Monday, September 26, 2016

Live-blogging the first general-election debate of 2016

I'll be live-blogging the debate here, starting at 9:00 Eastern time.

As usual, I'll be doing this on the fly, without the benefit of pause/rewind buttons, so any quotes I write down won't necessarily be verbatim, but I'll try to keep them reasonably accurate, and I may or may not correct some of them later on.

You may be able to find more live-blogging at TPM or National Review.

9:05 — I'm at a debate-watching party, and the whole room erupted in laughter when Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump walked onstage, smiled at each other, and shook hands.

9:07 — Why will each candidate be the better one to create jobs? Hillary Clinton goes first. She says she'd raise the minimum wage and "guarantee, finally, equal pay for equal work." "If you help make the profits, you should be able to share in them." Also, "paid family leave," "affordable child care," "free college," and "clos[ing] the corporate loopholes." After all that, she smiles and says, with deliberate awkwardness: "Donald . . . it's good to be with you!"

9:08 — Donald Trump starts out on a more negative note: China is "using our country as a piggybank to rebuild" itself, and so are "many other countries." "Ford is leaving . . . they're all leaving." Now more positive: he agrees with Clinton on child care (or maybe he said family leave), while disagreeing on "amounts." He'll reduce corporate taxes to create economic growth like we haven't seen since Ronald Reagan — "a beautiful thing to watch."

9:11 — Clinton slams Trump's economic plan as "the most extreme version" of "trickle-down economics." "Trumped-up trickled down!" As my mom's drinking game predicted, she compares Trump's experience starting a business with a multi-million-dollar loan from his father with her family background — her dad was a small-businessperson.

9:13 — Trump is cool and collected in rebutting Clinton's attack. He doesn't focus on Clinton or her criticism; instead, he pivots to his talking points. "In all fairness to Secretary Clinton . . ." Then he disarmingly looks over to her for her approval about how he addressed her: "Yes? Is this OK? I want her to be happy! It's very important to me!" Trump then launches into a long explanation of why he thinks companies are leaving the US.

9:15 — Clinton accuses Trump of "root[ing] for the housing crisis" because he hoped he could make some money off it. Trump interjects: "That's called business!" Clinton cites "independent experts" who say Trump's tax plan would destroy millions of jobs, while Clinton's would create 10 million jobs.

9:17 — Clinton says Trump thinks climate change is "a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese." Trump: "I didn't say that!"

9:19 — Trump finally goes after Clinton: "You've been doing this for 30 years! Why are just thinking of solutions now?" Clinton reminds us that the economy did well under her husband, but Trump comes back that he signed NAFTA, and Hillary Clinton supported TPP. She says she opposed it once it was finalized, but Trump points out that this was only after Trump opposed it. Clinton responds: "I know you live in your own reality . . ."

9:26 — Though the whole discussion has been about the economy, Trump suddenly tells Clinton: "You're telling ISIS everything you're going to do! No wonder you've been fighting ISIS your entire adult life!" Clinton: "Fact-checkers, get to work!" A little later, she flashes a big smile and quips: "I have a feeling by the end of this evening, I'm going to be blamed for everything that's ever happened!"

9:31 — Trump is asked why he doesn't release his tax returns. "I don't mind releasing!" But he says he's under audit. The moderator, Lester Holt, corrects him: "You're perfectly free to release your taxes during an audit." Trump admits he's willing to release his tax returns "against my lawyers' wishes" — as soon as Clinton "releases her 33,000 deleted emails." Clinton pounces: "Why won't he release his tax returns?" Clinton suggests several reasons: "Maybe he's not as rich as he says he is. Maybe he's not as charitable as he claims to be." Or it could be about "conflicts of interest" having to do with his debts to foreign banks. Or that he's paid "nothing" in federal taxes. Trump: "That makes me smart!" He also says he'll "quickly" disclose a "list of banks."

9:39 — Trump says "politicians like Secretary Clinton" have caused us to "squander[]" $6 trillion in the Middle East.

9:40 — "I've met a lot of the people who were stiffed by your businesses, Donald" — people "you refused to pay when they finished the work you asked them to do." Trump says he might have had good reason for that: maybe they "didn't do a good job" and he was "unsatisfied with their work." Clinton pulls out a prepared line: "I'm glad my father didn't do business with you." And Trump does the same: "Trump International is way under budget and way ahead of schedule, and we should do that for our country."

9:45 — Holt changes the topic to race in America. Clinton generically calls for "criminal justice reform," which "good, brave police officers" also want. And deal with gun violence. Trump calls out Clinton for not using the words "law and order" — what we need to bring back in Chicago. He suggests "stop and frisk." Holt says "stop and frisk was ruled unconstitutional in New York because it singled out blacks and Hispanics," but Trump says he's wrong — New York City just dropped the lawsuit under its new mayor.

