Saturday, December 31, 2016

Remembering those who died in 2016

Here are most of the 2016 obituaries I posted to Facebook, grouped into categories but otherwise in no particular order.

They’re almost all from the New York Times, whose obituaries are excellent and life-affirming.

Some of the people on this list I love and care about; one I worked for; some I have mixed feelings about; some I’m not that interested in but respect how much they meant to their fans; a couple I hate; and many I simply hadn’t heard of before reading their obituaries. But I took away something meaningful from just about all of these posts, and I hope you do too.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

November 2016: The New Normal

On Wednesday, the day after Election Day, in New York City (where both candidates gave their post-election speeches), the sky was cloudy and dark. The next day, it was sunny and warm for a November day.

As I watched the results come in on Tuesday night and gradually realized that it was not just a close election that would take a while before we saw the seemingly inevitable win for Hillary Clinton, but that Donald Trump had won decisively, I felt physically ill. I couldn't process the news. Calling the election an "upset" seemed to have a cruel double meaning. How could my country have elected a leader so odious and unqualified?

Encountering people on the street on Wednesday felt awkward, all of us aware of our national embarrassment. We heard reports of hate crimes committed by Trump supporters (some of which turned out to be hoaxes) and fears that America would descend into an authoritarian dystopia where overt bigotry runs rampant. Democrats and Republicans who had opposed Trump started thinking of charities to donate to and volunteer work to do, as if to offset the election results.

On the same day, we heard Hillary Clinton and President Obama speak about the news in an optimistic, level-headed way. The next day, the current and future presidents met for the first time and started working on the transition to the Trump administration. This is the new normal.

Accepting this will not mean acquiescing to everything, or even most things, that President Trump says or does. We should subject him to merciless scrutiny and criticism, just as we should with any other president. In fact, that will be possible only if we accept that he is legitimately the 45th President of the United States, and the time for protesting Trump's holding this office has passed. If you drown out any discussion of the specifics of his presidency with the familiar refrains that he's abnormal, racist, sexist, etc., you'll remove yourself from the realm of productive debates about the president.

Amid all the national squabbling about Trump that's been going on since June 16, 2015, a few indisputable facts stand out:

Trump said he'd run for president, and it was widely derided as something that would never happen, or, once he officially announced, as a short-lived publicity stunt.

Trump was right.

Trump said he'd win the Republican nomination, and virtually everyone said that wouldn't happen: he had a "hard ceiling" of support far below 50%, and eventually the rest of the field would narrow down to one main challenger who'd emerge as a consensus nominee.

Trump was right.

Trump said he'd win the presidency, and virtually every pundit said this was highly unlikely for any number of reasons: Clinton was ahead in the polls; she was the only one with a serious ground game; Trump had generally bombed the debates; his unfavorable rating was the highest of any presidential candidate in American history and especially bad with women and Hispanics; and it simply seemed implausible that such a person could ever be elected president.

Trump was right.

And he didn't win the election by just one state, as the most recent Republican president did twice. Trump apparently won Michigan, which was considered a blue state, and he won Pennsylvania, which was considered technically a swing state but with the footnote that no Republican candidate had won it since the '80s.

Trump has been wrong about many things. But on his ability to achieve his presidential goals, he's been more right than just about anyone else.

Of course, you might not want him to achieve his goals for his presidency.

But look at his long list of plans for his first 100 days in office. Some I disagree with, like tax cuts. Some are reiterations of unrealistic campaign themes, like getting Mexico to pay for a wall. Some I can't judge yet, like a vague promise to reduce corruption in Washington.

But some . . . actually seem like they just might be good ideas, like more school choice and streamlining the FDA's approval of medications.

And none of them involve turning America into a fascist dictatorship, forcibly removing citizens from the country, systematically violating due process, instituting apartheid, or squelching free speech.

It would be naive to expect any president to succeed in implementing all the best-sounding parts of their agenda. But if Trump is claiming he'll accomplish a number of things that sound like decent ideas, he might turn out to be right.

Let's wait and see. Let's give him a chance. And let's react to the particular things he does or doesn't do when he's in office, instead of unproductively agonizing over the general notion of him as president . . . as strange and troubling as that might be.

How should Democrats respond to Gary Johnson and Jill Stein supporters?

People say Hillary Clinton is such a good listener, and she may well be. But did she ever listen to Gary Johnson or Jill Stein or their supporters? I'm sure she'd agree that she had to work hard for every single vote. She wasn't entitled to anyone's vote. The fact that people like me voted for Gary Johnson (after voting for Gore, Kerry, and Obama) is meaningful. Instead of lashing out at us for how we cast our votes, listen to us and try to absorb what we were saying when we looked at "Clinton" and "Trump" on the ballot and said: "Neither, thanks."

Think about this: a candidate as bumbling as Johnson, who was ignored by the mainstream media except when there was a story that allowed the media to ridicule him for supposedly not knowing about the world, did far better than any other Libertarian candidate in history. That should send a message.

If you're a Democratic candidate or working for one, try to do better next time. You may think you tried as hard as possible this time. But the Democratic party didn't bother to oppose the worst excesses of the Obama administration — the Libya war, the drone war which could inspire more terrorists, the erosion of Americans' privacy, the expansive theories of executive power. Stop and think about the efficiency of markets and the appropriate limits of government, instead of seeing every problem as one to be solved by government.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The popular vote doesn't matter

It doesn't matter that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote, just as it didn't matter that Al Gore won the popular vote.

In both cases, I would have preferred the Democrat over the Republican. But I lost, and I can only accept the results of the election — just as so many people were urging Donald Trump to do if he lost. The same people would have been outraged if Trump had refused to accept the results after winning the popular vote but losing the Electoral College.

If you want to switch from the Electoral College to a popular-vote system, put your money where your mouth is. Do the hard work of lobbying for a constitutional amendment. This would take a long time, and you'd have no assurance that it would end up favoring candidates you happen to like. But it would be more effective than ad hoc complaints about the results of a particular election.

There is no such thing as "winning" the popular vote, because you can only "win" under existing rules. If we play chess and you capture my king, you win the whole game — end of story. If I capture more of your pieces in total, I don't "win" the plurality of pieces; I don't win anything. If I had wanted to be able to claim that as a win, I would have needed to reach an agreement with you before starting the game that our goal would be capturing as many pieces as possible — in which case, it's anyone's guess who would have won.

If we had switched to a popular-vote system right before this presidential race started, Trump and Clinton could have changed their get-out-the-vote strategies; Trump could have appealed to large numbers of conservatives and independents in places like California and New York; and Clinton could have appealed to liberals and independents in places like Austin and New Orleans. The candidates might have taken different positions on the issues, or emphasized different issues. And the unpredictability goes beyond that: we don't even know who would have been nominated if primary voters had been trying to choose a candidate who'd receive a plurality of individual votes. For that matter, we don't know if Trump and Clinton would have run for president, or if additional candidates like Elizabeth Warren or Joe Biden would have resisted the outpouring of pleas for them to run.

