Saturday, July 30, 2005

More Recent Acquisitions

Let It Die
Let It Die

My Short Take

If the idea of a musical collaborative coming together and busting apart in turn isn't a Canadian invention, those from the Great White North seem to have made it a national speciality. From Neil Young's sporadic couplings with The Buffalo Springfield/Crosby, Stills & Nash/Crazy Horse to The New Pornographers as Vancouver "supergroup," the m.o. seems to suit our Canadian cousins. Following that path now is Broken Social Scene, a Toronto collective into and out of which drift several members, including Leslie Feist. Let It Die is her first full-length album in five years and it showcases what makes her great: jazzy songs, interesting covers, spare arrangements, breathy vocals and serious guitar chops when necessary. Watch her on "Morning Becomes Eclectic" here.

Others Write

Let It Die finds Feist in a radically different state of mind, completely abandoning her guitars-and-strings indie rock shorthand in favor of folk, jazz, French pop, and disco accoutrements. While her propensity for serial genre-hopping makes it difficult for the album to congeal into a whole (Let It Die's scattered closing trilogy comprises covers of songs by Ron Sexsmith, The Bee Gees and 1940s vocalist Dick Haymes), it is nonetheless held together by her wistful song selection and an airy, summery aesthetic."

Her hushed croon evokes the jazz tingle of Peggy Lee and her melodicism hearkens back to Tin Pan Alley, but Feist proves she's a modern gal with a sparse yet varied sound that draws from chamber pop, chill-out, postmodern folk, Burt Bacharach and beyond. Feist's own songs on the disc's first half segue imperceptibly into a string of well-chosen cover tunes that confirm her nuanced good taste, particularly as she gently renders Ron Sexsmith's "Secret Heart" and the Bee Gees' "Love You Inside Out" as if they were penned by the same lovesick soul: herself."
Rolling Stone

With no shame at all, Feist shifts from sultry to sweet, temptress to sprite, eventually melding the two without a single hint of irony. "Mushaboom" is a skipping tale of longing not only for love, but for the trappings of home and hearth that eventually accompany it, while the dark fingersnap percussion of "Leisure Suite" and the sleek AM-disco harmony of "One Evening" celebrate the far more intimate connections that can come and go in a single night. "Lonely Lonely" is a heartbreaker of spare guitar chords, tamborine and sustain. Even the slow pulse tempo and get-out-of-my-life lyrics of the title track have a sweetness that washes over the finality of a message with hope."
Jive Magazine

She's playful with her design and the overall composition flows nicely. Feist has varied styles and sounds just right, and that's what makes Let It Die the secret treasure that it is."
All Music Guide


My Short Take

"Emerge" has emerged in the last few months as something of a cult hit in our house. At the moment I have 12 different versions of the song on my iTunes, including the two found on this album and a mash-up with Nirvana called "Smells Like Emerge." All of them are on my iPod as well, and Noreen's iPod, and Cait's iPod. If my Tess had an iPod they would probably be on there as well. "Uh-huh, that's right" has become an oft-heard catch phrase, even if most of its recipients don't even realize that it is a catchphrase. Thanks, Fischerspooner!

Others Write

I'm not going to deny that the group's visual flair rivals Peter Gabriel's in the early-80s, but they paint themselves as an "art collective," and it seems to me that art ought to do something more than mock itself. These guys are talented in only one respect, and are receiving attention in the wrong medium-- this half-hearted full-length is an excuse to push the band's studious fashion sense."

"Chances are, you've seen Fischerspooner, or perhaps heard people talking about them before you've even had a chance to hear their music, and it's admittedly hard to get their striking visual images out of your head once you do give their debut album, #1, a listen. However, if you do manage to just let the music speak for itself, you'd be surprised at how good it actually is. Over the past few years, the burgeoning genre of urban hipster, retro-style techno music commonly known as "no wave", or "electroclash" has spawned a large amount of mediocre outfits (Mount Sims), a fair number of reasonably good acts (Miss Kittin, Ladytron, Chicks on Speed), and only a couple of truly original artists. Foul-mouthed electro-queen Peaches is one of them, and take my word for it, Fischerspooner is the other."
Pop Matters

