Is this:

But do you think so-and-so is personally racist?

I submit to you that this question is not only always unanswerable, but also always irrelevant.

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Blaming teh left for a bigger than expected loss just don’t make any sense because they didn’t do a damn thing to hurt her campaign. Did they field a primary challenger or support a third party bid against her? No. Hell, I donated some cash to her and wish she’d won. So she’s mad that she took some flak for her bland positioning and bad votes? Criticism and pressure are hardly reprehensible in politics, particularly because they could be used as evidence of her moderation, as this good Slate piece notes. And also, like, what are political groups for if not to persuade politicians to vote in their preferred way? One sees here a rather annoying sense of entitlement: moderate Dems like McCaskill apparently believe that liberal groups should never try to push them to the left, which pretty much justifies the darkest criticisms of lefty critics of how the party thinks about its activists. What are they supposed to do, go hang out at TGI Friday’s while the right sets all the terms of the debate?

At any rate, Claire really has nobody to blame but herself but I do have some empathy for her. She did everything she thought would bring a win and it didn’t work at all. The Slate piece notes how she played every single piece of the DLC/Blue Dog/Third Way playbook. Distancing herself from the national party? Check! Downplaying any divisive issue to the extent that it makes you seem like a total phony? Check! Emphasizing noncontroversial bipartisan moderate issues that focus group through the roof (but that probably aren’t salient enough to drive votes)? Double check! Also talk a lot about bipartisanship talk, like all the time. She did it all and lost badly, and in casting around for someone to blame she’s found a group to scapegoat that provably did not do her in. Did the left also tank Heidi Heitkamp and Joe Donnelly? I guess they just barely missed Manchin and Tester. Heitkamp and Donnelly flopped doing largely the same thing as McCaskill but the thing is that Evan Bayh also flopped two years earlier doing it. It’s not like she couldn’t have known that this model failed in a comparable state in spite of having a solid candidate. More solid than Claire, honestly, who has always been defined by her close ties to the national party as one of Obama’s greatest allies in the Senate and thus was not a good fit for triangulation as a strategy. But Clintonism can only be failed I suppose.

The one thing that the Slate article gets wrong is in speculating that she’s prepping for another run for office. Nah, man, she’s just putting together her reel to be the next president of No Labels. That’s all this is about.

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Magical Realism. It had to be magical realism.

Just kidding. I don’t have any issue with magical realism. A lot of people do, and I get why. It’s a style that can’t not be at least a little sentimental and all too often descends into what I think anybody can recognize as “twee shit.” And we all hate that. Anyway,?Beloved most assuredly does not fall into that category, though there is the ending. Again, it’s not a problem for me. What?is a problem for me is a certain style of allegorical storytelling in which people basically stop acting like people so that the author can make some point. And this is also about the ending.

But we don’t have to talk about that yet.

Beloved is about former slaves trying to find a way forward after slavery. Your main characters are Sethe, her daughter Denver, her once and current suitor Paul Garner, and Beloved, their child last seen dead by Sethe’s hand rather than raise her in slavery. And then she shows up, right after Paul has, right when the three others have just started to rebuild their lives and find a way forward. Obviously this is the allegorical element, with Beloved representing the living baggage of slavery that the characters thought they’d left behind. At the point that she arrives, the book enters a sort of a holding pattern plot-wise (there are multiple harrowing flashbacks of what slavery consisted of for these people and how they got out, what they did afterward) until the last quarter of the book where Beloved starts leveraging Sethe’s guilt and pressures Sethe to buy her things. This was the part I found most interesting. Unfortunately it’s fairly short and then we get to that ending.

So Toni Morrison has a Nobel Prize. That’s true. And I’m just some random guy on the internet. But I just have to say that this book was not an easy one for me to get through. Morrison’s attempts to channel 19th century prose were generally convincing, and there were some sections that I will take with me for a good long time. The flashbacks in general were strong. But man was it harder than it should have been, even before the ending. The relationships between the characters were well-rendered and everything. It’s kind of hard to explain why I had to rent this like five times from the library, and it’s not that thick of a book. I think it might be the language, honestly. People used to talk about “Oprah Book Club Syndrome,” which in its essence meant a book about difficult, ugly things that was beautifully, even breathtakingly written. Both of those things are good! But together…unless you’re going for an ironic effect, writing about ugly topics maybe shouldn’t be flowery and lovely, it should be terse and brutal. That may have been the issue. I wasn’t having issues with the characters or the plot or anything like that.

