Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Trump: "I think he's a maniac. I think Adam Schiff is a deranged human being. I think he grew up with a complex for lots of reasons that are obvious. I think he's a very sick man. And he lies."


Michael Gerhardt, a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law:
If what we're talking about is not impeachable, then nothing is impeachable. This is precisely the misconduct that the framers created the Constitution, including impeachment, to protect against.
Noah Feldman, a Harvard Law School professor:
The biggest difference between the English tradition of impeachment and the American constitutional plan was that the king of England could not be impeached. In that sense, the king was above the law, which only applied to him if he consented to follow it. In stark contrast, the president of the United States would be subject to the law like any other citizen. The idea of impeachment was therefore absolutely central to the republican form of government ordained by the Constitution. Without impeachment, the president would have been an elected monarch. With impeachment, the president was bound to the rule of law. Congress could oversee the president's conduct, hold him accountable and remove him from office if he abused his power.
Pamela Karlan, a Stanford Law School professor:
The founding generation, like every generation of Americans since, was especially concerned to protect our government and our democratic process from outside interference. For example, John Adams during the ratification expressed concern with the very idea of having an elected president, writing to Thomas Jefferson that "you are apprehensive of foreign interference, intrigue, influence. — So am I — But, as often as elections happen, the danger of foreign influence recurs." And in his farewell address, President Washington warned that "history and experience prove that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of republican government." ... The very idea that a president might seek the aid of a foreign government in his re-election campaign would have horrified them. ...

The upshot of this conversation in the Constitutional Convention was that the framers believed that elections were not a sufficient check on the possibility of a president who abused his power by acting in a corrupt way. They were especially worried that a president might use the power of his office to influence the electoral process in his own favor. They concluded that the Constitution must provide for the impeachment of the president to assure that no one would be above the law.
Professor Karlan:
One of the key reasons for including an impeachment power was the risk that unscrupulous officials might try to rig the election process. ... President Trump invited — indeed, demanded — foreign involvement in our upcoming election ...  [D]rawing a foreign government into our election process is an especially serious abuse of power because it undermines democracy itself. ... The evidence reveals a president ... who did this to strong-arm a foreign leader into smearing one of the president's opponents in our ongoing election season. That is not politics as usual — at least not in the United States or any other mature democracy.
Professor Gerhardt:
The president's serious misconduct, including bribery, soliciting a personal favor from a foreign leader in exchange for his exercise of power, and obstructing justice and Congress are worse than the misconduct of any prior president, including what previous presidents who faced impeachment have done or been accused of doing. Other presidents have done just the opposite in recognizing the legitimacy of congressional investigative and impeachment authorities. Even President Nixon agreed to share information with Congress, ordered his subordinates to comply with subpoenas to testify and produce documents (with some limited exceptions), and to send his lawyers to ask questions in the House's impeachment hearings. The fact that we can easily transpose the articles of impeachment against Nixon onto the actions of this president speaks volumes — and that does not even include the most serious national security concerns and election interference concerns at the heart of this president's misconduct.
Discussing the distinction between kings and presidents, Professor Karlan said: "The Constitution says there can be no titles of nobility. While the president can name his son Barron, he can't make him a baron."

Melania Trump took extreme offense, tweeting:
A minor child deserves privacy and should be kept out of politics. Pamela Karlan, you should be ashamed of your very angry and obviously biased public pandering, and using a child to do it.
However ...

Melania Trump did not post a tweet when thousands of children were forcibly taken from their parents by government officials and put into cages (for weeks and months) in concentration camps on the border. Babies (some as young as two months old) are left to sleep on the cold, concrete floor at night.
A 16-year-old girl: "We are in a metal cage with 20 other teenagers with babies and young children. We have one mat we need to share with each other. It is very cold. ... The lights are [on] all of the time."

Another 16-year-old girl: "Our clothes were still wet and we were very cold, so we got sick… I've been in the US for six days and I have never been offered a shower or been able to brush my teeth. There is no soap and our clothes are dirty. They have never been washed."

A 15-year-old girl: "I started taking care of [a 5-year-old girl] ... after they separated her from her father. ... She was very upset. The workers did nothing to try to comfort her. I tried to comfort her and she has been with me ever since. [She] sleeps on a mat with me on the concrete floor."

A pregnant 17-year-old girl: "I was given a blanket and a mattress, but then, at 3 a.m., the guards took the blanket and mattress. My baby was left sleeping on the floor. In fact, almost every night, the guards wake us at 3 a.m. and take away our sleeping mattresses and blankets. They leave babies, even little babies of two or three months, sleeping on the cold floor. ... I think the guards act this way to punish us."
Melania Trump did not post a tweet when her husband recently mocked a 16-year-old girl for her comments on global warming. (Barron is 15, by the way.)

Melania Trump did not post a tweet when her husband boasted about the techniques he has used to sexually assault women.

Melania Trump did not post a tweet when her husband signed legislation that would literally take the food out of the mouths of hundreds of thousands of poor and starving children (see below).

Melania Trump saw nothing wrong with posing with a baby whose parents (Jordan Anchondo and Andre Anchondo) had been murdered in an El Paso mass shooting in August. The baby actually had been discharged from the hospital the day before, but was brought back to the hospital solely to be used as a prop for a photo op, in which Trump offered a big shit-eating grin and a thumbs-up.

And in June 2018, Melania Trump boarded Air Force One, on her way to visit children at the Texas-Mexico border, wearing a jacket with the words "I Really Don't Care. Do You?" on the back. There have been at least three official explanations. First, her spokesperson said there was "no hidden message". Then Melania said there was a message and it was aimed at her "left-wing critics". A new book states Melania wore it as a passive-aggressive jab at Ivanka Trump's "near-constant attempts to attach herself to positive administration talking points".

So Melania is full of shit, though not nearly as full of shit as her moronic husband. They can both die in a fire.

Trump Stomps Home From NATO Meeting After 'Two-Faced' Trudeau Was Mean to Him
Jamie Ross, The Daily Beast
Donald Trump hit out at Justin Trudeau on Wednesday after a candid video emerged of the Canadian prime minister ridiculing the U.S. president to the obvious delight and amusement of other world leaders. A fed-up Trump then canceled his scheduled press conference and said he'd fly straight home.

The video shows Trudeau with French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a gathering at Buckingham Palace. Trudeau mocked Trump's unexpected Monday press conferences, and said he "watched his team's jaws drop to the floor" when the president made an announcement, which wasn't specified in the video.

Trudeau later confirmed the leaders were laughing about Trump's "impromptu press conference" at the meeting ... Johnson can be seen laughing at Trudeau's shtick, and even the Queen's daughter Princess Anne appears to join in. ...

