From Hawaii Five-O in primetime to Arthur on the silver screen, everything new is old again. "Instead of being the threshold to the future, the first ten years of the twenty-first century turned out to be the 'Re' Decade," Simon Reynolds writes in his new book, as in "revivals," "reissues," and "remakes." Read my review @ the American Spectator of Reynolds' Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own Past. We're lamer than you think.
Popular culture is at its best when it doesn't conform to the popular culture. Have you ever heard anything like Revolver or Pet Sounds or seen anything like Star Wars or The Twilight Zone? They stood out because, well, they stood out. It is too much about fitting in nowadays, which brings me to two of my pop-culture hobby horses (I will reveal a third perhaps later this week). Did you catch Lady Gaga's drag king alter ego at the Video Music Awards Sunday night? Me neither. But I did read reports about it on Monday. Her, I mean his, name is Jo Calderone, and he/she acts and almost looks like a guy. Lady Gaga's pop rival Katy Perry formulated, or more likely some fat rich guy in a board room formulated, an alter ego, too: a thirteen-year-old nerd named Kathy Beth Terry. Chris Gaines should sue them both for plagiarism. My other pet peeve involves the proliferation of three-word band names. A few years back, "the" again became a fashionable name prefix (The Hives, The White Stripes, The Strokes, etc.). I don't blame Kings of Leon for setting the three-word trend. But Cage the Elephant, Foster the People, Portugal the Man? C'mon. Perhaps names are superficial. And a name with a follow-the-leader quality to it doesn't necessarily advertise a lack of sonic originality. But if you want people to notice you, don't evaporate into the crowd; do something different.
The chairman has spoken. At the Federal Reserve meeting in Jackson Hole, Wyoming on Friday, Ben Bernanke stated that despite fiscal and monetary stimulus, the economy remains in the doldrums. Does he ever consider that perhaps continually pumping money into a stagnant economy has perpetuated the crisis? Read my column @ Human Events on how the printing press forever tempts politicians to spend money that they don't have and unnaturally jumpstart the economy.
Sugar Ray Robinson's high living and IRS problems compelled him to box long after he should have been allowed to fight. Ric Flair, thankfully, won't endure brain damage for continuing his professional wrestling career at 62. Nevertheless, an AARP-eligible sixtysomething's prolonged stay in the squared circle, as documented by Shane Ryan @ Grantland, is quite sad. Four wives, tax liens, eviction orders, unpaid debts, alimony, domestic disputes, substance abuse, a lavish lifestyle, and a host of other issues, the piece contends, keep the Nature Boy in the ring. Perhaps. But has the writer ever had an arena-full of rednecks shouting "Whoooo!" at him every ten seconds? That may be the addiction most germane to Flair pursuing a young man's work so late in life.
A record number of freshmen will descend upon campuses in the coming days. Just in time for the first day of classes, but too late for the application process, is the Intercollegiate Studies Institute's Choosing the Right College. But as I write @ FrontPageMag, choosing the right college for many of the 3.5-million-plus freshmen would have meant choosing no college at all.
An Anchorage jury convicted Jessica Beagley, a 36-year-old mom, of child abuse for punishing her child by pouring hot sauce in his mouth and subjecting him to cold showers. Unusual? Yes. Illegal? I would say the jury is out on that, but it's not. It's in. The woman makes a poor test case of parental authority, versus state authority, over children because her antics were apparently played up in order to land a spot on Dr. Phil's afternoon television program. The woman faces a year in prison. The Casey Anthony case makes an interesting parallel. More so does a case in my environs in which a teenage mom admitted suffocating her baby (it was the second child in her care to expire). A judge recently released the mom--once a mom always a mom?--on the grounds that she really didn't know her rights. Neither, one suspects, did her baby. Mush heads have problems with parents disciplining children. They call it abuse (which it may have been in the Alaska case). Women killing their children? Mush heads have problems disciplining them, too.
There is no official political insult word for figures who reflevively favor the foreign. I once saw Joe Sobran explain that since we refer to jingoes suspicious of all things beyond the borders as "nativists," perhaps we should call the people who impulsively take sides with the outsider as "alienists." The made-up term comes to mind with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Hizzoner has banned clergymen from the 9/11 commemoration ceremonies. You can bet that people said a lot of prayers on the day we will soon memorialize. This is the same man who forcefully spoke out for the Ground Zero Mosque. Alienist? It doesn't roll off the tongue, but it fits here.
The bluest town in the bluest state is on Martha's Vineyard. Think it's a coincidence that Barack Obama vacations there? The president, like everybody else in America, wants insulation from the consequences of his policies. An island of wealthy liberals gives him that. Read my column @ Human Events about how the president's trip to Martha's Vineyard is a vacation from reality.
In the Burger King civil war that has deposed "the king" advertising mascot, I am a Cavalier and not a Roundhead. When the restoration comes, heads will roll. My thesaurus doesn't list "creepy" under its entry for "awesome." Yet "creepy" is the word Time and scores of other media outlets use to describe the king. That guy in make-up who hangs around with Grimace and little kids? He's creepy. The king? He rules.