"#1 is the sound of 1980 as filtered by two new wave revivalists in 2002. The nine songs here have been remastered and resequenced from Casey Spooner and Warren Fischer's original take on a debut (released in 2001 on International DJ Gigolos). Though they're known primarily for their campy, elaborate live-concerts-as-dramas, Fischerspooner prove themselves to be as talented working studio boards as they are at staging those Ziggy Stardust-style freakouts. "
All Music Guide

Like Britney Spears, New York performance act Fischerspooner generates theater, video, fashion and hype that's as much of a creation as the music itself. And like Spears' music, the debut album from Warren Fischer and Casey Spooner only sometimes stands on its own. Long stretches of #1 sound like the synth-pop soundtrack to a vintage video game: thin and static. But its woozy high points can make you forget the self-described "hypermediocrity" elsewhere. "
Rolling Stone

Get Behind Me Satan
The White Stripes
Get Behind Me Satan

My Short Take

Why in the hell is "The Nurse" even on this album, much less the second track? "Blue Orchid" starts the party right -- full-on Jack White in stomp-out mode -- "I Turn My Camera On" at 78 speed. "The Nurse" builds on that by...what?...dropping dead? Some seem to like it as a new direction for the band, to me it's wankery. The rest of the album is spent recovering -- eventually very nicely -- from this debacle. The key sonic step is the substitution of piano for guitar on several tracks. Case in point is "My Doorbell," where the piano is a one-for-one substitute -- providing as much thrash as a piano can provide. The song itself is pretty standard issue White Stripes, but the tone is a little more Ben Folds. Nice combo. "Take, Take, Take" provides a late highlight. Love it, hate "The Nurse."

Others Write

(T)he music is so wild, it could make you weep over how pitilessly the Stripes keep crushing the other bands out there. Having clocked all rivals, the Stripes have to settle for topping their 2003 masterpiece, Elephant, the way Elephant topped White Blood Cells. If you happen to be a rock band, and you don't happen to be either of the White Stripes, it so sucks to be you right now."
Rolling Stone

But despite Get Behind Me Satan's hairpin turns, its inspired imagery and complicated feelings about love hold it together. Though "the ideal of truth" sounds cut-and-dried, the album is filled with ambiguities; even its title, which shortens the biblical phrase "get thee behind me Satan," has a murky meaning -- is it support, or deliverance, from Lucifer that the Stripes are asking for?"
All Music Guide

"Too much of it -- both on the "experimental" tracks and the "traditional White Stripes" tracks -- feels like unfinished sketches. As if the White Stripes couldn't wait to get done with the loud-and-nasty stuff, but that they also felt tentative about the exciting new sound. It's easy to hear something like "My Doorbell", which doesn't have a lot of substance to go along with its insane piano hook, and wonder what could have been if the song had stayed in the oven a little longer. But lord, Jack White's pop sensibilities are so strong that his piano riffs -- which often seem rooted in vintage R&B -- latch right onto your brain and make you enjoy the songs anyway."
Pop Matters

White Stripes fans have always known that the time would eventually come when Jack White's abilities and ambitions would outpace the duo's deliberately limited musical vocabulary. And while it may be too soon to proclaim that fated day to be at hand, there are definitely signs on their bold, bewildering fifth album, Get Behind Me Satan, that Jack might be beginning to strain a bit at his self-fashioned yoke."

The Verdict: Not That Bad

Well, the wife and I did go see "Must Love Dogs" last night. As noted yesterday, the movie got horrible reviews almost everywhere. Our verdict on the movie? Not great, but nowhere near as bad as some of the reviews would lead you to believe.

Yes, the storyline was standard-grade Hollywood stuff; yes, there were some lines delivered that would not be uttered by real humans; and no, two 40ish men would not spend an afternoon together watching "Doctor Zhivago."

Overall though, the movie managed to be charming and engaging and a pretty decent date movie. I would attribute the largest part of all of those features to the two leads, Diane Lane and John Cusack. Both basically play versions of their standard roles: Lane as "the meltingly hot middle-aged woman looking for someone to treat her right" woman; Cusack as "the boyishly affable on the surface yet with miles of depth just underneath" guy.

