Friday, July 31, 2009


Absolut Hostage Tape. (It's actually a healthcare townhall.)

As little as I agree with President Obama on pretty much all of his policy moves, or at least, the ones I feel informed enough about to disagree with, I never wake up and think to myself that I wish John McCain were President. The guy's a nut and doesn't know or care much about anything, and when it comes to the stuff he does know or at least care about, foreign policy, he's pretty wacked-out and bellicose. And until now I've never thought at any point that Hillary could've done a better job at this or that than Obama. Actually, I've been pretty sure that she would've done a lot worse. But with healthcare reform in its current treacherous state, I wonder if you're not for the first time seeing something that Hillary couldn't have done much better.

In Obama's defense, the politics of healthcare (and that's all I'm going to be talking about because I don't know shit about healthcare itself) is very tough. Outside of the uninsured themselves and the fairly small number of bleeding heart types who spend their lives worrying about distributive injustice, the constituency for insuring the uninsured just isn't that big. Especially if you can't come up with a simple narrative about how you're going to pay for it and those who don't need the help start to worry that their taxes will have to go up, or that their own care will get worse. So the obvious move is to claim that somehow healthcare reform will benefit everybody, even people who already have insurance they're reasonably happy with. To do that, though, you have to convince satisfied people that, previously unknown to them, there's something wrong with their insurance that needs fixing. And once you do that, once you've attempted to sell reform as a global improvement and not just a hand-out to to the people who lack insurance, you have to assure the reasonably content majority that, though the reform is global, it's not so sweeping that much of anything will change about the way they get their healthcare. Meanwhile, your political opponents, along with the interest groups whom your reforms will hurt, will be feverishly spreading misinformation about what your plan does, and you have to deny that your plan does these things convincingly and pretty loudly, while at the same time not issuing denials so often that people start to think what you're denying is true.

But as tough as the healthcare politics calculus is, one can't escape the conclusion that Obama's utterly failed to strike the proper balance between harping on the rights of the uninsured so much that everyone who has insurance sees reform as a welfare state giveaway and avoiding talking about the actual purpose of reform to the point that nobody gets what the reform's for. And beyond the poor messaging itself, I think you have to wonder whether Obama's really any good at selling policy in a way that resonates with people who aren't policy wonks. But first on the messaging. It's been comically bad. I can understand why a Democratic President would want to push the matter of covering the uninsured under the rug and focus on the benefits his proposal affords the vast insured majority, although not to the absurd extremes he's done it, where he'll literally go a 60-minute press conference or town hall without a single mention of the uninsured. What I can't understand is that instead of framing reform as a matter of insurance security - if you lose your job, if you get sick, you'll still have insurance - he's chosen to frame reform as a solution to the problem of out-of-control costs. Huh? People aren't into signing onto solutions for problems that they're not aware exist. And the average voter just isn't that aware of how much prescription drugs, tests, and surgery cost, much less how much more they cost here than in other nations. Even if they are aware, the fact that rising health costs cause the price of Medicare to go up, which causes the deficit to grow, just isn't something that keeps a ton of folks awake at night. Yet that, of all things, is the problem Obama's chosen to spotlight as the one reform will solve:

But we all know that right now, we've got a problem that threatens Medicare and our entire health care system, and that is the spiraling cost of health care in America today. As costs balloon, so does Medicare's budget. And unless we act, within a decade -- within a decade -- the Medicare trust fund will be in the red.
Now, I want to be clear: I don't want to do anything that will stop you from getting the care you need -- and I won't. But you know and I know that right now we spend a lot of money in our health care system that doesn't do a thing to improve people's health. And that has to stop. We've got to get a better bang for health care dollar.

Besides cost control's being a woefully inadequate and unexciting answer to the "why must we reform" question, it induces problematic fears about the content of the reform. When you say that your reform package is all about cutting the cost of healthcare, people reasonably fear that the government is going to control how much they can spend on healthcare. When you then claim that in some mysterious way two thirds of the costs can be paid for "by reallocating money that is simply being wasted in federal health-care programs," people start to think you're bullshitting them. When you then say that all people will have to give up in this brave new cost-controlled world is "paying for things that don't make them healthier," you're in Clinton-on-Monica land. Who's seriously going to believe that we can save ourselves from those big scary spiraling costs simply by somehow getting doctors to "make those decisions just based on whether you really need your kid's tonsils out or whether it might make more sense just to change -- maybe they have allergies, maybe they have something else that would make a difference"? Or requiring people to take the blue pill "if the blue pill is half the price of the red pill and works just as well"? Or solving this puzzler:

Look, if right now hospitals and -- and doctors aren't coordinating enough to have you just take one test when you come in because of an illness but instead have you take one test; then you go to another specialist, you take a second test, then you go to another specialist, you take a third test; and nobody's bothering to send the first test that you took -- same test -- to the next doctors, you're wasting money.

Who gets a test that they've already gotten? Isn't this where the patient says, "I think I've had this test before"? Healthcare's expensive for the most part because it's expensive, not because people get the same test over and over. People get that much, and once you pitch your plan as a cost control mechanism, and then claim that your only cost controls are digitizing medical records and encouraging people to take blue pills instead of red, people think rationing. Which is why polling increasingly says that people believe Obama's reforms will make their healthcare worse. (In June, just 28% were very worried that reform would harm the quality of their care - today, since Obama's gone out on the Cost Control Tour, that number's up to 41%. In just one month!) Not because Republicans or opposition ads are saying it, or because people distrust Obama, but because it's what Obama's own messaging leads people to believe. How incompetent can you get? Because he's terrified of making out his plan to be Great Society-style socialized medicine, he's made it out to be... cheap rationed-out socialized medicine. And having left that impression, he's forced to spend half the time he talks on this issue talking about how little reform will affect the vast majority of Americans in any noticeable way. Straining our credulity, and raising the question of what the point of it all is if so little is changing.

Then, when he finally gets to talking about the uninsured, instead of simply saying that he's going to give insurance to poor people who need it and would otherwise die, he delves into the arcana of the health insurance exchange he proposes to create, sucking all human interest out of the issue, and insists on making this bizarre comparison between the options the uninsured will be given and the options available to members of Congress. Because, you know, if the 535 men and women we entrust with running the country deserve good healthcare, so do unemployed people. Seriously, he makes that argument. It's a line he took from Hillary, but when Hillary said it, she was just trying to stress the normality and quality of the public option she proposed to offer to the uninsured - that is, it must be a good plan and not some terrifying healthcare gulag because Congress elected to give it to themselves. For Obama, it's an argument that if Congress has it, we should have it too. Which is about the dumbest and weirdest argument you could make for insuring the uninsured and pretty symptomatic of how lame-brained his healthcare pitch has been.

