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Monday, May 14, 2018


Music Week

Music: current count 29697 [29660] rated (+37), 349 [356] unrated (-7).

Once again, counted the list below and found my rated count short, so checked everything, adding four grades. Also noticed one item missing from the list. Still two short, but harder to check that direction, and will soon be forgotten anyway. Presumably the Year 2018 list is accurate. I've been adding quite a few records to the Music Tracking list, mostly based on various AOTY lists -- up to 772 records at the moment (OK, vs. 3690 for 2017, but 1742 for 2016; by the way, rated counts are: 279, 1179, 1167; if you figure we're 25% into 2018 -- counting January in the previous year as we're always playing catch up -- the track this year is for 1116 albums, down a bit but not much).

Confidence Man and Kali Uchis are currently ranked 1st and 5th on AOTY, and I might not have noticed them otherwise. (Not that their picks are a lock, as shown by 3rd-ranked Black Foxxes and number ten Hot Snakes -- I was also pointed toward the latter by Phil Overeem, and I've followed most of his tips.) I also noticed Kate Nash on AOTY's lists, but nowhere near the top. Top record I haven't heard yet is Saba's Care for Me (2), followed by the Xcerts' Hold on to Your Heart (6), and many more from 13th down.

The Ry Cooder record was reviewed by Robert Christgau here -- also Mount Eerie's Now Only, 14th on AOTY's list, which I'll get to in due course. As of this writing, Christgau's website is still down. This has been reported to the hosting company, who are reportedly working on it. We had another outage a few months ago, but they've generally been rare.

One thing that I should note is the confusing product choices surrounding the 25th anniversary of Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville. I gave the preferred grade to the 3-CD box, but actually only listened to the MP3-only The Girly-Sound Tapes -- effectively solo demos for the album and the leading edge of Phair's career. The box combines a remaster of the classic album with the Tapes, and as best I can tell, the 3CD set (although not the 7LP box) is actually cheaper than the MP3 Tapes alone. I can say that I was seriously considering an A- for Tapes, but consumer guidance (and the desire just to picture one cover) steered me the other way.

A couple of links to recommend:

I was particularly pleased to see the mention of Nick Mason's Fictitious Sports ("a Carla Bley album in all but name").

I should also note that avant-guitarist Glenn Branca has died (1948-2018), but can't really say much about him. Legendary, but I never got around to listening to his records -- possibly because too many had "Symphony" in the title.


New records rated this week:

  • Anteloper: Kudu (2017 [2018], International Anthem): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Black Foxxes: Reiđi (2018, Spinefarm): [r]: B
  • Greg Burk: The Detroit Songbook (2017 [2018], SteepleChase): [r]: B+(**)
  • David Byrne: American Utopia (2018, Nonesuch): [r]: B
  • J. Cole: KOD (2018, Roc Nation): [r]: B+(**)
  • Confidence Man: Confident Music for Confident People (2018, Heavenly): [r]: A-
  • Ry Cooder: The Prodigal Son (2018, Fantasy): [r]: A-
  • Robert Diack: Lost Villages (2018, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • DJ Koze: Knock Knock (2018, Pampa): [r]: B
  • Yelena Eckemoff: Desert (2015 [2018], L&H Production): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Fickle Friends: You Are Someone Else (2018, Polydor): [r]: B+(**)
  • Benito Gonzalez/Gerry Gibbs/Essiet Okon Essiet: Passion Reverence Transcendence: The Music of McCoy Tyner (2016 [2018], Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Eddie Henderson: Be Cool (2018, Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(***)
  • Fred Hersch Trio: Live in Europe (2017 [2018], Palmetto): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Hop Along: Bark Your Head Off, Dog (2018, Saddle Creek): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jon Hopkins: Singularity (2018, Domino): [r]: B+(***)
  • Hot Snakes: Jericho Sirens (2018, Sub Pop): [r]: B
  • Hayley Kiyoko: Expectations (2018, Empire/Atlantic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Matt Lavelle's 12 Houses: End Times (2014 [2017], Unseen Rain): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Matt Lavelle/Lewis Porter/Hilliard Greene/Tom Cabrera: Matt Lavelle Quartet (2016 [2017], Unseen Rain): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Kate Nash: Yesterday Was Forever (2018, Girl Gang): [r]: A-
  • Juan Andrés Ospina Big Band: Tramontana (2017 [2018], self-released): [cd]: B
  • Reggie Quinerly: Words to Love (2017 [2018], Redefinition Music): [cd]: B
  • Kristo Rodzevski: The Rabbit and the Fallen Sycamore (2017 [2018], Much Prefer): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Saba: Bucket List Project (2016, Saba Pivot): [r]: B+(**)
  • Edward Simon: Sorrows & Triumphs (2017 [2018], Sunnyside): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Gary Smulyan: Alternative Contrafacts (2017 [2018], SteepleChase): [r]: B+(***)
  • Hans Teuber & Jeff Johnson: Deuce (2017 [2018], Origin): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Kali Uchis: Isolation (2018, Virgin EMI): [r]: A-
  • Marije Van Dijk: The Stereography Project Feat. Jeff Taylor and Katell Keinig (2018, Hert/Membran): [cd]: B
  • Darryl Yokley's Sound Reformation: Pictures at an African Exhibition (2018, Truth Revolution): [bc]: B

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • Liz Phair: The Girly-Sound Tapes (1991, Matador): [r]: B+(***)
  • Liz Phair: Girly-Sound to Guyville (1991-93, Matador, 3CD): [r]: A-

Old music rated this week:

  • Gary Smulyan Quartet: Homage (1991 [1993], Criss Cross): [r]: B+(***)
  • Gary Smulyan: The Real Deal (2002 [2003], Reservoir): [r]: B+(*)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Justin Brown: Nyeus! (Biophilia): June 29, packaging, no CD
  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Rafal Mazur: Beyond Dimensions (FMR)
  • Amos Hoffman/Noam Lemish: Pardes (self-released): June 1
  • Adam O'Farrill: El Maquech (Biophilia): June 1, packaging, no CD
  • William Parker: Voices Fall From the Sky (AUM Fidelity, 3CD): June 15

Sunday, May 13, 2018


Weekend Roundup

I finally finished reading Katy Tur's Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History. That would be the Trump campaign, which she covered from May 2015 to election night, choosing the most value-neutral terms she can stomach ("craziest"?). Pretty short on analysis and critical insight, but she found herself the target of Trump's ire and bullying often enough to develop a real distaste for the man -- especially during rallies where Trump whipped up the frenzied masses and threatened to unleash them on the press section. Still, she witnessed enough of Trump's effect on his adoring crowds to take them seriously -- just not enough to tell us much about them. That's partly because a large slice of the book is about her art and craft; i.e., how trivial TV "news" reporting really is. The book is organized with chapters on the road intercut with as many bits on election day and night, as it dawns on everyone that the unthinkable has happened. One memorable line: "To actually watch Trump's miracle come in is a shock like missing the last stair or sugaring your coffee with what proves to be salt. It's not just an intellectual experience. The whole body responds." The following page (p. 279) includes a bit on Michael Cohen (no longer "best known for an appearance on CNN back in August") celebrating at the victory party.

This is the third (or fourth or fifth) book on the election season I've read, after Matt Taibbi: Insane Clown President: Dispatches From the 2016 Circus and Jonathan Allen/Amie Parnes: Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign, and one might also add Bernie Sanders: Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In (first part a memoir of the campaign, followed by a platform statement) and/or David Frum: Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic (more on the campaign, especially the DNC hacks, but carries into a critique of the Trump administration). None of these are likely to stand as history -- Taibbi has the best instincts, but threw his book too fast from already dated pieces without sorting out or understanding the whiplash. Nor have I seen much that looks promising.

I suspect that when historians finally develop the stomach to relive the 2016 campaign, they'll recognize in Trump's campaign rallies some variant on the common theme of religious revivalism mixed in with a surprisingly adroit scam of both mass and highly-targeted media, with the Kochs, Mercers, and (yes) Russians lurking in the background. On the other hand, most Democrats couldn't see how brittle and lacklustre Clinton's path to the nomination was, and therefore how vulnerable she was to a shameless demagogue like Trump. Much of this is hinted at in various chronicles and broadsides, but thus far most observers have been so committed to their particular views that they've overshot the mark.

On the other hand, each new week offers more insights into the strange worldview of Donald Trump and the increasingly strange world he is plunging us into. The two major stories this past week are Trump's repudiation of the Iran nuclear deal (oddly juxtaposed with official optimism for a similar deal with North Korea) and much more information about Trump attorney Michael Cohen's efforts to cash in on his client's election.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: The week's 4 biggest political stories, explained: President Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal; Trump set a date to negotiate a nuclear deal with Korea (June 12 in Singapore); Michael Cohen got caught with his hand in the cookie jar; Trump admitted he's not doing some stuff ("the White House admitted that despite those promises, there will be no 2018 infrastructure bill . . . Trump dropped promises to have Medicare negotiate cheaper rates"). Other Yglesias posts:

    • Drug company stocks really liked today's Trump speech on drug prices: Chart shows the SPDR S&P Pharmaceuticals index spiking after the speech (although note the momentary dip, as if it took a few minutes for the early tough talk to be discounted. "The president is very selective about which promises he keeps, with the "economic populist" ones seemingly always the ones to end up on the cutting room floor."

    • There's an easier way for California to build greener housing: just build more homes. Hard to read the chart here, but the states with 40+ tons or carbon dioxide per person are Wyoming, North Dakota, Alaska, and (I think) Louisiana. On the low end, with less than 10 tons, are District of Columbia, New York, California, Oregon, and (I think) Massachusetts.

    • Sheldon Adelson cuts $30 million check to help House Republicans win the midterms. "The $30 million the octogenarian casino billionaire is spending on the midterms may sound like a lot, but it's actually a drop in the bucket compared to what Adelson's heirs will gain thanks to the estate tax cut provisions of Trump tax bill alone. . . . The same goes for even richer people like the Koch brothers, who are planning to spend even larger sums in the midterms."

    • Michael Cohen's LLC got secret corporate payments. What about Trump's shell companies? More significant than the revelation that a crony like Cohen would seek to profit from his association with Trump is the revelation that a number of big name companies were eager to buy his "services."

      In a normal presidency, it would be very difficult to make large, secret cash payments to the president of the United States as a means of currying favor with him. You could donate to his reelection campaign, but that would have to be disclosed. And you could hire people who you believe to have a relationship with him in hopes that they can peddle influence on your behalf (as AT&T and Novartis apparently did with Cohen), but it might not work.

      But there would be basically no way to directly pay the president in secret. Trump has changed that. It's completely unclear how Avenatti came to be in possession of the documents that reveal the payments to Essential Consultants, but it came about due to some kind of leak. Had they not leaked, we would still be in the dark. And since no financial documents related to any of the many LLCs that Trump controls personally have leaked, we have no idea who is paying him or why. . . .

      If Trump disclosed his tax returns, as is customary for presidential candidates, then those returns would contain fairly detailed statements regarding the incomes of these various entities. It would, of course, still be possible to conceal the true source of income through the use of further shell companies. A firm that wanted to pay Trump could, for example, create an indirectly controlled intermediary shell company, give money to that shell entity, and then have the shell entity hire DT Aerospace (Bermuda) LLC or whichever other Trump-owned firm it likes. But if we saw Trump's books, we would at least see clear evidence of him getting paid by mystery entities that could then be investigated by Congress or by journalists on their own terms.

      Without the tax returns, however, we know nothing.

      The tax return issue has long since fallen off the front burner of the political debate. It has come to be viewed in some circles as an esoteric or pathetic hang-up of Trump's opponents. But it's quite clear that the Trump Organization continues to be aggressively profit-seeking, quite clear that companies and individuals with interests in American politics openly seek to court Trump's favor by patronizing his hotel and clubs, and now clear that at least some companies with significant regulatory interests have also sought to advance their policy agenda via secret cash payments to an LLC controlled by a Trump associate.

      More Cohen links:

    • Republicans are deploying troll feminism to try to get Gina Haspel confirmed: "Bad-faith arguments about gender representation from people who don't believe in it."

    • Stormy Daniels is crowding out Democrats' 2018 message.

  • Barbara Ehrenreich: Patriarchy Deflated.

  • Henry Farrell: The "Intellectual Dark Web," explained: what Jordan Peterson has in common with the alt-right: In response to Bari Weiss: Meet the Renegades of the Intellectual Dark Web, a group of "thinkers" whose common thread seems to be an eagerness to rationalize various forms of bigotry. IDW, evidently taken from a website which follows and certifies them, strikes me as a silly name. Such people don't seem to be especially obscure -- the best known to me is Sam Harris, who promotes atheism by slandering Islam. (Chris Hedges featured him prominently in I Don't Believe in Atheists.) As Farrell points out, there is nothing new in their fancy for theories of racial and sexual superiority -- indeed, we're not far removed from a time when such pseudo-science was commonplace. For another reaction, see Michelle Goldberg: How the Online Left Fuels the Right, which doesn't really argue what the title suggests -- more like how hard it is for the left to be understood through the jaundiced views of the right.

    One suspects the same title writer had a hand in Gerard Alexander: Liberals, You're Not as Smart as You Think You Are. I'm not as touchy about petty slander of liberals as I am of the left, probably because as a teen, even though I had absorbed most of the liberal/progressive view of American history, I associated liberals with the Cold War and even more so the hot war in Vietnam, and I wound up devouring books like Robert Paul Wolff's The Poverty of Liberalism. I mellowed later, partly as most of the liberal hawks turned into neocons, and partly because middle class society I grew up in no longer looked so oppressive. Still, I've always maintained a basic distinction between liberals and leftists: the former focus on individuals and their freedom, emphasizing equal opportunities over results; the latter think more of classes and aggregates, of social relations, and aim for equal results (within some practicable limits). Conservatives rarely bother with such distinctions: their cardinal principle is to preserve inequality from birth onward, so they view liberals and leftists as interchangeable, and this has led to an uneasy alliance between defined by a common enemy. Still, my disquisition is beside the point here. Alexander is one of those who group anyone resisting the conservative onslaught as liberal. And his point is that liberals aren't as effective as they should be, because they're kind of annoying:

    Liberals dominate the entertainment industry, many of the most influential news sources and America's universities. This means that people with progressive leanings are everywhere in the public eye -- and are also on the college campuses attended by many people's children or grandkids. These platforms come with a lot of power to express values, confer credibility and celebrity and start national conversations that others really can't ignore.

    But this makes liberals feel more powerful than they are. Or, more accurately, this kind of power is double-edged. Liberals often don't realize how provocative or inflammatory they can be. In exercising their power, they regularly not only persuade and attract but also annoy and repel.

    In fact, liberals may be more effective at causing resentment than in getting people to come their way. I'm not talking about the possibility that jokes at the 2011 correspondents' association dinner may have pushed Mr. Trump to run for president to begin with. I mean that the "army of comedy" that Michael Moore thought would bring Mr. Trump down will instead be what builds him up in the minds of millions of voters.

    I rather doubt that even the premise is true here. There are a lot of conservatives in academia, and behind the scenes right-wing donors (like the Kochs) have inordinate influence. Media and entertainment companies (increasingly the same thing) are owned by rich megacorps, backed by even richer bankers. The media isn't divided between left and right. It is either blatantly right-partisan or equivocally mainstream, attempting to balance "legitimate" politician viewpoints while covering news only to the extent it fits within the conventional wisdom and is entertaining. Needless to say, this dynamic has been very helpful for the right -- not just by bottling much of their base up in a propaganda bubble, where they can dismiss inconvenient news as the work of liberal elites, but by demanding their "enemies" grant them a degree of legitimacy that never need be reciprocated.

    As for the "army of comedy," it's pretty certain that no Trump fans are tuning in, so whatever umbrage they take comes secondhand, usually with context removed (see, e.g., the right-wing reaction to the Michelle Wolf event). I've watched Stephen Colbert and Seth Myers -- thanks to DVR, just the opening parts -- ever since the election, and I must say that they have helped to make this stretch of time more tolerable. They offer a useful but not-very-reliable daily news recap -- mostly stories I've already read about -- but more important for me is the solidarity with the audience: I'm reminded every weekday night that I'm not alone, that there are a lot of people out there as appalled by Trump as I am. (Indeed, proof of audience numbers is that fact that staid corporations allow those shows to air.)

    Alexander goes on to fault liberals for attacking racism with "a wide brush," to harping on "microaggressions," to their "tremendous intellectual and moral self-confidence that smacks of superiority." Still, there's nothing pecularly liberal about these complaints. Conservatives hold almost identically opposite views -- what else can you make of their constant harping about "political correctness" and "liberal elites"? On the other hand, conservative umbrage is often about changing the subject -- e.g., try squaring the complaint that "liberal politicians portrayed conservative positions on immigration reform as presumptively racist" with Trump's "shithole countries" remark. Maybe it is possible to construct an anti-immigration platform that isn't racist, but it's damn hard to sell it to the American people on any other basis, and we have good evidence that many of the people who are pushing such a program are doing so for staunchly racist reasons. And consider this paragraph:

    Liberals are trapped in a self-reinforcing cycle. When they use their positions in American culture to lecture, judge and disdain, they push more people into an opposing coalition that liberals are increasingly prone to think of as deplorable. That only validates their own worst prejudices about the other America.

    Not only can you substitute "conservatives" for "liberals" there, doing so would make it even more true. Maybe the title should have been, "Conservatives, You're Not as Smart as You Think You Are"?

  • Conor Friedersdorf: It's Time for Trump Voters to Face the Bitter Truth: "Republicans elected a president who promised to take on D.C. -- instead, Trump has presided over an extraordinary auction of access and influence." It seems like it's only a matter of time before even Trump voters realize how extraordinarily corrupt Trump and his circle are, with Michael Cohen's influence peddling a prime example:

    Back in 2016, "established K Street firms were grabbing any Trump people they could find," Nick Confessore reported in "How to Get Rich in Trump's Washington," a feature for The New York Times Magazine. "Jim Murphy, Trump's former political director, joined the lobbying giant BakerHostetler, while another firm, Fidelis Government Relations, struck up a partnership with Bill Smith, Mike Pence's former chief of staff. All told, close to 20 ex-aides of Trump, friends, and hangers-on had made their way into Washington's influence business."

    Brian Ballard, a longtime Trump acquaintance, seems to have leveraged his relationship to the president most profitably. The Turkish government is among his firm's many clients. Politico says Turkey pays $125,000 per month. Why does it find that price worthwhile?

    George David Banks was a top energy aide to Donald Trump who came from the world of lobbying. But he quit his job in the White House when he couldn't get a security clearance. Here's what he told E&E News, an energy trade publication: "Going back to be a full-time swamp creature is certainly an attractive option." Then he rejoined his former post at the American Council for Capital Formation, a think tank and lobbying group. I guess he wasn't joking.

    Remember when Trump told you that he would release his tax returns and then never did? Remember when he said that if he won the election he would put his business interests aside? "Ever since Trump and his family arrived in Washington they have essentially hung a for-sale sign on the White House by refusing to meaningfully separate themselves from their own business interests," Bloomberg's Tim O'Brien notes. "That's certainly not lost on the companies that do business in or with Washington. They know that in Trump's swamp, you pay to play."

  • Tara Golshan: Trump may just blow up the farm bill over demanding food stamp work requirements. I've long seen the Agriculture bill as a compromise deal between rural politicians who want market supports for farmers and agribusiness and urban politicians who want to fund SNAP (the "food stamp" program). Both sides have been uneasy about such a deal -- stupidly, I think, especially when they resort to anti-welfare arguments. Some wish to cut back or kill off what they see as subsidies to corporate agribusiness, and I don't doubt that there are aspects of the bill that could be tightened up. But much of the business side of the bill is necessary to stabilize notoriously volatile markets, and that stability and solvency helps make food relatively affordable for everyone. Some libertarians oppose such efforts, but most conservatives are fine with business-as-usual, so the far-right has focused on blowing up SNAP, and their chosen vector is "work requirements" for recipients. In one sense that seems innocuous: most SNAP recipients do in fact work -- albeit for wages too low to feed their families. Actually, there are four key beneficiaries to SNAP: the recipients; their employers, as this helps to keep low-wage jobs viable; retailers, who cash food stamps at retail prices; and agribusiness (farmers but especially processed food companies), who benefit from the larger market. But while most Republicans approve of at least the last three, the "moral critique" of welfare has become such a reflex among the far-right -- not least because Democrats from Daniel Moynahan to Bill Clinton have lent credence to the chorus -- that all they can see is an opportunity to harass and hurt poor people. Not a big surprise that Trump should get caught up in their rhetoric. Among other things, there is probably no area of government that he understands less about than agricultural policy. (Not that there aren't other areas where zero applies, but given that rural areas voted so heavily for him, his lack of understanding and interest is especially glaring.)

    By the way, one of the most outspoken saboteurs of agriculture bills past was Tim Huelskamp, who represented the massive 1st District in west Kansas. He wound up upsetting farmers and businesses in the district so badly that they challenged him in the Republican primary and beat him -- the only case I know of where a right-winger has been purged by regular Republicans.

    For another comment on the agriculture bill and SNAP, see Paul Krugman: Let Them Eat Trump Steaks, where he notes:

    And yes, this means that some of the biggest victims of Trump's obsession with cutting "welfare" will be the very people who put him in office.

    Consider Owsley County, Ky., at the epicenter of Appalachia's regional crisis. More than half the county's population receives food stamps; 84 percent of its voters supported Trump in 2016. Did they know what they were voting for?

    In the end, I don't believe there's any policy justification for the attack on food stamps: It's not about the incentives, and it's not about the money. And even the racial animus that traditionally underlies attacks on U.S. social programs has receded partially into the background.

    No, this is about petty cruelty turned into a principle of government. It's about privileged people who look at the less fortunate and don't think, "There but for the grace of God go I"; they just see a bunch of losers. They don't want to help the less fortunate; in fact, they get angry at the very idea of public aid that makes those losers a bit less miserable.

  • Jen Kirby/Emily Stewart: The very long list of high-profile White House departures: Cheat sheet, in case you need a reminder. Actually, not nearly as long as it should be.

