January 2009 Notebook
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Saturday, January 31, 2009

House Log

Missed a day logging, and now the last two days have settled into a blur. Sanded down the painted wall units, but still haven't put the second coat on. I thought the bigger priority was to paint the walls behind them, but didn't get that done either. Instead, put a lot of work into finishing the skim coat around the basement door. Put a coat of primer on most of the pantry/kitchen area -- still needs a little work there, not to mention more primer. Wanted to move the refrigerator, but ran into some problems moving the water tube. Both require some shopping, which I did Saturday night. Also picked up a piece of drywall to cover up the area above the vent hood. Couldn't fit the right size in the car, so wound up cutting it in half, plus two pieces of scrap. Also picked up a pair of wall speakers, figuring I'd put them into the above-range peninsula, facing the dining room. Previously just had a pair of bookshelf speakers on the floor along the south wall. Doubt that the speakers will be very good, but for now they'll save space, and they need to be rewired anyway.

Tore most of the old kitchen cabinets out, leaving only the sink unit and the countertop over the dishwasher. I figure we'll hold off on tearing that out until Tuesday, just before the new cabinets are installed. Still need to cut back the box-in above the wall cabinets -- the new ones will be 41-inches high, instead of the standard 30, so they'll extend almost all the way to the drop ceiling.

Kathy came by, wishing me a happy Mother's Birthday. I hear that Matt is still sidelined with dental problems, realizing that he's reached a point where he's going to outlive his teeth -- I had the same realization 20-some years ago, although I had already disposed of my wisdom teeth by then. Didn't get the the hospital, but talked to Jerry, who is doing much better -- looking forward to getting out on Monday.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

House Log

Looking at the unit we painted last night, we decided that it should be possible to at least put the first paint coat on with the units standing up. We also decided that the thinned down paint went on well enough by brush. Also decided that the units that had only one coat of primer were good enough to paint. So we went to work, painting the other four east/north units, except for the inaccessible tops. I figure we'll need to lean them over for the final coats and the urethane, which will slow us down, but today we blasted through the whole lot.

After that, we sanded and primed the trim woodwork and the bathroom door. We wound up putting most of the primer on with a 3.5-inch roller. Goes on a little thick that way, but gives us a smoother finish. Finally, Kelly dug into the barrel of wall joint compound to skim the crinkle-paint wall. Didn't bother with a patch where I expect to build a pantry cabinet. Got a new gadget for sanding drywall: hand sander with open grid sandpaper and a vacuum attachment. Works very well. Still needs another coat, plus sanding, primer, etc., but is coming around.

Jerry had his surgery today. I hear it went well, and he is out of recovery and into his room.

Geithner

Wrote this in a letter, in response to a comment about Tim Geithner:

Don't have an opinion on Geithner, except that bankers are the most politically coddled capitalists of all. That's his job, and that is what he'll do. I doubt if Bernie Sanders will regret his vote against, but Geithner seems about par for the course. Meanwhile, although the economy has been shocked by a banking crisis, the real problems are deeper (technology-led productivity gains keep pushing workers off the job) and deeper (growing inequality inevitably reduces demand, while the first flush of oversupply goes idle) and deeper still (the coming resource crunch will sooner or later demolish the whole growth paradigm). Thought Krugman made a good observation that all the tax cuts meant to sweeten the stimulus bill for Republicans netted zero votes. Will see if Obama adjusts his game plan accordingly.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

House Log

Had a mid-afternoon doctor's appointment today, which disrupted the work. Earlier went to see cabinet maker and decide how to glaze cabinets: we're using a small trace of the Phillipsburg Blue paint to highlight the grooves in the door panels. Decided to install the cabinets on Tuesday (Feb. 3) instead of Friday. That gives us a little more time to prep the space, as well as get some other work done. Talked to the countertop people. They'll come out Thursday (Feb. 5) to measure and make the template. The countertop install date is Feb. 16. Those are a couple of big milestone dates. Main thing still missing is final decision on the floor.

I went out afternoon to get supplies, including more primer. Feeling the pinch to get going, I called Kelly up and arranged for him to come over early evening. We put the first coat of blue paint on one of the shelf units. Seems like a big breakthrough.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

House Log

Continued paint work on the shelf units, getting a second coat on the first two, and a first coat on three more -- both east and north bookcases and the corner unit, as well as the wood trim around the two windows. Ran out of primer, which may well mean that we're putting it on too thick. Did a little bit of work skimming the wall around the basement door, but quickly ran out of joint compound. Need to go shopping to resupply tomorrow. Also have a doctor's appointment, so we didn't schedule Kelly to return until Thursday, by which time the initial primer coats should be dry enough to sand. Weather is bitter cold today, with a thick coat of ice and a dusting of light snow on everything. Should warm up Friday.

Cabinet maker called up. Wants us to drop by tomorrow to oversee putting the glaze on the cabinets. I have some trepidation about smearing colored paint on top of the no-doubt beautiful white paint on the cabinets, but I guess this is done all the time. Current idea is to use the Phillipsburg Blue shelf paint, which could tie the whole color scheme nicely together. Cabinet maker says he'll be ready to install on Friday. That should be good news, but given how slow our own painting has gone, I'm a little bummed.

Monday, January 26, 2009

House Log

Kelly Unruh started today. We put the backs on the corner unit, then filled in and sanded down most of the other units. I cut out the outlet box holes in the toe-kicks. Finally, we put a coat of primer on two of the shelf units. After the last week or so in the doldrums, this was a landmark day.

Music Week

Music: Current count 15123 [15105] rated (+18), 738 [739] unrated (-1). Did about the same as last week, which means the real work crunch hasn't hit. I'm expecting that this week.

  • TV on the Radio: Dear Science (2008, DGC/Interscope): The poll winners, two years in a row. I never got deep enough into Return to Cookie Mountain to give a damn, and I haven't done a lot better here, but the going is easier. One song referring to "the shadows of your family tree" opens up like a verdant valley. "Red Dress" starts off fucking war. The funk grooves work, while the prog rock is lean enough it doesn't clog your veins. Not a lot of vocal presence. Lyrics will take some time -- lyric sheet isn't something you can scan, or even much read. Don't understand why critics relate to this, but they're onto something. A-

Jazz Prospecting (CG #19, Part 4)

Jazz Prospecting is down to a spare time activity. House work ground to a near halt mid-week due to some bullshit that (or so I've been told) is all my fault. Not sure what the next couple of weeks will bring, but I expect lots of distractions, little time to listen or write, but not a complete hiatus (like, e.g., the month in Detroit). No news from the Voice. I assume we're in the queue somewhere, and there will be a Jazz Consumer Guide sometime in February. I'm actually doing a relatively good job of capturing honorable mentions as I go, so the draft on the next column is actually growing -- well over half way now.


Mark Colby: Reflections (2008, Origin): Tenor saxophonist, don't know how old but probably well into his 50s (gray hair, what little there is; has taught at Depew since 1983; features a Stan Getz quote: "I've been listening to Mark Colby for twenty years"). Has several albums, including a Getz tribute, and much studio work, including the claim that he's played on over 2,000 commercials. A mainstream player with a touch of swing -- reminded me more of Bennie Wallace at first than of Getz, but that's his range. Three originals, some standard standards, "Desafinado," Ornette Coleman's "Blues Connotation," and a Phil Woods piece, with the auteur dropping in to make sure it's done right. B+(**)

Dan Cavanagh's Jazz Emporium Big Band: Pulse (2008, OA2): Big band: 5 saxes, 5 trumpets, 4 trombones, 2 pianos (including the leader, also on B3), vibes, bass, drums, percussion, plus poetry and narration by Timothy Young. The latter is somewhat interesting, allowing the band to emote symphonically through the three movements of "Mississippi Ecstasy." The vibes is a nice touch. Some interesting writing; should give it another shot when I have more time, but with its symphonic ticks I doubt I'll do much better with it. B+(*)

Peter Sommer: Crossroads (2006 [2008], Capri): Tenor saxophonist, teaches at Colorado State (Ft. Collins, CO), second album. With piano, bass, drums, and a second saxophonist, Rich Perry. Strikes me as a solid young postbop player, but there isn't much here to set him apart from the ordinary -- even less when the pianist takes over. B

Tim Green & Trio Cambia: Change of Seasons (2008, OA2): Piano trio, or two. In one configuration, Green plays piano, Jake Vinsel plays bass, and Mark Maegdlin plays drums; in another, Maegdlin plays piano, Green plays bass, and Vinsel drums. Offhand, I can't tell much difference. Green has the upper hand, with two previous albums on the label. But both pianists play light, sprightly lines, often picking up simple melodies. B+(*)

Brad Shepik: Human Activity Suite (2008 [2009], Songlines): Subtitle, at least as it appears once in the booklet: "Sounding a Response to Climate Change." The clear cause of that climate change is identified as: human activity. The notes go on to cite books by Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse), Alan Weisman (The World Without Us), and David Quammen (The Song of the Dodo) -- all of which, by the way, I've read and recommend highly. Shepik is a guitarist who first came to our attention in Dave Douglas's Balkan-flavored Tiny Bell Trio -- he also plays saz and tambura, which instantly add a Balkan feel here. That's welcome, but it's hardly necessary given how terrific the band is. Drew Gress and Tom Rainey are one of the best rhythm tandems around. Gary Versace is a triple threat on piano, organ, and accordion, making each pay off -- accordion fits in especially with the Balkan bits. Ralph Alessi's trumpet adds a touch of brass; indeed, a lead horn voice. A- [Feb. 10]

The October Trio/Brad Turner: Looks Like It's Going to Snow (2008 [2009], Songlines): The October Trio consists of Even Arntzen (tenor sax), Josh Cole (bass), and Dan Gaucher (drums). They are based in Canada -- Vancouver, I think. They have two previous albums: Live at Rime (2005) and Day In (2006), both at CDBaby, neither heard by me, nor have I run across any of the three in other contexts. Turner plays trumpet, also based in Vancouver. He shows up with some frequency, on 6-10 records I've heard since 1997, many more that missed me. Trying to look up Turner, I discovered that his Wikipedia page had been deleted. Someone thinks he's not "notable" -- someone, I dare say, who doesn't have very good ears. As a quartet, this is a formidable group. The rhythm section is tight and propulsive. The horns can work together or fly apart. A 16:37 piece called "The Progress Suite" is varied and elaborately textured. (The notes cite a C.S. Lewis quote: "If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.") B+(***)

Greg Skaff: East Harlem Skyline (2007 [2009], Zoho): Guitarist, grew up in Wichita, now based in New York. Fourth record since 1996, first I've heard, so I don't know whether his choice here of an organ trio defines his aesthetic or is just a nod to the organ grinders he grew up listening to. Seems like a lot of talent -- George Colligan on Hammond B3, E.J. Strickland on drums -- to spend on something so limited and retro. Took an extra spin to tune into that talent, which includes the guitarist. B+(*) [Feb. 10]

Richie Goods & Nuclear Fusion: Live at the Zinc Bar (2007 [2009], RichMan): Electric bassist, from Pittsburgh, went to Berklee, now in New York -- MySpace page says Cortlandt Manor, NY, somewhere in upper Westchester. Quartet, with Helen Sung on keyboards, Jeff Lockhart on guitar, and Mike Clark on drums. Hype sheet describes this as having "a retro 70's fusion flavor." That may be the base, with covers from Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, and Lenny White, but the funk grooves here sound brand new and squeaky clean. The plasticky sound of the unbranded electric keyboard, at least under Sung's fingers, is cleaner and more nimble than an organ would be, and the grooves are much tighter. As fusion, this may seem narrow, but as soul jazz it is a quantum leap forward. [B+(***)]

Tom Harrell: Prana Dance (2008 [2009], High Note): Major trumpet player, with a couple dozen albums since 1982, but someone I've only occasionally been pleased with -- his trumpet is impressive enough, but his postbop compositional quirks can throw me. Relatively straightforward posthardbop quintet, with Wayne Escoffery a fast and slick accomplice on soprano and tenor sax, Danny Grissett favoring Fender Rhodes over acoustic piano, and strong propulsion from the rhythm section. B+(*) [Jan. 27]

The New Jazz Composers Octet: The Turning Gate (2005 [2008], Motema Music): Trumpeter David Weiss produced, so he seems to be first among equals, but pianist Xavier Davis edged him out in compositions, while bassist Dwayne Burno and alto saxophonist Myron Walden worked in one each. The other members are Jimmy Greene (tenor sax, soprano sax, flute), Steve Davis (trombone), Norbert Stachel (baritone sax, bass clarinet), and Nasheet Waits (drums). The group packs the range of a big band but with only one player per slot, dispensing with the section bombast while keeping the harmonic richness and letting the soloists kick out. Rarely do collectives throw themselves so hard into each others' material. Maybe Greene, in particular, decided to make up for not furnishing his own song by lighting a fire under everyone else's. B+(***)

Ernestine Anderson: A Song for You (2008 [2009], High Note): Singer, b. 1928 in Houston, broke in with Johnny Otis then Lionel Hampton, finally recording her first album in 1956. The albums ended in 1960, but like many others she got another shot at Concord in 1976, which more than doubled her discography. Like Concord's Carl Jefferson, Barney Fields has a penchant for picking up discarded artists and treating them well. Anderson certainly can't complain about the group here: the band is named on the front cover, and Houston Person's name in in larger type. Anderson isn't all that distinctive a singer -- the only idiosyncrasy here is how she works a bit of Leon Russell's accent into his title song, and that's not much of a plus -- but she's a well practiced pro, credible on "Make Someone Happy" and "This Can't Be Love" and "Day by Day" and even "Candy." Still, it's Person you want to hear more of here. B+(**) [Jan. 27]

Brian Charette: Missing Floor (2008, Dim Mak): Hammond organ player, based in New York, usual classical piano training; also works with an electronica band called Mudville, playing guitar, and possibly dabbling in electronics -- second instrument listed here is laptop. Has a couple of previous records. This one is a trio, but bears little affinity for the usual run of organ-based retro soul jazz. Leon Gruenbaum plays samchillian -- a keyboard-based MIDI controller based on intervals rather than fixed pitches; looks like Gruenbaum is the inventor of this thing -- and sax. The latter has some edge to it, while the electronics, either from the laptop of the samchillian, tend to blend in, except when the don't. Third member is drummer Joechen Rueckert. Mostly originals, with scattered covers -- "E.S.P.," "The Honeydripper." Moves smartly. B+(**) [promo cdr]

Clayton Bros.: Brother to Brother (2008, ArtistShare): Odd that when I look up the Clayton Brothers, I'm first referred to Rob and Christian Clayton, a pair of artist-designers in Pasadena, CA. Someone at Wikipedia questions whether they are notable enough for their page. I don't have an opinion there, but these Clayton Brothers should qualify easily. Bassist John Clayton and alto saxophonist Jeff Clayton co-lead the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra with drummer Jeff Hamilton, a foremost group in the big band backup niche that Neal Hefti and Nelson Riddle used to rule. The brother act includes a third Clayton, John's son Gerald, on piano, plus Terrell Stafford on trumpet and Obed Calvaire on drums. They see this album as a tribute to prior brother acts -- Adderley, Heath, Brecker, Montgomery, Jones -- but given how often Jeff gets compared to Cannonball, the Adderleys are listed first not just for alphabetical reasons. Starts off with a rouser called "Wild Man" and rarely shows down -- the bass intro to "Where Is Love?" is an exception. John talks his way through the clever "Walking Bass." B+(*)

Saltman Knowles: Return of the Composer (2008 [2009], Pacific Coast Jazz): The composers of record are Mark Saltman (bass) and William Knowles (piano). Fifth album, three as Soul Service, the last one as Saltman Knowles Quintet, with Lori Williams featured on vocals. She's added another surname since then (Lori Williams Chisholm) and developed a number of annoying vocal tics on top of a voice I find unappealing. Not much else to complain about: the instrumentals swing hard, and saxophonist Robert Landham earns his keep. B- [Feb. 10]


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

Charles Lloyd: Rabo de Nube (2007 [2008], ECM): Gave this another listen after it won the Jazz Times poll, finishing third to Sonny Rollins in the Village Voice poll. Quartet with Jason Moran on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass, Eric Harland on drums. Initially struck me as a return to Lloyd's now-classic Coltrane-focused mainstream -- certainly nothing to deprecate, but less interesting than recent albums like his worldly Sangam or the down-home interplay with Billy Higgins on Which Way Is East. The fact is that Lloyd's been on a roll at least since 1999's Voice in the Night. I think the polls are catching up, plus reflecting interest in Moran, who is superb as always. B+(***) [formerly B+(**)]

Rudresh Mahanthappa: Kinsmen (2008, Pi): Runner-up in the Village Voice jazz poll, placing 15th in the more mainstream Jazz Times poll, in both cases running well ahead of better-known bandmate/pianist Vijay Iyer (Tragicomic, 2nd on my ballot). Like Iyer, he is second generation Indian-American. He's always struck me as closely following in Coltrane's giant steps, with a slight shmear of second-hand Indian music grafted on, but here he makes large strides forward, on both counts. I found his much simpler trio, Apti (with Pakistani guitarist Rez Abassi, also here) more immediately appealing, but this is deeper, richer, rougher, and more intriguing. He starts with a trio of South Indians -- A. Kanyakumari on violin, Poovalur Sriji on mridangam, and most importantly Kadri Gopalnath on alto sax. The latter adds a second track to Mahanthappa's alto sax, altering both the sound and dynamics -- the rough and ready "Snake!" is a good example. [Lost my final copy -- another reason why I've been slow on this -- so I'm falling back to the advance copy.] A-

Angles: Every Woman Is a Tree (2007 [2008], Clean Feed): Swedish supersextet, led by Martin Küchen, alto saxophonist from Cosmologic, with Magnus Broo, trumpeter from Atomic, and other notables on trombone and vibes. The three horn action can be thrilling or just shrill, with trombonist Mats Äleklint piling on the dirt. The rhythm takes a while to hit high gear -- third cut, "My World of Mines" does the trick. Mattias Ståhl's vibes flesh out the sound of breaking glass. B+(***)


Some corrections and further notes on recent prospecting:

Luke Kaven tells me that Frank Senior's Listening in the Dark is the official release of Let Me Be Frank, a CDR distributed through CDBaby, so it is indeed his debut.


Unpacking:

  • Jeff Albert Quartet: Similar in the Opposite Way (Fora Sound)
  • Clifton Anderson: Decade (Doxy/Emarcy): Jan. 27
  • The Bad Plus: For All I Care (Heads Up)
  • Count Basie Orchestra: Mustermesse Basel 1956 Part 1 (1956, TCB)
  • John Burr Band: Just Can't Wait (JBQ, CD+DVD)
  • Alex Cline: Continuation (Cryptogramophone): Feb. 10
  • Nels Cline: Coward (Cryptogramophone): Feb. 10
  • Miles Davis: Kind of Blue (Legacy Edition) (1959, Columbia/Legacy, 2CD)
  • Sarah DeLeo: I'm in Heaven Tonight (Sweet Sassy)
  • Mary Halvorson & Jessica Pavone: Thin Air (Thirsty Ear): advance
  • Jake Hertzog: Chromatosphere (That's Out): Apr. 7
  • Marc Courtney Johnson: Dream of Sunny Days (Dreamy Jazz): Feb. 16
  • Jessica Lurie Ensemble: Shop of Wild Dreams (Zipa! Music)
  • George Robert Jazztet: Remember the Sound: Homage to Michael Brecker (TCB)
  • Tierney Sutton Band: Desire (Telarc): Mar. 3
  • Mark Winkler: Till I Get It Right (Free Ham): Apr. 2
  • Joe Zawinul & the Zawinul Syndicate: 75 (Heads Up, 2CD): Feb. 24

Sunday, January 25, 2009

House Log

Did no work until late evening, at which point I discovered that the corner cabinet shelf had been misglued, leaving a bit gap. Tried to close that, with more glue and an awkward arrangement of clamps. Put off putting the backs on. Also looks like there is an odd bow in the corner support, but it may get ironed out when the back is in place.

Talked to Kelly Unruh about doing some work. He's an old friend of my brother, and a former partner of Jerry's. Doesn't have Jerry's range of experience, but has a good deal more than I do. Strikes me as level-headed, a good worker. Might make a big difference.

AACM Power

Franklin J Bruno: Jazz Is?. Book review of George E. Lewis's A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music, which weighing in at 676 pages single-handedly fills a major gap in recent jazz history. The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians was formed in Chicago c. 1965. I've seen numerous founder claims, but early on the most recognizable figure was Muhal Richard Abrams, and before long the Association had an exemplary flagship group, the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Lewis is a professor at Columbia, but he is a brilliant trombonist and composer who figured significantly in the early careers of Anthony Braxton, who came out of the AACM, and David Murray, who bypassed the AACM in his move from California to the New York loft scene. He is deeply involved in this history, but still somewhat outside of it.

The AACM was unusual in managing to institutionalize support for avant-jazz, maintaining a group (as opposed to stylistic) identity over more than 40 years -- Nicole Mitchell's mother would have been a small girl when the group was founded. Lewis talks about how Abrams managed to break through the "serious music" gatekeepers to get some financial support for AACM in the 1980s, only to see Wynton Marsalis/Jazz at the Philharmonic enforce a new kind of orthodoxy:

For Lewis, this retrenchment marks a denial of the obvious: that the "classical" jazz of Armstrong, Ellington and Parker, among others, was no less the product of "exploration, discovery, and experiment" than the AACM's. In a sardonic footnote, Lewis drops all pretense of scholarly distance toward teh revisionist view, as perpetuated by Ken Burns's Jazz series: "John Coltrane went mad in 1965, and a mysterious virus that he and others were carrying killed hundreds of musicians until Wynton Marsalis arrived in 1983, carrying a powerful mojo from the birthplace of jazz that put the deadly germ and its carriers to flight."

Later in the review:

Lewis is at his most moving, and least abstract, in a final chapter framed by a succession of funerals and memorials for AACM members who died during the book's ten-year gestation, including [Lester] Bowie, [Malachi] Favors and veteran saxophonists John Stubblefield and Vandy Harris. A 2005 memorial at Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ for Harris, with whom Lewis had played thirty years earlier and who once proposed corporal punishment for infractions of AACM by-laws, occasions a performance by an intergenerational "Great Black Music Ensemble" and "Words of Comfort" from the Rev. Jeremiah WRight, who asks, according to Lewis, how "a political culture that claimed to be led by the Bible" could justify the invasion of Iraq.

Looks like an important book, gathered together just in time. Wish I had time to delve into it; some point in the future I hope to.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

House Log

In the doldrums, bummed out over lots of things. Did manage to take the vanity top back to Lowe's, who refunded the custom order with no hassle. Did some further tile shopping. Found one expensive tile we liked at Floor Trader, and perhaps more importantly got the number of someone who does installs. Got a couple of samples from Star Flooring, and talked about install costs, which they estimate at around $1400 -- a lot less than Smith's bid.

Republican Policies

Overheard a bit of a tirade against FDR and the New Deal tonight, charging that unemployment increased during Roosevelt's first six years, and that Roosevelt had, if anything, damaged the economy. The first thing I wonder, then, is why was Roosevelt so popular: his 1936 reelection was by one of the largest margins ever, and he went on to an unprecedented four terms. Part of the reason is that the charges are basically bogus, but the more important thing is that Roosevelt's policies promoted a fairer, more equal distribution of the fruits of the economy. Even before the economy recovered, FDR improved the lot of most of the poor, and he made all of the poor feel like they were pulling together. He also set the stage for the postwar boom, not least by laying the basis for mass middle class consumption -- the new houses, cars, and appliances that characterized the growth throughout the 1950s.

When I finally walked into the TV room, I saw that the tirade was being given at the Heritage Foundation. Clearly, the more Obama invokes the New Deal, the more bitterly the right will feel the need to contest New Deal history. One thing you won't find them talking about is how the Republican policies of the 1920s and the 2000s led to depressions. They did so through increasing inequality, driving more and more Americans into marginal status while helping the rich feather their inflated profits.

David Kurtz: NRCC: The Fundamentals of Our Economy Are Strong!. Snapshot of the National Republican Congressional Committee's website as late as yesterday, featuring the timeless quote: "Thanks to Republian economic policies, the U.S. economy is robust and job creation is strong." Yes, thanks indeed.

