November 2012 Notebook


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Expert Comments

Alexander Nevermind declared "abortion is murder."

My first wife, and by extension I, had an abortion. She was not a murderer, and neither am I. The main reason for our decision was her health. She died less than five years after the fact, spending much of the meantime disabled -- something we suspected but could not have known, although at the time we wondered if she could even survive the pregnancy. Her illnesses made the decision a "no brainer," but I at least probably would have favored the abortion any way. At the time, I felt like I was in no way competent to raise a child, and doubted that any child would deserve me as a father.

AN wants to force prospective parents to "be explained what abortion actually is." If any such intervention should be required -- and I'd prefer that such matters remain private -- it should be to explain what the responsibilities of parenthood are, and to point out that an abortion is a better choice than having a child whose parent(s) is/are not up to the task.

There was, by the way, a time when conservatives supported abortion rights for just that reason, before they realized the political opportunities that bigotry and ignorance held for their economic agenda.

A couple commenters noted that they knew of conservatives who support abortion rights, for good conservative reasons. Jon LaFollette threw a tantrum over the comment stream descending into politics. Alexander Nevermind responded with this:

A couple things, more so directed at Xgau. First, if you think that for us proponents of the pro-life position, this is merely a political issue, you are mistaken. This is not about politics for us, but about ending institutionalized murder. This certainly has political implications, and my even be used by some politicians as a wedge, but in reality it is a human rights issue. It is not about left, vs. right, nor democrat vs. republican. It's about the fact that we live in a grossly unjust society which allows for the killing of its weakest members. Everyone who is a thinking person should be pro-life.

Second, you are mistaken if you think that members of the pro-life movement are insensitive to the women involved. Many pro-life organizations, such as Project Defending Life, offer ministry and charitable services to women in crisis pregnancies. We want to help both the mother and the child.

That "weakest members" line was especially risible, and I couldn't help but think of those "pro-life" organizations that basically were nothing more than adoption mills. I could have focused more on women's liberation, which is a big part of what's at stake here. Instead, I wrote:

Unfortunately, perhaps, every time I see Jon LaFollette's name, I think of politics: one of the great surnames in American political history.

Perhaps even more unfortunately, abortion is a sore point with me. I live in a city of 400,000 people where our constitutional rights to choose an abortion has been destroyed by a 20-year-long "pro life" campaign of mob action, legal harassment, and flagrant criminality, capped by the cold-blooded murder of Dr. George Tiller (whose motto was "trust women").

Kansas wasn't always like this: we were one of the first states in the country to legalize abortion, well before Roe v. Wade. But the "pro life" movement has poisoned politics in this state, most insidiously by insisting that abortion is murder -- an assertion that led a series of GOP politicians this year to insist that the state enforce the rights of rapists to force their victims to bear their children.

Not everyone who thinks of themselves as "pro life" has followed the movement's logic to such depths, but they do all seem to have missed the key point, which is that it's not their right to judge.

As for music, there's fresh Jazz Prospecting and Rhapsody Streamnotes on my blog, and more to come, including A Downloader's Diary and some number crunching that validates Joey's discovery that Frank Ocean is the Pazz & Jop favorite.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Rhapsody Streamnotes (November 2012)

Pick up text here.

Monsen Quiz

Got a request from Chris Monsen to comment on some jazz matters.

  • It seems to me that jazz more than most genres is torn between respecting the past as well as being inventive/seeking to do something new. Do you feel any of the more recent generations of jazz musicians have brought something different to jazz that weren't there before, and if so what?

Two things here. One is that the arrow of modernism pretty much exhausted itself by the 1970s, and with it the idea that you have to be looking to do something new. Jazz had gone about as far out as it was possible to go -- or to put this more concretely, had become about as unlistenable as people could stand listening to. That didn't mean you couldn't do anything new; just that you couldn't do it by escaping from past frameworks. The result was postmodernism. I'm not sure what academics mean by that, but my impression is that it involves revalidating all past frameworks, working within and in between them, and often crossing them promiscuously. Back in the 1970s we recognized this process as fragmentation. Had we been more sophisticated about mathematics, we might have called it fractalization. The suggestion here is that there are always more surfaces, allowing one to innovate endlessly within any past framework. You didn't have to find the next new thing, because everything could be renewed.

The other is that virtually all jazz musicians are academically trained these days. One thing that means is that they know a lot more classical music theory and historical practice. But the academy has changed, opened up and sopped up non-European and non-traditional musics. And that's not only legitimized jazz. Jazz has revitalized the academy, not least by providing the creative outlet for musicians to compose new music as opposed to just perfecting the performance of old music. I'm not a big fan of the new academic jazz, but good things do come out of it, even if that's mostly because the economics of the academy and the arts have managed to support such a huge increase in the number of practicing jazz musicians today -- I don't have the numbers, but it's really huge, something unimaginable 20-30 years ago. With so many musicians, you do get a lot of uninteresting overlap, but you also get a lot of novelty as so many try to distinguish themselves.

  • Does jazz need to be inventive/try ne things to stay relevant, or do unique voices suffice (cf. e.g. rock)?

Not sure what you mean here. Beyond musicians who try to sound like someone else (the technical term here is "amateurs," although some repertory types are professional enough), all serious artists try to differentiate themselves -- they is, after all, a big advantage (rent) in being unique. One way to do that is to be innovative; another is to become exceptionally skillful. The former is probably easier, and both tend to be necessary.

  • During the 80s (in hindsight for me, I was but a kid at the time), there appeared to be a divide between the "respect the past" crowd, and the more adventurous types. Do you feel this is still the case?

I suppose you could say that early on there was some sort of golden age where anyone who focused mostly on developing their own personal sense of their art could also expect to make a living doing just that, but at some point economic reward went one way and the personal sense of pursuing self-satisfaction went another. But each of those paths has its own options, and its own luck. I doubt that Keith Jarrett, for example, ever decided to shoot for a gold record -- he tended to do what he wanted to do, and sometimes found that it sold very well.

A related question is why did the jazz market shrink so severely? And has it in any sense recovered? I can give answers to the former, but not very good ones. The two major drops were 1945-50 with bebop and 1965-75 with avant-garde: in both cases jazz became more difficult and more virtuosic, which is to say more work both for musician and fan, with listeners gravitating toward simpler and more accessible (and, frankly, more fun) musics -- r&b in the earlier period and various shades of rock in the latter. And the money people (radio, especially) locked those shifts in, so efforts to repopularize jazz (hard bop and soul jazz in the 1950s-60s, fusion in the 1970s, the Marsalises from the 1980s on) never had a chance to recover. As for recovery, there has been a major rebound in the number of records released since 1995, but it hasn't translated to sales in any significant way. If overall jazz sales are up, I suspect they've eaten into the similarly marginal classical market more than anything else. Jazz is a healthy art form, but it's not much of a business, and especially in the US there's little chance of it breaking out -- even though I'm convinced that a lot more people would like it if only they had access to it. (Jazz in Europe has better prospects for a lot of reasons -- more money behind it, more public venues, different language dynamics, more crossover efforts -- but I doubt that the difference is huge.)

  • There's no disputing its origin, but jazz has been a world music for a long time by now. How does non-American jazz look from where you sit? Any Norwegian performers that come to mind, and who you feel are worth mentioning in relation to the question above?

I probably get more jazz from Europe than most critics, but still not much, and what I do get tends to come from certain peripheral countries -- Norway, Holland, Portugal, Israel (although almost all Israeli expats), plus a few things from Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Poland, and Lithuania (one good label there). Of the larger countries, I get a few things from Germany, less from Spain, and that's about it -- virtually nothing from France, Italy, or the UK (all with large jazz scenes), or from Russia and the rest of Eastern Europe (hard even to evaluate). Also, a fair amount (30-50%, but that's a very wild guess) of what I get from Europe is by US musicians. (In the 1980s, European labels probably released more records by US jazz musicians than American labels did -- they pretty much saved the art form -- but that shifted back by 2000. Similarly, European interest in jazz didn't crater in Europe in the 1980s like it did in the US.)

It's very hard to generalize on European vs. American jazz, since both sides have roughly similar quantities of just about everything. I doubt if there's a greater euroclassical influence, at least in Western Europe -- the East seems to be a different story, since virtually all musicians there were force-marched through the classics; but jazz musicians in the US are increasingly grounded in euroclassical music, so it's a bit of a wash. European folk music seeps through much more in Europe. There's less Latin influence there, but more Asian and probably more African. You don't hear much blues (or gospel) influence in European jazz, but you get more electronics, a much wider range of guitar, probably more rock.

As for Norway, I tend to think of jazz there as coming in two waves. The first was strongly influenced by George Russell around 1970: Jan Garbarek, Arild Andersen, Jon Christensen, Terje Rypdal, and you can probably trace this on (especially in the interest in electronics) to Nils Petter Molvaer and Bugge Wesseltoft, and you can probably throw most of the more recent ECM (and Rune Grammofon) artists into that bag -- Eivind Aarset, Jon Balke, Matthias Eick, Tord Gustavsen, Arve Henriksen, Trygve Seim, Christian Wallumrod, Jacob Young. I don't know to what extent they followed Russell's technical system, but there are many examples here of his general approach to the world, especially in how he would combine and contrast modes.

The second wave I imagine as coming through punk bands, developing a fondness for noise, and sharpening that as their chops matured: especially here you get Atomic and The Thing -- Mats Gustafsson, Frode Gjerstad, Paal Nilssen-Love, Ingebrigt Haker Flaten, Havard Wiik, probably more (especially if you spread across Scandinavia).

Looking through the Norsk JazzArchiv bio list, which helped me weed out some Swedes I was tempted to insert, I see at least twenty more names I recognize -- some barely, some are more important figures who don't quite fit either wave (e.g., Karin Krog). Impressive list.

Hope this is useful. Let me know if you have any more questions.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 20724 [20699] rated (+25), 619 [626] unrated (-7).

Francis Davis' Jazz Critics Poll (7th Annual) is coming up -- ballots due December 6, if I recall correctly -- so it's time to buckle down and at least spin the unplayed records (154 on my pending list at the moment) that look most promising (a lot less, although I'm certain to be wrong about something). I did catch some of them below, with an above-average three A- records below, plus six high B+ and other items of interest. As usual, I feel completely unprepared at this moment -- especially as compared to someone like Tim Niland, who's already posted his ballot. Looking at it, I see that I've heard 9 of his top 10 (two Rhapsody only), none of the reissues, the vocal and Latin but not the debut. The things I miss out on bother me the most -- especially, those over at Improvised Communications (which reps superb artists like Myra Melford, Jon Irabagon, Mary Halvorson, and labels like AUM Fidelity and Playscape), but I'm also reminded that there are a lot of good labels I've lost contact with (Arbors, CIMP, Fresh Sound, Intakt, Smalltown, Songlines) or never had it (Leo, Hatology, Not Two, RogueArt, Steeplechase, Tzadik, the list goes on and on), that regularly produce records worthy of year-end consideration. (At some point in the next few weeks I should go through my metacritic file and come up with a "wish list" -- at present the file lists more than 600 new jazz releases, a number that will expand when more year-end lists appear.

I'll write some more about the metacritic file and year-end lists sometime in the near future. I've been scrambling to bring it up to date before factoring in year-end lists, a task that is near hopeless. Meanwhile, I plan on posting November's belated Rhapsody Streamnotes on Tuesday. I held it back in case I wanted to steal anything from the draft for the Turkey Shoot. Downloader's Diary is scheduled for Thursday. Recycled Goods some time early December, but I don't have much there -- mostly redundant jazz reviews at present, since I haven't continued the last couple months process of cleaning out the unrated shelf.

Greg Abate: The Greg Abate Quintet Featuring Phil Woods (2012, Rhombus): Unreconstructed bebopper, b. 1947, alto sax is his first instrument but he also plays soprano, baritone, and flute (too much, if you ask me). Five (of ten) cuts drop down to quartet with piano-bass-drums; the other five add Woods, doubling down on the heritage. B+(*)

Bobby Bradford/Frode Gjerstad/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten/Paal Nilssen-Love: Kampen (2010 [2012], NoBusiness): Bradford is a name you should know but may not: b. 1934, plays cornet, is most legendary for the group he co-led with John Carter. Here he landed in Oslo, with Frode Gjerstad (clarinet, alto sax) filling in the Carter role, and the first choice in rhythm sections. [Limited edition vinyl: 300 copies.] B+(***) [cdr]

François Carrier/Michel Lambert: Shores and Ditches (2011 [2012], FMR): From Quebec, alto saxophonist and drummer, have worked together for well over a decade, and one-on-one their free improvs are hard to beat. Joining them at various points are guitar (Daniel Thompson), flute (Neil Metcalfe), and bass (Guillaume Viltard), which is where the record lags a bit. B+(***)

Ernest Dawkins: Afro Straight (2010-12 [2012], Delmark): Saxophonist, b. 1953 in Chicago, came up through the AACM, has a half dozen albums on his own plus many credits, notably with Ethnic Heritage Ensemble. Here he goes for something more mainstream, covering two Coltrane and three Shorter tunes, "Woody 'N You," "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise," and a really lovely "God Bless the Child," and he makes a party out of them, with Corey Wilkes jousting on trumpet, and lots of congas. Two originals: his title tune, and "Old Man Blues," which he sings in a voice not nearly old enough -- the only mis-step here. A-

The Fat Babies: Chicago Hot (2012, Delmark): Led by bassist Beau Sample, based in Chicago, a "young band" playing old music, drawing more on Jelly Roll Morton than on Austin High, but so did the Austin High crowd. Tuba player Mike Walbridge rates a "special guest" shout out: he was one of the notable players in what I reckon to be the third generation of trad jazz musicians, a venerable but still viable link. (His contemporary, Kim Cusack, did the liner notes.) This group is more like the fifth generation, but that happens with music this vital. No matter how much bebop I listen to, I doubt I'll ever escape the conviction that this is what real jazz sounds like. B+(***)

Scott Fields: 5 Frozen Eggs (1996 [2012], Clean Feed): Avant guitarist, b. 1952, based in Chicago, has about twenty albums since 1993, several of which have been picked up and reissued by Clean Feed. Seems like most are cranky solo affairs, but some aren't, and this one is dominated by Marilyn Crispell's piano, at her iciest, creating fractured landscapes that Fields, bassist Hans Sturm, and drummer Hamid Drake trek through. B+(***)

Jan Garbarek/Egberto Gismonti/Charlie Haden: Carta de Amor (1981 [2012], ECM, 2CD): Norwegian saxophonist (tenor and a very distinctive curved soprano), Brazilian guitarist (also plays piano here), legendary bassist and citizen of the world. Note date. The same trio recorded two albums in 1979 with Haden's name first: Folk Songs and Magico. This is a previously unreleased live tape, recorded in Munich, which shares two songs from each. The writing/arranging credits are distributed not quite evenly -- Gismonti has the edge, and the lead. B+(*)

The Peggy Lee Band: Invitation (2012, Drip Audio): Cellist, based in Vancouver, has a half dozen albums since 1999, mostly with more/less the same group here: Brad Turner (trumpet), Jon Bentley (tenor sax), Jerome Berkman (trombone), Ron Samworth (guitar), Tony Wilson (more guitar), Andre Lachance (electric bass), and Dylan van der Schyff (drums). Aside from one by Mary Margaret O'Hara, all Lee compositions. She spots all the pieces and ties them together into a melodic suite that classical training dreams of but almost never achieves. Final piece even reminds me of township jive. A-

Bill McHenry: La Peur du Vide (2012, Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist, studied with George Garzone, dozen albums since 1998, AMG considers him avant-garde but I've always thought of him as a postbop modernist. Quartet with Orrin Evans on piano, Eric Revis on drums, and Andrew Cyrille on drums, each in their own way nudging the saxophonist out of his comfort zone. B+(***)

Liudas Mockunas & Barry Guy: Lava (2011 [2012], NoBusiness): Duets, saxophonist from Lithuania with a half dozen albums since 2001, and bassist from England with dozens since 1972, many as founder and direct or of London Jazz Composers Orchestra. I've always had trouble with Guy's big bands, but here you get a chance to actually hear all the sound he can coax from the bull fiddle, an astonishing range. [Limited edition vinyl: 300 copies.] B+(***) [cdr]

Ratchet Orchestra: Hemlock (2012, Drip Audio): Huge Canadian outfit led by bassist Nicolas Caloia, thirty-some pieces (seven of those strings, plus two guitars), dates back to the early 1990s and an interest in Sun Ra, although I'm not finding any other recordings. Trends avant, but not because they want to see how much noise they can make; more like that's where the cutting edge is. B+(**)

Michael Sahl & Eric Salzman: Civilization and Its Discontents (1978 [2012], Labor): Sahl is a postclassical composer, a year older than Salzman, his collaborator on several music theatre pieces, this one billed a comedy though more often tagged as their opera. Rocks more than most avant-classicists, but like most modern opera tries to stuff too many words into too little music. B

Felipe Salles: Departure (2011 [2012], Tapestry): Saxophonist (tenor, soprano, flute, bass clarinet), originally from Brazil, teaches at U. Mass (Amherst); fifth album since 2004. Went for a big band suite last time, but scales back to a sextet here, with violin the unorthodox instrument, and gets in some impressive sax runs. Trumpeter Randy Brecker gets in some licks, too. B+(**)

Eric Salzman: The Nude Paper Sermon/Wiretap (1966-72 [2012], Labor, 2CD): Composer, b. 1933; worked as a music critic for New York Times, Stereo Review, and others; produced an important series of post-classical records for Nonesuch. This reissues two of his early records. He describes his The Nude Paper Sermon (1969, Nonesuch) as "tropes for actor, renaissance consort, chorus, and electronics" -- mostly vocals, the voices trained but not hammy enough for opera, abstract and unsettled. The four pieces on Wiretap (1974, Finnadar) delve further into electronics -- Ilhan Mimaroglu was the producer -- and found sounds, even more abstract and unsettled, and all the more invigorating for that. B+(*)

Juma Sultan's Aboriginal Music Society: Whispers From the Archive (1970-78 [2012], Porter): B. 1942 in California, Sultan played percussion with Jimi Hendrix, played with Archie Shepp on records like Attica Blues, eventually became a Christian minister. This is the second slice from his archives, following Father of Origin in 2011 (on Eremite, unheard by me). These pieces are scattered over the years, the only constant someone named Ali Abuwi (oboe, flute, percussion), although one 19:20 track doesn't credit either. This kicks off with a 20:45 piece called "AMS," with Sultan on bass, Abuwi on oboe, and everyone but the guitarist on percussion -- James "Blood" Ulmer is too busy stealing the show. That's followed by 1:27 of "Shake Your Money Maker," the first of several vocals that bind the extended groove pieces to a sense of community. Last two pieces break out the flutes, and for once I don't mind. A-

Gian Tornatore: The Heights (2012, Sound Spiral): Tenor saxophonist, b. in California, studied at Berklee, based in New York since 2002, fourth album. Has a lovely tone, which I fell for on his 2004 debut album, Sink or Swim, and is evident from the start here. Mainstream postbop, a bit on the lush side with trumpet (Gordon Au) for shine and both piano and guitar -- Nate Radley takes the most impressive solos. B+(*)

Wave Mechanics Union: Further to Fly (2012, HX Music): Played this twice while trying to get other work done, so I didn't manage the necessary notes, but sure don't want to spin it a third time. Lydia McCadams is the singer, operatic at the end but cabaret-ish along the way -- maybe that was the Tom Waits cover, or the Fiona Apple or Steely Dan but probably not King Crimson. The orchestra is overstuffed -- flutes and bassoon, tuba and strings -- and some of the arrangements have some appeal. Second group album. B-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Zach Brock: Almost Never Was (Criss Cross)
  • Scott Healy-Glenn Alexander Quartet: Northern Light (Hudson City)
  • Myriad 3: Tell (ALMA)
  • Noertker's Moxie: Little Bluedevil (Blue Rider Suite, Vol. 2) (Edgetone)
  • Christina Pato: Migrations (Sunnyside)
  • Mort Weiss: I'll Be Seeing You (SMS Jazz)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I collected over the previous week:

  • John Cassidy: Gaza: More Funerals, More Questions: A thoughtful piece putting the small picture in big picture context.

    As is often the case in Israel, some of the most enlightening commentary is coming from former intelligence officers and members of the armed forces, who have learned the hard way the limits of military action. Writing in Monday's Financial Times, Efraim Halevy, the former head of Mossad, noted that the operation, although militarily successful, could have unanticipated and negative effects, such as strengthening Hamas' standing in the Arab world and causing unrest in countries friendly to Israel, such as Egypt and Jordan. If it doesn't want to become increasingly isolated, Israel will have to "contribute to an Egyptian-crafted and American-supported formula for the region," Halevy wrote. And moreover: "Israel will have to do what no government has done before: determine a comprehensive strategy on the future of Gaza and its 2m inhabitants."

    It's worth noting that these are issues that didn't need a war to discover, and can't be fixed by war -- although some people evidently need to be reminded of war's futility before they're willing to move on and do something constructive. The Israeli exes are always a good case in point: invariably, they rose through the ranks by being hawks, only to discover by their retirement that they hadn't accomplished a damn thing.

