March 2009 Notebook


Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Prisoner of War

At least with George W. Bush you could be sure that a clean break from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would be the best policy, because you knew that from top to bottom the US was incapable of doing anything right or decent in the region. That didn't mean that it was impossible to imagine some hypothetical US administration that might be able to stage a more graceful exit, maintaining diplomatic and perhaps some non-military relationships that might actually do some good. At first glance you wonder whether Obama might be able to implement that sort of change, but we're not seeing much evidence of it, or even any sort of fresh thinking. With Gates, Petraeus, et al., still ensconced, the change of administrations doesn't go very deep. Nor is it all that clear that Obama himself has changed the way he thinks about war, let alone shifted any thinking anywhere else. Throughout his campaign, Obama saw being hawkish on Afghanistan and Pakistan as cover for his dovish stands on Iraq. He no doubt senses that politically at least we live in a war culture, something he can't afford to appear alien to -- any more than he can offend our free enterprise belief system by actually facing up to the bankers.

Obama's made a series of announcements regarding his plans for Afghanistan (and Pakistan), starting with ordering 17,000 more troops into the region and appointing the ever-dangerous Richard Holbrooke as a special envoy. He's also stepped up cross-border drone attacks in Pakistan, resulting in inevitable civilian deaths and protests by troubled Pakistanis. He's cavalierly dabbled in internal politics in the two countries. He's shown he's still a mental prisoner of the two most debilitating obsessions of past US administrations: Al-Qaeda and the suppressing the narcotics trade. He's shown similar inability to buck the conventional wisdom on Iran and Israel -- two areas where the conventional wisdom is especially deranged.

Tony Karon: From Obama, a guide for avoiding defeat in Afghanistan. Cites the conventional wisdom in Washington as believing that the US needs more troops in Afghanistan not to defeat the Taliban but to stop losing to them -- to show enough strength and persistence to bring at least parts of the Taliban to the negotiating table. (Doesn't go into the obvious analogies with Nixon negotiating in Paris while escalating in and around Vietnam to provide cover for his withdrawal, which all things considered wasn't a very successful strategy.) Then explains why this stuff won't work: because Pakistan -- specifically the Pakistani army, the real institutional power in the country -- sees the Taliban as a durable ally in the region, long after the US tires and quits.

Gareth Porter: Some Strategists Cast Doubt on Afghan War Rationale. For instance, is an Al-Qaeda sanctuary in the Hindu Kush really any sort of threat? It makes a good place to hide in, but not much of a base to attack from. Do the drone attacks hurt more than they help? (Do they in fact help at all? Or do they just show the frustration facing an overreaching superpower?) Does the US even have any "vital interests" in the region?

Tom Engelhardt: The Great Afghan Bailout. Looks at the tab being run up in Afghanistan, or what he's started to call (evidently following the DOD) the Af-Pak War. The accounting is still riddled with unknowns -- one DOD estimate is that Iraq War costs will go up as Obama withdraws troops from there, and certainly nobody knows who all's going to have to be paid off to keep Pakistan from exploding in our faces. Still seems early in the game, but the moves so far are so stuck in the past that Engelhardt is ready to write Obama's epitaph:

The foreign policy team is no more likely to exhibit genuinely outside-the-box thinking than the team of Tim Geithner and Larry Summers has been. Their clear and desperate urge is to operate in the known zone, the one in which the U.S. is always imagined to be part of the solution to any problem on the planet, never part of the problem itself.

In foreign policy (as in economic policy), it took the Bush team less than eight years to steer the ship of state into the shallows where it ran disastrously aground. And yet, in response, after months of "strategic review," this team of inside-the-Beltway realists has come up with a combination of Af-Pak War moves that are almost blindingly expectable.

In the end, this sort of thinking is likely to leave the Obama administration hostage to its own projects as well as unprepared for the onrush of the unexpected and unknown, whose arrival may be the only thing that can be predicted with assurance right now. Whether as custodians of the imperial economy or the imperial frontier, Obama's people are lashed to the past, to Wall Street and the national security state. They are ill-prepared to take the necessary full measure of our world.

Italics mine: that is the crux of the problem, the one thing the pundits can't conceive of -- that the problem we need to fix is us. Obama's failure to understand this and/or inability to act on it makes him one more prisoner of war.

Juan Cole: Obama's domino theory. One more I found right after posting the above.

President Barack Obama may or may not be doing the right thing in Afghanistan, but the rationale he gave for it on Friday is almost certainly wrong. Obama has presented us with a 21st century version of the domino theory. The U.S. is not, contrary to what the president said, mainly fighting "al-Qaida" in Afghanistan. In blaming everything on al-Qaida, Obama broke with his pledge of straight talk to the public and fell back on Bush-style boogeymen and implausible conspiracy theories.

Cole concludes:

When a policymaker gets the rationale for action wrong, he is at particular risk of falling into mission creep and stubborn commitment to a doomed and unnecessary enterprise.

We're starting to see that.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Music Week

Music: Current count 15244 [15221] rated (+23), 767 [780] unrated (-13). Listen to a little music. Work on the kitchen a little. Electricians were here four days, but didn't get much done -- or at least didn't get this phase of the job done. Making some progress on all fronts, but going is slow.

  • Deena: Somewhere in Blue (2008, Verbena Music): First name only, not so much to iconify it as to ditch the surname Shoshkes, a habit with "new Europe" names that goes as far back as Copernicus -- last time out she recorded as RockDownBaby, which didn't stick either. Some old-timers will recall her voice, if not her name, as the lead in the Cucumbers, a Garden State group whose eponymous album was one of the few pleasures of the Reagan years. The new one is full of smartly structured songs which are neither as personal nor as universal as they need to be to connect, but after the title metaphor fades the small pleasures start to accumulate -- "The Moon's Got It Made" is the turning point. B+(**)
  • Gustafsson/Flaten/Nilssen-Love: The Thing (2000, Crazy Wisdom): Reissued as the first disc in Now and Forever, Smalltown Supersound's 4-disc Thing package, but was released on Crazy Wisdom back in 2000 or 2001, so we can separate it out. Six pieces ranging from 2:38 to 19:17, four (the longer ones) from Don Cherry. Mats Gustafsson plays alto and tenor sax here -- he later switched mostly to baritone, not that it makes much difference to his style, which is basically in the horse slaughter range of sax anthropomorphism. Ingebrigt Håker Flaten plays bass, and Paal Nilssen-Love drums. The song structures help a lot, containing the fury. Bass and drums are also remarkably attentive to the sax caterwaul. I've always found Gustafsson a limited taste, but this comes across powerfully. A-
  • Kal: Radio Romanista (2008 [2009], Asphalt Tango): Recorded in Belgrade, mixed in Istanbul, mastered in Berlin, a modern axis of gypsy alt-rock, folkish of course, punkism too, with leader Dragan Ristic tossing out possible anthems in a bid for Romanistani national recognition. B+(**)
  • Zoé: Reptilectric (2009, EMI/Noiselab): Mexican alt-psychedelic band, picking up ideas from Britpop and Seattle grunge, betraying nothing obviously Latino, the Spanish lyrics (if that's what they are) buried in brightly colored murk -- more proof that it's one big world. B
  • The Thing With Joe McPhee: She Knows (2001, Crazy Wisdom): Also in the Thing's Now and Forever box. Mats Gustafsson has shifted registers downward, playing tenor and baritone sax instead of the alto and tenor on the group's debut. McPhee adds a second tenor sax, but more often he plays pocket trumpet, adding to the Don Cherry connection -- second piece is one from Cherry, called "The Thing." Other pieces come from James Blood Ulmer, Frank Lowe, McPhee, Polly Jean Harvey ("To Bring You My Love"), and trad. Gustafsson's din is impressive, and McPhee adds a human touch to it. B+(***)

Jazz Prospecting (CG #19, Part 12)

Electricians returned on Tuesday, promising to get the upstairs rewiring done this week. They left on Friday: I wouldn't say defeated, but worn down and out. Should return later this week with new switches, hoping that that'll fix it. Did a little work on kitchen each day, but not much. Cut out the wood for a little cabinet extension that will wind up holding my spice racks, but didn't get it joined or assembled, much less installed and painted. Need to figure out how to match my router to an incompatible router table. Did manage to get a gaping hole in the ceiling plugged, but still have to skim the edges and sand and paint. Did paint a bunch of loose shelves and the bathroom vanity cabinet, and put a new medicine cabinet up on the wall: cheap thing we bought then repainted; don't particularly like it, but for now it will do. Got hit by a substantial blizzard. A few miles west of here it dumped over two feet of snow, but our official count was 7 inches, since it started here as rain, then sleet and ice pellets before turning to snow overnight. Power went out, late at night when I was painting. Tried to finish up by flashlight. I usually figure it's good to cook when we're snowed in, but didn't have much available. I did pull a slab of salmon from the freezer, marinated it in sake/soy/sugar, and shoved it under the gas infrared broiler -- first time I had used the oven in the new Capital range. Fried up some frozen gyoza on the range at the same time -- big complaint about the old KitchenAid was that you couldn't use oven and stove top at same time. Salmon teriyaki was crispier on top without overcooking. Gyoza came out a bit too crispy, and my dipping sauce could have used fresh ginger and scallion, but it all worked out pretty well. Once we get organized it'll go smoother. Still need to get the stainless steel counter around the range built, plus the nearby pull-out pantry units. The big south-wall cabinets need to be secured and wired, plus another coat of paint. The corner pantry needs its cover door. Dropped ceiling needs a few more panels. I need to upgrade some outlets to GFCI. Shades are still on order. Floor has a lot of stray paint which will be a pain to remove. At the present rate it could take 3-4 weeks to get those things all worked out, but it's coming around.

Meanwhile, I listened to a little jazz this week. Every now and then I write up an honorable mention or a dud. Draft needs a week to finish, but I haven't had one lately, so it keeps growing. Need to get to it. Meanwhile, I try to keep from falling too far behind.

Greg Diamond: Dançando Com Ale (2007 [2008], Chasm): Guitarist, b. 1977 in New York, has one Colombian parent (other Jewish), spent at least part of his early life in Bogotá, Colombia. Debut album. Looks mostly Brazilian to me, although he covers "Libertango" (Astor Piazzolla) and "Sofrito" (Mongo Santamaria). Wrote 5 of 10 songs, none with English titles. Band features Seamus Blake on tenor sax, a smart move. Nicely percolating "All or Nothing" to close. One vocal, by a Vanessa Diamond, with a voice I really dislike. B+(*)

Bridge Quartet: Night (2007 [2009], Origin): Second album from this group, which was pulled together by drummer Alan Jones on a break back home in Portland, OR, from his usual haunts in Europe. They're basically a small time bar band, playing covers of pieces like "Green Dolphin Street" and "Bemsha Swing." Thing is, they're really good at it -- maybe because Jones recruited a couple of ringers. Pianist Darrell Grant has a substantial catalog, and saxophonist Phil Dwyer came all the way from Toronto. He holds his own on Sonny Rollins' "Strode Rode," and does a mean Charlie Parker on Victor Feldman's "A Face Like Yours." He doesn't have a lot out under his own name, but has an intriguing sideline: the Phil Dwyer Academy of Musical and Culinary Arts. He's cookin' here. B+(***)

Ben Markley: Second Introduction (2008 [2009], OA2): Pianist, from Longmont, CO, leads a standard bop quintet, with Greg Gisbert on trumpet and Jim Pisano on tenor sax. Nothing much wrong with it -- lots of energy, some postbop innovation -- but nothing that strikes me as out of the ordinary, either. B

Hal Galper/Reggie Workman/Rashied Ali: Art-Work (2008 [2009], Origin): Subtitle: "Live at the Jazz Room/William Patterson University." Piano trio, of course. No excuse for any jazz fan not to recognize all three names, but Galper certainly deserves more recognition. He has a couple dozen albums since 1971, including a couple on my A-list (Portrait from 1989; Just Us from 1993). Influenced by Bud Powell. Taught by Jaki Byard. This was cut shortly before his 70th birthday, and he sounds superb at high speed, even better when he slows it down a bit. He cut a good album for Origin a couple of years ago using the home team rhythm section (Jeff Johnson and John Bishop) -- competent as they are Workman and Ali are in a whole nuther league. (I don't catch much live jazz, but quite a while back I caught Workman with Mal Waldron and spent the whole set fixated on him: totally changed the way I hear bass.) [A-]

John Stowell: Solitary Tales (2008 [2009], Origin): Guitarist, based in Portland, OR, has a career stretching back to the 1970s but most of his dozen or so recordings are since 2000. This one is solo, picked out on a nylon-stringed guitar built by Mike Doolin, who recorded this at home. One song each from Bill Evans and Ornette Coleman; rest are originals. Steady, assured, expert; not stuck in any of the obvious jazz guitar ruts. B+(**)

Matt Blostein/Vinnie Sperrazza: Ursa Minor (2006 [2007], Envoi): Front cover lists drummer Sperrazza first; everywhere else, including spine, lists alto saxophonist Blostein first. Google swings both ways. CDBaby has Blostein first, so that won out. First, and thus far only, record for both/either -- a couple of years old, but Blostein sent it after I complimented him for Liam Sillery's Outskirts. Alto sax has a light tone, searching, thoughtful, intricately postbop, even when complemented by Mike McGinnis on tenor sax (2 cuts) or clarinet (1 cut). Most cuts also include Khabu Young on guitar, Jacob Sacks on piano, and Thomas Morgan on bass. Most interesting when they wander into free territory. B+(*)

Al Hood: Just a Little Taste: Al Hood Plays the Writing of Dave Hanson (2008 [2009], CDBaby): Trumpeter, originally from upstate New York, wrote his doctoral dissertation on Clifford Brown, teaches at University of Denver since 1999. Don't know what else he's done, other than play in Phil Collins' big band. This seems to be his first record, although he's probably well past 50. Hanson is harder to sort out from the Google chaff. Pianist, based in Denver, plays here, arranges and conducts. Only wrote 4 of 12 pieces, so the "writing" Hood plays is mostly his arrangements. The small group stuff is real solid: Hood has a broad, commanding tone; stands out cleanly amid the orchestral muck -- the high-rent district of the woodwind section -- Pam Endsley on flute, Lisa Martin on oboe, Susan McCullough on horn -- and/or a shitload of strings. I suppose that makes the arranger feel like he's earning his dime. B

Matt Renzi: Lunch Special (2007 [2009], Three P's): Plays tenor sax and clarinet. Not very forthcoming on biography: father played flute in SF Symphony; studied at Berklee with George Garzone (like, who didn't?), and in India with R.A. Ramamani; has een all around the world; sixth album since 1998. Only other one I've heard, The Cave (on Fresh Sound New Talent), made my HM list. I described it as "centered," adding that "Renzi plays difficult music but makes it looks easy because he doesn't go in for the stress and force of most avant saxophonists." Don't have much more to add on this trio with Dave Ambrosio (bass) and Russ Meissner (drums) yet. [B+(**)]

Diana Krall: Quiet Nights (2009, Verve): Pretty simple concept, almost inevitable given Krall's market profile: ballads with some light Brazilian froth (two Jobim standards, Paulinho da Costa's percussion), swimming in Claus Ogerman's soft-toned arrangements backed by a massive string orchestra whose main job is to swoon gently in the background. Can't think of anyone else who could pull it off. I'm not sure this will hold up, but it's been a sheer delight ever since I popped it and heard "Where or When." It's not the commanding performance From This Moment On was -- more Bennett than Sinatra. [A-]

Branford Marsalis Quartet: Metamorphosen (2008 [2009], Marsalis Music): I've long thought that the first brother was lucky to get to pick tenor sax first, because it gave him a broader and more open model (Coltrane) than the second could do on trumpet (Davis). Despite their fame, both have stayed within their bounds: it's just that Branford gives you the sense that he really enjoys where he is, whereas Wynton won't be satisfied until he turns into Napoleon. One indication of Branford's comfort zone is that this quartet -- Joey Calderazzo on piano, Eric Revis on bass, Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums -- has been together for 10 years now. Their first album, Requiem (for Calderazzo's predecessor, Kenny Kirkland), is still my pick from the series, perhaps because the solemn occasion brought them together, but they've almost always made solid albums, and this is one more. Everyone in the group writes -- Branford himself is down to one song plus "Rhythm-A-Ning" -- creating a bit of a jumble, but Revis's "Sphere" (following the Monk cover) and Watts's "Samo" are first rate. I've never like Calderazzo on his own, but he fills in admirably here. And Branford has mostly switched to soprano sax, which pace my instincts may be a good thing. All of Coltrane's children thought they had to master the second horn, but damn few did -- Marsalis is about as good on it as Wayne Shorter is, which is saying something. B+(***)

Miles Okazaki: Generations (2008 [2009], Sunnyside): Guitarist, from Washington state, based in New York. Does his own graphic art, which gives his two albums -- Mirror came out in 2007 -- a common brand look. Another thing the two albums share is powerhouse saxophone -- Miguel Zenón, David Binney, and Christof Knoche appear on both; the first album also had Chris Potter on one cut. New this time is vocalist Jen Shyu. Okazaki trends toward fusion, but mostly flows in and out around the frontliners. The saxophonists make a strong impression. On the other hand, I don't care for Shyu at all: something hymnal to her voice, trying to add a luminous aura to the melodic lines. B [Apr. 7]

Ben Wendel: Simple Song (2007 [2009], Sunnyside): Credit reads: saxophones, bassoon, melodica. Cover shows a tenor sax. Born Vancouver, raised in Los Angeles, attended Eastman School of Music, based in Santa Monica, CA. First album, but has piled up a couple dozen side credits since 2002. Mostly originals, plus covers from Coltrane and Strayhorn ("A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing"). With Larry Koonse on guitar, Darek Oleskiewicz on bass, Nate Wood on drums, and any of three pianists, the best known Taylor Eigsti. Postbop, nicely done, probably more substance than I'm giving it credit for, but nothing much grabbed me -- not even Koonse, who has sent me to the credit sheets the last half-dozen or so albums he's been on. B

Marc Copland: New York Trio Recordings, Vol. 3: Night Whispers (2008 [2009], Pirouet): Same trio as Vol. 1 back in 2006: Drew Gress on bass, Bill Stewart on drums. (Vol. 2 went with Gary Peacock and Paul Motian.) Actually, Copland's most common trio. Not leftovers, but it starts slow -- the first of three takes of "Emily" -- and is relatively difficult to hear clearly. Includes some intriguing stuff, but not the place to start. B+(*)

Pirouet Jazz Compilation, Vol. 1: The Best Is Yet to Come (1992-2008 [2009], Pirouet): Then, like, why not wait until you get it before issuing a label compilation? German postbop label, a home for underappreciated Americans like Marc Copland and Bill Carrothers, plus copasetic Germans most likely also underappreciated. The latter include clarinettist John Ruocco, tenor saxophonist Jason Seizer, and pianists Pablo Held, Achim Kaufmann, Walter Lang, and John Schröder -- piano is a big thing with this label. The latter are new to me -- evidently the label/publicist are only pushing American names over here. Lang's duet with Lee Konitz is choice. The only pre-2006 cut is from Carrothers' rediscovered debut. B+(*)

Sarah DeLeo: I'm in Heaven Tonight (2008 [2009], Sweet Sassy Music): Singer. Second album. Does standards. "Rockin' Robin" is a strong first move, but the only thing like that -- "On the Street Where You Live" and "You're Getting to Be a Habit With Me" are more typical. Backed with guitar, organ, occasional horns -- Jay Collins works some nice sax in. Not sure about the voice or delivery, which have a few quirks but limited interest. B

Iron City: Put the Flavor on It (2008 [2009], Carlo Music): Had artist on this in my queue as Charlie Apicella & Iron City, but don't see any reason from the package -- my filing system is hopeless right now, so the odds of finding the hype sheet are slim to none. Guitarist Apicella is clearly the leader, writing 5 songs vs. 4 covers -- "Walk On By," "Hey Western Union Man," "And Satisfy," and one from Apicella's mentor Dave Stryker. Group includes Beau Sasser on organ, Alan Korzin on drums. Don't know where the name comes from -- group itself is from Amherst, MA. Light funk. Mostly harmless. B- [Apr. 7]

Bob Rodriguez: Portraits (1994 [2009], Art of Life): Pianist, originally from Cleveland, moved to New York in 1989 to study with Richie Beirach. Cut a 1994 album on Nine Winds; a couple more since then. This is an old/early session, solo. A little slow, thoughtful, in very rich sound. Not bad if you like that sort of thing. B

The Thing: Now and Forever (2000-05 [2008], Smalltown Superjazz, 3CD+DVD): An acoustic jazz trio from Norway, badder than the Bad Plus in every sense of the word. Drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten grew up in rock bands before venturing into free jazz not least because it was noisier and more abrasive. They're best known in the US for Ken Vandermark projects like School Days. The third wheel is Mats Gustafsson, who early on invited Vandermark to gig with his Aaly Trio, and later joined him and Peter Brötzmann in Sonore. He plays tenor sax when he wants to rip at alto speeds, but these days mostly blows heavy metal baritone. Gustafsson comes from the snorting beasts school of post-Ayler sax -- chances are you either love him or hate him. The group name comes from a song by Scandinavian folk hero Don Cherry. Their first (and best) album is all Cherry, except for a couple of short improvs. It's included here along with a follow-up made with Joe McPhee mostly playing pocket trumpet, adding a contrasting tone and a more human touch. The third disc here is a DVD of the group playing an outdoor concert at Øya in Sweden, with Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore joining in for one non-song -- really just a noise rant. Key thing to watch here is Flaten doing everything to his bass but chewing it up and gargling. Over time, the Cherry repertoire gives way to rock tunes -- PJ Harvey, White Stripes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs: it helps a lot to start with a beat before you rip it to shreds. But they're just as likely to start with nothing, as on the previously unreleased single-piece fourth disc, something called "Gluttony" because it's meant to gross you out. B+(**)

Anthony Braxton/Kyle Brenders: Toronto (Duets) 2007 (2007 [2008], Barnyard, 2CD): Two discs, two compositions; two reed players -- Braxton plays sopranino, soprano, and alto sax; Brenders clarinet, soprano and tenor sax -- tracking each other closely, with occasional give-and-take, slightly more so on "Composition 356" (the second disc). Not much dissonance, nor much range or color -- the soprano/sopranino dominate, but don't squeak much. Little things count. B+(**)

Martin & Haynes: Freedman (2008, Barnyard): Drummer Jean Martin, credited here with "suitcase." Guitarist Justin Haynes, credited here with ukulele. Title references Myk Freedman, a Canadian lap steel player who wrote (almost) all of the 17 songs here -- titles lke "Zombies Love Dancin' to This Number," "My Technical Difficulties Led to Rhythmical Complexities," and "Where the Tulips Blow in My Imaginary Orchestra." One of those ideas that never amounts to much: hard to be John Fahey on a ukulele, or Rashied Ali on a suitcase. Still, it eventually settles into enough of a vibe to show that the idea wasn't totally crocked. B

Meryl Romer: So Sure (2008 [2009], Lady Pearl Music): Singer, based in Boulder, CO; b. 1951, started her jazz career in 2002, and dedicates this album "to all those who have waited long enough." Took it seriously when she started, studying with Casey Collins (producer here, and co-author with Eric Moon of three originals) and Erik Deutsch (pianist here, arranger), and sought out further pointers from Sheila Jordan and Jay Clayton. Attractive voice, best on songs with a little wit like "Lady Is a Tramp" and "Big Spender," and her "Boulevard of Broken Dreams" is touching. Band fits well. Hard not to root for her. B+(**)

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

For this cycle's collected Jazz Prospecting notes, look here.

Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • Eddie Erickson: I'm Old-Fashioned (Arbors)
  • Fly: Sky & Country (ECM)
  • The Fully Celebrated: Drunk on the Blood of the Holy Ones (AUM Fidelity): May 26
  • Gaucho: Deep Night (Gaucho): Apr. 21
  • Charlie Kohlhase's Explorer's Club: Adventures (Boxholder)
  • Diana Krall: Quiet Nights (Verve)
  • Marcus Roberts: New Orleans Meets Harlem, Vol. 1 (J-Master Music): advance, Mar. 31
  • Alfred Schnittke/Alexander Raskatov: Symphony No. 9/Nunc Dimittis (ECM New Series)
  • Johnny Varro: Two Legends of Jazz (Arbors)
  • Ezra Weiss: Alice in Wonderland: A Jazz Musical (Northwest Childrens Theater and School)


  • Sufjan Stevens: Greetings From Michigan: The Great Lakes State (Asthamatic Kitty)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Descent Into Chaos

Ahmed Rashid: Descent Into Chaos: The US and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia (2008, Viking)

I checked Ahmed Rashid's Descent Into Chaos out from the library back in August, collected a large number of quotes. I probably meant to write more -- intro, comments, etc., but all those ambitions got wiped out. In a nutshell, it's the single most important book to come out on Afghanistan and Pakistan since Steve Coll's Ghost Wars, which covered US sponsorship of the Afghani jihad up to 9/11, and Rashid's own Taliban, again ending before 9/11. (I've also read Tariq Ali's The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power, which has more insights to offer, especially on the Benazir Bhutto assassination -- that book page is forthcoming.)

Since I collected these quotes, Obama became president and started shifting US troops from Iraq to Afghanistan, putting even more pressure on the fragile fracture lines in the region. I don't pretend to understand Obama's thinking there. Indeed, recent administration announcements of their goals read like so much gibberish to me. That should become more clear when we see what they do. Meanwhile, everyone should take a closer look at the history. It's a cautionary experience.

Go to the book page for more quotes.

The Market Mystique

Paul Krugman: The Market Mystique. Geithner dropped Obama's widely-panned toxic assets plan off on Monday. Watching Lawrence Summers defend it at least gave me some idea why they thought it worthwhile. Krugman appeared on PBS later in the news show and mostly looked glum, without having a lot to say. This column is, I think, the explanation he was looking for. The magical utility (or as Krugman puts it: mystique) of markets is one of the great memes of the last 20-30 years: an idea so widely accepted some people think they can pass any madcap scheme off if they can call it a market. The worst case scenario occurred when Douglas Feith tried to create a futures market for terrorist attacks so he could feed the "wisdom of the markets" into DOD intelligence gathering. Faring much better is the idea of "cap and trade" pollution markets -- they at least represent a step forward in putting some skin on externalities that hitherto only the public paid for, and that in uncertain terms. They also are less disruptive to industries than heavy-handed regulation, so offer a compromise needed to make some progress on major problems. However, that doesn't mean that anything can be turned into a market, let alone a problem that a market can solve. The toxic assets market has several problems built right in. The first is that the real market for such assets exists but has collapsed: there is so much supply and so little demand that there is no trading, hence no more market. Obama's people think (or hope) all they have to do is inject some money to get that market going again, but that's kind of like driving on a flat tire: you may get a little temporary relief pumping it up, but that doesn't solve the leak, and if the leak is big enough -- and I'd argue that if you can't get banks to buy bad assets they have to be really bad -- it won't even work in the short term. But even if pumping the market up with government money got some trading going, the immediate effect would be to distort the market. Obama's people think that once the market gets moving it will give us more accurate prices for assets, but artificially pumping money into the market guarantees inaccurate prices.

But the problem neither starts nor stops there. Obama's people think that if they can get asset markets up to looking like they're working that will get people to thinking the economy's recovering, and that a little psychological boost is just what the economy needs to get moving. It may be that Keynes is the inspiration here: his famous comment that the Great Depression was just suffering from "magneto trouble" -- i.e., not enough demand to get what was otherwise a pretty sound economy humming again. I have my doubts about the overall economy -- a subject big enough for many future posts -- but it also doesn't look like the Obama plan will be much of a test. One thing about markets is that when you start one you lose control of it: the good thing is that it brings lots of independent actors into play, who think of things that central planners cannot possibly think of; the bad thing is that the thing they are best at thinking up is how to scam the system. As Krugman points out, the finance industry essentially doubled from 4 to 8% of GDP from 1980 to the present. As we now know, they did this mostly by scamming everyone. The Obama plan will throw a lot of money at investors, who will use it for anything they can get away with, regardless of whether it impacts the present crisis. It would be much easier just to pick out the few big zombie banks, wipe out their equity, write down their losses, bust them up and put smaller but viable banks back on the market. But Obama's people are stuck in this mental rut: markets good, government regulators bad, public interest irrelevant.

To give you an idea of the last point, virtually all of Obama's leftist critics are happy to return the scrubbed up banks to the private sector. But it seems to me that one can make a real good case that banks should be reorganized, perhaps as a mix of public institutions and private non-profits. This has actually been done in the past in the US; e.g., when the government created Fannie Mae to promote home ownership. When Fannie Mae went private, it didn't get more efficient; it just got more crooked. (There are dozens or hundreds of similar examples; e.g., in health care, where 30+ years ago most hospitals and Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance plans were non-profit.) One lesson we should have learned by now is that banking is too important to be left to bankers. It would be a short step to building real policies around that insight, were it not for the market madness rut so many of our brains are stuck in.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

RDF Note

Made a minor update to Robert Christgau's website last night, and sent out the usual letter to the usual suspects. One thing was that I asked for feedback on RDF/RSS -- we don't provide any of that, but maybe we should. One recipient wrote back asking what those things were. I tried to explain:

RDF (Resource Description Framework) is a way of marking up data so it can be parsed easily while retaining flexibility of description -- i.e., everything is tagged (like in HTML, but more rigorously) but new tags can be added for various purposes. It's more general than HTML. A web page in HTML can be read and presented by a web browser. A web page in RDF can be read and processed by various programs, such as feed readers. Many websites have RDF pages just for programs like feed readers. For instance, one could format a lot of weather data (station, time, temperature, barometer, etc.) into an RDF file; programs that understand those tags could then access the file (the "feed"), parse the data, and pick out items of interest. Stock market data, parts catalogs, etc., are routinely communicated that way.

RSS (Rich Site Summary) is an RDF that describes changes to websites. If you want to get a periodic digest of all of the new articles posted at a dozen websites, you can use a feed reader to go collect the RSS files from those sites, then sort them out by date, possibly weed out things of no interest, and present them to you. In theory, it saves a lot of surfing time. I've never found one of these things that does what I want it to do, but it sounds like a real good idea. Of course, it only works with websites which have RSS files available, which gets back to my question.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

House Log

Electricians are back from their vacation. They showed up Tuesday and managed to get five wires pulled into the master bedroom, plus the hall ceiling fan up and running. The latter came after a tactical retreat: they gave up on fishing a wire to the bottom of the stairs, and decided to use a wireless switch instead. Don't actually have the wireless switch, but have a funny-looking remote instead. Presumably the real thing will get here someday. They almost finished the master bedroom today. I went out shopping last night and picked up a light fixture -- basically a 2-foot double flourescent in what looks like a race car spoiler wing that sticks about 6-inches out from the wall, which is in turn covered by a curved piece of something silverish. We've always had a light switch in the bedroom that didn't turn any lights on. We were going to rewire the switch, so I came up with the idea of mounting the light fixture above the door: hit the switch and it should light up the room, at least well enough to find your way around. We're actually accumulating a nice collection of clever light fixtures upstairs. I looked for bathroom sconces last night, but didn't come up with anything. Every single sconce I saw was hideous, most way too big.

The electricians are a diversion from the kitchen -- really, at this point, a different project. Every now and then I manage to do a bit of work on the kitchen: mostly bits of painting. The south wall units are roughly fit but not secured against the wall. Not sure how I'm going to secure them. The toe-kicks are cut, with a coat of primer. I can install them as soon as I secure the units. Getting the units out of the middle of the dining room was a big help, but no sooner had I done that than I set up a pair of card tables and covered them (and the floor underneath them) with loose shelf pieces that needed to be painted. There are four sets of those, 16-18 shelves in total. Some I had to trim down, which I managed today. All are primed. Some have one side of one coat of paint. It will probably take another 3-5 days to cycle through all the coats, but at least they're started.

Finally got to cut some wood today. Aside from trimming the shelves, I cut out the spice rack unit. Will be good to get it assembled: not only to hold the spice racks but it will frame the last key set of cabinets: three slide-out units on the wall left of the stove. It's an area where I've always kept flour, sugar, oil, salt, things like that. Also, once I get the spice rack built, I can attach the motion detector to it, which is a wire coming out of the above-stove peninsula. With that wire positioned, I can finally close up the ceiling.

Put up a couple of little things: hooks for towels, a paper towel roll holder, some faceplates for electric switches. Lots more stuff like that to go. I'm actually at the point where I need to get some baseboards and start finishing all that trim stuff. Unfortunately, 8-foot sticks are a logistics nightmare with nothing but a compact car at my disposal. Also need to put the kitchen window shade up -- nothing really holding that up now, other than that it's a little awkward to do. Ordered two more window shades for the dining room. Don't know when they will get here, but they're top-down, bottom-up cellular units. Should be nice.

A couple of bathroom items. Bought a large, fairly cheap medicine cabinet -- kind of a vanilla cream color. Thought it would look better in the white paint we've been using, so I repainted it. Also thought the existing vanity might be OK if repainted, so I've started repainting it -- got the first coat on tonight. Vanity top is still a crappy light brown cultured marble thing, although much of it is caked with paint now. Presumably we'll replace it when everything else is done.

A Trillion Here, a Trillion There

Sometime in the last six months I started forgetting to remember to post announcements of my copious book notes. Just looked at the master file and there is quite a bit in the pending column. I'll start kicking these out over the next week -- maybe even gang a few up. In terms of its current relevance, the obvious place to start is Charles Morris's slender little guide to what was when he was writing it starting to happen in the economy. Little that has transpired since then has rendered his book obsolete -- the biggest change is that he tacked another trillion bucks onto the bill.

See book page.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Why Israel?

Philip Weiss: 'Why do you single out Israel?' The latest of several posts on what Weiss calls the "Dershowitzian question," with various answers by readers. Despite the volume I've written on it lately, it's not something I'm inclined to get into. I don't have any immediate stake in the issue, and don't have any strongly held views on how it should be settled. I've never claimed to be pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian. I believe that all people should be able to peacefully coexist, and that the key to this is mutual respect, which starts with equal rights. Anyone who believes that and has even a bare understanding of the history will realize that Israel has gravely offended that principle, and not just in their frequent and spectacular military operations but in their everyday law and administration. So the simplest answer to the question is that what Israel does as a matter of government policy violates my most deeply held beliefs on how people should behave.

Still, the art of the question is that is is relative. It glosses over the question of whether what Israel does is wrong and asks why of all the wrongs in the world Israel is the one you single out. One thing that makes Dershowitz an effective lawyer is that his questions are meant to draw out answers that build his case. The big thing about Israel is that it is a Jewish state, and we have been conditioned to think that any outside focus on Jews is antisemitic. Therefore focusing on Israel's wrongs, as opposed to anyone else's wrongs, is most likely antisemitism, with all that implies. The fallacy here is immediately clear if you reverse the logic: Dershowitz is really arguing that Jews should be immune from judgment, no matter what they do, because doing so puts one on the slippery slope to the Holocaust.

Such arguments are patently ridiculous and worse, not least because by discriminating for Jews they are inviting others to discriminate against Jews. But another weak link in the chain of reasoning is the equation of Israel with all Jews. The fact is that most Jews do not live in Israel, and Jews outside of Israel are very different from Jews inside Israel. For instance, at least in the US, most Jews have a strong record working for equal rights and mutual respect -- precisely the things that I believe in, and precisely the things that Israel violates day in and day out. That difference is a problem: clearly it cannot be because of anything intrinsic in being Jewish. It must be something different between the two environments: who holds power, what are the limits on that power, what is the legacy of conflict.

I think you can break the Dershowitz question down to two pieces: 1) why focus on Israel's conflicts as opposed to any other conflicts in the world? 2) why focus on Israel as opposed to other parties conflicting with Israel? The answer to the second question is really quite simple: it is because Israel, and Israel alone, holds effective power to change or resolve the conflict. Curiously, this part is the one that partisans of Israel like to focus on: they constantly point to suicide bombers, rocket attacks, the abduction of Gilad Shalit, odd planks in old documents "denying Israel's right to exist" -- each assertion implicitly insinuating that dismantling the discriminatory Jewish state of Israel would doom the Jewish population to extermination. This plays on the indisputable fact that many things that Palestinians have done in trying to stand up for their rights have been deplorable. It ignores the fact that such things never made any difference -- they just gave Israel something to harp about.

But the real power equation has long been tilted decisively to Israel's side. Palestinians can't set up checkpoints for Israelis, can't restrict Israeli travel, can't detain Israelis with no charges, can't require building permits and demolish homes, can't direct Israel's airspace, can't set up blockades to prohibit food from getting into Israel. You won't see any Palestinian tanks breaking through borders, or Palestinian F-16s assassinating Israeli notables. Israel could do simple things like extending legal rights with the stroke of a pen; no Palestinian could do any such thing. Israelis would like you to believe that Palestinian anti-semitism is DNA -- that Palestinians oppose Israeli settlers not because of the loss of political and economic rights, nor because of the fetish Israel inherited from the British for collective punishment, but simply because Israelis are Jews. It's a colossal conceit, but really nobody believes it: if Israel did believe it, they could fix the problem simply by dispensing with all of the injustices. If they were right, that wouldn't solve anti-Israeli violence, but it would strip the violent Palestinians of every shred of sympathy in the world.

The reasons for focusing on Israel's conflicts instead of some other conflicts are more numerous and less compelling. The fact is that there are other conflicts that are also of significant importance. My personal lists includes the US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and the ongoing tension between Pakistan and India. Behind them are many other candidates, mostly out of mind because they are out of sight, and therefore less prone to generate comment. But for reasons I'll list below, the sheer human toll of something like the Congo wars concerns me less than the relatively paltry body count chalked up by Israel; likewise the civil rights routinely violated by nations like China and Saudi Arabia. The reasons I want to focus on are, in no particular order:

  • As an American, I feel that the first obligation of every citizen is to focus on the policies of their own government: to ask what is my country doing in my name, and is this the right thing to do. This criterion puts Iraq and Afghanistan at the top of a very long list -- the US has a strong and often unfortunate impact on a great many countries all across the globe. Israel, as the recipient of over $3 billion in aid each year, including a vast military arsenal that they use directly on Palestinians, is necessarily near the top of that list. At the very least, US support -- which includes an almost complete surrender of critical facilities by political figures of both parties -- enables unjust and belligerent Israeli actions. That makes the US complicit in Israeli crimes, something that all US citizens have a duty to turn around.
  • The UN was founded in 1945 as a worldwide institution to prevent future wars by peacefully resolving conflicts. The UN inherited the Palestine mandate originally given to Great Britain, which Britain had reneged on and dumped into the UN's lap. For various reasons the UN has failed to resolve this crisis, leaving an open sore after 60 years, and tarnishing the hopes originally held for the UN. Some sort of resolution, however belated, would rebirth the hopes originally held for the UN.
  • Israel's conflicts have extended far beyond the nation's borders, enveloping a mythology of a "clash of civilizations" that resonates with the 19th century European assault on Islamic lands and peoples. Resolving this local conflict would go a long ways towards undoing the more general clash.
  • Israel and the US have a peculiar set of political alignments, focused around neoconservatives of both nations. US neoconservatives see Israel's dominance of the Middle East as a model for projecting US power on a global scale. Neoconservatives gained power during the Bush administration, resulting in disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as numerous efforts at unsettling the Middle East, from Lebanon to Somalia to Pakistan. While the disasters have temporarily tilted the balance of power back toward realists and pragmatists, neocons are still very active in their support of far right factions in Israel. Their political agendas, which amount to perpetual war -- Iran being the juiciest target -- are stealthily promoted by Israel's right-wing leaders. This is not just a case of opposing Israel because Israel promotes neocons in the US; the recent history of Israel offers convincing proof that the neocon model, especially amplified up to the level of US power, would be a disaster.
  • Other aspects of Israel's political support system in the US are equally troubling: especially the focus on Christian fundamentalists who, looking at Israel has a harbinger of the end of times, support many obnoxious political policies. (Their expectation that the end of times will mean the end of the Jews is an especially hoary vibe here. It reminds one of how often Zionism was given critical support by antisemites.) Another important lobbying force for Israel has been the defense industry, which again is a bad political force in the US.
  • Israel is the last unresolved European colonial settler nation. As such, its conflict resonates powerfully with us in the US -- one case where the settlers prevailed -- and reminds us of many other cases, like Algeria and South Africa, where the settlers failed. South Africa had a similar resonance for us, especially given the extent to which South Africa patterned its apartheid laws on our old Jim Crow statutes. Virtually everyone who supported the civil rights movement in the US took a similar interest in South Africa. (Jews were especially prominent in the US civil rights movement, even though Israel had close ties with the apartheid government of South Africa. Israel was also closely aligned with the French in Algeria.) Israel's discrimination against the Palestinians is fundamentally akin to racism in the US and South Africa.

  • Israel continuously invokes its "right to self-defense," by which it means the right to attack people arbitrarily and indiscriminately. They have recently dispensed with any pretense to proportionality. I believe strongly that virtually any conflict can be resolved peaceably. Indeed, I doubt the validity or viability of conflicts resolved through force of arms. Israel takes exactly the opposite view, thinking, as Bush put it, "sometimes a show of force helps to clarify things." This is a very bad idea that needs to be opposed, especially when it is exemplified to clearly.
  • The social circles within which I live include many Jews, including my wife, who are deeply disturbed by what they've seen Israel do. This is both their response as human beings and is often a response based on their conception of what being Jewish means. There is no sense in which these people are antisemites. They are, if anything, inordinately proud of their heritage, which gives them the principles and courage to stand up for justice on. I feel like my writing on this issue is in effect a social service for this community.

