April 2007 Notebook


Monday, April 30, 2007

Music: Current count 13102 [13079] rated (+23), 860 [855] unrated (+5). I've had a rough week personally, home alone, with Laura gone to New York and Detroit. Did at least get Recycled Goods done, but it hasn't been posted yet, so I'll hold back the website update.

  • Mary J Blige: Reflections (A Retrospective) (1992-2006, [2006], Geffen): No dates, no notes, nothing admitting that the steadiest soul singer of the last decade is a fit subject for history. But are the four new cuts bait for profit taking, or just a relatively thin new album camouflaged with old hits that don't quite add up to a canon? I've never become a fan, so I figured a best-of might help. And it does, sort of. B+
  • Celebrate! Songs of Praise (1994-2006 [2007], Columbia/Legacy): The problem with modern gospel is simple enough: old-fashioned gospel used to try to compete with secular music in the hope of saving sinners, but the new stuff just tones secular music down, retreating to the safe catchphrases of praise; still, it's nowhere near as dumbed down as CCM, and does keep a beat. B
  • Celebrate! Songs of Worship (1994-2006 [2007], Columbia/Legacy): The surprising thing here is how many of these pieces fit neatly inside the soul music framework foregoing the raise-the-rafters enthusiasm that marks so much contemporary r&b as gospel-based; such songs make for easy, uneventful listening; exceptions include Tye Tribbett's call and response, Tramaine Jackson's sneaky elevation of "Amazing Grace," and Nancey Jackson, who simply didn't get the memo. B
  • Peter Erskine: As It Is (1995 [1996], ECM): Drummer-led piano trio. John Taylor is the pianist -- his usual wry, subtle tendencies evident, self-effacing as usual. Palle Danielsson plays bass. Actually, Taylor wrote five tracks to Erskine's two -- two others were by non-group members -- so it isn't all that clear why Erskine gets top billing. Based on his work with Weather Report, he's probably the more marketable name, but that tells you little about what's going on here. I particularly like the bits where piano and drums gallop along. But a lot of it is just too subtle to grab me. B
  • Bebel Gilberto: Momento (2007, Ziriguiboom/Six Degrees): Bossa nova royalty, daughter of João but not Astrud -- mother is another singer, Miúcha, sister of Chico Buarque. Where her first album looked forward with electrobeats, this one feels old fashioned, especially on the delicately fractured "Night and Day." B+(*)
  • Stefon Harris: Black Action Figure (1999, Blue Note): Hugely hyped. I've always been a skeptic, but the vibes are the best thing here, not that there isn't plenty of star power as well: Jason Moran, Steve Turre, Gary Thomas, Greg Osby. A major label production. B+
  • Putumayo Presents: Women of the World Acoustic (1994-2006 [2007], Putumayo World Music): Album cover draws a thin caucasian woman with long red hair and acoustic guitar, the ideal here even if it doesn't reflect any of the actual women featured here: five from Europe, three from Africa, two from Latin America, a trio from Canada; pleasantly pointless, safe to say that if R. Crumb went to update Hot Women he wouldn't pick anyone here. B-
  • Todd Snider: Peace, Love and Anarchy (Rarities, B-sides and Demos, Vol. 1) (2000-04 [2007], Oh Boy): He's made a career out of coming from the wrong side of the tracks, or to follow his geography lessons, the wrong side of the river. He's not down and out, but he's far enough out to consort with those who are down, and he's comfortable with their world even if sometimes they rattle his nerves. He doesn't look like he's itching for success, but he's achieved some anyway: since 1994 he has three albums plus a best-of for MCA; four on Oh Boy, counting the live Near Truths and Hotel Rooms -- a good place to start, as it stitches the first five albums together with monologues that add to the songs; and last year's record of the year, The Devil You Know, on New Door. That's success enough to set his old label off scrounging for scraps, which is what we're served here. The majority are solo demos, only two of which led to album cuts -- not counting "East Nashville Skyline," which turned into an album title. Others are cut with a band, probably album outtakes -- "Old Friends" sounds like the seed for "You Got Away With It" without the ominous overtones. No documentation, no dates, no stories, so I'm only guessing. Most likely "Barbie Doll" and "Combover Blues" were skipped as too obvious, but that makes them pop out here. The other songs are more nuanced, and that makes them stick. I wonder whether they're serious about more vols. There's gotta be some gunk at the bottom of the barrel, but they haven't hit it yet. A-
  • Peter Stampfel: Antonia's 11 (2006, Blue Navigator): Robert Christgau took me to see Stampfel twice, and both times made a scene ordering up "Fucking Sailors in Chinatown." So I first heard the song around 1978, but it's never been on an album before -- a streak that continues, given that this 11-song tribute is technically no more than a free bonus packaged with issue #9 of Michael Hurley's Blue Navigator magazine. Stampfel led the Holy Modal Rounders out of the '60s folk scene and into the farthest reaches of "Hoodoo Bash" -- the climax of Hurley's Have Moicy!, another Antonia song. Half the book is devoted to her: discography, interview, a memoir by Stampfel, excerpts from Antonia's Digest, photos. The disc is limited to previously unrecorded songs, which tend to be sweet ("Chinatown" included) rather than raunchy, but "Cajun Polka" kicks up its heels. A full-scale all-star tribute album might be a good idea, but having heard Stampfel it's hard to imagine anyone else. A-

Jazz Prospecting (CG #13, Part 7)

Don't have much jazz prospecting to show for last week. As expected, I spent most of the work on May's Recycled Goods column, which is done and in the pipeline. Didn't even have much in the way of jazz reissues: Mosaic, Blue Note, and Concord haven't responded, and I haven't looked up Verve in a while. Also short on major label reissues, so I've been catching up on world music. Two good ones in the upcoming column are Papa Noel's Café Noir (Tumi) and Tinariwen's Aman Iman: Water Is Life (World Village). Meanwhile, incoming jazz is piling up. I should start closing out the column in the next two weeks. I'm still finding it all rather overwhelming.

Slavic Soul Party! Technochek Collision (2007, Barbès): I had this on the world shelf until I read the fine print, discovering that this Gypsy brass band is firmly rooted in the five boroughs of New York, and that the names I recognize are downtown jazzers, starting with leader Matt Moran. He's better known in these parts as the vibraphonist with John Hollenbeck's Claudia Quintet, but here he sticks to drums and composes everything not credited to Trad. or Toussaint. A-

Bebel Gilberto: Momento (2007, Ziriguiboom/Six Degrees): Bossa nova royalty, daughter of João but not Astrud -- mother is another singer, Miúcha, sister of Chico Buarque. Where her first album looked forward with electrobeats, this one feels old fashioned, especially on the delicately fractured "Night and Day." B+(*)

Vusi Mahlasela: Guiding Star (2007, ATO): He's a guitarist, singer, songwriter -- fellow South African Dave Matthews calls him "a voice during the revolution, a voice of hope, like a Woody Guthrie or Bob Dylan of South Africa." Matthews owns the label introducing Mahlasela to the US, and guests, as does Derek Trucks, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and others. All told, they pull enough tricks out of the bag you wind up with a whirlwind tour of South African music from mbaqanga to mbube but no real sense of where Mahlasela fits into it. Perhaps everywhere. B+(**)

Secret Oyster: Sea Son (1974 [2006], The Laser's Edge): Danish instrumental group, not sure whether they intended to play fusion or progressive rock, but they're so upbeat they they missed the boat on krautrock -- probably too busy partying. B+(*)

Nino Rota: Fellini & Rota (1952-2003 [2007], CAM Jazz): From 1952 until his death in 1979 Rota composed music for Federico Fellini's movies. This is presumably the original music, as collected in a 1996 compilation, with a more recent coda by pianist Enrico Pieranunzi. As with so many soundtracks, the logic remains on screen, and the selections -- some quite marvelous -- don't flow so much has hop all over the map. I've somehow missed most of Fellini's famous films, but recognize the circus atmosphere of several of these pieces. Rota was less innovative than Ennio Morricone in using electronics, but otherwise worked from a similar pallette. B+ [May 8]

The Jazz O'Maniacs: Sunset Cafe Stomp (2005 [2007], Delmark): The group is a German trad jazz band, founded in 1966 by then-18-year-old cornet player Roland Pilz. He had Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke on his mind, but the group name derives from a 1924-27 group led by trumpeter Charles Creath. Eight-piece band, with sax, banjo, tuba, and washboard, as well as the more standard cornet, clarinet, trombone, piano. Pilz sings a bit, in a style blatantly patterned on Armstrong, his accent more pointed in the introductions. Much fun. I don't get anything from the several labels that specialize in trad jazz these days, so it's hard to compare beyond that. B+(**)

Chicago Underground Trio: Chronicle (2006 [2007], Delmark): The groups vary between duos, trios, and quartets, so I just file their records under Chicago Underground. The constants are Rob Mazurek on cornet and Chad Taylor on drums. They're joined here by bassist Jason Ajemian, who I know primarily from Triage, a group with Vandermark 5 members Dave Rempis and Tim Daisy. The bass takes the lead early on, setting up recurring patterns that resemble minimalism but with more fractal chaos. Mazurek continues his computer work, but that seems more incidental here than on recent records -- you don't much notice him until he pulls out the cornet, when he drives the record home. [B+(**)]

Contemporary America: Another Center (2007, Adventure Music): A meeting of musicians from seven South American countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela. I don't quite know what to think about it: sounds more European than what I think of as Latin, a music for us more centered in the Caribbean, and therefore more Afro. Most pieces have vocals, and they can gum up the works, but not always. In any case, it pays to focus on the details, where the individual musicians register their diversity, and their virtuosity. B+(*)


  • Antonio Adolfo e Carol Saboya: Ao Vivo/Live (Points South)
  • Carl Allen & Rodney Whitaker: Get Ready (Mack Avenue): May 8
  • Anjani: Blue Alert (2006, Columbia)
  • Black Light Burns: Cruel Melody (I Am Wolfpack): ex-Limp Bizkit guitarist Wes Borland
  • Michael Brecker: Pilgrimage (Heads Up)
  • James Brown: The Singles, Volume Two: 1960-1963 (Hip-O Select, 2CD)
  • New Wonderland: The Best of Jeri Brown (1991-2006, Justin Time): four new songs
  • Leonard Cohen: Songs of Leonard Cohen (1968, Columbia/Legacy)
  • Leonard Cohen: Songs From a Room (1969, Columbia/Legacy)
  • Leonard Cohen: Songs of Love and Hate (1970, Columbia/Legacy)
  • José Conde y Ola Fresca: Revolucion (Mr. Bongo): advance, May 22
  • Dirty Dancing (Legacy Edition) (RCA/Legacy, 2CD)
  • Enders Room: Hotel Alba (Intuition)
  • Ibrahim Ferrer: Mi Sueño (World Circuit/Nonesuch)
  • Funkadelic: By Way of the Drum (1989, Hip-O Select)
  • George Gee and the Jump, Jivin' Wailers Swing Orchestra: If Dreams Come True (GJazz)
  • Bobby Hebb: That's All I Wanna Know (Tuition)
  • Robert Irving III: New Momentum (Sonic Portals)
  • Erol Josué: Régléman (MIS): May 22
  • Charles Mingus: In Paris: The Complete America Session (1970, Sunnyside, 2CD): May 22
  • Abra Moore: On the Way (Sarathan)
  • Judith Owen: Happy This Way (Couragette): advance, May 22
  • Susan Pereira and Sabor Brasil: Tudo Azul (Riony)
  • Pharoah's Daughter: Haran (Oy! Hoo)
  • Joshua Redman: Back East (Nonesuch)
  • Saltman Knowles Quintet: It's About the Melody (Blue Canoe)
  • The Unseen Guest: Out There (Tuition)


  • Bud Freeman: Chicago/Austin High School Jazz in Hi-Fi (1957, Mosaic)
  • Charles Lloyd: Of Course, Of Course (1964-65, Mosaic)

Sunday, April 29, 2007


Sometime back in September or October of 2006 I came home from a browse at the bookstore and started to put together a list of the more/less promising, interesting, and/or appalling books I noticed crowding the politics, current affairs, and history shelves. I spent several weeks coming up with most of what follows, before it got out of hand and I lost track. I've finally decided I might as well post this on the blog before it becomes a mere history snapshot. I've made a couple of quick passes to clean it up and add a few new items, but it's nowhere near up to date. Since then, I've made substantial changes to my books section, and will keep working on this in that area. The old section was sketched out but never populated. Since then I've made quite a few comments in the blog on various books. I've now gone back through the blog and a few other sources and copied that information to the books section.

The main organizing model here is the shopping list: things that look to be really worthwhile reading, things that look good but may not be necessary, things that are probably good but not in my interest area at the moment, things that look like stuff I already know, things that I know better than, things that don't look like much of anything, etc. During the course of this I read some of the things near the top, and I kept running things I had already read, so those are in a list at the bottom.

Almost all of these books were released since June 2006, including paperback reissues of earlier books. The lists are far from comprehensive, but give a rough idea of how much good, bad, and ugly reading has appeared recently. This strikes me as a tremendous increase over the last five years. That in itself is a measure of growing problems. Whether one should be optimistic about their recognition remains to be seen.

As I rebuild the books section, I'll try reorganizing these lists more topically, although I'll probably keep the shopping list breakdown within categories.

Top Picks

These are recent books of prime interest. I'd say that the chances I'll eventually read any book on this list is greater than 50%. Some I've already bought.

  • Taner Akcam, A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility (Henry Holt).
  • Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone (Knopf).
  • Andrew Cockburn, Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy (Macmillan).
  • Barbara Ehrenreich, Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy (2007-01, Henry Holt).
  • Robert Fisk, The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East (2007-02, Knopf, paperback). Have had this since the hardcover came out. Big book.
  • Atul Gawande, Better: A Surgeon's Notes on Performance (2007-04, Henry Holt).
  • Greg Grandin, Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism (2006-05, Henry Holt).
  • Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy (Yale University Press, paperback). I have this, but haven't gotten around to it. Thought it looked like the best book on how the right-wing machine works.
  • Chris Hedges, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (Simon & Schuster).
  • Stephen Kinzer, Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change From Hawaii to Iraq (Times Books). I've read Kinzer's All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, a good history of Iran focusing on the anti-Mossadegh coup.
  • Anatol Lieven and John Hulsman, Ethical Realism: A Vision for America's Role in the World (Knopf).
  • David Lindorff and Barbara Olshansky, The Case for Impeachment: The Legal Argument for Removing President George W. Bush From Office (St. Martin's).
  • Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals (Penguin).

Wish List

These are books that I wish I had time to read, but I probably won't get around to. Some could move up, especially if my interest shifts in their direction.

  • Ali Abunimah, One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse (2006-10, Henry Holt).
  • Tariq Ali, Pirates of the Caribbean: Axis of Hope (2006-12, Verso). Actually, I don't have much interest in Castro or Chavez, but I've read three straight books by Ali.
  • Karen Armstrong, The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions (2007-04, Knopf, paperback).
  • Jack Beatty, Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865-1900 (2007-04, Knopf).
  • Morris Berman, Dark Ages America: The Final Phase of Empire (WW Norton).
  • Sarah Chayes, The Punishment of Virtue: Inside Afghanistan After the Taliban (Penguin).
  • Joseph Cirincione, Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons (2007-01, Columbia University Press).
  • William Easterly, The White Man's Burden: Why the West's Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good (Penguin; paperback scheduled Feb. 27, 2007). I have, but haven't read, Easterly's well-regarded The Elusive Quest for Growth: Economists' Adventures and Misadventures in the Tropics (MIT, paperback).
  • James K Galbraith, Unbearable Cost: Bush, Greenspan and the Economics of Empire (2006-11, Palgrave Macmillan, paperback).
  • Jeff Goodell, Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future (2007-04, Houghton Mifflin, paperback).
  • Michael Grunwald, The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise (2007-03, Simon & Schuster, paperback).
  • Jacob S. Hacker, The Great Risk Shift: The Assault on American Jobs, Families, Health Care, and Retirement and How You Can Fight Back (Oxford University Press).
  • David Harvey, Limits to Capital (2007-01, Verso, paperback).
  • Steven Hiatt, A Game As Old As Empire: The Secret World of Economic Hit Men and the Web of Global Corruption (2007-02, Benett-Koehler).
  • Zachary Karabell, Peace Be Upon You: The Story of Muslim, Christian, and Jewish Coexistence (2007-02, Knopf).
  • Rashid Khalidi, The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood (Beacon Press).
  • Elizabeth Kolbert, Field Notes From a Catastophe (2006-12, Bloomsbury, paperback). Read most/all of this in New Yorker.
  • Bill McKibben, Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future (Henry Holt).
  • Chris Mooney, The Republican War on Science (Basic Books, paperback).
  • John E. Mueller, Overblown: How Politicians and the Terrorism Industry Inflate National Security Threats, and Why We Believe Them (Simon & Schuster).
  • Sari Nusseibeh, Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life (Farrar Straus and Giroux).
  • Roland Paris, At War's End: Building Peace After Civil Conflict (Cambridge University Press, paperback).
  • Steven Poole, Unspeak: How Words Become Weapons, How Weapons Become a Message, and How That Message Becomes Reality (Grove/Atlantic).
  • Vijay Prashad, The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World (2007-01, New Press).
  • Gérard Prunier, Darfur: The Ambiguous Genocide (Cornell University Press). Author has a previous book, The Rwanda Crisis: History of a Genocide.
  • Jill Quadagno, One Nation, Uninsured: Why the US Has No National Health Insurance (2006-10, Oxford University Press, paperback).
  • David J. Rothman and Sheila M. Rothman, Trust Is Not Enough: Bringing Human Rights to Medicine (New York Review of Books).
  • Susan Sered/Rushika Fernandopulle, Uninsured in America: Life and Death in the Land of Opportunity (2006-10, University of California Press, paperback).
  • Seth Shulman, Undermining Science: Suppression and Distortion in the Bush Administration (2007-01, University of California Press).
  • David Sirota, Hostile Takeover: How Big Business Bought Our Government and How We Can Take It Back (Crown).
  • Paul Starr, Freedom's Power: The True Force of Liberalism (2007-04, Perseus).
  • Alex Steffen, ed., Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century (Abrams).
  • Alexander Stille, The Sack of Rome: How a Beautiful European Country With a Fabled History and a Storied Culture Was Taken Over by a Man Named Silvio Berlusconi (Penguin).
  • Dan Tapscott, Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything (2006-12, Penguin).
  • Thant Myint-U, The River of Lost Footsteps: Histories of Burma (2006-12, Farrar Straus and Giroux).
  • Lawrence Wright, The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (Knopf). I've generally avoided books that tightly focus on Bin Laden and Zawahiri -- what interests me more is the context. This looks like it might be the exception.
  • Muhammad Yunus, Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty (paperback).

Lesser Interests

These are books that pique my interest, but are in an area where there is no practical chance I can get to them given everything else I need to read. In other words, these are books that look like they should be on one of the above lists, but got arbitrarily moved out.

  • Iain Anderson, This Is Our Music: Free Jazz, the Sixties, and American Culture (2006-11, University of Pennsylvania Press).
  • David A Bell, The First Total War: Napoleon's Europe and the Birth of Warfare as We Know It (2007-01, Houghton Mifflin).
  • Tom Bissell, The Father of All Things: A Marine, His Son, and the Legacy of Vietnam (2007-03, Knopf).
  • Ned Blackhawk, Violence Over the Land: Indians and Empires in the Early American West (2006-11, Harvard University Press).
  • Taylor Branch, At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68 (Simon & Schuster, paperback). I have, but have not read, the two previous volumes, a luxury I hope to get to sooner or later.
  • Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking (2007-02, Knopf, paperback).
  • Eric Foner, Forever Free: The Story of Emancipation and Reconstruction (2006-11, Knopf, paperback).
  • John Gimlette, Theatre of Fish: Travels Through Newfoundland and Labrador (2006-11, Knopf, paperback).
  • Jerome Groopman, How Doctors Think (2007-03, Houghton Mifflin).
  • Paul Kriwaczek, Yiddish Civilization: The Rise and Fall of a Forgotten Nation (2006-10, Knopf, paperback).
  • Mark Kurlansky, The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell (2007-01, Random House, paperback).
  • Lawrence Lessig, Code: Version 2.0 (2006-12, Basic Books, paperback).
  • John Newhouse, Boeing Versus Airbus: The Inside Story of the Greatest International Competition in Business (2007-01, Knopf).
  • Narendra Sarila, The Shadow of the Great Game: The Untold Story of India's Partition (2006-12, Avalon).
  • Amartya Sen, Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny (2007-02, WW Norton, paperback).
  • David Silbey, War of Frontier and Empire: The Phillipine-American War, 1898-1902 (2007-02, Hill and Wang).
  • Rory Stewart, The Prince of the Marshes: And Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq (Harcourt). Stewart also wrote a travel book on Afghanistan in 2002, The Places in Between (Harcourt, paperback), evidently well-regarded. In Iraq he worked for CPA.
  • John Szwed, Crossovers: Essays on Race, Music, and American Culture (2007-01, University of Pennsylvania Press, paperback).
  • Jen Trynin, Everything I'm Cracked Up to Be: A Rock & Roll Fairy Tale (2007-02, Harcourt, paperback).
  • Nicholas Wade, Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors (2007-03, Penguin, paperback).
  • Scott Weidensaul, Return to Wild America: A Yearlong Search for the Continent's Natural Soul (2006-10, Farrar Straus and Giroux, paperback).
  • George Weller, First Into Nagasaki: The Censored Eyewitness Dispatches on Postatomic Japan and Its Prisoners of War (2006-12, Crown).

Other Recommended

These books look to be worthwhile for one reason or another, but unless I develop a narrow research interest I doubt that I'll ever get to them.

  • Christian Alfonsi, Circle in the Sand: Why We Went Back to Iraq (2006-10, Doubleday).
  • David L. Altheide, Terorism and the Politics of Fear (AltaMira Press, paperback).
  • Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (Verso, paperback).
  • Anthony Arnove, Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal (2007-01, Henry Holt, paperback).
  • Benjamin R Barber, Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole (WW Norton).
  • Howard Brick, Transcending Capitalism: Visions of a New Society in Modern American Thought (2006-12, Cornell University Press).
  • Howard Brody, Hooked: How Medicine's Dependence on the Pharmaceutical Industry Undermines Professional Ethics (Rowman & Littlefield).
  • Noam Chomsky, Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (Henry Holt).
  • Charles Clover, The End of the Line: How Overfishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat (2006-11, New Press).
  • Jonathan Cohn, Sick: The Untold Story of America's Health Care Crisis -- and the People Who Pay the Price (Harper Collins).
  • Mark Danner, Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror (paperback).
  • Michael Eric Dyson, Debating Race (2007-02, Perseus).
  • Fawaz A Gerges, Journey of the Jihadist: Inside Muslim Militancy (Harcourt).
  • Manuel G. Gonzalez, The Politics of Fear: How Republicans Use Money, Race and the Media to Win (Paradigm, paperback).
  • Jan Crawford Greenburg, Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Control of the United States Supreme Court (Penguin).
  • Dilip Hiro, Blood of the Earth: The Battle for the World's Vanishing Oil Resources (2006, Nation Books, paperback).
  • Leslie Holmes, Rotten States? Corruption, Post-Communism, and Neoliberalism (Duke University Press, paperback).
  • Georgina Howell, Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations (2007-04, Farrar Straus and Giroux).
  • Michael Isikoff and David Corn, Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War (Crown).
  • Paul Joseph, Are Americans Becoming More Peaceful? (2006-10, Paradigm).
  • Eric Klinenberg, Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America's Media (2007-01, Henry Holt).
  • Barry M Lando, Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, From Churchill to Kennedy to George W Bush (2007-01, Other Press).
  • Lewis Lapham, Pretensions to Empire: Notes on the Criminal Folly of the Bush Administration (2006-09, New Press).
  • Steven D Levitt/Stephen J Dubner, Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explains the Hidden Side of Everything (2006-11, Harper Collins, paperback).
  • T. Christian Miller, Blood Money: A Story of Wasted Billions, Lost Lives and Corporate Greed in Iraq (Little, Brown).
  • Zeev Maoz, Defending the Holy Land: A Critical Analysis of Israel's Security and Foreign Policy (2006-04, University of Michigan Press).
  • Vali Nasr, The Shia Revival: How Conflicts Within Islam Will Shape the Future (WW Norton).
  • Benjamin L Page with Marshall W Bouton, The Foreign Policy Disconnect: What Americans Want From Our Leaders but Don't Get (University of Chicago Press).
  • Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006-10, Oneworld).
  • Fred Pearce: When the Rivers Run Dry: Water -- The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-First Century (2007-03, Beacon Press, paperback).
  • Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, The Best War Ever: Lies, Damned Lies, and the Mess in Iraq (paperback). I've read their previous Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War in Iraq.
  • James Risen, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration (Simon & Schuster).
  • Gerry Schumacher, A Bloody Business: America's War Zone Contractors and the Occupation of Iraq (MBI).
  • Joseph E. Stiglitz, Making Globalization Work (WW Norton). Presumably this is a popularization of a more technical book that Stiglitz co-authored, Fair Trade for All: How Trade Can Promote Development. I've read the latter.
  • Cass R. Sunstein, David Schkade, Lisa M. Ellman, Andres Sawicki, Are Judges Political? (Brookings Institution).
  • Barry Werth, 31 Days: Gerald Ford, the Nixon Pardon and a Government in Crisis (2007-02, Knopf, paperback).
  • David S Wyman, The Abandonment of the Jews: America and the Holocaust, 1941-1945 (2007-04, New Press, paperback).

