Monday, June 29. 2009
Took some pictures of the kitchen project last night. Had trouble finding angles where you could see how it all fits together. One picture that gives you an idea is on the right here. This features the stove and hood, with the dining area behind. The blue shelf units basically wrap all the way around, with the ones you can't see on the right 16-inches deep, 84-inches wide, with a row of fold-down flaps in the middle. The three handles behind the spice rack pull out pantry units for flour, oil, etc. The wood counter around the stove is supposed to be stainless steel, but we don't have that done yet. The pull-out to the right of the stove needs a face panel. The cabinet guy -- who built the white stuff that wraps around to the left of the picture, including sink, dishwasher, and an electric wall oven -- promised to build one that matches, but hasn't delivered yet. The blue-ish countertop is solid surface, with an extra-large built-in single sink. The tile is at the bottom. The dining room still has its previous oak hardwood. Behind the picture is a large white box housing the refrigerator, and behind it is a pantry area with a laminate countertop, shelves, drawers, and a nice cabinet (also missing its matching door). A small room with toilet and vanity is also attached and got the treatment. A lot of junk is still lying around, pretty much obscuring the dining room table. I doubt that this will ever be presentable in one of those glossy kitchen-and-bath magazines -- not least because the space is pretty small by modern standards. The shelves will soon be filled up with books, and we'll drag the other packed-away kitchen stuff up, and hopefully throw a lot of the junk out. Also stock the pantry shelves, and do some cooking. Still to be done: the stainless steel countertop, the missing doors, a short list of odds and ends, some cleaning up of errant paint, a bit of molding to cover up some glitches. But basically it's done. Took about seven months, burned through a lot of money, and took a pretty savage toll on my life and well-being. But it didn't kill me, so hopefully I'll come out stronger.
The stove, by the way, is a Capital Precision 36-inch, 6-burner, gas unit. No real frills other than a huge self-cleaning oven and a rotisserie thing I haven't used yet. It's awesome. The extra oven you can't see is an LG electric. The convenience of having both has turned out to be a big plus. We looked at a lot of vent hoods on the way, wanting something that would move a lot of air but still not destroy the view. This Zephyr unit does a nice job. I'll have more pictures later on, once I get them better organized and ready for web display. Just wanted to throw this one out to announce the occasion.
I'm driving off to Idaho and Oregon as soon as I get this post up and finish my packing. I'll be gone two weeks or so. By the time I get back, Jazz CG will be due, so I'll work on finishing off the draft on the road. I've packed up all of the records that I only have tentative grades for, and all of the graded prospects, but not my paperwork. Given how much I already have written, I'll be doing more cutting than writing. I'm not taking much unheard music. For all practical purposes, that's next round anyway.
The Harry Allen-Joe Cohn Quartet: Plays Music From South Pacific (2008 , Arbors): Same group, including singers Rebecca Kilgore and Eddie Erickson, who took on Guys and Dolls a while back. The liner notes is already referring to them as "the official Arbors Repertory Company of American Musical Theater," so I guess they'll keep this up until they run out of material. I never cared for Broadway musicals, and never listened to an original cast album until the Royal Shakespeare Company did Threepenny Opera, which was something else altogether (and very much my thing). Hardly ever saw the movies either, but the one thing I do recall was how hokey the stories were with so much plot wound up in song. Still, I love Allen's tenor sax, and Cohn's guitar has been a productive accompaniment. Every significant music of the period -- South Pacific came out in 1949 -- has a few songs that have turned into jazz standards, and it's interesting to check out the context, much of which hasn't aged very well -- cf. "There's Nothing Like a Dame" and "Honeybun" which sound these days little better than a couple of old coon songs. The singers are fun, but they don't fit their characters very well -- Erickson as a sophisticated French man? They are, as Kilgore puts it, cornier than Kansas in August, while Allen and Cohn do what they always do: swing. B+(***)
Josh Berman: Old Idea (2007 , Delmark): Cornet player, from and in Chicago, b. 1972, debut album although he's been gathering credits since 2002 -- Lucky 7s, Exploding Star Orchestra, various projects with tenor saxophonist Keefe Jackson and vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz (both on board here). Quintet, with Anton Hatwich on bass, Nori Tanaka on drums. Mild mannered, ambles thoughtfully without much splash, the drama neatly tucked inside. Good framework for the vibes. B+(*)
Andrea Fultz: The German Projekt: German Songs From the Twenties & Thirties (2009, no label): Four songs by Friedrich Hollaender; seven by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, one by Brecht and Hanns Eisler. Fultz was born in Munich, 1974, German mother, American father. Passed through Austria on her way to San Francisco in 2003. First album, with Bob Reich on accordion, Dina Maccabee on violin, Adam Shulman on piano, Eugene Warren on bass, and Micha Patri on percussion. Starts with the flamboyantly English-speaking "Alabama Song," which seems too simple and obvious to make the point. Beyond that it's almost all in German, a treat if you're so inclined. Brecht-Weill is a touchstone for me, a fact I may be overly compensating for, especially given how sublime the Hollaender songs come off -- "Johnny" and "Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss auf Liebe eingestellt" ring a bell even if the composer's name doesn't. The violin and accordion nail the milieu perfectly. Fultz won't make you forget Lotte Lenya, or even Marlene Dietrich. But then, who wants to? B+(***)
WHO Trio: Less Is More (2008 , Clean Feed): Group name is an acronym for Michel Wintsch (piano), Gerry Hemingway (drums), and Bänz Oester (bass). Wintsch is a Swiss pianist, b. 1964, has 16-18 albums since 1998, mostly on Unit and Leo, none that I've heard before. Oester, also Swiss, b. 1966, has one album on Leo plus a dozen or so side credits, many with Wintsch. Hemingway should need no introduction at this point. Very low key affair, which starts to gain some interest once you focus in tightly. B+(**)
Andrew Green: Narrow Margin (2007 , Microphonic): Guitarist. Name appears in red type on front cover, standing out in the middle of a list of better-known artists: Bill McHenry (tenor sax), Russ Johnson (trumpet), JC Sanford (trombone), John Hebert (bass), Mark Ferber (drums). Still, it's Green's album: co-produced with John McNeil, wrote everything except an excerpt from Bernard Herrmann's "Taxi Driver" theme, two credits shared with McNeil. Still, he probably means the title as the group name. Title comes from a 1952 B-movie noir. Green previously worked in a group called Sound Assembly, and has a Shaggs tribute band called My Band Foot Foot. Lives in NYC, and has written three books on jazz guitar technique. His grooves drive this group, but the omnipresent horns dominate the sound, especially Johnson. B+(*)
Sam Yahel: Hometown (2009, Posi-Tone): Plays piano here, in a trio with Matt Penman (bass) and Jochen Rueckert (drums), but has almost exclusively played organ in the past: five albums since 1998, a couple dozen side credits including Norah Jones and Joshua Redman. Starts with John Lennon's "Jealous Guy," slow, always sounds good. Follows up with Monk, Ellington, two originals, Gilberto, "Moonlight in Vermont," Wayne Shorter, etc. Nice variety, amply supported by bass and drums, lively on the upbeat, touching when they slow it down. B+(**) [advance]
Terri Lyne Carrington: More to Say . . . (2009, Koch): Title may (or may not) segue to "(Real Life Story: Nextgen)." Real Life Story was the title of Carrington's 1989 first album, on Verve Forecast, panned by AMG as "disappointingly lightweight." However, her 2003 record on ACT, Structure, with Jimmy Haslip and Greg Osby, got a 4-star rating from The Penguin Guide. Haven't heard either, or anything else, so I'm having trouble parsing her short and scattered discography, which AMG sums up as: funk, instrumental pop, hard bop, M-base. Carrington's a drummer, mentored by Jack De Johnette, currently teaches at Berklee. This is pop jazz with some gospel overtones. It's crammed with guests: Walter Beasley, George Duke, Everette Harp, Jimmy Haslip, Chuck Loeb, Christian McBride, Les McCann, Lori Perri, Patrice Rushen, Dwight Sills, Krik Whallum, Nancy Wilson. At least that's the list from the cover sticker, which also touts the single "Let It Be" -- yes, the Beatles endgame, vocal by Lori Perry (same person as Lori Perri?). Booklet adds more "featuring" credits not deemed cover-worthy: Danilo Perez is the name that jumps out for me. Not really sure how bad this is, and don't care to figure that out. What I look for in pop jazz albums is vibrant funk, cheap disco, breakout sax, and no gospel vocals, and what I can say is that this album fails on all counts. C-
Jacám Manricks: Labyrinth (2008 , Manricks Music): Plays winds: alto/soprano sax, clarinet/bass clarinet, flute/alto flute. Based in New York, graduated from and teaches at Manhattan School of Music. Don't know where he came from or how he got there, but he's done contract work in Finland. MySpace page has a list of nearly a hundred influences starting with Jelly Roll Morton and including everyone you're sure to have heard of, ending with Metallica and the Beatles -- about 85% jazz, 10% classical, 5% pop. Possible telling outlier is Dick Oatts, who makes the list twice. Six of eight cuts use a quintet with Ben Monder on guitar, Jacob Sacks on piano, Thomas Morganon bass, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. Two cuts add in a chamber orchestra with French horn, flute, and a mess of strings, merely sweetening the basic concept. Intricately elaborate, lots of concepts in the liner notes that turn into complexities in the sound. B+(**)
Oumou Sangare: Seya (2009, World Circuit/Nonesuch): Critics who have studied her texts are taken by her feminism, but I'm quite satisfied with the groove. From Mali, she pulls together all the various strains of her national music -- the desert blues, the authority of the griots, the chants and soft strings -- then kicks it up a notch, crossing Wassoulou with Mbalax and then some. Eleven songs, most so finely balanced they already feel classic. A
