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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Global Warming Cookbooks

Something I meant to add to yesterday's "The Raw and the Cooked" post but ran out of time and/or patience. One point there is that I recognize that where one stands on global warming is more often than not consistent with one's political stance. Leftists of most stripes not only see the need for aggressive state intervention to mitigate (or even better to reverse) the global warming trend, they tend to insist that the dire threat of global warming commands us to adopt their policy directions. One reason I'm especially cognizant of this is that I've recently read two books that do just that.

One is Bill McKibben: Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet; the other is Juliet B. Schor: Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth. Neither book has much to say about global warming, other than to assert that the global warming crisis makes their economic schemes all that more urgent.

McKibben, whose first book, The End of Nature was one of the first books on the subject back in 1989, does have an introductory chapter which reads like a catalog of horrors, but he's more interested in reprising his 2007 book Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future -- you wouldn't be wrong to think of the new book as a mash-up of the two previous books -- which is to say he's primarily concerned with promoting the ideal of small scale local economies. McKibben builds on a lot of recent work, especially regarding food, but his basic ideas have been kicking around for decades now, developed by people like Murray Bookchin and Paul Goodman who developed them without the slightest concern for global warming.

Schor is a sociologist who at least as far back as the early 1990s decided that the rat race isn't all it's cracked up to be. She's expressed that in at least two previous books: The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure (1992) and The Overspent American: Why We Want Want We Don't Need (1998). The new book goes further toward sketching out a more satisfying economy based on less overwork and overspending. And while global warming and peak oil play into her rationales, there's no reason to think she'd think differently if they weren't factors at all. Again, her ideas aren't terribly original -- Goodman and Bookchin have been there, as well as Marxists like Paul Sweezy and Andre Gorz, and for that matter the notion even shows up in John Maynard Keynes, who -- see John Skidelsky: Keynes: The Return of the Master -- saw capitalism as a path to "the good life" rather than an end in itself.

You can click on the links, including the cover images, to pick up a fair sampling of quotes from each book.

The economic visions of McKibben and Schor are only two of many possible programs that can be hitched to global warming, but all but the most dystopian involve taking deliberate and systematic direction to mitigate (or better still to reverse) the consequences. The proposals of someone like Al Gore or the various thinkers in the Obama administration hardly seem to me to be leftist, but conservatives are stuck in such a rut of denial they can't even warm up to market-oriented approaches like cap-and-trade or tax credits to stimulate investment in non-carbon-based energy sources -- ideas that used to come out of conservative think tanks when thinking was still permitted.

There is, of course, something disingenuous about hoisting one's pet ideas (or nonsense) up whatever flag pole seems to be getting attention, but that doesn't invalidate them -- best to try to sort out each problem and each proposal on its own terms. McKibben and Schor (and for that matter Skidelsky/Keynes) offer attractive notions of how to re-engineer the economy to make is more satisfying, and that seems like something worth thinking about -- at least on the left, where we believe that how we run the world is at least largely a matter of choice.

PS: It finally occurs to me that one defense of Schor and McKibben is that if one adopted their economic ideas, there would be an immediate and substantial reduction in the forces driving global warming. Again, if you choose an economy meant to satisfy the needs and desires of its inhabitants, you'd come up with something that doesn't just drown us in destabilizing pollutants, like we have gotten from laissez faire approaches.

One might also add that the cap-and-trade people are the real conservatives, since they're basically trying to stabilize the existing system using levers that are consistent with its current operation. Again, the right fails to conserve anything; they're happy to let the economy flail itself to death in contradictions they're too ignorant and/or uncaring to even recognize.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Floundering Fanmail

Got an unusual piece of email tonight; I guess you'd call it hate mail:

I found your site while looking for some info which I found in your project section. That is until . . . I discovered that I truly despise your website, especially for your politics. Now, regardless of how worthwhile contacting you for any other reason may have been, I could never offer you anything except an argument and ultimately my pity . . . for you sir, are a fool.

By the time you realize that those you have championed are not who you think they are, the damage will be done and you will only be able to look back on your mistakes and wish you had been much, much more wise.

I really don't have any idea what he's talking about. The "project section" could deal with Israel or with kitchens or with various stabs at outlining a book (about politics). I'm willing to entertain the proposition that I'm a fool, but I don't see how that works. I don't know who he thinks I'm championing -- aside from some powerless and harmless jazz musicians, my endorsements are pretty mild (e.g., Kerry sucks less than Bush, but then so does practically everyone) and I do tend to refine them as new evidence arrives (e.g., I turned pretty hard against Clinton around 1998 over his deceitful and reckless turn on Iraq, which contributed significantly to Bush's 2003 invasion; and I've hardly hestitated to criticize Obama, not that McCain has done a thing to make me regret my 2008 vote). While I've adjusted a lot of details in my thought over the years, I find that I've actually had very little reason to second guess the political stance I took way back in 1966-68, when I threw off the last residues of God and Goldwaterism. I could run down a lot of detail changes, but they seem irrelevant here. The charge, as I read it, is not just that I've been a fool but that because of my foolishness things will happen that I will come to regret. That's the perplexing part. Most of what I have to say about politics is negative, especially in the sense of saying that if the powers that be do such and such a bunch of bad things will result. I do that a lot, and over the last 45 years I think I have a pretty good track record of predicting bad things. The other thing I do rather less is to propose that we do things differently, in such and such a way. The problem there isn't that people follow my advice and find out that it doesn't work; the problem there is that virtually nothing that I propose ever gets tried, and as such tested out. The plain fact is that I don't speak to, let alone for, any politically connected or established force. I'm out on my own, thinking as if it matters, yet quite frankly it does not. So how could I ever be held responsible for all this imminent damage?

I suppose I could write back and ask for clarification, but one always worries about getting entangled with someone who is deeply disturbed. Maybe he isn't, but something is off here. The one thing that tempts me is that I've never been able to understand why so many people on the right despise people on the left when it's long been obvious to me that those on the left, regardless of practical faults (which in the case of someone like Stalin are monumental), chose the left for basically kind and generous motives -- unlike those on the right.

The Raw and the Cooked

Paul Krugman: Who Cooked the Planet? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid threw in the towel on trying to pass any climate-change legislation this year, so Krugman tries to pin down responsibility for inaction:

The answer is, the usual suspects: greed and cowardice.

If you want to understand opposition to climate action, follow the money. The economy as a whole wouldn't be significantly hurt if we put a price on carbon, but certain industries -- above all, the coal and oil industries -- would. And those industries have mounted a huge disinformation campaign to protect their bottom lines.

Look at the scientists who question the consensus on climate change; look at the organizations pushing fake scandals; look at the think tanks claiming that any effort to limit emissions would cripple the economy. Again and again, you'll find that they're on the receiving end of a pipeline of funding that starts with big energy companies, like Exxon Mobil, which has spent tens of millions of dollars promoting climate-change denial, or Koch Industries, which has been sponsoring anti-environmental organizations for two decades.

Or look at the politicians who have been most vociferously opposed to climate action. Where do they get much of their campaign money? You already know the answer.

He then lashes in to "climate cowards" like Sen. John McCain. Fair enough. But as a card-carrying Keynesian, shouldn't Krugman suspect that ideology ("bad ideas") is more to blame than mere interest? For a better explanation, turn to: Ross Douthat: The Right and the Climate:

There was no way to get a bill through without some support from conservative lawmakers. And in the global warming debate, there's a seemingly unbridgeable gulf between the conservative movement and the environmentalist cause.

To understand why, it's worth going back to the 1970s, the crucible in which modern right-wing politics was forged.

The Seventies were a great decade for apocalyptic enthusiasms, and none was more potent than the fear that human population growth had outstripped the earth's carrying capacity. According to a chorus of credentialed alarmists, the world was entering an age of sweeping famines, crippling energy shortages, and looming civilizational collapse.

It was not lost on conservatives that this analysis led inexorably to left-wing policy prescriptions -- a government-run energy sector at home, and population control for the teeming masses overseas.

The fundamental political issue of our times is whether government should act as a counterbalance against the various problems kicked up by capitalism, or whether government should be limited to support of the capitalist order. The latter position, which had been gaining ground from the 1970s up to the current Great Recession, seeks to do three things: 1) to concentrate wealth in private hands; 2) to make the regulation of business private and discretionary, not subject to public policy; 3) to make government as unattractive as possible to anyone without significant money, and thereby keep them from looking to government for any kind of support. The latter isn't easy: we live in a putative democracy, where government is supposed to belong to and serve the people, and the people actually served by deregulation and wealth concentration are inevitably a tiny minority. That they have any chance of ruling at all is due to their skill at spinning a story line -- an ideology -- that seems to back their case.

They're good at spinning that story -- indeed, they should be, given that they have most of the money and practically all of the media -- but sometimes they run into trouble, like when the economy crashes, and then their spiel loses credibility. That happened big time in 1929-32 when many people concluded that capitalism had broken beyond repair. That led to desperate efforts at reform, all of which involved deliberate massive government intervention: communism (which was too anti-capitalist), fascism (which was too anti-worker), and Keynesian liberalism, which sought to save capitalism by rebalancing productive forces, and by using public spending to make up for shortfalls in demand. And it happened on a smaller scale in 2008 -- the mitigating factor is that we've kept relatively high levels of government spending all these years even though the ideology disparages it.

So conservatives reject doing anything about global warming because only government can do anything about -- worst still, only most world governments acting in concert -- and they've been trained to see any government effort at solving any problem as an existential attack on the privileges of the rich (err, on conservative principles, God and country, family values, all that we hold near and dear). That story about alarmists in the 1970s being proven wrong is just window dressing. Still, that doesn't mean they're right now, or were even right in the 1970s.

Ehrlich is certainly right that persistent population growth will eventually exceed the feeding capacity of the earth. What caught him unawares was the increase in productive efficiency caused mostly by putting more oil into agriculture. That such an increase happened doesn't mean that further increases will continue to happen, especially if energy inputs get much more expensive. (The other main hope is genetic manipulation, which is harder to predict -- especially side-effects.) The 1970s also saw an oil crunch, in large part politically concocted but also tied to peak oil being passed in the US. This led to a glut in the 1980s partly driven by politics -- the UK tried to drain its North Sea fields in record time -- and in any case unlikely to be reproduced.

In retrospect, Ehrlich's biggest mistake may have been to think that limiting population would conserve resources. The best counterexample is China, where drastic restrictions led to an extraordinary growth spurt and corresponding demand for natural resources (energy and materials, of course, but even food demand increases especially if it involves meat). The same correlation applies throughout the developing world, where economic growth is closely tied to limiting population growth -- which for one thing means that the right's pronatal obsession works to keep the developing world from developing.

Still, the issue is something else: conservatives maintain that concerted government action to mitigate climate change would cause more harm than benefit, at least compared to what unregulated markets may (or may not) accomplish. It's hard to see why that might be the case, unless you believe that even a successful governmental intervention would be a bad thing for your political standing. It's certainly easy to see how government action could go wrong, especially given our system of political influence peddling. On the other hand, if you take the threat seriously, it's even harder to see how an unregulated private sector would solve it except through a painful process of crash and retrenchment -- a cycle that unregulated markets never tire of repeating.

I don't have much to say about the threats posed by global warming. It should by now be obvious that we tend to take some threats more seriously than warranted and others less. Climate change splits both ways, probably because it's been reduced to a right-left litmus test, but also because climate seems so basic it must matter greatly while at the same time it is so changeable day-to-day that the projected ranges don't stray much from our experience. (I've followed many paleontological debates about climate change vs. other causes for extinction events, and have never found climate change to be convincing as an explanation, so I tend to be skeptical about disaster models. On the other hand, we are dreadful at evaluating rare but extremely dire prospects, which certainly are possible here.)

Douthat does say one more thing of special interest here, about "global-warming heretics" like Bjorn Lomborg and Freeman Dyson:

Their perspective is grounded, in part, on the assumption that a warmer world will also be a richer world -- and that economic development is likely to do more for the wretched of the earth than a growth-slowing regulatory regime.

In one sense I don't see the assumption. A warmer world will be one where a lot of resources will be dislocated, which will favor some people while disfavoring others, but at least in the short run such shifts are most likely to destroy more wealth quicker than they will allow new wealth to be created. Maybe in the long term that balances out, but I don't see how you can count on that. Moreover, the change will disproportionately take its toll on those who own wealth now, simply because they have the most to lose. It is, therefore, easy to see why Europe and the US should be more worried about global warming than the developing world -- even aside from fairness issues, or the suspicion that we are trying to lock in a permanent advantage. For the developing world -- especially the part that really is growing its economy -- the tables are reversed. For countries like China, India, and Brazil there is virtually no reason to sacrifice growth now for climate stability later. (Research shows that more money does make you happier, but only to a point: once you've broken out of poverty it makes less and less difference.) Douthat concludes:

Not every danger has a regulatory solution, and sometimes it makes sense to wait, get richer, and then try to muddle through.

Indeed, if you're a developing country that is growing fast enough that it's not just the rich who are getting richer, that sounds like good advice. On the other hand, that doesn't sound like America, where government inaction and irresponsibility over the last 30 years has eroded everyone's wealth except for the upper crust's. For most people in America the time to act is now -- if not on climate change, at least on the more basic political dispute.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 16920 [16887] rated (+33), 846 [852] unrated (-6). Another rough week, although the pressure let up midway we got the bathroom tile done and I started to put things away. Surprised that the rated count topped 30, although a couple of accounting errors helped. Wondered how long it has been since I bagged that many, but grep shows that it's only been two weeks since I broke 30, but 15 weeks since I got more (38 back on April 19 -- big Rhapsody week). Some Rhapsody this week, some pointed towards Recycled Goods, which is short on pick hits.

Jazz Prospecting (CG #24, Part 7)

Heat wave broke a bit this weekend, although it will be back to 98F by midweek. Got my bathroom wall tile grouted and caulked, (nearly) finishing one of the nastier and messier house tasks of recent times. Still have a lot of rearranging to do, but I've resolved not to try to build anything until it cools off -- which around here usually means October. Internet went down after that, but I mostly plugged away on computer, taking notes on Geoffrey Wawro's Quicksand, and starting to construct a new edition of the shopping list I used to carry around when I used to be able to find used CD stores. Cutting it back from the old one, starting with only including 4-star Penguin Guide jazz unless I have real good reason to think a lower-rated record is worth searching for.

Will probably take it easy this week: see if I can round up something interesting for Recycled Goods (not much yet), work through some more Jazz Prospecting, clean things up around the house. Figure out what to do about my obsolescent web server and my antiquated firewall/mail home. Also note that sometime in the next week or so I'll start posting Michael Tatum's "A Downloader's Diary" -- at least that's the working title. What I've seen so far looks like the first decent stab at making up for the loss of Christgau's Consumer Guide. Meanwhile, some finds below.


