Saturday, August 27, 2016

Pearl Jam's Ten turns 25

25 years ago today, on August 27, 1991, Pearl Jam released its debut album, Ten, which most people would probably agree is the band's best.

The most affecting song on the album was the third single, "Jeremy." When I made a list of "the 40 greatest grunge songs," I ranked "Jeremy" #2. I wrote:

Pearl Jam has never been one of my favorite bands. But I give them a lot of credit: they sincerely tried to make a work of art with this song, and they succeeded.

When it comes to musical composition, most bands are satisfied if they just write a nice melody for the verse and then another nice melody for the chorus. Not many bands are willing to devote this kind of care and attention to individually shaping the melody of each line to fit the lyrics and create a whole musical/dramatic arc.

Here's the disturbing video for this disturbing song:



"Even Flow" is Pearl Jam's take on homelessness.
Freezin'
Rests his head on a pillow made of concrete again . . .

Even flow
Thoughts arrive like butterflies
Oh he don't know
So he chases them away
Someday yet
He'll begin his life again



Eddie Vedder wrote "Alive" based on his own childhood. His parents divorced when he was a baby, and his mom quickly remarried. He grew up believing his stepdad was his dad. His mom finally told him the news when he was a teenager, but by then, his biological father, whom he had only briefly met, had died of multiple sclerosis.




"Black" is a transcendently beautiful breakup song.
I know someday you'll have a beautiful life
I know you'll be a star
In somebody else's sky . . .

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Democrats and elections

Democrats during the 2008 general election: "Who cares about having a long record of experience? What really matters in a president is the ability to give soaring, inspiring speeches. And if you disagree then you're racist."

Democrats during the 2016 general election: "Who cares about soaring, inspiring speeches? What really matters is for the president to have a long record of experience. And if you disagree then you're sexist."

Friday, August 5, 2016

The Beatles' Revolver turns 50

50 years ago today, on August 5, 1966, the Beatles released Revolver, an artistic breakthrough for the band which many would call the greatest rock album of all time.

1. The first song on the album, "Taxman," is by George Harrison, but Paul McCartney deserves a lot of credit for both the classic bassline and the manic lead guitar. Paul's guitar solo (which, unusually, is heard twice in the song) seems to have been influenced by George's growing interest in Indian classical music, and foreshadows the vocal melismas in George's next song on the album, "Love You To" (the last word of each verse in that song — "meeeeee" — evokes the middle of the "Taxman" guitar solo).




2. The Beatles had previously used a string quartet in "Yesterday," but the second song on Revolver, "Eleanor Rigby," was the first time they used no instruments other than strings and voice. It's also one of the earliest Beatles songs to focus on specific characters beyond the standard personal pronouns (you/I/she/he), paving the way for "Penny Lane," for instance. With its themes of loneliness, religion, and death, "Eleanor Rigby" was a shockingly weighty and profound song for a band that used to be best known for teen-oriented pop songs like "I Want to Hold Your Hand."






3. The Beatles used backwards guitar for the first time in John Lennon's "I'm Only Sleeping."




4. George's second song on the album, "Love You To" wasn't the Beatles' first use of sitar (which was in "Norwegian Wood"), but it was their first song with only Indian instruments and voice.




5. John was generally very critical of Paul, but they both agreed that "Here, There, and Everywhere" was one of Paul's best songs.




6. "Yellow Submarine" — a song so colorful and childlike it gave rise to an animated movie.




7. "She Said, She Said" features a brilliant use of shifting time signatures: the song starts in the standard rock 4/4 (when singing about the present), then switches to a 3/4 waltz once he sings about "when I was a boy . . ." I don't have a link to the album version (I assume you own it or can stream it), but Ringo Starr's drumming on this song is some of his best.




8. John's acidic "She Said, She Said" is nicely juxtaposed with Paul's ebullience in the next song on Revolver, "Good Day Sunshine."




9. George and Paul brilliantly harmonized their guitar parts on John's "And Your Bird Can Sing."




10. "For No One" is one of my very favorite Beatles songs. Paul perfectly fused lyrics to music here. The slow, methodical chord changes in the verse reflect the singer's dwelling on the breakup and trying to analyze things from every possible perspective. Then the emotional intensity is heightened by the shift to a minor key in the chorus ("and in her eyes you see nothing . . .").




