Wednesday, June 30. 2010
My 23rd Jazz Consumer Guide is in the Village Voice this week. Seems like ancient history here, given that the draft was done more than a month ago, and some reviews (e.g., Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra) have been languishing in the files for over a year. On the other hand, the distance helps me appreciate the results. As I read back through these short reviews, I find myself thinking, "wow, did I write that?" Editing helps, also concentration. I write so much off-the-cuff crap in Jazz Prospecting that I sometimes wonder if I can write at all -- at least write about music, a rather alien subject for mere words.
The other sensation I get from re-reading this is pleasure, as I recall the records -- many I haven't replayed since I wrote them up. That extends well down into the HMs: the top three are A-list but I cut them short for space, and while they decline slightly from there -- you can find better from Bergonzi, Ware, and Person, but not much better from Bowen. Tribecastan isn't as satisfying as the concept suggests, and Minasi doesn't quite live up to his title, but those are minor cavils. At that point, lots of other comparable records went into the surplus, so those may have survived because they were printworthy. While I'm unhappy with my Jazz Prospecting writing, it fills its functional role.
One good thing is that everything in the draft made it to print -- except, I think, for a couple words on Frisell that got rid of an extra line. So nothing more gets pushed back even further. The two pick hits, Stanko, the two duds, and a few HMs (Allison, Asherie, Bergonzi, Healey, Ibrahim, and Ware) are 2010 releases; the rest are 2009 (except carried over from 2008: Blink, New Jazz Composers Octet, and Stapp). So lead times remain long, but the music doesn't go away or depreciate (much), and the notion that everything that matters happens on release day is contemptible.
Next one is essentially done, although I'm still sorting through the incoming mail and have no idea where the pick hits and duds will fall -- just scads of good records deserving mention sooner or later.
Don't have all of the associated paperwork done yet, but I should post two links for context:
PS: Added cover images, lifted from the Voice scans, a bit larger than my normal source. Moved my working notes from the print/flush files into the notebook, which probably does you no good but makes it easier for me to search for them. (Better solutions are still on the drawing board.) Send out my "publicist's letter" -- if you didn't get one and think you should (i.e., if you send me music) email me and I'll add you to the list. (I do a very poor job of maintaining this list. Again, better solutions are on the drawing board. Also, if you're a fan and follow this site regularly, you really aren't missing anything not being on the list.) Updated the chronological index and the artist index files. The latter tells me that I've reviewed 820 records thus far. (The most commonly reviewed artist is Ken Vandermark with 16 records, 12 A-listed, although there are actually more since I'm only sorting by the first name -- you probably knew that already.)
Tuesday, June 29. 2010
Gail Collins: General McChrystal's Twitters. Satire, presumably, but rings true, especially in the casual dismissal of the writer: "In Paris with my Kabul posse -- Bluto, Otter, Boon, Pinto, Flounder. Plus some newbie. Guys call him Scribbles." "Team America is partying! Bluto's doing his impression of Joe Biden. Scribbles taped the whole thing -- get ready for laughs when we get home." "Scribbles wants to come, too. Told him only if he buys the next two cases."
Ray McGovern: Obama Misses the Afghan Exit Ramp. Opening lines: "Has it occurred to President Barack Obama that Gen. Stanley McChrystal might actually have wanted to be fired -- and, thus, rescued from the current march of folly in Afghanistan, a mess much of his own making?" I can't say as it occurred to me -- seems to me that McChrystal's nature is more like the one Gail Collins painted above, one that didn't take a Rolling Stone reporter seriously until the ink dried. If you want clandestine motives, it seems just as likely that Obama or someone close to him wanted McChrystal out of the way and told him it'd be good PR to plant an in-depth profile in a hip magazine. We'll know more when McChrystal, relieved of his command and now on his way to a comfy early retirement, writes his inevitable book. If he stays in character, he'll be whining about how folks back in Washington backstabbed him on the verge of success. On the other hand, he could write something actually interesting: about how clear the answers seemed back when he was scheming in the Pentagon, yet how impossible they turned out in the real Afghanistan.
The article has some other gaffes -- like speculation that Petraeus and/or Clinton might run against Obama if he falters as a hawk -- but the title is spot on, pointing out that Obama could have used this moment to start untangling us from Afghanistan, but instead used it to reiterate his failed policies and dashed hopes:
We've seen this already in how the huzzahs for Obama's embrace of Petraeus have almost invariably been accompanied by pleas to forget about the July 2011 withdrawal "start." Indeed, if he misses the next exit ramp, it seems likely that Obama will be running for reëlection in 2012, campaigning exclusively at VFW conventions and military bases, hounded by protesters kept at a safe distance -- pretty much a rerun of Bush in 2004, or LBJ in 1968.
Gareth Porter: Why Petraeus won't salvage this war. Well, because it's unsalvageable -- even Petraeus knows that, even if he can't say as much. Porter argues that Petraeus isn't inflexibly wedded to any strategy, and was willing to pull the plug on the Iraq Surge until he figured he could bluff his way politically. Also that he remains committed to one goal: salvaging his own reputation.
Andrew J Bacevich: Endless war, a recipe for four-star arrogance. Recalls America's traditional antipathy to standing armies and their corrosive effects on democracy, something which had seen axiomatic from George Washington to George Marshall. Yet now we have one, increasingly estranged from most of America:
Of course, it's not just the military. There's a huge posse of self-serving experts and flacks dedicated to keeping the money flowing, and politicians find them irresistible, even when they march headlong into a foolish fiasco like Afghanistan. For years and years now we've debated how to "save" Afghanistan, when the only thing the military cult really wanted to save in Afghanistan is their own raison d'être -- 9/11 raised the question of why do we spend $500 billion a year on a military that utterly failed to defend us, but rather than answer that question we've let them con us into $1 trillion a year. Start cutting back there and who knows where it might lead? You might find that cutting back to nothing solves everything, not least this praetorian cult that has eaten away our democracy and left us hopeless, confused, and stupid.
If Porter is right, Petraeus (and with his cover Obama) will try to extricate us from Afghanistan, mostly to try to salvage an army that is being proven worse than useless there. Bacevich wants to go further and unwind the military cult that got us there in the first place.
Monday, June 28. 2010
Rob Harvilla confirms that Jazz Consumer Guide will run in The Village Voice this week. Should be on the streets in New York on Wednesday. They wanted to slightly truncate one review, but it sounds like all the records made it in.
Working through my various trays, even pulling one record from the bottom priority set, and a couple of vocals. Was prepared to consign the new old Art Pepper to superfluous high-B+ status but the last two cuts were impossible to deny. Mail deliveries seem to be erratic, but a lot of uncatalogued stuff showed up today.
The Jim Baker/Mars Williams album was an anomaly: something I played/rated long ago, misfiled, forgot about, rediscovered, accidentally gave a second chance. I get letters now and then urging me to listen further to records, and they are almost always fruitless. I don't doubt that there are records I'd move up on if I gave them more time, but I'm surprised by how far I moved this time. Only similar case I can think of was a John Butcher album that went the other direction.
Steve Davis: Images (2009 , Posi-Tone): Trombonist, b. 1967 in Binghampton, NY, studied with Jackie McLean, who steered him to Art Blakey. Looks like he has about 18 records since 1996 (mostly for Criss Cross; his MySpace page says 13, AMG lists 17 and misses this), more than 100 side credits. This is a sextet, three horns (Josh Evans on trumpet/flugelhorn, Mike DiRubbo on alto sax) with piano, bass, and drums. Big, brash postbop outing, a lot of bounce to it. Not sure why I don't find it more appealing: too bright? not enough trombone? Don't think the problem is DiRubbo, who's choice for an album dedicated to Jackie McLean. B+(*)
Vincent Herring & Earth Jazz: Morning Star (2010, Challenge): No recording date. Credited with "saxophone" -- both alto and soprano are pictured in booklet, and that's his basic kit. Has a steady stream of records since 1990, when he broke in and seemed likely to be a major force, but I haven't heard much since then. Group includes Anthony Wonsey on piano, Richie Goods on bass, Joris Dudli on drums, with Danny Sadownick adding percussion on 6 of 10 tracks. After initial misdirection on "Naima," this soon settles into a funk groove album, with Goods the prime mover, Wonsey playing what sounds like electric piano. Wonsey wrote three songs, Dudli two, Goods one, Herring only one -- the one he sounds most eloquent on. B+(**)
John Fedchock NY Sextet: Live at the Red Sea Jazz Festival (2008 , Capri): Trombonist, b. 1957, based in New York, mostly identified with his New York Big Band which first appeared on record in 1992, and appears to still be active. Same basic sextet lineup as Steve Davis uses: trumpet-trombone-sax horn line, piano, bass, drums. Scott Wendholt plays trumpet, Walt Weiskopf tenor sax, Allen Farnham piano, David Finck bass, Dave Ratajczak drums (all but Weiskopf and Finck from the Big Band). More of a swing player than Davis, especially with Farnham, which may be why he can run the horns in unison without cloying. B+(***)
3ology: With Ron Miles (2008 , Tapestry): Longmont, CO-based trio: Doug Carmichael on saxophones, Tim Carmichael on basses, Jon Powers on drums. Looks like they have two previous albums (or CDRs), an eponymous one in 2007 and Out of the Depths in 2008, but they had nothing to do with a 1995 Konnex album called 3-Ology (Santi Debriano, Billy Hart, Arthur Blythe). Miles plays cornet and has a substantial discography that far transcends his Colorado base. He adds an extra dimension here, but the group really hums even when he lays out. Doug Carmichael plays interesting, aggressive freebop sax, while Tim Carmichael keeps a steady rhythmic buzz going on bass. A-
Aldo Romano: Origine (2009 , Dreyfus Jazz): Drummer, b. 1941 in Belluno, Italy, but moved to France in 1950s and has been long based in Paris. Has a couple dozen albums under his own name since 1977, and a lot of credits -- AMG, which misses a lot in Europe, has a long page starting with Gato Barbieri and Don Cherry in 1965, Steve Lacy in 1966, Rolf Kuhn in 1967, Joachim Kuhn and Steve Kuhn in 1969. Romano composed these pieces, probably over the course of his career, with Yves Simon adding lyrics to "Jazz Messengers" which Romano sings in a touchingly offhand way. Lionel Belmondo arranged the pieces for a large orchestra -- no strings but flutes, English and French horns, bassoon, and tuba, along with the usual reeds, limited brass, piano, bass, and drums -- which the notes fairly describe as "sumptuous." B+(**)
Aruán Ortiz Quartet: Alameda (2006 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Pianist, b. 1973, from Santiago de Cuba, passed through Spain and France before moving to US in 2003, to study at Berklee and wind up in New York. Cut an album of Cuban standards in 1996, a trio in 2005, and now this augmented quartet. The extra is tenor saxophonist Antoine Roney, who joins in on three cuts and gets a "featuring" shout out on the cover. The quartet includes Eric McPherson on drums, Peter Slavov on bass, and Abraham Burton on alto sax. Roney's the better known name, and I like him well enough, but Burton carries this record, as he has regularly done throughout his career. Ortiz plays some electric. Doesn't make much of his Cuban roots, but I don't doubt he could. B+(**)
Rosario Giuliani: Lennie's Pennies (2009 , Dreyfus Jazz): Alto saxophonist, b. 1967 in Terracina, Italy. Tenth album since 1997. Mainstream piano-bass-drums quartet, with Pierre de Bethmann also playing electric piano. Bright, bouncy, beautiful tone especially on classics like "How Deep the Ocean," some fast bebop turns. B+(**)
Trichotomy: Variations (2007 , Naim Jazz): Piano trio, from Australia: Sean Foran on piano, Pat Marchisella on bass, John Parker on drums. First album, or third if you count two released in Australia under the name Misinterprotato. One track adds violin-viola-alto sax; another adds trumpet-electronics. Foran composed 5 pieces, Parker 4, and one was a joint improv. They have a brash, beatwise, populist feel, not unlike EST or Neil Cowley, and it suits them well. B+(***) [July 13]
