Do you find yourself running out of words to describe President Donald J. Trump? Well then you’ve come to the right place. I started compiling a personal dictionary of adjectives to describe him since he began his campaign that I’d like to share with you now. This is a work in progress that I will keep at the top of the blog for awhile – maybe until Election Day. I plan to link the words to news stories and opinion pieces that are apropos to the words.
Here are the words you can use to accurately describe President Trump.
I think they [Americans] think we’re doing a really good job in terms of running this whole situation having to do with the virus. I think they feel that myself and the administration are doing a good job. … There was a lot of fear and a lot of good things are happening.”
A lot of good things are happening. The mortality rate is, in my opinion … way, way down. That takes a lot of fear out. It’s one thing to have it. It’s another thing to die. When I first got involved, I was told numbers much higher than the number that seems to be.
There’s nothing better than listening to music while you are sheltering in place, so I have put together a few video tracks of my favorite albums that have been released this year.
I learned of Porridge Radio a few weeks ago, and I have been listening to them via YouTube because before the pandemic when I was able to go to Easy Street Records in West Seattle or Sonic Boom Records in Ballard, neither store had any of their music in stock. I guess I will have to order it and have it delivered.
Lilac, meanwhile, turns that emotional journey on its head. This time around, Margolin repeats: “I don’t want to get bitter, I want us to get better, I want us to be kinder to ourselves and to each other.” What looks like a self-help platitude on paper slowly builds up a power at odds with its sentiment, becoming increasingly frenzied and raw-throated, in a way that completely undercuts any optimism. By the end of the song, it sounds confoundingly like a threat.
This tension of opposites is a recurring theme, not just in Margolin’s ability to destabilise a lyric with her voice, but in the words themselves. They’re big on inconsistency – “I don’t know what I want, but I know what I want” – and frequently sound like frantic internal dialogues that capture a very twentysomething brand of angst, where the realisation that you’re now an adult crashes against uncertainty about whether you’re doing adulthood correctly.
In the extraordinary “Kinda Dark,” he delivers his apocalyptic verses in a distracted whisper over subdued electronic scenery. When the drums hit and the electric guitar attacks out of nowhere, it feels genuinely startling: the appearance of the looming threat he’s been slowly backing away from the whole time.
This sense of unease spans the record, making uptempo songs like the glittery “It Just Doesn’t Happen” and the soaring “Crimson Tide” sound like dispatches from a doomed adventure. Other songs exist in the cloud of smoke that’s left behind.
I first heard this new “supergroup” Bonny Light Horseman while wandering around Sonic Boom Records a couple months ago. The band members are Eric D. Johnson, Anaïs Mitchell, and Josh Kaufman – all of whom I am not that familiar with, but I guess many people are because they are SUPER. I was struck by the clarity of their sound and their perfect vocal harmonies, so I bought their eponymously titled debut album. The video is from a live performance and it sounds very muck like it does on the album. No Depression wrote this about it:
That winter [of 2018], they made the trek to Dreamland Recording in Woodstock, New York, for another quick session to finish what they hoped would be enough for a record. “When we went to Woodstock, we knew we were trying to finish a record, and I think the question became, how to record in a way that felt of-a-piece with the Berlin stuff in an environment that was so different,” Mitchell says. They had a blast over the course of two days, again standing close to one another, playing live without headphones, and joined by Michael Lewis (bass, saxophone) and JT Bates (drums, percussion), as well as engineer Bella Blasco and mixer D. James Goodwin. That live sound results in an intimate, but atmospheric vibe that permeates every song on the album. These sessions took on that same sense of immediacy the band felt in Berlin, particularly with songs like “Deep in Love” and “The Roving,” two of the album’s standouts.
This last one is by another singer I learned about this year while reading No Depression reviews. Her name is Kyshona Armstrong. Here’s a snippet from the review.
Kyshona Armstrong honed her craft in the state mental hospital. Not as an inmate, but as a teacher. She broadened her musical healing abilities in prisons and also in schools, working with children diagnosed with emotional behavior disorders.
The singer, who records under her first name, has said that she never wanted to be in the spotlight. Armstrong had aspirations to be a psychologist, but a music scholarship opened up new possibilities for her in the field of musical therapy. She eventually realized that her message could do good from the stage as well.
