Friday, July 31. 2009
Dan Eggen: Industry is generous to influential bloc. Uh, what was it I was saying about the Blue Dog Democrats and health industry money?
Andrew Leonard: The worst healcare reform option: Doing nothing: Links to Ezra Klein on Bill Kristol, Jonathon Chait on Martin Feldstein, and a Bloomberg article by Matthew Benjamin and Brian Faler, which among other things cites an estimate that unreformed and unchecked health care expenses will hit 20% of GDP by 2018. (Again, think of the whole national economy being strangled and swallowed by a giant boa constrictor.) Conclusion:
Paul Krugman: Why markets can't cure healthcare. A brief primer starting with Kenneth Arrow's classic paper, "Uncertainty and the welfare economics of health care. This has been discussed many times before -- Robert Kuttner wrote a whole book on it, Everything for Sale: The Virtues and Limits of Markets. The bottom line is that there is no theoretical and no historical/empirical basis for thinking that the present problems of the US health care system can be remedied by any sort of free market approach. You'd have to be stupid and/or blindsided by money to think otherwise.
Krugman has had a lot of good health care blog entries lately, as well as several columns, especially this one:
Paul Krugman: Health care realities. Krugman has been a steady voice on this issue, and this column hits many of the basics: at least as regards insurance and the government, as good a place to start as any. Read it. If I started quoting, I'd quote it all.
Nate Silver: Yes, the GOP's still out of touch. Quotes GOP Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) on how "nothing has had a greater negative effect on the delivery of health care than the federal government's intrusion into medicine through Medicare." Then does some polling, showing: 60 percent of people participating in Medicare rate it 9 or 10 on a 10-point scale (84 percent 7 or better) vs. 36-40 percent approval of private insurance plans; that 77 percent would like to see Medicare expanded to people aged 55 and older; that 58 percent would support Medicare-for-all (i.e., single-payer). That you can't find similar percentages in Congress is solely attributable to the influence of money there.
Matt Yglesias: Health insurance industry's strategic bribery. Good chart here, showing how the health insurance industry has spread its money around. Sure, the rich have a general Republican bias, but every year most of the money went to the majority party in Congress. The majority party is, after all, the one able to make or break the legislation that all that money rides on. Second point is that the totals have been going up and up, expanding even faster than the industry's take of the GDP. No breakdown here between liberals and Blue Dogs.
David Barstow: An Abortion Battle, Fought to the Death. Long New York Times piece on Dr. George Tiller and his struggles to keep his women's clinic open. Well on its way to book length. Barstow likes to characterize Tiller as a battler, one who fought back as much as he got. That's not really true. Tiller never killed anyone. Tiller didn't go around harrassing other people and their businesses. Moreover, Tiller didn't just provide abortions. He was a doctor who cared for his patients, even when carring called for performing an abortion. For the rest of us, he stood up for rights that in theory we have but that in practice are under constant assault. We make a big deal when soldiers die for our rights in some far away country. Tiller died for us, defending us against a much more real threat.
Thursday, July 30. 2009
It occurs to me that the problem with the Blue Dog Democrats is, in principle at least, pretty simple. All politicians need voters to get elected, but they also need financial contributors, and in some circumstances the money is much more important. The Blue Dogs almost always run in districts that could more than conceivably be won not just by a Republican but by a really nasty one. That saves the Blue Dog from any real chance of a challenge from the left, no matter how lukewarm or wishy-washy the candidate is. That also means the Blue Dogs have a big Democratic loyalist vote locked in -- maybe less than 50% but close enough to build on. So base voters aren't much of an issue for Blue Dogs. What really matters to them is that the Republicans don't run real strong candidates against them, and what deters opposition candidates more than anything is a big war chest of money. One thing I think you'll find that Blue Dogs are real good at sniffing out is a lot of money. There are two basic political things about health care reform: one is that it's an issue that voters, especially in the Democratic base, really care a lot about; the other is that there is an incredible amount of money riding on the outcome (16% of GDP is one dollar out of every six in the whole economy). The Blue Dogs are taking positions that make no logical sense except for their determination to pay back their sponsors -- e.g., they worry about the costs of things they don't want, while rejecting taxes on the rich to pay for those costs, and promoting higher payments and profits to the industry. They don't worry about pissing off their voter base because they know that if they raise enough money they'll be unbeatable.
