My Latest Favorite Song #24: Joseph – White Flag

I thought I had mentioned this one already. I don’t know anything about this band, but this song is great.

I watched the video just now for the first time. They look exactly like the music made me think they looked. Posting this, then going to see if their other material is also good.

Rolling Stones in Concert Review

I saw the Rolling Stones for first time in 2015, and it was maybe the best show I’ve ever seen. Mindblowlingly good. I got to see them again this week. How was it? Honestly, not nearly as good. But still a great show.

Mick: Amazing. At 78, looks and moves like he is 50. Especially compared to Roger Daltrey who is just done, it’s amazing how good his singing is. It probably helps that his style was never to push the vocal limits, it was always about the phrasing, the groove, the style.  And he plays a great guitar and an amazing harmonica!

Keith: Oh, this hurts. This hurts. I hope he was just mailing it in. I hope it was just an off night. Because if not, he has lost more than a half-step. On most songs it felt like he was going through the motions, and not particularly well. He woke up for Honky Tonk Women and his own material, but mostly might as well have stayed in the background. He flat out missed many riffs. Listen to this solo in Sympathy for The Devil below. The same riff repeated endlessly, a striking lack of confidence and creativity. The guitar tone was awful as well, enormous attack creating unpleasantness on many songs. The beginning of Start me Up was just… wrong.

Conversely, Ron Wood was marvelous. Every time he stepped up to do a solo, it was like a new concert. Blazing solos with touch, and feeling, and plenty of grit and balls. He was everything you’d expect and more. I just wish they’d let him talk, he’s got some great patter.

Steve Jordan: He gets an A in difficult circumstances. It’s not easy filling the shoes of such an amazing drummer as Charlie Watts (Number two on my list of “drummers I would get for my fantasy band”). If you played a recording of this show and compared it to Charlie, you’d be hard pressed to find much difference. That somewhat makes sense, since he’s been working with the band for 30+ years. The only off-note for me, the very distinctive beat of Satisfaction was changed for some reason.

Catalog/song choices/arrangements: One of the great things about these old bands (McCartney, The Who, Queen, etc.) is their catalogs are ridiculous. They could have played another thirty songs that everyone knows. They didn’t, they pulled out a few obscure ones, and that’s to the good. Each night they do one song that’s voted in. Our show featured She’s a Rainbow. Not in my top fifty, but I guess the Ted Lasso fans took over. I wish they had a few more non-hits from their grand slam of albums (Beggars Banquet, Let it Bleed, Sticky Fingers, Exile on Main Street), but it’s hard to complain too much. They threw in Let’s Spend the Night Together and Slipping Away, some of my faves. Miss You is a huge high point of the night, the extended breakdown is wonderful.

Here’s a plug for The Session. If you want to understand how songs are put together, listen to the 20 minutes on Honky Tonk Women.

The rest of the band was predictably amazing. They’ve been playing together a long time. A special shout out to Sasha Allen. Filling the shoes of Merry Clayton in Gimme Shelter is about the toughest job out there. But she was the latest of the Stones singers to rise to the occasion. She was dressed much like Tina Turner, from whom Mick Jagger stole most of his stage moves. (My video from last night was too big to load, this is from a couple months back.)

Opener: The Zac Brown Band was very competent in a genre I don’t care for. Their hit song Chicken Fried sounds like a parody of country music. I’m not exaggerating, I heard it on the radio and started laughing. The lyrics are literally one country music stereotype after another. That said, they are good performers. They unexpectedly covered Bohemian Rhapsody, and ya know what – it worked! Maybe I’m the jackass here.

Highlights: Tumbling Dice, Miss You, Gimme Shelter, Connection, Slipping Away, patter about Atlanta, Honky Tonk Women, Paint it Black, real time requests, Gimme Shelter, Sympathy for the Devil, shoutouts to Charlie, and also let’s not forget Gimme Shelter.

