Classical Music: then and now


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart image taken from:











Is classical music dead? The National Endowment for the Arts reported in 2016 that in 2012, only 8.8% of Americans had attended a classical music performance in the previous 12 months, compared to 11.6% a decade earlier. If classical music is not dead, then this statistic is a sign that it is at least dying in the United States. It’s hard to know exactly why this is the case. But, before we examine it further, we should establish what classical music is.

What is classical music?

Classical music, called “Western art music” by academics, is the tradition of music rooted in Western culture, with advanced structural and theoretical concerns, and which is almost always notated. Of course, this is a vague distinction, and the border between “classical” and “popular” music is often blurred (consider Mozart’s divertimenti in the Classical period, or Kurt Weill’s score for The Threepenny Opera in the modern era). “Classical music” also refers to a particular period, and associated style, in Western art music, from about 1730 to 1820.

Is classical music still being made?

Yes! Classical music (symphonies, chamber music, opera, etc.) is still being written in and out of universities internationally. There is a belief that all classical music sounds like Mozart or Beethoven, but this is not the case. Though less known among the general public, modern classical music developed in radical directions with composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen, who composed electronic music, and a string quartet, to be performed with each composer in a separate helicopter, among other things, and Philip Glass, whose scores can be heard in many major motion pictures including Koyaanisqatsi and The Hours.

A Brief History of Classical Music

Western art music begins in the Medieval era, with the notation of Gregorian chant. Gregorian chant, also called plainsong, is monophonic, meaning it contains only a single melodic line. Polyphony, the use of multiple melodic lines, developed by composers of organa (Leonin, Perotin) and Latin masses (Machaut). Classical music during this era was almost solely vocal, with instruments only providing support for vocal lines. It was always religious.

The Renaissance saw the blossoming of polyphony in France (Johannes Ockeghem, Guillaume Dufay), Italy (Josquin des Prez, Giovanni Pierluigi de Palestrina), and Britain (Thomas Tallis, William Byrd). Rather than use a modal system as had been previously standard, composers moved towards the contemporary tonal system with major and minor keys (Naxos). The first great opera was birthed in this period, L’Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi.

The Baroque period, the most famous composers of which are J.S. Bach, Georg Frideric Handel, Antonio Vivaldi and Domenico Scarlatti, was the beginning of classical music as we know it. The violin, the modern orchestra, concertos, sonatas and the harpsichord were invented during this period. The music was quite literally “baroque,” often extremely complex and academic. However, baroque music could also be lighter and entertaining, as in Handel’s Water Music.

The Classical period is the period of Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It held melody, clarity, and balance as its main values. Art music became less complex, favoring homophony with chordal accompaniment. The orchestra was expanded and classical music became more spectacular. The period also birthed Beethoven, who is often considered to be the first composer of the Romantic era, and the greatest composer in the Western tradition.

The Romantic era held expressivity as its highest value. It begins with Beethoven and Schubert in the 1820’s and ends with (in my opinion) the death of Richard Strauss in 1949 and the performance of his Four Last Songs in 1950, having a significant overlap with the modern period. (Classical music trends in the 20th century are so variegated that it is hard to give the period a descriptive name, rather music from it is usually just referred to as “20th-century classical music”). Nationalism was a powerful artistic force, and the virtuoso was granted an elevated status.

The Early Romantic era (1820-1860) is dominated by Berlioz, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Schumann and Liszt (Naxos). The Late Romantic era is dominated by Johannes Brahms, Giuseppe Verdi (Italian opera composer), Richard Wagner (German opera composer), Claude Debussy and two symphonic giants: Anton Bruckner and Gustav Mahler. The romantic tradition (tonality, expressivity, chromaticism) was continued in the 20th century by Jean Sibelius and Richard Strauss, despite modernist provocations.

The modern period of classical music begins with the 9th Symphony of Gustav Mahler, Igor Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring, and Arnold Schoenberg’s early atonal works. Atonal music, especially in its extreme, systemized form, called serialism, dominated the modern period. Atonal music is keyless and does not conform to Western harmony. Serialist music is based on the repetition of a certain random series of the twelve tones in the traditional tonal system. It is easier to understand by ear; listen to Arnold Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto for a notable example.

Later in the modern period, electronic music was pioneered by the German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. Serialism was taken to an extreme by the Frenchman Pierre Boulez. Iannis Xenakis, a Greek composer, made perhaps the most incredible music of the period. His music was inspired by his work as an architect, featuring extremely large string orchestrations which pushed the boundaries of sound. Some scholars consider classical music to still be in its modern period, and that tradition persists, but most significant classical music today is apart of a new movement, Postmodern music.