  • Ezra Klein: American democracy as faced worse threats than Donald Trump. "We had a Civil War, after all." Point taken, but I have little confidence that, should Trump be deposed (even routinely in the 2020 election) that some/many of his supporters won't also elect "to exercise their Second Amendment rights." And after that, Klein's list starts to peter out. "We interned families of Japanese descent." Yeah, bad, but how is that really different from what INS is doing now? Or that we're currently running the largest and most intensive mass incarceration system in the world? "We pitched into the Iraq War based on lies." And Trump has recommitted us to the domain of truth? How can anyone write this the same week Trump tried to destroy the Iran nuclear deal? Or a year after Trump withdrew from the Paris Accords? I suppose Klein does us a service reminding us that "the era that we often hold up as the golden age of American democracy was far less democratic, far less liberal, far less decent, than [we think it was] today." Where he gets into trouble is in omitting those bracketed words, implying that today's political/economic/cultural order is more democratic, more liberal, and more decent than any time in America's past. One might credit some people with striving to make that true, but damn few of them hold any degree of power or even influence, and those people who do are pretty damn explicit about their campaign against democracy, liberalism, and decency (although they may prefer other words). The fact is nobody knows how bad it actually is, let alone how bad it's likely to get. The fact is that Trump has maintained the same 40% approval rate he was elected with, despite near-daily embarrassments. The Republicans hold structural advantages in Congress and the courts and all across the nation that they exploit ruthlessly and without shame. And the rich people who bankrolled them are only getting richer, with segment of the media in their pockets -- making sure that no serious changes are possible, regardless of how bad they screw things up.

    I don't mind that Klein is trying to put forth "the case for optimism about America." Nor do I doubt that he brings up things that could help to change the current course. And he's young enough to enjoy some hope that he'll live to see a change. But that's far from a lock, or even a good bet. Much of today's bad policy will only have incremental effect, slowly adding up until something serious breaks -- a causality that many won't notice even when it's too late. It was, after all, decisions early in the 1980s under Reagan that led to stagnant wages, inflated profits, and poisonous inequality. Al Qaeda and ISIS are direct descendants of the US decision in 1979 to back Islamic Jihad in Afghanistan, although that too can be traced back to American decisions from 1945 on to take a dominant role in Middle Eastern oil and, only slightly later, to turn against the Soviet Union and progressive movements everywhere. Alongside the Cold War, the late 1940s passage of Taft-Hartley started to turn the tide against labor unions, over time reducing them from a third to a twelfth of the private sector workforce. The failure to take climate change seriously is similarly rooted in the politics of oil, and in the corruption that the Reagan-era mantra "greed is good" promoted. Trump and virtually all Republicans have embraced this ideology and continue to promote it -- indeed, will so until it fails them, most probably catastrophically.

    I'm pretty suspicious of people like Yascha Mounk, interviewed by Klein in the audio accompanying this piece (and no, I didn't listen to the interview), but I do think Trump is "breaking norms" in ways that are simply treacherous. For instance, see Jen Kirby: Poll: most Republicans now think Trump is being framed by the FBI. Now personally, I'm pretty suspicious of the FBI, and I realize that they have a long history of abusing their power to hunt and hurt those they regard as enemies. Still, Trump is not the sort of guy who easily finds himself on the FBI enemies list. But more importantly, the source of this suspicion is clearly the Trump camp, in a cynical attempt to condition his followers to reject any actual evidence of wrong-doing. This is actually an old trick -- one Trump plied before the election when he argued that the system is rigged against him and vowed not to accept "fake news" reports of his loss.

  • Mark Landler: Clashing Views on Iran Reflect a New Balance of Power in the Cabinet: Article credits John Bolton as the decisive force behind Trump's abandonment of the agreement Obama and Kerry negotiated to resolve the supposed crisis of Iran's nuclear program (really just separating uranium isotopes), with Mike Pompeo the swing vote, and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis opposed ("but did not push the case as vocally toward the end"). More Iran links:

    • Peter Beinart: Abandoning Iran Deal, U.S. Joins Israel in Axis of Escalation, who sums up in a tweet: "There are now two Wests. One, led by the leaders of Germany, France + UK, which believes in liberal democracy and international law. And a second, headquartered in Washington + Jerusalem, which holds those values in contempt." By the way, Beinart previously wrote: Trump May Already Be Violating the Iran Deal.

    • Phyllis Bennis: Is Trump's Abandonment of the Iran Nuke Deal a Prelude to War? Given that Israel attacked alleged Iranian targets in Syria within hours of Trump's announcement, I'd have to say yes. Israel had spent the previous week warning about Iran's desire to attack Israel, so it seems likely that Netanyahu was hoping to provoke an attack. Had it come from Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israel could respond like they did in 2006. On the other hand, had it come from Iran itself, Israel would no doubt have appealed to Trump to do the honors -- given that US forces in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and the Persian Gulf were much closer to Iranian targets. I doubt that Trump actually wants to start a war with Iran, but subcontracting US foreign policy to Israel and the Saudis runs that risk. It was, after all, those countries which put all the pressure on Trump to break the Iran deal. Indeed, they put all the pressure on the US to address the so-called crisis of Iran's "nuclear program" in the first place, only to reject the only possible solution to their anxieties. For more on Israel, see Richard Silverman below. For more on the Saudis, see Ben Freeman/William D Hartung: How the Saudis Wooed Donald Trump.

    • Michael Klare: The Road to Hell in the Middle East.

    • Trita Parsi: Who Ordered Black Cube's Dirty Tricks? Hired by the White House, the Israeli company was tasked to "find or fabricate incriminating information about former Obama administration officials, as well as people and organizations that had a part in securing the Iran nuclear deal."

    • Paul R Pillar: Hold the Deal-Killers Accountable.

    • Matt Shuham: Promising Chinese Jobs, Trump Commits to Backing Off Iran Sanctions Violator ZTE: At least Trump cares about someone's jobs.

    • Richard Silverman: Bibi Gins Up Another War to Save His Political Ass: Within hours of Trump's deal breaking, Israeli planes bombed Iranian targets within Syria. And, well, "Bibi's polling numbers have shot through the roof since the last attack on Syria."

    • Jon Swaine: US threatens European companies with sanctions after Iran deal pullout.

    • Stephen M Walt: The Art of the Regime Change: The assumption of the deal breakers is that when the Iranian people realize that they can no longer enjoy the fruits of friendship with the US, they'll revolt and overthrow their clerical masters and replace them with a new regime that will show sufficient deference to the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia. Either that, or they'll do so after the US blows up a sufficient swath of the country. Neither, well, seems very realistic, not that the US lacks the capability to show them what real nuclear powers can do.

      Otto von Bismarck once quipped that it was good to learn from one's mistakes but better to learn from someone else's. This latest episode shows that the United States is not really capable of learning from either. And it suggests that Winston Churchill's apocryphal comment about the United States always doing the right thing should now be revised. Under Trump, it appears, the United States will always do the wrong thing but only after first considering -- and rejecting -- all the obviously superior alternatives.

    • Philip Weiss: By wrecking Iran deal, Trump politicized Israel: Not that that hurts Trump, but virtually every Democrat in Washington supported the Iran nuke deal, and now it's going to be hard for them to deny that Israel was the driving force behind wrecking it.

      If there was one bright spot in the day, it was the almost universal anger and anguish that followed Trump's speech, and the determination to try and undo his action by any means the rest of us can. Even the neoconservatives who have pushed this action seemed afraid of what it meant. Even Chuck Schumer, who had opposed his own president on the Iran deal three years ago because of the "threat to Israel," was against Trump.

      On the other hand, just this week Sheldon Adelson wrote the Republicans a $30 million check. Sure suggests "pay to play" is still live and well in the new Trump swamp. Also that the US can be steered into war pretty damn cheap.

  • Dara Lind: Donald Trump is reportedly furious that the US can't shut down the border:

    Nielsen, as well as Attorney General Jeff Sessions, apparently tried to explain to the president that the federal government is constrained in what it can do by the law, but Trump reportedly wasn't having it. "We need to shut it down," he yelled at Nielsen at one point, per the Post report. "We're closed."

    Yelling at people is a management tactic for President Trump; sometimes his anger inspires long-held grudges, but sometimes it dissipates once he's gotten it off his chest. But he's spent the past month in an apparent panic about the border, and his outburst at Nielsen shows it isn't going away.

    The president's tantrum is totally divorced from policy reality: The government can't "shut it down," and Nielsen and Sessions appear to be working aggressively to do what they can to crack down at the border. But Trump's panic is the inevitable consequence of treating the current situation at the border as an unprecedented crisis -- which Nielsen's DHS, as well as the White House, has made a concerted effort to do.

  • Aja Romano: The fight to save net neutrality, explained: "Congress or the courts could still save net neutrality -- but don't get your hopes up." Important piece, originally written in December 2017 and newly updated.

  • Dylan Scott: The 6 most interesting parts of Trump's mostly disappointing drug price plan. I don't see anything here that fundamentally changes the pharmaceutical industry, with a couple things that could conceivably make their predation worse (e.g., "Allow certain Part D drugs to be priced differently based on different uses "). Most ominous is: "Undertake some vaguely defined changes to US trade policy to try to address the disparity between what the US pays for drugs and what other countries pay" -- i.e., get other countries to pay more for American drugs than current negotiated prices. This has actually been a long running trade agreement strategy, as US has always been willing to trade manufacturing jobs to coax other countries into paying more "intellectual property" rents. That's why the deals have often turned out to be lose-lose propositions for American workers.

    More on drug prices/profits:

    • Sarah Kliff: The true story of America's sky-high prescription drug prices. Well, mostly true. Kliff assumes that private pharmaceutical companies have to make profits in order to attract investments to develop new drugs. That's only sort of the way it works now: drug companies spend a lot more money on things like marketing than they do on r&d. Moreover, their r&d expenses are targeted on things with the highest return, not necessarily on the greatest need. For instance, an expensive continuing term treatment for a widespread problem like cholesterol or inflammation is better for business than a cure for a rare condition. On the other hand, a lot of medical research is already funded by government, and more would be even more effective -- not least because information can be shared, instead of hiding it in closed, competitive corporate labs. One can even negotiate a treaty whereby (virtually) all nations agree to invest a minimum amount to produce treatments that everyone can use. (That would answer Kliff's argument that US companies, motivated by undoubted greed, produce a disproportionate amount of the world's cures -- not that I'm sure that's even true.)

    • Paul Krugman: What's Good for Pharma Isn't Good for America (Wonkish).

    • Dylan Scott: The blockbuster fight over this obscure federal program explains America's drug prices: All about 340B.

  • Emily Stewart: Trump taps private equity billionaire for intelligence advisory role: Stephen Feinberg, co-CEO of Cerberus Capital, which owns shadowy defense contractor DynCorp -- one of their big cash cows was training the Afghan police force. Stephen Witt wrote a profile back last July: Stephen Feinberg, the private military contractor who has Trump's ear.

  • Todd VanDerWerff: The rise of the American news desert: "Predominantly white rural areas supported Trump. They also often lack robust local media." Sees local media as "a necessary counterbalance to national narratives," and notes that:

    The slow death of local media has contributed to the epistemic closure in conservative circles, especially in rural areas. That's led to the proliferation of so-called "fake news" stories, widely spread on Facebook, which are sometimes outright untrue and sometimes just a hugely misleading presentation of a true news story.

    No one has been sure how to puncture that conservative media bubble, to combat the narratives that lots of rural white voters have come to believe are true. It's impossible to contradict fake news with "real news" when the sources offering that real news aren't trusted.

    But local media outlets, which used to carry that sort of clout within their communities, are being economically strangled by an environment that increasingly requires turning to nationally syndicated programs and stories, rather than the sort of local focus that used to mark these outlets. . . .

    Conservatives have spent decades effectively discrediting the national media among their partisans. But that effort wouldn't have been as effective if there weren't space for it to flourish, in places where local news organizations have been strangled or cut to the bone.

    My first thought was that there is a national media desert as well, but then I thought of cable news and it started looking more like a jungle, where constant fear of snakes and spiders and the inability to see more than a few feet makes it impossible to grasp what's really going on.

  • Alex Ward: Pompeo: US and North Korea "in complete agreement" on goals of Trump-Kim summit: Of course, nobody know what he thinks he's talking about. The article posits a series of steps by North Korea (along with "robust verification," etc.), each to be followed by some sort of "reward" (mostly in the form of reduced sanctions) for their good behavior. That doesn't sound like a very fair deal to me, which matters because stable deals need to be based on mutual respect and fairness, not on who can apply the most pressure. Moreover, Ward buys into the company line that:

    North Korea has also historically been a very tough country to negotiate with, in large part because it routinely breaks the deals it agrees to. The US and other countries have been trying to come to a diplomatic, negotiated agreement with North Korea over its nuclear program since 1985. It's broken its commitments multiple times with the US, including walking out on a denuclearization deal in 2009.

    My impression is that the US is the one who has repeatedly sabotaged the various talks with North Korea (see, e.g., Six-party talks, which started in 2003 and ended without agreement in 2009). What's always been lacking has been American willingness to normalize relations with North Korea. Maybe Trump and Kim realize that's the only possible deal, and maybe they understand that neither country can afford to continue the impasse. Still, Trump's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal should be proof that the US cannot be trusted to keep its promises.

Monday, May 7, 2018


Music Week

Music: current count 29660 [29628] rated (+32), 356 [372] unrated (-16).

When I unpack an album, I record it in five separate files: my Year 2018 file, my Music Tracking 2018 file, a scratch file which gets folded into my next Music Week post, another scratch file which has review stubs for all of the unrated jazz records in my queue, and what I call my database: actually a set of 20-some text files that get run through a program I wrote to generate a big big table, my Music Database intro file, and the bunch of genre/period-specific files linked to from there. It's not that I don't understand the principle of normalization, but this system evolved over time from something much simpler, and it still works (for the most part). In fact, I usually do a pretty good job of logging those new records in all of those places.

Where I often fall down is when I grade an album. Not only to I usually have to update all of those files (as well as doing nearly all of the unpacking work for streamed albums), I also write a review in working Streamnotes draft file. And, of course, it gets more complicated around EOY time, when I'm compiling my aggregate file and sorting out my jazz and non-jazz EOY lists. It turns out that I sometimes (on average 2-3 times per week) skip one or more of those, most commonly the database files, resulting in short rated counts. When I ran my program this week, I came up with 23 albums rated. I wasn't real real surprised. I didn't have any major disruptions last week, but came up with way more than a normal week's worth of A-list records, and they tend to take more time -- often 3-4 plays; in fact, the only one I see this week that only got two plays was Tommy Flanagan's Giant Steps.

But I was a little surprised, so I counted the records listed below, and came up with 24. Clearly I had missed something, so I went back and rechecked my U-rated albums, and caught a couple from last week, a couple from the previous week, and a few more from further back. In fact, the list below is probably missing something, but that's harder to check and will soon be forgotten.

Three of the A-list records were among the pile I pulled out as strong prospects when trying to wrap up April Streamnotes: Kira Kira, the two Henry Threadgill; the others in that pile scored high B+: Angelika Niescier and Samo Salamon B+. Cardi B and Janelle Monáe are perhaps the most anticipated pop/rap albums of the season. Cardi B won Pazz & Jop's singles category last year, and that single is on the album, where it doesn't even stand out like hit singles usually do. Monáe's album temporarily topped Album of the Year. (It's since slipped to 4th, but with 28 reviews, vs. an average of 10 for the three records above it. I haven't heard those three yet, but will look for them next week.) Good chance both records will place top ten in this year's EOY aggregates -- not that my grades have any sway or much correlation there. For whatever it's worth, I got to Cardi B (and to Princess Nokia) before Christgau published last week (both records were on Phil Overeem's list, as was Ceramic Dog's YRU Still Here? and a few other things I listened to but didn't like as much).

Christgau reviewed Willie Nelson the week before, but the record didn't show up on Napster until some time last week. The old Tommy Flanagan record popped up as a "new featured" release, as did Van Morrison and the also-ran Blue Note jazz. I was reminded of Tune-Yards by Michael Tatum, who also has a new "Hall of Records" post on The Rolling Stones, Out of Our Heads (US edition). Playing this now on Napster, just because it was easier to dig out. I know I have the CD somewhere, graded A, but no note on whether it's US or UK edition, so my copy probably predates the reissue that made the distinction. I vividly remember buying "Satisfaction" as a single, thinking it was the greatest thing I had ever heard (and also loving the back side, "The Under Assistant West Coast Promo Man"), but I didn't buy a Stones LP until High Tide and Green Grass. Hard in those days to scrape together enough money to buy a record. Guess I made up for that later.

I can't recall when the last time I had no new mail to unpack was. Nothing today either. Still getting links for downloads but most of them go into the trash immediately. (Exceptions today: a William Parker 3-CD box, Voices Fall From the Sky, and new work from Matt Lavelle. I also kept Posi-Tone's latest link, but can't say I've been very diligent about following them since I stopped getting CDs.) I suppose the good news is less filing, and less clutter. But I've already lost that battle.

Looking forward to a week where there's virtually nothing I have to do.


New records rated this week:

  • Cardi B: Invasion of Privacy (2018, Atlantic): [r]: A-
  • Kenny Barron Quintet: Concentric Circles (2018, Blue Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • Terence Blanchard: Live (2018, Blue Note): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ceramic Dog: YRU Still Here? (2018, Northern Spy): [r]: A-
  • Chamber 3: Transatlantic (2016 [2018], OA2): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The Nels Cline 4: Currents Constellations (2017 [2018], Blue Note): [r]: B+(*)
  • Elysia Crampton: Elysia Crampton (2018, Break World, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Czarface/MF Doom: Czarface Meets Metal Face (2018, Silver Age): [r]: A-
  • Dave Gisler Trio: Rabbits on the Run (2017 [2018], Intakt): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Kira Kira: Bright Force (2017 [2018], Libra): [cd]: A-
  • Janelle Monáe: Dirty Computer (2018, Bad Boy): [r]: A-
  • Van Morrison and Joey DeFrancesco: You're Driving Me Crazy (2018, Legacy): [r]: B+(**)
  • Willie Nelson: Last Man Standing (2018, Legacy): [r]: A-
  • Angelika Niescier Trio: The Berlin Concert (2017 [2018], Intakt): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Princess Nokia: A Girl Cried Red (2018, Rough Trade, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Samo Salamon/Tony Malaby/Roberto Dani: Traveling Moving Breathing (2017 [2018], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Rob Schwimmer: Heart of Hearing (2018, Sunken Heights Music): [cd]: B-
  • Susana Santos Silva: All the Rivers: Live at Panteăo Nacional (2016 [2018], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • Sonar With David Torn: Vortex (2017 [2018], RareNoise): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Henry Threadgill: Double Up, Plays Double Up Plus (2017 [2018], Pi): [cd]: A-
  • Henry Threadgill 14 or 15 Kestra: Agg: Dirt . . . and More Dirt (2017 [2018], Pi): [cd]: A-
  • Tune-Yards: I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life (2018, 4AD): [r]: B

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • Eliane Elias: Music From Man of La Mancha (1995 [2018], Concord): [r]: B+(*)

Old music rated this week:

  • Tommy Flanagan: Giant Steps: In Memory of John Coltrane (1982, Enja): [r]: A-


Unpacking: Nothing in the mail last week.

 

Sunday, May 6, 2018


Weekend Roundup

Another week, more links:

  • Matthew Yglesias: The week's 4 big political stories, explained: Donald Trump reimbursed Michael Cohen for the Stormy payoff (according to new Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani; funny typo here referring to Trump layer "Cohn"); Scott Pruitt scandals are metastasizing; Trump finally got a top-notch lawyer (after Ty Cobb quit, and no, not Giuliani -- someone named Emmet T Flood, whose past employers included Antonin Scalia, Bill Clinton, GW Bush, Dick Cheney, and Hillary Clinton, none of whom wound up in jail, despite, well, you know); The economy added 164,000 jobs in April (another typo here, "1640,000"). Other Yglesias posts:

    • The simplest, most important question the White House can't answer: "Why did the president fire James Comey?"

      All that said, Sanders's statement from the podium today was a reminder that Trump really is on some level an abnormally rotten, abnormally dangerous figure to hold such high office.

      He fundamentally rejects the notion that the American state exists to serve the public interest and that he, in his role as president, is likewise a servant of the public. He instead wants to "run the government like a business" (as the cliché goes) in the most literal and retrograde way imaginable -- for his own personal benefit, constrained if at all by the letter of the law or, more properly, by what he can manage to get away with under the law.

    • 4 political science lessons from Kanye West's embrace of Donald Trump: "Normal people are instinct-driven rationalizers motivated by group loyalty dynamics, not ideologies." Cites a book by Milton Lodge and Charles S. Taber, The Rationalizing Voter, to argue that West's fondness for Trump is intuitive rather than rational, and that this isn't uncommon:

      When Bill Clinton was president, for example, highly attentive Republicans were more likely than less attentive Republicans to say the budget deficit was rising. They knew the falling deficit was a key Clinton talking point and they knew they didn't like Clinton, so they "knew" he was lying about the deficit.

      West, somewhat similarly, seems to be "learning" a lot of pseudo-facts about the history of race in America in response to his decision to affiliate himself with Trump, rather than deciding to affiliate with Trump after undertaking a revisionist study of race in America.

    • Trump's Stormy Daniels tweets show how easy he is to blackmail: "A man who dispenses cash for secrets this easily is a risky man to have in office."

      This is exactly why Sally Yates warned Trump long ago that Michael Flynn was a security risk, but rather than address the risk, Trump tried to hush it up.

      That's been the story of Trump's whole life -- breaking the rules and using money he inherited from his father to make problems go away. It's been a remarkably successful strategy for him, despite considerable collateral damage to the long list of people he's screwed over -- from unpaid contractors to defrauded Trump University students -- and now that he's president, we all get to pay the price for his various cover-ups.

    • Cities hoping to win Amazon's HQ2 should watch what they wish for. Yglesias is concerned that "an influx of good-paying jobs" would cause an increase in rents that would gobble up gains and hurt more people than the new business would help -- unless, that is, the new site built enough additional housing to compensate. Many candidate cities are already burdened by high rents, so don't have that flexibility. Left unsaid is that landlords, who seem to have more political clout than renters, would benefit from driving up rents (although they're likely to get stuck with paying the taxes that Amazon gets to duck).

    • Ukraine cut off cooperation with Mueller to curry favor with Trump:

      And even more troublingly, it's not just Trump and not just Ukraine.

      The administration is currently nearing an important decision on Iran policy, a topic that many Middle Eastern countries have strong feelings about and interests that do not align perfectly with those of the United States. Trump has known business dealings with many of these Gulf monarchies, and we have no idea what secret deals he's making or what cash payments are being funneled through his clubs.

      No previous president would have dared to wallow in such a morass of conflicts of interest. Then again, no previous president would have led foreign countries to believe that their receipt of security assistance was dependent on them seeking to actively obstruct an ongoing criminal investigation.

    • Mike Pence hails Joe Arpaio as a "tireless champion . . . of the rule of law: "The vice president is all in on Trump's shocking attacks on basic institutions."

    • Study: overhyped media narratives about America's fading white majority fuel anxiety

    • T-Mobile's proposed takeover of Sprint, explained: A fascinating piece. Among other things, I learned that T-Mobile and Sprint are both owned by foreign conglomerates (one German, the other Japanese) that have been reluctant to inject new capital. Meanwhile, the top two wireless companies, Verizon and AT&T, both descend from Bell operating companies and have many interlocking investors (the top three of both are Vanguard, Blackrock, and State Street), so they tend to be competitors in name only.

