Friday, December 18, 2020

Paris fined for hiring "too many women"

CBS News reports:

"Paris city hall has been fined 90,000 euros ($109,408) for having appointed too many women to top positions in 2018, in breach of a law aimed at ensuring gender balance....

A 2013 law meant to ensure that women get better access to senior jobs in the civil service requires a minimum of 40% of appointments for each gender."

Be careful what rules you come up with to "ensure" gender equality.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

250 years of Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven was born 250 years ago today, on December 16, 1770. He died at age 56 in 1827.

When I made a list of "the top 10 greatest classical composers," I ranked Beethoven #1. Click here for my thoughts on Beethoven and a few videos.

(Portrait by Ferdinand Schimon via Wikipedia.)

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

John Lennon (1940 - 1980)

John Lennon died at age 40, 40 years ago today.

I did this blog post 12 years ago, linking to both of my parents' memories of being in the same city where he died on December 8, 1980.

Both of their posts mention that they named me John when I was born 99 days later. Now I'm almost 40 and I'm living on the Upper West Side, not far from where it happened on West 72nd Street by Central Park. I've walked by there many times, always thinking about it, never quite believing it really happened here.

(Photo from John Lennon's Instagram.)

Friday, November 27, 2020

How to tell if you know someone well

To know someone in passing is to know what they’re passionate about. To know someone well is to know what annoys them.

What's the evidence for that? This 2011 study:

There are lots of ways to know someone's personality. You can say "she's an extrovert" or "she's usually happy." You may also know how he or she reacts to different situations and other people's behavior. "It's a more detailed way of understanding personality," says Charity A. Friesen, a graduate student at Wilfrid Laurier University, who co-wrote the new paper with Lara K. Kammrath. "You might know the person is extroverted when they're out with their friends but more introverted when they're in a new situation." When a person is faced with one of a list of situations, then how does he or she behave? Friesen identifies this as an "if-then profile."

Friesen and Kammrath recruited university students to take part in the study. Each student was asked to get a friend to participate in the study with them. Then each of the participants individually filled out an online survey. This included a list of "triggers"--descriptions of behaviors that someone might find annoying. One example was the word "skepticism" which was described as when someone is overly disbelieving of information that he/she receives, when he/she questions things that are generally accepted, or when he/she is very hard to convince of something. The list also included gullibility, social timidity, social boldness, perfectionism, obliviousness and several dozen other possible triggers. For each behavior, each respondent answered a question about how much this triggers them and how much it triggers their friend.

Some people knew their friends' triggers well; others had almost no idea what set their friends off.… People who had more knowledge of their friend's if-then profile of triggers had better relationships. They had less conflict with the friend and less frustration with the relationship.

Other research has shown that it's not that hard to come up with a list of traits that describe someone; casual acquaintances can do it. "But, if I'm close to someone, I can really start to learn the if-then profiles, and that's what's going to pay off in my relationship," Friesen says.

(I blogged about the same point from that study in 2011.)

irritated model

(Photo by Robert Couse-Baker under Creative Commons license.)

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Joe Biden's first speech as President-Elect

"We've won with the most votes ever cast for a presidential ticket in the history of the nation: 74 million. Well, I must admit it surprised me: tonight, we've seen all over this nation … indeed across the world, an outpouring of joy, of hope, renewed faith that tomorrow will bring a better day."


"I've long talked about the battle for the soul of America. We must restore the soul of America. Our nation is shaped by the constant battle between our better angels and our darkest impulses. And what presidents say in this battle matters. It's time for our better angels to prevail. Tonight, the whole world is watching America… We will lead not only by the example of our power, but by the power of our example." 

Biden is never perfect. He's a little rough. But it was refreshing to watch this video and know we can look forward to the day very soon when this is what it sounds like for the president to speak to America (and the world) — finally, someone who cares about basic decency.

Today is a great day for America.

America to Trump: You're fired!

Congratulations to President-Elect Joe Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris. (Washington Post link)

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Trump thinks…

Trump thinks covid-19 wouldn't be such a big problem if they had stopped taking so many tests. 

Trump thinks he would've won the election if they had stopped counting the votes. 

Notice a pattern?

Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Why I voted for Biden — and against Trump

Back in the olden days of February 2020, after the first Democratic primary contests and before any Americans had died of the coronavirus, I wrote a post in response to someone on Facebook who asked who we’d vote for if the nominees were Trump and Bernie Sanders.

I explained why I’d vote for the Democrat even though he wasn’t my first choice in the primaries. What I wrote still applies now that the nominee is Joe Biden.

And that was before Trump’s inept, disingenuous, and reckless response to the pandemic, which has only strengthened my support for Biden.

So here’s an adaptation of what I said in February but with Biden’s name:

I don’t need to decide whether Biden will be a better president than Trump, in order to choose Biden over Trump. There’s something larger at stake, which is the need to send a message to the world and to history: “Whoops! We screwed up in 2016. We need a different tone and direction.”

If Trump is a two-term president, he’ll appear to have a halo 😇 in retrospect. People assume that Obama and Reagan were great presidents, whether or not they really were. One-term presidents who lose their reelection bids are generally seen as failures and footnotes to history, whether or not that’s deserved.

Making Trump a one-term president will have positive ripple effects that could last for decades, far beyond the next administration. It will change the thinking of future presidential candidates. It will change how the Trump administration is presented in history books.

In contrast, making Trump a two-term president will legitimize the idea that the president should sink to the lowest common denominator in his rhetoric, and try to close off America from other countries through his policies.

We need to make Trump a one-term president. We already know what we need to know about President Trump, and we have only one more chance to act on that knowledge. We don’t yet know what President Biden would be like, but if he turns out to be bad, we’ll be able to deal with that problem in other elections.

I don’t need to love Biden in order to vote for him. As others have said: voting isn’t a valentine, it’s a chess move.

(Photo of Biden by Gage Skidemore, via Wikipedia.)

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

I voted

Tonight, I voted for the candidate who was raising the alarm about how unprepared we were to respond to a pandemic in October 2019, and against the candidate who's still trying to downplay the pandemic in October 2020.


I waited more than 3 hours and stood in line for 8 blocks. Even knowing that my vote in New York wouldn't affect the outcome of the presidential election, that was worth it.

Friday, October 23, 2020

25 years ago: The Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness

25 years ago today, on October 23, 1995, the Smashing Pumpkins released their double album, Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.

This was only their first studio album after their breakthrough album, Siamese Dream (1993), and the scope was daunting. 2 discs. 28 songs. Over 2 hours. 

People always say a double album should've been cut down to a single album. But there's almost nothing on Mellon Collie that I would've like to see cut. It isn't perfect — maybe they could've replaced the weakest song on each disc with a couple outstanding B-sides. The Smashing Pumpkins have never been perfect. But this album achieved something nothing else in the '90s did. It feels like both an exciting culmination of the alternative rock explosion of the early to mid-'90s, and a poignant goodbye before rock would take a mostly unfortunate turn in the second half of the '90s.

Mellon Collie had several hits, but what makes this album so amazing is that even if you took off all the hits, you'd still be left with more than a whole album's worth of great material.

