February 2010 Notebook|
Friday, February 26, 2010
Wichita Eagle: Tanker contract looks promising: I haven't been counting, so I'm not sure whether this is the 30th or the 300th editorial or op-ed column the Eagle has run in favor of wasting $35 billion taxpayer dollars to give the Air Force something they don't need and that will only be used to get the US involved in foreign conflicts faster than ever. This is a monumentally bad program which can and should be attacked on numerous grounds: it is a colossal waste; the whole program has been fraught with corruption (with one Boeing official, Darleen Druyun, winding up in jail, and several other resignations); and it makes a long-term strategic commitment to extending our worst desires to act as the world's police force. It isn't even much of a jobs program: this editorial, like every other, leads off with promises of jobs: the usual share promised to Wichita has been 1000, although lately Boeing has been backing down on that as they find they need to spread more jobs around to lock up more congressional support. That political clout came in handy in 2008 when the Air Force awarded the contract to Northrop and their proposal to modify Airbus airliners -- a deal which has its own cadre of congressional flacks, starting with Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL). All that political pressure resulted in rebidding the deal on terms more favorable to Boeing.
You have to wonder why Boeing's lobbyists even bother to plant so much propaganda in the Wichita Eagle, given that the whole state's congressional delegation has long been bought and paid for. Leading the fight is ex-Boeing employee Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-KS), who has been obsessing about tankers so long that Bush wound up nicknaming him Tanker Todd. One thing that's curious about all of this is that the current tanker fleet, based on venerable Boeing 707 aircraft that have been periodically upgraded with new wings and engines, are based and maintained here in Wichita, a steady source of jobs that would be phased out with new tankers. Even if Boeing wins the contract, they're always happy to auction the jobs to the highest (or more often the lowest) bidder. They've already wiped out 90% of their Wichita plant, and they moved their headquarters from Seattle to Chicago so the executives would be less likely to run into unemployed plant workers. Meanwhile, they've spread out facilities all over the country, wherever they could find political favor, plus they've pawned much of their work off on China and Japan -- including the wings on their new 787 Dreamliner, something hitherto regarded as the crown jewels of the airframe industry. (They've even sublet their real crown jewels -- their lobbying organization -- to China back in the 1990s to press for "most favorable nation" trade status.)
Boeing cooked up the tanker scam about 10 years ago as a way to extend their soon-to-be-obsolete 767 production line. The Air Force didn't have any interest in new tankers, and certainly didn't have any budget for it, so Boeing proposed to finance the tankers privately and lease them to the Air Force, where they'd be buried in the operating budget, away from the more competitive procurement budget. Needless to say, the lease scheme opened up hitherto unimagined avenues for ripping off the government. John McCain played a small role in shooting the lease scam down, but eventually Boeing got the Air Force to put the deal on its procurement wish list, but that wound up inviting EADS into the bidding -- after all, Airbus has their own obsolescent airliners, the US desperately needs European support for its NATO disaster in Afghanistan, and Northrup, with their own roster of paid politicians, was eager to partner with them on a cushy deal.
So now we have lobby money flying thicker than ever, but all you ever read is how many jobs would be created -- numbers that seem really paltry compared to the $35 billion outlay -- and maybe a bit about how old the KC-135s are. The antiwar movement has missed a golden opportunity to shoot this turkey down, because it raises so many issues, especially about how we view the future role of the US in world affairs, but also about how business and politics colludes in the US, and how the Defense Department juggernaut keeps feeding conflicts by investing in them.
Thursday, February 25, 2010
Another quick round of book notes, including some of the Af/Pak books mentioned in yesterday's post. I haven't actually been looking around very hard: haven't spent as much time as usual in bookstores or libraries, and haven't spent much time scrounging through the new release lists. Nonetheless, I've accumulated my quota of things to mention.
Moshe Adler: Economics for the Rest of Us: Debunking the Science That Makes Life Dismal (2009, New Press): About time someone turned the tables on "the dismal science" and show that what's dismal about it is how susceptible it is to political whims of its practitioners.
Perry Anderson: The New Old World (2009, Verso): New Left Review editor and historian, surveys Europe after the Cold War, a time when Europe is widely presumed to have come into its own, but still habitually follows US foreign policy, no matter how benighted (which under Bush, in particular, was pretty far gone).
Joyce Oldham Appleby: The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism (2010, WW Norton): General history, touting the culture of capitalism as well as the economics.
René Backmann: A Wall in Palestine (paperback, 2010, Picador): More like the wall in Palestine, cutting through the West Bank, less for security than to impose a new partition on the landscape, and not much about that either given the Israelis show every intent to keep both sides.
Bruce Bartlett: The New American Economy: The Failure of Reaganomics and a Way Forward (2009, Palgrave Macmillan): Still a self-styled conservative, but whereas his 2006 book still clung to Reagan's legacy (title: Impostor: How George W Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy) and his 2008 book was dishonest (title: Wrong on Race: The Democratic Party's Buried Past) he finally has some doubts about Saint Ronald. Now he's pitching Keynes and the Welfare State to his conservative brethren, but it's probably too high and hard for them to touch.
Mats Berdal: Building Peace after War: A Critical Assessment of International Peacebuilding from Cambodia to Afghanistan (paperback, 2009, Taylor & Francis): Short (186 pp) primer, drawing on multiple cases including Congo. Most likely this is one of those subjects where successes are all alike but failures each break apart in their own ways.
Barbara Bick: Walking the Precipice: Witness to the Rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan (paperback, 2008, Feminist Press at CUNY): Peace/women's rights activist, moved to Afghanistan in 1990 as civil war superseded the US-backed mujahideen war against the Soviet-backed regime, again in 2001 to the anti-Taliban Panjshir Valley before 9/11, again in 2004.
Eric Blehm: The Only Thing Worth Dying For: How Eleven Green Berets Forged a New Afghanistan (2010, Harper): Heroic war literature with all those touchingly valorous little details. Hard to tell what actually happened from the hype, but it looks like this team dropped into Afghanistan in late 2001 to help organize Karzai's anti-Taliban Pashtun rebellion, which didn't exactly work out even then let alone for the long haul. More Afghan war memoirs/stories since last I collected a list: Jon Lee Anderson: The Lion's Grave: Dispatches From Afghanistan; Colin Berry: The Deniable Agent: Undercover in Afghanistan; Christie Blatchford: Fifteen Days: Stories of Bravery, Friendship, Life and Death from Inside the New Canadian Army; Matthew Currier Burden: The Blog of War: Front-Line Dispatches from Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan; John T Carney: No Room for Error: The Covert Operations of America's Special Tactics Units From Iran to Afghanistan; Dayna Curry/Heather Mercer: Prisoners of Hope: The Story of Our Captivity and Freedom in Afghanistan; Ed Darack: Victory Point: Operations Red Wings and Whalers - The Marine Corps ' Battle for Freedom in Afghanistan; Lt Gen Michael DeLong: A General Speaks Out: The Truth About the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; Mike Friscolanti: Friendly Fire: The Untold Story of the US Bombing That Killed Four Canadian Soldiers in Afghanistan; Chuck Larson: Heroes Among Us: Firsthand Accounts of Combat from America's Most Decorated Warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan; Marcus Luttrell/Patrick Robinson: Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10; Malcolm MacPherson: Roberts Ridge : A Story of Courage and Sacrifice on Takur Ghar Mountain, Afghanistan; Sean Maloney: Enduring the Freedom: A Rogue Historian in Afghanistan, and Confronting the Chaos: A Rogue Military Historian Returns to Afghanistan; Sean Naylor: Not a Good Day to Die: The Untold Story of Operation Anaconda; Johnny Rico: Blood Makes the Grass Grow Green: A Year in the Desert with Team America; Peter Telep: Direct Action: Special Forces in Afghanistan; Chris Wattie: Contact Charlie: The Canadian Army, the Taliban and the Battle That Saved Afghanistan; Stephen D Wrage, ed: Immaculate Warfare: Participants Reflect on the Air Campaigns Over Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq; Thomas W Young: The Speed of Heat: An Airlift Wing at War in Iraq and Afghanistan; also: Masood Farivar: Confessions of a Mullah Warrior; Emmanuel Guibert/Frederic Lemercier/Didier Lefevre: The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders; Patrick Macrory: Retreat from Kabul: The Catastrophic British Defeat in Afghanistan 1842; Matthew J Morgan: A Democracy Is Born: An Insider's Account of the Battle Against Terrorism in Afghanistan; Jules Stewart: Crimson Snow: Britain's First Disaster in Afghanistan (i.e., 1841); Christine Sullivan: Saving Cinnamon: The Amazing True Story of a Missing Military Puppy and the Desperate Mission to Bring Her Home; Mary Tillman: Boots on the Ground by Dusk: My Tribute to Pat Tillman.
Kristina Borjesson, ed: Feet to the Fire: The Media After 9/11: The Journalists Speak Out (2005, Prometheus): Interviews with 21 journalists on the pressures to support the Bush terror wars. Not sure who all is interviewed, but some war critics are included -- Paul Krugman, Juan Cole, Chris Hedges -- as well as bigwigs like Ted Koppel. Borjesson previously edited Into the Buzzsaw: Leading Journalists Expose the Myth of a Free Press.
Jennifer Burns: Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right (2009, Oxford University Press): Right-wing libertarian hero, one of the more unorthodox and unruly figures in American conservatism, all but worshipped for her two big novels, the main point of which seems to be that you can never be too greedy. I developed an intense dislike for her based on exposure to acolyte Nathaniel Branden, which may or may not be fully deserved.
Matthew Carr: Blood and Faith: The Purging of Muslim Spain (2009, New Press): In 1492 the Christian Reconquista defeated the last Muslim enclave in Spain. It also marked the beginning of the Inquisition, which killed or expelled all of the Muslims and Jews from Spain. This focuses on the Muslim side of the story, a horrific episode of what we now call ethnic cleansing.
Hillel Cohen: Good Arabs: The Israeli Security Agencies and the Israeli Arabs, 1948-1967 (2010, University of California Press): Important book on Israel's recruitment and use of collaborators. Cohen previously covered the earlier period in Army of Shadows: Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917-1948. Subsequent volumes are likely to get ever stickier, especially after 1967 when Israel occupied Gaza and the West Bank, and after 1988 when Intifada broke out. Still, the principles were established early, and the effects within Palestinian society have been devastating. (I've read reviews of the original Hebrew edition.)
Stephen F Cohen: Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War (2009, Columbia University Press): The main interest here is probably the path by which the US and post-Soviet Russia returned to a quasi-Cold War standoff. Not sure how much of that there is, since Cohen is a Soviet studies guy, and likes to show off his expertise back to prime Stalinism.
Stephen P Cohen: Beyond America's Grasp: A Century of Failed Diplomacy in the Middle East (2009, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Plenty to write about, but unless one tackles Israel, petrodollars, and military hubris there's not much to say about it. Cohen is a think tank "expert" on the region, which means he's on someone's payroll.
Brian Coughley: War, Coups and Terror: Pakistan's Army in Years of Turmoil (2009, Skyhorse): A British "expert" on all aspects of the Pakistan military, having spent a good deal of his life in Imperial armies.
David Faber: And Then the Roof Caved In: How Wall Street's Greed and Stupidity Brought Capitalism to Its Knees (2009, Wiley): CNBC business analyst, keeps it short (208 pp) and vivid, but probably not very deep.
David Faber: Munich, 1938: Appeasement and World War II (2009, Simon & Schuster): The event in question is the most clichéd in the 20th century, so it would be good to get a fresh review of the situation. Not sure whether this book does that, but it does appear to be a substantial book on the subject -- at least it weighs out at 528 pp. Not sure that it helps that he's less a historian than a journalist.
Michael Fellman: In the Name of God and Country: Reconsidering Terrorism in American History (2010, Yale University Press): Argues that terrorism has been "a constant and driving force in American history." Casts a fairly wide net: John Brown, Sherman's march through Georgia (but not his efforts to exterminate bison to starve out the Indians?), Ku Klux Klan, Haymarket Square, the Philippines War. We all recall that "violence as as American as apple pie," but I'm doubtful that resurrecting our love/hate affair with terrorism is a good idea.
Antonio Giustozzi: Koran, Kalashnikov, and Laptop: The Neo-Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan (paperback, 2009, Columbia University Press): Promises a great deal of detail on how the neo-Taliban works, but I suspect it's still sketchy, and I'm not sure how the author got what he got.
Antonio Giustozzi: Empires of Mud: Wars and Warlords of Afghanistan (2009, Columbia University Press): Not sure that the warlord side of the Afghan equation is any easier to research than the Taliban side. Ismail Khan and Abdul Rashid Dostum are prominent subjects here.
Michael Hogan: Savage Capitalism and the Myth of Democracy: Latin America in the Third Millennium (paperback, 2009, Booklocker.com): Essays on Latin America, recommended by Noam Chomsky. Probably not the Michael J Hogan who has a number of books on cold war diplomatic history, nor the novelist Michael Hogan, but the Michael Hogan with a couple of previous books on Mexico is a possibility.
Raymond Ibrahim, ed: The Al Qaeda Reader (paperback, 2007, Broadway): In case your copy of Mein Kampf is lonely. Introduction is by Victor Davis Hanson, who's certain to muddy the waters.
Tim Jackson: Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet (2009, Earthscan): Short book (160 pp), arguing that it is possible to have broader prosperity without economic growth, a good thing given the limits to growth posed by natural resource constraints. Most economists seem to believe that trickle down from infinite growth will satisfy everyone, but that strikes me as not just untenable but downright dumb.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson/Joseph N Cappella: Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment (2008; paperback, 2010, Oxford University Press): Also focuses on Wall Street Journal opinion pages and Fox News. Has a lot of charts and stuff.
Alex S Jones: Losing the News: The Future of the News That Feeds Democracy (2009, Oxford University Press): Specifically newspaper news. Others have pointed out that there is no shortage of demand for news now; rather, there's a shortfall in supply from newspapers, which traditionally provided news as a sideline to their now-suffering business of selling advertising. I'll also add that the demise of newspapers is less of a problem than the demise of democracy, which has been increasingly evident in newspapers' lack of interest in searching out real political problems.
Robert Lacey: Inside the Kingdom: Kings, Clerics, Modernists, Terrorists, and the Struggle for Saudi Arabia (2009, Viking): Broad-ranging survey of Saudi Arabia these days. Lacey previously wrote The Kingdom: Arabia and the House of Sa'ud back in 1981, which had the good fortune of being banned by the Saudis.
David Loyn: In Afghanistan: Two Hundred Years of British, Russian and American Occupation (2009, Palgrave Macmillan): Short book (288 pp) for the range, but occupations often look alike. Nice company.
Jamie Maslin: Iranian Rappers and Persian Porn: A Hitchhiker's Adventures in the New Iran (2009, Skyhorse): Sounds like a good idea to me, but I'd bet that Iranians don't hold a candle to good ole American porn, much less American rap. Still, good to see that Iran isn't as monolithic as caricatured. On the other hand, I can't say that porn and rap have ever had much political impact, even here.
Pankaj Mishra: Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond (paperback, 2007, Picador): Travel reporting on the influence of the west on south and central Asia.
Richard North: Ministry of Defeat: The British in Iraq 2003-2009 (2009, Continuum): "This has become one of the most humiliating chapters in British Military History . . . the only real success of the British Government has been to hide from view." Still sounds smarter than the Americans.
William L O'Neill: A Bubble in Time: America During the Interwar Years, 1989-2001 (2009, Ivan R Dee): A history of the 1990s, a rare period of peace and prosperity bracketed by the two forever wars. O'Neill has tended to write kaleidoscopic period histories: A Democracy at War: America's Fight at Home & Abroad in World War II; American High: The Years of Confidence 1945-1960; Coming Apart: An Informal History of the 1960s.