Surplus Recommended

These books also look to be worthwhile, but are outside of my interest areas or likely to be redundant.

  • Cynthia Barnett, Mirage: Florida and the Vanishing Water of the Eastern U.S. (2007-04, Regional).
  • Sidney Blumenthal, How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime (Princeton University Press).
  • Eric Boehlert, Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush (Free Press).
  • Douglas Brinkley, The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Coast (Harper Collins).
  • Robert M. Cassidy, Counterinsurgency and the Global War on Terror: Military Culture and Irregular War (Greenwood).
  • Michael Cobb, God Hates Fags: The Rhetorics of Religious Violence (New York University Press).
  • Joe Conason, It Can Happen Here: Authoritarian Peril in the Age of Bush (2007-02, St. Martin's Press).
  • Christopher Cooper, Disaster: Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security (Henry Holt).
  • Harm de Blij, Why Geography Matters: Three Challenges Facing America: Climate Change, the Rise of China, and Global Terrorism (2007-01, Oxford University Press, paperback).
  • Brian Doherty, Radicals for Capitalism: A History of the Modern American Libertarian Movement (PublicAffairs).
  • Peter Eisner, The Italian Letter: How the Bush Administration Used a Fake Letter to Build the Case for War in Iraq (2007-04, Rodale Press).
  • Gail A Eisnitz, Slaughterhouse: The Shocking Story of Greed, Neglect, and Inhumane Treatment Inside the US Meat Industry (2006-11, Prometheus Books, paperback).
  • Barbara Finlay, George W Bush and the War on Women: Turning Back the Clock on Progress (2006-11, Zed Books).
  • John Ghazvinian, Untapped: The Scramble for Africa's Oil (2007-04, Harcourt).
  • Gershom Gorenberg, The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977 (2006-03, Times Books; 2007-03, Henry Holt, paperback).
  • Karen J. Greenberg, ed., Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib ().
  • Jed Home, Breach of Faith: Hurricane Katrina and the Near Death of a Great American City (Random House).
  • Robert D Hormats, The Price of Liberty: Paying for America's Wars (Henry Holt). Goldman Sachs vice-chairman. Henry Kissinger sez, "Robert Hormats mounts a compelling argument that America faces large-scale economic catastrophe due to lack of a long-term, fiscally sound strategy for meeting military and security needs as well as domestic obligations."
  • Lynn Hunt, Inventing Human Rights: A History (WW Norton).
  • ST Joshi, The Angry Right: Why Conservatives Keep Getting It Wrong (Prometheus).
  • Alan Kennedy-Shaffer, Denial and Deception: A Study of the Bush Administration's Rhetorical Case for Invading Iraq (Universal, paperback).
  • Sonia Kolhatkar/James Ingalls, Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence (2006-10, Seven Stories, paperback).
  • Adam LeBor, "Complicity With Evil": The United Nations in the Age of Modern Genocide (2006-11, Yale University Press).
  • Miguel Leon-Portillo, Broken Spears: The Aztec Account of the Conquest of Mexico (2007-04, Beacon Press, paperback).
  • Mark London, The Last Forest: The Amazon in the Age of Globalization (2007-02, Random House).
  • Loren D Lybarger, Identity and Religion in Palestine: The Struggle Between Islamism and Secularism in the Occupied Territories (2007-03, Princeton University Press).
  • Lisa Magonelli, Oil on the Brain: Adventures From the Pump to the Pipeline (2007-01, Doubleday).
  • Joseph Marguilies, Guantánamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power (Simon & Schuster).
  • Stephanie Mencimer, Blocking the Courthouse Door: How the Republican Party and Its Corporate Allies Are Taking Away Your Right to Sue (2006-12, Simon & Schuster).
  • Steven H. Miles, M.D., Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror (Random House).
  • Paul Molyneaux, Swimming in Circles: Aquaculture and the Death of Our Oceans (2007-01, Avalon, paperback).
  • Augustus Richard Norton, Hezbollah: A Short History (2007-03, Princeton University Press).
  • Ronald L Numbers, The Creationists: From Scientific Creationism to Intelligent Design (2006-11, Harvard University Press, paperback).
  • Michael B Oren, Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present (WW Norton).
  • Robert Young Pelton, Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror (Crown).
  • Geoffrey Perret, Commander in Chief: How Truman, Johnson, and Bush Turned a Presidential Power Into a Threat to America's Future (2007-02, Farrar Straus and Giroux).
  • Frances Fox Piven, Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America (2006-11, Rowman & Littlefield).
  • Anna Politkovskaya, Putin's Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy (2006-12, Henry Holt, paperback).
  • Tariq Ramadan, In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons From the Life of Muhammad (2006-12, Oxford University Press).
  • Dina Rasor/Robert Bauman, Betraying Our Troops: The Destructive Results of Privatizing War (2007-05, Palgrave Macmillan).
  • Erik Reece, Lost Mountain: A Year in the Vanishing Wilderness: Radical Strip Mining and the Devastation of Appalachia (2007-02, Penguin, paperback).
  • J Timmons Roberts, A Climate of Injustice: Global Inequality, North-South Politics, and Climate Policy (2006-12, MIT Press).
  • Joseph Romm, Hell and High Water: Global Warming -- the Solution and the Politics -- and What We Should Do (2006-12, Harper Collins).
  • Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army (2007-02, Avalon).
  • Danny Schechter, When News Lies: Media Complicity and the Iraq War (Select Books, paperback + DVD).
  • Richard Sennett, The Culture of the New Capitalism (2007-01, Yale University Press).
  • Stephen A. Silvinski, Buck Wild: How Republicans Blew the Bank and Became the Party of Big Government (Thomas Nelson).
  • Daniel Jordan Smith, A Culture of Corruption: Everyday Deception and Popular Discontent in Nigeria (2006-11, Princeton University Press).
  • Norman Solomon, War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death (2005-06, John Wiley).
  • Steven Strasser, ed, The Abu Ghraib Investigations: The Official Independent Panel and Pentagon Reports on the Shocking Prisoner Abuse in Iraq (Public Affairs, paperback).
  • Ray Takeyh, Hidden Iran: Paradox and Power in the Islamic Republic (2006-10, Henry Holt).
  • Helen Thomas, Watchdogs of Democracy? The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public (Simon & Schuster).
  • Werner Troesken, The Great Lead Water Pipe Disaster (2006-12, MIT Press).
  • Jonathan B Tucker, War of Nerves: Chemical Warfare From World War I to Al-Qaeda (2007-02, Knopf, paperback).
  • Peter Douglas Ward, Under a Green Sky: Global Warming, the Mass Extinctions of the Past, and What They Can Tell Us About Our Future (2007-04, Collins). I've read a lot of Ward in the past, but this strikes me as a stretch.
  • David Warsh, Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations: A Story of Economic Discovery (WW Norton).
  • Harriet A Washington, Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans From Colonial Times to the Present (2007-01, Doubleday).
  • Maureen Webb, Illusions of Security: Global Surveillance and Democracy in the Post 9/11 World (2006-11, City Lights Books, paperback).
  • Kristian Williams, American Methods: Torture and the Logic of Domination (South End Press).
  • W Frederick Zimmerman, ed., Basic Documents About the Treatment of Detainees at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib ().
  • Howard Zinn, A Power Governments Cannot Suppress (City Lights, paperback).


These are items that might be worth having for reference purposes, but aren't likely to be recommended for interpretive insights.

  • Stanley Crouch, Considering Genius: Writings on Jazz (2007-04, Perseus).
  • Simon Frith, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Pop and Rock (2007-02, Cambridge University Press).
  • The Iraq Study Group Report (2006-12, Knopf).
  • George McGovern and William R. Polk, Out of Iraq: A Practical Plan for Withdrawal Now (Simon & Schuster, paperback). Read the Harpers excerpt. Better than I expected.
  • Riverbend, Baghdad Burning II: Girl Blog From Iraq (2006-09, Feminist Press at CUNY, paperback).
  • Melissa Rossi, What Every American Should Know About Europe: The Hot Spots, Hotshots, Political Muck-Ups, Cross-Border Sniping, and Cultural Chaos of Our Transatlantic Cousins (2006-11, Penguin, paperback).
  • John Tirman, 100 Ways America Is Screwing Up the World (2006-08, paperback).
  • Mick Winter, Peak Oil Prep: Prepare for Peak Oil, Climate Change, and Economic Collapse (2006-11, Westsong, paperback).
  • Bob Woodward, State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III (Simon & Schuster). Haven't read the first two parts either, which seem to be of value mostly for original quotes and lessons on how the press got suckered.
  • Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2007: An Urban Planet (2007-01, WW Norton, paperback).


These are books that could go up or could go down. Some I haven't really looked at yet; others are simply unclear, compromised, or oddly constructed.

  • John Agresto, Mugged by Reality: The Liberation of Iraq and the Failure of Good Intentions (2007-03, Encounter Books).
  • Kwame Anthony Appiah: Cosmopolitanism: Ethics in a World of Strangers (2007-02, WW Norton, paperback).
  • Ravi Batra, The New Golden Age: The Coming Revolution Against Political Corruption and Economic Chaos (2007-01, Palgrave Macmillan).
  • Robert K. Brigham, Is Iraq Another Vietnam? (Public Affairs). Seems doubtful this comparison by a McNamara collaborator will pan out.
  • Bryan Douglas Caplan, The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies (2007-04, Princeton University Press).
  • Jeff Chester, Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy (2007-01, New Press).
  • Clayton E Cramer, Armed America: The Remarkable Story of How and Why Guns Became as American as Apple Pie (2007-02, Nelson Current).
  • Matthew Crenson, Presidential Power: Unchecked and Unbalanced (2007-04, WW Norton).
  • Lanny Davis, Scandal: How "Gotcha" Politics Is Destroying America (Palgrave Macmillan): From a Clinton Admin insider, who most likely has his own ax to grind.
  • Daniel H Deudney, Bounding Power: Republican Security Theory From the Polis to the Global Village (2006-12, Princeton University Press).
  • Tyler Drumheller, On the Brink: An Insider's Account of How the White House Compromised American Intelligence (2006-11, Avalon).
  • Ronald Dworkin, Is Democracy Possible Here? Principles for a New Political Debate (Princeton University Press).
  • Mary Eberstadt, ed, Why I Turned Right: Leading Baby Boom Conservatives Chronicle Their Political Journeys (2007-02, Simon & Schuster).
  • Juliet Eilperin, Fight Club Politics: How Partisanship Is Poisoning the House of Representatives (Rowman & Littlefield).
  • James Fallows, Blind Into Baghdad: America's War in Iraq (Vintage, paperback). Collects his Atlantic Monthly reports. I'm suspicious whenever Andrew Sullivan and David Brooks applaud.
  • Stephen Flynn, Edge of Disaster: Rebuilding a Resilient Nation (Random House). A professional disaster-monger, last time wrote America the Vulnerable: How Our Government Is Failing to Protect Us From Terrorism. This time argues that natural disasters may be even worse.
  • David Friend, Watching the World Change: The Stories Behind the Images of 9/11 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).
  • Indur Goklany, The Improving State of the World: Why We're Living Longer, Healthier, More Comfortable Lives on a Cleaner Planet (2007-01, Cato Institute, paperback).
  • Jeffrey Goldberg, Prisoners: A Muslim and a Jew Across the Middle East Divide (Knopf).
  • David Gratzer, The Cure: How Capitalism Can Save American Health Care (Encounter Books).
  • John Gribbin, The Origins of the Future: Ten Questions for the Next Ten Years (2006-11, Yale University Press).
  • Regina Herzlinger, Who Killed Healthcare? America's $2 Trillion Medical Problem, and the Consumer-Driven Cure (2007-04, McGraw-Hill).
  • Stanley Hoffmann, Chaos and Violence: What Globalization, Failed States, and Terrorism Mean for US Foreign Policy (Rowman & Littlefield).
  • Douglas Hofstadter, I Am a Strange Loop (2007-03, Perseus).
  • Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon, The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation (Hill & Wang).
  • Barbara J King, Evolving God: A Provocative View on the Origins of Religion (2007-01, Doubleday).
  • Steven E Landsburg, More Sex Is Safer Sex: The Unconventional Wisdom of Economics (2007-04, Simon & Schuster).
  • Eric Larsen, A Nation Gone Blind: America in the Age of Simplification and Deceit (Avalon, paperback).
  • Charlie Leduff, US Guys: The True and Twisted Mind of the American Man (2007-02, Penguin).
  • James Mann, China Fantasy: How Our Leaders Explain Away Chinese Repression (Penguin).
  • Amy Dockser Marcus, Jerusalem 1913: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (2007-04, Penguin).
  • Greil Marcus, The Shape of Things to Come: Prophecy and the American Voice (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).
  • William J Middendorf, A Glorious Disaster: Barry Goldwater's Presidential Campaign and the Origins of the Conservative Movement (2006-11, Basic Books).
  • Brian Patrick Mitchell, 8 Ways to Run the Country: A New and Revealing Look at Left and Right (2006-11, Greenwood).
  • Sharon Moalem, Survival of the Sickest: A Medical Maverick Discovers Why We Need Disease (2007-02, Harper Collins).
  • Scott E Page, The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies (2007-01, Princeton University Press).
  • Bill Henry Paul, Future Energy: How the New Oil Industry Will Change People, Politics and Portfolios (2007-02, John Wiley).
  • Charles Pernow, The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, and Terrorist Disasters (2007-04, Princeton University Press).
  • Ann Pettifor, The Coming First World Debt Crisis (2006-11, Palgrave Macmillan).
  • Orrin H Pilkey/Linda Pilkey-Jarvis, Useless Arithmetic: Why Environmental Scientists Can't Predict the Future (2006-12, Columbia University Press). It's probably easy enough to shoot holes in mathematical models, but where does that leave us?
  • Arnold S Relman, A Second Opinion: Rescuing America's Healthcare (2007-04, Perseus).
  • Bamaby Rogerson, The Heirs of Muhammad (2007-02, Penguin).
  • Barry Steidle, The Devil Came on Horseback: Bearing Witness to Genocide in Darfur (2007-03, Perseus).
  • Milton Viorst, Storm From the East: The Struggle Between the Arab World and the Christian West (2007-04, Random House, paperback).
  • James Waller, Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing (2007-01, Oxford University Press, paperback).
  • Stephen M. Walt, Taming American Power: The Global Response to US Primacy (WW Norton, paperback).

No Interest

There are lots of books I have no interest in. So many, in fact, that it's necessary to subdivide them. In many cases they're just wrong-headed. Some may have value, but look to be too personal, at too small a scale to be very useful to me. (Of course, some books like that turn out to be exceptions.)

My "no interest" lists continued in the extended body.

No Interest: Major Figures

This particular subdivision groups books by or often about major figures. Memoirs by political figures are almost by definition self-serving. Most biography is no better, but there are exceptions (promoted elsewhere if that looks likely).

  • John Ashcroft, Never Again: Securing America and Restoring Justice (2006-10, Center Street).
  • James A. Baker III, "Work Hard, Study . . . and Keep Out of Politics!": Adventures and Lessons From an Unexpected Public Life (Penguin).
  • Wayne Barrett and Dan Collins, Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11 (Harper Collins).
  • Michael Bar-Zohar, Shimon Peres: The Biography (2007-02, Random House).
  • L. Paul Bremer, My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope ().
  • Uri Dan, Ariel Sharon: An Intimate Portrait (2006-10, Palgrave Macmillan).
  • Karen DeYoung, Soldier: The Life of Colin Powell (Knopf).
  • Scott Dikkers, Destined for Destiny: The Unauthorized Autobiography of George W. Bush (Simon & Schuster).
  • Thomas H. Kean and Lee. H. Hamilton, Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission (Knopf).
  • Jeane J Kirkpatrick, Making War to Keep Peace (Harper Collins).
  • Stanley Meisler, Kofi Annan: A Man of Peace in a World of War (2006-12, John Wiley & Sons).
  • Yossi Melman, The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran (2007-02, Avalon).
  • Pervez Musharraf, In the Line of Fire (Free Press). Politicians' books normally sink to the bottom list, but politicians don't normally hawk their books on the Daily Show, where he didn't come off as an American lackey.
  • George Tenet, At the Center of the Storm ().
  • James Traub, The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).
  • John Yoo, War by Other Means: An Insider's Account of the War on Terror (2006-10, Grove/Atlantic).
  • John Yoo, The Powers of War and Peace: The Constitution and Foreign Affairs After 9/11 (2006-10, University of Chicago Press, paperback).
  • Tony Zinni and Tony Koltz, The Battle for Peace: A Frontline Vision of America's Power and Purpose (Palgrave Macmillan).

No Interest: Minor Figures

These are memoirs by minor figures, some of possible interest, and minor level journalism, including many books about soldiers and war operations.

  • Said Hyder Akbar, Come Back to Afghanistan: Trying to Rebuild a Country With My Father, My Brother, My One-Eyed Uncle, Bearded Tribesmen, and President Karzai (2006-10, Bloomsbury, paperback).
  • Lawrence Anthony: Babylon's Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo (2007-03, St. Martin's Press).
  • James Ashcroft, Making a Killing: The Explosive Story of a Hired Gun in Iraq (2007-04, Virgin Books).
  • John R. Ballard, Fighting for Fallujah: A New Dawn for Iraq (Praeger Security International).
  • Ishmael Beah, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier (2007-02, Farrar Straus and Giroux).
  • Moazzam Begg, Enemy Combatant: My Imprisonment at Guantanamo, Bagram, and Kandahar (New Press).
  • Gary Berntsen, Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al Qaeda: A Personal Account by the CIA's Key Field Commander (Crown): Well, at least I got a book out of the deal.
  • Nicholas Blanford, Killing Mr Lebanon: The Assassination of Rafik Hariri and Its Impact on the Middle East (2006-10, IB Tauris).
  • Kristin Breitweiser, Wake-Up Call: The Political Education of a 9/11 Widow (Warner Books).
  • Lt. Carey H. Cash, A Table in the Presence: The Dramatic Account of How a U.S. Marine Battalion Experienced God's Presence Amidst the Chaos of the War in Iraq (W Publishing Group).
  • Mary Cheney, Now It's My Turn: A Daughter's Chronicle of Political Life (Simon & Schuster).
  • John Crawford, The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier's Account of the War in Iraq (Penguin, paperback). I read a bit of this, but didn't find it very illuminating. No surprise that the military sucked, Iraq sucked, the war sucked. This was one of the first of what now are dozens of soldier accounts.
  • Nonie Darwish, Now They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel, and the War on Terror (Penguin).
  • Michael DeLong, A General Speaks Out: The Truth About the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (2007-03, MBI, paperback).
  • Larry Devlin, Chief of Station, Congo: Fighting the Cold War in a Hot Zone (Perseus).
  • Larry Diamond, Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq (paperback).
  • David Feige, Indefensible: One Lawyer's Journey Into the Inferno of American Justice (Little, Brown).
  • Brigitte Gabriel, Because They Hate: A Survivor of Islamic Terror Warns America (St. Martin's).
  • Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, My Year Inside Radical Islam: A Memoir (2007-02, Penguin).
  • Mike German, Thinking Like a Terrorist: Insights of a Former FBI Undercover Agent (2007-01, Potomac Books).
  • Michael Goldfarb, Ahmad's War, Ahmad's Peace: Surviving Under Saddam, Dying in the New Iraq ().
  • Richard Jadick, On Call in Hell: A Doctor's Iraq War Story (2007-03, Penguin).
  • Joshua Key, The Deserter's Tale: The Story of an Ordinary Soldier Who Walked Away From the War in Iraq (2007-01, Grove/Atlantic).
  • R. Alan King, Twice Armed: An American Soldier's Battle for Hearts and Minds in Iraq (MBI). "As unconventional as any soldier this side of T.E. Lawrence, . . . Armed with a Palm Pilot, a Koran, and a nuanced respect for Middle Eastern culture, King arranged the capture or surrender of almost a dozen of the most wanted villains from Saddam's regime."
  • Ray Lemoine and Donovan Webster, Babylon by Bus: Or, the True Story of Two Friends Who Gave Up Their Valuable Franchise Selling "Yankees Suck" T-shirts at Fenway to Find Meaning and Adventure in Iraq (Penguin).
  • Richard S. Lowry, Marines in the Garden of Eden: The Battle for An Nasiriyah (Penguin).
  • Thomas Mowle, ed, Hope Is Not a Plan: The War in Iraq From Inside the Green Zone (2007-03, Greenwood).
  • Omar Nasiri, Inside the Jihad: My Life With Al Qaeda: A Spy's Story (Perseus).
  • Sean Naylor, Not a Good Day to Die: The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda (Penguin, paperback).
  • Patrick K. O'Donnell, We Were One: Shoulder to Shoulder With the Marines Who Took Fallujah (Da Capo Press).
  • Tim Pritchard, Ambush Alley: The Most Extraordinary Battle of the Iraq War (Random House, paperback).
  • Martha Raddatz, The Long Road Home: A Story of War and Family (2007-03, Penguin).
  • Deborah Rodriguez: Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil (2007-04, Random House).
  • Gary Schroen, First In: An Insider's Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan (Random House). He was the guy in the field, so this is likely to be authoritative but blinkered -- the seeds of the fiasco.
  • Michael Smith, Killer Elite: The Inside Story of America's Most Secret Special Operations Team (2007-03, St.Martin's Press).
  • Bing West, No True Glory: A Frontline Account of the Battle for Fallujah (Bantam Books, paperback).
  • Trish Wood, What Was Asked of Us: An Oral History of the Iraq War by the Soldiers Who Fought It (2006-11, Little Brown).

No Interest: Politics Left/Center

Most of these are political campaign books by Democrats, centrists, liberals, or self-described progressives of one sort or another. Books advocating a progressive alternative to the religious right are listed here. Some critiques of the right or politics in general also fit here, but the more promising ones have been promoted.

  • Randall Balmer, Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America (Basic Books).
  • Zbigniew Brzezinski, Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower (Perseus).
  • David Callahan, The Moral Center: How We Can Reclaim Our Country From Diehard Extremists, Rogue Corporations, Hollywood Hacks, and Pretend Patriots (Harcourt). Author of The Cheating Culture, he probably has some points, despite an annoying preference for railing against the left. "Callahan argues that the problems for most Americans are not abortion and gay marriage but rather issues that neither party is addressing -- the selfishness that is careening out of control, the effect of our violent and consumerist culture on children, and our lack of a greater purpose."
  • Jimmy Carter, Our Endangered Values: America's Moral Crisis (paperback).
  • Lou Dobbs, War on the Middle Class: How the Government, Big Business, and Special Interest Groups Are Waging War on the American Dream and How to Fight Back (Penguin).
  • John Edwards, Home: The Blueprints of Our Lives (Harper Collins).
  • Rahm Emanuel, The Plan: Big Ideas for America (2006-08, Public Affairs).
  • Laura Flanders, Blue Grit: True Democrats Take Back Politics Form the Politicians (2007-04, Penguin).
  • Al Franken, The Truth (With Jokes) (Penguin, paperback).
  • Steven F. Freeman, Was the 2004 Presidential Election Stolen? (Seven Stories).
  • Amy Goodman, Static: Government Liars, Media Cheerleaders, and the People Who Fight Back (Hyperion).
  • Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth (Rodale, paperback): Saw the movie. Book is mostly useful for its illustrations, which are slick and impressive.
  • Mark Halperin and John F. Harris, The Way to Win: Taking the White House in 2008 (Random House).
  • Tom Hamburger and Peter Wallsten, One Party Country: The Republican Plan for Dominance in the 21st Century (Wiley).
  • Gary Hart, The Courage of Our Convictions: A Manifesto for Democrats (Henry Holt).
  • Garrison Keillor, Homegrown Democrat: A Few Plain Thoughts From the Heart of America (Penguin, paperback).
  • John Kerry, This Moment on Earth: Today's New Environmentalists and Their Vision for the Future (Perseus).
  • Joe Klein, Politics Lost: How American Democracy Was Trivialized by People Who Think You're Stupid (Doubleday). Did read a bit of this, but didn't get far, realizing that Klein is part of his subject problem.
  • George Lakoff, Whose Freedom? The Battle Over America's Most Important Idea (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).
  • George Lakoff, Thinking Points: Communicating Our American Values and Vision (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, paperback).
  • Shelley Lewis, Naked Republicans: A Full-Frontal Exposure of Right-Wing Hypocrisy and Greed (Random House, paperback).
  • Terry McAuliffe, What a Party! My Life Among Democrats: Presidents, Candidates, Donors, Activists, Alligators, and Other Wild Animals (St. Martin's Press).
  • Robin Meyers, Why the Christian Right Is Wrong: A Minister's Manifesto for Taking Back Your Faith, Your Flag, Your Future (John Wiley & Sons).
  • James Moore, The Architect: Karl Rove and the Master Plan for Absolute Power (Crown).
  • Ralph Nader, Seventeen Traditions (Harper Collins).
  • Geoffrey Nunberg, Talking Right: The Politics of Language -- How the Right Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show (Public Affairs).
  • Barack Obama, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream (Crown).
  • Keith Olbermann, The Worst Person in the World: And 202 Strong Contenders (John Wiley).
  • Bill Richardson: Between Worlds: The Making of an American Life (2007-03, Penguin, paperback).
  • Richard Dean Rosen, Bad President (Workman, paperback).
  • Ryan Sager, The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party (John Wiley & Sons).
  • Senator Chuck Schumer, Positively American: Winning Back the Middle Class One Family at a Time (Rodale Press).
  • Sam Seder, F.U.B.A.R.: America's Right-Wing Nightmare and How to Wake Up From It (Harper Collins).
  • Linda Seger, Jesus Rode a Donkey: Why Republicans Don't Have the Corner on Christ ().
  • J Matthew Sleeth, Serve God, Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action (2007-04, Zondervan, paperback).
  • Paul Waldman, Being Right Is Not Enough: What Progressives Must Learn From Conservative Success (Wiley).
  • Jim Wallis, God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It ().

