Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Cardi B and the way we react to women who abuse men

Singer/songwriter Cardi B has confessed that she used to drug and rob men who were interested in her sexually after bringing them to hotels. She's responded to criticism for this by saying the men were "willing" and "aware."

Christina Hoff Sommers tweets:

If a male pop star confessed to these kinds of crimes against women, then defended himself by vaguely making it sound like the women really wanted it or were asking for it, his career would be over.

Or it would at least be reported by the New York Times, which Cardi B's comments haven't been. (The Times does report on alleged abuse of women by male singers, like Ryan Adams, and has even seen fit to print stories about a teenage boy who smiled the wrong way.)

The way society has this muted response to the worst kinds of abuse of men by women is doubly sexist: (1) obviously sexist against men by not caring about them being wronged, but also (2) insidiously sexist against women because of the implication, “She’s just a girl — surely she couldn’t have done that much harm . . .”

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

What Elizabeth Warren doesn't tell you about the middle class

Senator Elizabeth Warren said on New Year's Eve: "The middle class is being hollowed out."

Sounds scary! But she didn't mention that the "middle class" is shrinking because they're getting richer, not poorer. They're moving up, yet Warren makes it sound like they're getting crushed. Look at this chart (explained here):

UPDATE: Some commenters on Facebook have taken issue with those statistics. I've responded over there. The truth is certainly more complicated than my glib post made it seem.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

The released immigration detainees who need "hipper clothes"

“The NWDC isn’t a real jail, since the detainees aren’t convicts . . . yet when released, many of them are stranded . . . with no local contacts, no money, and no way to get home. And many of them speak little English. It’s a man-made crisis right in our midst! So now a newly released detainee can walk straight to our welcome van. . . .”

One of my favorite cartoonists, Peter Bagge, went to that van, talked to volunteers and former detainees, and made this multi-page comic about the experience. (Keep clicking the “next” button to read the whole thing.)

“When asked, the volunteers said their most needed items are ‘hipper clothes.’”

Why is Ben Wikler running to lead the Democrats in Wisconsin?

As I was recently saying, Wisconsin matters in presidential politics.

My friend Ben Wikler is vying to lead the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, the state where he and his wife are raising 3 young kids in our hometown, Madison.

When Wikler announced his campaign last month, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported:
MoveOn senior adviser Ben Wikler announced . . . he is running for chairman of the state Democratic Party.

Martha Laning this month announced she would not seek another term this summer. She was first elected in 2015.

"I'm running for chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin because I believe in the power of grassroots activists," Wikler said in a statement. "It's time to supercharge our party in every corner of the state to fight for our progressive agenda, defeat Trump, and win Democratic victories up and down the ballot." . . .

He worked on political campaigns starting in high school, helping Democrats including [now-Senator] Tammy Baldwin [and then-Senator] Russ Feingold. . . .

Under Laning, Democrats lost the presidential election in Wisconsin for the first time since 1984. The party bounced back last year, with Democrats winning all statewide races.

Democrats remain deep in the minority in the statehouse — a situation Democrats attribute to Republican-drawn districts that favor the GOP. Wikler said he wants to recruit and train high-quality legislative candidates so Democrats can chip into the Republican majority and if a Democratic wave comes, take advantage of it.

"You have to run hard everywhere," he said.
Click the SoundCloud thing below to hear Wikler (interviewed by Jessie Opoien of Madison's Cap Times) talking about some of his formative experiences, including his leadership in the fight against global AIDS, that led him to running for Chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party.

(One of the questions in the interview is now out of date because it was about him running unopposed; shortly after the interview was recorded, State Rep. David Bowen announced he's also running.)

Wikler and Opoien don't just talk politics; they also talk about other aspects of Wisconsin, like cheese.

And if you have the same reaction I did to the interview, you'll come away from it saying: "MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice?!"

The interview starts a minute and 33 seconds into this. (The embedded thing might not work for you if you're on a smartphone — in that case, you can listen at this link.)

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

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

If you know Ben, you know he's an incredibly hard worker who's passionate about putting his progressive ideals into action. I'm confident that Ben Wikler is the right person to lead the Democrats in our home state.

This is the campaign website, which has a bio of Ben here. If you want to donate to the campaign, or volunteer, follow those links. If you want to be a delegate to support Ben Wikler and his running mates, Felesia Martin and Lee Snodgrass, at the convention in Milwaukee on June 1 and 2, here's how. (Note that you must be an official member of the party by May 18.) Or if you want to volunteer at the convention, go here.

