Blog Entries [20 - 29]

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Weekend Roundup

Tina Fey got flack for this skit on Thursday's Saturday Night Live news special, where she advised people to skip Nazi/White Supremacist counter-protests and express their frustration by eating cake instead. I followed her advice and made a pan of extra-rich brownies, but I had an occasion to honor: Frank Smith was passing through Kansas, returning home after an AFSCME conference in DC, where he also found time for a demonstration outside the White House. I fixed a little vegetarian (not vegan) dinner in his honor: a leek-goat cheese quiche, three Ottolenghi salads -- spinach with dates, onions, toasted pitas and almonds; roast eggplant with tahini sauce; sweet potatoes with maple syrup and pecans -- and the brownies. I was so exhausted afterwards I went to bed early and slept eleven hours. It wasn't so much the work as general world-weariness. I remember a sense of unease back in 2001 when a friend chirped "we survived one George Bush; we can survive another." Well, lots of folks didn't survive that second one, and hardly anyone came out better from the ordeal. And as you get older, you start to wonder whether you're ever going to see a better world. Still, cake tastes good. Brownies with 6 oz. premium unsweetened chocolate even better.

[PS: Also see Tom Carson: The Brilliance of Tina Fey's Cake Satire, Explained.]

Meanwhile, I offer these links and comments because I don't really feel up to working on anything more creative or constructive.

The usual scattered links:

  • Kurt Andersen: How America Lost Its Mind: I can't argue with the conclusion -- clearly, a huge swath of Americans have lost their minds -- but I'd offer a simpler explanation than the '60s and the internet. In fact, I'd argue that the '60s at least opened up a vein of critical thinking in stark contrast to the rampant hypocrisy of the 1950s. That led directly to the most important revolutions of the post-WWII era: civil rights and liberties, women's liberation, rejection of war, the movement for the environment, consumer and worker protections. Also, the internet help break out of the corporate media stranglehold that had consolidated in the 1980s. The problem was the 1980s, when a cabal of conservative businessfolk somehow convinced most people to ignore reality and pretend it's "morning in America again" -- a deception that has become increasingly unhinged as right-wing and/or neoliberal control has proved ever more dysfunctional. Indeed, it's gotten so bad that the naïveté (and relative egalitarianism) of the 1950s has started to look good again, not that anyone seriously wants to go back there. But there's more wrong now than just the notion that reality and truth are subject to political interpretation. It's that the political agenda of the upper crust demands deception, and they have the means to mass-propagate it. All we have to fight back is critical thinking and what's left of the decentralized internet.

  • David Dayen: More Trump Populism: DOJ Shuts Down an Operation That Was Successfully Combatting Consumer Fraud:

    The justice department plans to terminate Operation Choke Point, an Obama-era law enforcement crackdown on scam consumer transactions that conservatives characterized as an attack on gun sellers and legal businesses. It concludes one of the more brazen misinformation efforts in recent political history -- with misinformation triumphing. . . .

    Karl Frisch, executive director of Allied Progress, a consumer rights group, said in a statement: "Ending this program will make it easier for financial predators and other unscrupulous industries to get the resources they need to carry out their deceptive and frequently unlawful business practices."

  • Jason Ditz: Trump: Afghan War Decisions Made: Trump's promising a major speech revealing his Afghanistan strategy on Monday, following a round of meetings at Camp David mostly attended by hawks, including mercenary mogul Erik Prince, and excluding Steve ("skeptic of military escalation") Bannon. I could probably dig up some speculation on this, but we might as well wait for the ball to drop. Then on Tuesday Trump flies to Phoenix for his big rally there, a chance to meet up with his old pal Joe Arpaio and, one assumes, talk about The Wall.

  • Tara Golshan: Anti-racism protesters totally eclipsed Boston's right-wing Free Speech rally: I've seen reports of up to 40,000 anti-racism protesters.

  • Mehdi Hasan: Donald Trump Has Been a Racist All His Life -- and He Isn't Going to Change After Charlottesville:

    Consider the first time the president's name appeared on the front page of the New York Times, more than 40 years ago. "Major Landlord Accused of Antiblack Bias in City," read the headline of the A1 piece on Oct. 16, 1973, which pointed out how Richard Nixon's Department of Justice had sued the Trump family's real estate company in federal court over alleged violations of the Fair Housing Act. . . .

    Over the next four decades, Trump burnished his reputation as a bigot: he was accused of ordering "all the black [employees] off the floor" of his Atlantic City casinos during his visits; claimed "laziness is a trait in blacks" and "not anything they can control"; requested Jews "in yarmulkes" replace his black accountants; told Bryan Gumbel that "a well-educated black has a tremendous advantage over a well-educated white in terms of the job market"; demanded the death penalty for a group of black and Latino teenagers accused of raping a jogger in Central Park (and, despite their later exoneration with the use of DNA evidence, has continued to insist they are guilty); suggested a Native American tribe "don't look like Indians to me"; mocked Chinese and Japanese trade negotiators by doing an impression of them in broken English; described undocumented Mexican immigrants as "rapists"; compared Syrian refugees to "snakes"; defended two supporters who assaulted a homeless Latino man as "very passionate" people "who love this country"; pledged to ban a quarter of humanity from entering the United States; proposed a database to track American Muslims that he himself refused to distinguish from the Nazi registration of German Jews; implied Jewish donors "want to control" politicians and are all sly negotiators; heaped praise on the "amazing reputation" of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who has blamed America's problems on a "Jewish mafia"; referred to a black supporter at a campaign rally as "my African-American"; suggested the grieving Muslim mother of a slain U.S. army officer "maybe . . . wasn't allowed" to speak in public about her son; accused an American-born Hispanic judge of being "a Mexican"; retweeted anti-Semitic and anti-black memes, white supremacists, and even a quote from Benito Mussolini; kept a book of Hitler's collected speeches next to his bed; declined to condemn both David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan; and spent five years leading a "birther" movement that was bent on smearing and delegitimizing the first black president of the United States, who Trump also accused of being the founder of ISIS.

    For another background piece on Trump as racist: Klaus Brinkbäumer: The True Face of Donald Trump.

  • Janine Jackson: "Trump TV": How the Sinclair Merger Would Move Media Further Right: Sinclair is looking to take over Tribune Media.

  • Sarah Jones: Liberals Helped Create Trump's New Bogeyman, the "Alt-Left": Centrists assume that there must be some mirror-image faction on the left for every horror they see on the right, hence an "alt-left" to the white nationalist "alt-right." So when Trump needed to expand on his "many sides" Charlottesville claim, his apologists started looking for words to describe his hypothetical villains, and "alt-left" offered the symmetry they desired, allowing their guarded denials of the right to serve double duty as attacks on the left. By the way, self-proclaimed alt-rightists were more likely to refer to their opponents (a subset of their enemies) as "antifas" (short for anti-fascists). That at least is a label we can live with. However, what rankles most about "alt-left" is that it's primarily used by centrists/liberals trying to score points with conservatives for their willingness to throw their more principled allies under the bus (much like a previous generation's red-baiting).

    Unlike the term "alt-right," which was coined by white supremacists to give their age-old movement a modern edge, the "alt-left" is an insult. As my colleague Clio Chang wrote in March of liberals who choose to use the term: "A graver sin is the adoption of a term that was created by conservatives to smear the left and discredit criticisms of the growing clout of the racist right."

    It should go without saying, but the left does not promote hate crimes or commit them. It does not strive for an ethno-state. It is explicitly anti-racist and feminist. It demands the redistribution of wealth. You may find that terrifying, but it's not actually terrorism. And when a horde of white supremacists overran Charlottesville with their tiki torches and Confederate flags, the left was at the front lines, defending everyone else's right to freedom. A member of the left died for those rights. . . .

    Liberals often use "alt-left" to describe progressives they consider rude or with whom they have Twitter beef; it is personal animus disguised as politics. . . . The function of the term "alt-left" is to collapse the distinction between the activist left and the racist right. That's why reactionaries like Sean Hannity use it. That's why Donald Trump has taken it up. We are likely to hear a lot more about the alt-left in the coming months and years -- and if liberals continue to use it, they will be doing the right-wing's work.

    Shawn McCreesh, in Antifa and the 'Alt-Left', traces out the long history of leftists who specifically focused on opposing Fascist movements, a concern which dates back to the early days of Fascism and Nazism, and which in the late 1930s led some Americans to travel to Spain to aid in the fight against Franco there. I don't know whether there were counter-protests at pro-Nazi rallies in the US (such as the famous one Trump's father attended at Madison Square Garden), but there were certainly many people offended by and opposed to those rallies -- anti-fascism is a stance which many more people agree with than act upon. After Germany declared war on the US (and vice versa), American officials started referring to those individuals as "premature anti-fascists" (I've long thought that would be a good blog title, although the window of opportunity seems to be closing). Ever since WWII it's been pretty much impossible to hold an explicitly Nazi rally in the US (or Europe) without counter-protests. One might construct a similar history of white supremacists, except that the immediate threat of violence (at least in the US, especially in the ex-Confederate states, was always much greater, so there were fewer direct challenges to the KKK and its ilk. (And while the most dependable opponents of lynching in the pre-WWII period were American Communists, I've never heard anyone called a "premature anti-racist.") The thing is, anti-fascism and anti-racism aren't factions of the left -- those are widespread beliefs and sympathies, and to some extend spread even beyond the left.

    As for the "Alt-Left" in Charlottesville, Dahlia Lithwick: Here's What Witnesses Saw.

  • Fred Kaplan: Ugly History Shouldn't Be Beautiful: "What Germany can teach the US about remembering an ugly past without glorifying it."

  • Olga Khazan: The Dark Minds of the 'Alt-Right': Draws on an academic psychology paper surveying "447 self-proclaimed members of the alt-right." The article doesn't refer to the late-1940s work of Adorno and Horkheimer that created the "F-scale" -- a measure of affinity to fascism -- but that's essentially what they reinvented. If you hear about this study, it will probably be to argue that self-identified "alt-right" members don't suffer from economic anxiety -- they're mostly just racists with a persecution complex, and therefore a paranoia about others they see as being unjustly privileged by the system. That may be true, but the alt-right in its various guises is a small and marginal splinter of the public. What Democrats need to worry about is that people who do feel economic anxiety will buy into the alt-right's paranoia instead of more reasonable programs. Of course, it would be a big help there to actually develop some more reasonable programs, and to make them more credible by not sucking up so shamelessly to the very rich.

  • Kevin M Levin: Why I Changed My Mind About Confederate Monuments: This is as good a place as any to start as any. I was ten when the Civil War centennial started and I was very interested in history, so the Civil War made a big impression on me. As a dutiful Kansan, I never doubted the justness of the Union cause, and by then I was beginning to comprehend the evils the South had perpetrated, both in slavery and in the later Jim Crow period. Still, we frequently visited Arkansas and Oklahoma back then -- my mother's grandfather and great-grandfather had fought for the Union but after the war settled in Arkansas, so I had relatives both there and in Oklahoma. And one thing that always puzzled me was why there seemed to be a Southern cannon or other monument in every town square in Oklahoma, which wasn't part of the Confederacy nor even a state until 1908. I knew that monuments were signposts of history, and respected that, but in Oklahoma that history was clearly fake. It took me a while to understand that the monuments were part of a political movement, one that could be called the Counter-Reconstruction but these days is more quaintly known as Jim Crow -- the often-violent restoration of white supremacy in the former slave states (more than just the Confederate states, which is why you see so many Southern markers in border states like Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, and Oklahoma). But the great era of Southern monument-building ebbed long ago, and has been in retreat along with the racist policies it was meant to foster. As Southern racists switched political parties from Goldwater on, their fetishism for the Confederate flag and generals should have waned, but we saw little evidence of that until 2015, when a flag-waver massacred nine in a South Carolina church, and Governor Nikki Haley took the lead on lowering the Confederate flag. Since then there's been a broad push to mop up all sorts of racist trash left over from the Civil War/Jim Crow eras, to the extent that nowadays the last folks defending the stuff are unregenerate racists -- a group that sadly features President Trump.

    I might not have cared either way before, but the crowd that came out to defend Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville convinced me that all such monuments have to come down, and the sooner the better: these are people way beyond deplorable, and they should be denied any hint of victory. [Note that former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says pretty much the same thing: Confederate Statues Are Now 'Rallying Points' for Hate Groups.] As Levin notes: "The national debate over the monuments' future is not unlike what happened in Prague and other cities at the end of the Cold War. And I hope they meet the same fate." He could just as easily have mentioned Saddam Hussein's statues.

    For another example of how monuments and naming are used to shape (pervert really) political space, look at the group that has been working nonstop to institutionalize Ronald Reagan's name in every nook and cranny of the country. Hopefully some day he, too, will be as stripped from the current world as Joseph Stalin. Of course, like Stalin (and Robert E. Lee) he'll never be erased from history -- which, for students, is full of such cautionary tales.

  • Robinson Meyer: What Kind of Monuments Does President Trump Value? Obviously, he likes those Confederate statues -- mementos of a past when most white people were as racist as he still is. But it's more than a little ironic that at the same time he's defending monuments to notorious Americans, he's also "threatening to undo as many as 40 conservation parks" -- aka, National Monuments. Thanks to a law that Teddy Roosevelt signed in 1906, the president can designate any piece of public land as a National Monument. Clinton and Obama used this law a number of times (as did both Roosevelts), but occasionally land so designated is coveted by oil and/or mining companies, and nothing seems to rival profits in Trump's aesthetic sense. By the way, the article includes some gorgeous pictures of endangered National Monuments, plus one picture of a Nathan Bedford Forrest that must count among the world's ugliest (without even factoring its subject in).

  • Justin Miller: Paying for Trump's Tax Cuts Would Devastate the Poor: It's not just who pays less taxes ("90 percent of the taxpayers in the top 1 percent will get a pretty big tax cut") but also who loses out in the inevitable spending cuts needed to offset the tax cuts.

  • Jonathan Ofir: Trump uses Barcelona attacks for incitement to mass murder of Muslims: While Trump struggled with the facts when a white right-wing terrorist struck in Charlottesville, he had no problems at all identifying Muslim terrorists in Barcelona, nor did he make any effort to blame the victims there, as he had in Virginia. Ofir's title is more sensational than the one Yglesias uses below, but it does capture the gist of his tweet.

  • Alex Pareene: Charlottesville Was a Preview of the Future of the Republican Party: Key argument here is that the alt-right is the only group successfully recruiting young people to the Republican Party, so that's where future party leaders will come from. I'm not sure I buy that, given that the rich have never had much trouble hiring help, and they have a nice patronage system even if they can't get you elected.

  • Aja Romano: The President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities resigns, urging resistance against Trump: All 17 members signed the resignation letter. Not a major rebuke, as all were appointed by Obama, so Trump may not have realized that PCAH even existed.

  • Heather Boushey: How the Radical Right Played the Long Game and Won: Book review of Nancy McLean's Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America -- primarily about economist James McGill Buchanan. I've picked up a copy. Hope to get to it soon.

  • Mark Joseph Stern: Joe Arpaio Illegally Tortured Latinos. Of Course Trump Wants to Pardon Him. The former Republican Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona (Phoenix), a long-time grandstanding anti-Latino bigot, was recently convicted of criminal contempt for repeatedly failing to respect civil rights. He was an early Trump supporter, and several reports have Trump granting him a pardon -- perhaps at Trump's planned big rally in Phoenix next week.

    [Arpaio] set up "tent cities" to house overflowing jail population and boasted that they were actual "concentration camps." In the summer, the heat in these facilities reached 145 degrees Fahrenheit; inmates' shoes literally melted. Arpaio told the inmates not to complain, declaring: "It's 120 degrees in Iraq and the soldiers are living in tents and they didn't commit any crimes, so shut your mouths."

    In fact, many of these inmates had not yet been convicted of a crime -- but Arpaio treated all detainees as though they had already been found guilty. He introduced a number of schemes designed to humiliate inmates, including chain gangs for women and juveniles, and a live webcast that broadcast video of jailed pretrial detainees on the internet. One camera captured the toilet in the women's holding cell. The 9th Circuit ultimately blocked these webcasts, but not before millions of people had tuned in.

    Arpaio also worked with former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas to investigate and prosecute their political enemies. Together, Arpaio and Thomas went after judges who ruled against them, attorneys who opposed them in court, and even a journalist who covered them critically for a local paper. The county wound up paying out tens of millions of dollars in settlement money to Arpaio and Thomas' victims, and Thomas was disbarred. Arpaio famously investigated President Barack Obama's birth certificate, as well, and concluded that it was forged.

    A pardon for Arpaio not only condones this sort of behavior, it promises a "get out of jail card" to others who break the law in ways that align with Trump's prejudices.

  • Matt Taibbi: Fire Steve Bannon: This came out on Thursday, a day before Bannon was actually fired. His reasoning is sound, although that doesn't really explain why Bannon was actually fired.

    The list of nitwits in the Trump administration is long. Betsy DeVos, in charge of education issues, seems capable of losing at tic-tac-toe. Ben Carson thought the great pyramids of Egypt were grain warehouses. Rick Perry, merely in charge of the nation's nuclear arsenal, probably has post-it notes all over his office to remind him what things are: telephone, family photo, souvenir atomic-reactor paperweight, etc.

    Lots of dunces, but chief strategist Steve Bannon, sadly, isn't one of them. The intellectual leader of the alt-right movement is no genius -- nobody with his political views could be -- but neither is he an idiot. He's one of the few people in that White House with even a primitive grasp of long-term strategy, . . .

    But Bannon is the one person in that White House who we know for sure both embraces a white supremacist ideology and has a vision for how to implement it. The mere threat of that, that Trump's political energy might somehow be married to a sober strategy, is terrifying and unacceptable. Bannon saved Trump's political career once. He can't be allowed to do it again; he has to go, and finally let Trump drown on his own.

    Taibbi had two stories to report on. One was to review how Bannon helped turn Trump's campaign around, leading it to improbable victory. The other was a report by Robert Kuttner: Steve Bannon, Unrepentant, which is probably what got Bannon fired, not so much for any particular gaffe as because Bannon stuck his neck out just enough to get it chopped off. We started hearing rumors about Bannon being out back on Monday, which seemed odd because Trump's off-the-rails appearance that day seemed like his most Bannon moment ever. Bannon clearly had enemies within the White House: especially the Goldman-Sachs crowd running the NEC and Treasury, and the hawks trying to dig a deeper hole in Afghanistan (and Syria and Korea and so forth). Sure, any of them could also have found Bannon's racism a little too uncircumspect, but those other issues affected business, not just optics -- and frankly they had given up any claim to shame when they signed up to work for Trump.

    Two takeaways from the Kuttner article: first, Bannon's main preoccupation is starting a major trade war with China, and he's willing to rattle sabres against China to get his way (on the other hand, he views military action against North Korea as hopeless and foolish, and he doesn't see China helping there -- he cites a recent Kuttner article, US vs. North Korea: The Winner? China, as the reason for his call; and second, he trashes the Charlottesville alt-right ("it's losers. It's a fringe element. . . . These guys are a collection of clowns"). The latter may make you wonder why he was reportedly elated when Trump came out defending Nazis and white supremacists, but I suspect that's because he thinks that a big part of Trump's appeal is his readiness to say things that piss off the mainstream media -- to his base, that establishes him as honest and forthright, as someone unwilling to read canned bullshit from a teleprompter.

    Some more Steve Bannon links:

    • Ashley Parker et al.: Trump gets rid of Stephen Bannon, a top proponent of his nationalist agenda: Stresses that Kelly got Bannon fired for being divisive, but here are some interesting quotes on divisions:

      [Bannon] became fixated in recent months on trade and immigration issues, and he had a large dry-erase board in his office that served as a checklist for promises in those areas. But some of his ideas -- such as a proposal to raise the top tax rate on the wealthiest Americans -- were easily batted away by other senior advisers in the White House.

      Bannon had been advocating internally against sending additional troops to Afghanistan, putting him at odds with national security adviser H.R. McMaster and others. Yet he was excluded from a South Asia strategy session Trump convened at Camp David on Friday with nearly two dozen senior officials.

      Bannon has told associates in recent days that if he were to leave the White House, the conservative populist movement that lifted Trump in last year's campaign would be at risk. One person close to him said that the coalition would amount to "Democrats, bankers and hawks." Bannon also predicted that Trump would eventually turn back to him and others who share the president's nationalist instincts, especially on trade.

      There's a link here to an important article that came out in March, essential for understanding Bannon and his political vision: Matea Gold: The Mercers and Stephen Bannon: How a populist power base was funded and built. During his campaign, Trump essentially became a vehicle for Mercer and Bannon and had a knack for selling their vision, but he never built any supporting organization, so once he was elected he fell back on whatever the Republicans already had, which idea-wise was a complete betrayal of Bannon's populist promise.

    • Zack Beauchamp: Steve Bannon tried to destroy "globalism." It destroyed him instead.

    • Tara Golshan: With Bannon out, will Breitbart News go to war with the Trump administration? Threats abound, and there will certainly be some kind of push against Bannon's enemies in the White House, who will be blamed as Trump continues to fail to deliver on many of his alt-right campaign promises. Still, my guess is that what happens depends mostly on Bannon's billionaire sugar daddy, Robert Mercer -- no reason to think he won't continue to be influential in the Trump administration as long as he wants to be (or thinks it worthwhile -- it's already beginning to look like a lost cause). [PS: Bannon was welcomed back at Breitbart; see: Bannon Returns to Breitbart Where He Plans to Keep Boosting Trump; also Trump Thanks Steve Bannon, Cheers On His Return to Breitbart News. Key quote there: "Bannon said that he will continue to fight for Trump's agenda from the outside." Of course, Bannon's view of "Trump's agenda" is uniquely his own -- literally -- and the "real" Trump is bound to disappoint him, though he'll have plenty of opportunities to blame the people surrounding Trump. Expect to hear a lot about how it's better to have someone like Bannon "inside the tent pissing out, vs. outside pissing in."]

    • Rosie Gray: Bannon Is 'Going Nuclear'

    • Mehdi Hasan: Steve Bannon Is Gone, but His Bigotry Stays in the White House: Argues that Bannon's fatal flaw wasn't in-fighting and sure wasn't ideological, just an ego clash with "the Narcissist-in-Chief":

      Thanks to relentless leaking from inside the White House, we have known for some time that Trump has been bothered by the rise and rise of Bannon. He was annoyed by the Time magazine cover story that asked whether the chief strategist was now "the second most powerful man in the world." He was irritated by the #PresidentBannon hashtag on Twitter and upset over the SNL sketch showing Bannon running the White House while the president sits at a kid's desk playing with toys. And, in recent days, Trump was angered by the much-discussed new book by Joshua Green, Devil's Bargain, which suggests that it was the former Breitbart boss who paved the way for Trump's shock victory over Hillary Clinton. "That fucking Steve Bannon taking credit for my election," Trump recently told a friend, according to BuzzFeed News.

    • Ryan Lizza: The Rise and Fall of Steve Bannon: Interesting bit of background here, with Bannon in Shanghai in 2008 giving up on a failed business venture:

      Bannon was looking for his next reinvention. "I came back right before the 2008 election and saw this phenomenon called Sarah Palin," he told me last year. The neo-populist movement that Trump eventually rode to victory was being born in the waning days of that campaign. Bannon thought that Republicans, who had become the party of tax cuts and free-market libertarian philosophy, exemplified by people like Paul Ryan, didn't yet have the right vocabulary to speak to its own base. "The Republicans would not talk about anything related to reality," he told me. "There was all this fucking Austrian school of economic theory."

      Bannon started making what are essentially crude propaganda films about people and issues on the new populist right, including ones about Palin, Ronald Reagan, Michele Bachmann, Phyllis Schlafly, and the Tea Party. He became a fixture on the conservative-conference circuit and befriended Andrew Breitbart, a former blogger and then a new-media entrepreneur who was the hidden talent behind the success of both the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post. Bannon helped Breitbart raise money for Breitbart News Network, including a ten-million-dollar investment from the Mercer family, which during this period emerged as a crucial patron for the populist right. When Breitbart died, in March, 2012, Bannon took over editorial control as well. Traffic exploded, from eleven million page views per month to two hundred million. "Frankly that's why, when Breitbart puts its fucking gun sights on you, your life changes," Bannon bragged to me once.

      In 2013, Bannon and Steven Miller were pushing Jeff Sessions to run for president. The piece doesn't explain how the trio settled on Trump. By the way, I'm pretty sure that Mercer's real politics are closer to the Kochs and the Austrians, but that he supports Bannon (and Trump) because he recognizes the need to cater to the Republican base, and because he's sure he can shut his hirelings down before they do any real harm to the rich. I'm reminded here of Robert Paxton's argument in The Anatomy of Fascism: that fascist movements rise in democratic countries by offering a popular base to the aristocratic/antidemocratic right. The rub there is that no matter how subservient they promise to be, fascists have their own agenda, one that can totally wreck nations. Bannon fits this model perfectly -- not least in thinking of Trump and Mercer not as patrons but as tools for his own glory. Lizza has written several other pieces on Bannon: How Steve Bannon Conquered CPAC -- and the Republican Party (Feb. 24), Can Steve Bannon Save Trumpcare? (Mar. 17), and Firing Steve Bannon Won't Change Donald Trump (Aug. 15).

    • Pter Maass: Steve Bannon said he learned to fear Muslime when he visited Pakistan. Except he was probably in Hong Kong.

    • Jeremy W Peters/Michael M Grynbaum: Steve Bannon, Back on the Outside, Prepares His Enemies List: Of course he has an enemies list. He defines his very being by who he hates.

    • Wil S Hylton: Down the Breitbart Hole: Long Sunday Times article, probably seemed like a good idea when it was commissioned but has been more/less overtaken by events, now that Bannon is out of the White House and returning to Breitbart.

    • Asawin Suebsaeng: Seb Gorka's Fate 'Extremely Uncertain' as His Boss Bannon Is Ousted: I'd say it's pretty much inevitable that Gorka, who worked for Bannon at Breitbart, will be axed soon. Some people think Steven Miller has deeper ties to Trump so may last longer. I'd say Miller's more salient trait is his extreme idolatry of Trump and how readily he's able to contort himself to Trump's every whim, but those traits also make him redundant and superfluous.

  • Matthew Yglesias: Donald Trump's tumultuous week, explained. More Yglesias: The real driver of regional inequality in America; Trump calls for the United States to imitate fake war crimes to fight terrorism; The huge problem with Trump comparing Robert E. Lee to George Washington; 7 things Republicans could do to check Trump without ditching conservative policy; The Trump Tango is tiresome and pointless; Rich CEOs are the big winners of Trump's race war; The real "deep state" sabotage is happening at the Fed.

    From the "Rich CEOs" piece:

    Trump embraces a politics of racial conflict because it works for him.

    As Bloomberg's Joshua Green recounts in his new book Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency, candidate Trump shrugged off media and political attention to his dalliances with the unsavory racist elements of the alt-right. "We polled the race stuff and it doesn't matter," Bannon told Green in September; "it doesn't move anyone who isn't already in [Clinton's] camp."

    The fundamental issue is that the United States contains very few committed and vocal white supremacists (turnout for the Virginia rally was dwarfed by counterprotests nationwide). But it does contain an awful lot of white people. To the extent that politics is seen as a crude zero-sum struggle between racial groups, most of them are going to back the side they perceive as supporting the interests of white people.

    Yet the reality is that while Trump is inflicting tangible disproportionate harm to racial minorities across the country, he's not doing anything substantive to advance the interests of his typical white supporter either. He's loudly embraced a brand of toxic racial politics while quietly creating a narrow winner's circle of C-suite executives and inheritors of vast fortunes. And it's the loyalty of the business class, not of neo-Nazi street brawlers, that ultimately ensures Trump's position of power and is in turn receiving its due rewards. . . .

    Trump and congressional Republicans, for example, deployed the Congressional Review Act to roll back many of the Obama administration's 2016 regulatory actions. Thanks to Trump:

    • It's easier for mining companies to dump pollution into streams.
    • It's easier for oil companies to bribe foreign governments.
    • It's easier for broadband internet providers to sell their customers' user data.
    • But it's now harder for state governments to set up low-fee retirement accounts so people could save money without getting ripped off.

    Trump doesn't tweet about it much, but it turns out that making it harder for people to avoid financial rip-offs is something of a passion for the Trump administration. He has, for example, gutted enforcement of an Obama-era rule that would have made it illegal for financial advisers to deliberately rip off their customers.

    None of this, obviously, has anything to do with helping white people any more than the Trump Federal Communications Commission's ongoing efforts to dismantle net neutrality or the Trump Treasury's efforts to reopen corporate tax loopholes are motivated by concern for the welfare of the European-American population. At the behest of the chemical industry, the Trump Environmental Protection Agency has approved the continued sale of a pesticide that poisons children's brains, and at the behest of for-profit colleges, the Trump Education Department is rolling back regulations offering debt relief to students misled by scam schools.

    The winners here are not "anxious" working-class heartlanders, but the owners and managers of big companies who have the government off their backs and barely even need to defend their stances in public with Trump's antics sucking up the bulk of attention.

  • Angelo Young: After more executives flee, Trump's advisory board, White House claims he planned to disband the council anyway. Related: Matthew Sheffield: Trump's big business CEOs are horrified by his Confederate excuses -- but his religious advisers have nothing but praise.

I wrote a bit recently about how my parents voted for George Wallace in 1968 (not a post, probably in the notebook): they had soured on the Vietnam War (after the next-door neighbor kid was killed there, and my brother and I turned hard against the war), intensely distrusted Dick Nixon, and had no particular fondness for Hubert Humphrey. They weren't particularly racist -- my father still resented the South from the Civil War (his grandfather was named Abraham Lincoln Hull, his father Robert Lincoln), and my mother hailed from an all-white Republican stronghold in Arkansas (her grandfather fought for the union before moving from Ohio to the Ozarks) but they weren't very sensitive about race either, and Wallace's "little guy" message appealed to them. I grew up with Republican leanings, but the war pushed me away from conventional politics. In 1968 I was very enthusiastic about Gene McCarthy's primary challenge to LBJ, and continued to support him through the convention. So I was trying to remember who I preferred in the 1968 election -- certainly not Nixon or Wallace, and while I probably wound up hoping Humphrey would win, I never thought of myself as supporting him. The most likely answer to my question died last week: Dick Gregory. I had long enjoyed his stand-up comedy, and when he ventured into politics in 1967-68, I bought and read his book Write Me In. I was too young to vote in 1968, but certainly would have written him in. He would have made a better "first black president" than the one we wound up having. I never noticed him much after 1968, but according to his Wikipedia page he remain active politically. And I'm sure he could still be funny (when he wasn't dead serious, and sometimes when he was). Here's an obituary.

I also see that Jerry Lewis has died. I was a huge fan, starting about as far back as I can remember. By that time Lewis had already split from Dean Martin (who I later loved for other reasons). I can't say as I ever noticed him much after his 1968-69 talk show (aside from The King of Comedy in 1982), but he was the funniest person in the world for the first decade I was conscious of.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28538 [28508] rated (+30), 378 [375] unrated (+3).

Average week, although more old music than usual as I followed a recent Burnt Sugar album into their back catalog (still missing 2011's All Ya Needs That Negrocity), then also picked up old records from avant-jazz guitarist Joe Morris -- I found some new Ken Vandermark albums on his Catalytic Sound Bandcamp, although better still was a 2008 album Morris album with Vandermark. Unfortunately, a lot of the new Catalytic Sound albums don't come with any music, but I found several on Napster.

Another of the new Vandermark albums is under Eric Revis' name -- like his last several, a good one. It's the first album on Portugal's Clean Feed label I've reviewed since they stopped sending me CDs -- I hope they don't take the grade as positive reinforcement. I probably have download codes for more, but haven't chased them down yet. I did pick up new albums on ECM by Vijay Iyer, Tim Berne, and Gary Peacock. I spent quite a bit of time with the Iyer, and basically timed out in trying to determine whether it's an A-, so I guess it isn't. Still, the Fieldwork-times-two band dazzles here and there, and the mix is more interesting than his last couple ECM albums. Will get to the others sooner or later.

The Hamell Live album seems to be some sort of download-only bonus to the new studio album, but I figured I'd treat it as a separate release as that's how it appears on Napster. Figured it would slack off a bit, but I like it as much (if not more).

I'm a little confused about how the numbers add up, since I graded 5 CDs while only unwrapping 3 new ones, yet wound up with +3 unrated instead of -2. I've double-checked and haven't found the discrepancy.

No progress on the Jazz Guides this past week. I have started on collecting Robert Christgau's Expert Witness pieces at Noisey for a website update, probably by the end of the month. I've probably lost some of the corrections readers sent in. If you sent one in and haven't heard back from me, assume that I did and resubmit it.

I should also note that I've added @BirdIsTheWorm to my twitter feed. He probably tweets too much (13.1K tweets vs. 1815 for me, but he has 3588 followers to my 271), but I figured maybe he'd point me toward some things that I was missing, as in his latest The Round-up: What went unseen. Actually, I've seen 2 (of 5) of those new records -- both B+(*) -- but hadn't heard of the others (just added to my Music Tracking file). I also recommend following @TimothyNiland. At this moment, the front page of his Music and More blog has seven substantial album reviews on it: three of records I've heard [A-, B+(***), B+(*)], the others I will want to check out soon. (Playing Shipp as I write.)

New records rated this week:

  • Carol Albert: Fly Away Butterfly (2017, Cahara): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: All You Zombies Dig the Luminosity (2016-17 [2017], Avant Groidd): [r]: B+(***)
  • Downtown Boys: Cost of Living (2017, Sub Pop): [r]: B+(**)
  • Julian Gerstin Sextet: The One Who Makes You Happy (2017, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Laurel Halo: Dust (2017, Hyperdub): [r]: B+(*)
  • Hamell on Trial: Tackle Box (2017, New West): [r]: A-
  • Hamell on Trial: Big Mouth Strikes Again: Hamell Live (2017, New West): [r]: A-
  • Hard Working Americans: We're All in This Together (2017, Melvin): [r]: B+(***)
  • Vijay Iyer Sextet: Far From Over (2017, ECM): [r]: B+(***)
  • Lean Left: I Forgot to Breathe (2015 [2017], Trost): [r]: B+(**)
  • Charles Lloyd New Quartet: Passin' Thru (2016 [2017], Blue Note): [r]: B+(***)
  • Meredith Monk: On Behalf of Nature (2015 [2016], ECM): [r]: B+(*)
  • Richard Pinhas/Barry Cleveland: Mu (2016, Cuneiform): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Eric Revis: Sing Me Some Cry (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: A-
  • Mark Rubin, Jew of Oklahoma: Songs for the Hangman's Daughter (2017, Rubinchik): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Oliver Schwerdt: Prestige/No Smoking (2015 [2017], Euphorium, 2CD): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Ken Vandermark/Klaus Kugel/Mark Tokar: Escalator (2016 [2017], Not Two): [bc]: B+(***)
  • John Vanore: Stolen Moments: Celebrating Oliver Nelson (2016 [2017], Acoustical Concepts): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Matt Wilson: Matt Wilson's Honey and Salt (2016 [2017], Palmetto): [cd]: B+(*)

Old music rated this week:

  • Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Not April in Paris: Live From Banlieus Bleues (2004, Trugroid): [r]: B+(***)
  • Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: If You Can't Dazzle Then With Your Brilliance, Then Baffle Them With Your Blisluth (2004 [2005], Trugroid, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: More Than Posthuman: Rise of the Mojosexual Cotillion (2006, Trugroid, 2CD): B+(***)
  • Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Chopped and Screwed: Volume 2 (2007, Trugroid): [r]: B
  • Joe Morris Trio: Antennae (1997, AUM Fidelity): [r]: B+(**)
  • Joe Morris/Mat Maneri: Soul Search (2000, AUM Fidelity): [r]: B+(*)
  • Joe Morris: Singularity (2000 [2001], AUM Fidelity): [r]: B+(**)
  • Joe Morris Bass Quartet: High Definition (2007 [2008], Hatology): [r]: A-
  • Joe Morris: Mess Hall (2011 [2014], Hatology): [r]: B+(**)
  • Randy Newman: Live (1971, Reprise): [r]: B
  • Matthew Shipp: Duos With Mat Maneri and Joe Morris (1997-98 [2011], Hatology): [r]: B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Chet Doxas: Rich in Symbols (Ropeadope): September 8
  • San Francisco String Trio: May I Introduce to You (Ridgeway): September 8
  • Triocity [Charles Pillow/Jeff Campbell/Rich Thompson]: I Believe in You (Origin): August 18

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Weekend Roundup

Laura came downstairs yesterday playing Chris Hedges Best Speech in 2017 so I wound up listening to a fair chunk of it. We all know that Hedges in 2007 was a Premature Antifascist -- a term US "intelligence agencies" used to describe Americans who turned against Hitler before Pearl Harbor -- when he published his book American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, but is he still "premature" in 2017? The world he decries sounds an awful like the one we have come to live in. If there is a common theme to the stories below, it's that Trump and his crew have moved decisively into a fascist orbit: one that worships naked power while practicing shameless greed. Of course, Trump didn't invent this world. He's just risen to the top, like scum in a stockpot.

Brief scattered links this week:

  • Andrew J Bacevich: Yes Congress, Afghanistan Is Your Vietnam. Also by Bacevich: The Great Hysteria. The latter piece goes beyond his specialty area (losing hopeless wars) to spell out a political agenda which in its diagnosis of the symptoms afflicting America is remarkably similar to that of Hedges above (except, being a conservative, he doesn't blame capitalism):

    Yet these advances have done remarkably little to reduce the alienation and despair pervading a society suffering from epidemics of chronic substance abuse, morbid obesity, teen suicide, and similar afflictions. Throw in the world's highest incarceration rate, a seemingly endless appetite for porn, urban school systems mired in permanent crisis, and mass shootings that occur with metronomic regularity, and what you have is something other than the profile of a healthy society.

    He then follows this up with a ten-point political wish list, including a couple proposals I disagree with (mandate a balanced federal budget, return to a draft-based military) and other more sensible points sure to be rejected by his fellow "conservatives" (e.g., "enact tax policies that will promote greater income equality").

  • Dean Baker: The Zika Vaccine: The Miracle of Government-Funded Research. Also by Baker: Breitbart Strikes Out in Trying to Give Donald Trump Credit for Stock Market Run Up. And this tweet, introducing: Why Is It So Hard for Intellectuals to Envision Alternative Forms of Globalization?

    The upward redistribution from globalization was not an accidental outcome; it was the point of globalization.

  • Doug Bandow: North Korea Does Not Trust America for a Pretty Good Reason. For more history, see: Bruce Cummings: Americans once carpet-bombed North Korea. It's time to remember that past.

  • Celisa Calacal: These two Supreme Court cases protect police who use excessive force.

  • Marjorie Cohn: A Preemptive Strike on North Korea Would Be Catastrophic and Illegal: Well, the second point is bound to fall on deaf ears in Washington, where hardly anyone has any fear of or respect for international law. I'm not sure that Americans ever had any such fear, but for many years after 1945 they at least gave lip service to the idea of international law, and took some effort to pretend to respect it. I think this shift started with the developing Cold War in the late-1940s, as the US found it couldn't use the UN to automatically rubber-stamp its policies, but it was in the 1990s when the US stopped going through the motions. The obvious signal point was when Bush refused to sign the International Criminal Court treaty, but Bush's failure to even consider responding to the 9/11 terror attack via international law shows us how far Washington had already crawled up its own asshole. The two world wars led many people to believe that a strong system of international law was necessary to prevent further wars and genocides -- a goal which stalled under the Cold War, but should have been rekindled after the Soviet Union ended and the free market capitalism had become ubiquitous. Indeed, the mass slaughters in Yugoslavia and Rwanda spurred many nations in that direction, but the neocon ascendancy in the US derailed those efforts, and it's rare today even to find Democrats standing up for the UN, the World Court, and (especially) the ICC.

    There are still people in Washington who recognize Cohn's point about "catastrophic" -- and they're the only real defense we have against Trump's impulsiveness and recklessness. Possibly the most definitive statement of the hopelessness of Trump's evident policy of huffing and bluffing North Korea into submission is Jeffrey Lewis: The Game Is Over, and North Korea Has Won.

  • Esme Cribb: Trump TV Ad Attacks Democrats, Media as 'The President's Enemies': Several things about this ad campaign are unprecedented: I've never before seen a president actively campaigning for re-election six months after taking office, but Trump started a few months back -- especially raising money, in stark contrast to his "self-financed" 2016 campaign; Trump is actively building a "cult of personality" while at the same time claiming a false equivalency between his supporters and the nation; he takes every criticism of his program as a personal attack and tries to turn it into an attack on the nation, who in turn are at least implicitly implored to lash back; he adds an air of whininess, pleading to be allowed to be the dictator he imagined being president to be. In some ways I wish Obama had taken this tack -- if anyone ever had just cause to complain about vilification and obstructionism it was he, but he never would have proclaimed himself "our president," even though his efforts to be "a president of all the people" left his own supporters neglected.

  • Yochi Dreazen: The North Korean crisis won't end until Donald Trump stops talking.

  • John Feffer: Welcome to 2050. The 'Climate Monster' Has Arrived.

  • Katie Fite: Grouse Down: Focuses mostly on the sage grouse population in California, but her description of the political pressures has also been echoed here in Kansas, where Republicans have all but campaigned for the extermination of prairie hens -- a nuisance, evidently, to the local oil industry. Also, note that grouse hunting is a controversy in the UK: Mark Avery: Grouse shooting: half a million reasons why time's up for this appalling 'sport'.

  • Margaret Flowers: Improved Medicare for All Is the Answer: A rebuttal to the recent Nation article, Joshua Holland: Medicare for All Isn't the Solution for Universal Health Care. Flowers answers many point by positing an Improved Medicare for All Act. The real differences have to do with political will, especially in the face of special interests that make a lot of money off the current system, and stand to keep making more and more. One may critique Single Payer/Medicare for All schemes for not being able to fix all of America's many health care problems. But private insurance companies add very little value for their cut of the pie, which makes them the easiest target for reform, and therefore the obvious place to start. But also see: Steven Rosenfeld: Eleven Steps for States to Rein in Health Care Costs While Building Toward Single-Payer. Even if you support single-payer, here is a list of things that can be done (many at the state level) to help manage cost -- things that contribute to providing more/better actual care, which is what we're really looking for:

    1. Create a state-chartered body to process all medical bills with a single form.
    2. Require all private insurers to offer three uniform plans with simple rules.
    3. Create a single state agency to buy drugs for pharmacies and physicians.
    4. Restore hospital price regulation so all facilities charge the same fees.
    5. File anti-trust legal actions against monopolistic hospital networks.
    6. Put price controls in medical group contracts with private insurers.
    7. Reject spending caps for hospitals and patients as that hurts care.
    8. Ban drug company payments to doctors by their sales reps.
    9. Issue public reports on the few doctors causing most medical errors.
    10. Integrate other social safety net services with providing health care.
    11. Give the state subpoena power to review claims and find fraud.

    Also note what's going on in Maryland: Ann Jones: Medicare for All in One State.

  • Thomas Frank: Finally, Democrats are looking in the mirror. That's reason for optimism.

  • Ryan Grim: Gulf Government Gave Secret $20 Million Gift to DC Think Tank: That would be the UAE (United Arab Emirates) and the MEI (Middle East Institute).

  • Gabriel Hetland: Venezuela May Be on the Brink of Civil War: I'm having a tough time getting a coherent explanation of just what's the problem with Venezuela these days, and this doesn't answer many of my questions, but it's a start. (There's also Hetland's Why Is Venezuela in Crisis?, which cites government blundering but also a violent opposition supported by Washington, and the pre-election Greg Grandin: What Is to Be Done in Venezuela?) Of course, never underestimate the power of Donald Trump to make things even worse: Ben Jacobs: Trump threatens 'military option' in Venezuela as crisis escalates.

  • David Leonhardt: Our Broken Economy, in One Simple Chart:

    The chart measures income growth at every percentile starting with 5th, with additional subdivisions for the 99th, at two points in time: 1980 and 2014. There's also an animated chart showing the intervening years, which the lower percentiles being depressed before the top percentile really spikes after 2000. A third chart shows that average income growth dropped from 2.0% in 1980 to 1.4% in 2014, with the median dropping far more than that -- they don't pull the number out, but the median in 2014 is so depressed that only the top 15 percentile receive even the reduced average income growth.

  • Conor Lynch: Emmanuel Macron's Sudden Collapse: French 'Radical Centrist' Now as Unpopular as Trump: Oh my, that was an awfully short honeymoon. Could it be that shameless neoliberalism isn't all that popular? I've seen columns by so-called centrists speculating that Macron's model could be translated to the UK and even to the US. If the US had a top-two runoff like France, I could imagine a fairly charismatic independent (someone like a younger Ross Perot, say, but not Michael Bloomberg) getting close to Macron's first round vote (23.8%), then beating either Trump or Clinton in the runoff (although it's unlikely that either Trump or Clinton would sink that low).

  • Bill McKibben: The Trump administration's solution to climate change: ban the term. And for more on language chance on Trump government websites, see: Oliver Milman/Sam Morris: Trump is deleting climate change, one site at a time.

  • David McCoy: Even a 'Minor' Nuclear War Would Be an Ecological Disaster Felt Throughout the World: Just in case you were wondering.

  • Peter Montgomery: Trump's dominionist prayer warriors: Inside the "Prophetic Order of the United States":

    In the early morning hours of November 9, 2016, God told Frank Amedia that with Donald Trump having been elected president, Amedia and his fellow Trump-supporting "apostles" and "prophets" had a new mission. Thus was born POTUS Shield, a network of Pentecostal leaders devoted to helping Trump bring about the reign of God in America and the world. . . .

    POTUS Shield's leaders view politics as spiritual warfare, part of a great struggle between good and evil that is taking place continuously in "the heavenlies" and here on earth, where the righteous contend with demonic spirits that control people, institutions and geographic regions. They believe that Trump's election has given the church in America an opportunity to spark a spiritual Great Awakening that will engulf the nation and world. And they believe that a triumphant church establishing the kingdom of God on earth will set the stage for Christ's return. Amedia says that the "POTUS" in the group's name does not refer only to the president of the United States, but also to a new "prophetic order of the United States" that God is establishing.

    Related: Chris Hedges: What Trump Owes America's Christian Fascists.

  • Sarah Newell: Is Foxconn a Fantasy? The High Cost of Bringing Manufacturing Jobs to Wisconsin. Trump and Gov. Scott Walker are bully on a deal where giant Chinese electronics Foxconn would build a factory, adding 3000 jobs in Wisconsin, maybe 13000 eventually. All they need in return:

    In order for this plan to become a reality, the Wisconsin state legislature would need to approve $3 billion in corporate incentives to defray capital costs and workforce development costs. The math is startling: Wisconsin will pay out $230,000 in tax dollars for each one of the 13,000 jobs. This means Wisconsin taxpayers will shell out $66,000 per year to subsidize jobs that will pay less than the state average income.

  • Trita Parsi: For Netanyahu and the Saudis, Opposing Diplomacy With Iran Was Never About Enrichment: An excerpt from Parsi's new book, Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy. I suspect that the real reason both Israel and Saudi Arabia decided to take such rejectionist stands against Iran was that they realized that they could push American buttons by doing so -- most Americans have harbored deep-seated grudges against Iran ever since the fall of the Shah and the Hostage Crisis -- thereby elevating their own importance in Washington's eyes. They've doubled down since the Iran deal, and while leaving the deal intact (so far), both countries have effectively increased their influence in Washington (especially with Trump).

  • William Rivers Pitt: We Have Been at War in Iraq for 27 Years: It started in 1990, when Saddam Hussein misinterpreted ambiguous signals from a US ambassador as a go-ahead to invade Kuwait, an oil-rich sheikdom that, following American inclinations, had made large loans to Iraq for its war against Iran -- loans it then insisted Iraq must repay. The first George Bush thought he'd get a nice political boost from a quick little war, but sold it by comparing Saddam to Hitler, digging a hole for political himself when the initial Gulf War came up short -- a hole which Clinton defended and deepend through his sanctions and no-fly zones until the Bush II decided to fix it by plunging the US into a massive occupation morphing into a civil war which led to ISIS and Obama re-entering Iraq. Throughout this whole quarter-century, official Washington doctrine has blocked out any and all dissent against the ever-expanding sinkhole of Middle Eastern carnage fed by the massive introduction of US troops in 1990. Actually, one can point to a few earlier signs of the wars to come: US inheritance of British outposts around the Gulf, Carter's declaration that the Persian Gulf is an US security area, Reagan's installation of American troops in Lebanon, and US support for proxy wars against Afghanistan and Iran. Any way you slice this, the only Americans with any clue as to how this might go awry were the antiwar protesters. And note that while Pitt focuses on Iraq, US involvement in Afghanistan started in 1979 -- 38 years ago -- and is at least as far from resolution (never mind success) there as it is in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, anywhere else you find American drones and/or special forces.

  • Aja Romano: Google fird "politically incorrect" engineer has sparked a broad ideological debate: Actually, I only see a relatively narrow debate here, which is corporations can fire employees for what we would otherwise deem constitutionally protected free speech. I would favor more such protections, but these days it's hard to stop a company -- especially one without a union -- from firing anyone for any reason. The two most obvious reasons for firing this particular engineer are that he's very stupid, and that by exposing that stupidity he's embarrassed the company. But I don't see him engendering any serious debate on his claim that women aren't competent at software engineering. More on this: Cynthia Lee: I'm a woman in computer science. Let me ladysplain the Google memo to you.

  • Anis Shivani: How we got from George W. Bush to Donald Trump: Liberals had more to do with it than we'd like to think: Big thought piece which is probably a bit harsh on Obama but reminds us how extreme the Bush-Cheney agenda was, and how little of it was rolled back by Obama.

    We need to remind ourselves that the early years of the Bush administration felt utterly radical, that the defense of freedom of speech and mobility, of the civility and respect that make a constitutional democracy work, never felt so threatened, never felt more precious and worth saving, as in those years. That feeling, unfortunately, is gone now, despite Trumpism and whatever else will follow, because the anti-constitutional innovations have become normalized. This happened particularly because the succeeding Democratic administration did not take any steps to counter, philosophically, any of the constitutional violations, or even the disrespect for science, reason and empiricism that had deeply saturated the public discourse.

    I think it's fair to say that Obama left most of his anti-Bush critique on the campaign trail. I'm not sure how to partition the blame for that between his wholesale adoption of Clintonites in his administration and his innate conservatism, with its emphasis on projecting continuity and stability. Clearly, he missed the opportunity to do important things: to roll back the corrosive effects of money on politics; to return to a previous American belief in international law and institutions; and to lean back against increasing inequality. One might counter that he had difficulty enough with more modest efforts on health care, finance reform, and climate change.

    Still, the main difference between the Bush-Cheney agenda and Trump's is the relative shamelessness of the latter -- the garrish greed, the naked lust for power, and the absence of any scruples over how to get the riches they crave. You'd think that would blow up in their face -- that if nothing else the American people and media are still capable of being shocked by corruption. But then why hasn't that already happened? Can you mark that all down to "normalization"?

  • Richard Silverstein: Bibi: "This is the End, My Friend": On the corruption scandal that threatens to bring down Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, with sideward glances toward Trump's own nest feathering. Silverstein also wrote Israel to Shutter Al Jazeera, Join Ranks of Arab Authoritarian Regimes Suppressing Press Freedom. As for everyday life in Israel-Palestine, see Kate's latest news clip compendium: Settler violence against Palestinians nearly doubled from 2016 to 2017. This includes a quote from Gideon Levy about how certain nations have held themselves to be above international law and norms:

    More than 100 states signed the international treaty banning the use of cluster bombs; Israel, as usual, isn't one of them. What has Israel to do with international treaties, international law, international organizations -- it's all one big unnecessary nuisance. Israel's fellow rejectionists are, as usual, Russia, Pakistan, China, India and of course the United States, the world's greatest spiller of blood since World War II. This is the company Israel wants to keep, the club it belongs to. Cluster bombs are an especially barbarous weapon, a bomb that turns into countless bomblets, spreading over a wide area, killing and wounding indiscriminately. They sometimes explode years after were fired. The world was appalled and disgusted by such a weapon of mass destruction, and for good reason. The world -- but not Israel. We're a special case, as is commonly known. We're allowed to do anything. Why? Because we can. This has been proved. We used cluster bombs in the Second Lebanon War and the world was silent. We also use flechettes, unmercifully. In 2002 I saw a soccer field in Gaza hit by IDF flechette shells, which spray thousands of potentially lethal metal darts. All the children playing on it had been hit.

  • Matt Taibbi: Is LIBOR, Benchmark for Trillions of Dollars in Transactions, a Lie? Well, sure.

  • Clara Torres-Spelliscy: Trump Is Already Profiting From His 2020 Campaign.

  • Jason Wilson/Edward Helmore: Charlottesville: one dead after car rams counter-protesters at far-right gathering: I skipped over several articles leading up to Saturday's right-wing rally to oppose removing a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a park in Virginia, and "counter-protests" against those defending the pro-slavery icon. However, the events were interrupted when someone droves his car into the "counter-protest" crowd, killing one and injuring 19, then managed to drive off. A police helicopter later crashed in the area, adding two to the death toll.

    Related links: Sheryl Gay Stolberg/Brian H Rosenthal: Man Charged After White Nationalist Rally in Charlottesville Ends in Deadly Violence; Summer Concepcion: David Duke: Charlottesville Rally 'Fulfills the Promises of Donald Trump; Esme Cribb: What We Know About the Man Accused of Ramming Car Into C'Ville Protesters; Michael Eric Dyson: Charlottesville and the Bigotocracy; Josh Matshall: "I'm Not the Angry Racist They See in That Photo" (complains a misunderstood white guy; but when you go around complaining about "the slow replacement of white heritage within the United States" -- when you even think "white heritage" is a thing -- you're racist); Colbert L King: These are your people, President Trump; Glenn Thrush/Maggie Haberman: Trump Is Criticized for Not Calling Out White Supremacists; Esme Cribb: Trump Didn't Want to 'Dignify' White Supremacy by Condemning It (but he has no qualms about dignifying "radical Islamic terror" or Rosie O'Donnell?); German Lopez: We need to stop acting like Trump isn't pandering to white supremacists; and, just for historical context: Philip Bump: In 1927, Donald Trump's father was arrested after a Klan riot in Queens. One thing I noticed during the campaign was that Trump was quick to reverse himself whenever he inadvertently blurted out something contrary to conservative doctrine -- as when he initially argued that women seeking abortions should be punished -- but he never apologized for the violence of his supporters, nor did he ever disown the white supremacists who rallied to his cause.

  • Jana Winter/Elias Groll: Here's the Memo That Blew Up the NSC: The author was Rich Higgins, a Flynn acolyte who has since been fired:

    The full memo, dated May 2017, is titled "POTUS & Political Warfare." It provides a sweeping, if at times conspiratorial, view of what it describes as a multi-pronged attack on the Trump White House.

    Trump is being attacked, the memo says, because he represents "an existential threat to cultural Marxist memes that dominate the prevailing cultural narrative." Those threatened by Trump include "'deep state' actors, globalists, bankers, Islamists, and establishment Republicans."

  • Zak Witus: To Combat Trump's Attacks on Democracy, We Must Understand Precedents Set by Obama: "Seven months into the Trump presidency, many people still deny how some of Donald Trump's most regressive and harmful policies directly continue the legacy of Barack Obama." That's true in a number of cases ranging from prosecution of "leakers" to brutal ICE tactics to Saudi arms sales and drone murders around the world, though the bigger problem is that Obama failed "to change the way we think about war" and many more things -- race, equality, the culture of corruption. Part of that was his "no drama" pledge to restore competency to government after the politicized corruption of the Bush years -- something he rarely claimed credit for, and which few Americans even noticed. One thing about Trump is that he has no quibbles about taking credit for "good" things, regardless of how little he was actually involved, while chalking all of his obvious failures up to "fake news."

  • Matthew Yglesias: What to know about the biggest stories of the week: We had a lot of loose talk about nuclear war; Trump feudud with Mitch McConnell; the opioid crisis gets an official "state of emergency"; Paul Manafort seems to be in legal trouble. Other Yglesias pieces this week: Trump's new immigration plan would make Americans poorer; Big business wants you to think a tax cut for big business will stop outsourcing; The looming debt ceiling fight, explained; Donald Trump gets a daily briefing all about how great he is.

When I looked at Crooked Timber I noticed that Laura Tillem had one of the recent comments. It was in response to Henry Farrell's Five Books, listing five novels:

  • John Le Carré, A Perfect Spy
  • Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend
  • Dennis Lehane, The Given Day
  • Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings
  • Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies

I had to look up the authors (although I guessed 3/5, maybe 4). We were recently talking about how much I enjoyed the 1998 BBC/PBS series of Our Mutual Friend, and we had recently watched the 1987 TV rendition of A Perfect Spy (which I didn't much care for). I doubt I've read enough novels (probably about 50, which wouldn't last my wife a year) to construct such a list -- only obvious one is Thomas Pynchon, V., though the unfinished Gravity's Rainbow might have wound up even better.

I probably could offer a list of non-fiction:

  • George P Brockway, The End of Economic Man: Principles of Any Future Economics
  • Geert Mak, In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century
  • John McPhee, Annals of the Former World
  • Jan Myrdal, Angkor: An Essay on Art and Imperialism
  • David Quammen, The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions

My "recent books" roll currently runs 552 books, so that at least is a sample (roughly from 2003 to the present), although only one of the books listed above comes from it (Mak's magnificent history-qua-travelogue).

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Book Roundup

This is only the second Book Roundup I've done this year -- the last one was back on April 26, with the second most recent, on August 21, 2016, dating from almost a year ago. Limiting myself to 40 blurbs per post, I should be able to do one of these every other month (six times a year), but it's hard to get into the right research mode. Still, when I do, I tend to overshoot, coming up with two or more posts in rapid succession (five is my current record). Right now I only have 18 leftover blurbs in the scratch file, but I expect it won't be hard to round them up to a second post.

I suppose one thing that helps thin them out is that I recently started adding a section listing books without blurbs -- gives me a way I can note the existence of something without having to take the time to write much. I don't count those books under my 40 limit. On occasion I've also noted paperback reprints of previously noted books, and there are some of those below. The Thomas Frank and Jane Mayer books were written before the 2016 election, but they turned out to be the year's most prophetic books (note that both paperbacks have post-election I-told-you-so afterwords).

Most recently I've been reading Hacker and Pierson, a book that's been sitting on my shelves a fair while. Its paean to "the mixed economy" could be sharper, but its review of the political forces that stripped us of past keys to prosperity is reasonably thorough. I would add that the more you forget about how things work, and the more you adopt ideas that are just plain wrong, the deeper you enter into what the late Jane Jacobs recognized as "the coming dark age."

Going through this list, some books that I either already have or am particularly likely to pick up are Andrew Bacevich: America's War for the Greater Middle East, Michael Chabon/Ayelet Waldman: Kingdom of Olives and Ash, Michael J Hudson: J Is for Junk Economics, Ibram X Kendi: Stamped From the Beginning, Nancy McLean: Democracy in Chains, Nathan Thrall: The Only Language They Understand. I'll also note that my wife is currently listening to China Miéville: October. One thing I've learned from this book so far is that the Bolsheviks came out on top because they were the only party willing to walk away from the disastrous World War.

Tariq Ali: The Dilemmas of Lenin: Terrorism War Empire Love Revolution (2017, Verso Books): One expects that the centenary of the Russian Revolution will produce the usual spate of new books, so this is nominally one of them. But for a good while now we've known that in his last couple years Lenin was unhappy about the drift of his revolution, so it's never been quite fair to blame him for the whole dead weight of the Stalinist system. Not sure whether Ali can freshen him up in any useful way, but it's worth noting that the hopes that many people held for the workers' paradise weren't wrong, even if they were somewhat misplaced. Forthcoming [Sept. 19]: Slavoj Zizek: Lenin 2017: Remembering, Repeating, and Working Through (2017, Verso Books).

Jon Bakija/Lane Kenworthy/Peter Lindert/Jeff Madrick: How Big Should Our Government Be? (paperback, 2016, University of California Press): Looks like each author gets separate chapters around the question. The only one I'm familiar with is Madrick, who wrote The Case for Big Government (2008), so you know where he's going. Right-wingers have argued for shrinking federal government back to an arbitrarily small percent of GDP, a level not seen since Calvin Coolidge, although few of them are on record in favor of shrinking the federal government's most cancerous tumor, the Department of Defense, proportionately. Even so, they've shown no allowance for the ways the world has changed since the 1920s, such as the much greater complexity of the marketplace, the need for a much more skilled and knowledgeable workforce, the need for modern transportation and communication networks, the impacts of larger population and production on the environment, and many other things -- even if (like me) you think the growth of the "defense" and "security" sectors (i.e., war and repression) is largely bogus. I would go further and argue that public takeover of dysfunctional markets like health care would be a good idea, as well as some way to subsidize creative development of products that can be freely mass-produced (like software and many forms of art). I don't see how you can map any of these needs to a fixed size, so size itself isn't a very good measure.

John Berger: Portraits: John Berger on Artists (2015, Verso Books): Art critic and novelist, died earlier this year at 90, his early books Art and Revolution (1969), The Moment of Cubism (1969), Ways of Seeing (1972), and About Looking (1980) had a huge effect of me personally. This is a collection of 74 pieces on more/less famous artists, starting with the Chauvet Cave Painters but quickly jumping to Bosch (6) and Michelangelo (11), and ending with ten names born post-1950 (most, sad to say, unknown to me). The sort of book you're bound to learn a lot from. Tom Overton edited this, and also: Landscapes: John Berger on Art (2016, Verso Books). Also recent: John Berger: Confabulations (paperback, 2016, Penguin Books); Lapwing & Fox: Conversations Between John Berger and John Christine (2016, Objectif).

Heather Boushey/J Bradford DeLong/Marshall Steinbaum, eds: After Piketty: The Agenda for Economics and Inequality (2017, Harvard University Press): Large (688 pp) collection of essays on Thomas Piketty's pathbreaking book Capital in the Twenty-First Century and the myriad problems associated with increasing inequality.

Michael Chabon/Ayelet Waldman, eds: Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation (paperback, 2017, Harper Perennial): Connecting with Breaking the Silence, a number of well known writers (mostly novelists) took a tour of Israel and its Occupied Territories, and chronicled what they found as they bear "witness to the human cost of the occupation."

Frans de Waal: Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? (2016, WW Norton): Interesting question, most likely one the biologist/primatologist has much fun poking holes in. More or less related: Jennifer Ackerman: The Genius of Birds (2016, Penguin); Jonathan Balcombe: What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins (2016, Farrar Straus and Giroux); Charles Foster: Being a Beast: Adventures Across the Species Divide (2016, Metropolitan Books); Sy Montgomery: The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness (paperback, 2016, Avila); Virginia Morell: Animal Wise: How We Know Animals Think and Feel (paperback, 2014, Broadway Books); Carl Salina: Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel (paperback, 2015, Picador).

Bill Emmott: The Fate of the West: The Battle to Save the World's Most Successful Political Idea (2017, Economist Books): British, editor of The Economist, same basic shtick as Edward Luce: The Retreat of Western Liberalism. Blames Moscow, Beijing, but also Washington, and locates "the west" as much in Tokyo and Seoul as in Europe, the idea being the promise of neoliberalism (if not necessarily the reality): "It relies on the operation and staunch defense of several principles, first among them relative equality of income and opportunity as well as openness . . . An open society is thus one of porous borders rather than of walls, friendly to free trade agreements as opposed to protectionist tariffs, outward-looking rather than nationalist." Perhaps the idea wouldn't be fairing so poorly if the practice did a better job of delivering the promised broad-based wealth. The recent Brexit vote provides a detailed map of who wins and loses from open borders.

Niall Ferguson: Kissinger: 1923-1968: The Idealist (2015, Penguin Press): Hagiography, based on access to private papers, the first installment of a "magisterial two-volume biography," written by a pseudo-scholar with politics and morals flexible enough for the task. Anyone else would subtitle the second volume War Criminal, even if the time frame had to extend beyond 1976. But my guess is that Ferguson is thinking of The Realist, a suitable philosophical refuge for idealists once their hands get bloody. Myself, I'm more inclined to call this period The Bullshit Artist, then look for something even more scatological to follow.

Peter Fleming: The Mythology of Work: How Capitalism Persists Despite Itself (paperback, 2015, Pluto Press): Argues that "neoliberal society uses the ritual of work (and the threat of its denial) to maintain the late capitalist class order," despite all sorts of technological and cultural changes that could reduce the class-definitional role of work toward the sidelines. In the US you might want to substitute "jobs" for "work," and I-don't-know for "neoliberal society" -- the corporate-political system? Also wrote Resisting Work: The Corporatization of Life and Its Discontents (paperback, 2015, Temple University Press).

James Forman Jr: Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America (2017, Farrar Straus and Giroux): How many black politicians got wrapped up in the post-1970 "war on crime" and its attendant mass incarceration. Forman worked six years as a public defender, a stark contrast to other jobs on his resume, like Supreme Court clerk and Yale Law School professor.

Thomas L Friedman: Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations (2016, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Anyone who can get away with as many clichés and as much cant as Friedman must truly feel blessed. However, the very facts and trends that makes him so optimistic signify little more than mental rot to me. For more, see Matt Taibbi's review.

Kelly Fritsch/Clare O'Connor/AK Thompson, eds: Keywords for Radicals: The Contested Vocabulary of Late-Capitalist Struggle (paperback, 2015, AK Press): Recalling Raymond Williams' Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1976), the activist-editors and forty-some contributors attempt to map contemporary movements by their jargon, terminology, language. Probably a worthy undertaking, interesting to me because I opened a file recently under the same rubric, but not to explore language so much as to offer a framework for hanging short topical essays on. Williams' book goes deeper into history and etymology -- he was, after all, primarily a literary critic. Best case this one does too. Worst case it tries to codify some form of "political correctness" -- to pick a term that postdates Williams' work.

Bruce Cannon Gibney: A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America (2017, Hachette): Author is a venture capitalist, a guy who made a fortune mostly betting on high-tech start ups, so it's rather ripe for him to blame a whole generation for the short-sighted squandering of the unprecedented wealth many Americans enjoyed after the Great Depression and WWII. He berates "a generation whose reckless self-indulgence degraded the foundations of American prosperity . . . [who] ruthlessly enriched themselves as the expense of future generations . . . turned American dynamism into stagnation, inequality, and bipartisan fiasco." That all happened, and I think it is fair to say that the Boomer generation, which grew up with postwar prosperity and its focus on individual freedom was further removed from the previous generation than is generally the case, but those effects the author describes as sociopathic were just one political strain in a broad spectrum, that of the resurgent right-wing and its promotion of often predatory greed. Perhaps the author has some other political agenda, but offhand this looks like he's representative of the rarefied class that captured the nation's wealth then blamed the less fortunate for their "entitlements." Just who are the real sociopaths here?

Joshua Green: Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency (2017, Penguin): Campaign reporting, focusing on Bannon -- presumably the Devil in the title, although it's since become clear that he picked a very leaky and unstable vessel for his machinations. I have no idea what Bannon's been able to accomplish since moving into the White House. During the campaign he provided Trump with a gloss of fascist aesthetics and a whiff of ideological coherence distinct from the usual run of conservative nostrums -- that probably contributed to Trump's win, but was far less significant than Hillary's failures, the lock-step support of the Koch/Republican machines, and the amazing gullibility of so much media and so many people. On the other hand, one might cast Trump as the Devil, and explore why Bannon would invest all his hare-brained ideological fantasies in such a shoddy salesman. I suppose because doing so made him famous, and in America fame is merchantable (and money is everything).

Chris Hedges: Unspeakable: Talks With David Talbot About the Most Forbidden Topics in America (2016, Hot Books): Conversations, evidently the publisher has a series of these. Hedges was a divinity student who left the church and became a prize-winning war journalist, then the more he saw the more he moved to the left. Among his books: American Fascists, written back in 2007.

Michael Hudson: J Is for Junk Economics: A Guide to Reality in an Age of Deception (paperback, 2017, Islet): Presented as a "companion" to his 2015 book, Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Destroy the Global Economy. Starts with an "A-to-Z" of key economic terms, nothing that "economic vocabulary is defined by today's victors -- the rentier financial class," and working to unmask their spin. Follows up with several scattered essays, like "The 22 Most Pervasive Economic Myths of Our Time," "Economics as Fraud," and "Methodology Is Ideology, and Dictates Policy." He was one of the first to recognize the real estate bubble of the 2000's and predict its bust -- a now obvious point that all but a few conventional economists missed.

Frederic Jameson: An American Utopia: Dual Power and the Universal Army (paperback, 2016, Verso): Marxist literary critic and political theorist -- I must have a copy of his 1971 Marxism and Form: Twentieth Century Dialectical Theories in Literature somewhere upstairs -- takes a shot at sketching out his utopia in the lead essay here, followed by nine responses edited by Slavoj Zizek (only other author I recognize is novelist Kim Stanley Robinson). I haven't read any of his later books, most recently (all Verso): Raymond Chandler: The Detections of Totality (2016); The Ancients and the Postmoderns: On the Historicity of Forms (2015); The Antinomies of Realism (2013, Verso); Representing 'Capital': A Reading of Volume One (2011); The Hegel Variations: On the Phenomenology of Spirit (2010); Valences of the Dialectic (2009).

Matthew Karp: This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy (2016, Harvard University Press): When I think of southerners running US foreign policy, I think of James Byrne's decisive role in launching the Cold War, and later Lyndon Johnson plotting a coup in Brazil as well as "Americanizing" the civil war in Vietnam. But this goes back to the first half of the nineteenth century, before the South tried to secede from the union, a period when prominent southerners agitated to expand American power south and west, and thereby to buttress and advance their system of slavery. I suppose you can start with the Louisiana Purchase and the Monroe Doctrine, as well as the Mexican War and the annexation of Texas, but there were other schemes that didn't come to fruition, notably the desire to annex Cuba as a "slave state."

Ibram X Kendi: Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (2016; paperback, 2017, Nation Books): I've long thought that the "definitive" history was Winthrop Jordan's monumental White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812, which won the National Book Award for 1968, but that book was focused more on the early development of Anglo-American racism. Those ideas have since been recapitulated (sometimes with mutations) in many ways up to the present day -- the key to Kendi's own National Book Award winning tome. Many reviewers describe this book as "painful" -- often citing the skewering of otherwise admirable abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison for adopting racial stereotypes (the book consists of five parts built around individuals: Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, Garrison, WEB DuBois, and Angela Davis). I don't know whether the author adopts a fatalist position on the racist ideas, but I believe that their persistence has everything to do with increasing inequality, much as the origins of those ideas had everything to do with exploiting negro labor. As Kendi argues: "Hate and ignorance have not driven the history of racist ideas in America. Racist policies have driven the history of racist ideas in America."

Naomi Klein: No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump's Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need (paperback, 2017, Haymarket Books): Describes Trump as "a logical extension of the worst and most dangerous trends of the past half-century" -- trends Klein has made a career of writing about; e.g., No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies (2000), The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007), This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (2014).

James Kwak: Economism: Bad Economics and the Rise of Inequality (2017, Pantheon): A primer on how "Economics 101" is wrapped up in political biases which promote inequality, passing it off as the genius of markets. Another book along the same lines: Joe Earle/Cahal Moran/Zach Ward-Perkins: The Econocracy: The Perils of Leaving Economics to the Experts (paperback, 2016, Machester University Press); also Michael Hudson: J Is for Junk Economics: A Guide to Reality in an Age of Deception (paperback, 2017, Islet).

Guy Laron: The Six-Day War: The Breaking of the Middle East (2017, Yale University Press): Fifty years later, has the advantage of recently declassified documents. "The Six-Day War effectively sowed the seeds for the downfall of Arab nationalism, the growth of Islamic extremism, and the animosity between Jews and Palestinians." The latter started much earlier, but the war led to a massive increase in the number of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation, and started the great land grab known as the Settler Movement -- so, yes, it did much to poison relations. I don't know if Laron discloses anything new about the run up to the war -- 90% of the book is on the events before the war itself -- but it seems pretty clear to me that Ben-Gurion regarded the 1950 armistices as temporary stays while Israel gathered strength to launch new offensives to grab the various territories they've long coveted. Their military success changed the nation's psychology, as they stopped paying heed to world law and opinion, and set out on their own arrogant path, trusting only in their own brute force and cunning.

Chris Lehmann: The Money Cult: Capitalism, Christianity, and the Unmaking of the American Dream (2016, Melville House): A book on how often throughout America's history Christianity has upheld and celebrated economic iniquity -- "the pursuit of profit, as well as the inescapability of economic inequality."

Edward Luce: The Retreat of Western Liberalism (2017, Atlantic Monthly Press): British political writer, has covered both Washington and New Delhi for Financial Times. No relation to Henry Luce, but you get the feeling he'd like to occupy a similar perch, but where Henry proclaimed "the American century," Edward bemoans its eclipse, lamenting both the decline of western power in the world and the erosion of Democratic norms in the west. At first blush, this all has a whiff of "white man's burden" to it. Not sure if that's fair, but one should note that the assault on liberal democracy in America and elsewhere comes almost exclusively from entrenched elites whose "populist" pitch is purely cynical.

Nancy McLean: Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America (2017, Viking): This traces the Koch political machine back to the ideas of an Nobel prize-winning economist, James McGill Buchanan (1919-2013), a president of the Mont Pelerin Society, distinguished senior fellow at the Cato Institute, and professor at George Mason U. -- although the reality has more to do with the Kochs' money than with Buchanan's ideas (which included the book Why I, Too, Am Not a Conservative: The Normative Vision of Classical Liberalism). Should be an interesting book (in my queue, anyway).

Viet Tranh Nguyen: Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (2016, Harvard University Press): Vietnamese novelist, moved to US at age 4, won a Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Sympathizer, writes about how most or all sides remember the war and aftermath he grew up in.

Thomas M Nichols: The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters (2017, Oxford University Press): My own impression is that we don't lack for expertise, but as inequality increases so does the temptation for experts to hire themselves out to private interests, which in turn makes people more suspicious of experts. The author seems more inclined to blame the internet for 'foster[ing] a cult of ignorance" -- but that strikes me as a secondary effect.

PJ O'Rourke: How the Hell Did This Happen? The Election of 2016 (2017, Atlantic Monthly Press): Famed right-wing humorist, not that he was ever very funny -- if you ever bother to scan through conservative editorial cartoons you'll get a sense of how low the bar is -- but do you really want to bother with lines like this: "America is experiencing the most severe outbreak of mass psychosis since the Salem witch trials of 1692. So why not put Hillary on the dunking stool?"

Ilan Pappé: Ten Myths About Israel (paperback, 2017, Verso Books): Only ten? Some are big ones, long since debunked, like that Palestine was "a land without people" (therefore perfect for "a people without land"), that Palestinians who fled their homes in 1947-49 did so voluntarily, and that Israel had no choice but to start the 1967 war. I don't have the full list, but they evidently extend to Israel's rationalizations for its periodic assaults on Gaza and the question of why people who have repeatedly sabotaged the "two state solution" still insist it's the only one possible. Pappé has written many important books on Israel and the Palestinians, especially The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2007), and more recently The Idea of Israel: A History of Power and Knowledge (2014).

Keith Payne: The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live, and Die (2017, Viking): Textbooks on inequality invariably start with lists or charts of numbers -- after all, the most straightforward thing you can do with money is count it. However, the problem with inequality has never just been who gets (deservedly or not) what. Every bit as important is how it makes us think and behave toward each other. Several books have explored these ways -- e.g., how inequality worsens health care outcomes, even beyond the correlation between inequal societies and crappy health care systems -- although this promises to delve deeper into experimental psychology.

Charles Peters: We Do Our Part: Toward a Fairer and More Equal America (2017, Random House): Founder and long-time editor of The Washington Monthly, a journal I've long admired both for its heart-felt liberal bearings and its shrewd analysis of what government can and cannot do. And while he would like to point us toward "fairer and more equal," the trajectory he's recognized since 1970 has been pointed the other way. (Although I've lately discovered that he coined the term "neo-liberal" and seems to have a dark side -- especially an antipathy to unions, which for many years were the most effective and practical advocates for "a fairer and more equal America.")

Kate Raworth: Doughnut Economics: 7 Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist (2017, Chelsea Green): The doughnut image depicts "a sweet spot of human prosperity" -- where economics should aim for widespread human satisfaction, as opposed to the 20th-century (and earlier) obsession with scarcity and growth. The seven ways are better captured by their subtitles: from GDP to the Doughnut; from self-contained market to embedded economy; from rational economic man to social adaptable humans; from mechanical equilibrium to dynamic complexity; from 'growth will even it up again' to distributive by design; from 'growth will clean it up again' to regenerative by design; from growth addicted to growth agnostic. The last few years have seen a rash of books complaining about how economic theory is shot through with false and damaging assumptions, so it was only a matter of time before someone tried to build a new understanding around more contemporary goals.

TR Reid: A Fine Mess: A Global Quest for a Simpler, Fairer, and More Efficient Tax System (2017, Penguin Press): Author of a very good international survey of health care systems, The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care (2009), tries to work the same magic by comparing tax codes around the world. While he's probably correct that the US tax code (plus the huge state-by-state variations and wrinkles for other taxing authorities) is "a fine mess," and that other nations have come up with "tax regimes that are equitable, effective, and easy on the taxpayer," the whole issue seems much less important. It is, however, something that Republicans obsess on, as with most things usually with an eye toward making it much worse.

Walter Scheidel: The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality From the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century (2017, Princeton University Press): A rather depressing argument: he argues that inequality has been the default state of civilization ever since agriculture started producing surpluses that predatory elites could seize. The exceptional periods of leveling only seem to occur due to wars and other disasters. One might still hope that reason might come to our rescue, but empiricists are unconvinced.

Gershon Shafir: A Half Century of Occupation: Israel, Palestine, and the World's Most Intractable Conflict (2017, University of California Press): Fiftieth anniversary of 1967, when Israel dismantled its internal military occupation and seized new territory from Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, allowing them to bring back military occupation on an even larger scale. Author has written a number of books on the conflict, going back as far as Land, Labor, and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflit 1882-1914.

Thomas M Shapiro: Toxic Inequality: How America's Wealth Gap Destroys Mobility, Deepens the Racial Divide, and Threatens Our Future (2017, Basic Books): We certainly need more books that come up with vivid examples of how inequality poisons social and political and economic relationships, which is what this title promises. Focuses on race, which follows up from the author's previous The Hidden Cost of Being African American: How Wealth Perpetuates Inequality. One thing that should be obvious is that you can't achieve racial equality in an era of increasing wealth/income inequality.

Steven Slowan/Philip Fernbach: The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone (2017, Riverhead): "Humans have built hugely complex societies and technologies, but most of us don't even know how a pen or a toilet works." (For the record, I can answer both of those, although never having read about pens -- unless Henry Petroski's book on pencils ventured there -- I'd have to offer a guess there, based on other principles I understand.) But the basic idea is sound. I'm not sure what the authors draw from this, but I'd say that one important thing is that as we become ever more dependent on advanced technology, it becomes ever more important that we develop social relations that increase trust. This in turn implies several changes: we need to cultivate more widespread expertise; we need to make that information more open; and we need to shift incentives for experts toward openness and generosity and away from selfishness and exploitation. I should also add that this has generally been the direction over the last couple centuries, hand in hand with technological advancement. But all this is increasingly at risk because various business and political interests find it more profitable to appropriate and monetize "knowledge" -- for a sketch of the possible outcomes here, see Peter Frase's Four Futures.

Wolfgang Streeck: How Will Capitalism End? (2016, Verso): Depicts a world of "declining growth, oligarchic rule, a shrinking public sphere, institutional corruption, and international anarchy," adding up to instability, probably collapse, certainly a need for profound change. Contradictions of capitalism has been a staple of Marxist thought for 150 years now, so even if the author doesn't come up with an answer to his question, he has plenty of theory to build on. Streeck also wrote Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism (2nd edition, paperback, 2017, Verso).

Nathan Thrall: The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine (2017, Metropolitan Books): Hard to think about the conflict without considering how to end it, especially if you're an American, since we've long assumed that our mission on Earth is to oversee some sort of agreement. Thrall has been following the conflict closely for some time now, and writes up what he's figured out: that the only way it ends is if some greater power wills it. The title has a certain irony in that the Israelis, following the British before them, have often said that violence is the only language the Palestinians understand. But as students of the conflict should know by now, the only times Israel has compromised or backed down have been when they been confronted with substantial force: as when Eisenhower prodded them to leave Sinai in 1956, when Carter brokered their 1979 peace with Egypt, when Rabin ended the Intifada by recognizing the PLO, or when Barak withdrew Israeli forces from Lebanon in 2000. Since then no progress towards resolution has been made because no one with the power to influence Israel has had the will to do so -- although Israel's frantic reactions against BDS campaigns shows their fear of such pressure. On the other hand, one should note that force itself has its limits: Palestinians have compromised on many things, but some Israeli demands -- ones that violate norms for equal human rights -- are always bound to generate resistance. What makes the conflict so intractable now is that Israel has so much relative power that they're making impossible demands. So while Thrall would like to be even-handed and apply external force to both sides, it's Israel that needs to move its stance to something mutually tolerable. The other big questions are who would or could apply this force, and why. Up to 2000, the US occasionally acted, realizing that its regional and world interests transcended its affection for Israel, but those days have passed, replaced by token, toothless gestures, if any at all. It's hard to see that changing -- not just because Israel has so much practice manipulating US politics but because America has largely adopted Israeli norms of inequality and faith in brute power.

Bassem Youssef: Revolution for Dummies: Laughing Through the Arab Spring (2017, Dey Street Books): Egyptian, dubbed "the Jon Stewart of the Arabic World," had a popular television show during the brief period when that was possible -- the brief, unpopular period of democracy sandwiched between the even less popular (but who's counting?) Mubarak and Sisi dictatorships.

Other recent books also noted:

Gilad Atzmon: Being in Time: A Post-Political Manifesto (paperback, 2017, Interlink)

Nir Baram: A Land Without Borders: My Journey Around East Jerusalem and the West Bank (paperback, 2017, Text)

Mark Bowden: Hue 1968: A Turning Point in the American War in Vietnam (2017, Atlantic Monthly Press)

Noam Chomsky: Optimism Over Despair: On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change (paperback, 2017, Haymarket Books): interviews by CJ Polychroniou.

Joan Didion: South and West: From a Notebook (2017, Knopf)

Richard Falk: Palestine's Horizon: Toward a Just Peace (paperback, 2017, Pluto Press)

Al Franken: Giant of the Senate (2017, Twelve)

Henry A Giroux: America at War With Itself (paperback, 2016, City Lights Press)

Al Gore: An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (paperback, 2017, Rodale Books)

Jeremy R Hammond: Obstacle to Peace: The US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (paperback, 2016, Worldview)

Yaakov Katz/Amir Bohbot: The Weapon Wizards: How Israel Became a High-Tech Military Superpower (2017, St Martin's Press)

China Miéville: October: The Story of the Russian Revolution (2017, Verso)

Vijay Prashad: The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution (paperback, 2016, University of California Press)

David Roediger: Class, Race, and Marxism (2017, Verso Books)

Alice Rothchild: Condition Critical: Life and Death in Israel/Palestine (paperback, 2017, Just World Books)

Raja Shehadeh: Where the Line Is Drawn: A Tale of Crossings, Friendships, and Fifty Years of Occupation in Israel-Palestine (2017, New Press)

Peter Temin: The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy (2017, MIT Press)

Also, some previously mentioned books new in paperback:

Andrew J Bacevich: America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History (2016; paperback, 2017, Random House): A self-styled conservative, but a useful critic of militarism in post-Vietnam America (see 2005's The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War). As the Cold War wound down, the military pivoted to focus on the Middle East, most dramatically with the 1990-91 Gulf War, which turned into a 12-year containment project aimed at Iraq, and boosted by 9/11 backlash into a massive war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and more clandestine operations from Libya to Yemen and Somalia to Pakistan.

David Daley: Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America's Democracy (2016; paperback, 2017, Liveright): More nuts-and-bolts on how the right-wing -- the financiers of the Koch Bros. dark money networks -- has plotted its takeover of American democracy, especially by targeting and capturing state legislatures.

Thomas Frank: Listen, Liberal: Or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (2016; paperback, 2017, Picador): Shows how the Democratic Party, especially since the arrival of Bill Clinton in 1992, has triangulated its way into the good graces of bicoastal urban elites more often than not at the expense of the party's old base -- people they could continue to take advantage of because the Republicans have left them nowhere else to go. This was damning and embarrassing when it came out last summer, and after white working class voters flocked to elect Trump over Hillary people started pointing to this book as prescient. Paperback includes an afterword where the author gets to "I told you so." Real question is whether the Democratic Party moving forward can learn from its mistakes. A good place to start is here.

Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper (2016; paperback, 2017, Simon & Schuster): Argues that ever since Madison and Hamilton crafted a strong federalist constitution, America has benefited from a strong activist government, one that regulated commerce to limit market failures, that made major investments in infrastructure, and eventually built a modern safety net -- lessons that too many Americans have forgotten as narrow-minded business interests have sought to capture government for their own greedy ends.

Jane Mayer: Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionairse Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (2016; paperback, 2017, Anchor): To assess the disaster of the 2016 elections, it is not only important to look at the shortcomings of the Democrats -- start with Thomas Frank: Listen, Liberal before you move on to Jonathan Allen/Arnie Parnes: Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign -- but also at what made the Republicans so effective, mostly a huge clandestine political machine only marginally connected to the RNC and/or the Trump Campaign, largely funded by the Koch Bros. and their fellow travelers. This is the best book on the latter, and the paperback as an "I told you so" afterword. Still, Mayer's excavation of these misanthropes has only barely begun.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28508 [28490] rated (+18), 375 [365] unrated (+10).

Basically took a break for the latter half of the week (Wednesday to Saturday). Main reason: Korean dinner. For this stretch, I mostly played CDs from one of my travel cases: Lilly Allen, Beautiful South, Bobby Bland, Manu Chao, Dance Floor Divas, Duke Ellington/Coleman Hawkins, English Beat, Franco, Girl Group Greats, Mighty Sparrow, Roger Miller, Van Morrison, Nigeria 70, Pet Shop Boys, Public Enemy, Wilson Pickett, Shirelles, Phil Spector, Velvet Underground, Mary Wells, Hank Williams. That, plus the work, kept me in a pretty good mood.

Before that, I was probably off to a typical week. The Tyshawn Sorey album took a bit of time, and I think I probably played the Elan Pauer (the only other CD in the list below) 3-4 times. Evidently Pauer is an alias for Oliver Schwerdt -- he also sent me a 2-CD under that name, one of a fair number of things in a suddenly resurgent queue (seems to be split evenly between September-October releases and things already out). For a long stretch the queue had been so depleted I stopped paying much attention to it, but I got more records in the mail last week than in any week for many months.

I spent Sunday playing Randy Newman. Robert Christgau proclaimed his new Dark Matter an "album of the year contender" on Friday. I still don't hear anything like that, but gave it five plays before parking it in the bottom half of my 2017 A-List -- didn't want to underrate it as badly as I had Harps and Angels, but I still doubt I'll wind up liking it as much. I had heard "Putin" on a late night show, and it seemed pretty awful at the time. It's funnier here with orchestra and "the Putin girls" chorus. But the opener (whence the title, but not its title) is an awkward, incoherent mess, and "Brothers" is just a bummer until it breaks into a celebration of Celia Cruz. Good song about the original Sonny Boy Williamson, and "She Chose Me" works for him.

I also went back through the Songbooks -- I had given Vol. 2 a B+(**), but missed Vol. 1 and Vol. 3, and wound up replaying the whole 3-CD "box" to pick up the songs Bob mentioned that were left off Vol. 3: "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country" as timely as it was in 2008 (the death of one of those Supreme Court Italians proving inconsequential), but I'm not hip enough to his irony to stomach his 2012 "I'm Dreaming [of a white president]" ("he won't be the brightest/ but he'll be the whitest/ and I'll vote for that"). The box does offer a really terrific "A Wedding in Cherokee County."

I bumped up the grade of Lana Del Rey's Lust for Life from where I had it last Monday. Among other things, it offers a sharper political commentary than Newman does. We need more people demanding "the fucking truth." And while she's right that "critics can be mean sometimes" I'm not feeling that now.

New records rated this week:

  • Anat Cohen: Rosa Dos Ventos (2017, Anzic): [r]: B
  • Anat Cohen & Marcello Gonçalves: Outra Coisa: The Music of Moacir Santos (2017, Anzic): [r]: B+(**)
  • Lana Del Rey: Lust for Life (2017, Interscope): [r]: A-
  • Billy Flynn: Lonesome Highway (2017, Delmark): [r]: B
  • Paul Heaton + Jacqui Abbott: Crooked Calypso (2017, Virgin EMI): [r]: B+(*)
  • Randy Newman: Dark Matter (2017, Nonesuch): [r]: A-
  • Elan Pauer: Yamaha/Speed (2015 [2017], Creative Sources): [cd]: B+(***)
  • John Pizzarelli: Sinatra & Jobim @ 50 (2017, Concord): [r]: B-
  • Skyzoo: Peddler Themes (2017, First Generation Rich/Empire, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Tyshawn Sorey: Verisimilitude (2016 [2017], Pi): [cd]: A-
  • Tyler, the Creator: Flower Boy (2017, Odd Future/Columbia): [r]: B

Old music rated this week:

  • Bill Frisell: Ghost Town (1999 [2000], Nonesuch): [r]: B+(*)
  • Randy Newman: The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 1 (2003, Nonesuch): B+(*)
  • Randy Newman: The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 3 (2016, Nonesuch): [r]: B+(***)
  • Randy Newman: The Randy Newman Songbook (2003-16 [2016], Nonesuch, 3CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • John Pizzarelli: Let There Be Love (2000, Telarc): [r]: B

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Laura Ainsworth: New Vintage (Eclectus)
  • Gerald Beckett: Oblivion (Summit)
  • Jane Ira Bloom: Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson (Outline, 2CD): September 8
  • Miles Donahue: The Bug (Whaling City Sound)
  • Fred Hersch: Open Book (Palmetto): September 8
  • Noah Kaplan Quartet: Cluster Swerve (Hatology)
  • Steve Langone Trio: Breathe (Whaling City Sound)
  • The Liberation Music Collective: Rebel Portraiture (AD Astrum): August 17
  • Paul McCandless: Morning Sun: Adventures With Oboe (Living Music): October 20
  • Marcus Monteiro: Another Part of Me (Whaling City Sound)
  • Dave Potter: You Already Know (Summit)
  • Chris Speed Trio: Platinum on Tap (Intakt): August 18
  • Jason Stein Quartet: Lucille! (Delmark): September 5
  • Omri Ziegele: Going South (Intakt): August 18

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Korean Dinner

I took a break from the politics and music this past week to cook a dinner served Saturday. I started my "birthday dinner" tradition back in the mid-1990s, where I would take a national cuisine and try to make as many varied dishes as I could muster. I suppose the original idea was just to show off: the first two dinners were Chinese, which I largely figured out in the early 1980s while living in New Jersey. Then I moved on to Indian -- another old interest although I didn't get to be really good at it until the birthday dinners started up -- and then Turkish. Later on I started using the dinners as research projects as I attempted to figure out other cuisines: Spanish, Thai, Moroccan, Lebanese, Japanese, Iranian, Italian, Greek, Brazilian, Cuban, Russian.

I've long felt like Korean would be worth trying. I've dabbled a bit, mostly from working from Charmaine Solomon's The Complete Asian Cookbook. My first Korean food came from a restaurant in Cambridge (MA): small nuggets of intensely flavored beef. A decade later, I had a friend in Boston who several times fixed huge feasts of homemade Korean food. One of the first times I tried cooking at a relative's home, we bought beef short ribs and I marinated and grilled them. But I never got out of the rut of habitually ordering bulgogi when I got the chance. A couple years back I bought a copy of Young Jin Song's The Food and Cooking of Korea, but until recently it languished on the shelf.

A few months ago I decided to give it a go. I planned out a menu, and knowing I'd need some lead time I went ahead and made a batch of classic kimchi. I did some shopping to figure out what could be found, but we couldn't schedule the dinner I had hoped for, and I wound up making a "practice run" with what I had bought -- a pretty substantial dinner in its own right. I finally got a chance to go all out this week. I started shopping on Wednesday, and made the first batch of kimchi that night. More shopping Thursday, plus an emergency run on Friday. Cooked some things on Friday, and finished up on Saturday, producing the spread (not very artfully laid out) photographed below:

I made an image map to identify the various dishes, but it only works on the unscaled image here. As I understand it, one can write some JavaScript to work around the rescaling problem, but I've wasted enough time on that already.

In addition to the Song cookbook mentioned above, I bought two more Korean cookbooks: Deuki Hong/Matt Rodbard, Koreatown: A Cookbook, and Maangchi's Real Korean Cooking. I ordered the latter after finding several promising recipes on the author's website. I built up a long shopping list with a tentative menu (16 dishes), noting what I already had and what I would need. Then I added various things as I looked through the books, trying to expand my options or just to get a sense of what's available. For example, I never found perilla leaves, bellflower root, or dried file fish (although I did something labeled "filetfish"); I found but didn't buy fresh burdock and dried fernbrake.

I started my shopping at Thai Binh, the largest Vietnamese grocery in town. They cover Chinese and Thai pretty well, with a smallish specifically Korean section where I had previously bought chili paste (gochujang), bean paste (doenjang), coarse chili powder (gochugaru), and coarse sea salt. They have a substantial produce section (although no water chestnuts this time) and a tremendous variety of frozen fish so I figured they'd be my best shot. Then I stopped at Dillons to get the beef, pork ribs, and some more conventional vegetables. Still, I came up short in several respects, so I googled for Korean groceries and found two more: Grace Korean-Japanese Market and Kimson Asian Food Market. I went to them on Thursday, and that evening went to Sprouts and Dillons. I didn't actually have much on the list by that time, other than English mustard, which I finally found at Dillons (Rock/Central).

Grace was small but had a couple things I hadn't picked up before. They also have a small cafe area which seemed pretty inactive. I picked up a couple "homemade" batches of seaweed and shrimp salads, but didn't particularly like either. Kimson only had about a third as much space as Thai Binh but was packed so they had almost as much stuff, including some things I had never seen locally (like frozen sea urchin for sushi). I wound up having to go out again on Friday -- Thai Binh and Dillons -- as I couldn't find the short-grain (sushi) rice I was sure I had plenty of.

Notes on the menu: Most Korean food is very hot (spicy, but aside from chilis, garlic, and ginger there are virtually no spices). The heat comes from chili powder, chili paste, or (much less often) chili oil or fresh peppers. I can barely tolerate hot peppers, so in all of the following recipes I either cut them way back or completely out (though I usually kept the garlic and sugar which are probably included just to draw out the heat). I thought about serving a hot sauce on the side, but doubted any of my guests especially wanted it. (The kimchis were still pretty hot in my book.) Also, virtually every Korean dish is topped with sesame seeds, which I also omitted (although I offered black sesame seeds on the side).

  • Classic Cabbage Kimchi (Song): I made this several months ago, and had enough leftover for the rice and to serve on the side. Start with a Chinese (napa) cabbage, split into quarters and soak in salt water 2 hours. Then dry, sprinkle with salt (working between the layers), and let stand 4 hours. Mix seasoning: daikon, Asian chives, garlic, ginger, onion, Asian pear, scallions, water chestnut, chili powder, fish sauce, sugar. Recipe called for a couple oysters. I think I used some smoked oysters, not really the same thing. Rinse the salt, then stuff the seasoning between the cabbage leaves. Then it's just a matter of setting, initially at room temp, later in refrigerator -- no need to bury in back yard.

  • White Kimchi (Song): Same basic idea minus the chili powder (chopped fresh chilis provide heat without color -- I used small Thai peppers, one red and one green). I just did half a head of napa cabbage: salted it, rinsed it, soaked it 24 hours in a kelp stock (with apple, pear, and a red date), then drained and stuffed with daikon, scallions, ginger, red dates, garlic. I didn't have fermented shrimp, so soaked some dried shrimp, chopped it up, and added a little shrimp paste. Also didn't have watercress. This then needed to sit another day.

  • Diced White Radish Kimchi (Song): I took about half of a very large daikon, peeled it, cut into half-inch cubes, and salted it. For seasoning I used sugar, chili powder, garlic, onion, scallions, sea salt, fish sauce, ginger, and brown sugar. Recipe calls for 5 tbs chili powder. I used one, plus some Spanish smoked paprika to keep the color up.

  • Boy Choy Kimchi (Hong): This cookbook has a "five quick kimchis to keep in your fridge" section, which all use the same basic cure (sugar and kosher salt) and the same marinade: Asian pear, chili powder, fish sauce, garlic, sugar, ginger. I cut the chili down to about one-third, and this wound up being the hottest dish I served. I cut the bok choy in half, sprinkled the cure, waited an hour of two, rinsed, then added the marinade and refrigerated.

  • Pineapple Kimchi (Hong); I bought a pineapple core, cut it into chunks, added the quick marinade, and refrigerated. Not a traditional kimchi, but something that struck the authors' fancy, and actually pretty tasty.

  • Griddled Beef with Sesame and Soy (Song): Aka bulgogi. Dillons has 12-oz. packages of thin-sliced steak which work perfectly for this (I've made it several times), so I bought two. Sliced the beef into 1-inch squares. Marinade: scallions, onion, Asian pear, dark soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, black pepper, garlic, a little lemon juice (recipe calls for lemonade). Recipe warns against marinating over two hours ("becomes too salty"), but Hong calls for overnight (and uses the saltier thin soy sauce, and more of it). To cook, I heated up a cast iron skillet and dumped the bag in. In retrospect I should have dumped the bag into a collander to drain more liquid from the marinade, as it almost turned into a braise, and I wound up cooking the meat longer than I would have had I not had to boil off so much sauce.

  • Deiji Kalbi (Hong): I originally planned on making Griddled Doenjang Pork (Song), using pork loin and fermented bean paste, then saw this recipe and merged them. I bought a side of spare ribs -- about three pounds -- and separated them. Mixed up a marinade in the food processor: Asian pear, apple, onion, chili paste (about 1 tbs), fermented bean paste (about 4 tbs), black pepper, mirin, soy sauce, garlic, sugar. Recipe called for 1 cup of chili sauce + 1/4 cup of ground chili (for about 50% more pork), with none of the bean paste, so they were looking for super spicy. I wanted something earthier, with just a little kick. I marinated this overnight, put it on the rack of a roasting pan with some water, and baked it at 350F for about an hour.

  • Seafood Salad in Mustard Dressing (Song): Recipe for 2 so my plan was to scale it up 3X, but I wound up exceeding that, then I forgot about the scaling when I made the dressing, so wound up making a second batch (and now that I think of it, probably should have made a third). Recipe calls for squid, shrimp, whelks, jellyfish, and crab. I got a frozen package of small squid tubes that had been crosshatched, and I substituted pre-cooked periwinkles for the whelks. I found a 1 lb. package of shredded and salted frozen jellyfish. I got a little more than a pound of snow crab legs, so boiled them and extricated the meat. The squid, shrimp, and jellyfish were also boiled briefly. I initially started with a half-pound of shrimp, then decided they were so much better than everything else so I made the rest of the 1 lb. bag. And I wound up only using about 1/3 of the periwinkles and 1/4 of the jellyfish. I chilled the seafood, then added julienned carrots, Asian pear, and cucumber, plus some shredded napa cabbage. Then the seasoning: English (hot) mustard, sugar, vinegar, salt, dark soy sauce, sesame oil (instead of chili oil). I decided it was piquant enough but could use some more mild mustard, so added some dijon, then honey dijon.

  • Stir-fried Kimchi and Rice (Hong): I made a pot of short-grain rice the day before: soaked the rice through multiple passes, then boiled and cooked over low heat. I started with two cups of raw rice, and only used three cups here, so I have a lot leftover. I got some thick-sliced bacon at Dillons, and chopped up three slices. I browned them, added a chopped onion, about a cup of classic kimchi, chopped ginger and garlic, then the rice. One suggestion is to serve this with two sunny-side up fried eggs. I had the idea that I could push the rice to one side, add some oil, and fry a couple of eggs in situ. I covered them briefly, then when the bottoms had set, flipped them over, and before the yolks set started folding them back into the rice. Garnished with chopped scallions.

  • Spicy-Sweet Shredded Squid (Hong): I found some dried whole squids, about 8-inches long and flattened, that were still pliable. Cut them into thin shreds. Put them in a pan with a little water and cooked them until the water evaporated. Mixed up a sauce: chili paste, sugar, rice syrup, mirin, sesame oil. (I think I added some hoisin sauce and ketchup to the sauce -- or maybe that was some other dish.) Added the sauce to the squid and continued to cook until it was well glazed.

  • Sweet Potato with Almond Syrup (Song): Two sweet potatoes, peeled, quartered and cut into half-inch slices. I baked them for 20 minutes, then deep fried them. Made a syrup of brown sugar and water, and after it thickened turned off the heat, stirred in some ground almonds ("flour"), then added the sweet potato chunks, stirring to coat. Several problems here: syrup got too thick and the almonds were ground too fine (recipe calls for 2 almonds, crushed, which might have worked better) so they acted more as a thickener. I wound up needing to add some water to the syrup, which thinned it adequately but also cooled it down. Ultimately minor problems.

  • Steamed Eggplant (Maangchi): I used two Japanese eggplants, cut into quarters then sliced into inch-long pieces. Steamed them, then served them in a sauce: fish sauce, soy, garlic, scallions, sesame oil.

  • Black Beans with Sweet Soy (Song): Start with a can of cooked black beans, then rinse, boil, rinse again, and boil again -- this time with sugar, thin soy, and maple syrup, until the water is evaporated. This actually wound up becoming a bit crunchy, as well as much more salty than sweet.

  • Sweet Lotus Root (Song): Bought a package of peeled, sliced lotus root. Soaked it in vinegar water, then boiled it a few minutes, then returned to pot with soy sauce and boiled for 20 minutes, then added sugar and maple syrup and boiled another 30 minutes, then add sesame oil. Before the last step, I still wasn't getting the look I wanted, so I switched to a deeper, narrower pot, and added some dark soy and maple syrup (and the sesame oil) and boiled it down to a thick syrup.

  • Beansprout Namul (Song): Recipe calls for soybean sprouts, but I used mung bean sprouts. Soaked in salt water, then par-boiled, then sauteed with scallions and sesame oil.

  • Spinach Namul (Song): Steamed a bunch of spinach. Mixed up a sauce: dark soy, garlic, sesame oil, rice wine. Added the spinach to the sauce, and let it sit for a while. Heated up a skillet, added a bit of oil, and quickly heated up the mix.

  • Braised Shiitake Mushroom and Onion (Song): Chopped a half onion. Trimmed stems from a package of mushrooms. Mixed them with garlic and sauce: dark soy, sesame oil, maple syrup. Dumped them all in a pot and braised until the water evaporated.

  • Sweet Rice with Red Dates (Song): Made this for dessert. Starts with glutinous rice, which is soaked, then put into a pot with brown sugar, a cup of water, chopped dates, chopped chestnuts, raisins, sesame oil, cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. Then "add water until it covers the rice by about 2cm (3/4 inch)"; bring to a boil, then turn low. I decided mejdol dates would be better than the dried red dates, and I missed the cinnamon, but the bigger problem was too much water. The result was a sticky mass with puddles of water. I dusted it with cinnamon, topped with pine nuts, and served, but it wasn't very good -- maybe not quite a disaster but the night's poorest showing.

I'm reconstructing this from memory, so I may not even have the right cookbook for several recipes that appeared on multiple books. I did what seems like more than the usual mount of fiddling, not just to adjust the heat and avoid sesame seeds. I did quite a bit of fiddling with various sauces to get an appealing mix of tastes. And aside from the dessert it pretty much all worked. Interesting that the dishes with the highest-percentage leftovers were the kimchi (although the rice, which is usually the least popular choice, was most nearly wiped out).

I scratched a half-dozen possible dishes at various points in the afternoon. I had bought groceries to make: zucchini namul, buckwheat noodles, braised bean curd. I could have done a chives namul. I had more bok choy which I could have fixed with the bean paste. I had cucumbers which could have been used several different ways (but I didn't have time to do proper pickles). I could have made the extra jellyfish into its own dish (similar to the squid). I also had dried anchovies that could be given the squid treatment. I bought red and green bell peppers and can't remember what they were for. I have a piece of barbecued eel in the freezer. I could have taken some of the rice, dressed it with sugar and vinegar, and made sushi, topped with wasabi, broiled eel, and sweetened soy. (Would have been better than the dessert I served.)

There's a lot more Korean food I could have made -- something to try out later. I wanted to have lots of little things (Koreans call them banchan) rather than a big main course. That's why I didn't consider doing a soup or a combo rice dish like bibimbap. In fact, I didn't want to serve plain rice, even though that's the foundation virtually all Korean meals are built upon. I also figured I should stay away from obvious Japanese imports like sushi, teriyaki, and tempura (all common in Korea). I figured the bulgogi was essential, and what sold me on the pork ribs was the possibility of sticking it in the oven and forgetting about it. Similarly, the seafood salad could be made early and out of the way, and having those three dishes really didn't leave much room for chicken or fish. One thing I was tempted by but figured was too tricky and/or marginally weird was the raw blue crabs -- Thai Binh stocks them, and they basically get kimchi'ed for a couple days before serving, so they wouldn't have presented a logistical problem.

Figuring out the logistics is a big part of these large-scale dinners. In fact, this one was relatively easy, the first critical task figuring out what I could (and could not) obtain, and where to shop for it. The kimchis had relatively long lead times (pickles were already out of the question), so that determined when I had to start. I've done meals so complicated that I've mapped them out using charts, but this one wasn't that mind-boggling. After I made the kimchis, on Friday I cooked the seafood, roasted the sweet potatoes, steamed the spinach and eggplant, cooked the plain rice, made the squid, and marinated the meat. Hardest thing there (by far) was picking out the crab meat. I got up a little after noon on Saturday and started working through the little dishes -- the braises sometimes took an hour or more, but I could plate them when they were done. While the braises were going on I julienned the vegetables and dressed the salad, then put it back in the refrigerator. I usually get desserts out of the way early, but this one could be cooked anytime, and there was very little prep to it. The final push could hardly have been simpler: put the ribs in the oven, fix the fried rice, then finish the steak. And I could wait until the guests arrived to do the latter.

So, a pretty memorable dinner. Learned a lot while doing it. The guests seemed pretty pleased. The dog tried crawling into the dishwasher to help with the prewash. I won't try to get into the dinner discussion and all that, which for me was probably the highlight of the evening. Had some leftover ribs and sweet potatoes for dinner this evening. Have some people coming over Monday to help clean out the leftovers -- and maybe I'll cook some of the scratched dishes then. Hopefully Trump won't start bombing Korea by then. I was born during the Korean War. I'd hate to suffer through a second one.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Midweek Roundup

Took a break today and glanced at the Internet and came up with the usual load. Noted a tweet from Kathleen Geier: "No one will look back at this era in American politics and remember it fondly. Absolutely no one."

  • Peter Beaumont: Former Netanyahu chief of staff 'in negotiations to become state witness': In a world increasingly run by the very rich, I reckon it's no surprise that merely powerful politicians should strive to become rich themselves. Of course, sometimes they get caught.

  • Julian Borger: Leaked Trump transcripts show his incoherent, ill-informed narcissism: not that you expected anything else.

  • Esme Cribb: NSC's Senior Intelligence Director Ezra Cohen-Watnick Fired: Reported a Flynn protégé, survived McMasters' previous efforts to fire him thanks to intervention by Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner.

    Cohen-Watnick was the latest casualty in a string of firings at the NSC. McMaster (pictured above) replaced Fox News commentator K.T. McFarland as his deputy in May, reportedly without seeking White House approval first. He also reportedly fired Rich Higgins, a staffer who worked in the council's strategic planning office on July 21, after Higgins authored a memo claiming Trump was under attack by "globalists and Islamists" and "cultural Marxists." McMaster also fired Derek Harvey, Trump's top Middle East adviser, in late July.

    Also see Josh Marshall on The Deeper Story on Cohen-Watnick.

  • Esme Cribb: Mueller Impanels Grand Jury in Federal Russia Probe.

  • Bob Dreyfuss: What Did Trump and Kushner Know About Russian Money Laundering, and When Did They Know It?

  • Joshua Holland: Medicare-for-All Isn't the Solution for Universal Health Care: I haven't worked my way through this piece, so for now will just note its existence. I was aware of the article before, but steered to it from Dylan Scott: What you need to know about the Senate's "right-to-try" bill. The latter was a broadly bipartisan bill that somewhat streamlines the options of terminally ill patients to try unproven treatments: Republicans evidently like the bill either because it gives patients more freedom/choice or because it helps doctors and drug companies commit fraud.

  • Sharon Lerner: EPA Staffers Are Being Forced to Prioritize Energy Industry's Wish List, Says Official Who Resigned in Protest.

  • Jeffrey Lewis: Scuttling the Iran Deal Will Lead to Another North Korea: "Tehran can already make an ICBM anytime it wants, and there's nothing Donald Trump can do about it." Still, isn't that the wrong way to look at the problem? The real problem with North Korea isn't that they have rockets and nuclear warheads that could be used against us. The problem is that the regime and people there suffered through a horrific war that devastated everything, and since then they've been isolated and paranoid, prevented from functioning as a normal country by the sheer spite of the United States. One forgets that Iran's interest in rockets grew out of their own horrific decade-long war with Iraq, where Tehran was regularly subjected to rocket attacks (which Iran reciprocated, unlike Iraq's use of poison gas). Clearly, Iraq isn't the threat it once was, but Iran is still surrounded by hostile regimes, with the US and Israel actively engaging in various plots of sabotage and/or insurrection. Scuttling the nuclear deal may or may not force Iran to develop nuclear-armed ICBMs -- doing so wouldn't give them an effective tool for attacking the US, but it might deter the US from attacking Iran -- but it will certainly leave Iran more isolated, paranoid, and repressive, much as the same sanctions regime has left North Korea. If Trump's people had any sense, they'd not only embrace the Iran deal, but seek to build on it, and use it as a model for opening up a modus vivendi with North Korea.

  • Paul Mason: Democracy is dying -- and it's startling how few people are worried; also Yascha Mounk: The Past Week Proves That Trump Is Destroying Our Democracy: These two articles came up in a row at WarInContext, on a day when I was already thinking not just tha democracy has been taking a bruising but that it's likely to get worse before (if ever) it gets better. Still, Democracy is in the eye of the beholder, so we get Mason worrying about Putin, Erdogan, and Trump (also Poland, Hungary, Venezuela, India, the Philippines, and China, but not Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Israel), while Mounk sticks to Trump.

  • Andrew Prokop: As Trump takes aim at affirmative action, let's remember how Jared Kushner got into Harvard: "a lot of money, and two US senators, were involved." By the way, the two senators were Democrats, albeit also multi-millionaires.

  • Jedediah Purdy: A Billionaire's Republic: Review of Ganesh Sitaraman's new book, The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution. As noted above, many of us are worried about the fate of democracy in the near future. There are various theories about various threats, but the most basic threat is that posed by significant inequality.

  • Bernie Sanders: Nissan dispute could go down as most vicious anti-union crusade in decades:

    Nissan is no stranger to trade unions. It has union representation in 42 out of 45 of its plants throughout the world -- from Japan to France, Australia to Britain. But the company does not want unions in the US south, because unions mean higher wages, safer working conditions, decent healthcare and a secure retirement.

    Corporations like Nissan know that if they stop workers in Mississippi from forming a union, wages will continue to be abysmally low in this state. Further, if workers are unable to form unions and engage in collective bargaining, Americans throughout this country will continue to work for longer hours for lower wages. As Americans, our goal must be to raise wages in Mississippi and all over this country, not engage in a destructive race to the bottom.

    Nissan is not a poor company. It is not losing money. Last year, it made a record-breaking $6.6bn in profits and it gave its CEO more than $9.5m in total compensation.

    Those kinds of obscene profits are a direct result of corporations' decades-long assault on workers and their unions. Forty years ago, more than a quarter of all workers belonged to a union. Today, that number has gone down to just 11%, and in the private sector it is less than 7%. And as corporations and Republican politicians succeed in decimating the right of workers to bargain collectively for better wages and benefits, the American middle class, once the envy of the world, is disappearing while income and wealth inequality is soaring. We have got to turn that around.

    I proudly support Nissan workers' fight to form a union.

    I wonder if any other Democrats have taken a stand on this. Also: John Nichols: A Nissan Victory Could Usher in a New Era of Southern Organizing. I've heard that the Games of Thrones showrunners want to do a new fantasy history series that posits what would have happened had the South won the Civil War. If you want to indulge in alternative history, a more promising precept would have been what if Taft-Hartley had failed in 1947 and the AFL and CIO had launched mass organizing drives in the South, as they had planned but chickened out on after Taft-Hartley -- and, of course, had they been successful. At the very least, that would have advanced the civil rights movement a decade or more, and prevented the decline of union membership, which would have kept the Democratic Party, and ultimately the country, from drifting far to the right.

  • Matt Taibbi: There Is No Way to Survive the Trump White House: "The tenures of Reince Priebus and Anthony Scaramucci represent two opposite, but equally ineffective, strategies for surviving the Trump White House."

    Some see in all these maneuverings an effort to purge GOP loyalists like Spicer and Priebus. Others see a Nixonian lunge to hire thugs in a crisis. This to me is all overthinking things. There is no strategy. This White House is just a succession of spasmodic Trump failures, with a growing line of people taking the fall for each of them. You can fall with honor, or without, entertainingly or not. But if you join this White House, fall you will. It's only a matter of time.

  • Sophia Tesfaye: Trump's next military scapegoat: Foreign-born service members targeted by Pentagon.

  • Sam Thielman: Stinger Missiles and Shady Deals: Ex-Biz Partner to Trump Has a Tall Tale to Tell: Felix Sater, whose CV includes a conviction for stock fraud as well business ties to Trump, as well as a stint as a Trump "senior adviser."

  • Matthew Yglesias: Democrats' push for a new era of antitrust enforcement, explained: Antitrust legislation, still on the books, was one of the great achievements of the Progressive movement, even if it could be (and mostly was) viewed as a way to defend capitalism from the capitalists. However, it has been little enforced since then, especially under the Reagan-Bush-Bush-Trump administrations, but Clinton's administration is mostly remembered for its antitrust case against Microsoft (on behalf of other high tech companies), and I can't think of any cases filed by Obama. However, Democratic-leaning economists like Joseph Stiglitz have lately noted the role of monopoly rents in generating skyrocketing inequality, and other researchers -- many summarized here -- have broadened that view. I suspect one reason many Democrats have gone along with new antitrust planks is that they've long been spouting the cause of competitive free markets, which is the primary goal of antitrust. However, the forces against antitrust enforcement are lobbyists working for dealmakers and brokers, who regardless of their general principles will invariably argue that their sponsor companies should be excepted. Still, an important plank, and not just because competition is good. You should also consider how industry consolidation destroys and undermines jobs.

    Yglesias also wrote Anthony Scaramucci, explained, as if you couldn't figure that one out yourself. Still, worth being reminded of this:

    Trump, who is very fond of zero-sum thinking, one-sided deals, and sketchy business ethics, would naturally find [Scaramucci's] background appealing.

    Some people make money by providing mutually beneficial win-win arrangements. . . . Trump doesn't really do that. His early real estate ventures in Manhattan and Atlantic City ended up being failures that went bankrupt.

    But in the mid-1990s, he started the process of spinning shit into gold by launching a publicly traded company, Trump Casino Hotels & Resorts, and bilking his investors for all they were worth.

    TCHR never made any money for shareholders. "A shareholder who bought $100 of DJT shares in 1995 could sell them for about $4 in 2005," according to Drew Harwell's analysis of the company. "The same investment in MGM Resorts would have increased in value to about $600." But it did make lots of money for Donald Trump. It spent more than $6 million on entertaining high-end clients on Trump's golf courses. It spent $2 million more on renting Trump's plane. It bought $1.7 million of Trump-branded merchandise. It bought a bankrupt casino from Donald Trump for $490 million. It paid Trump millions in salary for his work as CEO. And most lucratively of all, Trump was able to offload debts he had personally guaranteed onto the publicly traded company.

    From there, Trump hopped to starring in a reality television programming and then into a lucrative celebrity brand licensing business. He also launched a fake university that had to pay out $25 million to settle fraud claims.

    Trump is, in short, the kind of guy who'd look up to SkyBridge's "make money selling bad products" business model, not down on it.

Let me also note this trip down memory lane: Carl Boggs: The Other Side of War: Fury and Repression in St. Louis. I moved to St. Louis and Washington University after the events described here, and didn't know Howard Mechanic or anyone else mentioned in the article, but did know Boggs -- a political science professor at Washington U.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28490 [28462] rated (+28), 365 [364] unrated (+1).

Most of the following made its way into July Streamnotes, so not much news to report. Just seven albums in the August draft file so far: Arcade Fire, Hal Galper, Paul Jones, Manchester Orchestra, Vic Mensa, Vieux Farka Touré, Reggie Young. I think I gave Arcade Fire five (maybe six) plays. The others on Napster got one each.

Three of those came out last week. Checking AOTY, they scored: Manchester Orchestra (78/11), Arcade Fire (71/23), Vic Mensa (65/5). I'm surprised Arcade Fire has been reviewed so poorly (although it has 100 scores from NME and The Independent). They're a group I've generally admired but never felt much affection for: while I've graded their previous albums pretty high (B+ for 2004's Funeral; A- for Neon Bible, The Suburbs, and Reflektor), none of those albums scored especially high on my EOY lists (27, 27, 29). I expect this one will wind up lower (it's at 28 now, but we're only about half done -- big question is whether I ever play it again). But critics have generally liked their albums more than I have; e.g., AOTY scores for their four albums are: 95/15, 84/20, 89/33, 78/40; higher still were their Pazz & Jop finishes: 6, 5, 3, 14. Presumably this one won't fare so well, but I can't tell you why. Maybe in this day and age critics want something mopey? (Like Mount Eerie? Or Manchester Orchestra?)

On the other hand, the low critical scores for Vic Mensa's The Autobiography correlate with my disappointment, not that we necessarily agree as to why. Christgau liked his mixtapes, and there was at least something happening in There's Alot Going On. Not that there's nothing I like in Mensa's record; just a lot I don't. That contrasts, say, to Tyler the Creator's new Flower Boy, which was a total blank after one spin. I reckon that's an improvement given how offensive his early albums were. Got to it after the cutoff, so it's not in the list below -- nor is Lana Del Rey's Lust for Life, which I played a lot and like but wound up hedging. "God Bless America -- and All the Beautiful Women in It" may be the kindest patriotic anthem of the year, followed by "When the World Was at War We Kept Dancing" and "Beautiful People Beautiful Problems."

Milo Miles wrout about the remarkable Carl Craig album. Robert Christgau reviewed the Perceptionists and Oddissee (an earlier A- for me) at Noisey. Akmee and Alexander Hawkins are on Chris Monsen's 2017 Favorites list. Ergo, Led Bib, and several others were downloads I've been sitting on for a long time -- Roscoe Mitchell a more recent download. The Eddie Palmieri and Vieux Farka Touré albums are unlikely to disappoint their fans -- high HMs that might make the A- grade if I spent more time with them.

Finished adding the post-2000 vocalists to the Jazz Guide (currently 968 + 747 pages). Stalled when I got into post-2000 instrumentalists (currently 6% done). When I scrolled back to the top, I realized I needed to make some edits in the front matter -- in particular I changed the grade scale so that A or A+ is 10, A- 9, B+ 8-6, B 5, B- 4, C+ 3, C 2, C- or worse 1. I think this maps closer to my actual practice, where A/A+ grades have become extremely rare, as have sub-C grades. I asked several friends about this mapping and pretty much all of them wanted more spread on top (A- = 8) with adjustments shifting some higher grades up to 9 or 10, but I really needed something I could apply more mechanically. I also didn't mind cutting my artists and publicists a bit of slack here, while readers still have a useful curve: 10 is still pretty rare (especially post-2000), and 9 isn't very common (around 10% of the total, which is about what you'd expect in a decile system).

While editing I noticed that I started this project last August, so I've been working on it a full year, during which time I've done very little of the editing that will be needed if this ever sees the light of day, and nothing at all on several other possible book projects. Feels Sisyphean, even as time seems to be running out.

Already looks like it's going to be another good week for another Midweek Roundup. Last week I described Trump as having broke out of his cage and gone on a joyride -- evidence included promoting Anthony Scaramucci, purging Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus, and two of the most embarrassing and disgusting speeches in a career with little else -- but today the joyride ended in a crash as Scaramucci got fired. Now we're going to have to suffer through stories about how Marine General John Kelly restored order and discipline to the White House, as they buckle down on the great cause of "tax reform" -- a more efficient, and less damaging, way to feather the pockets of the very rich than repealing the ACA.

On the other hand, I may be pressed for time for a Sunday Weekend Roundup, as I have a dinner scheduled for Saturday. I've been planning for some time on doing a birthday-sized Korean menu, and will finally get the chance. (I started the classic cabbage kimchi months ago.) Perfect cuisine for a "birthday feast" with all the banchan -- small side dishes, kind of like tapas but they pretty much all get the same treatment. Art Protin told me I should do a full dinner report every few months, so I'll try to follow through on that.

I am trying harder to cook occasional small dinners for just us, and they've often been superb. Last week I made my first-ever lasagna, with sausage and lamb (recipe called for beef and veal, but I didn't find the latter and decided not to make a deep search). I was a bit disappointed in it (certainly compared to the pastitsio I made a while back), but the leftovers are good enough to eat cold, along with a little horiatiki salad.

New records rated this week:

  • Akmee: Neptun (2016 [2017], Nakama): [r]: B+(***)
  • Arcade Fire: Everything Now (2017, Columbia): [r]: A-
  • Richard Dawson: Peasant (2017, Domino): [r]: B
  • Ergo: As Subtle as Tomorrow (2013 [2016], Cuneiform): [dl]: B+(***)
  • Kevin Eubanks: East West Time Line (2017, Mack Avenue): [r]: B+(*)
  • Hal Galper and the Youngbloods: Live at the Cota Jazz Festival (2016 [2017], Origin): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Calvin Harris: Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 (2017, Fly Eye/Columbia): [r]: B+(*)
  • Joel Harrison: Stump (2013 [2014], Cuneiform): [dl]: B+(***)
  • Alexander Hawkins: Unit[e] (2016-17 [2017], self-released, 2CD): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Paul Jones: Clean (2017, Outside In Music): [cd]: B
  • Steve Lacy: Steve Lacy's Demo (2017, Three Quarter, EP): [r]: B
  • Led Bib: The Good Egg (2013 [2014], Cuneiform): [dl]: B+(***)
  • Led Bib: The People in Your Neighborhood (2013 [2014], Cuneiform): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Let's Eat Grandma: I, Gemini (2016, Transgressive): [r]: B
  • Manchester Orchestra: A Black Mile to the Surface (2017, Loma Vista): [r]: B
  • Vic Mensa: The Autobiography (2017, Roc Nation): [r]: B-
  • Roscoe Mitchell: Bells for the South Side (2015 [2017], ECM, 2CD): [dl]: B+(***)
  • Mokoomba: Luyando (2017, OutHere): [r]: B
  • The Moonlandingz: Interplanetary Class Classics (2017, Transgressive): [r]: B
  • Sam Newsome: Sopranoville: Works for Prepared and Non-Prepared Soprano (2017, Some New Music): [r]: B+(*)
  • Oxbow: Thin Black Duke (2017, Hydra Head): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Ed Palermo Big Band: Oh No! Not Jazz!! (2014, Cuneiform, 2CD): [dl]: C
  • Eddie Palmieri: Sabiduria/Wisdom (2012 [2017], Ropeadope): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Perceptionists: Resolution (2017, Mello Music Group): [r]: A-
  • Vieux Farka Touré: Samba (2017, Six Degrees): [r]: B+(***)
  • Ralph Towner: My Foolish Heart (2016 [2017], ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • Reggie Young: Forever Young (2017, Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(*)

Old music rated this week:

  • Lisbon Improvisation Players: Motion (2002 [2004], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Carol Albert: Fly Away Butterfly (Cahara): September 1
  • Julian Gerstin Sextet: The One Who Makes You Happy (self-released): September 1
  • Tyshawn Sorey: Verisimilitude (Pi)
  • John Vanore: Stolen Moments: Celebrating Oliver Nelson (Acoustical Concepts): August 18
  • Matt Wilson: Matt Wilson's Honey and Salt (Palmetto): August 25

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Weekend Roundup

I shot most of my war back on Thursday's Midweek Roundup, and have had limited time since then. But still I couldn't ignore these items:

Some scattered links:

  • Tariq Ali: Nawaz Sharif has gone. But Pakistan's high-level corruption survives:

    Sharif's party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, is fighting back, accusing the court of a vendetta -- which usually means that his billions could not buy a single judge. This is truly exceptional. Life in Pakistan has not been morally salutary for any of its citizens. The family politics represented by the Bhutto-Zardaris and their rivals, the Sharifs, is swathed in corruption. Each has learned from the other how best to conceal it, minimising paperwork and juggling accounts. Many years ago, when Benazir Bhutto was prime minister, she asked me what people were saying about her. "They're saying your husband is totally corrupt, but are not sure about how much you know . . ."

    She knew all right, and was not in the least embarrassed: "You're so prudish. Times have changed. This is the world we live in. They're all doing it. Politicians in every western country . . ." Her husband, the president-to-be Asif Ali Zardari, was imprisoned by Sharif, but no actual proof of corruption was discovered: Zardari's loyalty to his cronies was legendary, and they remained loyal in return. Sharif, it appears, has been less fortunate.

  • Dean Baker: How about a little accountability for economists when they mess up?

  • Robert A Blecker: Trump's "America first" strategy for NAFTA talks won't benefit US workers

  • Carole Cadwalladr: Al Gore: 'The rich have subverted all reason': Ten years after his documentary An Inconvenient Truth, Gore is back with a sequel and goes beyond simply remind us, "I told you so." One thing he's started looking at is the money:

    "I mean that those with access to large amounts of money and raw power," says Gore, "have been able to subvert all reason and fact in collective decision making. The Koch brothers are the largest funders of climate change denial. And ExxonMobil claims it has stopped, but it really hasn't. It has given a quarter of a billion dollars in donations to climate denial groups. It's clear they are trying to cripple our ability to respond to this existential threat."

    One of Trump's first acts after his inauguration was to remove all mentions of climate change from federal websites. More overlooked is that one of Theresa May's first actions on becoming prime minister -- within 24 hours of taking office -- was to close the Department for Energy and Climate Change; subsequently donations from oil and gas companies to the Conservative party continued to roll in. And what is increasingly apparent is that the same think tanks that operate in the States are also at work in Britain, and climate change denial operates as a bridgehead: uniting the right and providing an entry route for other tenets of Alt-Right belief. And, it's this network of power that Gore has had to try to understand, in order to find a way to combat it.

  • Alexia Fernandez Campbell: What McCain did was hard. What Murkowski and Collins did was much harder. I suppose McCain's vote to sink the so-called "skinny repeal" does qualify as "something useful for once" (a prospect I doubted when I cited Alex Pareene's I Don't Want to Hear Another Fucking Word About John McCain Unless He Dies or Actually Does Something Useful for Once). But McCain couldn't have cast the killing vote without Collins and Murkowski consistently voting against all of McConnell's ploys to repeal Obamacare -- in large part because they seem to be the only Republicans who actually care about the bottom-line assessments that the bills would deprive upwards of twenty million Americans of health insurance.

    Through all of this, the backlash against these two women senators was severe. Two House Republicans threatened them with violence.

    President Trump publicly shamed Murkowski on Twitter:

    Senator @lisamurkowski of the Great State of Alaska really let the Republicans, and our country, down yesterday. Too bad!

    Murkowski then got a call from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who reportedly threatened to punish Alaska's economy based on her health care vote, according to the Alaska Dispatch News.

    You might recall that Murkowski actually lost the Republican primary last time out to Tea Party fanatic Joe Miller, then beat Miller with a write-in campaign, so she's entitled to some independence (or maybe she's already written off the hardcore right). It will be interesting to see how much internecine blood is spilt over "repeal-and-replace" and other supposed Republican failures, but Reagan's so-called "eleventh commandment" has long vanished: it seems almost certain that each and every Republican who broke ranks even once will face right-wing primary challengers. Even more amusing is the pouting tantrum from John Daniel Davidson: I'm a conservative -- and I now see voting Republican is a waste of time: "The Obamacare fiasco reveals that once they are in power, Republicans in Washington refuse to deliver on their promises."

  • Tom Engelhardt: Bombing the Rubble: "Precision warfare? Don't make me laugh." Also: William D Hartung: The Hidden Costs of "National Security": "Ten ways your tax dollars pay for war -- past, present, and future>"

  • William G Gale: The Kansas tax cut experiment: Now that Sam Brownback's moving on to become Trump's Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom, a position that will better fit his sanctimonious twaddle and hopefully is powerless enough to limit how much real damage (as opposed to mere embarrassment) he does, the Brookings Institute is finally getting around to looking at his late, great signature tax scam (blessed in the beginning by none other than Arthur Laffer, his paid consultant). Some of the bullet points:

    • Under his plan, the tax rate on pass-through business income fell to 0. The idea was to boost investment, raise employment, and jump-start the economy.
    • The Kansas economy did not grow faster than neighboring states, the country itself, or even Kansas' own growth in previous years.
    • The experiment with tax policy was such a failure that a Republican controlled legislature not only voted to raise taxes, but did so over the veto of the governor.
    • Second, a lowered business income tax can be manipulated. While Kansas cut the tax rate on pass-through income to 0 in hopes of promoting economic activity, the growth simply didn't happen. In reality, many people in Kansas re-characterized income from labor into business-form in order to take advantage of the 0 percent tax rate.
    • There are other, more general, takeaways from the tax cut experiment. When Kansas cut taxes, its bond rating went down, and it had to cut central services such as education and infrastructure. After seeing this, a majority of Kansans decided they would not prefer to keep the tax cuts.
    • Therefore, another implication is that tax reform is not just about taxes, rather what taxes pay for. Taxes and spending are linked.

    The tax cuts threw the state into a permanent budget crisis, forcing spending cuts (and other desperate measures which ultimately weakened the state's credit rating) at a time when courts consistently found the state to be violating the requirement (part of the state constitution) to adequately fund local schools. As Republicans try to pass federal "tax reform" they'll be recycling many of the same nostrums Brownback used in Kansas, so beware.

  • Jack Gross: The American Model: Book review of James Q Whitman: Hitler's American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law. "What appears to be still difficult, even as it gets told in ever finer detail, is the simple and immense situation that America and Nazi Germany are two instantiations of a single history of white supremacist rule." It's well known that South Africa based its Apartheid legal system on America's Jim Crow laws. The Nazi case is less clear, but Hitler admired America in several respects -- white supremacy is the one detailed here. As I recall, he also saw America's advance across the continent as a model for his own Eastern conquests -- what we proclaimed as Manifest Destiny he called Lebensraum.

  • Jim Hightower: Fight for your right to fix your own iPhone: I'm not surprised that Apple is in the forefront of companies seeking to maximize their profits and control of customers by "repair prevention." Actually, I was recently was looking at a Microsoft Surface computer and read that you can't get into it to repair it without destroying the case -- one, I suspected, of many traits they copied from Apple. We live in an age where is it often cheaper to replace something than to repair it, which may be good for various companies but as a society it is wasteful and degrading.

  • Mike Konczal: This Small Regulation Shows Us How the Economy Could Work for Everybody: Part of Dodd-Frank the Republicans want to get rid of, because all that regulation limits the ability of big banks to goose up their profits by price-gouging and other fraudulent means.

  • Peggy Noonan: Trump Is Woody Allen Without the Humor: Unfair to Allen, of course -- I'd rather watch Interiors (possibly the most unfunny movie ever made, not merely the unfunniest by Allen) than a Trump rally speech -- but no one ever looked to Noonan for fair, or for that matter for insight. But as a piece of anti-Trump snark this rivals Maureen Dowd:

    He's not strong and self-controlled, not cool and tough, not low-key and determined; he's whiny, weepy and self-pitying. He throws himself, sobbing, on the body politic. He's a drama queen. It was once said, sarcastically, of George H.W. Bush that he reminded everyone of her first husband. Trump must remind people of their first wife. Actually his wife, Melania, is tougher than he is with her stoicism and grace, her self-discipline and desire to show the world respect by presenting herself with dignity.

    Half the president's tweets show utter weakness. They are plaintive, shrill little cries, usually just after dawn. "It's very sad that Republicans, even some that were carried over the line on my back, do very little to protect their president." The brutes. . . .

    His public brutalizing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions isn't strong, cool and deadly; it's limp, lame and blubbery. "Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes," he tweeted this week. Talk about projection. . . .

    His inability -- not his refusal, but his inability -- to embrace the public and rhetorical role of the presidency consistently and constructively is weak.

    "It's so easy to act presidential but that's not gonna get it done," Mr. Trump said the other night at a rally in Youngstown, Ohio. That is the opposite of the truth. The truth, six months in, is that he is not presidential and is not getting it done. His mad, blubbery petulance isn't working for him but against him. . . .

    We close with the observation that it's all nonstop drama and queen-for-a-day inside this hothouse of a White House.

    Noonan closes with Anthony Scaramucci ("He seemed to think this diarrheic diatribe was professional"), without making the obvious point: that he's Trump's perfect "communications director" because he recapitulates Trump's own communications style -- just classed up a bit by extending Trump's third-grade vocabulary and grammar into puberty, as if that's all it's going to take to get the snooty sophisticates to stop laughing at him. Noonan cites historian Joshua Zeitz's comment: "It's Team of Rivals but for morons."

    Still, there is no reason to think that Noonan is transitioning into some kind of satirist. It's safe to say she's the same paid political hack she's been since Ronald Reagan signed her checks. What happened last week was that Trump, aided by Scaramucci, found a way to escape from his orthodox Republican chapperones and go out on a joyride. They did manage to ditch Reince Priebus, but while John Kelly will no doubt prove a sterner nanny, his job of containing Trump will likely prove taxing. Meanwhile, it's not just Noonan among the party hacks who are sounding alarms about Trump; e.g., Charles Krauthammer: Longing for a self-contained, impenetrable Trump:

    Transparency, thy name is Trump, Donald Trump. No filter, no governor, no editor lies between his impulses and his public actions. He tweets, therefore he is.

    Ronald Reagan was so self-contained and impenetrable that his official biographer was practically driven mad trying to figure him out. Donald Trump is penetrable, hourly.

    Wrong metaphor. Trump and Reagan were similar in one respect: neither had anything coherent going on between their ears, just chaos and bestial desires. The difference was that Reagan was an actor (and more importantly, a paid corporate spokesman) who could credibly read the scripts he was given, whereas Trump just improvises (often making shit up)-- not because he's any good at it but because all his life he's been a boss surrounded by ego-stroking sycophants. Krauthammer, like many conservatives, is upset over Trump's taunting of Jeff Sessions, who's been hard at work implementing the conservative agenda to undermine democracy and rig the justice system while Trump's been throwing his juvenile tantrums.

    Given how rare it is for such committed Republican cronies as Noonan and Krauthammer to break ranks, their attacks on Trump may mark the end of the honeymoon. Orthodox Republicans may not have liked Trump back in the primary season, but they figured he'd be manageable once he got the nomination, and they were suddenly delighted with him once he did the one thing they most coveted: winning. And indeed he has proven pliable in terms of policy and personnel, abandoning every shred of independent thinking he displayed during the campaign. As long as he was helping them get what they wanted, they could tolerate his idiosyncrasies. But evidently something has changed: not just that he's proving ineffective and unpopular -- the health care debacle is really more their fault than it is Trump's -- but that he's becoming needlessly dangerous and self-destructive.

  • Trita Parsi: The Mask Is Off: Trump Is Seeking War With Iran:

    President Donald Trump has made it clear, in no uncertain terms and with no effort to disguise his duplicity, that he will claim that Tehran is cheating on the nuclear deal by October -- the facts be damned. In short, the fix is in. Trump will refuse to accept that Iran is in compliance and thereby set the stage for a military confrontation. His advisers have even been kind enough to explain how they will go about this. Rarely has a sinister plan to destroy an arms control agreement and pave the way for war been so openly telegraphed.

    The unmasking of Trump's plans to sabotage the nuclear deal began two weeks ago when he reluctantly had to certify that Iran indeed was in compliance. Both the US intelligence as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency had confirmed Tehran's fair play. But Trump threw a tantrum in the Oval Office and berated his national security team for not having found a way to claim Iran was cheating. According to Foreign Policy, the adults in the room -- Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster -- eventually calmed Trump down but only on the condition that they double down on finding a way for the president to blow up the deal by October.

  • Matt Shuham: Trump Calls for 'Rough' Policing, Gives Blessing to Law Enforcement Abuses: Probably one of the ten scariest articles of the Trump era. Sure, there have been many instances where Trump looked to be endorsing ad-hoc violence against protesters, foreigners, other minorities -- why not suspected criminals? Well, because abuses eat at and eventually destroy the very notion that we live under a fair and equitable system of law and justice. And has become very clear over the past few years, what we have now is already way too permissive of police abuses. Indeed, quite a few police superintendents have come to recognize that bringing their forces under control is a major public relations concern. So what Trump is saying undermines responsible police as well as the entire system of justice, and helps to make American civil society coarser and more hateful.

    On the same speech: Dara Lind: Trump just delivered the most chilling speech of his presidency. In reaction, see: Cleve R Wootson Jr/Mark Berman: US police chiefs blast Trump for endorsing 'police brutality'.

  • Matt Taibbi: The Anthony Scaramucci Era Will Be Freakish, Embarrassing and All Too Short:

    In the space of a week, Trump's new press expert demonstrated that he a) didn't know how to hold off-the-record conversations b) didn't understand that cameras and microphones keep rolling even when the red light is off and c) doesn't bother to check the other public statements made by administration officials before he makes statements of his own. An alien crashed on earth and given a two-minute tutorial on dealing with reporters would have done a better job. . . .

    The Communications Director job in the Trump administration is a no-win job, because the real Communications Director is Trump's Twitter feed. The job that Scaramucci technically occupies is a thankless and redundant position that involves standing before reporters and reconciling avalanches of already-circulated lies, contradictions, and insulting/ignorant statements.

    Even a genius of the highest order couldn't make this work. Of course, Trump hasn't had geniuses available to him. The fourth-rate minds he has instead had in his employ just started raging trash-fires whenever they tried to logically explain Trump's utterances.

    They gave us statements like Kellyanne Conway's "alternative facts," or Katrina Pierson's bit about how Trump wasn't changing his position on immigration, but rather "changing the words that he is saying."

  • Matthew Yglesias: The most important stories of the week, explained: The Senate rejected three versions of ACA repeal; Trump named a new Chief of Staff; Trump kind of banned transgender military service; Trump feuded with his attorney general.

  • Reuters: US flies B-1B bombers over Korean peninsula after missile test: Not clear from the article whether they actually flew into North Korean air space, which would be daring the Koreans to shoot a plane down, dramatically escalating America's snit fit over North Korea's missile tests. Also: Tom Phillips: China and Russia have 'responsibility' for North Korea nuclear threat, says US. Reminds me that Casey Stengel once said that the secret to successful managing was keeping the guys who hate you (like North Korea) away from the ones on the fence (like Russia and China) -- a lesson Rex Tillerson never learned. The odds of Trump (or one of those generals he gives carte blanche to) doing something profoundly stupid over Korea have been steadily increasing -- much as it has with Iran (see Trita Parsi, above).

Friday, July 28, 2017

Streamnotes (July 2017)

The summer here in Wichita hasn't been exceptionally hot, but it's been hot enough to be stultifying. I haven't enjoyed it, and find damn near everything else depressing, but kept my nose to the grind wheel and came up with a perfectly average month: 136 records, 108 (or 112) more or less new, the old stuff purely opportunistic as I came across various interesting tangents.

I cut the month off a couple days early rather than collide with my usual Sunday/Monday blog schedule. Kept hoping to find something new, and finally did after I thought I'd finished the column: The Perceptionists: Resolution.

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 based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on June 30. Past reviews and more information are available here (9910 records).

Recent Releases

21 Savage: Issa Album (2017, Slaughter Gang/Epic): Rapper Shayaa Bin Abraham-Joseph, from Atlanta, first studio album although he had an EP I liked last year (Savage Mode). I like the easy beats and delivery here. However, doesn't it seem a bit lazy to make every line rhyme by ending it with the N-word? B+(*)

John Abercrombie Quartet: Up and Coming (2016 [2017], ECM): British guitarist, on ECM since 1974, backed here by pianist Marc Copland (wrote two songs), Drew Gress (bass), and Joey Baron (drums). B+(*) [dl]

Ryan Adams: Prisoner (2017, Blue Note): Prolific singer-songwriter, seemed promising when he first appeared in 2000 but quickly grew tiresome. I still can't find anything much to care about, but as a formal piece of guitar-driven songcraft this sounds pretty good. B+(*)

Akmee: Neptun (2016 [2017], Nakama): Norwegian group: Erik Kimestad Pedersen (trumpet), Kjetil Jerve (piano), Erlend Albertsen (bass), Andreas Wildhagen (drums). Four songs, two by the pianist, one each bassist and drummer. Slow to develop, but powerful or eloquent when they do. B+(***)

Algiers: The Underside of Power (2017, Matador): Postpunk band from Atlanta, second album, moves both toward metal and experimental, a mix that I sometimes get a charge out of but more often find annoying. Produced by Adrian Utley of Portishead. Thom Jurek: "Algiers ultimately turn doomsday on its head unexpectedly." B-

Sebastien Ammann: Color Wheel (2016 [2017], Skirl): Pianist, born in Switzerland, based in New York since 2008, second album, both quartets, this one distinguished by alto saxophonist Michaël Attias, whose runs keep slipping out of the grooves. A- [cd]

Sheryl Bailey & Harvie S: Plucky Strum: Departure (2017, Whaling City Sound): Guitar and bass duets, second album together -- first filed under the bassist, but cover shows Bailey in the driver seat this time. Originals from each, one together, covers from Steve Stills and Joni Mitchell. B+(*) [cd]

Big Boi: Boomiverse (2017, Epic): Like Jay-Z, another big-time rapper into real estate. Still, I prefer his boisterous, big-time pop. B+(***)

Bleachers: Gone Now (2017, RCA): Indie pop band, principally Jack Antonoff, who collaborated extensively on Lorde's Melodrama. I prefer Lorde's voice for pop, but this isn't bad, especially on relationship songs. But I did get tripped up by the closer. B+(*)

Theo Bleckmann: Elegy (2016 [2017], ECM): German vocalist, fifteen albums since 1992, more art song than swing, often given an angelic air by his high-pitched voice. Leads a band that indulges him lavishly: Ben Monder (guitar), Shai Maestro (piano), Chris Tordini (bass), and John Hollenback (drums). B+(*) [dl]

Benjamin Booker: Witness (2017, ATO): Singer-songwriter born in Virginia, grew up in Florida, given name Benjamin Evans, adopted name suggests a gnarled bluesman but his eponymous first album didn't really fit that hole, and this one doesn't even aim for it. Garage rock seems to be the new consensus, but I see he's cited "Gun Club, Blind Willie Johnson and T. Rex as influences." More a way of triangulating what he's aiming for, a target he sometimes hits. B+(***)

Jaimie Branch: Fly or Die (2017, International Anthem): Trumpet player, based in Chicago, seems to be her first album, mostly quartet with Tomeka Reid (cello), Jason Ajemian (bass), and Chad Taylor (drums), plus some "cameos" -- notably too many cornets. I get hung up on a piece called "The Storm" -- otherwise impressive, an especially strong turn by the drummer. Choice cut: "Theme Nothing." B+(**)

Brother Ali: All the Beauty in This Whole Life (2017, Rhymesayers Entertainment): Minneapolis rapper Jason Newman, converted to Islam at age 15, sixth album: as thoughtful, good natured, well intentioned as ever. B+(**)

François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Rafal Mazur: Oneness (2015 [2017], FMR): Leader plays alto sax and Chinese oboe, accompanied by drums and acoustic bass guitar. Parts are a bit harsher than I'd like, but I love Carrier's deep, searching runs, and this is another good setting for them. A- [cd]

Cashmere Cat: 9 (2017, Mad Love/Interscope): Norwegian DJ/turntablist, Magnus August Halberg, first album after three EPs. Draws on an impressive roster of vocalists -- Kehlani, The Weeknd, Ariana Grande, Ty Dolla Sign, Selena Gomez, Jhené Aiko, and more -- while minimizing their differences. B+(*)

Charly Bliss: Guppy (2017, Barsuk): Guitar band from Brooklyn, singer-guitarist Eva Hendricks give them some pop appeal while guitarist-vocalist Spencer Fox thickens the din (something I've seen dubbed "bubble-grunge"). B+(**)

Amber Coffman: City of No Reply (2017, Columbia): Former Dirty Projectors singer, absent from this year's album although Dave Longstreet co-wrote and produced here. I find the group's fancy twists and filigree damn near unbearable, but this album is relatively free of annoyance -- just conventional stuff, mostly synth strings, nicely tucked into the background, where they frame her attractive voice. B+(**)

Avishai Cohen: Cross My Palm With Silver (2016 [2017], ECM): Israeli trumpet player, unrelated to the bassist but brother of Anat Cohen, second ECM album, quartet with piano (Yonathan Avishai), bass (Barak Mori), and drums (Nasheet Waits). Tends to submerge under Manfred Eicher's aesthetic, which is probably the point, but the trumpet has a nice brassy air. B+(**) [dl]

Larry Coryell's 11th House: Seven Secrets (2016 [2017], Savoy Jazz): Reunion of the guitarist's best known fusion groups, with several albums (and later archival material) spanning 1972-76. Randy Brecker (trumpet) and Alphonse Mouzon (drums/keyboards) return from the original group -- Mouzon died soon after this was recorded, and Coryell died before its release. Also adds second guitarist Julian Coryell and Mike Lee on bass. Heavy grooves, blistering trumpet, nice they got this chance to feel young again. B+(*)

Carl Craig: Versus (2017, InFiné): Pioneering electronica producer from Detroit, his 1997 album More Songs About Food and Revolutionary Art a personal favorite, but I can't say as I've followed him closely since. He provides electronics and production for his tracks here, but the bulk of the sound comes from a 22-piece orchestra, arranged by Francesco Tristano to bring forth the drama, suggesting classical music but when have they ever enjoyed such danceable beats before? A- [bc]

Richard Dawson: Peasant (2017, Weird World): Singer-songwriter from Newcastle, UK; started as a folkie, winds up all over the map, with folkish harmonies and music that isn't afraid of getting dissonant. His own voice reminds me of Robert Wyatt, although I'm less inclined to forgive his idiosyncrasies and lapses, partly because it grates so much more. B

Jack DeJohnette/Larry Grenadier/John Meddeski/John Scofield: Hudson (Motéma): Cover only offers last names, although all are pretty recognizable. Hype credits this to "jazz supergroup Hudson." Names appear alphabetical, the opposite of the way I would list the credits by instrument, with guitarist Scofield up front. Indeed he is, and probably playing better than he has in two decades, but I'm tempted to chalk that up to the drummer, especially remarkable on the 10:56 title piece. Also note that nearly half of the pieces are late-1960s rock hits -- two Dylans, Hendrix, Robertson, Mitchell -- and while they're the things you notice, they're not the ones that stick with you. A-

Dirty Projectors: Dirty Projectors (2017, Domino): Formerly an indie rock band given to fancy arrangements and off-kilter rhythms, now just Dave Longstreth and extra studio musicians, notably co-producer Tyondai Braxton. I hated their/his last two albums, ones which turned them into much more than a cult band, and didn't expect anything better here. Didn't find it either: just intricately layered churchy/soulish vocals with no discernible sense of time. C

Chano Dominguez: Over the Rainbow (2012 [2017], Sunnyside): Spanish pianist, has twenty-some records since 1980, including a couple with Martirio, one with Paquito D'Rivera, one called Flamenco Sketches. Solo, probably not the one to start with. B+(*) [dl]

Emperor X: Oversleepers International (2017, Tiny Engines): Chad Matheny, American but based in Berlin, had a thing for odd electronic music but came up with a surprising set of songs in 2011 (Western Teleport), and almost repeats that feat here -- except that I lose track somewhere after "Schopenhauer in Berlin" until the closing 11:11 minimalist instrumental. B+(***)

Noga Erez: Off the Radar (2017, City Slang): Electropop artist from Israel, works/writes with producer Ori Rousso, first album, titles in English but I'm less clear about the lyrics. Not a lot of pop appeal, closer but still not as gloomy as trip-hop.. B

Ergo: As Subtle as Tomorrow (2013 [2016], Cuneiform): Trombonist Brett Sroka, leading a trio with Sam Harris (keyboards) and Shawn Baltazar (drums), fourth album together, where Harris produces the most unexpected sounds -- prepared piano is one of his options -- but the trombone pulls it back together. B+(***) [dl]

Kevin Eubanks: East/West Timeline (2017, Mack Avenue): Guitarist, discography starts in 1983, couple dozen albums although only one entered my database. Looks like two sessions, the first half with Nicholas Payton (trumpet), Orrin Evans (piano), Dave Holland (bass), and Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums); the second with Bill Pierce (tenor sax), Rene Camacho (bass), Marvin "Smitty" Smith (drums), and Mino Cinelu (percussion). Nice either way. B+(*)

The Feelies: In Between (2017, Bar/None): NJ jangle pop band, invented their genre in 1980 and broke up as soon as they released their greatest album, 1991's Time for a Witness. As with so many bands, they ran out of better options and regrouped -- in 2006, with an album in 2011, and now this second one. No new ideas here, and for a while I thought they were slowed by age, but the reprise of the title cut is something I could dig much longer than its 9:23. B+(**)

Forest Swords: Compassion (2017, Ninja Tune): English electronica producer Matthew Barnes, second album, leaves me feeling pretty empty. B-

Free Radicals: Outside the Comfort Zone (2017, Free Rads): Houston group, "a horn-driven instrumental dance band with a commitment to peace and justice" -- I recognized the group name from chemistry, but sure, politics works too. Took no more than five seconds for me to realize they were right up my alley. Turns out they've been around for a couple decades, recording The Rising Tide Sinks All in 1998 and five albums since. Nine-piece group, three saxes, three brass (including sousaphone), guitar, bass, drums, but 15 more "guests" joined in these sessions, including two elder vibraphonists whose credits include Benny Goodman and Sun Ra (author of their one cover). For a first approximation, imagine a cross between anarchist collectives like Club D'Elf and the Tribe and a New Orleans brass band. Not without its messy moments, but surely a SFFR. A- [cd]

Bill Frisell/Thomas Morgan: Small Town (2016 [2017], ECM): Guitar and bass duets, recorded live at the Village Vanguard, very low key. Three originals (one by both, two Frisell), five covers, "Wildwood Flower" recalling Frisell's Americana, an effect deepened by the title tune. Other covers: Paul Motian, Lee Konitz, Fats Domino, "Goldfinger." B+(**) [dl]

Satoko Fujii/Natsuki Tamura: Kisaragi (2015-16 [2017], Libra): Piano and trumpet duets, at least that's what the cover says, but I'm not hearing much of that -- a lot of submerged electronic sound, interesting here and there but never really seems to break the surface. B+(*) [cd]

Future Islands: The Far Field (2017, 4AD): Synthpop band from Baltimore, fifth album since 2008, their second title from poet Theodore Roethke -- an effect that I suppose recalls bands like the Cure. This one is more than a little catchy, but beyond that hard for me to say. B+(*)

(Sandy) Alex G: Rocket (2017, Domino): Birth name is Alexander Giannascoli, from Pennsylvania, based in Philadelphia, self-recorded lo-fi albums from 2010 on, finally getting picked up by Domino for 2015's Beach Music. This has some nice, even some noisy, stretches. B

Laszlo Gardony: Serious Play (Solo Piano) (2017, Sunnyside): Pianist, from Hungary, has recorded steadily since the early 1980s. Solo, mostly standards, avoids the obvious. B+(*) [cd]

Golden Pelicans: S/T (2014, Total Punk, EP): Punk band from Orlando, had a live cassette and a couple singles before this 12-inch vinyl, 7 short cuts, 14:25, title as given on their Bandcamp though I'd be tempted just to use the band name. Classic punk, right at you. B+(***)

Golden Pelicans: Oldest Ride Longest Line (2015, Total Punk, EP): Longer (9 cuts, 17:39), if anything faster. Needless to say, I can't parse a single line of lyrics, but for some reason that bothers me more here (maybe because one oft-repeated word sounds like "faggot," but turns out the song title is "Maggots"). B+(**)

Golden Pelicans: Disciples of Blood (2017, Goner, EP): Punk purism evolving into something they call "thug rock" -- the songs stretching out over two minutes on average (9 cuts, 20:59), so long they count this as an LP. Other advances include a label I've heard of and color on the cover. Still intense. B+(***)

Goldfrapp: Silver Eye (2017, Mute): English electropop duo, singer Alison Goldfrapp and synth player Will Gregory. Seventh album since 2000. B+(*)

Vitor Gonçalves: Vitor Gonçalves Quartet (2017, Sunnyside): Pianist, from Brazil, based in New York. First album, with Todd Neufeld (guitar), Thomas Morgan (bass), and Dan Weiss (percussion). B+(*)

Giovanni Guidi: Ida Lupino (2015 [2016], ECM): Italian pianist, handful of records since 2006, two previous trios on ECM, this a bassless quartet: Gianluca Petrella (trombone), Louis Sclavis (clarinet), Gerald Cleaver (drums). Most satisfying when the trombone gets the upper hand. B+(*) [dl]

Marika Hackman: I'm Not Your Man (2017, Sub Pop): English singer-songwriter, father Finnish, second album after four EPs starting in 2013. Probably started as a DIY folkie but moved into on into non-glitzy pop. B+(**)

Haim: Something to Tell You (2017, Polydor): Three sisters, surname Haim, from Los Angeles. Second album: loud, catchy popular rock. B+(**)

Calvin Harris: Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 (2017, Fly Eye/Columbia): Scottish DJ/producer (given name Adam Richard Wiles), called his first album I Created Disco (he was born in 1984). Ten cuts (37:40), each featuring 1-3 well-known names (e.g., "Heatstroke" features Young Thug, Pharrell Williams, and Ariana Grande). Hottest track just has one voice: Nicki Minaj. B+(*)

Joel Harrison: Stump (2013 [2014], Cuneiform): Guitarist, has a dozen or so albums since 1996, "focus here is kon his playing and not his writing and arranging," which gets him out of a postbop quagmire I've never warmed to. Provides more details on his gear than song credits ("a mixture of Luther Vandross, Buddy Miller, George Russell, a traditional spiritual, Paul Motion, Leonard Cohen"). Backed with bass, drums, and (6/11 cuts) organ/keyboards. B+(***) [dl]

Alexander Hawkins: Unit[e] (2016-17 [2017], self-released, 2CD): British pianist, plays in Convergence Quaret, Decoy, and other projects. First set is an explosive sextet, with Shabaka Hutchings (bass clarinet/tenor sax), Dylan Bates (violin), Otto Fischer (guitar), bass, and drums. Second set swaps drummers and replaces Hutchings, doubling the group size, adding trumpets, reeds/flutes, cello, and live electronics. B+(**) [bc]

Arve Henriksen: Towards Language (2016 [2017], Rune Grammofon): Norwegian trumpet player, nine albums since 2001, backdrop mostly guitar and electronics -- he contributes to the latter along with Eivind Aarset and Jan Bang, and adds his voice (plus Anna Maria Friman on one track), aiming for something ethereal. B

J Hus: Common Sense (2017, Black Butter/Epic): British rapper, Momodou Jallow, born in London of Gambian descent, first album after a mixtape and several singles. Disjointed, off-kilter beats -- any hype about Afrobeat is strictly in the ear of someone else -- vocal range pretty narrow but keeps at it and ultimately catches on. B+(**)

Benedikt Jahnel Trio: The Invariant (2016 [2017], ECM): German pianist, originally appeared in a group called Cyminology (after vocalist Cymin Samawatie). With Antonio Miguel on bass and Owen Howard on drums. Original pieces. B+(**) [dl]

Jay-Z: 4:44 (2017, Roc Nation): Big star, rapsabout what matters most (to him, anyway): his asset portfolio. Better, I suppose, than slinging dope, where he made his first fortune. Slippery beats, legendary flow, marred by the occasional operatic sample. B+(**)

Dusan Jevtovic: No Answer (2016 [2017], Moonjune): Serbian guitarist, has at least two previous albums, this one a fusion trio with Vasil Hadzimanov on keyboards and Asaf Sarkis on drums. Strong on the upbeat, impressive for a while. B+(*) [cd]

Sean Jones: Live From Jazz at the Bistro (2017, Mack Avenue): Trumpet player, quartet includes Orrin Evans (piano), Luques Curtis (bass), and Obed Calvaire (drums), plus a couple guests join in on several cuts. B+(*)

Jonwayne: Rap Album Two (2017, The Order Label): Rapper from La Habra, CA; real name Jonathan Wayne. Follows up on 2013's Rap Album One, but he has three more albums, a half-dozen mixtapes. Runs a skit making fun of not looking like a rapper, and if the cover doesn't cinch that, the skit does. B+(***)

Alison Krauss: Windy City (2017, Capitol): Started out as a bluegrass fiddler, crediting her band on most of her albums, but she's always sung, remarkably on these ten covers. She may look like a lost mannequin on the cover, but there's nothing stiff or fake here. Especially choice cuts: "Gentle on My Mind," "Poison Love," "You Don't Know Me." A-

Steve Lacy: Steve Lacy's Demo (2017, Three Quartet, EP): From Compton, Steven Thomas Lacy-Moya, still a teenager but joined the Internet for their third album (Ego Death), spins off a six-song 13:33 "song-series" here. B

Brian Landrus Orchestra: Generations (2017, BlueLand): Baritone saxophonist, has a half-dozen albums but regards this big band + strings affair as some kind of breakthrough. Liner notes: "It's a culmination of everything I've listened to and loved over the years." Then he produces a long list of examples, including Stravinsky, Mulligan, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, J Dilla, and Hermeto Pascoal. He could have stopped after the first two: this opens with a four-part "Jeru Concerto." I vaccilate between hating it and finding myself swept up in the vast absurdity of the enterprise. B+(**) [cd]

Nikki Lane: Highway Queen (2017, New West): Alt-country singer-songwriter, originally from South Carolina, based in Nashville but doesn't really belong there. B+(**)

Led Bib: The Good Egg (2013 [2014], Cuneiform): British group, drummer Mark Holub seems to be the leader, with two alto saxophonists (Pete Grogan and Chris Williams), keyboards (Toby McLaren), and double bass (Linan Donin). Eight albums since 2005; this one, a four-cut 33:58 live vinyl/download only, came out the same day as The People in Your Neighborhood, and has been languishing in my download queue for quite a while. Some remarkable stretches here, and for once they don't wear out their welcome. B+(***) [dl]

Led Bib: The People in Your Neighborhood (2013 [2014], Cuneiform): Studio album, eleven tracks, 71:31, more range but maybe too much as they wander more, but still a powerhouse. B+(**) [dl]

Let's Eat Grandma: I, Gemini (2016, Transgressive): British group, from Norwich, principally Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton -- "multi-instrumentalists" although keyboards dominate and drums appear only after you start wondering why there aren't any. They harmonize in little girl voices, often taking on little girl personas. Group name derives from a joke about the comma placement, obscured and made more menacing by omission. B

Carmen Lundy: Code Noir (2017, Afrasia Productions): Jazz singer, more than a dozen albums since 1986, has one of those widely admired voices, deep and resonant, but frames it with pretty ordinary arrangements in a hornless band. B

Taj Mahal & Keb' Mo': TajMo (2017, Concord): Two bluesmen who always seemed comfortable in their retro form, a genre that Taj (Henry Saint Clair Fredericks) invented as early as 1968, although, now 75, he hasn't recorded much since 2000. Only nine years younger, Keb' (Kevin Moore) didn't record until 1994 -- he never struck me as that notable, but he's picked up three Grammy Awards and been nominated for many more. Best thing here is a relaxed, understated "Diving Duck Blues," just a duet (better, I think, than the version on Taj's debut album). However, they lose that charm when the big band chimes in, no matter how agreeable the fancy band groove gets. B

Mat Maneri/Evan Parker/Lucian Ban: Sounding Tears (2014 [2017], Clean Feed): Viola/saxophone/piano trio, a viable chamber jazz configuration except that Parker is hard to hem in or pin down, and he provides most of the interest here. B+(*) [cdr]

Mura Masa: Mura Masa (2017, Polydor): British DJ Alex Crossan, from Guernsey, took his alias from Japanese swordsmith Muramasa Sengo. First album, draws on a wide range of singers and rappers (Damon Albarn, Nao, Héloise Letissier, A$AP Rocky) for an eclectic mix, unfied by the dance beats. B+(*)

Spoek Mathambo: Mzansi Beat Code (2017, TEKA): South African rapper, probably more accurately rooted in electro or kwaito as the beats and chants matter more than the words here. B

Father John Misty: Pure Comedy (2017, Sub Pop): Singer-songwriter Josh Tillman, cut eight albums 2003-10 as J. Tillman, played on one Fleet Foxes album, now has three albums under this moniker. Title cut is anything but, and the somber sobriety gets stifling, even when he's self-conscious, as when "Mara taunts me" saying "just what we all need/Another white guy in 2017/Who takes himself so goddamn seriously." I looked that lyric up after I heard "He's a national treasure now," and wasn't sure whether he was talking about Jesus or Trump -- turns out himself, for once not the worst-case scenario. The music does grow on you. I could imagine someone loving this -- just not me. B-

Roscoe Mitchell: Bells for the South Side (2015 [2017], ECM, 2CD): Chicags saxophonist, joined AACM in 1965 and co-founded Art Ensemble of Chicago in 1967. Recorded this for AACM's 50th anniversary. Half nonet -- Hugh Ragin (trumpet), James Fei (reeds), Tyshawn Sorey (trombone/piano/drums), Craig Taborn (piano), Jaribu Shahid (bass), three more percussionists (Kikanju Baku, Tani Tabbal, William Winant) -- and half duo and trio subsets, which leave much open space, although not without interest or occasional surprise. B+(***)

Mokoomba: Luyando (2017, OutHere): Band from Zimbabwe, third album, translates from Tonga as "mother's love." As expected, splits the distance between Congolese soukous and South African jive, including a piece of mbube. B

The Moonlandingz: Interplanetary Class Classics (2017, Transgressive): Side project for two members of Fat White Family plus Rebecca Taylor and Sean Lennon, hard to pin down but neo-psychedelia is the genre I most often find. Dense, fast, and loud, not a mix I'm very fond of. B

Sam Newsome: Sopranoville: Works for Prepared and Non-Prepared Soprano (2017, Some New Music): Saxophonist, played tenor early on but since 2005 has focused on soprano. His innovation here is various ways to coax unusual sounds from the horn by "pareparations" -- change to the reed, obstacles that modify the airflow, and/or dangling chimes from the horn. He tries hard to make music with this setup, but it is by nature limited. B+(*)

Oxbow: Thin Black Duke (2017, Hydra Head): Underground (noise/experimental) rock group from San Francisco, dates back to 1988, principally Eugene Robinson (vocals, lyrics) and Niko Wenner (guitar, keybs, music), plus bass and drums, first album titled Fuckfest. Haven't heard the early ones but Robinson's anguished wail reflects back to the blues, set off by the hard rock Sturm und Drang. B+(*)

Ozomatli: Non-Stop: Mexico to Jamaica (2017, Cleopatra): Los Angeles band, released eponymous debut in 1998, obviously closer to Mexico than to Jamaica, which contributes occasional rhythms without being recognizable as such. Mostly in Spanish, not that "Besame Mucho" or "La Bamba" need translations any more than "Land of 1000 Dances" and "Come and Get Your Love" -- anyway, their selling point is the treatment, not the songs. B+(*)

The Ed Palermo Big Band: Oh No! Not Jazz!! (2014, Cuneiform, 2CD): Alto saxophonist, formed his big band in 1977, cut their first record in 1982, came up with the idea of arranging Frank Zappa tunes for big band in the 1990s and this is at least his third Zappa album. First disc anyway -- reminds me that I've never liked Zappa, although he's probably not the only one here to blame. Second is mostly Palermo originals, which aren't much better. C

Eddie Palmieri: Sabiduria/Wisdom (2012 [2017], Ropeadope): Pianist, parents moved from Puerto Rico to the Bronx where he was born in 1938. Has 43 albums since 1962. Ten-piece group, eight more "special guests" (Donald Harrison, Obed Calvaire, Ronnie Cuber, Joe Locke, etc.). Rhythmically intense, bewilderingly complex. Choice cut: "The Uprising." B+(***)

Aaron Parks/Ben Street/Billy Hart: Find the Way (2015 [2017], ECM): Pianist, originally from Seattle, cut a record for Blue Note in 2008, two now for ECM plus a couple on Stunt. Has a lot of mainstream side-credits, starting with Terence Blanchard. Trio here, all originals except the title cut, flows nicely but doesn't really draw me in. B+(*) [dl]

Nicki Parrott: Dear Blossom: A Tribute to Blossom Dearie (2017, Arbors): Bassist-singer, from Australia, mostly standards with retro swing. While early on she sang with offhanded charm, she's become more confident and polished, doing fine by this songbook. Backed by piano-vibes-drums, with guest spots for Warren Vaché on cornet and Engelbert Wrobel on clarinet and tenor sax. B+(*)

Nicki Parrott: Unforgettable: The Nat King Cole Songbook (2016 [2017], Venus): With John Di Martino (piano), Frank Vignola (guitar), sister Lisa Parrott (baritone sax/bass clarinet), and some drums/percussion I can't find a credit for. Better songs, but not all of them work. B+(**)

Chris Pasin and Friends: Baby It's Cold Outside (2016 [2017], Planet Arts): Trumpet player, based in New York, studied at New England Conservatory, dropped out of jazz for a stretch but returned in 2009 with something he recorded in 1987. Second album I've heard, cut last June, aside from the title mostly Xmas songs, pretty much the last thing I was in the mood for on a Fourth of July morning -- but I suppose we can take some comfort that seasons come and go. Nice trumpet, and a few vocals from Patricia Dalton Fennell. B [cd]

The Perceptionists: Resolution (2017, Mello Music Group): Alt-hip-hop group from Boston, cut Black Dialogue, a terrific album, in 2005, plus a mixtape and a live album around that time, and nothing since then until now, although Jeffrey Haynes has had a notable career as Mr. Lif, as has Jared Bridgeman (aka Akrobatik). Not sure what happened to third member DJ Fakts One, but only two faces on this cover. Smart politics, the beats more jumbled as befits our more chaotic era. A-

Peter Perrett: How the West Was Won (2017, Domino): British singer-songwriter, fronted a memorable band called the Only Ones 1976-82, recorded a solo album in 1994 as the One, and finally came out with this album under his own name. Opener recalls "Sweet Jane" but is pretty great on its own. Then you start to recognize the old band, just older, slower, wearier, more desperate. Aren't we all? A-

Chris Potter: The Dreamer Is the Dream (2016 [2017], ECM): Tenor saxophonist, always works in some soprano, adds clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, mbira and sampler here, in a quartet with David Virelles (piano/celeste), Joe Martin (bass), and Marcus Gilmore (drums). Mostly settles into soft moods here, but occasionally busts a solo like you know he can do. B+(*)

Karriem Riggins: Headnod Suite (2017, Stones Throw): From Detroit, now based in Los Angeles, made his first impact as a jazz drummer, then as a hip-hop producer. This splits the difference, leaning toward hip-hop instrumentals, but with 29 cuts, only two over 3 minutes, it plays more like a scrapbook of ideas. B+(**)

Troy Roberts: Tales & Tones (2017, Inner Circle): Saxophonist (tenor/soprano), from Perth, Australia, half-dozen albums since 2006. Quartet with piano (Silvano Monasterios), bass (Robert Hurst), and drums (Jeff "Tain" Watts). Lively group, interesting detour on "Take the 'A' Train." B+(**)

Louis Sclavis: Asian Fields Variations (2016 [2017], ECM): French clarinetist, long discography since the early 1980s, trio here with Dominique Pifarély (violin) and Vinent Curtois (cello) -- both names in large print on the cover below the title. Chamber jazz, but it doesn't always go down smoothly, and is more interesting when it doesn't. [NB: download order shuffled from actual release.] B+(*) [dl]

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah: Ruler Rebel (2017, Stretch Music/Ropeadope): Trumpet player from New Orleans, expanded his name for a 2012 album and evidently still uses it. First album of a promised trilogy, "speaking to a litany of issues": "Slavery in America via the Prison Industrial Complex, Food Insecurity, Xenophobia, Immigration, Climate Change, Sexual Orientation, Gender Equality, Fascism and the return of the Demagogue." No fixed band, but the various keyboards, guitar, bass, drums and exotic percussion add up to a derivative of Miles Davis funk, with two cuts featuring Elena Pinderhughes' flute. B+(**)

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah: Diaspora (2017, Stretch Music/Ropeadope): Second installment in his trilogy, credits the leader with many things in addition to his trumpet, including "sonic architecture," and doubles down early on Elena Pinderhughes' flute, adding a Sarah Elizabeth Charles vocal to close. B+(**)

Sex Mob: Cultural Capital (2016, Rex): Long-running quartet, released five albums 1998-2003, since then just one more every 3-4 years, making this their ninth. They've often done covers/spoofs in the past (e.g., Sex Mob Does Bond), but everything here was written by Steven Bernstein (slide trumpet, alto horn), with old hands Briggan Krauss (alto/baritone sax, guitar), Tony Scherr (acoustic/electric bass, guitar), and Kenny Wollesen (drums/percussion). Plenty clever tricks, but no great jokes. B+(**)

ShitKid: ShitKid (2016, PNKSLM, EP): Swedish singer-songwriter Åsa Söderqvist. Eight cuts, 17:40, three with excrement in the title, but the single is "Oh Please Be a Cocky Cool Kid." Not clear whether the distortion is an aesthetic ploy or just sloppy recording. [Same title and cover previously released as 3-song, 7:23 single.] B- [bc]

ShitKid: EP 2 (2017, PNKSLM, EP): Not quite maturity, but she's learning, using the distortion more artfully, picking up bits of melody that recall girl groups or the NY Dolls doing girl groups although they're still pretty amateurish. Four songs, 10:52. B [bc]

ShitKid: Fish (2017, PNKSLM): Nine-cut, 28:15 "LP" -- repeats two songs from EP 2, including the obvious single "Sugar Town." Fans may be disappointed that the distortion abates, but that sounds like progress to me. Only a matter of time before she picks another moniker. B+(*) [bc]

Rotem Sivan: Antidote (2017, Alma): Israeli guitarist, based in New York, leads a trio with Haggai Cohen Milo (bass) and Colin Stranahan (drums). Nice tone and momentum. B+(**)

Bria Skonberg: With a Twist (2017, Okeh): Canadian, based in New York, sings and plays trumpet, fifth album, mostly novelties swung hard in Gil Goldstein arrangements. Lots of studio musicians sashaying in and out. Not as much trumpet as I'd like, but she's sassy and fun. B+(*)

Songhoy Blues: Résistance (2017, Fat Possum): Guitar band from Mali, second US album, not sure if they have any from their days in Bamako, but they've moved on from covering Ali Farka Touré. Indeed, if you buy the line that Touré plays blues like John Lee Hooker, they resemble a Southern rock band, although they occasionally slip up. B+(**)

Sorority Noise: You're Not as ____ as You Think (2017, Triple Crown): Guitar band from Hartford, CT; third album, rather short, running 10 songs in 29:38 as they turn their anxieties into excruciating pain and sometimes resolve, or something like that. B+(**)

Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet: December Avenue (2016 [2017], ECM): Polish trumpet player, 75, discography starts around 1970 with his first ECM album in 1975 and many more from 1995 on. Quartet with David Virelles (piano), Reuben Rogers (bass), and Gerald Cleaver (drums). Supportive, although the trumpet is eloquent, and sometimes the pianist breaks out. B+(**) [dl]

Mavis Staples: I'll Take You There: An All-Star Concert Celebration (2014 [2017], Blackbird Production Partners, 2CD): A Chicago concert for her 75th birthday celebration, chock full of guest stars who take most of the leads. Some names: Gregg Allman, Eric Church, Patty Griffin, Emmylou Harris, Taj Mahal, Buddy Miller, Aaron Neville, Bonnie Raitt, Jeff Tweedy. (There also seems to be a 1-CD version that omits the less famous, like Joan Osborne, Otis Clay, Ryan Bingham, and Grace Potter.) They're in full raise-the-rafters mode when they mass, especially toward the end when they follow up the inevitable "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" with Talking Heads' "Slippery People," the title cut, and everyone piling onto the finale, where the stage buckles under "The Weight." B+(**)

Vince Staples: Big Fish Theory (2017, Def Jam): Young (23) rapper from Long Beach, second album plus two EPs Christgau prefers over his debut. This one's as sketchy as the EPs and not much longer (36:04). For me (three plays) the words never emerged from the beats, which were fine but not exceptional. B+(***)

Dave Stryker: Strykin' Ahead (2016 [2017], Strikezone): Guitarist, did a lot of his early work on SteepleChase (from 1991), often teaming up with saxophonist Steve Slagle, but goes his own way here: with Steve Nelson (vibes), Jared Gold (organ), and McGlenty Hunter (drums). Hints at soul jazz but settles for a smoother, more sparkling, groove. B+(*) [cd]

Craig Taborn: Daylight Ghosts (2016 [2017], ECM): Pianist, from Minneapolis, was a big part of James Carter's 1990s Quartet. This is another quartet, although Chris Speed (tenor sax, clarinet) is here more for color and shading, never threatening to run away with so much as a song. Also with Chris Lightcap on bass and Dave King on drums, both (like the leader) dabbling in electronics. A- [dl]

Talinka: Talinka (2016 [2017], Moonjune): Principally singer-actress Tali Atzmon, produced by husband Gilad Atzmon, who also plays bass clarinet, soprano sax, and accordion, along with viola/violin, bass, and drums. Folkish, rooted in deepest, darkest Europe, a haunting vibe developed over the last few Orient House Ensemble albums. B+(***) [cd]

Katie Thiroux: Off Beat (2016 [2017], Capri): Bassist-singer, second album, more emphasis on the vocals this time (including some scat). One original, standards ranging from Ellington to Loesser to Leiber & Stoller ("Some Cats Know"), backed by piano and drums with Ken Peplowski (tenor sax/clarinet) on half the cuts, Roger Neumann (tenor/soprano sax) on two of those. Just bass and voice on "Willow Weep for Me" -- one of the finest versions ever. A- [cd]

Ralph Towner: My Foolish Heart (2016 [2017], ECM): Guitarist, plays classical and 12-string on this solo outing, the title cut the only standard, all else original. He's been doing this sort of thing since the early 1970s. This strikes me as having a little more bite than has been his norm. B+(**) [dl]

Harriet Tubman: Araminta (2013 [2017], Sunnyside): Band consisting of Brandon Ross (guitar), Melvin Gibbs (bass guitar), and J.T. Lewis (drums), released two albums 1998-2000, a third in 2011, and now this fourth, where they are joined by trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. Named for the famous abolitionist, born into slavery in 1822 as Araminta Ross, and lately picked to replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill. Smith is especially striking here, expanding and building upon the band's dense industrial-funk fusion. A- [dl]

Waxahatchee: Out in the Storm (2017, Merge): Fourth band album for Katie Crutchfield, joined here by twin sister Alison Crutchfield -- the pair previously fronted P.S. Eliot, then split with Alison recording as Swearin' before her solo album early this year. The hard anthems up front start as din but 3-4 songs in I start to follow, and even discern a bit of Alabama drawl. A-

Florian Wittenberg: Don't Push the Piano Around (2017, NurNichtNur): Avant composer, previously used electronics, wrote these pieces for piano and recruited Sebastiaan Oosthout to play them on a Fazioli 212 grand. Minimalist, mostly repetitive figures lapsing into more meditative passages. B+(**) [cd]

Wizkid: Sounds From the Other Side (2017, Starboy/RCA): Ayodeji Ibrahim Balogun, from Lagos, Nigeria, b. 1990, third album, first on a major label, genres listed as "Afrobeat, Afropop, reggae, dancehall, hip-hop" -- probably best known for a featured spot with Drake. Of those, the reggae/dancehall is most conspicuous, both on the opening and closing tracks. B+(**)

Glenn Zaleski: My Ideal (2014 [2017], Sunnyside): Pianist, from Massachusetts, based in New York, started with a 2010 duo with his saxophonist brother Mark. This is a trio with Dezron Douglas (bass) and Craig Weinrib (drums), plus one track with Ravi Coltrane on tenor sax. B+(*) [dl]

Recent Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries

Battle Hymns (2017, Quasi Band): Various Portland-based artists, few I've heard of but Janet Weiss fills in more often than not on drums, Sam Coomes is nearly as common on bass, Corrin Tucker has a group called Filthy Friends, and Carrie Brownstein appears as MEDS. Released soon after the election, "pay what you want" with the proceeds split between Planned Parenthood, ACLU, and Indie rock that's still indie. Mixed bag of songs, with "Love in the Time of Resistance" my favorite. B+(***)

The Bob's Burgers Music Album (2010-16 [2017], Domino, 2CD): From the animated sitcom. Pretty sure I've seen a couple episodes (out of 129 in 7 seasons), but not recent enough to contextualize any of the 112 tracks that fill up 1:56:13. In fact, I wouldn't have bothered if Matt Rice hadn't recommended it so highly, and he probably knows all that context. What I can say is that most songs are just sketches -- a few amusingly familiar -- and most are about food. Still, they play to me like light operetta, even if rock-based. Also lots of dialogue. B+(*)

Miracle Steps (Music From the Fourth World 1983-2017) (1983-2017 [2017], Optimo Music): Jon Hassell, whose 1980 album with Brian Eno coined the "Fourth World" meme, contributes a piece, along with 13 others I don't recognize. At the time earth was conventionally carved into three worlds, so the implication is that this music is rather distant from all three. Here we get a surfeit of mallets and hazy reeds/flutes, so Larry Chernicoff's bent saxophone is a welcome surprise -- not that the usual stuff doesn't grow on you. B+(***) [bc]

Allen Ravenstine + Albert Dennis: >Terminal Drive (1975 [2017], Smog Veil, EP): Pere Ubu trivia, supposedly the entire original 15:39 version of the piece which appeared in shorter form in the 1996 Datapanik in the Year Zero box. Ravenstine, a keyboard player, joined the group in 1975, and worked with them through 1989. Dennis plays string bass here. Strikes me as much ado about damn little. B

Old Music

Albert Beger's 5: Listening (2004, Earsay): Israeli saxophonist, plays tenor on five tracks, alto on the other two, sparring with Yoni Silver (bass clarinet/alto sax/organ), backed with guitar, bass, and drums. Dedicated to the late Steve Lacy. Sometimes settles into a groove, more often fights its way out. B+(**)

Albert Beger/Gerry Hemingway: There's Nothing Better to Do (2011 [2012], OutNow): Sax-drums duo, Beger playing tenor and soprano. Only really comes together when both push each other hard. [3/6 cuts] B+(*) [bc]

Willem Breuker Kollektief: In Holland (1981, BV Haast): Dutch avant group, dates back to 1974, ten pieces here, the leader playing three saxophones and two clarinets. Sometimes they veer too close to classical for my taste, more often they make rousing circus music, and occasionally throw in a tango, but you never doubt they're having a blast. B

Willem Breuker Kollektief: To Remain (1983-89 [1989], BV Haast): Mostly recorded in 1989, including the 12-part title suite, with a few earlier tracks stuck on at the end. Continues their avant mix of classical and circus music, at times turning downright cartoonish -- especially when they quote familiar tunes. All in good fun, I'm sure. B-

Daniel Carter/Toby Kasavan/Mark Hennen/William Parker: Feels Like It (2000 [2007], BDE-BDOP): Kasavan and Hennen both play piano/keyboards; Carter alto sax, flute, and trumpet, and Parker, of course, bass. Nothing on this album in Discogs, but thanks to Rick Lopez' magnificent Parker sessionography we know that Kasavan played with Parker once before (in 1977), while Hennen appears many times, from Jemeel Moondoc's Ensemble Muntu in 1973 all the way to 2008. Two long pieces, strong early as long as Carter can carry it. B+(*)

Larry Coryell: Lady Coryell (1968 [1969], Vanguard): The guitarist's first album, after his band Free Spirits' 1967 debut and a "featuring" credit under Chico Hamilton. First side seems aimed at some kind of psychedelic/Hendrix thing with vocals (not very good). Second side is jazzier, especially when Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison move in. B

Larry Coryell: Introducing the Eleventh House With Larry Coryell (1972 [1974], Vanguard): The guitarist's most famous band started here, five years after Coryell's debut, and continued through 1976. With Randy Brecker (trumpet), Mike Mandel (keybs), Danny Trifan (bass), and Alphonse Mouzon (drums). Compared to the 2016 reunion, the guitar is more central, the groove more fluid, and Brecker has yet to discover "skunk funk." B+(*)

Larry Coryell: The Restful Mind (1974 [1975], Vanguard): Featuring Ralph Towner (guitar), Collin Walcott (tablas/congas), and Glen Moore (bass); i.e., three-quarters of Oregon with the soft reeds replaced by more guitar power. Actually, pretty impressive when they turn that power on. B+(***)

Hamid Drake/Albert Beger/William Parker: Evolving Silence Vol. 1 (2005, Earsay): Tempted to file this under Beger -- Israeli tenor saxophonist, also plays alto flute, b. 1959, album cut on his home turf, name centered on the cover, and of course his brash free runs dominate the sound -- but the spine and all other sources favor the drummer. Beger starts tentative but soon finds his voice, and charges hard until they close out with some kind of chant. B+(***)

Hamid Drake/Albert Beger/William Parker: Evolving Silence Vol. 2 (2005 [2006], Earsay): More from the same sessions [but just 2/4 cuts on Napster]. "Funky Lacy" lives up to its title. B+(**)

Emperor X: Tectonic Membrane/Thin Strip on an Edgeless Platform (2004, Discos Mariscos): Second album, seems to have been reissued by Bar/None in 2012 after they released Western Teleport in 2011. There's much more on his Bandcamp page, but this at least has the form of a song album, albeit with more blips and more bits where he just sits on a riff, but they're interesting in their own right. B+(**)

Free Radicals: The Rising Tide Sinks All (1998, RWE): The title presumably a play on "a rising tide lifts all boats" -- a phrase John F. Kennedy made famous when he argued for reducing the marginal income tax rate on the rich nearly two decades before Arthur Laffer's napkin, probably his second most disastrous legacy (after his decision to dig deeper into Vietnam, rather than get the hell out). Several titles are political, but the one that best captures the vibrant music is "Circus of Life." And when a vocal appears on the third track, it's some kind of Muslim prayer sung over hip hop tabla beats. A-

Free Radicals: Our Lady of Sunny Delights (2000, Rastaman Work Ethic): Second album, the core group augmented by close to fifty musicians, working through 31 pieces ranging from 9 seconds to 5:56, with fewer vocals but much exuberance -- even a song about the "Irrational" kind. B+(**)

Free Radicals: Aerial Bombardment (2004, Rastaman Work Ethic): Fifty musicians, 32 tracks, opens with a nod toward reggae but the occasional vocals take a turn toward hip-hop, with the instrumentals favoring beat pieces over their usual horns. B+(**)

Free Radicals: The Freedom Fence (2012, Free Radicals): Back after eight years, "an epic collaboration of 48 musicians to create a highly danceable funk, klezmer, dub, ska, jazz, hip hop, and salsa-soaked satire of borders, apartheid, and gentrification" -- I can't attest to all of that as I've only heard 10/23 tracks, but they still add up to 33:59, and they cover a lot of ground. B+(**)

Free Radicals: Freedom of Movement (2015, Free Radicals): Here Houston's radical collective reins in their usual eclecticism to work with "Houston's renowned breakdancing collective Havikoro." The funk beats are relentless, but the politics rarely advances beyond the song titles. B+(***)

Lisbon Improvisation Players: Motion (2002 [2004], Clean Feed): Second of three albums by this "group" -- first album was all-Portuguese, but only player on all three is saxophonist Rodrigo Amado (tenor/baritone here), with Acácio Salero on drums and two visiting Americans: Steve Adams (soprano/tenor sax) and Ken Filiano (bass). B+(*)

Taj Mahal: Taj Mahal (1968, Columbia): Henry Saint Clair Fredericks Jr., born in Harlem 1942, grew up in Massachusetts; father a West Indian jazz arranger and piano player, mother sang in the church choir. Father was killed in an industrial act when Henry was 11, and his mother married the nephew of bluesman Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, pointing him toward guitar blues. In 1964 he formed a band with Ry Cooder before they both moved on to solo careers (Cooder plays rhythm guitar here). Eight blues standards done up as classic blues rock -- an impressive debut he then spread out from. B+(***)

Taj Mahal: Natch'l Blues (1968, Columbia): The debut proved he could play straight, hard, electric blues, but here is where he starts to sound distinctive, especially on his arrangement of "Corinna." He wrote five originals too, reducing the covers to four including a couple of soul efforts (William Bell and Homer Banks, but they suggest and fall short of Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett). B+(***)

Taj Mahal: Happy Just to Be Like I Am (1971, Columbia): More scattered, as he's starting to work in some things from his father's homeland in the West Indies, replete with Andy Narell's steel drums. Probably the most interesting thing here. On the other hand, his takes on such old fare as "Stealin'" and "Oh Susanna" come off a little hard. B+(**)

William Parker & the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra: Spontaneous (2002 [2003], Splasc(H)): The bassist's big band, never the most disciplined of units but well stocked with free-thinkers (e.g., trumpets: Lewis Barnes, Matt Lavelle, Roy Campbell), in full improv fury, live at CBGB's in New York. Two half-hour pieces, "Spontaneous Flowers" (Ayler) and "Spontaneous Mingus." B+(*)

William Parker Bass Quartet Featuring Charles Gayle: Requiem (2004 [2006], Splasc(H)): The four bassists -- Parker plus Henry Grimes, Alan Silva, and Sirone -- set the tone and limit the momentum, with Gayle occasionally joining in on alto sax for a bit of spit and polish. B+(**)

Rising Sons: Featuring Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder (1965-66 [1992], Columbia/Legacy): First band for the future roots stars, the 17-year-old Cooder recognizable vocally because he wasn't ready yet, although I can't complain about his bottleneck guitar. The 23-year-old Taj's voice is more obvious (even before he dubbed the final three tracks in 1992), and the vocals I can't place probably belong to Jesse Lee Kincaid -- he seems to have been the de facto leader of the group. Rounding out the band were Gary Marker (bass) and Ed Cassidy (drums, later replaced by Kevin Kelley). Terry Melcher produced an album, but it was shelved until being recast here, probably because their mixed bag country-rock needed a clearer voice to be recognized (like Gram Parsons, or Glenn Frey). Not that there isn't a decent blues EP here somewhere. B

Matthew Shipp Trio: The Trio Plays Ware (2003 [2004], Splasc(H)): With William Parker (bass) and Guillermo E. Brown (drums), not just any piano trio but David S. Ware's legendary quartet minus the saxophonist. Lacks the rough edges Ware couldn't help but add, and some of the emotional force as well, while revealing how centered the melodies were. B+(***)


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
  • [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

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