Thursday, December 24, 2009

Up In The Air Is An Awful Movie

As longtime readers of this space know, I happen to think Armond White's a first-class contrarian idiot. For example, recently he claimed that "all [Sandra] Bullock’s films promote an edifying sense of human experience—she has an instinct for what people like to see," a claim which (a) is utter bullshit and (b) a claim which Armond himself doesn't even believe in - see his review of The Proposal mere months ago , or his for-once on-target evisceration of Crash - and is just making to befuddle the idiots who read his shit into thinking he's some sort of genius intellectual who sees things beyond the ken of the 99.999999% of the world that thinks Bullock's a hack. That said, the nice thing about Armond White is that he's the one critic in America, aside from the good people at Slant and Reverse Shot, who I can always count on to see through the Oscar bait de jour - though of course he usually does so for the wrong reasons. Nevertheless, I was happy to come home from the Tray Family's Christmas Eve Movie Viewing and see that Armond had trashed Up In The Air.

That pointless prelude out of the way, Up In The Air might be the worst Best Picture favorite in quite some time. Unfortunately, most of the critics who have bashed UITA have done so for purely political reasons - "the movie doesn't care enough about fired people." J.R. Jones of the Chicago Reader went so far as to accuse the movie of being a modern day Cary Grant film - and mean that as a bad thing! Frankly, if this thing were remotely comparable to a modern day Cary Grant film, I wouldn't care if it glorified cannibalism or the slave trade. (Depending, of course, on which Cary Grant film this thing would supposedly be a modern day version of - he made a lot of bad pictures.) No, the trouble with the movie is that there's just simply nothing aesthetically, dramatically, comedically, intellectually, whatever adverb you like, good about it.

Aesthetically, the movie's composed of several types of shots. First, you've got your pointless quick-cut montages of Clooney packing his luggage, or negotiating an airport, or going to a wedding. Second, there are a lot of aerial shots of cities and slightly tilted establishing shots of cheap hotels that look like something I might've shot in high school photo class. (For some strange reason, the director saw fit to actually shoot in each of the many cities where Clooney's character fires people, although he never actually shows you these cities, so that, with the exception of differences in weather, every location looks absolutely the same as every other.) Third, you have your conversations. Each and every one is all shot-reverse shot, and each of these shots is an over the shoulder shot, with the listener's shoulder or ear completely out of focus. Over the course of the film, you get very familiar with what George Clooney's blurry shoulder looks like. Everytime Clooney speaks to Vera Farmiga or whomever, you see his face and her shoulder; then, when she has her line, you see her face and his shoulder. There are no reaction shots, no off-camera speakers, no close-ups, and very rarely any shots with more than one interlocutor in a frame; it's just this cutting rhythm ad nauseam. Fourth, in moments of high emotional impact, you just might get a long shot of 10 seconds or less, with the camera banally zooming back to indicate so and so's loneliness.

With the director bringing absolutely nothing cinematically to the table, to the point where, by dint of his inability to ever hold a shot for more than 5 seconds, he manages to kill each and every scene where the audience might be actually moved to something resembling an emotional response to what's going on on screen, the movie's forced to rely completely on its actors and its script. Unfortunately, Clooney's a void. I know he's supposed to be something of a void - that's the point! - but he's such a bland, charmless (if handsome) void that the movie becomes quite a bore, as he's in every scene. He's slick enough, but doesn't have a personality to speak of. Exchange Clooney for Aaron Eckhart, who starred in the director's first film, Thank You For Smoking, and you might begin to have something watchable.

As for the script, it's a joke; the whole thing reads and even sounds like its own high school English paper explication of itself. Every event in the movie is freighted with symbolism or cheap irony, every fifth line is a little thesis statement. The Cornell grad who comes in to Clooney's termination firm and convinces his boss to switch to firing by webcam is shocked that her boyfriend broke up with her by text. The irony never seems to dawn on Miss Cornell, presumably to make us feel smarter for "catching on" to these hidden depths. Clooney gets his 10 million air-miles card at, of course, the very moment in the story where he's finally begun to yearn for a solid home. When the pilot comes to his seat to congratulate him and asks him where he lives, Clooney replies, "I live up here." Deep! There's even a pathetic third act where he comes back to his native Wisconsin to attend his sister's marriage and discovers how real middle-class people with real relationships live. At which point he takes his fuckbuddy/partner in frequent flyer derring-do back to his high school and gets back in touch with his childhood. At this point in the film, a happy little indie-folk song starts playing, and the movie is so badly directed that when he's sitting in his old high school gym with fuckbuddy and his sister calls to tell him that his future brother-in-law suddenly has cold feet and Clooney needs to come to the church fast to change future bro-in-law's mind, the song keeps playing. Either suggesting that the editing was done by a robot, or worse, that the potentially dashed marriage only matters to the director, and is supposed to matter to us, on the level of Clooney returning to his family and doing cutesy little family business shit, in which case the jaunty indie-folk playing over the "your sister is getting dumped by her fiance on the day of her wedding" call would make sense... in a perverse way. This sort of trivialization of other people's real lives as some kind of vehicle to Clooney's process of self-discovery goes on throughout the film, if you can even call this teledrama a film. Critics of more liberal sensibilities have jumped on the similar way the armies of terminated workers (including one cavalierly glossed-over suicide) are treated by the movie, but the problem isn't really political; it's a blithe indifference to anything in the film but Clooney's trite personal drama. The thing is though that the movie could get away with this sort of solipsism if it knew how to make Clooney's character matter to us, but it fails even at that, ultimately ceasing to care about the character as a person at all and treating him as a pat parable of our collective selfishness and alienation. Which hardly seems to be an accurate diagnosis of That Which Ails America; as the movie somehow forgets there are a whole lot more faceless fired people in America than there are George Clooneys. But really, who even cares about the muddled message of this piece of junk on stilts when there are ever so many things wrong with it besides whatever it's feebly trying to say?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Yeah, I'm SILKK THE SHOCKER!!! - and Yeah, That's Me

Just wanted to briefly call your attention to this No Limit classic, which I enjoyed playing repeatedly during my contracts exam this Friday. I've always found the whole "if you're not a soldier, then what's your purpose in life" concept that runs through the No Limit Soldiers tracks strangely attractive. Obviously there are lots of meaningful non-No Limit Soldier lives, but I guess I'm attracted to the view that there's some single type of valuable life to be led out there (like being a genius attorney), and that all others are pointless at best. I could ramble for a while about the similar types of essentialism at work in Westerns and 90s gangsta rap (although the best Westerns deconstruct/interrogate the masculine ideal, see for example The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but then, perhaps you could argue that the best gangsta rap - Mobb Deep for example with their preoccupation with the 'foul'-ness of their deeds - deconstructed its ideologies?), but anyway, I love No Limit, it's dumb but it's good dumb. Silkk, for once, has the best verse on his own song. Actually, you could make a case for Mystikal, but Mystikal on No Limit posse tracks always annoys me, he detracts from the so amateurish it's genius vibe. Not sure why I like Silkk's "I'm a psycho" put-on so much, but I do and it always cracks me up when he goes:

So don't flip me, cuz you'll end up empty

and then I'll reload
and reloadandreloadand reloadandreload
whole barrel explode!!!!

Also when he explains that 'yeah, I'm Silkk The Shocker, and yeah, that's me.' Most of all when he says, "mention meeeeee to my enemieeeeees, they thinking of PAIN" and sounds like an adorable hyperactive five-year-old doing a Tupac imitation on Youtube. In fact, describing TRU as a band of three little kids, each doing his own very different and usually very bad Tupac imitation, would not be too far off the mark. Though such a description does grave injustice to C-Murder.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

This Wasn't Actually Funny,,,

but every night poor Anderson Cooper, in the little sneak preview of his show he does during Larry King, says how he's going to keep some officeholder or would-be officeholder or corporate exec honest. For instance, "was Sarah Palin totally full of shit in her new book? We're keeping them honest." Well that's nice, I guess, if a little sloganeering and dense, trying to position your cable news channel as the one that actually reports on stuff and holds politicians' feet to the proverbial fire. So last night in the middle of Larry's horribly disappointing interview with the Jackson 5 ("the only one who isn't here is Michael" - he's, don't you know, dead) Anderson shows his face and says:

A woman commits suicide at a James Arthur Ray spiritual retreat. Remember the guy who killed three people in a sweat lodge? Did Ray try to cover up this death? We're keeping 'em honest.

Yeah! We're keeping guys who killed people in sweat lodges honest. Holding them accountable to the American people. Oh Anderson.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Larry King Does Plato

Larry King is like Greeks in Egypt learning something deep from their teachers.

