Wednesday, October 29. 2014
Music: Current count 23933  rated (+40), 543  unrated (+17).
Back from three weeks on the road. I did manage to file a few blog posts
with link comments, but there wasn't much I could do with Music Week, or
indeed much to do until I got back. The incoming mail jumped up a level
while I was gone. I didn't take any new CDs with me. I did take a Chromebook
and listen to Rhapsody and jotted down a few record reviews, but I didn't
have a lot of time for that. (I got flak for playing Wadada Leo Smith, so
wound up switching to Oscar Peterson, but I wasn't able to sort out the
songbooks until I got home.)
I also fell out of the habit of writing tweet-length review lines, and
it doesn't seem like it would either be fun or all that useful to try to
catch up at this point. I'm due to post a Rhapsody Streamnotes before the
end of October, so you'll get the reviews soon enough. I only have about
50 notes in the draft file, so it will likely be the shortest one all year,
but those are the breaks.
I'll resume the grade-tweets after this post. One thing on my "todo"
list is to update the
Music Tracking 2014 file. One thing
not on my "todo" list is to organize another Turkey Shoot on Thanksgiving.
I wouldn't mind running it if someone else stepped forward (or you could,
as Christgau suggested to me, self-publish it on Medium). I am leaning
toward doing a metacritic file based on year-end lists (as opposed to
previous years when I folded year-long review data in). And I expect
there will be a Jazz Critics Poll, but don't have any details yet.
New records rated over the previous three weeks:
- Jhené Aiko: Souled Out (2014, Def Jam): [r]: B+(*)
- Kenny Barron/Dave Holland: The Art of Conversation (2014, Blue Note): [r]: B+(***)
- David Binney: Anacapa (2014, Criss Cross): [r]: B+(*)
- Samuel Blaser/Paul Motian: Consort in Motion (2010 , Kind of Blue): [r]: B+(***)
- Buck 65: Neverlove (2014, WEA Canada): [r]: B+(**)
- Lajos Dudas Trio: Live at Porgy & Bess (2009 , Jazz Sick): [cd]: B+(***)
- Lajos Dudas Quartet: Live at Salzburger Jazzherbst (2012 , Jazz Sick): [cd]: A-
- El-P/Killer Mike: Run the Jewels (2013, Fat Beats): [r]: B+(***)
- El-P/Killer Mike: Run the Jewels 2 (2014, Mass Appeal): [r]: B+(**)
- Bill Frisell: Guitar in the Space Age (2014, Okeh): [r]: B+(***)
- David Hazeltine: For All We Know (2014, Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(***)
- Branford Marsalis: In My Solitude: Live at Grace Cathedral (2012 , Okeh): [r]: B+(**)
- Angaleena Presley: American Middle Class (2014, Slate Creek): [r]: A-
- Joshua Redman: Trios Live (2009-13 , Nonesuch): [r]: B+(**)
- Rafael Rosa: Portrait (2014, self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
- Spoke: (R)anthems (2013 , River): [cd]: B+(*)
- Wadada Leo Smith/Bill Laswell: The Stone (Akashic Meditation) (2014, MOD Technologies): [r]: B+(*)
- Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives: Saturday Night/Sunday Morning (2014, Superlatone, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)
- Dann Zinn: Shangri La (2014, self-released): [cd]: B
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
- Jerry Heldman: Revelation(s) (1973-74 , Origin, 2CD): [cd]: B
- Oscar Peterson: Plays the Harry Warren & Vincent Youmans Song Books (1952-59 , Solar, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
- Oscar Peterson: Plays the Richard Rodgers Song Book (1954-59 , Solar): [r]: B+(**)
- Oscar Peterson: Plays the Irving Berlin Song Book (1952-59 , Solar): [r]: B+(***)
- Oscar Peterson: Plays the Jimmy McHugh Song Book (1954-59 , Solar): [r]: B+(**)
- Lester Young: Boston, 1950 (1950 , Uptown): [r]: B+(*)
Old records rated this week:
- Oscar Peterson: The Oscar Peterson Trio at Zardi's (1954 , Pablo/OJC, 2CD): [r]: A-
- Oscar Peterson: Plays My Fair Lady (1958, Verve): [r]: B+(**)
- Oscar Peterson: Plays the Harold Arlen Song Book (1954-59 , Verve): [r]: B+(**)
- Oscar Peterson: Plays the Cole Porter Song Book (1959 , Verve): [r]: B+(***)
- Oscar Peterson: Plays the George Gershwin Song Book (1952-59 , Verve): [r]: B+(***)
- Oscar Peterson: Plays the Duke Ellington Song Book (1952-59 , Verve): [r]: B+(***)
- Oscar Peterson: A Jazz Portrait of Frank Sinatra (1959 , Verve): [r]: B+(***)
- Oscar Peterson: Fiorello (1960, Verve): [r]: B+(*)
- Oscar Peterson Trio: West Side Story (1962, Verve): [r]: B
- Oscar Peterson: The Jazz Soul of Oscar Peterson/Affinity (1959-62 , Verve): [r]: B+(**)
- Richmond Fontaine: Winnemucca (2002, El Cortez): [r]: B+(***)
- Oscar Peterson: Plays the Jerome Kern Songbook (1959 , Verve):
[was: B+(**)] B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last three weeks:
- Greg Abate Quartet: Motif (Whaling City Sound)
- Allison Au Quartet: The Sky Was Pale Blue, Then Grey (self-released)
- David Borbo & Paul Pellegrin: Kronomorfic Entangled (Origin)
- Nels Cline & Julian Lage: Room (Mack Avenue): advance, November 25
- Freddy Cole: Singing the Blues (High Note)
- Kevin Conlon/The Groove Rebellion: In Transit (Blujazz)
- Michael Denhoff/Uli Phillipp/Jörg Fischer: Trio Improvisations for Campanula, Bass and Percussion (Sporeprint)
- Expansions: The Dave Liebman Group: Samsara (Whaling City Sound)
- Jean Luc Fillon: Oboman Plays Cole Porter: Begin the Night . . . (Soupir Editions)
- Brad Goode Quartet: Montezuma (Origin)
- Jonathan Kreisberg: Wave Upon Wave (New for Now Music)
- Thomas Marriott: Urban Folklore (Origin)
- Delfeayo Marsalis: The Last Southern Gentlemen (Troubadour Jass)
- Sam Newsome: The Straight Horn of Africa: A Path to Liberation [The Art of the Soprano, Vol. 2] (self-released)
- Clarence Penn & Penn Station: Monk: The Lost Files (Origin)
- Rex Richardson & Steve Wilson: Blue Shift (Summit)
- Boris Savoldelli/Garrison Fewell: Electric Bat Conspiracy (Creative Nation Music)
- Ryan Schultz Quintet: Hair Dryers (Origin)
- Pat Senatore Trio: Ascensione (Fresh Sound)
- Judy Silvano with Michael Abene: My Dance (JSL): January 6
- Tyshawn Sorey: Alloy (Pi)
- The Spin Quartet: In Circles (Origin)
- Lyn Stanley: Potions (A.T. Music)
- Brian Swartz & the Gnu Sextet: Portraiture (Summit)
- Natsuki Tamura/Alexander Frangenheim: Max (Creative Sources)
- Touch and Go Sextet: Live at the Novara Jazz Festival (Nine Winds)
- Marlene VerPlanck: I Give Up, I'm in Love (Audiophile)
- Walter White: Most Triumphant (Summit)
- Jason Yeager Trio: Affirmation (Inner Circle Music)
- Peter Zak Trio: The Disciple (Steeplechase)
- Miguel Zenón: Identities Are Changeable (Miel Music): November 4
Sunday, October 26. 2014
Having jotted down one or two of these on the road, I figured on doing
a Sunday links column, followed by a Monday music column, just like normal
times. Didn't work out that way, but thanks to the magic of back-dating
my tardiness will eventually be forgotten.
Alex Henderson: Rise of the American police state: 9 disgraceful events
that paved the way: Let's just list 'em:
- Ronald Reagan Escalates the War on Drugs
- Rodney King Beating of 1991
- 9/11 Terrorist Attacks
- Waterboarding and Torture at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base
- Growth and Expansion of Asset Forfeiture Laws
- National Defense Authorization Act and Erosion of Habeas Corpus
- Department of Homeland Security Promoting Militarization of Local Police Departments
- Growth of the Prison/Industrial Complex
- NYPD Assault on Occupy Wall Street
Note that nothing facilitates the creation of a police state like war --
even pretend-wars like the one on drugs, but see how the pace picks up with
Paul Krugman: The Invisible Moderate: A more accurate assessment of
Obama than the one Krugman put forth in his Rolling Stone puff
I actually agree with a lot of what David Brooks says today. But -- you
know there has to be a "but" -- so does a guy named Barack Obama. Which
brings me to one of the enduringly weird aspects of our current pundit
discourse: constant calls for a moderate, sensible path that supposedly
lies between the extremes of the two parties, but is in fact exactly
what Obama has been proposing. [ . . . ]
Well, the Obama administration would love to spend more on infrastructure;
the problem is that a major spending bill has no chance of passing the House.
And that's not a problem of "both parties" -- it's the GOP blocking it.
Exactly how many Republicans would be willing to engage in deficit spending
to expand bus networks? (Remember, these are the people who consider making
rental bicycles available an example of "totalitarian" rule.)
[ . . . ]
It's an amazing thing: Obama is essentially what we used to call a
liberal Republican, who faces implacable opposition from a very hard
right. But Obama's moderation is hidden in plain sight, apparently
invisible to the commentariat.
Actually, when I think of Obama as a "liberal Republican" I flash
back to an earlier Illinois senator, Charles Percy, who was better on
foreign policy and no worse on economics or civil rights than Obama.
But Obama doesn't have the luxury of being a liberal Republican, or
for that matter a centrist Democrat. Today's Republicans allow no such
luxury, nor do today's problems. As far back as 1998, Jim Hightower
warned: "there's nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes
and dead armadillos." Today there's just more roadkill.
By the way, Krugman's too kind to Brooks, whom he quotes as saying,
"the government should reduce its generosity to people who are not
working but increase its support for people who are. That means reducing
health benefits for the affluent elderly . . ." You may wonder why the
party of the rich proposes adding means tests to Medicare. It's because
they don't want anyone to think they have a right to medical care.
Seth McElwee: Why Turning Out the Vote Makes a Huge Difference in Four
Charts: The charts show that non-voters are consistently more liberal
than voters, which reinforces the by-now-conventional view that Democrats
win when then can get the vote out, while the key for Republican gains is
voter suppression. This doesn't go into the question of why non-voters
don't vote, even though voting is one of the few ways they have to advance
their own interests. Clearly one reason is that the economic costs of
voting (which include things like the time it takes to vote) are high
enough to suppress turnout. Another likely reason is widespread cynicism
about politicians -- especially about Democrats, who appeal for public
support on election day but more often than not spend the rest of their
time triangulating between interest group lobbies, raising money that
they often see as more valuable in securing reëlection than any work
they do to benefit their constituents.
When voter turnout is discussed in public it is often treated as a civic
obligation, rather than a means to advance individual interests. Republican
candidates often denounce low-income voters for voting for the party that
best advances their class interests (while at the same time supporting
massive tax cuts for their rich constituents). Yet when Benjamin Page
interview the rich he finds that they, "acknowledged a focus on fairly
narrow economic self-interest" when discussing their engagement in the
political process. In this way, the recent Lil' Jon video, "Turnout For
What," while tacky, has reframed the voting as a means to forward political
interests, rather than as a civic obligation. Since some 41 percent of
non-voters claim that their vote wouldn't matter, this message is important.
It's also important to remove barriers to voting. Research by Jame Avery
and Mark Peffley finds, "states with restrictive voter registration laws
are much more likely to be biased toward upper-class turnout." In contrast,
states that have adopted same-day registration and vigorously enforced the
National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) have lower levels of class bias in
their electorate. Research also suggests that unions are an important
mechanism for low and middle income voters to engage with the political
process. Attempts to disempower than should also be viewed through the
lens of voter suppression.
Indeed, Republican opposition to unions seems to have more to do with
reducing their political effectiveness than as a favor to the rich. Since
their blip in 2010, when Obama voters took a nap, Republicans have seized
the opportunity to do as much as they could to suppress voting (as well
as to distort it through the infusion of extraordinary sums of money).
I expect this to produce some kind of backlash -- the message for those
who bother to pay attention is that your vote must be worth something,
otherwise why would they be so eager to take it away? -- but thus far
the clearest message is how shameless Republicans have become about
their desire to exclude a really large segment of the American people.
For more on voter suppression efforts, see
Jeffrey Toobin: Freedom Summer, 2015 (and from 2012,
Jane Mayer: The Voter-Fraud Myth).
Paul Woodward: Terrorism exists in the eye of the beholder: I was
in Arkansas Tuesday [October 22], when a soldier on duty at a "war
memorial" in Ottawa [Canada] was shot by a lone gunman, presumably
the person shot and killed later that day in Canada's Parliament
building. The TV was tuned into CNN, where they spent the entire day
blabbing on and on based on scant information and fervid imagination.
The shooter was later identified as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.
In 2012 there were seven murders in Ottawa (population close to a million),
2013 nine murders, and so far in 2014 there have been five (including
The overwhelming majority of the crazy men running round shooting
innocent people are on this side of the border. What makes them dangerous
is much less the ideas in their heads than the ease with which they can
lay their hands on a gun.
It's often hard to be clear about what should be described as
terrorism. What's much easier to discern is hysteria.
By the way, Zehaf-Bibeau's gun was evidently a
Winchester Model 94 lever-action rifle, a design that dates back to
1894 and is limited to eight rounds, which have to be individually loaded --
a very inefficient choice for a "shooting rampage."
Then on Friday [October 24], a high school student in suburban Seattle
went on his own
shooting rampage, killing two and injuring three more before shooting
himself. I missed CNN's wall-to-wall coverage (assuming that's what they
did), but it's safe to guess that the talking heads spent much less time
speculating on the shooter's ties to ISIS. For one thing, shooting each
other is just something Americans do.
- I don't have time to dig through Israel's recent garbage, but if you
do here are some typical links from Mondoweiss:
Also, a few links for further study:
Tom Engelhardt: Entering the Intelligence Labyrinth: An introduction,
or precis, of Engelhardt's new book, Shadow Government: Surveillance,
Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World
(paperback, Haymarket Books). It bears repeating that the US annually
spends $68 billion on 17 major "intelligence" agencies -- sorry for the
quotes but it's hard to think of them without choking on that word --
that do, well, what exactly? Sorry, that's a secret, but thanks to the
occasional leak or boast we do know a wee bit:
You build them glorious headquarters. You create a global surveillance
state for the ages. You listen in on your citizenry and gather their
communications in staggering quantities. Your employees even morph into
avatars and enter video-game landscapes, lest any Americans betray a
penchant for evil deeds while in entertainment mode. You collect
information on visits to porn sites just in case, one day, blackmail
might be useful. You pass around naked photos of them just for . . .
well, the salacious hell of it. Your employees even use aspects of the
system you've created to stalk former lovers and, within your arcane
world, that act of "spycraft" gains its own name: LOVEINT.
You listen in on foreign leaders and politicians across the planet.
You bring on board hundreds of thousands of crony corporate employees,
creating the sinews of an intelligence-corporate complex of the first
order. You break into the "backdoors" of the data centers of major
Internet outfits to collect user accounts. You create new outfits
within outfits, including an ever-expanding secret military and
intelligence crew embedded inside the military itself (and not counted
among those 17 agencies). Your leaders lie to Congress and the American
people without, as far as we can tell, a flicker of self-doubt. Your
acts are subject to secret courts, which only hear your versions of
events and regularly rubberstamp them -- and whose judgments and
substantial body of lawmaking are far too secret for Americans to
You have put extraordinary effort into ensuring that information
about your world and the millions of documents you produce doesn't
make it into our world. You even have the legal ability to gag
American organizations and citizens who might speak out on subjects
that would displease you (and they can't say that their mouths have
been shut). You undoubtedly spy on Congress. You hack into congressional
computer systems. And if whistleblowers inside your world try to tell
the American public anything unauthorized about what you're doing, you
prosecute them under the Espionage Act, as if they were spies for a
foreign power (which, in a sense, they are, since you treat the American
people as if they were a foreign population). You do everything to wreck
their lives and -- should one escape your grasp -- you hunt him implacably
to the ends of the Earth.
As for your top officials, when their moment is past, the revolving
door is theirs to spin through into a lucrative mirror life in the
intelligence-corporate complex. [ . . . ]
Keep in mind that the twenty-first-century version of intelligence
began amid a catastrophic failure: much crucial information about the
9/11 hijackers and hijackings was ignored or simply lost in the labyrinth.
That failure, of course, led to one of the great intelligence expansions,
or even explosions, in history. (And mind you, no figure in authority in
the national security world was axed, demoted, or penalized in any way
for 9/11 and a number of them were later given awards and promoted.)
However they may fail, when it comes to their budgets, their power,
their reach, their secrecy, their careers, and their staying power,
they have succeeded impressively.
Speaking of secrets, also see:
Nick Turse: Uncovering the Military's Secret Military (back from
2011, more relevant than ever):
In 120 countries across the globe, troops from Special Operations Command
carry out their secret war of high-profile assassinations, low-level
targeted killings, capture/kidnap operations, kick-down-the-door night
raids, joint operations with foreign forces, and training missions with
indigenous partners as part of a shadowy conflict unknown to most Americans.
Once "special" for being small, lean, outsider outfits, today they are
special for their power, access, influence, and aura.
That aura now benefits from a well-honed public relations campaign
which helps them project a superhuman image at home and abroad, even
while many of their actual activities remain in the ever-widening shadows.
Typical of the vision they are pushing was this statement from Admiral
Olson: "I am convinced that the forces . . . are the most culturally
attuned partners, the most lethal hunter-killers, and most responsive,
agile, innovative, and efficiently effective advisors, trainers,
problem-solvers, and warriors that any nation has to offer."
I suspect that the main target of that propaganda campaign is the
president, to drive home the point that "special forces" are a no-risk,
high-return, small scale option for any problem that can be solved
simply (with a bullet, that is).
Rory Fanning: Why Do We Keep Thanking the Troops?: I can't be the
only person who finds the constant adulation given to the "troops" of
the US military downright disgusting, but it sure is hard to find anyone
saying so in print. America has always cultivated hypocrisy, and those
in my generation suffered through more than usual dose. We noted the
beginnings of a cult of the troops in the Vietnam War, where failure
on the battlefield was ever-more-generously decorated with medals, but
memory was too close to WWII to get carried away: WWII was an intense,
all-encompassing collective effort; with so few uninvolved it would have
seemed silly to declare everyone a hero (although as memory dimmed that
eventually happened with the "greatest generation" hype). The obvious
excuse for putting troops on a pedestal today is that so few people
sign up (and many of them are tricked into thinking it's some sort of
jobs program). Still, this idolatry obscures one of the fundamental
political questions of our time: do the sacrifices of US troops do any
good for the vast majority of Americans who are otherwise uninvolved?
The answer, I'm certain, is no. If all the US had done after 9/11/2001
was to put out a few Interpol warrants, I doubt that even the tiny
number of "terrorist attacks" we've seen since would have happened.
Had we practiced policies in the Middle East favoring democracy and
basic human rights for all but eschewing intervention and arms sales
we probably would have missed out on 9/11 (and both Gulf Wars). Sure,
the troops had no real say in the decision to squander their lives in
a vain attempt to buttress the Neocon ego, but I'm not so sure they
shouldn't shoulder some of the blame. Back in the Vietnam War days
there was a popular saying: "suppose they gave a war and nobody came."
We were under no illusion that most of those who "came" for the war
then were compelled to do so. I can understand, and even sympathize,
how one might succumb to the force of the state -- I did, after all,
feel that force -- but for me that made those who resisted, either
by going to jail or avoiding that fate, were the era's real heroes;
nothing one could do in battle came close. Since the draft ended,
the choice to deny the war machine its bodies is less fraught, and
indeed most people choose that path. So today's troops range from
malevolent to the merely misinformed, but they all help to enable
a set of policies that ultimately do massive harm to the nation and
its people. And often, of course, they do great harm to themselves,
adding to the public costs of war. (Aside from the dead and maimed,
Fanning mentions that "there is a veteran suicide every 80 minutes
in this country," nor does the PTSD stop there.) Of course, there
are more nuances to the whole phenomenon, but at root is a common
misconception that those who "served" did something to protect the
rest of us, something that we all should be grateful for. That simply
did not happen. That they sacrificed for something we should regret
and be embarrassed by, well, that's more to the point. Only once we
recognize that can we get past the charades, and that will be better
for all of us.
David Bromwich: American Exceptionalism and Its Discontents:
Speaking of hypocrisies, here's the hoary mother lode, the notion
that we're so special the world wouldn't know what to do without
our enlightened guidance. Needless to say, the tone has changed
over time. Once America was unique in declaring that "all men are
created equal"; today our self-esteem is the very celebration of
David Gerald Finchman: The hidden documents that reveal the true borders
of Israel and Palestine: In 1947 David Ben Gurion begged the UN to
vote in favor of partition borders for Palestine which would give 55% of
the mandate to a majority-Jewish nation that represented only 35% of the
total population, and 45% to an almost exclusively Arabic-speaking nation.
In 1948 Israel's Declaration of Independence proclaimed a Jewish State
but said nothing about borders. This unwillingness to define borders has
kept Israel in a state of war ever since, with Israel grabbing another
23% of the Mandate's territory during the 1947-49 war, and the remaining
22% in 1967 (plus chunks of Egypt and Syria). This piece looks into the
decision-making process from UN-borders to no-borders. A longer version
Karen Greenberg: Will the US Go to "War" Against Ebola? It's telling
that Obama's initial response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was to
send in the US military. That made some sense inasmuch as AFRICOM has
money to burn and some expertise in logistics, but it also imposes a
rigid worldview and introduces a dangerous level of intimidation. The
one thing Ebola does have in common with Terrorism is an exaggerated
level of hysteria, but that seems of a piece with the media's highly
orchestrated kneejerk reactions. I'm reminded of the anthrax scare of
2001, which would have soon gone freaking insane had the perpetrator
not had the good sense to stop. Greenberg points out many ways Ebola
differs from the Terrorism model.