Equations like this are one of the dominant features of US politics. It's always safe to be a Republican because the rich take care to support their partisans. The Democrats have had a tougher time with this, especially where labor unions have lost their grip. One result is that Democrats habitually look for candidates who can support their own campaigns. Another is that most rank and file Democrats and lots of non-partisans would put campaign finance reform at the head of any list of things to do when and if we ever get the chance. You'd think that with Obama in the White House and big Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress now would be that time, but I've yet to see them make any effort made in that direction. The top dogs in the Democratic party are there because they're top money raisers, and they get that money because they're good for business. In some cases that's not such a bad thing, but in health care it's deadly. There are lots of problems in health care, but the big one is that the industry has a boa constrictor grip on the economy, slowly, steadily devouring it -- 10% of GDP, 12%, 14%, 16%, any crystal ball into the future only shows larger numbers until the whole thing keels over and dies. If ever we needed to contain the interests of a select few to do something that practically everybody desperately needs it is in health care today.
Wednesday, July 29. 2009
The Wichita Eagle can't let go of the Henry Louis Gates case, at least on the opinion pages, with Cal Thomas and Clarence Page weighing in today after Leonard Pitts earlier this week. It's not like they have nothing else to talk about -- health care? Afghanistan? -- but this hits their comfort zone. Not clear whether it's a teachable moment, but it's a conjecturable one. Still, I have yet to read a thing about the "concerned citizen" who called the cops on Gates -- only occasional comments accepting that the call was proper. Still, I have to wonder, what sort of neighbor pays enough attention to notice Gates prying his door open but hadn't paid enough attention to know who was living in the house? One reason this occurs to me is that I know of another recent case, across the river in Boston, where someone sicked the cops on a friend who had come to town to help out on a move. The charge -- that he had a gun -- was purely fictitious and vindictive, called in by a drunken ex-girlfriend of the movee, but the result was that my guy was cornered and shaken down by cops waving their pistols in his face. They cleared it up quickly, sent him on his way, and had a talk with the woman who filed the false complaint. But you can't say that no harm was done. I know that I, for one, wouldn't have regarded the cops' guns as any less lethal or threatening as the guns of the robbers who broke in on us a few years back.
OK, my examples don't have a race angle, whereas the Gates case does. My own view is that most likely the cops were just being cops, and they would just as readily have pushed a white guy around as they did him. The difference is that Gates stood up for his rights, whereas I, for instance, would have figured that the safest way out of the problem would be to cower under their bullying. I think the race angle comes two ways. One is that Gates knows the whole story of emancipation and struggle for civil rights and managed from that to draw the courage to stand up for his rights -- something the cop couldn't handle. The other is the curious neighbor who caused this incident. Maybe we're stuck with cops being cops, but we should pay some attention when neighbors cease to be neighbors.
Update: Not sure, but I thought I overheard something about the person who sicked the cops on Gates on the TV news tonight. Walked in and saw a rather sorry-looking woman behind a bunch of microphones making excuses for herself -- so maybe that part of the story is finally getting examined. But before I figured out what was going on, the report cut to Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh complaining that Obama doesn't like white people, and someone I didn't recognize defending Obama by listing a bunch of white guys (most or all of whom are Jewish). This all strikes me as coming rather late in the day and lacking, uh, credibility: are they trying to tell me that a guy who works his way through Harvard Law, spends four years in the US Senate, and gets himself elected president of the United States has problems dealing with white people. Seems more likely to me that the problem with Beck and Limbaugh is personal.
Monday, July 27. 2009
Still stuck putting some final polish on the Jazz CG column. It should be on its way to the Village Voice tonight, but lots of other things are biding for my time. Started unpacking from my trip, trying to clean up loose ends left over from the cycle, but midweek I did something I had promised myself for after Jazz CG was done: signed up for Rhapsody's Unlimited whatever. Streamed through about 20 non-jazz albums -- things I had wanted to hear but didn't want to pay for -- occasionally going back to the jazz grind. The notes on the Rhapsody streams will be posted sooner or later -- at this rate sometime this week. Some jazz I want to check out on Rhapsody as well, but for now I'm mostly working off Christgau's CG lists, producing a sudden surge in my A-list-in-progress. I can confirm the following adds:
Wayne Hancock: Viper of Melody and Pet Shop Boys: Yes are high HMs, followed by Wussy, which everyone else continues to like more than I do. Not a real good method for reviewing records, but it satisfies an itch and provides a first pass of information.
More thoughts on Jazz CG next time.
