Freedom from Blog

Don't call it a comeback . . . .

Monday, November 23, 2009

If Only There Were a Serious Candidate

OK. so not quite a weekly feature, but a continuing series of takedowns of Ross Douthat's musings in the 'paper of record.' Douthat bemoans the failure of both Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee to spend the off-years boning up on serious policy. Instead, they've turned their time on the national stage into an opportunity for celebrity and not a viable political future.

Because, as we all know, Republicans only nominate folks serious about domestic and foreign policy to be president. Folks like John ("Bomb Bomb Bomb Iran") McCain, George W. ("Freedom!") Bush, the elder Bush (late convert to "voodoo economics"), and, of course, Ronaldus Magnus or whatever ridiculous name they ascribe to him these days. I would add that neither Barry Goldwater nor Eisenhower strikes me as a policy wonk. Nixon, well, Nixon, I'd let him have that label. Sure. But he's not anyone's favorite Republican, now, is he? And I give passes to Bob Dole and Jerry Ford. Also, Dewey. I'm guessing he was wonkish. But maybe that's the moustache.

Is Douthat making the classic pundit mistake of thinking that only someone who pleases him (and thus agrees with him) can be successful in U.S. politics? One is tempted to call this a rookie mistake, but since Broder still engages in it, maybe it is a past master level mistake.

And am I alone, in never having heard of these policy entrepreneurs mentioned in the column?

How Religious Fanatics Are Formed

As you may have noticed, I try not to overload you guys with kid stories, lest our little debating page get too bogged down in my boundless paternal pride. But I thought this story might entertain.

Lang recently turned three. She is quite proud of this and reminds us on a regular basis. From my standpoint, one of the perks of this age is that she's entered an imaginative phase, one marked by her new favorite phrase, "I'm pretending!" This line works equally well for playacting and for getting caught saying something untrue, such as "Mommy said I could do XYZ." From her standpoint, one of the perks of this age is that she finally gets to go to Sunday school rather than hanging out in the nursery when we go to church. I shit ye not. Me girl gets stoked at the prospect, and then it's all she can talk about. She has now been exactly twice, so there's a good chance that the novelty will wear off soon, but for now she's all over this.

So, tonight, as usual, we went up to read stories before bedtime. Lang, after choosing one blanket, one burpy (a burp cloth), and one "friend" (a stuffed animal), gets to pick three stories. For the last week or so, she's decided that when picking her stories she's "going to the bookstore." She carefully picks her choices, places them in her blanket and then sits for several seconds looking at the wall. "Honey, are you ready to read?" I ask. "Wait, Daddy, I'm still paying." "OK, tell me when you're done." Then she gets situated, positioning each article in its proper place on the bed. Tonight, however, before the stories she had selected, she tells me we have to "read burpy." "Fine, go ahead." Grinning with that characteristic TMcD shit-eater, she picks up her pink burpy and begins to "read" it. "This is the burpy of GOD!" she proclaims. "That's God's burpy?" "Yes. When God was a little boy he had this burpy, and it was white." "God's burpy was white?" "YES!" she chortles. "And then it got old, and he get a new one and it was red, and then it got old, and he got a new one and it was green!"

The actual stories that followed had a hard time competing with that, even as she insisted she read them herself and then half remembered, half made-up the stories as she thumbed through page after page. She's also obsessed with "spelling" the titles, which she does quite well, except that she doesn't really read what the words say so much as remember what the titles were and so what the letters must have been spelling. Notably, Click, Clack, Moo, which, for the uninitiated, is basically the barnyard Lysistrata. Which is quite a ways from the "burpy of GOD." One day, when we're wondering how my eldest daughter came to found her own feminist fundamentalist cult, we'll know how it all started. Everything she ever needed to know she learned by the second week of Sunday school. And I'll be sitting there, looking for the shit-eating grin, wondering if she is pretending.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