Any discussion of a candidate receiving a "win" or "victory" in the 2016 popular vote exists only in the realm of hypothetical alternative history, and has no bearing on the rightful winner in the real world. The only thing the candidates were trying to do was to win the Electoral College, so that's the only fair basis for judging their results.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Why did Democrats allow Hillary Clinton to coast to the nomination?

I've never understood it. Her only strong competition was a cranky, ill-informed 75-year-old self-proclaimed socialist yelling about revolution. The problem wasn't a lack of available alternatives: liberals pleaded with Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden to run, but for some reason, they didn't, even knowing they're old enough that this decision would probably close the door on ever becoming president. And it's hard to believe Tim Kaine didn't consider running, after being vetted by Obama in 2008.

In the end, Hillary Clinton proved herself to be a painfully mediocre candidate. It's one thing to lose toss-up states like Florida and Ohio, but the fact that she lost Pennsylvania and Michigan speaks volumes. This happened even though her campaign was far better funded and she was believed to be the only candidate with a serious get-out-the-vote operation.

When you consider how she failed at mastering the delegate game in the 2008 primaries, then went on to win her party's nomination only with bizarrely weak competition (and more narrowly against Bernie Sanders than anyone had excepted), then lost the general election to a historically unqualified candidate, the conclusion is clear: Hillary Clinton is an unmitigatedly bad politician. As she openly admitted during the campaign, she lacks the political gifts of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama. It's great that she's self-aware enough to realize that, but why didn't the Democratic Party as a whole realize it before it was too late?

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Quick thought on Trump

If America is addicted to Donald Trump, are we ready to go through withdrawal on November 9?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Live-blogging the last presidential debate of 2016

I'll be live-blogging the debate here.

As usual, I'll be doing this without a pause/rewind button, so any quotes might not be verbatim, but I'll try to keep them reasonably accurate, and I might go back and correct some of them later.

You can find more live-blogging at National Review and TPM.

9:06 — The first question is about the Supreme Court. Hillary Clinton is asked whether the Constitution is a "flexible, living document." She says we need a Supreme Court to "stand up" for women's rights by not reversing Roe v. Wade, "stand up" for gay rights by not reversing marriage equality, and "say no to Citizens United," which has "undermined the election system in our country."

9:08 — Donald Trump criticizes Justice Ginsburg for criticizing him. As for the Constitution, he predictably emphasizes the Second Amendment. He'd nominate a Justice with a "pro-life," with a "conservative bent," who'll interpret "the Constitution the way it was meant to be" (note the past tense, implying it's not a "living document").

9:11 — The moderator, Chris Wallace, asks Clinton "what's wrong" with DC v. Heller, the Supreme Court decision that said individuals have a right to bear arms, which can be "reasonably limited." She admits that she disagreed with the specific outcome in Heller, but she is in favor of the Second Amendment.

9:13 — Trump says Clinton was "extremely angry" about the "well-crafted" decision in Heller, and "people who believe in the Second Amendment" were upset with her. Clinton notes that Trump is "strongly supported by the NRA," and Trump wonders if she was being "sarcastic" about that.

9:15 — Trump is asked if he wants to see Roe v. Wade overruled. He initially dodges the question by saying that if it's overruled, the abortion issue will be decided by the states. But then he admits that he'd nominate Justices who'd overrule Roe.

9:18 — Clinton is asked why she "voted against a ban on partial-birth abortion." She starts out legalistically, by talking about the holding of Roe, but then gets more emotional, by saying late-term abortions are "often the most heart-breaking, painful decisions."

9:19 — Trump gives a graphic description of a partial-birth abortion being performed on the day before the birth was scheduled. "Using that kind of scare rhetoric is just terrible unfortunate." She strikes a rare libertarian note by talking about how "the government" shouldn't make this decision — she's been to countries where the government forced women to get abortions (China), or to give birth.

9:22 — On immigration, Trump says: "We have some bad hombres here!" "We're getting the drugs; they're getting the cash."

9:24 — Clinton says Trump has said, as recently as a few weeks ago, that "every undocumented person would be subject to deportation," which "would rip our country apart." But she'd deport "any violent person."

9:25 — Clinton says that when Trump met with the President of Mexico, he "choked," then "got into a Twitter war." Trump calls it a "very good meeting" — "very nice man."

9:26 — Trump: "Hillary Clinton fought for the wall in 2006. She never gets anything done, so naturally the wall wasn't built." Clinton says she voted for "border security," but Trump interjects that this included "a wall." Clinton comes back with another hypocrisy charge: Trump "exploited undocumented workers."

9:29 — Chris Wallace quotes a leak from Wikileaks saying that she said in a speech, for which she was paid $225,000, that her "dream" is an "open market" with "open borders." Clinton initially says something about how energy is a global market, and then shifts to focusing on Russia's role in the leak — Trump "encouraged espionage against our people." Trump: "That was a great pivot off the fact that she wants open borders. . . . People are going to pour in from Syria."

9:32 — Trump, who seems to be on top of his game (apparently benefiting from his increased preparation before this debate), says: "I don't know Putin. He said nice things about me. If we got along well, that would be great." But Clinton says Putin's "choice in this election is clear." Trump retorts: "Putin has outsmarted her and Obama at every step of the way!" When Clinton says Putin wants Trump installed as a puppet, Trump shouts at Clinton: "No puppet! You're the puppet!"

9:35 — Clinton excoriates Trump for his "cavalier" statements about nuclear weapons, quoting him as saying, "If we have them, why don't we use them," which is "terrifying." "When the president gives the order" to launch nukes, "it must be followed." Trump responds harshly, by saying Clinton has "been proven to be a liar" — "this is just another lie."

9:38 — Both candidates our asked why their economic plan "will create more jobs and growth," and their opponent's won't. Clinton reels off her same economic proposals she's listed in the previous debates. "We're going to go where the money is," i.e. tax the wealthy, because "most of the gains have been at the top. In contrast, Trump would give "the biggest tax breaks ever" to the wealthy and corporations, which would be "trickle-down economics on steroids."

9:40 — Trump says Clinton's plan would "double your taxes," and "President Obama's regime" has "doubled our national debt." As for his own plan, Trump emphasizes how we're losing out to other countries, like Japan, and how he'd somehow cause "off-shored" money to come back to the US.

9:44 — Chris Wallace asks Clinton if her plan is just "more of the Obama stimulus," which "led to the slowest GDP growth since 1949." Trump interjects: "Correct!" After an awkward pause, Wallace dryly responds:  "Thank you, sir."

9:46 — Wallace tells Trump: "Even conservative economists who have looked at your plan have said the numbers don't add up" — his projections on economic growth and energy are "unrealistic." Trump doesn't defend the specifics of his plan, but makes broad statements about how China's growth has been much better than America's.

