Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Genre-Fluid Fantasy of “The Shape of Water”

By Anthony Lane
December 11, 2017 Issue

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Having once attended a stage production of “Singin’ in the Rain” at which the people in the front rows were issued with waterproofs during the interval, ahead of the title number, I was ready for whatever “The Shape of Water” could throw at me. A seat at the back seemed well advised. Guillermo del Toro’s new film is his wettest by far, notwithstanding the blood and other secretions that soaked through “Crimson Peak” (2015). Even the opening credits are drenched; we are ushered down what appears to be an undersea hallway, through a door, and into an apartment, where chairs and tables float in a drifting dance. Not since Alice filled a room with tears has inundation felt like such a wonder.

The heroine of the latest movie is Eliza (Sally Hawkins). She lives alone in Baltimore, a lowly figure awaiting change, although, like her namesake in “Pygmalion” and “My Fair Lady,” she hasn’t a clue what’s coming. But Eliza Doolittle acquired a new voice, whereas this Eliza cannot speak at all. She gets by on sign language (clarified by yellow subtitles), a genial courtesy, and a habitual rhythm to her life: a bath, a shoeshine, a bus trip, and a hard night’s toil as a cleaner at a scientific facility. Her best—indeed her only—friends are Zelda (Octavia Spencer), who polishes and scrubs alongside her, and Giles (Richard Jenkins), a toupee-topped bachelor who labors, with scant reward, as a commercial illustrator. His home, liberally strewn with cats, is next to Eliza’s. He likes to serve her Key-lime pie, which gives her a lizard-green tongue.

No date is provided, though “The Story of Ruth” (1960) is playing at the Orpheum cinema below Eliza’s apartment, and “Mister Ed,” which premièred the following year, is on TV. In short, the Cold War is at its frosty height, which is why “the most sensitive asset ever to be housed in this facility” arrives at Eliza’s workplace. Not an atomic bomb but something rarer still: a singular being who can breathe both underwater and, less happily, in air. He might be useful in space, the race for which has grown rabid. He has arms and legs and, unlike a merman, no tail. He also has squamous dark skin, like a toad crossed with a snake. (Somewhere, under the makeup, is the actor Doug Jones.) His eyelids bat horizontally, while a proud ruff of what may be gills palpates around his neck. He was found in a South American river, where the locals believed him to be a god. Now he is kept in a tank, swimming freely until he bites someone’s fingers off, after which he is tethered with an iron collar and chains. He is inspected, with fascination, by a scientist named Hoffstetler (Michael Stuhlbarg); chastised with an electric cattle prod by Strickland (Michael Shannon), the head of security; and adored by Eliza.

We have met this being (or a close relation of his) before, in his natural habitat. Anyone who knows “Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954) will recall the Amazonian beast, armed with a similar crest and claws, who wrought mayhem on an intrusive expedition and, like King Kong, bore an American woman to his lair. Sadly, it was clear that their relationship was going nowhere beyond a murky grotto, whereas Eliza considers her Creature to be her dream man—or, at least, her dream aquatic biped. She brings him hard-boiled eggs for lunch, which he devours as avidly as Cool Hand Luke, and then teaches him how to sign “egg” and other words: a dazzling device on del Toro’s part, whereby Eliza’s condition, far from being a handicap, eases the entente between her and the prisoner, while confirming his intelligence. (In Strickland’s view, he is mindless. That makes it simpler to torture the poor thing.) The Creature also has a heart, though heaven knows what purls within its chambers; when Eliza bends down and listens to his chest, we hear the soft crash of waves.

For much of the movie, of course, he remains in captivity. Scientists, according to Strickland, “fall in love with their playthings”—shades of “Pygmalion” again—and we learn that, while the top brass tire of the Creature and ask that he be euthanized and cut up, Hoffstetler has clandestine motives for keeping him alive. As for the daring Eliza, she harbors thoughts of engineering his escape. Meanwhile, she must do what she can to school and to bewitch her unlikely beau, and that includes dancing in front of him when she is meant to be mopping the floor, using a broom for a partner. The reference is to Fred Astaire, who did the same with a hat rack, in “Royal Wedding” (1951)—part of a chorus of echoes that resound throughout. Giles has one of those televisions which seem eternally tuned to old movies: “Time for Alice Faye,” he says, whom we see crooning “You’ll Never Know,” the heartbreaker from “Hello Frisco, Hello” (1943) that won an Oscar for Best Song. Other highlights include a fruit-laden Carmen Miranda, in “That Night in Rio” (1941), and a scene in which Eliza smuggles in a portable record player and treats the Creature to a suave burst of Glenn Miller and “I Know Why,” as if to show the beast that, despite appearances, there is something to be said for Homo sapiens. A soiled and savage species, we can still make music when we try.

So what if “The Shape of Water” is flooded with other films? What matters is not that del Toro is a fanatical scholar of his medium but that, as we sensed in the grave reveries of “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2006), he understands how fantasy invades and invests our waking lives. That was equally true of Dennis Potter, the creator of “Pennies from Heaven” and “The Singing Detective,” who I suspect would have warmed to this movie, and especially to the sight of Eliza, suddenly spirited from her kitchen table onto a monochrome dance floor. There, draped in a feathery gown, she sways back and forth, to the strains of an orchestra, in the arms of the Creature—her private Fred Astaire, with scales instead of white tie and tails. None of this would cohere, as an imaginative escapade, without Sally Hawkins. At the start, I worried that the film might prove merely winsome, like a Maryland “Amélie,” but Hawkins makes it taut and fierce. “All that I am, all that I have ever been, brought me here to him,” Eliza says—or signs—of the Creature, and that yearning feels as urgent as a news flash. Neither bullies nor bogeymen frighten Eliza. Nor does sex.

