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Michael Ubaldi, August 1, 2012.

Does modern music really sound the same?

I agree with the researchers to a point: the key word is "pop," as in music distributed by mainstream labels. Independent recording and publishing, the latter via the internet, have exponentially multiplied the variety of genres available to listeners — many of which, like ambient and soundscape, are non-belligerents in the Loudness War. Then there are traditional modes, like bluegrass and chamber; by definition eclectic.

There's some irony. Music today is probably the most diverse it's ever been, care of new technologies and ways of thinking. Yet one has to step outside of the old establishment — centralized media — to discover it.

Michael Ubaldi, July 22, 2012.

"He sends me the loveliest e-mails," claims Elton John in USAToday. "What I get from Rush privately and what I get from Rush publicly are two different things. I'm just trying to break him down."

This should be no surprise to anyone listening to Rush Limbaugh for more than a few minutes. Limbaugh's enthusiastic lectures espouse self-confidence and independence of government — the radio host spends very little on-air capital talking social mores. His biography shows jet-set freewheeling.

And yet the article suggests an unlikely acquaintance. After twenty years, shouldn't most people know the difference between, say, Rush Limbaugh and Bill Bennett? Or because the two men share faintly similar profiles — conservative 60-somethings, though one's a bon vivant while the other's kindly and genteel — are they both stereotyped as Neanderthal scolds?

Michael Ubaldi, June 29, 2012.

The Supreme Court's upholding of the Affordable Care Act is Pyrrhic for the left at best. The law survived review only under the auspices of the legislature's basest function — taxing the populace — at a time when public toleration for taxes is low, at the end of the term of a president claiming taxation was never the law's intent. Entitlements don't allure like they did a few years and trillion dollars ago; in Europe, where the clock runs a few hours ahead, the carriage has already reverted to a pumpkin. Here, there is no love for socialized medicine.

Michael Ubaldi, December 16, 2011.

Writes John J. Miller:

So the professors have discovered U2. A new book, Exploring U2, looks like the very sort of thing that academics should not produce, with its entries titled “The Authentic Self in Paul Ricoeur and U2″ and “Vocal Layering as Deconstruction and Reinvention in U2.” Yet one of the pieces is by Stephen Catanzarite, a pop-culture writer who is not a professor (but is an NRO reader). It’s called “All That We Can’t Leave Behind: U2′s Conservative Voice.” . . . In his chapter, Stephen quotes Russell Kirk and stuff like that. It’s mind candy for conservatives who turn up the volume when “Where the Streets Have No Name” comes on the radio.

Wrote I (cross-posted):

October, of course, was written when the quartet was in a very different—a pseudo-monastic—stage of living and thinking.

But even Pop, reviled as U2's deviant mistake, is almost back-to-front chary and sober. "Discotheque," self-aware in its frivolity; "Do You Feel Loved?", reciting a plausibly monogamous encomium; "Mofo," likely autobiographical in its search for maternal approval; "If God Will Send His Angels," a then-trite-now-endearing commentary on the decade of cable television; "Last Night on Earth," a Faustian narrative; "Gone," another hard look at a showman's identity; "Miami," surface-deep but harmlessly plebeian; "The Playboy Mansion," a second, buzzword-strewn contemporary admonishment; "Velvet Dress," sultry but restrained. "Please" and "Wake Up, Dead Man" are orphans from Zooropa sessions, so their respective contempt and coarseness make for reasonable exceptions.

I will say, though: I don't enjoy U2's work as much these days, with its twelve-word songs that straddle secular rock-stars' idea of contemporary worship. Bono was better off tipsily stumbling into virtue.

Michael Ubaldi, September 21, 2010.

Glenn Reynolds links to one Steven Sturm who muses, How could Democrats cut November's menacing losses? He counts the ways (follow the link for his elaboration on each):

1. Capturing Bin Laden?

2. A horrible act of terrorism that served rallied the country the country around the Commander in Chief and, by extension, members of his political party?

3. Reports of favorable economic activity?

4. Something that showed Obama was "right" to bail out Wall Street and the automakers?

Interesting, although they're all — impropriety here and there aside — unattractive options.

1. The Taliban aren't the Borg, and the death of one man won't make Afghanistan any less challenging. Osama bin Laden matters far more to the political class than the electorate.

2. Barack Obama isn't George W. Bush. He has neither the guardian's instinct nor the moral vocabulary.

3. Americans had been spoiled by relatively strong employment over the last 30 years. Before 2008, maybe, just maybe, you heard that someone was jobless. Now it's a question of who doesn't know a single person among the unemployed. Brummagem economic reports matter nothing when a friend, a relative or a spouse can't find work.