There may be more reasons, like the intrinsic interest of the history, or the peculiar complexities of the psychologies involved, that make this an intriguing puzzle. On the other hand, there is at least one negative reason for not getting worked up about many other conflicts (e.g., the rights of Buddhists and Muslims in China; the sad isolation of Myanmar; the clerical cloistering of Iran), which is the flip-side of my first point above: I want to see as little intervention of the US in other countries' affairs as possible, not just because we do a bad job of it but because we (and the world) need to break our bad habits. Every time a liberal interventionist reaches for a gun any pretense of humanitarianism goes out the window. So the bottom line is that we choose which issues to struggle for, and let other worthy issues go to other concerned people, bless them.

Oh, one more reason:

  • Despite all the bad things that have happened in Israel/Palestine lately, despite the hardening of attitudes in Israel and the lack of any detectable brain activity in Washington, this really is a relatively straightforward conflict to resolve. Everyone should live in a state with their neighbors and enjoy equal rights under that state -- could be one state, two, more, but in any case each state should be free and equal. As few people as possible should have to move -- in a two-state scenario that might mean Israeli settlers could become Palestinian citizens. Interstate borders can be anywhere: the 1967 Green Line would be the most straightforward because it is already accepted by all Arab parties, but adjustments can be made. No nation should have to take in unwanted refugees, but all nations should be encouraged to promote a "right of return" for all Jews and Palestinians. The world as a whole should make substantial investments in settling the refugees and in building up the damaged or decayed areas to common standards. The region as a whole should be increasingly demilitarized. Numerous little wrinkles can be added to these outlines. I tend to assume that some sort of two-state scenario would be preferred by Israel given their demographic anxieties (i.e., their ethnic chauvinism or racism). I think it was Abbas who proposed that Palestine could lease Jewish settlements back to Israel for some fairly long period -- kind of like the British agreement to turn Hong Kong over to China, which offered 25 years or so to make adjustments. It seems to me that undisputed territory like Gaza could be freed up immediately, with more disputed ground pending later resolution. I think that Israel's so-called security issues are nothing more than troublesome hot air, but I came up with a neat little insurance scheme that would compensate terrorism victims from the other side's funds. (In point of fact, Palestinian terrorism dropped to zero them it looked like Barak might come up with an Oslo final agreement.)

So add practicality to the list of principles. We have so many problems these days, it would be nice to get this one behind us. Unforunately, that means offending some hypersensitive Israelis and their American champions, because they don't see that they've become the problem. They could also become the solution, once they see the problem. On some level, that's happening, which is part of what keeps spooking the Israeli right.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Thought I'd throw out this RFC. The basic framework I use for this and other websites was pretty old-fashioned even when I started around ten years ago. I hand code virtually all of my HTML. Gradually I've started to wrap some of it up in hand-coded PHP to provide something like a templated design -- of course the CSS is also hand-coded, as is the one tiny bit of JavaScript I use. The exception to this is the blog, which is implemented using Serendipity 0.7. I've been looking a bit at other websites, and noticing how out of date I am. For one thing, Serendipity is now up to version 1.4. Makes me wonder, for instance, if now they have spam managed well enough that I could turn comments on. Makes me wonder if trackbacks work. I also have a couple of other websites (Notes on Everyday Life and Wichita Peace) that are built using Drupal, and they are running on comparably out-of-date versions. I've promised to upgrade Wichita Peace, where an old timezone bug causes major irritation with the calendar module.

Upgrading the old software packages seems like a no brainer, but will take some brains given how far the packages have diverged. I'll do that when I find time, including some breathing room to repair whatever breaks along the way. Those things are what Rumsfeld called "known unknowns." What I'm most interested in comments on are the "unknown unknowns." For instance, I've seen a Google thing called Burn Feed, which offers some services that may or may not be useful, like the option to sign up for email digests of the blog. It also promises to make my RDF feeds more effective. One thing I wonder about is whether anyone uses the RDF currently available, or for that matter whether it works -- if not, does that have anything to do with what I take to be lack of interest in the site? Another thing I see but don't know anything about is hooks into things like Digg and Since I don't use them I tend to group them into things I don't want to get into, like MySpace and Facebook. Am I missing anything I should actually hook up to?

Finally, the most technically demanding question concerns sendmail. I have a dedicated server (and as such can virtual host websites), but it is swamped in mail trash, mostly "MAILER-DAEMON" messages from my own machine. (Just checked, found, and deleted 1883 such messages, accumulated since Mar. 4, so figure about 100 per day.) I'm at a complete loss to fix this problem, which has in turn kept me from setting up useful mail lists. I'm pretty good at Unix/Linux systems in general, but something about mail simply addles my brain. Any ideas/help there would be much appreciated.

Any lessons I pick up here could conceivably be worked into other websites I work on; e.g. Robert Christgau.

Music Week

Music: Current count 15221 [15194] rated (+28), 780 [796] unrated (-16). Slipped up working on house this week. Should have done more. Instead, I spent way too much time sitting on computer, listening to music. Did get some jazz prospecting done. Also managed to blog every day this past week. That should significy a return to normal, but may not. Still have a lot of work to do on house.

Jazz Prospecting (CG #19, Part 11)

Went to bed last night thinking I really screwed up this week: that I spent way too much time on computer, where I filed a blog post each day, and listening to too much jazz (see below). Thought I should declare a formal hiatus until I got my kitchen more/less done. Got up this morning, and for the first time thought it looks more/less done. Lots of little things to do, but the construction is pretty much all in place. A lot of stuff is painted, and the "to do" list is getting short. So I don't know what I'll do this coming week: probably a little bit of both. The raw count will certainly go down, if only because the electricians are getting back from vacation to finish the upstairs wiring, and that will take some of my time.

Should be wrapping the column up at this time, but haven't changed gears yet. Did revisit a couple of albums just because I thought they'd be easier. Here's what I listened to this week:

Will Sellenraad: Balance (2007 [2008], Beeswax): Guitarist, from New York. Third album since 2000. Haven't heard the first two, but they seem to have a soul jazz focus. This quartet is advanced bop, with drum master Victor Lewis managing the beat, bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa pushing a relentless groove, the guitarist drawing that out into long postbop lines, and alto saxophonist Abraham Burton building on all that. I've always been real impressed with Burton, and he's in his usual fine form here. B+(***)

Fareed Haque + the Flat Earth Ensemble: Flat Planet (2009, Owl Studios): Guitarist, b. 1963, don't know where but father is Pakistani, mother Chilean; lived in both parents' countries, plus Spain, France, Iran, and US, studying at North Texas State and Northwestern. Seventh album since 1988. Sounds like south Indian folk grooves -- most of the guests come from that direction -- spiced up with a bit of fusion. Wonder whether he got the group/title concept from Thomas Friedman. It certainly doesn't make sense in such well rounded, universally appealing music. B+(**)

Bipolar: Euphrates, Me Jane (2009, CDBaby): Quintet (swapping drummers), led by trumpeter Jed Feuer: b. 1948, grew up in Los Angeles, played piano early on, grounded in classical music, mostly has soundtrack work on his resume, is working on an opera based on Slaughterhouse Five. Wrote 4 of 14 songs here, with one more from pianist Craig Swanson. Rest are arrangements (one Swanson, rest Feuer) of classics (Bach, Brahms, Beethoven, Debussy, Faure) and a couple of pop songs (Bill Withers, Beatles, one from the Frank Sinatra songbook). Pretty light and sprightly, almost camp. Aside from the Faure, none of the classical pieces trigger my kneejerk reaction, and the Beatles' "And I Love Her" is rather pretty, despite the flute. B [May 5]

Linda Presgrave: Inspiration (2008 [2009], Metropolitan): Pianist, b. 1951, worked in St. Louis until 1998 when she moved to New York and started recording -- this is her third album since 2000. Piano trio with Harvie S on bass, Allison Miller on drums, plus extra sax on 5 of 10 cuts -- 4 with Stan Chovnick on soprano, 2 with Todd Herbert on tenor (1 of those with both). Mainstream postbop, mostly upbeat, with impressive command. Herbert makes the most of his time. B+(**)

Mark Masters Ensemble: Farewell Walter Dewey Redman (2006 [2008], Capri): Big band arranger, b. 1957, started playing trumpet, learned his craft under Stan Kenton. Eighth album since 1984 -- others include Jimmy Knepper Songbook, The Clifford Brown Project, and Porgy and Bess: Redefined. This one is dedicated to the late Dewey Redman, mostly featuring his songs, with one from Masters, two from the group, and "My One and Only Love." Arrangements are crisp and detailed, as you'd expect, but the main point is the solo space, and what makes it work is that Oliver Lake is the main focal point. B+(**)

Charles Tolliver Big Band: Emperor March (2008 [2009], Half Note): Trumpeter, emerged on the avant-garde (or maybe just the far postbop fringe) in the late 1960s, but faded into obscurity in the 1980s, making a minor comeback on the coattails of Andrew Hill's fin de millennium resurgence. I've long admired his 1969 album The Ringer, and hoped to hear more. He finally came back big time in 2007 with a big band album jointly released by Mosaic and Blue Note. I thought it was loud and sloppy, and tagged it as a dud. This live shot with pretty much the same group is also loud, but what seemed sloppy then seems more like rough and tough now. Tenor saxmen Billy Harper and Marcus Strickland stand out among the cast. Not sure what I really think yet, so I'll keep it open. [B+(**)]

Teddy Charles: Dances With Bulls (2008 [2009], Smalls): Vibraphonist, b. 1928 (Theodore Charles Cohen); got his first break on piano playing for Coleman Hawkins as an emergency replacement for Thelonious Monk; cut a pile of records 1951-63, five called New Directions, another the legendary Tentet; then retired, moving to the Caribbean, opening up a sailing business; eventually returned to New York, where he still sails. This is his first studio album since: sextet, with Chris Byars on alto sax/flute, John Mosca on trombone, Harold Danko on piano, Ari Roland on bass, Stefan Schatz on drums. One Mingus tune -- Charles' resume includes Jazz Workshop work with Mingus -- the rest originals. The vibes can swing, bop, or just tinkle, and are most mesmerizing at high speed. The young horns are a little slick, happy to be here. Danko is one of those well-regarded pianists I've been meaning to get to but still have no feel for. B+(**)

Israel: Naranjas Sobre la Nieve (2007 [2009], Sunnyside): Been blogging about Israel the country today, which isn't really responsible for my annoyance with Israel Fernández the flamenco singer: the fact is the booklet contents are buried in a PDF file on the CD, inaccessible while I'm playing it, and the website is contentless without the acursed Flash plugin. Also my filing system has turned into a large dump heap, so finding the hype sheet is beyond my patience. On the other hand, if I liked anything about the record I might find some patience. Eighteen years old. Pictured at the piano on the front cover, but not exactly playing it, and I don't hear much of it on the album. Can't sing for shit, which may be a flamenco trademark -- not all that different from El Cigala, except that the latter makes an impression. Has a pretty good guitarist, at least in terms of flamenco-ish dramaturgy. C+

Eddie Daniels and Roger Kellaway: A Duet of One: Live at the Bakery (2005 [2009], IPO): Clarinet and piano, respectively; veterans who shouldn't need an introduction but probably do. Title suggests they go beyond intimacy to find some sort of unity. Sometimes, but most of the time one or the other is soloing, at a comfortable pace, on well worn standards. Has its moments, and Kellaway is one of the more dependable solo pianists around. B+(*)

Brothers of the Southland (2009, Zoho Roots): Southern rock demi-supergroup, produced by D Scott Miller, released on the blues subsidiary of a jazz label that gives me good service. Back cover sez the album showcases "the great Southern Rock singers Bo Dice (American Idol 2005), Jimmy Hall (Wet Willie, Jeff Beck, Hank Williams Jr.) and Henry Paul (Outlaws, Blackhawk) with Dan Toler (Allman Brothers Band, Dickie Betts), Jay Boy Adams (ZZ Top, The Band), Steve Grisham (The Outlaws, Gretchen Wilson, Charlie Daniels), Mike Brignardello (Faith Hill, Dolly Parton) and Steve Gorman (Black Crowes, Jimmy Page, Bob Dylan, John Corbett)." The only one of those names that registers in my mental rolodex is Hall, who has a previous Zoho Roots album, although I remember the Outlaws -- the target of one of the high points of my early rockcrit career (cf. Let's String Up the Outlaws). Still, I can't say that Faith Hill's bassist or a trip to American Idol is much to brag about. Nor is the album, although it's competent and derivative enough the Outlaws would have been proud to put their logo on it. Hall's sax is a plus, and Adams' emulation of the guitar greats is almost perfect. B [June 9]

Kendra Shank Quartet: Mosaic (2008 [2009], Challenge): Sextet, actually: saxophonist Billy Drewes and guitarist Ben Monder get "feat." credit on front cover. Shank is a singer, b. 1958, has five albums since 1992, most recently an Abbey Lincoln tribute. Quartet includes Frank Kimbrough on piano, Dean Johnson on bass, and Tony Moreno on drums. Album gives you a sense of how difficult it is to do new and interesting things in the generally retro jazz vocal niche, especially for someone who doesn't write much and doesn't want to be cast as a cabaret singer. She taps Carole King for the intro, juxtaposes songs like "Laughing at Life" and "Smile," works in some Rumi poems, grabs scattered lyrics to Bill Evans and Cedar Walton. Clear, clean voice; masterful control, with the restraint not to bury herself in scat; a band that fits tightly without being obtrusive. Nicely done, but nothing here I find myself caring about -- not even "All of You." B

Radam Schwartz: Blues Citizens (2006 [2009], Savant): Hammond B-3 player, from New York, third album since 1995's Organ-ized (on Savant-predecessor Muse). Mostly blues licks, fleshed out with two saxophones (Bill Saxton on tenor, Bruce Williams on alto), guitar, and drums. Someone named Kice contributes a jiveass money sermon on "Pay Up." B+(*)

Scott Reeves Quintet: Shape Shifter: Live at Cecil's (2008 [2009], Miles High): Trombonist, has taught since 1976, currently at City College of New York and Juilliard, not to be confused with the actor and sometime country singer of the same name. Plays alto flugelhorn and alto valve trombone here, with Rich Perry on tenor sax, Jim Ridl on piano, Mike McGuirk on bass, and Andy Watson on drums. Cecil's Jazz Club is in West Orange, NJ; evidently named for drummer Cecil Brooks III. Postbop, I guess. Reeves' brass shadings are interesting, and Perry and Ridl provide strong support. B+(*)

Antti Sarpila Quartet: We'd Like New York . . . in June! (2008 [2009], Arbors): Not sure what business anyone from Finland has complaining about the winters in New York. The other three in this "truly international quartet" have been sighted frequently in each others' company lately: pianist Rossano Sportiello, bassist Nicki Parrott, and drummer Ed Metz Jr. They are masters of light swing, perfectly adequate backup for any Bob Wilber protégé. Sarpila plays clarinet, soprano sax, and tenor sax -- the latter a pleasant surprise. Draws some on Chopin, but this group can swing anything. B+(**)

Dave Bennett: Celebrates 100 Years of Benny (2006-08 [2009], Arbors): Clarinettist, b. 1984 in Michigan, all of 2 years old when Benny Goodman died, has two previous albums: Dave Bennett's Salute to Benny Goodman and Remembering Benny -- not sure if that's a niche or just a rut. This album is pieced together from three groups: a sextet that opens up on "I Got Rhythm" and "Stompin' at the Savoy"; a trio with Dick Hyman and Ed Metz Jr; another, quieter, trio with Bucky Pizzarelli and Jerry Bruno. Hyman and Pizzarelli get special guest billing, but both seem slightly out of character -- Hyman too heavy, Pizzarelli too light. The shifts between the groups confuse the flow. Did enjoy the closer, "Sing Sing Sing," natch, even if Metz is a bantamweight compared to Krupa, who still owns the song. B

Jon Hassell: Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street (2008 [2009], ECM): But did it really happen if no one was conscious enough to notice? Violin, guitar, bass, keyb, "live sampling" (Jan Bang, Dino J.A. Deane), some cuts have drums credits (not that I recall any), with a light schmear of trumpet, all toned down and slowed down, even past Hassell's usual standards of fourth world ambience. B-

Nicole Herzog Septet: Time Will Tell (2007 [2009], TCB): Feat. Adrian Mears, trombonist, who wrote 3 of 8 pieces and is credited with arrangements. Herzog sings. B. 1983, Winterthur, Switzerland (near Zurich). Website in German only, but songs are in English and Portuguese (Jobim's "Agua de Beber"; she also does "One Note Samba"). First album, I think -- her website also refers to The Latin Side of Life, but I haven't figured out what that is. Mears is from Australia -- plays didgeridoo as well as trombone. He moved to Munich in 1992, his credits including a stretch with Vienna Art Orchestra. With two saxes, trumpet and trombone, the septet has a rich brassy sound, interesting in its own right. Less impressed by the singer, and the songs: obvious and unnecessary -- two Jobims, "The Man I Love," "Afro Blue," Frank Loesser's "If I Were a Bell." Mears' songs at least don't beg comparison, but "While My Baby Sleeps" is rather awkward. Still, he does have some talent for arranging the brass, and the rhythm section swings. B

Derrick Gardner & the Jazz Prophets + 2: Echoes of Ethnicity (2009, Owl Studios): Loud brass band, led by the trumpeter and his trombonist brother Vincent, the original sextet fortified with two extra saxophonists in Brad Leali and Jason Marshall, plus uncounted "disciples" on bass and percussion. Not bad when you just get one horn -- e.g., Vincent Gardner's trombone -- riffing over Afro-Cuban riddim, but the massed horns really rub me the wrong way, and it gets worse when they slow down. Don't have a technical explanation, so I'll just blame it on postbop, or too much ambition, or the misjudgments of euphoria. First album I've seen offering "very special thanks" to "Barack H. Obama for his inspiration and symbolism of hope for all of humanity." Easy to trip up on that phrase, "symbolism of hope." C+

Matt Lavelle and Morcilla: The Manifestation Drama (2008 [2009], KMB Jazz): Starts off with an ugly, arresting bass clarinet riff, followed by fractured piano and conga, with Lavelle soon switching back to trumpet (or more likely flugelhorn). It's a thrilling piece -- "God Love Sex" is the title -- but when he's done he's off to something else. Not all of the ugly turns sublime, and not all of the pieces to ugly. There's some simple bass/trumpet stuff that's haunting, and François Grillot's bass solo is a gem. Pianist Chris Forbes does a crashingly good Cecil Taylor bit, but can comp gently as well. Andre Martinez's congas give the record a tribal feel. Lavelle has been studying with Ornette Coleman, who's pushing him to find his own sound grammar. Not sure what that means. Feels like a work in progress. B+(***)

Bob Sneider & Joe Locke [Film Noir Project]: Nocturne for Ava (2007 [2009], Origin): Attribution parsing problems here: spine says "Bob Sneider & Joe Locke"; front cover has Sneider and Locke in relatively bright type, "Film Noir Project" in smaller and more obscure type. Locke is one of the 3-4 best known vibes players around. Sneider is less well known: a guitarist, teaches at Eastman School of Music in Rochester (Locke's home town), has 4 previous albums since 2001, including a Film Noir Project called Fallen Angel. I can't think of any recent movie music albums I've liked, but this one is quite nice, with contributions by John Sneider on trumpet, Grant Stewart on tenor sax, and Paul Hofmann on piano, plus Luisito Quintero's extra percussion on top of bass (Martin Wind) and drums (Tim Horner). Subtle. Will keep it open and see what develops. [B+(***)]

Bill Wimmer: Project Omaha (2008 [2009], Wimjazz): Saxophonist, from Lincoln, NE. Reportedly put this group together using musicians from Omaha, although two -- guitarist Dave Stryker and drummer Victor Lewis -- are known far and wide. Covers, ranging from Rogers and Hart to Tony Williams with the obligatory Jobim and one from Stryker. Rhythm section likes latin. Keyboardist Tony Gulizia likes to sing, and does a decent job with "I Thought About You" and "Cherry Red." B+(*) [Apr. 7]

Shawn Maxwell: Originals II (2008 [2009], Dangerous Curve): Also saxophonist (also flute and clarinet), b. 1976, from Aurora, IL. Second album, debut was called Originals. Leads a quartet with piano/keyboards, bass, drums. Postbop, given to high wails and fast runs on alto sax; impressive enough, but nothing much catches my ear. On the other hand, his flute feature ("Year Three") is dreadful, and the clarinet isn't much better. Adds guest guitar and trombone on one track each. The latter, by Johanna Mahmud on "Working Dog," is the best thing here. B-