  • Helena Cobban: West Point Military Historian Denies the Net Value of a Decade of War: Cites a New York Times piece by Elisabeth Bumiller on Col. Gian Gentile, a name I've run across in several books on Iraq. Bumiller writes:

    Narrowly, the argument is whether the counterinsurgency strategy used in Iraq and Afghanistan -- the troop-heavy, time-intensive, expensive doctrine of trying to win over the locals by building roads, schools and government -- is dead.

    Broadly, the question is what the United States gained after a decade in two wars.

    "Not much," Col. Gian P. Gentile, the director of West Point's military history program and the commander of a combat battalion in Baghdad in 2006, said flatly in an interview last week. "Certainly not worth the effort. In my view."

    Colonel Gentile, long a critic of counterinsurgency, represents one side of the divide at West Point. On the other is Col. Michael J. Meese, the head of the academy's influential social sciences department and a top adviser to General Petraeus in Baghdad and Kabul when General Petraeus commanded the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. [ . . . ]

    The debate at West Point mirrors one under way in the armed forces as a whole as the United States withdraws without clear victory from Afghanistan and as the results in Iraq remain ambiguous at best. (On the ABC News program "This Week" on Sunday, the defense secretary, Leon E. Panetta, called the Taliban "resilient" after 10 and a half years of war.)

    But at West Point the debate is personal, and a decade of statistics -- more than 6,000 American service members dead in Iraq and Afghanistan and more than $1 trillion spent -- hit home. [ . . . ]

    In Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal so aggressively pushed the doctrine when he was the top commander there that troops complained they had to hold their firepower. General Petraeus issued guidelines that clarified that troops had the right to self-defense when he took over, but by then counterinsurgency had attracted powerful critics, chief among them Mr. Biden and veteran military officers who denigrated it as armed nation building.

    When Mr. Obama announced last June that he would withdraw by the end of this summer the 30,000 additional troops he sent to Afghanistan -- earlier than the military wanted or expected -- the doctrine seemed to be on life support. General Petraeus has since become director of the Central Intelligence Agency, where his mission is covertly killing the enemy, not winning the people.

    Cobban, of course, didn't have to do the math to figure out that the "war on terror" wasn't worth it. It never is. Cobban talks more about Syria and Iran: countries that the US threatened to invade from Iraq in 2003, and which are still in the warmongers' planning book. Elsewhere, she's trying to raise money to get Gareth Porter to write what promises to be an important book on Iran: Manufactured Crisis: The Secret History of the Iranian Nuclear Scare. She also wrote Obama Admin Willfully Blind on Gaza Crisis?.

  • Juan Cole: Top Ten Steps That Are Necessary for Lasting Gaza-Israeli Peace (or, Good Luck!): Most of this is basic and should not be controversial. I would emphasize that every Palestinian should be a citizen with full and equal rights wherever he or she resides. If, in any given locale, Israel does not offer such citizenship, that locale should be completely independent of Israel, with a democracy established there and freedom to trade and travel with the rest of the world. And while, as a practical matter, I think it is Israel's choice what to keep and what to discard, a Palestinian state in the West Bank must be contiguous, have external borders, and control of its own air space in order to be completely independent, so not just any arbitrary whim would work there. (Return to the 1967 borders would work, and is preferable for many other reasons.) Also, it is important to recognize that whoever wins elections in Palestine should be absolved of any past "terrorist" associations. Indeed, that's pretty much the norm throughout the world, where there have been many leaders of independence movements who were once branded terrorists but wound up as respectable heads of state -- Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir are two who somehow come to mind.

    Cole's blog, by the way, has numerous pieces since this one on Egyptian President Morsi's executive power grab, which instantly turned him from the hero of the Gaze cease fire to anti-democratic demon. It certainly looks like he overreached, but bear in mind that thus far the only targets of Morsi's efforts have been residual elements of the Mubarak dictatorship.

  • Gershom Gorenberg: Israel's New Gaza Mess: Israel's strategy of acting unilaterally, as opposed to negotiating, is inherently unstable, in large part because it lets each side choose its own favored narrative, whereas agreements bind both sides to a common resolution. Case in point: Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, which Hamas viewed as vindicating their militancy, Fatah regarded as a step toward negotiation, and Sharon saw as a way of simplifying the firing zone.

    Of course, those talks never happened. Sharon chose a unilateral pullout precisely to avoid peace negotiations, since they could only succeed if Israel agreed to leave nearly all of the West Bank as well. As he planned, disengagement squelched interest in Israel in the Geneva Accord, the model for a peace agreement unofficially hammered out by Palestinians and Israelis. As one of Sharon's top advisers predicted, the disengagement put President George W. Bush's roadmap for peace "in formaldehyde." It allowed Sharon to evade the challenge posed by Mahmud Abbas's accession to the Palestinian presidency: Abbas very publicly wanted (and wants) to negotiate Palestinian independence in the West Bank and Gaza.

    Sharon believed that Israel could safely leave Gaza without peace, and without the security arrangements of a peace agreement. Israeli military power and its control of Gaza's borders would deter Palestinian attacks.

    He was mistaken. What failed was not withdrawal from occupied territory. The failure was doing so unilaterally. Abbas's unfulfilled promise of diplomatic progress contributed to Hamas's victory over Fatah in the 2006 legislative election. That was the first step in the chain reaction leading to the violent split in the Palestinian Authority, the Hamas takeover of Gaza, and all that has followed. [ . . . ]

    Dealing with Gaza, one American option is to promote rather than block creation of a Palestinian unity government. Another is to push to extend the indirect Israel-Hamas negotiation of recent days in Cairo, and aim at turning Gaza into a Taiwan-style non-state: able to claim all of Palestine as long as it does nothing about it, able to develop free of the Israeli blockade.

  • MJ Rosenberg: Ugly Senate Gaza Resolution, and Ceasefire Agreement: What It Means: The two posts mostly quote core documents, providing a neat summary of Israel's latest Gaza war. I started to write a post on the former, which shows how completely Congress has given up both mind and heart to AIPAC. If you follow their subservience through, the logical conclusion is that the US can have no foreign policy of its own in the Middle East -- we should just let Israel call the shots. It's not clear what exactly Obama and Clinton did in the run up to a cease fire agreement that they graciously let Egypt take credit and blame for, but despite some lame and embarrassing statements[*], they don't seem to have goaded Israel on, like Bush and Rice did with Lebanon in 2006. I don't see any winners in war, but will note that faces in Israel were most often glum after the cease fire while those in Gaza were jubilant. The ugly blood lust spewed by right-wing Israelis wasn't even attempted[**], and the "significant degradation" of the rocket arsenal in Gaza was mostly accomplished by provoking "militant" groups in Gaza to fire the rockets harmlessly over the wall. But it wasn't really the resolve of either side that endured or failed. The cease fire validates the new normal, which is mostly the result of Egypt's revolution opening up the Gaza border, putting an end to Israel's stranglehold over "the world's largest outdoor jail."

    [*] Aren't you sick of hearing about "Israel's right to defend itself," especially when that claim is used to justify attacking others? Rockets from Gaza were a nuisance this year, but had killed zero Israelis until Israel started this operation, which provoked the firing of over 1,450 rockets, resulting in six Israeli deaths -- all of which could have been avoided by relaxing the blockade that had been strangling 1.7 million people in Gaza. By Israel's same logic, Mexico would have been more than justified using F-16s to bomb gun shops in Arizona and Texas.

    [**] Israel killed 189 Palestinians (Israel's own stats say 177), a senseless and totally unnecessary number -- far below the 1,417 killed during Operation Cast Lead in 2008. Six Israelis were killed: two soldiers and four civilians. Injuries, of course, were far more numerous. On the last day, 21 Israelis were injured (none killed) by a bomb on a Tel Aviv bus -- the first such bombing in eight years. Whether this bombing or the use of more powerful, longer range Iranian rockets had any influence on Israel's decision to agree to the cease fire is anyone's guess. Hamas "militants" are likely to conclude that they should replenish their missile stocks to deter future Israeli attacks -- an argument that can be undercut by Israeli actively seeking to normalize relations with an independent Gaza. Israel has shown no interest in any such thing -- a stance where the "militants" on both sides reinforce each other.

  • Adam Shatz: Why Israel Didn't Win: The cease fire stopped the shooting (for now) but didn't solve the conflict:

    The fighting will erupt again, because Hamas will come under continued pressure from its members and from other militant factions, and because Israel has never needed much pretext to go to war. In 1982, it broke its ceasefire with Arafat's PLO and invaded Lebanon, citing the attempted assassination of its ambassador to London, even though the attack was the work of Arafat's sworn enemy, the Iraqi agent Abu Nidal. In 1996, during a period of relative calm, it assassinated Hamas's bomb-maker Yahya Ayyash, the 'Engineer,' leading Hamas to strike back with a wave of suicide attacks in Israeli cities. When, a year later, Hamas proposed a thirty-year hudna, or truce, Binyamin Netanyahu dispatched a team of Mossad agents to poison the Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Amman; under pressure from Jordan and the US, Israel was forced to provide the antidote, and Meshaal is now the head of Hamas's political bureau -- and an ally of Egypt's new president, Mohamed Morsi.

    Operation Pillar of Defence, Israel's latest war, began just as Hamas was cobbling together an agreement for a long-term ceasefire. Its military commander, Ahmed al-Jabari, was assassinated only hours after he reviewed the draft proposal. [ . . . ]

    Israeli leaders lamented for years that theirs was the only democracy in the region. What this season of revolts has revealed is that Israel had a very deep investment in Arab authoritarianism. The unravelling of the old Arab order, when Israel could count on the quiet complicity of Arab big men who satisfied their subjects with flamboyant denunciations of Israeli misdeeds but did little to block them, has been painful for Israel, leaving it feeling lonelier than ever. It is this acute sense of vulnerability, even more than Netanyahu's desire to bolster his martial credentials before the January elections, that led Israel into war.

    Hamas, meanwhile, has been buoyed by the same regional shifts, particularly the triumph of Islamist movements in Tunisia and Egypt: Hamas, not Israel, has been 'normalised' by the Arab uprisings. Since the flotilla affair, it has developed a close relationship with Turkey, which is keen to use the Palestinian question to project its influence in the Arab world. It also took the risk of breaking with its patrons in Syria: earlier this year, Khaled Meshaal left Damascus for Doha, while his number two, Mousa Abu Marzook, set himself up in Cairo. Since then, Hamas has thrown in its lot with the Syrian uprising, distanced itself from Iran, and found new sources of financial and political support in Qatar, Egypt and Tunisia. [ . . . ]

    The Palestinians understand that they are no longer facing Israel on their own: Israel, not Hamas, is the region's pariah. The Arab world is changing, but Israel is not. Instead, it has retreated further behind Jabotinsky's 'iron wall,' deepening its hold on the Occupied Territories, thumbing its nose at a region that is at last acquiring a taste of its own power, exploding in spasms of high-tech violence that fail to conceal its lack of a political strategy to end the conflict.

  • Stephen M Walt: The Real Lessons of L'Affaire Petraeus: Best snark I've seen so far was on the back page of Entertainment Weekly which proclaimed All In, Paul Broadwell's hagiography of her paramour ex-Gen. David Petraeus, the yuckiest book title of all time. Walt makes several good points, including that Petraeus's reputation d for Iraq wasn't all it was cracked up to be, and that his performance in Afghanistan came up even shorter. Also:

    Second, this whole episode reminds us of the corrupt and incestual relationship that exists throughout the national security establishment, to include lots of people in the media and commentariat. As I've written before, the excessive deference -- indeed, veneration -- often given the U.S. military is not healthy, because it encourages both journalists and academics to suck up to powerful and charismatic generals instead of treating them as public servants who need to be aggressively challenged.

    He also quotes Glenn Greenwald:

    So all based on a handful of rather unremarkable emails sent to a woman fortunate enough to have a friend at the FBI, the FBI traced all of Broadwell's physical locations, learned of all the accounts she uses, ended up reading all of her emails, investigated the identity of her anonymous lover (who turned out to be Petraeus), and then possibly read his emails as well. They dug around in all of this without any evidence of any real crime -- at most, they had a case of "cyber-harassment" more benign than what regularly appears in my email inbox and that of countless of other people -- and, in large part, without the need for any warrant from a court.

    Walt also links to Michael Hastings: The Sins of General Petraeus, who offers this:

    But the warning signs about Petraeus' core dishonesty have been around for years. Here's a brief summary: We can start with the persistent questions critics have raised about his Bronze Star for Valor. Or that, in 2004, during the middle of a presidential election, Petraeus wrote an op-ed in The Washington Post supporting President Bush and saying that the Iraq policy was working. The policy wasn't working, but Bush repaid the general's political advocacy by giving him the top job in the war three years later.

    There's his war record in Iraq, starting when he headed up the Iraqi security force training program in 2004. He's more or less skated on that, including all the weapons he lost, the insane corruption, and the fact that he essentially armed and trained what later became known as "Iraqi death squads." On his final Iraq tour, during the so-called "surge," he pulled off what is perhaps the most impressive con job in recent American history. He convinced the entire Washington establishment that we won the war.

    He did it by papering over what the surge actually was: We took the Shiites' side in a civil war, armed them to the teeth, and suckered the Sunnis into thinking we'd help them out too. It was a brutal enterprise -- over 800 Americans died during the surge, while hundreds of thousands of Iraqis lost their lives during a sectarian conflict that Petraeus' policies fueled. Then he popped smoke and left the members of the Sunni Awakening to fend for themselves. [ . . . ]

    Petraeus was so convincing on Baghdad that he manipulated President Obama into trying the same thing in Kabul. In Afghanistan, he first underhandedly pushed the White House into escalating the war in September 2009 (calling up columnists to "box" the president in) and waged a full-on leak campaign to undermine the White House policy process. Petraeus famously warned his staff that the White House was "fucking" with the wrong guy.

    The doomed Afghanistan surge would come back to bite him in the ass, however. A year after getting the war he wanted, P4 got stuck having to fight it himself. After Petraeus frenemy General Stanley McChrystal got fired for trashing the White House in a story I published in Rolling Stone, the warrior-scholar had to deploy yet again.

    The Afghan war was a loser, always was, and always would be -- Petraeus made horrible deals with guys like Abdul Razzik and the other Afghan gangsters and killed a bunch of people who didn't need to be killed. And none of it mattered, or made a dent in his reputation. This was the tour where Broadwell joined him at headquarters, and it's not so shocking that he'd need to find some solace, somewhere, to get that daily horror show out of his mind.

    My first guess was that the affair was just one more aspect of Petraeus' cultivation of the press -- although it did make me wonder what Thomas Ricks got out of him. Walt also links to Robert Wright: The Real David Petraeus Scandal, which focuses more on Petraeus' tenure at the CIA:

    The militarization of the CIA raises various questions. For example, if the CIA is psychologically invested in a particular form of warfare -- and derives part of its budget from that kind of warfare -- can it be trusted to impartially assess the consequences, both positive and negative, direct and indirect? [ . . . ]

    What's wrong with this opaqueness? For starters, you'd think that in a democracy the people would be entitled to know how exactly their tax dollars are being used to kill people -- especially people in countries we're not at war with. But there's also a more pragmatic reason to want more transparency.

    These drone strikes are a radical departure from America's traditional use of violence in pursuit of national security. In contrast to things like invading or bombing a country as part of some well-defined and plausibly finite campaign, our drone strike program is diffuse and, by all appearances, endless. Every month, God knows how many people are killed in the name of the US in any of several countries, and God knows how many of these people were actually militants, or how many of the actual militants were actual threats to the US, or how much hatred the strikes are generating or how much of that hatred will eventually morph into anti-American terrorism. It might behoove us, before we accept this nauseating spectacle as a permanent feature of life, to fill in as many of these blanks as possible. You can't do that in the dark. [ . . . ]

    The vision implicit in this program is of an America whose great calling is to lead the world into a future of chaos and lawlessness.

    This prospect was vividly highlighted when, a bit more than a year ago, Obama had David Petraeus turn in his stars so he could move to the CIA and keep fighting wars. There have been other military men who headed the CIA, but never has there been one whose move to Langley brought so much continuity with what he was doing before he went there.

    The circumstances of Petraeus's departure from the CIA are a little alarming; you'd rather your chief spy not be reckless. But the circumstances of his arrival at the CIA a year ago were more troubling. Yet no alarm was sounded that was anywhere near as loud as the hubbub surrounding Petraeus now. That's scandalous.

Also, a few links for further study:

  • Gershon Baskin: Israel's Shortsighted Assassination: Hamas military chief, Ahmed Al-Jabari, the person who negotiated the Gilad Shalit deal: can't have people like that running free; they night negotiate with you again, and then where would you be? Of course, the title could have referred to nearly any of Israel's assassinations. One of the most short-sighted was when Shimon Peres ordered the murder of Yahya Ayyash (a previous Hamas military commander, one of a neverending supply) in 1996, triggering a series of reprisal attacks that cost Peres his job. But then Peres wouldn't have been Prime Minister at the time but for another Israeli assassination, the one that killed Yitzhak Rabin, and with him the Oslo Accords Peace Process.

  • Brad DeLong: The Morgenthau Plan and the Marshall Plan: How to rebuild (or wreck) post-WWII Germany.

  • Brad DeLong: Somehow I Think that They Are Still in Kansas, Toto: An outsider's analysis of what's happening in Kansas politically -- some useful comments here, especially from "Kansas Jack"; I wanted to do a whole post on this, but never got to it -- partly because I only have minor quibbles.

  • Michelle Goldberg: The Obama-Bashing Book Bonanza: On Dinesh D'Souza's Obama's America, and the market for histrionic Obama-bashing books. Goldberg also has a review of Robert O. Self: The Realignment of American Democracy Since the 1960s, Breadwinner Conservatism:

    Self has set himself an ambitious goal in his new book: to explain why, ever since the 1960s, battles over sex, gender and the meaning of family have become inextricable from battles over the size and scope of the government. For conservative activists since the '80s, the defense of the autonomous, idealized nuclear family "was intimately linked to the way they also sought to limit government interference in the private market," Self writes. "These stories are not often told together. Questions of gender, sex, and family have been isolated as part of the 'culture war' -- a struggle that has been seen as tangential to the politics of equality, power, and money."

  • Jim Lobe: Israel Ranked World's Most Militarised Nation: As ranked by Bonn International Centre for Conversion (BICC). Looks like US was underrated at 29 (China 82, India 71, Iran 34) -- seems to be a bias toward small countries (Greece 14, Jordan 5), not that Israel didn't win fair and square. (North Korea, which might have been a rival, was disqualified.)

  • Oded Na'aman: Is Gaza Outside Israel?: Quotes from the book Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers' Testimonies From the Occupied Territories, 2000-2010 (Metropolitan Books).

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Gaza Mop Up

Started this, then gave up on it.

Back on Monday, November 19, in the heat of Israel's "Operation Pillar of Defense" -- their escalation of their many-year siege of Gaza -- Congress unanimously passed a resolution written by AIPAC, repeatedly the entire blame for the war on Hamas, avowing "unwavering commitment to the security of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state with secure borders," "strongly" supporting Israel's "inherent right to act in self-defense to protect its citizens against acts of terrorism," and encouraging "the President to continue to work diplomatically with the international community to prevent Hamas and other Gaza-based terrorist organizations from retaining or rebuilding the capability to launch rockets and missiles against Israel." Nowhere do they call for a cease fire. No one in Congress objected or made any effort to modify the resolution. They were willing to completely surrender US foreign policy to the whims and fantasies of Israel's leaders. Of course, they may have gotten that idea from the 2012 presidential contest, where Obama and Romney had shamelessly grappled to see who could go furthest in pledging their allegiance to the Israeli flag.

I briefly thought a bit about writing a "letter to the editor" about this resolution. I contemplated something along these lines:

Ever since President Franklin Roosevelt met with King Saud in 1945, the US developed many interests across the entire Middle East. Those interests would have been best served had the US been able to function as an impartial arbiter for peace and stability -- as we did in the 1956 Suez Crisis, and in the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, and in the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, which promised to finally resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict by creating an independent Palestinian state.

However, since 2001 we've given up even the slightest pretense of objectivity, let alone fair play. Our politicians have not just sided with Israel. They've given Israel a blank check, which their leaders took advantage of in 2006 to invade Lebanon, and in 2006, 2008, and now in 2012 to attack Gaza, assured that the US will back them up no matter what, including no matter how badly that reflects on America's standing in the region. One symbol of this surrender when the House and Senate unanimously passed an AIPAC-penned resolution that put all of the blame for Israel's escalation on Hamas, and doesn't come close to mentioning "cease fire."

The idea, of course, was to appeal to the nationalist jingoholics, who worry about America's declining influence in the world, and should worry when American foreign policy gives up on American interests in favor of supporting a bellicose little country that cares only about itself. The problem is that most of the same people are deeply in love with Israel because they see it as a model of how a country with a powerful military should act: with force and resolve and indifference to [ . . . ]

Expert Comments

Elliot Sharp: Ten Free Jazz Albums to Hear Before You Die: More evidence why only critics should make lists.