9:50 — Trump says Clinton "totally lied" in an earlier debate when she denied calling TPP "the gold standard." Clinton comes back: "The Trump hotel right here in Las Vegas is made of Chinese steel. So he goes around with crocodile tears . . ." Trump tries to turn the tables by blaming this on the lack of laws against it: "Make it impossible to do that! I wouldn't mind!" Trump concedes: "The one thing you have over me is more experience — but it's bad experience." Clinton seizes on the opportunity to recount her "30 years of experience" with what Trump was doing at the time, including calling Miss Universe "an eating machine."

9:52 — Trump somehow brings the topic around to foreign policy (which the moderator hasn't raised): "She gave us ISIS, which came out of a yuge vacuum."

9:53 — Wallace asks Trump why so many women have recently come forward to accuse him of sexual misconduct, and asks Clinton about the fact that even worse allegations have been made against her husband. Trump says: "Those stories have been largely debunked. . . . I have a feeling it was her campaign that did it."

9:55 — Clinton starts out not by answering Wallace's question about Bill Clinton, but by attacking Trump: "Donald thinks belittling women makes him bigger."

9:57 — Trump: "Nobody has more respect for women than I do." The audience laughs. Trump changes the subject to Clinton's emails, without pointing out that she didn't answer the question about Bill Clinton.

9:59 — Clinton, her voice breaking, talks about Trump's "dark and . . . dangerous vision of our country, where he incites violence . . . where people are pulling and pushing at his rallies."

10:00 — Clinton is asked whether she really kept her pledge to avoid "even the appearance of impropriety" with respect to the Clinton Foundation, when donors seem to have gotten "special access" to the State Department. She said the Clinton Foundation allowed millions of people with HIV/AIDS to get treatment, but Wallace cuts off, pointing out that that hasn't answered the question about the "pay to play" allegations. When Clinton starts responding (though I don't think she ever answered the question about the Clinton Foundation), Trump aggressively interrupts, saying: "It's a criminal enterprise! . . . These are people who push gays off buildings and treat women horribly, yet you take their money."

10:03 — Clinton points out that the Trump Foundation spent some of its funds on "a 6-foot-tall portrait of Donald. Who does that?!" Trump insists that 100% of the Trump Foundation's funds go to charity, and that he gets nothing except "the right to put up an American flag." Clinton, smiling at the wide-open opportunity he's handed her, says: "Of course, there's no way to know whether any of that is true, because he hasn't released his tax returns!"

10:07 — Trump is asked if he'll "make a commitment that [he] will absolutely accept the results of this election." Trump refuses to make any pledge: "I'll look at it at the time. . . . Millions of people are registered to vote who shouldn't be able to vote." Wallace bears down on our tradition of "peaceful transfers of power," no matter how fought the election is, but Trump won't budge: "I'll keep you in suspense!"

10:10 — Clinton points out that Trump has a history of calling things "rigged" when they go against him — even when he lost the Emmys 3 years in a row. Trump: "Should have gotten it!"

10:12 — Wallace asks if either candidate would use ground troops in Mosul, Iraq, if ISIS leaves. Clinton apparently supports continuing Obama's policies, but is against ground troops. Trump makes his usual point that we shouldn't announce our military operations in advance, then brings up Obama's infamous "red line" comment about Syria and chemical weapons.

10:19 — Wallace asks Trump about the fact that in the last debate, he said "several things that were not true" about Aleppo, Syria. I missed the specific inaccuracies, but Trump doesn't admit to any of them. Instead, he focuses on Clinton: "If she had done nothing, we'd be in much better shape!"

10:24 — When Clinton talks about how she'd have "thorough vetting" of Syrian refugees, Trump squints and slowly nods, which seems to be a subconscious mistake.

10:26 — Next topic is the national debate. Wallace asks: "Why are you both of you ignoring this problem?" After Trump answers, Clinton points out that Trump "has been criticizing our government for decades. "I wonder when he thought America was great!"

10:31 — Trump is asked if he'd consider a "grand bargain on entitlements" — Social Security and Medicare. He dodges the question by talking about how his other policies would help the economy: tax cuts and repealing Obamacare. Clinton says repealing Obamacare would make the problem worse. Trump: "Your husband disagrees with you!"

10:34 — In the last segment of the last debate, Wallace says the candidates didn't agree to a "closing statement," but he goes ahead and asks each of them for a 1-minute statement of why we should vote for them. Clinton makes her usual points about "rising incomes" and appealing to all Americans. Trump says his usual points about veterans (who are "treated worse than illegal immigrants"), police, "the inner cities," etc.

10:37 — At the end, Clinton goes over to shake the moderator's hand, and then Trump shakes the moderator's hand too. The candidates don't shake each others' hands.

Winner: Chris Wallace

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Live blogging the "town hall" presidential debate of 2016

I'll be live-blogging the debate here.

Of course, this will be the first debate since the public heard Donald Trump's 2005 comments about how he approaches women he finds attractive.

Earlier this evening, Trump had a public appearance, which he called a "debate prep," with women who have accused former President Bill Clinton of sex offenses. Apparently, they'll all be in the debate audience.

As usual, I'll be doing this without a pause/rewind button, so any quotes might not be verbatim, but I'll try to keep them reasonably accurate, and I might go back and correct some of them later.

More live-blogging at TPM and National Review.

9:06 — An audience member asks both candidates if they think they're "modeling appropriate and positive behavior for today's youth." Hillary Clinton goes first. "Our country is great because we're good." She emphasizes her "positive and optimistic view" of what the country can do, and overcoming "divisiveness." This is a bland answer; she doesn't take the opportunity to attack Trump explicitly. Donald Trump also starts his answer to the same question in a positive way: "I agree with everything she said!" Then he segues into some of his standard points about Obamacare, the Iran deal, the deficit, and inner cities — none of which answers the question.

9:10 — Anderson Cooper reminds us of the question, and brings up the tape: "You described kissing women without consent, grabbing their genitals — that is sexual assault." Trump denies saying that or ever doing "those things" (Cooper's words). Trump says he was "embarrassed" and "apologized" to his family and the American people, then pivots to talking about ISIS chopping off heads.

9:13 — Clinton responds: "What we all saw and heard on Friday was Donald talking about ... what he thinks about women, what he does to women. . . . I think it's clear to anyone who heard it that it represents exactly what he is. Because we have seen this throughout the campaign. We have seen him insult women. We have seen him rate women from 1 to 10." She then connects this to Trump targeting "Muslims, immigrants, people with disabilities, POWs." She says "America is already great" — an obvious rejoinder to Trump's slogan, "Make America great again" — and repeats her statement about America being "great" by being "good."

9:16 — Trump has a weak rebuttal: "It's just words, folks. It's just words." [Video of the first 11 minutes.]