UPDATE: Ann Althouse, a retired University of Wisconsin law professor who's also my mom, links to this post and says:
I myself am not a member of any party, and I don't contribute to any candidates or even endorse them. . . . But I like linking to John's blog, and he certainly does know Ben very well. I know Ben very well too. That "monthly student publication" they worked on got edited right here in the house where I still live. I've had long conversations with Ben, from when he was a teenager, and he's just an all-around fine person.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Your time

Your time is limited and valuable. In every waking moment, you get to decide what the very best use of your time is right now out of all possible options. You should always want to do that rather than anything else. And the best use of your time is never arguing with people about whether they have the appropriate "reactions" to your Facebook posts.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Pantera's Far Beyond Driven turns 25

25 years ago today, Pantera released its 7th album, Far Beyond Driven.

Here's an oral history of the album from 2014, quoting the three band members who were still alive then.

Rolling Stone wrote this about Far Beyond Driven, while ranking it one of the best metal albums ever (#39):

Pantera bassist Rex Brown once told Rolling Stone that with Far Beyond Driven, “the record company was pushing for something like [Metallica’s chart-topping] ‘Black Album.'” Pantera, of course, did not comply with this request, instead coming up with a record that boasted some of their fastest (opener “Stronger Than All”) heaviest (the Sabbath-y “I’m Broken”) and most downright misanthropic (the utterly depraved “Good Friends and a Bottle of Pills”) jams. At times – witness Dimebag Darrell’s Whammy pedal abuse on “Becoming,” Phil Anselmo’s wretched exorcising of paternal demons on “25 Years” or Vinnie Paul’s click-y bass drum sound all over the album – it seemed as if the band was attempting to inflict actual pain on the listener. And yet, shockingly, Pantera’s record company did in fact get their Number One album. To this day, Far Beyond Driven stands as indisputably the most extreme effort to have reached the top spot on the Billboard 200, not to mention to have debuted in that position upon its release.
Here's some stuff I wrote about 3 of the songs in previous posts about the deaths of Pantera's guitarist, "Dimebag Darrel" Abbott, and drummer, Vincent "Vinnie Paul" Abbott (who were brothers), at the tragic ages of 38 and 54:

In "I'm Broken," which is probably Pantera's best-known song, Vinnie is in lock-step with the guitar and bass as they veer from one time signature to another. Darrell's guitar riffs and solo in this song are memorable. Uncharacteristically for metal, some of the stretched-out notes in his solo seem to have a playful sense of humor.

Some of the lyrics are poignant knowing that half the band members are now gone:

One day we all will die — a cliche fact of life . . .

Here's an instrumental piano version of "I'm Broken."

I'm surprised "Shedding Skin" isn’t better known. To me, it’s one of Pantera’s best. But please don’t click that link unless you’re OK with some pretty crude lyrics and brutal music. It starts with a powerful riff, then switches to an eerily soft verse, which flows seamlessly into the heavy chorus. Tempo changes keep things interesting later on: the part where it slows down, in the section right before the guitar solo, is transcendent. After two guitar solos, the band closes out the song with a two-chord rhythmic frenzy.

The album ends on "Planet Caravan," a haunting cover of a song from Black Sabbath's breakthrough album, Paranoid. Pantera was so concerned that this un-heavy song would alienate the fans that the liner notes included a message justifying the decision to include it on Far Beyond Driven. It gives us a rare chance to hear Darrell soloing with a clean tone.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Does marijuana cause psychosis, and if so, should we keep it illegal?

A new study supposedly "shows that consuming pot on a daily basis and especially using high-potency cannabis increases the odds of having a psychotic episode later." Past studies have also found "that more frequent use of pot is associated with a higher risk of psychosis — that is, when someone loses touch with reality."

However, it's unclear whether this is causation or just correlation. That NPR article says: "One critique of the theory that weed contributes to psychosis risk has been that while more people are using weed worldwide, there hasn't been a corresponding rise in rates of psychosis." On the other hand, "cities with more easily available high-THC weed do have a higher rate of new diagnoses of psychosis."

I’d like to see drugs legalized, not because I want more people to do drugs, but because I want more people to feel more free to speak out about their struggles with drug addiction, the way people now feel free to talk about their addictions to things that are legal: alcohol, cigarettes, food, etc. These can all be detrimental to your health, but making people fear getting locked up if they’re open about their failings in these areas is not a good plan for making society healthier.

