Saturday, June 19, 2004

Blinded by the Hack

Nick Confessore's Brooksy takedown is dangerously shortsighted.

His theory is that there is "David Brooks the Journalist" and "David Brooks the Hack."

I applaud Confessore's attempt to be fair, and I'm sure that Brooksy does, too, master that he is of giving lip service to the "can't we all just get along" doctrine.

But Nick: Get a grip, will you?

Often when reading his best work, you feel that he's perfectly explained or captured something you knew to be true but couldn't find precisely the right words for.
Wonder why Confessore gets this feeling? Hear it from the hack's mouth in Sasha Issenberg's interview:

"What I try to do is describe the character of places, and hopefully things will ring true to people," Brooks explained. "In most cases, I think the way I describe it does ring true, and in some places it doesn't ring true. If you were describing a person, you would try to grasp the essential character and in some way capture them in a few words. And if you do it as a joke, there's a pang of recognition."
Or, as Issenberg wisely concludes:

By holding himself to a rings-true standard, Brooks acknowledges that all he does is present his readers with the familiar and ask them to recognize it.
I admire Confessore's decision to examine the hackery of Brooks' worst work. But in an effort to be even-handed, Confessore fails to recognize that's it's ALL hackery. Every last word of it. That's why Brooksy is afraid to go head to head with me in a rap battle.

The Two Brooksies Theory is merely a handy rhetorical device for Confessore; in reality David Brooks is one man, masking the work of a hack in the serpent-tongued generalizations that make even Confessore swoon.

All due props go to the Washington Monthly's editors for a fantastic headline, though: "Paradise Glossed."

- Marc
I've Got the Same Combination on My Luggage

Ever wanted to know the super-secret access number needed to launch America's ICBMS during the Cold War and launch some good, ol'-fashioned Mutually Assured Destruction? The Guardian has it: 00000000.

Well, that's comforting.

- Marc
Brooksy's Cruel Partisanship

For a man always bemoaning mindless partisanship, David Brooks today takes great care to pick, of all the column ideas in the world, one that involves a very crucial demographic in hotly contested Florida:

Imagine if you are a Cuban political prisoner rotting in a jail, and you learn that the leader of the oldest democratic party in the world thinks you're being counterproductive. Kerry's comment is a harpoon directed at the morale of Cuba's dissidents.
He seizes upon one vague Kerry remark, provides no context (how surprising from such a fair-minded observer) and then basically calls Kerry a Castro supporter. All the better to ensure the Cuban turnout for Bush!

Brooks opposes nasty partisanship. But he favors comparing one's opponents to dictators so he can knock down a convenient straw man. Kerry? Castro without the beard. Gore? Saddam without the 'stache. Clinton? Bin Laden without the beard and turban! This is the way Brooksy and his cohort think.

Of course, if liberals compare Bush to the Taliban, then they're being treasonous. Hey, at least Mussolini made the trains run on time!

Let's all remember this Brooksy get-out-the-vote effort the next time he wags his finger at us and talks about all those mean, nasty partisans who aren't him.

As for our rap battle, Brooksy... I just got a new apartment, and there's no furniture in it yet, so perhaps we could have it there, in front of a packed house of the So-Called Liberal Media's leading members?

- Marc

Friday, June 18, 2004

Is Dick Cheney Behind 9/11?

To use the cadaverous veep's favorite phrase, "We just don't know."

- Marc
Bush the Comedian

Readers of political news keep hearing about how Bush is likeable -- and, by extension, anyone with a "D" after his name is not. Indeed, Bush is "funny."

Reading his comments today in Reno, Nevada, I was struck by a joke that sounded incredibly familiar. Laugh with me, kids:

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all very much. (Applause.) Thank you all. Go ahead and be seated. Please be seated, unless, of course, you don't have a seat. (Laughter.)
See? Funny. I'll bet you LOL'ed over that little doozy.

It's so funny, our hilarious, likeable leader can't stop telling it. In Kalamazoo. And Houston, too. Even in Washington -- twice in one week. Oh, how he loves jokes about seats!

He says it in Detroit. He says it in Colorado. He's probably said it on a plane, or in the rain, or to Dad-o.

He's about as funny as Sam-I-Am, although much more full of shit. And we don't like his green eggs and ham, not one little bit.

Yes, this is a petty observation. But as long as our political discourse is on this ridiculously idiotic level, everyone with a brain needs to call into question the media's established scripts. George Walker Bush is no funnier than any other smirking, glad-handing, money-grubbing politician. There, I said it.