Fred Hersch Trio: Whirl (2010, Palmetto): Pianist, b. 1955, has more than 30 albums since 1984, seemed to be the big mainstream piano hope (Bill Evans division) in the early 1990s, when he came down with AIDS. He became if anything more prolific after that, and the sidestory gradually faded until now, as he mounts a comeback after an episode that left him in a coma for two months. You get no sense of that from the music here, which is as bright and chipper as anything he's recorded. Don't really understand how it works. Maybe something about concentrating the mind. Maybe just another instance of bassist John Hébert elevating the game. Drummer Eric McPherson does good, too. A-

Aaron Goldberg: Home (2007 [2010], Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1974 in Boston, passed through Betty Carter's boot camp, graduated from Harvard, moved to New York; fourth album since 1999, with a lot of work on the side. Trio with Reuben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland on drums; augmented by tenor saxophonist Mark Turner on three cuts, getting a bit lift on the opener, "Canción por la Unidad Latinoamericana," and on "Aze's Blues" -- one of 4 (of 10) originals. Covers scattered from Mandel to Monk, Jobim to Stevie Wonder, with the title track from Omer Avital. B+(*)

Avery Sharpe Trio: Live (2008 [2010], JKNM): Bassist, built his career on long turns with McCoy Tyner and Yusef Lateef, each honored with a song here. Ninth album since 1988. Group is a trio with Onaje Alan Gumbs on piano and Winard Harper on drums. Three originals by Sharpe, one by Gumbs, one more cover: "My Favorite Things." B+(*)

Dr. Lonnie Smith: Spiral (2010, Palmetto): Organ player, b. 1942, has twenty-some albums since 1967 with a big gap from 1979 to 1993. Fourth album with Palmetto, a trio, with Jonathan Kreisberg, who's found a seductive niche on guitar, and Jamire Williams on drums. First cut is from another Smith, Jimmy, setting out the basic funk parameters. Gets a substantial sound when he slows it down, too. B+(**)

John Escreet: Don't Fight the Inevitable (2010, Mythology): Pianist, from England, b. 1984, studied at Manhattan School of Music, based in Brooklyn; second album, like 2008's Consequences a quintet with Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet, David Binney on alto sax, Matt Brewer on bass, and Nasheet Waits on drums (replacing Tyshawn Sorey). Ambitious, aggressive stuff, especially out the chute with the horns pumping each other up. First play I found that exhilarating; second play annoying. Gets more complicated later on, for better or worse. B+(*)

Paul Carr: Straight Ahead Soul (2010, Paul Carr Jazz): Texas tenor, b. 1961, studied at Texas Southern University and Howard, based in DC. Got his blues tone but doesn't indulge in much honking, and plays a little soprano which doesn't sound Texas at all. With Bobby Broom on guitar, Allyn Johnson on piano, Michael Bowie on bass, and Lewis Nash on drums, all filling the straight ahead formula, plus a little Chelsea Green viola that goes somewhere else. Willard Jenkins wrote the notes, bringing up Arnett Cobb. For what it's worth, Cobb's Party Time has been stuck in my bedroom machine for the last month or two: a wonderful record, never fails to pick me up. B+(**)

The Mark Lomax Trio: The State of Black America (2007 [2010], Inarhyme): Drummer, b. 1979, from Columbus, OH; describes himself as "the Quincy Jones of his generation"; first group, 1999, was called Blacklist, their first album Blacklisted; trio has a previous gospel-themed album, Lift Every Voice!; this one has originals titled "Stuck in a Rut," "The Unknown Self," "The Power of Knowing," and "To Know God Is to Know Thy Self" (well, also "Blues for Charles"). None of that prepared me for this record, a sax trio, with unknowns Dean Hulett on bass and Edwin Bayard on tenor. First approximation on Bayard is that he sounds a lot like David S. Ware, and I mean a lot. A-

Freddy Cole: Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B (2010, High Note): Nat's baby brother recalls Billy Eckstine. Makes me wonder how many people today can recall sauve Nat, much less the debonair Eckstine, let alone relate to him. He had a deep, rich baritone, an exceptional example of a style that many 1940s singers aspired to, but which seems old fashioned, stuffy even, today. Nat, on the other hand, sounds as hip today as he did before rock and roll, and Freddy had the same voice, at least until he aged enough to differentiate it. But in applying the old/new Cole treatment to Eckstine's songbook, he achieves a remarkable synthesis. Houston Person joins in on 7 of 12 songs, lifting each, not that Cole can't get by on John Di Martino's piano and Randy Napoleon's guitar. A-

Ran Blake/Christine Correa: Out of the Shadows (2009 [2010], Red Piano): Internet down as I play/write this, so research is limited (and error-prone). Blake, of course, is the well known pianist, b. 1935, with at least 35 albums since 1961, including collaborations with vocalist Jeanne Lee -- Short Life of Barbara Monk is one of his (and their) best-known albums. Correa is a vocalist I've bumped into a couple of times, mostly with pianist Frank Carlberg (if memory serves, her husband). Rather difficult on both ends, with Blake's blockish piano interesting but providing little support, leaving Correa to wing it, which she does with admirable gusto. B+(*)

Ran Blake/Sara Serpa: Camera Obscura (2009 [2010], Inner Circle Music): Another Ran Blake piano-vocal duo. Serpa was born in Lisbon, Portugal; studied at New England Conservatory, where she ran into Blake; based in New York now. More songwise than Blake's album with Christine Correa; Serpa seems to draw out Blake's support, where Correa was more intent on challenging him. B+(**) [Sept. 1]

Peter Brötzmann/Paal Nilssen-Love: Woodcuts (2008 [2010], Smalltown Superjazz): Sax-drums duo, or when Brötzmann decides to cut your ears some slack he switches to bass clarinet or Bb-clarinet (but no tarogato this time). Nilssen-Love has a bunch of these duos in his discography now, including a previous one with Brötzmann (Sweet Sweat), others with Joe McPhee, John Butcher, Hĺkon Kornstad, Mats Gustafsson, and especially Ken Vandermark. Seems about par for the course, noisy, exciting, wearing. B+(**)

Lean Left: The Ex Guitars Meet Nilssen-Love/Vandermark Duo, Volume 1 (2008 [2010], Smalltown Superjazz): Maybe artist name and title should be switched. "Ex Guitars" are Andy Moor and Terrie Ex of the Dutch mostly-rock group The Ex, which started much like the Mekons but instead of going country-folk hung out with African noise bands and avant-jazzers. Drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and Ken Vandermark (tenor sax, Bb clarinet) have five or six albums as a duo, many more in larger configs, and in fact many Vandermark albums have been multi-band mash-ups along such lines. Cut live at Bimhuis. Liner suggests that Vandermark couldn't hear himself over the guitars although he was aware of blowing his lungs out; no problem, the sax is loud and clear here (especially loud). The guitars are less obvious, cutting in and out with harmonic strings and blasts of distortion. While the rockers are ripping up the sonic landscape, the jazz vanguardists rock out, with Vandermark riffing heavy and the drummer tying it all together. Three short pieces and one long at 27:26 for an intense bit over 41 minutes. A-

Ketil Bjřrnstad: Remembrance (2009 [2010], ECM): Norwegian pianist, b. 1952, has recorded with ECM at least since 1994. Leads a trio here, with Tore Brunborg on tenor sax and Jon Christensen on drums -- all three were previously in Masqualero, along with Arild Andersen and Nils Petter Molvaer if memory serves. One title piece in eleven parts. B+(***)

Billy Bang: Prayer for Peace (2005 [2010], TUM): No idea how this set, recorded in New York half a decade ago, came to this Finish label, but the packaging, artwork, and full biographies are all pluses. The group has an interesting balance, with pianist Andrew Bemkey and trumpeter James Zollar as prominent as the violinist -- also with Todd Nicholson on bass and Newman Taylor-Baker on drums. Starts off with a sprightly Stuff Smith piece, a mood that returns with the only other non-Bang cover, an Afro-Cuban piece from Compay Segundo. Title track seems to drag a bit, but before long its slow build turns elegiac. Not at his strongest or most consistent, but a thrill nonetheless, with Zollar more than picking up the slack. A-

Eric Boeren 4tet: Song for Tracy the Turtle: Live at Jazz Brugge 2004 (2004 [2010], Clean Feed): Dutch cornet player, quartet includes Michael Moore (alto sax, clarinet), Wilbert de Joode (bass), and Paul Lovens (drums). Radio shot, tape discovered (or brought to Boeren's attention) only recently. Rough to start, interesting free play, don't get much sense of Moore although he's in the thick of it. B+(*)

Bo van de Graaf: Sold Out: 25 Soundtracks (2009 [2010], Icdisc): Dutch saxophonist, has contributed to the notion that the Dutch avant-garde has as much to do with comedy as with music, although the funniest things here are the titles: "Cat on a hot thin roof," "Ascenseur pour un escargot," "Lost tanga in Paris," "Et Depardieu créa la femme," "The gossip father," "Koyaanisquatsch," "For your legs only," and the 26th cut, disguised as a "bonus track" so as not to dispute the title, "Silence of the lamps (suite)." Would be more fun -- not the same thing as funnier -- if he played more sax, but only 6 of 26 cuts get that treatment. Mostly he hacks out melodies on electric keyboards with samples, and employs a few helpers for bits trumpet, harmonica, english horn, and to voice some Anna Akhmatova words. B

Cochemea Gastelum: The Electric Sound of Johnny Arrow (2010, Mowo!): Sax player; have him listed on alto first, but plays more tenor here, more baritone than that, more "electric sax" than anything, with flute a close second, bass clarinet, all sorts of keyboards, vibes, drums and percussion. First album, has some studio work with pop stars like Amy Winehouse (also Sharon Jones, Angelique Kidjo, New Pornographers), and funk-oriented jazzbos -- Robert Walter, Will Bernard, Melvin Sparks, Reuben Wilson (also something called Phat Jam in Milano listed under Archie Shepp). This one was co-produced by Mocean Worker, who contributed "bips & baps" as well as most of the bass. Beatwise funk, takes off when Elizabeth Pupo-Walker turns on her congas, stalls when the velocity drops too much. B+(*)

Tia Fuller: Decisive Steps (2010, Mack Avenue): Alto saxophonist, also plays some soprano, b. 1976 in Aurora, CO; third album since 2005. Toured for a while with Beyoncé, but her jazz ambitions certainly aren't pop -- she's more like a younger generation Kenny Garrett, a mainstream player who can turn up the heat and draw on deep well of Coltrane antics. Band includes her sister Shamie Royston on piano, Miriam Sullivan on bass, and Kim Thompson on drums; guests include Sean Jones on trumpet/flugelhorn, Christian McBride, and tap dancer Maruice Chestnut. B+(**)

Steve Cardenas: West of Middle (2009 [2010], Sunnyside): Guitarist, from Kansas City, based in New York; third album since 2000; lots of side credits since 1991, notably with Ben Allison and Paul Motian. Trio here, with Allison returning the favor at bass, and Rudy Royston on drums. Nice leads, but still strikes me as a first rate sideman. B+(**)

Lena Horne: Sings: The M-G-M Singles (1946-48 [2010], Verve/Hip-O Select): The first black actress granted a Hollywood contract, she was gorgeous in ways that transcended race -- her ancestors reportedly included slaveholders like John C. Calhoun as well as slaves, with a little American Indian mixed in along the way -- and a pretty good standards singer. Her "Stormy Weather" was a hit in 1943, the title of an MGM musical, and not included here although it seems like it should fit. This picks up a bit later. The house orchestra is completely ordinary, and more than half of the songs you no doubt know from Billie Holiday and/or Ella Fitzgerald. Horne wasn't in their class, but the best songs here -- "A Foggy Day (in London Town)" and "The Lady Is a Tramp" are two -- are completely satisfying. B+(***)

Nikki Yanofsky: Nikki (2010, Decca): Standards singer, from Montreal, b. 1994, which makes her 16 or probably 15 when she recorded this, her second album following a 2008 CD/DVD combo called Ella . . . of Thee I Swing. Produced by Phil Ramone and Jesse Harris. Didn't bother digging through the fine print to see who all's playing. No doubt she can belt the songs out -- a plus on "Take the 'A' Train" and "On the Sunny Side of the Street" and "Mr. Paganini" but not so much on "Over the Rainbow." While the Ella and Billie songs don't match up, at least they swing. The less obvious pieces don't reveal much of anything, even fandom. B

Eleni Karaindrou: Dust of Time (2008 [2009], ECM New Series): Pianist, specializes in composing for films, with seven albums on ECM since 1991, hard to tell how much more. This one is for a film by Theo Angelopoulos. Booklet has lots of pictures, presumably from the film. Mostly strings, some orchestral, but with a delicate touch, soft, easy flow, poignant. B+(**)


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


Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Llyrěa (ECM): advance, Oct. 12
  • Dave Bass Quartet: Gone (Dave Bass Music)
  • Theo Bleckmann: I Dwell in Possibility (Winter & Winter)
  • Patty Cronheim: Days Like These (Say So): Aug. 10
  • Anna Figarova: Sketches (Munich)
  • Food [Thomas Strřnen/Iain Ballamy]: Quiet Inlet (ECM)
  • Michael Formanek Qt.: The Rub and Spare Change (ECM): advance, Oct. 12
  • Anat Fort: And If (ECM): advance, Sept. 14
  • Chie Imaizumi: A Time of New Beginnings (Capri): Aug. 17
  • Kneebody: You Can Have Your Moment (Winter & Winter)
  • Greg Lewis: Organ Monk (Greg Lewis): Oct. 1
  • Charles Lloyd: Mirror (ECM): advance, Sept. 14
  • Chico Pinheiro: There's a Storm Inside (Sunnyside): Aug. 31
  • Prester John: Desire for a Straight Line (Innova)
  • Gene Pritsker: Varieties of Religious Experience Suite (Innova)
  • Jim Rotondi: 1000 Rainbows (Posi-Tone)
  • Salo: Sundial Lotus (Innova)
  • Dino Saluzzi: El Encuentro (ECM)
  • Aram Shelton Quartet: These Times (Singlespeed Music)
  • Soulive: Rubber Soulive (Royal Family): advance, Sept. 14
  • Howard Wiley and the Angola Project: 12 Gates to the City (HNIC Music): Oct. 19
  • Norma Winstone: Stories Yet to Tell (ECM): advance, Aug. 31

Movie Weekend

Two movie weekend, the first time I can remember that happening in a long, long time. Indeed, can't remember the last time we even saw a movie. (Checking back in the notebook, I see I did some movie posts in April.) Good ones, too.

Movie: The Secret in Their Eyes [El secreto de sus ojos]: Argentinian film, set in 1999 when a recently retired crime investigator decides to write a book about a 1974 rape-murder, cutting back and forth to trace the crime and investigation then and unravel a few last details still unclear. The murderer was caught and confessed, then was let out of jail by higher-ups as he was employed in Argentina's Dirty War. In fact, the murderer turns the tables and pursues the investigator, who flees Buenos Aires for a safe country retreat, at least until the junta fell and democracy was restored. Not much on the Dirty War directly, so it helps to know some history. Some interesting discussion of the death penalty. Won Oscar for Best Foreign Film. A-

Movie: Cyrus: Small film gets by on actors and more or less improv dialogue. John C. Reilly is divorced from Catherine Keener, who graciously struggles to help him get over it. Doesn't much work until he stumbles across Marisa Tomei, who is starved for the attention Reilly offers, mostly because she's smothered by her 21-year-old unweened son, Jonah Hill. He feels the rivalry and sets out to subvert the budding relationship in a guerrilla war with O'Reilly. Works out, sort of. A-


Belatedly caught up with Yes Man [B] and The Invention of Lying [A-]. Jonah Hill had one of many good small parts in the latter. Again, words are key; goodwill too.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Zero Tolerance

Glenn Greenwald: The heroism of Shirley Sherrod: I was forced offline for the last half of last week, so missed this story as it unrolled. Sherrod is black, married to a well known civil rights leader, works for the Agriculture Dept. She gave a speech. Someone named Andrew Breitbart extracted a line from its context, turned on its head, and splattered it across the nation's fickle consciousness as an example of the Obama government's anti-white racism. Obama and Ag. Sec. Tom Vilsack took Fox News at its word, didn't bother to check the facts, and fired Sherrod -- the latest example in fascist politico-world's zero-tolerance clampdown on politically incorrect speech. As it turns out, this one was such a total crock that Vilsack and Obama wound up back-pedalling, offering Sherrod her job back. One reason was that the "white farmer" she referred to was plum thankful that she had saved his farm. Another embarrassment for Obama, once again caused by his willingness to concede the issue space to the right. The charge itself should have been a tip-off: few problems in America are more inconsequential than anti-white racism, and virtually the only people who worry about it mostly worry because they expect some retribution for their own racism.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Bush Revivalism

Ryan McNeely: Texas Fried Conservatism: Of all the things that Obama has or hasn't done since the 2008 election, the one that annoys me most -- partly because it's so obvious, so consistent with his mandate, and so much within his power to act -- is his failure to put a stake into what little was left of George W. Bush's political reputation. Back then Bush's approval ratings were stuck in the 20% range, and even that most likely owed much to presidential deference. Virtually everything Bush did in his eight years in office was wrong -- more often than not, deeply, profoundly, mind-bogglingly wrong; so wrong one's tempted to call it evil, except that he poisoned that well too. Moreover, Bush's policies and acts were not just wrong in principle and in practice; they left a vast legacy of problems that would overwhelm and threaten to capsize his own term. He needed to drive home the fact that those problems were Bush problems, not just to buy time to work them through but to make sure that the American people understood what they were facing and why.

He could have done that three ways. One was to go out and talk about what happened and why, to constantly reinforce the message about Bush's malfeasances. Another, which would flow out of the first, is that he could have pushed for thorough investigations of the Bush administration, especially of conflicts of interest and more/less legal influence peddling. (At the very least, this would have alerted him to the MMS cronyism that was exposed only after BP's deepwater oil well blew up.) Finally, he could have routinely broke from Bush administration policies, especially in the security and injustice sector. Instead, he's so routinely continued Bush's policies that they've often become pinned on him.