Postmodern music, by its definition, is hard to define. The music author Daniel Albright identified three common elements of postmodern music; Polystylism, Randomness, and Bricolage (the use of nonmusical objects in music). John Cage, a composer who utilized the prepared piano (a piano with its strings modified by the use of inserted objects) and random-chance procedures to generate his music, is considered the father of postmodern music. Charles Ives, an American composer of the 20th century who interpreted popular music and was one of the first composers to write with semitones (the tones in between the traditional 12)  and polytonality (the use of two musical keys simultaneously) is considered a predecessor.

Tonal music has also had a resurgence in the postmodern age. Philip Glass and other minimalists, as they are called, created a style of composition based on the repetition with variation of short, highly tonal phrases.

Classical music in the modern era is perhaps more diverse than it has ever been. The number of composers and artistic movements is innumerable.

For more information on the history of classical music, see the articles “History of Classical Music” on Naxos and “Summary of Western Classical Music History” from Columbia University.

So why is classical music dying among the general public?

Again, it is hard to say. One argument has to do with concert performances. Before the recording era, concert performances were at the heart of classical music culture. Today, they are often incredibly expensive and overly formal. This has doubtlessly pushed away many would-be fans of classical music.

Classical music education, and arts education in general, is narrowing in public schools. Also, as reported by USA Today, classical music is no longer a part of popular culture in any significant way, as it once was in the 1950’s and 60’s, when the classical music recording industry was more successful than any other.

I hope that there can be a resurgence of classical music love among the general public. It was not too long ago that one could hear men humming Beethoven’s Fifth.

Appendix: Introductory musical recommendations


The organa of Léonin and Pérotin

Ordo Virtutum (Bingen, morality play)

Messe de Nostre Dame (Machaut, vocal mass)


Missa Pange lingua (des Prez, vocal mass)

Missa Papae Marcelli (Palestrina, vocal mass)

Spem in alium (Tallis, motet)


L’Orfeo (Monteverdi, opera)

Dido and Aeneas (Purcell, opera)

Messiah (Handel, oratorio)

Brandenburg Concertos (Bach, orchestral)

Mass in B minor (Bach, orchestral mass)


The Creation (Haydn, oratorio)

The Seasons (Haydn, oratorio)

Piano Sonata No. 14 (Mozart)

Cosi fan tutte (Mozart, opera)

Symphony No. 41, “Jupiter” (Mozart)

Symphony No. 3, “Eroica” (Beethoven)

Early Romantic:

Symphony No. 9, “Choral” (Beethoven)

String Quartet No. 14 (Beethoven)

Winterreise (Schubert)

Les Troyens (Berlioz)

Ballades (Chopin)

Late Romantic:

Symphony No. 4 (Brahms)

Ein deutsches requiem (Brahms, orchestral mass)

Otello (Verdi, opera)

Tristan und Isolde (Richard Wagner, opera)

Parsifal (Richard Wagner, opera)

Symphony No. 8 (Bruckner)

Symphony No. 9 (Mahler)

Pelleas et Melisande (Debussy, opera)

Symphony No. 7 (Sibelius)

Vier letzte lieder (Strauss, art songs)


Symphony No. 4 (Ives)

Le Sacre du Printemps (Stravinsky, ballet)

Symphony (Webern)

Lulu (Berg, opera)

Symphony: Mathis der Maler (Hindemith)

Quatuor pour la fin du temps (Messiaen, chamber music)

Piano Concerto (Schoenberg)

Déserts (Varèse, orchestral/electronic)

Metastaseis (Xenakis, orchestral)

Gesang der Jünglinge (Stockhausen, electronic)

Pli selon pli (Boulez, orchestral)


Sonatas and Interludes (Cage, prepared piano)

Music of Changes (Cage, piano)

Sinfonia (Berio, orchestral)

Einstein on the Beach (Glass, opera)

Rothko Chapel (Feldman, orchestral)

For Philip Guston (Feldman, chamber music)

Plexure (John Oswald, electronic)

Powder Her Face (Adès, opera)

String Quartet No. 6 (Ferneyhough)

Film review: Phantom Tread

Phantom Thread is Paul Thomas Anderson’s most recent film, starring Daniel Day-Lewis in his supposedly final role. Set in the London couture world of the 1950’s, it follows the turbulent romance of Reynolds Woodcock (Lewis), an obsessive fashion designer, and his muse and lover Alma (Vicky Krieps). Like the dresses Woodcock’s sewers meticulously craft, Phantom Thread is a work of fine beauty.