Lowlights: Let’s call them mediumlights, as there were no true lowlights. Shattered (still a boring song), She’s a Rainbow (still a Sgt. Pepper wannabe), and (ouch) mostly Keith.

Summary: There ain’t nothin’ like ‘em. The Stones are the Stones. I likely won’t ever see them again, but grateful I got to be there. I spent a lot of the next day in the basement, playing along to their greatest hits. It’s the Stones baby.

My Latest Favorite Song #23: Johnny Cash – The Man Comes Around

Who doesn’t like a little Johnny Cash? I’m particular to his later career. This is a simple song done well. Crazy catchy, and the the mix of pop sensibility and sincere spirituality is a winner.

Trumps End-of-term Final Report Card

This is the 3rd Trump Report Card. I did it once before he took office, and once at the end of year one. I’ll stick to the same categories. (Also at the end of year two, I tried to list 10 good things about Trump.)

Global Warming: F. From Day One, Trump did everything he could to roll back and sabotage any efforts to address climate change. Pulling out of the Paris Accord, changing the cost of a ton of carbon, removing all mentions of global warming from federal websites, etc. History will not treat Trump of the GOP kindly. Fortunately the trends already in motion minimized the damage done. The private sector stepped up, and technology trends (many goosed under Obama’s stimulus package) accelerated. Renewable energies are now economically competitive with fossil fuels.

Nuclear Weaponry: C. He threw away NATO and buddied up to Russia. He used unnecessarily harsh language, and escalated tensions in Korea. But in the large picture, not so bad.

Pandemic: D. A new category! First, ere are some positive things the Trump administration did:

  • Shut down China travel early (even if done poorly).
  • Operation Warp Speed.
  • Not overly politicizing first round of stimulus relief.
  • Buying 100 million doses from Pfizer and Moderna. This was done when it wasn’t at all certain either company could successfully develop a vaccine. Buying enough for 100 million Americans was a pretty good gamble.
  • The pressure he put on the FDA was good. They were overly conservative, never properly balanced the urgency of the situation against their normal process.
  • …and many of the countries that had much better leadership had lots of problems, the connection between bad policy and outcome isn’t quite so black and white.

But here we are a full year later, and there was never a federal plan. There was never any federal plan. Even the most diehard libertarian understands this is where big government is needed. It takes the vast powers and scope of the federal government to deal with a problem that crosses borders — but Trump wouldn’t. He constantly undercut scientific advice. Not only didn’t he rally the country around mask wearing and social distancing, he did everything he could to undercut it. Even after getting the actual disease, he didn’t change his tune. History tested Donald Trump, and he failed. Hundreds of thousands of deaths are directly attributable to him.

Threats to American Democracy. Fail

He is the biggest threat to American Democracy since The Civil War. He gets a zero.

  • Trump believes he is above the law. He believes the law is there to serve him. That’s what we call a king, it’s what we got rid of. One of many examples, firing his handpicked Attorney General for refusing to corruptly stop the Mueller investigation.
  • Trump implicitly and explicitly refused to help and be the President for states that didn’t vote for him.
  • Trump lies constantly. Ignorant and venal, he further drove the discourse of the country into the gutter. Democracy doesn’t work without shared facts, and Trump refused to truck in facts.
  • The undermining of basic facts is incredible. Right now, the majority of the GOP honestly believes the election was stolen. Think about that. They don’t believe the mass media, the many non-partisan groups, the experts in the federal government, fact checkers, or the unending string of court losses. The credibility of every neutral group has been attacked steadily so Trump can simply assert lies and his followers will believe it.
  • Remember Russia? Maybe you’ve forgotten their stated goal: To make Western Democracy unable to function productively. Can anyone doubt their success? And while Trump may not have actively sought out Russian help, he was eager to accept what they gave. Treason.

The rest: Some other things happened, but anything else is chicken feed compared to these four.

