Wednesday, May 30. 2007
The following quote comes from Glenn Greenwald, but it could be from anyone critical of the Bush Iraq War, and the context doesn't matter, because any context would do just as well:
The Reynolds assumption here is that losing is a state of mind. The corrollary is that the US would win in Iraq, sooner or later, were it not for all the defeatists back home fretting and carping over hysterically imagined bad news. This is in turn rooted in the myth that the peace movement lost the Vietnam War -- not the generals and the politicians, and certainly not the Vietnamese. The assumption makes for powerful rhetoric, although in the end is works more to assuage the consciences of the war boosters than to discredit war opponents.
The problem is that I can't conceive of anything any definition of "we" can win in Iraq. Killing everyone just shows our depravity to the world. Short of that, many Iraqis will resist, which both disrupts our occupation and ensures further war. Painting an Iraqi face on the occupation turns Iraqis against each other, as well as against us. In the short term that hurts Iraq worse than it does us, but we're accumulating debts we'll never repay. In the end, we will give up and Iraq will revert to the Iraqis, and all the wrath we have sown will be remembered. As we've seen, Bush can postpone that reckoning. Indeed, he seems determined to push it out past the end of his term, regardless of the costs either to Iraq or to the US -- such is his vanity, and his commitment to the delusional world of political myth. But even he has never given us a definition of victory that can be empirically verified.
One thing we should have learned by now is that "rooting" makes no difference -- indeed, makes no sense at all. It has no effect. All it does is frivolously insert one's head into an out-of-control process. Even that presumes the possibility of a positive outcome, which we can't imagine -- at best I hope for a least worst case scenario, which I hardly expect because I don't expect the folks in charge to wise up to their errors, much less confess to them. Unfortunately, people in power don't reverse gears like so easily. Germany and Japan discredited their WWII regimes after they were utterly defeated. Britain and France only grudgingly gave up their colonial empires which had nearly bankrupted them. The Soviet Union is a rare case that tried to reform itself but fell apart in the process. The US is a long ways from admitting the follies of its arrogance, even though the costs of going through the motions are becoming unsupportable. One can hope for reason, but more likely than not the US will change only when something breaks so bad that no other option is possible. The least worst scenario is sooner rather than later, not that one can "root" for that. On the other hand, a survey of this paragraph's late empirse shows that all are better off now than when they were on top. Worse things could happen to the US, like clinging indefinitely to a shred of hope for victory when no such thing is possible.
Ten US soldiers were killed in Iraq on Tuesday, bringing the May total to 115. My basic reaction is indifference. Of course, they're being killed. That's what happens when you invade and try to control a foreign country -- especially if "you" are George W Bush and the foreign country is Iraq. Of course, the soldiers are just pawns in this game, but I'm not tempted to romanticize them or to take pity on them. They're free enough they could have refused. They could have known better, and should have known better. By their participation, they gave their assent to their government's imperial designs; although they bore no direct responsibility, they have, willingly one presumes, become symbols of the policy. So I disdain the uniform, but once a soldier is taken out of the fight, you just have one more person, killed or maimed, a life wasted for a wrongheaded policy. It's foolish, on many levels, to call those soldiers "heroes" -- given that all Bush is really fighting for these days is time, dead soldiers are little more than ticks of the clock.
The same day over 100 Iraqis were killed. I find myself indifferent about them too, again seeing them as inevitable consequences of the same wrongheaded policy. It's not that I don't care, or don't recognize how disturbing these deaths are, let alone how poisonous they are for the future. Each is a tragedy, irreversible, a scar we will bear as long as memory functions. But in the larger picture, these deaths -- theirs, ours, it matters little to me, and shouldn't to you either -- are pointless. There's nothing, no one, to root for, or even against, in this war. It just needs to end. And while it would be best if it ended with an understanding of why it was wrong, that's unlikely -- given that we weren't smart or wise enough to have avoided it in the first place.
Tuesday, May 29. 2007
After a career in the military which he converted into a Ph.D. in history, Andrew Bacevich moved from writing pieces for National Review to becoming a prominent critic of the neocons' superpower foreign policy. His son followed in his footsteps, in that he joined the military and went to war. That ended when he was killed in Iraq. Bacevich wrote a Washington Post op-ed on this that should be read. In particular:
He points out that the 2006 elections were clear on Iraq, but the new Democratic majority has failed to stand up for the will of the people. He goes on to discuss the dissatisfying reactions of his own Congressfolk -- the two famous liberal senators from Massachusetts and a congressman, each nominally but hopelessly opposed to the Iraq war. (I can only imagine what he might have gotten out of the assholes who supposedly represent me.) He sees a political system totally owned by money: "Money buys access and influence. Money greases the process that will yield us a new president in 2008."
I passed that point a long time ago -- so far back that I think of this analysis as a Marxist cliché. After all, beyond shock and disillusionment lie further questions, like why do the rich, being so able to manipulate politics, wind up doing such stupid things with their power? The conventional answer there has something to do with ideology, but saying that merely opens the door. For example, why do the rich support greedy policies which exacerbate conflict? Partly they have an unrealistic infatuation with their own power; partly they lack the ability to see themselves as others see them.
But actually I think the answer is worse than that. As best I can figure it out, the American political system has been hacked -- maybe scammed is a better term? Just to take one prime example, the point of the K Street Project wasn't to serve business better. It was to discipline business-financed lobbyists to serve the Republican Party. The businesses get multi-billion dollar favors out of this, and they no doubt look good on the balance sheet, but the result is that the businesses are stuck following Bush into the hellhole of Iraq. The Republicans have invested heavily in learning how to push buttons -- not least in figuring out which buttons are worth pushing and which are not. That the media is owned by the rich plays into their hands, but it hardly explains their success in controlling the debate. The fact that Bush can blithely ignore public opinion just goes to show you how confident he is that the public is powerless.
At WarInContext, Paul Woodward reacted to Bacevich's column in an interesting way:
He goes on to point out various examples of how Iraq War opponents have casually acquiesced to the war's intellectual and cultural base, such as the "support our troops -- bring them home" nostrum. That so much antiwar argument tries to grasp onto prowar concepts -- is, for instance, the war making us safer from terrorism or not? -- just goes to show how slanted the playing field is. It also shows the extent to which truth has been devalued in American politics. If the point of debate were to find the best answers, we would strive to free debate from our prejudices, but you don't see that happening at all. Rather, we let our minds be shuttered from such basic, empirically credible propositions as that war almost never promotes freedom or justice. And it's not just that ideology has blinded us, although there's plenty of that. It's that the political process has been hacked, by people committed to the proposition that the only thing that matters is winning. George Bush is their poster boy: it's not like he could win on his own anything that wasn't fixed.
To find a comparable group of political con artists, you have to go back to the Nazis. They proved equally masterful at flattering Germany's rich and powerful, and at marshalling the Volk, filling their heads with visions of greatness and reinforcing their sense of righteousness -- especially righteous indignation -- all the while stealing them blind and driving the nation to ruin. Their aims and goals were in plain sight for those who cared to look, yet they managed to convince most that to raise even the simplest questions would be treasonous. And long after their failures had become manifest they managed to keep their supporters in line, offering ready-made excuses -- like the treacherous hidden powers of Jews or liberals or Satan -- while taunting the resolve and will power of their own supporters.
Woodward's point about our loss of a critical, questioning culture is valid, but we didn't just lose it: the ascendency of the political right depended on erasing our collective memory of past mistakes as well as restoring blind obedience to the self-appointed forces of order. I recall a book from the Vietnam War era by Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner called Teaching as a Subversive Idea, where they argued that the most important thing that every student student should develop is a finely-tuned bullshit detector. That book is long out of print now. But had students learned and kept that skill, we wouldn't be in the mess we're in now.
Those of us who did manage to develop working bullshit detectors have for the most part been immunized against the Bush propaganda, but the attitude also makes us loathe to counter on the same level. The best we can do is to try to seek truth in spite of the torrent of myth and manipulation. Setbacks, like what Bacevich feels in failing to save his son, occur all the time, tempting one both to self-pity and to despair -- emotions that, however justified or even realistic, offer no help. The only way out is advance truth over politics, and the only chance for that is to, one by one, do it.
Monday, May 28. 2007
As predicted, this past week has been a tough one for prospecting. I've had people working in the house almost every day, and I've had an unusual number of errands pulling me away. The situation got so bad I decided I might as well take a break and do what I could do on June's Recycled Goods column. I didn't clean up as much as usual there, but did manage to scrap together a 43-record column -- a bit shorter than usual, but still an honest month's work. So that's out of the way, and I'm hoping the house gets squared away on Tuesday, or doesn't drag on much beyond that. This coming week is make or break for Jazz CG. I'm further behind than I'd like, and still not sure of pick hits and duds, but I have plenty to work with. Should get it done, and looking forward to getting it behind me.
