Recycled Genius

RecycleMartin Longman wrote a very interesting article, Maybe a Clinton/Sanders Ticket Does Make Sense. He spends most of it talking about why it would be a bad idea, but it is appealing to imagine this kind of instant unity. I don't think it will happen because I don't think Sanders wants to be Vice-President anyway. And as Longman himself says, I'd rather have Bernie in the Senate. I'm sure there are other ways to get instant unity. But it's critical for Clinton to win California, even though I won't be helping her in that endeavor. Losing in Indiana made it very hard to say that Sanders should drop out. Even if he loses everything from now on, he will still be in a better situation than Ted Cruz was ever in. The only real argument for Sanders dropping out is that we should all just accept the inevitability of Clinton, a month before the biggest state in the union gets to vote. (And the argument has been made for at least two months already.) I do want unity. But I also want some semblance of democracy.

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Anniversary Post: Iran-Contra Hearings

Iran-Contra AffairOn this day back in 1987, the Congressional hearings on the Iran-Contra affair started. I was back in college full time, but I was glued to the radio for it. To me, it was so obvious: Republican presidents abuse their power. There was Nixon and now there was Reagan. And I was right. We saw it moving forward. Not only was the George W Bush administration totally corrupt — it didn't even wait until it was elected. They really are the fascists of our our time.

Of course, what I was wrong about was that it would matter. Nixon was unpopular with his party, so he was abandoned. Reagan was very popular with his party so even today they won't admit to this treasonous behavior in the Iran-Contra affair. (Bush Sr was probably much more guilty, but we just don't talk about that.) And when Reagan claimed that he didn't remember, it wasn't hard to believe him. But by far, the most shameful thing was the testimony of Oliver North. He should have been court-martialed and then died in jail. Instead, America — in what has become typical — supported him. It apparently doesn't matter what you do as long as you defend it with sufficient belligerence. That is also how we got Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court for life.

Not to worry. It would only be 11 years later that Congress would finally get around to doing something about presidential malfeasance: Bill Clinton lied about a sexual liaison. Sure, it isn't treason. But it was a Democrat. And that's all that apparently matters. If the Republicans had the votes, they surely would have impeached Obama. And once they do have the votes, they will impeach whatever Democrat happens to be in the White House.

But back in 1987, the Congress tried — however feebly — to do something about actual presidential treason.

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Will Trump Destroy the GOP? Ask Pete Wilson

Donald Trump and the ReformoconsMatt Yglesias wrote an article that at first struck me as obvious but now seems profound, Donald Trump Could Be a Generation-Long Disaster for the Republican Party. He made a branding argument. The Republican Party already struggles with support from any group that isn't white and dying off fast. The key to Trump's success in the GOP primary has been that he's made text of the party's long used subtext. And this doesn't just speak for Donald Trump; it speaks of the Republican Party. As Yglesias conjectures, Latinos (but also African Americans, Muslims, and even young people) will not soon forgive and forget.

The key to the argument is Pete Wilson. He is well known in California and now more or less a cautionary tale. He was twice selected US Senator and then twice elected governor. On paper, he's an incredibly successful politician. But he is also largely responsible for destroying the Republican Party in California. And that is due, in large part, to his association with Proposition 187.

Proposition 187 was passed in 1994 — at the same time that Pete Wilson won his second term as governor. It was the first ever state anti-immigration law that was supposed to stop, for example, undocumented children from using our public schools. It was a really vile law that was quickly found to be unconstitutional and was never put into effect. It was also an embarrassment. It was much like Proposition 8 in 2008 that made same-sex marriage illegal. People voted for it, but the state as a whole quickly saw it as a mistake.

Pete WilsonSo even though Wilson won in 1994, he branded the GOP as the party of intolerance. It is a little funny as a Californian. The state isn't nearly as liberal as others think. But more important, the state isn't as liberal as its own residents think. It isn't just demographic factors that turned Prop 187 into an embarrassment. And it isn't demographic factors at all that turned Prop 8 into one. Californians work themselves up into a froth over issues like that and then, in the clear light of day (without the drumbeat of an election), we are embarrassed because we don't see ourselves as the intolerant people our voting often suggests.

