Saturday, December 18, 2010

Ten Quotes from Right-Wing Blowhards That I Can Actually Agree With

I embarked on this project with the best of intentions. About a year ago, I stumbled across a list of what someone thought were the 'best ever' quotes from Ann Coulter. I decided to read down the list (it was an extensive list), and found myself agreeing with, well, with two or three of them. Which surprised me and took me aback, frankly. It stuck in my head.

And may well have been all a dream. Because in compiling this list, I found it more difficult to find somethig - anything - Ann Coulter had said that I could agree with, as you'll see below. Most of the seven other people on this list were comparatively likeable, actually. Which took me by surprise. Must be the Christmas spirit filling my heart with tidings of comfort and joy.

What is a blowhard? Well, defines it mostly as a boastful braggard, but I don't think that's it at all. To me, a blowhard is that drunk guy in the corner of the bar willing to spout off about any topic. Little so-called 'political commentary' strays very far from this template; rarely does it rise above the level of mere partisan shouting.

To the extent that I've actually watched any of these people (all of whom are American mainly because I'm not aware of any Canadians of a similar type), I must admit that I don't find left-wing political commentators much more appealing than their conservative 'nemeses' - I think we're supposed to see Keith Olbermann, for example, as a kind of countervailing force of good against the people on this list, but I watched him in preparing this list, and found his politics unimpeachable but his personality smug and superior. God help us all if he's what stands between these ugly hatemongerers and true political power.

And ugly they are. I really attempted this with the best of intentions: understand the 'other side', so to speak, seek out common ground. But the vast majority of the things these commontators say is rank, indefensible nonsense. David Letterman famously told Bill O'Reilly that 60% of what he said was crap. Frankly, I'm still looking for that other 40% (okay, 39% - he did make the list, after all). It must comprise mainly the introductions he gives his guests as they appear on his show.

Still, by the mere law of averages, even the most wrong-headed person is bound to say something less than entirely offensive every now and then - even if it's just by accident. Here are ten.

1.NEWT GINGRICH ON POLITICAL CLICHÉ: "In every election in American history both parties have their cliches. The party that has the cliches that ring true wins." This is a refreshingly honest look at partisan politics from someone who has actually been elected as a member of one of the two parties (no points for guessing which). Most of these blowhards are extremely partisan, and have this inbuilt belief that the Republican Party is by its very nature superior to the Democratic Party. Some are nearly Manichaean about it. So this more realistic view of party politics is nice to see.Newt Gingrich the Blowhard

2.SARAH PALIN ON POPULISM: "We need leaders who will stand up for the little guy and listen once again." I don't know if Palin really qualifies as a blowhard, but she has the business of cheap soundbites down just as well as the media professionals do. Somewhere along the way, the left has lost its ability to speak with conviction as defenders of the 'common man'. We may have come to wrinkle our noses at cheap, pat populist sentiment, but the result is a feeling that the left is out of touch with the hoi polloi. If we really do shut ourselves up in ivory towers, we will have forever lost the battle. Palin is right: leaders need to listen to and stand up for the common man. People are so desperate for this that millions have convinced themselves that the Republicans in some way represent their interests best of all. This is frightening.Sarah Palin the Blowhard

3.SEAN HANNITY ON PUBLIC SERVICE: "One of the best lessons I learned early is that not everything in life is about you. It is about service. If you want trips and excessive gifts, then don't get into public service." Yeah, fair enough. It's tough to complain about someone criticising graft and corruption in the public sector. I don't know the circumstances he was discussing, but yeah - dishonesty in the public sector is something to condemn. With kickbacks and 'donations' being a daily reality in American public political life, it's tough to see this changing, but the endemic corruption in politics ought to anger people on both the left and the right equally - if this is what he's talking about. If he's merely saying that public servants shouldn't earn a decent wage, then it's rather tougher to defend him.Sean Hannity the Blowhard