Jerrold M Post: The Mind of the Terrorist: The Psychology of Terrorism from the IRA to al-Qaeda (paperback, 2008, Palgrave Macmillan): Dives into the murky waters of trying to build a psychological profile for terrorists, which seems like one more way to miss the political point.
Filip Reyntjens: The Great African War: Congo and Regional Geopolitics, 1996-2006 (2009, Cambridge University Press): Books about the extraordinarily bloody Congo War(s) are finally coming to light: Gerard Prunier's was called Africa's World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe, which still seems to be like the first goto book, but reviews were pretty mixed.
Bruce Riedel: The Search for Al Qaeda: Its Leadership, Ideology, and Future (2008, Brookings Press): CIA guy, GWOT insider, profiles the Enemy in considerable detail, thinks he knows how to beat him/them.
Andrew M Roe: Waging War in Waziristan: The British Struggle in the Land of bin Laden, 1849-1947 (2010, University Press of Kansas): "As much of a powder keg today as it was when India was part of the British Empire," and much for the same reasons. I still recall John Major after 9/11 boasting of how much the British could teach the US about dealing with terrorism. This is what they can teach us about securing the sliver of Pakistan called Waziristan.
Mick Simonelli: Riding a Donkey Backwards Through Afghanistan: How I Successfully Spent $400 Million of Your Taxpayer Dollars to Build the Afghanistan National Army (paperback, 2009, Mill City): Obviously, an inside job; I gather he's planning on a sequel where he bumps the figure to $2.1 billion. At that rate, Afghanistan will have the highest military expense/GDP ratio in the world, a ratio unimaginable in any country that has to pay its way. Only someone who realizes how ridiculous that is would name his book thusly.
Rodney Stark: God's Battalions: The Case for the Crusades (2009, Harper Collins): Argues that the Crusades were just the response of Europe to "Muslim terrorist aggression," as opposed to religious fanaticism or incipient imperialism, which have been pretty universally understood to be the range of options. Wonder where he got such a novel idea? Certainly not from history.
Mary Anne Weaver: Pakistan: Deep Inside the World's Most Frightening State (paperback, 2010, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Looks like a rework of Weaver's 2002 book Pakistan: In the Shadow of Jihad and Afghanistan, maybe even a plain reissue: certainly a lot more has happened in the last eight years than comfortably fits within an extra 16 pages.
David Wildman/Phyllis Bennis: Ending the US War in Afghanistan: A Primer (paperback, 2010, Olive Branch Press): Bennis also has primers on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the Iraq war. Few critics cover the ground more surely or get to the point quicker.
Garry Wills: Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State (2010, Penguin Press): Another book on the endless growth of presidential power, this one tying it to the atom bomb trigger, going back as far as the Manhattan project.
I usually do a paperback update, but will hold that off until next time. (Shouldn't be soon enough, as I have 34 notes left over.)
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
An Extended AfPak Reading List
Peter Bergen: The Ultimate AfPak Reading List: Bergen's reading list covers Afghanistan (Soviet Invasion from 1979-89, rise and rule of the Talian 1994-2001, and post-2001), Pakistan (general, post-2001 Jihadism), and Al Qaeda (general, 1988-2001, since 2001, media strategy) with some background (underlyilng causes of 9/11 attacks, Islamist terrorism and its intellectual influences). A big chunk of those books have been on my reading list, so I thought I'd consolidate the list from 11 pages to 1, merge the categories, drop the essays (which no doubt are of equal interest), and add links to my book pages (where I have them; [*] denotes an entry in by Book Notes file):
The section on Pakistan is very short, not that there's a lot more to choose from, aside from narrow and rather dated monographs. The omission of Tariq Ali's The Duel is notable both as a substantial book on Pakistan and for what it says about American power as a root cause for the troubles. The section on root causes is also short, and focuses exclusively on terrorist psychology, whereas it should be obvious that at least part of the problem is the US has sent its corporations, military, and spies far from the homeland. No small amount has been written about that, both on the general problems of empire and on specific conflicts -- Iraq and Israel would each swamp the list, Iran and Saudi Arabia would add significantly to it, and there are other hot spots. For the most part I haven't singled out books like that unless they specifically tripped my keyword searches below. Any broad spectrum survey of US politics in the region would include works by Gabriel Kolko, Noam Chomsky, James Carroll, Jonathan Schell, Chalmers Johnson, Andrew Bacevich, Stephen Kinzer, Tim Weiner, Dilip Hiro, Tariq Ali, and Michael Klare.
Scrounging through the Book Notes file, looking for keywords (Afghanistan, Pakistan, Islam, jihad, al Qaeda, terror), but skipping books focusing on other Arab areas, suggests some additional books. The main thing that's missing above is a better critique on how the US got so tangled up in the Muslim world that it became a target of al Qaeda, and what sort of ideology plays out in the compulsion to revenge 9/11 by waging an indiscriminate war against civilians who had nothing to do with al Qaeda.
Also found mentions of a bunch of Afghanistan war memoirs: Jon Lee Anderson: The Lion's Grave: Dispatches From Afghanistan; Colin Berry: The Deniable Agent: Undercover in Afghanistan; Christie Blatchford: Fifteen Days: Stories of Bravery, Friendship, Life and Death from Inside the New Canadian Army; Eric Blehm: The Only Thing Worth Dying For: How Eleven Green Berets Forged a New Afghanistan; Mark W Bromwich: Captains Blog: The Chronicles of My Afghan Vacation; Matthew Currier Burden: The Blog of War: Front-Line Dispatches from Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan; John T Carney: No Room for Error: The Covert Operations of America's Special Tactics Units From Iran to Afghanistan; Jeff Courter: Afghan Journal: A Soldier's Year in Afghanistan; Dayna Curry/Heather Mercer: Prisoners of Hope: The Story of Our Captivity and Freedom in Afghanistan; Ed Darack: Victory Point: Operations Red Wings and Whalers - The Marine Corps' Battle for Freedom in Afghanistan; Lt Gen Michael DeLong: A General Speaks Out: The Truth About the Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; Brandon Friedman: The War I Always Wanted: The Illusion of Glory and the Reality of War; Mike Friscolanti: Friendly Fire: The Untold Story of the US Bombing That Killed Four Canadian Soldiers in Afghanistan; Chuck Larson: Heroes Among Us: Firsthand Accounts of Combat from America's Most Decorated Warriors in Iraq and Afghanistan; Joe LeBleu: Long Rifle: A Sniper's Story in Iraq and Afghanistan; Marcus Luttrell/Patrick Robinson: Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10; Malcolm MacPherson: Roberts Ridge : A Story of Courage and Sacrifice on Takur Ghar Mountain, Afghanistan; Sean Maloney: Enduring the Freedom: A Rogue Historian in Afghanistan; Platte B Moring III: Honor First: A Citizen-Soldier in Afghanistan; Craig M Mullaney: The Unforgiving Minute: A Soldier's Education; Johnny Rico: Blood Makes the Grass Grow Green: A Year in the Desert with Team America; Mike Ryan: Battlefield Afghanistan; Doug Stanton: Horse Soldiers: The Extraordinary Story of a Band of US Soldiers Who Rode to Victory in Afghanistan; Peter Telep: Direct Action: Special Forces in Afghanistan; Benjamin Tupper: Welcome To Afghanistan: Send More Ammo: The Tragicomic Art of Making War as an Embedded Trainer in the Afghan National Army; Chris Wattie: Contact Charlie: The Canadian Army, the Taliban and the Battle That Saved Afghanistan; Stephen D Wrage, ed: Immaculate Warfare: Participants Reflect on the Air Campaigns Over Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq; Thomas W Young: The Speed of Heat: An Airlift Wing at War in Iraq and Afghanistan; Regulo Zapata Jr: Desperate Lands: The War on Terror Through the Eyes of a Special Forces Soldier; also: Masood Farivar: Confessions of a Mullah Warrior; Emmanuel Guibert/Frederic Lemercier/Didier Lefevre: The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders; Ali Ahmad Jalali: Afghan Guerrilla Warfare: In the Words of the Mujahideen Fighters Patrick Macrory: Retreat from Kabul: The Catastrophic British Defeat in Afghanistan 1842; Matthew J Morgan: A Democracy Is Born: An Insider's Account of the Battle Against Terrorism in Afghanistan; Jules Stewart: Crimson Snow: Britain's First Disaster in Afghanistan (i.e., 1841); Christine Sullivan: Saving Cinnamon: The Amazing True Story of a Missing Military Puppy and the Desperate Mission to Bring Her Home; Vladislav Tamarov: Afghanistan: A Russian Soldier's Story; Mary Tillman: Boots on the Ground by Dusk: My Tribute to Pat Tillman; This list continues to grow at a rapid pace.
The stuff I've added is no doubt less selective than the original list, although it also helps fill in critical holes. Overall, this seems like an awful lot of material, but there are a lot of things poorly covered if covered at all: starting with day-by-day political relationships between the US and various Afghani and Pakistani agents; there is little systematic military analysis, especially of damage to civilians; there is little accounting of money spent; there is a massive propaganda snow job to unshovel; there are secret prisons with a legacy of torture; there is the matter of Karzai's miraculous purchase on his office. So the ultimate list is still to come. But this is a start.
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Really bad day today. Water heater stopped heating water yesterday. Got up way too early to start calling around. Consensus opinion is that it needed a new thermocouple. On warranty, so I called the manufacturer and they agreed to ship one. Should get here tomorrow. However, we were anxious to get it fixed today if at all possible, so I thought I'd try to find one locally. Decided I needed to take the old one out to see just what I needed, and I screwed that up: tried taking the wrong thing off, then when that got difficult, I had a wrench slip, which knocked a hole in the pilot tube -- turning a minor, routine, warranty-covered repair into a major, my fault one -- and smashing my little finger in the process. After that, I decided I might as well replace the unit. Bought one, an expensive 12-year-warranty model. Got a friend with a pickup to pick it up and drag it home, and got a plumber out to put it together. Also bought a refrigerator-weight hand truck to help move it downstairs and the old one up. Did that. Opened it up, and the new one had two big dents in it, one on top rim, the other on the bottom rim. Decided to go ahead and hook it up, which went smoothly, but leaves me with a mess to sort out with the vendor/manufacturer, plus I have the old water heater to get rid of. Did get a shower.
Was delayed in starting dinner for a potluck at the Peace Center. Tried making a Moroccan braised chicken dish with a thick sauce of onions, green olives, and preserved lemon peel. Didn't get it done in time, so we went to the event empty-handed. Finished it when we got home. Event at least was worthwhile, and nothing anyone else brought would have gone with what I didn't bring. Two local guys went to Egypt to join the Gaza Freedom March, before being shut out by the Egyptian police state. They went on to Jordan and to the West Bank, where one came from and has extensive family, which was eye-opening to the other, so the trip was much enjoyed.
Back home now. Dead tired and worn out; finger hurts, not least when typing. Playing records that aren't bad but aren't interesting either, leaving me with little to say. Have two library books due tomorrow: haven't managed to finish fileting the first, and haven't cracked open the other.
Monday, February 22, 2010
Music: Current count 16393  rated (+36), 798  unrated (-17). Made a dent in the jazz prospecting backlog. Can't say as I enjoyed myself much.
Jazz Prospecting (CG #23, Part 2)
Finally got in a whole week of dipping into the jazz prospecting queue, almost at random, picking up some stuff that had fallen (sometimes literally) through the cracks, and some things I've passed over many times (as if avoiding).
