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Monday, July 30, 2012

Music Week/No Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 20246 [20240] rated (+6), 696 [693] unrated (-3). Figured this week would be washed out, but had no idea how severely. Did my big hardware swap on Tuesday. The hardware part worked very smoothly. Ubuntu 12.04 came with some unpleasant surprises, mostly in the form of a new window manager which, for starters, didn't make it at all evident how to get a command line shell. Also soon became apparent that aside from the browser (Firefox) the default install included none of the major software packages I depend on every day. I've fixed much of that now -- replaced Unity with Xfce, have Emacs as my text editor, Apache/PHP/MySQL for websites, Gimp for touching up album cover scans. I should be back in business, but I started running a fever Wednesday night. Most likely a generic flu. Should be clearing up about now, and indeed I feel a bit better today than yesterday, but I'm still down (and down in the dumps). I've done no Jazz Prospecting since last Monday, nor have I felt like writing about anything else. Not even playing music right now. When I do, it's all old stuff.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Alexander Cockburn

Some links:

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Expert Comments

Tried to post this (which MSN didn't allow):

Every time Coleman Hawkins comes up, I think of two of my favorite quotes ever: one is where the Gramophone Guide explains how he is "the root of all worthwhile saxophone playing"; the other is on the back of Affinity's 6-CD 1929-1941 box, from Sonny Rollins: "This about my master and idol. I should like to be sad now at his passing, but alas this thing is impossible for instead I find myself happy. Forever happy and grateful that he came." It's impossible to overstate either how important he is historically, or how much sheer pleasure he delivers. I play something or other by him virtually every day.

On another front, my computer overhaul is coming along nicely. New hardware worked like a charm. Ubuntu install was painless, until I logged in and was confronted with the world's stupidest window manager (something called Unity). Took me some time to figure out how to work in it (although the eventual plan is to replace it, probably with xfce), and how to get a lot of necessary non-default software installed. Got three websites running last night, and got the Christgau master site working tonight. Would be moving faster, but picked up a fever, which saps the will as well as the wits.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Homework

Shutting down Duke momentarily. I built this machine in 2007 after the robbery. I believe the specs were:

  • Antec P180 case
  • Antec Neo-HE 550W ATX12V power supply
  • AMD Athlon 64 X2 5600+ Socket AM2 CPU (passmark 1515)
  • ASUS M2N-SLI Deluxe NF570SLI AM2 motherboard
  • EVGA 7600GT 256-P2-N615-TX PCI Express x16 video card (NVIDIA GeForce 7600GT GPU, 560MHz, 12 PixelPipelines, 256MB GDDR3 1400MHz 128-bit memory)
  • 4 x Kingston 1GB 240-pin DDR2 800 RAM (4GB total)
  • 2 x Seagate 320GB SATA hard drive (RAID 0)
  • Sony AW-Q170A IDE DVD burner
  • Sony DDU1615 IDE DVD-ROM

My intention is to keep the case, power supply, and hard disks, and replace the rest. (I had hoped to keep the DVD drives, but the new motherboard doesn't support IDE, so they too will have to be replaced. At the moment, I only have one SATA DVD drive, but will buy a second later.) The new gear:

  • AMD FX-8150 3.6GHz AM3+ eight-core CPU (passmark 8250)
  • ASRock 970 Extreme3 AM3+ motherboard
  • 4 x G.Skill Ripjaws 8GB DDR3 1600 RAM (32GB total)
  • ASUS ENGT430 DC SL/.D1/1GDE3 GE Force GT 430 1GB video card
  • Super Writemaster SH-222 DVD Writer

Duke has been running Fedora Release 12, Linux 2.6.32.26. This has been problematic to update, and I'm now running quite old software. Intent here is to replace it with Ubuntu 12.04, which is current and should be easier to update.

Hard to tell how long this will take. The bigger part is probably restoring all the configuration changes after the operating system is loaded: getting the virtual websites working, database reconfigured, mail and browser preferences, etc.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 20240 [20177] rated (+63), 693 [729] unrated (-36). Rated count skyrocketed this week, partly because I found a lot of bookkeeping errors -- records I had written about but didn't update my database to reflect -- but also because I slogged through a lot of new jazz (see below). Computer rebuild has been postponed until tomorrow. Turns out I didn't have all the new hardware I need, so I had to pick up a SATA DVD-WR to replace the old IDE drives. There's also a change to the power supply, but I think I can get away with using my old one, with its 4-pin 12V plug even though the new motherboard takes an 8-pin. Will find out tomorrow. Worst case I'm out another $100 for a new power supply.

Lot of records below, but not much unpacking. Latter is at least partly seasonal, but may well represent a long-term trend as well.


Susie Arioli: All the Way (2012, Jazzheads): Singer, from Montreal, backed as ever by guitarist Jordan Officer, eighth album since 2000. All standards this time, starting off with an eery "My Funny Valentine," as if she's trying to take Chet Baker to his logical endpoint -- an effect she dispenses with by the third song, "Here's to the Losers" (guess the irony went too far), but returns to later on. She has an effective voice, but this seems a bit confused. B+(*)

Arts & Sciences: New You (2012, Singlespeed Music): Quartet, based in Oakland, Michael Coleman is the leader, plays various electric keybs (Wurlitzer, Yamaha CS-10, Fender Rhodes), with Jacob Zimmerman (alto sax, flute), Matt Nelson (tenor sax, effects), and Jordan Glenn (drums). Second group album; Coleman also has an unrecorded group called Cavity Fang, plays with Aram Shelton (who returns the favor playing bass clarinet on one track), and has a Tune-Yards side credit. More exciting when the saxes cut loose than when they coil tightly, but dense either way. B+(***)

Brooklyn Jazz Underground: A Portrait of Brooklyn (2011 [2012], Bju'ecords): Composer co-op, the five members, young but notable leaders in their own right, pitching in two pieces each: David Smith (trumpet), Dan Pratt (reeds), Adam Kolker (even more reeds), Anne Mette Iversen (bass), and Rob Garcia (drums). Postbop, sometimes breaking free, lots of spin on the horns. B+(**)

Peter Brötzmann & Jörg Fischer: Live in Wiesbaden (2009 [2012], Not Two): Sax-drums improv, Brötzmann playing his usual alto, tenor, clarinet, and tarogato, much as you'd expect -- which is to say, this isn't the album where you'll find any sort of breakthrough. The drummer does a fine job of keeping pace and egging him on. B+(**)

Charles Compo: Foolish Pleasure (2012, Chaos Music): Plays flute, sax, and guitar. Father played bass with Zoot Sims, and he started out in free jazz -- his 1994-98 credits are all with William Hooker. Then something happened and he moved into smooth jazz -- a 2003 album called Psycho Jammy may have been the moment. Mostly keybs here, the sax (of course) better than the flute, but fleeting either way. B

Marc Copland: Some More Love Songs (2010 [2012], Pirouet): Pianist, b. 1948, has a lot of records and should be regarded as one of the top pianists of his generation, but also seems fated to be a guy I admire a lot but can never find an album to get excited about. This is a piano trio with Drew Gress and Jochen Rueckert, a sequel to his 2005 Some Love Songs (both start with Joni Mitchell and end with Victor Young). B+(**)

Rick Davies: Salsa Norteńa (2012, Emlyn): Trombonist, originally from Albuquerque, got a Ph.D. from NYU with a dissertation on Cuban brass, teaches at SUNY Plattsburgh while running a salsa band (Jazzismo) based across the pond in Burlington, VT. Side credits include Blondie, Michael Jackson, and Wyclef Jean, and he has at least one previous album under his own name (Siempre Salsa). No session info, but this looks like two sets with different players at trumpet, piano, and bass, one of those with Jorge "Papo" Ross singing, but one basic sound. Not sure if Davies intends to introduce something Mexican (which is what Norteńa means to me) or just to push the border up to Montreal, but it has a jump feel, and the brass is for muscle, not filigree. B+(***)

The Dan DeChellis Trio: . . . My Age of Anxiety (2012, self-relased): Pianist, b. 1970 in New Jersey, studied at Duquesne, mostly classical, and briefly with Ran Blake at New England Conservatory. Has a dozen albums since 1996. Trio with Mitch Shelly on bass and Zack Martion on drums. Nice touch; even the slow stuff at the end holds my attention. B+(**)

Luis Durra: The Best of All Possible Worlds (2011 [2012], Lot 50): Pianist, b. 1961, looks like his third album (with a fourth released this month, but not in hand). Piano trio, impresses more with the melodies than improvs, often picking rock things that you don't expect but that aren't all that surprising -- Radiohead (twice), Dylan, Marley, Alanis Morissette (nice bit by DJ Rob Swift at the end). B

Duke Ellington Legacy: Single Petal of a Rose (2011 [2012], Renma): Nominal leader here is guitarist Edward Kennedy Ellington II, the Duke's grandson. Pianist Norman Simmons does most of the arrangements, the two exceptions by saxophonist Virginia Mayhew. The songs are classics by Duke Ellington and/or Billy Strayhorn (plus Erskine Hawkins' "After Hours"). Nancy Reed sings three songs. The band keeps all the elements of Duke's orchestra in play but without the numbers: one trumpet (Jami Dauber), one trombone (Noah Bless), and with tenor saxophonist Houston Person appearing as "special guest" Mayhew fills in on clarinet. Great songs, nicely done. B+(**)

Jörg Fischer/Olaf Rupp/Frank Paul Schubert: Phugurit (2011 [2012], Gligg): Drums, electric guitar, saxophones, respectively. Fischer also has a duo with Peter Brötzmann out. Not familiar with the others, but this is prickly free improv, nicely spaced out, interesting to follow. B+(***)

Danny Fox Trio: The One Constant (2009 [2011], Songlines): Pianist, b. in New York City, studied psychology at Harvard, now back in New York. First album, trio with Max Goldman on drums and Chris van Voorst van Beest on bass. Consistently engaging. B+(**)

FFEAR (Forum for Electro-Acoustic Research): Mirage (2011 [2012], Jazzheads): Quartet, with saxophonist Ole Mathisen and trombonist Chris Washburne doing the composing, backed by Per Mathisen on bass and Tony Moreno on drums. Starts with two long multipart pieces, ending with three more compact ones. The two horns range widely, the trombone especially notable. B+(**)

Matt Garrison: Blood Songs (2010 [2012], D Clef): Saxophonist, not to be confused with the Jimmy Garrison's bassist son. Second album, postbop, pulls out all the stops, with trumpet (Greg Gisbert), trombone (Michael Dease), piano (Roy Assaf), bass, drums, a couple of guest guitarists, and Eric Alexander on one cut. Gisbert has the hot hand. B+(*)

The Alex Goodman Quintet: Bridges (2011 [2012], Connection Point): Guitarist, b. 1987 in Toronto; second album as leader (plus one co-credited with saxophonist Brent Mah). Quintet includes Nick Morgan (reeds), Danny Myronuk (piano), Dan Fortin (bass), and Maxwell Roach (drums). Two classical covers (Chopin, Bartok), three "Intro" bits credited to band members, the rest Goodman originals. Overly fancy, I find, but I'm impressed by the intricate weave, and don't doubt his talent. B+(*)

Avi Granite's Verse: Snow Umbrellas (2010 [2012], Pet Mantis): Guitarist, from Toronto, Canada; based in New York. Third album, a quartet with Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Jerry DeVore (bass), and Owen Howard (drums). Anything with Alessi is bound to be good, and Granite gives him lots to play off of. B+(**)

The Impossible Gentlemen (2012, Basho): Quartet, primarily pianist Gwilym Simcock and guitarist Mike Walker -- three and four song credits respectively -- backed by Steve Swallow on bass and Adam Nussbaum (who has the other song credit) on drums. Simcock (b. 1981) is a hot young player; Walker (b. 1962) has side credits from 1991 but only one record under his own name, yet they make a powerfully interesting match here. B+(***)

Branford Marsalis Quartet: Four MFs Playin' Tunes (2011 [2012], Marsalis Music): Saxophonist (mostly tenor, plus some soprano, enough to establish a polling reputation), with pianist Joey Calderazzo, bassist Eric Revis, and drummer Justin Faulkner. Two covers (Thelonious Monk, "My Ideal"), originals by all but the drummer, and they are tunes, not just riffs to improv off. I've never been a fan of the pianist, but he does more than just fluff them up, and the leader sounds exquisite. [By the way, I did finally check out last year's Songs of Mirth and Melancholy on Rhapsody, and it's nowhere close.] A-

Martin, Haynes and Driver: Freedman at Western Front (2012, Barnyard): Canadians Jean Martin (drummer, plays suit case here), Justin Haynes (guitarist, plays ukulele), and Ryan Driver (street-sweeper bristle bass). Freedman is composer Myk Freedman, recently seen playing lap steel in Saint Dirt Elementary School. They call this "rough jazz," as in roughing it. B+(*)

Virginia Mayhew Quartet: Mary Lou Williams: The Next 100 Years (2010 [2012], Renma): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1959, has seven albums since 1988, played with Earl Hines when she was young, and won the New School's first Zoot Sims Memorial Scholarship. This is a program of Mary Lou Williams pieces, with Ed Cherry on guitar to sweeten the swing, Wycliffe Gordon on trombone to deepen it, and no piano to confuse things. B+(***)

Bob Mintzer Big Band: For the Moment (2011 [2012], MCG Jazz): Tenor saxophonist, best known as one of the Yellowjackets, but has had a long solo career including ten records with his Big Band, going back to 1985. The band has the usual 5 reeds, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, and piano-guitar-bass-drums rhythm section, plus this time they've added guitarist-vocalist Chico Pinheiro and percussionist Alex Acuńa for a tour of Brazil. The Latin twists recall Stan Kenton, but nothing really stands out, other than Pinheiro's blasé vocal on "Corcovado" -- something that's been done to death. B

Michael Pedicin: Live @ the Loft (2012, Jazz Hut): Tenor saxophonist, started out as Michael Pedicin Jr., to distinguish from his father, who led a Philadelphia band in the 1950s. Eleventh album. Group includes Johnnie Valentino on guitar, Jim Ridl on piano, bass and drums. Program includes three John Coltrane pieces, one called "Like Sonny." That's his tradition, and he follows it happily. B+(**)

Carol Robbins: Moraga (2012, Jazzcats): Plays harp, fourth album since 2000. The harp flourishes seamlessly mesh with, and often grow out of, Larry Koonse's guitar, with Billy Childs' piano anchoring the soft tone, and Gary Meek's sax and clarinet for contrast. B+(*)

Saint Dirt Elementary School: Abandoned Ballroom (2009 [2012], Barnyard): Canadian group, Toronto (more or less), lap steel player Myk Freedman holds the copyright on the tunes, so figure him the leader. Band adds guitar, piano, analog synth, clarinet, alto sax, bass, and drums. Has an air which ranges between cartoons and cabaret. B+(**)

Wadada Leo Smith: Ten Freedom Summers (2011 [2012], Cuneiform, 4CD): Hard to fault the desire for memorialization, but it does tend toward works that are overwrought and tedious, and that's certainly one's first impression in wading through Smith's thirty-year struggle with the civil rights movement, a subject that hasn't lost its relevance not least because it hasn't achieved its goals, and our hopes for it. Smith's pieces witness history, from "Dred Scott: 1857" to "September 11th, 2001: A Memorial," with most ranging from Thurgood Marshall in 1954 to Martin Luther King in 1968, but those are just titles. With no libretto to make connections obvious, the music can be abstracted from the intents, leaving you with 273 minutes of often overwrought and sometimes tedious neoclassicism, all the more so when played by Jeff von der Schmidt's Southwest Chamber Music -- strings, flute, harp, and the tympani that dominate the first disc. Smith's Golden Quartet/Quintet -- the difference seems to be the addition of a second drummer, Susie Ibarra or Pheeroan akLaff -- is more compact, the interplay between Anthony Davis' piano and the leader's trumpet often remarkable. In fact, Smith's trumpet is remarkable throughout, able to cut through his arrangements as well as dice with Davis. Focus there, and keep the faith. B+(***)