4.GLENN BECK ON POLITICAL CORRECTNESS: "Political Correctness doesn't change us, it shuts us up." I think this is absolutely true, and important. Beck says it to talk about how political correctness is ineffective, and as far as that statement goes, it's true. Our political discourse has progressed to the point that, for example, if you insult gay or black people in public with derogatory language, you will be criticised on all sides for it. This is a good thing, but what it has also done is driven the bigotry underground. Beck is right: when the cameras are off, when the notepads are away, the opinions expressed by a large number of conservatives suddenly seem very different. Political correctness can unfortunately give the illusion that society has progressed further than it has. This forces sheep's clothing onto wolves who otherwise might not hide their wolfish natures, and that makes it harder to fight them.Glenn Beck the Blowhard

5.RUSH LIMBAUGH ON PRO-CHOICE EQUIVOCATION: "The message that President Obama delivered in his speech at Notre Dame was: morality is immoral. Pro-life is the extremist position, not a moral position. Yet we should compromise and work to reduce abortions. Where's the compromise between life and death - and why work to reduce the number of them occurring if there's nothing wrong with them?" This one is a genuine, legitimate criticism of the mainstream left. In the abortion battle, conservatives have a simpler message than the mainstream left. Its mere unequivocal directness gives it a sense of moral superiority over the hedge-betting that goes on in the mainstream left. If we are truly pro-choice, we have to be able to say the word 'abortion', and we need to be comfortable with it and speak with no uncertainty about how enabling a woman to take control of her own body is indeed a moral act. Limbaugh is right that it's hypocritical to be pro-choice if you still insist on 'softening' your message with talk about how abortions need to be avoided. There is nothing morally wrong with abortion, so behaving as if there is (or might be) helps no one.Rush Limbaugh the Blowhard

6.GLENN BECK (AGAIN) ON THE NEXT GENERATION: It does not have to be that the greatest generation is behind us. It does not have to be that our children will have a lower standard of living. It will be that way if we choose to believe that. I choose not to believe that. I like this one. A little bit of optimism is refreshing coming from the mouths of these doomsday-sayers. Conservatism by its very nature sees the past as glorious and sees any change from how things were in the past as regression, so pessimism about youth is pretty much a given in conservative circles. Beck would probably suggest that all the next generation has to do is 'embrace our traditional values' to become the greatest of generations, but nonetheless I have to give him credit for not immediately dismissing the future out of hand.Glenn Beck the Blowhard

7.SARAH PALIN (AGAIN) ON HELP: "Each of us knows that we have an obligation to care for the old, the young and the sick. We stand strongest when we stand with the weakest among us. I don't know if by their very definition, the old, the young and the sick are the 'weakest' among us, but Palin's sentiment is still well-taken. I suppose as far as people-helping-people goes, the main difference between conservatives and progressives could be construed as whether or not the government is the best agent to provide that help. Alternately, it might be that one side is genuinely for helping those in need, while the other side just gives lip service to the notion.Sarah Palin the Blowhard

8.BEN STEIN ON ALTRUISM: "I came to realize that life lived to help others is the only one that matters and that it is my duty...This is my highest and best use as a human." In the midst of hundreds of quotes from this elderly blowhard (once upon a time famous for saying, 'Beuller? Beuller?' in a teen movie, now famous for spouting all kinds of ugly conservative rhetoric at any given opportunity) focusing on personal gain and the rewards of personal effort, a sudden sense of civic duty leaps out in this quote. Stein has a lot to say in favour of the self-interest and greed that serves as the spirit of capitalism, so siddenly seeing a quote in praise of altruism is a welcome relief.Ben Stein the Blowhard

9.ANN COULTER ON OLYMPIC BOYCOTTS: "In another show of America's force to the world, when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, Carter responded by boycotting the Olympics. And thus was a fearsome blow struck at little fourteen-year-old American girls who had spent their lives training for the Olympics." I found it very hard to find something Ann Coulter had ever said that I didn't find merely obnoxious, offensive garbage. So I had to go and find this rather obscure topic: the American boycott of the Moscow Olympics. I think boycotts can be useful tactics to change other countries' behaviour or attitudes, but boycotting Olympics is a numbskulled move that changed nothing politically, dashed kids' dreams, and led to the orgy four years later when the Eastern Bloc boycotted the Los Angeles olympics, denying Americans their chief competitors.Ann Coulter the Blowhard