Louis Menand: Crooner in Rights Spat: A useful review of copyright
Baldwin joins Saint-Amour, the law professors Lawrence Lessig, Jeanne
Fromer, and Robert Spoo, and the copyright lawyer William Patry in
believing that, Internet or no Internet, the present level of copyright
protection is excessive. By the time most works fall into the public
domain, they have lost virtually all their use value. If the public
domain is filled with items like hundred-year-old images of the back
of Rod Stewart's head, the public good will suffer. The commons will
become your great-grandparents' attic.
As it is, few creations outlive their creators. Of the 187,280 books
published between 1927 and 1946, only 2.3 per cent were still in print
in 2002. But, since there is no "use it or lose it" provision in
copyright law, they are all still under copyright today. Patry, in
his recent book, "How to Fix Copyright," notes that ninety-five per
cent of Motown recordings are no longer available. Nevertheless, you
can't cover or imitate or even sample them without paying a licensing
fee -- despite the fact that your work is not competing in the
marketplace with the original, since the original is no longer for sale.
Katha Pollitt: How Pro-Choicers Can Take Back the Moral High Ground:
An excerpt from Pollitt's new book, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights.
A man's home is his castle, but a woman's body has never been wholly her
own. Historically, it's belonged to her nation, her community, her father,
her family, her husband -- in 1973, when Roe was decided, marital rape was
legal in every state. Why shouldn't her body belong to a fertilized egg as
well? And if that egg has a right to live and grow in her body, why shouldn't
she be held legally responsible for its fate and be forced to have a cesarean
if her doctor thinks it's best, or be charged with a crime if she uses
illegal drugs and delivers a stillborn or sick baby? Incidents like these
have been happening all over the country for some time now. Denying women
the right to end a pregnancy is the flip side of punishing women for their
conduct during pregnancy -- and even if not punishing, monitoring. In the
spring of 2014, a law was proposed in the Kansas Legislature that would
require doctors to report every miscarriage, no matter how early in the
pregnancy. You would almost think the people who have always opposed women's
independence and full participation in society were still at it. They can't
push women all the way back, but they can use women's bodies to keep them
under surveillance and control.
Peter Van Buren: Seven Bad Endings to the New War in the Middle East:
I know what you're saying: "only seven?" Van Buren doesn't get to the
political effects of continuing the War on Terrorism -- of continuing to
fund the surveillance state, of the increasing militarization of police
departments, of the circumvention of the justice system, of how public
funds are being drained as remote and preventable problems are prioritized
over real and immediate ones by a political establishment deeply in hock
to the security phantom.
Saturday, October 25. 2014
When I was sixteen I probably knew every lyric to every Beatles song
extant, so it wasn't hard to recall at least the refrain of the jaunty
little title tune on my 64th birthday. "Will you still need me? Will you
still feed me?" Back then I wouldn't have had a clue who "you" might be,
but I never worried about food: my mother's theme song should have been
Cab Calloway's "Everybody Eats When They Come to My House" -- a house I
also didn't have a clue how to escape. I celebrated my 16th birthday a
couple months late by dropping out of high school. I stayed home a couple
days after Christmas when a cousin was visiting. I went back the next day
and was so sickened I never returned.
For the next five years I basically hid out in my attic room. I skewed
my hours to minimize contact with my parents and siblings, going to sleep
minutes before my father got up for work, waking mid-afternoon just in
time to watch Dark Shadows and Star Trek reruns. I had a
tiny black-and-white TV that ran out of stations shortly after midnight,
a tinny stereo with not much more than a dozen LPs, a typewriter, and a
growing collection of books and periodicals -- what I spent nearly all
of my $10/week allowance on. Evenings I could take the family car out,
mostly downtown to bookstores and the library. I was only at ease when
surrounded by books, and while my own life was locked down reading made
me aware of other worlds and other possibilities.
As I was traveling last week, it occurred to me that there are two
types of people in America today: those who can mentally put themselves
in other people's predicaments and empathize, and those who can't (or
just don't). What triggered this thought was a depression-era story
about Uncle Ted: he had heard vigilante threats against a destitute
family that had been stealing, so he picked them up and drove them to
another county where they had kinfolk; he explained later to his family
that he could imagine being so hungry that he might resort to stealing
too. Whenever I heard this story, I first think of my harsh experience
with thieves, but having known Ted and something of his life and history
I wind up recognizing that this story is more complex and nuanced than
my own narrow experience knows.
Of course, the point was reinforced many times as I watched political
commercials last week. The "two types" don't precisely split along party
lines. Indeed, Democrats can appeal to a majority along self-interest
lines -- and do so effectively when they point out how Republicans like
Tom Cotton (their Senate hopeful in Arkansas) are out to undermine and
even dismantle Social Security and Medicare -- but the Republican appeals
almost invariably depend on drawing lines between the voters they court
and everyone else (all those people outside their identity group, most
obsessively president Obama).
Of course, I didn't get to the ability to empathize with others very
early. As a child I was exceptionally selfish and greedy, and as an
adolescent I withdrew from my social network even before I physically
isolated myself. Therefore, much of my early reading focused on my own
experiences: education, psychology, religion. One most influential book
on the former was Charles Weingartner/Neil Postman's Teaching as a
Subversive Activity. Their main argument was that the most valuable
thing schooling could do was to encourage students to develop their own
finely tuned "bullshit detectors." Needless to say, school as I had known
it was strongly focused on rote learning -- including the stock moralism
of the day. But there was no shortage of bullshit in the late 1960s, so
detection soon became easy. I was soon reexamining every assumption I
had been brought up to believe. I had an earlier interest in mainstream
politics, so my move to the New Left had conventional framing (except
that my ancestral reference system was rooted deeper in Populism and
Republican Progressivism than in New Deal/Great Society Liberalism).
As I thought more critically, I came to realize that what gets called
madness is often just social nonconformity -- something I had developed
a literary and artistic taste for. As for my personal dysfunction, I was
much taken with Gregory Bateson's "double-bind theory of schizophrenia":
I could see how impossible it was to satisfy all the contradictory moral
authorities of my youth. That insight turned my personality problem into
a matter of logic, something that reason, and therefore I, could sort out.
Not that it was so simple. I had to force myself to socialize. In 1970
I got a GED and enrolled in Wichita State University. A year later I had
59 units of straight-A credit and a scholarship to transfer to Washington
University (St. Louis). Two years later I got my first job, was finally
able to support myself, and had had a couple of sexual relationships. A
couple years later I moved to New York and soon moved in with my first
wife. After she died several years later, I found another relationship,
and we've been together for more than twenty-five years now.
And now I'm sixty-four -- a milestone monumental enough to inspire a
pop song forty-eight years ago, but today it mostly means that I have
one more year to suffer through Obamacare (and, sure, be thankful for
that) before Medicare kicks in, eliminating one of the great worries of
my de facto retirement. Fifteen years ago I used to joke on my "career
assessment forms" that my "career goal" was retirement -- one of many
times I've crossed some unstated but expected line of conformity --
but I'm more or less there now. My father retired from his factory job
as soon as he could afford to, and thereby got a few good years before
a stroke pinned him down. For him, as for most people fortunate enough
to be able to afford it, retirement was freedom. I've enjoyed that same
freedom since SCO let me go in 2000. But while my work ethic hasn't
much flagged, I've become increasingly uncomfortable with my lack of
accomplishment (what in engineering we call "deliverables").
My recent travels gave me some time to think about this. I spent,
for instance, some time with the same cousin I played hooky to see
when I was sixteen. We reminisced, but also she poked some holes in
my inequality book outline, making me realize how difficult it's going
to be to craft arguments that are almost too obvious to me. I believe
that inequality is the core political issue of our time, but not so
much to balance everyone's supply of stuff as because it profoundly
corrupts our sense of justice, and losing the sense that the political
order is ultimately just unravels the whole social fabric. Indeed, it
may be that stuff is the wrong way to account for inequality. My working
title, Share the Wealth (from Huey Long), could just as well be
Share the Freedom -- assuming, as I've concluded, that it takes
a certain level of wealth to be free, although it's not clear that more
wealth makes one more free (although it has been shown that excess wealth
doesn't make one happier).
Better developed is an outline for an essay on Israel, something I
talked to several people about. The first two sections would explore the
only issues of importance to understanding why Israel's leaders have
acted for the better part of a century. The first concerns colonial
settler demography: the only places where settlers have retained power
are places where the population mix tilted decisely in favor of the
settlers (the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Argentina) while
everywhere settlers remained in the minority power has reverted to the
majority (most relevantly in South Africa and Algeria). Israel is in
between -- secure enough within its 1967 borders but far less so with
the Occupied Territories.
The second issue -- perhaps the first chronologically in that it
concerns the initial founding of the Zionist movement, but I think
it makes more sense to treat it second -- is the dependent dialectic
between Zionism and anti-semitism, how it has played out over history,
and how it has been twisted around in Israeli self-consciousness. As
anti-semitism has waned in the West this link can be questioned, but
it is deeply held within Israel, and that has many ramifications that
have to be understood. (Israel's obsession with security, for instance,
has as much to do with imagined enemies as with real ones.)
The third part would review all significant "peace" proposals since
the Peel Commission (or maybe the Balfour Declaration) and pick apart
why they have failed -- almost invariably because Israelis have been
unable (or unwilling) to reconcile their colonial project with emerging
standards of international law on human rights, and lately because
Israelis have been able to exploit the archaic rightward turn in US
foreign policy. In the past I've written up my pet ideas about how
the conflict could be resolved, and some of those ideas may return in
an epilogue but my experience is that few people care for my ideas as
long as they can hope for something more advantageous.
The other book-like project that came up here and there is the idea
of writing a memoir: basically a huge expansion of this post, although
I also see it as an occasion to write a personalized history of the era
from October 1950 -- a point just before the Chinese entered and turned
the tide in the Korean War -- to the present: a long history of imperial
decline, with most of the rot on the moral side. (It isn't exactly irony
that the US empire expanded as long as we were plausibly anti-imperialist,
then declined once we started believing in our destiny. It's just hubris.)
A memoir would also let me look back at where my family came from, how
they represented America, and what has happened to more than just me. I
could work in some of the stories we batted around on the Arkansas leg of
my trip. One of the political ads I saw last week lamented that Arkansas
was 48th of 50 states in job creation, but I know good and well that's an
old story: seven of my mother's cohort of eight siblings left Arkansas in
the 1930s looking for work elsewhere. (Three came to Kansas.) Their stories
are interesting, and while I'll never know enough to do them justice, I'd
like to know more, and use that as some sort of context. As odd as I grew
up, I came from remarkably average roots, and maybe there's some hope
Sunday, October 12. 2014
Some scattered links this week:
Thomas B Edsall: The State-by-State Revival of the Right: Points out that Republicans have "complete control" (governors and state legislatures) in 23 states, "more than at any time since Dwight D. Eisenhower won the presidency in 1952." Also that "they are exercising their power to gain partisan advantage far more aggressively than their Democratic counterparts."
The most visible effort is the drive to gut public sector unions, a key source of votes and financial support for Democrats. Wisconsin, under Republican Governor Scott Walker, has led the charge on this front. With support from the Koch brothers, the state has severely restricted collective bargaining rights for public employees, ended mandatory union dues and limited wage hikes to the rate of inflation.
Both supporters and opponents of Walker's initiative realized that this was a key battleground -- pathbreaking, in fact -- hence the rallies, the recall and so on.
Many Republican-controlled states have weakened or eliminated laws and regulations protecting the environment. In North Carolina the state legislature cut the budgets of regulators and prohibited local governments from enacting strict pro-environmental rules. The state chapter of the League of Conservation Voters has rated members of the legislature every year since 1999. Between 1999 and 2012, the group issued North Carolina a total of 48 scores of zero. In 2013 alone, 82 North Carolina Republicans got zeros. [ . . . ]
Democrats today convey only minimal awareness of what they are up against: an adversary that views politics as a struggle to the death. The Republican Party has demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice principle, including its historical commitments to civil rights and conservation; to bend campaign finance law to the breaking point; to abandon the interests of workers on the factory floor; and to undermine progressive tax policy -- in a scorched-earth strategy to postpone the day of demographic reckoning.
One key point here is that this does not represent a turn in public opinion toward the right. The Democratic Party collapsed in 2010 because Obama gutted the successful national organization that Howard Dean had built, then muddled all the key issues, many by thinking that bipartisan approaches would be superior to partisan ones -- clearly a mistake the Republicans didn't make.
Paul Krugman: In Defense of Obama: If some pollster came along and asked me the standard question of whether I approve or disapprove of the job Obama has done as president, I'd have to answer "disapprove." I'm not unaware of, or unappreciative of, some positive accomplishments under Obama. And I wouldn't withhold my approval just because I thought Obama could have done more and better than he did. On the other hand, I can't give him credit merely for not being as bad as any Republican -- especially John McCain and Mitt Romney -- one might vote for a "lesser evil," but that is no reason to approve of one. Nor should one go to the lengths of creating strawman arguments like Krugman does here:
There's a different story on the left, where you now find a significant number of critics decrying Obama as, to quote Cornel West, someone who "posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit." They're outraged that Wall Street hasn't been punished, that income inequality remains so high, that "neoliberal" economic policies are still in place. All of this seems to rest on the belief that if only Obama had put his eloquence behind a radical economic agenda, he could somehow have gotten that agenda past all the political barriers that have constrained even his much more modest efforts. It's hard to take such claims seriously.
That's hardly the only critique of Obama from the left, but it shouldn't be dismissed so cavalierly. One reason Obama failed to implement much of the "change" he campaigned on in 2008 was that he stopped talking about the need for such change as soon as he was elected. By backpedaling he not only gave up on success, he let the issues vanish from public discussion -- creating a vacuum that all the Tea Party nonsense quickly filled. Maybe we expected more from Obama than he was ever willing to deliver, but the ease with which he moved from critic of the status quo to defender should have been alarming. What alarmed me more than anything was how readily he dismantled the very successful Democratic Party organization that Howard Dean had built -- giving credence to David Frum's quip that where the Republican Party fears its base, the Democratic Party despises its core constituency. Time and again the people who paid the price for Obama's retreats were the people who voted for him, whose trust he squandered, whose interests he sold out.
I pretty much accept Krugman's arguments for Obama's health care and finance reform programs, and for various other details -- the value of the stimulus, of higher tax rates on the rich, of more aggressive environmental regulation, etc. Where I disagree most strongly is on foreign policy, where Obama has failed to break decisively with neocon orthodoxy on everything from Israel to Russia to Iran to Iraq. That is -- what else can he do? -- the point where Krugman resorts to the argument that Obama isn't as bad as McCain. That strikes me as wishful thinking, inasmuch as Obama has wound up doing exactly what McCain wants.
Rick Perlstein: The Long Con: Written in 2012, hence the introduction on "Mittdacity," but the background info on the long association between Republican propaganda and mail order scams and other cons is as apposite as ever.
Wednesday, October 8. 2014
OK, this is an on-the-road experiment: instead of collecting a week's (or half-week's) links and comments, then posting the final result, I'll try it bit-by-bit (with a delayed posting date):
Peter Beinart: Without a two-state solution, Americans will challenge Zionism itself: Behind their paywall, but the basic argument is that American liberals have tended to support Israel because they like the appeal of Israel as a liberal democracy (like us) -- and the only thing holding up the long-promised "two-state solution" is Palestinian intransigence. However, that is in fact wrong -- pretty much categorically so, as should be clear to anyone who listens to what Netanyahu and his cohort say. If, in the end, all the "Jewish state" has to justify itself with is an ethnocracy empowered by gratuitous violence -- i.e., about the only plausible explanation of Netanyahu's tantrum this summer -- few Americans (neocon militarists and Apocalypse-minded Christians) will be willing to continue supporting Israel. That strikes me as fair, even if a bit removed from the jingoism still dominant in US political discourse.
This dawning of reality would be taken as good news by most critical thinkers, but Beinart remains committed to the Zionist idea that Israel's existence is a good thing for Jews not only in Israel (where they are, in Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar's phrase, "lords of the land") but also in the Diaspora. A more accurate analysis would show that Zionism is intrinsically hostile to the Diaspora, no matter how conveniently Zionists suck up to generous (albeit misguided) foreign donors.
I still believe the best answer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a democratic Jewish state alongside a democratic Palestinian one. I believe that because, in a post-Holocaust world, I want there to be one country that has as its mission statement the protection of Jewish life. And I believe it because among both Palestinians and Israeli Jews, nationalism remains a massively powerful force. To assume each community could subordinate its deep-seeded nationalism to a newfound loyalty to secular state strikes me as utopian. Secular binationalism barely works in Belgium. Between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea it's probably a recipe for civil war.
But this requires arguing that Israel/Palestine is, at least right now, fundamentally different than the United States. It requires defending Zionism as something alien to the American experience, something necessary because in Israel/Palestine, the civic nationalism we revere here is neither possible nor desirable. That's very different than arguing that the United States should support Israel because it's America’s Middle Eastern twin.
But if you take the "twin" aspect away, it's hard to see many Americans caring about Jewish nationalism, especially since the anti-semitism that Israel is supposedly the solution to is hardly evident -- nor is it clear that Israel's "solution" really works.
Paul Krugman: Why Weren't the Alarm Bells Ringing?: Review of Martin Wolf's The Shifts and the Shocks: What We've Learned -- and Have Still to Learn -- from the Financial Crisis, which explains the 2008 financial meltdown and ensuing depression using the now-standard Minsky model: that prolonged economic stability leads to financial laxness, excessive leverage, and collapse. Krugman is skeptical that that's all there is to it.
First, while the depression that overtook the Western world in 2008 clearly came after the collapse of a vast financial bubble, that doesn't mean that the bubble caused the depression. Late in The Shifts and the Shocks Wolf mentions the reemergence of the "secular stagnation" hypothesis, most famously in the speeches and writing of Lawrence Summers (Lord Adair Turner independently made similar points, as did I). But I'm not sure whether readers will grasp the full implications. If the secular stagnationists are right, advanced economies now suffer from persistently inadequate demand, so that depression is their normal state, except when spending is supported by bubbles. If that's true, bubbles aren't the root of the problem; they're actually a good thing while they last, because they prop up demand. Unfortunately, they're not sustainable -- so what we need urgently are policies to support demand on a continuing basis, which is an issue very different from questions of financial regulation.
Wolf actually does address this issue briefly, suggesting that the answer might lie in deficit spending financed by the government's printing press. But this radical suggestion is, as I said, overshadowed by his calls for more financial regulation. It's the morality play aspect again: the idea that we need to don a hairshirt and repent our sins resonates with many people, while the idea that we may need to abandon conventional notions of fiscal and monetary virtue has few takers.
I've always found "secular stagnation" to be an oddly opaque term. The "persistent low demand" at its center is most certainly the effect of increasing inequality, where most people are increasingly denied the option to spend on real goods, while the rich often find their gains wrapped up in the illusion of inflated asset prices. This is, of course, a much deeper and more persistent problem than the stability of the banks. The Bush-Obama (or Paulson-Geithner) solution was to save the banks, figuring that if the front lines of the crisis held people wouldn't suspect that there was anything more rotten at the core of the crisis. But
the fact that the "Obama recovery," like the "Bush recovery" before it, feels so hollow should dispel us of such illusions.
Krugman's note on
2011 and All That is worth quoting at length:
But [Bill] Gross was by no means alone in getting these things wrong. Indeed, 2011 was a sort of banner year for bad macroeconomic analysis by people who had no excuse for their wrong-headedness. And here's the thing: aside from Gross, hardly any of the prominent wrong-headers have paid any price for their errors.
Think about it: 2011 was the year when Bowles and Simpson predicted a fiscal crisis within two years. There was never a hint of crisis, but BS are still given reverent treatment by the Beltway media.
2011 was also the year when Paul Ryan warned Ben Bernanke that he was "debasing" the dollar, arguing that rising commodity prices were the harbinger of runaway inflation; the Bank for International Settlements made a similar argument, albeit with less Ayn Rand. They were completely wrong, but Ryan is still the intellectual leader of the GOP and the BIS is still treated as a fount of wisdom.
The difference is, of course, that Gross had actual investors' money on the line. But you should not take that to imply that the profit motive leads to intellectual clarity; Gross has been forced out at Pimco, but I've seen hardly any press coverage tying that to his having the wrong macro model.
Speaking of getting things wrong, also see
Jeff Madrick: Why the Experts Missed the Recession. Madrick's sources are primarily recently released FOMC debates and "Greenbook" economic forecasts, which show how completely events blindsided the very "experts" who were responsible for setting Fed interest rates, and thereby adjusting the economy.
Monday, October 6. 2014
Music: Current count 23893  rated (+23), 526  unrated (+5).
Actually, the week for me ended on Friday, October 3.