That said, Obama's saving grace, here, will probably be his sincerity. People may not believe that Obama can make good on his healthcare promises, but I feel we're long away from the point where any substantial amount of the public (excluding people who would hate any Democratic president) could suspect the guy of intentionally deceiving them. People may worry that Obama's plan will make their care worse, but I think they believe that (a) Obama sincerely thinks it will make their care better and (b) is an awfully smart guy, so therefore (c) we should give the fact that he likes his plan at least some credence. His fumbling communication on the issue comes off less like someone trying to fool us than someone who's confused about how to present this complex issue in the best way and is getting really bad advice on how to do so from his consultants. But though Obama's thankfully lacking the affect of a Bill Clinton or, worse still, an Al Gore is probably the only reason reform hasn't gone down in flames already, his sincerity may also be his downfall.

If you hadn't noticed, Obama has two rhetorical modalities. One, inspired and inspiring sixth-rate MLK knockoff, all grandiose generalities that wouldn't sound too out of place in one of Michael Jackson's world-saving ditties. Two, professorial, dull, and policy-obsessed. And the weird thing is that he's pretty incapable of working a synthesis of the two, that is offering inspiration that's actually about anything. In fact, during the campaign the two often existed alongside each other in the same speech, the cornball but pretty great, by contemporary standards, peroration about making the world a better place and, in the middle, the mind-numbing list of policy proposals that supposedly would help achieve that goal. Now, both these modalities strike me as parts of the "real Obama." That is, he really is professorial and dull, he doesn't just play it on TV, and he really is someone who enjoys entertaining vague messianic fantasies about ushering in a post-political politics. What I doubt you would see in Obama behind closed doors is much or any passion about policy. He's not twisting Senators' arms and telling them that they've got to do healthcare reform for some woman he met on the campaign trail named Sally who told a tale of woe that just broke his heart. In private, I'm sure he talks about policy like an economist, and in public he talks about it the same way. Now, for the average politician, how they really talked about a policy behind closed doors wouldn't have the slightest bearing on how they talked about that policy in public. But Obama isn't like other politicians; he may occasionally lie, but he refuses to act to an alarming extent. So you're never going to see that emotional pitch; because emotion is foreign to his actual thinking on the subject, it's foreign to his communication on the subject. Hillary, on the other hand, whose public persona is about as contrived as Britney Spears's comeback album, eventually learned to do a great healthcare pitch, largely by telling totally made-up horror stories about pregnant women who died, baby and all, for lack of insurance. I'm not suggesting that Obama tell made-up stories, but he could manifest some phony emotion about some real ones.

Quoted With Approval

"[Pauline] Kael noted in 1975, during his lifetime, that it was impossible to imagine [Cary] Grant in the macho action and crime films that were beginning to dominate Hollywood. It’s equally impossible to imagine him in the soggy, misogynistic, stealth-macho geekfests that pass for romantic comedy now. Watching him is to be reminded of a time when intelligence, grace and self-containment were their own rewards. The 21st century, so far, hasn’t deserved him."

Indeed. (Although, one can almost imagine Cary Grant doing Michael Clayton, Duplicity, or the Oceans franchise, and you could argue Grant's influence lives on in vastly diminished form in Clive Owen, George Clooney, Daniel Craig, and particularly in Denzel.) As I've been listening a lot to Elvis lately, and pondering why white guys can't rap, it strikes me that something analogous could be said of him - that it's impossible to imagine him doing twee geeky emo on the one hand, or - is there even another hand? Are there non-eunuch white male recording artists anymore? Suggestions? (Note: simply being very loud doesn't earn you non-eunuch status. )

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Gates (Pt. 3)

The good news for the President in this Gates business is that, with the speed of today's news cycle, you'll probably have a mini-firestorm for a few days and then things will blow over. The bad news is everything else. While Obama is wisely in backpedaling mode, sending Gibbs out to assure that Obama doesn't think the arresting officer is stupid, and believes there's blame on "both sides" (can't wait to see the "Obama Sold Gates Out" pieces that one will generate), others aren't being so circumspect. I just turned on CNN and who did I see but Michael Eric Dyson in typical Dyson bullshit mode, saying that Gates got arrested because the officer in question could not take being confronted by an "articulate black man," and darkly warning that if Gates hadn't been able to rely on his status as professor at Harvard, "that august institution" (save us the pseudo-erudition), things might have been even worse. Are you a mind-reader, Michael Eric? Were you there? No? This is so reminiscent of the lacrosse affair at my alma mater, when Professor Houston Baker, a quite distinguished scholar of African-American literature, wrote a letter professing total agnosticism as to what actually happened but proceeded to claim that the stripper had been "injured for life" by the "violence and raucous witness" of the "young, white, violent drunken men" on the lacrosse team, and expressed worry as to whether the stripper would "ever sleep well again," all concluding in a demand that the entire team be expelled from the school, as they were "responsible for the horrors of this spring moment." Even after the charges got dropped and Baker was asked by one of the mothers of the accused if he would recant his labeling of her son as a young, violent white drunken man, he refused, calling her "a mother of a farm animal." Ugh. Anyway, it now hilariously comes out that the arresting officer...

has taught a racial profiling class at the Lowell Police Academy for five years.

His academy class, which he teaches with a black police officer, instructs about 60 police cadets per year who spend 12 hours in the classroom, said Lowell Police Academy Director Thomas Fleming.

“He’s a very professional police officer and he’s a good role model,” Fleming said. “Former police commissioner Ronny Watson, who is a person of color, hand-picked Sgt. Crowley. ... I presume because he would be the most qualified and most professional. He’s a very good instructor. He gets very high reviews by the students.”

Fleming said the course meets four times, for three hours a session. The students go through written material, then watch videos that portray scenarios a police officer may encounter. The videos are then discussed in class.

“He’ll have the students talk about how the different situations should be handled,” Fleming said. “I think he does a great job.”

Lawrence Hickman, a black Boston police officer who also teaches at the academy, said he’s worked alongside Crowley for years now and has nothing but the highest respect for him.