Prime Picks: The Virtuoso Guitar of Larry Coryell (1998-2003 , High Note): Robert Christgau once wrote: "Larry Coryell is the greatest thing to happen to the guitar since stretched gut." But looking through his Consumer Guides, I don't see any Coryell albums that Christgau actually liked much -- unlike John McLaughlin, Sonny Sharrock, and James Ulmer -- and he seems to have given up listening shortly after 1979. This samples five 1998-2003 albums, with two solo cuts and several small groups that hop around randomly -- two with trumpet, two with vibes, four with John Hicks on piano, two "Power Trio" cuts with bass and drums. Best thing is the guitar, as silvery as Coryell's hair. B+(*)
Corey Christiansen Quartet: Outlaw Tractor (2008 , Origin): Guitarist, b. 1971, father taught guitar at Utah State for many years; moved to St. Louis where he was AR director at guitar-oriented Mel Bay for seven years, then eventually moved back to Utah, where he is Director of Curriculum for The Music School. Third album since 2004. Guitar-sax-organ-drums quartet. I run across a dozen-plus such albums every year and usually have little trouble dismissing them, but this is one of the better ones, and surprisingly it's not David Halliday's sax that stands out but Pat Bianchi's organ -- by now, surely the most clichéd of all instruments. Guitar grooves too. B+(**)
Peter Epstein & Idée Fixe: Abstract Realism (2008 , Origin): Alto saxophonist here, plays soprano elsewhere. Had a 2005 album, Lingua Franca, which made JCG A-list, and another album this year, The Dark, by EEA, which made the dud list. This isn't a return to form so much as yet another bold move in some other direction. There are points of electronic drone where this sounds industrial -- Andy Barbera's guitar, and possibly Sam Minaie's bass, are suspects, along with the also unknown drummer Matt Mayhall. But mostly Epstein labors mightily against dark tableaus. This wallows a bit, but when he's working he makes a strong impression. Two "special guests" also play reeds: Brian Walsh on bass clarinet, Gavin Templeton on alto and soprano sax. No idea what they're doing here. B+(***)
Wellstone Conspiracy: Motives (2009 , Origin): Quartet, new group name but familiar components: Brent Jensen on soprano sax, Bill Anschell on piano, Jeff Johnson on bass, John Bishop on drums. Anschell and Jensen each wrote three of seven originals; Johnson wrote one, and Anschell arranged Billy Strayhorn's "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing" for the closer. Jensen has developed into the finest mainstream soprano sax specialist around, so normal here you'd hardly guess what he's playing. The others are solid pros, a reputation the album consolidates without adding much to. B+(**)
Mark O'Connor: Jam Session (2000-04 , OMAC): Whiz-kid bluegrass fiddler, b. 1961, won some prizes when he was young, one result being that Country Music Foundation's compilation of his 1975-84 work is called The Championship Years. Gradually gravitated toward jazz, where he seems stuck on Stephane Grappelli. These cuts actually come from four sessions, two with mandolinist Chris Thile and guitarist Bryan Sutton, one of those plus the other two with guitarist Frank Vignola, with either Jon Burr or Byron House on bass. Informal fun, but doesn't impress me much one way or the other. B
Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Vol. V: Stuttgart May 25, 1981 (1981 , Widow's Taste, 2CD): Yet another installment in Laurie Pepper's catalog of late Pepper bootlegs, eleven days after The Croydon Concert which appeared as Vol. III in 2008, eight days before Art Pepper With Duke Jordan in Copenhagen 1981 (released by Galaxy in 1996 and a favorite of mine ever since), then there is the Nov. 22, 1981 Abashiri Concert (Vol. 1 in this series). With Milcho Leviev on piano, Bob Magnuson on bass, and Carl Burnett on drums: a common tour group for Pepper, although only Burnett was a frequent player on Pepper's Galaxy albums of the period -- George Cables was his most common pianist. I'm not sure you need all of these, but after a while one starts looking for idiosyncrasies, and this one has plenty. Leviev is much rougher than Cables and tends to run on, but he is explosive here. Pepper has his ordinary moments, but "Landscape" on the first disc is magnificent; on the second he tears at "Over the Rainbow" trying to come up with something new after thirty years of playing the song, and he succeeds, then celebrates by burning through "Cherokee." A-
Tide Tables [Paul Kikuchi/Alexander Vittum]: Lost Birdsongs (2005 , Prefecture): Both Kikuchi and Vittum are credited with compositions, percussion, and electronics. Kikuchi is from Seattle, drummer for Empty Cage Quartet, has another collaborative record -- with Jese Olsen as Open Graves -- in my unplayed box. Vittum is based in/near San Francisco. Doesn't seem to have any other credits. This was recorded live in Seattle with a group of musicians: Daniel Carter (alto sax, flute, trumpet), Brian Drye (trombone), Matt Goeke (cello), Matt Crane (percussion), Sam Weng (percussion). CDBaby page describes this as "Milford Graves meets Aphex Twin meets Konono #1." Graves is wishful thinking, but the other two bracket the percussion range, and from the "Recommended if you like" list we can throw in Harry Partch for orientation. Package I got is a clear plastic sleeve with a folded print insert. I'm tempted to treat it as an advance, but if you pay cash you'll probably get the same. B+(**)
Open Graves [Paul Kikuchi/Jesse Olsen]: Hollow Lake (2009, Prefecture): Bay Area-based Olsen is "founder and director of Deconstruct My House, an organization dedicated to presenting and fostering experimental music in socially conscious ways"; also "half of the experimental folk duo Ramon & Jessica." Sounds like a noble calling. For Kikuchi, see above [Tide Tables]. Not sure what Olsen does -- uncredited instruments here are "guitar, voice, slit drum, trombone, bells, walkie-talkies, and Kikuchi and Keplinger instruments" -- but he manages to ground whatever percussion Kikuchi attempts. This "seeks resonant spaces and uncommon environments," which means it is ambient and droney, not uninteresting, but demands attention it doesn't entice. B
Jamie Cullum: The Pursuit (2009 , Verve): Released Mar. 2. Never got a real copy, just this "watermarked" advance with my name ominously stamped onto it, and no info on credits -- big band, string orchestra, banks of backup singers, no doubt a cast of thousands. Maybe then got confused about the packaging -- AMG lists eight editions, including packages with bonus tracks, a "deluxe edition," variants with DVDs, and the "Barnes & Noble Exclusive." With so much marketing, you'd might think he was popular, but as far as I can tell he remains a Harry Connick wannabe, handicapped by writing slightly over half of his songs. On the plus side, he's managed to shed most of the tics that made Catching Tales so annoying. That leaves him with . . . uh, nothing. C [advance]
Carmen Souza: Protegid (2010, Galileo Music): Cape Verdean singer, b. 1981, third album since 2006, backed by an international band with Portuguese bassist-percussionist Theo Pas'cal especially prominent, but Cuban pianist Victor Zamora reminds me of the herky-jerky rhythms unusual in post-Portuguese music (although Tom Zé is an exception -- maybe psychedelic tropicalia has something going here). Her vocals are heavily mannered, sometimes so Sprachgesang I expect to grasp some German words, but the lyrics look to be all Portuguese, with a thick booklet of trots I haven't bothered with (and in any case would find arduous to read). Played it enough to detect that there is something highly unusual going on here, but still too far out for me to get. B+(*)
Domenic Landolf: New Brighton (2009 , Pirouet): Swiss tenor saxophonist, b. 1969, also plays bass clarinet and quite a bit of alto flute here. Third album since 2004. Trio backed by Patrice Moret on bass and Dejan Terzic on drums, who keep it simple, straightforward, and thoughtful. Mix of Landolf, Moret, and group pieces, with a lovely cover of "My Old Flame" to close. B+(**)
Beat Kaestli: Invitation (2009 , Chesky): Standards singer, from Switzerland, based in New York. Fourth album since 2002. Subtitled his last one A Tribute to European Song, but this one is All American -- spine inset refers to it as "The New York Sessions" -- standards you know played by pros who keeps discreetly to the background: Kenny Rampton (trumpet), Joel Frahm (tenor sax), Paul Meyers (guitar), Jay Leonhart (bass), Billy Drummond (drums). Soft, pliable voice. Horns don't have much to do, but Meyers sets a nice tone. B+(**)
Sarah Partridge: Perspective (2009 , Peartree): Singer, based in NJ, fourth album since 1998. Did some acting 1983-93. Duet with pianist Daniel May. Two originals, the rest standards. Never breaks out of a rather bland rut. B-
The Waitiki 7: New Sounds of Exotica (2009 , Pass Out): Sounds like the old sounds of exotica, as far as I can bother to recall, except maybe louder. Group is led by bassist Ray Wong, with soprano sax/flutes, violin, piano, vibes/xylophone, drums, and a percussion guy who doubles on bird/animal calls. Some old Martin Denny pieces; some new ones. Packaging includes a Chee Hoo Fizz recipe which I'm not about to mix up. B
These are some even quicker notes based on downloading or streaming records. I don't have the packaging here, don't have the official hype, often don't have much information to go on. I have a couple of extra rules here: everything gets reviewed/graded in one shot (sometimes with a second play), even when I'm still guessing on a grade; the records go into my flush file (i.e., no Jazz CG entry, unless I make an exception for an obvious dud). If/when I get an actual copy I'll reconsider the record.
Steve Davis Quintet: Live at Smalls (2009 , Smalls Live): Similar to Davis's Images studio disc -- bright, energetic, straightforward hard bop -- but cut down a bit with just trombone and Mike DiRubbo's alto sax up front, and an upgrade on piano to Larry Willis. The live album artifacts help out, like the short playlist (four songs) padded out with more improv, or don't much hurt, like the extended bass solo and the patter. DiRubbo takes at least one song at Parker speeds -- he's always impressive -- and I like Davis's slow intro to "Day Dream." B+(**) [Rhapsody]
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Re-grades trying to sort out the surplus:
Jim Baker/Steve Hunt/Brian Sandstrom/Mars Williams: Extraordinary Popular Delusions (2005 , Okka Disk): Couldn't recall playing this before, so put it on by accident. Played it twice before I went to write it up, then found that I had already (mis)rated it. Baker is a Chicago pianist who works in an avant-garde scene that doesn't find much use for pianists. Hunt plays drums, and Sandstrom plays bass and electric guitar. They each make interesting noise, helping out in all sorts of ways. Still, this is mostly about Williams, who initially emerged as Hal Russell's heir apparent, played second sax in the original Vandermark 5, then took his chances with acid jazz. He's back in full bloom here, fierce, rough, raunchy. Played it a third time thinking I should dial back toward my original grade. Nah. [was B+(*)] A-
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:
Sunday, June 27. 2010
Bill Phillips posted a link to my Exit McChrystal post, and got the following comment from his nephew, a captain in the US Army:
Any generalization is bound to produce some exceptions, even the commonplace ones that claim that US military personnel are dedicated, principled, public-spirited, competent, or just plain decent. Back when the draft board was so eager to ship me off to Vietnam, and earlier when my father, his brothers, and numerous relatives were swept up in WWII, the military was an unremarkable cross-section of America, but since the Army went pro in the late 1970s it has largely separated from the rest of the country and turned into a self-promoting cult where "professional excellence in military service" is repeated so often you'd think it's their trademark. We're usually more skeptical of PR hype, but various powerful political and business forces find it useful to pander to the military, and they've managed to wrap the military in the flag so securely that others just shy away for fear of appearing unpatriotic.
I have doubts about the entire enterprise. In 1948 the Truman administration decided to rebuild the military and launch an aggressive worldwide defense not of the American people but of capitalists everywhere. Imperialism, depression, fascism, and war had done much to discredit capital and foment revolution around the world. Businesses were eager for more war profits, and with nuclear weapons it was easy to terrify the public, especially to back a "cold war" strategy that didn't require much of a personal commitment -- Korea and especially Vietnam proved to be unpopular exceptions. In doing so they created a permanent war state, an empire of self-importance that survived the collapse of the Soviet Union to find ever more desperate enemies. This permanent war has haunted the sixty years of my life and shows no signs of abating, even as the costs pile up to unsustainable levels and the returns aren't even negligible -- more like sad, pathetic, tragic.