The first thing to notice is the atmosphere. The cinematography is, as one would expect of an Anderson feature, elegant and gorgeous. The camera seems to float through the various living rooms, sewing rooms, and spiral staircases in the Woodcock mansion. Or, in one incredible scene, it is fixed to the back of Woodcock’s car as he drives through the English countryside. Jonny Greenwood’s lyrical soundtrack plays in the background for nearly the entirety of the first 30 minutes, and for much of the rest of the film. Phantom Thread feels like a dream. As Mark Kermode has pointed out, Phantom Thread plays like a modern fairy tale, with its dresses and magic charms.

Rarely in film, and especially in dramas, are the aesthetic elements, image and sound, so masterfully composed as to be totally enjoyable on their own, despite plot. But, Phantom Thread’s aesthetic value is comparable to that of any art film. The simplicity of the film’s first act led me to believe that this would be the biggest compliment that I could pay it, but as the film progressed I realized that I was sorely mistaken. Phantom Thread is not only a beautiful movie, but a captivating drama.

Characters in Paul Thomas Anderson’s films never have simple (or healthy) relationships, a fact which becomes invariably more important as each film progresses. Consider Eddie and Maggie’s Oedipal romance in Boogie Nights and Daniel and H.W.’s abusive father-son relationship in There Will Be Blood. From a dramatic point-of-view, this is Anderson’s greatest skill as a filmmaker. His stories begin archetypal, but progress by subverting those very archetypes.

Phantom Thread follows this pattern. It is ostensibly a love story, but its perverse developments and sickly romantic ending lead us to reconsider love itself. In a Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross, Anderson is asked if he “sanctions” the actions Alma takes in order to get closer to Woodcock, and if he considers Alma and Woodcock’s relationship to be in any way “healthy.” Anderson responds that he is, “Groovy with love of all kinds.”

Anderson is not a psychologist, but a poet. If we are to appreciate Phantom Thread as a work of cinematic poetry, we must focus on the impression that it makes, and not on its underlying morality, which may very well be sick. We must not worry about justifying the beauty of Phantom Thread. Instead we should focus on appreciating it.

The film ends with a montage of Alma and Woodcock’s life together beyond the movie, and the multiple false endings within it create a sense of unending love and beauty. If this ove is unrealistic or even sick, it is at least beautiful. With Greenwood’s soundtrack in the background, it is reminiscent of the film’s beginning, creating a satisfying circular structure, at least aesthetically.

Lastly, it should be mentioned just how “funny” Phantom Thread is. Woodcock’s fussiness, and Alma’s waywardness, create a dynamic that is hilarious and adorable in its immaturity. Cyril, Woodcock’s deathly serious sister and business partner, also provides comic relief, as well as deep insight into either star. The stars act like two children, which may be why they are so likeable even when they do the most evil things.

So, Phantom Thread succeeds on all fronts. It is a feast for the senses and for the heart. I agree with Mark Kermode that it is, in fact, Paul Thomas Anderson’s greatest film yet.

★★★★ out of four

On Sunday night, Phantom Thread received one (for Best Costume Design) out of the six Academy Awards it was nominated for. It lost in the Best Picture and Best Director categories to The Shape of Water and its director Guillermo Del Toro, respectively. Though Phantom Thread deserved to win both, I am not totally unsatisfied with those results. The Shape of Water is a very good film, and Del Toro a talented director. Daniel Day-Lewis losing to Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour) in the Best Actor category, however, was incredibly disappointing.

What is happening with the stock market?

Financial data on a monitor, Stock market data on LED image taken from:

On Monday, February 5, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 1,597 points, the most it had ever dropped in the middle of a single trading day. The Dow had recently hit a record high of 26,616 points on January 26. According to The Wall Street Journal, as of Friday, February 9, the Dow had dipped 2426 points from that high, a 9% decrease, dangerously close to what is known as a stock market “correction,” a 10% decrease after an extended time of growth. This sounds very bad, but what does it even mean?

Investopedia gives information about the stock market, including how the stock market itself, describes the trading of shares (put simply, an investment in a corporation). The Dow Jones Industrial Average, as well as the S&P 500, and the Nasdaq Stock Market, are measures of the average trading value of stocks based on the stock prices of several major corporations. When they decline, that means stocks are less valuable. For people with money invested in the market, this is bad. But, it is not necessarily bad for most Americans, and it could even be good for new investors.

According to Slate, the reason for the downturn in the stock market actually has to do with recent news that is good for Americans. On February 2, the U.S. Labor Department announced that workers were being paid more than economists predicted they would be. To stock traders, this meant that the Federal Reserve would probably raise interest rates on stocks to compensate, meaning they would have to pay more money to their investors. Thus, they sold many stocks quickly and for decreased value, creating the downturn. This downturn had knock-on effects around the world, most noticeably in markets in Japan and Hong Kong.