“Cornflakes were invented to prevent masturbation,” Giles says. After a pause, he adds, “Didn’t work.” It certainly doesn’t for Eliza, whom we witness eating a bowl of cornflakes and masturbating (though, wisely, not at the same time), thus giving fresh impetus to the Kellogg’s slogan, introduced in 1958, “The best to you each morning.” Needless to say, her pleasure is water-based—in the bath, every day, as regular as clockwork, with an egg timer placed nearby to hurry her along. Later, she finds a less solitary joy, of which I will say little, save that the Creature, when aroused in return, flickers with sparks and trails of luminescence, as if his body were a city at night. What del Toro sees is that lore and legend, though often dramatized for children, are rich in adult desires. The lust that is, of necessity, thwarted and dammed in Disney productions of “Beauty and the Beast” is released, and allowed to flow at will, through the fable of Eliza and the Creature. So grimly accustomed are we to sexual violence onscreen that to see sex flourish as a rebuke to violence and a remedy for loneliness, which is what “The Shape of Water” provides, is a heady and uplifting surprise.

Having watched this movie twice, I still can’t define it. Maybe I need another plunge. Polonius, presenting the players to Hamlet, lauds their prowess at “tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, scene individable, or poem unlimited,” and del Toro, no less eager to mix his modes, delivers a horror-monster-musical-jailbreak-period-spy-romance. It comes garnished with shady Russians, a shot of racial politics (Strickland talks to Zelda about “your people,” meaning African-Americans), puddles of blood, and a healthy feminist impatience with men who either overstep the mark or, like Zelda’s husband, sit on their butts and do zilch. Octavia Spencer, as is her wont, grounds the action in common sense—no actor raises a more skeptical eyebrow—and in the common decency that attends it. Michael Shannon, cracking candy between his teeth, is as mean as sin, though he might have been meaner still if some of his scenes had been condensed, while Richard Jenkins brings us a gentle soul who, until recently, feared that his time had come and gone. Not so. “I’m going to be synchronizing our watches, just like they do in the movies!” he says, at a crucial moment. His time is now.

The strangest thing about “The Shape of Water,” which should be one almighty mess, is that it succeeds. The streams of story converge, and, as in any good fairy tale, that which is deemed ugly and unworthy, by a myopic world, is revealed to be a pearl beyond price. “The thing we keep in there is an affront,” Strickland says, referring to what lurks in the tank. When Giles first encounters the Creature, however, he doesn’t flinch. He gazes, with the practiced eye of an artist, and with the hunger of somebody starved of love, and then declares, “He’s so beautiful.” A poem unlimited, indeed. ♦
This article appears in the print edition of the December 11, 2017, issue, with the headline “Overflowing.”