Friday, January 23, 2009

House Log

Still hob-nobbled, unable to get much work done on the kitchen. Jerry had another bad day with the doctors. Matt is still off. Got bid from Smith Tile on the floor, and it came in way upscale, almost double what the salesman originally guessed. Called up another flooring contractor, whose guess on the install part (no material, at least no tile) was about one third of Smith's. We'll go out tile shopping again tomorrow. Called a drywall guy, hoping to get someone who could take care of the crinkle-paint wall -- probably just needs a skim coat. Might be a good place to practice a skill that would be worth having sooner or later, but I've seen people do it, and I've shown no knack for it whatsoever. We will throughout the project have occasional need for putting up bits of drywall -- e.g., above the stove, around the vent hood -- and smoothing things over. One more thing to get a quote on is putting up a new sheet rock ceiling in place of the current dropped thing. The latter is ugly, but nowhere near as ugly as the old lathe and plaster thing.

Did get one milestone accomplished today: glued the corner unit together. It's been tricky for a lot of reasons: the two sides are asymetrical (one 8-inches, the other 10.5), as are the depths, so the shelves can be wedged off at 45 degrees; only two shelves and the top are fixed; the other shelves are adjustable, so I had to drill out all the possible peg holes (skipped over roughly a foot from each of the fixed shelves; only cut three adjustable shelves, so I expect fairly wide spacing); the corner support is a 3.375-inch wide piece of plywood, beveled back at 45 degrees, with the shelves (but not the cap) cut to butt onto it (the fixed shelf sides are dadoed); secured the cap with dowels, which were hard to get to line up right, but a big help in assembly. Will tack the backs on tomorrow. Not sure how I want to handle the toe-kick.

Still haven't started painting. Weather took a nasty cold turn today, even worse tonight. Weather looks bad for the next week.

Envoys

The thing that struck me in the introduction of Obama's new special envoys is that George Mitchell's remarks staked out a search for peace, but Richard Holbrooke's remarks reiterated his lust for war. They were followed up with a couple of US rockets killing 15 or more Pakistanis today. The former will certainly be difficult, given the array of political forces lined up to keep Israel's war against its people and its neighbors going indefinitely. But the latter is going to be even harder to make work. Not that the war itself is difficult, but getting anything good out of the casual slaughter of civilians is impossible -- not to mention how severe the possibilities for blowback in Pakistan are.


Paul Woodward: Does Israel fear its friends more than its enemies? The Mitchell appointment is already drawing a lot of flack, the most common charge being that Mitchell is "too balanced." You'd think that would be a big plus, especially given the repeated failures of such unbalanced predecessors as Dennis Ross and Elliott Abrams.

Tony Karon: Change Gaza Can Believe In. Tom Engelhardt's introduction sets the context:

Yes, we now know the ever grimmer statistics: more than 1,400 dead Gazans (and rising as bodies are dug out of the rubble); 5,500 wounded; hundreds of children killed; 4,000 to 5,000 homes destroyed and 20,000 damaged -- 14% of all buildings in Gaza; 50,000 or more homeless; 400,000 without water; 50 U.N. facilities, 21 medical facilities, 1,500 factories and workshops, and 20 mosques reportedly damaged or destroyed; the smashed schools and university structures; the obliterated government buildings; the estimated almost two billion dollars in damage; all taking place on a blockaded strip of land 25 miles long and 4 to 7.5 miles wide that is home to a staggering 1.4 million people. [ . . . ] Whatever the damage done to Hamas, what happened in Gaza was, simply put, a civilian slaughter.

Karon's argument is that the Gaza fiasco gives Obama an opportunity, perhaps even a mandate, to change policy in the region: "In Gaza in the last few weeks, however, the Bush approach imploded, leaving Obama no choice but to initiate a new policy of his own." Key paragraphs in the background:

Hamas's move onto the electoral track had, in fact, presented a great opportunity for any American administration inclined towards grown-up diplomacy, rather than the infantile fantasy of reengineering the region's politics in favor of chosen "moderates." So, in 2006, the U.S. immediately slapped sanctions on the new government, seeking to reverse the results of the Palestinian election through collective punishment of the electorate. The U.S. also blocked Saudi efforts to broker a Palestinian government of national unity by warning that Abbas would be shunned by the U.S. and Israel if he opted for rapprochement with the majority party in his legislature. Washington appears to have even backed a coup attempt by U.S.-trained, Fatah-controlled militia in Gaza, which resulted in Fatah's bloody expulsion from there in the summer of 2007.

The failed U.S.-Israeli strategy of trying to depose Hamas reached its nadir in the pre-inauguration bloodbath in Gaza, which not only reinforced Hamas politically, but actually weakened those anointed as "moderates" as part of a counterinsurgency strategy against Hamas and its support base.

Philip Weiss: Several important writers declare that Israel is committing 'suicide'. Quotes Daniel Levy saying that "the mainstream American Jewish lobby was 'driving Israel toward national suicide,'" then goes on to round up a long list of similar articles/themes. I've cited Ali Abunimah's "Why Israel Won't Survive" in a previous post. Other pieces sited are by Immanuel Wallerstein, Mark LeVine, Rolf Verleger, Normal Finkelstein, Noam Chomsky, and John Mearsheimer. One irony of all this is the Two State Solution, poisoned by settlement building, was the last viable system for ensuring a strong, state-dominating Jewish majority in a substantial portion of mandatory Palestine. It was killed by greed and arrogance, reducing Israel to a pariah state. It's hard to see that even America will stand by Israel until the bitter end.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Gaza Wrapup

The article in the Wichita Eagle today is titled: "Hamas reappears, claims victory." Israel is withdrawing its forces from Gaza, claiming to have taught the Palestinians a brutal lesson. As the headline shows, the lesson learned is not the same as the lesson taught. The lesson learned is easily spun into a tale of survival and perseverance against a savage oppressor. But then, we could have told you all that three weeks ago, before all this futile death and destruction escalated. This war served no purpose other than to stroke the egos of those who perpetrated it, in particular the Olmert-Barak-Livni troika.

What follows are rather scattered links, picked up over a couple of days. Hopefully this will hold us for a while.


Paul Woodward: Olmert's "mission accomplished". At best this looks like George Aiken's Vietnam strategy: declare victory and leave. The problem is not that the declaration is phony. The real problem is that Israel isn't any good at leaving. At most they'll withdraw behind their walls and blockades and periodically shell Gaza to remind the Palestinians who is responsible for their plight.

Ilan Pappe: Israel's message. One thing Pappe makes clear is that Israel has been planning its assault on Gaza for several years -- going so far as to build a dummy Arab city in the Negev desert to practice its urban warfare scenarios.

Uri Avnery: The Boss Has Gone Mad. They key to understanding this war is that neither side can understand the logic of the other, or even acknowledge it. Hamas, for instance, think that all they have to do is withstand and survive whatever slaughter Israel directs at them; that denying Israel victory is tantamount to winning (cf. Ali Abunimah below). As such, Hamas feels little fear in provoking Israel, since Israel's kneejerk reaction is only to lash out and weaken its position. There is some truth to this logic, as should be clear from the numerous pieces I've cited (cf. Mearsheimer below) on the inevitability of Israel's failure ("defeat" is the term most used, because it contrasts more sharply with their victory talk).

Israel repeatedly falls into this trap because they can't conceive of it. This is largely because they're following their own bizarre logic (cf. Glenn Greenwald's piece on Thomas Friedman below). Avnery has a fairly good description of this logic:

In this war, politicians and generals have repeatedly quoted the words: "The boss has gone mad!" originally shouted by vegetable vendors in the market, in the sense of "The boss has gone crazy and is selling the tomatoes at a loss!" But in the course of time the jest has turned into a deadly doctrine that often appears in Israeli public discourse: in order to deter our enemies, we must behave like madmen, go on the rampage, kill and destroy mercilessly.

In this war, this has become political and military dogma: only if we kill "them" disproportionately, killing a thousand of "them" for ten of "ours," will they understand that it's not worth it to mess with us. It will be "seared into their consciousness" (a favorite Israeli phrase these days). After this, they will think twice before launching another Qassam rocket against us, even in response to what we do, whatever that may be.

Despite being dressed up like a Crazy Eddie's commercial -- a very successful discount electronics chain in New York back when I lived there; don't know if it even exists today -- this is pretty old logic. Britain built their empire on shows of outrageously gratuitous violence, an idea they no doubt picked up from Rome. More recently, Nazi Germany proclaimed their 100-to-1 policy for pacifying the Balkans. You can't say this never works, but depends on the psychology of the victims to draw the intended conclusions, and the Palestinians have largely immunized themselves. The last Palestinian standing in Gaza will still be thumbing his nose, declaring victory-by-survival. By that time the absurdity of the Israeli logic will have turned into genocide, and Israel will really have lost by winning.

John J Mearsheimer: Another War, Another Defeat. A useful general history relevant to the latest siege, but going back as far as Ze'ev Jabotinsky's Iron Wall dogma. Given those roots, the evolution of the conflict was predictable:

Let's begin with Israel's decision to withdraw from Gaza in 2005. The conventional wisdom is that Israel was serious about making peace with the Palestinians and that its leaders hoped the exit from Gaza would be a major step toward creating a viable Palestinian state. According to the New York Times' Thomas L. Friedman, Israel was giving the Palestinians an opportunity to "build a decent mini-state there -- a Dubai on the Mediterranean," and if they did so, it would "fundamentally reshape the Israeli debate about whether the Palestinians can be handed most of the West Bank."

This is pure fiction. Even before Hamas came to power, the Israelis intended to create an open-air prison for the Palestinians in Gaza and inflict great pain on them until they complied with Israel's wishes. Dov Weisglass, Ariel Sharon's closest adviser at the time, candidly stated that the disengagement from Gaza was aimed at halting the peace process, not encouraging it. He described the disengagement as "formaldehyde that's necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians." Moreover, he emphasized that the withdrawal "places the Palestinians under tremendous pressure. It forces them into a corner where they hate to be."

Arnon Soffer, a prominent Israeli demographer who also advised Sharon, elaborated on what that pressure would look like. "When 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it's going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful. It's going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day."

Stephen M Walt: The Myth of Israel's strategic genius. Reviews much of the relevant history since 1948, including the abortive 1956 Suez war and Israel's early backing of Hamas against the PLO.

The moral of this story is that there is no reason to think that Israel always has well-conceived strategies for dealing with the problems that it faces. In fact, Israel's strategic judgment seems to have declined steadily since the 1970s -- beginning with the 1982 invasion of Lebanon -- perhaps because unconditional U.S. support has helped insulate Israel from some of the costs of its actions and made it easier for Israel to indulge strategic illusions and ideological pipe-dreams.

On the other hand, Israel's behavior since the 1979 treaty with Egypt makes more sense if you consider the challenges of perpetuating militarism in an era where there are no longer any credible military threats. From 1948 into the 1970s, the IDF was the force that held Israeli society together, its common unity against the world. The 1967 triumph both exalted the IDF and rendered it obsolete. Rather than face a world where Israel would be accepted as a normal state, they've desperately scoured for new threats, taking matters that could easily be resolved, and blowing them up into terror threats that are only exacerbated by Israel's military doctrine.

Ali Abunimah: Why Israel won't survive. Starts with a photo of Israelis outside Gaza watching the air strikes through binoculars and dancing in celebration. The easily predictable conclusion:

To win, Israel had to break Palestinian resistance. It failed. On the contrary, it galvanized and unified Palestinians like never before.

Still, that doesn't explain the title, which has more to do with how Israel keeps entrenching itself as a pariah state, worse than apartheid South Africa. I'm less convinced by the conclusion than by the analogy: in at least one way Israel is far worse for having built an economy that totally dispenses with Palestinian labor, thereby making the Palestinians disposable. While Israelis would prefer to keep the land and dispose of the people, the numbers are such that Israel could easily survive just by disposing of the Occupied Territories, which are expensive, offensive, and of little real value (despite their powerful symbolism within Israeli political rhetoric).

Gershom Gorenberg: The Other Housing Crisis. Why can't Israel make peace? More specifically, why can't Israel just walk away and turn a blind eye toward Gaza, land they no longer have any real interest in or desire for ("the snake pit" is their phrase for it)? "It's the settlements, stupid." Sharon sacrificed Gaza to shore up the settlements on the West Bank. Israel wants a compliant Palestinian Authority to legitimize their West Bank land grab, and Hamas challenges that -- even if Hamas is sequestered in Gaza, they still exert influence and pressure in the West Bank.

The key thing to understand about the settlements is that they're not just an attempt to assert "facts on the ground." They are a poison pill that Israel swallowed to prevent future generations of political leaders from making peace. Thus far it's been pretty effective.

Gershom Gorenberg: The War as warm-up act for Obama. Israel has been planning its siege of Gaza ever since they pulled out in 2005, much as they had planned on punishing Lebanon in 2006 ever since they withdrew IDF forces from Lebanon in 2000. So in some sense, the war was inevitable, but the timing was something else:

The diplomatic timing for the war looked lovely. The U.S. president who loved military action was still in power, though fading into the shadows. The new president, dynamic and popular, hadn't yet entered office. There was no one to interfere, to pressure us to stop.

We don't know if the Olmert-Livni-Barak triumvirate deliberately picked that window of opportunity. If so, it already looks like another of the war's mistakes -- perhaps the only welcome miscalculation. For instead of preventing American involvement, their decision to go to war on the eve of Barack Obama's inauguration may well force him to intervene in the Israeli-Palestinian arena and push for a diplomatic solution.

My own pet theory still is that Elliott Abrams, deep within the bowels of the Bush administration, cooked this little war up as a "December Suprise" -- a mess to bedevil the incoming administration, a parting gift from the lame ducks. I haven't seen anyone else pick up on this idea. There are many angles to the timing, most obviously the pending Israeli elections. Moreover, the sudden disengagement on the eve of Obama's inauguration shows clearly they didn't want to put Obama into a corner where he might push for a ceasefire.

Glenn Greenwald: Tom Friedman offers a perfect definition of "terrorism". Last Wednesday the New York Times offered not one but two op-ed pieces glorying in Israel's attack on Gaza: one by Jonathan Goldberg, the other by Thomas Friedman and his "sociopathic lust of a single war cheerleader." Friedman is especially enamored of using collective punishment to "educate" Hamas -- citing 2006's war to "educate" Hezbollah as a good precedent.

The war strategy which Friedman is heralding -- what he explicitly describes with euphemism-free candor as "exacting enough pain on civilians" in order to teach them a lesson -- is about as definitive of a war crime as it gets. It also happens to be the classic, textbook definition of "terrorism." [ . . . ] Other than the fact that Friedman is advocating these actions for an actual state rather than a "subnational group," can anyone identify any differences between (a) what Friedman approvingly claims was done to the Lebanese and what he advocates be done to Palestinians and (b) what the State Department formally defines as "terrorism"? I doubt anyone can. Isn't Friedman's "logic" exactly the rationale used by Al Qaeda: we're going to inflict "civilian pain" on Americans so that they stop supporting their government's domination of our land and so their government thinks twice about bombing more Muslim countries?

As I mentioned above, the lessons learned here don't match up with the lessons taught. Moreover, it should have been obvious that this would be the case. In fact, all you need to do to see that is to be able to imagine a scenario where the roles are reversed: would Jews, in the world of 2009, accept the sort of ghettoization plus terror they've imposed on Gaza? Or for that matter, would they passively accept the ghettos their ancestors were forced to live in back in Europe? Ehud Barak pretty much answered that when he said that if he were Palestinian he'd be a terrorist.

Given the inevitability of failure in these attempts to "educate" the Palestinians, what else drives them? About the only answer I can come up with is sadism.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

House Log

Hoped to get started on painting the shelf units today, but Matt didn't show up, and neither did the paint. I cut some little plugs to fill router holes, then glued them in, along with supports for the toe kicks. Also did some work on the corner unit: cutting the back support, and routing the sides. Not much for a day, but the latter was stuff I had depended on Jerry to do, so I feel a small bit of accomplishment.

Flooring contractor came over to look at space. Will mail us a bid for the job. Would have been easier had he just come up with something. Now we have all the more reason to shop around. Ordered some 2x14 toe-kick registers. Not sure they're the right answer, but will give them a try. Fallback would be a much more expensive custom grille, or maybe just hacking something out of scrap metal.

Wichita Eats

My niece Rachel Hull put out a RFC for input to a post she intends to do for our favorite food blog, Porkalicious, on choice spots to eat in Wichita. She lists her own as: Artichoke [pub food], Jack's [a burger stand across the street from North High], Saigon [Vietnamese], Beacon [don't know], Connie's [Mexican], N&J's [Lebanese], and "the Mexican popsicle guy." She lives in DC, so her list is a bit dated -- Jack's burned down a year ago, but may come back under new management -- and (shall we say?) nostalgic. She welcomes info on bakeries and shops, and suggests avoiding non-local chains (while professing love for Schlotzky's and Jason's Deli). My response, more a quick brain dump than a considered analysis:

  • Some places on your list I like but don't choose them very often (Artichokes Sandwich Shop, N&J). Also don't much care for Mexican and Vietnamese, the two big minority cuisines here.
  • I don't know what the problem with Vietnamese is. I shop in Vietnamese markets like Thai Binh, but the 4-5 restaurants I've eaten in never impressed me. (Used to be a decent Vietnamese BBQ on 21st near Thai Binh; currently there is a place on Pawneee I can't remember the name of which is decent.)
  • Ridiculous number of Mexican restaurants here. My favorite by a huge margin is El Paisa [2227 N Arkansas]: good meat place, with thin, tasty steaks and pork chops, and odds and ends like tongue. Used to be a good chicken place on 25th. Probably a lot more -- we don't really seek them out.
  • There are a lot of good, mostly inexpensive Lebanese-run quasi-French restaurants: Bella Luna [4618 E Central, plus two more locations], more continental; Le Monde [602 N West], again continental; La Galette [1017 W Douglas], lunch only, quiche, sandwiches, good patisserie; Nouvelle Cafe [3101 N Rock], crepes, has a Lebanese buffet once a week.
  • Good as Lebanese food is, the Turks kick it up a notch. Cafe Istanbul used to be our favorite restaurant here, but the restaurant turned over recently, becoming Wichita Kebab House [120 N West]: prices went up, and they started mixing tahini into the eggplant appetizer, so we don't go nearly as often. Still pretty good.
  • Passage to India [6140 E 21st] has developed into a very good Indian restaurant -- tandori fish, chicken makhni, lamb shahi korma.
  • Thai Tradition [650 N Carriage Pkwy] is far and away the best Thai restaurant in town. Not on the menu, but I've managed to get panang curry duck there a couple of times.
  • Cafe Asia [6546 E Central] has Thai and Chinese, plus a few Malaysian dishes -- we go for their marvelous twist on Kung Pao. Manna Wok [4865 E Harry] mixes Chinese with Korean -- go for the latter, and make sure you order the kim chi instead of the salad.
  • Yen Ching [430 N Rock] is still the best Chinese restaurant in town, although Kwan Court [1443 N Rock] could challenge it if we didn't always order sushi there. Mama Sans [3811 W 13th] is a rare Japanese restaurant that doesn't serve sushi, so it's the only one where we eat other Japanese fare -- tempura, teriyaki, eel.
  • Back in the USA we like Red Bean's Bayou Grill [7447 W 21st], a good Cajun spot, which also has an odd page in the menu reprising entrées from the owner's defunct Red Mesa Grill spinoff -- the pesto butter cream enchiladas rival the oysters boudreaux, both following nicely after the duck tenders.
  • Best BBQ (ribs, anyway) is at Hog Wild [1200 S Rock was the first of now four locations]; Pig In Pig Out [1003 E 13th] and Julius Rib Cage [2958 S Seneca] are also candidates.
  • Best hamburger joint is Charlie's Famous Burgers [3200 W 13th], although I also like the skinny ones at Freddy's Frozen Custard [8621 W 21st, fast becoming a chain with 3 more in Wichita, 1 in El Dorado, and who knows where else] -- custard isn't bad either.
  • Stroud's [3661 N Hillside] remains a good place for fried chicken and chicken fried steak, although we generally agreed that Mom's was better. Out of town you can go to Carriage Crossing in Yoder or make the big trek to Brookville Hotel, now in Abilene. We've been known to make both trips.
  • Wichita Fish [1601 W Douglas] is where I go for fried catfish, and also to shop for everything from trout to soft shell crabs.
  • There are no good Italian restaurants. We go to Carrabba's for lack of anything better (especially now that Macaroni Grill shut down). Also no obvious pizza preferences, although we get by with chains. Someone could do well with a Bertucci's franchise.
  • Same thing for Jewish delis and bagel shops -- Finagle a Bagel would blow everyone away; even Einstein Bros. would be a hit.
  • Still, in the final analysis, the best place to eat in Wichita is chez moi. Temporarily closed for remodelling, but due to reopen in a few weeks (or, ugh, months): down home country cooking, with occasional ventures to China, India, Thailand, Iran, Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, Spain, Italy, Greece, Russia, and Brazil, plus chopped liver and homemade lox.

Monday, January 19, 2009

House Log

Got up late and worked on weekly web stuff. Went out to paint store, where we met cabinet maker. Finalized on a cabinet color (Ice Mist). Also worked out a color scheme for the shelf units and rest of the dining room/kitchen/pantry: wall color will be Yarmouth Blue; shelf unit color: Philipsburg Blue; trim hilight color: Van Deusen Blue. Additional cabinets we built in the kitchen/pantry area will be Ice Mist, like the cabinets. The three blues run from light to dark, and from flat to semi-gloss.

Picked up custom ordered Onyx vanity top from Lowe's today. Looks to me like they screwed up and gave us a gloss rather than a matte finish. The gloss finish looks a lot like cultured marble, whereas the matte finish should look more like solid surface. Vanity top also has a lip around the outside edge, which also strikes me as an option we didn't want or order. Need to find the paperwork on this. Color is Tranquility, which is sort of a moss-marble hybrid.

Should start painting the shelf units tomorrow. Floor contractor is coming for an estimate. Big day. Time to push project up a gear.

Music Week

Music: Current count 15105 [15090] rated (+15), 739 [738] unrated (+1). While the construction goes on, I should considered 15 rateds a pretty good week. I doubt that I can do much more.

Jazz Prospecting (CG #19, Part 3)

No news on the pending Jazz Consumer Guide column. It's in the Voice's mill and presumably will come out sooner or later. I'm preoccupied with work on my house. Taking spare moments to keep from falling too far behind, but time for working on this is limited. I expect it to get far worse over the next 2-3 weeks, then start to return to normal. We've been somewhat limited as long as we were still making decisions, but the big ones are nearly all done now. In particular, there is a lot of painting to be done once we select the colors, which should be today. Meanwhile, I'll limp along with whatever jazz prospecting I can slip in. Here's some.