They meet cute/miss trains/make nice in age-old Hollywood fashion, and Act III is upon us and somewhat implausably resolved in a nanosecond, but it's all OK mostly because Lane and Cusack are so very likable.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Pronounced RYE-zhon

Kudos to Rajon Rondo for making the U.S. Under-21 national team this week.

"The first thing I saw was tremendous defensive ability," the USA coach, Phil Martelli of St. Joseph's, said yesterday. "I thought he was the best defensive guard here. Right from the very beginning."

Martelli intends to use defensive pressure, almost exclusively man-to-man pressure, as a key strategy when the team plays in the 2005 FIBA Under-21 World Championships in Mar De Plata, Argentina, on Aug. 5-14.

"He was there every time," Martelli said of Rondo's defensive intensity. "Other guys had to be reminded and reminded and reminded again and again.

"I think he can be extraordinary. No question, he can become an extraordinary on-the-ball defender. If we get (an opposing) guard kind of going off, he'll be put in a position to take that guy out. In college basketball the next two or three years, there will be few guards who can defend like him."

Nothing we didn't already know, though.

The End Is Near

Article in the Tribune this morning about the impending doom of a Chicago-centric institution -- 16" softball. It was only ever a popular version of the game here in Chicago, but even here it seems to be dying on the vine. The article mentions a lot of possible reasons for the shrinking popularity (including that it's a myth), most of them a variant on the idea that younger would-be players are too busy playing video games. What seems more likely, though, is that most younger would-be 16" players are now playing 12", a game that is more reminiscent of baseball, the game that softball players actually grew up playing.

Is That A Hat?

Looks like someone is running for President.

Must Love Dogs...Like This Movie?

One thing you may not know about the couple on the left is that my wife and I have major crushes on them (she for John Cusack, me for Diane Lane), which makes it doubly unfortunate that their new movie is getting absolutely panned this morning:

"It is melancholy to reflect that Cusack played a teenager in his first romantic comedy, the 1989 masterpiece "Say Anything," and now plays an adult in a screenplay not anywhere near as risky, truthful or moving."

Roger Ebert - Chicago Sun-Times

"Maybe filmmakers think that moviegoers trolling for a fun date movie or an evening out with the girls are actually looking for this kind of poot. That's the only plausible explanation for why damp, droopy pictures like "Must Love Dogs" get made: This is a comedy about recently divorced people in their late 30s looking for love and companionship (a reasonable, realistic desire if there ever was one) that feels as if it was made by a teenage girl with a penchant for writing "Bobby Sherman 4-Ever" on her notebook covers. It's ostensibly about adults, but there's nothing remotely adult about it."

Stephanie Zacharek -

"Watching "Must Love Dogs," an Internet dating comedy so weightless that it makes a trifle like "You've Got Mail" look like Chekhov, you have to wonder how actors of the caliber of Diane Lane, John Cusack, Christopher Plummer and Stockard Channing were bamboozled into lending their talents to the project."

Stephen Holden - The New York Times

"It is so busy copying from better films that it forgets to present anything approximating real life."

Jen Chaney - The Washington Post

Ouch! This is bad because one of two bad things is going to happen: A) We will take a pass on what would have been a nice opportunity to go to a movie together and stare at people we like to stare at; or B) we're gonna go see this lousy movie.

Thursday, July 28, 2005


Now this is funny!

(S)FU, Nate

After years of putting its characters through the wringer -- doomed relationships, addictive personalities, overwhelming disagreeableness -- Six Feet Under finally went out and plain killed one off this week.


Nate Fisher, perhaps the most disagreeable of a slew of disagreeable characters on the show, had a stroke (heart attack?) mere seconds after climbing out of bed with the daughter of his mother's estranged husband (climbing out with his boxer briefs already on, I might add) -- while his pregnant wife waited patiently (albeit suspiciously) at the local Friends meeting.