Last night Larry did an episode on Tiger's infidelities and what he should do to repair his public image. I don't get the assumption that it's necessary for Tiger to worry about his public image. The man is a great golfer and makes plenty of money from golf itself. And as far as endorsements go, he's obviously not losing them. But even if he were in danger of losing the endorsements, why should he care? Why is there this assumed, oddly quasi-moral imperative for the guy to maintain his brand at all costs? He has other sources of income and even if he didn't he could live on what he's made. Who's to say that Tiger even likes being a huge brand? I have no idea, but the way Larry's guests talked about Tiger you'd think that the real thing he'd done wrong wasn't cheating on his wife, but harming his brand and violating some sort of trust we had in him, a trust he has an ethical duty to repair via carefully coached and phonily sincere interviews. (One even said that he shouldn't come out with his wife because that's such a cliche and would detract from the appearance of sincerity. Well what if he sincerely wants to make a statement with his wife, and she with him?) Anyway, Larry had a surprisingly Platonic moment with his panel of damage control doctors last night. They're all saying what Tiger should do and suddenly Larry asks:

Do you teach remorse? You're either remorseful or you're not. Or do you guys teach it?

BRAGMAN: You teach him how to show it, I mean, you know...

KING: Would the old George Burns thing, the secret of sincerity -- if you can fake it, you've got it made?

Compare this to this exchange from Plato's dialogue, Gorgias:

Soc. Let me tell you then, Gorgias, what surprises me in your words; though I dare say that you may be right, and I may have understood your meaning. You say that you can make any man, who will learn of you, a rhetorician?
Gor. Yes.
Do you mean that you will teach him to gain the ears of the multitude on any subject, and this not by instruction [by which Socrates means the teaching of actual knowledge] but by persuasion?
Quite so.
You were saying, in fact, that the rhetorician will have, greater powers of persuasion than the physician even in a matter of health?
Yes, with the multitude-that is.
You mean to say, with the ignorant; for with those who know he cannot be supposed to have greater powers of persuasion.
Very true.
But if he is to have more power of persuasion than the physician, he will have greater power than he who knows?
Soc. Although he is not a physician:-is he?
And he who is not a physician must, obviously, be ignorant of what the physician knows. Gor. Clearly.
Then, when the rhetorician is more persuasive than the physician, the ignorant is more persuasive with the ignorant than he who has knowledge?-is not that the inference?
In the case supposed:-Yes.
And the same holds of the relation of rhetoric to all the other arts; the rhetorician need not know the truth about things; he has only to discover some way of persuading the ignorant that he has more knowledge than those who know?
Yes, Socrates, and is not this a great comfort?-not to have learned the other arts, but the art of rhetoric only, and yet to be in no way inferior to the professors of them?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Video Hoes, Beware (And A Couple Good Songs):

"A 38-year-old former Miss Argentina has died from complications after undergoing cosmetic surgery on her buttocks.

Solange Magnano, a mother of twins who won the crown in 1994, died of a pulmonary embolism Sunday after three days in critical condition following a gluteoplasty in Buenos Aires.

Close friend Roberto Piazza said the procedure involved injections and the liquid "went to her lungs and brain."

"A woman who had everything lost her life to have a slightly firmer behind," he said."

Normally I wouldn't really sympathize but a mother of twins, shit.

On another note, two good songs. In one corner, B.G. f. Soulja Slim, Boosie and C-Murder - 'Nigga Owe Me Some Money.' You can't go wrong with B.G. and Soulja Slim - 'Fired Up,' which I believe I've written about here, was one of the great songs this decade - and you can't go wrong with B.G. and C-Murder. And I don't really like to acknowledge Boosie for stupid reasons but he's good too. Unfortunately, Soulja Slim just does, or rather, did the hook (R.I.P., Soulja), and C-Murder sounds like he's getting a little old - still raps just as well, but his voice has become a slightly blunter instrument. As if he ate Juvenile circa today for lunch. But a great song nonetheless. B.G., like Kurrupt, is the sort of minor talent that just doesn't decline with age. I actually happened to pick up his first album, True Story, that he made with a 12-year-old Wayne when he was 14, and he was just about the same rapper then that he is today. I'll say something about it sometime. In the other corner, Gucci makes up for the deficiencies of previous album leaks (see previous post below) with some virtuosic technical fireworks on 'Gingerbread Man,' over a Mannie Fresh track that sounds nothing like vintage Mannie Fresh but thankfully sounds nothing like his recent crappy work either. More of a solid approximation of a Zaytoven beat, which is good enough given how great the rapping is, and OJ has a surprisingly good verse, although perhaps I like Bad Goofy OJ more than Surprisingly Decent OJ. At this point I'm fine with the fact that Gucci's weedcarriers can't rap, and when they do rap well it's a bit like if ODB were to have suddenly busted out a really solid 16 on some Wu-Tang song - defeats the whole purpose of his being a member instead of, like, Killah Priest, or that guy in Killarmy. Actually though, it would be okay if Waka Flocka learned how to rap, as he doesn't have the personality to make up for it. Guy doesn't have an accent. It's like, who invited the fifth-rate N.Y. mixtape rapper to the party? But anyway.

Brief And Reasonably Clever Larry King Remarks (White House Party Crashers' Friends)

More articulate people have said it less tritely before, but you've got this weird phenomenon in today's media where, out of a concern to appear unbiased, reporters will actively avoid coming down on one side or another of a question of fact. Which is understandable, because the line between questions of fact and questions of opinion can be a hard one to draw (for instance, whether Obama's healthcare bill will improve or hurt the quality of our healthcare is both, in a sense, a factual matter, but also such a heavily disputed and somewhat unknowable factual matter that it's really just as much a matter of opinion), and because questions of fact can become politicized and therefore picking a side can look like partisan bias. But some things are just hardcore questions of fact and should be treated as such, not as issues where reasonable minds can disagree or state their views. And one such question is whether the Salahis were invited to Obama's big soiree last week. They weren't, and they didn't get confused and think they were either. They just crashed. But in a journalistic world where objectivity has come to mean that it's forbidden to actually report that someone is lying about something, that can become hard to say. And it's particularly hard for Larry King, who seems to inhabit a world where the sky could be blue - or it could be green. We just don't know.

So Larry has on three friends of the Salahis the other night, two of which are just stupid people and one of whom was wildly insane. And how does this go down? The first question Larry asks the friends is how the poor Salahis are doing. Gee, Larry, how do you think they're doing? They've just become famous for being colossal buffoons. But Larry's into seeing both sides of a story, so that's what he asks, and they say that the Salahis aren't doing so well because people are running around taking pictures of them now. OH NO. Then Larry asks why they went if they weren't invited. The one woman says "as far as I know, they were invited." Which only means - as she admits that she has no evidence of that fact - that her friends lied to her and said they were. Really, what is the point of this exercise? This is like having Jeb Bush on and asking him why his brother invaded Iraq, and Jeb saying, "Larry, as far as I know George didn't invade Iraq. That was his evil twin. George TOLD ME so." Larry, however, doesn't ask why we should give any credence to the lies Miss Salahi Friend has been told by these two nuts; he just moves on to the next guest, who is the insane one.

Since Larry has no bullshit filter, you can basically walk out of a mental clinic and say whatever you want on Larry King Live. Unless you're a beauty pageant contestant, in which case Larry must hold you to the highest standards of journalistic scrutiny, because hedging about the confidential contents of your settlement with Miss USA Inc. is really important stuff. Otherwise, though, you're good. Well, Mr. Matthew Christian Davis, author of The Best of D.C., is here to defend his friends proudly. For Mr. Davis featured them in three, count 'em, three different areas of his book, the purpose of which is to chronicle the defining change in America's leadership. The first area is design and couture; Ms. Salahi rocked the runway fashion show. She's leading the way in America in couture. #2 is D.C. for Divas in Charge, an event where Ms. Salahi, a D.C. Diva in Charge, wore a green number. And the third was the book launch at the National Press Club, where she emceed with three other ex-Miss D.C.'s. So you can see that Ms. Salahi is really the best of D.C., and part of that defining change in our nation's leadership. This is all direct quotation, more or less.

Then Larry asks whether this eminently honorable woman was actually invited. Mr. Davis has an answer for that. He comes from three generations of law enforcement and proudly served his country in "such places as Rwanda during the genocide in 1994." Being a patriot and a proud servant of this country, he is "a strong believer that our nation has a front line, a first line of defense that will protect our leader, our commander in chief by all means necessary." What are you saying, Larry asks? That they must have been invited because otherwise they couldn't have gotten past the first line of defense? Yes, Mr. Davis replies. But quick, we've got to take a commercial break.

When we return, the one friend continues to say that the Salahis were invited to the best of her knowledge. This is turning into the Watergate hearings. She admits, however, that she never saw the invitation. Larry asks Mr. Davis what would happen if he went to the White House without an invitation. Mr. Davis says that Larry has a blanket invitation wherever he goes, because he's such a hell of a guy, and that "I do not want to make any comments in terms of seeing that you're not being considered welcome to a party." Mr. Davis won't even consider the hypothetical because it's too offensive. Larry follows up; aren't the Salahis well-known too, like Larry? Why yes, Mr. Davis says, "they are D.C.'s dynamic couple, another acronym for them in the book. However, in this particular case, D.C. also represents diligence and courts. I feel they are innocent until proven guilty." Pay attention to what Mr. Davis just did. He's spelling out D.C. acronyms about the Salahis. They're the Dynamic Couple. But they also should receive the benefits of our justice system's Dilligence and Courts. All this is just flying over Larry's head. If Larry realizes he's talking to a madman, he doesn't show it.