California used to be a swing state. As I remember with great annoyance, George Bush Sr beat Michael Dukakis by over 3.5 percentage points. (Note: where I live in the Bay Area, Dukakis won; Prop 8 lost; and Prop 187 lost.) But now it is one of the bluest of states.

Barbara Boxer used to be a US Representative from liberal Marin County. She was widely considered a liberal extremist. I never thought she would be able to win any statewide election. She did win in a fairly close race in 1992, largely because of Bill Clinton. But since then, she's been reelected by large margins: 10 percentage points in 1998, 20 in 2004, and 10 in the Republican's huge year of 2010.

What's more, the state assembly and senate are both currently 65% Democratic.

The issue for the Republican Party nationwide is whether this will happen to them. Pete Wilson and the Republicans won the battle in 1994, but lost the war — and quickly. In Donald Trump's case, it doesn't even look like he will win the battle. But he is doing a great job of branding the party as intolerant jerks. If you look at the data from Gallup, Trump has had strong approval from Republican voters from the beginning. His net favorability right now is 24 percentage points!

George Will hopes that the Republican Party can just put Trump behind it, lose in 2016, and come back strong in 2020. And maybe it can. But there will be even fewer white people then. And there will be more Latinos. And as much as they may be seen more and more as "white," they are not likely to forgive and forget what the Republican Party is all about.

Update: Pete Wilson's Endorsement

I wrote this early morning yesterday, not thinking about the Indiana primary. A few days ago, Pete Wilson endorsed Ted Cruz. Well, that's all over now.

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Morning Music: Just What I Needed

The Cars - Just What I NeededI'm going to veer off the Romy and Michele's High School Reunion soundtrack and go back almost a decade to present "Just What I Needed" by The Cars. But let's face it: it would fit in fine in the film. And there is much to recommend it. The truth is that music hadn't change over that period of time, although admittedly, this song sounded pretty new back in 1978.

I've long favored guitar focused pop music, unless you are going to do something as pretty as Breaking Us in Two (although Joe Jackson was rather good at doing guitar based songs as well). But that's the great thing about 1978: it was still before the explosion of FM synthesizers. There's no pretense! "Just What I Needed" is using something very much like the Minimoog. Blessed be the analog god! I also like the guitar work on it — well, the lead work, which gives me chills. The rhythm guitar is pretty standard pop-rock.

What's problematic is the lyrics. They are entirely typical of everything Ric Ocasek would ever write. He gets a good idea and then takes it nowhere. The best example of that is My Best Friend's Girl, an idea that is so rich with emotional potential that he mines for exactly nothing.

Similarly, "Just What I Needed" means, what? I never get the impression that Ocasek knows. I guess we are supposed to take "I needed someone to bleed" as meaningful. But all I can find in it is that the word "bleed" rhymes with "feed." Does he mean suggest that he needed someone who loved him so much that she bled?

I'm more than willing to interpret songs. That is, after all, what the listener is supposed to do. But the songwriter has to do their part and provide something to work with. I know emotionally what's going on here: it's about the beginning of a relationship that is a bad idea. But none of that much matters, as it doesn't matter in any of Ocasek's songs, because his mastery of pop songwriting is perfect.

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Anniversary Post: Royal Greenwich Observatory

Royal Greenwich ObservatoryOn this day way back in 1675, King Charles II ordered that the Royal Greenwich Observatory (RGO) be built. If you've ever wondered why we have the random Greenwich Mean Time, it is thanks to this iconic observatory — the first specifically built one in Britain. It really isn't an observatory anymore. Slowly, work at the RGO was moved to other, more appropriate locations. Since 1998, it is a museum. But what a museum! That's my idea of a good vacation — as long as there are pubs close by.

Oh, what a long way we've come! Just 340 years ago we had kings who cared about theoretical and practical science. And now here in the United States, we have a major political party for whom science is but a play thing to be used when it furthers its ideological goals but mostly just ignored and treated with derision. A civilization cannot long flourish when half of its people look down on the smart people "who think they're better than us." I've written about that before.

But it is nice to look back on a time when the power elite of the world weren't quite so evil and parochial as we are here in the United States. I often wonder: would we be worse off with crazy King George III or with "reasonable" Republicans like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio and John Kasich? It probably would be the same. It doesn't matter if a leader is insane or he simply thinks he must pretend to be to maintain power to do what he sees as his most important work: taking money from the poor and giving it to the rich.