00's Music Roundup

The Bataan "death panel" march has wearied me of the Beltway, so it seems like a good time for another musical interlude. Time for the end of decade music lists, ergo, my chance to beat the big boys, yer Spins and yer Rolling Stones, to the punch in defining the era. Consider me humbled. Breaking with my usual end of year protocol, I claim no metaphysical certainty. It's just my list. I probably slant toward early-decade albums, since, by accident of timing, they have "endured" more in my mind. And I've adopted the somewhat artificial rule that no band or artist gets more than one entry, although I'll note some Honorable Mentions. Without further ado, here 'tis:

1) Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (2002). The band of the decade, the album of the decade, from the city of the decade (Chicago, natch). Tweedy's not the best singer or writer; the band is not the most catchy or innovative. Yet somehow it gels into a sum greater than the parts, especially on this alt country deconstruction with its forebodings of "authentic" America staggering drunk into the berserk. A 9/11 album (down to the cover art; "Jesus, Don't Cry," "Ashes of American Flags") somehow made prior to 9/11. As the first song says, "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart." They do. Expect Wilco (the Album) to appear on my upcoming 2009 list.

2) Gillian Welsh, Time (the Revelator) (2001). The older I get the better she gets. We saw her once in our favorite $6 a head divey Vietnamese restaurant.

3) the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Fever to Tell (2003). Best car CD. "Maps" is perfection.

4) Josh Rouse, 1972 (2003). Tough to pick one. This is his most fun, the one to dance around the house with Lang. HM: Under Cold Blue Stars (2002) and Country Mouse (2007).

5) Ryan Adams, Demolition (2002). He releases ten discs in a decade (one a double), and his best is an odds & sods record! Apt. HM: Heartbreaker (2000), Gold (2001).

6) Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga (2007). Close call w/ HM: Gimme Fiction (2005).

7) My Morning Jacket, It Still Moves (2003). HM: Z (2005), Evil Urges (2008).

8) Loretta Lynn, Van Lear Rose (2004). Props to Jack White. "Portland, Oregon, and slow gin fizz, If that ain't love then tell me what is? Uh huh!"

9) Kings of Leon, Aha Shake Heartbreak (2005). Now that they're the hottest rock band on the planet, I can happily say that their current CD kinda sucks. Their first two were asskickers. Even if the lyrics were always pretty dumb. Second best car CD of the decade. HM: Youth and Young Manhood (2003).

10) Jenny Lewis, Acid Tongue (2008).

11) Shelby Lynn, Suit Yourself (2005).

12) M. Ward, Post War (2006). HM: Hold Time (2009).

13) Eels, Shootenany (2003).

14) Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, Dig! Lazarus Dig!! (2008).

15) Cat Power, The Greatest (2006).

16) Ron Sexsmith, Time Being (2006).

17) the Features, Exhibit A (2004).

18) Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (2005).

19) the Old 97s, Satellite Rides (2001). "Someday somebody's going to ask you; A question that you should say yes to; Once in your life; Baby tonight, I've got a question for you." Verges on Hello Kitty. Still works. How was that not a pop hit?

20) Drive by Truckers, Brighter Than Creation's Dark (2008). HM: Southern Rock Opera (2002). SRO will go down as their classic; I want to hear BTCD more often.

21) Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan, Ballad of the Broken Seas (2006).

22) Sun Kil Moon, Ghosts of the Great Highway (2003).

23) Elvis Costello, The Delivery Man (2004).

24) the White Stripes, Elephant (2003). HM: White Blood Cells (2001).

25) Super Furry Animals, Rings Around the World (2002).

26) Mudcrutch (2008).

27) REM, Accelerate (2008).

28) Bruce Springsteen, The Seeger Sessions (2006). HM: The Rising (2002). TR has the incomparable 9/11 song, "You're Missing," but lacks something in overall cohesion. TSS is all covers, but a record to listen to again and again--the loosest he's sounded in ages.

29) U2, No Line on the Horizon (2009). Hmmm. . . . We'll see.

30) Beck, Guero (2005). HM: Sea Change (2002), the Information (2006). Sea Change will get all the critics picks for decade highlight; I see it as one perfect song ("Lost Cause"), a few good ones ("Golden Age"), and a fair amount of filler.

Didn't miss anything, did I?

[Post updated: a few more links, a few more Hon. Mentions, a little more Wilco.]