  1. Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter One: Gens de Couleur Libres (2010)
  2. Chris Corsano/Virginia Genta: The Live in Lisbon (2009)
  3. Black Artists Group: BAG in Paris, Aries 1973 (1973)
  4. Roscoe Mitchell Sextet: Sound (1966)
  5. The Giuseppi Logan Quartet (1964)
  6. Manfred Schoof: European Echoes (1969)
  7. Bill Dixon: Son of Sisyphus (1988)
  8. Anthony Braxton: For Alto (1970)
  9. Dave Burrell: Echo (1969)
  10. Noah Howard: The Black Ark (1969)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Expert Comments

Christgau's picks for today, both A-: Saigon: The Greatest Story Never Told: Chapter Two: Bread and Circuses; and Kendrick Lamar: Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. Jason Gross picked on the latter in the Turkey Shoot. Had I know Christgau's grade I would have rejected Gross's proposal. Indeed, I asked for comments, and got an argument from Dan Weiss against (but a bit too late). I played the record on Rhapsody: didn't dislike it, but didn't think much of it either. One thing I missed was the story arc, but similar records hadn't made much of an impression on me either. Plus I wanted to get Gross in. Also wished Milo Miles had contributed something, but all we got was his wry postmortem comment:

Getting into specifics would be foolish, but I will say that I think Mr. Hull's Turkey Shoot is successful in that it has about the same proportions for me as the original version. That is, of the albums I've heard, I especially agree with two pans of performers who have been inexplicably and widely overpraised. (Plus I hear the flaws the reviews mention.) And there's one entry I believe is quite a good record, though no better than a B+. The difference here with the new TS is that I find the put-down thoroughly unpersuasive and easily dismissed, whereas with Bob's critiques I invariably had to at least put up my dukes, even if I never did come around to his view.

Meanwhile, Joey Daniewicz didn't deliver his Turkey Shoot review, but he offered one on Kendrick Lamar:

Despite being ready-made for storytelling, hip hop has never produced an iconic album-length tale despite The Roots' solid but less than momentous undun and Dr. Dre's ambitious but non-existent "rap opera" Detox. Kendrick Lamar's major label debut recalls the effects of mad city Compton on good kid Kendrick, who glorifies misogyny and violence to fall in line with the gangs who promise him a sense of purpose but wind up overwhelming his world. After documenting the loss of his friend whose dying wish was for his story to be told, "Real" finds Kendrick lifting himself out of his urban Hell by loving himself before the final track zooms straight outta "Compton." good kid, m.A.A.d. city echoes the history of hip hop: trend-following and violent rivalries giving way to stories of rags to riches and self-celebration and fulfillment. This album is as deep of a personal document as it is a glorious gift to its genre. A+

Jeffrey Melnick:

Just noticed a question Patrick raised last thread, about Bobby Womack. I'll take it, since I wrote that review for Tom Hull's amazing Turkey Shoot. Have you all read it yet? What an honor to be a part of that -- especially to be in the company of so many very good, very young writers.

Womack himself writes about this relationship with Linda Cooke (Sam and Barbara Cooke's daughter, his own stepdaughter) in his memoir I'm a Midnight Mover. Bobby Womack does not call it rape, but I do. He says, of the moment that Barbara Cooke finds him in bed with the girl: "I had let this girl run this on me."

Special place in hell . . .

Robert Christgau:

I should say that although I don't agree with all the judgments, haven't heard all the records, and never intend to listen to many of those I have heard again, I greatly enjoyed Tom's Turkey Shoot. myself. In particular I thought Weiss's one-liners added something. The really short review has become a casualty of online design folkways in which adding a pic is so easy you think you gotta, which seems to then require text to match it.

I wrote:

On short reviews, I find that I am often more satisfied with my "briefly noted" bits in Recycled Goods than with the full paragraphs: just hit a couple important points, tack on the grade, and done. That's much less true with Jazz Prospecting, where too often I don't have any points, other than the implicit "this review's not worth my time to suffer through another play of this record."

On the Turkey Shoot, Dan's two short reviews came in too late for me to really figure out what to do with them. I already had the album covers laid out -- had shrunk them down to fit the second-shortest review (and padded my Aldean out to fit). I thought about adding a "briefly noted" section but it was so late I would have had to hustle to round up more and I was moving too slowly to get that done. (In retrospect, I realize I had several prospects in my own files that I hadn't used because they were too short, plus I had a Chuck Eddy piece on the Swans that could have been knocked down, and a couple unpublished Tatum squibs. Could have expanded and rounded out the selection.) Thought about several other schemes, then at the last moment I figured they were too good to skip, so just dropped them in. Figured it would look stupid to add the album covers, and I liked it fine without them.

Had I known that Kendrick Lamar was going to be an EW pick (especially the next day), I would have tried to get the reviewer to pick something else. (He also proposed Weeknd, on similar grounds; that struck me as last year's news.) Got the proposal real late, and for due diligence I spun it once on Rhapsody: didn't like the skits, found the rest rather monotonous (except for Dre, which was plain bad), and had thought his previous mixtape was rather overrated, so I figured I should let him make his case. It wound up with the highest grade in the Shoot, and the highest average in the jury chart -- which is what that thing was for.

I noticed Lamar on Best Buy's Black Friday sale for $5.99, and ordered a copy (along with Pink, another one you all like more than I do), so I'll give it another shot. Only other pick that seems to be controversial hereabouts is Miguel, which I'm much more certain I don't like. Worth noting, though, that three of the turkeys are firmly nested in the top 20 of my metacritic poll (Grimes, Purity Ring, and Grizzly Bear), plus six more in 21-50 (Lamar included), so we did nail some fat ones.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Turkey Shoot Invitational 2012

Pick up text here, down through contributors, omitting "Second Opinions, and Then Some." Then add the following.

Go to the archive page for the ratings table and more notes. It's much easier to update the archive page than the blog, so check it for further updates.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 20699 [20679] rated (+20), 626 [616] unrated (+10).

Don't know what to attribute the low rated count to. I only did enough Jazz Prospecting to keep this week's post alive, the rest of my effort going into the Rhapsody Streamnotes file, which I'll post shortly after Thanksgiving's Turkey Shoot. One possible problem is that five of the ten records wound up in the high HM range (***), and they generally got 4-5 spins before I finished writing them up. The (**) records also took a lot of time, and Taylor's was a double I had been passing over for months. Not even sure I could rank the top five: Dunietz peaks highest, probably followed by Sanchez (yes, I mean Malaby), but Attias is the one that might sneak up on you.

Someone brought to my attention a Kyle Gann post about his experience writing his Village Voice Consumer Guide to "new" or "postclassical" music: in particular, trying to factor cross-genre accessibility into the grading scheme. By the time he was writing, my interest in that music was residual -- something barely left over from my academic demise, although my acquaintance with Tom Johnson helped keep it alive -- but I bought a few of his top-rated items, but didn't get much out of them. (Much more useful was Jon Pareles back when he was writing for Crawdaddy, but he was a pop critic with a taste for esoterica, like myself.)

Unlike Gann, I never got lectured on how to grade, but that may have seemed unnecessary. I've never offered anywhere near as many full A grades as previous Jazz Consumer Guiders (Gary Giddins and Francis Davis), or even as many as Christgau, but the reason there has less to do with nitpicking or trying to be tough as the fact that I had already set a grading curve over the whole sweep of jazz history, which means lots of records by names like Armstrong, Ellington, Hawkins, Holiday, Monk, Mingus, Davis, Coltrane, and Coleman. That's a tough crowd to break into, and it usually takes time, something I haven't had much of with all the new stuff coming in. So I wind up focusing on the A-/B+(***) line: to break that a record has to be consistently pleasurable, interesting, more than a little distinctive.

But does it have to be accessible? Certainly not to people who arbitrarily refuse to listen to jazz: that's an impossible demand, and one I have no interest in dignifying. But I do like to think that the records I pick are so good that someone not intimately involved with the specific subgenre might still grasp the appeal. And that appeal is something I expect to be far stronger at the full A level -- although occasionally I'll come decide I like a record so much I don't really care what other folks think.

The grade level I'm probably most suspect at is B+(*), which for the most part signifies something beyond ordinary competence but lacking exceptional interest. The fact is that there are very few bad jazz records -- and most that do exist are deliberately slotted for the smooth market, which isn't really jazz at all -- and there's even less reason to get nasty about marginal interest. It's also a time-saver not to have to figure out how unsatisfying those records are. But there are two examples below, and while I did save some time with them, I really doubt that they would sink deeper with further analysis. They are what the grade signifies: pretty good records, pleasant enough to listen to, but not what you'd pull off a shelf that -- since both are by guitarists -- actually has prime records by Wes Montgomery, Grant Green, John Scofield, and Sonny Sharrock. So I'm trying to be nice about it, but those are the breaks.

Accidental Tourists: The L.A. Sessions (2010 [2012], Challenge): Piano trio, file it under pianist Markus Burger, b. 1966 in Germany, with a handful of records since 1999. He's joined by Bob Magnusson (bass) and Joe LaBarbera (drums), playing seven originals and five covers, in a nicely balanced, engaging set. B+(**)

Michaël Attias: Spun Tree (2012, Clean Feed): Alto saxophonist, b. 1968 in Israel but has been around, with long stretches in France and the US. Postbop quintet, superb Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Matt Mitchell centering on piano, with Sean Conly on bass and Tom Rainey on drums. Lots of fast, slippery changes. B+(***)

Kelly Bucheger: House of Relics (2011 [2012], Harder Bop): Alto saxophonist (tenor too), based in Buffalo, first album as far as I can tell but has been around long enough to have a story about being eight years older than James Carter: Bucheger was lead tenor in a Marcus Belgrave big band, when they picked up a 16-year-old Carter for second chair, an experience so scarifying that Bucheger quit music for a while. His favorite relics are hard bop, and this is mostly quintet with Tim Clarke's trumpet complementing his sax, and Michael McNeill on piano -- far less avant than on his superb recent Passageways -- and Bruce Johnstone's bari sax added on three cuts. Calls his blog (worth checking out, including the Carter story) "Harder Bop," but the music isn't harder, edges more into postbop, which happens when your favorite relics clash. B+(**)

Angelica Sanchez Quintet: Wires & Moss (2011 [2012], Clean Feed): Pianist, b. 1972 in Phoenix, AZ; moved to New York in 1994; fourth album, composed all pieces. Very impressive group, with Tony Malaby (tenor/soprano sax) and Marc Ducret (guitar) threatening to run away with the album, plus Drew Gress (bass) and Tom Rainey (drums). She's less avant than her cohort, fast and fluid in the interstices. B+(***)

Graham Dechter: Takin' It There (2012, Capri): Guitarist, from Los Angeles, second album, quartet with piano (Tamir Hendelman), bass (John Clayton), and drums (Jeff Hamilton). Starts out with Wes Montgomery, then Barney Kessel, sources his band enjoys. B+(*)

Maya Dunietz/John Edwards/Steve Noble: Cousin It (2008 [2012], Hopscotch): Avant piano trio, recorded in London, home base of Edwards (bass) and Noble (drums). Pianist Dunietz, b. 1981 in Israel, seems to have a varied career ("active in jazz, rock, funk, polka -- both classical and avant garde, both local and international"), also playing accordion and singing, but just piano here. Superb when she plays with the drummer, adding to the free percussive frenzy. B+(***)

Jeff Holmes Quartet: Of One's Own (2012, Miles High): Pianist, b. 1955 in Massachusetts, studied at Eastman, teaches at U. Mass., looks like he has one previous album, plus a couple with New England Jazz Ensemble; also plays trumpet/flugelhorn, but not here. Quartet includes Adam Kolker (tenor, soprano, bass clarinet), James Cammack (bass), and Steve Johns (drums), with Kolker making a strong impression. B+(**)

Jason Kao Hwang: Burning Bridge (2011 [2012], Innova): Violinist, b. 1957 in New York, worked his way back to his Chinese roots which ultimately affected his tone, and led him to include pipa (Sun Li) and erhu (Wang Guowei) in this octet. With Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet, flugelhorn), Steve Swell (trombone), Joseph Daley (tuba), Ken Filiano (bass), and Andrew Drury (drums) -- a lot of brass to play off against the strings. B+(***)

Weber Iago: Adventure Music Piano Masters Series Vol. 3 (2010 [2012], Adventure Music): Pianist, from Brazil, at least seven albums since 2004, working solo here, all original compositions in a mainstream jazz vein, measured and thoughtful, a pleasant surprise. B+(**)

Frank Kimbrough Trio: Live at Kitano (2011 [2012], Palmetto): Pianist, b. 1956, more than a dozen albums since 1998, part of the Jazz Composers Collective in New York, along with Ben Allison and Matt Wilson. He's the one I've been least impressed with, but this hits a sweet spot as a slow, thoughtful manoeuver through five covers (Pettiford, Ellington, Motian, Hill, "Lover Man") and three originals. With Wilson on drums and Jay Anderson on bass. B+(***)

Melvin Taylor: Beyond the Burning Guitar (2010 [2012], Eleven East, 2CD): Guitarist, b. 1959 in Mississippi but raised in Chicago where he developed his blues chops. Four albums 1982-2002, plus this his first in a decade, also the first without a blues theme. Liner notes cite Hendrix and Montgomery, but I only hear the influence of the latter. Credits include an extra line citing "Melvin Taylor" for bass guitar -- maybe there's another one. B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Christopher Alpiar Quartet: The Jazz Expression (Behip)
  • Jeff Babko: Crux (Tonequake)
  • Anthony Branker & Ascent: Together (Origin)
  • Nathan Eklund: Craft Christmas (OA2)
  • Food: Mercurial Balm (ECM): advance, January 8
  • Hal Galper Trio: Airegin Revisited (Origin)
  • Scott Healy Ensemble: Hudson City Suite (Hudson City)
  • Chris Hopkins/Bernd Lhotzky: Partners in Crime (Echoes of Swing)
  • Erik Jekabson: Anti-Mass (Jekab's Music)
  • Jeff Johnson: Suitcase (Origin)
  • Karl 2000 (self-released)
  • Ivo Perelman/Joe Morris/Gerald Cleaver: Living Jelly (Leo)
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Michael Bisio: The Gift (Leo)
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Whit Dickey: The Clairvoyant (Leo)
  • Chris Potter: The Sirens (ECM): advance, January 22
  • Enrico Rava: On the Dance Floor (ECM): advance, January 8
  • Scott Robinson Doctette: Bronze Nemesis (Doc-Tone)
  • Barry Romberg's Random Access: Crab People (Romhog, 2CD)
  • Paul Tynan & Aaron Lington: Bicoastal Collective: Chapter Three (OA2)
  • Eberhard Weber: Résumé (ECM): advance, January 8
  • Michael Webster: Momentus (OA2)

Expert Comments

Kyle Gann wrote a post on his experience trying to apply the Consumer Guide format to new music: The Line Between A and B. Robert Christgau commented:

I edited Kyle Gann for a while -- fruitfully, too; he's a very witting writer -- but his CG work was overseen by Doug Simmons, who brought him to the Voice, and I doubt I would have instructed him the way Doug apparently did. I would have told him to imagine a fan of modern "classical" music as his target, not a music listener in general. I suspect Simmons was trying to cut into the penchant for generosity that is more likely in a relatively collegial microculture like the one where the music Gann cares most about is created than in the big, impersonal, and often money-driven world the CG was invented for.

The heavy metal story is an urban myth I've never heard before. I would have been over there with an elephant gun if anybody had changed a grade on me. My wonderful designer Jesus Diaz was a big prog fan and a funny enough guy to have started just such a rumor. Jesus was also a union stalwart and last I heard he was still there, which makes him the only survivor besides my old pal Robert Sietsema and the eternal Michael Musto. If you're in the vicinity, Jesus, I still think of you fondly.

I responded to some of this in my Jazz Prospecting intro above.

Also posted this to Facebook, announcing my "Over the Wall" post:

I posted a piece on Israel and Gaza this weekend, about as evenly balanced as one can get without ignoring the facts: Israel started this, not to defend itself but to extend its subjugation of Gaza, which it has no right to do, and that subjugation is in fact the source of Israel's own discontent.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Over the Wall

In 1947, when the UN attempted to partition Palestine, it allocated the Gaza Strip and adjacent land extending up the Mediterranean coast more than half way to Tel Aviv to the Arab part, simply because none of the people living in that section were Jewish. In 1948, the Zionist leadership in Palestine declared independence and founded the state of Israel, but even though they had lobbied heavily for passage of the UN partition plan, they did not accept its borders. Among their expansion campaigns, they pushed down the coast, compressing the Gaza Strip to half of its original size, and more than doubling its population with refugees.

When the 1949 armistice agreement was signed, the compressed Gaza was ceded to Egypt, but unlike Jordan (which claimed the West Bank and East Jerusalem) Egypt made no effort to annex Gaza. It was kept as a trust, preserving its makeshift refugee camps as a continuing marker of the injustice of Israel's refusal to allow Palestinian refugees to return to their native country. Israel invaded Egypt in 1967, seizing Gaza and Sinai up to the Suez Canal. In 1979, Egypt signed a treaty with Israel which Sinai to Egypt, making it whole again, but Israel kept Gaza, placing it under military occupation. In 1993, under the Oslo Accords, Israel subcontracted its occupation to Yassir Arafat's Palestinian Authority while keeping Gaza sealed off from the rest of the world. In 2005, Ariel Sharon dismantled the few settlements that Israelis had established in Gaza, reducing its on-ground presence to zero, while still controlling the air space, the sea, and borders, with the entire land border surrounded by high security fences. The net effect was to turn Gaza into a 365 square mile open air prison, holding 1.7 million people.

Conditions in Gaza have been dire since 1948, but they deteriorated markedly after 2007. In 2006, the Palestinian Authority held parliamentary elections, which were won by Hamas. Israel, supported strongly by the US, attempted to overturn the elections, most dramatically by staging a coup to seize power in Gaza. That coup failed, resulting in Hamas seizing control in Gaza. Israel responded by tightening its economic stranglehold. Gazans sought relief by digging tunnels to smuggle goods in from Egypt -- under Mubarak, Egypt was tightly complicit with Israel in isolating Gaza (a relationship that is changing as Egypt becomes more democratic). Outsiders have attempted to deliver supplies by boat into Gaza -- Israel continues to prevent them, sometimes violently.

The Palestinian in Gaza are not part of a monolithic mindset, any more than Israelis or Americans are, but they all start out with the shared experience of Israeli containment. (Occupation may no longer be the right word as it implies boots on the ground and on your neck, but Israel controls the flow of goods and people, and always threatens death from the sky, a situation that often amounts to a siege.) Faced with Israeli oppression, some people will inevitably try to fight back, some will resist non-violently, some will capitulate, some will attempt to profit, some will be confused, and many will vacillate between these strategies, especially since none have been proven to work. (Israel, as a government, has its own options and policies, but mostly they act from strength which they underscore by frequent violence -- a lesson that no Palestinian is unaware of.)

Israel's current "Operation Pillar of Defense" started on Nov. 14 with an Israeli airstrike that assassinated Ahmed Jaabari, reportedly the head of the military wing of Hamas, also killing his son and others. The stated reason for the operation was to clamp down on rockets fired by Gazan "militants" into southern Israel, so the assassination was followed up by Israel bombing hundreds of sites in Gaza. The response, of course, was that those "militants" shot off more rockets in three days than they had in the past six months. (Here is a list; I haven't found a corresponding list of Israeli bombings and shellings of Gaza, but a timeline should show that they match up, with Israeli attacks most often provoking the rocket barrages.)

I don't in any way approve of shooting rockets from Gaza into Israel, but it is easy to understand the attraction. For starters, there is Israel's blockade meant to damage, demean, control, and sometimes just punish 1.7 million people, and the most visible symbol of that blockade is the wall that makes Israel impenetrable from Gaza. The main thing a rocket can do is what no Gazan can do: leap over the wall. The tiny, primitive Qassam rockets can't do much more than that: they have no guidance system, they rarely hit anyone or anything, and they don't do much damage when they do, but Israel likes to play the victim and the rocket attacks make for good publicity, so they play them up, harp on the fear they stoke, constantly reminding anyone who'll listen about the Palestinian commitment to killing Jews. (Israel's ambassador to the US, Michael Oren, recently described the rockets as "more than a crude attempt to kill and terrorize civilians -- they were expressions of a genocidal intent."[1]) Of course, good publicity for Israel is bad for the Palestinians, but those who shoot off the rockets at least can take some satisfaction in how much they are getting under their enemies' thin skins. For your basic Gazan "militant," shooting off a rocket is a way to get noticed, to stand up to the oppressor, and make them recognize you.

Gaza has been under Israel's control since 1967, but this week's level of hostilities is unusual -- much greater than a similar clash in March, probably more deadly than any time since January 2009, when Israel's Operation Cast Lead actually invaded Gaza, killing 1,417 Palestinians (IDF figures: 1,166; Israel lost 13, 10 of those soldiers, 4 of those due to "friendly fire"; the operation actually started Dec. 27, 2008, and ended Jan. 18, 2009). It seems far from coincidental that both operations started soon after US presidential elections and shortly before Israeli elections. In 2008 it seemed likely that Israel wanted to get her kicks in before Obama took office in case he was inclined to caution -- the net effect was that Bush let Israel go on long enough to embarrass themselves with their brutality while Obama was held speechless, the first of many humiliations America's dearest ally inflicted on him. This time the US election probably didn't matter. (What may matter is that the "militants" were able to fire some new, larger Iranian rockets at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, previously well out of range -- not much of a threat, but it does play into Netanyahu's desire for starting a war between the US and Iran.)