No Interest: Politics Right

Same general thing, only from the right. Includes some self-critiques aimed at redeeming the right.

  • Fred Barnes, Rebel in Chief: Inside the Bold and Controversial Presidency of George W. Bush (Three Rivers Press, paperback).
  • Matthew Continetti, The K Street Gang: The Rise and Fall of the Republican Machine (Doubleday).
  • SV Dale, Jeb! America's Next Bush (2007-02, Penguin).
  • John Danforth, Faith and Politics: How the "Moral Values" Debate Divides America and How to Move Forward Together (Penguin).
  • John Dean, Conservatives Without Conscience (Penguin).
  • Tom DeLay, No Retreat, No Surrender: One American's Fight (Penguin).
  • Jim Geraghty, Voting to Kill: How 9/11 Launched the Era of Republican Leadership (Touchstone, paperback). This at least revels in the right's pathology.
  • Ed Gillespie, Winning Right: Campaign Politics and Conservative Policies (Simon & Schuster).
  • Newt Gingrich, Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract With America (Regnery, paperback).
  • Victor Gold, Invasion of the Party Snatchers (Sourcebooks).
  • Wynton C Hall, The Right Words: Great Republican Speeches That Shaped History (2007-02, John Wiley).
  • Hugh Hewitt, A Mormon in the White House? Ten Things Every Conservative Should Know About Mitt Romney (Regnery).
  • David Horowitz, The Shadow Party: How Hillary Clinton, George Soros, and the Sixties Left Took Over the Democratic Party (Thomas Nelson).
  • Mike Huckabee, From Hope to Higher Ground: 12 STOPs to Restoring America's Greatness (2007-01, Center Street).
  • Gregg Jackson, Conservative Comebacks to Liberal Lies: Issue by Issue Responses to the Most Common Claims of the Left From A to Z (Jaj). Thumbed through this in the bookstore, stopping at Israel, where the responses were utterly fact-free.
  • David Kuo, Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction (Free Press).
  • David Limbaugh, Bankrupt: The Intellectual and Moral Bankruptcy of Today's Democratic Party (Regnery).
  • Frank Luntz, Words That Work: It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear (Hyperion). Legendary GOP wordsmith, which may make this into something of a primary source.
  • Kevin McCullough, Musclehead Revolution: Overturning Liberalism With Commonsense Thinking (Harvest House, paperback).
  • Bill O'Reilly, Culture Warrior (Random House).
  • Bill Sammon, Strategery ().
  • Mark W. Smith, Disrobed: The New Battle Plan to Break the Left's Stranglehold on the Courts (Crown).
  • Andrew Sullivan, The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back (Harper Collins).
  • Michael D Tanner, Leviathan on the Right: How the Rise of Big Government Conservatism Threatens Our Freedom and Our Future (2007-03, Cato Institute).

No Interest: Miscellaneous Leftism

These are books written from various leftist perspectives that may or may not be valid but don't strike me as especially useful or interesting. They're down here to help thin out the low-level recommended lists, where most of them started out. Also included are a few books on such well-worn subjects as Iraq war propaganda.

  • Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, Behind the War on Terror: Western Secret Strategy and the Struggle for Iraq (2003-10, New Society, paperback).
  • Sharon Beder, Suiting Themselves: How Corporations Drive the Global Agenda (Earthscan/James & James).
  • Susan Buck-Morss, Thinking Past Terror: Islamism and Critical Theory on the Left (Verso, paperback).
  • Kenneth J Campbell, A Tale of Two Quagmires: Iraq, Vietnam, and the Hard Lessons of War (2007-02, Paradigm, paperback).
  • Walter A Davis, Death's Dream Kingdom: The American Psyche Since 9-11 (Pluto Press, paperback).
  • Stephen Duncombe, Dream: Re-Imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy (2007-01, New Press).
  • Thom Hartmann, Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class and What We Can Do About It (). Described as a "radio host," which makes me suspicious. I did find an earlier book -- The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight: The Fate of the World and What We Can Do Before It's Too Late -- intriguing enough to pick up, but haven't gotten to it.
  • Linda McQuaig, It's the Crude, Dude: Greed, Gasoline, and the American Way (Thomas Dunne).
  • Greg Palast, Armed Madhouse: Who's Afraid of Osama Wolf? China Floats, Bush Sinks, the Scheme to Steal '06, No Child's Left Behind, and Other Dispatches From the Front Lines of the Class War (Penguin).

No Interest: Wrong-Headed

These are books singled out for their wrong-headedness.

  • Fouad Ajami, The Foreigner's Gift: The Americans, the Arabs, and the Iraqis in Iraq (Free Press).
  • Bruce Bawer, While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West From Within (Doubleday).
  • Peter Beinhart, The Good Fight: Why Liberals -- and Only Liberals -- Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again (Harper Collins).
  • Tony Blankley, The West's Last Chance: Will We Win the Clash of Civilizations (Regnery).
  • Patrick J. Buchanan, State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America (St. Martin's).
  • Zev Chafets, A Match Made in Heaven: American Jews, Christian Zionists, and One Man's Exploration of the Weird and Wonderful Judeo-Evangelical Alliance (2007-01, Harper Collins): Enough fish out of water here this might actually be interesting, but the phenomenon is revolting, and celebrating it perverse.
  • Alan Dershowitz, The Case for Peace: How the Arab-Israeli Conflict Can Be Resolved (2006-08, John Wiley, paperback).
  • Dinesh D'Souza, The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11 (Doubleday).
  • Steven Emerson, Jihad Incorporated: A Guide to Militant Islam in the US (Prometheus).
  • Michael D Evans, Showdown With Nuclear Iran: Radical Islam's Messianic Mission to Destroy Israel and Cripple the United States (Nelson Current).
  • Noah Feldman, What We Owe Iraq: War and the Ethics of Nation Building (Princeton University Press, paperback).
  • Niall Ferguson, The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West (Penguin).
  • Thomas L. Friedman, The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century (Farrar, Straus and Giroux).
  • Francis Fukuyama, America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy (2007-03, Yale University Press, paperback).
  • John Lewis Gaddis, The Cold War: A New History (Penguin, paperback).
  • Peter W Galbraith, The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End (Simon & Schuster). He can be an astute observer, but his intimate involvement with the Kurds poisoned his perspective and contributed to the problems.
  • Bill Gertz, Enemies: How America's Foes Steal Our Vital Secrets -- And How We Let it Happen (Crown). Previous books: Breakdown; The China Threat; Betrayal; Treachery: How America's Friends and Foes Are Secretly Arming Our Enemies.
  • Dore Gold, The Fight for Jerusalem: Radical Islam's Secret Plan to Take the Ancient Holy Land (2007-01, Regnery).
  • Mary Habeck, Knowing the Enemy: Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror (2006-01, Yale University Press; 2007-03, paperback).
  • David Horowitz, Indoctrination U: The Left's War Against Academic Freedom (Encounter Books).
  • Fred Charles Ikle, Annihilation From Within: The Ultimate Threat to Nations (2006-10, Columbia University Press).
  • Alireza Jafarzadeh, The Iran Threat: President Ahmadinejad and the Coming Nuclear Crisis (2007-01, Palgrave Macmillan): Scott Ritter identifies Jafarzadeh as front man for Israeli intelligence leaks.
  • Robert Kagan, Dangerous Nation: America's Place in the World From Its Earliest Days to the Dawn of the Twentieth Century (Knopf).
  • Robert D. Kaplan, Imperial Grunts: On the Ground With the American Military, From Mongolia to the Philippines to Iraq (Random House): I've read everything else by him, and regard him as a useful reporter-historian and a dangerous ideologue. I gather he's gone off the deep end this time. Thought I'd wait until the paperback came out, which happened recently. Still waiting.
  • Efraim Karsh, Islamic Imperialism: A History (Yale University Press).
  • Sean Kay, Global Security in the Twenty-First Century: The Quest for Power and the Search for Peace (2006-03, Rowman & Littlefield).
  • Matthew Levitt, Hamas: Politics, Charity, and Terrorism in the Service of Jihad (2006-05, Yale University Press).
  • Michelle Malkin, In Defense of Internment: The Case for 'Racial Profiling' in World War II and the War on Terror (Regnery).
  • Michael Mandelbaum, The Case for Goliath: How America Acts as the World's Government in the Twenty-First Century (2007-01, Perseus, paperback).
  • Peter Navarro, The Coming China Wars: Where They Will Be Fought and How They Can Be Won (Pearson Education).
  • Ralph Peters, New Glory: Expanding America's Global Supremecy (Sentinel). Also wrote Never Quit the Fight (Stackpole).
  • Melanie Phillips, Londonistan (Encounter Books).
  • Stephen Schwartz, Is It Good for the Jews?: The Crisis of America's Israel Lobby (2006-09, Doubleday): Argues Israeli lobby should dump Democrats and join neocon Republicans.
  • Larry Schweikart, America's Victories: Why the U.S. Wins Wars and Will Win the War on Terror (Penguin).
  • Rupert Smith, The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (Alfred A. Knopf).
  • Robert Spencer, The Truth About Muhammad: The Founder of the World's Most Intolerant Religion (Regnery).
  • Mark Steyn, America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It (Regnery).
  • Kenneth R. Timmerman, Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown With Iran ().

No Interest: The Rest

Useless books (most likely) that don't fit cleanly into any of the other no interest categories.

  • Herman Badillo, One Nation, One Standard: An Ex-Liberal on How Hispanics Can Succeed Just Like Other Immigrant Groups (Penguin).
  • Mark Bowden, Guests of the Ayatollah: The First Battle in America's War With Militant Islam (Grove/Atlantic). As opposed to Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia, and for that matter Iran in 1953, where the Islamists were doing our bidding.
  • Arthur C. Brooks, Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism (Perseus). Argues that conservatives are more compassionate because they give more to charity.
  • Richard C Bush/Michael O'Hanlon, A War Like No Other: The Truth About China's Challenge to America (2007-03, John Wiley).
  • Anderson Cooper, Dispatches From the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters, and Survival (Harper Collins).
  • James S Corum, Fighting the War on Terror: A Counterinsurgency Strategy (2007-02, MBI).
  • Robert Dallek, Nixon and Kissinger: Partners in Power (Harper Collins).
  • David Dunbar, ed., Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can't Stand Up to the Facts (Hearst Books, paperback).
  • Ron Fournier, Douglas B. Sosnik, Matthew J. Dodd, Applebee's America: How Successful Political, Business and Religious Leaders Connect With the New American Community (Simon & Schuster). A portrait of America obtained by interviewing patrons at Applebee's restaurants, written by Clinton and Bush hacks, endorsed by Hillary and McCain. I'm kind of fond of the riblets, myself, but they didn't interview me.
  • Stefan Halper, The Silence of the Rational Center: Why American Foreign Policy Is Failing (2007-02, Perseus).
  • Lawrence E Joseph, Apocalypse 2012: A Scientific Investigation Into Civilization's End (2007-01, Broadway Books).
  • James Kynge, China Shakes the World: A Titan's Breakneck Rise and Troubled Future and the Challenge for America (Houghton Mifflin).
  • Dick Martin, Rebuilding Brand America: What We Must Do to Restore Our Reputation and Safeguard the Future of American Business Abroad (2007-01, AMACOM).
  • Bill McKibben, Hope, Human and Wild: True Stories of Living Lightly on the Earth (2007-01, Milkwood, paperback).
  • Andrea Mitchell, Talking Back . . . to Presidents, Dictators, and Assorted Scoundrels (2006-12, Penguin, paperback). Too bad Sleeping With the Devil has already been used.
  • Eugene R Sheppard, Leo Strauss and the Politics of Exile: The Making of a Political Philosopher (2006-12, Brandeis University Press).
  • Juan Williams, Enough: The Phony Leaders, Dead-End Movements, and Culture of Failure That Are Undermining Black America -- and What We Can Do About It (Crown).

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Hard Truths

I marked a couple of quotes in the April 26, 2007 issue of The New York Review of Books. The first two come from Amos Elon's review of Sari Nusseibeh's memoir, Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life. The first is on the first Intifada, from 1986-93, which Nusseibeh played a prominent role in coordinating:

When it first broke out, he was as stunned by it as everybody else. Indirectly, it was his brainchild. Before December 1988, seven hundred soldiers sufficed to keep order in the occupied territories. After the outbreak of the first intifada, eight thousand troops were unable to pacify Gaza alone. [ . . . ] Draconian measures were taken to suppress the uprising. Mayors were dismissed, arrested, and dumped over the Lebanese and Jordanian borders. Houses were demolished; entire areas were confiscated or redefined as military zones. The uprising spread to every Palestinian university. New military orders granted the army near-absolute power over faculty appointments, student admissions, and curriculums. At Birzeit, professors were asked to sign loyalty oaths. They refused, and the army closed the university indefinitely. It would be reopened only after more than four years had passed. Nusseibeh continued to give his [philosophy] courses at his father's office.

The Israelis were not prepared to defeat a dedicated campaign of civil disobedience whose violence consisted only of throwing stones. Their punitive measures stimulated more opposition. Incredible as it may seem today,t he Israelis hoped that Islamic militancy could be used to fight Palestinian nationalism and gave a helping hand to Hamas, at that time mainly a social welfare organization.

The Israelis arrested Nusseibeh, and tried to plea bargain him into exile. When he refused they dropped the charges rather than risk a public trial. The Israelis always denied that the Palestinians offered a partner for peace, which is one reason they didn't want to draw attention to Nusseibeh.

The second quote concerns Arafat and the Palestinian Authority the Israelis put in place to end the Intifada:

[Nusseibeh] offers a rare insider's view of the disorder, incompetence, mismanagement, and widespread corruption in the Palestinian government Arafat formed in 1994. The new Palestinian ministers and other highly placed Palestinians had arrived from exile in Tunis unprepared for their tasks. Some were aging revolutionaries in elegant Armani suits. They hadn't been to the West Bank since 1948 and did not understand the problems and needs of its people. Nor did they bother to learn. They were dazzled, Nusseibeh writes, by the trappings of power, the state visits, the new flow of uncontrolled international development funds, their luxury cars, the adulation of West Bank Palestinians. They had no inclination to study reports or to listen to the local people who worked for them. Some were thoroughly corrupt. A few were simply "malevolent thugs." They acted as if they were demigods to the people under them, but ran to Arafat for permission to hire a secretary.

Some -- former members of the security services among them -- rushed to make deals with shady Israeli businessmen in order to enrich themselves quickly with monopolies on gas, food supplies, and other vital commodities. Only after dire warnings from the World Bank did Arafat agree to appoint a commission of inquiry into such corruption. Nusseibeh was one of its members. The commission submitted a devastating three-hundred-page report. More than 40 percent of the Palestinian Authority's budget was said to be squandered through corruption and mismanagement. Arafat read the report but did nothing about it. "Why, we asked, had he not put an end to it?" Nobody was demoted or brought to trial. The chieftains continued their plunder.

Arafat's legacy of corruption is linked in the minds of many Palestinians with his failure to deliver anything out of the Oslo accords -- the combination has much to do with the recent electoral success of Hamas. It's tempting to argue that Israel anticipated and planned on Arafat's failure. Most likely they weren't that clever, but there were plenty of Israelis who wanted Arafat to fail and who contributed at every opportunity.

The second set of quotes comes from William Dalrymple's review of two books on the British empire in India: Nicholas B. Dirks, The Scandal of Empire: Indian and the Creation of Imperial Britain, and David Gilmour, The Ruling Caste: Imperial Lives in the Victorian Raj. The first quote reminds us how easy it is to think of Bush's Iraq war as just another stab at old-fashioned imperialism:

As anyone who has ever studied the story of the rise of the British in India will know well, there is nothing new about the neocons. The cynical old game of regime change -- of installing puppet regimes propped up by the West for its own political and economic ends -- is one that the British had perfected by the late eighteenth century. Sometimes the similarities are almost uncanny. By the end of the 1790s, the hard-liners who were calling for regime change found that they now had a president who was not prepared to wait to be attacked: he was a new sort of conservative, aggressive in foreign policy, bitterly anti-French, and intent on turning his country into the unrivaled global power. It was best, he believed, preemptively to remove hostile Muslim regime that presumed to resist the West.

The first to be targeted was a Muslim dictator who had usurped power in a military coup. According to misleading British sources, this focus on anti-Western opposition was a "furious fanatic," who had "perpetually on his tongue the projects of Jihad." He was also deemed to be "oppressive and unjust, [and a] perfidious negociator." Yet in this case, the dictator was not Saddam but Tipu, sultan of Mysore, and the president, Henry Dundas, the president of Parliament's Board of Control. In 1798 Dundas sent Richard Wellesley to India with instructions to replace Tipu with a Western-backed puppet prince. Mysore was duly invaded and Tipu was killed in the lucrative war of 1799.

Dirks paints a nasty picture of the British in India. Gilmour pushes the usual pro-British line, which remains suspect:

But amid all the tales of hard work and evenhanded justice, you never get any impression of the many clearly negative effects that British rule had on India. For all the irrigation projects, new railways and imperviousness to bribes, the Raj presided over the destruction of Indian political institutions and cultural and artistic self-confidence, while the economic figures speak for themselves. In 1600, when the East India Company was founded, Britain was generating 1.8 percent of the world's GDP while India was producign 22.5 percent. By 1870, at the peak of the Raj, Britain was generating 9.1 percent, while India had been reduced a poor third-world nation, a symbol across the globe of famine and deprivation.

One of the arguments that the US and UK should hasten a clean exit from Iraq is that they uncritically inherit this long history of damaging third world countries, whether in the name of empire or other supposedly noble intents. Given such a past, a little isolationism would be a step in the right direction.

Monday, April 23, 2007

I've been collecting each week's music notes under Sunday dates for several years now, so that's where I've always put the Jazz Prospecting notes. But Jazz Prospecting isn't posted until Monday, and effectively that's when the weekly roundup closes. So starting today I'm filing it all under Monday dates.

Music: Current count 13079 [13059] rated (+20), 855 [853] unrated (+2). Just working on the usual household projects, trying to keep from getting buried too deep. Should spend next week on Recycled Goods, then shift back to Jazz Consumer Guide the following week, this time to try to close it out rather quickly -- meaning 2-3 weeks.

  • Christina Aguilera: Back to Basics (2006, RCA, 2CD): Gee, two discs, 22 songs plus a "bonus video" -- this must be her Blonde on Blonde, Exile on Main Street, London Calling, Sign O' the Times. That boggles the mind. But then I haven't heard her previous albums -- whatever she has to line up against Highway 61 Revisited, Let It Bleed, The Clash, Dirty Mind. C+
  • Rashied Ali/Leroy Jenkins Duo: Swift Are the Winds of Life (1973, Survival): Old LP. This has been reissued on CD by Knitting Factory's archival series, although that too may be out of print. Exactly what it sounds like: the founder of all avant-jazz violin and Coltrane's great free jazz drummer. A-
  • The Next Voice You Hear: The Best of Jackson Browne (1972-96 [1997], Elektra): Southern California singer-songwriter, literally the missing link betwen the Eagles and Warren Zevon, but less interesting than either, not least because he's far less offensive. Had a substantial critical following up through 1977's Running on Empty, the title of which prefigured the rest of his career. The only thing I'm struck by here is how much the early songs remind me of the Eagles. I never knew the later ones, and they don't remind me of much of anything, although one of two new songs is pretty listenable. B-
  • Best of Chris Isaak (1985-2006 [2006], Wicked Game/Reprise): Sounded good at first, a guy who played rockabilly with a pop-modernist shine, a bit like Marshall Crenshaw but not that good; also not that smart, as evidenced by the Roy Orbison cover, and the fact that after two decades he doesn't have a song to call his own. Also disappointing that this comes with no discographical notes, as if he doesn't want a history either. B-
  • Leroy Jenkins/The Jazz Composer's Orchestra: For Players Only (1975, JCOA): LP, recorded live at Wollman Auditorium, Columbia University, New York, with: Roger Blank, Joseph Bowie, Charles Brackeen, Anthony Braxton, Jerome Cooper, Bill Davis, James Emery, Romulus Franceschini, Sharon Freeman, Becky Friend, David Holland, Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre, Diedre Murray, Dewey Redman, Charles Shaw, Sirone, Leo Smith. Not as much violin as I'd like, but there's so much firepower here it would be a shame not to use it. But rather than risk cacophony, the instruments get a round robin of solo shots, always remarkable, often spectacular. A-
  • Tim McGraw: Greatest Hits Vol. 2 (1994-2006 [2006], Curb): Son of baseball pitcher Tug McGraw, which probably helped with the name recognition end of the marketing. He couldn't have made it on his voice, which is passable-plus but wouldn't stand out in a crowd of dozens of less successfully marketed non-stars. Haven't heard the first volume, or any of the albums, so I'm just testing the waters here. Two collaborations indicate that he has no substance: one is with Nelly, an amusing crossover with a beat; the other is with Faith Hill, who is awful. I hear they're married, which probably explains something -- probably that sex appeal is more marketable to country fans than music. C+
  • Justin Timberlake: Futuresex/Lovesounds (2006, Jive/Zomba): Didn't spend enough time with Justified to fall for it as so many other did. Check this out from the library and didn't spend enough time with this either, although it's not inconceivable that I'm underrating it. But since everyone thinks it's (perhaps only slightly) inferior, for now I'll grade them the same, and hope I get back to them in the future. Good soul singer -- "blue-eyed" would be spurious to add at this point, since I doubt that it makes any difference. Some possible hits. B+

Jazz Prospecting (CG #13, Part 6)

Another week. No snow, unlike the previous two. Some of the trees are bouncing back, but some still look disgusted. First baby ducks on the river. Guess it's spring. This last week has been something of a daze, as I've been trying to juggle too many projects, and taking frequent breaks to chill out. Keep playing stuff, but haven't been able to concentrate all that much. I think I played the Ralph Alessi record five times before making up my mind: the clincher was when I went back and only played the cuts with Ravi Coltrane -- I had been wondering what he contributed, and the answer's not much. But I still didn't get the little HM squib written. I figure the home projects will keep me distracted for a couple more weeks. Second computer is assembled but hasn't been smoke tested yet, let alone loaded and configured and all that. Looks good, but will take some time to get it all sorted out.

Schedule looks like this: I need to focus on Recycled Goods this week. I'm actually far enough ahead there I could coast this month (58 records done, 10 in top section), but I need to keep moving on it or I'll get trapped later. Following week I want to start closing out Jazz Consumer Guide. It looks to me like I have more than enough records for a column, without even dipping far into the 162 -- count 'em -- in the pending file. Also need to get back to working on the Robert Christgau website, which has remained unchanged for a couple of months now. And then there's my other writing interests. Maybe I'll start feeling better about music if I make some progress elsewhere.

Minor bookkeeping note: starting this week I'm filing my weekly reports in the notebook under Monday's date instead of Sunday. That way the blog and notebook line up better. For those who don't know, the notebook is sort of a superset of the blog -- i.e., drafts of stuff that appears in the blog plus other things that don't, mostly because there's little reason for anyone else to care about them. But some people did read it in pre-blog days. Don't know about now. One little thing I've added to the weekly reports is an "unpacking" list of records received. I don't at present see any need to put that up here.