The current illegality of some drugs like marijuana also makes them seem cool and rebellious, and makes anyone who criticizes them seem lame and authoritarian. If drugs were legal, they'd lose some of their allure.

(Photo of woman selling cannabis in Assam, India from Wikimedia Commons.)

What Kamala Harris misses in her argument for reparations

From a Wall Street Journal op-ed by Jason L. Riley:

In an interview with National Public Radio last week, [Kamala Harris] said that the “trauma” experienced among blacks today stems from their slave past. “It is environmental. It is centuries of slavery, which was a form of violence where women were raped, where children were taken from their parents—violence associated with slavery,” said the senator. “There was never any real intervention to break up what had been generations of people experiencing the highest forms of trauma.”

Ms. Harris wants to hold slavery responsible for black America’s contemporary problems. But that requires ignoring the progress made by blacks—both in absolute terms and relative to whites—who lived much closer to the era of slavery.

For example, the soaring violent-crime rates that produce so much “trauma” in poor black communities today did not exist in those communities in the first 100 years after emancipation, even though poverty rates at the time were much higher and racism was still legal and widespread.

Barry Latzer, a criminologist at John Jay College, reports that black male homicides fell by nearly 18% in the 1940s and by another 21% in the 1950s, while rates remained relatively flat among their white counterparts over the same period.

Similarly, Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson has written that “in ghetto neighborhoods throughout the first half of the twentieth century, rates of inner-city joblessness, teenage pregnancy, out-of-wedlock births, female-headed families, welfare dependency and serious crime were significantly lower than in later years and did not reach catastrophic proportions until the mid-1970s.”

Did the “legacy of slavery” and Jim Crow skip over a couple of generations and then reassert itself in the mid-1970s? Or is it possible that something else is primarily responsible for the outcomes we see today?

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Happy 40th birthday to C-SPAN!

C-SPAN first aired 40 years ago today, March 19, 1979.

C-SPAN is a great public service by a private organization. It is not a government entity in any way.

For decades, C-SPAN has been my go-to source for presidential debates and speeches, press conferences, congressional hearings, interviews, and more. While other stations selectively chop up these events, C-SPAN gives you the whole thing, from beginning to end and beyond, letting you feel like a fly on the wall before and after they’re aired by the for-profit channels.

C-SPAN is not just a TV station, but also a website that seems to have its whole 40 years online and accessible to everyone. You never have to pay or register for anything, and there are no commercials.

Nick Gillespie at Reason magazine says:

Long before reality TV shows like Real World, Survivor, Real Housewives, Big Brother, and Sober House, C-SPAN gave Americans direct access to one of the most powerful groups of people on the planet. For the first time in history, we could see our elected representatives debating, wheeling and dealing, freaking out, and occasionally falling asleep while debating government spending, foreign policy, and more.
Click that link for a podcast interview with C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb, where he talks about "how working in the Pentagon during Vietnam inspired him to push for 'openness' in government, why he's still pushing for cameras to cover oral arguments in the Supreme Court, and how C-SPAN expects to weather its next 40 years."

And now, here's the greatest thing that's ever happened on C-SPAN. "Is that a rooster?" (The anchor is the unflappable Greta Brawner).

Health care in America: "bizarre loopholes kick in at the darkest moments"

The Atlantic has an important piece about the outrageous state of health care in America:

Medical debt is a uniquely American phenomenon, a burden that would be unfathomable in many other developed countries.

According to a survey published this month in the American Journal of Public Health, nearly 60 percent of people who have filed for bankruptcy said a medical expense “very much” or “somewhat” contributed to their bankruptcy. That was more than the percentage who cited home foreclosure or student loans. (The survey respondents could choose multiple factors that contributed to their bankruptcy.) . . .

A 2016 study found that a third of cancer survivors had gone into debt as a result of their medical expenses, and 3 percent had filed for bankruptcy. . . .

“It’s just life,” says Deborah Thorne, a sociologist at the University of Idaho who co-authored the latest bankruptcy study. “It’s not like they’ve done anything wrong.” . . .

In interviews, half a dozen consumer advocates told me they are concerned that the problem will get worse, since the uninsured rate is going up. . . .

Emergency-room visits and planned surgical procedures are the most common causes of large medical bills that patients simply can’t afford to pay, advocates told me. Often, a hospital might be covered by a person’s insurance network, but the individual doctors who work there and the ambulance company that services it aren’t, a situation that can lead to something called balance billing.