11. In his book Revolution in the Head: The Beatles Records and the Sixties, Ian MacDonald calls "Dr. Robert" "one of The Beatles' most incisive pieces." MacDonald explains:

Concerning a New York doctor who habituated his socialite clients to narcotics by mixing methedrine with vitamin shots, the song shifts key evasively, stabilising only in its middle eight — an evangelical sales-pitch backed by pious harmonium and warbling choirboys. Lennon's caustic vocal . . . is matched by McCartney's huckstering harmony in fourths ('he's a man you must believe') and by Harrison's double-tracked guitar, with its unique blend of sitar and country-and-western.




12. "I Want to Tell You" is George's third and last song on Revolver. George usually had a maximum of two songs per album; this is the only time George got three songs on a normal-length Beatles album. (The White Album had four, but it was a double album.)




13. "Got to Get You Into My Life" is an outstanding Paul song in a Motown vein.






14. The last song on Revolver, "Tomorrow Never Knows," is one of the most startling in the Beatles' whole catalog. The basic song is unusually simple for the Beatles: there's just one melody (no vocal harmonies), one drum beat, and two chords repeated over and over. That kind of minimalism was rare in 1966. The lyrics are the most blatantly drug-inspired of any Beatles song: "Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream . . . Listen to the color of your dream . . ."

What's truly ground-breaking about the recording is the tape loops which each Beatle made at home and brought to the studio to be added to the mix. Ian MacDonald lists the five loops (most of which were speeded up): (1) a seagull-like sound, which is actually Paul laughing; (2) an orchestra playing a chord; (3) a Mellotron (a precursor to the synthesizer) played on the "flute" setting; (4) a Mellotron played on the "strings" setting; and (5) a sitar. The song also includes a backwards, cut-up version of the guitar solo from "Taxman." MacDonald observes that the loops are played "in cross rhythm, invit[ing] the audience to lose its time-sense in a brilliantly authentic evocation of the LSD experience."




Here are the original tape loops in isolation, one after another (not as they're heard on the record):

Friday, April 1, 2016

Live-blogging the 2016 Libertarian Party primary debate

I'll be live-blogging the Libertarian Party's first televised presidential primary debate of 2016 (or ever). Keep reloading this post for more updates.

9:03 — Gary Johnson uses his opening statement to talk about his "wonderful family," including his grandchildren and his fiance, with whom he shares "a passion for health and wellness." "It's great to be in love, and I'm in love!" He talks about starting a successful "handyman business," then selling it in 1999 — "nobody lost their job." He also points out that he got elected governor in a state that's 2 to 1 Democratic, New Mexico. And he's adventurous: "I climbed the tallest mountain in each of the seven continents!"

9:05 — John McAfee's opening statement strikes a different tone — philosophical, not personal: "Libertarianism is grounded in the concept of liberty. What is liberty? Liberty is the idea that our minds and bodies belong to ourselves. . . . Liberty cannot be extinguished . . . through laws; it can only be unjustly punished."

9:06 — Austin Petersen sketches his biography to highlight how he's learned the value of liberty. He grew up on a horse farm near a town called Liberty, Missouri. He learned about "economic liberty" as a kid, when his parents sent him to sell chrysanthemums. He learned about "personal liberty" from "the Golden Rule." "I may be the youngest candidate in this race, but I'm the oldest in libertarian years!"

9:09 — Johnson is asked how we can trust him on military issues when he wants to cut military spending. He says the terrorist threat is real, but our drone strikes have made things worse.

9:10 — McAfee is asked about the perception that libertarians are "isolationists." McAfee cleverly turns the tables by saying that "isolationism" is "taking on the role of world policeman, making ourselves separate from the rest of the world: we're the policemen, and you're the ones we police."

[I missed the first few minutes and added the above posts later. Here's where I started actually live-blogging:]

9:11 — When should we go to war? Johson and Petersen say: "When we're attacked." McAfee tries to cut the Gordian knot: "Why do we need war?"

9:12 — McAfee on drugs: "A heroin addict's addiction is its own punishment; we don't need any more."

