Four words encapsulate the entire genre. Two of them are obscene

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Photo by Edward Eyer via Pexels

Rock music spans several decades, dozens of countries & languages, many thousands of albums, and millions of individual songs. And yet, as was scientifically proven by a lengthy debate in a bar one night, this entire universe of songs is built from just two themes.

There are relationship songs: Songs about holding hands, dancing, kissing, making out, sex. Songs about girls (or sometimes boys; but mostly girls) — dreaming about them, admiring them, describing them, flirting with them, seducing them, bragging about them, loving them, leaving them, losing them, wanting them back.

And there are rebellion songs: Songs about partying, drinking, doing drugs, driving fast cars, playing loud music, non-conformity, seizing individual freedom, sticking it to your adversaries, being cool, and defying every type of authority figure and establishment institution — parents, teachers, bosses, politicans, religion, business, the military, the suburbs. …

Keeping it classic to keep us sane.

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Photo by Jim Summaria via Wikimedia Commons, adapted under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The era of social distancing and #StayAtHome has changed many things, including music listening habits.

At-home usage of YouTube recently has increased 15%, and Spotify as much as 50%. According to a report from Spotify, many of these users are seeking “to manage stress” or find a comforting “escape” from lockdown life.

If that sounds like you, then give a fresh listen to these five classic rock albums — they may be old and familiar, but they resonate with a new relevance in the age of COVID-19.

Paul McCartney and Wings - Band on the Run

Themes of escape and freedom animate this 1973 release, which seems tailor-made for vicarious listening under quarantine. …

Over the weekend, a scientist in the UK named KJ Cheetham posted this problem to Twitter:

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kj_cheetham via Twitter

Before we get to the politics, let’s quickly solve the math problem. In arithmetic, multiplication comes before subtraction* , so first we multiply:

220 × 0.5 = 110

…then we subtract:

230 – 110 = 120

However, many people are unaware that the multiplication is supposed to come first, and they solve from left-to-right instead:

230 – 220 = 10, then 10 × 0.5 = 5

So when Cheetham wrote “the answer is 5!”, he was playing at making this very common mistake. The key to solving the tweet is noticing the exclamation point at the end, and knowing that “5!” in mathematical notation means “5 factorial,” or 5 × 4 × 3 × 2 × 1. This works out to 120, the correct solution to the problem. In other words, “5!” is another way to say 120, but Cheetham knew that the significance of the “5!” …

You may have seen this 2-minute video which circulated widely on Twitter and LinkedIn during February, purporting to show the value of the world’s “best brands” during the period 2000–2018:

The video’s popularity can be attributed to three things:

First, good design. The information is presented with vivid clarity, and the animation effectively conveys the changes over time. It’s also just plain mesmerizing to watch the bars moving and the brands shifting.

Second, it plays on the public’s indulgence of false precision. As we have seen before on the subject of political opinion polls, people love the idea that a complex and variable phenomenon can be reduced to something like a sports score — that a candidate can be “the leader by seven points” in an election campaign, or that a global brand can be precisely valued at $18.862 billion. …

In the first French parliament after the revolution of 1789, it is said that common people sat in the left side of the hall, and aristocrats sat on the right. From this seating arrangement derived the labels of the traditional political spectrum, a horizontal line in which the “left wing” is identified with socialism and with social & political change (be it incremental or revolutionary), and the “right wing” is identified with capitalism and with resistance or reaction against such change. It’s a simple, graphical way to compare political figures or positions.

Various elaborations on the concept have been proposed, often involving the addition of a second or third axis. The so-called “political compass” and “Nolan chart” place economic issues along the classical left-right spectrum, and add a vertical line to measure social and cultural policy on a continuum from authoritarian to libertarian. The 20th-century psychologist Hans Eysenck described something similar, with radical-conservative and authoritarian-democratic axes, in an effort to illustrate perceived similarities between Nazis and Soviets located at opposite reaches of the classical spectrum. …

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The obituaries for George H.W. Bush are a reminder that, regardless of accomplishments or legacy, certain phrases spoken by a president tend to become well-remembered soundbites. The most memorable of these can blossom into catchphrases; emblems evoked as shorthand for the man, his times, and his personality.

To an extent, ’twas ever thus — more than 150 years after his death, Lincoln remains a highly quotable president. The advent of broadcast media, however, elevated the presidential soundbite to a higher status in the public consciousness.

In earlier days, people could only read a president’s words in the newspaper, a day or longer after they had been spoken. It was only when radio became widespread, around the early 1930s, that a large audience could hear a president’s words simultaneously, in real time. Presidential utterances then became a shared experience, which everyone could hear in the same context and remember together in the same way. …

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For as long as the US presidency has existed, presidents have used the media to establish their message, define their opponents, and influence public opinion. Some have done it better or have adapted to new media more readily than others.

For the republic’s first century and a half, the media landscape consisted only of the printed and spoken word. In order to aspire to the White House, a politician needed to write well and deliver speeches effectively. The best-regarded presidents of this period are renowned not only for their leadership, but also for their mastery of language. Washington’s speeches and letters helped establish the political norms of the new country. Lincoln surely could have excelled as an essayist had he not gone into law and politics. …

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The Democratic Party finds itself in a discouraging situation, for two main reasons. One is, as I wrote in last week’s column, the party still hasn’t solved president Trump — they haven’t figured out how to neutralize his mastery of the media and retake the initiative in setting the topics of national conversation. There are many would-be Democratic challengers in 2020, but none (other than the aging, recycled Bernie Sanders) have yet shown much ability to create a clear, issues-based political identity which energizes voters. Trump still sets the agenda and assigns the labels, and everyone else simply reacts.

The other reason is the continuing Republican domination at the state level. Democrats are sanguine over their recent reconquest of the House of Representatives, and many are optimistic about their White House chances for 2020. But with respect to many of the issues that affect voters the most — health care, education, taxes, services for the elderly & disabled, employment, unions and workers’ rights, the opioid crisis, LGBTQ rights, law enforcement, redistricting, housing affordability, the composition of the judiciary — the states have at least as much influence as Washington, and the Republicans are firmly in control. …

In the wake of the midterm elections, most pundits are declaring at least a partial victory for the Democratic party. And indeed, by picking up perhaps three dozen seats in the House of Representatives to win control of that chamber, the party did land a successful blow on the Republicans.

Nevertheless, the 2018 midterms were disappointing for the Democrats in a couple of ways:

  • They actually lost seats in the Senate (where, to be fair, the set of seats which happened to be up for election in this cycle was always going to be challenging for them.)
  • In many of the races with the highest traditional-media and fundraising profiles (such as the Florida and Texas senate seats and the gubernatorial contest in Georgia), the Democratic candidate either lost quickly on election night, or is losing slowly in a drawn-out recount. …

In the run-up to tomorrow’s midterm elections in the US, much of the commentary and punditry has focused on opinion polls, and on the electoral results which they supposedly predict. Frequently, the possibility is raised that polls are “wrong” and that a candidate who is “leading in the polls” will lose:

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A sampler of “polls are wrong” tweets posted on Sunday

Comments like these are misguided, because the results of a poll cannot be “wrong” — rather, these results are exactly what they purport to be. …



We’re all grounded.

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