As reported by CNN, this does not mean the US, or the world, is going through an economic recession, as it did in 2008. Most economists say that this downturn was bound to happen; the stock market had grown consistently since the Great Recession, and especially so since the election of President Donald Trump. Economists advise people with stocks not to sell, but to hold their stocks until better conditions come about. As for new investors, now is as good a time as any to invest.

President Trump had been claiming, before the decline, the tremendous stock market growth seen during his presidency as one of his greatest achievements. When the downturn occurred, Trump commented on Twitter, “In the ‘old days,’ when good news was reported, the Stock Market would go up. Today, when good news is reported, the Stock Market goes down. Big mistake, and we have so much good (great) news about the economy!” This is not historically accurate according to the Huffington Post. News of wage increases has sent the stock market into a panic before.

MarketWatch reports that the stock market decline is nothing to worry about for the average American; its most recent fluctuation is totally natural. The Dow Jones is still up (24,609 points, as of February 12), and gaining more-and-more of its lost ground each day. CNN Money predicts that the incoming corporate tax cuts, part of the Republican Senate tax bill, will only help increase stock values, also.

The 2018 Winter Olympics and North Korean involvement

The 2018 Winter Olympics will be held in Pyeongchang County, South Korea. The Winter Olympics are an international multi-sport competition held once every four years in a different country. They are staggered with the Summer Olympics, which are also held once every four years, so that an Olympic Games occurs once every two years. It was first announced that South Korea would host in 2011. It will be the country’s second time hosting the Olympics. It hosted the Summer Games in 1988 (

As reported by CNN, the 2018 Winter Olympics has brought about great controversy for North Korea’s involvement in it. North Korea (officially called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK) and South Korea separated in 1945. Shortly after the separation, the Korean War occurred (1950-1953), which ended in stalemate. Since then, the two Koreas have been separated by a demilitarized zone (DMZ). According to Sky News, relations between the countries has been tense, to say the least. North Korea is a communist dictatorship and South Korea is a liberal democracy, diametrically opposed types of government, but both claim rightful leadership of Korea in totality.

North Korea has been performing nuclear weapons tests since 2006 (most recently on September 3, 2017, “a perfect success,” according to the North Koreans), much to the consternation of South Korea and many Western democracies, including the United States, as noted by the BBC. Delegates from North and South Korea met for peace talks on September, 9, but North Korea continued to test its ballistic missiles afterwards. CNN has even reported that South Korea claims to have a plan to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un if they feel too threatened.

So, with the threat of nuclear war looming, many wondered how South Korea would handle the 2018 Winter Olympics, and what North Korea’s involvement in them would be. Fortunately, it appears that the Olympics have only helped to bring the two countries closer together.

In his 2017 New Year address, Kim Jong Un wished the South Koreans luck in hosting the Games, offered to send a North Korean delegation, and said he wished for a “peaceful resolution with our Southern border [DMZ]” (CNN). Two North Korean figure skaters, Ryom Tae-ok and Kim Ju-sik, qualified for the Olympics on September, 29, but were not entered by the deadline of December, 21. According to an NRP report, after negotiations between the two Koreas on January 9, it was announced that North Korea would send a delegation of 22 athletes, including the two aforementioned figure skaters. In addition, there will be a united Korean squad playing in women’s ice hockey. North Korea’s involvement in the 2018 Winter Olympics could be a sign of more diplomacy to come between the two Koreas and the rest of the world.

But, not everyone is happy with North Korea’s involvement in the Olympics. According to The Telegraph, some human rights groups think that allowing North Korea to hold any events, as the South Korean minister of sports has gone so far as to recommend, would be an immoral endorsement of authoritarianism, similar to the 1936 Berlin Olympics held in Nazi Germany. The Wall Street Journal has also reported that some see North Korea’s participation as unsafe. France said they would not compete if safety could not be ensured according to Reuters. The Trump-appointed, US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said, “it’s an open question.” Later, White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on December, 7, “no official decision has been made” on US involvement in the Games, though she, quite contradictory, also said the US “looks forward to participating” as reported by USA Today.

Whether the US will boycott the 2018 Winter Olympics remains to be seen, but it now appears quite unlikely, with the announcement, reported by ABC News, on January, 10, that Vice President Mike Pence and his wife will attend the opening ceremony of the Games. Still, the Trump administration’s messages are mixed. Is North Korea’s newfound sense of diplomacy genuine, or just a ploy?

Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis

Minneapolis will be hosting Super Bowl LII in the new U.S. Bank Stadium, Sunday, February 4 at 5:30 PM CT. The Super Bowl is the final game of the NFL season, played every year for the past 52 years in a different state, and is the biggest annual sporting event in America according to Sports Illustrated. This is the second time Minneapolis has hosted a Super Bowl; they also hosted Super Bowl XXVI in 1992.

It was first announced that Minnesota would be hosting in 2018 in 2013, just after the Minnesota Vikings went 5-10-1 (5 wins, 10 losses, and 1 tie in a season). Since then, the team has improved tremendously, going 7-9, 11-5, and 8-8 in 2014, 2015, and 2016 respectively (Check out Pro Football Reference for more stats).

We will not know who will be competing in the Super Bowl until the end of the playoffs, which continue on January 13, and end on January 21. It is possible that the Vikings, who are headed to the playoffs with a win-loss ratio of 13-3, will make it to this Super Bowl, and as MPR reported, it would be the first time in over 25 years that a Super Bowl participant would be competing in their own state.

As MPR points out, if the Vikings can survive the playoffs by defeating the New Orleans Saints, and then winning their conference championship game, they will become the first franchise in NFL history to play a Super Bowl in their hometown. It would be the team’s fifth Super Bowl (their last was in 1977), having won not a single previous one.

But, while this may sound nice to Vikings fans, to the organizers of Super Bowl LII, it could create a great “headache,” according to Sports Illustrated. Hosting a Super Bowl is already a technical feat, but the logistical problems that would arise from the Vikings reaching the Super Bowl would make it even more impressive. Just by making it this far, the Vikings must host a divisional-round game at home on January 14, making it the first time a Super Bowl host city has also hosted a divisional-round game, and if Philadelphia loses, the Vikings will also host the NFC title game. According to CBS Minnesota, Downtown Minneapolis will be revoking parking permits in the area on the day of the game, in order to free-up parking space for attendees. If the Vikings do make it to the Super Bowl, the facilities which they, and their competitors use, will have to be swapped, to allow the Vikings to use their home facility as noted by Sports Illustrated.

The Super Bowl is more than just an annual football game and cultural event. For local and national businesses, it is a big commercial opportunity. It receives 100 million American viewers annually, more than three times more than the Oscars, the second largest TV event in America. Thus, the cost of a Super Bowl advertisement is roughly $5 million for a thirty-second spot, not including PR, digital promotion or contests. In total, a good campaign can cost around $10 million, according to ForbesA pop-up marketplace called North Local Market, displaying over 20 local brands, will be set up in City Center in downtown Minneapolis, from January 26 through the Super Bowl (for more information see  the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal).

But, not everyone is happy with the Super Bowl. According to the Minneapolis StarTribune, A coalition group has organized a protest march on the day of the game, from Peavey Park to U.S. Bank Stadium, in a route as of yet unrevealed. Activist Jess Sundin, a head organizer, said she expects to see “several hundred protesters.” They will be protesting against, in their own words, the “racism and corporate greed,” they perceive in the Super Bowl and the various side-acts connected to it.

Individuals interested in attending Super Bowl LII, who do not already have tickets, will be disappointed; the going price on StubHub, one month away from the game, is upwards of $3,200. Fortunately though, according to MPR, the Super Bowl host committee has announced Super Bowl Live, a 10-day festival leading up to Super Bowl Sunday. It will be held outside in Nicollet Mall, and will include free concerts, ice sculptures, and food.

The Vikings must win only two more games in order to make it to Super Bowl LII, and fans will be impatiently waiting until they next play. If they do make it, it will be a historic moment for the Vikings, the NFL, and Minnesota. If they win the Super Bowl, it will be a historic moment for American sports history in general.

The Harvey Weinstein effect

Sexual assault has been one of the most heated topics of 2017. Since the initial allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein in October, a stream, or rather a torrent, of allegations of sexual misconduct have been leveled at many other significant figures in entertainment, politics, and journalism, including: Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, and even Minnesota senator Al Franken, who has now said that he intends to resign from his position (MinnPost). The phenomenon has been dubbed, “The Harvey Weinstein effect” as reported by USA Today.

The allegations have ranged in severity from rape, to sexual assault or abuse, to sexual misconduct, and the reactions to these allegations have been mixed, but dramatic, to say the least. According to a USA Today article, many of the accused have been fired or resigned from their jobs or projects (Weinstein, Spacey, Lauer), more have apologized (C.K., Franken, George H.W. Bush) or denied the allegations (Roy Moore), or a combination of the three.