- Marc
Best Schadenfreude Ever

I didn't get a chance to savor the Comic Book Store Guy's gaffe earlier this week. Thanks to Steve for pointing this out:

Retraction: The original version of this review detailed the author's accounts of working with the Beastie Boys' public relations firm Nasty Little Man, and its president Steve Martin, over several years. Many of the author's claims are now in dispute from the firm. We have tried to reach the author, but his whereabouts are presently unknown. As such, we cannot attest to the factuality of the author's account, and have removed all reference to Steve Martin and his company from the following piece.
Interesting, eh? Read the disturbing, masturbatory and surprisingly solid original version right here. (And you'd hoped it was lost forever, Comic Book Guy!)

As much as I tend to hate Brent DiCrescenzo's meaningless attempts to pose as Lester Bangs or Hunter Thompson, this might be his first review that actually rings true:

"I will listen to this album for years to come. You might. Or not. It depends on your own complex web of past interaction with the Beastie Boys, linked memories to the music, or preconceived notion of how hip or not it is to listen to them in 2004."

And the indictment of the music industry's heavily managed press structure? Dead on!

He says he's done writing for Pitchfork. I wish I could believe him.

Then again, at least he finally wrote a halfway-decent concept review after years of vomiting up meaningless verbiage -- even if he had to make it up.

- Marc
Still High on Cope

I caught Citizen Cope again Wednesday night at Sin-e.

Last time I posted about Clarence Greenwood's funky, literate band -- a stoned blend of Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan and Van Morrison, in no particular order -- I focused on their new album, The Clarence Greenwood Recordings, and the brilliant "Bullet and a Target."

But perhaps even better is a song called "Salvation" Cope played both nights, from the debut album. "Judas" drives to D.C. with three golden bullets, "shooting for your soul," or at least the soul of Greenwood's narrator. The denouement is pure genius, enhanced by Cope's confident delivery and the band's dark, rising funk:

His first shot grazed my eye
I lost half of my sight
And my firstborn's life
The second shot grazed off my guitar moon
And it made my guitar kinda play out of tune
But I just kept playing
Like I had nothing to lose
He turned the third on himself
'Cause the bastard knew .

- Marc
Only Diamonds Now Remain

Teenyboppers are like locusts, devastating everything they touch. Most of them are actually nice enough, individually, but what they represent is dangerous to hipsters and thoughtful unhipsters alike: the victory of money and image over content.

Serious music fans are skeptical of any artist that draws a following of teenage girls, because many of these girls have never heard Jimi Hendrix, let alone Gang of Four or Big Black. But fuck all that shit.

Just because a demographic swarms toward Britney Spears and Hilary Duff like a biblical plague doesn't mean it can't occasionally land on Good Music.

John Mayer is such an artist. I've documented my respect for his work all over the Web: a message board, an Unhipster column, a mixed review of his half-baked second album.

Sorry to bury the lead, but here's my point: I saw him perform again last night for the first time since Nov. 23, 2002.

Times may change. But the effect Mayer's music had on me was the same as when I was an uncertain, unboyfriendable college sophomore in 2000, hearing him on

A torrential rain dampened things a bit, as did an atrocious performance by Dido, who should never be allowed to sing in front of people again. It wasn't my first time seeing Mayer in New York in a downpour, but that only made me more restless. (Here's the link again, to make sure you click it. It's that hilarious.)

Finally, when the cloud-filled sky grew even darker with the coming of night, the square took the stage. I didn't know if I would even like him anymore. So many of the songs on Heavier Things just didn't speak to me, and I haven't listened to the album since last year. I enjoy it even less than when I reviewed it, aside from the dazzling "Clarity."

Mayer was alone on stage, stripped of the blandly MOR backing band that weakens his studio output. He opened with "No Such Thing," and from the first ringing Emaj7 chord, I was as fascinated -- more, even -- as any teenybopper in all of New York. "Why Georgia" left me aching, pondering anew "the danger in going my own way."

My first time hearing "Clarity" live reminded me why it's the only song from the new album that really speaks to me the way the old stuff used to. It's a song that evokes the silly "live in the moment" themes that hooked the kids on Dave Matthews, but Mayer is more conflicted, worrying rather than celebrating. Unlike some of the more depressive tracks on the record, here Mayer ends optimistically, expressing in music and falsetto a calm I can't explain, but with hidden neuroses ever-present underneath. Throw in a guitar riff that wouldn't be out of place in a Broken Social Scene track (listen to "Looks Just Like the Sun") and you've got a perfect pop song.

