Thursday, November 7, 2019

President Bloomberg?

Hide your soda… Hide your salt shakers

Mike Bloomberg is seriously considering running for the Democratic nomination for president.

Bloomberg was a Democrat before he got elected Mayor of New York City as a Republican. After being mayor, he rejected the whole idea of partisan labels, but then last year he registered as a Democrat.

Bloomberg would be the first Jewish president.

If he wins, Bloomberg will turn 79 years old less than a month after being inaugurated; he was born on Valentine's Day 1942. So if he served a full 4-year term, he'd spend most of his presidency in his 80s. No sitting president has ever been in his 80s, and the oldest president ever when first inaugurated was just 70.

President Bloomberg would beat the record set by his predecessor, Donald Trump, as the richest president ever. Bloomberg's net worth has been estimated to be around $50 billion.

And I'm certainly looking forward to fair and balanced coverage of the Bloomberg campaign by Bloomberg


(Photo of Bloomberg from Wikimedia Commons.)

Friday, November 1, 2019

Beto O'Rourke drops out

Beto says:

Our campaign has always been about seeing clearly, speaking honestly, and acting decisively. In that spirit: I am announcing that my service to the country will not be as a candidate or as the nominee.
This is a good thing for Democrats. Beto was abysmal in the debates.

It seemed like he wasn't thinking through what he was saying about issues like gun bans and tax exemptions for churches. Once the consequences of his statements were pointed out to him, he seemed weak and confused.

From my live-blog of the last debate:
9:31 - Anderson Cooper asks Beto how he'd enforce his promise from the last debate that he'll confiscate Americans' AR-15s and AK-47s, given that he's admitted the government isn't going to be "going door to door" looking for these guns. So … what's Beto's response? He'd ban guns and … hope everyone follows the law? Is that supposed to be based on the honor system or what? Buttigieg points out that Beto just admitted he doesn't know how his promise can be put into action. This leads to an extended, heated back and forth between Buttigieg and Beto. Buttigieg stares at Beto and tells him: "I don't need lessons from you on courage — political or personal." [VIDEO.]
Beto will join Scott Walker, the Republican former governor of Wisconsin, in showing that a politician who makes a big splash in their own state can't necessarily transplant their local star power onto the national stage.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

nine inch nails’ pretty hate machine is 30

nine inch nails released their debut album, pretty hate machine, 30 years ago today, October 20, 1989.

Rolling Stone reported a few months later:

Nine Inch Nails’ sound is dominated by clanging synths and sardonic, shrieking vocals. But Reznor stretches that industrial-strength noise over a pop framework, and his harrowing but catchy music has taken the college charts by storm.
The conventional wisdom might be that the downward spiral is the magnum opus of NIИ. But for me, their greatest has always been pretty hate machine — the original expression of NIИ in its most raw purity. (“i gave you my purity...”)

Today I listened to the remastered version of the whole album with headphones. NIИ sing about how there’s “nothing quite like the feel of something new,” but there’s also nothing quite like returning to something that hasn’t been new for a long time but still has the capacity to shock and invigorate.

head like a hole” starts the album by signaling from the first words that this song and this album are going to be about power and control: “god money, i’ll do anything for you. god money, just tell me what you want me to...” The song later seems to become more political, with lines like: “god money, let’s go dancing on the backs of the bruised...”




That song ends with a disorienting segue to the next song, “terrible lie,” which has been a powerful opener to NIИ’s famously great live shows. The singer’s obsessively dependent refrain is: “don’t take it away from me, i need someone to hold on to...” (the equivalent to the downward spiral’s “nothing can stop me now, ‘cause i don’t care anymore.”)




down in it” has trent reznor (who the liner notes helpfully tell us “is” nine inch nails) rapping over eerily atmospheric samples. To be a NIИ fan is to know the lyrics to this by heart. (“kind of like a cloud...”)




sanctified” is one of many songs in which reznor grapples with religion. (“heaven’s just a rumor she’ll dispel, as she walks me through the nicest parts of hell...”)




something i can never have” is the “hurt” of pretty hate machine, and possibly even more hauntingly beautiful. A quintessentially self-effacing NIИ line: “grey would be the color ... if i had a heart.”




sin” might be my favorite NIИ song ever. The song keeps coming back to a “shah” sound that bounces back and forth between the left and right speakers, as if to beg us to listen with headphones. The song reaches some of the most intense moments of the album after the second chorus, when the instruments steadily build up to a heavy synth riff over a wall of guitars.




the only time” reveals a funkier and more comical side of NIИ. (“my moral standing is lying down...”)




Some of the other, poppier songs on the album are less memorable, but they remind us that while we might think of nine inch nails as ‘90s alternative music, NIИ started in the ‘80s.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Live-blogging the biggest presidential debate ever

And I'm not exaggerating — CNN tells us this will be "the largest [debate] in modern history." I'm not sure I'll be able to take a whole 12 candidates on the stage at the same time, but I'll do any-live blogging in this post. Keep reloading for more updates.

[ADDED: You can watch the whole debate here, after it's aired. And here's the transcript.]

(I'll be writing down quotes on the fly, so they might not be perfect, but I'll try to keep them reasonably accurate.)

8:02 - Anderson Cooper points out that all the candidates support an impeachment inquiry, but asks why we shouldn't wait just one more year for the voters to decide whether Donald Trump should stay president. Elizabeth Warren responds: "Sometimes there are issues that are bigger than politics.… Impeachment is the way that we establish that this man will not be permitted to break the law over and over without consequences."

8:03 - Bernie Sanders says: "Trump is the most corrupt president in history."

8:05 - Joe Biden says the Trump administration is obstructing justice, and Congress has "no choice but to move."

8:06 - Kamala Harris quotes Maya Angelou: "Listen to somebody when they tell you who they are the first time." She also says impeaching Trump "won't take very long": "As a former prosecutor, I know a confession when I see it!"

8:09 - Amy Klobuchar: "I'm still waiting to find out from [Trump] how making that call to Ukraine … makes America great again. I'm waiting to hear how leaving the Kurds for slaughter … makes America great again."

8:11 - Pete Buttigieg: "A president 10 years, or 100 years from now will look back at this moment and conclude either that no one is above the law, or that the president can get away with anything."

8:12 - Tulsi Gabbard sounds the most skeptical of anyone about impeachment. She emphasizes that she supports an "impeachment inquiry" specifically into the Ukraine call, but complains about those who wanted to impeach Trump from day 1.

8:14 - Tom Steyer starts his first debate by saying: "Every candidate here is more decent and patriotic than the criminal in the White House."

8:15 - Andrew Yang dodges the impeachment question, and pivots to arguing that Ohio, the state they're in, voted for Trump by 8 percentage points because of manufacturing jobs disappearing.

8:18 - Biden is asked about the controversy swirling around his son Hunter. "I never discussed a single thing with my son about anything having to do with Ukraine." Biden adds that Trump "doesn't want me to be the candidate … because he knows that I will beat him like a drum."

[VIDEO of some of the candidates on impeachment.]

8:20 - Moving on from impeachment, Elizabeth Warren is asked if she'll raise taxes on the middle class to pay for her health care plan. She doesn't quite answer the question; she says that "costs" will go up for "the wealthy" and big corporations, but "costs" will go down for the middle class. Of course, "costs" and "taxes" are very different things.

8:23 - Buttigieg calls out Warren's failure to answer that question: "Your signature, Senator, is to have a plan for everything — except this!" Then Buttigieg pivots to arguing for "Medicare for all who want it." Warren comes back that Buttigieg's plan is really "Medicare for all who can afford it."

8:26 - Bernie Sanders on his bill: "Premiums are gone! Copayments are gone! Deductibles are gone! … We're gonna do better than the Canadians do, and that is what they've managed to do.… I do think it's appropriate to acknowledge that taxes will go up." But he argues that most people's taxes will go up less than their premiums will go down.

8:27 - Amy Klobuchar chimes in: "At least Bernie's being honest here and saying that taxes are going to go up. And I'm sorry, Elizabeth, but you are not saying that." [VIDEO.]

8:30 - Without mentioning Buttigieg, Biden suggests that Buttigieg's health care plan is really "the Biden plan."

8:31 - There's some visible tension between Sanders and Biden: Biden is talking while physically putting his finger on Sanders's arm, and Sanders keeps raising his hand to respond to Biden.

8:32 - Kamala Harris makes a strong statement that the health care discussions in all the debates have been failing to include women's access to abortion.

