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


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":


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 . . .

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Live-blogging the second 2020 Democratic debate (second night)

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

[Here's the debate transcript.]

It starts at 8 Eastern, and you can watch it online on CNN's website.

Again, I won't be able to pause or rewind when I'm blogging live, so the quotes in this post might not be verbatim, but I'll try to keep them fairly accurate. (I also might correct things later.)

My mom, Ann Althouse, is also live-blogging. (Maybe not very much, but she's doing it!)

These are the 10 candidates for tonight:

former Vice President Joe Biden
Sen. Kamala Harris
Sen. Cory Booker
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard
former Secretary Julián Castro
Mayor Bill de Blasio
Sen. Michael Bennet
Gov. Jay Inslee
Andrew Yang

8:04 - I didn't quite hear what Kamala Harris and Joe Biden said to each other when Harris came out to Biden (the first two to walk onto the stage), but it sounded like Harris said, "Are we good?" and Biden said: "We're good."

8:14 - Bill de Blasio brags about raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour — "Yes, it can be done!" Yes, it can be done in New York City, the most expensive city in the country. That doesn't make it a good idea to set the same wage in a poor area where that policy could take away jobs.

8:16 - Michael Bennet says in his opening statement: "Mister President, kids belong in classrooms, not cages."

8:18 - Kirsten Gillibrand seems to be implicitly responding to the candidates last night who focused on being pragmatic and having policies that are politically feasible: "When are civil rights ever convenient?"

8:21 - Castro: "We're not going back to the past. We're not going 'back where we came from.' We're moving forward."

8:22 - Andrew Yang: "We need to do the opposite of what we've been doing now. The opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian math nerd. So let me share the math…" This segues into explaining how he'll give all Americans $1,000 a month.

8:25 - Something's wrong with the audio from Kamala Harris's microphone.

8:26 - Joe Biden focuses on the diverse group of candidates on the stage. "Mister President … we are stronger and great because of this diversity, not in spite of it."

8:28 - Kamala Harris is asked about the Biden campaign's attacks on her health-care plan for being "confusing." "They're probably confused because they've not read it."

8:29 - Biden on Harris's 10-year projections for her health plan: "If someone tells you something good will take 10 years, you should ask why it'll take 10 years.… You'll lose your health insurance." Harris says that's "simply inaccurate," and counterattacks: "Babies will be born into my plan.… Your plan, by contrast, leaves out 10 million Americans." When Biden emphasizes the costs of Harris's plan — $30 trillion, according to Biden — Harris shoots back: "The cost of doing nothing is far too expensive."

8:33 - Kirsten Gillibrand worries that the people watching right now will "lose the forest for the trees" on health care. Gillibrand calls out the candidates whose health-care proposals depend on private insurers: "I'm sorry, they're for-profit companies! … They have fat in the system that's real, and it should be going to health care." Kamala Harris takes Gillibrand's side against Biden: "I couldn't agree more."

8:36 - The moderator asks Cory Booker how he can square various different statements he's made about health care, but he doesn't answer the question. He just wants them all to get along: "The person who's enjoying this debate the most right now is Donald Trump, as we pit Democrats against each other."

8:39 - Kamala Harris says that Biden's health plan, which doesn't cover everyone, is "without excuse." Biden says: "It will cover everyone." But then he badly trips over his words — for a while there I wasn't sure he'd ever finish his sentence. Once he finally gets back to speaking coherently, he stops mid-sentence the instant the moderator cuts him off — the second time that's happened to Biden tonight.

8:42 - Kamala Harris raises a very serious problem: "I have met so many Americans who stick to a job they don't like … simply because they need the health care that employer provides." She and Bennet proclaim their friendship with each other and accuse each other of lying. Bennet says Harris would make private health insurance "illegal." Harris seems exasperated at Bennet: "You gotta stop!"

8:44 - Jay Inslee: "There's no reason we should distinguish between your physiological and your mental health."

8:45 - Yang says when he told his wife he wanted to run for president, her first question was: "What are we going to do about our health care?"

8:46 - Bill de Blasio: "I don't understand why Democrats on this stage are fear-mongering about universal health care."

