Sunday, July 31, 2005
Music: Current count 10847  rated (+23), 975  unrated (-7).
Recycled Goods done, up soon. Mostly hacking my way through the jazz
backlog, so not much below.
- Joe McPhee Quartet: Legend Street One (1996, CIMP).
Two horns, with McPhee's arsenal (most notably, his pocket trumpet)
squared off against Frank Lowe's tenor sax. David Prentice plays
violin, so no bass. Charles Moffett drums. The music is decidedly
abstract, as if often the case with McPhee. Violin doesn't come
through very clearly, but the two horns are combustible. B+
Here's a quote from Tom Engelhardt, the last paragraph in a piece on
the Roberts Supreme Court nomination:
It is remarkable really. If the Democrats were an actual opposition
party, if they were really a party at all, the Roberts nomination
would be an open-and-shut case, no need to consider Roberts'
record on abortion or anything else. Why, after all, would a party
that believed a presidential election had essentially been stolen from
it by the Supreme Court in 2000 (and perhaps again in 2004 via voter
suppression and other techniques in Ohio) agree even to consider the
candidacy of a legal partisan who clearly had an unknown but
all-too-real hand in taking the election from them, or do anything but
demand the withdrawal of his nomination on the threat of a sustainable
filibuster? As the other political party, don't they even care about
futures elections? It seems, however, that the Democrats in Congress,
after much shuffling and hemming and hawing, will take the sharpened
razor handed them by the President and slit their own wrists.
The stinging words here are: "If the Democrats were an actual
opposition party, if they were really a party at all." One thing
you can count on is that when the Republicans snap the whip all of
their ducks line up and salute, both in Congress and in the pundit
racket. This is partly because the Republican Party goes out and
recruits candidates. And it's partly because so many Republicans
are lemmings, incapable of formulating their own thoughts. On the
other hand, Democrats think they're free-lancers, so each one has
to grapple with each issue, mostly haphazardly. In principle, I
like the Democratic approach better: it suggests that they have
open minds. But that only works if everyone plays by that game,
and the Republicans don't. Some Democrats may be willing to fight
mano-a-mano, but the Republicans are a well organized phalanx.
They would be unassailable and invincible if they weren't wrong
so spectacularly so often.
One great shame about all this is that the Democratic Party
does have clout if only they had the guts to use it. This is
because the media takes hints from the parties and their most
prominent politicians about which issues and arguments can be
considered legitimate. When neither party supports a position,
it just disappears from the public dialog -- even though there
may be a substantial unrepresented minority that still cares
about the issue. (Legalizing marijuana is an obvious example;
a single-payer health system is another.) One issue that the
Democrats should bring to the fore now is the venerable idea
that U.S. government should be a system of checks and balances.
As it stands, the executive, congressional and judicial branches
are all under Republican majorities, and with the Republicans
both marching rightward and becoming increasingly aggressive
about forcing their agenda. A Supreme Court nomination is the
perfect time to push an argument against one-party rule -- an
argument which will gain resonance in the 2006 congressional
Nothing in American history has prepared us for dealing with
a group of politicians as underhanded and manipulative as the
Bush administration. For most of history the two parties have
had more variation within themselves than they had net between
the parties. For most of history the parties have taken a second
seat behind the individuals, much as the Democratic Party does
today. The Republicans have changed all that, while the Democrats
have done little-to-nothing to expose them. In the U.K. the idea
of an opposition party extends to forming a shadow cabinet. For
the Democrats, opposition is an unpleasant option, to be used
only when they are allowed none other.
Last night we watched a stand-up comedy special by Bill Maher.
He wasn't spot on, but he could give the Democrats some tips on
how to stand up for what you believe. He could even give them a
few things to believe in, since they seem to have trouble in that
department on their own. Like Paul Krugman, he's a guy who started
out thinking that he's so smart he could make a nice career picking
on how dumb both parties are. But when Bush steered the ship of
state sharply to the right, they were so dumbfounded they lurched
to the left, and they've become so terrified of Bush that even Bill
Clinton is starting to look good. Moreover, they have few scruples
about pulling their punches. Not that they lack scruples, just that
they recognize that Bush deserves no respect -- indeed, they must
at least implicitly recognize that any respect shown Bush just lets
him do more damage.
Maher had three points worth reiterating here:
He brought up the charge that he hates America and dismissed
it. No, he doesn't hate America. He's embarrassed by America. Then
he goes into a long list of behaviors and, yes, most of them are
He collected and reduced a number of political issues (drugs,
sex, religion) into one basic one: the legislation of taste. This
hits the common denominator, which is that the people who push these
prohibitions don't just want to take your freedom away; they want to
make you like them. And, let's face it, they're embarrassing.
He excoriated the Republicans for endlessly coming up with
"bullshit" issues -- flag burning and ten commandments and school
prayer and gay marriage -- to deflect politics away from anything
Note that while much of what Maher said couldn't possibly be
said by a sober politician, he managed to fill a sizable auditorium
and consistently got laughs from every corner. Granted, that's only
a subset of America, but they were there in flesh and blood, which
isn't something you could figure out from listening to Democratic
A recent John Prine song singled out Bush, reminding us that
"some humans ain't human." That's a tough point for a Democrat to
grasp, but the facts are plain as day. The Democrats are supposed
to be the "reality-based" party. Time for them to get real, and
tell it like it is.
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Here's a news item from Michael Felberbaum of AP:
Bowling Green, Va. -- Scores of Boy Scouts were sickened by the
heat Wednesday while waiting for President Bush to arrive at a
memorial service for four Scout leaders who were killed while setting
up a tent beneath a power line.
The president's visit to the Scout Jamboree at Fort A.P. Hill was
postponed because of the threat of severe thunderstorms and strong
winds. Instead, Bush is scheduled to visit the gathering today.
But before the president's appearance was called off, many Scouts
fell ill from temperatures that rose into the upper 90s, made worse by
Soldiers carried Boy Scouts on stretchers to the base hospital,
about three miles from the event arena, and some were airlifted from
[ . . . ]
The memorial service had been planned to honor four men who were
electrocuted Monday while pitching a dining tent at the Jamboree.
On Wednesday, a spokesman said the group had ignored scouting
teachings by putting the tent under a power line.
"Boy Scouts are taught not to put their tents under trees or under
power lines. I don't know what happened in that case," Scouts
spokesman Gregg Shields said.