PIZZArelli Party With the Arbors All Stars (2009, Arbors): I filed this under Bucky Pizzarelli, figuring he's still the tribe's sheikh, but closer inspection suggests this is really John Pizzarelli's record -- he produced, wrote a sizable chunk of the songs (to Bucky's one and seven covers from the usual suspects), sings on two, and wrote the liner notes. Martin Pizzarelli is on bass, Tony Tedesco on drums, Larry Fuller on piano. The Arbors All Stars are limited to Harry Allen on tenor sax and Aaron Weinstein on violin, plus a couple of vocal spots for Rebecca Kilgore and/or Jessica Molaskey. The vocals are rather scattered, but there's a lot of hot swing guitar, and Weinstein and Allen are superb, especially on the closer, "I'll See You in My Dreams." B+(**)
Enrico Pieranunzi: Plays Domenico Scarlatti: Sonatas and Improvisations (2007 , CAM Jazz): Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti is a baroque composer, 1685-1757. My wife has a short list of classical music faves, mostly from his period or earlier, and Scarlatti is on it. I tend to hate all classical music as a matter of personal principle and custom, but this isn't bad -- has some groove to it, even if it's a bit too neatly tied up in the end. Solo piano, which is probably par for this course. The pianist is a major figure in Italy's jazz scene, with a lengthy catalog that I've only lately had the luxury of following. He is always worth hearing, even solo, even here. Note that the improvs stay strictly in character. B+(*)
Andy Sheppard: Movements in Colour (2008 , ECM): Saxophonist, mostly tenor but plays some soprano here, b. 1957, England. His early work -- four 1988-91 albums on Antilles, originally a dub sub-label of reggae giant Island -- tended to fusion with funk beats, suggesting a possibly more interesting David Sanborn. His discography has been erratic since then, but lately he's been showing up on Carla Bley albums. His ECM debut shows a gentler strain, with guitar (John Parricelli and Eivind Aarset), bass (Arild Andersen), tabla (Kuljit Bhamra) and some electronics (Aarset and Andersen) paving the way. Takes a little while to settle into the groove and let the sax colors flower. A-
Louis Sclavis: Lost on the Way (2008 , ECM): French clarinetist, b. 1953, has been a major figure since the early 1980s. Quintet, with Matthieu Metzger on soprano and alto sax blending in near seamlessly, and Maxime Delpierre on guitar, not just fitting in but sometimes busting out in solos that have more to do with Jimi Hendrix. B+(***)
Jon Balke/Amina Alaoui: Siwan (2007-08 , ECM): Balke is a Norwegian pianist, credited with keyboards here. He was b. 1955, has 10 or so albums since 1991, most on ECM. His name appears above the title, and on the spine before the title. Alaoui, a Moroccan vocalist specializing in Arabic-Andalusian classical music, is listed just below the title, and on the spine after the title. Three more names make the front cover: Jon Hassell (trumpet, electronics); Kheir Eddine M'Kachiche (violin); and Bjarte Eike (violin, leader of the Barokksolistene, an ensemble of strings, lute, and harpsichord. The material is mostly Spanish, mostly from the Arabic period. For all I know, sounds pretty expert, authentic, an interesting exercise in the archives. B+(*)
Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble: The Moment's Energy (2007 , ECM): It seems odd that Parker's one shot on a label someone might actually hear should be focused on this strange large group but certainly not a big band. This is the group's fifth album on ECM. Parker plays soprano sax, but it's hard to pick him out even though he's generally the easiest soprano saxophonist in the world to recognize. From the start, violinist Philipp Wachsmann has been the group's key member -- probably also the ECM connection -- but mostly for his interest in electronics. It's taken a while for the electronics to take hold as something more than occasional blips and squiggles, but this is where they finally pay off, perhaps because they've finally gained majority status. Sample credits: Wachsmann (violin, live electronics), Paul Lytton (percussion, live electronics), Lawrence Casserley (signal processing equipment), Joel Ryan (sample and signal processing), Walter Prati (computer processing), Richard Barnet (live electronics), Paul Obermayer (live electronics), Marco Vecchi (sound projection). The acoustic contingent is more likely to provide fodder for the knob twiddlers, but it's also the case that they've been beefed up this time, with Peter Evans' trumpet standing out, joined by Ko Ishikawa's sho and Ned Rothenberg's clarinets and shakuhachi. Odd stuff, piled on deep. Takes a while, but I inadvertently got stuck in it, and kept playing it until it made sense. A-
Frank Glover: Politico (2005 , Owl Studios): Clarinetist. Don't know much about him, except for some hints that he's from and/or based in Indianapolis, has four albums since 1991, that this one was originally self-released in 2005. Quartet, with Steve Allee on piano, Jack Helsley on bass, Bryson Kern on drums. One piece is a three-part concerto; two more were slated for films. Has a loose postbop feel that covers all these angles. B+(*)
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Joshua Redman: Compass (2008 , Nonesuch): Final copy has the song-by-song credits, so my speculation of two separate sax trios is wrong. Bassists Larry Grenadier and Reuben Rogers double up on 7 of 13 cuts, the other splitting 3-3. Drummers Brian Blade and Gregory Hutchinson double up on 5 cuts, splitting the rest 5-3 in favor of Blade. Redman plays tenor sax on 10 cuts, soprano on three. I've played this like six times in a row now, feeling indifferent for stretches, then hearing something I like -- often something real simple like "Insomniac" which is just a repeated riff he rides out. Redman remains a superb tenor saxophonist, but only so-so on soprano. This seems like an average record for him, probably no worse than the Branford Marsalis record I have down as an HM. B+(**)
Miguel Zenón: Awake (2007 , Marsalis Music): He explored his native Puerto Rican music to impressive effect on Jíbaro, but doesn't betray a hint of that here, even in a quartet with Luis Perdomo and Hans Glawischnig, who live and breathe that music. Two cuts with strings don't do much for me, but suggest that he might do more in the future. The quartet tracks blow wide open, with one ugly noise blast and a lot of Coltraneish searching. Arguably the best alto saxophonist of his generation, which you can't help but notice, then wonder why this doesn't pan out even more impressively. B+(**)
Hal Galper/Reggie Workman/Rashied Ali: Art-Work (2008 , Origin): A 70-year-old pianist too few have heard of -- inspired by Bud Powell, taught by Jaki Byard, always turns out thoughtful albums -- goes live with two 70-year-old avant-gardists, each as fascinating in his own right as the leader. A-
For this cycle's collected Jazz Prospecting notes, look here.
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:
Sunday, June 28. 2009
Robert Christgau: It Don't Stop, and Then It Do: I found out that Elvis Presley died one morning when Georgia Christgau called me up, evidently thinking his death was historically important, deserving some form of social acknowledgment. I'm afraid I wasn't very useful company. Presley meant next to nothing to me at the time -- not that I was unfamiliar or unappreciative of his music, but I came to it far enough after the fact that I never saw him as bigger than history. Also because by then I was inclined to cut against the hype, which in Presley's case was inflated to ridiculous proportions by critics like the despised Greil Marcus. Also because by the time Presley died it seemed like he was already dead. Michael Jackson's solo career didn't really take off until after I had transformed from fan to critic, and I never gave him much credit for the shrill and clunky Jackson 5, the last and my least favorite of Motown's big 1960s groups, and never noticed his solo albums until I backed into Off the Wall off the Thriller hype, deeming it the better album, probably a fair judgment given that by then I never played the radio let alone watched music videos, indeed detested both. Jackson's death at age 50 is drawing much the same response as Presley's death at age 42 -- at the moment it seems even more effusive, but that may just be our much greater media savvy. You can draw dozens of easy comparisons: from the King of Rock to the King of Pop; from the white guy who sounded black to the black guy who sounded like race meant nothing; you can tote up the hits, which above all were singles, regardless of how they were packaged; both were amazingly physical performers, and their physicality, their performance, overwhelmed their music. They had similar career arcs, including the ability to bounce back with something better than you'd expect even when they were clearly way past their prime. And you can no doubt draw up a long psych list for each, both being prime examples of how lives can be spoiled with with self-indulgences enabled by too much fame and money.
I could cavil further -- e.g., comparing Presley to Chuck Berry or Jackson to George Clinton -- but both did a few amazing things. Eventually I found some things by Presley that blew me away -- a 1968 live tape released as Tiger Man was ear-opening, and his 1956 RCA debut Elvis Presley eventually delivered all that had been claimed. I'm less sure about Jackson, whose album record is actually pretty thin: four quick Motown albums, which I've only heard filtered through the dreadful Best of Michael Jackson, and five great-to-good Epic albums over 22 years: Off the Wall (1979), Thriller (1982), Bad (1987), Dangerous (1991), and Invincible (2001). The latter is if anything more consistent and more distinctive than the earlier albums -- not as brilliant and weirder in odder ways. Still, I wouldn't have paid much attention to him were it not for Robert Christgau, who not only recommended his records but who literally forced me to watch Jackson perform, giving me the chance not just to view Jackson but to catch his reflection in how other far more sympathetic people saw him. That countered my own instinct which suspected him as a freak way before the evidence piled up to absurd proportions. But he had no sustained impactin my life. I haven't thought of him since I wrote a Recycled Goods review in 2004:
At the time, it seemed like Jackson's music was in danger of being eclipsed by his personal notoriety; now what I wrote seems lukewarm compared to the accolades that have been pouring in. Death separates the body from the work he left behind, which is now free to stand on its own -- and in the rash of flashbacks his music and videos are every bit as explosive now as they were when they were new.
Andrew Sullivan: Thinking About Michael: One of the links from Christgau's blog, this seems about right. I don't, however, find the psychology all that interesting, but I do wonder about -- and I'm certain that we'll never really understand -- how all the money angles worked. Jackson made a lot of money for a lot of people who worked him in lots of ways. I am reminded of something one of my cousins once said: if you won a lottery, how could you ever tell who your friends were? I imagine that few people in America have ever lived through worse versions of that problem.
