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.)