Some Scouts witnessed the deaths of the leaders as the large pole
at the center of a large, white dining tent came into contact with
In other words: Four Boy Scout leaders did something extraordinarily
stupid and died as a result. Four is an interesting number here -- in
a group of four it would only have taken one to have had enough sense
to prevent this accident, but it looks like the rest just sheepishly
went along with the dumbest of the group.
Why this happened isn't explored, but it fits several trends in the
way Americans behave. We associate leadership with assertiveness to the
extend that anyone with the uninhibited ego to step forward is likely
to be followed, regardless of common sense. Increasingly these leaders
are "success oriented" -- a disingenuous way of saying that they assume
that nothing serious will go wrong and everything will work out fine.
Such leaders are positive; anyone with the temerity to point out that
they may be skipping lightly over real risks is just being negative,
a critic, a dissenter -- ooh, we can't have that, as if the only reason
to point out a risk is to jinx the whole deal.
Another trend is that we're losing the ability to evaluate risks,
in part because most of us understand so little about how the world
works. To some extent this is because the expansion of science and
the growth of technology are mind boggling, but also because we've
become inured to their supposed benignness. Whereas our ancestors
knew that danger lurked everywhere, we have learned to treat danger
as the exception -- or more precisely, most of us have been lucky
enough to get away with ignoring risks. Part of this is reasonable,
inasmuch as we have developed relationships with experts we trust,
but it also makes us easy prey to unscrupulous leaders.
Speaking of which, the weird part of this story isn't the dead
Scout leaders -- it's President Bush. People go out camping and get
hurt, mostly through their own ignorance and/or hubris, all the time.
But something about this particular tragedy touched a nerve in the
President, or at least in his pollsters and handlers. Part of this
is that the Boy Scouts, famed for allegiance to God and Country, are
the sort of group that Bush's Party wishes to be associated with,
but beyond that it just seems like the sort of dumbass thing that
Bush might do himself. On the other hand, it's turned into an ironic
punishment: having reduced the survivors to a photo-op, the imperial
cloddishness of the Bush Presidency winds up torturing the Scouts
by not even showing up in a timely fashion. Bush is like a tornado
of incompetence, leaving wreckage in his wake everywhere he goes.
A more sentient being would have paid enough attention to feel like,
gosh, lady luck just isn't on his side, but Bush knows that the real
charm of leadership is never having to look back. That would, after
all, just be a distraction from his calling of blundering forward
into the abyss.
Other bits of news:
NASA's space shuttle launch once again malfunctioned, scattering
debris that may cause the shuttle to burn up on re-entry, same as on
the last launch. NASA, it should be remembered, invented the concept
of "success-oriented management" -- faced with declining budgets, they
decided they could make do if they just assumed that everything would
work out successfully and got rid of all that expensive redundancy that
went into their 1960s assault on the moon. Since then, virtually nothing
has succeeded at NASA, and the costs of recovering from their failures
has overwhelmed their reduced budgets.
Big news report in the paper this morning says that the U.S. will
significantly reduce troop levels in Iraq in 2006. The key idea here
seems to be a judgment that the insurgency is incapable of winning even
though there are no signs of it losing momentum or destructive power.
In other words, the expectation is that the newly trained Iraq colonial
army will be able to stalemate the insurgency as effectively as the U.S.
has been able to. Not to mention that Bush and Rumsfeld have fresher
fish to fry. Logically, this resembles Vietnamization as cover excuse
to get the hell out of a losing situation, but they're probably thinking
more in terms of Afghanistan: a perpetual war lightly covered by the U.S.
media because the U.S. troop commitment is relatively light. The big
problem with this plan is that it's meant to obscure the reasons for
Bush's failure rather than to learn from them.
Reports are that Iraq's new constitution will give priority to
Islamic law. How much this comes to resemble Iran's political system
isn't clear yet, but it is headed in that direction. The dominant
SCIRI/Dawa faction among Iraq's Shia is close to Iran, leading to a
political alliance that is likely to nudge the Americans out as soon
as they're no longer useful for bashing the old Baath order. Liberal
hawks should be the first in line to apologize for leading us to war,
since they're the first ones screwed in the outcome. And the neocons
should be right behind them. The only winners among the American war
party are the ones who merely wanted to thrash Iraq, to make it so
poor and crippled that it would never threaten Israel or the Saudis
or whoever else they favored.
The second round of London bombings were initially reported to
have killed none, but the British police fixed that by killing a suspect
who turned out to have absolutely no connection to the crime. That is
one of those side-effects no one reckons on when they start out on such
I got a piece of mail pointing out that in his July 22 column
Thomas Friedman urged the U.S. State Department to create a "War of
Ideas Report" which would flag "religious leaders and writers who are
inciting violence against others" and go further to flag a group of
people called "excuse makers": "After every major terrorist incident,
the excuse makers come out to tell us why imperialism, Zionism,
colonialism or Iraq explains why the terrorists acted. These excuse
makers are just one notch less despicable than the terrorists and
also deserve to be exposed." Friedman goes on, "the notion that
blowing up a busload of innocent civilians in response to Iraq is
somehow 'understandable' is outrageous." Parts of this are amusing
enough -- in particular, the U.S. right-wing punditocracy has much
more blood on its hands than anyone on the left, so presumably they
would dominate any such list, except one drafted by the State Dept.
A more conventional word for "excuse makers" would be "apologists,"
of which the Bush Administration has legions, so chalk them up too.
But the difference between the apologists and those who merely try
to understand is a pretty slippery slope, since understanding does
not in any way imply moral approval. According to Friedman's criteria
any competent historian, sociologist, economist or psychologist who
attempted to study the context of terrorism would have to be flagged.
The latter, at least, spares Friedman himself, whose own promotion
of hatred and violence is purely ideological, completely devoid of
The Plame Affair continues to revolve around the lies that
launched the Iraq War and the people who fed them to the press, so
it shouldn't be surprising that Karl Rove is the main man. I don't
think it's right that Judith Miller should be in jail for refusing
to talk -- that's not my idea of due process -- but a big part of
her role in all this seems to be her connection to Rove, and in
that regard whatever she had to do with Plame is trivial compared
to all the other lies she spread about Iraq.