The Celtics should dump Semi Ojeleye

The Celtics need to make some moves. Things aren’t going so well this year. Instead of competing with Philly and the Nets, they are barely ahead of the Knicks.

For the last several years, Boston has had too many decent players. We’ve gotten a million draft picks, and so we’ve had lots of players that require minutes and time to see if they’re any good. It’s time to start make those tough decisions and thinning the herd.

Semi Ojeleye is a decent player. He plays strong defense, hits some 3s, and doesn’t mess up much. But he also has no real upside. After four seasons with the Celtics, he isn’t going to show you anything new. Standing around the perimeter and making a good pass or shot is not enough. Can’t or won’t drive, can’t or won’t dribble towards the basket.

When you’re thinking about trade pieces, you should be thinking about upside. Not just who is good (Taytum Brown Smart are untouchable), but who might get better. When you think about it this way, Semi is done.

Trade pieces (in vague order of ‘dump him’ to ‘well, if we have to’):

  • Semi Ojeleye: Will never be better for the Celtics.
  • Jeff Teague: I love Jeff Teague, but it turns out I love the Jeff Teague of several years ago. He’s toast. Only problem is, who would take him?
  • Carsen Edwards: He got his chances, never showed much. Sorry Carsen, it’s just not working out.
  • Romeo Langford: He got his chances, never showed much. Sorry Romeo, time to move on.
  • Tristan Thompson: I love the guy, but like Teague, my impressions are of the Tristan Thompson of past years. Especially because Robert Williams is suddenly realizing his potential, we can afford to lose Thompson. Thompson is a great complementary piece, but I’d be willing to see him go, and we can get a good price.
  • Kemba Walker: I love the guy. And he’s a very good player. But a couple seasons in, I don’t think he’ll every be the great player we need for a point guard. He is still highly valued around the league and we can get a good price for him. Of note, Kemba didn’t lead the team in assists per game last year (that was Marcus Smart) or this year (Smart and Taytum). I want a point guard who make other players better with assists. I want a point guard who doesn’t set up endless plays of Brown and Taytum isolations (even though that mostly works). I want a point guard who doesn’t have to be hidden on defense.  (By the way, can you believe that James Harden is leading the league in assists right now? By a healthy margin, at 11.1 a game.)

A Few Thoughts on the Pardon Power

“The President… shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.”

For the most part, the pardon power is a wonderful thing. How nice to give an ‘out’, where injustices can be corrected? But there are bad pardons also. How could we make Pardons better?

The worst kinds of pardons are self-serving and corrupt. Giving friends and allies a pardon simply because they are your friends and allies is a perversion of justice. We will have to continue living with that perversion. There is no way to define these situations, and it’s better to preserve the breadth of the power. I spent the last four years listening to Preet Bharara complaining that Trump ignored the Pardon Office as if that was so incredibly horrible. I think Pretty is wrong here, it is not such an obviously bad thing. The point of the power is to be outside normal processes, and each President should be free to deploy it as they see fit. It’s easy to imagine situations where the Pardon Office is a barrier against getting justice. If there is any solution to corrupt pardons, it is not to elect corrupt Presidents, not re-elect them, and hold it against the political party they come from.

No one gets a blank check.  President Ford erred here. He pardoned Nixon for “all offenses against the United States which he, Richard Nixon, has committed or may have committed or taken part in during the period from January 20, 1969 through August 9, 1974.” By making it so broad, he set a bad precedent.

If someone gets a pardon, they get it for specific offenses. It can say “and other offenses related to the same incidents”, but not a blanket pardon for everything. If it’s not spelled out it’s not a pardon, it’s a magical cloak of immunity.

No pardoning yourself. It’s hard to believe this needs to said out loud. This was quickly addressed during the Nixon impeachment, under the theory that no man can serve as his own judge. My simple justification is that no one is above the law. If the Executive can pardon themselves, they are above the law, so it can’t happen.