Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Beatles' Abbey Road

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Pancakegate 🥞

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

Thursday, September 12, 2019

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

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

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

[Here's the transcript.]

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

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

Here goes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10:12 - Harris says that 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.