Now, we're seeing the first efforts at not just rehabilitating but canonizing Bush's presidency -- something that should have been rendered impossible by exposing what actually happened. It may even work: after all, they've had plenty of practice dusting off and spiffing up Ronald Reagan's criminal regime. (Back in the day I frequently quipped that America's only growth industry is fraud -- not just because of the unseemly number of apparatchiks who got caught but because the whole "greed is good" ethos soaked into the culture, breeding in the soon-bankrupted S&Ls, the leveraged buyout craze, and well beyond, all the way to George W. Bush.) The old adage about those who forget history are bound to repeat it takes on extra urgency here. By failing to make the Bush history unforgettable, Obama does worse than run the risk of yet another return; he may even slip unconsciously into the Bush form, repeating it himself.

Paul Krugman: Redo That Voodoo: Taxes and deficits are a case in point. At least back in Reagan's time they bothered to concoct a hare-brained theory to argue that cutting taxes would increase tax revenues, as if their aim was to grow government. That failed, but nothing they couldn't mythologize around. Bush's tax cuts and war spending did exactly what Reagan's did: mushroom the federal deficit, leading to cries for slashing public services and special favors for the rich. Now, of course, the insatiable rich want even more -- not just for themselves, but they'd like to see everyone else pinched by more austerity too, so even if they can't make more at least they'll feel better about it. One thing you should recall is that one of Obama's campaign promises was to repeal the Bush tax cuts -- one that he hasn't lifted a finger to accomplish. The political calculus now is to let them quietly expire, but in doing so he misses a golden opportunity to pin the deficits on the main cause: Bush.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 16887 [16861] rated (+26), 852 [839] unrated +13).

  • Fred Anderson/DKV Trio (1996 [1997], Okka Disk): Looked up Anderson after his recent passing and notice that I had never given this a grade, even though I made an effort to tie up all the loose ends in my Ken Vandermark listings -- DKV is Hamid Drake, Kent Kessler, and Ken Vandermark. Cut shortly after the AACM founder/Velvet Lounge proprietor resumed his career as a hair-raising tenor saxophonist -- about the time he started collecting social security checks -- with his protégé Drake a common denominator. The slashing sax play isn't exceptional but is enjoyable enough; solo stretches are eloquent despite also being not that exceptional. B+(*)


Jazz Prospecting (CG #24, Part 6)

Horrible week. Don't know where to begin, but hope it ends soon. Was surprised that I had enough Jazz Prospecting to post. Not sure if the glut of (**) records was symptom or cause -- one side effect of having already used up all of my space for the next Jazz CG is that I'm more conscious of good records that I know I'm not going to have room or interest for, and that's where such records land. For what little it's worth, the pecking order: Dosh, Rypdal, Christie, Cohen, Corpolongo, Manricks, Tibbetts.


Laurie Anderson: Homeland (2010, Nonesuch): A rather dreary album, at least partly by intent, which raises such big and serious questions I'm tempted to grade it up if only to get a hearing. Some songs are worth hearing more for didactic purposes than listening enjoyment -- "Another Day in America" and "Dark Time in the Revolution" are two. Only one is flat-out brilliant: "Only an Expert" is not only deep but quickens the pace to drive its points home. Others I'm likely to remain unsettled over, including four murky ones at the beginning. Ambitious, distinctive, thoughtful, clever, unique; still, I find it sitting on my year-end list right below Kesha, its polar opposite. B+(***) [advance]

Stevens, Siegel & Ferguson Trio: Six (2008 [2010], Konnex): Piano trio, with Memphis-based Michael Jefry Stevens forgoing alphabetical order for once to claim first dibs on a record. Siegel is drummer Jeff, nicknamed "Siege," which leads to all sorts of typographical errors. Ferguson, Tim, plays bass. Both contribute a pair of originals; Stevens just places one. The other five cuts are old standards ("Straight No Chaser" on the fence there), given pleasantly straightforward readings. B+(*)

Rich Corpolongo Trio: Get Happy (2009 [2010], Delmark): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1941 in Chicago, parents from Italy. Third album on Delmark, the first two dating from 1996 and 1998 with Corpolongo playing alto and soprano sax but no tenor. All three have upbeat titles -- Just Found Joy and Smiles -- but his playing is serious, sober mainstream, spare and muscular with just bass (Dan Shapera) and drums (Rusty Jones), with Charlie Parker tunes fore and aft, standards in between including the title tune, "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams," and "Body and Soul." B+(**)

Terje Rypdal: Crime Scene (2009 [2010], ECM): Guitarist, b. 1947, part of the George Russell generation of Norwegian jazz musicians; started in rock and gravitated in and out of fusion over the years. Shows some of that here, but the album, a concert recording at Nattjazz Festival in Bergen, veers wildly about with a range of things I can't add up much less reconcile: scattered vocal samples assembled by drummer Paolo Vinaccia; free-ranging trumpet by Palle Mikkelborg; grungy organ by Stĺle Storlřkken; and occasional earth rumbling from the 17-piece Bergen Big Band. Each of these things are interesting. (Surprised to find him dropped from the 9th ed. of The Penguin Guide, along with 18 records, all on ECM, very likely all still in print.) B+(**)

Steve Tibbetts: Natural Causes (2008 [2010], ECM): Guitarist, b. 1954, from Minnesota, had an eponymous album in 1976 and now has eight ECM albums from 1980, the last three following 6-, 8-, and 8-year breaks. Also credited with piano, kalimba, and bouzouki -- not sure whether they are minor here or just subtly layered, as the hype sheet suggests. Marc Anderson adds percussion, but there is little more to it: quiet, measured, slips by all to easily. B+(**)

Retta Christie: With David Evans & Dave Frishberg, Volume 2 (2009 [2010], Retta): Singer, b. 1959 in Astoria, OR. Second album, following Volume 1 all the way down to the cover art, given a different tint here. Standards, but not too standard: notes place most of them in the 1920s and 1930s with a Mills Brothers hit from 1944 not so far an outlier. Evans plays sax and clarinet; is a treat on both, especially the latter. Frishberg limits himself to piano -- he's a notable singer in his own right, but plays this one close to the vest. B+(**)

Avishai Cohen: Aurora (2008 [2010], Blue Note/EMI Music): Israeli bassist, b. 1970 (many sites say 1971, but Cohen's own say 1970), established his jazz career in New York but seems to be based in Israel now. Eleventh record since 1998, carries a small Blue Note label as well as EMI Music, but was recorded on France and isn't on Blue Note's US schedule -- hype sheet gives April 27 as release date. Plays electric as well as acoustic, has a piano credit and sings most of the songs, with Karen Malka joining in here and there. Band includes Shai Maestro on piano/wurlitzer, Amos Hoffman on oud, and Itamar Doari on percussion. Several songs derive from Ladino folk sources, although most are originals. Vocals are slight, amateurish; arrangements are slow, with a baroque feel -- hype sheet cites Bach counterpoint, as well as pointing out that his Ladino was sharpened playing in New York latin ensembles. B+(**)

Jacám Manricks: Trigonometry (2009 [2010], Posi-Tone): Saxophonist, not specified but plays alto in his photos and has played soprano in the past; based in New York, teaches at Manhattan School of Music; bio doesn't provide details like when/where born, how he got to New York, etc. One previous album, last year's Labyrinth, also an impressive disc. Wrote all but a Dolphy piece. Postbop, has a loquacious tone, gets solid support from Gary Versace on piano and Obed Calvaire on drums, and occasional front line help from Scott Wendholt (trumpet) and Alan Ferber (trombone). Sorry for the grade rut, but I can't budge this up or down. [PS: Looks like he started out in Australia.] B+(**)

Ray Vega & Thomas Marriott: East-West Trumpet Summit (2009 [2010], Origin): Marriott's from Seattle; Vega's from the Bronx. Marriott thanks God in the notes here; Vega thanks Jesus. Presumably Vega's the hot one here -- play with Ray Barretto and Tito Puente and you learn to crank it up a couple notches. Each has a moderate pile of albums. Both can play but neither makes a very distinctive impression. Together they put together as hot a trumpet album as I've heard in a while. B+(*)

Gregory Porter: Water (2009 [2010], Motema): Vocalist, based in Brooklyn, first album. Wrote 6 of 11 songs; one called "1960 What?" on the Detroit riot is a choice cut, partly because he beefs up the horn section (three trumpets and trombone), partly because he doesn't try to constrain his cool. On the other hand, standards like "Skylark" and "But Beautiful" are really tightened down. B+(*)

Dosh: Tommy (2008-09 [2010], Anticon): Full name: Martin Dosh, from Minneapolis. Fifth record since 2003, all on Anticon, which is generally an underground hip-hop label, very underground. This one is more post-rock ambient electronica, reminiscent of Brian Eno's Another Green World at times, but not as blessed, not just because it's a bit noisier. B+(**) [advance]

Oscar Feldman: Oscar e Familia (2009, Sunnyside): Alto saxophonist, b. 1961 in Argentina, based in New York, has one previous album in 1999. Wrote most of the pieces, one with Guillermo Klein, one by Klein alone, and one each by Wayne Shorter, Astor Piazzolla, and Hermeto Pascoal. Core group features Manuel Valera on piano, John Benitez on bass, Antonio Sanchez on drums, and Pernell Saturnino on percussion, although he also taps Pablo Aslan (bass) on four cuts, Diego Urcola (trumpet, trombone), Mark Turner (tenor sax), Tito Castro (bandoneon), Cuartetango String Quartet (two cuts), and others. Fierce sax and roiling percussion will remind you of Gato Barbieri's early "chapters." B+(***)

Margret: Com Vocę (2010, Sunnyside): Last name Grebowicz, from Texas, probably based in New York now although hype sheet says she teaches philosophy at Goucher College in Baltimore. Website refers to band as Com Vocę, but hype sheet gives Margret as artist name, Com Vocę as album title. She/they have a 2007 album, Candeias, under Com Vocę. Band isn't really applicable on this album anyway: Margret sings on all tracks, but only has Ben Monder (guitar) on one track, Matvei Sigalov (guitar) on another, Monder and Scott Colley (bass) on a third; tenor saxophonist Stan Killian, who seems to be her senior collaborator, only appears on 3 of 9 tracks. Only 3 of 9 songs have Brazilian roots, but she does a fair Astrud Gilberto impression, especially on the sweetly synthetic "Call Me." B


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


Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • Julian Argüelles Trio: Ground Rush (Clean Feed)
  • Michaël Attias: Twines of Colesion (Clean Feed)
  • Ran Blake/Sara Serpa: Camera Obscura (2010, Inner Circle Music): Sept. 1
  • Alex Brown: Pianist (Sunnyside): Aug. 10
  • Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra: Mezzanine (Owl Studios)
  • Fay Claassen: Sing! (Challenge)
  • The Stanley Clarke Band (Heads Up)
  • Bill Frisell: Beautiful Dreamers (Savoy Jazz)
  • Stephen Gauci/Kris Davis/Michael Bisio: Three (Clean Feed)
  • Frank Gratkowski/Hamid Drake (Valid)
  • Susie Hansen: Representante de la Salsa (Jazz Caliente)
  • John Lee Hooker, Jr.: Live in Istanbul Turkey (Steppin' Stone)
  • Guillermo Klein: Domador de Huellas (Sunnyside): Aug. 10
  • Urs Leimgruber/Evan Parker: Twine (Clean Feed)
  • Daniel Levin Quartet: Bacalhau (Clean Feed)
  • Mike Mainieri: Crescent (NYC, 2CD)
  • Bob Mamet Trio: Impromptu (Counterpoint): Aug. 3
  • Lisa Mezzacappa's Bait & Switch: What Is Known (Clean Feed)
  • Nils Petter Molvaer: Hamada (Thirsty Ear): advance, Sept. 7
  • Joe Morris/Nate Wooley: Tooth and Nail (Clean Feed)
  • William Parker: I Plan to Stay a Believer: The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield (AUM Fidelity, 2CD): Sept. 14
  • Louis Sclavis/Craig Taborn/Tom Rainey: Eldorado Trio (Clean Feed)
  • Esperanza Spalding: Chamber Music Society (Heads Up)
  • Ben Syversen: Cracked Vessel (Ben Syversen)
  • Rob Wagner/Hamid Drake/Nobu Ozaki: Trio (Valid)
  • David S. Ware: Onecept (AUM Fidelity): Sept. 14
  • Chris Washburne and the SYOTOS Band: Fields of Moons (Jazzheads)

Purchases:

  • Big Boi: Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (Def Jam)
  • Gogol Bordello: Trans-Continental Hustle (American)
  • M.I.A.: Maya (XL/Interscope)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

When Bad Ideas Are Better Than Nothing

Paul Woodward: A one-state solution from the Israeli right: Every now and then someone from the Israeli right admits a willingness to grant Israeli citizenship to a lot more Palestinians in order to secure the entire West Bank as permanent Israeli territory. (What happens to Gaza is never made clear, but it is already viewed as a wasteland, so presumably would be sloughed off.) All sorts of bad things could be rolled into such a "solution": the return of any Palestinian refugees would be ruled out; even with "citizenship" much of the West Bank could remain under military rule for decades (as happened within the Green Line from 1948-67), curtailing the legal rights of "citizenship"; social and economic discrimination is likely to persist indefinitely; moreover, the right is likely to use the influx of Palestinian "citizens" as an excuse to chip away at the rights that "Palestinian citizens of Israel" already have. Gaza would be orphaned, perhaps still under siege, subject to controls and periodic mass punishment. Lebanon and Syria would still be viewed as hostile states, with Israel holding the Golan Heights and continuing to hold large numbers of Lebanese prisoners while Israel seeks to back Hezbollah down by threatening the whole country. In short, a right-wing "one state solution" is likely to look a lot like the status quo.

This raises a real question. Anyone can think of lots of ways to sort out the conflict, but the only way that is going to happen is one that Israel itself decides upon -- i.e., a settlement that that not only favors Israel over the Palestinians but that indulges Israeli fears and fantasies. So the question is: what's the worst possible settlement that both sides are likely to accept? It's a tough question, mostly because Israel's politicos and security honchos don't really want any solution -- they're quite happy to fight on indefinitely, and in any case would be hard pressed to agree on just what they are fighting for. But it's also tough for the Palestinians, who on the one hand have already conceded an awful lot, and on the other are basing their claims on justice, which sets some minimal standards for what they can accept.

I've made several sketches of how this can be resolved, and they've all been unwelcome. For instance, knowing that Jerusalem is a particularly emotional issue for most Israelis, I outlined a scheme whereby Israel could legitimately annex Jerusalem, leaving Gaza and the rest of the West Bank for an independent Palestinian state. (The key here would be for the Palestinians in East Jerusalem to ratify the annexation, which would only happen if Israel assumed its best behavior toward them -- a win-win scenario as far as I'm concerned, although before any such thing happened you'd hear a lot about "the third holiest city in Islam" and all that.)

As I was reading Kai Bird's Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978, I flashed on another even more indulgent scheme. Bird makes a big point about how the conflict would have been reduced had the Palestinians succeeded in deposing King Hussein and turning Jordan into the Palestinian state -- he sees this as a major missed opportunity, given that before 1967 and even after Jordan had a Palestinian majority and that the Hashemite monarchy was nothing more than a British invention later subsidized by the CIA. Lots of prominent Israelis had toyed with the Jordan = New Palestine idea, although they usually wanted it both ways -- a nominal Palestinian state still ruled by trusty old King Hussein. But one reason they never went through with this scheme is that deep down Israel can't abide the existence of a Palestinian state: any such state would memorialize the original sin of Israel's creation. So how about this: Israel turns Gaza over to Egypt as an UN mandate; Egypt assumes responsibility for security and holds the international pursestrings to rebuild Gaza, but otherwise allows Gaza to be run as an autonomous UN-certified democracy; Gaza would in the future (say, ten years) have the option of an independence referendum, but in the meantime Egypt also offers Gazans (including Palestinian refugees) citizenship, freedom to resettle in Egypt, and all such rights as Egyptian citizens have (such as they are). Egypt isn't obligated to become more democratic, although that would be a welcome direction. This way Israel relinquishes its occupation without establishing a Palestinian state. Same thing with Jordan and the West Bank, although it's less clear where Israel draws the borderline -- what is clear is that it will be Israel drawing the border -- perhaps along its notorious "security fence."