First, some of the hits:

"Tonight Tonight":

"Bullet with Butterfly Wings":

"1979" (the band's biggest hit and a new direction for them at the time):

Now here are some of the other songs. It's unfathomable to me that these could be seen as "album tracks" or "deep cuts," instead of highlights from the album and band.



"Thru the Eyes of Ruby":


"Porcelina of the Vast Oceans":



"And I knew the silence of the world…"

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Live-blogging the last presidential debate of 2020

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

As always, I'm doing this without the benefit of a pause or rewind button, so the quotes I write down might not be word for word. But I'll try to keep them reasonably accurate, and might go back and make corrections later.

9:07 — The moderator, Kristen Welker, starts by asking them both to "speak one at a time" — not like last time.

9:08 — President Donald Trump lists states with "spikes" of Covid-19, but says the spikes are "gone" or will be soon. He also talks about how he had the coronavirus, but now: "I'm immune!" "We're rounding the corner. It's going away."

9:10 — Former Vice President Joe Biden's first statement: "220,000 Americans dead.… Anyone who's responsible for that many deaths should not remain as President of the United States of America." He holds up his mask and says wearing masks could save 100,000 lives. He wants "national standards" for reopening schools, businesses, etc.

9:13 — Trump seems to predict we'll have a vaccine by the end of the year (though I'll want to go back and check to make sure). Then Biden reminds us Trump made it sound like the pandemic would be over by Easter. Biden sounds an ominous note: "We're about to go into a dark winter."

9:16 — Trump mocks Biden: "He's got this thing about living in a basement! People can't do that.… I can't do that."

9:17 — Biden's comeback to Trump saying we're "learning to live it with it": "We're dying with it!" He brings up a poignant image of someone reaching their hand out to try to touch their spouse who's died.

9:18 — Biden in response to concerns that further shutdowns could be harmful for many Americans: "It's his ineptitude that caused the country to shut down in large part."

9:21 — Trump lists states with Democratic governors, including New York, and says those states are "dying" because of shutdowns. He especially says New York City — "my wonderful city" — is "a ghost town." He doesn't mention that New York City has been in the forefront of reopening schools, which doesn't seem to have led to a spike. Biden responds: "Take a look at what New York has done in turning the curve down."

9:25 — Trump on Dr. Fauci: "Anthony said don't wear a mask.… I think he's a Democrat." Trump always calls him "Anthony."

9:27 — Biden reminds us of Trump's comment to Bob Woodward that he downplayed the coronavirus so we wouldn't panic; "Americans don't panic. He panicked."

9:29 — New topic: Russia and Iran reportedly trying to interfere with our election. Biden says Russia is trying to make him lose the election "because they know I know them, and they know me."

9:32 — Trump attacks Biden: "You were getting a lot of money from Russia. They were paying you. They probably still are.… You were Vice President when this was happening." Biden defends himself: "I have not taken money from a foreign source ever in my life." And Biden counterattacks: Trump has "a secret bank account in China."

9:37 — Biden is asked if any of his son Hunter Biden's business relationships with other countries have been "inappropriate or unethical." "Nothing was unethical.… They investigated that — nobody said he did anything wrong in Ukraine." Biden says the one who got in trouble was Trump, for trying to "bribe" Ukraine.

9:43 — Biden whips out a prepared line: "He doesn't want to talk about the substantive issues. It's not about my family or his family. It's about your family … but that's the last thing he wants to talk about." Trump pounces on this, calling him a "typical politician" for pivoting away from the discussion to looking at the camera and speaking directly to the people. Both of them were clearly ready for this.

9:47 — Trump on meeting with the leader of North Korea: "Having a good relationship with other countries is a good thing!" Biden comes back: "We had a 'good relationship' with Hitler before he invaded Europe!" But Trump blames Obama and Biden for leaving us "a mess" on North Korea.

9:50 — Trump mentions the 180 Americans with private health insurance plans, and falsely says: "Joe Biden is going to terminate all of those policies." Biden clarifies: "I'm going to pass Obamacare with a public option. It'll be Bidencare! … The reason why I had such a fight with the 20 Democratic candidates is I support private insurance." But then Biden also lies by saying no one lost their private health insurance plan under Obamacare unless they wanted to. I'm surprised Biden would be so brazen as to repeat Obama's infamous lie: "If you like the plan you have you can keep it."

9:56 — Trump tries to scare us away from Biden: "He's talking about destroying your Medicare, and destroying your Social Security, and this whole country will come down!" Biden ridicules Trump for painting him as a radical left-winger: "He's a very confused guy! He thinks he's running against someone else! I'm Joe Biden!"

10:01 — Does Biden think this is the right time for the federal government to raise the minimum wage $15? Biden's answer seems to be yes because we can take care of the negative consequences by bailing out businesses. He falsely says there's no evidence that raising the minimum wage causes anyone to lose their jobs (in fact, the many studies on that are conflicting). Trump says: "It should be a state option. Alabama is different from New York." He says a $15 minimum wage could be fine in some places but would be "ruinous" in others.

10:05 — Asked about kids being separated from their parents, Trump talks about a lot of kids coming over with "coyotes," but says "we're trying very hard" to reunite them. Biden takes umbrage at that word: "They're not coyotes — they're parents.… Kids were ripped from their arms … and now we can't find the parents of 500 kids."

10:08 — They argue over "catch and release," and whether immigrants we release come back to court. Trump says "only the ones with really low IQs" would come back.

10:15 — They argue over who's been more of a criminal-justice reformer. Biden says: "He commuted 20 people's sentences. We commuted over 1,000."

10:17 — Trump says over and over to Biden: "I ran because of you." Biden tells us: "You know who I am, you know who he is.… You know our reputations for honor and telling the truth. The character of the country is on the ballot."

10:18 — A discussion of race somehow turns into a back-and-forth about Russia and a laptop computer.

10:19 — Trump: "The first time I ever heard of Black Lives Matters, they were chanting: 'Pigs in a blanket' — meaning police — 'fry 'em like bacon!'" Right after that, Trump claims: "I am the least racist person in this room."

10:25 — Trump says in a theatrically exaggerated way: "Look at China — how filthy it is! … Look at India — it's filthy!"

10:35 — Trump asks Biden: "Would you get rid of the oil industry?" Biden answers: "I would transition away from the oil industry." Trump seems taken aback: "That's a big statement!" Biden responds: "It is a big statement, because the oil industry pollutes." Trump tries to use Biden's answer against him: "Basically what he's saying is he's going to destroy the oil industry. Will you remember that, Texas?" I'm surprised Trump would openly admit he's worried about losing Texas!

10:38 — In Welker's farewell, she seems elated that the debate wasn't the train wreck it was last time!

And that's the last debate before we vote on November 3.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Two weeks…

Two weeks…


Thursday, October 8, 2020

40 years ago today: Prince and Talking Heads albums

40 years ago today, October 8, 1980, was a great day for music.

On that day, Prince released his 3rd album, Dirty Mind. He wrote, produced, sang, and played everything (except for backing vocals on one song and keyboards on a couple songs).