Brian McCree: Changes in the Wind (2005-06 [2009], Accurate): Low profile: Google ignores my spelling and returns links to a Flint, MI stand-up commedian named Bryan McCree. Wrong guy. This one plays bass. First album, with close to 10 side credits back to 1991. Worked in Boston for a while, but moved to Hawaii in 2003. Largely a group album, with one McCree original, two covers ("Nature Boy," "The Breeze and I"), and the rest from the band: two from Salim Washington (tenor sax, flute, oboe); one each from Bill Lowe (bass trombone), Joel LaRue Smith (piano), and Ron Murphy (vocals). Murphy's deep vocals, limited to the opening "Nature Boy" and his "Cookie" at the end, frame the album with soulful gravitas -- not as impressive as Everett Greene, but in the same vein. Washington is a first-rate saxophonist, with more edge than expected in the otherwise mainstream flow, and his flute piece holds up pretty nicely. B+(**)

Matt Criscuolo: Melancholia (2008 [2009], M): Alto saxophonist, from the Bronx, attended Manhattan School of Music. Third album, a sax-with-strings thing which comes off better than usual, something we can credit to pianist-arranger Larry Willis. Still, that means pretty at best, and at worst struggles to keep seasickness in check. Starts with two originals, then one from Willis, two each from Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter, and the title track from Billy Eckstine. Not a title I'd aspire to. B- [Mar. 3]

Ray Bryant: In the Back Room (2004-08 [2008], Evening Star): Veteran pianist, b. 1931, came up in the late 1950s, has worked steadily ever since, with some popular success in the 1960s, and not much credit thereafter. This one is solo, a format he uses more often than I'd advise. A mix of originals and Fats Waller songs, with a couple more -- closing songs are "Easy to Love" and "St. Louis Blues." Always had a light, elegant touch, much in evidence here. B+(**)

The Blue Note 7: Mosaic (2008 [2009], Blue Note): Bill Charlap's superb trio with Peter Washington and Lewis Nash, plus four: Nicholas Payton (trumpet), Steve Wilson (alto sax, flute), Ravi Coltrane (tenor sax), Peter Bernstein (guitar). Songs from landmark Blue Note albums, written by Cedar Walton, Joe Henderson, McCoy Tyner, Bobby Hutcherson, Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock, Duke Pearson, Horace Silver. How bad can it be? Still crunching the numbers here, but it doesn't sound promising. [B-]

Donald Bailey: Blueprints of Jazz, Vol. 3 (2008 [2009], Talking House): Drummer, b. 1934, best known for his work with Jimmy Smith 1956-63, which pretty much covers Smith's prime period. Quite a few scattered credits follow: AMG goes into three pages, with the rate picking up after 1990, but the later listings include lots of reissues. First album, or maybe second. Drummers who don't write rarely get their name on top of albums -- Art Blakey being the rule-proving exception -- but we've seen a few exceptions lately, including Mike Clark's on this same label. Can't say as he has any particular style, but he has interesting taste in friends: he turns most of the album over to tenor sax titan Odean Pope, for a bruising, bravado performance, then closes out with Charles Tolliver on two cuts, one enhanced by the leader's harmonica. B+(***) [Mar. 17]

Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet: Infinity (2008, Patois): Trombonist, b. 1952 in San Francisco, studied at SF State and, committing himself to Latin jazz, La Escuela Nacional in Havana. Latin credits predominate, although he also played with the Asian-American Jazz Orchestra. Sixth album since 2000. The four I've heard have been perfunctory and underwhelming: I like the trombone quotient, don't care much for the occasional vocals (two here by Jackie Ryan, one by Orlando Torriente), and wish somone would set a fire under the percussionists. This one is typical: lots of nice moments, nothing that really stands out. B

Donald Vega: Tomorrows (2008 [2009], Imagery): Pianist, from Los Angeles (most likely; details are fuzzy), studied at USC, Manhatton School of Music, Julliard -- the latter under Kenny Barron, who seems to be the appropriate model. Wrote six of nine pieces, with "Speak Low," "Indian Summer," and Charlie Haden's "Our Spanish Love Song" the covers. Trio, with David J. Grossman on bass, the redoubtable Lewis Nash on drums. Maria Neckam sings one Vega original -- neither the singer nor the song are very deep, but it mostly works. A subtle, erudite pianist, doing nice work. B+(*)

The Burr Johnson Band: What It Is (2008 [2009], Lexicon): Guitarist, toured with Jack McDuff; ninth record since early 1990s, including 2 for children, several with this Band, a guitar-bass-drums trio. Favors funk licks, and puts some fancy spin on them. Three songs come with lyrics, and an uncredited singer with reason to remain anonymous. B [Feb. 5]

Liam Sillery: Outskirts (2007 [2009], OA2): Trumpeter, from New Jersey, studied at University of South Florida and Manhattan School of Music, counting Joe Henderson as a significant influence. Third album, a quintet with Matt Blostein on alto sax, Jesse Stacken on piano, Thomas Morgan on bass, and Vinnie Sperrazza on drums. Sounds almost perfectly postbop, especially when Blostein is leading. Hadn't run into Blostein before: he has one record, co-credited with Sperrazza. Wouldn't mind hearing it. B+(**)

John Ettinger/Pete Forbes: Inquatica (2007 [2008], Ettinger Music): Ettinger is a violinist, from San Francisco; this is his third album, with him also playing a little piano and bass, as well as setting up loops. Not sure about Forbes. Most likely he is a singer-songwriter with two previous albums, but here he plays drums, percussion, banjo (2 cuts), and piano (3 cuts), but doesn't sing and may not songwrite either. Comes off mostly as an aleatory electronics album, even if most of the sounds are acoustic. One cover, a lovely, haunting "Stardust." Compelling when they pick up a beat, and intriguing when they merely wander. B+(***)

KJ Denhert: Dal Vivo a Umbria Jazz (2008, Motema Music): Singer-songwriter, also plays guitar, from New York, has seven or so albums since 1999, although her career goes back to the 1980s. AMG genrefies her as Neo-Soul; her own website refers to her as "urban folk & jazz artist." Recorded live in Italy, with electric guitar and bass, piano and keys, percussion as well as drums, and Aaron Heick on sax. Covers include "Ticket to Ride" and "Message in a Bottle." Don't see much point in either. B-

Steve Carter Group: Cosmopolis (2008, CDBaby): No indication of a label, but record is available on CDBaby -- lacking anything better I usually go with that. Promo sheet lacks any useful information, but the hype is stratospheric: "The Steve Carter Group is taking the art of the jazz piano trio into the 21st century. They are modern, fresh, edgy and dramatic. They are edgy whether they are playing an up-tempo, hi-energy groove or a beautiful ballad." Of course, they aren't. At best they are pleasantly funky, with Carter on electric piano and Dennis Smith on fretless electric bass. Most likely, not the same Steve Carter who plays guitar and has a couple of Light Fare albums, nor the Scottish composer-photographer of the same name. This one has worked with Pete Escovedo and Andy Narell; has TV, film, and video games on his resume; and was part of a Latin hip-hop group called Los Mocosos. B

Jazz Arts Trio: Tribute (2008, JRI): Piano trio: Frederick Moyer on piano, Peter Tillotson on bass, Peter Fraenkel on drums. The tribute idea is to pick out performances from their favorite piano trios and redo (or "reinterpret") them. It's safe to say their favorite is Oscar Peterson, who accounts for 6 of 11 songs here, the others good for one piece each: Erroll Garner, Bill Evans, Vince Guaraldi, Herbie Hancock, and Horace Silver. Nice little exercise, of no particular importance, but anyone who can play like Peterson is entitled to do so. B+(*)

Ken Hatfield and Friends: Play the Music of Bill McCormick: To Be continued . . . (2008, M/Pub): Guitarist, also plays mandolin, has half dozen albums since 1998. AMG lists his first style as "folk-jazz" -- don't really know what that means, but he does have some folkie in his veins: sharp plucks, a little twang, maybe a hint of John Fahey or Doc Watson. Don't know much about McCormick, who presumably wrote the music -- he also wrote the liner notes, is probably pictured on the back cover, isn't credited as playing except in some fine print in the booklet, and seems to be the "M" in M/Pub. Jim Clouse plays soprano and tenor sax, more for color than anything else. With Hans Glawischnig on bass, Dan Weiss on drums, and Steve Kroon on percussion. Surprised me enough I'll have to play it again. [B+(**)]

Hendrik Meurkens: Samba to Go! (2008 [2009], Zoho): Dutch-born (1957), German-raised, Berklee-educated, New York-based, plays vibes and harmonica, the latter now his main instrument. Has 14 albums since 1990, nearly all in a Brazilian vein -- his first was called Sambahia, and this one follows the very similar Sambatropolis. Soft tones, especially when Rodrigo Ursala brings out the flutes, and soft rhythms, bringing together the mushiness samba is prone to, spicing it so lightly one hardly notices. B-

Mike Holober & the Gotham Jazz Orchestra: Quake (2008 [2009], Sunnyside): Pianist, teaches at CCNY, has four albums, at least two with his Gotham Jazz Orchestra big band, plus a couple dozen side credits going back to 1991. I was pleasantly surprised by his Thought Trains album, and generally find him to be a handy guy wherever he shows up. For some reason, he tackles one song each from the Beatles ("Here Comes the Sun") and the Rolling Stones ("Ruby Tuesday"). I have mixed feelings, especially about the former, a song I can easily get too much of, done up with enough clever touches to be admirable, almost listenable even. B+(*)

Ray LeVier: Ray's Way (2007 [2009], Origin): Drummer, based in New York, has worked with KJ Denhert for 10 years, but doesn't have much in the way of credits. First album. Must have worked his way around, for he came up with a name roster, having to divide the guitar slots between John Abercrombie (5 cuts, with Joe Locke on vibes) and Mike Stern (4 cuts). Dave Binney play sax on two cuts with each guitarist. François Moutin and Ned Mann split bass duties, and Federico Turreni gets one cut on soprano sax. LeVier wrote 2 of 9 songs, picking up others from the band, plus "Blues in the Closet" by Oscar Pettiford. Straightforward postbop, providing an especially good showcase for the guitarists, with Stern more than holding his own. B+(**)


No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.


I've been keeping track of incoming material in my notebook for some time now, but hadn't posted it in the blog. Thought it might be of minor interest, and this might be a good time to start.

Unpacking:

  • Ernestine Anderson: A Song for You (High Note)
  • Theo Bleckmann/Kneebody: Twelve Songs by Charles Ives (Winter & Winter)
  • Bill Bruford: The Winterfold Collection (1978-86, Winterfold)
  • Bill Bruford: The Summerfold Collection (1987-2008, Summerfold)
  • Frank Carlberg: The American Dream (Red Piano)
  • Eddie Daniels and Roger Kellaway: A Duet of One: Live at the Bakery (IPO): Feb. 10
  • Richie Goods & Nuclear Fusion: Live at the Zinc Bar (RichMan)
  • Tom Harrell: Prana Dance (High Note)
  • Jon Hassell: Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street (ECM): advance, Feb. 3
  • Alex Heitlinger: The Daily Life of Uncle Roger ([no label])
  • Eryan Katsenelenbogen: 88 Fingers (Eyran): Apr. 1
  • Linda Presgrave: Inspiration (Metropolitan): Feb. 17
  • Joshua Redman: Compass (Nonesuch)
  • Jason Rigby: The Sage (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Claudio Roditi: Brazilliance (Resonance): Feb. 10
  • Meryl Romer: So Sure (Lady Pearl Music): Apr. 7
  • Rokia Traoré: Tchamantché (Nonesuch)

Purchases:

  • Lil Wayne: Tha Carter III (Cash Money/Universal)
  • TI: Paper Trail (Grand Hustle/Atlantic)
  • TV on the Radio: Dear Science (DGC/Interscope)

Sunday, January 18, 2009

House Log

No help today. Didn't do much, other than to finish the tear out of the piece of plasterboard over the range. We should now be able to fit another in its place, to button up after the range hood is installed. Should be a lot of work this coming week. Looks like relatively good weather until Thursday and Friday, when it gets cold and snows.

Another Day (or Two) in the War

During the 2006 Israel/Lebanon war Condoleezza Rice went on and on about how she doesn't want a ceasefire that won't hold up over the long run. That was nonsense given that the single most important success factor in longterm ceasefires is to stop shooting now, before even more damage is done and even more revenge is due. But Israel has announced a ceasefire today that is exactly the sort of thing Rice fretted over two-and-a-half years ago: it's unilateral, so it has no corresponding commitment from Hamas; it leaves IDF troops in place in Gaza, where "militants" are almost certain to take umbrage and look for easy targets; it solves none of the problems that led Hamas to non-extend its previous 6-month truce. In other words, it is nothing but a propaganda ploy, meant to stall for time. It may also reflect the fact that next week will see a new US president, who while slavishly committed to Israel doesn't seem to share the old president's lust for violence, let alone his blind faith in the power of force to clarify things. As brash as they can with the rest of the world, Israeli leaders tend to be cautious with American leaders. They have, after all, burnt their bridges with the rest of the world (well, except for Micronesia), so they need to be extra careful about offending the US.

The other likely reason behind their thinking is that they're running out of ostensible goals and targets, milestones to justify their adventure. They did, after all, finally manage to blow up UN headquarters -- with white phosphorus, no less; how's that for adding injury to insult? -- and to knock off the Reuters office. They're maintaining a kill ratio of some 300-to-1 over the toll inflicted by Hamas's rocket barrage. They've revealed themselves to be callous thugs with no ideas, no concerns for anyone else, no qualms about their own inhumane behavior.


Sir Gerald Kaufman: Israel's leaders are not simply war criminals; they are fools. Let's quote this at some length, a speech on the floor of the UK's House of Commons, by a member of the British Parliament:

I was brought up as an orthodox Jew and a Zionist. On a shelf in our kitchen, there was a tin box for the Jewish National Fund, into which we put coins to help the pioneers building a Jewish presence in Palestine.

I first went to Israel in 1961 and I have been there since more times than I can count. I had family in Israel and have friends in Israel. One of them fought in the wars of 1956, 1967 and 1973 and was wounded in two of them. The tie clip that I am wearing is made from a campaign decoration awarded to him, which he presented to me.

I have known most of the Prime Ministers of Israel, starting with the founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. Golda Meir was my friend, as was Yigal Allon, Deputy Prime Minister, who, as a general, won the Negev for Israel in the 1948 war of independence.

My parents came to Britain as refugees from Poland. Most of their families were subsequently murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust. My grandmother was ill in bed when the Nazis came to her home town of Staszow. A German soldier shot her dead in her bed.

My grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza. The current Israeli Government ruthlessly and cynically exploit the continuing guilt among gentiles over the slaughter of Jews in the holocaust as justification for their murder of Palestinians. The implication is that Jewish lives are precious, but the lives of Palestinians do not count.

On Sky News a few days ago, the spokeswoman for the Israeli army, Major Leibovich, was asked about the Israeli killing of, at that time, 800 Palestinians -- the total is now 1,000. She replied instantly that

"500 of them were militants."

That was the reply of a Nazi. I suppose that the Jews fighting for their lives in the Warsaw ghetto could have been dismissed as militants.

The Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni asserts that her Government will have no dealings with Hamas, because they are terrorists. Tzipi Livni's father was Eitan Livni, chief operations officer of the terrorist Irgun Zvai Leumi, who organised the blowing-up of the King David hotel in Jerusalem, in which 91 victims were killed, including four Jews.

Israel was born out of Jewish terrorism. Jewish terrorists hanged two British sergeants and booby-trapped their corpses. Irgun, together with the terrorist Stern gang, massacred 254 Palestinians in 1948 in the village of Deir Yassin. Today, the current Israeli Government indicate that they would be willing, in circumstances acceptable to them, to negotiate with the Palestinian President Abbas of Fatah. It is too late for that. They could have negotiated with Fatah's previous leader, Yasser Arafat, who was a friend of mine. Instead, they besieged him in a bunker in Ramallah, where I visited him. Because of the failings of Fatah since Arafat's death, Hamas won the Palestinian election in 2006. Hamas is a deeply nasty organisation, but it was democratically elected, and it is the only game in town. The boycotting of Hamas, including by our Government, has been a culpable error, from which dreadful consequences have followed.

The great Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban, with whom I campaigned for peace on many platforms, said:

"You make peace by talking to your enemies."

However many Palestinians the Israelis murder in Gaza, they cannot solve this existential problem by military means. Whenever and however the fighting ends, there will still be 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza and 2.5 million more on the West Bank. They are treated like dirt by the Israelis, with hundreds of road blocks and with the ghastly denizens of the illegal Jewish settlements harassing them as well. The time will come, not so long from now, when they will outnumber the Jewish population in Israel.

It is time for our Government to make clear to the Israeli Government that their conduct and policies are unacceptable, and to impose a total arms ban on Israel. It is time for peace, but real peace, not the solution by conquest which is the Israelis' real goal but which it is impossible for them to achieve. They are not simply war criminals; they are fools.

I don't agree with everything that Kaufman says here, but he makes a strong impression, precisely because he's willing to look beyond particular allegiances to general principles. You don't have to be Nazis to slough off your war kill as "militants" -- the UK did that for ages, the US too, and most likely any other occupier trying to stabilize their police state, while the Nazis did some things that are virtually without parallel, such as their use of slave labor as a path toward extermination. (The Soviet Union under Stalin came close, and several US states in the Jim Crow South ran their prison labor systems so brutally that death rates exceeded 50%.) But the structural congruence between the Warsaw Ghetto and Gaza is straightforward. Indeed, it's hard to think of other precedents for what Israel is doing there.

Still, the Israeli's aren't Nazis: that Kaufman falls back on those analogies just shows how close he is to Israel, where nearly every idea refracts back through the Holocaust. Israel actually modelled itself first on the British colonialists who sponsored their "homeland," then after independence adopted a couple of other unsavory models: the French in Algeria, and the Afrikaners in South Africa. They're also rather fond of the pacification of US Indians, especially when it resonates with US military support. (All that stuff about "making the desert bloom" really hit a favorable chord in the 1950s when American television was so dominated by westerns.) As such, Israel is fighting the dominant trend of the last century. That they've managed as well as they have has something to do with their tenacity and cohesiveness, but it's basically a numbers game: colonialists dominated in the US and Australia due to overwhelming demographics as well as superior technology; colonialists failed in Algeria and South Africa where numbers worked against them, despite technology and cunning. Israel is in between, still convinced they can win, still terrified they will lose, unwilling to look for a way out.

The reminder that Begin, Shamir, and Eitan Livni first made their claim to fame as terrorists might have had more resonance had Kaufman pointed out that their primary victims in the King David Hotel massacre weren't the four Jews or the more numerous Palestinians who perished with typical imprecision -- the main, intentional, victims were British. On the other hand, as the British know better than anyone, yesterday's terrorist often turns into some form of statesman -- the shreds of the British Empire are littered with such examples, going back at least as far as George Washington. Yasir Arafat was another example, or would have been had Israel been willing to follow through on the promises of Oslo. There's no reason to think that the surviving leaders of Hamas should be any different. The critical thing about them is that they represent a significant segment of the Palestinian people, and that they can credibly bring those people into a lawful political process if one can be devised that balances their rights and needs against Israel's. In this it doesn't help to call Hamas "a deeply nasty organization." Even if it were true, they would hardly be the only one; but in any case the goal should be to move beyond such nastiness, and that isn't the likely result of name-calling.

WarInContext: News & Views Roundup & Editor's Comment: January 15. Several pieces here: rather than cite them individually, this link gets you the bunch, plus Paul Woodward's invaluable comments. In particular, see his comment on the piece Turkish PM: Israel should be barred from UN:

[Turkish Prime Minister] Erdogan is right: Israel is thumbing its nose at global opinion with a conviction -- so far well-founded -- that it can act with impunity. Likewise, the killing of Hamas' Interior Minister Said Sayyam, one of the group's three most senior leaders, in an airstrike on Thursday, was, Haaretz reported: "apparently an attempt by Israel to deliver an image of victory in its offensive against Hamas."

A victory blow in the minds of Israel's leaders, but is this the way to secure a ceasefire? Israel's leaders seem to have acquired the diplomatic finesse of the Soprano Family. [ . . . ]

Israel now appears to be acting out a victory lust. Israel and its leaders have become intoxicated by their destructive capabilities to a point where they have lost their grip on reality. Israel is in a state of national psychosis.

Other articles cited:

  • Khaled Hroub: Hamas after the Gaza war. Starts by citing Moshe Yaalon's oft-quoted manifesto: "The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people." How quaintly, atavistically 19th century that quote is. Plausible examples include the US Indians and various African and Asian peoples under European colonialism. The 20th century saw virtually all of those defeats reversed -- the exception being the US Indians, who were gradually integrated into a pluralist society, not something Israel is willing to offer. On the other hand, with Israel setting the bar so high, all Hamas has to do to deny Israel victory is to survive, which they are certain to do because they build on the refuge of religion.

  • Gideon Levy: Someone must stop Israel's rampant madness in Gaza: The war continues to devolve into quicksand, with Israel's rhetoric unbounded, and no one else strong enough (meaning the US) caring enough to reign in the embarrassments: "now only the thirst for blood and lust for revenge speak out, together with the desperate longing for the 'victory shot' on the backs of hundreds and thousands of miserable civilians."

  • Tony Karon: How the Gaza war could end: three scenarios: Regime change, deposing Hamas from Gaza (not likely, even with a lot more fighting); negotiated longterm ceasefire (not likely, as it would involve Israel recognizing Hamas control of Gaza, and ending the blockade that has attempted to starve Gaza into submission); "the guns go silent without a formal truce" (pretty much Israel's unilateral, very conditional ceasefire).

  • Akiva Eldar: Inquiries show Olmert version of UN Gaza vote spat closer to truth than Rice's. Spin to the contrary, Olmert did manage to dictate US policy in the UN.

WarInContext: News & Views Roundup & Editor's Comments: January 15. Again, I want to point out a Paul Woodward comment:

Suppose the attempted US-backed coup through which Mohammed Dahlan's security force tried to oust Hamas in June 2007 had succeeded. And suppose Fatah and the Palestinian Authority had effectively swept Hamas off the political stage. Would this have destroyed Hamas? Of course not. The Islamist group would simply have re-focused its efforts on militant operations while Israel's "peace partner" would be wringing its hands saying it was doing all it could to limit attacks on Israel. Gaza would have been spared the current onslaught but rockets would still be fired on Israel -- as they were before Hamas won the elections.

The irony is that if Israel ever decides it really wants to negotiate peace, the group that can really deliver is the group most Israelis want to see destroyed.

The history is that Israel always attacks the Palestinian group most credibly able to deliver a peace agreement. We saw this most graphically in 2003-03: whenever Hamas launched a suicide bomber attack, Sharon blamed Arafat and shelled his compound in Ramallah. Hamas, like the PLO before them, only became a credible political threat once they gave up terror tactics and entered the mainstream. Israeli leaders understand that insurgent violence only strengthens their stance.

Trita Parsi: Israel, Gaza and Iran: Trapping Obama in Imagined Fault Lines. Explores the angle that Israel is countering Iranian influence by attacking Iran's alleged pawns in Hamas. As Parsi has explained at length elsewhere, Israel's obsession with Iran is largely a figment of their fevered relationship with Washington: the US has an old grudge against Iran -- the result of several legitimate grudges Iran has against the US -- and Israel has discovered that their stock rises whenever they can heat up the antipathy between the US and Iran. With Obama committed to opening talks with Tehran, Israel is all the more desperate. Iran, on the other hand, is all the more cautious, especially since they've never had more than a mild rhetorical interest in the plight of the Palestinians.

Neve Gordon: How to sell 'ethical warfare'. Meanwhile, note that Israel has arrested some 700 Israelis during the course of this assault on Gaza. The reason: protesting against Israel's war. As was clear from the start, this war is above all a political one, which is to say that its main focus is to hold Israeli political opinion in check. Gordon explains:

The Israeli media continuously emphasises Israel's restraint by underscoring the gap between what the military forces could do to the Palestinians and what they actually do. Here are a few examples of the refrains Israelis hear daily while listening to the news:

  • Israel could bomb houses from the air without warning, but it has military personnel contact -- by phone no less -- the residents 10 minutes in advance of an attack to alert them that their house is about to be destroyed. The military, so the subtext goes, could demolish houses without such forewarnings, but it does not do so because it values human life.
  • Israel deploys teaser bombs -- ones that do not actually ruin houses -- a few minutes before it fires lethal missiles; again, to show that it could kill more Palestinians but chooses not to do so.
  • Israel knows that Hamas leaders are hiding in al-Shifa hospital. The intimation is that it does not raze the medical centre to the ground even though it has the capacity to do so.
  • Due to the humanitarian crisis the Israeli military stops its attacks for a few hours each day and allows humanitarian convoys to enter the Gaza Strip. Again, the unspoken claim is that it could have barred these convoys from entering.

The message Israel conveys through these refrains has two different meanings depending on the target audience.

To the Palestinians, the message is one that carries a clear threat: Israel's restraint could end and there is always the possibility of further escalation. Regardless of how lethal Israel's military attacks are now, the idea is to intimidate the Palestinian population by underscoring that the violence can always become more deadly and brutal. This guarantees that violence, both when it is and when it is not deployed, remains an ever-looming threat.

The message to the Israelis is a moral one. The subtext is that the Israeli military could indiscriminately unleash its vast arsenal of violence, but chooses not to, because its forces, unlike Hamas, respect human life.

All of these themes are repeated in the propaganda Americans receive, coming through as high moral tone on top of complete dissociation from the reality of the war.


Update: One problem with Israel's unilateral ceasefire is that two can play that game. Hamas has announced their own, with the flourish that they're insisting that Israel withdraw from Gaza within one week. Hamas doesn't realistically have the power to eject Israel if they fail to comply, but this shifts the sense of who will be responsible for the ceasefire breaking down, and it gives Hamas a credible rationale to accept Israel's ceasefire -- for a week, anyway.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

House Log

A couple of big decisions. One is to paint the dining room shelf units. We had been expecting to stain them, partly, I suspect, because we went to the trouble of getting maple-covered plywood. The truth is we have been reacting against wood tones all through the project, most significantly in deciding to paint the kitchen cabinets white. But I bought four stain samples, tested them, and didn't like any of them. How much worse it would be to go to the trouble of staining the units and find we hate them. The paint color, on the other hand, took no time at all to decide: some shade of charcoal gray. Because they're shelves, we'll mostly just see the edges, sides, and background. A gray will provide a pretty neutral background for whatever we put on the shelves. They'll recede a bit compared to the light blue walls and steel blue window trim. This has been slowing us down for several days, so it's a pretty big breakthrough.

Second decision is to go with a slate gray porcelain tile for the floor. The one we've picked out has some nice color variation, with small black bubbles adding to the texture. Flooring contractor comes out Tuesday. Will cost more than we expected: with Jerry ailing and me not having any tile experience, we will farm this job out to the pros. It would be a slow slog to do it ourselves, and it would be a big thing to screw up. In a crunch, seems like the only sane thing to do.