New records rated this week:
- Marcia Ball: The Tatooed Lady and the Alligator Man (2014, Alligator): sings blues, plays boogie-woogie, spins a fine yarn then goes for the filler [r]: B+(*)
- François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Alexey Lapin: The Russian Concerts Volume 2 (2013 , FMR): more if you want more, but start with superv Vol. 1 [cd]: B+(***)
- Jack Clement: For Once and for All (2014, IRS Nashville): the late Nashville producer reclaims a few of his songs, with genteel smiling cowboy aplomb [r]: B+(***)
- Neil Cowley Trio: Touch and Flee (2014, Naim Jazz): Brit piano trio for fans of EST and Jarrett continue to keep semipopular jazz respectable [r]: B+(*)
- Mark Elf: Returns 2014 (2013 , Jen Bay Jazz): guitarist who admires Tal Farlow backed by David Hazletine, Peter Washington, Lewis Nash dream band [cd]: B+(**)
- Alice Gerrard: Follow the Music (2014, Tompkins Square): pioneering harmony woman of bluegrass belatedly strikes out on her own, ancient and ragged [r]: B+(***)
- Prince: Art Official Age (2014, Warner Brothers): wondered if he was done, but give him a major label and he'll lay out some major label funk for you [r]: B+(*)
- Prince/3rdEyeGirl: Plectrum Electrum (2014, Warner Brothers): "all-female power trio" means they know Cream's basslines but don't sing like Jack Bruce [r]: B+(*)
- Matthew Shipp: I've Been to Many Places (2014, Thirsty Ear): yet another solo piano record, louder than ever in case you didn't get the point yet [r]: B+(*)
- Tricky: Adrian Thaws (2014, !K7): discovers own name and recovers old tricks for a wide range of poses, must be some kind of midlife crisis [r]: B+(***)
- Ulf Wakenius: Solo: Momento Magico (2013 , ACT): solo guitar, goes for thick chords to add gravitas to an intrinsically light album [r]: B+(*)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
- Bambara Mystic Soul: The Raw Sound of Burkina Faso 1974-1979 (1974-79 , Analog Africa): obscurities from the heart of the heart of West Africa [r]: B+(**)
- The Evergreen Classic Jazz Band: Early Tunes 1915-1932 (1995 , Delmark): Seattle trad jazz band with banjo and tuba, makes the old songs zing [cd]: A-
- Charlie Haden/Jim Hall: Charlie Haden/Jim Hall (1990 , Impulse): live in Montreal a year late for Haden's big fête, but this is more about the guitarist, drawing him out [r]: A-
- The Rough Guide to Arabic Jazz (, World Music Network, 2CD): rougher than need be, especially with the scene-stealing Cuban ringer the best cut by far [r]: B+(*)
- The Rough Guide to Bollywood Disco (1965-93 , World Music Network, 2CD): dance dance dance with a pre-disco highlight that reminds me of Chubby Checker [r]: B+(***)
- The Rough Guide to the Music of the Sahara [Second Edition] (1980-2013 , World Music Network, 2CD): label annoying as ever, not that they can't program a songlist [r]: B+(***)
- Wild Jimmy Spruill: Scratchin': The Wild Jimmy Spruill Story (1956-63 , GVC, 2CD): various singers sharing Spruill's guitar, a still vital r&b period compiled [cd]: A
Old records rated this week:
- Ruby Braff: Linger Awhile (1953-55 , Vanguard): early sessions led by Buck Clayton and Vic Dickenson, showing the company he keeps and progress [r]: B+(**)
- Matthew Shipp/Guillermo E. Brown: Telephone Popcorn (2005 , Nu Bop): piano-drums duo, half of David Ware's quartet, not quite finished [r]: B+(*)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
- Alessandro Collina/Rodolfo Cervetto/Marc Peillon/Fabrizio Bosso: Michel on Air (ITI)
- Lajos Dudas Trio: Live at Porgy & Bess (Jazz Sick)
- Lajos Dudas Quartet: Live at Salzburger Jazzherbst (Jazz Sick)
- Eric Hofbauer: Prehistoric Jazz Volume 1: The Rite of Spring (Creative Nation Music)
- Eric Hofbauer: Prehistoric Jazz Volume 2: Quintet for the End of Time (Creative Nation Music)
- Will Holshouser/Matt Munister/Marcus Rojas: Introducing Musette Explosion (Aviary): November 1
- Bill Watrous/Pete Christlieb/Carl Saunders: A Beautiful Friendship (Summit)
Friday, October 3. 2014
A quick listing of some open tabs as I'm shutting down the computer:
Dean Baker: Eric Holder: The Reason Robert Rubin Isn't Behind Bars
Rosa Brooks: But This Threatiness Goes to 11 . . .
Patrick Cockburn: Does David Cameron Have Any Idea What Kind of War He's
Tom Engelhardt: Failure Is Success: Subtitle: How American Intelligence
Works in the Twenty-First Century. "Intelligence," of course, is not what
the word implies.
Glenn Greenwald: After Feigning Love for Egyptian Democracy, US Back to
Openly Supporting Tyranny
William Hartung/Stephen Miles: Who Will Profit From the Wars in Iraq
Paul Krugman: How to Get It Wrong. His blog is also full of examples
of people getting it wrong; e.g.,
Bill Gross, and
Kate: 'Only a suicidal country doesn't recognize the Bedouin problem':
Israeli minister seeks ways to lower Bedouin birthrate: and other
stories of life under the Zionist state. For another, earlier report:
J'lem settlers amok: 10-year-old Palestinian is run over, 11-year-old
is nearly abducted.
Richard Silverstein: Shin Bet Murders Palestinians Who Killed Three Israeli
Border Police Special Forces Command Confirms Execution of Hebron
Why be curious about "Capital in the Twenty-First Century"?
Meanwhile, TPM is still specializing on stupid people saying stupid
Ed Board Member: Give US Credit for Voluntarily Ending Slavery.
Tuesday, September 30. 2014
Time to wrap another batch of Streamnotes up: 21 days after the
September 9 column.
I've been running these approximately every three weeks this year,
and the average count has been close to 90. The Old Music section
focuses on Steve Lacy, after starting out with the much smaller
catalogs of Julius Hemphill and Henry Threadgill. The line between
Old Music and "Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries" is vague,
but generally speaking the latter were released in the last couple
years -- I go back as far as 2011 there.
The usual caveats about listening to music on the computer apply.
It's rare that I'll settle on an A- grade in only one play -- Sun
Ra and Roger Miller are two such cases, but they cover ground I'm
familiar with from elsewhere. On the other hand, low-B+ and below
rarely get more than one spin: I'm not especially concerned whether
I get those grades right, since plus or minus a notch makes little
consumer difference. More often I'm sure enough about the grade but
unclear on how to write the review: it's rarely worth my while to
give a record an extra spin just to write a better review, although
I did that routinely back in the days when I got paid for reviews.
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from
Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays,
accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on
September 9. Past reviews and more information are available
here (5406 records).
New Releases (More or Less)
Ryan Adams: Ryan Adams (2014, Blue Note): Instantly
regretted spinning this, knowing that by the time it was over I'd
neither grasp whatever intricacies may exist in the lyrics nor care.
Prolific, something like 14 albums in 14 years -- surprising at this
late date he'd go to the eponymous title, usually an introduction
but sometimes a fresh start, in his case more a collapsing worldview,
just his face (and a lot of hair) on the cover, just guitar around
Jason Adasiewicz's Sun Rooms: From the Region (2013
, Delmark): Vibraphonist, has made a big splash since starting
to work with Chicago avant groups a few years back. Trio with bass
(Ingebrigt Håker Flaten) and drums (Mike Reed), third album together
(starting with the one called Sun Rooms, natch), and goes a
long ways toward establishing the vibraphone a lead instrument.
Afghan Whigs: Do to the Beast (2014, Sub Pop):
Cincinnati group, had seven albums 1988-98, broke up, returning for
this one. I've only heard one of the old albums and don't recall it
at all. This strikes me as heavy, an attribute in rock I have little
desire for, but very accomplished for its type, I guess.
Aphex Twin: Syro (2014, Warp): Richard D. James,
enjoyed a measure of fame in the mid-1990s for his "ambient works" --
can't say as I was impressed, nor do I recall following any of the
aliases he's used since the last Aphex Twin album in 2001. This,
however, is fun throughout, a trippy mix of bass lines and beats,
with a little ambient coda at the end.
Avi Buffalo: At Best Cuckold (2014, Sub Pop): Southern
California group led by Avi Zahner-Isenberg, has a falsetto lead and
occasionally pines for the "In My Room" side of the Beach Boys.
Iggy Azalea: Ignorant Art (2011 , Grand Hustle,
EP): Australian rapper, Amethyst Amelia Kelly, released her debut album
this year (below), but on the way to checking it out, I noticed this
thing -- her debut mixtape, credited as "Iggy Azalea Presents" ("Dirt
in Your Pussy Ass Bitch" is someone else's sketch [T.I.?]). Runs nine
tracks, 26:33, built around the video-ready single, "Pu$$y," a sharp
and nasty calling card.
Iggy Azalea: The New Classic (2014, Island): Rapper
from Australia, but her mentor is T.I. and her state-of-the-world
production is post-Gaga, post-Minaj even, a "pop/rap hybrid" that
eschews the soft center, aiming both sharp edges at the other.
"Fancy," of course, is irony, but anyone who'd describe herself
as "his new bitch" is bound to be trouble. Metacritic grade: 57.
Daniel Blacksberg Trio: Perilous Architecture (2012
, NoBusiness): Trombonist, based in Philadelphia, background
ranges from klezmer to Anthony Braxton. Backed with bass and drums,
keeps it interesting.
Frank Catalano/Jimmy Chamberlin: Love Supreme Collective
(2014, Ropeadope): Tenor sax and drums, respectively, plus Percy Jones
(bass), Adam Benjamin (keys on 3 of 4 cuts), and Chris Poland (guitar on
the other cut). The four cuts are laid out like A Love Supreme,
but run short (21:58), and rough.
Causa Sui: Pewt'r Sessions 3 (2014, El Paraiso):
Third collaboration between the Danish "heavy psych explorers" (i.e.,
fusion group) and Ron "Pewt'r" Schneiderman, who evidently does similar
stuff in Massachusetts. Three tracks for a vinyl-length album, expansive
with a slow burn at the end.
Leonard Cohen: Popular Problems (2014, Columbia):
His "golden voice" is more gone than ever, but his tactic of using
female backing vocals keeps him limping along. As for the songs,
they're becoming more biblical not because he's thinking of death
so much as he's pondering very old things.
Jack Cooper: Mists: Charles Ives for Jazz Orchestra
(2014, Planet Arts): Jazz Orchestra means big band -- 5 reeds, 4
trumpets, 4 trombones, guitar, piano, bass, drums -- and Ives for
that gristmill isn't far from the postmodern big band norm -- not
swing but not terribly Third Stream either.
Bo Dollis Jr. and the Wild Magnolias: A New Kind of Funk
(2013, self-released): New Orleans "Indians" -- a featured story line in
HBO's Treme, their showy plumes and deep funk a phenomenon many of
us were hepped to in 1976 when The Wild Tchoupitoulas appeared, or
even earlier in 1974-75 when the Wild Magnolias released two albums. The
latter group was led by Theodore "Bo" Dollis, and now his son, born seven
years later but in the crew since he was 13, is at the helm of the family
business. His funk moves are hardly pathbreaking, and his use of a bit of
rap is tentative, but the basic shtick is irresistible, and the best thing
here is the most trad and true, a burnburning "Liza Jane."
Open Mike Eagle: Dark Comedy (2014, Mello Music Group):
Rapper, west coast guy, very laid back, soft-edged, which oddly enough
draws you in.
Hal Galper Trio: O's Time (2014, Origin): Piano trio,
with Jeff Johnson and John Bishop -- picked them up on a Live in
Seattle album in 2009 and they're back for a fourth album. They're
fine players, and this album has impressive moments.
Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio: We're Back (2014,
Whaling City Sound): Drummer, son of vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, first
album was called Thrasher (1995), evidently an apt nickname,
his Dream Trio debuted on a 2013 album, consists of Kenny Barron and
Ron Carter so I can't claim he's given to overstatement. Booklet has
a picture of 13-year-old Thrasher: looks like he's been opening presents
and is showing off his new LPs (two Ron Carter records). Back cover says,
"Jazz Interpretations of R&B Classics," and as befits a '70s child
most are from Stevie Wonder and Earth, Wind & Fire -- "What's Going
On" and "Pick Up the Pieces" are among the others. (Personally, I was
more into George Clinton during the 1970s.) They add guest stars you
notice when they're present but don't miss when they aren't: Larry
Goldings (organ), Warren Wolf (vibes), Steve Wilson (alto/soprano sax).
John Hiatt: Terms of My Surrender (2014, New West):
Singer-songwriter going back to the mid-1970s, when he had a younger
and weirdly slurred voice and sang about crushing ants and waterskiing
to heaven; some marvelous work, but was never as good after he had a
freak hit and kept cranking out albums nearly every year whether he
had worthy songs or not. This is his best in ages (probably since
1983) -- the songs matter, his voice has achieved a new level of
surrealism, and he's learned something from Adorno: "old people are
pushy/'cause life ain't cushy."
Kevin Hildebrandt: Tolerance (2012 , Summit):
Guitarist, sings several songs, leads a trio with Radam Schwartz on
organ and Alvester Garnett on drums. Four Hildebrant originals, one
from Schwartz, covers include "House of the Rising Sun," "Night and
Day," "Further On Up the Road," "I Fall in Love Too Easily." Swings
harder than soul jazz.
Homeboy Sandman: Hallways (2014, Stones Throw):
Underground rapper from Queens, usually sells himself short but
lets this one run a healthy 41:48. Beats seem a little off, but
he talks his way around them, and usually pays off.
William Hooker & Liudas Mockunas: Live at the Vilnius Jazz
Festival (2013 , NoBusiness): Sax-drums duets, the drummer
getting top billing because he's the best known or came the furthest or
maybe it's just alphabetical. Mockunas, at home in Lithuania, plays
soprano, alto, and tenor, and is consistently impressive on four long
Jennifer Hudson: JHUD (2014, RCA): Soul diva, lost
her American Idol bid to Fantasia Barrino but snagged a role
in the movie Dreamgirls and got an Oscar for it. Third album,
built around big disco beats and that gospel wail soul divas are so
Tommy Igoe: The Tommy Igoe Groove Conspiracy (2014,
Deep Rhythm): Drummer-led 14-piece Bay Area "supergroup" -- Aaron
Lington is the only name among the regulars that rings a bell, but
some "guest conspirators" are better known: Randy Brecker (trumpet,
one track), Kenny Washington (vocals, two). Not really a groove album,
just more of the usual big band blare.
Imarhan Timbuktu: Akal Warled (2014, Clermont):
Desert blues group from Mali. First album here but group dates back
to 1993. The rhythmic lilt is stock in trade for the genre, and the
vocals never threaten to break ranks -- the very constancy of their
sound over the entire album is their main charm, which is to say
this makes for nice background music.
Orlando Julius with the Heliocentrics: Jaiyede Afro
(2014, Strut): Nigerian saxophonist, one of the founders of Afrobeat --
Fela Kuti started out in Julius' band -- gets rediscovered by English
quasi-jazz group which previously brought some attention to Ethio-jazz
master Mulatu Astatke. In this one the sax bulls right past the beat,
impressive in its own right.
Just Passing Through: The Breithaupt Brothers Songbook
Vol. II (2014, ALMA): That would be composer Don Breithaupt
and lyricist Jeff Breithaupt -- evidently a big deal in Canada and
aiming at Broadway. The first volume was prefaced Toronto Sings.
This one evidently casts a wider net, although I hardly recognize
any of the singers. And I've yet to find a reason to care about
the music, which isn't to say that it's bad.
Kalle Kalima & K-18: Buñuel de Jour (2013
, TUM): Finnish guitarist, quartet adds Mikko Innanen (alto
sax), Veil Kujala (quarter-tone accordion), and Teppo Hauta-aho
(bass, percussion). The lead instruments tend to melt together
into a thick, richly flavored stew.
Sami Lane: You Know the Drill (2014, self-released,
EP): DJ from Bournemouth, has uploaded several mixtapes to Mixcloud,
this one a 29-minute continuous hip-hop flow, pretty hard-edged, lots
of N-words. She (I think that's right) has no discernible reputation,
just a Twitter account and 23 followers on Mixcloud, one of whom is
Alex Wilson, who currently ranks this 23rd on his 2014 list, just
behind Kris Davis (his only jazz pick) and ahead of Tacocat. I had
heard 39 of his top 41 so I thought I'd track this down. One annoying
problem with Mixcloud is that it keeps playing into her old catalog,
which is more EDM.
Gianni Lenoci/Kent Carter/Bill Elgart: Plaything (2012
, NoBusiness): Piano trio. Pianist Lenoci, who credits Mal Waldron
and Paul Bley as teachers and plays much like them, has at least 15 albums
since 1991. A spirited improv set.
The Mark Lomax Trio: Isis & Osiris (2012 ,
Inarhyme): Drummer, teaches and therefore is based in Columbus, Ohio,
which keeps him and his sax trio out of the limelight. They have a
previous album, The State of Black America, on my top-ten
list for 2010. This one drags a bit near the start -- probably bass
solos, something too soft to hear -- but when Edwin Bayard's tenor
sax breaks through it's often mesmerizing. And the drummer's pretty
Alexander McCabe/Paul Odeh: This Is Not a Pipe (2014,
Wamco): Alto sax/piano duets. McCabe has impressed me in the past (cf.
2010's Quiz), and continues to in this sparer format.
Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood: Juice (2014,
Indirecto): There's more to guitarist John Scofield than the organ
groove albums he did in the early 1990s although they were inspired
fun; more to MMW than organ grooves too, but a nice stretch with
Medeski on piano doesn't go very far.
The Microscopic Septet: Manhattan Moonrise (2014,
Cuneiform): Founded in 1980 with pianist Joel Forrester and soprano
saxophonist Phillip Johnston writing their songs, they broke up in
1990 and regrouped in 2006 with Mike Hashim (a superstar in my book)
taking over the tenor sax spot -- group has four saxes and no brass --
and since then they've done no wrong. I'm more struck than ever by
the gentle swing that permeates so many of their songs.
Jason Moran: All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller
(2014, Blue Note): A jazz pianist, Moran's early career was auspicious,
debuting on a major label with a series of brilliant albums. In 2011,
he won a MacArthur "genius" grant, and that led to a project called
the Fats Waller Dance Party, and ultimately this album. He tapped
Meshell Ndegeocello, Lisa E. Harris, and Charles Haynes as vocalists,
and added some horn spots to his trio: Steve Lehman gets a superb sax
solo, and Moran's keyboard work is often dazzling, but the vocals strike
me as way off base -- so serious, so dour, even on "Ain't Misbehavin'."
Nicholas Payton: Numbers (2013 , Paytone):
New Orleans trumpet player, although you'd hardly guess that from
this album, where he spends most of his time noodling on a Fender
Rhodes, with guitar, bass, and drums cranking out underdeveloped
Peripheral Vision: Sheer Tyranny of the Will (2014,
self-released): Canadian postbop quartet with "co-leaders" Michael
Herring (bass) and Don Scott (guitar), plus Trevor Hogg on tenor
sax and Nick Fraser on drums, with Jean Martin lurking somewhere
in the background (co-producer, "mixing & additional recording").
Read somewhere that their influences list is topped by Wayne Shorter
and Kurt Rosenwinkel. Sounds like it.
RED Trio & Mattias Ståhl: North and the Red Stream
(2013 , NoBusiness): Portuguese piano trio -- Rodrigo Pinheiro
on piano, Hernani Faustino on bass, Gabriel Ferrandini on drums --
first appeared with an impressive eponymous album in 2010 (on Clean
Feed). They're joined here by vibraphonist Ståhl, who does more than
add tinkle but can get caught up in the grind.
Wadada Leo Smith: The Great Lakes Suites (2012
, TUM, 2CD): Trumpet great, has been working on large canvases
lately -- I count four 2CD releases since 2009 plus the 4CD Ten
Freedom Summers -- but this feels rather small and spotty as
it spurts and sputters, just one more horn: Henry Threadgill (alto
sax, flute, bass flute) plus bass (John Lindberg) and drums (Jack
DeJohnette). It does, however, remind me what a marvelous drummer
Wadada Leo Smith/Jamie Saft/Joe Morris/Balasz Pandi: Red
Hill (2014, Rare Noise): We might have to start talking
about Pandi as an exceptional drummer as well, and he's not the
only surprise here. Saft first came to my attention playing organ
for Joshua Redman, but his piano here is a million miles from there,
out somewhere you'd have to triangulate off Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor
to find. Morris, we should note, plays bass, not guitar. And while
the trumpeter starts with dark tones, he can't just sit on that in
Ken Thomson and Slow/Fast: Settle (2012 , NCM East):
Leader plays bass clarinet and alto sax, in a quintet with Russ Johnson
on trumpet and Nir Felder on guitar -- front-line musicians who can
handle the whiplash speed changes.
Rosenna Vitro: Clarity: Music of Clare Fischer (2014,
Random Act): Standards singer, has a dozen albums since 1982, more
often than not trying to search out some new terrain for ye olde
songbook -- an effort that works best when the songs have natural
swing, like Catchin' Some Rays: The Music of Ray Charles
(1997), as opposed to The Music of Randy Newman (2011). The
subject here is Clare Fischer, a bit on the stuffy side, but
pianist-arranger Mark Soskin lightens and opens him up, Sara
Caswell's fiddle is a plus, and the singer can get by with the odd
Loudon Wainwright III: Haven't Got the Blues (Yet)
(2014, 429 Records): Starts unexpectedly with a bit of rockabilly fluff,
"Brand New Dance," but soon enough reverts to form, which is just fine
("I Knew Your Mother"), until he tries his hand at irony on a song that
kicks back like an untethered Uzi: "I'll Be Killing You This Christmas."
You know how much I hate Xmas music? This is one present I hope to never
Lee Ann Womack: The Way I'm Livin' (2014, Sugar Hill/Welk):
Country singer, doesn't write so has some trouble maintaining a persona --
she's too sweet to convince you she's the hopeless drunk of Chris Knight's
"Send It on Down" but maybe she does sleep with the devil -- at least that's
where she's picking her songs these days. (I normally tire quickly of Jesus
songs, but you're not likely to run across any of these in church.) The move
from countrypolitan MCA Nashville to a more trad label helps too.
Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Rashied Al Akbar/Muhammad Ali/Earl Cross/Idris Ackamoor: Ascent
of the Nether Creatures (1980 , NoBusiness): Cross was a
trumpet player from St. Louis (1933-87), played in bands led by Charles
Tyler and Rashied Ali, but this is the only album Discogs lists by him.