Israel's prime ministers changed between the two operations, but the Defense Minister remained the same: Ehud Barak, the former PM who was elected in 1998 to finish up the Oslo Accords and who wound up destroying the last (at least the latest) good chance we had of resolving the conflict. When Barak was defeated in 2001, George Bush's view was that, "Sometimes a show of force by one side can really clarify things,"[2] and Ariel Sharon indulged him, plunging the conflict into the murk of endless reprisals and posturing, where it remains today. In 1967 it seemed quite simple to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict: Israel would give up its newly conquered territories in exchange for peace treaties, a solution that was codified in two UN resolutions, backed by the US and even (with some weasel wording) Israel. Eventually all of the Arab nations, including the Palestinians, came around to that view, but by then Israel and the US (Sharon and Bush) had moved on, thinking they could solve all their problems with a resolute show of force.

That commitment to force is why Israel is fighting its third Gaza War since 2006 (not counting hundreds of skirmishes in a neverending war of attrition). One popular definition of insanity is the belief that repeating a strategy will somehow produce a different result. By that criteria, Netanyahu and Barak clearly are insane -- their sole out is to realize that they are in fact getting the result they want: that by periodically shaking the hornet's nest they get to keep the conflict's definition tied to relative strength, and away from basic human rights.

There is a simple solution here, one so simple it's amazing that no one talks about it. Due to Israel's settlement activities in the West Bank and Jerusalem, it's become very difficult for Israel and the Palestinians to sort out a fair and equitable division of lands there, and indeed they may never be able to clean up the mess that Israel's illegal settlement program has made. But relative interests in Gaza are totally clear: Israel has no settlements within Gaza, and no desire to ever extent Israeli citizenship to Gaza's residents. Therefore, why not hand Gaza over to the UN to organize elections and secure its status as an independent nation?

I don't want to have to rehash all of Israel's security issues about an independent Gaza (or Palestinian) state: they are easily dismissed on many grounds. And other than security, what is there? Water, I suppose. A very trivial bit of economic advantage Israel enjoys. And it would involve "agreeing to disagree" on unresolved issues, like the "right of return" and the relationship between Gaza and Palestinian enclaves in the Occupied Territories, but independence would eliminate more than 90% of the reason Gazans have to be "militant" -- some may still bear grudges over not being able to return to their ancestors' homes and land, but that is fading, and will fade faster without the constant reminder of Israel's military dominance.

I've been trying to think of "out of the box" solutions to the broader conflict here. Some basic ideas: do what you can when you can, and don't let it prejudice the future; try to convert issues into things that can be solved with money, and apply lots of money to them; forget about who was at fault in the past; kick the stuff you can't agree on far down the road; but keep your eye on the one fundamental goal, which is that in the end everyone should wind up with full and equal rights in a secure state. Gaza, which Israel has no real interest in, is the simplest case: break it loose, open it up, rebuild, legitimize its government, and expect it to live in peace, minding its own business. The other problems are messier, and will take time and fresh thinking. But Gaza is easy.

Conversely, Israel's habitual practice of attempting to beat the Gazans into submission only leads to more war, more ill feeling, more injustice. Israel's militarist elite have deluded themselves into believing that disproportionate force works (see this useful "fact sheet" on their Dahiya Doctrine, which only goes back to 1987, but bear in mind that Ariel Sharon first became a popular public figure in Israel by leading the 1951 Qibya attack, a classic case of overkill excused as retribution). Israelis view their carpet bombing of the Dahiya neighborhood in Beirut as the key victory in their 2006 war against Hezbollah -- the explanation as to why Hezbollah hasn't attacked Israel in the years since. The 2006 war was at the time regarded as a huge fiasco: Hezbollah's rockets (far more numerous and powerful than anything Gaza possesses) were ineffective, but Hezbollah was very successful at repelling Israeli efforts to invade southern Lebanon, and Hezbollah was more effective than the government at providing relief for those neigborhoods leveled by Israel's air barrage, so the consensus opinion at the time was that Hezbollah came out of the war stronger. The more likely reason why the Israel-Lebanon border has remained quiet is that Israel hasn't provoked another war there.

It is true that Hezbollah hasn't provoked Israel into another war either. But the reason isn't fear of Israel so much as the fact that Lebanon is an independent country, with a democratic political system that Hezbollah participates in but doesn't dominate, and a functioning economy connected to the rest of the world. Hezbollah doesn't have to fire rockets to remind the world that Israel has locked them up in a cage, because Israel hasn't. (That Israel has cast a pallor of terror over the nation is another story, but lately in remission. It may still inspire some "militants," but they are kept in check by an organization that has a stake in the system, and in keeping the peace.)

Gaza could be peaceful too, but only if Israel leaves it alone (or works with it constructively). What Israel should be worried about is that it's going to happen anyway. Egyptian complicity in sealing off and strangling Gaza is no longer automatic: that border has started to open up, and will become more so -- among other things, that makes it easier to smuggle more deadly weapons in (something Iran has little motivation not to indulge). Foreign investment money has started to trickle into Gaza. Before long, the Strip will be a de facto independent state, recognized by many countries, perhaps even by the UN. By then this Operation will look like a last, futile attempt to stem the path to freedom. And unless they stop real soon, this will be another chapter in Israel's senseless brutality toward its neighbors and, indeed, toward its own people. The problem with violence is not just what it does to its victims, but the monsters it makes of its perpetrators.

[1] Quoted by Paul Woodward. He also quotes Phan Nguyen calculating how many rockets it would take, given their general ineffectiveness, to kill off the Jewish population of Israel: nearly 4.5 billion rockets. Woodward's statistic is that Gaza rockets have killed an average of 2 Israelis per year over the last 12 years. The latest figure I have for the current operation is that 3 Israelis have been killed by more than 740 rockets and mortar shells. During the same time, 46 Palestinians were killed (including 22 "militants").

By the way, the Phan Nguyen piece, Dissecting IDF Propaganda: The Numbers Behind the Rocket Attacks, goes way beyond the calculations cited above, providing a list of Israelis killed by rockets and mortar fire from Gaza, looking into the timing of the launches, and picking over IDF propaganda on the attacks.

[2] Quoted in Ron Suskind, The One Percent Doctrine.

I used Saturday's Wikipedia figures on Operation Pillar of Defense. Finishing this up on Sunday, so the current tragic numbers keep climbing.

On Nov. 16, Paul Woodward noted that:

Since the end of the war on Gaza in 2009, 271 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed by the IDF. During the same period, until the latest outbreak of violence, not a single Israeli civilian had been killed by rocket fire from Gaza. The asymmetry of violence is now as clear as ever.

Stephen Walt quotes larger figures from B'tselem: "Israel has killed 319 Palestinians since Cast Lead in 2009, while Palestinians have killed 20 Israelis."

It's not hard to find Israeli hawks clamoring to flatten Gaza back to the stone age -- e.g., Rafi Eitan, and Gilad Sharon:

We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn't stop with Hiroshima -- the Japanese weren't surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too.

For whatever it's worth, the "stone age" experiment has already been tried, in Afghanistan, and guess what? You can destroy every shred of civilization, wipe out the economy, put people into the dark, keep them ignorant and unaware, and the only things they'll still be able to do are shoot rockets and improvise bombs.

However, the other thing about the "stone age" is that at that level of technology and social organization it is impossible to keep 1.7 million people alive in 365 square miles: reducing Gaza to a "stone age" place would either directly or indirectly amount to genocide. Is that what Israelis really want? Rabbi Yaakov Yosef would rather get it done with faster. Follow the links there for more, including Eli Yishal, Israel's Interior Minister -- inside the government, presumably someone in the know -- saying, "The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages."

A few more links consulted:

Quote from the Levy article, cited above:

To take another example, on the military front, qualitative technological gaps are narrowing over time between Israel and the region (including possibly in the field of WMD), the Gulf States are acquiring increasingly sophisticated western weaponry (ironically in part facilitated by Israel's campaign against Iran), and the Palestinian armed factions in Gaza have just been induced by Israeli strikes to prove something previously suspected but unconfirmed, namely that they can strike Tel Aviv. In other words, every time Israel prioritises military solutions over political solutions, views the Palestinians through the framework of occupation rather than human dignity, and strengthens an ethnocratic Israel over a democratic Israel, it is generating greater problems for its own future. By continuing to shut its eyes in the face of this reality the West is certainly doing neither Israelis nor Palestinians any favors. It is also fatally undermining its own ability to successfully navigate, build relationships and promote its own interests in a rapidly changing Middle East by ignoring Gaza and Palestinian disenfranchisement.

Quote from the Walt article, cited above:

The problem is that Israel has no good option for dealing with this situation. Reoccupying Gaza would expose the IDF to a prolonged bout of urban guerrilla warfare and underscore the harshness of Israel's overall policy as well as its failure to quell Palestinian national aspirations. Bombing Gaza and assassinating Hamas officials won't work either, because new leaders rise up to replace them, and it makes Israel look even worse in the eyes of most of the world. Nor can bombing and shelling destroy the hidden rocket stockpiles or prevent new weapons from being smuggled in. The only long-term solution would be a political deal, but that's ruled out by the overriding desire to create greater Israel and the resulting need to deny Palestinian desires for their own state.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 20679 [20644] rated (+35), 616 [625] unrated (-9).

Juggling a lot of things right now, including above-average political blogging, trying to update the metacritic files before year-end lists start flooding in, adding to the Rhapsody Streamnotes file, getting the Turkey Shoot organized (yesterday was the deadline for proposals, but I meant today), fighting with computer problems, various household chores, etc. Falling behind a bit with Jazz Prospecting, but at least there is enough to run. An exceptional mainstream piano trio this week. While I often doubt my skill at sorting such records out, mostly because most leave me feeling impressed but unexcited, I know better than ever to doubt Peter Washington.

By the way, I've decided to hold Rhapsody Streamnotes back until after the Turkey Shoot runs on Thanksgiving Day. It's no longer too puny to run, but I figure there will be some intersection and I want to run that first in the Turkey Shoot. Same thing is likely for the November Downloader's Diary -- I have enough to know that there will be one, but don't know when yet.

Harry Allen & Scott Hamilton: 'Round Midnight (2012, Challenge): Two generations of retro-swing tenor saxophonists, reigning champions respectively -- Allen a Coleman Hawkins stalwart, Hamilton more of a Lester Young/Zoot Sims swinger -- backed by piano (Rossano Sportiello), bass (Joel Forbes), and drums (Chuck Riggs). One Allen original ("Great Scott"), a bunch of standards, a riff piece from Lockjaw Davis, they sound great together, making it look all so easy. B+(***)

Kait Dunton: Mountain Suite (2012, Real and Imagined Music): Pianist, based in Los Angeles, second album, a hard bop quintet in postbop mode -- John Daversa (trumpet), Bob Mintzer (tenor sax), Derek Oleszkiewicz (bass), Peter Erskine (drums) -- the horns smartly orchestrated, the piano always impressive. B+(**)

Jacob Garchik/Jacob Sacks/David Ambrosio/Vinnie Sperrazza: 40Twenty (2011 [2012], Yeah-Yeah): Trombone, piano, bass, drums, respectively. Garchik is a busy guy, with lots of side-credits in addition to his own projects, most notably his "atheist trombone album," The Heavens. He stays nimbly out front in this enjoyable postbop group. B+(**)

Vinny Golia/Marco Eneidi/Lisa Mezzacappa/Vijay Anderson: Hell-Bent in the Pacific (2012, NoBusiness): Free improv, cut in San Francisco but released in Lithuania. Eneidi plays alto sax; Golia mostly tenor but also sopranino, soprano, clarinet, and bass clarinet. They clash hard early on, but sort out their differences thereafter. Mezzacappa plays bass and Anderson drums. Artist order from the spine and back cover; front cover seems to put Mezzacappa first. B+(**)

Mahlis-Panos Project; Protoleia (2011 [2012], self-released): Dimitris Mahlis on oud and nylon string guitar, Anastasios "Toss" Panos on drums and percussion, Dan Lutz on acoustic and electric bass. Not much bio: Panos, at least, is based in Los Angeles, and hype sheet refers to their "shared Greek heritage" so they are likely a generation (or more) removed. The oud is sharp and tart, nicely accented by the drums. And, as usual, the bassist makes it all sound better without grabbing the credit. B+(**)

Sam Newsome: The Art of the Soprano, Vol. 1 (2011 [2012], self-released): Saxophonist, b. 1965; nine or so records since 1999; I have him listed tenor first but he plays soprano here, solo, but he tricked me at first, tapping out a percussive rhythm on the Ellington opener that reminded me of steel drums. That's a neat trick, and by no means his only one. He returns to Ellington two more times, interleaving "A Love Supreme" and series of Africana, including a bit of Fela. B+(***)

Paradoxical Frog: Union (2011 [2012], Clean Feed): Trio, second album, adopting as group name the title of the debut. Kris Davis (piano), Ingrid Laubrock (tenor and soprano sax), and Tyshawn Sorey (drums, melodica, trombone), all three contributing songs. Sorey is a bit hard to pick out of the mix, which plays more like a duo with his drum or whatever sneaking in unexpected. B+(**)

Eric Person: Thoughts on God (2012, Distinction): Plays alto and soprano sax, has more than a dozen albums since 1992, spent some time in the alto slot with the World Saxophone Quartet. Says he envisioned this project in 1984, "a dream of mine." He did manage to round up a talented array of horns: five reeds, four brass, more to play up the choral aspect than to show off his big band arranging. Still, I have to wonder, why does anyone think God likes flutes? B

Preservation Hall Jazz Band: 50th Anniversary Collection (1962-2010 [2012], Columbia/Legacy, 4CD): By all accounts, jazz originated in New Orleans, but from the 1920s on jazz musicians couldn't wait to get out of the Crescent City. Meanwhile, the native jazz of New Orleans became trad jazz, eclipsed by swing and bop and cool and avant and all manner of postmodernism, so archaic it could be welcomed back as tourist music -- all of this within the lifespan of musicians like De De Pierce, George Lewis, and Cie Frazier, who were welcomed back as folk heroes. In the 1960s Allan Jaffe opened Preservation Hall and organized its Jazz Band, an institution that has continued for fifty years, though dozens of personnel changes all dedicated to maintaining the old sound. They've mostly achieved that aim, but with fifty years to choose from, the compilers have opportunities to mix it up, like guest vocals by Tom Waits, Richie Havens, and Del McCoury. Still, I prefer the old stuff, especially guys like George Lewis, whose take on the music had less to do with respecting history than with staying alive. B+(***)

Reggie Quinerly: Music Inspired by Freedman Town (2012, Redefinition Music): Drummer, from Houston, a neighborhood of which was organized as Freedman Town in the 1860s by emancipated slaves, the history at the roots of his compositions. Enoch Smith, Jr., fills you in on some of that history. The piano (Gerald Clayton, or maybe Smith) has a way of crossing ragtime and avant-garde, while Tim Warfield's tenor sax goes for the soul. Closes with two covers: Sarah Elizabeth Charles singing "I'm Old Fashioned," and a "Sentimental Journey" that wears heart on sleeve. B+(**)

Bobo Stenson Trio: Indicum (2011 [2012], ECM): Pianist, b. 1944 in Sweden, AMG credits him with sixteen albums since 1971, a figure that doesn't include his joint-headlining with Jan Garbarek on the marvelous Witchi-Tai-To. Piano trio with Anders Jormin and Jon Fält. Starts off with a Bill Evans piece and tends to stay in that mode. B+(**)

The Urban Renewal Project: Go Big or Go Home (2012, Lombardy): Los Angeles "big band" -- 12-pieces, horns aplenty, can swing or play funk but it gets dicey when they try to both at the same time. Leader is tenor saxophonist R.W. Enoch, Jr., who splits most of the song credits with someone named Logan -- most likely the freestyle rapper who does business as Logic the Topic. His raps help focus the group, but they also employ a singer, Kenny Neely, with an uncanny and seriously annoying combination of slick and sour -- he drives me up the wall. C+

Peter Zak: Nordic Noon (2011 [2012], Steeplechase): Pianist, from Ohio, studied at UC Berkeley, based in New York, ten albums since 1989, mostly trios -- I count one solo, and one with a sax added, plus side dates, mostly with trumpeter Ryan Kisor. This is another trio, with Peter Washington and Billy Drummond -- hard to imagine a better mainstream rhythm section. Three originals, most of the eight covers from 1960s and 1970s jazz sources, a tradition he builds on. A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Eivind Aarset: Dream Logic (ECM)
  • Bob Arthurs/Steve Lamattina: Jazz for Svetlana (self-released)
  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert: Shores and Ditches (FMR)
  • Ernest Dawkins: Afro Straight (Delmark)
  • Paulette Dozier: In Walked You (PF&E)
  • The Fat Babies: Chicago Hot (Delmark)
  • Christian Howes: Southern Exposure (Resonance)
  • Benedikt Jahnel Trio: Equilibrium (ECM)
  • José-Luis Montón: Solo Guitarra (ECM)
  • Claudio Scolari: Synthesis (Principal)
  • Seung-Hee: Sketches on the Sky (self-released)
  • Twice Thou: The Bank Attack (The Buy Back Initiative/Music Group)

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links, as usual. But first, the quote of the week comes from Maureen Dowd (of all people):

Last time, Obama lifted up the base with his message of hope and change; this time the base lifted up Obama, with the hope he will change.

Also good that she quoted Karen Hughes (who had much more claim to having been Bush's Brain than Karl Rove ever did): "If another Republican man says anything about rape other than it is a horrific, violent crime, I want to personally cut out his tongue."

  • James K Galbraith: The Coming Debt Battle:

    That the looming debt and deficit crisis is fake is something that, by now, even the most dim member of Congress must know. The combination of hysterical rhetoric, small armies of lobbyists and pundits, and the proliferation of billionaire-backed front groups with names like the "Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget" is not a novelty in Washington. It happens whenever Big Money wants something badly enough.

    Big Money has been gunning for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid for decades -- since the beginning of Social Security in 1935. The motives are partly financial: As one scholar once put it to me, the payroll tax is the "Mississippi of cash flows." Anything that diverts part of it into private funds and insurance premiums is a meal ticket for the elite of the predator state.

    And the campaign is also partly political. The fact is, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are the main way ordinary Americans connect to their federal government, except in wars and disasters. They have made a vast change in family life, unburdening the young of their parents and ensuring that every working person contributes whether they have parents, dependents, survivors or disabled of their own to look after. These programs do this work seamlessly, for next to nothing; their managers earn civil service salaries and the checks arrive on time. For the private competition, this is intolerable; the model is a threat to free markets and must be destroyed. [ . . . ]

    Can a federal insurance program go bankrupt? Of course it can't. Bankruptcy is a legal process for private citizens seeking relief from unpayable debts. How can the obligations of Social Security or Medicare ever be unpayable? These are public programs, not private companies. All the federal government has to do is to write the checks, pursuant to law. As for the size of the checks, it will be whatever Congress prescribes at any given time. Bankruptcy as a concept does not apply. So what are they talking about? Lies and nonsense, nothing more. [ . . . ]

    Do we have budget problems? Yes: We spend too much on military hardware and wars; the talent, materials and technologies that go into that are wasted and cannot be used, say, to protect New York from storm surge. Our rich build too many mansions, thanks to their CEO incomes and their low tax rates; letting the Bush tax cuts expire will usefully dent that purchasing power.

    But Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid impose no such future burdens. They are transfers in current time. They meet today's commitments to seniors, survivors, dependents, the disabled and the ill -- commitments they have earned through work -- providing them with income and services at the expense of others also currently alive. This any community can always do, to the full extent of its will and resources. The future has nothing to do with it. Except that, from a moral point of view, it's useful for the young to learn that we are a community, in which working people take care of those who can't.

    By the way, and I can't say this often enough, Galbraith's book, The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too, is the most important political book of the last decade.

  • Sally Kohn: How Obama Can Turn a Campaign Into a Movement:

    More than 10 million Americans donated to the Obama campaign this election. At least a million volunteered to knock on doors and make phone calls. Now that the election is over, they can do more than click on a petition now and then and sign the president's Father's Day card. They can be organizing in House districts around sequestration or mounting state-by-state campaigns to pass a constitutional amendment getting money out of our politics. Converting the president's electoral base into a vibrant, independent progressive movement in America will help the president, the Democratic Party and, in the long term, our nation.

    Could be done, although I've never seen any evidence that Obama wants to build up the Democratic Party for anything other than his own reëlection, and that's over.

