April 2009 Notebook|
Thursday, April 30, 2009
Just noticed that this was the first month in a long time -- probably only the third or fourth time ever -- when I managed to fill in a post for every day of the calendar. Some were cheap shots. On the other hand, I still have plenty of other tasks to keep me away from the computer, and in that regard spending so much time here may not have been a good idea.
Robert Christgau: Poptastic Bye-Bye: Posted on March 27, but I didn't notice until today. Evidently, Blender is no more. Not sure when I got my latest copy, but it's not so far back I had started wondering when the next one would arrive. But then I haven't been very conscious of that sort of thing lately. I'm still working on cramming the Consumer Guide for April into the database, with May likely to appear, like, tomorrow. I'll second Christgau's judgments on Blender. I never read much outside of the review section, which was a good deal better than any other rock zine I've read in a long time -- well, maybe not better than Mojo, but the English still expect criticism, where we're lucky and dumbfounded whenever it appears. I've long thought I should get in touch with Tannenbaum and see if I could get something in. (One fantasy would be to do a supershort jazz-for-rockers list, but I thought of that more in terms of Rolling Stone, and they turned in house to David Fricke for that sort of thing.) Maybe one of those big retrospectives -- Lou Reed or Brian Eno would be good for me, or any of a long list of jazz artists (Armstrong, Ellington, Hawkins, Davis, Coltrane, Coleman, Pepper, Murray, Vandermark). Never got to it, so I never even got rejected. Reminds me that I had finally got an invite to write for Creem just as Lester Bangs quit and moved to New York and the magazine fell into chaos. Reminds me that my gig as music editor at St. Louis Today was to begin the week after they folded.
The future of rock criticism, for better or worse, will be on the web. Christgau is likely not only to be the first but also the last person to make a whole career out of rock criticism in print, and even he was aided by a long-term editing job and a part-time job in academia. On the web we can try to do more while losing less, but the best I can figure is something tangential, maybe even orthogonal, to making a living. Michael Tatum has agreed to work with me on resuscitating Recycled Goods -- it makes some sense to try to tackle big problems with teams, and doing so will help keep me on an even keel. To make it work we need a publisher with some visibility. How we go about doing that is a mystery to me -- the only places I've ever published at are places that invited me, not the other way around. Blender opens up a gap. Would be nice to fill it someway, because otherwise we're just slumping into a Dark Ages stupor, for no better reason than we're too dumb to change business models that don't produce any more.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Actually, didn't do any house work at all today. Went to the doctor to have an annual follow-up on my enlarged aorta. Measures a bit bigger today than it did a year ago, but still a centimeter or so shy of the point where they figure you're more likely to die if you don't have surgery than if you do. Doctor didn't seem to be too worried about it. Scheduled me to see him again in 6 months, and to recheck aorta in 12.
Did some shopping afterwards. It occurred to me that one way to clean up the dining room mess would be to get another tool box: one of those 3-drawer middle units that could fit in a shelf slot. I could then load it up with a lot of the stuff I still need but are scattered hopelessly all over the joint -- chisels, screwdrivers, measures, screws, nails. Also got a couple of 3-drawer plastic things which might be good for sandpaper, paint brushes, like that. Also got a luggage-like cart thing that should be big enough to hold all of the Ryobi battery tools. Right now there are tools and supplies on 20-or-so shelves. I'd like to get that down to 2 or 3 shelves and a couple of tool bags. That will mean moving some stuff out -- either to the basement or to the adjacent room, but at least it will be out of the construction area. With that we can start moving stuff back in that will eventually be used in the kitchen.
Will get back to work tomorrow. Pretty good day yesterday: got the spice rack attached to the wall, then got the south wall unit end piece attached. Both jobs took some muscle and required a bit of constructive destruction -- not to mention some spackle when I was done. Will look a lot better when I sand that down and touch up the paint. Also rehung the basement door. Still needs a coat of paint, but at least it's out of the middle of the dining room now. I think we're close to being able to fold the card tables up and bring the dining table back to the room, along with a couple of chairs. From that point Laura and I won't have to eat and read the newspaper in front of our messy computer desks.
Losing My Religion
It looks like Borders is killing off their CD and DVD sections in most or all of their bookstores. At least the two in Wichita are affected. I'm not sure how much of a loss this is going to be. (For that matter, the store on Rock Road looks doomed, ever since a much expanded Barnes & Noble moved in less than half a mile away. Moreover, rather than fighting, they seem to be keeling over: cutting hours, selling off surplus from their already inadequate stock, and now killing off the music section.) I've bought next to no music there ever since they opened: the prices are too high, and the selection is middling -- better than Best Buy, but not by much, even as Best Buy shrinks. The west Wichita store used to be useful for listening, but after their equipment stopped working I stopped bothering.
I've been into both Borders since their closeout sale began, buying a total of one record: Sufjan Stevens' Greeting From Michigan. Went into their east (Rock Road) store today and finally bought a pile at 50% off:
Newman and Santogold are two 2008 albums I heard on Rhapsody and may have underrated -- at least according to Christgau. Nine Inch Nails is another Christgau CG record. Also heard the Lowe reissue on Rhapsody, which I had no problems or complaints with -- but then I owned the original UK as well as the US LP release, plus all the wonderful extras they packed in. I wrote about it for Recycled Goods, and it was the ice cracker, the record that convinced me that I was going to buy something. The Ramones reissues supersede old vinyl that I may or may not have -- great records, and cheap today (the first one cost me $3.99). Didn't have anything by Francis, and this one seems about right. I figured NYC Salsa for remedial research, but once I opened it up I found the doc to be pretty measley. Toughest call was the Sinatra: he's definitively before my time, has never been a touchstone, and hasn't repaid my occasional listening efforts (unlike, say, Nat Cole). I also have a sizable chunk of the set already -- 4 or 5 albums, less than half, plus a 2-CD compilation that presumably hits them all. Still, it's stuff I figure I should take seriously, by all accounts prime (unlike his Columbias, or the more voluminous, scattered, and declining Reprises). Slim little box with each CD in an LP-styled sleeve. Quite nice, and something of a bargain.
Turns out I could have picked up the two CDs I bought at Best Buy earlier in the week:
The Ry Cooder-produced Staples record is another I heard on Rhapsody and have long yearned to own. A friend discovered it independendly and had been raving about it to Laura, so that brought the point home. And everyone tells me Allen's second album is great -- I spent the day with it in the car, cycled it twice, and they may be right.
This is all unusual behavior for me in recent years: I keep track of purchases as well as stuff that comes in the mail, and at least 5 of every 6 weeks (maybe 9 of 10) have no purchases. My desire to buy records has just been drained out of me. The single biggest problem is that there are no local stores to go to. I stopped at Best Buy to see if they had the new Dylan album on sale -- they didn't -- but unless we're talking about someone like Dylan they won't have it on sale, and I long ago fell out of the habit of buying new at anything approaching list. (I bought Living Things from them a while back, but it was $9.99 list.) Best Buy will rarely stock at much as 20% of what shows up on Christgau's Consumer Guide (much less my Jazz CG) and most of that will be at prices I can easily beat on the web. Barnes and Noble and Borders (until now) have a slightly larger selection for higher prices. The only other record store in town is the CD Depot used chain, which is so lousy I've given up browsing there.
But I'm also pretty exhausted from all the stuff I get in the mail, and I'm perpetually frustrated by the problem of where to put them. The year I spent with Rhapsody let me hear records I was curious about without having to find money or shelf space for them, and that may have been liberating. Some records I rated that year I would certainly like to have, but thus far I've only bought a tiny number of them -- some very high rated 2008 albums that I haven't bought yet include: The Mountain Goats, Heretic Pride; Drive-By Truckers, Brighter Than Creation's Dark; Old 97's, Blame It on Gravity; James McMurtry, Just Us Kids; Tokyo Police Club, Elephant Shell; Conor Oberst. I had a chance to pick up Old 97's and Hold Steady's Stay Positive today, and didn't bother.
Of course, I didn't use to be like this. For many years I spent countless hours in record stores. When I lived in Boston I'd go to one store or another 3-4 times a week; in New Jersey it was more like 2 times a week. When Yesterdays and Wherehouse existed here in Wichita I'd hit them (two stores each) at least once a week. And when I'd travel record stores would be prime destinations. In fact, I used to make day trips to Oklahoma City 3-4 times a year, on average hauling back 20-40 CDs each trip. (Made a similar trip to Kansas City, but it was longer, more work, and less productive.) Back when Yesterdays and Wherehouse closed out, I bought hundreds of CDs -- that's a big part of the reason I have 700+ unrated CDs in the database, many from then still unplayed. I remember thinking that at least when I'm retired and poor I'll still have more good stuff to listen to than I'll have time left. I'm not sure that that time hasn't already come.
I used to want to listen to everything, record my thoughts, and build up a database for reference to share my experience. Those sentiments drove me to the far corners of my taste. As the Sinatra purchase still shows, I'm not over such sentiments, but I'm having a tough time making it happen. I'm being pulled in both directions: thinking about getting back into Recycled Goods and trying to run it as a state-of-the-art survey of reissued/newly discovered music history instead of as what it's been the last year-plus: the lint at the bottom of my processing stack. Also thinking about finally building that reference website. (I figure MediaWiki might do the trick -- sort of my personal, idiosyncratic Wikipedia of music.) On the other hand, I despair that I can even do Jazz Consumer Guide justice, and (perhaps more importantly) I doubt that the interest from publishers like the Village Voice is up to the job.
Good news is that I figure the kitchen will be fully functional in another week: i.e., the dining room table back in place; the dishes, pots, and cooking utensils unpacked and accessible; the pantry restocked; the tools and paint cans finally packed away; the shelves loaded up with at least the cookbooks. I may not have everything finished the way I envision it -- still don't have the stainless steel peninsula around the stove, some of the planned slide-outs; the extra drawers under the pantry countertop. And I may not move what's left of the wood pile from the living room: certainly the scrap can go downstairs, but the 4-5 full sheets of extra plywood may just stay there until I think of something else to build. Hope to celebrate with a dinner for the people who helped me build it all. More on that later.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
I envy Matthew Yglesias's ability to crank out a dozen-plus blog posts per day, but he's mostly going with whatever the day throws out at him, and his added value is hit and miss. Today was dominated by the news that Sen. Arlen Specter decided he'd rather be a Democrat, so Yglesias came up with a bunch of posts revealing how little he's had in common with Democrats over his career. Yglesias's term for Specter is "flexible." Sounds more like opportunist. We have in the past seen Republicans turn into pretty good Democrats -- Wayne Morse is still the classic. I doubt that Specter will be one, although it wouldn't hurt for him to start keeping better company.
Matthew Yglesias: Financial Innovation and Financial Compensation: Cites a Paul Krugman column, citing in turn a Ben Bernanke speech about how innovative the financial sector has been. (Bernanke cites three big innovations: credit cards, overdraft protection, and subprime mortgages. For some reason he forgot about derivatives, which some wag described as a financial weapon of mass destruction.) But the most important thing here is a chart from Simon Johnson showing the financial sector's percentage of all US business profits over time. As late as 1980 -- the year Reagan was first elected -- it stood at 7%, admittedly depressed from the past 20-year average of 10-15%. It increased steadily from then, peaking over 40%. To some extent this represents decline in other sectors, like manufacturing, but it's not as if other sectors, like health care, haven't made money at the same time. Still, the profit levels here are suspicious on multiple counts. First, they suggest that finance is not subject to limits of competition. In most industries, when profits rise, competitors are willing to take them down. It's not like there aren't plenty of banks, so why no competitition? I don't have an answer to that. The peculiar mix of lax regulation may have some sort of effect here. Shoddy accounting is also suspect. Then there is politics: clearly the finance industry is very well connected with both parties and intimately represented in the government. The one thing we can be sure of is that the profits didn't get reinvested in the real economy, which is one reason so much ado turned into nothing.
Matthew Yglesias: McCain: Bush Should Get Off The Hook -- Just Like Nixon: It's easy for a Republican to say that Ford did the right thing pardoning Nixon so we could "move on": "we" in that case was the Republican Party, which cleansed of Nixon's sins was free to subject us to Ronald Reagan. Reagan's administration was, if anything, more criminal than Nixon's. Of course, it helped hide the fact that the criminality was scattered all through the administration, not just concentrated in the person of the president. The Bushes just added to the evidence that the GOP is corrupt from top to bottom, and megalomaniac to boot: Bush II was a pretty complete synthesis of Nixon + Reagan, at least in this regard. You can see why Republicans want to forget all that. But it will be harder this time, because the party was so completely complicit in Bush's crimes.
But the Republicans never wanted to "move on" when Clinton was president. The Paula Jones lawsuit was allowed to proceed on the grounds that no president is above the law (except, of course, for Nixon, Reagan, and the Bushes). Clinton and his administration had to endure numerous special prosecutors, mostly turning up nothing. Some, like Kenneth Starr, abused their position so flagrantly that the law was changed -- just in time to give Bush free reign.
Update: I looked for a post with this chart before, but it has vanished into the backfiles. Popped up again, so I thought I'd add it here.
Matthew Yglesias: Orzag on Saez: The chart shows how the top 1%, 1-5%, and 5-10% of income earners have fared over time. The top 1% is relatively volatile, with booms coming with financial bubbles, both in the Roaring 1920s and the upslope from Reagan's S&L looting through Bush's subprime mortgage bubble. Interestingly, while the lower tiers of the well off roughly tend to track the top 1% through the New Deal, their split has remained remarkably consistent ever since 1943, with a very slight uphill trend. This means they've basically become unhitched from the top 1%, which was the sole beneficiary of the Reagan-Bush era.
Monday, April 27, 2009
Music: Current count 15282  rated (+19), 780  unrated (-6). Transitioned from Jazz CG #19 to #20, starting the new round of Jazz Prospecting by trying to clean up the leftovers. Still working mostly on house, not getting enough done there, wasting time blogging, picking occasional records out of a totally messed up filing system.
Jazz Prospecting (CG #20, Part 1)
Jazz Consumer Guide #19 has been sent off the Village Voice, where it will sit for several weeks, get a quick last minute edit, and finally appear, hopefully by the end of May. I sent off 1792 words, which is 400, maybe 500 more than will run, at least in the print edition. I've asked them to keep whatever doesn't fit and post it on the web. The web-only items should mostly be Honorable Mentions: I sent in 32. The main reason for doing this is that I have even more stuff written up and held back (2700 words) than can run in the next column. As much as I'd like to get paid for every word, my big problem now is getting columns out in a timely manner.
Meanwhile, this week marks the start of a new cycle. I started the week looking at records that I had held back for further listening -- something I would normally do at the end of a cycle. Later on I tried playing a few new items, resulting in a very mixed bag. Right now the filing system is a total mess, and I'm still pretty distracted by house work. Still not sure when I'll get back to normal (if indeed that's the right word). In any case, I figure I'll run this cycle 6-8 weeks. Was feeling pretty bummed about the whole endeavor last week, but got big packages from Atavistic and Okka Disk today, ending the Vandermark draught.