Jim McAuley: The Ultimate Frog (2002-07 [2008], Drip Audio, 2CD): Skipped this over many times, not feeling up to a double CD, and not realizing who was on this other than the to-me-unknown guitarist. The one that should have done the trick for me was the late violinist Leroy Jenkins. Best known for his 1970s string trio Revolutionary Ensemble, Jenkins put violin onto the avant-jazz map almost single-handedly -- Billy Bang came later, and now there are a dozen or so good jazz violinists, notably including Jesse Zubot, who I mention because he runs the label that released this. McAuley turns out to be an enigmatic character, b. 1946 on a farm in Kansas, based in Los Angeles, with a previous record on Nine Winds from 2005 and a credit in Acoustic Guitar Trio, a 2001 album with Nels Cline and Rod Poole on Derek Bailey's Incus label. Reviewers tend to liken him to Bailey, which strikes me as convergence -- all solo avant guitarists are inevitably bound to overlap -- but then I can't claim to know or understand much about Bailey. In an interview I found, McAuley talks about John Fahey, which make sense, and recounts playing with John Carter and Horace Tapscott in LA, which also fits. The two discs include 23 duets plus a solo, "For Rod Poole." Seven duets with Jenkins date from 2002, the names just "Improvisation" with a number. They are slight, but the violin is bracing, the guitar gently picking around the edges. The other duos -- with guitarist Nels Cline, bassist Ken Filiano, and percussionist Alex Cline -- date from 2006-07, fleshing out the album refocusing it on the guitarist. Haven't really sorted out the guitarists, but the drum counterpoint is especially vivid, and Filiano is always invaluable. I almost never fall for abstract, minimalist, avant guitar, but there always seems to be an exception to every rule, and this is it. A-

Bill Henderson: Beautiful Memory: Bill Henderson Live at the Vic (2007 [2009], Ahuh): Live appearance, on the occasion of Henderson's 81st birthday. He was one of the major male jazz singers of the 1950s, coming in just after the vocalese fad. Doesn't do much of that now: just his generation's version of what Louis Armstrong used to call the "good ole good 'uns" -- "You Are My Sunshine," "Old Black Magic," "Song Is You" -- plus an unnecessary Elton John song. I never was a fan, so can't credit much sentimental value. B

Sound Assembly: Edge of the Mind (2005 [2009], Beauport Jazz): Big band, led by David Schumacher and JC Sanford, who split composing/conducting duties. Neither play here, but elsewhere Schumacher plays sax and Sanford trombone. Both appear to be relatively young for this sort of thing, with careers starting in the mid-1990s; evidently they met at New England Conservatory, where both studied under George Russell. Band includes a few names I recognize: Dan Willis (alto sax), Alan Ferber (trombone), Deanna Witkowski (piano), John Hollenbeck (drums), Kate McGarry (voice, one song). Impressively complex, but not much fun. B+(*)

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

Hiromi's Sonicbloom: Beyond Standard (2008, Telarc): Sort of an American EST, less original -- that would be Bad Plus -- but a healthy mix of popular ambition and chops. Standards, aside from one remake of one of her own -- can't bedrudge her that -- and an unfamiliar Japanese title that you'll recognize as "Sukiyaki" (assuming you were conscious in the 1960s). Best taken with a dash of soy sauce: "My Favorite Things" and "Caravan" are amusing, and she runs through "I Got Rhythm" at record pace. Dave Fiuczynski's guitar is featured. B+(**)

Billy Harper: Blueprints of Jazz, Vol. 2 (2006 [2009], Talking House): Amiri Baraka talks his way through the first two pieces, then returns at the end with another story of Africa, the blues people, and the evolution of the music. Worth listening to, or even studying if you're not hip to the story. Harper vamps memorably along the way, then blasts open when he gets the chance -- throw in Keyon Harold's trumpet and Charles McNeal's alto sax and this sounds like a big band even though the musician count is six or seven (two bassists, not on all the tracks together). Harper sounds great on tenor sax; OK singing "Amazing Grace." Probably not the best place to hear him. B+(**)

Fernando Huergo: Provinciano (2006 [2008], Sunnyside): Argentine bassist swings both ways, making first rate postbop with Andrew Rathbun's sax and Mike Pohjola's piano leading the way, plus some curious tango featuring Yulia Musayelyan's flute and Franco Pinna's drums. B+(*)

For this cycle's collected Jazz Prospecting notes, look here.


  • Amadou & Mariam: Welcome to Mali (Because Music/Nonesuch)
  • Beaty Brothers Band: B3 (Beaty Brothers): advance, Apr. 21
  • Steven Bernstein/Marcus Rojas/Kresten Osgood: Tattoos and Mushrooms (ILK)
  • Alison Burns and Martin Taylor: 1: AM (P3 Music)
  • Sunny Crownover: Introducing Sunny and Her Boys (Stony Plain)
  • Jimmy Greene: Mission Statement (RazDaz/Sunnyside)
  • Hank Jones & Frank Wess: Hank and Frank II (Lineage): Apr. 14
  • Søren Kjærgaard/Ben Street/Andrew Cyrille: Optics (ILK)
  • Julian Lage: Sounding Point (Emarcy/Decca)
  • Hugh Masekela: Phola (4Q/Times Square)
  • Marcus Roberts: New Orleans Meets Harlem, Vol. 1 (J-Master Music): advance, Mar. 31
  • Helen Schneider: Dream a Little Dream (Edel)
  • Avery Sharpe Trio: Autumn Moonlight (JKNM): Apr. 14

Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Geithner Shuffle

John Cole: The Geithner Plan. Sums it up pretty succinctly:

If this were a medical emergency, it appears it would look something like this:

  • The Illness- reckless and irresponsible betting led to huge losses
  • The Diagnosis- Insufficient gambling.
  • The Cure- a Trillion dollar stack of chips provided by the house.
  • The Prognosis- We are so screwed.

Cole cites Naked Capitalism, Calculated risk, and Paul Krugman, all of which have more details, but basically the same conclusion. Also see a second Krugman piece.

James K Galbraith: No Return to Normal. Where the above notes are quick reactions to recently published leaks in Tim Geithner's to-be-announced-next-week plan, this is a long, very thoughtful article, which understands the plan in almost exactly the same terms. The one article to read, even if you're only reading one. Nearly every paragraph is quotable. I singled out the following one because I haven't seen it made so succinctly -- for proof, just look at last week's AIG bonus brouhaha, an example of just this looting.

Delay is not innocuous. When a bank's insolvency is ignored, the incentives for normal prudent banking collapse. Management has nothing to lose. It may take big new risks, in volatile markets like commodities, in the hope of salvation before the regulators close in. Or it may loot the institution -- nomenklatura privatization, as the Russians would say -- through unjustified bonuses, dividends, and options. It will never fully disclose the extent of insolvency on its own.

The points about social security and medicare are also well taken. I hadn't really thought of them as an asset, but if you take them away you're left with the requirement to save enough to cover your income and health care cost shortfalls from retirement until you die. The number of people who can do that in today's job market is vanishingly small. On the other hand, expanding those benefits takes a lot of the pressure off to save for old age. You might be tempted to think of that as a moral lapse, but really it isn't. It's a burden, especially given the inherent uncertainty in future investment value. Few people, even a couple of years ago, could have anticipated the drops in their retirement savings that have become commonplace -- and even if they had anticipated it, fewer still could have done anything about it. The idea of saving for old age is one of those things that's nice in normal times for individuals to do, but is impossible across the whole of society. This is, quite simply, because retirement expenses will depend on future costs, not on present savings. About the best you can do is pay-as-you-go, and if future wage earners are too cheap to support their elders, that would speak very poorly of their sense of civilization.

Matt Taibbi: The Big Takeover. The AIG story, minus outrage over the bonuses that dominated news last week -- bet they now wished they'd scheduled it a week or two later. So add your own outrage. Plenty of fuel for it here. Taibbi does a reasonably good job of explaining credit default swaps and all that, but his real contribution is to illustrate how befuddled everyone involved is over the whole affair, not least by pointing out how little change Obama brought in by replacing Hank Paulson with Tim Geithner.

One more:

Michael Lewis: Mass Hysteria Over AIG Obscures Simple Truths. Another view of the AIG bonus brouhaha. He's right that most of AIG's employees had little to do with the disaster, but that's also been true of all the companies I've worked in that have gone belly up, and without exception the best of them went down with the ship (while many of the truly guilty parties bailed early, knowing what was going to happen). Even if AIG was contractually required to pay the bonuses -- in which case would they really be bonuses? -- if AIG was simply in bankruptcy those owed bonuses would have to line up in court like everyone else. Cleaner handling by the government would have made that clearer, but the feds remain confused on what they want to do with AIG. As for the "entire political system," at least the bonuses are something they can understand (or think they do). The rest of it, which is Lewis's major complaint, is mind-boggling, and nobody's risen to the challenge yet.

Friday, March 21, 2008

House Log

Haven't written one of these in a week, not since March 14. Put at least one blog post every day since then, and have piled up 22 Jazz Prospecting notes, so I've been on the computer too much, and working on house not nearly enough. Do manage to get two or three little things done each day. For instance, today I painted light blue wall touchup around various shelves/cabinets, over several places where I had patched wall, and in the bathroom where sloppy cleaning of paintbrushes had speckled the wall. Also retouched the kitchen window frame. Yesterday I put the vent ductwork together that goes under the middle one of the big south wall cabinet units, extending the HVAC from the wall to the toekick. Also installed the cabinet knobs (but not the drawer pulls, which will require longer screws). Also pulled the wire for the AC outlets in the south wall cabinet toe kicks, or maybe that was the day before. Sometime during the week I tried some wall joint compound to patch up various holes in various walls.

I spent a little time yesterday trying to find dishes, figuring I could safely put the full set in the cabinets without them being in the way. Had a tough time finding them. Brought the mixer up early in the week and made a spice cake. Made chicken and biscuits on Thursday. Fried a hamburger on Friday. Still not using the gas oven, but the electric works nicely. Only thing stopping me from using the gas is that I haven't unpacked the racks and gone through the burn-in procedure. But we didn't really burn in the top burners either -- manual calls for 30 minutes each at full power, but we just started cooking with them.

Refrigerator is causing trouble: ice maker leaks when it fills up, the water dripping on the ice below, turning it all into a big unmovable block. Ordered a replacement part. Then I tried levelling the refrigerator, which helped, but there still is a leak. Could wind up buying a new refrigerator: this one is 9 years old, and we often run out of space. We built the new box large enough to handle the largest standalone refrigerators on the market now, so an upgrade would fit right in with out plans, but they are a lot of money, and not a lot bigger.

Socialists and Capitalism

Andrew Leonard: Real socialists know how to execute a stimulus. On China's new $600 billion economic stimulus program. Leonard quotes Keith Bradsher from the New York Times:

The country is using its nearly $600 billion economic stimulus package to make its companies better able to compete in markets at home and abroad, to retrain migrant workers on an immense scale and to rapidly expand subsidies for research and development.

Construction has already begun on new highways and rail lines that are likely to permanently reduce transportation costs.

And while American leaders struggle to revive lending -- in the latest effort with a $15 billion program to help small businesses -- Chinese banks lent more in the last three months than in the preceding 12 months.

In other words, they're not just shovelling money; they're making strategic economic bets to better position the country for the long run. Just what the US should be doing, but while Obama seems to be thinking in that direction, his administration is dithering, watering down the stimulus with useless tax cuts, mostly because of political flack from an opposition party (and some ignorant fools in his own party) that would prefer dead to red. China isn't even the only example of a country where socialists do a better job of running a capitalist economy -- cf. France under Mitterand. Too bad socialists aren't much good at socialism.

Douglas Rushkoff: Let It Die. One reason socialists feel the need to save capitalism from itself is that they have a social conscience -- they don't like to see people hurt, and they recognize that in the collapse of capitalism, no matter how deserved, lots of ordinary people are going to get hurt. So to protect everyone else, they wind up saving the capitalists. (Of course, there was that bolshevik faction, but they didn't exactly set a good example.) Rushkoff, who wrote a book on Judaism I found interesting (Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism) tries to make out the case for tough love. In some sense he's write. Certainly it is true that most people only learn things the hard way. Also that there are some pretty fundamental things wrong with today's capitalism. Also that some sort of radical correction does seem in order -- he suggests that a 70% drop in the stock market and a 70% cull of the banking industry would go a long ways toward setting things right.

An economy based on an interest-bearing centralized currency must grow to survive, and this means extracting more, producing more and consuming more. Interest-bearing currency favors the redistribution of wealth from the periphery (the people) to the center (the corporations and their owners). Just sitting on money -- capital -- is the most assured way of increasing wealth. By the very mechanics of the system, the rich get richer on an absolute and relative basis.

That much seems true, as does:

Making matters worse, all that capital that the wealthy had accumulated needed markets -- even fake markets -- in which to be invested. There was a ton of money out there -- just nowhere to put it. Nothing on which to speculate. [ . . . ] The fact that the speculative economy for cash and commodities accounts for over 95% of economic transactions, while people actually using money and consuming commodities constitute less than 5% tells us something important. Real supply and demand have almost nothing to do with prices. We do not live in an economy, we live in a Ponzi scheme.

Rushkoff thinks that the banking collapse will open up alternatives to our current assumptions -- e.g., he mentions "community supported farmers" instead of corporate supermarkets. I doubt that will happen soon, but I also think the banking collapse is going to keep sinking deeper into the real economy, not so much because we need bankers and can't live without them as because I don't see resources for growth holding up as the most basic conceit of capitalism crashes into reality.

Of course, some socialism would soften the crash -- indeed, most leftists are preoccupied with saving the system. Most of the people cheering on the crash are on the right, where ignorance is bliss. Unfortunately, Obama is wedged in the middle: wishing to avoid the socialist tag, he's come up with a banking scheme to recapitalize banks by guaranteeing the losses of private investors. This notion that only the private sector can work is just pathetic when the private sector not only failed in the first place, but has to be bribed even to pretend to try again.

Free markets have a useful function in balancing inputs and outputs of a wide variety of products and services in normal times -- e.g., in times when credit is readily available -- but whenever you want something specific done as a matter of public policy, it's easier and usually much more efficient to just do it. Socialists understand this, which is why capitalism can't survive without them.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Book Report

I'm way behind in compiling these brief notes on new/recent books, but more immediately I'm way behind in posting what I have compiled. My rule is to do 40 in a batch, plus starting this time I'll throw some paperback reissues of previously mentioned books in as a bonus. (Don't expect me to catch all of them.) I have about 100 in the file now, and just opened up a notebook compiled last fall in Detroit, so the list is growing.

Liaquat Ahamed: Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World (2009, Penguin): Actually, a history featuring four bankers from the 1920s, leading up to the 1929 Crash and Depression, and how the central banks bungled the crisis. Still, this appears at a time when the sequel is being acted out. Even if the analogies aren't obvious, the penchant for arrogance and error is still all too evident. Most likely the spookiest part will be Germany, given what happened there.

George A Akerlof/Robert J Shiller: Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism (2009, Princeton University Press): A look at how psychological factors impact economic decisions -- presumably a corrective to the ultra-rationalism most economists assume to simplify their equations. Title, I believe, comes from Keynes. Schiller previously wrote Irrational Exuberance, about the stock bubble (second edition in 2006), and The Subprime Solution: How Today's Global Financial Crisis Happened and What to Do About It.

Gar Alperovitz/Lew Daly: Unjust Deserts: How The Rich Are Taking Our Common Inheritance and Why We Should Take It Back (2008, New Press): Been meaning to read Alperovitz's America Beyond Capitalism: Reclaiming Our Wealth, Our Liberty, and Our Democracy for a long time, and now I'm even further behind. Daly wrote a short book, God and the Welfare State, on Bush's faith-based initiative. Not sure what their analysis is, but my own take is that the rich are mostly lucky beneficiaries of market imperfections -- unwanted inefficiencies. They may be impossible to eliminate, but basing a social system on their self-perpetuation is a formula for disaster.

Dean Baker: Plunder and Blunder: The Rise and Fall of the Bubble Economy (paperback, 2009, Polipoint Press): Short (170 pp) essay on the financial debacle, from one of the few critics who clearly saw it coming.

Russ Baker: Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, the Powerful Forces That Put It in the White House, and What Their Influence Means for America (2008, Bloomsbury Press): Not what you'd call timely: who, after all, wants to think, much less read 592 pages, about the Bushes anymore. Not sure what all is in here, but one big thread is that GHW Bush had worked for the CIA before he became director under Nixon, and that somehow links him to the JFK assassination.

Will Bunch: Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future (2009, Free Press): Has there ever been any US president more deliberately mythologized for political purposes? A shill who fronted the most corrupt administration in American history, turning the federal government into an incubator for the far-right fanatics who have since done even more damage to the republic. A necessary book, but unlikely that Bunch goes anywhere near far enough.

Jimmy Carter: We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work (2009, Simon & Schuster): Most likely another sane and sensible book on the conflict, giving Israel way too much credit while Carter has become the favorite whipping boy of the Dershowitz mob.

Daniel Cohen: Three Lectures on Post-Industrial Society (2008, MIT Press): Short (108 pages). Cohen wrote one of the better globalization books I've read (Globalization and Its Enemies), plus another short big picture synopsis, Our Modern Times: The Nature of Capitalism in the Information Age. Sharp, balanced, able to get to the point.

Juan Cole: Engaging the Muslim World (2009, Palgrave Macmillan): Cole's long been the first person you check for news on Iraq and analysis thereof, so anything he has to say is likely to be of interest.

Carlo D'Este: Warlord: A Life of Winston Churchill at War, 1874-1945 (2008, Harper): A lot of wars here, a lot to chew on, not obviously overblown even at 864 pages, but it does cut Churchill short, before he could get the Cold War off to its proper start, or goad the US into salvaging BP's bacon by staging a coup against the government of Iran in 1953 -- the start of a conflict that smolders even today. Indeed, it's hard to think of a war from the 1890s up to the decade after Churchill's death that he didn't have a substantial hand in, with the "troubles" in Ireland, the three Indo-Pakistani wars, and Israel's endless warmaking prominent among his legacies. I doubt that D'Este is anywhere near critical enough, or maybe even critical at all -- he previously wrote a book called Patton: A Genius for War. But no figure in the 20th century more deserves to be taken down a few notches, shown for the monster that he truly was.

Gregory Feifer: The Great Gamble: The Soviet War in Afghanistan (2009, Harper Collins): Big surprise here is an American journalist writing an account of the Afghanistan war that is sympathetic to the Russians. That was taboo for many years, but the shoe's on the other foot now -- an indication of how far the US position has deteriorated. Still, what else can you do? Certainly not write a hagiography of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar as Afghanistan's George Washington.

Dexter Filkins: The Forever War (2008, Knopf): By the New York Times' forever war correspondent, who never failed to swallow the government's propaganda whole. Now, he adds his own extensions and elaborations, a little self-fulfilling job security. Book has received extensive praise, including from a few critics of the war, so it may have some value in its details.

Paul Fitzgerald/Elizabeth Gould: Invisible History: Afghanistan's Untold Story (paperback, 2009, City Lights): Journalists, not sure how deep they go into history, but there is plenty of recent travail to report in America's haphazard, half-assed occupation.

John Bellamy Foster/Fred Magdoff: The Great Financial Crisis: Causes and Consequences (paperback, 2009, Monthly Review Press): Short (160 pp) Marxian analysis of how capitalism's tendencies toward stagnation led to the current crisis.

Lawrence Freedman: A Choice of Enemies: America Confronts the Middle East (2008, Public Affairs): Big picture history of the US in the Middle East (640 pages), the sort of thing reviewers like to call "magisterial." Starts with Carter, so figure the muck up in Iran looms large.

Peter W Galbraith: Unintended Consequences: How War in Iraq Strengthened America's Enemies (2008, Simon & Schuster): A shrewd observer of the Iraq war, except for the one blind eye he turns toward the Kurds -- a group he advises on the side, and roots for coming and going, leading him to push for the break-up of Iraq into more/less independent sectarian states. He also has a background as a diplomat, which may give him a sense of "America's enemies" that isn't obvious to most Americans. Nonetheless, when he's clear of his entanglements he can be quite sharp.

Gordon M Goldstein: Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to War in Vietnam (2008, Times Books): Views Bundy's persistent role advancing the war somewhat tragically, which may be easier than for Walt Rostow. The fact is that the two of them were always on the front lines derailing any attempt to rethink the mess the US had gotten into. One lesson should concern the power that ideologically committed aparatchiks have to control or limit the agendas of the politicians who supposedly outrank them. (A similar book on Rostow appeared recently: David Milne: America's Rasputin: Walt Rostow and the Vietnam War.)

Richard N Haass/Martin S Indyk/et al: Restoring the Balance: A Middle East Strategy for the Next President (paperback, 2008, Brookings Institution Press): Papers from the Saban Center, the first two names being veteran diplomats, with Indyk in particular guilty of much of the imbalance that needs correction. (Indyk has his own disingenuous book out: Innocent Abroad: An Intimate Account of American Peace Diplomacy in the Middle East.)