At least until the ending, anyway, where Beloved has emotionally blackmailed Sethe to such a degree and gotten so much food to eat that she’s grown…pregnant?…and then vanishes. It’s not all that hard to pick apart the intent here, honestly. But again, when allegory usurps the recognizable humanity in a character I tend not to be on board. Just feels a little shortcut-y to me. Again, no Nobel Prize here. But compared to, say, Their Eyes Were Watching God, I’m not sure I really had my mind blown this time out. It is good to be reminded of just how brutal slavery truly was from time to time, I suppose.

What’s Next? Who knows? The holidays are upon us and I’ve gone through all the books I had in mind to read for the project, at least for the first round. I’m sure this will be back at some point. For now, enjoy your holidays.

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I remember when Gerald Ford died a dozen years ago. I didn’t think that the media overdid it with the Ford grief. Everybody pretty much seemed to agree that he was a pretty good all-around guy and not the greatest president–he was a man of the old school at the point when things were rapidly changing and he struggled to keep up–but not a terrible one either. That damn Nixon pardon got relitigated though I don’t think anybody changed their minds about it. Still, even a sub-single term president is a consequential figure. Some remembrance is only reasonable.

Compare that with the recent George H. W. Bush spectacle. The media acted as though he were a beloved and revered figure and way overdid it, and the whole thing felt like another smarmy MSM encomium to the civility of old rich white guys (which Ross Douthat witlessly spelled out). The thing is, Ford was like Bush in many ways. Decidedly not wacko Republicans in their bones, one term or less in office with a failed re-election bid (or just plain election in Ford’s case), sort of bland, almost corny public personalities, relentlessly mocked on SNL, overshadowed by their more interesting spouses. But Ford was handled more or less appropriately while Bush was given hagiographies by just about everyone. How come?

The context, I think, matters enormously. In 2006, the–for lack of a better term–establishment was still quite powerful and Boomer-dominated: there was still nary a millennial in Congress and wouldn’t be for another three years. If you look at the presidential candidates in both parties in 2008, almost none of them is in any way out of the mainstream. Yeah, Tom Tancredo and Dennis Kucinich both ran that year, but it’s easy to forget the former given what a snore-inducing candidate he was (such was the state of white nationalism before the financial collapse) and the latter was barely making the effort that he had in 2004. I may have mentioned this before but I actually met Kucinich in 2008 when he spoke briefly in the town of Atascadero where I lived at the time. On the one hand, I thought it was pretty cool to meet an actual live politician. And yet, even at the time I thought: why the hell isn’t he in L.A.? And then he arrived and his wife was with him and I thought: oh, I see. A little tourism under the guise of campaigning. So yeah, not really trying there. But the point is that Clinton, Obama, and Edwards–the top three in 2008–all had virtually identical platforms. Given the winner-take-all nature of the contest and the strong incentive to differentiate oneself, this was a little peculiar, unless you figure that the establishment was incredibly strong that year. And it was much the same on the GOP side. Aside from Tancredo and Duncan Hunter Sr., all the Republicans sounded exactly the same too. I suppose Giuliani already sounded a little fascist before that became the norm, but that’s it. And outside of political parties, there was nary a threat in sight. The internet meant bloggers, who were mad fun of for wearing pajamas all day.

Now it’s 2018 and the notion that “the establishment” can winnow the field on either side is silly. The ruling class is unhappy and divided, increasingly it is questionable if they rule anything at all. With the Bush funeral, what seems different from Ford was that in the latter case they were burying a president. In the former case, they’re burying themselves. Quite soon the millennials will take control for good, much the way they did a quarter century ago from Bush. The very Baby Boomers who relished in their vanquishing of the old guard now are the soon to be vanquished old guard. The sad thing is that, whatever Bush himself did, his generation did accomplish many marvelous things. Some bad ones too. But the Boomers inherited a pretty good world. They’re not handing one over to us. So they can fuck their self pity. Climate change, Iraq, the financial collapse: this is the Boomer legacy. And it always will be.

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Dick Durbin is my least unfavorite of the Democrats’ congressional leadership ideologically. I wouldn’t say favorite since Durbin was pretty instrumental in establishing a career-killing standard of political correctness for any substantive criticism of Israel. (To wit.) And Republicans have the majority in the Senate, to be sure, so it’s not as if Democrats can run over them. But this is revealing. Sure, you can beg Republicans to help save a democracy that they have shown little interest in saving. Or, you can, you know, try to make them afraid not to, on pain of becoming unelectable for a generation. But that would involve power politics and perhaps a dash of incivility instead of Sorkinian lecturing so naturally it’s unthinkable.