Friday, December 15, 2017

Today's Tune: The Smithereens - It Don't Come Easy

Today's Tune: The Smithereens - Time Won't Let Me

Remembering The Smithereens' Pat DiNizio, Passionate Rock 'n' Roll Lifer

December 13, 2017

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Several years ago, I saw Smithereens frontman/songwriter Pat DiNizio perform a solo living room show in St. Louis, Missouri. It was everything you'd want from a house show: energetic, driven by hits and jovial banter, and full of the intimate moments you often can't experience at a club show.
I attended the concert with my then-boyfriend (now-husband), Matt, and after the show we went to say hello. Matt was (and is) a massive Smithereens fan, and we introduced ourselves by name. DiNizio's face flashed with recognition, and he immediately said, "Let me tell you how I know this guy: I know his name, because he buys every single piece of merchandise I put up for sale on my website." This was no exaggeration; we all laughed.
DiNizio, who passed away on (December 12) at the age of 62, inspired that sort of devotion. Certainly it was because of the Smithereens' meticulous, '60s-inspired rock and power pop. But he was also an uncommonly approachable musician who always welcomed fans into his world, and never took their support for granted. DiNizio answered queries himself via email, and was a generous and colorful storyteller. (Just last week, he posted a heartfelt and personal note on the Smithereens' Facebook page about the Catholic church he lived across from in his hometown of Scotch Plains, New Jersey.) He threw Memorial Day barbecues in his backyard featuring (who else?) The Smithereens, and assembled Halloween "fan jams" in New Jersey, with major guests such as Graham Parker.
The Smithereens' music possesses that same sort of welcoming, compelling quality. That has a lot to do with their accessible inspirations: the British Invasion's jaunty pop and shaggy garage rock, blues-inspired early rock 'n' rollers, and harmony-favoring power-pop practitioners. Their songs exude reverence for the Beatles and the Byrds, the Who and the Kinks, Buddy Holly and Nick Lowe. But rather than being slavishly retro, Smithereens songs instead echo familiar moments -- a jangly Beatles riff here, the Who's windmilling solos there, a crisp, Elvis Costello-caliber turn of phrase elsewhere -- with contemporary urgency. ("There's never been a conscious attempt to emulate the style of the '60s, but maybe an unconscious attempt to reflect the spirit of those times," DiNizio told The Boston Globe in 1988.)
That ensured the band fit right in on radio and MTV when they emerged in 1986 with the Don Dixon-produced Especially For You. Although eclectic—the Suzanne Vega duet "In a Lonely Place" is a hushed bossa nova number -- the record brims with classic rock 'n' roll signifiers. Menacing bass line and guitar riffs snake through "Blood And Roses"; waterfalling harmonies introduce "Strangers When We Meet"; and "Behind The Wall of Sleep" is a propulsive stomp on which the protagonist daydreams about a woman who "stood just like Bill Wyman" when she played bass onstage. None other than Nirvana's Kurt Cobain was an avowed fan of the band, and this record in particular.
Especially For You was followed by two more consistent and hook-laden efforts, 1988's Green Thoughts and 1989's 11; the latter spawned the band's first top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, the storming "A Girl Like You." The Smithereens' 1991 follow-up, Blow Up, wasn't as successful, although the soulful, waltzing "Too Much Passion," which boasts ornate strings, also crossed over to the Top 40. Across the board, no matter the sonic approach, DiNizio's voice was choir boy-pure: While he could be tough and brash -- witness the raucous rager "Top of the Pops" and 1994's cranked-up A Date With The Smithereens -- it was impossible for him to eschew vibrato or an earnest melodic approach.
Lyrically, that translated to unabashed vulnerability. The Smithereens provided anthems for sensitive hopeless romantics -- the yearning "A Girl Like You" places a woman on a pedestal -- and solace for the lovelorn, in the form of romantic laments and tales of relationship uncertainty. "I want to love, but it comes out wrong," DiNizio sings on "Blood And Roses," while "In A Lonely Place" nails how a breakup cut to the quick: "I was born the day I met you/ Lived a while when you loved me/ Died a little when we broke apart." The title track to Green Thoughts, meanwhile, is a veiled ode to being torn up by real (or perhaps just imagined) jealousy.
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Light of Day Festival, Asbury Park, January 17, 2016 (Alex Remnick/NJ Advance Media/
Such succinct devastation was a DiNizio trademark: In the middle of "House We Used to Live In," a sudden, turn-on-a-dime key change leads to the matter-of-fact statements, "A house is not a home/ And when you live alone you'll find/ That it's much harder then/ So much harder to believe." But he was also concise about the good times, too: "Too Much Passion" expresses desire ("Whenever you touch me I feel a fire inside"), and the ringing power-pop gem "Yesterday Girl" masks hurt about rejection in the guise of braggadocio.
But despite the moody subject matter, The Smithereens were anything but weighed down by melancholy. Live, the band was fiery and life-affirming, mainly due to the interplay and chemistry between DiNizio, drummer Dennis Diken, guitarist Jim Babjak and bassist Mike Mesaros. (After Mesaros left the band to focus on family in 2008, bassist Severo Jornacion, who DiNizio frequently introduced as "The Thrilla from Manilla," added similar, energetic punch.) The band members barely paused to catch their breath as they tore through songs and select covers, both during their heyday and in recent years -- underscoring their workmanlike, garage-band roots.
And the members of the Smithereens were (and are) music fans, and relished elevating the favorite bits of their collective record collections. They covered The Beatles' debut (and called it Meet The Smithereens!) and The Who's Tommy, and issued eclectic covers: the Allen Toussaint-penned soul "Ruler Of My Heart," T. Rex's grimy "The Slider," and The Outsiders' garage-pop chestnut "Time Won't Let Me." (The latter appeared on the Timecop soundtrack, of all places.) DiNizio's vocal versatility made these nods to the classic songbook sound both cool and effortless.
"Hey everybody -- it's your old friend and colleague, Pat DiNizio from 'America's Band,' the world-famous Smithereens!" DiNizio began what will now stand as his last Facebook update on the band's page. The greeting was classic: Even if you didn't know DiNizio personally, he was the kind of gregarious person who was always up for cementing new relationships and reconnecting with old friends. That charisma glued the Smithereens together for decades -- and, it's safe to say, is wholly irreplaceable.


Net Neutrality repeal jettisons Obama-era regulatory meddling.