8:34 - Andrew Yang is asked, since he wants to give $1,000 a month to all Americans, whether he supports Bernie Sanders's "federal jobs guarantee." No, Yang says: "Most Americans do not want to work for the federal government." Yang imagines the Sanders plan will lead to "failed retraining programs and jobs that no one wants," while Yang's plan of simply handing out money would empower individuals to make the best choices for them. [VIDEO of that answer, in the middle of a clip of "everything Yang said" at the debate.]

8:40 - Elizabeth Warren reaches out to Andrew Yang supporters by saying her plan to expand Social Security is similar to his $1,000 a month plan, and would help Yang's wife, who Yang mentioned earlier is taking care of their two sons full time.

8:41 - Tulsi Gabbard: "I agree with my friend Andrew Yang. I think universal basic income is a good idea."

8:43 - Cory Booker claims that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would give workers more money than giving everyone $1,000 a month.

8:45 - Bernie Sanders is asked about his statement that "billionaires should not exist." Does he want to "tax billionaires out of existence?" Sanders says: "We cannot afford a billionaire class whose greed and corruption has been at war with the working class for 45 years."

8:48 - A moderator points out that Steyer is the only billionaire on the stage. But Steyer says Bernie Sanders is right: "There have been 40 years when corporations have bought this government, and those 40 years have meant an attack on working people.… It's absolutely wrong."

8:50 - Biden goes meta: "These debates are kind of crazy, because everybody tries to squeeze everything into every answer!"

8:52 - Elizabeth Warren goes very negative about everyone else except Bernie Sanders, saying the rest of them won't support a wealth tax but want to protect billionaires. This gets a lot of pushback: Biden and Klobuchar both say none of them want to protect billionaires; Klobuchar adds that she's open to a wealth tax; and Buttigieg says: "I'm all for a wealth tax!"

8:57 - Yang says Warren's principles are right, and a wealth tax sounds good in theory — but numerous countries that have tried it (including Germany, France, and Sweden) have repealed it because it didn't work.

8:58 - Beto O'Rourke goes after Elizabeth Warren: "Sometimes I think that Senator Warren is more interested in being punitive and putting different parts of the country against each other than in coming up with solutions." (Not sure if I got the end of that quote right — I should go back later.) Warren responds: "I'm really shocked at the notion that anyone thinks I'm punitive!"

9:02 - Cory Booker worries about "how we talk about each other in this debate." He suggests that "tearing each other down because we have a different plan" will prevent them from making Trump a one-term president.

9:11 - Tulsi Gabbard is asked about Trump's movement of troops in Syria in a way that allowed Turkey to invade. "Donald Trump has the blood of the Kurds on his hands — but so do many politicians from both parties, who supported this regime-change war which started in 2011."

9:13 - Buttigieg says Gabbard is "dead wrong": "The slaughter in Syria is not a consequence of American presence." Buttigieg gets impassioned as he talks about being deployed to Afghanistan and knowing that the American flag on his uniform was keeping him safe because our friends and allies knew we kept our word, which Trump has undermined. "You might as well take away their body armor next."

9:20 - Kamala Harris says there are 4 winners from Trump's Syria policy: "Russia, Assad, Iran, and ISIS."

9:21 - Castro might have the line of the night: "Think about how absurd it is that Donald Trump is caging kids on the border, and effectively letting ISIS go free."

9:24 - Another touchy-feely moment between Biden and Sanders: Biden says Trump is saying comforting words to Vladimir Putin while pointing directly at Sanders, who says: "Are you saying I'm Putin?" Biden says, "No!" — and they hug each other.

9:31 - Anderson Cooper asks Beto how he'd enforce his promise from the last debate that he'll confiscate Americans' AR-15s and AK-47s, given that he's admitted the government isn't going to be "going door to door" looking for these guns. So … what's Beto's response? He'd ban guns and … hope everyone follows the law? Is that supposed to be based on the honor system or what? Buttigieg points out that Beto just admitted he doesn't know how his promise can be put into action. This leads to an extended, heated back and forth between Buttigieg and Beto. Buttigieg stares at Beto and tells him: "I don't need lessons from you on courage — political or personal." [VIDEO.]

9:38 - Klobuchar is asked why she supports a "voluntary buyback" instead of a "mandatory buyback." She brushes aside that question and speaks to the broader issue of guns: "The American people are with us.… Let's not mess this up!"

9:41 - Kamala Harris reruns a line she already used in an earlier debate: "I have looked at more autopsy photos than I care to tell you."

9:42 - Biden says he's the only person on the stage who's "taken on the NRA and won." This should be a good moment for him in the debate, but he goes on to mangle his words so much it's hard to listen to him.

9:44 - Castro argues that we shouldn't have a mandatory buyback because it would mean "police officers going door to door" and using violence against people in their own homes.

9:45 - Klobuchar quotes an email by a pharma company executive on opioids: "Keep pumping them out — they're eating them like Doritos!"

9:51 - Kamala Harris would criminally prosecute pharma executives who've sold opioids: "They are nothing more than some high-level dope dealers!"

9:55 - Moderator Erin Burnett asks Biden about the fact that he'll turn 80 in his first term if he's elected. "One of the reasons I'm running is because of my age and experience. With it comes wisdom.… I know what has to be done. I've done it before.… I will not need any on-the-job training."

9:57 - Similarly, Burnett points out that Elizabeth Warren would be the oldest president ever to take office. "I will out-work, out-organize, and outlast anyone — and that includes Donald Trump, Mike Pence, or whoever the Republicans get stuck with!" [VIDEO.]

9:59 - 38-year-old Tulsi Gabbard is asked about how she'd be the youngest president ever. She talks about her military experience and that she's on various foreign-policy-related House committees. Then she pivots to asking Elizabeth Warren about "her experience to serve as Commander-in-Chief," but the moderator cuts to a commercial. (My understanding is that candidates aren't usually allowed to ask each other direct questions in the debates.)

10:06 - Yang suggests that there are good reasons why certain tech companies are so dominant: "There's a reason no one's using Bing today. Sorry, Microsoft, it's true!"

10:09 - Beto says he'd treat social-media companies as "publishers" — but he won't call out a particular company to be broken up, as Trump has done.

10:13 - Kamala Harris calls for Twitter to ban Trump's account, and calls on Elizabeth Warren to join her on this. Warren: "No!" [VIDEO.]

10:18 - Yang says we should be getting money back for the data we give to companies like Facebook.

10:23 - Tulsi Gabbard sounds relatively conservative on abortion, endorsing the Clinton-era line that it should be "safe, legal, and rare," and saying it should be illegal in the third trimester "unless the life or severe health consequences of the woman are at risk."

10:25 - Pete Buttigieg suggests various reforms to "depoliticize" the Supreme Court, including term limits, or adding judges who can be added only by the unanimous agreement of the existing 9.

10:30 - Biden makes a shocking statement: "I'm the only person on this stage who's gotten anything really big done!" Then he botches one of his examples when he starts to say, "I ended Roe…"

10:31 - The 3 top-polling candidates use up a lot of time talking amongst each other, maybe as a tactic to prevent lesser candidates from getting too much time. Biden decides that now is the time to go back to his disagreements with Sanders on health care (I thought that was hours ago!), and then Sanders brings up Biden's position on the Iraq War. Biden repeatedly jabs his hand at Warren and shouts at her: "I got you votes!" [VIDEO.]

10:35 - Buttigieg quips that if he had a dollar for every "argument like this" he's heard, he could pay for college for everyone. I guess he's referring to the bickering among the top 3 candidates, but I don't know if he's the best person to be calling out other candidates for fighting too much, after his tiffs with Warren, and Gabbard, and Beto…

10:45 - As the last question, Anderson Cooper asks every candidate to tell us about a friendship they had with someone surprisingly different from themselves. (This was prompted by Ellen DeGeneres defending her friendship with George W. Bush.) Amy Klobuchar says "it's John McCain, and I miss him every day." She remembers seeing McCain near the end of his life, when he could hardly speak, pointing to a written sentence: "There is nothing more liberating in life than fighting for a cause larger than yourself." What Klobuchar learned from this: "We need to not just change our policy, but change the way we talk to each other."

11:05 - Biden gives the last answer of the night, and he's the 3rd person to name John McCain as a friend he had strong differences with. Biden says he told McCain: "You never saw a war you didn't want to fight." McCain came back: "You never saw a problem you didn't want to solve."