In his post, Christgau has a paragraph of quotes he gleaned from various critics which makes me feel like my own critical faculties are impaired, and that what I wrote above can simply be filed away under "self-serving blog crap." Pareles' note about Jackson's angular and twitchy dance moves, digital rather than analog, is astute, but those moves map the beats so literally Jackson almost disappears in them -- one way he does stand out is in the flamboyance of his costumes. Sheffield's comment about Jackson playing the underdog is also apt, but it wanders into cliché ("renouncing the privileges of machismo" as if machismo was anything but posture). I'm tempted to go further: Jackson was an underdog because deep down he always felt so pathetic, which produced a tremendous, miraculous release when it all worked.
Saturday, June 27. 2009
Matthew Yglesias: The Next Tax Revolt: Had this stuck in a window for a week now, and didn't want to lose it, even though I don't have time to dig into it. Interesting point:
One thing that seems to be a general rule of US tax policy is to make taxation as visible, and therefore as painful, as possible. This actually runs counter to one of the basic (and oft-repeated) considerations in taxation: the belief that taxes disincentivize behavior. This is even considered a selling point for sin taxes. But if taxes are such a drag on the economy, it would make much more sense to make them less visible, as well as to focus them on cases where disincentives are trivial or non-existent -- e.g., taxing dead people. For the living, the least painful time to tax is whenever a transaction occurs: when you buy and sell something, or when you pay someone a wage or other remuneration. With few (if any) exceptions, the robust tax base countries Yglesias favors raise most of their taxes through a VAT, which (unlike American sales taxes) is generally buried within the cost of the purchase. VATs raise prices, which has some negative effect on demand, but they don't hit you out of the blue like property taxes do. It also helps if the burden of tax collection is placed primarily on business, which used to be the case in the US but is less so now: it is both less visible to most people and it fits in with accounting procedures that businesses need to do anyway.
I can't vouch for Yglesias's assertion that the US tax code is relatively progressive compared to other countries. One thing that is certain is that it is much less progressive than it used to be. There are a lot of ways that progressivism could be used that aren't now. In particular, I would make both corporate income and VAT taxes mildly progressive based on company size: a break for small and especially new competitors and a brake against WalMart-sized monopolies. I also think that unearned income -- interest, dividends, capital gains, gifts, estates -- should be taxed progressively according to total lifetime gains: a break for anyone starting to build a nest egg, and a brake on excessive accumulation.
Of course, there's no point raising taxes unless you plan on spending the revenues on something useful. I can come up with a long list there, too -- subjects for many future posts.
Getting ready to take a vacation of sorts. A long road trip, anyhow. Some interesting articles that I had kept open with some vague notion of writing something about them, but now will have to pack up:
By the way, Iraq is getting bloody again, with over 200 civilian deaths this past week. I've just slogged through Thomas Ricks's Surge-celebratory The Gamble, and it's worth noting that the intelligent people behind the strategem -- a group excluding politicians like McCain and Lieberman, pundits like Kristol, and self-appointed experts like Fred Kagan -- never saw as anything more than a beachhead that would depend on significant political reconciliation to secure. The latter didn't happen for a lot of reasons, and now it's closing. Of course some people, including Ricks in his prognosticating epilogue, will attribute this to the imminent US withdrawals, implying that we can fix the problem by launching Surge II. But the fact is that there will always be a day of reckoning when US forces leave, and putting that off tries the patience of everyone in Iraq who wants to get this war settled. The idea that Iraq is a "forever war" is stuck in the heads of a few American hawks who invested heavily in it, but it's plainly absurd to most Americans, who sooner or later will manage to pull the plug. When that happens, Iraq will sink or swim. I've always felt that Iraq's odds would be better if the country is not tied to the dead weight of American imperialism. Nothing that has happened, including the adjustments Petraeus and Odierno made, has changed that.
Thursday, June 25. 2009
Alex Koppelman: Quote of the day: The quote in question comes from an Andy McCarthy who evidently writes for National Review. McCarthy is so preoccupied with insulting people -- Obama, the real left, the Congressional Black Caucus, Bill Ayers, George Soros, almost everyone in or involved with Iran -- that he doesn't allow even the briefest sanity check. Key quote:
He then goes on to argue that radical Islam and radical Leftism are compatible:
I suppose I could charge this Andy fellow with McCarthyite paranoia, but he's breaking new ground. The hard leftism McCarthy accuses Obama of isn't leftist and isn't Obama, and neither have much in common. He does at least admit one difference between hard leftists and Muslims: that the latter hate homosexuals. He ignores the more basic one: that hard leftists aren't keen about religion. The common ground he finds on social justice and economic programs is an illusion: sure, both are concerned with the poor, but Islam (like Christianity) seeks to ameliorate poverty with charity, while the left seeks to eliminate poverty with empowerment. As for the left's "suppression of freedom," any cases he might cite come from societies with long traditions of repression, like Russia and China. Leftists who grew up in liberal societies not only adopt liberties, they take them more seriously than moderates or conservatives do. McCarthy must be confusing the left with someone else here, like the hard right.
Admittedly, I'm getting off the track here. Ever since Jonah Goldberg wrote that stupid book about how American liberalism is derived not from Tom Paine or John Stuart Mill but from Benito Mussolini, I've been perplexed and perturbed not just by the utter stupidity of the right but by their pure fecklessness. Nowadays Obama is indiscriminately labelled a fascist and a socialist, often by the same people, who can't understand the incompatible meanings of the words let alone sense how little they understand Obama. I've always taken it as axiomatic that one should try to understand even one's opponents within their own intellectual frameworks, but this sort of mental short circuit is impossible to take at face value. McCarthy not only doesn't know what he's talking about; he doesn't even have a bare grasp of the vocabulary and grammar he's using.
Still, there is one possibly accurate insight here. It is that Obama, assuming he really does intend to make good on his campaign promise to engage Iran, might prefer dealing with the devils he knows -- Khamanei and Ahmadinejad -- to whoever winds up on top of the upturned apple cart. This is actually a point that is understood far better on the right than on the left. Jeanne Kirkpatrick, to pick one example, wrote a famous essay on why the US generally prefers dealing with dictators. Henry Kissinger is another well versed expert on the subject. Even Jimmy Carter is an example: he found it much easier to deal with Egyptian dictator Anwar Sadat than with Israeli demagogue Menachem Begin. Dictators, at least, are in positions where they can make deals, whereas democrats are often at the mercy of the checks and balances of their systems. (One recalls, for instance, all the treaties Clinton signed, like Kyoto, that Congress never ratified.)
Still, I doubt that Obama has a practical, let alone moral, preference for dictators. More likely he's just being realistic, taking the world as he finds it rather than trying to recast the acts of others into his moral universe. One of the worst habits American politicians and pundits have is to view the choices of other nations through their own political prism -- a rare trait shared by most on both left and right. Obama almost uniquely recognizes that it's not his choice or preference who governs in Iran. His position may be pragmatic, recognizing that since there is nothing constructive he can do there's no point taking sides, or he may, more deeply, understand that as an American, responsible for US interests, he can't honestly judge what's best for Iranians. Either way, what he's doing isn't ideological, neither left nor right. No wonder McCarthy is so befuddled: he can't imagine someone disciplined enough not to let their politics overwhelm their responsibilities.
McCarthy is, like most of the Bomb Iran contingent, quick to jump to the conclusion that the enemy of his enemy must be some sort of good guy. In reality, the reform movement in Iran is carefully positioning itself as the true heir of the Revolution. They make much of Shiite religious tradition, especially the cult of martyrdom, much as the 1979 revolutionaries did. Their characterization of the "dictators" links Ahmadinejad directly to the Shah. A reformed Iran may mean a lot of good things for the individual freedom of Iranians, but it's unlikely to change much in Iran's foreign policy. Obama has charted a diplomatic course, trying not to jeopardize future relationships for any conceivable outcome. That's a dilligence that the Bomb Iran crowd needn't trouble themselves with. They may be happy to cheer the reformers on right now, but they'll be even happier when they can resume their Bomb Iran campaign.
Alex Koppelman: What happened to the right's skill with language? The utter nonsense of McCarthy and Jonah Goldberg is just the tip of Mount Everest on the right. They've been dumbing down at an alarming rate for a while now:
The Frank Luntz advice on how to derail health care reform is more sophisticated: it involves pretending to embrace reform and thereby stinking it up as much as possible. (You always know when the Republicans are bucking their polling because that's when they resort to subterfuges like Healthy Forests.) But as the GOP shrinks, more and more they fall back on the Reagan idea that name calling -- think Evil Empire -- shows resolve and moral courage. Hence, once they tag it ObamaCare they figure they've won. If they keep it up, maybe they'll shrink enough we can drown them in a bathtub.
Wednesday, June 24. 2009
Slim: List of past picks of the week: Now, this is depressing, for me anyway. Slim works for the Cadence Magazine/North Country Audio empire up in the Adirondacks somewhere. They have a couple of their own labels (Cadence Jazz, CIMP), and distribute hundreds more obscure jazz labels -- more than anyone else in the US by a huge margin. There are things about the company that are endearing and things that are maddening, but I don't want to get into that now. I first bumped into Slim dealing with order issues, long time ago. A few years back she started writing a column in Cadence magazine: rather informal, offhanded even, noting some recent faves. Hadn't noticed her "pick of the week" selections in the email -- had gotten into the habbit of deleting it instantly. But I always appreciate a good tip, so this time I checked out the master list. Now comes the depressing part: I hear a lot of new jazz, including a lot of real obscure avant-garde stuff, but I've only heard one of sixty-some Slim picks: Katie Bull's Love Spook. I suppose I could slough the whole thing off by noting that I gave Love Spook a sad B- grade. Still, I can't help but think how much I'm missing and how hard it would be to ever catch up. (Who, for instance, are Perhenrik Wallin, Peter Gullin, Piotr Wojtasik?) As it is, I've only rarely gotten service from Cadence/CIMP, a label that requires more constant prodding than I've felt up to. Other labels (like Dragon and Power Bros, the source of the three artists I just listed) have proven impossible to track down, or at least unresponsive. And even if I did somehow get everything I'd like to hear I'll never find time to do it justice -- that in itself is one thing that inhibits me from asking. So, this is depressing: both as a measure of the known unknown, and for its sense of how unknowable the unknown is.
