Saturday, June 15, 2019

30 years of Nirvana's Bleach

Nirvana released their debut album, Bleach, 30 years ago today, on June 15, 1989.

If you subscribe to Amazon Prime, you can listen to the remastered version with bonus material for free here.

Most of Bleach was relentlessly heavy and dark, before the band opened itself up to more varied approaches on Nevermind and In Utero. The exception is the poppy "About a Girl," which has been compared to the Beatles.

While that's the most obviously commercial song on the album, the band's knack for hooks is also clear on "Blew" (the first song on the first Nirvana album and the second-to-last song they ever played live) and "School" (showing the power of minimal lyrics with just 16 words: one line each in the verse, chorus, and interlude).

"Mr. Moustache" is dominated by fast metal riffs, but occasional vocal harmonies give a taste of what's to come on Nevermind (compare it with "On a Plain," for instance).

The most overlooked song on the album is "Sifting," which lumbers along ominously before rushing headlong into a gloriously catchy chorus.

Bleach inevitably didn't put Nirvana in its best light: the album's budget was just $600, and the drummer's choppy feel made it clear why he was later replaced by Dave Grohl. But for all its flaws, Bleach gives us the original intensity of the greatest rock band of their all too brief time.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

If you want better politicians, pay them more

When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez agrees with Thomas Sowell, maybe they’re worth taking seriously.

I agree with Rep. Ocasio-Cortez, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist, that members of Congress should get cost-of-living salary increases.

Of course the salary for members of Congress ($174,000 for most of them) is more than most people in the country make, but it’s surprisingly low for someone with such an important job, who’s raising a family in an expensive city, and could probably be making more elsewhere. That’s not the kind of salary that lets them get rich off government; that’s a sacrifice for public service.

And I agree with Sowell, a conservative economist who rarely calls for any expansion of government, but who argued in 2014 that raises for members of Congress (and other government officials) would improve government at a tiny cost:

What do we do when we want a more upscale product — a better house or car for example? We pay more to get it!

If we want better people in government, we are going to have to start paying them enough that people would not be sacrificing their families' well-being by going to Washington or a state capitol, or serving as a judge.

It is not a question of whether the people currently serving in Congress, the courts or as chief executives at the municipal, state or national level deserve a raise. Most of them don't. It is a question of whether we need far better replacements for them.

That means drawing from a wider pool, including people with real knowledge and expertise in the private sector, who currently make a lot more money than we are paying government officials. Cheap politicians turn out to be very expensive politicians, in the way they waste money, even if they are not stealing it.

We could pay every member of Congress a million dollars a year — for a whole century — for less than it costs to run the Department of Agriculture for one year.

The least we can do is make it harder to bribe them. Trying to bribe a millionaire would at least be harder than bribing some government official with a modest salary and a couple of kids going to expensive colleges.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

What does "Medicare for All" really mean?

"Medicare for All" really means "Repeal and Replace Medicare and Obamacare."

This Wall Street Journal piece from last month explains:

More than 100 House Democrats have endorsed Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s Medicare for All Act of 2019. Fourteen Democratic senators have co-sponsored a similar bill from Sen. Bernie Sanders.

The title is deeply misleading. It implies that the current Medicare system would be extended to all Americans. In fact, Medicare for All differs from Medicare in fundamental ways—with much broader coverage, no cost sharing, and fewer choices of health-care plans. . . .

Medicare for All would cover a panoply of dental, vision and mental-health services not covered by Medicare. Under the latest version of the House bill, the federal government would also pay for all long-term nursing and home care—estimated by the Urban Institute to cost roughly $3 trillion over the next decade.

The program would replace Medicare, Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, as well as all employer-sponsored insurance and direct individual insurance (including the ObamaCare exchanges). It would cover not only uninsured American citizens but every U.S. resident. . . .

Despite this substantial expansion of coverage, Medicare for All would not require beneficiaries to contribute premiums, deductibles or copayments. By contrast, most parts of Medicare require some form of cost sharing by patients. . . .

Because of the broad coverage of services and patients without cost sharing, Medicare for All would entail dramatically higher federal spending on health care than Medicare and other programs. . . .

Finally, Medicare for All would eliminate the plan choices Medicare now allows. . . . Medicare for All would prohibit any insurer or employer from privately offering any services covered by this legislation—which means essentially all medical services.

Medicare for All allows even less in the way of plan choice than other single-payer systems. In the United Kingdom, patients may purchase private insurance for medical services even if they are available through the National Health Service. Canada does not cover dental, vision or long-term care, so two-thirds of Canadians purchase these services through private health insurance.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Veteran remembers D-Day in emotional interview

From an interview with a 95-year-old veteran on Fox News:

Cpl. John McHugh on D-Day: It's hell. It's just hell on earth. . . . I don't think anybody can really describe it. . . . I had my pistol, but look, you're not gonna shoot, you can't see 'em. I just kept crawlin' up, see how far we could go. . . . You just keep going up, gotta keep moving. But there were a lot of dead bodies. . . .