Is that the sound of chickens coming home to roost that I hear in the background? A little karmic payback for one of television's most consistent dickwads? As Heather Hrilavsky puts it in Salon:
Nate has always been an ingrate. What's brilliant about him, as a character, is that he embodies the very worst of the so-called sensitive, liberal, enlightened, privileged white world. He has a chushy job, a smart, beautiful wife, a reasonably sane family, and an adorable daughter who never babbles on tediously like most toddlers. So what does Nate do? He goes crawling off to screw a relative stranger and tricks himself into believing that his infidelity is a piece of some greater search for meaning.
(Not sure about that "reasonably sane family" bit, though. Apart from the arguable exception of David, everyone seems pretty much like a complete whack-job to me.)

Sleeping with Maggie was probably as inevitable as it was reprehensible, but the stroke was a bit of a shock nonetheless. Will this be it for Nate? Can't say for sure, since there were no previews at the end of the episode, but things are not looking good for ol' Nate right now.

Luckily though, he had given his final burial instructions just a few scenes prior to his farm purchase -- looks like it's straight into the ground and straight back to Nate-ure for our "hero."

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Ummmm, No.

Haven't worn one since (I think) high school. Or maybe junior high. Do remember my mom buying me one for 6th grade gym class at Salkeld's Sporting Goods in downtown Kankakee, though. Not an uncomfortable moment at all, why would you think so?

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

More Random Celebrity Birth Songs

  • Kirsten Dunst - "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" - Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
  • Cameron Crowe - "Love Letters In The Sand" - Pat Boone
  • Tawny Kitaen - "Tossin and Turnin'" - Bobby Lewis
  • Eddie Murphy - "Blue Moon" - The Marcels
  • Diane Lane - "Come See About Me" - The Supremes
  • Jason Giambi - "My Sweet Lord" - George Harrison
  • Mandy Moore - "Footloose" - Kenny Loggins
  • Conan O'Brien - "He's So Fine" - The Chiffons
  • Lance Armstrong - "Go Away Little Girl" - Donny Osmond
  • Stella McCartney - "Go Away Little Girl" - Donny Osmond
  • John Cusack - "Paperback Writer" - The Beatles
  • Joan Cusack - "Sherry" - The Four Seasons
  • Owen Wilson - "Hey Jude" - The Beatles
  • Jarvis Cocker - "My Boyfriend's Back" - The Angels
  • Jenna & Barbara Bush - "Physical" - Olivia Newton-John

Sufjan Stevens Interview

Ran across this interview (it's a couple of weeks old now) with Sufjan Stevens at Gapers Block, a Chicago-based webzine. Stevens just released a new album, Illinois, the second in his ambitious plan (pipe-dream? publicity stunt/talking point?) to release albums about all 50 states (the first, Greetings From Michigan, was released in 2003). Illinois contains 22 songs, so a slight bit of math will help you realize that the man had better be prolific if he really expects to pull this off.

As the interview makes clear, the state theme is really just a framework upon which to hang character studies -- and the same was true with Michigan. Stevens has a distinct literary bent. In the wrong hands, of course, a literary bent and a pop song (folk song? folk song may be closer to the mark) are a bad, bad combination. The literary aspect is quite literal actually, as Stevens admits that he's never been to most of the places he writes about (can't blame him for that, of course), and any local references are based on his research and reading.

Stevens makes it work, though, for two reasons. First, he's thoughtful. Some of his interview responses are capable of inducing eye-rolls, but generally they're engaging and expressive:
I'm not the authority on trends. My advice is: wait 50 years and see what remains, what continues to resonate, what unearths itself. By then there will be an objectivity of language, breathing room for the historians. Our culture in particular is too quick to apply terms to immediate phenomena; we hardly give ourselves the chance to experience something in the fullness of being before we begin to endorse taglines and catchphrases — willfully and haphazardly — which often conceal the truth behind anything. I find this a little bit irresponsible.

Now, in terms of literary songwriting, I still believe that at the crux of every song is a narrative. The past 50 years have introduced a trend of simplifying and scaling down, so that the song no longer evokes a complete narrative but casts a primitive survey of catchphrases and clichés. I use the short story formula: observational detail, sensory language, landscape, setting, and character development. Sometimes I think every song needs a point of conflict, a crisis, a climax, a denouement. These are structures of literature, of course. But maybe it's because I'm so old school.