So would that be acceptable? Israel would gain a small amount of critical territory, and would get rid of a large number of Palestinians. The resulting Israel could be more equitable and less beligerent, or not. Israel wouldn't be assured of immediate recognition as with the Saudi/Arab League Green Line proposal, but would be in a better position to work those out. Israel already has working security relationships with both Egypt and Jordan, and Egypt has a proven track record of helping Israel to pen up Gaza. One would have to insist that any Palestinians living on land that Israel kept be given full and meaningful citizenship rights. Also that the refugees be given compensation, since they are otherwise screwed -- not that they aren't now anyway. Maybe you could insist on some protocols for dealing with border incidents and acts of terrorism -- which must, by the way, include Israel's assassination networks. Something should be done about Lebanon and Syria. The former is easily resolved by returning Shaba Farms and the Lebanese prisoners Israel holds hostage; the latter involves a more substantial piece of real estate and its watershed. (Perhaps the answer there is for Israel to purchase most of the land and water; Syria would obtain a lot of badly needed cash and get off of America's shit list.)

Or maybe Israel's right insists on keeping all of the West Bank, in which case an acceptable deal would have to safeguard Palestinian rights within a democratic Israel. This is tougher because it gets deeper into Israel's knitting, but there has to be some quid pro quo to get everyone to agree that we have a solution, and that international recognition -- basically the removal of Israel's pariah state stain -- is what Israel stands to gain. For instance, with the Palestinians satisfied, the conflict with Iran -- its alleged nuclear threat, the thing that Israel is supposedly so dreadfully worried over -- goes away.

I can't pretend that these proposals are any better than lots of other proposals. Were I a Zionist, I'm pretty sure that I'd think that the Arab League two-state proposal would be a damn good deal: in particular, there's no need to quibble and no chance of ill feelings if you simply accept the other side's offer. It would allow Israel to go right on being the paranoid racist state it has become yet would extricate itself from a state of perpetual debilitating conflict. Not being a Zionist, and being committed to justice, I'm inclined to be more generous: I'd prefer a secular, multicultural state providing generous support for resettling as many refugees as want to return. And if I were an Arab, I'd support a Law of Return, which inside Israel is a symbol of national discrimination, but outside of Israel undercuts the logic and imputed necessity of an exclusive Jewish national homeland. But the fact is I'd settle for almost anything that reduces conflict and allows all parties to live with respect and dignity.

The best solutions are based on things that at least in principle we can all agree on: equality, human rights, dignity, freedom. The more you carve out special exceptions to universal rights, the more trouble you cause, the more people you leave behind, the more resentment builds. Agreements may be dictated by relative power, but effective agreements are built on mutual respect. If Israel wanted to solve its conflict it would take pains to make its offer as generous as possible, to bind in as much consensus as possible. That hasn't happened for reasons deeply embedded in its national psyche -- Israel has trained itself to trust only its own power, so it sees any compromise as debilitating, and therefore they never offer any solution. Still, everyone else in the world needs to see this conflict come to some sort of resolution. (The Palestinians have offered all kinds of proposals, adjusting them as they grow weary and find force to be useless, but they are never deemed acceptable because they refuse to compromise on the basic issue of dignity; they are left with the one thing Israel cannot take from them, the ability to refuse surrender.) So we're left here, mulling over not just solutions that would do right but all sorts of hackneyed notions that while distasteful might ultimately be considered not so intolerable.

Israel's right has successfully managed to derail the common "two-state solution" that Americans (including Clinton, Obama, and even Bush) fancy, so when they do float a conceivable idea -- anything involving full citizen rights is at least conceivably workable -- it's worth taking seriously, probably not as a coherent proposal but at least as opening a door that until now has remained rigidly shut.

Paul Woodward: One state/two states: rethinking Israel and Palestine: Another vector moving in this same direction, quoting Abu-Zayda on his thinking why the "two states" dogma has become counterproductive. One irony is that it was only a year or two ago when Alan Dershowitz declared that any talk about "one state" should axiomatically be discarded as a non-starter; now we find several scattered instances of people arguing the exact opposite: that "two state" talk is nothing more than a formula for extending the conflict endlessly. (Which, by the way, does seem to be Dershowitz's agenda.)


I've collected a good selection of quotes from Kai Bird's Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978 (2010, Scribners) on the book page. It's a rather idiosyncratic book in several respects: the personal interest breaks with the usual sense of balance, although the final third synthesizes balance in a rather unique way; the time frame essentially ignores the last 30 years -- the wars in Lebanon, the Intifada, the Oslo Accords, Ariel Sharon -- which by now is most of what you know about the conflict. (The PFLP hijackings in the 1970s are prominently featured in the book, but compared to the suicide bombings of the Al-Aqsa Intifada seem almost quaint.) On the other hand one tends to forget how tenaciously belligerent Ben-Gurion was, or how poorly King Hussein served the Palestinian cause that he occasionally gave lip service to. Even in working in his wife's family's holocaust stories, Bird sticks with the particulars and avoids generalizations.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Blue Dog

Dion Lefler: Goyle pushes bipartisan solutions: Kansas politics has regularly been hitting new lows this year. With elected governor Kathleen Sebelius safely tucked away in Obama's cabinet -- taking her away from an open senate contest she was heavily favored for; after all, as long as Obama's in the white house, who needs electable Democrats running for other offices? -- the current Kansas governor was elected lieutenant governor as a Democrat but was previously chairman of the state Republican party. Still, even he has frustrated the state lege from passing America's most draconian anti-abortion bills, so Sam Brownback is giving up his senate seat to do his duty in Topeka. Meanwhile, two of Kansas's three Republican congressmen are running for Brownback's senate seat, or for a cushy job as a corporate lobbyist, whichever comes last -- see Crowson's cartoon for a glimpse at how that's going. Tanker Todd, who's been my hands-down pick for worst member of congress for 16 straight years now, is pretty certain to lose the vote, and win back his job as a Boeing corporate flunky, no doubt with a big payday -- especially if the tanker deal he's devoted so much of his life to comes through.

That leaves Tiahrt's seat vacant, with a wide open Republican primary between Florida multimillionaire Wink Hartman and Tiahrt crony Mike Pompeo, with a couple of minor candidates way short of money -- Jean Schodorf, one of the saner Republicans around, is likely to finish a distant third. On the Democratic side the probable candidate is Raj Goyle, an impressive (and impressively well funded) campaigner to picked off a pretty safe Republican state senate seat a few years back. One interesting point here is that Goyle seems to have raised more money thus far than any of the Republicans -- Hartman is real close, but that's mostly because he's taking money from one pocket and putting it into the other. Especially interesting, given that Tiahrt typically out-raised his opponents by 10-to-1. On the other hand, Goyle is running his campaign so far to the right that he practically belongs in the same strip as Tiahrt and Moran. Of the two state senators in this election, the one who voted to stave off the latest anti-abortion travesty wasn't Goyle; it was Schodorf.

The link above gives you a quick rundown on Goyle's campaign. (For more on the money, see here.) Goyle is "proud to be a fiscal conservative." He voted against a regressive sales tax hike that was the only way the governor could keep the state government from collapsing. He thinks all it's going to take to get the economy going again is tax cuts and small business loans. His yap on closing tax loopholes that export jobs amounts to nothing. If anyone really wanted to halt the offshoring of jobs, the thing to do would be to balance the trade deficit, not the budget.

Other than the budget balancing, there's little of substance to say about Goyle. He's smart, ambitious, flexible, opportunistic -- someone you can never trust or admire, but may wind up voting for when facing a Republican like Hartman or Pompeo. He may even do something worthwhile, but right now he's running to be the bluest dog in Washington. Right now I'm not sure the aggravation is worth it.

PS: The comments with few exceptions are appalling. Must be the readers are getting into the spirit of the season.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Tax Dollars for Terrorism

Jason Ditz: US-Backed Jundallah Bombs Iran Mosque, Killing at Least 27: When Obama took office 18 months ago, it seemed like burying the hatchet with Iran would be a relatively straightforward thing to do. But Netanyahu responded to Obama's feint toward the more intransigent Israel-Palestine conflict with alarmist threats against Iran, which Obama thought he could only bottle up by taking a more aggressive diplomatic course. Then there was the Iranian elections and a long period of unrest following, where Iran's conservatives and clerics clamped down on reformers -- many of whom felt themselves to be more in tune with the 1979 Revolution than were the established powers -- so that, too, backed Obama off, putting even more emphasis on his sterile program of sanctions. Now, Netanyahu is feeling cocky enough to push his belligerent tactics through American military channels -- cheered on by Likudnik-inspired neocons like the newly formed Emergency Committee for Israel. The idea of "preemptively" attacking Iran is as criminally stupid now as it ever was. One cannot imagine all of the ways such a misadventure could go wrong: it would dramatically reinforce Iranian resolve to be able to defend themselves with nuclear weapons, while at most inflicting a temporary setback; it would destroy whatever credibility Obama still has in the world's diplomatic circles. Iran would have an impeccable case to take to the UN -- subject to a US veto, of course, another embarrassment. If Iran chose to fight back, they could virtually stop oil tankers from the Persian Gulf region, triggering another runup of world oil prices. They could make life very uncomfortable for US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. The one threat they can't make is to Israel, which is already itching for another fight with Hezbollah (and/or Hamas). It is easy to see why Israel sees such an attack as win-win: the one guaranteed result is that it will keep Israel away from the peace table for years to come. Best of all, it would make the US as much a pariah as Israel has already become.

What Jundallah has to do with this is sheer stupidity. Back in 1979 the Iranian Revolution embarrassed the Carter Administration and, more importantly, the CIA that had put the Shah in power back in 1953, opening up a period when the US was delighted to sell advanced weapons and nuclear power plants to Iran. Ever since then there have been agitators in the backwaters of the US security system trying to irritate Iran -- Bush's "Axis of Evil" speech back in 2003 was a high point in their crusade. One of their pet schemes has always been to incite minorities to rebel against the Tehran government, and the Balochi nationalist Jundallah group has been a beneficiary of such scheming. Never mind that they're nothing more than a terrorist group. Never mind that they also attack our ally Pakistan. We're so consumed with hatred for Iran that we're happy doing unto them what we'd never stand for them doing unto us. But don't you think Obama should find this really embarrassing? On the one hand, it shows how selective out "war on terrorism" really is. On the other, it shows that however high-minded our fears of Iran's nuclear program may be, deep down all we really want to do is drag the Iranian people into chaos and destruction.

Helena Cobban: Is an attack on Iran really more 'do-able' now? and More on America's pro-Israeli warmongers: Some background info for the above. Joe Klein claims: "Israel has been brought into the [U.S.] planning process, I'm told, because U.S. officials are frightened by the possibility that the right-wing Netanyahu government might go rogue and try to whack the Iranians on its own." The fact remains that Israel would have to fly over US-controled airspace to get to Iran and would probably need US airbases to land at, so it's hard to see how they could "go rogue" without US acquiescence. On the other hand, one of the peculiar effects of Israel's handling of the Gaza flotilla is that while it had been a public relations disaster in the world at large, Israel has managed to stiffen up American political support, making a new round of aggression possible.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Book Watch

Another batch of book notes, starting to drain the backlog I had accumulated before my last post on June 25. Doesn't include a couple of eagerly awaited forthcoming books: Andrew Bacevich: Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War (Aug. 3), and Chalmers Johnson: Dismantling the Empire: America's Last Best Hope (Aug. 17). I've pre-ordered both.


Joseph Adler: R in a Nutshell: A Desktop Quick Reference (paperback, 2009, O'Reilly): Presumably R is a free software version of S, a very sophisticated programming language for statistics that was developed at Bell Labs back around 1975. [Yes, see here and here.] Big (640 pp), pricey ($49.95), most likely worthwhile if you use it a lot. I think I'd like to dabble, but haven't figured out how to break through. (I do have an ancient S manual but never could afford the software. I may even still have a videotape on a later commercial implementation of S Plus.)

Dean Baker: Taking Economics Seriously (2010, Boston Review Books): A prolific author of short books, one more (136 pp), a basic primer, probably suffices for Econ 101, but he focuses on especially relevant ideas. In particular, he pushes for marginal cost pricing, which would take a lot of hot air out of medical costs.

Gary S Becker/Richard A Posner: Uncommon Sense: Economic Insights, from Marriage to Terrorism (2009, University of Chicago Press): Mostly uncommon because it's mostly wrong. Leading ideologues of the rational expectations cult reason their way through all sorts of ordinary quandries. I read one section on CEO pay and found that it wasn't even wrong because it never got to a conclusion that could be disproved.

Peter Beinart: The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris (2010, Harper): Another sermon on why bad things happen to good countries, this one featuring Woodrow Wilson, Lyndon Johnson, and George W. Bush -- three presidents who led us into regretted wars with high-minded rhetoric. In some ways that cuts Bush too much slack, reflected by Beinart's enthusiasm for the Iraq War -- a mistake, Beinart admits, but one good enough to fuel his first book, The Good Fight: Why Liberals -- and Only Liberals -- Can Win the War on Terror. (He was on to something there with the implicit realization that conservatives like Bush couldn't do the right things, but failed to recognize that the only way you "win" a war is by keeping it from happening.)

Adam J Berinsky: In Time of War: Understanding American Public Opinion from World War II to Iraq (paperback, 2009, University of Chicago Press): Tries to make sense out of public opinion poll data going back to the US entry into WWII. Claims a lot of continuity between prewar and war fever attitudes, but I don't quite see how that works.

Tom Bissell: Extra Lives: Why Video Games Matter (2010, Pantheon): I've read two historically significant travel books by him (Chasing the Sea and The Father of All Things) so tend to take him seriously, much more so than his subject this time, which I tend to find abhorent.

Howard Bloom: The Genius of the Beast: A Radical Re-Vision of Capitalism (2009, Prometheus Books): Big (607 pp), sprawling jumble of everything connected to everything else, but mostly to capitalism past, present, and future. Spent some time working in PR before wandering into quasi-science books; previously wrote The Lucifer Principle: A Scientific Expedition Into the Forces of History and Global Brain: The Evolution of Mass Mind From the Big Band to the 21st Century. Could be interesting, could be nuts, or both.

Mark Philip Bradley/Marilyn B Young, eds: Making Sense of the Vietnam Wars: Local, National, and Transnational Perspectives (paperback, 2008, Oxford University Press): Eleven essays on various aspects of the war, including some from Vietnamese perspectives.

HW Brands: American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (2010, Penguin): Big subject, succinct at 432 pp. Author has written biographies on Ben Franklin, Andrew Jackson, and both Roosevelts -- I read the latter, A Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and found he did a good job of managing his space, neatly tying up two parts that I had recently read detailed books on. Read a few pages of this book, on Nixon and Watergate, where he quickly got to the point and got the main points -- not that I wouldn't have preferred more venom.

John Broven: Record Makers and Breakers: Voices of the Independent Rock 'n' Roll Pioneers (2010, University of Illinois Press): Big book (640 pp), based on 100 interviews with industry makers and shakers. Author is a consultant to Ace Records in the UK, high up on the list of reissue labels I wish would send me records.

Nicholas Carr: The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (2010, WW Norton): Well, something is making us stupid(er), so why not blame the Internet? The thesis is that constant stimulation shortens attention span leading to shallow thinking, but that seems equally or even more true of other media, e.g. radio and television. I'd say that the worst thing about web pages is how so many attempt to emulate television. I suppose you can blame the net for making stupid people louder, but that's, well, if not democracy at least levelling, which is a price we (more/less gladly) pay for access.

Harvey G Cohen: Duke Ellington's America (2010, University of Chicago Press): Big biography of Ellington (720 pp), 1899-1974, with sideward glances at the country that change around him.

Tyler Cowen: Create Your Own Economy: The Path to Prosperity in a Disordered World (2009, Dutton): Economist/blogger turns out a jumbled book of future think related somehow to autism -- Temple Grandin seems to understand what he's up to, but I don't. But then I've never been much impressed by his economics blog.

Elizabeth Fox Genovese/Eugene D Genovese: Slavery in White and Black: Class and Race in the Southern Slaveholders' New World Order (paperback, 2008, Cambridge University Press): Sums up what started as an innovative Marxist analysis of the slave South and turned into what? -- some kind of celebration of the slaveholders' conservative anticapitalism? I read Genovese early on and he had a big impact on my thinking. I understand he veered far to the right around 1990, but don't know what that was about. This looks much like another late book, The Mind of the Master Class: History and Faith in the Southern Slaveholders' Worldview.

Gary Giddins: Warning Shadows: Home Alone With Classic Cinema (paperback, 2010, WW Norton): Mostly a collection of short DVD reviews. Best known as a jazz critic, Giddins has dabbled in film reviews for quite a while.

Risa L Goluboff: The Lost Promise of Civil Rights (paperback, 2010, Harvard University Press): Argues that before Brown v. Board of Education the civil rights movement was much broader than just a legal challenge to racial discrimination -- that it had a lot to do with economic rights.