Saxophonist Ackamoor was originally Bruce Baker, b. 1950 in Chicago, has
a bit more, including a foundation in San Francisco. Don't know anything
about bassist Al Akbar. Drummer Ali, b. Raymond Patterson in 1936, is
Rashied Ali's brother, has a 1974 duo album with Frank Wright, and has
appeared on some of David S. Ware's last albums. So, a two-horn free
jazz quartet of some vintage, recorded in the Netherlands and reissued
in Lithuania in limited edition (300 copies) vinyl.
Bambara Mystic Soul: The Raw Sound of Burkina Faso 1974-1979
(1974-79 , Analog Africa): A backwater even by African standards, but
wedged between Mali and Ghana, triangulated by Nigeria, Senegal, and Guinea,
you get a little bit of the whole region, minus the stars.
Aby Ngana Diop: Liital (1994 , Awesome Tapes
From Africa): From Senegal, six cuts, 31:59. Mostly drums and shouted
voices, the lead singer not obviously female, some synth or something
on a few tracks but window dressing to the drums.
The Evergreen Classic Jazz Band: Early Tunes 1915-1932
(1995 , Delmark): Trad jazz band from Seattle, eight pieces (at
least at this point -- a 1990 album had six) including banjo and tuba
(Tom Jacobus, the designated leader). Trombonist David Loomis sings a
couple songs, and the clarinet (Craig Flory) is exceptional. Admittedly,
I'm a sucker for this kind of music.
John Hiatt: Here to Stay: Best of 2000-2012 (2000-12
, New West): Christgau sent me Hiatt's first two albums in 1975 --
ones that he ultimately graded B but which became personal favorites.
It may have helped that I saw him playing solo in Indianapolis, a bit
of totally unplanned serendipity. So he became a guy to keep tabs on.
Two of his next five albums were pretty good, but the others weren't,
and I remember John Piccarella wanting to write about him in the Voice,
only to get stuck with Warming Up to the Ice Age. Yet somehow
I missed his 1987-94 period on A&M, which reportedly produced some
hits. He moved to Vanguard in 2000 and New West in 2003, and I've been
checking him out since I got onto Rhapsody, until this year finding a
regular series of low B+ albums. This "best-of" does what it should,
picking out his most indelible songs from six or seven albums and
packing them into the only album you need from the decade.
The Rough Guide to the Music of the Sahara [Second Edition]
(1980-2013 , World Music Network, 2CD): The label's second round
compilations -- never specified as such so check the artwork and numbers --
tend to recycle newer pieces that have been farmed up through the label,
and come with bonus discs reissuing albums that had no traction under the
original artists' names. Can't tell from Rhapsody whether the booklets
have improved -- in cases where I've seen them, they usually raise more
questions than they answer. This Sahara extends from Mariem Hassan of
Western Sahara/Morocco through the Mali-Niger heartland to Libya, Sudan,
and Egypt, with Ali Hassan Kuban's Nubian music the clincher and the
ringer -- much earlier if not older-sounding.
Mamane Barka: Introducing Mamane Barka (2009, World Music
Network): From Niger, plays ngurumi with drums and sings, a rather limited
palette but one which pleases in a steady, study way.
Shaver: Shaver's Jewels: The Best of Shaver (1993-2001
, New West): Billy Joe Shaver was a veteran with some very clever
songs under his belt and some relatively uninspired albums when he teamed
up with his guitar-playing son Eddy Shaver for five albums, a gig that
ended when Eddy overdosed in 2000. The extra guitar brought some spunk
and polish to the albums, and the compilation weeds out the weak spots.
Sun Ra & His Arkestra: In the Orbit of Ra (1957-78
, Strut, 2CD): Cover starts out "Marshall Allen Presents" --
indeed who better to pick out a centennary selection of Herman Blount's
Arkestra? -- but I'm dropping Allen's name so as not to confuse this
with the ghost band he still leads. These are, after all, vintage
recordings -- at least I've been able to match them up to the date
range above, allowing a few seconds variation for the remastering.
Vocals on close to half of the tracks -- more than I wanted but they
do establish a theme, one that's out of this world.
The Buddy Tate Quartet: Texas Tenor (1978 ,
Sackville/Delmark): From Sherman, Texas; played in territory bands
until 1939 when he joined Count Basie, replacing the late Herschel
Evans. My favorite album of his is Buck and Buddy Swing the
Blues -- "Buck" of course is Basie bandmate, trumpeter Buck
Clayton, and the title is exactly right. This set was originally
released as The Buddy Tate Quartet as if the group was
somehow more than something he picked up touring. They scarcely
deserve the compliment, but every time the sax blows Tate is
nothing short of resplendent.
Ruby Braff: Linger Awhile (1953-55 , Vanguard):
Assembled from three early sessions -- wish I could find the session
details, but one cut comes from a 10-inch LP called Buck Clayton
Meets Ruby Braff, and the others were possibly led by trombonist
Vic Dickenson -- front cover has three photos: Dickenson, Clayton,
and Braff, and the credits include Edmond Hall, Buddy Tate, Nat
Pierce, and Sir Charles Thompson. Varies, but most of it swings,
and the ballads are lovely.
Columbia Country Classics, Vol. 5: A New Tradition
(1967-87 , Columbia): The last of five various artist volumes,
released with similar artwork along with many notable single-artist
compilations (see ACN?). Sony's catalog is so deep that the first
two volumes -- Vol. 1: The Golden Age (1935-53) and Vol. 2:
Honky Tonk Heroes (1946-61) -- are nearly as definitive as the
first two volumes of Classic Country Music: A Smithsonian
Collection. The next two volumes -- Vol. 3: Americana
(1954-84) and Vol. 4: The Nashville Sound (1953-73) -- are
far from definitive, as is this grab bag of label stalwarts (Johnny
Cash, George Jones, Willie Nelson, Marty Robbins, latecoming Merle
Haggard, an out-of-his-depth Bob Dylan) and a younger generation
intent on retaining the tradition (Asleep at the Wheel, Ricky Van
Shelton, Rodney Crowell, Rosanne Cash).
Julius Hemphill: Raw Materials and Residuals (1977
, Black Saint): Sax trio, the leader playing alto and soprano,
with Abdul Wadud (cello) and Don Moye (percussion). Begins with a
boppish thrill ride. Ends with a tune that sticks in your head.
Julius Hemphill/Warren Smith: Chile New York (1980
, Black Saint): Improv duets, Hemphill playing alto/tenor sax
and flute, Smith percussion.
The Julius Hemphill Sextet: At Dr. King's Table (1997,
New World): Hemphill died in 1995 after a prolonged debilitating illness
that left him unable to play from the early 1990s. But he continued to
write and organize sax choirs -- he was the main driving force behind
the World Saxophone Quartet. His last album was Five Chord Stud
(1993), a sax quintet including a young James Carter. But he left some
unrecorded music, including this set, posthumously recorded under his
name by a sax/clarinet/flute sextet: Marty Ehrlich, Sam Furnace, Andy
Laster, Gene Ghee, Andrew White, and Alex Harding. Some marvelous
blending of harmonies here, but as is often the case with sax choirs
(even WSQ) I find myself yearning for some contrasting tone, or maybe
just a drum.
The Julius Hemphill Sextet: The Hard Blues: Live in Lisbon
(2003 , Clean Feed): The late saxophone choirmaster's ghost band
carries on with Andrew Stewart replacing Gene Ghee -- carrying on: Marty
Ehrlich, Sam Furnace, Andy Laster, Andrew White, Alex Harding. Same plus
and minus ledger, although they can get a bit rowdier live, and that's
a good thing.
Orlando Julius: Super Afro Soul (1966-72 , Vampi
Soul, 2CD): Nigerian saxophone player, formed a group called the Modern
Aces in 1965, a missing link between highlife and Afrobeat -- Fela
Kuti started out in Orlando's band. This starts with a Modern Aces
album, then adds a somewhat later second disc by Orlando Julius &
His Afro Sounders -- one difference is that the three-minute songs
of the former give way to 6-8 minute pieces, the extra length adding
to the flow.
Steve Lacy: Early Years 1954-1956 (1954-56 ,
Fresh Sound, 2CD): A collection of five albums where Lacy is a sideman --
nominal leaders are: Dick Sutton (Jazz Idiom, Progressive
Dixieland), Tom Stewart (Sextette/Quintette), Whitey Mitchell
(Sextette), and Joe Puma (Modern Jazz Festival) -- and
they illustrate the oft-made point that Lacy started in trad jazz
influenced by Sidney Bechet before making the jump all the way to
the avant-garde. Obviously, the story isn't that simple, as this is
more transitional if never terribly boppish.
Steve Lacy: Soprano Sax (1957 , Prestige/OJC):
First album by the man who defined soprano sax over a 47-year career,
up to his death in 2004. The quartet includes Wynton Kelly on piano --
not the sort of pianist Lacy would work with later but a real treat
here -- as well as Buell Neidlinger (bass) and Dennis Charles (drums).
A couple standards, two Ellington tunes, one Monk -- a delightful if
somewhat conventional set. Gotta start somewhere.
Steve Lacy: The Straight Horn of Steve Lacy (1960
, Candid): Smart moves toward Lacy's unique style, working
over tunes by Thelonious Monk (3), Cecil Taylor (2), and Charlie
Parker (1). Mostly trio with John Ore (bass) and Roy Haynes (drums),
plus Charles Davis (baritone sax) on one cut.
Steve Lacy with Don Cherry: Evidence (1961 ,
New Jazz/OJC): Quartet with bass and drums (Billy Higgins), playing
four Monk tunes and two Ellingtons (at least on the original album;
Rhapsody adds six "bonus cuts" with Wynton Kelly, but I can't find
any physical release with them, so I dropped them on second spin.
Steve Lacy: Scratching the Seventies/Dreams (1969-77
, Saravah, 3CD): Lacy first visited Europe in 1965 and moved to
Paris in 1970. After his early albums with Prestige and Candid, he had
trouble finding labels in the 1960s, but once he landed in France he
recorded tons of albums for small European labels, including five for
this French label, now rolled up into a 3-CD box. I decided it would
be best to treat the albums one-by-one, so they follow. Overall:
Steve Lacy Gang: Roba (1969 , Saravah): Recorded
in Rome with a mostly local band -- Enrico Rava (trumpet), Italo Toni
(trombone), Claudio Volonte (clarinet), Irene Aebi (cello), Carlo
Colnaghi (drums) -- in one 42:23 improv, split into two parts for the
LP. Open-ended but not all that coherent.
Steve Lacy: Lapis (1971 , Saravah): Solo album,
soprano sax with Lacy also overdubbing some percussion.
Steve Lacy Sextet: Scraps (1974, Saravah): With Steve
Potts (tenor/alto/soprano sax), Michael Smith (piano), Irene Aebi (cello),
Kent Carter (bass/cello), Kenny Tyler (percussion, flute), this is sort
of the prototype for a lot of Lacy's most difficult work, an odd mix of
space and cacophony, initially hard to listen to but it starts to make
sense after a while. Aebi also sings a bit, but I won't dock her (yet).
Steve Lacy: Dreams (1975, Saravah): With Steve Potts
(alto/soprano sax), Derek Bailey (guitar), Irene Aebi (cello),
Jean-Jacques Avenel (bass), Kent Carter (bass), Kenneth Tyler (drums),
plus guitar by Boulou Ferré and Jack Treese on two (of 5) cuts.
Similar to the Sextet, but Potts is more competitive, the double
bassists get more traction, and the guitars? Well, I'm not sure
what good they did.
Steve Lacy: The Owl (1977, Saravah): With Steve
Potts (alto/soprano sax), Takashi Kako (keybs), Irene Aebi (violin,
cello, voice), Jean-Jacques Avenel (autoharp, kora, sheng), Kent
Carter (bass), Olivie Johnson (drums). Aebi sang a bit in previous
albums, but takes center stage here. She has a deep voice, trained
for operatic cadences, and I usually find her ruinous, but isn't
so bad here -- perhaps because the music with its ad hoc Japanese
effects is so deliriously insane, I find her kind of amusing.
Steve Lacy: Axieme (1975 , RED): Solo
soprano saxophone, originally released on two LPs then combined
on a single CD. [Rhapsody only has "Parts 3 & 4" for 25:09,
so is 21:40 short of the full release.]
Steve Lacy/Andrea Centazzo/Kent Carter: In Concert
(1976 , Ictus): Discogs agrees with Rhapsody on the title,
but the best Lacy discography calls this Live (probably
the title of the 1977 LP release). This version, with two extra
tracks, was part of a 12CD anniversary box Ictus released in 2006.
Soprano sax trio, the extra depth of Carter's bass helps round
the sound out.
Steve Lacy/Andrea Centazzo: Clangs (1977 ,
Ictus): Duo, mostly soprano sax and drums, but Lacy is also credited
with "bird calls, pocket synthesizer, crackle box" and Centazzo
employs whistles and a wide range of percussion. The result is the
sort of rickety contraption imagined in the title.
Steve Lacy Quintet: Troubles (1979, Black Saint):
With Steve Potts (alto/soprano sax), Irene Aebi (violin, cello,
vocals), Kent Carter (bass, cello), and Oliver Johnson (drums):
Starts with a group vocal that turns into a very slippery slice.
Aebi returns with a vocal called "Blues" -- another very tricky
tune. In between is a short one called "The Whammies!" -- later
taken as the name of a marvelous Lacy tribute group.
Steve Lacy: The Flame (1982, Soul Note): A trio
with Lacy on soprano sax, Bobby Few on piano, and Dennis Charles
on drums. Still going through a phase where he flails a lot, bits
of genius but lots of collateral damage.
Steve Lacy/Andrea Centazzo: Tao (1976-84 ,
Ictus): Duets, soprano sax with percussion, a set of numbered
pieces that appear on many Lacy albums of the period. The last
four come from an earlier live performance and they fumble a
bit at the start, but the later recordings are superb, constant
invention highlighted by the percussion.
Steve Lacy/Mal Waldron: Live in Berlin (1984
, Jazzwerkstatt): The pianist played on Lacy's second album,
Reflections, and they've appeared together many time since,
especially on duos like this one -- the first recorded one is from
1971, the last 2002; Sempre Amore (1986), with its
all-Ellington/Strayhorn program, is a personal favorite. This is
a mixed bag, denser than most, somewhat fanciful.
Steve Lacy Trio: The Window (1987 , Soul Note):
With Jean-Jacques Avenel (bass) and Oliver Johnson (drums), all Lacy
originals (one piece co-credited to Mary Frazee), six tunes, 7:00-9:14
each. A fine example of Lacy's style, dazzling actually, with none of
the things that occasionally make his other albums irritating.
Steve Lacy: More Monk (1989 , Soul Note):
Sequel, like Lacy's 1987 Only Monk all Monk tunes, done
solo on soprano sax. Plays them fairly straight, which makes me
Steve Lacy Double Sextet: Clangs (1992 , Hat
Art): Twelve musicians (counting two vocalists, Irene Aebi and Nicholas
Isherwood), but the only instrument doubled is piano (Bobby Few joins
Eric Watson), the second-stringers adding trumpet, trombone, vibes,
and percussion to Lacy's long-running Sextet with Steve Potts (alto
and soprano sax). One revelation is that Lacy's penchant for starchy
vocals isn't purely a matter of indulging his wife. But also, once
you get past the vocals, he does a marvelous job of integrating the
Steve Lacy/Mal Waldron: "Let's Call This . . . Esteem"
(1993, Slam): Another duo album, four Monks, Ellington, Strayhorn, two
originals each. Typical of what they do, how they interact, which is to
say masterful but somewhat estranged.
Steve Lacy Trio: The Rent (1997 , Cavity Search,
2CD): Basic Lacy, a trio with longtime collaborators Jean-Jacques Avenel
(bass) and John Betsch (drums), recorded live at Old Church in Portland,
OR before an enthusiastic crowd.
Steve Lacy Trio: The Holy La (1998 , Freelance):
Same trio, with Jean-Jacques Avenel (bass, kalimba) and John Betsch
(drums), cut in a studio in France -- the group have finally learned
to stretch out and relax, with the kalimba section sounding especially
lovely. Two vocals by Irene Aebi, arch and starchy as usual, but somehow
I'm getting to where I can stand her. [Sunnyside reissued this in 2003;
the Rhapsody version is missing a track, but Sunnyside's own website
indicates that the reissue is complete.]
Steve Lacy: The Beat Suite (2001 , Sunnyside):
The soprano saxophonist expanded his trio -- Jean-Jacques Avenel on
bass, John Betsch on drums -- to include George Lewis on trombone,
notable sonic heft, and wife/collaborator Irene Aebi for the vocals
on ten texts lifted from Beat writers (Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg,
William Burroughs, Bob Kaufman, Lew Welch, Gregory Corso, Robert
Creeley, Jack Spicer, Anne Waldman/Andrew Schelling, Kenneth Rexroth).
The problem, of course, is Aebi, who would sound stilted singing
Irving Berlin, much less texts written with no concern for music,
then scored with Lacy's angular whimsy.
Steve Lacy: November (2003 , Intakt): Solo
session from a festival in Switzerland, a little more than six
months before he died. One vocal is way off base, but the soprano
sax is unique, as ever.
Ron McClure Quintet: Descendants (1980 , Ken):
Bassist, played with Blood Sweat & Tears in the 1960s, has a couple
dozen albums since 1979, mostly on Steeplechase, this the only one I've
heard. Features Tom Harrell (flugelhorn), with both piano (Mark Gray)
and guitar (John Scofield). No real sense of how you would niche this
other than postbop with prominent bass solos.
Medeski Martin and Wood: Last Chance to Dance Trance (Perhaps):
Best Of (1991-1996) (1991-96 , Gramavision): Organ-bass-drums
trio, relatively popular jazz-groove merchants in the 1990s, with this
collection sampling their second through fifth albums. Keyboard player
John Medeski and drummer Billy Martin have since mounted serious solo
careers -- forget about Chris Wood's Wood Brothers -- while keeping the
group going (their first album I A-listed was 2012's Free Magic).
Best example here: the medley "Bemsha Swing/Lively Up Yourself."
Brad Mehldau: The Art of the Trio: Volume One
(1996 , Warner Brothers): With Larry Grenadier on bass and
Jorge Rossy on drums, the first of five Art of the Trio
volumes -- a claim that rises as a challenge, and execution that
plays off. Penguin Guide picked this one for their "Core
Collection." I find it a smidgen on the soft side, and I'm always
suspicious when jazzers take on the Beatles -- "Blackbird" is
especially suspect, but they do a remarkable job.
Brad Mehldau: Art of the Trio 4: Back at the Vanguard
(1999, Warner Brothers): The Village Vanguard, that is, site of The
Art of the Trio Volume Two. More snap than the first one, but not
clear that makes it better. A superb pianist but I can't tell you why,
partly because no single thing stands out.
The Brad Mehldau Trio: Progression: Art of the Trio,
Volume 5 (2000 , Warner Brothers, 2CD): Had this on
long on the shelf, so after I played it and found it remarkable
in the usual ways I've never been able to articulate, I checked
Rhapsody for the Art of the Trio volumes I had missed --
turns out that Vol. 1 and Vol. 4 are the top-rated
ones in Penguin Guide, while this is the bottom-rated one.
Beats me why. Still a remarkable piano trio -- Larry Grenadier on
bass, Jorge Rossy on drums -- stretching out on a mix of originals
and standards, always precise, thoughtful, compelling, and, well,
Brad Mehldau: Anything Goes (2002 , Warner
Brothers): Same piano trio run through ten standards, starting with
a tentative "Get Happy," including Monk, Porter, Paul Simon, Radiohead,
"Smile," "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face."
Roger Miller: The Best of Roger Miller, Volume One: Country
Tunesmith (1957-67 , Mercury): Anyone with a hankering
for Miller's mid-1960s novelty tunes -- from "King of the Road" to
"England Swings" to "You Can't Roller Skate in a Buffalo Herd" and
maybe "My Uncle Used to Love Me but She Died" -- should go straight
to the 12-cut 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection
(1964-66 , MCA), or the broader 20-cut All Time Greatest Hits
(1964-85 , Mercury/Chronicles), or the deeper 21-cut The Best
of Roger Miller, Volume Two: King of the Road (1957-72 ,
Mercury) that came out on the heels of this set. Before he was a star,
Miller was a struggling Nashville songwriter, making his living feeding
wry and sentimental tunes to Ray Price ("Invitation to the Blues"),
George Jones (cowrote "Tall Tall Trees"), and others while his own
recordings languished. Even the 3-CD 1995 box set, King of the
Road: The Genius of Roger Miller, which I've long regarded as
canonical, only snares 8 of these 21 tracks while adding 8 pre-1964
songs and more from the overlap period. But if you're set with (or
don't care for) the hits, or just a sucker for the homelier side of
honky-tonk, this opens up the most unsung period of one of country
Henry Threadgill Sextett: You Know the Number (1986
, Jive/Novus): Alto/tenor saxophonist, formerly of Air, actually
runs a septet here with Rasul Siddik (trumpet), Frank Lacy (Trombone),
Diedre Murray (cello), Fred Hopkins (bass), and two percussionists.
Avant but very upbeat, boisterous even.
Henry Threadgill Sextett: Easily Slip Into Another World
(1987 , Jive/Novus): This picks up where the previous one left off,
adding up to some of the group's most inspired interplay. However, they
also run into some tough spots, which may (or may not) include Asha
Henry Threadgill: Song Out of My Trees (1993 ,
Black Saint): Five pieces with various lineups -- three guitarists in
various combinations, two cuts with Ted Daniel on trumpet, one with
Myra Melford on piano, two with Amina Claudine Myers (one harpsichord,
one organ), one with Mossa Bildren grieving (backed by accordion, two
cellos, and that harpsichord) while Threadgill plays his most visceral
sax. An odd one.
Monday, September 29. 2014
Music: Current count 23870  rated (+27), 521  unrated (-2).