The Rolling Stone review said:

Prince's first two [albums] established him as a doe-eyed romantic.… Nothing, therefore could have prepared us for the liberating lewdness of Dirty Mind.… Dirty Mind jolts with the unsettling tension that arises from rubbing complex erotic wordplay against clean, simple melodies. Across this electric surface glides Prince's graceful quaver, tossing off lyrics with an exhilarating breathlessness. He takes the sweet romanticism of Smokey Robinson and combines it with the powerful vulgate poetry of Richard Pryor. The result is cool music dealing with hot emotions.
Here's "Dirty Mind":


This is "When You Were Mine" (which was covered by Cyndi Lauper):

On the same day, Talking Heads released their 4th album, Remain in Light, produced by Brian Eno.

It's been said that no song on this album has any chord changes, which is only a slight exaggeration.

"Once in a Lifetime":


And here's "Crosseyed and Painless," from the end of the great concert movie Stop Making Sense (1984):

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Live-blogging the vice-presidential debate of 2020

I'll be live-blogging the only debate between Vice President Mike Pence and Sen. Kamala Harris.

Keep reloading this post for real-time updates!

Since I'm doing this live, the quotes might not be word for word. I don't have a pause or rewind button. But I'll try to keep it reasonably accurate, and I might make changes later.

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

9:09 — The moderator, Susan Page, asks what a Biden administration would do differently than a Trump administration on the coronavirus starting in January. Kamala Harris says we've seen "the greatest failure of any presidential administration in the history of our country." "They still don't have a plan. Well, Joe Biden does."

9:12 — Mike Pence emphasizes that Trump responded to the pandemic by banning travel from China, and says Biden called that "xenophobic." Pence says the Biden plan is a lot like what Trump has done: "It looks a little bit like plagiarism — which is something Joe Biden knows something about!"

9:18 — Pence is asked how we can trust them when they violated the rules in the Amy Coney Barrett announcement that seemed to be a "superspreader event." Pence dodges the question, and doesn't even try to justify what they did except misleadingly describing it as an "outdoor" event (not mentioning that they went indoors for part of it). "President Trump and I trust the American people to make choices in the best interests of their health. Biden talks about mandates."

9:20 — Harris on a future covid-19 vaccine: "If Donald Trump says to take it, I'm not taking it!" The moderator tells Pence not to respond, but he does anyway: "Your continuous undermining of confidence in a vaccine is just unacceptable."

9:23 — Pence doesn't answer a question about Trump's age.

9:24 — Harris is also asked a question about Biden's age, and Harris doesn't answer the question either. She somehow uses it as an opportunity to list her own accomplishments.

9:27 — Pence makes a point of being civil to Kamala Harris: "I want to congratulate you on the historic nature of your nomination."

9:28 — When asked about Biden's transparency, Harris pivots to attacking Trump over the report that he paid $750 in taxes in a recent year. She says that's because Trump is "in debt," and it would be "good to know who the President of the United States owes money to.… What is influencing his decisions?" Pence responds that Trump is "a businessman, a job creator, who's paid tens of millions of dollars in taxes." Pence flatly denies the tax report.

9:31 — Would Biden raise taxes in a way that would hinder our economic recovery? Predictably, Harris says he'll roll back tax cuts for the rich, and "invest it in the American people," including tuition-free public universities for people with income below a certain amount, and some student loan forgiveness.

9:33 — Will an "economic comeback" take a year or more? Pence reminisces about how good the economy was before this year during the Trump administration. 

9:36 — Harris fact-checks Pence: "This is supposed to be a debate based on facts and truth. Joe Biden will not raise taxes on anyone making less than $400,000. Joe Biden will not end fracking." Pence quickly cuts into her answer, and Harris, with a big smile, says: "I'm speaking." While pointing at Pence, Harris warns: "If you have a pre-existing condition — heart disease, diabetes, breast cancer — they're coming for you."

9:39 — On fracking, Pence comes back with: "You're entitled to your own opinion, but you're not entitled to your own facts." Harris mocks the cliche: "Good line!"

9:40 — Has "man-made climate change" made fires and hurricanes worse? Pence: "The climate is changing! But … what's the cause, and what are we going to do about it?" He says Biden is for "the Green New Deal," even though Biden said in the last debate: "The Green New Deal is not my plan." (See the 10:27 update in my last live-blog.) But the moderator says Biden's website calls the Green New Deal "a crucial framework."

9:45 — Pence is asked if climate change is "an existential threat," but he blandly dodges the question, saying only: "The climate is changing. We'll follow the science."

9:47 — Harris to Pence on Trump's "trade war with China": "Ya lost that trade war. Ya lost."

9:50 — The moderator asks Pence how he describes our relationship with China. Pence spends a while not answering the question, but eventually says: "China is to blame for the coronavirus." Pence falsely says Trump "made that decision to suspend all travel with China." No, not "all" — there were exceptions. (See my post from August: "Trump lies.")

9:53 — Harris says Trump has "a weird obsession ... with getting rid of every accomplishment President Obama and Vice President Biden had." She says Trump eliminated things Obama set up to deal with pandemics (I'd have to go back and relisten to get the details), but Pence interjects: "Not true."

9:59 — Pence emphasizes Trump's foreign policy record: "We destroyed the ISIS caliphate." Harris reminds us of the time Trump minimized soldiers' injuries as "headaches." Pence comes back by saying Biden was against President Obama's mission that killed Osama bin Laden.

10:05 — Pence says he hopes Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Amy Coney Barrett, gets "a fair hearing" — which he says would be different from what Harris, who's on the Senate Judiciary Committee, did to Brett Kavanaugh. Pence also raises the specter that Barrett will be attacked over her Catholic religion. Harris says that's "insulting" — "Joe Biden and I are both people of faith."

10:08 — Harris is asked what she'd do if Roe v. Wade were overruled. "I will always fight for the right of a woman to make a decision about her own body. It should be her decision, not that of Donald Trump and Mike Pence."

10:11 — Pence asks Harris a direct question (which I would've thought would be against the rules): "Are you and Joe Biden going to pack the court if Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed?"

10:12 — Harris gives us "a history lesson": Lincoln was president when a Supreme Court vacancy opened up 27 days before Election Day, and he said it was too close to the election to make the decision even though his party also controlled the Senate.

10:16 — Harris on police brutality: "We are never gonna condone violence, but we also must fight for the values we hold dear.… I'm a former prosecutor, I know what I'm talking about: bad cops are bad for good cops."

10:19 — Pence says that Harris and Biden's belief "that America is systematically racist" and "that law enforcement has an implicit bias against minorities … is a great insult" to the police.

10:20 — There's a bug on Pence's hair.

10:21 — The bug just flew off Pence.

10:27 — Harris is asked about the election. Her message: "Please vote!"

10:29 — Pence is asked what he'll do if Trump loses the election but won't accept the outcome. He doesn't answer the question; he says he thinks they will win.

10:32 — The moderator ends by reading a young person's question about how Americans can get along if our leaders can't get along. Pence cites the example of the late Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia, who were close friends even though one was "very liberal" and the other was "very conservative." 

10:34 — Harris answers the same question by focusing on Joe Biden's life: "Joe has known pain. He has known suffering. And he has known love.… I do believe the future is bright … because we fight for each person's voice."

That's all. I don't think any big news was made tonight.

Both candidates' spouses go up to them — Harris's husband is wearing a mask, but Pence's wife isn't.

Let's rewatch the most exciting moment of the debate:

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Eddie Van Halen has died at 65 🎸

Eddie Van Halen died of throat cancer today.