Monday, June 22. 2009
Same old same old. Fixed a dinner for six Friday night to celebrate the unveiling of the new kitchen, and it turned out pretty marvelous. Spanish fare: mariscada in almond sauce, asparagus in more almond sauce, roasted potato slices, sauteed mushrooms with prosciutto (can't find serrano ham here), a salt cod salad, a dessert with sweet yogurt cream on top of mixed berries on top of almond cupcakes. Prep went only one hitch: running out of eggs, which killed the alioli that you're supposed to drizzle over the mushrooms, as if the six cloves of garlic and the puddle of olive oil they were sauteed in wasn't nearly enough. Just as well: if I had the egg yolks I would have run out of garlic, having only budgeted three heads for the meal. Used three burners to finish, while the potatoes kept warm in the spare oven. Still have some work to do, but it's getting real close. Functional even.
Oran Etkin: Kelenia (2009, Motema): Plays clarinet, bass clarinet, and tenor sax. Born in Israel, now based in Brooklyn; started studying with George Garzone at age 14, which suggests a Boston connection (not to mention good luck). Back label instructs to "file under jazz or world." Core group includes Joe Sanders on bass, and two Malians: Balla Kouyate on balafon and Makane Kouyate on calabash and vocals. They set up gentle, near-hypnotic grooves, which Etkin plies his reeds on. Some other guests show up, with Abdoulaye Diabate taking over vocals on two tracks, Lionel Loueke playing guitar on three, John Benitez subbing on bass on three, Jessie Martino and Sara Caswell adding strings on one. Attractive fusion concept, although the vocals are less than compelling. B+(***)
Harry Skoler: Two Ones (2008 , Soliloquy): Clarinetist, b. 1956 in Syracuse, NY, graduated Berklee 1978, originally inspired by Benny Goodman, later studied under Jimmy Giuffre. Fourth album since 1994, divided between 7 quintet tracks and 8 duos with pianist Ed Saindon. The duets are low keyed and rather pretty, but the larger group is too much of too many bad things: a front line of clarinet and flute, the pianist often switching to vibes, the bass and drums rolling like they're seasick. C
Fat Cat Big Band: Meditations on the War for Whose Great God Is the Most High You Are God (2008 , Smalls): The first, at least by catalog number, of two discs recorded in one shot. Eleven-piece big band -- two trumpets, two trombones, three reeds -- led by guitarist Jade Synstelien, whose previous discography consists of a quartet record and a credit with Nellie McKay. Band does a fine job of invoking swing and postbop motifs, like he's aiming for a midpoint between Ellington and Mingus. Ends with a flourish that reminds me of "Satin Doll," on a song title that reminds me of Mingus: "Please Be Green New Orleans." B+(**)
Fat Cat Big Band: Angels Praying for Freedom (2008 , Smalls): More from guitarist Jade Synstelien's near-big band, cut at the same sessions, and not sorted to any obvious logic. The hot stuff is hotter; Synstelien's infrequent vocals are even wobblier. B+(**)
John Allred/Jeff Barnhart/Danny Coots: The ABC's of Jazz (2008 , Arbors): Trombone, piano, drums, respectively. Bassist Dave Stone missed out on the top line, presumably because of the ABC concept. Allred's father, Bill Allred, also plays trombone, in the same retro-swing circles. B. 1962, Allred has four albums and 30-some side credits, mostly Arbors titles and a smattering of albums with Harry Connick Jr. His trombone leads are a treat here, and the band members know their way around the repertoire centered on Fats Waller. Several songs have vocals, which aren't credited. B+(*)
Lew Green and Joe Muranyi: Together (2008 , Arbors): Muranyi is the senior citizen here, b. 1928, plays clarinet, resume includes work with Louis Armstrong's last bands. Don't know much about Green: evidently he joined the Original Salty Dogs at Purdue in 1956 and moved them to Chicago in 1960. Band includes Jeff Barnhart (piano), Bob Leary (banjo, guitar), Vince Giordano (tuba, bass, bass sax), and Danny Coots (drums). Trad jazz sound, with Green's cornet as bright as Ruby Braff's (if not Armstrong's), on a relatively obscure selection of songs, including two Muranyis. Exception is an amusing take on "Rockin' Chair," one of four songs with vocals -- four different vocalists from the band, none bad. B+(**)
Tribecastan: Strange Cousins (2008 , Evergreene Music): Two guys, John Kruth and Jeff Greene, playing exotic instruments, most I've never heard of -- Greene's include: dutar, fujara, kanun, khamok, koncovka, rebab, tupan, yayli tambur; Kruth's are more numerous but more recognizable, like kalimba, mandocello, sheng, penny whistle, and various oddball flutes. Both columns include strings, winds, and percussion, none (at least among the ones I recognize) preponderant enough to classify either player. Some guests drop in here and there: Jolie Holland (box fiddle), Brahim Fribgane (darbuka, riq), Dave Dreiwitz (bass, pocket trumpet), Matt Darriau (alto sax, clarinet, Bulgarian gaida and kaval), and Steve Turre (shells, trombone). Two covers: one from Don Cherry, the other Sonny Sharrock. Doesn't sound like anything I recognize. Will give it some time. [B+(**)]
Fred Forney: Chasing Horizons (2008 , OA2): Trumpeter, from Detroit, moved to Arizona in 1973, teaches at Mesa Community College. Second album, a hard bop quintet, recorded in Tempe, AZ , presumably with local musicians, all unknown to me: Brice Winston (tenor sax), Chuck Marohnic (piano), Dwight Kilian (bass), Dom Moio (drums). Wrote all seven songs, ranging from 6:08 ("The Simplest Things") to 8:16 (the title song). Bright, bouncy hard bop. B+(**)
Anthony Branker & Ascent: Blessings (2007 , Origin): Branker's credit here: compositions & music director. Got a BA from Princeton in 1980, and has taught there since 1989; currently working on an EdD at Columbia. Had a Fulbright scholarship 2005-06 which took him to Estonia. Second album under this attribution, although he also has a record For the Children as Tony Branker. Plays trumpet, but left that slot empty in this 7-8 piece group -- the delta is Renato Thoms, playing congas on two of nine cuts. Mostly well-known musicians: Steve Wilson (alto sax), Ralph Bowen (tenor & soprano saxes), Clifford Adams Jr. (trombone), Bryan Carrott (vibes), Jonny King (piano), Belden Bullock (bass), Wilby Fletcher (drums). Not sure that it all holds up, but this starts off with an impressive balance of instruments, with Carrott's vibes central and indispensible, drawing a nice range of colors out of the horns, except on the rare cases where they get tied in lockstep. I don't pay much attention to what other critics say, but Branker's website has a rave from Maria Schneider: "beautiful writing, and such great people to realize all of it." Mostly right. B+(***)
Paul Tynan & Aaron Lington: Bicoastal Collective: Chapter One (2008 , OA2): Tynan plays trumpet and flugelhorn. From Canada, b. 1975, went to UNT, presumably picked up the big band arranging bug there. Third album. Lington plays baritone sax and bass clarinet. Also passed through UNT, on his way from Houston to San Jose, where he teaches. He has a previous quintet album. Ten-piece group, covers the big band bases without massed horn sections. The bulk of the album is taken up by the 7-part "Story of Langston Suite." The horn voicings are often striking, and the whole thing flows effortlessly. I guess jazz is America's classical music. B+(*)
Dave Glenn: National Pastime (2009, Origin): Trombonist. Graduated from UNT. Director of Jazz Studies at Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA. First album, although AMG lists a couple of side credits going back to 1977 and 1980 -- the latter with Gerry Mulligan. Baseball-themed album, with tributes to Roberto Clemente and Hank Aaron, a "Blues for Buck O'Neil," and a "Reliving the Glory Days" about the 1978-85 Kansas City Royals. With Dave Scott (trumpet), Rich Perry (tenor sax), Gary Versace (piano), John Hebert (bass), Jeff Hirshfield (drums), and Jim Clouse (soprano sax, 1 cut). Postbop, a bit on the fancy side, with the leader's trombone mostly buried in the mix -- Scott's trumpet is attractive, especially in contrast. Rhythm section is athletic enough. B
Scotty Barnhart: Say It Plain (2008 , Unity Music): Trumpeter. MySpace has him based in Los Angeles but teaching at Florida State. B. 1964. Debut album, calling in various chits from years as a sideman, including five piano players (Ellis Marsalis and Marcus Roberts the best known), trumpet duets with Wynton Marsalis and Clark Terry, and a vocal from Jamie Davis -- like Barnhart, an alumni of the Basie big band, which Barnhart joined in 1993. Stanley Crouch wrote the gushing liner notes, and Bill Cosby chipped in a blurb quote. This sounds a bit like he's trying too hard, but the record is delightful, a vigorous slice of New Orleans neotrad, with supple ballads, a couple of burners, a couple of amusing twists. About half original, half covers. The Wynton duo on "Con Alma" is disposable, but Clark Terry's turn, complete with vocal, is worth hearing ("Pay Me My Money"), and Davis turns in a charming "Young at Heart." Barnhart also has a book: The World of Jazz Trumpet: A Comprehensive History and Practical Philosophy. B+(***)
Kobie Watkins: Involved (2006 , Origin): Drummer, from Chicago. First record. Has a few side credits since 2001, and calls in some chits here, like Ryan Cohan and Bobby Broom. Wrote 4 of 10, one of those with Howard Mims, who wrote 2 more. Shuffles a lot of musicians in and out, but generally has one or two horns, piano or keyboard, and bass. Broom plays guitar on 3 cuts. Mostly upbeat postbop, well done but not very distinct or especially interesting. B