Friday, November 13, 2009

Impurity Police

I'm no fan of the infamous Stupak amendment, and I agree that it, not the original House bill alters the abortion status quo in troublesome ways. But I'd still sell out the relatively small number of affected poor women in a heartbeat if that's what it takes to get this health care bill through a final vote. So what if Stupak is puffing himself up by claiming to have swung 40 votes rather than (as Clyburn revealed) 10 or 11. That's still enough to wreak havoc when you won the first time 220-215. More importantly, the larger bill is too important to the health of too many people for liberals to sabotage themselves over cultural politics. So I'll stand with Dionne and Beinart against Pollitt and Atrios. Nothing wrong with getting angry and blowing off some steam now. Just don't take it to heart, eh?

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

This Dude Is Weird

Ysterday's Douthat column is just plain weird. Douthat joins the merry band of eschatons who fear that "the end of history" has deprived (their) lives of meaning. But I'll get to that in a minute.

First he criticizes Obama for not making a trip to Berlin to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall. Classic "damned if you do, damned if you don't," right? If Obama goes, he's too cosmopolitan. If he doesn't, he hates freedom. Douthat wins. But then he oddly suggests that the Ninth of November should be as big a worldwide deal as the Fourth of July. Here he is: "By rights, the Ninth of November should be a holiday across the Western world, celebrated with the kind of pomp and spectacle reserved for our own Independence Day." Now, color me parochial, but is it true that OUR holiday is celebrated "across the Western world," "with . . . pomp and spectacle"? If so, I didn't know that.

But on to the end. This is the end. My only friend.

Because Douthat thinks that "it may be that the only thing more frightening than the possibility of annihilation is the possibility that our society could coast on forever as it is — like a Rome without an Attila to sack its palaces, or a Nineveh without Yahweh to pass judgment on its crimes."

Um, no. Annihilation is worse. I'll set aside the Yahweh thing, because I guess divine vengeance, no matter how unsettling the idea, must be given its due. But trust me, the Romans (and others) who were raped, killed, raped and then killed, pillaged, etc., by Attila's happy band of historymakers would have preferred to "coast." Douthat's column leads one to speculate that he would have preferred nuclear annihilation to a world of "decadence." And yes, he uses that word--in the pages of the New York Times!

Douthat actually does here what I think he doesn't like about totalitarians. He makes the stuff of individual lives grist for his vision of the Good. Douthat needs others to live under the jackboot of totalitarianism to guarantee his vision of virtue, to underwrite the efforts of those, like him, opposed to the oppressors. Take a look.

Douthat's posture as a deep thinker is probably what grates most. I know I've said this before, but I don't feel the need to be moralized to by some twentysomething with a man crush on the Pope and a nostalgic longing for a Cold War that he doesn't even remember.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Healthy House

A major yee-ha for the House tonight. The vote was close (220-215), but I haven't heard anyone say the obvious yet: this was close only because Dems took a prudent incumbent protection strategy. A secret "conscience" vote would have likely been much higher. Pelosi, wisely, is letting her more skittish members opt out. There were a few votes, however, that caught my eye.

Against: Artur Davis (AL), and Dennis Kucinich (OH). The Elfin One makes me wonder how many other (if any) votes the Dems lost as symbolic protests against the bill's conservatism. And what's with Davis? Must be an Alabama thing; he's positioning himself for the statewide gubernatorial run. If you read the statement, it sounds like he's giving himself wiggle room to vote for the eventual reconciled bill that will move closer to the Senate version.

For: Jim Cooper (TN). As much of a wanker as he's been of late, he actually went the way his Nashville district wanted. He's the rare blue dog less popular than Obama in his own district. I had a chat with our local Dem chairman a few days ago, and he spun the usual blue dog spin ("bad bill," "Pelosi can't count," etc.), and he obviously needs to back his boy, Gordon, who really is in a pickle over this. Unlike Cooper's, this district is only ~40-60 for the public option, and McCain won here by 26 points. He also predicted, incorrectly it now turns out, that Steve Cohen, from a ridiculously liberal Memphis district, would be the lone TN Dem yea vote. Looks like Nancy counts pretty well.