“He’s well versed in the subject matter he taught,” Hickman said. “He is the right instructor for the subject material ... I’m an African-American police officer, If there were any issues or if I thought he was biased, I would have addressed that. We all do the same job and we all know how things get spun out. The bottom line is he was there answering a call for help, he responded as a professional police officer.”

And Crowley himself spoke today, reiterating what he wrote in his report and defending the arrest:

"Mr. Gates was given plenty of opportunities to stop what he was doing. He didn't. He acted very irrational. He controlled the outcome of that event," Crowley told WBZ.

Crowley said Gates, the director of Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research and former host of the PBS show "African American Lives," called him a "racist cop."

"There was a lot of yelling, there was references to my mother," he added, "something you wouldn't expect from anybody that should be grateful that you were there investigating a report of a crime in progress, let alone a Harvard University professor."

The video of his interview is here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Gates Again

Our President playing Skip Gates in 'Show Me The ID.' (Seriously.)

I don't know why I'm so annoyed by this Gates business, but having gone to Duke at the time of the lacrosse mess, I'm a little sensitive to cases where people, on the basis of our shared dark history and little else, jump to often-mistaken conclusions about race and criminal justice. It strikes me that Obama, if he's unlucky, may come to look pretty stupid for saying that the Cambridge police "acted stupidly" without, it would seem, at all being acquainted with the police report (though he did admit that he was "sure there was some exchange of words," but to hear him tell it, the guy essentially got arrested for showing his ID). The last thing we need is talk radio and cable idiots on my side of the aisle going on not so subtly racist rants for weeks about how Obama rushed to judgment in a phantom case of racial profiling. Could get - sorry - ugly. Anyway, in the ensuing hoopla, it would be nice to remember that the arresting officer is human too, and not just some cog in the putatively racist hegemon of American law enforcement. The following story doesn't 'prove' anything, but it's a nice story:

When Sergeant James M. Crowley climbed the front steps of Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s house last week and unexpectedly placed himself in international headlines, it was not the first time he had a memorable encounter in the line of duty with a prominent black man. Nearly 16 years ago, as a Brandeis University police officer, Crowley desperately tried to save the life of Reggie Lewis after the Boston Celtics star collapsed while practicing in the school gym.

“It bothers him terribly that he couldn’t save him,’’ Crowley’s 74-year-old mother, Verina Crowley, said yesterday, speaking of her son and the famous basketball player.

Crowley was a certified emergency medical technician when he performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Lewis, to no avail, after the player’s heart stopped on July 27, 1993. In a Globe interview later that day, Crowley said he rushed to the university’s Shapiro Gymnasium, confirmed that Lewis had no pulse, and frantically tried to revive him.

“I just kept on going,’’ he said. “I just kept thinking, ‘Don’t let him die - just don’t die.’ ’’

Now, 16 years later, he stands accused of racism by Gates, one of the foremost scholars on race in America...

[P]eople who know Crowley were skeptical or outright dismissive of allegations of racism. A prominent defense lawyer, a neighbor of Crowley’s, his union, and fellow officers described him yesterday as a respected, and respectful, officer who performs his job well and has led his colleagues in diversity training.“He’s evenhanded and, in the cases I’ve had with him, he’s been very much in control and very professional,’’ said Joseph W. Monahan III, a criminal defense lawyer in Cambridge and former Middlesex County prosecutor. Monahan has represented several defendants arrested by Crowley for domestic assaults and for drunken driving.
Read the whole thing.

Oh Please

Note the racist black cop in the foreground.

So as you may have heard, Henry Louis Gates Jr., distinguished professor of African-American Studies at Harvard, got arrested outside his home last week. And predictably this incident has given rise to mucho handwringing to the effect that, as Kanye put it on Never Let Me Down, "racism is still aliiiiiiiive!" Which it surely is. But as always the important question is how alive, and, as far as this arrest goes, whether it's actually a case of racism at all. Surely the grossest thing about these incidents, whether it's Gates or the swim club that threw the black campers out or Diallo back in the day, besides the total allergy to facts evinced by the folks who hype them up, is the barely concealed glee on the part of those ostensibly so upset about them that they happened in the first place. So Dayo Olopade (yep, her again), in her screamer of an interview with Dr. Gates (who happens to be the editor-in-chief of the publication for which Olopade's doing the interview, so you know she's not going to even hint at whether Dr. Gates just might share some culpability in this mess), hilariously asks the man of the moment, "Does this put to rest the idea that America is post-racial?" Now, admittedly, the idea that we're in a post-racial era isn't even so much wrong as it's, I don't know, like asking if we're in a post-weather era because for a week straight we get sun and cool breezes. As long as people think of themselves in terms of race, as black or white or what have you, how could we live in a post-racial world? Putting the whole question of how one's treated because of one's race aside. But if the idea did have any validity to it, or perhaps if Olopade, in her clumsy way, meant post-racist world, how could a single arrest, even if it were served out of the vilest bigotry, put the idea to rest? One arrest can put to rest a claim about the state of the entire nation? Um, no!

But as absurd as it sounds, it seriously feels as if that's what some people sincerely believe, to the point that they're glad this thing happened, because now that Skip Gates got arrested, we can get our heads out of the sand and admit that we still live in a racist nation. Here's Emily Bazelon, legal journalist and specialist on all matters racial: "I think that it [Gates's arrest] is obviously unfortunate and I don't want to suggest otherwise, but there is a necessary corrective lesson in this in that, I think a lot of us aspire to live in a post-racial world, it certainly would be better if racism was gone [yeah, or it might capsize your journalistic career and force you to write about boring shit like antitrust], but that's not the case necessarily. So in some ways I think it's very useful when something attention-grabbing happens to someone who has the power to command a lot of media attention, that demonstrates to us that race still DOES matter." Hurray! Race still matters! Professor Gates demonstrates it! Now if only we could retry that firefighters' case with this new compelling evidence of racism's continuing existence in American life. And of course, once you get past the ranks of the professional race agonizers and see what the amateurs are saying, you get a much more unalloyed and honest version of the glee the pros have to at least try to conceal:

I am not.