Bill Bruford: The Winterfold Collection 1978-1986 (1977-85 , Winterfold): English prog rock's premier drummer, cut loose and adrift with instrumentalists -- Allan Holdsworth and Dave Stewart are the prime offenders -- neither up for jazz nor down for rock -- aside for Annette Peacock, who's up for anything, but only manages to salvage one of her three cuts here. Runners up are the duets with Patrick Moraz, which give Bruford something to interact with. Mostly released by EG at the time, and ultimately picked up by Bruford for his own pair of labels: Summerfold for the newer stuff once he started thinking of himself as a jazz drummer, and Winterfold for the barren old stuff. B-
Bill Bruford: The Summerfold Collection 1987-2008 (1986-2007 , Summerfold, 2CD): The jazz years, which kicked off abruptly when Bruford recruited a odd pair of avant-gardists -- saxophonist Iain Ballamy and keyboardist Django Bates. Other groups followed, with slick saxophonist Tim Garland represented here with his Latin-flavored flute, choice meetings with guitarist Ralph Towner and pianist Michiel Borstlap, and the inevitable percussion ensemble. A long period, some sparkling tunes, some interesting ideas, not especially helped by the mix and match. One previously unreleased cut, from 2002, with a Latin kick. B
Joel Harrison: Urban Myths (2009, High Note): Well, this sucks. One of the most important mainstream jazz labels around switches to a new publicist and starts cutting corners by sending out promos in crappy cardboard sleeves with a wadded up copy of the booklet stuffed inside. Normally -- especially for artists this insignificant -- these things go into the bin where they get ignored for months or years until I notice the discrepancy in my database and decide to dismiss them with a quick spin. But this one arrived on a bad mood day when I was already wondering why the hell I even bother, so I figured I'd dispose of it right away. Starts out promising enough with typical David Binney alto sax, which Harrison does a nice job of emulating. Some violin appears -- Christian Howes. But then it slows down with some fancy postbop arranging, then tries to recover the pace with some funk grooves. Either too many ideas, or not enough conviction. Go figure. B [advance]
Tim Kuhl: King (2008 , WJF): Drummer, from Baltimore area, b. 1982, studied at Towson, moved to New York in 2003. Second album. Group includes tenor sax (Jon Irabagon), trombone (Rick Parker), two guitars, bass. Plays free, remaining the center of attention. The two horns make their mark. I'm less taken with the guitars. B+(*)
Søren Kjærgaard/Ben Street/Andrew Cyrille: Optics (2007 , ILK): Danish pianist, won some prize in 2000, having trouble figuring out much of anything else, even whether this is his first album. Street plays bass, and Cyrille you know. A couple of things catch my ear: a sly little rhythmic figure in "Cyrille Surreal"; a piece of blockish denseness later on. Lots of quiet stuff in between. Will figure out more later. [B+(**)]
Jimmy Greene: Mission Statement (2008 , RazDaz/Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist, soprano too, b. 1975, has 7-8 albums since 1997 (mostly on mainstream Criss Cross), 50 or so side credits (mostly with young postboppers, a few singers). Mostly quintet with guitar, piano, bass, and drums -- Stefon Harris adds vibes to one cut. Green is an energetic and talented saxophonist, but this feels rather rote, pretty much par for the course, and the band doesn't stand out. B
Avery Sharpe Trio: Autumn Moonlight (2008 , JKNM): Bassist-led piano trio. Sharpe has eight albums since 1988, plus a much longer list of side credits, especially working for McCoy Tyner. His pianist here, Onaje Allan Gumbs, fits nicely into the Tyner mold, although his performance here is less flashy than usual. B
Johnny Varro Featuring Ken Peplowski: Two Legends of Jazz (2007 , Arbors): You'd think if they were going to have two legends of jazz, they wouldn't relegate Peplowski to the "featuring" slot. But then, you'd think if they were going to celebrate legends of jazz, they'd pick a couple more, uh, legendary than Varro and Peplowski. Varro is a good Teddy Wilson disciple, born around the time Wilson was starting out, getting close to 80 now. Peplowski is nearly 30 years younger, which leaves him with less hair than Varro has, and not much darker. He was always the second tier young fogey behind Scott Hamilton -- a good side man, either on clarinet or tenor sax, but never a very inspired leader. He sticks to clarinet here, and plays as fine as ever. Frank Tate and Joe Ascione provide all the backup they need. Very nice work. B+(**)
Eddie Erickson: I'm Old-Fashioned (2007 , Arbors): A/k/a Fast Eddie, plays banjo and guitar, sings (also dubs himself "The Singing Moustache"). Resume includes 1978-83 leading the Riverboat Rascals show band on Disney's Empress Lilly Showboat. Don't know how old he is, but he started his career in California in the mid-1960s. Has a few previous albums, mostly sharing credits with Bill Dendle, Big Mama Sue, or BEDlam (Becky Kilgore and Dan Barrett). Also appeared with Kilgore as a lead voice in the Harry Allen-Joe Cohn Guys and Dolls. This one is more/less billed "Live with his International Swing Band": a group Mannie Selchow assembled in Germany. Might as well list the names, about half unfamiliar to me: Menno Daams (trumpet), Bill Allred (trombone), Antti Sarpila (clarinet, tenor sax), Rossano Sportiello (piano), Henning Gailing (bass), Moritz Gastreich (drums). Band swings hard on the usual fair. Erickson's an adequate but not all that impressive singer. The banjo is fun. B+(*)
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
The Peggy Lee Band: New Code (2008, Drip Audio): Lots of good things here -- Brad Turner trumpet, Jon Bentley tenor sax, a lot of guitar, a little trombone, a nicely bent "All I Want to Do" opening. The leader's cello is less evident, except when it gets slow and threatens to get mushy. B+(**)
Ahmad Jamal: It's Magic (2007 , Dreyfus): An old pianist with a light touch, his trio fluffed up with Manolo Badrena's extra percussion, his knack for catchy melodies undiminished. B+(***)
The Ron Hockett Quintet: Finally Ron (2008, Arbors): Longtime journeyman clarinettist gets the Arbors red carpet treatment, with a first class trad band -- John Sheridan, James Chirillo, Phil Flanigan, Jake Hanna -- and no complaints when he wants to do yet another "Beale Street Blues." Everybody's sharp, especially Chirillo, but Hockett earns his keep too. Arbors is a rare label that will not only pull someone out of the blue and give him a recording date because every musician deserves one sooner or later; they'll make sure the record is worth remembering. B+(***)
Adam Niewood & His Rabble Rousers: Epic Journey Volumes I & II (2008, Innova, 2CD): An epic record, two long discs, one mostly composed, the other mostly improv. Niewood plays a wide range of saxophones and clarinets, with tenor sax justly first listed. Add keyboards, guitar, bass, drums, including some African percussion. His tone and range are impressive, although it's hard to know just what to make of it all. Perhaps in the future he'll make a record clear enough to make this one worth deciphering. As it is, I prefer the improvs -- "Movin' & Groovin'" does just that for 9:35, after which "Loved Ones" shows some ballad sensitivity. B+(**)
Tim Ries: Stones World: The Rolling Stones Project II (2008, Sunnyside, 2CD): A saxophonist who's toured with the Rolling Stones takes over the repertoire. The first volume was content to refocus the first tier songs on the saxophonist, but here, Ries goes on tour, picking up anyone (and pretty much everyone) who wanted to get in on the act -- including some actual Stones (Keith Richard in Japan, Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood in Africa, Charlie Watts several places). Singers are especially plentiful, and not all that convincing -- at least with Jagger you were pretty sure not to believe everything. Instead, we get Ana Moura dropping into Portuguese for parts of "Brown Sugar"; "Jumpin' Jack Flash" goes flamenco, and "Angie" goes to Bollywood; the whole UN gets a piece of "Salt of the Earth"; Marina Machado and Milton Nascimento strain for "Lady Jane." More sax than the originals, but still it takes a back seat to the vocals. If there's a theme, it's the worldwide promotion of the Stones' great idea: miscegnation. B
Jesse Stacken: That That (2006 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Debut album, piano trio, dense and dramatic, not least thanks to bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer Jeff Davis, who also back up Kris Davis. Stacken, however, lacks Kris Davis's main threat -- tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby -- and doesn't make up the deficit on his own. While Stacken can reward close listening, I find more often than not this record slips by unheard. B+(**)
Giovanni Moltoni: 3 (2008, C#2 Productions): Guitar album -- long lines, gentle grooves, nice vibes, topped off with Greg Hopkins' moderately boppish trumpet. B+(*)
Asaf Sirkis Trio: The Monk (2007-08 , SAM Productions): Drummer-led trio, with guitar (Tassos Spiliotopoulos) and electric bass (Yaron Stavi). Nothing fundamentally different, but one of the sharper guitar trios I've heard recently -- the main difference is that the drums are louder, which I count as a plus. But not just a trio: keyboards (Gary Husband) and extra percussion (Adriano Adewale) sometimes seep in, the former muddying the waters, the latter harder to judge. B+(**)
Leonardo E.M. Cioglia: Contos (2007 , Quizamba Music): Brooklyn-based bassist, originally from Brazil, which influences his music in subtle ways that don't overwhelm the postbop inclinations of his band -- John Ellis (reeds), Mike Moreno (guitar), Stefon Harris (vibes/marimba), Aaron Goldberg (piano), Antonio Sanchez (drums). Flows nicely, thoughtful, not a lot of pop or punch. B+(**)
Jenny Scheinman: Crossing the Field (2008, Koch): Two string orchestras on six cuts lay this on rather thick. The other half is more engaging, but that's the least you'd expect from Ron Miles, Bill Frisell, Jason Moran, Doug Wieselman, etc., not to mention the violinist-leader, who often seems either missing or buried in the masses. B+(*)
Jeff Johnson: Tall Stranger (2002 , Origin): Bassist-led trio. Hans Teuber's reeds (tenor sax, bass clarinet) are weakly blown, almost faint, while Billy Mintz's drums whisper more often than not, with soft splashes on the cymbals predominant. All of this keeps the bass equally in the game, and it works remarkably well -- sure, you need to pay careful attention, but that's easy to do. Johnson switches to guitar on one cut, with Teuber moving to bass. That works, too. B+(***)
Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra: Harriet Tubman (2007 , Noir, 2CD): One problem with thinking of jazz as America's classical music is tends to make jazz sound more like Europe's classical music. This is especially true when a jazz arranger reaches for the bombast of a large concept, as with this opera. And, so often the case with opera, all that singing can get to be annoying. Still, this holds up relatively well. The default musical tradition is gospel, especially for the vocals. The horns are bright and rowdy, and the big band work is sharp. And you stand to learn a thing or two. B+(**)
David Sánchez: Cultural Survival (2007 , Concord Picante): Originally streamed this from Rhapsody, noting that his roots are more in Coltrane than in his native Puerto Rican salsa or his neighboring Afro-Cuban jazz. Got a copy, played it a few times, and don't have much more to say, other than that the inspiration cited in the liner notes comes from Africa: "the Baca forest people from southeast Cameroon, the Ari people of Tanzania, polyphonies from music from Ethiopia and music from Mali, all of which are important resources that I drew from when composing this piece." This piece is "La Leyenda del Cañaveral" -- the 20:31 closer which works best because he takes his time building it up. B+(**)
Melvin Gibbs' Elevated Unity: Ancients Speak (2008 , Live Wired): Moderns speaking in hip-hop tongues, homologues to ancient drums, but cross-bred like crazy, even if you can trace all of it, like damn near everything else, back to African. Gibbs is a bassist who has worked under band names from Defunkt to Power Tools to Harriet Tubman, with side credits ranging from Sonny Sharrock to Marisa Monte to John Zorn to Femi Kuti -- a career he finally unifies. A-
Some more re-grades as I've gone through trying to sort out the surplus:
Howard Alden and Ken Peplowski's Pow Wow (2006 , Arbors): [was: B+(***)] B+(**)
Carla Bley and Her Remarkable Big Band: Appearing Nightly (2006 , Watt): [was: B+(***)] B+(**)
Ralph Carney/Robert Creeley: Really!! (2007, Paris) [was: B+(**)] B+(***)
Bruno Råberg: Lifelines (2008, Orbis Music, 2CD): [was: B+(**)] B+(***)
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Break Up the Banks
Andrew Leonard: Simon Johnson says: "Break up the banks": Amen to that. It seems like the Obama administration has gone as far as possible not only to avoid nationalizing (actually, just taking receivership) of the banks but to make sure that the banking industry emerges intact. This seems wrong to me, not simply because the industry deserves a good shaking up after what they've done, but because the concentration that Citigroup, Bank of America, etc., had achieved on their way to wrecking the economy wasn't a good thing in the first place. In fact, it was a horrible thing. The very fact that we can talk about banks being "too big to fail" shouts out that we have banks that are too big to be trusted to compete.
Johnson gets all that right. Leonard's summary is:
One problem here is that I can't ever recall Obama or Attorney General Holder appointing anyone to head the Department of Justice's antitrust division. Of course, the Bush administration never met a trust they didn't like, so the entire section has had an eight-year sabbatical, but as recently as Clinton there were antitrust cases, like the one against Microsoft -- quickly dismissed by Ashcroft, even after a conviction. I think antitrust is important, not least for old-fashioned reasons: to protect businesses from predatory acts by other businesses, but also to insure that markets function by providing adequate competition, and to prevent companies from overwhelming and disabling competitors. I'd go even further than antitrust law has ever gone before: I'd get rid of patents and other proprietary restraints, and I'd introduce progressive taxation on company size as well as profits to help balance the playing field -- and for that matter to disincentivize excessive growth. The latter might even change the psychology of business: for years now we've lived in a world of winner-take-all schemes, but if those were impossible, most of the corporate management playbook would go out the window. That, I think, would be a good thing. After all, for every disincentivized rich tycoon, there are plenty more would-be entrepreneurs who'd like a shot in the game.
Still, a good start would be to resume enforcing antitrust law. And breaking up the insane conglomeration of banks would be a pretty popular place to start. The only novelty to it would be that instead of breaking up corporations that are too successful, we'd be breaking up failures.
Helena Cobban: On bank governance: A modest proposal: Another variation on this theme, inspired by a picture of the CEO's of 19 major US banks.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Over the last six months I've done a poor job of collecting quotes and writing comments on the few books I've managed to read. In most cases, I bought the books and they're sitting around in piles waiting for some attention. However, some I checked out from the library. For those, at least, I managed to get the comments transcribed, but figuring some commentary would also be useful, I've held them back. Don't see much point in continuing to do so now, especially where my recollection is fading.
The books are:
The Ehrenreich book is out in paperback next week.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Another day, another couple of little things. Put second coat paint on the bathroom and pantry baseboards yesterday, so I nailed them in today. Put a little spackle in the nail holes, which I'll sand off and touch up tomorrow. Put second coat on three pieces of dining room baseboards today, so they'll install tomorrow. Sanded spackle on edge of pantry cabinet, and added more spackle. May be good enough tomorrow to paint. Cut out the light switch hole in the south wall cabinet end piece. Rough-positioned the piece to check for fit. It's a little off in several directions -- will take some effort to square off, not to mention attach and add the cap piece. Went shopping for clamp ideas. Bought a couple wooden hand screws -- a clamp with two 12-inch wood jaws and two hand screws, providing about 6-inches width and 6-inches depth around the project. I doubt if it will work perfectly, but it should get me closer than my previous clamps. I've been trying to avoid sinking in screws from the outside, but I may wind up doing that -- nails are a little cleaner, but don't seem to be holding adequately. Cleaner still would be getting the glue to hold, perhaps adding dowels or biscuits for strength, but that all depends on the clamping. Still not clear how to do the cap. We made the cabinet 96.75-inches high by putting the top on top of a full 8-foot sheet rip, so the last 3.75-inches piece here butts edgewise to the left of the cabinet top and tops the end piece, with about 3-inches of headroom to the ceiling. Putting the top on the end piece would be easy if I had the room, but then lining it up to the cabinet gets more difficult. Might be time to try a pocket screw. I looked at some cams today, but decided not to mess with them.
Decided to paint the trim around the basement door Van Deusen Blue, like the baseboards. Took the door off, and put a coat on the trim. Should paint the door Phillipsburg Blue, like the bathroom door. Should, for that matter, paint both sides, as the door is normally open.
Paul Krugman: Reclaiming America's Soul: Of course, the people who care about the torture scandals -- the politicians who couldn't wait to "take the gloves off," the lawyers with their ass-cover memos, and the operatives who did the deeds -- need a full airing, possibly including the threat of criminal prosecution. I'm inclined to go hardest on the lawyers, not just because they should have known better but because they were in a position to say no at little or no personal risk and they went ahead and gave the monsters what they wanted.
Joe Lieberman wrote somewhere that we shouldn't prosecute the lawyers because if we did future White House lawyers will be inhibited from giving their "best advice." He got it exactly wrong: it was the feeling that they would never be called for their bad advice that let Gonzalez, Yoo, et al., feed Bush, et al., the worst possible advice. Lieberman's rationale is reason enough to prosecute and punish, to set an example for all future government lawyers that they reimagine the law at their own risk. On the other hand, I don't much mind whether they go to jail or not. Jail turns out to be a relatively poor punishment for political crimes: not only does it look vindictive; it's generally more important for political criminals to acknowledge their wrongdoing than for them to endure jail, which in their supporters minds looks like martyrdom.
On the other hand, I'm not especially agitated by government torture -- not because I don't mind it but because I don't expect anything better of them. Maybe that comes from watching too much TV, where the line between police and prosecutorial bullying and torture seems pretty fuzzy. One thing you learn quickly about justice in America is that it has more to do with winning than with finding the truth. Then there is the history of the CIA, which embraced torture at least as far back as the 1950s, and the US military, which occasionally practiced it and taught it in their school for prospective Latin American dictators. I'm all for unraveling this whole monstrosity, but I'm skeptical that they'll ever get past the "bad eggs" who inevitably get tripped up in the works.
But the bigger part of the reason is that I view torture as part of a continuum of evil things that forces do to people to exert their power over them. The main point of torture rarely (if ever) has to do with information: it's really just about power. Information is merely the measurement of how much power the torturer holds over a prisoner. The point is just as well to strip the prisoner of self-respect, of dignity, of any sense of control over his/her own life; and conversely to get the prisoner to acknowledge that you are the power, that you are the one who can crush the lives of the prisoner and anyone he or she holds dear.
When you think about the people who hold that kind of power dear, at a policy level, you're going beyond the technicians who torture to the politicians who fantasize about it. If you don't recognize that torture is integral to the exercise of domineering power, you will have trouble understanding why Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al., got so worked up about it. It had nothing to do with information -- it's not like any of them put much stock in truth anyway. It was purely about power. But the problem that comes about when you start to investigate torture is that America isn't ready to give up its lust for power. So whoever's doing the investigating, from Obama on down, is going to want to carve out some acceptable degree of coercive measures. And that's what will spoil the lessons to be drawn from the whole sorry affair.
Krugman also demands investigation and prosecution of the Iraq War sales spiel. The problem there is that it isn't as clear cut illegal as the torture stuff, although you can certainly make a strong case -- as Elizabeth de la Vega does in United States V George W Bush et al. -- that the lies and innuendos were nothing less than criminal fraud. Moreover, Krugman is right that we need to publicly examine these issue in order to understand how vile the Bush regime was. Even though the balance of political power has shifted in the US, it's clear that way too many people still adhere to the Bush-Republican Party line. That's to be expected until we take a clear, sober look at what such ideas and practices have done to us. The reckoning there is still unrealized. Obama may for now think that he's better off letting such dogs lie -- that bringing those issue up would only cloud his own agenda -- but the Republicans remain pretty effective at obstructing his path. They really need to be taken down a few notches, even if you believe that in the end it will be more effective to see real progress implemented than to dwell on past sins.
One model for comparable political disasters is the "truth and reconciliation" process, which dispenses with vengeance in order to get to the truth. At some point it becomes advisable even for the guilty to seek that path, if for no other reason than to spare themselves criminal charges in international courts. But America has a deeper problem right now: disrespect for truth. Back in 2006 when the Democrats took control of Congress we all expected them to use their subpoena power to investigate the numerous crimes and malfeasances of the Bush administration, but they hardly lifted a finger. You can chalk that up to cowardice, or to stupidity, or to the shrewd belief that America wasn't ready for the truth -- that America can't live with the truth. I'd have to say they're right: unlike Krugman, I'm not sure America has any soul worth reclaiming.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
The Geneva Discord
Adam Horowitz: Two great points about the Durban II and Ahmadinejad speech: Obama got some flack for pulling the US out of the Durban II conference on racism, but as it turns out it was just as well that the US was absent. It strikes me that the one thing the conference has shown is a general lack of maturity in addressing a subject which should be cut and dry by now. We shouldn't have any real problem agreeing that racism is wrong, foolish, and damaging to everyone concerned. So what's the big problem here? Well, Israel. Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories since 1967 is blatantly racist, and Israel's discriminatory treatment of non-Jewish citizens of Israel is racist in more nuanced ways. I don't think there is any way anyone can deny those facts -- Israel as much as concedes this point by working to disrupt the conference as opposed to joining in to argue a contrary case. On the other hand, opposition to Israel's occupation can easily get wrapped up with anti-Jewish racism, and the long, gruesome history of anti-Jewish racism still resonates powerfully for many people (and not just Jews). The problem here is that we are really talking about two distinct species of antisemitism: the growing (and therefore dangerous) strain is developing in direct response to Israel's own racist policies, which really have nothing to do with the old, discredited, almost totally obsolete European strain rooted in old religious and politico-economic fantasies. The conference could (and should) make a point of addressing at least the current species of antisemitism, but the obvious cure for it would be a correction of Israel's own racist policies: a point that should be made explicit even though it somewhat smacks of blaming the victim.
Horowitz cites two pieces, both of which point to Israeli disruption. The Durban I conference famously passed a resolution equating Zionism with racism. This, I think, was slightly wrong, but far from outrageous. There were, in fact, some Zionists who recognized that the people who had long lived in Palestine deserved full political rights, and hoped that Jewish immigration to Palestine could proceed peaceably with due respect for all -- people like Martin Buber and Joseph Magnes, whom we would all be well advised to recall. On the other hand, partly because of the self-centeredness at the heart of Zionism, and largely because of the historical period and the fact of British colonial sponsorship, most Zionists were decidedly racist -- much as white settler colonists were in America, Australia, South Africa, and everywhere else they landed and sought to dominate and displace the locals. Moreover, the Zionists built institutions that reinforced their racist tendencies -- not just the Haganah militia but more portentously the Histadrut labor federation. From the beginning, they set up barriers to separate themselves from the natives -- the most profound and effective was the invention and adoption of modern Hebrew, a language that virtually no Jewish immigrant knew before immigrating. Unraveling Zionism and racism could have been one of those teachable moments, but both sides preferred to take the resolution as a mere political coup.