8:47 - Bennet says, "This has nothing to do with a Republican talking point," except he sounds like Bill Murray playing a drunk guy, so it really sounds more like: "This has nothing to do wih' Repu'lin talling poin'."

8:49 - Biden mocks Bill de Blasio and Harris Kamala: "I don't know what math you do in New York! I don't know what math you do in California!"

8:51 - Biden gets mad: "We should put some of the insurance executives who don't like my plan in jail for the millions of opioids they put out there!"

8:54 - Now we're in the immigration section, which I'm less interested in — not because I don't care about the issue, but because I don't expect them to say much new. But Kamala Harris has a strong moment describing what she saw when she and Castro went to a facility for children. The security guards wouldn't let her in, so she went across the street, climbed a ladder, and looked inside.

8:56 - Audience members have been yelling over the candidates. The moderator tells Biden to keep talking over them. But earlier, the moderator had Cory Booker stop until the loudmouths were done, and they went on a long time. I don't see why the policy about how to deal with these losers keeps changing.

9:00 - Yang says Democrats shouldn't only be talking about the most "distressed" immigration stories; they should talk about people like his dad, an immigrant who got a lot of patents in the US.

9:02 - Biden says America is so great because "we've been able to cherry-pick the best from every culture." He means that to be a strong pro-immigration statement, but it might not go over well with progressives to suggest that the US should "cherry-pick" the "best" people — that sounds restrictive.

9:04 - De Blasio asks Biden if when he was vice president, he resisted President Obama's massive numbers of deportations. Biden refuses to answer, making a procedural argument about confidentiality: "I keep whatever I said to him, private." Booker practically laughs in Biden's face for trying to "have it both ways": he talks about Obama more than any other candidate does, but won't answer de Blasio's question about Obama. Booker uses Trump's infamous phrase "shithole countries," without getting bleeped!

9:13 - Biden says people in prison "should be learning to read and write, not just learning how to be better criminals." Biden has a better habit of cutting off the ends of his own answers by saying things like: "Anyway!" He sometimes seems to be almost throwing his hands up at himself!

9:14 - Biden accidentally calls Cory Booker "the president," but catches himself, good-naturedly grabs Booker's arm, and says: "Excuse me, the future president here!" Booker looks delighted: "I'm glad he's already endorsed my presidency!"

9:16 - Biden criticizes Booker for his record on crime in New Jersey — "stop and frisk" and hiring a former Rudolph Giuliani staffer on crime. The way Booker starts out his response gets a big reaction from the audience: "If you want to compare records … and I can't believe you do …"

9:18 - Inslee says we "need to ban the box," meaning forbid employers from asking applicants about their criminal records. Does he know that this leads to more racial discrimination, because employers use people's race as a proxy for their criminal records?

I avoid writing on the internet about actual or alleged crimes in New York City.

9:23 - Moderator Jake Tapper asks Kamala Harris if Biden is right to say their position on federally mandated busing is "the same" — they're both against it. Harris says: "That is simply false.… On that issue, we could not be more apart."

9:26 - Biden tells us to Google: [a thousand people freed kamala harris].

9:27 - Tulsi Gabbard is "deeply concerned" about Kamala Harris's record on criminal justice. Gabbard says Harris put a lot of people in jail for marijuana but then laughed when asked if she had used marijuana, "blocked evidence" that could have freed wrongly accused people on death row, and "kept people in prison beyond their sentences to use them as cheap labor." "When you were in a position to make a difference in these people's lives … you did not." Harris's response to this serious attack is weak; for instance, one of the things she says is that she's "personally" opposed to the death penalty, but that doesn't really respond to any of Gabbard's points. I'm interested to see if Harris's inability to respond to Gabbard's attack causes progressives to start rethinking Harris.

9:31 - Bennet, again, seems less like he's running for president and more like he's auditioning for the role of "drunk man."

9:33 - Yang is asked why he'd be the best president to heal racial divides. Shockingly, Yang's answer is … he'd give everyone $1,000 a month.

9:38 - Confession: I'm not really listening to Inslee. I don't take a candidate seriously when they make their campaign all about one issue. No matter how important that issue is, the presidency is about more than one issue.

9:43 - Gillibrand has possibly the weirdest line of the night: "The first thing I'm going to do if I am president is I will Clorox the Oval Office." Gillibrand is getting very peppy: "Why not have a green energy race with China?"