Thoughts:

• Was this the first debate where Biden didn't make some huge blunder? He still has trouble getting through an answer, but he's stopped cutting himself off mid-sentence or seeming to dismiss what he just said.

• Elizabeth Warren seemed weaker than in past debates; she was constantly under fire.

• Pete Buttigieg was getting into fights with everyone.

• I'm not a big fan of Kamala Harris, but I'd say it was her best debate. Amy Klobuchar was also strong.

• Bernie Sanders accomplished his main goal: convince us that he hasn't lost any energy after his heart attack.

• Andrew Yang often seemed to be in his own world focused on tech issues, and not interested in talking about the major topics like impeachment. But he was good at calling out some of the more questionable policies: Warren's wealth tax and Sanders's federal jobs guarantee.

• Tulsi Gabbard very much seemed to stand apart from the others, most obviously when she emphasized her support for some abortion restrictions.


• I'm not sure what Beto is still doing in this race; I usually tuned him out. Castro got very little time and largely seemed irrelevant, except for his one great line (see 9:21).

• Cory Booker mentioned being vegan almost as much as he usually mentions living in a lower-income neighborhood. Those are great things to talk about, but I think he'll need something more to give new life to his campaign.


UPDATE: CNN gave Elizabeth Warren far more time than any other candidate last night. Even with a dozen candidates on the stage, she spoke for about 23 minutes. If every candidate got that much, the debate could have lasted around 5 hours instead of 3 (with moderators taking some time to ask questions).

Tulsi Gabbard and Julián Castro each got about 8 and a half minutes. Those 2 candidates combined got about 6 minutes less than Warren. If CNN had limited everyone’s time so strictly, the debate could have taken more like 2 hours instead of 3.

UPDATE: After watching the debate, Daniel Henninger writes in the Wall Street Journal that "Joe Biden Isn't Going to Make It":

With Mr. Trump’s decision to pull American troops away from the Syrian Kurds, he opened one of the most significant political vulnerabilities of his presidency. It was an opportunity for Mr. Biden, a former chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to show some foreign-policy smarts and president-like leadership. Instead we got this:

“What I would do is I would be making it real clear to Assad that, in fact, where he’s going to have a problem—because Turkey is the real problem here. And I would be having a real lockdown conversation with Erdogan and letting him know that he’s going to pay a heavy price for what he has done now. Pay that price.”

It fell to Pete Buttigieg, the mayor from South Bend, to produce the night’s most stinging critique of President Trump: “What we were doing in Syria was keeping our word. Part of what makes it possible for the United States to get people to put their lives on the line to back us up is the idea that we will back them up, too.”

That was good. Joe Biden somehow couldn’t figure out how to say anything like it.

Then during the health-care segment, Mr. Biden said, “The plan we’re hearing discussed is the Biden plan.” Then he said, “The plan is going to cost at least $30 trillion over 10 years,” with no indication that now he was talking about Elizabeth Warren’s plan, not his.

Here’s a single Biden sentence from the debate: “I would eliminate the capital gains tax—I would raise the capital gains tax to the highest rate, of 39.5%.” …

Mr. Biden’s supporters say he did fine, but fine isn’t going to be good enough. With apologies, a sports metaphor is apt. Joe Biden looks like a pro in training camp—running at half speed, joshing with teammates, showing brief flashes of former skills. Democrats who think Mr. Biden will get better than this training-camp competence are deluding themselves.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Trump on the Kurds: "They didn't help us in the second World War"

President Donald Trump said that yesterday, even though more than 10,000 Kurds have died helping us fight ISIS.

It used to be that presidents and presidential candidates would argue for their policies by pointing out that "the Cold War is over" (for instance, George W. Bush and Obama have both said those exact words). Now, Trump doesn't want to admit that World War II is over.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

How we're getting more from less

Good news: "The Economy Keeps Growing, but Americans Are Using Less Steel, Paper, Fertilizer, and Energy."

That whole Reason article is worth reading, but here's an excerpt:

Both the weight of goods entering the [UK] economy and the amounts finally ending up as waste probably began to fall from sometime between 2001 and 2003.… [This] suggests that economic growth in a mature economy does not necessarily increase the pressure on the world's reserves of natural resources and on its physical environment. An advanced country may be able to decouple economic growth and increasing volumes of material goods consumed. A sustainable economy does not necessarily have to be a no-growth economy.…

Up to 1970, consumption of metals in America grew just about in lockstep with the overall economy. In the years since 1970, the economy has continued to grow pretty steadily, but consumption of metals has reversed course and is now decreasing. We're now getting more "economy" from less metal year after year. We'll see a similar great reversal in the use of many other resources.…

I was surprised to learn that total American energy use in 2017 was down almost 2 percent from its 2008 peak, especially since our economy grew by more than 15 percent between those two years. I had walked around with the unexamined assumption that growing economies must consume more energy year after year. This turns out not to be the case anymore—a profound change. Energy use went up in lockstep with economic growth in America for more than a century and a half, from 1800 to 1970. Then the increase in energy use slowed down, and then it turned negative—even as the economy kept growing. Over the last decade, we've gotten more economic output from less energy.

Greenhouse gas emissions have gone down even more quickly than has total energy use.…

Sunday, October 6, 2019

"The light's shining through on you," Ginger Baker

Ginger Baker, the drummer of Cream, has died. Now Eric Clapton is the only surviving member of the trio. Jack Bruce, the singer/bassist, died in 2014.





From Rolling Stone:

Ginger Baker, the wildly influential and innovative drummer who laid the groundwork for heavy metal and world music and played with everyone from Fela Kuti to John Lydon to Max Roach, died Sunday after a lengthy hospital stay. He was 80....

In 2016, Rolling Stone placed the Cream co-founder third on its list of the “100 Greatest Drummers of All Time,” writing, “Gifted with immense talent, and cursed with a temper to match, Ginger Baker combined jazz training with a powerful polyrhythmic style in the world’s first, and best, power trio … The London-born drummer introduced showmanship to the rock world with double-kick virtuosity and extended solos.”

One of the most cantankerous and volatile figures in rock history, Baker rarely lasted more than a couple of years with any single band. Cream, his most famous group, dissolved after barely two years. But they packed a lot into that brief period, recording classic songs like “Sunshine of Your Love,” “White Room,” and “Badge” that set the stage for nearly every hard-rock and heavy metal band that followed them into the 1970s.

“I’ve seen where Cream is sort of held responsible for the birth of heavy metal,” Baker said in a typically caustic 2015 interview. “Well, I would definitely go for aborting. I loathe and detest heavy metal. I think it is an abortion. A lot of these guys come up and say, ‘Man, you were my influence; the way you thrashed the drums.’ They don’t seem to understand I was thrashing in order to hear what I was playing. It was anger, not enjoyment — and painful. I suffered onstage because of that [high amplifier] volume crap. I didn’t like it then, and like it even less now.”

Regardless of how Baker felt about his influence, countless hard-rock drummers consider him one of the greatest players in history. “His playing was revolutionary — extrovert, primal, and inventive,” Rush drummer Neil Peart told Rolling Stonein 2009. “He set the bar for what rock drumming could be. I certainly emulated Ginger’s approaches to rhythm — his hard, flat, percussive sound was very innovative. Everyone who came after built on that foundation. Every rock drummer since has been influenced in some way by Ginger — even if they don’t know it.”

Peter Edward Baker was born on August 19th, 1939, in London. As a child, he dreamed of making his name as a champion cyclist. But after an accident with a taxi left his bike crushed to pieces in 1956, he turned his attention to drums, where he quickly found he had incredible natural talent.

Before he was 18, Baker was a mainstay on the Soho jazz scene, playing in British Dixieland-revival groups and absorbing the influence of American bebop masters like Roach, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie. By 1962, American R&B was sweeping England, and he got a job in Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated with keyboardist Graham Bond and bassist Jack Bruce.

When it became clear the group was going nowhere, Baker, Bond, and Bruce left to form the spinoff band the Graham Bond Organization. The group earned a fiercely devoted following all over England, but internal tensions were tearing it apart. Bond was fighting a heroin addiction, and Baker and Bruce were often fighting each other, with their physical spats sometime breaking out midway through sets. Baker eventually fired Bruce, though fate and their undeniable chemistry would continue to bring them together time and time again.

