Friday, October 31, 2008

What are the scariest pieces of classical music?

That's the question for today, since this Music Friday happens to fall on Halloween.

Everyone knows Saint-Saens's (I don't do accents) Danse Macabre:




And don't you love Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain?




But have you heard the 2nd movement (Scherzo) of Bruckner's 9th Symphony, which starts out quietly creeping along but then suddenly bursts out into the classical equivalent of heavy metal?



(In case you couldn't tell, the conductor is Leonard Bernstein.)


And for absolutely bleak despair mixed with terror, nothing beats Shostakovich's 8th String Quartet, which he originally intended to serve as his own suicide note! And not a very subtle one, at that. (Fortunately, the only part of this plan he carried out was the music; he died of cancer many years later.)

1st and 2nd movements (it first gets scary at the beginning of the 2nd movement -- around 4:45):



(This performance is by Students of the Royal Academy of Music in London: Alexandra Hjortswang, Beatrice Scaldini, Nicola Grant, Madeleine Ridd.)

3rd movement:



4th and 5th movements (notice the lovely -- though still bleak -- way the end of the last movements recalls the beginning of the first movement):



Had enough???

If not, then feel free to suggest some more in the comments!

UPDATE: See the comments on the post you're reading now and also the 60-odd comments on this other post for suggestions.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

86-year-old Charles Alexander meets Barack Obama.

"My God, all these young people, they're tomorrow's future. I'm dying off. Everybody my age is dying off. Everybody. Next 4 or 5 years, I probably won't be around."

Monday, October 27, 2008

More greatest moments from the 2008 presidential race (up to 120)

This should conclude my list of moments from the presidential race. I hope that this year is different from 2000 and 2004 in that there won't be any more surprising moments from now through Election Day.

100. "The fundamentals of the economy are strong."
[video]

101. "Would you like to ask him a question?" "Uh, no. I would like to mention that a couple days ago Senator Obama was out in Ohio and he had an encounter with a guy who's a plumber, his name is Joe Wurzelburger."
[video]

102. "Quite frankly, um, it might have been a better pick than me."
[video]

103. "It's very important when you consider even national security issues with Russia as Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where do they go? It's Alaska. It's just right over the border. It is from Alaska that we send those out to make sure that an eye is being kept on this very powerful nation, Russia, because they are right there. They are right next to our state."
[video + transcript]

104. "I am surprised ... that he wasn't willing to say it to my face."
[video]

105. "You know who voted for it? You might never know -- that one!"
[video]

106.

McCain vomiting or sticking out tongue at Obama after presidential debate

107. "There's a place in Hell reserved for women who don't support other women."
[video + transcript]

108. "Senator Obama doesn't understand ..."
[transcript]

109. "No coal plants here in America. Build 'em, if they're gonna build 'em, over there."
[video + commentary]

110. "We need a steady hand at the tiller."
[video]

111. "Here's what you do if you're running a campaign in the middle of an economic crisis.... You go back to Washington. You handle what you need to handle. Don't suspend your campaign! You let your campaign go on, shouldered by your vice-presidential nominee. That's what you do. You don't quit! Or is that really -- is that really a good thing to do?"
[video at 2:55]

112. "I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run four years ago."
[video]

113. "You like to pretend the war started in 2007."
[video] + [transcript]

114. "We'd be happy to get to Michigan and walk through those plants of the car manufacturers. We'd be so happy to get to speak to the people in Michigan who are hurting because the economy is hurting. I want to get back to Michigan and I want to try."
[story]

115. "The more I'm in public, the more I don't even want to pick my nose."
[video]

116. “I have to tell you, he is a decent person and a person that you do not have to be scared of as president of the United States.”
[video at 0:25] + [story]

117. "I can't trust Obama . . . . He's an Arab." "No, no, no ma'am, no ma'am, he's a decent family man, citizen, that I just happen to have disagreements with on fundamental issues."
[video at 0:50]

118. "Zero!" "Zero?!"
[video] (watch McCain's face)

119. "Health of the mother . . . that's the extreme pro-abortion position -- quote, 'health.'"
[video]

120. "Mark my words. It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. . . . Watch, we're gonna have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy. . . . Gird your loins."
[story]

Friday, October 24, 2008

Let me tell you about the awesome musicians I know, part 3: Polydream (with free mp3 downloads!)

Continuing with the shameless plugs for music being made by friends of mine, it's ... Polydream.
Polydream
That's them in the photo, which I took one afternoon by the lake in our hometown of Madison, Wisconsin.

Their drummer,
Brit Rice (top left in the photo), is someone I've played in a few different bands with over the years, not to mention countless random jam sessions and State Street outings.

As far as their music, think: U2, Coldplay, Tom Petty, Death Cab for Cutie.

You know -- clean, crisp, optimistic rock music. The anti-grunge!

Other influences they cite: "the sky, the world, life, ladies, love, mountains, being on mountains, newspapers, domestic and international issues, you."

You can download 2 Polydream songs for free:

1. The anthemic "Catch Me If You Can." (If you're using a PC, you can download the song by right-clicking the link and selecting "Save Target As." If you're using a Mac, "control"-click the link and select "Download Linked File.")

It's the kind of song that you hear and think: "Wait a minute, I can't believe that song hasn't always been around." That's a very good thing.

And it features a children's choir! So I give them points for incongruity.

2. "Hollywood." (If you're using a PC, you can download the song by right-clicking the link and selecting "Save Target As." If you're using a Mac, "control"-click the link and select "Download Linked File.")

This song is so packed with imagery, expression, and a sense of motion -- I always picture an animated cartoon accompanying the lyrics when I listen to it.

Like a few of their other songs, "Hollywood" almost sounds like country, which would be amusing if you knew these guys.

I've been repeatedly listening to their new album, Send Me to the Sun, which you can buy on iTunes (or buy a physical CD here). I'm obviously biased, but I mean this: if you listen to the two sample songs linked above and you enjoy them, you cannot go wrong getting the whole album. While there are no weird curveballs -- those two songs convey the overall feel of the album -- there also aren't any two songs that sound alike. There are no "duds," and I don't think there's even a single moment where they don't stay committed to their characteristic sincerity and uplift.