4. Here we enter the sparkling gates of fairy tales, except that statism never has a happy ending. Besides, taxpayers would just as soon congratulate a corporation for not defaulting as they would munificently tip a waitress for getting the order right.

Democrats may squirm, but can't escape the simple truth that the center of attention begs a good performance.

Michael Ubaldi, August 13, 2010.

Jonah Goldberg:

The "70-30 issue" is a cliche in political circles: Basically, the idea is that there are all sorts of issues where 70 percent of Americans are for X and 30 percent are against X . . . . The trick for most/many politicians is to always be on the 70 side. . . . When you look at Obama’s troubles, it’s kind of shocking how he’s managed to maneuver the party to the 30 percent position (or allowed it to drift that way) on so many issues.

. . . One question I have, and maybe brother Geraghty or someone else around here knows the answer, is whether Bush got himself in a similar mess.

I don't think 70-30 applies, really. The matter is more one of the reception of leadership.

George W. Bush's approval — and mandate — collapsed when both the left and right anathematized the president over Katrina, and the general public was shocked by the disaster enough to have listened. Before that, the contention of Iraq slowly abraded Bush's ratings as a majority of Americans held fast to the hope that they were right in originally supporting the operation.

If a parallel can be drawn, it's between Iraq and the economy (an unfair comparison considering the gravity of the war, but as we know from the Nineties, different times trade in different values). Most Americans continue to hope that their leader a) intends to improve their quality of life, but more importantly b) is actually capable of doing so. Economic illiteracy plays some role, here: media and education have left many confused about how markets actually work, so unless splashed with cold water by a truly ideological GOP, the electorate is unlikely to summarily reject both tax-and-spend and its advocate president.

The point commencing a terminal fall in public approval will almost certainly lie, very unfortunately, in President Obama's inability to respond to the kind of exigency that only happens once every ten years or so. Second/Third World invasion (Carter, failed; H.W. Bush, passed)? Massive terrorist attack (Clinton, W. Bush; both passed)? Dishonor (Nixon, failed; Ford, arguably failed)? Unsupportable war (Truman, Johnson; both failed)?

Absent such an event, missteps here and there are small stuff. Obama may preside over a solidly Republican congress, but preside he will.

Michael Ubaldi, July 20, 2010.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Princeton University professor Alan Blinder gazes from the bird's eye view of an economy where the modest buy a lot and the rich buy a little, period. Who creates good and services whose demand necessitates proffering jobs that pay incomes? It is all our daily bread, mana from above, not from the hands of risk-taking men, as far as Blinder is concerned:

Let the upper-income tax cuts expire on schedule at year end. That would save the government an estimated $75 billion over the next two years. However, it would also diminish aggregate demand a bit. So, instead of using the $75 billion to reduce the deficit, spend it on unemployment benefits, food stamps and the like for two years. That would surely put more spending into the economy than the tax hike takes out, thus creating jobs.

Blinder's claims confirm that degreed thinking somehow displaces common sense.

Only the vernacular serves, here: unemployment benefits are socio-economic s___ sandwiches. Nothing can make them palatable, let alone any substitute for an American's average income. Living on what comes from the dole queue is just that. The money provides merely enough to get by; and paying bills and groceries doesn't precipitate growth. Yet Blinder would tax the very investors, entrepreneurs and customers of organizations that, with capital the government confiscated, would provide jobs to the unemployment?

If Republicans acknowledge that economic ends depend on political means, however, they hamstring themselves by opposing benefit extensions. Unemployment isn't welfare: most on its rolls wish to be removed as soon as possible. Furthermore, no volume of small, weekly payments will ever reach the size of federal embonpoint squeezed and groped by the politically favored. The right should seek, with a congressional majority, to divest Washington from "stimulus" and trade spending for tax cuts, the only real assurance Washington can give the private sector.

Do employers have good reason to justify their eponymity? I wager Yes. Stagnation won't last for half a decade if free rein is given to enterprise — unemployment would be halved in twelve months.

Michael Ubaldi, July 6, 2010.

Anne Applebaum looks up, declares democracy in trouble and references a heavily revised historical account:

By every measure, the world's autocrats have become more entrenched over the past decade. Countries as disparate as Russia, Venezuela and Iran have become adept at using the rhetoric of "democracy" — along with faked elections, phony political parties, even state-controlled "civil society" organizations — to deflect pressure for change.

But democracy promotion has also been unfairly discredited by the invasion of Iraq, a decision too often remembered as nothing more than a foolish "war for democracy" that went predictably wrong. The subsequent failure of Iraq to metamorphose overnight into the Switzerland of the Middle East is cited as an example of why democracy should never be pushed or promoted. This silly argument has had a strong echo: Since becoming president, Barack Obama has shied away from the word democracy in foreign contexts — he prefers "our common security and prosperity" — as if it might be some dangerous Bushism.

