Sunday, July 31. 2016
After the big post on the Democratic National Convention and the mad
scramble to wrap up July's Streamnotes, I figured I'd skip attempting a
Weekend Roundup today. I started this in the Notebook, then decided
what the hell, might as well share it. Tried to avoid adding comments.
Read the links at your leisure and the comments will probably be obvious.
One quote from these pieces I want to single out: from the Frum
article, a quote from an anonymous Trump supporter:
"The Putin thing. You think you've really nailed Donald with the Putin
thing. Get it through your head: Our people are done fighting wars
for your New World Order. We fought the Cold War to stop the
Communists from taking over America, not to protect Estonia. We went
to Iraq because you said it was better to fight them over there than
fight them over here. Then you invited them over here anyway! Then you
said that we had to keep inviting them over here if we wanted to win
over there. And we figured out: You care a lot more about the "inviting"
part than the "winning" part. So no more. Not until we face a real
threat, and have a real president who'll do whatever it takes to win.
Whatever it takes.
My emphasis. Funny thing is that the first time I heard "New World
Order" in the last decade -- I think the phrase goes back to people
in the first Bush administration, circa the first Iraq War -- was in
the house of a Trump supporter. He attributed it to Obama, and was
greatly bothered by the whole idea. Democrats are vulnerable to this
because they grew up in the internationalist tradition from Wilson to
Roosevelt to Johnson, and the Carters and Clintons and Obamas have just
sheepishly followed in line. It started just helping US companies do
business abroad, evolved into a protection racket for global capitalism,
and eventually became a self-serving monster, starting wars just to
punish countries for disrespecting our omnipotence. This never meant
anything to most Americans aside from the fears they were dictated,
but after Eisenhower beat Taft in 1952 the Republicans were always in
on the deal, so nobody had a chance to hear otherwise -- until Trump.
This is a big risk for Hillary: her political education has taught
her to always spout the Washington establishment's clichés and, if
pressed, always to hedge on the side of being more hawkish. Against
Trump, especially viz. Russia, she could easily convince people that
she's the dangerous maniac (as well as that she's weak -- not willing
to do "whatever it takes" because she's hung up on sensitivities to
foreigners and international law).
I also might have noted that on Saturday 538's
Who will win the presidency? showed Clinton and Trump dead even at
50.0%, with Trump enjoying a slight edge in electoral votes (269.4 to
268.2) but Clinton still leading the popular vote (46.3 to 45.5%, with
Gary Johnson at 6.9% and Jill Stein off the chart). Clinton's decline
nudged Florida, Iowa, Nevada, Ohio, and New Hampshire into the Trump
column. On Sunday new polls bumped Clinton up to 51.0%, 270.2-267.4 in
the electoral college, 46.3-45.4% popular vote, but didn't tip any
states. Right now, the closest state is Pennsylvania, only D+0.8,
followed by Nevada R+0.9, Florida R+1.2, and Virginia D+1.2. Clinton
has been sinking since FBI Director James Comey's press conference
put the private email server issue to rest (at least the threat of
a possible indictment), so the RNC bounce had some prior momentum.
We're not seeing much of a DNC bounce yet -- at least it's not coming
as fast as what was taken as a RNC bounce did. (Silver footnote from
the article cited above: "Although interestingly, if you chart the
numbers, it's not easy to distinguish Trump's convention bounce from
a continuation of the previous trend toward him.")
Don't know if this has been factored in, but RABA Research's
post-DNC poll has Clinton ahead of Trump 46-31% (7% for Johnson,
2% for Stein), a big bump from their post-RNC/pre-DNC poll, which
Clinton led 39-34%. (Still, aren't the undecided remains awfully
large here? Seems like a lot of people don't want to face the choice
they've been given.)
Saturday, July 30. 2016
First order of business: I've dropped "Rhapsody" from the column
name because the streaming service changed their name to Napster. I
started writing these notes in 2007 when Rhapsody kindly gave me a
free subscription (I had done some work for them converting Robert
Christgau's Consumer Guide reviews so they could use them). That ran
out a year later and there's a break in coverage until the following
August when I broke down and paid for the service. One of the better
investments I've made, the most obvious ROI being that it broke me
of the habit of buying CDs just to check them out, only to discover
they weren't things I would want to return to. The second effect was
that I wound up checking out a lot of stuff I never would have paid
for -- some did pan out, and many didn't.
I later decided to cut back on my column writing, bringing to a
Recycled Goods and
Jazz Prospecting as separate entities
by folding the records I would have reviewed there into here. These
days, the default below (the case not otherwise marked) is something
streamed on Rhapsody/Napster. Other records are marked with a note
in brackets -- [cd] for CDs (mostly promos), [cdr] for advance/bootleg
CDs (all promos), [bc] for Bandcamp, [dl] for some other download (or
streaming) source. Needless to say, these sources are not all created
equal, either in terms of sound quality or personal convenience. Each
column has a legend explaining this.
As you may recall, I missed a big chunk of June travelling, so that
month's haul was much shorter than usual (66). This month's is probably
longer than usual (135). The "new releases" generally came out in the
last 2-3 years, with most being 2016 releases. The "recent reissues,
compilations, vault discoveries" were also released in the last 2-3
years, but usually are older music (recorded more than ten years ago),
but I sometimes slip in more recent "various artist" compilations (like
the Blind Willie Johnson tribute this month). The "old music" section
contains older releases that I'm late getting to -- mostly catch-ups
on artists or labels I've been thinking about and found on Rhapsody
(er, Napster, hate that name), plus the occasional stray that I just
happened to notice. This section was very slim this month until at
the last moment I decided to dive into old Fred Hersch records.
Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records
from Rhapsody (other sources are noted in brackets). They are snap
judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post
along these lines, back on June 30. Past reviews and more
information are available
here (8364 records).
The 1975: I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful
Yet So Unaware of It (2016, Dirty Hit/Interscope): British
guitar band, second album. No denying that some of this is catchy,
bouncy, sharp, smart, but it's also extremely long at 73:55 (17
Anohni: Hopelessness (2016, Secretly Canadian): Antony
Hegarty, formerly of Antony and the Johnsons, name change seems to be
related to a gender change. Produced by Hudson Mohawke, with input from
Oneohtrix Point Never, so the protest music is devoid of folky cliché.
He/she oversings -- some things are beyond change.
The Avalanches: Wildflower (2016, Astralwerks):
Australian group, built their first album wholly from samples (2000's
Since I Left You) -- about the time when they reportedly
started working on this second album, finally released 16 years
later. Ridiculously mixed bag here, the calypso-oom-pah mashup
"Frankie Sinatra" is amusing enough, but other jokes wear thin,
if indeed they are funny at all.
Ricardo Bacelar: Concerto Para Moviola: Ao Vivo (2015
, Bacelar): Brazilian pianist, a live recording from the
Guaramiranga Jazz and Blues Festival in Ceara, Brazil; draws on
1970s pop/fusion like Weather Report and Yellowjackets and throws
in some Jobim, of course. Flows, lilts, even rocks out a bit.
Jon Balke: Warp (2014 , ECM): Norwegian pianist,
more than a dozen albums since 1991. Solo piano, slow and thoughtful
enough for Manfred Eicher, also credits for field recordings and vocals
but nothing I much noticed.
Aaron Bennett/Darren Johnston/Lisa Mezzacappa/Tim Rosaly:
Shipwreck 4 (2015 , NoBusiness): Tenor sax, trumpet,
bass, drums -- your basic two-horn avant quartet, no chordal instrument
to harmonize the horns. Should be freewheeling, but isn't quite.
James Blake: The Colour in Anything (2016, Polydor):
British electronica artist, gained a lot of attention for a series
of dubstep-influenced EPs c. 2010, which he's followed up with a pair
of much hyped (but to my ears underwhelming) albums. Blake picked up
help here from Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and Rick Rubin, stretching
the album out to a monumental 76:13. I can see why some people are
impressed, but I find it dreary and depressing -- not something I
look for in pop music.
Carla Bley/Andy Sheppard/Steve Swallow: Andando el Tiempo
(2015 , ECM): Piano, tenor/soprano sax, bass, playing five Bley
compositions. Swallow is Bley's third famous husband (after Paul Bley
and Michael Mantler). Sheppard is a Brit who produced some exciting
albums from the late 1980s, and has been close to Bley for well over a
decade now. Like their previous Trios, a lovely piece of chamber
Blood Orange: Freetown Sound (2016, Domino): Dev
Hynes, previously recorded as Lightspeed Champion, now has his third
album as Blood Orange. R&B, slick beats and soft croon but it
all comes out twisted in various ways.
The Michael Blum Quartet: Chasin' Oscar: A Tribute to Oscar
Peterson (2015 , self-released): Guitarist, won
Downbeat's Rising Star a year ago in something of a scandal
(he didn't finish in the top 21 this year). Quartet includes piano
(Brad Smith), bass (Jim Stinnett), and drums (Dom Moio). The Oscar
Peterson theme offers easy standards (plus two originals by Stinnett),
and Blum sings a couple -- not very well, but not without charm.
Bobby Bradford/Hafez Modirzadeh: Live at the Open Gate
(2013 , NoBusiness): Trumpet and alto sax, respectively, with
Mark Dresser on bass and Alex Cline on drums, a perfectly enjoyable
but unspectacular avant set.
Brazzamerica: Brazzamerica (2016, self-released):
Brazilian (or Brazilian-American? -- this album, presumably their
debut, was recorded in New York) piano trio: Leco Reis (bass),
Cidinho Teixeira (piano), Edson Ferreira (percussion). Engagingly
upbeat, very pleasant.
Brothers Osborne: Pawn Shop (2016, EMI Nashville):
John and T.J., country-rockers transplanted to Nashville from Maryland,
not to be confused with Kentucky bluegrassers Sonny and Bobby, aka the
Osborne Brothers. First album, country rock with emphasis on the latter,
but country for their clearly articulated down home themes -- almost
a little too clear, nothing you'd think twice about.
Toronzo Cannon: The Chicago Way (2016, Alligator):
Chicago bluesman, fourth album since 2007 getting a late start --
he's now 48, basically a journeyman working in a long tradition.
Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Denial (2016, Matador):
Singer-songwriter Will Toledo, wrote eleven homemade albums worth of
songs in four years before landing an indie label contract. His debut
featured re-recorded old songs, but this sophomore effort is newer
and bigger, his twelve songs running 69:16, nearly everyone with
substantial crunch and hook -- so much meatier than anything from
his lo-fi days. Can't say as I care yet, but I am impressed.
Cavanaugh: Time and Materials (2015 , Mello
Music): Underground rap duo, Open Mike Eagle and Serengeti, beats
are subtle, raps representing characters -- as usual I have trouble
following, but what I do hear is interesting. Eight tracks, 25:56.
Corey Christensen: Factory Girl (2015 , Origin):
Guitarist, has a handful of grooveful albums, group includes Zach
Lapidus on keyboards, plus bass, drums, and extra percussion.
Brandy Clark: Big Day in a Small Town (2016, Warner
Brothers): Quite some songwriter, storyteller too, but she turns so
many clever phrases with heaven and hell (e.g., "since you've gone to
heaven the whole world's gone to hell") and love lost and scorned
("if you want the girl next door, go next door . . . and don't look
Frankie Cosmos: Next Thing (2016, Bayonnet): Greta
Kline's second album, at 28:28 still considered an EP by Rhapsody but
anything with fifteen songs deserves more respect. (Her previous
Zentropy finished ten songs in 17:16.) Better than lo-fi
sound, better than DIY songs too.
Sylvie Courvoisier/Mark Feldman/Ikue Mori/Evan Parker: Miller's
Tale (2015 , Intakt): Piano, violin, electronics, soprano
and tenor sax, respectively. Feldman is the most classical-sounding of
jazz violinists and seems to dominate at first, but the more you listen
the more interesting the fractured piano and sax become. Still not sure
about the electronics.
Dan Cray: Outside In (2015 , Origin): Pianist,
sixth album since 2002, a quartet with Dayna Stephens (tenor sax),
Clark Sommers (bass), and Mark Ferber (drums). Four originals, three
covers (Bud Powell, "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing," "Where Are You"),
nothing too settled or pat.
Theo Croker: Escape Velocity (2015 , Okeh):
Trumpet player, grandson of Doc Cheatham -- would have been 11 when
the New Orleans trumpet legend died at 91, but Donald Byrd is the
more explicit reference. Like Byrd, Croker aims for jazz-funk as if
he's on the verge of a commercial breakthrough. Drawing on a wider
range of funk, he gets a bit closer aesthetically, but in today's
marketplace still remains marginal, even with the Dee Dee Bridgewater
Orbert Davis' Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble:
Havana Blue (2013 , 3Sixteen): Big band plus some
strings, the bulk of the record taken up by "Havana Blue Suite"
followed by a few standards (including "Manteca"). The suite has
a delicate air.
Suzanne Dean: Come to Paradise (2016, Ship's Bell
Music): More songwriter than singer -- credit here is "background
vocals and ukulele"; lead vocals are by Nicole Zuraitis -- with
the songs in a folk-rock vein (paradise and dreams and such),
starting with guitar then gradually adding in keyboards (Rich
Ruttenberg) and horns (John Daversa and Bob Sheppard).
Debo Band: Ere Gobez (2016, FPE): Boston band led
by Ethiopian singer Bruck Tesfaye and saxophonist Danny Mekonnen,
doing a fair approximation of Ethiopian pop/Ethio-jazz.
The Diva Jazz Orchestra: Special Kay! (2013 ,
self-released): Drummer Sherrie Maricle's all-female big band
"celebrates the life and music of Stanley Kay" -- last name Kaufman,
also a drummer, died in 2010 at 86 after a "70+ year career" which
included a stint as Entertainment Director for the New York Yankees,
but he's also credited as founder (in 1992) and "creative force
behind" the Orchestra. He also composed the ten pieces, which swing
ferociously. Done live, with lots of shout-outs to the soloists.
Drake: Views (2016, Cash Money): Canadian rapper,
took a fairly modest underground style and blew it up into a big hit,
and keeps spitting it out although I've never found much reason to
care. Runs 79:45.
The Evenfall Quartet: Evenfall (2015 , Blue
Duchess): Boston group, first album, very mainstream tenor sax (Mark
Earley), piano (Joe "Sonny" Barbato), bass (Brad Hallen), drums (Jerzy
"Jurek" Glod) outfit. All standards, leading with "That Old Black
Magic," passing through "Time After Time" and "Old Devil Moon" and
"After You're Gone" to wrap up with "Stardust." Earley's background
is playing in blues bands (Duke Robillard, Roomful of Blues) and he
doesn't have the rich vibrato of a Bob Rockwell much less Ben Webster,
nor does the band aspire to anything retro (like a Scott Hamilton).
In short, as a critic I should insist on them working harder, doing
something more ambitious, but in fact my idea of a perfectly lovely
Fail Better!: Owt (2014 , NoBusiness): Avant-jazz
quintet from Portugal -- Marco dos Reis (guitar), Luis Vicente (trumpet),
João Guimarães (alto sax), José Miguel Pereira (double bass), João Pais
Filipe (drums) -- recorded live at Coimbra. The guitar generally leads
Alan Ferber: Roots & Transitions (2016, Sunnyside):
Postbop trombonist, assembled a nonet here to fill out his compositions,
thick and more than a little turgid.
Cheryl Fisher: Quietly There (2015 , OA2):
Standards singer (wrote one song here), from Canada, eighth album
since 2004, quietly sneaks up on you, in large part because the
band -- Seattle musicians from John Bishop's crew -- provides
subtle support in all the right places.
Anat Fort Trio/Gianluigi Trovesi: Birdwatching (2013
, ECM): Pianist, born in Israel, based in New York, fourth album
since 1999, trio means Gary Wang (bass) and Roland Schneider (drums),
together at least since 2009. Trovesi plays alto clarinet, returning
to the lineup of her 2007 ECM debut.
Dori Freeman: Dori Freeman (2015 , Free Dirt):
Folky singer-songwriter from Appalachia doesn't make a show of her
roots or authenticity but lets them quietly seep through her songs,
produced by Teddy Thompson, most effectively when he slips in a rock
band, or lets her take a work song with nothing but finger snaps.
Fresh Cut Orchestra: Mind Behind Closed Eyes (2016,
Ropeadope): Ten-piece group from Philadelphia led by Josh Lawrence
(trumpet), Jason Fraticelli (bass & cuatro), and Anwar Marshall
(drums), who share writing credits pretty evenly. Latin tinge, much
emphasis on rhythm, especially irresistible on the closer "Gallo y
Fresh Cut Orchestra: From the Vine (2015, self-released):
First album, mostly consists of the seven-part "Mother's Suite," starting
off with irritating bird sounds then gets symphonic. Mixed bag after that,
including passages that show a lot of promise (and not just the fast ones).
Fred Frith Trio: Another Day in Fucking Paradise
(2015 , Intakt): Guitarist, many albums since his early
Guitar Solos (1974) when he staked his avant-garde claims
by working with prepared guitar. This is still fairly far out,
scratchy avant guitar backed by Jason Hoopes (electric and double
bass) and Jordan Glenn (drums, percussion). Some slavic-sounding
voice, but it doesn't stick around.
Fruit Bats: Absolute Loser (2016, Easy Sound):
Chicago alt/indie band, starts with the Velvets' guitar sound and
adds some pop sparkle, with Eric D. Johnson writing neat little
Gaudi: EP (2016, RareNoise, EP): Daniele Gaudi Cenacchi,
b. 1963 in Italy, based in London, has a dozen albums since 1991 and
many more shorter forms. Plays minimoog and other keyboards here, also
credited with programming, for two cuts, 15:39, backed by 5-6 musicians
(no intersection, the better known ones like Bill Laswell and Merzbow
are on "Electronic impromptu in E-flat Minor." Groove spins off easily
enough you wouldn't mind him running longer.
Sara Gazarek/Josh Nelson: Dream in the Blue (2015
, Steel Bird): Nelson plays piano -- has a couple albums on
his own. Gazarek sings, mostly standards but Nelson wrote three
songs, two with Gazarek. A fairly intimate affair, never really
Domo Genesis: Genesis (2016, Odd Future): LA rapper,
Dominique Marquis Cole, debut album after several mixtapes. Good chance
this could grow on me, given how many times the first pass reminded me
of Stevie Wonder.
Robert Glasper: Everything's Beautiful (2016, Legacy):
Co-credited to Miles Davis, who is extensively sampled (or reproduced)
for a tie-in with Don Cheadle's movie, Miles Ahead. Still, Davis
died 25 years ago, and while it's amusing to imagine what he might have
made of hip-hop, the result is clearly the work of someone who grew up
straddling both worlds. More polished than previous efforts, with some
imagination but also a tendency to let the soundtrack unwound.
André Gonçalves: Currents & Riptides (2016,
Shhpuma): From Portugal, plays keyboards, guitar and computer, but they
mostly boil down to electronics. Two long tracks, one with Pedro Boavida
joining in on Fender Rhodes, the other with bass (Rodrigo Dias) and
guitar (Gonçalo Silva). The quirky first piece is especially enticing.
The second is more ambient drone, but that goes down easy too.
The Goon Sax: Up to Anything (2016, Chapter Music):
Australian alt/indie trio, basically lo-fi guitar jangle and voice,
with occasional echoes of the Go-Betweens, perhaps expected in a band
led by Robert Forster's son Louis.
Ariana Grande: Dangerous Woman (2016, Republic):
Pop star, got her start as a teenage TV star, third album -- another
pile of glitz with a vast array of writers and producers and featured
guests (Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne, Macy Gray, Future), which should be
good for some ear candy but rarely rises to that level, let alone
portends the promised danger.
David Greenberger, Keith Spring, and Dinty Child: Take Me Where
I Don't Know I Am (2016, Pel Pel): More spoken word texts from
conversations at a nursing home in Jamaica Plain, MA 1979-83 -- back far
enough you get a good story about Joe Louis. The others (and Keiji
Hashimoto) provide the music, which is jazzy for the opener on "Three
Spaniels" and moodier toward the end, not least for the nonogenarian
who hopes to die soon.
Tord Gustavsen: What Was Said (2015 , ECM):
Norwegian pianist, working with vocalist Simin Tander and pianist-drummer
Jarle Vespestad. The voice is arresting, and without the voice the piano
grows even grander.
Rich Halley 5: The Outlier (2015 , Pine Eagle):
Tenor saxophonist, has an impressive run of albums since he retired
from his day job, mostly quartet affairs with Michael Vlatkovich on
trombone, Clyde Reed on bass, and son Carson Haley on drums. The fifth
here is Vinny Golia (baritone sax, bass clarinet) -- one of Halley's
early albums was recorded on Golia's Nine Winds label. This is something
of a mess, but frequently turns magnificent, as if rising up from chaos
is a good thing. Guess it is.
Hard Working Americans: Rest in Chaos (2016, Melvin):
Todd Snider and several guys with long resumes in bands I never bothered
with -- sort of Nashville's answer to the Waco Brothers, but they rarely
live up to the concept.
Tim Hecker: Love Streams (2016, 4AD/Paper Bag):
Ambient electronica artist, his electronics finding a fair amount
of what sounds like radio static and given a sacred music aura by
the Icelandic Choir Ensemble -- none of which I find especially
appealing, even when it's oddly moving.
Fred Hersch: Solo (2014 , Palmetto): Didn't
get this last year when it polled well -- guess the publicist knew
that I rarely fell for solo piano albums, even by pianists I've long
admired. Starts with a Jobim, then "Caravan," two originals, "The
Song Is You," "In Walked Bud," "Both Sides Now" -- each taken at a
leisurely stroll for no less than 7:30, where it just envelops you
with warmth and feeling. Good chance that if it wasn't so difficult
to deal with downloads I'd like it even more.
The Fred Hersch Trio: Sunday Night at the Vanguard
(2016, Palmetto): The pianist's fourth Vanguard title, although
when I saw this title I flashed not on his own previous efforts but
on Bill Evans' justly legendary Sunday at the Village Vanguard --
Hersch has always had a thing for Evans, but in the liner notes he
only mentions the first time he sat foot in the Village Vanguard, in
1976 for Dexter Gordon's homecoming (the only time I ever went there).
Trio with John Hébert and Eric McPherson mostly staying out of the
way -- not my recipe for for a great piano trio but the pianist is
on such a roll he's fascinating anyway.
Marquis Hill: The Way We Play (2016, Concord Jazz):
Trumpeter, won a Monk prize in 2014 which carries with it Concord's
commitment to release an album. This revisits the hard bop tradition
(Gryce, Silver, Monk, Hancock, Byrd, some standards), in a group
with Christopher McBride on sax and Justin Thomas on vibes in lieu
of piano, with Makaya McCraven's drums lighter and fleeter than
any hard bop drummer. Meagan McNeal introduces the band, and Hill
drops a couple rhymes.
Hinds: Leave Me Alone (2016, Mom + Pop): All-female
garage rock band from Spain, a little too grungy to pass for pop --
or maybe I just mean out of tune.
Mike Jones Trio: Roaring (2015 , Capri):
Mainstream pianist, cites Dave McKenna as his main inspiration,
his early albums on Chiaroscuro (longtime home of Ralph Sutton).
Trio with Katie Thiroux (bass) and Matt Witek (drums), a bunch
of swing-ready standards.
Joonsam: A Door (2014 , Origin): Bassist,
last name Lee, from South Korea, first album, all originals, key
player is pianist Aaron Parks, although you also get guest spots
by Ralph Alessi (trumpet, 5 cuts), Ben Monder (guitar, 2), and
Yeahwon Shin (vocal, 1).
The Julie Ruin: Hit Reset (2016, Hardly Art): Third
album by Kathleen Hanna under this name: after a one-shot in 1998
and a second thought in 2013. Hanna's previous bands were Bikini Kill
and Le Tigre, and this continues their grrrl punk legacy even while
it sounds more pop than ever -- punk is just the backbone.
Kaytranada: 99.9% (2016, XL): Louis Kevin Celestin,
born in Haiti in 1992, grew up in Montreal, his current base. First
album after more than a dozen remixes. Strikes me as a less gloomy
though not quite happy take on trip-hop, a pleasant beat-album one
can repeatedly fall back on. In 2016, I guess that's something.
The Corey Kendrick Trio: Rootless (2016, self-released):
Piano trio, with Joe Vasquez on bass and Nick Bracewell on drums, from
Michigan, a mix of standards and Kendrick originals. Postbop, has some
zip to it.
King: We Are King (2016, King Creative): Vocal trio,
twins Amber and Paris Strother and Anita Bias -- first album. Soft
soul, rather dreamy.
Ron King: Triumph (2016, self-released): Los Angeles
trumpet/flugelhorn/keyboard player, first album as far as I can tell
but he has a lot of movie/tv/soundtrack work including a Grammy
nomination. Not quite pop jazz, but upbeat with little empty space,
and his horn does stand out.
Lefteris Kordis: Mediterrana (Goddess of Light)
(2013-15 , Inner Circle Music): Greek pianist, has several
albums, this a relatively nice one with richly evocative piano
and lush support.
Peter Kuhn Trio: The Other Shore (2015 ,
NoBusiness): Kuhn plays b-sharp and bass clarinet, tenor and alto
sax, backed here by Kyle Motl on bass and Nathan Hubbard on drums.
He came out of the late '70s loft scene, recorded obscure albums
with Arthur Williams and/or Dennis Charles (recently reissued by
NoBusiness), and mostly vanished after 1982, until recently. This
picks up where the old records left off, and while it won't shock
or startle, this is the sort of inside creativity one listens to
free jazz for.
Peter Kuhn/Dave Sewelson/Gerald Cleaver/Larry Roland: Our
Earth/Our World (2015 , pfMentum): Kuhn plays more
sax (alto, tenor) than clarinet here, with Sewelson weaving below
(baritone sax) and above (sopranino). Three long pieces, rougher
than Kuhn's trio, more given to squeals and growls, but also more
propulsive (note drummer).
Elektra Kurtis & Ensemble Elektra: Bridges From the
East (2016, Elektra Sound Works/Milo): Violinist, "of Greek
origin," raised in Poland, studied in Finland, wound up in New York.
Most resumes are inflated but I'm struck by the mix of names in hers,
including Edward Vesala, Max Roach, Simon Shaheen, Gerry Mulligan,
Israel "Cachao" Lopez, Nona Hendrix, Butch Morris, Billy Bang, Steve
Coleman, and Nas. Not sure how old she is but many names on that list
are dead, and her Ensemble Elektra has an album dated 2000. Group
includes a second violin, clarinet, bass, and drums. Music comes
from all over her map, with Greek and Polish folk themes merging
into tango and a little M-Base does Bartok.
Mathias Landaeus: From the Piano (2016, Moserobie):
Swedish painist, has ten or so albums since 1996. Claims he's "using
only sounds from his 1919 Steinway Moderno Grand Piano," but many
don't sound like piano at all -- various plucked string resonances
and percussion, gives it an avant-electronica feel but not evidently
synthetic. And the piano bits are lovely.
Jessy Lanza: Oh No (2016, Hyperdub): Singer/electronica
producer from Canada, started singing backup for Junior Boys and gets
production help from Jeremy Greenspan on her second album here. One
bass riff reminds me of Chic, but more often she works over elemental
synth beats, a winning combination.
Låpsley: Long Way Home (2016, XL): Singer-songwriter
from Britain, dropped a gratuitous accent onto her middle name for a
Scandinavian effect; still in her teens but well beyond teen pop on
her first album after two EPs. Mid-tempo electro-beats, arty voice,
most striking song is called "Hurt Me" to show you she's tough enough
to take it.
Alison Lewis: Seven (2016, self-released): Standards
singer. Second in a row to start off with "Blackbird" (cf. Sara Gazarek),
which she paws at more mischievously yet ultimately makes it even more
annoying. She follows that up with comparably tortured versions of
"Cheek to Cheek" and "Like a Rolling Stone." Somewhat better are two
Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord: Play All the Notes
(2016, Hot Cup, EP): The third of four promised EPs this year, to
be rolled up into a box later this year. Group has two formidable
saxophonists -- Jon Irabagon (alto) and Bryan Murray (tenor, prepared
tenor, and balto, here dba Balto Exclamationpoint) -- with MOPDTK
leader Moppa Elliott on bass and Dan Monaghan on drums. Probably the
best of the series thus far, not least for the leader's strong solos,
but I still have qualms about the marketing concept, and it's short
(three tracks, 26:44).
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis: This Unruly Mess I've Made
(2016, Macklemore): Second album by Seattle hip-hop duo, the first a
surprise hit when its fourth single went viral. This, as advertised,
an unruly mess with several songs kneejerk reactions to a success he's
none too comfortable with, mixed in with speed raps, light opera,
inadvertent comedy, and other oddities I can't get too worked up about.
Magnet Animals: Butterfly Killer (2016, Rare Noise):
Guitarist Todd Clouser project, he wrote all the pieces, sings (or
speaks), more alt-rock than jazz but has jazzy touches, not really
fusion. With Eyal Maoz (guitar), Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz (bass), and
Jorge Servin (drums).
René Marie: Sound of Red (2015 , Motéma Music):
Jazz singer, started late, in her 40s, but quickly established herself,
showing great range. Not sure about credits, but she wrote all these
songs, with "This Is (Not) a Protest Song" touching and unsatisfying.
Tina Marx: Shades of Love (2007 , self-released):
Standards singer, seems to be her first album, group is billed online
as Tina Marx & the Millionaires. This builds on basics: good songs,
a nicely unaffected voice, and a band that understand how to swing.
Vic Mensa: There's Alot Going On (2016, Roc Nation):
Chicago rapper, original name Vic Mensah. This is billed as a prelude
to his first studio album, and at seven cuts, 32:53 sometimes gets
slagged as an EP. Doesn't feel short. Standout track is "16 Shots"
on the police killing of Laquan McDonald.
Michete: Cool Tricks (2015, self-released, EP):
Foul mouthed trans rapper from Spokane, key cuts are "#Fuckboy" and
"Me & My Bitches," pretty amazing for four, maybe five, cuts
("Closet Case Fags"), but could use some remix to flesh out the
back half. Nine cuts, 24:07.
Michete: Cool Tricks 2 (2016, self-released, EP):
The torrent of obscenities abates as he/she/whatever works harder
at being cleverer, maybe even approaching the realm of storytelling --
and needless to say, that stretches the nine tracks out to something
(29:33) I wouldn't call an EP except that it's a sequel to one. I
should be impressed by the newfound maturity (if fantasizing about
sucking FDR's dick qualifies) but I got more of a kick from the
debut's puerile enthusiasm.
Joel Miller With Sienna Dahlen: Dream Cassette
(2014 , Origin): Dahlen sings, but so does Miller, who also
plays sax, piano, acoustic guitar, tanpura and percussion, plus
he composed all the songs (except one he added lyrics to, but
Dahlen is credited with lyrics elsewhere). Jazz label, but I'm
hearing echoes of Smile-era Beach Boys, other harder to
pin down art rock, and some pretty decent sax wails.