9:18 — "If you look at Bill Clinton, far worse. Mine are words — his were actions. . . . There has never been anybody in the history of politics in this nation who's been as abusive to women." Trump accuses Hillary Clinton of mistreating those women, and laughing about how, as a defense attorney, she won a case defending a man accused of raping a 12-year-old girl. Trump points out that that girl, and Paula Jones, who accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault, are in the audience (as is Bill himself). "I think it's disgraceful, and I think she should be ashamed of herself." Clinton is given 2 minutes to respond, but doesn't address those charges at all. It turns into a free-for-all, with both of attacking each other for a litany of things — Trump's mocking of a disabled reporter, Clinton's "acid-washed" emails, etc. Trump promises to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton.

9:24 — Clinton: "It's just awfully good that the someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of this country." Trump: "Because you'd be in jail!"

9:25 — Clinton is asked about her emails. She of course calls it "a mistake," but emphasizes that an investigation found no evidence that her email was hacked or caused classified information to "get into the wrong hands."

9:28 — Trump brings up Bill Clinton's conversation with the Attorney General by an airplane while Hillary was under investigation.

9:29 — Trump gets into a back-and-forth with Anderson Cooper about Trump interrupting Clinton. She says: "OK, Donald! I know you want diversions, because your campaign and the way it's exploding and the way Republicans are leaving you."

9:30 — An audience member asks about health care, and Clinton says it seems like "Donald wants to go first." Trump says: "No, you can go first Hillary, because I'm a gentleman." (He's dropped his approach in the first debate of calling her "Secretary Clinton.")

9:34 — Trump says Clinton "wants to go to single-payer, which means the government basically runs everything. . . . Obamacare was the first step."

9:34 — Anderson Cooper asks Hillary Clinton about Bill Clinton's comments about Obamacare being "crazy." "Was his mistake just telling the truth?" Clinton says no, he later "clarified" what he meant — although that's not particularly clear.

9:37 — Trump is asked how he'd make do on his promise to let people with pre-existing conditions get health insurance. Trump says he'd do it by getting rid of "lines" around states. He also calls Obamacare "a fraud," bringing up President Obama's false promise that if you like your plan, you can keep it.

9:38 — A member of the audience who's Muslim asks Trump about fear of Muslims. Trump: "Muslims have to report the problems when they see them. . . . If they don't do that, it's a very difficult situation for our country." Trump adds that Clinton can't solve the terrorism problem if she's not willing to say the words "radical Islamic terrorism." Clinton comes back that it's "short-sighted and even dangerous to be engaging in the kind of demagogic rhetoric Donald has about Muslims," which is "a gift to ISIS."

9:42 — Trump is asked if the "Muslim ban" he proposed last year is "still [his] position." He says it "has morphed into extreme vetting." On Syrian refugees, he says: "We know nothing about their values, and we know nothing about their love for our country." Martha Raddatz asks Clinton why she'd dramatically increase the number of Syrian refugees brought into the US. Raddatz expresses skepticism of whether the vetting would work, but Clinton claims it would be "as tough as it needs to be."

9:46 — Trump is aggressively policing whether the moderators are letting him go over his time as much as Clinton, whether they're interrupting the candidates equally, etc. This is sure to excite his base but seems unlikely to win over independent voters.

9:48 — Clinton is asked about her leaked comment in a speech that "you need both a public and a private position on some issues." She says it was inspired by Abraham Lincoln: "He convinced some people with some arguments, and other people with other arguments."

9:53 — Trump says he pays "hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes," and he'd be "proud" to release his tax returns.

9:53 — An audience member asks how they'd change the tax code so that "the wealthy pay their fair share." Trump: "I'd give up carried interest provisions — for people like me." He points out that if Clinton thinks he hasn't paid enough in taxes, she should have changed that while she was in power. "She is raising your taxes, and I am lowering your taxes." Trump says our "GDP" is about "1%," although he clearly means we have about 1% growth; the GDP is a monetary amount, not a percentage.

9:56 — Clinton responds: "Everything you've heard from Donald Trump is just not true. . . . He lives in kind of an alternative universe." She says Trump would raise taxes on the middle class and give money to the rich, even more than George W. Bush's tax cuts did. "Donald always takes care of Donald and people like Donald." Trump retorts: "Hillary Clinton has friends who want all of these provisions! . . . With her, it's all talk, no action." In response to Trump saying she was an ineffective Senator, Clinton points out that she was a Senator when the president was a Republican — "under our Constitution, presidents have something called veto power."

10:06 — I've zoned out a little as they've discussed foreign policy. When Trump brings up Obama's infamous "red line" comment about Syria, which he failed to act on when Syria later used chemical weapons, Clinton says she was no longer Secretary of State by then. [Added later: Clinton was Secretary of State when Obama made the comment, but not when Syrian used the weapons a year later.] Trump comes back: "Sadly, Obama listened to you. I don't think he'd listen to you much anymore."

10:10 — Trump criticizes Obama for letting the enemy know where we're going to attack weeks in advance, allowing them time to leave. Martha Raddatz inappropriately steps out of her role as moderator and starting arguing with Trump over this: "There are reasons the military does that — psychological warfare."

10:14 — A rather abstract question from an audience member: "Do you believe you can be a devoted president to all the people in the United States?" Trump says he would, in contrast with Clinton, who calls his supporters "deplorable" and "irredeemable" — "she's got tremendous hatred!" Trump says Clinton was "a disaster" for upstate New York as Senator, but Clinton shoots him down while laughing: "Well, 67% of the people voted to elect me when I ran for my second term!" Clinton answers the audience member's question by quoting a young boy whose family immigrated here from Ethiopia, who wrote to her asking if he'd be deported under a President Trump.

10:22 — Anderson Cooper asks Trump if it's presidential to tweet about a "sex tape" at 3:00 a.m. Trump connects this to Benghazi and Clinton's 2008 ad about being ready to take a "3 a.m. phone call."

10:25 — In response to a question about Supreme Court nominations, Clinton says: "I want to appoint Supreme Court Justices who understand the way the world really works, who have real-life experience." She wants a Justice who'd overrule Citizens United, and uphold Roe v. Wade and marriage equality. Trump says he'd choose someone "in the mold of Justice Scalia," who'd "respect the 2nd Amendment."

10:29 — An audience member asks how they'd balance our "energy needs" with the environment. Trump emphasizes the former: "The EPA is killing these energy companies." Clinton starts her answer with an attack: "China is illegally dumping steel in the United States — and Donald Trump is buying it for his business."

10:34 — The last question: "Name one positive thing that you respect in one another." Clinton says: "I respect his children. His children are incredibly able." But she hastens to add: "I don't agree with anything else he says or does!" Trump: "She doesn't quit. She doesn't give up. I respect that. She's a fighter. I disagree with much of what she's fighting for . . . but she does fight hard."

At the beginning of the debate, the candidates noticeably refrained from shaking hands, which they had in the first debate. At the end, they briefly shake hands before walking over to their families.