Sometimes, bizarre loopholes kick in at the darkest moments, like the fact that a baby would be covered upon birth under Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the government insurance program for children, but a stillbirth might not be covered. . . . (Indeed, one study found that average hospital costs for stillbirths are more than $750 higher than for live births.)

In some states, hospitals are required to provide charity care to certain low-income and uninsured patients, but several advocacy groups told me that these patients sometimes get regular bills instead. “We were seeing hospitals sending debtors to debt collections without saying anything to the debt collectors” about charity care, says Emilia Morris, the legal director of Central California Legal Services. “The debt collectors are trying to collect these debts without making charity care available. The patient sometimes gets sued, gets a judgment entered against them, without ever having heard of charity care.” . . .

[T]he current system requires people to independently negotiate on their own behalf with giant corporations over tens of thousands of dollars, often while recovering from a major illness. . . .
Read the whole thing here.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Andrew Yang and "normal"

Andrew Yang, a businessperson named by President Obama as a Presidential Ambassador for Global Entrepreneurship, is running for president in the Democratic primaries. NBC News has a profile of Yang which says (emphasis added):

The author of a book called the "The War on Normal People," Yang launched his campaign around a pitch for a type of universal basic income. His "Freedom Dividend," which would provide a $1,000 monthly check from the government to each U.S. citizen over 18, is tied to his belief that automation and artificial intelligence are poised to eliminate millions of jobs, such as truck driving. Trying to do something about that doesn't make him radical — it makes him, as he says, "a fairly normal guy."

"I've got a wife and two kids and I'm running for president to solve the problems of this era," Yang said. "We have this sinking feeling that our government is way behind the curve, and I'm trying to catch us up. I'm a lot more of a normal American than I have a sense that most people believe just by looking at me from afar."
Yang's repeated talk of "normal" reminds me of a scene in Stanley Kubrick's great movie Lolita (1962), where Peter Sellers talks at length to James Mason:
I said to myself when I saw you — I said, "That's a guy with the most normal-looking face I ever saw in my life!" . . . It's great to see a normal face, because I'm a normal guy. It'd be great for two normal guys like us to get together and talk about world events — you know, in a normal sort of way. . . .

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Nat King Cole would be 100

Nat King Cole would have turned 100 years old today.

He was born on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 1919, and died of lung cancer at age 45 on February 15, 1965.

If you subscribe to Netflix, you can stream a 2014 documentary about him called Nat King Cole: Afraid of the Dark.

The Netflix description says: “Take an in-depth look at the life and talent of the trailblazing musician who conquered racial barriers to leave an indelible mark on the jazz world.”

Notice how in the first full song in this video, “Mona Lisa,” his skin is darker than in the next song, “Nature Boy” — that's because he had to wear makeup to lighten his skin during the latter song, out of fear that the audience wouldn’t accept him with his real skin color:

His Wikipedia entry has an interesting section on his “experiences with racism."

He's best known as a singer, but he was also wonderful at instrumental jazz piano. This is from 1947, with Oscar Moore on guitar and Johnny Miller on bass (track list at the YouTube link):

Here he is singing with an orchestra (he plays piano on just a few songs, starting 21 minutes in):

Smile” is one of the most moving songs I know. The music was composed by Charlie Chaplin, and it was originally an instrumental at the end of his 1936 movie Modern Times. Cole was the first person to sing it with lyrics, in 1954:

I’m glad that sharing a birthday with Nat King Cole has nudged me to pay attention to this legendary musician.

(The photo at the beginning of this post is from Wikimedia Commons. The one at the end is from Jazz Times.)

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Joe Biden and the one-term pledge idea

David Gergen, writing at CNN, has 3 suggestions for former Vice President Joe Biden if he decides to run for president. The first suggestion:

[I]f and when he declares, Biden might break precedent by promising up front that he will serve for only a single term. . . . Unlike other politicians who always seem grasping for power, Biden would have a credible argument that he is truly putting country first. . . .

[C]ommitting to one term would also diminish the importance of his age issue. With a single term, he would step down at 81. People might accept that. But trying to go on till 85? That seems beyond the pale.
I agree with Gergen: in a presidential race, age matters.

But then, why does this article understate Joe Biden's age?

Biden was born on November 20, 1942 (unless Wikipedia and the rest of the internet are mistaken).

2024 - 1942 = 82.