Robert G Kaiser: So Damn Much Money: The Triumph of Lobbying and the Corrosion of American Government (2009, Knopf): Washington Post reporter, been around long enough he could write this book many times over. This take evidently focuses on one lobbyist, Gerald Cassidy, who started out in 1969 and got bigger and richer over the decades.

Rashid Khalidi: Sowing Crisis: The Cold War and American Hegemony in the Middle East (2009, Beacon Press): It almost goes without saying that the US approached the Middle East as much or more through the prism of its Cold War obsession with the Soviet threat as for any other reason -- oil and empathy for Israel two more obvious concerns. One reason the Cold War is worth reviewing at this time is that it was the policy concern least connected to reality, and most distorting of reality. Not sure how far Khalidi goes with this -- his specialty is Israel/Palestine and their Arab neighbours but Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are big pieces of the picture, and there are more little pieces.

Yasmin Khan: The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan (paperback, 2008, Yale University Press): Relatively short (288 pp) history of one of the most traumatic events of the post-WWII era: responsible for a million deaths, 10-15 million exiles or displaced, three subsequent wars and countless lesser acts of violence, posing two nuclear-armed nations at each other's throats. Not to mention the stunning indifference of Britain to all the misery they caused. I'm tempted to pick this up, or Alex von Tunzelman's Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire, or maybe Narendra Singh Sarila's The Shadow of the Great Game: The Untold Story of India's Partition. Stanley Wolpert's Shameful Flight: The Last Years of the British Empire might also add something, but strikes me as far too sympathetic to the British.

Ben Kiernan: Blood and Soil: A World History of Genocide and Extermination from Sparta to Darfur (paperback, 2009, Yale University Press): Big comparative history (756 pp), filling in a lot of prehistorical slaughter to the 20th century concept of genocide.

William Kleinknecht: The Man Who Sold the World: Ronald Reagan and the Betrayal of Main Street America (2009, Nation Books): Another attempt to put Reagan back into focus, this time focusing on the Middle America Reagan was supposed to champion, and what his political legacy has done to them.

Daniel C Kurtzer/Scott B Lasensky: Negotiating Arab-Israeli Peace: American Leadership in the Middle East (paperback, 2008, United States Institute of Peace Press): Kurtzer was rumored to be a prime Obama appointment for sorting out the Israel/Palestine mess, and seemed at least to be a better candidate than Martin Indyk or Dennis Ross.

Robert Kuttner: Obama's Challenge: America's Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency (paperback, 2009, Chelsea Green): Quickie book dressing up Obama as a future Lincoln or Roosevelt (or Johnson, except for that mess in Vietnam, or do I mean Afghanistan?), based on crudely applying Doris Kearns Goodwin to his otherwise solid economic critique.

Minqi Li: The Rise of China and the Demise of the Capitalist World (paperback, 2009, Monthly Review Press): Interesting contrast here, as if the two major events were related, as if China's Communists figured out the way to really destroy the capitalist system was to join and master it.

Sean L Malloy: Atomic Tragedy: Henry L. Stimson and the Decision to Use the Bomb Against Japan (2008, Cornell University Press): Secretary of War during WWII, Stimson was one of the more thoughtful people deeply involved in the whole affair, so should make an interesting prism for examining what did and did not happen.

Mahmood Mamdani: Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror (2009, Pantheon): This will likely move to the forefront of our understanding of the Darfur crisis -- both what it is and what interests various groups have in making it out to be. Mamdani has written both about Rwanda (When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda) and one of the better books on political Islam (Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror).

Kenneth R Miller: Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America's Soul (2008, Viking): I suppose he's right, but the anti-Darwin stance strikes me as so silly it's hard to take it seriously. (Even though I just saw a bit on Steve Colbert where he complimented the Kansas Board of Education as the only one seeing eye-to-eye with him on some variant of this.) Author previously wrote Finding Darwin's God: A Scientist's Search for Common Ground Between God and Evolution.

Matt Miller: The Tyranny of Dead Ideas: Letting Go of the Old Ways of Thinking to Unleash a New Prosperity (2009, Times Books): As Matthew Miller wrote a book called The Two Percent Solution: Fixing America's Problems in Ways Liberals and Conservatives Can Love, one of those big idea books that looks too good to be true. It's not so much that one can't come up with simple, sensible fixes -- schools and health care could easily be better and cheaper at the same time, as indeed almost everyone else in the world manages to do. It's just that these relatively technical issues get wrapped up in the real things conservatives and their opponents fight over -- like equality.

Giles Milton: Paradise Lost: Smyrna, 1922 (2008, Basic Books): The end of the war between Greece and Turkey, where the British egged Greece into invading Turkey, and the debacle resulted in the triumph of Mustafa Kemal's nationalist forces and the forced expulsion of virtually all Greeks from Turkey. Reading Taner Akçam's book (A Shameful Act: The Armenian Genocide and the Question of Turkish Responsibility) has left me wanting to know more about the Turkish-Greek population transfer in and after the war. This is a part of the story, but looks like it's been juiced up to focus on one side. Curious choice of title, too. One more general book on the transfer is Renée Hirschon, ed: Crossing the Aegean: An Appraisal of the 1923 Compulsory Population Exchange Between Greece and Turkey. Of course, there were plenty of atrocities before 1923, and not just by the Turks. (Hirschon also wrote Heirs of the Greek Catastrophe: The Social Life of Asia Minor Refugees in Piraeus.)

James J O'Donnell: The Ruin of the Roman Empire: A New History (2008, Ecco): An old story, presumably with some new twists.

Nicholas Ostler: Ad Infinitum: A Biography of Latin (paperback, 2008, Walker): Tempting to see what (if anything) I can recall from that 9th grade Latin course, but rather long (400 pp) for such a marginal interest. I still haven't gotten into Ostler's Empires of the Word: A Language History of the World, which I bought a while back and probably has plenty on Latin for my purposes.

Rick Perlstein: Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus (paperback, 2009, Nation Books): The prequel to Perlstein's Nixonland -- actually, an earlier book, from 2001, providing a similarly encyclopedic history of the nascent conservative movement and the Goldwater campaign.

Gerard Prunier: Africa's World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe (2008, Oxford University Press): Author has previous books on Rwanda and Darfur that are generally regarded as balanced and nuanced. Neither of those well-publicized massacres add up to the numbers killed in Congo, often with the Rwandan Tutsi-Hutu roles reversed. This looks like the first major attempt to put this conflict into context.

Thomas E Ricks: The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008 (2009, Penguin Press): Author of the useful corrective to his own prior journalism, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq. Aside from Fiasco, Ricks has always been a dependable mouthpiece for the military. In fact, Fiasco introduced the theme of Petraeus as the unappreciated genius of the invasion, so the brown-nosing here is likely to be boundless.

Linda Robinson: Tell Me How This Ends: General David Petraeus and the Search for a Way Out of Iraq (2008, Public Affairs): The Iraq Surge has slopped over into the publishing industry, with a wave of books shoring up the pro-war line, like this one wrapped around a biography of the much hyped general. Conversely, there has been a shortage of critical assessments.

Andrew J Rotter: Hiroshima: The World's Bomb (2008, Oxford University Press): Reviews the decision to drop the world's first atomic bomb, and the ramifications of that decision ever since. Don't know how much of this is actually about what happened to Hiroshima.

Anthony Seldon/Peter Snowdon/Daniel Collings: Blair Unbound (2008, Simon & Schuster): Big biography. I suppose it's possibly just an update of Seldon's earlier Blair. Also ran across an ominous sounding book by Ivo H Daalder/James M Lindsay: America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy. Maybe "unbound" is British for "unhinged"?

Bing West: The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq (2008, Random House): Author of a previous war book on the 2004 destruction of Fallujah. New theory is that the US military is just one of many tribes in Iraq, but can operate successfully as the strongest tribe -- the old colonialist notion that all we have to do to rule is to cower the people with displays of savagery. That should make for a very long war (cf. Dexter Filkins).

Previously mentioned books, new in paperback:

Karen Armstrong: The Bible: A Biography (2007, Grove/Atlantic; paperback, 2008, Grove): Short discourse on how the book came to be.

Drew Gilpin Faust: This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War (2008, Knopf; paperback, 2009, Vintage): Civil war history, focusing on death.

Chris Hedges/Laila Al-Arian: Collateral Damage: America's War Against Iraqi Civilians (2008; paperback, 2009, Nation Books): Atrocity stories, from soldiers on the spot.

Aaron David Miller: The Much Too Promised Land: America's Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace (2008; paperback, 2008, Bantam): Peace Process insider dirt/recrimination/regrets.

Charles R Morris: The Two Trillion Dollar Meltdown: Easy Money, High Rollers, and the Great Credit Crash (2008; revised, paperback, 2009, Public Affairs): One of the first really useful books out on the subprime mortgage crisis and how the contagion was likely to spread. And as such, instantly out of date. Hence the revision, which includes bumping the title up -- originally The Trillion Dollar Meltdown.

Gérard Prunier: Darfur: A 21st Century Genocide (2005; 2007; third edition, paperback, 2008, Cornell University Press): Useful book on Darfur: while it doesn't deny charges of genocide, it doesn't overhype them either. Basically a story of a weak but nasty central government, troublesome neighbors, and risky revolutionaries against a rather bleak backdrop.

Dani Rodrik: One Economics, Many Recipes: Globalization, Institutions, and Economic Growth (2007; paperback, 2009, Princeton University Press): Development economics, sees no single path, many things that more or less work here and there.

Clay Shirky: Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations (2008; paperback, 2009, Penguin): On internet-based social tools; sharp thinker, good book.

Robin Wright: Dreams and Shadows: The Future of the Middle East (2008; paperback, 2009, Penguin Press): Middle East survey, by a correspondent who knows her way around.

I'm also way behind on book notes/quotes -- collecting them, which is to be understood given how my time has been diverted, but I also have a lot of material I did do but didn't post, so I'll try to get around to them in the next few days/weeks.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Fantasy Life of Atrocities

Sorry to keep harping on this, but here's two more reports from Mondoweiss that illustrate the increasing bloodlust Israelis are feeling:

  • In NY synagogue, Israeli settler calls for assassination of Abbas -- and tax-deductible contributions. The settler is Nadia Matar, from a group called Women in Green. Evidently she didn't get the memo that Abbas is on the Israeli payroll, or more likely she just doesn't care. She's part of what we used to call the only-good-injun-is-a-dead-injun faction. Problem is: whenever one of these people got in trouble with the natives, no matter how much the rest of the settler nation disapproved, they wound up on her/his side, resulting in more dead native, more land grabs, etc. Nor can you just dismiss the concept of assassinating Abbas out of hand. Israel has killed numerous Palestinian leaders, including close associates of Abbas. If Israel didn't have an extensive targeted assassination program, Matar's call might be seen as hot air, but it's actually only a hair removed from official policy.
  • Israeli soldier testimony from Gaza: 'we should kill everyone there [in the center of Gaza]. Everyone there is a terrorist.' Matar's rationale is that even Abbas is a terrorist, and the only way to deal with terrorists is to kill them. It's a big step to extending that logic to every Palestinian, but the Israeli government has been indiscriminately branding Palestinians as terrorists for years, and has been inflicting collective punishment routinely for years: Ariel Sharon's massacre at Qibya over 50 years ago was one fateful step down that slope. The more Israel fights, and suffers, the more brutalized they become -- the more tempting it becomes to kill indiscriminately. The nation as a whole may not be ready to do that, but more and more of the front line soldiers are.

I might also add this one, which isn't about what Israelis want to do. It's about what they just did:

The idea that you can just kill anyone you don't like, or more imaginatively kill everyone you don't like, isn't a universal human trait. It arises in specific historical circumstances, where figures in authority -- role models, if you will -- pave the way, first by promoting hatred, then by exemplifying violence, then by excusing it. I could provide many examples. One that sticks in my mind is the bloviating politicians of the Jim Crow south who provided cover for KKK lynchings, virtually none of which were ever prosecuted, a problem that scarcely bothered political and social leaders who considered themselves above such behavior. What made all of this violence possible was the prior acceptance of discrimination and segregation, sanctified by law, routinely accepted by otherwise decent people.

The problem with Israel today isn't that they're on a course that could end in acts of genocide against the Palestinians (or Iranians or whoever else offends them). It's that they started down that slope by putting themselves apart and above everyone else, resolving to grind anyone who differs and objects into utter defeat. It's the checkpoints, the permits, the travel restrictions, the house demolitions, the arbitrary detentions, the spy system that makes everyone distrustful of their neighbors, the everyday deprivations and demeaning that fuels this conflict -- the culture that makes atrocities inevitable, then ordinary.

The Nazis, after all, started with yellow arm bands. Bad as what came later was, the arm bands themselves should have been sufficient to outrage world opinion. Had that happened, who knows how history might have been changed.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Paul Woodward: Uzi Arad: "It is territory we want to preserve, but populations we wand to rid ourselves of" Introducing Uzi Arad, Israeli Prime Minister-designate Netanyahu's right-hand man for formulating war strategy. The title quote is about as explicit as any Israeli official gets about designs for (should I say further?) ethnic cleansing, but it's hardly the only point of interest. Arad advocates massive bombing of Iran -- not just nuclear program targets, but "everything and anything of value."

Force transfer of the Palestinians is an old story -- two steps forward in 1948, one step back in 1967, an ambiguous legacy since then where Israel makes life miserable and Palestinians stand up to the deprivations to show Israel they won't back down (again). But it has rarely been talked about so glibly, especially in terms of Palestinian citizens of Israel. Still, they mostly phrase this in terms of wishful thinking. The IDF is too disciplined to produce atrocities on, say, the Srebrenica level, which they could easily have done during their recent siege of Gaza. My point isn't so much that Israel is likely to commit genocide. It's quite enough that they've moved the issue past the realm of the unthinkable.

It's harder to tell how serious they are about Iran. Whereas Israel could easily slaughter tens or hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, they'd have to unsheath their nuclear weapons to produce a comparable impact on Iran -- especially comparable in terms of the size of the target. Short of that, they'd just make Iran very mad, which is more likely to be bad news for the US than for Israel. There's some evidence that the US has in fact kept Israel on a fairly tight leash viz. Iran, so the fighting words are more likely for show than for real. If so they are no less disturbing, because they reveal a very peculiar slant on the nation's psychology. The worst case scenario, after all, is that Iran develops a few dozen nuclear weapons and puts them on the shelf for retaliation in case some nation (like Israel or the US) launches a war against Iran. There's really nothing else any nation can do with nuclear weapons -- aside from committing suicide, which doesn't seem at all likely for Iran. The effect would be to stabilize the relationship between Iran and Israel: both would have effective deterrents against aggression by the other, so they could negotiate or not, but in any case it would put an end to this insane warmongering. (None of this, by the way, is original thought -- Israeli defense theoretician Martin Van Creveld has written about this.)

So if that's the worst, why is Israel getting so worked up over the Iranian threat? The charitable theory is that Israel has gone insane, with even the leadership falling victim to the paranoia they've so relentlessly inculcated in their populace. (The Judea Pearl piece I cited yesterday is a good example: instantly assuming that Gazan rockets threaten Israel's very existence, even when a sober counting of the exchange shows one Israeli killed by Gazan rocket fire vs. 1300 Gazans killed by the IDF.) Less charitable is the idea that Israel has become the stalking horse for the US Neocons -- currently out of favor after their Iraq disaster, but plotting their comeback via Tehran. As you'll recall, the Neocon argument in a nutshell is that we should become so powerful that no other force can even threaten to hurt us much less defeat us. Mutual deterrence has always been anathema to the Neocons, who recognize that anything that limits our scope of action -- like the possibility that the Soviet Union might respond in kind to a preemptive nuclear attack -- exposes our unacceptable weakness.

The Neocons worshipped Israel for the way they lorded it over the Palestinians, kicking Arab ass time and again. They used to joke that "real men go to Tehran" -- evidently that's still on their itinerary. They're hoping Israel will take them there. Figures like Uzi Arad are more than happy to get the ball rolling. The question is whether the Obama administration, which is certainly wise to our Neocons, will let Israel's push them into an unnecessary and perilous fight. So far all they've done is play rope-a-dope, to put it charitably.

Monday, March 17, 2008


Ben Ehrenreich: Zionism is the problem. A rare opinion piece that cuts to the heart of Israel's problem, which is how can you reconcile a commitment to justice with a national identity movement based on injustice to others. The debate is not new among Jews, but rarely heard here:

Even before 1948, one of its basic oversights was readily apparent: the presence of Palestinians in Palestine. That led some of the most prominent Jewish thinkers of the last century, many of them Zionists, to balk at the idea of Jewish statehood. The Brit Shalom movement -- founded in 1925 and supported at various times by Martin Buber, Hannah Arendt and Gershom Scholem -- argued for a secular, binational state in Palestine in which Jews and Arabs would be accorded equal status. Their concerns were both moral and pragmatic. The establishment of a Jewish state, Buber feared, would mean "premeditated national suicide."

The fate Buber foresaw is upon us: a nation that has lived in a state of war for decades, a quarter-million Arab citizens with second-class status and more than 5 million Palestinians deprived of the most basic political and human rights. If two decades ago comparisons to the South African apartheid system felt like hyperbole, they now feel charitable. The white South African regime, for all its crimes, never attacked the Bantustans with anything like the destructive power Israel visited on Gaza in December and January, when nearly 1,300 Palestinians were killed, one-third of them children.

Actually there are many ways Israel has carried its apartheid policies to greater extremes than South Africa ever imagined. The most basic has been the virtual exclusion of Palestinian labor from the Israeli economy, especially since the first Intifada. By making Palestinians economically superfluous, Israel has gone well down the road toward reconciling themselves with genocide.

As the rightward drift in Israel's elections shows, political discourse there has become so isolated and self-centered that there appears to be no hope of reconciliation. The proof is not so much the rise of outright fascists like Avigdor Lieberman as the eagerness of the so-called peace block to rush to war on such thin pretext as the latest onslaught on Gaza. Moreover, Israel has been effective enough that they can most likely continue their level of occupation indefinitely -- at least as long as their supporters in America can stomach their complicity. Israel's warrior caste recognize this, which is why they stake so much on shutting down any sort of debate here -- on keeping critics like Chas Freeman out of government, and Joel Kovel and Norman Finkelstein out of academia. And that's why it's so important to smear any hint of anti-Zionism with the stain of anti-semitism.

Still, their efforts at thought control are faltering, not least because what Israel has been doing to the Palestinians is so utterly at odds with the principles of nearly all Jews in the diaspora. Ehrenreich concludes:

Opposing Zionism is neither anti-Semitic nor particularly radical. It requires only that we take our own values seriously and no longer, as the book of Amos has it, "turn justice into wormwood and hurl righteousness to the ground."

Establishing a secular, pluralist, democratic government in Israel and Palestine would of course mean the abandonment of the Zionist dream. It might also mean the only salvation for the Jewish ideals of justice that date back to Jeremiah.

Judea Pearl: Is anti-Zionism hate? Of course, the Los Angeles Times had to run a "balance" piece to Ben Ehrenreich's column cited above. Typical quote:

First, anti-Zionism targets the most vulnerable part of the Jewish people, namely, the Jewish population of Israel, whose physical safety and personal dignity depend crucially on maintaining Israel's sovereignty. Put bluntly, the anti-Zionist plan to do away with Israel condemns 5 1/2 million human beings, mostly refugees or children of refugees, to eternal defenselessness in a region where genocidal designs are not uncommon.

The first irony here is that Israel used to be billed as the world's only safe haven for Jews. Now it's the most vulnerable outpost, so what went wrong? The short answer is sixty years of increasingly pointless and sadistic wars against Israel's neighbors and a substantial portion of Israel's own people. (Unwanted people, to be sure, but all nations have minorities and are expected to treat them decently and to respect their civil and human rights, which Israel has repeatedly failed to do.) With nary a single generous initiative to seek peace: the 1949 armistice agreements established Israel's borders, but Israel refused to follow them up with peace agreements; the one agreement Israel did consent to was with Egypt, based on Egyptian initiatives begrudgingly accepted given that they were strongly supported by the US -- Jordan, which has always dealt underhandedly with Israel against the Palestinian people, scarcely counts, while the so-called Oslo Peace Process was a fraud repeatedly undermined by Israel; the PLO has recognized Israel since the mid-1980s, and the Arab League has agreed on a proposal to recognize Israel in accord with UN resolutions 232/338; even Hamas has offered to respect Israel's borders long-term. The worst case scenario for Israel from any Arab peace proposal is that Israel should have to recognize the right of the people they drove out of the country in 1948 to return to their homeland -- a right Israel already reserves for every Jew in the diaspora -- and the obligation to respect equal rights for everyone living in Israel. The only "genocidal designs" there are in the fevered imaginations of Israelis.