Bobby Streng's House Big Band: Getting Housed (2011 [2012], self-released): Tenor saxophonist, based in Ann Arbor, also has a group called Saxomble -- basically, a sax quartet plus rhythm section. For his big band, he pulled 19 musicians I've never head of together and recorded them live. Guitar on two tracks, bass split between one guy on electric and another on acoustic, but really it's all about the horns, lots of punch and polish. I know big bands are supposed to be prohibitively uneconomic, but there sure are a lot of them on record. Part of that is that damn near every musician wants to be an arranger, but often enough they must be a hoot to play in. B+(***)

THOMAS: Janela (2010 [2012], Barnyard): Best I can find out, "T H O M A S is the ongoing brainchild of Toronto's Thom Gill . . . exploring the world of song, at home and abroad, with blissfully confused audiences." Gill plays "guitar, tonebank, organ, vocals" -- joined by various others, mostly playing synths and/or adding vocals. The latter trend to the falsetto of nu soul. The rest exceeds my grasp of "the world of song," leaving me confused, and I wouldn't say "blissfully." C

Sumi Tonooka: Now (2010 [2012], ARC, 2CD): Pianist, b. 1956 in Philadelphia, cut her first album in 1984, has seven now, on utterly obscure labels, although she's popped up in Penguin Guide and Francis Davis has written about her. This one is solo, covers on the first disc, originals plus a very nice Eubie Blake closer on the second. B+(**)

David Ullmann Quintet: Falling (2011 [2012], Wet Cash): Guitarist, lifelong New Yorker, studied at New School, second album: quinet with Karel Ruzicka Jr. (sax), Chris Dingman (vibes), Gary Wang (bass), and Vinnie Sperrazza (drums). Various postbop moves, some strong sax leads, some intricate spots with the vibes sparkling. B+(*)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Roni Ben-Hur/Santi Debriano: Out Thing (Motema)
  • Josh Berman & His Gang: There Now (Delmark)
  • Ed Byrne's Latin Jazz Evolution: Conquistador (Blue Truffle Music)
  • Neil Cowley Trio: The Faceof Mount Molehill (Naim Jazz)
  • Natalie Cressman & Secret Garden: Unfolding (self-released)
  • Adam Glasser: Mzansi (Sunnyside)
  • Fred Lonberg-Holm's Fast Citizens: Gather (Delmark)
  • William Parker: Centering: Unreleased Early Recordings 1976-1987 (No Business, 6CD)
  • Preservation Hall Jazz Band: 50th Anniversary Collection (1962-2010, Columbia/Legacy, 4CD): advance, September 25

Purchases:

  • Frank Ocean: Channel Orange (Def Jam)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:


  • Mike Konczal: Mythological Job Creators:

    I'd argue that instead of self-reliance, the real idea the right is appealing to here is the idea of the "job creator." It goes beyond the person who gets by on his own without any help from the government or the public at large. It's the idea that the rich create all the value of the economy. [ . . . ]

    And, crucially, rather than being a myth or a fairy tale conservatives tell themselves, this idea of the "job creator" is the basis for current policy-making on the right. As Texas Governor Rick Perry put it during the primary, "America is not going to move forward until we remove restrictions of over-taxation, over-regulation and over-litigation on the job creators and free them so the jobs can be created." Charles Krauthammer argues on TV that we have a capital strike that's holding back the economy. John Boehner gives speeches where he argues "private-sector job creators in particular -- are rattled by what they've seen out of this town over the last few years. My worry is that for American job creators, all the uncertainty is turning to fear that this toxic environment for job creation is a permanent state. Job creators in America are essentially on strike."

    Speeches like these diagnose the problem, and then it turns into policy. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney's policy plans for job creation operate under the assumption that those at the top of the economic pyramid are being held in check. His Day One proposals include "the elimination of Obama-era regulations that unduly burden the economy or job creation," "revers[ing] the executive orders issued by President Obama that tilt the playing field in favor of organized labor," cutting corporate taxes, eliminating the estate tax, and a variety of other policy designed to give the "job creators" a firmer hand in controlling the economy. His education policy includes putting private actors in charge of everything, especially putting commercial banks back into the sweet spot of collecting government-insured money and expanding how easy it is for for-profit colleges to qualify for federal money. Presumably he does this because the private is always superior to the public, regardless of how much the business model appears to be a vacuum for subsidies. His tax and social safety net policy focus on boosting the earnings of those at the top of the pyramid on the backs of those at the bottom.

    These policies include no hint that the economy is stuck due to inadequate demand or the weak purchasing power of the middle and working classes and the delinking of wages and productivity. There's no mention of the need to expand education and infrastructure to create the economy of the 21st century. There's absolutely no sense that the economy encourages the most innovative or entrepreneurial when there is full employment and a portable social safety net that provides economic security. And it is light-years away from the observation that society is a system of cooperation in which the value in the economy is created together.

    Also see Konczal's follow up: What Policy Agenda Follows From "You Didn't Build That?".

  • Andrew Leonard: Dusty, Red-State Bailout: On federal crop insurance, a form of "safety net for climate change."

    Dust bowl, here we come? The worst drought in the United States in 50 years is still looking for more records to break. On Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack declared another 39 counties in eight states disaster areas, bringing the current total to 1,297 counties in 29 states -- or one out of every three counties in the country. According to the Drought Monitor, 61 percent of the continental United States is currently experiencing "moderate to exceptional drought." The situation is most extreme in Iowa and Illinois -- two states responsible for a third of the U.S. corn production.

    With each day that passes, the disaster is getting worse, and there's no imminent help to be expected from the weather gods -- the near-term forecast for much of the grain belt is "hot and dry." Corn and soybean prices are spiking to record heights, even the mighty Mississippi is drying up, and food prices are bound to rise, both in the United States and globally. Most troubling of all: If you are inclined to believe the consensus prediction of climate scientists, this is exactly the kind of extreme weather catastrophe that we can expect to see more of in the years ahead.

    Never mind the wishy-washy dilly-dallying that warns us not to attribute any specific climate event to rising temperatures. The circumstantial evidence alone is broadly compelling. The last 12 months, NOAA tells us, were the warmest in North America since detailed records started being kept in 1895. In June, 2,284 temperature records were broken in the U.S. -- and lo and behold, a historically massive drought hammered the country in July. The most recent climate science suggests that rising temperatures will increase the intensity and frequency of future extreme weather events. With desiccated cornfields sending farmers into fits of gloom across the nation, now might be a good time to wonder if we ought to be doing anything to prepare for even worse climate-induced agricultural mayhem in the future.

    Leonard explains that federal crop insurance was a New Deal invention, even though it's been continued mostly because it suits agribusiness. And he points out that "When Republican constituents need help, Republican senators are suddenly a lot friendlier to the welfare state." And he adds this:

    It's amusing, if a little bit unfair, to compare Roosevelt's comments to Wallace to a statement of profound helplessness made by the current secretary of agriculture to reporters on Wednesday, with respect to what the federal government could do for farmers above and beyond making access to emergency loans cheaper.

    I get on my knees everyday and I'm saying an extra prayer right now. If I had a rain prayer or a rain dance I could do, I would do it.

    As Gov. Rick Perry found out in Texas, prayer doesn't bring rain. Nor is simply hoping for the best or appealing to native spirits likely to decrease the number of extreme weather events in the future.

    What might help, however, is paying the proper attention to what science can tell us about how future risks might be mitigated. Put the political and ideological battle over the earth's temperature aside: For the companies that stand to lose the most from massive weather disasters -- the reinsurance companies that backstop regular insurance companies across the planet -- the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events is a very big bottom line deal.

  • Andrew Leonard: Romney's Tax Nightmare:

    It's bad enough that the son of a man who set the template for modern presidential candidates by releasing 12 years of his returns can't be persuaded to release more than one year (plus an estimate for 2011). But one would tend to expect that a man who has been doing nothing but run for president since 2006 would take pains not to engage in tax-avoidance strategies guaranteed to make him look bad politically.

    But one would be wrong. Because quite obviously, Romney screwed up. The only thing we can say for sure about his tax strategy is that he didn't manage his affairs as a serious presidential candidate should have. So maybe the question we should be asking instead of, What is he hiding? is, Why didn't he clean up his act years ago?

    And the answer to that question, I would argue, is that Romney is unable to escape who he truly is: a card-carrying member of the 1 percent who believes it is his right, nay, his duty, to minimize his taxes. Because there's certainly nothing unusual about a man in Romney's position (minus the presidential aspirations!) purchasing the best low taxes money can buy. It's standard behavior for Fortune 500 corporations -- just like the outsourcing and offshoring strategies that Bain (with or without Romney technically at the helm) invested in. In this world, an offshore Cayman account isn't the exotic scam that it seems to you and me -- it's a marker of wealth and position, like a membership in an elite country club, or horses in a stable, or a pair of Cadillacs in the garage. It's what you do! It's what's expected.

  • Alex Pareene: Aaron Sorkin Versus Reality: One more for the "Hack List," including a critique of Sorkin's HBO series The Newsroom. I've seen two episodes. The second was uproarious for about 60 seconds as Jeff Daniels roasted three idiots on immigration -- I've always been a sucker for Oklahoma jokes -- but otherwise the worst hour of TV I've seen all year. Actually, The Veep isn't much funnier, but at least it tries to be a comedy, and occasionally succeeds. And I walked out after about 15 minutes of Political Animals, so there could be worse shows.

    Aaron Sorkin is why people hate liberals. He's a smug, condescending know-it-all who isn't as smart as he thinks he is. His feints toward open-mindedness are transparently phony, he mistakes his opinion for common sense, and he's preachy. Sorkin has spent years fueling the delusional self-regard of well-educated liberals. He might be more responsible than anyone else for the anti-democratic "everyone would agree with us if they weren't all so stupid" attitude of the contemporary progressive movement. And age is not improving him.

  • Robin Wells: Mitt Romney's Offer of Government of Billionaires, for Billionaires, by Billionaires:

    As a very perceptive article in the ew York Magazine, Lisa Miller describes how new psychological research indicates that wealth erodes empathy with others. In the "Money-Empathy Gap", Miller cites one researcher who says that:

    "The rich are way more likely to prioritize their own self-interests above the interests of other people. It makes the more likely to exhibit characteristics that we would stereotypically associate with, say, assholes."

    Researchers found a consistent correlation between higher income, management responsibility and disagreeableness. One researcher interpreted her findings to imply that money makes people disinterested in the welfare of others. "It's not a bad analogy to think of them as a little autistic" says Kathleen Vos, a professor at the University of Minnesota.

    If this research is accurate (as it seems to be, replicated in various ways by several researches), the synergies between it, the increasing concentration of wealth and the Citizens United ruling, have striking implications for the future of the Republican party. As Newt Gingrich, the uber-southern politician, plaintively explained how he lost the Republican primary: "Romney had 16 billionaires. I had only one." The domination by the super-wealthy means that Republicans not only have no interest in the welfare of the rest of the 99.9%, they have no understanding of why this is a problem. The noblesse oblige days of the old money, such as the Bushes, the Kennedys and the Roosevelts are long gone, replaced by the new mega-money of hedge funds, corporate raiders and global industrialists.

    How else can one explain the allegiance of the Republican party to the profoundly unpopular Ryan tax plan, which would eviscerate Medicare and Medicaid while delivering more tax cuts to the rich? What is the future of a party in a democracy when the powers-that-be can no longer even understand, much less address, the welfare of the vast majority of its citizens?


Links for further study:

  • Dean Baker: The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive: E-book, available as a big PDF file, or on Kindle or Nook. I've been meaning to get to this for some time now. Looks very important.

  • Helena Cobban: West Point Military Historian Denies the Net Value of a Decade of War.

  • George Scialabba: 2001 review of Charles Lindblom, The Market System: What It Is, How It Works, and What to Make of It, regarded by Henry Farrell over at Crooked Timber as must-read.

  • Nicholas Shaxson: Where the Money Lives: Long, detailed piece on Romney's tax avoidance schemes. For example:

    One cannot properly understand Wall Street's size and power without appreciating the central role of offshore tax havens. There is absolutely no evidence that Bain has done anything illegal, but private equity is one channel for this secrecy-shrouded foreign money to enter the United States, and a filing for Mitt Romney's first $37 million Bain Capital Fund, of 1984, provides a rare window into this. One foreign investor, of $2 million, was the newspaper tycoon, tax evader, and fraudster Robert Maxwell, who fell from his yacht, and drowned, off of the Canary Islands in 1991 in strange circumstances, after looting his company's pension fund. The Bain filing also names Eduardo Poma, a member of one of the "14 families" oligarchy that has controlled most of El Salvador's wealth for decades; oddly, Poma is listed as sharing a Miami address with two anonymous companies that invested $1.5 million between them. The filings also show a Geneva-based trustee overseeing a trust that invested $2.5 million, a Bahamas corporation that put in $3 million, and three corporations in the tax haven of Panama, historically a favored destination for Latin-American dirty money -- "one of the filthiest money-laundering sinks in the world," as a U.S. Customs official once put it.

    Bain Capital has said it did everything required by the U.S. government to check that the investors were not associated with unsavory interests. U.S. law doesn't require Bain to enforce the tax laws of its investors' home countries, but the presence of Swiss trustees, Bahamas trusts, and Panama corporations would raise red flags with any tax authority.

  • Elbert Ventura: Christopher Hayes's Jeremiad Against the Ruling Class: Review of Hayes' new book, Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy (2012, Crown).

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Book Roundup

Forty more book squibs. Last one was April 19, so I figured another one was overdue. Looking back at my scrach file, I found about sixty piled up, but many were just stubs with future publication dates starting in late April: examples include Paul Krugman's End This Depression Now, Steve Coll's Private Empire, John De Graaf/David K Batker's What's the Economy For, Anyway? -- books that I've managed to read while my research lagged. Normally, I'd dive in and fill out those stubs, but then I'd wind up with two columns worth of books, and I don't really have time right now. So here's what I do have.


Daron Acenoglu/James Robinson: Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty (2012, Crown Business): The answer they find is "man-made political and economic institutions" -- an easy case study is to compare North and South Korea; harder ones go back to ancient Rome and medieval Venice, and try to predict where the US and China are going (mostly down, I gather). Authors previously wrote Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (2005, Cambridge University Press).

Terry H Anderson: Bush's Wars (2011, Oxford University Press): An attempt at a big view synthesis of Bush's seven-year war path, plus a bit more on Obama's prosecution of same, but at 312 pp he'll also have to boil a lot down. Billed as a "balanced history," that also means he'll have to tidy up the manifest failures of policies that could hardly have been more deranged.

Ken Ballen: Terrorists in Love: The Real Lives of Islamic Radicals (2011, Free Press): Can't fault one for wanting to get a broader, deeper look at the people castigated as terrorists, even a federal prosecutor. Foreword by Peter L. Bergen.

Jason Burke: The 9/11 Wars (2011, Allen Lane; paperback, 2011, Penguin Global): British journalist, based in New Delhi, reports on various conflicts of the last decade, but mostly in and around Afghanistan. Previously wrote Al-Qaeda: The True Story of Radical Islam (paperback, 2004, IB Tauris).

Susan Cain: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking (2012, Crown): Reassurance, support, defense, therapy for the one-third of all people classified as introverts, touting their little-appreciated advantages. Written by an introvert with a Harvard Law degree. She compares her book to Betty Friedan's, which is a bit of a stretch, but as someone who's explicitly been denied more than one job because he wasn't considered outgoing enough, I appreciate the effort.

William D Cohan: Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World (2011; paperback, 2012, Anchor): Finance writer, wrote House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street (2009, Doubleday) when the abyss opened his eyes. Big book on why Goldman Sachs was not just too big but too ruthless (and too well connected) to fail.

Nancy L Cohen: Delirium: How the Sexual Counterrevolution Is Polarizing America (2012, Counterpoint): Counterrevolution? The main thing that the political successes of the anti-abortion crowd shows is that the nation is becoming less democratic, less respectful of personal views, and less tolerant -- more eager to take advantage of temporary accidents (like the mass insanity of the 2010 elections) to impose an anti-popular straitjacket of law.