  • Mattea Kramer/Chris Hellman: It's the Politics, Stupid: Co-authors of the book, A People's Guide to the Federal Budget, they explain the "fiscal cliff," finding it more an obstacle course, a set of political evasions timed to look like a crisis until they can be evaded again. Most items, including sequestration of spending cuts, they expect will be kicked down the road, while the middle class fraction of the Bush tax cuts can be repassed if the Republicans don't hold it hostage for the rich. That leaves:

    Among all the spending and tax changes in the queue, and all the hype around the cliff, the great unknown is whether it's finally farewell to the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. And that's no perilous cliff. Letting those high-end tax cuts expire would amount to a blink-and-you-miss-it 0.003% contraction in the U.S. economy, according to Moody's, and it would raise tens of billions of dollars in desperately-needed tax revenue next year. That's no small thing when you consider that federal revenue has fallen to its lowest point in more than half a century. Ending these tax cuts for the wealthy would bring in cash to reduce deficits or increase funding for cash-starved priorities like higher education.

  • Paul Krugman: Let's Not Make a Deal:

    Even though preliminary estimates suggest that Democrats received somewhat more votes than Republicans in Congressional elections, the G.O.P. retains solid control of the House thanks to extreme gerrymandering by courts and Republican-controlled state governments. And Representative John Boehner, the speaker of the House, wasted no time in declaring that his party remains as intransigent as ever, utterly opposed to any rise in tax rates even as it whines about the size of the deficit.

    So President Obama has to make a decision, almost immediately, about how to deal with continuing Republican obstruction. How far should he go in accommodating the G.O.P.'s demands?

    My answer is, not far at all. Mr. Obama should hang tough, declaring himself willing, if necessary, to hold his ground even at the cost of letting his opponents inflict damage on a still-shaky economy. And this is definitely no time to negotiate a "grand bargain" on the budget that snatches defeat from the jaws of victory.

  • Alex Pareene: Hey, Obama, Let's Actually Fix Elections: I'll spare you the link to Pareene's bizarre "Why I Voted for Mitt Romney" post, but this much is worth quoting:

    The president should obviously be elected by national popular vote, and it's outrageous that Wyoming has two senators and D.C. has none, but short of junking the Constitution, we're stuck with those sad realities for the time being. It's bizarre that there's not more outrage over the fact that the House will be majority Republican (likely until 2022) despite more votes being cast for Democrats, but unlike the existence of the U.S. Senate, this can be fixed without altering or amending our nation's archaic founding document. While I'd obviously most prefer a larger House with proportional representation and instant-runoff or ranked voting (and, sure, multiple member districts -- let's dream big!), we should at the very least stop allowing district drawing to be a partisan-controlled affair. (And, again, an anti-gerrymandering crusade could be sold as bipartisan -- fighting back against the extremists in both parties!)

    But back in reality, none of these things can be fixed as long as either side thinks it has an advantage in the status quo, and as long as either side has no commitment to the fundamental idea of democracy (the Republicans sure don't, and often one wonders about the Democrats). If you asked ordinary people there'd be a lot of support for getting rid of the system of bribery known as campaign fundraising, but everyone elected has more or less been selected by just that system. A few decades ago one might have looked to the courts for help in cleaning up partisan efforts to distort elections, but judges themselves are increasingly selected for their political allegiances, so they are increasingly part of the system.

  • Rick Perlstein: America Didn't Vote for a "Grand Bargain": Now that the Great Compromiser has been reëlected, the great fear is that he'll cut a deal with Republicans that trades long-term damage to Social Security and Medicare for a bit of short-term economic boost. Perlstein argues that that's not his mandate, and it certainly is true that the key to Obama's recovery and surge after his weak first debate came from his sudden will to stand up for principle. Still, politicians routinely walk away from their pre-election commitments, and he backed off from a bunch of them in 2009.

    America's government is not too big. It is not "out of control." Measured by the number of public sector employees compared to the overall population, in fact, it is at its smallest size since 1968. The Democratic compulsion to take the lead in making it smaller, to "control" it, is in itself a serious historic problem -- and a perverse one at that. For it doesn't work. Bill Clinton tried it in the 1990s, working with Republicans in Congress both to obliterate the deficit caused by Republican budgetary mismanagement, and "end welfare as we know it."

    What happened to the resulting budgetary surplus they created? Republican mismanagement and ideological extremism obliterated it [ . . . ]

    A simple historical fact: There is no political payoff for Democrats in presiding over governmental austerity. The evidence goes far back to long before Bill Clinton. In the mid-1970s, the first superstar of the Democratic austerity movement, William Proxmire, a budgetary obsessive whose campaign bumper stickers read "Waste Will Bury Us," began awarding a monthly "Golden Fleece Award" to the government expenditure he judged the most wasteful -- a clown show that frequently had no more effect than making things difficult for scientists doing basic research that frequently led to revolutionary breakthroughs. Austerity was the ideology of Gov. Jerry Brown in California, too -- and also the man who beat Brown for the Democratic presidential nominee in 1976, Jimmy Carter, who announced, in his 1978 State of the Union address that "Government cannot eliminate poverty or provide a bountiful economy or reduce inflation or save our cities or provide energy."

    What Carter said wasn't even true; for instance, he did deploy the power of government to reduce inflation, by appointing a Federal Reserve chairman, Paul Volcker, with a mandate to squeeze the money supply, an act of deliberate austerity that induced the recession that defeated him. Like I said, there was no political payoff: Ronald Reagan, depicting Carter on the campaign trail as just another Democratic spendthrift, defeated him, reappointed Volcker, then harvested the political credit when Volcker's governmental policies did slay inflation.

    It should be telling that fiscal responsibility is always the prescription for Democrats, but for Republicans, as Dick Cheney famously said, "deficits don't matter." Obama makes us nervous because his commitment to fiscal balance does seem to be real. However, he must realize that the only way he can get there is to raise taxes, and primarily on the rich, and also that cuts and privatization deals on Social Security and/or Medicare don't save him anything -- they result in less effective less efficient programs that cost more in the long run. If he wants something that would actually work to bring deficits under control, he can't do anything that stupid. What he can shoot for is more tax revenues (both through higher rates on the rich and through growth), less wasteful discretionary spending (ending the war in Afghanistan, not starting any more, trimming the military budget back), and most important of all, controlling health care costs. And the key to the latter is the opposite of the privatization the Republicans demand.

    By the way, I'm a big fan of William Proxmire, and he actually did benefit electorally for his efforts -- he was hugely popular, often running up 80% margins in Wisconsin. But he mostly attacked wasteful military spending, and he doesn't seem to have been all that effective at it, even though he scored lots of small wins.

  • Mat Stoller: Obama's Second Term: Can Liberals Trust the President?: Well, no: "My bet is that Obama will continue the policy framework he pursued in his first term." Stoller lists some "domestic flash points": Fiscal Cliff, Budget; Global Warming; Fannie/Freddie/Foreclosures; Dodd-Frank; Marijuana; Trade and Trans-Pacific Partnership; Immigration, Race to the Top, Strikes; The Post-Election Narrative. I think there is reason to think Obama will do some things better than four years ago. For one thing, he has some experience now about what doesn't work. He also faces smaller problems: even if he gets another dip into recession, it won't be like the freefall he inherited last time; he's out of Iraq, and he's given Afghanistan enough of a shot that he can unwind that. Too bad he didn't do anything useful on housing, but at least some of the urgency is off that. Too bad about global warming, but at least FEMA has been saved. He's going to be less cowed by his staff -- he's been president a while, he's gotten more used to throwing his weight around, and that whole "team of rivals" shtick is finished: Gates is gone, so are Summers and Emmanuel and Orszag, and Clinton and Geithner and probably Holder are leaving, and good riddance to all of them -- and especially to Petraeus. They won't necessarily be replaced by better people politically, but they'll give way to people who will owe Obama more and serve him better. None of this changes Obama's personal conservatism or political pragmatism -- he won't do anything radical because he's just not that sort of guy. What might nudge him to the left (or to the right) is grass roots political activism -- like Occupy, or the Tea Party (they do seem like a spent force, not that the money behind them is all spent).

  • Rich Yeselson: Rage Machine vs. Turnout Machine: Interesting contrast here to Canada's Conservative Party, which successfully appeals to immigrants, doesn't fret about gay marriage or abortion let alone Canada's hugely popular Medicare system.

    In the US, any possibility of the GOP appealing to the economic interests of most white men, as opposed to massaging their beleaguered sense of identity, must be subsumed to the antithetical economic priorities of the GOP's plutocratic donor class. In short, Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers are ardent rent seekers from the federal government, union haters and tax avoiders, while promoting the demolition of social insurance for the 99.9%. They do not share most of the same economic goals as the guy wearing the "Put The White Back in the White House" t-shirt at a Romney rally. Yet rage and paranoia paradoxically bind these billionaires and white male small business owners and contractors: see, for example the Adelson owned newspaper in Israel's headline after Obama's victory, "Socialism Comes To America."

    The historian Steven Fraser has called the modern Right's proprietary and gendered authority over both the workplace and the family unit, "family capitalism." Family capitalism is a shared value system of both the billionaires and the base. [ . . . ] Bridging the gap between the rich and the ranks is the professional activist class that puts forth lunatic politicians like Steve King and Michelle Bachmann, and the conservative entertainment complex of Fox News, Rush Limbaugh and Matt Drudge.

    The three rings of this circus -- the paranoid billionaires, the activist and media crackpots, and the resentful elderly and white men (and, frequently, their spouses) -- are tied so tightly that it would destroy the party if the links were broken.

I suppose I could inaugurate a section on truly stupid ideas, like Kevin Drum's nomination of Mitt Romney for Treasury Secretary: "How much friendler toward banks could he be than Tim Geithner?" Is that the standard to look for? And I thought Erskine Bowles was a bad idea.

Haven't found anything useful yet on the Petraeus-Broadwell affair, but it strikes me as something of more than prurient interest: no general since MacArthur has worked so assiduously and successfully at courting the press than Petraeus (unless it was Colin Powell, who if he did managed the feat much less conspicuously) but did you really expect him to stoop this low? At this point, Broadwell's motives are less clear, especially with all the innuendo, but the least one can say is that she went well beyond professionalism to get the story -- or a story, the one that promoted her source's career.

Reading Chandrasekaran's recent book on Afghanistan makes it clear that Petraeus threw his COIN strategy under the bus as soon as he was dropped into his protégé McChrystal's command post, then he hastened his exit before he could get excessively tarred with the war's utter failure. It was only a matter of time before history caught up with one of the great frauds of our time. Still, surprise that the tabloids got him first.

Also, a few links for further study:

  • Charles Duhigg/Steve Lohr: The Patent, Used as a Sword: Long piece on the evils of patents, especially software and design patents used in smart phones. I'm personally much more negative about patents than the authors. I'd get rid of them even if the result is that nothing new ever gets invented. But, of course, that wouldn't be the result. The result would be that no one ever gets sued for inventing something that someone else has some vague legal claim to. And another result would be that companies couldn't extort rents from customers, especially in health care where patented products are claimed to be lifesaving.

  • Mark Lilla: The Great Disconnect: Review of Charles R. Kesler's book, I Am the Change, what Lilla calls "a cheap inflationary takedown" of Obama, contrasting the book to the more "deflationary" takedowns typical of right-wingers like Dinesh D'Souza. Kesler accuses Obama of Hegelianism and finds the missing link in Woodrow Wilson, while Lilla is so desperate to find a rational conservative counter to his centrism that he follows him down the rat hole. Lilla even starts out with an attempt to paint Nixon as the socialist Obama isn't, an amusing little bit of bullshit. No need to quote this stuff -- I'm bookmarking it because I'm morbidly fascinated with right-wing books on Obama. But what I will quote is Denis Clifford's letter:

    "The level of political discourse has dropped," Mark Lilla says (Up Front, Sept. 30), and his review contributes mightily to diminishing it. He claims that "the Great Society's liberal architects vastly overreached and overpromised," without mentioning that the Vietnam War, so vehemently pursued by many of President Lyndon Johnson's "liberal architects," ruined the hopes of the Great Society domestic policies. We'll never know what might have happened in America if those "best and brightest" hadn't made their first priority the insanity of the Vietnam War.

  • Nate Silver: As Nation and Parties Change, Republicans Are at an Electoral College Disadvantage: Seems like it's long been the other way, what with the Republican domination of the small mountain states and their disproportionate power in the Senate. Plus you hate to give Republicans even a whiff of a notion that they're victimized by something structural. But I have to admire how artfully Silver puts his chart together. The other thing this shows is while Democrats are effective where they bother to compete, they don't have a lot of obvious options for growth -- with Missouri and Indiana sunk, and the deep south still locked in the white column, maybe Arizona or Montana?

  • Drew Westen: America's Leftward Tilt?: From before the election, argues that both candidates became more popular when they moved toward the left.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Calm Down

If I find time, I'll do more post-election links tomorrow, but I thought I'd preface them with one from Kevin Drum, We Should Probably All Calm Down a Bit, since I want to quote virtually all of it. He addresses two bullet items, one to liberals and one to conservatives, and he basically gets them right, although I have a few more points to add. First:

Liberals, you should rein in the triumphalism. Obama won a narrow 51-49 percent victory and the composition of Congress changed only slightly. This was not a historic vindication of liberalism, and it doesn't mean that we can suddenly decide that demography will sweep us to victory for the next couple of decades. The plain truth is that although an increasing number of voters are turned off by what Republicans represent, that doesn't mean they've become lefty converts. A lot of them are still pretty nervous about a big part of our agenda, and we have a lot of work ahead to get them more solidly on our side. Also: No matter how much you hate to hear it, long-term deficit reduction and entitlement reform really are pretty important. Just because conservatives abuse the point doesn't mean there isn't something to it.

First part is true. Political power is still pretty evenly divided, with the Republican House, a Democratic majority in the Senate hung up for abuse by its own rules (the filibuster, of course, but also the evident right of Richard Shelby and Tom Coburn to block any appointment they take exception to, which is pretty much all of them), and Obama in the White House, at least until recently thinking he has the touch to compromise meaningfully with terrorists. Republicans also control most of the governorships and state houses, most of the judiciary, and they have a working majority on the Supreme Court. Right-wingers also have a huge preponderance in the media, and they continue to draw on their think tanks and propaganda arms, on industry lobbyists, and above all on lots of money.

In most respects, the Democrats didn't win so much as dodge a bullet. This was the billionaires' election, and didn't prevail, although the fact that it was so close when the interest breakdown had never been more clearly drawn between the 1% and the 99% is telling. Similarly, Republicans spent much of the last four years erecting roadblocks on the path to the polls. Given that Obama won, you might be tempted to say that they failed, even that there was a backlash against the right's assault on democracy, but the fact is that the number of people who voted this time dropped by over 9 million (122,146,119 vs. 131,393,990 in 2012). How much of that can be attributed to voter suppression as opposed to general cynicism and indifference -- both of which are conservative goals -- isn't clear, but it can't be dismissed.

It should also be noted that while the Republicans enjoy a 49 seat margin in the House, the actual vote for Representatives gave a plurality to the Democrats (54,301,095 to 53,822,442). Nate Silver has estimated that the Democrats have to get 3% more votes than the Republicans to break even in the House -- some of this is due to gerrymandering following the Republicans' 2010 state house wins, and some of it is due to the concentration of Democrats in compact urban districts (i.e., cities). What I think all of this means is that the Democrats could have done significantly better than they did with a more level playing field: with more people voting, with less money distorting the races, with a Democratic Party that was better organized (especially at the House and state levels).

The great thing about election day is that it's the one day in the year where the people count. Leading up to it politicians of all stripes try to appeal the the people, and afterwards they slide back into the real corridors of power, which is mostly the province of money but also of institutional interests. I think it would be a mistake to read Drum's line that a "lot of them are still pretty nervous about a big part of our agenda" as meaning that the people (Democrats anyway) are nervous about their leaders taking them far to the left. Nervousness may be called for, but it's more likely that they (well, we) fear that Democrats we elected to represent us will wind up compromising our interests to the moneyed powers, the corporations, the warmongers, and so forth. I wouldn't go so far as to argue that the median voter is well to the left of the politicians, but you get a whiff of that in, e.g., the referenda legalizing recreational marijuana use.

Still, the left has lots of work to do to overcome myriad obstacles -- the right, the middling center, the professional ranks of Democratic politics -- and much of that is done by correcting bad ideas. Drum gives us an example in his assertion, "long-term deficit reduction and entitlement reform really are pretty important." In theory, I could go either way on deficit reduction, but it's worth noting that throughout US history the only way it's ever actually worked is through growth and/or inflation -- neither party actually has the political will to soak the people with taxes to pay down the debts, especially in a protracted slump. (Clinton at least had a huge tech boom for cover, and all his "success" netted was irresponsibility from his successor.) I'd like to see some more progressive taxes not so much to balance the budget as to start to nudge incomes, society, and democracy toward more equality. But it also turns out that taxing the rich results in less drag on the economy -- forget all that "job creator" garbage and all their "uncertainty" and "confidence" confabulations -- than taxing anyone else, and I'd combine that with more spending, especially on public works that help reduce inequality and boost opportunity -- education, infrastructure, small business support, and, yes, income transfers. The "fiscal cliff" moment, despite such misleading terminology, is a teachable moment, something we should take advantage of.

As for "entitlement reform," any so-called progressive who utters such a term should be pummeled with a whiffle bat. The truth is that retirement incomes are earned, and that welfare for those unable to provide adequately for themselves is a sign of civilization, one that we should take pride in, not demean. And the only way those sums should be "reformed" is upward, not least because we've let our selfishness (or rather the greed of the rich and powerful) and a false sense of impoverishment cut too deep already. That people live longer may mean that working people will have to pay more to support those who cannot work, and therefore overall taxes will have to rise. But to cheap out and deny your fellow citizens the right to live in decency and out of poverty would morally bankrupt us.

Drum's second point:

Conservatives, you should rein in the apocalyptic despair. Increasing top marginal rates to 39.6 percent is not a harbinger of torches and pitchforks in the streets, it's a limited corrective to decades of skyrocketing incomes at the high end. Obamacare is not a sign of incipient tyranny, it's a modest attempt to provide broad access to healthcare that's based on a Republican plan and operates largely through the private sector. Universal access to contraceptives doesn't represent the end of religious liberty, it represents a fairly narrow disagreement over the responsibilities of organizations that occupy a gray area between secular and religious. Fifty million people on food stamps doesn't mean the final triumph of takers over makers, it means that we're still recovering from the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression. (Outside of healthcare, spending on low-income programs is actually pretty low.) America is still America, and it's still the best place in the world to be if you're an entrepreneur. More generally: You really do need to update your attitudes on a raft of social issues, but honestly, if you can manage to do something about your crackpot wing and your blood oath to Grover Norquist, you'd be in reasonably good shape.

This is all straightforward and true, but then why did Republicans not do the smart and gracious thing and accept Obamacare, "cap and trade," Obama's "middle class" tax deal, and so forth as concessions to the power of their ideology? It's certainly not because they have any sort of enlightened comprehension of the long-term interests of the superrich. (They're not even that sharp on short-term interests: the rich plunged furthest in the recession, although they've bounced back healthily, the stock market more than doubling during Obama's term even though unemployment persisted and we're still a long ways from regaining the lost output.) Anyone rational will tell you that health care costs are eroding the entire economy, handicapping every business that doesn't directly profit from them. Same thing is true with the banks. And global warming is ultimately a much greater threat to property owners than it is to migrant workers. And you can keep going down the list: starving education may mean more people will be dumb enough to vote Republican, but it doesn't help American businesses needing competent and innovative workers to compete in the global market. And wars, pollution, the dumbest approach imaginable to crime.

I think what's happened is that the Republicans have fallen victim to their rank and file, a group that basically has nothing going for it other than their rage against everyone else. It must have seemed like a clever idea: getting the whites against the blacks (and everyone else), getting men (and the Catholic church) against liberated women, getting the hawks against the doves, getting the born against against the humanists, getting the gun nuts against their own paranoia, wrapping it all up in paeans about family values and responsibility, God and flags, prayer and the pledge of allegiance, success and prosperity, with a bunch of guys who inherited many millions to bankroll it all. Moreover, the ideology was sold on the simplest level possible: no more taxes, shrink the government so it can be drowned in a bathtub, but carte blanche for the military, and no amnesty (put more people in jail than any other country) and make no excuses (plunge the nation into debilitating foreign wars at the slightest provocation).

It worked for a while, not least because rather than fight it Democrats fell all over themselves to burnish their patriotic and militarist and religious and free enterprise credentials, all the while chasing the same moneyed interests, sometimes even outbidding the Republicans to service them. But the spell is fading, and not just because other demographics are outpacing angry white males (as Lindsey Graham recently lamented). Part of the problem is that more and more people are being pushed outside the Republican tent. But it's also because while thirty years of conservative ascendancy has done much to make the rich richer, it has treated everyone else so shabbily. Believers still have little clue, but the proof is how desperately they hold on to nostrums that no longer work.