The AFL-CIO split into two sets of unions. I grew up union and
I sympathize with what the unions have had to go through since Reagan
busted the air traffic controllers (or indeed since Taft-Hartley), but
the unions are in an untenable position -- torn between defending the
advantages of the small number of workers who still have unions and the
much greater but difficult and unrewarding task of trying to organize
workers who have little if any power and few if any prospects. Lack of
union members undercuts the unions' political clout, and lack of any
sort of favorable legal rights makes it very difficult to organize,
even during a period when all workers' livelihoods are threatened.
In other words, the split appears to be a dire disagreement between
two sides of a lose-lose proposition.
Sunday, July 24, 2005
Music: Current count 10824  rated (+14), 982  unrated (+37).
Much of the unrated count boost mostly comes from shopping near Detroit --
first time I've been in real record stores all year. August Recycled Goods
is nearly complete: this will be the jazz comp special. Behind on everything
else, but I have a deadline on next Jazz CG so that will be next up.
- Kickin' Hardcore Leaders (1994, Instinct). Subtitle
(or whatever): 100% UK Hardcore Jungle Breakbeat. A sequel (of sorts)
to two volumes of Kickin' Mental Detergent, of which I've only
heard the first. Liked it. Like this one too, but it seems a bit more
- Michael Mantler: Hide and Seek (2000 , ECM).
Words by Paul Aster, who unlike Samuel Beckett, Robert Creely, and
Edward Gorey isn't a name I recognize. Words sung by Robert Wyatt
and Susi Hyldgaard, in most cases the duties split line by line,
with the booklet providing both words and a sequence of photos of
the two singers sparring and gesticulating. I always thought that
Mantler's Gorey was a masterpiece, but the others never seemed like
more than bad ideas. This one is . . . somewhere in between. Don't
know about the words, but the voices gently rock back and forth,
and the music rocks gently as well, although the tones come more
from classical instrumentation. Didn't like it at first, but it
did grow on me. Penguin Guide rates it highly, but it's likely to
need much more time than I'm willing to give it. B+
Friday, July 22, 2005
Got back from Detroit tonight. Drove for Detroit last Saturday, getting
there Sunday evening after an overnight in Terre Haute, IN. Left Detroit
yesterday morning, stopping overnight in O'Fallon, MO. Distance is close
to 1000 miles, so both ways knocked off about 600 the first day out. Route
was the same both ways -- Wichita to Kansas City to Indianapolis to Ft.
Wayne and up to Marshall, MI, then skip north of Ann Arbor to get to Oak
Park, just north of Detroit. Laura's father joined us for the return trip,
which included one sightseeing stop -- the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Museum
in Auburn, IN -- and two good off-the-highway restaurants: Schuler's in
Marshall, MI and Fiorella's Jack Smokestack south of Kansas City.
Normally I avoid paying any attention to the news while I'm on the
road, but that's impossible with Laura and Kal in the car. Some things
I couldn't help but notice:
Bush nominated someone named John Roberts to the Supreme Court
seat being vacated by Sandra O'Connor. Mighty white of him, not that I
know enough about Roberts to be sure that he's not a closet pot smoker
or into porn or any other signs of free-thinking. Much discussion of
the nomination, mostly revolving on whether the nomination is clever
enough to dodge a fillibuster, and much posturing for some hypothetical
middle ground of reasonableness which Democrats like to claim even as
the Republicans pull the rug steadily to the right. My position is
that anyone good enough for Bush is worth opposing, although I'll
leave the details of why to specialists. What isn't getting much in
the way of discussion is why the Supreme Court should be different
from politics as usual. One key idea behind the U.S. Constitution is
the notion of "checks and balances" -- the idea that the courts should
act as a check against temptation of Congress and/or the President,
who presumably represent majority sentiments, to overreach and abuse
the rights and freedoms of minorities and individuals. A President
who actually believes in such checks and balances would search out
nominees to do just that, and a Congress that believes in checks and
balances would agree. But Bush is just a guy who believes that power
is something to grab and wield for all the advantage he can squeeze
out of it, and as such he wants allies on the court, not checks.
Knowing what we know about Bush, we have to assume that Roberts got
the nod because Bush is convinced that Roberts will help Bush push
his agendas. What little we know about Roberts doesn't contradict
this. Bush is such a uniquely dangerous politician that anything
that legitimates him or his nominees is a dangerous concession.
London got hit with a second cycle of terrorist bombs, but
most of them went pfffft. Multiple cycles, like multiple bombs at
the same time, make the attacks seem more pointed and the attackers
more numerous and better organized. Suicide attacks underscore the
resolution of the attackers, plus they add elements of pathos and
irrationality -- countries like the U.S. and Israel kill many more
people than suicide bombers, but can't bring themselves to make the
sort of sacrifices suicide bombers make. But these tactics come at
high costs. The evident progress that the U.K. was making on the
first round of bombs had started to show that the costs would be
high, and the failures of the second round just add to that. I'm
inclined to say that any such Islamist terrorist movement in the
U.K. is bound to burn itself out -- unless the U.K. is so stupid
as to feed it, as the U.S. has done. But while the U.K.'s policies,
with or without Blair, are congenitally self-destructive, I doubt
that the U.K. really does have the sort of suicide wish that the
U.S. and Israel have. Britain's eagerness to support the U.S. as
world hegemon has long struck me as a way of self-validation for
their own failed empire: it perpetuates the idea that the world
needs a benign master, and now that the U.K. is too small to do
the job itself, at least the U.S. keeps the necessary role within
the family. This conveniently forgets that the U.K. blundered its
way into an empire that the British made a complete hash of, and
that has left the U.K. as one of the poorest states in Western
Bombs in Egypt too: three huge car bombs at Sharm El Sheik
hotels. These attacks resonate both with the recent bombing at
Taba -- more explicitly directed at Israeli tourists -- and the
early-'90s Islamist insurgency which also targeted tourists at
Luxor. They also come a week or two after Egypt's top diplomat
in Iraq was kidnapped and killed, and soon after the story broke
about how the U.S. kidnapped a Muslim cleric in Italy, handing
him off to Egypt for interrogation (aka torture). Egypt was able
to quell the Islamist insurgency in the '90s through a mix of
brutal repression and favorable external events such as the hope
offered by the Oslo Peace Process which could be seen as the
belated completion of Egypt's 1979 peace treaty with Israel.
The renewal of violence against Egypt's regime follows the tide
change in external events -- Sharon, Bush, and their intense war
against Islamists and, collaterally but not incidentally, Arabs.