Speaking of perfect pop songs, Mayer closed with "Your Body Is a Wonderland" before lightning made security stop his set. This one is just as bad as everyone says -- at least, I can't enjoy it. But that doesn't make it less perfect. Listen to the chord changes, the vivid lyrics that even a teenybopper could understand, and the sexy but not dangerously sexy theme. This is an expertly manufactured product to hook the unknowing, a Trojan horse. It's one of the most radio-friendly songs ever written, the annoying (to Serious Music Fans) production on the radio version notwithstanding.

And I wish he'd never play it again. Because even as "YBIAW" draws in fans who would never listen to music as skillfully crafted as Mayer's otherwise, it also scares off most people who do.

Hush. "YBIAW" isn't the point. The point is that I had a transcendent experience with songs I thought I might never again hear the same way. Damn, baby.

- Marc
Joshua Green Dies by the Snark

I'd been waiting since I got this month's Atlantic to see how the Howler would handle a certain exchange in the letters to the editor.

As always, the Howler's Somerby handles it incomparably:

Gore and the Internet
Joshua Green (“Playing Dirty,” June Atlantic) focuses on politicians’ use of factual material or innuendo, but begins his story by repeating something that very simply and unarguably is false: he refers to what he calls “[Al] Gore’s many exaggerations, including one “that he had somehow invented the Internet.” Gore never said or implied that.
Stan Kurzban
Chappaque, N.Y.

Joshua Green replies:
Nonsense. Gore’s saying that he “took the initiative in creating the Internet” is akin to my suggesting that because I paid my taxes I took the initiative in balancing the federal budget–a considerable exaggeration.
That may be the stupidest thing we’ve ever seen in print. In our lives.
Daaaaaaamn! Strong words from a man who composes copious daily blog entries about stupid things he sees in print.

On an unrelated note, sorry the entries have slowed down this week. Couldn't I go back to being unemployed again? Never fear; I'll try to catch up over the weekend.

- Marc

Thursday, June 17, 2004

A Grim Vision

Getting off the subway a few minutes ago I noticed a stereotypically white-haired, wild-eyed old man in battered shorts and a t-shirt. At the top of his lungs, he bellowed along with his headphones: " the SUNshine of your LOooooOOOooooOOOVE."

This is what rock 'n' roll has come to.

- Marc

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Speaking of Brooksy

Slate kicks the New York Times scribe's self-important ass.

Brooksy, when you're able to walk again, give us a call -- we're still waiting for our rap battle.

Update: OK, so Slate pulled a few punches. Watch this Kossack kick more Brooksy patootie.

- Marc
Brooksy, With His Glasses of Rose

How's this for a selective comparison:
This year the Democrats will nominate the perfect embodiment of an educated-class professional. John Kerry graduated from law school and plays classical guitar. President Bush, however, went to business school and drives a pickup around his ranch.
One could also point out that Bush didn't purchase a ranch until later in life, that Kerry played in a rock 'n' roll band, and that Bush got into business (and business school) on the strength of family connections, while Kerry had to walk his own way through life.

The ol' "born on third base"/triple analogy sure would come in handy here, wouldn't, Brooksy? Aw, but you ain't as home-spun as you think you is, anyhow.

Another David Brooks boner: "Democratic candidates — from Clinton to Kerry — often run late."

Yet it's Bush who ran late for his meeting with the Pope! To paraphrase Broadway's Che Guevara, I wouldn't say the Holy Father gave him the bird, but...

- Marc

Monday, June 14, 2004

'We Had to Save Abu Ghraib in Order to Destroy It'

Bush, May 24:
We will demolish the Abu Ghraib prison.
Los Angeles Times, today:
Interim Iraqi President Ghazi Ajil Yawer said there were no plans to destroy the Abu Ghraib prison, despite an offer by President Bush to replace the jail, where U.S. troops abused inmates.
A show of hands: Who's surprised? Bueller?

- Marc

Ron Reagan Jr.: "My father crapped bigger ones than George Bush."

Salon, I think I love you.

- Marc
Jem: Not As Cool as the Cartoon

A certain Marc Hogan reviews Jem's debut EP for PopMatters.

It's not Hogan's finest work, given the pleasant-but-not-outstanding nature of the source material, but hey, at least it shows he was doing something vaguely worthwhile with his months of unemployment.

- Marc
Things I Wish I'd Written

The New Republic's Spencer Ackerman nails down the twin pillars of whopundit, music and politics, with this killer commentary on Reagan's true legacy: punk rock. (Via Matthew Yglesias)

- Marc

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Dept. of Unreassuring Reassurances

Colin Powell to the rescue:
It's not a political judgment that said, `Let's see if we can cook the books.' We can't get away with that now.
Whew, I really figured Colin was going to admit to cooking the books. Good to know he only USED to try to get away with that.

- Marc

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