Michaël Attias: Renku in Coimbra (2008 , Clean Feed): Alto saxophonist, b. 1968 in Israel, moved to US in 1977, bounced back and forth between US and Europe until settling in New York in 1994. Group is a trio with John Hebert on bass and Satoshi Takeishi on drums; same group recorded Renku in 2004. Attias wrote two pieces, Hebert three (including the one reprised at the end); the two outside pieces are by Lee Konitz and Jimmy Lyons, touchstones for Attias. Russ Lossing joins in on piano on one cut, but in three plays I have to admit I didn't notice him. Tight group, the sax not unusual for free jazz, the bass and drums busy but not overbearing. B+(**)
Steven Schoenberg: Live: An Improvisational Journey (2006-08 , Quabbin): Pianist, b. 1952. AMG lists him as Classical, but doesn't list any classical recordings by him. Rather, we have an 1982 album Pianoworks reissued on his label in 2007, plus one more -- none reviewed or rated. His website is on of those Flash things designed to make extracting information so painful you give up. Seems to do film and theatre work. Married his his school sweetheart, Jane, who works with him in some capacity, but not on this solo set, improvised live at Smith College, Northampton, MA (except for two cuts recorded later). Doesn't strike me as very jazz-oriented, but likable as piano music goes, rhythmically regular with a lot of harmonic fill. B+(*)
Curt Berg & the Avon Street Quintet: At Stagg Street Studio (2009, Origin): Trombonist, originally from Iowa, studied at Drake and USC. Broke in with Woody Herman c. 1970, and has several more big band credits -- Don Ellis, Jim Self, Vince Mendoza. First album, with saxophonist Tom Luer and pianist Andy Langham, plus bass (Lyman Medeiros) and drums (Bill Berg, don't know if related). Berg wrote all of the songs, including three he dedicated to Gary Foster, Eliot Spitzer, and Moacir Santos. Trombone almost always plays in unison with the sax -- soprano, alto, and tenor are listed in that order -- for a harmonic effect I don't care for, but the rhythm is gingerly sprung. B
Big Crazy Energy New York Band: Inspirations, Vol. 1 (2008 , Rosa): Leader here is Norwegian trombonist Jens Wendelboe, who cut a couple of non-NY Big Crazy Energy Band albums in the early 1990s. He plays, conducts, produces, wrote or co-wrote 5 of 9 songs, and keeps the energy level high. Still, as Wolfgang Pauli would say, his high energy physics isn't crazy enough. Can't say I like closing with a Beatles tune either. B-
Tineke de Jong/Albert van Veenendaal/Alan Purves/Hans Habesos: Midday Moon (2008 , Brokken): Dutch group. De Jong plays violin, van Veenendaal (prepared) piano, Purves percussion, Hasebos marimba. De Jong's notes describe herself as "a classical violinist inspired by jazz standards" and van Veenendaal as "an improvising pianist without style boundaries." In other words, she's more conventionally boxed in, whereas the pianist easily breaks convention. Especially striking when the drums and marimba expand on the prepared piano's percussion; less so when de Jong returns to chamber jazz, which predominates. B+(**)
Q'd Up: Quintessence (2009, Jazz Hang): Utah group, fourth album since 1999, with previous iterations of the group going back to 1983. Steve Lindeman (piano, keyboards) and Jay Lawrence (drums, vibes) write most of the pieces, with a couple of assists from vocalist Kelly Eisenhour (who sings three cuts) and a couple of standards. Ray Smith plays various saxophones and woodwinds, Matt Larson plays acoustic and electric bass, and Ron Brough plays vibes when not switching off for drums. Overall they claim 25 instruments, which varies the sound in ways hard to pigeonhole, except what you get from postbop. B
Matt Slocum: Portraits (2009 , Chandra): Drummer, from Minnesota, now based in New Jersey, looks like his first album, although AMG has him confused with another Matt Slocum who plays guitar and cello, particularly in the band Sixpence None the Richer. Piano trio plus guest sax on 4 of 9 cuts. The pianist, who lays out on two of the sax cuts, is Gerald Clayton, impressive here. Bassist is Massimo Biolcati. Walter Smith III and Dayna Stephens play tenor sax on two cuts each, with Jaleel Shaw on alto on a cut with Stephens -- Smith's two cuts stand out. B+(*)
Ralph Lalama Quartet: The Audience (2009 , Mighty Quinn): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1951, 7th album since 1990 (first 5 on Criss Cross), with John Hart on guitar, Rick Petrone on bass, Joe Corsello on drums. Mainstream, more bop than post, with Rollins an obvious model -- "I'm an Old Cowhand" is a nice touch even if it falls well short of Way Out West. Hart has a good day. B+(**)
Lajos Dudas: Chamber Music Live (1990 , Pannon Classic): Not sure why I have this down as a 2009 release: it was mastered in 1997 and most likely released shortly after that. Jewel case is a little worn, too. Dudas plays clarinet, was born 1941, don't know how many records he has but he sent me one in 2008, Jazz on Stage, that made my HM list. This was recorded live in Bonn, with Sebastian Buchholz on alto sax and "buch-horn" -- the two horns provide a sharp-shrill contrast, vigorous when it's just the two of them. The third participant is vocalist Yldiz Ibrahimova, who has one of those operatic voices I can rarely stand. B
Darryl Harper: Stories in Real Time (2009, Hipnotic): Clarinet player, b. 1968, has four previous records as the Onus -- the one I've heard an HM. Teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University. Organized this group as a clarinet quartet with piano, bass, and drums, plus occasional vocalist Marianne Solivan. Sometimes goes for a chamber jazz/quasi-classical sound, and sometimes makes it work, although he can also throw out a piece of light funk like "Tore Up." Don't care for the singer, although she's not without interest, at least on the "Saints and Sinners" suite. B+(*)
Scott DuBois: Black Hawk Dance (2009 , Sunnyside): Guitarist, b. 1978, fourth album since 2005, second I have heard. His 2008 album Banshees got shortchanged in Jazz CG (19) with a high HM. This is only slightly less striking, probably because he slows the pace more, and defers less to his sax/bass clarinet player, Gebhard Ullman. Quartet is filled out capably by Thomas Morgan (bass) and Kresten Osgood (drums). Ullman has never sounded more like a mainstream bopper, which actually suits him well. B+(***)
Vivian Houle: Treize (2008 , Drip Audio): Canadian vocalist, works through 13 tracks each with a different musician. Some pieces lean toward art song, or even opera, while others match the instrument head on -- especially the duo with drummer Kenton Loewen. I'm duly impressed, but can't say as I enjoyed much of it. B
Lee Shaw Trio: Blossom (2009, ARC): Pianist, from Oklahoma, b. 1926, played a little and taught a lot over the years, but didn't start to establish a discography until a mid-1990s trio with bassist Rich Syracuse and husband-drummer Stan Lee. Stan died in 2001, replaced (on drums, anyway) by Rich Siegel. Mostly Shaw originals, with one from Siegel, two from Syracuse, and two 1940s bop pieces from Fats Navarro and Johnny Guarnieri. B+(*)
Matt Vashlishan: No Such Thing (2008 , Origin): Alto saxophonist, b. 1982, from the Poconos, based in/near Miami, latched onto Dave Liebman, adopting not just his sound but his look as well, and more importantly a big chunk of his band for his debut album: Vic Juris on guitar, Tony Marino on bass, Michael Stephans on drums, Liebman himself on soprano and tenor sax. Paired the saxes tend to run in boppish chase sequences, light-footed and fleet. A couple of change of pace pieces show nice form and tone. Juris gets in some tasty solos, too. B+(***)
Dana Hall: Into the Light (2009, Origin): Drummer, first album although he has a couple dozen side credits going back to 1998, including two with trumpeter Terell Stafford, who leads off here. Quintet, sort of post-hard bop, with Tim Warfield on tenor sax, Bruce Barth on piano/Fender Rhodes, and Rodney Whitaker on bass. The horns crackle, but come off a bit sloppy, with Warfield never clearly establishing himself. The drummer asserts his control by playing even louder, and is dazzling at best. B+(*)
Mike LeDonne: The Groover (2009 , Savant): Keyboard player, mostly organ these days, something he's been getting progressively better at. The soul jazz formula is a dime a dozen, but you can't fault him for skimping on ingredients: Eric Alexander on tenor sax, Peter Bernstein on guitar, Joe Farnsworth on drums. Alexander's swoop through "On the Street Where You Live" is a high point, and Bernstein is always good for a few tasty solos. B+(*)
Chris Potter/Steve Wilson/Terrell Stafford/Keith Javors/Delbert Felix/John Davis: Coming Together (2005 , Inarhyme): Originally intended to be the first album by saxophonist Brendan Edward Romaneck, 1981-2005, who wrote 8 of 11 tracks -- three covers are "My Shining Hour," "Nancy With the Laughing Face," and "Killing Me Softly With His Song." After Romaneck's "sudden and tragic end," the sax role was picked up by Chris Potter (first six tracks) and Steve Wilson (last five tracks). Potter's quartet sessions jump off to a fast start with a tour de force attack on "My Shining Hour." Romaneck's compositions are less compelling but provide plenty of scaffolding for Potter. Wilson's quintet sessions, with Terell Stafford on trumpet/flugelhorn, are less sharp, of course, but still of a high order. B+(**)
The American Music Project: On the Bright Side (2004-05 , Inarhyme): Quartet with Dane Bays (alto sax), Keith Javors (piano), Dave Ziegner (bass), and Alex Brooks (drums) providing the jazz backbone, plus two vocalists: singer Curtis Isom and rapper Dejuan "D Priest" Everett. Bays wrote the music, except for a John Coltrane piece ("Lonnie's Lament"); Everett wrote the words, including a "Welcome" that spells everything out literally. I won't argue that this isn't quintessential Americana, but neither the rapper -- who sounds a bit like Chuck D but less so -- nor the singer hold their own, and while there's nothing wrong with the band -- I'll never complain about too much sax -- they're not really the point. B+(*)
Jeff Baker: Of Things Not Seen (2006-07 , OA2): Vocalist, most likely Seattle-based, fourth album since 2003's inevitable Baker Sings Chet. This one is gospel-themed -- Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" threw me off for a minute, but two straight songs with "Thou" in the title steered me back. Stylistically he reminds me of Kurt Elling without the numerous annoying tics. Cut in Seattle with Origin's all-stars -- the Bill Anschell-Jeff Johnson-John Bishop trio is impeccable, and Brent Jensen is superb as always. Not into the songs, although the unlisted 12th song, with uncredited violin and backup singer, has some grace within it. B-
Marc Copland: Alone (2008-09 , Pirouet): Postbop pianist, b. 1948, closing in on his 30th album since 1988, should be a major figure but they're so many pianists. As the title explains, solo. Very measured, quiet even, exactly the sort of thing that never commands my attention in a solo piano record. Starts with "Soul Eyes"; includes three originals and three Joni Mitchell songs among ten total. Intelligent and lovely, of course. B+(**)
Robin Verheyen: Starbound (2009, Pirouet): Saxophonist, lists soprano ahead of tenor, b. 1983 in Belgium; studied at Manhattan School of Music; based in New York. First record, a quartet with Bill Carrothers on piano, Nicolas Thys on bass, Dré Pallemaerts on drums. Wrote 9 of 11 pieces, with one by Thys and "I Wish I Knew" (Harry Warren, Mack Gordon). B+(**)
Gail Pettis: Here in the Moment (2008-09 , OA2): Standards singer, b. 1958 in Kentucky, grew up in Gary, IN; now based in Seattle. Second album, split between two piano trios. Most songs have been done a lot -- "Night and Day," "Day in Day Out," "Nature Boy," "I Could Have Danced All Night" -- but she handles them with authority and a touch of soul. B+(*)
Hadley Caliman: Straight Ahead (2008 , Origin): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1932, cut a few albums in the 1970s then nothing until 2008. Second comeback album, with Thomas Marriott on trumpet, Eric Verlinde on piano, also bass and drums. Mainstream player, not an especially strong voice, but his "Lush Life" is particularly nice. B+(*)
Bob Sneider & Paul Hofmann: Serve and Volley (2008 , Origin): Guitarist and pianist, respectively, in a duo. Sneider has five previous albums, including a couple of Film Noir Projects with Joe Locke, and two previous duos with Hofmann. I find this a little light and sketchy. Title piece, by the way, is a 22:32 five-part suite. B
Dave Sharp's Secret Seven: 7 (2009 , Vortex Jazz): Bassist, mostly electric, from Ann Arbor, MI. Group actually a quartet -- Chris Kaercher (various saxes, flute, harmonica), Dale Grisa (Hammond B3, piano), Eric "Chucho" Wilhelm (drums, percussion) -- with extras added here and there. Sharp and Kaercher share writing credits. Mostly funk grooves, with honking sax blasts; harmless. Ends with two "bonus tracks": a "radio edit" of the opener, and a vocal also pegged to radio, an r&b cover called "Can I Be Your Squeeze?" B
Tom Braxton: Endless Highway (2009, Pacific Coast Jazz): Saxophonist, tenor first, then soprano, alto, flute, keybs. Fourth album since 1998, dedicated to the late Wayman Tisdale. Pop jazz, soupy keybs, pumping sax riffs. Closes with three radio edits, including obligatory vocal fluff. B-
Dave King: Indelicate (2009 , Sunnyside): Happy Apple/Bad Plus drummer, goes solo for his debut album with his drum track alongside an indelicate piano track. King wrote all the pieces. Probably unfair to say he plays piano like he plays drums, but the repetitive riffs and frills could easily have been conceived on drums; on the other hand, he never adds the sort of frills that are as natural to pianists as limbering up. Interesting, but not very compelling. B+(*)
The Zeke Martin Project: U4RIA (2009, Zeke Martin Project): Drummer, b. 1973, Brussels, Belgium; at age 12 played with Steve Lacy; moved to Cambridge, MA for high school, then on to New York, then back to Boston. Group is a quartet with Sean Berry (sax), Yusaku Yoshimura (keyboards, harmonics), and Rozhan Razman (bass). Seven cuts, all standard jazz/pop covers, only one I didn't recognize is Jaco Pastorius's "Teen Town." Little new here, but they bring graceful swing and good cheer to the project. One vocal: Nina Parlour on "Summertime." B
Darunam/Milan: The Last Angel on Earth (2008 , 64-56 Media): Darunam is a group/duo of guitarist Radovan Jovicevic and vocalist Manu Narayan. Jovicevic is Serbian; Narayan Indian-American. They met up in New York, and have one previous album. Milan is Milan Milosevic, clarinet player, also from Belgrade (presumably not the Bosnian basketball player). Songs are based on various angels, saints, or deities, including Bacchus, Raphael, Cupid, Karl [Marx], Mahatma [Gandhi], and Theresa [Mother]. Mostly in English -- Vanessa Ivey also sings some -- sort of world fusion with Balkan and Indian elements but nothing that clear. Interesting sound mix; less sure about the themes. B+(*)
Tierra Negra & Muriel Anderson: New World Flamenco (2009 , Tierra Negra): Tierra Negra is a pair of German flamenco guitar players, Raughi Ebert and Leo Henrichs. They have at least 9 albums since 1997. Anderson is an American guitarist, based in Nashville, considered Folk by AMG, credited with "classic & harp guitar" here. She has more than a dozen albums since 1989. Her website includes recipes but no biography. Most cuts include bass, drums, percussion; some palmas, but mostly the percussion is secondary. Nothing cooks, but intricate guitarwork can be its own reward. B+(**)
Kat Parra: Dos Amantes (2009 , JazzMa): Singer, b. 1962 in Detroit (AMG, which also describes her as "a Northern California native who lived in Chile as a teenager"), based in San Jose, CA. Third album. Picks her way around Latin musics, including a special interest in Sephardic Jewrs, tracing their music from Spain to North Africa and singing in Ladino -- she calls her group The Sephardic Music Experience. All this would be fascinating if only she were better at it. Her voice has little appeal, the backing singers (where used) add clutter, the Sephardic pieces lack the kick of the Afro-Cubans, and a piece of Afro-Peruvian Landó is even duller. B-
Peggo: In Love (2009 , Big Round): Not much info here, although the "enhanced CD" sticker promises more if I pop the CD into a computer. Don't have recording dates, so 2009 is a guess; don't have musician credits. Singer's full name Peggo Horstmann Hodes, where Horstmann is the surname of her grandfather Henry -- cited as her introduction to these old standards -- and Hodes is her husband's surname, congressman Paul (D-NH). First album, although she has a couple of early-1990s children's albums as Peggosus, and there are three evidently folkie Peggo & Paul albums. This one is straight standards, all indelible classics, with a "Medley of Love" mopping up nine more. The anonymous band does its job; a plain-sounding male singer joined in for the last two cuts, contrasting with her somewhat theatrical pitch. B+(*)
Melanie Mitrano: All Things Gold (2009 , Big Round): Singer-songwriter, "Dr. Mitrano" on her website: "first woman to receive a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the New England Conservatory in Boston" -- doesn't say when, but she started teaching in 1996. Resume seems to be mostly classical, which is how AMG files her -- her MySpace page starts with "What's a nice classical singer like me . . ." Second album since 2006. Backed with a piano trio plus guest horns here and there. Voice doesn't set off any opera alarms; she goes with the flow, and the band swings. Has some things to say too. B+(**)
Mel Carter: The Heart and Soul of Mel Carter (2008 , CSP): Singer, b. 1943 (although I've also seen 1939 cited). AMG: "Mel Carter was soul music at its most vanilla, if indeed he could be characterized as a soul singer at all." He recorded steadily 1963-70, with a top ten hit in 1965 ("Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me") and two more singles grazing the top 40. This is his first album since 1970, a standards set with a jazz combo, bookended with two takes of Hoagy Carmichael's "Heart and Soul," with some 1950s doo wop fare, like "The Glory of Love," worked into the mix. Don't know his early work other than the hit(s), but I'd guess the vanilla is mostly in the mix -- not an issue here, nor need he break new ground. He's a good ballad singer, and the songs and arrangements suit him fine. B+(**)
Eddie C Campbell: Tear This World Up (2008 , Delmark): Chicago bluesman, plays guitar and sings, b. 1939, in Mississippi like so many others -- was 6 when he made aliyah. Only his eighth album since his 1977 debut, first in a decade. Not much to differentiate him from a dozen others, except that he's still around and kicking it, and blues authority grows on old guys. B+(**)
Burkina Electric: Paspanga (2009 , Cantaloupe): Another African fusion project where a visitor (drummer/electronics wiz Lukas Ligeti) lands somewhere (Burkina Faso) and hooks up with local musicians (guitarist Wende K. Blass and singer Maď Lingani), the result being an African no less syncretic than the natives produce these days, but better distributed. Ligeti brought a German d/b/a Pyrolator along for more electronics. The only other credits are two dancers, brought along to "help us draw audiences into our unusual rhythms" and thereby to validate them. The rhythms are synthesized from local traditions, and scarcely feel wanting even if the main reason for going to Africa is to up the rhythm quotient. The guitar is less slick than the coast and less rustic than the desert. The vocals are down home, as they should be. A-
These are some even quicker notes based on downloading or streaming records. I don't have the packaging here, don't have the official hype, often don't have much information to go on. I have a couple of extra rules here: everything gets reviewed/graded in one shot (sometimes with a second play), even when I'm still guessing on a grade; the records go into my flush file (i.e., no Jazz CG entry, unless I make an exception for an obvious dud). If/when I get an actual copy I'll reconsider the record.