In 2006, when I posted my top-five booze countdown, rum topped the chart. Five years later, vodka rules my booze. According to a fascinating cover story in the Weekly Standard, my changing tastes aren't all that unusual. One hundred years ago, few Americans drank vodka. In 1967, vodka outsold gin for the first time. Nine years later, it overtook whiskey to reign supreme. Its triumph is partly one of style over substance. The high-end brands with frosted-glass bottles, the article assures, aren't all that different from the cheapo bottles with generic labels. It's good to have affirmation of something I have been saying for years. Vodka is great because good vodka and great vodka are basically the same. You can really mess up whiskey. But vodka is vodka. The irony here is that while pricetags vary wildly, the content is basically constant. Affordable Sobieski and Svedka have been mainstays on my top shelf for some time. During a cash crunch I drank a $10.99 handle. I couldn't really tell the difference. Vodka is the most social of alcohols. It mixes well with others: orange juice, Red Bull, tonic water, cranberry juice, other liquors, whatever. This is probably why it doesn't always mix so well with our bloodstream.
Barack Obama isn't so good at creating jobs. But government bureaus, agencies, and offices? At this, he is unmatched. Read my article @ FrontPageMag on the Obama administration's unintentionally ironic idea that a new government department will alleviate the jobs crisis. When a president bandies around a cause of the problem as a potential solution, you know you are in serious trouble.
So much about contemporary amusements do not amuse me. Video games require manuals. Shopping malls offer the same stores no matter the region. Television is much worse than the musical Nostradamus Bruce "57 Channels and Nuthin On" Springsteen foresaw. Such atavistic commercial endeavors as used book stores, traveling carnivals, homemade ice-cream stands, and drive-in movie theaters please me. I patronized this final curiosity last night, catching the remade remake of Planet of the Apes. Had I watched it at a normal $10-a-ticket multiplex, I probably would have had a slew of complaints, not the least of which would involve Hollywood's utter lack of creativity in sponging ideas from its glorious past that have already been squeezed dry. But since I watched the new Planet of the Apes in the open air from the front seat of my car, I will just say that it was a complete delight. The field still boasted the posts that once held the driver's drive-in speakers--a low-end radio frequency now does the job. In a few cases, beat-up amplifiers still swung from those posts--the anachronisms of an anachronism, you might say. The film began at dusk, with a tailgating atmosphere of football lobs, picnics, and music preceding. Teenage boys strolled with their pretty dates. Families packed SUVs with children. For a double feature at $20 a carload, the price can't be beat. A ride in a time machine usually goes for double that. And the pleasant throwback atmosphere--free from sticky floors and the distracting conversations two rows back--beats the cineplex's fare of barely-bigger-than bigscreen TVs and marked-up candy (licorice $1 at my drive-in). Our consumer attitudes sometimes more closely resemble charitable attitudes: I'll patronize this business because I want it to stay in business. But judging by a car-filled field, the drive-in thrives not through satisfying the philanthropic desires of the locals but by fulfilling the demands of the market. I hadn't been to a drive-in theater in more than a quarter century. But like MacArthur, I shall return--soon.
The folkways of tribe Rolling Stone include suspicion of contacts beyond the village, the pack constantly knocking down the alpha male, and a survival-of-the-fittest callousness that leaves a trail of broken band mates, producers, girlfriends, fans, and children. The autobiography of the band's celebrated guitarist reads as a justification for appalling conduct toward other human beings. That's rock 'n' roll, we are supposed to think, and he is a Glimmer Twin. But, as we learn in my review of Keith Richards' Life @ the American Conservative, consequences hit rock stars, too.
Mitt Romney didn't even participate in the Iowa straw poll but he won. On Sunday, Tim Pawlenty, an understated, uncharismatic version of Romney, dropped out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination after losing the straw poll to Michelle Bachmann and Ron Paul. A day earlier, in South Carolina, Texas Governor Rick Perry entered the race. By subtracting Pawlenty, Romney rids himself of a potential siphon of his votes. By adding Perry, Romney gains a candidate who will split votes with Michelle Bachmann, who is proving a better candidate in practice than she is in theory.
The stimulus proved to be a sedative. That hasn't stopped Washington's spending junkies from calling for more, more, more. Read my column @ Human Events that explores the similarities between drug addiction and government addiction.
Apt punishment for trashing a fellow's name is to become that fellow. Barack Obama's Gallup approval rating is below 39 percent for the first time in his presidency. Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.
Words are a lot like money. When misused, they lose their value. Read my article @ FrontPageMag on how before the president damaged America's credit, he damaged his credibility with Americans.
Standard and Poor's downgraded the federal government's credit rating three days after the president signed legislation raising the debt limit. Isn't that what the president warned us would happen if we didn't lift the debt ceiling? From the stock market losing ten percent of its value in two weeks to the debt reaching parity with economic output, Barack Obama, as I write in my column @ Human Events, is the catalyst of so much bad news these days.