I don't blame the soldiers for this, but I don't feel like flattering them either. When I was growing up, we had a slogan: "suppose they gave a war and nobody came." I took it to heart and did everything I could to avoid the draft and steer clear of a war machine that I regarded as unjust and unwise, so at some level I don't see why anyone else can't do the same -- especially now that the draft is gone and the consequences of not joining are benign. Back in the 1990s joining the military may have seemed like a riskless, harmless career move, but since 9/11 it has enabled a series of wars that have wreaked havoc around the world while in no way making us safer or a better country. I offered two reasons above why they did so. You might nominate some others -- misguided patriotism, family tradition, boredom, not sure what else.
I'm not in a position to run a survey, but the two reasons I gave certainly loom large in the promo pitch. The career angle shows up in almost every profile of enlisted personnel, as it has for twenty-some years. It's common enough you have to wonder if one reason conservatives have tried to squeeze college support is to drive people through the military. As for "blowing shit up" that may be a glib way of putting it, but I run across that repeatedly in soldier profiles -- Evan Wright's Generation Kill is about one company full of it, and Thomas Ricks's Fiasco covers the same story and mores at the level of upper brass selected for their aggressiveness, even when it mostly yields blowback. My post was occasioned by Gen. McChrystal, who is himself a prime example, yet much of the piece is about soldiers in Afghanistan complaining that McChrystal has set the rules of engagement too restrictively to, as one soldier puts it, "get their gun on."
These two traits are not just prevalent in the US military. They practically define it: the careerism leads to extreme risk aversion, which the aggression masks with bursts of "shock and awe" firepower. The two traits merge perfectly in the ever-increasing use of drones -- riskless slaughter.
Examples of these things abound. For instance, today's New York Times has an article by James Dao, "Gone for a Soldier," profiling a number of soldiers on their way to an Afghanistan deployment. The first one's reasoning is plainly economic:
The next is a gunner. It may not be fair to dismiss him as someone who just wants to blow shit up, but he prides himself on knowing he won't freeze up under fire:
These two happen to come from painfully broken homes. I doubt that that is the rule, but it does seem to happen much more often with military families than with the peaceniks I know. There are some things about the military that I find admirable, including their ability to occasionally pick up broken people and give them hope and purpose, although it seems like the military breaks many more people than they fix. They run a good health care system, and their camaraderie provides more social support at a time when conservatives (and liberals) are dismantling safety nets for everyone else. Still, there are ways to do all of those things without elevating a warrior caste -- ways that are far less wasteful and damaging. And if (much to my surprise) the military turns out to be a bastion of "professional excellence," wouldn't it be nice to apply those skills to something constructive?
Friday, June 25. 2010
Slowly accumulating book notes since my last books post on April 23, but once again they've gotten out of hand. Actually have about 110 of them, so at 40 a pop this could go on for a while. First one hits the key points, and then some.
Gilbert Achcar: The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives (2010, Metropolitan Books): When the 1937-39 Palestinian revolt against the British failed, Haj Amin al-Husseini fled to safe havens open to him, Nazi Germany, thereby setting up a narrative that connected the Holocaust to Palestinian resistance to the creation and dominance of Israel. That at least is one thread the author must deal with -- practically the only one that seems to come up, but there must be more, even with most of the Arab world, including the future Israel, outside of WWII's grasp.
Jonathan Alter: The Promise: President Obama, Year One (2010, Simon & Schuster): Author wrote a previous book on FDR's first 100 days amidst tough times, so it must have seemed like a good idea to see how Obama fared under comparably difficult circumstances. There are too many differences to make the analogy work -- FDR came to Washington determined to try all sorts of things and both parties were in such a state of shock that he met with little opposition, while Obama came seeking only to fix what used to work and ran into a buzzsaw of partisan rancor and Tea Party nihilism.
John Amato/David Neiwert: Over the Cliff: How Obama's Election Drove the American Right Insane (paperback, 2010, Polipoint Press): I'm not sure what else you can call it but insane. They cannot grasp that eight years or conservatives in the White House and sixteen in command of Congress created one disaster after another; they can't imagine ever losing; they especially can't imagine losing to Obama. Amato runs the blog Crooks & Liars, and Neiwert wrote a useful book on the fringe right called The Eliminationists, so both are well positioned to write such an obvious book.
Jim Baggott: The First War of Physics: The Secret History of the Atom Bomb 1939-1949 (2010, Pegasus): The secrets presumably come from recently declassified documents, especially from Russia. Otherwise it would seem that this story has been told many times over, perhaps best by Richard Rhodes' trilogy: The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, and Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race.
Paul Berman: The Flight of the Intellectuals (2010, Melville House): A leftist in his own mind, still fighting the good fight against Nazism, which he bravely sees lurking in every Islamic nook and cranny. Focuses especially on Tariq Ramadan, often angling through his grandfather, Hassan al-Banna, finding everyone who thinks otherwise traitorous. Previously wrote Terror and Liberalism in a feverish frenzy following 9/11, one of the ur-texts of the Global War on Terror.
Kai Bird: Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978 (2010, Scribner): Son of an American foreign service officer stationed in Jerusalem, a divided city to start, with the Jordanian (or Palestinian) half occupied from 1967. He also lived in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Lebanon. Bird has written several interesting biographical books, notably American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J Robert Oppenheimer.
Anthony Bourdain: Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook (2010, Ecco): Wrote a couple of novels, then a breakthrough book on the gritty side of working in restaurants, Kitchen Confidential, which made him famous, got him a TV show, turned him into a globetrotting celebrity -- cf. A Cook's Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines. Another book about all that. I've read the two I named, and would probably relish this.
Noam Chomsky: Hopes and Prospects (paperback, 2010, Haymarket Books): Scattered essays and lectures, one part on Latin America, the other (larger) on North America, the latter including excursions to Iraq and Israel-Palestine and much on Obama's first year, where the promise of change devolved into "meet the new boss, same as the old boss." (Not that Chomsky quotes the Who, but that's likely the gist of his argument.)
Tom Engelhardt: The American Way of War: How the Empire Brought Itself to Ruin (paperback, 2010, Haymarket): Subtitle from book cover; other sources say: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's. Probably recycled from TomDispatch posts, where Engelhardt has tenaciously kept his finger on the pulse of America's warpath to oblivion.
Norman G Finkelstein: 'This Time We Went Too Far': Truth & Consequences of the Gaza Invasion (2010, OR Books): On Israel's December 2008 siege of Gaza, a one-sided war occasioned by the desire of Israel's ruling coalition -- especially Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak -- to impress Israel's voters with their toughness, and possibly to dig incoming US president Barack Obama a deeper hole from which any peace initiatives would be even more difficult. The destruction was senseless and extreme, leading to an international backlash including the Goldstone Report finding Israel guilty of war crimes. Expect Finkelstein to set the record straight with his usual merciless thoroughness.
Roger Ford: Eden to Armageddon: World War I in the Middle East (2010, Pegasus): Key events were the destruction of the Ottoman Empire, the birth of nationalist Turkey, the entry of the French and especially the English into the Arab parts of the Ottoman Empire, and the rise of the Saudis in the Arabian peninsula. David Fromkin covered this same ground in his prophetically titled A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East.
Naeim Giladi: Ben-Gurion's Scandals: How the Haganah and the Mossad Eliminated Jews (paperback, 2003, Dandelion): Written by an Iraqi Jew, whose starting point was the desire to expose how the Mossad orchestrated the transfer of Iraqi Jews to Israel, which among other things involved promoting the threat of Arab pogroms to motivate Jews to immigrate to Israel. I've never seen much detail about this history, although there is no doubt that Ben-Gurion was ruthless in pursuing his demographic goals, ranging from negotiating with the Nazis to deliver Jews to organizing Mossad to penetrate the Arab world to ordering the expulsion of Palestinians during the 1948 war.
David Hirst: Beware of Small States: Lebanon, Battleground of the Middle East (2010, Nation Books): Previously wrote The Gun and the Olive Branch: The Roots of Violence in the Middle East, originally published in 1977 and revised for a third ed. in 2003, mostly about the Israel-Palestine conflict, which has repeatedly overflowed into Lebanon -- in 1978, in 1982 followed by a partial occupation that lasted until 1999, and again in 2006. It would be hard to improve on Robert Fisk's Pity the Nation for the 1980s period, but there's much to add since then.
Robert Jervis: Why Intelligence Fails: Lessons From the Iranian Revolution and the Iraq War (2010, Cornell University Press): It always amuses me that they call this intelligence. More like scattered and imperfect information, some deliberately falsified, selected and distorted through all sorts of cultural and intentional filters. In particular, intelligence rarely argues against desired acts, no matter how foolhardy they're retrospectivally recognized as. Plenty of examples here. Jervis evidently wrote the Iran section up while working for the CIA thirty years ago. Don't know if that's a plus or a minus.
Robert Kuttner: A Presidency in Peril: The Inside Story of Obama's Promise, Wall Street's Power, and the Struggle to Control Our Economic Future (2010, Chelsea Green): After rushing out his campaign hype, Obama's Challenge: America's Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency, Kuttner owes us a revisit on the many ways Obama has failed to achieve (or even much attempt) anything like what Kuttner envisioned. Maybe those of us who bought the earlier book should get some sort of price break on the new one?
George Lipsitz: Midnight at the Barrelhouse: The Johnny Otis Story (2010, University of Minnesota Press): An old friend and mentor, long since disconnected -- was it something I said about his plunge into academia, or was I right that it made us non-academics irrelevant? First I ever heard of Johnny Otis was when George played "Signifying Monkey" for me -- took me years to find that on CD (Ace's 2002 twofer, Cold Shot/Snatch and the Poontangs) -- which makes him an expert in my book. Otis was Greek by birth but "black by persuasion" at a time when that was a tough proposition. Lipsitz wrote the introduction to the 2009 reprint of Otis's book, Listen to the Lambs.
Edward N Luttwak: Virtual American Empire: War, Faith, and Power (paperback, 2009, Transaction): Essay collection from a military theorist who once wrote something called Coup D'État: A Practical Handbook, and has lately turned into one of the more obnoxious op-ed warmongers around. [Although he seems to have turned against Afghanistan.]
Martha C Nussbaum: Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (2010, Princeton University Press): Short (178 pp) broadside. I don't doubt that the basic premise is true, although I've always been turned off by those who presume to judge what humanities to teach, and I've sometimes suspected that their choices were meant to turn me off. Author has a fairly long list of prior books, like Cultivating Humanity: A Classica Defense of Reform in Liberal Education (1997) and Hiding From Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law (2004).
Daniel Okrent: Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (2010, Scribner): Seems like a topic that has been ripe for a comprehensive history. Probably worth a second book to look at drug prohibition in the same context. One thing I'm fascinated by is how flexible and open to change most people were in the 1930s. The chances that one could go from a consensus big enough to pass a constitutional amendment to one big enough to repeal it in a mere 13 years seems inconceivable now. It's not even clear we'll get out of Afghanistan (or for that matter Iraq) so soon.
David W Orr: Down to the Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse (2009, Oxford University Press): Another global warming book, from a founder of the Presidential Climate Action Project (where the President seems to be hypothetical, but they were hopeful about Obama, and have another book: William S Becker: The 100 Day Action Plan to Save the Planet: A Climate Crisis Solution for the 44th President).
Clifford A Pickover: The Math Book: From Pythagoras to the 57th Dimension, 250 Milestones in the History of Mathematics (2009, Sterling): There was a day when I mostly read pop science, making up for the path I didn't take (thanks to Willard Brooks, I might add, the world's most uninspiring science teacher), and this would have been an automatic purchase (probably right after Simon Singh's matching The Science Book, which has the advantage of already being out in paperback). Pickover has a large number of previous math books. Most strike me as trashy -- like: The Alien IQ Test; Calculus and Pizza: A Cookbook for the Hungry Mind; The Mathematics of Oz: Mental Gymnastics From Beyond the Edge; and Sex, Drugs, Einstein, & Elves: Sushi, Psychedelics, Parallel Universes and the Quest for Transcendence -- but this looks like a touchstone.