Egypt's status as a key ally of Israel and the U.S. makes it a
Juan Cole wrote a piece on how the winner of the war in
Iraq is Iran. His case is pretty convincing, but it could have
used some more background. I think the tipping point in this
struggle was when the Sadr militia took over Najaf and other
cities in the Shia-dominated south of Iraq. The U.S. had already
lost control of Fallujah and lost much ground to the Sunni-based
insurgency, so the prospect of losing the Shia majority loomed
especially ominous. In backing out of this debacle, the U.S.
first had to make a deal with Sadr, then with Sistani. This
led to elections favorable to the Shia Islamists with ties to
Iran. The proof was when Chalabi switched horses, moving from
the neocon's favorite pet to some sort of Iranian agent. All
the U.S. got from this shift was forbearance from the Shia to
avenge those dead contractors in Fallujah, which permanently
drove the Sunnis into the anti-American camp. That the Shia
politicos still depend on the U.S. for protection is merely
ironic. They know as well as anyone that the U.S. is utterly
unreliable for political support. Now that they have support
from Iran they can start to do what the U.S. has been unable
to do: to reconstruct. (Of all the things that Bush has to be
embarrassed about in Iraq, the most unkind may be that the
Iraqis we "liberated" from Saddam Hussein would find Iran to
be a more fair and competent aid in reconstruction than the
U.S.) That leaves them just one deal away from ejecting the
Americans completely: an accommodation with the Resistance.
The Italian government has issued arrest warrants for a
number of U.S. CIA operatives who kidnapped that Muslim cleric
in Milan and packed him off to Egypt. Italy is enough of a Bush
ally that they sent troops to Iraq, but not enough of an ally
that they don't get squeamish at a foreign power bulling its
way in and kidnapping a legal resident. The arrogance of U.S.
power has rarely been exposed so clearly. Like the bombings in
the U.K. and Egypt, this should make countries think twice before
they cozy up to the U.S.
Wichita has a fancy science museum that was built a few
years back, literally in the middle of the Arkansas river, as
part of the city's "museums on the river" concept. The museum,
like the Indian Center just up the other side of the river, has
been an economic disaster. The county just hired two consultants
to figure out what to do with it: one on how to raise revenues,
the other to try to figure out what else can be done with the
building. I have to admit that I've never been to either of
the museums, so I have no idea what we might lose in losing
them. Last time I went to a science museum I was turned off by
the massive swarms of children. My understanding is that the
museum here has the same orientation, just not done as well.
(And needless to say, the smaller population here, including
an excess of bible-thumping science haters, doesn't help.)
But more than anything else, this underscores a fundamental
dynamic in local politics: that there are always boosters for
big public construction projects, but very little support for
building and maintaining public institutions. Wichita is now
building something called "River Walk" -- a public-subsidized
shopping mall near downtown, focused along a river that they
haven't built yet. Next up is a big downtown arena project
which will be paid for with an extra 1% sales tax. One of the
selling points for the arena was that most other cities of
similar size have one, but it's worth noting that almost none
of them are successful, and there's no reason to think that
Wichita will in any way be exceptional. It seems likely that
before long the county will be hiring consultants to figure
out what to do with the arena. Most likely it will be turned
into a giant church, like the basketball arena in Houston.
I picked up the following items north of Detroit, from Music Time
(Ferndale or Roseville) and Street Corner Music. No opinions yet.
- Toshiko Akiyoshi Jazz Orchestra: Hiroshima: Rising From the Abyss (2002, True Life)
- Ben Allison: Riding the Nuclear Tiger (2000, Palmetto)
- Horace Andy: The Prime of Horace Andy: 16 Massive Cuts From the 70s (, Music Club)
- Bix Beiderbecke and the Chicago Cornets (1924-25, Milestone)
- Anthony Braxton/George Lewis: Donaueschingen (Duo) 1976 (196, Hat Art)
- Anthony Braxton: 8 Standards (Wesleyan) 2001 (Barking Hoop, 2CD)
- Arnett Cobb/Guy Lafitte: Tenor Abrupt: The Definitive Black & Blue Sessions
- Benoît Delbecq: Pursuit (2000, Songlines)
- Duke Ellington: Mrs Clinkscales to the Cotton Club: Volume 1 (1926-29, JSP, 4CD)
- E.S.T.: Strange Place for Snow (2002, Superstudio Gul/Columbia)
- A Flock of Seagulls: The Best of a Flock of Seagulls (1982-85,
- Ham Hocks & Cornbread (1945-52, JSP, 4CD)
- Paul Kelly: The Best of Paul Kelly (1970-77, Warner Archives)
- Living Things: Resight Your Rights EP (2003, DreamWorks)
- Jon Lloyd: Four and Five (1998, Hatology)
- Luomo: The Prestent Lover (2003, Kinetic)
- Massive Attack: Mezzanine (1998, Virgin)
- MC Hawking: A Brief History of Rhyme: MC Hawking's Greatest Hits (2004, Brash Music)
- Derrick Morgan: Moon Hop: Best of the Early Years (1960-69, Trojan/Sanctuary, 2CD)
- Ted Nash: Still Evolved (2003, Palmetto)
- New Order: Back to Mine (2002, DMC)
- Evan Parker: The Ayes Have It (1983-91, Emanem)
- Rich Perry: At Eastman (2001, Steeplechase)
- Radio Zumbido: Los Últimos Días del AM (2003, Palm)
- Randy Sandke and the Inside Out Jazz Collective: Inside Out (2000, Nagel Heyer)
- Shakira: Fijación Oral, Vol. 1 (2005, Epic)
- Sonny Simmons Trio: Transcendence (1996, CIMP)
- Swans: Soundtracks for the Blind (1996, Atavistic, 2CD)
- Tarika: 10: Beasts, Ghosts and Dancing With History (, Triloka)
- Cecil Taylor: Student Studies (1966, Fuel 2000)
- Trojan Dub Massive: Chapter One (Sanctuary)
- United State of Electronica (Sonic Boom)
- Western Swing and Country Jazz: An Expertly Selected Package (1935-40, JSP, 4CD)
- Warren Zevon: Genius: The Best of Warren Zevon (1976-2002, Elektra/Rhino)
Sunday, July 17, 2005
Music: Current count 10810  rated (+20), 945  unrated (+9).
Closing out early because of Detroit trip. Been working on jazz comps.