Happy anniversary Royal Greenwich Observatory!

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Caring About Small Minded White Working Class

White Working ClassMatt Bruenig wrote a great article over the weekend, Does It Matter That Blacks Oppose Marriage Equality? It counters what is a very common argument on the left: that we shouldn't sympathize with the white working class because they are just a bunch of bigots anyway. There are many problems with this thought.

One issue is that the white working class may over all be bigoted toward black and brown skinned people, a large percentage of them are not bigoted in the obvious way that, say, Donald Trump supporters often seem to be. This is where Bruenig got the title for his article. It turns out that as a group, African Americans are really bigoted toward the LGBT community. While blacks and whites were pretty much together on the issue of same-sex marriage back in 2001, support has almost doubled among whites, but has barely changed among blacks.

Given this, should we say that the African American community does not deserve our sympathy because it does not have the same beliefs that we do? It sounds absurd when put that way. And it is especially true when it was the "liberal" president Bill Clinton who signed the Defense of Marriage Act. And given that in 2001, only about 30% of Americans were in favor of marriage equality, does it mean that no Americans deserved sympathy in 2001?

But to me, the bigger issue is just how class-based this idea is. The issue isn't about the bigotry of the white working class; it is about the form of that bigotry. Because here is the unfortunate truth: we are all bigots. And if we are going to slice and dice the acceptable from the unacceptable bigotry, then we are lost.

I can find plenty of reasons to excuse the LGBT bigotry of the African American community. But I can do the same thing about the racial bigotry of the white working class. And doesn't it say something of the educated liberal class that it finds one group more acceptable than the other? After all, among the educated liberal class, marriage inequality was the default position quite recently.

It's interesting that this issue is at the core of Thomas Frank's new book, Listen, Liberal. The rise of the New Democrats (and related groups) was based in large part on the idea that the white working class was made up of a bunch of pro-war bigots. And that's how we get to our current Democratic Party that is liberal on social issues but most definitely not on economic issues. (Good God: Bernie Sanders calls himself a socialist when he's just a traditional, New Deal liberal.)

But there is something that Eric Alterman has written about in this regard that I think is really important. In the 1960s, when we decided that we needed to reverse segregation, it wasn't upper class whites who were asked to sacrifice. It was working class whites. And although northern whites might not have been as offensively and outwardly bigoted as southern whites, anti-segregation programs worried them.

So it is a little much for the same class of people who were were willing to do nothing themselves to fight against our country's long racist tradition to stand up now and say that white working class people don't deserve our sympathy. The educated class has been making this argument for decades. You might even say that they are bigoted toward the white working class.

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Morning Music: Don't Get Me Wrong

Get Close - Don't Get Me WrongIn a sense, this Romy and Michele's High School Reunion Morning Music week has been a bust. The idea was that we would have a lot of terrible music from the 1980s, but thus far, the music has been pretty good. Today does not help matters: "Don't Get Me Wrong" by The Pretenders.

But don't get me wrong: it isn't a great song. But it works very well. The first part of it seems to be a very cheery celebration of being in love. The second part of it is about the volatility of love. The key line is, "Don't get me wrong if I fall in the mode of passion." The "mode of passion" is, put simply, lust. And the singer seems to be saying that she should be forgiven the ebb and flow of her love just as she forgives it of her lover.

Regardless of how you want to read the song, there is always something incredibly compelling about Chrissie Hynde when she's singing something that is sweet as in perhaps my favorite Pretenders' song, Kid. But today, it is the much more straightforward "Don't Get Me Wrong." It's nice. Nothing that Elizabeth needs to be ashamed of liking. But I will search the film for something really awful. There is at least some material that is mediocre.

Oh, and regarding this video: I had never seen it before, so it's interesting that I should have mentioned the British television series The Avengers in yesterday's Odds and Ends post. Although I think the video matching is terrible in it. But it was doubtless state-of-the-art at the time.