In 1966, Eric Clapton, fresh out of the Yardbirds, teamed up with Baker and suggested they form a blues-rock trio and bring in Bruce, much to Baker’s chagrin. Considering themselves three of the best players in the British rock scene, they called the group Cream. They were rock’s first supergroup, giving them a huge audience from the get-go. Singles like “Sunshine of Your Love” and “White Room” were all over pop radio, but as the drummer, Baker didn’t receive songwriting credit.

“Cream was doomed three months after it started,” Baker said in 2009. “It was my band, and Jack tried to fire me! I didn’t get any of the writing credits. It will piss me off for the rest of my life.”

Despite his rock bona fides, Baker always insisted that Cream were a jazz band. “Oh, for God’s sake, I’ve never played rock,” he told jazz.fm in 2013. “Cream was two jazz players and a blues guitarist playing improvised music. We never played the same thing two nights running … It was jazz.”

The band called it quits after a pair of farewell shows at London’s Royal Albert Hall in 1968; Clapton formed Blind Faith with Steve Winwood the following year. Clapton had little interest in working with Baker again, but the drummer showed up anyway at their first rehearsals. “Somehow he got wind of what we were doing and had tracked us,” Clapton wrote in his memoir. “Steve’s face lit up when he saw Ginger, while my heart sank.”

Baker’s drumming powered Blind Faith’s incendiary 1969 self-titled debut LP, though the band folded after a quick tour, partially due to Baker’s growing drug problems that were beginning to rub off on Clapton. “I took one look at his eyes and was sure he was back on it,” Clapton wrote. “I felt that I was stepping back into the nightmare that had been part of Cream.”

It took watching his good friend Jimi Hendrix die after a debauched night on the town together for Baker to finally kick hard drugs. Feeling he couldn’t pull that off in Europe, he packed up and traveled to Africa, teaming up with Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti for his classic 1971 LP, Live! (“He understands the African beat more than any other Westerner,” Afrobeat co-creator Tony Allen told RS in 2016.)

Baker developed a lifelong love of polo, but he was far removed from the rock scene — now a huge business thanks to groundbreaking groups like Cream — and he began slowly descending back into severe drug addiction, crippling his career....

Here's Cream in their 2005 reunion playing "Badge," which was written by Eric Clapton and George Harrison:




This is from Blind Faith's first show. Ginger Baker's drumming added so much to this — it's hard to imagine it with a typical rock drummer:




Ginger Baker said (via my mom, Ann Althouse):
I was always banging on the desks at school. So all the kids kept saying, "Go on, go and play the drums," and I just sat down and I could play. It's a gift from God. You've either got it or you haven't. And I've got it: time. Natural time.
Here are some tributes from Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Steve Winwood, and more. Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers says:
So much freedom in his playing. What a wildman. Rhythms we’ve hear all our lives he plucked them out of the sky.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Beatles' Abbey Road

It was 50 years ago today! The Beatles released Abbey Road on this day in 1969 in the UK. (It was released in the US a few days later, October 1.)

A new version of Abbey Road is supposed to come out tomorrow, and I'm looking forward to it after listening to the revelatory remixes of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and the White Album by George Martin's son Giles, who's made even the 2009 remasters of those albums sound like demo tapes by comparison.

Abbey Road was the last studio album the band ever recorded, although it was released before Let It Be. Abbey Road was such a great breakthrough for the Beatles that it's shocking to think they had already privately broken up by the time it was released. Beatles fans will always disagree over what's their best album, but Abbey Road is a strong contender. Better production techniques make it the best-sounding Beatles record — the only one that feels like it could have come out in the middle of the '70s. There's a new warmth and richness to the guitar tones.

George Harrison reached his songwriting peak on Abbey Road. That he was still limited to his usual 2 songs per album only highlighted that he was no longer a "third" songwriter but a true equal to John Lennon and Paul McCartney; his songs were "Something" and "Here Comes the Sun." George's memorable guitar solo on "Something" is the instrumental part of the song that's most often commented on, but Paul's bass line throughout the song was also vital, almost a counterpoint to the singing. It was George's first and only song on a Beatles single that wasn't just a B-side: "Something" was released with John's "Come Together" as a double "single," which went #1 in the US and other countries.




"Come Together" starts the album on a dark note, with the band sounding united as they play a primal, minimalistic hook that fuses guitars, bass, and drums; every instrument feels essential, especially Ringo's repeated fill. Eerily, John starts each repetition of the hook by saying: "Shoot me!"

How many albums are so full of great songs with so little filler? "Oh! Darling" takes the style of Fats Domino but goes further, with wonderful screaming by Paul and drumming by Ringo.




"I Want You (She's So Heavy)" is by John, who gives up his typical verbosity and sings the title of the song and just a few other words over and over, out of a seemingly obsessive craving. The song builds up a massive wall of guitars playing an epic, Led Zeppelin-like riff that feels like it could go on forever until it's suddenly interrupted by a song that could hardly be more different: "Here Comes the Sun."




The meditative "Because" has John, Paul, and George singing every line together. John said he was listening to his wife, Yoko Ono, playing Beethoven's "Moonlight" Sonata, asked her to play the chords backwards, and then wrote "Because" around that. The actual chords to "Because" aren't the same as the Moonlight Sonata's first movement played backwards or forwards, but you can still feel how the spirit of Beethoven touched Lennon. [ADDED: My mom, Ann Althouse, remembers listening to Abbey Road, especially "Because," with my dad.]




The famous "Abbey Road medley" starts out with one of the Beatles' most underrated songs: "You Never Give Me Your Money," which is like a little medley in itself, going from Paul singing the title alone at the piano, to old-school rock with a honky-tonk piano and lyrics of economic struggle ("Out of college, money spent, see no future, pay no rent…"), to a slower and more poignant section ("But oh, that magic feeling, nowhere to go…"), to a guitar solo by George that kicks things into a higher gear, goes through multiple key changes, and leads to a more energized Paul: "One sweet dream! Pick up the bags, get in the limousine!" What comes next, when the major key briefly switches to a quieter minor passage, is to me one of the most subtly emotional moments in the whole Beatles' oeuvre, and it's all the more moving for being so fleeting: "Soon we'll be away from here. Step on the gas, and wipe that tear away."




The end of the Abbey Road medley is … "The End," which starts out sounding like a hard rock song by Paul, but turns into a showcase for every band member: first a drum solo (the only time the usually unpretentious Ringo ever played one in a Beatles song), followed by dueling guitar solos by the other 3. Then, with the same abruptness as the switch from "She's So Heavy" to "Here Comes the Sun," hard rock gives way to musical theater, and the Beatles close out the album with a gorgeously orchestrated aphorism that seems to sum up a whole band based on the idea of love.

Abbey Road is an early example of an album with an unlisted "hidden" song at the end: "Her Majesty," performed only by Paul. It was supposed to go in the medley, after "Mean Mr. Mustard," but Paul was unsatisfied with his song and decided against it. The Beatles later heard the album with "Her Majesty" tacked on at the end, ending on the unresolved note that was supposed to segue into "Polythene Pam," because a studio engineer didn't know where else to put the song. The Beatles liked this effect, so they left the album that way — flawed and yet perfect.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

How to have a career that helps a lot of people: "Scale"

This Wall Street Journal piece is called "Advice to New Grads," though it would be more relevant to someone starting college (from 2018):

If you’re volunteering at shelters or working for most nonprofits, that’s all very nice, but it’s one-off. You’re one of the privileged few who have the education to create lasting change. It may feel good to ladle soup to the hungry, but you’re wasting valuable brain waves that could be spent ushering in a future in which no one is hungry to begin with.

There’s a word that was probably never mentioned by your professors: Scale.… It’s the concept of taking a small idea and finding ways to implement it for thousands, or millions, or even billions. Without scale, ideas are no more than hot air. Stop doing the one-off two-step. It’s time to scale up.

I hear you talking about food deserts and the need for urban eco-farms to enable food justice. You certainly have the jargon down. You can hoe and sickle and grow rutabagas to feed a few hungry folks.… A better option: Find a way to revamp food distribution to lower prices. Or reinvent how food is grown and enriched to enable healthier diets.…

Don’t spend all your time caring for the sick. Prevent disease. Gene therapy, early detection and immunotherapy can change the trajectory of disease because they scale. Don’t build temporary shelters. Figure out how to 3-D print real homes quickly and cheaply. Why tutor a few students when you can capture lessons from best-of-breed teachers and deliver them electronically to millions? That’s scale.