Republican politician Roy Moore’s case has been particularly controversial as he was, when the allegations were made, running in a Senate election (ABC News). He was accused by eight women, according to a Washington Post article, two of which were 14, below the Alabama age of consent of 16, when they claim the misconduct occurred. Moore specifically denied the allegations of two of his accusers and continued to run despite them, and requests from Democrat and Republican senators, such as John McCain, who said on the Senate Government website, “The allegations against Roy Moore are deeply disturbing and disqualifying,” and he should resign.

These allegations, and their outcomes, are enough to give anyone pause. Almost everyone opposes sexual abuse in any form, but it can sometimes be hard to tell whether an allegation is valid, and, if so, how specifically to respond; especially when the allegations are being made at such an alarming rate. This question is of particular importance when it comes to public servants such as Roy Moore or even Donald Trump, who been accused of various degrees of sexual misconduct by 15 different women (CNN Politics).

The Alabama Senate elections results were officially released by The New York Times on Thursday, December 14. Roy Moore lost by a narrow margin to Doug Jones, 49.9% to 48.4%, with the rest of the votes being write-ins. The loss is still surprising, however, as Doug Jones was considered an outsider and a long shot in Alabama, a state which hadn’t had a Democratic senator in 20 years, before eight women came out against Moore.

TIME Magazine has awarded “The Silence Breakers” (those who came out against sexual abusers), the distinction of “People of the Year.” Without a doubt, the unraveling of the Harvey Weinstein effect will come to be seen as a defining event of our contemporary epoch in later years.

The Senate Republican tax bill

This week, senators on Capitol Hill debated passing the controversial new Senate Republican tax bill, known officially as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, or colloquially as the Trump Tax Cuts. According to the official website of the United States Congress, the bill “amends the Internal Revenue Code to reduce tax rates and modify policies, credits, and deductions for individuals and businesses.” The Internal Revenue Code encompasses all domestic tax laws. Put simply, the goal of this bill is to reduce taxes for American individuals and businesses; a controversial goal indeed. The bill already passed a procedural vote on Wednesday, Nov 29, 52-48 and is expected to pass, finally, Friday, Dec 1, according to CNN Politics. In light of this information, it is important that we look at the details of the tax bill, which will undoubtedly affect millions of Americans.

The Senate tax bill differs from the House tax bill, which already passed on November 16, according to PolitiFact. The primary measures of the Senate bill are to lower individual and couple tax rates for the middle class, reduce corporate income tax from 35% to 20%, and to only tax income earned within US borders (PolitiFact). The idea is that these measures will create new jobs and businesses or, in the words of Donald Trump, perhaps the bill’s greatest champion, “Our focus is on helping the folks who work in the mail rooms and the machine shops of America, the plumbers, the carpenters, the cops, the teachers, the truck drivers… the people that like me best.” (St. Charles, Missouri, 11/29/17). The tax bill will also close certain tax loopholes that allow the rich to evade paying, including one highlighted by Donald Trump, in the same speech, that makes corporations pay less the more they reward their CEO’s with excessive bonuses, according to the Huffington Post.

These things may sound good, and certainly many Americans and 52% of the Senate think they are, but others argue they are not. According to Vox, the tax bill creates at least 5 big problems; it will create $1.5 in national debt over the first decade, it limits the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) which could create a “health insurance crisis,” it creates new loopholes for tax evasion despite closing others, it is designed to be more expensive or less effective than promised overtime, and most importantly, “According to the Tax Policy Center, by 2027 more than 75 percent of the tax cuts’ benefits will accrue to the top 5 percent of the income distribution, with more than 60 percent of the total gains going to the top 1 percent.” The tax bill, which has been promoted by President Trump, and other Senate Republicans, as a boon to the blue-collar worker and small business owner, may only benefit the very richest in our society.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 49% of Americans that were aware of the bill opposed it, 29% supported it, and 22% said they did not know. These results, which show an increase in the percent in opposition from 41% on October 24, are shocking after witnessing the unanimous, explosive cheering, and applause at President Trump’s Wednesday speech, and begs the perennial question, “Do lawmakers really have the people’s or even their own constituency’s concerns in mind?”

As of the writing of this article, Republican senators are still scrambling to rewrite the bill before an imminent vote, according to Politico. All we can do now is wait.

Film review: Blade Runner 2049


***Article Contains Spoilers***

Before watching Blade Runner 2049, I had never seen the original Blade Runner. To many who had, Blade Runner 2049 is the sequel to a science-fiction classic and defining movie of a generation. To me, it is just another Hollywood film.

Blade Runner 2049 has received mostly excellent reviews from Blade Runner fans old and new, and it’s not hard to see why. The new film does what the original did and more, and to fans, that’s a miracle. But to me, it’s a disappointment.

