What should I listen to?

So, I just posted the following note on facebook.  Want to make sure I get all the good suggestions I can, so I’m posting here, too.


So, I’ve not been entirely happy with my musical choices for a while. I suspect there’s some really great music out there that I would really like, but I just don’t know about it. I strongly suspect this because it’s been the case in the past. For example, Neutral Milk Hotel is one of my favorite bands. They disbanded in 1999, but I discovered them in 2005 or so. I’d love to discover a band that is actually still making music I love, that I just don’t know about yet.

One way to do this, of course, is to put the music I like into Pandora, and see what else comes up. I’ve been listening to a lot of Pandora, and mostly I’ve found a few songs here and there I didn’t know about and have now downloaded and really enjoy, but I can’t say there’s a new band I was unfamiliar with but now really like (though, I didn’t realize just how much I like Weezer until they kept popping up. I have a Weezer station now, that’s my favorite).

So, anyway, my idea was to describe my musical preferences here, and see what suggestions my facebook friends might come up with. I tagged a bunch of people, just because I wanted to make sure they saw this note (some people don’t check facebook a lot; others I happen to know are really into music), I want anyone who sees this and feels like they have a good suggestion to fire away.

Alright then, not exactly sure the best way to do this, but I’ll start by opening my Itunes to remind me of my favorite artists. In rough order of artists that I’ve enjoyed listening to lately (i.e., not a statement on overall artistic merit): Nirvana, U2, Neutral Milk Hotel, Green Day, Smashing Pumpkins, Led Zeppelin, Who, Cracker, Weezer, Radiohead, Hole, Aimee Mann, R.E.M. I’ve also got a soft-spot for good Irish Rock, most notably, the Pogues. Definitely could use some good suggestions here (haven’t been all that pleased with many of Pandora’s suggestions here).

As for a more stylistic description, I really like hard-driving, yet catchy, guitar-driven music, e.g., Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Green Day. I appreciate more minimalist sounds, i.e., White Stripes (because of Jack White’s amazing guitar licks), Spoon (great catchy tunes), but I’m somewhat partial to more of the fuller, Wall of Sound, approach. All else being equal, I definitely favor up-tempo.

It also occurred to me, that there’s some bands people might suggest that I already am familiar with and like, just not love, that I didn’t mention here. Those include Coldplay, Muse, pretty much all classic rock (Beatles, Eagles, Stones, Clapton, etc.)

Alright, that’s more than enough, suggest away!

Why is Treme such a disappointment?

Most everybody who knows me knows that I’m a Wire missionary.  David Simon created quite simply the best television show ever.  Slate’s Jacob Weisberg has a terrific column from a few years ago explaining just why this is the case.  So, sure, I didn’t expect Simon’s next effort, the post-Katrina New Orleans drama, Treme, to be as good as the Wire, but I certainly didn’t expect to find myself mostly bored during each episode and watching them out of a sense of duty, rather than desire.  With the Wire, Simon has earned a full season of Treme viewing from me, but I’m sure not enjoying it much so far.  Building of a Josh McWhorter piece in TNR, Radley Balko has a pretty stinging, and I think, accurate critique.  Short version: way too heavy-handed, something the Wire almost never was.   Here’s Balko:

There was a lot of talk about how Simon wanted to “get New Orleans right” for this show. Seems to me that those efforts have so far come at the expense of likable, relatable characters. The Wire’s appeal came in the depth and appeal of its characters. The show was chock full of flawed heroes and sympathetic villains. More importantly, the characters felt organic. They never came off as punch-outs created to represent specific factions or demographics. (Save for the fifth season newsroom.) I think I’ve had a hard time embracing Treme thus far because few of the characters have that same authenticity. They feel perfunctory. (Though Wendell Pierce’s charm and acting chops bring Antoine Batiste to life, in spite of the character’s caricature-ishness).

David Simon doesn’t pander to his viewers. So I’m still optimistic that there will be a payoff in the second half of this season. I’m hoping he flips some of these characters upside down. But so far it feels like he is pandering to his own insecurities about being a white, fanboyish outsider doing a TV series about New Orleans.