On the title cut, Kyshona urges people within the sound of her voice to start their activism by the simple act of listening: “I know you wanna help / but you’re deaf to the mission / Even when you see the hand I’m dealt / You pretend it’s my decision.”
And last but not least, Pearl Jam is releasing a new album titled Gigaton tomorrow. Alexis Petridis wrote this about “Quick Escape” for The Guardian:
Quick Escape does a lot of Pearl Jammy stuff – big soaring chorus, more guitar histrionics – but sets them against an atmosphere that’s authentically spacey and strange, as again befits lyrics that have taken on an entirely unwitting kind of currency. If you’re going to release a song about the human race facing such catastrophe that escaping to another planet feels appealing, now is probably the moment to do it.
That’s all for this week. I’ll try and do this more often – maybe every couple of weeks or so.
Nick Cave has Something to Say about Truth and Responsibility
Nick Cave sends out a Red Hand File every week. This week’s file was about how we should listen to others and how we should speak while we try to adjust to this devastating coronavirus pandemic.
Now is the time to be cautious with our words, our opinions.
Now is a time to listen to those in more informed positions and to follow instructions, as difficult as that may be, as we step into the unprecedented unknowable. We should be careful about the noises we make — especially those with a public voice — and should not pretend to know what we do not. From within the clamour and tonnage of information and misinformation, of opinions and counter-opinions, of blame-games and grim prophecy and the most panic-inducing version of ‘Imagine’ ever recorded, emerges a simple message — wash your hands and (if you can) stay at home.
That sounds like good advice to most intelligent, caring people. But not to one ignorant and destructive man with a pugnacious public voice, him being President Donald Trump. He ignores more informed opinions, and he does pretend to know what he does not. He is now ignoring the advice of experts on his administration’s coronavirus team and he is amplifying lies and misinformation from dubious sources to rationalize his imperious plan to prioritize business-as-usual over the health and safety of people trying to survive the coronavirus pandemic.
[Trump] repeatedly refused to confirm that he would listen to public health authorities if they advised him to keep restrictive public health measures in place, even at a cost to the economy.
“We’ll see what happens,” he said.
“Our country was not built to be shut down,” Trump said. “This is not a country that was built for this.”
Trump said he expected life to return to normal very soon, much sooner than in three or four months. Asked if he meant the country would be re-opening in “weeks or months”, Trump said: “I’m not looking at months, I can tell you right now.”
Asked if Dr Anthony Fauci, the immunologist who has become the public face of the American scientific community during the pandemic, agreed with him on potentially re-opening the economy, Trump said: “He doesn’t not agree.”
He wants to see all of us back at our jobs by Easter, which is April 12th. That’s eighteen days from today. Based on what I’ve been reading about how fast the coronavirus is spreading in NYC and other places like right here in the Seattle area, that’s not going to happen if we all follow the advice of experts. Well at least the “experts” not named Donald Trump.
Democrats Successfully Force their Hand During Coronavirus Stimulus Bill Negotiations
Just a quick update on the outcome of the coronavirus stimulus bill negotiations.
Mitch McConnell attempted to ram through $2T spending bill that focused more on boosting big business than providing care for thousands of Americans suffering and dying from severe cases of COVID-19 (and thousands more to come) and alleviating the financial stress put on millions of Americans who suddenly became unemployed because of the coronavirus. Charles Schumer and the Democrats rightly objected to the Republican Senate’s bill and fought to focus on people instead of big business. The Democrats got much of what the wanted in the bill.
The resulting measure is an attempt to sustain the workers and businesses that are losing income as vast sections of the American economy are shutting down under quarantine orders and to help the economy rebound quickly once the pandemic abates.
It includes direct support for companies large and small that have lost all or most of their customers in recent weeks, and direct payments to low- and middle-income families. The package also includes measures meant to encourage companies to keep employees on their payrolls even if their businesses have shuttered temporarily — and it increases aid to workers who are laid off anyway or have had their hours and wages cut back.
The measure will be the third legislative action taken by Congress this month to address the pandemic. Mr. Trump previously signed both a $8.3 billion in emergency aid and a sweeping package providing paid leave, free testing and additional aid for families affected by the pandemic into law.