Rufus Huff (2009, Zoho Roots): What makes this Southern rock-blues-boogie band any different from any other Southern rock-blues boogie band? Well, nothing, really. B-
Bik Bent Braam: Extremen (2008, BBB): Braam is Michiel Braam, Dutch pianist, b. 1964. Don't know what "Bik Bent" means. One suggestion was Big Band, but online Dutch-to-English dictionary don't confirm that. The band is big: 13 pieces. None of the other names seem to figure in. Five reeds, with three saxes switching off to clarinet, another to bassoon. Five brass: cornet, trumpet, trombone, euphonium, tuba. A few players I recognize: Wilbert de Joode and Michael Vatcher from Braam's trio; trombonist Walter Wierbos; saxophonist/clarinetist Frank Gratkowski, who hitherto may have ranked as the most famous jazz musician I had never managed to hear. (No idea who moves up, but surely someone does.) As is often the case with avant-garde orchestras, the pieces are little more than cues for variation and improvisation. Starts somewhat tentative, but before long the players start to find their moments. A Spanish twist in a piece called "Franxs" especially grabbed my attention, but it was probably just a mistake. Hard to tell. B+(**)
Michiel Braam's Wurli Trio: Non-Functionals! (2009, BBB): Dutch pianist, b. 1964, of Bik Bent Braam fame. Has 20-some albums since 1989 in various guises, including one previous one by his Wurli Trio. The name comes from the Wurlitzer 200A electric piano featured here. Pieter Douma plays various basses, and Dirk-Peter Kölsch hits things (credits: "drums, all possible soundobjects"). Nine compositions are declared "non-functional" and simply numbered. Seems like a pretty simple idea, and I doubt that any amount of close listening will change that opinion. Still, an attractive, amusing outing. Tempting to slot it with soul organ grooves, but that's only pro forma. It occurs to me that I should try to do something long on the Dutch avant-garde, if for no other reason than that it's one of the few places in Europe I get things with some regularity (Portugal and Norway are the others). Well, that and because these guys have a wicked sense of humor. [B+(**)]
Nico Huijbregts: Free Floating Forms (2007 , Vindu): Pianist, Dutch presumably -- web bio has nothing pertaining to space or time, but the domain name is ".nl" and the record was recorded in Holland. Solo piano. Title is as good a description as any. B+(*)
I Compani: Circusism (2007-08 , Icdisc): Dutch group, formed originally in 1985, released a couple of records based on film music of Nino Rota, and has a record of Giuseppe Verdi's Aida. This one promises "a new approach to circus music." Not sure what that is, given that it sounds like stereotypical circus music, although perhaps a bit odd and disjointed. Fairly sizable group, including saxophonist Bo van de Graaf, who seems to be a mainstay, and pianist Albert van Veenendaal, who's done work I've liked in the past. B+(*)
Arthur Kell Quartet: Victoria: Live in Germany (2008 , Buj'ecords): Bassist-composer, based in New York. Thin discography, with two previous albums (Traveller, an A-list record from 2005, and See You in Zanzibar, which I haven't heard) and virtually no side credits. Website claims to have played extensively in the 1980s with Thomas Chapin, Bobby Previte, and Marc Ribot. Quartet here has Loren Stillman on alto sax, Brad Shepik on guitar, and Joe Smith on drums. Kell does a good job of keeping Stillman on his toes -- he's a mainstreamer who has never much impressed me before -- and Shepik is terrific throughout. [B+(***)]
Daniel Kelly: Emerge (2009, Bju'ecords): Pianist, based in Brooklyn, seems to have one or two previous records, plus some side-credits with the bassist who'll always be Harvie Swartz to me. Trio, mostly groove-based, plays some Fender Rhodes. B+(*)
Daniela Schächter: Purple Butterfly (2008 , CDBaby): Pianist-vocalist, from Messina, Sicily, Italy. Studied classical music, got a scholarship to Berklee, where she got into jazz, studying with Joanne Brackeen. Third album, after Quintet (2001) and I Colori del Mare (2006). This is another quintet, with Alex Sipiagin (trumpet, flugelhorn), Joel Frahm (tenor sax), Massimo Biolcati (bass), and Quincy Davis (drums), as well as Schäcter's piano (sometimes Rhodes). The latter doesn't emerge much from the accompaniment, so it's hard to judge her more than proficient. She has a distinctive, compelling voice, but she doesn't take the songs into particularly interesting places. Two have Italian titles but there's no ethnic fusion attempt, and no accent betraying her as a non-native English speaker. Didn't notice Frahm much, but Sipiagin makes a strong showing. B+(*)
Philippe Saisse: At World's Edge (2009, Koch): French pianist, classified as smooth jazz or new age; credited here with keyboards and programming, of course. AMG figures this is his 12th album since 1988 (first I've heard). They also give him two pages of side credits, starting with a 1979 Andy Pratt album and three 1980-82 by Al di Meola -- mostly bit parts on rock albums, including David Bowie, Chaka Khan, Grace Jones, Nona Hendryx, Tina Turner, Luther Vandross, Steve Winwood, Billy Joel, the B-52's, Donny Osmond, Rod Stewart; plus a few smooth jazzers, with Rick Braun, Kirk Whallum, Marc Antoine, and Jeff Golub returning the favor here. Three cuts have vocals: the chintzy disco from Jasmine Roy and processed Africana from Angelique Kidjo aren't bad, but the pro forma vocal version of the title track (also an album instrumental) by David Rice is staggeringly, almost comically, awful. C
Crimson Jazz Trio: King Crimson Songbook, Volume 2 (2006 , Inner Knot): Nominally a straight mainstream piano trio, Volume One from 2005 fared well reducing a set of King Crimson melodies to their bare bones. Volume 2 aims to be jazzier, but isn't much, and "special guest" Mel Collins (saxophone, maybe flute; someone uncredited sings one track) undercuts the spareness. Trio is: Joey Nardone (piano), Tim Landers (bass), and Ian Wallace (drums). Wallace is probably the key character, and he died in 2007 shortly after this was cut. Leads off with "The Court of the Crimson King," which was nice to hear again. B+(*) [advance]
Nicholas Urie Large Ensemble: Excerpts From an Online Dating Service (2008 , Red Piano): B. 1985, Los Angeles, composer/conductor on his first album. AMG lists it as Pop/Rock, meaning they haven't so much as looked at the cover let alone listened to it. On the other hand, it does have a pretty consistent beat, and one voice throughout -- Christine Correa, whom I'm tempted to describe as workman-like because she makes everything she sings sound like work. The Large Ensemble numbers 18 when Chris Speed shows up late for the last two tracks. The texts were collected unedited from dating sites. It's always difficult to wrap music around words not intended as lyrics, which may explain why they feel stilted here -- so much so that my first instinct is to say this sounds like opera. The arranging is often superb, and the solos often stand out -- Bill McHenry's tenor sax most of all. John McNeil produced. Ambitious work. B
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:
Sunday, June 21. 2009
Two quotes from the July 2, 2009 New York Review of Books relating to the effects of US politics (mostly domestic) on foreign countries US politicians haven't the slightest clue to understanding.
Malise Ruthven wrote a review of several books on Iran, titled "Divided Iran on the Eve" -- of the elections, that is, and all that has and will come after them. The books, which all seem interesting: Abbas Amanat: Apocalyptic Islam and Iranian Shi'ism (IB Tauris); Janet Afary: Sexual Politics in Modern Iran (Cambridge University Press); and Ray Takeyh: Guardians of the Revolution: Iran and the World in the Age of the Ayatollahs (Oxford University Press). The latter book is most relevant for reassessing US foreign policy.
Iran's foreign policy since 1979 was initially driven by Khomeini's desire to export his model of Islamic justice, which failed to gain any real traction with the predominantly Sunni Muslims, and was brought to a standstill by Iraq's brutal attack on Iran, including US backing and Iraq's chilling use of poison gas. This tended to make Iranian revolutionaries reclusive, defensive, and vindictive, but the postwar peace allowed other reformist strains to develop. The US, whether because we cynically prefer an Iranian enemy or because we're simply tone deaf, has consistently undercut Iranian efforts to ease tensions with the west.
This shows once again how right-wing forces on both sides of virtually any conflict work together to perpetuate the conflict. Moreover, it shows how right-wing dominance of either side tends to create its mirror on the other side. Khatami (and Iran) had the misfortune of coming to power as the neocons, with their anti-Iraq/anti-Iran demagoguery, were gaining traction in Washington under Clinton and took over the shop under Bush. With sworn opponents like those, Iranian conservatives under Khamanei could point to the failure of the reformers to improve relations with the West.
Obama's win in Washington gives the Iranian reform movement a second chance, which seems to have panicked their right-wing -- not so much the clerics (although there are those) as the Revolutionary Guards and militias that make up Iran's influential military-industrial complex. How this will play out remains to be seen, but the worst possible scenario -- a coup and Pinochet-style purge -- is one that Washington, if not Obama, has long banked on.