Andrew Potter: The Authenticity Hoax: How We Get Lost Finding Ourselves (2010, Harper): Living in a world where nearly everything is prepackaged, artificial, fraudulent, fake, we have developed a craving for something else, like authenticity -- a strawman Potter has fun ripping to shreds. Which leaves us with, like, what?
William Poundstone: Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It) (2010, Hill and Wang): Looks like a book about pricing and all the weird psychology wrapped up with prices. Author has written a bunch of books, many focusing on game theory.
Bill Press: Toxic Talk: How the Radical Right Has Poisoned America's Airwaves (2010, Thomas Dunne): So true, but Press, who has a bunch of anti-conservative books like Bush Must Go: The Top Ten Reasons Why George Bush Doesn't Deserve a Second Term, has never struck me as someone who knows things I don't already know.
Raghuram G Rajan: Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy (2010, Princeton University Press): Not sure how I missed this in the banking crisis book roundup -- perhaps that I was growing weary of Chicagoans? Rajan chases the causes back past the industry shenanigans to stagnant wages and rising inequality, for which easy debt was necessarily only a short-term paliative. This at least is a key insight.
Ruth Reichl: For You, Mom, Finally (paperback, 2010, Penguin Press): Short (144 pp) semi-memoir, actually a reprint of last year's Not Becoming My Mother: And Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way. This presumably adds to Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, the first of three delightful memoirs with recipes that traced her life up to leaving the New York Times and landing at Gourmet.
Matt Ridley: The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (2010, Harper): Science writer, wrote a biography of Francis Crick and several books on genetic evolution, including a couple that veer toward sociobiology (The Agile Gene: How Nature Turns on Nurture and The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation). Draws on past successes, which are undeniable, to project a future where we will solve all our problems for the benefit of everyone. Sounds like cornucopianism; indeed, Amazon links this to Julian Simon's The State of Humanity and Indur Goldany's The Improving State of the World (Cato Institute), which are mostly ruses of denial, but there is something to be said for Ridley's tack.
Michael C Ruppert: Confronting Collapse: The Crisis of Energy and Money in a Post Peak Oil World (paperback, 2009, Chelsea Green): If economic growth correlates with energy use on the way up, what happens when we run out of our primary source of energy, oil? A lot of unpleasant options, which I'm sure Ruppert manages to lay out. More troubling to me is how we decide among those options, given a political system that stifles reasonable public-interest options and has trouble choosing, even debating, anything. Turned this into a video, Collapse.
Randall Sandke: Wher the Dark and the Light Folks Meet: Race and the Mythology, Politics, and Business of Jazz (2010, Scarecrow Press): Randy to his friends and fans, plays some serious trumpet on several dozen good-to-great records, including examinations of Bix Beiderbecke -- he named his son Bix -- and Count Basie. Tackles the nasty issue of race, which runs deep in every aspect of jazz history except for the music, which pretty much transcended race, and pointed the way so we could too.
Juliet B Schor: Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth (2010, Penguin Press): This looks to sum up where her series of books have been headed: The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure, The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don't Need, and Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture. In between she's thought about sustainability, but the key there has less to do with efficiency than in deciding when enough's enough. Fortunately, if we can just cut back on the overspending and overworking we may find plenitude is an easy reach.
Clay Shirky: Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age (2010, Penguin Press): Follow up to his book on social networking tools, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. Cognitive surplus reflects the fact that "we've had a surfeit of intellect, energy, and time" for a while now but had mostly been squandering it on passive media like television, but now all that resource is starting to turn productive with the internet.
Lee Smith: The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations (2010, Knopf): Middle East correspondent for the neocon Weekly Standard, argues that tensions and strife in the Middle East have more to do with internal politics than anything that the US and/or Israel does. That would be more plausible if the US and/or Israel did less to distort the region, but I don't see how you can say that. Which isn't to say that internal dynamics are irrelevant; just that the terrain is severely distorted by the US and Israel.
Steven Solomon: Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization (2010, Harper): Global history, going back to the early river civilizations in Egypt and Mesopotamia, forward to the Panama Canal and the big dam on the cover. Sounds like too much ground, but reminds me of Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, a more delimited story that still qualifies for its epic struggles.
Joseph E Stiglitz/Amartya Sen/Jean-Paul Fitoussi: Mismeasuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn't Ad Up (paperback, 2010, New Press): Report of a commission set up by French president Nicolas Sarkozy. The limits and follies of using GDP to gauge anything meaningful about human welfare should be obvious to anyone giving it the least thought.
TJ Stiles: The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt (paperback, 2010, Vintage): Big (736 pp) bio of the original robber baron. Author has previous wrote about lesser crooks, like Jesse James.
Yuki Tanaka/Marilyn B Young, eds: Bombing Civilians: A Twentieth-Century History (2009, New Press): Wonder if there's a postscript on the 21st century, where bombing civilians has been practiced with remarkable frequency if not quite the intensity of 20th century peak periods.
Evan Thomas: The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898 (2010, Little Brown): If this is limited to 1898, that would be the Spanish-American War, where the US "liberated" Cuba and snatched Puerto Rico and the Philippines from Spain. Roosevelt is associated with the war as a Rough Rider fighting in Cuba, but he wasn't a professional soldier before or after the war, more like a politically ambitious blowhard. And the principals here didn't stop loving war after 1898: Roosevelt in particular pursued it avidly as president, and all three pitched in to drag us into the World War. This was a fateful moment, although one should also look at those who opposed the war and ultimately managed to muddle if not to defeat the imperial program.
Geoffrey Wawro: Quicksand: America's Pursuit of Power in the Middle East (2010, Penguin Press): Author of generic books on The Austro-Prussian War and The Franco-Prussian War, some kind of figure on History Channel, Wawro attempts a broad-based, systematic account of America's involvement in the Middle East. Sees the relationships with Saudi Arabia and Israel has key, and everything else as complication, of which there is quite a lot.
Richard Whittle: The Dream Machine: The Untold History of the Notorious V-22 Osprey (2010, Simon & Schuster): This gets likened to Tracy Kidder's The Soul of a New Machine for how it follows engineers in developing a product, but it should be much weirder given that the product is a vertical takeoff jet for the Marines and that the consequences of errors include deaths, and not just of those targeted by the Marines. Your tax money at work.
The Worldwatch Institute: State of the World 2010: Transforming Cultures: From Consumerism to Sustainability (paperback, 2010, WW Norton): DC-based think tank stakes out their position, as they've done every year since 1984.
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
Greg Grandin: Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City (2009; paperback, 2010, Picador): The peculiar story of Henry Ford's rubber plantation in the Amazon, an example of imposing your fancies on nature and watching it all backfire. Possibly also a prism into a lot of related topics, such as America's imperious relationship to Latin America and Ford's own fervent belief in mechanics.
Philip Longman: Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Health Care Is Better Than Yours (2007; 2nd ed, paperback, 2010, Polipoint Press): Of the several health care systems (and non-systems) we juggle in America, the Veterans Administration is the cheapest, produces the best results, in other words is the most socialist. It was radically overhauled under Clinton putting conscientious professionals in charge, and stressed but survived under Bush. Longman sees it as a model for a real "public option."
Idith Zertal/Akiva Eldar: Lords of the Land: The War for Israel's Settlements in the Occupied Territories, 1967-2007 (2007; paperback, 2009, Nation Books): The history of the Israeli settler movement, focuses on Gush Emunim and the religio-political baggage that makes the settlements seem so intractable.
Tom Zoellner: Uranium: War, Energy and the Rock That Shaped the World (2009, Viking; paperback, 2010, ?): Science, history, politics -- mostly history, probably more on mining and processing than on the supposedly clean energy and terrifying power the rock releases. Previously wrote The Heartless Stone: A Journey Through the World of Diamonds, Deceit, and Desire.
Thursday, June 24. 2010
Paul Krugman: Now and Later: It's been a long time since I've found myself disagreeing with Krugman, so I should flag this one. He's arguing that deficits are a matter that we should deal with eventually, but not now when interest rates are near-zero and still not low enough to bring down the unemployment rate, and he's right there. Where he's wrong is in arguing that we shouldn't raise any taxes while the economy is such a basket case. He gives as an example of the kind of tax he'd like to see later: a 5% VAT. That is indeed a tax that would reduce demand and slow the economy down, so he's probably right in that specific case, but one thing you could do now is pass a VAT and index it against the unemployment rate, or make it conditionally kick in only when unemployment drops below 7% (to follow up on a suggestion he makes). On the other hand, I don't see any problem raising marginal income tax rates on the undertaxed rich right now, and even less on raising taxes on capital gains (which in a recession are most likely currently depressed but will bounce back quickly later) and on estates (the one case where the tax rate doesn't affect behavior, except maybe to promote charity). Any and all of these proposals would dramatically improve the long-term debt question, but there are extra advantages in focusing tax increases on the rich, especially now. But focused taxes on the rich do two additional things that when you get down to it are pretty important: it takes money away from private savings and speculation and gives it to government which is certain to spend it (even if not necessarily all that wisely), accelerating the flow of money through the economy and thereby putting more people to work; and if steep enough it will start to reverse the trend toward extreme inequality and everything that comes with it -- the whole conservative agenda.
As for a VAT, I think it does make sense for several reasons: it means that more taxes will be paid through corporations in a relatively obscure manner so it will make people less conscious of how much tax they pay; it scales easily to higher tax flows; it puts pressure on companies to reduce prices and/or it helps to drive wages and productivity up; it provides a framework that can be adjusted to price in externalities (e.g., the VAT rate can vary by product to factor in hidden costs). But a VAT is a pretty flat tax. It doesn't do anything to counter the gross inequality due to the accumulation of capital and all of its attendant ills. That's why we need steeply progressive taxes, on incomes, and especially on estates. (I'd also make corporate taxes at least mildly progressive, to undercut economies of scale and restore the possibility of competition between small and large firms. I'd also do a lot more, but that's getting further afield.)
Of course, some people would complain that if we did raise taxes now the government would spend it all, putting us at least as far in debt, if not farther. There's a word for that: stimulus. One thing Krugman was right about is that we needed a lot more of that than Obama's stimulus bill provided for, and we still need more.
Wednesday, June 23. 2010
One of the dumber things I've read in response to the McChrystal flap came from David Kurtz at TPM:
Why not? Reasoned analysis failed to do the trick.
The flap was set off by Michael Hastings' Rolling Stone profile of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Obama's Afghanistan comandante, The Runaway General. There are various instances of "imtemperate remarks" scattered throughout the article, but it would be wrong to focus on them. The real problem isn't that McCrystal and his "Team America" entourage think Jim Jones is a "clown" or Richard Holbrooke a "wounded animal," or that he was underwhelmed at his first personal encounter with Obama. Nor is it that he got caught saying so. The real problem is summed up nicely by the alternate title/subtitle on the print edition cover: "Obama's General: Why He's Losing the War." Let's face it, if he was winning he could talk like Tommy Franks and get a presidential medal for it.
The real question is why McCrystal is losing: in particular, how responsible was he for putting Obama into a hopeless losing situation, and what he did to make it worse. The article has some insights into this as well as scattered impressions that could be developed further. It may well be that no American no matter how principled and skilled could have succeeded in his shoes, but that hardly excuses a general who managed to sell his own strategy and leadership as the solution: its failure may be because it was a bad idea in the first place or because it was badly executed or both, but either way McChrystal is responsible. (Obama too, of course, but on another level.)