10.BILL O'REILLY ON TEEN PREGNANCY: "Millions of American families are dealing with teenage pregnancy...It is true that some Americans will judge Governor Palin and her family. There's nothing anyone can do about it." I had no idea that the relatively charismatic and seemingly likeable O'Reilly was probably the most reprehensible on this austere list, bar Ann Coulter. He has decades of nonsense behind him. You could fill bookshelves with the garbage he's spouted. Yet, while Sarah Palin was campaigning for the office of vice president, her unwed teenage daughter discovered that she was pregnant. The temptation to give in to Schadenfreude here comes from the fact that Palin and her ilk are eager to condemn unwed teen mothers at every chance they get. One wants to point out her hypocrisy. But I think the left should have resisted the temptation to gloat here, since Sarah Palin is not the same person as her daughter, and having sex outside of marriage is no crime. We shouldn't need to attack the right for how their opinions and their lives contrast each other: it should be enough merely to point out how wrong their opinions are.Bill O'Reilly the Blowhard

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ten Women With Shaved Heads

The bald head, be it through age or through shaving, is not that uncommon at all. You'll see bald heads all around you. But there's probably just shy of a one-hundred percent chance that the person you see sporting a hairless head is male. Male pattern baldness is encoded on the Y-chromosome. The buzz-cut is a male fashion. Women with Rapunzel-length locks are often complimented on them, and women are expected to use their hair as a fashion statement. Merrely having no hair at all is no fashion statement, is it?

No, really: is it? Almost all of the following ten women look great. In some cases, better without hair than with. It's an acquired taste, sure, but finding women with shaved heads beautiful is, based on current evidence, not that hard a taste to acquire.

1.SINÉAD O'CONNOR: Sinéad has to be first on this list, because even all these years later, when you think 'bald woman', she's still the first name you think of. In fact, she's perhaps as well-known for being bald these days as she is for covering a Prince song and tearing up a picture of the Pope. Sinéad O'Connor was a beautiful woman, and her shaved head was a dramatic, challenging statement. Everything that's great about her in the early days straddles the divide between hard and soft. As, frankly, does her appearance.Sinéad O'Connor with a shaved head

2.GRACE JONES: In fact Grace Jones was doing it years and years before. Grace Jones was a fashion model - slash - singer - slash - who knows quite what she was? She was, mind you, gorgeous and terrifying in equal parts. Lady Gaga claims her as a hero, but she's way cooler than Lady Gaga could ever be. Grace Jones couldn't find softness and femininity in her shaved head, but she was never about softness. In her case, hair just got in the way of her ability (or God-given right) to kick your ass all over the place.Grace Jones with a shaved head

3.SIGOURNEY WEAVER: This is also true of Sigourney Weaver, though in her case the bald head was responsible for the transformation. It was the lack of hair that truly made her into Ripley, "Alien"-trilogy heroine and scary-person. Just look at that picture. With hair, Sigourney Weaver is a Glenn Close-style Hollywood mainstay. Shorn, she's a sci-fi heroine.Sigourney Weaver with a shaved head

4.DEMI MOORE: Demi Moore joins this list, like Sigourney Weaver less as a fashion statement than as a job requirement: for her role in the movie "GI Jane", she had to shave her head. The result wasn't as iconic as the previous three, but it was impressive nonetheless.Demi Moore with a shaved head

5.NATALIE PORTMAN: And also Natalie Portman, who shaved her head in order to star in "V for Vendetta". However, in Portman's case, she is somehow equally gorgeous with or without hair. Looking at her bald, one wonders why women ever thought they needed hair to be seen as beautiful. I don't think there's anything Natalie Portman could do to her appearance that would make her anything less than gorgeous.Natalie Portman with a shaved head