After the break, Larry probes some more about that invitation, and this time the Salahi Friends admit they had the feeling that the Salahis were not invited to the dinner, but only the reception. But they're really sure that they were invited to the reception. Because the Salahis told them so. Why Larry hasn't finally started booking serial killers' best friends and beloved pets to testify to their innocence, I don't know. It would make no less sense than this. Finally, Larry says that he can imagine how heartbroken the Salahis must be and that he looks forward talking to them. For as he says, "we don't have an agenda on this program. I would like to learn what this was all about." No agenda! No bias! Just lively debate about the color of the sky.

Another Annoying Tray Complaint About Rap (See 3rd Paragraph)

I'm (obviously) abandoning my Larry King wrapups, as I don't find them too entertaining, and I really don't care too much about rap right now, and I don't really have anything interesting to say about the weird Pill/Gibbs flare-up on the blogs a couple weeks back, other than that, yes, Pill and Gibbs, pretty great rappers, but admittedly, it is a little weird that these somewhat limited talents are the most ballyhooed rappers in the rap blog world right now, and there is something a little - I don't want to say retro about their work, because I don't particularly hear any kind of blatant Outkast imitation going on the way you did with the Knux or Da Backwudz - but a little "cinema of quality" to their output. Cinema of quality being a term of derision a group of young French film critics (who ultimately became great young French directors) in the late 50s used to throw up at the very competent and finely crafted, but a touch lifeless and certainly not at all innovative, movies made by their elders. And that's kind of how I feel about Pill, though he's not one bit lifeless, but I do feel that we've perhaps progressed beyond finely polished rapping of the sort he has to offer being the gold standard anymore, and that it's just a bit of an artistic dead end in the very large scheme of things. In the not so large scheme of things, it's just a relief to hear some very good rapping these days, and it's not like it's thematically barren stuff either.

Anyway, I've become a partial Gucci Mane convert, and listened to about half of his new mixtapes (skipping Brrussia and Great Brrrrtain) with a fair amount of approval, though all the songs do seem to blend into one big ad-lib, aside from interesting changes in flow (I love the Jeezy imitation on 'Dope Boys,' since Jeezy is no longer very interested in being himself, and the slurry mumbly mess that isn't actually a mess at all that's 'Trap Goin Crazy') and some stupid-funny jokes that help to distinguish tracks from each other. But the album cuts, so far, have not been so wonderful. For a mixture of reasons. With 'Heavy,' Gucci's reaching the point of diminishing returns in his fun "my whole life can be reduced to one word that expresses its awesomeness" subgenre. Why he can't just put 'Wonderful' or 'Awesome' or 'Gorgeous,' or maybe my favorite, 'Disaster' on the album, I don't understand; in the great old material vs. the exciting new material that's not nearly as good as the old, I always come down on the great old material side. That way, you might actually have an album worthy of reissue ten years from now, at which point no one will remember how new the material was. Then there are songs like 'Bad Bad Bad,' where the guest appearance (Keyshia Cole) actively detracts from the quality of the song. Gucci Mane's the kind of artist who needs his own Blue Raspberry to fit into his insular world of mealy-mouthed vocals and Brrrr's, not some top-of-the-line chanteuse. But it's an album and record labels seem to think that big names help move records, in addition to which rappers seem to genuinely like working with big names. So okay, excusable pitfall of the medium.

But then you have something like 'Stupid Wild,' of which I can only conclude that no one involved gave a shit. 'Stupid Wild,' you know, if done right, could actually have been a pretty important song for this generation, the way 'Black Republicans' was supposed to be for people old enough to care about Jay or Nas, the way 'Mr. Carter' kind of maybe actually was, the way, I don't know, the Flava In Your Ear remix was. Think about it - the three critical darlings of the decade, each one of whom was or is a pretty huge cult figure outside of critical circles, all on one track. Produced by Bangladesh! What could go wrong? Well apparently everything. First, Bangladesh decided to refurbish 'You Don't Want Drama.' What is that about? Maybe it's not on him and Gucci particularly wanted to rap over that track? Well if so, that was a mistake, because he sounds suffocated by it (note how he just gets off one muffled 'Brrr' and one 'Well damn!'). Wayne reuses the same forgettable verse he had on previous Gucci/Wayne collabo, 'Bitches Wanna' - although perhaps that was a leaked incomplete version of this track, but given that no one liked 'Bitches Wanna' much, shouldn't this have been a signal to go back and actually record a good verse, instead of this collection of throwaway lines like "Mr. Coach Carter, or Mr. Go Harder" and "and if you wanna fight, come on, you can fight my guns"? And then there's Cam, who just can't much rap anymore. "Started getting on my nerves so I hit her with a BRRRRR" is about as embarrasing as any of Jay's recent exercises on overemphasis and punched-in adlibs. (It's also very typical of rap these days that no one thought to partially redeem this lame idea by having Gucci complete Cam's line, which would at least create an illusion of chemistry and shared studio time that your average 90s rap posse track thrived on.) Who to put Cam's verse on is hard to say; it's between Cam, who is capable of working around his deficits for a 30-second spurt or so (see 'Popeye's'), and Gucci, who didn't have the gumption to say the verse wasn't good enough to make the record. You know, the way rappers used to do when a guest appearance sucked.

If this were just one disappointing song, it wouldn't be worth taking a break from studying contracts to write about, but the thing is, virtually every big collaboration or remix is like this these days. One generally gets the sense that today a rapper decides to do a song with someone, sends him the instrumental, gets a recording of his verse back, and puts the verse on the song regardless of whether it's any good. If it's good, we get lucky and get a good song, and if it's bad we're unlucky and don't. What was the last time you heard of a verse being shot down? You do hear about it occasionally, but usually in the context of replacing one rapper with another with a bigger name - more for the sake of marketing than quality. Compare this to some of the old XXL write-ups about the making of Cuban Linx or what have you, where you read about artists rejecting bad verses, listening to different verses - in the case of 'Verbal Intercourse,' for example, telling Nas that the legendary verse that made the record was the one he should use, when he apparently wanted to go with another - and you can see one major reason for why today's album rap is rarely better than mediocre. A reason, I might add, that really isn't on the label so much as it is on artists not giving a shit. It goes beyond that though - one doesn't get the sense, with today's big collabos, that the featured artists get up for them the way they undeniably did in the past. Wayne's verse on this song, or Gucci's or Cam's, definitely can't be their idea of a great verse. They're just passable at best, and they have to know that. Maybe this is the fault of mixtapes - anything but your lead single, a torch-passing collaboration with Jay, or the intro to your album is just another song out of millions, so why bother trying to make something unusually good - but even if that is the cause, it's no excuse.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Larry and Mariah Go Back Like Babies and Pacifiers (Blogging LKL Pt. 2)

The thing about Larry and really big-name female celebrities is that he's friends with all of them. It's weird but true. So anytime he has some really famous woman on above the age of 30, it's not going to be a very funny episode because he just cuddles up to them for an hour and whispers sweet nothngs in their ears. Basically. So aside from

a) Larry reciting the lyrics of 'Hero' like it was the fucking Rime of the Ancient Mariner
b) the hilarity of an old white man like Larry saying "and then along came Nick Cannon!"
c) Larry's creepy fascination with how Mariah, who he seems to think is a gorgeous woman, managed to look so ugly (as he puts it, "how about the question of playing down the looks") in her new awful overrated abuse-porn film Precious
d) Larry telling Mariah that 'Obsessed' is "pretty great... a great song"
e) the "abuse bombshell she drops exclusively to us" turning out to be a vague claim that once upon a time she was mentally and emotionally abused by a certain unnamed someone

nothing on this episode was too good. The one great part was when Larry asked Mariah to define 'diva' for him. I half-expected Mariah to calmly explain that a diva is a female version of a hustler, but she instead said that a diva is (a) a great opera singer, and (b) a difficult woman, but that today the diva concept has become diluted:

but now it's like everybody's a diva. The Cupcake Lady -- oh, the Diva of Cupcakes. You're the diva of, you know, whatever it is. It's sand, you make great sand castles. It doesn't have the same connotation.

Really, Mariah, the diva of sand? Anyway, Larry, who's honestly trying to understand what a 'diva' is, says, with a straight face:

So it lost its meaning.

Tonight, though, should be way better, because we're getting "the "DC Sniper's" ex-wives and one of his sons! One night before his scheduled execution, his first ex-wife will be there to hear his last words before he is put to death. The dark side of John Allen Muhammad revealed." I would've thought that he already revealed that dark side when he shot a ton of people.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Blogging Larry King, Pt. 1 (Fort Hood, Domestic Abuse, Obama's Brother)

No words.