9:46 - Booker: "Nobody should get applause for rejoining the Paris climate accord. That is kindergarden!"

9:49 - Biden is asked how he'll energize progressives enough to get the turnout he'll need to win Michigan in the Electoral College. Biden lists things the Obama administration did for Michigan specifically, e.g. the bailout of car companies helped Detroit. He missed the opportunity to address the broader question about why progressives (in any state) should be excited about voting for him.

9:54 - Harris on Trump: "He has done nothing except beat people down instead of lift people up. And that's what we want in the next President of the United States." That was poorly worded!

9:59 - Dana Bash asks Castro: wage growth is up, and Castro proposes to raise taxes — how can he guarantee that won't hurt the economy? Castro says Trump shouldn't take credit because the same thing was happening under Obama. What he doesn't tell us that the trajectory has been better lately than under Obama:

employee compensation has increased by $150 billion more in the first six months of 2019 than all of 2016. Compensation increased 42% more during the first two years of the Trump Presidency than in 2015 and 2016. This refutes the claim by liberals that the economy has merely continued on the same trajectory since 2017 as it was before.
10:03 - The debate's been going on for 2 hours now. I don't know if I can keep paying attention enough to write this. It's been pretty boring.

10:08 - Kamala Harris tells a blatant lie that hurts women: that women are systematically paid only about 80 cents on the dollar. If people are tricked into believing that lie, that will encourage people to stick to traditional gender roles by deterring women from participating in the labor force. No matter how progressive a spin you put on it, you can't change the economic rule that if people think they're going to get less of a reward, they'll be less motivated to do it.

10:12 - Gillibrand accuses Biden of saying that women who leave the home and work in the labor force are harming society. Of course, Biden denies ever saying or thinking that.

10:15 - Booker on Trump: "I will not do foreign policy by tweet. A guy who tweets out that he's pulling troops out of Afghanistan, before his generals even know about it, is creating a dangerous situation for our troops in Afghanistan."

10:16 - Tulsi Gabbard has a particularly serious moment talking about what she saw when she was deployed to Iraq in 2005.

10:20 - Biden is asked about his vote to authorize the Iraq War. Predictably, he says: "I did make a bad judgment trusting the president…" Gabbard agrees: "We were all lied to."

10:22 - Kamala Harris on the Mueller report: "I've read it. There are 10 clear incidents of obstruction of justice by this president. I've seen people go to prison for much less."

10:23 - Booker and Castro call for impeachment proceedings against Trump. De Blasio suggests that if people keep hearing about impeachment whenever they turn on the TV, they'll feel like no one's talking about how to make the economy better. "The best impeachment is beating him in the election." Bennet argues that impeachment would "play into [Trump's] hands," since the Senate would be sure to acquit Trump, who'd then declare victory. Castro makes the opposite argument: if Trump isn't even impeached, he'll declare that as a victory.

10:32 - De Blasio uses his closing statement to talk to Trump: "Donald, you're the real socialist! The problem is: it's socialism for the rich."

10:36 - I don't know who the best candidate is, but I know who the boringest candidates are: Inslee and Bennet.

10:37 - Gillibrand asks us to reject the false choice of thinking we need either "a progressive with big ideas" or "a moderate who can win Obama voters." She'll be both.

10:41 - Yang goes meta: "We're up here with makeup on our faces, saying prepared attack lines, playing roles on a reality TV show."

10:43 - Booker: "People are saying the only thing they want is to beat Donald Trump. Well, that is the floor, not the ceiling!"

10:45 - Kamala Harris uses her closing statement go after Trump: "Donald Trump has a predatory nature… The thing about predators is: by their very nature, they prey on people they perceive to be weak … and predators are cowards." Her point is that as a former prosecutor, she's perceptive about bad guys and will be able to "prosecute" Trump in the election.

10:47 - Biden ends his closing statement by saying (while seeming confused as if he's struggling to read a cue card): "If you agree with me, go to Joe 30330." I don't know what that means.

And that's the end of the debate — after almost 3 hours! Yeesh, that was a long slog.

My mom's take:
The best of the night? Tulsi Gabbard. A brutal attack on Kamala Harris. Excellent deep, strong voice. Well-grounded seriousness.
I agree that Gabbard was good.