To be certain, Blade Runner 2049 is a stylish, smart film, but it’s neither beautiful nor profound. It has been called “visually stunning” by a multitude of critics and “deep” by most. But glossy, realistic graphics are not beautiful by that virtue, and simply bringing-up philosophical concepts is not profound.

Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, now over 90 years-old, with its grand Futurist city and equally-grand capitalism, is the obvious predecessor to the original Blade Runner. The new film proffers the same apparently imminent, bleak vision of the future we have been fed for the past century. The city is updated, shinier now, but it is still the same city. Suffice it to say, the vision is no longer fresh, compelling, or believable.

The original Blade Runner score, composed by ambient-electronic music pioneer Vangelis, has been replaced in the new Blade Runner by a bombastic and overwrought orchestral score composed by Hans Zimmer. Vangelis’s score was forward-thinking and remains fresh; Zimmer’s is another score by Zimmer. How is it that, as time draws on, sci-fi becomes less inspired in all aspects?

At 163 minutes, for a film with an absurdly sociopathic comic-book villain, action-movie violence, a holographic girlfriend, and a secret that could “break the world,” Blade Runner 2049 is also a remarkably boring and drab drama. K (Ryan Gosling), the film’s protagonist, is not unsympathetic because he’s (spoiler alert) a replicant (robot), but because he has zero charisma. Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is now old and bitter, no longer the romantic hero he was in the original, and plays a smaller role in the film than one wished or expected. Our villain, arch-capitalist Niander Wallace, played by the ever-intimidating Jared Leto (I kid), is more of a parody than a genuine terror, with his casual gratuitous cruelty and incessant Biblical allegory. There is also Mariette, possibly the film’s most intriguing character, a street-urchin prostitute and, as we later find out, a replicant revolutionary. Her role in the film is minimal, but I would gladly watch Blade Runner 2049 again if it were written from her perspective.

Every other character is forgettable, except Joi, the aforementioned hologram. She (it?) is cute, bubbly, and completely devoted to K (she was programmed, after all). But she is, as the film ceaselessly emphasizes, just a hologram. It’s hard to care very much about a character who can be “played” and “paused” at any time by her master, err, boyfriend. It’s not hard to see why some critics have pegged this Blade Runner as misogynist.

Despite its flaws, it would not be fair to dismiss Blade Runner 2049 entirely. As previously stated, it is undeniably stylish and smart. There are a few particularly exhilarating moments, such as when K and Deckard duel in front of a holographic Elvis. They trade witticisms and the action is entertaining in the most authentic way. It is a pastiche, but a worthy one. If Blade Runner 2049 worried less about being seen as so serious and embraced this side of its personality more, maybe it wouldn’t be so frustratingly middlebrow. The film’s big twist near the end also felt remarkably genuine and affecting. However, it killed all the momentum the film had, leaving it to end with an awkward 40-minute epilogue.

Although they are undeveloped, and at this point tired staples of smart sci-fi, the philosophical concepts Blade Runner 2049 brings up are certainly worth discussing. They are “What are the socioeconomic implications of modernization?” and, “What makes us human, with respect to AI?” Blade Runner 2049 makes three claims; modernization will further the social divide between men and women concurrently with the rise of AI, and this will inevitably lead to the oppression of the lower classes (the former, which is apparent in the modern world, is more intriguing than the latter, which thus far history has proven to be false). Also, the defining characteristic of humanity is that it is self-sacrificial, not necessarily that human women can give birth. The last claim would be more interesting if it didn’t result in the protagonist sacrificing himself for what is the most contrived, sappy ending I have seen in a film in years.

At first glance, Blade Runner 2049 appears to me to be a film unsure of what it wants to be; an unabashedly lowbrow sci-fi flick, or a lofty philosophical drama. But, I know that’s false; Blade Runner 2049 set out specifically to fill a certain niche (The Matrix, The Shawshank Redemption, The Dark Knight, etc.) of thoroughly entertaining movies that keep you thinking throughout. It’s a shame it couldn’t live up to those standards.

The opioid crisis and President Trump’s reaction

In a speech given on October 26, President Donald Trump declared the opioid crisis a “nationwide public health emergency.” This is not just a description, as it may seem, but a legal act which allows the allocation of a certain number of funds towards combatting the crisis, through the Public Health Services Act (CNN). However, that number is pitifully low; only $57,000, according to the Washington Post. President Trump could have declared the crisis a national disaster, another type of national health emergency declaration which holds more weight and makes more funding available (CNN). Because of this, and other comments, Trump’s reaction to the opioid crisis has been highly controversial.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, opioids are a class of drugs including legal drugs such as common prescription painkillers such as hydrocodone (Vicodin), oxycodone (OxyContin), codeine (cough syrup), morphine, etc., and illegal street drugs such as heroin and fentanyl. Opioids are especially popular among young people, and were the cited cause of death of an estimated 62,497 Americans in 2016, according to Vox. As shown in the graph taken from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of opioid-related deaths has been rising steadily since 2000.