If you're interested in background info, interviews, or reviews, see their Wikipedia entry. And here's their MySpace profile, which has free streaming songs, etc.

--

I'm in a never-ending, years-long argument with Polydream's singer, Jon Knudson (the fellow in the red shoes up there), about his embrace of Naderism -- or, the refusal to support the party most capable of implementing your own policy preferences instead of an unattainable ideal.

I shouldn't really single Jon out. I had this debate with probably 20 or 30 friends in 2000, when most residents of the far-left town of Madison were considering if not outright supporting Ralph Nader. (You saw more Nader yard signs than Gore and Bush yard signs put together.)

You have their counterparts in Florida to thank for all the Bush administration's actions and inaction, and the missed opportunity to have an intelligent, environmentalist president who believes a woman has a right to choose what to do with her own body, believes that "gay men and women ought to have the same rights as heterosexual men and women," and would have appointed two of the nine Supreme Court justices if he'd served a full two terms. Yes, let's remember the actual contributions that have been made by the far left in America: you have them to thank for the United States' environmental policies of the past 8 years, tax cuts overwhelming slanted toward the rich, and the deaths of who-knows-how-many innocent people in the Iraq war.

To my friends who supported Nader in 2000: have you discerned the subtle differences between Bush and Gore yet?

Admittedly, this is a transparent ploy to get Jon to show up in the comments section.

Oh, and sorry, Polydream guys, to turn this post about your music into a political tirade.

But hey ... at least I plugged your band.

--

RELATED: Reality for Hillary Clinton supporters.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Could Kennedy v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court's child rape case, be overruled?

I was talking with _____, who had an idea for a creative response to the Supreme Court's decision in Kennedy v. Louisiana.

As a reminder, Kennedy was the case where the Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional to impose the death penalty on a defendant who's been convicted of raping a child, if the crime didn't result in death.

_____'s idea is about new legislation that could be enacted. The goal would be not to violate the holding in Kennedy, but to test its limits and possibly get it overruled. (I have _____'s permission to use the idea with the anonymous attribution.)

Before I get to the mechanics of how the idea could work, I want to be clear: there are many reasons why it's implausible that this would actually happen. So I don't mean this post to be a serious suggestion to anyone.

On top of that, I have no desire to see it happen. My view is: some people think it's already crossing the line just to execute anyone. Now, even if you don't take that position (i.e. if you support the death penalty), it seems like there should be some line that we can't cross. If we're going to have the death penalty, it seems like a good idea to say: we're not going to kill anyone unless that person killed someone. It's not that I deny that there are terrible people who deserve to die even though they didn't kill anyone; it's that if my government is going to be going around killing people, I want it to be tightly reined in by the clearest, most stringent principles. "An eye for an eye" is pretty clear. "An eye for anything that's arguably in the ballpark of the level of seriousness of an eye" sounds like a frighteningly expansive government power.

With that out of the way, here's the idea:

So, the Kennedy decision was based on various factors, but the main one was "evolving standards of decency" -- in other word's, America's (supposed) consensus on the issue of executing child rapists. According to the Court's majority opinion, a survey of the law in the jurisdictions that do allow the death penalty shows a "national consensus" that is "divided ... but, on balance, ... against it."

Now, it's open to question whether that's remotely accurate. Indeed, we now know that the Court was simply wrong on the facts when it comes to one pesky little jurisdiction: the federal government.

And I tend to cringe when the Supreme Court suddenly appoints itself supreme pollster of the American people's legal principles.

But that's what they said, so let's take it as a given.

Again, the Court looked at the specific statutes from each death-penalty state to discern a national consensus.

Doesn't that mean that if there were new statutes going the other direction, that the Court would have to reconsider?

"Oh, but now that the Court has already decided this case, you couldn't have new legislation going against it. The states can't choose not to obey the Supreme Court."

Well, I'm not talking about violating the Court's decision. Follow me here:

Death-penalty states could work together to draft uniform legislation, which each state would then pass, saying that they'll have the death penalty for child rape -- but with a twist.

Here's the twist: the statute may not be enforced until a sufficient number of states have passed this very legislation.

How many states would need to do this? I don't know -- that would have to be worked out. According to the Kennedy opinion, six states had laws authorizing the death penalty for child rapists. So let's say you had, oh ... 20 states adopting this sort of new legislation. Wouldn't that show an undeniable direction of change (to use the Supreme Court's phrase) of our "standards of decency" in the other direction, i.e. in favor of executing child rapists?

So the picture is this: you'd have state after state adopting this uniform legislation, but without anyone ever using it until they reached some magic number -- whatever number is specified by the law. Then, once that magic number is reached, a defendant could be sentenced to death for raping a child without causing death. This defendant would be very likely to petition the Supreme Court, and the Court would have a very strong basis for granting certiorari (i.e. choosing to hear the case).

The Supreme Court would then be faced with the argument: "You said it's based on evolving standards of decency. And you based this assessment on a survey of the relevant legislation in all states. Now there's new legislation that clearly indicates a sea change across the country. The rationale for Kennedy v. Louisiana no longer exists; therefore, it should be overruled."

Again, do I think this has the slightest chance of happening? No.

Do I want it to happen? Well, it'd be really cool if I could say that one of my blog posts led to a Supreme Court case ... but no.

In theory, though, I don't see why this isn't a wide-open possibility.

If _____ and I are right about that, then what does that say about how the Supreme Court decides its cases?


UPDATE: See the comments section over here for reactions to this post.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Overheard conversations in a diner and cafe

1. Dad and his daughter (about 6 years old):

Daughter: What's my maiden name?

Dad: You don't have a maiden name -- you're not married. No, your maiden name is the name you have now. And don't ever change it! Don't take a guy's name. Don't let him trick you into it.

2. Two female college students talking to each other, interrupted by an old man sitting at the other end of the counter:
Student (to other student): He told me I need to "invest" my money.

Man (calling out): Invest it in what?

Student: I have no idea!