December 15, 2017

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Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
The Federal Communications Commission has jettisoned the heavy-handed regulatory burden placed on a free and open Internet during the Obama administration. The FCC voted 3-2 on December 14th, along party lines, to repeal the so-called “net neutrality” rules adopted by the regulatory agency in 2015. The Obama-era rules had prohibited Internet service providers, such as AT&T, Verizon and Comcast as well as smaller Internet service providers, from blocking, slowing access to or charging more (priority pricing) for fast delivery of content above some specified threshold of high bandwidth usage. High-speed delivery of Internet services will no longer be heavily regulated on par with a common carrier utility monopoly service. However, the Internet service providers will have to disclose to the FCC changes to their access policies, which can consider any alleged abuses on a case by case basis. The Federal Trade Commission, which shares antitrust enforcement responsibility with the Department of Justice, will be tasked to take action against any anti-competitive behavior. 
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who championed getting rid of the misleadingly named “net neutrality” rules, said that the net neutrality rules purported to fix something that was not broken when they were adopted in 2015. "Following today’s vote, Americans will still be able to access the websites they want to visit. They will still be able to enjoy the services they want to enjoy," FCC Chairman Pai said. "There will still be cops on the beat guarding a free and open internet. This is the way things were prior to 2015, and this is the way they will be once again." Chairman Pai noted that with the heavy regulatory hand of FCC micromanagement removed, “Broadband providers will have more incentive to build networks, especially to underserved areas.”
FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat and daughter of South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, condemned the FCC Republican majority for “handing the keys to the Internet" to a "handful of multi-billion dollar corporations.” She had lots of support from the left, which displayed its usual hysteria.
A bomb threat delayed the FCC meeting for several minutes as the room was cleared until the security team dispatched explosive-sniffing dogs to ensure that it was safe for the meeting to proceed. Protesters gathered outside, chanting “Hey hey, ho ho, Chairman Pai has got to go!” 
Consumer activists and some state attorneys general are planning to go to court to invalidate what New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman called the FCC’s “illegal rollback” of the “net neutrality” rules. “The FCC just gave Big Telecom an early Christmas present, by giving internet service providers yet another way to put corporate profits over consumers,” Attorney General Schneiderman said in a statement. 
Democrat Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts claimed that overturning the “net neutrality” rules is “like letting the bullies develop their own playground rules.” Announcing his intent in a tweet to “introduce a Congressional Review Act resolution that would restore the Open Internet Order and reverse the FCC’s historic mistake of repealing Net Neutrality," he vowed that the “fight is far from over."
Senator Elizabeth Warren, the other Democrat Senator from Massachusetts, tweeted: “The FCC just voted to hand control of the internet over to giant internet companies, but this isn’t over.”
California Democrat Senator Kamal Harris tweeted that the FCC’s repeal of the “net neutrality” rules handed “a big win to multi-billion-dollar broadband companies.”
Vermont Socialist Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted to his followers, "This is the end of the internet as we know it. In Congress and in the courts we must fight back."
Fake news CNN ran a headline after the FCC vote echoing Senator Sanders’ doomsday prediction that the vote represented the "end of the Internet as we know it."
Hollywood celebrities also got into the act. Chris Evans of Captain America fame, for example, tweeted that the FCC’s repeal decision “benefits no one unless you're a faceless, mega corporation.”
The left would have us believe that the battle over “net neutrality” is between greedy, monopolistic, multibillion dollar Internet service companies and John Q. Public. This is the left’s typical class warfare rhetoric, helped along ironically by multibillion dollar content providers such as Netflix, Google and Facebook that hide behind slogans such as “net neutrality” and “open and free Internet” to obscure their own economic self-interest. Companies the size of Netflix, Google, Facebook, and the new Disney company that may emerge if its purchase of content assets from 21st Century Fox is approved by antitrust officials do not need FCC utility-style regulatory protection from Internet service providers. The FCC should not have placed itself in the position of picking industry sector winners and losers or coming down on the side of content providers, some of whom such as Facebook and Google have substantial market power of their own that allows them to censor content they believe is too controversial.   
Moreover, “net neutrality” may be a nice slogan, but it does not reflect the reality of Internet usage. To understand why this is so requires a brief technology discussion.
Different types of usage place different levels of demand on available Internet bandwidth, which Digital Unite defines as “the rate at which data can be transferred to your computer from a website or internet service within a specific time.” The higher an Internet connection’s amount of bandwidth capacity, usually measured in bits per second, the more data can move through the connection in a given amount of time.  Groups of bits strung together that computers use to represent a character such as a letter, number or an image are called bytes.
The bandwidth capacity is not infinite and often shared by multiple users with different volumes of traffic to be transported that may vary by time of day. As Scientific American explained, “the demand for bandwidth is fast outstripping providers' best efforts to supply it.”
Streaming content can use massive amounts of bandwidth. Watching Netflix on high resolution, for example, can utilize at least 2 gigabytes (i.e., 2 billion bytes) of data. As streaming becomes more and more popular, consuming massive amounts of bandwidth capacity relative to other less volume intensive types of usage, heavy data usage by even a limited number of streaming content providers’ customers, at times and places of competing demands for available bandwidth, can negatively affect the service for all Internet users. There needs to be some means to modulate the level of usage by bandwidth-guzzlers through priority pricing or by placing network management controls (for example, blocking or throttling) over usage above specified thresholds. Otherwise, the guzzlers may negatively affect the Internet experience of other users without incurring the full economic cost of the harm they cause to those other users.  
The economics of supply and demand should be permitted to play out under free market conditions. Internet service providers, just like the large content providers, are not monopoly utilities that require utility-style regulation. That said, there will need to be antitrust enforcement by the Federal Trade Commission to prevent anti-competitive abuses, such as an Internet service providers favoring their own affiliated content providers in terms of quality of service, ease of customer access, or discriminatory pricing. The FCC’s repeal of the overly burdensome “net neutrality” rules in no way undermines the ability of the FCC or the Federal Trade Commission to step in and address any abuses that may arise.
The left detests the free market, whether in the context of the Internet or virtually any other segment of the economy. Government knows best, leftists believe. Fortunately, elections have consequences and President Trump put in place at the FCC someone who understands the benefits of the free market. Under Chairman Ajit Pai’s leadership, the FCC removed the dead weight of intrusive regulation on Internet innovation and investment in infrastructure. It also restored the market freedom under which the Internet has thrived.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

