Wednesday, March 28. 2007
Tom Engelhart has an interesting and rather disturbing piece on the latest polls on the Iraq war. At this point, opposition to the Iraq war is, at least in terms of polls, as strong as opposition ever was to the Vietnam war, but the antiwar mobilization is far weaker. Here's his summary:
Of course, this goes further than demobilization. This is part and parcel of a disengagement from politics at all levels -- or at least from progressive politics, by which I mean politics aiming at advancing the spread of equal rights throughout the populace. For a couple of centuries one could see that advance as inevitable progress, but something happened to it. Coincidentally, one started talking about postmodernism, as if modernity had hit a brick wall and could progress no more.
In many ways that brick wall was the Vietnam war. The problem there wasn't that the US lost the war, let alone deserved to lose the war. The problem was that the war's promoters managed to hang on to power -- not in Vietnam, but in Washington, where they would eventually turn the war into myths that led directly to Iraq. In classic shoot-the-messenger mode, they sought to pin their defeat on on the antiwar movement: to characterize the loss in Vietnam as a loss of will in America. To do that they had to turn against democracy: they needed to show us that protest doesn't work, that they can hold onto power regardless of the polls. They could do that in large part because the anti-communist consensus dominated both parties, allowing no opposition. Eventually, their efforts jelled into mythology, which had the remarkable effect of moving politics out of the real world and into fantasy. Just in the nick of time, too, given that US power in the world was slipping, as was the lot of most working Americans.
Ultimately that leads to the current state, where the problems are obvious and even the solutions are obvious but no politicians can face up to the obvious because they've all been selected for their skills in navigating the mythic world of US superpowerdom.
Monday, March 26. 2007
Jazz Consumer Guide #12 came out last week, under the title "No Training Wheels Necessary" -- thanks to Rob Harvilla for that, and for taking a light hand during what could have been a very arduous editing period. I felt a little frustration in featuring long-time faves Molvaer and Vandermark as Pick Hits, but none of the others managed to beat them out. The rest of the A-list is more varied, as are the Honorable Mentions. I have so much stuff left over that I should be able to push a good case for a two-month cycle, but this week has gone into the more pressing Recycled Goods deadline. Accordingly, what follows as Jazz Prospecting was really fallout from Recycled Goods. The latter is in pretty good shape now -- should be done in a couple of days, and posted nearly on schedule.
I've done all the requisite website cleanup for ending JCG #12 and starting JCG #13. The print and flush notes have been moved to the notebook. I'm carrying 12 reviews over from JCG #12. I've purged the done file down to 91 records. The pending file has another 135 records -- 53 prospected but put back for further listening, 82 unheard (or at least unprospected). Of course, those numbers were already obsoleted by today's mail, but that gives you a rough idea of the starting point.
I should also note that the ratings database has hit the 13000 album mark.
Funky Organ: B3 Jazz Grooves (1997-2006 , High Note): The packaging and the concept reminds me of those compilations Joel Dorn threw out to expedite the recycling of the Muse catalog on his later, now defunct 32 Jazz label. They represented recycling at its crassest -- arbitrary compilations sold purely as mood music, but they sold well enough (and were profitable enough) that Savoy Jazz has kept many (most?) of the titles in print. The connection is all the more obvious given that Dorn bought Muse from Joe Fields, who went on to start the catalogues plundered here. At least there's no attempt to pump up the historical significance: these records aren't meant for people who hope to learn something, even on a subject as trivial as late-'90s soul jazz. The Hammond was funkier in the late '50s and '60s when soul jazz developed out of r&b, and it's been increasingly rote ever since -- a staple crop of minor interest. Even within its limits High Note doesn't exactly have a command of the market: past-prime Charles Earland and Reuben Wilson, minor newcomers Bill Heid and Mike LeDonne, two generations of DeFrancescos. B
Jazz After Midnight (1998-2006 , High Note): Well, no, this is recycling at its crassest. I suppose it's inevitable that "after midnight" translates to ballads, but that doesn't explain the choice of flute (James Spaulding) and organ (Mike LeDonne, Joey DeFrancesco). Indeed, the organ pieces will never be taken for funky. Aside from those low points, there are worthwhile cuts -- especially the opener by Houston Person and the closer by Fathead Newman. Note that both came from better albums, even though neither made my A-list. B-
Ornette Coleman: To Whom Who Keeps a Record (1959-60 , Water): Odds and sods, released Japan-only in 1975 but not in the US until boxed for Beauty Is a Rare Thing: The Complete Atlantic Recordings. Starts with an outtake from Change of the Century with Don Cherry on pocke trumpet, Charlie Haden on bass, Billy Higgins on drums; filled out with leftovers from This Is Our Music with Ed Blackwell replacing Higgins. At this point this sounds so typical of the classic Coleman quartet that it's hard to wax ecstatic and impossible to fault. Art of the Improvisers and Twins picked over the same sessions first; it's hard to figure why these cuts were passed over, unless it's the relative prominence of Cherry. A-
Ray Charles/The Count Basie Orchestra: Ray Sings, Basie Swings (2006, Concord/Hear Music): First, let's clear this gripe away: Concord has dropped or fumbled me off their mailing list. I don't know whether that's accidental or deliberate. Don't know whether citing Chick Corea and Taylor Eigsti as duds has a thing to do with it, or they just don't care that Scott Hamilton has two A- albums and an Honorable Mention to his credit. Maybe it's both malevolence and incompetence, as suggested by one of the company's exes who described Concord as "the Bush Administration of the record industry." So, despite asking for this several times, and having been promised it at least once, I'm listening to it courtesy of the Wichita Public Library. As for the record, the first thing to point out is that it is a case of fraud: Charles never recorded with Count Basie; Charles's vocals were lifted from an undated live tape, most likely from the late '70s; the arrangements were newly recorded by the Basie ghost band, now directed by Bill Hughes, 22 years after the Count passed away, and for that matter two years after the singer died. The second thing is that it sounds pretty near-great, passably realizing its "what if" concept. Two reasons for this: first, Charles himself sounds great, even if pieces like "The Long and Winding Road" and "Look What They've Done to My Song" aren't up snuff; second, the Basie-trademarked arrangements were fit to the vocals with a smartness that never would have occurred to them live. It also helps that originating as a live concert Charles recycles some dependable warhorses. Docked a couple of stars for fraud. I could have gone deeper, but don't want you to think I prefer Genius Loves Company. B+(*)