Russ Miller and the Jazz Orchestra: You and the Night and the
Music (2015 , Doctheory): Big band, leader plays alto sax
and flute, standard horns and rhythm section plus extra percussion when
they want to do that Latin tinge thing. Jeannine Course-Miller sings
appealingly, though the standards which sound so luscious at first
wear a bit thin by the end.
Bob Mintzer: All L.A. Band (2016, Fuzzy Music):
Tenor saxophonist, longtime member of the Yellowjackets, a group
I'm not terribly fond of but the bright spot in their records is
invariably his sax. He also has a couple dozen albums under his
own name, many big band efforts. This one revisits his big band
writing, produced by drummer Peter Erskine. Band includes the
usual suspects, which in LA means Bob Sheppard on sax and Larry
Koonse on guitar.
Mitski: Puberty 2 (2016, Dead Oceans): First-name
artist, last name Miyawaki, born in Japan; lived in Congo, Malaysia,
China, and Turkey before settling in New York. Indulges in harsh
effects but doesn't need them -- can just as well inhabit a cushy
ballad. Reminds me a bit of PJ Harvey (but beware I'm not much of
a fan). One shouldn't underestimate her.
Modern Baseball: The Nameless Ranger (2011, Lame-O,
EP): Faked out by Rhapsody's 2015 date, turns out this five song,
14:54 EP is the Philadelphia alt/indie group's debut. Ragged sound,
but that's a good start.
Modern Baseball: Holy Ghost (2016, Run for Cover):
Rhapsody flags this one as an EP at 27:20, but eleven songs generally
makes for an album. Punkish thrash, short songs, probably not about
Maren Morris: Hero (2016, Columbia Nashville): Texas
country singer-songwriter with a big voice gets the big Nashville
production treatment, which overwhelms whatever redeeming social
value she has to offer.
Anthony E. Nelson Jr.: Swift to Hear, Slow to Speak
(2016, Music Stand): Saxophonist (soprano/tenor), fourth album, a
sextet with trumpet, alto sax, piano, bass, and drums. Slick postbop,
easy on the ears.
Bryan Nichols: Looking North (2016, Shifting Paradigm):
Pianist, based in Minneapolis, first album (I think), a solo affair,
thoughtful and rigorous.
Os Clavelitos: Arriving (2016, self-released):
New York-based samba band, mixed sextet of American, Brazilian, and
Japanese musicians (singer Sheiko Honda and percussionist Arei
The Paranoid Style: Rolling Disclosure (2016,
Bar/None): Guitarist from the Mendoza Line, a clever reference for
a band that barely got by, and singer-songwriter Elizabeth Nelson,
first LP (if nine songs, 28:56 counts) after three EPs. Not sure I
get the political analysis ("a society seized with crushing economic
inequality, a smug, feckless and entrenches political class, and an
emotionally suicidal relationship to total immersion in divertissement,"
sure, but the lyrics are more like "I am not a pacifist . . . I will
never stop fighting the last war" and "you know that I'll suck anything
that doesn't fuck me first" and "it can't all be that bad because it's
also entertaining"), but the vigorous thrash lifts me up -- not bad for
Jeff Parker: The New Breed (2015 , International
Anthem): Chicago guitarist, probably best known as a member of post-rock
Tortoise although I know him better as an avant-leaning jazz guitarist.
Splits the distance here, playing a lot of keyboards and samplers with
electric bass (Paul Bryan), drums (Jamire Williams), a slippery sax solo
by Josh Johnson, and daughter Ruby singing one.
William Parker: Stan's Hat Flapping in the Wind
(2015 , Centering/AUM Fidelity): Actually just Parker's
compositions, performed by Lisa Sokolov (voice) and Cooper-Moore
(piano), with a bit of cello on a piece dedicated to the late
David S. Ware (other dedications for Miguel Piñero, Ornette
Coleman, and Butch Morris). Remarkable singer, although Parker's
songs may be too straightforward for her. Helluva pianist, too.
Joey Purp: iiiDrops (2016, self-released): Another
Chicago rapper, like Vic Mensa a founder of Savemoney, also one half
of the Leather Corduroys. His second mixtape, a mixed bag, where the
raps are sharp and the pounding blare on some songs annoying -- I
like a couple more stripped down beat tracks much better.
Marc Ribot/The Young Philadelphians: Live in Tokyo
(2014 , Yellowbird): In theory, a fusion of two divergent strains
from the mid/late 1970s, disco and Ornette Coleman's harmolodic funk.
For authenticity, Ribot recruited bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma and drummer
G. Calvin Weston from Coleman's old Prime Time outfit, Mary Halvorson
for a second guitarist, and a Japanese string section, to play a set
of disco hits -- like "Love Epidemic," "Fly Robin Fly," "TSOP," "Love
Rollercoaster," "The Hustle." In practice, the hits triumph, and the
harmolodics just seem messy. No one takes credit for the vocals, nor
should they: they sound like something you'd shout out yourself on the
dance floor, confident not even your partner could hear you.
Rent Romus' Life's Blood Ensemble: Rising Colossus
(2015 , Edgetone): Alto saxophonist, I've become a big fan of
his work in recent years. Here he goes big, with a septet that sounds
larger still, doing pieces "he's commissioned from younger Bay Area
artists," fellow altoists John Tchicai and Anthony Braxton, plus one
original. Hits a couple nubs that gave me pause, but ultimately they
power through everything.
Daniel Schmitz/Johannes Schmitz/Jörg Fischer: Botanic Mob
(2016, Sporeprint): Trumpet, electric guitar, drums, respectively,
scratchy and choppy as is often the case when avant-jazzers tangle.
Sheer Mag: II 7" (2015, Wilsuns RC/Katorga Works, EP):
Philadelphia punk group, releases four-song digital albums they suggest
are 7-inchers -- this one runs 14:13, which is fair EP length before
hyperinflation. Sound's a little harsh, particularly when whoever is
Sheer Mag: III 7" (2016, Wilsuns RC/Static Shock, EP):
Four more songs, 13:37, sound a bit cleaner and guitar plenty sharp,
but the singer still escapes me -- although "Nobody's Baby" doesn't.
Skepta: Konnichiwa (2016, Boy Better Know): Joseph
Junior Adenuga, English grime rapper, Nigerian descent, brother is JME,
called his first album Greatest Hits, has four plus some mixtapes
Slavic Soul Party: Plays Duke Ellington's Far East Suite
(2014 , Ropeadope): New York jazz guys started this Slavic
dance band on a lark, have six albums now, but as I said, despite
various lineup changes they're still New York jazz guys. This
lineup is a nonet with accordion, tuba, and Matt Moran playing
percussion instruments I'm unfamiliar with. Still, they stay
pretty close to the text -- one of my all-time favorite suites
of music. I miss Johnny Hodges, of course, but still find this
irresistible. The original, of course, is greater still.
Tommy Smith: Modern Jacobite (2015 , Spartacus):
Tenor saxophonist, playing with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra,
opening with something awful by Rachmaninoff (5:57), followed by Smith's
multi-part title suite (29:57) and a quick skewering of Chick Corea's
"Children's Songs" (11:15, co-credit to Smith). The Orchestra is fully
geared for classical music, and for once the sax isn't quite able to
overcome the ballast.
Jim Snidero: MD66 (2016, Savant): Mainstream/postbop
alto saxophonist, has at least 17 albums since 1987, some I like a
lot. This one is a classic quintet, with Alex Sipiagin on trumpet,
Andy LaVerne on bass, Ugonna Okegwo on bass, and Rudy Royston on
drums. Comes in a bit below average unless you're a huge fan of the
trumpeter, who hogs the spotlight.
Sound Underground: Quiet Spaces (2016, Tiny Music):
Tempting to call this no-drums, no-bass trio a chamber jazz group,
especially when the horns wax harmonically. Consists of alto sax
(David Leon), trumpet (Alex Aldred), and guitar (Jonah Udall).
Peggy Stern: Z Octet (2015 , Estrella Productions):
Pianist, a dozen albums since 1985. Septet actually, oriented for gentle
flow (clarinet, flute, trombone, cello, bass, drums) plus singer Suzi
Stern on a couple tracks that slouch toward choral music.
Tegan and Sara: Love You to Death (2016, Vapor):
Sister act, started folkie (low budget) in the late 1990s but has
gradually drifted into electropop. This suits them well, adding
sparkle and drive to their usual insightful relationship songs.
Todd Terje/The Olsens: The Big Cover-Up (2016, Olsen):
Synth orchestrator, born Terje Olsen, with drummer Olaf Olsen leading
the band assembled for Terje's live concerts. I've seen this billed as
an EP, and you can make that case for the first slab of vinyl (4 songs,
25:48), but it also comes with a second disc of remixes, adding another
4 cuts, 26:09, and Discogs shows two more cuts (both "Untitled"). First
cut seems ham-fisted, but everything else is pretty danceable.
Thumbscrew: Convallaria (2015 , Cuneiform):
All-star trio -- Mary Halvorson (guitar), Michael Formanek (bass),
Tomas Fujiwara (drums) -- adopting the title of their 2014 album
as group name. Dicey guitar, reflecting the unpinnedness of the
rhythm, impressive as such things go, but never quite transcends
the basic concept, something extra the debut had.
Tweet: Charlene (2016, eOne): Born Charlene Keys, had
two albums 2002-05, the former with a modest hit single featuring Missy
Elliott -- who gets another feature here, a break from the soft soul
dreaminess Timbaland massaged.
Two Fresh: Torch (2015, self-released, EP): Hip-hop
production duo, twin brothers, reportedly "a nationally-ranked tennis
doubles team before beginning their career in music. Six pieces, 19:22,
some seriously deranged beats featuring Joey Purp, Vic Mensa, and a
few others I know even less about.
Carrie Underwood: Storyteller (2015, 19/Arista Nashville):
Hints of songcraft here as several pieces start basic before the volume
swells and the kitchen sink production becomes oppressive.
Leon Vynehall: Rojus (Designed to Dance) (2016,
Running Back): British "deep house" producer, second album plus the
usual smattering of shorter forms. Dance music, starts pretty hard
and cranks it up even further, the last cuts irresistible (to my
ears at least).
Brahja Waldman: Wisdomatic (2016, Fast Speaking Music):
Alto saxophonist, also plays synth here, has several albums, this a
quintet with Adam Kinner on tenor sax, D Shadrach Hankoff on piano,
Martin Heslop on bass, and Daniel Gelinas on drums. Most songs build
off a mechanical up-down, push-pull rhythm, just enough framework to
elaborate something enticing on.
Wet: Don't You (2016, Columbia): Brooklyn trio behind
singer Kelly Zutrau, considered "indie pop" or "indie electronic" but
not sounding like much of either ("indie," sure) -- a little mopey,
thin, pale, deprived of sunshine.
Wire: Nocturnal Koreans (2016, Pink Flag, EP):
Leftovers from the recording sessions that produced last year's
eponymous Wire, comes to eight songs, 25:55, all sounding
almost perfectly like you'd expect the original post-punk band
to sound nearly forty years after they first emerged -- almost
as if they've recycled and found lost outtakes from, well, not
Pink Flag, but maybe Chairs Missing.
Nate Wooley/Hugo Antunes/Jorge Queijo/Mario Costa/Chris Corsano:
Purple Patio (2012 , NoBusiness): Prolific avant
trumpet player goes to Portugal, picks up a band with bass (Antunes)
and three drummers. Still, everyone seems to be waiting for the star
to do something, and all he does is his usual scratchy shtick, leaving
holes the drummers don't know how to fill.
Young Thug: I'm Up (2016, 300 Entertainment/Atlantic):
Considered a mixtape, available as download product, yet is short enough --
9 songs, 38:03 -- they could released it on vinyl. Most songs feature
someone I haven't heard of, but they flow and are tight and catchy.
Young Thug: Slime Season 3 (2016, 300 Entertainment/Atlantic,
EP): Yet another mixtape, three weeks after I'm Up, but this one seems to
be grabbing all the attention -- I didn't know about I'm Up until I
looked this one up -- despite being shorter (8 cuts, 28:20) and, well, not
as good. Actually, the beats are comparable, so maybe it's the rapper --
presumably YT as the "featuring" count is way down.
Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Angry Angles: Angry Angles (2005 , Goner):
Memphis punk band, formed by James Lee Lindsey (aka Jay Reatard)
and Alix Brown, released a handful of singles before breaking up,
with Lindsey going on to cut a smattering of albums before his
early death in 2010 (age 29). This sweeps up everything the group
recorded: 16 songs plus an unreleased take of the single "Things
Are Moving." Band had real promise, but is stretched thin here.
The Cucumbers: The Fake Doom Years (1983-1986)
(1983-86 , Lifeforce): Two EPs and a 10-cut album that came out
before the New Jersey group's eponymous coming out, one of my favorite
albums of 1987. The EPs offer glimpses of the their masterpiece, and
brighten up the not-quite ready debut album, and it's nice to have
them all together.
God Don't Ever Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson
(2016, Alligator): Tom Waits at his grizzliest is the only singer here
who comes close to Johnson's raw, gruff force, but everyone steps up to
the challenge, with Lucinda Williams (like Waits) earning an encore.
Peter Kuhn: No Coming, No Going: The Music of Peter Kuhn,
1978-1979 (1978-79 , NoBusiness, 2CD): Plays clarinet,
bass clarinet, and tenor sax. Another reissue from the New York "loft
scene" years, when avant-jazz went underground, that period after most
US jazz labels folded or slunk into fusion and before European labels
like Hat and Soul Note picked up the slack (Kuhn, by the way, has
1981-82 albums on both, but little after that). First disc is from
same group that recorded Arthur Williams' Forgiveness Suite --
Williams and Toshinori Kondo on trumpet, William Parker on bass, and
Dennis Charles on drums -- is often bracing, a solid effort. Second
disc is just Kuhn with Charles, a better showcase for each. Comes
with a substantial booklet helping us recover valuable history.
Hailu Mergia: Wede Harer Guzo (1978 , Awesome
Tapes From Africa): Ethiopian keyboard player, organ here, with a
group called Dahlak Band that some sources co-credit. Third reissue
from this label, all quite delightful in their loping flow, just
enough edge to stay out of the background.
Putumayo Presents: Blues Party (1968-2013 ,
Putumayo World Music): Modern blues compilation, oldest cut seems
to be Magic Sam's, newest Lurrie Bell's, a distance of damn few
Chicago blocks, with nearly everything upbeat (first song "I Feel
So Good," last "Have a Good Time"), and most cuts coming from the
1990s "chitlin circuit" down south.
The Rough Guide to South African Jazz [Second Edition]
(, World Music Network): The original 2000 edition spanned the
years 1958-98. As usual, it's difficult-to-impossible to track down
these thirteen tracks (e.g., the opener by African Jazz Pioneers, a
group dating from the late 1950s, was on a 1989 album on Kaz which I
suspect was a compilation of older material; on the other hand, the
second track is by a pianist born in 1986). South African jazz builds
on local pop traditions much like swing built on American pop songs,
and many of those roots are irresistibly catchy. Still, this reboot
sounds less classic than the first edition -- probably because it is
newer and glitzier.
Carrie Underwood: Greatest Hits: Decade #1 (2005-14
, Arista Nashville, 2CD): American Idol winner, with voice
enough to hold her own against the most overblown arena productions
Nashville has to offer. Her decade spans four albums, eighteen
top-ten singles (twelve number ones), rounded up to 25 cuts, 100:10
here with a Brad Paisley lead and six previously unreleased (three
worktapes where she finally lets down her guard).
Arthur Williams: Forgiveness Suite (1979 ,
NoBusiness): One from the vaults of New York's "loft era," a trumpet
player who shows up in various groups with William Parker, Jemeel
Moondoc, and Frank Lowe, but this may be the only item under his
name. Quintet with a second trumpet (Toshinori Kondo), sax (Peter
Kuhn), bass (Parker), and drums (Dennis Charles). A little somber,
but a welcome find.
Jürgen Wuchner/Rudi Mahall/Jörg Fischer: In Memoriam: Buschi
Niebergall (1997 , Sporeprint): Niebergall was a German
avant-bassist, 1938-90, played in Globe Unity Orchestra and many key
groups of the early German avant-garde (Brötzmann, Hampel, Rolf Kühn,
Mangelsdorff, Schlippenbach, Schoof, other household names), although
I don't think he ever quite qualified as a leader. The leader is a
bassist in the same vein, helped out here by Mahall on bass clarinet
and Fischer on drums.
Clay Harper: Old Airport Road (2013, Terminus):
Owner of an Atlanta pizza chain and sometime musician, started in
the 1980s with the Coolies, then moved on to Lester Square, Ottoman
Empire, most recently Plus Sized Dan, with a solo album in 1997 and
this follow-up 16 years later. Still, for a "solo" album he doesn't
establish any reliable presence here, yielding the stage to various
guests ranging from "an Arabic-singing massage therapist" to a female
rapper praising Red Lobster, or just vamping indeterminately. In a
more innocent time, this would be called "eclectic."
Fred Hersch/Charlie Haden/Joey Baron: Sarabande (1986
, Sunnyside): Mainstream pianist, not afraid to show his sensitive
side, which his famous bandmates were suckers for. Of course, they're
also able to keep up when he threatens to run away.
Fred Hersch/Steve LaSpina/Jeff Hirshfield: ETC (1988,
RED): Piano trio, all covers including two Cole Porters, jazz pieces
from Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Frank Foster, and Sam Jones. Sharp,
The Fred Hersch Trio: Dancing in the Dark (1992 ,
Chesky): Piano trio with Drew Gress (bass) and Tom Rainey (drums). All
standards, common fare but stretched out in unfamiliar ways.
Fred Hersch: The Fred Hersch Trio Plays . . .
(1994, Chesky): Cover order: Coleman, Coltrane, Davis, Ellington,
Gillespie, Hancock, Hersch, Monk, Rollins, Shorter, Strayhorn, and
adds "with Drew Gress & Tom Rainey." Hersch's own piece is
"Evanessence," the title of his 1990 Bill Evans tribute.
Fred Hersch: Point in Time (1995, Enja): Five trio cuts
with Drew Gress and Tom Rainey, plus five more with horns -- Rich Perry
on tenor sax and Dave Douglas on trumpet. Still, the latter don't carry
much weight, almost as if Hersch is trying to make the point that they're
The Fred Hersch Trio: Live at the Village Vanguard
(2002 , Palmetto): The pianist's first live album from New York's
famous jazz club -- at least the first with Vanguard in the
title -- a trio with Drew Gress and Nasheet Waits. Starts with a
rousing "Bemsha Swing" showing you how sharp the group can be at
Fred Hersch/Norma Winstone: Songs & Lullabies
(2002 , Sunnyside): British singer, started in the 1960s and
wound up with a MBE, has a clear voice not given to idiosyncrasy,
given substantial support by the pianist, plus vibraphonist Gary
Burton on three cuts.
Fred Hersch Trio: Everybody's Song but My Own (2011,
Venus): With John Hébert (misspelled on cover) and Eric McPherson,
recorded in New York, standards as advertised including two Porters
and the title tune from Kenny Wheeler. Takes nearly everything fast,
which they can do.
Michael Moore/Fred Hersch: This We Know (2008, Palmetto):
Moore, who plays clarinet and alto sax, is an American based in Amsterdam,
a longtime member of ICP Orchestra with a couple dozen albums on his own
Ramboy label. He rarely shows up on American labels, but here you get a
duo with the pianist, lovely chamber stuff.
Red Fox Chasers: I'm Going Down to North Carolina: The Complete
Recordings of the Red Fox Chasers (1928-31) (1928-31 ,
Tompkins Square, 2CD): String band from North Carolina, a quartet of
Guy Brooks (fiddle), Bob Cranford (harmonica), Paul Miles (banjo), and
A.P. Thompson (guitar), some (or all) singing. The tunes are twangy
folk ballads, some traditional, few exceptional, the remastering
Sometimes further listening leads me to change an initial grade,
usually either because I move on to a real copy, or because someone
else's review or list makes me want to check it again:
Todd Snider: Live: The Storyteller (2010 , Aimless,
2CD): Live double, a staple in my traveling case, so I think one can say
it's stood the test of time.
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Additional Consumer News:
Previous grades on artists in the old music section.
- Fred Hersch: At Maybeck [Maybeck Recital Hall Series Vol. 31] (1993, Concord): B+
- Fred Hersch: Last Night When We Were Young (1994, Classical Action): B
- Fred Hersch: Plays Rodgers and Hammerstein (1996, Nonesuch): B+(***)
- Fred Hersch: Thelonious: Fred Hersch Plays Monk (1997, Nonesuch): B+
- Fred Hersch: Songs Without Words (2000 , Nonesuch, 3CD): B+
- Fred Hersch: In Amsterdam: Live at the Bimhuis (2003 , Palmetto): B
- Fred Hersch: The Fred Hersch Trio + 2 (2004, Palmetto): B+
- Fred Hersch: Leaves of Grass (2005, Palmetto): B-
- Fred Hersch: Night and the Music (2006 , Palmetto): B
- Fred Hersch: Live at the Jazz Standard (2008 , Sunnyside): B+(**)
- Fred Hersch: Plays Jobim (2009, Sunnyside): B+(*)
- Fred Hersch: Whirl (2010, Palmetto): A-
- Fred Hersch: Alone at the Vanguard (2010 , Palmetto): B+(*)
- Fred Hersch: Alive at the Vanguard (2012, Palmetto, 2CD): B+(**)
- Fred Hersch: Floating (2014, Palmetto): A-
Everything streamed from Rhapsody, except as noted in brackets
following the grade:
- [cd] based on physical cd
- [cdr] based on an advance or promo cd or cdr
- [bc] available at bandcamp.com
- [sc] available at soundcloud.com
- [os] some other stream source
- [dl] something I was able to download from the web; may be freely
available, may be a bootleg someone made available, or may be a publicist
Friday, July 29. 2016
The first day of the Democratic National Convention put the party's
best face forward. It featured Michelle Obama, a couple of prominent
senators who could have mounted credible campaigns for what Howard
Dean once called "the democratic wing of the Democratic Party" --
Al Franken and Elizabeth Warren -- but didn't dare run up against the
the Clinton machine, and one guy who did have the guts to try, and
who damn near won, because he had the issues and integrity to pose
a real alternative to the party's comfort with the status quo: Bernie
Sanders. It offered a glimpse of what might have been, and more than
hinted that Hillary Clinton might have learned something from Sanders'
I didn't see
Michelle's speech, which was by all accounts monumental.
I did catch bits of Raul Grijalva and Keith Ellison, and all of the
speeches by Warren and Sanders -- both superb, and in the former's
slam on Trump and the latter's mapping of his agenda to her platform
more than she could have hoped for. Could be that if the occasion
presents itself she's opportunistic enough to slide to the left. At
least in presenting this night she showed some recognition that she
understands what the Democratic base wants. Not that she didn't keep
three more days open to pander to the donors.
One retrospectively nice thing about the first night was that I
didn't hear a single mention of foreign policy, war, America's vast
military-security-industrial complex, and all the mayhem that they
have caused. This is odd inasmuch as those issues weigh heavily in
any comparison between Sanders and Clinton, but expected in that
they still loom as major differences. It's not so much that Sanders
has promised much change from fifteen years of "war on terror" --
the self-perpetuating struggle to shore up American hegemony over
a part of the world which has suffered much from it -- as that
Clinton's instinctive hawkishness promises even more turmoil as
far out as anyone can imagine. Of course, the jingoism would come
back in subsequent nights, but for Monday at least one could hope
for a world where such things would no longer be worth fretting
I skipped the second night completely, including
Madeleine Albright's neocon horror show and
Bill Clinton's soggy valentine valentine ("not quite first-spouse
Also missed the third night when Tim Kaine, Joe Biden and Barack Obama
spoke. I gather that Obama spoke in his usual mode, as a pious Americanist,
a super-patriot proud of his country's deep liberal roots, validated by
his own elevation to the presidency. He may not have reconciled Republicans
and Democrats in the real world, but he's unified us all in his own mind,
and that's such a pretty picture only those with their heads implanted in
their asses can fail to take some measure of pride. Even if he hasn't
fully convinced the talking heads of the right, hasn't he at least made
it ludicrous for people like Trump and Cruz and Ryan to argue that they
can "bring us together" in anything short of a concentration camp?
I paid even less attention to
Hillary Clinton's speech, which I gather was superbly crafted
and broadly targeted.
Josh Marshall faulted her for not weasel-wording enough on
immigration -- after all, Trump already set the bar on that issue
awfully low. Paul Krugman tweeted: "I keep talking to people
asserting that she'll 'say anything,' but last night she clearly
only said things she really believes. Socially (very) liberal,
wonkish with center-left tilt on economic and domestic policy,
comfortable with judicious use of military power. So, do we
people realize that HRC's speech didn't involve any pandering
at all? It was who she is." Either that, or Krugman's fooled
himself into thinking he's looking at her when he's looking in
But rather than ruminating more on this -- at some point I
do have to just post what I have and catch up with what I missed
sometime later -- let me point you to a long piece on the many
complaints people have had lodged against her since she came to
prominence in 1992:
Michelle Goldberg: The Hillary Haters. Goldberg comes up with
a long list illustrated by real people: "She strikes me as so
programmed and almost robotic"; "She is disingenuous and she lies
blatantly"; "I think she's more of a Republican than a Democrat";
"If I could make her a profit she'd be my best friend"; "She is
a sociopath"; "She feels like she's above the law, and she's above
us peasants." Reading this list (and the article that expands on
them) I'm not sure which I'd rather argue: for one thing, none of
these strike me as particularly true, but even if they were true
they don't strike me as good reasons not to vote for her (at least
given the Republicans she's run against). On the other hand, the
Goldberg line that the editors pulled out as a large-type blurb --
"Americans tend not to like ambitious women with loud voices" --
does strike me as being at the root of much opposition to her (and
also helps explain why some people, and not just women, like her
so much even when they disagree with much of her policy record).
I had rather high hopes for Bill Clinton after his 1992 campaign,
which were quickly diminished after he cozied up to Alan Greenspan
and capitulated to Colin Powell and sunk ever lower pretty much
month by month over eight years. By 1998 I would have voted to
impeach him, not because I cared about the Republicans' charges
but because I was so alarmed by his bombings of Iraq and elsewhere,
acts I considered war crimes (even if I didn't fully comprehend
how completely they set the table for the Bush wars that followed).
Even so, I thought he might redeem himself after leaving office,
much as Jimmy Carter had done. However, it's been hard to see his
Foundation as anything other than the vehicle for a political
machine, one intent on returning him to power through proximity
to his wife. My view was influenced by the fact that through the
1980s most of the women who had become governors in the South
were nothing more than proxies for their term-limited husbands.
Nor had I ever been a fan of political dynasties, a view that
became all the more bitter after the Bore-Gush debacle.
Of course, Hillary was different from all those other Southern
governors' wives, and I recognized that -- even admired her at
first, a view that diminished as her husband got worse and worse
but never quite sunk so low. Still, her own record of policy and
posturing in the Senate, as Secretary of State, and campaigning
for president, never impressed me as especially admirable -- and
sometimes turned out to be completely wrong, as with her Iraq War
vote. Given a credible alternative in 2008 -- one that would break
the tide of nepotism and dynasty building, and one that offered
what seemed at the time like credible hope -- I supported Obama
against her. Of course, I was later disappointed by many things
that I thought Obama handled badly -- all too often noticing folks
previously associated with Clinton in critical proximity -- but I
also appreciated how much worse things might have been had a wacko
warmonger like McCain or an economic royalist like Romney had won
instead. Again this year I found and supported an alternative to
Hillary -- one I felt could be trusted to stand up to the Republicans
without degrading into what I suppose we could call Clintonism. In
the end, she wound up beating Sanders, something I don't ever expect
to be happy about. But we're stuck with her, and all I can say is
that we owe it to her to treat her honestly and fairly. Which means
rejecting all the mean, vicious, repugnant, and false things people
and pundits say about her, while recognizing her limits and foibles,
and resolving to continue saying and doing the right things, even if
doing so challenges her. After all, what really matters isn't whether
we're with her. It's whether she's with us. That's something she's
actually made some progress towards this week -- not that she doesn't
still have a long ways to go.
George Zornick: Welcome to the 2016 DNC, Sponsored by Special Interests:
Points out that these are the first presidential conventions since 1968
for which there is no government financing, leaving the parties at the
mercy of private donors and loose regulations.
The Atlantic is doing daily coverage of the DNC, with
lead-in pieces and lots of short notes from their many writers. See
Day 1: Bernie Gives in to Hillary,
Day 2: The First Lady to Become the Nominee,
Day 3: Obama Endorses Hillary as America's Best Hope,
Day 4: Hillary Clinton Begins Building Her Coalition. The comments jerk
in and out of chronological sequence, some are scattered and many are trivial,
but they probably give you as thorough an idea of what's happened as sitting
on a cable new station (or surfing between them whenever anything annoying
happens, which is often).
Molly Ball: The Long Fall of Debbie Wasserman Schultz: The Sanders
campaign has been feuding with the Democratic Party Chair since she
tried to stack the debate schedule to ensure minimum press coverage.
Her bias was unsurprising given how effective the Clintons were at
clearing the field of potential challengers, and of course became
even more obvious with last week's Wikileaks dump of her emails, but
she would probably have been dumped anyway.
Few Democrats will miss Wasserman Schultz, who was widely seen as an
ineffective leader. She was a poor communicator whose gaffes often
caused the party headaches; a mediocre fundraiser; and a terrible
diplomat more apt to alienate party factions than bring them together.
"Only Donald Trump has unified the party more," Rebecca Katz, a
Democratic consultant who supported Sanders in the primary, told
me wryly. [ . . . ]
The litany of Wasserman Schultz's offenses during the primary was
familiar to supporters of Sanders and other Clinton rivals: scheduling
debates at odd times, shutting Sanders out of the party's data file,
stacking convention committees with Clinton supporters. But her tenure
was rocky long before that -- in fact, within a month of her being named
in 2011 to finish the term of Tim Kaine, who had just been elected to
the Senate, Democrats were starting to grumble about her. When her term
ended after Obama's reelection, there was more sniping about her leadership,
and Obama's advisors urged him to bring in someone new, but Wasserman
Schultz made it clear she wouldn't go without a fight, according to
reports at the time and my sources inside the DNC. And so the White
House chose the path of least resistance and kept her in.
"Good fucking riddance," one former top DNC staffer during her tenure
told me of Wasserman Schultz's ouster. "But she was convicted for the
wrong crime." Critics charged that Wasserman Schultz treated the committee
as a personal promotion vehicle, constantly seeking television appearances
and even urging donors to give to her personal fundraising committee. A
different former staffer went so far as to compare her personality to
Donald Trump's, describing a "narcissism" that filtered everything through
her personal interests.