Widened the hole in the wall for the vent hood duct, so I can actually push a 6-inch duct past the worst obstruction. Picked up a couple of pieces of duct to work with, but don't have everything I need yet. Good chance, I think, we can get the hood installed this week. Also tore out the cabinetry and countertop around the old stove. Gives us a better sense of how to plan out that end of the cabinetry. We didn't swap the stoves yet, although it wouldn't have been hard to do so. I still have some plaster to chip away above the old stove, to prepare a surface where we can put a new piece of plasterboard around the new vent hood. Also, the floor person thought we should tile under the stove (and refrigerator). I have my doubts about that, but they certainly need to be at the same level as the new floor, which will be approx. 1/2 inch higher than the current floor. So it would be a good idea to get that laid out before we wheel the new range into place.

Friday, January 16, 2009

House Log

Wrote a letter to my brother, in which I described the state of the project as follows:

Current situation: have seven bookshelf-cabinets for dining room built and ready to finish; still need to assemble the corner unit, ends of the south wall cabinets, and whatever ties the north wall shelves into the kitchen counter, plus wiring for outlets and light switches; kitchen cabinets on order, probably 1-1.5 weeks away from delivery/installation (cabinet maker will do latter); LG Hi-Macs solid surface countertop on order, to be fit and installed after cabinets are in; range, wall oven, and vent hood have arrived, so we are ready to go with all major appliances; we have an exit strategy for hood: 6-inch duct, shoots straight out through the shingles above the soffit; need some mods to ductwork to shoot air out from registers in toe-kicks in cabinets; need to move water line to move refrigerator to ex-island space (outlet already there); need to cut and assemble box around new refrigerator space, and cabinet space in front of chimney (between refrigerator and wall, moving intercom and light switch); have laminate countertop for pantry on order; need to build shelves above countertop for microwave and whatever -- design not final, but may merge into slim shelves around back of refrigerator box; need to refinish walls around pantry/basement door (currently covered with ugly crinkle-texture paint; cover with wallboard is one possibility, or hire someone to add a plaster skim coat); build pantry cabinet for southwest corner (have design for this; need to move outlet from behind cabinet to side); need to decide on porcelain tile for floor, order, and get someone to install; have new bathroom vanity top on order (cheap solid surface); need to build new vanity cabinet and shelves/medicine cabinet for bathroom (have design); need to decide on backsplash material above countertops (tile in kitchen, maybe something cheaper in pantry and bathroom); need to modify plumbing to move dishwasher to left of sink, and sink slightly to right of present spot (also rewire to put dishwasher/garbage disposal on same circuit, separate from countertop circuits); need to design and rebuild peninsula around range (inside corner unit from cabinet maker; we will build frame around range, extend and even out dining room facade to include shelf or cabinet access to dead space, build up to countertop level, cover new surface area with stainless steel sheet, with removable cover section over marble rolling board to left of range); build pull-out spice/commodity racks from countertop to ceiling drop from beam to dining room edge of peninsula (probably 4 units, about 16 inches deep, front one fixed, others on rollers with handles to pull out); dining room ceiling already repainted; dining room walls and bathroom wall and ceiling primed, need final paint, plus repaint all window trim, plus baseboards where applicable; need to decide what to do with kitchen/pantry ceiling (Matt recommends stripping down drop ceiling and hiring someone to put up new plasterboard; I've been leaning towards keeping drop ceiling but replacing tiles); decide how to deal with crown issues around dining room cabinets (about 4 inches to ceiling; one idea is to put more spot lights up there) and kitchen cabinets (new ones are taller, about 2 inches short of current drop ceiling); plan and wire in undercounter lighting for kitchen cabinets (in general, deal with accent lighting issues); fix up damaged plaster, e.g. above range hood; install in-wall speakers; hinge and support fold-out doors on south wall cabinet units, put laminate on inside shelf and inside of doors; probably a lot of little issues dealing with trim, knobs, wiring plate covers, etc.; first phase of electrical upgrade is done (new service entrance, new main panel, subpanel feed to upstairs; to be done later, beyond kitchen project: upstairs rewiring, knob and tube elimination, power to garage); clean up and wax the floor.

Wrote another letter today to a cousin, explaining what we're doing:

I've been shopping for vinyl siding for 6-7 years now. Finally found a guy I liked, at a price I didn't much mind, so I turned him loose and now that's done. Did the upstairs in a light gray with white trim. Looks very nice. Also been talking about getting an electrician to upgrade the power system, and that's finally coming along. Got a brand new service entrance and main panel this week. Next month we'll rewire upstairs, which is antique wiring and increasingly a fire hazard. A little later we'll run a cable to the garage and put a panel in there as well. I'm trying to learn how to do the branch wiring -- these guys cost a fortune, and they don't listen very well. I'll get some practice on the kitchen, with the real electrician to check my work and bail me out.

Took all the standalone shelving out of the dining room area, and built new cabinets that completely cover the south-east-north walls (except for over/under windows and doors, and they may not be safe either). Got those built and assembled; need to finish them, route wiring and HVAC ductwork around them, and secure to wall.

Tore out island between kitchen and pantry (area between basement door and back room door). Will replace that with a large box for refrigerator (big enough to upgrade although we haven't decided to do that yet). That won't be as long as island was (38-vs-48 inches, but will be deeper (36- vs-30 inches, so will protrude a bit more). Will add shelving between refrigerator box and wall, in front of chimney, and thin shelving behind refrigerator box. Tore out cabinets in pantry; will replace with open shelving, getting a smaller microwave to place on shelf opening up new counter space (new laminate counter on order; may add a small sink later). Storage unit in corner will be replaced by new pantry unit, smaller but with more useful space. (Half will be hinged to open up more shallow shelves.) Inside kitchen proper, we will extend countertop to bathroom door, where refrigerator currently is. Countertop is solid surface (LG Hi-Macs, Azure Crystal) with 26-inch single sink, 2-inch coved backsplash. Countertop only extends to beam by window. Everything from there on will be stainless steel, except for some new cabinets that will slide out from wall. Moving dishwasher to left of sink. Ordered custom-built cabinets: wall cabinets will be taller (41-inch), with beaded insets; base cabinet corner will be opened up with 45-degree angle; far end of west wall base cabinet (where refrigerator is now) will have a single wall oven. (I originally wanted a warming drawer for those days when I cook too much, but full oven didn't cost much more, and with the electrical work I didn't need to worry about a 240V line.) Got a real nice LG unit, stainless steel, convection, self-clean, warmer settings, broiler, ball-bearing rollers (like I said, real nice). Base cabinets will be tall enough to have slide-out extenders -- a laminate-covered board on full extension rollers that I can pull out when I need some extra surface area. Cabinets will be white with some kind of glaze -- will pick out exact color Monday. Range is a Capital 6-burner 36-inch all gas unit, all stainless steel, rotisserie oven, built like a tank. All burners power to 19000 btu, simmer at 140 degrees. Wanted to get a bigger unit, but backed down when I couldn't figure out how to get a big enough hood vented. (Main problem was that the grill required a 1200 cfm hood, with a 10-12-inch duct; also hood would have been so huge it would practically block off view between kitchen and dining area.) Got a Zephyr Milano 700 cfm vent hood, 36-inches, about 4-inch high at base, with stainless steel center and a glass canopy; should work well with minimal visual interference. Takes a 6-inch duct -- I didn't buy until I figured out an exit strategy. Floor will be porcelain tile. Went shopping for that today, coming up with a couple of dark grays. Haven't decided what to do with kitchen ceiling yet. Also doing some work on adjacent bathroom: new vanity top, cabinet, shelves, paint. Going cheaper there, but will probably have same floor.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

House Log

Big day today: the appliances arrived. I ordered the range, wall oven, and range hood from Homeclick, with free shipping part of the deal. All are heavy, with the range topping 300 lbs, so I worried about what would happen when the truck pulled up. On the one hand, appliance dealers always deliver to the inside of the house because that's where all appliances go. On the other hand, truckers usually deliver to loading docks, or worst case curbside, which would be a big problem for me. What I got for my free shipping was a trucker. After some dickering, they charged me $197.50 and called in another trucker to get the appliances inside. Matt and Earnest came by in the morning to move things around to open up space, but left before the truck got here. Otherwise they could have done as well as the truckers. The second one showed up with a cheap handtruck -- not even an appliance handtruck -- and tackled the range by unbolting it from its pallet. I dug up some ratchet straps to improvise an appliance handtruck, and somehow they managed to drag the boxes (and the now-boxless range) into the house without major calamity. Range hood box was slightly damaged, but didn't seem to disturb anything beyond the packing material. Didn't dig deep enough into the box to be sure, but looks OK.

Memo to self: buy a real appliance handtruck, and maybe a couple of furniture dollies, so next time we have to deal with this we'll be prepared.

Jerry hoped to show up, but was really hurting. He has to stop taking anti-inflamatory drugs two weeks before his hip surgery, and that's now. Could be he'll be at most available by phone from now on in. That will be a major blow. I'm already thinking that a lot of things I wanted to do won't get done until he recovers, several months from now.

Got real cold today, with a couple of inches of snow in the morning, plus light fluries early afternoon when the truckers showed up. Didn't do any further work on the house, but I did talk to the cabinet maker. He has all of his wood, and will be cutting and assembling the cabinets over the next few days. We agreed to meet at the paint store on Monday to pick out exact color, so he can start painting. Discussed countertop.

MLK Day

Went to a Peace Center event tonight, which is Martin Luther King's actual birthday -- as opposed to his phony governmental holiday birthday, this coming Monday. The organizers probably should have made a bigger point of the difference, since the topic was the real MLK, specifically his opposition to the war des jours: Vietnam. We played an excerpt from King's April 4, 1967 speech, A Time to Break Silence, decorated with video images from the period -- the most striking, I thought, were the aerial views of bombardment, quiet moments as the bombs tumble to earth, at which point they light up horrific explosions. Close-ups of their victims were more static and less effective. The speech itself is completely enveloped in King's sense of the gospel, reading at times like a theological tract. It strikes me that there are simpler and more compelling reasons to oppose war in general and that war in particular, but he felt pressured to make his case in terms that would be beyond mortal reproach -- e.g., among his more politically compromised colleagues and their allies among LBJ's war party. It does, nonetheless, make a powerful antiwar case. But what makes it more interesting is that the speech broadens King's political agenda beyond the conventional settlement that became the end state of the civil rights movement: a victory against certain legal discrimination while leaving every other aspect of US politics and economics undisturbed.

His antiwar stance was one step on King's path toward a true populism: one that didn't seek to "advance colored people" or any particular group, but rather sought to advance justice and equality for all people. One thing I don't know is whether King understood the profound relationship between war and inequality or whether he simply grasped that the antiwar movement was the sort of movement a movement leader like himself should take up. For instance, he still talks much about how the War on Vietnam takes resources away from the War on Poverty. A deeper insight would be that the War on Vietnam, indeed the whole exultation of the military-industrial compex, worked in favor of a right-wing political movement: defense expenses funded the right-wing and sapped resources away from social development and safety net needs -- rationalized by the cult of personal responsibility, and reinforced by a seemingly endless eagerness to punish deviants and miscreants; it subjected a large segment of the lower classes to military discipline; it expressed a worldview based on violent conflict and armed supremacy.

This point bears repeating: war cultures reinforce the current social and economic pecking order, promoting conformism, corroding democracy, reducing freedom, and discouraging cooperative efforts. King must have understood not just that war was wrong but that it was politically destructive to his movement, regardless of whether he defined it as promoting his race, advancing civil rights, or equalizing economic opportunity and justice.

On the other hand, when we look at what happened in the 40 years since King was assassinated, we see that the civil rights movement has been a qualified success -- i.e., that African-Americans who qualified could become immensely successful, while those who didn't remained stuck in more/less the same rut as poor whites, sometimes worse due to residual racism and/or the penalty of starting so far behind. We also see that King's linkage between civil rights and antiwar and economic populism has been effectively busted up, not least by his elevation to national holiday status: where each year we ritually celebrate the civil rights leader, patting ourselves on the back for progress made there, while pushing his antiwar and populist politics further into the fuzzy background. That is, after all, how holidays work: regardless of what inspired them, they turn into self-flattery, which has long been the stock-in-trade of the right. (It's not, after all, like they have anything tangible to offer most Americans.)

It was a smart idea to return to King's antiwar speech, not just to honor King by making him whole again but to try to bring the civil rights and human rights movements back into synch -- in a time when the US and its buddy Israel are stuck in wars that only promise more of the same. On the other hand, the post-speech discussion took another tack. There were two panelists: historian Gretchen Eick and NAACP-leader Kevin Miles. Eick did a good job of adding information on the historical context, but focusing more on the civil rights movement than on the antiwar movement. Miles, while no doubt strongly antiwar himself, steered even further away from today's wars -- he went so far as to dismiss current antiwar activists for talking about foreign wars while ignoring the problem of black-on-black violence in our cities. (One difference is that wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Gaza are direct and simple results of superpower policy decisions, where domestic murders are not -- at best they are complicated by a wide range of policies including drug prohibition, inadequate education and insurance, cheap guns, and dead end prisons, none of which are easily remedied.) The net effect was to encourage people to talk about the current state of blacks, leading to widely divergent opinionizing.

That doesn't mean it was uninteresting; just that we missed the opportunity to expand upon an antiwar program. We could have used a panelist who could steer the discussion back to the core issue of war.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

House Log

Electrician finished up today. Installed the upstairs subpanel, and ran a large feeder cable to it -- 90 amps, way, way more than will ever be needed upstairs. (Enough to make me rack my brain thinking about how to use even a fraction of it. Sauna, maybe? Enough I could turn the upstairs into a flop house with kitchens in each of three studio apartments -- with the classic bathroom down the hall.) Roughed out the new 240V wall oven circuit, and wired a new 20A refrigerator outlet, so we're ready (electrically, at least) to move the fridge and install the oven.

Didn't do much more other than to get the back on the last of the south wall cabinets. Bad weather coming.

The Gaza War in Context

Paul Woodward: Olmert's bitch. The story of why Condoleezza Rice couldn't vote for her own UN resolution:

A State Department official felt compelled to assert that, "The government of Israel does not make US policy."

The evidence seems to suggest otherwise.

Paul Woodward: Israel's Arab political parties banned from upcoming election. More pointedly retitled for the WarInContext link: "Israel finds a spirit of unity in its righteous fury." Woodward quotes Ilan Pappe:

"This righteous fury is a constant phenomenon in the Israeli, and before that Zionist, dispossession of Palestine. Every act whether it was ethnic cleansing, occupation, massacre or destruction was always portrayed as morally just and as a pure act of self-defence reluctantly perpetrated by Israel in its war against the worst kind of human beings. In his excellent volume The Returns of Zionism: Myths, Politics and Scholarship in Israel, Gabi Piterberg explores the ideological origins and historical progression of this righteous fury. Today in Israel, from Left to Right, from Likud to Kadima, from the academia to the media, one can hear this righteous fury of a state that is more busy than any other state in the world in destroying and dispossessing an indigenous population."

This gets to the core reason why any debate about what Israel is doing is so tiresome: the whole endlessly repeated party line is nothing more or less than the result of self-obsessives winding themselves up with love of their own rhetoric. It makes them blind, as could hardly be more clear here. After all, how many times have you heard Israel praising itself as the Middle East's one and only true democracy. Other governments which go through the motions of democracy, like Iran, are dismissed because they disallow any real opposition to the ruling ideology. Israel just did the same thing, without the least self-consciousness. Pro-Israel advocates often referred to Israeli Arabs as proof that Israel is a liberal, open society. That was never really true: Israeli Arabs were under military rule until 1967, at which point the military's focus shifted to the Occupied Territories; even so, Israeli Arabs have always been discriminated against. The situation only got worse when Barak refused to form a coalition government with Arab parties, preferring to undermine his political base in order to prove his dedication to purely Jewish interests. Worse still when Likud insisted that any referendum on a peace settlement should only be voted on by Jews. Worse still with Kadima leader Tzipi Livni going around urging Israeli Arabs to join their brethren in Gaza. Then there are parties even further to the right, pushing for forced transfer of Arabs both within Israel and the Occupied Territories. The logic of this progression of self-absorbed rhetoric is toward mass slaughter -- genocide.

One thing I would like to see is for whatever Palestinian authorities there are -- admittedly it's hard to be one under current circumstances -- to embrace the Law of Return and urge Jews to immigrate to Palestine, to live as free and equal citizens in a state that represents all Palestinians. That in a single stroke would cut the legs out from under Zionism.

Paul Woodward: The Election War.

How many Palestinians do you need to kill in order to become prime minister of Israel? It seems like a legitimate question right now. It's also a Goldilocks kind of question: What's just right -- enough but not and too many?

As Israel's February election comes closer, the contours of the campaign argument are starting to emerge. The deadline for wrapping up the war -- the US Presidential Inauguration -- is just days away and after that comes the task that for Livni, Barak and Olmert may prove far more difficult to accomplish than was their success in selling the war.

Right now, even if outside Israel in places such as the British parliament where they have been branded as "war criminals" and "mass murderers," inside Israel the war triumvirate is riding high. Serious trouble though is looming ahead.

Once the fighting stops the global media is eventually going to be let inside Gaza and the scale of devastation and carnage is not only going to be broadcast around the world but will also filter into Israel. Rocket fire into Israel, even if only sporadic, is likely to continue.

For Israelis, the question: Is this a just war? (to which they have almost universally answered yes), will shift to the much more difficult question: What have we accomplished?

Not much, other than to remind Palestinians and the world at large how far Israeli politicians will go to make election points. Still, as far as Olmert-Barak-Livni went, anything short of genocide will leave them open to charges that they didn't go far enough:

Benjamin Netanyahu however -- the man still likely to become Israel's next prime minister -- has a rather simple counter argument. Unless Israel has a "clear victory" meaning that Hamas' capability to attack Israel has been "crippled", then the war has not been won.

Once again, Israel will go to the polls and Hamas will have the casting vote. Can Tzipi Livni provide any convincing argument as to why Hamas should not vote for Netanyahu?


Letter in the Wichita Eagle today, from M.E. Skelton:

Why is Israel firing missiles at the Gaza Strip? Much of the world buys the line peddled by the Palestinians and the Arab Muslim world that paints Israel as the bad guy. Israel gave Gaza self-rule in 1994, withdrawing the last of its citizens and soldiers from Gaza in 2005. Since then, Hamas terrorists have fired 10,000 rockets and mortars into Israel, including 7,000 since Israel's 2005 withdrawal.

The cowardly Hamas terrorists could severely curtail the killing of Palestinian civilians and children by getting out of their neighborhoods and heavily populated areas and acting like real men. They would rather launch their rockets from Palestinian school yards and hospitals, hiding around women and children.

All Israel wants to do is survive.

This makes a big deal out of the very limited degree of autonomy given the Palestinian Authority in Gaza in 1994 as part of the Oslo Accords -- subsequently revoked by Barak and obiterated by Sharon in 2001. Even a casual reader of the letter should then raise an eyebrow over Israel's "withdrawing the last of its citizens and soldiers from Gaza in 2005": that they still had citizens and soldiers to withdraw suggests in itself that Gazans hadn't really enjoyed self-rule since 1994. No mention that Israeli soldiers returned in 2006, not so much to re-occupy Gaza as to wreck it. Or that since then Gaza has been strangled, resulting in one of the world's worst starvation crises.

By the way, has anyone been counting the number of rockets and bombs Israel has launched in the last two weeks?

The second paragraph is a peculiar mix of gratuitous macho and ignorance. Hamas partisans should get out of the neighborhoods where they live, abandoning their families, to expose themselves in unpopulated areas (in Gaza?) where Israeli assassins can pick them off? IDF soldiers are no different: they don't abandon their women and children to go off and fight like chivalrous knights. Rather, they operate from the relative safety of aircraft and tanks, with body armor and overwhelmingly superior firepower -- neither side sounds all that cowardly to me, but the Israelis personally risk far less in such an asymetrical struggle.

I have no idea why part of the PR spin after 9/11 was to characterize the terrorists, who gave up their lives for their misbegotten ideals, as cowardly, but in Israel's case the most likely explanation is that they're desperately looking for a way to blame Palestinians for Israel's overkill. The implicit point is that Israeli slaughter of "Hamas terrorists" is some sort of law of nature -- something that just automatically happens, as opposed to the fruit of policy decisions.

The final sentence -- "All Israel wants to do is survive" -- is plainly false. Survival is a defensive posture. What Israel is doing in Gaza is pure offense. The more common mantra here is that "Israel has the right to defend itself." One can argue over that, but in this case such argument is irrelevant, since Israel is not defending itself in blockading and laying siege to Gaza. Israel is engaged in an aggressive act of war, taken with little or no concern for the destruction they cause, and little or no effort to resolve their grievances peaceably. They don't just want to survive. They want to wage war, and that is what they're doing.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

House Log

Electrician came today. He worked outside today installing a new service entrance, while his helper replaced the power center in the basement. Power was down 5-6 hours. New installation looks like we're in a new century. Service is upgraded to 200 amps, with 60 planned for the detached garage -- work on that to be completed later. Will do some more tomorrow to clean up, figure which breakers and wires go to which circuits, install a subpanel upstairs, and set up the circuits for the refrigerator and oven. Next stage will be to clean up the basement wiring, and redo the upstairs wiring, eliminating as much knob-and-tube wiring as possible (especially in the attic and basement).

Put the top on one of the south wall cabinets, and put the backs on the other two. Should get the last back on tomorrow. Getting close to the point where we need to make a decision on how to finish the dining room shelf units. Went out and bought a quart of a stain that looked promising: from Cabot, something called Butternut. Will test a sample and see how that goes. Still need to build the corner unit and fix up the toe kicks. I'm thinking I want the toe kicks to be detachable, providing access to the floor under the units. Each toe kick will have an electrical outlet, in several cases replacing old wall outlets. One unit will have a HVAC duct -- another one of those knotty buy-or-build problems. (I would love to have a brake good enough to bend my own ductwork, but I'm not sure how good that is, or whether it crosses the sanity line. Malco, for instance, has a 48-inch unit that handles galvanized sheet to 22 gauge, something like $270, a bit steep. Harbor Freight has a 30-inch thing with no clamps, alleged to handle 18 gauge, for $79; affordable, but looks like crap. Grizzly has a 24-inch that looks pretty solid for $190, heavier duty than you need for ductwork, smaller than you need for plenums.)

Ordered the countertop today: LG Hi-Macs solid surface, Azure Quartz, Ivory White 26-inch single sink, eased edge, coved 2-inch backsplash. Bought from Lowe's, after getting a competing bid from Star Lumber over $1000 higher. Along with the white glazed cabinets, that nails down two of the key color parameters -- next up is the floor, where we're thinking porcelain tile. We could have saved more by picking a smaller sink (or a larger double sink), but I didn't like the idea of winding up with a smaller sink than we now have.

Book Alert

Haven't done a Book Alert since September, before the Detroit trip. Despite some problems early on, I did wind up with a fairly large list of items there, much of which I still haven't processed. Still, no problem bagging my usual limit of 40 titles.


Jeremy Bernstein: Physicists on Wall Street and Other Essays on Science and Society (2008, Springer): Scattered essays, the title having something to do with physicists creating financial models for profit or mischief; also something on South Africa's nuclear program. One of the best writers on physicists and their science around.

Avraham Burg: The Holocaust Is Over, We Must Rise From Its Ashes (2008, Palgrave Macmillan). The former speaker of Israel's Knesset takes a hard look at what Zionism has done to Israel today.

Jonathan Cook: Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (paperback, 2008, Zed): The longer the occupation continues, the bleaker the critical books are becoming.

Richard Cook/Brian Morton: The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings: Ninth Edition (paperback, 2008, Penguin): New editions have been coming out every two years. This one caught me by surprise, probably because I haven't finished listing the changes in the Eighth Edition. This has long been the essential guide to recorded jazz; even for experts it remains invaluable for covering Europe better than any other guide, and for keeping a balance that spans trad jazz and the avant-garde. I found more good records in it than any other guide I have. Still, I've had more and more nits to pick with the last couple of editions. Not sure if that marks a change, or it just means that I'm becoming less suggestable as I listen to more and more stuff before reading the reviews. Also, note that each edition loses about as much as it gains. I keep all eight on a fat shelf, and will have to find room for one more.

George Cooper: The Origin of Financial Crises: Central Banks, Credit Bubbles, and the Efficient Market Fallacy (paperback, 2008, Vintage): Seems to lay much of the blame on central bankers. He is certainly right that the present crisis was made much worse (if not necessarily caused) by the expansion of credit the Fed used to prop up the post-9/11 economy in its desperate attempt to prop up Bush's election prospects -- not that he puts it that way.