Alan Hart: Zionism: The Real Enemy of the Jews, Vol. 3: Conflict Without End (paperback, 2010, Clarity Press): Previous volumes were subtitled The False Messiah (up to 1948) and David Becomes Goliath (1948-1967). This focuses on Israel after 1967, the occupation and its perpetuation of conflict. It's worth noting that each of these periods offered a somewhat different Zionism, with the utopian ideology giving way to the practical politics of dominance and occupation.

Christopher Hitchens: Hitch 22: A Memoir (2010, Twelve): Somehow I have no picture in my mind of Hitchens as a leftist journalist, which he was rumored to be before he got all gonzo and signed up for Bush's Iraq adventure. Since then he's mostly distinguished himself as a noisy atheist and a lout, which makes him a poor example for atheism. Presumably he explains, or more likely exemplifies, this here, not that either strikes me as reason to read further.

Jack Horner/James Gorman: How to Build a Dinosaur: The New Science of Reverse Evolution (2009; paperback, 2010, Plume): Original subtitle: Extinction Doesn't Have to Be Forever. I went through a phase reading a lot of paleontology books, including Horner's Digging Dinosaurs: The Search That Unraveled the Mystery of Baby Dinosaurs. The Jurassic Park angle strikes me as nuts, but Horner's made major contributions to figuring out how dinosaurs functioned, especially advancing the "warm-blooded" hypothesis which I find makes a lot of sense.

Richard B Immerman: Empire for Liberty: A History of American Imperialism From Benjamin Franklin to Paul Wolfowitz (2010, Princeton University Press): Subtitle reminds me of Sorel's cartoon of the evolution of presidents from FDR on, but this looks to be more episodic, with six figure singled out: Franklin, Henry Seward, Henry Cabot Lodge, John Foster Dulles, and Wolfowitz. Not sure how Franklin qualifies, but in his time expansion was largely conceived as contiguous and homogenizing. Not so with Seward's drive across the Pacific, Lodge's militarization of that drive, or the global megalomania of Dulles and Wolfowitz.

Jon Jeter: Flat Broke in the Free Market: How Globalization Fleeced Working People (2009, WW Norton): Former Washington Post bureau chief for South Africa, offers numerous examples of how globalization has hurt South Africans and others, especially in the third world.

Marilyn Johnson: This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All (2010, Harper Collins): A book about librarians and what's happening to their world as it becomes increasingly digital -- a more complicated and ambiguous story than the wishful subtitle suggests.

Wayne Karlin: Wandering Souls: Journeys With the Dead and the Living in Viet Nam (2009, Nation Books): Starts with a diary a US soldier took off a Vietnamese soldier he killed in 1969, then follows the soldier and diary back to Vietnam to see what he has done. Karlin tags along, writes it up.

Rashid Khalidi: Palestinian Identity: The Construction of Modern National Consciousness (1998; paperback, 2009, Columbia University Press): New introduction to Khalidi's 1998 book on how the Palestinians came to think of themselves as Palestinian -- long the standard book on the subject.

Stephen Kinzer: Reset: Iran, Turkey, and America's Future (2010, Times Books): Not major powers, but not chopped liver either: two nations with about 75 million subjects each, major empires in their pasts, and revolutions which set them apart from the crowd. In other words, nations to be reckoned with if we want to be realistic (which doesn't seem to be the case). Kinzer previously wrote on both countries: Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds and All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror.

Gideon Levy: The Punishment of Gaza (paperback, 2010, Verso): Short (160 pp) report on Israel's 2009 assault on Gaza and the policies that led to it, based on 40 weekly columns from Haaretz. One of the most conscientious Israeli journalists working the beat. Several books on Gaza are trickling out, like Norman G Finkelstein's 'This Time We Went Too Far': Truth & Consequences of the Gaza Invasion, James Petras: War Crimes in Gaza and the Zionist Fifth Columin in America, and (scheduled for November) Noam Chomsky/Ilan Pappé: Gaza in Crisis: Reflections on Israel's War Against the Palestinians. (Pappé has a bigger book scheduled further out: The Bureaucracy of Evil: The History of the Israeli Occupation.)

Andrew Moore/Philip Levine: Detroit Disassembled (2010, Damiani/Akron Art Museum): Short (136 pp), expensive coffee table photography book, with photos by Moore and text by Levine. Detroit has become such a symbol for urban collapse that this seems skimpy. Moore has another book, Russia: Beyond Utopia.

Vali Nasr: Forces of Fortune: The Rise of the New Muslim Middle Class and What It Will Mean for Our World (2009, Free Press): Uh, more petit bourgeoisie? Bothers me a bit that his prime example is Abu Dhabi, about as representative of the Middle East as Las Vegas is of America.

John M O'Hara: A New American Tea Party: The Counterrevolution Against Bailouts, Handouts, Reckless Spending, and More Taxes (2010, Wiley): Sort of a manifesto and how-to guide, blessed with a foreword by Michelle Malkin. Expect many more books like this.

Naomi Oreskes/Erik M Conway: Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues From Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (2010, Bloomsbury Press): The tobacco case must seem like old hat by now, but the authors claim some of the same scientists are now working for energy companies still practicing denialism. The climate change case something else. No doubt paychecks bias analyses, but it would still be useful to see just how that works, especially in cases (unlike marketing) where there is some sense of professional standards. Related: David Michaels: Doubt Is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health, and Stephen H Schneider: Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save the Earth's Climate.

Sasha Polakcw-Suransky: The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Secret Relationship With Apartheid South Africa (2010, Pantheon): Actually, the whole history of Israel's foreign policy has been to find common cause with fellow colonial settler states, notably the French in Algeria, but also the Afrikaners in South Africa. What's been a secret was the details of Israel's alliance with Apartheid South Africa, especially nuclear proliferation.

Richard A Posner: The Crisis of Capitalist Democracy (2010, Harvard University Press): Further thoughts on A Failure of Capitalism, lest anyone take his criticism of capitalism's failure too literally.

George Prochnik: In Pursuit of Silence: Listening for Meaning in a World of Noise (2010, Doubleday): Argues that "noise pollution" results in "insomnia, aggression, heart disease, decreased longevity," not to mention annoyance. Lives in New York City, which provides plenty of examples. Reminds me that when I moved to the 23rd floor in Waterside on the East River in NYC, I discovered I had found the only place in Manhattan where I could open the windows and not hear road noise. Now, if only we got ride of those damn helicopters.

Michael Radu: Europe's Ghost: Tolerance, Jihadism, and the Crisis in the West (2010, Encounter Books): Looks like another contribution to Europe's anti-Muslim immigration hysteria, maybe with less of blatant racism than usual, maybe not. The notion that Muslims cannot be assimilated into Europe (or America) is certainly wrong, as is the equation of Islam with Jihad.

Jeremy Rifkin: The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis (2009, Tarcher): I see him described as a "social thinker" -- I guess that means a guy whose imagination is untethered to reality even though he works hard to pretend to be relevant. This one looks to be exceptionally frothy, as evidence by the final chapter titles: The Climb to Global Peak Empathy, The Planetary Entropic Abyss, The Emerging Era of Distributed Capitalism, The Theatrical Self in an Improvisational Society, Biosphere Consciousness in a Climax Economy.

Andrew J Rotter: Light at the End of the Tunnel: A Vietnam War Anthology (3rd ed, paperback, 2010, Rowman & Littlefield): Old history but not inseparable from the present, partly because we never learned the right lessons, partly because the tables have turned on Afghanistan: instead of critics citing Vietnam as a caution against quagmire, now we have generals who again see light at the end of the tunnel precisely because they think Vietnam holds the key to winning counterinsurgent wars.

Ed Schultz: Killer Politics: How Big Money and Bad Politics Are Destroying the Great American Middle Class (2010, Hyperion): TV pundit, started right, now leans left, like most likes to keep it simple and loud: "The middle class, where the greatness of this nation is rooted, is under siege by an increasingly unethical system, managed by economic vampires who are sucking the lifeblood out of the American family and ripping the heart out of democracy itself." Much of that is true enough, but I tend to look at the Middle Class as a mirage -- an intellectual artifice that tries to imbue unionized workers with petit bourgeois values while separating them from the dreaded poor. As with most mirages, it fades on close inspection, but politicians -- like Obama with his "middle class tax cuts" -- still try to work it.

Rachel Shabi: We Look Like the Enemy: The Hidden Story of Israel's Jews from Arab Lands (paperback, 2009, Walker): In 1948, with most of Europe's Jews slaughtered by the Nazis and their Fascist allies, Ben-Gurion attempted to bolster the number of Jews in Israel by getting Jews from Arab countries to move to Israel. Once in Israel, Mizrahi Jews found themselves the butt of discrimination by European Jews and their Sabra descendents, so that's one big thing this book deals with. The more interesting part is how they see themselves fitting into both Israel and the Arab world: I think they tend toward the religious right, but actually I've read very little about them.

Mark Thomas: Belching Out the Devil: Global Adventures with Coca-Cola (paperback, 2009, Nation Books): Author is "a less-than-hilarious BBC comedian" and/or "libertarian anarchist"; he corrects a Coca Cola flack, saying that he's picking on the company not because it's an easy target but because it's a big target. It's also a broad one, doing business in nearly every country, so there are bits on India and Colombia and all over.

Paul Wapner: Living Through the End of Nature: The Future of American Environmentalism (2010, MIT Press): Bill McKibben, who coined the "end of nature" meme, contributes a favorable blurb quote. Short (184 pp), like he's trying to make it too simple.


Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:

Reza Aslan: Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalization (2009; paperback, 2010, Random House): Reprint of How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror, with a more straightforward and self-explanatory title, although I do miss the bit about ending the war. [book page]

Saree Makdisi: Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation (2008; paperback, 2010, WW Norton): Occupation is a word describing an abstract process, one that cannot begin to convey the subtle and pervasive layers of control and manipulation Israel exercises over the Palestinian territories.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Workerphobia

Matthew Yglesias: Taxophobia: I read the referenced posts by Greg Mankiw and Brad DeLong, and don't think they're really saying what Yglesias thinks they're saying, but Yglesias does sum up one political view that seems to be well entrenched if not necessarily spreading wide:

What I take Mankiw et al to be saying is that taxes are really, really, really bad. And taxes on high-income people are really, really, really, really, really, really, really bad. They think that the electorate is joined by leftwing economists in massively underestimating the scale of the badness. And they look at population aging and growing health care costs and see that it's likely that taxes will go up in the future. And they think this is an incredibly bad outcome, with massive negative long-term consequences. Consequences that are far more dire than any transient, years-long period of unemployment. Ergo, it's really important to do the best one can to weather the 111th Congress -- the most leftwing congress in decades, and the most leftwing congress we're likely to see in quite some time -- while minimizing increases in the spending level. Really, really, really important.

Mankiw's nonsense can be highlighted in three lines:

  1. "Higher future taxes reduce demand today for at least a couple of reasons. First, there are Ricardian effects to the extent that consumers take future taxes into account when calculating their permanent income."
  2. "That is, businesses may be reluctant to invest in an economy that they expect to be distorted by historically unprecedented levels of taxation in the future."
  3. "But many other economists (and I suspect many stimulus-skeptics like the tea-partiers) believe that taxes have significant incentive effects and can prevent the economy from reaching its full potential."

Let's start in the middle: nobody is arguing for "historically unprecedented levels of taxation" -- I'd be inclined to kick up the estate tax a notch, but I don't see a need for 90% marginal tax rates. (I'd cap top bracket income taxes around 50%, where they might be aggravating but wouldn't be a real disincentive -- which is not to say that higher, truly disincentivizing tax rates wouldn't have social value in capping greed.) Nor do any currently projectable federal debt levels require unprecedented levels of taxation. So a key part of Mankiw's argument -- my second quote above is an elaboration of the second point alluded to in the first quote -- is sheer demagoguery. Moreover, refuting it lets us invoke historical cases. In particular, the period when the US had its highest tax rates was exactly the period when the nation's economy grew the fastest, which at the very least lends no credence to the claim that raising tax levels depresses the economy.

The first point about Ricardian effects strains credulity. Is anyone ever so smart that they can correctly anticipate how future events will eventually prefer investment decisions today? It's easy to pile on counterexamples: when did the inevitability of a bubble of real estate or high-tech stocks or Dutch tulips bursting ever inhibit that bubble from developing? If there is any one thing you can count on it's that business only thinks in the short term. There may be good reasons to worry about the long term, but the current behaviour of business isn't one of them.

The third quote raises two problems. While it is true that current tax policy allowances and deductions affects business behaviour inasmuch as it adjusts (or distorts) prices, it isn't at all clear that overall tax levels have much effect except on distribution -- low tax rates let profits accumulate much faster (making the rich much richer and increasing inequality) while high tax rates slow down that accumulation, but there is little evidence of whole industries boarding up due to higher tax rates. More generally, investors -- i.e., people with more money than they can consume -- will seek out higher returns but will settle for the best returns they can get, folding only when there are no profits to be had at all. As long as tax levels allow for some profits, and the taxes are then recirculated as spending, it's hard to see how higher tax levels depress the economy -- at most they depress the upper classes, which isn't necessarily a bad thing.

The other canard is the bit about the economy "reaching its full potential." I have no idea what Mankiw thinks this means, especially since he implies that it relates to low taxes. A more plausible definition would tie "full potential" to full employment. We tend to think ass backwards on this issue: that a booming economy causes fuller employment, rather than that fuller employment is what makes the economy bloom; much as we are led to believe that business investment creates jobs, as opposed to realizing that labor is what creates all that we value in the economy. For various reasons, capitalists left to their own devices never produce full employment. The only way to get there is for government to fill the gap, both by spending to prop up the private sector and by creating jobs directly. And to pay for those jobs you have to raise taxes, and the most productive way to do that -- with inequality approaching historically unprecedented levels, and especially with the the rich sitting on cash they can't find productive investments for -- is to target the rich.

And that's the deeper context for Mankiw's argument. It's not just that he dislikes taxes. Just as important is that he isn't bothered by unemployment. In fact, I think you'll find that he rather likes unemployment: more unemployment means cheaper labor, less pressure to share profits, tilting the balance of power toward capital. Friendly economists may pollute the air with Ricardian mumbo jumbo, but the prime reason capitalists don't like taxes, labor rights, and any sort of government action to create jobs or lessen the pain of unemployment is that they don't want to share. In fact, their power viz. labor matters so much that they'd rather suffer through a sluggish economy than lose any of their relative advantages.

One problem here is that in polite political discourse, Mankiw et al. can't just come out and say, "hey! we like this 10% unemployment, we like that the safety net is unraveling, we're looking forward to squeezing labor even harder." Rather, they talk about how we can't afford the deficit (sooner or later, at least in some crackpot theories), about how taxes only hurt the economy (and therefore how we can't fix the deficit problem). They have to pretend that only the richer rich create jobs (even though most of their gains have come from bidding up each other's assets), and that the economy they build somehow benefits us all.

One thing Yglesias is right about is that Krugman, DeLong, et al. are "a bit too literal in their disagreements with the center-of-center economists [whoever that is] of the world." I have three or four recent books on why Ricardo was full of shit, but that's not what this is really about. It's really about power: who pays and who benefits. And that reflects a fundamental difference in worldviews: do we share the world, or do we compete for its spoils? The Great Depression and WWII shocked people into a sense that we're all in this together, and out of that we forged a more equitable society, based on labor rights, a safety net, and steep progressive taxation to pay for it. It wasn't perfect, and flaws going back to the beginning would eventually undermine it. But in the 1970s the rich revolted, exploiting their substantial advantages for political and economic gain, and they have gradually tore the social compact apart while compounding problems. The eight disastrous years of George Bush led to a change of leadership, but sadly, pathetically not to a change in thinking. We are in the midst of a one-sided class war, where the putative defenders of the non-rich don't even recognize they're being fired on, and don't make more than the most paltry efforts to defend the people who voted them in.

On the other hand, I don't blame Krugman and DeLong for focusing on the economic nonsense. They've worked hard to keep the economists from pulling the wool over our eyes. I blame the Democratic Party politicos, starting with the guy in the White House, for not finding principled political issues to run on and drive home, such as the need for full employment to lift working wages, and more progressive taxes to level the playing field; the need to get out of the global war business -- one which only serves to fund the right and keep the left on the defensive -- and the need to reverse the great risk shift -- the real security threat that most Americans face these days.


Christgau (via webmaster) got a nasty letter from a heavy metal fan (seems to be German) objecting to a Metallica review (Master of Puppets), and asked me to pass on a reply:

Because English is not your first language, you believe I'm calling Metallica sludge when in fact I'm contradistinguishing them from sludge, and you believe I'm describing their actual chest muscles when in fact I'm describing the image their music calls up. If you don't understand the previous sentence, find an English speaker who can help you out.

Right, I don't like metal. I've said so again and again. But when I do write about it I explain why. And I never review a record I haven't played front to back many times.

The correspondent wrote back another nastier (and more incoherent) letter, also bringing up a series of Slayer reviews. I responded to this, with a couple of comments worth preserving here:

One question I always have when I read short (or even long) reviews without a grading system is: but did the reviewer like it? And how much, relative to all sorts of other albums? The grade is a short, succinct answer to that question. It saves the reviewer from having to write an adjective-laden final sentence, and saves the reader from having to parse those adjectives into something that can be compared to other records.

Of course, anyone who's ever attended school is bound to be more or less grade-phobic. I've personally assigned 16000 grades to records, and still regard the practice much like Winston Churchill regards democracy (the worst system, except for all the rest -- don't recall the exact quote, but that's the gist of it).

As for your remonstrance against reviewing styles you dislike, I can think of two answers: 1) sometimes it helps to clarify the reasoning behind one's preferences by contradistinguishing them against one's dislikes (especially where they are not prejudices but the fruits of unpleasant experience); and 2) there are nearly always exceptions to be found, both because the boundaries between styles are so fluid and because each style has its own integrity and formal logic and there's usually hidden value in that. I can't think of any styles that never have any value, although there are plenty that are prone to mediocre hackwork and don't seem to be worth pursuing.

And:

Among other things, Christgau admits to various prejudices, including his dislike of metal. If all you're interested in is metal you won't find Christgau to be a very useful guide. That happens sometimes, and you're entitled to your own aesthetics -- just not to judge people based on criteria that is in the end merely subjective.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 16861 [16831] rated (+30), 839 [839] unrated +0). The blip in the rated count was partly the result of a bookkeeping matter, as I discovered that I hadn't entered grades for Concord's Profiles where they simply reissued previous Best Of titles. Otherwise plodding through Jazz Prospecting with little enthusiasm, and sampling Rhapsody when technical glitches don't get in the way. Got email saying that Tatum wants me to post a music column. That's good news.

Also added grades for remembered LPs from way back when:

  • Ornette Coleman: Ornette! (1961, Atlantic): Did have this record, but didn't recall it at all distinctly; played on Rhapsody due to its peculiar tie-in with Rahsaan Roland Kirk's A Meeting of the Times on a Collectables twofer. Quartet with Don Cherry, Scott LaFaro, and Ed Blackwell. Grade below may even underrate it. A-

Jazz Prospecting (CG #24, Part 5)

Aside from a pick hit candidate, listening to a lot of good, solid, exemplary even, records that don't inspire me to write further -- several stuck in the turntable for multiple plays, which is one reason I didn't get further. Pretty much in the middle of the Jazz CG cycle right now. Could shift to closing mode in a couple of weeks.


Archie Shepp: The New York Contemporary Five (1963 [2010], Delmark): One of two contemporaneous John Tchicai groups that took New York for their name -- the other was New York Art Quartet with trombonist Roswell Rudd -- yet recorded mostly in the alto saxophonist's native Denmark. This one sported Don Cherry (cornet) and Archie Shepp (tenor sax) on the front line, Don Moore (bass) and J.C. Moses (drums). They recorded a studio album in New York for Fontana in August 1963, then two live sets at Jazzhus Montmartre in Copenhagen for Sonet in November. The latter, minus two cuts, were consolidated by Storyville into a single CD. This reissue goes back to Sonet's Vol. 1 -- perhaps the other shoe will fall later, although there is no indication of it here. They went on to cut one more album for Savoy in 1964, with different bass and drums, Ted Curson replacing Cherry on two cuts, and Shepp's name (for the first time, I think) out front. Starts with the three horns brawling before the rhythm section enters to sort things out. Rough, primeval avant-garde, of the moment, with 1967-vintage liner notes that fall into the period. B+(***)

Mikrokolektyw: Revisit (2009 [2010], Delmark): Polish duo, Artur Majewski on trumpet, Kuba Sucher on drums, both working electronics, based in Wroclaw but with some sort of connection to Chicago -- at least to Rob Mazurek, whose Chicago Underground is a basically similar cornet-drums duo. Sounds microtonal at first, but the trumpet offers relief from any potential tedium. B+(*)

Alper Yilmaz: Over the Clouds (2009 [2010], Kayique): Electric bassist, from Turkey, studied industrial engineering, based in New York since 2000, second album since 2007. Also takes credits for sound design and loops. The bass lines are highlighted by Nir Felder's guitar, while David Binney's alto sax provides a sharp contrast. B+(**)

Curtis Fuller: I Will Tell Her (2010, Capri, 2CD): Trombonist, b. 1934, has thirty-some records since 1957, the majority before 1963, this only the third since 1996. Basically a mainstream hard bop player: best known early album was called Blues-ette; he came back after a decade-long hiatus in 1972 with Smokin' and Crankin'; for his 2005 outing he vowed to Keep It Simple. But this album steps up for a bit more: a sextet, dominated by tenor saxophonist Keith Oxman with Al Hood's trumpet providing the ear candy; not his best trombone, but he gets in some licks. Two discs, one studio, the other live (no dates given). The rhythm section is lively, the sets endlessly enjoyable. B+(***)

Steve Turre: Delicious and Delightful (2010, High Note): Trombone player, from Omaha, also plays conch shells but I've never figured out how that works or what they sound like. Fifteen album since 1987, including tributes to J.J. Johnson and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. This one doesn't quite live up to its title, but it is boldly flavored, with Billy Harper on tenor sax -- his rough edges ground down by all that big band work of late, but his energy undiminished -- Larry Willis on piano, Russell Malone on guitar (just two cuts), bass, drums, and some extra bata and djembe on one cut. Harper wrote two songs, Turre the rest except for "Tenderly." Best record since the Kirk tribute, but they all seems to be coming up with the same grade. B+(**)

Frank Carlberg/John Hebert/Gerald Cleaver: Tivoli Trio (2009 [2010], Red Piano): Piano-bass-drums trio, respectively. Pianist Carlberg hails from Finland, studied at Berklee and New England Conservatory, settled down in Brooklyn. Has at least eight records since 1992. Dense, full of intrigue and pleasure. I'm tempted to give Hebert a good deal of the credit; he always seems to show up in the right places. B+(***)

Reed's Bass Drum: Which Is Which (2009 [2010], Reed's Bass Drum): Brooklyn-based sax trio, with Jonah Parzen-Johnson leading on baritone, Noah Garabedian on bass, and Aaron Ewing on drums. First album. Freebop, moderately paced, no surprise given how slow the bari takes the corners; marvelous, though, when the big horn reaches for a bottom note. B+(**)

Orlando Le Fleming: From Brooklyn With Love (2009 [2010], 19/8): Bassist, b. 1976, Birmingham, UK; moved to New York 2003. Wikipedia has an article on a professional cricket player named Antony Orlando Frank le Fleming, born on the same day in the same town (well, pretty large city), who played 1994-96; web site bio says he played cricked "for five years in the minor counties," which I guess is consistent. First album, although he has a healthy number of side credits going back to 1999, especially with Jane Monheit. Quartet here, with Will Vinson on alto sax, Lage Lund on guitar, and Antonio Sanchez on drums. Lund has some tasty guitar leads here, and Vinson is sharp but moderate. Attractive album. Seems like I'm on a run of records that sound quite good but don't quite move me to write about them. B+(**)

Jamie Begian Big Band: Big Fat Grin (2008 [2010], Innova): Guitarist, studied at Hartt School of Music, Manhattan School of Music; started teaching at Western Connecticut State University in 1991. Interest in big band led him to Bob Brookmeyer. Second Big Band album, the first coming out in 2003. Group is seventeen strong, conventional big band size and shape except second guitar instead of piano. Draws on New Yorkers, only a few that I recognize. Some terrific passages scattered about. B+(**)

TGB: Evil Things (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Portuguese trio: Sérgio Carolino (tuba), Mário Delgado (guitar), Alexandre Frazăo (drums). Delgado wrote six pieces, Frazăo three; one is a group improv, and four more are from others -- only one my eyes can make out is Bill Evans. Rather scattered, as you might expect given how they juxtapose originals named for "George Harrison" and "Aleister Crowley" -- the latter may be the one that sounds like slightly bent Black Sabbath. The tango/soundtrack-ish "Close Your Eyes" is a choice cut, and the high-speed tuba bebop solo on "Tangram" is a hoot, but there's too much evil for my taste; suggest they lighten up and call their next one Mischievous Things. B+(*)

Angles: Epileptical West: Live in Coimbra (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Sextet, haven't tracked every member down but safe to say Scandinavian. Leader is Swedish alto saxophonist Martin Küchen, b. 1966, nothing under his own name but also works in Exploding Customer (which has scored a couple of HMs here), Trespass Trio, and Sound of Mucus. Second album for group, with Magnus Broo (trumpet), Mats Älekint (trombone), Mattias Stĺhl (vibes), Johan Berthling (bass), and Kjell Nordeson (drums). Big beat, roiling horns, scattered tinkles from the vibes, loud and propulsive. Makes me smile all over. A-

Kris Davis/Ingrid Laubrock/Tyshawn Sorey: Paradoxical Frog (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Not familiar with Laubrock, although she also appears on the Tom Rainey record still awaiting my attention. Tenor saxophonist, b. 1970 in Germany, based in London and/or Brooklyn; five albums since 1997 by most counts, which file this one under Davis, a pianist from Canada who specializes in fast and furious saxophonists -- Rye Eclipse with Tony Malaby is my top recommendation. Sorey is a drummer, plays in Fieldwork and has a couple albums on his own that are more focused on his composition than his percussion. This should click in interesting ways, but Laubrock isn't that fleet and that seems to slow down the others. Also a queer stretch of silence (or very low volume) creates a false ending -- not sure what's going on there. B+(*)

Tom Rainey Trio: Pool School (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Album says this was recorded "on September 4th, 2010" -- I assume that's a typo for 2009. Rainey is a drummer who's made a big impression, especially in Tim Berne's groups. Has a long credits list going back to 1987, but this is the first album under his own name. Gets all the composition credits, too. Trio includes Ingrid Laubrock on tenor and soprano sax and Mary Halvorson on guitar. Both tend to wobble here, which is sort of an art form for Halvorson, harder to speculate on with Laubrock. Free playing, takes a lot of attention, doesn't give much back, even from the drummer. B+(*)


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


Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • Bobby Avey: A New Face (JayDell)
  • Roberto Cipelli/Paolo Fresu/Philippe Garcia/Gianmaria Testa/Attilio Zanchi: F. ŕ Léo (Justin Time): Aug. 10
  • Avishai Cohen: Aurora (Blue Note)
  • Yelena Eckemoff: Cold Sun (Yelena Music)
  • Ken Fowser & Behn Gillece: Little Echo (Posi-Tone)
  • Dan Gailey Jazz Orchestra: What Did You Dream? (OA2)
  • Matt Herskowitz: Jerusalem Trilogy (Justin Time): Aug. 10
  • Owen Howard: Drum Lore (Bju'ecords): Aug. 17
  • Paul Motian/Chris Potter/Jason Moran: Lost in a Dream (ECM)
  • Ivo Perelman/Dominic Duval/Brian Wilson: Mind Games (Leo)
  • Ivo Perelman/Daniel Levin/Torbjörn Zetterberg: Soulstorm (Clean Feed, 2CD)
  • Ivo Perelman/Gerry Hemingway: The Apple in the Dark (Leo)
  • Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra: Jimmy Heath: The Endless Search (Origin)
  • Nadav Snir-Zelniker: Thinking Out Loud (OA2)
  • Ralph Towner/Paolo Fresu: Chiaroscuro (ECM)
  • Christian Wallumrřd Ensemble: Fabula Suite Lugano (ECM)
  • Jessica Williams: Touch (Origin)
  • Joel Yennior Trio: Bit City Circus (Brass Wheel): July 20

Purchases:

  • The National: High Violet (4AD)
  • Shakira: She Wolf (Epic)

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Not Even False

Paul Woodward: Petraeus: mission will be accomplished: I think it was Wolfgang Pauli who once dismissed a fellow physicist's theory by declaring that it was not even false, suggesting there are whole dimensions of mind-boggling nonsense that are based on nothing substantial enough to even be disproved. I felt the same way a couple days ago when I saw a front page Wichita Eagle article that quoted Petraeus: "We are in this to win. That is our clear objective." Nothing can be less clear, since the problem isn't so much how to "win" as what the hell does "winning" even mean in this context? I have no idea, and not just because I've repeatedly argued in the past that war itself is failure, that the moment you go to war the only question remaining is how much you will lose before you can extricate yourself from it.

See if another Petraeus quote helps: "We're engaged in a contest of wills. Our enemies are doing all that they can to undermine the confidence of the Afghan people." For starters, this ignores a very central fact of the war, which is that "our enemies" are in fact a substantial fraction of "the Afghan people"; even more importantly, that we are not "the Afghan people" in any sense. For us to "win" a lot of Afghans have to lose, so who is it who's really trying to "undermine the confidence of the Afghan people"? Then there is the matter of will, one of our central political conceits, the notion that all it takes to bend other people is assertion of our magic will, or more to the point, that all we need for our will to work is endless faith in the force of our magic, thereby reducing the world to nothing more than a reflection of our psyche. Sounds like a clinical definition of insanity.

Even if will worked, you have to ask whose will is Petraeus trying to rally? The self-serving careerist military? The fickle politicians? The vast washed, coddled, attention-deficit masses whose idea of winning is constantly trivialized by "reality" TV? Ultimately it doesn't matter, because all it takes to disable the peculiar magic of will is the inevitable unbeliever -- the future scapegoat for failure because, well, who's going to doubt the general's will? That the bullshit is so transparent should mean that the end is near. But what it certainly means is that the war party wants to make sure we don't learn any lessons from the debacle.

Ann Jones: Strategies for "Success" in Afghanistan: Second title: "Counterinsurgency Down for the Count in Afghanistan . . . But the War Machine Grinds On and On and On." Points out that COIN in theory is "a tricky, even schizophrenic, balancing act"; in practice it's even harder, but since we're obsessed with "success" how about some shortcuts?

The part of the lethal activity that often goes awry is supposed to be counterbalanced by the "sorry" part, which may be as simple as dispatching U.S. officers to drink humble tea with local "key leaders." Often enough, though, it comes in the form of large, unsustainable gifts. The formula, which is basic COIN, goes something like this: kill some civilians in the hunt for the bad guys and you have to make up for it by building a road. This trade-off explains why, as you travel parts of the country, interminable (and often empty) strips of black asphalt now traverse Afghanistan's vast expanses of sand and rock, but it doesn't explain why Afghans, thus compensated, are angrier than ever.

Many Afghans, of course, are angry because they haven't been compensated at all, not even with a road to nowhere. Worse yet, more often than not, they've been promised things that never materialize. (If you were to summarize the history of the country as a whole in these last years, it might go like this: big men -- both Afghan and American -- make out like the Beltway Bandits many of them are, while ordinary Afghans in the countryside still wish their kids had shoes.) [ . . . ]

I could go on. If you spend time in Afghanistan, evidence of failure is all around you, including those millions of American taxpayer dollars that are paid to Afghan security contractors (and Karzai relatives) and then handed over to insurgents to buy protection for U.S. supply convoys traveling on U.S. built, but Taliban-controlled, roads. Strategy doesn't get much worse than that: financing both sides, and every brigand in between, in hopes of a happier ending someday.

Maybe things would work better if we had a politically connected shoe company to get in on the graft, but Halliburton doesn't make shoes.

Brian Katulis: Restrepo: Ann Jones wrote her article after a recent stretched embedded with US forces in Afghanistan. She talks about what she saw, but the recent documentary Restrepo gives you a chance to see some of this yourself. I haven't seen -- or for that matter the Iraq documentaries Gunner Palace and The War Tapes Katulis refers to -- and can't vouch for the movie, other than to point out the obvious that in focusing on American soldiers you'll have to work hard to try to reconstruct an Afghan view of their invasion, and will inevitably miss a big part of the big picture.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Rhapsody Streamnotes: July 2010

Pick up text here.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Recycled Goods (75): June 2010

Pick up text from archive.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 16831 [16810] rated (+21), 839 [838] unrated (+1). Fairly light rating count during the week; bit more over the weekend when I finally tapped into Rhapsody.