O tempora O Moores

By Mark Steyn
December 13, 2017

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Roy Moore rides his horse to a polling station to vote in Tuesday's Alabama Senate election. (Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

To be honest, I regret that Mr Moore will not be going to Washington. I have a high degree of tolerance for people whose lines are almost as good as the concoctions of professional satirists, and the Moores kept that up until the end. I don't mean just Roy's varying answers in his train-wreck interview with Sean Hannity on whether he'd dated teenage girls ("not generally", and then, not "without the permission of her mother"). But I'm also thinking of Mrs Moore's eve-of-poll rejection of charges that she and her husband "don't care for Jews":
Well, one of our attorneys is a Jew.
I was reminded of my late comrade Mordecai Richler's novel St Urbain's Horseman, wherein a Union Nationale junior minister is dispatched to refute accusations that Quebec's government is similarly anti-semitic:
Speaking for myself, my accountant is a Jew and I always buy my cars from Sonny Fish.
In fact, I'm not sure Kayla Moore's line isn't funnier: I think "attorney" is droller in its implications than "accountant", and "one of our" is the capper.

Presumably, the reason they need all those attorneys is all these statements from Seventies nymphettes that Roy was lurking in the back booth of the malt shop eying them up for most of his early middle age. America has statutes of limitations for a reason - because the accuracy of accusation diminishes considerably with the passage of time. Speaking for myself, as that Quebec minister would say, I prefer worldly courtesans d'un certain âge to giggling jailbait, and regard the most pitiful passage in the Starr Report to be the moment when Monica Lewinsky demands to know of the President of the United States whether he loves the new Sarah McLachlan album as much as she does. Could have been worse, I suppose. Could have been Hootie and the Blowfish. But, at any rate, Moore's preferences as an eligible bachelor for the youngish end of Alabammy maidenhood doesn't make him the Jimmy Savile of Dixie.

Back then, there were lots of 32-year-old men chasing 19-year-old girls - the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer, to cite only the most obvious example. It was a common plot in big worldwide hits: When the Oscar-winning Best Picture An American in Paris was shot, Leslie Caron was 19, and Gene Kelly was pushing 40; when the original Broadway production of My Fair Lady opened, Julie Andrews was 19, and Rex Harrison was pushing 50. You can't find a single contemporary review of either that so much as notices the age difference. My old friend Alan Jay Lerner authored both scripts and won Oscars and Tonys respectively, and, as a practical matter, it was the only plot he knew how to write: My Fair Lady (1956) - older, sophisticated, mature bachelor takes young unformed girl in hand and moulds her; Gigi (1958) - older, sophisticated, mature bachelor takes young unformed girl, etc, etc; Lolita, My Love (1971) - older, sophisticated mature, etc, etc, etc ...ah, but that was one reprise too many of "Thank Heaven for Little Girls".

As Alabama's most eligible bachelor, Roy Moore liked nubile young women, and nubile means "marriageable" (from the Latin, nubilis). Indeed, he eventually married one of them - the aforementioned client of barristerial Jewry. Today, in the western world, nubile girls are no longer regarded as marriageable: They're supposed to go to college and think about settling down and having one yuppie designer kid when they're 39. I see I'm in danger of connecting Roy Moore to my big-picture demographic thesis, so let me just note that the chattering classes' conviction that dating teenage girls makes one a paedo doesn't seem to extend to the expanding cohort of Muslim politicians: David Cameron's Islamic poster-gal Baroness Warsi was married at 19 to her Pakistani cousin.

Strictly on the merits, the original Washington Post story would have been better solely focused on the fourteen-year-old accuser, but they - and much of the coastal commentariat - couldn't resist what the locals evidently discerned as a not so subtle dig at Alabama mores more generally. Unfortunately for him, Moore lacks the nimbleness of Donald Trump, who can skip through fields of lethal mines like a frog skimming lily pads without a care in the world. For all the talk of the new populism, it's worth remembering that the Trump of 2015 is not of general application: he was a unique combination of brilliant instinct, low cunning, and a celebrity status that made him all but indestructible to the usual cannily timed "dirty tricks" - which is what the Moore story, like the Billy Bush tape, was.

Nonetheless, Moore lost narrowly enough to suggest that it wasn't the accusations that did him in. He could have survived those, just about. What killed him was that he was running against both the Democrats and the Republicans - including Alabama's own senior senator, Richard Shelby. (Trump post-Billy Bush was in a similar position, as the likes of Paul Ryan, Kelly Ayotte, etc, stampeded to distance themselves.) But Roy Moore was the nominee only because the smart guys over-invested in Luther Strange (just as in 2015 they over-invested in Jeb Bush). In the first round of primary voting, Mitch McConnell's priority was to prop up Strange by taking out what he regarded as his principal threat, Mo Brooks. Congressman Brooks would have made an excellent senator, and would have been elected in a walk, and he can also claim more plausibly than Moore to be a populist conservative aligned with the Trump agenda. But McConnell didn't want him in the Senate and, as he saw it, once Brooks was gone, Luther Strange would have no trouble walloping Moore in the run-off.

Unfortunately, Strange owed his eminence in Alabama to the patronage of a corrupt and discredited governor. As I wrote three months ago, given the disposition of GOP primary electorates in the Age of Trump, they were unlikely to turn to "a creature from the Alabama swamp drain the Washington swamp". So, thanks to McConnell and the ten million bucks he blew through, Moore won the run-off and became the candidate. And thus, of all preposterous outcomes, Alabama is now a blue state.