John Ettinger: August Rain (2003, Ettinger Music): San Francisco-based violinist, arrived in 1992 from Arizona. This is his first album, after kicking around in various obscure bands and projects, ranging from Clockbrains ("psychedelic punk band") to LBJ (with Lukas Ligeti) and work with Scott Amendola, who returns the favor here. The tone and tempo are set by Art Hirahara's Fender Rhodes, which with Amendola's programmed beats and Ettinger's loops sustains a bubbly groove most of the way through, providing plenty of structure for the violin to swing and saw against. The effect is reminiscent of soul jazz, but lighter in tone -- more fancy, less grease. B+(**)
John Ettinger: Kissinger in Space (2006, Ettinger Music): A much more ambitious run of music than on his debut -- more varied, which among other things means some slower pieces. I still don't have a sense of him as a violin stylist, although he hits every mark he sets. But I'm much impressed with his networking: he tapped Arizona schoolmate Tony Malaby for a second voice, and his SF connections brought in Nels Cline Singers Devin Hoff on bass and Scott Amendola on drums. B+(***)
Jimmy Hall & the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Collective: Build Your Own Fire (2007, Zoho): Hall sung and played harmonica for Wet Willie, a second- or third-tier Southern rock group back in the '70s, well back of a pack that included the Allman Brothers and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Like most of his brethren, Hall's a blues fan deep down, a point made explicit on Wet Willie's first album cover. Hall had a couple of 1980-82 albums, not much since. This one is a tribute to Muscle Shoals guitarist-composer Eddie Hinton, whose own checkered blues career died in 1995. Not much to it, but when such second- or third-tier characters get together to honor one of their own, their minor virtues somehow gain in stature. B+(*)
Hector Martignon: Refugee (2007, Zoho): Pianist based in New York. Don't know where he's a refugee from. Website notes that he attended Freiburger Musikhochschule in Germany and lived in Brazil for a year. Website claims he's played on hundreds of albums, but AMG only lists 20, including an early '90s stint with Ray Barretto. No recording dates here, but website describes an album scheduled for Fall 2003 that sounds much like this one. This is his third. Mostly originals (6 of 8), with various groups that all reduce to piano, guitar, bass, drums, and percussion. Epicycles of dense rhythm, sometimes stretching to the point of chaos, but with powerful forward momentum. In other words, sounds Afro-Cuban to me. B+(*)
Steve Khan: Borrowed Time (2005-07 , Tone Center): Guitarist, has recorded steadily since 1977. Evidently his early work qualifies as fusion, but the only two records I've heard -- Let's Call This (1991, Polydor) and Got My Mental (1996, Evidence) -- are eloquent pieces of postbop guitar craft. This starts promising, with Monk and Coleman done simply, albeit with extra Latin percussion. But as the record winds on, the Latin percussion, in one case augmented by tabla and tambura, takes over and the guitar melts into the smooth groove. B [June 5]
Chris Byars: Photos in Black, White and Gray (2006 , Smalls): Saxophonist, born and lives in New York. Plays alto, tenor, and soprano here; has played flute and clarinet elsewhere. Has worked at Smalls since 1994, recording in his own Octet and in the group Across 7 Street, and behind various others, mostly label mates. This one is a quartet, with Sacha Perry on piano, Ari Roland on bass, Andy Watson on drums. Byars writes: "I believe this recording conveys part of the secret of how jazz itself never grows old. In the same way I like to pick up the repertoire of 1950's giants Gigi Gryce and Lucky Thompson, here we have some key material of the 1994-2003 Smalls decade . . . and several years the wiser." The Smalls circle strikes me as an attempt to innovate within a formalized tradition -- postbop is the inevitably sloppy framework, of which this is a small subset. I've never been able to say much about that approach; rather, I just roll with the punches, recognizing stuff that sounds both proper and fresh, sorting it out from stuff that sounds less so. But mapping this to Gryce's alto and Thompson's tenor makes sense to me. Had I heard Bryars' pieces on those guys albums I would be pleased but not surprised. Bryars' soprano would fit into that tradition too if only there was an equivalent model -- I can't think of one. Perry and Roland get some good solo space as well. A-
Niño Josele: Paz (2006, Calle 54): Flamenco guitarist, turned on to jazz when Bronx trumpeter Jerry González recruited Josele for a flamenco-themed album. This one meditates on Bill Evans, whose music, starting with "Peace Piece," comes off even more delicately on solo guitar, occasionally complemented by matching bits of trumpet (González, Tom Harrell), sax (Joe Lovano), or voice (Freddy Cole, Estrella Morente). B+(**)
Ibrahim Ferrer: Mi Sueño (1998-2005 , World Circuit/Nonesuch): The Buena Vista Social Club crooner was evidently working on this when he died in 2005, leaving demos with his strong and eloquent voice, only needing some filling out. The pieces are boleros with elegant, uncomplicated arrangements -- they fit his voice and don't wear anyone out. One track was recorded in by Ry Cooder in 1998. The others are undated. B+(**)
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Pablo Aslan: Avantango (2003 , Zoho): The first of two albums by an Argentinian bassist, now resident in New York. It more than lives up to the title. You may read about merging jazz with tango, or jazzing up tango, but the real goal here is to push tango to unimagined extremes. Still, in the end the bandoneon, violin, and above all three vocals by Roxana Fontan mark this as uncompromisingly rooted in the classics, even if the horns and piano beg to differ. B+(**)
Pablo Aslan: Buenos Aires Tango Standards (2006 , Zoho): The bassist's second album approaches tango from another perspective. Where Avantango pushed it to extremes, this one eschews the signature bandoneon and violin in favor of a straight jazz quintet -- trumpet, sax, piano, bass, drums. The standards are more orthodox, but subtler, less jagged, emphasizing the melodies over the twists and turns, opening them up. After all, that's what jazz does. A-
Joe Zawinul: Brown Street (2005 , Heads Up, 2CD): Sticker says: "Zawinul revisits Weather Report classics for the first time." His former band never impressed me much, although there was never any doubt as to the individuals' talents, keyboardist included. But Zawinul's rhythm section goes Weather Report's one better, adding African beats to Latin. And the WDR Big Band adds horn depth, punching up the arrangements. B+(*)
Ethnic Heritage Ensemble: Hot 'N' Heavy (2006 , Delmark): Live at the Ascension Loft. Percussionist Kahil El'Zabar's group is now a quartet, with Corey Wilkes on trumpet, Ernest Dawkins on sax, and Fareed Haque on guitar, each having stellar moments, especially when it does indeed get hot and heavy. Tails off a bit toward the end, where the threat of a vocal looms, but is ultimately unrealized. B+(***)
Chicago Underground Trio: Chronicle (2006 , Delmark): Rob Mazurek and Chad Taylor have been doing business as Chicago Underground whatever since 1998, sometimes with third or even fourth members -- bassist Jason Ajemian is the new ingredient this time. They've also been thickening up their cornet-percussion duo with electronics, which have reached a new plateau of density and ugliness this time. Often fascinating, sometimes wearing; I always love the cornet, and am increasingly impressed by Taylor's vibes. Not sure what Ajemian is responsible for, but his credits include electronics, so he may be the secret to the density. Also available on a DVD, which I have but haven't watched. B+(**)
Bob French: Marsalis Music Honors Bob French (2006 , Marsalis Music/Rounder): Of all the post-Katrina New Orleans albums, this one does the best job of pretending nothing has changed, but that's the veteran drummer's stock in trade. Ever since he inherited Papa Celestin's Original Tuxedo Jazz Band, he's kept the faith, plying the family trade. B+(***)
Saturday, May 26. 2007
Elizabeth Kolbert has a note in The New Yorker (May 28, 2007) about Rachel Carson, on the 100th anniversary of her birth. The piece starts with a discussion of the USDA's efforts to eradicate red imported fire ants, using pesticides that caused major ecological damage, while denying or ignoring scientific reports. This inevitably segues into a survey of the the home front in Bush's long war:
This kind of thing doesn't get reported much, mostly because with all of Bush's malfeasances the media's triage operations never seem to get past the most acute disasters. But Bush (or Cheney or Rove or whoever pulls the strings behind Incurious George) made sure from inauguration day that every nook and cranny of the federal government was staffed with operatives enforcing the party line. The old knock on Ronald Reagan was that he talked a good game, but didn't actually deliver much. You can't say that about Bush and Cheney: they've made damn sure that their sponsors got their money's worth.
The true costs of Bush's rollback on environmental protections may be impossible to tally up. Degradation is often incremental, its costs only becoming apparent when some "tipping point" is crossed. But one thing that is clearly lost is time. Some problems may be easy enough to recover from, but others, like oil depletion and global warming, look suspiciously like ticking bombs, and things like extinction are by definition permanent, irrecoverable losses. Every bit as troubling is how Bush and company have convinced many that politics trumps everything else, including science and for that matter fact. I don't doubt that overvaluation of science has gotten us into trouble, but swinging to the other extreme leaves us bewildered and helpless. That in general seems to play into the right's political agenda, as long as the accumulation of disaster doesn't shake the faith of the ignorant following the blind. The other side of that equation is that the more Bush succeeds, the worse disasters it will take to steer us back to reality.
Friday, May 25. 2007
When someone, like Jimmy Carter (for instance), says Bush is the worst president ever, the media cops go into a fury over how all of a sudden the debate has degenerated to shameless name calling -- anything to avoid debating the evidence behind the proposition. To compare Bush to Hitler, the Republicans to the Nazis, and the parts of America that elected Bush and the Republicans to Nazi Germany, is way beyond the pale. But once again, the main thing the reaction serves is to foreclose analyzing the merits of the proposition. It's certainly not like the media cops are working themselves into any such dither when one of their own, even an O'Reilly or a Coulter, reduces the argument to pure slander.
