Sickness over. Nothing much to say except that I saw I, Daniel Blake and didn’t love it as much as I thought I might. On some level it is a defense of the concept of the welfare state and a social democratic commentary on contemporary life, but much of it comes off as what conservatives point to when they want to abolish the whole thing–you know, unfeeling bureaucracy grinding people down, etc. It’s doing this from a lefty perspective (Atrios often makes the point that accessing benefits should be easier than it is) but maybe it’s just how it was presented that left me a little cold. Pretty powerful just as 21st-century social realism, though, at a time when film doesn’t have much interest in the lives of working people (or, indeed, reality at all). Definitely check it out and form your own opinions.

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Is there a worse song than Eric Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight? If so, I don’t know what it might be. Clapton’s place in the pantheon is undergoing a definite shift as Boomers as a demographic begin their long phase out, so perhaps this is a bit bandwagon jumping. Nevertheless, while Clapton is a skilled guitarist and riff-creator, his deficiencies as a songwriter and artist more generally (let alone as a man) make him a figure of hate among people who don’t necessarily go for punishingly long blues rock solos and sappy love songs, and deservedly so. And perhaps nowhere is all of that made more clear than on his 1977 hit Wonderful Tonight.

Wonderful Tonight is beyond redemption. From the opening riff it’s clear that Clapton has set his sights on country music for this tune, and the riff itself is fine, if a bit sleepy even for a ballad. The song follows the story-song style that defines the genre. It deals with thematically appropriate things like women and booze. On the surface it’s a perfectly serviceable entry. But it’s the lyrics that really drag it down, and expose the whole exercise for the fraud that it is. The song depicts a life of aimless comfort, meaningless parties and severe alcoholism, which the song’s speaker gets through with the help of an unnamed woman–as the material is both specific and not terribly interesting, it’s not surprising it’s autobiographical, and the woman is his then-wife Pattie Boyd. Her role seems more maternal than romantic–needless to say that the song’s speaker is in no position to respond romantically to her at the end of a song. Her only reward is to be told that she looks “wonderful tonight” at various intervals, her beauty being the only thing of any interest to the speaker/Clapton. (There’s also a line about how she draws attention at a party to reinforce this.) You can easily imagine what a true country artist would do with this material–with a couple of tweaks, this could be a Merle Haggard song. But Haggard’s songs like this always wind up being exercises in self-laceration, epics of a vicious cycle of moralism and transgression. A Haggard character knows damn well that he can’t live up to the high Christian morality he was instilled with, which leads to transgression, which leads to self-hatred. A Haggard song like Swinging Doors is all about the day after, when a guy has fucked up his life and takes stock, typically with caustic, sometimes hilarious irony. On the other hand, Clapton’s song is all about the day of, minus any real sort of drama. In spite of the sound it’s more like the rock of its era than the country of its era (though it is like the country of our era) in that it presents a fantasy of wealth, beautiful women, comfort and indulgence with no real price to be paid. Admittedly, the song focuses only one one babe rather than the numerous ones in a fantasy by, say, KISS. Perhaps that accounts for the repetition about her looks. Regardless, one gets the sense that the greatest difference between Haggard and Clapton as people was that the former looked at himself and saw his own failings and shortcomings quite clearly, while the latter looked at himself and saw nothing worth noting. Their art proceeds accordingly.

Which is to say, frankly, that the song fails because of Eric Clapton. I see him as the ultimate bullshitter, the guy who builds himself up as the ultimate romantic but, when he finally achieves the impossible and wins the girl, he loses her within just a few years. What to make of the aching sincerity of Layla (and Clapton is nothing if not sincere, if not always candid or honest) and his conducting of affairs within such a short time period of his marriage? It suggests that he doesn’t really know himself, fundamentally. Given his worldwide fame at an exceedingly young age, it’s plausible he never had the chance to. Nor is he particularly self-aware, as if he were, Wonderful Tonight would never have seen the light of day. That the writer himself doesn’t realize how empty and vapid the world depicted in this song is provides a fascinating look into how he thinks and what he values, but it makes the song utterly intolerable. Despite being a story song there’s no real story here, it’s more a sketch of aimless privilege than anything else. Not that I’m saying that Clapton should have used his country song to talk about being out of work on the steel mill or something like that. But what seems to be missing from this song is anything resembling a soul: the apparent acceptance of an empty, indulgent life, with no judgment or any apparent qualms about it, or any particular interest in what the woman depicted in the song has to think or say about it. Obviously, we know that the marriage didn’t work out IRL. But this song makes that seem a totally foregone conclusion: this supposed paean to domesticity doesn’t actually use words or concepts connected to love to show he values the relationship, merely words and concepts related to beauty, and that’s partly the beauty as reflected in the eyes of other men. There’s nothing in there that precludes rampant cheating with other women (who presumably would also be told they look Wonderful Tonight, and wouldn’t you know, I wrote a song about you). Sure it’s gentle and sweet-sounding, but that can be dismissed as window dressing. Narcissism is the fundamental concept here. And yes, admittedly, this is far from unheard of from rock musicians, even great ones. It is, however, very rare to see the proposition put to us so bluntly.