9:51 — Clinton says Trump's comments in his rallies "paint a really dire, negative picture of black communities."

9:54 — Holt asks Clinton if she thinks "implicit bias is a problem with police." She says yes, but the police want "retraining" to deal with the bias.

9:55 — The candidates finally agree on something: people on the no-fly list shouldn't be able to have guns.

9:56 — Trump says stop and frisk achieved Clinton's goal of reducing gun violence in NYC, but Clinton points out that murders have kept going down now that the program has ended. Trump flat out says, "You're wrong," and urges fact-checkers to check this.

9:59 — Trump is asked why it took him so long to admit that President Obama was born in the US. Trump focuses on how he got Obama to produce his birth certificate, but Holt asks why he waited 5 years after that happened in 2011. "I think I did a great job and a great service . . ." Clinton goes for the jugular: "He has tried to put this whole racist birther lie to bed. But it can't be dismissed that easily." She connects this with race-discrimination suits that have been brought against Trump's companies. Trump points out that he settled those suits "with no admission of guilt." And he reminds us that Clinton spoke of Obama "with terrible disrespect" in her 2008 primary campaign.

10:07 — Holt asks if Russia has been cyberattacking the US. Clinton says they have, and she "was so shocked when Donald invited Russia to launch cyberattacks against Americans." Trump says the cyberattacks could have come from "someone who weighs 400 pounds sitting on their bed"!

10:15 — The candidates go back and forth about whether Clinton and Obama are responsible for the growth of ISIS. Trump says ISIS "formed in a vacuum created by" Obama and Clinton — but Clinton emphasizes that George W. Bush is the one who set the timeline for us to withdraw from Iraq. Clinton points out that Trump supported the Iraq war, but Trump interjects: "Wrong! Wrong!" She also says Trump supported our Libya invasion — after doing business with Gaddafi. Trump has no response.

10:22 — Trump declares: "I have much better temperament than she does. . . . It might be one of my greatest assets: my temperament." People in the room watching this are flipping out: "Whoa! God!"

10:25 — Clinton accuses Trump of not caring if more countries get nuclear weapons — "Japan, South Korea, even Saudi Arabia." "That is the number-one threat we face in the world," especially if terrorists get their hands on them. Trump says terrorism is the number-one threat, and Clinton mistakenly thinks it's climate change.

10:28 — On nuclear weapons, Trump says: "I would certainly not do first strike." But we can't "take anything off the table."

10:30 — Clinton says Trump's campaign has "worried" world leaders about nukes, so she reassures them: "We have mutual defense treaties and we will honor them."

10:33 — Holt asks Trump what he meant by saying Clinton doesn't have a presidential "look." Trump responds: "She doesn't have the look — she doesn't have the stamina." He seems to regret repeating the word "look" — as Clinton points out, "he tried to switch from 'looks' to 'stamina.'" "As soon as he travels to 112 countries" — she describes what she did as Secretary of State — "he can talk to me about stamina."

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Nirvana's Nevermind and the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Blood Sugar Sex Magik were both released 25 years ago today.

September 24, 1991 was a great day for music. 25 years ago, Nirvana released its second album, Nevermind, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers released their fifth album, Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Both albums were commercial breakthroughs for their respective bands. Nevermind has been celebrated for bringing an entire genre into the mainstream and signaling an authenticity-driven reaction against synth-heavy '80s music, even though the album itself has been criticized (including by Kurt Cobain) for being too slickly produced.

These albums came out a little too early for me to pay attention to them at the time, when I was just 10. But when I started getting into music and playing guitar a few years later, these were two of the very first albums I got, and they both shaped my approach to music.

They're both the kind of album you listen to straight through, over and over, not skipping over any tracks, because each one feels essential, from the hits to the songs you might have forgotten about but are happy to hear when they come on (Nirvana's "Lounge Act," RHCP's "My Lovely Man").

When I made a list of "the 40 greatest grunge songs," I ranked "Lithium," from Nevermind, #1.



Back then, I wrote:
The band members themselves assumed that this would be the song that would break them into the mainstream. They never expected it to be overshadowed by you-know-what . . .

What really makes this song for me is Krist Novoselic's bassline. While the guitar part in the verse starts at the bottom and climbs upward, the bass starts at the top and descends. He wasn't generally a flashy bassist, but he clearly gave this song some extra attention. He also does some tasteful noodling in the "I'm not gonna crack" section.

The chorus of "In Bloom" is brilliantly self-referential in mocking the whole idea of a band with fans, while being much more lovable than that concept sounds. "He's the one who likes all our pretty songs, and he likes to sing along . . . but he knows not what it means . . ."




