on the framers committee that formed the standards wants the board to consider his ''minority report'' to teach kids about scientific differences over evolution. Lori Muller, a mother from St. Augustine, said at a Monday public hearing in Orlando that she liked this idea.

'"Just by tweaking some of the words in the standard, we can all win,'' Muller said. "We are not supposed to be pushing any secret and biased agenda, but just making sure the children of Florida receive the best education possible.''

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The most accurate depiction of Nazism isn't Schindler's List or The Pianist, but a 1942 comedy directed by a man renowned for sophisticated palaver. Trouble in Paradise shows how decidedly unheroic people adjust to terror, always conscious that a misplaced look or wrongly interpreted gesture will send them before a firing squad. It may be the cinematic equivalent to The Winter's Tale, whose tonal shifts from farce to tragedy -- sometimes in the same scene -- are a correlative to what life under Occupation must have been like.

Black Book isn't at To Be or Not To Be's level, but Paul Verhoeven is almost as adept a dazzler as Ernst Lubitsch. There's an abandon here -- a willingness to court ridicule -- that's refreshing, especially the way in which Verhoeven's manipulation of WWII movie conventions dovetails with a modern audience's response to the dogmatic sketches of school-age history. Almost half the electorate chose George W. Bush as our president in 2004 (and 2000), and an even bigger majority will countenance torture if it keeps us safer, but we seem able to accept the moral quandaries better than the pols who court Tim Russert -- at least we're able to admit them when pressed at dinner parties or calling talk-radio shows. These quandaries are etched in every curve of Carice van Houten's body -- she's a woman who can't repress an impish joy in the horrible things she has to do for vengeance and country's sake. I wish van Houten had gotten half the acclaim garnered by 2007's other big foreign film performance, but Marion Cotillard's Edith Piaf isn't covered in human shit, her distastefulness following a more conventional narrative arc. Verhoeven never lets the audience off the hook; he teases reactions out of us that dare us to feel superior to his helpless characters. This is what The Origins of Totalitarianism might have looked like had Hannah Arendt been a farceur. Hiring him to direct this material was its own kind of dare; Black Book requires his vulgarity, his exploitation of the audience's basest instincts. Hitchcock might have dared.
The owner of Total Wine & More utters a truism about South Florida's evolving taste:
"Wine's a staple, like food," he says. "People might put off building that larger kitchen, but they won't stop buying food and beverages."
What recession?

While shrewd, Fred Tasker's article is content to merely allude to the resilience of wine's patina of sophistication: ordering a glass of that merlot with the cute pink kangaroo on the label is the new what's-your-sign-baby.

Friday, February 15, 2008

HRC: as complex as Nixon?

Ron Rosenbaum on Nixon, Hillary Clinton, and the persistence of the Camelot myth. This story looks cobbled together out of hearsay and speculation, but this made me pause:
Having said that, I must admit something I never thought I'd say: I find Hillary Clinton more of a mystery, perhaps a more complex character in a novelistic sense, than Richard Nixon. And she's one that, unlike Nixon, history may never completely figure out. I'd almost want to see her become president just to solve the mystery. Although a Hillary administration might actually compound it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

On the evidence of Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone, Dennis Lehane loves Sophocles. Since both adaptations of his novels include scenes in which a character describes The Evil That Men Do, I'm inclined to blame him for the hamhanded way in which Clint Eastwood and now Ben Affleck have staged them (all they need is a chorus comprised of the Wailing Women of Dorcester, rending their garments over what has befallen their city). Both are actors – do we see a pattern?

Mystic River isn't regarded too kindly these days – lots of GBG's favorable reviews included dismissive references to the earlier picture – but naturalism, especially the Hollywood variety, rarely gets its due. Gone Baby Gone benefits from greater geographic verisimilitude, a crisply edited trip through the familiars of police procedural drama, and a tip-top supporting cast, especially Morgan Freeman and Ed Harris (bravely sporting an appalling haircut), both clawing out of the casting doldrums. Not much talk about an excellent lead performance by Casey Affleck, unfortunately, who wrings surprising variations from his gurgly growl that unearth his character's moral filigrees. The last third is a disaster that I blame on Lehane as much as B. Affleck, redeemed only by the alert, darting eyes of Michelle Monaghan. Apparently she and Casey Affleck are recurring characters in Lehane fiction. It wouldn't bother me if Ben honed his chops filming another one of these, making judicious use of a black felt tip pen on the source material.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

You know, it's my loss that I haven't thought much about "Baby Be Mine." It's true that the right contemporary remix -- by, say, Escort -- would release MJ's pent-up aching rivers ("Won't you stay with me until the morning sun," yow!). I also wonder whether the song was released at the wrong time. Would it have been a better fit on Dangerous or, better, the dreary Bad? Teddy Riley would have smoked this.

Monday, February 11, 2008

"The only thing you and Lincoln have in common is that you come from insane states"

Flannery O'Connor with all her art couldn't have created her.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Roy Scheider, R.I.P.

I saw Naked Lunch before Jaws and The French Connection, so my first acquaintance with Roy Scheider found him wearing a fuck-awful tan suit and crunching on dialogue like Kellogs cornflakes. A terrific Dr. Benway, in other words. When I finally saw All That Jazz a few months ago, I was shocked by how compelling and, well, sexy Scheider was in this otherwise drippy example of mythologizing; wearing skintight black jeans and shirt, cropped hair, and a beatnik goatee, he was a grinning satyr in search of a film with his buoyance. I said elsewhere today that Scheider had an odd, perfect talent for committing to a project yet looking preoccupied, like his mind was home in his study, reading What Maisie Knew. His work in "SeaQuest" certainly confirmed this.
After months of playing "The Opposite of Hallelujah" at least twice a week, I'm officially sorry I underrated Jens Lekman's Night Falls Over Kortedala. Cavils about his flat, doleful voice aside, I admire how the arrangements (those strings!) consistently undercut the bathos; in a few cases, they inflate the bathos, waiting for a well-timed lyric here or backup singer there, in a thrilling reminder that, at this stage in his career, Lekman understands self-parody better than Morrissey did.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

"It's seriously not funny when reedy-voiced dorks sing about beating you up. It's just not. And when those jokes take the form of a laundry-list of wrestling moves, some of which I'm pretty sure don't exist, it's somehow even more galling" -- yes, yes, YES. Breihan, testifying to what makes Hot Chip so goddamn annoying. Then again, The Warning confused me when I first heard it too -- this nebbish-soul is what so many friends were raving about? -- before it insinuated itself without much fuss, the sort of record whose twitchy, billowy songs torment you in the bath or while buying swordfish at the local market. Made in the Dark is even twitchier and more billowy, the nebbish-soul loud and proud. The highlight for me is "One Pure Thought," whose intro guitar upstrokes and chirpy synth interlude (with the sung "I won't be on my way" bit) are begging to be mauled by an enterprising DJ.

I haven't paid much attention to the Herculues & Love Affair, but I've carried "Blind" around on my iPod for a few weeks. Yes, it's the only sonic setting in which I want to hear the formerly loathesome Antony, but the track still sounds fusty, tentative; this one also needs an enterprising remix (like Frankie Knuckles, wouldn't ya know -- love how the foregrounded bass echoes Me'shell Ngedeocello's work on John Mellencamp's "Wild Nights" cover)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

A man who need never dine alone

Hugh Hewitt is a strange man. His blog advertises "exclusive sailing with Hugh Hewitt" with a picture of smilin' Hugh that's chilling enough to freeze a gas oven. Hewitt, one of those happy souls in whose own company he's never bored, wrote a book last in 2007 in which he delineated the ways in which a Governor Mitt "Mittens" Romney campaign would be credible to a GOP "movement conservative" base tolerant of iconoclasm as long as the candidate eventually recants.

Day after wearisome day, Hewitt has proselytized for Romney, and in the carbuncled echo chamber of movement conservatism it produced satisfying effects; insofar as Rudy Giuliani had any competition in the heady days of 2007, it came from the Stormin' Mormon. As Huckabee and McCain started winning early races, Hewitt's efforts got more touching. So devoted was he to his Grinning God that there was no semantic evasion -- no abasement of the language -- to which he wouldn't subject himself. If you can forgive the attempt at Freudian analysis, I'd like to think that the nascent Orwell fascination in some conservatives stems from a silent plea for approval -- a breath from his nostrils would enliven the Brand X obfuscation of their prose (proud liberals should test their tolerance for heterodoxy and dip into Hewitt's blog and The Corner more often; Ned's the only other friend who indulges himself thusly, and he probably eats Fritos with lunch too)

But on to Hewitt, and his post today on the retirement of Mittens Romney:
Governor Romney is an incredibly gifted man --intelligent in the way very few people are, charismatic, and blessed with an amiable openness and determined, strong character.