Tim Warfield: One for Shirley (2007 , Criss Cross): Tenor saxophonist, part of the "tough young tenors" generation, with an impressive debut album in 1995, but this is only his fifth album, the first since 2002. Shirley, of course, is Shirley Scott, the legendary soul jazz organ player, with Pat Bianchi filling her role here. No bassist necessary, but drummer Byron Landham gets reinforcements from percussionist Daniel G. Sadownick, and Terell Stafford slip in some trumpet -- not a soul jazz standard, but Stafford and Warfield are a frequent team. Aims low, and succeeds simply, although not as simply and elegantly as Scott's usual tenor player, Stanley Turrentine, could do. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Optional Wars on Terrorism
The lesson I draw from this is that it is possible to respond to provocations in different ways according to the political interests of those in power. Bin Laden got his war because that's the way Bush wanted to play it. He craved the opportunity to become a War President, and played up his Commander-in-Chief role to the day he left office. What Stack did, however, is far less useful either to Obama or to the Republicans who seem more inclined to spin it into jokes. Even if someone wanted to escalate the event into a war, what could you do? Send drones out over West Texas looking for wedding parties to bomb? Round up random taxi drivers and beat them to death? Those are things we did in Afghanistan, but it's highly unlikely that we'd treat American citizens with that same level of contempt and indifference.
Friday, February 19, 2010
I hauled a bunch of tools down to the basement today, and stripped off the tarp that had been covering the dining room table. Then I made dinner, not the first since we got the countertop finished but the first sizable affair: originally expected seven, then had three cancels, so added two more, then the cancels showed up anyway, giving us eight at one time, plus one more straggler later. Plenty of food, anyway. I decided to do Ruth Reichl's "family dinner" from Garlic and Sapphires: roast leg of lamb, scalloped potatoes, roasted brussels sprouts, but since I had mascarpone in the refrigerator, I replaced the last-minute chocolate cake with tiramisu. Roasted the lamb in the gas oven, and did the potatoes in the electric. The lamb came out a bit mixed: well done on the outside, rare near the bone, both quite tasty. The other dishes were slightly underdone, but close enough. Everyone was pleased.
The dinner conversation was dicier. Someone referred to Koch -- not clear whether the company, which has a long track record for environmental lapses, or the brothers, who rank among the top five families who bankrolled the far right's think tanks -- as evil, and that snowballed into an intemperate argument about capitalism vs. socialism and/or capitalism vs. democracy, as if both pairs were necessarily antipodal and exclusionary. One low point was when someone asserted that there are no socialists any more, a point a third or more of those around the table would take personal exception to. And there were others, just less clear. I can't go back and rehearse the points, but as someone who rarely manages to get a word in, I can at least make my points.
The first is that socialists within democracies -- including most of Western Europe and excluding the likes of Stalin and Mao -- have always supported democracy with individual rights including a broad right to property, and have usually supported a vibrant, open market system where the primary actors are capitalists. The few exceptions to the latter point tend to be archaic, as these days hardly anyone objects to a well regulated free enterprise system. In fact, it is not unusual for socialists in power to spend more energy maintaining the viability of capitalism than to advance worker interests -- France under Mitterand being one of the more obvious instances. (Obama, of course, doesn't come anywhere near qualifying as a socialist, but his instinct, like FDR's, to save capitalism by reforming it is something nearly all socialists share.)
So my first point is that socialism and capitalism are not incompatible: socialism is in fact built on capitalism, only reformed to mitigate the excesses that capitalists are prone to. Another way of putting this is that there are many variants of capitalism; consequently, it is a fallacy to speak of capitalism as requiring specific historical traits that turn out to be inessential, such as child labor, suppression of labor unions, a free hand to pollute, immunity from torts, or price fixing. It is just as easy to imagine a capitalist system where workers are guaranteed basic rights, where externalities (like pollution) are limited by market mechanisms (like cap-and-trade), where countervailing powers ensure that markets are transparent and competitive. It probably doesn't help when either side labels such reforms as socialism, but it isn't crazy: we live in a world where social values matter, even more than profits or self-serving freedom.
The argument here goes back to the Koch brothers. As near as I can tell, they -- and their privately held company -- hold two sets of closely related but asymmetrical political ideals. On the one hand, they are extreme libertarians -- Bill Koch, for instance, ran for vice president on the Libertarian Party ticket. My first encounter with Koch was when I worked for a Wichita typesetting shop and wound up doing several jobs for them: retyping the books of Murray Rothbard. Someone tonight pointed out how we routinely expect services from government like firefighting -- and as such how we have to have some kind of government, even if a restricted one. Rothbard, of course, disagreed: he saw no problem in each individual or company contracting with its own favored firefighting service, or failing to do so would suffer the consequences of receiving no help in fighting fires. (Rothbard had even nuttier ideas, like contracting with private services for money and justice.) In this vein, the Kochs became major backers of libertarian think tanks like the Cato Institute.
On the other hand, the Koch's company took a more pragmatic tack, making the right contributions to the right politicians to garner the favors of a government effectively controlled as an oligarchy. In this regard, the Kochs act much like any other oil company, seeking tax breaks and regulatory favors: their big payoff coming early in the Bush administration when they were able to consolidate and dispose of more than a hundred environmental pollution cases. The Kochs' libertarianism is especially ironic here: their company is utterly dependent on the powers of government to establish the property rights their business would be nothing without, yet they deny that the public that makes their business possible should have any authority to limit the damage their business can do.
The more I read into the "irritable mental gestures" that pass for thought on the American right, the more struck I am by how narrow and selfish the individual interests championed are, and by how paranoid they are in ascribing the consequences of failing to get their way. Kim Phillips-Fein's Invisible Hands: The Businessman's Crusade Against the New Deal starts off with the story of how the Du Ponts turned on FDR: one point was when one of the Du Pont brothers discovered that three of his black servants had quit his employ in favor of government relief jobs. From that point onward, every time a businessman fails to prevail, especially over a worker, he accuses the government of driving not just toward socialism but all the way to totalitarianism. It never occurs to them to compromise to respect other people's rights -- the only right they can imagine is their own. It's sad that anyone believes them, but the Kochs are by far the richest guys in these parts, their company is not nearly as stupidly run as their ideology, they have a big payroll, and many people are inclined to suck up to the rich and powerful, or to cynically let them have their way.
Thursday, February 18, 2010
The Politics of Denial
Steve Benen: Georgia Senators Forget the President's Name: This is a good example of how Obama can't get any credit even when he does something wrong -- and wrong not in the sense of carrying on a discredited Bush policy like Guantanamo or military tribunals or free money for banker bonuses or bombing Pakistan with drones trying to provoke a civil war or carrying Netanyahu's water in his diversionary campaign to stir up trouble with Iran. More like wrong as in something he did completely on his own, trying to jump start nuclear power plant building by guaranteeing massive loans, saddling the public with all the risk while private companies reap the profits. Needless to say, Georgia's Republican senators are into that sort of thing, but not to the point of acknowledging that it wouldn't have happened but for Obama:
I can see the political logic, but usually when you can get the other party to do your bidding, you're at least civil about it -- if only to claim that even-so-and-so sees the wisdom of your policy. I suppose one can come up with several theories why the Republicans are behaving this way. One is that they're really worried that Obama will consolidate a center-right that effectively stifles the left while avoiding the pitfalls of the far right, thereby rendering the Republican Party useless to the ruling class: in this scenario, anything they can do to delegitimize Obama, even if it's just a rude slight, is necessary. Another is that they're just racists, pretending (as their forefathers did) that blacks are (or should be) nothing more than invisible servants. Of course, you'd think Georgia Republicans would know better.
As for Obama's pro-nuclear power stance, I can't say I approve, nor that it's one of his biggest mistakes. My UK missile defense correspondent wrote back that he was surprised and disappointed that I oppose nuclear power. That's not exactly what I think, but it is an approximation. I think the US nuclear power industry has a huge problem with waste management, and that until someone does something to get that under control it's irresponsible to build more power plants. I also think that proliferation hasn't been adequately thought through. In the beginning nuclear power plants were a front for nuclear arms production, and that aspect has never been cleanly separated out -- in large part because the demand for nuclear arms has never been extinguished. One major consequence of this is that the industry has never had anything resembling transparency, which has meant that it has never been possible to accurately assess risks. (One of the few assessments we have is that private capital has been unwilling to invest in nuclear power plants since the 1970s, or really forever given the role the AEC played.) More generally, there are lots of externalities associated with nuclear power plants, which have historically been ignored but really need to be reckoned. (On the other hand, one can argue that coal-fired power plants have greater externalities, but it's hard to compare without having full transparency.)
Moreover, there are political issues. In particular, we had the spectacle of George Bush running around the world promoting nuclear power yet recoiling when Iran bought into the argument. I am, quite frankly, more worried that an Iranian nuclear power plant might melt down than that Iran would be able to blackmail the world with nuclear bombs. This in turn gets wrapped up in the global geopolitics of energy use. I've read various things about how much usable uranium exists, which make it more or less attractive, but either way it poses a race to see who can use it all up first. And that gets to my deeper misgivings: I expect that we are headed into a period of energy use contraction, and expect that to have profound effects on how we live -- maybe for the worse, or possibly, if we get smart about it, for the better. I don't see a lot of value in throwing more energy investments at the problem just to avoid the day of reckoning -- although I don't mind relatively safe investments to soften the blow. It may well be that in the long run we need to figure out how to do nuclear power right, and make use of that. But we're not there yet, and I don't see a lot of evidence that we're headed in the direction of getting smarter. Indeed, judging from the Georgia Republicans in the Senate, I'd say the opposite is the case.
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
The Old Deal
Steve Fraser: A Tale of Two Presidents: The notion that Obama might be a "transformational president" like Franklin Roosevelt enjoyed brief favor back when we could actually imagine "change we can believe in" as meaning something concrete. A year into their respective first terms, Roosevelt moved much further than he could have imagined, while Obama has rarely done anything but backpeddle. Fraser contrasts the two, seeing Obama's New Deal trajectory as reversed from Roosevelt's, approaching populism only as his attempts at accommodating the powers keep failing. Consider Obama's prospects:
There is plenty of reason to think that the financial collapse that triggered this recession was every bit as severe as that of 1929, but the resulting worldwide depression was arrested in much shorter order. This had less to do with the underlying dynamics than the fact that people in power -- even in the ultrareactionary Bush administration -- felt the need to act aggressively. And even though their solution was to re-stuff the pockets of the rich, the political support they needed came not from the Republican rank and file but from Democrats who bought the argument that a collapse on Wall Street would be a disaster for Main Street. That seemed like a good deal at the time, but less so now: not only was the crisis resolved on terms extremely favorable to the same bankers who caused the problems in the first place, but the apparent ease with which the crisis was averted has evidently dispelled any chance of changing things to prevent similar crises in the future, let alone any effort to make up for the damages done.
You can chalk this up to our reluctance to learn anything except in the hardest ways possible. At least in 1933 when Roosevelt came to the White House there was no doubt that the nation faced a grave situation. The main thing Roosevelt brought into play was a strong predilection for taking action, even if he didn't have a firm idea of what to do, and even if he wound up pursuing different approaches following no fixed ideology. That he was ultimately seen as a liberal had less to do with how he wanted to act than with the fact that his various liberal initiatives helped the economy and helped people cope with the economy whereas his conservative initiatives -- like slashing spending and balancing the budget -- failed. Obama has no such luxury today, partly because we don't think we're so desperate, and partly because the ideological blinders have been clamped down so tight.
On the other hand, you have to wonder why it should be so difficult. When the stock bubble burst in 2000-01, uncovering mountains of fraud that sank Bush's buddies at Enron, even a Republican president and congress felt obliged to make some token reforms, yet the banking industry, following a much larger and much more damaging meltdown, is good to go back to business as usual with little if any reform. Part of this is that Republicans have cynically chosen to block any reform that in any way crimps a potentially lucrative contributor, but it's also because the media seems determined to stifle anything that smacks of populist revolt -- even to the point of anointing the Republicans as the real populists, leaving the word hopelessly neutered. It's almost as if the media is doing the work of its corporate paymasters.
Roosevelt had no trouble striking a populist pose because it was in the air, driven by the agitated poor and confirmed by the readily identifiable "economic royalists" who opposed him. Obama will have a tougher time, if indeed he ever decides to try. He is certainly even less inclined to try than Roosevelt, whose own upper class pedigree gave his rabblerousing a cloak of irony. But what Obama is bound to discover is that the elites he tries to appeal to with reason have their heads stuck in a view of their interests that is ultimately bad for most Americans and eventually even for themselves. So Obama could find he needs to move to the left to save himself, or to save the country, or even to save its ruling class. The question is whether he does so soon enough and strongly enough to save the Democrats' grip on congress in 2010.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Paul Woodward: British officials say Mossad murdered Hamas commander: Starts with passport photos of suspicious persons traveling on anything but Israeli passports. (In particular, there is a report that the real Melvyn Mildiner never left Jerusalem and is actively seeking to clear himself.) The juicy part is here:
This reminds one of the CIA abduction case in Italy, which as far as I know is still waiting for the agents to be captured, but wasn't pursued so quickly to the desk where the buck stops. But then that seems to be a shorter path in Israel, where prime ministers routinely sign off on Mossad operations (or order them up directly). This may seem like politics, but once one starts looking at such actions as criminal conspiracies -- and assassination is nothing if not criminal -- they take on a life of their own.
By the way, Woodward forgot about another class of indicted Israeli prime ministers: those who got nabbed for corruption. Ehud Olmert tops that list. Not sure who else, but Ariel Sharon seemed to be headed that way before he checked into the witless protection program.
Monday, February 15, 2010
Matthew Yglseias: Evan Bayh: I'm not sure just how this works, but Indiana's so-called Democratic Senator timed his retirement announcement to minimize the chances of the Democratic Party to retain his seat. It won't be much of a loss, and it's tempting to say "good riddance" -- even at the risk of being called a "fucking retard" by Rahm Emmanuel. Bayh has never seen a war he didn't like, did his share to wreck health care reform, and has periodically grabbed the spotlight to spout sheer nonsense on budget matters. Of late the only thing he's been campaigning hard for is the dubious title of dumbest person in Congress. As for whether any of this is principled, let's quote Yglesias:
Evidently, Bayh leaves with a $13 million campaign warchest. Not sure what happens to that -- maybe he'll roll it over into a flier at challenging Obama in 2012 -- but it looks lost for the Democrats in the Indiana senate race: a huge opportunity cost. He was well ahead in the polls, with no reason to think he shouldn't have been able to triangulate his way to a third term, despite some Republican lust for the seat. Despite all the noise, I don't see the GOP as a lock for big gains in November. They are know-nothing, do-nothing obstructionists in thrall to a rigid ideology that seeks to capture government for nothing more than a joy ride after which they leave it and us battered and bruised. And they don't see the slightest reason to think otherwise, especially as long as their obstruction seems to be wearing Obama down. The only thing that's going to wake them up is to get wiped out in the next round of elections. Had he run, Bayh would have been part of that rout, even though he's actually been about as much of a problem as the Republicans. Without him it's a bit harder. It does, however, keep his track record intact: count on him always to do the wrong thing.
Update: Some more kind words on Evan Bayh:
[*] Also, note this from a comment to Jonathan Chait's post:
It also looks like Bayh is pretty much home clear with the $13 million he raised for the Senate race he isn't running in. It looks like no other candidate qualified for the Democratic primary, so the party will pick a replacement candidate -- although I've also seen a report that conservatives are flocking to restaurant owner Tamyra d'Ippolito, who had announced against Bayh but hadn't been able to get enough signatures to make the primary ballot.
Music: Current count 16357  rated (+24), 815  unrated (+13). Sick most of last week. Played some Rhapsody when I got the chance, and did a little jazz prospecting, but not much. Kitchen is officially done, but still need to do some moving around and cleaning up.