Scale is about doing more with less.… It’s about the productivity increases that create wealth. There is too much talk of sustainability, the fight over slices of a pie, zero-sum games. That’s the wrong framework. You need sustainability only if you stick to one-off moves.…

Everyone asks, “What do you do?” If you’re employed in a business that scales—and most “boring” jobs are—tell people you’re solving global poverty.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Pancakegate

Newsweek reports this breaking news about President Donald Trump at a family reunion:
He put a few pancakes in his pocket.
Could this be an impeachable breakfast buffet offense? See, the real crime isn't the pancake theft, it's the cover-up by hiding the pancakes in his pocket…

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Live-blogging the first one-night Democratic debate of the year

I'll be live-blogging the debate here. Keep reloading this post for more updates!

Tonight is the first 2020 Democratic debate that will be done on only one night. The earlier debates had 10 candidates on each of 2 nights, but now there are only 10 candidates for the whole thing.

[Here's the transcript.]

The debate is in Houston, so it's possible the crowd will respond especially well to the Texas candidates: Beto O'Rourke and Julián Castro.

(I'll be writing down quotes on the fly, so they might not be verbatim but I'll try to keep them reasonably accurate.)

Here goes:

8:06 - Amy Klobuchar offers herself for people who "feel stuck in the middle of the extremes." "I may not be the loudest person up here, but we already have that in the White House."

8:10 - Andrew Yang makes a splash with his opening statement: "In America today, everything revolves around the almighty dollar.… We have to see ourselves as owners and shareholders of this democracy, rather than as inputs into a giant machine." He offers to give $1,000 a month to 10 families who go to his website and submit essays about how they could use the money. [VIDEO.]

8:11 - The next up to give an opening statement is Pete Buttigieg, who stares straight ahead without talking for a long time, as if he's trying to think of how he can say anything after Yang. Finally, Buttigieg breaks his silence and tells Yang: "That's original — I'll give you that!"

8:13 - Kamala Harris speaks directly to Trump, and ends by saying: "And now, President Trump, you can go back to watching Fox News." Elizabeth Warren applauds.

8:14 - Bernie Sanders ignores the first time a moderator asks him for his opening statement. He finally perks up when his name is called a second time.

8:16 - Elizabeth Warren humanizes herself by talking about how she grew up in the neighboring state of Oklahoma, and she went to college "down the road from here," at the University of Houston, for just $50 a semester.

8:17 - Joe Biden's pitch: we need to get rid of Trump so Biden can … cure cancer?

8:18 - Biden on Elizabeth Warren's views on health care: "The Senator says she's for Bernie. I'm for Barack." Biden says Warren hasn't explain how she'll pay for her plan, while Bernie Sanders has only explained half of it.

8:20 - Elizabeth Warren tries to neutralize Biden's strategy of associating himself with Obama: "We all owe a huge debt to President Obama, who fundamentally transformed health care in America.… The question is how we can best improve it."

8:22 - Bernie Sanders says that while "Medicare for All" will cost $30 trillion in 10 years, the "status quo" will cost $50 trillion. We can't afford not to elect Bernie!

8:24 - Biden says under Bernie Sanders's plan, a family making $60,000 a year will pay $5,000 more. "It's not a bad idea if you like it. I don't like it!"

8:25 - Bernie Sanders points out that Americans spend twice as much for health care as Canadians or Europeans. Biden responds with confidence in his voice, standing next to Sanders with a commanding stance: "It's America!" I felt like Biden should have been a character in a Western just then.

8:27 - Klobuchar says under Warren's plan, "149 million Americans will no longer be able to have their current insurance … in 4 years. I don't think that's a bold idea, I think that's a bad idea." Instead, she's for the public option — "that's a bold idea!"

8:29 - Buttigieg strikes an almost libertarian note in explaining why he's against the Bernie Sanders bill: "The problem … is that it doesn't trust the American people. I trust you to decide what works for you, not 'my way or the highway.'" He'd have the public option, and if people like that, they'll choose it.

8:32 - Kamala Harris seems to realize that all this policy-wonk discussion may be making our eyes glaze over: "This conversation is giving the American people a headache!"

8:33 - Joe Biden to Bernie Sanders: "For a socialist, you have a lot more confidence in corporations than I do!"

8:35 - After some fiery back-and-forths among leading candidates, Beto O'Rourke emphasizes the agreement among all of them of the urgency of universal health care.

8:37 - Castro suggests that Biden's health-care plan is defective because it requires people to opt in, while Castro's would enroll people by default. When Biden disputes that point, Castro gets very personal against Biden, as if to suggest doubts about the septuagenarian's mental condition: "Are you forgetting, already, what you said just 2 minutes ago? … You're forgetting that! … I'm fulfilling the legacy of Barack Obama, and you're not." Buttigieg calls out the negativity: "This is why presidential debates have become unwatchable!" Klobuchar agrees: "A house divided cannot stand." [VIDEO.]

8:43 - They move on to race. Beto says: "We have a white supremacist in the White House, and he poses a mortal threat to people of color all across this country."

8:44 - Cory Booker seems unimpressed by Beto: "We know Donald Trump is a racist; there's no red badge of courage for pointing that out! The question isn't whether you're a racist; it's what you're doing about it." He says we don't talk enough about "environmental injustice."

8:46 - Buttigieg: "It's not enough to just take a racist policy, replace it with a neutral one, and expect things to get better on their own." That's a weird argument, because abolishing racist policies and replacing them with a non-racist ones isn't expecting things to improve "on their own"; it's expecting things to improve because of better policies.

8:48 - Kamala Harris is asked about her flip-flops on criminal justice issues, including being for marijuana legalization after she was against it. She starts out: "There have been many distortions of my record…" But she never tells us what those distortions are. She says we should "deincarcerate women and children" — without mentioning men, who of course are the vast majority of incarcerated people. [VIDEO.]

8:52 - When asked about his record on criminal justice, Biden talks about how after law school, he left his job at a big law firm to become a public defender. "When you get out of prison, you should be able to not only vote, but have access to Pell grants, and housing, and so much more."

8:54 - Booker (quoting someone else) has a chilling line: "We have a justice system that treats you better if you're rich and guilty than if you're poor and innocent."

8:58 - Kamala Harris is asked about Biden's past suggestions that there are constitutional problems with her proposals to use executive orders to change gun laws, and she seems to be trying to disarm him with her casual approach: "I would just say: Hey, Joe! Instead of saying no we can't, let's say yes we can!" Harris's response to someone who asked her if she blamed Trump for the El Paso shooting: "He didn't pull the trigger, but he's tweeting out the ammunition!"

9:08 - Elizabeth Warren points out that "mass shootings get all the attention," but they're just a small part of the real problem, which is all gun violence.

9:10 - Warren talks about a time when she got a gun bill passed by 54 votes in the Senate, but it failed because of the filibuster. Yet Bernie Sanders says he doesn't want to end the filibuster.

9:13 - Biden on the differences between the Obama and Trump administrations on deportations: "We didn't lock people up in cages. We didn't separate families." Let's have a fact check on that!

9:14 - Biden seems uncomfortable answering a question about whether he stands by Obama's millions of deportations. He says Obama did the best he could. But what about Biden himself? All he says is: "I was the vice president!" Castro ridicules Biden for trying to have it both ways: he wants all the credit for the good things Obama did, but he ducks any tough questions about Obama by saying he was just the vice president.

9:19 - Yang seems like he's trying to buck up Biden by saying: "I would return the level of legal immigration to what it was under the Obama/Biden administration."

9:30 - After a break, they're talking about trade. Yang says he wouldn't repeal Trump's tariffs "on day 1," but he'd tell China we need to "make a deal."

9:32 - Buttigieg dodges a question about whether he'd repeal the tariffs: "I would have a strategy that would include tariffs as leverage."

9:38 - Kamala Harris: "I am not a protectionist Democrat. We need to sell our stuff!"

9:39 - Harris on Trump: "He reminds me of the Wizard of Oz: when you pull back the curtain, it's a really small dude!" Moderator George Stephanopoulos says he won't take that personally, but Harris says it wasn't about him. (They're both short.)

9:41 - Booker has a good line: "Trump's 'America First' policy is really … an 'America Alone' policy."

9:47 - Buttigieg, who served in the Afghanistan war, points out that today, September 12, 2019, people are eligible to enlist in the military who hadn't been born on September 11, 2001. "We have got to end endless war." He wants any authority to use military force to have a 3-year sunset.

9:54 - The moderator asks Yang why he's "the best" candidate on the stage to be "commander in chief," after listing some of the other candidates' foreign-policy credentials. Yang doesn't really answer the question. He doesn't say anything about his experience; he just lists some of his policy proposals, which don't seem to distinguish him from any other candidate.