Allen Toussaint: The Bright Mississippi (2008 , Nonesuch): A great record producer, especially with Minit Records in the 1960s and scattered acts into the 1970s like the Wild Tchoupitoulas, with a pretty sporadic six decade career as a recording artist tries his hand on a Joe Henry-produced trad jazz album. The songs offer few surprises -- even the Monk title song bends to the prevailing wind -- and Toussaint is neither an ambitious or impertinent pianist. But he gets expert help from Don Byron (clarinet), Nicholas Payton (trumpet), and Marc Ribot (uncharacteristically restrained acoustic guitar), and on one cut each Joshua Redman (tenor sax, impossible not to notice) and Brad Mehldau (who takes over piano on Jelly Roll Morton's "Winin' Boy Blues"). The album shifts slightly starting with the title track nine tunes in, closing with two Ellington songs sandwiching Leonard Feather's "Long, Long Journey." Redman runs the first Ellington ("Day Dream"), then Toussaint offers a typically sly vocal on the Feather -- the only vocal on the record. The finale is "Solitude" -- a poignant end if ever there was one. A-
Fred Hersch: Plays Jobim (2009, Sunnyside): Solo piano, aside from one cut with percussion. Focuses on some "lesser known" pieces. Hersch notes several sources of interest in Jobim, including a short stretch playing with Stan Getz. Basically, any jazz musician in the last 30-40 years was bound to bump into Jobim sooner or later, and Hersch has worked through enough songbooks to make this one inevitable. Still, I'm reminded that he took on Bill Evans nearly 20 years ago, and that one meant more -- not, I think, a coincidence that I'm reminded more of Evans here than of Jobim. B+(*)
Greg Wall's Later Prophets: Ha'Orot (2008 , Tzadik): Another group named after their first album. Basically a sax-piano-bass-drums quartet, with Wall playing a little clarinet, shofar, and something called a moseńo in addition to tenor and soprano. Most important is the spoken word by Itzchak Marmorstein, in English and (mostly) Hebrew, the gravity underscored by both Wall and Marmorstein appearing in the credits as Rabbi. The texts are from Rabbi Avraham Itzchak HaCohen Kook. Rav Kook, as the Ashkenazi chief rabbi in the British Mandate for Palestine up to his death in 1935, was a critical figure in reconciling at least some factions of orthodox Judaism to Zionism. His son, Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, went on to found the Gush Emunim settler movement which remains an important part of the Israeli right and a major obstacle to a peace. The politics may be irrelevant here (although I can't swear it is not). Rav Kook was a complex character, and the emphasis here (as far as I can tell) is on compassion, a worthy subject. The music is easier to follow. It carries the spoken word texts effortlessly, rising now and then to dramatic crescendoes much as Marmorstein's mostly sly recitation does. B+(*) [promo]
Marty Grosz: Hot Winds, the Classic Sessions (2008 , Arbors): The title, which can be read several ways, suggests that this has been pulled off someone's archival shelf, but the recording dates are recent. the "classic" left unexplained. Grosz plays acoustic guitar, banjo, and sings 5 of 15 cuts. He was born in 1930 in Berlin, the son of Georg Grosz, the legendary painter/caricaturist who fled the Nazis in 1932, settling in the US in 1933. Marty took to his new home, especially its trad jazz. He cut one record in 1959, one in 1986, and a steady stream since 1986. Famed for his humorous monologues, but none here. Dan Block and Scott Robinson are the Hot Winds, rotating through a range of clarinets and saxophones, with Robinson also playing cornet and echo horn. Bassist Vince Giordano occasionally switches to tuba and bass sax, and Panic Slim [aka Jim Gicking] adds trombone on 5 tracks. Easy going swing faves -- Ellington, Fats Waller, a lot of obscurities with one original. Not classic, but loose as a goose. B+(***)
Rozanne Levine & Chakra Tuning: Only Moment (2008 , Acoustics): B. 1945, mostly plays alto clarinet, studied with Perry Robinson, married Mark Whitecage. Didn't have much of a track record until the 1990s when she started performing under William Parker's umbrella, finally teaming up with Whitecage for the duo RoMarkable. Her Chakra Tuning group includes Whitecage, Robinson, and violinist Rosi Hertlein. Album starts and ends with solos, with four group cuts and four Whitecage duos in between. With Whitecage and Robinson mostly playing clarinet (some soprano sax, something called a 1/2 clarinet, some percussion) the layering can get dense or remain airy. The group improv ("Town Meeting") is a bit wobbly. I have more reservations about the title cut, with lyrics "inspired by The Yin Yoga Kit: The Practice of Quiet Power," sung by Hertlein in a quasi-operatic soprano -- a tour de force that's not really my cup of tea. B+(**)