About an hour into the debate, Josh Marshall, a Democrat, said:

This is a very different debate. The first 15 or 20 minutes were terrible for Trump. Since then he's done much better. It's hard to evaluate Trump because his manner is so caustic. But just in the most basic sense he's got in his key attacks against Hillary. So that's different. He does seem more prepared than he was on round one.
Peter Beinart, the former editor of the New Republic, says:
hate to say it but I think [Trump] staunched his campaign's collapse tonight. Until the next big scoop . . .
This assessment by Mark Antonio of National Review seems right:
Trump camp think they won the night -- they did. But they're still losing the war -- tonight didn't change that.
My mom, Ann Althouse, points out that it wasn't much of a "town hall" debate.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Soundgarden's Badmotorfinger turns 25

Soundgarden released a great album, Badmotorfinger, 25 years ago today.

My favorite song on the album is "Outshined." When I made a list of "the 40 greatest grunge songs," I ranked "Outshined" #3. I wrote:

I can't think of a more brilliant musical expression of raw testosterone than this.

I love the way all the instruments and vocals move together on "Show me the power child, I'd like to say / That I'm down on my knees today" — like a machine with perfectly synchronized interlocking parts.

Focus on the interlude that starts just before 3:00. On the surface, there's not much going on here — no guitar solo or key change or anything. But a gentle little passage like this, in a song that's otherwise anything but gentle, is the kind of thing that elevates a song, and distinguished Soundgarden from 99% of grunge bands.



The album begins with the relentless "Rusty Cage":




The band will be releasing two special editions of the album next month:
The 2-CD package and the “Super Deluxe” version both include studio outtakes and live cuts, most of them previously unreleased. In all, the “Super Deluxe” contains 109 tracks (79 of them previously unreleased) in addition to two DVDs, capturing a 1992 concert at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre, and the band’s 1992 Motorvision home video.
Here's an extended version of "Slaves and Bulldozers," from a concert after they reunited a few years ago:

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Live-blogging the 2016 vice-presidential debate

I'll be live-blogging the vice-presidential debate here, starting at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

As usual, I'll be writing down quotes on the fly, without a pause/rewind button, so they might not be word-for-word, but I'll try to keep them reasonably accurate, and I may or may not go back later and fix them.

You can find more live-blogging at National Review, TPM, the New American Perspective, and Althouse (my mom).

9:06 — The moderator, Elaine Quijano, asks how they're qualified to step into the job of president at a moment's notice. Hillary Clinton's running mate, Tim Kaine, says she picked him because he's been a missionary, mayor, governor, and Senator — he's "served at all levels of government." He adds that as the father of a son who's a Marine, he "trusts" Clinton as "commander-in-chief," but "the thought of Donald Trump scares [him] to death."

9:08 — Donald Trump's running mate, Mike Pence, talks about his roots, repeatedly using the phrase "small town" and, of course, talking about his experience (like Kaine, Pence has been a governor and a member of Congress). While Pence speaks, Kaine is writing furiously.

9:11 — Kaine is asked why we should "trust" Clinton. He pivots to attacking Trump for "calling Mexicans rapists." "I can't imagine how Governor Pence can defend the insult-driven, selfish, me-first style of Donald Trump."

9:12 — Pence is asked about the perception that Trump is "erratic." Instead of answering the question, Pence starts out negative, blaming Clinton for the situation in Syria and other places. Kaine interrupts to remind us of Trump's praise for Vladimir Putin, and Pence shoots back: "I must have hit a nerve!" They argue about whether this is still Pence's "time" or "open discussion." I don't know that Pence ever answered the question.

9:15 — Kaine condescends to Pence, asking him if he "understand[s]" various facts, such as that Osama bin Laden was alive when Clinton became Secretary of State. (This reminds me of then–Vice President George H.W. Bush condescending to Geraldine Ferraro; she called him out for presuming to lecture her in the 1984 vice-presidential debate.)

9:18 — Pence quotes Bill Clinton's comments, earlier today, that Obamacare is a "crazy" system.

9:19 — Kaine frames the voters' choice as a "you're hired" candidate vs. a "you're fired" candidate. He brings up Trump's bizarre statement during the primaries that "wages are too high." "His tax plan basically helps him" — it's "really a Trump-first plan."

9:21 — Pence brushes off Kaine's "you're hired"/"you're fired" comment by saying Kaine and Clinton "use a lot of pre-done lines." The moderator eventually reminds him of the question she asked a while ago, about Trump's tax returns that were released by the New York Times. Pence says it shows that Trump "went through a very difficult time," and used the tax system "the way it's supposed to be used." Kaine asks how he can know that, since Trump hasn't released his tax returns. Kaine makes an important point: Pence needed to disclose his tax returns to be vetted by Trump, who hasn't even met the standards he applies to his own running mate. Pence also makes a good point by asking if Kaine takes all the deductions he can.

9:27 — In response to a question about Social Security, Kaine says Clinton's main focus would be raising the "payroll tax cap." Pence responds by channeling Ronald Reagan: "There they go again!"

9:31 — On guns, Kaine talks about his experience as Governor of Virginia during the Virginia Tech shooting, which he says could have been prevented with background checks.

9:32 — Pence tells Kaine: "Let me say, at the risk of agreeing with you . . . [painfully long pause] . . . community policing is a great idea." And he says we should "stop seizing on these moments of tragedy" to "demean law enforcement broadly by making accusations of implicit bias." Kaine retorts that we shouldn't be "afraid" to talk about police racism. Pence says it doesn't make sense to see black police officers as biased against blacks.

9:37 — Kaine argues that Trump/Pence will have a problem improving "law and order" given the "tone set from the top" — he reels off a lot of Trump's insults against "Mexicans," "women," John McCain, etc. Pence says that pales in comparison next to Clinton "calling half of Trump's supporters a 'basket of deplorables.'" But Kaine says at least Clinton apologized the next day — Trump never apologized for his comments about McCain last year.

9:45 — Kaine has been regularly interrupting Pence, usually with no comment from the moderator. Yet Quijano chastised Pence for interrupting at one point, and she also told both of them early on that we can't hear either of them when they overlap. I'd like to see a breakdown of how often they interrupted each other, and how often Quijano intervened over the interruptions — Kaine seems to have had virtually free rein to talk over Pence.

9:48 — Kaine yet again repeats Trump's comments about McCain, and connects it to Trump's statement that he knows more than US generals. Kaine says Trump has "a personal Mount Rushmore" of dictators, including Kim Jong-Un and Saddam Hussein. Pence lamely repeats that Kaine is using "prepared lines," and Kaine says: "Let's see if he can defend any of it!" Pence's strategy is clearly to be serious and somber, focus on substance (especially criticizing Clinton and President Obama), and not engage with Kaine's attacks on Trump.

9:54 — Kaine, pointing toward Pence: "These guys say all Mexicans are bad." Ah, but Trump told us in his campaign announcement speech he "assume[s]" some Mexican immigrants are "good people"! (A little after 11:00 in this video.)

9:55 — Quijano has started a new question while Pence is still speaking a few times now. I don't remember her doing that with Kaine.

