March 2013 Notebook
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Saturday, March 30, 2013

Wrote some things in the 1960s, including the Spin poll, but didn't manage to wrap it up, so later . . .

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Rhapsody Streamnotes: March 2013

Pick up text here.

Expert Comments

Spin has a feature on "Top 100 Alternative Albums of the 1960s" -- done as a slide panel thing. (I had to temporarily enable gigya.com to get a page to appear, then by hand shuttled different slide numbers into the URL.) Might as well transcribe the list here.

  1. The Velvet Underground: White Light/White Heat (Verve, 1968) [A]
  2. The Stooges: The Stooges (Elektra, 1969) [A-]
  3. The Velvet Underground & Nico: The Velvet Underground & Nico (Verve, 1967) [A+]
  4. Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band: Trout Mask Replica (Straight, 1969) [A-]
  5. The Flying Burrito Brothers: The Gilded Palace of Sin (A&M, 1969) [A+]
  6. Nuggets: Original Artyfacts From the First Psychedelic Era (Elektra, 1972) [A]
  7. Ornette Coleman: Free Jazz (Atlantic, 1960) [A-]
  8. Terry Riley: In C (Columbia, 1968) [B+]
  9. Sun Ra: The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra, Vol. 1 & 2 (ESP-Disk, 1965) [B-]
  10. Can: Monster Movie (United Artists, 1969) [-+(A-)]
  11. Tropicalia Ou Panis Et Circensis (Philips, 1968) []
  12. The 13th Floor Elevators: The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators (International Artists, 1966) [+(A-)]
  13. Karlheinz Stockhausen: Kontakte (WERGO, 1964) []
  14. Nico: The Marble Index (Elektra, 1968) [-+(B+)]
  15. Leonard Cohen: Songs of Leonard Cohen (Columbia, 1967) [A]
  16. The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World (Third World, 1969) [B-]
  17. MC5: Kick Out the Jams (Elektra, 1969) [B+]
  18. The Zombies: Odessey and Oracle (CBS, 1968) [A-]
  19. Albert Ayler Trio: Spiritual Unity (ESP-Disk, 1964) [A]
  20. The Mothers of Invention: Freak Out! (1966) [B]
  21. Pink Floyd: The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (Columbia, 1967) [A]
  22. The Velvet Underground: The Velvet Underground (MGM, 1969) [A+]
  23. Van Dyke Parks: Song Cycle (Warner Bros., 1968) []
  24. The Fugs: The Fugs First Album (Folkways, 1965) [A-]
  25. Silver Apples: Silver Apples (Kapp, 1968) [B+]
  26. Love: Forever Changes (Elektra, 1967) [U+(A-)]
  27. Nick Drake: Five Leaves Left (Island, 1969) [B]
  28. John Fahey: The Dance of Death & Other Plantation Favorites (1964, Takoma) [-+(A-)]
  29. Blue Cheer: Vincebus Eruptum (Philips, 1968) [+(B+)]
  30. Steve Reich: Early Works (Nonesuch, 1987) []
  31. John Coltrane: Ascension (Impulse!, 1966) [B+]
  32. The Meters: The Meters (Josie, 1969) [+(B+)]
  33. White Noise: An Electric Storm (Island, 1969) [-]
  34. The Sonics: Here Are the Sonics (Etiquette, 1965) []
  35. Fairport Convention: Liege & Lief (Island, 1969) [B+]
  36. The Peter Brötzmann Octet: Machine Gun (FMP, 1968) [B+]
  37. The Holy Modal Rounders: The Moray Eels Eat the Holy Modal Rounders (Elektra, 1968) [B+]
  38. Desmond Dekker: This Is Desmond Dekkar (Trojan, 1969) [-]
  39. Sonny Sharrock: Black Woman (Vortex, 1969) [A-]
  40. The Godz: Contact High With the Godz (ESP-Disk) [-+(B+)]
  41. Alexander Spence: Oar (Columbia, 1969) []
  42. Anthony Braxton: For Alto (Delmark, 1969) [D]
  43. Nico: Chelsea Girl (Verve, 1967) [B+]
  44. Townes Van Zandt: For the Sake of the Song (Poppy, 1968)
  45. The Monks: Black Monk Time (International Polydor Production, 1965) [-]
  46. Ray Barretto: Acid (Fania, 1968) []
  47. Terry Riley: A Rainbow in Curved Air (CBS, 1969) [A-]
  48. The Watts Prophets: The Black Voices: On the Streets in Watts (FFRR, 1969) [-]
  49. Rotary Connection: Rotary Connection (Cadet Concept, 1968) []
  50. Françoise Hardy: Françoise Hardy (Disques Vogue, 1962) [-]
  51. The Mothers of Invention: We're Only in It for the Money (Verve, 1968) [B-]
  52. Scott Walker: Scott 2 (Smash, 1968) []
  53. The Incredible String Band: The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter (Elektra, 1968) [C]
  54. AMM: AMMMusic (Elektra, 1966) [B]
  55. Perrey-Kingsley: The In Sound From Way Out! (Vanguard, 1966) [-]
  56. Morton Subotnick: Silver Apples of the Moon (Nonesuch, 1967) []
  57. The Red Crayola: The Parable of Arable Land (International Artists, 1967) [-]
  58. The BBC Radiophonic Workshop: BBC Radiophonic Music (BBC, 1968) [-]
  59. Pierre Henry: Messe Pour Le Temps Présent (Philips, 1967) [-]
  60. Pauline Oliveros: Reverberations: Tape & Electronic Music 1961-1970 (Important, 2012) [-]
  61. Pharoah Sanders: Tauhid (Impulse!, 1967) [+(A-)]
  62. Dick Hyman: MOOG: The Electric Eclectics of Dick Hyman (Command, 1969) []
  63. Moondog: Moondog (Columbia Masterworks, 1969) []
  64. David Axelrod: Songs of Innocence (Capitol, 1968) [] [**:B-]
  65. The Spontaneous Music Ensemble: Karyobin (Island, 1968) [B+]
  66. The Balinese Gamelan: Music From the Morning of the World (Nonesuch, 1967) [-]
  67. Caetano Veloso: Caetano Veloso (Philips, 1969) []
  68. Karlheinz Stockhausen: Gruppen/Carré (Deutsche Grammophon, 1968) [-]
  69. The Roland Kirk Quartet: Rip, Rig & Panic (Limelight, 1965) [A]
  70. Karen Dalton: It's So Hard to Tell Who's Going to Love You the Best (Capitol, 1969) [+(B-)]
  71. Eric Dolphy: Out to Lunch! (Blue Note, 1964) [A-]
  72. The Seeds: The Seeds (GNP Crescendo, 1966) []
  73. Amon Düül II: Phallus Dei (Liberty, 1969) []
  74. Pentangle: Basket of Light (Transatlantic, 1969) []
  75. Brigitte Bardot et Serge Gainsbourg: Bonnie and Clyde (Fontana, 1968) [-]
  76. Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band: Gorilla (Liberty, 1967) [-+(B+)]
  77. Back From the Grave Volume One: Raw 'n' Crude Mid-60s Garage Punk! (Crypt, 1983) [-]
  78. Nihilist Spasm Band: No Record (Allied Record Corporation, 1968) [-]
  79. Tod Dockstader: Eight Electronic Pieces (Folkways, 1961) [-]
  80. Cecil Taylor: Unit Structures (Blue Note, 1966) [B+]
  81. The United States of America: The United States of America (Columbia, 1968) [B]
  82. The Electric Prunes: Release of an Oath (Reprise, 1968) [-]
  83. The Roscoe Mitchell Art Ensemble: Congliptious (Nessa, 1968) []
  84. Kim Fowley: Outrageous (Imperial, 1968) [-]
  85. Joe Cuba Sextet: Wanted Dead or Alive (Bang! Bang! Push, Push, Push) (Fania, 1967) [-]
  86. Sun Ra and His Solar Arkestra: Other Planes of There (Saturn, 1966) [B+]
  87. John Lennon and Yoko Ono: Unfinished Music No. 2: Life With the Lions (Zapple, 1969) []
  88. Ornette Coleman: Town Hall 1962 (ESP-Disk, 1965) [B+]
  89. Babatunde Olatunji: Drums of Passion (Columbia, 1960) [B+]
  90. Harry Partch: The World of Harry Partch (Columbia, 1969) [A]
  91. Os Mutantes: Os Mutantes (Polydor, 1968) [B+]
  92. The Monkees: Head (Colgems, 1968) [-]
  93. Pearls Before Swine: One Nation Underground (ESP-Disk) [-] [**:B+]
  94. Pärson Sound: Pärson Sound (Subliminal Sounds, 2001) [A-]
  95. Conlon Nancarrow: Studies for Player Piano (Columbia Masterworks, 1969) [-]
  96. Alan Watts: OM: The Sound of Hinduism (Warner Bros., 1967) [-]
  97. Brigitte Fontaine: Comme ŕ la Radio (Saravah, 1969) [-]
  98. Mulatu Astatke: Afro-Latin Soul Vol. 1 (Worthy, 1966) [-] [**:A-,A-]
  99. Cromagnon: Orgasm (ESP-Disk, 1969) [-]
  100. Marshall McLuhan: The Medium is the Massage (Columbia, 1968) [-]

Grade tabulations:

A+   3
A    7
A-   9  =  19
B+  14
B    4
B-   3  =  40
C+   0
C    1
C-   0  =  41
D+   0
D    1
D-   0  =  42
U    1  =  43
[]  26  =  69
[-] 31  = 100

Entries by Jason Gubbels:

#80 Cecil Taylor - Unit Structures (Blue Note, 1966)
No reason to mince words: Pianist Cecil Taylor remains the most uncompromising performer in jazz. When his ferocious genius was compared to Boulez or Messiaen, he'd angrily ask what was wrong with Duke Ellington. If adherents praised his percussive keyboard technique, he'd retort, "technique is a weapon to do whatever must be done." And he paid dearly for such prickliness, washing dishes to pay the rent between gigs. But on Unit Structures, recorded during his brief Blue Note tenure, he managed to articulate how jazz performance might internalize the European academy while remaining resolutely suspicious of notation and composition. Guiding long-time collaborators Jimmy Lyons, Henry Grimes, and Andrew Cyrille by ear, Taylor cast himself as "catalyst" rather than band leader, shrinking an orchestra's power down to a sextet, wondering aloud why chord changes need dictate improvisational direction even while proving swing is so much more than tapping one's foot. He wouldn't enter another recording studio until 1978.

#36 The Peter Brötzmann Octet - Machine Gun (BRÖ, 1968)
A mustachioed Wuppertal autodidact assembles an international octet in May of 1968, the year of the Paris strikes and the peak of Vietnam, and detonates the strongest blast of "energy music" yet unleashed upon a bewildered jazz audience. This three-track political statement -- boasting the leader's own silkscreen artwork, barely rising above bootleg sound quality, printed in small numbers and mostly sold at Brötzmann's gigs -- would serve as ground zero for European free jazz. The lineup came to define the continental underground: Evan Parker, Willem Breuker, Han Bennink, Peter Kowald, Fred Van Hove. And as music, the title track was unrelenting in ways that rock bands couldn't manage: 18 minutes of continual sound blasts, lung-collapsing massed skronk that avoids any semblance of melodic content until the 15-minute mark, when a merciful leader briefly let his cavalry indulge in some bar-band-from-hell swing. Possibly the most raging piece of jazz to this day.

#19 Albert Ayler - Spiritual Unity (ESP-Disk, 1964)
At least Coltrane and his post-bop jazz peers were given the benefit of pulling a Picasso after they tired of playing it straight. Albert Ayler's roots were in R&B, meaning charges of charlatanism dominated the critical discourse around him. The reactionaries had a point, for Ayler sounded like no other horn player, rarely explaining his methods and encouraging listeners to focus on "feelings" rather than "notes." The second release from the only label in town willing to cut him a check found Ayler's unsettling tenor sax screaming atop a rhythm section so unmoored from traditional meter that casual listeners heard only chaos. Yet Gary Peacock and Sunny Murray knew how to keep time as surely as Ayler himself loved a good melody -- why else would the maestro cover his best tune ("Ghosts") twice on a four-cut album? Soon, the quartet would expand into an ensemble, quoting brass bands and Irish jigs. But here Ayler speaks in tongues the way few of his rivals ever dared.

#8 Terry Riley - In C (Columbia, 1968)
At the height of New York serialism's chilly grip on contemporary composition, Terry Riley cheerfully spoke out of turn with pure West Coast optimism. If other composers paid lip service to jazz improvisation or Indian drones, Riley integrated non-Western techniques into his proto-hippie philosophy, throwing out the classical script via a disarmingly simplistic one-page score, first unveiled in 1964 and put down for posterity on this transcendent, spellbinding recording. With a wit reminiscent of fellow Californian John Cage, the piece called for "about 35 people" to cycle through 53 "cells" at no fixed tempo for any length of time until a satisfactory conclusion, anchored by a steady eighth-note piano pulse, preferably played by a "beautiful girl." Cerebral yet democratic, Riley's magic formula allowed great flexibility between performances while remaining immediately identifiable, a hypnotic pile-up full of accidental melodies and brief epiphanies. That pulse would help light the spark of American minimalism, while serialism languishes in dusty academia.

#7 Ornette Coleman - Free Jazz (Atlantic, 1960)
There was always more bop and blues within Ornette Coleman's early quartet dates than scandalized traditionalists would admit. But when the alto saxophonist summoned a double quartet to New York's A&R Studios for a single 37-minute track of frenetic improv (the longest continuous cut in jazz history at the time), he was venturing into uncharted territory. Careful listening revealed a collectivist ethos straight out of Dixieland, two drummers swinging like crazy, and a thematic phrase anybody could whistle, provided you were still listening when it surfaced deep inside the performance. But at the time, nobody was talking about Dixieland or swing or melody -- they were either fleeing the cacophony or seeing the light. Five decades and many variations later, the shock tactics of Free Jazz have become part of our DNA: If you think head-solo-head arrangements are passé, you just tipped your hat to the master.

I commented:

I've rated 42 albums (of 100) on Spin's list, plus have "Forever Changes" in the long-term unrated pile -- 19 A- or better, 14 B+, 9 lower down to D ("For Alto," a smart and gutsy choice, just one I've never been able to stand listening to). Probably have more/less good compilations intersecting another 5-10. Have owned at some point a couple more that I never graded ("Rotary Connection" for one). I read the McLuhan book, and saw the film, but never listened to the album. Read several books by Watts without even knowing he had an album.

Not sure what "alt" means from all this: the electronica is pretty high-brow, world mostly means French, the jazz is avant but spotty (and more Brit/European than usual, while the rock is less). Six ESP-Disk records, including the wrong Sun Ra.

Jason Gubbels:

I heard my ears ringing, so I'd better chime in quick. My role on this SPIN project (sorry, the all-caps is habit by now) was small -- I just asked to write about a few that were offered on a large list (one that was not featured was Miles Davis' "In A Silent Way," which I suggested be added, and which I didn't see on the final list).

My main quibble with the project is the use of the word "alternative," which seems a little meaningless in this context. But SPIN has a lot invested in that term (they might own the patent on it, for all I know). A far more accurate term might have been "avant-garde," in the original sense of the word, namely, challenging shocks of the new that have since become internalized within the pop framework (one might even say normalized and familiarized). If you're the type of critic who thinks everything popular is suspect, then, yes, this sort of a project can be a way to re-write history. But that's not how I approached the list in general, and certainly not the little blurbs I turned in. I'm more fascinated by the way yesterday's avant-garde becomes today's daily soundtrack. To me, it speaks to the power of a marketplace and the appetites of a consumer base so voracious for new sounds that everything eventually becomes fair game.

I agree with Ham that trying to determine whether Pharaoh Sanders was "more alternative" than Wayne Shorter is a fool's errand. Certainly more people were buying Shorter than Sanders records. Yet Shorter's sales were eclipsed by, say, the Byrds' sales. But if you want to talk about which of the two saxophonists were directly challenging accepted modes of jazz communication, Sanders becomes your man.

But again, this gets tricky. Sanders can blow your mind the first time you hear him really venturing into the realms of Out. But Shorter was doing equally amazing things on his solo albums and within the Davis Quintet at the same time -- more academic, perhaps, than Sanders' sanctified energy music, but in its own way, equally radical. And that's the big problem with lists like these, because they posit that radicalism always sounds radical. [**EDIT: I see Bradley summarized this effortlessly while I was blathering on and on]

Last thing I'll say here is that even though the point of this project was to highlight how far-out and challenging these artists were, I did my best in the tiny space allotted (150 words max) to also note how much Ayler and Ornette were beholden to melody and swing. So, yeah, a deeply imperfect list. But I don't know -- does the world need another Greatest Albums of the 1960s list that isn't qualified in some sort of limiting way?

Bradley Sroka (comment Gubbels refers to above):

Also, concerning Pharaoh Sanders, he was the guy on those wild Coltrane records -- Shorter was on those cerebral Miles records. Big difference. Plus he made Karma, which sounds more "alternative" to me, so I'm surprised they chose Tauhid. Speak No Evil and Juju make sense as jazz albums. Sanders' are a little odder -- less virtuosic, more into capturing the world outside of jazz than Shorter. No? (EDIT: The Impulse Story, while only 4 tracks long, sums him up pretty well.)

Christopher Monsen:

Re: Sun Ra: go for the early stuff first. Super Sonic Jazz is a good'un, and Jazz In Silhouette swings like a mother, and is a real classic. The Futuristic Sounds of . . . also has its moments. For the later stuff, Lanquidity is really good. I don't mind Other Planes . . . , but I'm wary of the second Heliocentric disc. There's also The Singles (on Evidence), which is much loved by many, and well worth checking out.

I pulled out the jazz subset of the list (16 albums): Ornette Coleman (2), Sun Ra (2), Albert Ayler, John Coltrane, Peter Brötzmann, Sonny Sharrock, Anthony Braxton, AMM, Pharoah Sanders, Spontaneous Music Ensemble, Roland Kirk, Eric Dolphy, Cecil Taylor, Roscoe Mitchell. Five of those records got Penguin Guide crowns (Ayler, Coltrane, Brötzmann, Braxton, Dolphy). The two most obvious mistakes were on ESP-Disk: Coleman's Town Hall 1962 (look for At the Golden Circle, Stockholm), and Sun Ra's Heliocentric Worlds (I'm also not so keen on Other Planes of There, but it's much better; my top-rated 1960s Sun Ra is Cosmic Tones for Mental Therapy/Art Forms for Dimensions Tomorrow, two 1961-63 albums reissued on one CD in 1992). He did better stuff both before and after the 1960s.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Downloader's Diary (28): March 2013

Insert text from here.


This is the 28th installment, (almost) monthly since August 2010, totalling 695 albums. All columns are indexed and archived here. You can follow A Downloader's Diary on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 21188 [21164] rated (+24), 595 [586] unrated (+9).

Relatively light week, or maybe just a lot of distractions. One of my cousins, George Edward Hull, died so I attended to various family matters. Finished my project to add some wing shelves around the medicine cabinet in the downstairs half-bath. Listened to the Machito Properbox and wrote it up for April's Recycled Goods. Spent some time fleshing out the Rhapsody Streamnotes March file, which I'll post later this week.

