Scott Simon ran a story today classified as ‘Commentary’ but which is closer to state propaganda — and bad propaganda at that.
It’s well past time again for me to pick winners among all the fantastic music released in 2015, truly a bumper year in my experience. Now for the fourth time, I’ll review the ten albums I loved the most from last year; discuss many others that were somehow notable; and also serve up a 20-track, 20-artist mix of highlight singles, half of which appeared on those best-loved albums. If you have a pulse, you should dig it!
As the primary race creeps along we keep hearing about Hillary Clinton’s popularity among blacks. That apparently explains her sweeps in southern states: “according to exit polls, Clinton won more than 80 percent of black votes in Tennessee and Georgia, and 90 percent in Arkansas in Alabama.” I’ve been trying to understand what can explain this.
Jonathan Chait, a smug, center-left blogger of some note among Democrats and moderates, recently weighed in on the Democratic primary. The article, with the self-congratulatory title “The Case Against Bernie Sanders” is worth exploring in some detail because of its bad logic, exaggerated arguments, and extreme cynicism. Ultimately, no one should be convinced by his “case.”
Most people are familiar with the idea that the length of the day varies with the seasons. Especially for those in the more northern latitudes, it’s an obvious feature of the winter that the sun rises later and sets earlier than in the summer. Throughout history and across northern cultures, the winter solstice is celebrated to herald the imminent return of light; after the shortest day, things can only get brighter!
One would expect that following the winter solstice — the shortest day — the sun will start both rising earlier and setting later in the day in order to make it longer. That is, we’d expect the sun to be highest at noon and have sunrise and sunset start moving away symmetrically on either side as the days get longer. What surprises many, and left me at a partial loss to explain when asked about it, is the fact that this is not so. In fact, the sun continues to rise later in the morning for days following the winter solstice — and begins setting later days before it! The reason is truly celestial.
I recently had a shocking experience at a concert. I’ve been to many, and they vary wildly in quality, but shocking is not a term I use lightly. A great show is a great thing for a reason: there’s a lot of boring and even awful music out there. Every genre is guilty of being terrible for reasons of talentlessness and avarice and cronyism and even sheer accident. I don’t usually mean to single out a particular genre in general, but to explain this shocking show it suffices to compare two critically acclaimed rap albums: October 2014’s Run the Jewels 2 by supergroup Run the Jewels [El-P and Killer Mike] and March 2015’s To Pimp a Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar. This comparison sets up the context for a review of a Kendrick Lamar show.
Gregorian Calendars the world over agree: 2014 has ended. For the third year running, it’s time for me to review the ten best albums I noticed that were released last year; jeer at a few for being remarkably bad; and also serve up a 20-track mix of highlight singles, half taken from the top ten albums list. This year affords a special treat, as you can now stream the playlist in-line!
Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution is the latest scholarly work from former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. The book is as spare and strictly to-the-point as its title: discounting an index, a few pages of acknowledgements, a few more pages of glossy colour photographs, and an appendix with a complete transcription of the United States Constitution (as amended), Stevens makes his case for six distinct constitutional amendments in just 133 pages. As a retired Justice, it isn’t surprising that the selection and emphasis of many of the proposals underscore Steven’s frustration with often recently decided jurisprudence and are targeted to undermine or reverse certain decisions. The no-nonsense prose, coloured with Stevens’s famed wit, makes for an engaging and insightful read.
No proposed amendment is immune to critique, and some are less immune than others. But a majority of them clearly address pressing contemporary issues that likely need profound and dramatic legal changes to adequately remedy. The biggest challenge to Stevens’s proposed remedies is one he himself addresses in a short prologue: namely that the amendment process has been very infrequently used, and never more infrequently since the Civil War than in the last forty years. But, by suggesting remarkably simple yet concrete changes we could actually act upon, Stevens makes a powerful case that there are ways we can effect change more more decisively than what the slow and piecemeal legislative process may afford and less unexpectedly than ‘law from the bench’ often provides. I’ll discuss each proposal in turn.
Lately it seems fashionable to acknowledge or embrace or espouse alternative theories of gender. The more extreme liberal contingent of social network users whose activity I follow have been frequently posting content about gender and sexual identity. These essays seek at a minimum to establish that the so-called gender binary is variously a myth, a remnant of former times, an unjust impediment to progressive modes of self-expression; and in extreme cases, a pox on our houses, an obnoxiously privileged slight, a pernicious evil that purveyors grow increasingly exasperated of explaining to their less enlightened friends and acquaintances. From what I’ve read and seen though, this neo-gender movement seems itself to be a poorly conceived tempest in a semantic teacup which has been so badly articulated that it has been basically impossible to proceed to its logical conclusion. Taken together with the self-congratulatory tone of much of the literature, this suggests to me that gender theory is more about self-aggrandizing liberality than serious science or activism.
Even though I’m way late, I wanted to create a top music post for last year just like I did for 2012. As I said then, I don’t pretend to be able to weigh in like the Serious People at AllMusic and Pitchfork and Rolling Stone with shiny, definitive lists about what was really the best. Also I’m pretty sure even at the time of writing that there are specific albums I should have already made the time for, so that could change a lot. But I can’t know everything and I never will, and last year’s list has held up pretty well upon review. I’ll use the same winning format again: top ten albums (ranked and reviewed in detail) plus a few honourable or interesting mentions (unranked but with a few notes) followed with a 20-song, 20-band playlist (ordered for taste).