My brother was in town Sunday so I spent the day cooking old-fashioned
"soul food" -- fried chicken and pan gravy, baked potatoes and cornbread,
baked beans and creamed corn and greens with bacon -- with a flourless
chocolate cake for dessert. Couldn't concentrate on processing records,
so I wound up playing Coleman Hawkins, Lefty Frizzell, and Johnny Cash
from the travel case. Couldn't come up with a Weekend Update either.
Suffice it to say that the insane wars of the previous week are still
with us, as are the usual stories of police brutality, corruption,
inequality, bad economics, the subversion of democracy by the usual
claque of billionaires, and that old standby -- global warming.
Safe to say there'll be more of them next week (if there is a next
week) and next month and next year as well.
Wasting Sunday kept the rated count under 30, but it was actually
a remarkably good week quality-wise. I broke queue protocol and took
the Buddy Tate reissue with me in the car even before I catalogued
it, and it's kept me in a good mood all week -- not anyway near his
most consistent record, but so glorious every time the sax appears.
Roger Miller came up in some email correspondence -- I thought I had
this particular album, so when I saw it unrated and on Rhapsody I
dived right into it.
Four very different Sept. 23 releases wound up at A-: Aphex Twin,
Leonard Cohen, Wadada Leo Smith, and Lee Ann Womack. I gave each at
least three plays, hoping it's possible to be both first and right.
Chris Monsen seems to prefer Smith's The Great Lakes Suites,
which both overwhelmed me with its length and underwhelmed me with
its music -- Red Hill has an air of danger and excitement I
find lacking in the larger work, but Suites put a lot of
talent on display, including Henry Threadgill and Jack DeJohnette.
Microscopic Septet is another Monsen recommendation, languishing in
my mailbox for months. Orlando Julius appeared on a Phil Overeem
list (also Bo Dollis and a bunch of other records I haven't gotten
to yet; worth noting that Overeem has John Coltrane's Offering:
Live at Temple University on top of his "old stuff" list -- I
wasn't all that impressed by it, but I often react negatively to
Coltrane's last phase). Another EW person mentioned the Sun Ra.
Only gave it one play, but it was a delight, and I think I tracked
down all the dates (except for one of three previously unreleased
Given the extra overhead of managing the "faux blog" I may not
have a Music Week (let alone a Weekend Update) post next week --
it may in fact be several weeks before I catch up. We're planning
a trip east in October. Laura is flying to Boston and back from
Newark, so that's tightly scheduled. I'll be driving, so that's
real loosey-goosey -- I'm thinking Buffalo on the way out, and
DC (and maybe Nashville) on the way back. There will be a few
days on Cape Cod, but the main stretch will be six days at a
friend's big country house in the NJ Appalachians. I'm hoping
we can entice friends from NYC and environs to come out to visit.
(One enticement is that I plan on cooking.)
I've lined up some new technology for the trip. I picked up
a cheap Chromebook to replace the old Linux laptop, so I can try
working in the cloud. That won't really allow me to do much in
terms of programming, but maybe I'll focus more on writing. Also
picked up a Bose MiniLink Bluetooth speaker, which works nicely
with the Chromebook. I'll still have travel cases of CDs for the
car, but may leave the boombox home and play Rhapsody when I'm
Should leave by the end of the week. Don't know when I'll get
back. Best way to track whatever I post will be
this week expect a Rhapsody Streamnotes (most likely tomorrow --
if not I'll have to rename files). Maybe a Mid-Week Roundup or a
Book Report before I leave. If you want to get in touch during
the trip, holler at me, and we'll see what makes sense. (I'm not
looking to hook up with strangers, but know so many people along
the way it's impossible to personally contact everyone I might
want to see.)
New records rated this week:
- Aphex Twin: Syro (2014, Warp): after more than a dozen year break, loses the ambient drag, speeds up the beats and kicks up the bass [r]: A-
- Avi Buffalo: At Best Cuckold (2014, Sub Pop): falsetto lead, occasionally pines for the "In My Room" side of the Beach Boys [r]: B+(*)
- Daniel Blacksberg Trio: Perilous Architecture (2012 , NoBusiness): avant-trombone trio, varied enough, inventive even, your interest never flags [cdr]: B+(***)
- Frank Catalano/Jimmy Chamberlin: Love Supreme Collective (2014, Ropeadope): sometimes flattery isn't imitation at all, just something else [cd]: B+(*)
- Leonard Cohen: Popular Problems (2014, Columbia): his "golden voice" more gone than ever, his songs more biblical -- his way of feeling ancient [r]: A-
- Jack Cooper: Mists: Charles Ives for Jazz Orchestra (2014, Planet Arts): big band Charles Ives, postmodern but third stream only in that it could use some swing [cd]: B+(*)
- Bo Dollis Jr. and the Wild Magnolias: A New Kind of Funk (2013, self-released): a little hip-hop isn't a funk breakthrough, but the tradition is in good hands [r]: B+(***)
- Open Mike Eagle: Dark Comedy (2014, Mello Music Group): west coast rapper, very laid back, soft-edged, draws you in [r]: B+(**)
- Jennifer Hudson: JHUD (2014, RCA): bids to be taken seriously as a soul diva in a hip-hop world, which means . . . branding [r]: B+(*)
- Orlando Julius with the Heliocentrics: Jaiyede Afro (2014, Strut): London collective hooks up with another aged African legend, compounding respective strengths [r]: A-
- Just Passing Through: The Breithaupt Brothers Songbook Vol. II (2014, ALMA): aspiring Broadway songsters, big in Canada, OK but who cares? [cd]: B
- Gianni Lenoci/Kent Carter/Bill Elgart: Plaything (2012 , NoBusiness): piano trio -- you don't know him (who knows Italians not on ECM?) but he's been around, turns heads [cdr]: B+(***)
- Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood: Juice (2014, Indirecto): neither want to be remembered for organ grooves yet that's why they're drawn together [r]: B+(*)
- The Microscopic Septet: Manhattan Moonrise (2014, Cuneiform): [dl]: sax quartet + piano trio, Forrester and Johnston write 'em, the band swings 'em A-
- Wadada Leo Smith/Jamie Saft/Joe Morris/Balasz Pandi: Red Hill (2014, Rare Noise): what makes this better than Great Lakes Suites is a quartet that gets out of hand and pushes him [r]: A-
- Rosenna Vitro: Clarity: Music of Clare Fischer (2014, Random Act): standards singer looking for new turf -- Clare Fischer is a bit stuffy, but she makes something of that [cd]: B+(*)
- Lee Ann Womack: The Way I'm Livin' (2014, Sugar Hill/Welk): imagine that Nanci Griffith had a dark side, one that drinks and sleeps with the devil [r]: A-
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
- Rashied Al Akbar/Muhammad Ali/Earl Cross/Idris Ackamoor: Ascent of the Nether Creatures (1980 , NoBusiness): avant quartet with three Muslim names you never heard of, now saved for history [cdr]: B+(***)
- Aby Ngana Diop: Liital (1994 , Awesome Tapes From Africa): from Senegal, some synth window dressing but overwhelmingly drums and shouted voices, tough as nails [r]: B+(***)
- Sun Ra & His Arkestra: In the Orbit of Ra (1957-78 , Strut, 2CD): Marshall Allen picks for Ra's centenary, more vocals than I'd pick, but you know [r]: A-
- The Buddy Tate Quartet: Texas Tenor (1978 , Sackville/Delmark): the new title has been used before, but with this guy the same old sax is timeless [cd]: A-
Old records rated this week:
- Columbia Country Classics, Vol. 5: A New Tradition (1967-87 , Columbia): first two are essential history; rest label onanism, this leaning neotrad [r]: B+(**)
- Orlando Julius: Super Afro Soul (1966-72 , Vampi Soul, 2CD): Nigerian saxophonist, earliest tracks suggest the Afrobeat that the later ones deliver [r]: B+(**)
- Roger Miller: The Best of Roger Miller, Volume One: Country Tunesmith (1957-67 , Mercury): old comp delves even deeper into pre-Doo-Wacka-Doo than the marvelous box [r]: A-
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
- Tara Davidson: Duets (Addo): October 7
- Mark Elf: Returns 2014 (Jen Bay Jazz)
- The Evergreen Classic Jazz Band: Early Tunes 1915-1932 (1995, Delmark)
- Milt Hinton/Ralph Sutton/Gus Johnson/Jim Galloway: The Sackville All Star Christmas Record (1986, Sackville/Delmark)
- The Mike Longo Trio: Celebrates Oscar Peterson: Live (CAP): October 7
- Miho Nobuzane: Simple Words: Jazz Loves Brazil (self-released): October 21
- The Buddy Tate Quartet: Texas Tenor (1978, Sackville/Delmark)
- Ezra Weiss: Before You Know It: Live in Portland (Roark)
- Dann Zinn: Shangri La (self-released): October 1
Monday, September 22. 2014
Music: Current count 23843  rated (+29), 523  unrated (-5).
A sub-30 week. For a while I thought it was going to be even lower.
On the other hand, more A- records than usual. Much of the credit for
the latter goes to Robert Christgau: the return of his Consumer Guide
(or as he now prefers Expert Witness) alerted me to Homeboy Sandman
and Shaver, and prodded me to check out John Hiatt's latest -- I knew
it was out there, but given his last half-dozen albums I wasn't in a
big hurry to file another low B+. As it was, I followed up with Hiatt's
best-of, which combs those low B+ albums for a much better collection.
Christgau also wrote about Iggy Azalea in his new
Billboard column. I knew the name and thought her appearance on the
Ariana Grande album was its high point, but hadn't put together how much
I might like her.
Blog status is still uncertain. I noticed I've been getting a lot of
spam comments (I hardly know any other kind), which is an indication
that the database is accessible. I also heard from a reader depending
on the RSS feed, wondering whether I was all right. The "faux blog"
doesn't generate any RSS, so that notification avenue had been blocked.
(Pretty good solution: follow me on
Twitter.) So I went back
and added all the missing posts to the "real blog," and have kept them
in sync for the last week. That's a pain, but not understanding what
happened, and having no confidence that it won't happen again, for now
I lack a better solution.
Shopping advice request: I'm going to be traveling a lot soon, and
I'd like to buy a small Bluetooth speaker bar, like a Bose MiniLink
(strikes me as pricey) or Jambox Mini (clearly not as good). Anyone
have some advice/experience? I think it should allow for a wired stereo
connection (so I can plug in that IPod I foolishly bought a couple years
ago), but it will mostly be used with a new Chromebook, which should
make it possible to listen to Rhapsody on the road (if not in the car).
New records rated this week:
- Afghan Whigs: Do to the Beast (2014, Sub Pop): too heavy for me, but otherwise impressive, suggests growth over their long hiatus [r]: B+(**)
- Iggy Azalea: Ignorant Art (2011 , Grand Hustle, EP): debut EP mixtape, goes straight for the snatch not trusting you yokels to respond to anything subtle [r]: B+(**)
- Iggy Azalea: The New Classic (2014, Island): Australian rapper sneaks up on America via the Dirty South -- she's got a mouth and is gonna use it [r]: A-
- Kevin Hildebrandt: Tolerance (2012 , Summit): guitarist-led organ trio with Radam Schwartz, swings hard especially on the covers, sings some too [cd]: B+(**)
- Hal Galper Trio: O's Time (2014, Origin): veteran pianist, lot more crunch and risk than those Mehldaus but also more things that don't work [cd]: B+(**)
- Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio: We're Back (2014, Whaling City Sound): Ron Carter and Kenny Barron make dreams come true, on '70s soul skewed to Wonder [cd]: B+(**)
- John Hiatt: Terms of My Surrender (2014, New West): evidently included turning in his most consistent song album since Riding With the King [r]: A-
- Homeboy Sandman: Hallways (2014, Stones Throw): alt-rapper, beats seem a bit off but he talks his way around them, makes sense, small pleasures [r]: A-
- William Hooker & Liudas Mockunas: Live at the Vilnius Jazz Festival (2013 , NoBusiness): drums-sax duo, free improvs sound like comsummate skill [cd]: A-
- Imarhan Timbuktu: Alak Warled (2014, Clermont): average Saharan desert blues band, vocals never break ranks with the charming rhythmic lilt [dl]: B+(**)
- Sami Lane: You Know the Drill (2014, Mixcloud, EP): Bournemouth DJ uploads a 29-minute hip-hop flow, hard stuff, for her 23 followers on Mixcloud [dl]: B+(**)
- Alexander McCabe/Paul Odeh: This Is Not a Pipe (2014, Wamco): alto sax/piano duets, the latter steadying, but the sax is what you want to hear [cd]: B+(**)
- Jason Moran: All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller (2014, Blue Note): a dance tribute to Fats Waller, impressive pianistics and a surprise sax solo, but singers are way off [r]: B+(*)
- Nicholas Payton: Numbers (2013 , Paytone): New Orleans trumpet legend laid down some cushy riddim tracks, decided they didn't need trumpet dubs [r]: B-
- Peripheral Vision: Sheer Tyranny of the Will (2014, self-released): Canadian postbop quartet, cites Shorter and Rosenwinkel as influences, gets there [cd]: B+(*)
- RED Trio & Mattias Ståhl: North and the Red Stream (2013 , NoBusiness): Rodrigo Pinheiro's avant-piano trio plus vibes, not just for tinkle [cd]: B+(**)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
- John Hiatt: Here to Stay: Best of 2000-2012 (2000-12 , New West): label/era best-of usefully reduces handful of inconsistent albums into one real solid one [r]: A-
- Shaver: Shaver\'s Jewels: The Best of Shaver (1993-2001 [2013, New West): no doubt Eddy Shaver added something to his old man's songs -- guitar, also production smarts [r]: A-
Old records rated this week:
- Steve Lacy/Andrea Centazzo/Kent Carter: In Concert (1976 , Ictus): a trio, his most stable format, bass steadying the soprano warble [r]: B+(***)
- Steve Lacy/Andrea Centazzo: Tao (1976-84 , Ictus): duets, soprano sax and percussion on a cycle of pieces, constant invention with light touch [r]: B+(***)
- Steve Lacy Trio: The Window (1987 , Soul Note): an even better trio, original tunes, dazzling style and touch, none of the usual irritants [r]: A-
- Steve Lacy Double Sextet: Clangs (1992 , Hat Art): only piano and voice are doubled, and as usual voice is the problem, not just Aebi this time [cd]: B+(**)
- Ron McClure Quintet: Descendants (1980 , Ken): BS&T bassist, has had long, little noticed solo career, offers tasty bits of Scofield and Harrell [cd]: B+(**)
- Medeski Martin and Wood: Last Chance to Dance Trance (Perhaps): Best Of (1991-1996) (1991-96 , Gramavision): label best-of on their way up; the Monk-Marley segue is swell [cd]: B+(***)
- Brad Mehldau: The Art of the Trio: Volume One (1996 , Warner Brothers): piano with Larry Grenadier and Jorge Rossy, makes big title claim, neither nails/blows it [r]: B+(***)
- Brad Mehldau: Art of the Trio: Volume 4: Back at the Vanguard (1999, Warner Brothers): like Vol. 2, back at Village Vanguard, a bit faster and sharper, not necessarily better [r]: B+(***)
- Brad Mehldau: Progression: Art of the Trio, Volume 5 (2000 , Warner Brothers, 2CD): I've rationalized the titles, but actually they're not quite the same, same for the music [cd]: B+(***)
- Brad Mehldau: Anything Goes (2002 , Warner Brothers): continuing through the trio albums, always comes close, never quite blows me away [r]: B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
- François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Alexey Lapin: The Russian Concerts Volume 2 (FMR): October 14
- Frank Catalano/Jimmy Chamberlin/Percy Jones/Chris Poland/Adam Benjamin: Love Supreme Collective (Ropeadope): September 30
- The Tommy Igoe Rhythm Conspiracy (Deep Rhythm): September 23
- Darrell Katz and the JCA Orchestra: Why Do You Ride? (Leo)
- Lefteris Kordis: "Oh Raven, If You Only Had Brains . . .": Songs for Aesop's Fables (2010, Inner Circle Music)
- Rafael Rosa: Portrait (self-released)
- Spoke: (R)anthems (River)
Sunday, September 21. 2014
This week's scattered links:
David Atkins: Unsettling science:
Steve Koonin has an obfuscatory piece in the Wall Street Journal today
claiming that the science of climate change isn't settled. But it's not
the usual radically ignorant posturing. As with much of the evolution
of the conservative "debate" over climate, it represents another move
in the shifting ground of conservative chicanery intended to paralyze
action to solve the problem.
Koonin doesn't dispute that the climate is changing and that the
world is getting hotter. He doesn't dispute that humans are causing
the change through greenhouse gas emissions. He doesn't even dispute
that these changes are dangerous. His position is that because we don't
fully understand all of the complex reverberating effects of climate
change, we can't make good climate policy yet.
[ . . . ]
Of all the cynical arguments against action on climate change,
Koonin's ranks among the most disturbing because it's so obviously
calculated by a very smart person to make a radically irresponsible
conclusion just to protect a few entrenched economic elites.
By the way, a
People's Climate March took place in New York City today:
A comment I noticed on Twitter, from Robert Loerzel:
GOP lawmakers say there's no definitive scientific proof that there's
a Climate Change march today.
Carikai Chengu: How the US Helped Create Al Qaeda and ISIS: I've
alluded to this many times of late -- it's hard to think of Al Qaeda
without thinking of William Casey, even more so with Henry Kissinger
a new book -- but this bears repeating, especially since this
includes a few wrinkles I didn't even recall:
The fact that the United States has a long and torrid history of
backing terrorist groups will surprise only those who watch the news
and ignore history.
The CIA first aligned itself with extremist Islam during the Cold
War era. Back then, America saw the world in rather simple terms: on
one side, the Soviet Union and Third World nationalism, which America
regarded as a Soviet tool; on the other side, Western nations and
militant political Islam, which America considered an ally in the
struggle against the Soviet Union.
The director of the National Security Agency under Ronald Reagan,
General William Odom recently remarked, "by any measure the U.S. has
long used terrorism. In 1978-79 the Senate was trying to pass a law
against international terrorism -- in every version they produced,
the lawyers said the U.S. would be in violation."
During the 1970's the CIA used the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt as
a barrier, both to thwart Soviet expansion and prevent the spread of
Marxist ideology among the Arab masses. The United States also openly
supported Sarekat Islam against Sukarno in Indonesia, and supported
the Jamaat-e-Islami terror group against Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in
Pakistan. Last but certainly not least, there is Al Qaeda.
Lest we forget, the CIA gave birth to Osama Bin Laden and breastfed
his organization during the 1980's. Former British Foreign Secretary,
Robin Cook, told the House of Commons that Al Qaeda was unquestionably
a product of Western intelligence agencies. Mr. Cook explained that
Al Qaeda, which literally means an abbreviation of "the database" in
Arabic, was originally the computer database of the thousands of
Islamist extremists, who were trained by the CIA and funded by the
Saudis, in order to defeat the Russians in Afghanistan.
The article gets a little cloudier as it approaches ISIS. As far
as I know -- and I haven't read Patrick Cockburn's new book on ISIS,
The Jihadis Return, but I've read much of his reporting --
nobody's assembled a good accounting of the CIA in Syria. We do know,
for instance, that ISIS arms are overwhelmingly American, but we do
not know to what extent those arms were provided by the US by Syrian
rebels, looted from Iraq, or provided by Saudi Arabia or Qatar --
nations which are nominally allied with the US but are free to use
militant jihadis to implement their programs. Chengu does regard
ISIS as an offshoot from Al-Qaeda-in-Iraq, but that runs somewhat
counter to the fact that another Syrian group, Al Nusra, claims the
Al Qaeda brand. The problem with secret organizations like the CIA
operating in Syria is that there's never any accountability, and
therefore never any reason for discipline or restraint. I think
that's reason enough to abolish the CIA (at least he "operations"
end of the racket): they can never plausibly deny anything, no
matter how outrageous, because their entire existence is based on
secrecy and lies. The US will never be able to be taken at its word
as long as the CIA exists.
Andrew Levine: Fear of a Caliphate, long and rather rambling, but
this much is surely true (bold added):
Talk of caliphates serves the IS's purpose, much as beheadings on You
Tube do. And talk is cheap, and become cheaper. Since 9/11, the cost
of getting America to do itself in has plummeted.
And so, the IS, wins: Obama's America is off to war again.
Worry about that; not about what the IS says it wants to establish
in the region or the world.
The potential for harm resulting from the United States and other
Western powers fighting against the IS is greater by many orders of
magnitude than any harm that the IS can do in the areas it controls.
As I've written before, what brought the World Trade Center towers
down wasn't Al Qaeda; it was gravity. As long as the US responds to
provocation with the same unthinking, unreflective automation as the
laws of physics, we'll never be able to command our fate.
Juan Cole: Shiite Militias of Iraq Reject US Return, Threaten to Attack
US Forces: More proof that US intervention against ISIS will be a
colossal failure even the Americans manage to kill every Arab who leaves
his house dressed in black. Nor are the threats only coming from Muqtada
al-Sadr and his Mahdi Army: the Badr Brigades and foreign minister
Ibrahim al-Jafari are upset that the US snubbed Iran in putting together
their "coalition of the killing." The Iraqi Army (effectively another
Shiite militia) is beginning to chafe about depending on US air support.
And Prime Minister al-Abadi is unlikely to have any wiggle room to make
concessions to Sunni tribes with the Shiite militias staging their own
revolt. Rather than destroying ISIS, the only thing the US mission is
likely to accomplish is the secession of Kurdistan from Iraq. Cole adds:
It is difficult to tell how serious these militia leaders' pronouncements
are, since they might be attempting to save face with their followers even
as they benefit from the US air cover. On the other hand, Asa'ib Ahl al-Haqq
actually did in the past kidnap US troops, and the Mahdi Army fought them
tooth and nail in spring of 2004, inflicting high casualties on them. Since
President Obama's air campaign requires Special Ops forces like Navy Seals
or Green Berets to be on the ground with the Iraqi Army, they should
apparently watch their backs. The people they are trying to help against
ISIL don't seem to appreciate their being there. And many of them seem
to prefer Iran's help.