Everyone's always known that Larry King was the squishiest of big-name interviewers. But he used to be something more than a complete joke. Remember when he had Ross Perot and Al Gore on to debate NAFTA? (I do and I was 8 at the time.) These days, though, Larry is quasi-senile, his producers are insane, and the result is the most dependably hilarious 60 minutes of television since, I don't know, fucking I Love Lucy. Larry's probably been this nuts for years but I started watching him religiously after this summer's double whammy of the Jermaine Jackson interview and the Ashton/Diddy/Seacrest/Fallon Twitter episode. A few traits define Late Larry:

  • A penchant for having on crazy and/or retarded guests.
  • A complete suspension of disbelief or critical thinking as these crazy and/or retarded guests say crazy and/or retarded things.
  • Blind celebrity-love.
  • Great trust in highly dubious "experts."
  • Bizarre levels of inanity - inane questions, inane subjects, inane musings.
  • Inadvertent surrealism.
Anyway, my obsession with latter-day Larry is such that I've decided, now that I have a handy DVR, to start blogging the best bits from each Larry episode. I start with his second episode on Fort Hood.

Fort Hood

The Fort Hood episode was fairly subdued by Larry's standards, but we did get a few great moments of unwitting self-parody. The episode kicked off with an interview of a neighbor of the officer who shot the assailant; the subtitle under her head read "SHE KNOWS FORT HOOD HERO COP." (One of the best parts of Larry's show is the crazy subtitles.) Larry, naturally, asks what she thought when she heard her neighbor was the hero cop. The neighbor, being a well-intentioned but clearly dim young Texan woman, says that she wasn't surprised at all because her hero cop neighbor had previously deterred some juveniles from breaking into a house, and then gone to the heroic extent of warning residents in the neighborhood to be careful of marauding juveniles. Midstream into this story, Larry inexplicably goes, 'Wow!" And when it's all over, instead of being like, "um, what does that have to do with anything," he goes:

So she was the heroic type.

Next up, Larry had a man whose "SON LOOKED SHOOTER IN THE EYE" (and who also was wounded). Larry sensitively asks whether he immediately thought of his son when he heard about the shootings; the man, for the first time in the history of post-mass-murder interviews, says no because it was a base of 50,000 and what was the chance his son was one of the victims? Then, in typical "something just isn't right up there" LK fashion, he asks:

We understand he was scheduled to come home for Thanksgiving and then go to Afghanistan. Can we imagine that's all changed - well, he'll still get home, won't he, for Thanksgiving?

Dad says he's sure his son will. Next, after some reporters whom Larry effusively congratulates on their great reporting, we get "MEDIC WHO TREATED HERO COP". Much to Larry's disappointment, the medic didn't get a chance to talk to hero cop because she was unconscious, but the medic does tell an involved tale of putting a torniquet on the woman's leg. To which Larry quoth:

That's what great medics do. Thank you, Francisco.

Then we have the sister of one of the victims. Why she's chosen to put herself through the gauntlet of an emotionally insensitive Larry King interview, who knows. Larry opens with "when did you find out that Jason had been killed?" Which he follows with "he was just 22, right?" And to really rub it in:

Do you know, Leila, you can expect someone who goes in the Army, goes to Iraq, OK, you're hardened for the worst. But you certainly never expect him to die at his base, right? Never.

Amazingly, Leila does not sue Larry for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Finally, Larry caps things off with the duo of General McCaffery and Wesley Clark, who know absolutely nothing about what happened or base security in general, but proceed to argue over whether we should all be afraid of Muslims now. Typically, Larry, who never questions his interviewees' veracity or judgment, acts oblivious to his guests' raging debate because acknowledging it might force him to pick a side. Wesley, once a Democratic Presidential hopeful, actually muses on "what it would take for you to feel comfortable now" serving with Muslims and darkly hints that we're "just scratching the surface of the enormous conflict that must be so present in so many people around this country and around the world." McCaffery says that this is a completely isolated incident that we can learn nothing from whatsoever. Larry just thanks these two "outstanding servants" for showing up.

Domestic Violence

This episode starts with a great premise - let's get four mildly famous battered women (or sisters of famous dead battered women), including Robin Givens, together to watch clips of Rihanna's interview with Diane Sawyer and offer their expert commentary. But it never really picks up the absurdist steam you'd expect. Though at times Larry's attempt to subject Rihanna's interview to some sort of Perez Hilton-meets-deconstructionism analysis yields up some gems, as when he actually asked Mary Murphy, reality TV judge on "So You Think You Can Dance," and a oneitme battered spouse, this question:

Do you think [it was] worse for her than you, or apples and oranges?

Mary thinks it's maybe apples and oranges. Robin manages to be the least sympathetic domestic violence victim ever, constantly reminding us that Mike went on to eat Evander's ear, and at one point clapping for something Nicole Brown Simpson's sister said - who, by the way, reveals her myopic class biases when she says that most women used to think that abuse couldn't happen to them, but when they found out that Nicole got battered, they realized it could happen to affluent people too. As if most women are affluent or something, or maybe just the ones who matter. Larry attempts to sympathize with all these whiny abuse victims, but eventually shows his true colors and asks:

A famous psychiatrist once said to me - and I wonder how you would all react to this - he said, "If you come home at night -- you are a man -- and your wife hits you with a lamp, and you come home the second night and she hits you with a lamp, and you come home the third night, and she hits you with a lamp, on the fourth night, if you come home, who is nuts?" So that we relate to. If you are hit all the time, granted, the hitter is wrong - again, why do you come back to get punched?

The women are so shocked that they don't know what to say. Then Larry adds in a doctor to the mix and asks her "have we had a definitive study of the violent person?" What? The doctor says there are lots of different kinds of violent people. Larry says he just meant domestic violent people. Like that makes his question any less retarded.

Obama's Brother

Mark Obama Ndesandjo is one of those people whose remarks, as nutty and incoherent as they read in print, sound a million times more demented on TV. The guy just seems like he's done a ton of drugs. He sounds a lot like the SNL guy who does Obama, if that guy swapped brains with Jermaine Jackson. It's not even like he's going up there with some rational plan to cake off Obama and sell tons of copies of his book, because the first thing he emphasizes is how that book is a work of fiction with no insights into his brother or the Obama family. Even Larry seems to half-realize that the guy is nuts. Mr. Ndesandjo explains that his book is of no interest to the Obama-curious reader at all, but rather is a novel with three important messages, namely

1. Domestic violence.
2. Starting from scratch.
3. The power and the spirit of service.

These messages, Ndesandjo says, are not just about the Obama family. Rather, "they run across all countries, all regions.... all religions." Again, you really need to see the video because in between each word he takes huge pauses in a futile attempt to gather his thoughts, pauses that can only be the product of a lifetime of heavy drug use.

After that, Larry asks him what effect being beaten as a child had on him. Typically inane Larry question made to seem almost brilliantly rational by Nde's colossally off-point answer. Ndesandjo starts his answer like so:

Let me -- I guess one thing I would like to share, Larry, is that, just to recap a little bit, my life has always been about self-expression, whether it is through music, calligraphy, writing, and so forth.

Calligraphy. Then, for the next two minutes, Ndesandjo muses on how "there are things that are sometimes extraordinary situations that can occur in a man's life," among which "could be, it could be, it could be" the loss of a job or falling in love. When these things that are sometimes extraordinary situations occur, Ndesandjo seems to be groping towards, the abuse victim begins to reflect on his sucky childhood. To which Larry can only blurt out in exasperation:

And the effect on you was WHAT??

This shouting seems to trigger some coherence in Nde, who, on cue, promptly regurgitates memories of seeing his mother being beaten in Kenya. Very vivid memories:

you -- you see the light. There's like a golden -- the light of the lamp in the living room, and you hear thuds -- and I have mentioned this before in the interviews -- and YOU CAN'T PROTECT YOUR MOTHER!

'Wow,' Larry says. Nde begins to cry. After a commercial break, Larry says that they have limited time on the satellite (??), so he just wants Nde to give some quick comments on whether he and Barack have discussed their father. Nde will have none of it and instead goes on one of the great lunatic rants you'll ever see on cable television:

I want to just get back to one issue, and that is that my brother talked about having a difficulty in terms of relating to people, and I think this is very true, because what happens is that when you are in such situations, your skin -- you become hardened to emotional attachments to people. And in the book, while the book is an autobiography -- excuse me, is a novel that is semi-autobiographical -- it has strong parallels with my father, with my mother, with me, and also my grandmother. Now, I just wanted to say that what happens is that sometimes -- because you're not able to connect with other people, you do things which are very strange -- for example, when you fall in love. In the story there is a character called David, and he falls in love with Spring. And what happens is that they butt against each other; they seem to break apart. And it's because of dumb emotion and dumb emotion. And then what happens is that David discovers his father's diary. Now, I have not discussed my father with -- with Barack, but I do know that we have had similar thoughts, and we have had similar -- I think similar reflections on certain things, but I -- Barack and I never had the benefit of a diary which could explain the fullness of, for example, my father. I thought my father was just a bad man for a long, long time, and I shut a lot of things out of my life. And then what happened is that I felt that there had to be good in him. There had to be good in him - and so I wrote this diary in my book because that would fill out the good parts.