Here’s another thing I’ll add, though good writing can make most anything interesting, I think there’s a reason that there’s a lot more successful movies, televisions, and books about crime and police than there is about jazz musicians.  It’s just a lot harder to make the latter an interesting topic.  I might be more forgiving of some of Simon’s sins in Treme if there was a good crime story or fascinating drug kingpin about.  I’ll report back at the end of the season, but I’m not optimistic I’ll be watching a Treme season 2 (and curious as to whether HBO will allow one to exist).  Check that, decided I might as well google it, and there will be a season 2.  Only question is whether I (and that many others) will bother watching.

What I’m up to…

I’ve got a bunch of topics I meant to blog on over at the old blog and never did so.  I’m moving all the drafts over here, so hopefully I’ll get to most of them in the reasonably near future.  So, when you see a post linking to an article from two months ago, that’s why.  Thus, I’m not going to preface all these posts with, “so a few weeks ago I read this interesting article…”  Instead, you get this one prefatory post.

Also, since I’m having a blogging renaissance here, I’m going to do a little more blogging on TV, movies, etc., than I have been before.  Or so, I plan to.  Of course, when I blog about politics, I actually have some expertise, but hopefully my opinions about these other things will at least be entertaining.

Another immigration myth

A couple weeks ago I linked to an interesting Post story and highlighted a couple of it’s myths on immigration policy.  Well, another immigration “myth” from my lecture on policy myths is that anti-immigration sentiment is just against illegal immigrants.  Not so.  Kevin Drum had a very interesting post recently that desribes how anti-immigration organizations have had to rely on fear-based appeals about Hispanic culture taking over, etc., because the largely untrue economic appeals just don’t have a lot of resonance with the anti-immigrant base.  Drum explains:

This suggests, of course, that opposition to immigration is rooted less in economic concerns and more in cultural resentment and language angst. All of which gives me an excuse to link to a Chris Hayes piece from 2006 about John Tanton, the founder of FAIR, the nation’s oldest and most influential immigration restriction group. For years, Tanton tried to preach an anti-immigration message based on economic and conservation grounds. But it didn’t work. Chris tells us what didwork:

Crisscrossing the country, Tanton found little interest in his conservation-based arguments for reduced immigration, but kept hearing the same complaint. “‘I tell you what pisses me off,’” Tanton recalls people saying. “‘It’s going into a ballot box and finding a ballot in a language I can’t read.’ So it became clear that the language question had a lot more emotional power than the immigration question.”

Tanton tried to persuade FAIR to harness this “emotional power,” but the board declined. So in 1983, Tanton sent out a fundraising letter on behalf of a new group he created called U.S. English. Typically, Tanton says, direct mail garners a contribution from around 1 percent of recipients. “The very first mailing we ever did for U.S. English got almost a 10 percent return,” he says. “That’s unheard of.” John Tanton had discovered the power of the culture war.

The success of U.S. English taught Tanton a crucial lesson. If the immigration restriction movement was to succeed, it would have to be rooted in an emotional appeal to those who felt that their country, their language, their very identity was under assault. “Feelings,” Tanton says in a tone reminiscent of Spock sharing some hard-won insight on human behavior, “trump facts.”

If I ever finished the research I was actually supposed to be working on, I’d really like to get more into public opinion on immigration.  Playing around with NES data a couple of years ago, I found a very strong and very clear link between negative stereotypes towards Hispanics (of any sort, mind you) and more conservative attitudes on immigration policy.  If smarter people haven’t figured it out already by the time I get a chance, this is certainly an important topic these days and one I’d like to do more with.

On yesterday’s primaries

I don’t really have a lot to say about what happened yesterday, mostly because I personally want to resist the temptation to make far too much out of yesterday’s results.  When it comes to interpreting the big picture implications of primaries, I’m with EJ Dionne:

Here’s rule one on tonight: Way too much will be made of the significance of the results for November’s election. After all, these are primaries involving increasingly distinct electorates that happen to vote on the same day. If Rand Paul beats establishment Republican Trey Grayson in Kentucky’s Senate primary, it will be a victory for the Tea Party/Libertarian Right and a defeat for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), a strong Grayson backer. That says a lot about the Republican Party. But the only thing it says about November is that Democrats might have a slightly better chance (emphasis on slightly for now) of winning a Kentucky Senate seat that seemed out of their reach.