Jazz Prospecting (CG #24, Part 4)

Early in the cycle, and near the turn of the month I got a bit distracted with Recycled Goods and Rhapsody, both forthcoming this week. Put a couple records back for further listening. I used to do that quite often, but cut way down over the last year given the need to hack through the backlog. Checked out a couple of records using Rhapsody -- I imagine I could chase down the Regina Carter, but feel less compelled to do so now.


Bona: The Ten Shades of Blues (2009 [2010], Decca): No indication of first name on cover, but he's generally gone as Richard Bona. Born 1967 in Cameroon, moved to Germany, France, New York; main instrument is electric bass, although he's also credited with guitars, keyboards, drums, percussions, and samples here, and he sings on all tracks. Has eight (or more) albums since 1999. The blues concept here makes for a grand tour of world music, with various combinations of Indian, African, European, and American musicians, including bits of Bailo Baa fula flute, Niladari Kumar sitar, Jojo Kuah drums, Gregoire Maret harmonica, Jean Michel Pilc piano, Christian Howes violin, Ryan Cavanaugh banjo, and Bob Reynolds sax. Mildly spiced, gently groveful. B+(**)

Jason Moran: Ten (2010, Blue Note): Pianist, b. 1975, grew up in Houston, studied at Manhattan School of Music with Jaki Byard, also hooking up with Muhal Richard Abrams and Andrew Hill. Signed out of college by Blue Note, his first album appearing on a major label in 1999, making him an instant rising star. For a while it seemed like he could do nothing wrong: his first four albums made my A-list, and I can't offhand tell you if any other jazz pianist has ever done that. Fifth one was live, an understanable slip, but his next couple were merely good, and this one (which I count as his eighth) comes nearly four years after the last. Not clear where the title comes from, but it looks like a summing up: covers of Monk and Byard, Bernstein and Nancarrow, a joint credit with Hill. I've played this 6-8 times, maybe more, but haven't quite gotten into it. The last two cuts (Byard's "To Bob Vatel of Paris" and Moran's own "Old Babies") are fairly wonderful with hints of stride, and there is a lot of fancy stuff up front and thought in the middle -- impressive stuff, no doubt. Wonder why I don't like it more. B+(***)

Sunny Jain: Taboo (2010, Bju'ecords): Drummer, also plays dhol, Indian-American, b. New York, parents Punjabi immigrants. Group includes Mary Cary on piano, Nir Felder on guitar, and Gary Wang on bass, with assorted vocalists on 6 of 7 songs. Compositions based on Indian ragas but don't sound all that Indian. Project "started through a desire and a sense of obligation to use my music as a platform to address social justice issues," which sounds noble and may be worth exploring but I haven't been able to latch on to much in three plays, and feel like moving on. B

The Stryker/Slagle Band: Keeper (2010, Panorama): Guitarist Dave Stryker, b. 1957 in Omaha, NE; has a couple dozen albums since 1989, mostly on Denmark's Steeplechase, a fairly mainstream label that kept Dexter Gordon's career moving during his years in exile (Duke Jordan, too, and Jackie McLean, only in virtual exile). Steve Slagle, b. 1951 in Los Angeles, has a similar career, less prolific, more of a sideman; worked with Steve Kuhn in late 1970s, Carla Bley in early 1980s, Mingus Big Band, and bumped into Stryker on the latter's first (1991) Steeplechase album, Passage, and frequently thereafter, consolidating their business in 2003, and releasing respectable product ever since. With Jay Anderson on bass and Victor Lewis on drums, high calibre journeymen. Still, through several plays it keeps growing on me, mainstream postbop burnished up with Slagle's blues tone -- even the two soprano features fit in seamlessly. A-

John Stein/Ron Gill: Turn Up the Quiet (2009 [2010], Whaling City Sound): Stein is a guitarist, from Kansas City, MO, not sure how old but he's pretty thin on top; ninth album since 1995. Has a light, elegant style, not much evident here where he winds up playing a lot of bass. Gill is a singer, from North Carolina, based in Massachusetts, with one previous album, although like Stein I'd guess he's probably in his 50s. Billy Eckstein-type voice, but smokier. Draws songs from Victor Young, Sammy Cahn, Bart Howard, one each from Ellington and Strayhorn, two Brazilian pieces (neither Jobim), a short Stevie Wonder medley. "Detour Ahead" is especially striking. Uncredited on the front cover is pianist Gilad Barkan, who fills his unsung role admirably. B+(**)

Mirio Cosottini/Andrea Melani/Tonino Miano/Alessio Pisani: Cardinal (2009, Grimedia Impressus): This will take a while to sort out. Impressus Records is Miano's label. I added this to my "wish list" after Stef Gijssels reviewed it favorably. Miano noticed and offered to send a copy. GRIM is an acronym for Music Improvisation Research Group (or a reverse acronym for the English translation). Not clear what that means or who is involved -- can't access the website listed in the inset. Cardinal could be the group name, album title, or both. Impressus has four records, the first three Miano duos. Miano plays piano. I assume he's Italian ("obtained a degree in musicology from the University of Bologna with a thesis on J. Cage" [1993]), but he's based in New York, where he's pursued a physics degree. Cosottini plays trumpet, graduated Academy of Music of Florence (1992), played in the first of Miano's duos, also in EAQuartet. Pisani plays bassoon and contrabassoon. His website has some lovely astronomical photos and a tantalizing series on assembling a 14-inch telescope. Melani plays drums; is based in Prato, Italy. Enigmatic music. The bassoon tends to slow things down and fade into atmospherics. Otherwise, with trumpet leading you get something like Chicago Underground; with bassoon, more of a chamber jazz effect. B+(***)

Phil Wilson/Makoto Ozone: Live!! At the Berklee Performance Center (1982 [2010], Capri): Wilson, b. 1937, plays trombone; studied at New England Conservatory and the Navy School of Music; played in big bands with Herb Pomeroy, the Dorsey Brothers, Woody Herman, and Buddy Rich; taught at Berklee from 1966; has a spotty recording career which adds up to a couple dozen albums. Ozone, b. 1961 in Kobe, Japan, is a pianist, studied at Berklee, returned to Japan in 1983, where he is evidently a big deal. He also has a couple dozen albums, of which this is one of the first. I haven't heard any others, although I have an advance of a new album on Verve somewhere. Standards, ranging from "Stella by Starlight" to "Giant Steps" played with an amusing crudeness -- actually, it's just Wilson who sounds crude, a badge of merit from trombonists. B+(*)

Bryan and the Haggards: Pretend It's the End of the World (2010, Hot Cup): Bryan Murray, tenor saxophinist, from WV, now in NY, natch, hooking up with bebop terrorists Jon Irabagon (alto sax) and Moppa Elliott (bass) and fellow travelers Jon Lundbom (guitar) and Danny Fischer (drums), playing four Merle Haggard originals and three more from Hag's songbook. "Silver Wings" is done bebop-style, with the straight theme followed by working the changes, but it gets trickier after that, especially with the Ornette-ish "Lonesome Fugitive." Then someone uncredited goes Bob Wills on "All of Me Belongs to You," leading into a comic scat over bass and drums. Then there is the closer, "Trouble in Mind," done as ear-splitting dirge, channeling the ghost of Rashied Ali on drums. Not sure whether this is just an inspired joke or something more, and if the former not sure we don't need more inspired jokes. But I do want to note something in Leonardo Featherweight's liner notes, a story I hadn't heard: "During the performance, [Lefty] Frizzell noticed Haggard singing along with his songs and invited him up on stage to sit in with the band. The crowd's appreciation of his brief performance convinced him that music was to be an important part of his life, and perhaps his career." Reminds me that hardly anyone earns his ticket but for the grace of someone who has gone before. [A-]

The Britton Brothers Band: Uncertain Living (2009 [2010], Record Craft): John Britton plays trumpet; Ben Britton tenor sax. Also on hand: Jeremy Siskind on piano, Taylor Waugh on bass, Austin Walker on drums. First album. The brothers wrote three tracks each, plus one by Siskind. Name recalls the Brecker Brothers, but they are more into aggressive postbop and less into skunk funk. Chris Potter guests on two tracks, and turns it up a notch. B+(*)

Ike Sturm: Jazzmass (2009, Ike Sturm): Bassist, b. 1978, based in New York, holds a title as "Assistant Director of Music for the Jazz Ministry at Saint Peter's Church in Manhattan." One previous album. I've been avoiding this because, well, you see the title. No false advertising there. Misty Ann Sturm sings, best on the pure hymns, with choir and string orchestra backing, all of which I could do without. The horns are something else: Ingrid Jensen on trumpet/flugelhorn, Loren Stillman on alto sax, and Donny McCaslin on tenor. There are better places to hear them, but they're in form even here. B-

Bill Carrothers: Joy Spring (2009 [2010], Pirouet): Pianist, b. 1964 in Minneapolis; fourteenth album since 1999 according to AMG, but they really mean 1992, and they've only rated three, and haven't bothered with a bio. So while I was tempted to say that he's one of those guys with a sterling rep that I haven't managed to appreciate, probably because I just don't seem to hear piano trios all that clearly -- Walter Norris, Harold Danko, Marc Copland are other names that pop into my head -- he probably isn't well enough known for that. (And actually I did love his 2005 album Shine Ball, but that was goosed up with prepared piano, which I've been a sucker for ever since I first heard David Tudor playing John Cage.) This is a trio, with Drew Gress on piano and Bill Stewart on drums -- names that could someday rival Peacock-De Johnette or (in my mind) Johnson-Baron. Mostly Clifford Brown songs, like the title track, plus three from Richie Powell, one each from Duke Jordan and Victor Young, and, of course, Benny Golson's "I Remember Clifford." Interesting idea I don't understand well enough, and don't feel like digging into right now. Will play it again. [B+(***)]

John Skillman's Barb City Stompers: DeKalb Blues (2009 [2010], Delmark): Trad jazz band, based in DeKalb, IL ("the birthplace of barbed wire"), led by a clarinetist who played in the Buck Creek Jazz Band for 32 years, but also owns and runs an engineering firm in DeKalb. Featuring credit for trombonist Roy Rubinstein, a 30-year veteran of "the New Orleans style Chicago Hot Six," whose day job is Assistant Director at Fermilab in Batavia, IL. Also with Larry Rutan on guitar (a QA manager), Roger Hintzsche on bass (runs a fertilizer business), and Aaron Puckett on drums (teaches high school). First album, mostly pre-swing although it's hard to keep stuff that old pure, and also hard to resist a Fats Waller song. Starst with "Millenberg Joys"; ends with "My Old Kentucky Home"; Diana Skillman drops in to sing "Yes Sir! That's My Baby." Corny, easy to see why they stick with it even when the bread's got to come from somewhere else. B+(***)

Stephan Crump with Rosetta Trio: Reclamation (2009 [2010], Sunnyside): Bassist, from Memphis, mother "an amateur pianist from Paris," father "an architect and jazz drummer"; studied at Amherst, based in New York, plays in Vijay Iyer's piano trio. Fourth album since 1997; third was called Rosetta with same lineup here, the bass flanked by guitarists Liberty Ellman and Jamie Fox. Seems slight at first, the guitars tuned down to adorn the bass, a balance that lets you enter the framework. Didn't get much out of the previous record, but this one draws me in every time. A-

James Moody: 4B (2008 [2010], IPO): One of the most popular bebop saxophonists to emerge in the early 1950s, both through his long association with Dizzy Gillespie and through a few fluke hits of his own, and one of the last standing. This follows up on last year's 4A, more standards from the same sessions, the "4" referring to a quartet with Kenny Barron, Todd Coolman, and Lewis Nash. Straightforward, beautiful tone, swings through "Take the A Train," doesn't cut up the Tadd Dameron and Benny Golson pieces, backup is impeccable, and he leaves his flute in the case. One to remember him by, but it's still a bit early for that. Looks like this includes a label sampler, which with its Roland Hanna and Roger Kellaway piano and Tad Jones tribute band (One More) should make for fine dinner background. B+(***) [Aug. 25]

Johnny Griffin: Live at Ronnie Scott's (2008 [2010], In+Out): Recorded May 26-27 in London, about two months before Griffin died on July 25, 2008, so perhaps the tenor sax great's last record. Sounds rather fit, although he's often overpowered by Roy Hargrove's trumpet, which in classic Griffin form provides much of the energy level. With Billy Cobham on drums, David Newton (mostly) on piano, with Paul Kuhn dropping in for "How Deep Is the Ocean" and presumably taking the uncredited vocal. B+(**)

An Excellent Adventure: The Very Best of Al Jarreau (1975-2004 [2009], Rhino): Originally slotted as a jazz singer because he scatted a little and tackled a couple of Dave Brubeck-Paul Desmond odd-time experiments, Jarreau cut a dozen 1975-94 albums for Warners, grabbing popular and critical acclaim, including Grammys in pop and R&B as well as jazz while never really fitting anywhere. I find his "Blue Rondo a la Turk" one of the more hideous pieces of vocalese ever recorded, and "Boogie Down" one of the lamer exercises in rote disco. That leaves a couple of decent R&B songs like "We're in This Love Together" in a compilation that proves Gödels Theorem: like math, he's a system that cannot both be complete and consistent. B-

Carrie Wicks: I'll Get Around to It (2009 [2010], OA2): Singer, based in Seattle area, first album, backed by label regulars including Hans Teuber on tenor sax and clarinet, Bill Anschell on piano, and Jeff Johnson on bass. Standards, mostly from 1940s with Elvis Costello's "Almost Blue" an outlier and a co-credited original from 2008. Samba-fied medley of "Moonlight in Vermont" and "No Moon at All" and a "Baby, Get Lost" among the highlights. 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.

Sounds of Liberation (1972 [2010], Porter): Philadelphia group, very much of the black power moment when shards of avant-sax clashed with funky conga rhythms, merging into something far out but not inaccessible. Byard Lancaster is the saxophonist in a septet with guitar, bass, and four percussionists counting vibraphonist Khan Jamal, the founder and best known member of the one-album group. A- [Rhapsody]

Evan Parker: House Full of Floors (2009, Tzadik): Mostly trio with John Russell on guitar and John Edwards on bass, Parker playing both soprano and tenor sax, scratchy and patchy on both, with most of the muscle coming out of the bass. Aleks Kolkowski joins in on three tracks, playing stroh viola, saw, and wax cylinder recorder, respectively. I take this for easy listening background music, but you probably don't. B+(*) [Rhapsody]

Regina Carter: Reverse Thread (2010, E1 Entertainment): Violinist, got a major label break when cousin James Carter was on Atlantic, and proved popular enough to stick in the big leagues, even winning a MacArthur "genius grant." This troll through Afropop may be a genius concept but it's no genius execution. A lot of sawing on top of guitar (Adam Rogers) or kora (Yacouba Sissoko), accordion (Will Holshouser or Gary Versace), bass (Chris Lightcap or Mamadou Ba), and drums (Alvester Garnett), does develop some rhythmic roll, but seems to come from neither here nor there. Might get better with more exposure, or might seem even more misaprised. 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:

  • Billy Bang: Prayer for Peace (Tum)
  • Chris Colangelo: Elaine's Song (C Note): Sept. 2
  • Commitment: The Complete Recordings 1981/1983 (1982-83, No Business, 2CD): William Parker, Jason Kao Hwang, Will Connell Jr, Zen Matsuura; Sept. 1
  • Conference Call: What About . . . ? (Not Two, 2CD): Gebhard Ullmann, Michael Jefry Stevens, Joe Fonda, George Schuller
  • Fred Hirsch Trio: Whirl (Palmetto)
  • Vijay Iyer: Solo (ACT): advance, Aug. 31
  • Hilary Kole: You Are There (Justin Time): Aug. 10
  • Elisabeth Lohninger: Songs of Love and Destruction (Lofish Music)
  • Metropole Orkest/John Scofield/Vince Mendoza: 54 (Emarcy): Aug. 24
  • Portico Quartet: Isla (Real World): advance, Aug. 31
  • Puttin' On the Ritz: White Light/White Heat (Hot Cup): advance, July 13
  • Adam Schroeder: A Handful of Stars (Capri)
  • Benny Sharoni: Eternal Elixir (Papaya)
  • Sándor Szabó/Kevin Kastning: Returning (Greydisc): July 27

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Deep Fried

Stage right is today's Fourth of July editorial cartoon from Richard Crowson in The Wichita Eagle. Wish I had a larger image to share, but the Eagle doesn't seem to be much good at writing Javascript. The signature dog to the lower left is saying, "Is this a revenge thing, BP?"

Actually, I wonder how many Americans recall that the War for Independence (and for that matter the War of 1812) was fought against Great Britain -- let alone that Afghanistan fought its own War for Independence against the British, at least three times in the 19th century, and serially over the last 30 years against Russia and the United States -- with Britain, recapitulating centuries of bad habits, once again sending troops without even the pretense of empire for an excuse.