Graham Collier's Hoarded Dreams (1983 [2007], Cuneiform): A bassist and well-regarded composer who started out in the late '60s, a protean period when Britain's modern jazz musicians could still span avant-garde and fusion, where there was little distance between music abstractly composed and explosively improvised. This particular piece was commissioned by the Arts Council of Great Britain for performance at the Bracknell Jazz Festival. Collier conducts a large group: 5 reeds, 5 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, 2 guitars, piano, bass, drums, including many recognizable names, both local (John Surman, Kenny Wheeler) and from far afield (Ted Curson, Tomasz Stanko, Juhanni Aaltonen). Framed for solos, some quite rivetting, but mostly loud and a bit ugly for my taste. B+(*)

Hugh Hopper: Hopper Tunity Box (1976 [2007], Cuneiform): Long before I had any particular interest, much less expertise, in jazz, I developed a peculiar fondness for Anglo prog-rock -- the sort of thing British art school grads did, as opposed to the much more common dropouts. At one point I had all seven Soft Machine albums, enjoying the first two for Kevin Ayers' loopy songs, and Third for Robert Wyatt's loopier "Moon in June," but not getting much out of the later work. But the recently released live album Grides makes a pretty good case for them as a jazz group, as does Elton Dean's subsequent career. Hugh Hopper was the bassist. This was his first solo after the group folded, using several shuffles of musicians. Mostly soft-edged fusion things, although the two saxophonists have some edge when they get the chance: Elton Dean on 3 cuts, and especially Gary Windo on 4. B+(*)

KCP 5: Many Ways (2005 [2007], Challenge): KCP stands for Karnataka College of Percussion. Based in Bangalore, they are a trio: two percussionists on mridangam, kanjira, morsing, ghatam, udu; and vocalist R.A. Ramamani. The latter is the dominant presence, her voice stretching and swaying in the classical Indian manner, but more often than not hurried along by the rhythm. 5 stands for two western musicians: pianist Mike Herting, who comps with or without the rhythm, and 82-year-old Charlie Mariano, whose unmistakable alto sax is positively angelic. B+(**)

The Leaders: Spirits Alike (2006 [2007], Challenge): The group name appeared on four albums from 1986-89, counting one as The Leaders Trio. The latter was just the rhythm section: pianist Kirk Lightsey, bassist Cecil McBee, and drummer Don Moye. The whole group added Lester Bowie on trumpet, Arthur Blythe on alto sax, and Chico Freeman on tenor or soprano or clarinet or flute, whatever. Bowie and Moye came out of the Art Ensemble of Chicago; Freeman and Blythe were building up substantial catalogues, including a few records together; Lightsey and McBee were guys you'd recognize if you ever read album credits. So they were a credible group, and Mudfoot (1986, Blackhawk) was a fine album, with a particularly delightful spin on Sam Cooke's "Cupid." Twenty years later, only two Leaders remain -- McBee and Freeman -- and the Replacements are more firmly perched in the mainstream: Bobby Watson (for Blythe), Eddie Henderson (for Bowie), Billy Hart (for Moye), and Fred Harris (for Lightsey). Harris lacks credentials as a leader, but acquits himself well enough. But that's about all anyone does here. Sure, this is elegant, intricate postbop, crafted by genuine talents. I suppose if I hadn't expected more I'd be less disappointed. B

Bob French: Marsalis Music Honors Bob French (2006 [2007], Marsalis Music/Rounder): Veteran New Orleans drummer, in 1977 took over his father's group, the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band, which in turn dates back to Oscar "Papa" Celestin in 1910. AMG lists only this album under French's name plus a dozen-plus sideman credits, starting with a Snooks Eaglin date in 1977 -- the latter underreported, no doubt. Musicians here include Branford Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr., who hog "Take a Closer Walk With Thee." Everything else is trad New Orleans if not necessarily trad jazz. French sings "Bourbon Street Parade," "You Are My Sunshine," and "Do You Know What It Means (to Miss New Orleans)" -- the latter joined by Ellen Smith, who also sings "Basin Street Blues." Seems like standard fare, but this is as much fun as any New Orleans tribute in the post-Katrina era. [B+(***)]

Alvin Batiste: Marsalis Music Honors Alvin Batiste (2006 [2007], Marsalis Music/Rounder): First non-drummer in the series; second New Orleans denizen. I never doubted the good intentions behind this series, but it seemed to me that the first batch (Michael Carvin, Jimmy Cobb) steered them too far into the mainstream to be of much interest. But that doesn't matter with the second batch: the party in New Orleans is meant to be accessible, and Branford Marsalis just works to heat it up even more. Batiste is a clarinetist, born 1937, with just a handful of albums, including one on India Navigation I heard and didn't think much of. This one takes a while to engage, but it seems like each of Edward Perkins' four vocals kicks in a higher gear, so by the end Batiste is soaring. An honor indeed. B+(**)

Matt Lavelle Trio: Spiritual Power (2006 [2007], Silkheart): Plays trumpet, flugelhorn, bass clarinet -- 1, 3, and 3 cuts respectively here. Born 1970, turned on by Louis Armstrong, studied with a Sir Hildred Humphries, who had direct links to Roy Eldridge, Billie Holiday, and Count Basie. Evolved through what he calls "the 'Smalls' thing" before joining William Parker's Little Huey Orchestra. Has a previous album on CIMP and a group called Eye Contact with one record. This one's a trio with bassist Hilliard Greene and drummer Michael T.A. Thompson, both contributing big time. Avant like it's meant to be: sharp, shocking, bursting with creative ideas. The liner notes cite Roy Campbell as a model, but Lavelle adds a level of difficulty and sonic surprise with his emphasis on flugelhorn and bass clarinet. Took me a while to even recognize the latter. A-

David S. Ware Quartet: Renunciation (2006 [2007], AUM Fidelity): Allegedly "the last ever U.S. performance by David S. Ware's revered Quartet" -- not sure whether that's a statement about Ware, Matthew Shipp, William Parker, and the drummer du jour (in this case Guillermo E. Brown) or about the U.S. The Quartet goes back to 1990, when Parker was established as Cecil Taylor's bassist and the others were practically unknown. For a while it was tempting to compare them to the Coltrane Quartet, but by now they've lasted three times as long. Recorded live, this adds one more slice to Live in the World, its immediate spontaneity compensating for the fact that they break no major ground. Ware is mesmerizing, Parker magnificent, and Shipp one of the few pianists who can hold his own in this company. A-

William Parker & Hamid Drake: First Communion + Piercing the Veil (2000 [2007], AUM Fidelity, 2CD): Not missing a marketing angle, this is subtitled "Volume 1 Complete," with a new Parker-Drake duo album, Summer Snow, sporting a "Volume 2" note. Volume 1 is what Universal would call a Deluxe Edition or Sony/BMG a Legacy Edition, where the 2001 release of Percing the Veil is now padded out to fill two discs. The padding in this case is a live tape from two days before the studio date. It is the sort of broader context that adds depth to a classic album even when the filler isn't on the same level -- rarely in this case. It pays to focus on Drake here. Parker spend a fair amount of time off-bass -- especially in the studio sessions, where he indulges in exotic wind instruments (bombarde, shakuhachi) and percussion -- but that just gives Drake more variations to respond to. But he's so attentive that he provides a prism for interpreting Parker. And he shows you his whole range, including tabla and frame drum. A-

William Parker & Hamid Drake: Summer Snow (2005 [2007], AUM Fidelity): A "volume 2" five years after their previous duo, Piercing the Veil. The bass and drums sets are much the same, with Parker perhaps a bit more grooveful, but the exotica is harder to follow, perhaps because their growing expertise is making it more exotic. It's also making it subtler, quieter, and harder to follow. Also possible that the drummer who had so much to prove first time has grown comfortable with his laurels, or is merely letting Parker set the pace instead of meeting him more than half way. B+(**)

Rob Brown Trio: Sounds (2006 [2007], Clean Feed): Actually, not sure of the date: notes say it was recorded on November 23, but don't bother with the year. The title piece debuted at the 2005 Vision Festival, so 2005 is also possible. Brown's an alto saxophonist I've mostly encountered on William Parker albums. He has everything you'd want in that role, but has had trouble establishing himself on his own. It's hard to find fault with this: he breaks the usual sax-bass-drums trio format with Daniel Levin's cello and Satoshi Takeishi's taiko drums and percussion; he varies the free jazz mix with a ballad and a Tibetan folk song. It's almost a tour de force, but not quite, lacking something you can't prescribe until it hits you. B+(**)

Henri Salvador: Révérence (2007, Circular Moves): Born 1917 in French Guiana, still alive and active, no recording dates, but presumably this is recent: French chanson so natural, so lithe, so effortlessly swinging you have to wonder what's up. For one thing Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil make appearances, and there are jazz cats mixed in with the frogs. Salvador's discography goes back at least to the '40s. I've never heard him before, so have no idea where this stands in his oeuvre. A-

Juliette Greco: Le Temps D'Une Chanson (2006 [2007], Sunnyside): French actress, doesn't sing so much as talk her way through songs with genuine dramatic flair. Born 1927, associated with Jean-Paul Sartre, Boris Vian, Miles Davis. Backed here by orchestra and guests -- Michael Brecker and Joe Lovano the best known, accordionist Gil Goldstein the most effective. Non-French songs I know, like "Volare," seem hokey, but fare like "Les mains d'or" make an impression. Like Salvador, a legend first heard at the tail end of a long career, so hard to judge. B

Enrico Pieranunzi/Marc Johnson/Joey Baron: Live in Japan (2004 [2007], CAM Jazz, 2CD): Just simply a real good piano trio. I'm not sure what makes this work so well, what to say about them, why it works, or why it even matters. Will hold this back until I get some answers. [B+(***)] [May 22]

Joel Frahm: We Used to Dance (2006 [2007], Anzic): Mainstream saxophonist, plays both alto and tenor, but not specified which here -- pictures show tenor. Born 1969 in Wisconsin, studied at Manhattan School of Music. Three previous albums on Palmetto, 4-8 sideman credits per year since 1997, many with singers -- he's exceptionally skillful in that role. He's playing with a group here previously associated with Stan Getz: pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Rufus Reid, drummer Victor Lewis. Doesn't sound like this has much to do with Getz, but it's a good group for Frahm, and he plays a strong game. [B+(**)] [May 1]

And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.

Wynton Marsalis: From the Plantation to the Penitentiary (2006 [2007], Blue Note): My wife expressed interest in this album, telling me that she had read a rave review in Counterpunch. I chased down Ron Jacobs' review anyway, but couldn't get past the third line: "It's just enough bop and bebop so it doesn't put one to sleep like a Kenny G solo, but it's not a Coltrane avalanche of sound like those from Coltrane's thundering Ascension, either." Now, there's no information there: Marsalis has recorded 40-50 albums since 1981, and he has never once risked comparison to Kenny G or Ascension. He started off reminding Art Blakey what narrowly construed hard bop sounds like. If he's picked up any tricks since then, they've been old ones, like extending his trumpet mastery from Woody Shaw back to Freddie Keppard, and fumbling to imitate composers like Ellington. I had figured this album for his move into Mingus agitprop, but that doesn't pan out on several levels. He's more song-oriented, but has less in the way of message, and his hired singer handles his hokey lines with cool detachment. On the other hand, the music shows he's working in soundtrack mode: each piece is accompanied by a formal description -- modern habanera; alternating 2-beat country groove, soca, cumbia, swing; walking ballad; etc. -- and he's more inspired as a musicologist than as a polemicist. Indeed, if you could skip past the words this might be one of his more enjoyable albums. But if he meant for you to just enjoy the music, he would have left the words out, right? For one, I find the plantation-to-penitentiary arc narrow, condescending, and disturbing. It's not that there's no truth to it, but it's such a cliché I don't see what you can do with it. I suppose his use of stereotypes is meant to convey some irony, but in an album that's more scold than rant it's hard to be sure. "I ain't your bitch and I ain't your ho" comes off as awkward from him as if Don Imus said it. And speaking of awkward, the closing rap makes Buckshot Lefonque sound real. (But I doubt that when he goes to dis "Camus readers" he's really thinking of George W.) I thought about pitching this for a standalone piece in the Voice, but Francis Davis beat me to it. I don't feel mean enough to single this out as a dud. If he had a smarter, hipper lyricist able to work on a human rather than mythic scale, he might be onto something. But he persists in surrounding himself with ideological flatterers like Stanley Crouch, so this is what he gets. B

Ralph Alessi & This Against That: Look (2005 [2007], Between the Lines): One of those group names that comes from the previous album title, although the only musician both times, aside from the leader, is bassist Drew Gress. The quartet this time is filled out with Andy Milne on piano and Mark Ferber on drums, plus Ravi Coltrane appears on four cuts. Coltrane isn't much help -- he provides shadings on slow pieces that at best are atmospheric, but are filler compared to the fast ones. Let loose, the rhythm section is terrific, and setting Alessi's tart trumpet free. B+(***)


  • Alan Bergman: Lyrically, Alan Bergman (Verve): May 8
  • Marc Broussard: S.O.S.: Save Our Soul (Vanguard): advance, June 26
  • Ron Carter: Dear Miles, (Blue Note): advance, June 19
  • Darby Dizard: Down for You (One Soul)
  • Paquito D'Rivera Quintet: Funk Tango (Sunnyside)
  • Elin: Lazy Afternoon (Blue Toucan)
  • The Essential Maynard Ferguson (1954-96, Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): advance, May 22
  • The Essential Benny Goodman (1934-52, Columbia/Bluebird/Legacy, 2CD): advance, May 22
  • Holly Hofmann/Mike Wofford: Live at Athenaeum Jazz, Voume 2 (Capri)
  • Niño Josele: Paz (Calle 54)
  • Abbey Lincoln: Abbey Sings Abbey (Verve): advance, May 22
  • Martirio: Primavera en Nueva York (Calle 54)
  • Charlie Mingus: Tijuana Moods (1957, RCA Victor/Legacy): advance, May 22
  • Térez Montcalm: Voodoo (Marquis)
  • Mark Murphy: Love Is What Stays (Verve)
  • Joshua Redman: Back East (Nonesuch)
  • James Blood Ulmer: Bad Blood in the City: The Piety Street Sessions (Hyena)

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Jimmy Carter: Palestine Peace Not Apartheid

Note: The Books section is currently in partial disarray as I'm in the middle of breaking up the hardwired index page and replacing it with a bunch of subject headings driven off a rather hacked approximation of a database. But I've rushed ahead to update the website because the Carter book page also collects a couple of earlier posts relating to the book. The following post is just the new section. Another option would be to just post a link here. I don't have a compelling reason one way or another, but I'm inclined to keep dumping my book reports out initially in the blog, even when they are backed up elsewhere. I expect that there will be quite a few of these in the following weeks as I try to file big piles of recently read books.

I doubt that there is anything more terrifying about the power of the right-wing media in America than the extent to which Jimmy Carter has been and continues to be villified in public. One obvious, even if petty, example is Bernard Goldberg's ranking Carter high on his list of "101 People Who Are Screwing Up America." It's easy enough to see why Carter was voted out of office in 1980, although even there a sober assessment of history shows that he made some hard, unpopular calls that have largely been vindicated. He managed to break the spiral of inflation even though the short term economic cost was extreme. He recognized the long-term threat of rising oil costs even though he was unable to do much about it. And he made virtually the only significant contribution to peace in the Middle East by any American in the last fifty years. He staked a strong claim to always telling the truth, in contrast to his predecessor Nixon and, for that matter, every President who followed him.

But even if it is debatable how good, or great, a President he was, his service as an ex-President is impossible to fault, unless you have a particularly bloody political axe to grind. Yet this short, simple, logical, humane solution to a grave problem that has been rendered intractable by sheer demagoguery has elicited an almost unprecedented torrent of character assassination from Israel's apologists and propagandists. Brings to mind the saying, methinks they doth protest too much. After all, there is no sound basis for arguing with the solution: it's been laid out again and again, in the series of UN resolutions, in the Camp David accords between Egypt and Israel which Carter himself negotiated, and in many other forms. What's strange is the contortions so many go through to deny the obvious. What's bizarre is that there's been no solution. Carter's too kind to explain why that is; he simply wants to put us back on the right path. It is in fact the path he's always been on -- a point he makes by sketching out his own personal experience with Israel.

Carter talking about his first visit to Israel in 1973, when he was governor of Georgia, contemplating his run for president (p. 30):

At that time, Foreign Minister Abba Eban was the best-known Israeli, famous for the eloquence of his speeches in the United Nations, and I was excited when he invited us to meet with him. Not surprisingly, he was full of ideas about Israel's future, some of which proved to be remarkably prescient. He said that the occupied territories were a burden and not an asset. Arabs and Jews were inherently incompatible and would ultimately have to be separated. The detention centers and associated punitive and repressive procedures necessary to govern hundreds of thousands of Arabs against their will would torment Israel with a kind of quasi-colonial situation that was being abolished throughout the rest of the world. When questioned, he replied without explanation that the solution to this problem was being evolved. (I knew that some Isaeli leaders were contemplating massive immigration from both Russia and the United States plus encouraging Arabs to emigrate to other nations.) Eban explained his extraordinary role in the United Nations by saying, "If I were foreign minister of the only Arab nation surrounded by thirty-nine hostile Jewish ones, I would turn to the U.N. for support."

Eban's great skill was his ability to play to the prejudices of West: the patronizing colonialism that once honored itself as the "white man's burden" and now establishes common ground between Israel and the West; the matter-of-fact racism of the "incompatibility" of colonizers and natives; the "repressive procedures" that necessarily follow. What the quote shows is that Israelis in high positions knew what they were getting into, even if they underestimated how many Jewish immigrés they could attract and how many Palestinians they could cajole into exile.

When Carter was president, in 1978, working toward the Camp David peace treaty between Egypt and Israel (pp. 44-45):

Unfortunately, my working relationship with Menachem Begin became even more difficult in March, when the PLO launched an attack on Israel from a base in Southern Lebanon. A sightseeing bus was seized and thirty-five Israelis were killed. I publicly condemned this outrageous act, but my sympathy was strained three days later when Israel invaded Lebanon and used American-made antipersonnel cluster bombs against Beirut and other urban centers, killing hundreds of civilians and leaving thousands homeless. I considered this major invasion to be an overreaction to the PLO attack, a serious threat to peace in the region, and perhaps part of a plan to establish a permanent Israeli presence in Southern Lebanon. Also, such use of American weapons violated a legal requirement that armaments sold by us be used only for Israeli defense against an attack.

After consulting with key supporters of Israel in the U.S. Senate, I informed Prime Minister Begin that if Israeli forces remained in Lebanon, I would have to notify Congress, as required by law, that U.S. weapons were being used illegally in Lebanon, which would automatically cut off all military aid to Israel. Also, I instructed the State Department to prepare a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel's action. Israeli forces withdrew, and United Nations troops came in to replace them in Southern Lebanon, adequate to restrain further PLO attacks on Israeli citizens.

It's worth noting that this same pattern recurred in 1982 and in 2006, and in both of those cases US presidents (Reagan and Bush) gave Israel the green light to invade. Both invasions resulted in immense damage to Lebanon. They also turned out to be major public relations disasters for Israel and the US. Carter wasn't the first US president to reign in Israeli excess -- Eisenhower put an end to the 1956 Suez War -- but he may have been the last. Carter may have been the only US president to view peace between Israel and the Arabs as more valuable than Israel's alignment with US military interests in the region. (Curiously, the main thing the US military needed in the region to promote its presence was enemies, which Israel was uniquely able to provoke. As such, the US often wound up promoting Israeli aggression.)

Carter provides a rather oblique history of the founding of Israel (pp. 65-66):

Nationalism became a powerful force in nineteenth-century Europe, and it influenced Jews living there to create the Zionist movement. In Western Europe, the unique identity of the Jewish population was threatened by assimilation into Christian and secular society. But almost three-fourths of Jews were living in Eastern Europe, where persecution continued, and it was there that the seeds of Zionism were nourished. Although a majority of Jewish emigrants went to the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, increasing demands were heard for the establishment of a Jewish state -- both to escape oppression and to fulfill an interpretation of biblical prophecies.

Although exact data are not available, it is estimated that in 1880 there were only 30,000 Jews in Palestine, scattered among 600,000 Muslim and Christian Arabs. By 1930 their numbers had grown to more than 150,000.

The Arabs in Palestine fought politically and militarily against these new settlers, but they could agree on little else and dissipated their strength and influence by contention among themselves. The British, who succeeded the Ottoman Turks after World War I as rulers of Palestine, attempted to contain the bloody disputes by restricting immigration of Jews to the Holy Land, despite desperate appeals from those who faced increasing threats and racial abuse. And then came the world's awareness of the horrors of the Holocaust, and the need to acknowledge the Zionist movement and an Israeli state.

This is a rather muddled account, hiding many significant details. The Zionist movement started in Russia in the 1880s. Palestine at that time was part of the Ottoman Empire, a conglomerate which recognized rights of many linguistic and religious groups. The Ottomans had welcomed most of the Sephardic Jews exiled from Spain during the Inquisition, but few had actually settled in Palestine. The Zionist movement was different, because it aimed specifically at Palestine with nationalist overtones and perhaps more importantly because it occurred at a time when European powers were tearing at the Empire by demanding capitulations -- grants of special rights within the Empire (e.g., France wanted to "represent" Maronite Christians in Lebanon; Russia laid similar claim to Orthodox Christians; the best Germany could argue for was the Jews). The Ottomans went back and forth on this, allowing immigration over two brief periods, which may have increased the Jewish population in Palestine from 5% to as much as 10%, but it had no real effect until the British took over. And this is where Carter loses the ball.

Great Britain, in 1917, before it had any claim or presence in Palestine, issued the Balfour Declaration, declaring their intent to turn Palestine into a "Jewish homeland." Their aim in doing so was to establish a British territory secured by Jewish colonists, who would depend on the British for protection against the locals. The Palestinians, in turn, were manipulated much as the British had been doing from Egypt to India, with favors to local elites -- such as the Husseini clan, one of whom was appointed the Mufti of Jerusalem. Like most British plans, it didn't really work out all that well. After major Zionist immigration in the 1920s, Palestinian revolts in 1929 led to restrictions, which were eased in the 1930s to allow an influx of German Jews, which in turn led to the revolt of 1937-39 and further restrictions -- needless to say, at a time when European Jews were most desperately in need of sanctuary from Nazi aggression. The British were so tone-deaf in this regard that they rounded up all the German Jews who managed to reach their shores and shipped them off to Australia and Canada to be jailed as enemy aliens. On the other hand, the Zionists lobbied against allowing Jews to emigrate anywhere but Palestine, so nobody comes off looking very good here.

Carter gives the British a relatively free ride here. The problem with that is not just that the British deserve a large share of the blame -- they did, after all, try the same partition trick in Ireland and India, with disastrous results in both cases -- but that it obscures the fundamental reason the Palestinians had a problem with the Zionists in the first place: the Jews came as instruments of British colonialism, they built a society and an economy separate from and in destructive competition with the existing society and economy, and they intended to use their growing power to phase the British out and complete their redemption of the land and their marginalization of its people. The same project in various guises was attempted many times, succeeding in Australia and the United States, failing after a long and violent struggle in places like Algeria and South Africa. In Israel it has succeeded only in the sense that its failure continues to be unresolved.

Carter also excuses the British in discussing the Arab side. The final service Great Britain did for the Zionists was to mismanage the Arab response to Israel's declaration of independence. Nobody seems to remember this, but at the time Egypt, Jordan, and Iraq were barely independent British puppet states, ruled by monarchs that Britain had set up. The Jordanian army was actually run by British officers. The "contention among themselves" that Carter mentions was really Britain's confusion about fighting in a war it professed neutrality over.

There's actually a lot more that can be said about these three paragraphs, like we could go into the whole question about the world's alleged "need to acknowledge the Zionist movement": the Zionist movement had very little Jewish support until the British adopted it and the Americans shut down the preferred destination for most Jewish emigrés -- a situation that Zionists worked hard to perpetuate, both to exclude having to compete for Jewish immigrants, to cement the public identity between Israel and the Jews, and ultimately to capitalize on the victimhood of the Holocaust.

But ultimately these misunderstandings have little impact on Carter's understanding of what should be done now. This is because Carter, even though he doesn't recognize the historical effect that colonialism and racism have had in forging the intertwined histories of Israel and Palestine, doesn't accept and perpetuate the racist prejudices of the colonial era. By recognizing that Palestinians today should be entitled to the full range of human rights that all other human beings deserve, he moves out from the shadow of Zionist propaganda.

Carter visited Israel in 1983 and found the nation profoundly changed from his initial 1973 impressions (pp. 108-109):

Speaking officially for the Likud coalition, for instance, Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir expressed his belief that the root of the Middle East conflict had nothing to do with Israel and that a solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict was not likely to affect regional stability. He minimized the importance of the Palestinian problem and considered Jews to be the natural rulers of Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza, with a right and obligation to continue populating the area. The proper homeland for Palestinian Arabs was to be found in Jordan, and the pre-1967 borders of Israel were of no consequence. Ariel Sharon went further, having called for the overthrow of King Hussein in favor of a Palestinian regime in Jordan, even if headed by Yasir Arafat. He added that the east bank of the Jordan is "ours but not in our hands, just as East Jerusalem had been until the Six-Day War."

Shamir's background was as the head of LEHI (aka the Stern Gang), the terrorist militia responsible for, among many other atrocities, the assassination of the UN's first envoy sent to help resolve the 1948 war. He went on to become Prime Minister, as did Sharon. This quote does a good job of showing their mindsets before they moved up and learned to speak more circumspectly -- not that Shamir, in particular, was ever what you'd call nuanced.