Lizzie Collingham: The Taste of War: World War II and the Battle for Food (2012, Penguin): Covers the whole world during the war, focusing on how the armies and civilians were fed, or in many cases not -- the Bengal famine one famous case, far away from any front but linked nonetheless.

Peter Corning: The Fair Society: The Science of Human Nature and the Pursuit of Social Justice (2011, University of Chicago Press): Tries to build a human nature case for equality, equity, and reciprocity as the basic building blocks of society. I'm always leery of biosociology, but the political case for the same strikes me as if not quite self-evident about the only one that can be reasoned. Another book along these lines is Samuel Bowles/Herbert Gintis: A Cooperative Species: Human Reciprocity and Its Evolution (2011, Princeton University Press).

John D'Agata/Jim Fingal: The Lifespan of a Fact (paperback, 2012, WW Norton): Short argument over the difference between truth and facts, with D'Agata billed as the "author" and Fingal as the "fact checker." D'Agata previously wrote About a Mountain, on the Yucca Mountain nuclear dump, and evidently had some trouble with his facts (and fact-checkers).

Emanuel Derman: Models. Behaving. Badly.: Why Confusing Illusion with Reality Can Lead to Disaster, on Wall Street and in Life (2011, Free Press): A Goldman Sachs quant looks back on the art of model building, discovering some limits to models, and rethinking their usefulness. Mostly finance with some asides on science and philosophy -- Derman started out as a physicist. Would be interesting to look at other areas where modelling puts people out on a limb. Previously wrote My Life as a Quant: Reflections on Physics and Finance (2004; paperback, 2007, Wiley).

John Patrick Diggins: Why Niebuhr Now? (2011, University of Chicago Press): American cold war-era theologian, died in 1971, has returned lately as a touchstone for both pro- and anti-war politicians and polemicists -- Andrew J. Bacevich keyed one of his recent books off Niebuhr and wrote an intro to a reprint of Niebuhr's The Irony of American History, while Diggins also starts with laudatory quotes from McCain and Obama.

Peter Eichstaedt: Consuming the Congo: War and Conflict Minerals in the World's Deadliest Place (2011, Lawrence Hill): Valuable minerals, corrupt politicians, expendable people, you can focus on the post-1994 war that killed five million, or go back all the way to King Leopold, or for that matter earlier when Kongo was one of Africa's most prodigious slave entrepots.

Charles Fishman: The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water (2011, Free Press): Something on the future water crisis, more on the oddities of current use, and bits about Saturn and other esoteric sources. Previous book was The Wal-Mart Effect: How the World's Most Powerful Company Really Works -- and How It's Transforming the American Economy, which suggests a journalist's eye and a quest for big pictures.

Don Fulsom: Nixon's Darkest Secrets: The Inside Story of America's Most Troubled President (2012, Thomas Dunne Books): Not quite the same thing as Nixon's Greatest Crimes -- most of which were hard to keep secret, and some were even bragged about -- but related in all sorts of dark and deviously backhanded ways.

Jonah Goldberg: The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas (2012, Sentinel HC): More from the guy who taught you that Fascism is friendly. Of course, liberals cheat: they use facts, logic, argue for the public good, advocate change in favor of greater fairness and more equal opportunity. And they don't go around calling people Fascists, except when they are.

Michael Grabell: Money Well Spent? The Truth Behind the Trillion-Dollar Stimulus, the Biggest Economic Recovery Plan in History (2012, Public Affairs): Refers to the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009," which as I recall proposed well less than $1 trillion, and was further watered down with tax breaks that translated poorly into spending. (Grabell claims the higher figure "when extensions and inflation adjustments are factored in.") It's a fair question which deserves a fair treatment; doubt this is it.

Elizabeth Holtzman/Cynthia L Cooper: Cheating Justice: How Bush and Cheney Attacked the Rule of Law, Plotted to Avoid Prosecution -- and What We Can Do About It (2011, Beacon Press): Former prosecutor and congresswoman, wrote a book during the Bush reign laying out the case for impeachment, remains hot on the miscreants' tails. Good thing someone is. Nothing Obama did or didn't do has disappointed me so much as his unwillingness to look back at the Bush years and expose the malfeasances there -- and not just because had he done so he would have been forced to think twice before repeating so many of them.

Robert Johnson: The Afghan Way of War: How and Why They Fight (2011, Oxford University Press): A survey of the changing tactics used by Afghan warriors since the 19th century to fight off foreign aggression, which since 2001 means the US (and its NATO allies).

Peter D Kiernan: Becoming China's Bitch: and Nine More Catastrophes We Must Avoid Right Now (2012, Turner): Another self-declared "centrist" (and former Goldman Sachs partner) out to save the nation from problems like, "our semiconscious dependency on China, our lack of a centrally coordinated intelligence effort, our downward-spiraling health-care system, and the continually expanding problem of illegal immigration."

Andrew Kilman: The Failure of Capitalist Production: Underlying Causes of the Great Recession (paperback, 2011, Pluto Press): A Marxist critique of the Great Recession -- author previously wrote Reclaiming Marx's Capital: A Refutation of the Myth of Inconsistency. Title seems a bit misleading: I doubt that there was a problem with production so much as declining profits sent capitalists elsewhere in search of higher gains, especially into finance where it was easy to create imaginary value, at least while it lasted.

Kristin Kimball: The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love (2010; paperback, 2011, Scribner): NY journalist moves to a 500 acre farm in Vermont, resolves to grow everything one needs for "a whole diet" -- meat and dairy as well as veggies and grains, so there's an element here of moving off the grid.

Charles A Kupchan: No One's World: The West, the Rising Rest, and the Coming Global Turn (2012, Oxford University Press): An antidote to the silly genre of books predicting who will dominate whom in the coming century, as domination itself becomes both less possible and less desirable.

Kwasi Kwarteng: Ghosts of Empire: Britain's Legacies in the Modern World (2012, Public Affairs): British historian and politician (Conservative MP), parents came to England from Ghana, so he knows a bit about the late empire from both ends, but like many of his countrymen may tend to the effect, most of all the benefit, of having experienced British rule.

Walter Laqueur: After the Fall: The End of the European Dream and the Decline of a Continent (2012, Thomas Dunne Books): Historian, now in his 90s, has written about Fascism, anti-semitism, Zionism (which he strongly identifies with, having escaped pre-WWII Poland for Palestine). Predicts gloom and doom for Europe.

David Marsh: The Euro: The Battle for the New Global Currency (paperback, 2011, Yale University Press): The background on how the Euro came about, and why it's not working out so well. Revised and updated from some previous book, possibly Marsh's 2010 The Euro: The Politics of the New Global Currency. Also related: Johan van Overtveldt: The End of the Euro: The Uneasy Future of the European Union (2011, Agate B2).

Chris Martenson: The Crash Course: The Unsustainable Future of Our Economy, Energy, and Environment (2011, Wiley): Peak oil, of course, and peak damn-near-everything else, plus the notion of tipping points, suggest that the economic collapse may differ from previous recessions not just because we're treating it with uncommon stupidity -- there may be insurmountable structural problems beneath the usual cycles. I think there's some truth to this.

Richard Martin: Super-Fuel: Thorium, the Green Energy Source for the Future (2012, Palgrave Macmillan): Tries to make the case for nuclear power plants fueled by thorium instead of uranium. Thorium is at least as plentiful as uranium. It is radioactive, but less so than uranium, which makes it a more expensive fuel, but also safer -- both in the reactor and as waste -- and has less proliferation risk. India has done the most work toward commercializing thorium power plants, and expects to get 30% of its electricity from thorium by 2050. Looks like the book greatly exaggerates its prospects.

Ralph Nader: Getting Steamed to Overcome Corporatism: Build It Together to Win (paperback, 2011, Common Courage Press): Don't know whether he's running for president again, but it doesn't to hedge your bets with a campaign book. And I'm sure it was a hell of a lot easier to write than anything Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich brokered. Even has some value if he doesn't run.

James Lawrence Powell: Dead Pool: Lake Powell, Global Warming, and the Future of Water in the West (2011, University of California Press): Lake Powell is currently about half-full, or half-empty if that's your preference, its needs tapped out by cities like Las Vegas that wouldn't exist but for Colorado River water (and hydroelectric power). It supply has long failed to satisfy the Colorado Compact which optimistically divvied up the water to various states, and global warming only promises drier years ahead. Also on the subject: Jonathan Waterman: Running Dry: A Journey From Source to Sea Down the Colorado River (2010, National Geographic); and Norris Hundley Jr: Water and the West: The Colorado River Compact and the Politics of Water in the American West (paperback, 2009, University of California Press).

Dylan Ratigan: Greedy Bastards: How We Can Stop Corporate Communists, Banksters, and Other Vampires from Sucking America Dry (2012, Simon & Schuster): Author has a daytime talk show, evidently left of center despite the hallucinatory title. I understand that "vampires" may be some sort of metaphor, but "corporate communists" is impossible to pin down (despite the smell).

Simon Reynolds: Bring the Noise: 20 Years of Writing About Hip Rock and Hip Hop (paperback, 2012, Soft Skull Press): Scattered essays and interviews -- looks like a reprint of his 2010 Totally Wired: Postpunk Interviews and Overviews. Also wrote Retromania: Pop Culture's Addiction to Its Own Past (paperback, 2011, Faber & Faber); Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978-1984 (paperback, 2006, Penguin); Generation Ecstasy: Into the World of Techno and Rave Culture (paperback, 1999, Routledge); and, with Joy Press, The Sex Revolts: Gender, Rebellion, and Rock 'n' Roll (1995, Harvard University Press).

David Rothkopf: Power, Inc.: The Epic Rivalry Between Big Business and Government -- and the Reckoning That Lies Ahead (2012, Farrar Straus and Giroux): What rivalry? Doesn't he know that government's been bought and paid for? That the only real conflicts left are between the corporate sponsors? That there is no such thing as a "public interest" anymore? Previously wrote Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making.

Ellen E Schultz: Retirement Heist: How Corporations Plunder and Profit From the Nest Eggs of American Workers (2011, Portfolio): I was enrolled in a pension plan only once in my working career -- with a company that wound up under Chapter 11. (Everything else has been 401k, if even that.) No sooner than the papers were filed, the creditors decided that the pension was "overfunded" and moved to dissolve it. I got a small check, and that was the end of it. So that's one example of the "plunder and profit" Schultz writes about. No doubt there are many more.

Martin Sieff: That Should Still Be Us: How Thomas Friedman's Flat World Myths Are Keeping Us Flat on Our Backs (2012, John Wiley): Refuting Friedman's nonsense should be the easy part. The hard part is figuring out how people dumb enough to buy into Friedman actually did things. That they turned out to be damaging, well, that's easier.

Francis Spufford: Red Plenty (paperback, 2012, Oxford University Press): A novel (of some sort) based on the promise of central economic planning in the Soviet Union, a concept you probably expected to have been expunged in the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nick Hornby called it "a hammer-and-sickle version of Altman's Nashville." Crooked Timber has done a whole series of posts on this book.

Barb Stuckey: Taste What You're Missing: The Passionate Eater's Guide to Why Good Food Tastes Good (2012, Free Press): The science of taste, possibly the psychology, maybe even a bit of art. Possibly similar but heavier: Gordon M Shepherd: Neurogastronomy: How the Brain Creates Flavor and Why It Matters (2011, Columbia University Press); older: Hervé This: Molecular Gastronomy: Exploring the Science of Flavor (paperback, 2005, Columbia University Press).

David Swanson, ed: The Military Industrial Complex at 50 (paperback, 2011, self-published): It bogles the mind to think what Eisenhower might make of his Military-Industrial Complex fifty years and many wars later. An interesting list of contributors, most of whom have elsewhere registered how appalled they are.

Nicholas Wapshott: Keynes/Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics (2011, WW Norton): Actually, when both were alive it wasn't much of a clash: Hayek was obsessed with communism, which Keynes properly regarded as irrelevant. Keynes was an immensely important analyst of the Great Depression, and Hayek was a right-wing crank -- someone who wouldn't be remembered today except that other right-wingers find him useful. So trying to square the two against each other is a bit far fetched. Why? Wapshott previously wrote Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher: A Political Marriage.

Colin Woodard: American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (2011, Viking): Books indulging this impulse to hack us up and sort us out come every few years -- cf. Joel Garreau: The Nine Nations of North America and, maybe, Dante Chinni: Our Patchwork Nation: The Surprising Truth About the "Real" America. This one promises more history, hence more overdetermination.


My paperback notes are all stubs too, so will hold until next time. I shouldn't wait three months to do one of these, then not have the time to bring it up to date.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Expert Comments

Christgau's picks today: Frank Ocean (Channel Orange) and David Greenberger/Mark Greenberg/Paul Cebar (Tell Me That Before). I commented.

The David Greenberger was one of four records he released in 2011 -- I wrote Jazz Prospecting notes on all four some time ago (March 26), and was a little overwhelmed by the redundancy. I credited this as David Greenberger/Mark Greenberg, ignoring "special guest" Paul Cebar, but Bob's credit matches the spine. It's probably the best of the bunch, but I gave the same high B+ grade to the Greenberger/Bangalore How I Became Uncertain, which has a little more muscle tone to the music.

The Frank Ocean record is currently number six in my metacritic file, one mention behind the 4th place tie (Leonard Cohen and Spiritualized), two behind Grimes. Top of the list is Jack White (+8), then Cloud Nothings (+4). By the way, back in my notebook I presented a snapshot of the metacritic list with Rolling Stone's mid-2012 best-ofs removed. The leftovers (which is to say, what every other critical source liked) are so lame you have to grudgingly respect RS's critical acumen (top five: Spiritualized, Andrew Bird, The Men, Death Grips, Kathleen Edwards).

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Rhapsody Streamnotes (July 2012)

Pick up text here.

Expert Comments

Sharpsm on Frank Ocean and his critics:

Things I've Learned About Frank Ocean From Reading High-Powered Rock Critics Over The Last Week Or So

  1. Frank Ocean is gay. Or not gay exactly but like that. What do you call it when a guy has feelings for another guy but doesn't actually use the word gay about himself? Bromantic? That's a thing, isn't it? Whatever. The point is, Frank Ocean comes out of a deeply homophobic subculture and there's no way to understand his significance without registering the fact that he's totally sort of gay or something.
  2. Frank Ocean grew up in New Orleans and moved to Los Angeles after Hurricane Katrina, but because tracing what if any influence New Orleans has had on his music would be a lot like work, this fact is of no significance whatsoever and we're not going to deal with it.
  3. Although Frank Ocean dislikes being classified as an R&B singer, it is vitally important in discussing him to mention every under-40 R&B singer in Sasha Frere-Jones' hard drive, none of whom sound anything like him.
  4. If Frank Ocean puts you in mind of Drake and The Weeknd, congratulations: you're qualified to be a rock critic for the New Yorker (if you further think that Drake hovers over all of contemporary R&B, give yourself an extra ten points, and be sure and put that on your resume).
  5. Frank Ocean self-released a brilliant album (or "mixtape" as the kids call it) called nostalgia, Ultra last year, but because in 2011 we were all applying our mighty intellects to the significance of Tune-Yards and Adele and Bon Iver (and Drake, who hovers over all), it kind of got by a lot of us, so it's of no interest whatsoever (plus, it came out before we all knew he was totally sort of gay or something, so there really wasn't much to say about it).
  6. On nostalgia, Ultra Frank Ocean recorded a song called "American Wedding," which featured Ocean's new lyrics sung to the backing track of the Eagles' "Hotel California." If you're Sasha Frere-Jones, this fact is "not surprising."
  7. Frank Ocean released nostalgia, Ultra as a download on his Tumblr, some kind of social media blog thingy. In fact, he announced that he's totally sort of gay or something on his Tumblr. Frank Ocean is young enough to really understand and utilize online phenomena like Tumblr and Twitter and, I don't know, YouTube I guess. This fact is of the utmost importance in appreciating his music. If you don't know why, you're probably not hip enough to listen to Frank Ocean and we're certainly not going to explain it to you.
  8. The best way to learn about music is not to listen to it but to communicate in "hyperdrive" with "readers, artists, music-biz movers and shakers, and especially other critics" via Facebook and Twitter. If you can't do that, sorry, not our fault.
  9. You know who Frank Ocean is really like? Super sharp and super hip people like Sheila Heti and Lena Dunham and other people we've been reading about in the New York Times Arts & Leisure section over the last month or so. That's who he's really like. You should check them out. That should help.
  10. I can't stress enough that Frank Ocean is totally sort of gay or something. This is essential. The music? I don't know, go buy the album I guess. Now if you don't mind I need to check my Twitter feed. My fellow critics and I are in hyperdrive.