The political coups continue with Ahmadinejad's speech -- the readymade occasion for a walkout, where whatever offense Iran's president gave was augmented by the response. (One of the pieces linked here pointedly asks, "What credibility is there in Geneva's all-white boycott?") I've seen Ahmadinejad's speech characterized almost everywhere as hateful, but haven't dug deep enough to find whatever it is that they're talking about. In the past he's been readily caricatured and distorted, but he's also such a sloppy thinker that there's little benefit in trying to fully understand his points. Holocaust Denial is a case in point: that is, contrary to some European laws, not hate speech, but it does show profound ignorance of history. It's not clear to me whether Ahmadinejad is really that stupid, but he certainly does believe another myth, which is that Israel's creation was connected -- in some bizarre Euro-American sense of justice -- with the Holocaust. That may have some poetic truth to it, but Zionism was the joint product of pre-Holocaust antisemitism and British imperialism, and the future shape of Israel was locked in when the Haganah partnered with the British in putting down the Palestinian revolt of 1937-39. At that point the Jewish population of Palestine was very nearly the same percentage as it was a decade later -- the influx of Holocaust survivors made famous in Exodus had no real effect on the demographic balance. The Jews in Palestine spent the war at a safe distance from the Nazis, whose only interest in the area was as a dumping ground for German Jews before the regime turned even more murderous. (Even then, if the Nazis had primarily been obsessed with killing Jews, you'd think they would at least have attempted to bomb or fire V2 rockets at Palestine. While they were obsessive about Jews on land they controlled, they paid little attention to Jews elsewhere.) Of course, after the war the Holocaust was woven into the mission of Zionism and the case for Israel, with the Eichmann trial the linch pin in Israel's usurpation of the Holocaust cause. One shouldn't ignore the kernel around which this myth grew: Zionism was indeed a reaction to the same antisemitism that the Nazis rode to the Final Solution, but it branched off earlier, making a pact with British Imperialism and picking up a whole set of bad habits in the bargain. (E.g., Israeli practices like collective punishment were inherited intact from British colonial law.)
On the other hand, it's possible that Ahmadinejad understands the role of British Imperialism all too well. Indeed, it would be hard to grow up in Iran without hearing about how the British bribed concessions from the corrupt Qajars, or how they stood up (and replaced at whim) the Shahs, or how they got the CIA to overthrow Mossadegh and Iran's nationalized oil company. The problem with this is that it fails to appreciate the peculiar but real motivations of the Zionists themselves: the history of pogroms in Europe that portended the Holocaust, the fact that after the war displaced Jews had no safe European haven to return to, and the unfortunate tendency within the decolonizing Arab world to associate Jews with their former colonial masters -- much exacerbated after 1948, resulting in most Arab Jews fleeing to Israel, where they only added to the polarization. We would all benefit from better understanding all sides of this history, especially by not trying to play one side against the other. But in the end, the "facts on the ground" are sufficient: there are numerous instances of racism on all sides, which need to be resolved one-by-one by each responsible party. Failure on one side does not excuse the other -- nor does foolishness like Ahmadinejad's speech. On the other hand, there is no instance where any country in the world subjects Jews to the perils of occupation Israel has implemented in the West Bank and Gaza. That clearly is the first thing that must be remedied.
In some ways, the real problem with trying to deal with Israel in a conference on racism is that what Israel has done goes way beyond the sort of everyday racism that occurs in so much of the rest of the world. In the US, for instance, we still have numerous issues rooted in racism: profiling by police, disproportionate punishment for crimes, depressed housing values in majority-black neighborhoods, cultural barriers to education and jobs. These are all real problems, but they are qualitatively different from the institutionalized racism of Jim Crow laws, or South African Apartheid, or the Nazi race laws that required Jews to be publicly identified and that prohibited Jews from many occupations. What Israel is doing is as fully institutionalized as the latter -- you can argue whether it's relatively benign, equivalent, or worse, but you can't doubt that it's deliberate and systematic, or that it needs to be changed. How to change it is something else: maybe a topic for a separate conference, or just a lot of careful diplomacy.
But it's really stupid to waste a whole conference arguing a no-brainer like whether Israeli laws and policies are racist. Plainly, they are.
Cecilie Suransky: Pt. II Dershowitz et al, "The worst two hours of my life." Suransky has a whole series of posts at MuzzleWatch on Durban II, but this one gives you a good idea of how low this debate can go; e.g.:
Someone should apprise Dershowitz of Godwin's law.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
More new book notes. I do 40 per post -- plus some paperback reissues of previously noted books -- whenever I get around to dumping them out. I probably have two more batches backlogged. I continue to be impressed by the sheer quantity of interesting nonfiction coming out -- although I do on occasion note some obvious crap, which is also plentiful.
Amir D Aczel: The Jesuit and the Skull: Teilhard de Chardin, Evolution, and the Search for Peking Man (2007; paperback, 2008, Riverhead): Stephen J Gould wrote a piece charging that de Chardin was involved in the Piltdown Man fraud, so I figured this to follow up on that. Evidently, Aczel dismisses those charges in a single sentence. Not that Aczel doesn't have anything less controversial or less scandalous to write about.
Uri Avnery: 1948: A Soldier's Tale: The Bloody Road to Jerusalem (revised, paperback, 2009, One World): First English translation of two books by Avnery published 1949-50. He is now known as one of Israel's most courageous and consistent peaceniks, but back in the day fought in the far-right Irgun. That the war was blood is no doubt something he remembers better than most.
Uri Avnery: Israel's Vicious Circle: Ten Years of Writings on Israel and Palestine (2008, Pluto Press): I've no doubt read most of this already. He never misses a beat or falls for a scam.
Kevin Bales: Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy (2nd edition, paperback, 2004, University of California Press): Claims that chattel slavery, debt bondage, and contract slavery persist, affecting at least 27 million people. This is the case. Bales also wrote Ending Slavery: How We Free Today's Slaves (2007), and has a new, short book, co-written with Rebecca Cornell, coming out in paperback later this month: Slavery Today.
Ben S Bernanke: Essays on the Great Depression (paperback, 2004, Princeton University Press): Predates Bernanke's appointment as head of the Federal Reserve. Suggests he actually knows something relevant to what's going on now -- not sure Lawrence Summers can make that claim.
Philipp Blom: The Vertigo Years: Europe 1900-1914 (2008, Basic Books): Tries to recapture the experience of the times without the burden of subsequent history -- the Great War, the spectre of Communism, the rise of Fascism, an even greater war. I recall John Berger doing the same in "The Moment of Cubism" -- a more succinct and graphic summary. Cubism was just one of a dizzying range of inventions of the age, with technology just one dynamic vector; the psychological dislocations were at least as significant.
Mark Bowen: Censoring Science: Inside the Political Attack on Dr James Hansen and the Truth of Global Warming (2007, Dutton): Author previously wrote Thin Ice: Unlocking the Secrets of Climate in the World's Highest Mountains back when it was enough just to get the story out.
Robert Brenner: Property and Progress: The Historical Origins and Social Foundations of Self-Sustaining Growth (2009, Verso): Essay collection, evidently some quite old, working out the historical transition from feudalism to capitalism. Also wrote: The Boom and the Bubble: The US in the World Economy and The Economics of Global Turbulence, both on more recent topics.
Adam Cohen: Nothing to Fear: FDR's Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America (2009, Penguin Press): Focuses on intense arguments between five key confidants -- Lewis Douglas, Harry Hopkins, Raymond Moley, Frances Perkins, and Henry Wallace -- within the 100 days framework that FDR established as canonical. This sudden interest in all things Roosevelt is a clear sign of the times.
Dave Cullen: Columbine (2009, Twelve): Ten years after the event, tries to explain why it all happened. I've seen this compared to In Cold Blood, which may be what it takes to rehash this oft-rehashed tragedy.
Barry Cunliffe: Europe Between the Oceans: 9000 BC-AD 1000 (2008, Yale University Press): Archaeology professor at Oxford; big, illustrated, authoritative looking book, probably much like his previous The Oxford Illustrated History of Prehistoric Europe.
Marc H Ellis: Judaism Does Not Equal Israel: The Rebirth of the Jewish Prophetic (2009, New Press): A professor of Jewish Studies with a number of previous books -- Uholy Alliance: Religion and Atrocity in Our Time and Toward a Jewish Theology of Liberation: The Challenge of the 21st Century are two. It's not surprising that someone with a sense of justice grounded in Judaism should find problems with how Israel has acted.
Eric A Finkelstein/Laurie Zuckerman: The Fattening of America: How the Economy Makes Us Fat, If It Matters, and What to Do About It (2008, Wiley): Another obesity rant, with some economics thrown in to spoil your appetite.
Dan Fleshler: Transforming America's Israel Lobby: The Limits of Its Power and the Potential for Change (2009, Potomac Books): About J Street, the relatively peaceable alternative to hyperhawkish Isreal lobby AIPAC. Phillip Weiss gave the book a nice plaudit, so I checked Fleshler's website and found him trying to put distance between himself and "assimilationist" Weiss. That sort of attitude strikes me as too much trouble to bother with. It's OK that some people think they can be Zionists and for peace at the same time. The problem is when they break their vows for peace to prove they're still Zionists in good standing.
Saul Friedländer: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1933-1945 (abridged edition, paperback, 2009, Harper Perennial): Two previous books -- The Years of Persecution: 1933-1939 and The Years of Extermination: 1939-1945 -- slimmed down to 512 pages.
Leslie H Gelb: Power Rules: How Common Sense Can Rescue American Foreign Policy (2009, Harper Collins): One of those select foreign policy mandarins who figures his vast experience qualifies him to tell us how to run the world. You'd think that his previous book, The Irony of Vietnam: The System Worked, would have permanently put him out to pasture.
Bernard Goldberg: A Slobbering Love Affair: The True (and Pathetic) Story of the Torrid Romance Between Barack Obama and the Mainstream Media (2009, Regnery): Front cover also includes "presents" after Goldberg, and "Starring Barack Obama" below the title line. When in doubt, blame the media. The same thing could have been written about McCain, Bush, or Reagan -- on any of those a more judicious writer than Goldberg still would have had little trouble topping the 184 pages behind this quickie.
Germaine Greer: Shakespeare's Wife (paperback, 2009, Harper Perennial): Famed feminist author of The Female Eunuch dusts off that old degree in Elizabethan drama -- not for the first time; she's also written Shakespeare: A Very Short Introduction. Admittedly, very little is known about the real Ann Hathaway, but that hasn't prevented much from being written, and that in itself is fodder enough for a critic so skilled as slicing through sexual presumptions.
William Greider: Come Home, America: The Rise and Fall (and Redeeming Promise) of Our Country (2009, Rodale): Seems like a fairly general political opinion tome, but Greider's been way up on the learning curve for a long time now; e.g., he wrote the first important book on the Federal Reserve Bank way back in 1987: Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country. He tackled globalization a decade later in One World, Ready or Not: The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism, and immediately followed that up with Fortress America: The American Military and the Consequences of Peace.
Farah Jasmine Griffin/Salim Washington: Clawing at the Limits of Cool: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and the Greatest Jazz Collaboration Ever (2008, Thomas Dunne): An important group, especially once they picked up on George Russell's modal thing and recorded Kind of Blue, but both key musicians did much more pathbreaking work later. Maybe you could say that separately they finally broke through the limits of cool. Griffin has a previous book on Billy Holiday: If You Can't Be Free, Be a Mystery: In Search of Billie Holiday.
Ethan S Harris: Ben Bernanke's Fed: The Federal Reserve After Greenspan (2008, Harvard Business School): Seems a little premature to sum up Bernanke, especially since he's been through much more since this book appeared than before, but you can understand the urge to put Alan Greenspan behind us.
Gwen Ifill: The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama (2009, Doubleday): Seemed like an obvious subject for the most prominent black reporter on television -- she can claim a breakthrough or two on her own. Also seems likely to be slight: I haven't seen any evidence of her getting sharper in the last few years, even with subjects as easy as Bush and Cheney let alone as subtle and discerning as Obama.
Lawrence Lessig: Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy (2008, Oxford University Press): Interesting guy. First appeared on my radar during the Microsoft antitrust case, where he was thrashed for being a Mac user. Didn't seem all that promising then, but he's gone on a tear on copyright law, one of the few people who maintains a sensitivity to common interests in a world dominated by private interests. Remix is not only a point where interests conflict -- it's a point where rights holders can strangle creativity, not to mention free speech.
Mark R Levin: Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto (2009, Threshold Editions): Yet another right-wing radio talk show blowhard, currently on top of the bestseller lists. I suppose someone could write a cogent and logical "conservative manifesto" but I doubt that the same person would spend much time railing against someone named Barack Milhouse Nobama.
Leon F Litwack: How Free Is Free?: The Long Death of Jim Crow (2009, Harvard University Press): Short lecture by a historian who's been tracking this beat his whole career. The sad thing is that America keeps giving Litwack new things to write about.
Kevin Mattson: Rebels All!: A Short History of the Conservative Mind in Postwar America (2008, Rutgers University Press): Argues that the new right picked up and ran with the bad manners of the 1960s new left. Not sure what that proves, or even suggets. Mattson has a bunch of books: Upton Sinclair and the Other American Century; Intellectuals in Action: The Origins of the New Left and Radical Liberalism, 1945-1970; When America Was Great: The Fighting Faith of Postwar Liberalism. The latter appears to be the one closest to his heart.
Chris McGowan/Ricardo Pessanha: The Brazilian Sound: Samba, Bossa Nova, and the Popular Music of Brazil (revised edition, paperback, 2008, Temple University Press): New edition of one of the more highly regarded surveys of Brazilian music. The sort of thing I ought to be reading to improve my spotty knowledge of one of the most important music scenes in the world.
Adam Michaelson: The Foreclosure of America: The Inside Story of the Rise and Fall of Countrywide Home Loans, the Mortgage Crisis, and the Default of the American Dream (2009, Berkley): The subprime mortage meltdown, as told by a Senior VP of Marketing at Countrywide, the nation's largest subprime racketeer. Many reviewers claim that it's shallow and self-serving.
Steven P Miller: Billy Graham and the Rise of the Republican South (2009, University of Pennsylvania Press): Graham emerged during my childhood as America's most prominent spokesman for generic christianity and parlayed that into a career of hobnobbing with presidents -- Nixon was his triumph, but the Bushes both have Billy Graham stories in their press kits. Graham managed to get throught he civil rights era without being associated with either side -- a slick move that helped Republicans suck up the white south without getting tarred by segregationist violence -- and he was always useful promoting American wars abroad. I grew up thinking him a fraud from the beginning, and found more reasons to despise him over the years. No one has done more to muddy the separation of church and state. No one has done more to turn christianity into a venal career strategy -- useful and never inconvenient for politicians.
Benny Morris: One State, Two States: Resolving the Israel/Palestine Conflict (2009, Yale University Press): A history of various speculations and proposals to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict. Morris was a respectable historian who did much to document the expulsions and massacres during Israeli's 1948 War of Independence, but he later turned into an extreme apologist for Ehud Barak and an advocate of further transfers. This comes through quickly in the first few pages of the book.
Neil Weinstock Netanel: Copyright's Paradox (2008, Oxford University Press): Another take on the troubled relationship of copyright law and free speech. Lawrence Lessig recommends this.
Alex Perry: Falling off the Edge: Travels Through the Dark Heart of Globalization (2008, Bloomsbury Press): Probably a hint that the front cover depicts swarthy soldiers in camouflage uniforms: globalization here seems to be only tangentially economic. Perry works for Time magazine, based in Africa, but ranges far and wide.
James Petras: Zionism, Militarism and the Decline of US Power (paperback, 2008, Clarity Press): Short (188 pp), basically a digest of other books by the author -- e.g., The Power of Israel in the United States, Rulers and Ruled in the US Empire: Bankers, Zionists, and Militants -- a name I recognize but never read much. (Seems to me he mostly wrote about US impact in/on Latin America.)
Clay Risen: A Nation on Fire: America in the Wake of the King Assassination (2009, Wiley): A close look at ten days around Martin Luther King's assassination and the subsequent ghetto riots -- ten days bracketed by LBJ's withdrawal from the presidential election and his signing of the 1968 Civil Rights Act.
Jessica Snyder Sachs: Good Germs, Bad Germs: Health and Survival in a Bacterial World (paperback, 2008, Hill & Wang): Tries to sort out numerous issues relating to the interactions between people and bacteria.
Jim Sheeler: Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives (2008, Penguin Press): Short bios, stories, and/or obits of dead US soldiers from the Iraq war. One way of accounting for the costs, but only one.
Ken Silverstein: Turkmeniscam: How Washington Lobbyists Fought to Flack for a Stalinist Dictatorship (2008, Random House): Pretty much the real life version of a Doonesbury story line about Duke flacking for an unpronounceable, unspeakably vile dictator. Most of what I know about Turkmenistan comes from Robert D Kaplan's books -- not the most reliable source, but plausible enough in this case.
Jessica Valenti: The Purity Myth: How America's Obsession with Virginity Is Hurting Young Women (2009, Seal Press): "The United States is obsessed with virginity -- from the media to schools to government agencies." Really? Obsessed with sex, sure, but even that has moved into more jaded angles. I thought the whole point of the Sarah Palin episode was that premarital sex is fine as long as you keep the baby.
Gore Vidal; Jay Parini, ed: The Selected Essays of Gore Vidal (2008, Doubleday): I've seen complaints that 21 of 24 essays are redundant, having previously appeared in United States: Essays 1952-1992 -- a collection with 1312 pages vs. 480 here. There's also The Last Empire: Essays 1992-2000 adding another 480 pages to United States. And he hasn't exactly been quiescent since Bush II took office, with essays like Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace and Dreaming War: Blood for Oil in the Cheney-Bush Junta swelling to book length. He's the last of a generation of novelists who cut their first books in the crucible of WWII -- Mailer, Jones, Heller, Vonnegut -- and all the more valuable for that.
Chad Ward: An Edge in the Kitchen: The Ultimate Guide to Kitchen Knives -- How to Buy Them, Keep Them Razor Sharp, and Use Them Like a Pro (2008, William Morrow): Very detailed book on knives and sharpening. The latter is a big problem I have, and something I'd like to get under control. Maybe I should get this?
Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:
Nicholson Baker: Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization (2008; paperback, 2009, Simon & Schuster): Short vignettes, framed like newspaper clippings, spread out in chronological order up to the end of 1941, by which time the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and the US had entered into the most horrific war of all time. Traces the growth of barbarism, and the inability of pacifists to stop it -- a key point being that no one else tried. An extraordinary book. [Book Page]
Michael T Klare: Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy (2008; paperback, 2009, Holt): Much trouble and turmoil over which power gets what, especially oil. [Book Page]
Ahmed Rashid: Descent into Chaos: The US and the Disaster in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia (2008; paperback, 2009, Penguin): An important book on what has happened since 2001 in Afghanistan and Pakistan (and to a far lesser extent the former SSRs in central Asia), especially due to the US War on Terrorism, occupying Afghanistan and meddling in Pakistan. Recommended. [Book Page]
James Gustave Speth: The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability (2008; paperback, 2009, Yale University Press): One of the few books to question how our whole economy impacts the environment, and how the economy obstructs our doing anything about it. [Book Page]
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
When I get anything done at all, it winds up being little things. A fair list of them today: screwed the toe kick boards into the south wall cabinet, working around the HVAC duct; hooked up the electrical receptacles in the other two; painted the end piece shelving (a set of 3-inch boards currently hung on the end; another end piece will be added, enclosing the light switch); cut out the pantry baseboards (actually, Matt did that); painted bathroom/pantry baseboards; put new hinges on pantry cabinet; caulked gap behind pantry cabinet; painted the spice rack unit; added a handle to one of the pull-out surface boards. The painting is almost all first coat, with at least one more needed. I'll probably install the baseboards after two, then touch them up in place.