6.MENA SUVARI: As opposed to Mena Suvari, who is less gorgeous than 'cute', or more precisely 'doll-like'. Having extremely short hair (not technically shaved but almost there) makes her no less doll-like than if she had Pippi Longstockings hair.Mena Suvari with a shaved head

7.ALEK WEK: Alek Wek is a Sudanese fashion model, whose main distinguishing trait is her shaved head. It suits her, and she is beautiful, but I don't know if the bald head enhances the beauty or if it just makes her stand out on a runway. Stand out she definitely does, though.Alek Wek with a shaved head

8.ME'SHELL NDEGÉOCELLO: Me'Shell NdegéOcello is an American singer whose name has various spellings, accents, apostrophes and mid-word capital letters, depending on who you ask. None of this nomenclatural weirdness is the fault of her parents, who named her "Michelle Lynn Johnson". What's interesting about NdegéOcello's shaved head is that it fits her so naturally that if you show someone a picture of her in performance and say, 'describe this woman', the person is perhaps not even likely to notice the hairless head.MeShell NdegeOcello with a shaved head

10.MELISSA ETHERIDGE: I wasn't sure whether or no to include this: this is not a shaved head. This is a head whose hair has fallen out as a result of cancer treatment. Not the same thing at all, and it would seem insulting for me to include it on the list, except... here she is in the picture on stage, defiantly performing completely bald, not a wig in sight. This is not only an act of bravery and defiance but it's a welcome acceptance of her own personal appearance, whatever form that might take. That's inspiring.Melissa Etheridge with a shaved head

10.BRITNEY SPEARS: Probably the most famous shaved head on this particular list. Some have done it as a fashion statement, some as a career move, some as a health necessity. In the case of Britney Spears, shaving her head was done for reasons quite opposite to these: to attack her career and her reputation as a fashionplate, and done in a moment of very poor health - mental health, that is. Britney Spears's famous head-shaving incident was a tragic example of what a life under the spotlight can do to you. I like Britney - she's been through a lot in her life and it's tough not to wish her well. Even seeing her smiling with that ludicrous bald head makes me feel a stubborn pride in her. No idea why, really.Britney Spears with a shaved head

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Ten Undemocratic Events in Canadian History

The word 'democracy' in most cases tends to be a political ideal more than a political reality. the basic concept of democracy is something that, at best, you could say exists in varying degrees from country to country and from circumstance to circumstance. The USA, for example, is a country that elects local fire chiefs and school board trustees and yet once had Gerald Ford, a man unelected to any position whatsoever, serve as its president, to say nothing of the fiasco in 2000 when it seemed as if American democracy had failed entirely.

It hadn't; it was just suffering one of the spasms an improperly-designed system can fall victim to. The USA's northern neighbour Canada is a democracy, as much as any other country is, but from time to time its woefully incompetently-designed system can make it appear as despotic as any third-world country. Here are ten examples of moments in Canadian history that have been less than a shining beacon of democracy.

1.GATINEAU IN 2008: To the victor go the spoils in the Canadian system. With a Westminster-based 'First-Past-the-Post' system, in Canada in any particular riding the one candidate who gets the most votes wins. In a strict two-party system, that would mean that a person always required the support of a majority of electors to be elected. When there are more than two parties, though, the number required for victory can drop well below 50%. As a recent example, the normally federalist riding of Gatineau in Québec sent a Bloc Québécois MP to Ottawa (just across the river) in 2008, one who was elected with 29.13% of the vote. It happened because of a rough four-way split in the riding, with each of the Bloc, the NDP and the Liberals polling more than 25% and the Conservatives also nearing 17%. In the end, while over 70% of the electorate cast their vote for federalist parties, a Bloc candidate was elected.Richard Nadeau