Trump made no such effort to swerve from the controversy, hitting back on Wednesday, saying: "Well, he's two-faced."
'What Cruelty Looks Like': Trump Finalizes Plan to Strip Food Aid From 750,000 Low-Income People by 2020
Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
The Trump administration announced Wednesday that it has finalized a plan to tighten punitive work requirements for food stamp recipients, a move that would strip nutrition assistance from an estimated 750,000 low-income people by mid-2020. ...

The rule change, which was first unveiled earlier this year, would restrict states' ability to exempt people without dependents from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program's work requirements. The rule is set to take effect April 1, 2020. ...

During the rule's 60-day public comment period, tens of thousands of people decried the measure as an immoral attack on the most vulnerable by an administration that has worked tirelessly to fatten the pockets of the rich.

"The comments make it clear that most Americans not only oppose but are utterly repulsed by this plan to punish the poorest among us by denying them help to feed themselves," Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), said in a statement in April.

According to an Urban Institute study (pdf) published last week, the Trump administration's three proposed SNAP changes combined would strip federal food aid from 3.7 million people.
Trump, Who Slashed Taxes by $1.5 Trillion, Is Pushing Cuts to Food Stamps
Patrick Reis, Rolling Stone
President Trump, a very rich guy who promised to help not-rich people get ahead but so far hasn't, is pushing rules that would place new limits on a program that helps poor people buy food.

The push isn't new, but it's getting new attention due to an Urban Institute study that concluded the rules, if they'd been in place last year, would have reduced the main federal food aid program's rolls by 3.7 million people — as well as cut food stamp spending by about $4.2 billion. Remember that number for later. ...

There are two main arguments conservatives have marshalled in support of food stamp cuts, and they're both dishonest. Work requirements are often touted as an effort to nudge (starve) people into self-sufficiency. ...

Supporters of the requirements often claim to be helping poor people access "the dignity of work," meaning that it's inherently more satisfying to get paid for work than to depend on public support. That may well be true ... But you won't hear those people talking about the "dignity of work" when it comes to organizing workers into unions that protect them from abusive management or unsafe conditions. Nor do they pipe up in favor of the "the dignity of a living wage." In fact, the people who favor work requirements near universally oppose unions and minimum wage hikes. Go figure. ...

The other argument for making it harder for poor people to buy food is somehow even flimsier ... the need for fiscal responsibility when it comes to the federal budget. ... [M]any conservatives say, we need to cut spending on "entitlements" — a term for helping people buy food or make ends meet or access health care through Medicaid. ...

This isn't a particularly credible argument ... But it's revealed to be a comically disingenuous argument once you remember the Trump administration's signature domestic "achievement": tax breaks that will add at least $1.5 trillion to the deficit over 10 years ... [A]t a baseline, that works out to about $150 billion annually, which, if math isn't your thing, is approximately a fuckton more than the $4.2 billion they want to "save" on food stamps.

Who got those tax breaks? ... [T]he lion's share of those will go to the very wealthy, as well as to the heirs of the very wealthy, who thanks to the law can now inherit millions up millions of dollars without paying a cent in taxes. Cool. And yes, most everyone did get a tax cut, but for lots of people — particularly the people Trump promised to help — that will work out to about $50 a month. Spend it all in one place. ...

When it came to tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, Trump and Republicans felt the nation's finances were firm enough to give up more than $1,500,000,000,000. When it's time to spend a fraction of that to help poor people eat, that's when the well has supposedly run dry.
Fun Fact: The US spends one billion dollars on war every four days. (That's as of November 2017. the amount has likely gone up since then.)

Lawmakers Admit Lobbyists Helped Them Write Attacks on Medicare for All
Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
Documents obtained by the Washington Post Monday showed that lobbyists helped three state lawmakers draft op-eds this year attacking Medicare for All ...

The Post's Jeff Stein reported Monday that Montana state Rep. Kathy Kelker (D), Montana state Sen. Jen Gross (D), and an aide to Ohio state Sen. Steve Huffman (R) admitted in interviews that lobbyists helped craft their recent op-eds criticizing Medicare for All. The three columns appeared in local newspapers; none of them disclosed that they were written with the assistance of lobbyists.

Kelker and Gross "acknowledged in interviews that editorials they published separately about the single-payer health proposal included language provided by John MacDonald, a lobbyist and consultant in [Montana] who disclosed in private emails that he worked for an unnamed client," Stein reported. ...

"The emails appear to show extensive outside involvement in the Montana lawmakers' op-eds," Stein reported. "In a Microsoft Word document, MacDonald removed three paragraphs from a draft of Kelker's op-ed that pointed out that the United States 'clearly spends significantly more on healthcare per capita than other developed nations.' He also deleted a table from the lawmaker's original draft showing that the United States has higher healthcare spending per capita than France, Germany, Norway, and Switzerland."
'He's Just...Erased': PBS 2020 Segment Finds Time for Klobuchar, Sestak, and Bullock—But Completely Ignores Bernie Sanders
Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
A Monday night PBS NewsHour segment on the state of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary highlighted Sen. Amy Klobuchar's new ad campaign in Iowa, the departure of marginal candidates Steve Bullock and Joe Sestak, a tender campaign moment with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden's "No Malarkey" bus tour—but did not once even mention Sen. Bernie Sanders despite recent key endorsements and a surge in the polls.

Sanders' presidential campaign has repeatedly accused the corporate media of ignoring the senator from Vermont, a phenomenon Sanders supporters have dubbed the "Bernie blackout."

The PBS segment, led by NewsHour correspondent Yamiche Alcindor, offered "a real taste of what Bernie is talking about," Current Affairs editor Nathan Robinson wrote Tuesday.

"Remember that Sanders has been #1 in two out of three recent New Hampshire polls, and is currently second in Iowa, ahead of 'frontrunner' Joe Biden," Robinson noted. "Alcindor found time to talk about Joe Sestak and Steve Bullock, plus plenty of candidates struggling to get out of single-digit poll numbers. And yet: not even a photo of Bernie Sanders. Incredible. He's just... erased. He's gone. Bernie who?"

Robinson described the NewsHour segment as an example of "manufacturing consent in action":
Political commentator David Pakman recently asked, looking at Pete Buttigieg's rising poll numbers, 'What do you think is behind Pete's rise?' My own answer to that is simple: the manufacture of consent by a media apparatus invested in selling a candidate that will not disrupt the economic status quo.

So much of our understanding of the world and what matters is filtered through the media, because that's how we get access to things that are not in our direct experience. If nobody talks about Bernie Sanders' campaign, how are you supposed to learn about it unless Bernie people come and knock on your door?
The NewsHour segment came just weeks after a detailed analysis of MSNBC's coverage of Sanders by In These Times found that the Vermont senator received both the least frequent and most negative coverage of the top 2020 Democratic presidential contenders.

