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Bourgeois blues

With poor people literally lining up at paycheck loan kiosks, it can seem distinctly whiny to fret about middle-class suffering, as law professor Elizabeth Warren did in this testimony to the Senate Finance Committee from May. But I found it pretty persuasive, at least for its insight into what Americans are consuming. Routine critiques of consumerism -- my own included -- tend to focus on frivolous overconsumption of branded products or status goods, but Warren points out that spending is trending downward for clothing, food, appliances and cars. Spending on electronics is up, but understandably so, considering recent technological changes. Instead, spending is going increasingly to what Warren labels as fixed costs -- housing, taxes, health care, child care, education and transportation expenses. These costs are exacerbated by the fact that both parents in a child-rearing household have to work, in part to keep up with these very expenses, creating a self-perpetuating cycle. (It also left me wondering why anyone chooses to raise children -- from a rational-economics standpoint, the incentives are all wrong; I suppose the desire for the music of children's laughter is an exogenous variable.)

Warren then offers some middle-class friendly policy prescriptions: subsidies for education, better health insurance, universal preschool, and more-stringent regulations on credit markets, which she details further in this piece for the journal Deomcracy. These seem like wise political ideas, since they are likely to appeal to voters in contested districts and battleground states. And they would probably help alleviate what Jacob Hacker has dubbed the Great Risk Shift, the recent tendency of government rescinding the safety net it once promised. Above all, such prescriptions would assure that the middle class lifestyle would appear as an entitlement to those already possessing it, but they may not do much to give hope to those on the outside that they ever might enjoy such privilege. Directing entitlements at the middle class may only help the middle class guard its turf, to build the wallls higher, or help them maintain a safe distance from the lower classes they are trying to differentiate themselves from.

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

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Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

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From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

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Despite the uninspired packaging in this complete series set, Friday Night Lights remains an outstanding TV show; one of the best in the current golden age of television.

There are few series that have earned such universal acclaim as Friday Night Lights (2006-2011). This show unreservedly deserves the praise -- and the well-earned Emmy. Ostensibly about a high school football team in Dillon, Texas—headed by a brand new coach—the series is more about community than sports. Though there's certainly plenty of football-related storylines, the heart of the show is the Taylor family, their personal relationships, and the relationships of those around them.

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Mixing some bland "alternate" and "film" versions of Whitney Houston's six songs included on The Bodyguard with exemplary live cuts, this latest posthumous collection for the singer focuses on pleasing hardcore fans and virtually no one else.

No matter how much it gets talked about, dissected, dismissed, or lionized, it's still damn near impossible to oversell the impact of Whitney Houston's rendition of "I Will Always Love You".

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