Now, who wasn't good? Joe Biden.

Biden doesn't have the passion, the fire, the relentless drive you need to run for president. He kept stumbling over his words and cutting off his own answers before he was done. He's the only candidate who instantly stops himself mid-sentence as soon as the moderator signals his time is up. He couldn't manage to deliver his prepared closing statement telling people where to go to support his campaign. He looked tired and defeated. Biden simply isn't up to the task.

Winners: Tulsi Gabbard, Cory Booker

Losers: Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, CNN (your debates are too damn long!)

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Live-blogging the second Democratic debate of 2020 (first night)

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

[Here's the transcript.]

This is the first of two nights for the second 2020 Democratic debate (counting each two-night broadcast as one debate). The debate in Detroit starts at 8 Eastern, and you can watch it online on CNN's website.

As usual, I'll be doing this without the benefit of a pause or rewind button. So any quotes in this post might not be perfect word for word, but I'll try to keep them reasonably accurate. (And I might go back later and make corrections.)

My mom, Ann Althouse, is also live-blogging.

These are the 10 candidates for tonight:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Sen. Bernie Sanders
Mayor Pete Buttigieg
former Rep. Beto O'Rourke
Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Gov. John Hickenlooper
former Rep. John Delaney
Rep. Tim Ryan
Gov. Steve Bullock
Marianne Williamson

The first two to walk onstage are Bernie Sanders and then Elizabeth Warren — she greets him very warmly: "Good to see ya!!!" This signals they won't be attacking each other tonight, as progressive frontrunners. Hickenlooper comes out a while later and has to walk around a lot to shake everyone's hands.

"The Star-Spangled Banner" is sung, and all the candidates put their hands on their hearts — except Tim Ryan. Amy Klobuchar looks like she's having fun singing along. Pete Buttigieg, the only military veteran on the stage, has an extremely serious expression.

8:14 - Steve Bullock, the only candidate on the stage who wasn't in the last debate, trashes "that last debate": the candidates were more interested in "scoring points" than in speaking to everyday Americans. "I won 3 elections in a red state" — Montana.

8:17 - John Delaney starts his opening statement with a direct attack on "Senator Sanders and Senator Warren" for their "bad policies" like "Medicare for All." "My platform is about real solutions, not impossible promises."

8:18 - Tim Ryan's opening statement does a twist on President Donald Trump's catchphrase: "America is great, but not everyone can access America's greatness."

8:19 - John Hickenlooper, like Delaney, starts his opening statement with an explicit attack on Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, saying their approach was not supported by any of the 40 Democrats who flipped House seats in 2018. "I share their progressive values, but I'm a little more pragmatic."

8:20 - Amy Klobuchar joins in the same tone as Hickenlooper: "Yes I have bold ideas, but they are grounded in reality. I can win this. I'm from the Midwest."

8:22 - Pete Buttigieg says the problem is bigger than Donald Trump — we have to ask how he even got "within cheating distance of the presidency."

8:23 - Elizabeth Warren says any of the Democratic candidates would be much better than Trump, and she promises to work her heart out to support whoever it is.

8:24 - Bernie Sanders: "Half of the American people are living paycheck to paycheck, and yet 49% of all new income goes to the top 1%."

8:26 - Bernie Sanders is asked what he says to Delaney, who says supporting Medicare for All will just reelect Trump. Sanders: "You're wrong!" Sanders notes that they're close to Canada (they're in Detroit), and "when you go to a hospital in Canada, you come out with no bill at all." Delaney's dry rebuttal: "It'll underfund the industry."

8:29 - Elizabeth Warren chimes in: "We are Democrats! We are not about trying to take away health care from anyone! That's what Republicans are trying to do, and we should stop using Republican talking points to talk to each other about what to do with health care."

8:31 - Warren sums up the problem with private health insurance: "Their model is: take as much money as you can in premiums, and pay as little as possible in health care coverage." Bullock dismisses Warren's policy as "wish-list economics."

8:32 - Buttigieg splits the difference, saying we don't need to "speculate" about which health-care policy is best, because "we can put it to the test with my Medicare for All Who Want It plan."