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Anniversary Post: State Sales Taxes

Sales TaxIt is very possible that on this day in 1921, West Virginia enacted the first broad sales tax. Do you know who loves the sales tax? The rich. I'm sure that the push to get sales taxes all over the United States was the result of the federal income tax enacted in 1913 via the Sixteenth Amendment. The federal income tax remains the only truly progressive tax in the United States. And the sales tax is regressive. This is why conservatives always go on about the federal income tax. They are just fine with the state sales taxes. In fact, many of them want to get rid of the federal income tax and replace it with a value added tax — basically a federal sales tax.

I should be clear, however. West Virginia legislated the sales tax at that time. But it apparently took the state forever to actually getting it working. That great bastion of liberty and supporter of the "common man," Mississippi was the first state to actually get it going — in 1930, just when the common man could least afford it.

Here in the United States, we have a taxing system that is a mess. It is designed so as to take the maximum amount from the poor, but not make it look like this is what is happening. So everyone focuses on 15 April — the one day when our only progressive tax is collected. But every day — Every minute! — the poor and middle classes are being regressively taxed. But that's just fairness. Unlike that terrible federal income tax, which is downright un-American!

Happy anniversary to the first broad-based sales tax — the beginning of a terrible American tradition.

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Odds and Ends Vol 22

Odds and EndsEven though I don't get nearly enough time to read normal stuff, I find things are piling up without my having the time to write articles about them. So it is time for another edition of "Odds and Ends." And in this case it is indeed a varied collection of things from cat gun safety to productivity to the Gymkhana Girl, so I guess we ought to get to it.

The Only Thing that Stops a Cat With a Gun...

Elizabeth sent me this article, Cat Shoots Owner With 9mm Handgun. This happened all the way back in 2005, but apparently, Joseph Stanton of Michigan was cooking with his loaded gun sitting on the counter. One of his cats jumped up on the counter, knocking the gun off, causing it to discharge, shooting Stanton in the lower torso. He seems to have survived and no cats were harmed.

What I find interesting about these kinds of cases is that they show how one-sided people are about looking at benefits and risk. I'm sure that Mr Stanton, like most gun owners, felt that he was safer for having that loaded gun around. I suspect he had visions of some intruder coming to attack him. But the truth is that the odds of some accident (like your cat jumping on the counter) are far more likely. This is why I don't have a gun; I play the odds.

Night Owls Are Diseased

Over at Vox, Brian Resnick reported, Late Sleepers Are Tired of Being Discriminated Against. And Science Has Their Back. It turns out that chronobiology shows that we all have our own internal clocks, and some people are getting tired (!) of being expected to live according to other people's idea of the proper time to be active.

I've never thought about any of this in terms of when I wake up. Growing up in a family inclined toward late nights, I've always seen it in terms of when I was awake. But I've lived a charmed life in that I've gotten away with going my own way. At most places I've worked, I've been important enough that management was willing to put up with my eccentricities. But even if that were not the case, it's kind of hard to get too upset. There are a million ways that the majority oppresses the minority; just look at the world from the perspective of left-handed people. What's more, I don't find this chronobiology all that interesting because I'll always felt my sleep patterns were biological.

Now, of course, I have no problem. I go to sleep late and wake up early. It's because I'm old and apparently my brain doesn't need as much time to process information. That's probably helped by the fact that I rarely leave this room.

Spying Makes Us Timid

Glenn Greenwald reported, New Study Shows Mass Surveillance Breeds Meekness, Fear, and Self-Censorship. It's not a shock. If people know that they might be under surveillance (We all know that we might be now, right?) it tends to makes us more conformist. And you have to wonder if that isn't the main point. Would the world be notably less safe if the NSA wasn't recording and storing every conversation we were having?

This reminds me of something that internet titan Eric Schmidt was asked back in 2009, "People are treating Google like their most trusted friend. Should they be?" He replied, "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place." Oh yes! That's the way to run a democracy! It's an especially chilling statement when you consider how cozy Silicon Valley has been with the government and how the government's greatest spying accomplishments have been to disrupt anti-war groups.

Gymkhana Girl

In the first episode of That Mitchell and Webb Look, there were three skits about the crime fighting duo Angel Summoner and BMX Bandit. It makes fun of lopsided superhero combinations. I keep returning to Marvel's the Avengers, where you have a god teamed up with a guy who is apparently really good with a bow and arrow. I've discussed it before, but I learned something new:

At the end, after the BMX Bandit is killed, the announcer tells us to tune in next week for the adventures of "Angel Summoner and..." But I couldn't make it out. It sounded like "Jim Conner Girl." The woman reminded me of the women on the old British television series The Avengers. I got the joke: they were teaming up Angel Summoner with yet another inappropriate character. But it still bugged me that I didn't know what a "Jim Conner Girl" was.