This degree of thoughtfulness comes out in his best songs -- he actually has something interesting to say about his subjects -- along with his expressive precision (the other reason he can pull off the literary pretensions). If you're going to attempt a character study in a four-minute album cut, you'd better be able to paint your picture with a minimum of language. My favorite example of this is from Michigan's "The Upper Peninsula:"
I live in a trailer home
With a snowmobile, my car
The window is broken out
And the interstate is far
Four lines, and the lonely isolation of the subject is set.

I haven't bought Illinois just yet, but have downloaded a few songs, including what has to be the most controversial Stevens has ever written, "John Wayne Gacy, Jr.," in which his character study abilities are applied to the most heinous figure in the memory of the state. Need to pick it up soon.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

John Roberts

I've said it before, and I'll say it again -- Steve Chapman is right on. This morning he correctly assesses (for the most part), the selection and upcoming confirmation of John Roberts to the Supreme Court.

From the point of view of the Senate's Republicans, the confirmation hearings will solely be about lauding the characteristics of the nominee. For Senate Democrats, the confirmation hearings will be a non-stop effort to pin the nominee down on his views on specific issues. For Roberts, the confirmation hearings will consist entirely of accepting the former and avoiding the latter -- both of which will be easily done.

Chapman errs, however, in raising the possibility of Roberts confounding expectations once he reaches the high court. Everyone's expectation is that he will be as reactionary as his patron, and that is exactly what he will be.

I had hoped that Bush might take the opportunity to appoint Michael Luttig who, while certainly cut from the same ideological cloth as Roberts, at least seems to have a streak of intellectual openness that the next Justice shows no evidence of having.

In the end, Roberts looks like Bush, has the same background as Bush, and believes exactly the same things as Bush -- and that's enough to get the job.

Friday, July 15, 2005

More Stuff I Won't Be Seein'

Taking the kids to the brother's house in Penna tomorrow. Just in time to miss two ridiculously good festival lineups in Chicago.

First, tomorrow and Sunday is Pitchfork's Intonation music festival at Union Park on the near west side. This one features (among many others): Head Of Femur, AC Newman, Broken Social Scene, Prefuse 73, Death From Above 1979, Tortoise, Will Oldham, Xiu Xiu, Andrew Bird, Deerhoof, The Wrens, Les Savy Fav & The Decemberists.

A week later in Grant Park comes Lollapalooza. A one-shot, two-day deal (unlike the traveling circus of earlier vintage), this one features (again, among many others): The Arcade Fire, Spoon, The Pixies, Weezer, Blonde Redhead, Drive-By Truckers, ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, The Walkmen, Kasabian, M83, Death Cab For Cutie & The Killers.

Hopefully it will suck hard and I won't have missed anything.

Lyle Lovett

Thanks to a very nice invitation from our neighbors, the wife and I went to Ravinia on Tuesday to see Lyle Lovett. Again, I want to stress that this was a very kind and thoughtful gesture on the part of our neighbors, who have apparently seen Lovett and his "large band" on several occasions.

That being said, I just don't get it.

Not that the man, and the large band, are not talented musicians, they most definitely are. It's just that, well, I don't think I've ever been to a show with less electricity -- despite the evident interest and adoration of most of the crowd.

I've certainly never been to a show at which I've felt more disconnected from what the crowd was hearing and seeing and feeling. His songs never approached a point at which I was moved to feel any emotion whatsover, outside of a vague appreciation for the professional quality of the playing (as an aside, I'm pretty sure the rhythm section played at the first concert I ever attended 30 years ago -- Randy Meisner and Linda Ronstadt. Please don't ask).

I can only guess that most of the crowd were once Little Feat fans (when Lowell George was still breathing), and find that Lovett gives them the same sort of laid-back, vaguely honky-tonk, vaguely Texas two-step feeling that they got from Feats back in the day (make no mistake, the wide majority of the crowd was distinctly middle-aged). To my ears, though, the music just had no life at all, and the cello solo (?!) late in the show helped matters not at all.