Jazz Prospecting (CG #23, Part 1)
I figured I'd pass on Jazz Prospecting this week, but came up with enough at the tail end to post. The week was pretty much wiped out for me by a minor illness of some sort. In any case, this promised to be a light week as I moved on from finishing a Jazz Consumer Guide column last week to starting a new round this week. The Voice has the draft now. I'm told it will most likely run March 17 or 23. I have a lot of new stuff in the queue to prospect, but the next column is already overstuffed, so I may try to push through a short cycle. That was the plan last time, but didn't work out. I wound up with 219 records in the cycle's Jazz Prospecting file, just about the same as in recent cycles (225, 226, 230). One thing unusual this time is that I cleared my shelf of records I had put back for further play. I've been somewhat more intemperate about that lately, feeling the need to get past records I don't quite get but am pretty sure I'll never wind up sufficiently interested in to spend Jazz CG space on -- Jon Gordon is a prime example below, although actually only Ibrahim made the cut this week.
Pat Metheny: Orchestrion (2010, Nonesuch): A solo album, of sorts, consisting of a huge array of mechanized instruments that can be programmed like a player piano -- the orchestrionics -- with guitar improvisation on top. The machines were custom-built: pianos, marimba, vibraphone, bells, basses, guitarbots percussion, cymbals and drums, blown bottles, "and other custom-fabricated acoustic mechanical instruments." Could have used more pictures and diagrams, although the cover hints at what's going on, not least through the absence of any humans in charge. The music itself is less eventful, an envelope of orchestration wrapped around the guitar, Metheny making his way through six long-ish, typically propulsive pieces. B+(**)
Torben Waldorff: American Rock Beauty (2009 , ArtistShare): Guitarist, b. 1963 in Denmark, based in Sweden, has five or so albums since 1999, the last couple on my HM list. I can't say as I have a good feel for his guitar, mostly because he keeps using tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin, who keeps blowing everyone else away. B+(**)
Tom Tallitsch: Perspective (2009, OA2): Saxophonist (tenor, soprano), b. 1974, based in New Jersey, closer to Philadelphia than to New York. Third album, a quintet with guitar and piano but no more horns. Strong postbop set, has an attractive sound to his tenor; soprano less so, of course. B+(*)
Sherman Irby Quartet: Live at the Otto Club (2008 , Black Warrior): Alto saxophonist from Alabama, b. 1968, sixth album since 1997, the first two on Blue Note should have established him as one of the brightest young mainstream players around -- cf. Big Mama's Biscuits -- but he disappeared for six years before coming back on his own label. Otto Club is in Napoli, Italy, which flavors the quartet -- Nico Menci on piano, Marco Marzola on bass, Darrell Green on drums. One original and five jazz covers, with only Roy Hargrove's "Depth" of postbop vintage. The opening and closing bop classics ("Bohemia After Dark" and "In Walked Bud") shine, but the slower pieces don't stand out much, and the pianist doesn't do much with his spotlight. B+(*)
Abdullah Ibrahim & WDR Big Band Cologne: Bombella (2008 , Sunnyside): Steve Gray, who died between the recording and its release, arranged and conducted ten Ibrahim pieces. The WDR Big Band is one of the better jazz repertory big bands around, with power and polish and a roster that can be counted on to nail a solo slot. Ibrahim plays piano, starting solo on "Green Kalahari." He is a consistent delight here. The band works wondrously sometimes, but sometimes seems a bit off. You can substitute piccolo flute for pennywhistle, and "Mandela" will be wonderful as always. B+(***)
Jon Gordon: Evolution (2009, ArtistShare): Alto saxophonist, also plays some soprano. Has a dozen or so albums since 1989, mostly on Criss Cross and Double-Time. This one is, well, complicated. Five of nine pieces are cut with a large ensemble, including John Ellis on tenor sax, Doug Yates on bass clarinet, plus trumpet, trombone, guitar, piano, bass, drums, percussion, and strings. First track opens with just the strings: two violins and a cello, with a quasi-classical feel. A couple of other tracks pair Gordon off with Bill Charlap on piano. Kristin Berardi pops up here and there with vocals. Couldn't listen closely in two plays, but doesn't seem promising enough to explore further, which isn't to say there isn't anything of interest here. B
John Stein: Raising the Roof (2009, Whaling City Sound): Guitarist, from Kansas City, MO; discography (8 records) starts in 1995 but he appears to be older. Quartet with piano, bass, drums, same group as on his previous Encounter Point. Mostly bop standards (Silver, Timmons, Thad Jones, Gillespie), with two originals, a Jobim, and "Falling in Love With Love." Has a light, silky touch that slices neatly through this material. B+(**)
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Muddying the Waters
One of my favorite websites, Paul Woodward's War in Context, has a new look and feel, and I don't like it. In particular, it shares one idiosyncrasy with the recent facelift to Mondo Weiss which I hated so much I pretty much stopped reading the website: only the two (or in War in Context's case three) most recent posts are provided complete. After that, the next dozen or so are provided in short synopses in two columns, each requiring a separate click to get to. The two sites have other similarities. This makes me think they're built with the same toolkit. War in Context identifies its toolkit as "Thesis WordPress Theme" and provides a link to the source. I can't make much sense out of their website, but it looks like some sort of proprietary software scheme, which is one more reason to be annoyed. The hype for the software makes some utilitarian claims, but the effect is to throw up more obstacles between the content and the reader. Lots of websites use obfuscation to cover up a lack of content, which is irritating but can easily be disposed of. What's sad is when such things happen to sites that do have something to say.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
The Revolt of the Folks
James Surowiecki: The Populism Problem: I have no idea why Republican ranting is called Populism these days, and neither does Surowiecki. It used to be a code word for a Democrat talking about class, but now it seems to apply to any demagoguery, no matter how incoherent. Surowiecki writes:
Surowiecki misses many more examples. Krugman's latest column is on Republicans and Medicare. I tried reading Jane Mayer's The Trial, on Attorney General Eric Holder's decision to prosecute Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in court in New York and just couldn't plow through the incoherency of the critics, not to mention the calls for lynching Holder. They act like being interrogated by the FBI and prosecuted by the DOJ is some form of coddling -- a perception that no one who's been through it seems to share. This isn't just confused. It constitutes some sort of nationwide nervous breakdown.
Mayer offers the Massachusetts Senate race as an example:
Actually, if I was going to make a Hollywood fantasy movie of some special posse breaking into Bin Laden's cave, wrestling him to the ground, and cuffing him, I'd end it with a G-Man towering over him and reciting the Miranda warning. That's exactly how you established that the law has triumphed. I doubt that anyone seeing such a movie would fail to get the point, which isn't to say that Lynne Cheney wouldn't rush out to write an op-ed condemning me.
I haven't written anything about "underpants bomber" Abdulmutallab because from the moment the story broke it seemed like a confirmation that the system had basically worked -- maybe not as frictionless as one would like, but when do systems ever work like that? That the FBI was able to convince the would-be bomber to provide useful info was consistent with the FBI's track record -- unlike the CIA's, where he would have been tortured into spouting useless nonsense. As many people have pointed out, the case was exactly analogous to that of Richard "shoe bomber" Reid, who was prosecuted in exactly the same way by the Bush administration -- in one of the few cases where they realized that everything they needed was legal. The only difference today is that the hysteria that folks have worked themselves into based on the totally bogus idea that Obama is pro-terrorist. He may have given up the silly "war on terror" rhetoric, but he's on track to kill more terrorists (and bystanders) than his predecessor, and he hasn't shown any evidence of pulling back or toning down a war that quite frankly never was a good idea.
Brown's statements underscore not just how paranoid and excitable folks are, but how ready they are to trample the constitution. To my ears this sounds exactly like they're calling for fascist dictatorship, although if you listen to much right-wing radio you'll hear that Obama has this or that secret plan to establish his own fascist dictatorship. This is all the more incredible given how deferential Obama has been to both parties in Congress and to the lobbyists of industries he's made very modest proposals to regulate, and how he's backtracked on virtually every principled promise he made to end the illegal actions and policies of the Bush administration. You have to wonder where folks get this stuff.
Radio, of course -- the Republican Noise Machine is in full gear. But also papers like the once-liberal Washington Post have gone whole hog into attack mode. Glenn Greenwald writes:
The point of that Greenwald column was to write about Mukasey, but it comes only one day after another column which also summarized the Washington Post's Op-Ed page:
It's an old truism that the easiest way to get folks to believe something is to keep repeating it ad nauseum, and that's what this sounds like. And if the so-called liberal media is this far gone, why not just throw caution to the wind and go with the flow? (Other than that it's totally fucking nuts, that is.)
PS: This is another case where the title might sound better with a little German, like "The Völkisch Revolt" -- although there must be an even better word/phrase that's beyond my limited vocabulary. I left out a digression into how much this sounded like fascism once I got to the leader-principle (you know, Führerprinzip) and started trying to plug in names. I'm not sure whether Sarah Palin or Glenn Beck came out more farcical -- you could make a good case either way. Which may mean a real fascist movement is further off than it seems. But what is clear is that the masses -- the people Goldhagen called the "willing executioners" -- are primed and ready. The Republicans may want nothing more than to count their votes, but they're so desperate to do so they're promising to become far worse than Bush and Cheney could dare get away with.
Unsolicited Israel Advice
A draft of a letter written for Helena Cobban, trying to put a couple of ideas into play. Didn't send this.
Friday, February 12, 2010
I got a letter from someone in the UK asking for my opinions on a couple of things. Don't know why he cares, but I have lots of opinions. He asks:
My first thought about missile defense is that it doesn't work. It's not only that it is a very difficult technical task given the speeds, sizes, and distances which leads to a very complex and finicky system, but also that it's virtually impossible to test to any real degree of confidence. Maybe if you had a lot of incoming rockets you could get some real world practice. Testing against MIRVed ICBMs, even with mock warheads, is prohibitively expensive, not to mention dangerous. Israel has some sort of system for combatting toy rockets from Gaza, but it's a long ways from being reliable.
That leads to my second thought, which is what good is a defensive shield system if it can't be trusted as reliable? It isn't exactly useless, but it is certainly dangerous. In particular, it's likely to confuse the chain of command, and it's likely to confuse whoever the enemy is supposed to be. We know, for instance, that both the US and the USSR regarded the other's ABM efforts as destabilizing advances meant to secure a first strike capability -- even if one was certain that the system would fail you couldn't trust the side that was building it to recognize its faults. (Ronald Reagan was the only guy on earth who regarded such systems as benign.)
There are other problems, like response time. In order to have a chance of working, response has to be pretty automatic, which runs the risk of taking the decision of starting a war away from the chain of command -- a problem that is all that much worse given that the likelihood of a glitch is greater than the odds of an actual attack.
Your economic points are valid enough. It's certainly cheaper to defeat an ABM system than it is to build one, which is yet another reason it's impossible to build a working system against a determined, resourceful foe. On the other hand, rocket science is rocket science, and few nations are actually any good at it (or for that matter B-2-like bombers). More likely a relatively poor nation would try to circumvent rather than overwhelm the system, in which case the economic differential is a moot point, and the system is even more unworkable.
It's also worth noting that in the US missile defense has evolved (i.e., has been molded by selection pressures) mostly as a form of graft. The companies who build it are rewarded for their political clout and are not punished for failures. The US has deep pockets, but nothing that can't be wasted by companies like Boeing. And how deep for how long is a serious question.
As for your rogue state scenario, I think you'll find that the critical issue isn't how perfectly defended we are -- no real way to do that, and certainly not with a hacked missile defense shield -- but how aggressive (or reckless) we choose to be. The US was not deterred from attacking Iraq by chemical and biological weapons -- real in 1991, mythical in 2003; on the contrary, Saddam Hussein was deterred from using them. The US has very daunting conventional military force, and if the other side wants to play nuclear, the US can bring that on too, faster and harder than any other nation. Such a strategy may be riskier once the opponent has nuclear weapons, but no recent US president (except maybe Reagan) seems to have been squeamish about sacrificing American lives.
On the other hand, there are no rogue states like you mention. No nation can conquer its neighbors and become "a great power." Every such occupation costs more than it's worth. (Iraq taking Kuwait might have been an exception, but Kuwait is contiguous with Iraq, really the same people and culture, and small enough to be manageable -- India taking Goa was a similar example but nobody cared about that.) Nobody has figured out how to practice nuclear blackmail. I suppose you could say that Israel is free to bomb Syria and Lebanon, but Israel's conventional forces have ample deterrence, and Israel doesn't flaunt its bomb. Similarly, the US has fought many wars without bringing nuclear weapons to the battlefield, and has caused incredible amounts of damage. Nuclear weapons are at best difficult and awkward to use. As for terrorism, there are plenty of options besides regime change, and often regime change is a bad strategy. North Korea, for instance, is an awful mess, but you'd have to be a really crackpot pseudo-humanitarian to think invasion is the answer.
To sum up, I think missile defense is an insane investment intended to produce a set of undesirable policy options that are unwise and fraught with danger. I see it as a very stupid and unnerving thing to pursue.
I think it's extremely unlikely, almost unthinkable. This has much to do with how Israel's security elites view themselves, and it's not that they're too "moral" to do such a deed so much as that they're too professional. The endstate they want is for the Palestinians to be ground down and invisible -- "an utterly defeated people" -- but more important they really don't want an endstate. The conflict is what holds Israel together, what gives Israelis their identity, and what gives the security elites their unique societal status. It's not surprising they don't want to give that up.
On the other hand, if the elites did decide to implement a final solution, I don't doubt that it would be substantially popular among Israelis -- probably only a big minority right now, but it wouldn't be hard to uncork enough terror to sway a majority. One thing to understand is that most Israelis have been systematically terrorized all of their lives -- not by Palestinians, although they've done their part, but by the Holocaust culture, military indoctrination, religious study, all-pervasive hasbara. A good picture of the gap between what the elites know and what the masses fear can be gleaned from Tom Segev's 1967, although since then both sides have gotten much nastier. There are no shortage of political demagogues and "willing executioners" in Israel, but it would take an extreme fluke to flip the elites.
For what it's worth, Israel is a pariah state already -- maybe not a North Korea, but the comparisons to South Africa are, if anything, too generous. The more the Palestinians try to court world opinion -- as opposed to trying to fight their way out of their cage -- the more bizarre Israel looks and the more isolated it becomes. That may matter little to the masses who can't see themselves, but the elites will eventually face a self-identity crisis as traditional allies like Europe and the US turn on them. If this really were an existential conflict, they might decide to go down an isolationist path, like Myanmar, but the conflict isn't like that. There's a straightforward deal on the table which would leave the elites secure in a slightly smaller Israel, and if the choice was that or Myanmar they'd be unprofessional not to take it. It will, of course, be Israel's choice: no one's going to impose regime change on them. But South Africa was in a similar situation, and chose to be part of the world rather than apart from the world.
I actually think most rogue states would lean that way if given a self-respecting chance. Building anti-missile shields to ensure a nation can't take any recourse against you while you pound them back to the stone age is a crude, expensive, and ultimately ineffective way to solve such problems.
Let me add a little more on missile defense. First, recall that in the days and weeks before Sept. 11, 2001, Bush's top priority (having passed his tax cuts) was getting Congress to approve funding for major expansion of anti-missile defense. One of the first conversations we overheard when we went out to lunch in Brooklyn that day was someone saying, "boy, too bad we don't have that anti-missile defense system." I don't recall anyone rejoining with, "oh, come on, the anti-missile defense system is only for real, serious attacks."