Another little case in selective fact-checking (p. 147):

Unfortunately for the peace process, Palestinian terrorists carried out two lethal suicide bombings in March 1996, a few weeks after the Palestinian election. Thirty-two Israeli citizens were killed, an act that probably gave the Likud's hawkish candidate, Binyamin Netanyahu, a victory over Prime Minister Shimon Peres. The new leader of Israel promised never to exchange land for peace. Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon declared the Oslo Agreement to be "national suicide" and stated, "Everybody has to move, run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements because everything we take now will stay ours. . . . Everything we don't grab will go to them." This policy precipitated Israel's tightened hold on the occupied territories and aroused further violence from the Palestinians.

The fact that didn't get checked is that the suicide bombings were in response to an assassination that Peres foolishly ordered. The target was a Hamas official. Hamas had no stake in the peace process, so no reason not to send out the bombers except for lack of a specific justification, which Peres provided. Had Oslo been an honest effort to engage the Palestinian people in constructive peacemaking, Israel would have made an effort to include Hamas in the process, instead of cutting a side deal with the PLO against Hamas -- a deal that ultimately delivered the Palestinians little if anything. Whether Peres intended to shoot himself isn't clear. Most likely he was a victim of the prevailing double-think that claimed one can kill terrorists and still make peace.

Carter makes a big point of interpreting the Bush "Roadmap" as continuing in the tradition of UN Security Council Resolution 242, even though it was worded in ways that made it ineffective (pp. 159-160):

The Palestinians accepted the road map in its entirety, but the Israeli government announced fourteen caveats and prerequisites, some of which would preclude any final peace talks (see Appendix 7 for the full list). Israeli provisos included:

  1. The total dismantling of all militant Palestinian subgroups, collection of all illegal weapons, and their destruction;
  2. Cessation of incitement against Israel, but the Roadmap cannot state that Israel must cease violence and incitement against the Palestinians.
  3. Israeli control over Palestine, including the entry and exit of all persons and cargo, plus its airspace and electromagnetic spectrum (radio, television, radar, etc.);
  4. The waiver of any right of return of refugees to Israel;
  5. No discussion of Israeli settlement in Judaea, Samaria, and Gaza or the status of the Palestinian Authority and its institutions in Jerusalem.
  6. No reference to the key provisions of U.N. Resolution 242.

The practical result of all this is that the Roadmap for Peace has become moot, with only two results: Israel has been able to use it as a delaying tactic with an endless series of preconditions that can never be met, while proceeding with plans to implement its unilateral goals; and the United States has been able to give the impression of positive engagement in a "peace process," which President Bush has announced will not be fulfilled during his time in office.

With the Roadmap and all other peace initiatives, like the Geneva Accords and the Saudi proposal backed by the Arab League, stalled, Israel is free to unilaterally implement their own isolation of the Palestinians, most palpably evidenced by the wall they are building to squeeze in the West Bank (pp. 189-190):

In this diplomatic vacuum, Israeli leaders have embarked on a series of unilateral decisions, bypassing both Washington and the Palestinians. Their presumption is that an encircling barrier will finally resolve the Palestinian problem. Utilizing their political and military dominance, they are imposing a system of partial withdrawal, encapsulation, and apartheid on the Muslim and Christian citizens of the occupied territories. The driving purpose for the forced separation of the two peoples is unlike that in South Africa -- not racism, but the acquisition of land. There has been a determined and remarkably effective effort to isolate settlers from Palestinians, so that a Jewish family can commute from Jerusalem to their highly subsidized home deep in the West Bank on roads from which others are excluded, without ever coming in contact with any facet of Arab life.

Actually, I can't think of a more accurate word, especially given its resonance with the American experience, for this than "racism" -- at least in English. People are reluctant to apply the term to Israel because the discrimination there is not based on our old-fashioned conventional notions of race, but that's superficial. Whether discrimination is based on skin color or some other arbitrary dividing line, its potency derives from the common desire to separate "us" from "them," to grant "us" rights and privileges that we in turn deny to "them," and back that system up with force; in the end, we feel our own pain but not the pain of the others, and we side with our own even when we doubt our righteousness -- which happens less and less frequently as we master the art of ascribing our sins to their faults. Details, like dividing criteria, may differ from one racist system to another, but the fundamentals are the same. The system starts with a statement like Abba Eban's "Arabs and Jews were inherently incompatible and would ultimately have to be separated."

Where it ends is primarily a function of how much power the dominant side has, and how little value the other side has to offer up. Segregation in America and Apartheid in South Africa at least offer the separation, admittedly inequal, would be a satisfactory end state. A more extreme endstate is annihilation, the practice of genocide, where the dominant side is saying that the live of the others have no value whatsoever, and the dominant side has the power to make that happen. One reason the US and South Africa never crossed all the way over to genocide is that their economies were always largely dependent on black labor. The biggest difference between the US and South Africa on the one hand and Israel on the other is the extent to which Israel has freed itself from any dependence on Palestinian labor -- a process which, by the way, was adopted by the Zionist labor movement back in the 1920s. This does not mean that Israel is on the verge of committing genocide. It merely means that one reason that has restrained other racist systems is not present with Israel. That still leaves other reasons, including what's left of human decency in Israel -- which judging from the quotes of Shamir and Sharon isn't a very strong thread to hang on.

Carter's religious beliefs infuse the book, as they do so much of his life and work. He frequently refers to the Holy Land, an old phrase that all sides have learned to avoid. I find it redolent of the Crusades, but also reminiscent of Sunday School, which is no doubt his point of reference. On the other hand, in his hands it takes on the significance of saying that respecting this land has deeper historical import than the mere question of who controls it now. He also frequently reiterates the point that Palestinian Arabs include Christians as well as Muslim, and that Israel discriminates against both. That's another point one rarely hears. One wonders whether the pro-Zionist Christian right has any sense of the plight of their co-religionists -- something they are very conscious of in places like Sudan where Muslims, rather than Jews, can be blamed.

I find myself shying away from such points. For one thing, I know the history well enough to be leery of any suggestion that we in the West should look out for the interests of Christians in the Holy Land -- a tactic which actually had little to do with the Crusades, but offered much camouflage for imperial encroachments from 1800-1948, before the job was subcontracted to Israel. I'm also sensitive to anything reminiscent of ye olde antisemitism, which includes a long and often ridiculous set of myths about Jews oppressing Christians. But it's easy for me to steer clear of such rhetoric: I have no affinity for any religious groups, and find the very notion of a Holy Land nonsensical. I don't know whether Carter has been branded antisemitic on these grounds -- his opposition to Israeli human rights abuses is all the grounds his most vociferous critics think they need.

Of course, the assertion that Carter is antisemitic is patently ridiculous. The worst you can say of him is that sometimes, especially when his faith is on the line, he speaks plainly without considering all the possible ramifications. I'm reminded of the Playboy interview in 1976 where Carter admitted feelings of lust when he sees pretty women. Now clearly, Bill Clinton wouldn't have made that blunder, but Carter could and did precisely because he had nothing to hide. Same thing here.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Andrew Hill/Leroy Jenkins

Just got the news that Andrew Hill passed away this morning. Age 75, lung cancer, which he's struggled with for several years. (Many sources give his birth date as 1937, evidently an error.) One of the most important jazz pianists to emerge in the 1960s, he was uniquely skilled at advancing jazz in ways that at once seemed rigorously conservative and daringly avant-garde. Alfred Lion was a big fan, recording Hill extensively for Blue Note, including much that has only recently surfaced. In the early '70s Blue Note pretty much collapsed, leaving Hill with few opportunities, mostly for obscure European labels. One of those records, the piano trio Shades (1986, Soul Note), won me over and sent me back in search of the oldies -- a difficult task, given that only Point of Departure has been reliably in print. But Hill made a remarkable comeback starting with two 2000-02 records on Palmetto and capped by his return to Blue Note for the much praised Time Lines (2006). The later albums turned on Hill's considerable skills as a composer and arranger. At the time I semi-dismissed the latter as "perfectly typical of everything he's done over the last forty years" -- most likely the same reason many critics cited it as their record of the year.

One result of Hill's comeback is that his Blue Note catalog has largely been returned to print, including a treasure trove of previously unreleased material passed on to Mosaic. For what it's worth, I've pulled the following data on what I've heard. Like most of what's in the database, this list was assembled over time with evolving criteria. At some point it would be nice to go back and spend a few days reviewing the whole set. I wonder now whether the legendary Point of Departure and/or the solo Verona Rag -- the first two records I encountered below -- might not fare better.

  • Black Fire (1963, Blue Note) A-
  • Smoke Stack (1963, Blue Note) A-
  • Judgment! (1964, Blue Note) B+
  • Point of Departure (1964, Blue Note) A-
  • Andrew!!! (1964, Blue Note) A-
  • Pax (1965, Blue Note) A-
  • Dance With Death (1968, Blue Note) A-
  • Passing Ships (1969, Blue Note) A-
  • Mosaic Select (1967-70, Mosaic, 3CD) B+
  • Verona Rag (1986, Soul Note) B
  • Shades (1986, Soul Note) A-
  • Eternal Spirit (1989, Blue Note) A-
  • Dusk (1999, Palmetto) B+
  • A Beautiful Day (2002, Palmetto) B
  • Time Lines (2005, Blue Note) B+

Among the A- records, I've been plugging Pax recently. But for a real taste of Hill's piano, seek out Shades.

Postscript (8:30 pm): I heard about Hill on the same day he died, thanks to Blue Note's publicist. Later today I read that Leroy Jenkins died back on Feb. 24, age 74, also of lung cancer. Jenkins was a jazz giant comparable to Hill, but never had a major label -- aside from one Revolutionary Ensemble album in A&M in 1975 -- and often had no label at all. He single-handedly invented avant-jazz violin -- had the field totally to himself until Billy Bang came along. He was an AACM founder. Early on he worked with Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton, Archie Shepp, Alice Coltrane, Alan Silva, Don Cherry, Dewey Redman, Grachan Moncur III, Wadada Leo Smith, George Lewis. I actually discovered Jenkins long before I tuned in to Hill. Some items from the database, with the same caveats -- although I replayed the first two tonight.

  • Rashied Ali/Leroy Jenkins Duo: Swift Are the Winds of Life (1973, Survival) A-
  • Leroy Jenkins/The Jazz Composer's Orchestra: For Players Only (1975, JCOA) A-
  • Revolutionary Ensemble: The People Republic (1975, A&M) B+
  • The Legend of A.I. Glatson (1978, Black Saint) B+
  • Space Minds, New Worlds, Survival of America (1979, Tomato) B+
  • Live! (1992, Black Saint) A-
  • Revolutionary Ensemble: And Now . . . (2004, Pi) A-

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Here and There

A quote from Tom Engelhardt lines up Virginia Tech and Baghdad:

All of this is no less extraordinary -- verging on obscenity -- as a collective description of a world of death, destruction, and mayhem in which, in a completely unremarkable Iraqi day -- this Monday -- the "early" tallies showed 6 GIs and 69 Iraqis killed and 39 wounded (and we're only talking about immediately reported bodies here); while on the previous day, 5 GIs, 2 Britons, and 109 Iraqis died (with 173 were wounded), and on the day before that, 164 Iraqis were killed, 345 injured, and 26 kidnapped. In terms only of the recorded dead of those three "normal" days of "stability and security" under the President's "surge" plan, we're talking, in terms of the dead, about the equivalent of more than 12 Virginia-Tech-style massacres.

The point is obvious enough it hardly seems worth repeating, but it obviously bears repeating. One thing that makes Bush's war in Iraq possible is Americans' ability to disconnect from everyday violence there.

Postscript (10:30 pm): Had the Engelhardt piece on my screen for a day or two, and hadn't noticed that between the Virginia Tech shootings and when I wrote my note Iraq had its own rather notable day: the death toll for Wednesday, April 18, was reported as nearly 300, with a series of suicide bombings and the discovery of 50 or more bodies in Baghdad and Ramadi. Looking back, reported deaths on Tuesday were at 85, including 25 bodies found with evidence of torture.

Juan Cole continues to report the daily slaughter. On Tuesday he wrote:

I keep hearing from US politicians and the US mass media that the "situation is improving" in Iraq. The profound sorrow and alarm produced in the American public by the horrific shootings at Virginia Tech should give us a baseline for what the Iraqis are actually living through. They have two Virginia Tech-style attacks every single day. Virginia Tech will be gone from the headlines and the air waves by next week this time in the US, though the families of the victims will grieve for a lifetime. But next Tuesday I will come out here and report to you that 64 Iraqis have been killed in political violence. And those will mainly be the ones killed by bombs and mortars. They are only 13% of the total; most Iraqis killed violently, perhaps 500 a day throughout the country if you count criminal and tribal violence, are just shot down. Shot down, like the college students and professors at Blacksburg. We Americans can so easily, with a shudder, imagine the college student trying to barricade himself behind a door against the armed madman without. But can we put ourselves in the place of Iraqi students?

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Like so many startling news events, the mass murder at Virginia Tech on Monday often brings observers to reassert what they believed in the first place. Consider the following quotes on gun control, in an article by Fred Mann in the Wichita Eagle:

"There's no doubt in my mind that if just one of those 120 kids in those four classrooms had a permit and had something in their backpack, a lot of lives could've been saved," said state Sen. Phil Journey, R-Haysville, a longtime gun rights advocate and former president of the state's National Rifle Association affiliate. [ . . . ]

There's no indication that Kansas law will be changed to allow guns on campus in the near future.

Even Journey won't press for it.

"I think we'd have to have a pretty significant change in political thought before that would be a realistic legislative goal," he said.

"America is not ready to become Israel."

That last line caught my attention, because a lot of Americans seem to be gravitating in that direction. But I've never seen anyone bring it up in a context that suggests they're looking forward to the day. Israel's perpetual war against their neighbors, including millions more/less under occupation, has left Israelis with a horrible bunker mentality, all the more fevered given the long history of atrocities against Jews.

The article goes on to quote Don Holman, owner of a shooting range called the Bullet Stop. A reliable local gun nut, he nonetheless manages a more sober assessment: "Guns in the right hands may have helped, but not in everybody's hands."

Another story in the Wichita Eagle this morning:

A veteran of the Iraq war who held his family hostage and wore military armor during a standoff with police surrendered only after being assured he would receive help for post-traumatic stress disorder, police said.

The 33-year-old Fort Riley soldier, whose name was not released because he had not been charged, locked himself and his family inside his Herrington home Sunday night. He released his family shortly after the incident began but surrendered only after talking to a Herrington police officer who had befriended him.

[ . . . ]

Police went to the man's home about 8:30 p.m., after receiving a call that he was holding his wife and four children hostage. After releasing his family shortly after officers arrived, the man put on military body armor and said he wanted to "go down in a blaze of glory," [Police Chief John] Pritchard said.

Pritchard said the man had nine loaded firearms, including two assault rifles, in the house. The man didn't point a weapon at officers during the standoff, but officers saw him with a weapon in the backyard several times, he said.

After refusing to talk to other officers, the man said he would talk to Herrington police Officer Curtis Hartman, who had befriended the man and visited him at his home.

Hartman talked to the man for about an hour before the soldier agreed to surrender.

"I think it was that rapport that helped resolve the issue the way it was," Pritchard said. "When he surrendered, he told the officer, 'I did this for you. You treated me like a person, and I appreciate it.'"

Pritchard said one of the conditions of the man's surrender was that he receive treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, from which the man believed he was suffering because of his service in Iraq.

Obviously, this situation could have turned out much uglier than it did, and probably would have had the police not shown credible sympathy for the soldier. That was possible because on some level most of us recognize that what American soldiers experience in war can cause deep psychological trauma -- in some cases erupting in violence, against oneself and/or others. In some sense, we even recognize this as a cost of war, although it's remarkable how little consideration we give such costs until they blow back on us. Not only are they unanticipated, they are often hard to account for. I'd say that Timothy McVeigh more than doubled the number of American deaths attributable to the 1991 Gulf War. Few Americans will ever wind up scoring it that way, let alone factoring in all the causal links between that war and this one, or between America's use of armed force and covert operations to pursue its "interests" in the Middle East and the blowback it has caused.

My own view is that this culture of force, pushed so hard by the highest powers in government, and elevated to art in the media and through much of our culture, frames the acts of desperate individuals, like the shooter in Virginia and the would-be shooter in Kansas. But then that's what I thought before these events, if you will, proved me right.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Patriot Act

Glenn Greenwald: How Would a Patriot Act?

One of the persistent questions about life under Bush is what does it take before one awakens to the realization that something is going on here that goes way beyond the usual run of belligerent, jingoist rant that passes for everyday politics in America. Turns out that different folks respond to different stimuli. For "constitutional lawyer" Glenn Greenwald, the revenge war on Afghanistan was hunky dory, but the US vs. Jose Padilla was a cause for concern, and the NSA evasion of FISA limits on spying on US citizens was a major outrage. He started a blog called Unclaimed Territory to elaborate on his concerns, and boiled them down to a slim book called How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values From a President Run Amok (2006, Working Assets paperback).

I haven't paid much attention to his issues, probably because I find them unsurprising that when you have massive, secretive organizations like the CIA, NSA, FBI, etc., of course they're going to spy on you, and of course they'll treat any governing law -- especially one as subject to interpretation as the constitution -- as mere cosmetic nuisance. That is, after all, what they've done time and again, going back at least as far as the campaign that put so many WWI opponents in jail. Still, this is a big part of what Bush has done, and I shouldn't be insensitive to it, least of all because I'm too cynical. But it does take someone more naive to bring out the outrage, and Greenwald both fills that bill and offers expertise to boot. I've looked at his blog on occasion, and sometimes found it useful. The book is short, a good primer.

Quotes follow, starting with the set up (pp. 9-11):

Given how politically polarized this country has become, it is difficult even to recall the extraordinary unity we had in America in the days, weeks, and months after September 11, 2001. More than anyone else in the country, President George W. Bush was the beneficiary of that unity. All of Congress -- Republican, Democratic, and independent -- was lined up behind him, and a staggering 90 percent of Americans expressed approval of the president, who just ten months earlier had been elected with fewer votes than his opponent. Americans resolutely discarded their partisan differences and other long-standing divisions and stood behind their president in responding to the attack and bringing to justice the terrorists who perpetrated it.

Democrats made clear that not only would they not oppose the president, they would work vigorously with him and with all Republicans to give him all the tools he needed to defend the nation and combat the threat of terrorism. This extraordinary bipartisan unity led, a mere three days after the attacks, to the unanimous passage by the Senate of the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) joint resolution, which gave the president the authority to wage war, if necessary, against Afghanistan and Al Qaeda.

"This is a first step. It is the first of many," said then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota on the day the Senate enacted the AUMF. "We want President Bush to know -- we want the world to know -- that he can depend on us. We may encounter differences of opinion along the way. But there is no difference in our aim. We are resolved to work together, not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans."

On the same day, Senator John Kerry told reporters: "The resolution we passed today leaves no doubt that the Congress is united in full support of the President. We have given the President the authority that he needs to respond to this unprecedented attack on American citizens on U.S. soil." [ . . . ]

On September 20, 2001, President Bush addressed a joint session of Congress and received enthusiastic standing ovations from members of both parties. The bipartisan support for President Bush was so great that Democrats waived their right to present the traditional response to the president's address. Then-House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri explained the Democrats' extraordinary decision this way: "I've never seen the Congress work better together in a bipartisan way. It's almost a national unity government, and that's what it should be. . . . We want enemies and the whole world and all our citizens to know that America speaks tonight with one voice."

On September 29, 2001, Al Gore delivered his first public speech since losing the 2000 election to Bush. Gore spoke at the Iowa Democratic Party's 2001 Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinner and said: "Regardless of party, regardless of ideology, regardless of religion or race or ethnicity, there are no divisions in this country where our response to the war on terrorism is concerned. We are united." He punctuated his remarks by pointedly telling his audience: "George W. Bush is my commander in chief."

And this sense of national unity was felt across the country. The president who was elected with less than 50 percent of the popular vote had sky-high approval ratings -- above 70 percent all the way through August 2002, and above 60 percent through mid-2003, months after the Iraq war had started. Thus, for almost two years after 9/11, Americans in both political parties put aside their differences with the president on a whole host of political matters they judged to be of lesser improtance in order to support him and his policies in the area of national security.

This leads in to a discussion of the USA PATRIOT Act, passed overwhelmingly in October 2001. As Greenwald points out, there was near-unanimous support to change the law to whatever the circumstances seemed to require, but during this same period, and contrary to public statements, Bush had already launched a secret, illegal NSA wiretap program. Greenwald never even gets into what might be wrong about the USA PATRIOT Act, let alone the "national unity" politics that effectively surrendered the government to Bush. He has trouble enough just keeping up with the blatantly illegal shit.

As someone well outside that 90% consensus, these pages make for painful reading. It's not surprising that the Democrats caved in completely, since they had bought into the myths that shroud America's haphazard imperialism. But even they should have known that nothing Bush did in his first eight-plus months warranted any measure of political trust. Bush took the Democrats' words and deeds as surrender, and ruthlessly took advantage of them. Bush continued using this surrender against the Democrats through the 2004 election campaign, where we saw Kerry complimenting Bush on his post-9/11 leadership only to prove his own fickleness.

On executive "commander in chief" powers (p. 68):

Moreover, these theories apply not just to warrantless eavesdropping and indefinite imprisonment of U.S. citizens, but to a whole host of other draconian actions. To posit that the president can invoke war powers against U.S. citizens necessarily means that the president has the power to order physical searches of our homes without warrants, to open and read our mail without warrants, to declare martial law, even to order the torture or killing of citizens he deems to be "enemy combatants," just as long as he deems these actions necessary to defend the nation. Put simply, President Bush has seized the entire set of powers presidents have traditionally exercised in wartime, on the battlefield, against foreign enemies -- but he claims the authority to exercise them, with no checks of any kind, against U.S. citizens on U.S. soil.

Democracy is a formal compromise that limits how government is constituted and what government can do. The effect is to limit and tame government, to make it subject to the people, rather than the other way around. The details vary from case to case, and over history they are often amended in favor of further restricting government. The strength is American democracy is not our complex, corruptible system of elections; it is the Bill of Rights that limits what government can do to us. Bush's claim to extraordinary executive power attempts to reverse the balance of power between people and government, and as such is an attack on democracy. That the model for his claims is commander in chief in a theatre of war makes his intents all the more ominous. He is claiming a right to wage war on the American people -- in theory the subset that he finds most troubling, but the chance of abuse there is extreme. He may try to justify this in terms of specific targets, but the net effect is to undermine the whole system (p. 73):

The extremist theories that have taken hold in the executive branch for the last five years have nothing to do with liberal or conservative political ideology, nor do they have anything to do with being a Democrat or Republican. Rather, they are an outright betrayal of American values regarding government.

We are a nation of laws, where the people make the law. Our elected officials do not rule over us; they are our public servants. We cannot be imprisoned without charges and we have a right to be judged by a jury of our peers. Thus, when we enact legal restrictions through our Congress on what our government can do to us as citizens (as we did with FISA, or the ban on torture), those laws bind all citizens, including our elected officials.

Following extensive quotes from conservatives Bruce Fein, George Will, and Bob Barr (p. 76):

As is clear from the reactions of conservatives like Fein and Will and Barr, the Bush doctrine of unchecked presidential power is neither conservative nor liberal. It can only be described as radical and extremist, precisely because it finds no home, and no support, in either liberal or conservative ideology.

Conservatives and liberals rarely agree on controversial issues, and when they do, it is because, as Americans, they share a set of fundamental values and beliefs. It is those values that are under assault by the Bush administration, and by resisting that assault, one is defending neither conservative nor liberal political views. One is defending core American values.

From a chapter called "Fear as a Weapon," a section called "Be Very Afraid" (pp. 93-94):

That is because the Bush administration has in its arsenal one very potent weapon -- and one weapon only -- which it has repeatedly used: fear. Ever since September 11, 2001, Americans have been bombarded with warnings, with color-coded "alerts," with talk of mushroom clouds and cartoon names such as "dirty bomber," "Dr. Germ," and so on. And there has been a constant barrage from the White House of impending threats that generate fear -- fear of terrorism, fear of more 9/11-style attacks, fear of nuclear annihilation, fear of our ports being attacked, fear of our water systems being poisoned -- and, of course, fear of excessive civil liberties or cumbersome laws jeopardizing our "homeland security."

Our very survival is at risk, we are told. We face an enemy unlike any we have seen before, more powerful than anything we have previously encountered. President Bush is devoted to protecting us from the terrorists. We have to invade and occupy Iraq because the terrorists will kill us all if we do not. We must allow the president to incarcerate American citizens without due process, employ torture as a state-sanctioned weapon, eavesdrop on our private conversations, and even violate the law, because the terrorists are so evil and so dangerous that we cannot have any limits on the power of the president if we want him to protect us from the dangers in the world.

Anyone doubting the fear of terrorism is seen as abetting it (p. 96):

In fact, it has become unacceptable in polite company to even raise the prospect that the threat of terrorism may be exaggerated. During the 2004 election, John Kerry stumbled in his clumsy way towards challenging this fear-mongering when he was quoted in The New York Times Magazine as saying, "We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance." This provoked the predictable outrage from the Bush camp that Kerry, along with Bush's other opponents, was not serious about fighting terrorists and was too weak to protect our children from this unparalleled menace, and the issue was never spoken of again.