Mike Davis/Daniel Bertrand Monk, eds: Evil Paradises: Dreamworlds of Neoliberalism (paperback, 2008, New Press): Various essays, "a global guidebook to phantasmagoric but real places" -- don't have a list, but Abu Dhabi is certainly on it, as well as smaller, more discreet enclaves for the superrich.

Niall Ferguson: The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World (2008, Penguin): A timely history of finance, not so obviously full of shit as his last three books: Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power, Colossus: The Rise and Fall of the American Empire, and The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Decline of the West. Of course, having written those three books extolling the glory days of empire and lamenting their passage, he's probably still full of shit.

Raymond Fisman/Edward Miguel: Economic Gangsters: Corruption, Violence, and the Poverty of Nations (2008, Princeton University Press): Economists, examine corruption as a prime reason why developing countries don't develop.

Malcolm Gladwell: Outliers: The Story of Success (2008, Little Brown): Bestselling author, known for piquant insights. Dull but presumably marketable subject.

Neve Gordon: Israel's Occupation (paperback, 2008, University of California Press): One review describes this as a "highly theoretical book" -- something of a surprise given how much empirical evidence there is on Israel's occupation regime. Gordon is a long-on-the-scene critic, should have a lot to say.

James Grant: Mr. Market Miscalculates: The Bubble Years and Beyond (2008, Axios): Collected from speeches and editorials by the editor of Grant's Interest Rate Observer. Seems to have had a clue on the subprime crisis.

Tom Hayden: Writings for a Democratic Society: The Tom Hayden Reader (paperback, 2008, City Lights): New Left activist. I'm not sure I've ever read anything by him, but he has a recent book, Ending the War in Iraq. Don't have a table of contents here, but this runs 450 pages, probably 40 years.

Christopher Howard: The Welfare State Nobody Knows: Debunking Myths About US Social Policy (paperback, 2008, Princeton University Press): Looks like a fairly informative, non-ideological investigation. Yes, there is a welfare state, a pretty big one. No, it doesn't work very well, especially in terms of redistributing wealth. On the other hand, it works better than nothing, at least in terms of preventing the middle class from getting swamped in crises. It could work better, but most people are pretty confused about it all.

Robert G Kaufman: In Defense of the Bush Doctrine (paperback, 2008, University of Kentucky Press): As Jacob Weisberg noted, there are at least five Bush Doctrines, made up on the spot to rationalize whatever insanity or inanity the Decider fell for at any given moment, not counting the last year-plus when it's not been clear that he's had any clue at all, so this book starts with its author's jackboot buried in a tub of cement. The only possible interest might be in finding out what he thinks he's defending. Given that all five-plus "doctrines" are indefensible, this is bound to be an uphill slog.

Muhammad Khudayyir: Basrayatha: The Story of a City (paperback, 2008, Verso): A short tribute to the Iraqi city of Basra, originally published in 1997.

Nikolas Kozloff: Revolution!: South America and the Rise of the New Left (2008, Palgrave Macmillan): Author of a previous book on Venezuela: Hugo Chavez: Oil, Politics, and the Challenge to the US. Here he broadens the picture to include more challenges to the US -- nearly a continent's worth.

Paul Krugman: The Return of Depression Economics and the Crisis of 2008 (2008, WW Norton): New edition, updated, maybe even a rewrite, of Krugman's 1999 The Return of Depression Economics: a book that must seem more prescient now than when it originally appeared at the top of the high tech boom.

David Levering Lewis: God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215 (2008, WW Norton): History focuses on 8th century Muslim Spain in a somewhat broader context -- seems to have gotten very mixed notices.

Michael Lewis, ed: Panic: The Story of Modern Financial Insanity (2008, WW Norton): A quickie collection of old and not-so-old pieces, just in time to slap some product on the latest financial disaster, and to be obsolete almost instantly.

Wynton Marsalis/Geoffrey Ward: Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life (2008, Random House): Sounds like a self-help book, which doesn't sound like a very good idea. Marsalis certainly knows much about jazz history, and is a capable and entertaining educator, but he also has some blind spots and limitations -- there is a lot more to jazz than he admits, and his art suffers accordingly. Ward is a "with" credit here. He wrote the Ken Burns books, so he's dealt with Marsalis before.

Dick Meyer: Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millennium (2008, Crown): Not a bad idea for a book, but easy to go wrong with. Is he going for how some Americans hate other Americans? Or is he trying to make a case that Americans (in general) hate themselves? The former is relatively trivial; the latter is a stretch into psychologizing. Reviewer praise, ranging from Thomas Oliphant to Thomas Edsall, isn't reassuring.

Tom Moon: 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die (paperback, 2008, Workman): Big list book, part of a series like 1,000 Places to See Before You Die that that I haven't paid any attention to, figuring I'm so short on time the effort would be hopeless, and not particularly enjoying the reminder. Actually, 1,000 recordings is relatively doable: I'd be surprised if I'm not already more than halfway there, unless the classical shit gets totally out of hand. There's also a rival 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, edited by Robert Dimery, which is older but only in hard cover, assembled by a committee of critics I've never heard of, and is much more rock-centric.

Marwan Muasher: The Arab Center: The Promise of Moderation (2008, Yale University Press): Author is a Jordanian diplomat, long practiced at walking the straight and narrow line. By their very nature, moderates have a weak hand to argue. By readily going half way, they comfort the extremes without satisfying them -- the US, in particular, insists on moderation without giving moderates any heed.

Reinhold Niebuhr: The Irony of American History (paperback, 2008, University of Chicago Press): New reprint of a 1952 book, with an introduction by Andrew Bacevich, who quoted Niebuhr extensively in his recent The Limits of Power. I've always dismissed Niebuhr as a cold war ideologue, but the quotes I've read via Bacevich are very sharp.

Anna Politkovskaya: A Russian Diary: A Journalist's Final Account of Life, Corruption, and Death in Putin's Russia (2007, Random House): Russian journalist, a fierce critic of the Chechen War and Vladimir Putin, murdered in 2006. Diary covers 2003-05. She has several other books out, including Putin's Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy.

Ben Ratliff: The Jazz Ear: Conversations Over Music (2008, Times Books): New York Times jazz critic. I pretty much never read him, but not because I have a real opinion about his criticism. (His Jazz: A Critic's Guide to the 100 Most Important Recordings has a lot of obvious picks, a few inspired ones, and none more dubious than Wynton Marsalis.) Not sure if these are verbatim interviews or just distillations. Ratliff's Coltrane: The Story of a Sound is also now out in paperback.

Jeremy Salt: The Unmaking of the Middle East: A History of Western Disorder in Arab Lands (2008, University of California Press): A history focusing on how Britain, France, and the US have actually treated the Middle East.

Robert J Samuelson: The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath: The Past and Future of American Affluence (2008, Random House): From about 1970, real wages in America began to stagnate, especially when adjusted for inflation that reached 14% by the end of the decade. In 1979 Fed chairman Paul Volcker launched his program to halt inflation by strangling the economy in high interest rates. This led to Reagan's 1980 election, open season on labor unions, and the worst recession between the 1930s and just about now. So this is an important period, little understood -- I'm not all that sure what to make of it myself. Possibly an important book. Samuelson previously wrote The Good Life and Its Discontents: The American Dream in the Age of Entitlement (1997), currently out of print.

Richard Seymour: The Liberal Defense of Murder (2008, Verso): On the "pro-war left" in the post-9/11 world. I've seen mention of Kanan Makiya and Bernard Henri-Levy, but they barely scratch the subject.

Peter Sluglett: Britain in Iraq: Contriving King and Country (2007, Columbia University Press): A history of Britain's mandate over the Ottoman territories that became Iraq. Never underestimate how much the British empire can screw up a territory. A slightly older book on the same subject: Toby Dodge: Inventing Iraq: The Failure of Nation Building and a History Denied (paperback, 2005, Columbia University Press).

Norman Solomon: Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America's Warfare State (2007, Polipoint Press): Previously wrote War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. This one is more memoir than analysis, going back to past wars, like in the 1960s.

Jim Stanford: Economics for Everyone: A Short Guide to the Economics of Capitalism (paperback, 2008, Pluto Press): Not so short at 360 pages, but illustrated with cartoons. Figure this to be a leftist approach.

Jonny Steinberg: Sizwe's Test: A Young Man's Journey Through Africa's AIDS Epidemic (2008, Simon & Schuster): South African journalist, gay, white, tries specifically to understand Sizwe, who has refused HIV testing, and therefore treatment; and more generally explores the South African AIDS epidemic.

Jane Stern/Michael Stern: Roadfood: The Coast-to-Coast Guide to 700 of the Best Barbecue Joints, Lobster Shacks, Ice Cream Parlors, Highway Diners, and Much, Much More (paperback, 2008, Broadway): Don't know how many editions this book has gone through, especially if you count its alter-ego, Eat Your Way Across the USA -- my copy is three, maybe more editions back, but these joints do tend to stay in business. (Although they also often keep limited hours -- I've shown up to a number of them when they were closed.) Moreover, editions add and drop things for no apparent reason. The guides aren't extensive, and they're rather limited in range; I'm sure they're missing a lot, but I've rarely been disappointed, and there's a lot to be said for navigating to an otherwise unknowable wonder after a long stretch on the road. In fact, friends call me up and ask for directions. Haven't checked out their other books, like Chili Nation and Two for the Road: Our Love Affair With American Food. I do have a copy of Ian Jackman: Eat This!: 1,001 Things to Eat Before You Diet, which I have yet to find useful.

Steven Stoll: The Great Delusion: A Mad Inventor, Death in the Tropics, and the Utopian Origins of Economic Growth (2008, Hill and Wang): The "cautionary and instructive story" of John Adolphus Etzler, a 19th century inventor with dreams of endless growth, bringing the whole question of growth into perspective. Previous books by Stoll: The Fruits of Natural Advantage: Making the Industrial Countryside in California and Larding the Lean Earth: Soil and Society in Nineteenth-Century America.

Tom Vanderbilt: Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) (2008, Knopf): Looks like a lot of trivia on the art and science of driving, a subject that hasn't been beaten to death and might be entertaining to read about, but could just as well be overgeneralized from.

Rob Walker: Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are (2008, Random House): Part marketing primer, part cultural anthropology, you are what you buy, and so forth. Evidently Walker writes a column on this stuff in the New York Times Magazine.

Rex Weyler: Greenpeace: How a Group of Ecologists, Journalists, and Visionaries Changed the World (2004, Rodale): History of the movement, an important piece of recent world political history.

Ronald T Wilcox: Whatever Happened to Thrift?: Why Americans Don't Save and What to Do About It (2008, Yale University Press): The "what to do about it" shifts subtly from thrift to saving, which quickly wears thin. Economists like to promote savings -- right-wingers, especially, for whom it's a way to a personalize moral failure that the rich are exempt from, even though the main reason the rich save is only because they have more money than they can spend. Thrift is a relatively quaint concept, tied to the sense of having enough to get by on. Boy scouts, after all, are implored to be "thrifty, brave, and reverent" -- traits of model citizenship. What happened to that is, indeed, an interesting question.

Naomi Wolf: Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries (paperback, 2008, Simon & Schuster): Political manifesto, looks like she's trying to yoke progress to the olde American tradition of patriotic-minded revolution. Also wrote the much slimmer The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot.


I have another 30 or so of these book alert notes in my backlog, plus several pages of notes I haven't written up yet. Also haven't been anywhere near as dilligent researching them as I have in the past -- same distractions I've noted previously. Could just as well have done another batch of Israel links: the atrocities continue, the problems only getting worse. Read a hysterical column in the Eagle today by someone feverishingly imaging a world run by Hamas. Nobody gets the irony that the only people obsessed with someone else running the world are the ones who think they should do it themselves. Most folks have no such illusions, which make them more willing to live in a world where all different kinds more or less get along together.

Monday, January 12, 2009

House Log

Slow start today. Jerry can't make it until mid-afternoon. When he did show up, he apologized and explained he couldn't keep working on the project. That would have been disastrous for me, but we talked it through and reached a tentative accommodation. He needs some help on various things, and I'll try to help him out. Meanwhile, we'll slow down a bit, and I'll lean more on Matt for help. We don't need him so much to do the actual work as to keep us on the right track.

Finally sawed the backs for the south cabinets, the last of which we glued together.

Music Week

Music: Current count 15090 [15076] rated (+14), 738 [748] unrated (-10). Light ratings count, probably average for the next month, since I have limited time to actually listen (as opposed to merely playing) anything, and even less time to write it up. Records tend to stay in the player for several spins.

  • Wussy: Left for Dead (2007, Shake It): Cincinnati group, with ex-Ass Pony Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker. Second album. Christgau loves both, but with no distribution I'm late in checking them out -- jumped straight to the second. Music is sharply etched -- "more Velvets than Burritos, yet country still" was how Christgau described their first album. Lyrics presumably more literate than have registered in my mind. I have yet to fall for them, and my patience is running thin, but a couple of songs are likely to induce me back sooner or later. SFFR. B+(***)


Jazz Prospecting (CG #19, Part 2)

The big kitchen project is chewing up about half of my time now, and that's likely to go into overdrive this week, and stay that way through the end of the month. Don't know whether that will allow for much or any jazz prospecting -- seems like a big segment of my life has gone on hold. The way this worked this past week was that I worked on the house during the day, playing things I didn't have to pay any attention to, like Howlin' Wolf and John Lee Hooker -- my construction partner is a blues fan -- then getting to some jazz and blogging during the evening. This will likely be the pattern, but I expect my production to drag. Picking through new stuff here, finally checking out some of the more promising 2009 releases -- including the first two A-list records of the new year, plus a possible third.

No news on Jazz CG (18). Sent the Voice a revised draft last week, and a list of possible holds. Haven't done the surplus cull yet, but all the other paperwork is in order to push onward. One thing I do notice is that the Honorable Mentions candidate list has gotten way out of hand. I may have to slash through them for the surplus post. Too bad, as they are by definition good records, most likely to be very pleasing to those who especially like the particular styles. Still, I'm listing 148 of those records, which is about 8 columns (2 years) worth of honorable mentions. Clearly, I can't get to more than a third of those. Not sure what the best way to deal with them would be, but the easiest would probably just be a blog post. Given the other time pressures right now, I can't even commit to when on that.

PS: I've compiled the vote lists for the Jazz Times Critics Poll, as well as for the Village Voice Jazz Poll. Interesting thing here is that the Voice poll is both larger and much more diverse. Don't have time to draw many conclusions from this data here, but I did point out a few things in the comments at the bottom of the Jazz Times poll. The other thing to note is that the web-posted Jazz Times results differ from the print list, in a couple of cases significantly. This subject would be worth a separate post, but again I can't promise when.


Cynthia Hilts: Second Story Breeze (2008, Blond Coyote): Pianist, singer, probably in that order. Trio, with Ron McClure on bass, Jeff Williams on drums. Mostly standards, like "My Favorite Things" and "Three Blind Mice." Played it three times today. Hard to hear clearly, and not just for the many distractions that weren't her fault. Doubt that a fourth spin would make enough of a difference to put this in play. B-

Michael Jefry Stevens Trio: For Andrew (1996 [2008], Konnex): Pianist, b. 1951, more avant-garde, at least as an economic niche, than postbop. AMG only credits him with 8 albums, mostly because bassist Joe Fonda's name comes first in the Fonda-Stevens Group. Trio includes Jeff Siegel on drums, Peter Herbert on bass. Andrew, of course, is Hill, but this is an oblique tribute. It seems unlikely that this 12-year-old tape was cut with Hill in mind -- 7 of 9 songs are Stevens originals, neither of the others are by or particularly associated with Hill. On the other hand, Stevens can plausibly claim Hill both as influence and inspiration. He's long struck me as someone I should pay more attention to, but I often have trouble sorting out subtleties among pianists. This one pays dividends on close attention, but I'm hard pressed to explain exactly why. B+(***)

Jonathan Voltzok: More to Come (2008, Kol Yo): Trombonist, b. 1983 in Israel, moved to New York on a scholarship in 2004, currently based in Brooklyn. First album, a quartet with Aaron Goldberg on piano, Barak Mori on bass, Ali Jackson on drums, with Slide Hampton (trombone) guesting on two tracks, Antonio Hart (alto sax) on two more. Three covers check bop-era classics -- "Shaw Nuff," "Round Midnight," "Con Alma." The originals I figure for postbop, although they don't move much beyond JJ. B+(**)

Blah Blah 666: It's Only Life (2007-08 [2008], Barnyard): Drummer Jean Martin and co-conspirators -- Justin Haynes ("b6 defretted guitar"), Ryan Driver ("street sweeper bristle bass"), Tania Gill (melodica), and Nick Fraser ("plastic blow thing") -- explore barnyard sounds all too literally, with banjo, ukulele, and glock prominent among the off instruments, and nearly everyone [dis-]credited for voice. Two pieces the formula works on are "Mexican Hat Dance" and "La Cucaracha" -- most likely the band learned them from cartoons. B

Brinsk: A Hamster Speaks (2008, Nowt): Group led by bassist Aryeh Kobrinsky: born in Winnipeg, grew up in Fargo, studied at McGill in Montreal and New England Conservatory, based in Brooklyn. Group includes trumpet (Jacob Wick), tenor sax (Evan Smith), euphonium (Adam Dotson), drums (Jason Nazary). Hype sheet says group "began as a vision of a metal/opera/cartoon with hamsters singing classical arias over metal-based rhythmic structures." At least they got rid of the vocal aspect here, and the rhythm is more free than metal. The horns chew on each other, with the euphonium an interesting contrast. I suspect it's too limited to go far, but worth another listen. William Block's comic strip illustrations are a nice touch. [B+(**)]

Arild Andersen: Live at Belleville (2007 [2008], ECM): Bassist, one of the young Norwegian players who latched on to George Russell in the late 1960s, establishing a new postbop wave that turned into a big chunk of the ECM aesthetic -- Jan Garbarek and Terje Rypdal are better known, probably because they aren't bassists. Andersen contributed mightly to all that, moving on to his Masqualero group -- better known for introducing Nils Petter Molvaer -- and he has a substantial discography under his own name: ECM's Rarum XIX: Selected Recordings is an excellent introduction, one of the best entries in their sampler series. Useful here to concentrate on the bass lines, and the lovely soft intro to "Dreamhorse" which starts arco and slowly resolves into tenor sax. After all, if you don't concentrate on the bass, you'll just get overwhelmed by the saxophonist: Tommy Smith, in a muscular, mature, masterful performance. A-

Julia Hülsmann Trio: The End of a Summer (2008, ECM): Pianist, b. 1968 in Bonn, Germany. Has three previous albums on ACT, including one co-headlined by voalist Anna Lauvergnac; has also worked with vocalist Rebekka Bakken. This is straight piano trio, not exactly slow and not exactly meditative, but something along those lines. Another fine ECM piano album. B+(**)

Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra: Where or When (2008 [2009], Owl Studios): Steven Bernstein's territory band is a big city concept; Ken Vandermark's is transcontinental. This, however, is the real thing: a big band that's been working out of Indianapolis since 1994. Trombonist Brent Wallarab arranges and conducts. Mark Buselli plays trumpet, in front of the usual array of 5 reeds, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, piano, bass, drums, boy and girl singers -- the only anomaly is "horn," played by Celeste Holler-Seraphinoff. The songs are standards, arranged conventionally with the feel of well oiled antique wood with sparkles of brass. Few soloists emerge, but the vocalists do, especially Everett Greene -- a highlight on that Gust Spenos Swing Theory album I liked so much last year, even more so here. His deep, graceful voice is unique, lending gravity and polish even to "My Funny Valentine." Cynthia Layne offers a sharp, slightly shrill contrast. A- [Jan. 27]

Frank Senior: Listening in the Dark (2007 [2008], Smalls): Vocalist, born blind, don't know when but "after the birth of his daughter" dates from the early 1980s; based in the Bronx. Liner notes described this as his first album, but CDBaby has another album, Let Me Be Frank, which also claims to be his debut. Starts off with a Ray Charles song which he rips straight up the middle. More standards follow: "This Can't Be Love," "On the Street Where You Live," "The Very Thought of You," "Route 66," "The Best Things in Life Are Free." Bob Mover contributes sax appeal. B+(**)

Harry Whitaker: One Who Sees All Things (1981-82 [2008], Smalls): Pianist, b. 1942, worked with Roy Ayers and Roberta Flack in the 1970s. Lightly recorded, with a 1976 avant-fusion thing called Black Renaissance: Body, Mind and Spirit, a 2001 pinao trio, a 2007 recap. This may be taken to fill in a hole, but it raises more questions than it answers. Seven tracks, five lineups with some common denominators. Starts off with a somewhat annoying vocalist doing ethereal scat to a hymn or anthem -- something taking itself way too seriously. Next few pieces alternate saxophonists Gary Bartz and Rene McLean, with Terumaso Hino on trumpet, and the last two bring a larger group together, including Steve Grossman and John Stubblefield -- and another, less annoying, voice. Bartz at the time seemed singularly determined to resurrect bebop as true radicalism, and Whitaker certainly approved of that idea. Some remarkable music when it all clicks together. B+(***)

Steve Laffont/Gino Roman/Yorgui Loeffler/Chriss Campion: Latchès (2008, Sunnyside): French group. Probably an eponymous group name/album title, but the members' names are listed on the front cover (not the spine), so I'll go with that. Roman plays bass. The other three are guitarists, modelled on Django Reinhardt, of course. Three Django songs; one more by Lulu Reinhardt (whoever that is); one original from each group member; a few other scattered covers. Nice enough, but shouldn't string jazz have a little more buzz? B

Randy Klein: Piano Improvisations: The Flowing (2008, Jazzheads): Solo piano, simple pieces with titles like "The Calm," "The Flowing," "Child Like," "Process," "Clean and Beautiful," "Always Grateful," "A World of Luxury." B. 1949, AMG lists six records; his website shows nine going back to 1986, as well as a larger number of records as producer and composer. I never quite know what to do with solo piano, but this is one of the more pleasantly listenable specimens I've heard in quite a while. B+(**)

Ran Blake: Driftwoods (2008 [2009], Tompkins Square): Solo piano, more trouble for me. Blake has played a lot of solo piano over the years, and I've rarely been up to it. I gave his last one, All That Is Tied, a polite B+(**) and promptly forgot about it. The Penguin Guide, which has long shown an excessive fondness for solo piano, annointed it with one of their crowns. I need to dig it up and give it another shot. This one has a sticker saying: "Ran Blake salutes his favorite singers: Billie Holiday, Mahalia Jackson, Hank Williams, Nat King Cole and more." Need to figure out what that's about, too -- maybe even dig up that Unmarked Van (as in Vaughan, Sarah) that I didn't much care for long ago. (I've given him one A- grade, for his legendary Short Life of Barbara Monk, a non-solo.) What I can say is that he picks his way through these songs with great skill, like a master chef deboning fish. The one that I feel closest to, "You Are My Sunshine," hasn't been done this exquisitely since Sheila Jordan sang it for George Russell. No doubt a major jazz pianist. For me, still a project. [A-]

David S. Ware: Shakti (2008 [2009], AUM Fidelity): Ware's old Quartet, with Matthew Shipp and William Parker, ran from 1990 to 2006, spanning four drummers, each as distintly interesting as the seasons. Overlooking the drummer changes, they were the longest-running major group in jazz history. The new quartet does without Shipp, or for that matter piano; keeps Parker; brings in a new drummer, old-timer Warren Smith. The other new player, guitarist Joe Morris, isn't the threat Shipp was to steal the show -- at least not Ware's show -- but he fills in interestingly. Still, Ware is such a singular tenor saxophonist that such differences on the sidelines pale in comparison. A- [Jan. 27]

Joshua Redman: Compass (2008 [2009], Nonesuch): Advance copy. Back cover reads, "Full album program from Nonesuch 510844-2 available January 13, 2009," which makes me wonder if this is the full album. (Length is certainly substantial enough.) No track credits, but listing two bassists (Larry Grenadier and Reuben Rogers) and two drummers (Brian Blade and Gregory Hutchinson) makes me suspect this showcases two sax trios rather than a quintet with doubled bass and drums. Straightforward, elemental, another deep excursion into the saxophonist's art. [B+(***)] [advance: Jan. 13]


No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.