The larger issue, many Democrats told me, was the White House's lack
of concern with the health of the party, which allowed the DNC to atrophy.
"There's a lot of soul-searching and reckoning to be done going forward
about the role of the party," Smith said. Obama won the nomination by
running against the party establishment, and once he got into office
converted his campaign into a new organization, Organizing for America.
It was technically a part of the DNC, but in reality served as a rival
to it that redirected the party's organizing functions, effectively
gutting its field operation. The weakened DNC bears some of the
responsibility for the epic down-ballot losses -- in Congress, state
offices, and legislatures -- that have occurred during Obama's presidency.
"The president doesn't give a shit about the DNC, and he's the only
one with the leverage to do something about it," said Jamal Simmons, a
Democratic consultant and commentator who has advised the DNC. "Barack
Obama made it abundantly clear that he didn't care about the DNC, so
why have that fight?" [ . . . ]
The irony to many of Wasserman Schultz's critics was that if she was,
in fact, trying to "rig" the primary for Clinton, she didn't do it very
well, and by antagonizing Sanders supporters she might have even helped
power Clinton's opposition. "She had lost trust from every corner of the
party," said Mo Elleithee, a former communications director for the DNC
under Wasserman Schultz. "Congressional Democrats had lost trust in her,
the White House had lost trust in her, the Clinton campaign was rapidly
losing trust in her. So once she started to lose the grassroots, which
was her only strength, she had nothing left."
Timothy B Lee: DNC email leaks, explained: A fair introduction to
the Wikileaks dump of some 20,000 DNC emails. Key lines: "The email
trove contains some embarrassing revelations but no bombshells"; "The
hack included a lot of donors' personal information"; and "There's
significant evidence linking the attacks to the Russian government."
I'm not so sure about the latter point, which has been repeated so
many times that it's turning into an assumption -- see, e.g.,
Patrick Tucker: Was Russia Behind the DNC Hack? and
Isaac Chotiner: Is the DNC Hack an Act of War?. It's easy to be
sloppy here because anti-Russian prejudice is such a well-practiced
art in Washington that it's almost second nature. (For instance, we
routinely hear that Putin is a dictator, even though he's in power
by virtue of having clearly been elected in competitive contests.
Also, Putin is easily charged with being the aggressor in places
like Georgia and Ukraine -- ignoring that the US engaged in covert
campaigns in both to turn governments there against Russia.) It's
easy to imagine that Democrats jumping on the opportunity to blame
Russia -- it certainly helps distract from the embarrassments in
the emails itself, and it's the sort of rhetoric that Americans
have long fallen for. The big problem here is that the US seems
hell-bent to resurrect some sort of Cold War against Russia, as
seems clear by the steady advance of NATO forces toward Russia's
borders and the imposition of crippling economic sanctions on
Russia's already depressed economy. Given all this, it's pretty
easy to imagine Russia "striking back" via cyberwarfare -- after
all, the US is already heavily invested in that sort of mischief.
On the other hand, the stakes -- chiefly embarrassing the already
discredited Debbie Wasserman Schultz -- are pretty low.
On the other hand, this gives Democrats who have already shown
a knack for Putin-baiting an opportunity to rehash the supposed
ties between Putin and Trump, which must be true because Trump
hasn't shown much relish at joining in on the Putin-bashing as
have the Democrats -- one of the few areas where Trump has been
significantly less crazy and reckless than Clinton. Possibly the
most extreme statement of this is
Franklin Foer: Putin's Puppet:
Vladimir Putin has a plan for destroying the West -- and that plan looks
a lot like Donald Trump. Over the past decade, Russia has boosted right-wing
populists across Europe. It loaned money to Marine Le Pen in France,
well-documented transfusions of cash to keep her presidential campaign
alive. Such largesse also wended its way to the former Italian premier
Silvio Berlusconi, who profited "personally and handsomely" from Russian
energy deals, as an American ambassador to Rome once put it.
[ . . . ]
There's a clear pattern: Putin runs stealth efforts on behalf of
politicians who rail against the European Union and want to push away
from NATO. He's been a patron of Golden Dawn in Greece, Ataka in
Bulgaria, and Jobbik in Hungary. [ . . . ]
Donald Trump is like the Kremlin's favored candidates, only more so.
He celebrated the United Kingdom's exit from the EU. He denounces NATO
with feeling. He is also a great admirer of Vladimir Putin. Trump's
devotion to the Russian president has been portrayed as buffoonish
enthusiasm for a fellow macho strongman. But Trump's statements of
praise amount to something closer to slavish devotion.
[ . . . ] Still, we should think of the Trump
campaign as the moral equivalent of Henry Wallace's communist-infiltrated
campaign for president in 1948, albeit less sincere and idealistic
than that. A foreign power that wishes ill upon the United States has
attached itself to a major presidential campaign.
Most of this is fantasy stitched into conspiracy -- not that I doubt
that Putin has pitched some money at right-wing (ultra-nationalist)
political movements in Europe, but Russians got a raw deal in the '90s
when they opened their doors to capitalism, leaving them defensive and
nostalgic for a leader that demanded more respect. One can argue whether
he is one, or whether he's succumbed to the corruption of the Yeltsin
era, or whether his occasional flex of muscle is productive, but it's
absurd to claim he intends to destroy Europe and America, and even more
so to think he can do so by cyberhacks -- especially ones that at most
reveal their victims to have been fools.
On the other hand, the neocon idea that they can push and prod a
nation with a staggering number of nuclear weapons into a powerless
little corner is dangerous indeed -- and that's what Clinton risks
by slipping into Cold War revanchism. As for Trump, he's demonstrating
a truism: that people and nations that do business together are less
likely to confront each other militarily. Indeed, the real distinction
between America's "allies" and "enemies" almost exactly correlates with
ease of doing business together -- which is why, of course, neocons are
so eager to impose sanctions on countries like Russia and Iran (and
why they turn a blind eye to the real Islamic state, Saudi Arabia,
and why they are so eager to quash Boeing's airliner deal with Iran).
For more on Trump's business dealings with Russia, see
Josh Marshall's initial post,
Jeffrey Carr's fact-check, and
Marshall's riposte. I do admit that all this leaves me with a serious
question: if Trump's business ties to Russia compromise his ability to
put his own finances aside and serve the interests of the American people,
what about the rest of his business interests? As I recall, the Kennedys
put all of their vast inherited wealth into blind trusts when they went
into politics. Wouldn't it be fair and reasonable to insist that Trump do
the same thing?
PS: Marshall later tweeted: "Everything else aside, let's stop
talking about 'red-baiting,' 'McCarthyism.' Russia's not a communist or
a left state. That's silly." Sure, there's no reason to think that Trump
has fallen under the spell of Bolshevism, but anti-Russian rhetoric both
before and after the fall of Communism has been remarkably consistent --
in both cases Russia is casually charged with plotting the destruction
of Europe and America, and motives are rarely discussed (mostly because
they would make one wonder "really?"). And today's Putin-baiting works
so effortlessly because yesterday's red-baiting so effectively greased
the slide. Moreover, although Russia may have moved from left to right
since 1990, America's unelected "security state" is still run by the
same people who cut their teeth on the Cold War, and who will to their
deaths view Russia as the enemy. Does anyone really think that the US
is surrounding Russia with anti-ballistic missile rings because we're
worried about oligarchy and corruption?
Gideon Lewis-Kraus: Could Hillary Clinton Become the Champion of the
99 Percent? The political winds have changed since the early '90s
brought the Clintons and their "blue dog" DLC coalition to Washington,
so opportunist that Hillary has always been, could she blow back the
other way? One thing that's happened is that as the right-wing "think
tanks" have lost touch with reality, left-leaning ones have matured --
the article here features Felicia Joy Wong of the Roosevelt Institute,
and also singles out long-time Clinton economic adviser Joseph Stiglitz
(who's moved steadily leftward since the '90s), whose Rewriting the
Rules of the American Economy is a full-fledged political platform.
Another thing is that Bernie Sanders nearly beat her running further to
the left than anyone previously imagined possible. Still, very little
here about Clinton:
To Wong, though, much of the hand-wringing about Clinton is beside the
point. People like to kibitz on the subject of who a politician "really"
is, to claim that some votes or statements or gaffes or alliances are
deeply revealing and others merely accidents, frivolities or improvisatory
performances. We isolate and label a politician's essence in the hope we
might predict with certainty how she'll behave in the future. But in Wong's
view, the question of who a politician is -- and above all who this
particular presidential candidate is -- is irrelevant. Her strategy is
to proceed in public as if the candidate is certain to rise to the occasion.
[ . . . ]
"After all," Wong said to me more than once, "she is unknowable. Nobody
can know her. I certainly can't know her. All I can go by is what is on the
public record, and who she's got around her. I'm sure I'll be disappointed
again. Over the next few months, we'll all be disappointed again. But I'm
only optimistic because there's evidence for me to be that way."
When people talk about Hillary as a "genuine progressive" I can't help
but scoff: where's the evidence, anyone? On the other hand, it has occurred
to me that the situation might nudge her in the right direction. I even
came up with a precedent, Woodrow Wilson: early in his administration he
oversaw a number of progressive reforms, even though he really didn't have
a progressive bone in his body -- he also adopted Jim Crow as federal
policy, started two fruitless wars with Mexico, blundered into the big
war in Europe, implemented the most draconian assault on civil liberties
in the nation's history, and was so ineffective in negotiating the end
of the war that he was soundly rejected both at home and abroad. Still,
if Wilson can be remembered as a progressive, maybe the bar isn't too
high for Clinton. Of course, you might argue that FDR was another one
who rose to progressivism because the circumstances dictated it.
Also along these lines:
Mark Green: Is Hillary Ready for a Progressive 'Realignment'?, and
Katrina vanden Heuvel: Hillary Clinton Can Become the Real Candidate of
Allegra Kirkland: Conservatives Stunned by How Much They Liked Obama's
DNC Speech: There's an old Mort Sahl joke where he quotes Charlton
Hesston as saying that he hopes his children will some day live in a
fascist dictatorship, then quips that if Hesston was more perceptive
he'd be a happy man today. One of the great absurdities of our times
is that conservatives have been so hateful to Obama, who has always
gone out of his way to embody and celebrate their most cherished and
most hackneyed myths. As I've said before, Barrack Obama is a man
whose conservatism runs so deep he's incapable of imagining a world
where Jamie Dimon isn't still head of JP Morgan-Chase. There has
never been a better "poster child" for the American Dream than him,
yet many self-proclaimed conservatives have insisted on attacking
him, insisting that he is perversely bent on destroying the very
nation had flattered him so by electing him president. That's never
been credible, but it's taken eight years and the counterexample of
Donald Trump for it to sink into these numbskulls.
Pundits who fundamentally disagree with the majority of Obama's
policies expressed grudging admiration for an optimistic speech
that praised America's inclusive democracy. It provided a stark
contrast to the ominous address about the threats facing the
United States that Donald Trump gave at last week's Republican
convention in Cleveland.
Some suggested that Obama's speech, which quoted the Declaration
of Independence and framed the U.S. as a "light of freedom, dignity
and human rights," did a better job at expressing conservative
values than Trump's did.
In some ways we're fortune that they were so dense. Give his
lifelong habit of sucking up to power and his earnest desire for
"bipartisan" solutions, there's no telling what "compromises" he
might have made had the Republicans not been so obstructionist.
His continuation of the Bush wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, his
revival of the war in Iraq and Syria, his expansion of loosely
targeted assassinations via the drone program, and his relentless
defense of America's secret police against whistleblowers have
been among the darket blots on his administration -- all cases
where Republicans have cheered him on and taunted him to do even
worse. Even today, Obama remains the last significant politician
supporting TPP. In time conservatives will appreciate what they
missed and lost -- much like today they hail the once-hated Harry
Truman for blundering his way into the Cold War. But their blinders
are a necessary part of their identity: whenever you look back at
American history for something inspiring, something to be proud of,
you necessarily have to embrace some aspect of liberal tradition.
What makes Obama such a great conservative is his liberalism, and
that's what they cannot abide, even less admit -- at least until
they've found themselves stuck with Trump, a convervative standard
bearer who promises to usher a smaller, poorer, meaner America --
and all he has to do is call it Great. That makes Trump the perfect
anti-Obama, logically the ideal candidate for everyone who bought
the anti-Obama vitriol of the last eight years. If some conservatives
are having second thoughts, maybe they're more perceptive than we
Shibley Telhami: Are Clinton's supporters to the right of Sanders's on
the Middle East? Hardly. Telhami has been polling on questions like
this for years:
Over the past few years, I have asked Americans about their attitudes
on American policy toward Israeli settlements. In a November 2015 poll,
49 percent of Democrats expressed support for imposing sanctions or
harsher measures on Israeli settlements. In a May 2016 poll, 51 percent
of Democrats expressed the same view (within the margin of error of the
Those expecting Clinton's backers to be less supportive of such
measures than Sanders's are in for a surprise: 51 percent of Sanders's
supporters wanted punitive measures imposed, and 54 percent of Clinton's
expressed the same opinion -- a statistical tie. In contrast, only 24
percent of Trump supporters voiced support for such measures.
Telhami asks a number of similar questions, again finding no real
differences between Clinton and Sanders supporters' views, so he asks
"why are candidates' rhetoric different when supporters' views are
similar?" He doesn't really answer this clearly, but two reasons seem
obvious to me: one is that Clinton has two levels of donors, and the
big shots -- the ones who kick in enough to get personal contact --
are rabidly pro-Israel, so they pull her in that direction; Sanders,
on the other hand, draws nearly all of his financing from his base,
so he leans that direction. But also, both Sanders and Clinton start
out exceptionally pro-Israel, partly because the Israel lobby has
become so hegemonic in Washington, partly because the very powerful
defense complex is so intertwined with Israel. Sanders is also Jewish,
and of an age when Israel was a much more attractive proposition.
Still, I would imagine that while there is no general difference in
opinion between Sanders and Clinton supporters, those who are very
concerned about the issue should favor Sanders -- if only because
Clinton has boxed herself into a hole from which she has effectively
committed to do nothing whatsoever to help resolve the conflict.
Sanders at least understands something that political expediency
doesn't allow Clinton to admit: that Palestinians must be treated
as human beings. This makes me wonder how many other issues there
are where Clinton supporters are well to the left of their
Clare Foran: Can Jill Stein Lead a Revolution? Nothing here suggests
to me that she can -- not that there's much here to suggest what she
stands for or why that matters -- it's mostly about Bernie supporters
who aren't reconciled to Hillary, a number that's likely to drop by
half come election day. The fact that Stein is in Philadelphia this week
suggests she realizes that the real forum for the left isn't her third
party effort -- it's the Democratic Party, which Bernie came close to
winning over, and even after Hillary's win is still where most of the
people "the revolution" needs do their business. Still, neither Foran
nor Jordan Weissmann (in
Jill Stein's Ideas Are Terrible. She Is Not the Savior the Left Is
Looking For) talk about the one idea that could make a difference,
which is to play up the fear that Hillary's hawkishness could be even
more self-destructive than Trump's brutishness, and that people who
believe that America should radically retrench from the ambition to
be the world's sole hegemon need to withdraw their votes from both.
That at least is an argument, one that needn't depend on the tired
homily that both sides are equivalent, and one that might scare or
shame Hillary enough that she makes an effort not to alienate the
large number of antiwar voters who otherwise see her as preferable
to Trump. Of course, Stein will still lose half of her sympathizers
on election day (as will libertarian Gary Johnson), just because
votes aren't worth so much that they have to be perfect.
Michelle Goldberg: The DNC Has Been a Rousing Success. So Why Am I
Terrified? Basically because she doesn't trust the American
people to do the sane thing:
One of the unofficial slogans of this election, at least among the green
room flotsam and millennial ironists on Twitter, is "nothing matters."
It's an expression of weary incredulity at each new Trumpian outrage
that should be the end of him but isn't. This election isn't a contest
of ideology. It's certainly not about experience or competence. It's
being fought at the level of deep, unconscious, Freudian drives. Trump
promises law and order, but he is the Thanatos candidate, appealing to
the people so disgusted by the American status quo that they're willing
to blow it up. Clinton is the candidate of dull, workmanlike order and
continuity. She once described herself as a "mind conservative and a
heart liberal," but her convention has almost been the opposite, with
the most liberal platform in decades married to a show of sunny, orderly
patriotism. "America is already great!" is as anti-radical slogan as can
be imagined. The question in this election is whether the forces of
stability are a match for those of cynical nihilism. This convention
has been, for the most part, impeccably choreographed. Will it matter?
That "mind conservative/heart liberal" thing tells me that she's
bought the conservative line hook and sinker: only conservatives
think that liberalism is an ailment of the heart, and only people
hopelessly mired in the past fail to recognize that conservatism
has become a form of mental derangement. (I would concede that a
conservative ethos is a good thing for a person to have, provided
you understand that it doesn't work for social/political/economic
matters. It's all good and well any person to be self-sufficient,
but as a society we need mutual respect, concern, and help.)
My own great fear is watching Hillary one-on-one in the debates
as Trump goads her into World War III.
On the other hand, see:
Jamelle Bouie: The Democrats Make Their Pitch to a New Silent
Majority. Not my favorite turn of phrase, but they started
making this pitch in 2012, when after four years when it seemed
like only the Tea Party could get media attention Obama won the
presidential election rather easily. (Still, only 57.5% came
out to vote in 2012, less than the 62.3% who voted in 2008 when
Obama won even more handily.) I'm less impressed by the Wednesday
lineup than Bouie is ("figures of authority -- all white men --
who in different ways sought to delegitimize Donald Trump and
persuade the most Republican-leaning whites with degrees to
switch sides and abandon the GOP") -- Leon Panetta, Admiral John
Hutson, Michael Bloomberg -- but they do suggest that a swath
of the establishment realizes they'd be better off with Hillary,
and not rocking the boat has much to do with that. I think it
is the case that an awful lot of Americans don't like to rock
the boat -- otherwise why would they have stuck with so many
losers for so long?
Plus a few shorts:
Harry Reid Wants Intelligence Agencies to Give Trump "Fake" Briefings
After Russia Comments: Because, I suppose, he's not misinformed
enough as it is.
No, Donald Trump Did Not Commit Treason When He Suggested Russia Hack
Clinton's Emails: Glad we cleared that one up.
David Frum: Donald Trump Has Turned the Republicans Into the Party of
Russia: Piling on, from the guy who coined the phrase "axis of
Ron Fournier: How TV Networks Can Force Trump to Release His Tax Returns:
"broadcast outlets need to apply pressure where it counts -- to Trump's
ego." Yeah, good luck with that. But he would be exposing himself to huge
liability: I doubt if anyone who makes that kind of money from as many
sources as Trump can file a tax return that doesn't have something dodgy
enough that it can't be turned into a federal case on close inspection.
Then there's the suspicion that he's not actually making that much money
and not worth nearly as much as he claims.
Uri Friedman: What If Russia Invaded the Baltics -- and Donald Trump
Was President? My first reaction is if Trump was president we'd have
far worse problems. But what do they want him to do? Start WWIII?
Trump: You Know I Love the Disabled Because My Buildings Are Accessible:
Couldn't possibly be because federal law mandates accessability?
Peter Beinart: Bill Clinton's Lapse Into Trumpism: Actually just a
quibble over an unfortunate turn of speech, even if, like most gaffes,
it exposes mental rot underneath. On the other hand, Beinart trivializes
Trumpism by suggesting it's just about Muslims -- so Beinart matches one
gaffe with another.
Trump Jr.: Obama Plagiarized a Line From My RNC Speech! He further
asked, "where's the outrage?" The line was "This is not the America I
know." Turns out Obama had used the same line previously, so maybe
Trump Jr. is the plagiarist? But others have also used the line, or
close variants. Really not a very original turn of phrase -- just
another cliché, something political speeches (Obama's included) are
Nancy LeTourneau: Trump Says That He Wants to Hit the "Little Guy":
Watching the DNC, all Trump can do is lash out: "I was gonna hit one guy
in particular, a very little guy" -- evidently fellow billionaire and
New Yorker Michael Bloomberg. LeTourneau suspects the cause was this bit
from Bloomberg's speech: "Throughout his career, Trump has left behind
a well-documented record of bankruptcies, thousands of lawsuits, angry
shareholders, and contractors who feel cheated, and disillusioned
customers who feel ripped off. Trump says he wants to run the nation
like he's run his business. God help us."
Tamara Draut: The new working class: Trump can talk to disaffected
white men, but they don't make up the "working class" anymore:
And, one might add, those who do got more urgent things to worry
about than immigrants and terrorists.
Andrew Kahn: How to Tell When Donald Trump Is Joking: Of course,
it's hard for people who find Trump utterly horrifying to distinguish
when he's merely being sardonic, as opposed, say, to when he's saying
something utterly horrifying. Would be easier if he were funnier but,
hey, not everybody is.
John Judis: Trump's very peculiar and unprecedented appeal to Bernie
Sanders' supporters: Evidently Trump has been taken in by some
of the dumbest political observers in the country -- the ones who
see the Trump and Sanders campaigns as parallel efforts by outsiders
to counter the deep corruption of American politics. So now he's
accusing Sanders of "selling his soul" and hoping that will deflect
his followers to the last outsider champion still in the race. In
fact, the campaigns have nothing in common, and Trump has no answers
for the problems Sanders identified. Still, amusing to watch him
Katherine Krueger: The Reviews Are In: Conservatives Say the DNC Was
'Disaster' for the GOP: As recounted in 14 tweets. Not sure that
constitutes a significant sample. Of course, she could have pointed to
David Brooks: The Democrats Win the Summer, but maybe that was
too long to read (or maybe she already knew better). Brooks quote:
"Trump has abandoned the Judeo-Christian aspirations that have always
represented America's highest moral ideals: toward love, charity,
humility, goodness, faith, temperance and gentleless. He left the
ground open for Joe Biden to remind us that decent people don't
enjoy firing other human beings."
Ezra Klein: This election isn't just Democrat vs. Republican. It's
normal vs. abnormal. Klein argues that "the Republican Party
has become an abnormal political party that has nominated an abnormal
presidential candidate," but maybe he should consider why. Since
Obama won in 2008, Republicans have done everything they could to
prevent the Democrats from delivering on their campaign promises,
repeatedly predicting doom if the Democrats succeed, yet during
that time the economy has gotten stronger, and almost everything
else has improved, at least relative to the eight previous years
when Bush was president. So the Republicans have to keep repeating
their narrative, even though it's long lost any tether to reality.
Consequently, Republicans have abdicated any claim to the status
quo, allowing the Democrats to take over the center (in addition
to being the only realistic haven for the left). For more, see
Have we stopped to appreciate how crazy Donald Trump has gotten
Greg Grandin: Eat, Pray, Starve: What Tim Kaine Didn't Learn During His
Time in Honduras: One of the blackest marks on Hillary Clinton's
tenure as Secretary of State was her support for a murderous coup in
Honduras. Kaine spent nine months in a Jesuit mission in Honduras,
learned Spanish, says that time "made him who he is." Those nine months
coincided with the CIA setting up the Contras in Honduras to wage war
against Nicaragua, also with targeted assassinations of Jesuits in El
Salvador, also backed by the US. "Kaine helps the Clinton campaign
transform Honduras from a real place, engaged in political struggle,
into an imaginary kingdom of banality."
Monday, July 25. 2016
Music: Current count 26851  rated (+29), 431  unrated (-4).
Much better than average week of mail: two packages from Clean Feed
in Portugal, one from Fou in France, the new Steve Lehman from Pi, and
a new Stephan Crump with Ellery Eskelin and Tyshawn Sorey. Didn't quite
make the 30 rated mark, although there's some chance that I missed
counting something (found two of those earlier today). Not sure why
given that I hardly ventured outside the house (temperature was into
triple digits all week, and that's not the "feels like" figure although
it certainly does). Probably because I mostly worked from the new jazz
queue, and made an effort to play some downloads I've collected but
find annoying to bother with. I think Thumbscrew got five plays before
I gave up on it, but others got cut short -- Anat Fort, perhaps. Two
HMs I probably should have given another spin: Domo Genesis and André
Gonçalves. The former is a rapper and I've been having a lot of trouble
parsing them on Rhapsody. The latter is very minimal-concept electronica
(although on a jazz label).
The Fred Hersch Solo is from last year. It finished 11th in the
Jazz Critics Poll, second highest among records I hadn't heard
(after 3rd place Jack DeJohnette, ahead of Roscoe Mitchell at 31
and Brad Mehldau at 34). Its publicist didn't service me at the time,
probably recognizing that I'm usually a wet blanket as far as solo
piano is concerned, but I found it on her annual wrap up (along
with Ran Blake's solo Ghost Tones, 27th in the Poll). I'm
duly impressed after two plays, although I'm still undecided about
Hersch's new trio (which I did receive), tauntingly titled Sunday
Night at the Vanguard -- either A- or very high B+ (find out next
week, or probably sooner, as I should have a Rhapsody Streamnotes
column sometime this week).
Rich Halley and The Paranoid Style also got quite a bit of play,
both winding up slightly above the A- line. The saxophonist's album
is a bit scattered with more unison playing than I'd like and the
trombonist very hit-and-mess plus I'm never sure what Vince Golia
is up to, but it has more thrilling moments than anything I can
recall in the last couple months. I'm still having trouble with
Elizabeth Nelson's sociopolitical theorizing, but ultimately went
with the review she provided in a lyric: "it can't all be that
bad because it's also entertaining."
New records rated this week:
- Jon Balke: Warp (2014 , ECM): [dl]: B+(*)
- Aaron Bennett/Darren Johnston/Lisa Mezzacappa/Tim Rosaly: Shipwreck 4 (2015 , NoBusiness): [cd]: B+(*)
- Carla Bley/Andy Sheppard/Steve Swallow: Andando el Tiempo (2015 , ECM): [dl]: B+(***)
- Bobby Bradford/Hafez Modirzadeh: Live at the Open Gate (2013 , NoBusiness): [cdr]: B+(**)
- Brothers Osborne: Pawn Shop (2016, EMI Nashville): [r]: B+(*)
- Toronzo Cannon: The Chicago Way (2016, Alligator): [r]: B+(*)
- Cavanaugh: Time and Materials (2015 , Mello Music): [r]: B+(**)
- Suzanne Dean: Come to Paradise (2016, Ship's Bell Music): [cd]: B
- Fail Better!: Owt (2014 , NoBusiness): [cdr]: B+(**)
- Anat Fort Trio/Gianluigi Trovesi: Birdwatching (2013 , ECM): [dl]: B+(***)
- Gaudi: EP (2016, RareNoise, EP): [cdr]: B+(**)
- Domo Genesis: Genesis (2016, Odd Future): [r]: B+(***)
- André Gonçalves: Currents & Riptides (2016, Shhpuma): [r]: B+(***)
- Tord Gustavsen: What Was Said (2015 , ECM): [dl]: B+(**)
- Rich Halley 5: The Outlier (2015 , Pine Eagle): [cd]: A-
- Fred Hersch: Solo (2014 , Palmetto): [dl]: A-
- Hinds: Leave Me Alone (2016, Mom + Pop): [r]: B
- Lefteris Kordis: Mediterrana (Goddess of Light) (2013-15 , Inner Circle Music): [cd]: B+(*)
- Elektra Kurtis & Ensemble Elektra: Bridges From the East (2016, Elektra Sound Works/Milo): [cd]: B+(***)
- Tina Marx: Shades of Love (2007 , self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
- Anthony E. Nelson Jr.: Swift to Hear, Slow to Speak (2016, Music Stand): [cd]: B+(*)
- Os Clavelitos: Arriving (2016, self-released): [cd]: B-
- The Paranoid Style: Rolling Disclosure (2016, Bar/None): [r]: A-
- Tommy Smith: Modern Jacobite (2015 , Spartacus): [cd]: B-
- Jim Snidero: MD66 (2016, Savant): [cdr]: B+(**)
- Peggy Stern: Z Octet (2015 , Estrella Productions): [cd]: B+(*)
- Thumbscrew: Convallaria (2015 , Cuneiform): [dl]: B+(***)
- Brahja Waldman: Wisdomatic (2016, Fast Speaking Music): [cdr]: A-
- Nate Wooley/Hugo Antunes/Jorge Queijo/Mario Costa/Chris Corsano: Purple Patio (2012 , NoBusiness): [cdr]: B
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
- Putumayo Presents: Blues Party (1968-2013 , Putumayo World Music): [cdr]: B+(**)
- Arthur Williams: Forgiveness Suite (1979 , NoBusiness): [cdr]: B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
- Karlis Auzins/Lucas Leidinger/Tomo Jacobson/Thomas Sauerborn: Mount Meander (Clean Feed)
- Carate Urio Orchestra: Ljubljana (Clean Feed)
- Cortex: Live in New York (Clean Feed)
- Stephan Crump: Stephan Crump's Rhombal (Papillon): September 13
- Whit Dickey/Kirk Knuffke: Fierce Silence (Clean Feed)
- Daunik Lazro/Joëlle Léandre/George Lewis: Enfances 8 Janv. 1984 (Fou)
- Steve Lehman: Sélébéyone (Pi): August 19
- Joey Locascio: Meets the Legend (Blujazz)
- Modular String Trio: Ants, Bees and Butterflies (Clean Feed)
- Roji: The Hundred Headed Woman (Clean Feed)
- Susana Santos Silva/Lotte Anker/Sten Sandell/Torbjörn Zetterberg/Jon Fält: Life and Other Transient Storms (Clean Feed)
- Stirrup: Cut (Clean Feed)
Sunday, July 24. 2016
First, some leftover (or late-breaking) links on Donald Trump, Mike
Pence, and last week's Republican National Convention:
Matt Taibbi: Trump's Appetite for Destruction: That was the week that
was. Some highlights, but not necessarily the best jokes:
It wasn't what we expected. We thought Donald Trump's version of the
Republican National Convention would be a brilliantly bawdy exercise
in Nazistic excess.
We expected thousand-foot light columns, a 400-piece horn section
where the delegates usually sit (they would be in cages out back with
guns to their heads). Onstage, a chorus line of pageant girls in gold
bikinis would be twerking furiously to a techno version of "New York,
New York" while an army of Broadway dancers spent all four days building
a Big Beautiful Wall that read winning, the ceremonial last brick timed
to the start of Donald's acceptance speech . . .
But nah. What happened instead was just sad and weird, very weird.
The lineup for the 2016 Republican National Convention to nominate
Trump felt like a fallback list of speakers for some ancient UHF
telethon, on behalf of a cause like plantar-wart research.
[ . . . ]
That the press seemed let down by the lack of turmoil on the streets
was odd, given that the Trump convention itself was, after all, a
Thirteen million and three hundred thousand Republican voters had
defied the will of their party and soundly rejected hundred-million-dollar
insider favorites like Jeb Bush to re-seize control of their own political
destiny. That they made perhaps the most ridiculous choice in the history
of democracy was really a secondary issue.