2.THE PROGRESSIVE CONSERVATIVES IN 1993: The 1993 election was a massive game-changer in Canada, one of those few occassions where an election really did change things. Kim Campbell's party was decisively rejected, going from 43% of the popular vote in 1988 to 16%, little more than a third. Yet 16% is still 2.2 million votes, considerably more than the 1.8 million the Bloc Québécois got. But the Bloc's votes were enough to get them 54 seats and the position of Official Opposition, while the PCs' votes got them a mere two seats and a loss of official party status. While this shows the advantage in the Canadian system of strong localised support vs. weak nationwide support, it's hard to argue that 54 seats for 1.8 million votes to 2 seats for 2.2 million votes is democratic.Kim Campbell

3.SASKATCHEWAN IN 1934: This kind of imbalance, and the multiparty system that reveals it, is nothing new. For electoral weirdness, look back to 1934 and the always-interesting province of Saskatchewan. Immediately prior to taking the name "CCF", Major James Coldwell's "Farmer-Labour Group" contested the elction as the main voice of the left. The election resulted in 48.0% for the Liberals, 26.8% for the Conservatives, and 24.0% for the proto-proto-NDP. Nothing out of the ordinary even by modern standards perhaps (though in current-day Saskatchewan the Liberal Party barely exists and the Conservatives call themselves the Saskatchewan Party), but voting percentages tell little: of a 55-seat parliament, the Liberals returned 50 MLAs. The remaining five seats all went to third-place-finishing FLG. The Conservatives, meanwhile, finished second in popular vote but sent not a single person to Regina. Since the Conservatives ran on an anti-Catholic platform with Ku Klux Klan support, one need shed no tears, frankly, but you can't call it democratic.Major James Coldwell

4.NEW BRUNSWICK IN 1987: This is one of those examples that truly beggars belief. As lamentable as regionalism may seem, it is in fact one thing that keeps parliament accountable in a first-past-the-post system. Otherwise, if the entire country supports a particular party in more or less equal amounts, what happens? In New Brunswick in 1987, with the governing PCs tainted by scandal and the third-party NDP unable to present itself as a viable alternative, Frank McKenna's Liberals took 60% of the vote and won every single seat in the 58-seat legislature, running parliament for three years with no opposition whatsoever. While 60% is a resounding victory, though, one feels compelled to mention it means a not-insignificant 40% voted for other parties, parties that were completely shut out of parliament.Frank McKenna

5.THE PRETEND MAJORITY: The problem of plurality victories in a 'First-Past-the-Post' system becomes magnified when applied nation-wide. Despite current trends, governments in Canada do tend to be majorities. Yet if a majority mandate ought to mean 'has the support of more than half of all Canadians', then Canada fares poorly. Since 1958, over half a century, there has been precisely one election in which a majority of voting Canadians cast their vote for the same party. That was in 1984, and Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservatives managed - are you ready for it? - 50.03% of the vote. Chrétien's Liberals, meanwhile, were able in 1997 to eke out a majority with 38.46% of the nationwide vote - just five percentage points more than a mere third of the populace.Jean Chrétien

6.GENDER (IM)BALANCE: That Canada has no quota system in our electoral policy could be seen as an example of how it truly is democratic. Yet our current parliament is 22% female, 78% male. This overwhelming male dominance ranks us 48th in the world for gender representation in government: hardly a stat to be proud of. Canada has also never elected a female prime minister nor elected a female premier in any province larger than PEI. At what point we consider this anachronism an endemic problem remains to be seen. It's barely even mentioned.Leona Aglukkaq

7.THE SENATE: Of all the unelected institutions in Canada, the Senate has to be the most ridiculous. Canada's version of the House of Lords, it replaces British class privilege with Canadian cronyism. Harper is not any more guilty of partisan senate-stuffing than any of his predecessors, but given his history of condemning the Liberals for that very thing and the lip-service he has paid to bringing democracy to the senate, his current recent actions regarding the upper house rank among his worst hypocrisies. And even his Liberal predecessors didn't have the contempt for democracy it takes to have his hand-picked Senate quash a bill on climate change that had been passed by the House of Commons.Jacques Demers

8.THE KING-BYNG AFFAIR: The office of the Governor General is constitutionally higher than either house of parliament, and similarly unelected. Thankfully, by convention the Governor General tends to stick to the main job of the office, which is doing nothing at all. This convention goes back to 1926 and the so-called King-Byng Affair. In 1925, the Western-based Progressive Party had shaken up the political scene, gaining enough seats to return a hung parliament: 115 seats for the Conservatives, 100 for the Liberals, 22 for the Progressives, and a handful of here-and-there seats. The Liberals' Mackenzie King, as the sitting prime minister, decided merely not to admit defeat and carried on in 24 Sussex, counting on Progressive support. And surprisingly, he's not the bad guy. When his government fell to scandal, the Progressives retracted their support, and King went to call an election. The Governor General refused, putting Conservative leader Meighen in the office. The attempt was a disaster, though, and when the Liberals and Progressives united to bring down the government, King was able to turn public anger at the Governor General's interference into a majority government and his face on the $50. But again, he's not the bad guy.William Lyon Mackenzie King

9.PROROGATION: And ever since, the Governor General has kept out of Canadian politics. Er... well, until recently. Michaëlle Jean will probably best be remembered as the Governor General who closed down parliament twice: once to prevent a perfectly legitimate and democratic coalition from taking power and a second time to... well, there's no real excuse for the second one at all, except that once you pop, you can't stop. Jean is remembered fondly, but her contempt for democracy while in office was inexcusable.Michaëlle Jean

10.COALITION PHOBIA: Given that multiparty democracy is not going away, one reasonable way forward for Canada is to embrace a systen of coalitions - in theory at least one that even the Conservative Party can participate in, given enough common interest with other parties. With the Canadian system inevitably returning MPs from an array of different parties, coalition is the best and simplest way to get enough MPs on the government side of parliament to create a sense of legitimacy. Yet the public has proven itself to be very distrustful of the idea of coalitions, and for the near future it might well be this illogical truculence that condemns Canada to an endless series of dysfunctional parliaments and governments with questionable mandates.Stéphane Dion

Friday, December 10, 2010

Ten Good Christmas Number Ones

The 'Christmas Number One' tradition is an interesting tradition that the British keep that on this side of the pond is completely ignored. In short, whatever song happens to be the chart-topper the week December 25th falls in is remembered as a 'Christmas Number One' and gains an unofficial status as a Christmas standard, whether or not it has anything at all to do with the season.

As befits Coca Cola's favourite holiday, many Christmas number ones are sickly-sweet concoctions that make you cry out for Boxing Day to come so they'll be taken off the radio. But here are ten you can listen to well into the New Year. From British charts, obviously. Links to Youtube included. Ho ho ho.

(As a side note, it turns out that the Christmas number two list is probably actually better, featuring "Build Me Up, Buttercup", "YMCA", "Caravan of Love", "Ice Ice Baby" and "Chocolate Salty Balls" from South Park.)

1.MOON RIVER (1961): Just to drive dyslexics crazy, the Christmas Number One version of this chestnut from Breakfast at Tiffany's is not Andy Williams' version but the one recorded by South African Danny Williams. Really. If this was a cheap effort to grab a few extra sales à la the guy who ran for office as a "Literal Democrat" or the company that makes "SQNY" electronics, the deceit is the white guy's, as this version is older. At least as beautiful too, but that beauty really belongs to Henry Mancini. A gorgeous song. Youtube LinkDanny Williams, Moon River, Christmas Number One

2.WE CAN WORK IT OUT (1965): This makes the list because it was technically not the b-side of Day Tripper but the 'other a-side' of a 'double a-side'. Either way, this moody little miniature is the best of the Beatles' five Christmas number ones between 1963 and 1967. Youtube LinkThe Beatles, We Can Work It Out, Christmas Number One

3.BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY (1975, 1991): I hesitated to include this Queen canard. It's a bit.. well, it's a bit overdone, isn't it? Epic, best-song-ever, blah blah blah... it's tough to just hear it as a cool song anymore. But a cool song it is, with both the piano ballad at the beginning and the guitar screamy bit at the end enjoyable even if they're entirely overshadowed by the Scaramouching in the middle. That's what makes this more than 'just another song', and the part of the song that divides the world into two: people who will admit loving it, and people who pretend they don't. This song hit the number one on two different Christmases, the only song not containing the line "thank God it's them instead of you" to do so. Youtube LinkQueen, Bohemian Rhapsody, Christmas Number One