8:33 - Beto O'Rourke says Bullock is offering a "false choice," which hands Bullock a chance to talk more. I don't feel like Beto got much of a chance to speak to his views on health care, since moderator Jake Tapper constantly interrupted him.

8:36 - Klobuchar: "We need the public option. That's what Barack Obama wanted!" She says Bernie Sanders inconsistently called this immoral after supporting it last year, while CNN cuts to Bernie nervously gulping from a mug.

8:37 - Bernie Sanders attacks Jake Tapper for giving a "Republican talking point" to drug companies that they'll probably use in their ads during the debate tonight!

8:38 - Delaney boasts that he's the only candidate on the stage with experience in the health-care business, and "I don't think my colleagues understand the business." Bernie Sanders: "It's not a business!"

8:39 - The moderate Hickenlooper wants health-care reform to be "an evolution, not a revolution."

8:40 - Marianne Williamson says that while she admires Warren and Sanders on the health-care issue, she also hears what some of the more pragmatic candidates are saying: "I do have concern about what the Republicans would say." Buttigieg disagrees with Williamson: "It is time to stop worrying about what the Republicans are going to say," since Republicans are going to call the Democrats "a bunch of crazy socialists" even if they completely agree with Republicans.

8:43 - After Bernie Sanders lists specific things that'll be covered for "senior citizens," including "hearing aids," Tim Ryan cuts in: "You don't know that!" Bernie shoots back: "I do know it! I wrote the damn bill!!!"

8:45 - Tim Ryan has another dry criticism of Bernie Sanders's health-care plan: "His math is wrong. That's all I'm saying. It's been well-documented." Then Ryan goes for the jugular: "I'm starting to think this is not about health care — this is an anti-private-sector strategy!"

8:47 - After a long discussion of health care, onto immigration. Buttigieg says he wants illegally crossing the border into the US to be a crime only "if fraud is involved."

8:48 - Beto strikes a conservative note on immigration: "I expect that people who come here follow our laws, and we reserve the right to criminally prosecute them if they do not."

8:49 - Warren would "decriminalize" border crossings "to take away the tools that Donald Trump has used to break up families."

8:50 - At one point Klobuchar slurs her words so much I can't understand what she's saying. This is unfortunate given how little time she's getting to speak.

8:52 - Bullock says: "The biggest problem that we have with immigration is Donald Trump." Even if that's true, it seems like a weak argument for a candidate to make, since that doesn't tell us how he'd be better than any other Democratic president — none of them would be Donald Trump. Oh, I see when he gets another chance to clarify: he's saying that's why we don't need to decriminalize border crossings. Elizabeth Warren comes back: "So what you're saying is: ignore the law!"

8:55 - Tim Ryan stakes out the center on immigration: "If you want to come into the country, you should at least ring the doorbell!"

8:56 - Bernie Sanders brings back health care in the immigration context: "When I talk about health care as a human right, that applies to all people in this country."

8:59 - Onto guns. After Buttigieg's answer, Hickenlooper makes a seemingly bold statement — "This is the fundamental nonsense of government!" — but I'm not clear on what he's referring to. I don't know if he's attacking Buttigieg or agreeing with him.

9:02 - Gov. Bullock of Montana is asked how we can trust him on gun control when he just flip-flopped to a more liberal position last year. "Like 40% of American households, I'm a gun owner." But his nephew was shot to death on a playground.

9:04 - Bernie Sanders: "Nobody up here is going to tell you they have a magical solution to the crisis" of shootings. But didn't Beto just say he ... has a magic solution?

9:06 - On guns, Marianne Williamson says "we need a constitutional amendment," presumably to repeal the Second Amendment. And she doesn't trust the other candidates on the stage — we need to "start over with people who have not taken donations from any of these corporations."

9:12 - After a commercial break, Hickenlooper is saying Bernie Sanders's platform would be like Fed Ex-ing the election to Trump. Instead, the focus should be on Trump's incompetence: "Donald Trump is malpractice personified." Bernie Sanders points out that he won the 2016 primaries in Michigan and Wisconsin — 2 of the 3 states that ended up being decisive in electing Trump.

9:15 - Beto tries to shift the focus in the electability discussion: "There's a new battleground state: Texas."