But the sadder part, at least for people like me who believe in telling the truth, is how dishonest the hype around this arrest is. If you just read the puff pieces, especially the commentaries that profess to "unpack" what this all "means," you would be left with the completely mistaken impression that some cops saw Dr. Gates walking into his house and decided that he, being black, couldn't have possibly owned a residence half as nice and must have been breaking in. Upon which they arrested him for trying to break into his own house. On the contrary. Dr. Gates's door was damaged. With the help of his bodyguard, he forced his way into his own home. A neighbor who apparently didn't recognize him called the cops and said that a man unknown to her was breaking in to the house next door. (Of course, if you're crazy you can choose to believe that his racist and/or insane neighbor thought that she'd call the cops and say that a man whom she really knew to be her neighbor was breaking into his own house.) Cops showed up, and, at least according to their report, asked him to step outside, as a woman had called and said she saw some black men breaking into the house. Gates is a black man, after all. Gates refused, asking if it was because he was "a black man in America." (Well yes, it is in the sense that someone just saw a black man breaking into a house and you're a black man sitting in that house.) He went on to assure the cops that they had "no idea" who they were "messing with." Eventually he provided ID and was able to verify that he was, in fact, the owner of the house. Unfortunately, Gates continued to call the officers racists, shout at onlookers "THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS TO BLACK MEN IN AMERICA" (according to the Hispanic cop who came to assist), and, say, when he was asked to step outside, that he'd go speak to the officer's 'mama' outside. After this continued for some time, Gates was arrested for disorderly conduct. Now, this arrest did not have to be made, and wisely the charges have been dropped. But in the first instance, Gates wasn't "racially profiled" of anything. A neighbor who probably didn't recognize him really saw him breaking into his house, and Gates probably really did yell at the cops. Even if he didn't, there's a difference between making shit up and racial profiling. Second, though Gates may have understandably been mad about being suspected of robbing his own house, once it was explained that someone didn't recognize him and called in, did he have any call to scream, shout, and continuously accuse the cops of being racists? (In fairness, Gates claims that he couldn't have screamed or shouted because he had a severe bronchial infection a week ago. "So I couldn't have yelled." We don't believe you, you need more people.) I don't think so. If I'm in some God-forsaken part of Tennessee, where some people still believe Jews have horns growing out the back of our heads, and get questioned about the police about something I didn't do, am I going to persistently yell that it's because I'm Jewish and accuse them of bigotry? No, and I wouldn't be too surprised if I got arrested were I to do so. Nor would I chalk such an arrest up to anti-Semitism, but rather, to my stupidity in choosing to angrily accuse police officers doing their jobs of being bigots. This would seem to be common sense. Common sense for Gates, though his actions are quite excusable, but more importantly, common sense for the commentators, whose willful ignoring of the facts isn't. Unfortunately, we live in a nation where said commodity is in woefully short supply. And a nation where people clasp their hands in joy that a decent man had to sit in jail for four hours because, in their tiny heads, it proves that their ideological obsessions have some validity. How sad.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Michael Jackson With Pictures, Part 1

"I'm different."

[Note: Usually I don't go in for the allusive, blithe zen koan approach to music criticism, as I tend to think it's mostly a way of hiding the author's lack of understanding of his subject on any sort of concrete level behind an array of incomprehensible pseudo-profundities. That said, Michael Jackson is a mystery to me; all I've got are a couple of intimations and sketchy ideas, so all I really can offer are puzzled and necessarily quite solipsistic epigrams (and lots of pictures), or the paragraph-length equivalent thereof.]

I wasn't too affected by the news of Michael Jackson's death, and only dutifully sat through the coverage immediately following the announcement until the start of the decade's least consequential NBA draft. If you had asked me a couple weeks ago where I'd put Michael Jackson, I would've said that he was pop music's Steven Spielberg, a spectacularly successful artist who did a couple of very good, but by no means transcendent things in the late 70s and early 80s (Sugarland Express, Close Encounters, E.T. for Spielberg, Off the Wall and Thriller for MJ) before devolving into a mixture of schlock, disposable exercises in chart-topping (Jurassic Park, most of Bad, Dangerous and everything after), and dull prestige work (the examples for both are obvious). Aside from Armond White and Armond White's groupies, I don't think there's anyone who seriously thinks about movies and will tell you Spielberg's the best director of the past thirty years, box-office receipts notwithstanding, and I figured the same was basically true of Jackson. (Which, by the way, is probably about where the critical mainstream stood the day before he died.) Contrary to some of the more lazy obituaries making the rounds, millions can be wrong. Just look at Rod Stewart, or post-70s Springsteen, or Tupac. And though I was way too unfamiliar with Jackson's discography to be making these sorts of assumptions, the only MJ memorial on tap immediately after his death, BET's parade of MJ horribles ('Earth Song,' 'We Are The World,' 'Stranger in Moscow,' 'Gone Too Soon,' etc.), certainly didn't improve my opinion of the deceased's work.

It was Kobe Bryant, oddly enough, who changed my mind. Once MTV finally got their Jackson tribute on the air, Sway started doing a ridiculous series of celebrity interviews on the impact of the 'Thriller' video on the interviewees' lives. Kobe phones in and, when asked how Michael affected his life, says, sounding more unguarded than I'd heard him in years, that it's a lot deeper than some people might expect. In fact, he says, they had numerous conversations about work ethic over the years. Then he uncorks the following remarkable statement. He was extremely inspirational to me on a personal level, Kobe says, because he, he helped me to understand that it's okay to be different. By which, Kobe immediately qualifies, he merely means being obsessed with one's craft and being consumed with what you do. For reasons not worth going into here, I don't think that Kobe's qualification was necessarily a dishonest one; what he's saying isn't the prosaic observation that Jackson had a great work ethic, it's that Jackson's life was entirely consumed by his music in the same way that Kobe's life is wholly consumed by basketball. (That's why a similar comment wouldn't make any sense out of Jordan's mouth or even Tim Duncan's, and why Kobe couldn't have said the same thing of Jordan.) That said, the two have more in common as far as 'difference' goes than the qualification suggests. Kobe started out as the young, cute, Brandy prom-dating prince of the league, but most people have come to feel that that image was something of a sham, or at least that he was always a mildly Aspergian loner who spent his first years in the league holed up in his hotel room. Then he allegedly raped a girl, did or did not kick Shaq off the team, re-nicknamed himself after a poisonous killer snake, and his dominant play started to take on more sinister overtones. These days, his image has been redeemed, somewhat, by the Shaq-less championship, in the same way that Jackson's image was partly and for some wholly redeemed by his music, but besides the nagging sense that he's somehow less than or more than human and doesn't seem to genuinely care at all for his fellow man and teammate, the new scowl he rolled out in the playoffs, both comical and frightening (much like Michael's face when he turns into the werewolf in 'Thriller'), both threatening and wounded (like 'Give In To Me'), didn't exactly make it easy to root for him.