    • Democrats' 2018 impeachment dilemma, explained: "Impeaching Trump polls poorly, but Democratic candidates can't ignore the elephant in the room." One point worth making is that Republicans tried pushing a narrowly partisan impeachment process against Bill Clinton in 1998, one that never had a prayer of passing the Senate, and it more or less backfired on them. Without significant Republican support, impeaching Trump won't succeed either (and replacing him with Mike Pence wouldn't do anyone any favors either). So at this point, and realistically even if Democrats win narrow margins in both House and Senate in 2018, the sensible position would be to wait and see. One thing a Democratic Congress can do is to investigate Trump and to limit his power, and there's no reason not to promise to do just that. It's even possible that Trump might blossom as a constructive dealmaker given Democratic control of Congress. It's also possible that he could turn even more paranoid and self-destruct, but you can't predict either before the conditions change.

  • Charlotte Alter: The Walls That Hillary Clinton Created: Review of Amy Chozick's Chasing Hillary: Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns, and One Intact Glass Ceiling, a book I suppose could be interesting if/when it compares/contrasts Clinton's two presidential campaigns, both starting out as slam/dunk favorites and winding up in the trash can of history: what did she learn? and why didn't that work? One problem seems to be that she never cultivated a working relationship with the press:

    People who know Clinton often complain that the press, and therefore the public, never gets to see how warm and funny she is in person. Chasing Hillary is the best explanation so far of why that is. Chozick describes Clinton's press shop (which she calls "The Guys") as an anonymous gang of manipulative, unresponsive and vaguely menacing apparatchiks who alternate between denying her interview requests (47 in total, by her count), bullying her in retaliation for perceived negative coverage ("You've got a target on your back," one of them tells her) and exploiting her insecurities about keeping up with her (often male) colleagues. The campaign quarantined the press on a separate bus and, later, a separate plane, often without even an accompanying flack to answer basic questions.

    As for the petty stuff, there seems to be quite a lot in Chozick's book, as there is in the one I'm reading now, Katy Tur: Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History, where Tur gets bullied as much as Chozick, only more often by the candidate directly (she covered Trump, in case that wasn't obvious). Also in The New York Times Book Review, let me mention John McCain: By the Book, which is actually pretty reasonable, not least because he sticks with well-known books (The Great Gatsby, Huckleberry Finn, For Whom the Bell Tolls; asked about Vietnam, he offers two Bernard Fall books and Neil Sheehan's A Bright Shining Lie; and he promises to read Ron Chernow's Grant next). Good chance his ghostwriter Mark Salter helped him out.

  • Jason Ditz: Giuliani: Trump Will Kill Iran Nuclear Deal:

    Speaking this weekend at an anti-Iran conference, President Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani declared that the president would withdraw the US from the Iran nuclear deal. He went on to insist this would lead to regime change in Iran.

    Giuliani held up a piece of paper meant to represent the Iran deal, yelling at the crowd "what do you think is going to happen to that agreement?" He ripped up the paper and then spat on it. President Trump has previously set an ultimatum of May 12 for withdrawing from the deal.

    Given how loudly Trump administration flaks have been announcing the intent to withdraw from the "worst deal ever," it seems unlikely not to happen. Peter Van Buren predicts: US Is Playing With Fire if It Walks Away From the Iran Nuclear Deal on May 12. My personal opinion is that if the other five signatories stick with the deal Iran will too, so the only effect that Trump will have is to keep US businesses from trading with Iran (e.g., halting a large order for Boeing airliners), and generally make the US look like a rogue nation with no regard for world peace (something which may contribute to scuttling prospects for a denuclearizing agreement with North Korea -- possibly part of the reason the usual suspects are pressing this issue now). Of course, withdrawing from the deal could just be a first step toward war with Iran, something Israel and Saudi Arabia would be keen to cheer on but lack the wherewithal to undertake themselves (unless Israel wants to be the one starting a nuclear war). But rather than pushing war as their reason, the deal's opponents are rekindling fantasies that the Iranian people will revolt and overthrow the regime. Certainly, if the stated US goals for the deal were serious, there is no reason to withdrawal. For instance, see Fred Kaplan: Bibi's Iran Speech Was a Bust. Trita Parsi had the same thought: Did Israel Inadvertently Make Case for Staying in Nuke Agreement? Also note: Mark Townsend/Julian Borger: Trump team hired spy firm for 'dirty ops' on Iran arms deal, and Borger's solo Trump's dirty ops attack on Obama legacy shows pure hatred for Iran deal. For another prediction, see: Saeed Kamali Dehglan: If Trump destroys the nuclear deal, Iran will fall to its hardliners.

  • Thomas Frank: Are Democrats finally read to unfriend Facebook and Silicon Valley? "Not so long ago, Barack Obama was drinking in Mark Zuckerberg's psychobabble about bringing the world together." Of course, the real bond between Silicon Valley and Clinton/Obama Democrats was money. Clinton's late-1990s boom was largely based on Internet promotion, and Obama tried to do the same thing with non-fossil energy businesses, and Sillcon Valley's donations kept the Democrats (Obama and the Clintons, anyway) competitive. If that's changing, it's because as tech businesses grow, they become more focused on bottom line, and more predatory, so they seem less and less like unequivocal innovations. But also, while there's no denying that Clinton and Obama made them money, there's also a growing suspicion that average Democratic voters got very little from electing them -- indeed, an increasing number of voters became so cynical that they figured they had little to lose by taking a chance on Trump. Also, it turns out that Trump was able to use "social media" more effectively. Still, I doubt any Democrats soliciting big money are going to unfriend anyone who pays up. I'm not even sure they should. But if we've learned anything in the last year it's that high tech isn't an unambiguous blessing.

  • Dhar Jamail: Explosions and Crashes: Military Aircraft Are a Threat to US Civilians: "On April 3, a third military aircraft crashed in just one 24-hour period." Jamail has too many recent crashes to mention one of the biggest ones, which happened here in Wichita in 1965, when a KC-135 tanker with 31,000 gallons of jet fuel dropped out of the sky to raze an entire city block (killing 30, 23 on the ground).

  • Mike Konczal: How low can unemployment go? Economists keep getting the answer wrong. It's down to 3.9% now, according to one measure anyhow. Back in the 1970s economists came up with something they called "the natural rate of unemployment," below which inflation ensues. We're way below what economists thought the number was then, and we're still not seeing significant inflation. For a prescient critique of the theory from the late-1990s see the writings of George P. Brockway. (By the way, Brockway's The End of Economic Man: Principles of Any Future Economics is the book you should start with if you want to read one book about economics.) One thing I'd like to add is that the assumption that increasing wages are the main cause of inflation is baked into the theory, which is why it's always been a cudgel against tightening of labor markets. That's not to deny that increasing unemployment, which is what the theory prescribes to counter inflation, doesn't reduce inflation, but it does so not by decreasing the costs of products and services but by reducing the demand for them. Conversely, most of the price increases we've seen since the theory was developed have come from monopoly rents and capital demands (and in some cases, like OPEC or Enron, artificially induced supply shortages). Meanwhile, the enormous inrease of asset prices we've seen since 1980 isn't counted as inflation at all -- it's merely considered to be the dividends of wealth.

  • Don Lefler/Tim Potter: County Commissioner Michael O'Donnell indicted on bank, wire fraud and money laundering: Local Wichita story, but file it under "when bad things happen to bad people." The article describes O'Donnell as "a rising star" in the Republican Party in Kansas. Indeed, he's won three elections by age 33: Wichita City Council, Kansas State Senate, and Sedgwick County Commissioner. His ran for the Senate as part of the right-wing purge of Republican moderates, defeating popular incumbent Jean Schodorf in the primary and hanging on for a narrow win. In the legislature, he sponsored a bill to place draconian limits on welfare recipients, including prohibition from withdrawing more than $25 at a time from a bank ATM, as well as a long list of other "luxuries." (At the time, I wrote that O'Donnell "is a textbook example of how ignorant and unrealistic a sheltered and pampered young person can be." See my notebook, under "Cathy O'Neil: Kansas redistributes money from the poor to the banks.") The article doesn't mention a scandal that O'Donnell was involved in involving underage drinking. Lynn Rogers, a popular member of the Wichita School Board (and a former Republican) decided to run as a Democrat against O'Donnell, a race that O'Donnell dodged by running for County Commissioner instead. (Rogers won.) The article does include critical comments from Richard Ranzau, who has been feuding with O'Donnell recently. Ranzau is an arch-conservative, but compared with O'Donnell comes of as principled. I saw another article where Jim Ward noted that O'Donnell has always "played fast and loose." Looks like he finally got caught. He's charged with federal crimes, so maybe Trump will pardon him.

  • Dara Lind: Trump tells 57,000 Hondurans who've lived in the US for 20 years to get out: "It's yet another move that will turn people who are in the US legally into unauthorized immigrants." The program is TPS (Temporary Protected Status), originally a temporary program but for Honduras was set up in 1998 and only covers people in the US by then. Each nation is reviewed separately. If the Trump administration continues to end TPS programs, by 2020 some 400,000 who currently have legal status in the US will lose their protection and be subject to deportation.

  • Jedediah Purdy: Normcore: A review of "crisis-of-democracy" books, a booming genre since Trump got elected, specifically: Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt: How Democracies Die; Yascha Mounk: The People Versus Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It; David Frum: Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic; William A. Galston: Antipluralism: The Populist Threat to Liberal Democracy; and E.J. Dionne Jr, Norman J. Ornstein, and Thomas E. Mann: One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet-Deported. More books in this vein are available, and beyond that there are numerous efforts to reëxamine historical fascists in light of Trump, and there is another stack of books hoping to impeach Trump -- an impossible cry for a broken system to fix itself.

    What is missing from these works, and the commentariat that they represent, is a genuine reckoning with twenty-first-century questions: whether we have ever been democratic, and whether the versions of capitalism that have emerged in the last forty years are compatible with democracy. The crisis-of-democracy literature largely presumes that these debates have been settled, so that any doubts about that settlement must be symptoms of confusion or bad faith. That is why these books do not rise to the crisis that occasions them. Answering basic questions about the relationship between democracy and capitalism is the only credible response to the present crisis.

    Purdy locates this bewilderment about capitalism and democracy to what he calls "the long 1990s" -- the triumphalist conclusion that once the Soviet Union fell everybody understood that the only viable system was politically democratic and robustly capitalist. (Of course, nobody takes China seriously as a counter-example.) Since the early 1990s, both US political parties have vied with each other to increase inequality -- the main difference that while Republicans focus on zero-sum transfers, the Democrats favor the sleight-of-hand game they call growth. While this rivalry has been lucrative for the wealthy, it has left pretty much everyone else not only poorer but with a diminished sense of power over their lives and future. The result was that in 2016, politics took a disturbing detour from the agreed-upon virtues:

    The energy in 2016 was entirely elsewhere. Everyone sensed this -- except, perhaps, the Clinton campaign. Sanders and Trump stood for opposite principles and visions of the country, but the two candidates shared an indifference to the standard formula of American politics: constitution + heroic history = America. This was the equation that made Barack Obama, John McCain, and Ted Cruz divergent participants in a single political culture. Sanders talked like what he is, a person of the democratic left, to whom America is a place to be worked on, not in itself a source of meaning or identity. Trump departed from Cold-War rhetoric in the opposite direction. To hear him speak, he might never have heard of the Constitution (other than the Second Amendment, a euphemistic hook for his favored themes of violence and racialized fear), the Revolution, or the Civil War -- or for that matter the civil rights movement, a redemptive touchstone for Cold-War liberalism. For him, America is not a philosophical problem or a historical challenge, but a chance to beat down whoever falls on the wrong side of the border or the loyalty test. "America, fuck yeah!" as Team America would have it.

    The thing that really defined Trump's political language was its nihilism about politics itself, the appetite it stoked for political bullshit that doesn't even pretend to hold together, but just staggers from one emotional trigger to another. Trump essentially short-sold the high-minded political style of the late Cold War, betting that it would prove weaker than it looked under pressure -- that people neither expected much from government nor thought it important enough to be well run; that a lot of voters despised their political class and the cultural and financial elites around it; and that recreational cruelty and you-can't-bullshit-a-bullshitter snark would feel more authentic than any respectably sanctioned appeal to better angels. We are, he intimated, the barbarians we've been waiting for.

    Also see Daniel Denver/Thea Riofrancos: Zombie Liberalism, a review of Mounk's book. As they point out, Mounk argues that "to fight the far right, liberals should reclaim a more inclusive nationalism." Problem is, that sounds more like a plan to fight the left (often the fight centrists prefer to pick).

    Despite the appeal to pragmatism, Mounk's political vision is utopian, his ideal polity a kind of liberal sublime. In a distant place far outside of history, virtuous trustees of public reason skillfully mobilize the best of nationalism while fending off its "dangerous excesses." Entranced, Mounk sees in nationalism a muscular tool for legitimizing the political-economic order: "Nationalism is like a half-wild beast. As long as it remains under our control, it can be of tremendous use." Who is the "beast," and who is the "us" into which Mounk places the reader?

    From long ago, the left has held a critique of nationalism: that it is (mostly) an artificial division of people into groups for the purpose of furthering conservative hierarchies. This hasn't kept leftists from invoking nationalism for their own purposes -- especially to organize resistance against colonial powers. Still, it's never really set well, as it runs counter to the fundamental that all people should be equal and free. When Mounk argues for his more enlightened nationalism, he's sacrificing this very fundamental for political expediency. Of course, as a self-conscious anti-populist, his pitch is aimed at elites (admittedly, liberal ones) -- necessarily so, as who else would agree to continuing rule by elites?

    Also see: Corey Robin: Democracy Is Norm Erosion:

    Two or three weeks ago, I had an intuition, a glimpse of a thought that has kept coming back to me since: the discourse of norm erosion isn't really about Trump. Nor is it about authoritarianism. What it's really about is "extremism," that old stalking horse of Cold War liberalism. And while that discourse of norm erosion won't do much to limit Trump and the GOP, its real contribution will be to mark the outer limits of left politics, just at a moment when we're seeing the rise of a left that seems willing to push those limits.

    I get what Robin is saying here, but I'm not happy with the term "extremism" here, mostly because a lot of the things the "norms defenders" dislike, especially on the left, don't strike me as extreme at all. In particular, peace and equality aren't extreme all-or-nothing propositions. They are ideals which should orient us for everyday decisions. But until recently what passed for serious, legitimate political discourse excluded left ideals, and therefore even practical proposals, as "extremist."

    Robin concludes:

    For now, I'll merely leave us with this thought: democracy is a permanent project of norm erosion, forever shattering the norms of hierarchy and domination and the political forms that aid and abet them.

  • Aziz Rana: The Left's Missing Foreign Policy: Well, not my left, but you know who he's talking about:

    At the outset of the 2003 Iraq War, I caught up after some years with a friend and professor of mine, who had close links with the Democratic Party's foreign policy establishment. He was dismayed by the turn of events, and not only because of the collective insanity that seemed to grip the Bush White House. Despite the massive global protests, a surprisingly large number of people within Washington and the Democratic Party's think tanks and policy circles backed the invasion, sometimes tacitly, often explicitly. He described the run-up to the war as being like finding yourself in an Ionesco play, watching your friends turn into rhinoceroses. . . .

    In 2008 Obama distinguished himself from Hillary Clinton as an antiwar candidate, but once in office his administration and foreign policy team were staffed by pro-war faces and their protégés, from Clinton herself to Joe Biden and Samantha Power, along with many of the exact people my professor lamented all the way back in 2003. And, as has been noted, Obama's staffing decisions led to policies shaped by the same faulty logic that produced Iraq -- the most obvious example being the American-led regime change in Libya, on supposedly humanitarian grounds, that left tens of thousands dead, with lingering devastation that continues to drive an enormous exodus of refugees. . . . After eight years of Obama's wars, the only policy positions in the Democratic Party continue to be those presented by the same national security establishment that acquiesced to the Iraq invasion.

    I would have said Afghanistan instead of Iraq, as the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan was the original sin of the Global War on Terror. Indeed, if Obama had understood that, he wouldn't have wound up hiring so many Iraq War accomplices. But Rana is right that the mindset which made the decision to attack Afghanistan dates back much further, at least to the 1940s. He goes on to sketch out the rudiments of a new foreign policy, starting:

    The first is a global commitment to social democracy rather than free market capitalism (as embodied in austerity, neoliberal privatization, and trade agreements built on entrenching corporate property rights). . . .

    "Do no harm" would be another key principle.

    If you look back to Roosevelt's "Four Freedoms" and the founding documents of the United Nations, you'll find the germ of a policy promoting social democracy worldwide as the basis for world peace. The first corruption of that occurred when the US reverted to its pre-Roosevelt foreign policies of promoting US business interests abroad, more aggressively than ever before, leading to the CIA overthrowing democratic government that had offended United Fruit (Guatemala) and Anglo-Iranian Oil (Iran) and widespread support for crony dictators from Rhee Syngman (South Korea) to Ngo Dinh Diem (South Vietnam) to Augusto Pinochet (Chile) to a long list (continuing) of Saudi kings -- a practice which has demolished any hope for world good will.

    Rana also wrote Goodbye, Cold War, which (perhaps too) optimistically started:

    The 2016 election was the last election of the cold war. The conflict that molded generations of American elites has ceased to function as the framing paradigm of American politics. Even decades after the fall of the Soviet Union, an account of the cold war -- and of cold war victory -- contained disagreement in Washington and formed a consensus that linked the center-left to the center-right. This consensus, based on a set of judgments that coalesced in the aftermath of World War II, concerned everything from the genius of America's domestic institutions to the indispensability of its global role. These judgments gave coherence to the country's national identity -- allowing both Barack Obama and Bill Kristol to wax poetic about America's special destiny as a global hegemon -- and legitimacy to its economic policy. But with the 2016 election, the cold-war paradigm finally shattered.

    Of course, pockets of Cold War romantics remain in both parties, most ominously Democrats around Hillary Clinton who see Russia as the invidious force behind their fall from power. I remain convinced that the main reason Clinton lost was that people associated her with foreign wars, a point underscored by her obsession with "the commander-in-chief test." While Trump was/is scarcely less bellicose, his "America first" stance puts an end to the "leader of the free world" conceit. Allies, at best, view him warily, while the empire seems to be running on autopilot, tugged about by leaders (like Israel and Saudi Arabia) with their own agendas. This is a situation where the people are well ahead of their leaders. Hence I expect the latter to struggle to catch up.

  • Emily Stewart: Michael Cohen freed up $700,000 in potential loans ahead of the election. Then he paid Stormy Daniels. New Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani went on TV last week to push the line that paying blackmail is something routine that lawyers like Cohen and himself do for their clients, so there's nothing unusual (or even very interesting) about Cohen paying $130,000 to Stormy Daniels. Still, the date of the transaction -- October 15, three weeks before the November 8 election -- is suspicious. That's very close to the date when James Comey announced that the FBI reopened its investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails (dragging Anthony Wiener's name into the mix), which is to say the date Clinton started to tank in the polls. Maybe Trump's hardcore supporters wouldn't have been phased about the porn star story, but at the very least you have to admit that the media would have gone apeshit over the story, and that would have significantly blunted the impact of Comey's leak. I've long thought that one reason voters turned against Clinton was that they knew that had she been elected, she would be dogged from day one with an endless series of pseudo-scandals, enough to keep her from ever really getting down to the job of being president. Fairly or not, voters wanted to spare themselves the embarrassment. (Of course, they failed. Trump has similarly been dogged by scandal, the only difference being that his scandals are more substantial, and he looks even guiltier.)

    The damning fact is that Cohen's payment denied Americans the right to know before voting something they know now -- this is as significant as any of the other efforts to tilt the election, just harder to grasp because it's something that, thanks to Cohen's anticipation, didn't become public in time to be taken account. In this, it rather resembles Watergate, which happened before the 1972 election but wasn't investigated adequately until after Nixon won a second term.

    More on Cohen: William K Rashbaum et al: How Michael Cohen, Trump's Fixer, Built a Shadowy Business Empire.

Daily Log

Discarded from last week's Weekend Roundup:

  • Gloria Origgi: Say goodbye to the information age: it's all about reputation now. Italian philosopher, has a recent book, Reputation: What It Is and Why It Matters. Thesis:

    There is an underappreciated paradox of knowledge that plays a pivotal role in our advanced hyper-connected liberal democracies: the greater the amount of information that circulates, the more we rely on so-called reputational devices to evaluate it. What makes this paradoxical is that the vastly increased access to information and knowledge we have today does not empower us or make us more cognitively autonomous. Rather, it renders us more dependent on other people's judgments and evaluations of the information with which we are faced.

    We are experiencing a fundamental paradigm shift in our relationship to knowledge. From the 'information age', we are moving towards the 'reputation age', in which information will have value only if it is already filtered, evaluated and commented upon by others. Seen in this light, reputation has become a central pillar of collective intelligence today. It is the gatekeeper to knowledge, and the keys to the gate are held by others. The way in which the authority of knowledge is now constructed makes us reliant on what are the inevitably biased judgments of other people, most of whom we do not know.

    This is true as far as it goes, but in my experience reputation is earned by consistently providing information which makes sense given one's experience and accumulated understanding of how the world works. Predictably, anthropogenic climate change is Origgi's next paragraph example, although she doesn't offer it in value-neutral terms. Sure, most people are satisfied with whatever political media they prefer, which may affirm or deny science that is beyond your reach or grasp. Still, to believe a position it really needs to make sense beyond your personal preferences. For instance, I might notice that pretty much all of the deniers have some compromising relationship to the fossil fuel industries, whereas virtually all independent scientists conclude that such change is happening, in accordance with principles which can be articulated separately. Moreover, I can point to my own experience for examples which correlate with the science.

Monday, April 30, 2018


Music Week

Music: current count 29628 [29604] rated (+24), 372 [362] unrated (+10).

Not a huge rated count, but wrapping up April's Streamnotes I made a special effort to check out my best prospects, and after I hit my post deadline I kept working in that vein. The result is way more than the usual crop of A- records. Probably would have picked up Kira Kira's Bright Force but didn't get it written up in time, so I have to give it another spin. [Pictured right, to be listed next week, but make of that what you will.]

My most important tip source this week was Michael Tatum's A Downloader's Diary (48) -- his first in a rough couple of years, but a complete return to form. Also helpful was Phil Overeem's My Favorite Records of 2018, a Third the Way Out, and Chris Monsen's 2018: favorites, which expanded from 10 to 18 records last week. Less useful was that I added the top 100 AOTY Highest Rated Albums of 2018 to my meta-list. That introduced me to a few records that showed up elsewhere (like Dream Wife), but I aside from the Nashville women (Ashley Monroe, Kacey Musgraves, Sarah Shook) I haven't explored this list much. (Couldn't find Saba; Janelle Monáe, Willie Nelson, and five others only showed up after my trawl.)