"The corporate media's war against Bernie Sanders is very real," Jacobin's Luke Savage wrote last month.

"MSNBC, of course, is hardly the only culprit," Savage noted. "As Katie Halper documented a few months ago, the New York Times reporter assigned to cover his campaign 'consistently paints a negative picture of Sanders' temperament, history, policies, and political prospects.' The Washington Post once famously ran sixteen negative stories about Sanders in the same number of hours."
More "Nazi-Normalizing Barf Journalism" From The New York Times
Dorothee Benz, FAIR:
On November 19, in a news analysis piece titled "A White House Now 'Cannibalizing Itself,'"the [New York] Times (11/19/19) went on at length (1,600 words) about the novelty of a sitting president publicly attacking members of his own staff. ...

Halfway through this article, there is this spartan description of threats to one such person, Col. Vindman:
The Army has been assessing potential security threats to Colonel Vindman and his brother Yevgeny, who also works at the National Security Council. There have also been discussions about moving the Vindmans and their families onto a military base for their protection.
But in contrast to the adjective-rich astonishment the Times expressed at Trump's attacks on his own staff, this tidbit is unworthy of further comment for the paper of record.

Sadly, threats of violence to anti-Trump witnesses are not new (think Christine Blasey Ford), but they are much more important to the story of the impeachment proceedings—and the survival of what is left of US democracy—than the new but unsurprising fact that Trump's Twitter vomit has now landed on people inside the White House as well as outside. ...

At the risk of stating the incredibly obvious, I'm going to say that a society in which witnesses have to fear for their safety when they expose government corruption or other wrongdoing is a society distinctly titling more towards authoritarianism than democracy. That the New York Times hasn't raised the alarm about that is… alarming. It is more Nazi-normalizing barf journalism. ...

The New York Times' voluminous coverage of the hearings details many of the pieces that make up the overall strategy, but the vast majority of it boils down to the predictable formula of covering the whole process like a partisan horse race. ... It sounds alternately like an NFL halftime report and a review of a Broadway show. ...

Masha Gessen (New Yorker, 11/14/19) provided a framing analysis in a single column that the New York Times could not manage to do in its 131 articles. ... Republicans are not actually defending the president against accusations of abuse of power; instead, they are mounting an offense against the Democrats, whose very enterprise they consider illegitimate. Gessen's point is that the Republicans are playing a whole different game than the Democrats, and the Democrats don't realize it and will lose as a result: ...

Why exactly the New York Times is studiously keeping its impeachment coverage so superficial I don't know. My hunch is that it has to do with the Times' longstanding affinity for legitimizing power and, as I've said elsewhere, the belief that the stability of US institutions is more important than their integrity. Naming and scrutinizing the extent of the assault on democratic norms revealed in the impeachment proceedings would lay bare the fragility of those institutions. ...

In the New York Times (11/15/19), Trump attacking a witness testifying against him isn't witness intimidation; it just "raises charges of witness intimidation." ...

It's a bitter irony that the Times' bias against Trump has contributed to the downplaying of the danger he poses to the US.
Glenn Greenwald:
My favorite paragraph from the NYT article depicting Tulsi as a fringe, divisive cult leader because she wears white pants suits - by the same author and paper who heaped praise on how Hillary's white pants suit shows she's ready to carry the nuclear codes.


Trump Ridiculed for Claiming Unnamed 'Legal Scholars' Praised Calls With Ukraine Leader as 'Absolutely Perfect'
Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
President Donald Trump told reporters in London Tuesday that "legal scholars"—who Trump did not name—examined transcripts of his two phone conversations with Ukraine's leader and concluded they were "absolutely perfect calls," a story that was immediately ridiculed by academics and critics.

"You'll see there was absolutely nothing done wrong," Trump said during a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. "They had legal scholars looking at the transcripts the other day and they said, 'These are absolutely perfect. Trump is right when he uses the word.'" ...

Joyce White Vance, a University of Alabama law professor and MSNBC contributor, urged reporters to "make Trump identify the legal scholars who reviewed the transcripts (plural!) and said they were 'absolutely perfect.'"

"Then those scholars should be interviewed," said Vance. "But I feel certain they don't exist."

Political scientist Miranda Yaver suggested Trump either completely fabricated the story or used the "legal scholar" label very loosely.

"Yeah, that's not how legal scholars talk. I'm just gonna go out on a limb and say he thinks that Jeannine Pirro is a legal scholar," tweeted Yaver, referring to the host of the Fox News show "Judge Jeanine."
'He Has a Lot of Explaining to Do': Call Records Show Devin Nunes Spoke With Giuliani Multiple Times Amid Ukraine Scheme
Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
The House Intelligence Committee's 300-page impeachment report released Tuesday made public previously undisclosed and "hugely incriminating" phone records that showed Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the committee, spoke with President Donald Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani multiple times amid the Trump administration's scheme to dig up dirt on Joe Biden.

According to the records, Nunes was also in contact with Lev Parnas, a Giuliani associate who was indicted in October on campaign finance charges.

Communications between Nunes—a fervent defender of the president—and individuals at the center of the Trump administration's months-long effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden were viewed as "far and away the most damning" revelation in the Intelligence Committee's sprawling impeachment report ...

"I think he has a lot of explaining to do," Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said of Nunes. ...

As The Daily Beast's Lachlan Markay noted, the phone records show that Nunes—who has repeatedly attempted to discredit the impeachment probe into Trump by alleging improper conduct by House Democrats—"had engaged in his own behind-the-scenes communications with the very people at issue in the whistleblower complaint."

"Nunes never revealed those communications during the weeks of committee testimony," Markay pointed out.

In an interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity Tuesday night, Nunes said he doesn't recall talking to Parnas, who said last month he is prepared to testify that Nunes met with a former Ukrainian prosecutor in Vienna last year to dig up damaging information on Biden. ...

Asked on Tuesday about Nunes' appearance in the call records, House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said "it is deeply concerning that at a time when the president of the United States was using the power of his office to dig up dirt on a political rival, that there may be evidence that there were members of Congress complicit in that activity."
Obama Privately Considered Leading 'Stop-Bernie Campaign' to Combat Sanders 2020 Surge: Report
Jake Johnson, Common Dreams
Former President Barack Obama reportedly told advisers behind closed doors earlier this year that he would actively oppose Sen. Bernie Sanders if the progressive senator from Vermont opened up a big lead in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary race. ...