Another quote:

Finally, anti-Zionist rhetoric is a stab in the back to the Israeli peace camp, which overwhelmingly stands for a two-state solution. It also gives credence to enemies of coexistence who claim that the eventual elimination of Israel is the hidden agenda of every Palestinian.

It should be understood that there are some Zionists who favor peace and think they can accomplish that with a Jewish State, and there are other people who are anti-Zionists, who believe states should represent all citizens equally, therefore that a state that favors Jews over all others is an obstacle to justice and peace. The former, including most of the so-called Israeli peace camp, have been remarkably ineffective, not least because when push comes to shove, they reflexively side with Israel against peace. (They often come to think better of it, but how many peace campers who initially supported the 2006 war against Lebanon knew better than to back the 2008 war against Gaza?)

The two state scenario may be a practical solution, but it is hardly sacrosanct. The forced partition of Palestine into Israel, Gaza (under Egypt), and West Bank (under Jordan) was the original sin. It was never a good idea, but now at least has been firmly etched as a "fact on the ground." Still, it's not the only way out. A single state with everyone enjoying equal rights seems at least as desirable, but Zionists still cling to the two state notion in order to assure Jewish demographic dominance in their part of Palestine. In other words, it is a sop to Zionist bigotry.

Still, the problem with Israel isn't the peace camp. It is the war camp, who here at least are holding the peace camp hostage to protect their dirty wars. I don't really mean to pick on anyone who thinks they can reconcile Zionism with peaceful coexistence -- indeed, there have been numerous honorable people who have tried to think their way through that conundrum. However, the issue isn't whether it is conceivable that Zionism can be rescued. The problem is the actual Zionist state in Israel, which has proven to be a disaster -- really for Jews as well as Palestinians, and by complicity for Americans as well.

Philip Weiss: Memo to Jews. The anti-Zionist argument here goes beyond ethics:

None of us can doubt that Jewish genius transformed the 20th century. Finance, science, psychiatry, media -- do I really need to go through all that part?

Now we are in IQ freefall, for two reasons related to Zionism. 1, Israeli culture is altogether mediocre. 2, Diaspora culture is now reduced to arguing that black is white, i.e., that Israel is blameless. This exercise is not only a great insult to Jewish tradition, it is pointless.

I'm not sure this is true, but the argument is attractive. One thing that is true is that there has been a new Jewish diaspora as something in excess of 700,000 Israelis are now living abroad. One thing I've tried to turn over in my head is the distribution of Israeli jazz musicians -- at least, it's the one area of Israeli intellectual life that I actually know something about. Over the last ten years, there has been a literal explosion in the number of Israeli jazz musicians that have established at least some international recognition. Prominent names include: Anat Cohen, the two Avishai Cohens, Michel Attias, Assif Tsahar, Gilad Atzmon, Ari Hoenig, Omer Avital, Anat Fort -- those are just off the top of my head; I could probably scrounge up two dozen more with a little digging. Thing is, virtually all of those named are based in the diaspora -- for one reason or another, part of Israel's brain drain. Of course, selection has something to do with this, and it's impossible to know how much: I don't get CDs from any Israeli labels, so the Israelis I hear are on US and European labels, which favor US- and Europe-based artists.

Still, there's no doubt that Israel is producing numbers of jazz musicians comparable to small European countries -- e.g., Norway, Switzerland, Portugal, the Netherlands. They just don't seem to be sticking around, which could have several reasons, including the discomfort of playing in a militarist society.

Gideon Levy: Has anyone in Israel asked why the Swedes hate us? A tennis match in Sweden shows how far public support for Israel has declined, most recently in reaction to Israel's savage attack on Gaza. Probably more significant was the turnaround of longtime ally Turkey (a nation which, like Israel, was founded in shameful ethnic cleansing, not that that was the basis of their relationship -- unlike Israel's cozy relationship with the French while they were in Algeria or the Afrikaners at the height of apartheid).

Philip Weiss: Freeman's Fight. Probably the best single wrap-up to the Chas Freeman story, perhaps most interestingly published by The American Conservative. Also cf. Robert Dreyfus at TomDispatch.

For whatever it's worth, I've opened a project directory to file notes toward a possible book on Israel/Palestine. I can't guarantee I'll do much with it, but I think I have a somewhat distinctive angle on the problem and solution, and there are certain themes I'd like to explore further. The rough outline breaks down to four parts:

  1. The Self-Perpetuating Conflict: Mostly a review of Israel's wars starting in 1948. Need to sum up who fought whom, why, and to what effect. This will show that Israel has created new conflicts to replace any old conflicts that somehow got settled (e.g., after Egypt, Israel went after the PLO in Lebanon). Review some institutional causes and effects (e.g., the militarization of Israeli society, the relationship with the US military) and the domestic political state.
  2. Zionism and Its Precursors: I'm mostly interested in how Israel uses history to perpetuate the conflict, so this is the main section. I want to look at the long history of exile and how it has been dealt with to set up the ideal of return. Also how Jews evolved in the relative powerlessness of the diaspora vs. how they acted in control of Palestine, both in antiquity and now. This also requires a sidetrip through the history of antisemitism, including the holocaust and how it's been wrapped into Israeli identity. I suspect we'll end up with the conflict within Jewish culture today -- the drives toward secularization and greater orthodoxy, the split over Israeli policies, etc.
  3. Remembrance of Crusades Past: Conversely, Arabs bring their own historical baggage to the conflict. Mohammed and his successors necessarily addressed the presence of Jews and Christians from the very start. The Crusades were the first wave of European colonization in Palestine -- ultimately unsuccessful, a point of no small import. After 1800 European imperialism returned, in different garb, but to similar effect, triggering a search for counter-ideologies -- often too little, too late, at least for Palestinians.
  4. Breaking the Mold: Over the last decades/century it's been easy for both sides to organize their history, religion, culture, and identity for conflict, by focusing on certain things and ignoring others. This is where we unwind those threads and weave new ones to move beyond the conflict.

Somewhere along the way I want to work in a study of comparative colonialism, which separates cases that failed (Algeria, South Africa) from those that succeeded (United States, Australia): I see Israel in between the two groups, remarkably effective, but so hard pressed they are likely to ultimately fail. (The key is demography, which has increasingly become an Israeli obsession.) I imagine that there is a lot of interesting research one can do on Israeli's evaluations of other colonial movements -- especially Algeria and South Africa, which Israel supported, and also Nazi Germany's colonization of the east, an object of Jewish horror.

One thing that should be clear by now is that the conflict is a prisoner of its history. The way out is to break the bonds of that history -- to see both sides of what happened, and to see how easily one can choose to do otherwise. It seems clear that no side will be able to force a solution. The only hope comes from the prospect that people on both sides will want peace enough to change.

Seems to me like there is quite a bit to write about there. Just as a bit of an example, I recently read the following in Karen Armstrong's The Bible: A History (p. 169):

Exile had been a central preoccupation for Jews since their deportation to Babylonia. For the Spanish Jews -- the Sephardim -- the loss of their homeland [in 1492] was the worst disaster to have befallen their people since the destruction of the temple. They felt that everythign was in the wrong place and that their entire world had collapsed. Snatched forever from places that were saturated in memories essential to their identity, exiles can feel that their very existence is in jeopardy. When exile is also associated with human cruelty, it raises urgent problems about the nature of evil in a world supposedly created by a just and benevolent God.

As Armstrong points out, the Sephardic exile from Spain led directly to the development and widespread popularity of Lurianic Kabbala, which among other things reinterpreted the Genesis creation story in light of exile. The trauma of the destruction of the two temples and their subsequent exiles had many similar effects, both making Judaism more general and effective in the diaspora and creating a romance for the lost temple that would ultimately be exploited by Zionism.

Another interesting quote (pp. 176-177):

[The Puritans] had inherited Calvin's interest in the Old Testament and were particularly drawn to the story of the Exodus, which seemed a literal forecast of their own project. England was their Egypt; the transatlantic voyage their sojourn in the wilderness, and they had now arrived in the Promised Land, which they christened New Canaan.

The Puritans gave their colonies biblical names: Hebron, Salem, Bethlehemn, Sion and Judaea. When John Winthrop, who would become their leader, arrived on the Arbella in 1630, he proclaimed to his fellow passengers that America was Israel; like the ancient Israelites, they were about to take possession of the land but he quoted Moses's words in Deuteronomy: the Puritans would succeed if they kept the Lord's commandments, but would perish if they were disobedient. Appropriating the land brought the Puritans into collision with the native Americans. Here too, they found a mandate in scripture. LIke later colonialists, some believed that the indigenous inhabitants deserved their fate: they 'are not industrious, neither have art, science, skill or faculty to cure either the land or the commodities of it,' wrote Robert Cushman, the colony's business agent. 'As the ancient patriarchs therefore removed from straiter places into more roomy, where the land lay waste and idle and none used it . . . so it is lawful now to take a land which none seek to make use of it.' When the Pequots remained hostile, other Puritans compared them with the Amalekites and Philistines 'that did confederate against Israel' and had, therefore, to be destroyed.

This doesn't explain America's steadfast support for Israel, but it is in line with it. It also makes me wonder how modern Israelis view the way American settlers handled their native problem.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Music Week

Music: Current count 15194 [15181] rated (+13), 796 [786] unrated (+10). Finally showing some improvement from shingles and/or cold. Not getting much work done on house. Electricians have been a diversion as much as anything.

Also added grades for remembered LPs from way back when:

  • George Russell: Electronic Sonata for Souls Loved by Nature (1969 [1971], Flying Dutchman) B+: could be higher were we to factor in its historical importance

Jazz Prospecting (CG #19, Part 10)

I feel a little better, and a little more optimistic, than I did last week, but not enough to cheer anyone up. House work is going slow, but generally in the right direction. Listening to a few CDs along the way, but not many. Did pull some second-round items off the shelf, partly because I thought they'd be easy. Next Jazz CG column is essentially written by now. Just need a couple of weeks to clean off the rough edges, settle on a pick hit, find a dud to join the Bad Plus. Don't know when I'll be able to do that. Meanwhile, the queue keeps filling up.

Garvin Bushell and Friends: One Steady Roll (1982 [2009], Delmark): One thing I run across a lot when looking up musicians is the list of famous people one has played with. I usually skip over this, figuring it's a small world and pretty much anyone can sit in with anyone else if they happen to overlap the same small circles. Still, Bushell's list is worth sharing: James P Johnson, Fats Waller, Willie "The Lion" Smith, Jelly Roll Morton, Fletcher Henderson, Cab Calloway, Chick Webb, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Gil Evans, King Curtis. B. 1902, died 1991, wrote an autobiography in 1988 called Jazz From the Beginning; plays clarinet and bassoon. Has no albums as a leader. This one comes from a session led by soprano saxophonist Richard Hadlock, who also wrote the liner notes. Trad jazz, silkier than the norm -- Leon Oakley's cornet is the only brass, and only on three tracks. Barbara Lashley sings three pieces -- competent, but not much of a plus. B+(*)

Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Making Love in the Dark Ages (2008 [2009], Live Wired): Critic Greg Tate's music thing, billed as "a territory band, a neo-tribal thang, a community hang, a society music guild aspiring to the condition of all that is molten, glacial, racial, spacial, oceanic, mythic, antiphonal and telepathic." Ten or so albums since 2001, mostly molten, glacial, racial, spacial, etc., crafted with Butch Morris-style conduction, full of smart ideas, long on mood, short on solos, hard to get much of a handle on. Starts with a three-part gospel-inflected slavery epic; ends with the two-part title thing, largely based on a minor baritone sax riff from "Moist" Paula Henderson, just ugly enough it doesn't lull you into stupor. B+(***)

Martial Solal: Live at the Village Vanguard: I Can't Give You Anything but Love (2007 [2009], CAM Jazz): Past 80 now, the great French pianist whose early recordings date to 1953 is finally getting some recognition in the US, especially for last year's trio album, Longitude. This one is solo, the logical but necessarily more limited follow up. In the intro he points out that this set is being recorded, "so I have to be good." He doesn't get good until the fourth cut, which he picks apart in all sorts of interesting ways, turning it into the title cut. Similar things happen several more times -- infrequently enough you're not sure he knows what he's going to find at the start of each song. This process of discovery is much of what live jazz is about, but it's still hit and miss in recorded jazz. B+(*)

Claudio Roditi: Braziliance X4 (2008 [2009], Resonance): Brazilian trumpeter, actually plays flugelhorn more, b. 1946, came to US in 1970, has a couple dozen albums plus a lot of side work; a very dependable mainstream jazz musician, plus he knows his way around Brazilian music. This is mostly the latter, with a high-powered quartet: Helio Alves on piano, Leonardo Cioglia on bass, Duduka Da Fonseca on drums. Nothing surprising here, just solid with with no frills other than the lustrous tone of Roditi's horn. B+(**)

Maybe Monday: Unsquare (2006 [2008], Intakt): The group proper consists of Fred Frith on electric guitar, Miya Masaoka on 25 string koto and electronics, and Larry Ochs on sopranino and tenor saxes. The "special guests" are: Gerry Hemingway (drums, percussion), Carla Kihlstedt (electric and acoustic violins), Ikue Mori (electronics), and Zeena Parkins (electric harp and electronics). Seems like a jazz analogue to musique concrète, making me wonder whether anyone had discussed le jazz concrète -- found one reference to George Russell's Electronic Sonata for Souls Loved by Nature (1969), an interesting choice but simple in comparison. Avant-chamber music, no swing or even much progression, but it all swirls around uncertain points as the musicians pick up on each other's cues. Despite all the electronics, instrumental tones predominate -- I started to say acoustic, but Frith and Kihlstedt have their acoustic instruments plugged in. B+(***)

Nathan Eklund: Trip to the Casbah (2008 [2009], Jazz Excursion): Trumpeter, b. 1978 near Seattle, studied in New Jersey, based in Bloomfield, NJ, close to New York. Second album. Album photos show him marching fast, flugelhorn in tow. Postbop quintet, with impressive support from guitarist John Hart, even more so from tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin, who comes close to stealing the whole show. Eklund is hard pressed to keep up, but does manage a nice duet with bassist Bill Moring. B+(***)

George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band: Pourqoi Pas? Why Not? (2007 [2009], TCB): Swiss pianist, past age 75, has run his big band since early 1970s, currently fortified with a good deal of American star power -- the tenor sax solo in the first song sent me to the credit sheet, where I found Donny McCaslin. Album has several strong spots like that. B+(*)

Dave Frank: Turning It Loose! (2007-08 [2008], Jazzheads): Pianist, moved from Boston to New York, where he runs The Dave Frank School of Jazz. Third album. Solo, which seems to be his preference. Three originals; covers ranging from "You Stepped Out of a Dream" to "A Night in Tunisia." Loose enough, but I found myself losing interest on the second play. You know how it is with solo piano. B

Chuck Bernstein: Delta Berimbau Blues (2007-08 [2008], CMB): Drummer, b. 1940, otherwise best known for leading a group called Monk's Music Trio. First album under his own name, something focused on the berimbau, described herein as a Brazilian diddley bow -- one string, plucked or bowed, tied to a bow with a sphere at the bottom of the bow that may add some resonance or just be used for incidental percussion. Reminds Bernstein of delta blues, which he explores with occasional guests in a series of very spare pieces -- mostly duos with a little extra guitar, bass, or drums. One piece has tenor sax, a couple vocals, one with trombone from Roswell Rudd, who adds his blessing ("every track raises the bar for World Music"). Strikes me as a novelty, but that may just mean it's unique. [B+(***)]

Helge Lien Trio: Hello Troll (2008, Ozella): Norwegian pianist. Has one solo and six trio albums since 2000, plus a trio project with two horns called Tri O 'Trang. Trio adds Frode Berg on bass, Knut Aalefjær on drums. Mostly upbeat melodic postbop, like they wouldn't mind being grouped with the late EST. B+(**)

Steve Elson: Mott & Broome (2008 [2009], Lips & Fingers Music): Saxophonist, lists soprano first but probably plays tenor more, also some baritone, and clarinet. Based in New York. Third album since 1994. Fairly mainstream trio with Yasushi Nakamura on bass and Scott Latzky on drums, Pete Smith adding guitar on one track (a plus), and Jennifer Griffith singing several (neither here nor there). CDBaby recommends if you like Gene Ammons and/or Stan Getz. I don't hear that, but you got to start somewhere. Choice cut: "Rara Avis." B+(*) [Apr. 28]

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

Francisco Mela: Cirio: Live at the Blue Note (2007 [2008], Half Note): Dedicated to the Mela's late father, Cirio, who founded El Club de Trovadores de la música Cibana in Bayamo, Cuba. The young drummer moves far on his second record, picking up an all-star band -- Mark Turner, Jason Moran, Lionel Loueke, Larry Grenadier -- each adding something to the jerky Afro-Cuban rhythms. A-

The John Bunch Trio: Plays the Music of Irving Berlin (Except One) (2008, Arbors): The piano trio itself is delightful -- the songs impeccable, the pianist expert, bassist John Webber a fountain of swing, and Frank Vignola's slinky, snakey guitar more than makes up for the lack of a drummer. I'm less pleased with six guest spots for Frank Wess on flute. Wess has done a better job than most of translating his sax swing to flute, but there's not enough here to bring the lightness down to earth. B+(**)

Brazilian Trio: Forests (2008, Zoho): Helio Alves on piano, Nilson Matta on bass, Duduka Da Fonseca on drums: names that needn't hide behind a flag, not least becuase their energetic piano jazz doesn't betray a single Brazilian cliché. Note that two-thirds were tapped for Claudio Roditi's recent quartet, which is more clearly rooted in Brazil, but gives less space to Alves -- a world class jazz pianist hardly anyone recognizes. B+(***)

Adrian Iaies Trio + Michael Zisman: Vals de la 81st & Columbus (2008, Sunnyside): Possibly a victim of my method, as this stuck in my player for six spins, the first three ascending to A-list candidacy, the next three slightly wearing me down. Argentine piano trio plus bandoneon (plus trumpet on two cuts). Mostly tango, of course, even on standards by Monk and Shorter. Iaies' piano does the prancing, with Pablo Aslan's bass close to the ground, while Zisman's bandoneon fills the room with lush, soulful sound. B+(***)

For this cycle's collected Jazz Prospecting notes, look here.


  • Anthony Branker & Ascent: Blessings (Origin)
  • Bridge Quartet: Night (Origin)
  • Brothers of the Southland (Zoho Roots): June 9
  • Paul Giallorenzo: Get In to Go Out (482 Music)
  • Buddy Guy: The Definitive Buddy Guy (1958-2001, Shout! Factory)
  • Fred Hersch Pocket Orchestra: Live at Jazz Standard (Sunnyside): Apr. 21
  • Living Things: Habeas Corpus (Jive/Zomba)
  • Barney McAll: Flashbacks (Extra Celestial Arts)
  • Branford Marsalis: Metamorphosen (Marsalis Music): Mar. 17
  • Charnett Moffett: Improvisation (Motéma): advance, May 12
  • Mikkel Ploug/Sissel Vera Pettersen/Joachim Badenhorst: Equilibrium (Songlines): Apr. 14
  • Matt Renzi: Lunch Special (Three P's)
  • Rufus Huff (Zoho Roots): Apr. 14
  • Venissa Santi: Bienvenida (Sunnyside): Apr. 21
  • Sex Mob Meets Medeski: Live in Willisau (Thirsty Ear): advance, Apr. 21
  • Omar Sosa: Across the Divide (Half Note)
  • John Stowell: Solitary Tales (Origin): Mar. 17
  • Ximo Tebar & Ivam Jazz Ensemble: Steps (Omix/Sunnyside): Apr. 21
  • Rob Thorsen: Lasting Impression (Pacific Coast Jazz): June 2
  • Charles Tolliver Big Band: Emperor March (Half Note)
  • The United States Air Force Band: The Jazz Heritage Series 2009 Radio Broadcasts (United States Air Force Band, 3CD)
  • Muddy Waters: Live at Chicagofest (1981, Shout! Factory): DVD
  • Frank Wess Nonet: Once Is Not Enough (Labeth Music): May 1
  • Corey Wilkes & Abstrakt Pulse: Cries From Tha Ghetto (Pi): Apr. 28
  • Zoé: Reptilectric (EMI/Noiselab)


  • Living Things: Habeas Corpus (Jive/Zomba)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

L'Ancien Regime

Been meaning to post this little quote from Rolling Stone's March 5 interview piece, "Bill Maher's Life After W." Maher's reply to: "didn't Steele's selection highlight the Republican Party's efforts to deal with their undeniable issues with race?":

America has an issue with race. Obama did not win the white vote in America. Just because there's a black president doesn't mean racism has ended. This election did not destroy the Republican base -- it purified it. The sane people have all left. When McCain picked Palin, that was a gut-check for Republicans: Are they going to go down the path, which is the Bush legacy of this super-Christ-y, anti-intellectual party? Or, are you going to go in a more sane direction that was the old-school Republican Party of David Brooks and Peggy Noonan, Christopher Buckley? Those people checked out, so all you have left now are the wing nuts. You have the Sean Hannitys and the Palins and the Bill Kristols -- or as I call them, "the Axis of Stupid."