9:17 - Elizabeth Warren denies that when she says she's "a capitalist," she means to imply she'd be more electable than Bernie Sanders.

9:19 - Elizabeth Warren has a memorable retort to Delaney's pragmatic line: "I don't understand why anybody goes to the trouble of running for the President of the United States just to talk about what we can't do and shouldn't fight for!" [ADDED: The New York Times asks if that's the "line of the night."]

9:20 - Bernie Sanders is the only one talking about the city they're in: "Detroit was almost destroyed by awful trade policy."

9:22 - Klobuchar: "We are more worried about winning an argument than winning an election."

9:24 - Delaney seems to have been getting more time to talk than the more popular Beto O'Rourke. Are the moderators feeling sorry for Delaney because of rumors his campaign is on the verge of collapse?

9:30 - I hope when I'm 77 years old, I'm vigorous and energetic enough to be yelling at the top of my lungs for 2 hours like Bernie Sanders. (When I was in the middle of writing that, Tim Ryan told Bernie: "You don't have to yell!")

9:33 - Bernie Sanders gets down to earth: "Ain't nobody in Congress who's more pro-worker than I am!"

9:35 - Amy Klobuchar on water contamination in Flint, Michigan: "I was just in Flint, and they are still drinking bottled water, and that is outrageous." On infrastructure, "you need a voice from the heartland."

9:39 - Beto calls out President Trump for racial rhetoric: "It is changing this country. Hate crimes are on the rise."

9:42 - Buttigieg is asked about the perception that he has problems with racial issues. He starts with what seems to be a carefully prepared line: "As an urban mayor serving a diverse community, the racial divide lives within me."

9:45 - Beto gets energized on the issue of race. He talks about how America has the world's strongest economy because it was "built on the backs of slaves who were brought here against their will," and he says he supports "Sheila Jackson Lee's reparations bill."

9:47 - Marianne Williamson, who supports reparations, is asked how she'd figure out what "assistance" should be given. She rejects that framing: "It is not 'assistance.' It is payment of a debt that is owed."

9:53 - Tim Ryan says the problem with Trump's approach to China is Trump has a "tactical" approach while China has a "strategy." China thinks 20 or 30 years in advance, while we're focused on a 24-hour news cycle.

9:57 - Beto says Trump's tariffs are "a huge mistake — they constitute the largest tax increase on the American consumer, hitting the working class and the working poor especially hard."

9:59 - Hickenlooper: "There is not a single example where a trade war had a winner. Trade wars are for losers." It seems like he has a plan for if he ever gets to debate Trump: tell Trump his policies are for "losers."

10:01 - I don't like when Buttigieg frames his policy views in terms of Christianity. He suggests Republicans are being un-Christian to oppose raising the minimum wage. That isn't the way to think rationally about economic policy.

10:04 - I'm inclined to agree with John Delaney that it would be better to increase the capital gains tax than to follow Elizabeth Warren's plan for a new "wealth tax." Delaney says the wealth tax would be challenged by lawsuits for years, and countries that have tried a similar policy have abandoned it. Warren has a weak response: she merely says it would be just a 2% tax on rich people's wealth over $50 million, which doesn't address Delaney's concerns about how it would actually work (or not work) in practice.

10:11 - Klobuchar is against some of the more extreme proposals to forgive student debt, which "would pay for wealth kids, for Wall Street kids, to go to college." She'd let people refinance their student debt.

10:12 - Bernie Sanders is asked how he's different from President Trump when they both say the US "shouldn't be the policeman of the world." Sanders on how he's different: "Trump is a pathological liar — I tell the truth!"

10:17 - Pete Buttigieg promises to leave Afghanistan in the first year of his presidency. "We are close to the first casualty in Afghanistan who was not yet born on September 11."

10:20 - Elizabeth Warren says we should announce a policy that the US will never be the first to use a nuclear weapon. Steve Bullock disagrees: "I wouldn't want to take that off the table." Warren looks stunned! Bullock then makes an emotional appeal to the city they're in: "I don't want to say, well, Detroit has to be gone before we would ever use that."