If I really want to learn something substantial about Frank Ocean I think I'm going to have to figure out a way to split a couple of pitchers of beer with Joey and Ryan and Nicky and just shoot the shit about the guy for a few hours. Rock critics may not be much help here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Downloader's Diary (22): July 2012

Insert text from here.


This is the 22nd installment, (almost) monthly since August 2010, totalling 559 albums. All columns are indexed and archived here. You can follow A Downloader's Diary on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 20177 [20143] rated (+34), 729 [743] unrated (-14). Been too hot to do much of anything else, so I've been whittling down the jazz queue. Big surprise for me was not one but two albums of solo overdub, something that hardly ever works. Another surprise was that I was goaded into playing one of them by a publicist who proclaimed it one of the year's three best. (I spent some time polling publicists a few years back, only to find further proof that Upton Sinclair was right about them too.)

I haven't been monitoring the depth of my jazz queue, but have noticed that I'm down from three to two baskets, and that the "high" (actually, "normal") priority rows are no longer stuffed. I even opened up a bit of wiggle room in the vocal queue, and pulled at least two records out of the "low" priority row -- which until recently had things piled on top, so it was out of sight as well as out of mind. Anyhow, the queue is now down around 175 records. Don't know where it's usually stood, but 225 is a reasonable guess. I've spoken of my jazz reviewing "business" as being in a "death spiral" as my access to new records dries up. This is evidence of that, and while I could probably reverse the trend if I put a lot more energy into it, the whole thing is wearing.

On the other hand, I do take some pleasure in tidying things up, so there's that.

Downloader's Diary will be up tomorrow, or maybe late tonight, where Michael Tatum argues that there's a lot of good new music out there. Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week, where I'll complain about the dearth thereof.


Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio & Jeb Bishop: Burning Live at Jazz Ao Centro (2011 [2012], JACC): Portuguese saxophonist, mostly tenor, always an impressive free player -- I recommend his 2010 album, Searching for Adam (Not Two). His Motion Trio, including Miguel Mira (cello) and Gabriel Ferrandini (drums), debuted on a 2009 eponymous album. Bishop is a trombonist from Chicago, one of the founding members of the Vandermark 5; his record elsewhere has been spotty, and he mostly muddies the waters here, with three long joint improv pieces. B+(**)

Arild Andersen: Celebration (2010 [2012], ECM): Norwegian bassist, a major figure since 1975, his most recent triumph a 2007 small group with Scottish saxophonist Tommy Smith, Live at Belleville. Here he follows Smith home to Glasgow for another live date, this with Smith's beloved Scottish National Jazz Orchestra, working their way through a set of modern jazz standards (Dave Holland, Jan Garbarek, Chick Corea, Trygve Seim, Keith Jarrett, and Andersen). The stars have separate problems here: to make the bass audible the Orchestra has to go quiet, and while Smith has enough volume to tower above his protégés, he doesn't take enough space to redeem the record. In between, the sound seems compressed and shallow. B

Sylvia Bennett: Sonrie (2011, Out of Sight Music): Singer, b. in Italy, raised in US, got her "big break" in 1980s singing for Lionel Hampton; has a half-dozen albums. This one is all in Spanish, all the way down to the liner notes and credits, where the name of Hal S. Batt stands out (bateria y percusiones programadas; guitarras; coros; programación, bajo y cuerdas; producido por; grabado y mezclado por; ingeniero de grabación) plus two songs. No horn credits, so that must be Batt too, but he does seem to have had some help with the strings. I'm tempted to find the arrangements hokey, but Bennett makes it all seem credible. B+(*)

Bill Carrothers: Family Life (2009 [2012], Pirouet): Pianist, b. 1964 in Minneapolis, has 18 albums since 1992, should be counted as a major figure. This one is solo, always something hard to get excited about; thoughtful, logical, as always. B+(**)

Isaac Darche: Boom-Bap!tism (2011 [2012], Bju'ecords): Guitarist, originally from California, now in Brooklyn. First album, an organ trio with Sean Wayland on the B-3, Mark Ferber on drums. Wayland wrote three pieces, Darche four, one cover (Rogers & Hart). Lines are trickier than the norm, and the guitar-organ harmonics are tight. B+(*)

Steve Davis: Gettin' It Done (2011 [2012], Posi-Tone): Trombonist, b. 1967, studied with Bob Brookmeyer and Jackie McLean, played in Art Blakey's last band, has more than a dozen albums since 1996. Basic hard bop sextet here, with Josh Bruneau on trumpet and Mike DiRubbo on alto sax, Larry Willis on piano, plus bass and drums. Mostly upbeat, cools off a bit toward the end, but gets it done -- especially when DiRubbo takes over. B+(***)

Joey DeFrancesco/Larry Coryell/Jimmy Cobb: Wonderful! Wonderful! (2012, High Note): Superstar confab: organ, guitar, drums, all upbeat, rousing even. Plus DeFrancesco plays trumpet on one cut -- damn good at it, too. B+(**)

Yelena Eckemoff: Forget-Me-Not (2011 [2012], Yelena Music): Pianist, from Moscow, Russia; came to US in 1991. Divides her albums between classical, original instrumental, and vocal -- the jazz fits in the middle (and largest) category. Piano trio, with Mats Eilertsen on bass and Marilyn Mazur on percussion. Smart, precise, tasteful, as is everything I've heard from her. B+(***)

Ari Erev: A Handful of Changes (2011 [2012], self-released): Pianist, from Israel, second album; group favors electric bass and extra percussion, and adds Ofer Shapiro's alto sax and clarinet on one track each, but the real news is on the front cover: "Featuring Joel Frahm" -- five cuts on tenor sax, three cuts on soprano, in peak form on both. Piano sparkles, too. B+(***)

Christian Escoudé Plays Brassens: Au Bois de Mon Coeur (2010 [2012], Sunnyside): French guitarist, b. 1947, has a couple dozen albums since 1975, would have picked up a Django Reinhardt influence even without his gypsy ancestry. Songs by Georges Brassens, mostly guitar and not just Escoudé -- Jean-Baptiste Laya is also on most cuts, and Bireli Lagrčne and Swan Berger get featured slots; some cuts add clarinet or violin, most bass and drums. B+(***)

Essex Improviser's Collective: Lifting the Light (2012, Fred Taylor Music, 2CD): Two horns -- Bob Ackerman (alto/tenor sax, flute, clarinet) and Herb Robertson (trumpet/flugelhorn, valve trombone, percussion, voice) -- bass (Chris Lough) and drums (Fred Taylor, with Adrian Valosin doubling up on half the tracks). Two 75 minute discs of group improv, lots of space to open up in. Robertson is the best known player here, and is especially strong. Never ran across Ackerman before, but he has a half dozen albums on avant labels since 1993; seems like someone to look into further. B+(**)

Curtis Fuller: Down Home (2011 [2012], Capri): Trombonist, b. 1934, cut his first records as a leader in the 1950s, and is still running a hard bop sextet here -- Al Hood plays trumpet, Keith Oxman tenor sax, Chris Stephens piano. Has a light touch with pretty conventional material -- no need to go retro when you're the original. B+(*)

Dan Gailey Jazz Orchestra: What Did You Dream? (2009 [2010], OA2): Saxophonist, teaches at Kansas University, doesn't play here but composed and arranged all six pieces, for a conventional big band -- names I recognize (among many I don't) are Al Hood and Don Aliquo -- plus vibes on one cut, but guitarist Steve Kovalcheck plays a larger-than-usual role. Also large are the saxophone parts, something Gailey has genuine feel for. B+(*)

Jacob Garchik: The Heavens: The Atheist Trombone Album (2012, Yestereve): Trombonist, third album, looks like he overdubbed all the parts to his trombone choir (plus sousaphone, baritone horn, slide trumpet, and alto horn), although for his July 25 Release Show he's recruited a who's who of NYC trombone (plus Brian Drye on baritone horn, Joe Daley on sousaphone, and Kenny Wolleson on drums), looking, no doubt, to further raise the rafters. All horns, some recognizable gospel swoops on the turbulent flow. The song notes are more rational, citing Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein, Stanley Crouch and Mark Twain and Woody Allen. Conclusion: Be Good. A-

Eddie Gomez: Per Sempre (2009 [2012], BFM Jazz): Bassist, b. 1944 in Puerto Rico; has about 25 albums since 1976, along with hundreds of side credits, perhaps most famously with Bill Evans' trio 1966-77. This was recorded live in Bologna, with Marco Pignataro (tenor/soprano sax), Matt Marvuglio (flute), Teo Ciavarella (piano), and Massimo Manzi (drums). All but the drummer contribute songs, plus they cover "Stella by Starlight." B

Chris Greene Quartet: A Group Effort (2011 [2012], Single Malt): Saxophonist (mostly tenor), b. in Evanston, IL; studied at Indiana; based in Chicago; looks like his seventh album since 1998. Quartet with Damian Espinosa (piano, keyboards), Marc Plane (bass), and Steve Corley (drums), with song credits for all but the drummer, plus Kenny Dorham's "Blue Bossa" to close. After a preposterous intro by William Kurk, they find a mainstream groove and settle in, with a drum solo setting up Dorham's magnificent riff. B+(*)

Grupo Falso Baiano: Simplicidade: Live at Yoshi's (2010 [2011], Massaroca): Brazilian choro band from San Francisco, fake Bahians Zack Pitt-Smith (reeds), Brian Moran (7-string guitar), Jesse Appelman (mandolin), and Ami Molinelli (percussion). Given that nearly every Brazilian-flavored record I've heard from the Bay Area has been awful, this didn't seem very promising, but this sets a fast pace from the start, even before Jovino Santos Neto (who is the real thing) sits in on piano. Still, even with Neto piano rarely feels right for choro. B+(*)

Jackson Garrett: Let Sleeping Dogs Lie (2011, self-released): Ten-piece band (or less, credits aren't clear), led by singer-songwriter Christopher Gore, horn arrangements by Marty Steele (who gets co-credits on four songs), nobody in the band named Jackson and/or Garrett. Gore started out in Maine, passed through Montreal c. 1985, wound up in California. Fourth group album, some female vocals, featured spots for Slim Man and EWF saxophonist Gary Bias. Not enough zip, or maybe just too many clumsy horns, for disco. Truly awful ballad: "Take Me Back to Heaven." C-

Irčne Jacob & Francis Jacob: Je Sais Nager (2012, Sunnyside): French-Swiss actress, b. 1966, has appeared in 40-some films, but this looks to be her first album, backed by her guitarist brother, who wrote the music and a bit more than half of the words. (Four cuts are listed as "inspired by Gilles Deuleuze.") Music has a café feel, but feels more somber, or at least more philosophical. B+(*)

Karen Johns & Company: Peach (2012, Ptarmigan Music/Jazz): Singer-songwriter (pianist Kevin Sanders has co-credits for music on most, but not all, of her songs), works in four covers here, her third album, with husband James Johns playing guitar and producing, the band including sax and trumpet. The covers are most successful, "Chattanooga Choo Choo" a throwback, "Maglio Stasera" and "Sentimentale" excursions into Italian. B+(*)

Jessica Jones/Mark Taylor: Live at the Freight (2011 [2012], New Artists): Tenor sax and French horn respectively -- the latter not to be confused with the Seattle-based tenor saxophonist of the same name -- in a two-horn quartet with John Shifflet on bass and Jason Lewis on drums, a live shot at the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse in Berkeley, California. Mostly free, the horns have a dull lustre, and they stretch out for a long set, interesting but understated. B+(**)

Bruce Kaphan: Quartet (2012, Wiggling Air): Pedal steel guitarist; AMG classified him as new age, probably for his 2001 album, Slider: Ambient Excursions for Pedal Steel Guitar. Quartet includes piano (John R. Burr or Rick Kuhns), bass, and drums. Pedal steel is essential to Hawaiian music, best known in country (especially Wesern swing), and has popped up in gospel, but I couldn't think of jazz musicians using it. Still can't. B-

Stacey Kent: Dreamer in Concert (2011 [2012], Blue Note): Standards singer, although her husband, saxophonist Jim Tomlinson, writes some tunes, including two here that she matched to texts by Kazuo Ishiguro. B. 1968 in New Jersey, based in England, AMG lists 17 albums since 1997. She has a small voice that I find especially charming in French. This is live, a long set, a bit of everything she does, including two Jobims (that she aces), yet another "It Might as Well Be Spring" (the most distinctive of the many I've heard this week). She plays some guitar, and Tomlinson's sax is always supportive. B+(***) [advance]

Sara Leib: Secret Love (2011 [2012], OA2): Standards singer, studied at Berklee and New England Conservatory, settled in Los Angeles. Second album; second one I've played today that started off with "It Might as Well Be Spring." Band has some strong spots, including Dayna Stephens on tenor sax, Eric Harland and Richie Barshay on percussion, Taylor Eigsti or Aaron Parks on piano. Has a warm but indistinct voice, sounds especially nice on "All I Have to Do Is Dream," but much of this just slipped past me. B

Rusk (2012, Fenetre/The Loyal Label): Various artists compilation, out of Norway, although the better known artists are based in New York -- including Filipino altoist Jon Irabagon (doing a dubbed WSQ goof), Korean cellist Okkyung Lee, Norwegian bassist Eivind Opsvik, and trumpeter Nate Wooley. Mostly solo pieces, a few duo, two trios -- Splashgirl's closer is as close as anyone gets to catchy. Packaging is short on notes and legibility; gave it a second shot after locating the hype sheet, written by Chris Monsen. B+(*)

Jane Scheckter: Easy to Remember (2011 [2012], self-released): Standards singer, has acted on stage and in sitcoms, fourth widely spaced album (1988, 1993, 2003). She nails virtually every song, with a band built around Tedd Firth (piano), Jay Leonhart (bass), and Peter Grant (drums). But the "featuring" guests are even better, with Tony DeSare up for a duet, Gil Chimes adding harmonica on an especially delicious "Where or When," and "featuring" slots from the Arbors set: Bucky Pizzarelli, Aaron Weinstein, Warren Vaché, and every singer's best friend, Harry Allen. B+(***)

Christian Scott: Christian aTunde Adjuah (2012, Concord, 2CD): Trumpet player, from New Orleans, b. 1983, nephew of alto saxophonist Donald Harrison. Not sure what the intent of this big time gesture is, especially what all the Africanisms refer to, but it maintains a persistent groove, and (aside from the opening bars) features Scott's most impressive trumpet to date. B+(*) [advance]

Jesse Stacken: Bagatelles for Trio (2011 [2012], Fresh Sound New Talent): Pianist, b. 1978, fourth album since 1978, a trio with Eivind Opsvik (bass) and Jeff Davis (drums). Thirteen numbered pieces called "Bagatelle" -- abstract playthings, built around odd rhythms. B+(*) [advance]

Heiner Stadler: Brains on Fire (1966-74 [2012], P&C Labor, 2CD): German pianist, moved to New York in 1965, hooking into the avant jazz scene, winding up with the original release of this album in 1973 (three cuts), followed by a second volume (three more cuts) in 1974. This drops one track from the second volume ("Pointed") and adds three previously unreleased pieces, one a blowout with the Big Band of the North German Radio Station (including Manfred Schoof, Gerd Dudek, Albert Mangelsdorff, and Wolfgang Dauner). The rest are small groups, mostly with Jimmy Owens on trumpet and Tyrone Washington or Joe Farrell on tenor sax; the exception is a bass-vocal duet, Reggie Workman in fine form, but Dee Dee Bridgewater is barely audible. But everything else crackles. B+(**)