9:59 - Booker is asked if he's going to call for more Americans to go vegan like him. "No. I want to translate that into Spanish: No."

10:01 - We're more than 2 hours into the debate … which is supposed to go for 3 hours! I'm not sure how much more of this I can take. They're on climate change now, and I'm wondering if I'm going to hear anything from them that I haven't heard before. All the other debates have also had long segments on climate change.

10:07 - Yang points out that every candidate has proposed to solve climate change by curbing the influence of money. "But money finds a way! … The answer is to wash the money out with people-powered money."

10:12 - Harris says that if a black child has a better chance of going to college if they have at least one or two black teachers by third grade. I'd like to see more about that study — what are the full statistics about all races, and what are the theories about why we see those outcomes?

10:15 - The moderator says she's going to ask Biden a question about "inequality in schools and race," and as soon as she says that phrase, Biden chuckles. That didn't go over well, and that was right before the moderator asked him about a quote from 40 years ago where Biden made some not-so-progressive-sounding comments about not wanting to pay for something his ancestors did 300 years ago. In response, Biden stumbles over a lot of his words, but doesn't explain that quote. Then he talks about … Venezuela! Not sure what the connection is there.

[ADDED: I missed when Biden told parents to "play the radio" and "make sure you have the record player on at night." Yikes.] [VIDEO.]

10:30 - The candidates are asked how they stayed "resilient" after their biggest setbacks. Biden talks about losing his first wife and some of his children. Warren talks about being fired as a teacher because she was pregnant. Buttigieg talks about coming out as gay while he was a mayor in a socially conservative state, and says: "Part of how you can win … is to know what's worth more to you than winning." Yang talks about his first business failing and remembers "how isolating it was — it feels like your friends no longer want to spend time with you." Booker talks about a political fiasco that ended up being the subject of an Oscar-nominated documentary: "My tires were slashed, our campaign office was broken into, our phones were tapped!" Klobuchar tells a heart-breaking story about her daughter being born with a severe illness that made it hard for her to breathe, when the hospital kicked them out after 24 hours under a law that allowed that. She got the law changed.

Finally, it's over. And what did we learn from all that? Everyone likes Beto. Castro doesn't like Biden. Booker won't force you to go vegan. And not only will Yang give you $1,000 a month if he's president, but he might even give you $1,000 a month before the election!

ADDED: Biden said: "I have a bold plan to deal with making sure we triple the money for at-risk schools that are Title I schools, from 15 to $45 billion a year." In 2015, I blogged a mini-documentary about the time we tested the idea that giving lots of money to a school in a poor area can make it better. We need to look at the results of our past experiments, or we'll be making policy blindly.

Ann Althouse (my mom) reacts to the debate the morning after:

3. Bernie was awful. His voice had acquired a new raspiness that made his angry, yelling style outright ugly. I couldn't believe I needed to listen to him. I cried out in outrage and pain. The stabbing hand gestures — ugh! This is the Democrats second-most-popular candidate? I loved Bernie when he challenged Hillary 4 years ago. The anger was a fascinating mix of comedy and righteousness. But the act is old, and the socialism — did Joe call him a "socialist" more than once? — is scary. We can't be having a raving crank throwing radical change in our face.

4. Elizabeth Warren was there on the other side of Biden. She and Bernie were double-teaming Joe, and that worked... for Joe. He linked Warren to Bernie: She's for Bernie/I'm for Barack. I remember Warren reacting to every question with "Listen..." Like we're the slow students in her class and we haven't been paying attention and she's getting tired of us. We should already know what she's been saying on whatever the question happens to be.... [B]ut we're not in her class, and our responsibilities are to people and things in our own lives, not in keeping track of whatever her various policies and positions are. Warren seems to have the most potential, but she got yoked to Bernie, and the impression from a distance is: 2 radicals who want to make America unrecognizably different. MAUD!
My mom's comments sum up how I felt about Klobuchar and Harris:
9. ... I remember nothing [Klobuchar] said. I want to like her. She's in reserve as a normal person who might be okay. I remember her getting excited while talking. I guess she was hoping to make an impression.

10. Kamala Harris wore a silk shell under her suit jacket. The glossiness caught the light and shadow in a mesmerizing display of undulation. What did she say? I don't know but she said it in that voice that I can easily imitate simply by holding my nose. She seems unsteady, shaky... like that silk shell is a metaphor. I almost feel sorry for her. I don't understand why she's there and I don't believe she understands. Writing that makes me remember something she said: Her mother told her she needs to be her own person and not let anyone else tell her who she is. That's very inward. Running for the presidency is not a journey of self-exploration. But I don't believe that's what she's really doing. I think she's been told — maybe by a hundred or a thousand people — that she's got what it takes to be President and she's accepted their idea of her. That's the opposite of what her mother said.
I’ve never understood why Kamala or Beto decided to run for president, except that they heard from many people who were excited about the idea of them running for president.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

2020 candidates on executive power

Here are 16 presidential candidates responding to a New York Times survey on "executive power."

The first question is:

1. Presidential War Powers

In recent years, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel has claimed that the Constitution authorizes the president, as commander in chief, to order the military to attack other countries without congressional permission if the president determines that this would be anticipatory self-defense or otherwise serve the interests of the United States — at least where the nature, scope and duration of the anticipated hostilities are “limited,” like airstrikes against Libyan government forces in 2011 and Syrian government forces in 2017 and 2018.

Do you agree with the O.L.C.’s reasoning? Under what circumstances other than a literally imminent threat to the United States, if any, does the Constitution permit a president to order an attack on another country without prior Congressional authorization? What about bombing Iranian or North Korean nuclear facilities?

This is what Joe Biden said about when the president can take military action without congressional approval:
As is well established and as the Department of Justice has articulated across several administrations, the Constitution vests the President, as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive, with the power to direct limited U.S. military operations abroad without prior Congressional approval when those operations serve important U.S. interests and are of a limited nature, scope, and duration.

I have served in both branches of government and believe this allocation of powers has served us well. Only in the most exigent circumstances would I use force without extensive consultation with Congress.

Any initiation of the use of force against Iran or North Korea – unless in response to an imminent attack -- could certainly result in a wide-scale conflict and constitute a “war” in the constitutional sense that would require authorization by Congress.

And here's Pete Buttigieg:
I am concerned that the Executive Branch has stretched the President’s unilateral war-making authority too far. The Office of Legal Counsel’s reasoning provides that the President may direct the use of military force pursuant to his or her Article II constitutional powers without prior congressional authorization when (1) the President reasonably determines that doing so would serve an important national interest and (2) the nature, scope, and duration of the military activities would not rise to the level of “war” under the Constitution. This framework acknowledges the reality that a President may need, in rare and extraordinary circumstances, to take swift action in response to attacks or imminent threats of attack.

But while it may reflect history, it strays from our Constitution’s design. Moreover, it lacks criteria for determining which “national interests” qualify, as well as any identifiable limiting principles on what constitutes “war.”

As President, I will take swift and decisive action to protect the nation when necessary. But I also believe that decisions to embroil our armed services in conflict should be a joint decision of both the President and Congress. There should be a high bar for the use of military force, and an exceedingly high bar for doing so unilaterally.

Absent evidence that either North Korea or Iran pose a threat that is truly imminent, there is no justification for using force in either country, let alone doing so without Congressional approval.

I also recognize that Congress has the constitutional authority to set substantial limits on the President’s ability to use military force absent congressional authorization, as it has done through the War Powers Resolution. As President, I will respect these limitations. And I will work with Congress to explore legislation that builds on the example of the War Powers Resolution to ensure our constitutional values are upheld.

Tough decisions about committing American lives and treasure should be subject to public debate and congressional oversight.... And if and when I must act unilaterally to defend the United States, I will explain why the threat is too grave to wait for Congress to act.

Who do you think gave the best answer?