Thanks again to the neighbors, but I think that L-squared is one notion that I'm just not gettin'

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

All-Star Irony

Back in the day, when I was young and still cared about baseball, I was pretty much the only person in the world who cared at all about the All-Star game. The trouble with this was that I was a fan of the American League and from 1964 to 1982 the American League won exactly one midseason classic ( in 1971).

This era pretty much outlined my interest in the game. I started taking an interest (i.e., first collected baseball cards) in 1967 and by 1982 my interest had pretty much been spent. But during the years that I was interested, the All-Star game was an almost completely uninterrupted disappointment.

The irony comes, of course, from the fact that now the American League cannot be beaten -- and it really means almost nothing to me. I didn't even watch the game.

The last eight times there has been a winner (remember the misbegotten 2002 tie?), it has been the junior circuit on top. The AL is 13-3-1 in the last 17 years, almost as thorough a domination as the NL held back in the day.

And I really couldn't care less.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Steve Chapman

Is there a better columnist around than the Chicago Tribune's Steve Chapman? What I mean by that, of course, is that there isn't a columnist around that I agree with more -- or more often -- than this one.

Case in point is this column in the Sunday Tribune regarding the continuing fallout of the misbegotten foray into Iraq.
Lately, it has been possible for those of us on this side of the ocean to almost forget that our greatest challenge is the global threat of Islamic terrorism. That's because we've been preoccupied by the relentless violence and chaos in Iraq, where we are mired in a war we don't know how to win.

Looking at our current predicament, you almost feel nostalgic for the days when all we had to worry about was how to stop Al Qaeda from slaughtering more people on American soil--as if that weren't hard enough.

The bombings in London are a gruesome but unmistakable reminder that the war on terror ought to be Priority 1, Priority 2 and Priority 3. But as long as we're up to our necks in Iraq, terrorism will not get the attention and resources it demands.

We may be distracted by Iraq, but the terrorists are not. If anything, our messy occupation of a Muslim country works to the advantage of Islamic militants by inspiring new recruits every day.

Even in Iraq, the head of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency has said that despite all the insurgents we have killed, their numbers are growing. If our enemies are multiplying in Iraq, they are bound to be multiplying elsewhere, where the hazards they face are much less formidable.

President Bush pretends that the war there is part of the global war on terror. In fact, Iraq has reduced that problem to a secondary mission. And we're finding that it's hard to put out the fire in your house when your hand is trapped in the drainpipe. ...

We've poured more than $200 billion down the drain in Iraq. If even a small part of that money had been spent on homeland security, Americans would undoubtedly be safer today. U.S. soldiers might have been used to hunt down those enemies who want to carry out atrocities here or in Britain, instead of fighting insurgents who merely want us out of Iraq.

The war on Iraq was never vital to our security. The war on terror is.

Friday, July 08, 2005


I know these guys are older than dirt, but this is just cool!

Gilmour's voice is not to be believed, especially given his advanced age (and waistline).

Brits To al Qaeda: "Bollocks!"

The most striking thing about the attacks on London yesterday, apart from their sheer barbarity, was the equanimity with which they were absorbed by most Brits. The lack of panic, the lack of hand-wringing -- the lack of terror, in other words, was the most notable reaction.

If you realize that the point of the attack (or one of the points, anyway) was to induce terror in the populace -- they're not called terrorists for nothing -- you can see how the reaction of the Brits was the most useful one possible: stoic resilience with more than a bit of the attitude shown to the left.

G'on Brits, yer all anchor spreadable!

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The Survivor

Recently finished The Survivor: Bill Clinton In The White House by John F. Harris. Harris was a national correspondent for the Washington Post during the Clinton years in the presidency.

Right-wingers would probably argue the point, but the book provides a reasonably balanced look at the Clinton presidency. While few punches are pulled regarding the troughs, Clinton is given credit for his successes as well. In the end, according to Harris, Clinton's presidency was less a matter of success or failure than the survival noted in the book's title:
"Clinton survived the crises of his presidency for three principal reasons. ...