Not much writing below because too much other stuff going on right now.
- Gato Barbieri: Last Tango in Paris (1969 ,
Varese Sarabande). A famous soundtrack, but a soundtrack still. The
strings can get annoying, the atmospherics hit and miss. Barbieri's
sax can be glorious, but there's not enough of it. B
- Don Byron: No-Vibe Zone (1996, Knitting Factory).
Quintet with Uri Caine doing much of the heavy lifting. Byron plays
some spectacular clarinet. B+
- Ralph Carney: I Like You (A Lot) (1999, Akron
Cracker/Birdman). Carney is a reed player associated with Tom Waits,
but he's made a couple of albums on his own -- this one he plays
almost everything on, and sings (if you can call it that). Two
covers: "Chant of the Weed" from Don Redman, "Christopher Columbus"
from Chu Berry and Andy Razaf. Sounds like an interesting sideman.
- Tristan Honsinger Quintet: Map of Moods (1994 ,
FMP). Near string quartet (two violins, bass, and Honsinger's cello)
plus drums (Louis Moholo). Four pieces, defined as Areas 1-4 of the
Map of Moods. Scratchy.
- Stereolab: Dots and Loops (1997, Elektra). Not
much here -- the disconnection sinks all the way down to the title.
- Gretchen Wilson: Here for the Party (2004, Epic).
Makes a big splash, but not enough good songs to carry the day.
- Lizz Wright: Salt (2003, Verve). Deep voiced,
impressive singer. Music tends to be a little dull. B
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
One of our two cats passed away last night,
survived by Shirley. We've had these two cats since late 2001 --
I don't have a date in the notebook, just a note that Laura's
previous cat, Edna, died on April 4, 2001. We picked up Laverne
and Shirley at a no-kill kennel, where they had been abandoned.
I picked out Laverne because of her friendliness. She would come
right up to complete strangers, hop onto a lap, and start kneading
her declawed feet -- she was a lap-dancer. She was described as a
"Siamese Flamepoint" -- white, with light tan markings on her
face and tail. Lovely cat. Shirley is a slightly larger all black
cat. They had lived together before the kennel, and were caged
together when we got them. The kennel people prevailed on us to
keep them together.
We always assumed that they were about a year old when we got
them, which would make them five or so, but they could be older.
(Don't know how to tell.) They were pretty frisky when we first
got them. Less so now, although Shirley can move pretty fast.
Laverne took ill several months ago: lost weight, became very
dehydrated. We gave her antibiotics and fluids, and she bounced
back a bit, but never regained her weight. Took her to the vet
day before yesterday. She had abcesses in her gums, white cells
in her urine. Doctor lanced and treated the abcesses, and gave
us medicine. She seemed better that evening, but weakened a lot
yesterday, and looked to be in bad shape last night. After we
gave her medicine last night, she jumped down to the floor, then
laid down, spreading out. We found her this morning where she
was last night, quite stiff.
I bought Laura a digital camera this past Xmas, figuring it
would mostly be used to take pictures of cats. She didn't take
many, but we have a few. We haven't gotten the hang of this
technology yet -- haven't managed to print any of the pictures,
but I managed to get one picture scaled down and uploaded. In
the future I'll get some more pictures up -- isn't that what
websites are ultimately good for? So this picture is about six
months old, before she got sick. Looks a little bleary-eyed,
but all the pictures do, except the ones that show her eyes in
weird reflections. She had faint blues eyes, but when the light
hit her right they'd turn blood red.
Laverne spent much of the last few years sleeping on top of
Laura's monitor. When Laura got a new computer with an LCD
screen too narrow to sleep on, we bought the pedestal you see
in the picture. But in the last couple of months Laverne
discovered my CRT monitors and moved in with me. She bugged
me a lot. Miss her already.
Sunday, July 10, 2005
Music: Current count 10790  rated (+23), 936  unrated (+9).
Most of the progress this past week has been with jazz comps, the subject
of next month's Recycled Goods. Meanwhile, new jazz records are piling
up faster than I can keep up.
- Waylon Jennings: The Ramblin' Man (1974 , Buddah).
I'm reluctant to grade this up in the A- range on the basis of two plays
of something I found at the library and won't be able to pull off the
shelf, not least because I've never been so tempted by another Jennings
disc. The ten songs on the original are solid-plus. Two of three bonus
tracks are better still, and the third doesn't tail off much. His voice
is straight and clear, timing is sharp, doesn't overplay his hand. Good
- Horace Tapscott: Dissent or Descent (1984 ,
Nimbus West). Piano trio with Fred Hopkins and Ben Riley. Not the
fastest or finest work I've heard from Tapscott, but it retains
interest most of the way through. Hopkins and Riley are near the
top of their game and get plenty of room. B+
Here's a quote from Michael Lind's New York Times book review
of Pat Choate's Hot Property: The Stealing of Ideas in an Age of
Choate says that while industrializing countries may benefit from
piracy, the world as a whole loses. "Piracy and counterfeiting impede
innovation: thieves do not invest in reserach, design, production,
development or advertising. . . . The result is fewer new medicines,
fewer advances in science, fewer new products, fewer new music CD's,
fewer new movies, less new software and higher prices for whatever is
created." Everyone is harmed, either directly or indirectly, "when
thieves steal from Microsoft and Disney." And he concludes, "What is
missing is the will of U.S. political leaders to confront those who
are stealing U.S.-owned intellectual properties and with them the
future of the American people."
I don't know whether Choate has any evidence for these assertions,
but the logic is fairly simple: what's good for Microsoft and Disney
is good for America, and what's good for America is good for the world.
With so much "good" flowing out of this system, it is hoped that one
would overlook the money flowing the other way -- needed, of course,
to produce even more "good," although the more cynical might view this
as a self-perpetuating rent cycle, one more way rich countries keep
poor countries poor. As Lind/Choate note, the U.S. patent law back in
1793 only protected American inventors, exempting the U.S. from paying
rent to foreign countries -- a practice subsequently adopted by Japan
and Germany. It sure is convenient that the protectionism that built
Europe, America, and Japan has been deemed counterproductive for all
those developing countries.
But the more basic question is whether the assertion that patents
really do stimulate advances in science, new medicines, new products,
etc. The idea itself it counterintuitive. Research and development,
after all, are human activities -- work. The more people work, the
more they produce. But a patent is a prohibition: it says you can't
work on developing my idea, and I can't work on developing your idea.