John Surman: Saltash Bells (2009 [2012], ECM): Plays reed instruments -- soprano, tenor, and baritone sax; alto, bass, and contrabass clarinet this time -- and has since the late 1960s. Also plays synthesizer and harmonica, and multitracks various combinations throughout here. Not sure how many times he's done this before -- must be a handful -- but I don't recall any of them being this charming. A-

Richard Sussman Quintet: Continuum (2012, Origin): Pianist, b. 1946, based in New York, teaches at Manhattan School of Music. Fourth album -- first was Free Fall in 1979. I don't get much out of the leader's piano, but he managed to line up Randy Brecker on trumpet/flugelhorn and Jerry Bergonzi on tenor sax, and they are stellar, as usual. Also guests Mike Stern on one cut. B+(*)

Take 6: One (2012, Shanachie): Six-part gospel vocal group, fourteen albums since 1988 (counting at least three Xmas joints). Not quite a cappella but the main instrumental credit is programming, usually Khristian Dentley, sometimes David Thomas. One song by Stevie Wonder, who checks in for quality control. In a world where hundreds of iterations of "Alleluia" counts as an original, they need help. C+

Erena Terakubo with Legends: New York Attitude (2011 [2012], 4Q): Alto saxophonist, b. 1992 in Sapporo, Japan, which would make her about 19 when this was recorded (don't have dates, but the record was originally released in Japan last year); attends Berklee. The Legends are Ron Carter, Kenny Barron, Lee Pearson (drums), and Dominick Farinacci (trumpet). Two originals, mostly hard bop covers. Nice, bright tone, some sharp trumpet breaks, and the rhythm section keeps her shakin'. B+(**)

Yvonne Washington with Gary Norman: Trust in Me (2011, Mercator Media): Standards singer, b. in San Antonio 60-some years ago, based in Houston since 1973. Second album as far as I can tell, following a Billie Holiday tribute c. 2001. Norman plays piano, all the accompaniment she gets, or needs; her church voice and intricate phrasing are striking, but she does have a tendency to pile on too much of a good thing. B+(**)

Cory Wong: Quartet/Quintet (2012, self-released, 2CD): Guitarist, b. in Poughkeepsie, NY; grew up in Minnesota. Second album, one disc Quartet, the other Quintet, the difference subtler than you'd expect: the Quartet alternates pianists Dan Musselman and Kevin Gastonguay, while the Quintet keeps Musselman on piano and moves Gastonguay over to Fender Rhodes, while using a couple different bassists (including Wong). Maintains a nice groove, not a lot more than that. B

Miguel Zenón & Laurent Coq: Rayuela (2011 [2012], Sunnyside): Puerto Rican alto saxophonist, one of the most impressive to emerge since 2000, teams with a French pianist with a half-dozen albums of his own since 1999, for a set of tunes loosely based on a novel by Julio Cortazar. With Dana Leong, who has much more fun with his trombone than with the cello -- the latter is my main reservation here, not the first time that Zenón's fondness for strings has tripped him up. Also Dan Weiss, on drums, tabla, all things percussive. B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Jerry Bergonzi: Shifting Gears (Savant)
  • Bruce Cox Core: Tet (self-released)
  • Dave Douglas Quintet: Be Still (Greenleaf Music): advance, September 25
  • Essex Improviser's Collective: Lifting the Light (Fred Taylor Music, 2CD)
  • Anna Estrada: Volando (Feral Flight)
  • Michael Feinberg: The Elvin Jones Project (Sunnyside): September 11
  • Lua Hadar with Twist: Like A Bridge (Bellalua)
  • Sam Kulik: Escape From Society (Hot Cup)
  • The Jay Lawrence Quartet: Sweet Lime (Jazz Hang)
  • Pat Martino: Alone Together With Bobby Rose (1977-78, High Note)
  • The Odd Trio: Birth of the Minotaur (self-released)
  • Michael Pedicin: Live @ the Loft (Jazz Hut)
  • Josh Rosen/Stan Strickland: Instinct (Ziggle Zaggle Music)
  • Leon Foster Thomas: Brand New Mischief (self-released)

Purchases:

  • Karantamba: Ndigal (Teranga Beat)
  • The Original Sound of Cumbia (1948-79, Soundway, 2CD)
  • The Rough Guide to Highlife [2nd Edition] (World Music Network)
  • Serengeti: Family & Friends (Anticon)
  • Omar Souleyman: Haflat Gharbia: The Western Concerts (Sublime Frequencies)

Expert Comments

My announcement:

I did my synch with robertchristgau.com today, so its database is up-to-date with this post. Not much else changed -- /Changelog.php has the scanty details.

Jazz Prospecting up at my site today. The two A- records may be of interest to non-jazzbos (at least as much as the recent instrumental odds & ends): the Surman has Eno-ish (or Hassell-ian) synths under the reeds; the Garchik offers a twist on gospel trombone. Should have mentioned that Garchik has a record release party coming up July 25 in Brooklyn (Shapeshifter Lab), where he'll replace his overdubs with nearly every important trombonist in NYC.

Nate (sharpsm) spied the Rolling Stone list above and printed it as a comment, hoping to stir up some discussion.

Since Nate posted Rolling Stone's list of what they reckoned to be the 40 best albums of the half-year, I thought I'd gin up a complementary list of what they left out: the following are the top ranked albums from my metacritic file that didn't appear in Rolling Stone's list. The parenthetical numbers are my count of favorable reviews. The bracketed grades are my own, where I have one. This leads me to conclude that Rolling Stone has better taste than their average competitor.

  1. Spiritualized: Sweet Heart Sweet Light (32) [B-]
  2. Andrew Bird: Break It Yourself (28) [**]
  3. The Men: Open Your Heart (26) [**]
  4. Death Grips: The Money Store (22) [B]
  5. Kathleen Edwards: Voyageur (22) [B]
  6. Lambchop: Mr M (22) [*]
  7. Liars: WIXIW (22) [B]
  8. Perfume Genius: Put Your Back N 2 It (22) [B]
  9. Chairlift: Something (21) [*]
  10. Santigold: Master of My Make-Believe (21) [***]
  11. Field Music: Plumb (20)
  12. First Aid Kit: The Lion's Roar (20) [B-]
  13. Dirty Projectors: Swing Lo Magellan (19)
  14. Hot Chip: In Our Heads (19) [*]
  15. Mark Lanegan Band: Blues Funeral (19) [B]
  16. Lower Dens: Nootropics (19) [*]
  17. Tindersticks: The Something Rain (19) [*]
  18. The 2 Bears: Be Strong (18) [*]
  19. Guided by Voices: Let's Go Eat the Factory (18) [B]
  20. Burial: Kindred [EP] (17) [***]
  21. Dirty Three: Toward the Low Sun (17)
  22. Father John Misty: Fear Fun (17)
  23. School of Seven Bells: Ghostory (17) [*]
  24. Shearwater: Animal Joy (17) [B]
  25. John Talabot: Fin (17) [***]
  26. Air: Le Voyage Dans La Lune (16) [A-]
  27. Craig Finn: Clear Heart Full Eyes (16) [***]
  28. Damien Jurado: Maraqopa (16)
  29. Madonna: MDNA (16) [A-]
  30. Saint Etienne: Words and Music by Saint Etienne (16) [**]
  31. Loudon Wainwright III: Older Than My Old Man Now (16) [A]
  32. The Walkmen: Heaven (16) [C]

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Weekend Roundup

Someone asked yesterday whether I'd be running a Weekend Roundup this week, and I replied "no, probably not." Didn't have anything stashed away, but since then I found a few things. Classification sysem is a little ricketty, as I wound up quoting from some of the links I had intended as future references, while leaving the top section dominated by Romney bashing. There will be a lot more of that before the season's out. And hopefully it will get nastier, because if anything these critics are too kind.


  • Robert S Becker: Romney, Perfect Foil for a Republicrat Incumbent?:

    On paper, Obama fans should be ecstatic, taking on a tin-ear, gaffe-prone, flip-flopping, bromide-driven, predatory casino capitalist who fudges, lies, and distorts the destructive downsides to his great business triumphs. Here's a brash politician who shrinks from his single public office -- recoiling from his most celebrated success, the horror of state health reform. Throw in his massive spoils, flush with secret, offshore holdings and tax dodges, capped off with a personal reign of terror against that pet dog on vacation and one fellow student pinned down and victimized for just seeming different. Does this ultimate, fabricated Republican nominee not already pale next to the post-primary John McCain?

  • Paul Krugman: Business Is Not Economics:

    Romney is running for president entirely on the basis of his business success. In a better world he could be running on the basis of his successful health reform, but now he's condemning that very achievement. In a better world he could actually be running on the basis of some kind of coherent policy ideas, but instead he's offering nothing but a mix of tax cuts for the rich and benefit cuts for the middle class so extreme that focus groups refuse to believe that this is his actual proposal.

    Krugman is wrong that his introductory quote from Obama is "exactly right": the notion that a businessman's one and only obligation is "to make sure you're maximizing returns for your investor" is one of the most pernicious myths to have arisen since 1980. Before, people who ran businesses lived in towns and states and countries that they felt some obligation to respect and protect. Moreover, most felt like they had moral obligations to their workers and customers even beyond what was proscribed by criminal law. When Obama describes the blind rapaciousness of business as "part of the American way" he is being unduly charitable and even ahistorical. He would be much better off defending Americans against the ways of such predators. (Of course, American history is full of predatory businessmen -- a who's who of the 19th century would find little but, notably Jay Gould and John D. Rockefeller -- which is why from the Sherman Antitrust Act in the 1880s on numerous laws and regulations were enacted to limit the harm businessmen could do; moreover, steeply progressive taxes took away much of the incentive to larceny.)

  • Alex Pareene: Mitt Romney Shakes Off Boos at NAACP:

    Romney also brought up his father, George Romney's, sterling civil rights record -- George Romney was an ardent anti-segregationist -- which, as usual, served to reinforce how cowardly and worthless Romney is compared to his father. George Romney took tough, unpopular stands on issues that sharply divided his party in the 1960s. He walked out on his party's presidential convention and called its nominee, Barry Goldwater, a racist. Goldwater's people won the battle for control of the party and their descendants are still in charge. One of Mitt Romney's first moves as governor of Massachusetts was to eliminate the state's Office of Affirmative Action with an executive order. He's no George Romney, and he has always known that if he wanted to be a Republican president, he couldn't ever try to be.

  • Matt Taibbi: Romney's 'Free Stuff' Speech Is a New Low: First, at NAACP:

    He came out with the same half-assed, platitude-filled stump speech he usually doles out at campaign stops, literally the same exact speech, only he added quotes from Frederick Douglass, Benjamin Hooks, and Dr. King. As he told a mostly white audience in Montana the next night: "I gave them the same speech I am giving you." He seemed almost proud of the fact that he didn't put any extra thought into what he was going to say in his first big address to black America. If some speeches feel like a verbal embrace, Romney's felt like a stack of cardboard emptied from the bay of a dump truck. [ . . . ]

    Romney can't even be mean with any honesty. Even when he's pandering to viciousness, ignorance and racism, it comes across like a scaly calculation. A guy who feels like he has to take a dump on the N.A.A.C.P. in Houston in order to connect with frustrated white yahoos everywhere else is a guy who has absolutely no social instincts at all. Someone like Jesse Helms at least had a genuine emotional connection with his crazy-mean-stupid audiences. But Mitt Romney has to think his way to the lowest common denominator, which is somehow so much worse.

    Most of Taibbi's recent blog entries are on the LIBOR scandal, something I'm behind the learning curve on. But I did notice a piece on Thomas Friedman's New State of Grace: even when he's trying to be nice, it's hard to let Friedman totally off the hook.


Links I saved but never did much of anything with:

  • Mike Konczal: How LIBOR Impacts Financial Models and Why the Scandal Matters: As I mentioned above, I'm behind the learning curve, but this looks like a good place to start catching up.

  • Mike Konczal: 38 Million Missing Quits, the Battle to Quit and Replacing Government with a UBI: Three Points of Workplace Coercion: This links back to some Crooked Timber pieces that came up in my Yglesias post. The argument is that when companies become abusive of workers, the workers can quit, which provides a check on how abusive companies can really be. On the other hand, as Konczal's chart shows, workers have become even more reluctant to quit their jobs during the current depression. That means they're even less likely to push back against abuse by walking, and less pushback against the powerful usually means more abuse. Key quote:

    There are, roughly, 38.4 million quits that should have occurred that didn't since the economy went into recession. I'm assuming nobody believes that employers decided to become very nice all of a sudden in December 2007, but that instead the economy went into a deep recession. As a result of this recession, where the number of unemployed versus job openings has skyrocketed (because both the unemployed have increased and job openings shrunk), it is very difficult to find a job. This translates into declining labor share of income, as workers are left with little bargaining power in the Great Recession. If one assumes that labor management techniques are sticky, or that hysteresis creates the conditions where people who have lived through bad economic times have weaker bargaining power, this coercion is likely to cement and be long-lasting.

  • Paul Krugman/Robin Wells: Getting Away With It: A review essay on Noam Scheiber: The Escape Artists: How Obama's Team Fumbled the Recovery, Thomas Frank: Pity the Billionaire: The Hard-Times Swindle and the Unlikely Comeback of the Right, and Thomas Byrne Edsall: The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics. On the latter's sense that "a brutish future stands before us":

    Yet most of the evidence Edsall advances for this thesis involves pointing to the consequences of the economic crisis -- which isn't at all a crisis of scarcity, but rather a crisis of bad financial and macroeconomic policy. Why, exactly, must there be a "death struggle" over resources when the US economy could, according to Congressional Budget Office estimates, be producing an extra $900 billion worth of goods and services right now if it would only put unemployed workers and other unused resources back to work? Why must there be a bitter struggle over the budget when the US government, while admittedly running large deficits, remains able to borrow at the lowest interest rates in history?

    The truth is that the austerity Edsall emphasizes is more the result than the cause of our embittered politics. We have a depressed economy in large part because Republicans have blocked almost every Obama initiative designed to create jobs, even refusing to confirm Obama nominees to the board of the Federal Reserve. (MIT's Peter Diamond, a Nobel laureate, was rejected as lacking sufficient qualifications.) We have a huge battle over deficits, not because deficits actually pose an immediate problem, but because conservatives have found deficit hysteria a useful way to attack social programs.

  • Ryan Lizza: The Obama Memos: long piece toward an insider history of Obama's political strategy, including the undersized stimulus, the efforts to assuage the powers-that-be on everything from health care to banking reform, the president's cynical centrism and general lack of principles, his opponents' even direr lack of scruples, etc. One quote, just a taste:

    Most of Obama's conservative dinner companions from his evening at George Will's home now describe him and his Administration in the most caricatured terms. Will declared Obama a "floundering naďf" and someone advancing "lemon socialism." Charles Krauthammer called Obama "sanctimonious, demagogic, self-righteous, and arrogant." Lawrence Kudlow described him as presiding over a government of "crony capitalism at its worst." Michael Barone called it "Gangster Government." Rich Lowry said that Obama is "the whiniest president ever." Peggy Noonan, correcting some interpretations of the President by her fellow-conservatives, wrote, "He is not a devil, an alien, a socialist. He is a loser."

    Many of Obama's liberal allies have been disillusioned, too. When Steve Jobs last met the President, in February, 2011, he was most annoyed by Obama's pessimism -- he seemed to dismiss every idea Jobs proffered. "The president is very smart," Jobs told his biographer, Walter Isaacson. "But he kept explaining to us reasons why things can't get done. It infuriates me."