Man: The best way to invest your money is put it in a coffee can and leave it there. I have a friend who had $7,000 and put it in a coffee container and left it there for 2 years -- best investment he ever made.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Let me tell you about the awesome musicians I know, part 2: Fort Wilson Riot

Yet another great band I know personally: Fort Wilson Riot.

Jacob Mullis was the frontman for our band in middle school and high school, and he now plays guitar for Fort Wilson Riot. He also does some singing, along with their female lead singer -- that's the two of them over there in the picture. (Nice depth of field!)

The live show for their last album was an extended theatrical performance. An "indie-rock opera," as they call it. Pretty ground-breaking stuff.

If you like St. Vincent, who I blogged about before, you should definitely give Fort Wilson Riot a listen.

My former bandmate is the bespectacled fellow in this video -- an exquisite minute-and-a-half of music that I've been having trouble getting out of my head:



That's an excerpt from their song "An Imagined Civil State." You can download the whole song for free here, and you can buy the whole album, Idigaragua, here.

To my Minnesotan readers (I know there are some of you out there): they play in Minneapolis on a regular basis. So if you're in the mood to see some interesting live music from a band you hadn't heard of before, here's your excuse ("Well, I saw this blog post about them, and...").

(Photo of Jacob and Amy by Alexa Jones, from Fort Wilson Riot's MySpace.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Live-blogging the last Obama vs. McCain presidential debate

Keep reloading for live updated commentary.




9:01 - Starting.

9:02 - Oh yeah, this is the "domestic policy" debate.

9:03 - A forced, perfunctory "good to see you again" from McCain to Obama, after McCain's been roundly criticized for his supposedly contemptuous demeanor toward Obama.

9:07 - I'm finding it impossible to focus on the recitations of their policy prescriptions. Does this stuff really sway anyone? ... Ah, this is more like it: a story about Joe, a plumber.

9:09 - Obama says, looking at the screen, "95% of ya out there will get a tax cut." This kind of thing seems to have been pretty effective: surprisingly, more voters think McCain than Obama will raise taxes on "people like you."

9:13 - The last 5 or 10 minutes have been all about Joe the Plumber. Apparently he's the new Joe 6-Pack.

9:17 - My mom says: "Generally, Obama seems much more fluid and complex, and McCain is wooden and overprepared, unwilling to react on the spot."

9:19 - McCain is back to his trusty "overhead projector" distortion from the second debate.

9:20 - McCain whips out a scripted attempted at a strong moment: "Senator Obama, I am not President Bush. If you wanted to run against President Bush, you should have run against him 4 years ago." [UPDATE: Here's the clip.]

(Note: quotes in this post are approximate, since I'm typing in real-time.)

9:22 - Obama boasts that he hasn't "made [himself] popular with environmentalists."

9:25 - Good question from Schieffer (after listing inflammatory quotes from both campaigns' ads): "Are each of you willing to sit across the table and say to each other's face what your campaigns have been saying?" McCain says he "regret[s] some of the negative aspects of both campaigns." Oh, and it's all Obama's fault for not agreeing to more town-hall debates.

9:27 - For the first time in the debates, McCain is bringing up Obama's breaking his pledge to accept public funding. "You broke your word."

9:28 - Responding to McCain's comment that Obama has spent more money on negative ads than any other campaign in history, Obama says: "100% of your ads have been negative!"

9:31 - Obama brings up the McCain fan yelling, "Kill him!" in the middle of a Palin speech, with no response from Palin.

9:33 - Ah, a twist! Obama is the first one to bring up Ayers, albeit allusively: "pals around with terrorists."

9:34 - McCain speaks out against "very unacceptable" t-shirts at Obama rallies.

9:36 - "Mr. Ayers has been the centerpiece of Senator McCain's campaign for the last 2 weeks." Obama gives the full-fledged defense of his association with Ayers -- excellent.

9:45 - Best word of the night: "cockamamie."

9:51 - McCain admires Obama's "eloquence." How nice of him. Kind of like Obama praising Palin for being a "capable politician."

9:53 - McCain is back to the "he doesn't understand" line against Obama, this time about Colombia trade policy. Obama: "Actually, I understand it pretty well ..." Oh, but how can that be? He's never traveled south of the border!

9:57 - Ramesh Ponnuru over at the Corner gives a snapshot of the conservative response to the debate: "A couple folks here have been saying that McCain is doing better than in the previous two debates. I wish it were true, but I just don't see it."

10:00 - McCain is back to the "fine" that he railed against in the previous debate. "He'll fine you!" McCain needs to know whether you'll fine Joe! Obama responds, looking straight at the camera: "Joe, if you're out there [!!!] ... here's your fine: zero!" McCain is taken aback. [UDPATE: Here's the clip.]

10:07 - McCain incorrectly says that Obama voted against Justice Breyer.

10:08 - The same old question about whether they'd apply a litmus test to Supreme Court nominees. The answer is always no.

10:12 - Obama: "If it sounds incredible that I would vote to withhold life-saving treatment from an infant, that's because it's not true."

10:16 - The last question is about education. That means it's time for both candidates to tell you how fundamentally important education is and how passionately they feel about it, and then proceed to sway not a single voter based on their education policies.

10:23 - McCain is frankly surprised that Obama didn't pay more attention.

10:26 - I know I'm going to base my vote on whether the Washington, DC school superintendent supports vouchers or charters -- aren't you?

10:27 - The closing statements.

10:28 - McCain has been stumbling over his words like crazy tonight.

10:28 - "There's a long line of McCains" who have served their country. That's the first time I've heard McCain invoke his aristocratic lineage. Is that really going to win over many voters?

10:31 - McCain to Obama right after the debate: "Good job! Good job! Good job!"

10:40 - That's it. We're almost there.

My mom, listening to the closing statements, says:

McCain sounds over-rehearsed and he stumbles over many things. He says "abased" for "based." I think he knows he hasn't done enough tonight. He hasn't rattled Obama, not enough anyway. Obama is doing his final statement now. It's not particularly interesting, but it's filling the space, and we're probably not listening, because we know, he's survived the final ordeal. He will be our President, I think, and I think they both know that.