The New York Times says:

Eddie Van Halen, the immensely influential guitarist whose band, Van Halen, was one of the most popular rock acts of all time, died on Tuesday. He was 65.…

Mr. Van Halen’s razzle-dazzle appoach made him the most influential guitarist of his generation. He structured his solos in roughly the same way Macy’s choreographs its Independence Day fireworks shows, shooting rockets of sound into the air that seemed to explode in a shower of light and color. His outpouring of riffs, runs and solos was hyperactive and athletic, joyous and wry, making deeper or darker emotions feel irrelevant.

“Eddie put the smile back in rock guitar at a time when it was all getting a bit broody,” his fellow guitar ace Joe Satriani told Billboard in 2015. “He also scared the hell out of a million guitarists because he was so damn good.”

Mr. Van Halen was most widely revered by his peers for perfecting the technique of two-handed tapping on the guitar neck. That approach allowed him to add new textures, and percussive possibilities, to his instrument, while also making its six strings sound as expressive as a piano’s 88 keys or as changeable as a synthesizer. He received patents for three guitar devices he had created. In 2012, Guitar World Magazine ranked him No. 1 on its list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.” ...

His showstopping solo piece ... “Eruption,” [from Van Halen's 1978 self-titled debut album,] showcased his finger-tapping technique, which set a new bar for guitar pyrotechnics. While other guitarists — notably Allan Holdsworth, a major influence — had used this approach before, Mr. Van Halen had noticed that “nobody was going more than just one stretch and one note, real quick,” he said in a 1979 interview that was published 20 years later in Classic Rock magazine. “I hadn’t really seen anyone get into it as far as they could.” ...

In his 1979 interview, Mr. Van Halen clarified his guiding principle for the band. “All we’re trying to do is put excitement back into rock ’n' roll,” he said. “A lot of people seem like they forgot what rock ’n' roll is about. We’re very energetic. We get up there and blaze.”

Here he is play "Eruption" live — a literal guitar “solo,” just him alone:

More from the obit:

“I’m always pushing things past where they’re supposed to be,” Mr. Van Halen told the educational website Zocalo Public Square in 2015. “When ‘Spinal Tap’ was going to 11, I was going to 15,” he said....

The zest in Mr. Van Halen’s playing paired perfectly with the hedonistic songs and persona of his hard-rocking band, Van Halen, whose original lineup featured his brother Alex on pummeling drums, Michael Anthony on thunderous bass and the singer David Lee Roth, who presented a scene-stealing mix of Lothario, peacock and clown.

He played the guitar solo in Michael Jackson's "Beat It" (starting a little more than 3 minutes in):

The New York Times on his early years:
Edward Lodewijk Van Halen was born on Jan. 26, 1955, in Amsterdam to Jan and Eugenia (Beers) Van Halen. His father, a struggling Dutch classical musician who played clarinet, saxophone and piano, met his Indonesian-born wife while on tour in Indonesia.

In 1962, when Mr. Van Halen was 7, his family relocated to the United States, driven away by prejudice against his mother and unfavorable work opportunities in the Netherlands. They settled in Pasadena, Calif. ...

In a new country, with a new language to learn, the Van Halen sons, Eddie and his older brother, Alex, turned to music as their lingua franca. Eddie first studied classical piano, which he excelled at despite a serious limitation.

“I never learned how to read music,” he told Rolling Stone in 1995. “I fooled my teacher for six years. He never knew. I’d watch his fingers, and I’d play it.”
"Hot for Teacher":

And here's Van Halen's "Right Now":

UPDATE: The day after Eddie Van Halen died, Sammy Hagar performed that song live after a moment of silence (near the end of this video).

A quote by him from this MTV mini-documentary where he gave a tour of his home studio:

"Lawyers and doctors, they're still 'practicing' — they ain't got it down yet, you know? It's music theory, not music fact. There are no rules. I never learned how to read music. Maybe that's why I'm so twisted and unorthodox. But if I would've taken guitar lessons … I wouldn't do all the silly stuff that I do."

Monday, October 5, 2020

Trump says: "Don't be afraid of Covid"

President Trump on the virus that's killed about 215,000 Americans so far this year: "Don't be afraid of Covid."



Notice the fallacy: the president has done well (allegedly) after receiving the top-notch taxpayer-funded medical treatment that's given to the president; therefore, no Americans should be worried.

Sunday, October 4, 2020

Janis Joplin died 50 years ago

Janis Joplin died 50 years ago today, on October 4, 1970. She was 27.

Here she is singing "Ball and Chain" with Big Brother and the Holding Company, from the great concert movie Monterey Pop. [UPDATE: Here's a post on my movie blog where I chose it as my favorite movie of 1968.] In the audience you can see Mama Cass from the Mamas and the Papas, watching in awe, at 3:28 (and then more briefly at 5:25).


Her cover of "Me and Bobby McGee" (written by Kris Kristofferson) was posthumously released on her 1971 solo album Pearl. Amazing how a song can be so happy, but so sad.

(Photo from Wikimedia Commons.)

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Live-blogging the first 2020 Trump vs. Biden debate

I'll be live-blogging the debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.

Keep reloading this post for more real-time updates!

Any quotes I write down might not be word for word since I'll be doing this live, without any pause or rewind button, but I'll try to keep everything reasonably accurate, and I might go back and edit later.

9:07 — The candidates aren't allowed to shake hands, but Biden starts out by casually asking Trump: "How ya doin', man?"

9:08 — Chris Wallace's first question for both of them is about Judge Amy Coney Barrett, Trump's nominee to replace Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Trump is blunt: "We won the election. Elections have consequences." He accuses Democrats of inconsistency because President Obama nominated Merrick Garland in an election year, 2016, without mentioning that that was in February, not September. 

9:10 — Biden connects Trump's Supreme Court choice to Trump's attempts to get rid of "the Affordable Care Act" (Obamacare). Biden says if Barrett is confirmed, "women's rights will be fundamentally changed."

9:12 — Trump, ignoring the position he took in 2016, says: "A president's elected for 4 years! I'm not elected for 3 years!"

9:13 — When Trump characterizes Biden's health-care position as "socialist," Biden reminds us that the 20 Democratic candidates he ran against in the primaries correctly said: "Biden wanted to allow people to have private insurance still." Trump claims that's "not what you said," but Biden comes back : "I am the Democratic party now!"

9:15 — When Trump keeps interrupting, Biden seems at a loss: "Donald, will you just be quiet for a minute?"

9:16 — Trump even interrupts Chris Wallace's question, and Wallace is clearly exasperated: "I'm the moderator of this debate, and I would like you to let me ask my question!"

9:18 — While Biden is answering a health-care question, Trump interrupts with jabs about how Biden is beholden to Bernie Sanders, and Biden says: "I beat Bernie Sanders! Beat him by a whole hell of a lot.… Everything [Trump] is saying so far is simply a lie.… He doesn't have a plan. And the fact is, this man doesn't know what he's talking about."

9:22 — Wallace asks Biden if he supports getting rid of the filibuster or adding more Supreme Court justices. Predictably, Biden refuses to make any news: "Whatever position I take on that, that'll become the issue.… I'm not going to answer the question."