4.MARY'S BOY CHILD / OH MY LORD (1978): Among the Christmas Number Ones on this list, you'll find few of my choices actually have seasonal content. The truth is they're too often cheesy. This is not only cheese but is the stinkiest of continental blue cheese, but it's irrepressible fun as well, as much of Boney M's bizarre Caribbean/German disco/calypso hybrids were. Youtube LinkBoney M, Mary's Boy Child, Christmas Number One

5.DON'T YOU WANT ME (1981): Nothing more Christmasy than a breakup song, is there? Not that this Human League monster sounds like a weeper, with its driving ringtone musical backdrop and charmingly artless lyrics. It is pretty much just nonsense, but it's truly wonderful nonsense, one of the best songs ever, in my humble opinion. Youtube LinkHuman League, Don't You Want Me, Christmas Number One

6.ONLY YOU (1983): The original was where Vince Clarke, after failing miserably with Depeche Mode, got machines to replicate human emotions. So it's a strange choice for an a capella rendition, but The Flying Pickets (who?) got a well-deserved Christmas number one with this, the first a capella song to hit the top of the charts. Youtube LinkFlying Pickets, Only You, Christmas Number One

7.ALWAYS ON MY MIND (1987): This not-even-slightly-Christmasy song kept the best Christmas song ever, the Pogues' "Fairytale of New York", from the top, for which it deserves to be on Santa's naughty list. But it's a great song nonetheless, sentimental in the Elvis and Willie versions, here filled to the brim with that emotion unique to Pet Shop Boys' Neil Tennant, the emotion that manages to be sincere and ironic at the very same time. Youtube LinkPet Shop Boys, Always On My Mind, Christmas Number One

8.EARTH SONG (1995): Jarvis Cocker be damned, this is just a great song. Complaining that this song is bombastic is like complaining that the sun gives off light. Like Michael Jackson's infamous performance of it at the BRIT Awards, this song is as bombastic as they get; it's just that it turns bombast into high art. Youtube LinkMichael Jackson, Earth Song, Christmas Number One

9.MAD WORLD (2003): Several of the songs here are covers, interestingly. What makes a cover great is rarely fidelity to the original; a great cover is one that brings something new to the composition. Recorded by Michael Andrews and Gary Jules for the Donnie Darko soundtrack, this beautiful cover of Tears For Fears' already gorgeous original is pretty much the definition of 'haunting' - fragile, still... it sounds like a demo. And after hearing it once, you'll thereafter never hear the Tears for Fears original as the 'proper' version. Youtube LinkGary Jules, Mad World, Christmas Number One

10.KILLING IN THE NAME (2009): Yeah, it's mostly the stick-it-to-the-Man iconoclasm of last year's guerilla effort to shove this song in Simon Cowell's face that wins this song its slot on the list. I actually hated this song, and Rage Against the Machine generally, when it first came out. But now that its dime-store revolutionary sloganeering plays like nostalgia, I can call it charming. So it really is festive then. Youtube LinkRage Against the Machine, Killing in the Name, Christmas Number One

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Ten People Born in 1975

I'm 35. It's a strange age, really. It's not 'old' by any means. It's not even 'middle aged'. But it's not 'young' either, by any estimation. It's just this age, stuck in there between old and young. I think I'm at approximately that exact age that advertisers salivate over the most, but I certainly don't feel all that desired, like a mover-and-shaker. In fact, I kind of feel like our generation just kind of slipped by, moving from one irrelevance to another. Maybe I'm just feeling sorry for myself. After all, the ten names on this list are not minor irrelevances, and the real paths of power - politics and business - are travelled by people who would consider me young.

In any case, these twelve individuals and I could have been in the same class at school. We watched the same TV, perhaps, and listened to the same music. They're probably as shocked as I am to find themselves at 35. When exactly did that happen?