Bobby Sanabria: Kenya Revisited Live!!! (2008 , Jazzheads): Drummer, grew up in South Bronx, of Puerto Rican lineage; graduated Berklee 1979; credits include Ray Barretto, Mongo Santamaria, Tito Puente, Larry Harlow, and Mario Bauzá. Cut a record in 1993 (New York City Ache) and several since 2000. Here he conducts the Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra in a live remake of Machito's 1957 Kenya, with Candido Camero returning from the original band. Big, brassy, lots of percussion, some solo spots for alto sax and trumpet -- Cannonball Adderley and Joe Newman appeared on the original album. Don't know how the original album stacks up in the Afro-Cuban Jazz pantheon, or even what Kenya has to do with it. B+(**)
Miroslav Vitous Group w/Michel Portal: Remembering Weather Report (2006-07 , ECM): In writing about Vitous a few years ago, it occurred to me that had he fallen in with a different crowd when he landed in New York c. 1969 he could have had a very different career. Certainly, there was nothing in his proper Czech communist/classical education that predisposed him to fusion. As happened, he fell in with Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul and wound up in Weather Report, at least through 1973's Sweetnighter. Now it seems like even in his memory he had a different career. I may be missing something -- I've always had a rather jaundiced view of the group -- but there's little or no obvious connection between this album and the old group. The music is new -- the "Variations on W. Shorter" takes the pre-WR "Nefertiti" as a starting point, and immediately follows it with a set of variations on Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman" -- and the group has a very different alignment: no keyboards or percussion, trumpet and tenor sax vs. Shorter often on soprano, and Portal on bass clarinet playing more off the bass. Only drummer Gerald Cleaver reminds me a bit of Peter Erskine, and that includes the bassist, who keeps this difficult, intricate music equidistant from all concerned. Not what I expected, which is reason enough to return to it later. [B+(**)]
Steve Kuhn Trio w/Joe Lovano: Mostly Coltrane (2008 , ECM): No complaints about the advertising here: eight Coltrane pieces, two by Kuhn, two common covers (but not so common as "My Favorite Things"; likewise, the originals don't include "Naima" or "Giant Steps"). Lovano plays the sax parts, sounding more like Lovano than like Coltrane, subbing tarogato for soprano. Kuhn played a bit with Coltrane way back around 1960, which has something to do with why he did this, but it's not clear what he's up to here. His solo spots are fine but not that interesting; same pretty much for Lovano. B+(*)
My Cat Is an Alien & Enore Zaffiri: Through the Magnifying Glass of Tomorrow (2009, Atavistic, CD+DVD): Well, aren't they all. Two brothers from Italy, Maurizio and Roberto Opalio, play alien guitar and astral guitar respectively, odd bits of percussion, and "alientronics" -- sounds more like old-fashioned transistors. They have a lot of records out since 1998, some under their respective names. Zaffiri is creditd with "real-time recording of reel to reel tapes" -- another old-fashioned touch. Two improv pieces of wobbly ambience, rather attractive, not very substantial. Comes with a DVD with two videos -- one a "duo video"; i.e., two shots side-by-side -- underscored with even more ambient music. Doesn't come with the drugs to make the DVD watchable. B+
Ralph Bowen: Dedicated (2008 , Posi-Tone): Mainstream tenor saxophonist, originally from Canada, has taught at Rutgers since 1990 and Princeton since 2000. Has four previous albums, starting in 1992, on Criss Cross, a Dutch label with conservative American tastes. Group includes Sean Jones (trumpet), Adam Rogers (guitar), John Patitucci (bass), and Antonio Sanchez (drums). Bowen's got a distinctive sound and take firm command on six originals (each dedicated to someone I don't recognize). Rogers does a nice job of filling in, and even Jones, who doesn't play much harmony, manages a solo with Bowen's authority. B+(**)
Mikkel Ploug/Sissel Vera Petterson/Joachim Badenhorst: Equilibrium (2008 , Songline): Danish guitarist, b. 1978, has a couple of previous records -- one on Fresh Sound New Talent from 2006 I rather liked. Belgium-born, Brooklyn-based Badenhorst plays clarinet, bass clarinet, and tenor sax, while Petterson, from Norway, sings, plays soprano sax, and dabbles in live electronics. I find the vocals a bit of a problem -- less so when they converge on song form than in just filling around, hornlike or in one of four "Chorale" pieces -- but can't quite dismiss them either. Instrumentally the pieces are intricately woven together. B+(**)
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
J.D. Allen Trio: Shine! (2008 , Sunnyside): Tenor sax trio, a real solid freebop outing, promising a bit more at the start. B+(**)
Paul Giallorenzo: Get In to Get Out (2005 , 482 Music): The pianist-leader has a couple of other groups/projects which appear to be more experimental -- electronics and such. This is a flashy postbop quintet with Josh Berman on cornet and Dave Rempis on various saxes. First two cuts rush out in torrents, with the pianist waxing Monkian and Rempis having a field day. Third one, "Porous (for Quintet)," starts slow and grim but unfolds dramatically. Only quibble I have is when they try to rein in the two horns into postbop harmony. Pretty impressive when they cut loose. B+(***)
