M a t t . T r e d e r

Archive for February, 2009|Monthly archive page


In Uncategorized on February 23, 2009 at 9:14 am

Halie and I were recently featured on local TV. Halie talked for a bit, then sang one of her songs.


Happy Birthday, Chuck

In Science on February 21, 2009 at 12:04 am

On the occasion of Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday, Derek K. Miller writes at penmachine.com:

Long before he wrote the Origin, he understood the implications of his discovery, especially to Biblical interpretations of creation—he had trained for the ministry in his youth, and his wife Emma was very religious—so he knew that he would have to assemble all the overwhelming evidence he had, and argue it well, to make his case. That’s one reason he waited 20 years.

Despite knowing nothing of genetics, plate tectonics, or modern developmental biology, and having few transitional fossil finds to refer to, Darwin and Wallace were fundamentally correct in their discovery:

  1. Individual animals, plants, fungi, and unicellular organisms produce more offspring than can survive and successfully reproduce themselves.
  2. Those offspring vary in numerous characteristics, some of which offer survival and reproductive advantages in their current environment.
  3. Offspring with variations that offer advantages produce more offspring than their siblings with variations that don’t.
  4. Over time, those individuals with the advantageous variations come to dominate populations.
  5. Different populations of a single species exist in different environments, and environments also change, so the variations that work best will probably differ between populations and over time. Eventually, those variations compound, and the populations may diverge or evolve into new species.

So while many people assume that On the Origin of Species addresses how life originated on earth to start with, it doesn’t—that remains a mystery biologists are still trying to solve 150 years later.

Oh, the shame of it

In Politics on February 20, 2009 at 1:05 pm

Obama’s cabinet has no CEOs

From Politico:

In President Barack Obama’s Cabinet, there is a Nobel Prize winner, a former mayor and a veteran CIA agent. Surrounding him in the White House West Wing are a former four-star general, one of the nation’s most eminent economists and a handful of this generation’s most talented political operatives.

This constellation of talent, however, has something of a black hole. There is virtually no one on Obama’s team with outsized achievements or a high-profile reputation earned in the world of business.

There are no former CEOs in the Obama Cabinet. …

This is a notable absence …

The tone of the piece: What a crying shame this is. Because after all, big business has such a hard time getting the collective ear of our elected politicians…

Not the same without him

In Arts on February 20, 2009 at 12:53 pm

Roger Ebert remembers the taller half of a remarkable duo. Gene Siskel died ten years ago this week. Funny, touching tribute.

New and updated!

In Uncategorized on February 18, 2009 at 10:54 pm

I’ve made some long-intended additions to my home page, including reviews, my résumé, and my musical bio. The Music section, while by no means complete, has gotten more organized and user friendly. As ever, I look forward to your thoughts and comments!

Obama focused on ends, not means

In Uncategorized on February 16, 2009 at 1:29 am
After the trials and triumphs of his tumultuous first weeks, President Obama appears increasingly focused on ends, not means.

In a conversation early Friday evening with a small group of columnists, Obama was flexible about tactics and unwavering in his goals. He signaled that he’s open to consultation, compromise and readjusting his course to build inclusive coalitions, but fixed on the results he intends to produce. “My bottom line is not how pretty the process was,” he said, looking back at the congressional fight over his economic recovery package. “My bottom line was: Am I getting help to people who need it?”

. . .

Obama was relaxed, responsive and, as usual, seemed preternaturally calm and unruffled. He understandably celebrated his legislative victory; the scope of the economic plan and the speed of its approval were equally unprecedented. The plan funds the public investments (like scientific research, infrastructure and education) that Democrats consider essential to long-term growth with more new money than Washington has provided at one time since at least the 1960s and maybe the 1930s. And the vote demonstrated far more unity among congressional Democrats than Bill Clinton was able to generate for his economic agenda in 1993. “The end product is not 100 percent of what we would want,” Obama said. “But I think it is a very good start on moving things forward.”

Yet Obama held no illusions about the scale of the challenges he faces, both economic and political. One of those challenges was the overwhelming Republican resistance to his plan, which frustrated his campaign hopes of quickly bridging Washington’s ideological and partisan divides. Obama seemed to split that opposition into several categories. Some of it was ideological: “I think that there were some senators and House members who have a sincere philosophical difference with the idea of any government role in boosting demand in the economy. They don’t believe in [economist John Maynard] Keynes and they are still fighting FDR.” Some was tactical: “I also think that there was a decision made… where [Republican leaders] said… ‘If we can enforce conformity among our ranks, then it will invigorate our base and will potentially give us some political advantage either short-term or long-term.” He paused. “Whether that’s a smart strategy, I think you should ask them.”

Obama said the near-unanimous Republican opposition, after all his meetings with GOP legislators, would not discourage him from reaching out again on other issues. “Going forward, each and every time we’ve got an initiative, I am going to go to both Democrats and Republicans and I’m going to say, ‘Here is my best argument for why we need to do this. I want to listen to your counterarguments, if you’ve got better ideas, present them, we will incorporate them into any plans that we make and we are willing to compromise on certain issues that are important to one side or the other in order to get stuff done,'” he said.

Cooperation on the economic agenda, he suggested, may have been unusually difficult because it “touched on… one of the core differences between Democrats and Republicans” — whether tax cuts or public spending can best stimulate growth. He predicted there may be greater opportunity for cooperation on issues such as the budget, entitlements and foreign policy. And if he keeps reaching out, he speculated, Republicans may face “some countervailing pressures” from the public “to work in a more constructive way.” White House aides suggest that regardless of how congressional Republicans react on upcoming issues, Obama will pursue alliances with Republican governors and Republican-leaning business groups and leaders.