I was pleased to see Overeem post a link to Streamnotes for the Expert Witness group at Facebook, not least because it generated a lot more discussion than my own Facebook posts. A couple points here:

  • The "deluxe edition" reissue of Sonny Rollins' Way Out West came out as double vinyl, a limited edition, already sold out. I gave the record a full A, basically because none of the new material (mostly alternate takes) slacked off from the original album, and while there's a little patter, it doesn't detract either. Still, I can't recommend you run out and buy it. I'm not an audiophile, so couldn't comment on the sound if I wanted to, which I don't. But at this point I consider vinyl a nuisance (I still have 300+ albums, but almost never play one, and I've been slow getting to the new ones I sometimes receive). But even so, there are a bunch of '50s Rollins albums you really should have in addition to Way Out West -- especially Work Time and Saxophone Colossus.

  • I was only vaguely aware of The Ex before their compilation Singles, Period: The Vinyl Years 1980-1990 appeared in 2005 (see my RG review), but I made a big dive after they put their work up on Bandcamp (see, e.g., my Streamnotes reviews). You can find a grade list here. Also noteworthy are a whole side series of matches between Terrie Ex (né Hessels) and jazz notables, starting (as far as I can tell) with Han Bennink in 2001 and peaking (so far) with Lean Left: The Ex Guitars Meet Nilssen-Love/Vandermark Duo in 2010. Lots to explore here. Early on the Ex had a sort of parallel to the Mekons: both were politically-oriented post-punk bands, and Jon Langford shows up on some early Ex albums. The third group in this constellation is Zu, from Italy, but they've been much less prolific. Their high point was Radiale (2004) with Ken Vandermark's funkiest free jazz group, Spaceways Inc. -- my first Jazz Consumer Guide Pick Hit. My interest in them diminished after they moved into metal, but their early work is interesting, and they (especially bassist Massimo Pupillo) sometimes show up in the same jazz circles.


I didn't bother with the White House Correspondents' Dinner when I was collecting yesterday's Weekend Roundup, but did take a look at Michelle Wolf's keynote sketch later on. Not as funny or as cutting as I would have liked -- she didn't have much flow, mostly knocking the jokes off like reading from a laundry list -- but the current administration (most of all its Leader) are so thin-skinned that glancing blows provoked howls of rage. I've always thought this was a bizarre ritual -- it's not like crime beat reporters host events with murderers and rapists to gently needle one another -- but the only time I ever paid much attention to it was Stephen Colbert's bravura 2006 performance. For a general review, see Emily Stewart: The Michelle Wolf White House Correspondents' Dinner controversy, explained, but for deeper issues look up Matt Taibbi: Michelle Wolf Slays Useless White House Correspondents' Dinner. For what it's worth, I think Trump's right not to attend, though I'm pretty sure it's not for the right reasons.


New records rated this week:

  • Erlend Olderskog Albertsen: Rodssal Neen Glassdor (2018, Dugnad Rec): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Berry: Everything, Compromised (2018, Joyful Noise): [r]: B-
  • The Breeders: All Nerve (2018, 4AD): [r]: B+(*)
  • Daniel Carter/William Parker/Matthew Shipp: Seraphic Light (2017 [2018], AUM Fidelity): [cd]: A-
  • Chloe x Halle: The Kids Are Alright (2018, Parkwood/Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • District Five: Decoy (2017 [2018], Intakt): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Dream Wife: Dream Wife (2018, Lucky Number): [r]: B+(***)
  • Frode Gjerstad Trio + Steve Swell: Bop Stop (2017 [2018], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Go! Team: Semi-Circle (2018, Memphis Industries): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jean Grae & Quelle Chris: Everything's Fine (2018, Mello Music Group): [r]: A-
  • The Heat Death: The Glenn Miller Sessions (2018, Clean Feed, 3CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Dave Holland: Uncharted Territories (2018, Dare2, 2CD): [cdr]: A-
  • Nick Millevoi's Desertion Trio With Jamie Saft: Midtown Tilt (2017 [2018], Shhpuma): [r]: B
  • Ashley Monroe: Sparrow (2018, Warner Nashville): [r]: B-
  • Kacey Musgraves: Golden Hour (2018, MCA Nashville): [r]: B
  • Orquesta Akokán: Orquesta Akokán (2018, Daptone): [r]: B+(***)
  • Sarah Shook & the Disarmers: Years (2018, Bloodshot): [r]: B+(*)
  • Sly & Robbie Meet Nils Petter Molvaer Feat Eivind Aarset and Vladislav Delay: Nordub (2016 [2018], Okeh): [r]: A-
  • Alexander Von Schlippenbach/Globe Unity Orchestra: Globe Unity - 50 Years (2016 [2018], Intakt): [cd]: A-
  • Young Fathers: Cocoa Sugar (2018, Ninja Tune): [r]: A-

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • Martin Küchen & Landaeus Trio: Vinyl (2013-14 [2018], Moserobie): [cd]: A-
  • Neil Young: Roxy: Tonight's the Night Live (1973 [2018], Reprise): [r]: A-

Old music rated this week:

  • Globe Unity Orchestra: Globe Unity 2002 (2002 [2003], Intakt): [r]: B+(**)
  • Alexander von Schlippenbach/Globe Unity Orchestra: Globe Unity - 40 Years (2006 [2009], Intakt): [r]: B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Tiffany Austin: Unbroken (Con Alma): June 1
  • Andrea Brachfeld: If Not Now, When? (Jazzheads): May 18
  • Dan Cavanaugh/Dave Hagedorn: 20 Years (UT Arlington)
  • Dead Composers Club [Noah Preminger/Rob Garcia]: Chopin Project (Connection Works)
  • Ron Di Salvio/Bart Plateau: The Puglia Suite (Blujazz)
  • Adrean Farrugia/Joel Frahm: Blues Dharma (GB)
  • Maria Grand: Magdalena (Biophilia): May 11: empty package, no CD
  • Danny Green Trio Plus Strings: One Day It Will (OA2)
  • Bill Hart Band: Live at Red Clay Theatre (Blujazz)
  • Deanne Matley: Because I Loved (self-released): May 11
  • Solon McDade: Murals (self-released)
  • MJO Brothers Present: Hip Devotions (Blujazz)
  • Nuance Crusaders: Reflections (Blujazz)
  • Marije van Dijk: The Stereography Project (Hert)
  • Vin Venezia: Fifth and Adams (Blujazz)

Sunday, April 29, 2018


Weekend Roundup

Big story of the week is the optimistic meet up between Korea's two leaders, or at least it would be if we actually knew the story. Most American foreign policy pundits have been working overtime to diminish our hopes, and Trump's glib sunniness (with ominous "we'll see" asides) isn't very reassuring. Fred Kaplan tries to sort this out (see What Is Denuclearization Anyway?:

As has been clear from the moment the subject came up, one obstacle to a successful summit is that both leaders are going into it with conflicting premises. Kim thinks Trump is caving to the reality of a North Korean nuclear arsenal; Trump thinks Kim is caving to the pressure of U.S. sanctions and threats. Both are probably right to some degree, but it's hard to see how the talks can produce a lasting peace if each man thinks that he has the upper hand at the outset and that, therefore, any deal must be struck on his terms.

Trump seems glued to this delusion. On Sunday, after watching MSNBC's Chuck Todd question whether Trump had received anything in return after handing Kim "the huge gift" of agreeing to meet with him in the first place, Trump tweeted: "Wow, we haven't given up anything & they have agreed to denuclearization (so great for World), site closure, & no more testing!"

Trump was referring to news reports of a speech that Kim had given the day before. But an official record of the speech, delivered at a plenary meeting of the Workers' Party of Korea, reveals that Kim agreed to no such thing.

Rather, Kim said that no further tests of nuclear weapons or medium-to-long-range ballistic missiles "are necessary" (italics added), given that North Korea has "successfully concluded" the process of building a nuclear arsenal. And because of this completion, Kim went on, "the overall situation is rapidly changing in favor of the Korean revolution" -- i.e., in favor of North Korea's triumph.

This is very different from a conciliatory gesture to stop testing. As for closing his nuclear test site, it appears that the site was slated for a shutdown already, having been gutted by the spate of recent weapons tests.

Finally, contrary to the early news reports about the speech, Kim said nothing in the speech about denuclearization. In fact, he described his nuclear arsenal as "a powerful treasured sword for defending peace."

Kaplan also notes that Kim has little reason to trust US pledges on denuclearization: both Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi shut down their nuclear programs to appease the US and got toppled anyway. Iran did the same, and while they haven't been overthrown Trump and Pompeo are now saying they will scotch the deal while encouraging Israel and Saudi Arabia to attack Iranians in Syria and supposed proxies in Syria and Yemen. He didn't mention the agreement Jimmy Carter negotiated with North Korea in the 1990s, which Clinton and Bush reneged on, leading North Korea to resume its since-completed work on nuclear weapons.

On the other hand, it's just possible this time that Trump and co. will be pushed out of the driver's seat on negotiations. South Korea has the power to make its own deal, and the US would find it impossible to keep troops in South Korea without permission. South Korea could also blow a huge hole in the US sanctions regime, and those are the two main issues for North Korea -- probably enough to get the North to mothball (but not totally dismantle) its rockets and nuclear warheads, to open up trade and normalize diplomatic relations. Given how gloomy the "military option" is -- a point I'm sure Mattis and DOD have made many times -- that may not even be such a bitter pill for Trump.

America's ability to dictate to its allies has been slipping for decades, but Trump's "America first" agenda accelerates the decline. For instance, one reason South Korea has long been a willing client was that the US was willing to run large trade deficits to help build up the South Korean economy. Trump, before he got so excited with his "fire & fury" and "little Rocket Man" tweets, started by pulling the US out of TPP, criticizing bilateral trade agreements with South Korea, and demanding the South (and everyone from NATO to Japan) to pick up more of their own defense tabs. All these signs point out that the US is becoming a less reliable and cost-effective ally, and as such will continue to lose influence.

More links on Korea:


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: The 4 biggest stories of the week, explained: Kim Jong Un crossed the DMZ; Bill Cosby is guilty; Ronny Jackson will not be VA secretary; Mike Pompeo was confirmed as secretary of state. Other Yglesias posts:

  • Peter Beinart: American Jews Have Abandoned Gaza -- and the Truth. Also: Eric Levitz: Natalie Portman and the Crisis of Liberal Zionism.

  • Walker Bragman/Michael Sainato: The Democratic Party is paying millions for Hillary Clinton's email list, FEC documents show.

  • Masha Gessen: What James Comey and Donald Trump Have in Common: Title forces a point that isn't really born out in the article. True enough, both have a single-minded focus -- Comey on truth and Trump on loyalty -- to which they sacrifice any shred of human compassion.

    Part of Comey's zeal is prosecutorial: he headed an agency that loves to punish people for the coverup rather than the crime. For Comey, this is principle rather than method. As a U.S. attorney, he writes, he made sure that Martha Stewart went to jail -- not, he stresses, because she engaged in insider trading of a kind that would have warranted but a warning, but because she lied about it. As the F.B.I. director, he hoped that his agents would catch Hillary Clinton in a lie about her e-mail servers. By this time, investigators had concluded that the use of Clinton's private server had caused no damage, but Comey makes it clear that his primary concern and objective was to catch the former Secretary of State in a lie. The pursuit of the prosecutable lie has been a cornerstone of F.B.I. strategy, especially in its post-2001 incarnation as an anti-terrorism agency, and Comey wastes no time reflecting on its tenuous relationship to actual crime, or actual justice.

  • Jonathan Greenberg: Trump lied to me about his wealth to get onto the Forbes 400. Here are the tapes. One of Trump's earliest scams: his campaign to get his name on the Forbes 400 list, including a guest appearance by Trump's "personal lawyer" Roy Cohn (you surely didn't think that Michael Cohen was the sleaziest lawyer in Trump's stable?). For more on Cohn, see: Frank Rich: The Original Donald Trump:

    For years it's been a parlor game for Americans to wonder how history might have turned out if someone had stopped Lee Harvey Oswald before he shot JFK. One might be tempted -- just as fruitlessly -- to speculate on what might have happened if more of New York's elites had intervened back then, nonviolently, to block or seriously challenge Trump's path to power. They had plenty of provocation and opportunities to do so. Trump practiced bigotry on a grand scale, was a world-class liar, and ripped off customers, investors, and the city itself. Yet for many among New York's upper register, there was no horror he could commit that would merit his excommunication. As with Cohn before him, the more outrageously and reprehensibly Trump behaved, the more the top rungs of society were titillated by him. They could cop out of any moral judgments or actions by rationalizing him as an entertaining con man: a cheesy, cynical, dumbed-down Gatsby who fit the city's tacky 1980s Gilded Age much as F. Scott Fitzgerald's more romantic prototype had the soigné Jazz Age of the 1920s. And so most of those who might have stopped Trump gawked like the rest of us as he scrambled up the city's ladder, grabbing anything that wasn't nailed down.

  • Mike Konczal: Actually, Guns Do Kill People: "The research is now clear: Right-to-carry laws increase the rate of violent crime."

  • Paul Krugman: We Don't Need No Education: Trying to explain the wave of teacher strikes in Red States, he focuses on money:

    So what happens when hard-line conservatives take over a state, as they did in much of the country after the 2010 Tea Party wave? They almost invariably push through big tax cuts. Usually these tax cuts are sold with the promise that lower taxes will provide a huge boost to the state economy.

    This promise is, however, never -- and I mean never -- fulfilled; the right's continuing belief in the magical payoff from tax cuts represents the triumph of ideology over overwhelming negative evidence.

    What tax cuts do, instead, is sharply reduce revenue, wreaking havoc with state finances. For a great majority of states are required by law to balance their budgets. This means that when tax receipts plunge, the conservatives running many states can't do what Trump and his allies in Congress are doing at the federal level -- simply let the budget deficit balloon. Instead, they have to cut spending.

    And given the centrality of education to state and local budgets, that puts schoolteachers in the cross hairs.

    How, after all, can governments save money on education? They can reduce the number of teachers, but that means larger class sizes, which will outrage parents. They can and have cut programs for students with special needs, but cruelty aside, that can only save a bit of money at the margin. The same is true of cost-saving measures like neglecting school maintenance and scrimping on school supplies to the point that many teachers end up supplementing inadequate school budgets out of their own pockets.

    That's all true enough, and probably most of the story, but leaves out some particularly nasty partisan calculations. Republicans have long viewed teachers' unions as a political liability, and as such have wanted to hurt them. Indeed, much of their fondness for charter schools (and vouchers for private schools) is rooted in union-busting. More recently, some Republicans (Rick Santorum was an early adopter) have started to question the value of education at all -- pointing out that liberal arts education tends toward liberal politics, playing into a tradition of anti-intellectualism that was history when Richard Hofstadter wrote about it fifty years ago, yet seems to reinvent every time elites need to find political suckers. At the same time, elite (and later public) colleges have shifted from scholarships -- which helped smart-but-poor students like Clinton and Obama find comfortable homes in the ruling class -- to debt, trying to preserve elite jobs for the scions of the upper class.

    When mass education first became a popular idea among elites, back in the mid-19th century, it was seen as a way to socialize immigrants, to fold them into American society and its growing economy, but it also represented opportunity and upward mobility and justice. We no longer live in a world which looks forward to its future. Rather, the rich are entrenching themselves in fortresses (both literally and figuratively), hoping to blight out everyone else.

  • Nomi Prins: The Return of the Great Meltdown? Wrote one of the better books about the 2008 crash (It Takes a Pillage: Behind the Bailouts, Bonuses, and Backroom Deals From Washington to Wall Street), but looking at Trump's recent Fed appointees and the Republican effort to unwind Dodd-Frank, she's anticipating a rerun in her new book, Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World. Also on TomDispatch, Todd Miller: An Unsustainable World Managed With an Iron Fist, on the militarization of the border with Mexico. Miller, too, has a book: Storming the Wall: Climate Change, Migration, and Homeland Security.

  • Alex Ross: How American Racism Influenced Hitler: Takes off from James Q. Whitman's recent book, Hitler's American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law. What could be made clearer is that there were two American models (not unrelated but distinct in our minds) for Hitler: the "Jim Crow" laws which codified a racial hierarchy, which South Africa adapted for Apartheid and could easily be adapted to discriminate against Jews; and "Manifest Destiny," the umbrella for driving Native Americans off their lands and into tiny, impoverished reservations, while killing off enough to constitute a cumulative genocide. As Ian Kershaw describes Hitler:

    His two abiding obsessions were violent anti-Semitism and Lebensraum. As early as 1921, he spoke of confining Jews to concentration camps, and in 1923 he contemplated -- and, for the moment, rejected -- the idea of killing the entire Jewish population. The Holocaust was the result of a hideous syllogism: if Germany were to expand into the East, where millions of Jews lived, those Jews would have to vanish, because Germans could not coexist with them.

    I have often thought that Hitler's quotes about how America dealt with its native population should be pursued at great length. Ross cites two books that do this: Carroll Kakel's The American West and the Nazi East: A Comparative and Interpretive Perspective (2011, Palgrave Macmillan), and Edward B. Westermann's Hitler's Ostkrieg and the Indian Wars: Comparing Genocide and Conquest (2016, University of Oklahoma Press).

    America's knack for maintaining an air of robust innocence in the wake of mass death struck Hitler as an example to be emulated. He made frequent mention of the American West in the early months of the Soviet invasion. The Volga would be "our Mississippi," he said. "Europe -- and not America -- will be the land of unlimited possibilities." Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine would be populated by pioneer farmer-soldier families. Autobahns would cut through fields of grain. The present occupants of those lands -- tens of millions of them -- would be starved to death. At the same time, and with no sense of contradiction, the Nazis partook of a long-standing German romanticization of Native Americans. One of Goebbels's less propitious schemes was to confer honorary Aryan status on Native American tribes, in the hope that they would rise up against their oppressors.

    Jim Crow laws in the American South served as a precedent in a stricter legal sense. Scholars have long been aware that Hitler's regime expressed admiration for American race law, but they have tended to see this as a public-relations strategy -- an "everybody does it" justification for Nazi policies.

  • Micah Zenko: America's First Reality TV War: "The Trump administration's latest missile strikes in Syria were never going to accomplish anything. But the show must go on."

  • Neri Zilber: Israel and Iran's escalating shadow war in Syria, explained: Not really explained, in that the author fails to emphasize that Israel is the one provoking further escalations. Also, there is no real chance of this developing into a conventional ground war. Sure, both sides have missiles that can reach the other, but Israel has a distinct advantage there: nuclear warheads. There's no reason to doubt that Iran has any reason for stationing military forces in Syria other than for supporting the Assad regime, which Israel has never regarded as a serious threat (at least since 1979, when Israel signed a separate peace deal with Egypt, precluding any future alliance). Israel, on the other hand, has periodically bombed Syria even before the Civil War gave them cover. They regard Iranian troops as an unacceptable provocation because they might inconvenience Israeli air strikes. And also, quite significantly, because Israel recognizes it can take advantage of American prejudices against Iran to push its alliance militarily. For evidence this is working, see Carol Morello: Pompeo says U.S. is with Israel in fight against Iran. Pompeo is also anxious for the US to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, which is up for renewal on May 12. Among other preposterous things, he claims that North Korea won't be bothered if the US breaks its word on a similar deal. In the past, North Koreans have often pointed to Libya, which agreed to dismantle its nuclear program only to have the US bomb the country and kill its leader, leaving chaos in its wake, so there only seem to be two possible explanations for Pompeo's indifference: either he has totally unreasonable expectations about North Korea's willingness to disarm themselves, or he's looking to undermine any possible Korea deal. Given his neocon credentials, one suspects the latter. Meanwhile, the purpose of the Israel trip (with side trips to Riyadh and Amman) seems to be to stoke anti-Iran feeling before Trump drops out of the Iran deal.

Saturday, April 28, 2018


Streamnotes (April 2018)

This month has been a dull, slow slog. Still, even when nothing else motivated me, I could go through the routine: put a record on, give it a spin, hear clearly enough to render a grade, and sometimes a comment or two. Not a banner month, but not bad for going through the motions. And where my shorter (84 records) March Streamnotes struggled to find A-list records (2 new and 2 old, 0/1 non-jazz), this one has quite a lot to recommend (12 new, 6 old, 5/1 non-jazz). Two things helped: one is that I finally started paying some attention to lists and reviews; the other is that instead of taking my new jazz queue FIFO, I snuck a look and picked a half-dozen stronger candidates to check out (hence the late breaks for Schlippenbach and Carter).

Note that the Streamnotes count has topped 11,000 (since December 2007, so a little more than 1,000 per year; in 2014 I folded Jazz Prospecting and Recycled Goods in, picking up any CDs I happened to get or buy). I've long been inclined to favor breadth over depth, but Rhapsody (now Napster) was what made that possible. Later this year, the ratings count should pass 30,000 (currently 29,619, so -381, or if nothing stops me, 12-15 weeks).


Most of these are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Napster (formerly Rhapsody; other sources are noted in brackets). They are snap judgments, usually based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on March 27. Past reviews and more information are available here (11040 records).


Recent Releases

Erlend Olderskog Albertsen: Rřdssal Neen Glassdřr (2018, Dugnad Rec): Norwegian bassist, played in Akmee (trumpet-piano-bass-drums quartet with a good album last year, Neptun) and Filosofer, seems to be first album under his own name (although the Bandcamp page attributes the record to "Dugnad rec"). Expands on Akmee by adding alto sax (Martin Myhre Olsen) and trombone (Nilas Granseth). Ensemble can kick up a powerful ruckus, but doesn't lose interest when they cut back. B+(***) [bc]

Arild Andersen: In-House Science (2016 [2018], ECM): Norwegian bassist, one of several future stars attracted to George Russell in the 1960s, debuted on ECM with the highly recommended Clouds in My Head in 1975, and lately has been running a trio with Paolo Vinaccia on drums and Tommy Smith on tenor sax. This one took me longer than 2008's Live in Belleville, but Andersen is a steady leader, and Smith can be explosive. A- [dl]

Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Awase (2017 [2018], ECM): Swiss pianist, rhythm-focused quartet (formerly quintet) dates back to 2002, with Sha (clarinet/alto sax), Thomy Jordi (bass), and Kaspar Rast (drums). Title is "a term from martial arts, means 'moving together' in the sense of matching energies." Builds on its minimalist base in divers remarkable ways. A- [dl]

Nat Birchall: Cosmic Language (2018, Jazzman): For a long while, it seemed like every young saxophonist tried to sound like John Coltrane. That's less obvious now, perhaps in small part because Birchall nails it so perfectly. He even goes the extra step of returning the intense searching of Coltrane's last period back to the structure of the quartet. Still, has a few off moments. B+(***)

Martin Blume/Tobias Delius/Achim Kaufmann/Dieter Manderscheid: Frames & Terrains (2016 [2018], NoBusiness): Listed alphabetically: drums, tenor sax/clarinet, piano, bass. Good spots for Delius and Kaufmann, although they tend to isolate. B+(**) [cdr]

Benjamin Boone/Philip Levine: The Poetry of Jazz (2012-14 [2018], Origin): Levine is the late US Poet Laureate, winner of Pulitzer Prizes, and like many poets of his generation has much to say about jazz. He also taught for many years at Cal State Fresno, as has saxophonist Boone, who wrote most of the music here -- luxurious riffing behind the poet's words. Cut over four sessions, with numerous guests poking in for a song or a few -- Chris Potter, for instance, joins the "Homage to Sonny Rollins," Tom Harrell "I Remember Clifford," Branford Marsalis "John Coltrane," Greg Osby "Charlie Parker." Levine also knows work. A- [cd]

The Breeders: All Nerve (2018, 4AD): Band, formed by Kim Deal and Tanya Donnelly in 1989, the latter replaced by sister Kelley Deal in 1992, with wide spaces between their five albums (1990, 1993, 2002, 2008, 2018). Dense, powerful, stalls toward the end. B+(*)

Jakob Bro: Returnings (2016 [2018], ECM): Danish guitarist, tenor so records since 2005, third for ECM, a quartet with Palle Mikkelborg (trumpet/flugelhorn), Thomas Morgan (bass), and Jon Christensen (drums). Even with the trumpet this tends to fade into oblivion. B

Chris Byars: New York City Jazz (2016 [2018], SteepleChase): Alto saxophonist, classic bebop player although he's given a good deal of thought to 1950s mainstream sound, including tributes to Duke Jordan, Lucky Thompson, Gigi Gryce, and Frank Strozier. Sextet with John Mosca (trombone), Stefano Doglioni (bass clarinet), Pasquale Grasso (guitar), Ari Roland (bass), and Stefan Schatz (drums). Two Gryce songs among four covers here. B+(**)

Daniel Carter/William Parker/Matthew Shipp: Seraphic Light (2017 [2018], AUM Fidelity): Mostly an alto saxophonist, Carter is also credited here with flute, trumpet, clarinet, tenor and soprano saxophones. Not nearly as famous as his bassist and pianist, he is actually older, and has played on quite a few of their better albums, including in Parker's Other Dimensions in Music quartet. No drummer here, so Shipp takes a strong rhythmic role, with Parker fattening the sound and occasionally taking charge. Not one of Carter's flashier performances, but he adds color and flavor. A- [cd]

Brian Charette/George Coleman: Groovin' With Big G (2017 [2018], SteepleChase): Organ-tenor sax quartet, with Vic Juris on guitar and George Coleman Jr. on drums. Charette has a relatively fresh take on the B-3, but is happy to lounge in this company, with the octogenarian saxophonist sounding nearly as good as he did a couple years back on A Master Speaks, or for that matter 1991's definitive My Horns of Plenty. B+(***)

Anat Cohen/Fred Hersch: Live in Healdsburg (2016 [2018], Anzic): Clarinet and piano duets, the pianist exercising his best manners as an accompanist, so the limit must be the clarinet. B+(*) [bc]

Tim Daisy/Michael Thieke/Ken Vandermark: Triptych (2016 [2017], Relay): Drummer, arbitrating between clarinet and Vandermark -- often an overwhelming force of nature, playing tenor sax and bass clarinet here, throttled back enough to keep the trio nicely balanced. B+(**) [bc]

Tim Daisy: Music for Lying Still (2017, Relay, EP): One 25:15 piece, solo but not just drums -- no idea where the shaky electronics (or whatever it is) comes from. B+(**) [bc]

Tim Daisy's Fulcrum Ensemble: Animation (2017 [2018], Relay): Drummer-led all-star group, strikes me as freebop given all the angles: Josh Berman (cornet), Steve Swell (trombone), Dave Rempis (alto/bari sax), James Falzone (clarinet), Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello). B+(***) [bc]

District Five: Decoy (2017 [2018], Intakt): Swiss quartet, from Zürich (although recorded in Köln), guitarist Vojko Huter the main composer, with Tapiwa Svosve (alto sax), Xaver Rüegg (double bass), and Paul Amereller (drums), Huter and Svosve also credited with synths/electronics. First album. Not fusion -- that sort of density, but something more complex. B+(**) [cd]

Dream Wife: Dream Wife (2018, Lucky Number): British group, three women, met in Brighton although lead singer Rakel Mjöll hails from Iceland, play hard, a little squeaky around the edges. Choice cut: "F.U.U." B+(***)

The Ex: 27 Passports (2018, Ex): Dutch group, career approximately parallels the Mekons starting from similar postpunk and politics, but where the Mekons dabbled with country, the Ex took an interest in jazz and Africa. Still, Arnold de Boer's vocals retain their punk bark, and drummer Katherina Bornefeld is as welcome a change of pace as Moe Tucker. As for the guitarists, they've never before cranked out such driving thrash -- even when they were trying to drown out Ken Vandermark in Lean Left. Can't say much for the words yet, but they've always been right on. A

Satoko Fujii Orchestra Berlin: Ninety-Nine Years (2017 [2018], Libra): Not quite a big band: three trumpets, three reeds, trombone, bass, two drummers. Fujii composed and conducts but doesn't play, and her piano is missed -- not that the orchestra can't generate plenty of intensity, but it could use something more to bridge the gaps. B+(**) [cd]

Frode Gjerstad Trio + Steve Swell: Bop Stop (2018, Clean Feed): Alto saxophonist from Norway, played in Detail (1981-94) and led Circulasione Totale Orchestra, starting his trio with Jon Rune Strřm (bass) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums) in 1999. This is a live set from The Bop Stop in Cleveland, kind of a free-for-all but gets more interesting further along. B+(**)

Victor Gould: Earthlings (2017 [2018], Criss Cross): Pianist, second album, trio with Dezron Douglas (bass) and Eric McPherson (drums), with guests Tim Warfield (soprano sax), Godwin Louis (alto sax), and Kahlil Kwame Bell (percussion) -- the saxophonists on three tracks each. Four originals, six standards and jazz covers, starting with Mulgrew Miller and Horace Silver; i.e., where he's coming from. B+(**)

Johan Graden: Olägenheter (2017 [2018], Moserobie): Pianist, Swedish (I think), seems to be first album under his name (a couple others listed Konrad Agnas or Andreas Pollak first). With Josefin Runsteen (violin), Per Texas Johansson (clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, saw), Pĺr-Ola Landin (bass), and Agnas (drums), has a chamber feel with extra sparkle. B+(**)

Mary Halvorson: Code Girl (2016 [2018], Firehouse 12, 2CD): Guitarist, one of Anthony Braxton's students, has a couple dozen albums since 2004, a very mixed bag as far as I'm concerned, but some of her oeuvre is truly exceptional. This may be her most ambitious effort, adding vocalist Amirtha Kidambi and trumpet star Ambrose Akinmusire to her Thumbscrew trio (Michael Formanek, Tomas Fujiwara). Best work I've heard from the trumpeter, but the singer not only leans toward opera, she drags the songs that way too. B+(*) [bc]

The Heat Death: The Glenn Miller Sessions (2018, Clean Feed, 3CD): Scandinavian free jazz quintet, mostly (I think) Swedish, with three famous horn players -- Mats Aleklint (trombone), Kjetil Mřster (tenor sax, clarinet), Martin Küchen (alto/sopranino sax, flute) -- plus bass (Ola Hřyer) and drums (Dag Erik Knedal Andersen). When I first saw this, I assumed the title referred to Stockholm's Glenn Miller Café, but the hype sheet offers no dates or location and claims: "the resulting music has few resemblances to what the Glenn Miller Orchestra continue to do until this day, but the spirit is here, exploring aspects which were implicitly, but never fulfilled, with all the respect to the historic figure who conceived it." I'm pretty sure that's nonsense, as are the references to Chris McGregor, Jaki Liebezeit, and thermodynamics. B+(**)

Tim Heidecker: Too Dumb for Suicide: Tim Heidecker's Trump Songs (2017, Jagjaguwar): Comedian, writer, director, actor, sometime musician, since at least 2001 although I can't say as I've noticed him before. Maybe because his satire isn't funny enough? This barely breaks 30 minutes with a bonus remake of "Trump's Private Pilot. Reportedly, Paul Simon nixed the inclusion of "I Am a Cuck" (sung to "I Am a Rock"). Not sure whether to laugh or cry. B

Gerry Hemingway/Samuel Blaser: Oostum (2015 [2017], NoBusiness): Duets, drums and trombone. First rate players, but not exactly a match made in heaven. B+(*) [cdr]

Lauren Henderson: Ármame (2016 [2018], Brontosaurus): Singer, originally from Massachusetts but with Caribbean roots and a degree in Hispanic Studies wrote four songs here, all with Spanish titles. Band offers lots of support, including extra percussion. B+(*) [cd]

Monika Herzig: Monika Herzig's Sheroes (2016 [2018], Whaling City Sound): Pianist, born in Germany, came to US on an exchange program in 1988 and stuck around. All-woman band with Ingrid Jensen (trumpet), Ada Rovatti (tenor sax), Jamie Baum (flute), Reut Regev (trombone), and Leni Stern (guitar), plus bass, drums, and extra percussion, with several band members contributing songs (Herzig three plus a "House of the Rising Sun" arrangement). Some strong solo moments, and a Latin thing at the end. B+(*) [cd]

Il Sogno: Birthday (2015 [2017], Gotta Let It Out): Trio: Emanuele Maniscalco (piano), Tomo Jacobson (double bass), Oliver Laumann (drums). First group album. One cover from Ennio Morricone, the original pieces cutting a fine line, evenly balanced. B+(**) [cd]

Jon Irabagon Quartet: Dr. Quixotic's Traveling Exotics (2016-17 [2018], Irabbagast): Tenor saxophonist, made a big impression with Mostly Other People Do the Killing and elsewhere. Still, his own records have been erratic, even though he's often a powerhouse. Here, for instance, an odd mix with Luis Perdomo (piano), Yasushi Nakamura (bass), and Rudy Royston (drums), plus Tim Hagan (trumpet). Awesome in spots, annoying in others. B+(**) [cd]

JPEGMAFIA: Veteran (2018, self-released): Baltimore rapper Barrington Hendricks, did four years in USAF, second album, wildly experimental, all chopped up and screwed over. Has a rep among people I follow, and occasional moments do sound promising, but I can't follow it, and don't (yet) see any reason I should. B [bc]

Roger Kellaway Trio: New Jazz Standards Vol. 3 (2017 [2018], Summit): All compositions by Carl Saunders (b. 1942, three years after the pianist; a trumpet player with Bill Holman, Stan Kenton, Bob Florence, and Gerald Nilson, with a half-dozen albums under his own name), so maybe not so standard. A fine piano player, with Jay Leonhart on bass and Peter Erskine on drums. B+(**) [cd]

Jinx Lennon: Grow a Pair!!! (2018, Septic Tiger): Irish folk singer-songwriter, staunchly (and sometimes militantly) working class. Seems like someone I should cotton to, and indeed I've liked a couple of his previous albums. But I hate the title, the title song even more, and care little for the various ups and downs, not all of which are fairly dismissed. B+(*)

James Brandon Lewis/Chad Taylor: Radiant Imprints (2018, OFF): Young tenor saxophonist, first albums came out on a major label (Okeh) so I figured him for a mainstream player, but he showed impressive chops and raw vitality. Since then he's fallen into obscure projects (e.g., Heroes Are Gang Leaders) and labels, and winds up here in a sax-drums duo, an avant specialty. Taylor has done this sort of thing before. He not only gets a terrific performance, he gives one. A-

Jeffrey Lewis: Works by Tuli Kupferberg (1923-2010) (2018, Don Giovanni): I think I first first ran into Kupferberg when Grove Press published a very slim book of his, 1001 Ways to Beat the Draft (1966). It offered advice I could have used at the time, but as I recall wasn't all that useful. Nor was what I thought of as his sequel, 1001 Ways to Live Without Working (actually written in 1961). I probably read some of his poetry, but unlike his buddy Ed Sanders -- they formed a rock group in 1964 called the Fugs -- nothing especially memorable. Still, he was a hero to several generations of folkie-anarchists, including Lewis and his older fiddle player here, Peter Stampfel. Lewis allows himself leeway to "interpret and/or "misinterpret" Kupferberg's songs. The music palpably picks up when Kupferberg/Lewis stole it from someone talented (e.g., "I Wanna Hold Your Foot"), and the large-scale sing-alongs tidy his oeuvre up about as much as one could hope. A- [bc]

Dave Liebman/John Stowell: Petite Fleur: The Music of Sidney Bechet (2017 [2018], Origin): Mostly soprano sax and guitar duets, Liebman also credited with wood flute and piano. Probably not a huge surprise that someone who plays as much soprano as Liebman does should want to do a Bechet tribute, but from his early days with Miles Davis Liebman's always been a Coltrane fan, and I've never noticed any previous linkage. Indeed, while these are mostly Bechet songs, they don't sound much like him. Nor does Stowell show much affinity, although his nylon-string and fretless baritone guitars are slinky as his norm. B+(*) [cd]

Johan Lindström Septett: Music for Empty Halls (2018, Moserobie): Guitarist, also plays pedal steel guitar, spreads out a very diverse album with at least one song as catchy as the "Peter Gunn" theme, another called "Europe Endless Boogie," various spots for his horns that break into free territory -- Jonas Kullhammar (sax), Per Texas Johansson (clarinet), Mats Aleklint (trombone) -- then adds a splash of strings for the closing "Hymn." B+(***) [cd]

The Doug MacDonald Quintet/The Roger Neumann Quintet: Two Quintets: Live Upstairs at Vitello's (2017 [2018], Blujazz, 2CD): Neumann plays tenor sax, runs the more conventional quintet, with trumpet (Carl Saunders), piano, bass, and drums. MacDonald is a guitarist, with tenor sax (Rickey Woodard), piano, bass, and drums. I don't really understand why they didn't cut their own albums, but the transitions were pretty seamless. Both play energetic, mostly jazz standards, a bit hotter than the norm. B+(*) [cd]

The Maguire Twins: Seeking Higher Ground (2017 [2018], Three Tree): Drummer Carl, bassist Alan, identical, mother Japanese, father American, grew up in Hong Kong, moved to Memphis at 15, now 21 and, well, awful cute. Band made up of seasoned hard boppers -- Gregory Tardy (tenor sax), Bill Mobley (trumpet), Aaron Goldberg (piano) -- and they let it rip. B+(*) [cd]

Todd Marcus: On These Streets (A Baltimore Story) (2017 [2018], Stricker Street): Bass clarinet player, from Baltimore, has a previous album. The usually upbeat music here is contraposed with various sound fragments rooted in injustice and unrest, with a vocal that leans gospel without going over the top. George Colligan is a steady driver on piano. Paul Bollenbeck (guitar) and Warren Wolf (vibes) also appear. Gary Bartz and Darryl Harper wrote liner notes. I doubt it fits or flows very well, but give him credit for trying to do something exceptional. B [cd]

Ashley McBryde: Girl Going Nowhere (2018, Warner Nashville): Country singer from Arkansas. First album, co-wrote all but one song. Band can get heavy -- "classic rock influences" -- but she's more impressive when she strips everything away except for a thin whisper of guitar -- e.g., "Andy (I Can't Live Without You)." B+(**)

Erin McDougald: Outside the Soirée (2018, Miles High): Standards singer, born in Ohio, based in Chicago, has at least one previous album. Can't read the hand-lettered booklet (looks to offer quite a bit of info) but did note the presence of saxophonists Dave Liebman and Dan Block, trumpeter Tom Harrell, and vibraphonist Mark Sherman -- all pluses in a very respectable effort. B+(**) [cd]

Nick Millevoi's Desertion Trio With Jamie Saft: Midtown Tilt (2017 [2018], Clean Feed): Guitarist, based in Philadelphia, trio with electric bass (Johnny DeBlase) and drums (Kevin Shea), with Jamie Saft joining on organ (as he did on Millevoi's 2016 album Desertion) plus Ashley Tini (vibes/percussion) on three tracks. Fusion album, power moves laid on thick. B

Modern Mal: The Misanthrope Family Album (2017, Mal): Christgau was reminded of Leonard Cohen and Dolly Parton. The former's voice is almost eerily duplicated, but I don't hear Parton and the music averages out as a bit less than the Handsome Family. B+(*)

Ashley Monroe: Sparrow (2018, Warner Nashville): Like Kacey Musgraves, the Pistol Annie singer-songwriter makes a pop move, which with Dave Cobb producing means buried in strings. I still like her voice, but everything else is turned to mush. B-

Michael Morreale: MilesSong: The Music of Miles Davis (2016 [2018], Summit, 2CD): Trumpet player, has a previous album. This is a quartet, with Tony Regusis (piano/Fender Rhodes), bass, and drums, so a pretty straight, mainstream presentation of fourteen songs -- only four by Davis, a few more from Hancock or Shorter, the rest standards that Davis played. B+(**) [cd]

Diane Moser: Birdsongs (2017 [2018], Planet Arts): Pianist, has several previous albums including a duo with Mark Dresser on avant label CIMP. This doesn't even hint at that, although the bassist here, Ken Filiano, can certainly go that direction. Third player is Anton Denner on flute and piccolo, still not especially birdlike. Way too sedate to sustain my interest, although the piano is interesting when I manage to focus. B [cd]

Michael Moss/Accidental Orchestra: Helix (2016 [2018], 4th Stream): Clarinet player, several previous albums, leads a large orchestral ensemble -- 22 pieces but only one trumpet, one trombone (Steve Swell), two saxes (one also flute), but six strings (including Jason Kao Hwang), two guitars (Billy Stein and Rick Iannacone, the latter credited with "ambient guitar"), and four percussionists (including Warren Smith on vibes and Badal Roy on tabla). B+(**) [cd]

Kacey Musgraves: Golden Hour (2018, MCA Nashville): The most genteel of the Pistol Annies generation of country women, she's still very a very comfortable listen on a slow ballad, but has mostly turned this album over to the producers to craft into pop schmaltz, over-orchestrated but not danceable enough. B

Patricia Nicholson/William Parker: Hope Cries for Justice (2017 [2018], Centering): Wife and husband, the former a dancer and organizer of New York's annual Vision Festival. Discogs credits her with a couple of vocal performances, but this is where she steps out front with her spoken-word poetry accompanied by Parker's donso n'goni and bass. I never really get the spirit/myth stuff, but won't fault her cry for hope and justice. Parker is restrained, otherwise he'd steal the show. B+(***) [cd]

Danielle Nicole: Cry No More (2018, Concord): Last name Schnebelen, a blues/soul singer-songwriter, plays guitar and bass guitar, second (or third) album after an EP. I suspect she'll fall ever more clearly on the blues side, partly because that's how voices age, partly because she's already leaning hard on her guitar. B+(*)

No Age: Snares Like a Haircut (2018, Drag City): Noise pop duo, guitarist Randy Randall and drummer/vocalist Dean Allen Spunt, fifth album, everything they've done so far makes a strong impression, although none of it has stuck with me. Every time I've played this album I've heard non-obvious echoes of a Go-Betweens song. One thing I'm sure of is that I'll never play anything else and find it reminds me of No Age. Still, the sound here moves way beyond noise, with an undeniable vitality. After three plays I enjoy every moment of it. But after three days I doubt I'll remember any of it. A-

Meg Okura/Sam Newsome/Jean-Michel Pilc: NPO Trio Live at the Stone (2016 [2018], Chant): Violin/soprano sax/piano. Okura describes what she does as Chamber Jazz, but she's hard pressed to smooth over the rough edges of her partners. B+(*) [bc]

Meg Okura & the Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble: Ima Ima (2018, Chant): Violinist, born in Japan, based om Mew York, converted to Judaism, title draws one word from Hebrew, another from Japanese, translates as Mom Now. Group isn't strictly Asian: guitarist Rez Abbasi is the only one I'm sure of, while I have doubts about Tom Harrell (trumpet), Anne Drummond (flute), Sam Newsome (soprano sax), Sam Sadigursky (bass clarinet/clarinet), Pablo Aslan (bass). Also a drummer, contrary to usual chamber practice, but I suppose the harp makes up for that. B+(*) [bc]

William Parker: Lake of Light: Compositions for AquaSonics (2017 [2018], Gotta Let It Out): Four musicians -- Parker, Jeff Schlanger, Anne Humanfeld, Leonid Galaganov -- playing Parker compositions on AquaSonic waterphones invented by Jackson Krall. The instrument can be bowed or struck, so this bears some resemblance to a cello/percussion group, but higher pitched, with extra resonance due to the water. Leans toward noise to start, but grows from there to become quite haunting. B+(***) [cd]

Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: Oneness (2017 [2018], Leo, 3CD): Tenor sax/piano duets, as if last year's seven-volume The Art of Perelman-Shipp hadn't exhausted the topic. Of course, it probably didn't. It may even have merely paved the way for this level of intimacy. On the other hand, they're not doing anything they haven't done many times before. B+(***) [cd]

Peripheral Vision: More Songs About Error and Shame (2018, self-released): Canadian group, fourth album since 2010, co-leaders Michael Herring (bass) and Don Scott (guitar), backed by the somewhat more famous Nick Fraser (drums) and Simon Hogg (tenor sax). Complex groove with some sharp edges, closing with an exceptionally catchy vamp. B+(***) [cd]

Roberta Piket: West Coast Trio (2017 [2018], 13th Note): Piano trio with Darek Oleszkiewicz (bass) and Joe La Barbera (drums), plus guitarist Larry Koonse on two cuts, and percussionist Billy Mintz on one. Two originals, rest covers, ranging from Djavan to John Hicks. B+(*) [cd]

Chris Platt Trio: Sky Glow (2017 [2018], self-released): Guitarist, from Canada, first album, trio with bass and drums. Nice flow, a little light. B+(*) [cd]

Marvin Pontiac: The Asylum Tapes (2017, Strange and Beautiful): Fictional artist invented by Loung Lizards saxophonist John Lurie. His back story started with birth in Mali in 1932, mother Jewish from New Rochelle, father a west African who abandoned him, grew up in Chicago playing blues harmonica, copying Little Walter; went nuts, believing he had been abducted and probed by aliens; hit and killed by a bus in 1977. Pontiac first appeared in our world when Lurie released his Greatest Hits in 2000. Not much sax here; mostly guitar and growl. Can't claim it's as good as Beefheart, but if you miss him you might welcome a kindred spirit. A-

Noah Preminger: Genuinity (2017 [2018], Criss Cross): Tenor saxophonist, has racked up an impressive discography quickly. This is a quartet with Jason Palmer (trumpet), Kim Cass (bass) and Dan Weiss (drums), playing nine originals, showing his range and burning up front and toward the end. B+(**)

John Prine: The Tree of Forgiveness (2018, Oh Boy): First record of new songs since 2005's Fair and Square, with its pointed anti-Bush songs. Still, no (even oblique) mention of Trump this time: just a batch of scrimpy songs about love and death, mostly the latter. He practically looks dead on the cover, and his throat-cancer-damaged voice has deteriorated even further, making this hard to listen to at first. Still, you get used to all that, and start noticing his little tics of wit. By the end, he's in heaven, and rather than mourning you're wishing you could come along for the ride. A-

Scott Reeves Jazz Orchestra: Without a Trace (2015-17 [2018], Origin): Big band leader, arranges and conducts, also plays a little trombone and alto flugelhorn. Four Reeves originals, three covers, band (featuring Steve Wilson) has a lot of power and swagger. One vocal, by Carolyn Leonhart, reminds me how awkward it seems to try to wrap words around tricky melodies. B [cd]

The Rempis/Daisy Duo & Guests: Dodecahedron (2017 [2018], Aerophonic, 2CD): Rempis plays alto and baritone sax, Daisy drums. Third duo album, though they've played together much more than that, going back midway Vandermark 5. The first disc is a live duo set. The second a studio session with guests (no track credits, but sounds like one at a time): Jason Adasiewicz (vibes), Jim Baker (piano), Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello), Steve Swell (trombone), Katie Young (bassoon), Aaron Zarzutzki (electronics). A remarkable sax player, running through a wide range of moves, but still a little tiring. B+(**)

Jay Rodriguez: Your Sound: Live at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola (2018, Whaling City Sound): Saxophonist, from Colombia, plays most of them and flute and bass clarinet as well -- the latter is my favorite part here. Billy Harper also plays tenor sax, with Larry Willis on piano, Eric Wheeler (bass), J.T. Lewis (drums), and Billy Martin (percussion). B+(**) [cd]

Rent Romus' Life's Blood Ensemble: Rogue Star (2017 [2018], Edgetone): Alto saxophonist, also plays flute, leads a septet with tenor sax, E-trumpet, vibes, two basses, and drums. Some fine stretches, especially when I focus, but slips by when I don't. B+(***)

Alexander Von Schlippenbach/Globe Unity Orchestra: Globe Unity - 50 Years (2016 [2018], Intakt): Back in 1966, a hitherto unknown 28-year-old German pianist assembled Europe's (and, really, the world's) first avant-jazz orchestra -- originally an ad hoc merger of groups led by Gunter Hampel, Manfred Schoof, and Peter Brötzmann (ages 29, 30, and 25). The group grew to 18 the next year, and recorded regularly over the next decade, regrouping later for significant anniversaries, with their 50th marking more time than had passed between ODJB's first jazz records and Globe Unity's founding. Still 18 strong here, with Von Schlippenbach, Schoof, and Gerd Dudek returning from the original band, plus Evan Parker, Tomasz Stanko, and Paul Lovens from the 1970 group. Cutting edge then, still pretty far out. A- [cd]

Derek Senn: Avuncular (2016, self-released): Singer-songwriter from San Luis Obispo: wife, two kids, day job, second DIY album. With songs about "Vietnam" and "Monica Lewinsky" and "The Drinky Drink" -- you know, the world. B+(***)

Sarah Shook & the Disarmers: Years (2018, Bloodshot): Country rocker from North Carolina, worked through a couple bands before coming up with the Disarmers, had their 2015 debut picked up by Americana label Bloodshot in 2017, so this is the sequel. Drinks a lot, rocks a little, at least no strings (yet). B+(*)

Alex Sipiagin: Moments Captured (2016 [2017], Criss Cross): Trumpet player, born in Russia, moved to US in 1991, flashy, wailing over two energetic saxophonists -- Chris Potter (tenor) and Will Vinson (alto/soprano) -- backed by John Escreet (keybs), Matt Brewer (bass), and Eric Harland (drums), with two vocals by Alina Engibaryan. None of the horns lack for chops, but I don't care for the keyboards, or the vocals. B

Jim Snidero & Jeremy Pelt: Jubilation! Celebrating Cannonball Adderley (2017 [2018], Savant): The leaders play hard bop alto sax and trumpet, same as Cannonball and Nat -- and the latter's "Worksong" closes the album on a high note. Backed by David Hazeltine, Nat Reeves, and Billy Drummond. Could be a long-lost Adderley Quintet album, except that they stick to the top tier of the songbook. B+(**) [cdr]

Sons of Kemet: Your Queen Is a Reptile (2018, Impulse!): London-based group, led by saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings, with Oren Marshall on tuba and two drummers. Third album: Hutchings has other projects, like Shabaka and the Ancestors and the Comet Is Coming. Nine songs, each named "My Queen Is" and some name -- the two most familiar to me are Harriet Tubman and Angela Davis, but other track down to Africa and its diaspora. More than a few vocals, evidently guests. Nothing on the reptile, which is just as well. A-

Spectral [Dave Rempis/Darren Johnston/Larry Ochs]: Empty Castles (2017 [2018], Aerophonic): Recycles a 2014 album name as group name. Johnston plays trumpet, the others saxophones: Rempis (alto/baritone), Ochs (sopranino/tenor). Interesting enough, but plods without a rhythm section pushing everyone along. B+(**) [bc]

Spin Cycle [Scott Neumann/Tom Christensen]: Assorted Colors (2017 [2018], Sound Footing): Drums and tenor sax, with Pete McCann (guitar) and Phil Palombi (bass). Bright postbop, the guitarist neatly tying it all together although the sax, of course, is up front. B+(**) [cd]

Superorganism: Superorganism (2018, Domino): British pop group that previously did business as the Eversons, plus significant others from New Zealand, South Korea, and Japan-via-Maine. So irregular I doubt I would have given the time of day except for Christgau's pick, which motivated me to give them three or four extra spins. Got to where I rather like them, but they still seem like harder work than a pop group should be. B+(***)

John Surman: Invisible Threads (2017 [2018], ECM): Usual horns -- soprano/baritone saxophones, bass clarinet -- backed by Nelson Ayres (piano) and Rob Waring (vibes/marimba), names on the cover but below the title. B+(***) [dl]

Tracey Thorn: Record (2018, Merge): Singer-songwriter from England, started in the 1980s group Marine Girls but became much better known in Everything but the Girl. Released a solo album in 1982, then four more since 2007. Touted as "nine feminist bangers," I can't say much about the feminism, but the "bangers" are pretty muted. One exception: "Dancefloor." B+(**)

Frank Wagner: Frank Wagner's Floating Holiday (2016 [2018], MEII): Bassist-led piano trio, with Marco Di Gennaro on piano and David Meade on drums. Wagner's songs, done with a light touch. B [cd]

Salim Washington: Dogon Revisited (2018, Passin' Thru): Tenor saxophonist (also plays flute and oboe here), born in Memphis, grew up in Detroit, has a few albums since 1998. This one suggests some sort of relationship to Julius Hemphill's Dogon AD (one of nine songs here). With Melanie Dyer (viola, voice), Hill Greene (bass), and Tyshawn Sorey (drums), looking back at the tradition and remaking it. B+(***) [bc]

Dan Weiss: Starebaby (2018, Pi): Drummer, based in New York, plays tabla elsewhere, shows up on quite a few interesting records but I've never gotten into his own. This one too, although he surprised me twice: first with two talented pianists who mostly play synths and contribute damn little (Matt Mitchell, Craig Taborn); second by turning the album over into heavy-handed fusion thrash, a far cry from guitarist Ben Monder's usual rut although closer to electric bassist Trevor Dunn. B [cd]

Hĺvard Wiik Trio: This Is Not a Waltz (2016 [2018], Moserobie): Norwegian pianist, best known for work in groups like Atomic and Free Fall, third trio album with Ole Morten Vĺgan (bass) and Hĺkon Mjĺset Johansen (drums). Often struck me as a bit ornate for those groups, but that works to his advantage here, as does a challenging rhythm section. B+(***) [cd]

Wreckless Eric: Construction Time & Demolition (2018, Southern Domestic): Eric Goulden, second-tier Stiff Records star from 1979, floundered a lot from there but somehow wound up marrying the best singer-songwriter of the 2000's and got top bill on three duet albums, two better than anything he had previously done. This year they decided to do their own albums, and while his isn't as good as hers, it's still pretty good: loud, chunky, a bit of dissonance. B+(***) [bc]

Pablo Ziegler Trio: Jazz Tango (2017, Zoho): Argentine pianist, played in Astor Piazzolla's group and carries on, calling what he does Nuevo Tango. Trio adds Hector Del Curto (bandoneon) and Claudio Ragazzi (guitar), the relatively small group permitting a lot of piano flourish. B+(*)

Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries

Louis Armstrong: Pops Is Tops: The Complete Verve Studio Albums and More (1957 [2018], Verve, 4CD): Norman Granz got his hooks into Armstrong in 1957, using Ella Fitzgerald as bait. They recorded three albums together: Ella and Louis, Ella and Louis Again, and Porgy & Bess. The first two are classics, with Ella picking faves from her extraordinary explotation of the Great American Songbook, and Armstrong gamely singing along, with occasional splashes of trumpet. We always knew that Armstrong had a remarkable voice, but he had rarely picked such sophisticated fare, so the surprise was how flexible and subtle he could be. Less well known are three more studio albums Armstrong cut for Granz in 1957: one with Oscar Peterson's quartet (with Herb Ellis on guitar), and two with Russ Garcia's string-laden orchestra. This box devotes a CD to each, padded out with alternate takes and false starts. The fourth disc is titled "A Day With Satchmo: August 1, 1957," flushed out with twenty-two takes of four songs. I decided to excerpt the three albums (see below), then make a pass through the extras -- more listenable than I expected, but not a bright spot in Armstrong's stellar career. B

Louis Armstrong: The Nightclubs (1950-58 [2017], Dot Time): Tapes from Armstrong's personal archives, 16 tracks, all his usual sextet plus singer Velma Middleton on the back 9; Barney Bigard gives way to Edmond Hall on 11; Jack Teagarden to Russ Phillips on 3 and Trummy Young on 7; Earl Hines to Marty Napoleon on 3 and Billy Kyle on 8; Arvell Shaw to Mort Herbert on 11 (with Dale Jones 3-6 and Milt Hinton on 7), Cozy Cole to Barrett Deems on 8; plus an intro from Billie Holiday. Nothing you haven't heard before, but a nice survey of the decade. B+(***)

Derek Bailey & Company: Klinker (2000 [2018], Confront, 2CD): British avant guitarist, in a trio with Mark Wastell (cello) and Simon H. Fell (bass), plus percussion here and there by tap dancer Will Gaines, and some unattributed narration/exhortation. The strings tend to meander abstractly. B

Anthony Braxton: Quartet (Willisau) 1991 Studio (1991 [2018], Hatology, 2CD): Previously released as the front half of a 4-CD box -- presumably the June 2 concert CDs will re-appear soon. This is one of the great quartets of all time -- Marily Crispell (piano), Mark Dresser (bass), and Gerry Hemingway (drums) -- in their last year after a decade together. One of their most extraordinary recordings. A-

Miles Davis & John Coltrane: The Final Tour [The Bootleg Series Vol. 6] (1960 [2018], Columbia/Legacy, 4CD): A quick one, three cities in four days -- Paris, Stockholm, Copenhagen -- winding up the five-year tenure of Davis' first great quartet, with Wynton Kelly (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), and Jimmy Cobb (drums). Coltrane, well into his string of recordings for Atlantic, was bursting with fresh ideas, not that Davis was willing to give up the lead. Good chance most (or all) of this has appeared before, early on European labels like Dragon, later on Acrobat's 2014 4CD box, All of You: The Last Tour 1960 (which misses Paris but adds other shows in Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands). A-

Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette: After the Fall (1998 [2018], ECM, 2CD): The Standards Trio, fifteen years after they set out, a set deemed worth recovering twenty years later: a return following a bout of "chronic fatigue" which kicked off what turned out to be one of the trio's prime periods -- 2002's My Foolish Heart: Live at Montreux is a personal favorite. Twelve tunes, mostly from jazz sources (although you'll barely note "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town"), stretched with their usual consummate skill. B+(**)

Martin Küchen & Landaeus Trio: Vinyl (2013-14 [2018], Moserobie): Swedish saxophonist, plays them all here, with pianist Mathias Landaeus' trio on two sessions (different drummers), each previously released on vinyl. Küchen is best known for his Angles groups, but is a terrific free saxophonist, while the rhythm is just regular enough to let him vamp and boogie a little. A- [cd]

Kirk Lightsey/Harold Danko: Shorter by Two: The Music of Wayne Shorter Played on Two Pianos (1983 [2017], Sunnyside): Cover notes "remastered." Music as advertised. B+(**)

Wynton Marsalis Septet: United We Swing: Best of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Galas (2003-07 [2018], Blue Engine): The band backing a wide range of singers, some exceptional -- Bob Dylan, Ray Charles, Willie Nelson -- most not (although Eric Clapton's later session with Marsalis was the best album either artist released in this century). The jazz musicians don't get to show off their chops much, but they can fall back on credible blues. B+(*)

Barre Phillips/Motoharu Yoshizawa: Oh My, Those Boys! (1994 [2018], NoBusiness): Two bassists, one American but based in France since 1972, the other Japanese, died in 1998 leaving a couple dozen albums I haven't heard -- an early duo with Dave Burrell (1974), at least one more with Phillips. This doesn't particularly sound like bass, more like an underground orchestral soundtrack to a horror flick that never turns really horrible. B+(***) [cd]

Sonny Rollins: Way Out West [Deluxe Edition] (1957 [2018], Craft): An early masterpiece, the wood block intro a pure joy even before he saunters into "I'm an Old Cowhand" and ventures far beyond. The reissue -- as far as I can tell digital only -- basically doubles the album with alternate versions spliced with some dialogue. Can't say it offers new insights. You shouldn't skip Work Time or Saxophone Colossus or even Plays for Bird, but I've played just the extras three times and enjoy them as much as I do the original album, and that's one of his very best. A

We Out Here (2018, Brownswood): Contemporary jazz sampler from London, saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings by far the best known although I recognize a few other names. Common trait is that the groups favor a groove though some also lean ambient. B+(*)

Neil Young: Roxy: Tonight's the Night Live (1973 [2018], Reprise): A live set immediately following the recording of one of Young's most extraordinary albums, one that would sit on the shelf nearly two years before its June 1975 release. Nine of the album's twelve songs appeared here, along with "Walk On" (introduced for the encore as an "old song," but was a 1974 single from On the Beach). Not sure that the live album offers anything extra, the reprise is even stronger than on the album, and I've had songs from this stuck in my head all week. A-

Old Music

Louis Armstrong: Satchmo Serenades (1949-53 [2000], Verve): Eight cuts from a 10-inch LP released by Decca in 1952, backed by Sy Oliver's Orchestra, plus ten tracks from various 78s with various combinations of Oliver and All Stars. Decca pushed Armstrong to be more pop, and the songs -- including two from Hank Williams -- reflect that. Not that Armstrong can't claim them, with "It Takes Two to Tango" a prime example. B+(**)

Louis Armstrong: Ambassador Satch (1955 [2000], Columbia/Legacy): The All-Stars -- Edmond Hall (clarinet), Trummy Young (trombone), Billy Kyle (piano), Arvell Shaw (bass), Barrett Deems (drums) -- tour western Europe, picking from shows in Amsterdam and Milan. Not really his standard show: fewer vocals, more ensemble dixieland, culminating in a riotous "Tiger Rag." Reissue adds three tracks, including a "Clarinet Marmalade" to feature Hall, who was already having a ball. Armstrong was vastly popular in Europe, and these tapes are riddled with applause. The State Department took advantage of his popularity, using him as a goodwill ambassador, notably on tours of eastern Europe -- a practice he stopped in 1957 to protest Eisenhower's "gutless" inaction on civil rights. A-

Louis Armstrong: Louis Under the Stars (1957 [1958], Verve): After the Ella and Louis albums, Norman Granz had the idea of featuring Armstrong on a set of sappy standards -- "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails," "I Only Have Eyes for You," "Stormy Weather," "You're Blasé," "Body and Soul" -- backed by Russ Garcia's soupy orchestra. Not really his thing, but he nails them anyway. B+(*) [2:1-8 of Pops Is Tops]

Louis Armstrong: I've Got the World on a String (1957 [1960], Verve): With Russ Garcia again. The songs lean a bit more toward blues, but the orchestra is incapable of swing. B [1:1-10 of Pops Is Tops]

Louis Armstrong/Oscar Peterson: Louis Armstrong Meets Oscar Peterson (1957, Verve): Seems like everyone Norman Granz recorded during the 1950s had a meet up with Peterson sooner or later. These cuts started out as a spinoff to Ella and Louis, with similar songbook standards. Some (like "You Go to My Head") strike me as overly slow, but like the Fitzgerald sets Armstrong again proves his flexibility and nuance. Rhythm section includes Herb Ellis (guitar) as well as Ray Brown and Louie Bellson. B+(**) [3:1-13 of Pops Is Tops]

Louis Armstrong: Louis and the Good Book (1958 [2001], Verve): A (mostly old testament) gospel program, backed by Sy Oliver's Orchestra -- seven pieces, including former All Stars Trummy Young and Billy Kyle, no strings -- and a ten-voice choir. Unmistakable voice and trumpet, humdrum arrangements (aside from "Shadrack," one of his staples). Reissue adds eight tracks, mostly redundant aside from two Elder Eatmore sermons. B

Louis Armstrong: Louis Armstrong and His Friends (1970, Flying Dutchman): His last album, recorded over four days in May, 1970, a little more than a year before he died. The song titles, rather than the friends' names, on the front cover. On the other hand, the friends I recognize were mostly young musicians at the time, and only one shares a vocal -- Leon Thomas, on "The Creator Has a Masterplan (Peace)." The music was arranged by Oliver Nelson, with strings, congas, a chorus on four tracks (notably "We Shall Overcome" and "Give Peace a Chance" -- Ornette Coleman joined on those two), and plenty of sharp horns. No trumpet from the leader, but he sings and hams a bit, with "Boy From New Orleans" especially winning. Includes a remake of his last hit, 1967's "What a Wonderful World" (which became the title of a later, reordered RCA reissue). Actually, hard to convey how peculiar (weird even) this album is: he comes of as some sort of septagenarian flower child, making a peace-and-love album knowing how much he's overcome to get there. B+(*)

Globe Unity Orchestra: Globe Unity 2002 (2002 [2003], Intakt): Sandwiched between 20th Anniversary (1986) and 40 Years (2006), an isolated reunion for Alexander von Schlippenbach (piano) and Manfred Schoof (trumpet), with three saxes (Evan Parker, Peter Brötzmann, Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky), two trombones (Hannes Bauer, Paul Rutherford), two drummers (Paul Lovens, Paul Lytton). One 74:05 piece, reminds you they're still kicking, hard. Some spectacular soprano sax solos. B+(**)

JPEGMAFIA: Black Ben Carson (2016, Trashfuck): First album, after a mixtapes and a couple of EPs. Difficult musically, but not as hard to follow as Veteran, in large part because when he rails "bitch I'm Ben Carson" you know he's trying to be funny as well as vicious. Choice cut: "The 27 Club." B+(*)

Jeffrey Lewis & the Jrams: "A Loot-Beg Bootleg" (2014 [2016], self-released): "Mostly live in the studio Sept. 2014" -- two days, with Caitlin Gray and Heather Wagner (bass and drums, vocals both), wedged discographically between the tour following Jeffrey Lewis & the Jrams and Manhattan, where several songs later surfaced. Asks the timely question, what would Pussy Riot do? B+(***) [bc]

Alexander von Schlippenbach/Globe Unity Orchestra: Globe Unity - 40 Years (2006 [2009], Intakt): Roster is 15 deep, with four trumpets, four trombones, four reeds, two drummers, the leader on piano, and no bass. Three (of six) pieces by the leader, the other three by alumni Willem Breuker and Steve Lacy and newcomer Kenny Wheeler (at least I hadn't noticed him in previous lineups, but he's played in similar groups like LCJO). Where 2002 often gave way to Peter Brötzmann brawling (absent here) and Evan Parker showing off, this feels more like a group album. B+(***)

Notes

Everything streamed from Napster (ex Rhapsody), except as noted in brackets following the grade:

  • [cd] based on physical cd
  • [cdr] based on an advance or promo cd or cdr
  • [bc] available at bandcamp.com
  • [dl] something I was able to download from the web; may be freely available, may be a bootleg someone made available, or may be a publicist promo

Monday, April 23, 2018


Music Week

Music: current count 29604 [29570] rated (+34), 362 [365] unrated (-3).

Made a decent sized dent in the new jazz queue, especially over the weekend when I found it easier to just pull something out than try to figure out what to look up on Napster. I did, however, chase down a few recommendations from Chris Monsen, Phil Overeem, and Robert Christgau. Though not on his list yet, I think it was Monsen on Facebook who mentioned that the Ex have a new record out. Someone wondered who they were, so I pointed out I had rated 24 of their records (7 A-). Probably inappropriate for me to rate the new one as high as I did on a single Bandcamp play, but the grade was pretty clear by midway, and only got better from there out. For more, see Bandcamp Daily's A Guide to (Nearly) Four Decades of Dutch Punks The Ex).

The Ex came out of a Expert Witness discussion on the best records of 2018 (so far). One name that popped up frequently and is both on Monsen's and Overeem's lists is JPEGMAFIA's Veteran. Hip-hop, very (as they say) experimental. I didn't get into it at all, but I had a somewhat easier time with his earlier Black Ben Carson. Also from that thread, Jeffrey Lewis' Works by Tuli Kupferberg. In some ways I think the older "A Loot-Beg Bootleg" sounds better -- just Lewis and two women who sometimes sing, versus the mass singalong on the new album -- but I've had a soft spot for Kupferberg, and even if he weren't dead he'd never be able to frame his work in better light.

I continue to have problems with Christgau's picks. I don't think there's been one I've said "yeah!" to since Shopping's The Official Body (2/23), although I liked Laurie Anderson's Landfall more than he did, and already had Amy Rigby's The Old Guys at A-. Some I reviewed respectably earlier but haven't replayed: Taylor Childers' Purgatory, Alvvays' Antisocialites, Yo La Tengo's There's a Riot Going On, and Rapsody's Laila's Wisdom. But few have been as disappointing as Jinx Lennon's Grow a Pair. And while I wasn't much impressed with Superchunk's What a Time to Be Alive, it tops Monsen's list. I also noted that Milo Miles raved about Mast's Thelonious Sphere Monk last week. And Overeem wrote a rave review of Tracey Thorn's Record. He also likes the Lewis Kupferberg album, plus two of my recent favorites: John Prine's The Tree of Forgiveness and Sons of Kemet's Your Queen Is a Reptile.

Of the B+(***) records below, one that stands out is William Parker's Lake of Light. It's a quartet of aquaphones, so sounds like harps and percussion under water -- a bit too weird for me, but maybe not for you.

The Armstrongs are just some mop up after last week's not especially recommended Pops Is Tops box. The Nightclubs would make a nice time capsule entry as it tracks the evolution of Armstrong's 1950s All Stars, although there are better examples of live Armstrong from the era, including all four CDs in The California Concerts. Ambassador Satch strays from his usual live show, as if he worried that Europeans were still expecting ODJB dixieland, so he decided to show them how it's really done. Probably the best "Tiger Rag" ever.

April ends next Monday, so it would seem a good idea to wrap up a Streamnotes post by Friday/Saturday. Despite my distractions earlier this month, the draft file currently holds 90 records (14 A- or A) so it's shaping up as a pretty solid month.

I want to note that I received a couple dozen personal letters over recent weeks, and I was touched and comforted by those who wrote -- some with fond memories, other from people I've never met but who clearly appreciate my work and care. I have yet to respond to any of those letters, for which I apologize. Sometime sooner or later I hope to, but for now I want all of you to know how thankful I am for your friendship and concern.


New records rated this week:

  • Chris Byars: New York City Jazz (2016 [2018], SteepleChase): [r]: B+(**)
  • Tim Daisy/Michael Thieke/Ken Vandermark: Triptych (2016 [2017], Relay): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Tim Daisy: Music for Lying Still (2017, Relay, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Tim Daisy's Fulcrum Ensemble: Animation (2017 [2018], Relay): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Ex: 27 Passports (2018, Ex): [bc]: A
  • Johan Graden: Olägenheter (2017 [2018], Moserobie): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Tim Heidecker: Too Dumb for Suicide: Tim Heidecker's Trump Songs (2017, Jagjaguwar): [r]: B
  • Lauren Henderson: Ármame (2016 [2018], Brontosaurus): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Monika Herzig: Sheroes (2016 [2018], Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Il Sogno: Birthday (2015 [2017], Gotta Let It Out): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jon Irabagon Quartet: Dr. Quixotic's Traveling Exotics (2016-17 [2018], Irabbagast): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Roger Kellaway Trio: New Jazz Standards Vol. 3 (2017 [2018], Summit): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jinx Lennon: Grow a Pair!!! (2018, Septic Tiger): [r]: B+(*)
  • James Brandon Lewis/Chad Taylor: Radiant Imprints (2018, OFF): [r]: A-
  • Jeffrey Lewis: Works by Tuli Kupferberg (1923-2010) (2018, Don Giovanni): [r]: A-
  • Dave Liebman/John Stowell: Petite Fleur: The Music of Sidney Bechet (2017 [2018], Origin): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The Maguire Twins: Seeking Higher Ground (2017 [2018], Three Tree): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Todd Marcus: On These Streets (A Baltimore Story) (2017 [2018], Stricker Street): [cd]: B
  • Ashley McBryde: Girl Going Nowhere (2018, Warner Nashville): [r]: B+(**)
  • Diane Moser: Birdsongs (2017 [2018], Planet Arts): [cd]: B
  • Michael Moss/Accidental Orchestra: Helix (2016 [2018], 4th Stream): [cd]: B+(**)
  • William Parker: Lake of Light: Compositions for AquaSonics (2017 [2018], Gotta Let It Out): [cd]: B+(***)
  • The Rempis/Daisy Duo & Guests: Dodecahedron (2017 [2018], Aerophonic, 2CD): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Rent Romus' Life's Blood Ensemble: Rogue Star (2017 [2018], Edgetone): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Derek Senn: Avuncular (2016, self-released): [r]: B+(***)
  • Spectral [Dave Rempis/Darren Johnston/Larry Ochs]: Empty Castles (2017 [2018], Aerophonic): [r]: B+(**)
  • Frank Wagner: Frank Wagner's Floating Holiday (2016 [2018], MEII): [cd]: B
  • Dan Weiss: Starebaby (2018, Pi): [cd]: B
  • Hĺvard Wiik Trio: This Is Not a Waltz (2016 [2018], Moserobie): [cd]: B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • Louis Armstrong: The Nightclubs (1950-58 [2018], Dot Time): [r]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • Louis Armstrong: Satchmo Serenades (1949-53 [2000], Verve): [r]: B+(**)
  • Louis Armstrong: Ambassador Satch (1955 [2000], Columbia/Legacy): [r]: A-
  • Louis Armstrong: Louis and the Good Book (1958 [2001], Verve): [r]: B
  • Louis Armstrong: Louis Armstrong and His Friends (1970, Flying Dutchman): [r]: B+(*)
  • JPEGMAFIA: Black Ben Carson (2016, Trashfuck): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Jeffrey Lewis & the Jrams: "A Loot-Beg Bootleg" (2014 [2016], self-released): [r]: B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Benito Gonzalez/Gerry Gibbs/Essiet Okon Essiet: Passion Reverence Transcendence: The Music of McCoy Tyner (Whaling City Sound): April 27
  • Juan Andrés Ospina Big Band: Tramontana (self-released): April 20
  • Kristo Rodzevski: The Rabbit and the Fallen Sycamore (self-released): May 25

Sunday, April 22, 2018


Weekend Roundup

Another week where I ran out of time before I ran out of links. Indeed, one I couldn't get to is Chris Bertram: Is there too much immigration? I also noticed that John Quiggin has been publishing chapters to his forthcoming book Economics in Two Lessons on Crooked Timber.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that mattered this week, explained: Michael Cohen had some fun in court; A baby went to the Senate floor (Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth's); Democrats got some good news in Senate polling; Mike Pompeo took a secret trip to North Korea. Other Yglesias posts:

    • There's no good alternative to building more homes in expensive cities.

    • Trump tweets: "The crime rate in California is high enough." California is a safer-than-average state. Trump thinks more immigrants, more crime, but opposite is true.

    • 11 House Republicans call for prosecutions of Clinton, Comey, Lynch, and others: The most charitable explanation is that the call is just meant "to try to muddy the waters in the media," but I should note that in some countries (e.g., Brazil and Russia) prosecuting political enemies has moved beyond the drawing board. I'm sure we could come up with a matching list of Bush cronies who Obama neglected to prosecute (although his DOJ did go after John Edwards). Still, prosecuting prosecutors for failing to prosecute cases that no reasonable person would view as winnable (n.b., the Edwards and Menendez cases failed), is pretty extreme.

    • James Comey isn't the hero we deserve. But he's the hero we need. The gist of Yglesias' argument is here:

      But to react to Comey's charges against Trump with a comprehensive assessment of his entire career is to miss the point. James Comey is a critical figure of our time not because of any particular decision, right or wrong, that he made during his tenure in government. He's important because he exemplifies values -- most of all, the pursuit of institutional independence and autonomy -- whose presence among career officials safeguards the United States against the threat of systemic corruption.

      The greatest safeguard we have against the dangers of Trump's highly personalized style of leadership and frequently expressed desire to reshape all institutions to serve his personal goal is that officials and bureaucrats have the power to say no. Comey, whatever else he did, said no to his boss and was fired for his trouble. America needs more government officials who are willing to take that stand. In many ways, Comey is not the hero the United States deserves. But in a critical moment, he may be the hero we need.

      Still, further down in the article Yglesias gives a pretty chilling account about Comey's prosecutorial mindset and institutional loyalties. Comey, for instance, holds up his prosecution of Martha Stewart (for "covering up a crime she didn't commit") as exemplary: "the Comey view is that true justice is treating Martha Stewart just as shabbily as the cops would treat anyone else." Also:

      Comey's handling of the 2016 campaign was essentially in the tradition of FBI directors acting on behalf of their agency's institutional goals. Knowing that the Obama administration was reluctant to fight publicly with the FBI over the matter while congressional Republicans were relatively eager, he slanted his decision-making on both the Russia and email investigations toward the interests of the GOP. As Adam Serwer writes, "the FBI is petrified of criticism from its conservative detractors, and is relatively indifferent to its liberal critics." And over the course of 2016, it showed -- when Mitch McConnell wanted Comey to keep quiet about Trump and Russia, he did. When Trump-friendly elements among the rank and file wanted him to speak up about Anthony Weiner's laptop, he did.

      On Comey, also see: Matt Taibbi: James Comey, the Would-Be J. Edgar Hoover. On the FBI's use of its own power to cover its own ass, see: Alice Speri: The FBI's race problems are getting worse. The prosecution of Terry Albury is proof. By the way, shouldn't the Espionage Act be reserved for disclosing secrets to foreign governments? Albury's "crime" was leaking documents to the press (i.e., the American people).

    • Richard Cohen's privilege, explained: Long-time Washington Post columnist, known for courageously standing up against "too much diversity" and complaints about the "privilege" enjoyed by white males like himself. I find much talk about "privilege" annoying myself, but then I don't sit on his perch ("and because the demographic of put-upon older white men does, in fact, exert disproportionate influence over American social and economic institutions, there continues to be a well-compensated and not very taxing job for him into his late 70s"). Yglesias provides some back story, but doesn't mention that Alex Pareene featured Cohen in his annual "hack lists" at Salon (tried to find a link but got blocked by Salon's "ad blocker" blocker -- probably why I stopped reading them, although I had less reason to when their better writers left).

    • Richard Clarinda and Michelle Bowman, Trump's new Fed appointees, explained: "Two boring, competent, well-qualified, industry-friendly picks."

    • Donald Trump's corruption means he'll never be a "normal" commander in chief: Mostly about Syria, more generally the Middle East, where Trump has numerous business entanglements. "We don't know who's paying Trump -- or whom he listens to."

    • Comey interview: "I thought David Petraeus should have been prosecuted".

  • Zack Beauchamp: Syria exposes the core feature of Trump's foreign policy: contradiction: Many aspects of Trump's foreign policy are mired in contradiction (or at least incoherence), but it seems unfair to single out Syria as a Trump problem. Ever since the civil war there started it has been a multifaceted affair. Since US foreign policy has long been driven by kneejerk reactions, even under the much more rational Obama the US found itself opposing both Assad and his prime opponents in ISIS, leading to a policy which can only be described as nihilism. What Trump added to this fever swamp of contradictions was sympathy for pro-Assad Russia and antipathy for pro-Assad Iran. Meanwhile, America's two main allies in the region (Israel and Turkey) have each doubled down on their own schizophrenic involvements.

  • Amy Chozick: 'They Were Never Going to Let Me Be President': Excerpt from Chasing Hillary: Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns, and One Intact Glass Ceiling, yet another journalist's campaign chronicle, a reminder of how pathetic her obsession turned out to be. Not clear who "they" were in the title, other than the American people, but had she really understood that truth, why did she run in the first place? Why, given the inevitability of defeat, did she keep us from nominating a candidate who actually could have defeated Donald Trump? I doubt that Chozick has any such answers. Instead, we find her apologizing for getting caught up in such distractions as parsing John Podesta's hacked emails instead of seeing the broader context, not least that the email dump was timed to take attention away from the leak of Trump bragging about assaulting women ("grab them by the pussy").

  • Robert Fisk: The search for truth in the rubble of Douma -- and one doctor's doubts over the chemical attack; also Patrick Cockburn: We Should be Sceptical of Those Who Claim to Know the Events in Syria: Of course, Trump jumped at the opportunity to bomb Syria before anyone really verified that reports of a chemical weapons attack were true. That is, after all, how American presidents prove their manhood.

  • Steve Fraser: Teaching America a Lesson: About the national effort to forget that class was ever a concept rooted in reality. From Fraser's new book, Class Matters: The Strange Career of an American Delusion (Yale University Press). Also at TomDispatch: Tom Engelhardt: A Tale of American Hubris.

  • Zachary Fryer-Biggs: Rudy Giuliani is Trump's new lawyer. His history with Comey could spell trouble.

  • William Greider: American Hubris, or, How Globalization Brought Us Donald Trump: Unpack this a bit: "It was 'free trade' mania, pushed by both major political parties, that destroyed working-class prosperity and laid the groundwork for his triumph." Unpack that some more, why don't you? What made "free trade" such a problem was decline in union power, especially due to a politically rigged union-free zone in the US South, combined with decreasing domestic investments in infrastructure and education (also politically engineered), plus growing pressure on the rich to seek new sources of wealth abroad. To blame all of that on "free trade" confuses mechanism with cause. Trump benefited not from free trade so much as from that confusion. More importantly, Democratic politicians suffered because it looked like they had sold out their base to rich donors. (As, indeed, they had.) Note that The Nation has another piece this week with the same pitch line: Michael Massing: How Martin Luther Paved the Way for Donald Trump. It's as if they wanted to make the leap from tragedy to farce in a single issue. In an infinite universe, I guess you'll eventually find that everything leads to Donald Trump. That's a lot of inevitability for a guy who only got 46.1% of the vote.

  • Umair Irfan/Eliza Barclay: 7 things we've learned about Earth since the last Earth Day: i.e., in the last year.

  • Jen Kirby: Mike Pompeo reportedly met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un: This is less interesting than the bilateral talks between North and South Korea, which actually seem to be getting somewhere, but does indicate that the planned summit between Trump and Kim may actually come to pass. Past efforts to bridge differences between the US and DPRK have generally been sabotaged by mid-level US staff -- one recalls the frantic efforts of Sandy Berger and others to derail Jimmy Carter's mid-1990s agreement. One might expect a neocon like Pompeo to throw a few monkey wrenches into the efforts, and indeed he may still, but it's also clear that Mattis and the DOD have no appetite for launching a war against North Korea, so maybe it's not such a bad idea to negotiate a little. Also see: Robin Wright: With Pompeo to Pyongyang, the U.S. Launches Diplomacy with North Korea.

    Wright also wrote: The Hypocrisy of Trump's "Mission Accomplished" Boast About Syria. Actually, Trump is establishing a track record of acting tough and making flamboyant and reckless threats then pulling his punches. It's sort of the opposite of Theodore Roosevelt's maxim to "speak softly and carry a big stick" -- only sort of, because he has expanded the murderous drone program, encourage Saudi Arabia to escalate their bombing of Yemen, sent more troops to Afghanistan and Iraq, so it's clear that he has no respect for world peace or human life. Moreover, his pugnacious stance is making the world more dangerous in many ways, not least by the contempt he projects on the rest of the world (and on a good many Americans).

  • Noah Kulwin: The Internet Apologizes . . . Picture shows a weeping cat, with a couple of tweets from "The Internet": "We're sorry. We didn't mean to destroy privacy. And democracy. Our bad."

    Why, over the past year, has Silicon Valley begun to regret the foundational elements of its own success? The obvious answer is November 8, 2016. For all that he represented a contravention of its lofty ideals, Donald Trump was elected, in no small part, by the internet itself. Twitter served as his unprecedented direct-mail-style megaphone, Google helped pro-Trump forces target users most susceptible to crass Islamophobia, the digital clubhouses of Reddit and 4chan served as breeding grounds for the alt-right, and Facebook became the weapon of choice for Russian trolls and data-scrapers like Cambridge Analytica. Instead of producing a techno-utopia, the internet suddenly seemed as much a threat to its creator class as it had previously been their herald.

    Fifth years ago I wouldn't have had a moment's hesitation as to the problem here: capitalism. That may seem like a quaint, old-fashioned analysis -- even I would be more inclined these days to speak of market failures and distortions -- but it's basically true and was totally predictable from the onset. For instance, the very first time I heard of WWW it was in the context of a question: how can we make money off of this? Sure, people may have had trouble imagining how pervasive, how all-consuming, it would be. And it may not have been obvious how few companies would wind up monopolizing such a huge slice of traffic. But from the start, every business plan imagined monopoly rents -- Microsoft's picked up their favored term ("vig") from the Mafia -- at the end of the rainbow. As practically everyone realized, the key to the fortune would be what economists called "network effects" -- hence every serious contender started off by offering something for free, figuring on hooking you first, eating you later. Had we been smarter, we might have placed some roadblocks in their way: antitrust, privacy regulations, free software, publicly funded alternatives. But that wasn't the American Way, especially in the post-Cold War glow of capitalist triumphalism. One great irony here is that while right-wingers like to complain about popularly elected government "picking winners and losers" in free markets, the reality is that the not-so-free markets are deciding who wins our supposedly free elections.

    After the intro, the article moves on to "How It Went Wrong, in 15 Steps," through the words of 14 "Architects" -- a mix of techies and businessfolk. The 15 steps:

    1. Start With Hippie Good Intentions . . .
    2. Then mix in capitalism on steroids.
    3. The arrival of Wall Streeters didn't help . . .
    4. . . . And we paid a high price for keeping it free.
    5. Everything was designed to be really, really addictive.
    6. At first it worked -- almost too well.
    7. No one from Silicon Valley was held accountable . . .
    8. . . . Even as social networks became dangerous and toxic.
    9. . . . And even as they invaded our privacy.
    10. Then came 2016. [Donald Trump and Brexit]
    11. Employees are starting to revolt.
    12. To fix it, we'll need a new business model . . .
    13. . . . And some tough regulation.
    14. Maybe nothing will change.
    15. . . . Unless, at the very least, some new people are in charge.

    Useful, although one could imagine alternative ways of threading the analysis. Step 12, for instance, says "we'll need a new business model," then offers: "Maybe by trying something radical and new -- like charging users for goods and services." New? That's the way thousands of exclusive newsletters aimed at business already work. What makes them viable is a small audience willing to pay a high premium for information. You could switch to this model overnight by simply banning advertising. The obvious major effect is that it would cause a major collapse in utility and usage. There would be a lot of other problems as well -- more than I can possibly list here. Still, true that you need a new business model. But perhaps we should consider ones that aren't predicated on capitalist greed and a vastly inequal society?

    The article also includes a useful list of "Things That Ruined the Internet":

    • Cookies (1994)
    • The Farmville vulnerability (2007) [a Facebook design flaw that made possible the Cambridge Analytica hack]
    • Algorithmic sorting (2006) ["it keeps users walled off in their own personalized loops"]
    • The "like" button (2009)
    • Pull-to-refresh (2009)
    • Pop-up ads (1996)

    I would have started the list with JavaScript, which lets website designers take over your computer and control your experience. It is the technological layer enabling everything else on the list (except cookies).

    Speaking of alternate business models, Kulwin also did an interview with Katherine Maher about "Wikipedia's nonprofit structure and what incentive-based media models lack": 'There Is No Public Internet, and We Are the Closest Thing to It'.

  • David Leonhardt: A Time for Big Economic Ideas: For the last forty years, the Republican "small government" mantra has sought to convince us that we can't do things that help raise everyone's standard of living, indeed that we can't afford even to do things that government has done since the 1930s. On the other hand, they've pushed the line that markets rigged so the rich get richer is the best we can hope for. And they've been so successful that even Leonhardt, trying to reverse the argument, doesn't come close to really thinking big. One of my favorite books back fifty years ago was Paul Goodman's Utopian Essays & Practical Proposals. A while back I opened up a book draft file with that as a subtitle. Haven't done much on it yet, but not for lack of big ideas.

  • German Lopez: The Senate's top Democrat just came out for ending federal marijuana prohibition: Chuck Shumer, who has a bill to that effect (as does Cory Booker). Lopez also wrote: John Boehner just came out for marijuana reform. Most Republicans agree. Being a Republican, Boehner did more than accede to public opinion. He figured out a way to get paid for doing so. I'm reminded of gambling, which when I was growing up was regarded as one of the worst sources of moral rot anywhere. However, as it became the fount of several Republican-leaning fortunes, the guardians of our moral virtue learned to embrace it. Indeed, lotteries have become a major source of tax revenues in many states (especially here in Kansas).

  • Andrew Prokop: Andrew McCabe's criminal referral, explained: This may give second thoughts to some of the people who ponied up a half-million bucks to help McCabe sue for his pension and other possible damages from his politically motivated firing. Still, this doesn't seem like much of a criminal case. The charge is that "McCabe lacked candor about his role in leaks about a Clinton investigation." The leak was one designed to correct a report that he wasn't being tough enough on Clinton. Clearly, whatever McCabe was, he wasn't a partisan Democratic mole in the FBI. On the other hand, his new friends probably figure that any lawsuit that forces the government to expose documents is bound to turn up something embarrassing for Trump and Sessions.

    Prokop also wrote: The DNC just sued Russia and the Trump campaign for 2016 election meddling. Hard to see what the value of this suit is, as it is critically dependent on on-going (and far from complete) investigations to establish linkage between the various parties. Moreover, I have two fairly large reservations. One is that I don't generally approve of using US courts to sue over foreign jurisdictions, especially cases highly tainted with prejudice. (The 9/11 lawsuits are an example.) The other is that I see this as a time-and-money sink for the Democrats, at a time when they have more important things to focus on: winning elections in 2018 and 2020. For more on the lawsuit, see: Glenn Greenwald/Trevor Timm: The DNC's lawsuit against WikiLeaks poses a serious threat to press freedom:

    The DNC's suit, as it pertains to WikiLeaks, poses a grave threat to press freedom. The theory of the suit -- that WikiLeaks is liable for damages it caused when it "willfully and intentionally disclosed" the DNC's communications (paragraph 183) -- would mean that any media outlet that publishes misappropriated documents or emails (exactly what media outlets quite often do) could be sued by the entity or person about which they are reporting, or even theoretically prosecuted for it, or that any media outlet releasing an internal campaign memo is guilty of "economic espionage" (paragraph 170):

    This is effectively the same point Trump tried to make during his 2016 campaign when he argued that libel laws should be passed which would allow aggrieved parties like himself to sue for damages. Indeed, throughout his career Trump has been plagued by leaks and hacks (i.e., journalism). You'd think that the DNC would appreciate that we need more free press, not less. Makes it look like they (still) prefer to work in the dark.

  • Brian Resnick: Trump's next NASA administrator is a Republican congressman with no background in science: Jim Bridenstine, of Oklahoma, once ran the Air and Space Museum in Tulsa. Hope he realizes that unlike many government agencies, when/if he causes NASA to crash and burn it will be televised.

  • Emily Stewart: Nobody knows who was behind half of the divisive ads on Facebook ahead of the 2016 election: Half were linked to "suspicious groups"; one-sixth of those were linked to Russia.

  • Beyond Alt: The Extremely Reactionary, Burn-It-Down-Radical, Newfangled Far Right: A smorgasbord, written by a dozen or more writers with links to even more material. Certainly much more info than I ever wanted to know about the so-called alt-right. One aside mentions a symmetrical "alt-left," but notes that alt-leftists hate being called that. Right. We're leftists.

Saturday, April 21, 2018


Book Roundup

It's been eight months since my last Book Roundup -- a major lapse on my part. I started working on this a few months back, then lost track again. At this point I suspect I'm far enough behind that I'll need two more columns just to catch up, but at this point I'm only 15 books into the next one, so don't expect them to come out bang-bang-bang like previous catch-ups. One thing that will slow down the pace a bit is that I've started to simply note the existence of additional books following the forty I've written something on. Usually this is because I don't have anything non-obvious to say. Often, it's just that the book is worth knowing about, but unlikely to be worth reading. Some I may return to eventually, should I change my mind.

Given my delays, I've actually managed to read several of these books: Allen Frances: Twilight of American Sanity, David Frum: Trumpocracy, Mark Lilla: The Once and Future Liberal, and Sean Wilentz: The Politicians & the Egalitarians. I'm also about 400 pages into Steve Coll: Directorate S, and I've bought copies but haven't yet gotten to Jennifer M Silva: Coming Up Short, Amy Siskind: The List. I can't really say that any of these books are "must read," but I have learned things from each.

My main complaint about the Coll book is that by focusing on the CIA, ISI, and NDS (the Afghan counterpart) he's very rapidly skipped over the most ill-fated US decisions, like the conviction that the US can simply dictate Pakistan's behavior, and the blanket rejection of any possible Taliban role. But he also only barely touches on the CIA's continued support of their Afghan warlord clients even after the Karzai government was formed. I'm currently up to 2009, with McChrystal still in charge of the surging military, and Holbrooke still among the living (if not among the functional) -- two things I know will change soon.


Kurt Andersen: Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire (2017, Random House): Big picture history of America, strikes me as like one of those creative writing assignments meant to let your imagination run wild -- probably helps that the author has a couple of novels to his credit. Still, shouldn't be hard to fill up 480 pp. with stories of America's tenuous love/hate relationship to reality. Nor has the election and regime of Donald Trump given us reason to doubt that we're living in a Fantasyland. And clearly Trump was on the author's mind -- probably the reason Alec Baldwin hired him as co-author of their cash-in book, You Can't Spell America Without Me: The Really Tremendous Inside Story of My Fantastic First Year as President Donald J. Trump (A So-Called Parody).

Benjamin R Barber: Cool Cities: Urban Sovereignty and the Fix for Global Warming (2017, Yale University Press): Political and cultural theorist, wrote a book I was impressed by back in 1971, Superman and Common Men: Freedom, Anarchy and the Revolution, and a couple dozen books since then: two that intrigued me but always seemed a bit too flip were Jihad vs. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism Are Reshaping the World (1996) and Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole (2007). Turned his eye toward cities with his 2013 book, If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities, to which this is a sequel, focusing on the relative energy efficiency of cities. Sad to read that he died, about a month after this book came out.

Ronen Bergman: Rise and Kill First: The Secret History of Israel's Targeted Assassinations (2018, Random House): Big (756 pp) book by the Yedioth Ahronoth military analyst. I doubt there are many secrets here -- Israel has a long history of bragging about its secret agency exploits -- but the scale of the killings may come as a surprise. Some time ago, I spent time looking at a database of prominent Palestinians, and the sheer number of them killed by Israel was pretty eye-opening.

Max Boot: The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam (2018, Liveright): Another attempt to find a scapegoat for the American failure in Vietnam, in this case arguing that if only American leaders had followed the advice of CIA operative Lansdale everything would have worked out for the better. This is an appalling argument in lots of ways. For one thing, Lansdale did have an outsized influence on the decision to cancel elections and stick by Diem's corrupt and vicious regime. Beyond that, Lansdale's successors were always going to view the war as a test of American resolve and power, and they were always going to be contemptuous of the Vietnamese and profoundly uninterested in their welfare. The real tragedy of the war in Vietnam was the failure of America's class of strategic thinkers to learn some humility and restraint following their imperial overreach, as is evidenced by repeated failures in numerous more recent wars.

Paul Butler: Chokehold: Policing Black Men (2017, New Press). One of several recent books on how the criminal justice system is stacked against black men, written by a former federal prosecutor who's been there and done that. Previously wrote Let's Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice (2009). Also see: Angela J Davis, ed: Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment (2017, Random House); Jordan T Camp/Christina Heatherton, eds: Policing the Planet: Why the Policing Crisis Led to Black Lives Matter (paperback, 2016, Verso Books).

Ta-Nehisi Coates: We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy (2017, One World): A collection of essays, some new, including "Fear of a Black President," "The Case for Reparations," and "The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration" -- important work. Still, I never quite got the feeling that "we were in power" during Obama's two terms, even the first two years when Democrats had large majorities in Congress but let Max Baucus decide life and death issues; meanwhile Robert Gates was Secretary of Defense and Ben Bernanke chaired the Fed.

Steve Coll: Directorate S: The CIA and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan (2018, Penguin Press): Coll's second book about America's misadventure in Afghanistan (and schizophrenic alliance with Pakistan), bringing the story started in Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (2004) up to date. Of course, the post-9/11 US invasion and still ongoing occupation of Afghanistan hasn't exactly been a secret, but presumably this focuses more on the CIA role there rather than chronicling the ham-fisted DOD and their NATO proxies. No doubt an important book, but I expect it leaves much uncovered.

Peter Cozzens: The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West (2016, Knopf; paperback, 2017, Vintage Books): Covers every front over a 30 year stretch, 1861-1891, during which white Americans fought numerous wars, brokered treaties (and often broke them), ultimately herding Native Americans into a few barren reservations and closing the frontier. Author worked for the State Department, and has written a number of military histories of the Civil War.

Larry Derfner: No Country for Jewish Liberals (2017, Just World Books): A Jewish journalist from Los Angeles, typically liberal, moved to Israel and surveys the intolerant, closed, often vicious society he encounters. I've maintained for some time now that constant war even more than greed and corruption (both plenty in evidence) has been responsible for so many Americans abandoning their liberal traditions. Same thing applies to Israel, even more so given the relative intensity of their militarism (a universal draft, for Jews anyway) and their incessant cult of victimhood.

EJ Dionne Jr/Norman J Ornstein/Thomas E Mann: One Nation After Trump: A Guide for the Perplexed, the Disillusioned, the Desperate, and the Not-Yet-Deported (2017, St Martin's Press): Quickie from three authors who've made careers explaining, as Dionne put it in his 1992 book, Why Americans Hate Politics -- the others are best known for their 2012 dissection of Congress, It's Even Worse Than It Looks. Dionne seems to be the unshakable optimist -- another of his titles is They Only Look Dead: Why Progressives Will Dominate the Next Political Era -- but these days I find the assumption that there will still be "one nation after Trump" to be ungrounded.

Barbara Ehrenreich: Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer (2018, Twelve): Seems to be a sequel to her 2009 book Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, her critical instincts sharpened by another decade of getting older (78) and more acquainted with mortality. I've been expecting her to write a major book on the high cost of being poor in America -- a subject she's written several essays about recently. Hope she gets to that. I might also wish she'd explore the inner madness of the Trump voter, but she anticipated all that in her 1989 book Fear of Falling: The Inner Life of the Middle Class.

Jesse Eisinger: The Chickenshit Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives (2017, Simon & Schuster): Investigates the fact that none of the bank executives responsible for the 2008 meltdown and ensuing recession were ever charged with crimes (although eventually a number of substantial fines were paid by newly profitable companies the public had bailed out, most often leaving their management in place). Nor is it just bankers who seem to be able to get away with whatever. Blames timid prosecutors, but to make sense of it all you'd have to work through the lax regulation companies are subjected to, and the widespread respect civil servants seem to have for money and well-heeled executives.

Neil Faulkner: A People's History of the Russian Revolution (paperback, 2017, Pluto Press): One-hundred years later, emphasizes the revolutionary parts of the Russian Revolution, the parts that tore down one of the most corrupt and decadent aristocracies in Europe and tried to build a broad-based alternative -- before violence and paranoia took its toll. In today's post-Soviet era we're inclined to see the revolution and its aftermath as continuous tragedy, which is only true if you forget the injustices of the world it swept away.

Allen Frances: Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump (2017, William Morrow): Argues that Trump is not technically insane, but raises many pertinent questions about whether America as a whole. The opening section on truths Americans reject and myths they embrace is a garden variety liberal list, but this gets more interesting when he goes on to root our understanding of psychology in Darwin rather than Freud. Tricky terrain: I think easy psychological labels are misleading, yet don't doubt that deeply seated mental processes are serving us poorly when we think about politics these days.

David Frum: Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic (2018, Harper): Former Bush speechwriter, has of late argued that Republicans should pay more heed to the needs of their base voters and less to their moneyed elites, which makes him sympathetic with the popular impulse of Trump's campaign and critical of the reality of his administration. Useful mostly for detailing the myriad ways Trump is bound up in corruption, and unflinching in its criticism of other Republicans for condoning and enabling his treachery. Would be more trenchant if only he realized that corruption is the coin of the Republican realm -- not just a side-effect of a political philosophy dedicated to making the rich richer but a way of keeping score.

David Goodhart: The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics (2017, Hurst): British editor of Prospect magazine, wrote a previous book The British Dream: Successes and Failures of Post-War Immigration, takes the Brexit vote and Trump's win as signposts for a right-wing revolt he deems to be populist. I regard those wins as flukes: possible only because serious economic interests were lucky enough to find themselves with enemies that could be blamed for all the evils of neoliberalism. Most elections don't break quite like that -- e.g., the post-Brexit UK elections.

Linda Gordon: The Second Coming of the KKK: The Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s and the American Political Tradition (2017, Liveright): The original KKK was formed in the 1970s to restore white supremacy in the South through the use of terror. Its work was largely done by the 1890s with the adoption of Jim Crow laws across the South and into parts of the North. In the 1910s Woodrow Wilson extended Jim Crow to the federal government, and the movie Birth of a Nation romanticized the old KKK, leading to a resurgence that grew beyond the South. This is the history of the latter movement, how it grew and why it crumbled (not that remnants haven't survived to the present day).

David Cay Johnston: It's Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America (2018, Simon & Schuster): Journalist, has written several books on how the economic system is rigged for the rich, and has also written a couple of books about one such rich person in particular: Donald Trump. Therefore, he started well ahead of the learning curve when Trump became president. Hopefully he goes deeper as a result. Probably a good companion to Amy Siskind: The List: A Week-by-Week Reckoning of Trump's First Year.

Gilles Kepel: Terror in France: The Rise of Jihad in the West (2017, Princeton University Press): French political scientist and Arab expert, wrote Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (2000 in French where the subtitle was Expansion et Déclin de l"Islamisme; 2002 in English with an afterward on how 9/11 seemed like a desperate ploy to reverse the decline -- thanks mostly to GW Bush it worked), with a steady stream of books since then. This covers recent terror attacks in France and their socioeconomic context. Also new is a thin book by the other famous French jihad expert, Olivier Roy: Jihad and Death: The Global Appeal of Islamic State (2017, Oxford University Press).

Sheelah Kolhatkar: Black Edge: Inside Information, Dirty Money, and the Quest to Bring Down the Most Wanted Man on Wall Street (2017, Random House): About Stephen A Cohen and SAC Capital, although the former was never indicted for his hedge fund's insider dealing.

Robert Kuttner: Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism? (2018, WW Norton): Could have filed this with the warnings against right-wing populism, but this goes deeper, seeing the global expansion of capitalism since the 1970s, and especially the tendency of those same capitalists to game supposedly democratic systems, at the root of the crisis. The problem has less to do with authoritarian wannabes and their fans than with corporate managers and financiers seeking to exempt business from any form of public restraint. The results may still bear some formal resemblance to democracy, but not the kind where most people can force the system to treat them fairly. When you think of it that way, the question becomes "has democracy survived global capitalism"? One could answer "no."

Brandy Lee: The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President (2017, Thomas Dunne Books): The "consensus view of two dozen psychiatrists and psychologists [is] that Trump is dangerously mentally ill and that he presents a clear and present danger to the nation and our own mental health." Sounds about right, but then I recall having long ago become a fan of Thomas Szasz's work, particularly his The Myth of Mental Illness, and I myself have been diagnosed as mentally ill by various shrinks, both credentialed and not. Indeed, I doubt it would be hard to sketch out unflattering psychological portraits of anyone who's become president since 1900 (I'm hedging a bit on McKinley but Teddy Roosevelt was mad as a hatter, and half of his successors are comparably easy pickings). Indeed, there's little reason to expect that people we elect to the nation's highest (and presumably most coveted) office should be even close to "normal." On the other hand, Trump is certainly an outlier, especially in his lack of understanding how government works, perhaps even more importantly in his lack of concern for how his acts affect people. Psychologists have compiled a thick book of diagnoses for traits like that (e.g., see "sociopath"), but much of that behavior can also be explained by looking at his class background -- how he inherited and then played with his wealth, parlaying it for fame in his peculiarly own ego-gratifying terms. Moreover, psychoanalyzing him misses the fact that he rules through other people, who while having their own fair share of foibles have aligned thermselves with Trump more for political and/or ideological reasons -- and that, I think, is where we should focus our critiques. (Not, mind you, that I doubt Trump's stark-raving bonkers.)

Mark Lilla: The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics (2017, Harper Collins). Short essay rushed out following the Trump election. Argues that liberals need to seek the moral high ground by focusing on universal rights and values instead of what he sees as their recent indulgence in cultivating "identity groups." "Identity politics" is a term much bandied about, near-meaningless with ominous overtones, probably because the right has been rather successful at fragmenting people into tribes and motivating them to vote to thwart the plans of rival tribes. On the other hand, literally everyone votes because of some identity they've developed -- which need not be ethnic or racial or religious, but could just as well be class or even a sense of the positive value of diversity. Liberalism would be an identity too, except that liberals have been running away from the label for 30-40 years now, which has only encouraged conservatives to pile on. Lilla at least is trying to reassert some universal values.

Angela Nagle: Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars From 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump the Alt-Right (paperback, 2017, Zero Books): Short (156 pp) survey of "culture war" rants on the internet, mostly from the "alt-right" but takes a few jabs at supposed lefties for balance. Argues that there's way too much of this stuff, and (I think) that we'd be better off with more taste and mutual respect (as long as that doesn't seem like some sort of radical leftist stance).

Rachel Pearson: No Apparent Distress: A Doctor's Coming-of-Age on the Front Lines of American Medicine (2017, WW Norton): By "front lines" she means the leaky bottom of the safety net, where patients can get diagnosed but are left untreated because they too indigent or not indigent enough.

Kim Phillips-Fein: Fear City: New York's Fiscal Crisis and the Rise of Austerity Politics (2017, Metropolitan Books): In 1975 New York City risked bankruptcy, and one famous newspaper headline read: "Ford to City: Drop Dead." Banker Felix Rohatyn intervened, staving off the crisis but forcing the city to adopt various changes, including ending its practice of free college. Phillips-Fein previously wrote an important book on the rise of the right in America: Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement From the New Deal to Reagan (2009), and sees this as yet another chapter in that rise -- all the more notable today as austerity is the right's standard answer to public debt.

Steven Pinker: Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (2018, Viking): Author of The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, continues expanding his case for optimism at a time when contrary evidence is so overwhelming it threatens to bury us. I think he has a point -- indeed, a number of them -- but one shouldn't fail to notice that anti-Enlightenment, anti-Progressive thinking has grabbed considerable political power (at least in the US), so much so that most Americans regard war as a permanent condition, and many see no problem with inequality hardening into oligarchy.

Robert B Reich: The Common Good (2018, Knopf): For better or worse, a true liberal. His most famous book, The Work of Nations (1991), was built around one of the worst ideas of our time -- one which, I might add, was the reason Bill Clinton hired him as Secretary of Labor -- and also offered one of the sharpest observations of how life was changing due to increasing inequality. The latter: how the rich were separating and isolating themselves from everyone else, most obviously by moving into gated communities and even more rarefied spaces (like Trump Tower and Mar-A-Lago). The former: his idea how Americans could survive the ongoing process of financial globalization, including the decline of manufacturing industries, by retraining workers to become what he called "symbolic manipulators." In point of fact, it was never possible for more than a tiny sliver of American workers to become "symbol manipulators," it was a convenient rationalization for neoliberals like Clinton to embrace globalization and growing inequality. One might argue that ever since Reich left Clinton's cabinet, he has been trying to do penance for his role there. He's written another dozen books, trying to defend key liberal ideas and save capitalism in the process. This at least is on a key idea that has taken a beating from conservatives: the idea that there is "a common good" as opposed to numerous individual goods that markets allow competition for. He also notes that the common good is built from "virtuous cycles that reinforce and build" as opposed to "vicious cycles that undermine it." We have been stuck in the latter for decades now, and it's cumulatively taking a huge toll. So this is an important concept, even if I don't particularly trust the messenger.

Richard Rothstein: The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America (2017, Liveright): Going back as far as the 1920s, argues that what we think of as de facto segregation has been significantly shaped by law and public policy, even after the Fair Housing Act of 1968 supposedly put an end to all that.

Jennifer M Silva: Coming Up Short: Working-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty (paperback, 2015, Oxford University Press): Short book based on one-hundred interviews with young working class adults in Massachusetts and Virginia, finding their opportunities limited and fleeting as the right-wing attack on unions and the welfare state has focused more on kicking the ladder out for future generations than on wrecking the lives of their elders. Silva also did interviews for Robert D Putnam's Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis.

Amy Siskind: The List: A Week-by-Week Reckoning of Trump's First Year (2018, Bloomsbury): "A national spokesperson, writer and expert on helping women and girls advance and succeed" -- a noble career, no doubt, derailed by her decision to compile weekly blog posts on all the unprecedentedly strange things Trump and his minions have done as they were reported. Early on she came up with 6-9 items per week, but over time that list grew to as many as 150, a quantity that not only means much is slipping through the cracks even in our 24/7 news obsession, but which has overloaded and numbed our sense of outrage and even our ability to analyze. This compiles a year of those reports, a mere 528 pages. Good chance this will endure as an essential sourcebook for the year.

Ali Soufan: Anatomy of Terror: From the Death of bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State (2017, WW Norton): Former FBI agent, famed for his expert interrogation of terror suspects -- he's the subject of a chapter in Lawrence Wright's The Terror Years: From Al-Qaeda to the Islamic State, and author of the book, The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda (2011).

Cass R Sunstein: #Republic: Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media (2017, Princeton University Press): Occasionally interesting MOR Democratic theorist, takes his shot here at trashing the internet for propagating self-selected, self-confirming nonsense that divides people into hostile camps incapable of empathy with or understanding of anyone but themselves. This, of course, has been pretty much the high-brow critique of media since Gutenberg, the main point that it detracts from people blindly following whatever experts are sanctified by whoever has the power to do that sort of thing. I suppose there's some truth this time around, but I'd look at the vested interests using social media for their propaganda (ok, they call it advertising) before concluding that "the media is the message."

Charles J Sykes: How the Right Lost Its Mind (2017, St Martin's Press): Former "longtime host of the #1 conservative talk-radio show in Wisconsin," now "a regular contributor to MSNBC," features a Trump-like hat on the cover and evidently focuses on how conservatives wound up flocking to Trump. Sounds like he's failed to make the necessary distinction between why the Right lost its mind and things the Right did after having lost its mind. The former would be an interesting book, although it actually isn't so mysterious: the only real political principle behind conservatism is the defense of wealth and privilege, and that's intrinsically a hard sell in a real democracy, so the Right has to hide their soul behind a lot of incidental sales pitches. The latter is just sad and pathetic, like so much recent American history.

Heather Ann Thompson: Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy (2016, Pantheon; paperback, 2017, Vintage Books): A major history of the 1971 Attica prison uprising, its brutal suppression, and the decades-long legal fight that followed. When this happened my philosophy 101 professor at Wichita State was so disturbed he ditched his lesson plan to talk about what happened. Later I became friends with a lawyer who put most of her career into this case, the extraordinary Elizabeth Fink, so it feels like I've tracked this story all my life. The enduring lesson is how much contempt and disdain people in power have for the people they condemn as criminals, and how that hatred and fear can lead them to do things as bad or worse.

Katy Tur: Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History (2017, Dey Street Books): NBC News correspondent assigned to cover Trump's campaign, where she evidently fact-checked, challenged, and generally made herself a nuissance, while visiting 40 states and filing 3800 live television reports. Sounds like it must have been much worse than "craziest" implies.

Richard White: The Republic for Which It Stands: The United States During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, 1865-1896 (2017, Oxford University Press): A new volume in The Oxford History of the United States, originally planned by C. Vann Woodward and Richard Hofstadter back in the 1950s, with the first volumes appearing in 1982 (Robert Middlekauff on 1763-1789) and 1988 (James M. McPherson on the Civil War), and David M. Kennedy (whose 1929-1945 volume came out in 1999) taking over after Woodward's death. Each of the eleven period volumes (plus a 12th on US foreign relations) is close to 1000 pages, and the few I've looked at (3 remain unpublished) are remarkably imposing tomes.

Sean Wilentz: The Politicians & the Egalitarians: The Hidden History of American Politics (paperback, 2017, WW Norton): A major historian, though much more reliable on The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln than on The Age of Reagan: A History 1974-2000, offers a book of scattered essays, mostly book reviews. Useful for reminding ourselves how prevalent the egalitarian impulse is in American history, and how often pragmatic politicians fall short of even their own professed ideals.

Lawrence Wright: The Terror Years: From Al-Qaeda to the Islamic State (2016; paperback, 2017, Vintage Books): Author of one of the best general histories of Al-Qaeda and 9/11, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (2006), updates the story with scattered pieces -- mostly profiles of more or less related individuals although nothing like a comprehensive update of the ensuing history.


Other recent books also noted without comment:

Alec Baldwin/Kurt Andersen: You Can't Spell America Without Me: The Really Tremendous Inside Story of My Fantastic First Year as President Donald J. Trump (A So-Called Parody) (2017, Penguin Press).

Krystal Ball: Reversing the Apocalypse: Hijacking the Democratic Party to Save the World (2017, Pelican Media).

Hillary Rodham Clinton: What Happened (2017, Simon & Schuster).

James Comey: A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership (2018, Flatiron).

Melinda Cooper: Family Values: Between Neoliberalism and the New Social Conservatism (2017, Zone Books).

Corey R Lewandowski/David N Bossie: Let Trump Be Trump: The Inside Story of His Rise to the Presidency (2017, Center Street).

Keith Olbermann: Trump Is F*cking Crazy (This Is Not a Joke) (2017, Blue Rider Press).

Leo Panitch/Sam Gindin: The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Empire (paperback, 2013, Verso Books).

Yanis Varoufakis: Talking to My Daughter About the Economy: A Brief History of Capitalism (paperback, 2017, The Bodley Head).

Michael Wolff: Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (2018, Henry Holt).

John Ziegelman/Andrew Coe: A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression (2016; paperback, 2017, Harper).

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