"Drain You" was one of Kurt Cobain's favorite Nirvana songs. My favorite part is how in the place where you might expect a conventional guitar solo, they instead do an eerie instrumental interlude with disorienting guitar noises and dissonances, culminating in a frenzied crescendo that leads back to the beginning. Grunge genius.




Meanwhile — that same day! — the Red Hot Chili Peppers were putting out a 17-song funk masterpiece, Blood Sugar Sex Magik. "Give It Away" captures the essence of the band: gleefully sexual, deceptively simple, rhythmically infectious.




"Breaking the Girl" is an uncharacteristically acoustic Chili Peppers song with an electrifying percussion break (starting at 3:03). Chad Smith's propulsive drum beat gives a remarkable momentum to the song.




"Under the Bridge" is a haunting portrait of heroin addiction. I get chills when I hear the choir-like backing vocals start to sing: "Under the bridge downtown . . ." The beautiful interplay of the guitar (John Frusciante) and bass (Flea) at the end is worthy of comparison to George Harrison and Paul McCartney in the Beatles' "Something."




"Power of Equality" kicks the album off with an urgent note of social awareness ("American equality has always been sour"). The Chili Peppers' singer/rapper, Anthony Kiedis, was clearly self-conscious about his white band being deeply indebted to many black musicians: "My lily white ass is tickled pink/When I listen to the music that makes me think." He makes his call for racial equality explicit: "Death to the message of the Ku Klux Klan!" The song ends with an earnest lament:
People in pain, I do not dig it
Change of brain for Mr. Bigot . . .
Misery is not my friend
But I'll break before I bend
What I see is insanity
Whatever happened to humanity?

Monday, September 19, 2016

Mama Cass

"Mama" Cass Elliot of the Mamas and Papas was born Ellen Naomi Cohen on September 19, 1941. She would have turned 75 today. She died in 1974 at age 32.

Here's "Monday Monday":




"California Dreaming":




My mom, Ann Althouse, comments on the "Monday Monday" video:

I remember how it felt to see them on TV like that -- looking so different from other groups of the time. The men were like the other men, but the women were different, because of Cass and because of her contrast with Michelle [Phillips], who would have stood out as phenomenally pretty anyway, but standing there next to Cass, she made a fantastic contrast, and there were many people who were suddenly discovering that the fat one was even more attractive. It was kind of like with The Beatles, the way many girls thought Ringo was the most attractive, when, by conventional standards, he was the only ugly one. Back in the 60s... when everything was a revolution.
I respond:
Now it's hard to imagine anything being a revolution!

I rarely think any Beatles cover is an improvement on the original, but one exception is the Mamas and the Papas doing "I Call Your Name" (by John Lennon):




Mama Cass and Johnny Cash were charming together:




And here's Mama Cass on her own, singing her signature song, "Dream a Little Dream of Me":

Monday, September 5, 2016

Best. Rock singer. Ever.

Freddie MercuryQueen's lead singer and pianist, who wrote many of the band's most beloved songs ("Bohemian Rhapsody," "We Are the Champions," "Killer Queen," "Somebody to Love") — would have turned 70 years old today. He died in 1991 at age 45.

If you asked me who the greatest rock singer of all time is, I'd probably think for about one second before saying: Freddie Mercury.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Pearl Jam's Ten turns 25

25 years ago today, on August 27, 1991, Pearl Jam released its debut album, Ten, which most people would probably agree is the band's best.

The most affecting song on the album was the third single, "Jeremy." When I made a list of "the 40 greatest grunge songs," I ranked "Jeremy" #2. I wrote:

Pearl Jam has never been one of my favorite bands. But I give them a lot of credit: they sincerely tried to make a work of art with this song, and they succeeded.

When it comes to musical composition, most bands are satisfied if they just write a nice melody for the verse and then another nice melody for the chorus. Not many bands are willing to devote this kind of care and attention to individually shaping the melody of each line to fit the lyrics and create a whole musical/dramatic arc.

Here's the disturbing video for this disturbing song:



"Even Flow" is Pearl Jam's take on homelessness.
Freezin'
Rests his head on a pillow made of concrete again . . .

Even flow
Thoughts arrive like butterflies
Oh he don't know
So he chases them away
Someday yet
He'll begin his life again



Eddie Vedder wrote "Alive" based on his own childhood. His parents divorced when he was a baby, and his mom quickly remarried. He grew up believing his stepdad was his dad. His mom finally told him the news when he was a teenager, but by then, his biological father, whom he had only briefly met, had died of multiple sclerosis.




"Black" is a transcendently beautiful breakup song.
I know someday you'll have a beautiful life
I know you'll be a star
In somebody else's sky . . .