Sure, in theory the Republican establishment can seek out a more moderate and more defensible ground, but how can they sell ideas that violate the moral certainties of their rank and file. A good example of this was how a series of Republicans, starting with VP candidate Paul Ryan, decided they were more profoundly against abortion than rape, so wound up in effect arguing that the law should enforce a rapist's right to force his victim to bear his child. Conservatives always insist that their truth is timeless, eternal, unchangeable, so indeed how can they change? Indeed, throughout history they don't. They can only be resisted, stopped, defeated: often, as in America's Revolution and Civil War through violence; sometimes, if we're lucky, democratically, as in the 1930s New Deal and the 1960s civil rights movement. Of course, conservatism keeps bouncing back -- as long as there is a privileged order to defend -- but at least in defeat they drop some of their worst habits.

One lesson we should take away from the 2012 election is that they've been set back, but they haven't been defeated soundly enough yet.

Expert Comments

Turkey Shoot update:

Thought I'd give y'all an update/reminder on the Turkey Shoot Invitational: I've currently issued 8 licenses for 11 birds, and a couple more people have expressed interest but haven't staked out their turf yet. That leaves us close to the low end for a CG column, but well short of the 20 I was hoping for. You still have a couple days to get in on the action: mail me by Monday.

To help jog your mind, Tatum worked up a list of 40-some candidates, and I added a few things from my database. The unclaimed list includes: Damon Albarn, Animal Collective, Ariel Pink, Bat for Lashes, Andrew Bird, Cat Power, Chairlift, Gary Clark Jr., Dan Deacon, Matthew Dear, Kathleen Edwards, El-P, First Aid Kit, Future of the Left, Grimes, Grizzly Bear, Guided by Voices, Julia Holter, Beth Jeans Houghton, How to Dress Well, Norah Jones, Kindness, Lambchop, Liars, The Men, Bob Mould, Of Montreal, Passion Pit, Purity Ring, Screaming Females, Ty Segall, Sigur Ros, Smashing Pumpkins, Esperanza Spalding, Spiritualized, Swans, Tennis, Twin Shadow, Sharon Van Etten, Rufus Wainwright, The Walkmen, Jessie Ware. Of course, that doesn't exhaust this year's supply, and at least half of the committed records weren't on our suggestions list.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Expert Comments

Alexander Nevermind spouted some nonsense. I responded:

Note to AN: The right-wing did indeed launch a systematic purge of so-called RINOs in Kansas this year -- a pretty successful one, in fact, getting rid of, among others, my own pro-choice Republican state senator, Jean Schodorf. A decade ago there were as many moderate Republicans in KS as there were conservatives -- e.g., Bill Graves was governor, Nancy Kassebaum had just retired from the Senate. It's worth remembering that abortion was legal in KS before Roe v. Wade, and it was mostly Republicans who did that. Now, I don't think there are any pro-choice Republicans left in office, so that's a pretty complete ideological purge.

I can't think of anything comparable on the Democratic side. There are many prominent anti-choice Democrats (e.g., Bob Casey and Harry Reid) and they routinely get support from all across the party. Democratic primary challenges are very rare and rarely successful -- e.g., Joe Lieberman. And the lack of common beliefs and positions makes any sort of "ideological purity test" laughable. Will Rogers used to tell folks that he's not a member of any organized political party -- he's a Democrat. That's a joke, but it's still true today.

The Republicans didn't use to be so rigid and intolerant -- cf. Reagan's so-called 11th commandment. But they are now.

Alexander Nevermind's response (skipping where he quoted me, which was paragraph per paragraph):

The rallying cry now is "no more Romney's, no more McCains, no more Doles." So we are well aware of the R.I.N.O. habitat in KS. Ford and Rockerfelle were both supporters of Roe, and Reagan specified his goal (and IIRC also Goldwater) of "taking the party from the Rockerfeller country club Republicans." I am also aware of the Alf Landon (Kassebaum's father)'s program of loosing by a landslide. [ . . . ]

Bod Casey was refused a spot to speak at the Democrap Convention. Since at most such conservative (at least on this) Democraps get the voice opposition-voting their conscience is out of the question-speaking is the only thing they get to do.

Yeah, the Democrap party is just full of respect of its pro-life members. Like the picture of Casey as a Pope.

Yes, there was something comparable on the Democrap side. It's called the 2010 Congressional elections. It is no secret that Rahm I recruited whatever conservative Democrap he could lay his hands on to run up a Democrap majority in the House, to hand over the Speakership to the Wicked Witch of the West. Ignored except for their vote to hand over the gavel and other cover, Stupak agreement makes passage all but certain and a LOTR inspired "My precious plan to rule them all" poster that I can't post on EW.

And for Democrap wallpaper Obama signed, they were thrown under the bus. Like Charlie Brown as Stupak and Lucy as Obama yanking the football. Rahm Emanuel thumbing his nose at supporters for "protecting women's health and stopping Stupak". And showing Stupak as a Chump, once their purpose had been served.

After 2010, Madame Speaker shed no tears for the slaughtered blue dogs. The electorate at least learned that lesson, which is why she is not returning to the speakership this time. [ . . . ]

because the Rockfeller country club Republicans he dethroned have regrouped.

I wrote:

AN: Regardless of politics, Repugs at least shows a bit of wit, whereas Democrap is just juvenile. But you should notice that I don't use the former, especially when I'm trying to make a point that I want to be taken seriously. If you have any such intent -- and why post if you don't? -- you should show your readers the same respect. In fact, you have even more reason to clean up your act: how, given your propensity for name-calling, can we figure out whether "Bod Casey" is a typo or part of your world view? Or whether your three distinct misspellings of Rockefeller were just sloppy, or meant to make some deeper point, like showing your indifference toward facts. Your post is full of substantive errors and wild flights of imagination and innuendo. I could start to enumerate them, but mostly I'm struck by what a scary place your mind is.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012


Generally pleased with the election results, especially the Senate, which includes several genuinely promising Democrats (Baldwin, Warren) as well as more of the ordinary variety, and the defeat of some (but not all) of the most odious Republicans. Also pleased to see some of the ballot issues, especially the breakthroughs on marijuana -- the whole drug war needs to be rethought and mostly ended, but it's been nearly impossible to find working politicians to stand up despite the fact that it's long been significantly unpopular.

Much less pleased with the House, which I expected to be more competitive despite the lack of polls or other indications that it would be. Even now, I haven't been able to find much in the way of useful information as to what happened, let alone why. One thing I would like to see is the total vote by party: I suspect it is much closer to even than the division of seats -- redistricting after the 2010 census and elections, when the Republicans grabbed a lot of state houses, has a lot to do with this, but so does the expense of challenging an entrenched incumbent. (I know that my congressman has been building up a war chest he mostly didn't need to tap into this cycle, making him all the more unassailable in the future. He won a second term with about 62% of the vote against a virtually invisible challenger, which suggests that on a level playing field he might be vulnerable to a stronger, better heeled candidate.) For more on the House problems, see Nate Silver's June 23 piece.

With the House locked down under Republican control, and their leadership in thrall to the unbroken radical fringe, Obama will find it impossible to implement anything progressive for at least the next two years. Whether it's as bad as the last two years is hard to project, but the Tea Party momentum from 2010 has ended -- whether the arrogance and sense of entitlement has remains to be seen. Also unclear is whether Obama has fully learned the obvious lessons of the election, which is that he has to be more aggressive in facing up to Republican intransigence. Nothing would help him more than to start putting together a ground organization to take back the House in 2014: find strong candidates, support them, feed them issues. The Democrats did make gains this year where they had strong candidates, but ignoring the House they missed an important opportunity.

As for the presidential race, I've managed to crunch some numbers. Obama lost about 5% of margin from 2008 to 2012. Turnout currently looks to be down about 8%: this number will go down a bit as the last of the ballots are counted, but right now it looks like about 120 million votes this year vs. 131 million in 2008 (but also there should be more voters this year, so the percentage voting may wind up down even more). That probably explains most of the drop, but I ran state-by-state comparisons, and the granularity varies quite a bit from state to state.

An across-the-board 5% drop should have cost Obama four states: Indiana, North Carolina, Florida, and Ohio (won by 4.59% in 2008; Virginia was next closest at 6.30%) -- the resulting electoral margin would have been Obama 285, Romney 253, which isn't unreasonable given Obama's 2.7% raw vote margin. But the drop wasn't even everywhere. For the most part, Obama dropped less than 5% in the states he had won in 2008, and Romney gained more than 5% in the states McCain had won in 2008. From Obama's side, most of that came down to money and where he spent it. I don't know how the money split this year, but Romney had a lot more to work with than McCain, who was outspent by more than two-to-one, did.

The first big difference I noticed was Romney's gains in Indiana (+11.09%) and Missouri (+9.46%), the two most closely contested states in 2008 (Obama won Indiana by 1.04% and lost Missouri by 0.14%). But this year, with less money and facing a tighter race, Obama didn't seriously contest either state. Same thing with Montana, -2.27% in 2008, a 10.63% improvement for Romney this year. (Interesting that Democrats won Senate seats in all three states, despite big Obama losses.) Other big Romney gains include North Dakota (+11.17%) and South Dakota (+9.59%) -- both were won by McCain but by less than 10% -- and traditionally Democratic West Virginia (+13.38%) -- two more Democratic Senate wins there, although Joe Manchin spent more time running against Obama than against his Republican opponent.

Elsewhere, in uncontested Republican states, Romney gained 19.73% in Utah, 9.06% in Wyoming; slightly above average in Idaho, Nebraska, Kansas, Kentucky, and Tennessee (5.43%); and below average across the South (where McCain had pretty much locked up the white vote) -- Texas (4.03%), Arkansas (3.74%), Georgia (2.79%), Oklahoma (2.30%), South Carolina (1.93%), Alabama (0.72%), with small losses in Louisiana (-1.43%) and Mississippi (-1.48%). Romney did 3.08% better than McCain in Arizona (all sorts of factors at work there), and 8.03% worse in Alaska (no idea about that).

Obama's change figures are more scattered, but the main thing that matters was that he kept the loss tight in the key battleground states: Florida (-2.21%), North Carolina (-2.53%), Ohio (-2.69%), Virginia (-3.30%), New Hampshire (-3.91%), Iowa (3.94%), Colorado (-4.25%), New Mexico (-4.25%). It's tempting to argue that such intense focus distorts the results, but despite his incumbency I feel that Obama had an extra-hard time getting his message out -- the Republican media machine, of course, but also the nature of Romney's lies and Obama's early reticence to tackle them left an awful lot of people sadly misinformed about the issues -- so the battleground states had the clearest picture of the case for Obama. The corollary here is that had Obama the means to contest more states, the results there would have shifted toward him.

Obama had more trouble in Nevada (-5.90%), Oregon (-7.05%), Wisconsin (-7.21%), Michigan (-7.97%), and Illinois (-8.94%) -- states he may have taken for granted. Elsewhere, he kept most of his support, especially in the northeast, such as New Jersey (+1.43% -- along with Alaska, the only states he gained in, but voting is still incomplete there), Rhode Island (-0.02%), New York (-0.05%), Maryland (-1.15%), Vermont (-1.20%), Maine (-1.21%), District of Columbia (-1.63%), Massachusetts (-2.61%), Pennsylvania (-5.25%), Connecticut (-5.37%), Delaware (-6.39%). Other states: Hawaii (-2.47%), Minnesota (-2.64%), California (-4.01%), Washington (-4.77%).

Doing better than average on your home turf is a tendency that has become increasingly prevalent in recent years -- in Obama's two elections, in Bush's two before that, and to a lesser extent in Clinton's (who, you may recall, did a bit better in the South, and a lot better in West Virginia). There are many reasons for this, ranging from habit to the feedback effect of Republicans reducing people's interest and expectations in government by running it so corruptly. But one net effect is to spread states out into "red" and "blue" camps, which in a national election leaves little to contest. That's the main reason Nate Silver has been able to project state odds that are both overly dramatic -- Florida was a toss up at 50.3% odds for Obama, but his next closest states were North Carolina (74.4% for Romney), Virginia (79.4% for Obama), and Colorado (79.7% for Obama). If Florida holds up (which looks right, with a 47,028 Obama edge with 100% reporting), he managed to get them all right -- a result which would might be less impressive but for a couple weeks of right wing sniping against him.

Checking against Silver's final polls, I found that Obama topped his final projections in every competitive state except Ohio (-1.7%), Pennsylvania (-0.8%), Oregon (-0.2%), and Minnesota (-1.0%). Those first two suggest that vote suppression (or fraud) may have had some small effect. Silver was most criticized for giving Obama a 90.6% chance of winning Ohio (based on a poll average of +3.6%); the actual difference was a much closer +1.9%. Romney trailed his polls in South Carolina (-2.0%), Georgia (-0.7%), Alaska (-7.6%), and Kansas (-1.2%). He also had the biggest gain over the polls, +10.3% in West Virginia. Obama did +9.0% in Hawaii.

I heard Romney's concession speech. It was short and decent -- Chris Matthews proclaimed it the best thing he'd done all campaign -- giving credence to the rumor that he had only written one speech ahead of time, presuming a victory. Of course, that's something that can easily happen when you live in the bubble of your own propaganda.

I also listened to Obama's victory speech, one that he clearly had put some time and thought into. Some good stuff in it, but about every third or fourth clause rubbed me some wrong way -- by emphasizing the unimportant, by grasping some cliché, mostly by waxing eloquent on the limitless virtue of the American people. But if he had even an ounce of insincerity, he did an amazing job of covering it up. I don't see how anyone can doubt that he is deeply in love with the country that has now elected him president twice. Nor do I see how anyone can doubt his deep personal conservatism. I understand that the American people -- most of them, anyhow -- demand this sort of flattery as a condition for holding public office, but it doesn't bode well for his intellectual honesty and critical perspicacity. What promises more is that his sense of American mythology is fairer, more inclusive, and more just than that of his democracy-phobic right-wing opponents. I date my own politics to an idealized (and no doubt ahistorical) view of the American Revolution and the various populist and progressive veins that refer back to it, so I see hope in trying to build something tangible out of those myths.

So I'm glad he won. I wish, in fact, he had won more overwhelmingly, enough so to permanently discredit the counter-myths the right insists on spreading. More personally, I'm glad I'll be able to buy reasonable health insurance when my current COBRA policy runs out. I hope I live long enough to enjoy socialism in America, but until then, "Obamacare" is a plus -- not a word I like to use, but thanks to the Republicans for reminding us of something tangible Obama has done to better our lives.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Turkey Shoot Invitation

I've been kicking this idea around for a while, and finally decided to commit to it. On Thanksgiving Day, November 22, I want to publish a "Turkey Shoot" Consumer Guide to recognize (or warn against) the most overrated and/or downright awful records released in 2012. (This was a longtime Robert Christgau tradition, one which lapsed when he left the Village Voice. A variation appeared on it last year in one of Michael Tatum's Downloader's Diary columns.) However, I don't want to write it all (or even much of it), and I especially don't want to have to listen to all the crap one has to sift through (especially the shit that turns out to not even be bad enough to write about). So my plan is to open this up to the masses, and hope enough of you will contribute a review or two (maximum four) to make this worthwhile.

I'll try to be flexible when I can, but the deadline is pretty tight, and my decisions, no matter how arbitrary, are final. The framework is as follows:

  • I'll write an intro, at the top.
  • This will be followed by 20 (or so) paragraph-sized reviews, each with a letter grade of B or less (E is the bottom of the barrel) and something to identify the reviewer (probably initials, referring below; maybe mouseover will show the name).
  • At the bottom there will be a table where each of the critics (our jury members) gets a chance to grade and comment on each of the reviewed records. No requirement to comment or even grade. I may dictate a numeric scale there, which would make averaging easier (even obvious).

Anyone who wants to contribute should email me with their proposals no later than Sunday, November 11. (Email address is on the Contact page.) I should get back to you by the 13th. If accepted, your reviews are due nolater than Sunday, November 18. This gives us a few days to edit and circulate the reviews.

There are some minimal requirements for Turkeys. Records that are hopelessly obscure are uninteresting here: we'd rather shot a fat, overrated bird than a scrawny one, let alone a pigeon or a parakeet. There should also be some degree of consensus among the contributors that the record really is a turkey. Otherwise, we're likely to wind up with just a bunch of random contrarian statements, which may be amusing but would swamp each other out. Record significance is easier to establish than group consensus. Any of the following works to establish significance:

  • Any record listed in my metacritic file with a count of 3 or higher (currently the top 953 records), with 5 or higher (top 563) even better. (Note: the file takes a lot of work to keep up to date, so feel free to challenge it where you think I've undercounted.)
  • Any record with at least 10 reviews counted by (The "MC" denominator numbers in my metacritic file, or you can go to
  • Any record which has appeared in the Billboard top 100 albums list, or in the top 10 of any of Billboard's genre lists.
  • You can also try special pleading.

Everyone who submits a proposal will be added to a mailing list, and I'll circulate all of the nominated records (sometime shortly after Nov. 11) asking for an up/down turkey consensus vote. I'll decide then which (if any) proposed albums to exclude due to lack of consensus. (Not sure what the criteria will be until I see the data. I also might publish the grade info on excluded albums, if I decide that would be interesting and useful.)

It might be a good idea to avoid picking on records I've rated B+(***) or above. I won't automatically reject such a proposal, but that's one strike against establishing a consensus that the album is a turkey. (Same may be said for records graded by Christgau and/or Tatum.)

The jury will be asked to grade albums no later as soon as I have a proposal list, so most likely Monday, November 12. They will be able to revise their grades and add comments up to Tuesday, November 20. (I should be able to fix things later, even after posting, but don't rely on that.)

I won't set up a formal mailing list, but will use an alias within my local mailer to blast out frequent email notices on how this is coming along. The list will start with everyone who makes a proposal (at least one I deem serious), and may be whittled down to the actual contributors. Editing will be done via email. (Again, my decisions are final.)

Results will be published on my blog, and possibly on Terminal Zone (if I manage to get that up on time).

No one will be paid for their contributions. No one will make any money off this. Copyrights are retained by the owners. We assume that submission constitutes permission to publish. Any questions, ask me.

Recycled Goods (102): November 2012

New Recycled Goods: pick up text here. Total review count: 3502 (3070 + 432).

Expert Comments

Many witnesses posted voting day reports. Here's mine:

Voted here in Wichita this afternoon. No line for the voting machines, but there was a bit of a line to get your ID checked, and the woman in front of me wound up with a provisional ballot. One of the ID checkers pointed out to Laura that no one checked his ID when he came in to work. Amazing number of local offices with no Democrat running, including all but two judgeships. In 1994 the Republicans really buckled down and started training candidates from the ground up, and they've dominated these parts ever since. The Democrats made some headway first with Sibelius and more so when Howard Dean was DP chairman, but that's all fallen apart since 2008 -- just really pathetic.

On the Turkey Shoot:

I'm not sure that anyone actually misses the Consumer Guide Turkey Shoot -- I usually wound up feeling down afterwards, often trying to figure out why a bunch of records I hadn't even been aware of were singled out -- but I posted a proposal for a Turkey Shoot Invitational on my website tonight. Short version is I'm looking for a dozen or so hardy souls to take a few whacks at their most despised albums this year. I'll edit, collate, and tabulate. Take a look, and contact me if you're up for the hunt. And pass the word along. Beware, though, that time is short.