Here's a good quote to start with:
The quote continues below, but let's pause a bit here. Why on earth would we -- either the US military or the US government -- ever want to do something like this that potentially drags on to decades? (The Afghanistan war's 10th anniversary is coming up later this year, so "if not decades" is sort of ironic there.) COIN is a theory that has never worked, other than to advance the careers of politically-ambitious officers like McChrystal and Petraeus at the expense of gullible politicians. But while those officers may push it doesn't mean that their troops have any secret desire to kick back and buddy up with the locals -- most are simply pursuing limited career opportunities, and the rest have a simple craving to blow shit up (which COIN cautions against but doesn't effectively discipline). Continuing:
Note that McChrystal's "enemy" here isn't the Taliban; it's Obama and anyone in his administration who might argue against sinking the US ever deeper into Afghanistan (e.g., VP Joe Biden, who still takes occasional incoming flak from Team America). I'm reminded here of Gorbachev, who when he came to power in the Soviet Union wanted to quit Afghanistan, but met stiff resistance from the Soviet military; he gave them a year to try it their way, then pulled the plug. Whether Obama had that in mind isn't at all clear, but he's just done that exercise, and it's clear both in this article and in virtually every other news report from Afghanistan that McChrystal's COIN scam is bankrupt. The most explicit quote on this comes a bit later:
Even Team America pretty much concedes that much:
The article goes on to detail the incredible hubris of Team America -- things like how they claim ISAF stands for "I Suck at Fighting." Shitfaced in an Irish bar in Paris, McChrystal tells the reporter, "All these men. I'd die for them. And they'd die for me." Touching camaraderie on the battlefront, in this case deriding the French for not doing enough for NATO. You'd expect that a big part of McChrystal's job as commander is to get and keep everyone pulling together, so the long list of functionaries McChrystal has pissed off is not just brash fighting spirit but dereliction of duty, undermining the mission.
Of course, with McChrystal prodding him on stage and standing next to (and over) him, there's little Karzai can do to look like a credible leader. This is one of the situations where McChrystal is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. You might feel a bit sorry for him if he hadn't schemed and plotted so hard and so disingenuously to get there. Hastings then switches gears to sketch out McChrystal's biography: arrogant son of a general, ranked 298 (out of 855) at West Point, pushed his way up through the ranks, especially once Rumsfeld took charge. He survived at least two scandals: detainee abuse complaints in Iraq, and a role in the Pat Tillman coverup. But he's also one of the few who seems to have relished the Iraq/Afghanistan wars:
Passive-aggressive doesn't begin to describe this strategy; it's flat-out schizo, talking about living with and protecting the people, the same people you fear and keep mowing down by hook or crook. As McChrystal says at one point, "Winning hearts and minds in COIN is a coldblooded thing." There's more stuff on McChrystal talking to trigger-happy US troops, who blow back at the restraints he talks about but rarely actually enforces. So add the US troops, and for that matter the Afghan people, to the long list that McChrystal's pissed off.
With the Marjah offensive faring so poorly that McChrystal called it a "bleeding ulcer," the plans for the big Kandahar offensive this summer have been revised so many times that there's little evidence of any plan left. Hastings concludes:
That cuts McChrystal some slack and still he comes up wanting. But it's not like there are a lot of fallback plans: even the COIN theory says that in order to win, or even keep playing, you have to do things that the US is constitutionally incapable of doing. I wish they would decide they've given it their best shot and that's all can be done about it. The more Plan XYZs they dredge up the longer everyone suffers.
David Kurtz: The New Team: No McChrystal, otherwise, looks a lot like the old team, doesn't it? Another golden opportunity wasted.
PS: I originally attributed the "bleeding ulcer" quote to Petraeus, but it seems to have been McChrystal. Evidently Petraeus remains more circumspect in his wording, which I don't consider a point in his favor. The quote echoes Gorbachev's famous description of Afghanistan as a "bleeding wound."
There seems to be a surprising consensus on how well Obama handled the fiasco -- e.g., the article in the Wichita Eagle this morning was titled "Obama gets high marks for firing McChrystal," prominently featuring a lugubrious quote from KS Senator Pat Roberts. Fred Kaplan described replacing McChrystal with Petraeus as "a stroke of personnel genius." It no doubt is a clever twist to hang Petraeus, who remains immaculate in the eyes of the hawks, with the petards of his own COIN strategy, such that both are sure to go down together.
Monday, June 21. 2010
As previously reported, The Village Voice came up short for space in last week's "Jazz Supplement" and my Jazz Consumer Guide column got held back. I'm told the decision on what to hold was made because the other articles were tied to concert promos and as such were more timely. Haven't heard anything further: it might run this week, more likely next, maybe later. It's a big chunk of space, hard to slot, and the material is never timely. They are always short of space, and they don't pay any better than they did 10-15 years ago when I resumed writing for them. I suppose we're lucky that they run it at all, but the last two music editors have stuck with it consistently. This one, when it runs, will be my 23rd.
Prospecting toward the 24th continues below. I finally broke down and sorted the unplayed discs into six rows of 30-40 discs in three baskets. The first basket is stuff I want to make sure I get to relatively soon. I divided it into an avant-garde row and a not-avant row, and because both are a little short added some non-jazz at the end, like the Coathangers' Scramble, which I bought and temporarily lost without playing. Third box is lowest priority, divided between a vocal row and a presumed junk row -- Xmas records, smooth jazz, unknown fusion, stuff from the USAF band. I'll need to force myself to deplete those rows from time to time. There are some vocals I might have sorted higher but I tend to listen to them in binges, so thought it best to keep them together. Second box is work: things by people I don't recognize, or I recognize but don't expect much from. That box is the fullest, so I'll need to sample it from time to time, maybe sort some things forward or back, depending on traffic. Most of the following came from the first box -- exceptions are the last three. As I get new discs, I'll put them into the rows at the back, so I'll start to get some sense of aging, and be more aware of things I've been putting off. Meanwhile, I've found a few things I had lost track of -- now playing a real good record from long ago, but you'll hear about it next week.
Finally got my upstairs construction projects to a state I can call complete. It turns out that the tile around the bath/shower needs some serious work, something I hadn't planned on, so that's left to do. But everything I meant on biting off is done. Same for the back bedroom. The main change there was that we took out a bookcase and a couple of small CD cases and replaced them with a lot of CD storage:
The CDs already shelved are about 80% of one of the old small CD cases: modern jazz (i.e., no Armstrong) from A to Benny Bailey. I plan on putting boxes on the top rows, DVDs above the circuit breaker box. Should add shelf space for at least 2500 CDs, which will relieve a lot of pressure downstairs and make it possible to find things that are hopeless now. It does mean I need to cull about 500 books -- some from the eliminated bookcase, some from other overflows. I've never figured out a good way to get excess books (let alone CDs) to people who might be interested in them (let alone get some of my money back), so I'd be interested in ideas. Schlepping them around to local used stores is an utter waste of time for nothing, so the default will probably be dumping them on the library.
Carlos Barretto Lokomotiv: Labirintos (2009 , Clean Feed): Bassist, from Portugal; website "complete biography" is nothing more than lists of people he has played with, countries he has played in, and records he has played on. Recording career starts around 1991, with a half-dozen or so albums under his name since 1997. One, cut in 2003, was called Lokomotiv, which is either the trio name or part of the title depending on how you parse it. Group includes Mario Delgado on guitar and Jose Salgueiro on drums and percussion. Takes a lot of concentration to draw much out of this. B+(*)
The Ullmann/Swell 4: News? No News! (2010, Jazzwerkstatt): There seems to be two Jazzwerkstatt labels, one based in Vienna with artists I've never heard of, the other in Berlin with a strong avant-garde roster and nice graphic design. Gebhard Ullman plays tenor sax and bass clarinet; Steve Swell trombone, Hilliard Greene bass, Barry Altschul drums. Swell has played on a couple of recent Ullmann albums, including Don't Touch My Music; also has a two-horn group with Sabir Mateen, who's a bit higher strung but similar. Ullmann has been hugely prolific since the early 1990s, but lately he's gotten much better at fitting in and finding his niche. Some unison lines seem like a waste, but their avant shuck-and-jive is a lot of fun. B+(***) [advance]
Wolfgang Muthspiel & Mick Goodrick: Live at the Jazz Standard (2008 , Material): Guitar duo. Muthspiel is Austrian, b. 1965, has about 20 albums since 1990. He gets compared to Metheny and Scofield a lot, but I like him better, with his early Black and Blue and recent Bright Side especially recommended (the latter was a Jazz CG pick hit). Goodrick is an older American, b. 1945, broke in with Gary Burton alongside Metheny. He has a 1978 ECM album, In Pas(s)ing (recommended to John Surman fans), a few more in the 1990s, not much really. The two guitarists sort of melt together here in a polite encounter that generates little heat. Still, there is something to be said for that ice tone and the ability to spin long clean lines. B+(**)
Dave Douglas: A Single Sky (2009, Greenleaf Music): Guest star shot, backed by Frankfurt Radio Bigband, conducted by Jim McNeely, who arranged 4 of 7 Douglas compositions -- Douglas arranged the others. The big band is just that, competent as ever, although the solos you notice are usually the star on trumpet. B+(**)
Dave Douglas: Spirit Moves (2009, Greenleaf Music): A brass band project, with trumpet-french horn-trombone-tuba backed by Nasheet Waits' drums. Douglas works quotes into his compositions, some old Americana, some evoking Lester Bowie -- wit and funk aren't traditional Douglas long suits. Starts strong, wanders a bit, finds itself third cut from the end when they try a cover, "Mr. Pitiful," which is anything but: Otis Redding's horn charts were pretty close to one-dimensional, but each horn adds lively detail here. Continues on a high level with Douglas' "Great Awakening," then peters out on Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." B+(***)
Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden: Jasmine (2007 , ECM): A night-blooming flower, perhaps unfair to try to listen to music this quiet and uncomplicated during the day when almost any distraction suffices to break the mood. Standards, love songs, a couple of old comrades getting sentimental. B+(*)
Manu Katché: Third Round (2009 , ECM): Drummer, b. 1958 in France, roots from Côte d'Ivoire. Cut an album in 1992 when he was mostly associated with rock acts like Sting and Peter Gabriel, and now three ECM albums since 2006 -- the first, Neighbourhood, got a big boost from Jan Garbarek. The saxophonist here, also favoring soprano over tenor, is Tore Brunborg, a similar player, but can't light up a record like Garbarek. Nor does Jason Rebello add much on keyboards, but Jacob Young's guitar spots (4 cuts) are bright and lyrical. Kami Lyle sings one, in a voice that is barely there, and plays a bit of trumpet. B+(*)
Steve Coleman and Five Elements: Harvesting Semblances and Affinities (2007 , Pi): Sextet, aside for a little extra percussion on one cut. Thomas Morgan and Tyshawn Sorey make a superb rhythm section. Coleman's alto sax is smothered in brass: Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet and Tim Albright on trombone. Then there is vocalist Jen Shyu, who fills the role Cassandra Wilson had in Coleman's M-Base collective and adds a little Betty Carter but with more normal vocal range. Played this three times: first time I was totally lost, and two subsequent spins brought me to the point of not caring. All the interest is in the quirks, which turn out to be fleeting and insubstantial. B
Paul Motian/Chris Potter/Jason Moran: Lost in a Dream (2009 , ECM): This should have been released Mar. 9 but I never got the usual final copy, and have been thrashing around trying to find the advance as it's already been widely reviewed. With no bassist there's no chance of swinging, and with Motian drumming there isn't much of a beat. Moran is another shrinking violet, comping gently and somewhat abstractly, perhaps intent on emulating the Zen master drummer. That leaves Potter in the spotlight. While he too follows the prevailing mood, he doesn't shirk his role, which is to render these marginal melodies as gorgeously as possible, and occasionally hint that there may be more powerful forces lurking beneath the surface. B+(***) [advance]
Marilyn Crispell/David Rothenberg: One Night I Left My Silent House (2008 , ECM): Another record that should be out by now but hasn't arrived: one that I've been anxious to get to, as Crispell is one of the most interesting pianist working today, and Rothenberg -- oops, I must have been thinking about Ned. David Rothenberg also plays clarinet and bass clarinet, has ten albums I haven't heard since 1992, describes himself as a "philosopher-naturalist," with many of his records tuned into the sounds of nature -- Why Birds Sing (also a book title), Whale Music, etc. This is quiet and thoughtful; could perhaps use some more thought on my part. [B+(**)] [advance; PS: copy arrived after review]