It was a tremendous accomplishment that real-life conservative voters
did what progressives could not quite do in the Democratic primaries.
Republican voters penetrated the many layers of money and political
connections and corporate media policing that, like the labyrinth of
barricades around the Q, are designed to keep the riffraff from getting
their mitts on the political process.
But it wasn't covered that way. What started a year ago as an amusing
story about a clown car full of bumbling primary hopefuls was about to
be described to the world not as a groundbreaking act of defiance, but
as a spectacular failure of democracy. [ . . . ]
We could never quite tell what [Trump] was: possibly the American
Hitler, but just as possibly punking the whole world in the most ambitious
prank/PR stunt of all time. Or maybe he was on the level, birthing a weird
new rightist/populist movement, a cross of Huey Long, Pinochet and David
Hasselhoff. He was probably a monster, but whatever he was, he was
Then came Thursday night.
With tens of millions of eyes watching, Trump the Beltway conqueror
turtled and wrapped his arms around the establishment's ankles. He spent
the entirety of his final address huddled inside five decades of Republican
Party clichés, apparently determined to hide in there until Election
Day. [ . . . ]
But it wasn't new, not one word. Trump cribbed his ideas from the
Republicans he spent a year defaming. Trump had merely reprised Willie
Horton, Barry Goldwater's "marauders" speech, Jesse Helms' "White Hands"
ad, and most particularly Richard Nixon's 1968 "law and order" acceptance
address, the party's archetypal fear-based appeal from which Trump borrowed
in an intellectual appropriation far more sweeping and shameless than
Melania's much-hyped mistake. [ . . . ]
In the end, Trump's populism was as fake as everything else about him,
and he emerged as just another in a long line of Republican hacks, only
dumber and less plausible to the political center.
Which meant that after all that we went through last year, after that
crazy cycle of insults and bluster and wife wars and penis-measuring
contests and occasionally bloody street battles, after the insane media
tornado that destroyed the modern Republican establishment, Trump concluded
right where the party started 50 years ago, meekly riding Nixon's Southern
Strategy. It was all just one very noisy ride in a circle. All that
destruction and rebellion went for nothing. Officially now, he's just
another party schmuck.
Rick Perlstein: Mr. Trump, You're No Richard Nixon: Paul Manafort
promised that Trump's acceptance speech would be based on Nixon's 1968
speech, but as Perlstein says, "I've studied Richard Nixon. And you're
no Richard Nixon." He goes on to explain:
And, contra Manafort, there was a hell of a lot of "happy talk"
in Nixon's speech. That was the soul of its success. Nixon was fond of
a spiritual ideal he learned in his Quaker youth: "peace in the center."
This speech's very logic was saturated by it -- that a God-spark of
grace lay buried underneath America's currently, temporarily degraded
circumstances: the "quiet voice in the tumult and the shouting," heirs
to "world's oldest revolution, which will never grow old."
Sure, it was in some respects a rhetorical con: Nixon identified that
quiet voice with a certain type of American, the "good people,"
the "decent people; they work and they save, and they pay their taxes,
and they care." But his conception of this core -- which he later, with
a more snarling tinge, tagged the "Silent Majority" -- was considerably
more gracious than the angry, cornered victims, straining to lash out at
their tormenters, that Trump had in mind last night. Nixon stepped back
from that brink, granting them a charitable core and calling them to
further charity: "They know that this country will not be a good place
for any of us to live in unless it is a good place for all of us to live
in." Later, he said, "Just to be alive in America, just to be alive at
this time, is an experience unparalleled in history. Here is where the
Try imagining those words coming out of Donald Trump's mouth. Try to
imagine them getting the warm, extended applause that they got from the
Republicans of 1968. [ . . . ]
But the single most telling divergence between Trump's acceptance
speech and its Nixonian model, and the easiest to forget, comes down
to this: Nixon never said it would be easy. Trump says nothing
else. It was the theme of his convention.
Nixon: "And so tonight I do not promise the millennium in the morning.
I do not promise that we can eradicate poverty and end discrimination,
eliminate all danger of war in the space of four or even eight years."
Trump: "I have a message for all of you: The crime and violence that
today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end." (That was what the
teleprompter said. Trump spontaneously added, "and I mean very soon.")
"Beginning on January 20th 2017, safety will be restored."
Trump, again: "We are going to defeat the barbarians of ISIS." (Again,
that was the teleprompter version; he added, "And we're going to defeat
them fast.") And then these words on the teleprompter -- "we must work
with all of our allies who share our goal of destroying ISIS and stamping
out Islamic terror" -- followed by his own hasty interposition: "Doing it
now, doing it quickly, we're going to win, we're going to win fast!"
[ . . . ]
It all came down to Donald Trump's own patented brand of alchemical
magic: turning coal into diamonds, bending steel with his mind. After
all, "Our steelworkers and miners are going back to work. With these
new economic policies, trillions of dollars will start flowing into
our country. This new wealth will improve the quality of life for all
Benjamin Wallace-Wells: The Strangely Quiet Streets of Cleveland: As
Taibbi pointed out in the piece above, protesters and counter-protesters
in Cleveland for the RNC were vastly outnumbered by journalists, many
evidently hoping for some street-fighting to fuel the notion that Trump's
1968 Nixon rip-off had some relevance to the real world. The fact is not
many people showed up, and nothing much happened.
One feature of American politics right now is a sensitivity to the
influence of the fringe. The campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders,
and the angry call-and-response of Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives
Matter, have raised the possibility of new forces at work, and a popular
anthropology has followed. People like the young white nationalist writers
Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos have become ubiquitous, because they
fit the general story and because they suggest something new. But in
Cleveland the people who embraced the racial grievances of the Convention
were not the bearded conspiracists of the fringe but the delegates
David Frum: Donald Trump's Bad Bet on Anger: Compares Trump's speech
to Nixon's from 1968 and also mentions Pat Buchanan's in 1992, citing
Michael Barone's observation that "Buchanan would no nowhere in politics
because Americans aren't angry people, and they don't trust angry people
with power." That observation will certainly be tested this year.
But unlike Richard Nixon, Donald Trump is not speaking for a silent
majority. He is speaking for a despairing minority.
The range and reach of Trump's voice will be inescapably limited by
all the people he does not speak to. He does not speak to those rising
and thriving in today's America. He does not speak to entrepreneurs and
business owners. He does not speak to people who work in creative
industries or the sciences or technology. He does not speak to those
who feel emancipated by the lifting of inherited cultural and physical
limits. He does not speak to those who feel that this modern age, for
all its troubles, is also a time of miraculous achievement and
I've compared Donald Trump to William Jennings Bryan, who forfeited
the chance in 1896 to build an alliance of all those discontented with
industrial capitalism because he only truly felt at home with rural
people -- and could not refrain from inflammatory language about cities
and city people. Tonight this comparison seems even more valid than ever.
Trump's right about the shock of globalization and the disruption of
migration. But it's not enough to be right to become president, as Henry
Clay famously quipped. You have to be right in the right way and at the
right time. You have to be the right messenger to carry the right message.
Actually, Trump's not even very right on "the shock of globalization
and the disruption of migration" -- those are fairly minor problems (to
the extent they are problems at all), ones that could have been handled
by more sensible policies and a greater commitment to a "safety net" to
help out those few people who were hurt. (Same for those unemployed coal
miners and their depressed communities, although their plight was caused
by something else entirely.) Still, one has to wonder how many people
actually believe the Republicans' endlessly repeated message of America's
economic and cultural and political decline under Obama. Compared to Bush,
I can't find a single objective indicator of such decline: the economy
has grown steadily, (as has been much commented on) crime rates continue
to decline, and the number of American soldiers killed or maimed abroad
is also down. Sure, none of these metrics are as good as they should be,
but much of the blame there belongs with the Republican stranglehold on
Congress (and so many state governments -- Wisconsin vs. Minnesota is an
especially telling example).
This is the first I've seen of the Bryan comparison, and there is
something interesting to it, but it's also a bit misleading. For one
thing, the two major political parties in the 1890s weren't polarized
by class like they are now: there were progressive movements in both
parties, struggling against oligarchic control of each. Bryan led a
revolt in the Democratic Party against extreme conservatives like
Grover Cleveland, and the conservatives got their revenge by throwing
the election to McKinley (something they repeated in 1972, and would
have been tempted to do this year had Sanders won). So, sure, it's
interesting that Bryan didn't have the temperament to rally urban
workers and blacks (most of whom voted Republican back then). And,
sure, neither does Trump, but one other similarity is that both
embraced simplistic and ultimately non-credible solutions: silver
for Bryan, and walls and barricades for Trump. Also, Bryan was a
heroically decent politician (not unlike McGovern later, but much
preachier), whereas Trump is a greedy self-centered asshole -- and
while the latter may be a better fit for our times, it's still not
clear how many people have sunk to his level.
Corey Robin: Check Your Amnesia, Dude: On the Vox Generation of
Punditry: Feedback from Trump's
foreign policy interview (which I wrote about last time) included a
tweet from Peter W. Singer: "It is the most irresponsible foreign policy
statement by a presidential nominee of any party in my lifetime." Robin
notes that "Barry Goldwater said the US should consider using tactical
nukes in Vietnam," but that was before Singer was born, so he concentrated
on various outrageous Ronald Reagan pronouncements. Robin goes on to make
some generalizations about "the Vox generation of pundits" that may (or
may not) be insightful (I'm not sure), but his "Update" is worth quoting.
There he's responding to Matt Yglesias attacking Trump for having "proven
time and again he's much too lazy to do the job." Robin responds with
four bullet items from Ronald Reagan, then adds:
Yglesias's complaint is a frequently heard among liberals. As Alex
Gourevitch reminded me, they said the same thing about George W. Bush.
Remember all those vacations he took? (879 days, or 30% of his time
But here's the thing: Ronald Reagan (or George W. Bush] wasn't
terrifying because he was lazy. Do we honestly think that if he had
worked harder he would have been less terrifying? When your entire
belief system is jackboots and smiles, it doesn't get less scary
because you work harder; the opposite, in fact. Honestly, I'm thankful
Reagan was as lazy as he was. God only knows how much more havoc he
might have wreaked had he been awake during those precious afternoon
Likewise, Donald Trump. The notion here is that if he had more
knowledge of the things he talks about, if he just worked harder at
his job, his positions would be moderated. Like Ted Cruz?
On the other hand, laziness at the top allowed those they had
(perhaps carelessly) appointed to lower positions to do considerable
damage (as bit Reagan in the HUD and Iran-Contra scandals, although
the machinations of Ed Meese's Justice Department were probably more
damaging in the long run; Bush may have been the primary instigator
of his war and terror regime, but he stocked his administration with
people who would not only go along but would push him further). There
is no reason to think Trump will pick better underlings. Exhibit A:
As for the rest of the world, some scattered links:
John Quiggin: Anti-militarism: A short piece on definitions.
My case for anti-militarism has two main elements.
First, the consequentialist case against the discretionary use of
military force is overwhelming. Wars cause huge damage and destruction
and preparation for war is immensely costly. Yet it is just about
impossible to find examples where a discretionary decision to go to
war has produced a clear benefit for the country concerned, or even
for its ruling class. Even in cases where war is initially defensive,
attempts to secure war aims beyond the status quo ante have commonly
led to disaster.
Second, war is (almost) inevitably criminal since it involves killing
and maiming people who have done nothing personally to justify this; not
only civilians, but soldiers (commonly including conscripts) obeying the
lawful orders of their governments.
Quiggin allows an exception for "humanitarian intervention" which is
neither well-developed nor well-critiqued. Most actual wars justified
on "humanitarian" grounds have turned out to have bad consequences --
Iraq and Libya are pretty clear recent examples -- often because the
motives of the "humanitarians" are never quite pure but also because
no amount of good intentions ever really compensates for the criminal
killing inextricably bundled into war. (As I recall, Noam Chomsky has
cited two wars that he approved of: India's 1971 war with Pakistan
which spun Bangladesh off as an independent country, and the 1999 UN
defense of the former Portuguese colony of East Timor against forced
annexation by Indonesia. Both resulted in independent states which
were not subsequently controlled or dominated by interveners -- which
isn't to say they didn't have their own reasons that were only loosely
cloaked in "humanitarian" rhetoric.)
Advocates of "humanitarian intervention" point to the high death
tolls in places like Rwanda where no military jumped in, or to Syria
now (although how anyone could think there's been no intervention in
Syria is way beyond me). The fact is that nobody knows whether fewer
people would have died in Rwanda had outside powers intervened, because
no one know what the effect would be of Euroamericans, with their long
histories of racism and colonialism, coming in and shooting up the
place, killing people on both sides ostensibly to keep them from
killing each other. Nor does anyone have any idea what the invaders
would have done after the shooting stopped (although with the US, UK,
France and others, the temptation would have been to set up shop and
recoup expenses; i.e., neocolonialism).
It's easy enough to conjure up a fantasy that some omnipotent foreign
force could march through Syria and end the civil war there by killing
anyone who resists (assuming, of course, you could keep all the other
foreign forces from supporting their own favorite factions), but would
such a force be willing to turn the spoils over to the Syrian people
and let them decide to do whatever they wished with their country --
just without the resort to violence. We've seen the US in a position to
do just that at least twice (in Afghanistan and Iraq) and neither time
the US was capable of even feigning neutrality. The odds the US might
do the right thing in Syria are even slimmer, given that the Americans
who plot wars (and imagine them to be humanitarian) already see Syria
as a microcosm of region- and world-wide rivalries with "enemies" like
Russia and Iran and both Islamist and secular (socialist) tendencies
in all Arab nations and "allies" having as many conflicting views and
aims as Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt, France, the UK, and
its former (but still reigning) emirates and vassals.
As Quiggin notes, we are now well into the hundredth anniversary of
the original Great War. The reaction to that horror was to demilitarize,
but that world was still driven by dreams of empire, and the inequitable
settlement left Germany hungering for another shot and Japan and Italy
thinking they were still on the rise, so there followed another, even
more devastating and frightful war, capped by the emergence of a bomb
capable of devastating whole cities in seconds. Again, nearly everyone
hoped to render war obsolete and impossible. Some measures were taken,
starting with declaration of a universal "rights of man" that if truly
honored would render the old reasons for war -- chiefly, empire and
plunder -- obsolete. It would be smart to revisit those ideas and try
to reinvigorate them. Because clearly piling one armed outrage on top
of another isn't working.
Matt Taibbi: Democrats Will Learn All the Wrong Lessons From Brush
With Bernie: This came out after the California and New Jersey
primaries in early June. I don't recall whether I saw it at the time,
but it's still timely with the Democratic National Convention up this
Politicians are so used to viewing the electorate as a giant thing to
be manipulated that no matter what happens at the ballot, they usually
can only focus on the Washington-based characters they perceive to be
pulling the strings. Through this lens, the uprising among Democratic
voters this year wasn't an organic expression of mass disgust, but
wholly the fault of Bernie Sanders, who within the Beltway is viewed
as an oddball amateur and radical who jumped the line.
Nobody saw his campaign as an honest effort to restore power to
voters, because nobody in the capital even knows what that is. In the
rules of palace intrigue, Sanders only made sense as a kind of
self-centered huckster who made a failed play for power. And the
narrative will be that with him out of the picture, the crisis is
over. No person, no problem.
This inability to grasp that the problem is bigger than Bernie
Sanders is a huge red flag. As Thacker puts it, the theme of this
election year was widespread anger toward both parties, and both the
Trump craziness and the near-miss with Sanders should have served
as a warning. "The Democrats should be worried they're next," he
But they're not worried. Behind the palace walls, nobody ever is.
Since then we have seen Sanders having some influence on the
Democratic Party platform, although many issues remained firmly
within Clinton parameters (Israel, for one). Clinton has even
moved a bit toward free college, but with numerous caveats. On
the other hand, picking Tim Kaine as her running mate showed no
desire to reward or even acknowledge Sanders' voters -- not that
Kaine is so awful, just that he offers nothing Clinton doesn't
Michael Tomasky: Can the Monster Be Elected? It may seem like I
should have filed this under Trump, but on the cover of The New
York Review of Books this was titled "Will She Win?" with a less
than flattering picture of Hillary Clinton. Inside it's nominally a
review of two books: John Sides/Lynn Vavreck: The Gamble: Choice
and Chance in the 2012 Presidential Election, and Christopher
H. Achen/Larry M. Bartels: Democracy for Realists: Why Elections
Do Not Produce Responsive Government, not that he has much to
say about either. Nor does he make a case that either candidate is
a monsters (although Trump, and for that matter Clinton, are vivid
enough you can confirm your own conclusions. Rather, his main argument
is that not much actually changes in an election. He points out, for
instance, that in December 2011 Obama was leading Romney in the polls
by four points, and eleven months later Obama won by the same four
points. "Nothing that happened seems to have made any difference.
[ . . . ] The whole race, and all those billions
of dollars spent on it, might as well never have happened." He
attributes most of this to polarization, the process by which most
people have locked themselves into one party/worldview regardless
of candidate. One could take such an analysis and argue that Trump,
at least, is something different, but Tomasky doesn't go there. He
sees Clinton winning, narrowly but solidly, for the usual reason:
there's just not so much so wrong that most people will risk such
a seemingly radical change. Indeed, Sides and Vavreck argue that
"Mitt Romney's crucial error was his relentless hammering away at
the terrible economy," because that message then strayed so far
from reality. Yet they don't draw the obvious conclusion, that
Trump is painting a far more extreme picture, even farther from
reality, and offering "solutions" that can hardly be described as
anything but magic. So for me a key question is why so many on
the left are so terrified by Trump. By all evidence, he is less
trigger-happy than McCain, and less of an economic royalist than
Romney -- those two were my idea of really scary candidates --
but he is racist like we've rarely seen in recent years, he seems
excited by violence, he has extraordinary delusions of grandeur,
but those are all things sensible candidates would ridicule, not
fear. Those who fear him seem to think he has some special yoke
on the white working class, a group they seem to fear and despise
as if they've been locked in a theatre and force fed Richard Nixon
speeches -- but also a group that they know New Democrats have
screwed over and abandoned, something they should feel guilty
Several pieces on Turkey:
Mustafa Akyol: Who Was Behind the Coup Attempt in Turkey? Argues
that it was, indeed, followers of exiled cleric Fethullah Gulen, so
Erdogan's insistence that the US arrest Gulen and turn him over to
Turkey isn't so far-fetched.
The Gulen community is built around one man: Fethullah Gulen. His
followers see him not merely as a learned cleric, as they publicly
claim, but the "awaited one," as I have been told in private. He is
the Mahdi, the Islamic version of the Messiah, who will save the
Muslim world, and ultimately the world itself. Many of his followers
also believe that Mr. Gulen sees the Prophet Muhammad in his dreams
and receives orders from him.
Besides Mr. Gulen's unquestionable authority, another key feature
of the movement is its cultish hierarchy. The Gulen movement is
structured like a pyramid: Top-level imams give orders to second-level
imams, who give orders to third-level imams, and it goes on like that
to the grass roots.
What does the group do? Its most visible activities include opening
schools, running charities that provide social services to the poor and
maintaining "dialogue centers" that preach love, tolerance and peace.
There is nothing wrong with that, of course. I personally have spoken
many times at Gulen institutions as a guest, and met modest, kind,
But, as one disillusioned Gulenist told me last year, "there is a
darker side of the movement, and few of its members know it as it is."
For decades, the movement has been infiltrating Turkey's state institutions,
like the police, judiciary and military. Many believe that some Gulenists,
taking orders from their imams, hide their identities and try to rise
through these institutions in order to capture state power.
The Turkish army has long been a bastion of Kemalist secularism, but
Akyol argues that an alliance of Erdogan and the Gulenists effectively
purged the armed forces of secularists, and that the coup itself was
precipitated by Erdogan's efforts to purge the Gulenists from the
Dov Friedman: The Causes of the Coup Attempt in Turkey: A History of
the Usual Suspects: Much more on the history of Islamist movements
in Turkish history, including the 1997 "postmodern coup" which deposed
Welfare Party Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan and send Fethullah Gulen
into exile. When democracy was restored, Erdogan's AKP rose to power,
and formed an alliance with the Gulenists to counter the secular bias
in the military and government bureaucracy. That alliance fell apart
The rift only widened. Gulen himself voiced criticisms of the government's
handling of the May 2013 Gezi protests, when the government's grip on power
momentarily appeared to wobble. In October of that year, the government
proposed legal changes to close university entrance exam prep schools --
a key source of Gulenist revenue and youth recruitment.
In December 2013, the Gulenists revealed evidence of large-scale
corruption that reached all the way to the highest ranks of the AK Party,
implicating Erdogan himself, his family, and key ministerial allies. The
attempted coup de grace failed. Erdogan survived the crisis and unleashed
a backlash of sustained intensity that continues to this day. He purged
Gulenist sympathizers from every part of the bureaucracy, closed Gulenist
media organizations, punished Gulenist-owned companies, and orchestrated
the insolvency and takeover of the formerly Gulenist-aligned Bank Asya.
Since this eruption, Erdogan has taken every opportunity to accuse the
Gulenist movement of functioning as an illegal parallel state subverting
institutions and engaging in terrorism.
Another factor here is the breakdown of peace talks with the Kurds,
increasing aggressiveness of the Turkish military against Kurdish forces
in Syria and Iraq, and Turkey's own rather schizophrenic approach to
Syria (promoting anti-Assad forces, allowing the US to bomb ISIS from
Turkey, trying to undermine Syria's Kurds, and finding itself targeted
by ISIS terrorists). It's just not clear how these factors play out,
in part because the main effect of the coup attempt has been to allow
Erdogan to greatly accelerate his power grab within Turkey.
Ever the opportunist, Erdogan has recognized an opening to amass the
formalized broad powers he seeks -- and long sought, even before the
failed coup. This is why the Erdogan loyalist-controlled judicial
appointments board sacked 2,745 judges within hours of the coup. The
government has been in the slow process of remaking the judiciary --
one of the last state institutions not entirely under thumb. The purges
have only deepened -- with more than 50,000 suspended or detained,
among them teachers, civil servants, and university administrators.
The AK Party government has accelerated the process in a way that
would not have been possible without the coup attempt.
Friday, July 22. 2016
I started this on day two of the Republican National Convention, and
it just kept growing as the writing came in. Still doesn't cover day four,
with Trump's monumental acceptance speech, very well, but you can kind of
fill that in given all you already know about Trump. Some late-breaking
Trump Just Rehashed Literally Every Feud He's Ever Had With Cruz,
John Nichols: If Trump's Speech Sounded Familiar, That's Because Nixon
Gave It First,
Charles Pierce: Donald Trump Sold Us Fear. Next Comes the Wrath,
Margaret Doris: And Then the Balloons Dropped, and Then the World Started
Coming to an End,
Nate Silver: Donald Trump Goes 'All-In.' How Will Clinton Respond?,
DD Guttenplan: The RNC Is a Disaster -- So Why Can't I sleep at Night,
Ben Cohen: The RNC Was Not the End of the GOP, It Was Its Rebirth as a Fascist
Andrew O'Hehir: After that diabolical, masterful performance, Donald
Trump could easily end up president, and
New Media Guru Clay Shirky Drops 'Stop Trump' Tweetstorm on White
Liberals. The latter posts may seem alarmist, but
538's Election Forecast has reduced Clinton's "chance of winning"
to 58.5% (from 77.2% as recently as on July 11). That suggests that
Trump did indeed get a bounce from the Convention, even though I can't
recall one that looked more haggard and repulsive. Actually, most of
that drop occurred before the convention, following the FBI's report
on Hillary Clinton's email server affair.
The links below come from a mix of left, liberal, and mainstream
sites -- I don't bother with anything on the far right, although my
wife has a weak spot for Fox News (especially on days most embarrassing
to the right), so I watched more of that than I would have if it were
up to me. In my youth, I used to watch party conventions gavel to
gavel, but haven't for many decades, especially as they became ever
more tightly programmed for propaganda effect. But also the coverage
has changed, so you have a lot more commentary on the side, fewer
interviews with delegates, and even some of the speeches get skipped
(in part because they've become ever more predictable). I did manage
to watch late-night coverage by Stephen Colbert and Seth Myers, much
of which could have been scripted before events -- not that I have
any reason to think they missed their marks.
One theme you'll see much of below is the notion that Donald Trump
is the vilest and scariest candidate any party has ever nominated.
Indeed, you'll find Wichita's own mild-mannered centrist Davis Marritt
describing the prospect of a Trump triumphant as "democracide." Or as
Seth Myers put it: "Donald Trump's campaign manager, Paul Manafort,
told reporters that, 'once Donald Trump is accepted by the American
people as someone who can be president the race will be over with.'
I assume he means the human race."
I can't think of any level on which I admire or even like Trump, but
I can't view him as uniquely apocalyptic. Rather, I think the rot has
been setting into the Republican Party for decades now, and any of the
sixteen original candidates would have been more/less equally atrocious.
In strictly policy terms most of the candidates were much worse than
Trump -- not that he's consistent enough to trust, but rigor made Cruz
perhaps the worst of all. And even in terms of personality and temperament,
I'm not not certain that Trump is worse than Carson or Jindal or Huckabee
or Santorum or even Chris Christie. Still, there is one area where Trump
stands out: he's given vent to, and effectively legitimized, racism to a
degree that no American politician, at least on the national stage, has
dared since George Wallace. And the effect of his example has been to
elicit the worst instincts in his followers -- indeed, diehard racists
from all around the world have flocked to his cause. He's especially
horrible in that regard, which would be reason enough to oppose him.
I doubt that even most of his followers back him there, although they
are the sort that can be amazingly blind to racial slurs, and he has
clearly earned points with them for refusing to back down any time he
offends the imaginary "code of political correctness" -- what we more
generally refer to as civil decency.
Then there is the charge that Trump is a fascist, or would be our
first fascist president. I don't think it took his Mussolini tweets
or his father's Hitler fetish to show that his temperament and belief
system leaned that way. There was, for instance, his endorsement of
street violence by his supporters, and his more general way with
hateful speech. And even before him segments of his party have been
obsessed with enforcing their notions of religious morality on the
population, and in undermining democracy -- both preventing their
opponents from being able to vote and allowing business interests to
flood campaigns with money and false advertising. Moreover, Trump's
expressed a desire for extraordinary powers, including the ability
to purge the government of Democrats. He hardly seems like someone
whose oath to "defend and protect the constitution" would be worth
Then there's his goal of "making America great again" -- a claim,
a project, that reeks of war and imperialism, although it is far
from clear how he intends to accomplish that, or even what he means.
(Clinton, on the other hand, will counter that "America has never
not been great," and will embrace American exceptionalism on her way
to continuing the same world-hegemonic ambitions of her predecessors,
even though the entire project has been patently absurd for decades
now. Trump may be less predictable and more dangerous because of his
combination of ignorance and petulance, but she is more certain to
continue the bankrupt policies of the last fifteen years.) For one
thing, he fancies himself more the dealmaker than the conquistador,
and sees America's interests as more economical than ideological.
However, there is one area of American life where near-totalitarian
power exists, and that is Trump's area: business. Not since the 1920s,
if ever, have businesses had more control over their employees than
they have now -- a fact that Trump has flaunted on his TV show given
the flourish with which he fires underlings who in any way displease
him. No doubt he will expect the same powers as President -- indeed,
his plans may depend on them -- and he will certainly promote them.
Anyone concerned about Trump's potential for fascism should start by
looking at the culture he comes from. Indeed, that culture is a rich
source of reasons why Trump should not be president.
Next week, we move on to the Democratic Convention, where Hillary
Clinton will be nominated as the only realistic alternative to Donald
Trump. One hopes that she will be able to present herself as a much
different person than Trump, and also that she will show that America
need not be the dystopia that fires the desire for a Führer like
Trump. That's going to be a tall order.
Ezra Klein: Donald Trump's speech introducing Mike Pence showed why he
shouldn't be president:
Back in May, E.J. Dionne wrote that the hardest thing about covering
Donald Trump would be "staying shocked." Watching him, day after day,
week after week, month after month, the temptation would be to normalize
his behavior, "to move Trump into the political mainstream."
But today helped. Trump's introduction of Mike Pence was shocking.
Forget the political mainstream. What happened today sat outside the
mainstream for normal human behavior. [ . . . ]
Even when he did mention Pence, he often managed to say exactly the
wrong thing. "One of the big reasons I chose Mike is party unity, I have
to be honest," Trump admitted midway through his speech, at the moment
another candidate would have said, "I chose Mike because he'll be a great
president." Trump then segued into a riff on how thoroughly he had
humiliated the Republican establishment in state after state. Thus he
managed to turn Pence from a peace offering into a head on a pike, a
warning to all who might come after.
When Trump finally stuck to Pence, at the end of his lengthy speech,
he seemed robotic, bored, restless. He recited Pence's accomplishment
like he was reading his Wikipedia page for the first time, inserting
little snippets of meta-commentary and quick jabs as if to keep himself
The final humiliation was yet to come: Trump introduced Pence and
then immediately, unusually, walked off the stage, leaving Pence alone
at the podium.
When Trump initially picked Pence I was pretty upset. The one thing
I always gave Trump credit for was his rejection of the economic nostrums
that had were the bedrock of the conservative movement, that obviously
had proven so hurtful to the vast majority of the Republican base but
were locked into Republican dysfunction by the donor class. Yet picking
Pence tied him to the same program of devastation that his voters had
just rejected -- the only saving grace was that Pence seems never to
have had an original thought, unlike figures like Gingrich, Brownback,
and Cruz who have pioneered new ways of degrading America. But what I
hadn't realized was how utterly colorless Pence was -- Trump needn't
have denigrated him so, as he was quite capable of humiliating himself.
Indeed, in his speech he uttered the best joke line of the convention:
"Trump is a man known for his large personality, a colorful style and
lots of charisma, so I guess he was looking for some balance." Funny
line, but he made it seem pathetic.
Ezra Klein: Donald Trump's nomination is the first time American politics
has left me truly afraid: I've always been more focused on policy, so
I found the extreme ideological neoconservatism of McCain and the equally
extreme ideological neoliberalism of Romney, combined with the eagerness
of both to kowtow to the neofascist Christian right, scarier than the
scattered heterodoxy and opportunism of Trump, but Klein crafts a pretty
strong case, with sections on (follow the link for details):
- Trump is vindictive.
- Trump is a bigot.
- Trump is a sexist.
- Trump is a liar.
- Trump is a narcissist.
- Trump admires authoritarian dictators for their authoritarianism.
- Trump is a conspiracy theorist.
- Trump is very, very gullible.
- Trump doesn't apologize, and his defensiveness escalates situations.
- Trump surrounds himself with sycophants.
- Trump has proven too lazy to learn about policy.
- Trump as run an incompetent campaign and convention.
- Trump is a bully.
- Trump has regularly incited or justified violence among his supporters.