9:18 — Petersen proposes a "penny"-based budget, where we take away one penny of every dollar from every federal program — with a way to bring that penny back in cases where Congress decides it's needed. He declares: "No one is going to be hurt!" But the moderator, John Stossel (a libertarian), seems skeptical of that.

9:19 — Johnson would cut the federal budget by 20%, including Medicare, Medicaid, and military.

9:21 — Stossel asks what specifically they'd cut. Petersen says everything — but in particular, he'd repeal Obamacare. Johnson says the Departments of Commerce and Education. McAfee says the FDA.

9:27 — When asked how to fight ISIS, the candidates all give pretty unexciting answers: McAfee says we need better intelligence, Petersen says we should fight them while following the Constitution, and Johnson says Congress should declare war on ISIS and we should cut off their funding.

9:30 — On foreign aid, Petersen forcefully says he'd get rid of "all" of it. Johnson is more cautious, saying he's uncomfortable with the word "all" — but he's generally against foreign aid. "It sounds nice, like you're giving them food, but it's really propping up dictators."

9:36 — Stossel asks each candidate about their flaws, starting with Johnson: He lost in 2012, he's "low-key," and he admits he sometimes smokes marijuana. Johnson says he hasn't had alcohol in 27 years, and legalizing marijuana would reduce the overall harm caused by all addictions.

9:38 — McAfee is asked about his shady alleged activities in Belize and Guatemala. "You're still technically a fugitive!" He was also arrested for driving on Xanax. McAfee says . . . well, he's never been charged with murder! (That's reassuring.) He admits his DUI was "the stupidest thing I've ever done."

9:39 — Petersen is asked about his young age. "I'm 35, so I'm constitutionally eligible. . . . Don't hate me because I'm young and pretty!"

9:40 — Johnson is asked how he can appeal to Democrats. He says he took a quiz on ISideWith.com, which tells you what percentage you agree with each candidate. He agreed with himself only 90%! But the person he agreed with the second most was Bernie Sanders, at 73%. He agrees with Sanders on civil liberties.

9:42 — Petersen challenges Johnson on his support for requiring bakeries to make cakes for same-sex weddings. "Should a Jewish baker be forced to bake a Nazi wedding cake?" Johnson says: "Yes!" [Added later: Who would have though the most extreme, crazy statement made in the Libertarian debate would be in favor of government forcing a business to make goods that promote Nazism?] Petersen accuses Johnson of not understanding the free market. Petersen frames his argument as pro-gay: "Let the bigots out themselves!"

9:48 — On abortion, Petersen says Congress has no power to legislate, but we should be "morally pro-life." "Ending the federal war on drugs would allow women to buy birth control over the counter." Johnson and McAfee are strongly for legal abortion.

9:49 — Stossel does a lightning round on a couple issues. They're all against the death penalty, and they're all for same-sex marriage. McAfee jokes: "I met Austin [Petersen] in a gay bar!"

9:50 — Should government fix the fact that "women are paid less than men"? Johnson says women should be paid the same as men, but "the devil is in the details," and he'd have a hard time signing any legislation about it. McAfee says women and men should be paid equally — but "the employer should decide." Petersen correctly says the "gender pay gap" is because of "women's choices." More women than men go to college — should government force more men to go to college?

9:52 — If there were no Libertarian nominee, would they vote for Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? They'd all refuse to vote for either. Johnson says he'd find another third-party candidate to vote for.

That's the end of the first half of this pre-recorded debate. The second half will air at 9 pm Eastern on April 8.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Libertarian Party debate is this Friday

"[T]he first ever nationally televised libertarian debate has been confirmed for April 1. The debate is set to air at 9pm EST on the Stossel Show on Fox Business."

Based on the photos, I'd say: Johnson for president, Petersen for vice president, and McAfee for head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Do these two messages about terrorism add up?

Notice two messages we've been hearing a lot — often from the same people:

(1) When speaking about Islamic terrorists, it's considered appropriate to adopt this understanding tone — not that we're excusing the acts, but that we recognize that terrorism comes from being oppressed and disenfranchised, that people turn to terrorism as a last resort, etc. (I don't necessarily agree with those statements, but I've heard them countless times, from people who seem to feel very strongly about it.)