Of course, Kobe being Kobe, Kobe-bashers claimed the scowl was a rehearsed demonstration of phony passion. It is of course rehearsed, just as those macho moves in the 'Bad' video were practiced in the mirror some and the cleft on Michael's chin didn't just appear one day on his face. But just like the 'Bad' video, Kobe's scowl isn't rehearsed and phony; it's a rehearsed attempt to communicate just what a badass assassin Mamba baller Kobe thinks he is. Kobe doesn't succeed in scaring us anymore than Michael made us believe he was 'bad' (at least not in the ass-kicking sense the song suggests), but both genuinely want to be what they're attempting to portray. (It's not the case, that is, that Kobe lacks passion and is trying to fool us into believing otherwise, or that MJ saw himself as and was okay with being an effeminate androgynous freak and just attempted to play up his non-existent masculinity for record sales.) At the same time though, even if Kobe doesn't strike fear into the heart of Ron Artest with that goofy face, it's what he would do if he could. Which matters.

Vague reflections such as these - if Jackson somehow inspired Kobe to be 'different,' and given how interesting Kobe is, Jackson must have been different in interesting ways that the mainstream "made some great pop records, then became a freak while making ever-blander attempts to maintain his Billboard cachet" view doesn't catch - led me to listen to Jackson some more. Which I did for a bit, until I went off to see London and a beautiful medieval village on the southern coast where Henry James lived the last 20 years of his life. After which I came to the ridiculous and culturally bigoted conclusion that, in a world that contains beautiful medieval villages and Great Novelists (well, at least it used to contain the latter), one really shouldn't bother too much with analyzing the work of trivial pop singers. Arriving back in Philadelphia on the 4th, I made it home in time for the memorial service, which I slept through but caught enough of in highlights to be struck by Brooke Shields's comparison of Jackson to Saint-Exupery's The Little Prince. A comparison which I thought was quite a propos for all of 15 minutes, until it struck me that the Little Prince actually was little, hailed from another planet, and didn't persist in thinking of himself as a child and sleeping with children until the age of 50. Nor does he seem like the sort of tyke who might grow up to record 'Billie Jean' and 'In The Closet.'

One of these things is not like the others.

That night, I went to see Psycho on the big screen. I've seen it so many times that it was a little disappointing; I'm not sure that it's a movie that really gets much better when liberated from the confines of television. So I was a tad bored until the ending, when Norman Bates comes down dressed as his mother, and I asked myself where I'd felt that mixture of nervous laughter and visceral disgust Norman makes me feel before. Then it hit me - Norman Bates, in that moment at least, is Michael Jackson.

I utterly lack the critical facility to thresh out the connection between Jackson and the tragic hero of our cinema's greatest, um, thriller, but even in a prosaic beancounting sort of way the similarities are obvious. Norman's a handsome guy in a boyishly disarming fashion, or at least he is when not in a dress and wig. He's also an incredibly fucked up guy who commits a series of psychosexual crimes and can't admit that he's no longer a child and that his mother, whom he killed because he found her sleeping with another man, is dead. He dresses like his mother in a laughable and bizarre getup that fools no one but himself, and still, at the age of thirty, sleeps in a room with his toys and stuffed bunny:

Of course, Michael rearranged his face to look like Diana Ross, his ideal of female beauty and a woman who at various times he publicly described as his best friend, a surrogate mother, and a long-abiding crush. Or as he put it in his autobiography, "my mother, my lover, and my sister all rolled into one." (No, those things aren't meant to be rolled up together.) And though he looked absurd to us, and it's fashionable to airily speculate that he hacked up his face for our racial sins, or that his visage was simply the externalization of his internal agonies, isn't the truth that in the end, he looked exactly the way he wanted?

Looked at in one way, Psycho - and Michael Jackson - are a little too textbook and mechanical. All those complexes, all the deterministic business about the lost childhood, the tight thematic through line you can draw from 'Billie Jean' to 'Dirty Diana' to 'Blood On The Dance Floor' (a song, Wikipedia helpfully clarifies, about "a predatory woman by the name of Susie, who seduces Jackson before plotting to stab him with a knife"). But something in both confounds analysis.

One of the more Psycho moments in Jackson's music is, counterintuitively, his first appearance in the 'We Are the World' video. 'We Are The World' is a joke of the sort I didn't think was still possible in this irony-obsessed day and age until put out 'Yes We Can.' Everyone in that song not named Michael Jackson, at least for the duration of their 15-second turn at the mic, is a flim-flam artist of appalling proportions. (There are a couple of exceptions; Willie Nelson somehow gets through his minimal bit with his integrity thoroughly intact.) Especially the ones who were flim-flam artists for a living, like Billy Joel, Paul Simon, Kenny Rogers, and especially 80s Bruce Springsteen. Bruce is so full of shit on this song he's successfully bullshitted himself (fittingly, he looks like he's expurgating an especially difficult blue-collar shit):


Into this self-congratulatory Hollywood liberal festivus of kid-saving masturbation walks Michael. And it's actually quite chilling. As if we're in a horror movie and the slasher's just walked out of the closet, the camera slowly pans up his sequin socks, his pants, his sequin glove glistening in the light, tapping the beat on his hip. When he sings 'we are the world,' it's like a sound out of an 80s synth, or the voice of an alien, something far more advanced than us. And then the camera gets up to his face, and he's coated in makeup, wearing this Diana Ross death mask. And he's slowly, solemnly singing the words, not grossly or soupily performing them, singing them like an extraterrestrial choirboy. Because in his cracked mind, he deeply believes this shit.

But then in a brilliant twist, the camera cuts to the real Diana Ross, the all-too-human Diana Ross, the Diana Ross who no longer looks or sounds anything like Diana Ross. And she makes an evil eye at someone, and though it can't be Michael, who's standing in the opposite direction, it feels as if she's warning off the young aspirant who would be her. And then in an even more brilliant twist, one would like to imagine at Michael's behest, the two are shown together, the actual Diana Ross who no longer looks like the beautiful woman she was, and the man who creepily, hauntingly does. And just at the end of the shot, Michael breaks his pokerface and seemingly looks across the set to Diana for approval.

(Actual thoughts about the man's music coming up.)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sotomayor, or, Whose Better?