Larry, constitutionally incapable of uttering a "what the fuck are you talking about" or the broadcastable equivalent, can only say that he's very anxious to read Nde's book.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Iverson, Iverson

Anyone could have told you that Iverson in Memphis would be a disaster. But who would've thought things would blow up so quickly? I was expecting more of a gradual disaster, where A.I. would completely stymie Mayo/Conley's development, see his playing time slashed, complain a whole lot, and ultimately be sent home by about March. Instead, he's already complaining about coming off the bench, and today things got a lot worse. But first, the bench complaining. First off, he's just come off an injury so he has no reason whatsoever to complain - this is what NBA teams do with veteran players coming off injuries, but besides that, what makes A.I. so special that he can't come off an NBA bench? Rasheed Wallace comes off the bench. Manu Ginobili comes off the bench. Jason Terry comes off the bench. Jamal Crawford comes off the bench. Al Harrington is coming off the bench and averaging 22 per. Does A.I. really think he's that much better, today, than Ginobili? That because he accomplished a lot of stuff in his career a long time ago, he's an essential part of any team's starting rotation? Where does he propose to start anyway? Over Conley, the team's point guard of the future? Over Mayo, the team's shooting stud? What purpose would that serve - making the team, maybe, the 13th best team in the West instead of the 15th?

But it gets better. Tonight, Iverson's left the team, just 3 games into his Grizzlies career, for personal reasons - reportedly, his upset over playing time - and it's unknown when he's coming back. Says Marc Spears:

A frustrated Allen Iverson
has departed the Memphis Grizzlies and is not expected to return any time soon, if at all, a source close to Yahoo! Sports said today. The source said Iverson is going back to Atlanta to clear his head and is extremely unhappy about the lack of communication with coach Lionel Hollins over his playing time and reserve role in three games since returning from an injury.

You can't be serious! Even if the guy was actually promised that he would start over the team's future point guard, which would be insane, this would still border on the psychotic. Who, in the history of the NBA, has left a team three games into his season because he was unhappy over only playing 22 minutes a game?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Soulja Boy vs. The Shirelles Finally Happened

I think my second post ever was about how Soulja Boy should sample the Shirelles 'Soldier Boy.' He finally came through, in typically mediocre but substantially entertaining fashion. Track 7 of the mixtape below.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Lazy writers' crutch alert, but when people look at American democracy, they often express amazement that someone as incompetent and supposedly dumb as George W. Bush could be elected President. When people look at democracy in general, they express surprise that the two most venerable democracies in the world could elect leaders who both thought it was a good idea to invade Iraq. And sometimes this gets blamed on the media, or various elites, or stolen elections and family dynasties in the case of Bush. But the reality is, our system, or the British system, just isn't set up to elect people who are good at governing the nation or developing wise policies. It's set up to elect talented politicians. And we really do a stellar job at it. If you conceive of presidential politics as a sort of NCAA tournament of gifted bullshit artists, where the guy who's better at pushing his bullshit advances, you begin to get a handle on what American democracy really is. Of course, the state of the economy plays a huge role in elections, probably determines most. But even so, this plays out on the bullshit level. It's a lot easier to bullshit about the other party's economy than to, as President, bullshit about why the bad economy's not your fault. So though the economy (and popular/unpopular wars) may be the real causal factor behind electoral outcome, the best bullshitter at any given moment will still almost always win.

To give some examples before I turn to Bush, Jimmy Carter, though we forget it today, was an unbelievably talented politician. A basically unheard of and unpopular one-term Governor of Georgia, he defeated a slew of better-known candidates in the primaries on an incredibly vague platform of change, hope, character, American heartland values, and Washington outsiderism, and then proceeded to knock off the sitting President. Once in office, he proved to be fairly incompetent, but still fended off a primary challenge from Ted Kennedy, who knew vastly more about getting shit done in Washington but much, much less about winning an election. Then, unfortunately, he ran into the most gifted bullshitter of the post-war era in the general election. And that was the end of Carter.

Another example - John McCain, a man who knew absolutely nothing about domestic policy and whose foreign policy instincts were like something out of Dr. Strangelove, was such a fine bullshitter in his day, with his promises of straight talk and sappy ghostwritten memoirs about his admiral father and grandfather, that he nearly up-ended Bush's infinitely better-funded and better-ran campaign in the 2000 primaries. After that, he was, for eight years, probably America's most popular politician. Even David Foster Wallace loved the guy. In 2008, after internal struggles within his operation threatened to torpedo his campaign, he knocked off Rudy Giuliani - 9/11 folk hero, America's Mayor - and Mitt Romney with ease - Mitt Romney, who in his own right is such a talented politician that he managed to get elected Governor in Massachusetts. But then he met Obama, and, like a Federer-Roddick match, the guy with mere one-in-a-million gifts went down to the finest talent of his generation.

The abilities of either man to govern, of course, weren't tested in this match at all; note that, prior to Obama's becoming President, neither had ran anything in their lifetime, and that neither ever passed much significant legislation. Our elections aren't about ability to govern because actual administrative competence is something that would actually take work and research on the part of the voter to assess. Even if voters have the time - many of us watch tons of political news coverage - looking at candidates' actual track records is too boring for many voters to do or for many media outlets to do. Therefore, even politicians who have competence don't campaign on the basis of it. The illusion of competence, on the other hand - an appearance of strength, of decisiveness, of a superficial knowledge of the issues - is something that a politician either succeeds or fails at projecting in a matter of mere seconds, and is terribly crucial.

Getting to Bush, then, Bush got elected because he was a phenomenally gifted politician, one who was able to, for however brief a time, re-brand conservatism in much more appealing terms than those in which the middle of the electorate had perceived it for a decade. At the same time he was also able, and don't underestimate the difficulty of this, unify the conservative base like nobody had been able to do since Reagan. A hard task by itself, but even harder when you're simultaneously winning moderates' votes. He managed to stay in office even though he already had been revealed, by 2004, to be an incompetent President. Some excerpts from a Bush speechwriter's memoir came out today, and it's startling to be reminded in the same piece of how the same man managed to be such a political genius and such an administrative fool.

On the one hand, we learn that our President signed onto the initial bailout even though he had no idea how it worked. That he was excited about the bailout because he thought it would "go [down] in [history] as a big decision." (To which, we're told, some pathetic hanger-on replied, "Definitely, Mr. President. This is a large decision.") That he imagined that we'd be buying up cheap assets and selling them for great profits. And that when he was told that wasn't how the bailout worked,

the president was momentarily speechless. He threw up his hands in frustration.

“Why did I sign on to this proposal if I don’t understand what it does?” he asked.

Then, after finding out how it did work, he went ahead and gave the same speech he was planning to give in the first place.

On the other hand, we learn that while most of the media and certainly the entire Republican Party was celebrating Palin's choice as a game-changer, Bush had the acuity, several days after her choice, to correctly and quite articulately prophesy that she would be a huge bust:

“I’m trying to remember if I’ve met her before. I’m sure I must have.” His eyes twinkled, then he asked, “What is she, the governor of Guam?”

Everyone in the room seemed to look at him in horror, their mouths agape. When Ed told him that conservatives were greeting the choice enthusiastically, he replied, “Look, I’m a team player, I’m on board.” He thought about it for a minute. “She’s interesting,” he said again. “You know, just wait a few days until the bloom is off the rose.” Then he made a very smart assessment.

“This woman is being put into a position she is not even remotely prepared for,” he said. “She hasn’t spent one day on the national level. Neither has her family. Let’s wait and see how she looks five days out.” It was a rare dose of reality in a White House that liked to believe every decision was great, every Republican was a genius, and McCain was the hope of the world because, well, because he chose to be a member of our party.

There's also a rather poignant bit (if you're capable of feeling sorry for George W. Bush) where Bush is supposed to do a rally with McCain in Arizona to show that they don't hate each other, and then the thing gets closed to the press, prompting Bush to ask why it's closed to the press if the point is to show people that they don't hate each other. It turns out that the event is closed because McCain's staff is a bunch of fuck-ups, causing Bush, who probably presided over the best-ran presidential campaigns in our nation's history, to despair:

Eventually, someone informed the president that the reason the event was closed was that McCain was having trouble getting a crowd. Bush was incredulous—and to the point. “He can’t get 500 people to show up for an event in his hometown?” he asked. No one said anything, and we went on to another topic. But the president couldn’t let the matter drop. “He couldn’t get 500 people? I could get that many people to turn out in Crawford.” He shook his head. “This is a five-spiral crash, boys.”

We tried to move on to something else. But the president wouldn’t let go. He was stuck on the Phoenix event. At one point, he looked off into space and said to no one in particular, “What is this—a cruel hoax?”