(2) We're told that the word "terrorist" is used too selectively, and especially that we should be more willing to apply it to white men and Christian men (e.g. the KKK, mass shooters, and those people who occupied the Oregon wildlife refuge).

Well, wait a minute . . . how oppressed and disenfranchised are white, Christian men?

Friday, March 25, 2016

Garry Shandling (1949 - 2016)

Garry Shandling, the comedian, died yesterday at age 66.

The New York Times says:

Mr. Shandling’s Larry Sanders was the host of a fictional show within the show, interviewing real celebrities playing themselves in segments that were virtually indistinguishable from real talk shows like “The Tonight Show.” (Mr. Shandling had frequently substituted for Johnny Carson as the “Tonight Show” host.)

But the show was mostly concerned with what happened when the cameras were off, especially the interplay among Larry, his bumbling announcer and sidekick (Jeffrey Tambor) and his mercurial producer (Rip Torn).

“The Larry Sanders Show,” often cited as a groundbreaking precursor of shows like “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “30 Rock,” was the second show by Mr. Shandling to take an unorthodox approach. The first, “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show,” seen on Showtime from 1986 to 1990, freely admitted that it was a show, with Mr. Shandling often breaking the fourth wall by speaking directly to the audience. . . .

Playing a talk-show host who was, as Jacques Steinberg wrote in The New York Times, “a too-close-for-comfort amalgam of Johnny Carson, David Letterman, Jay Leno and Jack Paar,” Mr. Shandling offered a jaundiced insider view of the television business. . . .

Mr. Shandling’s profile was never again as high as it was during the “Larry Sanders” years, but the show’s influence has been lasting. “30 Rock” borrowed its unblinking warts-and-all look at how television is made; “Curb Your Enthusiasm” embraced its use of real celebrities to play versions of themselves that were perhaps only slight exaggerations.

Its influence was also felt in less obvious ways. David Chase, the creator of “The Sopranos,” once said that “The Larry Sanders Show” “inspired me to want to do something really good for television.” . . .

Just a few months ago Mr. Shandling was a guest on Jerry Seinfeld’s popular web series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee,” in an episode eerily titled “It’s Great That Garry Shandling Is Still Alive.” Eighteen years earlier, Mr. Seinfeld had praised Mr. Shandling’s comedic instincts.

“Comedians all wait around to hear things that they can use,” Mr. Seinfeld said in 1998. “With Garry, it’s like being in a boat with a guy who’s constantly reeling in fish.”

In 2007, nine years after “The Larry Sanders Show” went off the air, Mr. Shandling spoke to The Times about his post-“Sanders” life.

“It’s very similar to — what is it? — the seven stages of grieving,” he said. “First there’s the shock. Now I’m going to head for something funny here. Then there’s denial, acceptance and” — he paused — “masturbation.”

Here's Shandling and Seinfeld talking on that recent episode of Seinfeld's show:
Shandling: I was sitting there watching CNN anyway, and they broke in and said Robin Williams had killed himself. And I sat there and I was frozen. . . . Then Wolf Blitzer says: "63 is so young!" And then I looked up with a little hope, because I'm about the same age as Robin. And then I realized: "63 is so young" is a phrase you never hear relative to anything but death. "63 is so young to be playing in the NFL"? There's nothing!

Seinfeld: You have to die in your 60s for them to say: "Boy, he was young!"

Friday, March 18, 2016

Marco Rubio is dropping out of government altogether

“I’m not going to be vice president. I'm not running for governor of Florida. I'm going to finish out my term in the Senate over the next 10 months. We're going to work really hard here, and we have some things we want to achieve. . . . And then I'll be a private citizen in January.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

8 Thoughts on Tuesday, March 15

1. Marco Rubio's loss of his home state by almost 20 points to Donald Trump wasn't just fatal to the Rubio campaign; it also dealt a devastating blow to the idea of Mitt Romney as an influential Republican elder statesman.

2. Tonight was also not a great night for the idea that betting odds are a better predictor than polls. For most of the time (since mid-October, which is the earliest time that website goes back to), betting odds have said Rubio is the most likely Republican nominee. (Full disclosure: Those links go to Election Betting Odds, which was co-created by my friend Maxim Lott.)