Shepard Smith: When you found out we're going to invade, did you think about the big picture — the fighting for freedom — or was it a matter of, well I have to do this, or . . . ?

McHugh: None of those thoughts about freedom! I was in the Army, and they told me to go that way, and I went that way. It was all automatic. Not a lot of thought. A lot of thought about gettin' killed!

When he talks about seeing all the dead bodies around him, it's like something from a movie. I was thinking he could have been played by Jimmy Stewart (another WWII veteran).

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Knock Down the House (2019 documentary)

Just watched Knock Down the House, the Netflix documentary about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other Democratic candidates who challenged incumbents in 2018. Wow. It was better than I expected, even knowing it got universally positive reviews. I cried more than once, including after one line from AOC which you'd never guess would cause that reaction.

I wish every American would watch this movie back to back with Mitt, the Netflix documentary about Romney's presidential campaigns, and realize there are good people on both sides.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Ben Wikler wins the election for head of the Wisconsin Democratic Party

Congratulations to my friend Ben Wikler on winning the election for Chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.

He ran a positive campaign against David Bowen, a State Representative who’s also the Party’s outgoing Vice Chair.

Congratulations also to Ben Wikler’s running mates, Felesia Martin and Lee Snodgrass, who’ll be Vice Chairs.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports:

Former leader Ben Wikler has been chosen as the new leader of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, the party announced Sunday.

Wikler will lead Democrats into the 2020 campaign in which Wisconsin is widely viewed as potentially decisive in the race for the White House.

“The Democratic Party of Wisconsin voted today to embrace a vision that can defeat [President Donald] Trump, elect Democrats up and down the ticket and end the GOP’s assault on Wisconsin values and Wisconsin families,” Wikler said.
It’s too early to know the full consequences of this, but Wisconsin is obviously a state to watch. As we’ve seen in one election after another, my home state can’t be pigeonholed as “blue” or “red.” Wisconsin is a purple state, and the great decision that was made today has the potential to be a big deal for Wisconsin and beyond.

I did this post about Ben's campaign on March 24. Here’s what I said:
I've known Ben Wikler for over 25 years. We don't agree on all issues; I consider myself a political independent, while he's a solid Democrat. But I've spent hours and hours having civil discussions of politics and policy with him, not on social media but in person, one on one. For years, we worked closely together on a monthly student publication in high school.

So I wasn't surprised in 2014 when I heard Howard Dean, the former head of the Democratic National Committee, say during a TV appearance with him: "I happen to know Ben, and he's one of the smartest people under 35 in the entire country." (He's now 38.)

If you know Ben, you know he's an incredibly hard worker who's passionate about putting his progressive ideals into action. I'm confident that Ben Wikler is the right person to lead the Democrats in our home state.
As Wisconsin’s one-word motto says: Forward!

Friday, May 31, 2019

A paraphrase can make all the difference

Sometimes paraphrasing is the most useful thing you can do. For instance, putting tariffs on imports to your country is the same thing as imposing sanctions on your own country. (That point is from this 2018 Reason article.) Let’s start calling them “sanctions” instead of “tariffs,” and see how we feel about them.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

50 years of "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes"

50 years ago today, on May 29, 1969, Crosby, Stills & Nash released their self-titled debut album, which includes one of the gems of '60s music, "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes." Stephen Stills wrote that 7-and-a-half-minute song near the end of his 2-year relationship with another great singer, Judy Collins. She said this in 2000:

[Stills] came to where I was singing one night on the West Coast and brought his guitar to the hotel and he sang . . . the whole song. And of course it has lines in it that referred to my therapy. And so he wove that all together in this magnificent creation. So the legacy of our relationship is certainly in that song.

While that's easily the standout track, my second-favorite song from the album is the anti-war epic "Wooden Ships":

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest turns 10

10 years ago today, Grizzly Bear released their breakthrough album, Veckatimest. Below are a few songs, though I hate to select just a few, because this is an album that should be listened to from start to finish. Veckatimest (named after Veckatimest Island in Massachusetts) is one of those rare albums that's consistently wonderful, without a single weak song.

This Brooklyn band gets called "indie rock," but part of what I love about Veckatimest is the way it defies labeling. Much of the album is less raucous than what we think of as "rock" — more ethereal, with more open spaces. Grizzly Bear isn't a band known for wild screaming or guitar solos. But aside from the lead single, "Two Weeks," the music is too asymmetrical and enigmatic to be called "indie pop." Whatever you call it, Veckatimest stands as one of the high points in '00s music.