In the final measure, lawmakers agreed to a significant expansion of unemployment benefits that would extend unemployment insurance by 13 weeks and include a four-month enhancement of benefits, officials familiar with the unfinished agreement said. Democrats said that it would allow workers to maintain their full salaries if forced out of work as a result of the pandemic.
In the interim, lawmakers also agreed to provide $1,200 in direct payments that would apply equally to workers with incomes up to $75,000 per year before phasing out and ending altogether for those earning more than $99,000. Families would receive an additional $500 per child.
We haven’t seen a senate compromise of this magnitude in a very long time. Probably not since Mitch McConnell said in October 2010, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president”.
Bravo Democrats. It’s your time to lead. Keep doing it and do it well, then maybe President Trump will be a one-term president.
Coronavirus Stimulus Bill Sabotaged by Republicans
Senate Republicans don’t care about people. They only care about big business, corporate donors, and their extremely wealthy friends. We knew that when a Republican controlled senate passed President Trump’s Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in December 2017. It gave huge tax cuts to corporations and provided a big tax loophole for pass-through income. The bill was advertised as a move that would lower taxes for workers and help businesses expand by providing them with more cash. Most workers saw very small decreases in their taxes and some actually saw their taxes go up a little, but businesses were left with a lot more cash in pocket and they used it to buy back their own stock to line the pockets of their already obscenely rich corporate executives. They did not increase investment any more than they would have otherwise and they did not provide any substantial increases in wages or benefits for workers. Some cities and states saw increases in wages because they mandated higher minimum wages themselves. Republicans in congress refused to increase the minimum wage like they always do.
So they were fine with their 1.5 Trillion Dollar tax cut for the rich, but they aren’t so fine with a new and much needed coronavirus stimulus bill that will cost somewhere between one to two trillion dollars if most of that money is funneled to the people who really need it – the unemployed workers.
The Democrats focused their efforts on people first, not profits first. They would direct the money to the millions of people in the service industry (restaurants, bars, hotels, ride-share drivers, salon workers, dental hygienists, etc.) who are all out of work. This is a huge sector of our economy. Workers need cash to buy food, pay rent and mortgages, and obtain healthcare – all urgent stuff. The stimulus bill should provide that urgent aid first. A one-time check in the $500 to $1,200 won’t provide the long-term aid they are going to need.
The spending should cover the cost of extending the unemployment insurance for at least a year or two. It should probably force large employers to provide sick pay for as long as is necessary for their workers to recover from COVID-19. The bill should prevent people from losing their jobs because of government-mandated work stoppages. It should make sure that everyone afflicted with the disease gets the healthcare they need regardless of whether or not they have insurance. To put it simply, the stimulus bill can’t be about “creating jobs” right now. It should be all about alleviating hardship and suffering caused by the outbreak, because it can’t help put people back to work until the pandemic is gone, and it looks like that isn’t going to happen for months.
The Republicans’ bill includes $5B for a corporate slush fund. It’s weak on worker retention and has loopholes. It’s treasury lending section is vague. It doesn’t provide provisions to protect people from evictions and foreclosures. It provides zero money for state and local governments. Is that because the states hardest hit are blue states? No additional spending on SNAP when the program will obviously be under extreme pressure. No direct payments for people who did not file tax returns in 2018 or 2019. It offers no help for the uninsured and no help for people with student loans.
What this all adds up to is, as James Martin wrote in The New York Times today, a Moral Evil. That’s suffering caused by the actions of individuals or, in this case, the inaction of individuals. And even worse; the deliberate redirection of resources that should be used to alleviate suffering of the most vulnerable people to the least vulnerable, most wealthy people in our country. That’s right. Who do you think will be the recipients of a slush fund?
Maybe enough Republicans in the Senate will read The Bible tonight and decide to do what Jesus would do (from the James Martin column):
Needless to say, when caring for someone with coronavirus, one should take the necessary precautions in order not to pass on the infection. But for Jesus, the sick or dying person was not the “other,” not one to be blamed, but our brother and sister. When Jesus saw a person in need, the Gospels tell us that his heart was “moved with pity.” He is a model for how we are to care during this crisis: with hearts moved by pity.
Here is a quote about truth and lies from The Tao of Wu, an autobiographical account of RZA’s journey to enlightenment.