Sad in a few ways, not least of which is the fact that too often Bush's presidency felt like a cruel hoax. Unfortunately, it's one of the tragedies of our political system that it not only allows for, but encourages the election of men with such huge disparities between their political skills and their abilities to govern.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Why Do People Love Jay-Z?

What do people see in Jay-Z? More to the point, what did I ever see in Jay-Z? I listen to songs I used to think were great, like 'Hovi Baby' or 'Watcher 2,' and the parts that wowed me at the time - "know the shit I don't write be the illest shit that's ever been recited in the game, word to the hyphen in my name!" - now seem to fall totally flat. At one time I bought into the myth that Jay never got outshined on a track (except maybe on the 'Ha' remix); now if I hear a song with him and another rapper, or three other rappers, his verse is almost always my least favorite. Take 'Poppin Tags'; it seems pretty clear to me now that even a young Killer Mike gets him on that. But back in 2004, Jay's verse was the only one I knew the words to, and I loved it, particularly "there he goes, talking about hoes and dough again/I'm surprised I got so much dough to spend." What was I hearing? For so many people, Jay seems to be this lovable household god, the rapping equivalent of Oprah. 6 years later, I would've thought the days of my being held captive on road trip Black Album sing-alongs would be over by now. After all the post-retirement pratfalls, you'd think the days of people calling Jay the G.O.A.T., as if Nas, Big, Ghostface, Rakim, Kane, KRS, Scarface, Andre 3000, Ice Cube, Chuck D, and Prodigy had never lived, would be over. But no. A guy with two very good albums and many collections of filler continues to be talked up as the greatest. I can only conclude that the very things I can't stand about Jay, the reasons I'm so fed up with him that if I had to go to a desert island and had to choose between Jay's catalogue and Yo Gotti's to take with me, I'd take the Yo Gotti - his 6-o'clock-news-anchor-like blandness, his lack of personality, of idiosyncracy, of humor or emotion, his inability to be anything more or less than this vague universal all things to all people Hova-man - are what make him so beloved. In that respect he's a lot like Jordan. Except that Jordan, notwithstanding his carefuly cultivated persona, was a transcendent basketball player and Jay rarely sounds like much more to me than an insecure guy trapped in an only occasionally convincing ice grill.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Thought On Race

In the days to come, some enterprising someone will point out that whites' anger at Kanye (which is really reaching a ridiculous fever pitch on my Facebook news feed) over this Swift nonsense is partly racial. That it reeks of racist animus against uppity negroes. And they'll be damn right. I know I have some white readers out there who probably fancy themselves super-enlightened and will think this doesn't apply to them, but speaking for the great mass of white Americans, white people don't like angry black men. Really don't like them. Most of the upset about Jeremiah Wright had nothing to do with the stuff he said and everything to do with his enraged delivery and the mob-like "that's right, mmm-hmm" chorus from his black audience. Wright also said some stupid shit, and has since turned out, surprise surprise, to be a flaming anti-Semite (the Jews, he said on the day that the Holocaust Museum got shot up, are the ones keeping him away from Obama), but it was really mostly how he said what he said, and that he was black. Similarly, Kanye is going to get pilloried for this to a far greater extent than he would be if he were a white guy who talked like a white guy (and was rude to some black performer).

That being said, I suppose this is where I'm supposed to atone on behalf of my race for the racially motivated beating-up in the press Kanye is about to get. But I won't. In the first place, though Kanye will be bashed more than he would have if he were white, a whole lot more, he surely deserves some bashing (and surely could use some therapy). As I noted with Vick, the fact that some people don't like Thing X that you do for, in part, racial reasons does not mean that they are wrong to not like the fact that you do Thing X, whether Thing X is electrocuting dogs, killing your white wife, being Michael Steele, offering healthcare proposals that won't work (I thought we were getting some kind of cost controls?), or acting like a colossal jerk on live television. Racism is always regrettable but doesn't end the conversation.

More interestingly though, I think whites' discomfort with angry black guys is just one of those almost instinctual things that will never go away, like black distrust of white elites. I mean, what makes me, for example, cringe when I see a Kanye or Jeremiah Wright on TV? Was I somehow acculturated by my liberal family and insanely left-wing Quaker school to dislike angry black men? Or is a Jeremiah Wright simply something so foreign to my experience that seeing him on TV makes me feel threatened, repulsed, disgusted - just as the last black, Baptist funeral that I attended was so novel to me that I was reduced to uncontrollable laughter? I really don't think that anything more insidious here is at work than a simple lack of exposure. That, and different norms of etiquette.

I'm Starting To Feel Bad Ragging On Kanye Because It's Clear That The Man Is Autistic

I see the Aspergian Queen of Pop stood up for one of his living legends tonight. What can you even say about a man with the comportment of a 2-year-old? This is what happens when shitted-on losers become famous, I guess; they continue to act out their anger towards the kids who punked them at recess. I just want my pop radio to be freed of his noxious whiny voice already. Or at least if he can't retire he could go back to making some good beats.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Friday, September 11, 2009

50 Top Rap Songs Of The Decade

Saw Jordan do this over on Suckapunk, thought I'd try it. This is being done really quickly and is probably going to be retarded and not at all reflective of my true tastes. I mean, not at all. Here goes. In no particular order.

Lil Wayne, 'Go DJ.'
The Diplomats, 'I Really Mean It.'
Styles P, 'Kill That Faggot.'
Jay-Z, 'Ignorant Shit.'
Three 6 Mafia, 'Stay Fly.'
Three 6 Mafia, 'Poppin My Collar.'
Young Jeezy, 'I Got What It Takes.'
Young Jeezy, 'Air Forces.'
Madvillain, 'All Caps.'
Ghostface Killah, 'The Sun.'
Ghostface Killah, The Watch.'
Cam'ron, 'Killa Cam.'
Cam'ron f. Kanye West, 'Down And Out.'
Cam'ron, 'Get Em Girls.'
Cam'ron, 'Glitter.'
Crime Mob, 'Knuck If You Buck.'
Dem Franchize Boys f. Lots of People, 'I Think They Like Me (Remix).'
Nas, 'Purple.'
Nas f. Jadakiss and Ludacris, 'Made You Look (Remix).'
Nas, 'Stillmatic (The Intro).'
Jay-Z, 'Hovi Baby.'
Jay-Z, 'La La La.'
Z-Ro, '2 Many Niggaz (Screwed and Chopped).'
50 Cent f. Notorious B.I.G., 'Realest Niggas.'
Jadakiss, '40 Bars of Terror.'
Jadakiss, 'The Champ Is Here.'
Outkast, 'Bombs over Baghdad.'
Mike Jones f. Paul Wall & Slim Thug, 'Still Tippin.'
Yung Wun f. David Banner & Lil Flip, 'Tear It Up.'
The Clipse f. People, 'Cot Damn (Remix).'
Pharell, 'When Skateboard Came.' (Yes, love that mixtape.)
50 Cent, 'In Da Club.'
Sheek Louch f. Jadakiss, Styles P, J-Hood, '2 Guns Up.'
Styles P, 'Whattup Whattup.'
Gang Starr f. Jadakiss, 'Rite Where You Stand.'
Raekwon f. Method Man, Ghostface, 'New Wu.'
Masta Killa f. U-God, Method Man, RZA, 'Iron God Chamber.'
Ghostface Killah f. Solomon Childs, 'Gorilla Hood.'
Soulja Boy f. Gucci Mane and Yo Gotti, 'Shopping Spree.'
Trae f. Three 6 Mafia, Paul Wall, 'Cadillac.'
Outkast, 'The Whole World.'
Fabolous, 'Can't Let You Go (Remix).' (Trust me, look it up.)
Soulja Slim, Fiend, B.G., 'Fired Up.'
Hood Headlinaz, 'Wood Grain.'
Freeway f. Beanie Sigel, Jay-Z, 'What We Do (Is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong, Wrong, Wrong...)
Lil Jon f. Lil Scrappy, 'What U Gon' Do.'
Ludacris, 'Rollout.'
Nelly, 'Must Be The Money.'
Nelly, 'Air Force Ones.'
Big Tymers, 'Still Fly.'

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Ted Olson Housing Things

Ted thinks it's pitiful that you doubted him.

Today was Speech of the Century Day (it was okay); more excitingly, today was Sonia Sotomayor's debut at the Supreme Court - a debut that came in a case that, according to one hyperbolic assessment, "could surrender control of our democracy to corporate interests." I don't think the case was quite that big a deal, but it's a fairly big deal. The case involves a hitjob documentary on Hillary called, amusingly enough, Hillary: The Movie. Citizens United, a conservative nonprofit corporation/advocacy group, tried, during the primaries, to run the movie on on-demand cable and run a few ads on Fox and other networks suggesting that you pony up a couple bucks to watch their crappy movie. Amazingly enough, the government then stepped in and said that they couldn't air their movie on TV, not even on on-demand cable, because campaign finance law prevents corporations from running ads, movies, or other "electioneering communications" that endorse or bash a candidate within 30 days of a primary or 60 days of a general election. Citizens United then sued, claiming that their movie was not an electioneering communication as defined by campaign-finance law.