David Binney: Third Occasion (2008 , Mythology): Alto sax journeyman, has appeared on 60 or so albums since 1989, 13 of his own, without making much of a splash until he won Downbeat's Rising Star poll at age 45 -- i.e., he's the sort of guy who sneaks up on you. Here he's got an all-star quartet (Craig Taborn, Scott Colley, Brian Blade; if not stars at least I don't have to tell you what they do), and slips in some extra brass so subtly I scarcely noticed. Nothing here especially turns me on, but every time I notice they're in a nice groove, everyone doing something that sounds right. B+(**)
Matt Renzi: Lunch Special (2007 , Three P's): Trio, the leader playing sax (presumably tenor) and clarinet, quite a bit of the latter. Very centered, all things moderated, has a feel for the world and a broad sense of its music. B+(***)
Bob Sneider & Joe Locke [Film Noir Project]: Nocturne for Ava (2007 , Origin): Subtle, slippery film music, played by an even-handed, unusually circumspect eight-piece group. Paul Hoffman's piano, John Sneider's trumpet, and Grant Stewart's tenor sax each have their moments, while the leaders lurk in the shadows. Haven't tried mapping the movies, which I suspect stray from film noir (at least as far as "Last Tango in Paris" and "Theme From Blow Up"), the composers including Ellington and Hancock and Marcus Miller, and three tunes by band members, presumably on film first. B+(**)
Ken Hatfield and Friends: Play the Music of Bill McCormick: To Be Continued . . . (2008, M/Pub): Neither guitarist Hatfield nor his mentor, composer McCormick, ring a bell for me. Hatfield has half a dozen or so self-released albums, reportedly drawing as much on folk and classical as jazz, and dabbling a bit in nylon strings. He plays impressively here, has a rhythm section that keeps things moving, and has a tasteful saxophonist (soprano and tenor) named Jim Clouse who hits the right highlights. Nice record, very playable, rather interesting. B+(***)
Fred Hersch Pocket Orchestra: Live at Jazz Standard (2008 , Sunnyside): Small pocket: just pianist, drummer, and either vocalist or trumpeter. Hersch and Richie Barshay play up a storm, and Ralph Alessi is superb as always. Vocalist Jo Lawry has a lot of spunk too, but I can't quite get into her voice or act. B+(**)
Stanley Jordan: State of Nature (2008, Mack Avenue): Release date 4/22/08 -- never got a final, so this has languished and now I'm just closing out the paperwork. Some pieces show promise, but overall too messy for my taste, like with the juxtaposition of Mozart with Silver. B [advance]
Sřren Kjćrgaard/Ben Street/Andrew Cyrille: Optics (2007 , ILK): Sly, dense little piano trio, some soft noodling and some edgier stuff. The leader is a young Danish pianist who seems to be affiliated with the label. The others are pros who keep this on the up and up. B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:
Thursday, July 23. 2009
Matt Yglesias: Poverty Will Always Be With Us Until We Do Something About It: Check out the chart, "Poverty Rate, 1959-2007": not only the big drop from 1959-69 coinciding with Michael Harrington's The Other America and a spate of Democratic programs trying to do something about poverty, but the roller coaster afterwards.
Aside from Nixon, who's a somewhat anomalous Republican in this regard, note poverty rises with the coming of the Ford, Reagan, Bush, and Bush administrations, and drops with Carter and Clinton. There is a secondary effect having to do with overall performance, which is why the latter half of Reagan's reign sees a slight drop. It's also likely that Bush II's bump has more to do with the economy than with administration policy. The chart is baselined at 11% because no one has gone lower. The drop from 11% to 0% would be more difficult than going from 22% to 11%, but the assumption that it's not doable says more about the mental blinders conservatives work under than anything else.
I imagine there's a similar chart somewhere for the 1930s, a time when government -- at least after FDR took over -- was exceptionally proactive at fighting poverty. The conservative predeliction for inaction leads to all sorts of rationalizations, but the only proof they have to offer is their conviction, which looks pretty pathetic compared to what people who care and try manage to accomplish.
Andrew Leonard: How to Upgrade Human Values. Comments on a paper by John E. Roemer, Changing Social Ethos Is the Key. I was especially struck by this, which is a line of thought I've been moving toward:
Conservatives will blow a gasket at this notion, but people change all the time. On the other hand, greed (for instance) causes so many problems it's easy to see how casting it into disfavor (as had long been done) is a simpler solution than trying to rejigger the incentives to make greed less destructive.
Of course, with conservatives it all depends on who's getting helped. It's hard to find conservatives who objected to deficits used to fund tax cuts, imperial wars, and plain old patronage when Bush was in the White House. They may be convinced that government can't help the poor, but they work themselves into a frenzy every time the rich need government action to boost their bottom line.