Clearly there are important differences between Germany under Hitler and America under Bush: the former existed in a time when empire and racism were still in fashion, so much so that they could be proudly acclaimed as goals worth fighting major wars for. Another critical difference is that the US is to a large extent engaged in defending an effective empire, whereas Nazi Germany aspired to take one. On the other hand, there are some limited concerns where Nazi Germany is one of the few relevant historical analogies. The most important of these is the question of to what extent did the German people support the Nazis, when did they finally conclude that the Nazis were leading them to ruin, and why weren't they unable to do anything about it. To ask those question does not presuppose that Bush's America is as bad as Nazi Germany. The two cases don't have to be equivalent for the question to be asked.
Richard J. Evans has a review of Ian Kershaw's book Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions That Changed the World, 1940-1941, in the June 4 issue of The Nation, which delves into the Nazi end of this question:
One of the biggest problems we face is the inability of so many Americans to see Bush's manifest failures as the likely consequence of his personal traits and ideological precepts. On the other hand, those of us who see those things clearly are mostly the same people who saw them clearly in the first place. Hitler's ability to dazzle and/or cower ordinary Germans never worked on his initial victims, Communists and Jews, even if the latter occasionally underestimated him. But evidently Hitler was able to isolate his critical political base from his unfolding disaster long enough that they never knew what hit them. In fact, it's possible that the majority of ordinary Germans didn't definitively turn against Hitler until around 1947, a couple of years after defeat. That doesn't make me very optimistic that the American people will wise up to Bush.
Thursday, May 24. 2007
Elizabeth de la Vega is a former federal prosecutor, which gives her a relatively unique perspective on the legal affairs she has been writing about at TomDispatch. Her book is an expansion of those pieces. United States v. George W. Bush et al. is a thought experiment, where she argues a case before a hypothetical federal grand jury with the intent of indicting Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and Powell for fraud in their selling of the Iraq war. Her case depends on the relevant law for fraud cases, of which Enron is a prominent example. Even aside from the legal details, the book is useful for its clear-headed, succinct detailing of the propaganda effort.
I only marked one quote in the book, although there is much more of note, including a particularly good chronology toward the end of the book.
On Sept. 4, 2002, Bush held a news conference on Iraq where he repeatedly hyped the "serious threat" Iraq posed, but emphasized "that he hadn't decided what to do about it." One day later, he did something (pp. 150-151):
Had anyone been paying attention to what Bush was doing rather than what he was saying it would have been clear that Bush had already launched the war. However, the media, even beyond their usual predilection for reporting words over facts, had become so inured to US presidents bombing Iraq that one more such event failed to register with them. After all, Bush had bombed Iraq before -- just a few days after he was inaugurated, in fact, way before 9/11. And Clinton bombed Iraq so many times it became a standing joke -- a staple reinforced on shows like The West Wing, further normalizing it.
Wednesday, May 23. 2007
Gary Kamiya in Salon on Why Bush hasn't been impeached:
Kamiya offers several explanations, starting with the notion that many Americans were so committed to Bush's crimes that they can't acknowledge their own culpability. However, at least half of those who initially backed Bush's Iraq adventure have turned against him. That might be enough to tilt a representative Congress to impeach, especially given the clear fact that Bush is personally incapable of admitting his mistakes and extricating us from the war. Without impeaching Bush (and Cheney too, presumably first), we're stuck watching the calendar as the disaster unnecessarily deepens. But Congress is far from representative. They are politicos, selected for their survival skills in the normal course of American politics, which starts and often ends with raising money. A big part of their survival is how they fit into the party mold: in business that's called branding, and in fact a party's brand is largely set by, or against, whoever's president. The Democrats couldn't break loose from Clinton to render an independent judgment; the Republicans are if anything even more slavishly invested in Bush. The numbers mean it's impossible to remove Bush unless more than a third of the Senate Republicans repudiate their party leader, which for this generation is inconceivable.
Still, Kamiya is right in the sense that too many people still see Bush's failures as some sort of tactical mishap rather than as the logical consequence of a deeply flawed worldview. Parts of that worldview are still widely accepted as conventional sense, including most of the "war on terrorism" nonsense, like the dogma that showing any weakness will expose us to further attacks. The worst such cases are those like Madeleine Albright who argue that Bush shouldn't have invaded Iraq but now that we're there, we're stuck because we can't afford to lose face. (Uh, how exactly have we not lost face already?) Certainly, if we could bring a large majority of Americans around to seeing empire as a hopeless goal, war as a self-defeating program, and "America: The Last Best Hope" as conceited nonsense, impeachment of Bush and Cheney wouldn't be hard to get on the agenda.
One more Kamiya quote, for future reference:
That's no doubt a big part of Bush's success, but history is littered with strong men who were backstabbed as their disasters mounted -- Milosevic, from the above list, with Ceaucescu and Mussolini two more prominent and not unrelated examples. That Bush has survived thus far is due to a number of factors, not least that the United States is a pretty tough country to sink. But gradually his deeds are catching up with him, and as they do, expect some self-diagnosis of where those who once backed him made their mistakes. The idea that Bush is a Strong Man is one of them; another is that a Strong Man is a viable defense.
Tuesday, May 22. 2007
I've bought many of Chomsky's recent books, including Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance and Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy, but haven't read them. I greatly respect his command of the relevant history, generally agree with his analysis, and sympathize with his fundamental political precepts, but find his writing painful to read -- not for the substance, which is after all the point, but for his monomaniacally embittered tone. To some degree, it is necessary to have some respect for the architects of American imperialism, if only to keep them from falling into caricature, and away from any comprehension.
Chomsky didn't always have this problem, but it seems to have grown over decades, perhaps a matter of losing patience, or maybe just the result of having been proven so right so often without receiving his due recognition. Not that he remains a voice in the wilderness: since 9/11 his books have been bestsellers, he has become a celebrity speaker, and for many of us who have somehow managed to escape the "manufactured consent" he criticized in an earlier book, he has become something of an oracle.
His interviews tend to avoid the worst traits of his prose, so I figured this set of dialogues with Gilbert Achcar -- a French middle east expert with an explicitly Marxist perspective -- might be a good chance to check up on him. As it turned out, the book wasn't all that satisfactory: a lot of stuff I already knew, too much back-and-forth trying to reconcile positions that mostly turned on different reactions to keywords. So I didn't wind up marking much, but it's the sort of book where any random page is likely to provoke some thought.
Chomsky talks about Israel's decision in 1971 to reject Egypt's peace offer (p. 167):
Chomsky, on the dismantling of Israeli settlements in Sinai as a result of the Camp David agreements (p. 169):
From Gilbert Achcar's epilogue (p. 221):
Monday, May 21. 2007
Did manage to transition to mostly playing stuff from the replay shelves. Did manage to write some actual text for the column. Both of those are indications that it is coming to a close, although I can't claim to have made a huge amount of progress. House chores interrupted me on several occasions, with Tuesday scheduled for more of the same, and who knows how many more days like that are in the cards. Still haven't settled on pick hits or featured dud, although there are candidates. Also need to do some work on Recycled Goods this week. Not sure how to balance that.