However, once they made their way to the Supreme Court last year, something strange happened. They were met by a government lawyer who, in his defense of the government's enjoining of the movie, bizarrely chose to argue that the law covered not only TV commercials and broadcasts, but also DVD's, websites, books, and Kindle. Either the guy was insane or deliberately trying to sabotage his own case and persuade the Court that campaign-finance law was unconstitutional. (He was a Bush appointee.) Faced with the prospect of banning books, the Court took the remarkable step of requesting a reargument of the case, asking the parties' attorneys to this time argue not whether the film was covered by the statute, but whether the statute itself was constitutional at all - whether the First Amendment allows us to restrict corporations' political speech in the weeks before an election. The only problem is that the Court said in a landmark decision just 19 years ago that restricting corporate campaign expenditures was perfectly alright.

The four lawyers who went before the Supreme Court are all geniuses, with the exception of one heavily overrated hype job. Citizens United hired Ted Olson, Bush's lawyer in Bush v. Gore and the Bush Administration's top attorney (the technical term here is Solicitor General) during Bush's first term. The government was represented by Elena Kagan, Obama's Solicitor General and the outgoing Dean of Harvard Law School. John McCain, the author of the legislation at issue (McCain-Feingold), was represented by Seth Waxman, Bill Clinton's Solicitor General, the winning attorney in the most recent Guantanamo case, and an incredibly brilliant guy. And Mitch McConnell, Republican Senate Minority Leader and lifelong opponent of campaign-finance reform, was represented by Floyd Abrams, First Amendment lawyer extraordinaire. He's the hype job, for reasons we'll get to later; I'd like to get to Kagan first.

Today was actually Kagan's first argument before the Supreme Court or any appellate court. Nevertheless, she acquitted herself extraordinarily well. Her argument, though, would fall victim to one huge flaw. The case that said 19 years ago that regulating corporate expenditures was okay, Austin, was decided on the basis that leveling the playing field and preventing what the case refers to as "distortion" of the marketplace of speech was a valid, even compelling, government interest. Today, though, it's clear that a majority of the Court thinks that leveling the playing field isn't something the government ought to be engaged in. So Kagan was forced to invent new reasons to uphold an old case, reasons that both aren't in the old case and are fairly unconvincing. Her one theory, oddly enough, is that we need to protect shareholders of corporations from having their money spent on political causes that they don't believe in; this doesn't wash when the vast majority of corporations don't sell stock. (As Scalia somewhat ridiculously kept coming back to, what about the "local hairdresser"? Kagan's quite reasonable response, that the local hairdresser can run an ad as an individual if she so chooses, didn't convince.) Her other is that if we let corporations buy ads, they could secretly trade those ads for favors from politicians. Not clear, unfortunately for her, that you need a total ban to prevent isolated instances of quid pro quo corruption. And of course, she was forced to take back all the stupid shit her batshit crazy predecessor said about it being totally okay for the government to ban corporation-funded books.

Olson and Abrams, on the other hand, were faced with the easy task of persuading a majority of the Court to adopt a position that they already believe in. Or at least it should have been easy, but Abrams, who's really more of a celebrity lawyer than a pro at this sort of thing, decided he'd spend his 10 minutes talking about New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, a very famous libel case that allowed newspapers to say bad stuff about people and has absolutely nothing to do with the issue at hand. It seems his theory was that, since free speech was really great and important in that context, it's really great and important in this one too. This is what happens, readers who plan to hire a lawyer to represent them at the Supreme Court one day, when you hire a frequent Larry King Live guest who writes popular bestsellers about how cool free speech is. When hiring an attorney to represent you before the Supreme Court, don't hire someone who you can actually understand. Hire a genius who speaks in alien tongues. Like me.

As for Olson, he spent his time getting cheered on by the four conservative hacks on the Court (and Justice Kennedy, who's more of a confused Hamlet figure but really hates campaign finance laws) and batting down easy questions of the "we said this was okay before, why isn't it still now?" variety from the four liberal hacks on the Court. And make no mistake about it; this Court now has four liberal hacks. It used to have only three, as Justice Souter was no hack, but rather the Court's brightest member and a guy who genuinely thought cases over before committing one way or the other. Sotomayor, on the other hand, is, like the rest of the Court's members, a hack, someone who sees a result she likes (banning corporate speech, good!) and comes up with specious legal arguments to justify getting there. For example:

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Mr. Olson, are you giving up on your earlier arguments that there are ways to avoid the constitutional question to resolve this case? I know that we asked for further briefing on this particular issue of overturning two of our Court's precedents. But are you giving up on your earlier arguments that there are statutory interpretations that would avoid the constitutional question?

Translation: Couldn't we just pretend that the Hillary movie somehow doesn't violate the law so that we could avoid throwing out this blatantly unconstitutional law (which, despite its unconstitutionality, I happen to like) altogether?

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Going back to the question of stare decisis, the one thing that is very interesting about this area of law for the last 100 years is the active involvement of both State and Federal legislatures in trying to find that balance between the interest of protecting in their views how the electoral process should proceed and the interests of the First Amendment. And so my question to you is, once we say they can't, except on the basis of a compelling government interest narrowly tailored, are we cutting off or would we be cutting off that future democratic process? Because what you are suggesting is that the courts who created corporations as persons, gave birth to corporations as persons, and there could be an argument made that that was the Court's error to start with, not Austin or McConnell, but the fact that the Court imbued a creature of State law with human characteristics.

Translation: For the past century, Congress and the states have arguably been violating the Constitution when it comes to corporate speech. Since they've been doing that, wouldn't it be really unfair to impose the Constitution on them and cut off that fun "democratic process" now? Can't we just look the other way and not impose the test that applies to all other regulations of speech? And maybe, just maybe, we could throw out the centuries-old law that treats corporations as people, with the same constitutional rights that people have? Just throw it out? Even though absolutely no one has suggested that, it's not an issue properly before this Court, and it would create massive ripple effects in all sorts of other arenas? Because that would fix this whole problem and get us to the result I'd personally like.

Not that Sotomayor is dramatically worse than her liberal (or conservative) brethren. Justice Breyer offered this amusing argument for the constitutionality of the law:

JUSTICE BREYER: Is -- I -- I remember spending quite a few days one summer reading through 1,000 pages of opinion in the D.C. Circuit. And I came away with the distinct impression that Congress has built an enormous record of support for this bill in the evidence...So, if you could save me some time here, perhaps you could point me, if I am right, to those thousand pages of opinion and tens of thousands of underlying bits of evidence where there might be support for that proposition?

Translation: A few years ago over the summer I read a thousand-page document summing up an even longer document in which Congress offered a lot of justifications for the law. I really like this law and would love to defer to what Congress said about it; after all, what they said was really long and therefore must be convincing. I don't actually remember what that stuff said or whether it was very meaningful, but I want to vote for your side; could you help me remember some nice reasons to vote for you so I know what to say when I write my 60-page opinion about what a shame it is that the majority's letting corporations exercise their free speech rights?

After Olson, Abrams, and Kagan went, on came Waxman, and for a few minutes he worked up an incredibly eloquent storm about how Congress has been banning corporate expenditures for a hundred years and it sure as fuck isn't stopping now. At one point he actually name-checked a speech given on campaign finance in 1894 by "the sober-minded Elihu Root." Ladies and gentlemen, the sober-minded Elihu Root:

Looks sober-minded, doesn't he? Yes, wise old Elihu didn't want corporations corrupting our political system and we shouldn't either. To which Justice Kennedy bizarrely counters that back in Elihu's times, we didn't have "the phenomenon of -- of television ads where we get information about scientific discovery and -- and environment and transportation issues from corporations who after all have patents because they know something, that -- that is different." An aside: when Justice Sotomayor talked about wise Latinas making wise decisions, this is what she was talking about. Justice Kennedy's a great guy and a reasonably smart one, but he may have the least common sense of any white man on Earth. Dude seriously thinks that we gain from corporations running TV ads during election season because they're telling us helpful information about scientific discovery. And after all, those corporations, they have patents because they know something! That's different! They can tell us special information. Yeah, what really happens, as even I'll admit, is that your oil company who wants offshore drilling knows something, alright - that offshore drilling will make them richer - and runs ads against your local Democratic Congressman, talking a lot of mess about how he's costing jobs and making your gas prices go up by opposing something that won't kick in for a decade. But Justice Kennedy is weirdly naive like that.

Anyway, Waxman, nonplussed by Kennedy's insanity because he's argued a million cases before the Court and Scalia's nutty tirades about ad-running hairdressers and Kennedy's deluded optimism just rolls off his back at this point, goes merrily along his way for a couple minutes before until Justice Alito bursts his bubble, like so:

JUSTICE ALITO: Mr. Waxman, all of this talk about 100 years and 50 years is perplexing. It sounds like the sort of sound bites that you hear on TV. The -- the fact of the matter is that the only cases that are being -- that may possibly be reconsidered are McConnell and Austin. And they don't go back 50 years, and they don't go back 100 years.