"Obama's post-presidency is grating and full of contradictions," tweeted David Klion, news editor at Jewish Currents. "He considers himself the leader of the party but refuses to lead. He considers himself a success but the mere fact of Trump's presidency belies this. He won on hope and counsels hopelessness."

One anonymous Obama adviser would not confirm to Politico that Obama "would really lay himself on the line to prevent a Sanders nomination."

"He hasn't said that directly to me," the adviser said. "The only reason I'm hesitating at all is because, yeah, if Bernie were running away with it, I think maybe we would all have to say something." ...

Earlier this month, Obama told a roomful of rich donors that he is worried about "certain left-leaning Twitter feeds" and "the activist wing of our party," sparking outrage from progressives. ...

David Dayen, executive editor for The American Prospect, wrote last week that Obama's attacks on the progressive wing of the Democratic Party "are music to the ears of the wealthy and powerful."

"This defense of the reigning economic order, originating with the donor class and media allies, with its effective abandonment of the vulnerable and disenfranchised, with nothing for those struggling to make it in a rigged economy, is a recipe for social and political unrest," Dayen wrote. "From lofty heights, Obama has now become a dampener of hope, a barrier to change, and a threat to progress."
The Anonymous White House Book-Writer Can Anonymously Bite Me
Charles P. Pierce, Esquire
I have no intention of shelling out a dime to read about how someone almost ran into the burning house to save the baby, or about how someone almost gave up their seat in the lifeboat when the great ship went down, or about how someone almost dove into a freezing river to save a busload of nuns, or, for that matter, about how someone almost decided not to be a part of the most monstrous executive administration since the (un)death of Vlad The Impaler. I am not interested in someone's heartfelt account of their near-collision with actual integrity. I decline to be fascinated by the tale of how someone nearly ran into courage on the street but had to catch a bus instead. ...

The excerpts from the book are as garish in their horror as you might expect them to be. From the Washington Post:
The author alleges that Trump attempted a Hispanic accent during an Oval Office meeting to complain about migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border. "We get these women coming in with like seven children," Trump said, according to the book. "They are saying, 'Oh, please help! My husband left me!' They are useless. They don't do anything for our country. At least if they came in with a husband we could put him in the fields to pick corn or something."

After the 2018 killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents, the author writes, Trump vented to advisers and said he would be foolish to stand up to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. "Do you know how stupid it would be to pick this fight?" Trump said, according to the book. "Oil would go up to one hundred fifty dollars a barrel. Jesus. How [expletive] stupid would I be?"

As he ranted about federal courts ruling against some of his policies, including the 2017 travel ban, the author writes, Trump once asked White House lawyers to draft a bill to send to Congress reducing the number of federal judges. "Can we just get rid of the judges? Let's get rid of the [expletive] judges," the president said, according to the book. "There shouldn't be any at all, really."

The author portrays Trump as fearful of coups against him and suspicious of note-takers on his staff. According to the book, the president shouted at an aide who was scribbling in a notebook during a meeting, "What the [expletive] are you doing?" He added, "Are you [expletive] taking notes?" The aide apologized and closed the notebook.
Yeah, and?

This was all stuff that we knew before he got elected. This is all stuff we knew before he was nominated. Yet Anonymous took a job in Bedlam anyway, and, as nearly as we can tell, still works there.
A Very Sick Man
Abby Zimet, Common Dreams
Oh man. The Stable Genius just fell off the world stage at London's NATO meeting, and it was not pretty. His speech slurred and his eyes amphetamine-huge, Trump's wee brain seemed spectacularly frazzled, perhaps by the just-released, 300-page, utterly damning House Intelligence Committee impeachment report finding he "abused the power of his office for personal and political gain at the expense of national security," citing "overwhelming" evidence of his misconduct and obstruction of Congress, and adding, for good measure, "Indeed, it would be hard to imagine a stronger or more complete case of obstruction than that demonstrated by the president," never mind "the steaming nonsense" of the GOP's lame, nothing-to-see-here response. Thus burdened by a hovering cloud of impending reality, Trump ranted, rambled, raved, lied, contradicted himself, delivered indecipherable non sequiturs and insulted enemies and friends alike in multiple ill-considered appearances before the press.

Macron was "very, very nasty" - though Trump also flailingly tried to "joke" about ISIS with him. On Syria - yes, journalists still pretend they're not speaking to a madman - "We have taken the oil. I've taken the oil. We should have done it in other locations, frankly, where we were. I can name four of them right now, but we've taken the oil...Our great soldiers are right around the oil where we've got the oil." On climate policy: "I believe very strongly in very, very crystal clear, clean water and clean air. That's a big part of climate change." On nuclear proliferation: "I'm - you know, the - the whole situation with nuclear to me is very, very important...It has to be dealt with very strongly." Most gob-smackingly - though how to choose? - on Adam Schiff, as a pained Trudeau sat next to him (and later joined in a snickering group troll): "I think he's a maniac. I think Adam Schiff is a deranged human being. I think he grew up with a complex for lots of reasons that are obvious. I think he's a very sick man. And he lies." To which the Internet wisely, universally responded with, "P-R-O-J-E-C-T-I-O-N."
"The Democrats have gone crazy and you know what? They have to be careful because when the shoe is on the other foot, and some day, hopefully in the very long distant future, you'll have a Democrat president, you'll have a Republican House and they'll do the same thing because somebody picked an orange out of a refrigerator and you don't like it so let's go and impeach them. That's not the way our country is supposed to be run." - The President of the United States.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Prince's 1999: "Apocalyptic, Sexy, Funky, Funny, Innovative, Earthy, Electronic, Sly, Righteous, Euphoric — And Almost Entirely A One-Man Show"

In June 2017, Prince's estate and Warner Bros. released a Deluxe Expanded edition of Purple Rain, including a remaster of the original album, a disc of previously unreleased songs, a disc with single edits, maxi-single edits, and B-sides, and a DVD with a concert from March 30, 1985.

It may sound nice, but it was a disappointment. Prince was writing and recording a ton of music in the year or two before Purple Rain and one disc of outtakes was underwhelming, barely scratching the surface. No demos, no rehearsals, no evidence of how some of his most famous songs evolved.

A couple of Purple Rain's songs were presented in their original form, before Prince edited them down for the album. "Computer Blue" clocked in at 12:18 (the label used a descriptive term (the "Hallway Speech" version) that had been in use for years among die-hard fans who had the outtake in their collections). "Let's Go Crazy"'s original running time of 7:35 (as it appeared on early configurations of the album (November 7, 1983 and March 12, 1984), but not on the final version of June 25, 1984) was called the "Special Dance Mix".

An expanded version of 1999 (Prince's fifth album, the one before Purple Rain, released in late October 1982) has been released and it appears to be a much better representation of its creative time period.