Fred Kaplan has a good chapter on anti-missile defense in Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power. In particular, he says (p. 79):
And (p. 85):
And he follows this with various examples from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, including the setback that shook Nixon into negotiating the ABM Treaty (pp. 89-90):
I considered working the latter story into my response. In particular, I thought about comparing Bell's scruples to the companies that have been working on Star Wars since Reagan came in. Another interesting sidelight is a story from James Carroll's House of War: The Pentagon and the Disastrous Rise of American Power. In the early 1960s McNamara set up the in-house Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) to sort through all the crap the CIA and the military brass were passing off as intelligence. The first head of the DIA was Carroll's father, Lt. Gen. Joseph Carroll, who remained in charge until Nixon's Defense Secretary, Melvin Laird, fired him in 1969. The reason? Carroll refused to remove a statement from an intelligence estimate that said that the Soviet Union wasn't pursuing a first strike capability. Why? Because the statement was needed to justify Laird's ABM system (i.e., the same one Bell decided wouldn't work).
Also worth reading is Chalmers Johnson's Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, which focuses especially on space-based weapons schemes (e.g., p. 216):
In fact, he gives an example of a doomsday weapon: a rocket that could launch "a dumptruck full of gravel" into orbit, where it would suffice to destroy every satellite, including the NSA's and the military's eyes and ears, as well as most of our global telecommunications bandwidth, plus handy things like GPS. Missile defense would also produce space debris, starting with the test phase.
Thursday, February 11, 2010
Glenn Greenwald: Wall Street Owners Angry with their Purchase: Starts with a New York Times article where anonymous Wall Streeters are grousing about how Obama has turned on them, saying unkind things, "rousing the dirty rabble with their anti-banker rhetoric." They're so upset they're threatening to pull the plug on their contributions and flock to the Republicans -- after all, who among the Republicans would talk trash about them? Given how much influence the megabanks have had over Obama and his team, how mild his actual statements have been, they're showing awful thin skin. The arrogant sense of entitlement is shocking. It's as if they thought the backroom deals with cooked up with the Fed and Treasury were brought on by popular acclaim, or (more likely) that public opinion is totally irrelevant anymore. The Republicans have done the banks a lot of favors thus far, not least by raising such a stink over any attempt to use the same sort of restructuring the Republicans used to clean up the S&L mess -- what they called "nationalizing" the banks. The result of that was that Obama wound up rescuing the bank shareholders while leaving the banks under the same management that broke them -- and a big chunk of the real economy -- in the first place.
Note: Didn't post this:
Matthew Yglesias: Defense Spending: Here's a useful chart on DOD spending since 1948, including some steady-growth projections as far as the right margin can stretch:
As you can see, the spikes correspond to wars (or Ronald Reagan,
who fortunately didn't fight his). Also the postwar troughs get less
deep after each war, with the 2012 trough -- presumably when Obama
is forecasting substantial disengagement from Iraq and Afghanistan --
still way above the red line (and for that matter the Vietnam peak).
Too Rich to Fail
Simon Johnson: President Obama on CEO Compensation at Too Big to Fail Banks: Start here, but also read Paul Krugman's Clueless and Wall Street Damage Control (which includes the clueless quotes in broader context). Thanks to the federal government's "too big to fail" bank bailouts, Jamie Dimon of JP Morgan Chase and Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs will get bonuses of $17 and $9 million respectively. Obama's reaction: "I know both of those guys; they are very savvy businessmen," and "I, like most of the American people, don't begrudge people success or wealth. That is part of the free-market system." Most of the flak thus far has been technical: how can you consider a bank where the federal government steps in to whitewash its bad debts and dumb investments part of the free-market system? Johnson makes more sense when he calls it "the antithesis of a free-market system."
In some ways my reaction is less visceral than Krugman's -- "Oh. My. God." But I think there are many layers of error here, and we should start unpeeling them. For starters, Obama likens these bank titans to baseball stars who make as much or more, leading Krugman to point out that at least the ballplayers didn't start a recession. Still, it's not that simple. For one thing, ballplayer salaries aren't all that generously accepted: go into any sports bar in the country and strike up a conversation on the subject. I'd be surprised if you can find anyone who doesn't think athletes are overpaid. As for CEOs, this isn't a brand new topic. The explosion of CEO pay has been a scandal for several decades now. The beggar banks are a particularly egregious example, and not just for the numbers: it smells funny that any business could totter between the edge of the abyss and enough profit to make such bonuses possible.
In fact, the whole bonus structure of the banking business smells funny. Banking used to be a simple game of percentages: people trust you with their savings, you take those savings and loan them out to businesses and people who repay those loans with interest, some of which in turn gets credited back to the depositors, with expenses and some margin of profit for the banker covered in the difference. Usually bankers did relatively well for themselves, but they mostly did well if the community did well, and they were a part of that. These days it's not so clear. In 2007 the banking-financial services industry was responsible for about 20% of the nation's GDP, but took 41% of all corporate profits. There are two obvious problems in that sentence: one is that it's impossible to imagine why one out of every five dollars we spend should be for credit or insurance; you'd think we could do something that important a little more efficiently, especially with all the advances in computers and telecommunications. The other is that if finance is more than twice as profitable as the rest of the economy, it seems likely that a lot of the money that passes through bankers' hands is getting stuck (or sucked up) along the way.
For instance, consider this example. We have an old friend: a longtime community organizer, good politics, decent in every way. He moved to New York and got a job with one of those "socially responsible" investment firms, eventually parlaying that into his own financial services business (although he's still attached to some megabank). We put $50k into an account with him nearly a decade ago. That account is now worth $48k, which isn't the worst total imaginable but hasn't impressed us enough to up our ante. On the other hand, our friend got written up in the New York Times a while back: an article on a fancy rehab to his $1 million apartment, so evidently he's pulling in pretty good income regardless of what his clients are getting back. Now, I don't begrudge him his success -- certainly no more than Obama, who's a pretty savvy businessman in his own right, begrudges Dimon for pulling down 50+ times Obama's salary. But this still smells funny, like the entire financial services industry has turned into a giant scam for sucking up as much loose change as possible.
This suggests several things to me. For one thing, even before the bailouts the banking system wasn't functioning as a real free market. Had it been, there would have been competitive pressure to drive prices down and reward efficiency. Instead, what we see is basically an orgy of escalating fees. Competition would also drive wages down, and that would have put a lid on bonuses. It's one thing for a CEO to rape the stockholders -- that happens in practically every industry these days -- but it's extraordinary when you start handing out million-dollar bonuses just for sales commissions. You can't do that and still deliver cost-competitive product if there's any competitive pressure. The only reason for payouts like that is that you're robbing someone and feel obliged to split the take -- if for no other reason than to keep the buyer in the dark.
The net effect of doing business like that is a culture of rapaciousness -- a culture so pervasive in the industry now that the movers and shakers expect "retention bonuses" even when they fail. Joseph Stiglitz writes in his new book, Freefall (p. 80):
This doesn't follow the expected rules of capitalism, so what is really going on here? If you have no profits but pay dividends and bonuses, what exactly are you paying people for? I'll hazard a guess and say influence: the banking racket is held together by its profiteering, and threatens to fly apart if people don't get their expected cut. Lucky thing for the banks that the government stepped in to pick up the tab, or is it so lucky? Although oil, arms, and (lately) health care buy a lot of influence in Washington, do any of them have remotely as much clout as the banks? We know, for sure, that the auto industry, which back when America built things was the largest sector of the economy, doesn't come close: not only isn't GM paying out bonuses and dividends, their management has been canned and their shareholders liquidated in bankruptcy, all for chump change -- $30 billion, compared to the trillion-plus the banks have racked up. This didn't just happen: the banks have been clawing away at the regulations Roosevelt put in place in 1933 after the last time unregulated banking wrecked the economy. They finally got rid of the Carter-Glass Act in 1999, and less than 10 years later they brought back memories of 1929.
If ever a lesson was obvious, this is it. Even Obama understands that new regulations are in order. The problem is that he severely underestimates the enemy. One proof of this is that he regards bank CEOs like Dimon and Blankfein as "savvy businessmen" -- as opposed to reckless buccaneers (to put it kindly) or greedy crooks (which is more like it). There's also the problem of his team, all of whom are deeply bred in the banking culture. More generally, he has a real serious problem with deferring to rich people. That is the world he aspired to and catered to, in fact sucked up to so much that he raised more money in his presidential run than McCain or Clinton. He knows people like Dimon and Blankfein because he's cultivated them for years. In doing so he's overlooked what they really do, and bought into the myth that what's good for America's rich is good for America.
It shouldn't take more than a minute of reflection to see that that's nonsense. The banking industry is a predatory racket, backed by legal favors from Washington and, in a pinch, trillions of tax dollars. One way to prove this is to look at the fine print on your credit card bill: the interest rates are beyond usurious, and you're likely to be smacked with fees coming and going for the slightest slip-up on your part. Given the costs and risks, why would anyone do business with that credit card company? Well, try to find one that will give you a better deal. Or take mortgages: Stiglitz has a whole chapter on mortgage scams, most predatory, many flat-out fraudulent. In the lead-up to the crisis, mortgage brokers went out of their way to write bad mortgages, which could then be passed on through banks who securitized them to investors who were deliberately misled on what they were buying and what the real risks were. The only reason Bernie Madoff is in jail and Dimon and Blankfein are rolling in fresh cash is that the latter covered their tracks with more confusing paperwork and a lot of political graft.
Krugman is right that Obama is clueless here. He doesn't have the instinct to trash a rich athlete, let alone a big contributor, and he doesn't have the touch to connect with the rage so many Americans feel about his insider deals. (That is, by the way, why Michelle Malkin scored so successfully with her utterly hypocritical Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies, and that's precisely the same sense of rage that drove the Democrats out of Congress in 1994.) But he's got an even bigger problem than being clueless, and that's being dumb. He fails to recognize that what makes the banking industry so troublesome is how they use their political and financial leverage to strip the economy, and that in the process they're making everyone else's lives poorer and riskier. Moreover, it's not just the bankers who are devouring the nation. Same thing is going on with the health care industry, which got some press last week for topping 17% of GDP. Lots of people in America are smart and work hard and never get rich. The people who get rich have angles they can leverage, which could be a distinctive brand or a patent or some market niche they've cornered and rendered noncompetitive; increasingly, it's a lobbyist on K Street who perverts the government from serving the public into favoring a special interest. But what lets all of these special interests get away with it is that we're brought up to esteem the rich and successful -- indeed, is there any definition of conservative that matters other than to serve the rich?
Obama's proving himself to be a complete conservative. Guess I'm going to have to go back to describing the Republicans as something else, like neo-fascists.
Monday, February 08, 2010
Music: Current count 16333  rated (+15), 802  unrated (+2). Mostly played old Jazz CG records, trying to wrap up.
Jazz Prospecting (CG #22, Part 11)
Spent most of the week playing already-rated records. Managed to write a few more reviews -- enough to call this round done, and to have a huge leg up on the next one. Don't have much new prospecting to show, but I might as well dump what I have given that this is the end of the round. Presumably the column will appear sometime in March, and I'll start working on the next one this week. Should have a surplus cull before long, too.
Mulatu Astatke: New York-Addis-London: The Story of Ethio Jazz 1965-1975 (1965-75 , Strut): The guy who got away from Swinging Addis while the getting was good. Working from an advance with no doc, I can only guess where and when these scattered singles came from or who does what on them. Christgau reports that eight are dupes from the Addis-rooted Éthiopiques 4, which I've checked out on Rhapsody and find more/less as inspired. One thing I note here from his New York and/or London wanderings (or Boston or wherever else) is a flirtation with Latin jazz, which he spices up subtly. A- [advance]
Pete M. Wyer: Stories From the City at Night (2008, Thirsty Ear): Spoken voice or artsong -- a couple remind me of Kurt Weill, but they can get more operatic. Music, which mostly consists of Wyer's guitar and "sound design" with scattered guests -- trumpet on one song, trombone on another, Matthew Shipp's piano for one cut, Matthew Sharp's cello for three -- is interesting but scattered in a soundtrack sort of way. Can't say as I've followed it closely enough to know how it hangs together, which might make a difference. B
Eli Yamin: You Can't Buy Swing (2008, Yamin Music): CDR with a thermal print cover sheet in a slim jewel case, just the formula for a record I didn't notice for two years. Yamin is a pianist, b. 1968 in East Patchogue, NY; based in New York City; director of Jazz at Lincoln Center's Middle School Jazz Academy; has one previous album. This one includes Ari Roland on bass, Alvin Atkinson on drums, and two saxophonists: Lakecia Benjamin, whom I've never heard of, and Chris Byars, a favorite (except when he plays flute). Swings more than anything else, with a buoyant rhythm section and some tasty sax bits. B+(*) [advance]
Beaty Brothers Band: B3 (2007 , Beaty Brothers): LP-style slipcase, probably a final product although it looked at first like an advance to me -- some labels do just that, but it seems unlikely that a self-release would. Brothers are John Beaty on alto sax and Joe Beaty on trombone. Band adds Yayoi Ikawa on piano (sounds electric), Jim Robertson on bass, Ari Hoenig on drums -- the latter is the only one I'm familiar with. Postbop, no real effort to take advantage of the electric instrument(s), and fairly limited solo power. B
Chris Greene Quartet: Merge (2009 , Single Malt): Saxophonist, from Evanston, IL; studied at University of Indiana; returned to Chicago. Fifth album since 1998. Album pictures him with a tenor sax; website with a soprano. Grew up listening to funk, which comes through especially in the three originals that kick off the album. After that this leans more postbop, although I'm occasionally reminded of Illinois Jacquet. Group includes piano-bass-drums, no one I've heard of, although pianist Damian Espinosa wrote one song and takes a few notable solos. B+(**) [Apr. 6]
Edward Ratliff: Those Moments Before (2009, Strudelmedia): Bills himself as "composer, multi-instrumentalist" -- plays accordion, cornet, trumpet, trombone, and celeste here, the latter a rather rudimentary solo on the closer. I think of him as a soundtrack composer because his previous album, Barcelona in 48 Hours was a soundtrack, but he called the one before that Wong Fei-Hong Meets Little Strudel, and even this more generic album starts with Marelene Dietrich on the cover. He works in a pastiche of styles, the sort of thing adaptable to film. The accordion leans into European genres, while the horns complement various combinations of Michaël Attias (alto/baritone sax), Beth Schenck (soprano sax), and Doug Wieselman (clarinet). B+(***)
Chicago Underground Duo: Boca Negra (2009 , Thrill Jockey): Rob Mazurek (cornet, electronics) and Chad Taylor (drums, vibes, mbira, computer, electronics). They've been the core of various Chicago Underground duos, trios, and quartets going back to 1998. The duo format doesn't seem much more stable than a two-legged stool, but they don't just give and take here, although they do try a lot of different variations. "Confliction" stands out as an unusually raucous piece: heavy drumming, rapid cornet riffs, so much momentum you never sense the lack of a bassist. B+(**)
Eri Yamamoto Trio: In Each Day, Something Good (2009 , AUM Fidelity): Piano trio, with David Ambrosio on bass and Ikuo Takeuchi on drums. Yamamoto moved from Japan to New York in 1995 and soon put this group together, now with 6 albums to show for 14 years collaboration. Bright, fluid, quite likable, a performance level she consistently achieves. Don't have much more to say. B+(*)
Charles Evans/Neil Shah: Live at Saint Stephens (2009, Hot Cup): Evans plays baritone sax; had a solo record called The King of All Instruments that held up pretty well. Shah plays piano, and has a previous album I haven't heard. (Also reportedly sings, but not here.) Like so many duos, a lot of thoughtful interplay but nothing really takes off. B+(*)
Daniel Smith: Blue Bassoon (2009 , Summit): Bassoon player, b. 1939, started out in classical music where, among many other performances, he produced a 6-CD set of 37 Vivaldi bassoon concertos. Not sure about his discography -- AMG classifies him as classical and is pretty spotty; on the other hand, his own website lists more records but no dates -- but it looks like Baroque Jazz and Jazz Suite for Bassoon were transitional. I've heard two of his jazz efforts -- one themed to bebop, the other to swing -- where he struck me as little more than a novelty. This one's a novelty too -- the bassoon has a thin, deep sound, combining the immobility of a bass sax or tuba with the sonic charm of a kazoo -- but it's so good natured it would be churlish to complain. Mostly jazz standards -- Silver, Parker, Rollins, Coltrane, Mingus, Morgan, Adderley, Shorter, etc. -- plus a couple of blues. Help on piano and guitar. B+(*)
These are some even quicker notes based on downloading or streaming records. I don't have the packaging here, don't have the official hype, often don't have much information to go on. I have a couple of extra rules here: everything gets reviewed/graded in one shot (sometimes with a second play), even when I'm still guessing on a grade; the records go into my flush file (i.e., no Jazz CG entry, unless I make an exception for an obvious dud). If/when I get an actual copy I'll reconsider the record.