No, they go back 19 years and 6 years. All that shit about how Congress has been doing this for a hundred years? Irrelevant. Waxman immediately apologizes for "demeaning the Court with sound bites." Again, let me stress the Abrams lesson: don't talk to the Court in intelligible ways understandable to the normal human being. Don't bullshit the Court. Waxman, previously on the roll of a lifetime, never recovers.

Then it's Olson's turn for rebuttal. Remember when I said that Kagan had a big problem, that a majority of the Court has plainly abandoned the rationale underwriting the precedent she's defending, forcing her to invent new, unconvincing rationales for that precedent? Yeah, well, here is where Olson counters with a big "what the fuck is you saying?" Here is how he opens:

The words that I would leave with this Court are the Solicitor General's. "The government's position has changed."

Ouch. The Court's liberal hacks quickly jump to their fellow liberal hackette's defense, claiming that nothing has changed and attempting to mire his ass-whipping of a rebuttal in statutory arcana and precedent-interpreting muddle. And they do for a few minutes. But, only as a genius advocate can, away he leaps from the hacks' clutches and proceeds to absolutely shit on the government's position, reducing all that's gone before to incoherent rubble:

I am -- I am representing an individual who wants to speak about something that's the most important thing that goes on in our democracy. I'm told it's a felony. I am not -- and I -- I don't know what the rational basis is. It's overbroad. Now I hear about this shareholder thing -- protecting shareholders. There is not a word in the congressional record with respect to the -- which was before the Court in the McConnell case about protecting shareholders. [Justice Breyer attempts to throw him off course; he scoffs at the question for the disingenuous bullshit that it is. Then:] My point I guess is -- if I may finish this sentence.
MR. OLSON: My point is that the government here has an overbroad statute that covers every corporation irrespective of what its stockholders think, irrespective of whether it's big, and whether it's general -- a big railroad baron or anything like that, and it doesn't know, as it stands here today two years after this movie was offered for -- to the public for its view, what media might be covered, what type of corporation might be covered and what compelling justification or narrow standard would be applied to this form of speech.

CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: Thank you, counsel. The case is submitted.

And just like that, General Kagan is owned. As picayune as the stuff may sound, to a lawyer, that contemptuous "it doesn't know" amounts to ownage of 'Ether' proportions. In years to come, lawyers may well tell each other, "you just got Olsoned." That said, when I heard the stunning ending of this argument, I didn't think of 'Ether,' which I think many of us are coming to agree was sort of overrated, but rather 'Kool Keith's Housing Things.' How hard is the line when Keith goes, "back in the days when I taught about science, the real construction, no other solo team or production did that, or got with that"? My favorite line on the album. Well actually, I prefer "but like my son, you still obey certain laws" on 'Funky.' But anyway. Ted Olson, folks, a virtuoso of Kool Keithian proportions.

Exclusive, Exclusive!

Seen on ESPN's ABC News sidebar: "EXCLUSIVE: Obama - 'We Intend to Get Something Done' on Health Reform." When you click on the link, the headline becomes the equally retarded "Obama Exclusive on Health Care: 'We Intend to Get Something Done'." This just gets me even more excited for tonight!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Why Chappaquiddick Had Next To Nothing To Do With Ted Kennedy Never Getting Elected President

In last week's obituaries and commentary on Ted Kennedy, I often saw it said that Chappaquiddick ended Ted's presidential ambitions. Ted's conduct at Chappaquiddick is far more reprehensible than commonly understood; the issue isn't that he swam away and didn't rescue her, but that the girl suffocated to death in the car for hours (that's right, she didn't drown, she suffocated several hours after the car landed in the water, eventually consuming all the oxygen that was left inside the car) while Ted huddled with his lawyers and tried to figure out what lies to tell. If he had just called the police, the woman would have lived. By the time he eventually went to the police, it was the next morning and her body had already been fished out of the car. It's fairly obvious what really happened; in an attempt to avoid taking a drunken driving rap and conceal what he was up to with his passenger, he dillied and dallied and let a woman die. Once he realized he'd be in an even bigger mess if he didn't admit he was the driver, he went to the police. That said, as criminal and callous as Ted's actions really were, they weren't what kept him from the White House. Ted's not wanting to be President kept Ted from the White House.

Let's first take up the one presidential campaign that Ted did run, a primary race against the incumbent Democratic President, Jimmy Carter. Those who claim that Chappaquiddick was the determining factor in Ted's defeat would have you believe not only that Ted could have actually defeated Carter, a sitting President, in the primaries if not for Chappaquiddick - a feat which has never been accomplished in modern American politics, and would've been quite tough even if Ted weren't a philandering alcoholic on account of Carter's having such a strong base in the South - but that he would have then gone on to defeat Ronald Reagan. Just imagine, for a second, a Ted-Reagan debate. Reagan, all optimism, warmth and slickness, and Ted, all indignant and not particularly articulate bluster. It wouldn't have gone well. Such an outcome would also mean that in 1980, Americans would have rejected Carter for a politician who thought that Carter's problem was that he wasn't liberal enough. Perhaps it's possible that the only reason Reagan beat Carter was because of how much of a fuck-up Carter personally was, but it's hard to believe that the nation was really in the mood in 1980 to replace Carter with a man farther to his left. Ted also wouldn't have had the one thing going for him that Carter did have - the argument that, as President, he was vastly more experienced than Reagan, not to mention vastly more intelligent. I'd give Ted, sans Chappaquiddick, about a 10% chance of being elected President in 1980. At best.

Then there's the argument that if not for Chappaquiddick, Ted would've ran against Nixon in 1972. Sure, he may well have. But recall that in 1972, Nixon won 49 states and 61% of the vote. Some of that, yes, was due to what a poor candidate his opponent, George McGovern, was. But even assuming that Ted would've been a much stronger candidate - and all acounts of his one presidential campaign indicate that outside of the comforts of Massachusetts he was something of a bumbler on the trail - is it really possible that the face on the ticket could've made that big a difference? The difference between winning only one state and winning the whole thing? Clearly Nixon was pretty popular in November 1972. Chances of Ted being elected President in 1972 sans Chappaquiddick: 10%.

Then there are all the races that Ted didn't run but should have, and didn't not run because of Chappaquiddick but because, for whatever reason, he didn't feel like it. 1976 might have been Ted's best chance, even with Chappaquiddick. Had he ran that year, wouldn't he very possibly have beaten an unknown Jimmy Carter in the primaries, and gone on to knock off Gerald Ford? Sure, it's true that immediately after Watergate, the nation was probably looking for a squeaky-clean guy, so, if Ted had run, one could certainly argue that Chappaquiddick would've defeated him, whereas, if not for Chappaquiddick, he would've been the 1976 favorite. Then again, even without Chappaquiddick, Ted was never what you'd call a squeaky-clean guy. Here you have to say that Ted's not really wanting it enough to run until a year when he had no chance was what kept him from the White House. Another case in point is 1968. After his brother got shot, party leaders tried to make Ted the candidate - but Ted wouldn't do it, one year prior to Chappaquiddick. Had he been nominated, he would've had a good shot at beating Nixon on a wave of slain Kennedy emotion. Then there's 1988, a race that Ted bizarrely dropped out of three years in advance, announcing his decision to not run in 1985. Had he run, even with Chappaquiddick, there's no doubt that he would've beaten Dukakis (the lamest presidential candidate of my lifetime) and Dick Gephardt in the primaries. Whether he would've beaten Bush's father is probably a different story. Though he would've ran a better race, Ted was a pretty divisive figure and it's doubtful that the country would've taken such a big lurch to the left after 8 years of Reagan.

Finally, there's the election that no one ever talks about in connection to Ted, 1992. Suppose an older and wiser Ted - then only 60, far from too old - took on Bill Clinton in the primaries. Hard to say who would win there, but both were equally flawed characters so Chappaquiddick wouldn't have been that big a problem. Had Ted won the nomination, he then would have been elected President. Sure, he wasn't Clinton's equal as a campaigner, but (a) Bush was really unpopular and (b) Clinton brought a lot of deficits to the table that Ted lacked (youth, inexperience, being the governor of a state that was last in virtually everything). Had Ted won in '92, America would be a very different place today. Welfare reform never would've happened, and healthcare reform might well have. The Reagan tax cuts could've been rolled back to a far greater extent than they were under Clinton. We wouldn't have had a Democratic President who bragged in his inaugural that "the era of big government is over." And, without a Monica, and, with, perhaps, Clinton himself as Vice President, 2000 might very well have gone entirely differently. Which would mean no Iraq (and very likely no Obama). It was, it seems, Ted's calculation that he could do more good in the Senate, and that judgment has been commended by many an obituarist. But I wonder - if I were a liberal - whether I wouldn't look less fondly on Ted for refusing to take Clinton on in 1992.