It has beocme an inviolable piety that there is no such thing as overstating the terrorism risk. One is compelled to genuflect to, and tremble before, the supremacy of this ultimate threat, upon pain of being cast aside as some sort of anti-American, terrorist-loving radical.

More on fear (p. 97):

The Bush administration has been trying for four years to reduce this country to a collective version of that affliction. And it is hard to imagine what a nation fueled by such fear can accomplish.

The administration has managed to get away with the Orwellian idea that fear is the hallmark of courage, and a rational and calm approach is a mark of cowardice. They have been aided in this effort by a frightened national media and political elite that lives in Washington and New York -- two "target-rich" cities -- and that has been so petrified of further attacks that they were easily pushed into a state of passive, uncritical compliance in exchange for promises of protection. but we now have some emotional distance from the shock of September 11, and the power of that fear weapon is diminishing.

We must now see that fear is a by-product of weakness and cowardice. A strong nation does not give up its freedoms or sacrifice its national character in the face of manufactured fear and panic. But that is what George Bush has spent the last four years urging the country to do, and it is what he is counting on -- that this NSA lawbreaking scandal will soon join the litany of other scandals that have inconsequentially receded in the public consciousness.

On fear and "the American character" (p. 104):

Fear has never been a defining attribute of the American character, in part because the founders of the country were so aware of its corrosive and toxic effect on liberty. In Thoughts on Government, John Adams wrote:

Fear is the foundation of most governments; but it is so sordid and brutal a passion, and renders men in whose breasts it predominates so stupid and miserable, that Americans will not be likely to approve of any political institution which is founded on it.

With great prescience, these warnings describe exactly that tactic which the Bush administration and its supporters use in insisting that Americans give up their basic liberties in exchange for promises of "protection" from these dangers.

Greenwald's stance as a wholesome defender of America's traditional ideals may be overstated for dramatic effect, but his is a plausible, credible position, providing a relatively fixed point by which we can judge how far away from those ideals the government has drifted under the Bush Administration. Greenwald, meantime, has moved his blog to Salon, and keeps finding more and more that gets under his skin.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Music: Current count 13059 [13042] rated (+17), 853 [844] unrated (+9). Short this week: spent a couple of days not rating anything, falling way behind the incoming mail.

  • Arcade Fire: Neon Bible (2007, Merge): Sounds like old-fashioned art rock to me, especially with the swelling synths, but it does hook harder than most. As usual, I'm at a loss for words: not writing them so much as hearing them, so I can't tell you what this is about. I don't love this as much as everyone else seems to: Christgau gave it an A+, Tatum raved similarly. But this sort of thing seems to have been a trend over the last decade. I'm out of touch and out of step, but not totally out of tune. A-
  • Radiohead: OK Computer (1997, Capitol): Unfair to judge such a legendary album on the basis of one play -- or two, as I hit replay after writing that sentence -- so consider this to be provisional. I've never liked this group, which dominated England at the millennium end like Oasis a decade before, but crossed over the Atlantic much more effectively. This was their breakthrough, and for once I can sort of hear it: for one thing it's a stronger rock album than the later ones I've heard (two of them, far from a complete set). Still prog, but may just be because rock has so thoroughly enveloped musical storytelling that this sort of thing has become inevitable. I still have trouble with following stories, but like the old prog I like at least some of the textures. Some day I should go back over this group and give it some thought. It is possible this will move up a notch then. B+

Jazz Prospecting (CG #13, Part 5)

Didn't write much last week, but I did get a few things accomplished. Spent the better part of two, maybe three days, building one computer, shopping for another, and sorting out various household tasks. During that time I played a bunch of things not noted below. The current reading column includes two big books that relate to the computer tasks. I'll write more about them later, but the bottom line on the computer is that despite all my fretting about possible incompatibilities, it all just worked right out of the box -- at least after I figured out where all the wires plug together. Working on it now, and it feels completely solid. I expect it will take several weeks to move in -- especially to get mail working the way I want it.

Still feeling pretty overwhelmed. I've neglected Robert Christgau's website for a couple of months now, and need to get back to that. On my own website, I did get quite a bit done in the books section, but still have a lot more to do there. I also have a scheme for rebuilding the recipe section, and can once again take a shot at indexing vast numbers of music reviews/notes/listings. But most important, I'd say, would be restarting the book project. All that leaves me ambivalent about my current music writings, which inevitably take up so much of my time. Still, slog on.

Jeff Newell's New-Trad Octet: Brownstone (2007, BluJazz): Alto saxophonist, educated in Nebraska, relocated to New York. Studied under Dave Liebman, teaches at Brooklyn Music School, moonlights as Coordinator of Music and Worship at New Baptist Church. Presumably knows his way around the moderns, but cultivates the old, starting with three Sousa pieces and ending with "Amazing Grace" and a self-penned, vocals included, piece called "Fill the Temple" which easily counts as the best new gospel I've heard in more years than I can reckon. In between, he offers a set of formal exercises ("March," "Bolero," "Waltz," etc.) collectively titled "Hymn Pan Alley." The Octet includes tuba as well as bass, guitar as well as keyboards. [B+(***)]

Gilad Barkan: Live Sessions (2004-06 [2007], New Step, 2CD): Boston-based pianist, born in England, raised in Israel. Second album, preceded by Modulation, same trio as the first disc here. Second disc here changes bassists and adds Amir Milstein on flute. The trio strikes me as sharp, intricate postbop, something that deserves to be taken seriously but doesn't quite inspire me to do so. Far easier to dismiss the flute, even though it is pleasantly boppish. B

Brad Leali Jazz Orchestra: Maria Juanez (2004 [2007], TCB): Alto saxophonist, born Denver, attended University of North Texas, worked for Harry Connick Jr, moved into a featured spot in the ghostly Count Basie Orchestra, currently Director of Jazz Studies at Texas Tech in Lubbock. Three or four previous albums, small groups (I think). But this one is a cracking big band, with Derrick Gardner conducting from the trumpet section, and some names like Jon Faddis on board. Not as much Spanish tinge as the title suggests, but a lot of Basie crisp, a slick "Pink Panther," a tolerable flute feature, runs a bit thin near the end. Needs one more play. [B+(**)]

Lauren Hooker: Right Where I Belong (2006 [2007], Musical Legends): Jazz singer. Dates her career from 1984, but this is her first album. It's also pretty impressive. Her voice spices '50s cool with a dash of Sheila Jordan and a knack for scat. She arranges three standards, writes four originals, and adds words to six more, including five jazz instrumentals, from Mingus, Monk, Waller, Waldron, and Shorter. B+(***)

Judy Niemack: Blue Nights (2007, BluJazz): Playing this after Lauren Hooker provides an interesting contrast between experience and ambition. Niemack's a real pro. She cut her first album in 1978, her second in 1988, then one every few years after that: this is her ninth. In many ways it's just another, but she finds an easy, comfortable groove even working in a vein cluttered with vocalese. She also commands a more formidable band: guitarist Jean-François Prins is the only one I'm unfamiliar with, and he does a lovely job, as does Jim McNeely and Gary Bartz, in particular. If in the end I prefer Hooker, it's more because I like what she's trying to do. Maybe someday she'll do it as well as Niemack. B+(**)

New York Electric Piano: Blues in Full Moon (2007, Buffalo Puppy): Piano trio, with Pat Daugherty leading on a Fender Rhodes electric. The soft edge to the piano is distinctive, not as cheesy as you might expect -- especially when interacting with Tim Givens' bass. So New York it was recorded in the Catskills. B

Wayne Escoffery: Veneration (2006 [2007], Savant): Tenor saxophonist, with one obligatory cut on soprano. Last time I heard him I flagged his Intuition (Nagel Heyer) as a dud. I got some mail questioning that call, not based on the record but based on a high estimation of his chops. No doubt he has the chops, but he strikes me as a guy who, like Charlie Parker, is a bit too impressed by speed. This one is a definite improvement. I'm still not sure how much he has to offer beyond fierceness and speed, but he doesn't fall flat when he does slow down, and the band -- Joe Locke on vibes, Hans Glawischnig on bass, Lewis Nash on drums -- is a good one, with Locke a fleet match. [B+(**)]

Sammy Figueroa & His Latin Jazz Explosion: The Magician (2007, Savant): Bronx-born percussionist. Main instrument appears to be congas. The album doesn't specify; his website mentions ZenDrum (a MIDI sampler) and "unusual steel pans." His side discography is pretty thick from the mid-'70s starting with the Brecker Bros., but this is only his second album with his name up front. All pieces are by sextets, but the sax-trumpet-piano-bass-drums players vary, the most consistent being Alex Norris on trumpet. This mostly sounds fine, but rather generic. B

Mark Sherman: Family First (2006 [2007], MHP/City Hall): Vibraphonist, Bronx-born, studied tympani at Juilliard but may have learned more from Elvin Jones. Six albums to date. First I heard was previous one, which I liked. Impossible not to like this one either. He has the natural swing mainstreamers aspire to, and gets ample support from pianist Allen Farnham and, especially, trumpeter Joe Magnarelli. B+(*)

Kahil El'Zabar's Infinity Orchestra: Transmigration (2005 [2007], Delmark): Infinity Orchestra is a 39-piece big band based in Bordeaux: the 5 trumpets, 3 trombones, and 7 saxes don't seem all that extravagant, and indeed they don't sound as brassy as units half their size. Much of the bulk comes from a 12-person percussion section -- 7 on djembe and balafon. There are also two DJs, two singers, and two rappers. El'Zabar's involvement began with an appearance at the Bordeaux Jazz Festival in 1980. Since then he has kept coming back, teaching two-month workshops each year, touring. In 2000 he was inaugurated as Master of the annual Carnival. The featured musicians here are El'Zabar, Ernest Dawkins on alto sax, and Joseph Bowie on trombone -- a group otherwise known as Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, and in many ways this is the album of their dreams. Dawkins (presumably) has some terrific sax runs, and El'Zabar gets all the percussion he wants. The big band fleshes the group out with innumerable details. For example, it took me a while to realize that the wobbly rhythm at the start came from turntables. And that the harmony that fills in behind the sax was a lot more than Bowie's trombone. A-

Amy Cervini Quartet: Famous Blue (2007, Orange Grove Jazz): Singer, in front of a piano trio. No bio on her website, although drummer Ernesto Cervini grew up in Toronto and works in New York, with degrees from both. Album cover is very attractive: pastel blue-green sky over sea, washed out, the lettering fuzzy. The music is like that too, which isn't a plus. Ordinary songs, voice, arrangements. I go up and down on "Don't Fence Me In" -- that there's a down at all isn't a good sign. B-

Dmitri Kolesnik: Five Corners (2006 [2007], Challenge): Bassist, based in New York but probably from Russia, as is his collaborator pianist Andrei Kondakov. Kolesnik wrote 8 of 10 songs; Kondakov the other two. The other musicians are well known: Eric Alexander, Jim Rotondi, Alex Sipiagin (on two cuts), and Lenny White. Strikes me as a smart, well crafted but very mainstream outing; well done, but not much that catches my interest. Could gain ground if I had the time to give it. B

Matthew Herbert: Score (1997-2006 [2007], !K7): AMG files him, dba Herbert, under Electronica, with eight styles listed, few in evidence in this collection of soundtrack pieces. His website promises: "Crucially, in most cases, you can also dance to it. Matthew Herbert's records are true weapons of mass seduction." Website also mentions political content: "witty culinary metaphors to attack not just giant food companies but also the death penalty, body fascism and war in Iraq." Based on this, I can't vouch for any of that. What is clear is that he brings a wide range of tools to the soundtrack business, ranging from string-driven chamber music to a big band "Singing in the Rain" as well as the usual ambient filler. Which leaves us with the usual problems: pieces that don't fit together, stripped of the visual clues that they were built for. B

Towner Galaher: Panorama (2005 [2007], Towner Galaher Music): Drummer, looks like he's been around, or at least in New York, for a while but this is his first album. Leads a quintet, reminiscent of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, with two extras on percussion. His pieces run the usual gamut, with the upbeat "Midtown Shuffle" leading off and slower stuff to close, and three non-originals in the middle. The most obvious one is "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," given a respectful reading that sounds fabulous. The horns are Mark Shim on tenor sax and Maurice Brown on trumpet, both superb. Onaje Allen Gumbs' piano and Charles Fambrough's bass fill in expertly. Drummer isn't as hard as Blakey, and this isn't really a throwback, just fine old-fashioned postmodernism. Official release date is a ways off, but it seems to be available at CDBaby. B+(**) [June 1]

The Neil Cowley Trio: Displaced (2005 [2007], Hide Inside): I just have a CDR with a low-res copy of the cover artwork. Artist has a website implemented in Flash with a minimum of actual information. My notes have release date as Mar. 20, but AMG puts it at May 29, 2006. Evidently it's been out in the UK for a while, as the website has laudatory quotes from the British press, including a "debut of the year" from Mojo. Cowley plays piano, with Richard Sadler on double bass and Evan Jenkins on drums. Haven't heard of any of them. Presumably they're British -- seems to be where they live and work. Cowley likes simple rhythmic vamps, some chord-heavy, a few almost dainty; some get more complex, but he keeps his lines short and punctuates them strongly. Somewhere between EST and the Bad Plus. [A-]

Joe Lovano & Hank Jones: Kids: Duets Live at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola (2006 [2007], Blue Note): Two recent quartet albums with Lovano and Jones were, respectively, more and less disappointing. But really, these two don't need bass and drums to swing or bop or diddle around. The duets are simply delightful from beginning to end. A- [May 8]

Bill Charlap Trio: Live at the Village Vanguard (2007, Blue Note): The promo sheet reads as if the Village Vanguard is the real star here, citing a long list of famous musicians to have recorded there -- and by the way, omitting the only one I was ever present for: Dexter Gordon's famous 1976 homecoming. In the end, though, this is just a record, a sample of an exceptionally vital piano trio. The advance provides no info on who wrote what or when it was recorded, although there are songs I recognize -- "The Lady Is a Tramp" really jumps out. [B+(***)] [May 22]

And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.

Miles Okazaki: Mirror (2006 [2007], CDBaby): Plays guitar, but also did the graphics on and in the package, which provide a nice analog to the music, which suggests new age and/or fusion without ever falling into either rut. Also suggests jazz with his reliance on reeds: Christof Knoche is a steady presence on bass clarinet, alto and soprano sax, and harmonica, complemented by guest stars David Binney, Miguel Zenon, and Chris Potter. B+(**)

Sean Noonan Brewed by Noon: Stories to Tell (2006 [2007], Songlines): Drummer-led group with a lot of electricity -- three guitars, bass, and Mat Maneri's amped viola -- and some African percussion. Could be an awesome fusion group, but they break the pace with four vocal songs. Abdoulaye Diabaté's griot grates on me, and Susan McKeown's duet doesn't go anywhere, but Dawn Padmore's jazz ballad is a nice change of pace. B+(*)


  • The Bad Plus: Prog (Heads Up): May 8
  • Alvin Batiste: Marsalis Music Honors Alvin Batiste (Marsalis Music/Rounder)
  • Stefano Battaglia: Re: Pasolini (ECM): advance, May 15
  • Rob Brown Trio: Sounds (Clean Feed)
  • Kenny Burrell: Birthday Bash: Live at Yoshi's (Blue Note): advance, June 19
  • Joey Calderazzo: Amanecer (Marsalis Music/Rounder): advance, June 5
  • Chicago Underground Trio: Chronicle (Delmark)
  • Pierre Favre: Fleuve (ECM): advance, Apr 24
  • Light My Fire: The Very Best of José Feliciano (1967-74, RCA/Legacy)
  • Joel Frahm: We Used to Dance (Anzic)
  • Bob French: Marsalis Music Honors Bob French (Marsalis Music/Rounder)
  • The Fred Hersch Trio: Night and the Music (Palmetto): advance, May 1
  • Adam Lane/Ken Vandermark/Magnus Broo/Paal Nilssen-Love: 4 Corners (Clean Feed)
  • Stephan Micus: On the Wing (ECM): advance, Apr 24
  • Roscoe Mitchell/The Transatlantic Art Ensemble: Composition/Improvisation Nos. 1, 2, and 3 (ECM): advance, May 15
  • The Jazz O'Maniacs: Sunset Cafe Stomp (Delmark)
  • João Paulo: Memórias de Quem (Clean Feed)
  • Oscar Peterson and Friends: JATP Lausanne 1953 (1953, TCB)
  • Enrico Pieranunzi/Marc Johnson/Joey Baron: Live in Japan (CAM Jazz, 2CD)
  • Ed Reed: Sings Love Stories (Blue Shorts)
  • Nino Rota: Fellini & Rota (1996-2003, CAM Jazz): May 8
  • Louis Sclavis: L'Imparfait des Langues (ECM): advance, Apr 24
  • David Torn: Prezens (ECM)
  • Gianluigi Trovesi: Vaghissimo Ritratto (ECM): advance, Apr 24
  • Robin Williamson: The Iron Stone (ECM): advance, Apr 24
  • Wishful Thinking (Clean Feed)
  • Saco Yasuma: Another Rain (Leaf Note)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

War Posturing

Here's a quote from Tony Karon apropos of my last post:

Kudos to David Rieff for making clear that all the retrospective posturing on Iraq by the Democrat frontrunners is meaningless -- safe, even -- and is made nonsense of by the fact that all of them hold positions on Iran which would enable another disastrous war. To the extent that they still maintain the conceptual framework that holds that where America senses a country might be putting itself in a position to attain unconventional weapons capability, it claims that sense as giving it the right to launch a military attack on such a country, they are every bit as responsible for the Iraq debacle as President Bush is. And as Zbigniew Brezinski, one of the few voices in the foreign policy establishment willing to speak uncomfortable truths, noted in Sunday's Washington Post, it's time to challenge the whole myth of a "war on terror" that has been used by the most scurrilous element in Washington to wreak havoc abroad and at home.

Emphasis in original. Not sure what David Rieff has to do with this, and don't really want to know. But this makes clear the basic conceptual leap that those who've come to oppose, or at least regret, Bush's Iraq war have to make in order to prevent further wars. And Iran is just the beginning here: the war plans there are so similar to what we went through in Iraq that even the most rudimentary pattern-matching skills should be able to see clear through it. From Iran there is another leap to where Brezinski is on the War on Terror. I happen to be reading Bill Bradley's book, so I can report that he hasn't made that leap yet -- he doesn't discuss Iran, but from what he says about Iraq it seems pretty unlikely that he would repeat a mistake he didn't make in the first place. And there are further leaps beyond Brezinski: not only is the War on Terror a crock, so is the prefix War. And once you understand that war isn't politics by other means -- it's the failure of politics by any and all means -- then you have to doubt those acts which prepare and enable it, and ultimately the emotions that fuel them.

That may be asking too much, especially of a politician stuck in a media world that allows so little for rational discourse. But if you don't start from a firm conviction that war is something to be avoided if at all possible, you set yourself up for rhetorical ambush by everyone more bloodthirsty than yourself. You can think of this as an arms race: the choices are either don't participate or jump in whole hog and win -- any in-between position fails. One of the big problems that Democrats have is that they think moderate, centrist positions work because most people really are moderate centrists. But in politics they don't work, because all of the good rhetoric comes from the fringes, and that's what ultimately registers in people's minds. So even if philosophically you have doubts about pacifism, there's good political reasons to stand up against Bush-Cheney warmongering in the strongest possible terms, to question what makes them think that war ever works. I don't see how they can answer that.

Far-Left Platforms

The Wichita Eagle published a piece today by Peter Baker of Washington Post on a Dick Cheney speech:

Vice President Dick Cheney accused congressional Democrats today of reviving the "far-left platform" of George McGovern from the 1970s, an agenda that he said would raise taxes, declare surrender in an overseas war and leave the United States exposed to new dangers.

In a sharp-edged speech, Cheney escalated the Bush administration attack on Congress for passing war spending legislation that would mandate withdrawing at least some US troops from Iraq. He raised the specter of the end of the Vietnam era, when McGovern, then a Democratic senator from South Dakota, ran for president on a peace platform and lost the 1972 election in a landslide to President Nixon.

"That was the last time the national Democratic Party took a hard-left turn," Cheney told a conference hosted by the conservative Heritage Foundation. "But in 2007, it looks like history is repeating itself. Today, on some of the most critical issues facing the country, the new Democratic majority resembles nothing so much as that old party of the early 1970s."

Cheney goes on to attack Nancy Pelosi, in case you're wondering how far out you have to be to look "hard-left" to Cheney. It also ends with a balancing quote from a Harry Reid spokesman: "It's interesting that the vice president would make a reference to the 1970s because, just like Nixon, President Bush is isolated and hunkered down in the White House while his administration is under investigation and top officials are withholding key evidence."

There's the usual bit of preaching to the choir in Cheney's speech, but it's significant because the 1972 election has long been held by the Democratic Party nomenklatura to have proven the disaster that awaits any form of left-deviationism in the Party's ranks. Cheney's speech reminds them that any stray step toward the left will be punished savagely -- pretty much the same message the DLC and their fellow travellers have beat to death since 1972.

On the other hand, I saw Scott McClellan on Bill Maher last night, pushing a carrot version of the same message: he argued that we went to war in 2003 with bipartisan support, and that the President needs continued bipartisan support to see the war through to a successful conclusion -- over and over, he argued that we just need to give it a little more time. He left unsaid the conclusion: the Democrats, in backing out of bipartisan war consensus, will assume responsibility for the war's failure. Few assertions could be more ridiculous, the the Republicans have been so successful at pushing their superficial talking points for so long that they've left the Democrats dazed and confused. One thing this goes to show is how useful it was that so many Democrats voted for the war; another is how little good it did them -- John Kerry being the prime example.

This general drift has been building up since it became obvious even to diehard insiders that the Republicans were going to have to find someone to blame their Iraq disaster on. For at least that long Democrats have been leering nervously, like Thanksgiving turkeys. But I have to wonder two things: 1) what did the 1972 election really mean? and 2) can the Republicans get away with mythologizing Iraq the way they did Vietnam?

One thing people forget about the 1972 presidential election is that it wasn't nearly as focused on Vietnam as it should have been. Toward the close of the campaign, McGovern focused almost exclusively on Watergate, which was in the news but hadn't sunk in yet. Early on, he focused on issues like a guaranteed annual income that never got much traction. He may have decided that the war wasn't the issue to campaign on because the votes on that issue could already be counted. In that I think he was wrong: while antiwar Democrats had no illusions about where Nixon stood, non-Democrats and those ambivalent about the war were more inclined to trust Nixon, who had, after all, actually reduced American ground forces and casualties while pursuing talks with North Vietnam aimed at something called "peace with honor." A real antiwar campaign would have exposed what Nixon had actually done in the war: expanding the war into Cambodia, intensifying the air war, using covert death squads, scrambling SAC bombers to bluff a nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, and pointing out the deceit of promising a plan to end the war in 1968 and the fact that he was stretching it out indefinitely.

There are many similarities between Nixon and Bush viz. their wars, but there are two differences that may be critical: 1) Bush started his war, whereas Nixon took over a war that was already seen to be a major failure, so Nixon was never blamed for a war of choice (even if he was blamed for choosing to perpetuate it); 2) both were still significantly engaged in war after four years, but Nixon had reduced our costs while aiming at a settlement, whereas Bush is more engaged, and more tied down, than ever. There are other differences: Nixon's domestic policies enjoyed broad bipartisan support, whereas Bush's have been starkly divisive. (In some ways that increases support for the war, inasmuch as people who support Bush for other reasons feel they have to defend his war to keep him in power.)

The historical context is also vastly different. Clearly, McGovern was beat by a backlash of some sort, but his opposition to the very unpopular Vietnam war was a minor piece of a backlash that was more potently fueled by race and sex. Nixon's strategy was to invent a "silent majority" firmly rooted in "middle America" -- a card which he played cannily to pick up virtually all of the 1968 George Wallace vote, a sum roughly equal to his margin over McGovern. Also working in Nixon's favor was a Democratic Party establishment threatened by McGovern's promotion of democracy within the party -- in effect, they hung their nominee out to dry, figuring it better to lose an election than lose the party. (Much the same thing happened in 1896: William Jennings Bryan was nominated and lost when Grover Cleveland's east coast backers shied away.)

The characterization of McGovern as a left-wing loony was something that came after the fact, by talking heads in both parties, each with an axe to grind. The Republican right saw Nixon's win as vindication of their own agenda; old school Democrats parlayed McGovern's loss into a lesson on what happens when the party abandons their own centrism. Both moved the political debate to the right, weakening whatever it was that Democrats used to stand for. Indeed, the Democratic split over Vietnam was a fissure of confusion that never really healed. It actually goes back to the sacking of Henry Wallace, which committed the Democratic Party to anti-communist liberalism with its corrosive lack of support for labor. The Cold War was also a class war. The Democrats squandered their advantage by purging their own base.

There are a couple of ways the 1968-72 Nixon elections pair up with the 2000-04 Bush elections. In both cases, the first was settled by a very narrow margin with the Republican candidate keeping much of his real agenda under wraps while the Democrats were divided or at least ambivalent about their guy -- in both cases a vice president following a mixed bag presidency. In both cases the second involved re-electing a sitting president in war time, and both played all the advantages of incumbency to the hilt. One difference is that where Nixon won big, Bush barely squeaked by. The reason for that may be that 1968-72 was the start of a realignment where the Republicans moved strongly into suburbia and the white South, whereas 2000-04 marks the end of that shift, unless we see more traditional Republicans leave the party.