Jaki Byard: Sunshine of My Soul (1978 , High Note): Solo piano, recorded live at Keystone Korner in San Francisco. Nothing strikes me as new or particularly interesting here, but I'm not much of a fan of solo anything. That said, Byard has a strong presence, and he expertly works his way around a broad songbook -- including a Mingus medley, "Spinning Wheel," "Besame Mucho," a bit of boogie woogie. Don't know how this compares to his other solo albums, like the early Blues for Smoke (1960) or the later At Maybeck (1991), both well regarded. B+(*)
Zoot Sims: Zoot Suite (1973 , High Note): Grew up in a vaudeville family, picked up the tenor sax, and made a name for himself with Benny Goodman and Woody Herman, emerging as one of the latter's legendary "four brothers" sax section. On his own, his discography splits into two chunks: he recorded a lot in the late '50s, with 1956 a bellweather year (cf. Zoot!), but he faded in the '60s, with nothing between 1966-72. Norman Granz brought him back in 1975 for Zoot Sims and the Gershwin Brothers, where his distinct tone and innate sense of swing reinvigorated the whole songbook, and kicked off a marvelous run until he succumbed to cancer a decade later. This poorly recorded archival tape leads into the latter period, one of the few great second acts in jazz history. The quartet with pianist Jimmy Rowles, bassist George Mraz, and drummer Mousey Alexander is in gear. The songbook looks back to Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, and Sims' main influence, Lester Young. Sims even unveils his soprano sax "Rocking in Rhythm." Not exactly history being made; more like one of those faint tremors the significance of which emerges later. B+(**)
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
The Microscopic Septet: Seven Men in Neckties: History of the Micros Volume One (1982-90 , Cuneiform, 2CD): Long before Sex Mob, this was the sound of New York's avant-garde yearning to be popular. The Micros matched a sax quartet led by Philip Johnston on alto and soprano with a rhythm section led by pianist Joel Forrester. Both leaders were clever, writing a little and appropriating a lot. Johnston trod on after the Micros' demise with groups like Big Trouble, the Transparent Quartet, and Fast 'N' Bulbous, while making ends meet by hacking film scores. The Penguin Guide sums him up aptly: "the perfect Tzadik artist: intellectual, playful, perverse and generically undefinable." That could also describe Tzadik honcho John Zorn, but Francis Davis adds that Johnston's is "a kinder, gentler postmodernism." Unfortunately, the abundant good humor lacks a killer punch line. B+(*)
The Microscopic Septet: Surrealistic Swing: History of the Micros Volume Two (1981-90 , Cuneiform, 2CD): Comparisons to the Lounge Lizards were inevitable, but Philip Johnston points out: "When the Lounge Lizards wore suits and ties they looked cool and hip and aloof; when the Micros wore suits and ties, we looked like a bunch of unemployed vacuum cleaner salesmen." Volume One's Seven Men in Neckties title reflects the dissheveled eclecticism of their first two albums. Volume Two's title, referring to the music rather than the musicians, suggests that they found themselves, and indeed they finally hit their stride in 1986's Off Beat Glory. Postmodernism can mean distance from the past, as with the Lounge Lizards, or it can take a playfully perverse turn by diving back into a past shorn of its historical bindings and context. Still, their limits are literal: you can conjure up a pretty good idea of what surrealistic swing might sound like even before you play this fine example. B+(**)
Friday, March 23. 2007
Before we were so rudely interrupted, I had a Tony Karon quote flagged that I meant to turn into a posting. I finally got back to digging through his blog and recovered it. Like so much having to do with Iraq, it hasn't lost any relevancy:
At that point Karon links to a piece by Jebediah Reed on the track record of war advocate and meritocracy advocate David Brooks:
Reed then goes on to review the words and fates of four pro-war pundits: Thomas Friedman, Peter Beinart, Fareed Zakaria, and Jeffrey Goldberg. (Reed chose not to dwell on Brooks on the theory that the conservatives run in packs following the party line, while pundits with liberal or moderate or centrist reputations should have been less predictable -- they carried more weight precisely because their prowar stance was not taken for granted.) Reed's main point is how well businesswise these disastrously wrong pundits have fared -- a point he underscores by bringing up Robert Scheer (fired in 2005 by the LA Times), William S. Lind (a marginal arch-conservative), Jonathan Schell (author of The Unconquerable World, now without even his Nation column), and Scott Ritter (the only one I can think of who actually argued that the US could be beaten militarily in Iraq).
I've had a low opinion of liberals since the late '60s when they were the leading figures at rationalizing the Vietnam war. Some of those liberals, starting with Norman Podhoretz, have since mutated into the neoconservatives who marched the country into Iraq. Those people are power-mad fanatics, but they couldn't have succeeded had they not been able to persuade large numbers of more sober conservatives and moderates of the desirability and plausibility of their project. What made this possible was the marginalization of genuine critics and the promotion of the muddle-headed liberal pundits, who effectively legitimized the neocon stories even when they expressed doubts. The main agent in this was the media, which has likewise yet to be held accountable for their own gross errors.
Perhaps thinking of this long-pending post, I've finally started reading George Packer's The Assassin's Gate, which -- at least early on -- is largely concerned with the romantic liberal path to war. It takes an extraordinary amount of self-deception to imagine that a government led by someone like Bush could catalyze a sudden re-ordering of civil society in a nation ravaged by more than two decades of war and privation over which most of its people had no say and no representation. It takes vast ignorance of Iraq and the whole area. It takes a completely clueless self-regard on the part of Americans. It takes the conviction that war can be a constructive force. On some level even Packer has come to the point of realizing that there's something wrong with this fantasy. And there is some evidence that most Americans have grown at least suspicious. But when you listen to the mainstream debate -- e.g., the Congressional debates on war funding -- it's clear that we're still a long ways from understanding what went wrong in Iraq.
The sign to look for to tell when/if we finally turn the corner is when the media start seeking out those who were right all along on Iraq and shunning those who were wrong. It may be possible to push meritocracy too far, but in the present when merit has such low regard we are lost and subject to manipulations. Unfortunately, the media have no motivation to lead the way -- except citizenship, perhaps; what a quaint concept.
Tuesday, March 20. 2007
The long-awaited Jazz Consumer Guide (#12) has finally appeared at the Village Voice. It had been scheduled for two weeks ago, then got bumped at the last minute. The previous one was published on Dec. 13, 2006, so this is actually just a week more than the three months that has been the normal period since the column's inception. Still, it feels longer -- for one thing, Jazz Prospecting for this cycle went on the fourteen weeks and 247 records. In the end, 33 made the cut.