By the end of Clinton's term, the issue that had been in doubt at the beginning -- whether Democrats had credible ideas about the role of government in a rapidly changing global economy -- was put to rest on favorable terms. Clinton had implemented a mild but innovative brand of liberalism that favored economic growth over redistribution, insisted that government pay its way rather than rely on budget deficits, and embraced free trade rather than taking refuge in protectionism. ...

Clinton's presidency was anchored to an authentically populist spirit and animated by a genuine connection between a politician and common folk whose support he needed. Countless times Republicans believed they had Clinton cornered. The reality was that they never really told voters anything about the president -- about his diverse excesses and vulnerabilities -- that the voters had not long since supposed to be true. ...

Finally, one must note the phenomenon seen so often in his story: the blurring of function and dysfunction in the Clinton style. Voluminous appetites got him into trouble. Voluminous appetites carried him out of trouble. No president had a greater capacity for the work of politics and governance ..."
Harris concludes the book with a natural segue to what will doubtless be the subject of countless future books:
"... Clinton and Bush are likely to be tethered to each other historically. Their presidential styles are such distinct opposites that it is hardly possible to talk about one without invoking a contrast with the other.

As a politician, Clinton made it preeminently his task to capture the center while trying to tame the more ideological elements of his party. Bush has celebrated ideology, and has worried less about placating the center than about rallying the enthusiasm of his party base. On the world stage, Clinton was a pluralist who believed the United States in most instances was better served exerting influence by persuasion and by acting in a community of nations. Bush has been devoted to American exceptionalism, believing in the supremacy of force over persuasion and serving regular notice that the United States is ready to act alone to protect its self-interests. The starkest contrast is in the nature of their minds. The philosopher Isaiah Berlin famously invoked the Greek fable about the hedgehog and the fox ... : "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." Clinton was a classic fox. ... Bush proved to be the classic hedgehog. ... In the Clinton and Bush presidencies, history has crafted an experiment of sourts about which model of leadership is more productive."
I'm not sure if history ever provides judgements that are ever that clear cut, but it is instructive how the distinctions between the two are neatly framed by two issues: terrorism and budgets.

Clinton was, according to Harris, fully convinced of the dangers of Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda, but had so constrained himself with his (largely self-generated) domestic political concerns that he was never able to respond adequately. By Richard Clarke's accounts, Bush was never fully convinced of these dangers until the attacks of September 11th thrust them front and center into his consciousness, where they remain to this day.

Regarding budgets, Clinton spent his presidency crafting what had seemed impossible under his Republican predecessors, the record budget surpluses that would seem to be his most amazing accomplishment. Also his least enduring accomplishment, as four years of the Bush presidency have brought budget deficits back in spades. But, as a hedgehog, the importance of this is not apparent to 43, and so is crowded out.

It is likely that the judgements of history regarding these two areas will indeed come to define both presidencies.

Random Celebrity Birth Songs

  • Lindsay Lohan - "On My Own" - Patti LaBelle & Michael McDonald
  • Kurt Cobain - "Kind Of A Drag" - The Buckinghams
  • Brad Pitt - "Dominique" - The Singing Nun
  • Thom Yorke - "Hey Jude" - The Beatles
  • Tiger Woods - "Let's Do It Again" - The Staples Singers
  • David Beckham - "(Hey Won't You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song" - B.J. Thomas
  • Trey Parker - "I Can't Get Next To You" - The Temptations
  • Ashley Judd - "Honey" - Bobby Goldsboro
  • Mary Louise Parker - "Hard Day's Night" - The Beatles
  • Andy Roddick - "Eye Of The Tiger" - Survivor
  • Drew Barrymore - "Pick Up The Pieces" - Average White Band
  • Bobby Brown - "Crimson & Clover" - Tommy James & The Shondells
  • Peter Krause - "I'm Henry The VIII, I Am" - Herman's Hermits
  • Edie Falco - "Sukiyaki" - Kyu Sakamoto
  • Madonna - "Poor Little Fool" - Ricky Nelson
  • Jon Stewart - "Big Girls Don't Cry" - The Four Seasons