Oscar Peterson and Friends: JATP Lausanne 1953 (1953 , TCB): Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts were like all-star games: random sets of headliners turned loose on things like "C-Jam Blues" -- the 19:23 opener here, where everyone gets their turn to spin, slam, and dunk. It's ironic that Peterson wound up on top of this belatedly released radio tape. At 27, he was Granz's handyman, little known, but a fast, hard swinging pianist who raised the play of everyone else on the floor. The frontliners here were Flip Phillips, Lester Young, Willie Smith, and Charlie Shavers -- with the latter's blistering trumpet setting the pace. The last two cuts drop down to a trio, with Peterson, Smith, and Gene Krupa: both give Peterson some solo space, and remind us why Smith was widely regarded as one of the three great alto saxophonists of the swing era, along with Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter. B+(***)
Charles Mingus: In Paris: The Complete America Session (1970 , Sunnyside, 2CD): One day, a batch of old songs, a group that doesn't rank among his great ones -- Eddie Preston on trumpet, Charles McPherson on alto sax, Bobby Jones on tenor sax, Jaki Byard on piano, Dannie Richmond (of course) on drums -- yielded two quickie LPs on the French label named America, minor blips in the Mingus discography. The master takes that went into the LPs fit on the first disc. The alternate takes, including many false starts, fill out the previously unreleased second disc. None of this is earth shaking, ear opening, or even moderately important. Still, if you didn't know better, the first disc could pass for a typical Mingus tour de force, and the scraps hold together better than they have any right to. B+(**) [May 22]
Charles Mingus Sextet With Eric Dolphy: Cornell 1964 (1964 , Blue Note, 2CD): This is touted as a true find -- actually, "a truly spectacular never-before-released performance" -- but I don't hear it. Actually, I don't hear much of anything, which surprises me. The same sextet -- Johnny Coles on trumpet, Clifford Jordan on tenor sax, Jaki Byard on piano, Dannie Richmond on drums, as well as Dolphy on alto sax, flute, and bass clarinet -- recorded Town Hall Concert 1964 two weeks later, an important album in the Mingus discography, then went off to Europe and recorded more, including a much bootlegged Paris concert that Sue Mingus insisted on officially releasing under the title Revenge! This starts out rather slow, with Byard doing a solo piano impression of Art Tatum and Fats Waller, followed by Mingus taking on "Sophisticated Lady" solo, then the band joins in for 29:42 of only intermittently coherent "Fables of Faubus." Nor does it get much better, although "Take the 'A' Train" and "Jitterbug Waltz" are at least recognizable. Dolphy is a major disappointment, especially given what he was doing on his own in what turned out to be his last year. His flute, in particular, is never more than a novelty, and sounds especially corny on "Jitterbug Waltz." This is an advance, and there are some things evidently screwed up on it. Will withhold final judgment until the final arrives. [B-] [July 17]
Family Pet (2007, Foreign Frequency): This is a slab of 12-inch vinyl, with no info other than label name and something about 45rpm. Also have a 7-inch 45rpm which credits A.M. Haines with keyboard and vocal, Will Berdan II with percussion. Website describes group as "Maine's free form rock duo." Put the side with one cut on, and it sounds like free form noise, which doesn't do much for me one way or another. Then the turntable, an old B&O, lifted the stylus and stopped spinning. The 33/45 switch works, but otherwise the arm is stuck and the platter doesn't spin. So that's as far as I got. No telling when/if I'll ever get back to it, so I will mark it with two grades: one for what it sounded like when it was playing, and another for what it sounds like now. Got email from Berdan suggesting it might be a dud, so presumably he'll be satisfied either way. B/E
Cyminology: Bemun (2007, Challenge): German group, led by vocalist Cymin Samawatie, who describes herself as "the daughter of Iranian emigrants." Group also includes Benedikt Jahnel on piano, Ralf Schwarz on double bass, Ketan Bhatti on drums, with guest guitar from Frank Möbus on two cuts. Songs are based on Persian poetry, and the drums tend to fit that. I disliked the high, arch vocals at first: reminded me of European vocal traditions, but it may be that the same attitude is cultivated by all classical traditions. The instrumental sections are more ingratiating: the piano and bass are well situated in the jazz world, and the drums -- not specified, but it sounds like hands are intimately involved -- add a world beat aspect. B
Lafayette Gilchrist: Three (2007, Hyena): Third album, but could just as well refer to the number of musicians, or maybe even David Murray's "3d family" -- Gilchrist works with Murray. This time the piano trio appears to be purely acoustic. Most pieces have a regular pulse. Booklet refers to Sun Ra, James Brown, Andrew Hill, and CLR James. [B+(**)]
Stan Bock Ensemble: Your Check's in the Mail (2006 , OA2): Trombonist, based in Oregon, but studied at Fort Hays State here in Kansas back in the early '70s -- I have some cousins who went there a bit before. Has a couple of albums with his semi-large (8 piece) Ensemble, as well as some group efforts at Latin jazz and Klezmer. This is bright, burly, fairly boppish, with a group tribute to James Brown. B+(*)
Louis Sclavis: L'Imparfait des Langues (2005 , ECM): Working off an advance copy here, although the release date is April 24, so presumably this is out, but not part of the top tier promotion. Quintet here, with Marc Baron's alto sax joining Sclavis' usual clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano sax combo in an unusually fierce -- for Sclavis, and especially for ECM -- front line. Blame that on the rhythm section: Paul Brousseau's keyboards, Maxime Delpierre's guitars, François Merville's drums. They keep the beat steady and charging -- effectively this is a fusion album, improvised enough to keep it interesting. [B+(***)] [Apr. 24]
Stephan Micus: On the Wing (2003-06 , ECM): Advance copy. German composer, multi-instrumentalist. AMG classifes him as New Age -- not a good term, but I don't know what would be. Has 17 or so albums, going back to the mid-'70s, his first one featuring: voice, guitar, shô, Thai flute, sitar, rabab, Bavarian zither, shakuhachi. This one has most of those, notably less voice, and quite a few more, played solo but pieced together into a 10 part suite. Sounds vaguely South/East Asian, but nowhere in specific. No doubt interesting musicologically, but pretty static to my ears -- after all, I tend to agree with Ellington on these matters. B [Apr. 24]
Gianluigi Trovesi/Umberto Petrin/Fulvio Maras: Vaghissimo Ritratto (2005 , ECM): Advance copy. Trovesi is an established saxophonist with records going back to 1978, playing alto clarinet here. Pianist Petrin, like Trovesi, comes out of Italian Instabile Orchestra. Percussionist Maras has played with Trovesi since early '90s. A "chamber improvisation" project which pulls together melodies from classical and pop sources. Starts slow, but proves to be enticing, hard to resist. Title translates as "vague impression" or "beautiful picture" or something like that. [B+(**)] [Apr. 24]
Pierre Favre Ensemble: Fleuve (2005 , ECM): Swiss drummer, around since the late '50s, started in Dixieland -- has gigs with Lil Hardin Armstrong and Albert Nicholas on his resume -- then moved to free jazz and dabbles in world beats. Seven piece group, with guitar, soprano sax/bass clarinet, harp, tuba, bass guitar, double bass, and percussion/drums. I could do without the harp, but Philipp Schaufelberger's guitar impressed me, and focusing on the drummer helps. B+(*) [Apr. 24]
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Owen Howard: Time Cycles (2005 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Drummer-led postbop quintet, with two saxophonists up front, Gary Versace on piano, John Hebert on bass. The saxophonists are John O'Gallagher on alto, Andrew Rathbun on tenor, both playing a bit of soprano. They tend to play tight together, which usually isn't a good sign, but the drummer shakes things up enough to keep the other from clumping. B+(**)
Frank Carlberg: State of the Union (2005 , Fresh Sound New Talent): I reckon if you want to make a political statement you might as well come out and say it, but singing it, against a free jazz backdrop, can get sticky. The first three cuts form "The Presidential Suite," starting with "The Word Is" -- a "nostalgic piece" about Bill Clinton's parsing problems -- and ending with the gloomy title assessment. In between, the title is "We Much Prefer," but the lyric you hear repeated infinitum is the word "stupidity," which about sums up the transition from then to now. The singer is Christine Correa, whose deep diva voice reminds me of Aebi, except much more listenable. The remaining pieces move from politics to more abstract poesy -- one on a red piano is appealing, and one on disemboweled babies seems almost as disheartening as all that stupidity. Carlberg plays piano, leading a group including Chris Cheek on tenor sax, John Hebert on bass, and Michael Sarin on drums -- all superb, the somber pacing at least forcing them to think. B+(***)
Jeff Newell's New-Trad Octet: Brownstone (2007, BlueJazz): Newell's interest is in gospel, as shown by the two final pieces: an interesting take on "Amazing Grace" and a rousing original with vocals called "Fill the Temple." Hard to say what is new here other than his membership in the so-called New Baptist Church, but his trad is rooted in pre-jazz -- three Sousa pieces lead off, then a suite of "March," "Bolero," "Waltz," "Zydeco," and "Reprise" called "Hymn Pan Alley." Still, they sound fresh, not musty. B+(**)
Chie Imaizumi: Unfailing Kindness (2006, Capri): Japanese composer/arranger, following in Maria Schneider's footsteps, with help from trumpeter Greg Gisbert, who serves both. Straightforward arrangements, packed with power, a basic primer in what big bands are good for. Last track features a vocal with gospel punch -- not my thing, but not bad either. B+(**)
Alvin Fielder Trio: A Measure of Vision (2005-06 , Clean Feed): Fielder's a 70-year-old drummer, originally from Mississippi with stops in New Olreans and Chicago on his way to nowhere in particular. His discography is pretty much limited to work with Joel Futterman, Kidd Jordan, and/or Dennis González, veteran avant-gardists who have worked in obscurity far afield from the usual power centers. Here he referees for González and pianist Mike Parker, the former affecting a smoky, dingy tone, the latter sharp and percussive. Three cuts are joined by González sons, with Stefan's vibes an abstract treat. B+(***)
Billy Fox: The Uncle Wiggly Suite (2004 , Clean Feed): Percussionist-composer, draws on world music from Cuba to Pakistan plus a lot more, deploying 13 musicians without ever coalescing into a big band. Lots of interesting details. Don't know what the big picture is. B+(*)
Stefano Bollani: Piano Solo (2005 , ECM): The label gave this a big push, and it's easy enough to see why. If I'm less enthusiastic, it's for the usual personal reasons: I just have trouble hearing clearly, and therefore concentrating on, the solitary instrument. When I do force myself to tune in, I find this thoughtful, resourceful, shy -- it makes me come to it, unlike the few solo pianists on my A-list: James P. Johnson, Art Tatum, Earl Hines, who else? No easy way to check -- Keith Jarrett's The Köln Concert is one, Jim McNeely's At Maybeck is another, and there are probably a few more, but damn few. B+(**)
Omer Klein/Haggai Cohen Milo: Duet (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent): Bass often sounds transparent on records -- part of the background, a source of extra resonance, but unequal to any of the lead instruments. Milo's bass here sometimes seems to be a mere extension of the piano, like an extra pedal that gives the deep strings more freedom of movement. But the sonic depth of the bass makes the piano sound richer and fuller, and the presence of another keeps the pianist moving. I can't say that Klein is a more adroit pianist than Bollani, say, but he holds my ears closer, and doesn't disappoint. B+(**)
Enrico Pieranunzi/Marc Johnson/Joey Baron: Live in Japan (2004 , CAM Jazz, 2CD): I've cooled on this since my first flush of enthusiasm -- maybe the informality of the live setting, maybe just the length. Pieranunzi is a fine pianist, especially on the slow stuff like was featured on Ballads, recorded about the same time with the same trio. Johnson and Baron are superb -- no surprise there. B+(**) [May 22]
Anat Fort: A Long Story (2004 , ECM): This is not all slow, but inches along with deliberate thoughtfulness, Fort's piano framed by Ed Schuller's bass and Paul Motian's drum haiku. At trio level, this would be add one more worthy name to the long list of pianists, starting with Bill Evans, that Motian has coaxed along. But the real treat here is Perry Robinson, who plays clarinet and ocarina on most of the album. He plays softer than usual, but adds a jagged edge to the soft piano cushion. B+(***)
Queen Mab Trio: Thin Air (2005 , Wig): Rather difficult music: Ig Henneman's viola is apt to squeak, or squawk even. Lori Freedman's bass clarinet isn't enough to overwhelm it, and is prone to squawking as well. Marilyn Lerner's piano provides what passes for rhythm, but only occasionally. But while this is unlikely to convince doubters, I'm finding it coherent, and the discomfort just stimulating enough to want to follow. B+(**)
Saturday, May 19. 2007
I first noticed Ira Chernus at TomDispatch, where he's written a number of trenchant comments. He teaches religious studies at the University of Colorado. His book is Monsters to Destroy: The Neoconservative War on Terror and Sin (2006, Paradigm, paperback). It's an essay on the mythology of neoconservatism in general and George W. Bush in particular. By mythology I mean the stories one tells about the world and one's relation to it. Political programs take a back seat here to the fundamental percepts that convince neoconservatives of the rightness of their beliefs. This becomes all the more important for someone like Bush, where many followers respond not to the logic of his arguments but to their ability to sense the powers of his conviction. It seems to be a matter of human instinct to, in times of peril, follow whoever seems most certain of his leadership.