Unpacking:

  • The Blue Note 7: Mosaic: A Celebration of Blue Note Records (Blue Note)
  • Gerald Cleaver/William Parker/Craig Taborn: Farmers by Nature (AUM Fidelity)
  • Benny Golson: New Time, New 'Tet (Concord)
  • Ramona Vieira: Lágrimas de Rainha / Tears of a Queen (Pacific Coast Jazz)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

House Log

I had to go out shopping this morning: the LCD monitor in our camera system blacked out, so had to be replaced. We put it in after the home invasion, and I found its absence so disconcerting I had to force myself to open the door to get the paper this morning. Cheap 17-inch Optiquest. I replaced it with an even cheaper 19-inch Hannspree, a Best Buy brand name I had never heard of. For another annoying distraction, car has an idiot light indicating low tire pressure. Went on; staid on, despite no obvious low tire. Bought a gauge, a cute little digital thing that only works on occasion. Looks like the back left tire is running 22 psi; the others are 28-30 psi. Something else I'll have to deal with.

Bought some electrical gear (mostly receptacles). Took a look at ceiling panels, panelling, tools. Got back mid-afternoon, but Jerry didn't make it, and I sort of let things slide.


More

Steven Erlanger: A Gaza War Full of Traps and Trickery. The New York Times is practically Israel's US PR office, and this is no exception. Nonetheless, this piece, based exclusively on Israeli military reports, reveals more convincingly the methodical destruction and brutality of Israel's siege of Gaza than we get from the Arab press, whose ritual bemoaning of the atrocities has become old hat. This is possible only because everyone involved assumes agreement on Israel's justifications for this cruel act of war. The point they wish to make in the article is that it is Hamas who, by the very effectiveness of their "tricky" defensive measures.

To avoid booby traps, the Israelis say, they enter buildings by breaking through side walls, rather than going in the front. Once inside, they move from room to room, battering holes in interior walls to avoid exposure to snipers and suicide bombers dressed as civilians, with explosive belts hidden beneath winter coats.

Those tactics are bound to result in tremendous destruction everywhere Israeli troops go, which in a space as small as Gaza is likely to be everywhere. Note language: "snipers and suicide bombers dressed as civilians." This does two things: it denies that Hamas supporters are civilians, which virtually all -- even ones driven to take up arms to defend their homes, families, and countrymen -- are; and it implies that non-civilians are Israel's legitimate targets, leaping over the whole question of whether Israel has any legitimate business interfering with, much less wreaking wholesale devastation on, the people of Gaza -- who have experienced repeated Israeli assaults for 60 years now, on top of the everyday indignities of occupation.

Erlanger writes that this is "a battle both sides knew was inevitable." This is both another lame excuse: it absolves Israel of consciously plotting this episode of unrestrained war, but it also show us that Hamas had good reason to arm itself to try to defend against Israeli invasion. Every time an incident flares up in or around Israel American politicians clamor all over about Israel's "right to defend itself" -- but you never hear about anyone else having any such right. Hamas, like Hezbollah before it, is excoriated for attempting to defend themselves, their families, and their neighbors from foreign troops who prefer to make their entrance by smashing down walls.

Like all Israeli propaganda, this only works as long as you cannot imagine, or simply do not care about, reciprocity: how would you react if the actors were reversed to produce the same acts? One reason that is hard to imagine is that the two sides are so utterly unequal, especially in terms of military power. (Indeed, if they were equal, especially at Israel's level of firepower, deterrence would take over, since neither side could afford the risks of war. As it is, Israel risks little, and many in Gaza feel they have little more to lose -- the most unstable of all scenarios.) Other reasons, of course, include attributes of the colonial and militarist mentalities: racism, chauvinism, ethnocentrism, sheer bloody-mindedness.

David E Sanger: US Rejected Aid for Israeli Raid on Iranian Nuclear Site. The important news here is that Israel formally asked for help, which illustrates Israel's position subordinate to the US, and reminds us that Israel rarely acts without at least tacit consent from the US. The other piece is that evidently the US has a covert effort going on to subvert Iran -- the main effect of which, assuming it might have any success at all, will be to give Iranians further reasons to fear and hate the US, and as such to expedite the development of weapons to effectively deter US and/or Israeli attacks (which the neocons of both countries have already turned into urgent concerns).

The piece also brings out the basic point that the US has a lot more to lose from forcing a confrontation with Iran. One could say much more about that, and delve much deeper into the real political machinations behind the brouhaha over Iran. For that, see Trita Parsi's Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States.

Helena Cobban: Gaza, and Israel's Wars of Forced Regime Change. Introduction and link to a historical sketch of six wars Israel launched to interfere with political processes among Palestinians and in Lebanon (1982, 1993, 1996, 2002, 2006, 2008) -- I can think of three more, if we separate the Gaza and Lebanon theatres in 2006 and include an earlier, aborted attack on Lebanon in the late-'70s and Israeli support for Jordan's expulsion of the PLO (the notorious Black September event). Israel's efforts at solving other peoples' political arrangements have always turned out dismally, partly because Israel itself is a poisonous ally, but mostly because (with the exception of Jordan vs. PLO) Israel invariably seeks to reduce the effectiveness of any and all power structures.

Cobban also cites Gareth Porter: Israel Rejected Hamas Ceasefire Offer in December -- further proof that not only was this war avoidable; it was deliberately provoked by Israel's wobbly Olmert-Barak-Livni troika -- and Mouin Rabbani: Birth Pangs of a New Palestine -- a long and very useful analysis of how Palestinian political power is evolving faced with Israel's relentless onslaught.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

House Log

Progress on the dining room shelf units: the four main shelf units have backs now; two of three south wall cabinet units have been glued together. Only have enough clamps to do one unit per day. Was cold today, so not especially good for sawing. Will probably cut out the backs to the cabinet units tomorrow, and assemble at least two of them. Should do some work on the corner unit as well.

Big thing today was tearing out the island and the pantry counter. The island, separating the kitchen from the pantry, will be replaced with a box large enough to hold the refrigerator. For now we will keep the old refrigerator, but it has never been quite large enough, and the old kitchen layout locked us into a 33-inch space. The new space will allow us to move up to a 36-inch standard depth unit, which currently max out around 28.5 cu. ft. (a Samsung French door unit; also a GE side-by-side; the Samsung is a bit deeper and a hair taller, measuring 35.75 w x 70h x 33.375 d w/o handles, so that is roughly the space we need to leave open).

Also took out the cabinet over the old refrigerator -- more difficult than it should have been because it was secured by eight large nails. Hope the other cabinets prove easier to take down.

Did a little more shopping this evening. Ordered a bath vanity top: a pretty inexpensive ($150) 19x25-inch solid surface by Onyx, in a green pattern called Tranquility. Also ordered a piece of laminate countertop for the pantry area, 25x53-inches, in Formica, a matte finish slightly patterned black called Ebony Oxide, about $100. Both are custom orders, so will take a while. Got a quote on the kitchen countertop as well: LG Hi-Macs solid surface, Azure Quartz, with standard eased edge, a single sink, a coved 2-inch backsplash. Nothing cheap about that.

Bush Apologizes?

Matt Taibbi: Bush Apologizes: The Farewell Interview We Wish He'd Give. Obviously Bush has lots to apologize and make amends for, but the notion that he might be conscious of his misdeeds is even more mindboggling than the fact that he was inane (not to mention insane) enough to do them in the first place. Still, Taibbi has a few things to say about the last eight years. For example:

Taibbi raises a question, and after a digression on football Bush finally gets back to it:

Let's talk about August 6th, 2001. That's the day you got a memo warning about plans for possible attacks by Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. What were you doing that day?

[ . . . ] Anyway, it was right around then that they brought me my PDB [Presidential Daily Briefing], and it said something about bin Laden. I mean, we get these warnings about foreign terrorists all the time. How was I supposed to know he was going to attack in the United States?

Well, the memo was titled "Bin Laden Determined to Attack in U.S."

It was?

Yes, sir.

Well, nobody told me that.

But they wrote it to you.

But nobody told me that they wrote it to me.

Who's "they"?

I don't know. Whoever is in the room. Vice President Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, Rove. Sometimes there's some other guys. It kind of rotates.

Do you decide who "they" is?

No, they usually decide who they is. Or at least one of they does. Usually Cheney.

Some stuff on how Bush's insularity, how he "fired pretty much everybody who disagreed with you." Stuff about how much Rumsfeld and Powell hated each other. A segment where Rumsfeld and Cheney work out the details of waterboarding on one of their houseboys. Then:

Do you ever look back on the past eight years and think, "Maybe I shouldn't have let Dick Cheney run everything"?

All the time. I mean, I was here when my dad was president. Those old guys like Dick managed to do all the work back then without fucking absolutely everything up. I figured Dick would do the paperwork, and I would kiss the occasional baby and throw out the first ball at Camden Yards once a year. Instead, I'm, like, up to my eyes in bodies here. Dick was this quiet accountant type in my dad's administration, but for me he's been a cross between Ted Bundy and Rommel. Thanks to him, I can't even talke a walk on the Liberty University quad without people throwing shit at me.

Moves on to the 2004 election, and John Kerry:

Was the Swift-boat thing your idea?

No, that was Karl too. You have to remember, the thing about Karl -- what he always told me is that you don't hit a guy where he's weak, you hit him where he thinks he's strong. He said the thing about Kerry is that everywhere he goes, he's like, pulling his medals out and showing them off, like a guy trying to get laid in a bar at three in the morning. So we figured we'd put it out there like he didn't really earn them or whatever. And, hey, maybe that was a low blow, but the reason it worked is that he was so freaking touchy about it. Every time he squawked about it, I'd just pick up the phone and order up a whole new round of 527 ads giving Kerry shit about his medals. I was like, "Waitress, double that order!" That guy . . . he just wasn't serious.

On to Terry Schiavo (Karl Rove: "Mr. President, I am fully erect. This is a winner all the way"), then Hurricane Katrina and "Heckuva Job Brownie" (allegedly already on the outs following a horse-groping incident). Then to the economy:

We're now in the middle of the worst economic crisis sine the Great Depression. Do you feel any responsibility for what's happening?

Hey, markets is markets. Whatever happens in a market is what's supposed to happen. You're not supposed to interfere. That's why they call the market the hidden hand. If I can see your hands, it's communism.

Are you saying that what's happening is good?

I'm saying if you hand a retard a pistol and he shoots himself, that's the market. And markets are good.

So when it comes to the economy, your policy was to hand out pistols to retards.

All I'm saying is that if you did hand him a pistol, he might shoot himself and he might not. But if he does, that's capitalism, and that's the system we live by. It's America.

Finally, a bit of psychologizing:

Mr. President, it almost sounds to me like you're saying that it's not your fault that we elected you.

It isn't.

But it is your fault you ran, isn't it?

Why shouldn't I run? I have every right to run.

Sure you do. It's a free country. But if you weren't qualified for this office, you also had a responsibility not to run.

[Somberly] Yeah. Well. I did wonder about that once or twice.

When? What hapened to make ou think of that?

It wasn't anything specific. It's just sometimes the way people looked at me. Laura.

Laura said something to you?

Not exactly. We were in bed one night, watching TV, and we saw this thing on the news about some poll in the Middle East showing that I was the most hated man in the Arab world, getting three times as many votes as the second-place guy, who was Ariel Sharon. And I said to her, "Jeez, what the fuck did I do to deserve that?"

And she said?

She didn't say anything. She just kind of gave me this look. Like she was sad. My dad does it too, sometimes. Like there's something they want to say to me, but won't.

I think there are a lot of people who feel that way.

Really? What do they want to say?

Do you really want to know?

Sure.

OK, here it is. You're the child of two emotionally absent aristocrats who denied you any kind of love and affection from an early age. You grew up resentful and lacking completely in natural gifts or curiosity and by early adulthood found yourself desperate to fulfill the expectations your parents by then mostly had only for your much more competent brother, Jeb. You failed every test you ever faced as a young man and were unable to hold any job at all until the age of 45 or so, at which time you decided to try to win some self-respect by going into the family business. You were aided in this quest by a bunch of narrow-minded lackeys and holdovers from your father's administration who every step of the way manipulated your obvious Oedipal resentments to their advantage, enriching themselves and their friends. All you wanted was a pat on the back and a few accomplishments of your own to hang your hat on, but instead you're about to spend the rest of eternity pondering your now-official legacy as the worst and most pigheaded leader in the history of Western democracy, a man who almost single-handedly sank the mightiest nation on Earth by turning the presidency into a $50 trillion therapy session that ended in two disastrous wars, a financial crisis that threatens the entire system of international capitalism, and a legacy of corruption on a scale not seen since the Borgias or maybe Nero.

That, Mr. President, is what they're thinking and not saying to you.

Gets teary-eyed at the end, with Bush remembering that back in 1989 he thought of buying a couple of Sizzler franchises in Lubbock, to which his father responded: "Good idea, son. It's hard to fuck up steak." Would have been more interesting, and challenging, but I'm sure he could have done it.

Friday, January 09, 2009

House Log

Finished taking out a chunk of wall upstairs. This will wind up housing a subpanel as we work on the electrical system next week. Upstairs, and between floors, is still all knob and tube wiring, which we'd like to replace with modern wiring. The first step is to upgrade the service entrance and the main power panel in the basement. Electrician for that is currently scheduled for Tuesday. With the kitchen torn up, this is a good time to run the feeder up to the upstairs subpanel. Rewiring the upstairs will probably be a later phase. Same for running power out to the detached garage. I still need to work on my house wiring diagram. Trying to figure out how everything is hooked up.

The wall is in the small northwest bedroom, south wall, about two feet from the southeast corner to the plaster-covered chimney. The chimney has shifted a bit, starting to break open the adjacent wall, so this has been due for repair for some time. Wall is lathe and plaster: came down in an ugly mess. Not deep enough for the box, which means either we'll have to cut further, or build out -- probably the latter.

Continuing to make progress gluing the shelf units together, including backs.

Is This Thing Working?

Todd Snider's latest album (maybe just EP) has a song that sums up Israel's latest foray into Gaza near perfectly -- well, a little short on blood and gore, but he's got the dynamic right. The song is called "Is This Thing Working?" Some lyrics:

In the hallway of a high school
Anywhere, USA
There was a bully that would pick on a different kid
And it seemed like every day

He had a pack of back-slappin' buddies
That would laugh and back him up all the way
And a screaming girlfriend that would make-believe
In everything he would say

Then one day this kid
That he beat up a couple times before
Realized to even his surprise
That he could indeed take more

And with that he hatched the evil plan
To make that devil pay
He walked up to him in the middle of the gym
And he found the nerve to say

If you're gonna hit somebody today
You're gonna hit me too
In fact you're gonna hit me every day
Because now I'm picking on you

And as crazy as this might sound right now
I'm not stopping until I'm through
It's too late to beg for mercy

That bully he just laughed and laughed of course
And so did all of his friends
And he beat that poor kid unmercifully
For days and days on end

Only slightly a little bit less impressively each time
To that girl and all his friends
Who would eventually secretly
Start hoping for that kid to win

Now you may never hear him say this
Cause he thinks that people still don't know
But winning this battle every day
Cost our bully the war a long time ago

And of all the scars that he's got to show
For every blow that kid sneaks in
The worst one is knowing that tomorrow
He's gonna have to get up and fight that kid again

Israel has never lost a war, but they haven't really won one since 1967 either. They could have parlayed their 1967 victory into peace. All it would have took was a little magnanimity and grace: a return to the pre-1967 borders, a token recognition of the refugee problem, some money (largely from the world powers). Until 1967, the standard Arab position was that Isreal should withdraw to the 1947 UN-proposed partition boundaries. After 1967, Israel's much-expanded armistice borders became the standard deal -- as they still are today. But more importantly, the 1967 borders (unlike the 1947 partition lines) were "facts on the ground" -- due to the expulsion of Palestinians, the wholesale destruction of Palestinian villages, and the implant of large numbers of Israeli settlers. That wasn't right, and under the newly emerging post-WWII international system wasn't legal, but it was real, and it did matter a great deal to Israelis to secure world recognition of their borders and their state. There were several possible variations on that deal, the simplest being one where a new, independent Palestinian state would be formed combining the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) and Gaza -- essentially, the other shoe dropping from the 1947 UN partition plan. With Palestine free and recognizing Israel, the other Arab nations would have no grounds for continuing their hostilities against Israel.

However, Israel did not choose peace. Israel did not choose to recognize the human rights of Palestinians under Israeli occupation. Israel did not choose to live peacefully with its neighbors. Looking back at how Israel acted from 1948-67 -- numerous border incidents, including several massacres aimed at punishing whole towns suspected of giving support to "terrorists"; acts of subversion like the Lavon Affair; a massive military build up, including development of nuclear weapons; aggressive wars in 1956 and 1967 -- it is now easy to see why. Israelis had come to believe they could get whatever they wanted by bullying their neighbors and their unwanted people. They've pretty much done that ever since, waging war after war, flounting the most powerful military in the region, the most disciplined intelligence agents, and the most effective propaganda specialists. They've wasted their carefully cultivated David-vs.-Goliath conceit and turned into Snider's bully. The Palestinians never had a chance, yet by surviving to be beaten again and again, they keep exposing Israel, undermining its foreign support, turning Israel into an international pariah.

There's an old Golda Meir quote to the effect that someday Israelis may forgive the Arabs for killing Israeli sons, but Israelis could never forgive the Arabs for turning Israeli sons into killers. It was, at the time, a typical assertion of moral superiority, but over time it has become something much more mundane: a self-loathing way of life. With memories of pogroms and the Holocaust fading, with the dreams of forging new lifestyles on kibbutzim dashed in a society increasingly given to crony capitalism and corruption, in a nation where more Jews return to exile than make aliyah, Israel has little identity left but for its wars against Arabs.

Like Israel, Snider's bully is trapped in his own attitude and performance, bereft of anything else to do with its increasingly miserable and pointless life. Snider doesn't explore what happens to the bully after he loses his girl, his posse, his self-respect, maybe even his health and sanity, but he does hint that the kid picks up aspects of the bully. We see some of this in Palestinians like Hamas, taunting Israel with homemade rockets, boasting that Gaza will be Israel's graveyard. Of course, it won't be, but that hardly matters any more. Totally self-absorbed without any real self-control, Israel has no claim to moral ground whatsoever -- to exercise morality you have to be able to recognize others like you recognize yourself, but Israel has lost that. They are the dead endlessly, mechanically revenging the loss of their souls.


Jimmy Carter: An Unnecessary War. Starts out:

After visiting Sderot last April and seeing the serious psychological damage caused by the rockets that had fallen in that area, my wife, Rosalynn, and I declared their launching from Gaza to be inexcusable and an act of terrorism. Although casualties were rare (three deaths in seven years), the town was traumatized by the unpredictable explosions. About 3,000 residents had moved to other communities, and the streets, playgrounds and shopping centers were almost empty.

Also:

We knew that the 1.5 million inhabitants of Gaza were being starved, as the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food had found that acute malnutrition in Gaza was on the same scale as in the poorest nations in the southern Sahara, with more than half of all Palestinian families eating only one meal a day.

The passive voice skirts the question of who is doing what to cause this starvation. The answer is Israel, backed by the US and European countries fantasizing that they can bully Palestinians into overturning the Hamas government. But Carter makes clear that the rockets are in response to the starvation tactics, and that allowing food and supplies into Gaza will stop the rockets. This is something that Carter has tried to broker, so he understands on a more detailed level than nearly anyone else how counterproductive Israel's belligerence is.

Tony Karon: The War Isn't Over, But Israel Has Lost. We've seen this before. In 2006, after removing all Israeli settlements from Gaza, Israel invaded Gaza -- ostensibly to search for a kidnapped IDF soldier -- producing enormous infrastructural damage, including destruction of the power grid. But that invasion was largely upstaged by Israel's even more dramatic fit against Lebanon. Go back further and you find more of the same: in 2001, Israel bulldozed its way into a number of Palestinian towns and refugee camps, going out of its way to destroy the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority, their way of undoing the Oslo Accords. At the time, whenever Hamas committed an attack against Israel, the IDF responded by beating up Arafat's compound, because it was the PLO (not Hamas) that Israel took to be their major threat. And you can keep going back, all the way to the early 1950s atrocities when Ariel Sharon first made his name. You could even go back to the 1937-39 revolt, when the Haganah learned its craft under British colonial administration. Israel has always sought to decapitate Palestinian resistance, and it's never worked:

Arafat is dead and gone. So are Sheikh Yassin, and Rantissi. And Abbas al-Musawi, and Imad Mughniyeh. Israel's ruthless efficiency at killing the leaders of Palestinian and Lebanese resistance groups is second to none, and yet, no matter who it kills, there are always thousands more, ready to declare, "I am Spartacus." That's because those who step up to lead these organizations are acting not out of personal ambition -- leadership in Hamas is a death sentence. The endless stream of Palestinians willing to sacrifice themselves in the role, then, is a symptom of the condition of their people. And Israel's leaders know this. Asked when running for Prime Minister a decade ago what he'd have done if he'd been born Palestinian, Ehud Barak -- the man directing the current operation in Gaza -- answered bluntly, "I'd have joined a terror organization."

Needless to say, Barak did join a terror organization -- just one that is especially well-heeled and relatively secure, one that allows him to kill more and risk less than he ever could have as a Palestinian.

As Karon emphasizes, Israel's policy is the child of the US policy of reversing Hamas' political power, a base that was built precisely because religion is the last refuge people seek against repression:

If Hamas is not allowed to govern in Gaza, chances are that nobody will govern in Gaza. It will look more like Mogadishu than like the West Bank -- a chaotic cauldron run by rival warlords, with Hamas -- no longer responsible for governance -- the most powerful political-military presence (although al-Qaeda will fancy its chances of setting up shop if the Hamas government is overthrown -- Hamas is the greatest bulwark against Bin Laden's crowd gaining a foothold in Gaza).

Hamas's right to govern is not something that should be decided in Jerusalem or Washington, or anywhere else except by the Palestinian people. Karon quotes Avi Shlaim (no citation):

Israel likes to portray itself as an island of democracy in a sea of authoritarianism. Yet Israel has never in its entire history done anything to promote democracy on the Arab side and has done a great deal to undermine it. Israel has a long history of secret collaboration with reactionary Arab regimes to suppress Palestinian nationalism. Despite all the handicaps, the Palestinian people succeeded in building the only genuine democracy in the Arab world with the possible exception of Lebanon. In January 2006, free and fair elections for the Legislative Council of the Palestinian Authority brought to power a Hamas-led government. Israel, however, refused to recognise the democratically elected government, claiming that Hamas is purely and simply a terrorist organisation.

The best chance any government has to counter terrorism is to get terror groups to choose the ballot over the bullet. By precluding this way out, Israel (and the US) perpetuates its terrorist opponents.

Tim McGirk: Can Israel Survive Its Assault on Gaza?. This piece buys much of the Israeli propaganda line, yet still can't find a way out. Degrading Hamas's current military capability only increases its long-term political furor, or supersedes Hamas with a new, even more furious opposition. Backing down weakens Israel's deterrence, but that's a pretty illusory issue any way: it's not like Hamas doesn't understand that firing rockets on Sderot will cost Palestinian lives (many more than they will take from Israel), but they do it anyway, just to get a bargaining chip to trade off against mass starvation.

Israel's leaders need to recognize that if Hamas cannot be beaten militarily, then it must be engaged politically. That means accepting the idea of dealing with some kind of Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas. A coalition between Hamas and Abbas is essential for the future of a Palestinian state and for moderating Hamas' extremism. Hamas, which 18 months ago chased Abbas' men from Gaza, says it will pair up with Abbas if he, along with the international community, recognizes that the Islamic militants legitimately came to power in the January 2006 elections.

Paul Woodward: When the dead have all been counted, what will Israel have accomplished? Lead line:

When the neocons start issuing desperate appeals to Israel -- don't stop fighting now -- it becomes obvious the war is close to its predictably inconclusive end.

The link was to Charles Krauthammer. Few things have damanged Israel's moral position more than their choice of American friends: the neocons and the Armageddon freaks. Moreover, friends like that provide all the more reason why it is important to shift American opinion against Israeli militarism. The Armageddon freaks mostly cheer from the sidelines. The neocons do real damage, as we've seen in Iraq, Afghanistan, and throughout the Middle East. Their real pride and joy, however, is Israel. It's their model for how a superpower should act: all stick, no carrot.

Andrew J Bacevich: The lessons of Gaza. Raises "moral issues," but doesn't talk about them. Rather, Bacevich goes into strategic failures -- rather archly explaining, e.g., "as instruments of pacification, conventional armies possess modest utility. Rather than facilitating political solutions, coercion only exacerbates the underlying problem."

The Israeli military action in Gaza raises both moral questions and strategic ones. The moral issues are more complex than partisans on either side are prepared to admit. Not so the strategic issues: here the verdict is clear. Israel's return to Gaza constitutes a tacit admission of strategic failure now stretching back four decades. [ . . . ]

If Obama fails to grasp this essential point, the nation's own bloody chronicle of uprisings, incursions, invasions, and tit-for-tat retaliation will continue. Iraq and Afghanistan will be only the first in a long line of tar babies on which the United States will exhaust itself. And in the end, it will simply replicate Israel's failures on an even larger and more tragic scale.