The wiring thing was a personal breakthrough. Shouldn't have been much, but Kelly did the previous cabinet wiring, and my help to the electricians was mostly limited to chopping holes, pulling wire, and cleaning up. Got confused at first, and went very slow. Had a lot of trouble getting the wires crammed into the boxes. Then I powered the circuit on, tested it, and got a neutral open on both receptacles, so I had to troubleshoot that. The circuit runs to a junction box, then splits with one string of outlets going one way, my string another way. Turns out that Kelly had hooked all the wires together using push-on wire nuts, and the neutral to my leg wasn't in snug enough. It would probably be best to redo the hot and neutral junctions, but there was very little wire to work with, so for now I just stripped off a bit more insulation and pushed the loose wire in tight. Turned it on and it checked out. Makes me feel better both about my own connections and my ability to understand the system. I have a few more wiring tasks to do soon, so this should be me going.
More little things coming up. Cabinet guy comes over tomorrow to talk about the pantry unit door. Still need to design the pull-outs behind the spice rack, and the drawers under the pantry countertop. Need to figure out how to keep stuff from sliding when you open the pantry unit door. Need to shop for the stainless steel countertop -- probably the single biggest thing left.
Jazz Consumer Guide (19): Surplus
I only have so much space for each Jazz Consumer Guide column: normally it works out to a little less than 1500 words, which if I write compactly comes out to about 30 albums. On the other hand, I consider 7-10 times that many albums each column cycle. Jazz Prospecting counts 230 albums this round, down from a record 293 last time. Then there were the records prospected and left over from the previous cycle: in this case, 117 albums, not counting the two dozen or so I had already written up. Reducing 300-some albums down to 30 means discarding the overwhelming majority: anything bad unless it's notable enough to be a dud, everything run-of-the-mill, some things I just can't think of anything to write about. This round, of 230 prospects 132 went straight into the surplus file with no further comment. Still, that left many more records than I could use, so I wind up having to cut a lot of pretty good records. I often do the latter at the end of the cycle: after I've used what I can now, and usually have a pretty hefty overstock planned for next time (or the time after), I can go through the rest and ask myself what the odds are that I can ever get around to a given album. If the answer is slim to none, I add it to the surplus file -- preferably, writing a little consolation note. Last time I pretty much skipped this stage, so the surplus was very thin and the carryover was excessive. This time I did the opposite: I spent most of two weeks going back over the records I had kept under consideration, played them again, and then forced myself to either write a Jazz CG review -- mostly one-line Honorable Mentions -- or a surplus file note. The surplus files are in some ways the lucky ones: they get a note posted now, whereas the others will likely wait 3-6 months before they show up in a Jazz Consumer Guide.
The final surplus file is here; the final prospecting file is here. I'll leave it to you to figure out where the draft files are and what is provisionally scheduled for this and the next Jazz CG, although one cannot be certain until the things actually run.
Meanwhile, here are the surplus file notes on the most notable albums that got axed at this stage:
[see surplus file for list]
Jazz Consumer Guide (19): Surplus Notes
Let's go ahead and clean out the "flush" file: the rough notes on all the records that got cut during this cycle:
Monday, April 20, 2009
George A. Mathiasen
Obit in the Wichita Eagle published today:
George was a longtime close friend of my brother's. I met him when I moved back to Wichita from St. Louis c. 1974, or maybe on a visit slightly earlier. Funny guy, could be intense, was a strong union man. Smoked more than anyone I ever met, which took its toll later on, although I heard that asbestos exposure also had something to do with it. Heard about him every now and then when I was living in the east, but didn't see him until March 2000 when my father died. He was a pallbearer. Showed up in a smart suit. Looked like he had lost a lot of weight, his health already failing. Last time I saw him was three months later, at my mother's funeral. He had retired and moved to a farm near Winfield, 15-20 miles out of town. Heard things every now and then -- my brother went down there often to check up on him. Nobody expected him to last this long. It's been a long, brutal period. Good thing we can remember better times.
Music: Current count 15263  rated (+2), 786  unrated (+7). Spent the whole week -- at least the part of it I could spare to listen to music -- sifting through the done file, writing up a few Jazz Consumer Guide reviews for future use, writing up a good deal more entries for today's surplus post. I was happier doing this the previous week, up from finishing a Jazz Consumer Guide column, pleased by playing good records all week. Less so this week, and I'll be glad to move on next week.
No Jazz Prospecting
No Jazz Prospecting this week either. Like last week, I spent my spare time this week listening to previously rated records. In some cases I wrote up reviews -- mostly one-line Honorable Mentions. Two of them I slipped into the otherwise finished Jazz CG (19) draft because they relate closely to other records there. In many more cases I wrote up notes (below), my way of explaining or apologizing for not figuring out a way to work worthy records into the way too infrequently published column. I've cut back much further than usual this time. As it is, I have something like 23 A-list and 41 Honorable Mention records already written up for next column -- some 2500 words, where 1500 is normally more than enough. More new records come all the time, so the idea that I can still squeeze more old records in is laughable. The notices below are the best I can do.
Aside from the 64 reviews held back, there are still 40+ rated records in play. There are also 178 records in the queue, a couple dozen prospected and held back for further play, the rest unplayed (or at least unprospected). Jazz Prospecting should return next week as I start to dig into those. A Jazz Consumer Guide should appear sometime late May, reflecting the just-closed round. The next one could be closed any time, but mostly likely won't run in the Village Voice for several more months. Space there always seems to be shrinking, part of the ever shrinking print world.
I will post the surplus notes later today, or worst case tomorrow. I'm still picking myw ay through the lists, trying to tie up loose ends, but I'm also getting anxious to move on to something else.
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Richard Silverstein: Obama's Tough Love to Bibi: I've seen several references to a recent piece in Yedioth Ahronoth leaking the notion that Obama will push Israel hard to implement a two state solution -- i.e., an independent, viable Palestinian state. This post provides the broadest and most plausible information. In particular, it cites Rahm Emanuel as the source, which not only makes some sense but also puts some weight behind the story. The one part that I don't see is the notion that there would be a quid pro quo: in exchange for Israel dismantling some settlements, Obama would take on the Iranian nuclear program bugaboo. I don't see any value to mixing the issues, least of all to stroke Netanyahu's apocalyptic rhetoric. There have been signs that Obama is willing to accept Iran's enrichment program under greater transparency, which is a position that is generally regarded as legal and sound under the NPT. It also matches Iran's stated goals, so is something they'd be hard pressed not to agree to. Make that deal and the Iran nuclear problem goes away, and with it Israel's main distraction from the real issue. Of course, there will be more distractions, and Obama will have to hang tough to keep Israel and AIPAC from pushing him around. He will need to be discreet, and he will need to continuously frame the issue in terms of Israel's oft-stated, never-acted-upon, desire for peace, security, and international respect. So if this is true -- and that's still a big if -- I don't expect we'll see his hand tipped much more than in leaks like this. Either way, no reason to let up on the critique. People need to talk about how intransigent and unreasonable Israel is, especially with the evidence so abundant.
Stephen M Walt: Can the United States put pressure on Israel?: A user's guide: Outlines a number of options Obama has to nudge Israel into a more reasonable direction. One I particularly like would be to give Europe a green light to stake out more critical positions of Israel. For the most part, European governments have followed the US lead -- e.g., in boycotting Hamas and blockading Gaza -- where popular politics would be far more critical of Israel, so this could be done with very little blame for the change blowing back on Obama. A number of subtle changes in rhetoric would also make a difference. Courting more moderate Jewish organizations than AIPAC would not only provide cover -- it might make AIPAC more cautious. Israel itself is very fractured politically, with Kadima -- which at this point seems more interested in two states than Labor -- holding a block outside the government slightly larger than Likud. The Netanyahu-Lieberman coalition could easily break, losing support from religious parties like Shas that are more sensitive to which way the wind is blowing. It's also worth noting that the Bush administration used number 4 ("downgrade existing arrangements for 'strategic cooperation'") to keep Sharon on track on withdrawing from Gaza, without raising any conspicuous hackles. Even AIPAC's power is to a large extent bluff, maintained by not picking fights they might easily lose.
Helena Cobban: Mitchell revs up mission: Quite a bit of detail on former Senator George Mitchell's mission as Obama's senior negotiator in the Israel/Palestine arena. Nothing here specifically makes me optimistic, although it is good news that they don't seem to be falling for the Syrian track canard. (Students of history will recall Ehud Barak trying that one back in 1998-99, putting off the final status negotiations with Arafat until they were set to fail. The Syrian track failed too, when Barak pulled out of a nearly final deal.)
One more thing: if Mitchell, et al., work out a deal, they will have to persevere through some very testing personal encounters. One need only go back to Jimmy Carter's Camp David experience with Menachem Begin, who nearly walked out on several occasions, and would no doubt would not have signed except for the more moderate counsel of advisers like Moshe Dayan. It's hard to say whether Netanyahu is more or less unhinged than Begin, but he's certainly more duplicitous: he spent his first term making promises on Oslo and systematically undercutting them. Clinton had less trouble with Barak, but that's because Clinton gave Barak everything -- most notably a round of failed talks that they both blamed on Arafat. Given how sycophantic American politicians are to Israel, Clinton's course is the easy one to follow, and one sure to fail. Obama's people don't seem to take failure lightly, but they're going to be tested here.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Playing the Angles
Andrew Leonard: The prophets of doom: A parting gift before Leonard went off on vacation: thumbnail sketches of 14 economists, bloggers, businessfolk, and politicians down on Obama's team's economic game plan: mostly because the stimulus isn't big enough and/or the bankers are getting too much gravy and too little castor oil -- the True Republicans, of course, are exceptions, gravitating on a plane in some other universe. Paul Krugman leads off, followed by Greg Mankiw for symmetry, then Simon Johnson for something else. Some pundits are out of my orbit, while other names could easily be added: letters writers nominated Joseph Stiglitz, and Paul Craig Roberts wrote in nominating himself. Actually, none of these people (well, except Michele Bachmann) strike me as true prophets of doom -- that would be more like James Howard Kunstler. They just recognize that the economy has gotten into a bigger mess than the politicians are able to grasp. Not a great analysis, but a useful cribsheet.
Paul Krugman: Green Shoots and Glimmers: On why a little optimism on the economy at this point isn't likely to be enjoyed. Four reasons:
Seems true to me. I might even say cautiously optimistic. Part of the reason Obama's people have started to play up positive news is that they recognize that psychology is a player in this game. That's also good reason to be skeptical of what they say, and what others in the business say. The problem is likely to come when they feel compelled to back up their optimism by changing course.
One thing I've seen nobody talking about is the Republicans' death wish. I suppose that's because it's so easy and satisfying to focus on how stupid they are, but one thing they've always been able to keep focused on in the past is political edge. They know, for instance, that when they are in power, the economy had better not tank on their watch, or like Bush I it's likely to be a short one. On the other hand, the best route back to power when a Democrat is president is to choke the economy, as happened to Carter. The Republicans stoned Clinton's stimulus in 1993, but the economy recovered anyway. They tried to do the same to Obama in 2009, but in 2001 when their own goose was getting cooked, they cried out for all the stimulus they could get -- especially in the form of tax cuts. If principles mattered to them this would be mere hypocrisy. Now, there behavior is more like sabotage.
The Wichita Eagle had two front page articles today: one on a projected $328 million shortfall in the Kansas state budget due to the economic downturn; the other on $18 million worth of construction projects in the Wichita area that will be built with stimulus money that we couldn't otherwise afford. One of the local Republicans was quoted griping about piling up all of that debt, a complaint they were never able to voice back when Bush launched his trillion dollar bonfire in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Friday, April 17, 2009
Anshel Pfeffer: IDF planning largest-ever drill to prepare Israel for war. I've been pointing out the chasm between the ever-fearful Israeli public and the ever-arrogant Israeli security establishment. This is a good example of how the two work:
The exercise is modelled on "conventional and non-conventional warheads, fired by Hezbollah, Syria or Hamas," but it's easy to see Iran lurking behind that list -- indeed, that's the big point that Israeli politicians have been harping on for several years now, so nobody will see these exercises and not think Iran. The real chance of any such attack depends exclusively on what Israel does. Hamas is no threat: their tiny rockets are messages, their way of pointing out that they're still here, and that the walls that lock them in aren't nearly high enough. In any case, Israel can turn them off with a cease fire and ending the Gaza blockade. Hezbollah foolishly thought that having rockets would deter Israel from attacking Lebanon. They've only used them in retaliation for Israeli attacks, which is to say that Israel can turn them on or off at will. And Syria hasn't raised a finger against Israel since the 1973 war. And Iran has never threatened Israel. Aside from some harsh words, the worst they've done is to provide Hezbollah with rockets that lay dormant until Israel attacked.
One problem with such readiness exercises, like the 1950s fad in the US for bomb shelters, is that they make worst case scenarios slightly more likely by making them more expected and comfortable. But the key point is that they drive home nascent fears, reminding Israelis of their urgent need for protection from the same security forces that are their own most dangerous threat. Israelis are caught in a cycle of fear and fury, driving the country ever further to the right, ever closer to the brink.
Philip Weiss: Palestinian resident of Bil'in killed during weekly nonviolent protest against the Wall. Not the first one, either: the bulk of the post lists 17 others killed in demonstrations at the Wall. I suppose you could argue that these shootings show Israeli nervousness at being challenged with nonviolent protests; consequently, that the Israeli security forces would prefer provoking a shooting confrontation. Moreover, the lesson of these killings is that nonviolent protest is futile: the only thing that impressed Israelis is armed force. Over the years, Palestinians have tried nonviolence, and they have tried violence, and neither has worked. Nonviolence has the advantage of not compounding the injury, but only works if there is some higher power to appeal to -- e.g., the civil rights movement in the US south appealed to the federal government; South Africans appealed to world opinion. Israel has kept nonviolent protest ineffective by neutralizing or confusing world opinion, and a very effective tactic for doing that has been to drive protesters to violence. But such callous tactics just remind us what the conflict is really about.
Still, it's doubtful that killing nonviolent protesters at the Wall is part of any Israeli master plan, even the one they seem to have to piss the whole world off. Rather, it's the all but inevitable result of engendering so much fear and loathing in their citizen population. Israel has by far the world's most effective draft system (excepting non-Jews and ultra-Jews), so the fears and hatreds that keep the militarists in power come back in the form of heavily armed young soldiers, routinely assigned to monitor protests and checkpoints, where they are largely on their own. Israel used to make a big point about the morality and discipline of their army, that that's worn down to the point where few soldiers ever get disciplined for anything -- the latest Gaza war is full of stories like this. Americans should know this dynamic well: look at Vietnam and Iraq, at how rarely soldiers were punished for atrocities like My Lai and Abu Ghraib, and at the outcry against even that. Even if the success of the mission critically depends on the discipline to avoid such disasters, the cohesion of the corps prevents infractions from being effectively punished.
Helena Cobban: Gaza Changed Everything, But Its People Still Suffer. Useful report on what the December war did to Gaza, and to Israel, judging from three months later.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Got together with Matt at the lumber yard and picked up a bunch of molding. It's been impossible for me to stuff anything 8-feet long into my car. His is the same thing rigged up as a wagon, so with the front seat folded down he has just enough space. Also ripped a piece of 1/4-inch plywood into two long strips. Thinking I might be able to use them for drawer bottoms.
Tried to get the south wall cabinets attached to the wall. Got to the point of having a bracket ready for screws: gives me two brackets on the left unit, one on the right, with the center unit screwed to both sides. Not ideal, but should work. I would have finished, but touched up the paint on top instead, and decided to let it dry. Also figured out how to attach the corner pantry unit to the wall. It was supposed to slide back behind some molding on the orthogonal wall, but while the measurements weren't too bad, the wall had enough curve in it to throw everything else. Marked the molding, pulled it off, and free cut it with a jigsaw. Shimmed up the unit to get it vertical. Now need to figure out where the studs are and screw a couple of brackets in.
I finally decided that the plaster on the dropped ceiling over the range, around the range hood, is good enough. Hard call, as it's barely true, but I was getting real tired of slapping more mud on and sanding it off, with all the mess that entails right on top of the stove. Put some primer on it last night. Sanded some more today, straightening up some of the ugliest spots. Put some blue paint on it today. Will add another coat tomorrow. It's been an eyesore for months now. Looks much better.
Matt cut up the new baseboards for the bathroom, and cleaned up some of the old oak baseboards for the dining room. I figure we'll paint them before installing. They're ready for paint. I cut some wood for the end panel, which will give us a couple of 3-inch-wide shelves and a hidden pod for the light switch. Made a stupid error there: cut two 42-inch boards for the backs, then accidentally consumed one of them cutting the shelves, leaving me one short. I'm hoping I can use two shorter boards for one of the backs; otherwise I'll have to cut out a longer board. Will be hard to see, but it's still pretty Mickey Mouse.
Thought I'd fix some dinner in between house tasks, with Matt here and others coming over. Made chicken and biscuits, green beans -- stuff I was able to prep before we started, then just had to pop the biscuits in the oven and reheat the beans. More or less worked, but kitchen isn't ready for production, and we don't have anyplace to sit down and eat, and it was a little disruptive in terms of the real work. Maybe not a good idea. Hard for me to judge, as today was a really bad allergy day for me.
Used Tea Bags
Mike Madden: "On 9/11, I think they hit the wrong building": I have to admit, in the whole run-up to the April 15 conservative "tea parties" I missed the whole meme. If you're going to invoke a historical analogy, try to pick one that makes some sense in terms of what you're trying to do now. The Boston Tea Party, after all, wasn't about taxation: it was about representation, or more precisely the lack of representation, which meant that Americans were unable to defend their interests in the British Parliament. On second thought, I suppose you could argue that the right-wing is lacking representation these days, but that's because they've been losing elections right and left, not because there were no elections available to test their ideas and accomplishments.
Of course, this sort of rampant cluelessness has been constant for the Republicans ever since Bush handed the keys to the party off to Rush Limbaugh. That's basically an energize-the-base move, in theory anyhow, although it's hard to distinguish it from diving over the deep end. Losing the public battle to Obama, their only recourse is to yell louder: last year Obama was merely the most liberal member of the Senate; now he's a socialist -- although I've also seen "tea party" signs arguing that he's a fascist, and as the GOP shrinks and loses its sense of decorum, the crowd that always figured him for a Muslim Jihadi have become more prominent. In any case it beats talking about the economy, where they are incapable of understanding the problem and unwilling to consider the need for a solution. Sure, they score an occasional point with their let-them-fail rhetoric, but only as long as you ignore the consequences. But then they've always been in favor of letting everyone fail, especially the poor. Still, they've managed to catch one break since Obama got elected: there's no chance any of their dumb ideas will be implemented, so people won't see how bad they really are. But we kind of got the point with eight years of George Bush, didn't we?
Paul Krugman: Tea Parties Forever. Same basic points. Notes how the "parties" were organized by old right wing money. The Wichita Eagle today reported that they had 1000 at the event in Wichita. The leaders were complaining about the stimulus bill, but the cadres just griped about taxes and how government wasn't working for them. You can read that as either a big or small turnout. We had about that many people show up for the Democratic Party caucus last year in just one precinct.
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Why a Military?
Don Bacon: Why a Military? This doesn't go much deeper than Smedley Butler's insight that war is a racket, but in this day when a $535 billion defense budget -- not counting the money spent on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the money spent on atom bombs, the CIA's clandestine operations, or even the VA's outlays to patch up the wounded -- is seen by stimulus-phobic Republicans as woefully inadequate it's good that someone raises such a basic question. The United States proper scarcely needs any military defense -- maybe a Coast Guard to deal with smuggling, some Homeland Security to deal with terror plots (not that there are many) and border patrol. You can proove this by looking at how the military allocates its resources. Bases in the US are more for logistics backup and politics than for staging any sort of defense. Everything else is directed toward American "interests" elsewhere, which are difficult to state except in terms of protecting the military's own bloated, self-important posture.
In general, we live in a world where great powers have lost their appetite for empire. Europe, which up to 1945 was the main source of worldwide aggression, and Japan, which came late to imperialism but joined in wholeheartedly, have all but disarmed. Russia, China, India, and Pakistan (and maybe you can add Iran and Turkey) get nervous about their borders, but don't look very far beyond. The fear that China might develop as a world power to rival the US is mostly the paranoid fantasy of American think-tankers who have nothing better to do. Every nation on that list is more concerned with economic integration into the world than with expanding its borders. As for the so-called rogue states, what's made them rogues is deliberate exclusion from the world economy dictated by the US. Those nations are more useful to the military as threats than they are to the private sector as investments and trade opportunities, so the US has no reason to lessen conflicts with them.
Then there are to socalled failed states. Historically, they've been of no interest to US foreign policy, because the military can't do anything with them, and the private sector doesn't see any worthwhile profits there -- except maybe for the gunrunners. If anything, the military is more likely to cause a failed state than to cure one. Maybe something can be done through the UN, through NGOs, etc., but all depends on a nation's ability to restore order, which necessarily must be local. Once some order is established, the rest of the world can help out in various ways, if so inclined. But US foreign policy has always been based on interests, not on any sort of ideals, so it's hard to see us having much to offer.
Then there's the problem with the military that virtually no one ever brings up: its impact on domestic politics. The bigger the military, the more militarized the society becomes, the more politics is shifted toward the right: away from social needs, economic justice, things normal people would like to have along with peace. The undoing of the Democrats both during the Vietnam War and throughout the postwar period came from their failure to understand this simple fact. No matter how many plaudits Obama gets as Commander in Chief -- as he did this week with the Somali pirates episode -- his presidency will succeed or fail primarily on his ability to get and keep us out of war. Leading off with a Defense budget $25 billion more than Bush's largest ever isn't a good step.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Got a little work done after yesterday's entry. First tried to assemble the spice rack cabinet. Cut out the base front for an electric receptacle, then tried gluing it and the bottom shelf to the side boards. Since I wasn't using biscuits of anything to help join the boards, I thought I'd shoot a few nails in. When two curved out the front, I realized that was a dumb idea. Tore them all apart, clipped off the nails, and tried re-gluing them. Put about six clamps on the thing. I'll still have to putty and sand to clean up the mess -- assuming it all holds together. I may wind up having to drive some screws in. Also have a middle shelf and a top board to wedge in. Not sure just how I'm going to do them. I'd hate to have to scrap the boards, even though they're pretty close to that.
Started to lay out the 3-inch spacers for the south wall cabinet facade, and found out that the door jamb is so crooked they won't fit over the bottom three feet stretch. Didn't like the prospect of trimming another 1/4 (or maybe 5/16) inch off. Took a look at the door trim and wondered if I could trim it back. Considered various saws, sanders, and planes, none of which fit in place nicely, then took a chisel to it. Worked pretty quickly, although it will still require some smoothing. Finally, sanded down the mud on the range peninsula ceiling pod, and patched in a little more wherever I saw little dips. Looks pretty good. Good chance one more sanding will get it ready to paint.
Walls and Mirages
In a sign that I'm finally getting back into my old swing of things, I managed to thumb my way through the entire April 30, 2009 issue of The New York Review of Books. Two important articles, cited below, are on-line. Two more book reviews are worth noting: I dealt with Michael Massing's review of Thomas Ricks' The Gamble in a previous post. For notes on Adam Kirsch's review of Philipp Blom's The Vertigo Years: Europe, 1900-1914, see the book page here. One of these days I should go back to the half-dozen or so recent issues that I virtually missed.
David Hare: Wall: A Monologue. Starts with this:
Hare goes on to carefully turn over many aspects of Israel's separation fence/racial segregation wall -- the translations he provides from the Hebrew and Arabic terms for the wall -- but this 84% is a haunting number. More than anything else, the wall is an attempt to solve a problem that is primarily psychic (or should I say psychiatric?): that 84% of Israelis feel the need for a barrier to separate them from the hostile world all around them means that 84% of Israelis are deeply fearful of that world. The hostility, of course, is truly there, but it's mostly the blowback from Israeli actions, and as such could be mitigated greatly by a change in tactics and attitude. Even so, the real, everyday danger to Israelis is statistically marginal, trivial even. But Israel's tactics aren't based on real needs -- the sense of normalcy that Hare cites most Israelis as desiring. They're based on paranoid fantasies that have been inculcated by 60 years of Israelis believing their own propaganda about how vulnerable and helpless they are.
We've seen this for a long time. One of the most striking things from Tom Segev's book 1967 is how vulnerable most Israelis felt even while their military leaders were little short of cocky. That not only played well as propaganda; it offered a huge psychic lift when Israel prevailed in the 1967 war. Ever since then Israelis have lurched back and forth between dread and euphoria, never finding their way back to reality. One thing that keeps reality at bay is that it is all so self-centered: Israelis seem to have lost the ability (which actually no one is very good at) to see how things look to other people. Consider the West Bank settlements:
There is much debate on whether the fence/wall has provided Israelis with any security at all. One can cite figures on fewer suicide bombers, but it's worth noting that with no fence/wall there were no suicide bombers in the first year-plus of Ehud Barak's government. Instead, there was hope that Barak would resume the Oslo peace process stalled by Netanyahu -- a hope that proved false, leading to the al-Aqsa intifada. Levels of violence have more to do with tactical shifts than anything else: any sense of cooperation and hope reduces the violence much more than anything unilateral Israel can do. But when Palestinians choose to strike back at Israel, about all the fence/wall does is to force a change in tactics: e.g., from suicide bombers to rockets. As we've seen in the last year, Israeli paranoia over qassam rocket attacks near Gaza reached fever pitch, leading up to the brutal siege in December -- during which Israel lost more soldiers to their own friendly fire than Gaza's rockets had killed.
Mark Danner: The Red Cross Torture Report: What It Means. Long piece on what Philippe Sands calls "the torture team." This isn't something that particularly interests me, but is more likely to bring Cheney, Rumsfeld, et al., to the attention of international criminal courts than their even grosser war crimes. Danner has been following it -- has a book on the subject, and will no doubt write another. (Turns out this is part two of an even longer piece; part one is here. Together they're about the size of those short broadside booklets NYRB publishes, like Danner's own The Secret Way to War.)
Monday, April 13, 2009
Very surprised that I haven't done one of these since March 25. Not that I have a lot to report. For instance, the last report notes that I just cut the wood for the spice racks. That wood is still unassembled and unfinished, although I expect to get to it shortly. I needed to get the drywall above the range peninsula cornered and smoothed out first. I put the corner reinforcements in. The first layer of wall joint compound looked pretty crummy, but the second layer looks more promising. I need to sand that down today, and will probably need to add another coat before it is all reasonably smooth. It looked daunting at first, but now looks doable.
Lots of little things remain. Most should be easy. We ordered some shades for the dining room. Took a long time to come in. I put one up, which was easy enough. I have a fan lodged in the other window to try to exhaust paint fumes, so I've held off on installing the shade there. A lot of stuff like that will come together quickly if only I can manage to buckle down. Haven't felt well with the blooming allergy season and other ailments, and have spent a lot of time on computer, especially finishing up a Jazz Consumer Guide column, but also managing to blog a fair amount. Talked to Matt about coming back to work a couple of afternoons per week. Hasn't happened yet, but when it does I'll have to move faster.
Did absolutely nothing over the weekend, until late Sunday night. The ice maker has been wedged for several weeks. The problem was that when the ice tray would fill up with water, some of the water would leak into the ice bucket below. It would then freeze, welding the ice cubes into a solid block, preventing the screw that moves the cubes out the door from running. When I first figured this out, I ordered the suspect part, something called the ice mold and heater assembly. It came with no instructions, and it wasn't obvious how to take the ice maker apart and replace the part, so I dallied, in the meantime making do with a pure kluge: I taped a sponge to the bottom of the ice mold to catch the leaking water. That sort of worked for a while, but was all gummed up last night, and I finally got aggravated enough to tackle it.
I cautiously started to take things apart. After some prodding, the front cover popped off, revealing a front plate with three screws and a warning to turn the power off. I heeded the warning, removed the screws, pried off the wire that switches the unit off with the ice bucket is full, and found the thing still hung up on something: an electrical cable latch that proved impossible to dislodge. Eventually the unit came off with the cable attached, having pulled out from the other end. By that time it was becoming clear that I needed to move all of the frozen food to the standalone freezer, especially when a dropped screw proved hard to find. The front unit includes the thermostat and motor, as well as the wire switch and electrical connections to the heater. Behind it was a black plastic plate with two screws. I removed the screws and worked it free, revealing the ice mold, held to the side wall with two screws, and a bracket with screws on the bottom. Three pieces of plastic sat on top of the ice mold, so they all had to be popped off. For the screws, I needed a 1/4-inch hex screwdriver, the only size I couldn't find -- until I dug into a socket set and found something that would work. The ice mold turned out to be badly corroded. I screwed the new one in, and went about reversing the disassembly. One puzzle was that I was told that I'd need silicon grease to replace the ice mold, and was sold a small package, but wasn't told where to put the grease. I found an appliance repair book in Google books which had half of the answer -- they skipped the page with the other half. I put some grease between the fill spout and the plastic funnel leading into the ice mold, and around where the paddle rotates, but don't know where else it was needed. Reassembly was awkward, but I thought I got it right. I turned the electricity back on. Nothing happened at that time, so I went to bed hoping for ice in the morning. This morning, it looked like it had made just one tray, but at least that was evidence that it was working. We'll see how it holds up. I should research the grease issue further. But this has been one of the big things hanging over my head the last few weeks, so fixing it is a major relief.
Will try to update this more frequently. More importantly, will try to get something done today.
Music: Current count 15261  rated (+2), 779  unrated (+11). Spent the week finishing up Jazz Consumer Guide, listening to records that I had already rated. Got a lot done. The +2 count in the rated count were two bookkeeping errors I found.
No Jazz Prospecting
As noted last week, I decided that enough was enough, that I should close out this Jazz CG cycle before I wandered into week 14 of Jazz Prospecting. I did just that this past week, settling on a draft with 47 albums and 1755 words, holding the remainder of what I had accumulated back for next round. I had accumulated a huge pile of rated but still unreviewed albums, and spent the week sorting them out. Some I managed to review, folding in to either this or that Jazz Consumer Guide. Others I decided to drop from the pending list: for many of these I wrote up short notes for the Surplus file. This process worked out well enough that I plan on continuing one more week: replaying rated records, writing up reviews for future columns, or writing up surplus notes for the end of this round. I'll publish the surplus notes next Monday, then will resume Jazz Prospecting the week after that.
It looks like this Jazz Consumer Guide will be published in the Village Voice mid-late May. The editor's initial reaction to a second column was that, given shrinking space in the paper, the next column won't appear for another 3-4 months. That rate makes it impossible to get in everything that I'd like to cover, especially at the Honorable Mention level. I have a very long HM list this time -- 30 records. I'm thinking that what doesn't fit in the paper should at least go up on the website, where space isn't tight, rather than wait for another round that is sure to have at least that many. It would really be better to get on a more frequent schedule. Too bad that doesn't seem to work at the Voice.
In the course of re-listening, I wound up adjusting some previous grades. Wrote some notes on some of these; just noted others:
Bill Dixon: 17 Musicians in Search of a Sound: Darfur (2007 , AUM Fidelity): Thought I had this one nailed. Was so convinced it belonged in the Honorable Mentions I had a stub for it. So I play it again, and, duh? Actually, the sainted avant-garde trumpeter has always been a dicey proposition: while he can play with fire he's often been just as happy boring you stiff. He doesn't do that here, unless you turn the volume down to where nothing much happens -- even then there's one cacophony that hardly needs help from the amplifier. Still, the slow, menacing stuff is heavy and dull, and the bright spots are few and far between. The ensemble work is unruly, or maybe just disorganized. The soloists don't stand out. They are, after all, just searching for a sound, or just searching. And pray tell how Darfur is meant to inspire them: you don't know whether to cry, vent anger, or just slump into a stupor. [was: B+(***)] B
Gato Libre: Kuro (2007 , Libra): Natsuki Tamura/Satoko Fujii group, a quartet with Kazuhiko Tsumura on guitar and Norikatsu Koreyasu on bass. Fujii foregoes her piano to play accordion, which gives this group a bit of a European folk flair. I had passed on this earlier, but found it misfiled, put it on before I could look it up, and suddenly found myself hooked. [was: B+(*)] B+(***)
I also changed the grades for:
Lafayette Gilchrist: Soul Progressin' (2008, Hyena): [was: B+(***)] B+(*)
Randy Sandke: Unconventional Wisdom (2008, Arbors): [was: A-] A
Shot x Shot: Let Nature Square (2007 , High Two): [was: B+(***)] B+(**)
For this cycle's final collected Jazz Prospecting notes, look here. For this cycle, I prospected 230 records, plus considered 114 records left over from previous cycles.
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:
Saturday, April 11, 2009
Time for another bunch of new book notes. When I can (which hasn't been often lately), I spend a fair amount of time scrounging around bookstores (and somewhat less at the public library) where I scribble down the titles of books that look interesting. I go back home, look them up (at least the ones I can decipher), find some links, and make some notes -- often based on nothing more than what Amazon and its readers have to say. When I get 40 of them, I spit them out here. Actually, I have way more than 40 backlogged, so more of these will follow before long.
Nadje Al-Ali/Nicola Pratt: What Kind of Liberation?: Women and the Occupation of Iraq (2009, University of California Press): Al-Ali previously wrote Iraqi Women: Untold Stories From 1948 to the Present. Not a lot of info on this book, but the title raises a good question, one that few have looked into.
Allen Barra: Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee (2009, WW Norton): Biography, sorts out the myth and reality of the great NY Yankee catcher. One of my favorite players from my early childhood, I can still vividly recall his swing and his home run trot (in black and white, no less), and remember him from later on, managing, broadcasting, pitching ads, smiling knowingly when Joe Garagiola or Phil Rizzuto would make up a story about him. Still ticking, Berra has his own new book out: You Can Observe a Lot by Watching: What I've Learned About Teamwork From the Yankees and From Life.
Walden Bello: Dilemmas of Domination: The Unmaking of the American Empire (paperback, 2006, Holt): Picks apart the increasing thrashing of the war on terror -- more specifically the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan -- combined with the economic thrust of US global policy. Previously wrote: De-Globalization: Ideas for a New World Economy.
Zbigniew Brzezinski/Brent Scowcroft: America and the World: Conversations on the Future of American Foreign Policy (2008, Basic Books): Dialogue between two prominent brand names of foreign policy ideology, moderated by David Ignatius. How sad that it took George W Bush to make these guys look sane -- excepting Ignatius, of course.
Pratap Chatterjee: Halliburton's Army: How a Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War (2009, Nation Books): Not sure how this changed war, but it did do much to bring back the spoils system, where politically connected firms reaped cushy jobs based on little more than their proximity.
Jerry A Coyne: Why Evolution Is True (2009, Viking): Or, more or less implicitly, why creationism is crap. Sounds like a thorough brief for the defense -- a useful book, enlightening in its details even if you already accept the general notion. Amazon has a good letter from "Esk," raised as a conservative creationist, who writes how he "was entralled with the elegant simplicity and beauty and shear explanatory power of the ideas I was learning."
Gilles Dorronsoro: Revolution Unending: Afghanistan, 1979 to the Present (2005, Columbia University Press): Seems likely to be one of the clearer-headed accounts of the Afghan long war. Author wrote a sensible strategy study for Carnegie called "Focus and Exit."
Barry Eichengreen: Globalizing Capital: A History of the International Monetary System (second edition, paperback, 2008, Princeton University Press): Author previously wrote Golden Fetters: The Gold Standard and the Great Depression, 1918-1939, which may be as relevant now. This originally came out around 1996, which would put it ahead of the East Asian meltdown, reason enough for a revised edition. Has released some interesting work recently on the new depression, too.
Larry Eliott/Dan Atkinson: The Gods that Failed: How Blind Faith in Markets Has Cost Us Our Future (2008; 2009, Nation Books): Two British economics editors go after the IMF, World Bank, and WTO, the running dogs of globalization. Not sure how deep this goes into the currently deepening depression -- one could make a case that one grows naturally out of the other. Paperback previously published by Bodley Head in UK.
Steve Fraser: Every Man a Speculator: A History of Wall Street in American Life (paperback, 2006, Harper Perennial): Big history of the role Wall Street has played in American culture and history. Fraser more recently wrote the much shorter Wall Street: America's Dream Palace, along much the same lines.
Patrick French: The World Is What It Is: The Authorized Biography of VS Naipaul (2008, Knopf): A major writer and intellectual figure, born in Trinidad but rooted in India.
Betty Fussell: Raising Steaks: The Life and Times of American Beef (2008, Houghton Mifflin): Previously wrote The Story of Corn, the memoir My Kitchen Wars, and some cookbooks, including the one I consult when I cook jambalaya. Book on how beef is raised and processed today, with a sidetrip for bison. Ends with a handful of recipes.
Chaim Gans: A Just Zionism: On the Morality of the Jewish State (2008, Oxford University Press): Recommended by Jerry Haber, who blogs as The Magnes Zionist, attempting to recover and continue the more judicious Zionist thinking of Joseph Magnes and Martin Buber. Gans, therefore, accepts that a Jewish state is desirable, then explores what that should mean, which often puts him at odds with the actual Jewish State.
Duncan Hewitt: China: Getting Rich First: A Modern Social History (2008, Pegasus): Evidently focuses more on the internal upheavals caused by China's breakneck modernization than on the usual themes of superpower envy. Clearly, a lot of things are happening fast over there, and they are likely to defy most of our expectations.