The opioid crisis began in the late 1990’s, according to NIDA, when pharmaceutical companies began promoting opioids as non-addictive painkillers (which was false), and doctors began prescribing them more liberally. Also, as reported by Medpage Today, during this time, popular medical philosophy changed in ways that may have exacerbated the crisis. Treating pain came to be seen as almost as important as treating illnesses themselves. Medical organizations such as the United States Department of Veteran Affairs and the Joint Commission officially recognized pain as the “fifth vital sign,” on par with body temperature, blood pressure, pulse, and respiratory rate.

Despite this, some have pointed out that prescription opioids may not be the leading cause of the crisis. According to the New York Post, most opioid-abusers (more than 75% of pill users, most heroin addicts) were never prescribed pain medication for an injury or illness, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, and emergency room records show only 13% of opioid-overdose victims began using opioids because of pain according to the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

Also controversial, has been President Trump’s promise of an aggressive anti-drug (specifically anti-opioid) campaign targeted at youth as a primary strategy against the crisis. The New York Times article “Just Say No to Opioids? Ads Could Actually Make Things Worse” explains how campaigns like these in the past were actually ineffective or even detrimental. The authors cite a study of 200,000 youth aged 9 to 18 that shows that those exposed to more anti-drug campaigns were actually more skeptical about the harmfulness of marijuana and that they should avoid it. The New York Times explains that more subtle add campaigns such as “truth.” which made drugs seem “uncool” were actually more effective than those that made them seem scary. However, the New York Post article “Deadly myths of the opioid epidemic,” provides other statistics that say otherwise. Graphic, aggressive anti-smoking ads from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “cut smoking among youth and convinced 400,000 smokers to quit for good.”

Whether or not you think prescription drugs are the primary cause of the opioid crisis, or whether anti-drug ad campaigns should be graphic or social (or should not exist at all), it is apparent that it will require more than $57,000 in allocated funding to defeat the opioid crisis. Now is the moment for all branches of the government to show with their actions, not just rhetoric, how serious they believe the opioid crisis to be.


The 2017 wildfire crisis

Image: Damage in Coffey Park, Santa Rosa after wildfire (NBC News,

Since October 8, firefighters in California have responded to 250 new wildfires. In 2017, 7980 fires have burned 1,046,995 acres of land in California, according to CAL FIRE. One wildfire, the Tubbs Fire, has broken the record for most destructive wildfire in the history of California, burning 36,793 acres, destroying 5300 structures, and killing 22 civilians as also reported by CAL FIRE. In total, the wildfires have killed 42 civilians, according to CNBC. These wildfires pose serious questions about the nature of climate change and how we should treat our environment, as well as questions about how the government should respond to natural disasters.

In an article by Scientific American entitled “Scientists See Climate Change in California’s Wildfires,” UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain explains how climate change exacerbated the California wildfire crisis. The summer of 2017 was the warmest in more than 100 years, which dried out vegetation which in turn acted as fuel for the fires. This drying out of vegetation is also related to California’s recent historic drought, also linked to climate change. Additionally, strong winds blew the fires farther and into urban areas.

In the same article, climate scientist LeRoy Westerling says that climate models predict California to have continuing cycles of drought and rainfall due to climate change, a deadly combination when it comes to wildfires.

On October 19, a bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation to combat wildfires in California and elsewhere, according to The Hill. Among other things, the bill would include a program for the U.S. Forest Service and Interior Department agencies to treat the most potentially dangerous areas for wildfires by removing dried vegetation, which might drastically decrease wildfire destruction for reasons previously explained. It would also provide $100 million to prepare against wildfires for communities most threatened by potential wildfires. This would be in addition to $576.5 million in disaster relief funds for wildfire recovery recently approved by The House.

The wildfire crisis is not just a Californian phenomenon. So far this year, The Hill has reported that over 50,000 wildfires have burned over 8.8 million acres in the United States, a massive increase over the average number of acres burned per year over the last 10 years, which is only 6 million. As well as wildfires, hurricanes and other natural disasters have also been occurring at an alarming rate in the United States. We must work as a country with our government to respond to these situations and aim to prevent them in the future by addressing their root causes, including climate change.

You can donate here to help two of the counties most affected by the California wildfire crisis:

For information on how to contact Minnesota senators to discuss wildfire prevention and relief, click here: