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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous [half] week:


  • Ari Berman: The Rise of the Austerity Hawk Democrats: Starts with Chuck Schumer bragging that the Democrats' debt/austerity bill cuts deeper than John Boehner's. So Obama is not the only traitor to the real interests of his party's voters, but he has certainly set the direction:

    President Obama has actively shifted the debt debate to the right, both substantively and rhetorically. Substantively by not insisting on a "clean bill" to raise the debt ceiling at the outset and actively pushing for drastic spending cuts and changes to entitlement programs as part of any deal. And rhetorically by mimicking right-wing arguments about the economy, such as the canard that reducing spending will create jobs (it won't), or that the government's budget is like a family's budget (it isn't), or that major spending cuts will return confidence to the market and spur the economy recovery we've all been waiting for (Paul Krugman calls it "the confidence fairy").

    Two Democratic senators (Nelson and Manchin) voted against Reid's debt/austerity measure on grounds that it didn't go far enough. (Sanders voted against it because it went too ridiculously far, and Reid voted against it for reasons mysterious.)

  • Mike Konczal: From Mass Prosperity to Severe Recession in Fifty Years: Good title, pretty much the story of our lives, especially if like me you're about sixty years old and experienced exactly that decline. (My parents started in the Great Depression, so Mass Prosperity came late for them and seemed hard earned, whereas we took it for granted, and those who came later spent all their lives feeling something they never really understood slipping away.) The more specific subject here is Jeff Madrick's book, The Age of Greed, which follows the rise of finance from the 1960s through its recent debacle. The historical context helps to make sense of how crazy it all got more recently:

    The last major change that set the landscape for the financialized economy of today is the delinking of the real corporate sector and growth in jobs and wages. During the postwar period, productivity often translated into wage gains, but this relationship disappeared in recent decades. In Age of Greed Madrick argues that a resurgent Wall Street played a role in this change. Between shedding previous moral objections to hostile takeovers, creating funding for a merger of any size and making short-term stock prices the barometer of the health of a company, the financial sector overhauled how work is done in this country. As Madrick notes, just the looming threat of a hostile takeover forced firms to cut and squeeze workers, reduce their investment in R&D and focus on how to goose their stock prices.

    Like a lot of recent historical work, the book puts the 1970s front and center as the decade when everything changed. The runaway inflation of the 1970s, a course set in by the expansive monetary policies of Federal Reserve Chairman Arthur Burns and the price controls imposed by the Nixon administration to keep the economy running in high gear through Richard Nixon's second term, forced further deregulation of the financial sector. When the financial sector approached a collapse, a collapse stopped by emergency Federal Reserve intervention, further deregulation was used to return the sector to profitability.

    Madrick shows how each of the individual strands start reinforcing the others. With easy money to be made on Wall Street and pressure to keep stock prices high, management in the real economy wanted to mimic what Wall Street did. For instance, Jack Welch, CEO of GE, turned his subsidiary GE Capital into one of the main focuses of his business, moving away from the midcentury business model that had room for employees and innovations. And the antitax measures that formed the basis of the tax revolt, measures that failed in California when Reagan first introduced them in the early 1970s, passed in the late 1970s after a decade of stagflation.

    The second half of the book covers the runaway financial sector and stagnating real economy of the past thirty years. Banking and financial crises happen more often and become larger and more threatening. Age of Greed tours all the major crises, from the Third World debt crisis of 1982 to the high-tech stock bubble of 2000, describing the increasing recklessness of the financial sector as the stakes get higher. The book concludes with the stories of the individuals who brought us the housing bubbles and who benefited from the bailouts.

  • Paul Krugman: Tax Cut Memories: Post is mostly just a quote from a press conference transcript from last December, back when Obama was caving in to the Republicans on extending the Bush tax cuts. Marc Ambinder asks Obama why the deal didn't include raising the debt limit. Obama responds:

    Look, here's my expectation -- and I'll take John Boehner at his word -- that nobody, Democrat or Republican, is willing to see the full faith and credit of the United States government collapse, that that would not be a good thing to happen. And so I think that there will be significant discussions about the debt limit vote. That's something that nobody ever likes to vote on. But once John Boehner is sworn in as Speaker, then he's going to have responsibilities to govern. You can't just stand on the sidelines and be a bomb thrower.

    And so my expectation is, is that we will have tough negotiations around the budget, but that ultimately we can arrive at a position that is keeping the government open, keeping Social Security checks going out, keeping veterans services being provided, but at the same time is prudent when it comes to taxpayer dollars.

    Reading the first paragraph just makes me think Obama was/is stupid, and not even on the naive side given the line about bomb throwers. But the second ("tough negotiations") suggests that he did indeed know what he was getting into, and just didn't care about being forced to give up ground on spending -- which even if wasteful he needed desperately to keep the economy from tanking further.

    Also see Krugman's Very Serious Suckers:

    This was terrible policy, even if it had worked: now is not the time for fiscal austerity, and the way the VSPs have shifted the whole conversation away from jobs and toward deficits is a major reason we're stuck in the Lesser Depression.

    But it also showed awesome political naivete. As Chait says, the first thing you need to understand is that modern Republicans don't care about deficits. They only pretend to care when they believe that deficit hawkery can be used to dismantle social programs; as soon as the conversation turns to taxes, or anything else that would require them and their friends to make even the smallest sacrifice, deficits don't matter at all.

  • Andrew Leonard: How to Make a Bad Economy Even Worse:

    Here's how monumentally screwed up our national priorities are. Just two hours after the government's Bureau of Economic Analysis released disastrous new figures indicating that GDP growth has essentially flat-lined, the president of the United States gave a brief address to the nation calling for both political parties to come to bipartisan compromise on "how to cut spending responsibly."

    Obama was responding to Thursday night's monumental failure by House Republicans to pass their own debt ceiling bill, after a revolt by conservatives who deemed the measure unsatisfactory because it doesn't cut spending enough. With the default deadline only four days away, and at the end of a week when stock market indexes have already fallen by about 4 percent, when short-term credit markets are showing signs of stress and investors are pulling billions of dollars out of money market funds, the display of Republican incompetence was the last thing a nervous economy needs. A little reassurance that the White House was on top of the situation would have been sorely appreciated.

    Because the GDP numbers are the icing on this recessionary cake. The BEA pegged growth in the second quarter at a paltry 1.3 percent. The first quarter was revised down to a moribund .4 percent. And perhaps most noteworthy at all, revisions to even earlier data showed that the depths of the recession were much worse than anyone realized at the time. In the fourth quarter of 2008, for example, growth fell by an incredible 8.9 percent.

  • Andrew Leonard: On Jobs, "Uncertainty" Is Not the Problem: Cites Barry Ritholtz, who's found out that while businesses are famously citing "uncertainty" as their reason for not hiring more workers, they're quite comfortable spending more on capital. One thing Leonard should have noted is that the main reason business buys more technology these days isn't to produce more goods; it's to reduce payroll, automating jobs out of existence.

  • Michael Winship: When the Super-Rich Cry "Class Warfare!": Starts with some words about Jeff Madrick's book, Age of Greed, then moves on to a meeting of "fifty of the most prized donors in national politics, including several hedge-fund billionaires" where the elites started complaining about "Huey Long populism." I've been thinking about Long lately, thinking maybe organizing a new wave of Share Our Wealth clubs might be the organization framework the left needs to start having an impact, but I didn't expect anyone else to remember Long.

    Huey Long populism? Give me a break. Barack Obama's about as much like Huey Long as I am Huey Newton of the Black Panthers (or Huey Lewis and the News, come to that). And as for class warfare, give me a double break. Who the hell started it? "There's class warfare, all right," Warren Buffett told the New York Times two years before the 2008 crash, "but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning."

    I'll say. Which makes the whining of the moneyed -- in addition to the winning -- all the more annoying. Especially after the Obama White House has bent over backward for them -- simply remember the concessions on healthcare and financial reform, for two -- and all too often has vassaled itself to the knights of the Fortune 500, kowtowing all the way to the bank where they keep the big campaign contributions.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Midweek Roundup

I squirreled away so much stuff for the Weekend Roundup I thought I should dump it out early:


  • Steve Benen: Focus Groups Must Have Loved 'Blank Check': Just the latest in the unending series of weasel words conservatives come up with to steer (or obscure) political discourse, as in: "Republicans will not give him [Obama] a $2.4 trillion blank check he can use throughout his re-election campaign." Nevermind that the expenses that raising the debt limit would cover have already been allocated -- nothing "blank" at all here.

    To be sure, GOP officials have been experimenting with a lot of talking points lately. The more polls show the American mainstream turning against Republicans, the more party leaders assume it's time to experiment with new rhetoric.

    And most of the time, I can at least understand what the words means. When Republicans talking about "job creators," for example, I know they're trying to protect the very rich from having to pay a little more in taxes. When they talk "reforming" entitlements, I know they want to cut Social Security and Medicare.

    But "blank check"? What on earth does that even mean?

    I'm sure the focus groups loved it. "Blank checks" sound bad (except when Republican Congresses are giving Bush/Cheney blank checks to fight wars).

  • Elizabeth Drew: What Were They Thinking? On Obama's negotiating strategy -- meet the Republicans half way, then move closer when they move farther, repeat ad nauseum.

    This all fits with another development in the Obama White House. According to another close observer, David Plouffe, the manager of Obama's 2008 presidential campaign, who officially joined the White House staff in January 2011, has taken over. "Everything is about the reelect," this observer says -- "where the President goes, what he does."

    Plouffe's advice to the President defines not just Obama's policies but also his behavior. Plouffe tells the President, according to this observer, that the target group wants him to seem the most reasonable man in the room. Plouffe is the conceptualizer, and Bill Daley, the chief of staff who shares Plouffe's political outlook, makes things happen; Gene Sperling, the director of economic policy, and Tom Donilon, the national security adviser, are smart men but they come out of politics rather than academia or deep experience in their respective fields. Once Austan Goolsbee, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, departs later this summer, all of the President's original economic advisers will be gone. Partly this is because the President's emphasis on budget cutting didn't leave them very much to do. One White House émigré told me, "It's not a place that welcomes ideas."

    It's getting hard to remember recent history, but wasn't Obama in 2008 mostly about ideas? We lost track of those ideas because Obama stopped talking about them. He started living within the news cycle, letting himself get hammered by that whole Tea Party thing. (Did that really happen? How stupid were we to fall for that?) Then "reelect": the first, and worst, thing Obama did was to throw the Democracy that Howard Dean had rebuilt from 2006-08 in the trash, just so he could enjoy more flexibility in his own reelection.

    The Republicans displayed a recklessness that should have disqualified them from being taken seriously. Any deal that was reached would contain substantial cuts in the coming fiscal year -- too soon, as Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and the head of the Congressional Budget Office Doug Elmendorf have recently warned.

    The antitax dogma of the Republican Party is strongly rooted in mythology. The theory that tax cuts create jobs has been discredited by the results of George Bush's tax policies. The Republicans cling to the myth that "small business" owners are the "job creators," and so they oppose proposals to eliminate the Bush rate cuts for even those earning over $250,000. But relatively few small business owners earn $250,000 -- in fact, fewer than 3 percent of the 20 million people who file business income on their personal tax forms (the 1040s) earn that much.

    Finally, the antitax position of many conservatives would seem to be illogical, since they also hate deficits: but their real aim is to reduce or eliminate federal programs. They call efforts to redistribute wealth "socialism," but have no problem redistributing from the poor and middle class to the wealthy through taxes, as set forth in Paul Ryan's budget plan, which the House approved on April 15. Under the Ryan plan, the taxes of the richest one percent of Americans would be cut in half, while taxes would be raised on most of the middle class. People earning over $1 million would be taxed at a lower effective rate than the middle class.

    Consistent with the philosophy of Ryan's idol Ayn Rand, this scheme would by 2050 eliminate virtually all federal programs other than defense and Social Security, much of which would be privatized, while his voucher program would replace Medicare. The Ryan plan was so radical that even Republican candidates have been distancing themselves from it though the party higher-ups had declared it a "litmus test" for Republicans seeking office.

  • Peter Frase: Artificial Scarcity Watch: Nathan Myhrvold Is a Vile Patent Troll: I've just started looking at Frase's blog and there's a lot of interest there -- enough for a separate post if I can find the time. One focus is on how central intellectual property is for today's ascendant class of rentier-capitalists. Myhrvold is a prime example: his company exists only to extort fees from productive companies based on the sloppy work the US Patent Office has been doing for decades now.

    The Planet Money post reveals Intellectual Ventures to be a wretched hive of scum and villainy, and Nathan Myhrvold to be that lowest of rentier-capitalist parasites: a patent troll. Intellectual Ventures does not, for the most part, come up with ideas. What it does is buy patents -- often very broad, legally dubious patents -- and then extort licensing fees out of companies that allegedly infringe on them. Or else it licenses its patents to shell companies that exist only to sue people, thus producing eerie scenes like this: [ . . . ]

    Ah, if only Al Capone had been clever enough to cloak his enterprise in business school jargon -- the mafia is a "disruptive company" that is "making a big impact on the market"! Brad DeLong cites this story as evidence that the patent system is broken. But from the perspective of Anti-Star Trek, it isn't broken, at all. It's doing exactly what it's supposed to do: create artificial scarcity and enrich a small class of parasitic rentiers.

  • Paul Krugman: The Lesser Depression: A modest escalation of the terminology to describe the economic mess we're in -- the most common previous term being the Great Recession -- although it isn't clear right now that there will be any broad-based recovery, that the fall that was arrested in early 2009 will hold, or even know how far the bottom can fall out. What confuses us here is that many powerful forces in the world today have managed to undercut the standard therapy for recessions -- e.g., net government spending in the US has contracted, removing jobs and spending instead of counterbalancing the private sector's continued contraction. Indeed, if forces like the Republican Party get their way it's likely that further renaming will be required, turning this into the Second Great Depression (or something worse yet).

    So we have depressed economies. What are policy makers proposing to do about it? Less than nothing.

    The disappearance of unemployment from elite policy discourse and its replacement by deficit panic has been truly remarkable. It's not a response to public opinion. In a recent CBS News/New York Times poll, 53 percent of the public named the economy and jobs as the most important problem we face, while only 7 percent named the deficit. Nor is it a response to market pressure. Interest rates on U.S. debt remain near historic lows.

    Yet the conversations in Washington and Brussels are all about spending cuts (and maybe tax increases, I mean revisions). That's obviously true about the various proposals being floated to resolve the debt-ceiling crisis here. But it's equally true in Europe. [ . . . ]

    For those who know their 1930s history, this is all too familiar. If either of the current debt negotiations fails, we could be about to replay 1931, the global banking collapse that made the Great Depression great. But, if the negotiations succeed, we will be set to replay the great mistake of 1937: the premature turn to fiscal contraction that derailed economic recovery and ensured that the Depression would last until World War II finally provided the boost the economy needed.

    I'll add that the economic indicators back in Fall 2008, when the banking crisis was in free fall, echoed uncannily the same charts from 1929. The fall then was arrested primarily by factors that didn't exist in 1929: the sheer size of the public sector, various automatic stabilizers, modern macroeconomic policy to cut interest rates. Those are all things that the right-wing is hell bent on eliminating.

  • Paul Krugman: Means-testing Medicare:

    The usual argument against means-testing -- which is entirely valid -- is that it (a) doesn't save much money and (b) messes up a relatively simple program. The reason it can't save much money is that there are relatively few people rich enough to be able to afford major cost-sharing. Meanwhile, the good thing about Medicare, as with Social Security, is precisely that it doesn't depend on your personal financial status -- you just get it. Means-testing would turn it into something much more intrusive, like Medicaid.

    But there's a further point I haven't seen emphasized: if you want the well-off to pay more, it's just better to raise their taxes. [ . . . ]

    So what's the difference between means-testing and just collecting a bit more taxes? The answer is, class warfare -- not between the rich and poor, but between the filthy rich and the merely affluent. For a tax rise would get a significant amount of revenue from the very, very rich (because they have so much money), while means-testing would end up imposing the same burden on $400,000 a year working Wall Street stiffs that it imposes on billion-a-year hedge fund managers.

    Another point about means-testing is that it weakens solidarity in support of the program: it makes the program less valuable to those above the means test (people who, we should recall, already have an inordinate amount of political influence) while shaming those below the test line as beneficiaries of a welfare program. This is why means test proposals are almost always advocated by right-wingers seeking to discredit programs. So why is Obama pushing this?

  • Paul Krugman: President Pushover: On the 2010 elections:

    As I recall, two things happened last year: voters were angry about the weak economy, and older voters believed that Obama was going to take away their Medicare and send them to the death panels. And so the way to win those voters back is to cut Medicare and weaken the economy?

    A further point: even if Obama really does cut spending, will anyone notice? Even people who are supposedly well informed believe that there was a vast expansion of government under Obama, when in fact there wasn't. So we're supposed to believe that independent voters will actually be able to cut through the fog -- the deliberate fog of Fox, the he-said-she-said of most other media organizations -- and give him credit for spending cuts? Remember, whatever he does Republicans will claim that the government is getting bigger -- and news organization will report only that "Democrats say" that this isn't true.

    Also cites/quotes the Elizabeth Drew piece, above.

  • Alex Pareene: How Washington's Favorite Pundits Explain Why We're Doomed: With House Republicans in thrall to Rush Limbaugh (see also: Andrew Leonard: How to Make Rush Limbaugh Happy) and Erick Erickson, Thomas Friedman thinks he's got it all figured out:

    Right now you have a situation where the rank-and-file Republicans are listening to irresponsible extremists and the "serious" "grown-ups" hammering out "responsible" plans are listening to simple-minded dolts, like Thomas Friedman, with absolutely no understanding of how politics work.

    I honestly do not know which one is worse. Friedman, probably, because at least Rush Limbaugh understands how to work to get his intended policy result enacted. His taxes have certainly gone down, as he's gotten richer, since he started his talk radio racket. Friedman seems to think the problem with his "moderate politics of a center-left rich guy" platform is that there isn't a party for it. Mr. Friedman, meet President Obama, of the Democratic Party! I know you hate partisanship, but that is the method by which President Obama is trying to create your flat global technocratic playground dream world!

    Though if everyone who takes Thomas Friedman seriously did start their own third party, we at least would no longer have to worry about anyone who takes Thomas Friedman seriously getting elected to public office.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Music Week

Music: Current count 18463 [18438] rated (+25), 850 [849] unrated (+1). Starting to feel a bit better, but have my ups and downs. Jazz is mostly a down these days.

Jazz Prospecting (JCG #27, Part 12)

No closure on Jazz Consumer Guide, although I finally had a productive day yesterday doing the things I need to do to wrap up this cycle. I could say much more, but I'm in such a bad mood I'd probably regret it. At least the upside is that with no one pushing me to flag duds I'm only listening to records I've already decided are real good or better, and that's much more pleasing than digging into the now-overstocked low priority queues. Very little incoming mail, which may just be seasonal. Thought about punting again so I could wrap this up with a bang, but decided I have enough prospecting to share.


Les Doigts de l'Homme: 1910 (2011, ALMA): French quartet, three guitars (Olivier Kikteff, Yannick Alcocer, Benoit "Binouche" Convert) and acoustic bass (Tanguy Blum), dedicated to Django Reinhardt -- album title takes the year of Reinhardt's birth. Fourth album. Two cuts add clarinet for some welcome variation; otherwise very inside its thing. B+(*)

Art Hirahara: Noble Path (2010 [2011], Posi-Tone): Pianist, from San Francisco Bay Area, based in Brooklyn. AMG lists four previous records, but only one appears on his website discography. Piano trio, with Yoshi Waki (bass) and Dan Aran (drums). Wrote 8 of 12 songs. Puts a nice spin on covers ranging from Porter to Ellington. B+(**)

Cedar Walton: The Bouncer (2011, High Note): Pianist, b. 1934, has a ton of records since 1967, this one being typical, both in his lyrical runs and in the way he handles horns -- Vincent Herring (alto sax, tenor sax, flute) on 5 cuts, Steve Turre (trombone) on two. Wrote six of eight cuts, adding one from bassist David Williams, recalling one from J.J. Johnson. B+(**)

Starlicker: Double Demon (2011, Delmark): Rob Mazurek (cornet), Jason Adasiewicz (vibes), John Herndon (drums). Mazurek is a guy with lots of ideas, which you can trace through the various Chicago Underground Duo/Trio/Quartet configurations on up to his Exploding Star Orchestra. Where the latter typically engages a dozen musicians, this trio manages to cover the same space much more compactly. Does put more pressure on the cornet to lead, and for once he does. A-

Ernie Krivda: Blues for Pekar (2011, Capri): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1945 in Cleveland; AMG credits him with 24 records since 1977, starting on Inner City with a lot on Cadence/CIMP -- labels I don't get and have trouble finding, so this is the first I've heard by him. Given the labels, I pictured him as more avant, but he has album titles like Tough Tenor, Red Hot and Focus on Stan Getz and Perdido, so clearly I need to do some research and get my bearings. "Pekar" is late cartoon auteur Harvey Pekar, who's quoted in the booklet: "Ernie Krivda is one of the best jazz tenor sax men in the world." Five covers (including tunes by Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon) followed by two originals, each running 8-12 minutes. Four cuts are spiced up with trumpet (Sean Jones on two, Dominick Farinacci on the others), and all of them are barnburners with a powerful swing undertow. Not sure if that's how Krivda usually plays, or just how Pekar liked it. B+(***)

Daniel Levin: Inner Landscape (2009 [2011], Clean Feed): Cellist, sixth album since 2003, a solo, tough to do. Gets some extra sound out early using the body for percussion, which provides some useful variety. B+(**)

Taylor Ho Bynum/Joe Morris/Sara Schoenbeck: Next (2009 [2011], Porter): Maybe one of those records you're supposed to play extra loud, because at my normal volume I'm not hearing much of anything here -- scattered squiggles of Schoenbeck's bassoon, scratch guitar, isolated bits of cornet. Doesn't jive with reviews I've read, and doesn't seem likely to come together even if I were inclined to give it extra effort. B-

Claire Daly Quintet: Mary Joyce Project: Nothing to Lose (2011, Daly Bread): Baritone saxophonist, fifth album since 1999, first I've heard although I've noted her winning Downbeat's poll several times. Also plays alto sax and flute here, credibly in both cases, but the big horn is the treat. Quintet includes piano (Steve Hudson, who wrote or co-wrote about half of this), bass, drums, and Napoleon Maddox ("human beat box"). Mary Joyce was a relative ("father's first cousin") who among other things drove a dogsled from Juneau to Fairbanks in 1935-36 (1,000 miles) -- a story capped off in the closer ("Epilogue"). B+(***)

Tom Harrell: The Time of the Sun (2010 [2011], High Note): Plays trumpet, flugelhorn; has close to 30 albums since 1976, a postbop player with tricky compositions and (occasionally) brilliant runs. Best moments here are on the simple side, squaring off against Danny Grissett's piano. Adding Wayne Escoffery's tenor sax seems like too much trouble, although he can impress, as always. B+(*)

Rich Halley Quartet: Requiem for a Pit Viper (2010 [2011], Pine Eagle): Consistenty superb tenor saxophonist, based in Portland, OR, has a background as a natural scientist which may make him more sympathetic to rattlesnakes than most of us. Quartet pairs him with trombonist Michael Vlatkovich. While the contrast and interplay is interesting, most of the time the two play in unison, which aside from some not especially pleasing harmonics wastes the opportunity the second horn opens up -- how much so is clear from when it happens. B+(**)

Stan Killian: Unified (2010 [2011], Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist, from Texas, based in New York, debut album, mostly quartet with Benito Gonzalez on piano, bass and drums split, and guest horns featured on the cover: Roy Hargrove, Jeremy Pelt, David Binney. Postbop to open, although when he picks up the pace he sounds more like retro bebop. B+(*)

Ivo Perelman Quartet: The Hour of the Star (2010 [2011], Leo): Brazilian tenor saxophonist, has been on a hot run lately and keeps it going here. Actually just 4 of 6 cuts are quartet, with Matthew Shipp on piano; the others just Joe Morris on bass and Gerald Cleaver on drums. Shipp pushed Ware harder, but the rhythmic density he brings here is a plus. Perelman was never as heavy as Ware, Brötzmann, et al., but he skits agilely around the corners. B+(***)

Steve Coleman and Five Elements: The Mancy of Sound (2007 [2011], Pi): A sequel to last year's Harvesting Semblances and Affinities, cut around the same time with the same band. I didn't care much for the previous album, and was surprised to find it polling well in year-end lists. My problem is vocalist Jen Shyu: I find her distracting and unnecessary even when I can't understand her (most of the time, especially on the 5-part Yoruba-derived "Odú Ifá Suite"). The horns -- Coleman's alto sax, Jonathan Finlayson's trumpet, Tim Albright's trombone -- weave around interestingly, and the rhythm section is superb, again. B+(*)

David Gibson: End of the Tunnel (2010 [2011], Posi-Tone): Trombone player, fifth album since 2002, the first three on retro-leaning Nagel-Heyer. Quartet, with Julius Tolentino on alto sax, Jared Gold on organ, and Quincy Davis on drums. Strong showing for Gold, who contributes two tunes (vs. five for Gibson, plus covers of Herbie Hancock and Jackie McLean), and the horn pairing works out nicely, with Tolentino aggressive and the trombone adding some much needed bottom funk. B+(**)

Larry Goldings: In My Room (2010-11 [2011], BFM Jazz): Organ player, b. 1968, fourteen albums since 1991 and many more side credits. This is a change of pace: solo piano, rather delicate and measured. The title cut, from Brian Wilson as the Beach Boys turned introspective, is a find, although the Lennon-McCartney that closes the set drifts off into indeterminate space. About half originals, half covers (mostly from the same period, with the Stephen Foster and "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" even more venerable). 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.

Uri Caine/Arditti String Quartet: Twelve Caprices (2010 [2011], Winter & Winter): Jazz pianist who has taken quite a bit of classical music as his starting point, some of which I've begrudgingly found interesting (e.g., Plays Mozart) and some appalling (e.g., Robert Schumann: Love Fugue), faces off for a set of improvs with Irvine Arditti's well established classical string quartet. The strings are abstractly modernistic, the piano cutting against the grain. B+(*) [Rhapsody]

Wadada Leo Smith: Lake Biwa (2002-04 [2004], Tzadik): Well-regarded album featuring Smith's Silver Orchestra. Can't find any track credits, so presumably the whole group plays everywhere, but I have my doubts about the three pianists, two bassists, and/or three drummers. The other slots include alto sax (John Zorn), tuba (Marcus Rojas), violin (Jennifer Choi), and cello (Erik Friedlander), as well as Smith's trumpet. Four long pieces (11:14 to 23:50), dense, cluttered, sometimes gets under your skin, then something amazing happens. B+(*) [Rhapsody]

Evan Parker & Konstrukt: Live at Akbank Jazz Festival (2010 [2011], Re:konstrukt): Two solo shots on soprano sax (14:07 and 8:50), done as only Parker can do them, the first with a lot of circular breathing, the second less tricked up. Followed by two "collective improvisations" with Parker sparring with a Turkish group, including a second soprano sax (Korhan Futaci), guitar, drums, percussion. These average 22 minutes of engaging noise, the sort of contretemps that Parker can conjure up any time he has the inkling. B+(*) [Rhapsody]

Billy Jenkins: Jazz Gives Me the Blues (2011, VOTP): English jazz guitarist, b. 1954, has some very interesting records scattered about his discography -- 1998's True Love Collection, with its bent '60s pop retroviruses is a favorite -- but lately he's reinvented himself as a gravel-mouthed blues slinger, which is mostly what you get here, but now and then you sense the guitar wants to sneak out and play something fancy. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Ambrose Akinmusire: When the Heart Emerges Glistening (2010 [2011], Blue Note): Trumpet player, b. 1982 in Oakland, CA; second album after one on Fresh Sound New Talent. Mostly postbop quintet, with Walter Smith III shagging him on tenor sax, Gerald Clayton on piano, Harish Raghavan on bass, and Justin Brown on drums, although Jason Moran takes two shots on Fender Rhodes. Hits quality notes over staggered rhythms. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Johnny Varro: Speak Low (2011, Arbors): Pianist, b. 1930, cites Jess Stacy and Teddy Wilson as influences, came up with Buddy Hackett, played for Eddie Condon; not much discography as a leader until he hooked up with Arbors in 1992, but this is his 11th album with them (side credits go back to 1954 with Phil Napoleon). Standards, with Warren Vaché (cornet) and Harry Allen (tenor sax) vying to see who can be the most debonair, with Nicki Parrott (bass) and Chuck Riggs (drums). Maybe a little too debonair there. B+(**) [Rhapsody]


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


Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:

  • Billy Bang's Survival Ensemble: Black Man's Blues/New York Collage (1977-78, NoBusiness, 2CD)
  • Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra: MTO Plays Sly (Royal Potato Family): advance, Sept. 27
  • Michel Camilo: Mano A Mano (Decca): advance, Sept. 11
  • John Daversa: Junk Wagon: The Big Band Album (BFM Jazz)
  • The Four Bags: Forth (NCM East): Sept. 27
  • Grupo Falso Baiano: Simplicidade: Live at Yoshi's (Massaroca)
  • Charles Lloyd Quartet with Maria Farantouri: Athens Concert (ECM, 2CD): advance, Sept. 13
  • Yvonne Washington with Gary Norman: Trust in Me (Mercator Media)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:


  • Steve Benen: The Easiest, Most Effective Way to Resolve the Crisis:

    Someone asked me the other day why President Obama doesn't just ask for a clean debt-ceiling bill, instead of engaging in these mind-numbing negotiations. The truth is, he has asked for a clean bill, repeatedly. It didn't get much attention at the time -- the White House pushed for this in March and April -- but the request was certainly made. [ . . . ]

    Since 1939, Congress has raised the debt limit 89 times. That's not a typo. The issue has come up 89 times, and in 89 instances, Congress passed a clean bill. In fact, in two-thirds of these instances, there was a Republican president, and no one ever used the vote as leverage for a reward.

    During the Bush presidency, Republicans raised the debt ceiling, without strings or preconditions, seven times. The current GOP leadership in Washington has voted to raise the debt limit 19 times. Bush's former budget director said this "ought to be treated as the housekeeping matter it is."

    But we've now reached the point at which routine housekeeping, which didn't even give conservative Republicans a second thought as recently as 2008, is considered beyond the pale. This is madness.

    One effortless vote makes the entire problem disappear. I can't think of any potential crisis that's so serious and yet so easy to resolve. But this isn't even a possibility because the Republican Party has lost its mind.

  • Steve Benen: Worst. Congress. Ever.: Starts by citing Matt Taibbi's 2006 article about how the 109th Congress was the worst ever, then argues that this one tops even it.

    But from where I sit, Ornstein goes a little too easy on congressional Republicans. Congress is still capable of functioning as an institution. Indeed, over 2009 and 2010, we saw our share of frustrating legislative disputes, but an enormous amount of successful policymaking was completed. Had the Senate been able to operate by majority rule -- the way it used to -- the 111th Congress would have been even more impressive.

    The problem with the 112th isn't a structural impediment; it's the result of a radicalized Republican Party that has no use for compromise, evidence, or reason. We have a congressional GOP abandoning all institutional norms, pushing extremist policies, rejecting their own ideas if they enjoy Democratic support, and engaging in tactics that were once thought unthinkable from policymakers who put the nation's needs first.

    Is this the "Worst. Congress. Ever." as the headline on Ornstein's piece argues? After six months on the job, that seems extremely likely. Indeed, if this Congress deliberately causes a global economic catastrophe, the competition for the worst Congress ever will end quite quickly.

    But the public needs to understand that Congress, at an institutional level, doesn't bear all of the blame. The stark raving mad Republican Party does.

  • Mike Konczal: Towards a Liberal Critique of Left Neo-Liberalism Policy: I didn't dig back very deep into the background of this piece, but this paragraph struck me as profoundly true:

    I tend to think that there's been too much focus on what I like to call a pity-charity liberalism, where the conceptual project of the welfare state is to compensate the losers of society rather than broadly empower citizens. There's an argument, deriving from Jonathan Wolff, that creating these kinds of pity-charity states forces those worse off to engage in the additional acts of "shameful revelations," making the liberal state something that doesn't create the conditions for your freedom but instead shames and embarrasses you.

    Policy implications jump out of this, but it also has political consequences. There's the saying "programs for the poor make poor programs," and I have to imagine that they make for poor politics too. Programs that empower a broad base of people also bring people together across a wider variety of backgrounds, thus making it easier to engage in politics. Poor people and middle-class people and even upper-middle class people want their Social Security check and will defend it.

    Lots of things intersect here. In particular, this is why Obama's plan for means-testing Medicare is such a big step toward gutting the program. It's also why Clinton's elimination of "welfare as we know it" wasn't such a bad idea (although it certainly could have been done better). Thomas Geoghegan makes a big point in his book Were You Born on the Wrong Continent? about how the main beneficiaries of German socialism are in the middle class.

  • Andrew Leonard: Gambling Mogul Steve Wynn's "Epic" Anti-Obama Rant: One of the richest people in America ($2.3 billion, number 512 on the Forbes list) can't make up his mind whether to invest the mountains of cash he's sitting on because of "uncertainty" caused by his paranoid delusions of Obama: "Well, this is Obama's deal, and it's Obama's that's responsible for this fear in America. The guy keeps making speeches about redistribution, and maybe we ought to do something to businesses that don't invest or holding too much money. We haven't heard that kind of talk except from pure socialists." Uh, Steve, that wasn't Obama; that was me, going on and on about how we can't trust the riches of capitalist to idiot capitalists like Wynn who are unwilling or unable to do anything productive with their money. We make this mistake again and again: trying to fight recessions by pumping low-interest money out through the banks, but it invariably goes into speculation because the consumers who would spend remain out of the loop. Redistributing money from parasites like Wynn to the unemployed and underemployed and even (maybe especially) the hard-pressed middle class would do much more to get the economy moving again. Just don't bother looking for any of this in Obama. He doesn't begin to get it. Whereas FDR would talk about "malefactors of great wealth," all Obama could come up with was to describe Jamie Dimon as a "savvy businessman."

  • Paul Woodward: From Pamela Geller to Anders Behring Breivik -- How Islamophobia Turned Deadly in Norway: About time someone put Friday's massacre in Norway into its proper political and ideological context:

    Breivik is much more specific in identifying the sources from whom he takes his own ideological direction: Robert Spencer, Fjordman, Atlas [Pamela Geller], Analekta [Informatics], Gates of Vienna, The Brussels Journal, and The Religion of Peace.

    These are the preeminent voices promoting fear and hatred of Islam across Europe and America. But they also form -- at least in Breivik's mind -- the "epicenter" of "political analysis" on the threat posed to cultural conservatives by multiculturalism in Europe and America. He recommends Fjordman's book, Defeating Eurabia, as "the perfect Christmas gift for family and friends."

    Do any of the leaders of Stop Islamization of America (SIOA) and Stop Islamization of Europe (SIOE) advocate that their "freedom fighters" should adopt violent tactics such as those employed by Breivik? Perhaps not. Indeed, I have little doubt that in the coming days we will hear many vociferous disavowals of their having any association with the Norwegian. But have no doubt, while they might have a sincere revulsion for Breivik's actions, they cannot so easily disassociate themselves from the ideas that drove him to murder almost a hundred innocent people.

    Personally, I wouldn't describe the dead as "innocent" people; I'd say they were good people, ones who cared about building and supporting better lives for their fellows. What's really disturbing here is the extent to which people like Breivik (and Geller and a very long line has formed on the right) can't stand such good people.

  • Matthew Yglesias: The Cost of Independence: Some striking numbers here about the extent of economic decline in America from 1774-1800, like the drop in real income per capita of 22% over that period. War (in Europe as well as America), loss of trade, loss of population as "loyalists" left for Canada or England. Like Yglesias, I've been reading quite a bit about this period, but hadn't seen anyone quite spell all this out.


Expert Comments

From Cam Patterson, on his "Brazil Project":

Project Brazil, parte dois: Tropicalia (note: a big thanks to Joe Sixpack's Slipcue site, and to Milo for pointing me there)

Having listened to enough bossa nova to understand why I would listen to it and why I would not listen to a lot of it (as mentioned last time, key finds were: Soul Jazz Records' recent Brazil Bossa Beat! and Joao Gilberto's O Mito if you can find it. If not try [link]); the next stop is tropicalia and the late '60s transitional pop era. For my purposes here, I am going to define Tropicalia with a big "T" as music recorded during the late '60s, and I'll be talking more about artists like Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, and Tom Zé -- musicians at ground zero of the Tropicalia movement who have recorded extensively since then -- in subsequent episodes, focusing here solely on their 60s work.

For years I've had an aural image of Tropicalia as a kitschy idea, and after some reflection I think this misperception comes from my first experiences with the era: Luaka Bop's Os Mutantes best of (more below) and Hip-O's Tropicalia Essentials, the latter recommended by Xgau in 1999. Tropicalia Essentials draws on the campy aspects of this incestuous musical community and is in retrospect clearly an incomplete story. Soul Jazz's Tropicalia comp is a (still biased) improvement. It's release date is 2005, so although half a dozen songs stacked toward the beginning repeat from Essentials, we've now got a more avant-garde undertone and Tom Zé is prominently featured, whereas he goes unmentioned on the Hip-O comp. Great liner notes and a brief interview with Zé add value to the as-usual thorough Soul Jazz package. Beleza Tropical (Luaka Bop) is yet another comp, David Byrne-curated (he curates things, rather than compiles them, do I have that correct?) and spanning more years, it suffers in utility as a result.

But the multiartist LP I love the most is Tropicalia (Ou Panis et Circencis), which the whole crew put out themselves on Polydor in 1968. This is where the essential nature of the Tropicalistas is revealed to me: Politicized theater brats. (Q: And the dictatorship ended when? Sergio Dias of Os Mutantes in 2005: It didn't end. Who said it ended?) On this Tropicalia the campiness is pushed into the backround, replaced instead by popminstrelry, ensemble work (Os Mutantes backs everyone), and a show tune ethic. Zé is working behind the scenes here, but the skronkiness that is highlighted on Tropicalia Essentials is muted, allowing the exuberance and a shared mission to shine through. Allow me to suggest this is a Brazilian Forever Changes that exchanges politics for schizophrenia, and yes I absolutely adore it. [Link].

Os Mutantes themselves are nearly as well known as Tom Zé among contemporary North American dilettantes of Brazilophilia (Kurt Cobain may be responsible for this, his recommendation here much better than his promotion of the Shaggs but worse than his support for the Raincoats), but Os Mutantes really is at least 3 different bands. They are an omnipresent backing trio for the solo work of Veloso, Gil, probably Zé sometimes, and others during this period, displaying chops and a sensibleness that rarely carries over to their own recordings. Their first two albums are called Os Mutantes and Mutantes (which reflects a curious trend among the Tropicalistas for releasing serial self-titled LPs -- you have to be very careful that you have what you think you have). These two records have plenty of high points but are a ragged mess, the epitome of stoner rock. After the transitional Technicolor, which is recommended by some but seems rather effete to me, they turned into a full-on prog band through the mid-70s. Luaka Bop's Os Mutantes: Everything Is Possible picks from the whole damn Os Mutantes enterprise but it is still the best way I've found to hear the high points of their earlier recordings. Yes it is kitschy, and also heavy (an adjective I'd not choose to describe any other aspect of the Tropicalia oeuvre), but this collection reveals a wildly inventive band when they are grounded and a source for the space age blipwork that Stereolab honed to a fine point.

Among the individual artists of Tropicalia, some weeding out is necessary. I'll have a lot more to say about Gilberto Gil later; in many ways he is the most challenging and frustrating Brazilian artist I've encountered in this project. His 60s albums that I've tried, Frevo Rasgado and Cerebro Electronico (now available on one CD as Sound of Revolution 1968-1969) highlight his exuberant melodicism well, but I'm not sure that this is the best way to hear Gil: neither of these albums rise to the level of his best mid-70s long players. Likewise, Tom Zé's Grande Liquidacao (his only solo album of the 60's, I believe) makes plain that his idiosyncratic rhythmic sense stands him apart from most of his contemporaries and that his sprightliness has been there from the get-go (one song title translates as "Catechism Toothpaste and I," another begins with a free-jazz rendition of "God Bless America"). But the wackiness can be more off-putting than endearing over the course of 11 tracks. There is an enormous step-up of his solo work as he enters the '70s.

I do have a couple of single artist treasures from this era though. Jorge Ben is probably the biggest selling Brazilian pop artist of all time, but for purposes of the discussion here I should note that more than anyone else he brought African musical culture to the Tropicalia movement, which was Rockist first and foremost. He is more consistently rhythmic than other members of the Tropicalia clan, but since his rhythm is usually a samba he's got a docile groove (compare with Zé's Grande Liquidacao to highlight this distinction). Add to that probably the best voice in Tropicalia, a spectacular acoustic guitar style, add a soupcon of mid-period Beatles, and hey what's not to like? I've listened to several of his late 60's recordings and I'll agree with anyone who thinks O Bidu (Silencio No Brooklyn) is the best. Think dancing on the beach with your honey and you'll have the right idea.

Better still, probably my favorite Tropicalia recording of all, is Caetano Veloso's self-titled White Album (Philips 1969). There's more to be said about Veloso, who seems part shaman and part prophet, but this is everything I want in Tropicalia. It rips up song structures yet still flows from beginning to end. It has its hippy moments (especially the English language songs), but each of those nonetheless brings something special to the finish line. His "adaption, arranged by C.V." is a Woodie Guthrie cut-up. He writes his own. He covers Gilberto Gil and Fernando Lobo (Edu Lobo's father). He sings "Irene," perhaps the most beautiful Brazilian song I know. This is the kind of album that makes these sonic adventures worthwhile. [Link]

Coming up next week, I hope: Tom Zé's 70's albums.

More Brazil from Cam Patterson, actually posted July 30 (but why not try to keep this together?):

Brazil Project Part 3: Tom Zé. Given all the excitement about Zé's NYC show, I thought it would be timely to share this now.

I think I've now listened to the vast majority (if not all) of Tom Zé's recording under his own name prior to the Luaka Bop era. I've already mentioned Zé's contributions to the Tropicalia movement and I've pointed out that his (I think) first album, Grande Liquidacao, displays a lot of manic intensity, but ultimately wears a bit on the ears.

After that, I'm not sure what happened with Zé but his next move was a retreat. Tom Zé, released in 1970 (and included almost en totale on a quirky reissue called 20 Preferides, along with some key singles and part of the much later Nave Maria) lacks both personality and spunk. Zé was obviously still up to something, because key singles during this period (including the prescient "Jimmy, Rende-Se" from 1971, included on the Soul Jazz Tropicalia comp) explore crazy rhythms galore. The album itself, not so much.

The next one, another Tom Zé album later reissued as Se O Caso E Chorar (1972), is a major step toward the exploration of big musical ideas that dominated later era Zé recordings. "Jimmy Rende-Se" is revisited here as "Dor e Dor," not the first or last time Zé has had the good sense to repeat a great riff, in this case a headhunting b****. The record only occasionally hits such heights elsewhere, but it has a delightfully whimsical groove throughout and this is the first indication that Zé is a major artist in the making.

Todos os Olhos is something else. In addition to having what may be the greatest cover art of all time, this is where Zé writes his own rules. Some of the ideas here are so great that he'll reuse them decades later. A collision and synthesis of Brazilian music styles. A musical food court. David Byrne would take several songs off this album for his Zé compilation, but the whole thing has to be heard. This is an album to fall in love with, Zé's first masterpiece.

The next step from here was Zé's first homage, Estudando O Samba, which was essentially reissued in toto on the Byrne comp. Gorgeous from beginning to end, I'm not sure now why it needed to be messed with. This is the Tom Zé statement of purpose -- synthetic of old and new, creative and respectful. It's staggering to thing that almost all of the first Zé Luaka Bop record was released on this single album in 1976.

1978 saw the release of Correio da Estaçăo do Brás. At one level a step back in the direction of understatement, classics like "La Vem Cuica" are comfort food for the ear. I love that Zé doesn't seem to be trying so hard here.

Finally, in 1984, Zé released Nave Maria. The MTV keybs datestamp the album, which explores many themes that are revisited on The Hips of Tradition. But let's admit it, either time or David Byrne had a lot to do with the genius of Hips. There is a cloying nature to Nave Maria that is hard to get beyond, as great as some of the songs are.

More (posted August 5):

Project Brazil, Part 4:

I knew nothing about Edu Lobo until I ran into some tracks of his on the bossa nova comps I tuned into this summer. Really glad I did. The son of a highly regarded Brazilian composer, he's a classically styled singer/songwriter who's career spanned both sides of the late 60's Tropicalia surge, though he wasn't really a part of that at all. Patrick thumbed him up, and gave us a quote comparing some of his 70's work to Brian Ferry. I can hear that, although he strikes me as calm and confident rather than affected -- I almost went with Tony Bennett myself.

But then I noted that his records were consistent and full of subtle distinctions, like Leonard Cohen or, I don't know, maybe Ladysmith Black Mambazo. There was a time in my life when Leonard Cohen records were kind of interchangeable, and for right now I think one Edu Lobo record would probably work for me. My appreciation for Cohen broadened over time as I bought into each of his mood shifts and lyrical diversions. So I wouldn't be surprised one day to find that if someone took away any one of my Edu Lobo records, I'd sit down on a divan against the wall of a sleepy café, pouring Persian chay from a samovar and wondering where did my record go and why did it take part of my soul with it.

Edu e Bethena. An Elenco reissue, recorded in 1966 and georgeously remastered with excellent sound, this is a trad bossa nova in style, although the Elenco studio machine shakes up the tracks to reduce the repetition quotient close to zero. Lobo takes all the writing credits and for such a young kid he's got a rich stylized bel canto thing going already. He's paired up here with Maria Bethania, Caetano Veloso's sister, and her throaty delivery adds to the tonal palate and sexiness. (Side note: much to my displeasure, the rest of the Bethania I've tried -- including the oft-cited Alibi -- walks too far on the schlock side of the tracks for me, so sad for such a husky, emotive voice.) More wood block! I bet Arto Lindsay knows "Pra Dizer Adeus" by heart. Think formal, elegant, like horses in military formation breaking into a canter periodically.

Minha Historia. This is a compilation from a recommended series on Polygram that explores mostly late '60s tracks with minimal overlap with Edu e Bethena. A reasonable substitute, and I imagine someone who knew Lobo at the time would like having what I suspect are the "hits." However, like most comps it looses the groove that a stylized artist like Lobo thrives on.

Cantiga De Longe. He really breaks out here. He's still a bossa nova guy, but this time with Sinatra's confidence and Nillson's songfulness. He gets all the girls. There isn't a touch of the fusion or prog that creeps into his later recordings, so if that turns you off then this is gonna be manna from heaven.

Edu Lobo (or Missa Breve). Lobo goes over the edge on the first side of this one, into a realm of Brazilian music I've never heard repeated. He creates a confident swirling sensation where each moment tops the next with surprising changes in tempo, rhythm, and mood, only intermittently touched by baroque effects that seem proggy. If I compared it to anything recent it would be the new TVOTR. The second half takes a different path, exploring Catholic musical and lyrical themes. I have complicated feelings about this. Your mileage may differ from mine.

Limite Das Aquas. Ever wonder where "So Fresh So Clean" got its hook? Breezy, sometimes pulsing and long on instrumental passages, this moves into areas that bands like Phoenix now occupy. The touches of fusion are most apparent here, but I wouldn't let that dissuade you. I'd call this his song cycle, and it's elegantly constructed and probably his most melodious.

For me it's going to be Cantiga De Longe for the time being, although I can go for the first half of Missa Breve anytime and Edu e Bethena is as good as 60's bossa nova gets in my little world. Dive in here somewhere though.

More, Brazil Project, 5th Edition, posted August 21:

There are few musical crimes less forgivable than writing the Sergio Mendes atrocity "Mas Que Nada" or the melody for "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?" Only, Jorge Ben's original version of "Mas Que Nada" is a cultural landmark, and "Taj Mahal" (the song Rod Stewart ultimately admitted to ripping off) is one among many helter-skelter rhythm machines that populate his world music-historical Africa Brasil album. How does Ben (later Ben Jour, reputedly to keep George Benson from taking home Ben's royalties) atone himself for these crimes? By getting Rod Stewart to donate the "Sexy" royalties to UNICEF, that's how.

Ben the teenager quickly made two huge contributions to Brazilian pop music, writing "Mas Que Nada" and subverting Joao Gilberto's bossa nova guitar style by taking out some of the tricky chord changes and adding more bass, polyrhythm, and above all propulsion to create um novo som. In retrospect his instrumental innovation was a key intermediary step without which the loafer-gazing bossa nova style never could have evolved to the danceable format known expansively and generically as MPB. His O Bidu -- Silencio No Brooklin came out in the middle of the late '60s Tropicalia phenomenon but was far more groovalicious than its peer chaos-provoking recordings. (I've already highly recommended this lovely record, which is available on iTunes.) If you want to go deeper, check out the revved up 1969 Jorge Ben with its luscious cartoon cover, or go whole hog with the infamous (and equally scarce/crazy expensive) four-CD Series Grande Nome box set, which covers 60s-era Ben exhaustively. I've listened to it several times without pain. Everyone needs a 3-hour head massage once in a while.

The rest of the Tropicalistas struggled with what to do about their (literally) rebellious tendencies as the 70s happened; Ben by contrast was laser-focused on the post-bossa funk-samba gumbo that electricity and his rhythmic innovations made possible. Only Edu Lobo (who took a completely different approach) matched Ben among popular Brazilian musicians for consistency and quality at the long player level during this period. Ben's Negro E Lindo is transitional, Gil E Jorge (a one-off with Gilberto Gil and the only slice of the Ben cannon to get props from Xgau) is an acoustic rhythm-fest, Salta O Pavao (with a Byzantine cover, available for download on iTunes) is the fruition of Ben's new jam, and the Serie Sen Limite compilation (Universal) contains 30 tracks that craft the arc of 70's-era Ben well. (The 19-track Definitive Collection on Wrasse covers the same ground.) This is music that deserves a deep dive: A 4-CD compilation from this era, if it existed, wouldn't be a head massage, it would be an all-night clothes-optional beach party.

But among all his music during Ben's wonderful streak on Phillips, the great game-changer is still-in-print Africa Brasil. The first track, "Panta De Lanca Africano," is a pancultural musical cartography that wouldn't be out of place on Dr. John's Gris Gris. There is the sense of moving forward in this music, in terms of defining how funk works in a Brazilian context, but also of expansiveness in an African direction. The album closes with two of the most barn-burning African-American tracks I can think of: "Cavaleiro Do Cavalo Imaculado" and "Africa Brasil" itself. Ben was one of the first musicians from the Western Hemisphere who consciously connected with modern African music at a textbook rhythmic level. It's no coincidence that he later collaborated with King Sunny Ade nor that he among all the many Brazilian musicians was tapped to participate in the Red, Hot & Riot Fela homage. Africa Brasil is the roadmap for on ongoing transcontinental musical journey, and its Rod Stewart associations have somehow diminished its cultural importance.

Starting in the late 70s or so, most of Ben's contemporaries moved in what I can only describe as a schlocky direction -- that pre-VHS soft-porn sound that you will recognize as soon as you hear it. My assumption going into this exercise was that Jorge Ben, as a groove artist foremost, would have been the first to take that route. But with his migration to the Globo label (origin of a lot of great Cumbia as well) in the late 70s, he continued being, both musically and lyrically, what he always was: a fun-loving, somewhat self-effacing country kid who adored the beach and the town he came from, treated the ladies respectfully, and looked forward to tomorrow so long as it was going to be just as good as today. He took his Afro-samba sound to the discos with the wonderful Salve Simatia (which is rare) and the even better period compilation Brazilian Hits and Funky Classics (which is easy to find). I'd compare BHFC to Bad Girls in terms of groove and muscularity but with the nuance of Ben's tricked up rhythms to counter Summer's incrementally stronger vocals.

But phhhht to all this. Continuing to expect the worst, I popped in a late 80s-early 90s Ben comp that documented his recordings for Warner, E-Collection. It's a grab-and-growl, internally redundant 2-disc compilation mixing hits, live versions, and remixes of different flavors. ("Norma Jean"! Ben does house!) Let me say right now that I've rarely had a preconceived notion about artistic decline refuted so quickly and completely as during the first minutes of delving into this era of Ben's career. I am going to be clear: Jorge Ben is a funk master and I am an ignorant fool. He slows the beat down just a bit from before, he's got a fatter and deeper bass sound working and he knows that we want a wack hook (one two three, are you sure that more is not better?) served up with every single jam. Why isn't everyone talking about this? Ben isn't breaking a sweat, even if he's always on the verge of it. Gap Band-fun. Funky fresh. Subtly unself-conscious and loose. Never, ever saccharine. Seriously, why isn't everybody talking about this? E-Collection goes for a zillion dollars on Amazon. Since this era of Ben is so poorly documented, here is how I would represent this wonderful music to fit on one CD: http://goo.gl/lALwH.

Tracklist:

  1. Dzarm
  2. W Brasil
  3. Engenho De Dentro
  4. Alcohol
  5. Pisada De Elefante
  6. Pega Ela De Montăo
  7. Mama África
  8. Filho Maravilha
  9. País Tropical
  10. Norma Jean
  11. A Banda Do Zé Pretinho
  12. Eu Quero Ver A Rainha
  13. Homen De Negócios
  14. Palco

Tom Zé is a great artist because he is the ultimate deconstructor of Brazilian music. He pulled Brazilian pop music apart into individual pieces, each of which he burnished with a deft magic that is completely anarchic and individualistic. But Tom Zé would not exist without a perfect foil, which is Jorge Ben. The question of greater artistry can be debated, but Ben's influence on Brazilian music is far, far greater than Zé's. Rod Stewart is somewhere in a mansion attesting to Ben's mastery as a songwriter, and Ben the innovator gets credit both for the early 60s reconstruction of Bossa Nova rhythm into a danceable feast and the 70s creation of the Afro-Samba funk sound. But his artistic coup de grace is the malleable funk of a thousand years (or at least three decades) that he has blessed us with, wearing sunglasses, a smile, good humor, and a conviction that we will all funk tomorrow too.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Conceder in Chief

Perhaps the most annoying of the many annoying things about the debt ceiling crisis is that this guy who's supposed to be on our side keeps harping on his desire to construct a "grand bargain" which actively, enthusiastically harms our future, legitimizes our enemies, and all for what? Nothing that I can see. So every day as I turn on the news I pray that the Republicans will stick to their cruel, moronic principles and deny Obama his "grand bargain." It's not that I underestimate the ill effects of defaulting on the national debt. But there are many easier solutions, especially in the short-term, and you would think that those most directly effected would see that.

Instead, we're stuck playing games with the guy Paul Krugman has characterized as the Conceder in Chief. Krugman writes:

I'd like to believe that it's all 11-dimensional political chess; but at this point -- after the midterm debacle, after the big concession on taxes without even getting a raise in the debt limit -- what evidence do we have that Obama knows what he's doing?

It's very hard to avoid the impression that three things are going on:

  1. Obama really just isn't that into Democratic priorities. He really doesn't much care about preserving Medicare for all seniors, keeping Social Security intact, and so on.

  2. What he is into is his vision of himself as a figure who can transcend the partisan divide. He imagines that he can be the one who brings about a big transformation that settles disputes for decades to come -- and has been unwilling to drop that vision no matter how many times the GOP shows itself utterly uninterested in anything except gaining the upper hand.

  3. As a result, he can't or won't see what's obvious to everyone else: that any Grand Bargain will last precisely as long as Democrats control the Senate and the White House, and will be torn up in favor of privatization and big tax cuts for the wealthy as soon as the GOP has the chance.

I hope I'm wrong about all this. But when has Obama given progressives any reason to believe they can trust him?

Emphasis added. I'd be less irate if I had any reason to think that Obama even cares about the fate of the people who elected him, but I don't see any evidence that he does. You'd think that after eight years of George W. Bush any Democrat would be an improvement, but this is excruciating.

Scratches

Tim Niland best-of 2011 (so far) list:

      David S. Ware: Planetary Unknown
    • Nicole Mitchell: Awakening
    • Jon Lundbom and Big Five Chord: Quavers! Quavers! Quavers! Quavers!
    • Wadada Leo Smith: Heart's Reflections
    • Matt LaVelle: Goodbye New York, Hello World
    • William Hooker w/ Thomas Chapin: Crossing Points
    • Matthew Shipp: Art of the Improviser
    • Inzinzac
    • John Surman: Flashpoint: NDR Workshop
    • Donny McCaslin: Perpetual Motion
    • WSQ: Yes We Can
    • Mostly Other People Do the Killing: The Coimbra Concert
    • Miles Davis: Bitches Brew Live

    Monday, July 18, 2011

    Music Week

    Music: Current count 18438 [18408] rated (+30), 849 [852] unrated (-3). No progress on wrapping up Jazz CG. Feel a little better, but not much.


    No Jazz Prospecting

    Not really, but very little, nothing that can't wait another week. Did at least get the master draft file split so I can start partitioning the draft between JCG(27) and JCG(28), but have yet to do anything with that. Feeling a bit better than I have over the last 3-4 weeks, but the improvement is slow coming and doesn't amount to much. Still only a week or so worth of work to pack it all up, but that's been the case for five weeks now. I'm totally bummed.


    Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:

    • Brian Charette: Learning to Count (SteepleChase)
    • Freddy Cole: Talk to Me (High Note)
    • Curtis Fuller: The Story of Cathy & Me (Challenge)
    • Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: Race Riot Suite (Royal Potato Family)
    • Mike LeDonne: Keep the Faith (Savant)
    • Duda Lucena Quartet: Live (Borboleta)
    • Vincent Lyn: Heaven Bound (Budo)
    • New York Standards Quartet: Unstandard (Challenge)
    • Scott Ramminger: Crawstickers (Arbor Lane Music)

    Sunday, July 17, 2011

    My Way or the Highway

    No roundup: on the rare occasions when I bother to look, all I'm finding these days is further evidence of brain rot. The big story seems to be the impending national bankruptcy, but nowhere do I read the two most basic facts about the debt limit crisis:

    1. If we had a Republican president this wouldn't even be an issue. No sitting Republican president would think twice about the choice -- do I bankrupt the country now? or do I handwave it, at no potential cost to me and with no second-guessing from the opposition party -- until some vague time in the future? Nor is this hypothetical: this has never been an issue under Reagan or the Bushes. Never!
    2. Then why on earth didn't Obama get this covered as part of last winter's big deal that extended the Bush tax cuts? It's not that no one saw this coming: once you agree on a budget that puts you over the debt limit, raising the debt limit is a no-brainer. Nor can it be that Obama didn't have leverage then, what with the tax cuts expiring. All I can see that Obama got out of kicking this problem down the road is a further opportunity to let Republicans look stupid and reckless, unless you consider the opportunity to propose a deal to sell out Social Security some sort of plume in Obama's cap?

    Here's a fairly accurate quote on what's going on, courtesy of Steve Benen:

    At his press conference the other day, President Obama noted the recommendations of the bipartisan deficit-reduction commission (which, by the way, failed to reach an agreement). He mentioned in passing that his White House set up the structure for the commission: "As you will recall, this was originally bipartisan legislation that some of the Republican supporters of decided to vote against when I said I supported it -- that seems to be a pattern that I'm still puzzled by."

    It is, to be sure, quite a pattern. For two-and-a-half years, Obama has run into congressional Republicans who not only refuse to take "yes" for an answer, but routinely oppose their own ideas when the president is willing to accept them.

    This seems especially relevant in the context of the current debt-reduction talks. At a certain level, it's almost comical -- here we have a Democratic president agreeing with a conservative Republican House Speaker on a massive deal that would lower the debt by over $4 trillion over the next decade. It would tilt heavily in the GOP's direction, and address the problem Republicans pretend to care about most. Obama is even willing to consider significant entitlement "reforms," which should be music to the ears of the right.

    And yet, in the latest example that "puzzles" the president, Republicans aren't interested.

    I don't know where to start here. If this is all a game, how much credit does Obama deserve? It's not as if the Republicans won't look stupid on their own. And it's certainly not the case that the masses are giving Obama a lot of credit for baiting the Republicans by only advancing their old junk proposals. Even if Obama has proven that the Republicans aren't really serious about deficits, how many votes has he won by being so clever?

    Obama's gamesmanship comes with a price. By only parrotting the Republicans's proposals and sound bytes, people forget that there are alternatives -- indeed, ones that make more sense, but they're not on the table, because the Republicans don't talk about them, nor does Obama. The main thing -- indeed, about the only thing -- that Obama has accomplished as president has been to marginalize the mainstream of the Democratic Party. Indeed, when he goes hat in hand to Wall Street to replenish his campaign coffers, he has one hell of a story he can pitch: "You know that big bad Democratic congress back in 2009-11? Well, they did nada, and I'm the reason why."

    Friday, July 15, 2011

    Expert Comments

    Christgau reviews Rave On Buddy Holly:

    Guess I'll throw this out, from my unpublished Streamnotes file:

    Rave On: Buddy Holly (2011, Hear Music): A masterpiece of modern niche marketing, picking over the faintly remembered teen pop genius from Lubbock, auctioning off the songs to the highest bidder -- even if that means Julian Casablancas gets the title cut -- mixing them together with no concern for flow or consistency figuring the latte-buyers will splurge if they find even a single appealing combo. There are a few, like Lou Reed on "Peggy Sue" (fortunately followed by John Doe's "Peggy Sue Got Married," the one case where two consecutive songs fit), but it mostly comes off as perverse -- nowhere so much as Paul McCartney doing his James Brown shtick on "It's So Easy"; some other oddities: Cee-Lo Green's slicked-back "Baby, I Don't Care"; Patti Smith's solemn "Words of Love"; Graham Nash's dainty "Raining in My Heart." Even when something works you'll never want to hear it again. B-

    As I recall, I had a similar (though less extreme) reaction to the Loretta Lynn tribute, so partly I'm reacting to the format. (The only songwriter tribute I can recall liking more than Christgau did was the Merle Haggard set Tulare Dust, but that record suggested everyone coming together in a shared experience rather than a random sampling of artists going their own idiosyncratic ways.)

    Admittedly, a one-spin review. Maybe it gets better once your preconceptions are disabused. Maybe attributing the record to Fantasy instead of Hear Music undercuts my marketing rant. Maybe I should take Florence seriously. Maybe McCartney is just trying to be funny. But not wanting to hear any of it ever again, that's all I have to offer.

    Regarding Pitchfork:

    Since I have the data, Pitchfork's top rated records this year (ignoring reissues, although note that their only 10.0 was Dismemberment Plan: Emergency & I):

    9.5: Bon Iver
    9.0: James Blake
    8.8: Destroyer, Fleet Foxes, PJ Harvey, Shabazz Palaces, Tune-Yards
    8.6: Cut Copy, David Comes to Life, Tim Hecker, William Tyler
    8.5: Julianna Barwick, Cults, EMA, Gang Gang Dance, OFF!, Panda Bear, The Weeknd
    8.4: Iceage, Nicolas Jaar, John Maus, Cass McCombs, DJ Quik, Smith Westerns, Toro y Moi, Wu Lyf, Kurt Vile
    8.3: Demdike Stare, Liturgy, Lykke Li, Washed Out
    8.2: Africa Hitech, The Antlers, AraabMuzik, Big KRIT, The Caretaker, Clams Casino, Diamond Rings, Dirty Beaches, LCD Soundsystem, Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Ponytail, Psychic Paramount, Colin Stetson, Wild Beasts
    8.1: Katy B, Lil B, Action Bronson, Egyptrixx, Grouper, G-Side, Handsome Furs, Little Scream, Lungfish, MellowHype, Thurston Moore, Mountain Goats, Marissa Nadler, Nguzunguzu, Pronsato Lovers, SBTRKT, Ty Seagall, Sloan, Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Yuck
    8.0: Baby Dee, Beyonce, Biosphere, Black Eagle Child, Bonnie Prince Billy and the Cairo Gang, Burial, Bill Callahan, Currensy, Dom, Frank Fairfield, Hauschka, Killer Mike, Mouse on tha Track, Bill Orcutt, Sic Alps, Snowman, Com Truise, Tyler the Creator, Vampillia, Wire, Jamie Woon, Robag Wruhme

    Lists get quite a bit longer from 8.2 down. No idea what this proves.

    I only posted down to 8.3, but included the data down to 8.0 here, since I had it handy.

    Wednesday, July 13, 2011

    Expert Comments

    Pitchfork posted a book list: Words and Music: Our 60 Favorite Music Books. Intro included a parenthetical caveat: "(The great Robert Christgau is not included on this list because we feel his invaluable, 40-plus-year archive of album reviews and essays are best experienced through his highly searchable website.)" I guess we'll accept that.

    The books:

    • Vince Aletti: The Disco Files 1973-78, New York's Underground Week by Week
    • Michael Azerrad: Our Band Could Be Your Life: Scenes From the American Indie Underground 1981-1991
    • Lester Bangs: Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung: The Work of a Legendary Critic: Rock 'n' Roll as Literature and Literature as Rock 'n' Roll and Main Lines, Blood Feasts, and Bad Taste: A Lester Bangs Reader
    • Joe Boyd: White Bicycles: Making Music in the 1960s
    • Lloyd Bradley: Bass Culture: When Reggae Was King
    • Bill Brewster/Frank Broughton: Last Night a DJ Saved My Life: The History of the Disc Jockey
    • John Cage: Silence: Lectures and Writings by John Cage
    • Jeff Chang: Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation
    • Richard Cook/Brian Morton: The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings
    • Julian Cope: Krautrocksampler: One Head's Guide to the Great Kosmische Musik -- 1968 Onwards
    • John Darnielle: Master of Reality
    • Miles Davis w/Quincy Troupe: Miles: The Autobiography
    • Bob Dylan: Chronicles: Volume One
    • Evan Eisenberg: The Recording Angel: Music, Records and Culture From Aristotle to Zappa
    • Brian Eno: A Year with Swollen Appendices
    • Glen E. Friedman: Fuck You Heroes: Photographs 1976-1991
    • Kyle Gann: Music Downtown: Writings From the Village Voice
    • Simon Goddard: The Smiths: Songs That Saved Your Life
    • Alan Greenberg: Love in Vain: A Vision of Robert Johnson
    • Peter Guralnick: Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom
    • Jay-Z/Dream Hampton: Decoded
    • Sacha Jenkins/Elliott Wilson/Jeff Mao/Gabe Alvarez/Brent Rollins: Ego Trip's Book of Rap Lists
    • Tom Johnson: The Voice of New Music: New York City 1972-1982
    • Jimmy Cauty/Bill Drummond: The Manual: How to Have a Number One the Easy Way
    • Chuck Klosterman: Fargo Rock City: A Heavy Metal Odyssey in Rural Nörth Daköta
    • Steve Knopper: Appetite for Self-Destruction: The Spectacular Crash of the Record Industry in the Digital Age
    • John Leland: Hip: The History
    • Daniel J. Levitin: This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession
    • John Litweiler: The Freedom Principle: Jazz After 1958
    • Greil Marcus: Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock 'n' Roll Music
    • Greil Marcus: The Old, Weird America: The World of Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes
    • Ian MacDonald: Revolution in the Head: The Beatles' Records and the Sixties
    • Evelyn McDonnell and Ann Powers, eds: Rock She Wrote: Women Write About Rock, Pop, and Rap
    • Jimmy McDonough: Shakey: Neil Young's Biography
    • Legs McNeil/Gillian McCain: Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk
    • Richard Meltzer: A Whore Just Like the Rest: The Music Writings of Richard Meltzer
    • Greg Milner: Perfecting Sound Forever: An Aural History of Recorded Music
    • Paul Morley: Ask: The Chatter of Pop
    • Colin B. Morton/Chuck Death: Great Pop Things: The Real History of Rock and Roll from Elvis to Oasis
    • Mötley Crüe/Neil Strauss: The Dirt: Confessions of the World's Most Notorious Rock Band
    • Simon Reynolds: Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture and Generation Ecstasy: Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture
    • Simon Reynolds: Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984
    • David Ritz: Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye
    • Matthew Robertson: Factory Records: The Complete Graphic Album
    • Alex Ross: The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century
    • The RZA: The Wu-Tang Manual
    • Oliver Sacks: Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain
    • Jon Savage: England's Dreaming: Anarchy, Sex Pistols, Punk Rock, and Beyond
    • Rob Sheffield: Love Is a Mixtape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time
    • Peter Shapiro: Turn the Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco
    • John F. Szwed: Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra
    • Dave Tompkins: How to Wreck a Nice Beach: The Vocoder From World War II to Hip-Hop
    • David Toop: Ocean of Sound: Aether Talk, Ambient Sound and Imaginary Worlds
    • David Toop: Haunted Weather: Music, Silence and Memory
    • Nick Tosches: Country: The Twisted Roots of Rock 'n' Roll
    • Elijah Wald: How the Beatles Destroyed Rock 'n' Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music
    • Eric Weisbard/Craig Marks: The SPIN Alternative Record Guide
    • Ellen Willis: Out of the Vinyl Deeps: Ellen Willis on Rock Music
    • Carl Wilson: Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste

    Christgau commented:

    None of Grown Up All Wrong is on my site. That's Harvard's rule. Can't say my feelings are especially hurt by the Pitchfork list, since basically they're recommending almost everything else I've ever written. I've only read 28 of the books on that list, although I can claim substantial partials on John Cage, the Cook-Martin jazz guide, the Miles Davis (which I read 80 percent of and stopped: hot tip is that John Szwed's So What is better though at least they got his Sun Ra), Ego Trip collection, Tom Johnson's wonderful collection (more than half of which I edited, but I never went back and read all the early stuff), the McDonnell-Powers collection, and the great Spin Guide. Have barely begun Shakey, which I hope to get back to, Wald which I should get back to, and (a little more than barely) Milner, which I'm simply not audiophile enough to get through. Six I own unread and would like to get to, including both disco books (I've read bits of the Aletti, which is terrific, and Timothy Lawrence's wonderful disco history called I think Love Saves the Day). Eighteen I don't own, and several I never heard of -- the Bradley, Darnielle, and MacDonald (which many people praise) I'm very interested in, and I just earlier today asked B&N to try to get me the Jay-Z, which I've been meaning to read since it came out. Of the 28 I've read the only one I didn't like is the Oliver Sacks, which is incoherent and ridiculously Eurocentric. Chuck Berry's Autobiography, Nick Tosches's Hellfire, Robert Palmer's Deep Blues and also probably his collection, are all omissions that spring to mind immediately, also Nelson George's The Death of Rhythm and Blues and Greg Tate's Flyboy in the Buttermilk. Plus a whole lot of pre-rock books that speak to my rock and roll fan's interests, Gary Giddins's Satchmo most prominent among them. Banning Eyre's In Griot Time, and I'll stop there.

    In general, weak on history and biography, too avant (if that Eno book is any good at all I'd be astonished), but 27 out of 28 ain't bad.

    Christgau again:

    Woke up in the middle of the night having Pitchfork thoughts. Took a zolpidem so this may trail off unbecomingly. Duh -- it's all white guys. Miles Banks Ego Trip; no Tate or George, as previously mentioned, and let's put Toure in there (Never Drank the Kool-Aid if you don't know, fabulous profile writing, good as Morley I'll bet). Women: Willis, the McDonnell-Powers anthology, and two collaborators, Dream Hampton and Gillian McCain. Would Just Kids have been too hard? Ann Echols on Janis Joplin? The fabulous Jen Trynin memoir?

    I go sleep now.

    Cam Patterson:

    Speaking of which, provocative discussion with Gary Giddens about (lack of) recognition of non-white jazz writers by the Jazz Journalism Association. It's within a new column by Greg Thomas called "Race and Jazz" over at All About Jazz that may be worth getting excited about. Here's the link: http://goo.gl/DYGqy

    Christgau again:

    Just read the Greg Thomas piece Cam flagged. Really good. Thomas is a smart and very decent guy; I edited a few piece of his in the '90s. It is truly a disgrace that Crouch, Murray, and Baraka don't have lifetime achievement awards, although the fact that they don't in part reflects the parochialism of the jazz writers organization. I've never though to ask -- is Hull a member? And if not why not? Anyway, I have serious disagreements with all these guys too, but the generative quality of their work is absolutely undeniable. All three tower above most other jazz critics in that respect.

    I finally wrote:

    To answer Bob (from way back in this thread) I'm not a member of JJA. I think I was invited early on but didn't see joining as worth the money. Haven't heard from them since, although I get hype from their publicist and have tracked their year-end lists -- a relatively uninteresting subset of the Voice Jazz Poll ballots (although sometimes Milkowski gets ginned up and lists 100+ albums). They seem to be a bigger deal now, but I don't see what I'm missing. The polls are no better than any other polls, although I will say that the people who've won that "Jazz Journalism Lifetime Achievement" award deserve some recognition, regardless of how many others who haven't won may be worthy.

    Tried to figure out who had won those Jazz Journalism Lifetime Achievement awards. Came up with: Nat Hentoff, Whitney Balliett, Stanley Dance, Dan Morgenstern, Ira Gitler, Gary Giddins, Gene Lees, Bob Blumenthal, Howard Mandel, Francis Davis, Doug Ramsey, Mike Zwerin, Don Heckman, Bill Milkowski. Curiously, that's a broader list than the Helen Dance/Robert Palmer award for writing, which has been dominated by Giddins (3) and Nate Chinen (4), with one each for Balliett, Blumenthal, Milkowski, and Ben Ratliff.

    Christgau wrote again:

    Been away working. Will now continue. But first, to Tom: The piece Cam linked to made very clear that both writers thought the lifetimes achievement awards were worthy. I wrote more about this at ARTicles earlier today. To everyone: Jim Jackson's I Heard the Voice of a Porkchop Say is one of my favorite food songs ever. Pretty sure Hurley covered it. To Michael: you could expand to barbecue songs and go on forever, starting, why not, with Amponsah's Babicue.

    Monday, July 11, 2011

    Music Week

    Music: Current count 18408 [18389] rated (+19), 852 [826] unrated (+26). Rated was probably all Rhapsody. Haven't felt good enough to tackle the jazz column, but I have so little invested in Rhapsody Streamnotes that I don't care how little effort I feel like putting into it.

    • Rave On: Buddy Holly (2011, Hear Music): A masterpiece of modern niche marketing, picking over the faintly remembered teen pop genius from Lubbock, auctioning off the songs to the highest bidder -- even if that means Julian Casablancas gets the title cut -- mixing them together with no concern for flow or consistency figuring the latte-buyers will splurge even if they find a single appealing combo. There are a few, like Lou Reed on "Peggy Sue" (fortunately followed by John Doe's "Peggy Sue Got Married," the one case where two consecutive songs fit), but it mostly comes off as perverse -- nowhere so much as Paul McCartney doing his James Brown shtick on "It's So Easy"; some other oddities: Cee-Lo Green's slicked-back "Baby, I Don't Care"; Patti Smith's solemn "Words of Love"; Graham Nash's dainty "Raining in My Heart." Even when something works you'll never want to hear it again. B- [Rhapsody]

    Jazz Prospecting (JCG #27, Part 11)

    No new Jazz Prospecting this week either, but I might as well flush the backlog -- now several weeks old. I haven't made any effort to wrap up the pending Jazz Consumer Guide column, and probably won't until I start to feel substantially better. Apologies to those who've written me, even those nagging me about their albums. Until my situation gets better everything's on hold.


    R|E|D|S: Sign of Four (2009 [2011], Origin): Quartet, first group record, an anagram of initials, although the order given on the back cover and inside is: Ed Epstein (baritone sax), Bjarne Roupé (guitar), Göran Schelin (bass), Dennis Drud (drums). Epstein was born in El Paso, TX; studied at University of Oregon, and played around the west coast before relocating to Sweden in early 1970s. Has one album, a couple dozen side credits, most notably with Johnny Dyani. Rest of the group is Danish, lightly recorded as far as I can tell -- Schelin has one album, Roupé some credits with Michael Mantler. Only birth date I could find is Drud in 1967, and he seems to have the least gray hair. Understated but moves smartly, the baritone a nice contrast to the guitar. B+(*)

    Mark O'Connor Quintet: Suspended Reality (2007 [2011], OA2): Saxophonist, lists alto first but all the pics I see show him with a tenor. Originally from Austin, TX; studied at UNT; now based in Chicago, writing a doctoral dissertation on Joe Farrell. Second album. Quintet includes trumpet (Victor Garcia), piano (Ben Lewis, or Mark Maegdlin on one track), bass (Jonathan Paul), and drums (Tom Hipskind). Wrote 8 of 10 tracks, all but "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" and a Johnny Griffin tune ("A Monk's Dream"). A mixed bag. At first I was impressed by the sax tone and presence, but the trumpet detracts from that. Then I noted the complex Afro-Cuban rhythms of "Cady's Groove," but those too were a passing fancy. Some real talent at play here; just not sure for what. B+(**)

    Wadada Leo Smith's Organic: Heart's Reflections (2011, Cuneiform, 2CD): Smith's idea of organic is plugged in: his credit is for "electric trumpet" as well as trumpet; he uses four electric guitarists, two electric bassists; Angelica Sanchez plays Wurlitzer as well as acoustic piano; and he has two laptop credits. Trumpet-led fusion inevitably recalls Miles Davis, but Smith has been there and done that in his Yo! Miles group with Henry Kaiser. But this is definitely post-Yo!: the mix is far more complex, as is the groove. The opener (dedicated to Don Cherry) and the multipart "Heart's Reflections: Splendors of Light and Purification" (which finishes the first disc and sprawls over onto the second) pack quite some charge. Not so sure about the last two tracks, dedicated to Toni Morrison and Leroy Jenkins respectively. Maybe they stall a bit, or just test my endurance. [B+(***)]

    Roswell Rudd: The Incredible Honk (2011, Sunnyside): The great trombonist of our era, entitled to this title even though he doesn't do much to earn it here. Most of the record is given over to a wide range of world music -- Cuban, Cajun, Chinese, Malian -- each with their special guests -- Michel Doucet's take on Rudd's own "C'etait dans la nuit" is the most successful. Even better is when Rudd strips down to basics, as on his "Waltzin' with My Baby" or an amazingly poignant "Danny Boy." B+(***)

    Laszlo Gardony: Signature Time (2011, Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1956 in Hungary, studied at Béla Bartók Conservatory in Budapest, then got a scholarship to Berklee and never looked back -- teachers there now. Tenth album since 1986, a quartet with Stan Strickland on tenor sax (and voice on one song, sort of scatting along), John Lockwood on bass, and Yoron Israel on drums and vibes. Wrote six of ten songs, covering "Lullaby of Birdland," Strayhorn ("Johnny Come Lately"), and two Beatles songs ("Lady Madonna" and "Eleanor Rigby"). Straightforward, develops the melodies, puts a little kick into the rhythm. The sax comes and goes, not essential, but adds some depth and variety when it's there. B+(*)

    Anthony Wilson: Campo Belo (2010 [2011], Goat Hill): Guitarist, b. 1968, son of big band arranger Gerald Wilson, has ten or so albums since 1997. This is a quartet with a Brazilian rhythm section: André Mehmari (piano, accordion), Guto Wirtti (bass), and Edu Ribeiro (drums). Not stereotypically Brazilian, but light and seductive nonetheless. B+(**)

    François Carrier: Entrance 3 (2002 [2011], Ayler): Alto saxophonist with his longtime trio -- Pierre Côté on bass, Michel Lambert on drums, always an excellent freebop group -- recorded at the Vancouver Jazz Festival with Bobo Stenson sitting in on piano. Stenson is excellent here, but spreads the group out. B+(**)


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


    Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last several weeks:

    • Bryan Anthony: A Night Like This (Mercator Media)
    • Christian Artmann: Uneasy Dreams (self-released)
    • Yaala Ballin: On the Road (Gallery)
    • George Benson: Beyond the Blue Horizon (1971, CTI/Sony Masterworks)
    • George Benson: Body Talk (1973, CTI/Sony Masterworks)
    • Brent Canter: Urgency of Now (Posi-Tone)
    • The Flail: Live at Smalls (Smalls Live)
    • Satoko Fujii Min-Yoh Ensemble: Watershed (Libra)
    • Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York: Eto (Libra)
    • Otzir Godot: Kas Kas (Epatto -09)
    • Otzir Godot: Drum Poems (Epatto)
    • Tianna Hall: Never Let Me Go (Blue Bamboo Music)
    • Nick Hempton: The Business (Posi-Tone)
    • Mace Hibbard: Time Gone By (MHM)
    • Freddie Hubbard: Straight Life (1970, CTI/Sony Masterworks)
    • Freddie Hubbard: First Light (1971, CTI/Sony Masterworks)
    • Human Element (Abstract Logix)
    • Maria Jameau and Blue Brazil: Gema (Challenge)
    • Kaze: Rafale (Libra)
    • AJ Kluth's Aldric: Anvils and Broken Bells (OA2)
    • Lee Konitz: Insight (1989-95, Jazzwerkstatt)
    • Hubert Laws: In the Beginning (1974, CTI/Sony Masterworks)
    • Harold Lopez Nussa Trio: El País de las Maravillas (World Village): advance, July 12
    • The New Universe Music Festival 2010 (Abstract Logix, 2CD)
    • Oregon: In Stride (CAM Jazz)
    • Enrico Peranunzi Latin Jazz Quintet: Live at Birdland (CAM Jazz)
    • Augusto Pirodda: No Comment (Jazzwerkstatt)
    • Mike Prigodich: A Stitch in Time (Mexican Mocha Music): July 26
    • Scenes: Silent Photographer (Origin)
    • Don Sebesky: Giant Box (1973, CTI/Sony Masterworks, 2CD)
    • Jen Shyu/Mark Dresser: Synastry (Pi): Aug. 23
    • Rick Stone Trio: Fractals (Jazzand)
    • JC Stylles: Exhilaration and Other States (Motema Music)
    • Stanley Turrentine: Salt Song (1971, CTI/Sony Masterworks)
    • Stanley Turrentine: Don't MEss With Mister T. (1973, CTI/Sony Masterworks)
    • Ricardo Villalobos/Max Loderbauer: Re: ECM (ECM, 2CD): advance, Sept. 6
    • Mort Weiss: Mort Weiss Meets Bill Cunliffe (SMS Jazz)
    • Kenny Wheeler: One of Many (CAM Jazz)
    • Mark Winkler: Sweet Spot (Cafe Pacific)

    Purchases:

    • Jill Scott: The Light of the Sun (Blues Babe/Warner Bros.)

    Sunday, July 10, 2011

    Weekend Comes Around

    The "weekend roundup" file came up empty this week. Had I been conscious, I would have recommended:

    Current temperature in Wichita, KS: 109°F.

    Expert Comments

    From Greg Morton:

    On the occasion of Tom Hull postings on his site on consecutive days (new, recommended Dave Alvin? Hot damn!), sincere thanks to all of you who spend sooooo much personal time listening and comparing and sorting and grading and commenting and reporting, so that the rest of us meatheads can just cruise and cherry pick and enjoy with such ease. Tom, Tatum, Milo, Cam, our host of course and then there are the more obscure, obsessive folks like Slipcue, and the rest of you know who you are. I know you all do it at least partially because you love the search, revel in the finds and enjoy the satisfaction of a well written description. But still, you sure make the lives of the rest of us a lot easier and richer.

    Derek Jeter got 3000 hits:

    For anyone surprised that Jeter was the first Yankee with 3000 base hits, one thing to keep in mind is that his competition walked a lot more than he did. If you compare OB (H+BB), Jeter has 3975 (3003 + 972), which trails Mantle (4148 = 2415 + 1733), Gehrig (4229 = 2721 +1508), and Ruth (4935 = 2873 + 2062). Ruth did some of that for the Red Sox and the Braves (his last year), but even his NYY slice should come out on top. Mantle was retired by this point in Jeter's career, and Gehrig was dead. (Needless to say, TB comps would be even wider.) DiMaggio only played 13 seasons, missing three in the middle of his career but getting those back wouldn't have put him over 3000 hits (he wound up 2214 + 790); might have put him close enough to encourage him to hang on a couple more years, but he didn't seem like that kind of guy. Berra rested a lot as a catcher, rarely topping 130 games, so he wound up (2150 + 704 -- tough guy to walk; I've seen him swing at a lot of pitches over his head, and pop some for HRs). Of course, all I know is pretty ancient -- I've seen Berra hit many more times than I've watched Jeter.

    Also:

    Regarding my age: I followed the NY Yankees very closely 1957-65, watching them on TV at every opportunity, so starting at age 6. I can recite all-star lineups for 1957, but have no memory of 1956, so I missed Rizzuto, DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson -- names I recall from then but never saw them play. I had a cousin, 7 years older, who was a fanatic Yankees fan, so I followed him. (Most of the neighbors were Cardinals fans, and I've heard more Harry Carey on the radio than anyone else.) Those were great years to be a Yankees fan. Berra's best years were earlier, but I remember him very well, especially as a hitter.

    One more little note on Jeter. I took a look at the 3000-hit-club list, currently 28 ballplayers dating back to Cap Anson. One interesting thing is that 18 of those players have career BA of .300 or higher, but all 10 of the exceptions got their 3000th hit since 1974 (Al Kaline, .297), with two more in 1979 (Lou Brock, .293, and Carl Yastrzemski, .285). Those three had extremely long careers -- Brock mostly has a leadoff hitter who rarely walked. The other seven start in 1992, with Cal Ripkin (.276) the low point. One thing I draw from this is that since the 1960s there have been structural changes that have made it easier for players to get 3000 hits: the most obvious are the longer season which started in 1961 (about when Brock and Yastrzemski broke in), and free agency which made it much more lucrative for players to hang on a few more years, whereas before players got shafted at the first sign of weakness, and some of them didn't take it too well (stories involving DiMaggio come quick to mind). I think there are more subtle factors at work too but I don't have the research -- maybe more walks as a result of pitching strategy changes?

    Anyhow, Jeter's BA is .312, which is the best since Wade Boggs and Tony Gwynn cleared 3000 hits in 1999. It also looks like Jeter did this in his 17th year, which is one less than Gwynn or Boggs. In fact, the only guys I see on the list who got to 3000 faster than Jeter were Pete Rose and Ty Cobb. So while part of what Jeter's done can be written off to inflation, it's still quite an accomplishment.

    Saturday, July 09, 2011

    Rhapsody Streamnotes (July 2011)

    Pick up text here.

    Friday, July 08, 2011

    Recycled Goods (87): July 2011

    Pick up text here.

    Monday, July 04, 2011

    A Downloader's Diary (12): July 2011

    Insert text from here.


    This is the eleventh installment, monthly since August 2010, totalling 306 albums. All columns are indexed and archived here. You can follow A Downloader's Diary on Facebook, and on Twitter.


    Expert Comments

    Figured I might as well throw this out:

    Might as well mention that there's fresh meat up on my website: a new Downloader's Diary.

    Music Week

    Music: Current count 18389 [18377] rated (+12), 826 [820] unrated (+6). Probably my worst rated week in years, excepting those weeks when I was traveling. Still feel about as bad as I did a week ago, although there have been worse days along the way, and better ones.

    • Freddie Hubbard/Ilhan Mimaroglu: Sing Me a Song of Songmy (1971, Atlantic): More the latter's album, although in a long career of making politically charged avant-electronic music this was his only album that got released on a major label; the electronics are nifty, but the strings get messy and the vocal pastiches don't hit their intended targets as squarely as agitprop should; trumpet/flugelhorn is superb, natch, and there's a sharp jazz combo in there somewhere -- Junior Cook (tenor sax), Kenny Barron (piano), Art Booth (bass), Louis Hayes (drums). B+(*) [Rhapsody]
    • No Jazz Prospecting

      None whatsoever. Thought I'd at least have my unpacking done, but it's sitting in a pile about arms-length to my right, topped by three new Satoko Fujii releases. I've tried to cut down on the personal stuff that goes into the blog -- part of the front of being a serious writer, I guess -- but I have nothing else left to say. I took ill Wednesday, June 22, with chest pains that panicked me to the point of going to the ER. Tests there showed no significant cardiac issues, but I had a mild fever, elevated pulse, and shortness of breath. Chest x-ray showed no major lung problems, so they dumped me off with a script for pain pills. Chest pain cleared up after a day or two, but the other symptoms persisted. Still persist, actually: I get better for a day or so, then worse. Doctor prescribed some antibiotics, citing a respiratory infection that's been around. Got better after a few days of those, but not now, a little more than halfway through the ten-day cycle. Haven't felt like doing much of anything, although I was able to take a few hours here and there to help a friend move. Haven't even read much, which is usually my compensation for illness. Did watch some TV -- one way to lower the stress when you suspect you're brain is rotting. No idea when this might clear up, or what I'll be left with when/if it does. Last week I fretted about failing to clean up a Jazz CG column that is virtually done. This week I didn't even think about it. And today I can't even imagine predictions to make.

      Michael Tatum does have a new Downloader's Diary ready to post; I'll probably get it up tonight. I expect to post Recycled Goods sometime mid-week. I had quite a bit of stuff in the can before all this happened, including a lot of CTI reissues that I've been holding back until I catch up with the latest batch. Turns out I'm unlikely to get that done soon enough, so I'll hold them back yet another month, but there's still enough to post. Also figure on a Rhapsody Streamnotes later in the week. Again, mostly collected before I got sick, so it will be shorter than in recent months -- about 30 records in my file.

      Sunday, July 03, 2011

      Weekend Roundup

      Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:


      • Tom Engelhardt: The President's Military Mantra: On Obama's announcement of his "way forward" in Afghanistan, as if forward were even a valid direction in that part of the globe:

        These days he can barely open his mouth without also bowing down before the U.S. military in ways that once would have struck Americans as embarrassing, if not incomprehensible. In addition, he regularly prostrates himself before this country's special mission to the world and never ceases to emphasize that the United States is indeed an exception among nations. Finally, in a way once alien to American presidents, he invokes God's blessing upon the military and the country as regularly as you brush your teeth.

        Think of these as the triumvirate without which no Obama foreign-policy moment would be complete: greatest military, greatest nation, our God. And in this he follows directly, if awkwardly, in Bush's footsteps.

        And it gets ickier:

        The day after he revealed his drawdown plan to the nation, the president traveled to Ft. Drum in New York State to thank soldiers from the Army's 10th Mountain Division for their multiple deployments to Afghanistan. Before those extraordinary and patriotic Americans, he quite naturally doubled down.

        Summoning another tic of this presidential moment (and of the Bush one before it), he told them that they were part of "the finest fighting force in the world." Even that evidently seemed inadequate, so he upped the hyperbole. "I have no greater job," he told them, "nothing gives me more honor than serving as your commander in chief. To all of you who are potentially going to be redeployed, just know that your commander in chief has your back . . . God bless you, God bless the United States of America, climb to glory."

        As ever, all of this was overlooked. Nowhere did a single commentator wonder, for instance, whether an American president was really supposed to feel that being commander in chief offered greater "honor" than being president of a nation of citizens. In another age, such a statement would have registered as, at best, bizarre. These days, no one even blinks.

        What Obama's language signifies, beyond an utter inability to put any critical distance between himself and Bush, is his choice to abandon any effort to direct US foreign policy. How, after all, can Obama actually command US armed forces when he spends all his time and effort bowing to their supreme omnipotence? In particular, he's made it impossible to say things that otherwise would be quite reasonable, like: if success was possible in Afghanistan, wouldn't you think we would have seen evidence of it over ten years? And since we haven't, maybe those troops aren't all that they're cracked up to be? Obama's war language has not only become formal and contentless, it excludes any actual thinking about why those wars happened and what can be done about them.

      • Paul Krugman/Robin Wells: The Busts Keep Getting Bigger: Why?: book review of Jeff Madrick: Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present.

        While 1970s inflation undermined confidence in government economic management and catapulted Friedman to fame, it also undermined the New Deal constraints on financial institutions by making it impossible to maintain limits on interest rates on customer deposits. To tell this part of the story, Madrick turns to an often-neglected figure: Walter Wriston, who ran First National City/Citibank from the 1960s into the 1980s. These days Wriston is best known among economists for his famous quote dismissing sovereign risk: "Countries don't go out of business."

        But as Madrick documents, there was much more to Wriston's career than his misjudgment of the risks involved in lending to national governments. More than anyone else, he epitomized the transformation of banking from cautious supporter of industry to freewheeling independent profit center, creator of crises, and recurrent recipient of taxpayer bailouts. As Madrick deftly points out, "Wriston lived a free market charade," strongly opposing the federal bailouts of Chrysler (1978) and Continental Illinois (1984) while his own back was saved multiple times by government intervention.

        The transformation of American banking initiated by Wriston arguably began as early as 1961, when First National City began offering negotiable certificates of deposit -- CDs that could be cashed in early, and therefore served as an alternative to regular bank deposits, while sidestepping legal limits on interest rates. First National City's innovation -- and the decision of regulators to let it stand -- marked the first major crack in the system of bank regulation created in the 1930s, and hence arguably the first step on the road to the crisis of 2008.

        Wriston entered the history books again through his prominent part in creating the late-1970s boom in lending to Latin American governments, a boom that strongly prefigured the subprime boom a generation later. Thus Wriston's dismissal of the risks involved in lending to governments would be echoed in the 2000s by assertions, like those of Alan Greenspan, that a "national severe price distortion" -- i.e., a housing bubble that would burst -- "seems most unlikely." [ . . . ]

        When the loans to Latin American governments went bad, Citi and other banks were rescued via a program that was billed as aid to troubled debtor nations but was in fact largely aimed at helping US and European banks. In that sense the program for Latin America in the 1980s bore a strong family resemblance to what is happening to Europe's peripheral economies now. Large official loans were provided to debtor nations, not to help them recover economically, but to help them repay their private-sector creditors. In effect, it looked like a country bailout, but it was really an indirect bank bailout. And the banks did indeed weather the storm. But the loans came with a price, namely harsh austerity programs imposed on debtor nations -- and in Latin America, the price of this austerity was a lost decade of falling incomes and minimal growth.

        Moving on to the technology bubble of the 1990s and the housing bubble of the 2000s (specifically, "the Bush years") and the deregulation that made them worse, Madrick provides profiles of Angelo Mozilo (Countrywide), Jimmy Caine (Bear Stearns), Dick Fuld (Lehman), Stan O'Neal (Merrill Lynch), Chuck Prince (Citigroup), and Sandy Weill.

        There are a lot of villains in this story -- so many that by the end of the book we were, frankly, suffering from a bit of outrage fatigue. But why have villains triumphed so repeatedly?

        The proximate answer, clearly, is the abdication of regulatory oversight. From junk bonds to derivatives to sub-prime mortgages, regulators either turned a blind eye or were impeded by business interests and politicians -- Democrat as well as Republican. Undoubtedly the most outrageous act -- and the most economically damaging to the country -- was Greenspan's refusal to use regulatory powers at his disposal to rein in the exploding sub-prime market, despite being warned repeatedly that a catastrophe was brewing. Like Reagan and Friedman, Greenspan firmly believed in greedism; in his view, the financial markets could do no wrong.

        Yet if the problem was lack of oversight, that leads to another question: Why did the regulators abdicate -- and keep abdicating despite repeated financial disasters? This is perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Madrick's otherwise excellent book: we get a lot of the what, but not much of the why. Madrick's character-centered narrative makes it seem as if the triumph of greed was the result of a series of contingent events: the inflation of the 1970s, the exploitation of that inflation by Reagan and Friedman, the wheeling and dealing of the likes of Sandy Weill, and the diffidence of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Yet surely there must have been deeper forces at work.

        Conclusion:

        But more than that, it's a much-needed reminder of just how we got into the mess we're in -- a reminder that is greatly needed when we are still being told that greed is good.

        Greed is good? That's actually just one of a constellation of false platitudes, starting with Adam Smith's irony of a hypothetical model where the pursuit of self-interest manages to increase production. But even that only works up to a point, and that it doesn't take much greed to pass that point.

      • Paul Krugman: Cash Is Not the Problem: As the charts show, corporations are awash with cash (not even counting what they have stashed abroad the better to evade taxes) but not creating jobs, and banks are sitting on mountains of cash deposits but not making loans to create new jobs.

        So it's truly remarkable -- an impressive case of doublethink -- that the same people who decry the fact that firms and banks are sitting on cash insist that it's totally vital that we give those firms and banks more cash, so that they can invest and create jobs.

        You see this in a number of contexts. The repatriation issue -- in which we're going to give companies a big tax incentive to bring cash home, and then sit on it or use it to buy back their own stock -- is one.

        Another is the way Republicans are defending against attempts to curb things like the tax break on corporate jets; as Greg Sargent reports, they're basically saying that if you take money away from "the wage payer offering a job," you'll reduce employment. Um, but those "wage payers" are sitting on lots of cash already, and not using it to pay wages or anything else.

        And then there are the banking issues. We mustn't hold the banks accountable for the mortgage mess, or impose higher capital standards, or anything, because that would reduce their ability to lend; never mind the fact that if they wanted to lend, all they would have to do is withdraw some of those huge excess deposits they have at the Fed.

      • Paul Krugman: Wrong to Be Right: Now that more people have come around to Krugman's "prematurely correct" view that Obama's stimulus bill was way too small, more "I told you so":

        This is actually a fairly familiar thing from my years as a pundit: the surest way to get branded as not Serious is to figure things out too soon. To be considered credible on politics you have to have considered Bush a great leader, and not realized until Katrina that he was a disaster; to be considered credible on national security you have to have supported the Iraq War, and not realized until 2005 that it was a terrible mistake; to be credible on economics you have to have regarded Greenspan as a great mind, and not become disillusioned until 2007 or maybe 2008.

      Saturday, July 02, 2011

      Barack Herbert Hoover Obama

      I was searching for tidbits for tomorrow's Weekend Roundup but this one is too significant not to stand on its own. I'll quote all of Paul Krugman's post, including the links, but the key quote is from President Obama:

      From today's radio address:

      Government has to start living within its means, just like families do. We have to cut the spending we can't afford so we can put the economy on sounder footing, and give our businesses the confidence they need to grow and create jobs.

      Yep, the false government-family equivalence, the myth of expansionary austerity, and the confidence fairy, all in just two sentences.

      Read this and this to see why he's wrong. This is truly a tragedy: the great progressive hope (well, I did warn people) is falling all over himself to endorse right-wing economic fallacies.

      The two links are to other Krugman pieces, but anyone can demolish those fallacies. The "confidence fairy" is a variant on the oldest con ever: trust me. Except here you're being asked to trust to "create jobs" the very same people who laid everyone off in the first place. And you are assuming that those people want the same thing you do -- more jobs, a tighter labor market, higher wages, a rising standard of living -- but what business really wants is higher profits, and one proven way to get higher profits is to reduce effective wages.

      The "confidence fairy" fallacy at least taps into something real: every expansionary economy depends on confidence -- on investors eager to expand capacity, on workers moving to more productive jobs, on lenders willing to extend credit, on consumers willing to buy more and better products. On the other hand, confidence isn't something that everyone will catch if only Obama believes in it deep enough. People become confident when they see a growing economy and sense the opportunity to grow with it: when they have jobs and can imagine better ones in the future, when they're secure enough they can buy based on their future, when businesses can project a return from adding real capacity. None of those things are true now, nor will they be true as long as Obama and the Republicans think all they have to do is cross their fingers and wish for recovery.

      On the other hand, "expansionary austerity" isn't based on anything at all. It isn't even an oxymoron. It's a contradiction. There never has been such a thing because every austerity program directly contracts the economy. It's a bit like going on a diet (and doing nothing else) and hoping you'll develop lots of muscle mass as a result. Actually, it's more like a starvation strike: the hope is that the belt-tightening will encourage some outside angel to intervene. That's actually how the IMF used to sell austerity programs: let's see you suffer first, then maybe we'll help you some. That's never worked over the long term -- the best short-term examples I can come up with are Germany and Japan after 1945, which suffered through a lot of austerity and finally got some help from the Marshall Plan (and in Japan's case the Korean War), but they quickly abandoned austerity and started investing in themselves to promote real growth. Still, even if you'd like to believe IMF fairy tales, what sort of angel could and would save America? Saudi-backed private venture firms? America is too big to be saved by anyone else; moreover, America has so much wealth left outsiders would be tempted to loot it rather than to build anything new.

      Still, the worst falsehood here is "government-family equivalence": not just because it is dead wrong but because it is an example of the conservative's favorite con. This is the conflation of a political policy with the moral sentiment of a personal virtue. Each individual would be better off to work hard, to spend wisely, to save for the future, to take responsibility for bettering oneself. Individuals are better off when joined together into strong families. Conservatives take such basics and turn them into a club for battering those who are less able or just unfortunate while flattering themselves. Lots of conservative policies get glommed onto those virtues through the moral sentiment of self-responsibility, which is then tied to the false corollary: because people can improve their lot by hard work and dilligence and virtuous living (and by supplicanting themselves to the established order) that those who are rich are virtuous and deserving. Such sleight of hand fools many people -- especially those who see themselves as living those conservative virtues -- into voting against their own interests and against the welfare of most people like themselves.

      It's important to disentangle conservative policies from virtues and moral sentiments, partly because so many of them are ill-formed -- the notion that estate taxes are a tax on death as opposed to a way to limit the concentration of unearned wealth, or the idea that the option of abortion, which is the only effective means of insuring that people make a conscious decision to raise children, is somehow an assault on motherhood or an endorsement of murder -- but also because sometimes shifting from the individual to the aggregate just doesn't work. Nowhere is that more clear than in economics, which is why micro and macro are often at odds with one another. At the individual/family/business level, it is certainly true that when the economy falters, when loss of income is threatened (let alone sorely felt), when savings are threatened (or in some cases have actually vanished), the right thing to do is to cut back -- which is what has happened. However, each individual act of cutting back hurts everyone else, deepening and extending the recession. What you want in that case is for some fool to restart the spending, to help make up for the losses that all that individual cutting back is causing. The obvious candidate for that fool is the government, for two reasons: one is that it is responsive to rational decision making in favor of a public interest; the other is that (at least the federal government in the US system) can raise however much money is needed to make up for the shortfall in individual demand. In both those regards the government is very unlike an individual, family, or even a business.

      Nothing I wrote in that previous paragraph should come as a surprise. Economists have no trouble figuring out how much a government should spend in a recession to make up for the fall in private demand. Where economists disagree is not in the math, but in the moral sentiment as to whether it is better to keep an economic disturbance like the bursting of an asset bubble from undermining the broader economy or to make everyone suffer for the folly of the few -- surprisingly, a lot of economists seem to prefer mass suffering to messing with the brutal elegance of the market, mostly because they share those conservative moral sentiments that say the poor deserve their fate, just as the rich have been justly rewarded.

      The question here isn't why conservatives spout nonsense such as was quoted above: it is, after all, useful for preventing anyone from using the government, which in theory is meant to serve all (or at least most) of us, from mitigating the effects of an economic system that is heavily biased in favor of increasingly separating the rich above everyone else. The question is why is Obama saying this exact same nonsense. The simplest answer is that Obama is actually a conservative: someone dedicated to preserving the privileged inequality of the rich. Which is another way of saying that most of the people who voted for him in 2008 (and will vote for him again in 2012) have made a grave mistake in thinking that he would do anything to make this nation more just and equitable.

      I liked him better when his middle name was Hussein.


      Jun 2011 Aug 2011