Rashid Khalidi: What you don't know about Gaza. Starts off: "Nearly everything you've been led to believe about Gaza is wrong." Goes on to explain who lives in Gaza (mostly refugees from the 1948 war, especially from Ashkelon and Beersheba), what occupation is ("even though it removed its troops and settlers from the strip in 2005, Israel still controls access to the area, imports and exports, and the movement of people in and out"), the blockade, the cease-fire, the question of war crimes.

This war on the people of Gaza isn't really about rockets. Nor is it about "restoring Israel's deterrence," as the Israeli press might have you believe. Far more revealing are the words of Moshe Yaalon, then the Israeli Defense Forces chief of staff, in 2002: "The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people."

You can see from this quote why Hamas will declare their mere survival as some form of victory: it's the only way they have to deny Israel its success.

Paul Woodward: Israel (and a world that looks the other way) is in the grip of moral paralysis. Among other things, note the picture, showing Orthodox Jews in Israel protesting not just the Gaza invasion but Zionism in general -- a position that virtually all orthodox Jews shared until the Kooks came to power. One sign reads:

"Israel" has no right to rule over any part of the holy land.

That's further than I would go, but it ultimately depends on what you mean by "Israel." The government currently using that name has a lot to answer for, as do the people who elected it. On the other hand, I have no doubt that the people who live there should be able to elect their own government.

Jerry Haber: The Only Jewish Prophet Left -- Gideon Levy on the Gradual Death of Israel's Soul. Opens:

After arguing on purely pragmatic grounds that the present war on Gaza is unnecessary, stupid, and liable to cause enormous suffering to Israel, it is now time to turn to questions that don't interest most defenders of Israel at this moment -- the moral price. Every time you think that Israel has hit rock bottom with respect to morality, we learn the painful truth -- we still can and will descend further into the muck. [ . . . ]

Others will say that even though only a few Jews have died, an entire population has been living in fear of rocket attacks. Isn't that enough to deaden one's sympathy for the other side?

Frankly, I don't think so. What motivates Israel's actions in this "war" (actually, it's more like a turkey shoot) is the same thing that motivated in the second Lebanese war -- the hatred and frustration generated by the knowledge that those little Arab pishers can keep firing rockets, and we can't stop them.

Italics in original, followed by quotes from the leaders of the "so-called Leftwing Meretz party" and Peace Now supporting the war.


Probably many more pieces to cite. Throughout this affair, Philip Weiss has been my most dependable source of news and reactions.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

House Log

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

House Log

Not much today. Jerry didn't make it. Matt came over for a short while. We glued one of the shelf units together. Went shopping afterwards: paint store, Big Tool Store, Lowe's, book store. Got some paint and stain samples. Still undecided on how to finish the shelf units, but looks like a water-based urethane is the way to top off whatever color/tint we choose. Picked up a neat Rockler jig for drilling adjustable shelf holes. Tried to figure out best tools for ripping open a lathe-and-plaster wall, and for stripping off ugly texture paint. One possibility is the angle grinder: picked up a paint removal attachment and a couple of cutting blades. Will see how they work. Spent a lot of time looking at screwdriver bit sets for impact drivers. Don't really like the Ryobi set I have now partly because it's missing some bits), but didn't see anything better.

What Can Disenfranchised Palestinians Do?

Laura Tillem's letter was published in the Wichita Eagle today, under the title "Palestinians tried":

Regarding "Israel's action is defensive, legitimate" (Jan. 2 Opinion): Why would anyone think keeping 1.5 million Gazans in the world's largest open-air prison for years is legitimate? The commentary said that Hamas unilaterally declared the cease-fire over. But the cease-fire ended Nov. 4 when Israel blocked all crossings into Gaza and launched a series of raids, killing six Palestinians. Hamas had managed to keep the rockets to a low number before Nov. 4. The number had gone down from 179 per month to three. So this means Israel's Nov. 4 breach of the cease-fire led directly to more rockets being sent from Gaza. Now that Israel has bombed all the police stations, Hamas will be unable to prevent individuals from firing rockets after the next cease-fire.

What a smart way to defend Israelis. Not.

The letter elicited a couple of responses, mostly accusing Laura of justifying the Gazan missiles. Actually, we're not about to defend missiles, bombs, guns, or even rocks from either side -- not least because militants on both sides use the other's attacks to justify their own violent desires. The problem, however, is that one cannot be even-handed in condemning both sides, because the reality isn't even-handed at all. Whenever shooting breaks out, Israel unleashes many times more firepower than their would-be opponents -- horrible as that is, it is still only a fraction of the death and destruction that nuclear-armed Israel can deliver. But the disparity in power is at least as great when there is no shooting. In such "normal" times Israel is able to enforce a crippling embargo on the Gazan economy, effectively running the entire territory as an overcrowded open air prison. The "cease fire" that Israel says they want is one that would forego shooting on both sides, but keep the "normal" occupation and deprivation of Gaza unchanged.

One thing nobody talks about is why Hamas developed its crude rockets to fire at Israel. The rockets have light payloads, limited range, and no guidance, making them almost completely useless as military tools. Thousands of rockets over the years have killed few more than a dozen Israelis. Even without the backlash, that doesn't begin to constitute a means to threaten Israel's existence. But it is all the more masochistic when you consider that the backlash is inevitable -- surely Palestinians know Israelis well enough by now to figure that out. So why do it? First of all, the dominant fact for Palestinians is that they live in walled-in ghettos, resigned to squalor which their Israeli neighbors scarcely ever have to give a thought to. The key thing about rockets is that they shoot over walls. No matter how high Israel builds its walls, they can always be breached by rockets. The point is less to hurt Israel than to remind Israelis that the Palestinians who have been wronged by Israel are still waiting for justice. You might object that there are better ways for Palestinians to make that point, but it is harder to argue that there are more effective ways, given that Israel has persisted in occupying Palestinian territories and in denying the right of return, sanctioned in international law, of the Palestinian refugees of Israel's many wars. You can argue that nonviolence would be a better path. What you can't do is cite any instances of nonviolence swaying Israeli policy. The ideal victory of Zionism is the completely passive acceptance of Jewish control over all of Palestine -- death or exile are just two ways to attain such passivity. Violence doesn't work, but it's a straightforward way to deny the Zionists victory.


The Eagle's piece on Gaza yesterday quoted Barak to the effect that Israel still has things left they need to accomplish in this phase of the war. He didn't elaborate, but yesterday Israel did manage some of the things that are hallmarks of every Israeli war: several bombing runs on UN facilities; a signature massacre to remember the war by; the deaths of a few Israeli soldiers by their trigger-happy comrades, a so-called friendly fire incident.

Monday, January 05, 2009

House Log

Several days lapsed between this and my last entry. Need to get in the habit of doing this end of each day, but over the weekend I tried to get the Voice Jazz Poll results collated, and that project ran on.

Saturday cut out the big south wall cabinet, which will have three sections each 28-inches wide, plus two 3-inch endplates. The latter will hold wiring for lights, and allow for some thin items, like cookie sheets, to be slid into open-faced slots. Cabinet is 16-inches deep. I originally wanted deeper, but this let us rip a plywood sheet into three sides. Shelves are spaced 15 inches apart, except for the third (middle) at 17, with a fold-down recessed door. I fretted for a while about how to hinge the door, but Jerry came up with an elegant solution.

Sunday all we did was go out and do some shopping, mostly for countertops. Looks like solid surface, with a coved backsplash, and a 21-inch single sink. Got several color samples, but don't have a decision yet. I originally wanted a larger single sink, but only one brand offers one -- 26-inches, but about a $600 extra cost.

Cold today. We still had the dado cuts to make on the big cabinet, but I could barely stand the cold, and Jerry gave up after one side panel. Then we tried gluing one of the shelf units together. Had problems getting enough clamping on the full unit, at least until Jerry brought some tie-down ratchet straps in from his truck. That cinched it nicely. Unit looks awesome.

Went shopping after that, looking for more clamps. Didn't find them at a nearby lumber yard. I went out later in the evening and picked up two large Bessy clamps, plus a bunch of smaller, special purpose clamps, plus more ratchet straps. Should be ready for next time.

Music Week

Music: Current count 15076 [15059] rated (+17), 748 [757] unrated (-9). Housework mostly. Time to listen/write, hence to rate, has been scarce. Nothing much to focus on either, so I've been picking up low lying fruit.

  • Chet Baker: Peace (1982 [2007], Enja): Part of a new "24-bit master series," the remastering brings out the subtle elegance in Baker's trumpet, light as a feather here, but offset from David Friedman's marimba and vibraphone it carries all the weight; no vocals, two alternate takes. B+(*)
  • Gary Dial & Terre Roche: Featuring the Greatest Musicians in the World: Us An' Them (2008, Just Dial Roche, CD+DVD): Maybe "Us" is "US"; "AN' THEM" is styled to read "ANTHEM." The record is a collection of national anthems: Brazil, France, Guinea, the former Czechoslovakia, Israel, Italy, the imaginary Tibet, Austria, India, Jamaica, Greenland, the hallucinatory Esperanto, Canada, Norway, and USA (you were, of course, dying to hear that one). The "Greatest Musicians in the World" starts with Barbara Mendes, Sidiki Conde, and the Roches; ends with Peter Eldridge, Rebekka Baaken, Susan McKeown, and Terre Roche; and doesn't include anyone I've heard of in between. Execution can be a bit sweet, if the concept doesn't totally turn you off. Does me. C
  • Dizzy Gillespie: Sittin' In (1957 [2005], Verve): A JATP-style jam session, with the trumpet ace burning up "Dizzy Atmosphere" and "The Way You Look Tonight," separated by two ballad medleys favoring the tenor saxophonists, abundant, profusive, and profound: Stan Getz, Paul Gonsalves, and Coleman Hawkins; with Wynton Kelly, Wendell Marshall, and J.C. Heard. A-
  • Nobel Voices for Disarmament: 1901-2001 (2008, Smithsonian Folkways): Spoken word, with Michael Douglas narrating, speech excerpts -- the oldest being Alfred Nobel's introduction of his Peace Prize -- and a little solo violin at the end; physicists, physicians, feminists, Linus Pauling, Kofi Annan, a lot of nuclear bombs, a little on land mines; moderately interesting, but not the sort of thing I'd ever listen to again. C+
  • Stuart Rosh & the Geniuses: American Vernacular (2006 [2007], Winged Flight): Singer-songwriter, based in Nashville, has a firm grasp on Americana, which can span jazz and blues as well as country and folk and rock and roll. B+(*)
  • Teenage Jesus & the Jerks: Beirut Slump (1977-79 [2008], Atavistic): No Wave, the last desperate surge of would be avant-gardists to find some form of outrage beyond where anyone had gone before -- épater les punks. Lydia Lunch's group wasn't the best of the bunch -- their betters, like DNA or the Contortions, wimped out by finding music in the noise -- but they made archetypal rant and roll. A few singles, a couple of EPs, the inevitable Live at Max's Kansas City, some shit nobody bothered to release before -- it's all here, more than anyone needs. Graded leniently, because I was there, lived through it, survived, and find the memoir quaintly charming. You'll probably hate it, and not appreciate that that's the point. B+(*)
  • Kanye West: 808s and Heartbreak (2008, Roc-A-Fella): Bought this on spec, figuring his third album fall-off wasn't that severe, and that the odds were good that sooner or later I'd wish I'd taken advantage of that first week sale price. Not much rap, not much fun, virtually no interest from the year-end-list crowd, which are admittedly pretty fickle when it comes to hip-hoppers. Still, Laura loved it from the start, and I'm more than two-thirds of the way there. Mostly sung, the pop hooks huge, sweeping. Don't know about the text, but I gather his mother died, and the girlfriend didn't fare much better. A-


Jazz Prospecting (CG #19, Part 1)

With the house wrecked, not much time at the computer these days. Voice has the Jazz CG draft. No print schedule yet. Don't have all of my transitional paperwork done -- e.g., haven't culled through the "done" file to trim down the surplus of records I'll never find space for. Meanwhile, I've started prospecting for next time. The following represents two weeks of relatively light prospecting.

One thing I did spend some time on was the Village Voice Jazz Poll. Last year I retabulated the results by listing each album, the critics who voted for it, and my own grade. This year I did the same, and then some: added the minor categories. I've listed the records in order of finish where that was tabulated, but beyond that I ignored the points system and just counted votes. Mostly this was a lot easier, but I think it's also better information. Mechanically converting 1-10 rank into 10-1 points makes one person's top record count for 10 times as much as a number 10 record, a spread which would almost never occur if voters assigned their own weights. (The Pazz & Jop poll allows that, dividing 100 points with an album range limit of 30-to-5 points, a 6-to-1 maximum. Given the choice, very few voters use more than a 4-to-1 range, and many much less. When Idolator tried to simplify that system they proposed a 15-to-6 scale, giving a 2.5 range.)

I haven't done much with this yet. A simple counter tells me that 329 records received votes, and that I managed to get to 59% of them. Obviously, some of those missing 40% are records I should try to track down. Also I need to find my copy of Rudresh Mahanthappa's Kinsmen and make up my mind about it -- last time I played it the South Indian classical synthesis was sounding more credible, richer and more expressive than the simpler Apti, which I fell for on the first play. I should also pull that Charles Lloyd CD off the shelf and give it another shot. I'll look at this more over the next couple of weeks. May learn something.


Anat Cohen: Notes From the Village (2008, Anzic): I knew I had this somewhere. Made several searches in the last couple weeks of last cycle looking for it, but only found it too late. So chalk it up to the curse of the advance/promo only: they start off with little motivation to be played, then languish in hard-to-find limbo, and finally (if I can't dismiss them out of hand) put back into limbo, perhaps wondering why finalize my opinion on a non-final copy. What I can say: Cohen seems to be following her polls, in that she's leading with clarinet here; that's not such a bad thing, but her one tenor sax feature, an original "Lullaby for the Naive Ones," fairly jumps out of the grooves. Her originals certainly hold up. Her take on "A Change Is Gonna Come" is a bit tentative, and the Brazilian piece is neither here nore there, but she gets a lot of mileage out of "Jitterbug Waltz." Good band support, with strong solos from pianist Jason Lindner. Probably her best since Place and Time, before all the hoopla began. A-

The Matt Savage Trio: Hot Ticket: Live in Boston (2008, Savage): Child prodigy, now a seasoned vet at age 16. I took a swipe at him last time; was a little surprised he came back for more. I still think he has some growing up to do to develop real depth, but can tinkle those ivories, and I like the slow one where he gives the bassist some ("El Fuego"). Can't follow the live commentary. B-

Steve Herberman Trio: Ideals (2008, Reach Music): Guitarist, based in DC, has a couple of previous records. A subtle craftsman, hard to pin down -- cites Joe Pass, Joe Diorio, Lenny Breau, and Gene Bertoncini on his website, which gives you an idea of family resemblance, but he's better than three of those, and different from Pass. Covers include pieces by Weill, Jobim, Gershwin; also "Will You Still Be Mine?" and "Delilah" and Mal Waldron's "Soul Eyes." Originals flow nicely. With Tom Baldwin on bass, Mark Ferber on drums. B+(***)

John Escreet: Consequences (2008, Positone): Young pianist, 24 (evidently b. 1984), somewhere in UK, moved to NYC 2006, Manhattan School of Music, studying with Kenny Barron and Jason Moran. Leads a quintet with some hot avant moves -- Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Dave Binney (alto sax), Matt Brewer (bass), Tyshawn Sorey (drums). First piece, "The Suite of Consequence," runs out to 30:28; nothing else over 10:19, with the closing cover, Andrew Hill's "No Doubt," just 4:00. Some strong spots, especially where the piano blocks and tackles for the horns. A little rough around the edges. B+(*)

Melody Gardot: Worrisome Heart (2005-06 [2008], Verve): Advance copy, has been languishing quite a while; can't find any supporting hype, credits, anything more than a song list. Singer, b. 1985, from Philadelphia, was disabled in a car wreck at age 19, somehow channels that into her music, or so one says. Nice singer, not much jazz effect, more of a singer-songwriter. "Some Lessons" is a striking song, sensible, thoughtful. B+(*)

Massimo Biolcati: Persona (2008, ObliqSound): Bassist, b. 1972 in Sweden, grew up in Torino, came to US on a scholarship to Berklee, moved on to USC then to New York. First album, split into "Motion" and "Stillness" sections. The former provides a nice showcae for guitarist Lionel Loueke; the latter includes one vocal each by Lizz Wright and Gretchen Parlato, neither making much of an impression, but Peter Rende's piano gains stature, as does his accordion. B [advance]

Ron Blake: Shayari (2007 [2008], Mack Avenue): Saxophonist, sticks to tenor here but plays soprano elsewhere, b. 1965, Virgin Islands, based in NYC, several albums since 2000. Seems torn between the idea of crossing over and developing more of an inside jazz rep. This one swings hard toward the latter. Most cuts are duos with Michael Cain on piano, introspective ballad fare. Two cuts add bass (Christian McBride), five drums (Jack DeJohnette), three percussion (Gilmar Gome), one violin (Regina Carter), although the additions never really shift the equation. Impresive straightahead player. Still not sure what he'll find when he finds himself. B+(**)

Yoshie Fruchter: Pitom (2008, Tzadik): Part of John Zorn's far-ranging, mostly admirable Radical Jewish Culture series, the twist this time being a guitarist-led "punkassjewjazz" band; sounds more heavy metal than punk, more amusing copping Black Sabbath riffs than klezmerizing Frank Zappa. B-

Delmark: 55 Years of Jazz (1944-2007 [2008], Delmark, CD+DVD): Bob Koester is still in charge 55 years after founding this estimable Chicago label, known more for its renowned blues catalog than for its underrated, and rather scattered, jazz efforts. The CD picks interesting if not all that representative material, with some archives -- Coleman Hawkins' early bebop from Rainbow Mist -- and a mix of interests: trad jazz from George Lewis and Art Hodes; honking r&b from King Curtis; an early adventure by Sun Ra; a vocal by Francine Griffin; some quasi-mainstream hard bop; stray excursions into pan-Africanism; a groove piece from Ted Sirota's otherwise further out Breeding Resistance. Nothing pushes you very hard -- don't look for Anthony Braxton's For Alto, or Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell, or Ken Vandermark, all facets of Delmark's history. The DVD has less to choose from: the dates there range from 2004-07 and they hold less interest, mostly bare concert shots, sometimes with cheap effects -- Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio with guest Billy Bang is the exception, a much better showing for Ari Brown than his own date; a 15:30 excerpt from Chicago Underground Trio is compelling musically, but unwatchable. B+(*)

Savina Yannatou/Primavera en Salonico: Songs of an Other (2007 [2008], ECM): Greek soprano, neither folk nor classical as far as I can tell -- rather, she rises far above the fray; I much prefer the stretches where the band, including accordion, violin, oud, and nay, find their ground in Balkan rhythms, when her contrast becomes ethereal. B+(*)

Samba Meets Boogie Woogie (2008, Adventure Music): An ad hoc group, with guitarist Mario Adnet the probable leader, a half dozen vocalists named on the cover, and a strong set of Rio de Janeiro studio pros, none with any obvious expertise in boogie woogie; so no surprise that samba predominates, or that it reduces the concept to cute and clever -- that it starts to win you over is the real surprise. B+(*)

Putumayo Presents: Women of Jazz (1998-2008 [2008], Putumayo World Music): If you trust Putumayo to do your programming, you won't be disappointed here: with so much to choose from, they could hardly fail. Still, they came up with nothing more than a decade old -- Etta Jones is the only artist who worked much earlier. Some standards, some singer-songwriter fare, not much scat, nothing avant, no reason to get alarmed; no one to remind you of Betty Carter or Sheila Jordan. I hear a lot of jazz vocalists -- note that all ten picks are vocals; none are instrumentals -- and would have picked a completely different set, with Della Griffin the only find here I would have regretted missing. Not very useful, but still a very listenable set. B+(*)

Herbie Hancock: Then and Now: The Definitive Herbie Hancock (1964-2008 [2008], Verve): This could have been programmed by an accountant: two title cuts from classic Blue Notes; an obvious title from Fat Albert Rotunda; two cuts from the bestselling Head Hunters; the overwrought Stevie Wonder turn from Gershwin's World (on a song by W.C. Handy -- what was that doing there?); a piece from the Round Midnight soundtrack (Hancock did a nice bit of acting there); two takes of "River," the bonus with Joni Mitchell as herself; a Nirvana song from The New Standard; a Billie Holiday song from the Starbucks vanity plate album Possibilities, with Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan; a cheaper live take of "Rockit" from a stray DVD. This does indeed span Hancock's career, from hard bop to funk to fusion to cashing in and coasting. His later material fares poorly, and the fusion hasn't aged very well -- although "Rockit" is still a hoot. But the first cut thrilled me as much as ever: I finally got to this album the day Freddie Hubbard died, and there he was, unmistakably brilliant, playing with four-fifths of the Miles Davis Quintet and easily displacing the leader. The album, Maiden Voyage, is still brilliant. Start there and you'll never want to go here. B [advance; PS: later found my final copy]

Tim Ries: Stones World: The Rolling Stones Project II (2008, Sunnyside, 2CD): Rolling Stones songs. Ries plays tenor sax, quite a bit of soprano too. Spent some chunk of his career touring with the Rolling Stones, which may or may not give him some special insight, but certainly helps when he needs a drummer -- Charlie Watts on 5 cuts here -- or a little lap steel (Ronnie Wood) or harmonica (Mick Jagger). The original The Rolling Stones Project came out in 2005, an eclectic sampling of idiosyncratic band arrangements, most with guests singers of uneven merit. This one is even more so: think of it as The Rolling Stones Project hits the road. The sessions are labelled: Africa, Brazil, Japan, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Spain, NYC, Paris, with most of those plus Mexico somehow joined into a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual "Salt of the Earth." Huge range of guests: flamenco in Spain, fado in Portugal, a Tuareg group in Africa, Milton Nascimento in Brazil, tablas in India, Eddie Palmieri in Puerto Rico, Bill Frisell in New York, Keith Richards in Japan. So many disparate ideas here it's hard (probably futile) to make sense of them all -- might be a better candidate for Choice Cuts. Second disc is "enhanced," whatever that means. In the CD player it adds four tracks to the nine on the first. [B+(**)]

The Matthew Herbert Big Band: There's Me and There's You (2008, !K7): The leader was born 1972 in England, works primarily as DJ and producer, has a couple dozen albums since 1996 and a ton of remixes, most as Herbert, some as Doctor Rockit, Wishmountain, and Radio Boy. Fourth Matthew Herbert Big Band album. Didn't recognize this as a promo at first -- smashed jewel box fooled me -- but cover is one sheet blank on back, with no obvious information. Only found one hype sheet, not clearly complete: claims album features "the cream of British jazz musicians," but doesn't bother to identify any. (I gather from secondary sources that the lead singer is named Eska Mtungwazi.) Most songs have vocals, and they have a brassy, Broadway sound. I have trouble following the plot (if there is one). Herbert also has a rep as a political theorist, which I don't have any real grasp of. Could be better if I did, or worse. B [advance]

The Ron Hockett Quintet: Finally Ron (2008, Arbors): Trad jazz clarinetist, based in DC for last 29 years, mostly with the US Marine Band, plus 9 years with the Jim Cullum Jazz Band in San Antonio, leads his first album. Arbors treats him right, filling out the quintet with John Sheridan (piano), James Chirillo (guitar), Phil Flanigan (bass), and Jake Hanna (drums). One original blues; covers as obvious as "Beale Street Blues" and "On the Sunny Side of the Street," and as modern as Bob Wilber. Doesn't sound important, but does sound terrific. I keep forgetting how much I like Chirillo. ]B+(***)]

Nicole Henry: The Very Thought of You (2008, Banister): Singer, MySpace page says she's 90 years old, although from the pics I've seen I wouldn't put her a day over 39. Based in Florida. Second or third album. Favors standards -- "Almost Like Being in Love," "At Last," "All the Way," the title cut, a relatively obscure obligatory Jobim -- which she approaches with respect and care. Figure her for a Carmen McRae lineage. Impeccable, for whatever that's worth. B+(*)

Carol Fredette: Everything in Time (2008 [2009], Soundbrush): Vocalist, standards singer, or maybe I mean cabaret? Fourth or fifth album -- one attributed to David Matthews & New Satelite gives her a "featuring" credit. Previous ones include one with Steve Kuhn, another singing Dave Frishberg and Bob Dorough songs. Band varies, including a number of Brazilians. One Jobim tune -- "Vivo Sonhando (Dreamer)" -- of course, plus one from Ivan Lins, another from Jayme Silva -- "O Pato (The Duck)", with lyrics by Jon Hendricks, an amusing novelty tune -- but they are overwhelmed by the usual standards. Voice has a subtle but interesting character. B [Feb. 10]