Not really enough Jazz Prospecting below to bother with, but I might as well get it out of the way. Jazz Prospecting from Feb. 2012 up to this week now has its own archive section. (Before that, Jazz Prospecting was collected with the Jazz Consumer Guide, so there was one prospecting file per finished column.)


Michael Blanco: No Time Like the Present (2012 [2013], Cognitive Dissonance): Bassist, based in New York, has a previous album on FSNT. New one is a sleek postbop quintet, with John Ellis on tenor and soprano sax, Jonathan Kreisberg on guitar, David Cook on piano, and Mark Ferber on drums. Ellis does a nice job rifling through the changes. Blanco composed all the tunes, reserving one for his solo spot. B+(*)

Stan Bock & the New Tradition: Feelin' It (2012 [2013], OA2): Plays trombone and euphonium, studied music at Fort Hays State and University of Northern Iowa, spent 19 years in the USAF band; moved to Portland, OR, and has three albums since 2003. Sextet, with two saxes (Renato Caranto and John Nastos), keybs (Clay Giberson), electric bass (Tim Gilson) and drums (Christopher Brown, also credited with alto sax). Bock wrote 4 of 13 songs, Nastos adding 3, Giberson 1, with covers from Cole Porter to Joe Zawinul to Leonard Bernstein. First cut is engagingly slippery, but much of the rest is more conventional. B+(*)

Hungry Cowboy: Dance (2010 [2013], Prom Night): Quartet led by Jacob Wick (trumpet, compositions), with Briggan Krauss (sax), Jonathan Goldberger (guitar), and Mike Pride (drums) -- Krauss you know from Sex Mob, and Pride shows up lots of places. First group album; Wick seems to have a couple other albums (duo with Andrew Greenwald, trio with Jeff Kimmel and David Moré, group Tres Hongos and another, White Rocket). Avant horn split, loses a bit when they slow down. [bandcamp] B+(**) [advance]

Jack Mouse Group: Range of Motion (2012 [2013], Origin): Drummer, did a tour with the USAF's Falconaires. First album; has a handful of side credits, half behind singer Janice Borla. He wrote all the pieces here (sharing one), for a typical postbop group: Scott Robinson (saxes, flute), Art Davis (trumpet), John McLean (guitar), Bob Bowman or Kelly Sill (bass). Some nice passages, especially for the horns. B+(*)

Dick Reynolds: Music & Friends (2012 [2013], Origin): Pianist, based in Chicago, seems to be his first album although he's an old-timer, a professional musician at least since the 1960s. He wrote all the pieces here, several explicitly tributes (Ruben Alvarez, Johnny Frigo, Nancy Wilson, Carol Ettman, Ben Mocini, Stan Getz), and his friends list is extensive. The four big band cuts are crackling, the piano solo at the end a sweet coda. B+(*)

Twins of El Dorado: Portend the End (2012 [2013], Prom Night): Art song duo, Kristin Slipp on voice (singing is a stretch) and Joe Moffett on trumpet, with a guest lyric from Emily Dickinson. Slipp's previous credits include three albums with Cuddle Magic. This is pretty arch, although the trumpet helps. [bandcamp] B-

Mark Weinstein: Todo Corazon: The Tango Album (2012 [2013], Jazzheads): Flute player, sixteen albums since 1996, figured out early that Latin music suits his instrument, and has delved most deeply into Cuban music, with forays into Brazil and now Argentina. Can't fault his planning: Raul Jaurena is the real thing on bandoneon, and he hired bassist Pablo Aslan to arrange the classic tunes. Still comes off awfully flat. Maybe it's the flute? B


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Berserk! (Rare Noise): advance, May 6
  • Will Calhoun: Life in This World (Motéma): advance, May 14
  • David's Angels: What It Seems (Kopasetic)
  • The Engines w/John Tchicai: Other Violets (Not Two)
  • The Bill Horvitz Expanded Band: The Long Walk (Big Door Prize)
  • Billy Lester: Storytime (JKA): May 7
  • Chuck Owen & the Jazz Surge: River Runs (Summit)
  • Ivo Perelman: Serendipity (Leo)
  • Ivo Perelman: The Edge (Leo)
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: The Art of the Duet, Volume One (Leo)
  • Reg Schwager/Michel Lambert: Trio Improvisations (Jazz From Rant)
  • Craig Taborn Trio: Chants (ECM): advance, April 16
  • The Verve Jazz Ensemble: It's About Time (self-released)

Purchases:

  • Ashley Monroe: Like a Rose (Warner Brothers)
  • Kacey Musgraves: Same Trailer Different Park (Mercury Nashville)

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:


  • John Cassidy: Whither the GOP? A Republican Report Worth Reading: Well, not really. Focus groups show the Party to be "scary," "narrow-minded," and "out of touch," and some of the Party apparatchiki think they'd like to change it, but what they offer is cosmetic -- "we need a Party whose brand of conservatism invites and inspires new people to visit us." Problem is, the Republicans made most of their gains when people didn't realize where the party is going, and now that the party is, as even the report puts it, "driving around in circles on an ideological cul-de-sac," it's become all too clear what the Party stands for.

    It remains to be seen how these strictures go down with the billionaires that increasingly fund the Republican Party. But in this report, there is a definite recognition that the party's image as a tool of the one per cent is doing it great damage. Interestingly, this skepticism towards being tied to the ultra-rich extends to the activities of the Super PACs, such as those controlled by Karl Rove and the Koch brothers, which last year spent about a billion dollars in advertising in swing states, and all to no avail. Unless the activities of "lone wolf groups" are coördinated with the activities of the party, the report warns, they are "more likely to waste their donors' money and act in a redundant, unhelpful manner."

  • Noura Erakat: Rethinking Israel-Palestine: Beyond Bantustans, Beyond Reservations: Lots of things here, including some points on Israeli citizens who happen not to be Chosen People:

    In 2011, Israel passed the State Budget Law Amendment. Popularly known as the Nakba Law, it penalizes, by revoking state funding, any institution that either challenges Israel's founding as a Jewish and democratic state or commemorates Israel's Independence Day as one of mourning or loss. The threat any such commemoration poses is a challenge to Israel's narrative of righteous conception.

    The Prawer Plan, named after its author, former deputy chair of the National Security Council Ehud Prawer, seeks to forcibly displace up to 70,000 Palestinian Bedouins from their homes and communities in the Negev Desert to urban townships to make room for Jewish-only settlements and a forest. The plan, approved in September 2011, has no demographic impact, as these Palestinians are already Israeli citizens. It does, however, violently sever these Bedouin communities from their agricultural livelihoods and centuries-long association with that particular land.

    Similarly, in 2001 the High Court of Justice rejected an appeal from internally displaced Palestinians to return to the villages of Ikrit and Kafr Bir'im, near the Lebanon border, from which they were forcibly displaced in 1948. Like the Negev-based Palestinians, these Palestinians are Israeli citizens and therefore pose no demographic threat. In fact, they currently live only miles away from their demolished villages. Their return to them only threatens a Zionist narrative that Palestine was a land without a people for a people without a land. To further the erasure, Israel plans on building Jewish settlements where these communities once lived.

    Israel's land and housing planning policies in the Galilee demonstrate that the threat is not just about demographics and memory but the cohesion of Palestinians within the state, and the potential for Palestinian nationalism. In Nazareth, home to 80,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel, bidding rights for public building opportunities are reserved for citizens who have completed military service. This excludes nearly all of Nazareth's Palestinian population, who do not serve in the Israeli military for historical and political reasons. In other Galilee cities, "Admissions Committees" can legally exclude Palestinians from their residential communities for being "socially unsuitable" based on their race or national origin alone. Together with its policy of Jewish settlement expansion within Israel as well as a matrix of similarly discriminatory urban planning laws, Israel forces its Palestinian citizens to live in noncontiguous ghettos throughout the state.

    Until 1967, Palestinian "citizens of Israel" were second class, subject to military rule. Later in 1967, Israel invaded Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, seizing chunks of land and established military control over anyone who failed to flee, much like their earlier exercise but even more repressive. At the time, it was widely assumed that Israel would realize that the occupied territories didn't fit with the model of a democratic Jewish state, so would be swapped out for peace guarantees -- as happened with Egypt, although only after a further round of war. However, there were powerful groups within Israel who hated the idea of ever giving up land, and they worked hard to make "land-for-peace" and "two-state solution" impossible. Erakat explains that they succeeded:

    Nevertheless, Israel has obliterated the two-state option since the signing of Oslo in 1993. It sanctioned, funded and encouraged, as a matter of national policy, the growth of the settler population in the West Bank, including occupied East Jerusalem, from 200,000 to nearly 600,000. It built 85 percent of the separation barrier on occupied West Bank land, circumscribing its largest settlement blocs and effectively confiscating 13 percent of the territory. Rather than prepare Area C (62 percent of the West Bank, now under interim Israeli civil and military jurisdiction) for Palestinian control, it has entrenched its settlement-colonial enterprise. Israel's siege has exacerbated the cultural, social and national distance between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. And its intense Judaization campaign in East Jerusalem has accelerated the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians there, hardly preparing it to become the independent capital of the future Palestinian state.

    As the settlements chopped up the West Bank, some people on both sides started advocating a "one-state solution" whereby Israel would keep its settlements but grant citizenship to the remaining people living in the seized territories. Many Zionists treat this proposal as such a non-starter that even mention of it gets you tossed from the room. In a two-state scenario based on 1967 borders with return of the 1947-49 refugees barred, Jews would enjoy a large majority, but adding in the occupied territories changes the balance to 5.9 million Jews vs. 6.1 million non-Jews, threatening the Jewish State's democratic trappings. Netanyahu and his cohort are unwilling either to part with land or to unify its people, so they pretend they can keep their current two-caste system working indefinitely. And the more Jews appear as overlords in the occupied territories, the more they target Israel's "Palestinian citizens" -- it's hard to check the racism, the brutality, the paranoia at the Green Line, so it's no surprise that Israel's occupation mentality corrupts the whole country.

  • Paul Krugman: Marches of Folly: Noting the tenth anniversary of Bush's ill-fated invasion of Iraq:

    There were, it turned out, no weapons of mass destruction; it was obvious in retrospect that the Bush administration deliberately misled the nation into war. And the war -- having cost thousands of American lives and scores of thousands of Iraqi lives, having imposed financial costs vastly higher than the war's boosters predicted -- left America weaker, not stronger, and ended up creating an Iraqi regime that is closer to Tehran than it is to Washington.

    So did our political elite and our news media learn from this experience? It sure doesn't look like it.

    The really striking thing, during the run-up to the war, was the illusion of consensus. To this day, pundits who got it wrong excuse themselves on the grounds that "everyone" thought that there was a solid case for war. Of course, they acknowledge, there were war opponents -- but they were out of the mainstream.

    The trouble with this argument is that it was and is circular: support for the war became part of the definition of what it meant to hold a mainstream opinion. Anyone who dissented, no matter how qualified, was ipso facto labeled as unworthy of consideration. This was true in political circles; it was equally true of much of the press, which effectively took sides and joined the war party.

    CNN's Howard Kurtz, who was at The Washington Post at the time, recently wrote about how this process worked, how skeptical reporting, no matter how solid, was discouraged and rejected. "Pieces questioning the evidence or rationale for war," he wrote, "were frequently buried, minimized or spiked."

    Closely associated with this taking of sides was an exaggerated and inappropriate reverence for authority. Only people in positions of power were considered worthy of respect. Mr. Kurtz tells us, for example, that The Post killed a piece on war doubts by its own senior defense reporter on the grounds that it relied on retired military officials and outside experts -- "in other words, those with sufficient independence to question the rationale for war."

    As I recall, at the time it was not difficult to find dissenting views, but they were always hard pressed to keep up with the avalanche of pro-war propaganda, disadvantaged by lack of access to sources, and by being shut out of the limited media sources that seem to sway Washington, as opposed to public, opinion. But more than media complicity, the one thing that stands out in my mind as allowing Bush to get away with all the lies and nonsense was the administration's ability to steer the entire cast of Democratic Part 2004 presidential aspirants to vote for the war: Kerry, Gephardt, Edwards, Daschle, Clinton, Schumer, Biden, Dodd, Lieberman. None wanted to be caught up opposing a successful war -- as had happened to some Democrats opposed to the first Iraq war in 1990, the definition of success being rather murky there -- and none had the foresight to see how this war would turn out differently.

    Krugman likens this group-think to the current nonsense he struggles with daily on the mass misunderstanding of Very Serious Persons of basic macroeconomics. Valid complaint, perhaps even clearer here how moneyed interests have corrupted even basic science for their own purposes, and how successfully the elite media has wrapped itself around Washington's fickle brains.

  • MJ Rosenberg: The Times Eviscerates the Occupation: Use this link as an introduction to the long New York Times piece by Ben Ehrenreich: Is This Where the Third Intifada Will Start?:

    The best news about the Ehrenreich piece is that he simply describes the occupation in all its ugliness, forcing the reader to forget for a time all the propaganda about Palestinians and instead focus on the conditions Palestinians are subjected to simply because the settlers (and the Israeli government that supports them) wants their land. And, beyond that, he defends non-violent resistance to the occupation as the one means that can end it. (He quotes one Israeli army official saying that he prefers dealing with resisters who shoot, "you have the enemy, he shoots at you, you have to kill him." But he is confounded by non-violent resistance. Another is quoted as saying, "We don't do Gandhi very well." In short, Ehrenreich eviscerates the occupation and describes how it can be ended.

    Also see Rosenberg for his review of Obama's Israel-Palestine trip, No Big Surprises but He Accomplished His Goal. The key point here was when Obama "compared the Palestinian struggle to the civil rights movement in America, invoking his own daughters as beneficiaries of that struggle." This doesn't inspire me with much confidence, but it does clearly focus on equal rights, as opposed to the caste regime that Israel has constructed.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Apocalypse

In my books research, I came across a new anti-Obama hate book, David Harsanyi's Obama's Four Horsemen: The Disasters Unleashed by Obama's Reelection (2013, Regnery). The book description (at Amazon) reads:

Conquest, Famine, War, Death -- the four horsemen are coming, in the form of the national debt, widespread dependence on government, turmoil in the Middle East, and the expansion of the bureaucratic state. . . .

Under Obama, America has become a land of more dependence, more hand-outs, more federal programs, and more government agencies. The great danger is that Americans have gotten used to it. Many people today expect, as a matter of fact, that the government will hand them health insurance, student loans, birth control, and anything else they might need or desire -- while they are increasingly numb to the pernicious creep of the bureaucratic state and the alarming escalation of unsustainable spending and debt.

Meanwhile, powerful forces abroad seek to destroy American and Western culture while Obama has sat on his thumbs and looked the other way, tossing out politically correct platitudes when asked about his response to their open threats and aggression.

I don't really feel like arguing these points, even though they are pretty severely disconnected from reality. The national debt, for example, is a problem -- and even then not much of one -- only if its growth isn't matched by growth of the economy, so attempts to "solve the debt crisis" by austerity, forcibly slowing down the economy, are counterproductive and irresponsible. One worries here that Obama and the Democrats, having bought into long-term national debt problem, will shy away from policies that would actually provide the necessary growth.

As for all those "takers" -- you know, the 47% who pay no income tax but live high on government hog -- that shouldn't be something one can argue about. If all those people consciously depend so much on government largesse, they should be aware enough to vote to protect their interest, since their votes and the national conscience are the only things that keep the dole coming. But do they vote? Most don't: because they aren't all that impressed by the federal bounty and/or because they regard the politicians of both parties are crooked.

The Inside Flap explains the four horsemen somewhat differently, with debt and dependency followed by "surrender" -- "the Obama administration kowtows to dictators, apologizes to those who hate us, refuses to defend American ideals, and is actively working to undo our superpower status" -- and "death" -- abortion, of course, which under Obama "is a positive good, to be subsidized and even exported at taxpayer expense." One only wishes, but that's another story.

As I've explained before, the whole mantra that "Obama hates America" is ridiculous from the start. America elected Obama president, twice, by substantial margins. How could someone with the ego to run for president have so little self-regard to hate a country that honors him so? You have to wonder if the real enemies of the real America -- the one that twice voted Obama president -- aren't the ones who hate Obama, and who have graduated from hating the leader to loathing all who voted for him. The right-wing may still love their idea of America -- it's just the folks who live and work here they can't stand.

Consider this: one of Amazon's reviewers quotes the book (p. 54):

Big government makes us poorer; it does so by making us less moral. It undermines our work ethic; it rewards irresponsibility (through everything from mortgage bailouts to subsidized contraception); it promotes envy and greed; it creates enemy classes or groups (like the wealthy) and encourages us all to demonize them and take from them.

Aside from the nonsensical evidence -- those mortgage bailouts never happened (unless, of course, you owned a bank), and "subsidized contraception" is a cost-savings measure for the still private health insurance racket; what's subsidized is health insurance for people who can't afford it, which is equally a subsidy for the whole health care industry -- the striking thing here is the complete inversion of common sense.

Harsanyi seems to believe that there is a state of nature without government where "we" are richer and more moral (ignoring the fact that much of western culture has been very suspicious of the morality of the rich). Let's be generous and call this state Eden, inasmuch as he seems to view government as Original Sin. Needless to say, his view is at odds with the traditional conservative position, which is that we need the state, both with its monopoly of force within the army and police and with its administrative bureaucracy, in order to force the masses to be more moral, to support the established social order, and to make (at least the leaders of that order) richer.

As for his fear of robbing the rich for the benefit of the poor, that classic trope (at least as "Robin Hood") dates back to the Middle Ages, way before liberalism and the modern bureaucratic state -- but alas not before the rich learned how to use state force and laws to exploit the poor. Throughout history, it's been the downtrodden, the poor, and those who imagined a more equitable order, who had most reason to fear the state. Only with the invention of democracy did it become possible for the masses to imagine using nonviolent votes to get a fairer shake. What Harsanyi and his ilk fear is that too many people -- especially young people -- have discovered how to do just that.

So they rail against the people's choice, damning all government, decrying any hint of redistributing the nation's wealth, declaring the very thought to be immoral, and damning those who dare think it to their long-winded, deeply paranoid wrath. In effect, what they are saying is that the people made the wrong choice, so to hell with the people. They're admitting that democracy worked against them, so they aim to subvert democracy. (Examples abound, from voter ID laws to unlimited campaign spending to Scalia's campaign to void civil rights law.) And most ominously, they insist on taking absolutist positions: their opposition to abortion becomes a defense of rapists, their absolute defense of gun rights becomes cover for criminals and license for crackpots, their "line in the sand" on taxes bankrupts the country and denies even themselves real services of government. They're nuts, divorced from reality, estranged from their neighbors, and spiteful, willing to cut off their own legs to make sure you immoral sluts can't catch a break.