That said, Dionne is right, and this does improve the Democrats chances in this single Senate race. Rand Paul is really out there and thus potentially vulnerable, whereas the man he beat was a mainstream Republican who would’ve probably coasted to victory.

Some other thoughts…

1) A lot of people are going to miss Arlen Specter.  I don’t have strong feelings for this either way.  As for his switch to the Democratic party, it was his only chance at staying in the Senate.  As it was, he lost a close Democratic primary.  Had he been running in the Republican primary, I think he would’ve been creamed.

2) I think this does make Democrats more likely to hold onto the PA seat, but not by a huge amount.  Personally, I also like the idea of Sestak, an actual Democrat, rather than Specter (PA- opportunist) holding the seat, but given what we’ve seen the past year, I don’t think he’ll vote all that differently if elected.

3) Democrats won a special election to replace John Murtha in a district that went for McCain in 2008.  You know I love Jon Chait, but reading this as a bellwether for the Fall elections is exactly the sort of over-interpretation of which I’m skeptical.

4) Rand Paul is actually the candidate of the Tea Party (and a true nut).  I’m really curious to see how that plays not in a Republican primary, but a general election.  I’ll be honest, if Paul wins the Kentucky Senate seat, I’ll find that a very disconcerting result.


LWOP– I’ve decided that’s my gangta rap name.   Fitting, as it stands for Life Without Parole.  Anyway, the Supreme Court ruled yesterday that states can no longer give a sentence of LWOP to juveniles who are guilty of a crime less than murder.   And, yes, we do actually sentence juveniles to LWOP for crimes less than murder (notably felony murder).  My one disappointment in this ruling is that it came a couple weeks to late to discuss with my Criminal Justice class.  I had my class watch a terrific Frontline Documentary: “When Kids Get Life” which told the story of a number of Colorado teens who will be spending the rest of their lives in prison (though, maybe not after this ruling).  Some of them clearly did some really bad things, but several cases it seemed there was no way they should have ever had such a severe penalty, especially for a crime committed as a juvenile (when, as readers of this blog surely know, the human brain is not fully myelinated and thus lacking in judgement).

Anyway, Emily Bazelon has a terrific article in Slate explaining this ruling and the tricky legal rationale for Kennedy, who was clearly the deciding vote on this (as he was in the case prohibiting capital punishment for juveniles).  Here’s her nice summary of the key legal issues:

The important precedent here is Roper v. Simmons in 2005, in which Kennedy, for a 5-to-4 majority, held that the death penalty for juveniles was unconstitutional. In that ruling, Kennedy laid out the neurological argument for treating teenagers as less culpable than adults—their brains are still developing, and one of the big things they lack is impulse control. And so they should not be put to death for the crimes they committed as adolescents.

It may seem like a relatively small step from this logic to the result in today’s case. But, in fact, as Roberts points out, “Roper explicitly relied on the possible imposition of life without parole on some juvenile offenders.” Roper extended the court’s ban against the execution of mentally retarded people. It was about the developmental weakness of teenagers only in the context of the death penalty. In other words, Kennedy stuck with “death is different” when he said that juveniles couldn’t be executed.

That’s why Monday’s categorical ban against LWOP for juveniles is a big deal. The court has never before prohibited a particular kind of sentence in modern use, other than the death penalty. For Roberts, as well as the three other conservative dissenters, it must be intensely frustrating to watch Kennedy walk down this road. You can practically hear Roberts hollering after him: “A life sentence is of course far less severe than a death sentence, and we have never required that it be imposed only on the very worst offenders, as we have with capital punishment.” But Kennedy doesn’t care. LWOP sentences “share some characteristics” with death sentences, he says. And “when compared to an adult murderer, a juvenile offender who did not kill or intend to kill has twice diminished moral culpability.”

I think that’s the key there, the concept of “diminished moral culpability.”  Basically, what you (or Anthony Kennedy) think about punishing juveniles, the mentally ill, etc., comes down to what you think should be the consequences of diminished moral culpability.

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