Jon Pareles, the long-time chief pop music critic of the New York Times, writes that even after 37 years, the music on 1999 "still sounds contemporary and alive". (A song from 37 years before this album came out would have been from 1945.)
1999 was apocalyptic, sexy, funky, funny, innovative, earthy, electronic, sly, righteous, euphoric and almost entirely — give or take a few vocals and a guitar solo — a one-man show by Prince Rogers Nelson on every instrument and vocal. Every song exults in the architectural savvy of a musician who, from the drumbeat up, seemed to know exactly how he'd be jamming with himself as he built the song. ...

The "super deluxe" version of the 1999 reissue — five CDs or 10 LPs plus a grainy DVD video of a 1982 concert in Houston — reaches into Prince's vault of unreleased recordings, unveiling a dozen songs that haven't appeared officially in any form, although Prince performed some of them live. A handful — including the absolute standout, "Purple Music" — are gems; none is a dud. Other vault material includes alternate takes of previously released songs, usually quite different from what appeared during Prince's lifetime. ...

The newly released vault material doesn't challenge the choices Prince made about 1999 (though I'd have been tempted to swap in "Moonbeam Levels," a stately plea for humanity, for "Free" on 1999). The alternate takes of the album's songs were less adventurous than the versions Prince chose for the album. But Prince on his most ordinary day was better than countless musicians at their best, and now that he's gone, being able to hear more Prince equals more pleasure. ...

[T]he American pop universe of the early 1980s was de facto segregated. Rock radio had declared war on disco, while the revelations of black culture were broadcast largely to African-American radio listeners. Prince's fusion of funk, rock, disco, new wave, synth-pop, gospel, jazz, soul, lust, community and joy faced barriers that shouldn't have stopped it, and soon could not. With 1999 those barriers fell; the album sold in the millions. ...

But commercial triumph wasn't the sole measure of 1999. Prince was expanding his musical ambitions, writing odd-angled melodies (like "Let's Pretend We're Married") and toying with ambiguous harmonies, as in "Something in the Water (Does Not Compute)." ...

Prince was also finding new sounds: pushing his voice into multiple personalities, from sweet falsetto to punk snarl to preacherly exhortation, and deploying sounds from the latest synthesizers. He had one of the first drum machines, the Linn LM-1, which made it possible to program realistic sampled sounds quickly. (One reason 1999 sounds current is that many pop songs are still driven by brittle, metronomic drum-machine beats.) ...

The vault material reflects Prince's remarkable early 1980s multitasking, pouring out material not only for his own albums but also for groups he was producing: the Time and Vanity 6. He often wrote and recorded a song in a day. Crisp funk workouts like "Feel U Up" and "Rearrange," from the vault, could have easily ended up on a Time album, though Prince didn't treat them like demos. He finished the tracks with a flourish; "Rearrange" turns into a feedback-slinging lead guitar freakout. ...

Other songs put Prince's stamp on all sorts of idioms ... ["Turn It Up"] urges someone to "Work me like a radio" and "Come and play with my controls." (For Prince, every machine was a sex machine.) "Vagina" celebrates a character he meets who is "Half-boy, half-girl — the best of both worlds," while Prince makes two guitars and a bass — recorded one by one — sound like the Rolling Stones jamming in a dressing room. ...

Prince wrote himself a manifesto in a 1982 session. "Purple Music" ... is 10 minutes of motoric, minimalistic funk with a drum-machine beat, subtly scrubbing rhythm guitar, a bass part that goes from a few notes to busy little runs, and an ever-changing overlay of keyboards — chords, syncopated vamps, scurrying lines — that goes polytonal and nearly atonal.

Prince sings through the lyrics a few times; we'll never know, but perhaps at the time he thought he'd edit down the 10 minutes to the best takes. Apparently the song didn't strike him as right for 1999; it went into the vault. ...
Pareles's comment about Prince's 40-year-old drum machine patterns sounding more contemporary than last week's chart-topper is interesting. I distinctly remember being struck by the unique drum pattern that serves as "1999"'s foundation when I first heard the song in late 1982. There was absolutely nothing in pop music that sounded like that at the time. (Indeed, five years later, there was still nothing in pop music that sounded like what Prince was (or had been) doing. Prince took some inspiration from "Monday Monday", a 1966 hit for The Mamas & The Papas, for the main keyboard line, but it was his Linn LM-1, and that distinctive tumbling pattern, that made and instant impression. The often-complex drum pattern repeats through the entire song, verses, chorus, solos, breakdown, it never changes.

I love about two-thirds of 1999 — and it's the first two-thirds. Like Pareles, I'm not a big fan of "Free" and if I never heard the fourth side of the double album again, I wouldn't miss it. But side one — "1999", "Little Red Corvette", "Delirious" — is nothing short of fifteen minutes of pop perfection. The album opens with God speaking: "Don't worry. I won't hurt you. I only want you to have some fun." (The Almighty returns, about four minutes later, to offer some quick, subtle background vocals!) "1999" slides into "Corvette", and, again, the hypnotic drum pattern is effortless, with a stuttering, skitchy sound that I have always imagined was a sanding block.

There are outtakes with titles that have circulated for a while ("Yah, U Know", "Teacher, Teacher"), but these are earlier, different versions (though not radically different) of those songs.

Throughout this album, and throughout his most fertile period (for me, through 1988), Prince layered numerous vocal tracks, sometimes high, sometimes low, and the cameos of his sped-up voice in "Automatic" and "Irresistible Bitch" are the first evidence of what he would do much more extensively years later on Sign O The Times and the unreleased Camille album.

(Speaking of experimenting with voice manipulation, check out this short snippet of "Cosmic Day", an unreleased song recorded on November 15, 1986. The effort put into a song that apparently was not part of any album project or considered for another artist is remarkable. Just an idea and a day's work, apparently ... and on to the next thing. Prince recorded "Adore" and "Play In The Sunshine" before the week was out.)