Ann Jones: Kabul in Winter: Life Without Peace in Afghanistan (paperback, 2007, Picador): An NGO relief worker who arrived in Kabul after the US liberated the country. Descries what she saw, especially focusing on what it's meant for Aghan women: not a pretty picture.
David Kilcullen: The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One (2009, Oxford University Press): Australian military theoretician, has some experience as a counterinsurgency advisor to Petraeus. Accidental guerrillas are locals who wouldn't be fighting but pick up guns when they see outsiders like the US military trampling their country. Iraq and Afghanistan offer plenty of examples. The sort of new thinking that gives politicians hope to keep embarrassing wars going on indefinitely, postponing defeat by prolonging tragedy.
Michael Kinsley, ed: Creative Capitalism: A Conversation with Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Other Economic Leaders (2008, Simon & Schuster): Famous liberal buckraker picks now to edit a schmoozy collection extolling the genius and philanthropic virtues of a pretty recent crop of robber barons. Mixes in some suck-up economists too, like Gary Becker and Lawrence Summers. In a similar vein, there's Michael Bishop's Philanthropocapitalism: How the Rich Can Save the World.
Tony Lagouranis/Allen Mikaelian: Fear Up Harsh: An Army Interrogator's Dark Journey Through Iraq (2007, NAL): Abu Ghraib interrogator's memoir. There seem to be several of these floating around; in no particular order: Tara McKelvey: Monstering: Inside America's Policy of Secret Interrogations and Torture in the Terror War; Chris Mackey: The Interrogators: Task Force 500 and America's Secret War Against Al Qaeda; Paul Holton: Saving Babylon: The Heart of an Army Interrogator in Iraq; Matthew Alexander/John Bruning: How to Break a Terrorist: The U.S. Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq; Michael Otterman: American Torture: From the Cold War to Abu Ghraib and Beyond.
Bernard-Henri Levy: Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism (2008, Random House): Not sure what to make of him, but the notion that he's a leftist, or is in any way concerned about the left, isn't credible. One of those guys who pretends to be your friend to lend cred to the gossip and lies he likes to tell about you, as if that stance somehow puts him above the fray.
Hooman Majd: The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran (2008, Doubleday): Another report on daily life in modern Iran. Probably useful if you're trying to follow the elections. Less so if you're just looking for places to bomb.
James Mann: The Rebellion of Ronald Reagan: A History of the End of the Cold War (2009, Viking): Author of Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet, a useful, not especially partisan collective biography of Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rice, and a few others who did so much damage. This one strikes me as kind of creepy, although I doubt that it strays very far from the history James Carroll recounted in House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power. Reagan's "rebellion" was more of a cognitive lapse -- his anticommunism was more viscerally personal and less militaristic than that of the neoconservatives who gained so much political traction under him. I don't see his role in "ending" the cold war as much credit given how hard he worked to exacerbate it.
Michael J Panzner: When Giants Fall: An Economic Roadmap for the End of the American Era (2009, Wiley): Tries to sum up the big and small factors eroding American power in the near and not-so-near future. Some part of this is certainly true, but people who think about things like this tend to exaggerate the value of US superpowerdom. In fact, we waste a lot of energy trying to prop up that façade and get very little from it -- at least very little trickles down to Main Street. Daily life in Great Britain was little different after losing their empire.
Kim Phillips-Fein: Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan (2009, WW Norton): History of the rightward movement, focusing, as it should, on the folks with the money. I read a few pages at the beginning, where he starts off with the DuPont brothers.
Neil Postman/Steve Powers: How to Watch TV News: Revised Edition (paperback, 2008, Penguin): Postman died in 2003, so the revision is by Powers, who co-authored the book in 1992. Postman previously wrote another TV book: Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. I never got to his later books, but a 1969 one with Charles Weingartner, Teaching as a Subversive Activity was a huge influence on me -- a key idea was that the most important thing to develop in students is a "bullshit detector." TV news is just another part of daily life where a finely tuned bullshit detector is essential.
Mike Rapport: 1848: Year of Revolution (2009, Basic Books): Several major European revolts that turbulent year, now best remembered for the publication of Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto. Seems like a good subject for a broad comparative history.
Felix Rohatyn: Bold Endeavors: How Our Government Built America, and Why It Must Rebuild Now (2009, Simon & Schuster): Back when Lester Thurow was pitching his reform books to "the establishment," the guy he really had in mind was Rohatyn, who left his cushy banking job to sort out the finances of New York City. He seems like the rare sort who can look past ideology to see real problems and straightforward ways of dealing with them. And he's found a whopper. He writes: "The nation is falling apart -- literally. America's roads and bridges, schools and hospitals, airports and roadways, ports and dams, water lines and air control systems -- the country's entire infrastructure is rapidly and dangerously deteriorating." I'll bet his solution isn't tax credits, either.
Mark Rudd: Underground: My Life with SDS and the Weathermen (2009, William Morrow): A name I recall from the 1960s, when the antiwar movement got frustrated and some factions of it got stupid. Not a lot of distance between them and me at the time, but as a non-activist thinker I was never tempted to get into that sort of trouble. Several such memoirs have popped up recently: Bill Ayers' Fugitive Days: Memoirs of an Anti-War Activist; Cathy Wilkerson's Flying Close to the Sun: My Life and Times as a Weatherman. I might also mention Carl Oglesby's Ravens in the Storm: A Personal History of the 1960s Anti-War Movement, who was a more significant and representative figure in the movement.
Douglas Rushkoff: Life Inc: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take It Back (2009, Random House): Author wrote an interesting book on another subject completely: Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism. This one is about capitalism (although he seems to have genericized the critique into something about corporations), why it doesn't work, and what should be done instead. He describes it as his life's work.
David E Sanger: The Inheritance: The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power (2009, Harmony): Which kind of begs the more basic question, which is what's so good about American power in the first place. Surveys the usual suspects: Iran, Afghanistan ("how the good war went bad"), Pakistan ("how do you invade an ally?"), North Korea, China. Blames most of what went wrong on Bush, but expects Obama to play the same game.
Robert J Shiller: The Subprime Solution: How Today's Global Financial Crisis Happened, and What to Do About It (2008, Princeton University Press): One of the first books out on the financial meltdown, early enough that it focuses on the subprime mortgage mess rather than the bigger picture.
Stephen Sizer: Zion's Christian Soldiers?: The Bible, Israel and the Church (paperback, 2008, IVP Books): By an English vicar who previously wrote Christian Zionism: Road-Map to Armageddon? (2005). I've noted several other books on the subject, including Zev Chafets' approving one. For the most part the subject is too nutty to take seriously, even if its believers are too numerous not to worry about.
John R Talbott: Contagion: The Financial Epidemic That Is Sweeping the Global Economy . . . and How to Protect Yourself From It (2008, Wiley): Another book on the subprime mess and how toxic assets spread illness throughout the financial system. Author recently wrote Obanomics: How Bottom-Up Economic Prosperity Will Replace Trickle-Down Economics.
James Traub: The Freedom Agenda: Why America Must Spread Democracy (Just Not the Way George Bush Did) (2008, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Bush's way was little more than guns, bribes, and subliminal messages that only registered in the warped minds of his base, but then his concept of democracy really didn't extend far beyond the notion of rigging elections. I suppose one could improve on that, but maybe the US isn't the best country to try. Traub previously wrote The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American World Power, so you can see his frustration.
Patrick Tyler: A World of Trouble: The White House and the Middle East -- From the Cold War to the War on Terror (2008, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Big picture history from Eisenhower to Bush (640 pp); obviously there is a lot to chew on and mostly spit up.
Martin Van Creveld: The Culture of War (2008, Presidio Press): Israeli military historian/theoretician, chronicles the human love of war throughout history and the development of a self-reinforcing war culture to keep the fighting going even when it turns grim. Would be more interesting if he looked more critically at Israel's own culture of war.
Katrina vanden Heuvel: Meltdown: How Greed and Corruption Shattered Our Financial System and How We Can Recover (paperback, 2009, Nation Books): Quickie compilation of Nation pieces on the economic downturn. Probably some worthwhile, some dated, some that could use a little more seasoning.
Bruce Western: Punishment and Inequality in America (paperback, 2007, Russell Sage Foundation): Surveys who gets locked up -- lots of poor people as the US has become the world's most aggressive jailor -- and why, and what the effect is.
Mark Weston: Prophets and Princes: Saudi Arabia From Muhammad to the Present (2008, Wiley): Big history, touted as "balanced, informative, and complete," with the imprimatur of a foreword by US Ambassador Wyche Fowler. Probably a lot more recent than ancient history, given how the resources break.
Ruth R Wisse: Jews and Power (2007, Schocken): I have a theory that most of what's most admirable in Judaism comes from the lack of power, therefore the need to negotiate a viable path if often hostile situations: innovations here include personalizing religion, thereby separating individual belief from the sociopolitical establishment of theocracy, and the key role of equality and mutual respect in social contracts. Wisse, whose day job includes the title Martin Peretz Professor of Yiddish Literature at Harvard, seems to have the opposite theory: that the most important thing for Jews to do is kick ass. Previously wrote: If I Am Not for Myself . . . : The Liberal Betrayal of the Jews. Following Amazon's links brings me to more pro-Israeli tracts: Kenneth Levin, The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Siege; Caroline Glick: Shackled Warrior: Israel and the Global Jihad; David Meir-Levi: History Upside Down: The Roots of Palestinian Fascism and the Myth of Israeli Aggression; and, of course, Jonah Goldberg: Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning.
Alan Wolfe: The Future of Liberalism (2009, Knopf): Political philospher, has a bunch of books, most recently Does American Democracy Still Work?. Focuses on seven liberal traits: a disposition to grow; a sympathy for equality, a preference for realism; an inclination to deliberate; a commitment to tolerance, even for those who do not tolerate you; an appreciation of openness; a taste for governance. Takes those concepts and applies them to various political problems.
Stanley Wolpert: Shameful Flight: The Last Years of the British Empire in India (2006, Oxford University Press): Sometimes I suspect that Britain deliberately sabotaged their colonies, undermining their independence so as to turn UK rule into some kind of golden age. Their partition schemes in India and Palestine, built on top of previous factional favoritism, engendered immediate war and long-term strife. This only deals with India.
Previously mentioned books, new in paperback:
Steve Coll: The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century (2008; paperback, 2009, Penguin): Big book on a big family, probably more interesting for the many members who put their wealth to the usual uses, as opposed to the one who caused so much trouble.
Laton McCartney: The Teapot Dome Scandal: How Big Oil Bought the Harding White House and Tried to Steal the Country (2008; paperback, 2009, Random House): A landmark case of GOP corruption, hardly the latest.
Neil Shubin: Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body (2008, Pantheon; paperback, 2009, Vintage): Fish paleontologist messes with your head.
Richard H Thaler/Cass R Sunstein: Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (2008; paperback, 2009, Penguin Press): Economist and lawyer, Obama advisers, call themselves "libertarian paternalists," scheme to nudge people in certain directions while preserving the illusion of freedom of choice.
Friday, April 10, 2009
Socialism Rising Up
Matthew Yglesias: The Declining Unpopularity of Socialism. This is based on a recent poll that shows 53% of Americans believing capitalism is better than socialism, 20% preferring socialism, and 27% not sure. The margin among adults under 30 was even closer: 37% for capitalism, 33% for socialism, 30% undecided. My reaction is that this is Rush Limbaugh's doing: his rant that under Obama the US has already gone over to socialism certainly makes socialism seem a lot less unconventional. Yglesias notes: "I think it reflects the fact that on a basic level 'socialism' is good branding. The whole idea is that we should put society first rather than capital, or money." Yglesias also says that the US has never had a Socialist Party, which is dead wrong, as anyone with a clue who Eugene Debs and/or Norman Thomas were will know. However, Yglesias is not often so ignorant, so that in itself sort of proves his point.
I don't really identify with socialism myself. I'm happy enough with the basic idea of a capitalist economy, although I'd prefer that it be much less concentrated -- I'm a big believer in antitrust enforcement -- and I'd like to see (a lot) more worker ownership. I'd also like to see more progressive taxation, not just on estates and incomes but also on corporate size (e.g., WalMart pays a higher tax rate, which would help promote competition by levelling a field distorted by their scale advantages). And I'd like to make it easier to start small businesses, which implies a lot of things including a banking system with that orientation. On the other hand, there are a lot of things that the private sector can't do, or doesn't do well, that should shift over to government -- states may not be very good at deciding how to allocate scarce resources, but they could (and should) be much more efficient at providing many known services, and they can absorb costs in ways that eliminate excess toll-keeping. They are also, at least in theory, subject to broad public interests rather than narrow private interests, and as such they provide a necessary counterbalance to the distortions of the private sector. I don't know what you call this set of beliefs, but I get the feeling that many socialists (and even some liberals) are converging on a similar set of beliefs. So maybe socialism (or social democracy) isn't such a bad label.
Thursday, April 09, 2009
Obama, Blogs, Free Media
Alex Koppelman: Liberal blogs vs. the Obama administration. Title isn't real accurate here: it's more like the Obama administration vs. the liberal blogs. I suppose it's natural that the Democratic Party establishment would have looked at liberal (maybe even leftist) blogs during the Bush era as useful propaganda instruments, and that now that the Democrats are in power they still do -- and so they'd like to impose a little partisan discipline, like the Republicans did so effectively (and are still doing in a very disciplined way today, albeit with diminishing credibility). Part of the problem is that liberals, leftists, and free thinkers in general, tend to be contrary -- indeed have become accustomed to as much given the rightward political drift of the last 30-60 years -- but also it's often hard to reconcile the principles that got us here with the triangulations of the Obama administration. I could give you a dozen quick examples that bug me -- e.g., the new defense budget is significantly up (contrary to what Republicans are saying) and it's up specifically in areas which make the US military more likely to engage in operations around the globe, as opposed to pure waste like the F-22 program. On the other hand, there is usually some nuance to Obama's moves, often something that's merely suggested but not publicly committed to -- e.g., Obama on Israel is thus far terrible, but he's put some serious and practical people on the case, rather than surrendering the issue to someone like Dennis Ross (let alone Elliott Abrams).
But Republicans have always had an advantage with their bloggers and propagandists: they've kept them on the payroll. A big part of what this piece cites also has to do with money:
Obviously, their problem isn't my problem, but the problem is a general one. I haven't tried to make a living off this blog, but some good people do, and their efforts need to be supported somehow. Philip Weiss makes a big point of this, and he proved to be the single most useful resource anywhere on the recent Gaza atrocity. The demise of Cursor.org has made it much more difficult to find out what's going on. I sure wish Billmon could afford to quit his day job and return to the Whiskey Bar full time. Of course, the problem is structural: the right can always depend on special interest groups because they see nothing wrong with doing their bidding. The left tries to balance off against established power, to check the excesses of special interests, and to promote the general welfare. While in theory virtually everyone stands to benefit from the left's efforts, in practice few people feel enough of a stake to finance those efforts, and many who wish they could just don't have the cash -- or given the extent to which established organizations dominate political life, see the left as a good, practical investment.
The plight of the liberal/left blogs is an example of a more general trend. A bigger example is the ongoing collapse of the newspaper industry. We live in this bizarre system where we've come to expect unbiased information about the world to be paid for by advertising -- the most blatant form of bias ever -- and responsibly managed by rich establishment corporations. That it has ever worked at all is a tribute to the fact that even the rich and powerful needed accurate information, but the mismatch between what people want from a newspaper and what sponsors are willing to pay for has gnawed away at the moral foundation of newspapers practically forever. When they die now it becomes obvious that we're not losing much -- mostly because we've gradually lost it.
There is an obvious way out of this, which is to provide public support for organizations to provide free information to the public. We're a long ways from the consensus to make this happen: such a system would have to be policy-neutral, which is contrary to every established interest, including whatever political part is in power at the moment; it would hasten the destruction of existing media, at least those based on advertising business models; it would alter the balance of power, e.g. between consumers and vendors. But this is the way technology is trending, and free information groups are sprouting up all over -- inadequately funded, to be sure, but the entry costs are so low that anyone can get started for little more than the willingness to put some time into it. Public funding would add to this trend, providing better support and tools and bandwidth, letting people to graduate from part-time to full-time, from amateur to professional status.
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
Peaceniks for Apartheid
Helena Cobban: Highlights from the Georgetown Univ. conference on Palestine. The following paragraph got my attention:
This is a profound comment, which goes a long ways toward explaining what is wrong with the Israeli peace movement and why it is so ineffective. Almost anyone in any peace movement anywhere will argue that peace can only be found in a sense that justice is served. Peace and justice are therefore the same goals. In Israel, therefore, what we should be seeing is a peace movement dedicated to attaining equal rights for all under Israel's sovereignty. Some Israelis, of course, do just that. But the mainstream of Israel's socalled peace movement seeks something quite different: two states, one dominated by a strong Jewish majority, the other a dumping ground for unwanted Palestinians.
One can argue that two independent states is a reasonably good practical solution at this time, because the injustice of partition has already been suffered, because Zionist ideology will not tolerate a substantial non-Jewish population within Israel, and because there is no immediate hope of convincing a majority of Israeli Jews that a state of equal rights for all would be preferable to a preferentially Jewish State. At least then you're conscious of what seems to be subconscious in the Zionist-identified peace movement: that Israeli Zionism is, like all other colonial movements, plainly racist. Use of demographic arguments just underscores this racism.
The simple demographic argument is that if Israel/Palestine were unified into a single political entity, the slim Jewish majority would soon give way to a Palestinian majority by virtue of the latter's higher birth rate. In an identity-oriented democracy, that would mean Palestinian dominance of government and the end of the Jewish State as we know it. This is a simple factoid that doesn't necessarily mean anything unless you load it up with other assumptions -- e.g., unless you assume that Palestinians, once in power, would treat Jews the same way Jews in Israel have thus far treated Palestinians. There are numerous reasons why that need not be the case, but the argument strikes a chord in the paranoid mindset that seems to predominate in Israel.
There is also a more fanciful demographic argument, which works the same way. It argues that even if Israel disposed of Gaza and the West Bank, the non-Jewish "citizens" of Israel -- about 20% of the current population -- will, if left unchecked, overrun the Jewish population, again putting a state in the Jewish state. This argument is mathematically ridiculous, but it feeds the desires of Israeli factions that want to force the "transfer" of the remaining Palestinians -- this includes Lieberman's supporters, and possibly others, especially in their dreams where such ethnic cleansing can be kept tidy.
Of course, once you start panicking people with demographic arguments like these, even if it's meant for a good cause, the net effect is to rile up the people's worst racist instincts. Why, after all, should anyone buy a hate argument from a peace movement when you can get even more hate, and maybe even some action, from real fascists? So in the end, all the peace group winds up doing is legitimizing the fascists -- after all, the only difference between the two is tactical.
In another interesting post (Israelis, mainly peaceniks, Pt. 5: Menachem Klein), Cobban mentions some of the terminological problems that we encounter because there are no proper words fit to describe what Israel is doing, or thinking about doing. Apartheid and Bantustan are a couple of stinky terms borrowed from South Africa. Israel supporters don't like them for the bad associations, but even critics have to admit that they are more/less inaccurate -- in some cases far milder than what Israel has done. For my part, I've been trying to think of a word that would convey the sense of an ethnically cleansed Israel -- the analogous Nazi German term was Judenrein.