So if President Biden serves just one term, he'll turn 82 (not 81, as Gergen says) shortly after Election Day 2024, before he steps down in January 2025. If he serves a full two terms, he'll be 86 (not 85) by the end of his presidency.

If CNN wants to be in a good position to defend itself against the president's wrongful attacks on the network as "fake news," CNN should try to give us confidence that its articles are thoroughly fact-checked. When we see misstatements about basic info like a former vice president's age on CNN, we lose a bit of that confidence.

Anyway, I'm always skeptical of the idea that a presidential candidate might pledge to serve only 4 years if elected. That suggestion gets made whenever there's a septuagenarian candidate, but we never ended up hearing those pledges from Bob Dole, John McCain, Bernie Sanders, etc. (The candidate would ideally make the pledge before the primaries start being held, so voters can factor it into their decision.) It was also suggested about Hillary Clinton when she ran in her late 60s. And while there's been speculation about whether Donald Trump (the oldest president ever when first inaugurated) will run for reelection, he hasn't taken a one-term pledge.

This 2015 Washington Post article tells the history of one-term pledges. Three presidents have made them, but they were all in the 19th century. (Two kept the pledge; the other was William Henry Harrison, who died a month into his first term.) But the idea of a self-imposed term limit started feeling less relevant once the two-term limit was added to the Constitution in 1951.

There are two other problems with the pledge. One is it could backfire by drawing attention to the candidate's age and raising questions about the candidate's health. It would be seen as an admission: "I'm too old to serve for 8 years." That will get voters wondering if the candidate is too old to serve for even 4 years.

The other problem, as the WaPo article says:
If someone made the pledge and then got elected, would they hold to it? A number of congressional candidates during and since the 1994 wave election made term-limit pledges -- and a number of them have broken them. Once president, it seems hard to think a politician would simply walk away.
The article includes a tweet saying a one-term pledge "is like when that opera lover in your life insists you go but agrees you can leave at intermission."

(Photo of Biden in 2017 by Jay Godwin, via Wikimedia Commons.)

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Professor Robert Summers of Cornell Law School (1933 - 2019)

Robert S. Summers, a contract law professor who taught at Cornell Law School for 42 years, was a preeminent scholar of the Uniform Commercial Code, and advised other countries including Egypt and Rwanda in writing their laws, died at age 85 on December 1.

I took his Contracts class throughout my first year of law school (2004-05). He had a distinctive style of teaching in which he rarely made any direct statements, speaking almost entirely in the form of questions.

I wrote down many of his witty and insightful comments during class, and when he retired in 2010, I did a blog post with some of my favorite moments of Contracts with Summers.

As you can see from that post, at one point he seemed to challenge some of the fundamental premises of legal education based on appellate case law, before saying he was “sowing the seeds of self-destruction.”

It was my first class of law school, and I won’t forget it.

Friday, March 8, 2019

25 years ago today: Soundgarden and Nine Inch Nails

1994 was a great year for me because that's when I started really discovering and learning to play music, around age 13. And 25 years ago today, March 8, 1994, was a great day for music, because that's when Soundgarden released Superunknown, and Nine Inch Nails released The Downward Spiral.

These weren't just some of the better records by a couple heavy, alternative bands of the mid-'90s. They were that, but they were something more. Listening to them now brings us back to a time when a rock band could be massively successful while daring to break out of formulas and challenge listeners.

Here are 5 highlights from each album.

"Spoonman" is the first Soundgarden song I ever heard, so to me it will always feel like the essence of Soundgarden and the starting point for the band, even though it was the 8th song on their 4th album. I love the jarring juxtapositions of different keys and time signatures.

The song was about a California- and Seattle-based street performer, Artis the Spoonman, who’s seen and heard performing in the video. He’s the only person we see in motion; the band members are shown only in photos.

Chris Cornell said:

It's more about the paradox of who he is and what people perceive him as. He's a street musician, but when he's playing on the street, he is given a value and judged completely wrong by someone else. They think he's a street person, or he's doing this because he can't hold down a regular job. They put him a few pegs down on the social ladder because of how they perceive someone who dresses differently. The lyrics express the sentiment that I much more easily identify with someone like Artis than I would watch him play. . . .