Andrew Leonard: Joe Stiglitz's Last Minute White House Party Invite. A different set of issues, but wanted to keep this link. Leonard quotes Michael Hirsh reporting on Stiglitz:
Tuesday, July 21. 2009
I took my car into the bodyshop of a big Ford dealer here in town -- had a minor accident on the vacation, no one hurt, the car was empty at the time -- mostly because my cousin runs the shop. Not sure it saves me any money or gets me a better job, but at least it's an excuse to see a guy I practically grew up with and don't see often enough. Cordial chit chat, a bit about the insurance check, then he drops a comment that if I parked it in the bank to get some interest, Obama would just tax it away anyway. I didn't have the presence of mind to point out that I'm not in a tax bracket where I have anything to worry about from Obama. I doubt if he is either, but he's caught hold of a virus that's been going on around Republican America. I noted the same virus -- the same off-the-cuff remark -- from a cousin in Idaho, who worked most of his life as a welder and electrician and lives now on a small pension and social security: there's no doubt that Obama's tax proposals will come anywhere near him, but he thinks so. He even went on to explain that he thinks Obama is out to undermine US sovereignty so we'll wind up subject to a "new world order" -- I tried explaining how the only US presidents who ever talked about such things were named Bush, but that did little good (other than to evoke a few snorts about Bush).
These two people are decent, generous, upstanding citizens; people I've known most or all of my life, people I like a lot, people I can talk to for hours about almost anything else with pleasure. (That is, we're not talking about my wingnut uncle here: the guy who thinks that the current recession was caused not by the subprime bubble but by the recent downturn in capital executions. Actually, if you can steer him away from politics he can be funny and charming too, although it's kind of hard to do.) You can't just explain Obama's actual position to these people. They're convinced he's out to tax them, and to do all sorts of nefarious things to them -- needless to say, the Idaho cousin fears Obama is after his guns. (A big job, given that there are more guns and more dead animals in his house than I could count.) There's no real reason to these assertions. They're just things these people are convinced of, and nothing you can say will phase them.
You run across similar things in the press, picked up or spouted from talk radio or the usual suspects in Congress, but it's shaking to hear them repeated by real people. What I find most disturbing isn't how little they understand but how certain they are of what they think. I suppose I'm especially ineffective at rebutting them because there's very little with Obama that I'm certain of. I think he's made a lot of little mistakes, but it's never been clear how much of that is conviction and how much is pragmatism. Still, the range of uncertainty here is far outside what the right is charging. Clearly, if he wanted to nationalize banks, he wouldn't have bent over backward to avoid doing so. If he wanted to raise taxes he wouldn't have stuffed so many tax cuts into his stimulus bill. If he wanted to socialize medicine he wouldn't have put anything but a public option in his health care bill. If he wanted to gut the armed forces he wouldn't have increased spending on them. Those are all things that not only could he have moved further to the left than he did; they are things he could have made a real strong case for moving to the left on. He didn't. I can't tell you why, but I am pretty certain that the reason he's not moving to the left on these and many other issues -- indeed, he's beating a retreat on civil liberties issues like Guantanamo -- is most certainly not that he's busy working to destroy the established order in the United States of America.
Cass Sunstein has a new book out called Going to Extremes: How Like Minds Unite and Divide which argues that groups become more polarized and extremist when they only talk to themselves. Anyone who's been to sectarian leftist meetings in the 1970s has seen this effect, but never on the scale of the right today -- either in terms of the size of the group or its derangement from reality. For instance, the bestselling book in America today is a hysterical rant by Dick Morris and Eileen McGann, titled How Obama, Congress, and the Special Interests Are Transforming . . . a Slump into a Crash, Freedom into Socialism, and a Disaster into a CATASTROPHE, or Catastrophe for short. Quoting from the "product description" at Amazon:
I suppose when I was young I might have been tempted to respond, "I'd like some of what he's been drinking," but now I just want to leave the room. In theory I like the idea of respecting all points of view, of interacting with all sorts of people, of making an effort to at least see where they're coming from. That is part of the reason I enjoy visiting the right-leaning segments of my extended family -- rest assured that there are also left-leaning segments. But some arguments just flunk the most basic of sanity tests. They're beyond being taken seriously.
Monday, July 20. 2009
This has been a very frustrating week, but I suppose I got enough done to call it good and declare the 20th Jazz Consumer Guide cycle wrapped up and finished. I had hoped to spend the week unpacking my vacation cases, reviewing all those second round albums, playing a handful of new ones I thought I really should check out, writing up reviews of previously rated records, and working up my ever unpopular surplus file. I managed to do, well, a little of each -- most cases very little. Felt lousy all week (still do), with bach aches making it painful to listen and (especially) to sit at computer and write. Words came slow, and at this point I'm pretty disappointed with them. I can't tell you how many records I wound up playing 4-6 times in a row waiting for the words to come. In the end, though, I had so much written that the biggest task has been to cut the draft down to the allotted space. As of now, I have 48 albums/13 features in 1795 words ready to go, with 55 albums/21 features in 2145 words left over for next time (or the time after that). Even so, I expect that we'll wind up posting a couple of features and a bunch of honorable mentions on the website only, like last time.