Chernus describes his approach (p. x):
In delving in to the development of neoconservatism, Chernus cites neocon pater familias Irving Kristol on modernity (pp. 26-27):
This leads to a cult of power, above all military (pp. 29-30):
How the neocons gained ground against the "realists" (pp. 47-48):
I believe that the election of Ronald Reagan marked a distinct turn away from reality. That turn ultimately advanced the neocons, who were supreme most of all in their fantasies (p. 53):
One major thread in the book is the eternal struggle against sin, which neocons insist we must face through discipline and vigilance. Eternal struggle feeds into eternal war (p. 54):
The appeal of neocons (p. 102):
War in turn becomes the supreme test of character (pp. 117-118):
Neocon faith quickly reduces into a manipulation of meaningless symbols, ultimately doing no more than rallying us against them (p. 124):
Events like 9/11 are stripped from history and reduced to matters of moral identity (p. 135):
Until the will to war itself becomes moral identity (p. 156):
And freedom just a codeword (pp. 166-167):
The neocons give it up to big business (p. 168):
Again, the effect being that the US military is the mercenary force not of American citizens but of global capitalism (p. 169):
Following 9/11, the neocons first offensive was to squash any instinct Americans had toward peace (p. 186):
Kerry failed to dislodge Bush in 2004, in large part because he accepted much of Bush's war on terrorism story without convincingly showing Bush's level of conviction (p. 187):
Chernus looks back to the '60s antiwar movement for an alternative story. The most important part of this, I think, is the intensity of the counterrevolution against the '60s (pp. 220-221):
People often talk about a backlash against the '60s political and cultural movements, but counterrevolution is a more accurate term. Most importantly, it was an organized political movement designed to discredit the '60s, and its success can be measured in how most Americans view the '60s. The critical issues were race, sex, and war. Each was handled differently: race was distorted into crime; sex was attacked most directly, although ultimately abortion became the focal issue; war was quietly swept aside as the military went for deterrent power and professional discipline, martial ideals without the mess of body bags.
Friday, May 18. 2007
I don't write much about personal stuff here. I remember when the '70s were christened the Me Decade. While that phrase has gone out of fashion, that's probably because subsequent decades have demanded more intensely self-referential, self-obsessive, self-worshipful adjectives, and I can't think of any catchy enough. Perhaps this can be solved with a little math: the '80s as the Me² Decade, the '90s as the Me³ Decade, and so forth -- although thus far the '00s are simply the Bush Decade, a continuation of the trend only if you happen to be George W. Bush.
But after a couple of disruptive, unsettling days, I feel like indulging myself a bit. I have a lot of projects. I'm actually pretty good at planning projects, and I'm not bad at managing fairly complex projects, but I do seem to have a lot of trouble getting work done myself. Aside from the intellectual exercises in trying to save the world, or more commonly understand our doom and gloom, an unreasonable compulsion to try to review every shred of music I can get my hands on, and a few website projects, I've had a few domestic homeowner projects, which grew dramatically following the Feb. 25 events.
My father had quite a reputation as a handyman. After much reflection, I'm not sure I'd credit him much further than that. His carpentry was solid and functional, but he didn't care all that much about finish -- the worst was the time he repainted the '49 Ford with a brush. As an electrician he was flat out dangerous. But he could fix almost anything, and convert the most worthless junk into semi-worthless curiosities. He bought a house before I was born and lived in it until he died, but he bought a couple more along the way for something to work on. When I was young, he expanded our house by 40%: he contracted out the foundation and framing, then finished it all himself. I've seen him hack usable rooms out of attic spaces. Any time we needed a new piece of furniture, we'd go down to the lumber yard, or the junk store.
That all seemed normal at the time, and while I wasn't nearly as good at following in his footsteps as my brother was, I did pick up a few things along the way. When I moved out on my own, I started buying tools like I knew what I was doing, and for a brief period I went through a period where I built a dozen or more pieces of furniture. I always figured that when I had my own house I'd rebuild it like he did. I always imagined him helping, but my first house was far away in Boston, and by the time I moved back to Wichita he wasn't much able to help. The upshot is that I've had this frustration building up of all the things I've wanted to do to a house but never got around to doing. So now we've decided to put some money into the house, which has set me off and turned me into something of a loose cannon.
One thing I've long wanted to do is to network the house: to put in a structured wiring system to centrally manage low power wiring to every room in the house. So that became part of the plan, even though in a 1920-vintage house it's much easier said than done. I want to be able to see the entire front porch, so decided by install some surveillance cameras. And I want to be able to communicate without opening the door, which means an intercom system. Also wanted new, stronger doors. All of this took a long time to shop for. Only now are we getting some of it installed -- Wednesday was D-Day for the doors, which also took most of Thursday, and I still have some mess to clean up, while we're still awaiting parts that they forgot about. The wiring is started but not operational yet -- the front door has the new intercom button, but it's not plugged in yet. I hope to get at least the first phase -- intercom and cameras -- working next week, but it's been a long, slow ordeal.
I also had to replace two computers, so I figured I'd buy a bunch of pieces and build them. I worried a lot about what would be my main Linux system, so I went with a conservative AMD X2 system, ASUS motherboard, 2GB RAM, RAID-mirrored 320 GB hard drives, GeForce 7600 GT video card. It came together without a hitch. The other system would run Microsoft Windows, which I need to deal with some media formats. I figured that everything there would be supported, so ordered a little more cutting edge system: Intel Core 2 Duo, Intel motherboard, 2GB RAM, 320 GB hard drive, GeForce 7950 GT video card, Vista 64 Bit Ultimate Edition. It's been a nightmare. The Antec power supply was evidently DOA. The EVGA video card had a broken capacitor. I took it to a local repair shop, who replaced the power supply and pronounced the machine (except for the video card) fit. EVGA never acknowledged my RMA request, so I returned the board to Newegg, who refunded my money. I bought another video card, plugged it in, and tried to load Vista. It doesn't work -- says there's "a hardware problem" but not what. Sounds like a Microsoft problem to me, but I'm stuck and aggravated, and not sure what to do next.
Eventually I hope to move the router down to the structured wiring cabinet in the basement. Also run the phones and cable through there, and eventually the music as well. I want to build a gateway server down there to beef up the router, and add audio and video archives to tap into from anywhere in the house. To do that I need to get wiring upstairs, and to do that I've started to work on access through the attic. Thus far I've managed to build up a cache of lumber to go into the attic, and to clean up a bit around the entrance, but that's another slow project.
Longer term I want to install vinyl siding and soffits on the upstairs -- first floor is mostly brick. I've been shopping that job off and on for years. Like many such jobs, it's more than I can do, but within the grasp of my imagination. Plus, like my father, I'm picky about it. Thus far I've seen siding estimates for everything from $3800 to $17000. I came close to settling on one before last winter closed in and other problems knocked its priority down.
Longer term than that would be remodelling the kitchen: I hate the self-suffocating stove -- a fancy KitchenAid gas unit where the oven sucks so much air away from the burners that they fail to light, or if lit burn so unevenly that the igniters kick in -- and the counter tops are crap. The rest is more/less tolerable, but I really need a vent, and more storage would be better. Decor is something we haven't touched since moving in, other than by covering almost every wall with book or CD shelving. The latter would be improved with more built-ins. My niece fancies a career in interior design, so I'm looking to her for ideas. The only other big thing on the drawing board would be to carve a second bathroom out of the larger bedroom. That might be the biggest functional improvement, but it's also the most separable and the least necessary -- for now, the easiest to postpone.
I bought a home design software package to run on the Windows box when/if I get it running. I should then be able to build a 3D model of the entire house, inside and out. No telling how much mischief that will get me into, but for now, at least, it doesn't work. In theory it should help. In practice it will most likely be another weird and buggy piece of software that will irritate me to no end. Maybe it will inspire another endless project: a paper design for a free software replacement.