A couple years ago John Amato and David Neiwert wrote a short book: Over the Cliff: How Obama's Election Drove the American Right Insane (paperback, 2010, Polipoint Press). They barely scratched the surface, and never quite got to the heart of the problem. That seems to be here, in Harsanyi's delusions.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Expert Comments

Greg Morton asked about Proper Boxes (having bought Wardell Gray). I wrote:

My experience with Proper Boxes, sorted by grade:

A+:

Coleman Hawkins: The Bebop Years (1939-49)

A:

Mildred Bailey: Mrs. Swing (1929-42)
Johnny Hodges: The Jeep Is Jumpin' (1937-52)
Illinois Jacquet: The Illinois Jacquet Story (1944-51)
Louis Jordan: Jivin' With Jordan (1939-51)
Bob Wills: Take Me Back to Tulsa (1932-50)
VA: Hillbilly Boogie (1939-51)

A-:

Benny Carter: The Music Master (1931-52)
Slim Gaillard: Laughing in Rhythm (1937-52)
Ben Webster: Big Ben (1931-51)
VA: Doughboys, Playboys and Cowboys (1932-47)
VA: Larkin's Jazz (1925-59)
VA: The Big Horn (1942-52)

B+:

Ernest Tubb: The Texas Troubadour (1936-52)
VA: Gettin' Funky: The Birth of New Orleans R&B (1941-50)

B-:

VA: Swing Tanzen Verboten! (1933-44)

U:

Wynonie Harris: Rockin' the Blues (1944-50)
Machito: Ritmo Caliente (1941-51)

Playing Machito at the moment. First two discs don't break above B+, but the third disc is heating up. I like the 1951-57 Columbia Masters, Mambo Mucho Mambo. I'll have to dig Harris out; unlikely he has 4CD of top-notch material, but Rhino's King best-of (Bloodshot Eyes) is tops, and there's an earlier set on Delmark (Everybody Boogie!) that I like a lot.

They sent me stuff for a short while, but stopped after I panned the Nazi Swing thing. It has some historical interest, and they seem to have been very smitten with the idea, but the music -- mostly not by Nazis, by the way -- isn't very special.

They also have a 2-CD Proper Pairs series, necessarily more marginal, but I figure Memphis Minnie (Me and My Chauffeur), Willie Nelson (Broken Promises), Stuff Smith (Time and Again), and Merle Travis (Hot Pickin') for A-.

And they have a 1-CD Proper Introduction series: Maddox Brothers & Rose is an A; Julia Lee an A-; Rosco Gordon, Dodo Marmarosa, and Maxine Sullivan down at B+.

Would like to have been able to cover more, but since they stopped servicing me what I've picked up has been pretty arbitrary.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Expert Comments

Wrote this on facebook to announce the post below:

Ten years ago George W. Bush ordered the destruction of Iraq, resulting in the deaths of over 4,500 US soldiers and countless Iraqis, leaving unfathomable hurt everywhere. I've collected some of the things I wrote mostly around March 2003. Those writings have proven more accurate than most. Maybe even prescient.

Within seconds, Bill Phillips liked and shared.

By the way, I had to hack some software to get this to work. In particular, I changed the hack_notebook

Also had to fiddle with make-lfiles in the books section. Don't know why, but the single quotes stopped appearing in the awk output. Must have something to do with charset encoding. Good chance other scripts are broken, since it's a pain to print out quotes from within shell/awk scripts, but it's necessary if you're creating PHP files. I suppose I'd be better off in the long run switching over to UTF, but it's such a daunting task.


Wrote the following in a letter to Tatum, ŕ propos de George Edward's funeral:

Missed the funeral (too early); had a bad heartburn attack at the lunch, which was cramped and uncomfortable. Didn't see Uncle James, nor did anyone else. Don't know if my sister made it to the funeral, but she wasn't at the lunch. All in all, rather weird, and while I'll make an effort to stay in better touch, I'm rather glad it's done for now.

Finally read Uncle James' memoir. Notably, it's almost totally lacking anything on his family -- couple mentions of his folks, none of his brothers or sister by name, not one word on his son Gary, two brief mentions that his son Jimmy had "problems" (he was retarded, terrorized, and died at 21), four (I think) brief mentions of his wife (met and got married, she liked to shop at pbx, he loved her, and he took care of her 24/7 for last five years of her life, but nothing on what her illnesses were). Lots of stuff on his paper routes, air force service, engineering college, and Boeing job, plus political opinions and an appendix on his own health problems. Have only thumbed through his poetry (and some of his mother's), letters to the editor, and death penalty research (which I learned started as a college paper). Cliches, barely literate (mistakes like "personal" for "personnel"). You might contrast to what I wrote after his wife died (not that I shouldn't revise a few minor points):

Ten Years of Infamy

Ten years ago this week George W. Bush launched his war against Iraq. He was almost solely responsible for the act, at least in the sense that had he decided not to go to war he would have met virtually no resistance. Yet he also had little real choice: he was a mental slave to the logic that had led his father to attack Iraq in 1991, and that had prevented either Bush or Clinton from making any serious effort to normalize Iraq. Moreover, he was still smitten by the political euphoria his father had briefly enjoyed when the 1991 war had initially seemed so successful, and he was convinced that his own "tougher resolve" would lock in the same political euphoria, allowing him to build up "political capital" for ever greater feats, like war with Iran, or wrecking social security.

Invading Iraq turned out to be a surprisingly difficult political play, especially compared to the utter ease with which Bush was able to sink the US military into a hopeless quagmire in Afghanistan -- one that, needless to say, still saps US forces while remaining as far as ever from resolution. Many figures came forth declaring Iraq "a war of choice," "the wrong war" (as compared to Afghanistan), but for me the real wrong choice was Afghanistan, especially following Bush's wholehearted support of Ariel Sharon's destruction of the Oslo Peace Process in Israel/Palestine. In an unguarded moment, Bush himself referred to his efforts to bend the Middle East to his will as a new "crusade": his "born again" certainty reinforcing the hubris of America's anti-communist triumphalism.

This was all clear at the time. And while I wrote little about Afghanistan in the immediate wake of 9/11 -- my website barely existed then, I spent the month following 9/11 away from home, and I had yet to grasp the event's political importance -- by 2003 I was writing regularly. When I grep "Iraq" in my notebook file, I fish up more than 4000 lines. I thought I'd quote a few of them, mostly from March-April 2003, a few earlier (including one from Sept. 11, 2001), ending with a couple from August 2003. Reading through them, I see that I'm missing a lot of detail, especially the whole WMD controversy (a bogus argument if ever I've heard one).

Of course, much more happened after August 2003, and at least some of that shows up in subsequent posts. Then there are the books: I've read at least thirty specifically on Afghanistan and Iraq, another twenty on the Bush administration and the more general War on Terror. Of those, the Bremer administration is pretty well documented, except for the decision to put an idiot like Bremer in charge in the first place -- that's one thing I've never even seen a plausible denial on. After that, from mid-2004 to 2007, the history gets much harder to come by -- the US, especially with Khalilzad, becomes very secretive, and the whole country becomes dangerously inhospitable to reporters. From 2007 on, you get a lot of pro-military hype, especially from the platoon of Petraeus sycophants -- one of the few exceptions here is Nir Rosen's Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America's Wars in the Muslim World (2011).

Many of the books are commented on (and some extensively quoted) in the books section, but it will take another post to properly index and annotate them.

More (much more) after the break . . .


September 11, 2001: actually written Oct. 28, but accurate for the day:

We look out window and could see, I think, one tower burning: smoke black from tower, but white as it wafted over Brooklyn.

We turn TV on; now both towers are burning. We watch TV, hear of up to eight hijackings, watch the towers fall, the Pentagon burn. "America Under Attack" was emblazoned on TV, an instant reduction that only fueled the growing war talk. I spent much of the morning thumbing through a photo book called Century -- a graphic reminder of how grisly the 20th century had been, of what modern war really looked like, on scales both large and small. With so much history in front of me, it was easy to imagine scenes of real war, and identify why today is different. . . .

Later we see a grainy broadcast from Kabul, a rocket flare and explosion. Speculation was that America was striking back -- temporarily forgetting that Afghanistan already had more war than it would ever need. I commented that if indeed the US attacked Afghanistan, it would mark the second time that Afghanistan destroys an empire.

December 3, 2001: I quote Hendrik Hertzberg: "Apart from traditional pacifists, who oppose any use of force on principle, and a handful of reflexive Rip Van Winkles, almost no one objects, in broad outline, to the aims and methods of the antiterrorism campaign."

I'm not sure which one of these diminutive and deprecated groups I belong to, but it isn't hard or unreasonable to find objections to either aims or methods in the US's "antiterrorism campaign." The aim is clearly to contain terrorism by repression. More basically, this means that the aim is to reassert the inevitability and indomitability of US global power. The campaign we're witnessing is the reflex of power provoked. But the methods do little more than remind us that the US's real power doesn't amount to much more than the ability to indiscriminately bomb and wreak havoc, to unleash terror at a pitch that Al Qaeda can only dream about.

In this, the US leadership has managed to reverse the plain truth of the 9/11 attacks, which is that the victims had no relationship to any plausible complaint about the US or how the US power has damaged any other part of the world, and that the terrorists had shown themselves to be utterly immoral in their slaughter of innocents. Hertzberg is right that no one disagrees with this judgment of the terrorists. Where he misses the boat is in not realizing that the same logic that lets the US leaders justify their bombing in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other quarters of the Islamic world, is the selfsame logic that leads terrorists, with their relatively crude weapons, to target US innocents.

I ended the post with a paragraph beginning, "I never thought of myself as a pacifist." Actually, I've rarely not thought of myself as a pacifist ever since then. I must have been looking for rhetorical high ground, a position that would straddle the spectrum, but the right instinct was once again the pacifist one. And I did end the post: "And when that becomes ridiculously obvious, we'll need all the pacifists we can find."

December 5, 2001: This is the one thing I wrote about "weapons of mass destruction" -- may explain why I paid little attention to the pre-Iraq-War WMD stampede:

Old news, but it looks like the anthrax threat which so effectively pushed up US paranoia to grease the skids for Bush's Afghan adventure was done with US government-made anthrax. Without getting into the question of who mailed the anthrax, or why, one conclusion is obvious: the terror would not exist had the US military not developed the weapon. Which is to say that at least in this case terrorism could have been prevented by the simple, sensible policy of governments not developing terrorist weapons.

It is insane that anyone could justify development of biological weapons as a valid military (let alone "defense" -- they do call it the Department of Defense) weapon. The obvious problem is that is that it is impossible to aim or time-limit disease organisms. (Not that the US is able to aim its bombs all that accurately, but at least they only go off once, and somewhere in the neighborhood of their intended target.) On the other hand, as we've seen, anthrax can be an effective terrorist weapon. Maybe that's why the US developed it?

I hate the "weapons of mass destruction" euphemism. Three things: 1) It conflates nuclear weapons (which are the real standard by which we measure mass destruction) with chemical and biological weapons that effect their destruction in incomparable ways, which makes it all the harder to see the differences. 2) It amplifies people's fears of chem/bio attacks, which in turn makes their threat more effective and attractive to terrorists. 3) It sanitizes the weapons, making them seem legitimate for the US to have while only illegitimate for terrorists. A much more appropriate grouping phrase would be "weapons of criminal irresponsibility." What all these weapons have in common that they are indiscriminate and have potentially longlasting effects. The inability to properly target them makes it crazy to deploy them.

Kurt Eichenwald provides a reasonably plausible history of the anthrax scare in his 2012 book, 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars, but at the time it didn't seem too far-fetched that the anthrax attacks, combined with a lot of propaganda about Al Qaeda's alleged interest in WMD, might be part of a right-wing conspiracy to pump up the public's hysteria level and thereby grow support for the War on Terror. That certainly was the effect, and it was curious that it stopped just before the Post Office started to demand a truly ridiculous level of safeguards, and it also set the language framework for the Iraq War push. Even now, although Eichenwald is credible on who did it, his explanation of why is far from persuasive, and the "who" conveniently died before his story could be aired in court.

February 14, 2002: More than a year before invading Iraq, this appears to have been a PR slip: the "product release" -- Andrew Card's term for the propaganda offensive behind attacking Iraq -- didn't happen until September.

The main headline in yesterday's paper anounced that Bush has decided to go to war against Iraq: that the US would commit 200,000 ground troops, and that Cheney was out of his foxhole and touring the Middle East to tell whoever needs to know what the US is going to do. Today there was not a single mention of it, no follow-up, no comments. Of course, part of the reason has to be that the farm bill passed, which is obviously much more important out here in Kansas, not to mention the sports page dedicated to the American who came in 2nd in some skiing event (gee, wonder who won?). I don't know which is more striking: the casualness with which one nation decides to destroy another, or the indifference of the people presumably represented by the first party.

February 22, 2002:

First dead Americans in Todd Tiahrt's Filipino adventure. The Burnhams get their stock photos in the Eagle for the 600th time or so, looking exceptionally forlorn.

In other news, there seems to be a new wave of Afghan refugees, perhaps because the US keeps finding themselves shooting at ordinary Afghans thinking they might be Taliban or Al Qaida, perhaps because the parties of the warlord alliance are warlords first, allies second (if at all).

In other news, Sharon has a plan to solve his crisis by building bigger barriers between the Israelis and the Palestinians; i.e., to isolate the effect by making the underlying problem worse.

All told, the denial and self-delusion is pretty staggering. Back in November I wrote that those were the "feel good" days of the war. Those days are pretty much over now, but worse days than this seem certain to come.

The Burnhams were Kansas missionaries kidnapped by an Islamist group in the southern Philippines, a long-running story in these parts. Tiahrt was Wichita's congressman, and he made a huge push for sending US troops to the Philippines under cloak of the War on Terror. He succeeded, and soon a helicopter of them crashed. Gracia Burnham was eventually rescued, but was shot and Martin Burnham was killed. Tiahrt managed to get his picture taken a lot with Burnham (the one that survived, that is). She wrote a book. I tried to talk the Voice into letting me review it, but they balked.

Sharon's "barrier" grew up to be the "apartheid wall."

December 9, 2002: On George Packer's piece, "The Liberal Quandry Over Iraq," which is to say a feature on liberal-leftists -- David Rieff, Leon Wieseltier, Michael Walzer, Paul Berman, Christopher Hitchens -- who (like Packer) are itching to jump on Bush's war bandwagon.

The pro-war argument is little more than a series of conceits -- that democracy is better than despotism, that democracy leads to liberalism, the U.S. is in this to promote liberalism throughout the benighted Arab world. Packer makes the point that many liberal hawks cut their talons in the Yugoslav wars, where they saw American air power as the only alternative to genocide on the ground. . . .

The ultimate problem that liberals have in being hawks is not merely that their ideas are ill conceived but that they depend on people who are not liberals to carry them out. The Kosovo bombing program, in particular, may have been dressed up with liberal ideals, but to a large extent it was just NATO's way of making work for itself. The same self-promotion is clearly at work in Iraq, but whereas Clinton could be counted on to provide a liberal shine to Kosovo, Bush's program to invade Iraq does not offer a shred of hope that anything positive might come out of it for the Iraqi people. It seems clear that Bush could care less; that for him this is just about the U.S.'s prerogatives as the last great world power, and that it would be nifty if he could strut into his reëlection campaign with Saddam's shrunken head on his spear.

January 23, 2003: Bob Getz wrote a column in the Wichita Eagle against the war. This is an extract from a letter that I wrote to Getz:

But the thing that worries me most has nothing to do with the Iraqis: I'm worried about what war, even in victory, will do to us. An old Kansas named Dwight Eisenhower warned about the growing threat of a "military-industrial complex," but rather than heeding that warning John F. Kennedy concocted his "missile gap" and Lyndon Johnson plunged us hopeless into Vietnam. And while Johnson and his liberal ideologues may have thought that they were bringing American democracy to Vietnam, their methods so undermined them that they became lost, unable to fathom that it's impossible to save a village by destroying it. On the other hand, Nixon and his conservative realpolitiker saw that defeat in Vietnam was inevitable, but tragically escalated the war to remind the world to respect American power. Since then we've been in denial about what the war did not only to Vietnam and Cambodia (millions of dead) but what it did to America, which was to strip away the innocence of our good intentions and to cultivate a cynical, power-craving military/CIA establishment.

We had an opportunity to cut back with the collapse of the Soviet Union, but the hawks were saved by Iraq, and propelled forward by Al Qaeda. While the rest of the world has steadfastly moved away from war as a solution to anything, Bush seems to be intoxicated with America's status as the world's sole superpower and the military prowess that dubious claim rests on. But that power is hollow: the power to destroy, but not to build, nor even to protect. And it's harder than ever to clothe that power with anything resembling good intentions. And this seems to be pretty clear to the whole world now, even if some politicians and media moguls opt to play along.

But on the war crimes front, Bush has at least done due dilligence: refusing to sign up for the World Court, in fact demanding a free pass for all Americans. In doing so the U.S. is missing a critical opportunity to put its behavior above board, and more importantly, to provide a venue where aggrieved peoples can make a case against injustice without having to kill people. The notion that conflicts and injustices can be solved peacably is still as radical as it was when Tojo was executed for retroactively violating it.

January 27, 2003:

John W. Dower, in Embracing Defeat (p. 461) has a quote which sounds like an early iteration of the Bush Doctrine: "Peoples of all the nations of the world absolutely should not abandon the right to initiate wars of self-defense." The person quoted was Tojo, the prime minister of wartime Japan, while he was facing war crime charges, for which he was found guilty and executed. Dower doesn't go into this, but my recollection is that Japan almost always justified its wars on self-defense grounds, most obviously on the fear that European and American imperialism was carving up Asia in a way that would leave Japan isolated, without access to Asian markets and raw materials.

The Tojo Doctrine is fatally flawed: it turns out that as long as Japan has fair access to the world market they don't need (and are far better off without) war as an instrument of defensive policy. It's hard to know what to say about the Bush Doctrine, other than that it's just a sloppy piece of theorizing evidently intended as a fig leaf for attacking Iraq, but like the "Axis of Evil" speech it bites off a bit more than anyone wants to chew. (Like North Korea.)

Searching for a happy ending in Iraq, the neocons were reading up not on Vietnam or the numerous quisling dictators the US propped up in Latin America but on the "successful" post-WWII occupations of Germany and Japan. That made Dower an expert, but soon he pointed out not only that Iraq is far from similar to Japan but also that America now is far removed from America then. For more comments on Dower, see here.

March 10, 2003:

It's worth remembering that it wasn't the terrorists who brought down the World Trade Center: it was gravity. Gravity has always been the mortal enemy of tall buildings, a perpetual challenge to engineering ingenuity. All the terrorists did, or had to do, was to nudge the equations a bit. Gravity took care of the rest.