Lots of things are getting me down, but the space crunch is the most persistent. With the Voice unable or unwilling to run a page more than once every three months, I keep getting further and further backed up. The backlog keeps growing each column: a couple of years ago I'd go into each cycle with 30-40% left over, but now we're up to 150%. This results in long delays (e.g., I wound up holding Zaid Nasser's Escape From New York back a third or fourth time, so the review will come out some two years after the record -- next time, I promise). I'm also find myself slipping more A- records into the honorable mentions (4 now and 4 next time), especially where I can find a single line that hits the right note. I'm writing shorter to try to squeeze more in, and that isn't necessarily good. (Christgau is actually writing longer Consumer Guide entries since he moved to the web -- may also help that he gets paid by the word, whereas I get a fixed sum that has actually shrunk over time.) And I wind up kicking more and more honorable mentions out in my surplus file. Perhaps worst of all, I suspect I'm not seeking out as much interesting stuff as I should. The Jazz Prospecting count for this cycle is 226, down slightly from 230 last time, down a lot from the 293 and 291 counts of the previous cycles (240 and 259 before that). I'm not sure that in itself proves much -- the 290+ cycles were longer than the last two, which started with big backlogs. But one anecdote may be telling: the only musicians I recall writing to directly in the last six months was Larry Ochs, who kindly sent a pile of recent records. From that I got an A-list feature (Rova's The Juke Box Suite) and three honorable mentions (one another A-). I'm embarrassed that I've had to kick them all back until next time. That sort of delay doesn't give me much drive to track down others, even though the results would clearly be worthwhile. I never did a lot of begging musicians, but I used to do more than I've done recently.
Still need to go back and polish the draft a bit, but it should be headed to the Voice soon. They're expecting to publish a column sometime in August. Whatever overflow there is will run web-only, like last time. I figure I'll spend the next week or two doing what I had planned for the last few weeks: unpacking my cases, sorting out the backlog, and playing a few new things. The ungraded queue stands at 160 records, about where it usually is. I'm pretty worn out, so this may be a good time to coast a bit, work on some other long-delayed projects, and recover.
Satoko Fujii/Myra Melford: Under the Water (2007 , Libra): Two jazz pianists in three duos and a solo apiece, recorded at Maybeck Studio -- home of Concord's 30-plus volume solo piano series from the early 1990s, now deleted. Fujii and Melford started recording around then, but didn't get invites, less because they were unknown than because they were far out. The studio did have good pianos, and the tones ring out here, as does some extra percussion coaxed from the hardware. The solos lay out their kits nicely, including a barnstorming run by Fujii. The duets are more respectful, often with one rumbling on the bottom end while the other waxes eloquent. B+(***)
Joe Lovano Us Five: Folk Art (2008 , Blue Note): Quintet, a new working band with two drummers (Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela), bass (Esperanza Spalding), and piano (James Weidman). Lovano strays a lot from his tenor sax -- his website even has a picture of him playing two horns Kirk-style, a straight alto sax and a tarogato -- for a slippery, unsettled feel. The rhythm section helps to grease the skids. I'm less impressed with Weidman, who fills up a lot of space with fast but uninteresting bebop lines. Most likely a promising group that hasn't found itself yet, but maybe I just haven't found them. [B+(**)]
Larry Ochs/Sax & Drumming Core: Out Trios Volume Five: Up From Under (2004 , Atavistic): Ochs, best known from Rova, plays tenor and sopranino sax. The rest of the trio -- a/k/a Drumming Core -- consists of two drummers: Scott Amendola and Don Robinson. Amendola plays in Nels Cline Singers and has a few good albums of his own. Robinson is another SF drummer, with one record I haven't heard (on CIMP) and side credits with Glenn Spearman, What We Live, and a few others. Trio has a previous album, The Neon Truth, on Black Saint (haven't heard). Avant sax-drum duos tend to work (if they work at all) on two levels: athletic prowess and telepathic communication. Doubling up on the drums evens the balance (as long as nobody trips up), and pushes Ochs even harder. No big deal, but probably the best example of his free-form playing I've heard thus far. A-
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Béla Fleck: Throw Down Your Heart: Tales From the Acoustic Planet Vol. 3: Africa Sessions (2009, Rounder): This is the first Fleck album (admittedly, I haven't heard many) that sustains my interest, but doesn't prove much other than the adage that there's lots more to Africa than we've even begun to imagine. Fleck takes his banjo back to its mother continent where it blends in seamlessly, especially in rural folk backwaters like Uganda and Tanzania. Not that he didn't lean on a few stars for connections -- the Malians have some star power, and D'Gary and Vusi Mahlasela are recognizable if idiosyncratic names. But it's ultimately an Afrofolk curiosity, like the Kaiser-Lindley Malagasy albums. Not knowing any better, that's good enough. A-
Jay Clayton: The Peace of Wild Things: Singing and Saying the Poets (2007 , Sunnyside): Vocalist, b. 1941 in Youngstown, OH, has a strong reputation based on at least a dozen albums, tends to get grouped with Jeanne Lee and Sheila Jordan. I'm way behind the learning curve, with this only the second of her albums I've heard. I messed up my original note, thinking she was British (Penguin Guide loves her) and misreading the subtitle (bad eyes, tightly kerned type). I note though that Wikipedia attributes her albums to Jane Clayton, so maybe she's accident prone. More saying than singing here, accompanied by thin, atmospheric electronics; makes for slow going, not delivering much unless you're paying close attention. Clayton and Lee are good for one lyric each. The other poets are e.e. cummings (5 cuts), Lara Pellegrinelli (1), and Wendell Berry (1). Liked this better the first pass. B
Some more re-grades as I've gone through trying to sort out the surplus:
The Matthew Shipp Trio: Harmonic Disorder (2008 , Thirsty Ear): A [previously: A-]
Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York: Summer Suite (2007 , Libra): A [previously: A-]
For this cycle's collected Jazz Prospecting notes, look here.