Getting ready for the last Obama vs. McCain presidential debate

Go here for the live-blogging.


Other live-bloggers:





On the other hand...



(That's my mom and Ana Marie Cox, the founder of Wonkette.)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Crowd control

Glenn Reynolds, a.k.a. Instapundit, says (via my mom's blog):

So we've had nearly 8 years of lefty assassination fantasies about George W. Bush, and Bill Ayers' bombing campaign is explained away as a consequence of him having just felt so strongly about social justice, but a few people yell things at McCain rallies and suddenly it's a sign that anger is out of control in American politics? It's nice of McCain to try to tamp that down... but, please, can we also note the staggering level of hypocrisy here?
Does Reynolds (who's single-handedly responsible for a lot of the traffic this blog has received) really not see any distinction?

There might be a genuine parallel if McCain and Palin hadn't actively attempted to stoke hateful feelings toward Obama. But they have.

Or there might be a parallel if Obama had been conducting his campaign by insidiously playing on "lefty assassination fantasies." He hasn't.

Palin deliberately caused people to associate the word "terrorist" with "Obama." As just about everyone has now heard, she says Obama likes to "pal around" with terrorists and hang out in their "living room." The McCain campaign put out a press release last week referring to "the terrorist group founded by Barack Obama's friend William Ayers." Those are just a couple examples of many. While none of that is literally calling Obama himself a terrorist, any competent politician understands the effect of repeating two words or phrases together over and over. (See Bush's constant repetitions of "Saddam Hussein" and "September 11" in rapid succession.)

All of that rhetoric is carefully constructed to avoiding mentioning that Obama has only associated with Ayers long after he became a reformed, productive member of society. Even the lead prosecutor who prosecuted Ayers said, in a letter to the New York Times:
I am amazed and outraged that Senator Barack Obama is being linked to William Ayers’s terrorist activities 40 years ago when Mr. Obama was, as he has noted, just a child.

Although I dearly wanted to obtain convictions against all the Weathermen, including Bill Ayers, I am very pleased to learn that he has become a responsible citizen.

Because Senator Obama recently served on a board of a charitable organization with Mr. Ayers cannot possibly link the senator to acts perpetrated by Mr. Ayers so many years ago.
I've seen this ad in my web browser countless times (the screen shot is from this blog post):

McCain ad with face of Barack Obama next to President Ahmadinejad of Iran - Should we meet with dictators?
Clearly someone at the McCain campaign noticed that Obama and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have the same light-brown skin tone (if the lighting is just right) and that their faces are vaguely similar (at just the right angle, in carefully cropped photographs, etc.). Then that person decided to track down photos of them that would highlight this resemblance, and placed them right next to each other. I have to assume McCain knows what he's doing with this ad.

I know that many people who read this post will dismiss my suggestions. I understand that there's a deep human impulse to vehemently deny that subliminal messages are effective or even being attempted. The notion that our thoughts are susceptible to being manipulated makes people mad.

Keep in mind that the McCain campaign has been flinging the "terrorist" language at Obama for months and months (going back to the days when McCain used to have the nerve to say this out of his own mouth rather than cowardly saying it through his surrogates). The Obama/Ahmadinejad ad has also been showing up on the internet for months and months.

None of this is an accident.

If you use those kinds of images and buzzwords over and over, trying to firmly implant them in Americans' minds, you shouldn't be surprised if the language at your rallies starts to run along the lines of: "Terrorist!" "Kill him!" "We're scared, we're scared of an Obama presidency." "I can't trust Obama ... he's an Arab." And so on.



UPDATE 1: According to a commenter on my mom's blog responding to this post, I am "a very callow youth with a limited understanding of American political campaigns." I would like to respond to this, but I'm only 27 years old so I'm not smart enough to know whether he's right.

UPDATE 2: Lots of comments on this post (over 40 right now). Most are vigorously disagreeing with me. I always welcome vigorous disagreement.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Happy half-birthday to the Jaltcoh blog

It's October 12, which means it's now been exactly six months since my first post, on April 12.

That post contained something of a mission statement:

I want this to be a leisurely, contemplative blog, not a "Here's what's going on this second" blog. There's probably a greater excess of content in the world right now than at any previous point in history. We have a glut of content but a dearth of thought. I'm trying to correct the balance.

And as you can see from that statement, I'm also trying to avoid the false modesty that's rampant on the blogosphere. So many blogs pitch themselves as "random babblings" or "incoherent rants." Why all the self-deprecation? Anyway, I'll have none of that here! I either want to do this well or not do it all.
On that note of shameless self-promotion, here are some of this blog's vital stats at the six-month point:

Total posts: 108

Total words (not counting comments): over 74,000

Total visits: over 76,000

Total links to this blog: at least 139

Most commented-on:

Wordiest posts (just individual posts, not counting series):
Here's a word cloud based on all the content on this blog to date, created by wordle.net:

wordle word cloud for Jac jaltcoh blog
(Click here for the full-size version.)


To cap off the unabashed egotism of this post, here's some of the more gratifying feedback the blog has drawn in its first 6 months:
"Cohen's posts are well written, thoughtful, and provocative. Highly recommended."

"Hey there, this is my first time here, and let me say what a thoughtful and well written article that was. Outstanding! ... You are a brave person, perhaps braver than you realized, and I wish you well on your journey."

"Of those live-blogs I read, this is one of the more thoughtful, eclectic, real-time following of last night’s debate from the generalist perspective."

What a nice piece of Live-blogging, thank you very much Jac. I appreciate your acute comments, being overseas and too tired to stay awake to watch, I have a very sensible idea of what went on last night.

"This thread ... got the Princess thinking furiously about the relative advantages and disadvantages of being a man vs. being a woman..."

"John's post about gender rules and the disadvantages of being a man prompted me to stay up wayyyyyy too late last night reading and thinking about the topic..."

via email: "Just wanted to let you know that I explored your posts, and your links.... Please keep up the great work."

"The guy is a good thinker, and a good writer, on his own account. Jac and I don't agree (he will be voting for Obama), but from what I've read of his blog, he's a sane voice, as I hope to be."