9:24 — Onto the coronavirus. Biden quotes Trump's comments about covid-19: "It is what it is" — Biden says: "Well, it is what it is because you are who you are." Biden quotes Trump saying to Bob Woodward that he downplayed the risks so people wouldn't panic — Biden says: "You don't panic — he panicked!"

9:27 — Trump to Biden: "We made the ventilators. You wouldn't have made ventilators! … You wouldn't have been able to do what we did. You don't have it in your blood."

9:32 — After a lot of back and forth about when we're going to have a covid-19 vaccine, Biden looks at the camera and says: "Do you believe for a moment what he's telling you, in light of all the lies he's told about covid? … A lot of people died, and a lot more will die, unless he gets a lot smarter fast!" That seems to set off Trump: "Did you just use the word 'smart'?" Trump says Biden was near the bottom of his class in law school (?) and says: "Don't use the word 'smart' with me."

9:37 — Trump is asked why he's been holding big campaign rallies where most people aren't wearing masks. Trump blithely responds: "Because people want to hear what I have to say! … So far, we've had no problems.… We've had no negative effect." What about Herman Cain? It's hard to prove that any specific person died because of going to a Trump rally, but Trump's statement is hard to believe.

9:41 — Biden looks at the camera again and asks people in "Scranton" (his hometown) and other towns: "How are you doing?" Trump answers for them: "Well!"

9:42 — Biden says the Trump administration rejected a proposal to give PPE including masks to school teachers, because they said it was "not a national emergency."

9:46 — They both stoop to lobbing insults at each other: "You're the worst president America's ever had!" "In 47 months, I've done more than you did in 47 years!"

9:49 — Wallace calls out Trump for claiming the economy was "booming" under his administration before the coronavirus. Wallace points out that in the last 3 years of the Obama administration, a million and a half more jobs were added than in the first 3 years of the Trump administration. Trump ignores the facts and says about the economy under Obama: "It wasn't booming!"

9:53 — After Trump brings up Biden's son Hunter and this leads to extended, manic cross-talk, Biden tries to cut through the noise: "This is not about my family or his family — it's about your family."

9:54 — Wallace speaks up and begs the candidates: "I think the country would be better served if we allowed both people to speak with fewer interruptions."

9:59 — Trump to Biden: "You can't even say the word 'law enforcement,' because if you do, you lose all your radical-left supporters."

10:02 — Wallace asks why Trump decided to "end racial sensitivity training." "I ended it because it's racist.… They were teaching people that our country is a horrible place, a racist place, and they were teaching people to hate our country." 

10:04 — Biden says Trump and his people "look down their nose at Irish Catholics like me."

10:06 — Trump says under Biden, "suburbs would be gone!" Biden's comeback: "He wouldn't know a suburb unless he took a wrong turn!"

10:07 — Biden: "I'm totally opposed to defunding … local police." Biden says Trump is the one who wants to cut federal funding for local police.

10:09 — Wallace asks Biden if he ever called the Democratic leaders of Oregon or Portland to tell them they need to stop the rioting in Portland.

10:13 — Wallace asks each candidate why he'd be a better president than the other. Trump: "There has never been an administration or president who has done more than I've done in 3 years!" He spends a lot of time talking about how many judges he's nominated, clearly trying to send a message to conservative voters that they should vote based on the Supreme Court.

10:15 — Biden says Trump's left the country "sicker, poorer, weaker and more divided." He brings up Trump's alleged comment about soldiers being "suckers and losers," and says: "My son [Beau] was in Iraq. He spent a year there. He got the Bronze Star. He is not a loser."

10:19 — Trump admits that human activity contributes to global warming, "to an extent," but seems to hedge by adding that "a lot of things do."

10:27 — My eyes are glazing over at a long discussion of the environment, which brings up a lot of technical details. Trump says: "The Green New Deal is $100 trillion." Biden says: "The Green New Deal is not my plan!" But then Biden seems to embrace it: "The Green New Deal will pay for itself."

10:37 — Wallace asks both candidates if they'll "pledge that you will not declare victory until the election is independently certified."

10:44 — It's mercifully over. When ABC News switches to pundits, George Stephanopolous says: "That was the worst presidential debate I've ever seen in my life."

Monday, September 21, 2020

Michael Chapman, cinematographer who worked with Scorsese, has died at 84

Michael Chapman, the cinematographer for three Martin Scorsese movies — Taxi Driver (1976), The Last Waltz (1978), and Raging Bull (1980) — has died at age 84

That obituary in the Hollywood Reporter says:

On Raging Bull, Chapman used a handheld camera to shoot much of the black-and-white movie and strapped cameras to actors to capture several boxing sequences. For The Last Waltz documentary, he employed as many as 10 cameras to photograph The Band and their famous guest artists.

His debut as a cinematographer was The Last Detail (1973), starring Jack Nicholson. He was also the cinematographer for Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) and Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982), a film noir homage starring Steve Martin and directed by the late Carl Reiner.

His mentor was Gordon Willis, the cinematographer of The Godfather (1972), on which Chapman was a camera operator.

Here's a video called "The Beauty of Taxi Driver":


From a 2016 piece on Chapman: 

Visual splendor can be “a terrible mistake,” says the former ‘50s-era New York beatnik.… “It shouldn’t be beautiful — it should be appropriate.” And the most impressive visual images “are often things shot on people’s cell phones,” he adds, whether natural disasters or ISIS atrocities.…

[He] would return to this low-key ethic, relying as much on “athleticism” as nuanced composition, he says, while operating camera for “Jaws” with an upstart Steven Spielberg in 1975. Chapman, an East Coast native and old hand at sailing, also shot hand-held during the third-act quest for the monster shark, all filmed at sea.… Chapman remembers fondly, the frequent mechanical shark breakdowns that led to more paid days enjoying the beaches of Cape Cod than he would have ever imagined.

Other shoots, whether on all-night cruises of New York streets in Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver,” or filming for days without sleep for rockumentary “The Last Waltz,” were more demanding. Others still, including the balletic opening shots of “Raging Bull,” for which Chapman had his assistants hand shift frame rates during fight sequences, resulted in what have been called cinematic “arias.”

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933 - 2020)

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died at age 87. NPR sums up her career in a sentence:

Architect of the legal fight for women's rights in the 1970s, Ginsburg subsequently served 27 years on the nation's highest court, becoming its most prominent member.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote this about her for a 2015 Time magazine list of the 100 most influential people:

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has had two distinguished legal careers, either one of which would alone entitle her to be one of TIME’s 100. When she was a law professor at Rutgers and later Columbia, she became the leading (and very successful) litigator on behalf of women’s rights—the Thurgood Marshall of that cause, so to speak. President Carter appointed her to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 1980, and President Clinton to a seat on the Supreme Court in 1993.

Having had the good fortune to serve beside her on both courts, I can attest that her opinions are always thoroughly considered, always carefully crafted and almost always correct (which is to say we sometimes disagree). That much is apparent for all to see.

What only her colleagues know is that her suggestions improve the opinions the rest of us write, and that she is a source of collegiality and good judgment in all our work.