Saturday, November 16, 2019

À La Recherche Du Temps Perdu: Evolution Of The Opening Lines

While reading Marcel Proust's À La Recherche Du Temps Perdu (In Search Of Lost Time), I found a website that features a huge collection of Proust's writings, including an evolution of the opening lines of the novel, from his various notebooks (translated by the website's creator, Chris Taylor):

1. Cahier 3
In previous times I had like everybody else the peacefulness of waking up in the middle of the night, of savouring for an instant the darkness the silence, some dull creaking, as might an apple in the bottom of a wardrobe called up for a moment into a dim consciousness of its position, [etc...]
2. Cahier 5
At that period I was already ill and could no longer go to bed and sleep other than during the day. But I could remember how, for a time, following close together, it is very remote now, if I awoke in the middle of the night, it was not for very long and only to enter into consciousness for a moment.
3. Cahier 5
At that period I was already ill and could no longer be in bed and sleep, other than during the day. But the time was not yet so distant - and I nourished the illusion of seeing it soon return - where being at one with my bed and my room I slept the night and woke up just in time to become conscious of the darkness of the room, of its silence and its dull creaking, as might a jar of preserves or an apple in the bottom of a wardrobe where it rested on a shelf, called up for a moment into a vague consciousness. Often what had awakened me would be to have dreamed that my old uncle [etc...]
4. Cahier 1
In the period I wish to speak about, at the time I was already ill and was no longer able to sleep, nor even to be in bed, other than during the day. But the time was not so very distant (and I was still able to hope that it would return) when I used to get into my bed at ten o'clock in the evening, and in spite of waking up briefly a few times slept until the next morning. Often, my lamp scarcely extinguished, I fell asleep so quickly [etc...]
5. Cahier 1
At the time of that morning that I want, I do not know why, to fix in my memory, I was already ill, I stayed up all night, went to bed in the morning and slept in the day. But then still very recently for me was a time that I hoped to see return and which today seems to have been lived by a different person when I used to get into my bed at ten o'clock in the evening...
6. Cahier 8
At the time of that morning that I would like to fix in my memory, I was already ill, I was obliged to spend the whole night up, and only went to bed in the day. But then the time was not so very distant, and I hoped that it would return, when I used to get into my bed at ten o'clock in the evening and, after several more or less brief dreams, slept until the next morning. Sometimes, my lamp scarcely extinguished, [etc...]
7. Cahier 9
At the period of that morning that I would like to fix in my memory, I was already ill, I was obliged to spend the whole night up, and only went to bed in the day. But then the time was not so very distant, and I still hoped that it could return, when every evening I used to go to bed early and, after several more or less lengthy dreams, slept till morning. Sometimes, my candle scarcely out, [etc...]
8. First typescript of Swann (as above (Cahier 9), crossed out and replaced with):
For a long time I went to bed early. Sometimes, my candle scarcely out, [etc...]
9. Printed Text
For a long time I went to bed early. Sometimes, my candle scarcely out, [etc...]
From Bulletin d'informations proustiennes No 8, 1978. Genèse de l'incipit de La Recherche, Claudine Quémar, pp. 10-11.

***

Separate manuscript fragment (collection of Pedro Corrêa do Lago):
For many years, in the evening, when I had just gone to bed, often my candle scarcely out, my eyes closed so quickly that I did not have time to say to myself: I am asleep. And half an hour later, the thought that it was time to try to go to sleep woke me up, I needed to blow out my light, throw down the newspaper which I thought was still in my hands; while I was sleeping I continued to reflect on what I had just read, imagining that I myself was the new symphony, the deputies who had voted against the minister, the fall in stock prices; this belief lasted for a few seconds after my waking; it did not disturb my senses, but it weighed like scales on my eyes which it prevented from taking account of the fact that my candle was no longer lit.
***

Crossed out insertions on first proofs (March 1913, NAF 16753):
For a long time I went to bed early. For a number of years, during the evening when I had just got into bed I read a few pages of a Treatise on Monumental Archaeology that I kept at the side of my bed; then often my eyes would close so quickly [...]

I wanted to put the book down (which was usually a treatise on archaeology) that I still imagined I had in my hands [...]
***

There are variations of the different translations of the novel's famous first sentence: "Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure."
C.K. Scott Moncrieff (1922): "For a long time I used to go to bed early."

Terence Kilmartin (revision of Montcrieff, 1981): "For a long time I used to go to bed early."

James Grieve (1982): "Time was, when I always went to bed early."

Richard Howard (1988): Time and again, I have gone to bed early."

D.J. Enright (revision of Moncrieff/Kilmartin, 1992): "For a long time, I would to go to bed early."

Lydia Davis (2004): "For a long time, I went to bed early."
Jenny Hendrix, The New Yorker, September 14, 2010:
Proust used the "passé composé," a tense which roughly corresponds to our present perfect, rather than the more traditional (and strictly literary) "passé simple," which seems to entomb and sequester the past from the present. "Je me suis couché de bonne heure" can be variously translated as "I went to bed early," "I used to go to bed early," or "I would go to bed early." That is, although the tense indicates an action that has been completed in the past, the present is not completely done away with, which is why we can imagine a French-speaker mistakenly saying in English, "For a long time, I am going to bed early." The past, in which Marcel performed the action, still lingers in the present in which he writes about having done so. The tense, in short, performs the very thing that the book itself ends in telling us.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Peanuts: "A Deeply Personal Theater Of Cruelty" (And Bleakness, Sadism, Nihilism, Relentless And Profound Suffering, Anxiety, Humiliation, Passion, And Persistence)


Bruce Handy, The Atlantic, August 29, 2019
Charles Schulz did not create Charlie Brown and Linus and Lucy to talk—or act—like normal children. He created them to be funny, and to act out what became a deeply personal theater of cruelty. ... I suspect that school-age children, who have to be shamed out of their natural inclination to laugh at others' misfortune, enjoy Peanuts' harshness as a subversive, vicarious thrill. I know I did. It helps that most of the jokes, references to Dostoyevsky and Beethoven notwithstanding, are accessible at a fairly early age, if not the deeper resonances of Schulz's wit ... Schulz met kids on their own terms, but then wrote up to them.

There is child-appropriate wisdom in Peanuts. The strip, begun in 1950 ... sometimes functions like a fable. ... They help to assuage unconscious fears about growing up and finding a place in the world—real anxieties exaggerated and made grotesque. ...

In Schulz, no one wins and everyone is thwarted, not only in love, but also on the baseball field or in the classroom ... [T]he quintessential Peanuts catchphrases are "Rats!", "Good grief!", "I can't believe it!", and "Augh!" ...

Justice is almost as beside the point in Schulz as realism; rather, panel to panel, strip to strip, he just grinds his characters down, as if they were players in a children's-theater adaptation of Camus or Sartre or Robert Johnson. One of my favorite strips, from 1954 [JoS: it's actually 1958], depicts Charlie Brown sitting alone on a curb. In the first panel, a few raindrops are falling. By the fourth panel, the rain is torrential, and Charlie Brown is still sitting in the same spot, mouthing the ostensible punch line to this otherwise purely visual cartoon: "It always rains on the unloved!" Is Schulz even trying to be funny? ...