The notion that the U.S. is the world's one superpower is similarly predicated on fair weather. The reason that the U.S. emerged from WWII so powerfully was economic: that the U.S. built up a powerful economy which combined natural resources, labor, ingenuity, and distance from the widespread destruction of the war. But that advantage has been eroding ever since 1945, to the point where now it is no advantage at all; if anything, the U.S. has been borrowing on its past reputation, running up trade deficits and exporting manufacturing jobs in ways that have been barely covered up by capital flows. One of the things that the U.S. risks in its bellicosity is that someone will call its bluff, which is just what's happening with the Iraq debacle: first France learns to say no, then finds it likes it; now Turkey. Whether the U.S. can still twist the arms of Angola and Guinea to give it the barest fig leaf of U.N. legitimacy isn't even clear. But what is clear is that in going its own way, the U.S. has lost command of the parade. This is the beginning of the end of the notion that there even is an American empire anymore: rather, what we are seeing is a rogue nation puffed into self-importance by its possession of weapons of mass destruction.

March 18, 2003: And then it happened.

Yesterday, March 17, 2003, is another date that will live in infamy. On this date, U.S. President George W. Bush rejected the efforts and council of the United Nations, and the expressed concerns of overwhelming numbers of people throughout the U.S. and all around the world, and committed the U.S. to attack, invade, and occupy Iraq, to prosecute or kill Iraq's government leaders, and to install a new government favorable to U.S. interests.

That Bush has given Iraq's Saddam Hussein 48 hours to surrender in order to spare Iraq inestimable destruction is clearly intended to shift blame for this war to Saddam. While this particular ploy may have been intended cynically, we must be clear that this war would not be looming were it not for numerous acts that Saddam and Iraq have committed, including aggressive wars against Iran and Kuwait, use of poison gas both against Iran and against the Kurdish minority within Iraq, and long-term efforts to obtain horrific weapons. We should also be clear that after a broad U.N. coalition drove Iraq out of Kuwait and brokered a cease-fire that left Saddam in power, his government failed to show good faith in implementing the disarmament specified in the cease-fire and U.N. mandates. Even now, Saddam's character is put to severe test, where he has within his power one last chance to put his country's welfare about his own. If he fails to do so, we must conclude not only that he is a long-standing war criminal, but that he is the essential cause for this war.

However, the proximate cause for this war lies squarely with the Bush administration, aided and abetted by the so-called "coalition of the willing." They are the ones who rejected concerted efforts by Iraq and the U.N. to complete and verify Iraq's mandated disarmament, who pushed the new agenda of regime change, and who locked this agenda into a final ultimatum. In pushing for regime change, Bush continued and escalated policies of previous U.S. presidents, especially Bill Clinton, during whose administration the U.S. worked deliberately to sabotage the inspections process, to promote Iraqi opposition to Saddam Hussein, to prolong sanctions which inflicted great hardships on the Iraqi people, to engender much ill will. Especially complicit in this war is the Republican-led U.S. Congress, which passed a law in 1998 directing that U.S. policy toward Iraq work toward regime change, and Democrat President Bill Clinton, who signed that law, and who repeatedly ordered air strikes against Iraq. But the actual push to war, the setting of the time table and the issuing of the ultimatum, was squarely the responsibility of George W. Bush. In this act, which he was completely free not to do, Bush has placed his name high on the list of notable war criminals of the last century.

As I write this, we cannot even remotely predict how this war will play out, how many people will die or have their lives tragically transfigured, how much property will be destroyed, how much damage will be done to the environment, what the long-term effects of this war will be on the economy and civilization, both regionally and throughout the world. In lauching his war, Bush is marching blithely into the unknown, and dragging the world with him. It is generally believed that U.S. military might is such that it will quickly be able to subdue resistance from Iraq's depleted and mostly disarmed military, and that the U.S. will quickly dispose of Saddam Hussein and his top people. However, it is widely speculated that over the course of U.S. occupation there will be continuing resistance and guerrilla warfare to burden the expense of occupation, in the hope of sending an exasperated occupation army packing. It is expected that the fury over the war will lead to new acts of terrorism directed against U.S. citizens and interests elsewhere in the world, possibly including the U.S. homeland. It is already the case that Bush's insistence on going to war, along with many other aspects of his foreign policy, has soured relations between the U.S. and a great many nations and people of the world, including many traditional allies, and that this situation will get progressively worse the longer and nastier the war and occupation goes on.

There is, I think, one hope to minimize the damage that inevitably comes with this war. This is for the Iraqi people, at least those who survive the initial onslaught, to roll over and play dead, to not oppose or resist invasion and occupation, and to play on the U.S.'s much bruited "good intentions" -- the dubious argument that the U.S. is invading Iraq to liberate the Iraqi people. To do this they must not only not resist, they must collaborate to prevent others from resisting. Moreover, they must adopt the highest principles of their occupiers: embrace democracy and respect the civil rights of minorities. They should in fact go further: to denounce war, to refuse to support a military, to depend on the U.N. for secure borders, and not to engage in any hostile foreign relations. The reasons for this are twofold: in the long-run, these are all good things to do; in the short-run, they remove any real excuse for the U.S. to continue its occupation, and will hasten the exit of U.S. forces.

It is, of course, possible that the U.S.'s "good intentions" are cynical and fraudulent. Over the last fifty years, the U.S. has a very poor record of promoting democracy, and has a very aggressive record of promoting U.S. business interests. (And in this regard, Bush has proven to run the most right-wing administration in U.S. history.) Many of the same people who in the U.S. government promoted war on Iraq clearly have further names on their lists of enemies -- Syria, Iran, even Saudi Arabia -- and a number of fantastic scenarios have been talked up. But the aggressive projection of U.S. military force depends on having enemies that can only be kept at bay by such force. An Iraq, with no Saddam Hussein, with no military, with no way to threaten its neighbors, with its own people organized into a stable, respectful democracy, provides no excuse for occupation. If those conditions prevail, which is within the power of the Iraqi people to make happen, even the Bush administration would have to pull out.

There are, of course, other things that will be necessary to overcome the inevitable damage of this war. Presumably the war and occupation will at least get rid of one set of war criminals: Saddam Hussein and his crew. The other set of war criminals, the Bush administration in particular, need to be voted out of office. The consequences of Bush's foreign policy, even if they luck out and yield a democratic Iraq, bear extraordinary costs and engender international distrust at the same time Bush's tax policy bankrupts the U.S. government and undermines the U.S. dollar while Bush's domestic policies lay workers off and degrade the environment. But also the world community needs to come to grips with conflicts in ways that look beyond self-interest to provide systematic means to peacefully resolve conflicts that might otherwise turn into injustice and war. That Saddam Hussein was allowed to turn into a monster, the essential cause of Bush's Iraq war, was the consequence of a great many failures along the way -- serious mistakes on the part of nations, including the U.S., who promoted him politically, who armed him, who encouraged him to wage war with Iran, and so forth. The U.S. must recognize that it cannot alone solve conflicts such as these; the many nations of the world must in turn step up to the responsibility.

I believe that this is in fact the way the world is, unfortunately too slowly, moving: despite the immense amount of terrorism and war of the past few years, people all around the world are, in their hearts, actually moving to a much firmer realization of the need for peace, order, respect, fairness, and opportunity for all. The worldwide reaction of shock and horror at the toppling of the World Trade Center was one expression of this; the worldwide protest against Bush's Iraq war was another. The only way to have peace is to be peaceable.

March 19, 2003: The next day.

Where yesterday I suggested that Iraq should roll over and play dead, and that Saddam should abdicate, it is easy to imagine how difficult and how unlikely that is by reversing the roles, by asking what we as Americans would do if some alien power (from outer space, no doubt; at least there are a lot of movies that we can reference as case examples) were to issue such an ultimatum to us.

Consider this, though: in rejecting the ultimatum, Saddam Hussein passed up a golden opportunity to remake himself as Neville Chamberlain, to assure "peace for our time" by caving in. Chamberlain is, of course, reviled for capitulating to Hitler at Munich, which was no doubt easier for him to do given that all he gave up was Czechoslovakia. Saddam would have had to put his own hide onto the silver platter. . . . .

It should be obvious that the main point of yesterday's writing is that both Saddam Hussein and George W. Bush are enemies of peace, that they are and should be viewed as criminals, and that neither one in any way justifies the other. It is, of course, Bush's view that his actions are justified by Saddam Hussein's past and present behavior, and it is important that we reject this claim.

The second point is that the best way out of this mess is still peace, and the more firmly and resolutely the people involved practice peace, the better. Unfortunately, with the U.S. on the warpath, the brunt of this responsibility falls on the Iraqi people. Admittedly, there is little reason to be optimistic at this stage. We know for certain that there will be resistance. We know that Saddam Hussein and his party do not believe in or practice peace. We know that jihadists like Osama Bin Laden do not believe in or practice peace. We also know that when faced with danger, military forces all the world over, all throughout history, kill and destroy unnecessarily, often deliberately, sometimes just inadvertently, which feeds a vicious cycle of resistance and retribution. We also know that alien occupation armies misunderstand things, communicate poorly, grow impatient and resentful, get spooked easily, and often with little provocation resort to force, sometimes viciously. Even if we accept the proposition that the U.S. has nothing but good intentions toward the Iraqi people, remaining peaceable is going to be a tall order. So while it's what I prescribe, it's not what I expect to happen. . . .

One thing we really have no idea about is what the true feelings of the Iraqi people, but even if we did, the real question is more like how will they break when the effects of the war and invasion become manifest. In the case of Japan, the Japanese people up to the day of surrender would, if polled, no doubt have remained resolute, but once the Emperor surrendered, their exhaustion and resignation became manifest, as did their assignation of fault for the debacle to Japan's militarists. It is likely that some such effect will appear in Iraq as well -- eight years of war with Iran, followed by defeat in Kuwait and twelve years of crippling sanctions, the Iraqi people have much to blame on Saddam Hussein. Whether they in fact do so is the short-term question; not clear that they will do so, given that the U.S. is also responsible. Then there is the longer-term question, whether U.S. occupation will itself generate resentment to the extent of lengthy guerrilla resistance, and the answer there may largely depend on how the short-term question is answered.

In retrospect, the big difference was that the Japanese had a sense of themselves as one people, whereas deep fissures already existed between Kurd and Arab, Sunni and Shiite, and other smaller fractions such that it was foolish to speak of an "Iraqi people." Moreover, the US had already chosen sides, triggering not just resistance but a brutal civil war which remains simmering a decade later, even after the last American soldier left.

March 22, 2003:

Finished reading the "Letter from Bagdad" piece in The New Yorker, which only reinforces the point that the U.S. invasion of Iraq is going to be resisted and resisted and resisted, and that eventually the U.S. will get tired of it and leave. At least unless it provokes terrorism elsewhere, which gives the U.S. excuse to make war on Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and whoever else is on Ariel Sharon's (err, George W. Bush's) enemies list.

Another thing that occurs to me is that in all this talk about how the U.S. is liberating Iraq, the nicely posed pictures of happy Iraqis, etc., we're entering a wormhole where the other end is rooted in Vietnam. At least through the Johnson administration, all we heard about was how we had to stand by our friends in Vietnam, save them from communism, etc. Nothing but moral high ground, when in fact -- a fact that became naked with Henry Kissinger -- the war was about projecting American power. That's exactly what the war against Iraq is about too, and trying to wrap it up and palm it off as something else is disingenuous to say the least. More important, it's a trap: all these friends the U.S. is recruiting now are going to be liabilities in the future, people who will wind up wondering why the U.S. double crossed them when the U.S. never really gives a shit about them anyway.

March 25, 2003:

The war grinds on. The fantasy that expected the Iraqis to roll out the red carpet for their American liberators has been dashed. Nobody expects that Iraq will be able to repulse the U.S. invasion, but the level and form of resistance pretty much guarantees that eventually the U.S. will leave Iraq without having accomplished anything more notable than the perverse satisfaction of serving up Saddam's head on some platter.

As I said earlier, the level of resistance will be telling. If you want a rule of thumb for neocolonialist wars of occupation, it's that once you can't tell your friends from your enemies in the native population, you're fucked. At its simplest level, that's because the occupiers get nervous and make mistakes. The mistakes, in turn, compound, pushing more and more people from the friendly side to the hostile side. That in turn reinforces the nervousness, the mistakes, the alienation. In turn, the resistance gets bolder; as this happens, the occupation digs in, becoming more brutal, vicious, capricious. The high-minded rhetoric is exposed as pure hypocrisy, and the occupation becomes more nakedly about nothing more than power. . . .

So, let's face it, the U.S. war against Iraq is a colossal failure. The only question remaining is how long it will take the U.S. to give up and get out, and how much destruction the U.S. will leave in its wake. So remember this: This war did not have to happen. No one who has died, been injured, been captured, been terrorized by this war had to suffer. This only happened because of one mad tyrant: George W. Bush. Even today, if sanity were to suddenly overcome him, all he'd have to do is seize fire and order the troops home. Every day, every minute that he does not do this just adds to the grossness of his crime.

March 28, 2003:

I don't have any idea how many Iraqis will flock to support their new U.S. masters. The latter is especially important, because without significant active Iraqi cooperation U.S. occupation will be a nightmare. And even then, such cooperation will force a schism within the Iraqi populace that will long tear at Iraq's social fabric, and which, if/when Iraq reverts to form, may result in many of our Iraqi "friends" seeking asylum in the U.S. (Which is where most of our Vietnamese and Cuban "friends" wound up living.)

Pretty much everyone agrees that one of the side-effects of the Iraq war will be more terrorism in the U.S. Few people take the time to recall that, until 2001-09-11, the most destructive terrorist to come out of the Gulf War was Timothy McVeigh. (Now, of course, the answer to that quiz is George W. Bush.) I've often said that I think the threat of Al Qaeda/Arab terrorism is much overrated -- not that there is no risk, but that the real risk doesn't warrant such desperate measures as the U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and that in fact the risk could be significantly lessened if the U.S. were to start to act decently, especially regarding Israel/Palestine. But one thing I do worry about is how these wars work to generate domestic right-wing terrorists, and even more so how they reinforce right-wing tendencies toward racism, militarism, and plain old viciousness. One thing we see throughout U.S. history is one war leading to another, often with pronounced swings to the right in the postwar period, such as the Red Scare after WWI and McCarthyism after WWII. (It took a few years for the sting of defeat in Vietnam to wear off and let Reagan in, but in many ways that was the worst.)

Indeed, the war did drive domestic politics to the right, notably in allowing George W. Bush to secure a second term in 2004. That was somewhat diminished by the war becoming such a bust, but arguably the tilt still exists. The Republicans nominated super-hawk John McCain in 2008. He lost, but ran stronger than he should have, and Romney in 2012, in another losing campaign, didn't make the slightest effort to distance himself from Bush's war policies.

April 2, 2003: Jessica Lynch gets lost and found, giving the press something happier to talk about than the mass murder of Iraqis and the wholesale destruction of their country.

How interesting it is that the top front page story in the paper this morning was the one about the cute U.S. Private turned POW -- although she was actually just MIA, since Iraq had in her case failed to violate the Geneva Conventions and show her picture on TV where her POW status might be verified -- who was liberated by US Special Forces, who found her in a building with no other POWs. Ditto for TV last night, where retired Generals who probably couldn't name a Private for their lives (in any case they couldn't get her name straight) were praising the story. What interests me about this is not that they couldn't find any better news to talk about, let alone anything more important, but that in putting this story so heavily into play they're humanizing the war -- they're putting faces and stories of real people into harm's way, instead of consigning them to the realm of impersonal statistics. . . .

So what makes us think that a country which finds itself doting over dear Private Lynch has the stomach to pacify Iraq?

The dimness to deceive themselves about what their soldiers are actually doing, well, that's another matter.

April 7, 2003: More on the Cold War than on Iraq, with a postscript on the neocons (evidently a novel term at the time, but they all grew up in the Cold War):

The biggest difference between Vietnam and Iraq is that in Vietnam we were defending a fraud, whereas now we're attacking a phantom. The latter, of course, is easier: it's much easier to demonize Saddam Hussein than it was to make Ngo Dinh Diem, trained and deployed and propped up by the CIA, look like a patriot. . . .

Resistance in Iraq is less focused -- at least some of it is squarely anti-Saddam -- but the U.S. has a few strikes against it: our coalition partners in the U.K., who ruled Iraq from 1918 to 1932 (or 1956, depending on who you ask), our good friends in Israel, and 12 years of bombing and sanctions that the U.S. was largely responsible for. Every little good deed that so impresses the U.S. press will be judged in Iraq against this backdrop.

Not sure if I wrote about this, but one thing I found fittingly ironic was that not only was the UK part of the "coalition of the willing," so was Mongolia -- a trivial power now, but no army ever stomped Baghdad harder than the Mongols did in 1258. Sensibly, the Turks -- who had also "been there, done that" -- chose not to join in. By the way, the Mongol sack of Baghdad can now be viewed as a tragic turn of events for Islam: only after 1258 the Salafist creed emerge as important in Islamic thought, arguing that "the gate of ijtihad" had closed. This cast a pall over science, learning, and modernity under Islam, and also led to a permanent war mentality: the theological underpinnings of Osama Bin Laden are Salafi, the fruit of the first sack of Baghdad. And now Bush is responsible for another.

April 9, 2003: The US seizes Baghdad and stages what turns out to be a vivid PR stunt at Firdos Square.

I have to admit that I found myself enjoying the video of Iraqis dancing on Saddam Hussein's statues. The rest of the day's news is harder to evaluate, and nothing that's happened gives me any second thoughts about the fundamental evilness of the Bush War. In particular, I don't think that any American opponent of this war expected Saddam Hussein's government to hold out against the American war machine. Nor do we feel any sympathy or remorse for Saddam Hussein himself or his government. On the other hand, the practice and effects of this war have proven to be as horrible as expected -- of course, it feels even worse, since no matter how well you may have conceived of it, the actual events hit you far more viscerally.

April 11, 2003:

There was a period back in the Afghanistan war when the Northern Alliance started reeling off a quick series of victories -- not so much that they were defeating the Taliban in confrontations as that the Taliban was high-tailing it out of the cities, allowing Herat, Kabul, and Kandahar to fall in quick succession. The hawks then made haste to trumpet their victory and to dump on anyone who had doubted the US in this war. Back then, I referred to those few weeks as "the feel good days of the war." Well, we had something like that in Iraq, too, except that use of the plural now seems unwarranted. So mark it on your calendar, Wednesday, April 9, 2003, was the feel good day of the Iraq war. The collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime has proceeded apace, but there seems to be much less to feel good about. One big thing was the killing of the bigwig shia collaborators that the US started to promote, combined with the unwillingness of other shia bigwigs to collaborate. One of the problems with this is that it suggests that the US, as always, is looking for religious leaders to control the people -- which in turn threatens to roll back the one thing Saddam had going for his regime, which was that it was strongly secular. The fact is, you want to introduce something resembling liberal democracy in Iraq, you have to promote secularism. (Of course, given the contempt that Bush has for liberal democracy in the US, it's hard to believe that he really wants that.)