The Heliocentrics: Out There (2007, Now Again): Presumably Sun Ra-inspired, although an association with DJ Shadow has sharpened up their beats, and their jazz credentials are unsure. Still, they first came to my attention playing with Mulatu Astatke, and the difference they made between Astatke's old Ethio-Jazz and his Information Inspiration is not just beatwise -- they also improvise more around the beat. Subtract Astatke and you get this, which is more dancefloor and more soundtrack but only around the frilly edges. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Brinsk: A Hamster Speaks (2008, Nowt): A concept album about hamsters singing arias over "metal-based rhythmic structures." The horns -- trumpet, tenor sax, euphonium -- keep it in the jazz realm. (There are no vocals, so don't worry about that.) I didn't get it the first time, and I don't get it now. It does seem likely that the group name is derived from bassist Aryeh Kobrinsky's name. B+(*)
3 Play +: American Waltz (2009, Ziggle Zaggle Music): Odd group name, with a nonsequitur album name. Group is a quartet with two significant guests -- guitarist Mick Goodrick and tenor saxophonist George Garzone. Pianist Josh Rosen is the probable leader, but trumpeter Phil Grenadier is much better known, almost on par with the guests. I kept playing this, 4-5 times this round. It's never annoying, but I never grabbed onto any one thing to write about, except of course that Garzone is a national treasure, but you know that, right? B+(**)
Marcus Strickland Trio: Idiosyncrasies (2009, Strick Muzik): Clearly a rising star, but also clearly not an idiosyncratic one: he channels Coleman and Coltrane, Shorter, many others down through Donny McCaslin (but not Rollins or James Carter), but he has yet to produce a breakthrough album that stands on its own. Trio format keeps him up front, but switching away from tenor sax gives up some edge -- sure, he does play soprano better than most tenor men. Helps that his twin brother is every bit as good a drummer. B+(**)
Some more re-grades as I've gone through trying to sort out the surplus (and/or Rhapsody records re-evaluated for real):
Mulatu Astatke/The Heliocentrics: Inspiration Information (2009, Strut): [was (Rhapsody)] A-
Borah Bergman Trio: Luminescence (2008 , Tzadik): [was (Rhapsody)] A-
Dennis González/Jnaana Septet: The Gift of Discernment (2008, Not Two): [was (Rhapsody)] A-
Boban i Marko Markovic Orkestar: Devla: Blown Away to Dancefloor Heaven (2009, Piranha): [was (Rhapsody) B+(***)] A-
Quartet Offensive: Carnivore (2008 , Quartet Offensive): [was: B+(**)] B+(***)
Roberto Rodriguez: The First Basket (2009, Tzadik): [was (Rhapsody)] B+(***)
Roberto Rodriguez: Timba Talmud (2009, Tzadik): [was (Rhapsody)] A-
Matt Wilson Quartet: That's Gonna Leave a Mark (2008 , Palmetto): [was (Rhapsody): B+(***)] A-
John Zorn: Alhambra Love Songs (2008 , Tzadik): [was (Rhapsody)] A-
For this cycle's collected Jazz Prospecting notes, look here.
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:
Sunday, February 07, 2010
Government Sucks Before It Expires
Mahablog: What Small Government Looks Like: Alternatively, what happens when the Tea Baggers win. I suppose it had to happen somewhere, if for nothing else because so many folks can only learn things the hard way, and Colorado Springs -- home of James Dobson's Focus on the Family and the U.S. Air Force Academy -- is at least, blessedly, not here. Colorado, you may recall, was the state that got suckered into passing a so-called Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TaBOR) law, which pretty much guaranteed that taxpayers would be subjected to nothing but bad government until it keeled over and expired from starvation. (We've fought similar laws off here in Kansas for years, although the ringleader managed to get himself elected to the Sedgwick County Board where he's become Public Menace No. 1.) Still, it's rare to read a report starting off with how many police and firefighters will be sacked.
I read a similar piece a while back about how Arizona is closing half of its state parks due to lack of funds. As someone who as a kid grew up drooling over Arizona Highways that hit pretty close to home. Here in Kansas our ex-Republican, ex-Democrat, soon-to-be-ex-Governor is pushing for a sales tax increase to salvage even the cutback budget, while many of the state's local school boards are suing the state for abandonment. These stories show one of the ironies in the Republicans' starve-the-beast strategy: it isn't hard to get folks riled up about the federal government and all its waste and corruption, but the immediate victims of their success will be state and local governments that those same folks actually depend on. I expect this will backfire, although I have to admit that in their strongholds Republicans manage to keep getting re-elected while providing the worst government possible. Still, especially in the belt from South Carolina to Texas and Oklahoma expectations have been awful low for a very long time. Still, what's happening in Colorado and Arizona are even below long-time norms, so you have to wonder.
Saturday, February 06, 2010
Irritable Mental Gestures
I may not be qualified to speak for liberals, but aside from the word "fact" I don't see any evidence that conservatives are any less convinced that their positions are self-evidently right and that opposing views are "illegitimate, ideological and unworthy of serious consideration." (Facts do seem to be a distinct refuge for liberals, and something conservatives casually disregard.) And I can recall any number of conservatives deriding liberals as idiots (Mona Charen's Useful Idiots is one example; the collected works of Ann Coulter is another), and this has been going on a long time. You might argue that liberals have finally caught up with conservatives in mustering disdain for their opponents, and you might bemoan that uncivility, but it didn't come from nowhere. And one might even argue that liberal invective is the direct result of the degradation of conservative thought. Ten-twenty-thirty years ago there were liberals who readily acknowledged that some conservatives had some good ideas -- there was indeed a period when conservatives touted themselves as "the party of ideas." That doesn't happen anymore because a lot of those ideas have been tried and found wanting, and because conservative mindsets have increasingly shrunk back into their reptilian shell, lashing out incoherently about taxes and big government and the need to destroy anyone who doesn't like us enough.
Alexander digs up an old Lionel Trilling quote:
It's worth remembering that in 1950 the Republican Party was dominated by its northeastern wing, having nominated Wendell Wilkie and Thomas Dewey as its last standard bearers, with Ike Eisenhower in the wings. Conservatives were marginal within the GOP, and even those who passed as mainstream conservatives then would be hard pressed to pass muster now. By 1950 the New Deal had outgrown its personal association with Roosevelt, and had moved on to conquer the Axis powers in WWII, to build the US economy up to a point where it was not only world-dominant but also more equitably distributed than at any time before or since. (Actually, the decline and decay began around 1970, as conservatives started to make their comeback.) So Trilling's quip had a whiff of triumphalism to it.
Still, it seems more apt now than ever. Conservatives have often been able to talk a good game, but after the last 8 or 14 or 28 years it should be clear that no matter how attractive their ideas seem, in practice they are disastrous. Especially while Bush was in the White House liberals have had plenty of opportunity to sharpen their critique. On the other hand, since Bush left office, the conservatives (or Republicans, since the two have become one) have raged and ranted but it's hard to see a single coherent idea they've brought to fore. They rant about banking industry bailouts, but they oppose any attempt to regulate the banking industry (such as the regulations that kept banks from needing bailouts from the 1930s until they were repealed less than a decade before the meltdown). They rant about budget deficits, which they practically invented with the Bush tax cuts, but recoil in horror at either raising taxes (which Reagan and the first Bush did to limit deficits) or address rampant growth in health care costs. They oppose Obama's conservative health care reform program (negotiated with industry and the AMA to keep private insurance companies in business despite overwhelming proof of dysfunctionality), but can't give a single coherent reason why. The way things are going, we can shorten Trilling's quote: the "irritable mental gestures" remain, but they scarcely even "seek to resemble ideas."
I suppose it's possible that there are thoughtful conservatives somewhere. One thing that makes it hard to tell is that since Obama took office the public face of conservatives has been the media celebrities (Alexander excuses "relatively marginal figures or media gadflies such as Glenn Beck") and Republican politicos, with all the Tea Party nonsense noise in the background, plus the occasional terrorist like Scott Roeder or Randall Terry. And the fact that congressional Republicans have maintained party unity only underscores their commitment to their most vocal fringe. On the other hand, it's not hard to find self-styled conservatives who have broken ranks, especially under Bush -- some names that come to mind include John Dean, Bruce Bartlett, Andrew Sullivan, Andrew Bacevich. I saw a bit with David Stockman tonight where he argued that the age of tax-cutting that he inaugurated as Reagan's budget director is over and that we need to be raising taxes. I looked him up, and ran across this bit of advice he has for Obama:
That's a combination of ideas that can't be simply caricatured as either conservative or liberal, but it's consistent and has a workable sense of balance. From the left, I have a different set of ideas, but this at least is something I can see as plausible. Sure, ideological conservatives and ideological liberals would probably reject either Stockman's or my ideas out of hand, but pragmatic reformers wouldn't be so close-minded. Interestingly, a lot of people who conservatives viscerally reject as liberals, socialists, fringe leftists, and/or fascists, are really people who just recognize problems and are willing to try things that may work even if they aren't first choices. For instance, cap and trade is a flexible market mechanism for dealing with a problem that people from the left would traditionally try to deal with through regulation. Yet most so-called liberals, including Obama, are pushing for cap and trade to mitigate global warming: partly they do so because it should be an approach that would attract market-oriented conservatives (if they can extricate their heads from wherever they've stuck them), but also because it might be a more effective way of dealing with the problem. Private health insurance exchanges is another Obama sop to market-oriented conservatives (and to some powerful business interests). In this case, no one on the left has any fondness for the idea, but most would support it if that's what it took to get health care reform going. (And in this case it is definitely not a better idea, even if it is marginally workable.)
Through two wars and several rounds of tax cuts, Republicans plunged us into massive deficits while allowing private interests to steal us blind, and doing whatever they could to cripple the welfare state safety net. Among the results was a major financial meltdown: the simplest way to understand it is that the rich wound up with so much money the only way they could pretend to invest it was to construct a huge ponzi scheme that eventually collapsed on itself, taking a big chunk of the real economy with it. The combination cost the Republicans power, and that loss is the only thing they can think about remedying -- putting an end to their wars or their financial misadventure is way beyond their conception -- so they've orchestrated a massive slander campaign against Obama and the Democrats. They can't do this honestly -- honesty would involve admitting some culpability, and that in turn would ease Obama off the hook -- so they spew out nonsense and cover it up with rage, and it sort of seems to be working. You don't have to be liberal, let alone a leftist, to see this as a hollow scam, but it helps because if you are one you've seen this sort of scam from these same people before. And for those who see into this scam, how do you expect them to regard those who can't see it? I don't know about you, but stupid is the first word that pops into my mind. And as I look for other possibilities, stupid seems the kindest, because pretty much everything else suggests sinister ulterior motives.
Alexander whines and pouts that liberals think conservatives are stupid. OK, so what? From what we've seen of late, the shoe sure fits. But Alexander is wrong in saying that liberals have always thought conservatives stupid. Throughout most of history, liberals figured conservatives to be privileged, greedy, uncaring, and often flat-out spiteful. It's only when they start claiming that their programs will benefit everyone (not just themselves) that it becomes clear that they are stupid (or worse). Moreover, it's not just liberals (and leftists) who have come to conclude this. Consider this little item from Bruce Bartlett's blog (titled "Why I Am Not a Republican"):
In racking my brain above, even I didn't come up with "insane": something more to be said for approaching a problem from multiple perspectives.
Since I started with Yglesias, let's finish by letting him continue:
Friday, February 05, 2010
A bunch of stuff since last time, January 6. Seem to be on a monthly schedule, which is partly driven by the way I keep track of Rhapsody-streamed Recycled Goods records. Most of the following were checked during early January when I was compiling year-end list data. Most of the records have their boosters, but overall it was patchy with only a few minor finds. Usual caveats apply: one or two plays, streamed through my computer, so judgments are quick and more/less subject to change, that is if I ever again bother. One problem doing this is the lack of documentation, which I try to make up for by searching the web, but sometimes don't find much. Another is that Rhapsody's performance is rather erratic, with the sound sometimes choppy, sometimes cut out, and "unexpected errors" too common to qualify as unexpected. Still probably worth my while.
Insert new reviews from here.
Thursday, February 04, 2010
Matthew Yglesias: Where Are the Obama Boosters? Starts with a link to a Jonathan Bernstein post titled "Where Are the Liberal Hack Economists?" It's a reasonable albeit naive question. Recall, after all, how eager conservative economists were to tout the jobless Bush recovery as soon as the growth numbers went positive. Bush then and the Republicans now never lacked for mouthpieces for whatever the party line was. The Democrats have a tougher time, partly because they don't have the payroll or party discipline of the Republicans, partly because Obama's economic team decided to save Wall Street ahead of Main Street despite the interests of most rank and file Democrats, and partly because so many left-identified economists aren't hacks. Someone could make a case that the economy is much more robust after a year with Obama that it would have been with McCain or Hoover or any other Republican you can think of, but it's hard for the reality-based party to see that as much of a triumph. Only fantasists are so readily elated.
Yglesias tries to explain this:
There is a lot of stuff to unpack here.
Sometimes I worry that I'm being too pessimistic. One thing we necessarily do is oversimplify issues, which has the effect of exaggerating risks and benefits. Some trends that I find deeply alarming, like the loss of equality in things like mean wages and educational costs are certainly problems, but don't seem to be as severe as my reasoning suggests. Maybe they will hit some catastrophic point where social cohesion unravels completely, but more likely we'll see a bit of reform or some other way of compensating for the effects. Climate change is something that grabs people because it seems clear cut, but it really isn't very clear: there are wide range of possible outcomes, with all sorts of reactions and revisions. About the only thing I'm sure of is that massive stupidity isn't the answer.
And, indeed, that's the main thing that makes me pessimistic. There are lots of ways to deal with most problems, but the two that don't work are stupidity and carelessness. When you see, time and again, rank nonsense spouted by people who care next to nothing about the fate of other people, you get pessimistic. The tipping point issue is whether we choose to face inevitable problems from a framework of unity -- we're all in this together -- or we let each person or group fend for themselves. If the latter, which is a position that enjoys significant power in America today, we are doomed.
Wednesday, February 03, 2010
Recycled Goods (70): January 2010
Pick up text here.