  • Ryan Lizza: The Second Term: The most depressing piece of political reporting I've seen in years, partly because it's all hypothetical -- that second term isn't assured, especially with billions of dollars of right-wing media dominance in the way -- but mostly because Obama's ambitions are so lame. Nor does the history of second terms past offer any encouragement. Clinton's second term is remembered for impeachment and banking deregulation. Bush's for Katrina and Lehman Bros. Reagan's for Iran-Contra. Even Eisenhower had a miserable second term. Roosevelt decided to balance the budget and instead restarted the Great Depression. Obama has thus far failed to do anything remotely Rooseveltian, but his fiscal conservatism could well lead to a comparable disaster.

  • Diane Ravitch: In Mitt Romney's Classroom: Behind a paywall, but all you really need to know:

    The central themes of the Romney plan are a rehash of Republican education ideas from the past thirty years, namely, subsidizing parents who want to send their child to a private or religious school; encouraging the private sector to operate schools; putting commercial banks in charge of the federal student loan program; holding teachers and schools accountable for students' test scores; and lowering entrance requirements for new teachers. These policies reflect the experience of Romney's advisers, who include half a dozen senior officials from the Bush administration and several prominent conservative academics, among them former secretary of education Rod Paige, former deputy secretary of education Bill Hansen, and John Chubb and Paul Peterson, both advocates of school choice.

    Unlike George W. Bush, who had to negotiate with a Democratic Congress to pass No Child Left Behind, Romney feels no need to compromise on anything. He needs to prove to the Republican Party's base -- especially evangelicals -- that he really is conservative. With this plan, he succeeds.

    Real conservatives have become so disdainful of liberal ideas -- like science, the arts, democracy -- that they're increasingly willing to throw out the baby with the bathwater. (Come to think of it, that's pretty much their attitude toward government too.) Education used to enjoy conservative support because it was seen as an important tool in socializing the lower classes, but these days all the rich want to do is to escape society, to enjoy their own private enclaves and to hell with everyone else.

  • Corey Robin: Justice Scalia: American Nietzsche: Explores the whole "originalism" con. I've always found it amusing that Scalia alone seems to be able to intuit exactly what was running through the minds of a group of politicians as disparate as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, and that somehow they always wound up thinking exactly what Scalia thinks at the moment. Article has links to previous installments, and a Part III appeared later. By the way, I think a simpler explanation of Scalia's behavior is that he is just profoundly corrupt. See, e.g., Mike Konczal's discussion of Scalia's Christmas Tree dissent in the ACA case.


And, in non-political news:


Rolling Stone's mid-year best albums list (my grades in brackets):

  1. Bruce Springsteen: Wrecking Ball [A-]
  2. Jack White: Blunderbuss [***]
  3. Neil Young and Crazy Horse: Americana [*]
  4. Fiona Apple: The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than . . .
  5. John Mayer: Born and Raised
  6. Sleigh Bells: Reign of Terror [***]
  7. Leonard Cohen: Old Ideas [A-]
  8. The Beach Boys: That's Why God Made the Radio [**]
  9. Cloud Nothings: Attack on Memory [***]
  10. Best Coast: The Only Place [**]
  11. Japandroids: Celebration Rock [**]
  12. Killer Mike: RAP Music [A-]
  13. Patti Smith: Banga [A-]
  14. Azealia Banks: 1991 [**]
  15. The Shins: Port of Morrow [*]
  16. Bonnie Raitt: Slipstream [**]
  17. Dr. John: Locked Down [**]
  18. Regina Spektor: What We Saw From the Cheap Seats [**]
  19. Hospitality: Hospitality [*]
  20. Escort: Escort [***]
  21. Garbage: Not Your Kind of People [*]
  22. Norah Jones: . . . Little Broken Hearts [B]
  23. Himanshu: Nehru Jackets [A-]
  24. Alabama Shakes: Boys & Girls [**]
  25. Schoolboy Q: Habits & Contradictions
  26. Django Django: Django Django
  27. Smashing Pumpkins: Oceania [B]
  28. Amadou & Mariam: Folila [A-]
  29. Sharon Van Etten: Tramp [B-]
  30. Beach House: Bloom [B]
  31. Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros: Here
  32. Justin Townes Earle: Nothing's Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now [*]
  33. M. Ward: A Wasteland Companion [*]
  34. Allo Darlin': Europe
  35. Bobby Womack: The Bravest Man in the Universe [**]
  36. Usher: Looking 4 Myself [*]
  37. Adam Lambert: Trespassing
  38. Rufus Wainwright: Out of the Game [B-]
  39. Grimes: Visions [*]
  40. El-P: Cancer 4 Cure [***]

Friday, July 13, 2012

Good Eats

Fixed a substantial dinner tonight, mostly Indian. Guests: Dottie B. and Jim, Janice B. and Ruby, Mary H. Menu (from memory, should check in the cookbooks for exact titles, for that matter should copy the recipes down and link to them):

  • Chicken Cashew Curry (Solomon)
  • Okra Pilaf (Sahni)
  • Chickpeas in Ginger Sauce (Sahni)
  • Eggplant [Bharta] (Sahni)
  • Buttered Cabbage (Sahni)
  • Cucumber Raita (Sahni)
  • Garlic Naan (store-bought frozen)
  • Kheer (Solomon)

Made some chicken stock using the skin and drumstick tips, half an onion, and some spices, and used that for the pilaf (instead of the usual soaking water). Used ground almonds instead of slivered in the kheer. Made roughly half-recipes of the side dishes. Served a couple of store-bought chutneys on the side. Tried to make the sides ahead of time and reheat them, which worked more or less well.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Class Champion

Paul Krugman wrote both a blog post and a column called Off and Out With Mitt Romney. The column is more polished and rounded, but the blog post makes the points more succinctly:

Now, the truth is even under the best of circumstances, the case for electing a businessman as president would be very weak. A country is not a company -- does any company sell more than 80 percent of what it makes to its own workers, the way America does? -- and competitive success in business bears no particular relationship to the principles of macroeconomic policy. So even if Romney were a true captain of industry, a latter-day Andrew Carnegie, this wouldn't be a strong qualification.

In any case, however, Romney wasn't that kind of businessman. He didn't build businesses, he bought and sold them -- sometimes restructuring them in ways that added jobs, often in ways that preserved profits but destroyed jobs, and fairly often in ways that extracted money for Bain but killed the business in the process.

And recently the Washington Post added a further piece of information: Bain invested in companies that specialized in helping other companies get rid of employees, either in the United States or overall, by outsourcing work to outside suppliers and offshoring work to other countries.

The Romney camp went ballistic, accusing the Post of confusing outsourcing and offshoring, but this is a pretty pathetic defense. For one thing, there weren't any actual errors in the article. For another, it's simply not true, as the Romney people would have you believe, that domestic outsourcing is entirely innocuous. On the contrary, it's often a way to replace well-paid employees who receive decent health and retirement benefits with low-wage, low-benefit employees at subcontracting firms. That is, it's still about redistribution from middle-class Americans to a small minority at the top.

Arguably, that's just business -- but it's not the kind of business that makes you especially want to see Romney as president.

Or put it a different way: Romney wasn't so much a captain of industry as a captain of deindustrialization, making big profits for his firm (and himself) by helping to dismantle the implicit social contract that used to make America a middle-class society.

It's rather interesting, given how much lip service we give to business, how few notable businessmen have been elected president. (You do find more Senators, especially on the chronically underfinanced Democratic side where self-financed candidates are appreciated.) The most successful businessman of any president in the last 150 years was Herbert Hoover, who presided over the nation's greatest depression. About the only others to come remotely close are Jimmy Carter and the two Bushes, which add up to three more recessions plus the current depression. Three of those were one-termers, and the fourth wasn't exactly elected in the first place. The Bushes, of course, came from a political dynasty where their businesses were largely subsidized by their political friends -- all the more reason to discount them.

So the evidence suggests that successful businessmen haven't been at all successful as presidents: that the skill sets are different, as is the measure of success. Krugman barely scratches at the surface as to why this is. The second Bush, more with his Harvard MBA than due to his failed businesses, indicates how deep the downside of electing a businessman can be. After all, by his own lights Bush was a fabulously successful president -- albeit only for his class, but then that's all a CEO is expected to do. He cut taxes on the rich, while propping the economy up through massive fiscal stimulus, which is to say debt; he all but stopped antitrust enforcement, allowing the economy to become ever more cartellized; he planted lobbyists in every federal department, drastically curtailing regulation; he tipped the scales of justice, making it harder for people to sue corporations, making bankruptcy more difficult, and packing the courts with cronies; he outsourced federal jobs, weakening the civil service and creating whole new classes of patronage. He did a lot more bad stuff, like starting two major wars and sticking his successor with them, but that's beyond his business training. During his watch the very rich -- the kind of people who sponsor politicians like himself -- did quite well, while everyone else got screwed.

Romney worked in a different field of business -- private equity capital -- and made a lot more money on the way, but he bears a lot of resemblance to Bush, starting with a political-pedigree name that opened doors in business and offered the promise that some day he would repay those favors in politics. How much he actually contributed to Bain Capital's bottom line isn't clear, but there is no reason to think he broke any new ground in the business. The basic scheme of private equity is straightforward: you look for businesses, preferably undervalued but with a reliable cash flow, with owners who want to cash out; you cash them out by putting up a small amount of your own money and getting the company to borrow the rest; you squeeze the company, selling off assets, cutting costs including wages and jobs, and paying yourself huge management (often paid for with more debt); then you restructure and cash out, or if you were too efficient at squeezing, go bankrupt. Bain was one of dozens of outfits following this formula, and having a telegenic figurehead with a recognizable name must have aided the con. (Indeed, the elder Bush went to work for Carlyle Group after losing the 1992 election, doing the same sort of thing with more emphasis on military contracts and Saudi cash, the sort of graft he was most expert in.)

Krugman is right that private equity is an unsavory business: one that makes nothing but profits stripped from company assets, most notably the company's credit rating. One might expect Romney to ruin the federal government the same way Bain Capital ruined its acquisition companies, a frightful thought. But that's pretty much exactly the way Bush ran the government: I wouldn't want to go on record denying that Romney could add anything worse, but the test of his style of business management has already been made, and we are living with the results.


Aside from Hoover, the examples of businessman-presidents are all recent, suggesting that we've become more benign in our view of businessmen only recently -- since, I would say, the Cold War invested so much effort in lionizing capitalism and in burying the working class. Most recent is the popularity of the term "job creator" as a synonym for businessman, even though every private sector pink slip in history was originated by business management: "job destructor" would be just as accurate, although really the employment rate is determined more by the government's macroeconomic policy than by anything businessmen do. All businesses do is seek to maximize profits under the prevailing circumstances, boom or bust.

What's been forgotten is that throughout American history most people were conscious that businesses profited at their expense. Krugman looks back on Andrew Carnegie as the principal builder of the US steel industry, but more accurately he was the architect of the trust that monopolized that industry, and during his lifetime he was better known for a strikebreaking massacre than for his libraries. Henry Ford, even more so, was a guy who built things, but he was clearly not the sort you would want to place the public trust with -- he was another infamous strikebreaker, and perhaps America's most notorious anti-semite. "Robber baron" wasn't exactly a term of endearment.

We haven't completely lost that sense of the villainy at the heart of so many businesses, and it is making a comeback. One person who's paving the way is Mitt Romney, who's become emblematic of one of the worst strains of capitalism in the world today.


By the way, a big story here in Wichita is that what used to be Beech Aircraft is being sold to the Chinese. Beech was founded in Wichita, and run locally until 1994 when the Beech family sold out to Raytheon, a big defense contracting firm based near Boston. In 2006, Raytheon cashed out, selling Beech and Hawker to a group of private equity investers led by Goldman Sachs and Onex, to form an independent company saddled with a ton of debt. Hawker Beechcraft filed for bankruptcy in May of this year, and now has an offer to buy what's left by a Chinese company, Superior Aviation Beijing. There's no reason to think the company wouldn't be viable without all the debt the private equity companies piled on (and paid themselves with). This doesn't look good for the workers, who have already paid time and again for each change of ownership. Even if the Chinese keep the plants open here in Wichita, they will transfer technology and know-how back home, undercutting our local industry.


Elsewhere Krugman points to this TPM article on Romney fundraisers (in the mansions of Ronald O. Perelman, Clifford Sobel, and David Koch), which in turn points to a Los Angeles Times article, including this quote:

A New York City donor a few cars back, who also would not give her name, said Romney needed to do a better job connecting. "I don't think the common person is getting it," she said from the passenger seat of a Range Rover stamped with East Hampton beach permits. "Nobody understands why Obama is hurting them.

"We've got the message," she added. "But my college kid, the baby sitters, the nails ladies -- everybody who's got the right to vote -- they don't understand what's going on. I just think if you're lower income -- one, you're not as educated, two, they don't understand how it works, they don't understand how the systems work, they don't understand the impact."

Interesting how Romney manages to tie together so many strands of the ruling class in this country, dragging them out in public so all can see.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Expert Comments

Odds and ends, mostly jazz or related (some hip-hop instrumentals), most of which (e.g., Sao Paulo Underground, Paolo Fresu, Fernando Otero) eluded me. I wrote:

I've heard two of these: Dirty Dozen and Jazz Punks. Wrote 'em up in Jazz Prospecting with bottom rung B+ grades. About Jazz Punks: "Entertaining, occasionally witty, but not much punk, not that I can't see why they didn't call themselves Jazz Classic Rockers." I played a much punkier Dutch band last week, Cactus Truck, but didn't think they were very good. For better you need to go to something like the eponymous first album by The Thing, or the first Lean Left volume (The Ex Guitars Meet Nilssen-Love/Vandermark Duo). Or Moppa Elliott's group, Mostly Other People Do the Killing, which never quoted any rock classics but more often than not run bebop through a punk ringer.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 20143 [20116] rated (+27), 743 [756] unrated (-13). In the normal cycle of things I'd hold off on the new jazz and pay more attention to Rhapsody, especially as July's Streamnotes column still looks anemic (27 records, only one A-, and that not on Rhapsody), but I haven't been able to think of much I wanted to play. (Rhapsody's own new release suggestions: Prodigy of Mob Deep, Infamous, Flo Rida, Linkin Park, Chris Brown, R. Kelly, Delicate Steve, Flaming Lips, Maroon 5, Justin Bieber, The Offspring, Joe Jackson, some stuff I haven't even heard of. And I'm not finding much more with my metacritic file.) And the heat wave has been relentless, so I just wound up attempting to knock down the new jazz queue.

One minor methodological note: I've started holding back reviews of records that I'm still uncertain about, specifically high B+(***) that time and further play might (conceivably, but not necessarily) nudge over the A- cusp. In the old days I'd offer a preliminary bracketed grade and return to them later, but I've fallen out of that practice. Ari Erev's A Handful of Changes triggered this change, and I also have Branford Marsalis Quartet's Four MFs Playin' Tunes in the same limbo. Also sitting on Miguel Zenón's Rayuela, which isn't scheduled for release until July 31. Nonetheless, two records escaped my inclination to hedge.