But don't worry, say the usual geniuses: Doug Jones is just this season's Scott Brown. As Massachusetts did with Elizabeth Warren, Alabama will return to the natural order of things in 2020. Well, maybe. But, as we've just seen, the one thing you can take to the bank is the Stupid Party's unerring knack to out-stupid themselves. In the meantime, a Congressional majority already vulnerable to the monstrous egos of John McCain, Susan Collins et al just got shaved to a micro-sliver: Mike Pence is going to be spending a lot of time at the Senate casting the deciding vote - assuming, that is, McConnell has any legislation he can actually get to the floor.

A final thought on Moore: Yes, he's a kook, and an insufficiently nimble one to dodge the incoming schoolgirls. But as I wrote three months ago:
Whatever one feels about Roy Moore, he's principled enough to be willing to lose his job over the Ten Commandments and same-sex marriage. That's unusual in American politics.
I'll say. Listening to Doug Jones' victory speech, I found my heart sinking under the weight of all the usual tinny boilerplate, culminating inevitably in that most exhausted invocation of Martin Luther King and the arc of the moral universe bending toward justice, which was in fact formulated not by King but by the 19th-century abolitionist Theodore Parker. But Obama had it sewn on an Oval Office rug and no Dem is gonna argue with that. Jones seemed the very epitome of the hollow men of the professional political class. He'll fit right in.

By contrast, Moore may be a kook, but he's authentic. Listening to the outrage he's able to provoke merely by sounding like Jesse Helms' simpleton brother, I found myself pondering how far the GOP has gone in a generation - to the point where Moore is getting berated by Republicans for being insufficiently keen on gay sex. That's all very well, but it does rather give the impression that the GOP is merely the Democrats a couple of electoral cycles down the road, and that circa 2025 some Dixie troglodyte will be getting slapped around by the right-wing punditry for objecting to transgendered chiefs of staff or whatever. Putting aside the merits of those particular issues, it does not so subtly imply that on that justice-bending arc the Democrats are right at the time and the Republicans are there simply to play catch-up ...on everything.

~Mark will be back later today to read the latest episode of our nightly, and very seasonal, serial - Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. And tomorrow, Thursday, he'll be back on TV with Tucker Carlson, coast to coast across America.

If you're thinking of giving the gift of Steyn this holiday season, we've introduced a special Mark Steyn Club Christmas Gift Membership that lets you sign up a chum for the Steyn Club and then choose a personally autographed welcome gift for them - either one of two handsome hardback books or a couple of CDs. You'll find more details here - and scroll down to the foot of the order form for the choice of books/CDs. And don't forget, for a limited time only at the Steyn store, our Steynamite Christmas Specials on books, CDs, mugs, T-shirts and more.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Pat DiNizio, Smithereens Singer, Dead at 62

By Daniel Kreps
December 13, 2017
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An early shot of the Smithereens: Jim Babjak (left to right), Dennis Diken, Pat DiNizio and Mike Mesaros. (Photo: Courtesy of the Smithereens)

Pat DiNizio, the lead singer and songwriter of the New Jersey rock group the Smithereens, died Tuesday at the age of 62.
The Smithereens confirmed DiNizio's death in a statement. No cause of death was provided, but the singer had experienced numerous health issues and injuries in recent years.
"It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Pat DiNizio, lead singer and songwriter of the influential New Jersey rock band, The Smithereens - America's Band," the band wrote on Facebook. "Pat was looking forward to getting back on the road and seeing his many fans and friends. Please keep Pat in your thoughts and prayers."
The Smithereens' surviving members Jim Babjak, Dennis Diken, and Mike Mesaros added in a statement on their official site. "Today we mourn the loss of our friend, brother and bandmate Pat DiNizio. Pat had the magic touch. He channeled the essence of joy and heartbreak into hook-laden three minute pop songs infused with a lifelong passion for rock & roll. Our journey with Pat was long, storied and a hell of a lot of fun. We grew up together. Little did we know that we wouldn’t grow old together. Goodbye Pat. Seems like yesterday."
Formed in the early Eighties, the Smithereens were best known for rock radio hits like "A Girl Like You," "Only a Memory," "Blood and Roses," "Too Much Passion," "Top of the Pops" and "Miles From Nowhere," all penned by DiNizio.
The band were the musical guest on an April 1990 episode of Saturday Night Live. Although the Smithereens didn't impact the album charts, the band's power-pop catalog gained a cult following among rock fans.
The Smithereens' 1989 debut LP Especially for You also inspired Kurt Cobain, according to the Nirvana singer's posthumously published Journals; the album was so influential on Cobain that Nirvana attempted to recruit Especially for You producer Don Dixon to work on their Nevermind, but after initial sessions Dixon "asked for too much money," the producer later admitted.
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Over their career, the Smithereens opened for a mix of artists ranging from Ramones and the Pretenders to Tom Petty to Lou Reed as well as fellow New Jersey rockers Bruce Springsteen and Bon Jovi. "We've played with literally everyone," DiNizio said in 2013. "It seems that if you’re around long enough and if you survive long enough you’re going to wind up playing shows with everybody in every conceivable situation."
In addition to 11 albums with the Smithereens – including full album tributes to the Who's Tommy and the Beatles' Meet the Beatles and most recently 2011's2011 – DiNizio released four solo albums. DiNizio also unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate as New Jersey's Reform Party candidate in 2000, a stunt documented in the film Mr. Smithereen Goes to Washington. In 2006, the singer appeared in the ESPN2 reality series 7th Inning Stretch, about his attempts to make a minor league baseball team, reported.
Following 1999's God Save the Smithereens, it took 12 years before the band released another album of original material with 2011.
"We'd had a great, 10-year, non-stop run of activity and non-stop touring, playing 300 gigs a year, living on the bus, having hit record after hit record after hit record. And then grunge hit and the bottom fell out of our career and we had to hold on, and we held on, and we held on, and eventually our audience came back," DiNizio said of the band's arc to Downtown West Palm in 2013.
"Those same nice folks that gave us a career and a life worth living came back because their kids were now in college. Their kids were out of the house, and they always loved rock and roll. What the kids don't understand is that their parents' generation that grew up on rock and roll, inside they're still 16 or 17 and they still love to go out and listen to loud rock and roll. But when you get married and have children and have a real job in the real world some things take priority and you become less active as a record buyer and a concertgoer. We've found though sheer persistence we've been able to continue to do what we do."