10:02 — Kaine, again mocking Trump for his comments on Putin: "If you don't know the difference between dictatorship and leadership, then you need to go back to a 5th-grade civics class. I'll tell you what offends me . . ." Pence: "Well, that offends me!"

Bill Scher, a Democrat, comments:

Pence may be winning on style points, but there's no breakout moment here
10:06 — Kaine quotes Reagan warning of a maniac (not his word — I didn't catch it) getting control of nuclear weapons, and says that's what a Trump presidency would be. Pence is appalled: "Senator, that was even beneath you and Hillary Clinton, and that's pretty low!"

10:08 — Kaine says he's asked Pence 6 times to defend Trump, and Pence has refused every time. Pence offers to defend Trump against Kaine's charges "one by one," so Kaine says Trump has said more countries should have nuclear weapons — "Saudi Arabia, Japan, South Korea." Pence flatly denies Trump has said that.

10:11 — Pence starts out his answer to a foreign-policy question by saying he's "just trying to keep up with the insult-driven campaign on the other side of the table!" When Kaine jumps in, Quijano finally tells Kaine: "Senator, please, this is Governor Pence's two minutes." She says essentially the same thing a couple minutes later.

10:14 — Kaine is asked: "What went wrong with the Russia reset?" He simply says: "Vladimir Putin is a dictator!" Kaine approvingly quotes McCain's line from one of the 2008 general-election debates that he looked in Putin's eyes and saw "KGB" (which itself was an allusion to George W. Bush's infamous statement about looking in Putin's eyes and getting "a sense of his soul").

Alex Knepper, who supports Clinton, has been pretty critical of Kaine:
Kaine needs to stop interrupting, like, now. . . .

Kaine is over-playing the bin Laden card. . . .

Enough with the John McCain stuff. Why does Kaine think it is such a killer line?
10:19 — Kaine describes the Trump Organization as "an octopus with tentacles all over the world."

10:23 — The moderator asks when they've struggled to balance their faith with public policy. Kaine says: "The Catholic Church is against the death penalty, and so am I." But he had to sign off on executions as Governor of Virginia in cases where he saw no reason to grant clemency.

10:25 — Pence's answer to the religion question is about abortion, and he pivots to attacking Clinton and Kaine for supporting legal "partial-birth abortion," although he acknowledges that Kaine is "personally pro-life." Kaine responds that the law shouldn't enforce religious tenets; he supports Roe v. Wade; Pence would like to repeal Roe; Trump has said he'd "punish" women for getting abortions. Pence says of course women should never be punished for making the "heart-breaking" choice to get an abortion. Pence also brings up that Kaine supports the current law that federal funding can't be used for abortions — and Clinton would like to repeal that law.

Frank Luntz sums up his focus group: "Kaine is interrupting too much. The focus group wants the moderator to lay down the law and shut him up until it’s his turn.”

10:34 — Pence's closing statement: "The best way we can bring people together is through change in Washington, DC." Sounds like Obama '08.

That's all. Alex Knepper (who, again, supports Clinton) gives his assessment:
Final Grades: Pence: B; Kaine: B-; Verdict: Wash
Cinzia Croce, who supports Trump but was "not a Pence fan" before the debate started, says this (co-blogging in the same post as Alex Knepper):
[Pence] was superb tonight. Whoever prepared him for the debate needs to help Trump for the next debate. Kaine . . . was nervous and seemed too focused on getting out the talking points he was given. I give Pence an A+ and Kaine a C+. And the moderator gets an F.
Rich Lowry, the editor of National Review, agrees with Cinzia Croce:
If Trump had been half as good as Pence last Monday, the race might look different right now
My overall assessment: Kaine was very annoying, and Pence was soothing by contrast. They both went very negative against the other side's nominee (while being gentle toward each other as individuals), but Kaine's negativity was more grating. Kaine cleverly made Pence look weak for not defending Trump — although Pence also seemed sympathetic for often not being able to get a word in. Kaine might have scored more points. But Pence might have helped Trump's campaign more than Kaine helped Clinton's, because Trump so badly needed Pence's serious, presidential tone.

It was hard to get through this whole thing without once accidentally writing "Paine" — that I can tell you!

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 . . .

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Democrats and elections

Democrats during the 2008 general election: "Who cares about having a long record of experience? What really matters in a president is the ability to give soaring, inspiring speeches. And if you disagree then you're racist."

Democrats during the 2016 general election: "Who cares about soaring, inspiring speeches? What really matters is for the president to have a long record of experience. And if you disagree then you're sexist."

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Beatles' Revolver turns 50

50 years ago today, on August 5, 1966, the Beatles released Revolver, an artistic breakthrough for the band which many would call the greatest rock album of all time.

1. The first song on the album, "Taxman," is by George Harrison, but Paul McCartney deserves a lot of credit for both the classic bassline and the manic lead guitar. Paul's guitar solo (which, unusually, is heard twice in the song) seems to have been influenced by George's growing interest in Indian classical music, and foreshadows the vocal melismas in George's next song on the album, "Love You To" (the last word of each verse in that song — "meeeeee" — evokes the middle of the "Taxman" guitar solo).




2. The Beatles had previously used a string quartet in "Yesterday," but the second song on Revolver, "Eleanor Rigby," was the first time they used no instruments other than strings and voice. It's also one of the earliest Beatles songs to focus on specific characters beyond the standard personal pronouns (you/I/she/he), paving the way for "Penny Lane," for instance. With its themes of loneliness, religion, and death, "Eleanor Rigby" was a shockingly weighty and profound song for a band that used to be best known for teen-oriented pop songs like "I Want to Hold Your Hand."






3. The Beatles used backwards guitar for the first time in John Lennon's "I'm Only Sleeping."




4. George's second song on the album, "Love You To" wasn't the Beatles' first use of sitar (which was in "Norwegian Wood"), but it was their first song with only Indian instruments and voice.




5. John was generally very critical of Paul, but they both agreed that "Here, There, and Everywhere" was one of Paul's best songs.




6. "Yellow Submarine" — a song so colorful and childlike it gave rise to an animated movie.




7. "She Said, She Said" features a brilliant use of shifting time signatures: the song starts in the standard rock 4/4 (when singing about the present), then switches to a 3/4 waltz once he sings about "when I was a boy . . ." I don't have a link to the album version (I assume you own it or can stream it), but Ringo Starr's drumming on this song is some of his best.




8. John's acidic "She Said, She Said" is nicely juxtaposed with Paul's ebullience in the next song on Revolver, "Good Day Sunshine."




9. George and Paul brilliantly harmonized their guitar parts on John's "And Your Bird Can Sing."




10. "For No One" is one of my very favorite Beatles songs. Paul perfectly fused lyrics to music here. The slow, methodical chord changes in the verse reflect the singer's dwelling on the breakup and trying to analyze things from every possible perspective. Then the emotional intensity is heightened by the shift to a minor key in the chorus ("and in her eyes you see nothing . . .").