When a man lies to the next man, who is really being played the fool? For truth always reveals itself in its own good time. And a lie is only an illusion. For even when you lie to someone, he or she might not know the truth, but the applicator of the lie knows the truth. And that shows that the truth always exists and a lie is only a temporary illusion that vanishes once the truth is manifested. …
There is only one right way, and that is the truth… The only thing you can’t change is the truth, for the truth is that which in time changes things back to their original state. Right now we are living in illusions. Five billion people are living in illusions. And out of all those people, only 5 percent advocate the truth. They are the ones who will produce thoughts of a change.
Keep this in mind the next time you force yourself to watch an entire Trump press conference about the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Americans are justly proud of their system of higher education. This is not surprising since it’s generally held in higher esteem than our K-12 schools whose performance, we are told constantly, lag those of peer countries. For instance, US institutions of higher learning in the United States generally dominate the top spots in most international rankings of universities. Something to cheer about, right?. Or is it?
The problem is that the metrics used by US News & World Report, the Times, the Shanghai Rankings et al to judge the quality of universities exclude the most fundamental one, namely, the quality of teaching, especially in subjects relating to Science, Technology Engineering and Math? The answer to how well they teach is arguably a better determinant of whether the world class reputation of US universities is deserved.
An international research team headed by Prashant Loyalka of the Stanford Graduate School of Education went in search of an answer, or a partial one anyway, insofar as it applies to computer science programmes from four countries which, together, produce 50% or more of the world’s computer science graduates annually. The results were presented in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences earlier this year. A summary by the lead researchers is here.
In brief, a statistically valid sample of final year undergraduate CS students in the US, China, India and Russia at a cross section of universities and colleges in each country, took a 2 hour standardized test developed by the Educational Testing Service, a non-profit testing and assessment organization. The test was designed to determine how well students understood computer science concepts and principles and was administered in the language of each student. In order that the US results were not skewed by international students attending its universities, the test was only administered to students who gave English as their sole or primary language.
The results were stunning to say the least. American students in regular college and university programmes far outperformed students from the other three countries also attending regular schools. In fact, these American students by and large performed on a par with Chinese, Indian and Russian students enrolled in elite schools. Meanwhile, the average American student enrolled in an elite CS programme in the US far outperformed students at Chinese, Indian and Russian elite schools. The difference in performance between students from the other three countries was statistically insignificant.
Even more impressive is that freshmen American students generally entered their CS programmes with less math and science preparation than their peers in China and Russia and about the same as Indian students. All of which suggests that US undergraduate computer science programmes hold a strong qualitative edge and add substantial value compared to those of the other nations. Interestingly, the worst performers were China’s universities, often flagged as emerging power houses, since their students started their CS programmes better prepared in math and science than the others yet performed no better than Indian and Russian students and well short of Americans by the end.
This is very good news, at least for the parents of US students who are studying computer science since it suggests they are getting their money’s worth. The study also has labour market implications since it indicates that American CS graduates from regular undergraduate programmes only have direct competition from students in the other three countries who attended elite schools.
However, some caveats apply. This is just one STEM subject and more research is needed to examine whether American students receive the same high quality instruction in other programmes (one of the subjects of the team’s continuing research). But for now at least, if not three cheers then certainly one and a half are warranted.
Amyl and the Sniffers plus Gary Oldman and the Poppers
If you like seventies punk rock, you will like Amyl and the Sniffers from Melbourne, Australia. Lead singer Amy Taylor says, “We call it pub punk because we spend a lot of time in the pub”. It’s loud, fast, and noisy. Read about the band at NME. Here’s a quote from the article:
The Aussie four-piece party hard, but, somehow, play even harder. They’ve become an unmissable live prospect, resurrecting the energy of the snotty, trashy punks of years past. The result? Riotous gigs at which you might end up bruised or spat on, but you’ll probably have the night of your life.
When NME meets them, midway through their UK tour, they’ve already been leaving chaos in their wake. Shortly after arriving in London, a gobby pre-teen shouted at Amy, calling her “ugly”; in response, she offered to fight him and delivered a stinging putdown: “Fuck you mate – bet you’ve never even had a blowy”.
Here is the video for “Got You” from their debut album.
Of course when you think about the band name, you think of amyl nitrite, and when you think about that, you think about this scene from Léon: The Professional featuring Gary Oldman at his utmost creepiest.