Tuesday, February 02, 2010
I got a short piece of mail from Art Protin in New Zealand:
Art was still in New Jersey at the time. I drove to New York the first week of September, 2001, and dropped my car off at his house in Madison for safekeeping (and cheap parking) before taking the train into the city. I had stopped to see friends on the way out, and expected to see more on the way back, but my main purpose was to hook up with Robert Christgau and build his website. Laura flew to New York for a short rendez-vous. We did some sightseeing, and she was scheduled to fly back to Wichita on the 11th. Didn't happen, as you know. We were staying with a friend in Brooklyn when the planes hit the World Trade Center. From our perch above Grand Army Plaza, we could see the flaming towers and an endless parade of shocked people trudging home. Laura eventually got out, as did our host, Liz, leaving me alone in the apartment. We spent the first few days largely glued to the TV, an indication of the horrors to come. I recall John Major pointing out that Britain could teach America a few things about terrorism, and a smiling Benjamin Netanyahu who couldn't help but opine that this was good news for Israel. I recall Hillary Clinton standing on the Capitol steps daring them to come back and finish her off. I recall clips of Palestinians celebrating, and grainy black/white of a rocket attack in Kabul fueling speculation that Bush had already started to strike back: "America Strikes Back" replaced "America Under Attack" as the theme script on the bottom of the television screen.
After Laura and Liz left, I shut the TV down. I spent two, maybe three weeks in New York: wandering the streets and bookstores -- remarkably empty of any relevant books; I went to some worried peace demonstrations; I hacked the website together; I saw friends and attended to some family matters -- my niece, Lucy Fishman, was killed at work in the WTC, and we were all shocked and despondent over that. Still, it was probably the least worst place to be at the time. It was, after all, real -- unlike the hysterical war fever whipped up all over the rest of America.
When I finally left New York, I took the train to Jersey City, and Art drove in and picked me up. He asked me what my thoughts were on "9-1-1" -- the first time I had ever heard it referred to as that. I don't remember what I said, but recall that he saw sending troops to Afghanistan as falling into a trap. It wasn't inevitable at the time, although we now know that Bush never considered not going to war -- that he was itching to play his commander-in-chief role for all the political capital, not to mention glory, he could muster. And the preëmptive attacks on peaceniks and pragmatists had already begun, so relentless and dogmatic that Susan Sontag got trampled for wondering whether the definition of "cowardice" really was hijacking planes and smashing them into buildings.
That Bin Laden saw 9/11 as a trap to lure the US into war in Afghanistan isn't surprising. The notion of Afghanistan as the "graveyard of empires" is a little overworked. Britain and the Soviet Union failed mostly due to internal rot -- the economic folly of empire did them more harm than the nicks and bruises of primitive arms wielded by desperate fighters. The more apt formulation is Jonathan Schell's "unconquerable world." Still, the US is only slightly less vulnerable to the same rot -- the net effect of being able to hand on longer is that we wind up suffering more in the end. Even before I got Art's mail, I had planned on posting a similar extract from Omar Bin Laden's PR tour, this one published in the Feb. 4, 2010 issue of Rolling Stone (p. 70):
Osama bin Laden is probably less disappointed with Obama these days, for while he isn't as knee-jerk trigger-happy as McCain, he reasons his way to the same insane conclusions. There are people who would argue that Obama is the "same as he ever was" -- Paul Krugman used that title for a post -- but I wonder whether that Somali pirate incident early in his term wasn't a turning point. Obama approved sniper attacks that killed pirates holding a ship captain. In all likelihood, that was the first time Obama got so close to blood on his hands, and it played well in the press -- made him hero of the day. Since then his favored weapon has been the only slightly less intimate drone-fired rockets, which he has used even more promiscuously than Bush did. Regardless of immediate satisfactions, the one thing Obama can rest assured of is that he will never be criticized by Republicans for digging a deeper hole in Afghanistan. After all, they are the party that wants to see the US government fail, and nothing the state can do is more guaranteed of wasteful failure than war in Afghanistan.
In a follow-up note, Art added:
Art just emigrated to New Zealand, a rather extreme move that is certainly not a vote of confidence in the future of the USA.
Some useful links on the US military budget (and related topics):
PS: Juan Cole links to this piece about how Osama bin Laden dreamed of enticing the US to fight him in Afghanistan, and how he welcomed the US invasion of Iraq.
Resignation on Israel
Stephen Walt: Time for George Mitchell to Resign: I don't think the bottom line matters much one way or another, especially if Mitchell were to resign without turning the fact into a damning indictment of Obama, Clinton, Emmanuel, et al. -- which isn't Mitchell's style. One might also talk about Mitchell's own problems. Early on, Israel's flaks accused him of being too even-handed, and it turns out they were right: Mitchell has bent over backwards to let Netanyahu obstruct the process. Still, this post does a good job of explaining what's been going on this past year when nothing got accomplished.
One thing I want to add to the list of missteps -- and I'm already on the record as saying that it would be more useful to break Gaza free as an independent Palestinian state now than to try to do anything about freezing settlements. This is that Obama made a major mistake allowing Iran to be rolled into the equation. He may have thought that he could easily cut a deal with Iran and throw that as a bone to Netanyahu, but Iranian political turmoil made that impossible, leaving him nothing to offer but increasingly belligerent posturing, starting with a big arms buildup in the Persian Gulf. The net result is not only no Israel/Palestine progress but also a worsening of his Iran problem. One indication of how bad this is getting is that Richard Haass, not normally a neocon, is among those agitating for regime change.
Monday, February 01, 2010
Music: Current count 16318  rated (+26), 800  unrated (+8). Jazz Consumer Guide wrap up week. Finally made some progress, so one more should do it. Also did some Willie Nelson mop up, which accounts for most of the new ratings. These last few weeks have seen the unrated count rise, finally cracking 800 for the first time in a long time. It climbed up over 800 a long time ago when I was buying huge quantities of CDs at store closeouts. It hasn't been over 800 since November 2008, but I've never been able to knock it down below 730, and I doubt that I'll make any real progress until (ironically) I quit reviewing records. (Hey, there's an idea!) Still, I find the new peak troubling: something else getting the best of me.
Jazz Prospecting (CG #22, Part 10)
Didn't finish Jazz Consumer Guide this week, but came close enough that I'm pretty certain this coming week will do it. Draft currently contains 31 graded records, 39 HMs or duds, 2517 words. About 1500 will make it into the column, with the rest left over. I have 10 graded A- records still without a review, but only a couple of those might make the cut, and maybe not that many. Lots of unwritten HM candidates. Most of what I'll be doing this coming week is re-playing them. I've decided that if I don't get a reasonably good one-liner after one play they'll go into the surplus file. Need to do a pretty severe cull anyway. The column will be full up with 2009 releases, many already on various year-end lists -- not least my own. Leftovers will be more of the same. I've only managed to grade 7 2010 releases thus far, while I have 85 in the pending queue.
Also didn't get my kitchen done last week, but expect to do so this coming week. Very little left to do there.
A little bit of jazz prospecting from the last two weeks. My main focus has been on writing up already-rated records, and cleaning out the replay queue. Willie Nelson revision is done -- more on that soon.
Sonore: Call Before You Dig: Loft/Köln (2008 , Okka Disk, 2CD): Sax trio, three guys famous for walking on the wild side, all the more dangerous together: Peter Brötzmann, Mats Gustafsson, Ken Vandermark. Two sets, one live, one studio. Impossible to deny that they bring interesting ideas into play, and after several records together they communicate readily, but the casual listener is going to hear mostly noise, and I find it rough going myself. B+(*)
Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Forty Fort (2008-09 , Hot Cup): Fourth album, third I've heard, led by Moppa Elliott, who takes the first notes on bass, just like Charles Mingus. Has the basic Mingus approach to horns, too, which is to put them on a roller coaster and let them run clean off the rails. Peter Evans does just that on trumpet, and Jon Irabagon's tenor as well as his alto sax defies gravity. Kevin Shea rounds out the quartet on drums, and gets a credit for electronics. Historical references are less obvious here than on the last two albums, although I might know more if only I could read "Leonard Featherweight"'s liner notes (tiny gray all-caps on a black background). I do recognize the cover art as influenced by Impulse! in the 1960s, but even that isn't obviously pegged to any one thing. They're coming out into their own. A-
Opsvik & Jennings: A Dream I Used to Remember (2007-08 , Loyal Label): That would be bassist Eivind Opsvik and guitarist Aaron Jennings. A publicist note pointed out that Opsvik has played with Paul Motian, Bill Frisell, and David Binney, but I associate him with A-list records by Kris Davis and Jostein Gulbrandsen. Also has three FSNT records, and a previous one with Jennings, Commuter Anthems (Rune Grammofon). Opsvik also plays keyboards, lap steel guitar, and percussion; Jennings strays past banjo to electronics, and both are credited with software and vocals. The vocals tend toward choral, which I don't find all that enticing. Otherwise, the interaction is intimate and intriguing. B+(*)
Sharel Cassity: Relentless (2008 , Jazz Legacy): Alto saxophonist, b. 1978 in Iowa City, IA, also plays soprano sax and flute. Second album. Solid mainstream group with Orrin Evans on piano, Dwayne Burno on bass, EJ Strickland on drums, and quite a few extra horns popping in and out -- Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, Thomas Barber on flugelhorn, Michael Dease on trombone, Andrew Boyarsky on tenor sax, Don Braden on alto flute. Slick and flashy postbop. B
Prana Trio: The Singing Image of Fire (2008 , Circavision): Brooklyn group, although it's not clear that Trio means a group with three members. The only real member is drummer Brian Adler, although vocalist Sunny Kim is most noticeable on 11 of 12 tracks, while piano (Carmen Staaf and Frank Carlberg), bass (Matt Aronoff and Nathan Goheen), and guitar (Robert Lanzetti) come and go. Kim sings poems by Kabir, Kukai, So Wal Kim, Hafiz, Anselm Hollo, Shankaracarya, Wang Wei, and Han-Shan. The vocals got on my nerves at first, but it actually settles down; may even be deeper than I'm inclined to credit. B+(*)
Ben Wendel/Harish Raghavan/Nate Wood: Act (2009, Bju'ecords): Title all-caps on cover; spine only says "ACT" but front cover identifies the trio and their instruments: saxophone, bassoon, piano for Wendel; bass for Raghavan; drums for Wood. Not sure if my package matches the product: the print cover is pasted to a generic brown cardboard foldout wrapper, with a pasted print piece inside. On the other hand, nowhere is there "for promotional purposes only" print. I have less to say about the music, which is lean and articulate. B+(*)
Rempis/Rosaly: Cyrillic (2009, 482 Music): Sax-drums duo, Chicago musicians, also play in the two-drummer Rempis Percussion Quartet. Dave Rempis is best known for his work in the Vandermark 5. He is fluid and forceful on alto, tenor, and baritone saxes, and Rosaly does a good job of playing off his energy. B+(***)
Greg Reitan: Antibes (2008 , Sunnyside): Pianist, second album, in a trio with Jack Daro on bass and Dean Koba on drums. Includes covers from Bill Evans, Denny Zeitlin, and Keith Jarrett, which should give you an idea. I'm impressed by both albums, but thus far don't have much to say. B+(**)
Empty Cage Quartet: Gravity (2008 , Clean Feed): Jason Mears (alto sax, clarinet), Kris Tiner (trumpet), Ivan Johnson (double bass), Paul Kikuchi (drums, percussion). Group has five albums together since 2006. Tiner's title piece consists of 11 sections, split up here into five chunks, separated by another four chunks of Mears's multi-sectional "Tzolkien." This stradles the notion of free and composed in attractive ways, although I'm hard-pressed to tell which is which or why it should matter. The two horns stand tall. The rhythm does a nice job of supporting them. B+(***)
Andy Cotton: Last Stand at the Hayemeyer Ranch (2009, Bju'ecords): Bassist, plays guitar on one cut, grew up near Boston, studied at New School, based in Brooklyn, first album. Packaging a thin brown sleeve, looks biodegradeable. Gets lots of help, and the whole thing can be described as eclectic, but one relatively common theme is reggae -- "Shit Rock" is probably the best example, but there's also "Slow Reggie" and "C minor Reggie." Influences list starts with King Tubby; also includes "Appalachian fiddle music," which influences "Macallan's Waltz." Several cuts have vocalists, adding to the mish-mash feel even though there's nothing particularly wrong with any of them. B+(**)
The Respect Sextet: Sirius Respect (2009, Mode/Avant): New York group, been together (give or take a few changes) since 2001. Several previous albums -- not sure how to count limited editions. Lineup: Eli Asher (trumpet), James Hirschfeld (trombone), Josh Rutner (tenor sax), Red Wierenga (piano), Malcolm Kirby (bass), Ted Poor (drums); most also play related instruments. Album subtitled "Play the music of Sun Ra & Stockhausen" -- presumably Karlheinz. I was briefly intrigued by Stockhausen a long time ago, but never got in very deep. His pieces here tend toward drones with a bit of classical overhang. Sun Ra, of course, is a lot more fun. B+(*)
Out to Lunch: Melvin's Rockpile (2009 , Accurate): New York group, led by David Levy (bass clarinet, alto sax, bansuri flute), presumably named for Eric Dolphy's legendary album. Septet, with three horns (Levy, Evan Smith on tenor sax, Josiah Woodson on trumpet) and a mostly plugged-in rhythm section (Eric Lane on keyboards, Matt Wigton on bass, Fred Kennedy on drums, and Kris Smith doing programming). Odd and interesting mix of free jazz and funk groove. B+(**)
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Komeda Project: Requiem (2009, WM): Polish pianist Krzysztof Komeda (1931-69) certainly is a project. I've only sampled one of the dozen or so albums he has on obscure Polish labels -- now prohibitively expensive given exchange rate, I might add -- and it is really superb (Astigmatic). So this group -- led by expat Poles Krzysztof Medyna (tenor sax, soprano sax) and Andrzej Winnicki (piano), with expert NY help from Russ Johnson, Scott Colley, and Nasheet Waits -- is welcome, but I can't claim to have made any breakthroughs with it. B+(**)
New Niks & Artvark Saxophone Quartet: Busy Busy Busy (2009, No Can Do): Drummer-led quartet with Fender Rhodes, guitar, and violin, but no bass, plays swanky postbop with some swing, mixed in with a sax section that can stand on its own. Has some awkward moments, but also marvelous ones when they loosen up. B+(**)
Gerald Clayton: Two-Shade (2009, ArtistShare): Piano trio, debut recording, although he had the advantage of growing up in his father, bassist John Clayton's big band, and has a substantial list of side credits already. As with many mainstream piano trios, I'm at a loss for words, but he has good balance and poise, and this holds up consistently well. B+(***)
Ben Allison: Think Free (2009, Palmetto): Subtler, in terms of melodies but also instrumentation, than his recent superb albums, but eventually they emerge with the precise good taste of someone assured in his thinking. Violinist Jenny Scheinman is central and critical -- her best showing since 12 Songs -- while Steve Cardenas' guitar and Shane Endsley's trumpet play off the edges. A-
Donny McCaslin: Declaration (2009, Sunnyside): There are stretches here where the guitar fusion (Ben Monder) and/or the extra brass let you forget that the album is supposed to belong to the most technically gifted tenor saxophonist of his generation. That doesn't strike me as the right strategy. B+(*)
Randy Brecker: Nostalgic Journey: Tykocin Jazz Suite/The Music of Wlodek Pawlik (2008 , Summit): Bialystok's Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic play Pawlik's suite with unexpected flair -- you hear a lot of East European orchestras as jazz backdrops because they work cheap, but usually their classical breeding spoils the day. Helps no doubt that Pawlik's piano trio is featured, and especially that Brecker's trumpet is trusted with the highlights. He's always been a team player, but he's rarely had a team help him out so much. B+(***)
For this cycle's collected Jazz Prospecting notes, look here.
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week (or last):