When these projects go right you feel like you're able to understand and take some measure of control over your world. When they don't, you feel like a hopeless idiot, blinded by the hubristic notion that you think you can have it all your way. As it is, I keep getting bounced back and forth between these poles, ultimately making me think that the real expertise I'm developing is a finer understanding of how and why so many things go wrong. But that's something I've been doing all my life, so it may just be the paradox of the thinking human condition.
This week's jazz got interrupted by the door ordeal, so I've fallen a bit behind, but should recover for the June deadline. Recycled Goods shouldn't be too bad. Got a gratifying note from Randy Haecker at Legacy, concluding "You review more music than anybody!" He should know, because he send me more than anyone. I got a request from the Voice to write something for the June Jazz Supplement, but figured I had too much else looming, so turned it down. In some sense, that's an admission that I don't see much of a future in jazz writing, but it's a good sign that they wanted a piece.
Also interrupted was the blog, but after skipping two days, I write three pieces today. Started working on a book post yesterday, pulling quotes from Ira Chernus' Monsters to Destroy. I have so many books like that to thumb back through, that will probably be my fallback mode over the next few weeks. On the other hand, I haven't gotten back to a scratch file entry I started at least a month ago: the idea was to raise the question of whether it would be worthwhile to try to hack the notebook and other writings into a chronology of the Bush era. I don't know, but it seems possible. One thing there's plenty of is volume.
Just a few more pages to go in Stephen Kinzer's Overthrow, with many more books awaiting my attention. Thought I'd take a break yesterday and cook dinner. Tried to make chicken biryani and screwed it up several ways. It's a dish I've had bad luck with in the past, but I figured I knew better by now -- another case of overreach. But everything else, especially the brinjal bartha (eggplant, tomatoes, onions, spices), came out fine. So it's been going; so it seems always to go. I'm feeling fortunate. For one thing, I know it could be much worse.
The May 17 New York Times has as front page picture of a wildfire in southern New Jersey, which as of press time had burned 13,500 acres. I'm only vaguely conscious of wildfires in Texas or California or points between -- a regular occurrence in recent years, the almost inevitable result of draught and sprawl -- but I can't recall any major fires in the various years I lived in New Jersey. But this one can't be blamed on mother and human nature. This one was caused by the Air National Guard, training to wreak havoc in parts of the world we never see. Of course, if the US wasn't trying to rule the world, such "accidents" wouldn't happen. So chalk this up as yet another hidden, unaccounted cost of the Global War on Terror -- Terror of Global War is more like it.
This is also worth remembering next time your politicians get all worked up about the threat of closing a nearby military base. They're real good at counting up all the economic benefits of those bases, but they're all but blind to the costs. Just to pick one memorable example, back in the '60s we had a loaded KC-135 tanker from McConnell AFB drop from the sky into a residential neighborhood, killing a dozen or so people, and incinerating a couple of city blocks. That would have ranked as one of the top ten terrorist acts in US history, but we habitually exempt the Air Force from such accounting. In fact, we exempt them from all sorts of regulations. A large swath of Wichita is uninhabitable -- at least that's my opinion -- due to aircraft noise. The military is by far the largest polluter in America, and has no incentive to change given that they are exempt from environmental laws. And they have plenty to do with the price of gas: anyone inclined to complain about SUVs hasn't thought much about what it takes to fill up the Army's rigs, let alone the Air Force.
It may be impossible to come up with a cost-benefit analysis of the US military, given how intangible the benefits are. But we ought to be able to get a better grasp of the costs.
Short item from the Wichita Eagle today, titled "Comic books go boom at county garage," by Joe Rodriguez:
Chalk this up as a hidden cost of the Global War on Terror, which is itself a cost of running America's global empire and military-industrial complex. It's often said that Americans, in the "homeland" at least, are never asked to sacrifice for their nation's wars, but this is one such sacrifice. The question is whether it will be properly accounted for.
I also have to wonder whether blowing up an unidentified, uninspected box is a good way to dispose of it. That may be relatively safe if the box is a conventional bomb, but a box of chemicals could be made more dangerous by explosion. Such predictable behavior would itself open up opportunities for terrorists.
It is easy to see how unthinking rule-based behavior leads to stuff like this. We had an unrecognized person knock on our front door last night, so following our new rules of engagement didn't open the door. It was an awkward, impolite moment, and chances are very slim that engaging him would have resulted in anything worse than a minor waste of time. On the other hand, I worry about becoming prisoners of our own rules. And I worry that obsessing on preventing past disasters will keep us from thinking coherently about the unexpected future.
Tuesday, May 15. 2007
I read the following in James Surowiecki's May 14, 2007 New Yorker column, titled "Exporting I.P.":
Given that the most of the world's patents, copyrights, etc., are owned by the American and multinational corporations that dominate US politics, and especially trade policy, these deals are little more than a legalistic method for the rich to collect rents from the poor. This is simply one more obstacle that prevents developing countries from advancing toward a more equitable standard of living with those countries who have a head start staking out their legal turf. This is a big problem, but we have trouble even conceiving of it.
As Richard Stallman likes to point out, "intellectual property" is a mixed bag with little coherency to it. Copyrights, patents, trademarks, etc., are different beasts, united only in that they favor those who rely most heavily on lawyers. Of these, the worst by far are patents. Copyrights at least apply to works that are distinctive due to their complexity and that are inessential: e.g., my writing a novel doesn't prevent you from writing a novel, because there's no way that two independently created novels will match. But with patents, which are allowed on relatively generic ideas, that happens all the time -- distinguishing priority in patents often reduces to a legal contest, which favors the politically connected. (Note the terms that the trade agreements dictate: that other countries recognize the patents that the US Patent Office recognizes.) An even bigger problem with patents is that we grant monopoly rights to their holders. This encourages companies to price covered products to whatever formula maximizes their return -- in the case of a uniquely effective medicine, this may literally mean your money or your life. This also lets companies use their legal position to frustrate competition. One irony here is that the effect of patent extension is the opposite of free trade.
One reason we have patents is that economists propagate myths about their value. Surowiecki does his part by saying: "Intellectual-property rules are clearly necessary to spur innovation: if every invention could be stolen, or every new drug immediately copied, few people would invest in innovation." Actually, by people he means corporations: few corporations would invest in developing proprietary monopolies, which is kind of a tautology. Innovation is actually a broader form of activity, inasmuch as much innovation currently goes unpatented. Patents actually have much more to do with the legal culture of the corporation than with the scientists and engineers who do research and development. Moreover, much discovery and innovation, including virtually the entire development of 20th century science, takes place outside of corporate labs. But even if you buy the argument that the loss of patent monopolies might reduce privately funded innovation, it would be trivial to compensate for that with public funding. And the returns of such funding would be greater, because all ideas would be subject to public scrutiny and improvement, and any could be adopted without the burden of monopoly rents.
The big money in patents these days is in pharmaceuticals, a story that provides ample evidence why patents are bad even within the US. The extraordinary profits attainable via patents steers privately funded research toward patentable products, away from any refinement of proven generic treatments. The research is mostly done in secret, where other researchers cannot critique or contribute. The results, and their marketing, are colored by business interests. One result is that prices increase, as opposed to most other development areas, where innovations aim to lower costs and, in the absence of patents, prices. As these costs are ultimately paid for by everyone, either privately or through government, it should be easy to see that public funding of pharmaceutical research would save money and result in more effective development. Yet even among people who realize the urgent need for health care reform, very few even broach the issue of patents.
Heavy lobbying by interested parties has managed to keep patents and copyrights out of the political debate, except when they try to push those rights even further. In the case of trade agreements, they argue that enforcing their monopolies worldwide will help to reverse America's trade deficits. This not only ignores the fact that hardly any Americans actually benefit from those monopolies. It also ignores the fact that intellectual property owners are increasingly foreign and/or multinational corporations. Just one example is that none of the four music majors is American owned. The pharmaceutical industry is little different.
It wasn't always like this. Developing countries should consider America's own example. Surowiecki writes:
There's a lot more to be written about these issues, but the point that struck me most strongly about this piece is that we are stuck in a mental rut here that is leading us to do exactly the wrong things. And I say "we" here because this isn't just a Bush thing -- Clinton was every bit as happy to curry favor from IP profiteers. The same stupid repetition of economic myths favoring monopolies is part of the general pall of dark ages descending upon us. Unless we start to push back that tide, we are doomed.
Monday, May 14. 2007
Focused on jazz this week, making considerable progress against the plan: started off on new stuff, then midweek switched to the replay shelves, opening up a little breathing room in both. Wrote a couple of things for the CG itself, as well as a healthy set of notes below. This coming week will be more of the same, shading further toward finishing the column, although I have until the first week of June or so to do that.
Got some mail last week wondering whether my comment about not getting excited about good records was an unhealthy psychological state. The fact is that good records are the norm in jazz. After awhile, I hear one and think, oh dear, there's another. I'm not sure whether to call the B records good or not, but everything B+ and up is well conceived and executed and offers considerable pleasure. Unfortunately, I can't use all of them beyond this blog, so I have to sort them out, using other criteria that I can't describe and that sometimes even surprises me. Exciting was a word I tried to use in that capacity. I can't think of a better one, even though it's a merely quantifiable stimulus-response. It may even work best for my purposes when I'm a little numb, as happens when I listen to a lot of self-evidently good stuff.