For some uncharacteristic reason -- maybe sheer mischief -- NYRB assigned Mahmoud Mamdani's Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror to Nicholas Kristof, a New York Times opinion writer who has spent much of the last decade wailing over the Darfur problem. As Kristof notes:
The review won't surprise Mamdani, but, as is often the case with Kristof, that's beside the point. The quote I want to point out is:
One problem with fomenting a political movement in the US to "save" some far flung sect of humanity is that its implicit purpose is to motivate some action by the US government -- an action which for surplus capacity and lack of imagination is invariably military. Kristof has a wish list of this sort, including imposing a "no fly" zone on Sudan and selling anti-aircraft missiles to factions in south Sudan. Darfur would never have had this problem in the first place but for the interference of outsiders -- Libya and Chad had big roles, as did the anti-government rebels in South Sudan, who saw an opportunity to weaken the government in Darfur. The US couldn't intervene without compounding the whole problem -- in particular, by turning the rest of Sudan against us, a no-win scenario. It isn't even clear that the "save Darfur" movement has not already made matters worse by hardening the battle lines. (I haven't read Mamdani's book yet, but gather that he makes that point and more.)
If you look back, the intervention in Kosovo wasn't much of a success either -- but in any case it was driven not by a "save Kosovo" movement but by NATO's need to find something to do once the Soviet Union has passed. Hue and cry over foreign calamities is pretty selective in the US: nothing even gets noticed without an aggressive PR effort and a few opportunists like Kristof, who take the occasional case and blow it out of proportion.
Thus far Obama has shown admirable reluctance to get entangled militarily or emotionally in foreign events except for the Af-Pak problem he inherited and made a campaign commitment to. He seems to at least have some instinctive grasp of what he can and cannot do -- the latter is a remarkable skill that his predecessors eschewed as a matter of personal and national pride.
Saturday, June 20. 2009
One more small point about the Jim Lehrer-Tim Geithner interview. Geithner kept referring to how we had faced "the edge of the abyss" late last year. Lehrer kept wondering what that meant. It's one of those metaphors you hear a lot, and just casually accept given any real understanding of how badly the financial system was falling down. Still, if you're as ignorant as Lehrer evidently is, that's a reasonable question. Surprisingly, it's one that Geithner didn't have an answer for. Again, maybe his talking points preparers just didn't anticipate it, but wouldn't you figure he'd be smart enough to come up with an answer -- if only one too technical for Lehrer to understand. That he didn't, wouldn't, or couldn't, suggests to me that the term should be retired.
Biggest problem I see with the abyss metaphor is that it suggests we were on the outside looking down. Actually, we went through a short period where about $13 trillion in asset evaluations simply vanished. Anyone who lost a big chunk of that nominal wealth most likely felt they weren't merely sightseeing from a precipice -- more likely they felt they were being swept into the abyss. The sense Geithner et al. want to show is that it could have been a lot worse had they not acted, but the implication that the worst is over is rather myopic. Maybe if you're a banker that's true, but unemployment and all that goes with it are still on the rise, and even when (assuming if) the numbers return to form it will be a long time (if ever) for many people to make up the losses. The abyss metaphor is overly dramatic, but it also tends to mystify and obscure what's really happening.
Friday, June 19. 2009
I watched Jim Lehrer interview Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner last night, and eventually walked off in exasperation. Lehrer got the deficit bug stuck in his brain and wouldn't let go. Geithner, for his part, didn't help. He kept saying that deficits should be a long term concern, and that the Obama administration will do something about when the time comes. But he never explained why the time hasn't come clear enough to get Lehrer past his broken record point. The fact is that government deficits right now not only aren't a problem; they're a necessary part of the solution. Without government spending making up for the decline in private spending the economy would keep on collapsing until it shriveled up into a pathetic little ball, only checked by the demands of bare existence. Of course, the government could limit its deficits by raising taxes, but that would undercut the effectiveness of the deficit spending. Moreover, there is little need to worry here: when the private sector increases its spending, government deficits will contract -- partly due to increased costs, mostly due to increased taxes. If you're still concerned about paying down deficits, you could safely raise taxes then. But that's never been the point behind the people pushing the deficits meme. Their point is to strangle government, even when it is most needed.
Lehrer's concern is a sign that the meme is working, which is to say that the Republicans are going to make it more difficult than should be necessary to do what's needed to keep the economy afloat. You'd think he would at least take a clue from the fact that as long as Bush was in power the Republicans could care less about deficits -- in fact, they were pumping them to record levels for no good reason (unlike, e.g., the Great Depression, World War II, or now), just as they did under Reagan. You don't need to understand much about macroeconomics to be suspicious, but somehow Republicans never get called for hypocrisy. On the other hand, Geithner most likely does understand enough macroeconomics to give a technical response, the gist of which is that Lehrer has nothing to worry about. But by giving a political response -- that we'll slay the deficits dragon as soon as the recession dragon is good and dead -- he only fuels Lehrer's suspicions. So why doesn't he answer the question in a way that would convince Lehrer? One theory is that his head is stuck so far up the banking industry's arse that he really does think that fighting deficits is the most important thing the government should do, except, of course, when doing so exposes the whole banking industry to collapse. Another theory is that he's simply tone deaf politically, as evidenced by the fact that he never realized the only thing he got for answering the same question the same way five times in a row was the same question asked a sixth time. Most people when they're trying to persuade someone will try a new tactic when they their first shot fails to register. But then I guess that's not true of most politicians, who tend to be trained rigorously to stick to their talking points, counting each opportunity to use one as a score.
Thursday, June 18. 2009
Glenn Greenwald: The "Bomb Iran" contingent's newfound concern for the Iranian People. The conditioned response of most Americans to the post-election events in Iran is to accept the line that the election was stolen and to embrace the protesters. That's partly because we've been conditioned to loathe Ahmadinejad and the Islamic Republic's clerical leaders, and partly because we assume that the Iranian people secretly want to to live like us and do the things we do -- forgetting for the moment that we didn't take to the streets in 2000 when our own election was stolen. Much of this conditioning comes from the nonstop propagandizing of warmongers who, borrowing a page from Bush's "axis of evil" speech, have long set their hearts on crippling Iran. But now, seeing this outpouring of quasi-American dissent, even the hawks are getting warm and fuzzy for masses of people they wanted to wipe off the map just a few moments ago:
Of course, not all of the hawks have gone soft. Israel's hardest core supporters, like Daniel Pipes, were as much as campaigning for Ahmadinejad, and AIPAC was pushing an Iran Sanctions Enabling Act of 2009 (HR 1327) to remind the Iranian people how much we hated them. Since the election not much has changed with them. Some, like Robert Kagan, now insist that Obama to come out in support of the protesters -- advice which if followed would inevitably backfire. The US, left anyone forget it, has previously interfered in Iranian domestic politics: in 1953 the CIA hired some clerics and thugs to stage fake-communist riots to set the stage for a military coup that overturned Iran's democracy and installed the Shah as proxy until his megalomania got the best of him. The US has interfered in domestic politics all over the world, so frequently that the CIA is suspected everywhere, but there's no reason to think that the CIA has any practical ability to affect what's going on in Iran today, let alone direct it toward any sort of sensible goals -- even if we had any.
The biggest problem for American politicians is understanding that what's going on in Iran isn't about US. It looks like an internal struggle at the highest levels of power within the Islamic Republic. The stakes may be huge there and for the people of Iran, but it's not clear that it makes any real difference to us -- most likely it doesn't unless we make something of it, which would be unprecedented.
The "reformers" are as much the establishment in Iran as the "conservatives" are, but the very idea of reform is likely to let loose all sorts of change, much of which has been percolating beneath the surface for years. How far this goes may depend on how hard the system cracks, if indeed it does at all. Still, at this point it's impossible to imagine an outcome where Iran's foreign policy budges much from its recent course. It might be easier for Obama to sell a rapprochement with an Iran led by Mousavi than Ahmadinejad, but the deal is likely to be the same. Moreover, such a deal depends more on Obama than on Iran -- for proof, just look at how Clinton and Bush failed to do anything with Iran's previous round of reformers.
Wednesday, June 17. 2009
Matthew Yglesias: Sens. Kyl, McConnell, and Roberts Want to Preserve the Waste in Public Sector Health Care. Their method for doing this is to sponsor a bill to prohibit Medicare and Medicaid from using research on what works and doesn't work as a means of spending their tax dollars more efficiently. The big point is not only that government spending is wasteful but that the Republicans are determined to keep it that way. Otherwise they'd just have to make up shit to sandbag any efforts to provide better and more democratic health care. (Of course, they do that too.) This is reminiscent of the plank in Big Pharma's Medicare drug bill that prohibits the government from using volume purchases to reduce costs -- something which every private sector insurance company does.
Paul Krugman noticed this story too. He called his post Taking the Hypocritical Oath. He refers to a longer piece on this from The Wonk Room, which among other things points out that Kyl has raised $1,971,968 from the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries to sponsor his Senate career. They evidently haven't toted up the numbers for McConnell and Roberts yet, but they're likely substantial. In any case, they have been bought so many times before -- Roberts is pretty much Mr. Agribusiness on the Hill -- that they wouldn't have any qualms about getting in this line.
Tuesday, June 16. 2009
Matthew Yglesias: Coming to Terms With the Welfare State: The argument here is that Republican conservatives should admit what the UK Conservative Party freely concedes: that they support at least some parts of the modern welfare state and won't do anything to dismantle them. Yglesias mentions FDIC as one example, which is about as non-controversial as he can get. Doing that much would take the Grover Norquist shrink-and-drown-the-government principle off the table.