I think we were fairly smart with "Spoonman" in that you really don't see us that much in the video. You see various pictures of us, but it's not quite the same as having us in your living room all the time. We're trying to maintain some degree of mystique about Soundgarden, I guess. I remember back when I was a kid, long before MTV, and the only way to see my favorite bands was to go to their concerts. It was an incredible experience. MTV has helped a lot of bands, but they've also helped rob a lot of groups of that special mystique. It's tough when you can see a great rock band on TV one second, then hit the clicker and be watching a soap opera or a sitcom the next. That's what rock and roll has become for some people.

"Fell on Black Days" seems to peel off the heavy outer surface of Soundgarden and reveal something more contemplative underneath. After Chris Cornell died at age 52, it was hard to hear him sing, over and over again: "How would I know that this would be my fate?"

Within one week after Chris Cornell's death in 2017, I listened to Soundgarden's last 4 albums straight through, then listed my 20 favorite Soundgarden songs. I wrote:
I . . . felt overwhelmed by the ocean of extraordinary material — relentlessly innovative and challenging, often jagged and angular, mostly heavy and dark, occasionally with gentle or bright spots, but never tranquil, always disturbed and searching for something better.
I ranked "The Day I Tried to Live" their #2 song, and their best from Superunknown. Cornell explained what he meant by the song:
It's about trying to step out of being patterned and closed off and reclusive, which I've always had a problem with. It's about attempting to be normal and just go out and be around other people and hang out. I have a tendency to sometimes be pretty closed off and not see people for long periods of time and not call anyone. It's actually, in a way, a hopeful song. Especially the lines "One more time around/Might do it," which is basically saying, "I tried today to understand and belong and get along with other people, and I failed, but I'll probably try again tomorrow." A lot of people misinterpreted that song as a suicide-note song. Taking the word "live" too literally. "The Day I Tried to Live" means more like the day I actually tried to open up myself and experience everything that's going on around me as opposed to blowing it all off and hiding in a cave.

"Black Hole Sun" is by far the band's best-known song, which can make it hard to listen to with fresh ears. The song has a clear Beatles influence: the verse sounds like the chords could have been written by Paul McCartney and the vocal melody by John Lennon. Soundgarden's lead guitarist, Kim Thayil, once said:
We looked deep down inside the very core of our souls and there was a little Ringo sitting there. Oh sure, we like telling people it's John Lennon or George Harrison; but when you really look deep inside of Soundgarden, there's a little Ringo wanting to get out.

"Head Down" (written by the bassist, Ben Sheperd) is an engimatic departure from the usual hard rock of Soundgarden. Acoustic and electric guitars, bass, and drums intermingle in delightfully unexpected ways.

After Nine Inch Nails debuted in 1989 with the relatively accessible Pretty Hate Machine, then put out a sledgehammer of a record with the Broken EP in 1992, The Downward Spiral was a relevatory merging of the poppier and heavier elements of NIN, with a more exquisitely pieced-together production. The concept album about a suicidal man starts out with the hard-driving "Mr. Self Destruct," sounding not far from Broken. But then the second song, "Piggy," lets us know this is not just another Broken. The eerie synth tones floating over a cool-jazz rhythm section, providing the incongruous backdrop for the singer's obsessing over how "nothing can stop me now," sound like nothing we had ever heard before from NIN.

NIN is virtually a one-man band consisting of Trent Reznor in the studio, but the frenetic drums that disrupt the jazz vibe of "Piggy" are the only time he played real drums on the record. A different drummer gives an amazing performance of the song in this live video.

"March of the Pigs" is so heavy you might not notice that most of the heavy parts are in 7/8 time (so you can steadily count to 7 and keep following the beat — except when he throws in an extra beat). The heaviness subsides into a rare moment of brightness on this otherwise bleak album: "And doesn't it make you feel better? . . . And everything is all right."

"Closer" is probably the most famous NIN song, even though one of the main words in the chorus had to be muted when it was played on the radio. (Here's the unedited version of the video — I can't embed it on the blog because it has fleeting artistic nudity.)

"The Becoming" uses disturbing noises to evoke "this noise inside my head."

The 13th song, "The Downward Spiral," describes the suicide. Then the album comes to a close with the slow, stark "Hurt," a song of staggering emotion. The most often quoted lyrics are probably the first lines, about self-harm. I prefer to focus on the hopeful last verse, where the singer (the ghost of the man who just killed himself?) looks back at his life:
If I could start again
A million miles away
I will keep myself
I would find a way
And wow, the combination of music and video on that last line . . . !