Finally, I looked it up. The word is not "Jim Conner" but gymkhana. And that is "competitive games on horseback." In other words, they switched from someone who was good at riding a bike to someone who was good at riding a horse. And that, well, is hilarious.

Cheap Labor Leads to Low Productivity

Dean Baker wrote a really good article last week, Reason #4 for Weak Productivity Growth: Labor Is Cheap. Like most economics in the public sphere, it ain't complicated. Productivity has been low for a long time. And a big reason for that is that businesses have little reason to invest in automation because they can get labor so cheap. If you want to increase productivity, make the political environment more conducive to unionization.

It's funny that most people (Most Democrats too!) like to blame inequality on automation. But if that were the case, per capita productivity would be high. As I've written about a lot, if the rich were smart and farsighted, they would want more economic equality because it is better for everyone. But they aren't smart and farsighted; they are just greedy.

Land of the Lost

I was given a bag of DVDs — most of them television shows of my youth. Of particular interest was the first two seasons of Sid & Marty Krofft's Land of the Lost. I liked that show when I was a kid, so I sat down and watched the first seven episodes. It's curious. The stop-motion animation is really good. But it's so disjointed, going from filmed animation to videotaped segments on tiny sound stages. I could go on and on about things that are wrong with it. But it does have a certain charm, even after all these years.

Well, that's all for now. I'm glad to get some tabs down, although I could easily add five more entries here.

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Morning Music: Just a Girl by No Doubt

Just a Girl - No DoubtRomy and Michele's High School Reunion starts with a song that is not from the 1980s, because it is supposed to reflect their lives now. It's a good song, "Just a Girl" by the band No Doubt. It isn't great, like Trapped in a Box, but still.

What's interesting about "Just a Girl" is that it is the perfect song for the film. Although it sounds light and pleasant, it is a highly political song. Slow it down and perform it with an acoustic guitar and you have a Natalie Merchant song. Although "Just a girl" is repeated more often, technically the refrain is, "I've had it up to here!" And that is, ultimately, what Romy and Michele's High School Reunion is all about.

"Just a Girl" starts with what was always a curious lyric to me, "Take this pink ribbon off my eyes." Now it seems ridiculously obvious what that's all about. The trappings of femininity are used to blind women from their subjugation. And the line is followed by a far more disturbing line, "I'm exposed and it's no big surprise." I see "exposed" as a synonym for "naked." The song makes many references to the objectification of women. But it also indicates that regardless of the pink ribbons, women still know their situation on a more fundamental level.

Of course, "Just a Girl" is also exactly the kind of music that Romy and Michele would have been dancing to in the mid-1990s.

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Anniversary Post: Folies Bergère

Folies BergèreOn this day back in 1869, the Folies Bergère opened in Paris, France. Of course, at that time, it was known as the Folies Trévise. It's always been a little sexy, but it has never been the kind of coarse entertainment venue that most Americans imagine. It certainly isn't anything that I couldn't take any of my wives or girlfriends to — although that probably says more about my wives and girlfriends than it does the Folies Bergère.

A better way to look at it is like the club in Cabaret. And based upon that, we can say of the performers, "Each and every one: a virgin!" According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Folies Bergère was a standard nightclub in its early days, featuring "musical comedies and revues, operettas, vaudeville sketches, playlets, ballets, eccentric dancers, acrobats, jugglers, tightrope walkers, and magicians." It followed other clubs into nudity, but apparently with much gusto.

Today, of course, the Folies Bergère is an institution in Paris. It sound like a lot less fun to me than it would have been in the early 1870s:

Each of its shows requires about 10 months of planning and preparation, 40 different sets, and 1,000 to 1,200 individually designed costumes.

Happy anniversary Folies Bergère!