Before I put out my MJ reflections, which really aren't writing too easily due to the way-deeper-than-it-looks complexity of the subject, some words on something I do know a little about. I'm not sure how many of my readers care about the law, the composition of the Court, or politics in general, but I just wanted to vent my frustration with a certain sector of the press and commentariat which views any questioning of Sotomayor's famed (and oft-repeated) remark on the judging abilities of wise Latinas as a racist move. (MSNBC, the Times op-ed page, Slate, virtually all major liberal bloggers, etc.) The lazy argument runs that, like, of course Sotomayor's super-qualified and everything, so it would be really unfair to read too much into one line that she's uttered a handful of times, probably because, um, she wanted to encourage the Latino/a audiences with which she frequently shared it. And besides, of course race matters! I mean, optics, and, um, perspectives and stuff. Hence, since the line means nothing, or is totally defensible to the extent it does mean anything, if you keep trumping it up what you're really doing is trying to tap into the racist fears of hillbillies, and you're probably a racist yourself. Especially if you have a Southern accent, or come from Oklahoma.

Now, let me state at the outset that Sotomayor is a competent and qualified, though hardly brilliant judge (however much time she's spent on the bench and whatever awards she may have garnered as an undergraduate notwithstanding), and deserves to be confirmed. Liberals will be disappointed if they expect her to become an intellectual standardbearer for their vision of jurisprudence; she lacks the firepower or the ambition. She's quite capable of doing the job, of course, but please don't imagine that she was chosen because she was the best mind or most-qualified individual on Obama's jurisprudential side of the aisle - or, conversely, that she's purely an affirmative action choice like Clarence Thomas was.* Rather, as the hearings have exposed, Obama looked through a list of qualified options and chose the judge who would best screw over his political opponents, my beloved GOP, who were naturally way too dumb to realize that anything but uniform praise of Sotomayor would inevitably piss off the very bloc of voters, namely Hispanics, they desperately need to be ingratiating themselves with if they plan on winning elections in the future. Why? Because besides the fact that she'd be the Court's first Hispanic member ever, leading Hispanics, understandably, to be pretty big fans, all the potential major lines of attack against her - she makes peculiar remarks about race and judging, doesn't give sufficient consideration to the reverse discrimination claims of white firefighters, is arguably not that smart and was chosen for reasons besides her intrinsic abilities - are all racially sensitive. With the proviso that this isn't to say that raising these points is actually racist.

So then, about that 'wise Latina' remark. If you weren't already convinced that Sotomayor didn't mean what she said - that a smart Latina, someone with both the experiential advantages of femininity and being a member of an underprivileged racial minority, should, more often than not, make better decisions than a smart white man - her wildly incoherent explanations before the Judiciary Committee should have convinced you. In fact, if I had never actually read some of Sotomayor's opinions, or better yet, heard tape of her in oral argument, where she really shines, I might've started buying into the "Sotomayor's actually an idiot" school of thought. Clearly, though, the befuddling gobbledygook she offered - that it was just intended to assure her Hispanic audiences that they could become great judges too, that it was just a rhetorical flourish that fell flat ("better decisions" = rhetorical flourish??), that it all somehow rests on her innocent misunderstanding of what the word 'wise' means - was simply an attempt to so confuse her questioners and the viewing public that everybody would just drop the topic rather than give themselves headaches. Not exactly the most honest course of action, but judicial nominees have been lying their way through confirmation for 20 years. That's life. But granting that the comment actually means what it seems to, I'd like to consider how it can be threshed out and defended and why people who object to her remarks have a legitimate bone to pick and shouldn't be peremptorily labeled race-baiters.

There are two obvious interpretations of Sotomayor's comment; the first I'll dub the additive thesis. The additive thesis takes its cue from a criticism of Sotomayor's remark, which reads "I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life." The natural criticism is that white males have lived different lives, lives that also contain rich experiences. To which the additive thesis counters, "yes indeed, but Hispanics are exposed to both the white culture and Hispanic culture, whereas whites, culturally, are singlely exposed, and in Sotomayor's case and in the case of any other Hispanic jurist, have spent lots of time in White People Land
" (a coinage brought to you by Dayo Olopade, author of the Beyonce is the next MJ article and a marginally more astute commentator on matters non-musical). One trouble with this argument is that White People Land (in which, apparently, the federal courts reside) is actually an extraordinarily diverse place, culturally, ethnically, and socioeconomically; therefore, a white male judge could spend time in many different parts of White People Land in his life and hence have a pretty rich set of experiences himself. But even if we accept the ludicrous fallacy that white male America is a homogenous place and that Sotomayor, by going to Princeton, buying a condo in Greenwich Village, and sitting on the Second Circuit knows all there is to know about it (besides missing out on being poor and white, southern and white, rural and white, born-again and white, Jewish and white, filthy rich and white, whatever, where in her journeys through White People Land did she learn what it was like to be a man?), there's still a large question being begged that the seductively simple "Experience of Latina Land + Experience of White People Land > Experience of White People Land" logic masks. Namely, whether experience of Latina Land makes you a better judge. To just say that two experiences are better than one doesn't cut it; for that to be so, the second experience has to add something that contributes to better decisionmaking. Otherwise, one could argue that Hugo Black was better qualified to be a Supreme Court Justice than, say, Earl Warren, because Hugo Black was a liberal Senator and in his early years an Alabaman KKK member - rich experience! - whereas Earl Warren was just a liberal (albeit Republican) Governor of California and never a member of any racist societies. Which brings me to the second reading of Sotomayor.

The second reading, which one actually has to buy into for the first to make any sense, is that the experience of being Hispanic and female, and particularly the experience of sexism and racial discrimination which that experience unfortunately is often packaged, will lead a judge to make better decisions in cases about race and gender. By experiencing discrimination in real life rather than merely understanding it in a purely abstract and rather distanced way, one will have a better sense of how terrible discrimination really is, have a better grasp of which sorts of discrimination are more important and invidious than others, etc. (For instance, it's frequently argued in defense of Sotomayor that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg "got" the high school strip search case recently before the Court, because as a woman she understands how much getting strip searched sucks for a girl at a young age, whereas the men on the Court could only compare it to their experiences of changing in the gym locker room.) It's pretty clear that this is what Sotomayor really meant. The very next sentences after her comment on wise Latinas go:

Let us not forget that wise [white] men like Oliver Wendell Holmes and Justice Cardozo voted on cases which upheld both sex and race discrimination in our society. Until 1972 [there were never any women on the Court until O'Connor's appointment sometime later], no Supreme Court case ever upheld the claim of a woman in a gender discrimination case.