Ginsburg was a staunch defender of men's rights as well as women's rights. When she was a lawyer before becoming a judge, many of Ginsburg's clients were men asserting their rights to equal protection. Ginsburg understood that gender equality means equality for everyone. For example, I posted this New York Times article about a majority opinion by Justice Ginsburg in 2017: 

[The Supreme Court] declared unconstitutional a provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act that makes the path to citizenship for foreign-born children of unmarried parents dependent on whether the citizen-parent is the mother or the father. An unwed mother can transmit her citizenship as long as she herself has lived in the United States for at least one year. But for unwed fathers, the prebirth residency requirement is five years (it was 10 years before a 1986 amendment). 

The differential treatment of mothers and fathers, six justices held in an opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection. 

Justice Ginsburg’s distinctive voice was evident throughout the opinion, which drew on the sex discrimination cases she argued and won before the Supreme Court as a young advocate for women’s rights (many of those cases, like this one, had male plaintiffs) as well as on a landmark majority opinion she delivered early in her Supreme Court tenure that forced the all-male Virginia Military Institute to admit women. The greater burden placed on unwed fathers, she wrote in the new case, reflected age-old assumptions about unmarried parenthood and a stereotyped view of an unwed father’s ability to be a responsible parent.…

Some Ginsburg quotes (from here, here, here, and here):

“Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

“Feminism [is the] notion that we should each be free to develop our own talents and not be held back by manmade barriers.”

“I don’t say women’s rights — I say the constitutional principle of the equal citizenship stature of men and women.”

“The pedestal upon which women have been placed has all too often, upon closer inspection, been revealed as a cage.”

“A great man once said that the true symbol of the United States is not the bald eagle. It is the pendulum. And when the pendulum swings too far in one direction, it will go back.”

“So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great, good fortune.”

Ginsburg gave an example of that last point from her own life, in the video below from 2019: “I'll tell you what Justice [Sandra Day] O'Connor once said to me. She said: 'Suppose we had come of age at a time when women lawyers were welcome at the bar. You know what? Today we would be retired partners from some large law firm. But because that route was not open to us, we had to find another way, and both end up on the United States Supreme Court.'

Friday, September 18, 2020

Why has this one note taken over pop music?

"I would say the overall sound of pop in the last decade or so has been the supertonic.… It's the easiest songwriting trick in the world to just hang out on the supertonic for as long as you want over any chords, and then resolve the tension by just moving up or down one note." 

That's what Andrew Huang says in this video. He not only gives a convincing demonstration with a lot of songs, but also explains why this one note has become ubiquitous:

One of his examples is a Justin Timberlake song I ranked #22 in my list of the best songs of the 2010s.

Previously (2009): "The 2 most overused chord progressions in pop music today."

Friday, September 11, 2020

Happy 75th birthday to Leo Kottke!

Leo Kottke turns 75 today. This amazing, innovative acoustic guitarist was born on September 11, 1945.

He's known for playing 12-string guitars and slide guitar, and for being influenced by John Fahey, who launched his career. But Kottke is an original.

Wikipedia on Kottke: 

He is known for a fingerpicking style that draws on blues, jazz, and folk music, and for syncopated, polyphonic melodies. He overcame a series of personal obstacles, including partial loss of hearing and a nearly career-ending bout with tendon damage in his right hand, to emerge as a widely recognized master of his instrument.…

As a youth living in Muskogee, Oklahoma, he was influenced by folk and delta blues music, notably that of Mississippi John Hurt. [Video of him.] Kottke learned to play trombone and violin before trying the guitar and developing his own unconventional picking style.

Here's a full concert from 1977:


Kottke is usually at his best playing alone, but here's a great little instrumental he did with a full band, "Uptempo" (also the first song in the concert above):


I highly recommend his 1999 album One Guitar, No Vocals, which is exactly what the title says, yet so much more. Here's the first track from the album:


Kottke wrote and played some of the music for the great movie Days of Heaven. [UPDATE: Here's a post on my movie blog where I chose Days of Heaven as my favorite movie of 1978.] 

Monday, September 7, 2020

Happy 90th birthday to Sonny Rollins!

Sonny Rollins, the great tenor saxophonist, turns 90 today.

Wikipedia says:

In a seven-decade career, he has recorded over sixty albums as a leader. A number of his compositions, including "St. Thomas," "Oleo," "Doxy," "Pent-Up House," and "Airegin," have become jazz standards.

 The Guardian wrote:

The phrase "saxophone colossus" regularly comes up when Rollins is discussed – not just because he continues to be one, but because the album of that title was the high point of the astonishing creative breakout he made in 1956. [Click the "St. Thomas" link above for a sample.] Through a succession of improvisational masterpieces that year, his torrential inventiveness began to inspire sax-players everywhere, including John Coltrane. Though he had been the dominant partner in recordings with the Modern Jazz Quartet, Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk that had begun several years before, it was from early 1956 that Rollins really took off. The saxophonist's personal merging of tenor-founder Coleman Hawkins's big-toned gravitas and harmonic sophistication, Charlie Parker's uptempo intensity, and Lester Young's lyricism opened a new chapter of jazz soloing possibilities on a saxophone. During this period Rollins had joined trumpeter Clifford Brown, pianist Richie Powell, bassist George Morrow and former Charlie Parker drummer Max Roach in a group that, under Roach's and Brown's joint leadership, became one of the standard-bearers of a pungent new jazz style dubbed "hard bop".…

Rollins had immense natural gifts, but he also grew up in Harlem in the 1930s with some of the most famous musicians of the day - including Duke Ellington and Coleman Hawkins - living around the corner, and pianist Thelonious Monk was a childhood friend who opened his ears to unusual melodies and harmony. Rollins led a high school band that included the Charlie Parker-ish alto saxist Jackie McLean, and Miles Davis was a regular playing partner between 1949 and 1954.

Here's Rollins and Monk


Live in Denmark, 1968: 


Rollins elevated the Rolling Stones' 1981 song "Waiting on a Friend" into something sublime.

Mick Jagger said:

"I had a lot of trepidation about working with Sonny Rollins. This guy's a giant of the saxophone. [Charlie Watts] said, 'He's never going to want to play on a Rolling Stones record!' I said, 'Yes he is going to want to.' And he did and he was wonderful. I said, 'Would you like me to stay out there in the studio?' He said, 'Yeah, you tell me where you want me to play and DANCE the part out.' So I did that. And that's very important: communication in hand, dance, whatever. You don't have to do a whole ballet, but sometimes that movement of the shoulder tells the guy to kick in on the beat."

Wikipedia says he hasn't played live since 2012 due to health issues. But Sonny Rollins, saxophone colossus, is still living.

(Photo of Rollins in 2008 from Wikipedia.)

Monday, August 31, 2020

If I can't handle you at your worst …

… then your worst is probably terrible.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

What's so great about Andrew Sullivan

Yes to Matthew Yglesias's response to Kate Antonova's smear, which misspells Yglesias. [UPDATE: The tweet has been deleted, but Antonova essentially said that Andrew Sullivan, Matthew Yglesias, David Brooks, and Steven Pinker shouldn't be published because their writing adds nothing of value.]

My old post about Andrew Sullivan.

Sullivan, Yglesias, Brooks, and Pinker are all great. I've disagreed with all of them at times, but their writing does add value to the world. For instance, I blogged this and this by Brooks, this and this by Yglesias, and this and this by Pinker.

Also, lol at the hair-splitting of: I don't want these writers to be canceled — I just want them to be stopped from getting published anywhere ever again! Reminds me of that old joke: "We're not lost — we just don't know where we are!"

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Charlie Parker would have turned 100 today

Jazz saxophonist Charlie "Bird" Parker was born 100 years ago today, on August 29, 1920. He died at age 34 in 1955.

A birthday message by Jon Batiste, the bandleader of the Late Show with Stephen Colbert:

Wikipedia says:

Parker was a highly influential soloist and leading figure in the development of bebop, a form of jazz characterized by fast tempos, virtuosic technique, and advanced harmonies. Parker was a blazingly fast virtuoso and introduced revolutionary harmonic ideas into jazz, including rapid passing chords, new variants of altered chords, and chord substitutions. Primarily a player of the alto saxophone, Bird's tone ranged from clean and penetrating to sweet and somber.…

Parker was an icon for the hipster subculture and later the Beat Generation, personifying the jazz musician as an uncompromising artist and intellectual rather than just an entertainer.

Here's bassist Christian McBride:

Jeff Goldblum, who's an accomplished jazz pianist in addition to being an actor:

President Bill Clinton: "When I was young, I listened over and over to his solos — breaking old patterns, building something new. 60 years later, I'm still in awe of him."

(Photo of Parker, with Miles Davis in the background in 1947, by William P. Gottlieb, in the public domain, via Wikipedia.)

Friday, August 28, 2020

Trump lies

President Donald Trump told some lies in his convention speech last night. Here are some of them, from the Washington Post's Fact Checker:

“America has tested more [for the coronavirus] than every country in Europe put together, and more than every nation in the Western Hemisphere combined. We have conducted 40 million more tests than the next closest nation.”

— Trump

Trump is talking about raw numbers, which is misleading. (And if you believe China, Beijing actually exceeds the numbers of tests, 90 million to 79 million for the United States.)

The key indicator is tests per capita, which gives a read on the share of the population that has contracted the novel coronavirus that causes covid-19. The United States still lags major countries such as Russia and is tied with Britain in terms of number of tests per million people.

Another problem is test results are slow in the United States. “Test results for the novel coronavirus are taking so long to come back that experts say the results across the United States are often proving useless in the campaign to control the deadly disease,” The Washingon Post reported in July. “The long testing turnaround times are making it impossible for the United States to replicate the central strategy used by other countries to effectively contain the virus — test, trace and isolate.”


“When I took bold action to issue a travel ban on China, very early indeed, Joe Biden called it hysterical and xenophobic. And then I introduced a ban on Europe, very early again. If we had listened to Joe, hundreds of thousands more Americans would have died.”

— Trump

Trump oversells in the impact of his so-called “travel ban” — and on Biden’s criticism.

On Jan. 31, the president announced that effective Feb. 2, non-U. S. citizens were barred from traveling from China, but there were 11 exceptions. Meanwhile, U.S. citizens and permanent residents could still travel from China but were subject to screening and a possible 14-day quarantine.…

Any criticism was scattered and relatively muted. Trump points to a comment by former vice president Joe Biden — “This is no time for Donald Trump’s record of hysteria and xenophobia … and fearmongering to lead the way instead of science” — but Biden says that did not refer to the travel restrictions.…


“The United States has among the lowest case fatality rates of any major country in the world.”

— Trump

This is false. Case fatality measures how many people known to have gotten covid-19 eventually die of covid-19, and the U.S. rate is currently 3.1 percent. Johns Hopkins University says that puts the United States 11th among the 20 countries most affected by the disease; the United States ranks fourth for deaths per 100,000 population.

Trump’s phrasing appears to turn on the phrase “major country." Among members of the [OECD], for instance, the U.S. rate is lower than the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain but higher than Australia, Japan, South Korea, Turkey, Latvia, Czechia and Israel, among others.


"The Biden-Bernie manifesto calls for abolishing cash bail, immediately releasing 400,000 criminals onto the streets and into your neighborhoods.”


This is all wrong. Defendants awaiting trial have not been released in states that have moved to abolish cash bail. For example, in New Jersey, former governor Chris Christie, a Republican allied with Trump, led a coalition to abolish cash bail and replace it with a point-based system that assesses risk based on the nature of the charges, the defendant’s prior record and the risk to the public.

The Biden-Sanders unity task force simply says, “Poverty is not a crime, and it should not be treated as one. Democrats support eliminating the use of cash bail and believe no one should be imprisoned merely for failing to pay fines or fees.” That’s the same argument Christie would make.


“Our NATO partners … were far behind in their defense payments. But at my strong urging, they agreed to pay $130 billion more a year, the first time in over 20 years that they upped their payments. And this $130 billion dollars will ultimately go to $400 billion. Secretary General [Jens] Stoltenberg, who heads NATO, was amazed, and said that President Trump did what no one else was able to do.”

— Trump …

Trump’s $130 billion figure comes from a NATO estimate that its European members and Canada will spend $130 billion additionally on defense over the four years between 2016 and 2020. (The $130 billion is an estimate for cumulative defense spending through 2020, in 2015 dollars, as an increase over 2016 spending.)

Trump falsely claims this is $130 billion a year, rather than over four years.

The $400 billion figure is for eight years.

But NATO figures show that the defense expenditures for NATO countries other than the United States have been going up — in a consistent slope — since 2014.


“The Biden plan … he’s even talking about taking the wall down. How about that?”


False. Biden has stated in no uncertain terms that he would not take down the portions of the border fencing system Trump has built, though he would stop further construction. "There will not be another foot of wall constructed on my administration,” Biden told NPR this month.


“Biden has promised to abolish the production of American oil, coal, shale and natural gas, laying waste to the economies of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Colorado and New Mexico.”


False. Biden would not abolish fossil fuels. His plan on energy and the environment calls for “net-zero [carbon] emissions no later than 2050.” That’s 30 years from now. In the interim, Biden’s plan says, “we must look at all low- and zero-carbon technologies,” leaving the door open to carbon capture and other fossil-fuel-based sources. The “net-zero” language is a term of art, meaning that some fossil fuels would continue to be used so long as their emissions are offset by other means. Biden also says he would allow existing fracking operations to continue but would not grant new permits on federal lands.

(Photo by Saul Loeb, AFP, Getty Images.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Why Trump will lose

Megan McArdle writes in the Washington Post:

Republican convention segments … strenuously implied that President Trump had taken the virus more seriously than Democrats … that he’d cut through bureaucratic red tape and PC nonsense to take bold action … that his resolve, plus a hefty dose of American greatness, have put the country in an enviable position, covid-wise.

The moments were exceptionally well-produced, even stirring, if you didn’t know that Trump’s response to covid-19 has been well below average for the leader of a developed country.

Comparing Trump to the Pacific Rim, where the experience of SARS prepared countries for another viral outbreak, is perhaps not fair. Let’s compare him to Europe, where most governments made catastrophic errors.

Still, Trump managed to underperform.

Most European heads of government were slow to recognize the threat from covid; Trump was even slower, and only acted when the plummeting stock market left him no choice.