10:23 - Don Lemon asks Pete Buttigieg about the fact that he's the youngest candidate at age 37, and he's standing next to the oldest candidate, Bernie Sanders. (What about 89-year-old Mike Gravel?) The question is: "Does age matter?" Buttigieg has often talked about how we need "generational change," but he dodges the question: "I don't care how old you are. I care about your vision." For his part, Sanders says he'd help younger generations by making their student debt go away.

10:30 - Now onto the closing statements. Bullock seems a little drunk.

10:32 - Delaney says he has "big ideas like national service." Delaney has talked so much about being pragmatic and avoiding policies that are so extreme they'll turn off voters in the general election, but then he proposes this horrible idea.

10:36 - Hickenlooper's closing argument: "I'm as progressive as anybody up on this stage, but I'm also pragmatic. And I've done these things that other people have just talked about."

10:39 - Buttigieg says he has "good news and bad news." "First the bad news": "GDP is going up, and life expectancy is going down." Wait, is it bad that GDP is going up?

10:41 - Elizabeth Warren uses her closing statement to talk about going to a $50-a-semester college, which she ends up connecting to how her campaign is based on small donations.

10:42 - Bernie Sanders tells us about an unusual experience he had just two days ago: he took 15 people with diabetes from Detroit to Canada, and they bought insulin for a tenth the price they had been paying.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Wanna feel old?

Nirvana's breakthrough album Nevermind is older today . . . than the Beatles' "I Want to Hold Your Hand" single was . . . on the day Nirvana released Nevermind.

Dog who knew over 1,000 words dies

The New York Times reports:

John W. Pilley, a professor emeritus of psychology at Wofford College, taught his Border collie to understand more than 1,000 nouns. . . .

For three years, Dr. Pilley trained her four to five hours a day: He showed her an object, said its name up to 40 times, then hid it and asked her to find it. He used 800 cloth animal toys, 116 balls, 26 Frisbees and an assortment of plastic items to ultimately teach Chaser 1,022 nouns.

Chaser died on Tuesday at 15. She had been living with Dr. Pilley’s wife, Sally, and their daughter Robin in Spartanburg. Dr. Pilley died last year at 89. . . .

What we would really like people to understand about Chaser is that she is not unique,” [John Bianchi’s daughter, Pilley Bianchi, who helped him train Chaser,] said. “It’s the way she was taught that is unique. We believed that my father tapped into something that was very simple: He taught Chaser a concept which he believed worked infinitely greater than learning a hundred behaviors.”

Ms. Bianchi said that her father’s experiment was “uncharted territory” in animal cognition research, pointing to news media coverage calling Chaser “the world’s smartest dog.”

“Her language learning is very high-level, powerful science,” she said. . . .

If Chaser had 30 balls, Ms. Bianchi said, she would be able to understand each one by its proper-noun name and also as a part of a group of objects. “She learned the theory of one to many and many to one, which is learning one object could have many names and many names can apply to one object or one person,” she said.

Greg Nelson, a veterinarian at Central Veterinary Associates in Valley Stream, N.Y., said humans were learning that animals have a deeper understanding of the world around them.

“People have always been under the belief that animals respond to commands based on a rewards system,” he said. “Learn limited commands and tricks, then get a treat.”

But “they do have a language among themselves, spoken and unspoken,” he added. “And it’s apparent that they can understand the human language probably in much the same way as we learn a foreign language.”
You can say the communication in this video starting at 2:08. At first I thought she could be responding to Dr. Pilley's nonverbal cues, as when the owner would move in the direction of the frisbee while asking her where the frisbee is. But then she really does seem to be understanding language when he says: "Chase, to Powderpuff [a doll's name], take frisbee."

Dr. Pilley says in the video:
These kinds of findings definitely show that lower animals, especially dogs, are not just machines with blood. They have emotions, they have mental processes.
There's a better demonstration here, as a seemingly skeptical Neil deGrasse Tyson asks Chaser to find certain toys that are all out of Tyson's view (after 2 minutes in). "I asked Chaser to find 9 toys, and she got every one right. And . . . I chose the toys from this huge pile; neither John [Pilley] nor Chaser saw which ones I picked." She also made a logical inference: when Tyson asked her to find a doll she had never heard of before, "Darwin," out of a group of 9 toys, she chose the only toy she had never seen before.