Yet while promising to continue to seek peace with congressional Republicans, Obama also made clear he’s prepared for the alternative. “I am an eternal optimist [but] that doesn’t mean I’m a sap,” he said pointedly. “So my goal is to assume the best but prepare for a whole range of different possibilities in terms of how Congress reacts.”

Obama displayed the same instinct — clarity about his goals, flexibility about his tactics — in discussing the plan Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner unveiled this week to stabilize the banking and credit system. In the conversation, Obama reprised some of the arguments he’s raised to defend the plan from the widespread reaction on Wall Street and Capitol Hill that it lacked specifics. But most interesting was the way he described the proposal as a work in progress that inexorably will evolve as conditions do. “Here’s the bottom line,” he said. “We will do what works. It is going to take time to lay out every aspect of this plan, and there are going to be certain aspects of any plan… which will require reevaluation and… some experimentation — [a sense that] if that doesn’t work, then you do something else.”

In that spirit, Obama refused to close the door on a broad range of possibilities. One of his interviewers asked him to compare his approach to the responses to earlier banking crises in Japan — which faced an economic “lost decade” after failing to intervene forcefully enough — and Sweden, which temporarily nationalized its failed banks before selling them off. Obama said the administration was trying to find the “sweet spot” between those alternatives. Japan offered no model, he said, because “they sort of papered things over and never really bit the bullet.” And while many on the left are urging Obama to follow Sweden’s example, he thinks the scale of the U.S. problem argues against that course. “You can make a good argument for the Swedish model except for this fact: They only had a handful of banks; we’ve got thousands of banks,” he said. “The scale, the magnitude, of what we’re dealing with is much bigger.”

Strikingly, the president would not rule out more direct government intervention if his initial approaches fail. “What you can say is I will not allow our financial system to collapse,” he said forcefully when asked if he was excluding a Swedish-style solution. “And we are going to do whatever is required to get credit flowing again so that companies and consumers can do their business and we can get this economy back on track.”

In such comments, and his remarks about his willingness to work with or without Republican support in Congress, Obama may be revealing much about his conception of leadership. He was insistent that a president’s responsibility is to resist the daily (if not hourly) scorekeeping of the modern political and media system and keep his eye on the horizon. “My job is to help the country take the long view,” he said. Obama portrayed himself as willing to consider a broad range of perspectives for responding to the country’s daunting problems — “We’re going to… work with anybody who wants to work with us constructively,” he said at one point — and open to adjusting his own course to bring others along or simply to respond to evidence that his ideas aren’t working. But repeatedly he declared that no one should interpret that to mean he lacks any clarity about his goals: “My consistent bottom line is: How do we make sure that the American people can work, have a decent income, look after their kids and we can grow the economy.” Any compromises or course corrections, he argued, must serve those overriding priorities.

That’s an elastic and responsive vision of the presidency which doesn’t quite match the preferences of either the ideological warriors of left and right, or those who define consensus as simply the midpoint between each party’s traditional answers. It contrasts markedly with the style of George W. Bush, who too often viewed rigidity as proof of resolve. Bill Clinton came closer to Obama’s approach, but even he seemed more intent on proving certain fixed assumptions — that opportunity could be balanced with responsibility, for instance, or government activism squared with fiscal discipline. Ronald Reagan likewise shared an instinct toward compromise, but he operated within a more constricting ideological framework than Obama.

Obama’s determination to elevate ends over means could bring him closer in temperament to presidents like Franklin D. Roosevelt (who pledged “bold, persistent experimentation”) and Abraham Lincoln, who often insisted, “My policy is to have no policy.” That doesn’t mean either man lacked identifiable goals, much less bedrock principles. It did mean they were willing to constantly recalibrate their course in service of those goals and principles — as Lincoln once put it, like river boat pilots who “steer from point to point as they call it — setting the course of the boat no farther than they can see.”

Mr. President: the status quo has failed.

In Uncategorized on February 16, 2009 at 1:21 am

Drug offenders represent the largest source of our prison population growth, and more than half of federal inmates are drug offenders. More than a half-million people are currently serving prison time for non-violent drug offenses and one third of all women in jail are serving time for a non-violent drug conviction. One out of every nine young black men in America lives in a prison. The direct cost of this imprisonment exceeds $14 billion annually, and the additional law enforcement support costs drive the yearly tab to well beyond $40 billion.

This year, about two million people will be arrested for a drug offense.  . . .  These policies have amounted to nothing short of a genocide. Millions of supposedly free Americans – most of them poor black Americans – have been arrested, imprisoned, and had their hopes and futures destroyed – all for possessing the moral equivalent of a bottle of wine.

Sketch: Euro Transit

In Uncategorized on February 12, 2009 at 1:43 pm

A little musical bed I composed using Logic and Native Instruments Komplete. I enjoy sounds that meld or morph into unrelated sounds, as I tried to do here.

Euro Transit

Scared yet?

In Uncategorized on February 10, 2009 at 7:41 am

In case you’re wondering, we’re on the teal trajectory…


From the Mouths of Babes

In Music, Tunes on February 6, 2009 at 8:57 am

An original song on last year’s Christmas CD. I recorded it on the 1926 Steinway at Don Ross Studio in Eugene. This was a composite of three takes, using minimal additional editing. The remix corrects what I feel was a bit of over-compression and also improves on the original’s EQ curve. Enjoy!

From the Mouths of Babes (remix)