Asked about Rush Limbaugh, Maher said:

I do, because they're following his lead. These hard right-wingers, they're like stalkers: Rejection just makes them crazier. Losing that election just made them nuttier. Rush has said he's rooting against Obama. Now, that could just be the Oxy-Contin talking -- I give Rush a wide latitude because he's a drug addict, God bless him. But there's no doubt that people like Limbaugh and Hannity have an enormous influence in controlling the debate in this country. They're the ones who get the Joe the Plumbers all hopped up on something that is preventing Joe from reaching the American Dream.

At some point -- I don't have the link any more -- Paul Krugman's mind was spinning so hard over the Republicans' depression strategy he dubbed them the Party of Beavis & Butthead. Hard to say that's over the top -- after all, pointing out that congressional Republicans were taking positions that not even Herbert Hoover believed in didn't do the trick.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

House Log

Jerry came down from Salina today: first time I've seen him since hospital. Looks good; moving with a cane and without a lot of evident difficulty, although he balked at walking to art museum, or peeking into attic. Thought things are looking pretty good, which is more flattering than I'd be inclined to be. Saw a lot of this stuff for the first time.

Haven't done much work lately. Did put second paint coats on some shelf units, which gets them close to usable. Electricians got most of the kitchen wiring working. I still have some things to hook up, but none involve adding circuits to load center, or running wires through difficult terrain, so I should be OK. Still have quite a bit of wiring work to do upstairs. They're off on vacation next week, so we get a bit of a break.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Paul Woodward: The Isreal lobby tightens its stranglehold on American politics. Score this round for AIPAC -- in particular, for former AIPAC-head and current indicted spy Steven Rosen; Daniel Pipes, who hired Rosen when he became poisonous at AIPAC; and political cronies like Chuck Schumer -- who managed to force the withdrawal of the nomination of Chas Freeman as chairman of the National Intelligence Council. Coming from this crowd, the argument that Freeman is unobjective because he's done work for a foreign country (Saudi Arabia) is particularly ripe. The position is important because it oversees the production of National Intelligence Estimates, the most critical of which concerns Iran's nuclear program: what its goals are, and what should be done about it. Over the last few years Israel has led an effort to politically hype the threat of Iran, leading to numerous proposals for Israel and/or the US to launch an aggressive war against Iran -- one of the worst ideas floating around neocon Washington and Jerusalem. Knocking off Freeman won't lead to a neocon replacement, but it does remind everyone that AIPAC is a chilling power in Washington, and that anyone who doesn't parrot its line is suspect. This also shows that some of the most dangerous figures in Washington are Israel-owned Democrats, like Schumer.

Moreover, this shows that one critical area where Obama has thus far been beaten senseless on is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It's clear to me that Obama's foreign policy was succeed or fail on whether he's able to guide Israel to a resolution of its conflict. This is made all the more difficult by Israel's political turn to the hard right, especially since Obama's neocon enemies in the US are hiding behind Israel's skirts -- and no doubt chuckling at how they've been able to play Democrats like Schumer. It's not so much that Freeman is indispensible as that by surrendering on Freeman Obama has shown once again he doesn't have the principles or the guts to stand up for the foreign policy he ran on: the one that meant to change how we think about war. Remember that one?

Paul Woodward: The Israel lobby gets pumped up with blood lust. The follow up piece, with more AIPAC gloating, and a reference to the Fred Kaplan piece, below.

Fred Kaplan: Intelligence failure. Another recap, taking the position that AIPAC overplayed its hand -- that had they let Freeman assume office, he'd be a lightning rod for disputing any future Obama policy moves that displeased them. I don't really buy the argument: one thing they got by killing the appointment was to drive home their effective power and thereby intimidate others from showing any independence (or sense of reality) on Israeli matters.

Philip Weiss: 'Israel today is like the Old South'. I haven't had much to say about the Israeli elections. The following quote more or less explains why:

The person who sent me the Strenger noted that he fails to point out that ANY Israeli government today would be bad -- given the warlike disposition and close-mindedness of 90% of the people and the foreknowledge that whatever they do will be supported by the U.S. And she quotes a friend: "Israel today is like the Old South -- it didn't matter who ran for governor."

Racial segregation was so entrenched in the Old South you could never find an election where it was an issue: no matter how much you hated (or were just embarrassed by) Orval Faubus or George Wallace, nobody ran against them, at least not on the issue. It is every bit as impossible to find Israelis who will run for peace, let alone who will run against Zionist domination. It's easy enough to show that Avigdor Lieberman is a fascist -- the key hallmarks are extreme nationalism, racism, and a romantic lust for violence, the essence of his political appeal. What's hard to do is to find any realistic differences between him and Netanyahu, or Livni, or Barak. It's even hard to argue that they have differences in style.

Carlo Strenger: Israel's iron wall. The piece referred to above, with some specifics on Netanyahu and Lieberman -- their differences and their common myopia in thinking that Israel still enjoys broad western support for its outrageous extended version of apartheid.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Music Week

Music: Current count 15181 [15167] rated (+14), 786 [783] unrated (+3). Lousy, miserable week. What more can I say?

  • Hank Williams: The Unreleased Recordings (1951 [2008], Time Life, 3CD): Radio shots from WSM's Mother's Finest Flour Show, long fought over by lawyers, and finally spruced up for public release. A handful of songs are alternate takes of Williams classics; most are traditional and contemporary songs, many interescting with Roy Acuff's songbook. The sound is clear and sharp, far better than the live material that helped pad The Complete Hank Williams out to 10 CDs. Bits of live patter show Williams in a loose and perky mood. A couple of lyrics reference the Korean War. Numerous references to "the boys," but Williams' voice is so strong little else matters. A

Jazz Prospecting (CG #19, Part 9)

One of the worst weeks of my life, the psychic toll probably even worse than the physical. Don't know how I managed to get even this little bit done. Don't expect anything better for next week, or have any idea when or if I'm ever going to turn this around. It's just that when your velocity drops to zero, even short distances become infinite. I know this is getting to be a drag. Sorry about that.

Roswell Rudd: Trombone Tribe (2008 [2009], Sunnyside): As best I can figure this, five cuts from the officially designated Trombone Tribe band -- Deborah Weisz and Steve Swell joining Rudd on trombone, Bob Stewart on tuba, Henry Grimes on bass and violin, Barry Altschul on drums -- and ten more tracks representing various other trombone tribes, including one from Benin (the Gangbe Brass Band of Benin), one called Bonerama (Mark Mullins, Steve Souter, Craig Klein, and Eric Bolivar on trombone; Matt Perrine on sousaphone), Steven Bernstein's Sex Mob (with Rudd guesting on trombone), and a couple more tracks with an unannointed tribe featuring trombonists Ray Anderson, Eddie Bert, Sam Burtis, Wycliffe Gordon, Josh Roseman, and, of course, Rudd. In other words, a whole lot of big, heavy brass, fired up to celebrate. As a longtime trombone (not to mention Rudd) fan I can hardly turn my nose up at such riches. A- [Apr. 7]

Abdullah Ibrahim: Senzo (2008 [2009], Sunnyside): Solo piano from the great South African pianist, now approaching 75. Originals, many titles I recognized from his past records, strung together into a single, long meditation, with "In a Sentimental Mood" slipped in as yet another nod to his accidental mentor, Duke Ellington. I don't normally fall for solo piano, but none of the usual rationales seem to apply here -- in particular, the one that it takes too much effort to follow such intricacy. This one seems as natural as crystal streams flowing under gentle breezes, with an occasional figure to fix the location in mother Africa. A-

Zaid Nasser: Off Minor (2008 [2009], Smalls): Alto saxophonist, at last check had given up on New York and decided to check out the jazz scene in Armenia, but came back for a second album. Classical bebopper, smoother and slicker than Charlie Parker, maybe not as fast, but I figure he's just pacing himself. Quartet, with Sacha Perry making an impression on piano, Ari Roland on bass, Phil Stewart on drums. Only one original, called "Zaid's Slow Blues." Title cut is from Monk, good for a workout. "Moonlight in Vermont" and "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" respect their themes. Previous album, Escape From New York, is overdue for JCG recognition. Not sure if this is better, but it's at least as enjoyable -- pretty much what mainstream jazz should sound like these days. A-

Lars Danielsson: Tarantella (2008 [2009], ACT): Starting to get nervous with this string of A-list records, like I may be losing my critical mean streak. Still, this is a remarkably lovely record, with a lot of fascinating detail. Swedish bassist, b. 1958, with a substantial discography I've only barely touched; also plays cello and bass violin, which add to the details. Piano is by Leszek Mozdzer, who collaborated with Danielsson on the HM-worthy Pasodoble and is even better here in this richer context. Mathias Eick plays trumpet. His ECM debut was overrated, but he gives a nicely rounded performance here. John Parricelli plays odd bits of guitar that complement the bass nicely, and Eric Harland can go exotic on the percussion as well as do everything a drummer should do. A-

Gianluigi Trovesi: All'Opera: Profumo di Violetta (2006 [2009], ECM): By most reckoning, I shouldn't be able to stand this, but in fact I rather enjoy it. Billed as "a journey through Italian opera," with the clarinettist/saxophonist fronting a large orchestra -- the Filarmonica Mousiké, conducted by Savino Acquaviva -- it is music I've spent my whole life avoiding (not always successfully). It helps, I'm sure, that there are no words/vocalists, nor any strings other than Marco Remondini's cello. Pieces from Monteverdi, Puccini, Verdi, Rossini, some others less familiar, with bridgework and solos by Trovesi, bringing it halfway back to jazz. B+(*)

Enrico Rava: New York Days (2008 [2009], ECM): Quintet, with tenor saxophonist Mark Turner almost as laid back as the veteran trumpeter, and Stefano Bollani diddling on piano. The main thing that keeps this from slipping into dull is Paul Motian's oblique drumming strategies -- he never quite lands where you expect. Rava plays much as he has for the last decade, with elegant simplicity. B+(*)

White Rocket (2008 [2009], Diatribe): Irish trio with eponymous debut album. I filed it under trumpeter Jacob Wick, figuring him for the lead instrument; pianist Greg Felton matches Wick's four songs, and drummer Sean Carpio adds one more. Serious free jazz, often played off against repeated piano riffs. B+(**)

Jeff Albert Quartet: Similar in the Opposite Way (2008, Fora Sound): Trombonist, from New Orleans, has a Chicago connection that teamed him with Jeb Bishop in a group called the Lucky 7s. Quartet includes Ray Moore on alto sax, Tommy Sciple on bass, Dave Cappello on drums. Mostly free, but Albert has a little Trummy Young in his throat, and wouldn't mind tailgating if someone would pick up the pace. Doesn't happen often enough, but sounds promising. B+(*)

Michel Sajrawy: Writings on the Wall (2007 [2009], Ozella): Guitarist. Describes himself awkwardly as "a Palestinian of Christian faith who comes from Nazareth and has an Israeli passport." That places him among the minority of Palestinians in the territory that fell to Israeli hands in the 1947-49 war who neither fled nor were driven into exile. Those Palestinians were awarded Israeli citizenship in 1951 in a backhanded law to deny the citizenship and confiscate the property of the majority of Palestinians who fled for their lives. One old theme in Israeli propaganda talks about how much better off Arab Citizens of Israel are than Arabs in other countries (never to mention Palestinian exiles in the Occupied Territories), but you don't hear much of that anymore. They are second class citizens, subject to a social and economic segregation, continuously reminded that this land, peopled by their forefathers over countless generations, is not meant for them. Hence the awkwardness. Sajrawy studied electronic engineering 1990-93; moved to England in 1995, and studied at the London School of Music. He returned to Nazareth in 2000, setting up his own studio. Second album. (First is called Yathrib, the name of pre-Mohammedan Medina.) Quartet with piano, bass, and drums (alternating two drummers, unknown to me, but names worth repeating: Ameen Atrash and Evgeni Maistrovski). A piece of hype compares him to Hendrix, McLaughlin, and Al Di Meola. You can scratch the first two names off that list. I don't know enough of Di Meola or other influences like Pat Martino and Pat Metheny, but they certainly don't have Sajrawy's Arabesque swag, which adds an element to otherwise solid jazz guitar. B+(**)

David Binney: Third Occasion (2008 [2009], Mythology): Played this three times straight, and I'm not mentally up to it, so will put it back. Alto saxophonist, won Downbeat's Rising Star poll a couple years back, leading a top-notch quartet with Craig Taborn on piano, Scott Colley on bass, and Brian Blade on drums, plus an extra brass section with two trumpets and two trombones. Runs through all the moves you'd expect from a top tier alto saxophonist: a lot of racing and riffing, some slow curves. Pretty sure this will show up in more than a few year-end lists. Just not sure what I think of it. [B+(***)]

Joe Zawinul & the Zawinul Syndicate: 75 (2007 [2009], Heads Up, 2CD): Live concert, recorded in Hungary at Veszprem Festival, in August 2007 about a month before Zawinul died. Title is his age: 75. Zawinul's reputation is wrapped up with his fusion group, Weather Report. I never cared much for them, and I don't put Zawinul very far up in the jazz pantheon, but his eclectic exuberance served him well in his later years, where he was willing to fusion anything. He introduces a band here with members from Congo, Brazil, Morocco, and other points -- most of them sing, or chant or rap, and all of them add something vital. Weak spot is the superstar guest slot: I guess if Wayne Shorter wants to drop in and play "In a Silent Way" you can't turn him down. B+(**)

Tierney Sutton Band: Desire (2008 [2009], Telarc): Not half the concept happiness was (cf. On the Other Side), partly because she has trouble focusing ("Fever," "Cry Me a River," "My Heart Belongs to Daddy"), partly because she's not sure what to do with the material ("It's Only a Paper Moon" has an awful time getting going). "Love Me or Leave Me" suits her fine, but strays from the concept. The band earns their billing -- feels like an integral unit. B+(*)

Mark O'Connor's Hot Swing Trio: Live in New York (2004 [2009], OMAC): Fiddler, b. 1961, started off in bluegrass, where he won some early prizes -- at age 13, he recorded an album called National Junior Fiddling Champion. Has wandered around somewhat since then, recording a couple of albums with Yo-Yo Ma, assuming classical airs with titles like The Fiddle Concerto. In 2001 he dusted off his interest in Stephane Grappelli for the album Hot Swing!, and has followed that up with a couple more Hot Swing Trio albums. Trio includes Frank Vignola on guitar and Jon Burr on bass, presenting a rather monolithic string sound. Vignola knows this music well. O'Connor I'm not so sure about. B

Red Holloway: Go Red Go! (2008 [2009], Delmark): Saxophonist, mostly played alto way back when, but lists tenor first here. B. 1927, from Chicago, broke in in 1948 with Roosevelt Sykes, worked with Jack McDuff in the 1960s; managed to get some of his old soul jazz records recycled in Fantasy's opportuistic Legends of Acid Jazz series. This is another soul jazz date, with Hammond B3, guitar, and drums. One original, the self-explanatory "I Like It Funky." Title cut is from Arnett Cobb, a model. "St. Thomas" and "Bags' Groove" are highlights, and he even sneaks Jobim's "Wave" in. Closes with a vocal on a Sykes jive blues, "Keep Your Hands Off Her." Makes it all look easy. B+(**)

Craig Enright: La Belleza . . . (2008 [2009], CDBaby): Saxophonist, b. 1957 in Omaha, raised across the river in Cedar Rapids, IA; lives in Stamford, CT, close enough to NYC. Plays latin jazz -- wrote all the pieces here, ranging from "Iowa Folk Song" to "Bata Boogie." Quintet, with Enrique Haneine making waves on piano, Alex Hernandez on bass, Ludwig Alfonso on drums, and Aryam Vazquez on congas. Reminds me a little of Benny Wallace tonewise, which makes his speed and rhythm all the more impressive. B+(***)

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


  • Yaala Ballin: Travlin' Alone (Smalls)
  • Dave Bennett: Dave Bennett Celebrates 100 Years of Benny (Arbors)
  • Garvin Bushell: One Steady Roll (1982, Delmark)
  • Ersatzmusika: Songs Unrecantable (Asphalt Tango)
  • Béla Fleck: Throw Down Your Heart: Tales From the Acoustic Planet Vol. 3: Africa Sessions (Rounder)
  • Derrick Gardner & the Jazz Prophets + 2: Echoes of Ethnicity (Owl Studios)
  • Red Holloway: Go Red Go! (Delmark)
  • Helge Lien Trio: Hello Troll (Ozella)
  • Rob Mazurek Quintet: Sound Is (Delmark)
  • Madeleine Peyroux: Bare Bones (Rounder): Mar. 10
  • Scott Reeves Quintet: Shape Shifter: Live at Cecil's (Miles High): Mar. 17
  • Bob Rodriguez: Portraits (Art of Life)
  • Michel Sajrawy: Writings on the Wall (Ozella)
  • Antti Sarpila Quartet: We'd Like New York . . . in June! (Arbors)
  • Radam Schwartz: Blues Citizens (Savant): Mar. 3
  • The Joel Larue Smith Trio: September's Child (Joel Larue Smith)
  • Allen Toussaint: The Bright Mississippi (Nonesuch): advance

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Productivity Lost and Found

Matthew Yglesias: Missing Productivity and the Rise of Social Production. This is the sort of thing that should be important but keeps getting bumped by stupid short-term events, like the international banking crisis. Quotes John Quiggin with a list of bullet points (bold per Yglesias):

  • If monetary returns are weakly, or even negatively correlated with the value of social production, there's no reason to expect capital markets to do a good job in allocating resources to supporting innovation. (This point seems rather less controversial than when I made it in 2006.)
  • As a corollary, it seems unlikely that large inequalities in income are beneficial to anyone except the recipients of high incomes (this issue is being discussed, in a much more abstract setting, at Crooked Timber)
  • If improvements in welfare are increasingly independent of the market, it would make sense to shift resources out of market production, for example by reducing working hours. The financial crisis seems certain to produce at least a temporary drop in average hours, but the experience of the Depression and the Japanese slowdown of the 1990s suggest that the effect may be permanent.
  • Creativity, broadly defined, seems likely to become more important, while markets, particularly financial markets, become less so. Firms that want to survive and prosper will have to behave quite differently from the way the did in the past. Google is an obvious example of a firm that is trying to do this, if not always succeeding.

Mandel's Power Point slides aren't all that interesting, largely because he focuses on stock performance. The tech boom from 1997-2000 was largely based on the assumption that any technical innovation could be converted to profits. Open source software was an obvious case where a lot of real value was produced in a form that couldn't be exploited for large profits. Many open source software analogies are possible -- even with tangible goods, increasing transparency and prohibiting patents increase real value while reducing private profits. Quiggin's corrolary about inequal income may not go far enough: large income breaks often occur at the expense of real value.

Economics presumes scarcity. Were the world to produce a surplus, the logic of economics would fall down. I started to write about this ten years ago under the rubric of "post-capitalist society" -- while the decade since has provided plenty of distractions, at least part of the big problem capitalism has run into is the fact that large parts of the advanced world are sated with goods and services (even if not fully cognizant of the fact). Of course, you can still grow the economy by delivering goods and services to the large numbers of folks who still feel deprived -- that is, e.g., how countries like China and India that are growing manage to do so, but it is still politically poisonous in the US to extend welfare to anyone who didn't inherit the right.

Of course, we may not want to extend the worst habits of rich Americans to every impoverished corner of the world. We might, for instance, wish to develop better habits: less waste and pollution, more value (e.g., more reliable durable goods, better information, more trustworthy services), lifestyle changes -- the trends to convert productivity gains into private time and to put private time to public service.

I remember reading once that only 10-20% of the economy in the US was actually producing anything of real use -- I think it was Paul Sweezy, writing in the 1950s, but haven't been able to track down the quote. The author no doubt missed some things, but other things have become far more efficient since then, so the figure is probably still in the ballpark. It's pretty straightforward to imagine how that might work: how, on average, we could preserve our same real standard of living while freeing up 80% of current work time. Of course, it won't happen under unfettered capitalism, because most of the efficiencies involve reducing the chokepoints capitalists profit from. It could happen with active support from a public-oriented state, but even short of that it is happening due to ad hoc private arrangements -- like free software.

John Quiggin: The End of the Cash Nexus. The piece referred to by Yglesias. Author co-wrote another intriguing piece called "Money Ruins Everything," but it's locked up in some academic journal's vault, as if to prove its point.