As usual, I wrote about 600 words more than the Voice was able to fit in. The excess will be held back for next time, but I'll go ahead and list the holds here -- check the prospecting notes for more info. The following records, all A-, were held back from the main section:
And the following were held back from the Honorable Mentions list:
Other records have been noted and graded but not yet written up for Jazz CG. This sort of foot-dragging is normal -- part of the reason it all seems to take so long. As readers of the prospecting notes know, there are good records not mentioned above but in the pipeline by Fred Anderson, Steve Lacy, Wolfgang Muthspiel, Vittor Santos, and Sonic Liberation Front, and promising ones by others. I've started to do the pruning that happens every cycle as I realize that there are some records I'm never going to be able to squeeze in. These go into the surplus file. Most of that file just lists records that have been covered in prospecting notes, but I've written a few extra notes where I feel further explanation is warranted:
Omer Avital Group: Room to Grow (1997 , Smalls): The second volume of archival tapes from the Israeli bassist's long residence at Smalls, a legendary NYC afterhours club, where he held a long residence riding herd over a bunch of tough young saxophonists: Greg Tardy, Grant Stewart, Charles Owens, Myron Walden, names worth looking out for. B+(***)
Serge Chaloff: Boston Blow-Up! (1955 , Capitol Jazz): The ill-fated baritone saxophonist's masterpiece was Blue Serge (1956), an elegant quartet where everything goes right. This earlier sextet is much sloppier but nearly as impressive -- the three horns achieving a balance of raw power and feather light touch that producer Stan Kenton often aimed for and rarely achieved. A-
Conjure: Bad Mouth (2005 , American Clavé, 2CD): Long after two '80s albums, another helping of Ishmael Reed texts, read by the man over Kip Hanrahan's music. The first was called Conjure: Music for the Texts of Ishmael Reed, the title becoming a virtual group of sorts. I dig the concept, admire the man, only wish the music was a bit better -- especially from what looks on paper to be a Latin percussion dream team. Only David Murray truly rises to the occasion. B+(**)
Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid: The Exchange Session Vol. 2 (2005 , Domino): Enough of a fall-off this didn't quite merit an Honorable Mention to go along with Vol. 1's A-. Same ideas, but some experiments works better than others. B+(**)
Jay McShann: Hootie Blues (2006, Stony Plain): Last album by the Kansas City bandleader, who lasted way beyond his standard 15 minutes of fame, reinventing himself as one of the last whorehouse piano players and surviving Ralph Sutton to claim the title. Seems like a typical album, but worth a spin when you read his obit. B+(**)
Harry Miller's Isipingo: Which Way Now (1975 , Cuneiform): A sextet, half South African exiles, half English avants, roaring through a 75-minute Radio Bremen air shot. Trombonist Nick Evans is especially noteworthy, and Keith Tippett's piano get a good airing out, but most of the interest focuses on two South Africans who died tragically young, leaving us with little: trumpeter Mongezi Feza and leader-bassist Miller. A-
Nils Petter Molvaer: Live: Streamer (2002 , Thirsty Ear): I gave this an Honorable Mention when it originally came out on Molvaer's own Sula label, and liked it even more when I heard the reissue. But not as much as my Pick Hit ER, a review that at least mentions this. Live electronica always seems like an oxymoron, but the chance to revisit older material often points up some interesting new twists, and perhaps more importantly lets you choose stronger pieces. A-
Odyssey the Band: Back in Town (2005 , Pi): Third time around for James Blood Ulmer, Charles Burnham, and Warren Wenbow, whose original Odyssey tour de force is still striking enough to knock our ears. Francis Davis praised this. Robert Christgau Consumer Guided it. I had it in my top ten list, and revisited it in Recycled Goods. Seems redundant to keep plugging it at this point, unless I find myself hard up for a Pick Hit. A-
I should also note that I've weeded out another handful of records that Francis Davis praised in the Voice. As the grades indicate, I'm quite fond of most of these. It's just that given the space squeeze I have little to add (see the prospecting notes) and too many others to try to squeeze in:
Some of those I've written about elsewhere, such as in Recycled Goods. If I had more space, it would be nice to make Jazz Consumer Guide more comprehensive. But, alas, that would also take more time and resources, and I'm somewhat at wit's end as it is.
Monday, March 19. 2007
I don't have any new information on when the Jazz Consumer Guide will run in the Village Voice, so I'll be as surprised as you if it does (or does not) run this week. Should know in a day or two. Meanwhile, new stuff comes in, and I've been playing some of it, rather indecisively. Still need to do the post-JCG#12 purge, which may depend on the question of whether we can tighten the schedule a bit -- a two-month cycle would mean I should keep more candidates in play than the usual three-month cycle, let alone the four-plus months this one has consumed. On the other hand, I'm also feeling like some spring cleaning.
Still under a lot of personal stress. I'm working on antiquated equipment with annoying and somewhat ominous sounds, and I'm way behind in many projects both large and small. I did update the website last night to get the Crowson cartoon and a couple of new book images up, and most importantly to feature the Tanya Reinhart pages. I'm gradually pulling my book comments/quotes from the blog and organizing them in the books section. I have 15 such pages up now, and probably three times that many waiting to be unearthed. Eventually I hope to start pulling familiar books off the shelves. And in my wildest dreams I hope to get past the stench of politics and pull out some music guides and cookbooks.
MB3: Jazz Hits Volume 1 (2006, Mel Bay): MB presumably stands for Mel Bay, as in Records, a Missouri label with nothing but guitarists (classical as well as jazz). The "3" are guitarists Jimmy Bruno, Vic Juris, and Corey Christiansen -- three generations that hardly skip a beat. The "jazz hits" lean most heavily on Miles Davis, with Horace Silver, John Coltrane, Benny Golson, and Herbie Hancock also contributing. Jay Anderson plays bass; Danny Gottlieb drums. Easy going, relatively surefire material. Mel Bay's website has a news item about this topping some jazz airplay chart. You might not notice, but wouldn't mind. B+(*)
The Brooklyn Repertory Ensemble: Pragmatic Optimism (2006, 360 Degree): The label, with its bullseye logo around the number 360 and "from rag time to no time" slogan, reminds me of Beaver Harris, who had a group called 360 Degree Music Experience. Don't know that there's any link here, although the director here, Wade Barnes, is another drummer. Nothing avant here. Just a big band that goes for heavy brass -- James Zollar is the only trumpet, but he's complemented by French horn, mellophone, euphonium, bass trombone, and tuba. The horns tend to undulate with no one breaking loose or doing anything especially distinctive. The rhythm -- Bill Ware III on vibes as well as drummer Barnes -- have more going on. Don't much care for vocalist Tulivu-Donna Cumberbatch, who seems to have missed Rafters Raising 101 in Sunday School. B-
Jane Stuart: Beginning to See the Light (2006 , Jane Stuart Music): Ellington, not Reed. She's a singer with a nice, moderate voice; first record, but she has a bunch of stage credits, including a turn as Joan Baez in Richard Farina's "Long Time Comin' A Long Time Gone." I like her quite a bit mid-tempo and faster, much less so on the ballads. The band supports her fine, but doesn't demand much attention on their own. B
Harry Connick Jr.: Chanson du Vieux Carré (2003 , Marsalis Music/Rounder): Connick's deal with Columbia is that he can make non-vocal albums on the side. Until now these have concentrated on his serviceable-plus piano. Here he takes a hand at arranging for big band a mix of old New Orleans songs and three originals. The album doesn't forego vocals alltogether: Rodney Jones sings "Bourbon Street Parade" and Lucien Barbarin sings a Connick original called "Luscious." There's some indication that this was a rough experiment, cut in 2003 in a studio scheduled for Harry for the Holidays and Only You, and only pulled off the shelf as a complement to Connick's new, post-Katrina New Orleans tribute, Oh, My NOLA. Haven't heard the latter yet, so I'll hold back here -- in any case, won't mind hearing this again. [B+(*)]