Frankly, this should have sunk Clapton’s career, this valentine to lazy excess and oppressive comfort is practically a neon sign blinking “I’M AN OUT OF TOUCH DINOSAUR!” Of course it didn’t. I do like that it came out in 1977, though: if ever something embodied everything punk rock was created to destroy, this was it.

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How does Trump become an effective strongman while warring with the intelligence community?

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A little kink in the road, though honestly, getting rid of Obamacare is the easy part (if you don’t care about the consequences, otherwise you’re basically passing a huge health care bill, which is something that definitely doesn’t take months of negotiations that destroy your chances at the midterms). Privatizing Medicare and Social Security are successively bigger lifts. Perhaps my bet that the GOP congress primarily focuses on tax cuts for the rich and settles for a few cuts to programs for the poor might yet pay off!

Also, not for nothing, but regardless of whatever gains they do make, I don’t really see any long-term solution for the end of work besides a massive expansion of the government sector, whether for universal basic income or some kind of superjuiced WPA-type program employing like half the country. Given how our culture is, the latter seems more likely to me, but you never know. Seems impossible now, but it seemed impossible in 1921 as well. The threat of starvation has changed peoples’ politics a little, as has mass unrest. Fun times ahead. But anyway.

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I’ve been dealing with a cold and not in the mood to write. Though at least my sickness will be transitory. Others are less so.

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I’m going to chip in a couple bucks to help Tom Perriello’s gubernatorial campaign in Virginia and you should consider it too. Why? It’s something of a story because Democrats have already largely decided to unite behind a candidate, Ralph Northam. Who is he? Only a guy who considered switching parties and becoming a Republicanin 2009, and someone who has described himself as economically conservative. Northam fits the profile perfectly of the failed Democratic candidate type of recent years, the bland pol who’s going to talk a lot about stuff like “bipartisan problem solving” even though the past two election cycles strongly indicate that this Clinton-era message fails to win anymore.* Democrats of this type, from Katie McGinty to Ted Strickland to Patrick Murphy to Evan Bayh (perhaps the ultimate exemplar of this style) lost badly last year. I get the feeling that Northam will go on the attack relentlessly against the Republican and never bother to develop much of a positive case for himself, to find any sort of compelling story to tell, and lose much in the way that Creigh Deeds did in 2011. Perhaps I’m wrong about the guy, and perhaps the off-year out-party dynamics will favor him such that it won’t matter. I don’t know. But Perriello exemplifies the opposite of this type of politics, and given the disasters associated with the long past its sell-by date Bayh-esian style of politics in recent years, I’d rather take that out for a spin. Perhaps it’s a higher risk (though, again, bipartisan problem solvers lost a lot last year and in 2014), but the reward is much greater. He’s no messiah but his main downside–military hawkishness–is irrelevant to this particular post. And while resume is a little thin–a single Congressional term and a stint with the State Department–the flip side of that is that he’s young (42) in a party that is noticeably lacking youth in its political leaders. Plus if he wins and does a decent job, it is a job that could lead to something bigger given Virginia’s proximity to the D.C. media market. I’m simply past arguments about who the safe choice is anymore. Mainly because too many safe choices lost winnable races during the Obama era.

*Sure, it was basically Obama’s message as well. But Obama is no ideologue, and it’s fundamentally a defensive message that takes for granted that left-liberals lose on ideology, so they must focus on hyperspecific issues and avoid big arguments. Again, that made sense during the Reagan ’80s. Now? Not so much. And no small part of the breakout success of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders in recent years is because they have focused on the big arguments, and if you’re not making those arguments and the other side is, how can you win?

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Abbreviated Plinkett on Rogue One:

And the follow-up:

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Sorry for any jankiness over the next few days. Some hacker got their hands in the cookie jar and I’m having to de-fuckify some stuff.

Update: It looks like we’ve got everything cleaned up. If you see any weirdness, please let us know. Victoire!

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