Not specifically on the convention but on the candidate, see
Jane Mayer: Donald Trump's Ghostwriter Tells All -- based on the
co-author of Trump's Art of the Deal, which he now feels would
be better titled Sociopath. (James Hamblin examines the evidence
for that claim in
Donald Trump: Sociopath?.) Mayer recounts Schwartz's attempts to
elicit information for the book from Trump:
After hearing Trump's discussions about business on the phone, Schwartz
asked him brief follow-up questions. He then tried to amplify the material
he got from Trump by calling others involved in the deals. But their
accounts often directly conflicted with Trump's. "Lying is second nature
to him," Schwartz said. "More than anyone else I have ever met, Trump has
the ability to convince himself that whatever he is saying at any given
moment is true, or sort of true, or at least ought to be true." Often,
Schwartz said, the lies that Trump told him were about money -- "how much
he had paid for something, or what a building he owned was worth, or how
much one of his casinos was earning when it was actually on its way to
bankruptcy." [ . . . ]
When challenged about the facts, Schwartz says, Trump would often
double down, repeat himself, and grow belligerent. This quality was
recently on display after Trump posted on Twitter a derogatory image
of Hillary Clinton that contained a six-pointed star lifted from a
white-supremacist Web site. Campaign staffers took the image down,
but two days later Trump angrily defended it, insisting that there
was no anti-Semitic implication. Whenever "the thin veneer of Trump's
vanity is challenged," Schwartz says, he overreacts -- not an ideal
quality in a head of state.
Trump's response to this piece, unsurprisingly, has been to threaten
to sue Schwartz. See Mayer's follow-up,
Donald Trump Threatens the Ghostwriter of The Art of the Deal.
George Saunders: Who Are All These Trump Supporters?: Many anecdotes
in the article, including some about how some Trump supporters seem to
relish violence, but this is close to a fair definition:
The Trump supporters I spoke with were friendly, generous with their time,
flattered to be asked their opinion, willing to give it, even when they
knew I was a liberal writer likely to throw them under the bus. They loved
their country, seemed genuinely panicked at its perceived demise, felt
urgently that we were, right now, in the process of losing something
precious. They were, generally, in favor of order and had a propensity
toward the broadly normative, a certain squareness. They leaned toward
skepticism (they'd believe it when they saw it, "it" being anything
feelings-based, gauzy, liberal, or European; i.e., "socialist"). Some
(far from all) had been touched by financial hardship -- a layoff was
common in many stories -- and (paradoxically, given their feelings about
socialism) felt that, while in that vulnerable state, they'd been let
down by their government. They were anti-regulation, pro small business,
pro Second Amendment, suspicious of people on welfare, sensitive (in a
"Don't tread on me" way) about any infringement whatsoever on their
freedom. Alert to charges of racism, they would pre-counter these by
pointing out that they had friends of all colors. They were adamantly
for law enforcement and veterans' rights, in a manner that presupposed
that the rest of us were adamantly against these things. It seemed
self-evident to them that a businessman could and should lead the
country. "You run your family like a business, don't you?" I was asked
more than once, although, of course, I don't, and none of us do.
It seems like a lot of liberal writers have this fixed idea of
Trump's supporters as an ignorant, embittered white lumpenproletariat,
ground down by globalized business and lashing out at the blacks and
immigrants who they see as gaining from their misfortune and the
overeducated urban liberals who help them. (For example, see
Davis Merritt: The day of GOP's democracide arrives: "Consider
that [Trump] has drawn millions of votes from America's unhappiest,
most dispossessed people by inflaming their righteous grievances and
deepest fears for their future.") But in fact Trump's supporters are
relatively well off -- I've seen a study that indicates that their
average family income is about $20,000 over the national average.
Of course, some of that is that they're white and they're mostly
older, and both of those skew the median up. I see them as basic
conformists: the kind of people who get promoted at work not just
because they work hard but because they suck up to the boss and
adopt his worldview, as well as conforming to the time-tested
verities of faith and patriotism. Such people believe that they
earned their success, and that others could do the same if only
they conformed to the social order like they did. There's nothing
terribly wrong with this -- my recommendation for anyone who wants
to succeed in America is to adopt a conservative lifestyle -- but
several factors work to twist their worldview. One is that their
success isn't generalizable: their success, their promotions, etc.,
depend on bypassing other people, deemed less worthy mostly because
they are less able to conform. Second, these people tend to live
in homogeneous suburbs where they rarely encounter diversity --
of course, when they do see other kinds of people as human like
themselves, they make exceptions, but not often enough to shed
their generalizations. Third, they experience the distant world
through a media that is finely tuned to flatter themselves and
shock them with the horrors of the outside world -- especially
those that threaten their worldview.
That media, of course, is a key part of a political project
launched by the conservative business class in the 1970s, aimed
at making sure that as America declined in the world the pinch
wouldn't be felt by themselves. Richard Nixon came up with the
basic concept in what he called the "silent majority" and sought
to agitate them into becoming a loyal political force. Later,
under Reagan, they were rebranded the "moral majority." After
Clinton won in 1992 -- conservative economic ideas were already
proving to be disastrous for America's once vast middle class --
the media effort went into overdrive with its scorched earth
attacks on "liberal elites," and that only intensified after
Obama's win in 2008 (following the incompetence revealed in eight
disastrous years of Bush's aggressive conservative agenda). Many
of us have had no trouble rejecting this agenda, but much of the
targeted audience have bought it all, bringing electoral success
to a party which seems bound and determined to dismantle much of
the framework that makes our country and world livable. Saunders
has an explanation for this:
Where is all this anger coming from? It's viral, and Trump is
Typhoid Mary. Intellectually and emotionally weakened by years of
steadily degraded public discourse, we are now two separate
ideological countries, LeftLand and RightLand, speaking different
languages, the lines between us down. Not only do our two subcountries
reason differently; they draw upon non-intersecting data sets and
access entirely different mythological systems. You and I approach
a castle. One of us has watched only "Monty Python and the Holy Grail,"
the other only "Game of Thrones." What is the meaning, to the collective
"we," of yon castle? We have no common basis from which to discuss it.
You, the other knight, strike me as bafflingly ignorant, a little
unmoored. In the old days, a liberal and a conservative (a "dove" and
a "hawk," say) got their data from one of three nightly news programs,
a local paper, and a handful of national magazines, and were thus
starting with the same basic facts (even if those facts were questionable,
limited, or erroneous). Now each of us constructs a custom informational
universe, wittingly (we choose to go to the sources that uphold our
existing beliefs and thus flatter us) or unwittingly (our app algorithms
do the driving for us). The data we get this way, pre-imprinted with
spin and mythos, are intensely one-dimensional.
I don't get the castle example, but you can substitute many other
concepts/events and see clear divides -- torture comes to mind, as
I'm currently reading James Risen's Pay Any Price. Still, the
left/right breakdown doesn't depend solely on one's chosen ideological
envelope: one chooses that envelope based on other factors, perhaps
most importantly whether you can see yourself or can empathize with
the victim of some act. The RNC made it very clear that Republicans
are deeply moved by violence against police, yet their only concern
about police who kill unarmed black is the racism they perceive in
the Black Lives Matter demonstrators.
For an example of how absurd
this can get, see
Kansas Senate president: Obama 'has stoked the fires of anger and
hostility' toward police. Susan Wagle is rarely the dumbest
Republican in Kansas, yet she took the prize this time attempting
to reap political gain from a tragic shooting. Of Obama, she said:
"He's our national leader. We take his responses very seriously,
and I think his role should be one of being an encourager for
people to get along and for people to build relationships and
for police to be fair in their treatment of all people and for
the public to appreciate their role in our communities." It's
obvious to me that that's exactly what he's always done, yet
she refuses to recognize that and goes further to accuse him
of the opposite, based on absolutely nothing but her visceral
hatred of the man. That sort of carelessness about facts and
views and the motives of people is endemic in her party.
Christine Aschwenden: There's Probably Nothing That Will Change Clinton
or Trump Supporters' Minds: Another iteration of Saunders' conclusions
(with gratuitous equivalencies about Clinton -- the author is evidently
one of those "both sides do it" middle-of-the-roaders):
To his ardent supporters, Donald Trump is an exemplar of power and status.
Donald Trump is going to make America great again. He'll put America First.
He refuses to be silenced by the thought police. He's so rich, he can't be
bought. He speaks his mind. He'll get the job done.
To those who oppose him, he's a racist, misogynistic, narcissistic
buffoon. Repeated lies, racist statements and attacks on women have led
many people, including some prominent conservative donors, to conclude
that Trump is unfit to be president, yet these missteps don't seem to
bother his supporters much. Trump told a campaign rally in January that,
"I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I
wouldn't lose any voters, OK? It's incredible."
Trump's claim might seem like an exaggeration, played up for drama,
but research suggests that once people board the Trump train, there's
little that can prod them to jump off. (You could probably say something
similar about Hillary Clinton supporters.) As much as we like to think
that we use reason to evaluate evidence and come to conclusions, "It
really goes back assward, a lot of times," said Peter Ditto, a psychologist
at University of California, Irvine. "People already have a firm opinion,
and that shapes the way they process information." We hold beliefs about
how the world works and tend to force new information to fit within these
There's also this, which reminds me of Goebbels' "big lie" principle:
Detractors shake their heads over Trump's habit of repeating lies that
have already been publicly debunked. (PolitiFact has documented at least
17 times when Donald Trump said one thing and then denied it, and they've
found that only five of the 182 Trump statements they evaluated were true,
while 107 of them were false or "pants on fire" false.) But this strategy
might not be as foolish as it seems. Work by political scientists Brendan
Nyhan and Jason Reifler has shown that once an incorrect idea is lodged
in someone's mind, it can be hard to overturn and corrections can actually
strengthen people's belief in the misperception via the "backfire effect."
When presented with information that contradicts what they already believe
about controversial issues or candidates, people have a tendency to
counterargue. They draw on the available considerations, malign the source
of unwelcome information and generate ways to buttress the position they
are motivated to take. As a result, they can end up becoming surer of
their misconceptions, Nyhan said.
Jeff Carter: Terrifying politics aside, let's take a moment to lavish in
the supreme weirdness of the RNC spectacle:
Say what you will about Donald Trump's almost infinite ignorance about
every issue confronting the country, there is nobody, absolutely and
unequivocally nobody, who can stage a Trump adore-a-thon better than
Donald Trump. It's going to be huge! The best convention ever convened!
The best speakers ever gathered! It will have the best platform ever
conjured forth by a political party (not that Trump will ever read it
or know what's in it, but it'll be great!). Xenophobes, Klansmen, White
Nationalists, misogynists, Birthers and other Republican constituency
groups will be gathered as one to sing hosannas to Donald Trump.
Heather Digby Parton: Fear and loathing of Clinton:
After Melania Trump left the stage people began filtering out of the hall
since she'd been billed as the main attraction but the speeches went on
and on afterwards with a bizarre, rambling speech from retired general
Michael Flynn that sounded like it too was plagiarized -- from "Dr.
Strangelove." Senator Joni Ernst spoke to a hall that was two thirds
empty and there were even more people speaking late into the night after
she was done. For a convention that was supposed to be showbiz slick,
the first night certainly had a haphazard feeling to it.
Tierney Sneed/Lauren Fox: Gloomy Old Party: GOP Clings to Themes of Threats,
Violence, and Betrayal:
The night's other prevailing theme -- besides America is going to hell --
is that Hillary Clinton is going to prison.
"Hillary Clinton is unfit to be president. We all know she loves her
pantsuits. Yes, you know what's coming. We should send her an e-mail and
tell her she deserves a bright orange jumpsuit," said Colorado Senate
candidate Darryl Glenn, merging two of the GOP's favorite Hillary memes
Later in the night the convention crowd broke out into chants of
"lock her up."
The rhetoric provided a theme around which the fractured Republican
Party could rally. They may not all see Trump as their white knight,
but they were united in fear about the state of the world and the country.
Incarcerating Clinton may actually be a minority position among GOP
delegates. There is, for instance, this:
Trump Adviser: Clinton Should Be 'Shot for Treason' Over Benghazi
Attack. But really, judging from the tone of the speakers and
the crowd chants, many won't be satisfied until they see her head
on a spike. And while Trump is amazingly quick to recant any time
he says something that offends conservative orthodoxy, he has never
shied away from his followers' penchant for racism and violence,
The Trump Campaign Is Now Wink-Winking Calls to Murder Clinton:
Calls for violence or the killing of a political opponent usually spurs
the other candidate to totally disavow the person in question. Frankly,
it's a pretty new thing for a prominent supporter of a prominent politician
to call for killing opposing candidates at all. But the Trump campaign is
still "incredibly grateful his support" even though "we don't agree" that
Clinton should be shot.
Emily Plitter: Trump could seek new law to purge government of Obama
appointees: When I first read this headline, I wondered whether
Trump was jealous of Turkish president Erdogan, who has started a
massive purge of the Turkish military and bureaucracy to get rid of
anyone who had gone along with the coup attempt (or more generally,
anyone hostile to the ruling AKP party). Turns out this is more
focused at a small number of appointees whose jobs are reclassified
as civil service. Still, such a law would be a step toward such a
purge, and could be used to further politicize the civil service --
as, e.g., GW Bush did when he fired a couple dozen federal prosecutors
who weren't adequately following his partisan program.
Lauren Fox/Tierney Sneed: 'I Feel Like I Am Living a Dream': The GOP
Convention From the Inside:
[Mary Susan Rehrer, a delegate from Minnesota] said she was floored so
many in the media had walked away from Monday night's convention with
the similarities between Melania's speech and Michelle Obama's in 2008
as their headline.
"I'm in business, OK, and I speak for a living as one of the things
that I do. All the best stuff is stolen and there is nothing original,
so it's all hocus pocus," Rehrer said. "We're supposed to share."
Daniel Victor: What, Congressman Steve King Asks, Have Nonwhites Done
for Civilization?: From one of those panel discussions that have
filled up the airways during the RNC, this one on MSNBC chaired by
Chris Hayes with Iowa Rep. King as the only far right voice:
"If you're really optimistic, you can say this was the last time that
old white people would command the Republican Party's attention, its
platform, its public face," Charles P. Pierce, a writer at large at
Esquire magazine, said during the panel discussion.
In response, Mr. King said: "This whole 'old white people' business
does get a little tired, Charlie. I'd ask you to go back through history
and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these
other categories of people that you are talking about? Where did any
other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?"
"Than white people?" Mr. Hayes asked.
Mr. King responded: "Than Western civilization itself that's rooted
in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the United States of America, and
every place where the footprint of Christianity settled the world. That's
all of Western civilization."
I see this mostly as an example of how Trump's ascendancy has loosened
the tongues of white supremacists. But I can't say as it's helpful to
have their opinions freely expressed again -- and make no mistake that
such opinions had a long run as freely spoken, to extraordinarily cruel
effect. But even if his assertion is true -- and you can't say "western
civilization" without conjuring up, at least in my mind, Gandhi's quote
that "that would be a nice idea" -- what does King think that means?
That white people deserve due respect? Sure. That white people are
entitled to special privileges in our democracy? Not really. I think
that Pierce is wrong: that white Republicans would rather go down with
the ship than diversify, clinging to their control of "red states" even
if they cease to be competitive nationally. Of course, a different kind
of Republican Party could incubate in "blue states" but it's hard to
see how they gain traction after the party has so totally succumbed to
conservative extremism. If the core idea of Republicanism is to help
rich business interests against labor and the poor, that isn't a very
promising platform on which to build a political majority: that's why
they've had to resort to racism, religious bigotry, and militaristic
jingoism in the first place. What else do they have?
Article includes several reaction tweets. My favorite, not included,
is from Jason Bailey: "Steve King must have the shittiest iTunes
Scott Eric Kaufman: Ted Cruz refuses to endorse Trump: To quote
him: "Vote your conscience, for candidates you believe will be faithful
to the Constitution."
Mario Rubio also tiptoed through his speaking slot without offering
a Trump endorsement, while
Nikki Haley offered a "tepid semi-endorsement." Other GOP luminaries
didn't bother to attend, especially Ohio Governor John Kasich, who was
reportedly offered the
vice-president slot and who could have justified attending just to
promote home-state business, also the Bush clan. But Cruz was widely
reviled afterwards, although I don't see how imploring folks to "vote
your conscience" implicates one who has none. My main question about
Cruz (and for that matter Kasich) is why if he's so adamantly opposed
to Trump did he fold up his tent after losing Indiana? Surely there
were still Republican voters, especially in California, prepared to
resist Trump? The most likely reason is that his billionaire backers
pulled the plug, and he was so totally their creature he didn't have
the guts to continue on his own. Aside from Trump and Carson, that
was the situation with all the Republicans: they ran because they
lined up rich backers, and quit as soon as the money ran dry. Bernie
Sanders, on the other hand, could hang on to the bitter end because
his supporters backed his program, rather than looking for an inside
track on favors if he won.
Martin Longman, by the way, saw the Cruz speech thus:
I Thought Trump Sabotaged Cruz. He makes a pretty good case that
Trump, who had seen the speech two hours before, timed the disruption
to highlight Cruz's treachery, even if it turned him into a martyr:
In other words, he simply didn't say anything at that particular point
in the speech that would logically inspire a spontaneous stomping protest
of outrage. On the other hand, if you had read the speech ahead of time
and were planning to boo Cruz off the stage, that was the logical point
to do it. It was the point in which he failed to say the magic words.
That was knowable with the speech in hand, but not knowable if you were
just listening to the speech and had no idea what was coming next or how
it would end.
To me, it's clear that Trump coordinated the whole thing, told the
New York delegation when to protest, timed his entrance for just that
time, prepped his running mate and others to have their talking points
ready, and "loved" the result, as he said.
David E Sanger/Maggie Haberman: Donald Trump Sets Conditions for Defending
NATO Allies Against Attack: Details Trump's latest pontifications on
foreign policy, which among other things questioned why the US should foot
much of the bill for NATO.
"This is not 40 years ago," Mr. Trump said, rejecting comparisons of his
approaches to law-and-order issues and global affairs to Richard Nixon's.
Reiterating his threat to pull back United States troops deployed around
the world, he said, "We are spending a fortune on military in order to
lose $800 billion," citing what he called America's trade losses. "That
doesn't sound very smart to me."
Mr. Trump repeatedly defined American global interests almost purely
in economic terms. Its roles as a peacekeeper, as a provider of a nuclear
deterrent against adversaries like North Korea, as an advocate of human
rights and as a guarantor of allies' borders were each quickly reduced
to questions of economic benefit to the United States.
The neocons went beserk over this, with
John Bolton, and
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg prominent. (Trump flack
Scott Brown assures us there's nothing to worry about because Melania
"is from that region.") More worrisome to me is that counterattacks have
also sprung up among liberals (as opposed to the left, as they frequently
are): e.g., in TPM
Sara Jerde: The 3 Most Dangerous Things Trump Said in Bonkers NYT Foreign
Policy Interview. I don't doubt that the interview was bonkers, but
what's so dangerous about these three things? -- "America's role in
assisting NATO allies," "Reining in US bases abroad," and "Solving Islamic
State unrest through 'meetings'"? In the first place, the US has never
actually assisted any allies through NATO. The US uses NATO to threaten
Russia, exacerbating tensions that could more easily be reduced through
neutrality, trade and openness (as has happened within Europe). Why the
US does this is more complex, some combination of neocon "sole super
power" supremacism, subsidies for the US defense industry, and providing
a fig leaf of international support for America's wars in Afghanistan,
the Middle East, and North Africa -- but there's not a single good idea
in that mix. Moreover, Trump's right that most US bases abroad are no
more than economic subsidies, tolerated because they pay their own way.
One could go further and point out that major US base complexes in
Germany and Japan, while largely inoffensive to those countries, are
critical way stations for America's wars in Asia and Africa. Shutting
them down would make it harder for the US to try to solve problems by
warfare and would (horror of horrors) make it more important to hold
"meetings." (In fairness, I don't think Trump proposed meetings with
ISIS; rather, he was talking about Turks and Kurds, and Jerde took
license to poison the argument.)
What I fear happening here is that liberal hawks (Hillary Clinton
certainly qualifies) will seize this opportunity to attack Trump as
soft on Putin (and ISIS). I am especially reminded of the 1984 debates
between Reagan and Mondale, where Mondale proved himself to be the far
more rigorous and militant red-baiter -- a stance that did him no good,
partly because most people didn't care, partly because Reagan's own
"star wars" dreams were so loony he held onto the lunatic right, and
possibly because he turned off anyone actually concerned about peace.
Trump's interview suggests that he might actually be saner regarding
world war than Clinton. It would be a terrible mistake should she
prove him right.
Note that Lyndon Johnson beat Barry Goldwater bad
by convincing people that Goldwater would be the dangerous lunatic,
even though it was Johnson who insanely escalated the war in Vietnam.
Similarly Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt campaigned on their
kill at keeping America out of world wars they joined post-election.
Even GW Bush was circumspect when campaigning about the wars he hoped
we now know he had every intention of launching. So why would Clinton
want to present herself as the warmonger in the 2016 race? Insecurity
perhaps, or maybe conviction, but clearly not smarts.
PS: Jeffrey Goldberg has already fired the first shot of Hillary's
campaign to out-warmonger Trump: see
It's Official: Hillary Clinton Is Running Against Vladimir Putin.
Featured blurb: "Unlike Trump, leaders of countries like Estonia
believe that the US still represents the best hope for freedom." So
why shouldn't tiny, unstrategic countries like Estonia (or Georgia
or Israel) be able to usurp and direct American foreign policy simply
by uttering a few magic words?
Unlike Trump, leaders of such countries as Estonia believe that the
United States still represents the best hope for freedom. In his
interview with Haberman and Sanger, Trump argued, in essence, that
there is nothing exceptional about the U.S., and that therefore its
leaders have no right to criticize the behavior of other countries:
"When the world looks at how bad the United States is, and then we
go and talk about civil liberties, I don't think we're a very good
PPS: More liberal hawks:
Nancy LeTourneau: Trump's Outrageous Foreign Policy Views (in
Washington Monthly), and
Kevin Drum: Donald Trump Just Invited Russia to Attack Eastern Europe
(in Mother Jones).
Paul Krugman: The GOP's Original Sin: I'd trace this back a bit
further, but lots of bad ideas that fermented in the 1970s only became
manifest once Reagan became president.
What I want to talk about is when, exactly, the GOP went over the edge.
Obviously it didn't happen all at once. But I think the real watershed
came in 1980-81, when supply-side economics became the party's official
doctrine. [ . . . ]
Yet 35 years ago the GOP was already willing to embrace this doctrine
because it was politically convenient, and could be used to justify tax
cuts for the rich, which have always been the priority.
And given this, why should anyone be surprised at all the reality
denial and trashing of any kind of evidence that followed? You say
economics is a pseudo-science? Fine. First they came for the economists;
then they came for the climate scientists and the evolutionary biologists.
Now comes Trump, and the likes of George Will, climate denier, complain
that he isn't serious. Well, what did you think was going to happen?
Michelle Obama's Glorious, Savvy 'Carpool Karaoke' Clip, with
James Corden. We've spent much of the last eight years griping about
Obama, but will miss her -- and may even miss him. Also see
John Stewart Returns to Savage Trump, Hannity: well, he doesn't
actually refer to Hannity. Calls him "Lumpy."
Monday, July 18. 2016
Music: Current count 26822  rated (+42), 435  unrated (-10).
High rated count is a combination of factors: I've been taking the
new jazz queue FIFO, and ran through a dull patch -- only records that
got as many as three plays were Evenfall, Mathias Landaeus, and
Joel Miller (more of an art rock album), with only a couple more getting
two plays; quite a few EPs and short albums among the streaming picks
(the Sheer Mag 7-inchers are really 4-song EPs, the Michete and Wire
EPs are 23-29 minute albums, Modern Baseball's LP barely tops 30 minutes),
so they go fast. (On the other hand, the Drake album is insanely long.)
I continued to check out stuff from various mid-year best-of lists, with
the usual mixed results.
I've also been working on Christgau's database, and am finally up to
date locally, which is to say almost a year ahead of what you see on the
site. I'm waiting for some people (including Bob) to do some proofreading
before I update the site. Work on that reminded me to check out The
Rough Guide to South African Jazz and God Don't Never Change:
The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson -- two records that weren't on
Rhapsody when I previously checked, but are now. (Speaking of which,
their rebranding as Napster has taken place. Ugh!)
Also checked out Christgau's
rap picks from last week: Vic Mensa
and Joey Purp. Both good records, but I wound up with reservations
about each. Still, Mensa's "16 Shots" is timely, urgent even, and
may be something to return to. Purp's mixtape is stronger musically.
Still, my picks this week lean toward electropop and new wave. Best
I've heard from Wire in over a decade. I counted it as an EP, but
it runs eight songs, 25:55.
I've added a "Artist Search" form to the "fake blog" left navigation
menu. I would have liked to make it available on all standard pages, but
I'm temporarily confused about how to do that. The search page is
New Steve Lehman album and a bunch of new Clean Feeds came in the
mail today, so it'll be tempting to break FIFO order on the new jazz
early report from Cleveland where my nephew Mike is covering the
Republican Convention for Fusion.
New records rated this week:
- The Avalanches: Wildflower (2016, Astralwerks): [r]: B
- James Blake: The Colour in Anything (2016, Polydor): [r]: B-
- The Michael Blum Quartet: Chasin' Oscar: A Tribute to Oscar Peterson (2015 , self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
- Brazzamerica: Brazzamerica (2016, self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
- Corey Christensen: Factory Girl (2015 , Origin): [cd]: B+(**)
- Dan Cray: Outside In (2015 , Origin): [cd]: B+(**)
- Debo Band: Ere Gobez (2016, FPE): [r]: B+(*)
- The Diva Jazz Orchestra: Special Kay! (2013 , self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
- Drake: Views (2016, Cash Money): [r]: B+(*)
- The Evenfall Quartet: Evenfall (2015 , Blue Duchess): [cd]: A-
- Cheryl Fisher: Quietly There (2015 , OA2): [cd]: B+(**)
- Sara Gazarek/Josh Nelson: Dream in the Blue (2015 , Steel Bird): [cd]: B
- Hard Working Americans: Rest in Chaos (2016, Melvin): [r]: B+(**)
- Tim Hecker: Love Streams (2016, 4AD/Paper Bag): [r]: B
- Marquis Hill: The Way We Play (2016, Concord Jazz): [r]: B+(***)
- Mike Jones Trio: Roaring (2015 , Capri): [cd]: B+(**)
- Joonsam: A Door (2014 , Origin): [cd]: B+(*)
- The Corey Kendrick Trio: Rootless (2016, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
- Ron King: Triumph (2016, self-released): [cd]: B
- Mathias Landaeus: From the Piano (2016, Moserobie): [cd]: B+(***)
- Jessy Lanza: Oh No (2016, Hyperdub): [r]: A-
- Låpsley: Long Way Home (2016, XL): [r]: B+(*)
- Alison Lewis: Seven (2016, self-released): [cd]: B-
- Macklemore & Ryan Lewis: This Unruly Mess I've Made (2016, Macklemore): [r]: B+(*)
- Vic Mensa: There's Alot Going On (2016, Roc Nation): [r]: B+(***)
- Michete: Cool Tricks (2015, self-released, EP): [r]: B+(***)
- Michete: Cool Tricks 2 (2016, self-released, EP): [r]: B+(**)
- Joel Miller With Sienna Dahlen: Dream Cassette (2014 , Origin): [cd]: B+(***)
- Bob Mintzer: All L.A. Band (2016, Fuzzy Music): [cd]: B+(*)
- Modern Baseball: The Nameless Ranger (2011, Lame-O, EP): [r]: B+(*)
- Modern Baseball: Holy Ghost (2016, Run for Cover): [r]: B+(**)
- Maren Morris: Hero (2016, Columbia Nashville): [r]: B
- Joey Purp: iiiDrops (2016, self-released): [dl]: B+(***)
- Sheer Mag: II 7" (2015, Wilsuns RC/Katorga Works, EP): [bc]: B
- Sheer Mag: III 7" (2016, Wilsuns RC/Static Shock, EP): [bc]: B+(*)
- Skepta: Konnichiwa (2016, Boy Better Know): [r]: B+(***)
- Sound Underground: Quiet Spaces (2016, Tiny Music): [cd]: B+(*)
- Tegan and Sara: Love You to Death (2016, Vapor): [r]: A-
- Tweet: Charlene (2016, eOne): [r]: B+(**)
- Wire: Nocturnal Koreans (2016, Pink Flag, EP): [r]: A-
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
- The Cucumbers: The Fake Doom Years (1983-1986) (1983-86 , Lifeforce): [dl]: A-
- God Don't Never Change: The Songs of Blind Willie Johnson (2016, Alligator): [r]: A-
- The Rough Guide to South African Jazz [Second Edition] (, World Music Network): [r]: A-
- Todd Snider: Live: The Storyteller (2010 , Aimless, 2CD): [cd]: was A-, now: A
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
- Fred Hersch: Sunday Night at the Vanguard (Palmetto)
- Steffen Kuehn: Leap of Faith (Stefrecords): July 29
- Jason Roebke Octet: Cinema Spiral (NoBusiness)
- Rent Romus' Life's Blood Ensemble: Rising Colossus (Edgetone)
- Jerome Sabbagh/Simon Jermyn/Allison Miller: Lean (Music Wizards)
- Slavic Soul Party: Plays Duke Ellington's Far East Suite (Ropeadope)
Sunday, July 17. 2016
July is a month I can hardly wait to get done with, even though it
leaves six or seven weeks of brutal heat to come. This year is about
average for Kansas, aside from a surplus of rain that more than wiped
out the spring deficit. Fitting that the major party conventions will
also be dispatched during this month, although as I'm writing this
they still loom: the candidates are settled, so no suspense there,
and one of the veeps was revealed this week -- the utterly repugnant
Mike Pence -- so the only remaining question is how to what extent
each party embarrasses itself in trying to put forth its best face.
Most years there is a post-convention bump in the polls. This year
there's a fairly good chance for a post-convention slump.
Some prominent news items from this past week:
- Bernie Sanders gave up his presidential campaign, acknowledging that
Hillary Clinton had clinched the nomination, and endorsed her, vowing to
do everything in his power to defeat Donald Trump in November -- mostly
by repeating the planks of his "political revolution" platform, which
Hillary is increasingly obliged to cozy up to.
- Donald Trump, on the other hand, boxed himself into a corner and got
stuck with Cruz-supporter Pence as his VP nominee. Pence is considered
a sensible mainstream choice because he rarely initiates the right-wing
lunatic programs he invariably winds up supporting. He's acceptable to
Trump because he's so pliable he's already reversed himself on all of
Trump's campaign platform, setting a fine example for all the other
Republicans who had opposed Trump by showing them how a good puppy can
roll over and play dead.
