Wonderful news, children! Pink Martini—the irrepressibly creative, lounge-y band from Portland—has released a new holiday album, Joy to the World. From NPR:
As a group who “vowed never to do a holiday album,” says [pianist Thomas] Lauderdale, interest from Starbucks helped convince the band otherwise.
“Everyone sat down and wrote a list of their favorite Christmas songs,” [vocalist China] Forbes says, “It was a fun process, because it wasn’t like the pressure of writing an album full of songs. It was like culling from your childhood favorites.”
A number of songs on the holiday-themed album are taken from other countries or are sung in languages other than English. Some come entirely from different cultures, including a Ukrainian bell choir, a Chinese New Year song and one track spoken in Ladino, an ancient language used by Sephardic Jews in the 15th century.
My favorite songs on the album are “We Three Kings” (I’m a sucker for the line that goes “Oh, star of wonder, star of light, star of royal beauty bright”)and the Ladino song “Ocho Kandelikas,” (sung by NPR’s Ari Shapiro). Also, the last song on the album, “Auld Lang Syne” done samba–style. It’s awfully catchy, with the chorus sung in English, French, and Arabic. It’s a good bet you’ll have heard it a hundred times before New Year’s Day arrives (especially if you ever stop in Starbucks). Go get it (at Amazon, or iTunes) and start your countdown now.
The Obama administration appears to be hunkering down for a long fight to defend its health care law. The fight will sap the administration’s energy just as it prepares for a reelection campaign.
A pair of federal judges are hinting that they may strike down part of the 900-plus–page law. Earlier this week, the administration reminded one of the judges he only had to strike down part of the law if he ruled that some portion of the law was unconstitutional. The administration’s lawyers helpfully suggested that if the mandatory-coverage provision had to go, the guaranteed-issue and community-rating provisions would too, but not the provisions like those for “improving women’s health” and “improv[ing] dementia and abuse prevention training.” (More on that later.)
The health-care law has proved unpopular. Republicans and Democrats both think that it was key in the GOP’s victory in the House and winning a larger presence in the Senate. That’s why Republicans are falling over themselves to repeal some or all of the act when the new members take their seats in January.
Facing down lawsuits from 20 states—plus more when newly-elected officials opposed to the health-care law are sworn in—can’t be an exciting prospect for the administration. Although it will surely emphasize the law’s more-popular provisions, this is not a subject that the administration needs in the headlines as it crafts its argument that it deserves another 4 years.
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For all the Tea Party’s earnest hopes about reducing the deficit and achieving a low-tax balanced budget, the Republican Party can’t survive without seniors’ votes. But any responsible plan for correcting the government’s budget future must change seniors’ entitlements. Which makes it hard to see how Republicans can please seniors, their most loyal supporters, and Tea Partiers, the the newest members of the GOP coalition and the ones that put the party over the top in this month’s election.
David Frum points out that the deficit commission proposal is already facing bitter opposition from the likes of Sean Hannity, who summed up the proposal:
First, they want to increase the Federal Gas Tax rate starting in 2013 by 15 cents per gallon. Next they propose increasing the Social Security retirement age. Now third, the commission is calling for cuts in both Social Security and Medicare benefits. . . . And we’re going to means test [Social Security benefits] so you’ve got to pay your whole life, and if you paid your whole life, you’re going to—we’re going to confiscate it basically.
As Frum explains,
What we see in today’s GOP is a party whose ideology (limited government) and whose constituency (the biggest recipients of domestic government spending) are sharply at variance. That variance is not a sustainable situation. In fact, it’s not sustained.
Cracking the nut of seniors’ opposition to key changes is difficult, but absolutely necessary. Part of the solution is already in the commission chairmen’s proposal: make the changes gradual, so that people at or near retirement don’t get the rug pulled out from beneath them. For example, the chairmen propose to raise the retirement age, but only by one month every two years, and only after the retirement age is scheduled to increase to 67 (in about 2025). If seniors can be convinced that the budget will not be balanced on their backs, then they can help fix the fiscal crisis that looms over the country.
Edmund White is gay. If you’re not familiar with him—and I wasn’t until recently—this is the first thing you’ll notice about him in his memoir My Lives. You’ll notice other things, too: his name-dropping, over-sharing, and devout hedonism. These traits are unavoidable in the context of White’s interesting life, described in vivid, conversational prose.
Rather than walking through his life from birth to present, White gives us thematic chapters. This format gives us more insight into White’s view of himself than a timeline-bound format. For example, the first chapter concerns his shrinks from childhood through adulthood. The chapter’s prominence suggests that he learned introspection early and kept up the practice. His particular introspection was closely tied to his own homosexuality, which his therapists saw as sick. Though he would later embrace “the gay,” he agreed with his therapists then, and his strongly self-critical streak shows itself through White’s book and life.
And just as with the first chapter, the second (“My Father”) and third (“My Mother”) outline patterns—difficulty with ’50s-style masculinity and more-friendly-than-maternal interactions with women—that persist through later chapters. These themes build upon each other, culminating in the much-foreshadowed final chapter, “My Friends,” where White waxes about a series of more and less famous friends, representing the capstone of life lived by a boy who just wants to be noticed, irrespective of love or hate.
White does manage to elide portions of his life that he would rather not share, but he doesn’t appear to be holding much back. He goes into very precise detail about gay experiences. From sexually-charged childhood games to paying for tricks (and being paid for being one), the reader gets an awful lot of dirt on the author. (Depending on one’s curiosity, proclivity, or dignity, the chapter on White’s year-long relationship with a much younger S&M master should be either devoured or avoided with relish.)
My Lives depicts the absorbing path of a gay man who lived through the closeted 1950s, the free-spirited but bourgeois modern gay life, and every libidinous period in between. If that’s the sort of thing that interests you, then White’s book is for you.
A special examination for would-be popes. Just to make sure that Pope Joan never happens. In case she happened in the first place.