To read what these people put out there you’d think that the pre-Gingrich Congress was heaven on Earth or something. It wasn’t. I’ve read books. Did it work better than what we have now? Sure*. But the real problem with the handful of really old people running Democratic politics now is the sepia tone they perpetually take about how Congress used to be, and their manifest obsession with returning to it. Not old people per se, but old thinking. People, it’s not coming back! Start thinking about where you want it to go from here, and if you can’t do that, then retire. Say what you want about Nancy Pelosi (I can and have!), but at least she’s nostalgic for 2005 and not 1985. That’s not great, but it’s a hell of a lot better than the Hoyer/Durbin/Schumer obsession with Tip’n’Ronnie stuff**. It’s political Dad Rock! (Grandpa rock?)

*But it was probably doomed anyway, given that Mitch McConnell was in our future.

**I can’t help but think that Pelosi’s seeming lack of nostalgia for those old Congresses (and the corresponding obsession with her old white counterparts with them) might have something to do with those Congresses being made up of like 500 white guys. Also, nobody is nostalgic for when white male Democrats and white male Republicans could come together to cut taxes for the rich and deregulate finance, except for reporters.

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The group Wham! released “Last Christmas” in 1984. It has persisted in spite of not being all that good a song, though it’s far from the worst entry into the excessively synthy Christmas pop standard of its era (“Wonderful Christmastime” for fuck’s sake!). I’m not sure what to say about the original: at least George Michael is giving his afterthought of a Christmas song 100% of his vocal effort, which is something. It doesn’t do much for me, though it doesn’t actively enrage me. But arguably “Last Christmas” is more annoying than McCartney’s folly because of the sheer number of covers of the song, by a wide array of artists. So I figured I’d go through all the ones on the Apple Store and offer my thoughts on them. Here we go:

  • Taylor Swift: I became a reluctant semi-convert to Ms. Swift a few years back. I always found her to be a mixed bag, and indeed that’s exactly what 1989 is, a combination of instant classics like “Style” and godawful, unlistenable sludge like “Bad Blood.” But this–is just not good. Not a bad song choice for her with the melodramatic/maudlin subject matter, but all I can say is: did she not know how to sing when she released this? Very skreechy and pitchy. It was, to be fair, from early in her career, but this is the sort of thing that someone like Taylor Swift would pull from circulation and that absolutely nobody would miss.
  • Ariana Grande: Really? I’m surprised somehow that she did it. I guess I shouldn’t be. Pop stars of today need their cash grabs more than ever, considering the ever dwindling cash streams open to them, and Ariana isn’t going to sing fucking “The Twelve Days Of Christmas” when she does a holiday album. I will say that this version was pretty much exactly what I thought it would be: powerfully sung with a bunch of annoying random noises all around it. Goddamn kids!
  • Glee Cast: I have to admit, it never occurred to me that Glee would or could ever end. It just seemed like one of those things that would go on forever, and given that it was set in a high school, it sure seems as though they could have cycled kids in and out naturally so as to avoid the ever increasing salaries of star actors. Anyway, I truly hated Glee and every goddamn song they ever did, which includes this one, but YMMV. There’s just a quality to this that makes my teeth grind together. I hate it. I hate it.
  • Jimmy Eat World: About a decade ago, this was my favorite band and I listened to them all the time. Now…well, I still have affection for a couple of their big hits, but I think the last time I listened to one of their albums was around 2011. Don’t hate ’em or anything, just kind of moved on. But their version is sort of a Jeb Bush-y effort, pretty low-energy. And yeah, the original isn’t exactly going to make you want to get up and dance, but if anybody could turn this into a fast-paced, energetic rocker, it would surely be these guys, since that’s their stock in trade (except when it isn’t). God, it’s 2018 and I’m referencing “Drugs Or Me” for some reason. If ever a song deserved to remain buried in 2004. Moving on.
  • Ashley Tisdale: I have to admit, this one might be my favorite one so far. I have little tolerance for four on the floor stomp or club shit, and yet, it’s the first one of these covers that’s had any actual sense of fun. Okay, I’ll admit it, it’s infectious. Hell, it actually works pretty well, in fact. Makes you almost want to spend ten thousand dollars to hang out with her sometime…
  • Cascada: Never heard of her but this falls exactly into the pitfalls that Ashley Tisdale’s version so carefully avoided. Club shit. Terrible.
  • Gwen Stefani: A shockingly traditional version, or should I say retro version since this is more traditional than the original version. I liked this one a lot: Gwen’s vocals are warm and inviting and the music is interesting. The drums are definitely doing something nontraditional here that feels like it comes from the music that Stefani is better known for but they aren’t working at cross purposes with the rest of it. Kind of just fits in. Right on.
  • Kidz Bop: Fuck off. I’m not listening to that.
  • The Maine: No idea who they are, I assume an indie rock outfit whose name is supposed to be a play on “Remember The Maine (And To Hell With Spain!),” the famous William Randolph Hearst jingoistic saying that helped get us into one of our nation’s most pointless wars. Goddamn hipsters. Anyway: this is forgettable indie rock of the sort that the rock listening public seems to demand and that moves me not at all. Even though I’m 34 I haven’t given up on finding new and interesting music, but it’s really hard to find anything even remotely rock that doesn’t sound like this. And I don’t want it! Give me something that’s actually going to make me move, dammit!
  • Carly Rae Jepsen: Did you know she’s nearly the same age as I am? It’s true! And she was in her mid-twenties when she was pretending to be the sort of girl who draws Disney characters on her binder. Anyway, this is sort of sleepy, synth-y, and sung with a marblemouthed delivery, which is probably about what I expected from Carly Rae. It’s okay, I suppose. “Call Me Maybe” was catchy and dumb but beyond that I don’t really get her appeal.
  • The Braxtons: No clue. Anyway, this just sounds like late-90s boy band shit. Which I’m not entirely opposed to, but this is like if *NSYNC had released three more Christmas albums, what sort of thin soup material the third one might have included. Not one of the transcendent examples of the genre like “Shape Of My Heart,” to be sure. And yes it does appear that they’re all women, but I’m just going by sound here.
  • Aloe Blacc: Jesus Christ does this blow. The music is one step above having a vuvuzela blasted in your ear, and it doesn’t get better when the vocals kick in.
  • The Cheetah Girls: Not the first R&B attempt on this song so far, but it’s a solid enough one. Not a ton of personality to it, but hey. If you need a smooth R&B version of “Last Christmas”…
  • The Puppini Sisters: A ’40s pop version. No joke. Goddamn hipsters.
  • Rosie O’Donnell & Darren Hayes: Last and most definitely least, this is just a whole lot of nothing. Not a lot of Rosie on this song, for better or worse. I think this was from the era when she had a daytime talk show. Anyway, it’s smooth R&B yet again, without much personality really.
  • Radiohead: Just kidding. But don’t encourage them.