Yglesias cites a book review by David Frum, who established his conservative bona fides in his "axis of evil" speech where he tried to will World War III into being, but he's been back-pedalling since then, trying to find some terra firma to launch his fantasies from. Problem is, most conservatives are happier living in an imaginary world where simple principles rule and inconvenient facts can be ignored. Conservative politicians may privately concede that there are government programs -- even welfare programs -- that they can't kill outright, but the party ideological apparatus isn't constrained by such practicalities. Moreover, the politicians don't insist that they do. Even when they recognize that a pet cause is politically hopeless, they're happy to to disguise it as something else, like casting accelerated logging as the Healthy Forests initiative. They may understand that politically they can't kill Social Security, yet they still try to palm off destructive programs by claiming that they are needed to "save" Social Security.
Sticking to their hardcore anti-government principles makes even more sense when they're out of power. When Bush was in the White House, Republicans had to be schizophrenic over government power and spending, even to the point of supporting deficits to pay for political plunder. Now they're free to be as anti-deficit as possible, at least without breaking their no-tax-increase pledges. But attitude runs deeper than that. Virtually every success the Republicans have enjoyed going back at least as far as Nixon was based on fear and loathing, which they refined to the point where it consumed them. Their ability to focus all that rage on the Democrats is what built them the base they have, and it's all the base they're going to have for a long time now. So why should they be reasonable and make Obama look good? Their only hope is to get Obama to fail, then to get a majority of Americans to blame Obama for that failure. They've pulled tougher con jobs in the past, so why not this one? It's not like they have any other options, or any other ideas. In appealing to the dumbest and meanest America has to offer, that's what they've settled into.
Matthew Yglesias: Blaming the Victim for Health Reform Difficulties: For example, what are the Republicans doing with health care reform?
Another example, from another Yglesias post:
Actually, McCain's assertion can be disproved by what the US has already done in the areas where the government actually runs health care: compare Medicare vs. private insurance, or the VA vs. private for-profit providers.
Of course, McCain doesn't have to do that, because he's sticking to the anti-government, anti-Obama, anti-everything script. It's a bluff, but who's calling him on it? It's the sort of bluff that Bush ran for eight increasingly disastrous years. Even after the results came in and his popularity went down the toilet, who called him on it? That is why the Republicans think they can get away with what they're doing.
The single most important thing that Obama has to do as president is to push significant health care reform through. It's much more important than saving the banks from mass hara-kiri by fraud, saving the planet from global warming, or dialing back the ridiculous global American empire. It's more immediately necessary than turning back the tide of jingoistic stupidity that dominates the political media these days -- although doing something on health care will start to do double duty there. I recall -- not sure when but early 1990s are a good guess -- when it was scandalous that health care chewed up 12% of US GDP. That figure is up to 17% now. It's a cancer whereby a few greedy private interests are devouring the economy, filling our lives with uncertainty and fear. That this is an issue in doubt testifies to the overwhelming power of money in politics: that 17% is a huge vested interest (double the size of the military-industrial complex, roughly the size of the banks, just to give you two points for political influence comparison).
One thing I expected the Democrats to move more proactively on is to start taking the big money out of politics. They may figure that as the top dogs now this is no time to get out of the game, but the game itself is what corrupts American politics so utterly.
Monday, June 15. 2009
Thought I would start with Legacy's reissues commemorating 1959, which they identified as the greatest year in jazz. You can make that case, but also can pick any of a number of years, most (at least as far as the LP era is concerned) in that neighborhood. The Mingus album is an all-time wonder, and Ornette Coleman's The Shape of Jazz to Come and The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall are two more A+ records from the year. Some other legendary records are: John Coltrane: Giant Steps, and Coltrane Jazz; Duke Ellington: Blues in Orbit, and Anatomy of a Murder; Bill Evans: Portrait in Jazz; Coleman Hawkins: The High and Mighty Hawk; Wynton Kelly: Kelly Blue; Shelly Manne: At the Blackhawk; Blue Mitchell: Blue Soul; Cecil Taylor: Love for Sale; and Ben Webster and Associates. Less famous but in some ways even better -- at least if you have a saxophone jones -- are: Arnett Cobb: Party Time; Eddie Davis: Very Saxy; Jackie McLean: New Soil, and Swing Swang Swingin'; Duke Ellington/Johnny Hodges: Side by Side; Lars Gullin: Stockholm Street. Of course, you could plug in other years and get similar results, at least from 1956 (Ellington at Newport and Sonny Rollins' Saxophone Colossus) up through 1966 (Ellington's Far East Suite and Rollins' Alfie). After that it starts getting trickier, although there's still plenty to listen to.
In general, a slow week for me: hard to concentrate, which I don't expect to change until I get the kitchen done. I will be testing it out with a serious dinner this coming Friday. Maybe the deadline will focus my efforts, but that doesn't promise a good week of Jazz Prospecting.
Charles Mingus: Mingus Ah Um [Legacy Edition] (1959 , Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): Frantically label-hopping in the late 1950s, Mingus landed at Columbia for two albums: the title album here on the first disc, and the erratic follow-up, Mingus Dynasty, that fills most of the second disc. The former is an undoubted masterpiece. Mingus learned jazz from the ground up, playing trad with Kid Ory, swinging with Red Norvo, apprenticing with Duke Ellington, bopping with Bird and Max Roach, finding his own path through the avant-garde. The nine neatly trimmed songs on the original Mingus Ah Um take a postmodern tack on jazz history, with gospel welling up in "Better Get It in Your Soul," nods to "Jelly Roll" and "Bird Calls" and an "Open Letter to Duke" and a gorgeous remembrance of Lester Young called "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat." But they don't imitate the past; they subsume it, catapulting it into the future as urgent testimony, which was most explicit in "Fables of Faubus," heaping scorn on the segregationist governor of Arkansas. Mingus was never more Ellingtonian, but everything was updated: his septet thinner but more rambunctious, the gentility and elegance giving way to cleverness and fury. While the first disc -- even fleshed out with the edits restored and padded with redundant alternate takes -- was as perfect as jazz records get, the second slops back and forth between aimless sections and wildly inspired ones. The new edition omits three alternate takes from the 3-CD The Complete 1959 Columbia Recordings -- no great loss -- and it frames Mingus Dynasty better by starting it off with alternate takes to "Better Get It in Your Soul" and "Jelly Roll." A [single albums: Mingus Ah Um A+; Mingus Dynasty A-]
Miles Davis: Sketches of Spain [Legacy Edition] (1959-60 , Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): The third of three major collaborations between Davis and Gil Evans, following Miles Ahead and Porgy and Bess. Spiced with Spanish themes, leading off with Joaquin Rodrigo's slow and moody "Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio)" -- 16:20 on the original album -- and fleshed out with Evans compositions. The first disc leaves the album intact, signing off after 45:36. Evans keeps his cleverness under tight wraps, producing a subtle background tapestry that never distracts you from the leader's trumpet -- the saving grace here. The second disc adds 70:10 of alternate takes and miscellaneous scraps -- more of the same, but without the flow. B [single album: B+(**)]
Dave Brubeck: Time Out [Legacy Edition] (1959-64 , Columbia/Legacy, 2CD+DVD): Every song in a different time signature -- the sort of neat trick an egghead like Brubeck with the degree to back it up might do. The big surprise is how little notice you'd give to the concept, for the simple reason that the pieces seem so organic and complete. "Take Five" sounded so timeless it broke through the charts and sold over a million copies. Brubeck's popularity, like Keith Jarrett's a couple decades later, always seemed a bit excessive: not undeserved, just not fairly distributed. But you couldn't charge his group with selling out or pandering. Maybe you'd complain that Paul Desmond played the most simply gorgeous alto saxophone since Johnny Hodges, but that sounds more like a compliment. Time Out's success encouraged sequels -- the five discs collected in For All Time hold up pretty well (especially Time Further Out). A best-of might have made good filler for the second disc, but Legacy opted instead to plunder the previously unreleased live archives instead, picking from 1961, 1963, and 1964 sets at Newport. Mostly standard in the usual time -- "St. Louis Blues," "Pennies From Heaven," "You Go to My Head" -- they showcase a superb group fleet on their toes. Closes with slightly stretched versions of their two best-known Time Out classics, tying the package up neatly. As for the DVD -- 30 minutes of interview, performance footage, and an "interactive, multi-camera piano lesson" -- another day. A- [single disc: A]
Tito Puente: Dance Mania [Legacy Edition] (1956-60 , RCA/Legacy, 2CD): A Puerto Rican timbalero from Spanish Harlem, Puente jumped onto the Cuban bandwagon in the mid-1950s, releasing albums like Cuban Carnival and Cubarama before this breakthrough party album. The band is huge, the blaring brass rather clunky, and the beats a bit more basic than what the real Cubans were doing -- Pérez Prado, in particular, managed to sound more pop and at the same time more radical -- but the energy is cranked up high and the vocals exude passion. This package expands the original 12-cut 37:50 album to 22 cuts to fill the first disc, then offers Dance Mania Vol. 2, again pumped up from 12 to 23 cuts. The prime slice is slightly leaner and cleaner, but it's hard to nitpick the rest: more is truly more. A- [single albums: Dance Mania A-; Vol. 2 B+(***)]
Olatunji: Drums of Passion [Legacy Edition] (1959-66 , Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): One of the first albums of African music to appear in the US, no doubt because Babatunde Olatunji, a Yoruba from southwest Nigeria, got a scholarship to study at Morehouse College in Georgia, then moved on to New York, where he set up his percussion ensemble as a side project while studying public administration. With its dense percussion and crude, chantlike vocals, this seems geared to contemporary stereotypes of Africa, but it doesn't pander: it stands tall and forthright. The album became a huge bestseller. The band expanded, with some notable jazz names joining in on the bonus tracks: Clark Terry, Yusef Lateef, Jerome Richardson, Bud Johnson, Ray Barretto. Second disc features the long-out-of-print More Drums of Passion. Cut 7 years later, it seems less of a novelty, especially with the irresistible groove of "Mbira." A- [single albums: Drums of Passion B+(***); More A-]