3. John Kasich is saying he might go to the Republican convention with more delegates than anyone else. And now, I'm afraid all the remaining Republican candidates might be mentally ill.

4. Losing Ohio could help Trump.

5. Alex Knepper explains why we should expect Trump to stay in the lead:

Presumably the only way to stop Trump at this point would be to look toward a Cruz-Kasich ticket, but the upcoming primaries are mostly friendly territory for Trump — Cruz will win Utah and Kasich might have a shot in Wisconsin, but Trump will likely sweep the Mid-Atlantic states on 4/19 and 4/26 — New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and so forth. Even without Ohio, Trump still has a perfectly viable path to a majority, and nobody else does.
6. I find it interesting that Trump made a point, in his victory speech, to congratulate Rubio on running a "tough" campaign, called him "smart," and said he'll have a great future. I don't think Trump said a word about Jeb Bush when he dropped out on the night of South Carolina.

7. Did anyone predict, before the voting started, that the Republican race would come down to Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and John Kasich? Anyone at all, in the whole world?

8. Since Hillary Clinton seems to have won all 5 primaries and Trump won everything except Kasich's home state, we can now see that this Reason piece was right: "letting Trump speak is not merely the morally correct, philosophically consistent course of action: It's the tactically sound one as well." That article had prescient words the day before the primaries:
When the left stops Trump from speaking, Trump wins. He gets to tell his people that the forces of far-left activism and political correctness are trying to silence him. Implicitly, he is suggesting to his followers that when he becomes president, the tides will turn: see his promise to make it easier to sue newspapers for criticizing him. Trump supporters adore this shtick. Stop giving them ammunition.
As Bill Scher said on Twitter in response to the primary results:
Speculation: The visual of Bernie supporters disrupting Trump rallies offered a dismal picture of a Sanders-Trump general, fueling [Clinton] . . .

Takeaway: spend more time knocking doors for your candidate than protesting the other party's candidate

Monday, March 14, 2016

How does this question asked of Donald Trump about H-1B visas make sense?

John Dickerson asked this to Donald Trump on Face the Nation yesterday:

TRUMP: At the debate, you talked about H-1B visas. You said: "It's something I, frankly, use, and I shouldn't be allowed to use it." When you have talked about the bankruptcy laws, you talk about how you took advantage of them. When you and I talked about your taxes, you say you try and pay as little as possible. If you are president, why would anybody follow the laws that you put in place if they knew you were taking advantage of those laws when you were in the private sector?
(That's from the transcript. You can see it in the middle of this video, starting at 5:18 — click the slider at the bottom of the video, a little more than half of the way through the interview.)

I asked John Dickerson about this on Facebook (he hasn't responded to me) (UPDATE: see the end of this post for his response):
Trump claims that he followed the laws, and used them to his business advantage; he hasn't said he violated any laws. How is that inconsistent with the assumption that people will "follow the laws that [he] put[s] in place" when he's president? Presumably he'd to try to improve the laws, leading to better results when businesspeople followed them in a way that worked to their advantage (as businesspeople can always be expected to do).
My mom, Ann Althouse, made the same point (and we hadn't discussed this with each other or seen each other's comments when we separately pointed this out):
What's Dickerson trying to say, that taxpayers should pay more than they owe? That businesspersons shouldn't understand the law, see what's to their advantage, and structure their transactions efficiently? Why wouldn't voters trust a businessperson who followed the law and figured out how to use it? Don't we want someone knowledgeable and competent? We're supposed to prefer someone who's so intimidated by law that he wastes money? Is Dickerson a fool or is he just trying to manipulate viewers into thinking ill of Trump?
Here was Trump's response, with an odd interjection from Dickerson:
TRUMP: Because I know the game better than anybody, because I have been on the other side. I have built one of the greatest companies. I did a filing which shows one of the great companies, great assets, very little debt, tremendous cash flow, some of the greatest assets in the world. But let me just tell you, I use the bankruptcy laws just like other very successful people. I don't [want] to use their names, but I could name 10 people right now, the biggest people in all of business. We do it. It's the game we play. We use the laws of the land.

DICKERSON: But why wouldn't people keep playing . . .