- The UK has a new Prime Minister, Theresa May, committed to carrying
out the Brexit referendum, in her own sweet time (and without the possible
complication of electing a new parliament). She then picked the more
flamboyant and demagogic Boris Johnson as Foreign Minister.
- Factions of the Turkish military attempted a coup to seize power and
oust democratically elected president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been
widely criticized lately for recent laws that have restricted popular
rights -- a power grab occasioned by worsening relations with Turkey's
Kurdish minority and several "terrorist incidents" blamed on ISIS. The
coup appears to have failed, with various members of the military being
arrested in what threatens to turn into a large-scale purge.
- Obama decided against a planned withdrawal of American troops from
Afghanistan, changing their engagement orders to initiate offensive
operations against the Taliban, thus widening and extending the war
there. Escalations against Syria and Iraq continue, putting the US
on its most aggressive military stance in years. At the same time,
Obama is committing more US/NATO troops to the Russian frontier in
Eastern Europe, increasing "cold war" tensions.
- Eighty-four people were killed by a truck plowing through a Bastille
Day crowd in Nice, France. The driver was Tunisian, so this is being
played up as a "terrorist attack" although there doesn't seem to be any
indication that he was politically or religiously motivated. (Which
isn't to say the ISIS folks don't dig what he did.)
- Three police officers were killed in Baton Rouge, a little over a
week after Baton Rouge police killed Alton Sterling, starting off a
round of Black Lives Matter protests. Early reports show that the
shooter was another ex-Marine (like the shooter in Dallas).
Meanwhile, some scattered links this week:
Julie Bosman: Public Schools? To Kansas Conservatives, They're 'Government
Schools': And like conservatives everywhere, they understand that the
first step in demonizing someone or something is establishing what it's
called. Until recently, Kansans prided themselves on their public school
system (not that my own experience was very positive). That started to
change as home schooling became popular for Christian fundamentalists,
and turned into something more vicious when Republicans discovered that
school teachers might pose a political threat, and more generally that
education in the liberal arts and sciences might work against their
dogmatically cultivated interests. And lately, of course, it has come
down to money: public spending on education adds to deficits and/or
Patrick Cockburn: A Hillary Clinton Presidency Could End Up Letting Isis
Off the Hook: Cites a paper by Michele Flournoy, widely considered
to be Hillary's likely pick as Secretary of Defense, arguing that the US
should refocus its Syria efforts against Assad rather than against ISIS.
Still, it's not like she'd switch sides and back ISIS against Assad --
something that might actually work (distasteful as it may be; it's not
as if the US has never supported Islamist fanatics before). No, she wants
to buck up the pro-American Syrian rebels, the least effective group in
the long civil war. Still, that doesn't justify Cockburn's provocative
headline: Hillary is enough of a hawk she'd be happy to pound ISIS and
Assad alike, and for however long it takes. Cockburn also implies that
Hillary would forget the lessons Obama had learned about the futility
of war in the Middle East (giving Obama far more credit than he deserves):
The world may soon regret the passing of the Obama years as a Clinton
administration plunges into conflicts where he hung back. He had clearly
learned from the outcome of wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya in a way
that she has not. He said in a speech on terrorism in 2013 that "any US
military action in foreign land risks creating more enemies" and that the
Washington foreign establishment's tendency to seek ill-considered military
solutions was self-defeating. [ . . . ]
All this is good news for Isis and al-Qaeda, whose spectacular growth
since September 11 is mainly due to the US helping to spread the chaos
in which they flourish. Obama could see the risks and limitations of
military force, but Clinton may play straight into their hands.
As for Hillary, what I find more worrying is that she still doesn't
seem to be totally onboard with Obama's Iran Deal; see
Philip Weiss: Iran deal is still imperilled by deep state -- hardliners,
Israel lobby, Hillary Clinton. Part of the problem here is that
Democrats and GOP are in a race to the bottom on Israel.
Donald Johnson: The iron law of institutions versus Bernie Sanders:
Cites various editorials at the New York Times, finding them consistently
obsessed with demonizing Sanders.
Clinton supporters at the NYT have been almost uniformly nasty -- they
hate Sanders and don't bother concealing it. Ultimately his policy based
critiques of Clinton terrifies them and they don't want him or the movement
he represents to have any credibility even if he endorses Clinton, because
he hasn't retracted his critique. And yes, this does tie in with the
Israel-Palestine conflict, because Clinton support for Benjamin Netanyahu
flatly contradicts liberal ideals, so she either does this for the money
or because she is a militarist like Netanyahu or both. (I think both).
They tiptoe around that.
This is a quibble, but I think Netanyahu is much more racist than
militarist, not that they don't share an abiding belief in their
respective nation's exceptionalism, especially as exemplified through
military prowess (in both cases long in moral decline). But then I
guess I'm leaning toward the "money" explanation for Hillary. Despite
a term as Secretary of State which should have opened her eyes a bit,
she seems completely in thrall to the donor class, which has in turn
been completely cowed by Netanyahu, rendered blind to the racism which
pervades Israeli political culture.
It's not just institutions that are bitter over Sanders. Consider
this Robert Christgau tweet: "This is more than I thought the progressives
would get and has cut into how personally dislikable I find Sanders."
Heather Gautney: How Bernie Sanders Delivered the Most Progressive
Platform in Democratic Party History. Christgau is clearly closer
on the issues to Sanders than to Hillary but supported the latter,
I guess because he found Sanders "personally dislikable" -- I doubt
that the two ever met, yet this seems to matter more to him more than,
say, the Iraq War vote. There are others I know and respect politically
who have directed even worse snark at Sanders, a personal bitterness
I find unfathomable -- I certainly can't rationalize it like Johnson
does for those New York Times flacks.
Martin Longman: Mike Pence Is Not a Conventional Politician: On
Let's start with some things that are being said that simply aren't true.
Writing for the BBC, Anthony Zurcher says "In a year that has defied
political conventions, he was a very conventional choice."
But there's absolutely nothing "conventional" about Mike Pence. He is
a man who cannot say if he believes in the theory of evolution and has
spent twenty years spreading doubt about climate change. He's a man who
wants teenage girls (including victims of incest) to get parental consent
to use contraceptives, who has done all he can to deny contraception to
women of every age, who signed a law mandating that all aborted fetuses
should receive proper burials, who supports discrimination against gays
and wants to withhold federal funding from any organization that
"encourage(s) the types of behaviors that facilitate the spreading of
the HIV virus." [ . . . ]
Obviously, I could go on for a long time highlighting things about
Pence that are alarming or ridiculous, but I'm trying to focus on things
that set him apart from even mainstream conservatives. I mean, it matters
that he loved the idea of fighting in Iraq or that he has rigorously
supported the same kinds of free trade agreements that Trump opposes,
but he's not alone in those things.
To the degree that it can be legitimately argued that Pence is
"conventional," it's an enormous testimony to how far right the party
has drifted since the time of Jack Kemp and Dan Quayle and Poppy Bush
and Gerald Ford. But it's actually not true that we've seen someone
this far right nominated before. No, not even Palin or Cheney were
this radical across the board.
For more, see Longman's pre-pick
Mike Pence Makes Zero Sense as Veep:
If Trump is using the same theory of the case that McCain used in
picking Sarah Palin, that it was necessary to shore up weak support
from the Christian conservative base, then we already saw that this
is a losing strategy.
Selecting Pence will drive responsible business leaders even
further into Clinton's camp. It will severely alienate women and
moderates on social issues. Millennials will flee in panic. And,
once the press picks over Pence's congressional record, any
reassurance that Trump will have a steady hand to deal with
Congress will be completely undermined.
Pence has actual negative charisma, so he won't win over
anyone by being smart or funny or charming.
Other pieces on Pence:
Sean Illing: The sad incurious case of Mike Pence;
Nico Lang: Mike Pence is even worse than you think;
John Nichols: Trump Pick Pence Is a Right-Wing Political Careerist Who
Desperately Wants Out of Indiana;
Charles Pierce: Of Course, Donald Trump's Vice Presidential Announcement
Was All About Trump;
Mike Pence Is a Smooth-Talking Todd Akin;
George Zornick: Vice President Pence Would Be a Dream for the Koch
Ron Paul: Fool's Errand: NATO Pledges Four More Years of War in
Afghanistan: Obama may be a "lame duck" as far as appointing new
judges is concerned, but no one seems to be using the term as he's
laying out the framework that will tie up his successor in hopeless
wars through that successor's term: adding troops in Afghanistan
and Iraq/Syria (and on the Russian frontier in Eastern Europe). I
don't often cite Paul because I don't generally approve of his snark,
but this isn't terribly off base:
President Obama said last week that the US must keep 3,000 more troops
than planned in Afghanistan. The real reason is obvious: the mission
has failed and Washington cannot bear to admit it.
[ . . . ] Where else but in government would you
see it argued that you cannot stop spending on a project because you
have already spent so much to no avail? In the real world, people who
invest their own hard-earned money in a failed scheme do something
called "cut your losses." Government never does that.
[ . . . ]
The neocons argue that Iraq, Libya, and other US interventions fell
apart because the US did not stay long enough. As usual they are wrong.
They failed and they will continue to fail because they cannot succeed.
You cannot invade a country, overthrow its government, and build a new
country from the ground up. It is a fool's errand and Washington has
turned most Americans into fools.
Paul underestimates the ingenuity of the war crowd. For instance,
Mark Perry: How Islamic State Is Getting Beaten at Home -- and Taking
Terror Abroad argues that events like Nice show how much progress
Obama is making against ISIS in Syria. Perry confuses killing people,
which the US is quite proficient at, with providing a viable, peaceful
alternative, something the US evidently has no clue how to do. He could
have noted that the recent shootings of police in Dallas and Baton
Rouge are at least as much a part of the war coming home as the "sudden
radicalization" of the truck driver in Nice.
Dani Rodrik: The Abdication of the Left: An important economist on
globalization issues faults the left in Northern Europe for failing to
respond coherently to the negative repercussions for their countries:
Latin American democracies provide a telling contrast. These countries
experienced globalization mostly as a trade and foreign-investment shock,
rather than as an immigration shock. Globalization became synonymous with
so-called Washington Consensus policies and financial opening. Immigration
from the Middle East or Africa remained limited and had little political
salience. So the populist backlash in Latin America -- in Brazil, Bolivia,
Ecuador, and, most disastrously, Venezuela -- took a left-wing form.
The story is similar in the main two exceptions to right-wing resurgence
in Europe -- Greece and Spain. In Greece, the main political fault line
has been austerity policies imposed by European institutions and the
International Monetary Fund. In Spain, most immigrants until recently
came from culturally similar Latin American countries. In both countries,
the far right lacked the breeding ground it had elsewhere.
But the experience in Latin America and southern Europe reveals perhaps
a greater weakness of the left: the absence of a clear program to refashion
capitalism and globalization for the twenty-first century. From Greece's
Syriza to Brazil's Workers' Party, the left has failed to come up with
ideas that are economically sound and politically popular, beyond
ameliorative policies such as income transfers.
[ . . . ]
A crucial difference between the right and the left is that the right
thrives on deepening divisions in society -- "us" versus "them" -- while
the left, when successful, overcomes these cleavages through reforms that
bridge them. Hence the paradox that earlier waves of reforms from the left --
Keynesianism, social democracy, the welfare state -- both saved capitalism
from itself and effectively rendered themselves superfluous. Absent such a
response again, the field will be left wide open for populists and far-right
groups, who will lead the world -- as they always have -- to deeper division
and more frequent conflict.
We in America have far too little appreciation for the destructiveness
of the right's conflicts, not just because we fight our wars far away --
not that US policy in Central America and Haiti hasn't sent waves of
emigrés our way, but refugees from US wars in the Middle East mostly
head for Europe -- but also because we are reluctant to credit our wars
with the right's division and depradation of the middle class here, let
alone the growing frequency of sporadic violence.
David Smith: Donald Trump: the making of a narcissist: Long profile
on a guy you probably think you already know too much about. Still, some
of his key insights are based on a profile and book by Mark Singer:
In the nine years since, Singer has seen nothing to alter his view of
Trump as unburdened by a hinterland. "People talk about a private Trump
and a public Trump," he says in his Manhattan apartment. "I'm not so
convinced because I've seen both and the bombast is there, the obvious
extreme self-involvement has always been there. He doesn't have a sense
of irony. He's a terrible listener but that's a characteristic of
narcissistic people. They're not engaged with anybody else's issues."
Tierney Sneed: Forget Trump! The GOP's Convention Platform Makes It
the Party of Kris Kobach: Kobach's day job is Secretary of State
in Kansas -- i.e., the guy in charge of making sure that undesirables
can't vote -- but he's also a notorious moonlighter, crafting dozens
of pieces of legislation for Republican state legislatures, most of
which are subsequently declared unconstitutional. He was the only
Republican of note in Kansas who endorsed Trump before the caucuses
(Brownback, Roberts, and Pompeo lined up for Rubio, while Huelskamp --
locked in another primary challenge by farmers who don't appreciate
his opposition to farm subsidies -- is still proud to be known as a
Cruz supporter), so he had an inside track on Trumpifying the GOP
platform, and as usual he's first in line to take credit for feats
normal lawyers would find embarrassing. One peculiarly Kansas touch
was "language opposing the inclusion of the prairie chicken and sage
grouse on the endangered species list" -- oil people find those birds
annoying, and Kansas Republicans can hardly wait for them to become
extinct, and therefore no longer a threat to the oil bidness.
For more on the platform, see
Donald Trump's weaponized platform: A project three decades in the
making. I seriously doubt that Trump came up with any of his idea
by reading William S. Lind and/or Paul Weyrich or that he's come up
with anything as coherent (if that's the word).
Sophia Tesfaye: Will Republicans listen to one of their own? The Senate's
only black Republican reveals his own experiences with racial profiling:
I've seen reports that the late Philando Castile (shot dead by police in
Minnesota) had been repeatedly pulled over by police for minor or imaginary
infractions, but it's worth noting that wealth or ideology doesn't prevent
this sort of profiling from happening, as Scott's story makes clear.
But during his speech, the second on policing and race this week, Scott
also shared the story of a staffer who was "pulled over so many times
here in D.C. for absolutely no reason other than driving a nice car."
The staffer eventually traded in his Chrysler for a "more obscure form
of transportation" because "he was tired of being targeted."
He asked his Senate colleagues to "imagine the frustration, the
irritation, the sense of a loss of dignity that accompanies each of
"I do not know many African-American men who do not have a very
similar story to tell no matter their profession. No matter their
income, no matter their disposition in life," he said. "There is
absolutely nothing more frustrating, more damaging to your soul than
when you know you're following the rules and being treated like you
"Recognize that just because you do not feel the pain, the anguish
of another, does not mean it does not exist," the Republican reminded
his fellow conservatives.
Some links on the Turkish coup:
Monday, July 11. 2016
Music: Current count 26780  rated (+30), 445  unrated (-4).
Fairly respectable week, again boosted by looking for records that
had showed up on various mid-year lists: last week I identified Anohni,
Kaytranada, and Mitski as among the fifteen most frequently cited albums
so far (at this point the others I haven't gotten to are Beyoncé, James
Blake, and Tim Hecker. Not far down the list were Blood Orange, Car Seat
Headrest, and The 1975, and also mentioned were Angry Angles, Frankie
Cosmos, Theo Croker, Fruit Bats, Robert Glasper, The Julie Ruin, King,
Jeff Parker, and Leon Vynehall. Needless to say, some are better than
others, but the only touted records not worth my trouble this week were
by Carrie Underwood (Christgau likes them).
Also played enough out of my jazz queue to modestly reduce the backlog,
with two records (David Greenberger, Jon Lundbom) edging over the A-
threshold, and three more (Sylvie Courvoisier, Fresh Cut Orchestra,
Jürgen Wuchner) just missing. I should also note that I had to resort
to Rhapsody for five of this week's jazz albums (Croker, Alan Ferber,
Glasper, René Marie, Parker). They didn't fare to well, although three
of them appeared on The Observer's mid-year jazz list (as well
as Jack DeJohnette [A-], Alfredo Rodriguez [**], Julian Lage [*], Logan
Richardson [*], Snarky Puppy [C+], and 2 records I haven't heard yet:
Anat Fort, Marquis Hill -- not what I'd call a good list).
I'll try to get to more listed records in the next couple weeks.
Some brief notes on Downbeat's Critics Poll results, posted
in their August 2016 issue:
- Number of critics voting: 142. In a quick scan of the voter names
I recognized 54 as former Jazz Critics Poll voters, so a little less
than 40% (a little more than 40% of JCP voters). Most of the others
were associated with Downbeat, and I recognized very few of them.
I didn't notice any affiliations outside of the US. (JCP probably has
less than ten, something I've lobbied to expand, but at least they've
got more than zero.)
- Randy Weston won the HOF slot, finishing ahead of Anthony Braxton,
Don Cherry, and Pharoah Sanders. He wasn't high on my list, but I'm
still pretty pleased with that result. Weston is 90 this year, had a
pretty good record as recently as 2013 (The Roots of the Blues).
I count four A- records in my database: Blue Moses (1972),
Carnival (1974), The Spirits of Our Ancestors (1991),
and Khepara (1998). I should probably dig deeper. Mal Waldron
and Cedar Walton shouldn't be far behind, but will be as they've
passed and been buried with everyone else Downbeat's schema
- The Veterans Committee added Hoagy Carmichael to their HOF.
I think of him mostly as a songwriter, but he sang and played
piano and I can heartily recommend RCA's 1994 compilation of
Stardust and Much More (1927-34). Runner up was George
Gershwin, and if he can't make it it's going to be a long road
for the next dozen or so obvious standards writers. Only two
other candidates were listed: Scott LaFaro and Herbie Nichols.
I have very little sense of LaFaro beyond the obvious point
that he played on Bill Evans' best trio recordings (especially
Live at the Village Vanguard, recorded ten days before
LaFaro's fatal car crash, age 25). Nichols lived to be 44, but
only recorded in his 1955-57 trios: three CDs on Blue Note,
one on Bethlehem, all brilliant.
- Downbeat skews Album of the Year by three months, which
kicked JCP winner Rudresh Mahanthappa's Bird Calls off the
ballot. Maria Schneider's The Thompson Fields had virtually
tied Mahanthappa, but fell way behind here, finishing second to
Kamasi Washington's crossover hit The Epic. I've complained
about the skew before (actually, every time I've mentioned it):
what would it hurt to give critics an extra three months to get
some more perspective on last year's records? (For that matter,
why not give the Readers' Poll voters an extra six months?). For
the record, the top early 2016 release in the poll was Charles
Lloyd's I Long to See You (6th), followed by Michael
Formanek's The Distance (9th). Neither strikes me as an
A-list record, although they're on labels that get noticed. On
the other hand, I only had one A-list album finish in the top
20: Henry Threadgill's In for a Penny, in for a Pound
(4th), and only two more in the next 20: Amir ElSaffar's
Crisis and Joe Lovano's Sound Prints.
- For the last twenty years or so Trumpet has been a contest
between Wynton Marsalis and Dave Douglas, but that seems to be
over now as they finished 5th and 4th this year, topped by new
winner Ambrose Akinmusire, followed by Tom Harrell and Wadada
Leo Smith. I've voted for Smith myself, haven't had access to
Harrell in recent years (and have never been much of a fan),
and have no idea what other critics hear in Akinmusire.
- Perennial Piano winner Keith Jarrett dropped to 12th place
this year, below Robert Glasper and Matthew Shipp. Kenny Barron
won, followed by Vijay Iyer and Fred Hersch -- reasonable picks.
Jarrett's tailed off a bit, but I still count an A- record as
recent as 2013's Somewhere (OK, recorded in 2009), and
doesn't everyone else like him more than I do?
- I'm a bit bothered that Ken Vandermark didn't make the Tenor
Sax list -- more so than that David Murray, who hasn't released
a record in a few years, has dropped to 16th. May just mean that
Vandermark is spreading himself too thin: he did finish 9th for
Baritone Sax and 16th for Clarinet. Peter Brötzmann did make the
Tenor list (17th), but not Evan Parker (13th on Soprano).
- Most egregious non-finish is that William Parker didn't make
the top 21 for Bass. Leaders: Christian McBride, Dave Holland,
Ron Carter, Linda Oh, Stanley Clarke, Esperanza Spalding. No
- Top record labels: ECM, Pi, Blue Note, Mack Avenue, Motéma,
Clean Feed, Sunnyside, HighNote. I only get physical CDs from two
of those labels -- coincidentally two that I voted for. If other
critics are as corruptible (or grateful) as I am, the standings
probably give you a fair measure of what they're listening to,
and you'll probably find that reflected in what they voted for.
- Top "Beyond" albums: David Bowie, Kendrick Lamar, Mavis Staples,
Alabama Shakes, Lucinda Williams. Only in Downbeat.
- Probably the less said about the Rising Star categories, the
better. I will note that last year's RS Guitar winner, Michael Blum,
who had written personal letters to me and other critics imploring
us for our votes, dropped off the list completely this year (Liberty
Ellman won, followed by twenty mostly reasonable names ending with
Jeff Parker). Also, most surprising winner -- even more so than the
flautist I've never heard of (Elena Pinderhughes) -- was Khan Jamal
for vibes. Not a bad choice, it's just that he's 70 now, and I haven't
heard anything by him in decades (although I see he has a 2009 album
on SteepleChase). Also speaking of late-bloomers, Mort Weiss (81)
finished 11th in Clarinet, and Kali Fasteau (69) 3rd in flute (she
actually plays ney).
For more, see my
ballot and notes.
One last thing: I hacked together a little script which gives you
a form to type a name in and prints out my grade list.
Try it. Initial version only matched an exact (complete) string,
but I've since modified it to allow you to use lower case instead
of caps, and to map most accented characters to their accentless
bases. The changes make it quite a bit slower, which you may (or
may not) notice. In any case, it saves you from having to scan through
many flat files I've been building
on every update.
So far, this took me just a couple hours. Adding reviews would be a
huge undertaking. Don't expect it any time soon.
New records rated this week:
- The 1975: I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It (2016, Dirty Hit/Interscope): [r]: B+(*)
- Anohni: Hopelessness (2016, Secretly Canadian): [r]: B+(*)
- Ricardo Bacelar: Concerto Para Moviola: Ao Vivo (2015 , Bacelar): [cd]: B+(*)
- Blood Orange: Freetown Sound (2016, Domino): [r]: A-
- Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Denial (2016, Matador): [r]: B+(***)
- Chat Noir: Nine Thoughts for One Word (2016, Rare Noise): [cdr]: B+(*)
- Frankie Cosmos: Next Thing (2016, Bayonnet): [r]: B+(***)
- Theo Croker: Escape Velocity (2015 , Okeh): [r]: B+(*)
- Sylvie Courvoisier/Mark Feldman/Ikue Mori/Evan Parker: Miller's Tale (2015 , Intakt): [cd]: B+(***)
- Orbert Davis' Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble: Havana Blue (2013 , 3Sixteen): [cd]: B+(**)
- Alan Ferber: Roots & Transitions (2016, Sunyside): [r]: B
- Fresh Cut Orchestra: From the Vine (2015, self-released): [bc]: B+(*)
- Fresh Cut Orchestra: Mind Behind Closed Eyes (2016, Ropeadope): [cd]: B+(***)
- Fruit Bats: Absolute Loser (2016, Easy Sound): [r]: B+(**)
- Robert Glasper: Everything's Beautiful (2016, Legacy): [r]: B+(**)
- David Greenberger, Keith Spring, and Dinty Child: Take Me Where I Don't Know I Am (2016, Pel Pel): [cd]: A-
- The Julie Ruin: Hit Reset (2016, Hardly Art): [r]: A-
- Kaytranada: 99.9% (2016, XL): [r]: A-
- King: We Are King (2016, King Creative): [r]: B+(*)
- Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord: Play All the Notes (2016, Hot Cup, EP): [cdr]: A-
- Magnet Animals: Butterfly Killer (2016, Rare Noise): [cdr]: B+(**)
- René Marie: Sound of Red (2015 , Motéma Music): [r]: B+(*)
- Russ Miller and the Jazz Orchestra: You and the Night and the Music (2015 , Doctheory): [cd]: B+(*)
- Mitski: Puberty 2 (2016, Dead Oceans): [r]: B+(*)
- Bryan Nichols: Looking North (2016, Shifting Paradigm): [cd]: B+(**)
- Jeff Parker: The New Breed (2015 , International Anthem): [r]: B
- Daniel Schmitz/Johannes Schmitz/Jörg Fischer: Botanic Mob (2016, Sporeprint): [cd]: B+(**)
- Todd Terje/The Olsens: The Big Cover-Up (2016, Olsen): [r]: B+(**)
- Carrie Underwood: Storyteller (2015, 19/Arista Nashville): [r]: B-
- Leon Vynehall: Rojus (Designed to Dance) (2016, Running Back): [r]: A-
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
- Angry Angles (2005 , Goner): [r]: B+(**)
- Carrie Underwood: Greatest Hits: Decade #1 (2005-14 , Arista Nashville, 2CD): [r]: C-
- Jürgen Wuchner/Rudi Mahall/Jörg Fischer: In Memoriam: Buschi Niebergall (1997 , Sporeprint): [cd]: B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
- Livio Almeida: Action and Reaction (self-released)
- Rich Halley 5: The Outlier (Pine Eagle)
- Lefteris Kordis: Mediterrana (Goddess of Light) (Inner Circle Music): July 26
- Zach Larmer Elektrik Band: Inner Circle (self-released)
- Anthony E. Nelson Jr.: Swift to Hear, Slow to Speak (Music Stand): July 25
- Sergio Pereira: Swingando (self-released): July 15
- Sundae + Mr. Goessl: Makes My Heart Sway (self-released)
Sunday, July 10. 2016
The biggest story in the US last week involved the fatal shootings
of seven people in three separate incidents: one each in
Louisiana and Minnesota (Alton Sterling and Philando Castile), and five in
Dallas. All of the shootings involved police and race, and appear
to be unjustifiable by any conceivable criteria. Needless to say, they
all involved guns, but one thing they had in common point been little
commented on: all eight victims were armed, and their guns worthless
for self-defense. (Remind me again how safe
we would all be if everyone had guns for self-defense.) As a practical
matter, carrying guns not only failed to save the victims, but probably
contributed to their deaths. The Louisiana and Minnesota incidents may
have occurred because police panicked when they discovered that the
black people they were harrassing were armed. The Texas incident came
later, when an ex-army soldier snapped and decided to shoot some white
police -- perhaps as indiscriminate revenge (isn't that how he was
trained to respond to "the enemy" in Afghanistan?), the sort of warped
injustice self-appointed vigilantes are prone to.
For some time now, I've felt that as long as people legimately
believe that they need to own and carry a gun for their own protection
it would be unwise and unfair for government to deny them that option.
However, I've always wondered whether carrying a gun actually made
anyone safer: has anyone ever studied this, putting such (probably
rare) events in statistical context against all the other things
that can go wrong with guns?
There are other ways one can approach these tragic events. One I
think should be given more weight is that the Dallas shooter learned
his craft in the US military, which no doubt considered him a hero
until the moment he started shooting at white American cops. Not all
killers were trained by the US military, but they do pop up with some
frequency. I'm reminded of a scene in Full Metal Jacket where
the Marine Gunnery Sergeant lectures his boot camp trainees on "what
one motivated Marine and his rifle can do," offering a few examples:
Lee Harvey Oswald, Charles Whitman, Richard Speck. Should we be
surprised that a country that is so invested in celebrating its
heroic killers abroad should more than occasionally encounter the
same at home? And not infrequently by the same hands?
Of course, another way to approach this is to note that last week's
bombing in Baghdad killed over 175 -- more than twenty times the death
toll discussed above. But that scarcely registers here, even though
the Bush invasion and occupation of Iraq is still most responsible for
continued bloodshed there. As bad as gun violence has become here, it
still pales against the violence of US forces and the rivals they stir
I suppose the second biggest story last week was the FBI decision
not to prosecute Hillary Clinton for risking classified data by running
a private email server while she was Secretary of State. FBI Director
Comey went out of his way to scold Clinton for being "extremely careless"
regarding state secrets before admitting that they couldn't come up with
a credible criminal case against her. The way Comey put it allowed
Republicans to reiterate their talking points, adding they couldn't
understand the decision not to indict based on Comey's exposition.
As I understand the "scandal" (see
Wikipedia for a long rundown, and perhaps also Clinton's own
The Facts About Hillary Clinton's Emails), the problem with running
a non-government server is that it doesn't allow for efficient collection
of emails that are considered to be public records (under the Federal
Records Act). To comply with the FRA, Clinton had to sort through her
emails and turn over the ones she considered to be State Department
business while retaining ones she considered to be personal -- i.e.,
the two had been mixed. A better solution might have been to turn all
the emails over and let the Department sort out which ones were personal --
at least then she couldn't be accused of hiding emails that should have
gone into the public record. On the other hand, had she kept separate
public and private email accounts, there still would likely have been
cross-contamination. (There is a similar controversy here in Kansas,
where a member of Gov. Sam Brownback's staff was found to be communicating
with lobbyists via his personal account, thereby avoiding public records
Still, one wonders why the FRA issue didn't arise while Clinton was
actually Secretary of State. It only seems to have been recognized as
a problem several years after she left office, when the Republican
Benghazi! witchhunt got under way. Further complicating things is the
question of whether Clinton's emails contained classified material.
Clinton, of course, had a top security clearance, but her private
email server wasn't fully secured for handling "secret" missives, so
it could have been, well, I'm not sure what, some form of breach in
the security state. Again, this seems not to have bothered anyone
until well after the fact. And curiously, the audits revealed that
some emails contained material that was classified only after it was
sent, so most of this charade has been focused on Clinton's threat
to national security. Frankly, I'd respect her more if she had been
a source of leaked data. But all this episode really shows is her
knack for getting caught up in trivial scandals.
I'd be happy to never hear of the email matter again, but there's
little chance of that. Instead, I expect the Republicans to flog the
matter on and on, much as they did every conjured taint from Whitewater
to Benghazi, even though their complaints will fail to impress anyone
but themselves, and in the end prove counterproductive. In particular,
those of us who consider Hillary at best a lesser evil will wonder why
they don't attack her with something she's truly guilty of, like voting
for Bush's Iraq War.
Some scattered links this week:
Phyllis Bennis: What the Democratic Party Platform Tells Us About Where
We Are on War: Unwilling to break with a past that has caused us
nothing but grief, of course. "The draft asserts that the United States
'must continue to have the strongest military in the world' and criticizes
the 'arbitrary cuts that the Republican Congress enacted as part of
Carl Bialik: The Police Are Killing People As Often As They Were Before
Ferguson: "The deaths [of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile] have
driven renewed attention to the more than 1,000 people killed each year
by police officers." I have to admit that's a higher number than I would
have expected, but maybe I was just being naïve. For instance, see:
Ben Norton: Before Alton Sterling, Louisiana police killed mentally ill
black father Micahel Noel -- and 37 others since 2015.