Now admittedly, no one can argue with the claim that in the nearly ninety years between the end of the Civil War and the Court's decision that segregated schools were unconstitutional in Brown, we would have gotten much farther if the courts weren't occupied by entirely white judges, or that gender discrimination law wouldn't have been essentially nonexistent for as long as it was if we had had some female representation on the federal bench. But today, racial discrimination law and gender discrimination law are quite alive and well, so the question isn't whether courts will turn a blind eye to these issues. The questions are about the exact extent of constitutional and statutory prohibitions of race and sex discrimination, the scope of the power of Congress and the states to remedy discrimination, and to what degree whites, men, and other groups not traditionally discriminated against are protected from measures that adversely affect them by aiding minorities and women. And whether Sotomayor's statement is correct comes down to the question of whether an Hispanic and female judge is better positioned, by virtue of her personal experiences of discrimination, to adjudicate these much more complicated issues.

Whether that is correct isn't such an easy question to answer, and will depend heavily on one's view of what the law on race and gender ought to look like. To demonstrate that it isn't so obvious that experiences of discrimination will just naturally cause a judge to "get" cases of discrimination in a way that a white male judge wouldn't, consider the following hypothetical. Suppose a bunch of executives of Fortune 500 companies get together and one says that what we need in this country are judges who understand business, have sat on the boards of or worked for big corporations. With those experiences, they argue, these judges will be better qualified to decide issues of corporate law, of employment law, or whether measures that severely regulate business are constitutional. Now this isn't a ridiculous argument by any means; certainly judges who have these experiences bring something to the table as far as business knowledge that some others don't have. But I venture to guess that many people would strongly disagree. What we need, they might say, surely isn't judges who "understand" - read, are biased towards - business. At most what we need are judges who've dealt with issues of corporate law, employment discrimination law, regulatory law, but not from the business side. Rather, judges who have worked for regulators or unions would be nice. Of course, neither side is "right." I would humbly suggest that the experience of being a minority and/or woman is similar to the experience of working for a large corporation - or a regulatory agency, or union. While both experiences certainly contribute something to the knowledge base a judge draws from when deciding a case, they surely don't give a judge some sort of special access to what the law really says about a certain question. Rather, they're more likely to condition a judge to reach a certain result.

Sotomayor herself comes close to acknowledging this when, in that famous speech, she says in defense of her point that "the
Judicature Journal has at least two excellent studies on how women on the courts of appeal and state supreme courts have tended to vote more often than their male counterpart to uphold women's claims in sex discrimination cases and criminal defendants' claims in search and seizure cases." It strikes me that these excellent studies can be read in a few ways. Maybe the female judges really are "getting" the claims of sex discrimination in some way that the men aren't; there really was illegal discrimination and the men just can't see it. But maybe they're getting these cases wrong. Or, maybe there is no right and wrong answer in any of these cases and the judges are shaping the law in a certain direction, a direction that some might think is positive and others might not. That is, it isn't simply the case that (a) the law clearly and plainly states what's illegal, (b) there's illegal stuff going on that the male judges couldn't see and (c) the female judges saw it; rather, there's (a) discriminatory stuff going on that may or may not violate the law, (b) the law on gender discrimination is still unshaped, and (c) because of their gender-informed perspective on what the law should be, they've decided that this stuff should be illegal. This third reading seems like the most realistic description of what's happening by far. But to approve of these results, much less cite them as evidence for the "female judges really do decide gender discrimination cases better" thesis, it strikes me that you have to not only think they're taking the law in the right direction, but also think that the law is sufficiently ambiguous that the female judges had the power to take it there. And the idea that the law is really so ambiguous that it's cool to take it in any old supposedly socially beneficial direction you want is really what worries me.

Put it another way. Clarence Thomas hates affirmative action. For this hatred, some folks have called him an Uncle Tom. Now, Clarence Thomas actually hates affirmative action for not-so Uncle Tommish reasons; he hates it because he believes affirmative action screwed him over. Having gotten into Yale Law because, in part, of his race, he found that his Yale Law degree was virtually worthless because potential employers assumed he hadn't deserved to get into Yale in the first place. So in a somewhat bizarre way, he came to feel that getting into Yale somehow stigmatized him. And once on the Court, Clarence Thomas got to pontificating about how racial preferences are evil, profoundly harmful, and of course, totally unconstitutional. Now, if you wanted racial preferences to get shot down more often by courts, you might say, "what we need are more judges like Clarence Thomas, judges who feel they were screwed over by affirmative action. White judges who didn't get into Harvard Law because blacks with lower LSAT's took their spot, and black judges who got in and felt terribly about their devalued diplomas afterwards." And maybe you could argue that such judges would "really get" what affirmative action is all about, having experienced it in a concrete way, and make more informed decisions because of it. But in reality, what you're really saying is that you don't like affirmative action and want to fill the courts with judges who despise it for personal reasons. Now, whether that's okay depends on whether the constitutional provisions on race are so vague that it's alright for Thomas to inject them with his purely personal views, views which in that case may be relevant to what we ought to take the Constitution to say about race. But if you think that the Constitution has a fairly fixed and knowable meaning, one which does not include prohibitions of affirmative action, that we can tell this from things the authors of the relevant provisions said and did at the time, then the fact that Thomas has this personal experience of how much affirmative action sucked for him in the early years of his legal career really shouldn't play a role in his adjudication. Affirmative action may suck, but the Constitution doesn't prohibit it.

But if you're okay with this argument, that Thomas's personal hatred of affirmative action really has no business entering (or at least, completely clouding) his mind when he's deciding affirmative action cases, that he should just try, as best as he can, to determine what the Constitution really says about the permissibility of racial preferences, then it strikes me that you should have some trouble with the claim that Latinas make better decisions than white men. Because what that statement arguably and probably boils down to is that there is a certain set of decisions that should be made and that Latinas, because they've experienced sex discrimination and racial discrimination, are more likely to make those decisions. And if you believe that the Constitution really means something and isn't just this Mona Lisa-like text out of which we can read whatever interpretation might benefit society, you really shouldn't be talking about shoulds and oughts in the legal context, or at least, not to the extent that I believe you need to for the "Latinas make better decisions" claim to make sense. And that, whether you buy my whole argument or not, is the reason why worrying about Sotomayor's remark is not whatsoever the mark of a racist.