Nate Silver's final probabilities:

For Obama, from closest:         2012      2008     08-12
   50.3%  Florida               + 0.6%   + 2.81%   - 2.21%   + 0.0% (+ 0.6%)
   79.4%  Virginia              + 3.0%   + 6.30%   - 3.30%   + 2.0% (+ 1.0%)
   79.7%  Colorado              + 4.7%   + 8.95%   - 4.25%   + 2.5% (+ 2.2%)
   84.3%  Iowa                  + 5.6%   + 9.54%   - 3.94%   + 3.2% (+ 2.4%)
   84.6%  New Hampshire         + 5.7%   + 9.61%   - 3.91%   + 3.5% (+ 2.2%)
   90.6%  Ohio                  + 1.9%   + 4.59%   - 2.69%   + 3.6% (- 1.7%)
   93.4%  Nevada                + 6.6%   +12.50%   - 5.90%   + 4.5% (+ 2.2%)
   95.2%  Maine 2
   96.7%  Wisconsin             + 6.7%   +13.91%   - 7.21%   + 5.5% (+ 1.2%)
   98.6%  Pennsylvania          + 5.1%   +10.35%   - 5.25%   + 5.9% (- 0.8%)
   99.3%  Michigan              + 8.5%   +16.47%   - 7.97%   + 7.1% (+ 1.4%)
   99.4%  New Mexico            + 9.9%   +15.13%   - 4.25%   + 9.4% (+ 0.5%)
   99.5%  Oregon                + 9.3%   +16.35%   - 7.05%   + 9.5% (- 0.2%)
   99.7%  Minnesota             + 7.6%   +10.24%   - 2.64%   + 8.6% (- 1.0%)
   99.9%  Maine                 +16.1%   +17.31%   - 1.21%   +12.9% (+ 3.2%)
  100.0%  California            +20.5%   +24.06%   - 4.01%   +17.4% (+ 3.1%)
  100.0%  Connecticut           +17.0%   +22.37%   - 5.37%   +14.1% (+ 2.9%)
  100.0%  D.C.                  +84.3%   +85.93%   - 1.63%   +86.6% (- 2.3%)
  100.0%  Delaware              +18.6%   +24.99%   - 6.39%   +19.8% (- 1.2%)
  100.0%  Hawaii                +42.8%   +45.27%   - 2.47%   +33.8% (+ 9.0%)
  100.0%  Illinois              +16.2%   +25.14%   - 8.94%   +20.2% (- 4.0%)
  100.0%  Maryland              +24.3%   +25.45%   - 1.15%   +22.8% (+ 1.5%)
  100.0%  Massachusetts         +23.2%   +25.81%   - 2.61%   +19.1% (+ 4.2%)
  100.0%  Maine 1
  100.0%  New Jersey            +17.0%   +15.57%   + 1.43%   +12.0% (+ 5.0%)
  100.0%  New York              +26.8%   +26.85%   - 0.05%   +25.4% (+ 1.4%)
  100.0%  Rhode Island          +27.9%   +27.92%   - 0.02%   +25.4% (+ 2.5%)
  100.0%  Vermont               +35.8%   +37.00%   - 1.20%   +33.5% (+ 2.3%)
  100.0%  Washington            +12.4%   +17.17%   - 4.77%   +13.6% (- 1.2%)

For Romney, from closest:
   74.4%  North Carolina        + 2.2%   - 0.33%   + 2.53%   + 1.7% (+ 0.5%)
   87.3%  Nebraska 2
   97.9%  Montana               +12.9%   + 2.27%   +10.63%   + 8.0% (+ 4.9%)
   98.0%  Arizona               +11.6%   + 8.52%   + 3.08%   + 6.9% (+ 4.7%)
   99.5%  South Carolina        +10.9%   + 8.97%   + 1.93%   +12.9% (- 2.0%)
   99.6%  Indiana               +10.5%   - 1.04%   +11.09%   + 8.7% (+ 1.8%)
   99.6%  Missouri              + 9.6%   + 0.14%   + 9.46%   + 8.1% (+ 1.5%)
   99.6%  Nebraska 1
   99.8%  Georgia               + 8.0%   + 5.21%   + 2.79%   + 8.7% (- 0.7%)
   99.9%  Alaska                +13.5%   +21.53%   - 8.03%   +21.1% (- 7.6%)
   99.9%  Kansas                +22.0%   +14.96%   + 7.04%   +23.2% (- 1.2%)
   99.9%  South Dakota          +18.0%   + 8.41%   + 9.59%   +13.7% (+ 4.3%)
   99.9%  West Virginia         +26.5%   +13.12%   +13.38%   +16.2% (+10.3%)
  100.0%  Alabama               +22.3%   +21.58%   + 0.72%   +25.1% (- 2.8%)
  100.0%  Arkansas              +23.6%   +19.86%   + 3.74%   +21.2% (+ 2.4%)
  100.0%  Idaho                 +31.9%   +25.43%   + 6.47%   +34.1% (- 2.2%)
  100.0%  Kentucky              +22.7%   +16.23%   + 6.47%   +18.5% (+ 4.2%)
  100.0%  Louisiana             +17.2%   +18.63%   - 1.43%   +20.6% (- 3.4%)
  100.0%  Mississippi           +11.7%   +13.18%   - 1.48%   +20.8% (- 9.1%)
  100.0%  Nebraska              +22.7%   +14.93%   + 7.77%   +18.5% (+ 4.2%)
  100.0%  Nebraska 3
  100.0%  North Dakota          +19.8%   + 8.63%   +11.17%   +14.7% (+ 5.1%)
  100.0%  Oklahoma              +33.6%   +31.30%   + 2.30%   +32.1% (+ 1.5%)
  100.0%  Tennessee             +20.5%   +15.07%   + 5.43%   +16.4% (+ 4.1%)
  100.0%  Texas                 +15.8%   +11.77%   + 4.03%   +17.0% (- 1.2%)
  100.0%  Utah                  +47.9%   +28.17%   +19.73%   +42.8% (+ 5.1%)
  100.0%  Wyoming               +41.3%   +32.24%   + 9.06%   +36.8% (+ 4.5%)

2008: 131,393,990 total votes, Obama +7.27%
2012: 119,682,560 total votes, Obama +2.33% (-4.96%)

An across-the-board drop of 4.96% would have cost Obama four states:
FL, IN, NC, OH; total vote count is incomplete, so should increase (a bit),
but for now is down 8%.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 20644 [20599] rated (+45), 625 [655] unrated (-30). Spent much of the week trying to pull Recycled Goods together, where I continue my recent practice of pulling things off the long-term unplayed shelf. Should run tomorrow. Won't be as many record as in the last two months -- last month had already tapered off -- and having cherry-picked from the start I'm finding less to get excited about, but I'll have a couple interesting surprises.

Meanwhile, you'll find some Jazz Prospecting below, including two A-listed vocal albums, both semi-marginal but Douglas snuck up on me, and Krall never let go. In fact, almost had three, but I held Pallo back from last week to recheck it, and a bit of the novelty wore off. I suppose I might even have had four had I stuck longer with Avery Sharpe's tribute to Sojourner Truth: Jeri Brown probably has the most vocal chops of the group, and every voter really should hear her do Truth's famous "Ain't I a Woman?" oration -- it's as essential a part of American history as Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, and one all too have forgotten.

Dave Douglas Quintet: Be Still (2012, Greenleaf Music): The modernist trumpet great gets sentimental, marking the death of his mother with hymns and folk songs, even a plaintive bluegrass singer, Aoife O'Donovan (of Crooked Still). Jon Irabagon joins on tenor sax, with Matt Mitchell on piano, Linda Oh on bass, Rudy Royston on drums. I feared an art-song move at first, but the context helps, as does the fact that Douglas's brass band experiments have provided an interesting parallel to Bill Frisell's string band Americana. The more conventional group doesn't belabor the point, nor does the saxophonist heave any bombs, although his occasional solos are notable. A-

Carlos Franzetti: Pierrot et Colombine (2012, Sunnyside): Argentinian composer; moved to Mexico, then New York, writing ballet music and soundtracks and symphonies and winning a Grammy. He pulls these pieces out of tango and French café music, imagining they fit classic characters in commedia dell'arte, and he plays Hohner melodica along with piano, violin, clarinet/alto sax, bass, and a string orch that for once manages to keep out of the way. I never found him this charming before. B+(*)

Manu Katché (2012, ECM): Drummer, b. 1958 in France, cut a record in 1992, then nothing until joining ECM in 2006, now up to four there. Side credits include Jan Garbarek, who put his 2006 album (Neighbourhood) over the top, and various rockers, from Sting to Dire Straits to Tori Amos to Jeff Beck. Quartet here with Nils Petter Molvaer (trumpet), Tore Brunborg (tenor/soprano sax), and Jim Watson (piano, organ) -- Molvaer provides some loops, but Katché keeps the rhythm easy and conventional. B+(**)

Diana Krall: Glad Rag Doll (2012, Verve): Singer, plays piano, b. 1964 in British Columbia; thirteenth album since 1993, over 15 million copies sold (wonder whether that's more than her famous, older, and more prolific husband), which seems to have generated some backlash. As a singer she's a model of precision and economy, and this, like most of her albums, mails one finely wrought standard after another. These reportedly date from the 1920s and 1930s (although "Lonely Avenue" is later), the archive work credited to her father's collection of 78s. Producer T-Bone Burnett is right at home in the era, most of his moves in the guitar-ukulele-banjo section. My copy has four "bonus tracks" -- piano-voice only outtakes, nice but inessential. A-

Bill Laswell: Means of Deliverance (2012, Innerhythmic): B. 1955, usually plays bass when he plays, although he shows up more as producer, composer, and/or engineer; AMG credits him with 77 albums since his 1983 debut Baselines, and they give him credits on 949 albums, although those credits include things like mixing Jivamukti Basic Yoga Class and fiddling with at least a ton of reggae/dub comps. This one is solo acoustic bass (plus a tiny bit of vocal sample). He sticks to basics, minimal figures that keep the beat moving, about as engaging as possible. B+(**)

Jimmy Mulidore: Jazz for the Ages (2012, Muldoon Jams): Plays reeds, from Youngstown, OH; lists 11 CDs on his website, but no dates, and only two show up at AMG. This was cut at four sites, two live, with different studio bands, the live cuts borrowing from both. He plays clarinet, tenor/alto/soprano sax, flute, and bass clarinet here, with clarinet enjoying a 4-3 edge over alto, soprano, and flute, with one cut each for the others. Mix of originals and sax standards ("Doxie," "Freedom Jazz Dance," lots of Coltrane starting with "Giant Steps"). Anita Lea sings one. Randy Brecker, Richie Cole, and Eric Alexander drop in -- only time my ears really pricked up was on the latter's solo. (Note: I also have, but haven't watched, one of his DVDs, Jimmy Mulidore and His New York City Jazz Band.) B

Negroni's Trio: On the Way (2012, AA): Pianist José Negroni, from Puerto Rico, and his son, drummer Nomar Negroni, plus various others. Fourth album as Negroni's Trio, which indeed started as a trio (with Jaime Rivera on bass), but is up to quintet now, with Josh Allen taking over the bass slot, Ed Calle on tenor and soprano sax, and Federico Britos on violin. Calle adds a sharp edge to the Latin rhythms, and the violin broadens the sound. B+(**)

Lou Pallo of Les Paul's Trio: Thank You Les (2012, Showplace Music Production): A tribute to pioneering electric guitarist Les Paul, from his long-time rhythm guitarist, the first album under Pallo's name. I've never quite known what to do with Paul, ultimately filing his records under "vocal-20" even thought he actual singer was his wife, Mary Ford, and that only for a small slice of a sprawling career. Best thing I ever heard him do was on Jazz at the Philharmonic's The First Concert, but I've never heard him do anything like that ever again. The one other record I can recommend is his collection with Ford, The Best of the Capitol Masters: 90th Birthday Edition (1948-57 [2005], Capitol), where their penchant for kitsch works out more often than not. But this tribute comes close, and may even win out in the end. The guest list salts the famous (Keith Richard, Steve Miller, Billy Gibbons, José Feliciano, Slash) with virtuosos (Bucky Pizzarelli, Frank Vignola) but works just as well with lesser knowns (Blondie Chaplin, Nicki Parrott!) and unknowns (Johnny A?). Again, the key is kitsch, from "Vaya Con Dios" to "Nature Boy" to "Smile" to "Over the Rainbow." And while I count thirteen guitarists, I really only hear one -- which sounds like Paul on a good day. B+(***)

Jason Robinson: Tiresian Symmetry (2012, Cuneiform): Tenor saxophonist, based in San Diego, teaches at UCSD, has a handful of albums since 2002. Goes big this time with a nonet -- more like a 5-horn octet but he doubled up at drums (George Schuller, Ches Smith). Robinson, JD Parran, and Marty Ehrlich play various reeds/flutes, Marcus Rojas and Bill Lowe double on tuba (with Lowe also playing bass trombone); also Liberty Ellman on guitar and Drew Gress on bass. Doesn't quite gel, but offers some moments, notably the guitar. B+(**)

Avery Sharpe: Sojourner Truth: ". . . Ain't I a Woman?" (2011 [2012], JKNM): Sojourner Truth (1797-1883) was the adopted name of a woman both into slavery in New York, emancipated in 1827; she became a notable abolitionist reader, an excerpt from her famous "Ain't I a Woman?" speech featured here. This is the bassist's 11th album since 1988, possibly his most ambitious, not just in its historical subject matter but in his expansion of the band -- Craig Handy (tenor and soprano sax) and Duane Eubanks (trumpet) join Onaje Allen Gumbs (piano) and Yoron Israel (drums), plus Jeri Brown recites and sings, very effective, touching especially on "Son of Mine" (Truth's son was illegally sold from NY to Alabama; she successfully sued to win back his freedom). B+(***)

Ricardo Silveira: Storyteller (1995 [2012], Adventure Music): Brazilian guitarist, ten albums since 1988, this reissue his latest before Mike Marshall's adventurous label picked him up in 2003. Some solo cuts, most with keybs and rhythm, upbeat, guitar striking as usual. B+(**)

Ezra Weiss: Our Path to This Moment (2012, Roark): Composer-pianist, b. 1979, has a half dozen albums since 2003, this one played by the Rob Scheps Big Band with "special guest" Greg Gisbert (trumpet) on 3 (of 7) cuts, and Weiss himself sitting down at the piano on three. Pretty average big band until they ignite on the finale ("Wayfaring Stranger"), led by the trumpet, presumably Gisbert. B+(*)

Some corrections and further notes on recent prospecting:

The Billie Davies Trio: All About Love (2012, Cobra Basement): In my review of the drummer's debut record, I referred to "him" and "his" when I should have written "her." Not sure how I got confused about that. B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Fado em Si Bemol: QB (Vidisco)
  • Jan Garbarek/Egberto Gismonti/Charlie Haden: Magica: Carta de Amor (ECM, 2CD)
  • Mac Gollehon: La Fama (self-released)
  • Donna Singer with the Doug Richards Trio: Kiss Me Beneath the Mistletoe (Emerald Baby)
  • Tim Sparks: The Nutcracker Suite (Tonewood)
  • Bobo Stenson Trio: Indicum (ECM)
  • Joey Stuckey: Mixture (Senate)
  • Wave Mechanics Union: Further to Fly (HX Music)
  • Pamela York: Lay Down This World: Hymns and Spirituals (Jazzful Heart)


  • K'Naan: Country, God or the Girl (A&M/Octone)
  • Macklemore & Ryan Lewis: The Heist (self-released)
  • Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Psychedelic Pill (Reprise, 2CD)

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Bill Laswell: Deconstruction: The Celluloid Recordings (1979-87 [1993], Restless, 2CD): A-

Expert Comments

I started writing this in response to Bob Uhl's drone concerns, but ultimately didn't post it.

The drone war seems to flow from two experiences. The idea that you can solve your problems by killing a few select individuals goes back to the early Cold War where the CIA successfully knocked off Patrice Lumumba but failed (repeatedly) with Fidel Castro. That led to more extensive assassination programs like Operation Phoenix in Vietnam, as well as the use of proxies like the military coups in Indonesia and Chile. This practice fell into disrepute, and was outlawed, in the mid-1970s, both because it never worked very well and because it worked counter to the way we wanted America to be viewed by the world.

That targeted assassination has come back into vogue is largely due to the Israel, starting with the assassination of UN envoy Count Folke Bernadotte in 1948. The pace of Israeli assassinations picked up after Munich in 1972, continued against the PLO in the 1980s and Hamas after Oslo, then escalated again after Sharon came to power. Neocons have long been envious of Israel's will to flex its power decisively, and targeted assassinations have long been a prime example, one they argued the US should follow.

The other experience comes from the Kosovo War, where the US did all its fighting from the air, the most important political result being that the war was fought with no US casualties -- given the usual Main Street ignorance of US foreign policy, that means no domestic opposition. The CIA's drone campaign promises similarly painless termination of problem individuals, but it hasn't gone unquestioned, especially by people who still believe that international law has some merit, and by those who worry over the concentration of life-and-death power in the executive.

Those points certainly have merit, although international law and institutions have become virtually taboo politically -- at least since the US refused to ratify the International Criminal Court and the Kyoto Protocol. But I can think of a couple more reasons I find even more troubling. One is that US drone strikes almost always are used in unstable nations and/or hostile nations -- otherwise one could simply arrest the target -- and they threaten to destabilize those nations further. The other is that I worry about the psychological effects of ordering such murders. Early in his term, Obama ordered the unprecedented killing of Somali pirates. After that he stepped up the drone strikes, and moved them into more precarious situations. With the execution of Osama Bin Laden, he's found it politically profitable to order even more killings.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:

  • John Holbo: Not Doing It Right:

    I'm increasingly concerned that a critical concern troll gap is opening up between liberals and conservatives. Liberals, due to our honorable tradition of not being able to take our own side in an argument, have a healthy aptitude for it. We love to talk up, in a 'more in sorrow than in anger' sort of way, the good sort of conservatism we'd like to have, if only we could. But conservatives don't really have a go-to fantasy of the 'good' liberal who needs to be rescued from the 'bad' liberal. This may be because conservative rhetoric -- the rhetoric of reaction -- is so dominated by slippery slope arguments. The bad thing about liberalism is its bad spirit, causing it to be the case that apparently moderate policies are, in effect, creeping Jacobinism, due to soul-destroying nihilism or resentment, what have you, that lurks behind. If the spirit of liberalism -- as opposed to its letter -- is the essential problem, per the slippery slope style, you can't switch gears smoothly, suddenly coming over all concerned that the spirit of liberalism is in danger of slipping. After all, how much worse could it get than communism and fascism? Where is there for liberalism to slip to but up?

    I hadn't really thought about "slippery slope" arguments, but that goes a long ways toward explaining both why conservatives overreact so extremely to moderate proposals (e.g., "Obamacare"), and also why they are so phobic of compromise: they never know which concession might start the avalanche. Of course, the original "slippery slope" arguments come from religion, specifically the idea that slight transgressions inexorably lead to ever greater sin. But the form is also a logical fallacy: it isn't a real argument, just a loud substitute, and that, too, suits the conservative mindset. After all, they don't have much to argue for. All they really care about is to defend the established order from all threats real or imagined. But that order changes over time, so don't expect consistency. In times past, conservatives went apoplectic in their defense of monarchy, slavery, patriarchy, racism, religion, capitalism -- any attribute they could attribute to the rich and powerful.

    Brad DeLong, citing Holbo, notes a "concern troll" asymmetry between liberals and conservatives:

    We have long warned conservatives -- completely for their own good, of course, and out of no motive than altruistic benevolence -- that they cannot and will not survive and flourish and that nobody will take them seriously as long as they promote and put forward as their speakers people as lacking in contact with reality as Ramesh "Romney did too tie Obama in the second debate!" Ponnuru, people as lacking in intellectual chops as Victor Davis "Ezra Klein is the real racist here!" Hanson, and people as lacking in arithmetic competence as Kevin "Dow 36000 by 2003!" Hassett.

  • Andrew Leonard: Kevin Hassett: Mitt's Dumbest Economist: The guy who predicted in 1999 that the Dow would keep climbing all the way up to 36,000 was one of the four big name economists Romney tapped for his economic plan. Leonard discusses Hassett's op-ed attempting to waffle away the growing income gap.

    Just one month ago, on Sept. 22, Mitt Romney spelled out what this election is all about. In an interview televised on "60 Minutes" Romney responded forthrightly to a question asking whether his 14 percent tax rate was "fair."

    Yeah, I -- I think it's -- it's the right way to encourage economic growth, to get people to invest, to start businesses, to put people to work.

    In other words, the question of "fairness" shouldn't even come into the conversation: Income inequality -- unfairness -- is good for America. Because that's what Romney is really saying. In the context of an era in which the richest Americans have grabbed a larger and larger share of the national income, Romney has consistently argued that it is appropriate for the wealthy to pay a smaller percentage of their income in taxes than the middle class or poor, because keeping the load light on the upper crust will be good for economic growth that benefits everyone. It's classic supply-side, trickle-down economics, warmed-over Reagan revolution boilerplate. And it perfectly represents the ruling philosophy of the U.S. for most of the last 30 years. [ . . . ]

    We live in quite a different world now, one in which the dominant ideology among corporate executives and the Republican Party holds that squeezing workers while generating maximum profits for shareholders is the best way to achieve economic growth. Few men who have run for president exemplify that ideology more than Mitt Romney. Most Republican politicians simply believe that keeping taxes low on the rich and screwing workers is the right economic philosophy. Romney actually did it.

    And that tells you all you need to know why one of his economic advisers is claiming that growing income inequality isn't actually happening. Because if it's not a problem, then it certainly can't be responsible for slow economic growth, and thus, can't negate the fundamental underpinnings of conservative economic dogma. If it isn't happening, we can cut taxes some more, slash government services and sail merrily forward on the path Ronald Reagan trail-blazed. That's what this election is about.

  • Jane Mayer: The Voter-Fraud Myth: Long piece, focuses on Hans von Spakovsky (Kurt Kobach will be jealous). Given how low voter turnout typically is in the US, you'd think people would be thinking about how to increase the vote, but the Republicans have figured out that the lower the turnout, the more likely they are to win, and they nothing but contempt for democracy.

    After Obama took office, von Spakovsky expanded his campaign for voter-I.D. laws and other ballot-security measures. One receptive forum, where he spoke repeatedly, was the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC -- a conservative, corporate-funded group that drafts legislative models for thousands of state lawmakers. In 2009, after the Supreme Court upheld Indiana's voter-I.D. law, ALEC drafted a sample voter-I.D. bill for other states to copy. An accompanying essay in the organization's newsletter explained how to frame such restrictions so that they would pass muster with the courts. Copycat bills emerged in state legislatures across the country. In 2011 and 2012, Republicans proposed sixty-two such laws, in thirty-seven state legislatures. News21 has reported that more than half of these bills were sponsored by associates of ALEC. Lisa Graves, the executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, which runs a Web site called ALEC Exposed, says, "Unlike a think tank, ALEC operationalizes the agenda, nationally."