TRUMP: We use it. And that's the way we play the game. Wait a minute. As far as the visas are concerned, I'm not doing anything wrong. I think the -- those visas shouldn't be allowed. But they are allowed. They are part of the fabric of what you do. So, I'll use it. I mean, I'm a businessman. Now that I have turned politician -- I hate to say that, almost, about myself -- but now that I'm running for office, I know the game better than anybody. I'm the one that can fix all of this stuff. But when you start talking about -- I never went bankrupt. I never went bankrupt. You understand I never went bankrupt. But you take a look at the business leaders. Every once in a while -- I have 500 companies. I have so many different companies. And a very few, I will take advantage of -- frankly, by using the laws of the land, as every other major businessperson does.
My mom points out that Dickerson's follow-up was "weirdly obtuse":
"But why wouldn't people keep playing?" There's nothing wrong with "playing." The key is to put the right rules and regulations in place and then to enforce them. If you don't like what people are doing when they are following the law, then something's wrong with the law, not with the people who are finding effective ways to compete.

I don't see Trump as fomenting disrespect for the law. It's more the opposite. The law matters. Get it right. People using the law to their selfish advantage may reveal what's wrong with the law, and Trump is offering his services, as an expert player, in seeing and fixing the flaws so that the game produces a result that is in the general interest of the American people. There may be reasons not to trust him (and there are surely reasons to mistrust those who've played the law game from positions in government), but his use of the law isn't a good reason.
My mom notes that she's in the legal field and she found Dickerson's question "very weird." I'm also in the legal field and had the same reaction. If a journalist as prominent as Dickerson, the host of one of the Sunday morning political shows, saw fit to ask this on the air, how much similar confusion about law, policy, and business is out there among the general public?

UPDATE: John Dickerson has responded to my question on Facebook:
Good question. What I was trying to get at is where is he on the question of gaming the laws and abiding by them. Does he think laws exist to be maneuvered around and taken advantage of? In the case of companies like Apple and others he makes a moral objection to their taking advantage of tax and trade laws. But in his own business he says he plays every game he can even when he acknowledges (as he did with H1B visas) that it's a bad thing to do. (He's under investigation both for his use H1B visas and his tax filings) So what I was trying to get at is whether he expects everyone to game the system when he's trying to make the system better or whether he expected a different standard than the one he uses once he's on the other side-- since his view of standards is a moving target. (For example, he campaigns against foreign workers taking jobs but hires them; campaigns against foreign made goods but makes them). So where's' the line? How does he draw it? How will he draw those lines when he's president. He offered a lot of that in his answer. The point is to excavate his reasoning. The reason I asked about his event with Dr. Carson is that it's part of the same inquiry: what guides your behavior? Is politics a system to be gamed? Seems like a lot of people are upset about politics being turned into a game this election cycle. As the candidate who has achieved a special status because voters think he tells unique truths, how can he say something seemingly true one minute and then say oh that wasn't true it was just politics the next minute. There's no law against doing that. He's just playing the game. But I keep hearing that people are tired of the game playing. Also, it seems like a pretty shifting set of standards-- and campaigns are about whether what you're saying will still be true once you're elected. So why, if his standards are shifting now, should people not think he'll shift his standards when he gets into office. Nothing will be there to bind him in many cases but his personal set of standards. Thanks for asking!
As I said in reply to Dickerson on Facebook: He keeps referring to Trump "gaming the laws," "maneuver[ing]," "tak[ing] advantage of" the laws, etc. Those terms might sound vaguely nefarious, but the bottom line is that they all seem to refer to a businessperson following the law. If the consequences of businesspeople following the law are bad, then the law should be changed. So I fail to see a contradiction, or even a tension, between what Trump says about what he's done as a businessperson and his stance that he'd improve the laws and the economy as president. After all, his argument is not that he expects businesses to suddenly act in the country's best interests out of the goodness of their hearts. His argument is that he knows firsthand, from decades of experience, what it's like to do business under a lot of laws and regulations, and he has ideas for improving those laws to get better economic results. That's all under the assumption that people who run successful businesses, who are advised by lawyers and financial advisors, will always work hard to do whatever they think will advantage themselves under the existing law.