J.D. Allen Trio: The Matador and the Bull (2012, Savant): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1974, seventh album since 1999, has a strong individual voice, usually able to hold center court even with just bass and drums -- Gregg August and Rudy Royston this time -- support. But this one seems awfully tame, his tone not quite pitched for a ballad thing, but not enough energy for anything else. B+(*)

Bill Barner: Ten Tunes (2011 [2012], self-released): Clarinet player, first album, wrote all ten tunes, played with Stan Smith on guitar, Roger Hines on bass, and Danny Aguiar on drums. Draws in bits of world music, some raga, Brazilian rhythms, a whiff of klezmer keeping the album moving smartly. B+(*)

Bruce Barth: Three Things of Beauty (2012, Savant): Pianist, b. 1958 in California, studied at New England Conservatory and Berklee, has about ten records since 1994. This is piano trio plus vibes (Steve Nelson), lively postbop with lots of accents. B+(**)

Chloe Brisson: Blame It on My Youth (2011 [2012], self-released): Standards singer, cut a record in 2007 when she was 13, so she must be something like 17 here. Has studied with Sheila Jordan, who joins in for the last song here, and she's managed to round up a reputable band here, including Fred Haas on sax, Marvin Stamm on trumpet, Bill Mays on piano, and Matt Wilson on drums. B+(*)

Cactus Truck: Brand New for China! (2011 [2012], Public Eyesore): Dutch trio: John Dikeman (saxophones), Jasper Stadhouders (guitar and bass), Onno Govaert (drums). They make a lot of noise, much like The Thing but they're not very good at controlling and focusing it. B

Cynthia Felton: Freedom Jazz Dance (2012, Felton Entertainment): Standards singer, third album. Producer and arranger credit: Dr. Cynthia J. Felton; also executive producer. When not flaunting her Ph.D., she's also good for cheesecake photos. Voice is a little hard to peg, unusual enough it stands out for better but also for worse. She runs through a long list of musicians here: cover gives "featuring" credits to Cyrus Chestnut, Robert Hurst, Ernie Watts, Wallace Roney, John Beasley, Terri Lyne Carrington, but most of those last for only one or two cuts (Hurst 3, Beasley tops at 6). Songs are all over the map, a tribute to her learning more than to her talent. B

Katie Guthorn: Why Not Smile? (2012, self-released): Standards singer, moved to Bay Area in 1978, has taught voice since 1988, performed in the Zazu Pitts Memorial Orchestra, but this looks to be her first album. Mixes "more contemporary compositions, by Joni Mitchell, Ben Folds, R.E.M. and Stevie Wonder" in with the old moldies. Band includes three guys named Haggerty, with Tim the producer/arranger, bass and keyb player, presumably responsible for the string and flute sounds and maybe the bubbly Latin beats. Some songs, including "Call Me" (the Tony Hatch song, a hit for Petula Clark) and "Lush Life," work fine, but others stiffen up, or get swallowed by the goop. B-

Human Spirit: Dialogue: Live at the Earshot Jazz Festival (2011 [2012], Origin): Seattle group, named for recent Thomas Marriott album -- Marriott plays trumpet, Mark Taylor alto sax, and Matt Jorgensen drums, each contributing tunes (Marriott 4 of 8, the others two each), but since that doesn't quite make for a modern postbop band, they added "special guets" Orrin Evans (piano) and Essiet Essiet (bass) -- Evans was an especially inspired choice. B+(*)

Andy Jaffe: Manhattan Projections (1984-98 [2012], Big Round): Pianist, director of the jazz program at Williams College, has three albums since 1984, also a book, Jazz Harmony. This was his first album, six cuts released on Stash in 1985, a CD reissue in 1992, another reissue in 2001 from Playscape. This edition adds a seventh cut from the original session, plus five more from 1991 and 1998 -- the former with tenor sax, French horn, and trombone; the latter piano duets with Tom McClung. The original album featured Branford Marsalis (tenor/soprano sax), Wallace Roney (trumpet), Ed Jackson (alto sax), and Tom Olin (piccolo and maybe baritone sax on a cut or two -- accounts differ). Marsalis and Roney were emerging as powerhouse mainstream players at the time, so it's fun to hear them blowing away. Also nice to hear the piano emerging in the later pieces, but neither highlight is all that remarkable. B

Sabrina Lastman: The Candombe Jazz Sessions (2011 [2012], Zoho): Singer-songwriter, b. in Uruguay, based in New York, passing through the Jerusalem Academy of Music & Dance. Has at least one previous album. Backed by Emilio Solla (piano), Pablo Aslan (bass), and David Silliman (drums) here, plus occasional guests. Candombe is an Africa-derived music from Uruguay and Argentina, with a distinct set of drums. Makes an appearance here, along with various hybridizations I can't begin to sort out. B+(*)

Linda Lavin: Possibilities (2012, Ghostlight): Standards singer, presumably the same as the actress who headlined the TV sitcom Alice (1976-85), which would make her 74 -- cover photo notwithstanding. (Inside cover photo does look older, but still not 74. On the other hand, Hal Prince's liner notes start with a reminiscence of meeting her in 1961, when she was already working on Broadway.) Billy Stritch plays piano, arranges, leading a band that includes trumpet and guitar. Most songs work nicely ("It Might as Well Be Spring," "'Deed I Do," "Rhode Island Is Famous for You," "Walk Between Raindrops"); only the obligatory Jobim ("Corcovado") falls flat. B+(*)

Jeremy Long: In Suspension (2011 [2012], Innova): Saxophonist (unspecified, pictured with a tenor on the album back, with an alto on his website). First album, trio with Steven Snyder on organ and Jason Tiemann on drums. Lets is rip. Nothing wrong with that. B+(*)

Manner Effect: Abundance (2011 [2012], self-released, CD+DVD): Group debut album, with singer Sarah Elizabeth Charles, Caleb Curtis on saxophones, Logan Evan Thomas on piano, PJ Roberts on bass/guitar, and Josh Davis on drums: at least that's what the website says -- don't see any credits on the album. Group members (especially Charles, but rarely alone) wrote most of the songs, with Chick Corea, Michael Jackson, and Antonio Carlos Jobim the outsiders. Has some moments, like the sax break on "Corcovado" -- or any time the sax nudges the singer to the side. Didn't watch the DVD. B-

Tony Monaco: Celebration: Life-Love-Music (2012, Chicken Coup/Summit): Organ player, has a half-dozen records since 2001, mostly live. This one returns to the studio, lots of upbeat organ groove, occasionally punctuated by Ken Fowser's sax. Two vocal pieces, one a big choral hymn, the other a croon. B+(*)

Ivo Perelman/The Sirius Quartet: The Passion According to G.H. (2011 [2012], Leo): Brazilian tenor saxophonist, prolific in free jazz for over twenty years, meets up with a New York-based string quartet, classical in form (two violins, viola, cello) but leans more avant-garde. I figure the titular "G.H." to be violinist Georg Huebner. I'm torn here between the often extraordinary sax leads and the strings, which hit tones I find maddening and often hang on to them long enough to turn into something else. B+(**)

Ivo Perelman/Matt Shipp/Gerald Cleaver: The Foreign Legion (2011 [2012], Leo): Avant Brazilian tenor sax player, has developed into a very expressive player, in a power trio with piano and drums -- no bass, but that just gives Shipp more room to maneuver, and he has some tricks up his sleeve. Second play I turned the volume down and it revealed an unexpected subtlety to Perelman's blowing. Turn it up and he just blows you away. A-

Mike Reed's People, Places & Things: Clean on the Corner (2010 [2012], 482 Music): Drummer, from Chicago, has made a point of excavating the city's avant jazz lore, often to remarkable effect. Fourth album by this project/ensemble -- also has a group called Loose Assembly. Looks back with One song each by Roscoe Mitchell and John Jenkins, forward with six originals. Core quartet spins two saxophones off each other, with Greg Ward on alto and Tim Haldeman on tenor, plus Jason Roebke on bass. Adds Craig Taborn on two cuts -- past midway you suddenly realize there's a piano in the mix -- and Josh Berman (cornet) on two others. A-

Gonzalo Rubalcaba: XXI Century (2011 [2012], 5Pasion, 2CD): Pianist, b. 1963 in Cuba, moved to US in 1996 but had already built up an international reputation. Has close to thirty records -- The Blessing (1991) and Paseo (2004) are my favorites. This is trio (Matt Brewer, Marcus Gilmore) plus featured guests -- percussionist Pedrito Martinez on most cuts, guitarist-vocalist Lionel Loueke on two, drummer Ignacio Berroa on one. Four originals (one reprised); pieces by Brewer and Loueke; covers from important pianists Lennie Tristano, Bill Evans, and Paul Bley. Superb piano. B+(***)

Woody Shaw: Woody Plays Woody (1977-81 [2012], Savant): Previously released material, live from Keystone Korner in San Francisco, five cuts from 1977, one from 1981; all originals to show off the leader's compositional skills, but of course they're mostly frameworks for hot and heavy trumpet blowing. B+(*)

Rich Thompson Trio: Generations (2011 [2012], Origin): Piano trio, led by the drummer, with Chris Ziemba on piano and Miles Brown on bass. Thompson studied at University of Oklahoma, teaches at Eastman School of Music, has appeared in the Count Basie and Glenn Miller ghost bands, and has side credits going back to 1984. Mostly covers (Ornette Coleman, John Scofield, Barry Harris, "I Thought About You"), with one piece by Thompson and three by Brown. Ziemba doesn't seem to have much of a discography, but his light touch works nicely here. Doug Stone's tenor sax on the closer is another lift. B+(*)

Tumbledown House: Fables and Falsehoods (2012, Silent Coyote Music): Duo, singer Gillian Howe and guitarist Tyler Ryan Miller, bill themselves as "gritty saloon jazz from Bozeman, Montana" and, with help from a few players from the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, "an upbeat, 1920's big band romp." Despite the jazz shadings, from the principals as well as the band, the murder ballads mark them as Americana, and the light touch should be welcome there. B+(**)

Turn Around Norman: We Turn Around (2010 [2011], TAND): Quartet, name is a character in the Tom Robbins novel Skinny Legs and All, first album: Cam Collins (alto sax), JJ Wright (piano, wurlitzer), Adam Hopkins (bass), and Nathan Ellman-Bell (drums), with all but the drummer contributing pieces. Mostly freebop, mostly sharp, but the final piece bulks up and slows down. B+(**)

Matt Ulery: By a Little Light (2012, Greenleaf Music, 2CD): Bassist, from Chicago, has at least two previous records, one as Matt Ulery's Loom. Makes a major effort here as a composer, spreading twelve pieces across two discs. Personnel varies, using either Ben Lewis or Rob Clearfield for piano, Jon Deitemeyer or Michael Caskey on drums, Jim Davis on trumpet, Michael Maccaferri on clarinets, Tim Munro on flutes, plus two or three strings, and occasional vibraphone or marimba. Second disc adds voice, either Grazyna Auguscik or Ullery. Goes some way toward arguing that jazz is the new classical music, or is it vice versa? B+(*)

Joanna Weinberg: The Piano Diaries (2011 [2012], Kissingpoint): Singer-songwriter, b. in London, studied acting at University of Cape Town in South Africa, moved to Sydney, Australia in 1997. Only album I've found, although bio says she's "written 3 musicals and 9 one-woman shows, all of which have been performed on the professional theatre circuit in Australia and South Africa." Inspiration here was resuming piano lessons "after 20 years," but she got her teacher, Rafael Hazario, to play on the album. Does have that show tune feel, even a bit of cabaret at the end. B+(**)

Florian Wittenberg: Artefacts: Solo Electronics (2005-11 [2012], GEMA): B. 1973 in Berlin, studied Music Technology at Utrecht School of the Arts (Netherlands), and in 2005 moved on to Centre de Création Musicale Iannis Xenakis in Paris. Five pieces of solo electronics, two titled "Nuageux" with numbers. No beat, not much volume, long on texture. B


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week (actually, two weeks):

  • Arild Andersen: Celebration (ECM)
  • Bill Cantrall & Axiom: Live at the Kitano (Up Swing)
  • Kevin Coelho: Funkengruven: The Joy of Driving a B3 (Chicken Soup/Summit)
  • Duduka Da Fonseca Quintet: Samba Jazz -- Jazz Samba (Anzic)
  • Ori Dagan: Less Than Three (Scat Cat)
  • Jürgen Friedrich: Monosuite: For String Orchestra and Improvisers (Pirouet)
  • The Impossible Gentlemen (Basho)
  • Lisa Kirchner: Charleston for You (Verdant World)
  • Monday Michiru: Soulception (Adventure Music)
  • Louis Sclavis Atlas Trio: Sources (ECM)
  • John Stowell/Ulf Bandgren: Throop (Origin)
  • John Surman: Saltash Bells (ECM)
  • The Urban Renewal Project: Go Big or Go Home (Lombardy)
  • Jessica Williams: Songs of Earth (Origin)

Purchases:

  • Big K.R.I.T.: Return of 4 Eva (Greenstreets)
  • Patti Smith: Banga (Columbia)


Miscellaneous notes:

  • Lord Kitchener: Volume Three (1970-91 [1994], Ice): Aldwyn Roberts (1922-2000) emerged as a major calypso singer during his UK period (1948-62), rivaled Mighty Sparrow for dominance of calypso competitions in the 1960s and 1970s; of Ice's three volumes of Kitchener hits, the first is essential, the second dispensible, and the third, mostly drawn from the 1970s, splits the difference. A-
  • Motel Lovers: Southern Soul From the Chitlin' Circuit (1989-2006 [2007], Trikont): B+(***)

Added grades for remembered LPs from way back when:

  • Artful Dodger: Artful Dodger (1976, Columbia) B
  • Artful Dodger: Honor Among Thieves (1976, Columbia) B+
  • Frankie Miller: Frankie Miller's Highlife (1973, Chrysalis) B+


Expert Comments

I wrote:

Got a box of new computer hardware today, so sometime this week I'm going to tear down the main computer I've worked on for the last five years, replacing the motherboard, video, cpu (eight cores!), and memory (32gb!!); will wipe out the old disc drives and install a fresh Ubuntu. Before I do this I'll do an update to Christgau's website (master copy is on this machine) plus a bunch more to save and rebuild. Anyhow, this would be a good time to let me know of anything that needs to be done to the Christgau website.

By the way, Jazz Prospecting is up with some picks and more prospects in the fine print.

Jones125 wrote:

Hiya Tom. Nice to meet you! I don't know exactly what you mean by "anything that needs to be done" but I was wondering if the search function could um . . . function a bit more creatively. It seems quite limited in my experience, repeating the same results. I think this has to do, possibly, with the way the site is structured - a review appears both separately and in the overview of the artist's entire catalogue as reviewed. A Google search yields better results, but I haven't fully grasped the limitations of this method either. Spreading the net so wide creates other problems. Also! If you ever wonder who checks the What's New? section, I do. It's ace, but I do wonder where the list of corrections ends up, the one that deals with grade changes and other things I like to poke my nose into. Thank you. Just ignore this post if what I wrote doesn't answer what you asked.

I forgot to mention that the CG search is great. The site search is what I was referring to.

I wrote back:

Jones125: Corrections against the books are in the "corrigenda" files under each book. They are quite extensive. Corrections against print versions of articles are often noted at the end of a page under the heading "Postscript Notes" -- but good chance that some corrections to them have been made quietly. E.g., pieces that ultimately came out in "Any Old Way You Choose It" reflect the book, not the Voice or Newsday, and essays that went into the Harvard book only exist if they were in very different form (blame HUP for that). CG column entries that were later rewritten and/or regraded are noted "Later:"; I never considered building tables of records that were regraded, although if you can write a program that parses HTML you can do so.

The "Text Search" function is implemented using ht://dig, and hasn't been tuned since it started working. For that matter, the program hasn't been recompiled, and the virtual server chokes on its disk quota when the database is rebuilt, so the feature is somewhere in between obsolescent and bit rot. I doesn't work at all on my master site, although that's something I could work on once I get my server rebuilt. The "Google Search" is an alternative, implemented outside their product/support system -- something I've been too cheap to get into. They seem to have a full set of pages, but it looks to me like they underrank them, and I'd be curious to know why. The "CG Search" is based on an extremely simple algorithm, and works pretty good for something that took less than an hour to design and code. I don't know how to do the Ajax stuff everyone uses these days. I should probably learn, but it would be hard to use here. "What's New?" is a simple hack which picks up any file change, no matter how insignificant. /Changelog.php also tracks changes, but that's purely manual (i.e., something I can easily screw up).

I don't expect to make any programming changes in the next couple days, although I'm always interested in that sort of improvement. More curious about data I'm missing (I'm not always told about these things, you know), more topical errors. etc. Always glad to explain things (which I hope I have).

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Yglesias

I more or less gave up on reading Matthew Yglesias's blog shortly before he moved to Slate, and have rarely looked at him since. Don't know whether I will much in the future, either, but I thought I'd give him another try, and scrolled through a month's posts -- he does produce a lot of material. And I pulled out the most interesting quotes below -- generally (but not always) things I agreed with. Would have pulled out a different set if I tried to critique him: I'm not convinced by his knee-jerk efforts to find market mechanisms (or at least tax manipulations) to solve all problems, and he has an anti-left streak that often slips into mere contrarianism. And I'm not sure what I think of his urbanism -- obviously something that means much more to him than to me.