This piece starts by making the point that there is already one state in Israel. It's just one with inequal rights and laws, which are favorable to Jews, and more or less unfavorable to various groups of Palestinians. So talk of one state or two states doesn't settle anything -- the key word is "solution," which implies a stable endstate, which must necessarily be rooted in some sense of justice. There have been reports of Netanyahu and Lieberman arguing over one-vs.-two states, but in both cases their states are vastly inequal and unjust -- which means they are not solutions, just formulae for further conflict.
I think the focus now should be on equal rights, regardless of borders. In fact, given equal rights, I don't even care much about how you gerrymander the borders. A contiguous West Bank would certainly make more sense than the mincemeat of Palestinian enclaves that currently exist. So would a unified Jerusalem. But it's far more important to establish equal rights in each and every jurisdiction. And it's also critical that if Israel decides to forego any Palestinian enclaves, those be joined into a fully independent sovereign state, equal in every formal respect to Israel. I also think that if there is to be a Palestinian state, we make every effort to ensure that at least there the rights of everyone living there will be equally respected: in other words, that it should set a model to shame Israel. I also think that world opinion should be far more critical of the way Israel treats its own people -- by which I mean Palestinians as well as Jews. Such vigilance is necessary to prevent the present bad situation from getting even worse, perhaps even slipping into pogroms, ethnic cleansing, genocide. Of course, such vigilance has been lacking many times in the past, especially during the early years of Nazi rule in Germany, and we now know how that turned out. Never again, right?
Monday, April 07, 2008
We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land
Might as well post this now, since it's ready. I'm behind on some other books on Israel that I've read recently, most notably Arno J Mayer's Plowshares Into Swords: From Zionism to Israel. For more on Carter's previous Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, go here.
Jimmy Carter: We Can Have Peace in the Holy Land: A Plan That Will Work (2009, Simon & Schuster)
Picked this up at the library and, running out of time, wound up skimming the second half. (It's rather breezily written, so shouldn't have taken long, but it's been tough to find time for all sorts of things.) First half of the book is a quick historical rundown, with emphasis on Carter's own role during his 1977-81 presidency, when he brokered the Camp David Accords between Egypt and Israel. It's a pretty fair rundown, with frequent reference to Carter's diaries. One thing that is clear there is how intransigent Israeli has been over the years. The second half moves into recent history, frequently citing Carter's think tank/foundation (The Carter Center) and their work doing things like monitoring Palestinian elections. Also cited is Carter's membership in "The Elders" -- an ad hoc group of senior statesmen who have taken an interest in the conflict. Carter recounts a number of trips to the region and discussions with major figures, including the Hamas leadership in Damascus. He notably makes the case that Hamas should be involved in the search for peace, and that he believes they could act constructively.
Continue reading book page.
More on Israel
George Bisharat: Israel on Trial. A law professor in California takes a look at how Israel's recent operations in Gaza stand up under international law. He finds six rather broad categories of offense, and details them succinctly. Most have to do with Operation Cast Lead's savagely disproportionate response to scattered small rocket attacks, but one goes back further:
One thing that most people have trouble getting their minds wrapped around is that the worst crimes of the occupation are the ones that happen every day and affect virtually every person in Gaza and every non-Israeli in the West Bank. People notice rockets and suicide bombers; some even notice F-15s and Merkava tanks. But those things, even on the Palestinian side where the impact can be a hundred times greater than for Israelis, only affect tiny numbers of people. That's not to say that the terror they cause, on both sides, isn't far greater, and I don't take that lightly, but what Israel does in the occupation affects all the people all the time. It should be weighed accordingly. Moreover, it should be understood that what fuels the conflict isn't history or fate but the everyday deprivations done for no reason but that Israel refuses to recognize the human rights of Palestinians, especially the right to live in peace on the land their families have lived on for many hundreds of years.
As an aside, Mondoweiss ran piece citing Bisharat's piece and noting that the New York Times never runs an op-ed critical of Israel that is not written by an Arab: the suggestion is that such pieces come with a built-in deniability that renders them harmless to the paper's overwhelming pro-Israeli slant. My first reaction to that was to think that more Americans of all types should get to know "Arabs" like Bisharat -- he was, by the way, born in Topeka, KS, and graduated from UC-Berkeley, Georgetown, and Harvard. Then, the next such op-ed that appeared in the Times was written by an Israeli Knesset member who would also be readily identified (and presumably dismissed) as an Arab:
Ahmad Tibi: A Harsh Reality for Palestinians. Following Israel's 1948 "war of independence" -- a war that ejected over 700,000 Palestinians from Israeli-controlled territory -- Israel made a big show about granting the remaining Palestinians citizenship, the upside of a bill that confiscated the properties of the refugees. Many people assume that those "Palestinian citizens of Israel" are better off for living and participating in Israel's wealthy economy than they would have been living in relatively poor Arab states. It isn't unreasonable to assume that even with discrimination there must be enough trickle-down to make such a difference, but that doesn't necessarily make it so. Those "citizens" lived under a second-class system of military administration from 1948 to 1967 -- a system that Israel dismantled just months before attacking and occupying Gaza and the West Bank, where they resurrected military administration. (That has long struck me as a curious coincidence.) Although they have rights such as access to Israel's courts (which Palestinians in the Occupied Territories do not), they are effectively segregated and discriminated against. (One recent example is that during the 2006 war with Lebanon, Israel had built no rocket shelters in the mostly-Palestinian neighborhoods adjacent to Lebanon. One result was that nearly half of Israel's casualties were Palestinians in Israel.) As Tibi puts it:
The more bitter the conflict becomes, the more precarious the situation of Israel's Palestinian citizens becomes. In particular, they've become a lightning rod for the right-wing demagogues who have taken over Israel's government: Avigdor Lieberman, Benjamin Netanyahu, and for that matter Ehud Barak -- who was hobbled with a precarious government while he was Prime Minister, at least in part because he refused to allow Palestinian Knesset members into his coalition government (as the late Yitzhak Rabin had done).
The "Palestinian citizens of Israel" have lived under Israeli rule for over 60 years now, without ever creating a real security problem. What agitates right-wingers like Lieberman isn't their potential for violence: it's their track record of trying to work within the Israeli political system to obtain equal rights.
Nadia Hijab: The growing belief in a one-state solution. It was always easy for Israel to offer the prospect of a separate state for Palestinians: such was rooted in the 1947 UN partition resolution that Israel more or less accepted; it mirrored Israel's own Jewish nationalism, mirroring it in the form of a Palestinian doppelganger; it required the least amount of ideological change from Zionism. Palestinian politicos like Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas fell for it. The problem is that Israel never delivered, and in the end tied themselves in knots to make delivery as impossible as possible. Deep down, no matter how much they wanted legitimacy and peace, they couldn't face a sovereign Palestine, even one shrunken and jammed into a bottle. Aside from war lust and racism -- two rationales that can't be dismissed out of hand -- the other most likely reason is guilt, which would mean that they have a conscience after all. To that extent, the push for a one-state, equal-rights-for-all solution is acid on their brains -- every now and then you see a Palestinian bring the subject up as a threat, relishing turning the tables on the torturer. However, it's also a serious position because there is no viable counterargument to equal rights. Hijab straddle the fence a bit here:
It may seem ironical that the more successful Israel's right-wing is at undermining prospects of the two-state scenario, the more they get one state thrown back at them.
Tony Karon: Netanyahu, America and the cow in the house. Nowhere has Obama's election resulted in more frenzied change than among Israel's political leaders and propagandists. They figured out early how to play Bush, stoking his belligerence and fatiguing his occasional impulses in favor of democracy and something like a Palestinian state. Obama is still an enigma to them: sure, he talks the talk, but doesn't he walk kinda funny? More importantly, where Bush could be counted on to forget gestures like Annapolis, Obama has the look of someone who actually intends to get something done. So ever since Obama was elected, Israel's dominant right wing has been beside itself to clutter the roadmap with obstacles. Sure, they'll be happy to talk the Syrian track, but they feel so much more compelled to bomb the daylights out of Iran. But certainly this is no time to even talk to those Palestinians -- just look what they made us do in Gaza! Karon has a Hasidic folktale to explain what's going on. Reminds me of a similar one that Richard Ben Cramer used in How Israel Lost: the gist there was that as long as you can stretch something hopeless out you can avoid losing, and as long as you avoid losing you can hope that the problem will eventually go away. That, too, is applicable to Israeli fears that Obama might push for a reasonable peace deal.
The Interest in Darfur
Mahmood Mamdani: Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror (2009, Pantheon) James North: Mamdani: 'Save Darfur' movement is not a peace movement. Having recently read Gérard Prunier's Darfur: A 21st Century Genocide, I'm not all that interested in reading another book on the subject, but had I the choice earlier, I would have picked Mahmood Mamdani's Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror. There are two stories here. One, which Prunier handles reasonably well -- a little tediously, but that may be the nature of the beast -- is the actual conflict on the ground. The conflict is basically a civil war, spilled over from foreign political interests in Libya and Chad, and triangulated with Sudan's other, larger popular revolt/civil war between the south and central sections of the unwieldy and disorganized country. Sudan's government handled this conflict very badly, especially during the key years 2003-04 when death counts spiked. The other story is the "Save Darfur" movement, the political lobby effort in the US and Europe to propagandize and promote "humanitarian" intervention against Sudan to stop the "genocide" -- a movement that accelerated just as the killing in Sudan abated. North quotes Mamdani:
I don't know whether Mamdani carries this argument further. Darfur has become a frequent talking point for Israel supporters, who see it as an Arab-instigated genocide. Implied in this is that if Arabs commit genocide in Darfur, their opposition to Israel and its policies may also be genocidal. Which in turn helps justify Israel's own tactics as the only way to stave off a second Holocaust. (Or maybe they just like to change the the subject.)
Monday, April 06, 2009
I was struck by this featured comment at Paul Krugman's blog:
This is something I've been trying to say in several recent posts, but I never put it this succinctly. I would edit this slightly, replacing "followed up by" with "especially with": gains in worker wages should be one of the key methods of moving supply-side to demand-side. It is, however, unlikely to happen that way, mostly because corporations are accustomed to squeezing workers when times get tough, and workers are relatively powerless to resist when unemployment is exploding. So the only place demand can come from short-term is public spending, and that will tend to reinforce current wages in the private sector, slowing the decline but not providing much support. To support stronger wages, government needs to do more: e.g., to support workers rights, much like the New Deal did with the Wagner Act. Another way here would be to shift worker expenses to the public sector -- health care is the obvious place to start, with education right behind it, and increasing social security supports should be on the table as well -- so that worker wages go further.
The key thing to understand is that the current crisis was caused by the rich getting too rich, mostly with imaginary money inflating the hypothetical value of assets: a house of cards that eventually was bound to topple. The real economy, however, is based on work, and needs to be centered on the value of work. That also happens to be the only fair way, and fairness is critical to social health. The crisis is a wake-up call, telling us to restore fundamental balance and fairness to the economy.
Disclaimer: I'm also on record as saying that 9/11 was a wake-up call, telling the US to take a critical look at its foreign policy sins -- like the promotion of salafist jihadism in Afghanistan as a way to needle the Soviet Union, resulting in decades of misery for the Afghan people -- and set itself right. That not only didn't happen: the Bush administration, to the initial applause of the so-called opposition party, took 9/11 as an excuse to go further and do far worse -- a formula that has only caused more damage. The Republicans appear to be every bit as self-centered and stupid on the economy as they were on foreign policy. And the Democrats keep learning too few lessons way too late. So I don't expect much, even though the issues should be simple and clear.
Music: Current count 15259  rated (+15), 768  unrated (+1). Stopped prospecting mid-week and went into Jazz CG closeout mode: the rated rate dropped as I spent the rest of the week listening to records I had already rated -- something that rarely happens any more. Most of the records were good ones, so I actually enjoyed it. House work plods on, with as many downs as ups.
Jazz Prospecting (CG #19, Part 13)
Was doing what I've been doing up to midweek, then it occurred to me I should stop listening to new stuff and close out the current column. Usual problems: only one pick hit, only two duds, way too many A- and HM records. Many of the latter are by now quite old, and worse than that, many unwritten ones are even older. And since I didn't do a thorough cull last time, the lists of graded, still contending records have grown ridiculously long. Making matters worse, with all of my distractions, I've slipped from a column every three months to something more like four or maybe even five. Those delays haven't slowed down the rush of releases, least of all ones worth writing about. But realistically, I'm never going to catch up, so it's probably time to do some serious pruning, hacking even.
After a couple of days trying to write up graded records that I particularly want to work in sooner rather than later, the raw numbers: 65 records written up (23 A- or better, 40 HM, 2 duds), 2662 words (only about 1500 will run, probably less); 138 records graded but unwritten (27 A-, 63 ***, 47 **); 34 records held back from first round of jazz prospecting (4 tentatively A-, 14 ***, 13 **, 1 *, 1 B, 1 B-); 159 records unrated. I've started to cut out some eligibles, writing up short notes on them in the surplus file -- a sort of consolation prize (2 so far). At that point, I set up stubs for the next round, moving the unrateds into them. I figure I'll take one more week to get it all sorted out, and that will be the end of this cycle. Next week is likely to be real short on prospecting, but there will probably be some loose ends to clear up.
Of course, I still have my construction tasks. In some ways it should be easier to multitask closing -- at least I'm playing records that I've already played before, and good ones at that. At present I got this column down to 1886 words, leaving 1026 for the next one. I figure this round will be done sometime this week, with a fairly substantial effort on hacking down the surplus, and a second column nearly complete.
Fly: Sky & Country (2008 , ECM): Sax trio, with Mark Turner leading, Larry Grenadier on bass, Jeff Ballard on drums. All three write -- breakdown is Turner 4 songs, Ballard 3, Grenadier 2. Ballard and Grenadier are well known for their work with Pat Metheny and Brad Mehldau. Turner was one of the best young tenor saxophonists to come up in the 1990s. From 1994-2001 he cut 3 records for Criss Cross and 4 for Warners, then his discography dries up until 2008 -- except for a first Fly album in 2004. I've remarked recently on how impressive he sounded on two recent side credits: Diego Barber's Calima and Enrico Rava's New York Days. Can't say as this makes much of an impression: maybe we can blame the muted sound on producer Manfred Eicher; maybe it's just too much of the soprano sax that virtually all tenors of his generation feel obliged to double on. Maybe it's the writing, which never manages to spring anyone loose. Can't blame it on Turner's power saw accident, which happened well after this was recorded. Reports are he's started to play again, but it sounds like a tough road back. Meanwhile, this isn't bad. It's the sort of inside playing that might sneak up on you given enough time. B+(*)
Paul Dunmall Sun Quartet: Ancient and Future Airs (2008 , Clean Feed): Dunmall has a big discography, both in his own name and under the group Mujician. I've sampled it lightly, finding him very hit-and-miss, but always welcoming any new effort that comes along. Plays tenor sax and, well, bagpipes -- the latter make a brief appearance here, and aren't as horrible as possible. The group adds a second saxman, Tony Malaby (tenor, soprano), plus Mark Helias on bass and Kevin Norton on drums and vibraphone -- support about as solid as you can imagine. Two long pieces. More hit than miss, but not by much. B+(*)
Denman Maroney Quintet: Udentity (2008 , Clean Feed): B. 1949, plays something he calls hyperpiano, which is basically prepared piano and then some. Has a couple of previous albums I haven't heard; I've run across him mostly in the company of Mark Dresser -- an album called Time Changes (2005) pairs the two to limited but interesting effect. This quintet opens him up: Ned Rothenberg plays reeds (alto sax, clarinet, bass clarinet), Dave Ballou trumpet, Reuben Radding bass, and Michael Sarin drums. The two horns are always interesting, although mostly they play it straight compared to the funny stuff coming off the piano, maybe even bass and percussion. (PS: Quintet has another album, Gaga, on Nuscope. A similar quintet recorded Fluxuations -- sub Mark Dresser on bass and Kevin Norton on percussion.) B+(***)
Michael Blake/Kresten Osgood: Control This (2006 , Clean Feed): Sax-drums duo. Blake plays soprano, alto, and tenor, uncharacteristically favoring the alto this time. Osgood is a Danish drummer, b. 1976, has appeared on several good albums recently -- Scott Dubois' Banshees is one. Starts a little awkward, but picks up through a version of Ellington's "Creole Love Call" that spend a long time away from the melody, and retains its interest to the end -- a second cover, Charlie Parker's "Cheryl." (Well, almost -- didn't get the final joke.) B+(**)
Trinity: Breaking the Mold (2006 , Clean Feed): Scandinavian quartet -- maybe just Norwegian; no idea where the name comes from -- led by reed player Kjetil Møster, with Morten Qvenild on keyboards, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass, and Thomas Strønen on drums. The latter two show up a lot and are first rate. I've run across Qvenild a couple of times before, in the groups Shining and In the Country, and I've heard Møster's MZN3. Free jazz, kranky sax, some odd and amusing little keyboard fills. B+(*)
Helen Schneider: Dream a Little Dream (2008 , Edel): Singer, b. 1952 in New York, cut a record in 1976, performed in Nashville and Las Vegas, toured Germany in 1978-79, and more or less stayed, now based in Berlin. Has a few movie credits, many more stage credits, including the Berlin production of Cabaret, which she seems perfect for, and a solo show called A Walk on the Weill Side. Nothing Weimarish here; all American standards, top drawer stuff like "Where or When," "You Go to My Head," "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," "Love for Sale," "The Man I Love," "In My Solitude." Voice is a little affected, but she has no trouble delivering such sure shot fare. Til Brönner produced, and on four cuts is credited with "brass section." B+(**)
Gypsy Schaeffer: New Album (2008 , PeaceTime): Group website title is: "traditional straight ahead free jazz." Seems like an apt description, because it underlines how unsurprising their "free jazz" is. Andy Voelker (saxes), Joel Yennior (trombone), Jef Charland (bass), Chris Punis (drums). Third album. Quite listenable, especially if you're fond of the sax/'bone harmonics (as I am). But also quite forgettable, as I keep finding now that I've played this -- what? -- five times. B+(*)
Rova: The Juke Box Suite (2006 , Not Two): Saxophone quartet, founded in 1977 (same year as the World Saxophone Quartet), name originally derived from initials of its four founding members -- Jon Raskin, Larry Ochs, Andrew Voigt and Bruce Ackley -- but Steve Adams replaced Voigt in 1988, breaking that link. Group has 25 albums since 1978 (more, but not by a lot, than WSQ). I've never much like saxophone quartets or choirs, regardless of how brilliant I regard the individuals to be: as much as I like the sound of most saxophones, they have a harmonic monotony unless you add something to the mix -- bass, drums, almost anything helps. I've heard almost everything WSQ has released -- their players are major stars in my view of the jazz galaxy. By contrast I've only lightly sampled Rova -- Beat Kennel and two takes of Coltrane's Ascension, the second a Penguin Guide crown album -- and never connected to anything, not that my sample is a good test. (I've always regarded Ascension with indifference, a feeling that Rova faithfully regenerated.) In contrast to WSQ, Rova's saxophonists remained unknown to me -- when I started to write Ochs requesting an unrelated album from a label I had no contact for, I didn't realize he was part of Rova. Same for Adams when Clean Feed recently dropped an album of his. So, obviously, I'm pretty low on the learning curve here. But this album is a revelation. My complaints about tone and color are still operative, but are overcome are nearly every front. The world music juke box concept doesn't ensure danceability, but there's enough of a pulse, especially from Raskin's baritone, to keep it all moving, through pieces keyed to Afro-Balkan, Mambo, Niggum, Choro, Finnish folk (Värttinnä), and Detroit (White Stripes). The slower, unison themes are rich and often gorgeous; the breakaways startling and sometimes thrilling. A-
Larry Ochs/Rova Special Sextet/Orkestrova: The Mirror World (2005 , Metalanguage, 2CD): Two discs, short enough they could be squeezed into a single long one, each a "realization" of something dedicated to filmmaker Stan Brakhage. One performed by the Rova Saxophone Quartet expanded to Sextet weight with two percussionists; the other by Orkestrova, where the Rova saxophonists lurk in the reed section of a larger, more orchestral group -- trumpets, trombone, cellos, bass, guitar, percussion, electronics. The Sextet tends to play rough, hot and bothered, with the drums breaking up the sax monotone. The Orkestrova is more layered and nuanced, far less likely to break into an old-fashioned noise fit. B+(*)
Introducing Sunny and Her Joy Boys (2009, Stony Plain): Sunny is singer Sunny Crownover, who grew up in Texas and is based now in Providence, RI. First among the Joy Boys is guitarist Duke Robillard, who has some fame as a bluesman but has been trending toward trad jazz lately. Group name reminds me of Julia Lee (and Her Boyfriends) and Jimmy Liggins (and His Drops of Joy), but Liggins swung much harder, and Lee put out much more. Swing era songs -- "That's My Desire," "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea," "I Got It Bad" -- done so sweetly I can't disapprove. B+(*)
Jessica Lurie Ensemble: Shop of Wild Dreams (2008 , Zipa! Music): Saxophonist, mostly alto, some tenor, originally from Seattle, now based in New York; also sings here, plays flute, accordion, and baritone ukulele. Group includes Eric Deutsch (piano), Brandon Seabrook (guitar), Todd Sickafoose (bass), Alison Miller (drums) -- several of these intersect with Ani DiFranco bands, and Lurie herself has played with Sleater-Kinney. Fourth CD since 2004, although her side credits go back to the Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet in 1992. No indication that she's related to any of the other Luries, although there's a slick postmodernism to her instrumentals that follows the Lounge Lizards. I'm less certain about her vocals. B+(**)
Mark Winkler: Till I Get It Right (2009, Free Ham): Singer, based in Los Angeles, writes most of his lyrics (10 of 12 songs here) but credits the music elsewhere. Ninth album since 1985. Has written several musical revues: "Play It Cool," "Too Old for the Chorus," "Naked Boys Singing." Stylistically slicker than anyone in the Mose Allison-Bob Dorough school, not as affected as Mark Murphy (who wrote the liner notes), more inclined to wax philosphical than to croon. Cheryl Bentyne chips in on "Cool." Bob Sheppard contributes some sax, and Anthony Wilson has a couple of nice spots on guitar. B+(***)
Frank Macchia: Saxolollapalooza (2008 , Cacophony): Saxophonist, b. 1958, from San Francisco, did a lot of TV and movie work, has a bunch of albums since 2000, starting with the Little Evil Things series. This one six saxophonists -- Eric Marienthal and Bob Sheppard are the names I recognize -- and drummer Peter Erskine, with Jay Mason's bass sax subbing for string bass. The song list is old, starting with trad's "Shortening Bread," "Down by the Riverside," and "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," advancing through "Creole Love Song" and "Caravan" to Benny Goodman's "Air Mail Special," with Nat Adderley's "Work Song" a ringer. Pretty obvious stuff, although the arrangements and instrumentation have some charm. B
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Bill Frisell/Ron Carter/Paul Motian (2005 , Nonesuch): More back catalog. Once I decided to bury the excellent East West in the surplus, it became necessary to clean this loose end up. Even simpler than the East West trios, most likely because Motian never indulges a beat. Frisell and Motian have played quite a lot together in Joe Lovano's company, but without Lovano's dominance they can wander. And Carter? Well, who wouldn't want to play with him? Still, I shouldn't gripe. I'm happy to have the loose Americana -- "Pretty Polly," "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," even "You Are My Sunshine" -- and also the Monk-in-Motian. B+(**)
For this cycle's collected Jazz Prospecting notes, look here. The current (near-final) count is 227 records, down quite a bit from the 293 of the previous cycle.