Fred Anderson & Hamid Drake: From the River to the Ocean (2007, Thrill Jockey): With all due respect, the principal artist here is Drake. His steady, even-tempered drums are the central thread everything else connects to. He sets up such a comforting groove that he finally coaxes Anderson into a new level of his game -- I think the word, strange as it may sound, is serene. The artist credit reminds us that Anderson and Drake have recorded duets before, but these aren't duets. Jeff Parker plays guitar, taking solo space and setting a sonic level that Anderson tries to match. Harrison Bankhead and/or Josh Abrams play bass, with Bankhead switching to cello and piano for one cut each, Abrams playing guimbri on two. Drake doesn't get a credit for the last cut, but he's there anyway. Drake doesn't claim vocal credit either, but he's audible. No session info on this. For the record, this makes five straight A- records for Anderson. When he turned 70, I didn't expect we'd see even one. A-
Soweto Kinch: A Life in the Day of B19: Tales of the Tower Block (2006 , Dune): Part one (of two) of a concept album about a normal day in the life of three blokes in a Birmingham (UK) housing project (B19) -- Adrian, Marcus, and S -- with the usual hopes and dreams and dreads and ennui. Probably means more if you've been there or at least can grok the accents -- I recall an English (err, Welsh) businessman I used to work with as describing Birmingham as "three million people with a common speech defect." I find it takes an awful lot of effort to follow what on paper appears as 15 skits in a matrix of 15 pieces -- even on paper the organization isn't that neat, with "Opening Theme" and "Everybody Raps" among the pieces. As hip-hop, I'm more impressed by its ambition than by the accomplishment. As jazz it isn't much clearer. Kinch has a plastic take on alto sax -- his tone playful, almost toyish, his lines bent in odd ways -- but he tends to fall back into soundtrack mode here, so only occasional patches suggest that he may be up to something interesting. I don't hate the idea of hip-hop-era jazz, but this one's a long way from sorting out the kinks. [B]
Abram Wilson: Ride! Ferris Wheel to the Modern Day Delta (2007, Dune): Another concept album, based on a character named Albert Jenkins who, like Wilson, plays trumpet. Works better, partly because the story line is confined to a few songs, which are straightforwardly blues-based. Like the other Dune artists, Wilson is based in London, but he was born in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and grew up in New Orleans. That explains his references to Delta blues and New Orleans polyphony, the yin and yang of his music. Fits him much, much better than the soul man moves on his previous Jazz Warrior. [B+(***)]
Bobby Broom: Song and Dance (2005 , Origin): Guitar-bass-drums trio, with Broom the guitarist. Got off on the wrong foot (with me, at least) by starting with a Beatles song. Actually, it's very tasteful, not bad at all: "Little Rascals Theme" isn't too cute, and "Wichita Lineman" isn't too cloying. B
Beatle Jazz: All You Need (2006 , Lightyear): Fifth album, with David Kikoski (piano, synthesizer) and Brian Melvin (drums, tabla) the mainstays. The Beatles' songs are so indelibly ingrained in my mind that I instinctively reject all variations -- I suppose if I really racked my brain I might be able to come up with a tolerable mix tape of exceptions, but I'm not optimistic. Bass duties are split between Larry Grenadier and Richard Bona; the latter sings one, a risky move that best comes off rather odd. Toots Thielemans (3 cuts) and Joe Lovano (2 cuts) also guest. The core group is smart enough I can't pan them severely. The two Lovano cuts ("The continuing Story of Bungalow Bill" and "Look at Me") are choice. B
Wally Shoup/Gust Burns/Reuben Radding/Greg Campbell: The Levitation Shuffle (2003 , Clean Feed): Cover doesn't have first names, so this is probably not how I'll wind up attributing the album, but I might as well spell them out up front. They play alto sax, piano, bass, and drums, respectively. The pieces are all group improvs, free and open and more than a little scattershot. Shoup and Burns are based in Seattle, and they make an interesting pair: the former's saxophone seems about par for the style, but Burns makes a fascinating accompanist in repeatedly crashing his piano against the grain. B+(*)
Ethan Winogrand: Tangled Tango (2005 , Clean Feed): Drummer, originally from New York, now based in Spain where his wife's family comes from, has one previous album. This is a quintet, more or less, with Gorka Benitez on tenor/soprano sax or flute and Steven Bernstein on trumpet for the horns, Ross Bonadonna on guitar, Carlos Barretto on bass (with help from Eric Mingus on two cuts). Straightforward stuff, lovely tone on the horns, not much tango, tangled or otherwise, to justify the title. B+(**)
Carlos Barretto Trio: Radio Song (2002 , Clean Feed): Portuguese bassist; also works in Bernardo Sassetti's trio, and has shown up on several other Clean Feed albums. His own trio includes Mario Delgado on guitar and Jose Salgueiro on drums and percussion. Three cuts add guest Louis Sclavis (clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano sax), whose feel for European folk musics lines up nicely with Barretto's. Even without Sclavis, this ranges wide and moves smartly. [B+(***)]
Alvin Fielder Trio: A Measure of Vision (2005-06 , Clean Feed): Drummer, first album under his own name, but he's been around a long time. Born in 1935 in Mississippi, passed through New Orleans on his way to Chicago, where he was a founder of the AACM in 1963. Played with Roscoe Mitchell on Sound in 1966, and has slogged his way through the back waters of the avant-garde ever since, most frequently in the company of Joel Futterman, Kidd Jordan, and/or Dennis González. This could easily be seen as the latter's album: González plays the lead instrument (trumpet), wrote a good chunk of it, recorded it on his home turf in Texas, brought in two sons for extra bass and vibes, and passed it on to his business associates in Lisbon. The other trio member is pianist Chris Parker, a bright contrast to the trumpet. Fielder himself doesn't make much of a splash. [B+(**)]
Scott Fields Ensemble: Beckett (2005 , Clean Feed): Chicago guitarist, born 1957 (AMG says 1952) way out on the avant-garde, has recorded a lot since 1995, of which I've heard little. Eschews labels, but when pressed has described his work as post-free jazz, neo-revisionist improvisation, transparent music, exploratory music. Website includes a photo of him bowing guitar. This record includes a cellist, so not all the bowed sounds are guitar, but most likely some are. Aside from the dreamy arco sections, most of this is built from jerky little splotches, with cello and tenor sax following suit, while John Hollenbeck accents. B+(**)
Jerome Sabbagh: Pogo (2006 , Sunnyside): Good young mainstream saxophonist, born in Paris, educated in Boston, lives in New York. Writes all his own material. Plays tenor and soprano, and is adept enough at the latter that it doesn't mess up his game -- unlike most of the post-Coltrane, post-Shorter generation who take the combination as de rigeur. This is a quartet with Ben Monder on guitar, Joe Martin on bass, Ted Poor on drums. Quiet spots are beguiling; louder stretches flow smoothly. A little more polished than North, cut by the same group on Fresh Sound New Talent a couple of years back. B+(**)
Billy Fox: The Uncle Wiggly Suite (2004 , Clean Feed): Don't know much about percussionist-composer Fox other than that he was a student of Jane Ira Bloom and has a couple of credits as "drum technician" on Bobby Sanabria albums. These compositions come out of an assignment for Bloom, building on bits of "atonal music, Sixties modal jazz, New Orleans brass bands, Cuban rhythms, Pakistani ghazals, and much more" -- as the label catalogs it. It's also a big band record, utilizing 13 musicians, although there's little of the section bashing that expresses power in such groups. Rather, the pieces seem to grow organically into diversified details. [B+(**)]
Russ Lossing/Mat Maneri/Mark Dresser: Metal Rat (2006 , Clean Feed): Pianist Lossing is the presumed leader here, but Maneri's viola dominates the sound and pushes this so far into abstract chamber music territory that the others can only tag along. Lossing in particular makes an interesting go of it. Dresser is harder to gauge because his bass contrasts less with the viola and tends to get drowned out, but I suspect closer focus will reveal more. Not what you'd call accessible. Nor something I'm inclined to readily dismiss. [B+(*)]
Didn't get to the replay shelves this week, so no final grades/notes on records tentatively graded the first time around.
Sunday, March 18. 2007
Richard Crowson's editorial cartoon in the Wichita Eagle today pretty much sums up the current state of Bush's Iraq misadventure:
The Eagle today had a front page story on the 4th anniversary of the war today, starting with a conservative tally of the costs. They also ran a 4th page story on the antiwar march in Washington DC. The New York Times had no news on either. The only thing close there was a Frank Rich column recounting the days of March 2003 when the war was just emerging from fantasy. Of course, for its proponents the war is still shrouded in fantasy.
Tanya Reinhart died yesterday. She was a professor of linguistics -- her thesis supervisor was none other than Noam Chomsky -- but I know her mostly from two slim books that provide an indispensibly succinct record of Israel/Palestine since the breakdown of the Oslo process talks in 2000. The first is Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948 (2002, 2005 second edition, Seven Stories Press), and the follow-up is The Road Map to Nowhere: Israel/Palestine Since 2003 (2006, Verso). I've posted quotes from both. Her work is second-hand journalism, based on published sources, but pulled together with exceptional clarity. Over the last few years, she's the first person I'd check out to find out what was actually going on in Israel. That's going to be even tougher without her.
Thursday, March 15. 2007
Tom Engelhart has a long post on the way the Bush warriors use "support the troops" as a shield to promote their Iraq war policy. The payoff quote is:
It's not clear to me why or how the Bush flacks get away with this. The traditional view is that the troops are instruments of policy, not reasons for it. If the policy dictates sacrificing troops, then you sacrifice them -- at most you factor their lives into some sort of cost-benefit analysis that says the policy benefits are worth the costs. But nobody does this with Iraq, and by nobody I especially mean the people who promoted this war. To analyze the war policy you first have to specify what the benefits of success are: i.e., why did Bush et al. want to start this war in the first place? As I'm sure you'll recall, every reason they offered before launching the war has turned out to be invalid. Either it was based on misguided information (e.g., WMD) or was insincere (e.g., democratization) or was otherwise obscured (e.g., oil). Since the war bogged down, the only real reason for continuing it seems to be that it would look bad politically for the people who started it to pull out without some sort of credible measure of success.
But even if Bush has made that analysis and decided, according to his own peculiar value system, that the benefits -- not having to admit you screwed up -- outweigh the costs -- the yearly run is about 1000 dead Americans, 5000 maimed, $100 billion or more if you factor in debt and long-term effects -- it reveals a lot that he can't just come out and say so. For starters, it's a very selfish analysis: it equates the national interest with Bush's own political interests; while we're used to the idea that troops will sacrifice themselves for the national interest, the idea that they should do so for Bush's poll numbers is a tough sell.
But it also elevates the soldiers to some status well above being mere instruments of policy. That this seems plausible at all should be taken as evidence that we have grown to the point that we are no longer so willing to sacrifice lives for policy. We have seen just that trend historically, and we can measure it by our willingness to spend more and more money to protect and preserve the lives of American soldiers in combat. But the logical conclusion of those trends is that we should take even greater pains to avoid combat -- precisely the opposite of the Bush case. Curiously, this contradiction has kept the Busheviks ahead of the argument: they hide their policy behind the troops, daring the antiwar side to embrace the troops and give the policy a pass -- the result is a squabble over who speaks for the troops, an argument that naturally favors whoever's Commander in Chief.
Ultimately we have to get back to square one in the debate, which is what (if anything) can we reasonably hope to achieve in Iraq, how much will that cost (if indeed we can specify that to a reasonable degree of risk), and is that benefit worth the expected cost. Among other things, that debate would have to raise the major question of whether we as a people really want to act like the sort of empire the US has inadvertently become. To some extent even those who willingly argue about who loves the troops the most understand that to be a proxy debate. The problem is that by failing to have the right debate, we run the risk of further confusing ourselves. As indeed happened with the right's post-Vietnam revisionism -- one-sided forgetting and mythmaking that made a recurrence of past mistakes possible.
Wednesday, March 14. 2007
News item in the Wichita Eagle today, written by Cain Burdeau of Associated Press, titled "New Orleans levee pumps at risk.":
This strikes me as one of your basic everyday Bush-era scandals, of which there must be hundreds or maybe even thousands by now. The causes are fundamental:
The Bush administration is very good at making announcements. They promise things on paper, and when possible they deliver them on paper. The only problem they have is reality. This particular scandal didn't turn into a major disaster because no storm like Katrina hit to show the full extent of their failure. As such, this scandal will probably fade before long. After all, there are so many more conspicuous scandals to keep things like this in the public focus.
Two such scandals dominated the news today. The thing about these scandals is not just that they are major but that their discovery was inevitable. The first is the Walter Reed veterans fiasco. The Bush hawks have been wrapping their Iraq war policy up in loud proclamations of "support the troops" for four years now, while it's been abundantly clear that those troops were suffering devastating injuries. Bush has enjoyed virtual carte blanche in military appropriations for the war, and even those opposed to the war would have had no objections whatsoever to providing extra appropriations to do whatever was needed to help out returning casualties. But Bush never asked for such help -- mostly because he's been privatizing Veterans services to feed his patronage (crony capitalism) system. Besides, providing real services to returning veterans would have smacked of the dreaded welfare state -- the very idea that government could actually be put to good use for folks who merely pay taxes as opposed to kickbacks.
The other scandal is the firing of DOJ prosecutors, especially the ones who prosecuted the scandals that contributed so much to the Republicans losing Congress in 2006. There's an element here of locking the barn door after the cows have escaped, unless you suspect that there may be more such prosecutions to come. Given the way the Republicans have run Congress from 1995-2007 and the way Bush has run the White House since 2001, it's pretty plausible that they have a lot more to be worried about. On the other hand, the act of purging potentially dangerous (i.e., honest) prosecutors sure looks like a desperate power grab. The Bush argument that the prosecutors can be dismissed "at the pleasure of the President" runs contrary to the fact that the President took an oath to uphold the constitution and the laws of the land, which he himself is subject to. This strikes me as more than a bad omen: it's precisely the sort of abuse of power that demands impeachment.