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Jennifer Rubin's illogical argument about presidential debates

Jennifer Rubin argues in the Washington Post that Biden’s primary opponents shouldn’t expect to take the lead by beating him in the debates. She gives historical examples, but see if you can find a flaw in her argument about the 2000 election:

There are precious few instances in which a candidate’s debate performance destroyed his chances. President Gerald Ford’s infamous remark “There is no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe . . . I don’t believe the Poles consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union" was the rare exception to the rule that a single answer can doom a candidates. Then-Vice President Al Gore’s sighing, eye-rolling and obvious disdain for then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush in the 2000 general-election debates did him no favors, but it’s hard to conclude those debates were decisive in an election that was essentially a tie.
See the problem? If you give up, read the first two comments on my public Facebook post about this. Or you can highlight this white-on-white text for the answer:

My mom, Ann Althouse, wrote in a comment:
It's maddening to hear that "it’s hard to conclude those debates were decisive in an election that was essentially a tie." If it is the case — and I think it is — that Gore ought to have won easily, then falling back to the tie position is a big difference. It's EASY to conclude the debates were decisive...
I responded:
Yeah, she’s assuming that Gore and Bush started out tied! But that ignores all the factors that were in Gore’s favor as the two-term vice president in an administration that oversaw a booming economy, as well as the perception that Gore was smarter and more competent than Bush.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Should the rich avoid discussing their wealth with their kids?

I've never understood that idea, and this New York Times piece convinced me there's no good reason for it:

Parents would be remiss if they did not talk to their children about drinking and driving, using drugs and, of course, sex. . . . So why do a significant number of parents still not talk to their children about wealth and inheritance?

Two-thirds of Americans who have at least $3 million in investable assets have not talked to their children about their wealth or never will, according to a Merrill Private Wealth Management study of 650 families.

Some in the survey said they did not bother because they assumed their children had already figured it out. But 67 percent had quietly made gifts in a trust or set aside money in their children’s name. . . . Ten percent steadfastly refused to talk at all with their children about money, saying it was no one’s business. . . .

In a world of oversharing on social media, why does this restraint persist? It’s complicated. . . .

The most common reason cited for not talking about money is that parents do not want inheritance to rob children of motivation. So if a parent does not say anything, a child will never figure out the family’s wealth. Impossible.

Children are well able to use computers and mobile devices to determine just how much their house, car and vacation cost, along with their school fees and the salaries of any household help. Information about prominent parents and families is flowing to their children’s friends as well.

“A second-grade kid, because they go to all of these house parties, will be able to rank the wealth of all the people in his or her class pretty accurately,” said Dennis Jaffe, a psychologist who works with wealthy families. “It’s not positive or negative, and they’re not jealous yet. But these are teaching moments about values.”

This challenges the notion that waiting until children are older is better. By then, they will have formed their own views on wealth by watching their parents.

“Values are set by everyday behaviors when you’re growing up, and kids are watching you,” Mr. Jaffe said. “Entitlement education begins in nursery school, not when they’re 25 and come to you and say, ‘I need some money.’”

The strategy of ignorance exposes a disconnect between a parent’s stated reason and real reason for saying nothing, said Matthew Wesley, a director at Merrill’s Center for Family Wealth and a co-author of the study with Ms. Allred.

“The stated reason is, ‘We don’t want money to screw up our kids, and if we disclose our wealth to them, we’ll derail their career paths,’” Mr. Wesley said. “The deeper reason is about fear and control — the fear to relinquish that control and the deeper psychological issues around money.”

Disengagement creates more problems, though, because it can create a perception that a family is more, or less, wealthy than it really is. Leaving children to guess can also create feelings of insecurity.

Some parents shy away from talking about wealth because they have decided to give away most of the money.

“That’s great, but if you’re not telling your kids, that’s weird,” Mr. Jaffe said. “If that’s what you believe in, why wouldn’t you tell your kids that ‘we’re a very wealthy family, but our values say we’re going to put most of it into a philanthropy, and we’re all going to work and do something on our own’?”

Friday, August 23, 2019

25 years of Jeff Buckley's Grace

Jeff Buckley's Grace was released 25 years ago today, on August 23, 1994.

Grace has the youthful excitement of a debut album, and the emotional gravity of a swan song. Sadly, Grace was both. More material has been posthumously released, but Grace was Jeff Buckley's only full studio album.




It didn't get much attention at first, but as people found out about it, Grace eventually sold millions and is now considered a classic.




Jeff Buckley inspired a wide range of artists including Grizzly Bear (listen to "Fine for Now" from Veckatimest), Chris Cornell (a close friend of Jeff Buckley's who wrote this song about him), Rufus Wainwright (who wrote another tribute), and Lana Del Rey.

Bono of U2 said:

Jeff Buckley was a pure drop in an ocean of noise.

This live version of "Lilac Wine" (a cover of a 1950 song) has very different chords from what he played on the album:




Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin:
The album that I’ve been listening to for the last 18 months is Grace by Jeff Buckley. He is a great, great singer. He has such an emotional range, doing songs by Benjamin Britten and Leonard Cohen as well as his own – such technique and command. When the Page/Plant tour hit Australia, we saw [the band] and we were knocked out. It was very moving. Someone heckled him from the audience: "Stop playing that heavy stuff!" But he made the perfect reply: "Music should be like making love — sometimes you want it soft and tender, other times you want it hard and aggressive."

Aimee Mann explained how she ended up writing a tribute to him, "Just Like Anyone":
This is a song I wrote when Jeff Buckley died... I hadn't known Jeff extremely well, but we kept bumping into each other here and there. One night we met for a drink at a pub in NYC, and started writing messages to each other on a paper place mat that was there, instead of talking, because the music in the bar was really loud or something. An interesting effect of that was that we found ourselves writing things that we would never would dare to say to each other out loud. I remember thinking that he seemed to be sort of lost and sad although he outwardly was very funny and lively and confident, and wrote something about that, among other things. I didn't talk to him for a long time after that — I went to England to live for a while… Then one night I got a voicemail message from him that said, 'I just realized what you were trying to tell me that night.' I tried to call him back, but the number I had for him was old. And then I got his new number but I was out of town again and it was difficult to call. And then I heard that he was missing and presumed dead.
Jeff Buckley drowned on May 29, 1997. He was 30.

Looking out the door
I see the rain fall upon the funeral mourners
Parading in a wake of sad relations
As their shoes fill up with water


(Live solo.)

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Woman in the Box

Here's "Man in the Box," from Alice in Chains' debut album, Facelift (1990), sung by Gabriela Gunčíková, who changes "man" to "woman":




Original:

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Alfred Hitchcock

Alfred Hitchcock would have turned 120 today. He was born on August 13, 1899, and died at age 80 in 1980. He directed more than 50 movies over the course of more than 50 years, from silent movies in the 1920s to his last work in 1976.

Hitchcock is the reason I don't put much stock in the Oscars. He never won an Academy Award for Best Director. Rebecca (1940) was his only movie that ever won Best Picture. Vertigo (1958) wasn't even nominated for any major Oscars, yet it was voted the best movie of all time in the 2012 "Sight & Sound" poll of film critics.

The Oscar snubs reflect that Hitchcock wasn't always fully appreciated in his time. But his movies have aged so well it's easy to forget how old they are. Roger Ebert said:

I do not have the secret of Alfred Hitchcock and neither, I am convinced, does anyone else. He made movies that do not date, that fascinate and amuse, that everybody enjoys and that shout out in every frame that they are by Hitchcock. In the world of film he was known simply as The Master. But what was he the Master of? What was his philosophy, his belief, his message? It appears that he had none. His purpose was simply to pluck the strings of human emotion -- to play the audience, he said, like a piano. Hitchcock was always hidden behind the genre of the suspense film, but as you see his movies again and again, the greatness stays after the suspense becomes familiar. He made pure movies.
That's from Ebert's explanation of why he put Notorious (1946) on his list of the 10 greatest movies of all time.

From Hitchcock's New York Times obituary:
Alfred Hitchcock, whose mastery of suspense and of directing technique made him one of the most popular and celebrated of film makers, died yesterday at the age of 80 at his home in Los Angeles.…

In a characteristically incisive remark, Mr. Hitchcock once summed up his approach to moviemaking: "Some films are slices of life, mine are slices of cake." …

His best movies were meticulously orchestrated nightmares of peril and pursuit relieved by unexpected comic ironies, absurdities and anomalies. Films made by the portly, cherubic director invariably progressed from deceptively commonplace trifles of life to shattering revelations, and with elegant style and structure, he pervaded mundane events and scenes with a haunting mood of mounting anxiety.