* Though Thomas has actually developed into one of the more intellectually honest and interesting members of the Court. Read his opinions for yourself sometime; the Scalia's puppet meme is utter bullshit.

Monday, July 13, 2009


I'm working on my Michael Jackson reflections (and will get back to Killa Caaaaaaam after that), but I just wanted to call your attention to this profoundly disturbing piece on The Root. It's called "The New King of Pop is a Queen: Why Beyonce is the only plausible heir to Michael Jackson's sparkly glove." I've offered my inchoate arguments for why I feel Beyonce is essentially the devil on numerous occasions, so I won't elaborate on why this is so insane, but really, Beyonce? Could you imagine two more unlike artists? Michael Jackson, the epitome of crazed sincerity, every nutty line of every song deeply felt, and Beyonce, pure phoniness. Jackson, whose music revolves around paranoia, loneliness, love, violence, and Beyonce, whose great themes, when she's not uncorking some bullshit ballad to keep the older members of her audience content, are (a) snagging a baller whose pockets are full-grown, (b) her aching desire to be fucked by a baller with full-grown pockets, and (c) the ass-shaking rituals required to snag the full-grown-pockets baller. That's it! No really, that's it, and it's not even like her vocals have any personality to them or like the music she sings this shit over is any good, a Rich Harrison beat here and a 'Single Ladies' there aside. And she's the heir? JT is a callow MJ imitator who's basically copied all the superficial details of Jackson's music while sucking out all the life and weirdness from it and replacing them with a mildly charming, mostly dorky vanilla void, but at least he's made two pretty good albums and a handful of great songs. (He's still not my choice for MJ heir though; that would be... well I'll get to that.) What has Beyonce done? Anyway, just for kicks, Ms. Olopade's reasons, word for word, Beyonce is the closest thing to an MJ heir.

  1. Her work ethic.
  2. Her daring musical choices.
  3. Her chameleonic artistic presence.
  4. She is already one of the most famous people on the planet.
  5. She too was a child star in a kiddie group, and she too forged a solo career. So their biographies are similar.
  6. 'Crazy In Love' was a great song. [It actually was.] The infectious hook and horns produced a sound completely unexpected in mainstream pop or R&B. [Yes, but then Rich used the same sound to better effect in 'One Thing' - okay, maybe Crazy's the better song, judged in isolation from the fact of Beyonce's disgustingness and Amerie's limited but real appeal, but the point is, you can't give Beyonce that much credit for one smart decision a producer made.]
  7. Her style is outrageous, she wears a gold-plated bodysuit in her new video. If Michael were a woman he'd probably be doing the same thing. [You know what, I can play this game too. Kanye dresses ridiculously and, like MJ, his sexuality is a matter of some debate. MJ got a lot of plastic surgery and essentially killed himself; Kanye's mom killed herself getting plastic surgery. Kanye has sold many records, and though he wasn't actually a child star, I'm sure he won 3rd place in some talent show in 4th grade and proudly displays this award next to his cherished life-size Jeff Koons sculpture of a teddy bear. Jackson recorded a lot of crappy songs (and a few good ones) about the evils of tabloid journalism; Kanye has continued in this fine tradition with the witty "ugh, the paparazzi/I hate them more than the fucking Nazi," and sundry other bits of garbage. Michael made 'Billie Jean,' best pop tune of the past 30 years; Kanye butchered it on the 25th Anniversary Edition. Kanye, the heir to Michael Jackson! Shit, I bet Brandon Soderberg has already written some totally serious piece about it.]
  8. There's "the magnitude of her fame." The magnitude, admittedly, isn't as great as MJ's magnitude; "frat boys look but don't buy." [Because, unlike the women who love her music, we're not busy using it as an instruction manual for how to become a diva or snag a baller, nor do we lean on it as a justification for our slutty actions. Sans some kind of relationship to Beyonce's lyrics on a fairly specific lifestyle level, why would anyone want to listen to her crap? Musically it's just not very good music.] But it's pretty big magnitude nonetheless. She's sold a lot of records and people went to see Obsession. That she can't act doesn't matter; "the point is that she's out there." She also endorses makeup and does disingenuous PSA's for hunger with Hamburger Helper. That is, she endorses Hamburger Helper.
  9. She's been to the White House four times. She performed at the inaugural ball.
  10. She has a high level of confidence. In her 'Ego' video, she lip-syncs to her disgusting big dick joke song in fishnets. And there you have it, ten sound reasons for why Beyonce is the new Queen of Pop. No homophobic pun intended.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Gucci Mane Is A Good Rapper

Did people ever actually eat this shit?

I just wanted to state publicly that I was wrong. Gucci Mane is a good rapper. On occasion he's prone to feats of mind-numbing retardation, he can be awfully mealy-mouthed, to the point where he ruins his often-quite-clever lyrics, he only raps about the same two or three subjects and over the same sorts of beats, causing most of his songs to be totally indistinguishable from each other, and his fans really overstate their case (pace the bizarre "Gucci's a wordsmith, he uses big words like wonderful and awesome in awesome ironic ways" blow-up a couple weeks ago). But he's also a really good rapper, one who has the capacity to surprise you lyrically, wow you with his flow, and amuse with his ad-libs and varied deliveries. One who can, when he's on, make a really hot line out of something quite prosaic like "So Icy is my company, and millions made monthly." Songs from artists I don't give a fuck about (Mario, Mariah, Trey Songz) become must-repeats because he's on them. He needs to improve leaps and bounds if he ever wants to make a classic album, become anything more than a way smaller version of the frustrating phenomenon that is Lil Wayne, or even become a rapper I and many others like me would enjoy listening to for any sustained period of time, but, as things stand right now, he's probably the only guy out there whose every song you owe the courtesy of a listen. (Even if they all sound alike.) That said, I fully expect this guy to never triumph over his deficits and make the album he's theoretically capable of, a la Wayne, Chamillionaire (what happened there?), arguably Cam (I'm not as big a Purple Haze fan as some), and, just for the sake of random controversy, Lil Flip, whom it's become unfashionable to like but was a really great rapper for a stretch, around the time he appeared on 'Ridin Spinners,' 'Like a Pimp,' 'State Your Name Gangsta,' 'Welcome To The South," "From The South," etc. So there you go.