One reason I mention this is that I want to point out that I really do like my honorable mentions -- in theory, all of the B+(***) and some of the B+(**) records. Most of them got dinged for having one or two merely ordinary cuts, but they have a lot of exemplary music, some genuinely exciting. The B+(*) records are different: most are items that I appreciate, respect, often admire, at least professionally, but don't much like, personally anyhow; others, of course, are just mixed bags, but unlikely to have much that I actually dislike. (Two cuts of that usually gets you a B-, and more worse.) Still, all of these good, very likable records are stuck in a numbers game with things that get rated even higher. At this point in the CG I have 30 records rated A- (some provisionally) vying for the main section, which is already a good deal more than I can fit. For one reason or another, I find them even more remarkable than the very good records I slot as honorable mentions. The key to being able to write a Consumer Guide is the discipline of being able to sort those out -- even if my criteria are purely subjective, which they are, applying them consistently at least gives readers something they can evaluate and adjust to. I'd like to think that the prospecting notes, the database, etc., all of which amount to a pretty exhaustive set of data, make me a more useful resource, even if they don't make me a better critic.
Bobby Hebb: That's All I Wanna Know (2005 , Tuition): Born into a vaudeville family, making his stage debut at age 3 in 1941. Passed through Nashville, working for Owen Bradley and Roy Acuff, becoming one of the few blacks to work the Grand Ole Opry. Wrote "Sunny," one of the big hits of 1966, and had a couple of other minor hits, but only two albums in 1966-70 before this reprisal, which doesn't so much try to put him back on the map as stake out where he's been. His life might make for a TV movie, but he's a lightweight singer and these are old stories: the one that works best is his duet on "Sunny" -- still his calling card. B
The Unseen Guest: Out There (2005, Tuition): German label, owned by Schott. Don't know why I'm getting this. Two singer-songwriters, Declan Murray and Amith Narayan, with additional musicians mostly with Indian names, mostly playing Indian instruments. Management based in Singapore. I shouldn't spend the time, but this isn't bad. The music is mostly guitar and mandolin on top of the Indian percussion, with violin and harmonica for variety on one cut each. Lyrics in English, and I can't complain about them either. B+(**)
Enders Room: Hotel Alba (2006 , Tuition): Of the three releases on this label, this one at least bears some resemblance to jazz, mostly because Johannes Enders' first choice in instruments is saxophone, followed by flute and clarinet. However, he also plays various keyboards and does a little programming, in what is basically an update of Krautrock, Eno, and jazztronica -- not unlike some of the records Tucker Martine has produced. Two pieces with vocals are droll but don't register strongly. I read a quote asserting that Enders is "Germany's answer to Joshua Redman" but I don't hear anything to back that up. At least here, the sax seems secondary to the synths, which at best remind me of Eno's pre-ambient structuralism. B+(**)
Antonio Adolfo/Carol Saboya: Ao Vivo/Live (2005 , Points South): Father/daughter, from Brazil, the former plays piano, the latter sings. Adolfo has a formidable reputation in his own right as a composer and arranger. He opens the set with a delightful piece before Saboya enters on the second song. She's a very agreeable singer, but the initial brightness starts to dim a bit toward the end. The song credits include most of the usual suspects, starting with Jobim, and only including one by Adolfo. Not sure whether this counts as jazz in Brazil or just MPB. I suspect it fits the same niche as cabaret does here. B+(**)
Carl Allen & Rodney Whitaker: Get Ready (2007, Mack Avenue): Basic rhythm guys, keying off two Motown covers from Robinson and Gaye, as old-fashioned today as soul jazz was in the '60s. But they keep the quiet storm loose and limber, giving Cyrus Chestnut and Rodney Jones their best outing in years. Steve Wilson plays warm and fuzzy alto sax. B+(**)
Térez Montcalm: Voodoo (2005 , Marquis): One thing rock and roll did was make life tough for interpretive singers. Before, songwriters spread their wares like spores, and natural selection favored singers with voice, nuance, and payola. After, most singers hawked their own songs, and those that didn't have them seemed somehow deficient, regardless of vocal skills. It got so bad that good singers wound up stuck in jazz. I bring this up because even though Montcalm wrote three songs here and picked a couple that qualify as pre-rock (although not by much), what grabs me here are her striking reworkings of rock-era pop, especially Jimi Hendrix's "Voodoo Child." Don't know much about her. Hails from Canada. Only address I've seen was Alberta, but she wrote one song in French. Don't know her age, but it says something that she introduces "How Sweet It Is" by talking about how she discovered James Taylor. Plays guitar. Has a voice that beats you into submission, not unlike Annette Peacock. Maybe there's a future for rock-era standards after all. [B+(***)]
Abbey Lincoln: Abbey Sings Abbey (2007, Verve): Few singers I've listened more to and gotten less out of -- such is her reputation, or maybe it's just Gary Giddins' fault. So I wasn't expecting much here, but this starts off with a gallopping pedal steel-enhanced "Blue Monk" before getting down to business recycling the singer's originals. There's a bit of re-recording your hits here, but that's less unbecoming in a jazz singer that it is for, say, Merle Haggard. But it does give you a chance to bump up the average quality level, and while I recognize many, they're not things I've grown accustomed to. [B+(*)] [May 22]
Mark Murphy: Love Is What Stays (2007, Verve): The Penguin Guide described Murphy's previous Till Brönner-produced Once to Every Heart as "a slightly strange one-off," but this one's another. Slow, lush, wrapped in strings, almost talked through. Murphy's been recording for fifty years now, during which I've scarcely paid him any attention. Didn't like him when he was hip, but even then he had some tolerable music. The half where he is backed by the Deutsche Symphonie Orchester Berlin is deadening; the other half too, with sensory deprivation replacing the torture. Lee Konitz plays on one track, but I was too bummed out to notice. D
Alan Bergman: Lyrically, Alan Bergman (2007, Verve): Songwriter, lyricist actually -- music credited to Michel Legrand, Lew Spence, Dave Grusin, Neil Diamond, Johnny Mandel, Marvin Hamlisch -- taking a crack at singing his own songs. No recording dates, but presumably it's recent, which puts him in his 80s (born 1925). Voice holds up fine. Songs are stage and film fare, famous enough to put him into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and get him a spot on the board of the Barbra Streisand Foundation. One problem is that Verve sent him to Berlin along with Mark Murphy, but he lucked out better with the Berlin Big Band and Radio Orchestra instead of Murphy's Orchester, plus he got Jeff Hamilton to help him along. (Well, except for "The Way We Were," which probably deserved it anyway.) B-
Sean Bergin's SONG MOB: Fat Fish (2005-06 , DATA): Plays sax, clarinet, etc. Based in Amsterdam; born 1948 in Durban, South Africa. He's named his band MOB before, an acronym for My Own Band. SONG MOB, as he capitalizes it, is his own band with extra vocalists: Mola Sylla, Phil Minton, and Maggie Nicols. The latter two are familiar names in English free improv. Sylla moved to Amsterdam from Senegal, bringing a griot flavor -- most evident in the first song, which he wrote. Bergin's band includes some well known names, hardly just his own band: Wolter Wierbos, Eric Boeren, Ernst Glerum, Han Bennink, Alex Maguire -- didn't recognize him last week, but do now. The music manages to be odd and comfortably playful at the same time -- seems to be a Dutch specialty. I have more trouble with the vocals, not that they lack for interest. B+(*)
Kreepa: Inside-a-Sekt (2006 , Monium): Bad time: playing this but I can't read the cover notes, let alone figure this out. Mostly electronics, or "electro-noise" as the website puts it, with a little trombone. English, I think, but distributed out of the Netherlands. Interesting. Will get back to it. [B+(**)]
Jon-Erik Kellso: Blue Roof Blues: A Love Letter to New Orleans (2006 , Arbors): AMG lists Kellso as born 1936, but his website says 1964. From Detroit. Plays trumpet. Joined James Dapogny's Chicago Jazz Band in 1988, appearing on a couple of my favorite trad jazz albums of the '90s (Original Jelly Roll Blues and Hot Club Stomp: Small Group Swing, 1993-94). Went on to work with Ralph Sutton, Ruby Braff, Marty Grosz, Randy Sandke. This is the third album under his own name, or fourth if you count a featured slot with Johnny Varro. Although New Orleans is on Kellso's mind, this is closer to the small group swing of Dapogny's albums than it is to New Orleans-style trad jazz. He does Jelly Roll Morton, but also Duke Ellington, and he does a rousing retread on Monk's "Bye-Ya" as well as a vibrant "Panama." The band helps out a lot, especially Evan Christopher on clarinet and Matt Munisteri on guitar and banjo -- in many ways Munisteri is the album's real star, but his one vocal isn't one of them. B+(***)
Kenny Davern/Ken Peplowski: Dialogues (2005 , Arbors): Davern died in Dec. 2006, almost a year and a half after these sessions. He recorded a number of Soprano Summit albums with Bob Wilber, originally dedicated to Sidney Bechet, but he generally preferred clarinet over soprano sax. Ken Peplowski joins Davern on clarinet on most of these pieces, occasionally switching off to tenor sax. The double-your-pleasure theme also involves pairing Howard Alden and James Chirillo on guitar and banjo. Spotty but marvelous when it all works. Ends with a nice reworking of the Kid Ory classic as "Muskrat Samba." B+(***)