The House and Senate have passed, and the president has signed, a bill to extend the federal government's borrowing authority. Most politicos, on the Right and Left, have expressed strong feelings on the bipartisan debt-ceiling vote. My thoughts are mixed.
Aye. The debt-ceiling debate was a game changer. Votes to raise the debt ceiling have been perfunctory roll calls up until now. By insisting on spending cuts before allowing the federal government to borrow more, Republicans have unleashed a powerful tool to check heretofore unchecked spending. This is unprecedented. Policy has shifted in other ways. Even if the cuts prove mostly illusory, the deficit reduction, such as it is, relies exclusively on spending cuts. Tax hikes, a sure-fire way to shrink an already too-shrunk economy, proved a nonstarter. When Republicans went along with tax hikes in 1990, the deficit ballooned. So, lesson learned. Ditto for the automatic cuts that kick in if Congress refuses to go along with the special commission. It would be nice if the solons could be trusted to cut on their own. But we can't trust them, can we? Squawks that the cuts disproportionately focus on defense, one of the few legitimate activities of the federal government, miss the point that the Pentagon is bloated like the rest of Washington. It would have been better if the cuts targeted green jobs, foreign aid, the Commerce Department, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, or some other absurd federal expenditure. But it's good that savings have been found in the nearly $700 billion defense budget.
Nay. Contrary to media-engineered opinion, the cuts are actually quite small (just $21 billion in the first year). And $1 trillion over ten years is $100 billion a year. Sounds large, huh? But within the context of a $3.8 trillion budget it's about 2.5 percent of annual spending. Within the context of a $1.6 trillion deficit, it's about 17 percent of our current annual shortfall. And that's taking Congress at it's word that a $1 trillion cut is really a cut of something real rather than a cut of an imaginary projection. Demands on future Congresses by current Congresses aren't requirements but merely suggestions. The Swiss Army Knife-cuts disguised as meat cleaver-cuts aren't the worst aspect of the agreement. The 2.4 trillion-pound gorrilla here is the massive expansion of the government's ability to borrow. You can't borrow your way out of debt. Though the deal was framed as a way to avoid a debilitating credit downgrade, it will likely lead to a credit downgrade. This would cost the federal government roughly $100 billion more a year in interest payments. Does that figure sound familiar? That's the amount the president claims this deal will save the American people each of the next ten years. If this deal results in a credit downgrade, we're going to need that $100 billion.
I can see both sides of it, particularly given that Republicans--not conservatives, but Republicans of all stripes--control just one House of Congress. The principled side of me votes "nay," the pragmatic side votes "aye," and like the Congress I am split. An election, not a deal, is what's needed to rein in spending.
The president labeled the debt-ceiling compromise "an agreement that will reduce the deficit and avoid default." It will do neither. It enables the government to borrow more atop its massive debt. And as I write @ FrontPageMag, it's not a phantom default but more borrowing that jeopardizes America's AAA-rating, a downgrade of which will make the cost of doing business-as-usual more costly.
It's peculiar that a White House initially reluctant to label actual terrorists "terrorists" has dubbed its domestic political adversaries "terrorists." The dramatic Capitol reappearance of Gabrielle Giffords was apparently not enough to muzzle the notorious loose cannon a heartbeat away from the Oval Office. Vice President Joe Biden, who had made news this weekend with revelations that he pockets thousands in rent from his Secret Service protectors, compared the Tea Party to "terrorists." The vice president also complained to fellow Democrats that Republican leaders had negotiated with "guns to their heads." This is another way of saying that Democrats, unaccostomed to hearing "no," didn't get everything that they wanted. As it turns out, half of the House Democratic caucus voted against the president's compromise. The House leadership, which had engaged in deceitful rhetoric about Republicans wanting America to default, didn't "whip" their members into voting for a measure that they had previously claimed would avert default. Their actions make a lie out of their words. "We have negotiated with terrorists," Pennsylvania Congressman Mike Doyle complained to other Democrats. "This small group of terrorists have made it impossible to spend any money." If I were a GOP leader, this is the type of praise masquerading as an insult that I might tape to my refrigerator.
Thirty years ago today, MTV was born. Its first offering, The Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star," proved especially prophetic. It's not just that the scenic now trumps the sonic at the music-less Music Television. But the lip-synching, synthetic instruments, and plastic clothes of MTV's first video suggested an artificial future. Read my piece @ the American Spectator on how a current repository of reality television has always kept it fake.
The New York Times labels Anders Breivik "Christian," fighting words in the media lexicon. One would have thought that "murderer" would have served as a sufficient epithet. But that just accurately describes the Norwegian terrorist. It doesn't make a political point. Read my column @ Human Events on how Anders Breivik isn't the first mass murderer converted to Christianity by the Church of the Holy Left.