Bigger still is the whole looting thing, as well as mob reprisals against Baath leaders, which threaten to turn into the much predicted Iraqi-on-Iraqi warfare. The looting itself basically means that what infrastructure the US somehow managed not to destroy will be taken down by Iraqi mobs. The likelihood that those mobs are anything other than just isolated hoodlums is small, but collectively the damage that they inflict is likely to be huge. And given how unlikely it is that the US, its allies, and the rest of the world who were so blatantly disregarded in this whole affair, are to actually pay for anything resembling real reconstruction, this is just digging an ever deeper hole. While right now, given that their is still armed (if not necessarily organized) resistance to the US, it's hard to see how the US could keep order even if it wants to (which is to say the least a mixed proposition), but failure to do so is already setting the US up as responsible for the looting, and adding to the already huge responsibility that the US bears for the current and future misery of the Iraqi people. And when the US does start to enforce order, what is bound to happen? More dead Iraqis. And who's responsible for that? The US. If this had just happened out of the blue, I might be a bit sympathetic, but this is exactly what we had predicted as the inevitable given the US course of action.

So happy last Wednesday. That's very likely to be the last one for a long time now.

On April 14, I wrote about the looting and revenge killings. On April 15, the burning library in Baghdad. On April 16, I quoted several veterans from the 1991 Iraq War. (Gabe Hudson: "I think it's worth our time to consider John Allen Muhammad, the sniper who terrorized the Washington, D.C. area, and the guy who shot his three professors at the University of Arizona [Robert Stewart Flores], and Timothy McVeigh, when we consider the potential psychological toll of serving in modern war.") On April 19, I quoted a letter from uncle, a career USAF NCO, dismissing the looting as "dividing up the 'spoils of war.'" On April 29, I quoted Paul Krugman, which was probably the first time I wrote or cited anything about "weapons of mass destruction": I never believed that Iraq had them, but more importantly I didn't accept their possible (even proven) existence as justification for war. A real history of the war would have spent time on the matter, mostly because it proved the extent to which Bush was willing to lie to get his war.

Indeed, there are lots of things I didn't cover; meanwhile, the blog is full of little music notes and various other items of interest. On May 23, I note an "fierce exchange of gunfire" in Fallujah, plans to "destabilize" Iran, Bush caving in to Israel on a "U.S.-backed peace plan," and Gen. Franks asking to retire early ("I mean, do you think Afghanistan and/or Iraq are going to get any better?").

Not much more on Iraq until August 19, when the UN compound in Baghdad was blown up.

I haven't written much about Iraq recently, because most of what I have to say boils down to a bunch of told-you-so's. What you seen now are the consequences of the decision to go to war. That decision was not necessary in any sense that can be reasonably articulated. The people who sold and implemented that war did so by denying the facts and what could logically be inferred from them, and by deluding themselves as to their motives and intentions. This is what they've gotten from those decisions and acts, and this is what those who believed them have gotten in return. And the prospects for the future range from more of the same to a whole lot worse. I don't have any bright ideas for fixing what has been broken, other than to remove from power the criminals who set this war in order. But even that won't solve the problem; it is merely the prerequisite to starting to redress the damage.

Next day I added:

The bombing of the UN compound in Baghdad came as a surprise, but the post facto comments by Bush and Ashcroft couldn't have been more rote. We are hopelessly mired in ruts of rhetoric, and nothing is likely to change unless one can start to recognize real changes in the world around us. That the UN bombing came as a surprise may just be an illusion based on the recent war debate, where Bush and Powell failed to secure UN blessing for the US invasion of Iraq. From that, and the fact that the US and UK went ahead and invaded anyway, we tend to think that the UN is a different, broader, fairer, more reasonable force than the US/UK "coalition" -- and we tend to see it as a much better alternative: that handing the occupation over to the UN would be more welcome to the Iraqis, and would permit a more stable, less poisoned reconstruction effort. Still, try to imagine how the UN is viewed by Iraqis: the UN supported the 1991 war; the UN imposed the sanctions that have gone so far to strangle the Iraqi economy; the UN weapons inspection teams never certified that Iraq had eliminated its WMD, thereby prolonging the sanctions and providing excuses for the US to further punish and ultimately to invade and occupy Iraq. How wrong might ordinary Iraqis be to view the UN as US stooges? In the US, we find it easy to dismiss this argument because we're aware of the long-running right-wing political critique of the UN, which has basically become dominant with the ascendancy of the neocon hawks.

The story doesn't end there -- the rebellion was in fact just beginning -- but I need to take a break. The rest of the notebook, including drafts of posts once I started using blog software, is online -- just continue the links from the pages I've already linked to.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 21164 [21131] rated (+33), 586 [602] unrated (-16).

Healthy rated count, split between Jazz Prospecting below and Rhapsody Streamnotes, which may come out late this week or early next -- it's still pretty thin, both quantity and quality, with the only real find more than a presidential term old. Didn't come up with an A- record this week -- closest was Mikrokolektyw, which took about five plays before I decided the droney start should weigh in. (Similar complaint about Blaser starting slow, but that would be the runner up.) So I figured I'd rerun the Lovano pic: I wrote that album up as an A- in last month's Rhapsody Streamnotes, and a copy showed up in this week's mail.

A Downloader's Diary is coming in slow again, but I'd like to note that I got Tatum's review of David Greenberger/Paul Cebar's They Like Me Around Here before Christgau reviewed it in Expert Witness. (My own Jazz Prospecting A- note came out back on Feb. 18, so we'll call it a hat trick for an otherwise very obscure record.) He's also complained about the dearth of good new records. By my count, Christgau has only five new A- records in 2013 (Yo La Tengo, Parquet Courts, Ashley Monroe, David Greenberger/Paul Cebar, J Cole [EP]). I have 15, but 10 are jazz (or 11 if you count Greenberger/Cebar, or 12 of 16 if you count Miles Davis). Actually, I think good jazz releases have been coming along at a healthy clip. I'm just not so sure about everything else, but also I haven't been scouring the zines as closely as last year.


Neil Alexander: Darn That Dream: Solo Piano Vol. 1 (2011 [2013], P-Dog): Pianist, looks like his second album, solo, mostly originals (obviously not the title song, here in two takes). Plays for dramatic impact, not unimpressive but leaves me cold. B-

Amikaeyla & Trelawny Rose: To Eva, With Love: A Celebration of Eva Cassidy Live! (2011, Patois): Two San Francisco singers on the make, backed by trombonist Wayne Wallace and his band. Songbook is from Evan Cassidy, who died at 33 of melanoma, had her records issue posthumously, and became something of a cult item -- I've only heard one of them, nothing there inspiring me to search further. This doesn't make me want to go back either, partly because the chances of her fronting a band this good are nil. The singers aquit themselves well, too. B+(*)

Amikaeyla: Being in Love (2012, Roots Jazz): Singer, based in Oakland, third album, wrote (or co-wrote) about half of these pieces, with covers from Jobim, Bill Withers, trad., and others -- an eclectic mix. Lots of guest spots, Weber Iago strings, a duet with "singing percussionist" Linda Tillery, flutes, pretty much the whole kitchen sink. Good singer overdoes it. B

Arnaoudov/Szymanski/Stefens/Pärt/Xenakis/Minchev: Sonograms (1974-97 [2013], Labor): Those are the composers as their names appear on the cover and spine. They are postmodern/postclassical, and their pieces are performed by several Bulgarian musicians, usually solo, especially Benedikta Bonitz (recorders: 7 pieces) and Angela Tosheva (piano: also 7 pieces). There is one piece for string quartet (Steffens), one of the recorder pieces adds cello and Khandjari, another triangles, and one scales up to four recorders. Not quite minimalist nor merely abstract, the piano pieces have some teeth to them, and the recorders provide a nice contrast. I don't get much music like this these days, so it's hard to judge. B+(***)

Carlos Barbosa-Lima & the Havana String Quartet: Leo Brouwer: Beatlerianas (2012 [2013], Zoho): Brouwer doesn't play here. He is a Cuban classical composer and guitarist, b. 1939, and he composed or arranged for guitar and/or string quartet the various pieces here, one quintet as early as 1957. Barbosa-Lima, b. 1944 in Brazil, plays guitar. The title piece is a string of seven Beatles songs, starting unimaginatively (for a string arranger) with "Eleanor Rigby" and ending (equally blah!) on "Penny Lane," with such obvious stops as "Yesterday" along the way. Even understood as kitsch it's hard to convey how awful it is. The later pieces do have some interest: Brouwer evidently had a modernist streak and he works some tough abstractions into the string mix. C+

Samuel Blaser Quartet: As the Sea (2011 [2013], Hatology): Trombonist, from Switzerland, has a handful of albums since 2007. Quartet includes Marc Ducret on guitar, Bänz Oester on bass, and Gerald Cleaver on drums. One title, four parts, 51:14 total. Starts slow and tentative, but builds up in interesting ways, especially when the guitarist works up a sweat, giving the trombone something to bounce off. Second album I've heard by him, but looks like he has a fair sampling on Bandcamp, including a solo: someone to explore further. B+(***) [advance, bandcamp]

Robb Cappelletto Group: !!! (2012 [2013], self-released): Guitarist, from Canada, studied at York University, "grew up listening to prog metal as much as Wes Montgomery and Buddy Guy." First album, trio with John Maharaj on electric bass and Ahmed Mitchell on drums. B+(**)

Ken Hatfield Sextet: For Langston (2012 [2013], Arthur Circle Music): Guitarist, close to ten albums since 1998. Langston, of course, is Hughes (1902-67), poet, essayist, activist, an icon of the Harlem Renaissance, and the lyricist for fourteen songs here. The singer is Hilary Gardner, possessing one of those soprano voices I often have trouble with, and her voice is smoothed out by Jamie Baum's flute -- a combination that gives this an arty flair. On the other hand, Hatfield's guitar is as tasty as ever, and I suppose people should know more about Hughes. B+(*)

Miho Hazama: Journey to Journey (2012 [2013], Sunnyside): Pianist, from Tokyo, Japan; studied with Jim McNeely at Manhattan School of Music. First album, can't read the credits (microscopic pink-type-on-beige) but roughly speaking a big band (probably short in the brass section) plus a string quartet (Mark Feldman takes a solo). Half a dozen truly arresting passages pop out. B+(*)

Justin Horn: Hornology (2009 [2012], Rotato): Singer-songwriter, studied at University of Idaho, based in Auckland, New Zealand. Qualifies for the jazz niche with his arrangements, notably a robust horn section. [bandcamp] B+(*)

Robert Hurst: Bob: A Palindrome (2001 [2013], Bebob): Bassist, b. 1964 in Detroit, six albums since 1992 including two Unrehurst compilations, side credits include Wynton Marsalis. Draws in some big names here: Branford Marsalis (tenor/soprano sax), Bennie Maupin (alto flute, bass clarinet, tenor/soprano sax), Marcus Belgrave (trumpet/flugelhorn), Robert Glasper (piano/rhodes), Jeff "Tain" Watts (drums), Adam Rudolph (percussion). No track credits, not that it's hard to sort out the saxophonists. Liner notes mentions almost in passing that this was "originally recorded" in 2001: makes me wonder: (a) typo? (b) is this a newer recording? Everyone else goes way back, but Glasper would have been 23, two years shy of his debut. All Hurst pieces, at least one dating to 1985. No edge to the opening flute, but this picks up strength as its many facets emerge, even a thrilling bit of free thrash. B+(***)

Matt and the City Limits: Crash (2012, Island/Def Jam, EP): Singer-songwriter Matt Berman, debut, seven songs, 27:45, which combined with the major label made me think EP. Not really jazz, but he plays alto sax, keeps a tenor player at his side, and the drummer (Amir Williams) does more than keep time, and the guitarist picks out a solo rather than power through it. Intelligent songs and pretty good voice. Closes with an instrumental: "Bring It On Home to Me." B+(**)

Mikrokolektyw: Absent Minded (2012 [2013], Delmark): Duo, from Wroclaw, Poland: Artur Majewski (trumpet, cornet) and Kuba Suchar (drums, percussion), both with electronics, which is to say pretty comparable to Chicago Underground Duo (Rob Mazurek and Chad Taylor). Second album, at least on Delmark. Starts slow, agonizing drones mostly, but the pieces work out various rhythmic ideas, and in the end it depends on what the trumpet can do with, and beyond, them -- a lesson from Miles Davis' funk period, applies here too. B+(***)

Nicole Mitchell's Ice Crystal: Aquarius (2012 [2013], Delmark): Flute player, b. 1967, based in Chicago where she's tapped into the AACM, intent on pursuing the avant-garde, but also for lack of flute specialists -- Frank Wess has dominated Downbeat's category poll for close to forty years, and he's main axe is the alto sax -- she's something of a mainstream star. I'm tempted to argue that the lack of good jazz flautists is no accident: the instrument has a limited expressive range and a high register distant from most harmony instruments; also that most jazz flautists are too rooted in classical, where they were at best pretty marginal (exceptions tend to be in Latin and other third world musics). I don't hate it all -- Sam Most's bebop is amusing enough, Robert Dick's bass flute is in its own world, James Newton and those Guadalupeans sure polished up David Murray's Creole -- but sometimes it seems that way. Credit Mitchell for steadfastly trying to make it work, as in this quartet where she finds a suitable partner in Jason Adasiewicz's vibes, or her rawest work with just bass and drums. B+(**)

Giovanni Moltoni: Tomorrow's Past (2012 [2013], C#2 Music Productions): Guitarist, b. in Turin, Italy; has tought at Berklee since 1998. Fifth album, effectively a nice showcase for trumpeter Greg Hopkins, with Fernando Huergo on bass and Bob Tamagni on drums. Moltoni wrote 6 (of 9) songs, the others coming from the band (Hopkins 2, Huergo 1), his guitar weaving tastefully in and out. B+(**)

Dawn Oberg: Rye (2012 [2013], Blossom Theory Music): Piano-playing singer-songwriter from San Francisco -- where "poets go to retox" -- second album, publicist tried to pass her off as the next Amy Rigby but her voice reminds me more of Dory Previn, and maybe the words as well. Literate -- lead song is "Girl Who Sleeps With Books" and she manages to rhyme Thucydides (and not just with Euripides) and name drop Fats Waller. B+(*)

Ron Oswanski: December's Moon (2012 [2013], Palmetto): Organ player, also accordion and piano; studied at Manhattan School of Music; first album, with Tim Ries on sax, Jay Azzolina or John Abercrombie on guitar, John Patitucci on electric as well as acoustic bass. Stays away from soul jazz clichés. B+(*)

RJ and the Assignment: Deceiving Eyes (2012, self-released): Born in Chicago, based in Las Vegas, no indication of any other name pianist RJ is known by. His group, the Assignment, rotates three bassists and three drummers -- not sure I'd call that a group -- and slips in a saxophonist on two cuts, a singer on another. Half originals, with Herbie Hancock and Cedar Walton among the covers. Fine technique, moves along nicely. B+(*)

Troy Roberts: Nu-Jive 5 (2012 [2013], XenDen): Saxophonist (probably alto), from Perth, Australia, fifth album (although only the second named Nu-Jive). Leads a quintet with guitar-bass-drums-keys, keeping up a steady funk beat which Roberts riffs over. Like many pop jazz saxophonists, he can stretch out, and unlike most he's willing to get a bit dirty. B+(*)

Dylan Ryan/Sand: Sky Bleached (2012 [2013], Cuneiform): Rand is a drummer, hitherto mostly associated with the group Herculaneum although he has another dozen side-credits, the only one I recognize Rainbow Arabia (a good 2011 electropop album). This is a guitar trio, with Timothy Young the driving force, Devin Hoff on bass. Ryan wrote most of the pieces. Mostly keeps rockish time, so you can count this as fusion, but sometimes you sense they'd like to move beyond. B+(**)

Donna Singer: Take the Day Off: Escape With Jazz (2012, Emerald Baby): Singer, has this first album and an Xmas set from last year -- haven't gotten to the latter yet. Cover suggests the artist name should be "Donna and Doug" or "D&D" or "Donna Singer & Doug Richards" but the spine is more economical. She is married to Roy Singer, who produced and has some of the writing credits. Richards plays bass and leads the piano trio, which here and there is augmented by trumpet, alto sax, trombone, guitar, and/or extra drums. Some standards -- e.g., Richard Rodgers -- some by Richards, four by Patricia T. Morris. B+(*)

Tomasz Stanko NY Quartet: Wislawa (2012 [2013], ECM, 2CD): Another set by the great Polish trumpeter, who started out on the avant-garde and moderated by age (70) and label still remains one of the world's most distinctive. A few years back he came up with a "young Polish quartet" who continue to work as a piano trio. Here he is traveling alone, picking up a band of locals, which in New York nets him Gerald Cleaver, Thomas Morgan, and a new pianist everyone seems to want to play with these days, David Virelles. Talented as they are, they tend to be deferential, but then it's the trumpet you want to hear anyway. By the way, "Wislawa" is Nobel Prize-winning poet Wislawa Szymborska (1923-2012). B+(***)

Eli Yamin/Evan Christopher: Louie's Dream: For Our Jazz Heroes (2012 [2013], Yamin Music): Pianist, b. 1968 in Long Island, has a handful of records since 1998's Pushin' 30, teams up with the clarinetist for salutes to Armstrong, Bechet, Ellington, Bigard, Mary Lou Williams, Mahalia Jackson, John Coltrane, and Amiri Baraka, plus a couple pieces recycled from Yamin's Holding the Torch for Liberty. B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Giovanni Guidi Trio: City of Broken Dreams (ECM): advance, April 16
  • Joe Lovano Us Five: Cross Culture (Blue Note)
  • Nicolas Masson/Roberto Pianca/Emanuele Maniscalco: Third Reel (ECM): advance, April 16
  • Charnett Moffett: The Bridge (Motéma)
  • Aaron Neville: My True Story (Blue Note)
  • Tomasz Stanko NY Quartet: Wislawa (ECM, 2CD)
  • June Tabor/Iain Bellamy/Huw Warren: Quercus (ECM): advance, April 16

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:


  • John Cassidy: Paul Ryan in Wonderland: Chapter Six: Loosely following Brad DeLong's quote:

    Having wandered back into writing about U.S. politics for the past eighteen months or so, I sometime wonder how the full-time Washington correspondents, the lifers, do it: cover the same old junk year after year. The key to career longevity and job satisfaction, I suppose, is to buy into the notion, assiduously promoted by the politicians and their flacks, that what they are doing is serious. Budgets, national security, energy policy, health policy -- these things matter. . . . .

    Sorry folks. After watching Representative Paul Ryan launch his much-anticipated budget for the fiscal year 2014, I can't keep up the pretense. The plan is a joke . . . and nobody should pay much attention to it, except as another exhibit in the indictment of latter-day Republicanism. Ryan's numbers don't add up. His proposals -- cutting domestic programs, converting Medicare to a voucher program, returning Medicaid to the states, reducing the top rate of income tax to twenty-five per cent -- were roundly rejected by the voters just five months ago. And the philosophy his plan is based upon -- trickle-down economics combined with an unbridled hostility toward government programs designed to correct market failures -- is tattered and shop worn. . . .

    In a more just world, Ryan and his visionary shtick would have been jeered off the stage after last year's Presidential campaign, when, apart from ensuring that Mitt Romney didn't face any blowback from the right at the Convention in Tampa, his presence added virtually nothing to the G.O.P. ticket, and, arguably, handicapped it. . . .

    I can't let a few things pass without comment. Ryan's proposal to reduce the top rate of income tax to twenty five per cent would be a huge giveaway to the rich. How big? . . . people earning more than a million dollars a year would each gain, on average, $264,970.