11. In his book Revolution in the Head: The Beatles Records and the Sixties, Ian MacDonald calls "Dr. Robert" "one of The Beatles' most incisive pieces." MacDonald explains:

Concerning a New York doctor who habituated his socialite clients to narcotics by mixing methedrine with vitamin shots, the song shifts key evasively, stabilising only in its middle eight — an evangelical sales-pitch backed by pious harmonium and warbling choirboys. Lennon's caustic vocal . . . is matched by McCartney's huckstering harmony in fourths ('he's a man you must believe') and by Harrison's double-tracked guitar, with its unique blend of sitar and country-and-western.




12. "I Want to Tell You" is George's third and last song on Revolver. George usually had a maximum of two songs per album; this is the only time George got three songs on a normal-length Beatles album. (The White Album had four, but it was a double album.)




13. "Got to Get You Into My Life" is an outstanding Paul song in a Motown vein.






14. The last song on Revolver, "Tomorrow Never Knows," is one of the most startling in the Beatles' whole catalog. The basic song is unusually simple for the Beatles: there's just one melody (no vocal harmonies), one drum beat, and two chords repeated over and over. That kind of minimalism was rare in 1966. The lyrics are the most blatantly drug-inspired of any Beatles song: "Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream . . . Listen to the color of your dream . . ."

What's truly ground-breaking about the recording is the tape loops which each Beatle made at home and brought to the studio to be added to the mix. Ian MacDonald lists the five loops (most of which were speeded up): (1) a seagull-like sound, which is actually Paul laughing; (2) an orchestra playing a chord; (3) a Mellotron (a precursor to the synthesizer) played on the "flute" setting; (4) a Mellotron played on the "strings" setting; and (5) a sitar. The song also includes a backwards, cut-up version of the guitar solo from "Taxman." MacDonald observes that the loops are played "in cross rhythm, invit[ing] the audience to lose its time-sense in a brilliantly authentic evocation of the LSD experience."




Here are the original tape loops in isolation, one after another (not as they're heard on the record):

Friday, April 1, 2016

Live-blogging the 2016 Libertarian Party primary debate

I'll be live-blogging the Libertarian Party's first televised presidential primary debate of 2016 (or ever). Keep reloading this post for more updates.

9:03 — Gary Johnson uses his opening statement to talk about his "wonderful family," including his grandchildren and his fiance, with whom he shares "a passion for health and wellness." "It's great to be in love, and I'm in love!" He talks about starting a successful "handyman business," then selling it in 1999 — "nobody lost their job." He also points out that he got elected governor in a state that's 2 to 1 Democratic, New Mexico. And he's adventurous: "I climbed the tallest mountain in each of the seven continents!"

9:05 — John McAfee's opening statement strikes a different tone — philosophical, not personal: "Libertarianism is grounded in the concept of liberty. What is liberty? Liberty is the idea that our minds and bodies belong to ourselves. . . . Liberty cannot be extinguished . . . through laws; it can only be unjustly punished."

9:06 — Austin Petersen sketches his biography to highlight how he's learned the value of liberty. He grew up on a horse farm near a town called Liberty, Missouri. He learned about "economic liberty" as a kid, when his parents sent him to sell chrysanthemums. He learned about "personal liberty" from "the Golden Rule." "I may be the youngest candidate in this race, but I'm the oldest in libertarian years!"

9:09 — Johnson is asked how we can trust him on military issues when he wants to cut military spending. He says the terrorist threat is real, but our drone strikes have made things worse.

9:10 — McAfee is asked about the perception that libertarians are "isolationists." McAfee cleverly turns the tables by saying that "isolationism" is "taking on the role of world policeman, making ourselves separate from the rest of the world: we're the policemen, and you're the ones we police."

[I missed the first few minutes and added the above posts later. Here's where I started actually live-blogging:]

9:11 — When should we go to war? Johson and Petersen say: "When we're attacked." McAfee tries to cut the Gordian knot: "Why do we need war?"

9:12 — McAfee on drugs: "A heroin addict's addiction is its own punishment; we don't need any more."

9:18 — Petersen proposes a "penny"-based budget, where we take away one penny of every dollar from every federal program — with a way to bring that penny back in cases where Congress decides it's needed. He declares: "No one is going to be hurt!" But the moderator, John Stossel (a libertarian), seems skeptical of that.

9:19 — Johnson would cut the federal budget by 20%, including Medicare, Medicaid, and military.

9:21 — Stossel asks what specifically they'd cut. Petersen says everything — but in particular, he'd repeal Obamacare. Johnson says the Departments of Commerce and Education. McAfee says the FDA.

9:27 — When asked how to fight ISIS, the candidates all give pretty unexciting answers: McAfee says we need better intelligence, Petersen says we should fight them while following the Constitution, and Johnson says Congress should declare war on ISIS and we should cut off their funding.

9:30 — On foreign aid, Petersen forcefully says he'd get rid of "all" of it. Johnson is more cautious, saying he's uncomfortable with the word "all" — but he's generally against foreign aid. "It sounds nice, like you're giving them food, but it's really propping up dictators."

9:36 — Stossel asks each candidate about their flaws, starting with Johnson: He lost in 2012, he's "low-key," and he admits he sometimes smokes marijuana. Johnson says he hasn't had alcohol in 27 years, and legalizing marijuana would reduce the overall harm caused by all addictions.

9:38 — McAfee is asked about his shady alleged activities in Belize and Guatemala. "You're still technically a fugitive!" He was also arrested for driving on Xanax. McAfee says . . . well, he's never been charged with murder! (That's reassuring.) He admits his DUI was "the stupidest thing I've ever done."

9:39 — Petersen is asked about his young age. "I'm 35, so I'm constitutionally eligible. . . . Don't hate me because I'm young and pretty!"

9:40 — Johnson is asked how he can appeal to Democrats. He says he took a quiz on ISideWith.com, which tells you what percentage you agree with each candidate. He agreed with himself only 90%! But the person he agreed with the second most was Bernie Sanders, at 73%. He agrees with Sanders on civil liberties.

9:42 — Petersen challenges Johnson on his support for requiring bakeries to make cakes for same-sex weddings. "Should a Jewish baker be forced to bake a Nazi wedding cake?" Johnson says: "Yes!" [Added later: Who would have though the most extreme, crazy statement made in the Libertarian debate would be in favor of government forcing a business to make goods that promote Nazism?] Petersen accuses Johnson of not understanding the free market. Petersen frames his argument as pro-gay: "Let the bigots out themselves!"

9:48 — On abortion, Petersen says Congress has no power to legislate, but we should be "morally pro-life." "Ending the federal war on drugs would allow women to buy birth control over the counter." Johnson and McAfee are strongly for legal abortion.

9:49 — Stossel does a lightning round on a couple issues. They're all against the death penalty, and they're all for same-sex marriage. McAfee jokes: "I met Austin [Petersen] in a gay bar!"