Ruby Braff: For the Last Time (2002 [2008], Arbors, 2CD): Touted as Braff's "Historic Final Performance," with a sextet including tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton and pianist John Bunch, a mixed and rather tepid souvenir; not clear whether Braff was ailing but he rarely takes charge, or tops Hamilton, who has many memorable moments. B+(*)

Fay Claassen: Red, Hot & Blue: The Music of Cole Porter (2007 [2008], Challenge): Dutch vocalist, b. 1969, fifth album, counting her 2-CD Chet Baker tribute as one. The Cole Porter songs are all from the top drawer -- first three are "I Get a Kick Out of You," "Easy to Love," and "Love for Sale." Backed by a piano trio which doesn't quite deliver the requisite, or at least expected, swing. A capable singer, but doesn't add much of interest here, except for her scat breaks -- not often when I find a record where I enjoy the scat more than the text. B-

Viktoria Tolstoy: My Russian Soul (2008, ACT): Swedish vocalist, b. 1974, née Kjellberg, but for her career assumed the surname of her great-great-grandfather, Leo Tolstoy. Eighth album since 1994, past titles notably including White Russian and My Swedish Heart. For this record, she bases most of her compositions from Russian classics, especially one "P. Tschaikowsky," presumably the same guy Chuck Berry meant to clue in on rock and roll. Maybe that's giving her too much credit: the lyrics, in English, are credited to Anna Alerstedt (with two exceptions, neither to Tolstoy), and the music was adapted and arranged by Jacob Karlzon (also pianist here) and Joakim Milder (saxophonist, a well known name in his own right; he specifically gets credit for the ubiquitous but not all that intrusive strings). Album was produced by Nils Landgren, whose trombone smears are the only thing that seems out of place in what otherwise soundsp like an album of pristine show music. B-

The Leonisa Ardizzone Quintet: The Scent of Bitter Almonds (2008 [2009], Ardijenn Music): Vocalist. Has an evidently successful daytime career as an educator, but has also maintained a group with husband-guitarist Chris Jennings since 1994. Her previous record, Afraid of the Heights, has been on my HM-to-do list since it came out in 2007 -- I liked it when I heard it, then largely forgot about it. This is much more mixed: "My Romance" sounds awkward, "Take the 'A' Train" sillier than ever, but the normally treacly "Willow Weep for Me" scores both on the vocal and the guitar solo, and "Well You Needn't" makes a plausible case for vocalese -- both of those are tough tricks. B+(*)

Lisa Hearns: I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good (2006 [2008], [no label]). Vocalist, has a published birthday but not year, grew up in Massachusetts, graduated from Berklee, based in New York. First album. Presumably self-released, without bothering to think up a label name. Out of her depth on the title song, which shouldn't be sung by people with no plausible reason to complain, and therefore nothing to overcome. Standards, arranged by bassist Kelly Friesen, who does a fine job; pianist Keith Ingham helps out, and guitarist Howard Alden shines on four tracks -- especially "Plus Je T'Embrasse," a fast one in French even I can follow, which turns this album from slightly annoying to moderately engaging and charming. B+(*)

Yuganaut: This Musicship (2005 [2008], ESP-Disk): Piano trio. Steven Rush doesn't actually list piano among the dozen-plus instruments. Moog and Fender Rhodes are his main instruments, plus lots of percussion and blow-toys (ranging from harmonica to elk calls). Rush teaches at Michigan, where he directs the Digital Music Ensemble, an out fit that plays John Cage, Philip Glass, and LaMonte Young. Bassist Tom Abbs -- the member I recognize due to his work with Assif Tsahar and others in New York -- wanders to violin, cello, tuba, didjeridoo, and percussion. Drummer Geoff Mann adds cornet, flute, and mandolin to the more expected vibes, mbira, and percussion. Something of a scattered noise fest, interesting here and there, cluttered, not so much annoying as random at worst. Last cut, the 10:09 "Hymn for Roscoe" (presumably Mitchell), is unusual for its straightforward structure, even when it erupts in the album's loudest passage. Choice cut. B+(**)

Shakers n' Bakers: YfZ (Yearning for Zion) (2008, Little (i) Music): Scary music, although it loosens up and calms down a bit in the end. The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Coming, as the Shakers were formally known, split off from the Quakers in 1747, forming utopian religious communes dedicated to expunging sin and purifying the soul. They worked themselves into trances -- I'm tempted to say delusions -- which became ritualized in song and dance. I still doubt that their songs bore any resemblance to Jeff Lederer's avant skronk, but he's turned them into a vision of heaven and hell that can move even nonbelievers. Mary LaRose and Miles Griffith declaim the presumably authentic texts. At least some of the music comes from recent neoclassicism -- John Adams, Gyorgy Ligeti, Arvo Part. The rest of the band and guests are well known jazz pros. A lot going on here, but it's not for the squeamish. B+(**)

Bob Mintzer Big Band: Swing Out (2007 [2008], MCG Jazz): Looking at Wikipedia, Mintzer's credits are pretty evenly split between Yellowjackets and his Big Band. The latter has been cranking since 1985, 6 years earlier than his tenure started with the Yellowjackets. Both groups have their points, but neither are consistent enough to recommend. While Mintzer is easily the best player in the Yellowjackets, it's less clear that anyone stands out in the Big Band. This one sounded strong and brassy at first, then gradually wore out its welcome with too much of the same bombast. One track in the middle features boy singer Kurt Elling, who recapitulated that dynamic even faster. B-


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

Harry Shearer: Songs of the Bushmen (2008, Courgette): The research here is pretty thorough, ranging from Colin Powell's knack for slipping responsibility to Dick Cheney's witness protection program for Scooter Libby. High points include Condoleezza Rice's workout routine "Gym Buds"; Donald Rumsfeld's "Stuff Happens" song and dance; and ever willing to take one for the team, the serving up of "The Head of Alberto Gonzalez." The songs read critically, but given their subjects they strike me as much too nice. I don't know that more direct rants would be more effective, but I wish someone would try: it is hard to heap too much abuse on the Bush administration. Indeed, it's hard to completely grasp how vile this government has been. B+(***)

Tobias Gebb & Trio West: An Upper West Side Story (2008, Yummy House): Joel Frahm's tenor sax commands your attention on the four tracks he guests on, sharing two with an equally imposing vocalist, Champian Fulton. The guest shots punctuate a drummer-led piano trio, which fills in the remaining spaces with wit and class. B+(***)


Unpacking:

  • Ran Blake: Driftwoods (Tompkins Square)
  • Matt Criscuolo: Melancholia (M): Mar. 3
  • Eliane Elias: Bossa Nova Stories (Blue Note)
  • Adam Glasser: Free at First (Sunnyside): Feb. 10
  • The Rocco John Group: Devotion (Coalition of Creative Artists): Mar. 3
  • Liam Sillery: Outskirts (OA2): Jan. 20
  • Donald Vega: Tomorrows (Imagery)
  • Denny Zeitlin Trio: In Concert (Sunnyside): Feb. 10

Friday, January 02, 2009

House Log

Another day sawing bookcases. Figured out the geometry for the corner piece, which ties together one bank of 10.5-inch deep book shelves and another bank of 8.0-inch deep shelves. We kept a 45° front angle, which resulted in the less deep shelves being offset further from the corner. Corner unit will have fixed shelves at 4- and 27-inches, the latter even with the window sills. Any other shelves will be adjustable. Cut out the sides, top, fixed, and 3 adjustable shelves -- well, just cut the shelves as rectangles; the front- and back-angle cuts will come later. Don't have the toe kick either. Finished dadoes on the east wall shelf units, and on one of the two north wall units. Cutting everything with a circular saw and a Eurekazone saw guide, which has worked out very nicely. Cutting the dadoes and rabbets with two routers, one a Craftsman I've had for close to 30 years, the other brand new and thus far a lot more trouble. Weather should hold up for most of tomorrow. Hope to get the south wall unit cut out, but I still have some design uncertainties there.

Recycled Goods #60: December 2008

See file here.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

House Log

Thought I should start a daily log on the house/kitchen project. This won't be posted on the blog, but will be buried here for now -- may break it out later.

Been working on the kitchen project for several weeks (or months if you count the basement shelves that were needed to store stuff out of the way) but today is a milestone. Today we started cutting wood for the dining room shelves. Cut up three sheets of plywood for two 8-foot-high, 3-foot-wide, 10.5-inch deep self units, 7 shelves (13-inch bottom-to-bottom), plus top and 4-inch toe kick. Cut dados into two of the side pieces; still have the other two to go. Used the EurekaZone saw glide for the first time, and it worked wonderfully -- at least once we got the antichip plates installed properly. Cut the dadoes with my old Sears router -- attached to an A10 plate and a short guide rail. Probably not the ultimate solution for the dadoes, but worked reasonably well. Nice weather today. Should be more of the same tomorrow, which will make it a good day to cut more, rather than to assemble what we have.

Last few days we've made a lot of progress in fleshing out the design details. Hired Woodshop to make custom kitchen cabinets. Ordered range, hood, and extra oven. Figured out how to get the vent ductwork out of the house. Will explain more details as we go along. Maybe even start to illustrate this.

File Under Gaza

Tony Karon: Understanding Gaza. The conclusion, which confusedly appears on the home page as the lead before the "Read more" link, is very much on the mark:

Soon enough, the bloody mess in Gaza will end in another cease-fire, having hardly changed the political equation in Gaza -- much as the opposite might have been hoped for by the Bush Administration, the Israeli government and the regimes in Cairo and Ramallah who are quietly cheering Israel's assault in the hope that it fatally weakens Hamas. The cease-fire, when it comes, will end rocket fire on Israel, but will also likely require the opening of the border crossings into Gaza (Hamas' basic demand for a renewed truce). If so, that's an outcome that could have been achieved without the killing of close to 400 people. And my money says that this cynical show of force by Barak and Tzipi Livni won't even stop Bibi Netanyahu from winning Israel's February election. The killing in Gaza, in other words, has been utterly senseless by even the most cynical measure.

Starts discussing a NY Times editorial, space the "paper of record" turned over to Benny Morris ("a de facto editorial writer for Ehud Barak"). Israel, it would seem, has to lash out at Hamas in order to prevent a second Holocaust. Karon takes this apart many times, such as:

A little reality isn't going to slow down Morris' train of hysteria . . . Morris's menaces extend to Hizballah in the north with its rockets -- which only seem to be fired on Israel when Lebanon is under attack by the Israelis -- and then there is Hamas, armed to the teeth with rockets and ready to fight until every inch of Palestine "is under Islamic rule and law." (Actually, Hamas has not even imposed Shariah law in that tiny patch of Palestine -- Gaza -- that it currently controls, so it seems to be making a poor start.)

You'd think that the 100-1 ratio of Palestinian to Israeli casualties of the first four days of the Gaza offensive would give the lie to the idea that Israel is threatened with annihilation by Hamas and its rockets. [ . . . ]

Essentially, Morris would have us excuse the bloodbath in Gaza in light of the specter of a new Holocaust. That's a little deranged, actually. Cynically wielding the Holocaust as a cudgel to intimidate critics into silence, as [Avrum] Burg points out in his book [The Holocaust Is Over, We Must Rise from Its Ashes], is a well established trope of Israeli p.r. But when a vast military machine is being unleashed on a captive population under siege, whose most militant members are lightly armed and try to make up in suicidal courage for what they lack in materiel, the image most likely to spring to mind is that of the Warsaw Ghetto.

Karon's links are worth following up on, especially:

  • Robert Fisk: Why bombing Ashkelon is the most tragic irony. The small rockets fired from Gaza have mostly been limited to nearby border settlements like Sderot, but this "all out war" (Barak's phrase) has seen the unveiling of larger rockets capable of reaching Ashkelon: the irony is that so many Gazans are refugees from Ashkelon, an Arab town until 1948.

    Both Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres said back in the 1990s that they wished Gaza would just go away, drop into the sea, and you can see why. The existence of Gaza is a permanent reminder of those hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who lost their homes to Israel, who fled or were driven out through fear or Israeli ethnic cleansing 60 years ago, when tidal waves of refugees had washed over Europe in the aftermath of the Second World War and when a bunch of Arabs kicked out of their property didn't worry the world.

  • Tony Karon: The Israelis will say they had no choice; they are wrong. Explores how Israel's leaders suckered themselves with their own rhetoric into launching an attack which merely shows how callous and confused they really are. Of course, in past years the US might have moderated such impulses, but under Bush callousness and confusion are treasured policies, marks of resolve stiffened by righteousness, with never a thought as to what the consequences might be. (Cf. Boot's Law, which is that Small Wars always turn out for the best, no matter how poorly thought out.)

    Just as in the [Gabriel Garcia] Marquez novel [Chronicle of a Death Foretold], what propelled the Gaza tragedy forward to its bloody conclusion was that neither the Israelis nor anyone they told of their plan were willing to confront the absurdity of the 'rules' that made them believe they were obliged to spill blood.

    Also interesting:

    But it's hardly surprising that Hamas saw little merit in restraining its rocket fire in exchange for Israel refraining from air strikes while maintaining its stranglehold on Gaza. Why would Hamas accept a "we won't bomb you, but that doesn't mean we won't starve you" formula when it was well aware of the reasons restraining Israel from launching a full-blown campaign -- the reluctance to present incoming President Barack Obama with a crisis that forces him to prioritise Israeli-Palestinian relations rather than Israel's preference that he focus instead on Iran; the fear of losing dozens of Israeli soldiers in house-to-house fighting in Gaza; the inevitability of massive civilian casualties (and the possibility that intensified Palestinian rocket fire in retaliation might inflict civilian casualties in southern Israel); the fact that such an operation is unlikely to defeat Hamas; and, because of that, the fact that Israel has no exit strategy.

    Of course, that reasoning went out the window when Israel launched its attack. I believe that a big part of the reason for them doing so was to pin Obama down into a posture which will make it much harder for him to mediate the conflict: he can't criticize Israel without giving comfort to Hamas, and by not standing up to such brutality he loses credibility throughout the Arab world. On the other hand, Israel has painted themselves into a corner where their options are narrowed down to mass murder and loss of face. So in the end Hamas has little to lose, even though the casualty ratios seem masochistic.

    It strikes me as unlikely that Hamas is misreading the political temper on the streets of Gaza. The fact is that no matter how Israel tries to force Palestinians to reject Hamas, Israel offers no other way for Palestinians to follow. Israel's attack on Hamas, after all, is occurring within a broader context where Israel has long been oppressing every Palestinian in Gaza -- through economic and legal strangleholds, collective punishment, and scattered bombardment. The result is that Israel is so discredited in Gaza that it has become powerless to change anyone's will.

    Piqued by the audacity of the Palestinian voters, the US and Israel sought to reverse the result. First, they imposed crippling sanctions, and when that failed, they attempted a military putsch that prompted Hamas to drive Fatah-linked security forces out of Gaza in a bloody counter-coup. Instead of using Gaza's economically dependent situation as leverage to restrain Hamas from launching attacks, the US immediately cut aid and enforced sanctions on Gaza with the warning that these would only be lifted when Hamas adopted positions that it would have deemed ideological surrender. And they have been trying in vain to topple it ever since.

  • Tom Segev: Trying to 'teach Hamas a lesson' is fundamentally wrong: One of the most bizarre things about Israel's attack on Gaza is how they try to come off as stern masters trying to discipline errant Palestinians.

    The bombing of Gaza is also supposed to "liquidate the Hamas regime," in line with another assumption that has accompanied the Zionist movement since its inception: that it is possible to impose a "moderate" leadership on the Palestinians, one that will abandon their national aspirations.

    As a corollary, Israel has also always believed that causing suffering to Palestinian civilians would make them rebel against their national leaders. This assumption has proven wrong over and over.

    I'll add two more comments: 1) What makes this conception even more pathetic is that no one can show the degree of subservience to Israel that Israeli leaders demand and retain any self-respect, much less effectiveness, as Palestinian leaders. There can never be a Palestinian "partner for peace" because the only peace Israel desires is a land with no Palestinians. For example, I recall Akiva Eldar joking: "Actually, [Yitzhak] Shamir believes in 'land for peace'; you give him the land, he'll give you peace." 2) Every effort to crush Arab political institutions only strengthens of Islamic institutions. For example, undermining the PLO strengthened Hamas because Hamas was more closely rooted in religion. Undermining Hamas, on the other hand, only rebounds to strengthen Hamas (or some similar, probably more militant, variant of Hamas).

Robert Fisk: The self delusion that plagues both sides in this bloody conflict. Directed more at Israel, but not without a critical eye to Hamas.

These are realities. The chances of war, however, may be less easier to calculate. If Israel indefinitely continues its billion dollar blitz on Gaza -- and we all know who is paying for that -- there will, at some stage, be an individual massacre; a school will be hit, a hospital or a pre-natal clinic or just an apartment packed with civilians. In other words, another Qana. At which point, a familiar story will be told; that Hamas destroyed the school/hospital/pre-natal clinic, that the journalists who report on the slaughter are anti-Semitic, that Israel is under threat, etc. We may even get the same disingenuous parallel with a disastrous RAF raid in the Second World War which both Menachem Begin and Benjamin Netanayahu have used over the past quarter century to justify the killing of civilians.

And Hamas -- which never had the courage to admit it killed two Palestinian girls with one of its own rockets last week -- will cynically make profit from the grief with announcements of war crimes and "genocide".

Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff: Hamas is hoping for an IDF ground operation in Gaza. Robert Fisk would argue that Hamas isn't anywhere near as prepared or disciplined to take on an IDF invasion as Hezbollah was in 2006, and he's probably right. The article itself doesn't make a strong case that its title is true -- e.g., it points out that Khaled Meshal, the Hamas honcho in Damascus, has been calling for a cease fire, but Hamas leaders on the ground haven't been paying much attention, not least because they've been dodging Israeli bombs; it it also argues that Israel is looking for a diplomatic out, which doesn't seem to be true either. Still, it's worth noting just because it points out the growing sense that Israel is charging into a trap, much like they did in 2006. Paul Woodward, at WarInContext, comments:

The war so meticulously planned not to be a re-run of Lebanon 2006 is turning into a re-run of Lebanon 2006. Hesitant to enter into a ground war in which Israel justifiably fears it would get bogged down, suffer unacceptably high casualties and ultimately face humiliation, the choice at this point is to move over to an "expanded target list." In other words, having trumpeted the claim that this is all about "precision" strikes on Hamas (disingenuous as that claim had to be since those targets were situated in the heart of densely populated urban areas) Israel is now widening its scope to a point where its flimsy facade of discrimination falls away.

Hussein Agha/Robert Malley: How Not to Make Peace in the Middle East. A book review, clearly written before the onslaught, but relevant as background, especially for assaying the confusion and obfuscation in the current and future administrations' reactions. The books are by past (and probably future) US diplomats: Aaron David Miller: The Much Too Promised Land: America's Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace; Daniel C Kurtzer/Scott B Lasensky: Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace: American Leadership in the Middle East; and Martin Indyk: Innocent Abroad: An Intimate Account of American Peace Diplomacy in the Middle East. The authors all had roles in the neverending disaster of US diplomacy in the region, including things they've each come to regret. Alas:

The books also quote a myriad of former high-ranking officials who do not take a charitable view when it comes to their respective administration's performance.

One should be only mildly surprised. There is a long tradition of former US Middle East officials retroactively bemoaning the strategies they once helped shape. Retrospective hand-wringing, far from an anomaly, has become something of a job hazard. None of the books fully confronts this phenomenon, which is a pity. The ritual has become pervasive enough and of sufficient consequence to warrant some discussion.

The reviewers don't go into this much further. Had they done so, they would most likely reflect on the political clout of the Israeli lobby, which invariably oversells Israel's position, and in doing so manages to hold all US diplomats in thrall. When they finally do break away, or just catch a breath of fresh air, they can't imagine what got into them -- surely can't be the omnipotence of the Israeli lobby?

One of the better descriptions of Bush's scattered approaches to the conflict:

For all three authors, George W. Bush provides a straightforward and relatively uncontroversial target. We are left with the portrait of a man -- and an administration -- who were uninterested in the peace process, inattentive to the impact of their policies, uninformed about reality, incapable of follow-through, and utterly unembarrassed by it all. Ideologically, the new Bush team was inclined to downgrade the importance of the Arab-Israeli conflict; politically it was inclined to do the exact opposite of what Clinton had done. "There's no Nobel Peace Prize to be had here," Indyk quotes Bush as saying early in his tenure.

Worth also quoting the review on Clinton's 2000 Camp David fiasco, in case you haven't gotten the word yet:

Outwardly, Miller, Kurtzer, and Indyk do not claim to take part in the debate over who lost Camp David, though, practically speaking, they close it. They castigate Arafat and the Palestinians for excessive passivity and an inability or unwillingness to seize the moment. But they do not stop there. Miller, who attended the summit, contradicts the accepted view with a detailed account demonstrating that each party bears heavy responsibility. Barak eroded the Palestinians' confidence during the months preceding the summit by renegotiating past agreements and reneging on promises. The Israeli proposals at Camp David, says Shlomo Ben-Ami, Israel's foreign minister at the time, "fell far short of even modest Palestinian expectations." The Americans had "no sustained strategy," did not put a negotiating text on the table, and caved in when faced with the parties' objections. They did not consult with other Arab countries and, in deciding to blame Arafat at Barak's request, betrayed a prior commitment not to do so and also jeopardized hopes for a peaceful aftermath of the conference.

Likewise, Kurtzer and Lasensky describe the US as "unprepared," lacking its own positions on fundamental issues, and, eager to embrace "Barak's priorities . . . but also Barak's tactics," ultimately "ced[ing] effective control over US policy to the Israelis." Even Indyk, the harshest of the three toward Arafat, disputes the conventional wisdom. "Camp David," he writes, "was hardly a good laboratory" for Barak's proposition that the Palestinian leader was unwilling to reach a historic deal, because no Arab statesman could have accepted what had been presented.

The reviewers advise Obama to back off and take it easy -- they are especially critical of suggestions that Bush's policy problem has been that he's allowed the US to be disengaged. It is true that the US has often made grand gestures that proved meaningless, and that sometimes the US has actively sabotaged peace efforts. Given the political quandry any US politician is inevitably locked into by the Israeli lobby -- and Obama's prostration at AIPAC shows he no exception -- the US is neither an honest broker nor capable of showing any genuine leadership. So it's clear that any steps toward peace that can happen are going to have to come from Israel itself. That seems less likely than ever: the stark political opportunism of the ongoing razing of Gaza shows just how debased politics in Israel have become. About the only hope we can have is that the whole misadventure will fail so badly everyone involved will be permanently discredited, and some new kind of open-minded reform will emerge. Odds of such a failure are high; odds of anyone learning anything from it much less so.


PS: Wrote the following as a comment to a Philip Weiss post at Mondoweiss.

One more point is that since Zionism rejects liberal assimilationism and embraces separatism it is especially appealing to antisemites, notably to Christian fundamentalists in the US. Conversely, Zionism runs counter to anyone tolerant of multiculturalism (although multiculturalists are likely to be tolerant of Jewish Zionists). Given this, it is ironic to attack anti-Zionists as antisemitic. Unfortunately, most Americans don't understand enough about Zionism to sort this out, and many support Israel for reasons that have more to do with our own deep-seated prejudices, like the fact that we too started as a white settler country, and we too are engaged in a militarist fit with a seemingly vast and intractable array of enemies.

Looking for a Word

From Paul Krugman:

Unusually, I'm having a vocabulary problem. There has to be some word for the kind of person who considers his mild discomfort the equivalent of torture, crippling injury, or death for other people. But I can't think of it.

What brings this to mind is this from Alberto Gonzales:

I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror.

The first word that popped into my mind was "weenie" -- not one I use much more than once a decade, but it does fit the bill here. I would have contributed a comment but they had hit some sort of throttle and comments were no longer accepted. None of the 112 comments had anything close to my suggestion -- maybe that had something to do with shutting them up.

The rest of Krugman's post:

This reminded me of Laura Bush's remark on carnage in Iraq:

And believe me, no one suffers more than their president and I do when we watch this.

Remember this. And remember, too, that for long years these people were considered heroic patriots, defenders of the nation.

I wouldn't use "weenie" in this case, perhaps because "no one suffers more" is a turn of phrase commonly used for hyperbole rather than as a sober assessment of the facts. Perhaps also because there's something charming about someone so myopic she can't conceive of any real suffering. What's not so charming is her inability to see the connection between what her husband has done for the last eight years and what has happened to the world on his watch.


Dec 2008 Feb 2009