Today's Tune: The Smithereens - Sorry

Today's Tune: The Smithereens - Behind The Wall Of Sleep

Today's Tune: The Smithereens - Blood And Roses

Pat DiNizio, giant of NJ rock scene, dies at 62

By Jay Lustig
December 13, 2017
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The New Jersey rock scene has suffered a huge loss with the death, tonight, of Pat DiNizio, at 62. The Smithereens singer, guitarist and main songwriter — whose deep, resonant voice was heard on hits such as “Blood and Roses,” “Only a Memory” and “A Girl Like You” — had battled a number of different health issues in recent years, but the cause of death was not immediately announced.
“Today we mourn the loss of our friend, brother and bandmate Pat DiNizio,” said his Smithereens bandmates Jim Babjak, Dennis Diken and Mike Mesaros in a joint statement on the band’s Facebook page. “Pat had the magic touch. He channeled the essence of joy and heartbreak into hook-laden three minute pop songs infused with a lifelong passion for rock & roll. Our journey with Pat was long, storied and a hell of a lot of fun. We grew up together. Little did we know that we wouldn’t grow old together. Goodbye Pat. Seems like yesterday.”
Like countless people involved in the New Jersey music scene, I considered DiNizio a friend. I’ve been writing about him since 1987, when I reviewed a Smithereens concert at Obsessions in Randolph for The East Coast Rocker. I interviewed him many times for The Star-Ledger, where I worked from 1989 to 2014, and then for over the last few years.
I wrote about his albums and shows, of course, but considered him unique among major NJ rock figures in that he was always coming up with new things to do, new ventures to explore. I wrote about him playing house concerts — he was one of the first musicians of his stature to do so — and developing his one-man “Confessions of a Rock Star” show, and his side business in which he wrote songs for fans, for a fee. I wrote about his run for U.S. Senate in 2000; his attempt to play minor league baseball in 2006; Smithereens albums featuring songs of The Beatles, and The Who; and his solo album paying tribute to Buddy Holly.
Recently, I wrote about his, ultimately, unsuccessful attempt to raise enough money to convert the house he grew up in, in Scotch Plains, into a nonprofit center that would host concerts, display memorabilia, and teach music to autistic and special needs children. Just this week, I wrote about a new Smithereens show that had been scheduled to take place in January at the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank. 
“Pat was looking forward to getting back on the road and seeing his many fans and friends. Please keep Pat in your thoughts and prayers,” The Smithereens posted on Facebook, when DiNizio’s death was first announced.
Despite the dark streak in his songwriting, DiNizio was one of the friendliest, open and down-to-earth rock stars I knew. In recent years, I’ve seen him frequently at his semi-regular one-man shows at Crossroads to Garwood, and he was always eager to talk, to catch up, to tell me about his new ideas and projects. When I put together the first benefit concert for in 2016, at Crossroads, he was the first person I asked to perform, and he immediately said yes.
DiNizio grew up in Scotch Plains, where he saw bands such as Black Sabbath perform at Union Catholic High School. He and The Smithereens were always proud of their Jersey roots. In 2004, they titled a two-CD collection of hits, live tracks and rarities From Jersey It Came! The Smithereens Anthology
“I live in Scotch Plains,” DiNizio told The Aquarian Weekly in 2010. “It’s the only place in the world I feel centered. New Jersey is my home. I lived in England for a while, Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles. I’m at the point in my life where I don’t want any more surprises. I’m in Scotch Plains for good.”
Through an ad in the Aquarian, DiNizio connected with Babjak, Diken and Mesaros, all from Carteret, in 1980, and they toiled away in local clubs such as the Dirt Club in Bloomfield, the Court Tavern in New Brunswick and Kenny’s Castaways in New York for years, before breaking through with their 1986 album, Especially for You.
“Knowing that The Smithereens were a staple at my hometown’s Dirt Club early on, actually helped me understand that good songs, hard work, and a love of playing music can be a path to making some kind of life out of it,” Ted Leo wrote in a Tweet, after hearing of DiNizio’s death.
Though released, at first, by the indie Enigma, Especially for You was re-released by Capitol, and The Smithereens stayed on major labels through the mid-’90s.
Among the bands they influenced, with their heavy but melodic sound, were Nirvana, who reportedly had just one cassette in their van —with Especially for You on one side and heavy metal band Celtic Frost on the others — in the days directly before they recorded their debut album, Bleach.
A highlight of recent years came when Tom Petty personally asked The Smithereens to open some shows for him, in 2013. “I asked Tom, personally. I said: ‘Is it bullshit? ‘Cause they’re telling me that you asked for us.’ And he said, ‘No, no. Of course [I wanted the Smithereens],’ ” Babjak told “He heard our song ‘Sorry’ on the 2011 album, on SiriusXM, and he loved the song.”
Perhaps Petty saw something of himself in DiNizio. They were both, after all, rock ‘n’ roll lifers, deeply versed in the music’s history but tenaciously committed to adding another chapter to the story.
“How many melodies are there left in the world?” DiNizio told the Los Angeles Times in 1990. “But I’ve forced myself to embrace that fear. I have no choice. I’m a professional songwriter and member of a band. But what could be better?”