Susan Pereira and Sabor Brasil: Tudo Azul (2006 , Riony): Brazilian singer, working in New York at least since 1991, although I'm not aware of any previous records. She wrote five of ten songs, sings them with authority but not all that distinctively. What makes the album work is the band. The horns stand out, even Laura Dreyer's flutes, even more so her alto and soprano sax and Claudio Roditi's spots on trumpet. [B+(***)]
Avishai Cohen: As Is . . . Live at the Blue Note (2006 , Razdaz/Half Note): Israeli bassist, based in New York, continues a steady run of first-rate work. Plays electric as well as the big fiddle, and puts the former to good use on the opening "Smash," matching up against Sam Barsh's electric keyboards. Quintet, Diego Urcola on trumpet, Jimmy Greene on various saxophones. Closes with a long, inventive take on "Caravan." No oud, nothing exotic. Not sure how much stock to put in it. Comes with a DVD I haven't seen yet, and may never. [B+(***)]
Mark Soskin: One Hopeful Day (2006 , Kind of Blue): Pianist. Not a lot under his own name, but since 1976 has worked for Billy Cobham, Sonny Rollins, Herbie Mann, Bobby Watson, Pete and Sheila Escovedo, others. Credits Cedar Walton as an influence, which sounds about right. Wrote 4 of 9 pieces here, but not the best stuff -- "On the Street Where You Live" is a sweeping, swirling opener. One of those records I lost interest in midway and punted, then kept hearing too many good things to simply dismiss. The band is superb -- from back to front: Bill Stewart, John Patitucci, Chris Potter. Anyone who thinks Potter's the great saxophonist of his generation will find more ammunition here. John Abercrombie joins for two pieces, which are merely typical. Pianist is fine, and takes the last one solo. B+(*)
Bobby Hutcherson: For Sentimental Reasons (2006 , Kind of Blue): I think this is Hutcherson's first album since Skyline in 1999, although he's been prominent on the SF Jazz albums. This one is very straightforward: a vibes-piano quartet, all standards, some jazz but mostly pop. Vibes and piano work well together: the tones are similar, the dynamics varied enough to provide some interesting contrast. The pianist is Renee Rosnes, and she makes the stronger impression. But the sentiment is riding on Hutcherson for a comeback. B+(**)
Donny McCaslin: In Pursuit (2007, Sunnyside): Technically one of the most impressive tenor saxophonists of his generation, a dependably exciting sideman, an ambitious composer, generous to his friends, baffling to me. After reading that Samo Salamon is touring with him, I was surprised to see Ben Monder here, but Monder excels at the sort of backing he plugs in here. Dave Binney produced, and adds stealth alto sax to fatten up the harmony, at least when McCaslin isn't burning down the house. I just wonder why he doesn't do more of it. And why he plays flute. Then I read the "thanks" and encounter more common sources of confusion: Dave Douglas, Michael Brecker, God. Mysterious ways, indeed. [B+(**)]
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Jim McNeely/Kelly Sill/Joel Spencer: Boneyard (2007, Origin): Mainstream piano trio. McNeely is an impressive, engaging pianist, ably supported by Sill and Spencer. Still can't find much to say about it. B+(**)
Hal Galper/Jeff Johnson/John Bishop: Furious Rubato (2006 , Origin): Another good mainstream piano trio, a bit more aggressive than McNeely, a bit less lyrical. B+(**)
Brad Leali Jazz Orchestra: Maria Juanez (2004 , TCB): An alto saxophonist, Leali came up through Count Basie's ghost orchestra, and does them one better in this crisp, vibrant, and above all loud outing. Not as Latin as the title cut suggests, nor as consistently clever as a marvelous "Pink Panther" promises, but able to push the old blues formula into ever higher energy orbits. Atomic, indeed. B+(***)
Scott Colley: Architect of the Silent Moment (2005 , CAM Jazz): Colley's bass lines bounce around in and out of time, giving this a rather inconsistent and unsettling foundation, making it hard to follow even if it sometimes seems worth the effort. The core band is a quartet with Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Craig Taborn on keyboards, and Antonio Sanchez on drums. Alessi makes a big impression, as he often does. Four guests also pitch in: Dave Binney, Jason Moran, Gregoire Maret, and Adam Rogers. The only one I particularly noticed was Binney, on soprano. B+(*)
Uri Caine Ensemble: Plays Mozart (2006 , Winter & Winter): Or plays with Mozart, like cat with rat. Much of the fun here comes from the induced chaos of DJ Olive's turntables, Nguyên Lê's electric guitar, the tension of Ralph Alessi's trumpet against Chris Speed's clarinet, the mischief of Jim Black's drums. Still, improbably, the bit that won me over was an oasis of solo piano in the middle, which much as I hate to admit it, could have been faithful to the original. B+(***)
Jason Lindner: Ab Aeterno (2004 , Fresh Sound World Jazz): A piano trio with many twists and turns -- the pianist also plays melodica and mbira, bassist Omer Avital switches to oud, and drummer Luisito Quintero employs all manner of exotic percussion. Still, the piano itself seems fixed in the postbop jazz tradition, a fixed point the constellations whirl around. Closes with a gospel called "New Church" -- a stately, sober finish. B+(***)
David Smith Quintet: Circumstance (2005 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Seamus Blake plays tenor and soprano sax, comes from Vancouver, has seven albums under his own name (two on Fresh Sound, five on Criss Cross), and has shown up as a sideman on a half-dozen releases per year since 1992. He fits into mainstream records but has a knack for elbowing his way to the outside, as he does here. Smith is a Canadian trumpet player, and they make a fine pair, with Nate Radley's guitar along with bass and drums. Exemplary postbop, bright, lively, full of fire and finesse. Sounds just like it's spozed to. B+(***)
Logan Richardson: Cerebral Flow (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent): The debut album from a Kansas City alto saxophonist starts accapella, then takes flight over free rhythms strongly accepted by Mike Pinto's vibes. Next up is a wry-toned ballad with Mike Moreno's guitar filling in. Step by step, Richardson works around the edges, showing everything you can do with an alto sax except sit on it. A-
Samo Salamon NYC Quintet: Government Cheese (2004 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Guitarist, from Slovenia, where I believe he's still based, although he hangs out enough in New York to have developed some powerful connections. Clearly, he favors fast crowds. His previous FSNT album, Two Hours, featured Tony Malaby, Mark Helias, and Tom Rainey. This one goes with Dave Binney, Josh Roseman, Helias, and Gerald Cleaver. He's got a tour set up now with Donny McCaslin, John Hebert, and Cleaver. Also has two albums I haven't heard on Splasc(h) with mostly Italian groups, but Binney appears on one and Tyshawn Sorey on the other. What I have heard is high-powered, exciting stuff. Only caveat is that his preference for crowds hasn't given him a lot of space to stretch out, so it isn't clear yet how distinctive he is. But he sure likes to play. B+(**)
Taylor Haskins: Metaview (2004 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Postbop quintet, with Adam Rogers on guitar instead of the usual piano player. Haskins plays trumpet; Andrew Rathbun is the saxophonist. Haskins composed it all. His resume includes a lot of commercial work, which ties into his knack for melodies, and a lot of big band work, which shows up in his arrangements. Starts off with a bit of keyboard for the self-evident "Biorhythm." Closes real strong with an upbeat choice cut called "Itty Bitty Ditty." B+(**)
Mitchell Forman: Perspectives (2005-06 , Marsis Jazz): Pianist, does a lot of work with electronic keybs and synth drums, had early credits with Gerry Mulligan and Stan Getz, but most of his meal ticket has come from fusion and pop jazz. Song selection includes two originals and a likely range of personal favorites. I like the cheesy electric take on Herbie Hancock's "Dolphin Dance" that kicks this off, but two Beatles songs remind me of how they've been abused as instrumentals. B+(*)
The Four Bags: Live at Barbès (2006, NCM East): Quartet, natch. Interesting instrumentation, with trombone, accordion, electric guitar, and reeds (soprano sax, clarinet, bass clarinet), and a Schoenberg cover to add to the oddness. Still, nothing to really push the album along, so it drags and eventually wears you down. B
Anat Cohen: Poetica (2006 , Anzic): This is a showcase for Cohen's clarinet work, taking a mix of Israeli and Brazilian songs and pieces by Jacques Brel and John Coltrane. Half are just quartet, with Jason Lindner on piano, Omer Avital on bass, Daniel Freedman on drums. The other half add a string quartet, which is a bit like sprinkling sugar on something that's already too sweet. It's not without appeal, and at best it gives you a rush. B+(*)
Anat Cohen & the Anzic Orchestra: Noir (2006 , Anzic): The strings don't take as much of a toll here as on Poetica, mostly because they're outgunned in numbers and in volume. Cohen plays tenor, alto and soprano sax, as well as clarinet, and she gets help on the saxes from Ted Nash, Billy Drewes, and Scott Robinson. Plus there's a phalanx of brass, led by brother Avishai -- not to be confused with the bassist (a tip I much appreciated, and figured I should pass along). Then there are the Brazilians, with Guilherme Monteiro on guitar and more in the rhythm section. Cohen works that connection several times, including a medley of "Samba de Orfeu" and "Struttin' With Some Barbecue." The latter is so strong, so crisp, so bright I wish they had taken a shot at a whole post-Katrina album. But Cohen and arranger Oded Lev-Ari had other game in mind. B+(***)