Ricardo Silveira: Até Amanhã/'Til Tomorrow (2008 , Adventure Music): Guitarist, from Brazil, where there are many but he consistently distinguishes himself. Not sure who plays what here -- album has a "featuring" list but no instruments and it's certainly incomplete. Actually, there seems to be a lot of murky orchestral background, not awful but not clear and not very helpful. B+(*)
Ralph Towner/Paolo Fresu: Chiaroscuro (2008 , ECM): Another advance, final due out Mar. 16. Another intimate duo, slow, meticulous. Towner plays classical, twelve string, and baritone guitars. He's a long-term ECM fixture, going back to 1972. Fresu plays trumpet and flugelhorn, from Italy, younger (b. 1961 vs. 1940 for Towner), also has a long list of releases, although I've only managed to hear one so far. The two don't necessarily mix, but Fresu provides a clear melodic thread distinct from Towner's diddling, while Towner fascinates with the most minimal of quirks. B+(**) [advance]
Christian Wallumrød Ensemble: Fabula Suite Lugano (2009 , ECM): Norwegian pianist, b. 1971, fifth album since 1998, all on ECM. Group is a sextet, long on strings -- Gjermund Larsen on violin/viola/hardanger fiddle, Tanja Orning on cello, Giovanna Pessi on baroque harp -- with Eivind Lenning's trumpet for a rare dash of color and Per Oddvar Johansen on percussion and glockenspiel. More baroque than anything else, with a bit of Scarlatti tucked into the originals. A lot of this is annoyingly subaudible, yet it doesn't seem like the kind of music you ought to crank up. B- [advance]
Dan Pratt Organ Quartet: Toe the Line (2008 , Posi-Tone): Tenor saxophonist, from Saratoga, CA, moved to New York in 1997. Group identified as DPOQ on their previous album. Jared Gold plays organ, Mark Ferber drums, and Alan Ferber chimes in on trombone. All originals except for Ellington-Strayhorn's "Star Crossed Lovers." Sounds a lot like Eric Alexander, especially when he gets up a good head of steam. The trombone is fun as a solo contrast, but the postbop harmonies are less appealing. B+(**)
Tony Allen: Secret Agent (2009 , World Circuit/Nonesuch): Nigerian drummer, b. 1940, learned his craft listening to Art Blakey and Max Roach records, hooked up with Fela Kuti early on and put the beat in Afrobeat. Since Fela died in 1997, Allen carries the flame, laboriously making a pretty fair approximation of the sort of album Fela knocked off his cuff. A little short in vocals, sax, and political rants, all of which were the master's edge. B+(***)
Gabor Szabo: Jazz Raga (1966 , Light in the Attic): Guitarist, from Hungary, b. 1936, d. 1982, moved to US in 1956 before the uprising to attend Berklee, and stayed on playing in Chico Hamilton's quintet 1961-66. Starting in 1966 he cut a series of fusion albums for Impulse, drawing on gypsy rhythms for his debut (Gypsy '66) and trying to cash in on the sitar vogue on this his third album. Nothing here suggests he has a clue how to construct one of Ravi Shankar's ragas, but he likes the instrument's peculiar twang and puts it to good use, especially on covers where it adds a distinctive touch ("Caravan," "Paint It Black," and especially "Summertime"). Label kept the old artwork and didn't find any extra tracks, but added a 36-page booklet with a lot more care than Universal will ever muster. B+(**)
Randy Klein: Sunday Morning (2009 , Jazzheads): Pianist, b. 1949, has ten or so records since 1986, produces records for his Jazzheads label (named after an early album), does theatre and film work -- discography includes a page as "Composer" listing Lil Kim, Memphis Bleek, Black Sheep, IRT, Sarah Dash, Millie Jackson, Candi Staton. Plays here with saxophonist Oleg Kireyev and trombonist Chris Washburne, mostly duets. Alternating the horns keeps the record out of a rut, and both make strong contributions -- I've been praising Kireyev a lot recently, but Washburne does a superb job with the more difficult instrument. B+(**)
Véronique Dubois/François Carrier: Being With (2009 , Leo): Voice/sax duets. I've always loved Carrier's sax, but he doesn't have a lot of leeway here, pinned down by a high, warbly, operatic voice that I find close to unlistenable. B-
James Blood Ulmer: In and Out (2008 , In+Out): Harmolodic jazz guitarist turned bluesman, returns to the German label that released his first album back in 1977, after a series of relatively straight blues sets on Hyena. Just a trio, with Mark Peterson on bass and Aubrey Dayle on drums. Aging usually conditions blues voices and Ulmer's is no exception: at 68 he's more grizzled than ever. But there's more guitar here, long instrumental stretches that move more than groove. And while I normally loathe flute, he takes a lead there that Sonny Boy would relish. A-
Gerry Gibbs and the Electric Thrasher Orchestra: Play the Music of Miles Davis 1967-1975 (2008 , Whaling City Sound, 2CD): Drummer, 44 (b. 1965 or 1966?), born in New York, grew up in Los Angeles, lives both places now; son of vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, with whom he has credits going back to 1987. Sixth album since 1995 -- a sextet album with Ravi Coltrane called The Thrasher, and Thrasher Big Band albums since 2005. The group is slimmed down a bit here as styled for electric Miles Davis: trumpet, two reeds; electric keyb, guitar and bass; Essiet Essiet on acoustic bass, and extra gongs and bells; possible electronics on the horns. Songbook goes back to quintet albums Nefertiti and In a Silent Way, but covers a lot of ground, leaning most on Bitches Brew and Live Evil. Doesn't have the spaciousness or individual virtuosity of Davis's original records, but is generally fun, emphasis on the groove. B+(**)
Nathan Eklund Group: Coin Flip (2009 , OA2): Trumpet player, b. 1978 near Seattle, based in NJ. Group is a quintet with Craig Yaremko on sax, Steve Myerson on Fender Rhodes. Postbop, the horns tied together harmonically over the soft springiness of the electric piano. I was more impressed last time, when the saxophonist was Donny McCaslin. B
Sarah Manning: Dandelion Clock (2009 , Posi-Tone): Alto saxophonist, originally from Connecticut where she bumped into Jackie McLean and picked up a bit of his overbite. Passed through San Francisco on her way to New York. Third album, two covers (Jimmy Rowles' "The Peacocks," Michel Legrand's "The Windmills of Your Mind") and seven originals, with Art Hirahara on piano, Linda Oh on bass, and Kyle Struve on drums. Has some edge to her playing, not just the rough tone, and gets occasional buzz from the group -- hadn't heard Hirahara before but his solos stand out. 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:
Saturday, June 19. 2010
I haven't had much to say about BP's deepwater oil gusher. I knew all along that deepwater oil would be expensive and risky and in the end of marginal value. I expected they'd have lots of trouble trying to plug it, but I hadn't been aware of the 1979 Ixtoc I spill, which took over nine months to plug in a mere 160 feet of water: the long list of failed gambits on Deepwater Horizon recapitulate the list at Ixtoc I. (Indeed, the explosion, the sinking of the platform, and the failure of systems intended to prevent spills are uncannily similar.)
I knew that Washington was awash in oil company money, and that the regulatory agencies had long ago been captured by the companies. And I knew about BP, which in its former guise as Anglo-Iranian Oil Company is the main reason the US and UK have been hated in the Middle East for the last 57 years -- the CIA's Iran coup was done to save AIOC's bacon. So I've been pretty much tempted to treat this as business as usual, but the feature quotes in Tim Dickinson's Rolling Stone piece, The Spill, the Scandal, and the President, finally hit home:
Originals were all caps. Some quotes from the article:
Andrew Leonard has some more quotes from the article here. He calls it "the most damning account of the Obama administration's reaction to and responsibility for the BP disaster I've seen so far." I haven't felt like piling onto Obama over this, but it shows several faults that we've seen repeatedly since he took office. For starters, his refusal to expose the Bush administration and make a thorough housecleaning -- Robert Gates and Ben Bernanke are merely the most famous Bush apparatchiki to hang on to their jobs and perpetuate Bush policies. Another is his willingness to kowtow to a "collective wisdom" that exists for no real reason that the media keeps repeating it over and over -- the nonsense about running deficits in a depression, the idea that a public option for health insurance is politically toxic, the incessant chant of "drill baby drill" -- often directly contradicting what he himself said when running for the nomination. Someone with more conviction and backbone would use his office's "bully pulpit" to discredit myths and push programs that would actually work rather than constantly compromise.
I'm beginning to think the characterization of the BP oil disaster as "Obama's Katrina" isn't so far off. Like Obama's recession, Obama's Iraq, Obama's Israel, even Obama's Afghanistan, everything he touches pales in comparison to Bush's originals, and has the mitigating excuse of being something he inherited rather than started from scratch, but nowhere has he managed to clear himself from the entangling traps Bush stuck him with. BP has done a breathtaking job of cutting corners, but so has Obama.
Friday, June 18. 2010
Paul Woodward: 100,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews rally in Jerusalem in support of segregation: Israel takes umbrage when accused of practicing Apartheid, but this story doesn't have anything to do with separation from Arabs -- that's a "fact on the ground" especially in the settlements -- or maintaining separate schools for boys and girls, which seems to be settled practice at least for the ultra-Orthodox. The desire here is to spare Ashkenazi Jews from having to study alongside Sephardi Jews. This is a social prejudice that has existed since the early days of Independence as Ben-Gurion organized Sephardic immigration as a way of bolstering the Jewish majority. (Sandy Tolan's The Lemon Tree has a bit on this.) Still, I would have expected the effect to lessen over time as Israel turned into a "melting pot" (for Jews, anyway), so this story comes as a shock. What I think this shows is that once you build a nation based on one group's superiority and prerogatives over others, you set up a pattern that reproduces that prejudice fractally. Here we see the conflict eating up the masters as well as the slaves. One more data point that shows how far Israeli have regressed from the egalitarian beliefs of the diaspora.
Matthew Yglesias: The Kobe Canard and Lakers Win: Don't really feel like writing about much of anything else right now, not that I'm real stuck on this either. NBA basketball is the only sport I follow much at all any more, and I watched more this year than usual -- most of all of the finals, some of most of the semis, nothing in the regular season although I occasionally glance at the standings and some of the boxes. My team allegiance is variable: the closest to automatic (when applicable) is the Knicks, but I liked the Pistons more lately, and somehow never seem to look fondly on the Bulls, Spurs, Heat, or Lakers. As for the Celtics, well, recall the Pistons. When I moved to Boston I meant to give the Celtics a chance. That first year I watched them on TV about 20 times -- all road games because they'd shake you down extra for home games -- and they seemed hugely overrated. (This would have been 1985-86, when the Celtics were 40-1 at home, so they would have been 27-14 on the road. They won the finals that year, beating the Rockets who in turn had eliminated the Lakers.) In particular, I never saw Larry Bird play a really good game, which didn't prove that he was vastly overrated, but made me a skeptic. I never again cared for the Celtics until I watched the 2006 finals, where a very different team -- Paul Pierce was a KU star, and Kevin Garnett was a guy who had been cursed to play his career with a losing team -- won me over (of course, they were favored to be playing against the Lakers).
Aside from Rajon Rondo, who's exciting but sloppy, the Celtics are older and creakier this year, and are probably finished as contenders (Allen and Garnett are 34, Pierce 32; Bryant is 31, Artest and Odom 30, Gasol 29, Fisher 35), but they came close this time. Freaky turnovers and a big foul shot differential cover the difference, with both teams shooting poorly -- as one who doesn't follow the game closely, I have to wonder if recent changes in defense rules are responsible for so much contact and so much emphasis on wild, acrobatic passing and shooting. In any case, this seems to be a much more rough and ragged game than I recall from watching Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas. This style of play makes it look like neither team has the discipline or rigor to compete with many of the past championship teams -- for instance, Jordan's Bulls and Thomas's Pistons -- but it's also possible that the new teams would simply terrorize the old ones.
My impression, nauseatingly reinforced by exposure to the idiot announcers, has always been that Kobe Bryant is way overrated. He takes an awful lot of really difficult shots, ones that virtually anyone else would pass off. But he also makes more of them than you'd imagine possible, and he is very fortunate to draw a lot of fouls in the process, which is how he turned 6-24 shooting into 23 points. I wound up more impressed with him this year than any time I've seen him in the past. Maybe that's maturity, or maybe the game has just sunk to his style. In any case, he was the Lakers' MVP because their system wouldn't give anyone else the touches. (By comparison, the Celtics had no MVP because they rotated to the hot hand -- most consistently Pierce, but not necessarily so.) Where this puts Bryant in the history of the game's great players is nowhere. Still, his career numbers, including field goal percentage, look a bit better than Pierce's over virtually the same span, which suggests he's better than I thought -- just not great like the announcers keep proclaiming.