9:50 — Should government fix the fact that "women are paid less than men"? Johnson says women should be paid the same as men, but "the devil is in the details," and he'd have a hard time signing any legislation about it. McAfee says women and men should be paid equally — but "the employer should decide." Petersen correctly says the "gender pay gap" is because of "women's choices." More women than men go to college — should government force more men to go to college?

9:52 — If there were no Libertarian nominee, would they vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? They'd all refuse to vote for either. Johnson says he'd find another third-party candidate to vote for.

That's the end of the first half of this pre-recorded debate. The second half will air at 9 pm Eastern on April 8.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Libertarian Party debate is this Friday

"[T]he first ever nationally televised libertarian debate has been confirmed for April 1. The debate is set to air at 9pm EST on the Stossel Show on Fox Business."

Based on the photos, I'd say: Johnson for president, Petersen for vice president, and McAfee for head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Do these two messages about terrorism add up?

Notice two messages we've been hearing a lot — often from the same people:

(1) When speaking about Islamic terrorists, it's considered appropriate to adopt this understanding tone — not that we're excusing the acts, but that we recognize that terrorism comes from being oppressed and disenfranchised, that people turn to terrorism as a last resort, etc. (I don't necessarily agree with those statements, but I've heard them countless times, from people who seem to feel very strongly about it.)

(2) We're told that the word "terrorist" is used too selectively, and especially that we should be more willing to apply it to white men and Christian men (e.g. the KKK, mass shooters, and those people who occupied the Oregon wildlife refuge).

Well, wait a minute . . . how oppressed and disenfranchised are white, Christian men?

Friday, March 25, 2016

Garry Shandling (1949 - 2016)

Garry Shandling, the comedian, died yesterday at age 66.

The New York Times says:

Mr. Shandling’s Larry Sanders was the host of a fictional show within the show, interviewing real celebrities playing themselves in segments that were virtually indistinguishable from real talk shows like “The Tonight Show.” (Mr. Shandling had frequently substituted for Johnny Carson as the “Tonight Show” host.)

But the show was mostly concerned with what happened when the cameras were off, especially the interplay among Larry, his bumbling announcer and sidekick (Jeffrey Tambor) and his mercurial producer (Rip Torn).

“The Larry Sanders Show,” often cited as a groundbreaking precursor of shows like “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “30 Rock,” was the second show by Mr. Shandling to take an unorthodox approach. The first, “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” seen on Showtime from 1986 to 1990, freely admitted that it was a show, with Mr. Shandling often breaking the fourth wall by speaking directly to the audience. . . .

Playing a talk-show host who was, as Jacques Steinberg wrote in The New York Times, “a too-close-for-comfort amalgam of Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Jay Leno and Jack Paar,” Mr. Shandling offered a jaundiced insider view of the television business. . . .

Mr. Shandling’s profile was never again as high as it was during the “Larry Sanders” years, but the show’s influence has been lasting. “30 Rock” borrowed its unblinking warts-and-all look at how television is made; “Curb Your Enthusiasm” embraced its use of real celebrities to play versions of themselves that were perhaps only slight exaggerations.

Its influence was also felt in less obvious ways. David Chase, the creator of “The Sopranos,” once said that “The Larry Sanders Show” “inspired me to want to do something really good for television.” . . .

Just a few months ago Mr. Shandling was a guest on Jerry Seinfeld’s popular web series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” in an episode eerily titled “It’s Great That Garry Shandling Is Still Alive.” Eighteen years earlier, Mr. Seinfeld had praised Mr. Shandling’s comedic instincts.

“Comedians all wait around to hear things that they can use,” Mr. Seinfeld said in 1998. “With Garry, it’s like being in a boat with a guy who’s constantly reeling in fish.”

In 2007, nine years after “The Larry Sanders Show” went off the air, Mr. Shandling spoke to The Times about his post-“Sanders” life.

“It’s very similar to — what is it? — the seven stages of grieving,” he said. “First there’s the shock. Now I’m going to head for something funny here. Then there’s denial, acceptance and” — he paused — “masturbation.”

Here's Shandling and Seinfeld talking on that recent episode of Seinfeld's show:
Shandling: I was sitting there watching CNN anyway, and they broke in and said Robin Williams had killed himself. And I sat there and I was frozen. . . . Then Wolf Blitzer says: "63 is so young!" And then I looked up with a little hope, because I'm about the same age as Robin. And then I realized: "63 is so young" is a phrase you never hear relative to anything but death. "63 is so young to be playing in the NFL"? There's nothing!

Seinfeld: You have to die in your 60s for them to say: "Boy, he was young!"

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

8 Thoughts on Tuesday, March 15

1. Marco Rubio's loss of his home state by almost 20 points to Donald Trump wasn't just fatal to the Rubio campaign; it also dealt a devastating blow to the idea of Mitt Romney as an influential Republican elder statesman.

2. Tonight was also not a great night for the idea that betting odds are a better predictor than polls. For most of the time (since mid-October, which is the earliest time that website goes back to), betting odds have said Rubio is the most likely Republican nominee. (Full disclosure: Those links go to Election Betting Odds, which was co-created by my friend Maxim Lott.)

3. John Kasich is saying he might go to the Republican convention with more delegates than anyone else. And now, I'm afraid all the remaining Republican candidates might be mentally ill.

4. Losing Ohio could help Trump.

5. Alex Knepper explains why we should expect Trump to stay in the lead:

Presumably the only way to stop Trump at this point would be to look toward a Cruz-Kasich ticket, but the upcoming primaries are mostly friendly territory for Trump — Cruz will win Utah and Kasich might have a shot in Wisconsin, but Trump will likely sweep the Mid-Atlantic states on 4/19 and 4/26 — New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and so forth. Even without Ohio, Trump still has a perfectly viable path to a majority, and nobody else does.
6. I find it interesting that Trump made a point, in his victory speech, to congratulate Rubio on running a "tough" campaign, called him "smart," and said he'll have a great future. I don't think Trump said a word about Jeb Bush when he dropped out on the night of South Carolina.

7. Did anyone predict, before the voting started, that the Republican race would come down to Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich? Anyone at all, in the whole world?

8. Since Hillary Clinton seems to have won all 5 primaries and Trump won everything except Kasich's home state, we can now see that this Reason piece was right: "letting Trump speak is not merely the morally correct, philosophically consistent course of action: It's the tactically sound one as well." That article had prescient words the day before the primaries:
When the left stops Trump from speaking, Trump wins. He gets to tell his people that the forces of far-left activism and political correctness are trying to silence him. Implicitly, he is suggesting to his followers that when he becomes president, the tides will turn: see his promise to make it easier to sue newspapers for criticizing him. Trump supporters adore this shtick. Stop giving them ammunition.
As Bill Scher said on Twitter in response to the primary results:
Speculation: The visual of Bernie supporters disrupting Trump rallies offered a dismal picture of a Sanders-Trump general, fueling [Clinton] . . .

Takeaway: spend more time knocking doors for your candidate than protesting the other party's candidate