What I took away from Schulz is that life is hard. People are difficult at best, unfathomable at worst. Justice is a foreign tongue. Happiness can vaporize in the thin gap between a third and fourth panel, and the best response to all that is to laugh and keep moving, always ready to duck. ...

Revisiting Schulz from a tender parental perspective can be eye-opening ... I now find myself dismayed at times by his sadism—and again, I don't think that's too harsh a word. As Schulz himself once admitted, or boasted, "Maybe I have the cruelest strip going." He knew the blackness of his heart where playing God was concerned.

Flipping through my old Peanuts paperbacks, I am appalled by a Valentine's Day sequence from 1964. Charlie Brown is sitting on a schoolyard bench and, as usual, eating his bag lunch alone. ... In the second panel, he leans forward, a look of embarrassed expectancy on his face ... Third panel. He's sitting back, his shoulders slumping and mouth drooping. ... Fourth panel. Charlie Brown turns away, his mouth now a quavering upside-down arc, his eyes wide, wobbly, and slightly askew. He looks as if he is trying desperately not to cry. ... [T]here's nothing the least bit droll or ironic, not even the tiniest movement of the needle toward wit. I find it almost exhilarating the way the strip transcends anything readers would normally expect from the funny pages.


Just as pitiless is the climax of an August 1963 baseball story, running over several days, in which Charlie Brown is pitching for his perennially lousy team in a championship game. ... Charlie Brown balks in the winning run. ... The wordless fourth panel shows Charlie Brown still on the mound, being pelted by hats and gloves. That's it. No attempt at a punch line, no sad little observation. Just humiliation, like a Fassbinder finale. ...


[I]f I were asked to pick the character most likely to find happiness if he or she ever grew up—the real kind, not just the glib, warm-puppy kind—I wouldn't hesitate to pick Charlie Brown. ... He feels his failures deeply, he suffers profoundly, and yet he remains ever willing to take another run at kicking the football or trying to get his kite aloft or pitching the next game or hoping this year, finally, to receive a valentine. If he is a blockhead, it is in part because he cares so much ... Like his creator, he has passion and persistence. If he were real, I like to tell myself, Charlie Brown would be fine.

This essay has been adapted from The Peanuts Papers: Writers and Cartoonists on Charlie Brown, Snoopy & the Gang, and the Meaning of Life, forthcoming from Library of America.
This site has entire months of the strip on one page.

November 9, 1950 (the strip had been running less than six weeks)


February 24, 1954


July 7, 1954


February 14, 1956


March 28, 1960


October 13, 1960


October 18, 1960


December 22, 1962


January 28, 1963


August 19, 1963


April 1, 1964


October 21, 1965


March 23, 1966


August 8, 1966


September 9, 1966


November 5, 1966

In looking for some art for this post, I found this article from 2015: How Snoopy Killed Peanuts, by Kevin Wong (which I find I agree with, for the most part):
[A]s legendary as Peanuts is, it was only "great" for a 15-20 year period — from about the mid-50s to the early 70s. And even by the 70s, there was a slow, but definite drop-off in quality. ...

And unfortunately, much of the blame for this can be traced back to Snoopy, the most beloved of Schulz's creations. As the strip progressed, the beagle hogged more and more of the spotlight in increasingly negative ways. And the intelligence and darkness of the strip, which once made it so distinctive on the comics landscape, was replaced by more mainstream, cutesy humor.

The now famous debut strip ... establishes ... that this strip is not about the adorable inanities of being a child. It's about the cruelties and hardships of being a child; children can be bullying, backstabbing, petty people. And sometimes, children can be irrational, and hate someone for no reason — simply 'because.' ...

It was around the mid-late 50s that the strip really came into its own, and started cultivating an adult's despair and rejection. It allowed for Schulz to make pointed commentaries about the American dream, and the pressures of fulfilling it ...

And then there were other strips that were just pitch black [1957], with no happy resolution or redemption. Because sometimes, life isn't fair. ... It's difficult to think of a strip that so cruelly battered its main character in the way that Peanuts did. ...

Snoopy was always the wild card of the strip ... [H]e began the strip as a normal dog ... But a couple of years in, Schulz figured out how to characterize Snoopy; he was a dog who resented being a dog. ...

But the end result was always failure — for whatever reason, he would always revert to being a dog, because the new identity didn't fit him properly. It was a great commentary on self-acceptance, but also on embracing creativity and the need to dream of something better. ...

But near the end of the 60s and well into the 70s, the cracks started to show. Snoopy began walking on his hind legs and using his hands, and that was the beginning of the end for the strip. Perhaps he was technically still a dog, but in a very substantial way, Snoopy had overcome the principal struggle of his existence. His opposable thumbs and upward positioning meant that for all intents and purposes, he was now a human in a dog costume. ...

None of this had any greater, narrative payoff ... it lacked the subtlety, pain, and vision that had previously been the strip's trademark. ... Cuteness had replaced depth in a strip that had always celebrated the maturity and adult-like nature of precocious children. And since the strip had become globally, universally loved, there was little impetus to revisit the darker social commentary of years past.


Emily Todd VanDerWerff's piece for Vox, from December 2015:
The bulk of the comic strip's 50-year run is brilliant, bleak, and brutal. It's a deeply funny work about the utter depths of human despair, and about the ways we constantly seem to set ourselves and each other up to fail.

Peanuts, in other words, is one of the single greatest works of art of the 20th century. ...

[Y]ou can actually read the strip online, from the very first.

What you'll surely notice almost immediately is how damn bleak the strips are. ...

In Peanuts' early going, Charlie Brown is the only character with a definable personality, with goals, with a first and last name, even. And everybody else either seems to despise him or ignores him. He loses, constantly. He doesn't get anything he wants. He is defeated by his own failures ... but also by his friends ... and by the universe conspiring against him ...

More broadly speaking, though, nobody in Peanuts ever gets what they really want. They are defeated by delusions of grandeur ... or their own harsh natures ...

Schulz included at least a little bit of himself in every character he wrote, and for years, Peanuts hinted at the sorts of personal grievances and frustrations he felt toward other people in his life and in his personal and professional relationships.

For instance, as David Michaelis points out in his essential biography of the author, Schulz and Peanuts, when Schulz's first marriage was dissolving, he turned, again and again, to the theme of Lucy railing against Schroeder for caring more about his art than about her — which wasn't hard to read as Schulz's critique of his own wife. ...

[T]he longer you read Peanuts, especially its golden age from 1954 to 1974, the more obvious it becomes that the strip is an extremely personal work. It feels, at all times, as if you're looking directly into Schulz's soul to survey his values and cares. ... [I]t's utter despair that makes the strip so bracing.