Wednesday, June 16. 2010
I saw a bit on the PBS news last night interviewing Nouriel Roubini and Nassim Taleb, both given high marks for predicting the financial meltdown that kicked off the current deep recession. I expected both to have something worthwhile to say, but all they could talk about was looming national debts and the dire need for the US to adopt spending cuts to keep the US from becoming another Greece, where a debt crisis is forcing the nation to, uh, cut spending. In particular, the US should cut back on stimulus spending because it risks driving up future interest rates triggering a "double dip recession" -- not bothering to mention that government spending, including lavish subsidies to the banking industry, is the only thing that kept the meltdown from sinking into a repeat of the Great Depression, and that what little stabilization of the recession as we have seen is clearly due to the meager stimulus spending we have in place.
Roubini pointed out that the alternatives for the budget deficits are cutting spending, raising taxes, or inflating away the debt, and he sloughed off the latter as "inflation tax" as if that was reason enough. The fact is that cutting spending depresses the economy directly, whereas increasing taxes has at most a secondary effect, and not necessarily a bad one: it would mostly affect the rich, who aren't investing their money productively anyway, and it might encourage the government to spend even more, which would stimulate the economy. Inflating debt away has a mixed bag of winners and losers, but the latter are concentrated in the banking sector where the asset-price bubbles, and hence the bad loans, started. Moreover, it's not just the government that's deep in debt these days. A good dose of inflation would help anyone with an underwater mortgage and/or a lot of credit card debt.
Paul Volcker, another supposedly sane economist but deep down a fanatic deficit hawk, has an alarmist piece in New York Review of Books called The Time We Have Is Growing Short, which turns out to be another weeper over the debt. Raghuram Rajan is pushing for higher interest rates -- one problem he cited is low unemployment in Brazil (seems like a problem we'd like to have here). The list goes on and on -- Paul Krugman has been writing about virtually nothing else the last couple of weeks (cf. The Seductiveness of Demands for Pain, Strange Arguments for Higher Rates, The Bad Logic of Fiscal Austerity, et passim.) On a gross political level, you can see how the Republicans might want to keep the recession going thinking that Obama will get blamed for it in 2012 (like FDR was in 1936?), or that the bankers are just pushing debt/inflation bugaboos as a way of reassuring themselves that they're still heavyweight powers. But surely the dismal scientists aren't so crass? Rather, by denying Keynes on countervaling stimulus spending, they're proving him right on how the real root of the problems is the persistence of bad ideas.
Rich Cohen: Israel: My lost hero: Author of a revealing if somewhat sloppy history not just of Israel but of all of Judaism, Israel Is Real, weighs in on the Gaza Flotilla -- actually, on the occasion of, since nothing more than the timing of the piece has anything to do with Palestinian human rights. What makes the piece noteworthy is the disconnect it shows between American Jews who support Israel and the real Israel they have no grasp of. Consider Cohen's solution:
Where to begin? Israel's 7-mile-wide waist never provoked a conflict, unless you're saying it was a reason Israel expanded the 1967 war to seize the West Bank. In 1948 Jordan respected the UN partition boundaries except for the "international" area around Jerusalem, which Israel was grabbing. Israelis will tell you that while Israel preëmptively attacked Egypt and Syria in 1967, they didn't go after the West Bank until Jordan shot first, but it was a pretty token effort on Jordan's part, like Hussein was waving them in. Only some Israelis ever referred to the 1948 armistice line (the Green Line) as "Auschwitz borders" -- mostly Menachem Begin, who used "Auschwitz" as an all purpose expletive for everything he disapproved of.
But that's just a quibble. There are two much bigger problems in Cohen's proposal. One is that withdrawing your settlers while leaving the IDF in the West Bank wouldn't secure anything. All it does is leave the onus of occupation intact, and therefore begs for armed resistance. We know this because this is exactly what Israel did in southern Lebanon from 1982 to 2000, when Ehud Barak finally realized that sitting around offering themselves as targets in a country that hated them but that they had no special interest in was an utter waste. When Israel leaves the occupied territories, they simply have to let them be. Israel can use diplomacy to press its security concerns, and Israel can threaten to blow the Palestinians to smithereens if they misbehave, but they can't leave a bunch of soldiers behind to go through people's bags and keep them from importing cilantro.
An even bigger problem is that half or more of all Jews in Israel, unlike Cohen and most American Jews, are unwilling to give up their settlements in Samaria and Judea or pretty much any square inch of Jerusalem or the security umbrella they have erected over the several million Palestinians they regard as squatting on their land. (As long as Israel occupies that land, Jews can seize it whenever Palestinians can be nudged aside, or preferably abroad.) Cohen may be as willing to fight for his idea of Israel as Israeli Jews are for theirs, but the difference between Little Israel and Big Israel is huge: it is literally the difference between peace now and conflict forever, because Big Israel is stuck with all those pesky Palestinians, who can't be absorbed by the Jewish State because they aren't Jewish, where all Little Israel has to do is to accept a deal that's already on the table and bring their people back home.
Moreover, the disconnect is not just about land. It's about the value of peace. American Jews live in peace, in a land of great wealth and opportunity and few hardships, so they put a high value on peace. Israeli Jews live in perpetual war, but they've convinced themselves that it's not only the natural state of being a Jew, they think the conflict has made them stronger and more virtuous: in other words, they thrive on war; conflict is what brings them together and makes them great, and now you want them to give that up, to give up their dominance, their superiority, and the land that God gave them, the land that they won with their blood, for what? For peace?
Of course, not every Jew in Israel is so in love with the conflict or with the land. Some would be happy to back out of the occupied territories. Some would like to do business with neighboring countries, and some just want as much distance between themselves and the Arabs as possible. Some may be tired of living in a garrison state, and some may be annoyed by the privileges given the Orthodox to maintain unity. A large number of Israelis have already voted with their feet, entering (or returning to) the diaspora where they can live in peace and relative normalcy. The problem is that Israeli Jews who might be inclined to go along with a peace deal have been consistently undercut from two critical sources: the political right, who have found foolproof ways to make demagoguery work, and from America, where this disconnect lets us give Israel unconditional support while pretending Israel's ideals are the same as our own, even though they clearly are not. (Of course, I'm talking about US liberals here, many but by no means all Jewish. US conservatives have their own reasons to love Israel: neocons envy Israeli military prowess, while evangelical Christians are looking forward to Armageddon.)
The problem with Cohen's proposal, and with dozens more or less like it from pro-Israel US liberals, isn't that you can't refine it into something that will work. Lots of things could work -- the big advantage of the 1967 borders proposal is that accepting it bypasses a whole lot of potentially complicating haggling. The problem is that Cohen's proposal, or for that matter anything realistic that gets Palestinians with some patch of land out from under Israel's thumb, cannot bring Israel to the table, because Israel -- especially ruled by Benjamin Netanyahu, but really we've seen the same problem with Olmert, Sharon, Barak, Peres, Rabin, Shamir, Begin, and possibly earlier -- doesn't want peace, certainly not on any terms that acknowledge and respect Palestinian rights.
So Cohen's proposal, like all the others, gets us nothing. Israel can always nitpick, find some distraction, and depend on their supporters not to break ranks. Inside Israel this is business as usual: as Moshe Dayan put it long ago, "the Americans give us arms, money, and advice; we take the arms and money, and ignore the advice." As long as this seems to be working, no force within Israel is going to change what they view as a winning strategy. The one thing that might make a difference would be for Israel's American allies to break ranks, to recognize that the Netanyahu government has betrayed their hopes and ideals, and to insist that the US stop subsidizing Israel's programs of perpetual conflict.
Of course, Israelis might sink into an even deeper, more paranoid funk if the US were to shun Israel's most belligerent and unjust policies, but why should Israel cling to fantasies when the conflict can so easily be resolved. The fact is that Israel has won virtually everything they set out to win. They significantly expanded the UN Partition borders, adding West Galilee, Haifa, and West Jerusalem to what was already a disproportionately large slice of Mandatory Palestine, and they drove into exile most of the native population, ensuring a large Jewish majority. Those 1949-67 borders, along with the permanent existence of the Jewish State, are universally recognized now, and no one seriously expects the refugees and their progeny to repatriate to Israel. The neighboring Arab states that fought Israel in wars from 1948 to 1973 have been tamed and quiescent, and no longer even fantasize of attacking Israel. Some have signed peace treaties with Israel, and the rest have offered to do so once the conflict with the Palestinians has been resolved. The main Palestinian parties -- Fatah and Hamas -- have shifted focus from armed resistance to ordinary politicking, signifying their will to work within a normal political system. There is, in short, no existential threat to Israel, hardly any security threat at all. The settlements are, as intended, a problem, but a little good will can sort them out: some are best dismantled, but the larger ones could be transitioned to Palestine like Hong Kong was to China, far enough into a more benign future that both sides can plan around. And while the refugees can't return to Israel, something needs to be done to move them out of their "temporary" camps and into permanent homes. If Israel was willing, the world would pitch in to help. The conflict began in the wake of WWII and was thrust upon the UN in its early days -- a first and most fateful failure, one the organization, and the world, has never gotten over.
I suppose you could credit Cohen for addressing his proposals to the only people who can do something about it: the Israelis. But I don't see how reiterating their myths and misconceptions, let alone piling on the flattery, helps. The only thing that seems to strike a chord is shame.
Only adding to my analysis above, Paul Woodward reports these testimonies from Israelis:
In a different voice: a letter from Israel: From Ronen Shamir, a professor of sociology and law at Tel Aviv University:
Israel's greatest loss: its moral imagination: Henry Siegman.
Are Israel's battles costing the country its soul? Ehud Eiran, a major in the IDF reserves:
The Iran reference is another instance of appealing to Israelis by conceding their myths. I thought about mentioning Iran among the list of Israel's minor threats, but in the end couldn't take it even that seriously. A nuclear-armed Iran might cramp Israel's style, or more importantly America's style, in that it would caution against such frequent sabre-ratting as Bush's "Axis of Evil" speech and the neocon quips about "real men" looking past Baghdad to Tehran, but both Israel and the US have highly credible nuclear deterrents, and Iran (unlike Saddam Hussein's Iraq) has never shown any military aggressiveness (although they do have a knack for annoying the US and Israel). It is rather more likely that Iran is just looking for its own deterrent against US and/or Israeli attack, and that desire would wane if the threat were to subside.
Tuesday, June 15. 2010
Just heard that the Jazz Consumer Guide scheduled for this week's Village Voice was pulled due to a space snafu. I've been assured it will run in a week or two.
Monday, June 14. 2010
Jazz Consumer Guide (23) will be published in The Village Voice come Wednesday, so more on that when it happens. This issue will be the Voice's annual Jazz Supplement. No idea what else will be in the issue. Haven't heard anything about cuts to my draft, so I most likely won't know until you know, but it may well run intact. I posted my big surplus cull yesterday, so that's out of the way. Got my transitional paperwork done, too.
Next column is already overwritten, so in theory should be able to run as soon as the Voice green lights it -- but I've never had much success at pushing these things more often than every three months. This one at least has some 2010 releases (11, vs. 37 2009s and 3 2008s), but next one will still have some 2009 releases -- the median time to get a review out is probably nine months. One thing I am going to do is to start presorting what's hitherto been one big pile of unplayed records. Another project is a major effort to put things away in places where I can find them again. The upstairs construction project will, I swear, be finished this week, which will open up shelf space for some 2,500 CDs. (If that isn't enough I may have to start getting rid of some shit, because I'm certainly running out of wall space.)
Lot of stuff to get to, so here's the first installment of Jazz Prospecting for the new round.