Many countries struggled to ramp up testing regimens; Trump placidly ignored bureaucratic infighting that left America functionally without testing capacity well into March, while the virus spread undetected and unhindered.

Most of those countries struggled to get their citizens to comply with social distancing measures; Trump actively encouraged Americans to defy them.

Most countries waited too long to tell citizens to mask up outside their homes; as late as Memorial Day, Trump ridiculed reporters for wearing masks.

Trump was not the only culprit here; plenty of mistakes were made by public health officials, and by Democratic mayors and governors. But a great Republican president would have worked to overcome those lower-level failings. Instead, our Republican president exacerbated the shortcomings at every juncture with denial, indecision and belligerence. Even his most touted “accomplishment,” the travel bans, were executed late and ineptly. [Link is to a Washington Post article from May 23.]

A truthful assessment of the U.S. performance against covid-19, even one that aimed for maximum charity toward Trump, would not tout “American greatness.” It would say, “Well, at least we’re not the absolute worst in the industrialized world.” At least four developed countries have lost a higher fraction of their population to covid-19: Sweden, Italy, Spain and Britain. The gap between worst-in-class Britain and the United States is modest but significant: The United States has lost about 1 in 1,900 citizens to covid, while the United Kingdom has lost about 1 in 1,600.

But the UK death rate peaked in April and has fallen to roughly 16 per day. The U.S. daily death rate also peaked in April — and then plateaued near 1,000.

That cumulative difference is steadily closing our gap with other countries we outperformed in the spring. U.S. deaths per 100,000 residents have already overtaken those of France and Switzerland, and unless something changes by Election Day, we will be, by far, the worst-afflicted country in the rich world. Economically as well as physically.

Trump’s machine can spin all sorts of explanations as to why that isn’t Trump’s fault, much as predecessors came up with all sorts of arguments why George W. Bush wasn’t to blame for the devastation of Hurricane Katrina or the financial crisis. Many of those arguments were even valid, but all of them were irrelevant come election time. When things go badly wrong on your watch, the public won’t risk more of the same.

10 weeks

Just think: in 10 weeks, we’ll be arguing about who really won last night.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Kamala Harris is Biden's running mate

Politico reports:
Joe Biden has selected Sen. Kamala Harris to be his running mate, elevating a charismatic blue-state senator, former prosecutor and onetime 2020 primary rival who has built a reputation as an unyielding antagonist of the Trump administration.

Harris, the daughter of immigrants from Jamaica and India, was the wire-to-wire frontrunner for Biden’s No. 2 job. Her experience as a battle-tested presidential contender, her efforts leading major law enforcement offices and her political track record of three election wins in California helped her overcome a crowded list of contenders.
If Harris becomes vice president, she'll be the first woman, the first black person, and the first Asian American to hold the position. Wikipedia says she grew up going to a black church and a Hindu temple.

President Trump immediately released an ad framing Biden/Harris 2020 by saying:
Biden … is handing over the reins to Kamala while they jointly embrace the radical left.

So, if everyone’s hearing “Kamala’s a radical leftist” but also “Kamala’s a cop,” what will most voters take away from those mixed messages? Will she end up sounding like a moderate?

(Official Senate photo from the public domain.)

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Is the New York Times right that NYC stands alone in reopening schools?

The New York Times says:

Public school students in Chicago, the nation’s third-largest district, will begin the academic year remotely in September, leaving New York City as the only major school system in the country that will try to offer in-person classes when schools start this fall.…

Of the nation’s 25 largest school districts, only five now plan to open the school year with any form of in-person learning. Six of the seven largest will be online.
Wait, how can the New York Times say that NYC has "the only major school system in the country that will try to offer in-person classes," if 5 of "the nation’s 25 largest school districts" are going to have "in-person learning"? Don't the 25 largest school districts in the US all count as "major"? According to Wikipedia, each one has more than 100,000 students, and that list doesn't even include school districts as big as Denver, Austin, or Seattle.

More from the Times:
New York City schools, the nation’s largest district, are scheduled to reopen in about a month, with students having the option of attending in-person classes one to three days a week. But the city is confronting a torrent of logistical issues and political problems that could upend Mayor Bill de Blasio’s efforts to bring students back to classrooms.

Among them: There are not yet enough nurses to staff all city school buildings, and ventilation systems in aging buildings are in urgent need of upgrades. There may not even be enough teachers available to offer in-person instruction. Some teachers are threatening to stage a sickout.…

In other parts of the country where schools have already opened, they have quickly encountered positive cases, with some having to quarantine students and staff members and even close down schools temporarily to contain possible outbreaks.

Saturday, August 1, 2020

John McWhorter and Matthew Yglesias on the "class skew" of frequently updating identity language

Matthew Yglesias interviews John McWhorter about language, race, police, etc.

Listen to the whole thing, but here's a sample:

Yglesias: A lot of what people are doing in this reckoning is actually linguistic in its nature.… I feel like a lot of what happens these days is a strong assumption that changing the way people talk about things is going to beat the racism out of them, or otherwise construct the world, and that we should really judge people based on theirmastery of up-to-date verbal formulas, rather than their actions in the world. And then there comes to be a kind of a weird class skewing to it. Because, I'm very current [with] whatever activists are saying, because, like, this is my job! So I can use "BIPOC" currently, I can do all the things. But just because somebody is, like, 60 and didn't go to college, that's going to really manifest in how they talk, right? And, like, is that really the most important thing?

McWhorter: Yeah, I think we have a problem, in that there is a sense that you can change thought by changing the terms that people use for things. And it's not that changing the terms can't help get a conversation going. But the truth is that if you don't change the thoughts underneath with good old-fashioned suasion, then the labels end up really just kind of floating along, and whatever label you come up with is going to become accreted with whatever negative associations you were worried about before. And then also what you're referring to is the fact that this idea of changing the names of things on a regular basis, and also being often rather condemnatory to people who aren't using the new labels — there is a class skew, there is an education skew.

And so, for example, with "Latinx," … I completely understand the impulse to get past old-fashioned ideas of gender, and to make a space for transgender identification, etc. But the simple truth of "Latinx" is that it's a term used by people, basically, in college towns and maybe a 5-mile radius around them.… For example, I live in a neighborhood where Latinos are, I'm pretty sure, the majority. So I am around Latinos every day. I have never once heard a single person in this neighborhood — Colombians, Ecuadorians, Venezuelans, not to mention many, many, many Dominicans — never heard anybody use the term "Latinx." And I'm listening, and my Spanish is not bad. And it's because it's an elite thing: I hear that at Columbia, I don't hear it among ordinary people.…

This is something that people should think about: "African-American" is something that came down in '89, '90. No one would've expected it. It happened very quickly. For a very long time, "black" was the term, then all of a sudden it was "African-American." And the idea was that "black" had certain negative associations, partly because of the nature of the color and its symbolism, and also because of what many people unfortunately think about black people. So "African-American" was thought of as more positive. It was thought of as something generated from within black people themselves.… Now, say what you want about that — it happened, it really caught on. Look at us now. 30 years later, "African-American" has accreted, for better or worse, all the associations that "black" used to have, such that now some people seem to be moving back towards "black." And some people used to explore, for a while, "person of color," but now apparently that's a narrower definition. The thing is, changing the name can only do so much; it's the thought that really counts.