Friday, March 06, 2009

House Log

Have done next to nothing the last few days, mostly just pissing and moaning with my shingles and a general disorientation that comes from watching the wheels fall off the tracks. Electricians have been working on rewiring upstars. On his third half-day they finally got the first room (mostly) working, then broke the hall light for the weekend. I finally tackled some painting today. Put a coat of the Phillipsburg Blue on the pantry shelves, chimney shelves, and three south wall units. Presumably they'll all need another coat, but it breaks a logjam and moves us slightly toward finishing. Unpleasant work, but feels good to get it done. Need to let it dry enough to sand. Should paint some white this weekend.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The Glut

Wrote this yesterday, but didn't get it posted, thinking I should do some rewrite to make my point clearer. My point is that the way out is to put a higher value on productive labor, and conversely a lower value on speculative capital -- which as the present crisis proves is happy speculating on nothing of value, as long as the illusions persist. (Subject for a future post is the question of whether private investors can be trusted to do anything useful. There's no denying that sometimes they do, but it also seems clear that if you know what you want, the easiest and most efficient way is to make it happen through public policy.) The way to elevate labor is not just to pay workers more; at least as helpful is to build up the foundation under them, for things like education, health care, social security. Also important to structurally align workers' interests with productivity, which at least in the private sector could be done with more employee ownership. Lots of things to write about here.

Paul Krugman: Revenge of the Glut. The glut Krugman refers to is the "global saving glut" Ben Bernanke referred to in a paper four years ago. A glut is excess -- more than can be used. Economists have been preaching the virtues of saving since time immemorial, so the notion that there can be an excess of such virtue must be disconcerting. Savings have often been code for transferring money to capital. The savings glut is proof that much too much money has been transferred -- so much that it can no longer be used for productive investment. The glut was hidden for years as the money was absorbed into the banking system, but it has become exposed as the banking industry melted down:

And wide-open, loosely regulated financial systems characterized many of the other recipients of large capital inflows. This may explain the almost eerie correlation between conservative praise two or three years ago and economic disaster today. "Reforms have made Iceland a Nordic tiger," declared a paper from the Cato Institute. "How Ireland Became the Celtic Tiger" was the title of one Heritage Foundation article; "The Estonian Economic Miracle" was the title of another. All three nations are in deep crisis now.

For a while, the inrush of capital created the illusion of wealth in these countries, just as it did for American homeowners: asset prices were rising, currencies were strong, and everything looked fine. But bubbles always burst sooner or later, and yesterday's miracle economies have become today's basket cases, nations whose assets have evaporated but whose debts remain all too real.

Of course, a big part of the problem now is that while the debts may be real, the prospects for repaying them aren't. Over the next few years, a large chunk of the global transfer to the rich will evaporate. It was based on the illusion that richer rich would be good for us all, when in fact riches built on political fraud hasn't even done much good for the rich.

Krugman concludes: "So that's how we got into this mess. And we're still looking for the way out." One way out is to understand that all real value is based on labor, and anything that claims to increase wealth without increasing the productive value of labor is a delusion. The way out is to put people to work on useful things, things that build real value. And the way to get serious about that is to put some money into those workers' hands. That would help build up demand for the existing capital glut; more importantly, it would start to show that we value what's actually important.

Michael Lewis: Wall Street on the Tundra. More on Iceland, in case you were skeptical, or just wanted to find out what a "basket case" looks like.

Matthew Yglesias: Michael Mandel: Recent Productivity Growth Is a Myth. Some useful charts here -- the most interesting thing is that Mandel includes a big chunk of the Internet boom (and Clinton's surplus) and still comes up empty.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

House Log

Got some painting done yesterday: a primer coat on the pantry corner unit and the pantry shelf. Doesn't seem like much, but it was a nasty job; glad to get it done. Didn't get the removable shelves done. They just proved too awkward. Did nothing today. I've had these strange pains in my back and around my chest for a week or more, on top of a head cold that finally shows signs of abating. It finally flashed on me that I may have shingles. Went to doctor today, and that was the diagnosis. Got some medicine. Took a long nap.

Electrician comes tomorrow to work on upstairs, eliminating the old knob and tube wiring. Should be here rest of week. I'll probably have him do the remaining kitchen work, or at least help me out, so should get that much done this week, if little else.

Took a couple of pictures this morning. They look really sloppy and chaotic. First looks into the kitchen area from dining room:

Second looks opposite direction, showing off the new stove, angled toward the northeast corner of the dining room. The little bit of white on the right edge is the corner pantry unit, out of place as it's being painted. The rest of the dining room is obscured, but you can see a bit of the kitchen tile.

Recycled Goods #62: February 2009

Posted page found here.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Music Week

Music: Current count 15167 [15149] rated (+18), 783 [777] unrated (+6).

  • Dan Le Sac Vs Scroobius Pip: Angles (2008, Strange Famous): English rap duo, Le Sac seems to be the beat guy, Pip the rapper. The latter's accent one-ups the Streets, and so does the music. Only problem is that the philosophical bent sometimes hits too hard, as in a suicide encounter which lays the guilt on thick. A soft, meditative love story at the end finally puts the record over, although there are other strong points, especially the reminder that the Beatles et al. were just a band. A-

Jazz Prospecting (CG #19, Part 8)

Reached a milestone in the kitchen remodel project last week, getting the vent hood working and firing up the new stove. That means we're basically functional, and the space has moved from a construction zone to something we can sort of live in. Still a lot of work to do, but it's mostly finishing stuff: patching plaster, painting, running some wires and upgrading outlets, adding baseboards and other bits of trim to hide where things don't exactly come together. Also means I'm mostly working on my own from here out, which will slow things down, but also give me more control over my time. Did a little better job on Jazz Prospecting this week: good enough to have something to show, anyway. Not good enough that I didn't lose ground relative to the queue. Too early to predict a return to normalcy. Should be up and down over the next few weeks, but sometime in that period I should be able to find some time to think about how to close out this cycle.

Miles Davis: Kind of Blue (Legacy Edition) (1958-60 [2009], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): The best known and most universally admired album by the dominant jazz figure of his era, the odds-on favorite in any all-time greatest jazz album poll, dressed up for its silver anniversary with alternate takes, false starts, and a second disc of quasi-related stuff. The latter will interest anyone who likes to hear John Coltrane expound at length -- Davis himself once instructed Coltrane that the way to end a solo is to take the horn from your mouth. The false starts may interest anyone who ponied up for either of two whole books on the single album: Eric Nisenson's The Making of Kind of Blue: Miles Davis and His Masterpiece and Ashley Kahn's Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece. I find the extras distracting, at least from the essential gemlike elegance of the original album: five cuts, each subtly distinctive, adding up to a transcendence of its essential blue. A-

Ethnic Heritage Ensemble: Mama's House Live: 35th Anniversary Project (2006 [2009], Katalyst Entertainment/City Hall): Percussionist Kahil El'Zabar dates his mostly trio/sometimes quartet back to 1973, hence the 35th anniversary concept, underscored by a return to the two-horn trio format -- most of EHE's lineups featured bassist Malachi Favors with one horn, often Lester Bowie (trumpet) or Ari Brown (tenor sax). The horns here are Corey Wilkes (Bowie's all-purpose successor on trumpet) and Ernest Dawkins (tenor sax). Recorded live at Sangha. No sermonizing (a frequent risk with El'Zabar), just a lot of ambling, rough-cut free jazz. B+(**)

Adam Glasser: Free at First (2007 [2009], Sunnyside): South African pianist -- lists chromatic harmonica as his first instrument, but plays piano/keyboard/synth on 4 cuts. Harmonica has a nice sound to it, but doesn't build up the music much. Two songs have vocals -- the first one a South African township jive thing that reminded me much more of Paul Simon than Mahlathini. More interesting are two cuts with David Serame narratives, the sort of spoken word thing that glides easily over light jazz. B

The Eddie Metz Jr. Trio: Bridging the Gap (2008 [2009], Arbors): Second generation drummer. His father, who now does business as Ed Metz Sr., ran Bob Crosby's Bobcats way past their prime; and they've jointly appeared, with other Metzen, as the Metz Family. The trio proper is a piano-bass-drums affair, with Rossano Sportiello and Nicki Parrott, who have a duo album I cited as an Honorable Mention (People Will Say We're in Love). This is more scattered and less distinguished. Several attempts at modernizing the songbook (Stevie Wonder, Steely Dan) don't do much. Parrott takes one vocal, which is either too few or too many. Perhaps sensing the trio isn't enough, they bring in tenor saxophonist Harry Allen and/or trombonist John Allred for six cuts (four together, one each). They are in typical form, but again one wonders if they're used too much or too little. B

Ravi Coltrane: Blending Times (2006-07 [2009], Savoy Jazz): Tenor saxophone in his genes. Was two years old when his father died, which I suppose gave him a jump on Hank Williams Jr., although he's taken on his legacy more carefully, studiously, and modestly. Good, solid, well-rounded player, with several good, solid records to his credit, including this quartet set with pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Drew Gress, and drummer EJ Strickland. Gives Perdomo a lot of room, especially leading off with his own tune -- I find him excessively busy, dominating the early going. Album partly rights itself with a muscular "Epistrophy" -- a Monk tune that keeps Perdomo in check. Closes with a Charlie Haden piece, "For Turiya," with Haden and harpist Brandee Younger guesting, both with lovely solos. B+(**)

Melvin Gibbs' Elevated Unity: Ancients Speak (2008 [2009], LiveWired): Bassist, mostly (or wholly) electric, also programs and plays keyboards; claims 200 album credits (AMG lists 94 since 1980), but this is first album under his own name. Broke in with Ronald Shannon Jackson's Decoding Society; worked primarily in groups like Defunkt, Power Tools, Rollins Band, and Harriet Tubman, with side credits ranging from Sonny Sharrock to Arto Lindsay to Marisa Monte to John Zorn to Femi Kuti to Dead Prez. This pulls pretty much all of those credits together, with several rappers, a Brazilian group [?] called Afoxé Filhos do Korin Efan, a singer from Antibalas, a rotation of keyboardists (including Craig Taborn and John Medeski), guitarists (Pete Cosey is the one I recognize), and drummers (Torreon Gully, JT Lewis). Funk-world-fusion: not sure how successful it all is, but I've played it a dozen times for work background, and it sure works for that. [A-] [Mar. 17]

Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette: Yesterdays (2001 [2009], ECM): Standards trio again, together since 1983, prolific, never breaking new ground, but superb as you'd expect. Hard to choose among their dozens of albums, but a pair of Fats Waller songs helped to nudge 2007's My Foolish Heart: Live at Montreux onto my A-list -- the first time that happened with this group. Turned out that was a 6-year-old live tape. New one is also live, also from 2001, which turns out to be a banner year for the group. (Of course, it may just be that the years since haven't been so good. Don't know about Jarrett, but he wouldn't have been the only one in the dumps.) This time the hot sauce comes from Charlie Parker ("Shaw 'Nuff," "Scrapple From the Apple"). I slightly prefer the ballad in between, "You've Changed." B+(**)

Diego Barber: Calima (2008 [2009], Sunnyside): Spanish guitarist, b. 1978 in Canary Islands. Won a couple of prizes and moved to New York. Mostly a quartet, with Larry Grenadier on bass, Jeff Ballard on drums, and Mark Turner on "s" (presumably tenor sax). Does a terrific job of pacing, most obviously when Turner sits in (6 of 8 cuts). I've said this before, but Turner sounds like the very model of a modern tenor saxophonist. (This was recorded in April last year, before Turner cut two fingers in a power saw accident in November. Just heard that he's started to play again.) On his own, Barber slows down and crafts some fancy Spanish filligree. B+(**)

Theo Croker: In the Tradition (2008 [2009], Arbors): Plays trumpet, sings (a little), grandson of Doc Cheatham, who had the same repertoire, but who was the tradition rather than merely following it. (Cheatham goes back far enough he may have been the last person to learn trumpet before hearing Louis Armstrong, but spent most of his career in big band sections, not emerging as a front man until well into his 70s.) Cheatham died in 1997, so Croker would have been about 12 at the time. But Cheatham had just released his triumphant album with Nicholas Payton, the crowning achievement of a 70-year-long career, so he must have made a huge impression. Croker not only follows Cheatham; he does a neat job of fitting inside Cheatham's limits. His trumpet is so unsplashy that he reminds liner note writer Nat Hentoff of Count Basie wishing he could find a trumpet player who wouldn't play so many notes (Buck Clayton was the verbose offender of the story). His vocals are even more demure, almost as lame as Chet Baker, which somehow works on "I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues" but is sorely tried by "I Cover the Waterfront." Songs are pretty obvious, including yet another "St. Louis Blues." Still, I find this rather winning, the trumpet lovely, the modesty becoming. Uncredited vocals -- possibly a band shout out? -- on "Bourbon Street Parade" is another plus. B+(*)

Denny Zeitlin Trio: In Concert (2001-06 [2009], Sunnyside): Front cover adds: Featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson. Zeitlin is one of those second-tier pianists I've always meant to listen to more but rarely found the time or opportunity. B. 1937, has a large catalog dating from the early 1960s. Starts with two percussive takes on Coltrane's "Mr. PC" that are quite engaging. Follows with a mix of standards and originals based on standards -- Zeitlin's "The We of Us" is paired with Cole Porter's "All of You." Williams works in a 4:34 "Base Prelude" to "Signs & Wonders." Material comes from three dates over five years. Zeitlin also has a 3-CD Mosaic Select out, collecting his 1964-67 Columbia trio sessions. Didn't get it, and haven't heard any of it, but the source albums have long been on my shopping list. B+(**)

Joachim Kühn & Michael Wollny: Piano Works IX: Live at Schloss Emlau (2008 [2009], ACT): Six cuts: four piano duos, one solo by each artist. Kühn I'm pretty familiar with -- b. 1944, substantial catalog including a duo with Ornette Coleman, a couple of records that broke through my usual reticence about jazz piano. Wollny, with 5 records since 2005, I don't know at all. Don't have much to say on this one: carefully crafted, inside pianism, demands a lot of concentration; one non-original, credited to somename named Bach. B+(*)

Peter Brötzmann/Paal Nilssen-Love: Sweet Sweat (2006 [2008], Smalltown Superjazz): As a former typographer myself, I'm unwilling to follow the old Creem practice of blaming all sorts of shit on the typesetting department, but there is a fairly common problem that is wedged somewhere between art design and logo differentiation and typography, and it rears its head up here once again: how to deal with space removed between two words that could just as well stand alone? All references to the title here are all-caps, with no space. My standard practice has been to canonically restore u&lc to titles (etc.), which turns the title here to Sweetsweat. On the other hand, the front cover shows "SWEET" and "SWEAT" in two different colors, implying two distinct words. One way to deal with this would be to capitalize the latter, yielding SweetSweat. Another is to insert the missing space. I've been tending to do the latter lately -- e.g., I've taken to referring to High Note Records, rather than HighNote. Perhaps as a former typographer, I find the no-space versions both ugly and conceptually muddled. Many such usages are in little more than muddled. I spent much of my professional life straightening out their messes, so I'm just continuing that here. Others are more rigorous, trying to force some obscure point with caps (or no caps, as in the artist who insists on being called "k.d. lang"). I figure part of a critic's job is to resist such nonsense. Just wanted to get that off my chest. As for the record, it is crankier and uglier than the Brötzmann's duos with Peeter Uuskyla, and more combative than Nilssen-Love's duos with Ken Vandermark and Joe McPhee, which is to say it's about what you'd expect from the pairing. I thought elsewhere Brötzmann was aging gracefuly, but some days he wakes up and reaches for the old machine gun. Worth listening to, but not the place to start. B+(**)

Alex Heitlinger: The Daily Life of Uncle Roger (2007 [2009], [no label]): Trombonist, from Colorado, based in Brooklyn now. Second album, a sextet, with clarinet/alto sax and trumpet up front, piano/fender rhodes, bass, and drums. Voicings and harmonies are elegantly postbop, readymade chamber music. First time through I hated it; second time I tolerated it well enough. Could grow on me, but unlikely to reach the point where I'd want to recommend it. B

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

For this cycle's collected Jazz Prospecting notes, look here.


  • Bob Albanese Trio with Ira Sullivan: One Way/Detour (Zoho): Apr. 14
  • Bipolar: Euphrates, Me Jane (CDBaby): May 5
  • Michael Blake/Kresten Osgood: Control Time (Clean Feed)
  • Paul Dunmall Sun Quartet: Ancient and Future Arts (Clean Feed)
  • Nathan Eklund: Trip to the Casbah (Jazz Excursion): Mar. 1
  • Steve Elson: Mott & Broome (Lips & Fingers Music): Apr. 28
  • Craig Enright: La Belleza . . . ([no label])
  • Fly: Sky & Country (ECM): advance, Mar. 31
  • Pedro Giraudo Jazz Orchestra: El Viaje (PGM): Apr. 7
  • George Gruntz Concert Jazz Band: Pourqoi Pas? Why Not? (TCB)
  • Gypsy Schaeffer: New Album (PeaceTime): Mar. 10
  • Nicole Herzog Septet: Time Will Tell (TCB)
  • Ben Markley: Second Introduction (OA2)
  • Denman Maroney Quintet: Udentity (Clean Feed)
  • Rakalam Bob Moses: Father's Day B'hash (Sunnyside): Apr. 7
  • Miles Okazaki: Generations (Sunnyside): Apr. 7
  • Evan Parker/The Transatlantic Art Ensemble: Boustrophedon (ECM)
  • Arvo Pärt: In Principio (ECM New Series)
  • Roswell Rudd: Trombone Tribe (Sunnyside): Apr. 7
  • Will Sellenraad: Balance (Beeswax): Mar. 31
  • Kendra Shank Quartet: Mosaic (Challenge)
  • Dave Siebels With Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band (PBGL)
  • Trinity: Breaking the Mold (Clean Feed)
  • Paul Tynan & Aaron Lington: Bicoastal Collective: Chapter One (OA2)
  • Mark Weinstein: Lua e Sol (Jazzheads)
  • Who Trio: Less Is More (Clean Feed)
  • Phil Woods: The Children's Suite (Jazzed Media)

Sunday, March 01, 2009

More Wichita Eats

Got the following letter from a Bart Smith, presumably a Wichita resident, in response to my Wichita Eats post. Smith makes some suggestions, mostly new to me, and raises a question about lox.

I threw out a websearch, trying to find any place in town that sells lox -- or cold-smoked salmon, if there's any real difference between them. I just enjoy the stuff, having tasted it elsewhere!

The closest I can get is to order the jaguar roll (or other similar items) at Yamasa Grill (near Hillside and 2nd). And at the top of the search list was your site, and specifically, your Wichita Eats entry. It's a good list!

To respond to some of your comments: The only Vietnamese restaurant on Pawnee of which I'm aware is Tô Châu, just east of Oliver. I enjoy it! Also, if you've not tried Chiang Mai Thai Restaurant (3141 S. Hillside), give them a shot. There are duck items on their menu, so I imagine you can get it in curry form if you tried.

I would put Julius Rib Cage at the top of my own list, if only because they serve the best steak in town! The best burgers I'm aware of are currently served up at Barron's Bar & Grill (near Oliver & Cessna -- that's the first street south of Pawnee -- it's located in the east end of the same building that hosts Maggie Mae's).

I disagree about there being no good Italian restaurants. Sweet Basil (north of 21st on Woodlawn) is one of my favourites, although it's just pricey enough that I only make that trip a few times a year.

The Vietnamese restaurant on Pawnee is Pho Hot, just east of I-135 (2409 E Pawnee). I tried it again last week; wasn't very pleased, but in fairness I have yet to bring myself to order the noodle soups that everyone else in the restaurant orders.

I've eaten at Sweet Basil a couple of times. It's certainly not bad, but it's not that great either. I suppose one could argue that I've been jaded by living in New York and working next door to a very fine Italian restaurant there, but thus far I prefer Carrabba's and the late Macaroni Grill.

Regarding lox: you can pick that up at almost any Dillon's. I prefer the oak smoked farm-raised atlantic to the brighter sockeye, even though a chemical assay of the former might be disturbing. These come in 4 oz. packages, about $5 each. The higher-end Dillons have some more expensive packages that are somewhat nicer. I prefer Scottish style, which is dry-salted and smoked with oak. Traditional lox -- the kind that's so hard to find any more -- has been cured in a wet brine, leaving it very salty. More common nova lox is less salty, and there are other variations, such as Scottish. It's also possible to find gravlax, which is cured in salt, sugar, and dill -- basically a Swedish innovation. One brand I particularly like is Ducktrap, but I haven't found it in any stores in Wichita.

On the other hand, the important thing is the salt cure, not the cold smoke. The latter adds a bit of flavor but is hard to do without cooking the fish. The salt cure, on the other hand, could hardly be easier: take two pounds of fresh salmon filets; sprinkle with three tablespoons of coarse kosher salt; wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 12 hours, turning occasionally to redistribute the juices. Wash the salt off. If the fish is too salty, soak it in cold water (or multiple washes of cold water) until you get the salt right. You can then use it like lox. It will keep in the refrigerator wrapped up for a week or more. The fresher the fish, the better, of course, but I've gotten good results every time I've tried.

Feb 2009 Apr 2009