    DeLong also links to Ezra Klein on the budget proposed by House Progressives, which has no chance but would actually do some good for the economy (and not just the people who own it). Also, DeLong catches Tyler Cowen going 0-for-4 on "standard stuff" economics. Cowen is arguing against public spending on public goods and basically trying to run up the perceived costs so you don't do anything like that. DeLong knocks those costs down, rightly, but doesn't go near the main point, which is the value of public goods.

    DeLong also quotes Paul Krugman, on the stock market (and other things):

    Stocks are high, in part, because bond yields are so low, and investors have to put their money somewhere. It's also true . . . that . . . corporate profits have staged a strong recovery . . . workers [are] failing to share in the fruits of their own rising productivity [and] hundreds of billions of dollars are piling up in the treasuries of corporations that, facing weak consumer demand, see no reason to put those dollars to work. . . . What the markets are clearly saying, however, is that the fears and prejudices that have dominated Washington discussion for years are entirely misguided. And they're also telling us that the people who have been feeding those fears and peddling those prejudices don't have a clue about how the economy actually works.

  • Ed Kilgore: The Anti-Choice Olympics: Somehow he missed Kansas.

    Ever since the 2010 elections, Republican legislators and governors have been in a competition to see who can enact the most blatantly unconstitutional -- at least according to existing precedents -- laws on abortion in the country. The first batch, typically banning abortions after around 20 weeks of pregnancy, were keyed to dubious claims that this is the stage when a fetus could experience pain. Earlier this month the Arkansas legislature picked up the pace with a bill banning abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy, this time making the alleged earlier point of detection of a fetal heartbeat the rationale. That bill was passed over Gov. Mike Beebe's veto.

    Now North Dakota -- a state with just one abortion clinic -- is springing into action with a bill (just sent to Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple) banning abortions after just 6 weeks of pregnancy, based on an even earlier assumption about the advent of a fetal heartbeat. Also under consideration in one chamber of the legislature is a bill emulating Mississippi's efforts (temporarily held up in the courts) to harrass abortion providers out of the state via bogus medical certification requirements, and a couple of bills adopting the "personhood" principle (giving a fertilized ovum the full protections of the law). So I guess Dalrymple will have the opportunity to sign the 6-week bill as a "compromise."

    With Republican-controlled legislatures all over the South talking about emulating Arkansas' law (which may already be behind the times if North Dakota trumps it), the rather transparent purpose of this trend (other than bragging rights) is to force a fresh Supreme Court review of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the decisions banning state prohibitions on pre-viability abortions.

  • Ed Kilgore: Costs of a "War of Choice":

    Most Americans are vaguely familiar with the number of U.S. combat troops killed in Iraq: 4,488. Less well-known is that another 3,418 U.S. contractors were killed, plus 318 troops from other allied countries, and 10,819 Iraqi government troops. Maybe Americans don't care about the 36,400 Iraqi insurgents killed, but we should care about the 134,000 Iraqi civilians who perished, which doesn't count the hundreds of thousands who died of war-related diseases. All told the direct human costs of the war are estimated at 189,000.

    The Brown study predicted the ultimate cost of the war to U.S. taxpayers at $2.2 trillion dollars -- a bit higher than the initial U.S. government estimates of $50 to $60 billion issued in 2002 -- and that doesn't count another $1.7 trillion in interest costs associated with borrowing to cover war spending.

    It would appear that the conclusions in Joseph E. Stiglitz/Linda J. Bilmes, The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict (2008, WW Norton) were in fact too conservative.

  • Paul Krugman: Ten Years Later:

    And there's a very big [tenth] anniversary coming up next week -- the start of the Iraq war. So why does there seem to be so little coverage?

    Well, it's not hard to think of a reason: a lot of people behaved badly in the runup to that war, and many though not all people in the news media behaved especially badly.

    It's hard now to recall the atmosphere of the time, but there was both an overpowering force of conventional wisdom -- all the Very Serious People were for war, don't you know, and if you were against you were by definition flaky -- and a strong current of fear. To come out against the war, let alone to suggest that the Bush administration was deliberately misleading the nation into war, looked all too likely to be a career-ending stance. And there were all too few profiles in courage.

    The war, then, was a big test -- a test of your ability to cut through a fog of propaganda, but also a test of your moral and to some extent personal courage. And a lot of people in the media failed.

    This remind me that I should go back to March 2003 and check what I wrote at the time (may be good for a mid-week post). Meanwhile, see Corey Robin: Bush Did Not Simply Lie in the Run-up to the Iraq War.


Also, a few links for further study:

  • Michael Hudson: The Big Threat to the Economy Is Private Debt and Interest Owed on It, Not Government Debt: From 1980 on, Americans have built ignored stagnant wages and built the illusion of an improving lifestyle on credit, which reached a peak just before the 2008 crash and is unlikely to ever recover. For other reasons, businesses have accumulated ever more debt -- here, tax deductability of interest has rewarded owners, especially private equity scavengers, for converting equity to debt. All this debt overhang is dead weight dragging down the economy. On the other hand, as long as government debt can be financed at low rates, it is no problem at all [emphasis below in original]:

    The problem is that "fiscal responsibility" is economically irresponsible, as far as full employment and economic recovery are concerned. less government spending shrinks the circular flow between the private sector's producers and consumers. [ . . . ] What really is responsible is for the government to spend enough money into the economy to keep employment and production thriving.

    Instead, the government is creating new debt mainly to bail out the banks and keep the existing debt overhead in place -- instead of writing down the debts.

    So governments from the United States to Europe face a choice: to save the economy, or to save the banks and bondholders from taking a loss by keeping the debt overhead in place and re-inflating real estate prices to a level high enough to cover the debts attached to the property whose underwater mortgages are weighing down the banking system. [ . . . ]

    Second, on that flow chart, you will see that for every half a trillion in federal deficit spending since the 2008 crisis, the Federal Reserve and Treasury have spent twice as much -- $1 trillion -- in providing new credit to the banks.

    President Obama announced that he hoped the banks would lend it out. So the solution by his advisors, including some here today, is for the economy to "borrow its way out of debt." The aim of the Fed and Treasury subsidies of the commercial banks is to re-inflate housing prices, stock and bond prices -- on credit. That means on debt.

    This obviously will make matters worse. But what will make them worse of all is the demand that the government "cure" the public-sector deficit by spending less generally, and specifically by cutting Social Security and Medicare. As in the case of the recent FICA withholding ostensibly to fund Social Security, the effect of less public spending into the economy is to force the private sector more deeply into debt.

  • Phillip Longman: The Republican Case for Waste in Health Care: Fearful that knowledge might make government programs more effective, the health care industry (helped by Republicans) "slipped language into Obamacare banning cost-effectiveness research." (As I recall, there is a similar prohibition against research that might prove troublesome for the gun industry.)

    In its final language, the ACA specifically bars policymakers from using cost-effectiveness as a basis for even recommending different drugs and treatments to patients. In practical effect, the ACA ensures that such research won't even be done, let alone be used as a criterion for guiding how the nearly $2.6 trillion the U.S. spends on health care each year might be put to best use. Here's what you need to know to understand how the fix was put in behind the scenes and why correcting it must become a high priority for health care reformers.

    Of course, cost-effectiveness research is fallible, especially at the level of the individual, who may be unstudied or simply the exception. Doctors and patients should be able to carve out space for exceptions, but they should do so on the basis of the best available information, not the least. Moreover, one needs to look at the expense side of the ledger. Major cost differences are often the result of patents or other forms of rent-seeking. Take those rents away and the costs will matter much less, making it easier to evaluate results on their merits.

  • Dylan Matthews: Washington Hates Deficits. Why It Hates Them Is Less Clear: Several charts, including a scatter of "Debt vs Interest Rates, 2008-2011" which shows that highly indebted Eurozone countries are indeed in trouble, but hardly anyone else is. We're told we should fear a high debt/GDP ratio because such a thing would bring high interest rates, but Japan's ratio is 218 percent and its interest rate is 0.67%, so? James Galbraith offers a scenario where government debt could keep growing indefinitely with no real adverse effects.

  • MJ Rosenberg: My Position on a Fair Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict:

    It's time Israel read the handwriting on the wall. It should stop any expansion of settlements and fully end the blockade of Gaza, as first step towards acknowledging its new situation. Those actions alone would restore its friendship with Turkey. And it should acknowledge through words and deed that it is ready for negotiations based on the Arab League Initiative.

    Negotiations won't start now, in the midst of the current turbulence in Syria and elsewhere. But Israel needs to be ready as soon as the dust settles. Additionally, it should end its threats toward Iran and let the Obama administration know that it favors lifting sanctions in return for tangible steps by Iran toward ensuring that its nuclear program is a civilian program and will remain one. Currently it supports "crippling sanctions" until Iran give up its right to any form of nuclear development. That simply won't fly.

    All those who care about the survival and security of Israel should encourage it to take these steps. It is no act of friendship to encourage Israel to dig in when the tides of history are running against it.

    I've been thinking about this issue a lot lately. My bottom line is that I'm agreeable to anything Israel might conceivably agree to that ultimately provides for equal rights for everyone somewhere. That could be the Arab League plan, and there is good reason adopting it because most of the concessions Israel could reasonably ask for have already been included. Or it could be something else, maybe something way out of the box. But it isn't going to happen, because Israel doesn't feel the need to agree to anything, because they feel like they're in charge, and they're convinced time is working for them. (Richard Ben Cramer had a story about a rabbi who promised to teach a dog to talk, who keeps begging for more time even though he knows he can't do it. Why, in the face of such a hopeless task, do you stall for time, he is asked? The answer: well, maybe the dog will die.)

    You can imagine Israel as being split between two types of Jews. One follows only their own counsel, convinced that the world is ultimately against them, and that "only what the Jews do matters." Such people are condemned to fight forever, and they see any attempt to accommodate the rest of the world as letting their guard down, inviting destruction. The other feels that Israel can be part of a world at peace, at least with the support of critical allies. Indeed, Israel has depended on foreign support throughout the history of the Zionist movement: first from Britain, then Russia, France, and finally the United States. That group of Jews can be pressed into concessions if the world, especially the US, applies enough pressure. (Of course, there is also a third group of Jews -- those with a conscience -- but they don't seem to have any practical influence within Israel, even though the number of people who would like to think of themselves as in this group may be substantial.)

    What's happened, at least since Bush came to power in 2001, is that the second group hasn't experienced any pressure to come around, so they've naturally deferred to the first group. Nor has Clinton or Obama been able or willing to apply any real pressure -- the fact that both primarily operated through an Israeli flack name of Dennis Ross attests to their lack of seriousness, erudition, and even self-respect. Meanwhile, first group leaders like Sharon and Netanyahu learned to feign enough flexibility to deflect half-hearted US efforts, all the while digging in deeper.

    It is clear that world public opinion is turning against Israel. What isn't clear is whether as opinion turns there will be a moment when the US and Europe resolve to put effective pressure on Israel to make peace, nor is it clear that the second group of Israeli Jews can coalesce and take charge of Israel to do what needs to be done. If either fails the long run will be bleak indeed, with the first group controlling an Israel that is estranged from the world and locked in mortal combat with those it tramples, and the world as a whole will be a far nastier place.

    Rosenberg has the right idea here -- not so much the details as the notion that it is urgent for constructive groups both in Israel and the US to come forward, otherwise they're likely to perish under the hawks that currently dominate both. (I also think it is fair to say that the Palestinians have never been more accomodating in their search for peace -- unless you insist on inequal treatment and denying their human rights, they are not at present the problem.)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Book Roundup, Part Deux

This is the second collection of forty of my little book blurbs in several days. Scratch file currently has 84 more, so I could very well dump two more of these next week. Not as important as the ones in Thursday's post -- in particular, no books that I've already managed to read -- but still noteworthy.


Anat Admati/Martin Hellwig: The Bankers' New Clothes: What's Wrong With Banking and What to Do About It (2013, Princeton University Press): Presumably covers Dodd-Frank and still finds it wanting, which seems right. I'm inclined to go back to the "banking is boring" days, but I doubt if they go that far.

Eric Alterman/Kevin Mattson: The Cause: The Fight for American Liberalism From Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama (2012, Viking): One of the few political writers who remains an unapologetic, unreconstructed, proud liberal -- cf. his 2009 book, Why We're Liberals: A Handbook for Restoring America's Most Important Ideals. One problem is that so many of his exemplars, not least the current president but also his first, have a checkered history, sometimes a mix of illiberal beliefs, sometimes just a willingness to chuck principle for political opportunism.

Ariella Azoulay: From Palestine to Israel: A Photographic Record of Destruction and State Formation, 1947-1950 (paperback, 2011, Pluto Press): On 200 photographs from the war when Israel not only achieved independence but reduced the Arab population of the nation from 70% to 15%. She also wrote The Civil Contract of Photography (2012, Zone Books) and Civil Imagination: A Political Ontology of Photography (2012, Verso).

Max Boot: Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare From Ancient Times to the Present (2013, Liveright): Notorious war lover, back to his favorite subject. But while The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power (2002) was written to advance an argument -- that the US shouldn't think twice about getting into small wars because they always work out just fine -- it's not clear what the point is here (indeed, Boot's traditional fans tend to be on the COIN side (but not always, and results there haven't been so cheery).

Angus Burgin: The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets Since the Depression (2012, Harvard University Press): On economic theory, so markets are not so much reinvented -- they had never been banned -- as reideologized by various economists, from FA Hayek to Milton Friedman, especially through the Mont Pélerin Society.

John Burt: Lincoln's Tragic Pragmatism: Lincoln, Douglas, and Moral Conflict (2012, Belknap Press): Big book (832 pp.) to just cover the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, compared favorably to Harry Jaffa's Crisis of the House Divided (1959), long regarded as the standard work on the subject.

Jeff Connaughton: The Payoff: Why Wall Street Always Wins (2012, Prospecta): Ever wonder why banks are too big to fail? Why they're too influential even to be reorganized under bankruptcy law when they're tottering? What about why Jamie Dimon still has his job? One big part is their lobby, which is the author's main target here. Another is the incest which has allowed them to capture the Treasury Dept., the SEC, other regulatory agencies, and most importantly the Fed. Of course they win. They personify the greed Washington aspires to.

Fawaz A Gerges: Obama and the Middle East: The End of America's Moment? (2012, Palgrave Macmillan): Moment to do what? The US hasn't had a moment to do anything constructive in the Middle East since 1991, when defeating Saddam Hussein led to the Madrid talks on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but even then Bush was too hamstrung by the Saudis on one side and the Israelis on the other, with festering wounds in Iraq and Iran unsettled. Obama made some concessions to Arab Spring, but ultimately couldn't support it, because the goal there would not just be to make the Arab world more democratic and prosperous but also more independent of the US.

Al Gore: The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change (2013, Random House): Smarter than he ever let on as a politician, but still . . . The six, more or less: "ever-increasing economic globalization" ("Earth Inc."); "worldwide digital communications" ("the Global Mind"); "the balance of power is shifting from a US-centered system to one with multiple emerging centers of power"; "unsustainable growth in consumption, pollution flows, and depletion of strategic resources"; "sciences revolutions are putting control of evolution in human hands"; "a radical disruption of the relationship between human beings and the earth's ecosystems, along with the beginning of a revolutionary transformation of energy systems, agriculture, transportation, and construction worldwide" -- no idea what that last one means, either.

Amy S Greenberg: A Wicked War: Polk, Clay, Lincoln, and the 1846 US Invasion of Mexico (2012, Knopf): Certainly a war of naked aggression by the US, aimed at removing Mexico if not yet the more numerous native population from the slice of North America from Texas west to California. Polk was president and orchestrated it. Clay was his most prominent Whig opponent, and Lincoln was a virtual unknown, but not for long.

David Harsanyi: Obama's Four Horsemen: The Disasters Unleashed by Obama's Reelection (2013, Regnery): The paranoid hate lit moves into its post-apocalyptic phase, oblivious to the fact that not much happened under Obama's first term and that even less is likely under the second. The "four horsemen" are "national debt, widespread dependence on government, turmoil in the Middle East, and expansion of the bureaucratic state" -- makes me think of GW Bush, but, well, you know. Also competing for the paranoid bigot's dollars: John R Lott Jr: At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge? (2013, Regnery); Wayne Allyn Root: The Ultimate Obama Survival Guide: Secrets to Protecting Your Family, Your Finances, and Your Freedom (2013, Regnery); Ken Cuccinelli: The Last Line of Defense: The New Fight for American Liberty (2013, Crown).

Dilip Hiro: Inside Central Asia: A Political and Cultural History of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tadjikistan, Turkey and Iran (2009; paperback, 2011, Overlook): Author of the encyclopedic The Essential Middle East: A Comprehensive Guide (2nd ed, paperback, 2003, Carroll & Graf), various books on Iran, Iraq, and oil, provides an overview to the ex-Soviet "-stans," which in addition to their continuing Russian (and Chinese) interests are also affected by Turkey and Iran. And yes, there's oil there, also Islamist militants, corrupt leaders, etc., everything you need for another round of "great games." Also available: Ahmed Rashid: Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia (2002, paperback, Penguin Books); Olivier Roy: The New Central Asia: The Creation of Nations (updated ed, paperback, 2007, NYU Press).

Michael Hudson: The Bubble and Beyond: Fictitious Capital, Debt Deflation and Global Crisis (paperback, 2012, Islet): Economist, has a bunch of books but is perhaps best known for his 2006 essay predicting "the coming real estate collapse." He has ahead of the curve back then, and likely still is.

Louis Hyman: Debtor Nation: The History of America in Red Ink (2011; paperback, 2012, Princeton University Press): On the expansion of consumer credit in America. Also has another book, Borrow: The American Way of Debt (paperback, 2012, Vintage), which appears to cover the same ground. Don't know what his angle is, but one way to think of the expansion of consumer debt is as an ersatz wage substitute: it allows people to buy more without being worth more. As median incomes have stagnated over the last 30 years, consumer debt allowed the illusion that the wage progress of previous generations has continued. As that seems unlikely to be sustainable, one would expect some sort of crisis to follow.

Susan Jacoby: The Great Agnostic: Robert Ingersoll and American Freethought (2012, Yale University Press): A prominent anti-religious speaker from the golden age of Jacoby's previous Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism.

Robert D Kaplan: The Revenge of Geography: What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate (2012, Random House): Good writer, interesting journalist, someone who tries to think deep and invariably fails, mostly because his mind is locked in ancient struggles for domination. How confused can he get? Try this: "Afghanistan's porous borders will keep it the principal invasion route into India, and a vital rear base for Pakistan, India's main enemy." That hasn't been true since Babur: the Brits came in boats, the Americans wired in dollars, Pakistan (for better or, mostly, worse) has a direct border, and Afghanistan doesn't.

Matt Kennard: Irregular Army: How the US Military Recruited Neo-Nazis, Gang Members, and Criminals to Fight the War on Terror (2012, Verso): Hard to tell how big a problem this is, given that no respectable US reporter would make a point of describing US soldiers as psychos, although you do have all those suicides, the occasional mass shooter, and it doesn't stretch the imagination much to wonder how many militia nuts got their basic training in overkill at public expense.