I remember having a conversation with two friends of mine who were both big NIN fans, and one of them commented that NIN is so depressing. The other friend and I immediately and almost in unison responded that we don't feel depressed at all listening to NIN. Precisely because Trent Reznor is working through so many negative feelings so intensely, his music can be profoundly energizing in a way that can make cheerful music seem beside the point. ("And doesn't it make you feel better?")

In my post on my favorite Soundgarden songs, I quoted Chris Cornell expressing a similar sentiment: "I’ve always liked depressing music because a lot of times listening to it when you’re down can actually make you feel less depressed." I'm sorry he couldn't find that kind of uplift on the terrible night when he killed himself right after Soundgarden played its last concert.

But I'm glad NIN is "still right here," playing famously great live shows after a remarkable 30 years, keeping some of the most strangely beautiful music of 1994 alive.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Should we stop listening to Michael Jackson?

"Radio stations in Canada, New Zealand and Australia are removing Michael Jackson songs from their playlists after two men alleged in a new documentary that the late singer abused them."

Even if all the allegations are true, canceling Michael Jackson is a "Bad" and "Dangerous" road to go down.

Silencing music by a dead person who committed crimes does nothing to stop those kinds of crimes from happening in the future. If we consistently threw out all music by people who once acted horribly, we’d have no John Lennon,* no Beatles, no Miles Davis. Of course, the Beatles revolutionized rock and pop music, and Miles Davis revolutionized jazz. So we’d be left musically impoverished, just to let us feel vaguely good about ourselves.

* John Lennon said this in 1980, the last year of his life:

All that "I used to be cruel to my woman / I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved" was me. I used to be cruel to my woman, and physically — any woman. I was a hitter. I couldn't express myself and I hit. I fought men and I hit women. That is why I am always on about peace, you see. It is the most violent people who go for love and peace. . . . I am a violent man who has learned not to be violent and regrets his violence. I will have to be a lot older before I can face in public how I treated women as a youngster.

(And yes, I am that guy!)

What's worse, Trump not reporting civilians we kill with drones, or Obama lying about them?

"President Donald Trump has overturned an Obama-era requirement for intelligence officials to publish an annual report on air strikes in places like Yemen, Libya and Pakistan — a document that experts called the main means for publishing official information about CIA drone strikes."

This sounds like Trump is making Obama’s drone program even worse. But Obama’s policy was more dishonest. The Obama administration assumed that every adult male killed by drones was a “combatant,” not a civilian, unless that was disproven by specific evidence. In effect, Barack Obama profiled Central Asian or Middle Eastern men by presuming them guilty. At least Donald Trump is going to openly not care about the civilians we kill, which, while callous, is less misleading than Obama’s statistics on civilian deaths that were artificially lowered based on gender and nationality bias.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Why do so few male students study abroad?

[M]en are missing out on what for many is one of college’s most gratifying and memorable experiences—and one that can help them land a job after graduation too.
That's from this Atlantic article, which gives various theories for why study abroad students are overwhelmingly female — about two-thirds. Only part of that could be explained by women generally outnumbering men on campus.

The article says:
Samantha Brandauer, who runs Dickinson College’s study-abroad office, told me she has experienced this firsthand. In her past job at Gettysburg College, she teamed up with a colleague to convene student focus groups on why men didn’t go abroad and what the college could do about it. What she discovered was a “bro mentality” among men in college—a culture in which male students don’t want to leave their friends to study abroad and are heavily influenced by their classmates in making choices about what to do in college. “Part of this is a messaging problem, because the way we talk about study abroad as a transformative experience just doesn’t resonate with college-age men,” Brandauer says. “They don’t want to be transformed.”
That's related to the simple yet plausible explanation told to us by the woman who led the orientation of my London study abroad program in 2002.

She said: “Going to another country is giving up control. And women are more comfortable than men at not being in control.”

Monday, March 4, 2019

Against "Follow your passion"

In the first year of this blog, I posted Penelope Trunk's argument against the career advice to "Do what you love."

Now Scott Galloway, who founded a company he recently sold for over $100 million and is also a marketing professor at NYU, says something similar:

"People often come to NYU and say, 'Follow your passion' — which is total bulls---, especially because the individual telling you to follow your passion usually became magnificently wealthy selling software as a service for the scheduling of health care maintenance workers. And I refuse to believe that that was his or her passion," he says.…

“What they were passionate about was being great at something, and then the accoutrements of being great at something — the recognition from colleagues, the money, the status will make you passionate about whatever it is,” Galloway says.