Curiously, Gonzalez appeared before the press today and "took responsibility for mistakes made" in this matter. It's not clear how he's doing so. Robert Mueller offered a similar mea culpa a few days ago for FBI abuses, again without consequence. It seems like responsibility doesn't mean much to Republicans after all. If it did, you'd think Mueller and Gonzalez would have resigned and made arrangements to spend the next few years in jail.
Julius B. Richmond is a M.D. with vast government experience -- a founder of Head Start, the former Surgeon-General under President Jimmy Carter (who wrote the introduction here); currently Professor Emeritus of Health Policy at Harvard. Rashi Fein is Professor Emeritus of Medical Economics at Harvard Medical School. Their book is called The Health Care Mess: How We Got Into It and What It Will Take to Get Out (2005, Harvard University Press). I picked it up at the library along with David Mechanic's The Truth About Health Care. The main difference between the two books is that most of The Health Care Mess details the history behind the current state, whereas Mechanic's book is more of a current snapshot.
The final quarter of the book makes two proposals: a pitch for a single-payer national health system, which the authors prefer, and a series of piecemeal approaches mostly based on the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program -- the latter is pretty much what Kerry ran on, or at least namechecked, in 2004. Neither proposal comes close to sizing up the whole problem described in the early parts of the book. For that matter, the "mess" of the title strikes me as a good deal tidier than reality.
On the development of modern medicine (p. 9):
On the accidental development of employment-based health insurance (pp. 37-39):
It strikes me that we can file this as yet another unanticipated consequence of WWII -- a triumphal "victory culture" that validated and reinforced everything America did during the war, regardless of its merits.
On the growth of health care expenses (pp. 73-74):
Another quote on progress, i.e. forgetting where you came from (pp. 98-99):
A rather good definition of schizophrenia, by no means limited to the immediate subject here (p. 119):
How the AMA's anti-government stance let doctors be blindsided by for-profit entrepreneurs (p. 130):
It's worth noting that the AMA's line fit nicely with the general Cold War ideology, which is part of the reason why conservatives have locked themselves into a private-profit health care system even though it winds up being predatory on all other forms of business.
In the early '90s price increases temporarily abated (p. 142):
Of course, the other reason for holding the line on prices was that until Clinton's plan was killed the industry needed to prove that it could regulate and moderate its appetites without government intervention. Prices started rising again once the Clinton plan was dead and the Republicans took control of Congress. The rate increased further when Bush entered the White House, even though the high tech bubble had largely collapsed. As such, there is public value in the mere possible threat of political reform, even if it doesn't lead to legislation.
On health care economics (pp. 229-230):
On public control of reform (pp. 259-260):
The book includes a fair discussion of malpractice issues, but doesn't go very far with it. There is no real discussion of moving away from private patenting of pharmaceuticals and other innovations. The present system is not just costly -- it compromises quality by limiting transparency of information, distorts the market through massive advertising promotion, and limits research by allocating capital according to potential returns rather than need.
Tuesday, March 13. 2007
This is the first of two posts on recent books on health care. The other, tomorrow, is The Health Care Mess by Julius B. Richmond and Rashi Fein. Neither book covers the subject all that well, and both come up short on solutions, but their partial views do help to illuminate some of the problems. I'll be looking for other views, and plan to develop my own ideas further -- one is to build on open source to extend transparency and promote science over business.
David Mechanic is director of the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research and René Dubos University Professor of Behavioral Sciences at Rutgers University. I've been looking to get a better grasp on health care politics and economics, and his book The Truth About Health Care: Why Reform Is Not Working in America (2006, Rutgers University Press) caught my eye. It's relatively short (228 pages), but actually a rather slow, tedious read. He writes in cautious assertions like thin paint strokes, only gradually circling in on larger truths. I was surprised at the end of the book that I had marked so much of it as quotable.
From a section titled "Why Is Trust Important?" (pp. 145-146):
Monday, March 12. 2007
I still don't know the Voice's schedule for Jazz Consumer Guide #12. It got cut at the last minute from last week's issue. Could be this week; more likely next. We'll see, and given how far I am out of town these days, you'll probably notice it before I do. Started off last week with some self-doubts about my critical instincts, so I started with a stack of pre-JCG jazz records that have been gathering dust for 3-5 years. They're items I picked up in used stores -- back when I could find such stores, not to mention had the time and money -- mostly based on favorable Penguin Guide ratings. Almost all came in as low B+: good records that didn't particularly excite me. Finally I inched into the new jazz section, so this is the first prospecting for next round. It was slow going at first -- I must have played Rubalcaba and Wallace 4-5 times for my "first pass" notes, but they got easier (or more obvious) after that.
Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Solo (2005 , Blue Note): Inevitable, although you expect something more upbeat, with a more pronounced Afro-Cuban rhythm to it. This is pensive, detailed; just sort of eases its way along. B+(*)
Bennie Wallace: Disorder at the Border: The Music of Coleman Hawkins (2004 , Enja/Justin Time): When I first heard about this, I was expecting something more intimate. At nine pieces (four reeds, two brass), the opportunity to compare and contrast Wallace to Hawkins is much diminished. But this was staged live on Hawkins' 100th anniversary, so you can imagine the clamor to get in on the act. Six pieces: two Hawkins originals, "Honeysuckle Rose," "Body and Soul," "La Rosita," and a 16:40 "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho" to close. What it lacks in revelation it makes up for with good cheer. B+(**)
Ethnic Heritage Ensemble: Hot 'N' Heavy (2006 , Delmark): The first EHE album dates from 1981 and was called Three Gentlemen From Chicago, the three being saxophonists Henry Huff and Edward Wilkerson and earth drummer/percussionist Kahil El'Zabar. The "earth drums" are homemade congas, hand drums with less snap and a rather hollow sound. El'Zabar has been the constant for 10 more EHE albums: with Wilkerson and trombonist Joseph Bowie up to 1997, when Ernest Dawkins replaced Wilkerson; percussionist Atu Harold Murray came and went; guitarist Fareed Haque appeared in 1999's Freedom Jazz Dance, left, and returned. On this album, trumpeter Corey Wilkes replaces Bowie, joining El'Zabar, Dawkins, and Haque. The present lineup is as satisfying as any: the drums provide a subtly shifty foundation, the guitar lays out sheets of sound mostly as a backdrop, the two horns free to move and lead. El'Zabar sings a bit toward the end -- never a plus, but not much of a minus this time. [B+(***)]
Thomas Marriott: Both Sides of the Fence (2006 , Origin): Seattle-based trumpeter. Has a brother, David, who plays trombone in a joint group, the Marriott Brothers Quintet or Marriott Jazz Quintet, but is absent here. Background includes work with Maynard Ferguson, Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Rosemary Clooney. Mainstream chops, exceptionally fine tone. The sort of album I have no special interest in, but so well done I hate to slough it off. Two cuts with Joe Locke on vibes are a plus. B