He is a good man, and his very successful run towards the presidency is a testament to his talents. His magnificent family represents an achievement in the private sphere that he shares with Ann Romney and which was reflected in his accomplishments in business, at the Olympics and in Massachusetts.

Because he is a very good man, a great conservative and an extraordinary patriot he is standing aside to allow Senator McCain's national campaign to commence. There were excellent reasons for Romney to stay in the hunt, including the opportunity to score some impressive victories in places like Ohio, which might have served Romney well in any future campaign.
To which Nicole of ILX posted the only possible response:
Governor Romney is an incredibly gifted man --intelligent in the way very few people are, charismatic, and blessed with an amiable openness and determined, strong character, shoulder-length, sun-streaked blond hair, sparkling blue-green eyes the color of the Caribbean, cameo skin, and a perfect size-six figure.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

I don't have much to say about the campaigns on Super Tuesday (I may write something later this year when the dust settles; suffice it say that anyone who knows me well knows my political views), but this Obama profile is worth reading, and not for the reasons given in the adulatory headline and subhead. It may in fact erode the audacious hope that Obama's fans have projected on him -- an account of how the Audacious One cut deals with machine politicians to get his start in the dirty bowels of Illinois politics. It's no surprise that Todd Purdum backs away with the conclusions he forces his readers to draw from the first third of the article, relying instead on a rather good poem Obama wrote as a kid and glowing testimony from college friends impressed with the candidate's equanimity. I want to believe that Obama's as ruthless as the young Lincoln; we see hints in the distance between his stirring rhetoric and his bearing, without the sense that he's counting the number of times applause disrupted his speeches.

Whatever. It's way too early, and I already feel as if the candidates of both parties have been stumping since 2005, which in a sense they have (Clintons are always ready to go).

Monday, February 4, 2008

Dear Tom Petty:

I grew up with Full Moon Fever and your other Jeff Lynne-produced work. I hated your voice. Next to George Harrison, however, you were Al Green, so I let it pass. I have liked lots of other songs over the years, generally the loosey-goosey stuff that's not preoccupied with embalming the remains of Roger McGuinn for exhibition at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum (generally you've been pitching your work at a fictive rock & Roll Hall of Fame Museum since 1976) – stuff like "Jammin' Me" and "You Got Lucky." Once in a while you write a ballad like "A Woman in Love (That's Not Me)" right in your range and the Heartbreakers play the hell out of it; on occasion you write a good ballad and the Heartbreakers aren't around (but Rick Rubin always is). Although you've never recorded a couple of near-great records on the order of John Mellencamp, your double-disc compilation is as useful as his; I bought it last Tuesday, coincidentally.

I'd no idea until Friday that you were the Superbowl halftime show.

My friend: "Who's that old lady?"


Saturday, February 2, 2008

Who am I to blow against the wind?

After listening to the copy of Vampire Weekend's debut EP that my friend Mike Powell had posted about 10 months ago (!), I thought it was okay: noted the sparkly guitars, the vocalist whose slight lisp and high pitch reminded of what's-his-name from Third Eye Blind, and, right, the Peter Gabriel reference. I got the album a few days ago and, although I should know better in this quick turnover listen-and-respond age, am baffled by the disjunction between its achievement and the opprobrium it's already generated ("I bet these guys read sheet music" is the stupidest criticism I've read in years). Vampire Weekend is as good as it's supposed to be and not one note more, an album by four smart guys tentative about everything -- women, Peter Gabriel, Benetton, college professors -- except their milieu, which you wouldn't know about if you didn't pay attention to their lyrics or the chatter of the gossiping classes*. If rock history teaches us anything, it's that a sense of geography may deepen into a sense of self: Vampire Weekend will figure out who they are when they've studied where they are. In a sense, I'm glad I'm not more enthusiastic about Vampire Weekend, and am doubly grateful that I don't live anywhere near New York.

Finally, the much-vaunted Graceland comparisons are rubbish; Ezra Koenig's writing is too spare -- malnourished? -- to sustain them. A good thing too -- it took years for the bloom of Paul Simon's heavily breathed Garfunkel poesy to fade into something you can slip between the pages of your family Bible, and "I Know What I Know" is too clever about its self-deprecation.

* of which I'm a member.