So how do you get more research and development out of fewer people
working on any given idea? The trick, of course, is money: most work
in research and development depends on money, and a patent monopoly
promises a substantial return on private investment. But that raises
further questions: How important is money really, especially at the
research stage where most ideas are formulated? How much does that
monopoly grant cost everyone else in the economy, both in terms of
high prices and lost opportunities? And does the privatizing of
intellectual property harm us further by increasing secrecy and
introducing the moral hazzard of exploiting that property for
private interests? (E.g., Microsoft has been able to extend its
monopoly by exploiting network effects of its operating system
software with no public access or purview of what they're really
up to. Pharmaceutical companies have been known to not disclose
adverse test results until many people have suffered and the tort
liabilities exceed their potential profits.)
I think that the answer to these questions is that the obvious
and hidden costs of patent monopolies far exceed the advantages of
private financing and control. Certainly that's the case of software,
where closed source code hides defects and special cases. And the
case of pharmaceuticals is even worse. Less critical developments
may be able to tolerate patent abuse, but the time has come to
reconsider whether any patents have net social value. The core
question of whether patents stimulate innovation can easily be
answered just by rephrasing it: without the incentive of patents,
would anyone work to advance science, solve health care problems,
develop new and innovative products? The free software movement
is one clear case where the answer is yes. The development of
science, especially in the first half of the 20th century, is
another. Most product development embraces good ideas regardless
of whether they are patentable. (The pharmaceutical industry is
an exception here.) In all of these cases, ready access to open
knowledge is critical -- it is what lets us improve and refine
each other's ideas. The only downside I see is for products that
require a lot of money to develop. For them, eliminating patents
with all their drawbacks can be replaced by public investment.
Intellectual property is not just patents. It bundles together a
lot of different things, each with their own benefits and drawbacks,
and they need to be considered separately. Patents are by far the
worse, and as such the clearest case. Microsoft actually depends
more on trade secrets than patents, although its patent portfolio
is a potential menace. Disney depends more on copyrights. At some
point I'll write more about the latter, maybe even broaching the
inevitable music piracy/sharing debate, but those are issues of
much less import. Patents are a fundamental shackle on the human
brain, a legal practice that seeks to entrench established powers
against the world. The argument that that's good for us is easy
for people like Lind/Choate to throw out, but it's hard to swallow.
I don't even buy the part about what's good for Microsft and Disney
is good for me.
Saturday, July 09, 2005
I got a piece of mail today about how this is the time to press for
U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, citing political shifts in Congress and in
the polls that show "higher majorities of the American people support
demands for troop withdrawals." I'm not in any way opposed to a U.S.
cut and run. Continued prosecution of this war along current lines
takes a bad situation and makes it worse. Even were the U.S. forces
able to significantly suppress the resistance, doing so poisons the
prospects for democracy and freedom in Iraq, not least by creating
a tainted class of collaborators to foreign occupation. But it's hard
to see any trend or prospect of a trend toward any sort of stability,
and the prospect that rebellion and war might spread further is real.
It seems obvious that Bush's desire for a modest, successful little
war has blown up so severely that some sort of cutting and running is
inevitable. Certainly, if Bush ran the government like a business --
that old Republican mantra -- he would have spun Iraq off to the
hapless U.N. long ago.
But there are several problems with just calling for the U.S. to
get out of Iraq now. One is that it would leave a deeply divided
country sadly lacking in any sort of unifying leadership -- Vietnam
at least had the Communists -- surrounded by nervous neighbors all
to likely to meddle. But consider the tactical problem: withdrawal
without a stable guarantor of peace, gives the war mongers fuel to
charge that their failure was the result of our cowardly lack of
will, while allowing them to sweep their misdeeds out of sight. As
with so much else, the Vietnam model applies here: while we were
happy just to get beyond the war, they plotted a redemptive return
to war that has, if anything, blown up even more disastrously.
Whatever we do, we shouldn't allow them to get away with their
delusions. Losing this unjust and evil war isn't enough: we need
to strip away any shred of credibility that the people who dragged
us into this war ever had.
The argument that the U.S. must leave Iraq has an implicit
subext: that the U.S. cannot bring peace and prosperity to Iraq.
Accepting that argument accepts the position that the U.S. is
irredeemable, a force with no prospect of doing the right thing.
This is pretty much the track record, but right now the problem
is specific to the Bush administration -- a party that cannot do
right because their own goals are so wrong and because their own
tactics are so cynical that nothing they say has any credibility.
This suggests an alternate tactic, which is to insist on complete
conformance to the ideals that they bandy about. To do this, we
need to identify fundamental rights and principles to be secured,
and to sharply criticize every action, by the U.S. or other foreign
and domestic forces, that might undermine the development of a free,
democratic, peaceful, prosperous Iraq. The most grievous of these is
the sectarian division of central government which criminalizes
one-fifth of Iraq's population: Iraq's Sunni Arab population must
have a stake in a political system that guarantees them rights and
security same as other sectors of the population. But the failure
to install democracy and respect freedom and human rights starts
with individuals: fundamental is a legal system of due process,
with protections against unreasonable search and seizure, against
cruel and unusual punishments (which certainly includes collective
or colateral punishments). If the U.S. occupation has no respect
for such rights -- and clearly under Bush it does not -- then the
U.S. cannot justify continuing the occupation.
The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq was a terrible idea
from the start, not least of all because the current administration
cannot be trusted -- not by the Iraqi people, and not by us. This
war started in a cloud of lies, and the lies have continued every
day since. Getting the U.S. to leave would limit the damage, and
may be a necessary step, since the U.S. administration seems to
be incapable of constructive change. But we should be clear that
it is specifically Bush and his administration that are at fault,
and that the main reason they are at fault is that they never
delivered on their freedom-and-democracy promises. Indeed, they
don't believe in any such thing, and their lies are just pissing
in the pot of anyone who does.
Thursday, July 07, 2005
Catching up with some news items:
Four bombs in London today brought out the usual blather from
politicians, reminding me of the Hitchhiker's Guide surmise: that
politicians exist to distract us from the people really in charge.
Certainly, neither Blair nor Bush evinced the slightest consciousness
that anything they've done or said in their sordid political careers
had any relationship whatsoever with anyone wanting to kill their
subjects. The news shows tonight were almost devoid of facts -- they
had so little to report that all gave much play to Homeland Security's
orange alert -- and they the speculation they tried to substitute was
too dumbfounded to bare: the "tight synchronization" was an Al-Qaeda
signature, and it probably had something to do with the G-8 conference.