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Body Snatchers and The Faculty

Invasion of the Body SnatchersThe 1950s were a strange time. Last night, I watched the original 1956 version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I hadn't seen it since I was a kid. It is a really good film. I'd have to say that it is better than the excellent 1978 remake. But it could have just been my mood. The action sequences work so well, and the music is dynamite. But while I watched it, all I could think was, "This is an allegory for communist infiltration into America."

Now I know: everyone wants to say that it is about McCarthyism. And the filmmakers didn't think they were making any kind of political statement at all. But it was in the air, just as fluoride is in the water to sap and impurify all of our precious bodily fluids. What's more, McCarthyism wasn't about losing our identity in the public mind. In fact McCarthyism was not all that popular. But the belief that the Soviet Union turned people into automatons was so universal that people didn't even think about it.

Body Snatchers Is About Communism

At the beginning of Body Snatchers, Miles (Kevin McCarthy) and his nurse come upon a boy running away from his mother. The family owns a produce stand that is now shut down. The mother (who has been taken over) says, "We gave the stand up. Too much work!" Miles thinks it is odd and reflects on the "littered, closed-up" stand that had recently been the "cleanest and busiest stand on the road." The word "cleanest" is telling, because of America's long obsession with physical and spiritual purity.

The FacultyBut the more concrete aspect of it is that everyone gives up their passion for work. They give up their passion for each other too. They are simply part of the collective and that is all that matters. Now I would say that this reflects on McCarthyism in the sense that reactionary movements are almost always mirror images of what they are against. I've marveled since I was a boy at how conservatives believe in certain rights as long as those rights are never used. So you have the "right" to denounce the NSA right up to the point where you do denounce the NSA. Lucky for us, the conservatives have not gotten their way on this issue (at least not directly).

Another "red scare" aspect of the film is the way that the pod people lack passion for anything except making more pod people. This was a common contradiction of the fear of communism: it turned everyone into brain-dead zombies, yet it was super clever when it came to disseminating propaganda and turning good Americans into fellow zombies.

The Faculty Is About Nothing

So watching Body Snatchers was a mixed bag. It is unquestionably a great film, but the politics of it bother me. So I followed it up with The Faculty. Now much of what I said about Body Snatchers can be said about The Faculty. For that matter, what is Body Snatchers other than a science fiction take on Eugène Ionesco's Rhinoceros? But the original Body Snatchers was made during the Red Scare, while McCarthyism was still going on. Even the remake was made while the Cold War was going strong. The Faculty was made in 1998 and it is post-ideological.

The Faculty is just silly fun. The film is just the good weirdos against the bad alien. It's discussion of conformity is not political but cinematic. The monster is creating a collective because that's what happened in Body Snatchers. It's all just an excuse to entertain people who loved Invasion of the Body Snatchers and the remake of The Thing. But, as Aliya Whiteley noted at Den of Geek, it also has "a spoonful of The Breakfast Club." I only disagree in that it would have to be an enormous spoon.

Body Snatchers is a great film. The Faculty isn't; but it is the perfect film to to watch after Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

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Morning Music: Time After Time

Romy and Michele's High School ReunionSince I really can't think of anything else to do, I figured I would do a week of music from Romy and Michele's High School Reunion. That is: we will take a disturbing trip into 1980s pop. It was a time of twice destroyed music. First punk became "new wave" and then it just became pop. But it's not always so bad. We start with the Cyndi Lauper tune "Time After Time."

Interestingly, the song was not on the soundtrack for the film. But it is the most important song in the film. It is featured when Romy is stood up by Billy Christensen, and then it is played again when Romy, Michele, and Sandy perform their their interpretive dance number before flying away in a helicopter.

When the song was playing on the radio, I liked it quite a lot. Now it sounds dated. I can't make out a single acoustic instrument despite the fact that it really doesn't need any electronics at all. The song is solid, even with the cliche hook. But the drum samples and synth sounds are really not that offensive. I think that producer Rick Chertoff gets a lot of credit for creating an overall sound for the album that doesn't make my skin crawl.

The thing that I most dislike in "Time After Time" is something I was very fond of at the time: guitar flanging. But like anything that's interesting in pop music, it was used to death and then for a few decades more. Flanging quickly became the go-to guitar sound when a producer had no idea what to do. But it worked on this song at that time, as I recall.

But you can't make me sit through that any more than I already have, so here is a beautiful, almost acoustic version of the song live.

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