Independence from colonial rule is a powerful idea, one that was proclaimed on July 4, 1776, and has reverberated throughout the world ever since -- even in Gaza one might find Thomas Jefferson's words inspirational. However, they are words given scant lip service in America for quite a while now. We snatched Independence away from Cuba and the Philippines in 1898, setting up direct rule in the latter and sending massive troops in to beat down a revolt that continues to this day -- despite the end of colonial rule in 1946 but possibly because we still have troops stationed there. In Cuba we set up a crony regime that protected our business interests until thrown out by Castro's revolution, an offense we protract by sanctions meant to keep Cuba isolated and poor.

One thing that especially strikes me looking back to 1776 from the present day is that the people we call the Founding Fathers all believed in the idea of a public interest, and in forging a constitutional republic were willing to subject their individual private interests to the will of the public. That's a notion that we scarcely even give lip service to anymore. Washington, and for that matter every state house and most city halls, is swarming with interest group lobbies, dedicated to the Adam Smith conceit that if everyone pursues their own private interest it will all work out in the end. (Smith, an enlightenment figure whose landmark The Wealth of Nations is the other thing 1776 is remembered for, most assuredly didn't think that in general, and his famous quote is dripping with irony.)

Crowson is surely wrong that BP's big blowout in the Gulf of Mexico is revenge for Independence. For one thing all that happened to long ago to carry over to BP's bottom line. For another, BP has enjoyed a lot more political clout, and has made a lot more money, in Washington since the 1950s than most American citizens have. BP was originally called the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company because most of their assets were in Iran, at least until Iran tried to nationalize them in the early 1950s. The US government has done a lot of favors for a lot of companies, but rarely have we stuck our necks out so far as we did in 1953, when the CIA orchestrated a coup in Iran to replace their democratic government with an absolute monarch and a brutal police state, starting an era of ill feelings between Iran and the US that persists today -- that is in fact why we fear Iran's nuclear power program may indeed turn into revenge. Looking the other way when BP violates hundreds of safety rules is a pretty small favor compared to overthrowing a country and launching a series of conflicts that 57 years later are presently tying down a couple hundred thousand US troops at an utter waste of trillions of dollars. Bad as the oil leak has been, it will be months or years before the disaster BP created in the Gulf will compare to the disaster BP created in the Middle East.


David Kocieniewski: As Oil Industry Fights a Tax, It Reaps Subsidies: When I was growing up, one of the hottest tax issues in the country was over the "oil depletion allowance," which was a rule that allowed the oil industry to pretend for tax purposes that when it pumped oil up from the ground it was losing money. This was a period when taxes in general were high for the rich and their businesses, so the tax savings awarded the oil industry produced some amazing distortions. In particular, it allowed oilmen to become fabulously rich -- the richest man in America at the time was J. Paul Getty, but he was followed by all sorts of Hunts and Rockefellers -- and that money turned them into political powers. And while oil industry moguls were utterly dependent on the state to favor them with laws that ensured their wealth, they gravitated almost without exception to the far right fringe of the political spectrum, bankrolling Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan and the Bushes, the political powers who have turned this country upside down. The oil depletion allowance isn't so much of a deal now that most of America's oil has been pumped, but the oil moguls -- increasingly including corporations based abroad like BP -- have all sorts of new ways to cheat their taxes and accumulate money and power. This article details some:

When the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform set off the worst oil spill at sea in American history, it was flying the flag of the Marshall Islands. Registering there allowed the rig's owner to significantly reduce its American taxes.

The owner, Transocean, moved its corporate headquarters from Houston to the Cayman Islands in 1999 and then to Switzerland in 2008, maneuvers that also helped it avoid taxes.

At the same time, BP was reaping sizable tax benefits from leasing the rig. According to a letter sent in June to the Senate Finance Committee, the company used a tax break for the oil industry to write off 70 percent of the rent for Deepwater Horizon -- a deduction of more than $225,000 a day since the lease began.

With federal officials now considering a new tax on petroleum production to pay for the cleanup, the industry is fighting the measure, warning that it will lead to job losses and higher gasoline prices, as well as an increased dependence on foreign oil.

But an examination of the American tax code indicates that oil production is among the most heavily subsidized businesses, with tax breaks available at virtually every stage of the exploration and extraction process. [ . . . ]

And for many small and midsize oil companies, the tax on capital investments is so low that it is more than eliminated by various credits. These companies' returns on those investments are often higher after taxes than before.

Again, the thing that bothers me most about these tax breaks is that the profits wind up supporting such retrograde political forces.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Master of a Small House

Groping around for some background on a record, I stumbled across Derek Taylor's blog (started January 2010), Master of a Small House. Mostly an avant-jazz critic, mostly wrote for the late Bagatellen. I don't read a lot of jazz crit, but run across him now and then, and I've found his recent year-end lists to be reliable. Will add him to my rather select blog roll.

One piece of news I hadn't noticed is Bill Dixon's passing. Dixon made a big splash on Cecil Taylor's Conquistador! in 1966 -- on Blue Note, the last time that ever happened -- and went on to produce an erratic, narrowly admired discography, primarily on Soul Note until the last few years when he had something of a renaissance as a big band arranger. I've sampled his work lightly and never been a big fan, although what I heard of his recent Tapestries for Small Orchestra impressed me.

Mostly straight, rather detailed reviews, including a lot of records still in my inbox as well as some I should at least add to my wish list, and occasional old ones tagged ROW, for Record of the Week, a Bagetellen feature evidently meant to show off the more obscure reaches of one's collection. These often are not jazz, and strike me as worth looking into. From latest to earliest:

  • Sonny Treadway: Jesus Will Fix It! (1997, Arhoolie): pedal steel gospel
  • Prince Nico Mbarga: Aki Special (1987, Rounder): Nigerian highlife
  • Warne Marsh: Warne Out (1977, Interplay)
  • Quarteto Novo: Quarteto Novo (1967, Odean/EMI): Nordeste Brazilian jazz
  • Benton Flippen: Old Time, New Times (1994, Rounder): country fiddle/banjo player
  • Bud Isaacs: Bud's Bounce (1954-56, Bear Family): lap steel country
  • Zoot Sims: Warm Tenor (1978, Pablo)
  • Blind Uncle Gaspard/Delma Lachney/John Bertrand: Early American Cajun Music (1929, Yazoo)
  • Sükrü Tunar: Sükrü Tunar (1907-1962) (Halan): Turkish clarinet
  • R.L. Burnside: Mississippi Hill Country Blues (1982, Fat Possum)
  • Kenny Wheeler/Lee Konitz/Dave Holland/Bill Frisell: Angel Song (1995, ECM)
  • Patato & Totico (1968, Verve)
  • Judee Sill: Judee Sill (1971, Rhino Handmade)
  • Explorations by Teo Macero and Wally Cirillo (1955, Fresh Sound)
  • Iron Maiden: Best of the Beast (EMI)
  • Dewey Corley & Walter Miller: The George Mitchell Collection (1967, Fat Possum)
  • Colombie: Le Vallenato (Ocora): Colombian vallenato
  • The Staple Singers: Great Day (1962-64, Milestone)
  • Joe Pass/Niels-Henning Řrsted Pedersen: Chops (1978, Pablo)
  • Harvey Scales: Love-Itis (1966-77, Tuff City)
  • Fred Zimmerle's Conjunto: Trio San Antonio (1974, Arhoolie)
  • Joe Houston: Cornbread and Cabbage Greens (1952-56, Specialty): sax honk
  • Deep River of Song: Alabama (1934-40, Rounder): Alan Lomax comp

I've only heard a few of these, and can't say I was much impressed with Chops and Angel Song or for that matter Early American Cajun Music, but Warm Tenor and the Joe Houston comp are finds, and the others at least look intriguing.

Ignoring Dissent

Laura Tillem had a letter in the Wichita Eagle Friday, under the title "War not answer":

CIA Director Leon Panetta suggested no one predicted the trouble the U.S. military would have in Afghanistan. President Obama said he doesn't have a crystal ball.

Well, I have a crystal ball, and it is called history. And many others consulted this crystal ball and saw exactly what would happen, which is exactly what has happened: More people have died, more money has been wasted, more land has been despoiled, more hatred of the United States has been created, more corruption has been funded, more prisoners have been taken, more profiteering corporations have gotten contracts, and more mindless fantasies of success have been spun.

Now more than ever, war is not the answer. War leads only to more war.

People should recall that the first thing that happened after 9/11, even before the CIA-led revenge fantasy in Afghanistan got off the ground, was that damn near everyone in politics and the media started attacking pacifists and war/empire skeptics. Panetta's "no one" is the result of pretending that anyone the least bit doubtful that the only recourse was to plunge into war and occupation of a country which over the previous 22 years had done nothing but fight wars to frustrate every possibility of legitimate government. Silencing anyone not on the war bandwagon was the quickest way to get the war on, and the powers that be were very effective at doing that.

So effective, in fact, that Obama has always taken great pains to prove that he's no pacifist. He couldn't criticize the war in Iraq without offering Afghanistan as "the right war," and that's why he's trapped there. Long time ago Noam Chomsky explained how the bipartisan foreign policy wonks "manufacture consent," but nowadays they don't even bother. They just ignore dissent, dismiss critics out of hand, pretend they can't even hear any criticism, then act surprised when their own pet wars run aground.

Friday, July 02, 2010

The End of the Consumer Guide Era

Robert Christgau's Consumer Guide. What makes this one different is the announcement that, "barring miracles," this is the last one Christgau will write, at least the last one MSN Music is paying for. That marks this as the end of several eras. Most simply, it ends a 41-year stretch of 421 mostly monthly columns reviewing close to 15,000 albums from 1969 through 2010. Christgau developed a mode of research and a style of writing that no one has seriously tried to compete with. For one thing, it takes an incredible amount of work. For another, it doesn't pay, at least compared to almost anything else you could do with the same time. It may have been cost-effective at the start as a way of salvaging something from albums played but not deemed worthy of longer reviews -- the first few columns read like tweets -- but Christgau gradually found his mission in the format: not just to cover pop music more broadly than anyone else but to branch out in search of similar pleasures from what he called semi-popular music and what most regarded as pure obscurities. He could do this at first because he edited the section in a paper that didn't tell him what to do, and in the long run he did it because that's who he became. In doing so, he's provided an invaluable service to broad-minded people willing to trust written words to guide them in the care and feeding of their ears.

The deeper point, I think, is timing. Christgau, b. 1942, just the right age to catch rock and roll (and only rock and roll, despite his fondness for Monk) from the beginning all the way through the present. Moreover, he started his career in the late 1960s just as rock criticism was growing out of its teen fandom phase. I'm just eight years younger, but the difference is such that there are Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly songs I first heard the Beatles and the Rolling Stones; when I discovered rock crit, Rolling Stone, Crawdaddy, and Creem were cranking, and Christgau, Paul Williams, and R. Meltzer already had books out. There were others in Christgau's generation but few stuck it out, let alone kept in front of virtually every interesting twist and turn of the last sixty years. Nobody writing about rock is ever going to have that same sense of the new again, because everyone born since Christgau has to catch up, and history is never quite the same as being there.

Then there is scope, which for a rock critic was still manageable in 1970 -- a voracious listener could pretty much be aware of everything and everyone -- but soon to spin out of control. (In 1976 Don Malcolm and I mapped this like the big bang under the title "Adventures in Diffusion.") The expansion of rock soon turned most critics in to specialists, but Christgau was unique in trying to keep wraps around the whole -- eventually he did start slicing off niches of disinterest, like metal, or vast size with only marginal interest, like jazz, but he still covers more range than anyone, and not just because his format lets him cover more records than anyone -- necessary but not sufficient. Any younger, let alone future, critic is going to be hard-pressed to get a sense of the whole.

Finally, there is the matter of money, which also had to do with timing. He could build a career doing journalism to weekly and monthly deadlines in a freewheeling alternative newspaper (The Village Voice) that was both local to New York and national in scope. (Living in Wichita, KS, I subscribed to the Voice and/or the New York Free Press as a late teenager.) Those publications are reeling now, blaming the web but also (as far as I can see) increasingly victims of their own corruption. Meanwhile, the new webzines make far less money (if any at all), pay far less for content (if any at all), and are more often than not on the slippery slope to uselessness. (Christgau frequently complains about this in his NAJP Blog.) The prospects of any young journalist putting together a career like Christgau's are vanishingly small.

Clearly, the collapsing business world with its incessant beggar thy neighbor scams has crashed down on Consumer Guide, and it's very unlikely to recover -- either with Christgau or with anyone else, since who else could do it let alone would do it? For a long time we managed to get tolerably decent content paid for on the side, mostly by advertising, but as businesses pinch pennies they find that what we will tolerate can be made cheaper and poorer until the point when it scarcely matters at all. Unless this turns around, we are surely headed for a dark age, not so much because the limits of specialist knowledge will shrink as because we are losing the media of communicating wisdom. We live in a society that is completely indifferent to wasting the vast resource of someone like Christgau for no better reason than that we don't have a mutually agreeable business model to support him. Nor is he alone; indeed, only now does he cease to be an exception.

One person commented that it sounded like Christgau is "burnt out" on Consumer Guide, but that's not my impression. He still enjoys doing Consumer Guide, but it sinks a lot of his time that could be used on other projects. He's taken a couple of breaks to research a big book on the whole history of music in popular culture, but never made much headway on writing it, and that's one thing he could do. He has had a couple of other shorter book ideas he's shopped around -- can't really explain them. I've lobbied that he should do a one-volume all-encompassing Consumer Guide book, which he hasn't found very appealing because it would going back and reviewing a lot of pre-1969 artists. Also, the Albums of the '90s book fared so poorly that he never got a serious offer on the '00s, so that, too, seems not cost-effective. But we haven't talked about this stuff in quite a while, so I'm pretty far out of the loop.


With no new Consumer Guides forthcoming, you might want to take another look at the old ones. I'm still missing the "capsules" from Newsday and/or their alternative Creem consolidations -- I don't have access to a library good enough to dig them up, and thus far no one has stepped forward to do the digging. I should get around to updating the website in the next week or so with the last four columns -- I've been rather lazy about them, and have had lots of distractions, but don't have a lot more to do.

You can also look at the versions in the decade books (see here). The mid-section reviews are pulled from the database, which has some extras omitted in the actual books, and there are quite a few corrections (see the corrigenda files). The same software could have been used to organize a Albums of the '00s draft, which in lieu of the book you can preview here.


Special bonus: top ten records I only found because Christgau found them first:

  1. Michael Hurley/Unholy Modal Rounders/Jeffrey Frederick and the Clamtones: Have Moicy! (1976, Rounder)
  2. African Connection, Vol. 1: Zaire Choc! (1988, Celluloid)
  3. Culture: Two Sevens Clash (1977, Shanachie)
  4. Franco & Tabu Ley Rochereau: Omona Wapi (1984, Shanachie)
  5. Swamp Dogg: Total Destruction to Your Mind (1970, Canyon)
  6. The Don Pullen-George Adams Quartet: Breakthrough (1986, Blue Note)
  7. Big Youth: Screaming Target (1973, Trojan)
  8. Buck 65: Man Overboard (2001, Metaforensics)
  9. Hirth Martinez: Hirth From Earth (1975, Warner Bros.)
  10. James Talley: Got No Bread, No Milk, No Money, But We Sure Got a Lot of Love (1975, Capitol)

Through this together hastily, and no doubt missed much, but gives you a taste. Most likely I would have found Culture and Pullen sooner or later, Have Moicy! too, but the paths to them aren't obvious. Looking through the master list, there are a lot of other items that I in fact first discovered through Christgau but didn't include because there were other paths that would have kicked in sooner or later -- unless, that is, my brief affair with mid-1970s rock crit hadn't led to Christgau publishing me in The Village Voice and striking up a friendship that has lasted over 35 years and changed my life in many ways. It's been hard to write this without substituting "Bob" for "Christgau" everywhere, but he has always steered me the other way, arguing that formality better suits my voice. Besides, this isn't an obituary. It's just a column.

PS: I've previously written about some of this stuff here.

Also, I routinely forward mail sent to webmaster at robertchristgau.com. Have gotten a flurry of interesting mail recently.

PPS: Christgau issued his own comment here, including a comment reminding you all that it was MSN's decision to stop publishing Consumer Guide. Also links to an Ann Powers interview. Favorite line there: "People tend to abuse the grading privilege when they start out."


Jun 2010 Aug 2010