In delicately balancing the commonplace and the bizarre, he was the most noted juggler of emotions in the longest major directorial career in film history. His distinctive style was vigorously visual, always stressing imagery over dialogue and often using silence to increase apprehension. Among his most stunning montages were a harrowing attack by a bullet-firing crop-dusting plane on Cary Grant at a deserted crossroad amid barren cornfields in "North by Northwest," a brutal shower-slaying in "Psycho" and an avian assault on a sleepy village in "The Birds." …

Reflecting his motif of a world in disorder, Mr. Hitchcock placed endangered protagonists in settings epitomizing order--citadels of civilization, the Statue of Liberty, United Nations headquarters, Mount Rushmore and Britain's Parliament.

Reviewers acclaimed his virtuosity in creating a rhythm of anticipation with understated, sinister overtones, innovative pictorial nuance and montage, brilliant use of parallel editing of simultaneous action, menacingly oblique camera angles and revealing cross-cutting of objective shots with subjective views of a scene from an actor's perspective.…

His films were spiced with unusual peripheral characters and often shot on location in exotic settings. His heroines were usually "cool" classic beauties who "don't drip sex," he said. "You discover sex in them."

At its best, the Hitchcock touch revealed a cornucopia of conjurer's tricks, dextrously juxtaposing tension and relaxation, relieving horror with humor. "After a certain amount of suspense," he told an interviewer, "the audience must find relief in laughter."

He deplored James Bond-type gimmicks and played on childhood anxieties--fear of heights, enclosed places and open spaces--and his plots dealt with suspicion, guilt, complicity, delusion, vulnerability, irrationality, violence and sexual obsession. He manipulated moviegoers so adroitly that at times they felt implicated in the most despicable acts, including those of a homicidal maniac.

In Mr. Hitchcock's world, people may or may not be what they appear to be, but the audience sees and knows more than the protagonists. He invariably alerted viewers to imminent dangers such as a ticking time bomb, withholding the knowledge from imperiled characters, and identified the villains early on, eschewing the "whodunit" as "a sort of intellectual puzzle" that is "void of emotion."

* * *

Before filming, he drew precise sketches of every scene, meticulously listing each camera angle. Working with his screenwriter for months, he freely adapted material, writing up to 100-page shot schedules without dialogue. He almost never looked through the camera's viewfinder and scrupulously avoided improvising on the set.…

Francois Truffaut, a leading director of France's New Wave, praised him as "the most complete film maker" of all American directors and "an all-round specialist, who excels at every image, each shot and every scene."

Lauding Mr. Hitchcock as a leading "artist of anxiety" with a "purely visual" style, Mr. Truffaut commented that "Hitchcock is almost unique in being able to film directly, that is, without resorting to explanatory dialogue, such intimate emotions as suspicion, jealousy, desire and envy."

* * *

In childhood incidents, he developed a lifelong fear of the police and punishment, major influences on his movies. At about the age of 5, he was sent by his father with a note to a local police chief, who locked him in a cell for five minutes. In releasing him, the officer said, "That's what we do to naughty boys." Mr. Hitchcock later said he could never forget "the sound and the solidity of that closing cell door and the bolt."

This photo is from one of his best movies, Strangers on a Train (1951), where Hitchcock makes a cameo as a musician getting on a train while the main character is leaving. Netflix subscribers can watch the movie here.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

If mass shootings are "terrorism" . . .

If mass shootings are going to be called “terrorism,” then we should ask if common arguments about terrorism apply to mass shootings. One of those arguments is that the media and the public are too concerned about terrorism, which poses far less of a risk to the average American than car accidents do. (Neil deGrasse Tyson recently made that argument, and caught a lot of flak for it.)

But there are good reasons to feel differently about intentional massacres than car accidents. Intentional terrorist attacks or mass shootings against innocent people have no benefits, so the only goal that makes sense is to reduce them to as close to zero as possible. Cars aren’t like that; cars have a lot of benefits, and can even save lives (e.g. driving someone to the hospital). So the optimum goal is not to reduce the number of cars to zero. And as long as there are cars, there are going to be car accidents, no matter how careful we are. Still, for many decades, America has been taking measures to reduce car accidents, like traffic laws and car safety regulations. It shouldn’t be assumed that people don’t feel very strongly about cars; after all, those statistics on fatalities mean there are a lot more Americans out there who’ve lost a family member to a car crash than to a terrorist attack.

Another common argument about terrorism is that without at all excusing the atrocities, we should understand the root causes of terrorism, namely that economically oppressed people turn to terror as a last resort. Meanwhile, it’s often been observed that the most widely reported mass shootings in the US have usually been done by white men. So, are white men who grew up in the United States a particularly oppressed group? If you don’t think so, and you think the kinds of mass shootings we’ve been seeing lately are “terrorism,” then it’s time to question the idea that oppression is the root cause of terrorism.

Friday, August 2, 2019

It isn't "way too early" to think about who the Democratic running mate will be

People say it’s “way too early to be thinking about” [NYT link] who’ll be the vice-presidential nominee when we haven’t even started voting for the person who’ll make that decision. But wait, shouldn’t we think about what the ticket might be before choosing the nominee, while it could still inform our votes in the primaries? I don’t like the idea that we must follow a certain schedule about which questions to think about when, or that we can’t think more than one step into the future.

Those who say the choice of running mate doesn’t matter very much are wrong. It can matter a lot. A good running mate can smooth over some of the nominee’s weaknesses (that’s been true of at least the last 3 running mates to win, who all eased concerns about the future president’s experience and competence). A weak choice can raise serious questions about the nominee’s judgment (Sarah Palin, Dan Quayle); it’s our only chance to see what kind of person the president would hire for their administration before we cast our votes.

So, what are some of the plausible Democratic tickets for 2020? Any nominee will want a ticket with diversity. We can assume it won’t be two Straight White Men; it’s highly unlikely that the ticket will be, say, Biden/Bennet or Bernie/Beto.

If Elizabeth Warren is the nominee, I could see her choosing Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker, or Julián Castro. Each would add a different and significant kind of diversity. All of them have been generally performing well in the debates. I can’t see any glaring, irreconcilable differences that would stop her from choosing them — they’re not Delaney, who Warren ridiculed as running for president just to say what he “won’t fight for.”

Buttigieg and Castro would love us to think they’d flip their states in the Electoral College (as unlikely as it might seem for Trump to lose his vice president’s state of Indiana or deep-red Texas). But a successful running mate generally isn’t picked as a tactic to win just one state. Obama didn’t choose Biden to win Delaware; same with Dick Cheney’s two states of Wyoming and Texas; Paul Ryan didn’t manage to win Wisconsin for Romney, etc. Warren surely knows all this.

The running mate could be someone who isn’t running now; for instance, Warren might choose Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio. But there are so many Democratic presidential candidates that it would be surprising if they all got passed over for VP.

If Pete Buttigieg wins the nomination, it’s easy to see him going for gender diversity by choosing Elizabeth Warren or Tulsi Gabbard, who were both outstanding debaters this week. Warren would excite progressive voters, but the last thing Buttigieg needs is more race-related concerns about his campaign, and he could count on Trump to make a big issue out of Warren’s past representations of being Native American. This couldn’t be dismissed just by calling out Trump’s crude word choice in bringing it up.

Buttigieg and Gabbard would be two young veterans who both speak compellingly about their military experience. Buttigieg might want to accentuate this side of his background, along the lines of Bill Clinton choosing Al Gore to emphasize that they’re a new kind of Democrat. Journalists would have their work cut out for them just listing all the ground Tulsi Gabbard could break as a 30-something, Hindu, American Samoan, vegetarian, surfing martial-arts instructor who took her congressional oath of office on the Bhagavad Gita instead of the Bible.

Buttigieg/Booker could also be appealing, but they’re both male. And unfortunately, Buttigieg has to worry about bias against him as a gay man, so even if this shouldn’t matter, he probably wants a running mate with a relatively traditional personal life; Booker has never been married and doesn’t have kids. Kamala Harris also doesn’t have kids, but more importantly, I don’t expect any nominee to choose Harris with all the questions about her record, in these days of increased interest in criminal justice reform.

I have a harder time speculating about who Joe Biden would choose, since he seems generally unpredictable and erratic. So I have no guess for him — and even if I did, I’d expect him to choose someone else!

That leaves 2 other candidates in the top 5, but I don’t expect them to be nominated so I’m less interested in guessing who their running mates would be. Kamala Harris’s image as a tough prosecutor is ill-suited to the current political moment, and her response to Gabbard’s attack last night wasn’t confidence-inspiring on that front. Self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders, who’d be in his 80s for most of his presidency, is even more of a long shot now than last time.

No one else seems likely to win the nomination, but that could change. Almost every presidential race gives us at least one huge surprise . . .