Michael Marcus/Ted Daniel: Duology (2006 , Boxholder): One thing I look for in avant jazz is accessibility: the chance that a record might cross over and find some kind of receptive audience beyond those firmly committed to the genre. Actually, that's true of my approach to all genres; it's just that so many people have a strong gag reflex with avant jazz. This fails the test, perhaps inevitably. Free jazz duos on evenly weighted instruments -- Marcus on clarinet, Daniel on "brass" (trumpet, flugelhorn, Moroccan bugle, cornet) -- rarely flows and often clashes. That said, this comes off better than most such records. Marcus has paired off against other horns often, and few (if any) get more mileage out of it -- cf. his work with Sonny Simmons, albeit with the aid of a drummer. Daniel has a slim discography going back to 1973 -- credits with Dewey Redman, Andrew Cyrille, Henry Threadgill, Archie Shepp, Billy Bang. One piece is dedicated to Frank Lowe. A lot of history and art goes into something like this. Too bad it's so tough to grasp. B
Bernardo Sassetti: Unreal: Sidewalk Cartoon (2005-06 , Clean Feed): Among my earliest musical experiences was an extreme distaste for Euroclassical music, which has attenuated only slightly over the years. This makes me suspicious of the classical backgrounds inevitable in the university programs that produce most young jazz musicians these days, not to mention all those "third stream" projects that first appeared when the academy discovered jazz back in the '50s. In bring this up because my first impression of this record was that it sounds like classical music only better. It even crossed my mind that this is what Mozart might sound like if he was really as good as everyone seems to think. Obviously, I need to listen some more. Sassetti's previous records have been small piano groups -- Ascent impressed me enough to make it a Pick Hit. This one has dozens of extra musicians, including a large percussion group, a saxophone quartet, something called Cromeleque Quinteto (clarinet, flute, oboe, bassoon, french horn), and so forth, all deployed with the precision and taste Sassetti exhibits in his piano. [B+(***)]
Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos: Invites Chris Cheek (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent): Group aka OJM. Also on cover: Music by Carlos Azevedo and Pedro Guedes. Credits also cite Azevedo and Guedes for musical direction, piano, Fender Rhodes. The Orquestra is full scale: four trumpets, four trombones, five reeds (six counting Cheek), bass, drums. Strikes me as quite ordinary as big band productions go: lots of layer and polish on the brass, forgettable solos, not much going on in the rhythm. Cheek may be the star, but he doesn't stand out. C+
Nacho Arimany World-Flamenco Septet: Silence-Light (2006, Fresh Sound World Jazz): Most cuts have vocals, mostly from Antonio Campos, whose high-pressured melodrama fits the flamenco mold, without quite winning me over like Dieguito El Cigala did. Stretches without vocals are easier to handle and more interesting. Arimany sets the pace with his percussion, trying to bridge jazz and flamenco. Pianist Pablo Suárez and guitarist Lionel Loueke have some good moments, and saxophonist Javier Vercher tops them all. Harder to gauge Concha Jareńo's contribution -- credits read "flamenco dance footsteps, clapping." Hard to gauge the flamenco, but minus vocals this makes for interesting jazz. B+(*)
Miles Okazaki: Mirror (2006 , CDBaby): Guitarist, from Washington state, based in NYC now. Father taught photography; he studied math, literature, and visual arts, and provides four very attractive graphic panels in this package. Has an association with Jane Monheit, which has no discernible effect here. I'm tempted to group this under fusion, the main rationales being that electric guitar leans that way, he uses some electronics, and postbop isn't all that satisfactory an alternative. But arguing for the latter is the fact that most cuts feature two reeds. Christof Knoche is Okazaki's steady mate on bass clarinet, soprano sax, alto sax, and harmonica. The other spot is mostly held by David Binney (7 cuts on alto sax), but Miguel Zenon (3 cuts on alto) and Chris Potter (1 on tenor) also appear. Impressive, promising debut. [B+(**)]
John Fedchock New York Big Band: Up & Running (2006 , Reservoir): Trombonist, well schooled in big band practice and theory by Woody Herman and Gerry Mulligan, debuting his own New York Big Band to much acclaim in 1992. This is the first I've heard of five albums -- four big band, a smaller group for Hit the Bricks (2000). One thing about the concentration of jazz musicians in New York is that an ambitious arranger can recruit a name band there -- e.g., anchoring the sax section, Rich Perry, Rick Margitza, Gary Smulyan. This has moments when the band sounds great, but it has many more when I don't care, and some of them are the same. May just be a funk I'm going through, but I always figured the proof of a great big band is that it snaps you out of any such thing. This doesn't, although I do dig the trombone solos. B
Allan Vaché: With Benny in Mind (2006 , Arbors): They don't list roles here like they did on Bucky Pizzarelli's tribute to Freddie Green, but the casting is obvious: John Sheridan as Teddy Wilson, Vincent Corrao as Charlie Christian, and Christian Tamburr as Lionel Hampton. Phil Flanigan plays bass, Ed Metz Jr. drums, Vaché clarinet. The songs are as expected, as are the performances, which is the only possible critique. Goodman's sextet could surprise you now and then, even today. Tamburr strikes me as someone worth keeping an eye on. B+(*)
The Ray Kennedy Trio: Plays the Music of Arthur Schwartz (2006 , Arbors): Quartet, actually, with guitarist Joe Cohn also listed as "special guest" on the front cover, although not on the spine. Kennedy is a pianist. Don't know much about him: his website proclaims "coming soon." This looks to be his second album -- the first is called The Sound of St. Louis -- but he has a bunch of credits going back to 1990, most frequently with John Pizzarelli. Schwartz (1900-84) composed for Broadway and film, mostly in the '30s and '40s, mostly with lyricists Howard Dietz, Dorothy Fields, and Frank Loesser -- at least those are the credits whose words don't actually appear here. The music is none too familiar, but never quite out of mind. Kennedy brings a light touch and easy swing to the pieces, and Cohn builds on that. B+(***)
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Peter Brötzmann Group: Alarm (1981 , Atavistic): A radio shot from an exceptional nine-piece band of troublemakers, cut short by a bomb threat. The two-part title piece is punctuated by siren blasts, clipped down so firmly they hardly rise above the saxophones (Brötzmann, Willem Breuker, Frank Wright) and brass (Toshinori Kondo, Hannes Bauer, Alan Tomlinson). While the noise level is about average -- i.e., a couple notches below Machine Gun -- the rhythm section stands out: South Africans Harry Miller and Louis Moholo keep it all moving, while Alexander Von Schlippenbach's piano crashes against the waves. Wright sings a bit at the end, giving the whole thing a revival flair. B+(***)
Duo Baars-Henneman: Stof (2006, Wig): All the usual caveats about avant-garde duos apply here: this takes a lot of patience, including a willingness to let not much happen for way too long. But I've come to enjoy Ig Henneman's viola scratches and Ab Baars splotches of clarinet, tenor sax, and Japanese flutes as discreet sounds and quaint dances. B+(*)
Sunday, March 11. 2007
This is the latest of several books on the rise of conservative power in the US by Thomas B Edsall. Building Red America: The New Conservative Coalition and the Drive for Permanent Power (2006, Basic Books). Whereas Robert Brent Toplin's Radical Conservatism concentrates on ideology and propaganda, this one is more brass tacks politics, including some detailed research on demographics, economic strata, etc.