Daniel Klaidman: Kill or Capture: The War on Terror and the Soul of the Obama Presidency (2012, Houghton Mifflin): A look at the politics behind Obama's retreat from his initial promises to close Guantanamo and prosecute terror suspects in the legal system, his use of drones to assassinate supposed enemies, leading up to the preference for killing over capturing Bin Laden.

Timothy W Luke/Ben Agger, eds: A Journal of No Illusions: Telos, Paul Piccone, and the Americanization of Critical Theory (paperback, 2011, Telos Press): I knew Piccone very well, joining him (and Telos) when he moved from Buffalo to St. Louis, and he had a deep impact on my thinking, mostly forcing me to be more critical of everything, not least of him and his volcanic eruptions of deep thoughts and profanity. A dozen essays, Russell Jacoby and Robert D'Amico the only names familiar from my days, figure this to be the authorized story. Also: Confronting the Crisis: Writings of Paul Piccone (2008, Telos Press), which at 396 pp. is probably far short of his collected works, but I always wondered why such a know-it-all never bothered to pull it all together into a signature book.

Edward N Luttwak: The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy (2012, Belknap Press): Security strategist, best known for writing the manual on how to stage a Coup D'Etat, engages in the favorite parlor game of US security strategists: imagining China's out to top the US as the world's most bloated military power. Needless to say, he focuses much on Sun Tsu.

Greg Muttitt: Fuel on the Fire: Oil and Politics in Occupied Iraq (2012, Free Press): The invasion and occupation of Iraq may or may not have been about oil -- like many things, depends on who you ask, and how candid they are -- but the oil is there, and the demand to book it, produce it, and market it is here. We know, for instance, from Steve Coll's Private Empire, that Exxon expected it would take ten years before they could move in and book oil properties, and that has proven about right, and that's just one example of what should be many.

Ralph Nader: The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future (paperback, 2012, Harper): Laundry list includes: reforming the tax system, making out communities more self-reliant, reclaiming science and technology for the people, protecting the family, getting corporations off welfare, creating national charters for corporations, reducing our bloated military budget, organizing congressional watchdog groups, enlisting the enlightened super-rich. I think I could do better than that, but probably wouldn't have thought of that last one. Previously wrote The Seventeen Traditions (2007), so has something about that number.

Greg Palast: Billionaires & Ballot Bandits: How to Steal an Election in 9 Easy Steps (paperback, 2012, Seven Stories Press): Leftist journalist/pundit, someone I've never bothered with because his past books -- The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Armed Madhouse, Vultures' Picnic -- seemed to offer a slightly sensationalized gloss on the obvious, but this year's election pretty much comes down to his targets: unlimited campaign spending and the efforts to suppress the vote as much as possible.

Kevin Phillips: 1775: A Good Year for Revolution (2012, Viking): Returning to his theses originally outlined in The Cousins' Wars (1999) -- before he spent his last few books dissecting the catastrophe the Bush family brought to America -- this focuses more narrowly on the first year of the American Revolution.

Lawrence N Powell: The Accidental City: Improvising New Orleans (2012, Harvard University Press): A history of the Crescent City, especially its first century-plus, up to statehood in 1812. During that time it passed from France to Spain to the US, engaged in slavery and commerce, perched on some of the most marginal land in the country. The latter is also the subject of Richard Campanella: Bienville's Dilemma: A Historical Geography of New Orleans (paperback, 2008, University of Louisiana Press).

David Quammen: Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic (2012, WW Norton): Natural science writer, has written a couple essential books (e.g., The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinction). Bacterial and viral infectious don't just appear. They evolve within host species, and occasionally jump to other species, sometimes with deadly consequences. This is likely to be the book that finally makes all that make sense.

Robert B Reich: Beyond Outrage: What Has Gone Wrong With Our Economy and Our Democracy, and How to Fix It (paperback, 2012, Vintage): Cover says "Expanded Edition" but I'm not sure to what. Three essays: one on how the "game" has been rigged, one on "The Rise of the Regressive Right," a third on "What You Need to Do." Pretty basic stuff: Reich is becoming more focused as the obvious problems keep boxing him in ever tighter.

Carne Ross: The Leaderless Revolution: How Ordinary People Will Take Power and Change Politics in the 21st Century (2012, Blue Rider Press): Well, that sounds pretty optimistic. Ross was a British diplomat, envoy to the UN, worked to mediate crises in the Balkans and the Middle East, previously wrote Independent Diplomat: Dispatches From an Unaccountable Elite (2007, Cornell University Press).

David E Sanger: Confront and Conceal: Obama's Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power (2012, Crown): As Obama was taking office in 2009, Sanger threw down a challenge in the form of a book, The Inheritance: The World Obama Confronts and the Challenges to American Power. An unabashed, unrepentant fan of American power, Sanger was worried that Bush's ineptness had squandered and poisoned it, so now he's delighted that competency has been restored, and the nation is bigger and bullier than ever. I'm afraid I'm less pleased by all this: I've long said that things not worth doing are not worth doing well, and this is one of them. (The drug war, which many people think Obama realizes is a crock, is another of them.)

Landon RY Storrs: The Second Red Scare and the Unmaking of the New Deal Left (2013, Princeton University Press): The McCarthy period, like the original 1919 "red scare" a piece of postwar nostalgia aimed at preserving the nation's martial spirit by starting another war, and ultimately a far worse one in that it succeeded in not only establishing the nation's cold war stance but in purging the post-New Deal government of its leftist rank and file. The effect was not only to militate the nation against the Soviet Union but to turn the US against the working class everywhere, including in the US.

William J Stuntz: The Collapse of American Criminal Justice (2011, Harvard University Press): Famous legal scholar, died shortly before this was released, offering a broad rethinking of the entire criminal justice system as it exists in the US. Much reviewed and commented upon, some things that make sense to me and some that don't.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb: Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder (2012, Random House): Author's day job is Professor of Risk Engineering, but he has built a reputation in mathematics and economics by writing books that cut against the grain of expectations (e.g., The Black Swan, Fooled by Randomness). This looks like another.

Göran Therborn: The World: A Beginner's Guide (paperback, 2011, Polity): Swedish sociologist, one of the New Left Review Marxists, offers a short primer on everything.

Evan Thomas: Ike's Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World (2012, Little Brown): Portrait of the president as a sly peacemaker, which is a bit of a stretch, but as Thomas points out, when Eisenhower took office many top military strategists were advocating a first strike against the Soviet Union, China too, and use of nuclear bombs in the still hot but stalemated Korea War. He's onto something there, but I wouldn't push it too far, given what the CIA did during those years (Iran, Guatemala, Cuba, the U-2 incident), and given what a rabid hawk Eisenhower turned into when advising Johnson on Vietnam. Previously wrote The War Lovers, about 1898.

Jeffrey Toobin: The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court (2012, Doubleday): Journalist, specialist in the Supreme Court -- previously wrote: The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court -- a subject of perpetual interest given how the right has taken over and radicalized the Court.

Nick Turse: The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Spies, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare (paperback, Haymarket, 2012): Short (107 pp) essay on the latest changes in US tactics, which keep the old imperial interface intact while reducing exposure and public consciousness of what the military is up to.

Craig Unger: Boss Rove: Inside Karl Rove's Secret Kingdom of Power (2012, Scribner): Author has written a couple books on Bush, the first on his Saudi connections, the second on the Iraq war and other misdeeds, so he's been turning over rocks to see what he might find, and finally he's discovered Turd Blossom. Rove has spent his post-Bush days building a modern political machine, which is to say money laundering and propagandizing. Not clear to me that he's had a whole lot of success, but that's mostly because the crazies have out-crazied him. But he'll be back, not least because no one's more opportunist, nor corrupt.

Mark K Updegrove: Indomitable Will: LBJ in the Presidency (2012, Crown): I reckon one reason Johnson's legislative record seems more impressive these days is that Obama's seems so thin.

Craig Whitney: Living With Guns: A Liberal's Case for the Second Amendment (2012, Public Affairs): Rationalization for accepting a compromise with the gun industry in America, not that any are forthcoming. Like many on the left, I decided that this wasn't an issue worth the political fight: one better step would be to disengage from war and reduce the military, another would be economic justice (equalizing incomes and putting a floor under the impoverished areas), another would be to reduce crime by ending drug prohibition, another would be more realistic study and public information of the risks and benefits to gun ownership. This book may be useful, especially for historical background and insight into the constitutional issue. Related books: Adam Winkler: Gun Fight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America (2011, WW Norton); Mark V Tushnet: Out of Range: Why the Constitution Can't End the Battle Over Guns (2007, Oxford University Press); Brian Doherty: Gun Control on Trial: Inside the Supreme Court Battle Over the Second Amendment (2009, Cato Institute); Saul Cornell: A Well Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America (paperback, 2008, Oxford University Press); Stephen P Halbrook: The Founders' Second Amendment: Origins of the Right to Bear Arms (2012, Ivan R Dee); David Hemenway: Private Guns, Public Health (2004; paperback, 2006, University of Michigan Press); Robert J Spitzer: The Politics of Gun Control (5th ed, paperback, Paradigm). Of course, lots of books by John R Lott Jr, too (e.g., More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws).

Richard Wolff: Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism (paperback, 2012, Haymarket Books): Marxist economist, his previous book about the 2008 meltdown was titled, Capitalism Hits the Fan, so he's not afraid to use the C-word derogatorily. As for that D-word, for over 200 years now the right has fretted that common folk would use their votes in support of their own interests.


As I said, paperback reissues later.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Expert Comments

Joe Yanosik asked about Wardell Gray, specifically a 1975 2LP set that Christgau had commented on favorably. I wrote:

What I have by Wardell Gray: Memorial, Vol. 1 and Memorial, Vol. 2 -- both OJC CDs issued in 1992. Looks like they reproduce every song on the 1975 Central Avenue 2LP, possibly plus some alternate takes, but slightly reordered. I have both listed as A-. Looks like Vol. 2 is out of print, and I don't see any convenient compilations, even on bootleg labels, unless you want to spring for the 4-CD Proper Box, which actually isn't a bad idea -- it will, among other things, get you "The Chase."

Chris Monsen wrote (while I was writing):

Wardell Gray Memorial vol. 1 and 2 cover much of the same material, but the CD versions are marred by several takes of the same compositions.

Like, I think, Vol. 1 starts with five takes of "Twisted." Greg Morton found the Proper Box on Amazon for $12 -- yes, the title is The Wardell Gray Story.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Book Roundup

Again, way too long since the last 40-deep book prospecting post -- September 27 -- possibly because over the last couple months this has degenerated into a music blog (and a grumpy one at that). I'll try to catch up here in a hurry. Since I only do 40 books at a time, I should run about four of these in rapid succession. For the first helping, I've cherry picked the most important books in history, politics, and economics. I'll hold up on doing paperback reissues until I get that section sorted better.

Some of this stuff is so old I've managed to get it through my reading list, hence the illustrations. Chandrasekaran I even have notes on. Most likely the notes were written before I read the books -- Azoulay is the exception, and I added a line on Economix. The Avi Raz and Daniel Kurtzer books are in the queue.


Elliott Abrams: Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (2013, Cambridge University Press): A self-serving memoir in the manner of Dennis Ross and so many other failures, but Abrams didn't fail -- he was pure evil, and was remarkably successful not just at wrecking any prospects for peace in Israel's neighborhood but in making everyone involved, including the US, much meaner and crazier. No idea how much of this he admits to -- such creatures usually prefer to dwell in the dark.

Stanley Aronowitz: Taking It Big: C Wright Mills and the Making of Political Intellectuals (2012, Columbia University Press): Mills was the most influential sociologist of his generation, at least on left-oriented students of my generation, so Aronowitz is well positioned to look both at what Mills did and what we made of him.

Ariella Azoulay/Adi Ophir: The One-State Condition: Occupation and Democracy in Israel/Palestine (paperback, 2012, Stanford University Press): Abridged from a much larger book in Hebrew, this is a theory-heavy structural analysis of Israel's occupation -- how various legal and military regimes have been evolved to repress revolt and manage the Palestinian population both within the Green Zone and in the occupied territories. They make no bones that the key is violence, sometimes naked (their term is "eruptive"), more often implicit (what they call "withheld"). Moreover, this violence is so much a part of Israeli rule that the only way to make peace is to replace the Israeli regime.

Bernard Bailyn: The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675 (2012, Knopf): Should as much be the story of the de-peopling of North America, as the native population died off while surrendering land to European (and African) newcomers. Especially in the early years, the population balance was treacherous.

Sheila Bair: Bull by the Horns: Fighting to Save Main Street From Wall Street and Wall Street From Itself (2012, Free Press): A Kansas Republican, appointed by Bush to head the FDIC in 2006, Bair distinguished herself as damn near the only government official who attempted to do something about the financial collapse before the bottom fell out.

Antony Beevor: The Second World War: The Definitive History (2012, Little Brown): Big book (880 pp.), but the subject has been so exhaustively explored that this promises to be a primer, a reduction to bare essentials, which probably means one battle after another. Beevor himself has written whole (and pretty large) books on Stalingrad, D-Day, and The Fall of Berlin 1945, as well as his other "definitive" The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939.

Peter L Bergen: Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden: From 9/11 to Abbottabad (2012, Crown): Author interviewed Bin Laden back when he was nobody, and managed to ply that association into a lengthy career -- Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama Bin Laden (2001); The Osama bin Laden I Know (2006), The Longest War: The Enduring Conflict Between America and al-Qaeda (2011) -- so this book was pretty much inevitable. Also inevitable was the deluge, some specific to Bin Laden, some more general: Mark Bowden: The Finish: The Killing of Osama Bin Laden; Mark Owen: No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden; Aki Peritz/Eric Rosenbach: Find, Fix, Finish: Inside the Counterterrorism Campaigns That Killed Bin Laden and Devastated Al Qaeda; Chuck Pfarrer: SEAL Target Geronomo: The Inside Story of the Mission to Kill Osama Bin Laden; Eric Schmitt/Thom Shanker: Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America's Secret Campaign Against Al Qaeda.

Alan S Blinder: After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead (2013, Penguin Press): Clinton economist, spent some time (1994-96) as vice chair of the Fed, reviews the 2008 meltdown and the various steps the Fed and Treasury took to save the big banks. He defends those unprecedented steps, but also finds need for further reform.

Breaking the Silence, ed.: Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers' Testimonies From the Occupied Territories, 2000-2010 (2012, Metropolitan Books): Oral history, interviews with Israeli soldiers, witnesses to occupation from the top down.

Naomi Cahn/June Carbone: Red Families v. Blue Families: Legal Polarization and the Creation of Culture (2010; paperback, Oxford University Press, 2011): A look at how American families have been polarized by the red-blue culture divide.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran: Little America: The War Within the War for Afghanistan (2012, Knopf): Mild-mannered journalist, laid back then wrote a damning chronicle of US incompetence in Iraq, Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone, moves on to Afghanistan. There, he focuses on Helmand, home of America's prewar "Little America" hydro-project, watching wave after wave of American power unable to do anything constructive. [link].

Joseph Crespino: Strom Thurmond's America (2012, Hill & Wang): The Dixiecrat's presidential candidate lived a full 100 years, and did something unspeakably vile in nearly every one of them. He was the first southern Democrat to switch parties, starting a trend that brought the GOP the likes of Jesse Helms, Trent Lott, Richard Shelby, and Phil Gramm.

Michael Dobbs: Six Months in 1945: FDR, Stalin, Churchill, and Truman, From World War to Cold War (2012, Knopf): The death of Franklin Roosevelt and the succession of Harry Truman was probably the key event in turning the US-Soviet alliance sour, even if most Cold War histories push the dates out a bit, all the easier to blame the Soviets. Trying to cram this transformation into the last six months of WWII -- from Yalta to Hiroshima, which as Gar Alperowitz argued was a diplomatic gesture aimed as much as Moscow as at Tokyo -- forces the issue, but I'm not sure it doesn't fit.

Robert Draper: Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the US House of Representatives (2012, Free Press): Previously wrote Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush (2007), one of the better books on that sorry subject. This goes deep inside the 112th House, which the Republicans took over following the 2010 elections. At this point I'd say wait for the paperback, out in May hopefully with some extras, also with a new title: When the Tea Party Came to Town: Inside the US House of Representatives' Most Combative, Dysfunctional, and Infuriating Term in Modern History (paperback, 2013, Simon & Schuster) -- not that the 113th won't give it a run for the money.

Jesse Ferris: Nasser's Gamble: How Intervention in Yemen Caused the Six-Day War and the Decline of Egyptian Power (2012, Princeton University Press): Nasser referred to his five-year intervention in Yemen as "my Vietnam": no doubt it both weakened and unfocused Egypt's military, which only added to the confidence Israel's generals felt in launching their 1967 blitzkrieg. Still, while everyone acknowledges that it aided Israel's win, it is rare to see anyone argue that it caused Israel's aggression, not least because it calls into question Nasser's motives and priorities.

Michael Goodwin/Dan E Burr: Economix: How and Why Our Economy Works (and Doesn't Work), in Words and Pictures (paperback, 2012, Abrams Comic Arts): Comix-style, more history than theory, which probably helps both the illustrator and the reader. For many years Larry Gonick had a corner on scholarly (or at least nerdy) comix, but others are appearing: aside from this one on, Yoram Bauman and Grady Klein have two volumes of The Cartoon Introduction to Economics, one micro, the other macro. I've just finished reading this one, and it is a remarkably concise primer on nearly everything you need to know about politics and the economy since Adam Smith (plus it's a big help on Smith).

Michael R Gordon/General Bernard E Trainor: Endgame: The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq From George W Bush to Barack Obama (2012, Pantheon; paperback, 2013, Vintage): Authors of Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq, back when they were embedded in high command, their typical viewpoint for all things military. Once again, they claim the inside story, backed by "still-classified documents" their sources don't trust to the public.

Michael Grunwald: The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era (2012, Simon & Schuster): Mostly on Obama's stimulus bill, now widely understood to have been way too small, not to mention oversold. Not sure what more has been hidden about the story, other than Obama's penchant for negotiating himself down while imagining that he's working up a bipartisan deal. There were no meaningful bipartisan deals during his watch -- only more or less egregious capitulations, which showed how little he was willing to stand up for the very people who elected him, even so much as speaking out in defense of their (and supposedly his) principles. Grunwald previously wrote The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise (paperback, 2007, Simon & Schuster), which I bought long ago but never got around to reading.