"Eurosion": Muslim Majority in Thirty Years?

December 12, 2017

(Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images)

One of the most debated arguments about Muslims in Europe is the "Eurabia" claim: that high birth rates and immigration will make Muslims the majority on the continent within a few decades. For years, most of the media and analysts dismissed the claim as alarmist and racist. "Dispelling the myth of Eurabia", sniffed a major Newsweek cover.

Not many had the courage to sound an alarm. The great Arabist scholar, Bernard Lewis, sent out a warning more than a decade ago that Europe would turn Muslim by the end of this century, and dissolve into "part of the Arab West, the Maghreb". The late scholar Fouad Ajami also cautioned that "Europe is host to a war between order and its enemies, fueled by demography"; and the Italian writer Oriana Fallaci imagined a continent with "the minarets in place of the bell-towers, with the burka in place of the mini-skirt". Mark Steyn explained that "the future belongs to Islam" with an "enfeebled" West in a "semi Islamified Europe".

Ten years later, since Europe opened its borders to a massive wave of migrants from North Africa and the Middle East, the demographers reviewed their assessments.

New projections by the Washington-based Pew Research Center should be on the table of every European official and politician. The projections foretell that if the current wave of immigrants persists, in thirty years Europe's Muslim population will triple. If high migration continues, the Muslim share of Germany's population, could grow from 6.1% in 2016 to 19.7% by 2050. Even if all current 28 EU members, plus Norway and Switzerland, closed their borders to migrants, the Islamic population will continue to exponentiate. According to Pew's data, Muslims made up 4.9% of Europe's population in 2016, with 25.8 million people across 30 countries, up from 19.5 million people in 2010. Today it is an increase of six million in seven years. And tomorrow?

Pew's researchers looked at three scenarios: "zero migration" between 2016 and 2050; "medium migration", in which the flow of refugees stops but people continue to migrate for other reasons; and "high migration", in which the flow of migrants between 2014 and 2016 continues with the same religious composition.

In the medium migration scenario – considered by Pew "the most likely" - Sweden would have the biggest share of the new population at 20.5%. The UK's share would rise from 6.3% in 2016 to 16.7%. There will be similar percentages everywhere, from Belgium (15%) to France (17.4%). If high migration continues until 2050, Sweden's Muslim share will grow to 30.6%, Finland's to 15%, Norway's to 17%, France's to 18%, Belgium's to 18.2% and Austria's to 19.9%.

Pew's dramatic scenarios do not tell the whole story, however. What will happen in major European cities, where the Muslim communities are currently based? Will London, Marseille, Stockholm, Brussels, Amsterdam, Berlin and Birmingham all have Muslim majorities?

The French demographer Jean-Claude Chesnais in his book "Le Crépuscule de l'Occident" predicted an opulent but sterile continent, one in which population is characterized by death, not birth. According to the national statistics agency Istat, fewer than 474,000 births were registered in Italy last year, down 12,000 from the year before, with an even bigger drop from the 577,000 born in 2008. Italy has "lost" 100.000 births in ten years. The loss has been called "the great Eurosion". The old continent is "frailing".

Moreover, the fastest-breeding demographic group in Europe is also the most resistant to the pieties of a secularized liberal European democracy, which is seen as a sign of moral abdication from the true "path" or "way".

Under the "medium" and "high" projections in Pew's scenarios, how can Europe preserve all its most precious gifts: freedom of expression, separation of church and state, freedom of conscience, rule of law and equality between men and women?

According to the French author Eric Zemmour:
"If tomorrow there were 20, 30 million French Muslims determined to veil their wives and to apply the laws of Sharia, we could only preserve the minimal rules of secularism by dictatorship. That's what Atatürk, Bourguiba or even Nasser understood in their day".
Will Europe retreat into a non-democratic regime to preserve its own freedoms or will it lose these freedoms under the rise of these large Islamic communities? Considering what Europe witnessed in the last couple of years under terrorism and multiculturalism, what will happen in the next thirty years?

Jean-Claude Chesnais rightly called this shift a "crépuscule", a twilight. We are living through the self-extinction of the European societies of the Enlightenment. It has shaped the humanitarian age we live in – but may not any more.

Giulio Meotti, Cultural Editor for Il Foglio, is an Italian journalist and author.