Jessica Elgot: Tony Blair could face contempt of parliament motion over
Iraq war: Not quite a full hearing at the Hague, but the Chilcot
Report makes clear what we already pretty much knew -- that Blair lied
to Parliament and the public to join Bush in invading and occupying
Iraq in 2003 -- and a public rebuke is in order. Public opinion in the
US is if anything even more unanimous in recognizing Bush's scheming
to launch that war, yet the prospect of Congress acknowledging this
with a similar resolution is, well, unthinkable.
Harry Enten: Is Gary Johnson Taking More Support From Clinton or Trump?:
Johnson, a former Republican governor of New Mexico, is the Libertarian
candidate for president this year. In theory a larger than usual slice
of Republicans should lean Libertarian given that the GOP candidate is
basically a Fascist. A Libertarian should have less appeal to Democrats,
especially on economic issues, but Hillary is exceptionally weak on two
issues that many Democrats care about, ones Johnson could exploit: drug
prohibition and global warfare. Enten's research doesn't shed much light
here, but polls that bother to list Johnson show him gathering close to
10% in western states like Arizona and California (also Vermont). I have
a friend who thinks that Trump will destroy the Republican Party and
Johnson's Libertarians will rise to take the GOP's place. I think the
chances of that happening are nil. For one thing, more of the Republican
base leans fascist than libertarian, and for another, the Kochs have
pretty clearly shown that no matter how much they may philosophize
about freedom, they put their money on the party of graft. On the
other hand, given that both major party candidates have extremely low
favorability ratings, this will likely be a good year to be "none of
Stephen Kinzer: Is NATO Necessary?: I would have preferred that the
UK vote on leaving NATO over quitting the EU, but I have seen a number
of (admittedly left-wing) Brexiters touting their win as a rebuke of
NATO. Indeed, any Englishman worried about loss of sovereignty to the
EU should be apoplectic about NATO, which the US regularly uses to
consign British soldiers to fight and die in America's imperial wars.
Britain's vote to quit the European Union was a rude jolt to the encrusted
world order. Now that the EU has been shocked into reality, NATO should
be next. When NATO leaders convene for a summit in Warsaw on Friday, they
will insist that their alliance is still vital because Russian aggression
threatens Europe. The opposite is true. NATO has become America's
instrument in escalating our dangerous conflict with Russia. We need
less NATO, not more. [ . . . ]
This week's NATO summit will be a festival of chest-thumping, with
many warnings about the Russian "threat" and solemn vows to meet it
with shows of military force. The United States plans to quadruple
spending on NATO military projects on or near Russia's borders. In
recent weeks NATO has opened a new missile base in Romania, held the
largest military maneuver in the modern history of Poland, and
announced plans to deploy thousands more American troops at Baltic
bases, some within artillery range of St. Petersburg. Russia, for
its part, is building a new military base within artillery range of
Ukraine and deploying 30,000 troops to border posts. Both sides are
Ever since the Brexit vote the US has been escalating its focus
on Russia, inflating the threat by provoking it, all the better to
keep Europe subservient to US schemes in Africa and the Middle East.
Nancy LeTourneau: Some Things You Need to Know About the Dallas Police
Department: Evidently before last week's shootings, Dallas Police
Chief David Brown had made notable progress on reducing complaints of
excessive police force, including "a 30 percent decline in assaults on
officers this year, and a 40 percent drop in shootings by police."
Conor Lynch: Paranoid politics: Donald Trump's style perfectly embodies
the theories of renowned historian: Reference is to Richard Hofstadter's
1964 book The Paranoid Style in American Politics. Lynch is part
wrong: the book was written at a time when McCarthyite paranoia could
be viewed as history, which is part of the reason Goldwater seemed so
ridiculous. Hofstadter's examples go further back in history, and it is
true that had he not died he could update with a new chapter on Trump,
with Roy Cohn and Glenn Beck key intermediaries. (Indeed, the Cohn
connection is almost too karmic to be believed.)
Sean D Naylor: Out of Uniform and Into the Political Fray: A
profile of former Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who appears to be a leading
candidate as Trump's running mate. Flynn's name was familiar to me
mostly due to Michael Hastings' book The Operators: The Wild and
Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan. Flynn
was deputy to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was fired by Obama for
insubordination and/or his monumental cock up of command -- Flynn,
of course, was a key factor in both. Flynn was subsequently head
of the DIA, then retired to become Trump's "military adviser."
The US has a long history of nominating ex-generals for president,
but unlike Flynn all the previous ones achieved distinction in
wars the US won -- most recently Eisenhower. (Since then George
Wallace selected a general for his running mate, and Ross Perot
picked an admiral -- precedents, sure, but not the sort that make
Trump look better. Flynn, by the way, has a book coming out, The
Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam
and Its Allies, written with neocon Michael Ledeen, one of the
dumbest fucking assholes in America.)
Heather Digby Parton: Following the Trump money: He's running his campaign
just like his casinos -- as a big scam: "If it's true that they've
collected somewhere between $25 and $50 million for the campaign in the
last month then the real grift is just about to kick in. Remember, Trump
told Fortune magazine back in 2000, 'It's very possible that I could be
the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it.'"
Nomi Prins: Donald Trump's Anti-Establishment Scam: "After all, he's
brought his brand to a far broader global audience on a stage so much
larger than any Apprentice imaginable. He could lose dramatically,
blame the Republican establishment for being mean to him, and then expand
the Trump brand into new realms, places like Russia, where he's long
craved an opening."
Thursday, July 7. 2016
Here's another batch of forty book blurbs as I try to keep up with
what's being published in my main areas of concern: politics, history,
economics, occasionally something else. This batch isn't especially up
to date: I went to work on this tonight for the first time in several
weeks and found that I had already picked out 38 books, so I added two
more from my scratch file. Real catch-up research begins after this
post, but at this point the scratch file is pretty close to bare, so
it may take some time to fill it out.
"Also noted" books are just that. They are more/less relevant and
as such notable but for one reason or another I didn't feel like taking
the time to write more. No "second notice" paperback reprints this time,
mostly because the list is rather short. Maybe next time.
Peter Bergen: United States of Jihad: Investigating
America's Homegrown Terrorists (2016, Crown): Interviewed
Osama bin Laden beck before he became infamous, turning that into
a career as a terrorism expert (i.e., Islamic terrorism -- he doesn't
seem to recognize any other kind. His books range from Holy War,
Inc to The Osama bin Laden I Know: An Oral History of al
Qaeda's Leader to Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden
from 9/11 to Abbottabad.) He notes that some 300 Americans "have
been indicted or convicted of terrorism charges" since 9/11, so he
thought he'd look into their backgrounds and how they became such
fearsome terrorists. Don't know whether he also looks into tactics
used by law enforcement to identify these terrorists, since getting
indicted by the US government is a pretty low bar.
Howard Brick/Christopher Phelps: Radicals in America: The
US Left Since the Second World War (paperback, 2015, Cambridge
University Press): Part of a series of history books, so the subject
and scope were assigned (and thankfully not by David Horowitz). What
follows is organized chronologically, moving from old left to new
left to the broad smorgasbord of quasi-left protest and advocacy
efforts that followed -- last two chapters are "Over the Rainbow"
and "What Democracy Looks Like."
Douglas Brinkley: Rightful Heritage: Franklin D Roosevelt and
the Land of America (2016, Harper): Brinkley has written several
books about America's national parks and wilderness areas, including an
obvious predecessor to this one, The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore
Roosevelt and the Crusade for America (2009). TR was better known
as an outdoorsman, but FDR greatly expanded the national park system,
and his public works projects made those parks accessible to millions
Gail Lumet Buckley: The Black Calhouns: From Civil War to
Civil Rights With One African American Family (2016, Atlantic
Monthly Press): A family history going back six generations, starting
with Moses Calhoun, a "house slave" who became a successful businessman
in post-Civil War Atlanta, following two branches of the family -- one
that stayed in the South, the other migrating to Brooklyn. The author
is the daughter of Lena Horne, and previously wrote The Hornes: An
American Family, and American Patriots: The Story of Blacks in
the Military From the Revolution to Desert Storm.
Peter Catapano/Simon Critchley: The Stone Reader: Modern
Philosophy in 133 Arguments (2015, Liveright): A broad
overview of what academic philosophers are thinking about these
days, a big book (816 pp) of essays originally published as "The
Stone" by the New York Times. Wide range of pieces, many touching
on politics (or at least ethics, not unrelated), only a few going
back to the canon (one title I like: "Of Hume and Bondage"). As
a former philosophy major I'm intrigued, but maybe not enough.
I will say that virtually none of the author names are familiar
Jefferson Cowie: The Great Exception: The New Deal and the
Limits of American Politics (2016, Princeton University Press):
As I understand it, Cowie is arguing that it's impossible to construct
a leftward shift like the New Deal in current or future America because
the actual New Deal appeared in circumstances that cannot be reproduced
today. Cowie's argument is that the 1930s were a unique, "a temporary
cessation of enduring tensions involving race, immigration, culture,
class, and individualism" that occurred in the 1930s. Immigration was
curtailed significantly in 1923, while race iniquities were locked in
the deep freeze of segregation -- a non-issue only in the sense that
the New Deal could largely ignore it (often by not challenging racial
discrimination). Arguably, this meant a more homogeneous society, one
where people could care more for others because the others weren't
that different. Then WWII came along and bound together everyone --
an effect today's wars don't have because they involve so few people.
I think it's more likely that the class consciousness that had been
brewing since the robber baron era threatened to boil over during the
Depression, but faded in the postwar affluence, especially when Cold
War ideology took hold and made capitalism seem more like freedom than
wage slavery. And as manufacturing gave way to service jobs, it became
harder to regain that class consciousness, even as economic situations
worsened. In today's environment it's easy to blame the lack of class
consciousness on racial and ethnic and cultural divisions, but those
differences have always existed. While major obstacles to a new New
Deal persist, I think we're growing closer to seeing through the petty
differences and distractions of the past.
Lee Drutman: The Business of America Is Lobbying: How Corporations
Became Politicized and Politics Became More Corporate (2015,
Oxford University Press): As late as the 1970s most corporations didn't
have their own lobbying offices, whereas now many have 100 or more
lobbyists on staff. This looks to be a pretty thorough analysis of
what happened, why, and how all that lobbying distorts politics and
Richard Engel: And Then All Hell Broke Loose: Two Decades
in the Middle East (2016, Simon & Schuster): NBC's "chief
foreign correspondent," a post which has put him in front of cameras
in various Middle Eastern hot spots, including a brief period when
he was abducted in Syria. I've never found his reporting especially
astute but perhaps this is a better forum for reflection. Has two
previous books: A Fist in the Hornet's Nest: On the Ground in
Baghdad Before, During, and After the War (2004, which makes the
word "after" stand out, as if he bought "Mission Accomplished" hook,
line and sinker), and War Journal: My Five Years in Iraq (2008).
Tim Flannery: Atmosphere of Hope: Searching for Solutions
to the Climate Crisis (2015, Atlantic Monthly Press):
Australian paleontologist, I first ran into him with his broad sweep
The Eternal Frontier: An Ecological History of North America and
Its Peoples (2001) although he had previously written a similar
book about his homeland: The Future Eaters: An Ecological History
of the Australasian Lands and People (1994). His interests then
moved to climate change, writing The Weather Makers: The History
& Future Impact of Climate Change (2007) and Now or Never:
Why We Must Act Now to End Climate Change and Create a Sustainable
Future (2009), and this follows in that vein, trying to find
some hope in geoengineering -- which even if it can compensate for
too long denial, is hardly a solution to too much denialism.
Lily Geismer: Don't Blame Us: Suburban Liberals and the
Transformation of the Democratic Party (2015, Princeton
University Press): Focuses on the high-tech corridor of Route 128
around Boston, but that's just part of a more general movement,
as the Democrats have embraced socially liberal professionals,
especially in high-tech, to make up for their losses of unionized
workers -- indeed, they've aided and abetted the destruction of
unions in part because there's more money in professionals and
Gary Gerstle: Liberty and Coercion: The Paradox of American
Government From the Founding to the Present (2015, Princeton
University Press): A history of America refracted through a pair of
concepts about governmental power. Funny thing is that the people who
talk the most about liberty are often the same ones most eager to use
the power of the state to impose their will on a reluctant citizenry.
Gerstle previously wrote the similarly sweeping American Crucible:
Race and Nation in the Twentieth Century.
Rebecca Gordon: American Nuremberg: The US Officials Who
Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes (2016, Hot Books):
Previously wrote Mainstreaming Torture: Ethical Approaches in
the Post-9/11 United States (2014, Oxford University Press) and
Cruel and Unusual: How Welfare "Reform" Punishes Poor People
(2001), drawing on her Ph.D. in Ethics and Social Theory. This one,
too, seems to focus more on torture than the grosser war crimes that
seem so obvious to me.
Jacob Darwin Hamblin: Arming Mother Nature: The Birth of
Catastrophic Environmentalism (2013, Oxford University Press):
The story here is about how the US military has been working ever
since the start of the Cold War to figure out how the US can create
environmental disasters and use them as strategic weapons: inducing
droughts in the Soviet Union is just one example. Not sure if this
is covered, but the US military continues to war game global warming --
the idea may be taboo among right-wing politicos, but the realities
impinge on global military strategy (ranging from African droughts
to submarine cover in the Arctic).
Richard L Hasen: Plutocrats United: Campaign Money, the Supreme
Court, and the Distortion of American Elections (2016, Yale
University Press): The title a play on the Citizens United ruling,
where the right-wing Supreme Court concocted a scheme to eliminate
limits on campaign spending and in principle turn elections into
auctions among the superrich. Hasen, a professor of law and political
science, has covered this beat before, notably in The Voting Wars:
From Florida 2000 to the Next Election Meltdown (2012).
Joan Hoff: A Faustian Foreign Policy From Woodrow Wilson
to George W Bush: Dreams of Perfectability (paperback, 2007,
Cambridge University Press): I don't normally list books this old,
but when I see a blurb line like this I have to make a note: "Like
no book since William Appleman Williams' The Tragedy of American
Diplomacy, Hoff's study powerfully demonstrates that a better
future for America (and the world) lies in coming to terms with the
corrupt bargains of the past." Of course, she could have started
with William McKinley but that was plain greed -- no one tops the
sanctimonious arrogance of Wilson and Bush, plus you get the Dulles
Brothers, Henry Kissinger, and Oliver North sandwiched in the middle.
Harold Holzer/Norton Garfinkle: A Just and Generous Nation:
Abraham Lincoln and the Fight for American Opportunity (2015,
Basic Books): "Rather than a commitment to eradicating slavery or a
defense of the Union, [the authors] argue, Lincoln's guiding principle
was the defense of equal economic opportunity." They do figure that
the emancipation of slaves was a step toward such opportunity, but
also bring up other efforts, casting the first Republican president
as "the protector not just of personal freedom but of the American
dream itself." In other words, the opposite of the party which seeks
to crush that dream today.
Nancy Isenberg: White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of
Class in America (2016, Vintage): A history of the white
underclass in America going back to colonial immigrants, many of
whom sold themselves as indentured servants, continuing through
generation after generation of impoverishment and the various forms
of approbation heaped on them by the more affluent -- I rather wish
she had used the term "waste people" for the title. Author previously
wrote Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr and co-authored
(with Andrew Burstein) Madison and Jefferson.
Susan Jacoby: Strange Gods: A Secular History of Conversion
(2016, Pantheon): Looks into the history of various people converting
to one religion of another, with Saul/Paul a prominent early example,
and Muhammad Ali and George W Bush among the more recent. Secularism
has been a repeated theme in Jacoby's writing, especially Freethinkers:
A History of American Secularism (2004).
Greg Jobin-Leeds/AgitArte: When We Fight, We Win: Twenty-First
Century Social Movements and the Activits That Are Transforming Our
World (paperback, 2016, New Press): I can't say as I consider
all of the author's examples as victories, but it is clear that they
all resonate with substantial numbers of (mostly) young people, to
such point that they've become reference posts for more conventional
political campaigns. I suspect a more accurate title might be If
We Don't Fight, We Won't Win -- and by "fight" I mean a quaint
term from an earlier era: organize.
Fred Kaplan: Dark Territory: The Secret History of Cyber War
(2016, Simon & Schuster): A lot of grey lines here, especially
ethically where propaganda and censorship blend into espionage and
subversion, where the lack of blood may make transgressions seem more
acceptable, where state and non-state actors cloak themselves in similar
obscurity, where one's dirty tricks may be another's terrorism. I can't
help but feel disgust over virtually every aspect of the subject. More
or less related: Richard A Clarke/Robert Knake: Cyber War: The Next
Threat to National Security and What to Do About It (paperback,
2011, Ecco); PW Singer/Allan Friedman: Cybersecurity and Cyberwar:
What Everyone Needs to Know (paperback, 2014, Oxford University
Press); Shane Harris: @War: The Rise of the Military-Internet
Complex (paperback, 2015, Mariner Books); Marc Goodman:
Future Crimes: Everything Is Connected, Everyone Is Vulnerable and
What We Can Do About It (2015, Doubleday); Richard Stiennon:
There Will Be Cyberwar: How the Move to Network-Centric War
Fighting Has Set the Stage for Cyberwar (paperback, 2015,
IT-Harvest); Adam Segal: The Hacked World Order: How Nations
Fight, Trade, Maneuver, and Manipulate in the Digital Age
Robert D Kaplan: In Europe's Shadow: Two Cold Wars and a
Thirty-Year Journey Through Romania and Beyond (2016, Random
House): Travel journalist and imperialist pundit/apologist (or in his
own mind strategist), started out writing propagandistic books on
Ethiopia (Surrender or Starve: The Wars Behind the Famine) and
Afghanistan (Soldiers of God: With the Mujahidin in Afghanistan,
followed by his more substantial Balkan Ghosts: A Journey Through
History (1993), remembered today for its background on Yugoslavia
just before it was dismembered, but actually the longest section of
the book his caustic portrait of Romania. Here he returns in 2013-14
and evidently finds the same hellhole he knew before.
Kevin M Kruse: One Nation Under God: How Corporate America
Invented Christian America (2015, Basic Books): Argues that
the idea that the United States "is, was, and always has been a
Christian nation" originated in the 1930s when opponents of FDR,
including corporations like General Motors and Hilton Hotels,
recruited conservative clergymen to attack the "pagan statism" of
the New Deal. That line of attack gained more traction after WWII
when "godless communism" became a more plausible enemy, and Dwight
Eisenhower proved a particularly useful idiot for the meme. This
complements the similarly themed Steve K Green: Inventing a
Christian America: The Myth of the Religious Founding (2015).
Charles R Lister: The Syrian Jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State
and the Evolution of an Insurgency (2016, Oxford University Press);
Middle East/terrorism wonk, has been involved with "a two-year process of
face-to-face engagement with the leaderships of over 100 Syrian armed
opposition groups," a background which has resulted in a substantial
(540 pp) book with a reputable publisher. That certainly doesn't give
him equal access to all sides, nor the sort of distance academics will
eventually require to chart the history of this tragic war. But he is
likely to shed light on the granularity of the opposition groups, and
the extent to which they have gravitated towards Jihadism as the war
evolved and the situation on the ground deteriorated.
Erik Loomis: Out of Sight: The Long and Disturbing Story of
Corporations Outsourcing Catastrophe (2015, New Press): With
the ability to move workplaces to anywhere in the world, you get a
"race to the bottom" where economic incentives tend to favor the
lowest standards of regulation, including pollution controls and
health and safety standards for workers. The result, predictably, is
a rash of disasters (the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory outside
Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2013 is one example cited). Of course, this only
gets worse as unions and their political allies are weakened.
Robert W McChesney/John Nichols: People Get Ready: The Fight
Against a Jobless Economy and a Citizenless Democracy (2016,
Nation Books): A major thrust of business in recent years has been to
eliminate the cost of jobs by employing new technology, which (along
with shipping jobs overseas) has allowed profits to soar while weakening
workers. The authors have separately and together written many books
on media control and workers' political struggles, and every year gives
them more fodder to write about.
Joy Newton-Small: Broad Influence: How Women Are Changing
the Way America Works (2016, Time: 1): Don't know whether
this book is serious or not, but either way I couldn't resist noting
the title. Blurb says the author is "one of the nation's most deeply
respected and sourced journalists" and adds that she gathered "deep,
exclusive and behind-closed-doors" interviews with dozens of notable
women in politics, including Sarah Palin and Valerie Jarrett. Broad,
Henry Petroski: The Road Taken: The History and Future of
America's Infrastructure (2016, Bloomsbury USA): Author of
numerous books on engineering looks primarily at America's highway
system, how it was built, how it is falling apart, and how (when and
if) we try to repair it. I doubt he gets very deep into the politics
and economics of it all, which is the main reason infrastructure is
deteriorating so, but the technical understanding is bound to be
interesting. Related: Earl Swift: The Big Roads: The Untold Story
of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the
American Superhighways (2011; paperback, 2012, Mariner Books)
Wendell Potter/Nick Penniman: Nation on the Take: How Big Money
Corrupts Our Democracy and What We Can Do About It (2016,
Bloomsbury): Few things are more obvious than the insidious effect
money has on American politics: even when it doesn't decide who wins,
it determines who runs, on what issues, and after election day it
becomes even more influential. No doubt the vast majority of Americans
would love to see something done about this corruption, but the issue
is promptly forgotten after each election, perhaps because the winners
are by definition those most skilled at playing the game. Every books
post I do has something on this, and no reason to think this book is
exceptional, but it's as good as any to hang the issue on this time.
Some others I haven't mentioned yet: Robert E Mutch: Buying the
Vote: A History of Campaign Finance Reform (2014, Oxford University
Press); Derek Cressman: When Money Talks: The High Price of "Free"
Speech and the Selling of Democracy (paperback, 2016, Berrett-Koehler).
Stephen Prothero: Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars (Even
When They Lose Elections): The Battles That Define America From
Jefferson's Heresies to Gay Marriage (2016, Harper One):
Seems intuitively right, although the extreme vitriol of anti-abortion
activists and their hegemonic sway over a party that is only really
seriously dedicated to making the rich ever richer seems like some
kind of counter-example. Prothero's 19th century examples are bound
to seem quaint, but I've long been struck by how much Mormons and
Muslims have in common, and today's anti-Muslim backlash is actually
rather tame compared to 19th-century anti-Mormonism. More narrowly
cultural issues are probably even clearer: I can, for instance,
remember how nuts certain Christian clergy went over rock and roll,
but odds are you can't.
Jedediah Purdy: After Nature: A Politics for the Anthropocene
(2015, Simon & Schuster): A philosophical digression on life in
the era of humans, moving as we have ever further from the systems
of nature which preceded us. Author was regarded as some kind of
prodigy when he first appeared in 1999; has since become a professor
of law and moved from cultural issues to more weighty, which doesn't
necessarily mean better, thoughts.
Steven Radelet: The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing
World (2015, Simon & Schuster): The 2000s, in particular,
saw the US ruled by the most slovenly pro-business regime in history,
yet they only achieved anemic growth by inflating a bubble of fraud
and debt (all wiped out when the bubble burst). On the other hand,
during the same decade much of the "developing world" accelerated
its development (especially China, India, and Brazil), and virtually
everywhere saw remarkable progress against poverty, disease, and so
forth. This is their story. I wonder whether the book notes that peace
and relatively progressive governments were critical factors.
Lisa Randall: Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding
Interconnectedness of the Universe (2015, Ecco): Physicist,
teaches particle physics and cosmology at Harvard, writes popular
science books on the side, previously: Warped Passages: Unraveling
the Mysteries of the Universe's Hidden Dimensions (2005),
Knocking on Heaven's Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking
Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World (2011), and Higgs
Discovery: The Power of Empty Space (2013). This one develops a
theory that dark matter had something to do with a comet which hit
earth 65 million years ago wiping out the dinosaurs, but that's just
one of many fascinating interconnections.
Simon Reid-Henry: The Political Origins of Inequality: Why a
More Equal World Is Better for Us All (2015, University of
Chicago Press): Considers inequality "the defining issue of our time,"
but takes a longer view historically, going back to the 18th century,
and a broader one geographically, spanning the former colonial world.
The common denominator is evidently politics: above all else, inequality
is the result of rigging the game. Somehow manages to cover this with
remarkable brevity (all in 208 pp).
Dani Rodrik: Economics Rules: The Rights and Wrongs of the
Dismal Science (2015, WW Norton): Economist, specialty is
globalization and development -- most important insight I've gained
from him is that any nation that adopts more liberal trade policies
also needs to expand its safety net to compensate for the victims
(something the US did the opposite of). This seems to be a general
purpose economics primer, going back to Adam Smith and working up
basic models and their math.
Kenneth Scheve/David Stasavage: Taxing the Rich: A History
of Fiscal Fairness in the United States and Europe (2016,
Princeton University Press): After studying the ebb and flow of
progressive income taxation in twenty countries over two centuries,
the authors conclude that "governments don't tax the rich just
because inequality is high or rising -- they do it when people
believe that such taxes compensate for the state unfairly privileging
the wealthy," mostly citing wars requiring mass mobilization as the
prime example. No doubt marginal tax rates in the US rose during WWII
and further in the early years of the Cold War, but they had previously
risen when the Great Depression highlighted the unfairness of a system
that had greatly favored the rich and caused great harm to everyone
else when it failed.
David Sehat: The Jefferson Rule: How the Founding Fathers
Became Infallible and Our Politics Inflexible (2015, Simon
& Schuster): Sure, politicians of every conceivable stripe have
looked to the nation's Founders when they could find (or plausibly
invent) a congruence of interests -- a stance where infallibility
begats inflexibility. Of course, those Founders were hardly of one
mind. Sehal focuses on Thomas Jefferson, who strikes me as the one
least likely to regard his own position as eternal, but evidently
provides a focal point for a history of constitutional politicizing.
Sehat previously wrote The Myth of American Religious Freedom
Rick Shenkman: Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain
Gets in the Way of Smart Politics (2016, Basic Books): More
of a journalist than anything else, has long been interested in the
murky margins of dis-knowledge -- an early book was Legends, Lies
& Cherished Myths of American History, but more to the point
is Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth About the American
Voter (2008). Not sure about the stone age, but one mistake many
of us make today is to flock behind the loudest, most self-confident
alpha male we can find (the GOP does its best to breed them). Another
is that many of us readily buy into easily manipulated identities.
I imagine that most of this you could easily figure out on your own,
much as it pains us to think about it.
Wen Stephenson: What We're Fighting for Now Is Each Other:
Dispatches From the Front Lines of Climate Justice (2015,
Beacon Press): A survey of the "new American radicals" who focus
on climate and environmental issues, their focus having more to
do with their understanding of human rights -- how environmental
degradation hurts people -- than conservative (and hubristic)
notions of "saving the earth."
David Talbot: The Devil's Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA,
and the Rise of America's Secret Government (2015, Harper):
Big (715 pp) biography of Eisenhower's CIA Director, the brother of
Eisenhower's Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, a pair responsible
for some of the most egregious acts of Cold War America, ones that
continue to reverberate down to the present day. A more succinct
version of this story is Stephen Kinzer: The Brothers: John Foster
Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War (2013). Oddly
enough, Talbot previously wrote a book with pretty much the same
title: Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years
(2007; paperback, 2008, Free Press).
L Randall Wray: Why Minsky Matters: An Introduction to the Work
of a Maverick Economist (2015, Princeton University Press):
Hyman P Minsky (1919-96) matters because of his unique insights into
the instability of modern finance, a point he made well before it
became obvious in the 2008 financial meltdown. Until that happened,
you might recall, much of the economic profession was dedicated to
assuring us that such a breakdown couldn't possibly happen -- that
we had entered an "age of moderation" where Milton Friedman's minor
corrections to the money supply was all the world needed. Keynes,
who had much to say about how to fix depressions, has made a similar
comeback, but Minsky was always an outlier.
Other recent books also noted:
Fergus M Bordewich: The First Congress: How James Madison,
George Washington, and a Group of Extraordinary Men Invented the
Government (2016, Simon & Schuster)
Mohamed A El-Erian: The Only Game in Town: Central Banks,
Instability, and Avoiding the Next Collapse (2016, Random
Michael V Hayden: Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence
in the Age of Terror (2016, Penguin Press)
Bob Ivry: The Seven Sins of Wall Street: Big Banks, Their
Washington Lackeys, and the Next Financial Crisis (2014,
David Kilcullen: Blood Year: The Unraveling of Western
Counterterrorism (2016, Oxford University Press)
Michael Morell: The Great War of Our Time: The CIA's
Fight Against Terrorism -- From Al Qa'ida to ISIS (2015,
John Perkins: The New Confessions of an Economic Hit Man
(paperback, 2016, Berrett-Koehler)
Bruce Schneier: Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect
Your Data and Control the World (2015, WW Norton)
Elaine Showalter: The Civil Wars of Julia Ward Howe: A
Biography (2016, Simon & Schuster)
James Traub: John Quincy Adams: Militant Spirit (2016,
Monday, July 4. 2016
Music: Current count 26750  rated (+18), 449  unrated (+11).
Recovery from whatever struck me the previous week was slow, partly
because I never seem to feel like doing much of anything anyways these
days. I did manage to post a
Rhapsody Streamnotes for June, and filed a tweet to that effect,
but promoting the event on Facebook seemed like too much effort --
or maybe just not worth the trouble, as travel and illness had made
the column much shorter and sparser than usual. This week's count is
way short as well, but I came up with more than a few A-list adds.
One thing that helped there was seeing more than a few mid-year
best-of lists. Dan Weiss suggested Eric Prydz (3), The Goon Sax (5),
Brandy Clark (18), and a few others I haven't gotten to yet (Konono
No. 1, Tweet, The Paranoid Style, Sheer Mag, Wire, Mitski, The Julie
Ruin, Fruit Bats, Angry Angles). I haven't been cataloguing these
lists, but have started to add some records to my
Music Tracking list. Last year's
list was pretty deep (3077 records) whereas this year's is still
sketchy (488) -- mostly records I've heard (373) plus a few that I
may want to check out eventually (actually, up to 635 after I added
the records from the "so far" lists below).
For whatever it may be worth, here are some lists I've consulted:
Consequence of Sound,
Gorilla vs. Bear,
Pigeons & Planes,
I didn't tally them, but offhand the top slot seems to be between Beyoncé
and Chance the Rapper, trailed by (in unranked order, my grades in brackets):
Anderson .Paak [A-],
Kanye West [***]; maybe also:
David Bowie [***],
Kendrick Lamar [***],
Parquet Courts [A-],
Sturgill Simpson [***].
Other names that have popped up (probably incomplete, omitting EPs
and compilations, * indicates a few mentions [as best I recall], titles
only where I'm aware of multiples):
*The 1975 [*],
Aesop Rock [A-],
Africans With Mainframes,
Afro Celt Sound System,
Katy B [**],
BJ the Chicago Kid [A-],
Borderland [Juan Atkins/Moritz von Oswald],
*Car Seat Headrest,
Cavern of Anti-Matter,
Christine and the Queens,
Brandy Clark [A-],
Lucy Dacus [***],
Jack DeJohnette [A-],
DJ Shadow [*],
Open Mike Eagle + Paul White [***],
Brian Eno [*],
Explosions in the Sky,
Field Music [B],
Flatbush Zombies [**],
Robbie Fulks [A-],
*Kevin Gates [*],
Ariana Grande [*],
PJ Harvey [**],
Fay Hield and the Hurricane Party,
Into It Over It,
Vijay Iyer/Wadada Leo Smith [**],
Julian Lage [*],
The Last Shadow Puppets,
Mr. Lif [***],
Lil Uzi Vert,
Loretta Lynn [**],
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis,
Panic! at the Disco,
Pet Shop Boys [A-],
*Iggy Pop [*],
A Pregnant Light,
*Margo Price [A-],
Corinne Bailey Rae,
Bonnie Raitt [A-],
Red Hot Chili Peppers,
Logan Richardson [*],
Alfredo Rodriguez [**],
Royce da 5'9",
School of Seven Bells,
*Paul Simon [*],
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith,
Snarky Puppy (Kulcha Vulcha) [C+],
Vic Spencer/Chris Crack,
*Esperanza Spalding [B],
Mavis Staples [**],
Gwen Stefani [A-],
Teho Teardo and Blixa Bargeld,
*Tegan and Sara,
*White Lung [**],
*Young Thug (Slime Season 3) [**],
As of midyear (well, today) I have 40 records on my
A-list (vs. 161 on my
2015 A-list, or about one-quarter as
many in one-half the time). My list includes 20 jazz records (1 listed
above), and 21 non-jazz (12 listed above, plus:
Young Thug: I'm Up). Christgau, by the way, has 9 A-list albums
(not counting compilations) not listed above:
four of mine plus
Konono No. 1,
Thao & the Get Down Set Down,
New records rated this week:
- Brandy Clark: Big Day in a Small Town (2016, Warner Brothers): [r]: A-
- Jack DeJohnette: In Movement (2015 , ECM): [dl]: A-
- DJ Shadow: The Mountain Will Fall (2016, Mass Appeal): [r]: B+(*)
- Dori Freeman: Dori Freeman (2016, Free Dirt): [r]: A-
- Fred Frith Trio: Another Day in Fucking Paradise (2015 , Intakt): [cdr]: B+(***)
- The Goon Sax: Up to Anything (2016, Chapter Music): [r]: B+(***)
- Ariana Grande: Dangerous Woman (2016, Republic): [r]: B+(*)
- The Hot Sardines: French Fries + Champagne (2016, Decca): [r]: B+(*)
- Plus Sized Dan: Plus Sized Dan With Marshall Ruffin (2015, Plus Sized Dan, EP): [r]: B+(***)
- Eric Prydz: Opus (2016, Astralwerks, 2CD): [r]: A-
- Marc Ribot/The Young Philadelphians: Live in Tokyo (2014 , Yellowbird): [cd]: B+(**)
- Paul Simon: Stranger to Stranger (2016, Concord): [r]: B+(*)
- Two Fresh: Torch (2015, self-released, EP):[r]: B+(*)
- Wet: Don't You (2016, Columbia): [r]: B
- Young Thug: I'm Up (2016, 300 Entertainment/Atlantic): [r]: A-
- Young Thug: Slime Season 3 (2016, 300 Entertainment/Atlantic, EP): [r]: B+(**)
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
- Hailu Mergia: Wede Harer Guzo (1978 , Awesome Tapes From Africa): [r]: A-
Old music rated this week:
- Clay Harper: Old Airport Road (2013, Terminus): [r]: A-
- Chance the Rapper: Coloring Book (2016, self-released): [r]: [was B+(***)] A-
- Robbie Fulks: Upland Stories (2016, Bloodshot): [r]: [was B+(***)] A-
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
- Aaron Bennett/Darren Johnston/Lisa Mezzacappa/Tim Rosaly: Shipwreck 4 (NoBusiness)
- Bobby Bradford/Hafez Modirzadeh: Live at the Open Gate (NoBusiness): CDR (vinyl release only)
- Suzanne Dean: Come to Paradise (Ship's Bell Music)
- Fail Better!: Owt (NoBusiness)
- Gaudi: EP (RareNoise, EP): advance, July 22
- Peter Kuhn: No Coming, No Going: The Music of Peter Kuhn, 1978-1979 (NoBusiness, 2CD)
- Peter Kuhn Trio: The Other Shore (NoBusiness)
- Elektra Kurtis & Ensemble Elektra: Bridges From the East (Elektra Sound Works/Milo)
- Tina Marx: Shades of Love (self-released)
- Merzbow/Keiji Haino/Balasz Pandi: An Untroublesome Defencelessness (RareNoise): advance, July 22
- Os Clavelitos: Arriving (self-released)
- Tommy Smith: Modern Jacobite (Spartacus)
- Arthur Williams: Forgiveness Suite (1979, NoBusiness): CDR (vinyl release only)
- Nate Wooley/Hugo Antunes/Jorge Queijo/Mario Costa/Chris Corsano: Purple Patio (NoBusiness): CDR (vinyl release only)
Saturday, July 2. 2016
Started this more than a week ago, but things dragged out, making
me late, or perhaps now I should say early?
After last week's referendum when 52% of the UK's voters decided to
chuck it all and take Britain out of the European Union, David Eversall
sent me this clipping from the Financial Times, adding "Probably has
relevance for the Presidential election especially the last point."
A quick note on the first three tragedies. Firstly, it was the working
classes who voted for us to leave because they were economically
disregarded and it is they who will suffer the most in the short term
from the dearth of jobs and investment. They have merely swapped one
distant and unreachable elite for another one. Secondly, the younger
generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries.
We will never know the full extent of the lost opportunities, friendships,
marriages and experiences we will be denied. Freedom of movement was taken
away by our parents, uncles, and grandparents in a parting blow to a
generation that was already drowning in the debts of our predecessors.
Thirdly and perhaps most significantly, we now live in a post-factual
democracy. When the facts met the myths they were as useless as bullets
bouncing off the bodies of aliens in a HG Wells novel. When Micahel Gove
said 'the British are sick of experts' he was right. But can anybody
tell me the last time a prevailing culture of anti-intellectualism has
lead to anything other than bigotry?
Aside from the quibble that I suspect it's bigotry that leads to
anti-intellectualism rather than the other way around, my reaction
to the third point was "welcome to my world." Politics in America went
counterfactual in the 1980s when Reagan came up with his "Morning in
America" con (more on that at the end).
I'm afraid I didn't know much about Brexit before plodding through
the links below. Let me try to summarize what I've learned:
Many in England never liked Europe, or thought of themselves as
being part of Europe. They grew up on stories of how Britain won the
great European wars of the last two centuries and built the largest
empire the world has seen, and they never got over the loss of that
empire or of their exceptional status in the world. They never lost
their righteousness or their racism. They skew right -- always have --
and they formed the core of the Leave block, as they always would
The EU was originally a center-left concept, intent on erasing
borders, on entangling the many separate nations of a rather small
continent into a cohesive entity that would render impossible the
myriad wars of recent centuries. This entity would be built on basic
human rights and would advance political and economic equality. But
this idea was repeatedly corrupted by business interests, knee-jerk
appeals to nationalism, and the parallel cloak of war known as NATO --
which since 2001 has mostly served to exacerbate the divides between
north and south, west and east, Crusader (for lack of a better term)
and Muslim. One result was that the core for Remain was tepid and in
many cases disillusioned.
In the 1980s Thatcher laid waste to industrial Britain while
opening Europe to British capital, and later Blair delivered Labour
to the financiers while committing the UK to Bush's disastrous "terror"
wars. Britain hasn't had a credible leftist government since Wilson's
in the 1970s (if not Attlee's in the 1940s), so Britain's experience
of the EU has skewed horribly right.
The EU's bravest policy was the insistence on labor mobility.
This didn't have a huge impact as long as the national economies were
rich and relatively equal, but the EU was easily pressured to expand
into less developed countries, and transfers to rebalance the economies
have never been adequate. When this happened capital flowed out while
cheaper labor flowed in -- the latter easily scapegoated by the right
for depressed areas actually caused by capital flight. One result has
been the growth of racist right-wing parties throughout Europe (like
the anti-EU UKIP in Britain).
The rise of the right, both in Europe and in the US, has pushed
immigrants and minorities into the hands of the left-center parties,
often becoming significant stakeholders in those parties. This has
tended to defocus the traditional class-schism between left and right --
perhaps more so in the US, where Democrats have few qualms about shafting
labor in favor of liberal businesses, knowing that minorities have no
choice but to vote for them. As this happens, older/whiter workers can
lash back against the left-center. Conversely, liberals tend to focus
on opposing racism and xenophobia rather than actually working for more
After the global finance bubble burst in 2008, the bankers and
their politicians conspired to save themselves at the expense of everyone
else. They controlled the EU, which ceased to be a reform movement and
became an instrument for denying democracy and imposing austerity across
the entire continent. This was perhaps worse in the Eurozone, but the
UK, which had the flexibility of its own currency, followed suit with a
crippling austerity program benefitting no one but the London banks. The
right, which had caused most of this pain, found it easy to blame Europe,
and many (even some on the left) readily bought that line.
Then there was sheer political opportunism. Tory leader Cameron
promised to hold a referendum on leaving the EU during the last elections
in a crass move to prevent conservative voters from defecting to UKIP.
He assumed a referendum would be harmless, as all three major parties
were committed to staying in the EU. Still, the Conservatives had long
had a sizable anti-EU core, and Labour had recently revolted against
the Blairites and elected leftist Jeremy Corbyn as party leader (who
post-facto was charged as ineffective, possibly even uncommitted to
the Remain cause). One result was that the campaign for Remain spanned
the entire ideological spectrum without having any coherent vision or
much commitment. (As I note below, "remain" itself is a remarkably
passive and for that matter nonchalant verb.) Another was that it was
practically defenseless against misleading and often ridiculous charges,
the stock-in-trade of the right-wing tabloid press.
After the vote, the markets panicked, as markets tend to do.
Still, nothing has happened yet, and separation will by all accounts
take at least two years from whenever it starts, which isn't now
because Cameron resigned and Parliament isn't actually required to
pull the suicide trigger. Most likely there will be new elections
and prolonged negotiations while nothing much actually happens --
other than continuation of the current rot -- and the folks who pull
strings behind curtains get their ducks lined up.
One thing that's little commented on is the pernicious effect
of NATO on Europe. Through NATO, the US sucked Europe into its Global
War on Terror (most specifically its parochial war against Islam in
Afghanistan), and also into its rekindled Cold War against Russia.
The EU expanded aggressively into Eastern Europe, thereby unbalancing
the equality of member states, mostly because NATO led the way. NATO
aggression in North Africa and the Middle East then triggered a refuge
crisis on top of Europe's previous immigration problem. One terrible
result is that Europe has become targeted by ISIS-affiliated (a very
loose definition) terrorists, which mostly serves to provoke hatred
and backlash. The right builds on this, even though you'd think that
anyone who frets over sovereignty worry more about the US/NATO.
I suspect that eventually we'll find that the EU has spun such
a thick institutional web that it will prove impossible to disentangle
it all. That is to say, the core nations are stuck with it, regardless
of whether their people understand why. Still, movements to exit and
hoist up renewed national borders will continue until the EU reforms
into something that actually benefits most of the people pretty much
everywhere, and their failure will continue to embarrass leaders of
all parties but the most fringe. To do this, the EU needs to move left,
if anything out ahead of the national parties. And it needs to do this
not just to deliver on its original concept but to give people all
across the continent reason to support it, and through it each other.
These are things your center-right neo-liberals, dedicated as they
are to making the rich richer and otherwise letting the chips land
where they might, just can't do. Unfortunately, the center-left isn't
able to either, especially when faced with the sort of "scorched earth"
opposition the Republicans excel at in the US.
One last point: I cite several anti-EU leftists below, who are
right to blame the US/NATO and who are not wrong to see the referendum
as a broad rejection of neoliberal consensus. It's not clear that they
also believe that the UK is more likely to move left without the EU
than within, but I imagine they can make a fair case to that effect --
just now sure if that's because recession will make voters more desperate,
because a nation not in the EU has more options, or both. Still, I can't
share their enthusiasm for Brexit. I just can't see how a retreat into
narrow-minded prejudice advances a more equitable society and a more
In what follows, it may be tempting, sobering, even chilling to think
of Leave as Trump and Remain as Clinton. I think that's probably why we
often take away the notion that Leave was primarily racist/xenophobic
and Remain as liberal/integrationist, even though there were many more
nuances to each. But working that angle out should really be another
exercise. I suspect we'll find many more angles there too (with Trump
it's hard to think of anything as a nuance).
Some Brexit links:
Post-Brexit global equity loss of over $2 trillion -- worst ever.
Anne Applebaum: What the media gets wrong about Brexit: "The leave
campaign does not have a common vision and does not have a common plan
because its members wouldn't be able to agree on one."
Torsten Bell: The referendum, living standards and inequality: Several
charts show that recent changes to income have little bearing on the vote.
Rather, look at 1980s Thatcherism: "The legacy of increased national
inequality in the 1980s, the heavy concentration of those costs in certain
areas, and our collective failure to address it has more to say about what
happened last night than shorter term considerations from the financial
crisis or changed migration flows."
Mike Carter: I walked from Liverpool to London. Brexit was no surprise:
"Thatcherism devastated communities throughout industrial England that have
never recovered. Their pain explains why people voted to leave in the EU
John Cassidy: Why the Remain Campaign Lost the Brexit Vote: Cites,
and agrees with, Torsten Bell (above). Then notes how uninspiring the
Remain campaign, backed lamely by leaders of all three major political
parties, was: "The Remain side argued, in effect, that while the E.U.
isn't great, Britain would be even worse off without it. That turned
out to be a losing story." It occurs to me that "remain" is probably
the most passive word in the English language. Why would anyone pick
it as a slogan? In 2004, when the Iraq War had gone sour, Bush (or
Rove or whoever) didn't campaign to Remain in Iraq. They opted for
Stay, or more often Stay the Course, suggesting that there is a plan
that will eventually pan out if only we don't lose our will. European
Union, frankly, was a lot more promising idea than the Iraq War ever
was, yet its so-called defenders seem to have lost faith in it or
understanding of it and are left with nothing more to offer than the
threat that if we fail to accept the status quo, things will only get
Cassidy also wrote
Why Brexit Might Not Happen at All and
Sunderland and the Brexit Tragedy. I don't find the former very
convincing, although I wouldn't be surprised if somehow the Leave win
gets circumvented. There are a number of ways Britain's elites might
go about ignoring the referendum results, with Cameron's resignation
a first step, and Boris Johnson's reluctance to replace him a second.
The former shipbuilding city Sunderland is another example: industry
was shut down there during the Thatcher years, depressing the region
to the point where the EU actually helps out, they still voted Leave.
"Unless the Brexit vote is somehow reversed, the residents of places
like Sunderland will most likely be left to fly the Union Jack and
Amy Davidson: Brexit Should Be a Warning About Donald Trump: In
particular, it reminds us that there are people who will vote for
Trump not because of who Trump is but because of their own jaundiced
worldview. I know a Trump supporter whose only explanation is "chaos" --
I suspect he'd vote for Charles Manson if given the chance. After all,
what is Brexit other than a vote for chaos? Davidson quotes Hillary's
response: "This time of uncertainty only underscores the need for calm,
steady, experienced leadership in the White House." And she thinks
that's a winning argument against a clown who promises unpredictable
Tom Ewing: Obsolete Units Surrounded by Hail: "An A to Z of Brexit.
Cathartic fragments, pessimistic conjectures." Encyclopedic, but let's
single out: "David Cameron is the worst post-war Prime Minister, a gambler
without even the spine to bet his reputation (and the country's economy)
on something he believed in."
Tony Karon: It's the end of the world as we know it -- again: "The
Brexit result -- a vote of no-confidence in the elites of London and
Brussels by an English working class that has been steadily marginalised
over three decades -- underscores the peril that the system that has
aggrandised those elites now faces through its failure to deliver
economic security and dignity to millions of citizens." He mentions
that economists have largely turned against austerity, and notes some
opportunities for fruitful spending like the $3.6 trillion needed "to
restore and modernise crumbling infrastructure [in the US] by 2020,"
adding that "Hillary Clinton proposes an infrastructure spend less
than 10 per cent of what the Civil Engineers recommend; Mr Trump has
offered no plan."
Paul Krugman: Brexit: The Morning After: "It seems clear that the
European project -- the whole effort to promote peace and growing political
union through economic integration -- is in deep, deep trouble." Also:
The Macroeconomics of Brexit: Motivated Reasoning? "Economists have
very good reasons to believe that Brexit will do bad things in the long
run, but are strongly tempted to sex up their arguments by making very
dubious claims about the short run." Still, Dean Baker has some quibbles
about Krugman's claims (see
Paul Krugman, Brexit, and Bubbles): namely, he suspects London is
enjoying a real estate bubble that Brexit is likely to
pop . . . and, well, you know how that goes.
Alex Massie: Is Brexit the beginning of the End of Britain?: Focuses
mostly on Scotland, which voted against independence when threatened
with exile from the UE, and voted heavily to remain in the EU. There
are also similar feelings in Northern Ireland (where unification with
Ireland would keep them in the EU) and even in Wales. But breaking up
the UK may not be the only way out for Scotland; see
Nicola Sturgeon: Scottish parliament could block Brexit.
Chris Patten: A British Tragedy in One Act: Quotes Churchill: "The
trouble with committing political suicide is that you live to regret
John Pilger: A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to
Europe: "The majority vote by Britons to leave the European Union was
an act of raw democracy. Millions of ordinary people refused to be bullied,
intimidated and dismissed with open contempt by their presumed betters in
the major parties, the leaders of the business and banking oligarchy and
the media." Depends on your point of view, but when you say no to the
entire establishment, you're not necessarily just voting for a narrow
flag-waving anti-immigrant platform (although Pilger ignores those who
did just that).
Norman Pollack: Fissures in World Capitalism: The British Vote:
"The elephant in the room is NATO. Obviously, the EU is its economic
counterpart, and was never conceived in isolation as a mere trading
bloc. With Britain out, hopefully others will follow, the EU will
tighten its ship as an economic union and NATO, now presently at
Russia's borders, will be forced to rethink its dangerous course."
A referendum on British membership in NATO would have been more
interesting, and indeed might have started a dissolution of an
organization that these days serves mostly to entangle Europe in
America's post-imperial wars. But my initial reaction was opposite
of Pollack's: Brexit will push Britain even more into the US orbit,
increasing its stake in subduing the Middle East, Africa, and Asia.
One might hope that "old Europe" would respond by ditching NATO,
but the EU has already followed NATO deep into "new Europe" and
the latter are keen on poking the Russian Bear.
Randeep Ramesh: Racism is spreading like arsenic in the water supply:
"The far right preys on the weakest members of society and by letting
anti-immigrant rhetoric bed in we are eroding civil rights not strengthening
them." I.e., a spike in such incidents led to
Cameron condemns xenophobic and racist abuse after Brexit vote.
Jeffrey D Sachs: The Meaning of Brexit: "In Europe, the call to punish
Britain pour encourager les autres -- to warn those contemplating
the same -- is already rising. This is European politics at its stupidest
(also very much on display vis-à-vis Greece)." Also, he points out that
US foreign policy viz. Syria and Ukraine are much to blame for the crisis,
and just falls short of pointing out that NATO is what Europe should be
exiting. For more on "stupidest" politics, see
European leaders rule out informal Brexit talks before article 50 is
George Soros: Brexit and the Future of Europe: "Now the catastrophic
scenario that many feared has materialized, making the disintegration of
the EU practically irreversible."
Andre Vltchek: Brexit -- Let the UK Screw Itself!: "Almost no
commentator bothered to notice what was truly shocking about the
entire referendum process: an absolute lack of progressive ideology,
of internationalism and concern for the world as a whole. Both sides
(and were there really two sides there) presented a fireworks of
shallow selfishness and of pettiness. The profound moral corruption
of the West was clearly exposed."
Paul Woodward: Who gets democracy?: A number of interesting points
here. One that especially struck me: "Last Thursday, 2.7 million people
who have made Britain their home were not allowed to vote because although
they are EU citizens resident in an EU country, they are not British
citizens." Don't you think people who are so affected by a vote should
get to vote? Good chance that bloc would have swung the election. (FWIW,
I also think that immigrants, at least the ones with legal jobs, should
be able to vote in US elections: if you live and work somewhere, you are
part of the public, and therefore a stake holder.)
Simon Wren-Lewis: The triumph of the tabloids: "Of course we should
blame Johnson and Farage and the rest: the UK has paid a very high price
to facilitate political ambition. Of course we should blame Cameron and
Osborne for taking the referendum gamble and stoking anger with austerity.
But a few politicians alone are not capable of fooling the electorate so
consistently. To do that they need to control the means of communicating
Meanwhile, some short links on other subjects:
Patrick Cockburn: An Endless Cycle of Indecisive Wars: Tom Engelhardt's
introduction cites a statistic that should help you understand Brexit: "If
you want a single figure that catches the grim spirit of our moment, it's
65 million. That's the record-setting number of people that the Office of
the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimates were displaced in 2015 by
'conflict and persecution,' one of every 113 inhabitants of the planet."
Most of them result from the US/NATO wars against Islam, and I include
Syria in that list, and as Cockburn shows, they keep getting worse because
the US/NATO can't manage to bring them to any sort of conclusion, diplomatic
or otherwise. And yes, here's another Brexit quote, restating what should
by now be obvious:
The reasons why a narrow majority of Britons voted for Brexit have parallels
with the Middle East: the free-market economic policies pursued by governments
since Margaret Thatcher was prime minister have widened the gap between rich
and poor and between wealthy cities and much of the rest of the country.
Britain might be doing well, but millions of Britons did not share in the
prosperity. The referendum about continued membership in the European Union,
the option almost universally advocated by the British establishment, became
the catalyst for protest against the status quo. The anger of the "Leave"
voters has much in common with that of Donald Trump supporters in the United
Donald Cohen: The History of Privatization: Part 1 (of 4).
Thomas Frank: Worshipping Money in DC: Author of the best political
book of 2016, Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of
the People, although you might consider holding off until after you
vote for Hillary in November -- it offers few inducements to support her
now, but will help you understand what went wrong after she's inaugurated.
This piece is more on lobbying -- the principal subject of Frank's equally
worthy 2008 book, The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule, and
of the newsletter Influence, extensively cited here. Conclusion:
"This is not an industry, Influence's upbeat and name-dropping
style suggests. It is a community -- a community of corruption, perhaps,
but a community nevertheless: happy, prosperous, and joyously oblivious
to the plight of the country once known as the land of the middle class."
I'll add that American politicians have always been easy to bribe, because
they've never been very skeptical of hustlers out to make money -- that's
just part of America's boom ethic. The only thing that's changed is the
scale of the graft and how systematic it's become, plus how our campaign
system selects for the best moneygrubbers.
Henry Grabar: Kansas' Insane Right-Wing Experiment Is About to Destroy
Its Roads: Well, it is true that Kansas has been raiding the highway
fund ever since Brownback blew a hole in the budget with his massive tax
giveaways, and consequently new roads aren't being built and old roads
aren't being maintained -- at least not at prudent levels. This is the
sort of short-sighted policy that doesn't fully impact you right away:
it takes time for weather and wear to break down those roads, but the
toll accumulates until it does become catastrophic, at which point debt
will make it even harder to address.
John Feffer: Donald Trump and America B: Actually, starts with recent
elections in Poland which brought the reactionary PiS to power, arguing
that shows a backlash by those left behind ("Poland B") by the urban
neoliberals who have dominated Polish politics ("Poland A") -- a dynamic
that is sweeping across Europe and finds an analog in the Trump bandwagon
here. I don't know about Poland, but in the US I doubt Trump's supporters
are that poor -- I've seen surveys that show them averaging about $20K
above average US family income (whereas Sanders and Clinton run about
even). This also ignores the growth of leftist parties in non-ex-communist
states, especially ones crushed by austerity measures like Greece and
Spain (but also within left-center parties, like Corbyn in the UK and
Sanders in the US).
Elizabeth Kolbert: Drawing the Line: On gerrymandering old and new,
especially the REDMAP project which was so successful for Republicans
in 2010, as detailed in David Daley's Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind
the Secret Plan to Steal America's Democracy. "In House races in
2012, 1.7 million more votes were cast for Democrats than for Republicans.
And still, thanks to the way those votes were packed and cracked,
Republicans came away with thirty-three more congressional seats."
Elizabeth Kolbert: Fort McMurray and the Fires of Climate Change:
Piece from May 5 -- a lot more burnt since then. More generally: "In
Canada, and also in the United States and much of the rest of the world,
higher temperatures have been extending the wildfire season. Last year,
wildfires consumed ten million acres in the U.S., which was the largest
area of any year on record."
Evan Osnos: Making a Killing: Useful brief history of (as the sub
puts it) the business and politics of selling guns.
More American civilians have died by gunfire in the past decade than all
the Americans who were killed in combat in the Second World War. When an
off-duty security guard named Omar Mateen, armed with a Sig Sauer
semiautomatic rifle and a Glock 17 pistol, killed forty-nine people at
a gay club in Orlando, on June 12th, it was historic in some respects
and commonplace in others -- the largest mass shooting in American
history and, by one count, the hundred-and-thirtieth mass shooting so
far this year. High-profile massacres can summon our attention, and
galvanize demands for change, but in 2015 fatalities from mass shootings
amounted to just two per cent of all gun deaths. Most of the time, when
Americans shoot one another, it is impulsive, up close, and apolitical.
None of that has hurt the gun business. In recent years, in response
to three kinds of events -- mass shootings, terrorist attacks, and talk
of additional gun control -- gun sales have broken records. "You know
that every time a bomb goes off somewhere, every time there's a shooting
somewhere, sales spike like crazy," Paul Jannuzzo, a former chief of
American operations for Glock, the Austrian gun company, told me.
Jeffrey Toobin: Clarence Thomas Has His Own Constitution: "The
abortion dissent explains why Thomas is so cut off on the Court, even
from his fellow-conservatives. He doesn't respect the Court's precedents.
He is so convinced of the wisdom of his approach to the law that he
rejects practically the whole canon of constitutional law." Toobin
also quotes Scalia on how his judicial philosophy differed from
Thomas's: "I'm an originalist," Scalia said, "but I'm not a nut."
Paul Waldman: Trump's response to terrorism is both weak and barbaric:
"It seems that nothing is more horrifying to Donald Trump than the idea
that somebody might be laughing at us, or more specifically, at him." Too
much after that trying to cast GW Bush as an enlightened alternative ("a
fatherly reassurance that their president would keep them safe"), but it's
a measure of Trump's instability that makes such comparisons possible.
Julia Carrie Wong/Danny Yadron: Hillary Clinton proposes student debt
deferral for startup founders: Worst faux pas (of its type) since
Paul Ryan took
Labor Day as an occasion to tout "America's job creators" deprecating
the people who actually do the work to keep everything running. What
was she thinking? That the people most able to repay their debts should
be spared? That tomorrow's business leader should get a head start on
sucking the public tit? That the people should subsidize MBA programs
that teach young people to become sociopaths? Or just that, to agree
with Ryan and Ayn Rand, entrepreneurs are so much better than everyone
else? Surely she can't imagine that this will be a universal benefit,
that it will lead to a world where everyone is an entrepreneur and no
one actually has to do any work? Or maybe she just sees it as a cheap
sop, as a way of shaming all those poor sods who went to college just
to learn a trade, or worse still to learn liberal arts, to become more
knowledgeable citizens, to contribute a little something to what we
used to call civilization?
The authors quote Hillary: "I disagree with free college for everybody.
I don't think taxpayers should be paying to send Donald Trump's kids to
college." Well, maybe Trump's kids should go to college -- especially if
college meant something other than rubberstamping credentials (like, you
know, learning how to get along and now just how to get ahead). And maybe
if the public paid for it, Trump wouldn't be so motivated to grab money
for his own personal aggrandizement (or if he still was, we'd be less
relucatant to tax it back). A world where everyone, regardless of how
rich or poor they start out, has the same opportunity to learn as much
as they can would likely be much better than the one we live in now.
For more, see
Rana Foroohar: Why Hillary Clinton's Student Debt Idea Is Smart,
one of those pieces that exposes how ridiculous Clinton's program is
by assuming it's brilliant. In particular:
Start-ups are a key driver of productivity. But the birthrate of
startups has been in decline since the 1970s. Since then, it has
dovetailed with a shift in how the financial sector business model
works -- it no longer invests primarily in new business, but rather
buys up and trades existing assets, and funding for small and
mid-sized start ups is still scarce (while increasing monopoly
power on the part of large firms squashes new ones, as Robert
Reich and others have recently written.)
And how exactly is a modest tax incentive (debt deferral) going
to fix these problems? If monopoly power is the problem (and it's
certainly a big one), the classic remedy is antitrust enforcement,
and I'd add that it's also important to open up ways to provide
financing and build capital that bypass the exclusive control of
predatory financiers. You also need to look hard at what finance
does, and undercut the rewards of bad short-term behavior even if
you can't figure out how to reward long-term productive investment --
as it is the financial sector is sucking up far too much money, so
you need to both that less likely and tax it away when it happens.
Also, another thing that has been driving productivity down "since
the 1970s" has been the decline of worker control, so that, too, is
something to direct policy at promoting. Clinton's proposal hardly
even amounts to a gesture against these problems. Rather, it hints
that she's still in thrall to the high-tech is going to save the
world from endemic corruption. This is actually a common myth in
New Democratic circles -- a major theme in Thomas Frank's Listen,
Meanwhile, the evidence on using tax incentives to influence business
behavior is pretty damning. This came as no surprise to me. From the
beginning I thought that every "incentive" was a distortion leading
to warped thought. In 1984 I was looking for a job. I recall driving
up I-93 from Boston with a headhunter who pointed out Compugraphic's
various buildings along the route and explained the tax advantages of
each. When I arrived at corporate headquarters I found that most of
the managers actually lived in "tax-free New Hampshire," and several
explained that matters most isn't income, it's after-tax profits. I
knew then the company was doomed, and indeed it was. But they were
spouting "truths" that were clichés at the time, spread hither and
yon by the business press, so my judgment wasn't just limited to this
one company: I figured the whole economy was doomed, if not to the
tragedy of the Great Depression then at least to the farce we've
lived through ever since the 1980s, occasionally propped up then
blown apart by increasingly desperate bubbles.