"This was a great piece to read and remind me how fragile we all are, how kindly we should look on one another and how different the world could be with just a bit more attention to the how's and why's of our actions. Thanks for sharing."

"Fascinating"

"A fascinating argument"

"John, your premise has all the makings of a serious book on the topic, not some jumped-up Dr. Phil exploration, and I wish you luck should you delve further into it."

"My goodness. A tremendous, very well written, passionate post. ... I'm glad I was able to read it. Wow."

via email: "Keep up the good work, Glenn and I both love your blog." -- from Dr. Helen, referring to herself and Instapundit

Great, incredibly well-articulated post, by the way. <3
Thank you, everyone.

(Photo of me in Brooklyn this spring by my mom.)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Let me tell you about the awesome musicians I know, part 1: Locksley

For the next few Music Fridays, I'm going to plug some friends' bands. First... Locksley.

Locksley's old bassist, Aaron Collins (who left the band earlier this year but can be seen/heard in a lot of their music that's been released), used to come to my band's shows when we were in high school and watch my guitar playing to pick up ideas. So I have to take credit for the lion's share of their success.

And the drummer, Sam Bair, was our roadie long, long ago. Thanks for all your hard work, Sam!

They describe themselves as "Beatles mixed with modern garage rock," which is pretty accurate. You can hear a few of their songs on their MySpace profile.

My favorite song of theirs is "Don't Make Me Wait," which has been used in commercials for Payless and AT&T (according to their Wikipedia entry). I particularly like the subtle change in mood that you get in the bridge (the part beginning "Would you like a city by the sea?"). That little section of the song has a don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-it quality reminiscent of some of the Beatles' early songs. And I don't give out much better compliments than comparing people's songwriting to the Beatles.

Watch the ebullient video here:



Remember when rock music didn't have to be dark or ironic, and the fact that it made you feel good was good enough?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

"Who is your mom going to vote for?"

I've been asked that a few times.

My mom, who lives in Wisconsin, has been undecided for this whole presidential race.

If you're at all familiar with her blog, Althouse, you know she's been paying attention to the race every day and subjecting it to her famous "cruel neutrality." There's another blog that's been entirely devoted to keeping track of this since March: Monitoring the Cruel Neutrality. (For a little while there was even a blog keeping track of the blog that kept track of the cruel neutrality -- Monitoring Monitoring the Cruel Neutrality -- but that was ridiculous.)

Anyway, when she woke up yesterday morning, she decided to clarify her thoughts on who won the second presidential debate and how it might affect her vote.

And when she thought about that, she decided to give up her vow of cruel neutrality.

Oh, she still doesn't know who she's going to vote for. And she's still going to observe the race with neutrality.

But it won't be cruel neutrality anymore. It will be "slouchy neutrality," and it won't be based on a vow.

So, who won the debate for her?

She wasn't very impressed with McCain's performance.

And she wasn't very impressed with Obama's performance.

"But you see the trend, and the destination is almost inevitable."

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Live-blogging the second Obama vs. McCain presidential debate

Get ready! I'll be live-blogging tonight's debate in this post, so keep reloading for live updates.

UPDATE: The debate:




The New York Times not only has the full video, but also lets you search for any phrase, see a graph of when the phrase was said (and by whom), and jump right to that phrase in the video.


UPDATE: The debate in 10 minutes:




My pre-debate analysis.

Other live-bloggers (greyed-out links are obsolete):
9:02 - Starting!

9:06 - McCain walks over to the man who asked the first question and gets surprisingly close to him. He's pacing and self-consciously shifting his body position as mediocre actors often do.

9:10 - I can't remember seeing another debate with such an awkward note-taking set-up. I feel sorry for McCain having to reach over to that tiny table next to him.

9:11 - Yikes, McCain walks over to Obama and stands right in front of him while giving his answer.

9:15 - Obama gives a much more thorough answer to the man who asks how the bailout is going to help him.

9:16 - Strong moment from Obama: Brokaw asks, "Are you saying the economy is going to have to get worse before it gets better?" Obama: "No. I am confident about the economy."

(Disclaimer: since I'm doing this on the fly, the quotations in this post aren't necessarily verbatim, but I'm trying.)

9:19 - Obama grants an audience member's premise that both parties share the responsibility for the financial crisis.

9:20 - Obama: "I'm proposing more spending cuts than spending."

9:22 - McCain, showing his nervousness: "I have voted against excessive spending and outrageous." Outrageous what?

9:24 - McCain name-drops my old Senator (from when I lived in Wisconsin), Russ Feingold -- the actual "most liberal Senator" (besides Bernie Sanders).

9:25 - Josh Marshall asks: "Can't we have the angry McCain?"

9:27 - Obama will eliminate everything that doesn't work and make sure that everything that does work works even better. Sounds great!!

9:29 - McCain is really going after the anti-overhead-projector vote.

9:30 - I'll give McCain credit: he's probably giving the most impassioned, empathetic performance he has in him.

9:30 - Cringe-inducing word choice from Obama: "A lot of you remember the tragedy of 9/11..." He can safely assume we all remember.

9:34 - I think the town-hall format is flattering to both of them. Obama can be underwhelming in the conventional debates because he's soft-spoken (completely different from his speeches), so the more intimate, informal setting puts him in a better light. And everyone knows McCain loves town halls. Since the race is a zero-sum game, anything that "helps" both of them actually helps Obama and hurts McCain.

9:37 - Brokaw inappropriately refuses to let Obama rebut McCain's allegation about Obama's tax policy.

9:39 - Jon Cohn (not to be confused with me) says that CNN's instant graph of voter reactions to the debates seems to show that McCain's attack on Obama for excessive spending -- McCain's signature domestic issue -- got no response.

9:44 - We already heard from both candidates on nuclear power at the first debate, but McCain apparently thinks we need to hear more. At the first debate, Obama clearly said he's never been against nuclear power. (And he just said it again in this one.) So McCain knows he can't get away with outright saying Obama's against it. But he takes a more nuanced and sarcastic approach: "Senator Obama says he's for nuclear power but it has to be 'safe' ... or something like that..."

9:55 - Tom Brokaw asks: "Is health care in America a privilege, a right, or a responsibility?" Are single-word multiple-choice answers in a presidential debate simplistic, patronizing, or ridiculous?

10:01 - Obama reprises McCain's attack on him from the first presidential debate: "There are some things I don't understand..." [UPDATE: A theory.]

10:06 - Mickey Kaus says:
McCain rails against Obama's "$860 billion" in proposed "new spending," yet he just said he wants the government to buy up all the bad mortgages in the country, give all homeowners new purchase prices and protect them from their ill-advised decisions? Sounds expensive.
[UPDATE: McCain changed that proposal within 48 hours after the debate.

10:10 - A woman in the audience essentially asks both of them whether they agree with Obama's famous comment that he would order unilateral strikes against al Qaeda in Pakistan if necessary, which would seem to put McCain in an awkward position: either he doesn't answer her question, or he contradicts himself. He doesn't answer the question. Predictably, he takes the opportunity to falsely claim that Obama is in favor of "attacking Pakistan," which prompts a huge grin from Obama.

10:14 - Obama: "McCain wants you to think I'm green behind the ears ... he's somber and responsible ..." McCain: "Thank you very much!"

10:15 - McCain's defense of singing about bombing Iran: "I was joking with a veteran." That's why it helps to understand how the internet works -- if you're a presidential candidate, you are never just talking to someone; you're talking to America. And if you say things like that, you'll be talking to the world, because people around the world are going to see it. And they're going to draw their own conclusions without getting the benefit of McCain explaining it away with "context."

10:21 - Good point over at TNR:
McCain vows that he'll get bin Laden because "I know how to get him." If that's really the case, maybe he could just tell Bush when he gets home tonight? That would save some time.
10:24 - Brokaw: "Is Russia today an evil empire?" McCain: "Maybe!"

10:26 - All of the first 3 debates have included the phrase "stinking corpse."

10:27 - Obama needs to be coached to stop beginning so many of his answers with dead air while he thinks of what to say: "Uhhh ... ehhh ..."

10:29 - The last question "has a certain Zen-like quality, I'll give you fair warning. 'What don't you know, and how will you learn it?'" Obama: "Here is what I do know..." He's pulling Sarah Palin's trick from the VP debate: "What's your greatest weakness?" "Well, let me tell you about how experienced I am!"

10:34: Worst breaking-the-fourth-wall moment: Brokaw to Obama and McCain: Hey, you're blocking my teleprompter!

10:35 - It's over. In my pre-debate blogging earlier tonight, I wrote:
I assume McCain is going to flail away, trying to throw a bunch of guilt-by-association slime over Obama in a desperate attempt to avert electoral disaster.
I'm glad to know I was wrong.

Getting ready for the second Obama vs. McCain presidential debate

As I've done with the previous two debates, I'm planning on live-blogging tonight. Keep reloading this page for more updates.

---> UPDATE: Go to this post for the live-blogging.

I assume McCain is going to flail away, trying to throw a bunch of guilt-by-association slime over Obama in a desperate attempt to avert electoral disaster.

And I assume Obama is going to make sure to pointedly say: "He wants to slash Medicare."

Pre-debate analysis from others:

McCain's two narrow options tonight.

McCain's two challenges tonight:

[1.] Town halls invite civility. That's one of the reasons McCain proposed doing a series of town halls with Obama over the summer and fall. It was, his advisers know, his hope of conducting a different kind of campaign, one in which the two nominees might even share a meal after their joint performances. ... The irony now is that, when McCain finally gets Obama on the stage for a town hall style debate, the pressure on him is to discard his traditional instincts and go after his opponent. ...

[2.] The other challenge for McCain is finding ways to raise the questions he wants to raise about Obama during a debate in which the all-enveloping economic crisis demands serious attention and discussion by the candidates. Obama mocked McCain's campaign advisers on Monday for suggesting they wanted to turn the page on the economic crisis and move to character issues.
And watch out for that ponytail guy!

Here's a very useful device if you want to know which buzzwords the candidates use most often in the debates, and jump into the middle of the debate right when one of those buzzwords is being uttered: MSNBC's video player lets you do just that. You can do this with the two debates that have already happened (that link goes to the most recent debate -- there are links at the top to switch to a different debate). I assume they'll have tonight's debate posted later on, though presumably not live.

National Review's Andrew McCarthy is nervous about tonight:
This is McCain's shot — maybe his last one — to make his case to the country, not just look good to the immediate audience. He's got to speak above that audience to everyone who may be listening. If he doesn't get it done, the next debate might not matter. He's gotta understand: this could be it.

Monday, October 6, 2008

See the world: maps distorted to show information about countries

Worldmapper.org has hundreds of cartograms -- that is, maps with the countries' sizes distorted to illustrate information. (Via Metafilter.)

Below are a few of the more striking examples. (These are based on 2002 data unless stated otherwise.)

If there's a cartogram that particularly interests you, I recommend clicking on the graphic to go to the worldmapper.org page where I got it from -- each of those pages includes extremely accessible and informative blocks of text to clarify the information, plus links to the raw data.

First, the conventional map based on actual land area:




Now, distorted based on population:



(Note that many of the maps are basically about population, so you should compare those relative to the population map, not the conventional map. For instance, since India, with over a billion people, is huge in the population map, India tends to stick out in most of these maps.)


Projected population in the year 2300:




Population in the year 1500 (total world population: 438 million):




Scientific research (based on the percentage of scientific papers worldwide that were published in that country in 2001):





Patents (based on the percentage of all 312,000 patents granted annually in the world that were granted in that country):




Christians (based on the percentage of Christians living in that country) (click here for cartograms for individual denominations):




Muslims (based on percentage in that country):




Jews (based on percentage in that country):




Buddhists, Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs combined (based on percentage in that country) (click here for individual cartograms for each religion):




Atheists and agnostics combined (based on percentage in that country) (click here for individual cartograms for each group):




Alcohol and cigarette exports:




Alcohol and cigarette imports (click here and here for more imports and exports):




Carbon emissions in 2000:




1-to-4-year-old mortality (based on the the proportion of worldwide deaths of children aged 1-4 that occurred in that country):




Reductions in 1-to-4-year-old mortality over 32 years ("The map shows children aged 1 to 4 who did not die in 2002, where their counterparts in 1970 did."):




Landmine casualties (based on the percentage of all 7,000 landmine casualties in the world from 2003 to 2005 that occurred in that country):




Post-WWII deaths in war (1945 to 2000):




Murders ("sized in proportion to the absolute number of people who died from violence in one year"):




HIV/AIDS deaths (based on the percentage of the world's 2.9 million HIV/AIDS deaths occurring in that country in one year):




Malaria deaths (based on the percentage of the world's million-or-so malaria deaths occurring in that country in one year):




Poverty (based on the percentage of poor people worldwide who live in that country) (see the links near the bottom of this page if you want to know how they calculate poverty):




Government contribution to international food aid (based on the percentage each country's government contributed to worldwide aid in 2005):




Again, there are hundreds more at this worldmapper.org webpage.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Older albums I've been listening to, part 2 -- weird music edition

Continuing from last Music Friday, here are some more oldie-but-goodie albums I've acquired recently:

John McLaughlin -- My Goal's Beyond -- He's a hugely revered jazz guitarist whose music I haven't paid much attention to because it's always seemed like outdated, pompous "fusion" to me. But I just got this 1970 album, and it's fantastic. Unusual combination of acoustic jazz guitar and Indian music.

Stereolab -- Emperor Tomato Ketchup -- They were always one of those bands that I sort of wanted to like but never really got into. So I recently broke down and got this album. If you don't have any of their stuff, consider picking this up -- it seems like the only Stereolab album you'd ever need. You've gotta respect a band that's a whole genre unto itself:



Sonic Youth -- Dirty (deluxe edition) -- This is a reissue of what may be the greatest album from one of the most important bands of the last 20 years. You get the original album + B-sides + instrumental rehearsal tracks (this is more than double the length of the original release). I mostly got it for the instrumental tracks, since I've always been more interested in what Sonic Youth does with their instruments than the actual songs. It's hard for me to imagine a more primal expression of what-made-alternative-rock-great than Dirty Sonic Youth jams.

Television -- Marquee Moon -- It took me a long time to get around to giving these guys a fair hearing, but they're mandatory listening for anyone who has any interest in anything that could remotely be described as "indie" or "alternative" or anything like that. It's hard to imagine Of Montreal without this band. I give them a lot of credit for planting the seeds of rock music as we know it today, back in that seminal year of 1977.

Talking Heads -- The Name of This Band Is Talking Heads -- Absolutely essential live album by what must have been a great live band. Rock bands today are still making music in the spirit of Talking Heads: Of Montreal, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Architecture in Helsinki, Yeasayer, Hot Chip, and so many more. But they don't do it quite like this anymore:

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Live-blogging the vice-presidential debate - Sarah Palin vs. Joe Biden

Click here to jump down to the live-blogging.

UPDATE: The debate:



UPDATE: The debate in 10 minutes (thanks to TalkingPointsMemo):




Other live-bloggers



Pre-debate points

1. I'm expecting a comeback. The expectations are so abysmally low for Palin that it's hard to imagine she won't impress.


2. What should you eat during the debate? Here are some suggestions.

My favorites (I usually go out of my way not to promote meat on the blog, but these are too good not to use):
  • Lipstick (Ketchup) on a Pig in a Blanket

  • Sloppy Joe

  • Put some white Russians on the other side of a window. Close enough to see but not close enough to know anything about how they actually taste.


3. This debate is taking place in the shadow of seriously bad news for the McCain campaign today.

In addition to the McCain campaign's general doldrums and the various Palin embarrassments, the state of the race changed today -- Politico reports:
John McCain is pulling out of Michigan, according to two Republicans, a stunning move a month away from Election Day that indicates the difficulty Republicans are having in finding blue states to put in play.

McCain will go off TV in Michigan, stop dropping mail there and send most of his staff to more competitive states...

A McCain aide confirmed the move and chalked it up to the state's Democratic tilt and the resources Obama had put in place there.

Now, you might say: "He's just moving his resources from one state to other states, so couldn't that be a wash?"

Well, no. Michigan is special. According to fivethirtyeight.com, which specializes in crunching the poll data and predicting elections, there's almost no chance (less than 10%) that either candidate could lose Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Michigan but win the election.

And where is he increasing his resources? The above-linked article mentions a few states, but this seems especially significant:
[T]he McCain campaign also announced yesterday that he's adding a dozen new offices in Virginia, where Obama has gained in recent days. If nothing else, Obama is forcing McCain to spend more money in a state that hasn't voted for a Dem for president for 44 years -- LBJ in 1964.

Big things happening.

I emailed A____, who lives in Michigan, about this development, and he emailed back this dispatch:
it's actually pretty shocking now that i think about it. we've been absolutely bombarded with McCain stuff even before Hillary conceded. my sense is that the poll numbers probably paired poorly with what have been absolutely MASSIVE voter registration drives in A2 [Ann Arbor] and Detroit...you literally cannot walk more than two blocks here without running into someone with a clipboard.

4. As far as the speculation about whether Joe Biden will be sufficiently "respectful" in how he interacts with Sarah Palin, I don't have much to add to what Tena Hollingsworth, had to say in the Talking Points Memo comments section today (in response to this report about how they're prepping Biden):

This coaching of Biden cause she's woman?

Sexist.

Just treat her like anyone else- that was the point that we women fought for.

This is so stupid.

Schrodingers Cat responds:
Couldn't agree more. Any woman who would stand back and say "Biden is picking on Palin" is an idiot. Did you hear anyone say "Biden was picking on Giuliani" after his famous quip?

If women expect to be treated equally in this society then we need to get over the victim-thing. Women shouldn't demand to play this game and then be expected to be treated differently. If you're a woman and you ... attack your opponent, you should expect the same in return.
Tena responds:
I'm so glad you agree. Frankly this ticks me off because I see it as a full on set back for women. Thank you Sarah for making us look different and stupid and in need of help from men.

I'm thrilled about it.

9:02 - Starting!

9:03 - They both tell each other, "Nice to meet you." I guess they'd never met.

9:05 - Biden is kind of hanging his head, and he's not making good eye contact. And like Obama in the first debate, he's talking a bit too fast. Nervous. 

9:06 - One of the first words out of Palin's mouth is "barometer," and she uses it a couple times in her first answer. Probably a poor choice of words, not based on meaning but just sound -- Barack Obameter!

9:09 - If this is about eye contact, Palin is winning.

9:09 - Both of them have sent the message loud and clear in the first 10 minutes: they really respect each other.

9:10 - Palinism: Darn right it was the predator lenders!

9:10 - Palin could hardly be coming across as more poised and confident so far.

9:13 - Again: Darn right we need tax relief!

9:13 - Even as an Obama supporter and no fan of Palin, I'm finding it hard not to root for her after everything she's been through in the last few weeks.

9:14 - Biden accuses Palin of using "a bogus standard" for gauging tax cuts, and says quite firmly that she was wrong in her previous answer. Glad to see that he's not afraid to debate her the way he would any other candidate. [As another example, a few minutes later he begins a rebuttal to Palin, "I don't know where to start!"]

9:15 - Palin: "I may not answer the questions the way you or the moderator want to hear..." Take that, Gwen Ifill!

(Note that I'm just writing down quotes as I go along, so the quotes in this post aren't necessarily accurate.)

9:20 - Biden clearly noticed that even though McCain doesn't usually give policy specifics, you can find them out on his website!

9:21 - Ifill notes that neither Obama nor McCain "quite answered" Jim Lehrer's question last week about what they'll have to change about their proposed policies in light of the financial crisis.

9:23 - Palin: One nice thing about running with McCain is that he doesn't tell one thing to one group and then another thing to another group. Oh, really?

9:27 - Palin is against corruption and greed on Wall Street.

9:33 - Apparently, each debate has one incongruous sexual word to jolt you to attention. In the first presidential debate: "orgy." In this debate: "raping."

9:34 - Needless to say, Palin is happy to be talking about energy.

9:35 - "Senator O'Biden!"

9:37 - Biden says -- correctly -- that the Constitution requires treating opposite-sex couples the same as same-sex couples.

9:38 - Palin is conspicuously brief in noting that she doesn't want to overly expand the definition of marriage, not even specifying what would be going too far. But she says no one would even propose limiting hospital visitation or any other such rights. Huh? I'm not sure how this isn't a bald-faced lie.

9:40 - Biden responding to Palin's answer on Iraq: "With all due respect, I didn't hear a plan."

9:42 - Unfortunate phrasing from Biden: "The only odd man out on Iraq is John McCain." (Are there any odd women out? Like, maybe...the one who's standing...right across from you...)

9:44 - Biden laughs warmly at Palin's remark that Biden once said he'd be happy to run against or with McCain.

9:44 - "John McCain voted to cut off funding for the troops. Let me say that again..." And you know he will.

9:47 - Palin says "nucular." If that's her worst gaffe tonight, it's a small miracle.

9:50 - Biden: "That's just simply not true about Barack Obama. He did not say he'd sit down and meet with Ahmadinejad..." Again, Biden is giving his normal debate performance and not holding back from criticizing Palin. Good for him.

9:52 - Palin is against a second Holocaust.

9:52 - Palin gives an extra ounce of pizzazz: "Build that embassy in Jerusalem!"

9:55 - Palin is glad to agree with Biden on Israel. Should Obama run an attack ad based on this admission?

9:55 - Biden, stop the sighin'!

9:58 - My mom was probably right when she said, about half an hour ago:
I'll bet a lot of people are tuning out about now, satisfied that Palin is competent and smart, but pretty bored.
10:03 - Someone should have coached Biden that when he mentions his work with Dick Lugar, it's not too effective to just say he "worked with Dick Lugar!" Many Americans are not a walking "Who's Who" of Republican members of Congress.

10:04 - Palin: "Oh, man, it's so obvious that I'm a Washington outsider and just not used to the way you guys operate!" And then, Biden pats down his brow. On sheer theatrics, Palin definitely won that moment.

10:07 - Palin tells us that tomorrow we'll find out which of them was right about Biden's position on Iraq because the "pundits" will tell us! So I guess she trusts the media elites on some things.

10:08 - Responding to Ifill's question about the possibility of Obama dying in office, Biden avoids becoming the next Michael Dukakis.

10:10 - Palin on her differences with McCain: "Whatdaya expect -- we're a team of mavericks! ... I'm gonna keep pushing him on ANWR." This is after she repeatedly raked Biden over the coals for arguable differences Biden has had with Obama. So I guess it's OK if the running mate and nominee disagree, as long as they ... what? Do it with a certain "can-do" attitude?

10:12 - "Oh, there you go, Joe ... now doggone it! ... I know your wife is a schoolteacher -- now God bless her, her reward is in Heaven!" Palin is going into Palin-overdrive!

10:18 - Palin apparently missed the fact that Ifill was asking her not whether her experience is valuable, but what her "real Achilles' heel" is.

10:19 - Palin used to not have health insurance, so she knows what that's like. Well, that's the problem with the excessive focus in this race on empathy. Anyone can have it. It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with your policies.

10:21 - Biden starts to choke up talking about how even though he's a man, he knows what it's like to raise kids on his own (which he did after his first wife died). [Added: Video -- near the end of this short clip.]

10:23 - Biden on McCain: "I love him!" The McCain attack ad practically writes itself!

10:24 - Biden on McCain: "Maverick he is not." Syntax Biden has.

10:30 - Palin gently alludes to the enormous disparity between her performance in interviews and in this very debate: "I like being able to talk directly to the American people, without the filter of the media telling people what they're about to hear."

10:33 - Biden ends on a chilling note, referring to the fact that both he and Palin have sons who are being deployed to Iraq: "To be selfish for both of us, may God protect our troops."

10:34 - Palin to Ifill right after the debate: "'Preciate that! That was very helpful!"

10:34 - OK, so she's not that bad...