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week (including leftovers from vacation):
Sunday, July 19. 2009
Some links I've noticed over the last few weeks (when I wasn't paying much attention) but thought I should note (in case I get some time to look at them again):
Friday, July 17. 2009
Haven't felt up to blogging since I got back from my "vacation" -- wouldn't have had much time anyway. One thing I have been doing is reading about the Great Depression and Roosevelt's 100 Days -- Adam Cohen's Nothing to Fear on the latter, following Timothy Egan's The Worst Hard Time -- and thinking a bit on what's similar and what isn't. Started to write a note on Paul Krugman's Boiling the Frog column and his somewhat wonkier blog post on how Deficits Saved the World. One thing the latter shows is that the speculative bubble that caused our recession was as large and its collapse was as powerful as the one that caused the Great Depression. That we don't seem to be as bad off this time is because absorbed much of the shock, partly because the Reagan-Bush Republicans never managed to destroy all of the New Deal-Great Society safety net -- e.g., they never even contemplated getting rid of deposit insurance -- but also because the sheer size of the public sector dampened the disaster. As Krugman put it:
One downside of all this is that we're not as desperate for reform as we were in 1933 when Roosevelt became president. Exactly why is rather complicated -- Krugman's sense of our insensitivity to slowly mounting catastrophes is one part of the reason -- but one difference is that the reform president's hecklers this time are not just moaning. They're circling for the kill. Josh Marshall, at TPM, reports:
That may be true, but it seems perverse to entertain that thought, much less gloat over it. Health care is one of those frog boilers: in 1992 it was already scandalous that it consumed 14% of US GDP, but since then it has continued to gobble up the economy, now up to 16% of GDP. (What was it when Truman's first attempt was thwarted? 5-6%, I guess.) Absent significant reform, it only stands to keep growing, devouring more and more of the economy. At what level this becomes intolerable is hard to say. Evidently, the opponents of reform don't think the feel the water's heat yet, or are so preoccupied with the politics they don't care about the issues. Those who stand to profit from the status quo are one thing. For DeMint all that matters is making Obama look bad. The irony here is that the reason Obama would look so bad if he fails is precisely because the issue is so crucial. Reasonable people will blame opponents like DeMint if that happens, and give Obama another chance -- especially if he comes back with a stronger program (like single-payer) and takes it to the people.
Monday, July 13. 2009
Well, the idea that I had two weeks ago -- that I would pack just enough CDs for the trip as I'd need to finish this cycle's Jazz CG column, and that somehow I'd find time to sort through them, fill in a few gaps, and divvy up the mostly-finished draft -- has fizzled pretty much completely. That's now my task for next week. For now, I'm back in Wichita -- dead tired, back aching, stomach queasy, a lot of stuff to unpack and sort out, plus a few new headaches to deal with. Can't yet say whether it was a good or bad trip. Still has a chance to right itself in my memory now that the worst is over. Did enjoy seeing some people I've much missed over the last few years. Saw some more/less spectacular landscape as well.
Will return next week with some prospecting and further news.
Monday, July 6. 2009
On the road this past week, with pretty limited internet access, and not a lot of energy to get on computer and write. Saw some aging relatives, who probably had the same sense of me. Was blessed with an almost total news blackout. Finished reading Natalie Angier's fussy science book, The Canon, then dove into Timothy Egan's The Worst Hard Time, on the dust bowl in the great depression -- something parts of my family experienced up close. Also thinking about Obama-Roosevelt analogies: one reason Obama is having trouble getting traction right now is that tattered remnants of Roosevelt's reforms have kept us from experiencing the worst that could have come from last year's financial collapse. But also we haven't yet come anywhere near as prone to blame the hard times on the rich -- who thus far have pretty much gotten a conceptual free ride.