Reversed the order, so the old stuff is first. Not sure if it's worth digging back deeper, but I was getting diminishing returns -- a lot of his posts have a pretty limited shelf life.

  • Private Equity Is Unpopular [06-08]:

    One of the most shocking moments of media out-of-touchness that I've seen in my lifetime was the spasm of pundits acting as if Barack Obama's criticisms of Mitt Romney's business record were likely to prompt some kind of backlash from the public. Obviously a rich man who makes decisions that ruin some families lives in order to get even richer is engaging in behavior that the median voter is going to find disreputable.

  • Low-Wage Labor and Its Complements [06-08]:

    Speaking with Fareed Zakaria, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach argues for severe curbs on immigration and in the process ends up revealing a pretty shocking level of ignorance about the agricultural economy for a Kansas politician. Adam Ozimek shows that Kobach seems completely unaware of the extent to which the American farm sector is operating in an international context.

    But I think Kobach's fundamental problem -- as is often the case -- is a failure to recognize that there are different factors of production and they complement each other. A farm is a place where labor, machines, fertilizer, and land all come together to produce some grains, fruit, or vegetables. To simply assume that if you cut off the supply of cheap immigrant labor will raise wages ignores the very real possibility that simply less land will be cultivated. Even if you ignore the international dimensions of the issue, Americans don't have a fixed totally price-insensitive appetite for foodstuffs. If you restrict the supply of agricultural labor you'll have less agricultural output and fewer acres in cultivation. [ . . . ]

    No factor of production is an island, and creating scarcities of one factor damages the others.

  • Job-Creation Is the Fed's Job [06-12]:

    My former boss Michael Tomasky has a column up arguing that Obama should offer a one-year extension of the Bush tax cuts in exchange for Republicans agreeing to spending-side stimulus. His logic, I think, is fairly impeccable. Republicans will probably turn this down, which would be advantageous to the White House in the politics of taxation. And if they say yes, it's a win for the White House because both sides of the deal will pack some short-term job creation punch.

    Where I think it all breaks down is that once again we have liberals ignoring monetary policy. The big risk that Obama faces with his American Jobs Act is that in the scheme of things even the rosier estimates don't have it massively accelerating the recovery. What's more, as I write in my latest column there's a real risk that anything that did have huge positive impact in the labor market would get crushed by the Federal Reserve:

    Seems to me like a dumb proposal all around. The Bush tax cuts are so weighted to the rich that they offer no practical stimulus. Get rid of them and the long-term balance sheet, which is what has hung over the entire austerity drive, clears up. Ideally you'd like to do more than that, but blowing the 2010 election cost Obama that option. Now all he can do is campaign against the Republicans for blocking every constructive plan he puts forth, and that campaign is weakened by cutting deals with the devil. As for the point about the Fed, Obama screwed himself by reappointing Bush's chairman (Bernanke) instead of getting his own guy on the job (even if it was only Larry Summers): single dumbest mistake he made (unless it was escalating Afghanistan, or failing to repeal and restructure the Bush tax cuts at the start, when he had the numbers; oh well, there are so many).

  • Obama on the Economy [06-14]:

    If you wanted a concise version of the speech it's this. Obama thinks there are a lot of worthwhile things the public sector does -- give old people health insurance and pensions, build transportation infrastructure, finance K-12 schools, subsidize college tuition -- and that in order to pay for those things we should raise taxes on high-income people. Romney thinks that higher taxes on high-income people people would be really bad for economic growth and that Obama is overestimating the value of these public sector undertakings so we should cut them instead.

    Unfortunately, far and away the least plausible portions of the speech were the ones where Obama tried to explain how re-electing him would lead to his vision becoming law. He's quite persuasive on the point that an Obama re-election would block Romney from doing various perhaps-objectionable things. But the idea that a second term for Obama will change the fact that 41 Republican Senators can and will filibuster any Obama ideas that they don't like (i.e., basically all of them) doesn't add up.

  • The Affordable Care Act and the American Disconnect [06-18]:

    The Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act (aka "ObamaCare") will, for better or for worse, take a large number of Americans who currently can't afford health insurance and either give them insurance or else give them money to buy insurance with. Obviously, if you're a person like that there's a lot to like about this law.

    But Washington, D.C., political and media circles don't involve many people like that. Or even many people who know any people like that. So even though this town contains plenty of folks who perfectly sincerely want to help low-income Americans get health insurance (the law wouldn't have happened otherwise), it's still seen in political journalism as primarily a political story about "winners" and "losers" in various congressional, media, legal, and electoral arenas. But for millions of currently uninsured Americans, it's a real-world story about a potential financial windfall or fiasco depending on how the Supreme Court rules. Alec MacGillis ventured out in the real world to talk to impacted people, and the story is both emotionally touching and politically telling.

    The key punchline is that, basically, the folks with the most to gain from the new law are barely -- if at all -- aware that it even exists.

  • The Forgotten Flip-Flop: 2003 Medicare Reform [06-19]:

    The Republican version of a Medicare benefit seemed to me to be a tactical retreat. Democrats had a much more progressive bill to achieve this purpose, so I thought the GOP had ginned up an alternative to muddy the waters but fundamentally had no particular interest in a very expensive addition to Medicare. But they did. It was a hard lift whipping the votes in the House to pass the thing since many conservatives objected, but they got it done.

    And in an odd coda, the bill's passage was integral to the birth of the Affordable Care Act. That's because the deficit-financed subsidies to private insurers inside Medicare became offsetting spending that Democrats could cut in order to make Obamacare deficit-neutral. If the Bush administration had never created that program in the first place, Democrats wouldn't have been able to cut it later on and use those savings to finance their own health care bill. They'd have either had to write a much stingier program or else include substantially more in the way of tax hikes. And yet even though the 2003 Medicare bill was controversial at the time, it seems to have basically been eliminated from memory. Now all good Republicans are against spending money on anything, but nobody proposes to repeal the basic benefit. It's as if the whole thing never happened.

  • America's Fiscal Union in Action [06-25]: with map of "Federal taxes minus spending, 1990-2009, as % of 2009 GDP":

    Two key points I would make about this in relation to the eurozone are that these transfers are both really big and extremely persistent. Mississippi and Alabama have lagged behind the rest of the nation in economic development for a very long time, and I see no particular reason to believe they'll ever catch up. Residents of economically backward and politically dysfunctional states can and do exercise their right of exit rather than sticking around and solving problems, and the availability of large and persistent fiscal transfers means that local political elites focus their energies on rent-seeking rather than development. Other places such as Florida and Arizona develop regional economic specialization as low-wage high-temperature retirement zones living off incomes earned in more dynamic economies elsewhere.

  • The Affordable Care Act vs. the Dentists' Cartel [06-26]:

    One of the tragedies of the Affordable Care Act debate is that for all the pixels spilled over it, there are still dozens and dozens of provisions that have barely been discussed. I, for example, am more interested than your average person in the issue of how dentists extract regulatory rents from patients and dental hygenists through rules that make it illegal for hygenists to offer teeth-cleaning services to people unless they're employed by a dentist. And yet until Jon Chait reminded me yesterday, I'd completely forgotten that one element of the Affordable Care Act tackles this issue, prompting furious backlash from the dental lobby. [ . . . ]

    One problem with reforming dental regulation to help patients is that the dentists are a concentrated interest that's more able to lobby effectively than are the disparate interests of patients.

  • Globalization and Labor Unions [06-27]:

    What's probably true is that not globalization but policy that has the United States running a perpetual trade deficit has been bad for labor unions by depressing manufacturing employment. That speaks not to the level of trade, but to the structure of the American tax code and to the nature of American currency policy.

    I'll add that the US trade deficit is one of the main ways we transfer money to the rich: the dollars that working people pay for foreign-produced products return to the US to bid up the price of assets (with much of that filtering through the banking industry, and sticking to greedy fingers along the way).

  • John Roberts Saved America From Socialized Health Insurance [06-29]:

    I'm not a mind reader, but I think I have a more convincing explanation of why John Roberts ultimately voted to uphold the Affordable Care Act than these theories that rely on a bankshot "long game" to alter Commerce Clause jurisprudence. My theory is that he embraced the individual mandate for the same reason that Mitt Romney embraced it as governor of Massachusetts and Bob Dole embraced it as minority leader of the U.S. Senate -- it's a reasonable mechanism for ensuring universal coverage without creating a government-run single purchaser of health care services.

    A lot of attention has been paid recently to the fact that once President Obama came to embrace that position, the conservative movement rapidly abandoned its own alternative to single payer. But the plaintiffs in the health care cases weren't just asking the court to veto the law, they were asking the Supreme Court to declare the middle ground alternative to be now and forever impermissable.

    If that had happened, liberals would have had no choice but to start campaigning for Medicare for all.

    Of course, Roberts got nothing but grief for his efforts. The most striking thing about the right wasn't the hypocrisy -- it was, after all, their plan -- but their rabid sense of entitlement, how convinced they always are that they should be able to dictate whatever policy madness takes over their fevered brains.

  • Opening New Patent Offices Won't Fix America's Broken System [07-02]:

    It's hardly the fault of the career staff (as opposed to, say, judges and Congress), but this is incredibly lame. The presumption here is that the problem with the patent system in the United States is that we're somehow not efficient enough at transforming patent applications into patents. The actual problem is that the underlying presupposition that it helps the economy to engage in profligate granting of government-enforced monopolies.

  • Power Tools: The Libraries of the Future [07-03]:

    It's in the nature of books that the vast majority of books any given person owns will not be in use at any given time. Under the circumstances, establishing vast municipal stockpiles of books for people to borrow is much more efficient than relying on a series of household stockpiles. But over time digital technology is eroding this rationale (the day has not yet come when every individual is equipped with a smartphone or tablet capable of reading e-books but it's quite foreseeable), and it makes more sense to shift away from stockpiling of books and toward things like the Oakland Public Library's tool lending program. I have a hammer, several scredrivers, a power drill, a hacksaw, and a bunch of other tools that I'm almost never using and households all over DC are in this very same position. The most successful libraries we be the ones who spend less time thinking "how do I extend my traditional reading-and-learning mission into the digital age" and more time thinking "what sort of club goods are being underprovided thanks to transaction costs, enforcement problems, and information issues."

  • We Have Too Many Patents, Not Too Few [07-06]: quotes Richard Posner: "It's not clear that we really need patents in most industries."

    I don't think it's clear that we need patents for pharmaceuticals either, but we do need something. Proposals to reform pharma patents typically involve some alternative mechanism for financing innovation. I would tax pills and use the money to finance prizes. But the point is that in many industries you could just scrap the patents and that's your solution right there.

    It's particularly good to see Posner on this bandwagon because to an extent the conventional wisdom on the patent situation in digital industries has been cleaving along a "geeks vs lawyers" axis of polarization. Posner is a very famous legal scholar, and should help get the geek point of view much-needed exposure in law schools.


UPDATE: I didn't comment on this Yglesias post, but Henry Farrell did, providing some good examples of where Yglesias gets lost as an economic sharp.

Yglesias responded with Ten Theses on Labor Market Regulation, which looked so serious and deep I thought about linking to it above, but couldn't find any quote within to highlight. On the other hand, I could have quoted this bit -- given extra emphasis by being the literal end of the tenth thesis:

Should the boss be allowed to fire you for refusing to take a drug test? Freedom says no! Should an unemployed former recovering drug addict be prohibited from agreeing to regular drug testing as a way to get a job? Freedom says yes! I don't think this is a helpful way of trying to address the merits of banning employment-linked drug tests.

Indeed, it certainly isn't in any way helpful. As near as I can tell, the main reason employers insist on drug tests is to humiliate the employee: to show who's boss, and who's not, and to show that the boss's ability to dominate the employee extends way beyond the slice of the employee's time that the company actually pays for. If I could pass a law here, it would be that no company can demand a drug test unless that worker belongs to a union that has negotiated away the worker's right not to be tested. (Interestingly, the most plausible cases I can think of for such testing, such as airplane pilots and sports stars, are heavily unionized, and have done exactly that.) I doubt that under those circumstances any non-unionized company that currently does would agree to a union just to keep drug testing -- they get too little value out of testing to do that. Rather, they'd just look for other ways to tyrannize (not to mention terrorize) their employees, and no doubt they'd find many.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Krohn's Progress

Several stories going around recently about Jonathan Krohn, one-time 13-year-old conservative wunderkind, now at 17 some sort of movement apostate supporting Obama and gay marriage -- e.g., this one by Benjy Sarlin, and another by Alex Pareene. Reminds me that I wrote a squib on his 2010 book:

Jonathan Krohn: Defining Conservatism: The Principles That Will Bring Our Country Back (2010, Vanguard Press): Teenage philosopher, self-published an earlier draft of this book when he was 13; is more like 15 now, out giving speeches at Tea Parties and CPAC. Identifies four principles: defend the Constitution, respect human life, minimalist government, personal responsibility. Those principles are sophisticated enough it might be possible to flip him, unlike less thoughtful conservatives whose principles are more like "be white" and "inherit (or steal) a lot of money" and "slaughter people not like us." Talks a lot about "natural laws" and gibberish like that. Clearly is a smart kid with a lot to learn.

I remember that when I was nine I gave a speech, on the occasion of Wichita being selected as an "All American City," to my entire elementary school that was full of patriotic platitudes, and when I was thirteen I fell under the influence of a close friend who was a rabid Barry Goldwater supporter -- although I seriously doubt that even then I had any sympathy for Goldwater's anti-civil rights views, nor for his rabid belligerence, especially vs. Vietnam. (Within a year, my views on those subjects firmed up, and by the time I was seventeen I was solidly new left -- a stance I eventually moderated but never disowned.)

So I was familiar with the notion that one could shift political views after age thirteen. On the other hand, I'm not sure how often it actually happens. I doubt, for instance, that my Goldwater friend ever moved much, although I haven't heard of him in 45 years. Among what passes for thinkers on the conservative side, nearly all were born to the calling, and few ever gave it a second thought (Buckley Jr. and Bill Kristol certainly didn't). After all, it could hardly be easier to think that all is right in a world you were born to lord over.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Recycled Goods (99): July 2012

New Recycled Goods: pick up text here. Total review count: 3319 (2920 + 399).

Monday, July 02, 2012

Music Week/No Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 20116 [20091] rated (+25), 756 [762] unrated (-6). Was ill most of last week. Doubt that it was anything serious, but didn't feel like listening to music, much less writing about it, and when I did finally feel a bit better I skipped new jazz for Recycled Goods. Rated count is a bit inflated because I also did some work comparing database files and fixed some discrepancies. So Recycled Goods is in fairly good shape, due to run tomorrow. However, no Jazz Prospecting this week. Not sure about next week either. Only have 23 records in the draft for July's Rhapsody Streamnotes, but that seems about par this time of the month, at least for the last 3-4 months. Downloader's Diary is also drifting toward mid-month. What's unusual is that I don't have any A- records queued up -- best I can do is B+(***): Far East Movement, A Place to Bury Strangers, Otis Taylor, Bobby Womack. Nor does much else look promising.

I've seen some people kicking around mid-year lists. I currently have 48 records on this year's A-list. Can't compare exactly to last year's total, when I wound up with 121 (by freeze date, Jan. 18; I've added 8 more since then). But I am able to compare Christgau's database: in 2011 he had 39 A-list records by July 1, and 94 by Jan. 18, so he got 41.4% by this time. If I'm to wind up with 121 like last year, I've nabbed 39.6% of them thus far. That's too close to support a claim that this year sucks, even though I'm starting to feel that way. Christgau has 40 A-list records so far this year -- one more than last, so no real change. He counts compilations, which I don't, and he likes EPs much more than I do, but I cover much more jazz, so I usually end the year with about 20% more A-list records.


Haven't processed the week's unpacking yet. Next time.


Jun 2012 Aug 2012