(I missed the "Fox All-Star" who opined that this is a wake-up call
for all those European nations who failed to support the Coalition
Needless to say, these are serious, despicable crimes, and much
should be done to find out who did they and why, and to put a stop
to them happening again. Also obvious, but no one is likely to say
this, is that unscrupulous political operators (a class including
Bush and Blair) would rather twist these events to suit their own
peculiar purposes, and that by doing so they will have no or more
likely negative impact on preventing any such future events.
Another large installment on the costs that the American
people will ultimately pay for electing George W. Bush will come
due in the succession of Supreme Court Justice Sandra O'Connor.
We had an article in the Eagle early this week with Sam Brownback
crowing about what a big role he intends to play in the Senate in
confirming the as-yet-unnamed nominee. O'Connor was a safe vote
to, if nothing else, keep abortion legal, and that vote will no
doubt flip. In a sense, this nomination is the end of a stretch
of complacency among sane and sensible Americans, who have ever
since the New Deal and the Warren Court been able to depend on the
courts to protect us from the malfeasances of our politicians --
who consequently were freed from the responsibility to protect our
rights and liberties themselves.
It looks like Judith Miller is the last link in the Valerie
Plame scandal, and that the person she's covering for is Karl Rove.
As inside Washington sources go, none is more politically tainted
than Rove. There may be hundreds or thousands of unnamable Washington
sources who might offer something worthwhile, but Rove isn't one of
him. Anything he says is totally tainted, and should be flagged as
such. Not that Miller's byline is any less tainted these days.
Big news in Kansas recently is school financing. That wouldn't
be an issue but the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the financing is
unequal and inadequate and threatened to shut down the school systems
unless it is remedied. Most Kansas politicians are trying to figure
out where the money can come from -- a bunch of lobbyists figure the
answer is gaming. But the R's in the Kansas House want to pass a
constitutional ammendment to overrule the court ruling, to eliminate
constitutional guarantees of equal treatment, or just to not bother
them anymore. Nobody bothers to explain what the case is or why it
turned out this way, or why it matters, which is why they can treat
it as a nuissance about money.
Recently read David Fromkin's Europe's Last Summer: Who Started
the Great War in 1914? -- a tragic story of the duplicity of key
politicians with unrealistic expectations of war. But the book doesn't
get past the first days of the war, so I thought I'd move on to Walter
Karp's The Politics of War: The Story of Two Wars Which Altered the
Political Life of the American Republic (1890-1920), which I'm a
little over half way through right now. Karp's characterization of
Woodrow Wilson as "a man of high ideals but no principles" sums up
the problem nicely. But it wasn't just Wilson: "Nothing in America's
political experience as a nation had prepared Americans for Woodrow
Wilson." Much the same thing can be said of George W. Bush, even
though Nixon, Reagan and his old man pointed in GWB's direction.
On his own Wilson, preoccupied with his own greatness and full of
idealistic schemes for running the world, was probably scarier,
but Wilson didn't have anywhere near Bush's level of resources
and weapons: the presidency has grown vastly more powerful, the
military and intelligence networks more imperial, the Republican
party machine more effective (especially with its mass base of
Christian fanatics), the oligarchy solidly behind him, the media
complacent, the opposition party befuddled. Americans have a lot
of experience living with bad presidents, but not much living
with truly evil ones. Wilson was one, Nixon another, and now
there's Bush. Their abuses and madnesses eventually caught up
with Wilson and Nixon, which may be some comfort. But in many
ways Bush stands on their shoulders, compounding their crimes.
It seems probable that disaster awaits, but increasingly one
wonders whether Americans will recognize the roots of what
happens in the malfeasances of such political schemers.
Sunday, July 03, 2005
Music: Current count 10767  rated (+23), 927  unrated (+18).
Jazz CG is out, although it's been done a long time and I really haven't
gotten back to it. Recycled Goods is also out, done just in the nick of
time. Unrated is still understated since I haven't gone through the latest
incoming, although I've caught up with what I missed last time. Haven't
posted updates for two weeks now -- had various things in float, but need
to force this up, even though not everything may be together right.
- Robbie Fulks: Georgia Hard (2005, Yep Roc). Sounds
like real country to me, even though he's an outsider with no pull
in Nashville. Probably because he's an outsider with no pull in
- Amjad Ali Khan: Moksha (2004, RealWorld). In
India's classical music tradition Khan is a sixth generation master of
the sarod, an instrument that compares to the sitar much like a
mandolin compares to a banjo. Devotees complain that these 6-12 minute
pieces are too short, but I find the melodic variety invigorating, and
like that the only accompaniment is percussion -- that's all it needs.
- The Best of Kiss (20th Century Masters: The Millennium
Collection) (1974-79 , Mercury/Chronicles). Back
on my first tour as a rock critic I got onto Casablanca's mailing
list, so they sent me all of the Kiss albums, which I dutifully
never played. Haven't listened to the radio at all consistently
since the '60s either. So the only Kiss song I know is "Black
Diamond," from the Replacements' cover, and note that it is not
included here. Take away the makeup, the platforms, the leather,
the fire and prance and they're a remarkably ordinary rock band.
Hell, ten years earlier they could have been the Monkees -- which
is what "Hard Luck Woman" sounds like to me, even if it was meant
to sound like Rod Stewart. Closer, "I Was Made for Lovin' You,"
sounds like it was copped from the Four Tops. B-
- Loggins & Messina: The Best: Sittin' In Again
(1972-76 , Columbia/Legacy). The first four albums yield 8, 5,
3, and 2 songs respectively, while the other two (or four counting the
live ones) yield nada -- clearly a trajectory headed downhill. They
started off as a post-hippie Simon & Garfunkel, with faux-country
and faux-Caribbean gimmicks and a fondness for Beach Boys
progressivism -- what is "Vahevala" but "Sail On Sailor" with
rhinestones? The most striking thing about listening to these songs
after many, many years is how elaborate the productions are -- how
neatly they weave in saxes and steel pans and whatnot. But I'm also
struck by the FM-ism -- how they stretched the music out, almost like
they'd rather be doing jazz. The one live album I remember was full of
ridiculously long instrumental sequences -- the sort of thing we
regarded as pure self-indulgence at the time. Maybe they were more
self-destructive than we gave them credit for? For a brief moment as I
was just getting the hang of rock in the '70s they were one of my
favorite groups -- a position that soon turned embarrassing.
- Lest We Forget: The Best of Marilyn Manson (1994-2003
, Interscope). Costume rockers, intent on proving the decline of
western civilization. Ancestors like Black Sabbath and Alice Cooper
started down this line, but were never so humorless as to be really
disgusting. (Unlike, say, Ted Nugent.) Musically, the first half here
plays it pretty safe with straight metal crunch and a couple of covers
that work reasonably well ("Tainted Love" and "Sweet Dreams" -- electro
dance pieces muscled up), but eventually it settles into dull pounding
with occasional histrionics. C+
- Joni Mitchell: Mingus (1979, Asylum). Mitchell
dislosed her jazz jones when she put the vocalese version of Wardell
Gray's "Twisted" on Court and Spark, but there were hints
in her piano playing on Blue. Still, Mingus seems like a
tough jump, for her or anyone. Moreover, her band here -- Jaco
Pastorius, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Peter Erskine, Don
Alias, Emil Richards -- has no background in Mingus. The combo
has a tough time connecting, at least until "The Dry Cleaner
From Memphis" offers something in the form if not quite in the
- Moby: Hotel (2005, V2, 2CD). First disc of new songs
isn't as strong as previous albums, especially when it tries to be
strong, but it isn't much of a slide either. Second disc means to be
ambient and is very agreeable at least three-fourths of the way in.
- Old 97's: Drag It Up (2004, New West). Back to
the old band for Rhett Miller, which gives him more twang if not
better hooks. B+
- Graham Parker: Songs of No Consequence (2005,
Bloodshot). The last song raises the question, "Did Everybody Just
Get Old?" Perhaps that's relativity, since Parker himself seems to
have suddenly gotten much younger. The music has much of the loose
muscularity of his early albums, allowing him to drawl his voice
without worrying about it getting creamed in the next stanza. In
songs like "Vanity Press" he tries to reach back for the old
cynicism, but it's still falling on overly predictable targets.
Better songs would help, but he's most of the way back. B+
- The Essential Poco (1968-89 , Epic/Legacy).
Three cuts come from a 1989 RCA album called Legacy -- as I
understand it, the album was the result of a temporary regrouping
of the original members after a much-evolved Poco had disbanded in
1984. Most of the cuts here date back to the Epic albums (1969-72),
by which time founders Jim Messina had left to team up with Kenny
Loggins and Richie Furay made an even more dubious alignment with
J.D. Souther and Chris Hillman. B-
- Rank and File (1987, Rhino). After two of the best
country-rock albums of the '80s, they drop the country affectations
completely for a pure rock thing. Skilled, professional, almost pop
tight, but so pure you have to wonder whether by the '80s rock didn't
depend on some hyphen or some dotted-line relationship to give it any
distinct appeal at all. This has damn little. B-
- Screaming Trees: Ocean of Confusion: Songs of Screaming
Trees (1990-96 , Epic/Legacy). A second tier rock
band spanning what I found to be the most uninteresting and least
fun period in rock history, they made complicated but tuneful hard
rock, combining arena flash with downscale grunge; competent and
skillful, but sounds more like the problem than the solution.
- Shonen Knife: Brand New Knife (1997, Big Deal).
Japanese rock band. Not as sophisticated as the Ramones, but cuter.
This record appeared 14 years after their debut. Don't know what
that means. B-
- El Último Paraíso (2001, Winter & Winter).
I recognize this well after the fact as Stefan Winter's travelogue
to Cuba, a prequel to Cuadernos de Mexico. Without having
the publicist's explanations, that can be hard to figure out. The
booklet is full of interesting but unexamined artwork, followed
by an unexplained list of performers. B
- Patricia Vonne: Guitars & Castanets (2005,
CoraZong). Sister of movie director Robert Rodriguez, her packaging
makes her out more as a model than as a singer, but then that's
what pictures are for. But she plays guitar, sings, and wrote all
the songs -- even "Sax Maniac" which had me wondering how James
Chance might sound in a mariachi band, but I had to settle for
Johnny Reno instead. B+
Friday, July 01, 2005
Static Multimedia has posted the July 2005 edition of
This is #21 in the series. It includes 10 paragraph-sized reviews
and 45 briefer reviews, bringing the total for the series to 798 albums.
The big chunk of "in series" reissues this time is Verve's reissues of
the Free America albums, originally released in Paris circa 1970 and
long forgotten. Otherwise, the mix is all over the map, literally even
as the world music count is perhaps at an all-time high.
I continue to be struck by how many records I'm moving through this
column, and by how little dent it makes in the reissues domain. I try
to keep up with my mailbox, but don't make much of an effort to round
up records from outside my usual set of sources -- maybe 3-5 letters
per month for odds and ends that strike my eye, plus every now and
then I buy something I can't get otherwise, such as this month's pick
hit, Annette Peacock (also James Chance, African Underground,
the Luaka Bops, Amalgam and Evan Parker). Going with the flow is one
reason why the jazz reissues threaten to overwhelm the column. I'm
not likely to get much more aggressive here until I work through the
backlog, which appears as daunting as ever.
Speaking of backlog, I have several large series of jazz comps on
the shelf. So many that I'm thinking that next time will be nothing
but jazz comps.
Wrote the following letter to The Nation:
William Greider's "Profiles in Cowardice" is stuck on the trivial
subject of how compromises on the estate tax worsen deficits without
bothering to point out why an estate tax -- indeed, a much higher one
than the U.S. had before the Republicans went on their "death tax"
propaganda campaign -- is useful and important. Estates are unearned
and undeserved income. They lead to aristocracy. They undermine the
opportunities of all who weren't born rich. They deprecate the value
of labor, the basis of all our past and future wealth. They distort
our political values. A strong estate tax in itself isn't enough to
level the playing field but at least it sends a message that a level
playing field is something to be desired. As for the deficits, the
estate tax is almost unique is that increasing its rate won't drag
the economy -- the rich are no less likely to die to avoid a stiff
tax rate than they would otherwise. As for the heirs, they need to
learn to stand on their own two feet, like the rest of us. Few
political issues are as clear cut as the estate tax. The real
cowardice is not in making that clear.