The list goes in reverse chronological order. I have no reason for doing that. I just liked the resulting narrative.

1.TIGER WOODS: Of course, Mr and Mrs woods didn't name their baby boy "Tiger" on December 30, 1975. They did, in fact, name him "Eldrick Tont Woods". Because "Tiger" would have been, you know, silly. He's the richest sportsman in the world, has spent 623 weeks as the Number-One ranked golfer, and has had over a dozen extramarital affairs. And what have I done with my thirty-five years?Tiger Woods Born 1975

2.CHARLIZE THERON: This South African was born on August 7th, and makes the list largely because she's South African, and I was looking to make my list 'diverse, but still people Americans might know'. I tried to avoid overly exploitational illustrations, but in the present case, I was powerless. That's just a gorgeous photograph.Charlize Theron Born 1975

3.ANGELINA JOLIE: Born June 4th, Angelina Jolie started out life as Jon Voight's daughter. Now she's about as close as Hollywood comes to royalty, but along the way she was the defiantly 'alternative' kid seen here in Hackers. She stands out so much in that movie that anyone who sees it walks away asking, "who was that girl?" Yet I certainly never saw her tabloid ubiquity coming. I wonder if she did.Angelina Jolie Born 1975

4.50 CENT: Certainly if you're looking for a symbol of arrested adolescence, though, it would have to be Curtis Jackson, a/k/a "50 Cent", born July 6 and thus 15 years away from actually being 50. Though a rapper by trade, 50 Cent is currently perhaps more famous as a Twitter celebrity, whose semi-literate stream of tweets truly makes me feel young... like, middle school young.50 Cent

5.JAMIE OLIVER: Jamie Oliver's face remains much fresher than mine thirty-five years later. Perhaps it's all the disgusting food that he eats. Born May 27th in Essex, England, Oliver is part of that strange group of 'cooking-related celebrities' that also includes Gordon Ramsey, Rachel Ray and other celebrities not especially deserving of their success.Jamie Oliver Born 1975

6.DAVID BECKHAM: The English footballer has, like Tiger Woods (and everyone on this list) had a rather more illustrious life than I have. Talented, rich and photogenic, with a glamorous wife (who I personally don't find attractive, and anyway being born in 1974 she's over-the-hill), Beckham seems to just make it all seem so easy. Wouldn't a nice crack habit give him some much-needed grit?David Beckham Born 1975

7.EVA LONGORIA: Eva Longoria was born March 15, just three days after me. My mother and hers could have been in the same maternity ward if it weren't that she was born in Texas and I, well, wasn't. She's so my-generation that her screen début was in Beverly Hills 90210, and she then went on to document my generation's descent into suburban banality on Desperate Housewives.Eva Longoria Born 1975

8.DREW BARRYMORE: Ah, the love of my life. I can say without seeming creepy that I've been in love with Drew Barrymore ever since E.T. because whatever age she was when she made that film, that's how old I was too (give or take a month - she was born February 22). We've gone through the ages together, Drew and I. So has everyone else on this list, of course, but they weren't famous then.Drew Barrymore Born 1975

9.HARISU: Certainly not many North Americans are likely to have heard of Harisu, but I think she's amazing. A Korean MTF transexual, Harisu is absolutely gorgeous and also an actress and singer. Though it's a bit disappointing that her stage name is meant to be the English phrase 'hot issue' rendered with a Korean accent. She, or for historical accuracy he, was born February 17th.Harisu Born 1975

10.BOTH MEMBERS OF OUTKAST: They might have differing weights and degrees of 'hardness', but the two members of Atlanta hip-hop duo Outkast have much in common - like both being named André, and both being born in 1975. Big Boi is the bigger boi, with a February 1st birthdate. André 3000 is the runt of the litter, being born on May 27th, perhaps within minutes of Jamie Oliver. Perhaps they're actually twins, seperated at birth! Er, or on second thought, probably not...Both Members of Outkast Born 1975