Kenny Burrell: Prime Kenny Burrell: Live at the Downtown Room (1976-2006 , High Note): Six cuts as advertised, from a prime period between when Burrell recorded his two Ellington Is Forever volumes, but everyday fare, in an intimate quartet with the equally decorus Richard Wyands on piano. No Ellington there, but the seventh cut is a much later solo guitar take on "Single Petal of a Rose," which hardly seems out of place. B+(**)
Michael Occhipinti: The Sicilian Jazz Project (2008 , True North): Guitarist, has one of those web bios that offer no info before his professional debut in 1994, but presumably from Toronto, Canada -- at least his older brother, bassist Roberto Occhipinti, is. (Plus he has JUNO nominations, including one for an album of Bruce Cockburn songs.) Father may have been Sicilian. (Note postcard dated 1952, Palermo), but his musical interest goes back to 1954 field recordings by Alan Lomax. The weak spot here, as usual, is the vocals: Dominc Mancuso and Maryem Tollar, appropriately authentic as far as I know, sounds rather like flamenco, or a Sardinian I ran into once. Seven of nine cuts are powered with Louis Simao's accordion, Ernie Tollar on sax or flute, and (six cuts) Kevin Turcotte on trumpet. Two cuts substitute a string quartet, and the opener has everything, even an extra oud. B+(**)
Jerry Bergonzi: Simply Put (2008 , Savant): Tenor saxophonist, a mainstream blower from Boston who doesn't go in for fancy titles or concepts. He's happy working in front of piano-bass-drums, and you'll be happy too, because the point is to hear the sax. Bruce Barth (piano) joints Dave Santoro (bass) and Andrea Michelutti (drums), repeaters from last year's Tenor Talk, which I thought might have been his best yet. (25-plus albums since 1982; I've only heard a few recent ones, and some older side-spots, where he's always made a big impression.) No signs of decline here. He's on a roll. A-
Andrew Rathbun: Where We Are Now (2007 , SteepleChase): Saxophonist, plays tenor and soprano, has been rather prolific since 2000, recording for Fresh Sound New Talent and more recently SteepleChase -- third album there. (By the way, this is the first SteepleChase album I've received since starting Jazz Consumer Guide. They're an important Danish label, since the late 1970s a safe harbor for American expatriates starting with Dexter Gordon and Duke Jordan, with a small minority of European artists -- Piere Dørge, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Tete Montoliu are three who come to mind. Mostly mainstream postbop; deep catalog; a lot of things on my scrounging list.) Previous record (haven't heard it) was called Affairs of State, with songs themed on the Bush administration: "We Have Nothing but Tears," "Around the Same Circles, Again and Again," "5th Anniversary" (of 9/11), "Fiasco," "Folly (of the Future Fallen)." This one is a quintet: Nate Radley (guitar), George Colligan (piano), Johannes Weidenmuller (bass), Billy Hart (drums). Rathbun's tenor sax is a bit light and sly, slipping easily around the complex rhythm. Radley has some nice solo spots, and Colligan is superb. B+(***)
Jürgen Friedrich: Pollock (2007 , Pirouet): German pianist; looks pretty young judging from photo; AMG credits him with 8 records since 2000. This is a piano trio with bassist John Hebert and drummer Tony Moreno. One cover: "'Round Midnight"; two group credits, one by Friedrich and Moreno, two by Hebert, four by Friedrich. They all evince a delicate inside flow, quiet and meditative. B+(**)
Nicolas Thys: Virgo (2008 , Pirouet): Bassist, b. 1968, from the Netherlands, graduated from Hilversum Conservatory. First album, after ten or so side credits since 1998. Quintet, with Chris Cheek (tenor sax), Jon Cowherd (piano), Ryan Scott (guitar), and Dan Rieser (drums). Wrote all of the pieces. They have a light, propulsive feel, helped along by the guitar, with the sax fitting closely to the melodies and the piano straying a bit. B+(***)
François Carrier/Michel Lambert: Nada (2008 , Creative Sources): Canadian saxophonist, plays alto and soprano, and his long-time drummer sidekick, in a duet setting, running through 20 short exercises in 56:53. I've become a big ban, and have two of their records -- the trio Within on Leo and the 6-CD Digital Box on Ayler -- lined up for the next Jazz CG. This isn't quite as compelling, but doesn't disappoint as a catalog of ideas -- just roughly sketched out ones. B+(***)
Bobby Broom: Plays for Monk (2009, Origin): Guitarist, b. 1961. Seventh album since 1995, a trio with Dennis Carroll on bass and Kobie Watkins on drums. Eight Monk tunes, plus "Lulu's Back in Town" and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." Nice and clean, even with Monk being Monk. B+(*)
Andy Milne/Benoît Delbecq: Where Is Pannonica? (2008 , Songlines): Piano duets. I've run across both pianists before, generally finding their work exacting and impressive but much to my taste -- Delbecq's 2005 album, Phonetics, is the exception there, juiced up with Congo drums, sax and viola. This one is toned down, abstract even. The second piano often functions more like a bass, just more minimally. B
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Some corrections and further notes on recent prospecting:
Paul Meyers: World on a String (2009, Miles High): As the publicist patiently explained to me, the reason I couldn't find anything on this guitarist was that I had the name misspelled: Meyers, not Myers. Embarrassing mistake, especially since I made something of it. Went to his website -- even though Flash-only is a pain, I resolved not to complain, although all I got from his bio was lives in New York and digs Brazilian music, which could have been surmised from recruiting Helio Alves. Has a few past records, including his own website typo on the record "featuring Frank Weiss" -- album cover and photo are unmistakably Frank Wess.
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:
Two letters in The Wichita Eagle this morning. One, from Scott E. Blades, insists "George Tiller was no different from his killer." The chances that Blades knows anything about Tiller beyond what he's sucked up from the papers and talk radio are nil. The other letter is from a physician, Gayle Stephens, who knew Tiller and has something to say worth repeating:
Tiller could have used more testimonies like this while he was alive, but modesty, respect for his privacy, and a general reluctance to grapple with assholes are reasons why they weren't much in evidence. Plus most people, starting with his accusers, weren't inclined to look, or consider. In some ways, that is typical of the abortion conflict. The anti-choice side seeks to impose absolute rules on everyone regardless of context; for the pro-choice side context is everything. Absolute certainty regardless of context or consequences is impossible to argue with, as it doesn't allow any grounds for compromise. We should be smart enough to reject any such irrational propositions, but the persistence of the anti-choice movement shows that we aren't.
Saturday, June 13. 2009
Vincent Rossmeier: Scarborough: Krugman foments "left-wing hate": I'm not sure who Joe Scarborough is or where he's coming from, but his reaction to Paul Krugman's "The Big Hate" column (cited in the previous post) is knee-jerk juvenilia: you know, the sort of retort that seeks to answer a charge by simply repeating it, only louder. I don't even know what "left-wing hate" could mean these days. After all, for several decades now liberals were routinely lambasted for caring too much (especially for the poor), for being soft on crime and too chickenshit to stand up and fight the nation's wars, for wanting to offer therapy when punishment is called for, for being icky blobs of peace, love, and understanding -- and now, all of a sudden, those same people have turned into virulent haters. Why? Well, just because a couple of gun-toting psychopaths took their deep beliefs in right-wing causes a bit too far and went out and killed people, and now the formerly wishy-washy left has the gall to suggest that the right-wing pundits and politicos who championed those same causes, and who themselves have consistently supported all sorts of wars and repression, bear some responsibility for their followers.
It's certainly true that people are more sensitive to hatred directed their own way than they are to hatred of third parties, but if Scarborough thinks Krugman hates him he's being awfully thin-skinned -- suspiciously so if he really is a conservative. After all, look at what conservatives believe: that the poor deserve their fate, that trying to help people put their lives together is a hopeless indulgence, that our way of life can only be defended with overwhelming military force, that if in applying force we inadvertently kill innocent people matters little if at all, that government should never limit the rich in their pursuit of more riches (especially over things like pollution and global warming), but they have no qualms about using the government to prohibit private indulgences that they disapprove of (like drug use or sex). As this list shows, real conservatives are pretty tough characters. You'd think they'd be able to handle some hate, because they sure can dish it out.
On the other hand, when you see their pet projects result in an event of unseemly violence, what else can they do? It's not like we've seen any conservatives back off from their anti-choice stance, least of all to show the likes of Scott Roeder that their crimes will have no effect. No, they wrap themselves up in a ball and pretend to be the real victims, accusing other people of hating them. That ruse is both dishonest and irrelevant. It's dishonest because hatred and violence are so fundamental to the right-wing mindset, as least as currently manifested in the US. It's irrelevant because no matter how disgusted people of the left (at least as currently manifested in the US) get with some right-wingers, they never carry those feelings to the point of committing violent acts -- because, well, we don't believe in violence.
Hatred is a useless emotion for anyone committed to nonviolence, but calling a leftist's disgust and opposition hate may be the only way a right-winger can relate to it. That is one of the maddening things about the right: they can't just dislike something without feeling compelled to prohibit it; they can't stand to give anyone else a break without feeling cheated; the idea that we might be better off helping each other than ripping each other off is one they can't conceive; and when things don't go their way, they turn into shameless prevaricators, denying themselves even the honesty of their misconceptions. Still, the problem isn't that they are dumb and mean. Leftists generally respect people's right to be wrong. The problem comes when they seek the power to force their dumb and mean ideas on others -- especially when they do so on no more authority than possession of a gun. Then the least we can do is point out how the whole sick ball of wax is stuck together. Too bad if that hurts their feelings.
So chill out. Try to find a copy of Bill Sheffield's "I Don't Hate Nobody" (on Journal of a Shelf). The worst thing a leftist can do, after all, is to pick up some of the bad habits of the right.