  • Rick Perlstein: The Long Con: Mail-Order Conservatism:

    Mitt Romney is a liar. Of course, in some sense, all politicians, even all human beings, are liars. Romney's lying went so over-the-top extravagant by this summer, though, that the New York Times editorial board did something probably unprecedented in their polite gray precincts: they used the L-word itself. "Mr. Romney's entire campaign rests on a foundation of short, utterly false sound bites," they editorialized. He repeats them "so often that millions of Americans believe them to be the truth." "It is hard to challenge these lies with a well-reasoned-but-overlong speech," they concluded; and how. Romney's lying, in fact, was so richly variegated that it can serve as a sort of grammar of mendacity.

    Some Romney lies posit absences where there are obviously presences: his claim, for instance, that "President Obama doesn't have a plan" to create jobs. Other Romney fabrications assert presences where there are absences. A clever bit of video editing can make it seem like Romney was enthusiastically received before the NAACP, when, in fact, he had been booed. There are lies, damned lies, statistics -- like his assertion that his tax cut proposal won't have any effect on the federal budget, which the Tax Policy Center called "not mathematically possible." That frank dismissal vaulted the candidate into another category of lie, an attempt to bend time itself: Romney responded by calling that group "biased"; last year, he called them "objective."

    There are outsourced lies, like this one from deep in my files: in 2007, Ann Romney told the right-wing site that her husband had "always personally been prolife," though Mitt had said in his 1994 Senate race, "I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country." And then Ann admitted a few sentence later, "They say he flip-flopped on abortion. Well, you know what? He did change his mind."

    And then there's the most delicious kind of lie of them all, the kind that hoists the teller on his own petard as soon as a faintly curious auditor consults the record for occasions on which he's said the opposite. Here the dossier of Mittdacity overfloweth. In 2012, for example, he said he took no more federal money for the Salt Lake City Olympic Games than previous games had taken; a decade earlier, however, he called the $410 million in federal money he bagged "a huge increase over anything ever done before." [ . . . ]

    But that doesn't explain one overlooked proviso: these lies are as transparent to his Republican colleagues as they are to any other sentient being. Nor does it account for a still more curious fact -- for all the objections that conservatives have aired over Romney's suspect purity in these last months, not one prominent conservative has made Romney's dishonesty part of the brief against him.

    It's time, in other words, to consider whether Romney's fluidity with the truth is, in fact, a feature and not a bug: a constituent part of his appeal to conservatives. The point here is not just that he lies when he says conservative things, even if he believes something different in his heart of hearts -- but that lying is what makes you sound the way a conservative is supposed to sound, in pretty much the same way that curlicuing all around the note makes you sound like a contestant on American Idol is supposed to sound.

  • James Surowiecki: Beware of Romneycare:

    But the truth is that, despite the rhetoric, Romney's main concern isn't to bring down over-all health-care costs. In fact, he has regularly attacked one of the Affordable Care Act's most aggressive cost-cutting measures -- the independent board that can make binding recommendations on how to cut Medicare spending. What he wants is just to have the government less involved in health care. Insofar as his plans would lower federal health-care spending, it's not because of the power of the free market; it's because a Romney Administration would simply have the government do less. Romney would eliminate the Obamacare subsidies for health insurance. He would turn Medicaid into a block grant to the states and trim its annual budget, with the result that its funding would lag behind the rise in health-care costs. And, if he adopts his running mate Paul Ryan's premium-support plan for Medicare, he would make Medicare recipients pay higher premiums. With these changes, the government would spend less, but only because it would provide less, and Americans would get less.

For all you undecided voters, we'll break out the endorsements (or otherwise) here:

To repeat something I've more or less said before: I believe that the most important goal this year is to elect a Democratic House, second a Democratic Senate, then Obama. Unfortunately, Obama, like Clinton before him, isn't much help with Congress, but a Democratic Congress would be more effective with a Democrat in the White House (even Obama). I can understand not wanting to ratify Obama's first term, but at this point a third party is an idle gesture, and in general I'd rather see progressives run in the Democratic Party, where their natural constituency is, than away from the Party. And anything that validates or legitimizes the monstrosity that the Republican Party has become should be avoided at all costs. They need to be discredited, and while the easiest way to do that might be to let them run the country into the ground (as Bush did), the left can't afford to be complicit in that.

Links for further study:

Expert Comments

Posted this notice:

While working on other things, the comment count here has mushroomed. Turns out some of the other things could have been directed here, but meanwhile I direct you to the last three or more entries on my blog. What I haven't done is write up an elaborate rationalization why Obama hasn't really been quite as bad as many of my lefty friends think, but I could have done that, and I think credibly. The main thing I fault him for was not laying out the full case against his predecessor and the ideology that broke the nation (well, actually the world), and his hobbling of the Democratic Party which led up to the 2010 election fiasco -- totally explained, by the way, by the number of voters who dropped out. It will be interesting to see how many of those voters come back in 2012. Actually, it will be critical.

Earlier on, Bob Uhl (Earthbound Bob) wrote:

If factual criticism of Barack Obama offends you, you may want to stop reading here.

Before you cast your ballot for Obama, be sure you've at least considered that you'll be voting for a man who:

(1) expanded executive branch authority. Bush claimed the power to indefinitely detain; Obama claims the power to assassinate persons of his choosing (including American citizens) without judicial oversight or due process.

(2) appointed to his cabinet Wall Street insiders like Henry Paulson and Timothy Geithner, who have worked to satisfy the demands of the wealthiest at the expense of the rest of us.

(3) authorizes drone strikes that continue to kill innocent men, women, and children. His administration defined "militant" as any military-age male killed by a drone.

(4) imposes and brags about crippling sanctions on Iran that continue to kill innocent men, women, and children.

(5) aggressively prosecutes whistle-blowers. He has brought more charges against individuals under the Espionage Act than all prior presidents combined.

(6) takes credit for the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq when the deadline had been negotiated by the previous administration. The current president tried to keep troops there longer but gave up when the Iraqi government refused to grant them immunity from its legal system.

I expect many thumbs-down on this post. Still, an informed vote for Obama requires coming to terms with at least those six points.

Paulson was a Bush appointee, replaced by Geithner, who came from the NY Fed, not the banking world (although he was hugely sympathetic to the big bankers, essentially a case of regulatory capture). There were other Obama appointees who did come directly from the banks, and non-bankers like Larry Summers who was Treasury Secretary when the Glass-Steagall Act was repealed, setting off the gold rush that sunk the economy. Rahm Emmanuel was another who made much of his money in banking. Peter Orszag left his post as Budget Director for a windfall job at Citibank. So the details are off here, but the gist is right.

I do give Obama some credit for withdrawing troops from Iraq. He was under a lot of pressure to keep forces there, and resisted it -- although the resistance of the Maliki regime was more significant.

gdash wrote:

I'm not sure why leftists thought Obama was ever anything other than centrist, unless they were reading what they wanted to read into "hope" and "change".

As best I recall, I mostly saw Obama as an alternative to the nepotism that had taken over American politics, making the default Democratic Party choice the second coming of the Clinton dynasty, following two iterations of the Bush dynasty. Obama had ran on some ideas that were markedly more progressive than Clinton, and some that weren't. Still, it came as something of a shock how close his administration wound up resembling what Clinton's would have looked like. Even more shocking was the continuing between Bush and Obama, and not just on national security issues where the bureaucracy is so huge and persistent.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

The Deluge

With every big storm you find a lot of people wanting to talk about climate change again. Sandy, especially with its record coastal surges, is one such storm. In its wake, Andrew Leonard wrote:

It's normally impossible to attribute a specific storm to something with such a broad sweep as climate change, but Trenberth does a good job of putting the factors into perspective:

In general, hurricanes depend tremendously on the environment in which they form. In particular, they depend on the sea surface temperature. Since the 1970s, sea surface temperatures are higher because of climate change by about 1 degree Fahrenheit. The air above the ocean is warmer and moister as a result. Research shows that the water holding capacity of the atmosphere goes up by about 4 percent for a 1 degree rise in temperature.

Now there are fluctuations, of course, on top of that, from natural variability and day-to-day weather and El Nino events and things like that, but that's the general background. So as a general result we expect storms will be more intense, and in particular the rainfall will be heavier as a consequence. The extra moisture in the atmosphere provides fuel for the storm. The estimate is that there is an increase of about 5 to 10 percent in precipitation associated with climate change and we have seen examples of that in the last year or so with Hurricane Irene last year and Hurricane Isaac this year, where the main story was all about the flooding.

Now, on top of that there are some local natural variability components. The sea temperatures along the coast from the Carolinas up to Canada are quite warm, as much as 5 degrees Fahrenheit above normal and maybe 1 degree of that is climate change, but there are some extra elements that are helping to feed this storm and keep it alive. Here we are in late October and the sea temperatures are much more like early September, so that helps to fuel the hurricane part of the storm. But also at this time of year the jet stream is moving south from its summer location over the U.S.-Canadian border and the westerlys are more generally setting in across the country, and as a result there is a strong extratropical component to the storm. What we might call a big trough of low pressure has blended in with this storm and there is even some snow expected on the backside of this storm. So it's really a hybrid storm now; it's a hybrid extratropical storm.

Those numbers sound credible to me: global warming is small part of the storm, and it's easy to see how that small part makes big storms more likely, and given enough time inevitable. However, it's also easy to see why so many people don't get it: weather itself is so much more variable than climate, and unless you're a farmer or someone attuned to subtle climate disturbances weather is what you experience. You're used to temperatures changing 30 degrees or more in the course of a single day, so why should you get wound up over a barely perceptible 1 or 2 degree average change? Ocean levels vary several feet over a single tidal cycle, so how is a sea level rise of a few inches any different? Of course, it is different, as those inches get magnified by tides and low pressure and high winds into a record storm surge.

On the other hand, I'm convinced that there is a mind set that instinctively overreacts to climate change. I've noticed this most convincingly in paleontology, where every extinction event is bound to be written off to climate change before anyone can develop any actual evidence. I've never quite understood how this works, even if I can think of some specific cases where it might. Again, the problem is that climate changes are so much smaller than everyday weather changes, any shift of a degree or two is within what the species has adapted to. Many species can move, and some adapt fast enough. Clearly, there are cases where climate change cause species to go extinct: where mobility is blocked, or where new competitive pressures develop.

Still, we've found many examples where climate change hypotheses turn out to be unsatisfactory. The late Pleistocene extinctions of large animals have become a clear case, despite widespread and often very dramatic climate change. It turns out that what correlates far better with the extinctions is the arrival of human beings -- in Australia 40,000 years ago, in the Americas after 20,000 years ago, in isolated islands like New Zealand much later, in Mauritius (the dodo) in historical times. It may not be true that humans hunted down every last mammoth. It may even be true that their numbers were stressed by the end of the Ice Age, but it wasn't just climate.

Similarly, it's hard to imagine that any amount of climate change would decimate the human population. People have already adapted to nearly every plot of land on earth. Major climate change would push people to move, and cause local problems -- low-lying islands are an obvious concern -- but people would adapt. Property owners would be harder pressed: farms may no longer function as expected, and those premium seaside resorts may vanish under the rising tides. Expect an economic impact, especially from freak events like Sandy. But don't get overly worked up about "saving the earth" -- sheer hubris, especially when compared to a geologic record that shows the planet, if not necessarily much of its fauna, surviving far worse.

Bill McKibben is one such person who overreacts to climate change, especially in his sweeping metaphors like "the end of nature," but he's spent a lot of time and effort distilling the science. And he has a useful critique of the gospel of unlimited growth which is as far out of step with mainstream Clinton-Obama Democrats as it is with Republicans. One nit I'd like to pick is that it isn't human change to the environment didn't begin with greenhouse gas warming: we've been remolding the environment for hundreds, indeed thousands of years -- ever since we got rid of all those mammoths. For me, the full extent of human change on the landscape was driven home some years ago when I drove from Boston to Wichita and couldn't identify a single vista that would have been the same 500 years ago (even if you discount the missing bison).

It beggars the mind to understand how anyone, given how deeply humans have disturbed the world, can doubt that we have had a significant impact on the weather. If you want clear proof, you have to look no further than to the days after 9/11, when all private aircraft were grounded: over three days, the temperature rose three degrees simply because of how much sunlight was no longer deflected by vapor trails. No less clear is the physics of greenhouse gases, something we've understood for more than a century. As carbon dioxide concentration increased steadily over the 20th century, the question wasn't whether the physics was valid, just how the captured heat affected the weather. It's clear now that vapor trails, other pollution, and increased cloud cover helped mask the greenhouse effect -- less so in the Arctic, for reasons that should also be obvious -- but in the last 10-20 years the thermometer has been catching up with the physics, turning predictions we had blithely ignored into news, like last week.

People like Leonard jump on those occasions because the basic facts are so obvious, yet for so many people denial has become hopelessly ingrained -- so much so that they are unapproachable with facts, with reason, with anything. Even people who know better -- Barack Obama being a conspicuous example -- shy away from bringing up the subject, so fierce is the resistance. For many years that resistance was easily traced to a handful of carbon dioxide-producing companies, notably ExxonMobil -- they style themselves as oil, gas, and coal companies, after their immediate products, or as energy companies, after the service we obtain from their products, but in the final analysis most of what they produce ultimately wafts through the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (and a few other noxious chemicals). But in recent years, the company propaganda has gone viral, infecting the oxygen-starved brains of self-appointed conservatives -- you know, the people who'd rather wreck and waste things than conserve them.

I don't know, or at least can't explain, all of the reasons the right has for maximizing the transfer of fossil fuels to the atmosphere. In particular, I'm not sure whether the fundamentalist religious issue is that God gave us dominion over the earth and that makes it property so it's ours to ruin, or that the rapture is coming soon anyway, so why not use it before we lose it? (Either view is simply nuts.) Three reasons are clearer: one is the right's instinctive deference to the rich and powerful, a class that includes plenty of oil and coal magnates; another is that externalities -- unaccounted for side-effects of the sale of products -- are a form of market failure, but the right believes that markets are perfect so they persist in ignoring failures; and the third is that the only way to correct market failure is for a superior party like the government to step in and regulate the market, and that, of course, is the root of all evil.

Ergo, since the only way to arrest or limit climate change is for government to take a more involved role, in order to fight back the government the right winds up denying the rationale -- either that climate change is happening, or that anything can be done about it, at least any intrusion on their lifestyle that the American people will tolerate, at least as long as they don't know any better. Admittedly, the right isn't always consistent about these things: they rarely balk at using government force to limit things they don't like, such as drugs or illicit sex (or its enablers, like birth control and abortions). But oil and coal are things they like, because the far right was literally built on those fortunes.

But as we see -- and as Leonard, among others, keep reminding us -- the right's ability to snuff out debate over climate change in mainstream media and political circles doesn't suffice to make the weather behave itself. The issue keeps bouncing back, because it keeps affecting people in myriad ways. And when people get hurt by the weather, which in the US happens hundreds of times in dozens of ways every year, they tend to look to the government for help, partly because the market is no help, partly because charity is inefficient, but mostly because in the deep recesses of their minds they still harbor the far-left idea that a democratic government works for them. And the funny thing is that when disaster strikes, even confirmed ideological right-wingers -- the very people who laughed at Reagan's joke about the scariest thing you can hear being: "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help" -- demand to be helped.

At some point, you'd think the right would try to sort out its own schizophrenia: to recognize that sometimes markets don't work and sometimes government does and is necessary, and a long list of other related issues that keep driving them crazy. But for now they can't: they'd rather bury themselves in ignorance, blind themselves with superstitions, live in a Dark Age of their own delusion. Or so they think, when they think at all.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Buying Off the Wrecking Crew

I'm reminded of a scene from Blazing Saddles, where the townsfolk of Rock Ridge are advancing to lynch the newly appointed black sheriff (Cleavon Little), who gives them pause by pointing a gun at his own head and shouting, "Stop! One more step and the n----- gets it!" They do back down, and the sheriff survives; when he is safe, he notes his amazement over how dumb that mob was.

What reminded me of this was a piece in TPM, titled Romney: Elect Me or House GOP Will Wreck Economy. The analogies are inexact, but they bounce off the main absurdist points: making a threat against yourself to escape from the threat yourself. Romney is saying the House GOP is set on tanking the economy, and indeed they have worked hard at over the last two years, and that they will continue to do so as long as a Democrats is in the White House. And he's saying that the only thing that can save America from such a perilous fate is to elect a Republican president. What he doesn't say is whether he'd stand down the House's ridiculous demands -- in particular, there's no way a debt extension won't have to be passed in 2013, even if Romney doesn't manage to extend the Bush tax cuts -- or whether he'd avoid this extortion by simply giving in. What he'd like to believe is that the miracle of his victory would restore such confidence in the economy that unpleasant conflicts and compromises would be a thing of the past.

Of course, there is a much more straightforward solution to this extortion: vote the Republicans in the House out, so they can no longer threaten the nation and economy. However, it doesn't seem like anyone -- neither the press pundits nor the Democrats, least of all their putative leader -- thought of that, even though the Democrats won a solid majority stake in the House just four years ago. Redistricting has hurt, and the money gap favors those who suck up to the rich, but still few groups in American political life have accumulated a more disgraceful record than John Boehner, Eric Cantor, and their Tea Party chums. Rather than try to rally around the weak link (Obama) wouldn't it have made more sense for the Democrats to build their 2012 campaign around the Republicans' weak link: the need to put an end to this sort of extortion, and take back Congress and put it to work serving the American people?

One person has already bought Romney's elect-me-or-else logic: David Frum, who writes:

The congressional Republicans have shown themselves a destructive and irrational force in American politics. But we won't reform the congressional GOP by re-electing President Obama. If anything, an Obama re-election will not only aggravate the extremism of the congressional GOP, but also empower them: an Obama re-election raises the odds in favor of big sixth-year sweep for the congressional GOP -- and very possibly a seventh-year impeachment. A Romney election will at least discourage the congressional GOP from deliberately pushing the US into recession in 2013. Added bonus: a Romney presidency likely means that the congressional GOP will lose seats in 2014, as they deserve.

Frum taps into the conventional wisdom about the 2014 dynamics, but that came from the experience of blaming the president rather than the Congress for whatever goes wrong. It usually works that way, but the exception was the 1998 election, when Democrats gained in large part because the House Republican brain trust got preoccupied with Monica Lewinsky's deep throat. But why should 2014 matter anyway? If, like Frum, you recognize how destructive the House Republicans are, the obvious first step is to campaign against them, and the fallback is to elect a president who will limit the damage they can cause rather than one that enables them to cause more.

To believe that Romney is the solution to the problems posed by the House GOP, you have to: (a) believe that the Tea Party mobs aren't sincere -- that they're just out to hobble Obama -- and (b) that they will revert to sanity as soon as Romney wins; and (c) that Romney and Ryan are really sane moderates not in any way beholden to the party's radical fringe. None of these points are credible. Nor is the more sophisticated idea that because the pendulum has already swung so far to the right there's little more damage that conservative power can do. (For one example, Kansas was pretty far gone before Sam Brownback became governor, yet he's generated, and more often implemented than not, dozens of new ways to undermine civilization. Meanwhile, Sec. of State Kris Kobach announced that expected turnout this election will be 68%, down four points from 2008 and 2004. Clearly, he has a lot more voter turnout to suppress, but he's making progress in his quest to save Kansas from democracy.)

I saw an anti-Obama ad tonight, about how 8% unemployment, declining family income, various other things have become "the new normal" under Obama. The charges are sadly true, but how do you apportion blame? I tend to put a lot on Obama because I feel he hasn't fought hard and smart enough against those problems, but I put much more on the major shift toward inequality that really accelerated under Reagan and again under Bush, but which I date back much more to the Cold War and its focus on exalting capitalism above every other worthwhile American trait. But in the end, blame isn't a very useful way to decide this election. You also have to look at what the candidates and parties want to do. Romney either wants to do nothing -- he's on record as saying that the economy will pick up as soon as he's elected because then businessfolk will finally have a president they can trust -- or he's willing to bowl over for the whole gamut of crackpot nonsense that appeared in the Republican primary, or he's simply going to recreate the crony corruption of the Bush administration until it blows up in his face again -- this is the take you get by looking at the people who surround him.

Obama, on the other hand, seems content to just muddle along, keeping as much status quo intact as possible, occasionally showing a willingness to tackle a hard question -- health care, climate change, energy independence, the deficit -- if it isn't too much trouble and doesn't require him to take an unpopular stand. That he's become a controversial figure shows little more than that his very cautiousness and moderation only incites the Republicans to sharpen their attacks, to exaggerate their claims, to work up a frenzy over nothing at all substantive. That sounds to me like a recipe for four miserable years, but rewarding the Republicans after what they've done the last four years is unconscionable, even if you cannot imagine how much worse they can be.

Didn't use this:

I first voted in 1972 for, or more likely against, a wide range of candidates, and not a single person I voted for won. I doubt that I voted again until 1996, when I voted for Clinton over Dole -- I had voted against Dole in 1972 when he ran the dirtiest campaign I could remember against Bill Roy, one of the most talented and decent people who ever ran for office in Kansas. Ever since then I've taken what I could get, knowing I would disagree with whoever won but willing to -- for the brief time it takes to fill out a ballot -- work within the available choices. And usually, even if there was nothing to support, there was plenty to oppose.

Oct 2012 Dec 2012