So I think those videos prove the dog really did understand the words. In the past, I've been willing to call BS on claims of animals with supposedly sophisticated language understanding that seem like scams, as I did with Koko the gorilla (see my last comment in this Facebook post, quoting a skeptical Slate article).

With these kinds of claims of an animal understanding language, there are always going to be those who question whether the animal really has that linguistic understanding, or if what's really going on is the animal is picking up on other cues from the owner. So it's important to take that skepticism seriously and address it directly, in order to show people how much the animal understands.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The speech we would have heard if Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin couldn't return from the moon

50 years ago today, July 16, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin embarked on the first-ever trip to the moon, where they would land days later, on July 20, before returning to earth on July 24.

Because they were risking their lives, a speech had to be prepared for President Nixon to read in the event they got stuck on the moon with no way back.

Here's the full speech, written by future New York Times columnist William Safire. The last sentence ... oh man! 😢

Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

These two men are laying down their lives in mankind's most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.

They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by the nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.

In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.

In ancient days, men looked at the stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.

Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man's search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.

For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.

(Photo credit: Universal History Archive/UIG/SH. Photo via Variety.)

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Conan O'Brien improvises a whole episode when his only guest cancels at the last minute

"So much TV today is pre-programmed, worked out ahead of time . . . but that's not this show tonight! . . . We're figuring it out as we go. . ."

Friday, July 5, 2019

My 20 favorite Seinfeld episodes

The pilot of Seinfeld first aired 30 years ago today, July 5, 1989.

Here are my 20 favorite Seinfeld episodes (with the season number in parentheses):

1. The Pez Dispenser (3)

2. The Fix-Up (3)

3. The Opposite (5)

4. The Red Dot (3)

5. The Soup (6)

6. The Soup Nazi (7)

7. The Outing (4)

8. The Junior Mint (4)

9. The Deal (2)

10. The Invitations (7)

11. The Big Salad (6)

12. The Limo (3)

13. The Contest (4)

14. The Bizarro Jerry (8)

15. The Cartoon (9)

16. The Hamptons (5)

17. The Library (3)

18. The Stall (5)

19. Male Unbonding (1)

20. The Reverse Peephole (9)

And the winner is: season 3, with 5 of the 20 episodes.

Why we hear about gay pride and not straight pride

If you’re straight, and you’ve told everyone all you want about how great your spouse/marriage/relationship is without worrying you might be ostracized over it, then you don’t need to ask: Why can’t I take pride in my sexual orientation? You’ve already enjoyed the freedom to express your pride, without having to feel the burden of simultaneously representing not only yourself but also a lot of other people in a fight against discrimination. And if you’ve only thought of straight pride as a rhetorical response to gay pride rather than as a genuine response to a real need, that stands in contrast with gay pride, which is not just a talking point but a way to counteract how people have been shamed and attacked for being gay.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Saturday, June 29, 2019

My post-debate thoughts on the presidential race

I want to vote for a Democrat in the primary and general. I’ve never voted for a Republican for president, and I’ve voted in every presidential election since I voted for Gore in 2000, without regretting any of my general-election votes. (I went into more details in this Facebook post.)

The candidates who made the best impression on me in the two nights of the first Democratic debate were Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper.

Those aren’t necessarily my favorite candidates; there are others I’ll seriously consider. I don’t know who I’ll support, and many candidates are sure to drop out before the New York primary, which could force me to adjust my preferences. But I have ruled out several candidates, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

I want the Democrats to be ready to make a strong case in the general election that while they might be pretty liberal, they’re not socialists, and they understand the importance of pragmatism and compromise. Klobuchar and Hickenlooper have given the impression they’d be able to convey this to America.

Too many other candidates have not. An example is the candidates who’ve suggested they would abolish all private health insurance in America. That would move us further left than most developed countries. (Contrary to what’s sometimes said, few countries have single-payer health care; most countries with universal health care have a multiple-payer system involving government and private insurers. See this 2014 Washington Post article by Ezra Klein.) America is badly in need of sweeping reform to health insurance, but destroying every private health insurer in the country would seem radical and extreme to most Americans. Donald Trump couldn’t ask for a more generous gift.

Nominating one of the relatively moderate candidates is the way to win over swing voters in swing states, and make the Trump presidency rightly go down in history as a mistake that America corrected at the first available opportunity.