Recall that "the past decade" was nearly half-spent witnessing daring outbursts and full-fledged movements carried out by liberals in response to the deposition of the Taliban and Iraqi Ba'athists. As recently as 2005, men with no love for America — let alone George W. Bush — credited the Bush doctrine for their advances, such as Walid Jumblatt who admitted "[T]his process of change has started because of the American invasion of Iraq."

In fact, oppressed peoples of the world do look to the people and leaders of the United States for validation of ideals whose self-evidence, for them, is often in question. When did the tide begin to ebb? 2006. When Bush's political opposition, determined to discredit the occupation of Iraq and personally denigrate its commander-in-chief, seized a cardinal domestic victory in the wake of Hurricane Katrina — whether the president deserved it or not — the resulting traducement shattered the last of American unity on an intolerance for authoritarianism and the bizarre, totalitarian fanatics its stifling desperation breeds.

The men against whom the United States would "impose democracy by force," the cadres of secret police, roughnecks and wage-earning psychopaths, realized that the enemies of their enemy would, through the rule of law, occlude any measures to defeat them. They could return to the business of autocratic cruelty. Why worry when powerless assemblies — approved by an American president who shows more animadversion against markets and industry than juntas and regimes, himself invested in the "silly argument" against Iraq — will "condemn abusers" and do nothing else?

Michael Ubaldi, May 27, 2010.

Jonah Goldberg, this morning:

Don't get me wrong, I'm usually singing from the same "It's Obama's Fault and We Know It" songbook. But I just can't bring myself to agree with the folks who think that the BP spill is a major indictment of Obama. He may have handled the politics of this thing badly, by which I mean the PR, but unless someone can explain how Obama could have "taken over" and fixed this faster, I think a lot of the criticism is overboard. Not all of it; it sounds like Bobby Jindal has some legitimate complaints. But the notion that BP isn't motivated to cap this thing as quickly as possible and so therefore Obama needs to lean on BP harder is nothing short of crazy talk. Obama could have been on vacation for the last month and I'd bet the tempo of the BP operation wouldn't have been one minute slower.

Jonah is right, of course. If the BP spill is at all like Hurricane Katrina, it shows a disappointing example of many Americans' meager tolerance for tragedies that unfold largely out of the control of man and science — as well as an incomprehension of what supports modern societies.

The public misunderstands scale in two ways. At the same time the gusher cannot be plugged with a cork, the spill itself will not affect ecology on a wide-ranging and long-lasting basis — sorry, but one need not be an expert to deduce that. And in spite of several thousand offshore platforms quietly collecting a vital natural resource at this moment, hysterics and opportunists are actually persuading some to consider an end or curtailment of drilling. It's on the order of a naive teenager swearing off meat after he learns how it's obtained.

Details of the rig explosion are pertinent legally and professionally, but for goodness' sake, not philosophically. Nor are they valuable politically. I dislike President Obama and his administration, but what partisans cast as insouciance may very well be a realistic sense of the country's daily affairs — or at least a tacit admission of the limits to federal majesty.

Michael Ubaldi, October 11, 2008.

"Those who press this Ayers line of attack are whipping Republicans and conservatives into a fury that is going to be very hard to calm after November," writes David Frum. "Anger is a very bad political adviser. It can isolate us and push us to the extremes at exactly the moment when we ought to be rebuilding, rethinking, regrouping and recruiting."

I agree that Barack Obama's imputed character won't make a difference — in early 1996, William F. Buckley himself noted that the same 57 percent responding in a survey with dubiety for the Clintons' associates was happy to elect the Democratic incumbent. Those who (at least believe that they) support Barack Obama's stated policies and prospective methods won't care who's nurtured his political career.

And Frum is wise to reprove conservatives to avoid the same animus against Obama as the left holds against Bush. But I wonder if he should also warn us of the verbal, political, legal and physical violence that many leftists will visit on many of us.

I want to think that, if Obama wins, the next four to eight years will be as typical as Bill Clinton's tenure: venality and indolence just can't block out memories of Rush Limbaugh, Newt, 1994, and a limerence with the end of history. Yet there's that weird apotheosis. Those kids singing about transnationalism, the real hatred of Kos-style leftists, and the obscurantist actions of Obama's own inner circle in Missouri and Chicago.

Most people behind an electoral majority, if they decided in two or four years the next president wasn't worth their vote, would pull the single lever of power they have, but would leave many more levers to others. The direct current animating ideologues looks uncontrollable and deadly to the touch. We should be wary that our camp for "rebuilding, rethinking, regrouping and recruiting" could instead be spent in theirs for reeducation.