Speaking of which, Kerry seems to have softened the anti-Iran stand (see
Changing US-Iran Relations: Kerry: Iran has a Role in Defeating ISIL
Militants, although I don't think we've heard the last from AIPAC
on this). The fact remains that the US is opposed to Assad in Syria,
but eager to fight against Assad's worst enemy, even if it winds up
aligning with Assad's allies to do so.
Matthew Kalman: Hoping War-Weary Tourists Will Return to Israel:
While Israel has generally been able to escalate its war on Gaza
without incurring any real costs or hardships for its first-class
citizenry, wars still make tourists nervous, so it shouldn't be a
surprise that Israel's tourist business has declined of late. (I
think it was during the 2006 war on Lebanon when we worried that
some of my wife's relatives were going to Israel; upon checking,
we were relieved to find out they had gone to Auschwitz instead.)
This year should have been a record year for Israeli tourism. In 2013,
Israel attracted 3.6 million foreign visitors. Numbers from January
to June showed a 15 percent increase. Then the war began in July,
and the number of visitors slumped. In July and August, the number
of tourists fell to 400,000, down from 578,000 in the same period
last year, a 31 percent decline. Ninety percent of cruise ship
United States flights to Israel were banned for 24 hours after a
rocket landed near Ben-Gurion airport. There was little damage and
few casualties, but those who came found themselves running for shelter
as air-raid sirens wailed in Tel Aviv.
The Israel Hotels Association said that occupancy rates, usually
80 percent in July, fell below 40 percent. Top hotels offered deep
discounts. The new Ritz-Carlton in Herzliya slashed its room rate to
$400 from $575. In Jerusalem, Hilton's new Waldorf-Astoria offered a
10 percent discount online and a 20 percent discount for inquiries
Dan Hotels, which owns the King David in Jerusalem, warned shareholders
in August that third-quarter revenue was liable to fall by 30 percent
because of war-related cancellations.
Wasn't the King David the hotel the Stern Gang blew up in 1948?
Kalman doesn't mention the most famous tourist during the war: a
Palestinian-American teenager visiting Jerusalem, where his cousin
was immolated by Israeli settlers, after which he was beat and
arrested by Israeli police, and was only allowed to leave the country
after Israel's normally servile allies in the US embassy intervened.
The article details various ideas Israelis have to revive the tourism
industry, but they don't include forgoing future wars, opening up
Gaza, or inviting Palestinian refugees to "come home" for a visit.
Alice Rothchild: Gaza and the American awakening:
The seven week war on Gaza is theoretically over though Israeli forces
continue limited incursions into the beleaguered and bombed out strip
of coastal land and over 11,000 wounded and 100,000 homeless pick through
the rubble of their lives, mourn their dead children, and survive hungry
on the generosity of overstretched international aid. The headlines are
all Abbas and airstrikes in Syria and Netanyahu declaring without a shred
of credible evidence that ISIS is Hamas and Hamas is ISIS. Even more
invisible are the ongoing land grabs, continued Jewish settlement growth,
and arrests and killings of Palestinians in the West Bank and East
Jerusalem. [ . . . ]
Although the media has largely turned its gaze elsewhere, the war in
Gaza has forced more of these kinds of contradictions to become painfully
obvious to liberal Jews in the US. While the Israeli government talks about
"pinpoint strikes" and "unprovoked attacks from Hamas" it has become
increasingly difficult to ignore the massive destruction of the Gazan
infrastructure, hospitals, schools, government buildings, UN facilities,
homes. With more than 60 Israelis dead and a Jewish population fearful
of the ever increasing reach of the primitive Qassam rockets, it is time
to ask if three devastating attacks on Gaza in six years and a policy of
periodically "mowing the lawn" is a long-term strategy that leads to an
end to Palestinian resistance and a secure Israel.
Jay Caspian Kang: ISIS's Call of Duty:
The similarities between ISIS recruitment films and first-person-shooter
games are likely intentional. Back in June, an ISIS fighter told the BBC
that his new life was "better than that game Call of Duty."
[ . . . ]
The use of video games as a recruiting tool is not new. The United
States Army has, for the past decade, offered "America's Army," an online
multiplayer shooter; it is among the most downloaded war games of all time
and has been credited with helping boost enlistment. In 2009, according to
the New York Times, Army recruiters hoping to attract enlistees
from urban areas set up stations in a Philadelphia mall where kids could
play video games and, if they so chose, talk to someone about what life
in the armed forces would be like. [ . . . ]
Aside from the recruitment films tailored to evoke video games, they
also have released a series called Mujatweets, which stresses the
brotherhood of ISIS fighters and shows them handing out candy to children.
Paul Krugman: Wild Words, Brain Worms, and Civility:
First, picturesque language, used right, serves an important purpose.
"Words ought to be a little wild," wrote John Maynard Keynes, "for they
are the assaults of thoughts on the unthinking." You could say, "I'm
dubious about the case for expansionary austerity, which rests on
questionable empirical evidence and zzzzzzzz . . ."; or you could
accuse austerians of believing in the Confidence Fairy. Which do you
think is more effective at challenging a really bad economic doctrine?
Beyond that, civility is a gesture of respect -- and sure enough,
the loudest demands for civility come from those who have done nothing
to earn that respect. Noah felt (and was) justified in ridiculing the
Austrians because they don't argue in good faith; faced with a devastating
failure of their prediction about inflation, they didn't concede that they
were wrong and try to explain why. Instead, they denied reality or tried
to redefine the meaning of inflation.
And if you look at the uncivil remarks by people like, well, me, you'll
find that they are similarly aimed at people arguing in bad faith. I talk
now and then about zombie and cockroach ideas. Zombies are ideas that
should have been killed by evidence, but keep shambling along -- e.g.
the claim that all of Europe's troubled debtors were fiscally irresponsible
before the crisis; cockroaches are ideas that you thought we'd gotten rid
of, but keep on coming back, like the claim that Keynes would never have
called for fiscal stimulus in the face of current debt levels (Britain in
the 1930s had much higher debt to GDP than it does now). Well, what I'm
doing is going after bad-faith economics -- economics that keeps trotting
out claims that have already been discredited.
[ . . . ]
And of course, people who engage in that kind of bad faith screech
loudly about civility when they're caught at it.
I never think of myself as a rock critic more than when I'm writing
about politics. Rock critics are always sensitive to ambient noise, and
looking for some choice words to break through the din.
Also see Krugman's
Return of the Bums on Welfare, about "John Boehner's resurrection of
the notion that we're suffering weak job growth because people are living
the good life on government benefits, and don't want to work." Conclusion:
So basically the right is railing against the bums on welfare not only
when there aren't any bums, but when there isn't any welfare.
Amanda Marcotte: Creationism is just the start: How right-wing Christians
are warping America's schools: This, of course, is nothing new -- I
recall reading Paul Goodman's book Compulsory Mis-Education back
in the 1960s, when it first occurred to me that the ideological purpose
of school was to brainwash the masses. Still, the broad consensus of
received wisdom in the 1950s at least gave lip-service to science and
smarts, and painted US history as progressive -- we were taught that
the US fought for independence and free trade, that the North faught
against slavery, and that the reunited US frowned on imperialism and
put an end to fascism (although we still had to read Animal Farm
on the evils of Godless Communism). Now, however:
The attempts to indoctrinate children into the belief that America
is basically a Christian theocracy are bad enough, but that's not the
only conservative agenda item the books are trying to trick students
into buying. The books also try to subtly discredit the civil rights
movement by implying that segregation wasn't so bad, with one book
arguing that white and black schools had "similar buildings, buses,
and teachers," which the researchers argue "severely understates the
tremendous and widespread disadvantages of African-American schools."
Researchers also found that the books were playing the role of
propagandist for unregulated capitalism. One textbook argues that
taxes have gone up since 1927, but society "does not appear to be
much more civilized today than it was" back then. It's an assertion
that ignores the much reduced poverty and sickness, improved education,
and even things like the federal highway system, all to make an
ideological point. Another book argues that any government regulation
whatsoever somehow means that capitalism ceases to be capitalism, a
stance that would mean capitalism has never really existed in all of
That these books are stuffed full of lies and propaganda is not a
surprise. From the get-go, the State Board of Education made it clear
it was far more interested in pushing a right-wing ideology on students
than actually providing an education. In July, the Texas Freedom Network
reviewed the 140 people selected to be on the panels reviewing textbooks.
Being an actual expert in politics or history practically guaranteed you
couldn't get a slot, as "more than a dozen" Texas academics with expertise
who applied got denied, while conservative "political activists and
individuals without social studies degrees or teaching experience got
places on the panels." Only three of the 140 members of the panel are
even current faculty members at Texas universities, but a pastor who
used to own a car dealership somehow got a spot.
Heather Digby Parton: Wingnuts' crippling Ebola fury: Why they're enraged
about fighting a disease: Superficially most of these wingnuts appear
to be griping about ISIS rather than Ebola, but I suppose that's because
they prefer threats they can misunderstand to ones they cannot grasp, or
maybe they just prefer enemies they can kill to diseases that could kill
them. For example, Allen West:
The world need to step up against Islamo-fascism but I suppose fighting
Ebola is easier for a faux Commander-in-Chief than to fight a real enemy
of America. Nice optics there Barack, good try to change the subject,
and make yourself seem like a leader fighting a really bad flu bug --
all the while you dismiss the cockroaches who behead Americans.
Then there are the right-wingers who fear illegal child refugees
will sneak Ebola into the country. Unless, of course, we head them
off by setting up an ambush on the Syria-Iraq border.
Paul Rosenberg: We really must remember the epic failures of George W.
Bush: Frank Bruni asks, "Whenever Barack Obama seems in danger of
falling, do we have to hear that George W. Bush made the cliff?" Well,
yes, not that there was no cliff before Bush, but it got much steeper
and less study under Bush's eight years of malign neglect and extreme
But the real problem here was not that Obama supporters attacked Bush.
It was that Obama himself did not. [ . . . ]
While it's true that we can't undo Bush's mistakes, that hardly
means it's foolish to keep them in mind. It would be foolish to forget
them, after the terrible price we've paid -- and at the same time when
the architects of that disaster are urging another mission in the Middle
East to "destroy" ISIS.
And yet, as with domestic policy, Obama's most significant mistake
has been his reluctance to break sharply with previous Republican policy,
call out their failures, and hold them responsible. War crimes have not
even been investigated, much less punished -- only those who sought to
expose them have been prosecuted. Yet, holding our own accountable for
their misdeeds would work wonders for regaining trust throughout the
I don't see how you can blame Obama's supporters. He did promise
change when he ran in 2008, and I'm pretty sure most of us took that
as meaning change from G.W. Bush, who gave us seven years of stupid,
pointless wars; two huge tax giveaways to the already rich; runaway
deficits; a bad recession early, a fake recovery, and an even worse
recession late, which he turned into a trillions of dollars of gifts
to the big banks; perversion of the criminal justice system and the
right-wing politicization of civil service; major failure in federal
disaster relief; complete inattention to festering problems like
health care and climate change; utter disregard for international
law. Obama, the Democrats, the press, everyone should have routinely
repeated that list, not so much to heap scorn upon the Republicans
(although they certainly deserve to be shamed) as to warn ourselves
against repeating such disastrous policies.
Indeed, most of Obama's problems since taking office result not
from the few changes Obama did manage -- Obamacare, for instance,
is a success by any measure, at least against the previous system
if not against the single-payer system we would have preferred --
but from the many ways he continued and conserved Bush policies.
Wednesday, September 17. 2014
Every year dozens of books are published about a topic that only a
handful of Americans care about: specifically, those with cushy "think
tank" jobs, plus a few military officers and State department bureaucrats
who aspire to those jobs. Most assume that the US has a rightful role
running the World Order, with some fretting that China or some other
nation is going to butt in and offering sage advice on how the US can
secure its rightful role. Against these stalwart hegemonists, now and
then someone will argue that a "multipolar" isn't such a calamity, but
they are in the minority, and are still so obsessed with dominance
they needn't fear about losing their status as Very Serious Thinkers.
The books, of course, are nonsense, predicated on unexamined ideas:
that chaos and war are the natural state of the world, that order is so
valuable you have to accept it from whoever can impose it, that inequality
is the best we can do given man's venal nature. That is, of course, the
way conservatives think about everything. Unfortunately, it is also the
way liberals usually think about the foreign world, given how readily
they have sucked up the prejudices of the West's imperial past. In 2003
Jonathan Schell published an antidote to that kind of thinking, a book
called The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of
the People. It was published just as the neocon ideology had become
fashionable and powerful enough to "create new reality" in Iraq, and
predicted failure for such hubris. Ten years later the results should
be clear, but still the foreign policy elite natters on, too absorbed
in their own prejudiced thoughts to have noticed their failures.
Case in point: a new book called World Order by America's
most venerable war criminal, Henry Kissinger. Fortunately, we don't
have to actually read the book: we can skim through the New York
review by John Micklethwait -- editor-in-chief of The Economist,
the kind of journalist who makes his living chronicling the rarefied
world of conservative "think tanks." (Micklethwait's most famous book
is The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America, which every
4-5 pages reiterated the mantra that conservatives are America's "idea
people." He also wrote A Future Perfect: The Challenge and Hidden
Promise of Globalization  and God Is Back: How the Global
Revival of Faith Is Changing the World , extolling the wonders
of free capital flows and fundamentalism, respectively. His latest is
The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State,
about how the future belongs to oligarchies that are able to usurp the
powers of the state.) Rarely has reviewer and subject been so perfectly
matched to bring out the worst in a book.
However, before we dive into the review, I should point out that
there is an alternative approach to international relations that is
wholly absent in the thinking of Kissinger and Micklethwait: the
idea that order can be obtained through the consent of equal nations
with a common commitment to basic, inalienable human rights and a
just body of international law. In the wake of two horrific world
wars, and the advent of even more destructive nuclear weapons, that
idea got so far as the founding documents of the United Nations --
before that body got turned into a cartel of superpowers -- and the
basic ideas have reappeared occasionally since. I could elaborate
more, but for now just keep the idea in mind.
The first quarter of Micklethwait's review is sheer flattery:
If you want to understand the point of Henry Kissinger, play this
mind game: Imagine that the nonagenarian had run American foreign
policy since Sept. 11, 2001, instead of two groups that had spent much
of the previous quarter-century condemning him. First came the
democracy-touting neoconservatives, who saw his realpolitik as
appeasement, and now liberal Democrats, who insist nation-building
must begin at home -- and therefore hate foreign entanglements, let
alone grand strategies.
Might a little realism have been useful in Iraq, rather than the
"stuff happens" amateurism of the Bush years? Would a statesman who
read Winston Churchill on Afghanistan ("except at harvest time
. . . the Pathan [Pashtun] tribes are always engaged in private or
public war") have committed America to establishing a "gender
sensitive . . . and fully representative" government in Kabul? Would
Kissinger have issued a red-line warning to Syria and then allowed
Assad to go unpunished when he used chemical weapons? Or let a power
vacuum gradually develop on Vladimir Putin's borders? Or looked on as
the South China Sea became a cockpit of regional rivalries?
[ . . . ]
Yes, passion, for this is a cri de coeur from a famous
skeptic, a warning to future generations from an old man steeped in
the past. It comes with faults: It is contorted by the author's
concerns about his legacy and by a needless craving not to upset the
Lilliputian leaders he still seeks to influence. It also goes over
some of the same ground as previous works. But it is a book that every
member of Congress should be locked in a room with -- and forced to
read before taking the oath of office.
It's not as if Kissinger didn't have the ear of the Bush Administration
after 9/11. He was, after all, Bush's first pick to chair the commission
that would report on the 9/11 attacks. (He turned the job down for fear
of having to disclose who his consulting clients were.) If he had any
reservations about Bush's approach to Iraq or anything, he was remarkably
circumspect about voicing them. And since when has Churchill been an
expert on anything? He always said he hadn't been elected to preside
over the dismantling of the British Empire, but no one did more to wreck
it, which he repeatedly did by insisting on substituting his prejudices
for any understanding of or empathy for the empire's subjects. On the
other hand, Kissinger's own record is nearly as bad. The suggestion
that he would have handled Syria and Ukraine better than Obama has --
admittedly a low bar -- overlooks how much his own policies contributed
to those conflicts today.
The premise is that we live in a world of disorder:
[ . . . ] Hence the need to build an order -- one
able to balance the competing desires of nations, both the established
Western powers that wrote the existing international "rules"
(principally the United States), and the emerging ones that do not
accept them, principally China, but also Russia and the Islamic
This will be hard because there never has been a true world
order. Instead, different civilizations have come up with their own
versions. The Islamic and Chinese ones were almost entirely
self-centered: [ . . . ] America's version,
though more recent and more nuanced, is also somewhat self-centered --
a moral order where everything will be fine once the world comes to
its senses and thinks like America (which annoyingly it never quite
does). So the best starting point remains Europe's "Westphalian"
balance of power.
The Westphalia treaties ended the 30 Years War in 1648 with a set
of agreements between nations/states/cities to respect each other's
autonomy and work with each other in prescribed ways. This later led
to an ever-adjusting set of alliances to maintain a balance of power --
which mostly worked to keep the peace in Europe (and to export war to
the third world) until its colossal failure in 1914. Kissinger always
thinks in the past, and far enough back as to ignore recent novelties
like the European Union, so balance of power is the best he can do.
Unlike the neocons, he recognizes that the US isn't the sole power in
the world, one suspects this has less to do with realism than with
the fact that it takes multiple powers to balance.
After all, while the neocons hate Kissinger, he has never really
reciprocated. The reason, I think, is that both worship power. It's
just that the neocons think they have so much power they can create
their own reality, and Kissinger, well, he's never been to type to
point out "the Emperor's new clothes" -- he's too much of a flatterer
for that, too worshipful of power.
The review goes on and on iterating Kissinger's past examples, a
litany of Richelieu, Metternich, Palmerston, Talleyrand -- curiously
enough, courtiers like Kissinger and not the monarchs they served.
Kissinger goes on to belittle the European Union:
. . . as Kissinger notes in one of his more withering asides,
unifications in Europe have only been achieved with a forceful uniter,
like Piedmont in Italy or Prussia in Germany.
For Kissinger, historical change not accomplished by force hardly
counts. Then he explains Putin and Russia:
Kissinger also canters eloquently through Russia. Vladimir Putin's
nationalism makes more sense once you understand the historical chip
on his shoulder and his country's centuries-long, remorseless
expansion: Russia added an average of 100,000 square kilometers a year
to its territory from 1552 to 1917.
Again, nothing like a historical factoid to explain away current
behavior or policy. This one is about as facile as trying to explain
the Bush occupation of Iraq as the latest wrinkle on Manifest Destiny.
It may indeed be that a nation capable of the former is predisposed
to the latter, but that leaves a lot of intervening history unexamined
in favor of a pat answer.
Still, the book stalls a bit with Islam. Religion used to be one of
Kissinger's blind spots: The word does not appear in the index of
Diplomacy. Now Kissinger seems to have swung too far the other
way. Islam's failure to differentiate between mosque and state suddenly
explains virtually everything (though not, presumably, the success of
the largest Muslim-dominated state, Indonesia). Iran is perfidy
personified. By contrast, Israel is a victim, "a Westphalian state" in
a sea of unreason. He does not mention its unhelpful settlement-building
or examine the Jewish state's own extremists (the man who killed the
peacemaking Yitzhak Rabin is a "radical Israeli student"). It all feels
like a rather belated olive branch to the Israeli right and its supporters
in America's Congress.
I suppose this is where you notice that Micklethwait is British: he
can't quite fall for the poor, tiny, beleaguered Israel line that is
political orthodoxy in the US. Kissinger has been around the block
enough to know better too, but to say so would take principles, or
courage, neither a Kissinger staple. Propounding ignorance about
Islam, on the other hand, takes neither. It's right up his alley.
The book recovers speed with Asia. Kissinger compares Britain's
effect on India to Napoleon's on Germany: In both cases multiple
states that had seen themselves only as a geographic entity discovered
a national one.
Another remarkable example of Kissinger's ability to look at al
the complexities of history and only see power relationships, then
to take the narrowest thread and explicate it through some totally
unrelated event in European history. Sure, Britain united India
politically -- more Bismarck than Napoleon, I'd say, until they
also split it into two warring halves -- but they also destroyed
India economically. (One thing I wonder is whether Kissinger would
have been so successful had stayed in Europe, where his audiences
and patrons might actually know much of the history he revels in.)
There is some repetition here with his last book on China, but he
moves quickly through the Middle Kingdom's self-absorbed history,
where foreign policy was largely a matter of collecting tribute
through the emperor's Ministry of Rituals and where soldiery was
little valued ("Good iron is not used for nails. Good men do not
become soldiers"). In 1893, even as Western forces were overrunning
the country, the Qing dynasty diverted military funds to restore a
marble boat in the Imperial Palace.
Middle Kingdom? Another example of forcing the present into the
distant past so he can avoid having to understand what's happening
there. I like the line -- "Good men do not become soldiers" -- but
modern China does not lack for soldiers, or for nails. While modern
China must in some sense continue to reflect and resonate ancient
China, the nation's remarkable economic growth of the past 20-30
years is more due to forced modernization. This is a modern (perhaps
even postmodern) phenomenon -- unexplainable through ancient history,
but also non-analogous to the processes that created similar results
in Europe and America. In particular, China (and most of East Asia,
Japan a partial exception) achieved its wealth without building on
imperialism, so is unlikely to look at the world the same way Europe
and America do. Needless to say, that's a thought Kissinger is
Is modern America capable of leading the world out of this?
Kissinger never answers this question directly, but the chapters on
his own country read like a carefully worded warning to a treasured
but blinkered friend. America comes to the task with two deep
character faults. The first, bound up with its geography, is a
perception that foreign policy is "an optional activity." As late as
1890, its army was only the 14th largest in the world, smaller than
Bulgaria's. This is a superpower that has withdrawn ignominiously from
three of the last five wars it chose to fight -- in Vietnam, Iraq (the
younger Bush version), Afghanistan. The second is that the same ideals
that have built a great country often made it lousy at diplomacy,
especially "the conviction that its domestic principles were
self-evidently universal and their application at all times salutary"
-- the naïveté of Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations and the
neoconservatives' forays in the Islamic world.
[ . . . ]
But the current disorder is more complex: chaos in the Middle East,
the spread of nuclear weapons, the emergence of cyberspace as an
unregulated military arena and the reordering of Asia. The challenge is
"not simply a multipolarity of power but a world of increasingly
contradictory realities," Kissinger writes. "It must not be assumed that,
left unattended, these trends will at some point reconcile automatically
to a world of balance and cooperation -- or even any order at all."
[ . . . ]
How do America's current leaders shape up? Here the book is both
irritatingly coy and implicitly devastating. There is no direct
criticism of the Obama administration and even a slightly comic
paragraph expressing Kissinger's deep personal admiration for George
W. Bush -- in the midst of a section on the cluelessness of his foreign
policy. But under the equivocation and the courtiership, the message
is clear, even angry: The world is drifting, unattended, and America,
an indispensable part of any new order, has yet to answer even basic
questions, like "What do we seek to prevent?" and "What do we seek to
One of my favorite rock lyrics is from the band Camper van Beethoven,
and goes like this: "If you weren't living here in America/you'd probably
be somewhere else." There are several problems with being self-centered.
One is that you can't see yourself as others see you, and as such you
have no clue when you do something wrong. Back when the US army was
smaller than Bulgaria's it still did things that were wrong -- 1890,
the very year Micklethwait cites, was the date of the Wounded Knee
Massacre -- but those wrong things were much smaller in scope and more
isolated from the rest of the world than they are today. I don't know
why Kissinger/Micklethwait complained about the size of the 1890 army.
Back then, the US was already the most prosperous nation in the world,
without getting into the trap of managing overseas colonies (although
it often treated Central America like one). Nor was the US isolated:
with the possible exception of the UK, no nation traded more all around
the world. What more do they want?
The notion of America as an "indispensable nation" dates from WWII,
when latent industrial might turned the tables against the Axis --
although we conveniently forget that most of the actual fighting was
carried out by the Soviet Union and China. Unfortunately, Americans
had too good a time in that war -- a massive Keynesian stimulus,
strict profit controls, and a sense of common purpose pushed a
previously depressed economy into overdrive, while all of the war's
destruction took place elsewhere. By the time the war was over, over
half of the world's industrial capacity resided in the US, and America
alone had the financial power to jumpstart the world economy. After
some early gestures to build a peaceful world community, Truman got
distracted and decided that the US should side with capital in the
international class war, so efforts like the Marshall Plan were turned
into political weapons against not just the Soviet Union but the whole
working class. The "Cold War" somehow managed not to destroy the world,
but the US repeatedly supported desperate attempts by colonial powers
to recapture their empires, and corrupt dictators and oligarchs when
independence was inevitable, while isolating nations that had the gall
to turn toward communism. Ultimately, the big loser of the Cold War
wasn't the Soviet Union, which gave up the game, but America's own
middle class democracy.
Micklethwait, possibly echoing but at least distilling Kissinger,
described the Cold War thusly:
In the Cold War, America's moral order worked: There was a clear
adversary that could eventually just be outmuscled, there were
compliant allies and there were set rules of engagement.
After the Soviet Union fell, America's foreign policy elites were
beside themselves with triumphal glee -- proclaiming The End of
History and looking forward to The Clash of Civilizations --
but their triumph was little more than a con. Had Reagan's rhetoric
caused the Soviet Union to disintegrate, why did communist states the
US confronted much more aggressively (like Cuba and North Korea) stay
communist? If communism was a dead end, how was China able to post
the world's strongest economic growth record over the last 25 years?
Moreover, when you sift through the real rubble of the "Cold War"
you find enormous chasms where the US took the wrong side of history
and left enormous destruction in its wake: the "chaos in the Middle
East" that Micklethwait bemoans is largely the result of America's
Cold War embrace of Salafist jihadism -- a program, by the way,
initiated in the 1970s when Henry Kissinger came up with the bright
idea of propping the ultraconservative Saudi monarchy up as a US
proxy in the Middle East (and soon thereafter Afghanistan). To say
"America's moral order worked" is well beyond insane.
This isn't to say that the US should have no role in the world
(although that would clearly be an improvement over the one the US
has practiced for nearly seventy years now). Clearly there are
useful and valuable things a large and rich nation can do in the
world -- the $750 million Obama just proposed to fight the ebola
epidemic is a nice gesture (although, as
Nick Turse recently documented, the US has a terrible track
record of running "humanitarian projects" in Africa). But what
needs to be done is for the US to meet other countries in forums
that give everyone a fair and equal shake, and for that to happen
the US has to stop throwing its weight around, trying to bully
everyone else into submission. More specifically, the US needs to
develop a genuine commitment to peace and human rights, to equality
and justice, to a sustainable stewardship of the earth. To do that,
a good first step would be to stop listening to Henry Kissinger.
In fact, a good step would be to extradite him to the Hague, to
finally be tried as the war criminal he was (and is).
Monday, September 15. 2014
Music: Current count 23814  rated (+39), 528  unrated (+4).
Rhapsody Streamnotes last
Tuesday, I kept diving into the old music, moving from Julius Hemphill
to Henry Threadgill, then to Steve Lacy (still not done there). I was
surprised to find that I liked the two early albums so much (both ***
in Penguin Guide; I went back and replayed the 4-star all-Monk
Explorations but left it at B+). And I was further surprised
that none of the later albums rated that high -- though I am just
filling in holes in a catalog I've previously heard much of. (Before
this week I had 37 albums rated filed under Lacy's name; now 51;
there are still 21 unheard albums in the database.) For the record,
I previously had the following Lacy records rated A- or A (counting
one filed under Roswell Rudd's name):
- School Days (w/Roswell Rudd, 1963)
- The Forest and the Zoo (1966)
- Esteem: Live in Paris (1975)
- Regeneration (w/Roswell Rudd and others, 1982)
- Morning Joy: Live at Sunset Paris (1986)
- Sempre Amore (w/Mal Waldron, 1986)
- One More Time (w/Joëlle Léandre, 2002)
- Early and Late (w/Roswell Rudd, 1962-2002)
A couple of those came out after his death in 2003. I suppose I should
also note that Lacy has more low grades (B or below) than nearly any other
jazz musician of his stature: I find a lot of his 1970s work to be very
sloppy, and I have a lot of trouble any time he hands the mic to his wife,
Irène Aëbi (although my horror has somewhat diminished with this latest
batch of records). He also has a lot of solo albums that are intrinsically
limited -- Only Monk (1985) is one of the B records, even though
it seems like it should be better. Some more in the queue, and any time
I find something more I'll give it a listen.
Not many new records: most of last week's haul came in today and
barely got catalogued. Spent a lot of time with the two TUM records.
It should be noted somewhere that they have the best documentation
and packaging of any jazz label in the world. Also spent quite a
bit of time with Lomax, whose 2010 album, The State of Black
America, made that year's top-ten list. Saxophonist Edwin
Bayard is key to both, one of the most powerful young players I've
heard this decade.
I've kept the original tweet grade for Loudon Wainwright III below,
but the database grade is somewhat more generous. Although I single
out one extraordinarily bad song, it should be noted that nothing
else on the album rises to the level of Older Than My Old Man
Now (my top-ranked record of 2012). Also, my complaint about
that "2nd Amendment Xmas anthem" isn't political (as I tweeted,
"even if it's satirical and anti-gun"). Some brilliant ideas just
don't work, nor do stupid ones, regardless of artistic license.
(By the way, Matt Rice has a more judicious Wainwright review
Recommended music links:
Robert Christgau: Expert Witness: first installment of the new
Consumer Guide focuses on alt-rap records: Atmosphere, The Roots,
Homeboy Sandman, Open Mike Eagle; three A-, two HMs. More coming
each Friday. There's also an
interview with Christgau where he pegs Black Portland as
his favorite album of the year. I thought Atmosphere and The Roots
might have some upward potential when I reviewed them back when,
but I didn't get anything promising out of Black Portland --
although Tatum, Rice, and others did.
New records rated this week:
- Ryan Adams: Ryan Adams (2014, Blue Note): singer-songwriter narrowly framed, both on cover and with guitar, as if we should pay more attention, but should we? [r]: B
- Jason Adasiewicz's Sun Rooms: From the Region (2013 , Delmark): vibes-bass-drums trio with Flaten & Reed, doing much to let the leader roam/soar [cd]: B+(***)
- Kalle Kalima & K-18: Buñuel de Jour (2013 , TUM): guitarist, quartet adds bass, accordion, and alto sax, all melting together, thick & juicy [cd]: B+(***)
- The Mark Lomax Trio: Isis & Osiris (2012 , Inarhyme): drags early, but Edwin Bayard's sax is often mesmerizing, drummer pretty good too [cd]: A-
- Wadada Leo Smith: The Great Lakes Suites (2012 , TUM, 2CD): another 2CD monster but spare, with Henry Threadgill jousting, Lindberg & DeJohnette [cd]: B+(***)
- Loudon Wainwright III: Haven't Got the Blues (Yet) (2014, 429): pretty good album, as usual, except for that 2nd Amendment Xmas anthem [r]: D-
Old records rated this week:
- John Wolf Brennan/Alex Cline/Daniele Patumi/Tscho Theissing/John Voirol: Shooting Stars and Traffic Lights (1993-97 , Leo): [r]: B+(**)
- Julius Hemphill: Raw Materials and Residuals (1977 , Black Saint): early sax trio with cello and percussion, explosive postbop, seductive melodies [r]: A-
- Julius Hemphill/Warren Smith: Chile New York (1980 , Black Saint): sax-percussion duets, kind of sketchy as improv can sometimes be [r]: B+(**)
- The Julius Hemphill Sextet: At Dr. King's Table (1997, New World): ghost band, six-piece sax choir laying out some of his most storied harmonies [r]: B+(***)
- The Julius Hemphill Sextet: The Hard Blues: Live in LisbonB+(***)
- Jay Clayton & John Lindberg: As Tears Go By (1987 , Jazzwerkstatt): half tortured voals, half String Trio of New York, some pretty great Marty Ehrlich [r]: B+(*)
- Steve Lacy: Soprano Sax (1957 , Prestige/OJC): first album, shows his horn off on Monk & Ellington, with very engaging Wynton Kelly on piano [r]: A-
- Steve Lacy: The Straight Horn of Steve Lacy (1960 , Candid): mostly trio as Lacy lays out his unique soprano sax style, covering Monk, Parker, and Taylor [r]: A-
- Steve Lacy with Don Cherry: Evidence (1961 , New Jazz/OJC): two-horn quartet with bass/drums, indecisive squabbles over the usual fare (Ellington, Monk) [r]: B+(***)
- Steve Lacy: Scratching the Seventies/Dreams (1969-77 , Saravah, 3CD): box rolls up 5 albums as Lacy gets weird, often several ways at once [r]: B+(*)
- Steve Lacy/Andrea Centazzo: Clangs (1977 , Ictus): soprano sax and percussion duets, a rickety contraption with whistles, bird calls, clanging [r]: B+(**)
- Steve Lacy Quintet: Troubles (1979, Black Saint): tricky, slippery tunes with Steve Potts on second sax, Irene Aebi on violin or cello (or voice) [r]: B+(***)
- Steve Lacy: The Flame (1982, Soul Note): trio with Bobby Few (piano) and Dennis Charles (drums), bits of genius and bouts of flailing [r]: B+(*)
- Steve Lacy/Mal Waldron: Live in Berlin (1984 , Jazzwerkstatt): typical mix for frequent duet partners, can get dense, also somewhat fanciful [r]: B+(**)
- Steve Lacy: More Monk (1989 , Soul Note): solo soprano sax, all Monk tunes, played fairly straight but stripped to bare bones [r]: B+(*)
- Steve Lacy/Mal Waldron: "Let's Call This . . . Esteem" (1993, Slam): duo, one of many they've done but too often they play past one another [r]: B+(**)
- Steve Lacy Trio: The Rent (1997 , Cavity Search, 2CD): trio, with Jean-Jacques Avenel and John Betsch, live before enthusiastic crowd, stretches into 2CD [r]: B+(***)
- Steve Lacy Trio: The Holy La (1998 , Freelance): same trio, cut in studio in France, lovely kalimba stretch, two Aebi vocals (not too bad) [r]: B+(***)
- Steve Lacy: The Beat Suite (2001 , Sunnyside): fine texts from famous beat poets, slippery and kinky music as only Lacy can, starchy vocals [r]: B
- Steve Lacy: November (2003 , Intakt): solo soprano sax, probably his last, a nice summation of his art; one vocals shows he can't sing either [r]: B+(**)
- John Lindberg: Trilogy of Works for Eleven Instrumentalists (1984 , Black Saint): belabored title and scores but somehow comes together impressively [r]: B+(***)
- John Lindberg: Quartet Afterstorm (1994, Black Saint): bassist-led, but trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff and pianist Eric Watson star in taut ensemble [r]: A-
- John Lindberg Ensemble: A Tree Frog Tonality (2000, Between the Lines): quartet with Wadada Leo Smith and Larry Ochs bursting out, Andrew Cyrille superb [r]: B+(***)
- Pago Libre: Stepping Out (2004 , Leo): pianist John Wolf Brennan's avant-chamber group, violin dominating alphorn/flugelhorn, no drums [r]: B+(***)
- Henry Threadgill Sextett: You Know the Number (1986 , Jive/Novus): three horns, cello, bass, two percussionists, a boisterous avant-garde circus [r]: A-
- Henry Threadgill Sextett: Easily Slip Into Another World (1987 , Jive/Novus): picks up where predecessor left off, more or less inspired, vocal ok [r]: B+(***)
- Henry Threadgill: Song Out of My Trees (1993 , Black Saint): five pieces all over the map, like a grieving vocal over accordion/harpsichord/cellos [r]: B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
- Rashied Al Akbar/Muhammad Ali/Earl Cross/Idris Ackamoor: Ascent of the Nether Creatures (NoBusiness): CDR [LP only]
- Daniel Blacksburg Trio: Perilous Architecture (NoBusiness): CDR [LP only]
- Gianni Lenoci/Kent Carter/Bill Elgart: Plaything (NoBusiness): CDR [LP only]
- Jack Cooper: Mists: Charles Ives for Jazz Orchestra (Planet Arts)
- William Hooker & Liudas Mockunas: Live at the Vilnius Jazz Festival (NoBusiness)
- Peripheral Vision: Sheer Tyranny of the Will (self-released)
- RED Trio & Mattias Ståhl: North and the Red Stream (NoBusiness)
- Ken Thomson and Slow/Fast: Settle (2014, NCM East)
- Rosenna Vitro: Clarity: Music of Clare Fischer (Random Act): September 30
Sunday, September 14. 2014
On September 10, getting a jump on the unlucky 13th anniversary of
Al-Qaida's planes attacks, President Obama laid out
his plans for the fourth US invasion and assault on Iraq:
Barack Obama became the fourth consecutive American president to
deliver a prime time speech to the nation about Iraq on Wednesday,
vowing to wage "a steady, relentless effort" to wipe out ISIS, the
Sunni militant group in Iraq and Syria which recently beheaded two
"Our objective is clear: we will degrade, and ultimately destroy,
ISIL through a comprehensive and sustained counter-terrorism
strategy," Obama said.
The president was quick to emphasize that this won't be a war like
Iraq or Afghanistan, instead likening it to U.S. engagement in Yemen
and Somalia. He said it "will not involve American combat troops
fighting on foreign soil," and will instead involve "using our air
power and our support for partner forces on the ground" to attack ISIS
(also called ISIL).
"If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat
beyond that region -- including to the United States," Obama said. He
stressed that the strategy will be conducted with global allies,
saying the four elements of his plan are air strikes, support for
rebel forces on the ground, counter-terrorism and intelligence and
humanitarian assistance to civilians.
[Some quick notes: the second invasion of Iraq was under Clinton,
when US forces drove Saddam Hussein's forces out of the Kurdish enclave;
that was done without a military engagement, although Clinton also
conducted a sporadic air war against Iraq over much of his two terms,
a practice Bush continued upon taking office in 2001. US troops first
entered Somalia in 1992, so how is that working? The first person
Obama ordered killed was a Somali pirate in 2009. The US killed a
leader of Al-Shabab there as recently as Sept. 2. The US started
using drones over Yemen to assassinate alleged terrorists in 2002,
so that, too, is at best a slowly evolving "success" story.]
As usual, Obama managed to offend everyone with his position --
the hawks for not acting sooner and more recklessly; the rest of us
for throwing us back into another pointless, hopeless war. For a
guy who claims his first principle of foreign policy is "don't do
stupid shit," Obama just blew it. As near as I can tell, he did
this for three reasons:
When US troops finally left Iraq, due to the Iraqi government's
refusal to sign a "status of forces agreement" that would give US
troops immunity to commit crimes against Iraqis (as they had been
doing since 2003), Obama chose to celebrate the occasion as a great
American success story, and as such he became party to a war that
he had campaigned against. So when the success story unraveled and
Iraq sank back into a civil war that the US had started by turning
Shiite death squads against Sunnis, Obama felt obligated to repair
the damage, even where Bush and 160,000 US troops had failed. (Obama
made a similar gaffe when he touted a false recovery from the Bush
recession, leading people to think he was responsible for the whole
crash.) The net effect is that Obama is willing to destroy his own
reputation in order to salvage Bush's. That sure isn't the "change"
millions of people voted for Obama to bring about.
Obama is a pushover, and he let himself get snowed here. A
lot of people have been pushing for war against ISIS lately, and
they've painted the group as unspeakably evil, pulling out every
cliché and playing on every prejudice that has ever been used to
sell Americans on a war in the Middle East. Granted, most of the
people who've been agitating for war against ISIS were already
trying to push the US into war in Syria against ISIS' primary
enemy, the Assad regime. Many of them belong to the "real men
go to Tehran" faction that wanted to extend the 2003 invasion of
Iraq to overthrow the governments of Iran and Syria. But all the
publicity of ISIS' beheadings and massacres has gripped people
initially inclined against escalating a war, even, some would
say, the Pope (but see
this for a more nuanced reading). For someone like Obama, who
periodically feels the need to prove he's no pacifist, the chance
to vanquish a foe as abhorent as ISIS was irresistible.
Finally, Obama has outsmarted himself, thinking his peculiar
combination of aggression (bombing, special forces) and restraint
(no regular combat troops) will work magic while avoiding the risks,
the abuse and blowback that inevitably follows American troops all
around the world. The fact remains that no matter how light or heavy
you go in, bombing will inevitably kill the wrong people, intelligence
will inevitably be incomplete or faulty, and the proxy forces that
the plan so relies on will have their own agendas, ones that will
become more rigid with the commitment of American support.
Perhaps the worst thing about Obama's speech and the policies he
previously put into place is the open-ended commitment he's made to
the very same Iraqi political leaders whose misbehavior made ISIS
appear to many Iraqis (Sunnis, anyway) to be the lesser evil. Now
they know that when they fuck up again the Americans will have to
stick with them, because the US can never afford to lose face. (On
the other hand, maybe they should review the story of Ngo Dinh Diem.)
But nearly every aspect of the speech/plan is flawed. ISIS came into
existence in the crucible of Syria's civil war, and some group like
it will inevitably reappear as long as the civil war goes on, so it
will prove impossible to stop ISIS without also ending Syria's civil
war. Chances of that are thin as Obama has sided with the rebels
against Assad, not realizing that the most prominent rebel group
is ISIS, and that the US-favored "moderates" are firmly aligned with
ISIS. The situation in Iraq is no simpler, with the US fighting in
favor of the central government against ISIS but also siding with
Kurdish separatists against the central government. The desire to
work through proxies adds complexity, but perhaps not quite the mess
of a full-blown invasion and its inevitably messy occupation. Plus
you have the problem of managing domestic expectations. Obama came
out with a clever limited intervention plan in the much simpler
context of Libya and, well, look at how that blew up. Obama put a
lot of emphasis on the counterinsurgency doctrine Gen. McChrystall
tried to implement in Afghanistan, and failed totally at. American
soldiers are peculiarly inept at fighting Muslims, yet the are held
on such high pedestals by politicians like Obama that their repeated
failures are overlooked. Similarly, the diplomatic alliances the
US will surely need are often unapproachable due to other conflicts --
Iran and Russia are the major cases, but the traditional wink-and-nod
green light for Saudia Arabia to finance groups like ISIS also comes
And one should probe deeper, although there is little chance that
Obama will. Nothing is so opaque to those who believe that "America
is a light unto the nations" as the actual past behavior of the US.
Since the 1970s the US has financed Jihadis, and has encouraged the
Saudis and others to actively proselytize their fundamentalist brand
of Islam, even as it has turned back against us. Similarly, America's
Cold War ideology, still very much institutionalized, keeps us from
working in any meaningful way to with liberal, socialist, or any kind
of progressive movements in the Middle East.
The US government is similarly ignorant about ISIS, as are the
American people -- even more so as they only enter the equation as
targets for propaganda, where ISIS is made to look at evil as possible
while the good intentions and great deeds of the US are never subject
to scrutiny. We are, after all, the leader of the free world, as such
obliged to act to defend civilization, something no one else has the
resources or moral character to do. And so on, blah, blah, blah. To
be sure, part of the problem here is that ISIS hasn't been running
the sort of media relations program that, say, the Israelis mount
when they go on a five-week killing binge like they did this summer
in Gaza. Rather, ISIS has contemptuously killed journalists who might
have helped them get their story out. They must, after all, have
stories: even the Taliban, who weren't much better at PR, could go
around the room and recount the lost limbs and eyes that scarred
nearly every one of their commanders. Like the Taliban, ISIS sprung
from the killing fields of despotic regimes and foreign occupiers.
I'm not aware of any journalist who has gotten close enough to ISIS
to present their side of the story, although Nir Rosen's In the Belly
of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq (2006) and
Dahr Jamail's Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded
Journalist in Occupied Iraq (2007) got relatively close to earlier
generations of anti-US resistance fighters in Iraq. The journalist who
has written the most about ISIS is Patrick Cockburn, who wrote The
Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq (2006), and who has a new
book on ISIS: The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising.
For a sampling of his recent writings on ISIS, see:
Some quotes from Cockburn's Sept. 9 piece:
The US and its allies face a huge dilemma which is largely of their
own making. Since 2011 Washington's policy, closely followed by the
UK, has been to replace President Bashar al-Assad, but among his
opponents Isis is now dominant. Actions by the US and its regional
Sunni allies led by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Turkey, which were
aimed at weakening Mr Assad, have in practice helped Isis.
[ . . . ]
So far it looks as if Mr Obama will dodge the main problem facing
his campaign against Isis. He will not want to carry out a U-turn in
US policy by allying himself with President Assad, though the Damascus
government is the main armed opposition to Isis in Syria. He will
instead step up a pretense that there is a potent "moderate" armed
opposition in Syria, capable of fighting both Isis and the Syrian
government at once. Unfortunately, this force scarcely exists in any
strength and the most important rebel movements opposed to Isis are
themselves jihadis such as Jabhat al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and the
Islamic Front. Their violent sectarianism is not very different to
that of Isis.
Lacking a moderate military opposition to support as an alternative
to Isis and the Assad government, the US has moved to raise such a
force under its own control. The Free Syrian Army (FSA), once lauded
in Western capitals as the likely military victors over Mr Assad,
largely collapsed at the end of 2013. The FSA military leader, General
Abdul-Ilah al Bashir, who defected from the Syrian government side in
2012, said in an interview with the McClatchy news agency last week
that the CIA had taken over direction of this new moderate force. He
said that "the leadership of the FSA is American," adding that since
last December US supplies of equipment have bypassed the FSA
leadership in Turkey and been sent directly to up to 14 commanders in
northern Syria and 60 smaller groups in the south of the country. Gen
Bashir said that all these FSA groups reported directly to the
CIA. Other FSA commanders confirmed that the US is equipping them with
training and weapons including TOW anti-tank missiles.
It appears that, if the US does launch air strikes in Syria, they
will be nominally in support of the FSA which is firmly under US
control. The US is probably nervous of allowing weapons to be supplied
to supposed moderates by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies which
end up in the hands of Isis. The London-based small arms research
organisation Conflict Armament Research said in a report this week
that anti-tank rockets used by Isis in Syria were "identical to M79
rockets transferred by Saudi Arabia to forces operating under the Free
Syrian Army umbrella in 2013."
In Syria and in Iraq Mr Obama is finding that his policy of
operating through local partners, whose real aims may differ markedly
from his own, is full of perils.
Some more links on Iraq, Syria, and ISIS:
Tony Karon: Obama promises a long and limited war on Islamic State:
The IS thrives as a result of the alienation of Sunni citizenry by Syrian
and Iraqi regimes and the breakdown of the central state in both countries.
The Islamic State has taken advantage of the enduring hostility to U.S.
intervention in the region -- and also of Washington's subsequent retreat
and passivity. It trades off Iran's sectarian support for allied Shia
militias, Gulf Arab support for equally sectarian Sunni militias and
Turkish hostility to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which translates
into an open border for thousands of international volunteers to cross
and join the IS. The gradual collapse of the nation-state itself in Syria
and Iraq has allowed the IS to break away from the transnational conspiracy
strategy of its Al-Qaeda precursor to raise its black flag in a growing
power vacuum that covers huge swathes of territory.
Phyllis Bennis: The Speech on Diplomacy That Obama Should Have Given Last
What's missing is a real focus, a real explanation to people in this
country and to people and governments in the Middle East and around
the world, on just what a political solution to the ISIS crisis would
really require and what kind of diplomacy will be needed to get there.
President Obama should have spent his fifteen minutes of prime time
tonight talking about diplomacy. Instead of a four-part mostly military
plan, he should have outlined four key diplomatic moves.
First, recognize what it will take to change the political dynamics
of sectarianism in Iraq. [ . . . ]
Second, instead of a Coalition of the Killing, President Obama should
have announced a new broad coalition with a political and diplomatic,
not military, mandate. It should aim to use diplomatic power and financial
pressures, not military strikes, to undermine ISIS power.
[ . . . ]
Third, the Obama administration should, perhaps this month while
Washington holds the presidency of the UN Security Council, push to
restart serious international negotiations on ending the complex set
of multi-faceted wars in Syria. [ . . . ]
Finally, an arms embargo on all sides should be on the long-term
Without political agreement, there is no solution. All you can do
with military power is try to shift the power relationships between
the sides -- in the hope of getting a more favorable agreement. But
if all you have are military goals, they are pointless. And the value
of shifting those power relationships goes down if you're willing to
consider an equitable agreement. No side can legitimately ask for
Paul Woodward: Is ISIS a terminal disease?:
President Obama might have been slow to come up with a strategy for
defeating ISIS but he seems to have been much more resolute in his
choice of metaphor for describing the enemy.
After James Foley was murdered, Obama said, "there has to be a
common effort to extract this cancer so it does not spread." A few
days later he said: "Rooting out a cancer like [ISIS] won't be easy
and it won't be quick." Again, last night he said: "it will take
time to eradicate a cancer like ISIL."
Woodward offers three reasons why he thinks Obama like the cancer
Obama's political goal appears to be to secure support for an open-ended
relatively low-key military operation that will be of such little concern
to most Americans that it can continue for years without any real
I'm less impressed by his "reasons" -- what struck me more from the
quotes is (1) the assumption that it is his (or "our") body that has
been struck by the cancer, and that therefore the US is entitled to
treat it; and (2) how reducing the acts of people to the level of a
disease sanitizes our process of killing those people.
John Cassidy: Obama's Strange Bedfellows: The Right Liked His Speech:
Quotes from Rush Limbaugh, John Podhoretz, Charles Krauthammer, and Larry
Kudlow applauding Obama's speech. (Podhoretz called it "the most Republican
speech Barack Obama has ever given.") However, afterwards, the right started
looking for high ground further to the right:
If a vote takes place in Congress -- and, at this stage, it's unclear
whether that will happen -- most G.O.P. members will likely express
support for unleashing the U.S. military on the jihadis. (Opposing the
President "would be a huge mistake," Kudlow warned.) The pressure from
the right will be aimed at expanding Obama's war, not stopping it. More
bombing; more U.S. service members involved; more everything. That will
be the line.
It's already being laid down, in fact. "Air strikes alone will not
accomplish what we're trying to accomplish," House Speaker John Boehner
said on Thursday. "Somebody's boots have to be on the ground." Some of
Boehner's foot soldiers went further -- quite a bit further. "This is a
stalemate strategy," said John Fleming, a Louisiana congressman who
serves on the House Armed Services Committee. "I think that we would
want to see an all-out war, shock and awe. We put troops on the ground,
we put all of our assets there after properly prepping the battlefield,
and in a matter of a few weeks we take these guys out."
Of course, when you're the greatest power the world has ever known,
all it should take is a few weeks.
Andrew J Bacevich: Obama is picking his targets in Iraq and Syria while
missing the point: Starts off by trying to out-think David Brooks,
offering that "the core problem" of the era is "a global conflict pitting
tradition against modernity." That conflict exists, of course, but Jihadists
aren't militant defenders of tradition. They belong to a more specific
reaction, one in response to imperialist exploitation working through
the corrupt elites of many Muslim countries, not against modernity's
individualistic ethos. Still, the following point is well taken:
Destroying what Obama calls the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant
won't create an effective and legitimate Iraqi state. It won't restore
the possibility of a democratic Egypt. It won't dissuade Saudi Arabia
from funding jihadists. It won't pull Libya back from the brink of
anarchy. It won't end the Syrian civil war. It won't bring peace and
harmony to Somalia and Yemen. It won't persuade the Taliban to lay down
their arms in Afghanistan. It won't end the perpetual crisis of Pakistan.
It certainly won't resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
All the military power in the world won't solve those problems. Obama
knows that. Yet he is allowing himself to be drawn back into the very war
that he once correctly denounced as stupid and unnecessary -- mostly
because he and his advisers don't know what else to do. Bombing has
become his administration's default option.
Rudderless and without a compass, the American ship of state continues
to drift, guns blazing.
Fred Hof: We Can't Destroy ISIS Without Destroying Bashar al Assad First:
Hof worked for the Obama administration 2009-12 and has not rotated to a
Middle East policy think tank, so I count him as untrustworthy, but his
main point strikes me as true:
The Islamic State -- just like its parent, Al Qaeda in Iraq -- cannot be
killed unless the causes of state failure in Syria and Iraq are addressed
and rectified. Although such a task cannot be the exclusive or even
principal responsibility of the American taxpayer, the president's
strategy, its implementation, and its outcome will be incomplete if it
remains solely one of counter-terrorism.
The essential problem that has permitted the Islamic State to roam
freely in parts of Iraq and Syria amounting in size to New England is
state failure in both places. Redressing this failure is far beyond
the unilateral capacity of the United States, as occupation in Iraq
and ongoing operations in Afghanistan demonstrate. Still the fact
remains that until Syria and Iraq move from state failure to political
legitimacy -- to systems reflecting public consensus about the rules
of the political game -- the Islamic State will remain undead no matter
how many of its kings, queens, bishops, rooks, and pawns are swept
from the table. And yet a strategy that does not address how America
and its partners can influence the endgame -- keeping the Islamic
State in its grave -- is simply incomplete.
Hof refuses to consider the possibility that in order to kill ISIS
the US could change sides and support Assad, possibly under some
face-saving deal that would cut the "moderate" rebels some slack,
maybe promising some democratic reforms to isolate ISIS. He basically
wants to run the entire US Army through Damascus ("Airstrikes will not
suffice . . . A ground element is essential, as it has
been in Iraq.") What he doesn't explain is how, once Assad has been
swept away, the US establishes a government in Syria that is broadly
accepted by the bitterly-divided Syrian people as legitimate -- one
cannot, for instance, point to US efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya,
or Somalia as providing any comfort or confidence.
US Pins Hope on Syrian Rebels With Loyalties All Over the Map:
After more than three years of civil war, there are hundreds of militias
fighting President Bashar al-Assad -- and one another. Among them, even
the more secular forces have turned to Islamists for support and weapons
over the years, and the remaining moderate rebels often fight alongside
extremists like the Nusra Front, Al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria.
"You are not going to find this neat, clean, secular rebel group that
respects human rights and that is waiting and ready because they don't
exist," said Aron Lund, a Syria analyst who edits the Syria in Crisis
blog for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "It is a very
dirty war and you have to deal with what is on offer."
[ . . . ]
The Obama administration's plans to arm Syrian rebels have been
troubled by false starts since April 2013, when Mr. Obama first
authorized the C.I.A. to begin a secret training mission in Jordan.
Months after the authorization, the White House still had not
delivered details to Congress about the C.I.A.'s plans, and it was
not until September 2013 that the first American-trained rebels
returned to Syria from Jordan.
To date, the C.I.A. mission in Jordan has trained 2,000 to 3,000
Syrian rebels, according to American and Arab officials.
To expand the training, Mr. Obama announced a plan in June to spend
up to $500 million for scores of American Special Forces troops to
train up to 3,000 rebels over the next year. But the proposal languished
on Capitol Hill as lawmakers complained that the plans lacked specific
details. A revised plan now calls for as many as twice that number of
fighters, analysts said.
Even if Congress approves the Pentagon plan, as now appears likely
after Mr. Obama's speech on Wednesday, military planners said it would
be months before the fighters, to be trained at a base in Saudi Arabia,
would be battle-ready.
Fatigue from three years of war has left most of those forces exhausted
and short of resources. Since pushing ISIS from parts of northern Syria
early this year, Syria's rebels have few military advances to point to
and in many areas have lost ground, to Mr. Assad's forces and to ISIS.
But in many places they remain busy fighting Mr. Assad and are not eager
to redirect their energies to ISIS -- even while many say they hate the
Rami G Khouri: Why Obama Has Picked the Worst Allies for His War on
ISIS: Khouri thinks that the Arab states that Obama is trying to
line up for the war against ISIS may be effective in the short-term
but will only make Jihadism more prevalent in the future.
The combination of foreign-led military power and local Arab government
partners that must anchor a successful attack to vanquish the Islamic
State is the precise combination of forces that originally midwifed the
birth of Al-Qaeda in the 1980s and later spawned its derivative -- the
Islamic State -- today. [ . . . ]
The jails of Sunni-majority Arab regimes represent an important aspect
of the mistreatment and humiliation that many prisoners experienced,
especially those jailed for their political views rather than crimes.
Their jail experiences ultimately convinced them to fight to topple
their regimes as part of Al-Qaeda's aim to purify Islamic lands from
apostate and corrupt leaderships.
The fact that tens of thousands of Egyptians, Syrians, Iraqis,
Sudanese and other Arabs are in jail today on often questionable
charges -- including many in Gulf Cooperation Council states who are
jailed simply for tweeting critical remarks about their governments --
suggests that Arab autocracy continues to define and plague the region
as a driver of homegrown Arab radicalism and terrorism.
Moon of Alabama: The Caliphate's Anti-Imperial/Imperial Dualism:
Asserts: "The Caliphate is based on original Wahhabi ideas which were
in their essence also anti-colonial and at first directed against the
Ottoman rulers." Those anti-imperial ideas also work against the US,
but the juicier target is the Saudi royal family, which made the
original pact with Abd al-Wahhab and, in their general subverience
to the UK and US may be seen as not holding up their end of the deal.
Much of this has to do with the way the Saudis distribute dividends
on their oil. A small fraction of the money goes through the state
to build a social welfare network which keeps the peace by making
Saudi citizens wards of the state and elevating them above migrant
workers who do the real work and are kept on very short leashes.
But most of the money goes to the numerous princes of the royal
family, who are much like the pampered scions of rich estates all
over the world: spoiled, sheltered, conceited, given to flights of
grandeur and folly. American bankers love these Saudi princes --
some are serious, but most are easy marks. The princes themselves
are schizo: blessed with wealth they never earned, some turn into
notorious playboys, some turn pious and shameful. The latter, plus
some wealthy scions of non-royal families like Osama Bin Laden
and their cohort in the Persian Gulf monarchies, are the ones who
finance jihadists, who hire poor, disaffected Muslims to die for
God, to expiate the sins of the Saudis. Of course, when the Americans
come calling, the top Saudis are quick to condemn the traitors in
their ranks, but they are less eager to cut them out because deep
down they are trapped in their piety. The caliphate is a deep idea
dating back to Muhammad himself -- indeed, the Turks wouldn't have
made a mockery of it had it not worked -- so it's no surprise that
its first appearance of reality should be so dramatic.
The new Caliphate followers are copies of the original Wahhabis who
do not recognize nation states as those were dictated by the colonial
"western" overlords after the end of the Ottoman empire. They do not
recognize rulers that deviate, like the Saudi kings do, from the
original ideas and subordinate themselves to "western" empires. It
is their aim to replace them. As there are many people in Saudi Arabia
educated in Wahhabi theology and not particular pleased with their
current rulers the possibility of a Caliphate rush to conquer Saudi
Arabia and to overthrow the Ibn Saud family is real.
In that aspect the Caliphate is anti-colonial and anti-imperial.
That is part of what attracts its followers. At the same time the
Caliphate project is also imperial in that it wants to conquer more
land and wants to convert more people to its flavor of faith.
Both of these aspects make it a competitor and a danger to imperial
U.S. rule-by-proxy in the Middle East. That is, I believe, why the
U.S. finally decided to fight it. To lose Saudi Arabia to the Caliphate,
which seems to be a real possibility, would be a devastating defeat.
The author cites two pieces by Alastair Crooke that are worth
You Can't Understand ISIS If You Don't Know the History of Wahhabism
in Saudi Arabia, and
Middle East Time Bomb: The Real Aim of ISIS Is to Replace the Saud Family
as the New Emirs of Arabia. A lot of interesting material in those
two pieces. (One thing I didn't realize was that King Abdullah has made
a number of reforms liberalizing Islamic law in Saudi Arabia: recognizing
legal doctrines other than the Salafist, and Shiites to consult their own
legal scholars. All this, of course, exacerbates the split with hardcore
He also cites a "twitter story":
Billmon on Doublethink in U.S. Foreign Policy. Punch line:
Whether U.S. diplos still believe their liberal international bullshit
isn't a particularly important question but it is interesting. I tend
to think that they do: Both as classic Orwellian doublethink, a product
of social conditioning, and on time-honored principle that a salesman
has to believe in his/her product, no matter how fantastical. "Goes
with the territory."
Richard Phillips/Stephan Richter: The dumbest US foreign policy question
asked this century: Who "lost" Syria?
And this begs the question: What are U.S. politicians saying when they
say they want to save Syria?
The answer to this can only be found in American hubris. Syria is not
America's to save. The reality is that only Syrians can save Syria --
just as it is only Iraqis who can save Iraq and only Afghans who can
Seeking an answer to the question "Who lost Syria?" is a foolhardy
quest on the part of U.S. politicians. Rather than a serious question,
it is just another manifestation of Washington's favorite political
sport -- blamesmanship.
Davis Merritt: Americans not ready for the truth about ISIS:
Former Wichita Eagle editor, usually a level-headed thinker, gets
all wrapped up in the futility of wars in the Middle East:
The religious extremism that defines the Middle East has been going on
for more than a thousand years. The West has been involved for more than
900 of those years. From Pope Urban's first crusade in 1095 to President
George W. Bush's ignorantly declared "crusade" amid the rubble of the
World Trade Center, extremists on both sides have periodically fanned
No American president can erase that history nor diminish its allure
to radical Islamists who want to write the next chapter in our blood.
Anyone who believes a few months of bombing can eradicate this latest
iteration of religious intolerance is living a fantasy.
Our 21st-century mindset doesn't tolerate lengthy wars; the half-life
of our resolve is about 18 months. So the president best avoid the word
"war," which implies beginning and ending points.
Unfortunately, neither can he say the truth: This is going to be
life in our world; learn to live with it.
A year ago Americans so overwhelmingly rejected Obama's proposal to
bomb Syria for using chemical weapons, recognizing that it wouldn't
solve anything and wouldn't even make a dent given all the other acts
of war. Indeed, it seemed probable that Congress (for once listening
to the American people) would have voted authorization for bombing
down. Now, supposedly an air war against ISIS enjoys popular support,
with Congress gung ho not only to authorize strikes but to appropriate
billions of dollars to train American proxies to fight the ground war.
This turnaround depends on being able to identify ISIS as uniquely
evil and dangerous, and while flashy stories of beheadings and mass
killings help, I suspect the main cause is deep-seated islamophobia
triggered by the prospect of resurrecting the caliphate. Last year
Syria was viewed as just another internecine sectarian conflict
between people we don't know or care about thousands of miles away.
The caliphate, on the other hand, would be a symbol of growing
Islamic power, an alarming shift in the world order, and that's
what starts dredging up reassuring memories of Pope Urban -- even
though most people who know the history of the Crusades regard them
as an embarrassing blight on European civilization. Merritt accepts
such wars because, regarding "religious extremism" as timeless, as
if the fight today is about an ancient character trait, and not
about anything more tangible -- like oil, or the ability of US
bankers to fleece Saudi princes, or the international market for
arms, or the constant jockeying of regional powers and their
never-very-dependable proxy groups. Those are all things that,
pace Merritt, we really shouldn't have to live with.
Paul Woodward: Most Americans support war against ISIS but lack
confidence it will achieve its goal: A NBC News poll says that
"62 percent of voters say they support Obama's decision to take
action against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, while 22 percent oppose it."
But also that "a combined 68 percent of Americans say they have
'very little' or 'just some' confidence that Obama's goals of
degrading and eliminating the threat posed by ISIS will be achieved."
Woodward dissects these numbers. Among other points:
"Do you think President Obama presented a credible
strategy for destroying ISIS?" If the answer's "no" and this is why
you lack confidence in this war, then I'd take that as a fairly good
indication that you are following this story reasonably closely.
Of course the most obvious reason why Americans would be skeptical
about the chances of success for a war against ISIS is the fact that
after sinking trillions of dollars into wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and
the war on terrorism, al Qaeda still exists.
As has happened so many times before, Obama formulates his policies
in reaction to banal, superficial, political imperatives whose primary
purpose is to fend off critics.
On Thursday he presented his strategy for destroying ISIS because
only days before he got slammed for admitting he didn't have a strategy.
After he made various comments suggesting that he only aimed to
contain ISIS and was thus criticized for underestimating the threat
it poses and for being too timid in his response, he answered critics
by saying that his aim was to destroy ISIS.
After it was pointed out that fighting ISIS in Iraq would accomplish
little if it could continue to consolidate its strength in Syria, Obama
said the fight would be taken to Syria.
Each of his steps is reactive and political -- as though the primary
task at hand was to deflect criticism.
Probably more stuff to write about, but that's enough for now. I'd
be happy to return to writing about inequality, which is really the
big chronic issue of our era. Or maybe that old standby, the stupidity
of conservative Republicans (here's a
Ted Cruz example; and here's
Steve Fraser: The Return of the Titans, on the Kochs and their ilk).
Or global warming even, but the last couple
months have been overwhelmed by war news, and the one person who
could do something sensible and constructive to defuse conflicts
and resolve problems has repeatedly, almost obsessively managed to
make them worse. That person is US President Barack W. Obama. Yes,
he's finally sunk that low.