But the more important difference is that the US is much weaker now than we were in 1968-74: the nation's economic clout has declined under deficits and debt, real standards of living have declined, our sense of equality and common commitment has diminished; standards of education have declined, while traditional arts and industries have faded. Even our vaunted military power is suspect, given how poorly we've fared against the scattered resistance of Afghanistan and Iraq. (Comparatively, Vietnam, which successfully repelled China as well as the US, was a much larger engagement, a level that today's US military cannot conceive of.) Moreover, Vietnam could be viewed as a marginal sideshow in a larger struggle, so failure there didn't force a reassessment of the whole anti-communist project. But Iraq is failing in a way that threatens to call into question our whole self-conception as the world's sole superpower.

Chalmers Johnson, in Nemesis, makes the point that the UK more/less voluntarily chose to give up its empire rather than lose its democracy. He doesn't bring up the Soviet Union, which made a similar decision to forsake empire in order to seek democracy. Bush has brought the US toward a similar point, where his determination to pursue empire is matched to his scheming to subvert democracy at home. He has pursued both projects to an unprecedented degree, but both seem destined to fail, not least because they are way beyond the level of competency his administration can muster. Bush has created a world where failure is a fact, not an option.

In order for Cheney's line to work we have to believe that the failure he seeks to avoid is worse than the failure we experience. As long as the Democrats buy that premise the administration gets to blunder on without serious opposition. But what happens when/if we back off and stop making matters worse? Any sign of improvement at that point starts to unravel the whole delusion. Sooner or later, some future administration will start to disengage from Iraq, from Afghanistan, from the entire Middle East, if for no better reason than because, like the UK 50-60 years ago, we can no longer justify the costs by our gains. When that happens we will finally find how little all that imperialism brought us.

Given the magnitude of Cheney's accomplishments, the lesson we should take from his speech is that we owe George McGovern, and for that matter what passes through Cheney's fevered mind as the "far-left platform," a reevaluation. The fact is that McGovern was right on Vietnam and on Watergate. And for that matter McGovern has written a little book on Iraq which offers a graceful exit strategy from a quagmire that so many well-placed minds find completely intractable.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007


Andrew Bacevich, in a book review in The Nation, digs up "semiwar" as an old term for the early cold warriors. He's talking about the state of being at war in theory and principle, but not so much so that everyone notices the mobilization. The effect is that war becomes the province of specialists: something a few elites care about a great deal, and are able to indulge in because the population in general doesn't care much one way or another. Full-scale wars in American history are brutal affairs, but are relatively short, the Civil War and WWII done in about four years, WWI more like two. Semiwars, on the other hand, can go on forever.

I suspect that the reason they called the Cold War a semiwar was that it came so fast upon the heels of the full-scale WWII, which left us with a sense that war means total commitment and mobilization. By then most Americans had internalized the notion of total war, and had largely put out of mind America's numerous small wars and frontier conflicts -- e.g., with Indians up to 1890, and in and around the Caribbean from 1898 on. Such small wars are normal costs of imperialism. Indeed, it's possible that England never had a peaceful year from their late 16th-century victory over the Spanish Armada until they left Africa in the mid-1960s. The US has likewise engaged in perpetual wars since 1945, many not only out of the public's fickle mind but intentionally clandestine. You know about Iraq and Afghanistan, and you may worry about Iran, but how many Americans realize that Bush has managed to check Lebanon and Somalia off his GWOT target list this year?

Bacevich explains, starting with the first DoD secretary, James Forrestal:

Forrestal was also a zealot, the prototype for a whole line of national security ideologues stretching across six decades from Dean Acheson to Donald Rumsfeld, from Paul Nitze to Paul Wolfowitz. Geoffrey Perret's acerbic description of Acheson applies to them all: His "mind turned to the apocalyptic as easily, if not as often, as other men's thoughts turn toward money or sex." For semiwarriors, time is always short. The need for action is always urgent. The penalty for hesitation always promises to be dire.

From Forrestal's day to the present, semiwarriors have viewed democratic politics as problematic. Debate means delay. To engage in give-and-take or compromise is to forfeit clarity and suggests a lack of conviction. The effective management of national security requires specialized knowledge, a capacity for clear-eyed analysis and above all an unflinching willingness to make decisions, whatever the cost. With the advent of semiwar, therefore, national security policy became the preserve of experts, few in number, almost always unelected, habitually operating in secret, persuading themselves that to exclude the public from such matters was to serve the public interest. After all, the people had no demonstrable "need to know." In a time of perpetual crisis, the anointed role of the citizen was to be pliant, deferential and afraid.

For Forrestal and other members of the emergent national security elite, fired by the need to confront a never-ending array of looming threats, the presidency served as an accommodating host. Semiwarriors built the imperial presidency. On behalf of the chief executive -- increasingly referred to as the Commander in Chief -- they claimed new prerogatives. They created new institutions that became centers of extra-constitutional power: the National Security Council, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the various agencies that make up the intelligence "community." When out of office, they inhabited think tanks, consulted, lobbied and generally raked in the dough, all the while positioning themselves for a return to power.

Congress's inability to check and balance Bush's folly in Iraq is a consequence of this long process of deferring to security elites, who've set an agenda that mostly works to perpetuate themselves -- in large part by stoking the crises they urgently warn against. I suspect that this deference can be traced to the excess gratitude given the armed services for WWII -- even now most of us credit the military with a degree of competency they don't begin to justify. And who knows about the even more secretive CIA, other than that they're even less accountable?

Chalmers Johnson's book Nemesis covers this same territory with a focus on how America's semi-empire corrodes democracy. James Carroll's House of War finds the semi-empire's roots in the WWII concept of total war, the Manhattan Project's search for the ultimate weapon, and the building of the Pentagon, the embodiment of a will to dominate the world. Neither book is about a speculative future: you can how the cults of war, empire, and secrecy cripple democracy just by watching Congress try to cope with Iraq.

It's hard to tell at this point whether the Democrats' modest attempts to poke their beaks out of the national security shell should be counted as bravery or cowardice. But there's evidence that Bush's tactics are making them bolder: the failure of their non-binding resolution led to reconsideration of defunding; and who could conceive of Nancy Pelosi meeting with Syria six months ago? Whether the struggle against Bush's war leads them to turn against the whole neo-imperial program is a future question, but it seems clear that this particular exercise in neocon empire building is going to leave a very bitter taste. It's getting to where even semiwar may be too much.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Recycled Goods #42: April 2007

Recycled Goods #42, April 2007, has been posted at Static Multimedia. Catching up from January's 2006 wrap-up and March's mishap. I had most of this done early, but I kept putting off the research into Universal's Gold series, which I wanted to tie to the Buddy Holly Definitive Collection. Otherwise, I had (and still have) a lot of backlog, which puts me in good shape for May.

I keep vacillating between wanting to do more on Recycled Goods and wanting to do less. The result is that I tend to be rather passive: handling what comes in, but not making much of an effort to track down items of potential interest. My preliminary work on designing a web-based repository got wiped out, not that I had much to lose there. The Recycled Goods archives are up to 1783 albums, so restarting that still seems worthwhile, but it's not real high on my priority list. Maybe if I can slough through a few more months like this one, I'll catch up enough elsewhere to make this interesting again.

Here's the publicists letter:

Recycled Goods #42, April 2007, is up at Static Multimedia:


50 records. Index by label:

  AIM: Lattimore Brown, Bobby Powell, Moody Scott
  Atavistic: Peter Brotzmann (2), Corbett vs. Dempsey, Christoph Gallio
  Concord: Revenge of Blind Joe Death
  ECM: Kayhan Kalhor
  EMI (Blue Note): Ike Quebec, Kenny Dorham, Bobby Hutcherson, Lee Morgan
  Inak: Charly Antolini
  Putumayo: A New Groove, Radio Latino
  Sony/BMG (Legacy): Tony Bennett, Michael Bolton, Dave Brubeck, Cee-Lo
    Green, Journey (4), Matisyahu, Steve Perry (3), Boz Scaggs
  Soul Jazz: Tropicalia
  Sounds of the Mushroom: Bole 2 Harlem
  Stony Plain: Jay McShann
  Universal (UME): Buddy Holly (2), British Invasion, Gap Band, Smokey
    Robinson, '70s Soul, Conway Twitty (2), Marvin Gaye, Motown Classics,
    Hank Williams
  Varese Sarabande: John Phillips
  Water: Ornette Coleman
  WEA (Rhino): Luna, UB40, The Replacements
  World Village: Vieux Farka Toure

This is the 42th monthly column. Thus far I've covered a total of 1783
albums in Recycled Goods.

Thanks again for your support.

I wrote the following comment to a post at Destination Out:

After I published my David Murray "genius guide" in the Voice, someone wrote me saying that DIW was still available in Japan. I couldn't confirm that, but do know they're hard to find in the US. (Only DMG seems to be able to stock them at all regularly.) Most of what Murray recorded appeared from 1986-96 appeared on DIW, so that represents a tremendous hole in his discography. His Soul Note (mostly pre-DIW) and Justin-Time (later) records can be found in the usual places, but aren't stocked (for instance) by any of the outlets in my home town. The Red Barons are all out of print, but they used to be pretty easy to find cut out. There's a lot of other stuff that he's done on small labels, quite a bit out of print -- e.g., the early India Navigation stuff.

How well known he is seems to be a pretty sharp line: very well known on one side, hardly at all on the other. He got a lot of critical support in the '80s, especially from Gary Giddins at the Voice. One measure of that is that Ming is the best selling album in Black Saint/Soul Note history. On the other hand, it only took 20,000 copies to accomplish that, which helps quantify that line. I don't know about his other titles, but I doubt that he hit that level very often. Obviously, a lot of jazz musicians have trouble selling 10% of that, so I wouldn't say by any measure that's he's obscure or neglected. Still, it's pretty clear that a lot of people who think of themselves as jazz fans have no real idea who he is or what he's done.

Point taken re "great" -- but the editor was calling for "genius guides" and I had to assert that he belonged alongside Coltrane, Monk, Holiday, and Sun Ra. Anyhow, the media always loves a good fight, and for once I got the chance to throw the first punch.

Monday, April 09, 2007

When Iraq Flips

Judging from the demonstration in Najaf today, it looks like the Surge is finally working. US targeting of the Mahdi militia seems to have finally brought Moqtada al-Sadr's mind back into focusing on who the real purveyors of violence in Iraq are. All along he's been in a unique position to rally both Shia and Sunni Arabs against the occupation -- he lacks the taint of the SCIRI and Dawa exiles, while commanding a large grass roots following. But he backed down from full-scale revolt in May 2004, bought off with the political spoils system, letting the US play on his hatred of both Baathists and Al Qaeda to hatch full-scale civil war. But that alliance was bound to fail: American hawks have been howling for Sadr's hide ever since the 2004 revolt, and few Iraqis have seen any reason to forgive or reconcile with the US. And both sides can see the writing on the wall: the Surge is the hawks' last-chance offensive against impending political collapse at home, their Battle of the Bulge. On the other hand, few Americans think it has a prayer of working, so what must the Iraqis think? Sadr may be the first rat to leave the sinking ship, but that makes sense: he has the least to lose, and the most to gain. Whether he, too, is too tainted is an open question. But he never had a future in a condo in Palm Springs. He may even have a taste for martyrdom, which plays well in his family.

I've been saying all along that the occupation will end when a sufficient number of Iraqis -- specifically the Shia majority -- demand it. The US has played a game of diminishing returns, siding with Shia over Sunni, manipulating both, dealing behind the scenes to stoke each groups fears, cultivating the myth that both groups need the US for security against each other. But in doing so, the US has had to yield strategic ground, especially to the appearance of democratic government. While the "sovereign state" is far from representative, it offers the prospect of a tipping point that the US cannot deny -- either on the ground in Iraq or in the political theater in the US. It's still an open question when Iraq will flip, but that it will is increasingly obvious. Maybe Sadr isn't enough to pull the plug now, but he polarizes the Shia choice, raising the ultimate question to all of Iraq's supposed leaders: who do you work for, the Americans or the Iraqis?

Compared to ground events, the American political debate over Iraq pokes along lamely. We just don't seem to have the concepts that might illuminate the problem or the solution. We can't grasp either the ineptness or the malevolence of our military. In fact, we can't fault ourselves at all, which leaves the Iraqis to blame. But clearly most Americans realize that there's nothing good to come from the war. The only argument against cutting our losses is that there's no telling how badly Bush will fuck that up too. That argues for impeachment, which is "off the table" because the numbers don't support it. But anything short of that is bound to fail, either by vote or by implementation. I can't think of any president who's been more tenacious as frustrating popular will than Bush. That may prove to be his legacy and epitaph, resulting in even more ideological coarsening of political discourse. It will be very hard to undo the damage he has wrought, especially given how much trouble we have in even conceiving of it.

Still, when Iraq flips, who will have the will to fight on?

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Music: Current count 13042 [13020] rated (+22), 844 [829] unrated (+15). Tough week, but with Recycled Goods done, at least some of the pressure is off. Moved back to jazz mid-week, so have something to report on that front.

  • The Alligator Records 20th Anniversary Collection (1971-91 [1991], Alligator, 2CD): A label sampler, more coherent than most because the label is itself rather narrowly conceived. Perhaps also more important than most because Alligator was such a major force in keeping post-WWII electric blues in business during what otherwise was a pretty slack time. Starts with Hound Dog; ends with life support for Johnny Winter. Elvin Bishop stands out, because he was one of the more interesting rehab projects. B+
  • Aswad: Crucial Tracks (1975-88 [1989], Mango): British reggae band. Might like to be a roots band, but their most heartfelt roots appear to be Motown. B
  • The Spirit of New Orleans: The Genius of Dave Bartholomew (1949-62 [1992], Capitol, 2CD): Trumpet player, cut some instrumentals, but far and away best known as a producer. Bartholomew's name appears in the artist credits on only 6 of 50 songs here. The rest are things he produced, and they provide a pretty broad survey of New Orleans in the '50s. Fats Domino was his star, and Smiley Lewis a doppelganger, but most of the cuts here are from minor bluesmen, like Earl King, Pee Wee Crayton, Snooks Eaglin, and Al Robinson, with a few non-NOLA drop-ins -- T-Bone Walker, Joe Turner. Not sure this is the best way to do this, but the view is pretty amazing. B+
  • Black Uhuru: Tear It Up: Live (1982, Mango): Thin sound, par for live albums; great songs, par for this group. B+
  • Bobby Bland: I Pity the Fool: The Duke Recordings, Vol. 1 (1952-60 [1992], MCA, 2CD): Early stuff is rough, its range suggested by the fact that 5 of the first 7 cuts have "Blues" in title. There's a grade A best-of padded out in the rest, which is what the unacquainted should seek out. This is for folks who want more context and don't mind a few misses. A-
  • Buckshot Lefonque: Music Evolution (1997, Columbia): The hip-hop is OK as far as beats go, but the soul moves don't slide by so easily. The sax is fun when he's on, but that's not exactly the point. In which case, what is the point? B
  • Jerry Butler: Iceman: The Mercury Years (1966-73 [1992], Mercury, 2CD): Clearly, the genius in the Impressions was Curtis Mayfield, but Butler also emerged with a solo career. I can't say I was all that impressed with Butler's compressed 20th Century Masters best-of, which may mean that his hits don't pack all that much punch. But over two long discs, he doesn't miss much either, and such consistency adds up. A-
  • Clifton Chenier: Sings the Blues (1969-77 [1992], Arhoolie). B+
  • Mark Chesnutt: Heard It in a Love Song (2006, CBUJ): Unlike Brett Dennen (see below), there's no question how to file this. The voice alone suffices: he has the perfect country voice, although when he sings Lefty or Hank or George or Merle you notice that the idiosyncrasies he doesn't have are what distinguish the great ones. Short, very good; "That Good That Bad" is a choice cut, with "You Can't Find Many Kissers" not far behind. B+(***)
  • John Delafose: Heartaches and Hot Steps (1984, Maison de Soul): Zydeco, accordion up front, classic sounding. B+
  • Brett Dennen: So Much More (2006, Dualtone): Alt-country singer-songwriter -- don't recall why I had him filed under folk. Maybe because he lapses into Dylan on occasion, when he gets political. One song asks when the revolution's coming. Voice takes a little getting used to, but then so did Dylan's. Records like this make me miss the F5 column, where there was space for them. B+(***)
  • Egberto Gismonti: Danca das Cabeças (1976 [1977], ECM): Guitar duets with percussionist Nana Vasconcelos, both from Brazil. Starts slow and never really sinks in; some parts promise interest, but it feels rather chamber-ish as well, haunted by the classics, whatever those are. B
  • Bow Thayer: Maintenance for Mood Swings (2006, Crooked Root): Singer-songwriter. I have him filed under rock rather than folk or country, any of which would be plausible: AMG lists genre as Rock, first style as Alternative Folk. One reason for keeping him there is that songs like "Sundress" remind me of Pink Floyd at their most elegiac. B+(**)

Jazz Prospecting (CG #13, Part 4)

Enough jazz below to report, even though the week has been as much of a drag as expected. Other accomplishments include Recycled Goods done (although not yet posted), a pass through the entire notebook to populate the new/revised books section, and ordering the parts to my much needed replacement computer. Next week looks to be every bit as full of annoyances, obligations, and outright problems, but should see some progress as well. Falling behind on the incoming jazz, so that will be a focus.

Ben Bowen King: Sidewalk Saints: Roots Gospel Guitar (2007, Talking Taco Music): An antidote to the dumbing down of gospel: instrumentals, featuring venerable songs in old style, plucked out on what King calls a resonator/slide guitar -- built for volume in the streets, sounds like it's mostly built from steel. King cites Blind Willie Johnson and Dock Boggs as influences, credits "Amazing Grace" to Fred McDowell and "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" to Pops Staples. Covita Moroney helps out on percussion and the occasional moan. B+(***)

Coyote Poets of the Universe: Unmistakable Evidence! (2004-05 [2006], Square Shaped): Denver group, although I only see one poet, with all words attributed to Andy O'Leary (or Andy O'Blivion, as he appears on their website). Gary Hoover (aka Gary 7) helps out with the music, with both playing guitar and a few other instruments. Others help out too. The music is fractured guitar jazz, interesting in its own right, but usually gives way to the spoken words. The latter have their moments as well, but nothing here impresses me nearly as much as Jerry Granelli's Sandhills Reunion did a couple of years ago. B+(*)

The Puppini Sisters: Betcha Bottom Dollar (2006 [2007], Verve): A vocal trio, modelled on the Andrews Sisters down to a good chunk of their songbook, reportedly inspired by The Triplets of Belleville, which as far as I can tell they had nothing to do with. Only one Puppini too: Marcella, an Italian-born, London-based cabaret singer. The other two are Kate Mullins and Stephanie Brown. The frothy sound works best on proven material, but seems more awkward when they try more modern fare, even though songs like "Wuthering Heights," "Heart of Glass," and "I Will Survive" have strengths of their own. [B] [May 1]

Norah Jones: Not Too Late (2007, Blue Note): I've had friends play me their tapes, and more often than not I've panned them, pointing out that regardless of craft most lack the sort of distinguishing that would make them stand out in a field where craft and skill are mere minimums required. I'd probably say the same about Jones, and evidently in her case be wrong, but I still can't say why. Perhaps it's because she's turned ordinariness into a public virtue, and maybe we crave some sense of a comforting center given the sensory overkill that everyone else exercises to get our attention. That she can do it -- that she's the one we chose for this role -- depends on our understanding that she's not really ordinary: her voice, her piano, the elegant melodies, the unobvious words, the sensible arrangements, all serve to establish her worthiness through their subtlety. That's my theory, anyway. I still prefer my comforts less enigmatic, so I can't quite attest to whatever it is that others hear in her. B+(*)

Phil Bodner: The Clarinet Virtuosity of Phil Bodner: Once More With Feeling (1960s-70s [2007], Arbors): The booklet here credits Bodner with two '60s albums on Camden. AMG doesn't list those, but starts with two 1980 albums on Stash. Not much more follows, but when you look up his credits, AMG's list goes on for five screens. He played eleven instruments, including alto sax with Benny Goodman, oboe with Coleman Hawkins, clarinet and flute with Gil Evans and Miles Davis, and English horn with Milt Jackson and Luiz Bonfá. In the '70s he starts showing up on pop albums -- the Bee Gees, Carly Simon, Chaka Khan, Phoebe Snow, Bette Midler, Bob James; actually, he may have started earlier, like the '50s, as he gets credits on compilations of LaVern Baker, Jackie Wilson, and the "Bear Family Single Disc" of "Cry" by Johnnie Ray. Scott Yanow suggests that you probably have "dozens if not hundreds" of records with Bodner playing something or other. This new one is cobbled together from six undated sessions sometime in the '60s or '70s, each featuring Bodner on clarinet. The first four cuts put him in front of a trio with Hank Jones on piano. The next five are duos with guitarist Gene Bertoncini. Later we get four cuts with Dick Hyman on organ. Milt Hinton plays bass on those, then sings one. That's followed by three cuts with Derek Smith on keyboards and Vinny Bell on guitar. Mostly swing era standards, clean and sharp and, well, swinging. [B+(***)]

Bucky & John Pizzarelli: Generations (2006 [2007], Arbors): The better known son is a crooner stuck between his Nat Cole and Frank Sinatra tributes, but he started off as a pretty sharp guitarist, a chip off the old Bucky, as it were. The father never ventured far from swing, a graceful rhythm guitarist but not a great soloist. Father and son previously waxed duos in the early '80s, collected as The Complete Guitar Duos (The Stash Sessions), as well as a 1998 album Contrasts (Arbors) -- both well-regarded, but I haven't heard either. This this one is tasteful, modestly intricate and intimate. B+(**)

Frank Vignola: Vignola Plays Gershwin (2006 [2007], Mel Bay): Guitarist, heard of late in the Frank and Joe Show, although I first noticed him in an old timey/trad jazz group called Travelin' Light. Actually, Joe [Ascione] is on board here as well. Vignola does standard stuff with a lot of zip and presence, and takes no chances on formula here: he doubles up the guitar by adding Corey Christiansen, and doesn't bother with any obscurities or feints. So there's not much to it, but it sounds terrific. B+(***)

Dept. of Good and Evil Feat. Rachel Z (2007, Savoy Jazz): Rachel Z is a pianist originally named Rachel Nicolazzo. She has at least 9 albums since 1992, but I've missed her until now -- my only encounter was the time when I was accidentally caught Mary McPartland toasting her on "Piano Jazz," where she made a favorable impression. AMG lists Wayne Shorter as a "similar artist" -- she recorded a Shorter tribute album, but that hardly makes her similar; "influences" are Joanne Brackeen, John Hicks, and George Garzone -- latter just means she's lived in Boston, where Garzone has taught everyone; "see also" includes Najee, although I certainly don't recommend following up there; "styles" include Crossover Jazz, which she's pretty much managed to crossover from. She's got a couple of cheesecake album covers in the past, but this isn't one. I can't say as I hear much Brackeen or Hicks in her piano, but I couldn't argue strongly against Hancock and/or Tyner. The mod touches here include a couple of rock songs (Sting, Joy Division) and a couple of unclaimed weak vocals on originals. Judging from the typography, the group is a piano trio plus guests Tony Levin on electric bass and Erik Naslund on trumpet. Seems more middle brow than mainstream. Probably of minor interest, but shouldn't be easily dismissed. [B+(*)]

Kenny Werner: Lawn Chair Society (2007, Blue Note): I should have written this up first time I played the release. At least that way my confusion could seem resolvable through further experience. As it is, I've played this 6-8 times -- often at times I didn't expect to be able to concentrate on anything but I thought I'd give it a chance to connect. Bottom line is: it hasn't, but I can't tell you why. Chris Potter has moments at peak form. Trumpet player is no slouch either: Dave Douglas. Brian Blade and Scott Colley navigate the undertow, never more authoritatively than when they break free. Werner's a good pianist, and I don't mind when he dabbles in electronics except when it gets slow and gloomy. I don't know Werner's other work, but that may not matter given how strong the horns are. Come to think of it, Douglas and Potter have often confused me in the past. I have no doubt that they are brilliant musicians, and there are stretches here as elsewhere to underscore the point, but this isn't the first time they've managed to throw me. B+(*)