Who would have thought Ashley Tisdale and Gwen Stefani would emerge victorious from this lineup? Not me! They definitely earned this one though. Though no doubt next year will bring a few new entrants into the arena.

Happy Holidays!

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Having been doing this for 13 years, you do get to recognize certain patterns. So if Michael Bennet’s campaign even gets to Iowa I think we can safely predict what will happen:

  1. Somebody will ask him at a corn pull or whatever about Gorsuch and he’ll stammer through a bullshit answer. The internet will be furious and the spinning will get sad and desperate overnight. Befire long he’ll be promising a pro-choice litmus test but he still won’t be able to answer why he did it satisfactorily.
  2. It will be leaked that Bennet was genuinely blindsided by this, and that he thought the vote would be understood by the public and might even be an asset, a sign of his independence and principle. (This is not going too far. The centrist bubble is fucking bonkers, and it’s entirely likely that nobody ever personally called Bennet out on this IRL.) Meanwhile, NARAL and other reproductive rights groups have refused to support him under any circumstances.
  3. The campaign folds within a few weeks. Having now become nationally known for his Gorsuch vote, his re-election to the Senate becomes dicey. The vote gives prospective progressive challengers a strong issue for a primary challenge. Bennet retires, no doubt with a Claire McCaskill-esque speech of moderate self-pity. The end.
  • Again, there’s simply no way out of this for Mikey. He’s Joe Lieberman, basically: a clueless white guy centrist who thinks Democrats all think like him when fifteen minutes of real life could prove otherwise. It’s a type. His Gorsuch vote was for media jerkoffs like his brother, and we sure as hell know that being that kind of an irritating prick doesn’t necessarily lead to losing senatorial office. But he’s going to learn just how little those people matter in a contest where partisan activists are key.
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    I don’t even hate the guy, even though his brother is destroying The New York Times with his awful conservatarian hires and he’s sort of a civility scold. He’s not on my radar of shitty senators. But this is delusional. I guess the idea is to talk a lot about civility and decency in Iowa but there are limits to what primary voters will tolerate and voting for one of Trump’s justices is indeed one of those limits. Fun as it will be to watch this guy flop-sweat his way through a million “I wasn’t the deciding vote!” and “At least I voted against Kavanaugh!” excuses, it’s just a waste of our time. Given that apparently every single Democrat is running next year, he’s not even going to get a hearing from people. Lots of non-damaged goods to choose from. I doubt this campaign even lasts until July.

    Guy should have just voted no if this was in his mind.

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