Arild Andersen: Green in Blue: Early Quartets (1975-78 , ECM, 3CD): Norwegian bassist, one of several now-prominent musicians spawned by George Russell and Don Cherry during their late 1960s move to Scandinavia. Has a dozen-plus albums under his own name, the first three returned to print here. These are all sax-piano-bass-drums quartets, with flush flowing rhythms that highlight the leader's bass. Pål Thowsen is on drums on all three. The debut album, Clouds in My Head, features Kurt Riisnaes on tenor sax, soprano sax, and flute, with Jon Balke on piano. Balke would have been close to 20 at the time, but he already has a tough approach, and makes a much stronger impression than Lars Jansson, who replaced him on the other two albums. Riisnaes is superb throughout, but was also replaced on the later albums, Shimri and Green Shading Into Blue, by Juhani Aaltonen, who is riveting on tenor sax but plays a lot more flute, an instrument that he gives a dry, cerebral tone -- fascinating as such things go, but it's still flute, and it shifts the records toward the airy side -- Shimri has a slight edge of joyous discovery, but the two are very closely matched. B+(***)
Chick Corea: Solo Piano: Improvisations/Children's Songs (1971-83 , ECM, 3CD): Three solo piano albums find Corea in an exploratory mood. The first two came from a 1971 session, when Corea was working with Miles Davis on the one hand and Anthony Braxton on the other, before he took off on Return to Forever. Aside from pieces by Monk and Shorter on Vol. 2, everything was improvised, with the melodies on Vol. 1 especially charming. Children's Songs came twelve years later, all improvised, nothing childish about it other than that he tries working from elements. Final cut adds violin and cello, a nice little piece of chamber jazz. B+(*)
Steve Swell's Slammin' the Infinite: 5000 Poems (2007 , Not Two): Trombonist, b. 1954, didn't record his own stuff until 1996 but has been prolific ever since. Group named for a 2003 album, originally a quartet with Sabir Mateen (alto sax, tenor sax, clarinet, alto clarinet, flute), Matthew Heyner (bass), and Klaus Kugel (drums), now with pianist John Blum added. I've heard very little that he's done before -- especially missed out on a long series of CIMP albums -- and haven't been real impressed by what little I did hear, but this hits on every cyllinder. I'm impressed that he keeps up on a much slower instrument with Mateen. I also love how Blum breaks up the rhythm on piano. A-
Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth: Deluxe (2008 , Clean Feed): I used to be able to ID these cars: cover looks like a mid-1950s Oldsmobile (1956?), the sketch inside more like a 1959 Caddy, the ne plus ultra of tailfins. Lightcap's a bassist, b. 1971, gets around, third album under his own name after two Fresh Sound New Talents. Runs a big horn line here, with tenor saxophonists Chris Cheek and Tony Malaby on all cuts, and alto saxophonist Andrew D'Angelo joining in on three of eight. Craig Taborn plays Wurlitzer, and Gerald Cleaver is the drums. Sounds like a freewheeling lineup, but they mostly hum along in sync. I used to have a monster Olds: a 1965, with a 425 cu. in. V-8, 4 bbl. carb, put out about 360 hp, ran real smooth keeping all that power bottled up under its big hood, kind of like this record. B+(*)
John Hébert Trio: Spiritual Lover (2008 , Clean Feed): Bassist, from Louisiana, based in Jersey City, shows up on a lot of good records, now has two under his own name. Trio includes Gerald Cleaver on drums and Benoit Delbecq on piano, clarinet, and synth -- mostly piano, but the switches muddy that somewhat. If you care to, you can focus on the bass and be rewarded for your efforts. Otherwise, Delbecq is a fine pianist -- I recommend his 2005 album, Phonetics, but you get a taste of that here. B+(**)
Lawnmower: West (2008 , Clean Feed): The label really seems to like group names, something I try to minimize in my filing: most seem like fronts for some principal, and even when group distribution is genuine so many group names become difficult to follow. I originally tried filing this under drummer Luther Gray: he produced and wrote the (very brief) liner notes. Don't see any song credits. Of course, the person you hear is alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs, who is always out front. Quartet is filled out with two guitarists, Geoff Farina and Dan Littleton, who don't make much of a mark. Some bits of Americana worked into the mix, giving it a bit of folk-gospel roots, but recast as free jazz, of course. B+(**)
Paal Nilssen-Love/Ken Vandermark: Milwaukee Volume (2007 , Smalltown Superjazz): Chicago reed player Vandermark plays tenor and baritone sax, Bb and bass clarinet; drums and percussion for Norwegian Nilssen-Love. Nilssen-Love has played in several Vandermark groups like School Days and in Territory Band. They hooked up for an improv duet in 2002 called Dual Pleasure, followed that with the 2-CD Dual Pleasure 2 in 2003, Seven in 2005, and now two new discs, the one from Milwaukee cut a day before the one from Chicago. They go round and round, same basic moves, hard to sort out any real advantages here or there, but this one, I'd say, has more pure pleasure than any since the surprise of the debut wore off. For one thing, Vandermark has developed into a monster baritone player, so the really rough stuff comes out loud and low. A-
Paal Nilssen-Love/Ken Vandermark: Chicago Volume (2007 , Smalltown Supersound): A day later after Milwaukee Volume, same setup, similar results. Been playing both a lot since they arrived, but this one remains a bit less focused to me, with fewer pleasure spots. B+(***)
First Meeting: Cut the Rope (2009 , Libra): Quartet: Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, the composer and presumed leader here; Satoko Fujii on piano, Kelly Churko on guitar, and Tatsuhisa Yamamoto on drums. Liner notes explain that Tamura threw the band together when promised 15-20 students would show up -- evidently all capitalism takes in the small world of avant-jazz. Conceived as a "noise band" -- a lot of warbling, scratchy, freakout stuff from the guitar, which the others play around, through, or in spite of -- Fujii is especially sharp at that. Irresistible when they tap into a groove, amusing even when they're just scattering shit. A-
Keefe Jackson Quartet: Seeing You See (2008 , Clean Feed): Tenor saxophonist, also plays bass clarinet, from Fayetteville, Arkansas, moved to Chicago in 2001, third album since 2006. Quartet includes ex-Vandermark 5 trombonist Jeb Bishop, who also plays alongside Jackson in Lucky 7s, plus Jason Roebke on bass and Noritaka Tanaka on drums. Snakey free jazz, probably more interesting for Bishop's runs and smears, although Jackson can pull off some interesting lines. B+(**)
Carlos Bica + Matéria-Prima (2008 , Clean Feed): Bassist, from Portugal, based in Germany, has a half-dozen or more records since 1996, four with his trio Azul (Frank Möbius on guitar, Jim Black on drums). Not sure if Prima-Matéria is a distinct group -- doesn't show up on Bica's website project list nor on trumpeter Matthias Schriefl's MySpace page (Schreefpunk, European TV Brass Trio, Brazilian Motions, deujazz, 2 Generations of Trumpets, United Groove-O-Rama, Schmittmenge Meier, Mutantenstadt). Group also includes Mário Delgado on electric guitar, João Lobo on drums and percussion, and João Paulo on piano, keyboards, and accordion. Assembled from three concerts -- the one patch of applause comes at a bit of surprise, even if well earned. Rather patchy, the main shift turning on Paulo's accordion, which puts the band in a mood for tango or something folkloric; otherwise they have a tendency toward soundtrack, with three placenames in the titles. Still, Schriefl is a smoldering trumpet player, and this never settles into the ordinary. B+(***)
Jim Lewis/Andrew Downing/Jean Martin: On a Short Path From Memory to Forgotten (2008 , Barnyard): Trumpet, bass, drums, respectively. Canadians: Lewis teaches at University of Toronto, which Downing attended. This looks to be Lewis's first album. Scratchy free jazz, often engaging, a little short of fire power. B+(**)
Chris Icasiano/Neil Welch: Bad Luck. (2009, Belle): Icasiano is a drummer, b. 1986, from Seattle; also plays in a group called Speak, which has an album on Origin I haven't played yet -- presumably more mainstream, where this is pretty free. Welch is a Seattle saxophonist, b. 1985, plays tenor, soprano, and contrabass here with some loops and pedals. Not as much muscle as Vandermark and Nilssen-Love, the reigning champs of sax-drums duos, but what they lack is interesting in its own right. B+(***)
Speak (2009 , Origin): Seattle quintet, if you count trumpeter Cuong Vu who dropped in after picking up a teaching gig at the University of Washington. The others are Luke Bergman on bass, Chris Icasiano on drums, Aaron Otheim on keyboard, and Andrew Swanson on sax (probably tenor). All but Vu contribute songs -- Bergman and Otheim two. Bergman produced. Not as mainstream as I expected, although the sax-trumpet layering is postbop, while the electric keyboard is mostly tacky, at least until they mutate into some sort of horror soundtrack phase, ultimately breaking up into noise, which is possibly their metier -- at least Swanson sounds much healthier and happier squawking. B
The Element Choir: At Rosedale United (2009 , Barnyard): Rosedale United is a church in Toronto. The Element Choir is a vocal group, 51 voices strong, conducted by Christine Duncan. The vocal group functions more as a crowd than as a choir. They're matched with a set of musicians who tend toward avant-ambiance: Jim Lewis (trumpet), Eric Robertson (cassavant pipe organ), Jesse Zubot (violin), and Jean Martin (drums, trumophone). The organ can get churchy, the violin elegiac, the trumpet -- well, I forget what the trumpet does, but at least it was more clear than the choir. B
NoMoreShapes: Creesus Crisis (2010, Drip Audio): Canadian trio, from (and/or based in) Calgary: Jay Crocker on guitar and electronics, J.C. Jones trombone, Eric Hamelin drums and percussion. One suspects rock backgrounds, but this comes off more like freebop than any kind of experimental fusion. The trombone certainly helps. B+(**)
These are some even quicker notes based on downloading or streaming records. I don't have the packaging here, don't have the official hype, often don't have much information to go on. I have a couple of extra rules here: everything gets reviewed/graded in one shot (sometimes with a second play), even when I'm still guessing on a grade; the records go into my flush file (i.e., no Jazz CG entry, unless I make an exception for an obvious dud). If/when I get an actual copy I'll reconsider the record.
Steve Swell's Slammin' the Infinite: Remember Now (2005 , Not Two): Something from the back catalog, by my reckoning the second of four Slammin' the Infinite recordings. No pianist yet, so this is basically two freewheeling horns -- Swell's trombone and Sabir Mateen's saxes/clarinets -- against freewheeling rhythm. Offhand, about as explosive as the new one; while the piano is a plus in the new one, it is hardly necessary. This group projects tremendous energy, makes great noise, and has a fractal intrigue especially in its churning rhythm. Never heard of bassist Matt Heyner or drummer Klaus Kugel before, but they're very solid in this group. Would like to hear more. A- [Rhapsody]
Ideal Bread: The Ideal Bread (2008, KMB): Quartet, brainchild of baritone saxophonist Josh Stinton, only plays Steve Lacy songs. Other members: Kirk Knuffke (trumpet), Reuben Radding (bass), Tomas Fujiwara (drums). This album came out a couple of years ago and showed up on some year-end ballots, especially as best debut album. I meant to chase them down at the time, but didn't; remembered them again thanks to their new album, Transmit: Vol. 2 of the Music of Steve Lacy -- also didn't get that one, and it's not on Rhapsody, but this one is. I've heard a lot by Lacy but can't pick out any of his songs, even album titles like "Trickles" and "Esteem." The shift from soprano to baritone precludes emulation, but the edge is there, the second horn adds further snap, and Radding has a lot to do. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Some more re-grades as I've gone through trying to sort out the surplus:
Andrea Fultz: The German Projekt: German Songs From the Twenties & Thirties (2009, The German Projekt): I figure my own fondless for these famous Brecht/Weill and Hollaender tunes is so indelibly personal that I faded my grade. But what the hell: I'd rather hear these stretched, smeared, scorched renditions than dig out my old Lotte Lenya records. [formerly B+(***)] A-
Brian Groder/Burton Greene: Groder & Greene (2007 , Latham): I little more schizzy than I recalled, with the piano-trumpet dithering spare on one side, overpowered by Rob Brown on the other. [formerly B+(***)] B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail the last two weeks: