Monday, March 17. 2008
Pretty mediocre week, with only one Honorable Mention added to the Jazz CG draft, and the following mixed bag of prospecting. One thing I'm encouraged by is that after six days scrounging through the new stuff, on Sunday I went back to the replay shelves and the writing finally improved. May not do a lot more prospecting for this column. I need to spend some time writing up what I already know about, which when you get down to it is quite enough -- I'd even say a lot. Still trying to cut this cycle short, while there is a window of opportunity at the Voice.
Helena: Fraise Vanille (2007 , Sunnyside): Stage name for Helena Noguerra, b. 1969 in Belgium, her parents Portuguese immigrants, her older sister the estimable pop star Lio. Based in Paris. Started as a model. Branched out into acting, music, and has written at least one novel. Bunch of records. This one is a tribute to songwriter Serge Rezvani. With its acoustic guitar it strikes me as folkie, with a lithe eurobeat. B+(*)
Soul Summit: Live at the Berks Jazz Fest! (2007 , Shanachie): I filed this under producer-keyboardist Jason Miles, then backed off a bit and listed it as Soul Summit -- the only name on the spine, although the cover is more verbose (lines separated by slash): "Jason Miles Presents/Soul Summit/Bob Babbitt, Karl Denson, Richard Elliot, Steve Ferrone,/Mike Mattison, Maysa, Jason Miles, Susan Tedeschi, Reggie Young/Live at the/Berks Jazz Fest!" The name list leaves out a couple of trumpets (Barry Danielian, Tony Kadlek), guitarist Sherrod Barnes, saxophonist David Mann, backup vocalist Emily Bindinger. The idea is to knock off a set of old-fashioned soul, starting with a bang with "Shotgun" and ending on the one with a James Brown medley -- both with smoking tenor sax solos by Elliot. (Never had any reason to take him seriously before. Looks like he worked for Motown and Tower of Power before sliding into smooth jazz.) Denson, on the other hand, takes 3 of 4 solos on flute, but remains palpably funky. Most cuts have vocals -- Maysa can easily outsing Tedeschi, but the latter lays credible claim to "Son of a Preacherman." B+(**)
Susie Arioli Band: Live at Le Festival International de Jazz de Montreal (2006 , Justin Time, CD+DVD): Canadian singer, originally from Toronto, now based in Montreal; interprets standards mostly from the swing era, although she's also shown a special fondness for country tunesmith Roger Miller -- two of his songs here. Band credit adds "featuring Jordan Officer" -- Officer plays guitar, wrote a couple of instrumentals, has been a fixture in Arioli's band since 1998, but the band also features a second guitarist, Michael Jerome Browne, as well as bass (Shane MacKenzie). Drummer Rémi LeClerc is listed here as a special guess, but Arioli plays a snare with brushes, and that mostly suffices. DVD repeats the live CD tracks in slightly different order, adding 5 songs (or 6 counting "Nuages" in the extras). Hype sheet says she's sold 200k copies over 4 previous albums. Crowd is packed, mood is romantic, music mellow and tasteful. B+(**)
Matana Roberts Quartet: The Chicago Project (2007 , Central Control): Saxophonist (alto, I think), originally from Chicago, AACM member, now based in New York, but returned to Chicago to pick up this band, including Fred Anderson (tenor sax), Jeff Parker (guitar), Josh Abrams (bass), and Frank Rosaly (drums). She's part of a group called Sticks and Stones with Abrams and drummer Chad Taylor, and also seems to be involved with Burnt Sugar. Got this as an advance last fall. Didn't come with much info, and I never got a final copy, so it's just been sitting on the shelf, although I did notice it in a couple of year-end lists. Two plays and I don't have a very clear picture of what's going on here: free riffing, alternately rhythmic and disjoint, patches of interesting guitar, but mostly overwhelmed by the horns. [B] [advance]
Charles Lloyd Quartet: Rabo de Nube (2007 , ECM): The young rhythm section -- Jason Moran on piano, Reuben Rogers on double bass, Eric Harland on drums -- were born a good decade into Lloyd's career, and are if anything more mainstream, but no slouches when it comes to running a groove. The live date in Basel is relatively conventional for Lloyd as well: Coltrane tenor sax, a boppish alto flute feature, a little exotica on the tarogato. All originals, except for the title cut from Silvio Rodriguez, a nice chill down piece. B+(**)
Grupa Janke Randalu: Live (2007 , Jazz 'n' Arts): Bodek Janke, percussion; Kristjan Randalu, piano. Randalu comes from Estonia. His parents were classical pianists. He studied in Germany and England, then came to New York (Manhattan School of Music) in 2003. Currently splits time between New York and Germany, teaching in Karlsruhe. Sixth album since 2002 (first I've heard). Janke is Polish, b. 1972, based in New York, "a cultural commuter between the USA, Kazakhstan, Russia, Poland and Germany," with a wide range of folk and world as well as jazz influences. This flows well, is consistently engaging; may be a little more percussive without a bass, but doesn't seem lacking. First rate, but one I haven't pinned down yet. [B+(**)]
Sacha Perry: The Third Time Around (2007 , Smalls): Pianist, from Brooklyn, b. 1970, third album as a leader, plus side credits with other "Smalls scene" artists, especially Chris Byars and Ari Roland. Standard bop piano trio, with Roland on bass, Phil Stewart on drums. Nicely done, but doesn't leave me with a lot to say. B+(**)
Eric McPherson: Continuum (2007 , Smalls): Drummer. First album, but has an impressive list of credits starting around 1990. Studied with Jackie McLean, and has some sort of relationship to Max Roach (M'Boom). Other credits include: Jesse Davis, Abraham Burton, Myron Walden, Avishai Cohen, Steve Lehman, Jeremy Pelt, Luis Perdomo, Andrew Hill, Steve Davis, Jason Lindner, Charnett Moffett. Burton was the name that caught my eye. An alto saxophonist with roots in Belize, he cut two of the best albums of the 1990s (on Enja, look for 1995's The Magician) but has scarcely been heard from since. He appears here, playing tenor and soprano as well as alto, plus a bit of flute, and he's rivetting on all but the flute. Relatively short at 39:39, cut over three sessions with two bassists and occasional guests, this is a little scattered, but the pieces are interesting in their own right. Carla Cherry does a spoken word piece over drums and Trevor Todd's yirdaki (Australian instrument, may or may not be same as didgeridoo). One cut subs Shimrit Shoshan's Fender Rhodes for David Bryant's piano. But mostly, hope to hear more from Burton. B+(***)
Frank Hewitt: Out of the Clear Black Sky (2000 , Smalls): Fifth posthumous album, another piano trio, cut in two late-night sets live at Smalls. Ari Roland plays bass, Jimmy Lovelace drums. Mostly covers, including two from Rodgers and Hart, Dizzy Gillespie's "Manteca," Tom Jobim's "The Girl From Ipanema," and two takes of Erroll Garner's "Misty." It's probably a good sign that the more familiar a piece is, the more intriguing Hewitt's machinations become -- "The Girl From Ipanema" is plumbed for ideas instead of atmosphere. Fairly mild-mannered bebop, witty inside stuff, not a lot of flash. People may wonder why Hewitt didn't get noticed, but he didn't do the sort of things that get noticed, nor did he settle into a university and cut records to bolster his résumé. He just hung out in the underground and played stuff. B+(***)
Sun Ra: The Night of the Purple Moon (1964-70 , Atavistic Unheard Music Series): Obscure even by Sun Ra standards, a quartet session from 1970, given a catalog number for a 1972 ABC-Impulse! release but appeared only on Ra's Saturn label, now augmented by Wurlitzer and Celeste solos from 1964. Ra plays various electric keyboards, including one Ra calls a roksichord (RMI's Rocksichord). Two horns -- Danny Davis on alto sax, alto clarinet, and flute; John Gilmore on tenor sax -- but both players spend most of their time rotating on percussion, offsetting the goofball keyboards. The fourth is Stafford James on electric bass. The horns go straight for the jugular -- wish there was more of them, to put some meat on the minimalism. But the keyb vibe is pretty unique. B+(***)
Sun Ra: Some Blues but Not the Kind That's Blue (1973-77 , Atavistic): A 6-track LP recorded in 1977, released on Saturn in 1978, plus an extra "Untitled" cut from the same session, plus two 1973 takes of "I'll Get By" done as trios (one with John Gilmore on tenor sax, the other with Akh Tal Ebah on flugelhorn). The 1977 sessions were cut with 10 musicians -- John Corbett describes this as a small group, but it's not much below Arkestra weight. Mostly covers, such as "My Favorite Things" and "Black Magic." I don't know Sun Ra well enough to have a good sense of how his discography fits together -- that may seem overly modest given that I have 30 of his albums in my ratings database -- so my rule of thumb is to lay back and see how pleasantly surprised I become. By that standard, this one fares pretty well. The familiar songs go off in curious directions. The horns cut grease, but this isn't really that much of a horn album. That's mostly because the tunes keep returning to the piano (or organ on the 1973 tracks), and Ra's mix of stride, bebop, and something from the outer reaches of the galaxy is pretty amazing. A-
Brian Harnetty: American Winter (2007, Atavistic): A musician from Ohio, teaches at Kenyon College. This record is built around Berea College's sound archives, a 75+ year collection of Appalachian field recordings, radio programs, and oral history. Some are sung, bringing out the twang of deeply felt voices. Some are just interviews, old stories. A bit of radio broadcast focuses on the WWII draft. Most have been augmented with musical flourishes, mostly percussive. Seems like a highly repeatable formula, but for now it sounds unique. Harnetty's discography lists 17 items since 2003, mostly self-released, this the only one on a label I've heard of. AMG files this as folk, but it's pretty avant for that. [A-]
Ted Kooshian's Standard Orbit Quartet (2007 , Summit): Kooshian is a pianist, originall from California, since 1987 in New York. Plays in Ed Palermo's big band. Second album under his own name. Standard Orbit Quartet includes Jeff Lederer on saxophones/clarinets, Tom Hubbard on bass, Warren Doze on drums. The standards include a few rock songs (Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog," the Police's "Message in a Bottle," Peter Babriel's "Don't Give Up") and a bunch of TV and movie themes ("Top Cat," "Captain Kangaroo," "The Simpsons," "Batman," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," "Bullitt," "Spider Man," etc.). Plenty of opportunities for laughs, but they play it pretty straight and come up with an exceptionally listenable mainstream jazz album. B+(*)
Matt Haviland: Beyond Good & Evil (2002 , Connotation): Trombone player, born 1961 in Iowa, graduated Berklee in 1983, then moved to New York. Looks like much of his experience is in big bands, with Illinois Jacquet, Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra, and Slide Hampton's World of Trombones names that stand out from the list -- for me, anyway; you may be more impressed with Maria Schneider. First album. I'm tempted to call his near-all-star band a hard bop group: Vincent Herring on alto and tenor sax, Benny Green on piano, Ugonna Okegwo on bass, Gene Jackson on drums, plus Scott Wendholt on trumpet for two tracks. Haviland wrote 7 pieces, all but "But Beautiful," Cedar Walton's "Bolivia," and a 1:07 bass intro. Straight stuff, but proficient, heady even. B+(**)
Avery Sharpe: Legends & Mentors: The Music of McCoy Tyner, Archie Shepp and Yusef Lateef (2007 , JKNM): Three sections, each starting with a Sharpe original, followed by two pieces written by the subject. Sharpe is a bassist, born 1955, has 6-8 albums under his own name, a substantial list of credits, starting with Shepp's Attica Blues Big Band, 25 years with Tyner, and a stretch with Lateef in the early 1990s that includes one called Tenors of Yusef Lateef & Archie Shepp -- hard to find on Lateef's YAL label, but one of the great sax jousts of all time. The band here features John Blake on violin, Joe Ford on reeds and flute (Lateef, you know), Onaje Allan Gumbs on piano, Winard Harper on drums. Gumbs is a pretty good Tyner substitute, and the first section swings hard. Shepp is a tougher nut to crack, but Lateef's spaciness opens things up again. The violin is a nice touch. Usually don't expect much from tributes, but this one is growing on me. [B+(**)]
The Whit Williams' "Now's the Time" Big Band: Featuring Slide Hampton and Jimmy Heath (2004 , MAMA): Pretty descriptive title, as best I can parse it. Williams came from North Carolina, settled into Baltimore after the Korean War, and has run an unsung local big band since 1981. This is their first album. Hampton and Heath are guest stars, and they brought big chunks of their books with them, joining three Williams originals, "Una Mas" (Kenny Dorham), and "Little Rootie Tootie" (Thelonious Monk). Crisp solos, solid section work, plenty of swing, pretty much what you'd expect in a big band these days. B+(*)
Felipe Salles: South American Suite (2006 , Curare): Originally from Sao Paulo, Brazil; now based in New York, since 1995. Plays reeds and flutes: 7 cuts break down to 5 tenor sax, 4 soprano sax, 3 flute(s), 3 alto flute, 2 bass clarinet, 1 clarinet, 1 baritone sax. Group includes Jacam Monricks on flute and alto sax, Joel Yennior on trombone, Nando Michelin on piano; alto bass, drums, percussion. Not sure how far beyond Brazil the South American theme strays: references include samba, choro, frevo, afoxé, xote -- all Brazilian, mostly nordeste. Rhythms twist around quite a bit, providing the suite-like movement; the flute(s) dance around, but the sax provides a focal point. Salles has two previous albums on Fresh Sound New Talent -- haven't heard them. B+(***)
Jovino Santos Neto: Alma do Nordeste (Soul of the Northeast) (2008, Adventure Music): Pianist, also plays melodica (2 cuts) and flute (1 cut). Born 1954, Rio de Janeiro, studied in Montreal, lives in US now. I picked this out of order after seeing him write about the Felipe Salles record, which he wasn't otherwise involved with. Compared to Salles, this seems to be the real Brazilian Nordeste, with its tumbling profusion of rhythm, guitar, accordion, and flutes. Neto ties it together with piano. I prefer Salles' record because the sax pulls it back into a recognizable jazz context. Three cuts with tenor sax here, three more with soprano, are barely recognizable. B+(**)
The Gust Spenos Quartet: Swing Theory (2007 , Swing Theory): By day Spenos is a neurologist in Indianapolis; by night he plays old-fashioned tenor sax. He has some clever math to explain swing. More importantly, he has a rhythm section that make it work -- Marvin Chandler on piano, Frank Smith on bass, Kenny Phelps on drums. He also taps some guests here: Eric Schneider, who claims four years experience with Earl Hines and two with Count Basie, adds alto sax and clarinet; Everett Greene sings two songs; and Wycliffe Gordon plays trombone and sings one more. The vocals probably limit how high I can go on this, but I love the basic sound enough to keep listening. [B+(***)]
Manhattan New Music Project: Performs Paul Nash: Jazz Cycles (2004 , MNNP): Two Paul Nash entries in Wikipedia, neither right in this case. This Paul Nash is a composer, educator, jazz guitarist, born 1948, died 2005. He founded the 10-piece Paul Nash Ensemble in 1977. After some time in Bay Area, he returned to New York in 1990 and founded the Manhattan New Music Projec, which survives him. Seven piece postbop group with some names: trumpet (Shane Endsley), saxes (Bruce Williamson and Tim Ries), piano (Jim Ridl), guitar (Vic Juris), bass (Jay Anderson), drums (Grisha Alexiev). Suite-type material. The horns are pretty sharp, and the rhythm section moves gracefully. B+(**)
The Pete McGuinness Jazz Orchestra: First Flight (2006 , Summit): Trombonist, born 1963, based in New York since 1986, most of his credits are with big bands, starting with DMP Big Band's Glenn Miller Project, with Maria Schneider's Concert in the Garden and Mike Holober's Thought Trains among the highlights. Hype sheet also connects him to the Lionel Hampton Band, the Woody Herman Orchestra, and the Jimmy Heath Big Band. John Fedchock wrote his liner notes, and he's got a half dozen or so New York musicians I recognize in the band, including pianist Holober. Pretty slick as these big bands go. McGuinness also sings on two cuts, including a run of scat. B+(**)
Fergus McCormick: I Don't Need You Now (2008, CDBaby): I used to get a couple of country albums per month, mostly alt/obscure stuff, good for a couple of A-list albums per year, including some things hardly anyone else noticed. Sometimes I think that if Christgau had asked me to do a Country Consumer Guide instead of a Jazz Consumer Guide, I'd have been just as happy, and in the long run it'd have been a lot less work. As it is, the jazz has been crowding out everything else, and now I'm down to, well, this may be the only country-ish album I've gotten this year. It doesn't belong here, but I don't have anywhere else to put it either. Singer-songwriter, based in New York; Wikipedia describes him as British-American, but he grew up in Flemington NJ, played in Princeton, went to college at Reed in Portland OR, toured from Colorado to Maine, the north of England to east Africa and Rio de Janeiro. Third album. No evidence that he spent any time trying to come up with a label name. Guitar-centered, easy strum, although there's piano, bass, drums, strings even. Soft tone to his voice, some topical songs including one for New Orleans, and smart personal stuff. B+(**)
Giacomo Gates: Luminous (2007 , Doubledave Music, CD+DVD): Vocalist, born c. 1950 in Connecticut; spent 12 years in Alaska, operating bulldozers and working as a bouncer; caught Sarah Vaughan at a festival in Fairbanks -- she encouraged him, not least to get the hell out of Alaska. Cut his first record in 1995, and now has four. Hype sheet argues that he is "the acknowledged heir to the Eddie Jefferson/Jon Hendricks tradition of jazz singing." He does do some of their vocalese -- the DVD has two Charlie Parker pieces with Jefferson lyrics, and the singer and band's relief at getting through them without stumbling is palpable. They're not my favorite spots on the album, nor is the scat, although both are proficient. What I do like are the talky intros that effortlessly move into song, the idiosyncratic song selection -- one of the best is an original, "Full of Myself," passed off as a bonus track -- and the band's genteel swing. Didn't expect to bother with the DVD until I heard the CD. It's not much -- just four cuts, with a different band, plus interview which rifles through a lot of names. [A-]
Kassaba: Dark Eye (2007, CDBaby): Group, quartet, seems to be based in Cleveland. Group has two pianists, Candice Lee and Greg Slawson, who alternate, doubling on percussion. Bassist Chris Vance and saxophonist Mark Boich also have percussion credits (they claim "25 exotic percussion instruments"). Lee is originally from Edmonton (Alberta, that's Canada), but got her music degrees at Cleveland Institute of Music. Vance hails from Buffalo, the rest from Cleveland, although Boich studied at Berklee -- another George Garzone student. They claim inspiration from jazz, classical, and world music. The loose world beats are beguiling, especially when Boich blows abstractly against the grain. The closer, "Hin Rizzy," makes their classical case -- feels kinda static to me, like Bach. [B+(***)]
Giacomo Merega/David Tronzo/Noah Kaplan: The Light and Other Things (2006 , Creative Nation Music): Merega plays electric bass, came from Genoa in Italy to Boston and on to Brooklyn. Tronzo is a guitarist, originally from Rochester. He's almost invariably described as a legend. I've heard very little by him, and have come to no firm conclusions. Kaplan also came to Brooklyn via Boston, with California his starting point. He plays tenor and soprano sax. Both Merega and Tronzo are credited prepared as well as unadulterated instruments. They produce grungy, abstract string sounds. Kaplan can either riff over them or try to blend in. It's the sort of thing we used to think might be really interesting if we had really good drugs. I don't, but I'm moderately amused nonetheless. B+(*)
Charlie Hunter Trio: Mistico (2007, Fantasy): Around the eighth cut, "Special Shirt," it finally dawned on me what this is: jazz bubblegum. Maybe I'm oversimplifying. Title cut came next and it's more phantasmagorical, almost a Pink Floyd instrumental. The 7 or 8 out of 10 cuts are just slinky fusion guitar over cheesy keybs and drums -- pop jazz, but before the dark ages set in. B+(**)
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Mark O'Leary: On the Shore (2007, Clean Feed): Avant guitarist, has a lot of work out lately, and I'm way behind the learning curve. This one was evidently influenced by Arvo Part, mostly atmospheric trending towards ethereal, sometimes with a couple of trumpets, mostly shading, occasionally to pick up the pace and thicken the mix -- indeed, it all comes together in a choice cut called "Point Mix." He remains a future project. B+(*)
Júlio Resende: Da Alma (2007, Clean Feed): I guess you can call this Portuguese soul jazz, dreamy flights of fancy tethered to Resende's piano. Not that it all trends toward evanescence. Some cuts are tied down to rhythmic piano figures, and they're very much awake. B+(***)
Gerald Wilson Orchestra: Monterey Moods (2007, Mack Avenue): A big band with a lot of star power -- nearly everyone on board is a name I've heard of, the five trumpets starting with Jon Faddis and ending with Terrell Stafford, the rhythm section Renee Rosnes, Peter Washington, and Lewis Nash. The material is more hit and miss, but "Latin Swing" really takes your breath away, and "Blues" follows strongly, with son Anthony Wilson finding a solo role for the guitar. Wilson pčre didn't spend a lot of time on titles: three swing, two waltz, one goes "Allegro," one is just "Bass Solo." B+(**)
Westchester Jazz Orchestra: All In (2007, WJO): Close enough to New York that music director Mike Holober -- who did a good big band record under his own name called Thought Trains a few years back -- can draw on plenty of top-notch musicians, bringing this up to above-average in all the usual respects. But I'd advise against tackling any Beatles song (much less "Here Comes the Sun") given badly they've been chewed up and spit out as muzak. This one is better than I expected, but still not good enough. B+(*)
John Surman: The Spaces in Between (2006 , ECM): Basically a sax with strings record, the strings coming from a classical string quartet d/b/a Trans4mation plus Chris Lawrence on double bass. Surman plays baritone sax, soprano sax, and bass clarinet, so the sound shifts away from the norm. But he also lets the strings go on their own at length, making for a cerebral chamber music, but the tone gets monotonous -- never had much taste for such things. The baritone works because it provides the most contrast. B+(*)
Frode Haltli: Passing Images (2004 , ECM): Accordion, an instrument with folk referents, although this comes closer to chamber music, with trumpet and voice for highlights -- not that there are many -- and viola for extra density. B
Sunday, March 16. 2008
I figured it was only a matter of time before someone figured out a way to make Obama's race an issue without getting obviously racist about it. We've seen a few badly muffled attempts, like last week's doozy with Geraldine Ferraro. But the flap over Rev. Jeremiah Wright seems to have scored. I don't really know what this is all about, and I don't much care -- otherwise I'd be talking about Rev. John Hagee, if you know what I mean -- but the bottom line complaint seems to be that Obama consorts with black people, and this gives him a strange and dangerous view of America, no matter how polite or respectable he appears in public. Here's a couple of links, which is about as far as I've investigated the matter:
Looking through the comments in the latter piece I gather that it was the "God damn America" like that did it. I always thought it was Pat Robertson who said that.
Meanwhile, here's Richard Crowson's Wichita Eagle editorial cartoon today -- a What's the Matter With Kansas? classic:
Since we're on candidates, might as well give the others some notice. Media Bistro as an interview with Matt Taibbi, where they ask him "who or what disgusts you the most this primary season?" His answer:
There was a letter in the Eagle today from someone who said she was so disgusted with Clinton that if Obama wasn't nominated she'd sit this election out. I'm still not inclined to go that far, but ask me again after Denver.
One thing that heightened my nervousness is reading an account of the 1976 and 1980 presidential elections that put a lot of emphasis on how divisive primary challenges weakened Ford and Carter, with both going on to defeat. The Democrats are becoming at least that divided this year -- "disgust" is a pretty strong word. You can tell yourself that November is still a long ways away, and that McCain will prove to be a powerful unifying force. But the next few weeks without any actual primaries to help clarify things look to be discomfiting.
Saturday, March 15. 2008
In looking up the books I noticed in my library/bookstore venture I ran across a few more that would have fit my criteria had I actually found (or noticed) them. Some weren't there because they're not out yet [publication dates in brackets]. A couple are books that I have but haven't gotten to yet, so I figure they're still fair game. I cut the search off rather arbitrarily one day after the library/bookstore notes. I could have kept going, and no doubt would have found more items of interest. (The last one added was Ned Sublette, and I'm sure glad I found it.) I've had to go mostly on the basis of what Amazon has to say, which often isn't enough.
Alice H Amsden: Escape From Empire: The Developing World's Journey Through Heaven and Hell (2007, MIT Press): Focus here is on how the US changed from a relatively benevolent source of development aid ("heaven") to a considerably more malign one ("hell"). I'm curious about how that maps to the political and economic changes within the US. (Curious but not likely to be very surprised.)
Greg Anrig: The Conservatives Have No Clothes: Why Right-Wing Ideas Keep Failing (2007, Wiley): Not sure if this passes my criteria -- I have a copy on my desk, and meant to get to it next until a couple of other books got in the way -- but it deserves a mention anyway. The right spent all that time market testing ideas to use as tools to seize power and came up with a bunch of things that sound good but just flat out don't work. This is a catalog.
Bill Bishop: The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart (2008, Houghton Mifflin): Bishop uses the phrase "way-of-life segregation" -- makes me think of those housing developments clustered around golf courses that have their own internal draw and external exclusion. Not sure if he's only concerned with this sort of microdivision, since sorting occurs at all levels on just about every axis. I don't see it as entirely bad -- the concentration of like-minded people can be intensely creative; e.g., Black Mountain, or the old Jewish Lower East Side -- but it often makes it harder to recognize and respect diversity. Robert Reich had a whole riff on how upscale suburbs are seceding from the rest of the country -- one obvious political impact is that it makes it real easy to see poverty as someone else's problem. [May 7]
Philip Bobbitt: Terror and Consent: The Wars for the Twenty-First Century (2008, Knopf): Almost skipped this after seeing blurb praise from Tony Blair, and I still have my reservations: why, really, do we need wars in, let alone for, the 21st century? Big book (688 pages), claims to have the solution for terrorism. Bobbitt previously wrote the even bigger (960 pages) The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History, frequently described (and not just by Blair) as "breathtaking" and "magisterial" -- sounds like hyperintellectual war porn to me. [May 1]
Robert Bryce: Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of "Energy Independence" (2008, Public Affairs): The good news is this book does a hatchet job on the platitudes politicians spew about energy independence, mostly by showing how nothing they propose actually does the job. The bad news is that leaves us back with fossil fuels, and he may not have much of a sense of how limited that is. Previous books: Pipe Dreams: Greed, Ego, and the Death of Enron and Cronies: Oil, the Bushes, and the Rise of Texas, America's Superstate.
Jonathan Chait: The Big Con: The True Story of How Washington Got Hoodwinked and Hijacked by Crackpot Economics (2007, Houghton Mifflin): The story of "supply side economics," a/k/a "voodoo economics," a theory I thought was long dead. It was originally cooked up to justify tax cuts on the rich, but nowadays the Republicans don't even need theories to do that -- it's burned into their DNA, isn't it?
Ha-Joon Chang: Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism (2007, Bloomsbury Press): Another promising book I have lined up in my queue. One of the big problems in the world today is development, and there is little reason to think the self-interested superpowers are helping anyone else to improve their standards of living.
Amy Chua: Day of Empire: How Hyperpowers Rise to Global Dominance -- and Why They Fall (2007, Doubleday): One more comparative macro history. Her concepts -- tolerance is key to rising empires, which fall when they lose it -- may be worth exploring, but I keep thinking the whole notion of hyperpower is so outdated these days this winds up being a curio study, and it may not be the best one. I read her World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability, which was marked by her broad learning and marred by her overgeneralizations.
Gregory Clark: A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World (2007, Princeton University Press): 440 pages isn't my idea of brief, but it is a big subject. Seen mixed reviews, which may mean he bit off too much, or didn't chew enough.
Victoria Clark: Allies for Armageddon: The Rise of Christian Zionism (2007, Yale University Press): The rabid support of apocalyptic Christians for Israel has long struck me as the dirty understory of Zionism -- for one thing, the core concept is profoundly antisemitic. Author is English, so presumably she won't neglect David Lloyd George, but most recent examples are American.
Peter Clarke: The Last Thousand Days of the British Empire: Churchill, Roosevelt, and the Birth of Pax Americana (2008, Bloomsbury Press): That would be a little over three years, presumably backdated not from the British withdrawal from Aden or Kenya but from India in 1947 -- Palestine was slightly later in 1948 (I guess the British saw how well their partition of India turned out). Even so that doesn't leave a lot of overlap with Roosevelt. One question I'm unclear about is to what extent the US chose to supplant the British empire (as happened most clearly in the Persian Gulf) as opposed to merely dismantling it. This may have some answers, although I'm just as inclined to go back to Gabriel Kolko's The Politics of War and The Limits of Power, books from the early 1970s still worth consulting. [May 13]
Patrick Cockburn: Muqtada: Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq (2008, Scribner): One of the best correspondents covering Iraq -- cf. his The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq. [April 8]
Hillel Cohen: Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917-1948 (2008, University of California Press): An important, little known story about how the Zionists used collaborators to seize control of Israel. Collaboration has always been critical to any successful colonial dominance, but one major effect here is how it hollowed out any prospect for a middle ground between the immigré Jews and native Palestinians.
Brian Coleman: Check the Technique: Liner Notes for Hip-Hop Junkies (paperback, 2007, Villard): Expanded version of the author's Rakim Told Me: Wax Facts Straight from the Original Artists -- The '80s with short essays that provide necessary background info on critical hip-hop albums. Probably the essential music book of the year. I only put off buying it because I was hoping to get a freebie. Hasn't happened, and I haven't had time.
Steve Coll: The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century (2008, Penguin Press): Coll's Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 is the main book on the CIA misadventure in Afghanistan. This is another big one (688 pages). [April 1]
Paul Collier: The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It (2007, Oxford University Press): This is regarded as one of the better books around on world poverty and development, which may just mean that it sticks to tried and failed formulas. (Nicholas Kristof calls it "the best book on international affairs so far this year" -- which doesn't resolve the question one way or the other.)
Jonathan Cook: Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (paperback, 2008, Pluto Press): English journalist, writes quite a bit about Israel -- as I recall, he's based in Nazareth, a mostly Palestinian town within Israel proper. Cook also has a 2006 book, Blood and Religion: The Unmasking of the Jewish and Democratic State.
John Darwin: After Tamerlane: The Global History of Empire Since 1405 (2008, Bloomsbury Press): 592 pages, which qualifies as brief given his macro subject. I can see why he wants no truck with Tamerlane, who blew through the old world like an influenza epidemic leaving nothing but death and destruction in his wake. That leaves him with Europe vs. a few old empires in Asia that more/less resisted and a couple in the Americas that succumbed very fast (although I don't know that he covers them, maybe because he's more interested in the more resilient Asian empires).
David Brion Davis: Inhuman Bondage: The Rise and Fall of Slavery in the New World (2006, Oxford University Press): Returns to the subject of his 1966 breakthrough, The Problem of Slavery in Western Culture, which I more/less read not long after it came out in paperback. The short of it is that slavery was more/less invented to solve labor problems in exploiting the new world, and racism was more/less invented to justify slavery. This book likely goes more into abolition, which is another perspective on those issues. Davis has spent a lifetime on this subject, and he should be worth revisiting. [Paperback April 18]
John W Dean: Broken Government: How Republican Rule Destroyed the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial Branches (2007, Viking Adult): Should mention this because I did bother to read his Conservatives Without Conscience -- but not the earlier Worse Than Watergate: The Secret Presidency of George W Bush. He's got a bug up his ass and, well, good for him. Dean also has another book coming April 15: Pure Goldwater, co-written with Barry Jr. Oh well.
Brian Doherty: Radicals for Capitalism: A Freewheeling History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement (2007, Public Affairs): A mixed bag, most likely way too long (768 pages). I've long admired Murray Rothbard, but don't think his utopianism really works. Most of the rest of the cast of libertarian heroes have pretty tawdry careers, with Milton Friedman the worst because he was by far the most effective. [Paperback May 26]
Brian Fagan: The Great Warming: Climate Change and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations (2008, Bloomsbury Press): A big subject, presumably related to global warming, but book is relatively modest (308 pages). I have to wonder how much evidence he really has, and how useful that evidence really is. While comparative methodologies can be enlightening, they can also be mere exercise. Fagan has several more books along these lines, like Floods, Famines, and Emperors: El Nino and the Fate of Civilizations, and The Long Summer: How Climate Changed Civilization.
Susan Faludi: The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America (2007, Metropolitan Books): An account of "America's nervous breakdown after 9/11": that much seems on target. Could be insightful, but I don't have a lot of tolerance for Kulturkritik these days, which seems inevitable here.
Douglas J Feith: War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism (2008, Harper Collins): I figure all political memoirs are self-serving cons until proven otherwise, and this is certainly no exception. I'm just wondering whether Tommy Franks will get to write a blurb. [April 8]
Peter Gay: Modernism: The Lure of Heresy (2007, WW Norton): Another big (640 pages) book not big enough for its subject. I've seen it said that anyone who reads this and Alex Ross' The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century deserves an advanced degree. I remember buying a copy of Gay's The Enlightenment: An Interpretation: The Rise of Modern Paganism when it first came out in paperback back around 1967-68, lauded with all sorts of prizes. Never finished it.
John Ghazvinian: Untapped: The Scramble for Africa's Oil (2007, Harcourt): A report on the oil industry in Africa, especially Nigeria and Angola. Don't know how deep he goes, but the political strife over Nigeria's oil is certainly easy enough to find. The interests of the US and China are also obvious. [Paperback April 14]
Marshall I Goldman: Petrostate: Putin, Power, and the New Russia (2008, Oxford University Press): Short book on where Russia stands in the world today -- the collapsing criminal economy of the 1990s having some measure of order restored by Putin, to no small extent pumped up by Bush oil prices. I've read a couple of books on the 1990s, and could use an update. This at least seems saner than Edward Lucas' The New Cold War: Putin's Russia and the Threat to the West. It's a pretty peculiar viewpoint that thinks Russia is threatening the West rather than the other way around. [May 30]
Glenn Greenwald: A Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency (2007, Crown): Constitutional lawyer, got upset by Bush's legal advisers and started blogging, spinning off a short book called How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok, worth reading, especially if you don't know better. Judging from his blog, this is likely bigger, broader, deeper. He claimed to be apolitical before Bush. Not any more. [Paperback April 8]
Glenn Greenwald: Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican Politics (2008, Crown): New book in the works. Not sure who he has in mind. Don't recognize the dude in the cowboy hat. [April 15]
Howard Hampton: Born in Flames: Termite Dreams, Dialectical Fairy Tales, and Pop Apocalypses (2007, Harvard University Press): Big (496 pages) collection of film and music reviews. As I recall, Hampton and I wound up inadvertently reviewing the same William Parker album for the Village Voice once. [Paperback April 15]
Chris Harman: A People's History of the World: From the Stone Age to the New Millennium (paperback, 2008, Verso): New edition, originally published in 1999. Title parallels Howard Zinn's US history primer. Clearly, a comparable survey of world history would be useful. But, but all things considered, concise (760 pages). [April 7]
Chris Hedges/Laila Al-Arian: Collateral Damage: America's War Against Iraqi Civilians (2008, Nation Books): Read an excerpt from this in The Nation already. It's important to realize how inevitable, widespread, and counterproductive all this killing is. [June 2]
Richard Heinberg: Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines (2007, New Society): Another book in my queue. I think Heinberg's understanding of energy issues (e.g., peak oil) is quite solid -- his The Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies is the best book I can recommend on the subject (much better than anything Michael Klare has done). Here he ventures beyond his strong suit into water, food, climate, etc. Should be interesting.
Molly Ivins/Lou Dubose: Bill of Wrongs: The Executive Branch's Assault Against America's Fundamental Rights (2007, Random House): Was tempted to buy this the moment I saw it, no doubt for sentimental reasons. The more I looked at it, the more it read like a Lou Dubose book. While I agree with all this stuff about rights, it's not something I'm all that interested in reading about.
Dahr Jamail: Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq (2007, Haymarket). Covers a lot more turf than the mainstream media. Much of this is probably old news by now, but things haven't change as much as they'd have you believe.
Tony Judt: Reappraisals: Reflections on the Forgotten Twentieth Century (2008, Penguin Press): A collection of previously published essays, most from New York Review of Books, which is to say most already read, most very sharp. I've read his huge Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, and recommend it highly. (Lots of quotes in my Books section.) [April 17]
Bill Kauffman: Ain't My America: The Long, Noble History of Antiwar Conservatism and Middle-American Anti-Imperialism (2008, Metropolitan Books): Has an elephant with peace signs on the cover, possibly a tribute to Ron Paul, who likes the book. I think it's about time someone wrote up this history. [April 15]
Ian Kershaw: Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions That Changed the World, 1940-1941 (2007, Penguin Press): In particular, they changed the world by starting WWII including the Holocaust. This presumably goes into the strategizing that made those decisions appear rational at the time. I suspect much of this is groupthink, the conventional racism and militarism of the period. Nicholson Baker's Human Smoke looks like it clarifies the context within which these details were debated.
Michael T Klare: Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Politics of Energy (2008, Metropolitan Books): For better or worse, Klare is the guy who's been following the problems of shrinking resources (especially oil) and mapping them to geopolitics. TomDispatch has published an excerpt from this, which had nothing new but also nothing terribly wrong. [April 15]
Steve LeVine: The Oil and the Glory: The Pursuit of Empire and Fortune on the Caspian Sea (2007, Random House): One of largest oil bonanzas in play today -- probably the largest, but also problematical politically (check the map and see if you can figure out how to get all that oil to Houston) and also technically. For me, how good this book is depends on how technically savvy it is. The politics, after all, is open and shut stupid, at least for the forseeable future.
George E Lewis: A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music (2008, University of Chicago Press): Big book (672 pages), an essential slice of jazz history that has rarely been written about before. Lewis is a brilliant avant-garde trombonist who's worked with most of these people. Should be a fine historian as well. [May 1]
Mark MacKinnon: The New Cold War: Revolutions, Rigged Elections, and Pipeline Politics in the Former Soviet Union (2007, Carroll & Graf): This covers the upheavals and conflicts on Russia's periphery (especially Georgia and the Ukraine), with various degrees of influence and interference by both the US and Russia. Unlike the continuing stream of hysterical books promoting renewed cold war conflicts with Russia and China, this is about something already started.
Jules Marchal: Lord Leverhulme's Ghosts: Colonial Exploitation in the Congo (2008, Verso): Relatively short (256 pages) book on King Leopold's murderous program, set up by British entrepreneur Lord Leverhulme, of forced labor to extract rubber wealth from the Congo. Introduction by Adam Hochschild, whose King Leopold's Ghost covers at least some of this story. It seems to me that one could expand this to cover the whole era of Belgian control, and expand it further backwards into the slave trade and forwards through Mobuto to start to get a sense of how severely the Congo has been wracked by its encounter with Europe. [June 9]
Stephen A Marglin: The Dismal Science: How Thinking Like an Economist Undermines Community (2008, Harvard University Press): The core idea makes sense, and can be plumbed for further insights (not sure about 376 pages worth). Clearly, economics has its place and its limits, and framing that is something that needs to be done. What I'm less clear about is community, which, being a creature of my locale and time, I don't take to be an unalloyed good.
William Marsden: Stupid to the Last Drop: How Alberta Is Bringing Environmental Armageddon to Canada (And Doesn't Seem to Care) (2007, Knopf Canada): This is about oil shale, which Canada has an awful lot of, which looks really yummy in a world that is otherwise starving for oil, but which is hell to extract, and not likely to get much better, like, ever. [Paperback September 30]
Arno Mayer: Ploughshares into Swords: From Zionism to Israel (2008, Verso): One of the great historians of our times. His Why Did the Heavens Not Darken? The "Final Solution" in History showed his ability to freshly contextualize things you thought you already knew all too well -- just one example is his characterization of the two World Wars as "the 30 Years War of the 20th Century." That's what I expect here -- the title itself is a powerful start. [June 9]
John J Mearsheimer/Stephen M Walt: The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy (2007, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Stirred up a storm of controversy when it came out, mostly from the Israel lobby. Shouldn't have been much of a surprise. It's hard to reconcile anything resembling a realist foreign policy with Israel off in some sort of weird fantasyland. [Paperback September 2]
Martin Meredith: Diamonds, Gold, and War: The British, the Boers, and the Making of South Africa (2007, Public Affairs): Big (608 pages) book on the makings of colonial South Africa, with the discovery of diamonds in 1871 playing a particularly large role, followed by the Boer War and independence. Meredith has also written Mugabe: Power, Plunder, and the Struggle for Zimbabwe's Future, recently in paperback; also: The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence.
Ilan Pappe: The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (paperback, 2007, One World): Looks like this concentrates on the 1948-49 expulsions, which are still at the root of the whole conflict. Mazim Qumsiyeh suggested doing reading groups using either this or Sandy Tolan's The Lemon Tree. We're doing one on the Tolan book, which is uniquely poignant. Should get a copy of this as well.
Ilan Pappe: The Bureaucracy of Evil (2008, One World): New book, not much info on it, seems to be about the Israeli occupation machinery: the laws and bureaucracies that govern the Palestinian occupied territories. There's much more to this than just the obvious "security" layer -- the checkpoints, jails, house demolitions, barrier building, etc. It's a story that's not nearly as well known as the expulsions. [May 25]
Harvey Pekar: Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History (2008, Hill and Wang): Illustrated by Gary Dumm. Paul Buhle is listed as editor. Evidently Pekar's text is mixed with other first-person stories, and presumably Buhle has something to with that. Most likely you had to be there to care, but young people have been so misinformed on the whole era that they might learn something.
Kevin Phillips: Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism (2008, Penguin Books): Not much info, but money played a key role in his American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century, and the world of finance isn't getting any firmer. [April 15]
William Poundstone: Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren't Fair (and What We Can Do About It) (2008, Farrar Straus and Giroux): I've read a couple of books by Poundstone, quite a while ago, about game theory if I recall correctly. He brings that expertise to bear here.
Gerard Prunier: Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide (revised and updated edition, 2007, Cornell University Press): Helena Cobban recommended this as the most useful book on Darfur. I've read some stuff by Prunier on Darfur -- he's also written on Rwanda -- and found him to be persuasive, unlike a lot on Sudan that's highly politicized. Other books on Darfur: Alex de Waal/Julie Flint: Darfur: A Short History of a Long War; many authors: War in Darfur and the Search for Peace.
Dina Rasor/Robert Bauman: Betraying Our Troops: The Destructive Results of Privatizing War (2007, Palgrave Macmillan): Second order dirt -- all this graft wouldn't exist if it weren't for the war in the first place. I doubt that any of it has a real effect on the outcome, which would be dismal even if Bush could manage it honestly and competently. Of course, he can't, for the same reasons that got him into the war in the first place. [Paperback April 29]
Graham Robb: The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography, from the Revolution to the First World War (2007, WW Norton): A view of French history from the provinces, looking at how they became integrated into the Paris-centered nation. Part bicycle travelogue; the author has also written biographies of French writers like Hugo and Balzac, so most likely there's some of that too.
John Robb: Punk Rock: An Oral History (paperback, 2007, Ebury Press): Well, obviously, interviews with punk rock musicians -- UK division, 100 or so (576 pages). Presumably not the same John Robb who wrote Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the End of Globalization. I don't know enough to decide whether the latter book is misguided or just nuts.
Paul Roberts: The End of Food (2008, Houghton Mifflin): I haven't read Roberts' previous The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World, which seems like the best known book on the peak oil problem. This is the next logical step, given how much oil goes into growing the food that has allowed world population to expand so exorbitantly over the last century. Take the oil away and it'll start to impact the food chain and before long people -- 1.1 billion already undernourished -- will starve. Michael Pollan and Bill McKibben have advance pitches for the book. Title bumps into Thomas F Pawlick's The End of Food: How the Food Industry Is Destroying Our Food Supply -- and What We Can Do About it. [June 4]
Mort Rosenblum: Escaping Plato's Cave: How America's Blindness to the Rest of the World Threatens Our Survival (2007, St Martin's Press): Seems pretty obvious. Not familiar with Rosenblum, but he's previously written a book on Olives: The Life and Lore of a Noble Fruit, and A Goose in Toulouse and Other Culinary Adventures in France.
AJ Rossmiller: Still Broken: A Recruit's Inside Account of the Intelligence Failures, from Baghdad to the Pentagon (2008, Presidio Press): More dirt on the Defense Department's disinformation and bungling before and after the invasion of Iraq.
Aram Roston: The Man Who Pushed America to War: The Extraordinary Life, Adventures and Obsessions of Ahmad Chalabi (2008, Nation Books): You know, maybe Rumsfeld (or Feith, or whoever) was right: hand Iraq over to the crook, draw the troops down as fast as you can, and let him fend for himself. I figure he would have been dead within 3 months, but, hey, stuff happens. The more momentum behind withdrawal, the harder it would have been to reverse it. And dumb as the idea of putting Chalabi in charge was, Bush sure topped it with Bremer. Looking forward Chalabi hardly merits a biography, but maybe this ties some loose ends up.
Robert Scheer: The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America (2008, Twelve): I don't think there's a lot of mystery here, but it could be useful to sort through the steps and the logic. No idea what pornography has to do with it. I do recall a book by that title back c. 1970, something psychological about personal power. Trying to sex up the US military is pretty much a waste of time. [June 9]
Peter Dale Scott: The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire, and the Future of America (2007, University of California Press): Don't know how good this is, but there's certainly a story to be told -- precisely the one that no one in a position of power in the US wanted aired on 9/12. Scott has a couple more conspiracy books: Deep Politics and the Death of JFK and Drugs, Oil, and War: The United States in Afghanistan, Colombia, and Indochina.
Mark W Smith: The Official Handbook of the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy 2008: The Arguments You Need to Defeat the Loony Left This Election Year (paperback, 2008, Regnery): Know your enemy stuff. I've thumbed through it and found stuff (e.g., on Israel) laughable. Not sure how consistent it is for calibrating the mindset, but it's probably a good first approximation.
Stephen J Sniegorski: The Transparent Cabal: The Neoconservative Agenda, War in the Middle East, and the National Interest of Israel (2008, IHS Press): Looks like a pretty thorough review. [June 1]
Ned Sublette: The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square (2008, Lawrence Hill Books): A history of New Orleans, presumably with a strong focus on the music, since Sublette is a musician, and his history of Cuban Music, Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo is masterful. I'm still expecting a second volume on Cuba, since the first one shut down in 1953.
Matt Taibbi: The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics, and Religion at the Twilight of the American Empire (2008, Spiegel & Grau): He takes four angles on the current state: the military, the system, the resistance, and the church. Reportedly a new book, not a collection of essays, but the first two (on Iraq and Congress) he's done elsewhere -- not that they don't deserve a few more whacks. [May 6]
Nick Turse: The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives (2008, Metropolitan Books): Cover has more words, an alternate subtitle: "Mapping America's Military Industrial Technological Entertainment Academic Media Corporate Matrix." I've read some of this at TomDispatch, which features Turse regularly. Usually skip him because my tolerance for Pentagon nonsense isn't very high.
Bernard Wasserstein: Barbarism and Civilization: A History of Europe in Our Time (2007, Oxford University Press): Huge book (928 pages), ranging from WWI to misgivings over recent muslim immigration. Title strikes me as overcharged. I've read two other books by Wasserstein, both on Israel, both sane and smart.
Eyal Weizman: Hollow Land: Israel's Architecture of Occupation (2007, Verso): Looks at Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories through the prism of architecture: the settlements, the barriers, the checkpoints, Israel's control of air space and water, the roads, etc.
Matt Welch: McCain: The Myth of a Maverick (2007, Palgrave Macmillan): A first crack at deconstructing McCain, starting with the public's most obvious misconception about the man. I expect there will be more, starting with David Brock and Paul Waldman, Free Ride: John McCain and the Media, out in paperback March 25.
Hugh Wilford: The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America (2008, Harvard University Press): About all the front organizations the CIA set up, especially in the 1950s and 1960s. Most of these are old stories, but people tend to forget that Richard Wright, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., and Gloria Steinem were once CIA tools (or fools).
Matthew Yglesias: Heads in the Sand: How the Republicans Screw Up Foreign Policy and Foreign Policy Screws Up the Democrats (2008, Wiley): Well known blogger; somehow I've never read him, but recognize the name. Obviously, he has a topic one can write reams about. [April 21]
Fareed Zakaria: The Post-American World (2008, WW Norton): Further evidence that the goose is cooked? Zakaria writes, "This is not a book about the decline of America, but rather about the rise of everyone else." To the zero-sum minds of the American right there is no difference. For them the idea of a post-American world is catastrophic. Zakaria strikes me as a guy who's earned his ticket to the inner sanctums of imperial power, but still has a feel for the world outside and a sense of what it means to be looking in. He'll argue that such world changes needn't be catastrophic, but that they must be recognized and acknowledged. It will be a tough pill for some to swallow. [May 5]
Idith Zertal/Akiva Eldar: Lords of the Land: The War for Israel's Settlements in the Occupied Territories, 1967-2007 (2007, Nation Books): Probably the one book to to read on Israel's settlement movement. (Gershom Gorenberg's The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977 came out in 2006 and covers similar ground, but seems to find the movement a touch mysterious.) Zertal's 2005 book looks interesting: Israel's Holocaust and the Politics of Nationhood (similar to Tom Segev's The Seventh Million: Israelis and the Holocaust).
Howard Zinn/Mike Konopacki/Paul Buhle: A People's History of American Empire (paperback, 2008, Metropolitan Books): Based on Zinn's A People's History of the United States, starting with 9/11 and referring back to empire-related events in the past. Illustrated as a comic by Konopacki. [April 1]
Also beware that there's a new Thomas Friedman book coming out in August: Green Is the New Red, White and Blue. Oy veh!
Friday, March 14. 2008
I spent the better part of an evening, first in the library, then in a bookstore, jotting down a couple lists of books that struck me as worth reading, or at least skimming through, if one had anything near enough time to do so. I generally avoided writing down books that I've put on previous lists like this, as well as ones that I've actually read or bought with the intent of reading. I might as well combine the lists, sorted alphabetically by author. Basically just an exercise to keep track of what's out there.
Matt Bai: The Argument: Billionaires, Bloggers, and the Battle to Remake Democratic Politics (2007, Penguin Press): Could be that this is just a pissy attack on web-oriented Democratic Party activists, in which case it's not an argument I much care to get into -- I'm more concerned with what's wrong in the real world than I am about nitpicking people trying to change it. [Paperback July 29]
Nicholson Baker: Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization (2008, Simon & Schuster): Long (576 pages) series of short chronological vignettes -- news items, I guess, but only if we had a much smarter media than we do now or then. Few subjects have been distorted by self-serving myth as the origins of WWII. This looks to be an antidote to most of them, and if it creates a case for pacifism, so much the better. Possibly the most intriguing book I found this trip.
Donald T. Critchlow: The Conservative Ascendancy: How the GOP Right Made Political History (2007, Harvard University Press): General history of US right from early post-WWII. Checked this out from library and started reading it, so you'll hear more.
Larry Diamond: The Spirit of Democracy: The Struggle to Build Free Societies Throughout the World (2008, Times Books): Sort of a globetrotting grade card on democracy metrics everywhere. Diamond wrote an Iraq insider book, Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq, so you might say he's learned his subject the hard way. If, indeed, he's learned it.
Robert Draper: Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush (2007, Free Press): One more political biography; seems likely to have some insights, not that we need them any more. [Paperback March 25]
Charles Enderlin: The Lost Years: Radical Islam, Intifada, and Wars in the Middle East, 2001-2006 (2007, Other Press): Follows up on Enderlin's Shattered Dreams: The Failure of the Peace Process in the Middle East, 1995-2002, the first clear book on what went wrong at Camp David. Plenty more has gone wrong since.
Drew Gilpin Faust: This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (2008, Knopf): An account of the US Civil War that focuses on the staggering destruction of the war.
David Gelernter: Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion (2007, Doubleday): Looks like a horrifying piece of patriotic onanism, but the very conceit -- not least the idea that America was the original Zionist chosen land -- clarifies an attitude that is otherwise hard to fathom. American imperialism makes so much more sense when you realize that we believe that the rest of the world is just yearning to worship us.
Barry Glassner: The Gospel of Food: Why We Should Stop Worrying and Enjoy What We Eat (paperback, 2007, Harper Perennial): Saw this right next to Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto -- don't know how redundant they are. I have Glassner's previous book on the shelf but never got around to it: The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things.
Jack Goldsmith: The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration (2007, WW Norton): Cover photos: Cheney, Bush, Gonzales. Insider account: Goldsmith worked in DOJ's Office of Legal Counsel until he quit in disgust. You know what they were up to.
Martin Goodman: Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations (2007, Knopf): First century CE conflicts and revolts, a subject I only have a rough outline for. Got rather mixed reviews, and is long (624 pages).
David Halberstam: The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War (2007, Hyperion): Major work on Korean War, possibly also on early phase of Cold War. Reportedly focuses heavily on MacArthur while missing other aspects of the war.
Fred Halliday: 100 Myths About the Middle East (paperback, 2005, University of California Press): Copy in store was shrinkwrapped, so I couldn't peer inside. Halliday writes for New Left Review. Looks like basic remedial education.
Chris Hedges: I Don't Believe in Atheists (2008, Free Press): A short attack on Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, possibly others. Before he became a war journalist, Hedges did time in a seminary, and he still hasn't gotten over it. I've read three of his books, including Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commands in America, which is most pointedly a book of his sense of religion. He hasn't improved my opinion of God, but I do have a lot of respect for Chris Hedges.
Jacob Heilbrunn: They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons (2008, Doubleday): Covers similar ground to James Mann's Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet, which I've read, but probably concentrates more on the ideologues, bench jockeys and backseat drivers.
Edward Humes: Monkey Girl: Evolution, Education, Religion, and the Battle for America's Soul (paperback, 2008, Harper Perennial): On the political struggle over intelligent design vs. evolution, especially the Dover, PA case, although there's also quite a bit on Kansas here.
Susan Jacoby: The Age of American Unreason (2008, Pantheon): Hard to tell how good or bad this is, since the old saw of dumb people getting dumber has long been a standard rant of the highbrow cultural right. On the other hand, there is something to write about. Inspired by Richard Hofstadter, which I take to be a good sign. Previously wrote Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism, which is probably interesting.
Bill James: The Bill James Gold Mine 2008 (2008, ACTA): I'm far removed from the days when I knew everything there was to know about baseball, in large part because I read everything Bill James ever wrote. He hasn't written that much lately, which may be part of my problem. Spent some time with the book. Quizzed myself on how many players per team I had even heard of (Arizona: 0; Atlanta: 3; Baltimore: 0; don't recall the others, but I think Boston was 5 and the Yankees 8). A lot of bare tables and trivial comparisons; a few short essays. Not sure if it's worthwhile, even for sentimental reasons.
Derrick Jensen: Endgame, Vol. 1: The Problem of Civilization (paperback, 2006, Seven Stories Press): A fairly encyclopedic doomsday book. Intriguing inasmuch as I think a lot of the things he digs up are indeed serious problems, but it's also possible that he's a crackpot. Has a lot of books in a short time, including a Vol. 2 where he gets activist, and a graphic book called As the World Burns: 50 Things You Can Do to Stay in Denial.
David Cay Johnston: Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill) (2007, Portfolio): Well, sure. Johnston also wrote Perfectly Legal: The Covert Campaign to Rig Our Tax System to Benefit the Super Rich -- and Cheat Everybody Else, out in paperback. I can't get excited about these books, although they may well be eye-opening for some people. Reminds me of a short book by Dean Baker: The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer.
Robert D Kaplan: Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts: The American Military in the Air, at Sea, and on the Ground (2007, Random House): Sequel to Imperial Grunts, where the militarism became de trop for me, even though I've read virtually everything else he's written. Good writer, useful historian and observer (although I've seen Tom Bissell shred him on specifics), dangerously defective thinker.
Parag Khanna: The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order (2008, Random House): One of those books about which nations/regions are growing, which are likely to be global powers, pushing which others around, etc. Its value (if any) is in the details.
Naomi Klein: The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007, Metropolitan Books): Seems to be a major effort at summing up what globalized capitalism is doing. Something turns me away from her: haven't read any of her books, not sure I've even managed to finish one of her Nation columns. Strong activism, weak economics. Probably a lot of research here worth knowing. The notion that capitalism depends on disaster doesn't make any sense to me, although there are plenty of examples of capitalism leading to disaster.
Philippe Legrain: Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them (2007, Princeton University Press): English economist, makes the case for free labor markets, clearly out of step with the US right although not necessarily with the GOP money people. Previously wrote Open World: The Truth About Globalization, about as trustworthy as any other book with "truth" in the title.
Norman Mailer: On God: An Uncommon Conversation (2007, Random House): With Michael Lennon, presumably asking the questions Mailer responds to. Poked through this a bit and found it idiosyncratic and interesting. I read quite a bit of his stuff long ago -- mostly but not quite all nonfiction -- but it's been a long while.
Geert Mak: In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century (2007, Pantheon): Big (896 pages) survey of European cities, filling in historical background.
Howard Mandel: Miles, Ornette, Cecil: Jazz Beyond Jazz (2008. Routledge): Davis, Coleman, Taylor; important musicians, an interesting sequence in that they substantially overlap but peeled off on different tangents. More interested in Taylor, personally, although he's the odd player out in one regard: the only one of the three not to experiment in fusion.
Mark Matthews: Lost Years: Bush, Sharon and Failure in the Middle East (2007, Nation Books): Covers much the same ground as Charles Enderlin's The Lost Years. (Looks like the book got cut out. Amazon has it for $5.99.)
Greg Mitchell: So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed in Iraq (paperback, 2008, Union Square Press): Editor of Editor & Publisher, writes a good blog called Pressing Issues. You know the basic story. This just sorts the details out in good form for reference.
Charles R Morris: The Trillion Dollar Meltdown: Easy Money, High Rollers, and the Great Credit Crash (2008, Public Affairs): It's the economy, stupid.
Cullen Murphy: Are We Rome? The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America (2007, Houghton Mifflin): Comparisons, seems like a stretch to me, but I could stand to learn more about Rome. [Paperback May 5]
Grover G Norquist: Leave Us Alone: Getting the Government's Hands Off Our Money, Our Guns, Our Lives (2008, William Morrow): Normally I wouldn't bother with a book by a right-wing ideologue, much less a political power broker, but rumor has it he's the guy who pulls all the vast right-wing conspiracy strings.
William R Polk: Violent Politics: A History of Insurgency, Terrorism, and Guerrilla War, from the American Revolution to Iraq (2007, Harper): About ten case studies of insurgencies over more than two centuries: Spain against Napoleon, Philippines, Ireland, Yugoslavia in WWII, Greece after WWII, Kenya, Algeria, Vietnam, Afghanistan. Lessons should be obvious. Checked this out from library, but not sure if I'll have time to get to it.
Michael Pollan: In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto (2008, Penguin Press): I waited for The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals to come out in paperback, and will probably do the same thing here. It seems unlikely that he has much more to add, but it would make sense to organize what he's learned into a tighter and more coherent argument, and that's what I imagine he's done here.
Samantha Power: Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World (2008, Penguin Press): Read the New Yorker excerpt focusing on Iraq, which had a lot of good stuff in it. Much bigger book (640 pages), probably a lot more perspective on what's good and bad about the UN. Couldn't bring myself to buy her previous book, The Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide -- mostly because I suspect she thought the US should have intervened in Rwanda. I don't think the US is sane enough to intervene anywhere. In fact, I think the US is so insane with guns it's reckless to suggest otherwise.
Robert B Reich: Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life (2007, Knopf): I imagine that this is a smarter version of Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat, but it could be something else. He has written thought-provoking books in the past, but most of the thoughts he provokes are in opposition. I didn't bother with his previous book, Reason: Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America, or its predecessor, The Future of Success: Working and Living in the New Economy. A common denominator to his books is his idiot belief that no matter how wrenching the changes caused by capitalism it will all work out for the better in the end. I'm still looking for one of those high paying jobs he promised NAFTA would lead to. As far as I can tell, he's the only one who got one.
Arnold Relman: A Second Opinion: Rescuing America's Health Care (2007, Public Affairs): One of many books on how to resolve the health care mess. Probably one of the better ones -- several others I didn't bother to jot down. Advocates single payer, argues that the rush to commercialize medicine harms physicians and patients. (I notice that Jonathan Cohn's Sick: The Untold Story of America's Health Care Crisis -- and the People Who Pay the Price will be in paperback May 5.)
Marc Sageman: Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-First Century (2007, University of Pennsylvania Press): Short (176 pages) essay. As I understand it, his thesis is not just that the Al Qaeda jihad has broken up into numerous, even if like-minded, small groups, but that jihadi terrorism is likely to be self-terminating as its followers, for various reasons, become dissatisfied with violent tactics. Sageman also edited the much longer Unmasking Terror: A Global Review of Terrorist Activities.
Charlie Savage: Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy (2007, Little Brown): Didn't initially write this down, but I saw copies both in library and book store. Maybe I'm jaded: all this "end of democracy" stuff makes me ask, "you think this is new?" Maybe there are too many Savages writing these days. This one won a Pulitzer for stories about Bush's signing statements. Something new there, after all. [Paperback April 11]
Jonathan Schell: The Seventh Decade: The New Shape of Nuclear Danger (2007, Metropolitan Books): On the threat of nuclear war, still present, still a spectre.
Philip Shenon: The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation (2008, Twelve): Seems pretty innocuous, but evidently there's still plenty of dirt under the surface.
Michael Scheuer: Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq (2008, Free Press). I liked him better when he was Anonymous, trying to make the CIA look smarter than they are. No idea how this balances out, but there are other people who are smarter, not to mention saner, on terrorism.
Peter Silver: Our Savage Neighbors: How Indian War Transformed Early America (2007, WW Norton): One thesis is that Indian-hating was a unifying force among immigrants.
Barbara Slavin: Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the US, and the Twisted Path to Confrontation (2007, St Martin's Press): Probably useful, but a second choice after Trita Parsi's Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States, which I've read.
Jonathan Steele: Defeat: Why America and Britain Lost Iraq (2008, Counterpoint): British author. Most books on the subject act like Bush and the Americans lost Iraq all on their own.
Joseph E Stiglitz/Linda J Bilmes: The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict (2008, WW Norton): Read much of this in the early reports, although the numbers keep going up and up. I still doubt that they've counted them all.
John B Taylor: Global Financial Warriors: The Untold Story of International Finance in the Post-9/11 World (paperback, 2008, WW Norton): Insider account. Taylor was Under Secretary of Treasury for International Affairs on 9/11, so he got involved in trying to track down Al Qaeda financial flows. Also has stuff on financing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the impact of all this on IMF, etc. Doesn't seem to be an irate whistle blower. Someone in the Bush Administration was competent? Don't know.
Alex von Tunzelman: Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire (2007, Henry Holt): That would be the end of the British Empire in India. One of several recent books on India that look interesting. (First on my list is William Dalrymple's The Last Mughal: The Fall of a Dynasty: Delhi, 1857, just out in paperback.)
Tim Weiner: Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA (2007, Doubleday): Sprawling (702 pages) history. My impression is that he's way too sympathetic to them, but the book is likely to be pretty damaging anyway.
Jacob Weisberg: The Bush Tragedy (2008, Random House): Slate editor, tries to sum up the whole nightmare ("the book that cracks the code of the Bush presidency"). Tired subject, but Amazon has a reader review with extensive notes that make it seem useful.
Garry Wills: Head and Heart: American Christianities (2007, Penguin Press). Big (640 pages) book on history of christianity in US, particularly the enlightened/evangelical split and how this relates to politics. Not a general history: first thing I did when I saw it was look in the index for Mormons (Latter Day Saints, Joseph Smith, etc.), and found nada.
Robin Wright: Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East (2008, Penguin Press): Veteran Middle East correspondent, wrote an early book on Iranian revolution. This ranges all over the region, searching for moderates and hope. Huge list of positive blurb reviews, including one from Rami Khouri, a lot more trustworthy than Joe Biden or Richard Lugar.
The US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual (paperback, 2007, University of Chicago Press): Forwards by John Nagl, David Petraeus, others. Basic reference material. I bet it'd be absolutely maddening to try to read.
I'll follow up with a second batch -- books I didn't find -- probably tomorrow.
Thursday, March 13. 2008
I keep looking for news and running into Elliot Spitzer. Consequently, I know more about the affair than I cared to. Not enough to talk about details, thank God. But enough to come to one conclusion: if this shows anything, it's that some people have more money than they need, more than is even good for them. Most likely, a lot of crimes in America wouldn't happen if poor people had more money (or cheaper drugs), but "structuring" (as Spitzer's particular money laundering offense seems to be called) is something that takes a lot of money to get into. As for the prostitution angle, the only thing noteworthy there is the money. I ran across a piece at Slate on the high-end sex market (lost the link), and again the striking thing is that this market exists only because people like Spitzer have the money to bid it up.
We live in a nation that takes for granted the notion that there's no limit to how much money a person can or should have. The keyword the Republicans keep using is "marginal tax rates" as if the upper margins of the rich should never be slowed down in their pursuit of ever greater riches. Robert Reich, in his Clinton administration memoir Locked in the Cabinet, had numerous stories about how when anyone suggested raising taxes on the rich they'd immediately be overruled by the exclamation "confiscatory": evidently we're not allowed to consider confiscatory taxes, even in the open-and-shut estate tax case. (Confiscatory estate taxes would help slow down the formation of an aristocracy of inherited wealth and the problems those elites entail.)
I'm not complaining about money in general. Like food, it's good up to a point, but unlike food, when it spoils few rich people have the good sense to throw it out. That seems to be Spitzer's problem in a nutshell. On the other hand, now at least he has something to do with his surplus money: pay lawyers.
One more little note. After two terms of George Bush and six previous years of Newt Gingrich, you'd think that Democrats would wise up to the notion that they need to live up to a higher standard of public service than the Republians have shown. This thing with Spitzer, and a similar recent brouhaha with KS Attorney General Paul Morrison, are really personal betrayals of people who have suffered so much under the Republicans. The politicians may think it's all about themselves, but it isn't. They represent people, and it's a disgrace when they pay them back like this.
Wednesday, March 12. 2008
TPM published the following item titled "Like cats to water":
Tiahrt was an actual employee of Boeing before he got elected to the House. No doubt he'll be back on the payroll, with a substantial raise, when we finally get rid of him. Meanwhile, he's been so far up Boeing's corporate ass even Bush has taken to calling him Tanker Todd. He's also been deep into Tom DeLay, who gave him an Appropriations Committee seat. In turn, Tiahrt kicked some of his Boeing money into DeLay's slush fund. I've never gotten the impression that Tiahrt's fingers are particularly sticky, but clearly he knows how money works in Washington. He's a hardcore ideologist, but he doesn't assume that God looks out for him. He's done a lot of practical and expedient things to keep getting re-elected in what isn't a sure Republican district. The one thing he takes more seriously than any principle is self-preservation.
PS: Salon's War Room also singled out Tiahrt's quote.
Michael D Shear and Matthew Mosk: McCain staff tied to Airbus lobbying. The Kansas political world, which is totally in Boeing's hip pocket, is livid over the Air Force awarding its $35 billion tanker boondoggle to Airbus (technically, Northrop Grumman) over Boeing. Caught in the crossfire is John McCain, one of whose few good deeds was working to derail Boeing's previous scandalous one-bid tanker contract in 2004. McCain still cites his role there as preventing $6 billion in fraud. Several Boeing execs wound up in jail as a result, and the whole thing got restarted, with Airbus lobbying hard to get in on the graft. Looks like they won the contract at least partly on merit, but it no doubt helped that they've made major strides in playing Boeing's political game. And while I believe McCain when he says that he never personally lobbied on the issue, it turns out that he's close enough to plenty of lobbyists that it isn't hard to connect dots.
The conspicuous presence of lobbyists in McCain's campaign has been noted elsewhere, but hasn't really sunken into the public mind, which has conveniently forgotten that McCain only started wearing his scruples on his sleeve after getting caught up in the savings and loan scandal as one of the notorious Keating 5. Given how much play this is getting in Kansas, where Boeing's congressional flunkies are all Republicans, you can imagine how it'll play in Washington, where Democrats predominate -- both support Boeing slavishly, but the exporting jobs issue plays to their base instincts, and they have no reason to cut McCain any slack.
Meanwhile, Wichita Eagle editorial cartoonist Richard Crowson has been groping with the question of why Boeing's having such a hard time competing with Airbus. An earlier cartoon suggested several reasons, like the old saw about government subsidies. (You think Boeing is unsubsidized? Aside from all the cost-plus, reuse-the-technology Defense deals, Kansas has financed Boeing with billions of dollars in state-backed bonds, and every city, state, and country Boeing builds or contracts in has had to pony up for the privilege.) But today Crowson settled on health care costs, and picked an appropriate way to represent them. The little dog in the lower left corner says: "Didn't I see you in Detroit?"
I'm not sure that really explains it in Boeing's case, but then I know some folks Boeing laid off for being diabetic, so I figure they're pretty much on top of their costs there, as they are elsewhere. (Boeing is self-insured, so they have a lot of incentive to grind those costs down.) Still, Crowson is right in general, and it's good to see the point made.
The Eagle also published a letter today from a Merlin C. Hussey, under the title "Boeing is not without blame." It's worth quoting in its entirety:
One thing I haven't seen pointed out at all here is that Airbus is working at an enormous disadvantage given how badly the dollar has fallen vs. the euro -- as I recall, the euro has gone from about $0.90 to $1.50 since Bush took office. That in itself makes European labor more than 60% more expensive that it already was, which it already was given that Europe has more effective unions. Boeing is in a constant state of whine about how they have to get their costs down to compete, but it never shows up in the prices of their products, least of all when the US government is buying. Rather, Boeing's entire "competitive advantage" has hitherto been their superior ability to grease political palms. They built this game, and now that they've lost a hand it's hard to see anyone else to blame -- not that they haven't been trying nonstop since the contract dropped, pulling out every stop, even the very real problem of exporting manufacturing jobs, which is something else they've pioneered.
Of course, at this point I hope they do manage to scuttle the Airbus deal. The last thing we need is more tankers able to project American power to the far corners of the earth, imbrogling us in more disastrous wars.
Tuesday, March 11. 2008
William R. Polk: The Iraq War and the Presidential Election. Well, not so much about the election, which is just as well. The first long section is about what the war is costing "us" -- which at this point is probably the Achilles heel of the misadventure. It seems impossible to reach any sort of consensus on whether Iraq would be better off or worse off without US troops there, but deep down it's hard to find any Americans who actually care about Iraqis -- from day one the war has always been about us, and the Iraqis have never been more than pawns or collateral damage. On the other hand, the question of whether our costs justify the cheap thrills and petty vanities of the politicians who started the war -- that's a question that deserves to be kept front and center. I don't think Polk has identified all of the costs, and many of them are incalculable -- e.g., the war was presumably the reason Bush was elected in 2004, leading to four more years of all sorts of mischief. But this is a good list to start from, to show to doubtful friends and to consult for 5th anniversary speachmaking. Polk writes:
Polk also summarizes some of two of his books. One is called Violent Politics: A History of Insurgency, Terrorism, and Guerrilla War, from the American Revolution to Iraq, which takes about ten cases widely scattered in space and time and draws out common themes, like the near impossibility of crushing such insurgencies. The other was coauthored with George McGovern, Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now -- would be a very useful book if anyone in a position to get out of Iraq actually wanted to.
Dean Baker: The War and the Recession. Baker writes usefully about the present costs of the Iraq war and cites some chilling modelling on future costs of extended war ("by the tenth year, the economy was projected to have lost about half a million jobs, mostly in manufacturing and construction"), but he argues that the real cause of the recession is the $8 trillion housing bubble collapse.
News today (aside from the 8 US troops killed in Iraq, a bit of a bump from the usually reported tranquility): Admiral William Fallon resigned at Centcom commander. Fallon has recently been quoted as saying that the US won't attack Iran on his watch, so I guess that promise has expired. It seems likely that's what did him in: the Bush hawks like the principle of keeping the option of nuking Iran on the table even if they don't intend to do it. Otherwise, like, the enemy might think we're rational, and, like, we can't have any of that get out.
PS: Also looks like Fallon was pushing to draw down some troops from Iraq, and clashed with Petraeus over that.
Other news is that Obama won the Mississippi primary today, something like 60% to 38% for Clinton. It looks like that was closer than it would have been due to open votes. Salon reports some exit poll breakouts: Republicans voting in the Democratic primary favored Clinton 77-23; voters with favorable opinion of John McCain favored Clinton 71-29. Some guess as to the size of the crossover vote can be made based on the fact that the race breakdown of voters was 49-49, where normal expectations were that the Democratic primary electorate would be 60-70% black. This doesn't look like just some casual drift. Of course, it could just be Republicans trying to fuck with Democrats heads. It doesn't necessarily mean that Republicans like Clinton more than Obama, or hate Obama more than Clinton, but most likely it does mean that they'd rather run against Clinton. Maybe she's not as vetted as she thinks?
PS: Here's a report about Republicans crossing over in the Ohio primary.
Monday, March 10. 2008
Greg Mitchell: In case you thought she would stop with this. My favorite quote of the week:
Her instinct to make nice to McCain only serves to remind us of her past (and possibly future) support for the Iraq war. She really should have enough presence of mind to recall who she's running against, and what she's running for. Or at least the good taste not to turn all those answers back into herself. Of course, Clinton is even less likely to get the nod than Joe Lieberman, but that's not the point. The point is that while she's desperately working to undermine Obama, she's helping to sanitize and legitimize the real monster of the campaign. Video requires Flash, so I didn't follow it.
In a later post, Mitchell quotes Bill Kristol arguing that McCain should pick Clarence Thomas as his running mate. Didn't catch the reasons, but you have to figure message discipline is one. The best you can say about Kristol is that this is nowhere near the dumbest idea he's ever had. It's pretty easy to come up with all sorts of fitting matches for McCain. For instance, Rush Limbaugh himself would make a state-of-the-art Agnew for McCain's Nixon. Too bad Curtis LeMay is dead.
Mitchell's blog seems to be running 3-6 short posts per day, a useful survey of the press. Just added his book to my shopping cart: So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq, released in paperback. Figure it will be a useful reference, even though by now the story's old news.
Another lousy week, but it's over now. I was so down early in the week I spent a good chunk of time with a couple of 4-CD Proper Boxes that had been sitting around forever: Benny Carter's The Music Master was good as expected; The Illinois Jacquet Story was even better. Jacquet's late-'40s jukebox hits have never been collected so well, and a big chunk of the first Jazz at the Philharmonic concert really jump starts the box. Managed to get a little prospecting done, and was starting to feel better toward the end of the week, but I was still beset with distractions. Got the blogging back on track, including some book reports. It's starting to feel like spring here. Still possible we'll get hit with another blizzard, but it seems unlikely now that we'll get that new winter snow record.
It's about time to start thinking about how this Jazz Consumer Guide cycle will wind up. Nothing really compelling on the pick hits or duds fronts, but plenty to write about.
Pat Metheny: Day Trip (2005 , Nonesuch): Guitarist, from the Kansas City suburbs, cut his first record in 1975, has worked steady ever since, about as big a star as any jazz guitarist can be. (Don't have any sales figures, so that's just a guess.) I've never been much of a jazz guitar fan, and I've paid him especially scant attention over the years -- just 6 records in my database, including the great Ornette Coleman vehicle Song X and a bunch of stuff I didn't care for, most of which can be blamed on Lyle Mays' cheezy keybs. No Mays here: just Christian McBride on bass, Antonio Sanchez on drums, giving this a lean sound, reminiscent of Metheny's Charlie Haden duo, Beyond the Missouri Sky. The clarity is certainly welcome, although I'm still on terra incognita. [B+(***)]
Stanley Jordan: State of Nature (2008, Mack Avenue): Another well-known guitarist, one I've paid even less attention to than Metheny -- I have him filed under pop jazz, which may or may not be fair. Jordan had a run on Blue Note 1984-90 with at least one gold record, but hasn't recorded much since. Not much info to go with this advance copy: no musician credits, although Charnett Moffett, David Haynes, and Kenwood Dennard are somewhere, and there is something about Jordan playing guitar and piano simultaneously. Piano is fairly prominent on some pieces, including Horace Silver's "Song for My Father" and the quasi-classical "Healing Waves." Some of the guitar is quite elegant -- don't have an ear for his famous "tapping" method, which doesn't seem much in play. Mix bag of pieces, ranging from Latin to Mozart. Might as well wait for more info. [B+(*)] [advance: Apr. 22]
Bob Brozman: Post-Industrial Blues (2007 , Ruf): Guitar collector, particularly fond of National Resonator guitars, with half a dozen models featured here, as well as lap steel, 7-string banjo, dobro, a resophonic ukulele, and a closet full of exotic instruments (sanshin, chaturangui, gandharvi, etc.) that mostly turn out to be disguised guitars. Studied ethnomusicology at Washington University in St. Louis, probably about the same time I was there. Has a dozen-plus albums, half or more blues-themed (like this one), the other half more worldly, ethnomusicologically speaking. The blues are straightforward, although the guitar is a little bent. Two more/less non-originals, the Doors' "People Are Strange" and Nat Cole's "Frim Fram Sauce," renamed "Shafafa." B+(**)
Cannon Re-Loaded: An All-Star Celebration of Cannonball Adderley (2006 , Concord Jazz): An assembled studio band, doing ten songs more/less associated with Adderley. Group leader and alto saxophonist is Tom Scott, the all-star of L.A. studio hacks. He doesn't break any new ground, but he's got a gorgeous sound, swings hard, and carries the album. Playing Nate is an underutilized Terence Blanchard. The keyboards are doubled up with Larry Goldings on organ and George Duke on everything else. Marcus Miller plays bass, spelled by Dave Carpenter on two cuts. Steve Gadd is the drummer. I could do without Nancy Wilson singing two songs, but have to admit that "The Masquerade Is Over" ain't half bad. The Adderleys were respectable hard boppers who somehow were remarkably popular, an equation that doesn't seem to be repeatable any more, even though it's hard to imagine how anyone could dislike them. This is an honest, somewhat obvious attempt to bring them back and make them sound contemporary. Works about as well as it can -- but 50 years ago we were different, mostly younger (as I recall). B+(**)
Vandermark 5: Beat Reader (2006 , Atavistic): After a record every fall on the dot for six years or more, this one slipped past New Year's Day. This is pretty much the same record as the last one, A Discontinuous Line (2006), which marked the arrival of cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm. Where the previous records with trombonist Jeb Bishop turned on their crack horn section arrangements, the Lonberg-Holm records are throwbacks to the earlier improv discs. That's just fine, especially when they break loose as emphatically as on the 6th and 8th cuts, "Compass Shatters Magnet" and "Desireless." After three plays, I'm holding back only because I'm already jammed with A-list records, and I haven't rated anything they've done lower since 2000's Burn the Incline. Plus I hope to play it some more. [B+(***)]
Alex Sipiagin: Out of the Circle (2008, Sunnyside): Trumpeter, b. 1967 Yaroslavl, Russia; won a competition in Rostov in 1990, then moved to New York in 1991. Eighth album, first I've heard (6 others are on Criss Cross, an important Dutch mainstream label that has never answered my inquiries). Fancy postbop, with a large cast of slick players -- Donny McCaslin (tenor sax, soprano sax, flute), Robin Eubanks (trombone), Adam Rogers (guitars), Henry Hey (keyboards), Gil Goldstein (accordion), Scott Colley (bass), Antonio Sanchez (drums), Daniel Sadownick (percussion) -- a sort of creamy tone I've never cared for, a lot of rhythmic flex. Two songs have vocals by wife Monday Michiru, the first over a perky Latin groove, the other a torchy ballad. She's a good singer. He's taken a tack that I'm not very inclined to follow and made it work well enough I can't much complain. B+(*)
Bill Dixon With Exploding Star Orchestra (2007 , Thrill Jockey): Dixon is an avant-garde trumpet player, probably best known for his 1966 appearance on Cecil Taylor's Conquistador. He has a fairly thin discography since then, mostly on the Soul Note label in Italy, mostly small groups, many duos. He's something of a legend, but often a tough slog. Exploding Star Orchestra is a large ensemble of Chicago avant-gardists led by Chicago Underground cornet player Rob Mazurek. Long list of familiar names here, including: Nicole Mitchell (flute), Matt Bauder (bass clarinet, tenor sax), Jeb Bishop (trombone), Jeff Parker (guitar), Jim Baker (piano), Jason Adasiewicz (vibes), a half dozen more. Three sprawling pieces, two by Dixon sandwiching one by Mazurek. A slog, with moments of amusing clarity. Haven't made up my mind yet. For that matter, I still have last year's Exploding Star Orchestra on the replay shelves. [B+(**)]
Kali Z Fasteau/Kidd Jordan: Live at the Kerava Jazz Festival: Finland (2007 , Flying Note): Credit can/should also include drummer Newman Taylor Baker, whose name is on the front cover in smaller print on the cover but not on the spine. Jordan is a veteran from New Orleans who plays raw avant tenor sax, a throwback to the 1960s when ugliness was creed. Fasteau plays all sorts of things, taking nine songs on nine different instruments: mizmar, piano, nai flute, cello, synthesizer, voice, violin, drums, soprano sax. She offers a wide range of contrasts to Jordan's constant. Gets loud, weird, sometimes mesmerizing. Audience has fun. B+(*)
Ryan Blotnick: Music Needs You (2007 , Songlines): Guitarist, b. 1983 in Maine, studied in Copenhagen, and recorded this album in Barcelona, although his home base these days looks to be Brooklyn. First album. Website lists a number of interesting musicians he's played with, but doesn't provide any further discography, and AMG lists no side credits. Quintet, with Pete Robbins (alto sax), Albert Sanz (piano), Perry Wortman (bass), and Joe Smith (drums). I've run across Sanz and Smith before on Fresh Sound, while Robbins had a good album a couple of years back on Playscape. Split the difference between those labels and you should get cool-toned postbop with a quietly subversive avant edge, which is about what Blotnick delivers here. I might even go further and say that this is what cool jazz would sound like if anyone was still making any. Mostly slow, but sneaks up on you. Robbins doesn't stand out until six cuts in, one called "Liberty." Could be I'm calling this prematurely, but it's awful subtle. B+(***)
Cuong Vu: Vu-Tet (2007 , ArtistShare): Trumpet player, fond of electronics, born 1969 in Vietnam, emigrated to Seattle 6 years later, moved to New York in 1994. Fifth album since 1999. Also has a significant credits list, including key roles over several albums each with Chris Speed's Yeah No, Myra Melford's The Tent and Be Bread, and Pat Metheny Group. (Other creditss: Orange Then Blue, Bobby Previte, Andy Laster, Jamie Saft, Dave Douglas, Gerry Hemingway, Assif Tsahar, Satoko Fujii, Matthias Lupri, Mark O'Leary/Tom Rainey.) Quartet here, with Speed on unspecified reeds, Stomu Takeishi on bass guitar, and Ted Poor on drums. These are interesting musicians, but here at least together they tend to congeal into sludge. The bass lines don't go much beyond heavy metal, the electronics aren't clear, and I don't have a clue what Speed is doing. At least the trumpet has some contrast. B
Nick Vayenas: Synesthesia (2007 , World Culture Music): Usually the first thing I do when I put a record on is write down the song list and the personnel list, noting instruments broken down by track. The requisite information is available here, on the inside of the cardboard gatefold cover, but it's formatted using abbreviations of names and instruments that require several mappings, all printed in microscopic all caps type with little contrast and registration blur (semi-white on semi-brown). My eyes just aren't up to it. Vayenas was born in Boston, studied at Berklee, plays trombone. First album, or second counting one co-led by saxophonist Patrick Cornelius (on board here). Other musicians here, as far as I can tell, are: Aaron Parks, Matt Brewer, Janek Gwizdala, and vocalist Gretchen Parlato, none of which clearly accounts for the synth fusion bubbling beneath the horns. I like the trombone, of course, and Cornelius shows some flashy sax, but the synthy stuff doesn't quite come off, and Parlato's vocal wash is de trop. B
The Puppini Sisters: The Rise & Fall of Ruby Woo (2008, Verve): Vocal group, modelled on the Andrews Sisters, led by Marcella, last name Puppini. Her "sisters" are likely ringers, one named Kate Mullins, the other Stephanie O'Brien. Their previous album, Betcha Bottom Dollar, hewed more closely to the concept. Here they try to move on, you know, advance artistically. Puppini writes three songs, Mullins one. "Jilted" would be more than adequate filler if their covers held up better, but they range from "Old Cape Cod" to "Walk Like an Egyptian," stumbling badly on "Spooky" and "Could It Be Magic" -- not for Barry Manilow, not here either. B
Peter Brötzmann/Peeter Uuskyla: Born Broke (2006 , Atavistic, 2CD): Duo, stripped down from the trio that recorded the excellent Medicina in 2004. The loss of the bassist limits the color and shadings, but drummer Uusklya breaks loose impressively. Brötzmann is credited on the back cover with tenor sax and clarinet, but the booklet photos show him on alto sax with some other instruments sitting off to the side, possibly his trusty taragato. Does sound more like tenor, though. One can argue that he's mellowing a bit, but that's sort of like saying the Himalayas are eroding. First disc has three pieces totalling 57:51; second one piece at 38:24. The thin, harsh sound wears over time, but the rough hewn musicianship can be dazzling. B+(***)
Scott Robinson: Plays the Compositions of Thad Jones: Forever Lasting (1992-2005 , Arbors): Not the best of concepts. Robinson's specialty is in antique reed instruments, like C-Melody sax, bass saxophone, and contrabass sarrusophone, to which he adds various flutes and clarinet and a couple of brass instruments -- echo cornet, french horn, flugelhorn. He trends toward trad jazz and swing, whereas Thad Jones was postbop before bop even ran its course. Brother Hank Jones plays piano on one cut, but Richard Wyands handles most of the others, and Mike Le Donne chimes in on Hammond B-3 on five -- indeed, the album's dominant sound motif is bass sax over organ. Listed as "Great American Composers Series, Vol. 3." Vol.1 was Louis Armstrong (Jazz Ambassador), a better fit. Don't recall seeing a Vol. 2. B
Aaron Weinstein & John Pizzarelli: Blue Too (2007 , Arbors): Don't have a birth date for Weinstein, but when his first album (A Handful of Stars) came out he was still in his teens. A violinist, cites Joe Venuti at the head of his list of influences. For his debut, Weinstein tapped Bucky Pizzarelli for his Eddie Lang. Here he settles for the son, who turns out to be a pretty good match, and a steady next step after his star-studded debut showed so much taste and erudition. B+(**)
Hadley Caliman: Gratitude (2007 , Origin): Tenor saxophonist, started in Los Angeles in the 1950s -- website says he's 77, booklet says 76, AMG says born 1932. Had an eponymous record in 1971, a couple more over the years, but this is the first one in a good while. Recorded in Seattle. Quintet: Thomas Marriott (trumpet), Joe Locke (vibes), Phil Sparks (bass), Joe La Barbera (drums). The vibes are a nice touch, lightening and sharpening a fairly conventional west coast bop group. B+(**)
Mitch Paliga: Fall Night (2006 , Origin): Originally from Montana, based in or near Chicago since 1990, teaches at North Central College in Naperville, IL. Plays soprano sax, leading a quintet with an interesting postbop mix: Jo Ann Daugherty (Fender Rhodes, accordion), John McLean (guitar), Patrick Williams (acoustic bass), Ryan Bennett (drums). Bright and lively, doesn't get caught up in overly fancy harmonics. B+(**)
Chris Gestrin: After the City Has Gone: Quiet (2007, Songlines, 2CD): Canadian pianist, from near Vancouver, graduated from Berklee. Has a mixed bag of side credits (Randy Bachman, Loudon Wainwright III, K-OS, DOA, Nickelback, Swollen Members, Bruno Hubert's B3 Kings), 4 or 5 albums on his own. This is a set of 28 solo, duo, and trio pieces, mostly with other Vancouver musicians I recognize -- Jon Bentley (saxes), JP Carter (trumpet), Ron Samworth (guitar), Gordon Grdina (guitar, dobro), Peggy Lee (cello), Dylan van der Schyff (drums). They are mostly slow, quiet, and abstract -- chance encounters of sound without much thought to melody. Several instruments are prepared and/or processed. Didn't sound like much at first, and it seems like a lot to slog through it all, but I find it growing on me. Should probably keep it pending, but it's been on the shelf a long time already, and I'm doubting I'll find the time it needs. B+(*)
Walt Blanton: Monuments (2006 , Origin): Plays trumpet, based in Las Vegas, evidently teaches at UNLV, has two previous albums. This is a trio with Tony Branco on piano and John Nasshan on drums, also Las Vegas based. Improv set, free jazz, not so far out but holds your interest, full of little surprises. At least I'm surprised -- needs another play. [B+(***)]
Sam Barsh: I Forgot What You Taught Me (2008, RazDaz/Sunnyside): Plays electric keyboards more than piano. Based in New York since 2001. Plays in bassist Avishai Cohen's groups. This first album is a quartet with vibes (Tim Collins), bass and drums. Mostly groove pieces, the keyboards plasticky but not quite cheesy. Plays some melodica too, which fits. B+(*)
Amos Hoffman: Evolution (2007 , RazDaz/Sunnyside): Israeli guitarist, mostly plays oud now. Spent some time in New York, but is now based in Tel Aviv. Third album. Strong middle eastern flavor, with alto flute (Ilan Salem), bass (Avishai Cohen), and percussion (Ilan Katchka). Cohen contributes an unnecessary vocal, also plays some piano, but the string interplay predominates. B+(**)
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Charmaine Clamor: Flippin' Out (2007, FreeHam): Filipino singer, recasts "My Funny Valentine" as "My Funny Brown Pinay" and enlists the Pakaragulan Kulintang Ensemble for her 5-part "Filipino Suite," which doesn't push the exotica all that hard. Her torch ballad "Be My Love" drags a bit, but she shows a sweet tooth with some R&B grit on "Sugar in My Bowl" and "Candy." B+(*)
Kurt Elling: Nightmoves (2007, Concord): Live in Chicago led the Penguin Guide to exult: "what an electrifying performer Elling is!" They went on to dub Man in the Air "the jazz vocal album of the last decade." He seems to be the consensus male jazz vocalist pick. I don't think he has a lot of competition, but I've never heard anything from him that caught my ear. He does some vocalese, awkwardly forcing his voice through word mazes, with little vocal reach. The small groups here are too intimate to give him much cover. Fussy, arty, deadly dull, except for Randy Bachman's "Undun," which has a genuine pop hook and swings a little. I don't know his records well enough to know how this compares, but something is amiss. C+
Diane Hubka: Goes to the Movies (2005-06 , 18th & Vine): Clear, clean, articulate voice, as good as the songs, which as you know with movie music isn't always that good. But with 13 songs from 42 years (1937-79) they don't sink too far -- the mixed flow is the main distraction. The small group helps, especially Carl Saunders on trumpet/flugelhorn and Larry Koonse on guitar. B+(*)
Little Annie & Paul Wallfisch: When Good Things Happen to Bad Pianos (2007 , Durtro Jnana): The former leader of Annie and the Asexuals, a/k/a Annie Anxiety or sometimes even Annie Bandez. Rough, rockish voice, more attitude than art, but that suffices, especially on songs that pay dividends in kitsch -- "Song for You," "Private Dancer," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," but also "Yesterday When I Was Young" and "It Was a Very Good Year" and "One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)." Wallfisch plays piano. Doesn't live up to the destruction of the cover photos. Probably just as well. B+(**)
Sunday, March 9. 2008
Matt Taibbi: Hillary's Last Stand. Can't find the link on Rolling Stone's byzantine website. Some insightful comments on why women identify with Clinton, but here's the payoff quote:
As Taibbi points out, Clinton's got support from people who oppose (and evidently don't blame her for) most of that long list of things that got her and her husband to where they are now. One reason Bill Clinton fared so poorly is that he spent eight years ducking Republican flak. (On the other hand, people do identify and sympathize with getting the crap kicked out of them by Republicans, and the repeated experience seems to have helped the Clintons, if nothing else than by lowering expectations.) It's possible that if Hillary is nominated and elected she'll have a Congress she can do something with, if only she has a clue as to what.
Rolling Stone followed this with three pieces on Obama -- Jann Wenner's endorsement, Tim Dickinson on Obama's campaign, and Robert S. Boynton interviewing Cornell West. I didn't bother reading them. It takes a remarkable set of skills and a discomforting series of compromises for anyone to mount a serious campaign to be president, and I don't see a lot of point on dwelling on either, especially with Clinton and McCain the only surviving alternatives. That Obama has come from so far off the beaten path is itself impressive. Clearly he does at least have a sense of where he came from and what it took to get him this far. You have to respect that, and it's OK to think that coming from so far outside the elite and making it largely on his own he might react a little differently than your standard issue politician. On the other hand, the main ingredient to his success is his ability to raise money, and that puts him at the service of the people who have money to spare (or invest in political favors).
The Democrats (at least some of them) have managed to pull even (or ahead) of the Republicans in fundraising this year. The main reason is that eight years of Bush haven't been much of a blessing for the rich. Sure, some folks have done well -- defense contractors, security services, oil companies -- and the tax benefits have been generous, but the dollar has lost about 40% of its value against the euro, which hasn't been good news for anyone with dollars. The economy as a whole is sinking into recession, and everywhere you look there are ominous signs. Unless you got a big cut out of the war, unless you're a big-time polluter, unless you're making a killing off your foreign investments, unless you're selling out to foreigners stuck with too many dollars, you're unlikely to come out ahead when all the bills come due. Clinton's appeal to the rich is pretty straightforward, because she (or at least he) has a solid track record. Obama's appeal is more nebulous, but in desperate times that may be a plus. In any case, that fact that he's raising competitive money means he's learned how to play the game. That's probably a mixed blessing, but nobody's going to do as well as he's done by railing against big business.
So we'll see how this goes. Despite the closeness of the race and Clinton's presumed insider advantages, the fact that Obama is still in the race and by most accounts in the lead is a remarkable achievement. Even if the nomination winds up decided by established superdelegates, they may do well to recall how little help the last Clinton was to the fortunes of their party. The following quote is from Paul Woodward at WarInContext:
Matt Taibbi: McCain Resurrected. Some quotes:
Robert Dreyfuss: Hothead McCain. Basic background on McCain the patron saint of the neocons. A good example of his recklessness is his attitude toward Russia:
On McCain and the neocons:
Patrick Cockburn: Why Iraq Could Blow Up in John McCain's Face. Not really about McCain, nor much inclined to prognosticate about what will happen in Iraq between now and November, but plenty of detail about the present impasse. Cockburn likens the US forces to Syria's occupation of Lebanon from 1976-2005: "The Syrian army prevented the civil war escalating, but also stopped anything being resolved between the different communities." The violence may be down, but not as much as reported, and still worse than anywhere else in the world. The improved security hasn't led to much in the way of reconstruction or economic development. The political space is still fractured, and the outs are better armed than ever.
One thing Cockburn doesn't mention is that pretty much every year there has been a seasonal downturn over the winter months with a resurgence of violence in the spring. The seasonal nature of fighting in Afghanistan is more widely recognized. The path of McCain's surge platform isn't likely to be smooth.
Trita Parsi: Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States (2007, Yale University Press)
I wound up marking a huge number of quotes in Parsi's book, so some sort of executive summary is in order. The book doesn't really cover the latest sabre rattling, but offers much necessary background to understand what's happening, not least the superficial and cynical opportunism exhibited by all three powers.
One striking thing is the relative continuity of interests shared by Iran under the Shah and under the Islamic Republic. These relate to deep-seated national values: resentment against British, Russian, and (more obliquely in the Shah's case) American imperialism and the reduction of a proud empire to second- or third-class status in the region and the world; the even deeper rivalry between Iran and its Arab neighbors, reinforced by language, culture, and the Sunni-Shia religious divide. The main differences between the two periods are that after the Shah was overthrown the US became much more hostile toward Iran (broken up by stretches of malign neglect), and under Khomeini Iran's attempts to project regional influence were mostly couched in religious terms.
The US attitude toward Iran shifted in 1953, when the CIA staged a successful coup against Iran's democratic government (the Shah had been installed by the British in 1944, but his powers were limited), and again in 1979 when the Shah was overthrown. Before 1953, British control over Iran's oil industry left the US on the sidelines with no particular role, although US oil companies had started to operate in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states. After the coup, the Shah developed into one of the most megalomaniacal rulers of recent years, especially in the 1970s with oil prices booming and Iran given a favored role as a US proxy under Kissinger's geopolitical scheme.
The main thing Americans remember about Iran is that during the revolution Iranian student seized the US embassy and held Americans hostage for over a year. The Carter administration was frustrated by the hostage crisis. Ronald Reagan turned this to his advantage, securing the release of the hostages as soon as he took office. Reagan enjoyed a secretive relationship with Iran leading to the embarrassment of the Iran-Contra affair, but he also tilted toward Iraq in its war against Iran. Since then the US has veered between indifference and outright hostility, the latter tracking Israel's changing attitudes toward Iran.
Parsi maps out Israel's changing relations with Iran, showing that Israeli attitudes had more to do with Israel's own strategic power interests than with whatever Iran was or was not thinking or doing at the time. In particular, he shows how Yitzhak Rabin and Benjamin Netanyahu at various times took pro- and anti-Iran stances depending on other factors. Rabin, for instance, despite a long history of supporting Israel's "peripheral strategy" that favored good relations with Iran, turned hard against Iran while working on the Oslo peace process -- with the Palestinians no longer in play as Israel's existential enemy, Rabin ratcheted up tensions with Iran to keep Israel stocked with a critical enemy. Netanyahu, hoping to dismantle Oslo, took the opposite tack, dismissing Iran as a threat while emphasizing the Palestinians. Later on, with Oslo routed, Netanyahu became the prophet of Iranian doom. The two US-Iraq wars both resulted in Israel ratcheting up rhetoric against Iran. Both Iraq wars threatened to undermine the special US-Israel relationship because both times the US found itself in need of Arab allies than and unable to make much use of its alliance with Israel. Stirring up trouble between the US and Iran helped bolster Israel in America's eyes. (Although in the latter case, one might argue that US neocons were so far ahead of everyone in opposing Iran that the Israeli support was merely helping out.)
One conclusion we should draw from this is that Israel has from the very beginning thought of nothing but continuing its conflict. The reasons for this may have varied over time, but whenever Israel makes a step toward peace they immediately undermine it with a counterstep toward more war. One example is how Oslo was matched with Rabin's exacerbation of Iran. An earlier example was how the 1979 agreement with Egypt was followed by the 1982 invasion and occupation of Lebanon. All through history, Israel has primarily viewed its relationship with Iran in terms of conflict: the reason Israel supported Iran both under the Shah and later during the Iran-Iraq war was for Iran's strategic value against Israel's Arab enemies. As Arab countries have dropped out of the conflict, Iran was seen as more of a threat in its own right, even though Iran's ideological and rhetorical position against Zionist Israel has been consistent. The fact that Iran has almost never acted against Israel in any concrete way has never mattered.
Another thing worth noting here is how Israel's neediness interferes with trying to construct a realistic American foreign poicy. The US has done things to Iran that we should be ashamed and apologetic for: overthrowing Mossadegh, arming the Shah, arming Iraq in a war with Iran that left over a million dead. There's also smaller items, like the Iranian airliner the US shot down. Iran's own record has more than a few blemishes on it, but there have been opportunities to put these things to the side and rebuild a constructive, respectful relationship that would help both countries. Certainly the US would benefit from a civil working relationship with Iran when dealing with major problems in Iraq and Afghanistan, but our inability to separate US interests from Israel's demands has made that impossible. Instead, the confluence of Bushist and Sharonist war mongering keeps driving Iran into a corner, making them more wary and more dangerous -- despite all the belligerent threats coming from Bush's hawks, probably more than anyone responsible in the US military wants to bite off for now.
Parsi's book is notable for showing us the full history of these relationships, and how nonsensical the conflicts have become.
Quotes follow in the extended body.
Continue reading "Treacherous Alliance"
Saturday, March 8. 2008
Peter Godwin: When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa (2007, Little Brown)
A couple of quotes from Joshua Hammer's New York Review of Books (Dec. 20, 2007) review of Peter Godwin's Zimbabwe memoir:
Rhodesia under Ian Smith declared independence from Great Britain in 1965, creating a racist government in a nation where whites made up less than 1 percent of the population. Smith's government fell to Robert Mugabe in 1980, who then had to balance off colonial economics against majority rule (p. 32):
Friday, March 7. 2008
Samantha Power: Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World (2008, Penguin Press)
The Jan. 7, 2008 issue of The New Yorker has a piece by Samantha Power called "The Envoy: The United Nations' doomed mission to Iraq." The article is presumably excerpted from Power's forthcoming book, Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World. The following quotes are from the magazine article:
The introduction talks about how UN officials feared US success in the 2003 invasion of Iraq (p. 43):
Of course, that's what Bush's neocons were aiming for. But the UN had already sacrificed its relevance, starting in 1948 when it and the world powers who had launched it failed to their first major problem: Palestine. That continuing failure has reminded the world of their irrelevance ever since. Over the years the US has paid less and less lip service to the UN, under Bush only going to the UN for the most cynical political cover: e.g., 1483 (p.43):
Despite reservations, the UN took the crumbs given it, and sent veteran diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello, against his better judgment, to Baghdad (p. 46):
The latter is the critical point. By not criticizing the US occupation in public the UN failed to leverage its reputation either to change US policy or to gain good will from Iraqis; as such, the UN blended into the US occupation. The US could use the UN presence to enhance its legitimacy in the west, while the UN became just another occupation target in Iraq.
A little hubris here, but the general point is likely true (p. 52):
Article ends with Vieira de Mello dying, trapped for hours under rubble when the UN building in Baghdad was bombed. A second bombing finally drove the UN out of Iraq, leaving Bremer and the Americans to enjoy their tainted sovereignty.
Just as I was getting ready to post this, I noticed that Power was forced to resign from her perch advising the Obama campaign. Greg Mitchell reports:
I'm not sure which of many angles to this semi-story is the most sordid. I wouldn't call Clinton a monster, but can't guarantee I'd be able to suppress a chuckle if someone else did. I don't exactly agree with what Sullivan said, but there's some truth to it. I'm not a fan of Power -- she strikes me as one of those "dangerous do-gooders" the Marine in Generation Kill refers to -- but she certainly knows more about the UN and how to work with it than 9 out of 10 foreign policy wonks in America these days, and I can see that as a useful resource (although hardly critical at this stage in the campaign). Most of all, I don't like the current vogue of summary execution for misspeaking, but Clinton's had to sack people in her organization for comparable gaffes. On the other hand, the media and much of the electorate seem to be so shallow at this point that elections can turn on this nonsense.
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone (2006; paperback, 2007, Vintage Books)
I came late to this book, largely because I was peeved by how readily Chandrasekaran would parrot any US propaganda line when he frequently appeared in PBS news reports from Baghdad. I suppose his payback was access to the inner workings of the CPA, and he payed them back impressively in his perfectly titled book. It focuses on what for most reporters should have been the easy part, covering Paul Bremer's CPA in Baghdad's safe, secluded Green Zone, showing what should have been obvious from the start: that the party hacks the Bush administration sent to Baghdad were the wrong people at the wrong time in the wrong place with the wrong ideas and skill sets.
Still, the biggest problem is that this ends when Bremer leaves. The CPA/Bremer period is by pretty well documented by now, at least compared to the much more secretive occupation command that followed, first under John Negroponte then under Zalmay Khalilzad. This was the period when it became unsafe for reporters to leave the Green Zone, so it's all the more disappointing that so few bothered to do some actual reporting on what was actually happening inside the palace.
Welcome to the Green Zone (p. 15):
Interviewing Iraq's proconsul, Paul Bremer shortly after arriving, Chandrasekaran asks what is his top priority? (p. 70):
Bremer evidently didn't know much about de-Nazification either. Immediately after the war, the Americans and Russians were scrambling to hire ex-Nazis, especially if they knew how to build rockets or might be useful spying on each other. As soon as the Germans could, they quietly abandoned the rest of the program.
Bremer's first meeting with the exiled Iraqi political leaders: Ahmed Chalabi, Ayad Allawi, Ibrahim al-Jafari, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Jalal Talabani, Massoud Barzani, Adnan Pachachi (pp. 88-89):
The CPA appointed Peter McPherson, president of Michigan State University and a Cheney friend, as economic policy director (pp. 135-137):
This decision effectively bankrupted all Iraqi state enterprises, even ones that had previously established their economic viability.
Robert Blackwill was a State Department diplomat thrown into the planning for establishing some sort of Iraqi constitution and goverment, an issue where the CPA was at loggerheads with Ayatollah al-Sistani, who insisted on elections of Iraqis to write the constitution (p. 233):
Bremer agreed to implement this scheme by the sovereignty handover date. The scheme wasn't implemented. It was killed by the US military, stretched thin enough without having to face food riots.