The arguments are summarized in the Preface (pp. ix-x):
The main structural weakness Edsall sees in the Democratic Party is the split between a mass majority of the poor and an elite minority of cultural liberals, who are effectively able to control the party platform despite lack of common interests and affinities with the majority poor. Edsall provides some interesting numbers, so much so that the liberal caricature appears to have some statistical significance (p. 18):
Edsall doesn't say this, but it's almost as if the Republican strategy was to split the opposition, driving a wedge between the poor and the liberal. Actually, that may have been instinctive, given that the New Deal coalition was built when liberal elites offered politically effective leadership for the poor, who in turn provided the numbers for a Democratic majority. The context for that coalition was the Great Depression, when enlightened leadership was seen as necessary to head off more radical change.
On the Republican attack (pp. 28-29):
On the partnership between GOP, business, and cultural conservatives (p. 45):
Edsall cites a study by pollster Matt Dowd following the 2000 election as decisive in refocusing the Bush campaign from centrist votes to wedge issues (pp. 51-52):
It seems likely to me that Dowd's survey wasn't a new discovery in late 2000 -- that Bush's moderating tone in 2000 was just window dressing for the hard-right conservative agenda that became evident the day he took office. There are various strategic reasons for the tactic, but one thing that made it possible was that the right and the left were already cognitively isolated (p. 63):
On the Republican spoils of victory (p. 116):
On business spoils of victory (pp. 125-126):
Much of the book details how white males have shifted to the Republican Party, especially in reaction to advances by non-whites and women, although one could also point to the decline of unions and manufacturing jobs. Edsall argues that white male opposition to affirmative action represents rational self-interest. However, he also points out that males have problems assessing risk (pp. 205-206):
More on risk and self-perception (p. 207):
Wonder how this correlates with the subset that vacations in Las Vegas.
Saturday, March 10. 2007
Perhaps the ugliest piece of research in my book outline is to look into the evolution -- a term that properly understood entails mutation and selection -- of conservative political ideology in post-WWII America. This would then set up a following section on conservative practice: how things go terribly wrong when bad people get free reign to implement bad ideas. So I slogged through two recent books on the subject -- this one and Thomas Edsall's Building Red America, which I'll post my notes on tomorrow. At this point I have a fairly sizable stack of books that I've read and marked up. I'm working my way forwards and backwards to try to get them recorded, not just in the blog but in a more permanently accessible books section. Following these two books on the right are two recent books I've read on health care.
Robert Brent Toplin's Radical Conservatism: The Right's Political Religion (2006, University Press of Kansas) is a general survey of recent conservative political ideology in America. His perspective is what I'd call moderate: he spends a lot of time distinguishing between liberals and leftists, appreciating the former's willingness to entertain all sides of issues, and he would like to defend some strain of conservatism distinct from the fanatics and extremists who have taken over the movement. His is not an especially insightful book, but I expect to survey much of the same ground in my book, so I found this a fairly useful general survey.
For all his insistence that radcons (radical conservatives) have turned their politics into a form of religion -- at least that they pursue it with the conviction of true believers -- there isn't very much here on the religious phalanx of the Republican Party. Rather, he discerns three major strains, which he calls: stealth libertarians, culture warriors, and hawkish nationalists. The first group is the most problematical: he concentrates on a laissez-faire economics as it has developed to rationalize stripping government, especially of its ability to tax and regulate business. My own view is that right's relationship to business is far less ideological: they back business both to reduce government impositions (taxes, regulation, antitrust, torts) and to increase government support (procurement, subsidies). Basically, whatever business wants is OK with them, because they recognize that business puts the money in their pockets that lets them pursue their other ideological goals -- which do not include anything that real libertarians believe in other than laissez-faire when it's economically convenient.
The culture warriors are basically displaced bigots who believe in using government to coerce good behavior from unruly citizens. The hawkish nationalists are into coercion on even grander scales, and are rooted in a state-planned economy with no market values whatsoever. That these three factions form a coalition is itself somewhat improbable, but the military is a residual from WWII and the the culture warriors idealize the same period, both reinforced by the holy war against godless communism -- itself an issue that the rich actually did have a stake in.
I didn't mark many quotes. In a section called "Undisturbed by Doubts" Toplin cites David Brock on the true believers (pp. 61-62):
On the usefulness of religion, particularly by neoconservatives (pp. 134-135):
Marx came to the same conclusion when he called religion the opiate of the masses. The virtue that the Straussians most treasure is the quiescent acceptance of the class hierarchy.
A particularly annoying quote is where Toplin chastises anyone who would criticize US history in the wake of 9/11 (pp. 212-213):
Toplin is writing about William J. Bennett's Why We Fight, which took pains to single out anyone who said anything critical of US policy. The fact is that people like Bennett were using 9/11 to push us into war, and their exploitation of "human psychology" was part of that push. There was never a time when it was more important to stop and take a deep breath and examine how we got to be in that situation, before we let a few hot heads fly us off the cliff into the abyss of war -- events that in coming years we have increasingly come to regret. Critical self-examination failed in this case because very few people have any clue as to what the US has done in its foreign policy over the last 50-60 years, even in frequently troubled areas of the Middle East.
Then there are times when the right puts the shoe on the wrong foot (p. 229):
Finally, the radcons have had trouble translating their ideas into viable practice (pp. 272-273):
Toplin then concludes with Ron Suskind's famous "reality-based community" quote.
Friday, March 9. 2007
I've had the Dec. 11, 2006 isssue of the New Yorker sitting on my desk since sometime around the issue date, originally thinking that I wanted to keep a quote from a book review. The book is about the history of Burma/Myanmar, The River of Lost Footsteps, by Thant Myint-U, the grandson of UN Secretary U Thant. The review is by John Lanchester. Unfortunately, I didn't mark the quote I wanted to keep, so I'm floundering through a fascinating piece on a subject I know very little about. Something to do with the pernicious follies of imperialism, as I recall. Maybe this one, on how the British took over:
Also worth noting is Thant's critique of the world's efforts to pressure or punish Burma/Myanmar:
Of course, we've seen how grossly ineffective, and ultimately cruel, pressure by tough sanctions has repeatedly proven to be. Such strategies fall under the rubric of "war by other means," which means they wind up sharing the moral faults of war. In particular, they demonize the other, rendering the dispute ever more rigid and irresolvable. But they also tend to be significantly asymmetrical: US sanctions against relatively small nations like Cuba, North Korea, Myanmar, Iraq, or even Iran, cost us very little, while potentially doing much harm to the other. The fact that we see and feel so little pain makes it so easy to continue such strategies. It's only when they blow back that we notice them at all. (North Korea's nuclear weapons seem to have finally gotten attention by the Bush regime.)
It seems to me that even so vast a conflict as the Cold War might have been significantly ameliorated by appealing to the highest ideals of the Communists rather than attacking their worst practices, provoking their greatest fears. The same thing could be true for numerous other smaller scale conflicts.