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:
Sunday, April 05, 2009
Freedom Makes a Killing
A book item gleaned from a review:
Gary J Bass: Freedom's Battle: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention (2008, Knopf)
A big (509 page) book on the history of do-gooders one-upping miscreants by waging war. The wars Richard Holbrooke fought in Bosnia and Kosovo, and the one he wishes he fought in Rwanda, are prime examples from recent memory -- as is the realization that Holbrooke's enthusiasm put him in the front ranks of Bush's cheering squad for invading Iraq. Of course, Holbrooke isn't the only one so committed (and so deluded), but he makes a pretty good poster boy -- and given his latest assignment to broker the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan he's someone to keep a wary eye on.
I can't say as I had any interest in reading this book when I first noticed it, but I may have been too charitable in ignoring it. Consider The New Yorker's "Briefly Noted" review:
Note first that said atrocities were all the work of the Ottomon Empire, exposed and trumpeted by the British, French, Austrians, and Russians who spent the whole century pecking away at the Sublime Porte. It's not that the British et al. had clean hands, either viz. the Ottomans or on the fringes of their own empires. One might as well add the story about how King Leopold assumed the awesome humanitarian burden of the Congo in his effort to finally rid Africa of the slave trade. So what Bass should be showing with his history of that ulterior motives have a long history of coming gussied up with humanitarian lipstick. Kosovo, for instance, looks more like a NATO bonding exercise, desperately trying to find a use for armed force in the post-Cold War era, than an effort at trying to get Serbs and Kosovars to play nice.
The main thing the war to "save" Rwanda lacked was a plausible ulterior motive. Because ultimately humanitarianism doesn't cut it: it may be a good thing, but it's never been a true cassus belli, perhaps because intuitively the real warriors understand that it's too fragile a concept to survive the inevitable atrocities of real war.
In other words, the best he can come up with is a return to a paternalist dream of 19th century imperialism, which didn't exist much less work then, and is all the more insufferably arrogant now.
Saturday, April 04, 2009
Subjects for Further Research
These links refer to longer pieces that may prove to be important for future research. The short digests are food for thought now.
Andrew Leonard: Do you remember the great oil shock of 2008? As someone who has no doubt that the world's supply of recoverable petroleum is finite, and who strongly suspects that we've already hit what will eventually be recognized as peak production, I was surprised by how far prices dipped last fall. That makes me think that at least some of the preceding prise rise was speculation, which collapsed with the world's supply of play money. Still, all that means is that any future economic recovery is going to set off similar price rises, with or without the help of speculators. Leonard cites a long paper by James Hamilton, Causes and Consequences of the Oil Shock of 2007-08, which argues for market factors, citing increased demand (especially in China) leading up to the peak, stagnant production levels causing the pinch, and falling demand as the worldwide economy slumped. Seems about right. One thing more to point out here is that every past economic recovery has been able to tap into increasing petroleum production, but no future recovery will. Intuitively, that means that future recoveries will be slower and harder than past ones. It may eventually mean that recoveries will be relative at best, or that they may not be any more recoveries -- at least in the sense that we've always expected of the term. It's not that there are no ways to grow an economy without also increasing energy use, but there are damn few, and they are more difficult. In this regard, the future may be very different from the past, and not necessarily better.
Andrew Leonard: The $700 billion bailout inside story. This is based on Philip Swagel's memoir of working in the US Treasury department under Hank Paulson as first the banking system then the real economy unraveled last year: The Financial Crisis: An Inside View. Swagel was Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy, and is now at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. It's somewhat self-serving, but the level of detail is historically important. I haven't worked my way through the whole piece, but the parts I've read are quite interesting. Leonard has a useful overview to help get you started. Clearly, they barely had a clue what they were doing, they did a terrible job of communicating what they wanted to do, and in many cases they were hamstrung by limits on their authority -- which of course led to Paulson's overreach and the inevitable resistance. It would be nice to have a similar report on the first months of the Obama administration's financial efforts. It's not likely to be pretty either.
Obama's Afghanistan Policy: Q&A with Gilles Dorronsoro. A good place to start, before diving into Dorronsoro's Focus and Exit: An Alternative Strategy for the Afghan War. Dorronsoro basically recognizes that for all of the problems one can imagine in the event of a US/NATO withdrawal from Afghanistan, the main thing that fuels the Taliban resistance is the presence of those same foreign troops. He argues for the need to strengthen the Kabul government so it can stand without US/NATO troops.
Friday, April 03, 2009
Laura Miller: Goodbye, "Galactica" I hardly watch any TV these days, but got roped into this somewhere in the second or third season, and found it entrancing enough I went back to the DVDs for the necessary refresher course. I did watch a lot of TV when I was a teenager -- sheesh, it's not like we knew any better where I came from -- so I do have some vague recollection of the original TV series, with Lorne Greene way out of his depth and a lot of badly modelled war sequences. Alien bashing was happy hunting in the early stretches here, too, but gradually it faded into a small part of everyday life. I never paid much attention to the mythopoetic overtones -- all the prophecies and shared dream sequences and the like, which were clearly artifices of fiction meant to provide some plot that everyday life lacks. That the finale managed to tie all those loose strings up into a nice, neat ball was less a matter of truth or luck than the writers' will to keep their story straight -- as they put it in Slumdog Millionaire, it was written.
Miller laments this neatness, but I actually found it gratifying, and the whole finale -- indeed, the whole final season -- immensely satisfying. So what if in the end you wind up with another crackpot human creation story. That, of course, is also one of the charms of the The Hitchhikers Guide to the Universe -- I loved the movie there, especially for the immense wonder of the graphic construction of the earth. Both cases amount to a form of creationism even further removed from the Bible than Darwin. It's fiction, but at least it's true to itself -- unlike, I dare say, the Bible -- and it's clean and clear enough you can play with the model. Whereas most TV puts your brain out to pasture, this show has been a constant treat to the cerebellum. I doubt that this is really the end of it, but it's nice to see how neatly a piece of fiction can be wrapped up. Verity to real life isn't necessarily a good thing.
Laura Miller: Finale wrap-up: "Big Love" Also watched this series, billed as "America's favorite polygamist drama," as if there was another one. This seemed like the season where they finally jumped the shark, but in the end they scrambled to give Bill Hendrickson at least one episode where some of the things he plotted to do worked out -- a little taste of "Father Knows Best," even though he's really pretty far out on the limb. The thing that really shifted this year was that Barb fell into a deep vat of religious nonsense: obsessing over the future size of the family, with attendant worries about the other wives' fertility; freaking out over her excommunication from the LDS church. She had previously seem to hold reservations not just about the fundamentalist compound but the whole concept, but this year she emerged as the true believer -- and belief you don't share and can't really conceive of quickly turns annoying and creepy. The motivations of the other two (or for that matter three) wives were relatively practical and tangible. Bill, too, seems to be moving off the deep end. His whole fixation on an ultimately fraudulent letter that he saw as legitimizing his polygamy helped to transform him from money-grubbing businessman to ideologist proclaiming his own prophethood. I'm not sure that the former wasn't overdue some come-uppance, but the latter is very likely to bring his downfall, and I can't expect much sympathy when it does.
I figured the original premise of the series was raising the question whether polygamy could be incorporated into an otherwise normal, respectable even, American lifestyle. In that scenario, Juniper Creek was history -- something the Hendricksons set out to overcome. Three years in, however, Juniper Creek has won out, mostly for its prurient entertainment value, turning this more and more into a freak show, not to mention a sit-com. That says nothing much about America, but speaks volumes about show biz.
As I started to lose interest midway through the season, I started speculating on an alternate universe version of the same show. Let's start with the most famous polygamist in the world today: Osama bin Laden. He's tended to marry relatively educated, sophisticated wives, which puts him closer to the Hendricksons than to Juniper Creek -- admittedly, his business downturn has done the opposite, but it may just be a matter of time before Bill Hendrickson is on the lam from the law. Both combine piety, arrogance, and a reckless disregard for the law. Even while the bin Laden version of Big Love remains a faraway concept, it may be amusing to identify the analogies.
Also watching 24, which is currently about three-fourths of the day done. As you know, 24 takes place in an alternate universe, vaguely resembling what the United States would be like if terrorism became a common practice in the corporate world, like bribery and cover-ups. In such a world, it's not surprising that politics should be so routinely infiltrated -- that politicians should be so perversely motivated is another matter altogether. (There seems to be a right-left tradeoff here: the right gets to portray politicians as fools, and the left gets to root evil in the shadowy corporate world.) The show obsesses over torture because the world has been synthetically deranged to form test cases for the efficacy of torture. (Propagandistic as it is, it's hard to find cases where torture actually works except when Jack Bauer is pushing the buttons.)
Half of this season was stuck in a rut trying to figure out why anyone on any side gave a shit about Africa -- except maybe the lady president as humanitarian warmonger, a species of stupidity that is almost plausible on this show. The Africans managed to impress with their technical expertise, an effect somewhat spoiled by a midday shift in villains that at least fits with the degree of government intrusion. Still, Starkwood's motivations remain murky -- patriotism is, as everyone knows, the last refuge of scoundrels -- but they may be a fair measure of the distance between 24 and reality.
One thing you can always count on with 24 is that you can hire mercenaries to kill everyone from presidents down, and they can be granted immunity from prosecution to set up the next hour of the show. I keep wondering what the background is: why are there so many jaded mercenaries, and what happened to this country to produce them? Surely something more profound than the political kickbacks from Halliburton and Blackwater. Of course, answers to such questions are beyond the attention span of the show's format. They recklessly push action to a dangerous extent, all to frequently blowing up their story line along with a gaggle of expendable actors. I got hooked on the show not for what it tells me about ourselves but for the sheer perversity of its internal logic.
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
Recycled Goods #63: March 2009
Posted page found here.
The Perils of Bibi
Thought we should acknowledge that Benjamin Netanyahu has succeeded in pulling together a shakey Knesset majority for an extreme rightist Israeli government of racists and militarist wingnuts -- Ehud Barak threw what little's left of the Labor Party into this pot to keep his itchy fingers on the triggers of the IDF. Not joining into this party makes Kadima seem not so much principled as sane. Netanyahu's campaign promises include not just cripping but destroying Hamas -- last time out they garnered more than 40% of the Palestinian electorate -- and launching a preëmptive war on Iran to halt the latter's nuclear power program.
Paul Woodward: Who poses a greater threat to Israel? Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Benjamin Netanyahu? Covers Netanyahu's statements, plus some war game analysis on prospects for Israeli success in attacking Iran's nuclear program. The latter looks pretty grim no matter how you slice it. All of this assumes, of course, that Iran is inclined to fight back, which is simply assumed in the need to attack -- if Iran doesn't respond with all of their weapons to a direct Israeli attack, they certainly are no threat to launch their own first attack on Israel, therefore they pose no existential threat, even if they had vast arsenals of weapons. (The most straightforward, and effective, Iranian response would be to appeal to the UN, demanding condemnation and sanctions on Israel for its unprovoked attack.) However, the thinking isn't even that solid. Jeffrey Goldberg writes:
As if a Netanyahu-Lieberman-Barak government isn't enough to set off an Israeli brain drain -- maybe even it's proof that this great fear has already happened.
This all goes back to neoconservatism 101. The neoconservatives chafed for years because the Soviet Union had enough firepower to deter a preëmptive US nuclear strike. They railed against the "MAD" doctrine which had in fact convinced both sides that all-out war was not just unwinable but insane. Only with the Soviet Union gone could Wolfowitz and Libby come up with their single superpower doctrine: the belief that the US should prevent the emergence of any potential rival power -- basically, any power that could make us think twice before nuking them. The effect was to set the bar for American military power so high that it would be unattainable, while framing an attitude toward the world that would lead us to obsess over every tiny threat. Why else would the US, which was more than adequately defended against the Soviet Union, get so worked up over Saddam Hussein's non-existent WMDs, when Hussein couldn't even conceive of attacking the US?
It's surprising that smart people could have been so stupid, but then Wolfowitz, Libby, et al., had a real world model for how they wanted to project American power. That model was Israel, which at the time looked much more imposing than it does now. Israel's power profile has diminished because every time they try to project omnipotence, they fail. They fail because it doesn't take much of a resistance to foil their plans. The 2006 wars in Gaza and Lebanon are good examples: both started with Israeli soldiers being captured, in both cases Israel responded with wholesale destruction, in neither case did Israel diminish the power or effectiveness of their opponents. And those were opponents close to home, with very limited firepower; they had good intelligence on the ground (much more so in Gaza than in Lebanon), and complete control of the battle space. They've also lost more and more world opinion and good will as they struggle so fitfully against their demons. There's a big gap -- in distance, population, and resources -- between Lebanon, which Israel has beat like a drum since the 1970s, and Iran. And Netanyahu's going to leap over that gap because of a dis by Iran's president? It must be a really nasty world inside Netanyahu's brain. More like a cancer, the seed for which was the idea that one nation could become so powerful that it would never have to accommodate anyone else in the world.
Helena Cobban: Netanyahu, Iran, and the US MSM's shared silence. More here on Netanyahu, Iran, the Jeffrey Goldberg interview, plus some dirt from Richard Sale on Mossad and CIA shenanigans; e.g.:
Cobban, by the way, has a series of recent posts on interviews with Israelis and Palestinians of all political stripes. Hard to track them all down through the blog navigation -- some in "Israel 2009," some in "Palestine 2009." Most, maybe all, worth reading.
How long Netanyahu's government holds up will depend mostly on how soon they piss Obama off. Their margin is so thin that the suggestion of American displeasure would likely be enough to crack it. The good news about a government with all of the right-wing extremists inside is that they'll have to moderate their bile somewhat. It was much easier for Netanyahu to call for immediate war with Iran when he was in opposition. Now that he has the power to actually do stupid things will at least cause him to think twice about them. We've seen this before, when Netanyahu campaigned as a diehard opponent of the Oslo Peace Process, but was forced by the US to give it lip service when he became PM. Of course, once in power he was actually quite effective at wrecking the process -- he just had to do it more artfully. He should prove equally successful at wrecking any US efforts to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but will find it far harder to do anything overt, like attack Iran. Either way, his bluster will fade, and with it support on the right: Obama doesn't necessarily have to crack any moderates (if there are any) from the coalition -- any moderation will crack the right.
The question, of course, is whether Obama will eventually stand up to the disastrous course that Israel is taking. It is clearly making everything else he tries to do in the region all that more difficult. But thus far he's held his political line very tightly, and in the absence of a strong Israeli movement toward peace, he's unlikely to try to invent one.