David Torn: Prezens (2005 [2007], ECM): AMG's entire biography reads: "Hard-edged fusion guitarist with aura of mystery. Influenced by Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Terje Rypdal, and Robert Fripp." I can imagine Wire playing him those in one of their Invisible Jukebox interviews. Wikipedia is more forthcoming: born 1953; studied with Leonard Bernstein, John Abercrombie, and Pat Martino; cousin of Rip Torn, Geraldine Page, and Sissy Spacek; survived a brain tumor that left him deaf in right ear; since then about half of his credits have been for mixing and/or producing. Four cuts are solo things with Torn mixing guitar and electronics. One more adds drummer Matt Chamberlain. The other seven tracks backs Torn with Tim Berne's Hard Cell trio -- Craig Taborn on keyboards and Tom Rainey on drums -- although one could just as well view the group as Berne's Science Friction quartet with Torn replacing guitarist Marc Ducret. In the latter case Torn is a heavier, more rockish guitarist, into broad tonal assaults rather than noted lines. He threatens to turn the album into structure, but Rainey is too quick to let him get away with that. This fits nicely into the great wave of guitar albums of late. I might prefer to hear Torn supporting Berne rather than the other way around. Haven't heard Torn's early albums. His previous tour on ECM produced the well-regarded 1986 album Cloud Over Mercury, with a lineup that included Bill Bruford, Tony Levin, and Mark Isham. I haven't heard any of his previous records, but the group shift must be notable. I do know that Torn has mixed most of Berne's recent albums, so he certainly knew what he was getting into. [B+(**)] [Apr 17]

Paul Motian/Bill Frisell/Joe Lovano: Time and Time Again (2006 [2007], ECM): One Rodgers/Hammerstein, one Monk, one by Lovano, the rest by Motian. Lovano and Frisell play soft and disjointed, kind of like Motian drums. There's a certain integrity to that, but it's hard to get excited about. Frisell sounds especially uninspired. B

Hal Galper/Jeff Johnson/John Bishop: Furious Rubato (2006 [2007], Origin): Galper is a veteran pianist who has impressed me in the past; Johnson and Bishop are Seattle's go-to rhythm section. Two Miles Davis pieces, one by Coltrane, one by Johnson, the rest Galper originals. Strikes me as dense and busy. I'm keeping it open because I've been distracted during two plays -- don't expect much at this point, but not quite sure. [B]

Joe Beck/Santi Debriano/Thierry Arpino: Trio 7 (2007, Whaling City Sound): Guitarist. Been around at least since the '70s, when he worked with Esther Phillips. AMG says he had a "big hit with David Sanborn in 1975" -- there's an album from then called Beck & Sanborn, but I missed it. Actually, I missed all of 20+ records Beck's recorded since 1969 -- even the Phillips records, but the name rings a bell. This is pleasant, soft-toned, with a little Brazilian seasoning but no nylon. I find myself focusing on the bassist, who's worth the attention. Note that Debriano's name is misspelled on the cover. B+(*)

Allen Lowe: Jews in Hell: Radical Jewish Acculturation (2004-06 [2007], Spaceout, 2CD): Actually, the title goes on: Or: All the Blues You Could Play By Now If Stanley Crouch Was Your Uncle; and on: Or: Dance of the Creative Economy: How I Learned to Stop Worrying About the Space Gallery and Love the Music Business. Lowe wrote in suggesting that if I made this a Dud he could market around that. I doubt that he'll get that particular wish, although the record is a huge mess, a lot of things that fit oddly if at all. Next step is RTFM: Lowe may not be much of a musician -- his alto sax is fine, but he mostly plays guitar here along with banjo, bass, and synth -- and he certainly isn't much of a singer -- but he's a good writer and an exceptional musicologist, and the manual (err, booklet) looks to be as important a part of the package as the discs. All I can really say thus far is that this shatters expectations. [B]

(((Powerhouse Sound))): Oslo/Chicago Breaks (2005-06 [2007], Atavistic, 2CD): I've never been sure what some Ken Vandermark group names really mean -- Territory Band, Free Fall, FME all suggest something more/less different from reality -- but this one couldn't be more literal. Vandermark has a batch of songs, half dedicated to JA stars (Burning Spear, Lee Perry, Coxsonne Dodd, King Tubby), half to others distinguished mostly by hardness (Miles Davis, Bernie Worrell, Hank Shocklee, the Stooges). He took them to Oslo to record with his School Days crew (Ingebrigt Haker Flaten, Paal Nilssen-Love), Lasse Marhaug's electronics, and doubled up on the bass by bringing Nate McBride along -- both bassists play electric. Then he returned to Chicago with McBride and added Jeff Parker on guitar and John Herndon on drums for more/less the same set. Vandermark sticks to tenor sax, and is the sole horn on both, a setup that by now promises powerhouse avant-honk. He's on spot almost as much as with Sound in Action Trio, or for that matter the McBride-driven Triple Play, although there's more going on here -- particularly with Parker. Not done with this yet, but grade is minimal. Could be a Pick Hit. A-

Fred Lonberg-Holm Trio: Terminal Valentine (2006 [2007], Atavistic): Chicago-based cellist, recently joined Vandermark 5 replacing trombonist Jeb Bishop. The initial problem here is that there isn't a lot of sonic variety to a cello-bass-drums trio, so it's hard to tell what's going on without paying close attention. As background this flows agreeably, with some edge that may pan out, but I'll have to return to it later. Another open question is why do so many FLH albums involve valentines? [B+(*)]

Nicole Mitchell/Harrison Bankhead/Hamid Drake: Indigo Trio: Live in Montreal (Paperback Series Vol. 3) (2005 [2007], Greenleaf Music): Website says: "The Paperback Series is a revolutionary new way of making rare recordings available. This is music that the artists have long wanted to release, in a new format that now makes it possible. The CDs are packaged in a distinctive cardboard sleeve with full credits and information and offered at a special low price, exclusively from Greenleaf Music through our store, musicstem.com." I guess revolutions aren't what they used to be -- there's nothing even remotely impressive about the website pricing. I haven't heard the first two volumes, which are live sets by label proprietor Dave Douglas. Chicago musicians. Drake and Bankhead play often when Fred Anderson -- Bankhead is a dependable bassist, Drake is brilliant and then some. Mitchell plays with Bankhead in Frequency. Her instrument is flute, something I'm rarely impressed by, but the rhythm Bankhead and Drake throw up is so alive that a thin layer of frosting works. She also sings, or chants, one, with a thin, airy voice not unlike her flute, and that works as well. [B+(***)]

And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.

Roger Powell: Fossil Poets (2006, Inner Knot): Powell's "retro-future" suggests that there must have been such a thing as pre-postmodernism, only we were fortunate enough not to recognize it as such at the time. Powell's resume isn't promising: even if we discount Bat Out of Hell as a fluke, he played the synths that drove Todd Rundgren's Utopia over the deep end. The only jazz credit I find on his CV is a Charlie Rouse album. This one is marginal genrewise, synth-driven instrumentals with a steady beat, eschewing both funk and spaciness -- too square for jazz, too soft for fusion, too old-fashioned for experimental rock, too much fun for new age. Comes to a nice soft landing with what sounds like a real piano. I've refiled this under Pop Jazz, but the smoothies won't like it either. B+(**)

Nicolas Masson: Yellow (A Little Orange) (2004 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Two-horn quartet, Masson playing tenor sax and bass clarinet, Russ Johnson trumpet, with Eivind Opsvik on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. More postbop than avant; both horns have good broken field runs and the jousts generate some heat, but the harmonizing bogs down a bit. B+(*)

Scotty Hard's Radical Reconstructive Surgery (2004 [2006], Thirsty Ear): Hard is credited with drum machines and samplers, but he's working on top of Mauricio Takara's drums and DJ Olive's turntables, so it's hard to say how much is his. The two sets of keyboards are easier to unravel, and far more central to the record, even though both John Medeski and Matthew Shipp are credited variously with organ, wurlitzer, and piano -- Medeski also on mellotron and clavinet. Typical Blue Series jam. I'd be more impressed had it come earlier in the series. B+(**)

Saturday, April 07, 2007

2006 Movie Wrap-Up

Haven't written anything about movies since Marie Antoinette and The Queen in November. That was actually the beginning of the decent movie season here in Wichita, which winds down a few weeks after the Oscars. So we've seen a lot of stuff lately, but I haven't been keeping track. In looking back over the early notebooks, one thing I noticed is that a lot of times I just jotted down a grade. Too bad, given that I can't even recall some of the movies listed, but that's a precedent for the lapses that follow. Can't swear that I've seen them in this order, but this works as a first approximation. The first note was written at the time and squirreled away in the scratch file. The others are catch-up quickies.

Movie: For Your Consideration. A Christopher Guest movie, with Eugene Levy co-writing, and the usual cast of characters working out. The setting is Hollywood during the filming of a '40s period movie called Home for Purim, with a pair of has-been or never-was leading actors at the center of a large cluster of roles -- supporting actors, director, writers, producers, agent, publicists, makeup, media flacks, and so forth. The movie, with its melodrama -- a dying mother hopes to reunite her family for one last Purim dinner -- and mix of Yiddish with southern accents, is deliciously off base, which makes the the outer film's central joke -- the buzz that the cast could be in line for Oscar nods -- a non-starter. That infects most of the jokes that follow -- some of which are still hilarious, although Catherine O'Hara's surgery is just painful. B+

Movie: The U.S. Versus John Lennon. The soundtrack itself is great, and very useful in the way it mixes Lennon's agitprop songs within his bedrock philosophy, an anti-religion pacifism. The film itself is less compelling. B+

Movie: Blood Diamond. Got panned for being preachy, but that's really only the last couple of minutes. Leonardo Di Caprio is terrific, and Africa is gorgeous and horrifying. A-

Movie: The Good Shepherd. I meant to dig up a quote from Lewis Lapham relevant here, where he recounts his job interview with the CIA. The real story of the CIA is one of those stranger than fiction tales: who would believe that the whole organization would have been so tightly wound around something like Skull and Bones? Yet it fits; it even helps explain some of the weirdness. Matt Damon is unusually wooden here, his brilliance often attested to but rarely demonstrated. B+

Movie: Children of Men. Anglo dystopianism, set in a near-future world lacking children, waiting to die. Seems to me it would have been better with less of the violent action that distracts from its philosphical heaviness. Also could have used more eccentrics, not that anyone else could top Michael Caine. B+

Movie: Charlotte's Web. Went twice to see Casino Royale only to find it sold out -- never did get back to it. Saw this as a second choice. I don't recall the classic story, which both pleased and annoyed. Not much impressed by the pig. Suggested we go for BBQ afterwards, but Laura opted for sushi. B

Movie: Babel. Don't see what's confusing here. The model is global north-south, how both fails, but the north forgives its own faults while the south suffers. Each of the stories involves two generations, so that's another dimension. Doesn't simplify or moralize: each fate speaks for itself. A

Movie: Dreamgirls. The problem with this as a Motown saga is the lack of great, or even good, music -- even Beyoncé kept her best shit out of this movie. Eddie Murphy gets a pass for pre-Motown grease. Sets were great with period details shined up to museum level. I wouldn't have given Jennifer Hudson that Oscar. B+

Movie: Flags of Our Fathers. Saw this late, on its second pass in support of Letters From Iwo Jima. It's roughly three movies in one, of which the least important is its chronicle of fearful assault -- what Spielberg started to do in Saving Private Ryan before he made his feel-good move. Eastwood finds no romance and no glory in that assault. It is, rather, a mere consequence of the decision of others to go to war -- the brunt suffered by people who had no say in the decision. Eastwood is equally unromantic about the home front -- a take that's even more unprecedented. The third is a riff on accidental fame and human fragility. The three Iwo Jima heroes provide distinct case studies, none viable. Along the way we see how the media simplifies and trivializes events that are nearly unfathomably complex. A

Movie: Letters From Iwo Jima. The view from the other side of the beach, the pillbox, the tunnel -- a view never before filmed by an American director. Eastwood wants to humanize the enemy here, which makes this a little softer, more sentimental than Flags, but he's right to recognize that we need help. Two officers have American connections, which plays nicely, but also rings true. The main enlisted man is a drafted baker; another is a flunkee from what seems to have been Japan's SS. One major difference is that for the Japanese impending doom was an endstate rather than a temporary terror. Hard to know how one should face that, especially given that it's so rare in American experience. A

Movie: Volver. Average Almodovar movie -- takes a while for that to sink in. The women are central; the men disposable, necessary props, or maybe even incidental. In the end, I was struck by the absence, indeed utter irrelevance, of the police in a movie that involves a killing. Very un-American thing to do. A-

Movie: The Last King of Scotland. The Idi Amin story. Plot got a little creepy toward the end, with the Scottish doctor tortured more by the writers than by the thugs, but no complaints about Forest Whitaker's Oscar. A-

Movie: Notes on a Scandal. Weak spot here is that I can't see this as much of a scandal, but then I recall a fondness for older women myself. Thought Cate Blanchett was better here than Helen Mirren was in The Queen. B+

Movie: Pan's Labyrinth. Didn't care much for the fantasy sequences as this got going, although they paid off in the end. Don't know whether the fantasy made the reality more credible, but this etches the face of Fascism in starkly realistic terms -- the Capitan is a complete monster, right down to his watch. He produces fear even when he shaves himself. A-

Movie: The Painted Veil. W. Somerset Maugham novel, a powerful story told a bit too sketchily. The rotten core of the west's exploitation of China is clear to behold even if it factors little into the story. B+

Movie: Venus. Same role Peter O'Toole played in My Favorite Year, but much older, of course. His old buddies are a plus. The young tart finally figures that out, and we all learn with her. A-

Movie: The Good German. So odd you suspect you're missing something. Looks ugly, deliberately so. Title seems to be ironic, but the case is too muddied to be sure. Also, I've never seen a leading man get into so many fights and get creamed so consistently -- even when Clooney kills someone near the end he winds up looking like a loser. Ending looks lifted from Casablanca, ignoring the more plausible one: Clooney should have left with the girl; either way would have been humiliating, but the separation leaves it all in vain. B

Movie: Breach. Spy vs. Spy. Taut enough as a movie, but could be better as history, if anyone cares what makes people like Hansen tick. Chris Cooper is very good. Too bad the movie's about the other guy, and the creeps in the background, including the clueless asshole who got to announce the sting. B+

Movie: The Lives of Others. Two pivot points here, each tuned precisely in terms of how they personally balance their ethics and their loyalty to the Communist order: one a writer, the other a Stasi spy monitoring the writer. The order itself fares less well, as secrecy breeds corruption backed with stifling violence. The story wouldn't be half as powerful, or half as damning of the GDR, without the idealism, nor would the idealism be credible without the personal quirks: the two may be Good Germans, but not always, or even principally -- Bertolt Brecht haunts the background, reminding us of the primacy of bestial acts. Movie of the year, even before the last line, which may be the best ever. A+

Movie: Zodiac. California murder case from the '70s, an era before caller ID. Killer managed to avoid identification, or prosecution at least, despite tweaking of the press. I like the strict chronological structure, which spreads out over decades, following a book by a cartoonist obsessed with the case, and featuring a journalist and a police detective who spend substantial parts of their careers with it more/less on their minds. Police work strikes me as realistic. Some echoes of personal experience, but also critical differences. A-

Two of the above (Breach; Zodiac) are 2007 releases. The others are 2006 releases. The following sums up the 2006 releases I saw and wrote about:

A+ The Lives of Others
A A Prairie Home Companion
Flags of Our Fathers
Letters From Iwo Jima
A- The Departed
Don't Come Knocking
Pan's Labyrinth
Little Miss Sunshine
Why We Fight
The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
V for Vendetta
The Last King of Scotland
Mrs. Henderson Presents
Blood Diamond
An Inconvenient Truth
B+ Notes on a Scandal
The Devil Wore Prada
The Good Shepherd
The U.S. Versus John Lennon
Children of Men
Thank You for Smoking
Half Nelson
The Queen
The Painted Veil
Neil Young: Heart of Gold
For Your Consideration
Catch a Fire
Inside Man
B Marie Antoinette
Friends With Money
The Black Dahlia
The Illusionist
The Notorious Bettie Page
Charlotte's Web
The Good German
B- The Da Vinci Code

A list of 2006 movies I didn't see but more/less wish I had, in roughly descending order: Idlewild; Little Children; Casino Royale; Tristam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story; The Science of Sleep; Borat; United 93; A Scanner Darkly; Fast Food Nation; Who Killed the Electric Car?; Hollywoodland; L'Enfant; World Trade Center; 49 Up; Factotum.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Keep On Keeping On

Aside from a note ducking Jazz Prospecting this week, I haven't posted anything to the blog since March 28. Posts have been spotty before then, too, although I did manage a burst in mid-March, partly fueled by book reports. I thought it might be time to offer a status report. Aside from the physical and mental stresses, the robbery five weeks ago resulted in a long list of things to do which I have been moving through rather slowly. For instance, we have a plan for various home improvements -- mostly relating to security, but that's also scratched a long-time itch for better network wiring. So I've been chasing down information, talking to contractors, trying to figure it out, and all that takes a lot of time. We've installed some lighting that still has some problems, ordered some doors that haven't arrived yet, and are getting close to settling on other bits and pieces.

Even worse has been the computer problems. Two machines that I bought in late 2005 were stolen and needed to be replaced: a Linux box that I was doing most of my work on, and a Windows box that I sometimes had to resort to for their proprietary file crap. In the meantime, I've fallen back on two older machines, which are slow and increasingly crash-prone. I've limped along with them, but one effect is that I've cut way back on my news browsing -- hence, I've lacked the stimuli that kick off most of my posts. I've been slow replacing them because the technology has moved on quite a bit in two years: dual core 64-bit hacks (AMD 64, Intel's EMT64) are now standard in my price category, DDR2 memory is up to 800 MHz, PCI Express x16 has obsoleted AGP, SATA has reduced PATA down to one connector/two devices on most motherboards, video cards compete more and more on things like hardware shading, TV tuners have become commodity-priced, and the political economy of operating systems has shifted. The latter has been particularly annoying: I've noticed that it's become much harder to find compatibility information on Linux than it used to be. To some extent this may have been because Linux support has become routinized, especially if you're willing to compromise and use closed source drivers for ATI and NVIDIA. But it may also be that since DOJ caved in on the Microsoft antitrust suit, Microsoft has been able to muscle the hardware companies away from public support of Linux. In the end, I wound up just throwing my hands up in the air and ordering a bunch of hardware with no real guarantee of support. It may be that it will all run out of the box fine, but if so that will be a first in my experience, and I've never felt more alone. We'll see: I have parts on order for an AMD X2 2.8GHz, ASUS motherboard, 2GB RAM, 2 320GB disks, NVIDIA 7600GT video card, DVD-ROM and DVD burner. Will know more next week.

As for the Windows system, I'm still researching that. Everyone says the Intel Core 2 Duo processors are much faster than AMD X2s, but the LGA 775 motherboards look less impressive -- especially the ones with Intel P965 chipsets. (On the other hand, the rule of thumb with Intel processors is to go with Intel motherboards, so you see my quandry.) Then there's the new, no doubt buggy, Windows Vista vs. the old, still buggy, Windows XP. And within that the question of 64-bit vs. 32-bit. I think the answer for my needs is to go with Vista 64-bit and ride it out. It's not a critical machine for me, so I figure I should look forward. But it winds up being a more expensive machine for less utility, so, well, my ingrained sense of cost-effectiveness is taking a beating. That's true on all these shopping issues, but we're feeling lucky to still be here.

I'm close to figuring this out, at least well enough to order. I'm not worried about Windows compatibility, since that's what everyone builds to, so the Windows machine will be more advanced. Also, given $200 for Vista, more expensive. But eventually Linux will run on it too, and in a better world that would be sooner. The other shopping issues are also coming to a head, although as David Owen points out, you never really want home projects to end -- otherwise, you'll have to think of something new. I still want new siding and a better kitchen and maybe a second bath upstairs, so I have fallback options.

On the writing front, the April Recycled Goods is done but as I understand it won't be posted until this weekend. I'll post on that when it happens. Only started jazz prospecting yesterday, so next week will be short but at least there'll be something. Most of the website-related work I've been doing has been in the Books section. I'm going through all the old notebook entries and pulling out scraps I've written on books since 2001. I've found over 100, so next update there'll be a lot more there. In doing so, I've skimmed through and started to think that it might be possible to edit that stuff down to a useful and interesting chronicle of the Bush era. I'll write more about that and the book project(s) when I finish scrounging.

For those readers in Kansas, KSN has shot a "Crimestoppers" sequence on our incident. This will air on Sunday, and I guess will be on their website later on. There's been little or no progress on finding the criminals, so the police hope this will generate some fresh leads. I dodged the thing, but Laura talks off camera, and they took a lot of video of the inside of our car trunk. I'm not optimistic about what they've done, but it's not our place to tell them how to do their jobs.

Weather has been weird here in Kansas. Had three weeks with overcast skies and rain almost every day, followed by a little sun and an explosion of pollen and histamines. Temperature got up into the 80s, with everything bright and green, then yesterday it got cold, clouded up, and snowed. Very strange to see white snow on top of so much green.

Otherwise, we keep on keeping on, and some of these problems will get worked out before too long.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Music: Current count 13020 [13200] rated (+20), 829 [834] unrated (-5). Finished Recycled Goods, but didn't get back to the growing jazz backlog. Don't have all the new stuff registered either. In general, another slow, arduous week. Seasonal allergies kicked in viciously at the end. Doubt that I will update website until Recycled Goods runs, probably mid-week.

  • Gnarls Barkley: St. Elsewhere (2006, Downtown/Atlantic): Every rock critics poll last year tagged "Crazy" as the song of the year, but it beats me why. The main thing it does for me is remind me of much better songs, and much better years when there'd be dozens of them. But one thing it has going for it is that it's a standout single in an inconsistent album by two cult heroes who one hopes (and expects) to do better. Actually, they do ("Gone Daddy Gone", "Feng Shui", "Who Cares?") but also they don't. B+(***)
  • John Lee Hooker: Boom Boom (1992 [2007], Shout! Factory): The title song has less snap and less resonance than in the old days, but provides a starting point for an old, ancient even, pro, who walks through his talkie blues like he's done for decades. B+(*)
  • John Lee Hooker: Chill Out (1995 [2007], Shout! Factory): He varies so little that sorting out his records can be an arbitrary exercise, but the concept here doesn't do a man his age any favors; in particular, it leaves his "One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer" remake a little watered down. B
  • John Lee Hooker: The Best of Friends (1987-98 [2007], Shout! Factory): Geoffrey Stokes, a marvelous rock critic and sometime folksinger, had a story relevant here. Stokes was sitting at a bar in the Village. Hooker enters, walks up to him, and starts some rap about how he's heard much about the guy and would love to play with him sometime. Stokes is duly flattered, but Hooker realizes his mistake, walks further down the bar, and lays the same rap on a better known folksinger: Bob Dylan. Much later in his career, Hooker's solicitations paid off, delivering a boost for the series of Pointblank albums anthologized here. Hooker's primitivism is surprisingly hard, even on remakes of tough standards. And the friends do help. I might be tempted to dismiss Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, Ry Cooder, and Los Lobos as easy scores, but in my book Van Morrison is even bigger game than Dylan. A-
  • Ed Jackson: Wake Up Call (1994, New World): Fairly large group, with two reeds (Jackson and Rich Rothenberg), three brass (James Zollar, Tom Varner, Clark Gayton), piano, bass, drums, plus Jamie Baum's flute on one cut. Postbop, harmonically rich, boldly envisioned. B+
  • Sheila Jordan: From the Heart (1982-93 [2000], 32 Jazz): A compilation based on Jordan's Muse recordings, ranging from duets with bass to some string-riven things. The best pieces are remarkable, but it does drag in spots, and I'm not a fan of the strings. B+
  • King Tubby's Meets Scientist at Dub Station (1996, Burning Sounds): Typical, ordinary dub album -- assuming, of course, that you're King Tubby. If you're Scientist, you just lucked out. B+
  • Lura: M'bem Di Fora (2006 [2007], Times Square): Cape Verdean singer, third album -- second American release, after Di Korpu Ku Alma (Escondida). Brazilian sound, but with more meat on the bone. Title translates as "I Come From Far Away." B+(**)
  • Mariza: Concerto em Lisboa (2006 [2007], Times Square, CD+DVD): Much like tango, Portugal's fado straddles low origins and high ambitions; Mozambique-born, short blond haired Mariza moves to the front ranks of Lisbon's fado singers with this huge concert, her dramatic voice backed by guitars and the strings of the Sonfonietta de Lisboa; includes DVD of Mariza and the Story of Fado. B
  • Life of the Infamous: The Best of Mobb Deep (1993-2004 [2006], Loud/Legacy): New York duo, dba Prodigy and Havoc, they got the tedious beats and slack thugism of gangsta down pat; if only I were quicker at picking up the rhymes I'd likely have more cavils, but as a beat guy I figure their limits are less-is-more virtues and don't mind living within. B+(*)

No Jazz Prospecting

Spent all last week working on April's Recycled Goods column. Still needs an editing pass, but should be posted sometime late this week. I managed to get far enough ahead that May's column is pretty much in the bag as well. It's been a slow, tedious, in the end agonizing week, as three weeks of monsoon finally broke in an explosion of toxic pollen. Spring is here, and suddenly the world is bright and green. Wish I could enjoy it more, but the accumulation of tasks to do, physical ailments, and sheer exhaustion is dragging me down. One casualty this week has been Jazz Prospecting. The week closed out with five records in the scratch file, but only one undoubtedly counts as jazz, and it doesn't have a final grade. So I figure I'll hold them back and at least have a start on next week. This looks like it's gonna be another rough one.

Mar 2007