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.)