That's why Peanuts' rise in the 1960s was so precipitous. Here was an empty, stark comic strip for an age in which mankind had the capacity to destroy itself — and yet it was laced with a gag (sometimes a very dark one, but a gag nonetheless) every day. It was the ultimate Midwestern expression: horror served with a smile.

And then Snoopy got turned into a stuffed animal, and everything changed. ...

I've always said 1974 marks the fall-off point for Peanuts because that year's output contains some of my favorite strips of the whole run, but already contains some of the flaws that would become more apparent in the years ahead. ...

But 1974 is also the year Schulz resolved a major conflict with his syndicator, which granted him complete control over the creative content and licensing of Peanuts. Up until that point, he could be overruled. From then on, he was completely in charge. The comic immediately lost some of its weightiness, now that he no longer faced a constant fight. ...

[M]erchandising took an already successful Schulz and made him incredibly rich. And while bleakness is certainly possible for the very rich, it seemed harder and harder for Schulz to reconnect with that part of the strip as he got older and richer. ...
Luke Epplin, Los Angeles Review of Books, writing in 2015 about Schulz and Bill Watterson:
On the surface, Peanuts seems an unlikely strip to spawn a global merchandising empire. Its cast of neurotic characters includes a depressed Everyman, a blanket-toting introvert, a domineering fussbudget, a single-minded pianist, and an anthropomorphic beagle that acts out fantasies atop his doghouse. Subverting the gag-cartooning formula, Peanuts strips often conclude not with a punch line but with an anguished expression of despair. "Why don't I go over and talk to that little red-haired girl?" Charlie Brown asks himself in a typical strip from 1964. "I can't…I just can't…I hate myself for not having enough nerve to talk to her! Well, that isn't exactly true…I hate myself for a lot of other reasons, too…" Insecure, apprehensive, and already seeking amateur psychiatric help at age eight, Charlie Brown became an improbable countercultural icon during a postwar era marked by public strength and private anxiety. ...

Schulz shied away from lofty pronouncements about his work. He claimed not to know what was meant by "existentialism" — a term frequently affixed to Peanuts — and he played down Lucy's psychiatric booth as a mere parody of a child's lemonade stand. His Midwestern sensibility carried with it an innate aversion to anything pretentious or elitist. "When people say to me, 'I really admire your philosophy,'" Schulz [said] in 1987, "I literally and honestly do not know what they are talking about because I don't even know what my philosophy is." What Schulz knew instinctively, however, is that success simply isn't funny. Instead, failure and self-doubt became the building blocks of his comedic style.
Earlier in the piece, Epplin writes that United Feature agreed to syndicate the strip in 1950, but forced Schulz to work in four tiny, equally sized boxes that he lamented were no bigger than "four air mail stamps". The name of the strip was also changed. Schulz proposed Good Ol' Charlie Brown, but United Feature decided on Peanuts. Schulz hated the name and he seethed about it for decades.
In an introduction to the 1975 compilation Peanuts Jubilee, he wrote: "Just as I have resented the size that I have been forced to work in, I have resented the title Peanuts that was forced upon me. I still am convinced that it is the worst title ever thought of for a comic strip."
And ... This Charming Charlie (Peanuts strips with song lyrics from The Smiths):


Friday, October 25, 2019

A Date Drawn From A Hat

This book has great potential.
On New Year's Day 2013, two-time Pulitzer Prize–winner Gene Weingarten asked three strangers to, literally, pluck a day, month, and year from a hat. That day—chosen completely at random—turned out to be Sunday, December 28, 1986, by any conventional measure a most ordinary day. Weingarten spent the next six years [and conducted more than 500 interviews] proving that there is no such thing.

That Sunday between Christmas and New Year's turned out to be filled with comedy, tragedy, implausible irony, cosmic comeuppances, kindness, cruelty, heroism, cowardice, genius, idiocy, prejudice, selflessness, coincidence, and startling moments of human connection, along with evocative foreshadowing of momentous events yet to come. Lives were lost. Lives were saved. Lives were altered in overwhelming ways. ...


John Reinan, Star-Tribune:
A good reporter, Gene Weingarten believes, should be able to find a story anywhere. ... As an editor, he once ... invited five writers to each hammer a nail into a phone book and write a profile of whoever's name was where the nail stopped.

So it's no surprise that Weingarten decided to put himself to a similar task. ... His stories are by turns sweet, rueful, horrifying and impossibly serendipitous. He found tragedies that turned to triumph — and others that remained tragic. He traced small occurrences with big consequences.
Kathleen McBroom, Booklist:
Weingarten relied on original articles, subsequent reporting, ensuing investigations, court transcripts, and, whenever possible, current interviews with principal characters. The engaging recaps range between 10 and 40 pages, and are arranged chronologically, based on the approximate time the action started.
Michael Hill, Norfolk Daily News (UK):
A college student is found strangled beneath a bridge, a baby is grievously burned in a house fire, New York City Mayor Ed Koch is heckled in a church, Russian emigres gather at an airport to return home and an instant replay review at a Rams-Redskins game stretches on for excruciating minutes. ... [F]rom urgent early morning preparations for a heart transplant in Charlottesville, Virginia, to the Grateful Dead jamming around midnight in Oakland, California ... Weingarten is an extraordinary reporter who mines vivid details from 33 years ago.
Publishers Weekly:
December 28, 1986 [was] a slow-news Sunday that still yielded plenty of mayhem, oddball happenstances, and sociological watersheds. ... [T]hese incidents [are] conveyed with punchy, evocative prose ("David was short, slight, and coarse-featured, with a feral, hunted look and an almost imperceptible hitch in his walk owing to a pin in one leg from a motorcycle accident," he writes of a protagonist in an Indiana noir saga who told detectives he was "about 90 percent sure" he did not commit a grisly double murder).
Kirkus:
[Weingarten] admits that "it was a stunt. But I like stunts, particularly if they can illuminate unexpected truths" ... [His coverage] include Prentice Rasheed, a Miami shopkeeper who accidentally electrocuted a burglar with a homemade booby trap he'd installed to deter intruders; Brad Wilson, who walked away after his helicopter flipped over and crashed during a fishing trip in the Pacific Northwest; and Eva Baisey, a nursing student ... who had implanted in her body the heart of a dead murderer ... One of the finest plain-prose stylists in American journalism, Weingarten tells his elegantly structured stories without sentimentality or melodrama ...
I cannot say with any certainty what I, at the age of 23, did on December 28, 1986 – I likely remained sullen over the outcome of the World Series of seven weeks previous – but six days later (Saturday, January 3, 1987), I drove a U-Haul from snowy Burlington, Vermont, to a brownstone in Brooklyn, New York, foreshadowing momentous events yet to come and altering at least two lives in overwhelming ways.