James Inhofe: The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future (2012, WND Books): Cover introduces Inhofe as "US Senator"; actually he's just a Republican from Oklahoma, but since the opposition to the science of climate change is overwhelmingly political, why not let a real politician (as opposed to a hack like Roy Spencer) do the talking: "Americans are over-regulated and over-taxed. When regulation escalates, the result is an increase in regulators. In other words, bigger government is required to enforce the greater degree of regulation. Bigger government means bigger budgets and higher taxes. 'More' simply doesn't mean 'better.' A perfect example is the entire global warming, climate-change issue, which is an effort to dramatically and hugely increase regulation of each of our lives and business, and to raise our cost of living and taxes." Nothing here about whether the science is true. Nothing about future effects. Nothing about whether it can be mitigated or controlled. The whole case for opposition is that it runs against Inhofe's political agenda, which is itself nonsense. There are many other books that oppose the supposed political agenda riding on top of climate science, and even a few that try to "debunk" that science. I published a long list in 2010; some more recent ones include: Larry Bell: Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax (2011, Greenleaf); Patrick J Michaels: Climate Coup: Global Warming's Invasion of Our Government and Our Lives (2011, Cato Institute); Brian Sussman: Eco-Tyranny: How the Left's Green Agenda Will Dismantle America (2012, WND Books); Robert Zubrin: Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism (2012, Encounter Books).

Robert Kagan: The World America Made (2012, Knopf): A right-wing view of America as the world's indispensible nation, without which the whole world declines into war and chaos -- as opposed, I suppose, to the universe where the US causes all that war and chaos, i.e., the one we live in today.

Fred Kaplan: The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War (2013, Simon & Schuster): Kaplan wrote an important book a few years back on the "revolution in military affairs" which was put to the test when Bush invaded Iraq -- Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power -- so he should be fairly critical at reporting the military's latest theoretical hubris, COIN (counterinsurgency theory and practice). Petraeus was the marquis star of COIN: he wrote the book, which got him back in the game, not that he ever practiced what he preached. The guy suckered into that was Gen. Stanley McChrystal, whose memoir is also newly available (My Share of the Task: A Memoir). No word from Petraeus yet, but Paula Broadwell: All In: The Education of General David Petraeus turns out to be more authorized than was initially imagined.

Ira Katznelson: Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time (2013, Liveright): A substantial history of the New Deal. Previously wrote When Affirmative Action Was White, which showed how the New Deal shortchanged blacks, so I don't expect him to pull his punches on race.

Ian Kershaw: The End: The Defiance and Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1944-1945 (2011, Penguin Books): He's written a lot of books about the Third Reich -- I have one on the shelf unread called Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions That Changed the World, 1940-1941 -- so it seems he's focusing now on hypotheticals. In this case: what held the Nazis together until Berlin was overrun, allowing no thought of trying to negotiate surrender terms. Looks like the publisher already has a sequel prepared: Gerald Steinacher: Nazis on the Run: How Hitler's Henchmen Fled Justice (2011, Penguin Books).

Daniel C Kurtzer/Scott B Lasensky/William B Quandt/Steven L Spiegel/Shibley Z Telhami: The Peace Puzzle: America's Quest for Arab-Israeli Peace, 1989-2011 (2013, Cornell University Press): Could be sub-subtitled "An Autopsy" -- that at least is what the subject calls for, with some additional pieces on how Israel inspired the neocons, how Israel's flagrantly illegal counterterrorism tactics were adopted by the Americans, and how Israel played the Iran atomic issue to distract Bush and especially Obama from the real gaping sore in the Middle East. The authors shouldn't be uncritical, but Kurtzer (in particular) may have been too close to the process to call it the sham it has been.

Flynt Leverett/Hillary Mann Leverett: Going to Tehran: Why the United States Must Come to Terms With the Islamic Republic (2013, Metropolitan Books): Sensible appeal from diplomats and analysts who know more than a little about Iran. They've been arguing this for some time: lost some credibility when they told us to deal with Iran back when there were massive demonstrations against Ahmadinejad's reëlection, but they were right, and hoping for regime change has yielded nothing.

Richard Lingeman: The Noir Forties: The American People From Victory to Cold War (2012, Nation Books): The selling of the cold war is one of the most important, least debated topics in American history, undoing and reversing 160 years of isolation and anti-militarism in American culture and politics, undermining significant gains by workers and the poor, many of whom could aspire to "middle class" status, and leading to the calculated insanity of the new right. I'm sceptical of trying to argue politics through culture, but it is a puzzle. Otherwise, this is just a guide to the period's film noir.

Fredrik Logevall: Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the Making of America's Vietnam (2012, Random House): Huge (864 pp.) history of the French war, ending in defeat in 1954, to reassert imperialist control over Vietnam, a war the US supported and continued for another 21 years. Author has written about Vietnam before: Choosing War: The Lost Chance for Peace and the Escalation of War in Vietnam (1999; paperback, 2001, University of California Press), and The Origins of the Vietnam War (paperback, 2001, Longman). In the former, Logevall argues that the war could have been negotiated away in 1963-65, but that US leaders chose to bet on war instead. We all know how that worked out (or should: the right has veered toward senescence here, as elsewhere).

Ami Pedhazur: The Triumph of Israel's Radical Right (2012, Oxford University Press): By "radical right" he means the followers of Meir Kahane, who were marginal (illegal even) a few decades ago, but following martyred mass murder Baruch Goldstein have wedged themselves into a stranglehold position over Israeli politics, making it impossible to dismantle the settlements, ensuring that the conflict will never end, and (in their minds) ultimately leading to an Israeli state purged of Palestinians. Netanyahu and Lieberman are pikers compared to them -- useful idiots, as Stalins liked to say. Author previously wrote The Israeli Secret Services & the Struggle Against Terrorism (paperback, 2010, Columbia University Press).

Harvey Pekar/JT Waldman: Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me (2012, Hill and Wang): Comic-style book, traces Pekar's coming to terms with his parents' embrace of Zionism -- his mother "by way of politics," his father "by way of faith," neither preparing him for the reality of the state, its belligerence, its paranoia, its domination and occupation.

Eyal Press: Beautiful Souls: Saying No, Breaking Ranks, and Heeding the Voice of Conscience in Dark Times (2012, Farrar Straus and Giroux): A book on conscience-driven acts of disobedience, including a Swiss police captain allowing Jewish refugees to enter "neutral" Switzerland in 1938, and Israeli soldiers refusing to participate in the Occupation. Turns out to be a slim book (208 pp).

Avi Raz: The Bride and the Dowry: Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians in the Aftermath of the June 1967 War (2012, Yale University Press): Focuses on the first two years of postwar occupation, when Israeli thinking about the future was in great flux yet notably rigid: they had, after all, conquered the land of their dreams (well, excepting the East Bank, and South Lebanon up to the Litani), and as neocolonial settlers were reluctant to part with any of it.

Thomas E Ricks: The Generals: American Military Command From World War II to Today (2012, Penguin Press): Military journalist, wrote two books on being embedded with the high command that invaded and occupied Iraq (the first appropriately called Fiasco), extends his historical ruminations back to WWII, hoping he can finally find some generals worth flattering.

Shlomo Sand: The Invention of the Land of Israel: From Holy Land to Homeland (2012, Verso): A logical successor to the author's The Invention of the Jewish People (2009), which questioned whether the Jews returning to Zion were in fact descendents of the Jews who left Palestine in Roman times.

Amity Shlaes: Coolidge (2013, Harper): Partisan hack historian as "revisionist," took on Franklin Roosevelt in The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression (2007), goes one step further in attempting to lionize "Silent Cal" -- US president during the fat years of the roaring 1920s then got out before his bubble burst. Also new: Charles C Johnson: Why Coolidge Matters: Leadership Lessons From America's Most Underrated President (2013, Encounter Books). One reason Coolidge matters is as that he's an icon against public sector unions. Another is how steadfastly he served the rich under Treasury Secretary Andrew Mellon.

Nate Silver: The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail -- But Some Don't (2012, Penguin Press): Author writes an influential blog about election polling, useful to consult in season, in part because he has an uncanny track record of getting those things correct, no matter how unpleasant the results. This promises to offer more method, and the title issue is the crux of the matter. Most folks have a lot of trouble with statistics, so this promises to be helpful.

Oliver Stone/Peter Kuznick: The Untold History of the United States (2013, Gallery Books): The footnotes, a mere 784 pp, behind Stone's documentary series. Aside from some glances at the notion of "American exceptionalism," this starts with the imperialist grab of the Spanish-American War, the advent of "gunboat diplomacy," and Woodrow Wilson's World War as viewed through Smedley Butler's notion that "war is a racket" -- a truth that no amount of Cold War propaganda could ever erase. Also available: On History: Tariq Ali and Oliver Stone in Conversation (paperback, 2011, Haymarket), after Ali collaborated with Stone on the documentary South of the Border.

Nick Turse: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (2013, Metropolitan): Author has written several books on how the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have changed the US military. Here he reexamines the grandaddy of those wars, Vietnam, reminding us how brutal and morally debilitating that war was. Christian Appy: "Nick Turse has done more than anyone to demonstrate -- and document -- what should finally be incontrovertible: American atrocities in Vietnam were not infrequent and inadvertent, but the commonplace and inevitable result of official U.S. military policy." Marilyn Young: "Until this history is acknowledged it will be repeated, one way or another, in the wars the U.S. continues to fight."

Joan Walsh: What's the Matter With White People: Why We Long for a Golden Age That Never Was (2012, Wiley): Well, you know, they let themselves be manipulated by rich people they have nothing but race in common with, to shaft dark people who they have more in common with than they recognize. In short, dumb.

Michael Walzer: In God's Shadow: Politics in the Hebrew Bible (2012, Yale University Press): Political scientist, best known for writing the book on "just war" theory -- Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument With Historical Illustrations (1977, revised 1992, 2000, 2006) -- then renting out his blessings for the "war on terror." Most likely he'll prove equal ingenious in his support for Israel.

Eli Zaretsky: Why American Needs a Left: A Historical Argument (2012, Polity): Brief survey of the many things the American left has fought for and, in many cases, achieved -- the end of slavery, progressivism, the New Deal, civil rights. Don't know how well he covers the New Left, which I'd argue was substantially successful on all front except that our distrust of power kept us from establishing a base for defending those gains. Needless to add, even in times when such successes are few the need for a left continues -- in many ways, more than ever.


As I said, paperback reissues later.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 21131 [21103] rated (+28), 602 [605] unrated (-3).

Working erratically, but the days come and go and when the week's done I wind up close to average -- a bit short in Jazz Prospecting this week, but trying to make some headway on Rhapsody Streamnotes in a year that thus far is short of obvious prospects. Meanwhile, very little incoming jazz, although the previous week's haul was above average, so maybe that means nothing.

I don't tend to pay much attention to release dates, but I've been vaguely aware that despite receiving finished copies the two A- records this week are officially schedule in the future. Turns out the Steve Coleman drops on March 26, and the Peter Evans release date is March 15. The latter was most perplexing because for the first time since I've been running cover scans I wasn't able to find one on the net somewhere. Had to made my own, and I'm pleased to note that wasn't too hard. One of those computer skills I should be much better at than I am.

Lot of high-B+ records too. I've taken Hamilton and Kuhn out in the car just for pleasure listening, and even further down, Alpiar and Zinn will turn some heads. But it looks like MOPDTK's year, with their flagship Slippery Rock on top of my current 2013 list, and Evans and Jon Irabagon (for Barry Altschul and soon for Dave Douglas) scoring strong.


Christopher Alpiar Quartet: The Jazz Expression (1995 [2012], Behip): Tenor/soprano saxophonist, studied at Miami-Dade and Berklee, based in Atlanta. First album, quartet with piano-bass-drums, has been sitting on the shelf for quite some time. Alpiar wrote all five songs, ranging from 7-15 minutes. The long first cut is hugely evocative of Coltrane, and the rest of the pieces remain in that vein. B+(**)

Masha Campagne: Like Water, Like Air (2012, Impetus): Singer, b. in Moscow, moved to San Francisco in 1991. Second album, produced by pianist Weber Iago, one of several Brazilian connections. She write four songs, picks up a couple more from guitarist Guinga, one from Iago, a Jobim, "It Could Happen to You," a couple more. The Brazilian vibe runs deep. B+(*)

Ian Carey Quintet + 1: Roads & Codes (2012 [2013], Kabocha): Trumpet player, based in San Francisco, looks like his third album. Figure alto saxophonist Kasey Knudsen for the "+1" since the others -- Evan Francis (flute, tenor sax), Adam Shulman (piano), Fred Randolph (bass), and Jon Arkin (drums) -- repeat from the previous quintet album. Mostly originals, plus Neil Young, Charles Ives, and Igor Stravinsky. Nice comic book packaging, until you read the fine print and see he's mostly grouching about critics. B+(*)

Steve Coleman and Five Elements: Functional Arrhythmias (2012 [2013], Pi): Alto saxophonist, b. 1956, has used Five Elements as his primary group name since 1986, thirteen albums in all. Many explore funk/fusion beats, some are muddied up with vocals, the last couple I didn't care for at all. But this one is stripped way down: two wavering horns (Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet), bass and drums that fully implement the title, a little extra guitar (Miles Okazaki) on 5 of 14 tracks. Maybe too simple, but rarely has the continuous shifting of time come through so clearly -- one could say, functional. A-

Tom Dempsey/Tim Ferguson Quartet: Beautiful Friendship (2010 [2012], Planet Arts): The leader play guitar and bass. Third group album, although Ferguson also played on Dempsey's 1998 debut. Rounding out the quartet are Eliot Zigmund on drums and Joel Frahm on tenor and soprano sax. The latter has long been a superb accompanist and is the main reason to tune in here, but the leaders move it along nicely. B+(***)

The Kahil El'Zabar Quartet: What It Is! (2012 [2013], Delmark): Chicago drummer, has twenty-some albums since 1982, many as Ethnic Heritage Ensemble; always interesting, but his best albums were lifted by bigger names -- David Murray on Love Outside of Dreams (1997), Billy Bang on Spirits Entering (2001). This time he goes with players I'm only barely familiar with -- Kevin Nabors (tenor sax), Justin Dillard (keybs), Junius Paul (bass) -- they have some side credits with Ernest Dawkins and Corey Wilkes. Nabors, in particular, has a strong voice, one you'll be hearing more from. B+(***)

Peter Evans: Zebulon (2012 [2013], More Is More): Trumpet player, best known as one of the terrorists in Mostly Other People Do the Killing, but has a handful of records on his own, mostly more avant than the band's. Trio, with the ever-dependable John Hébert on bass and Kassa Overall on drums. Trumpet stabs, zips, kicks it up a notch, then another one. A-

Danny Green: A Thousand Ways Home (2012, Tapestry): Pianist, from San Diego, debuted with a solo in 2009, returns here with a trio expanded with sax (Tripp Sprague on 6 of 13 cuts), guitar/mandolin (various, again 6 cuts, one of those both), and voice (Claudia Villela, one cut). All originals, looks to Latin and Brazilian models and favors soprano sax so this has a slick breeziness. B+(*)

Scott Hamilton: Remembering Billie (2012 [2013], Blue Duchess): Tenor saxophonist, once a "young fogey" but getting on now. His connection to Billie Holiday is through Lester Young -- I vaguely recall that he actually plays one of Young's old saxes. Songs Holiday recorded, half-a-dozen titles I can recall perfectly well but only the exquisite "God Bless the Child" makes me think of Holiday (as opposed to Hamilton) while playing. Duke Robillard plays guitar on two cuts, and "I'll Never Be the Same" is a gem. B+(***)

Stan Killian: Evoke (2012 [2013], Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1978 in Texas, based in New York; second album. postbop quintet with both piano (Benito Gonzalez) and guitar (Mike Moreno), the latter softening the tone of the sax. B+(**)

Steve Kuhn: The Vanguard Date (1986 [2013], Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1938, cut his first album in 1963; AMG lists 47 albums. This trio with Ron Carter and Al Foster was originally released on Owl, with the liner notes now buried somewhere in the data tracks. A fine set, about half originals, ending with a lovely solo "Lullaby." B+(***)

Joshua Kwassman: Songs of the Brother Spirit (2011 [2013], Truth Revolution): Saxophonist (alto, soprano, clarinet, flute, melodica, piano one cut), studied at New School, first album, composed through. Only musician I recognize is guitarist Gilad Hekselman, but the most significant seems to be vocalist Arielle Feinman, not that I hear her enunciating any words. The notion that the voice is the most versatile forge of sounds is venerable but has yet to be proved. B-

Beata Pater: Red (2011 [2013], B&B): Singer, also plays violin (5 of 12 cuts); from Poland, has six albums, this the third in her "color series"; 9 of 12 cuts were written by Pater and/or keyboardist Mark Little, the covers including fusion pieces by Herbie Hancock and Freddie Hubbard. B

Antonio Sanchez: New Life (2012 [2013], CAM Jazz): Drummer, b. 1971 in Mexico City, fourth album since 2007, also has tons of side work. Super postbop band with Dave Binney on alto sax, Donny McCaslin on tenor sax, John Escreet on piano/fender rhodes, and Matt Brewer on acoustic and electric bass. I'm impressed when it's just them although I rarely get into such fanciness. Sanchez is also credited with vocals and additional keybs, definitely too much, even more so when Thana Alexa throws her voice into the mix. B

John Stein: Bing Bang Boom (2012 [2013], Whaling City Sound): Guitarist, has more than ten records since 1995, usually tight groove pieces with a characteristic grain of metal, ups his game a bit with this quartet -- Jake Sherman keybs, John Lockwood bass, Zé Eduardo Nazario drums -- making me think of John Scofield. B+(***)

The Dann Zinn 4: Grace's Song (2012 [2013], Z Music): Tenor saxophonist, based near San Francisco, third album since 1996. Quartet, with Taylor Eigsti (piano), John Shifflett (bass), and Adam Hall (drums). Wrote 6 (of 8) songs, attractive tone and dynamics. Covers are "House of Pain" and "Stardust" -- both appealing. B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Anthony Branker & Word Play: Uppity (Origin)
  • Edward Simon Trio: Live in New York at Jazz Standard (Sunnyside)
  • Dayna Stephens: That Nephenthetic Place (Sunnyside)
  • Rich Thompson: Less Is More (Origin)

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week, but first, today's Crowson:


  • Paul Krugman: What the Malaysians Know: Quotes several cases where right-wingers, including the Heritage Foundation, have switched tunes and started praising Malaysia -- after money changed hands:

    It seems that some years ago Malaysia's ruling party took a good look at leading pundits and policy intellectuals in the conservative movement, reached a judgment about their personal and intellectual integrity or lack thereof, and acted in accordance with that judgment.

    Funny how Malaysia gets who these people are and what motivates them -- while our own press corps doesn't.

  • Matthew Yglesias: Ben Bernanke Has a Terrible Record on Inflation:

    Testifying before Congress recently, Ben Bernanke bragged, "my inflation record is the best of any Federal Reserve chairman in the postwar period, or at least one of the best, about 2 percent average inflation."

    Catherine Rampell's numbers show that Bernanke has, in fact, delivered the lowest inflation of any postwar Fed chair, coming in at an average of 2 percent. On the other hand, Floyd Norris notes that unemployment under Bernanke has been second-highest of any postwar Federal Reserve chairman. Now if you ignore the "postwar" qualifier, the picture looks different. Several Depression-era Fed chairs had less inflation and more unemployment than Bernanke. And putting those Depression-era bankers into the mix serves to highlight how absurd Bernanke's bust is. No sensible person would look at America's economic performance in the 1929-1933 period and say "man, they did a great job of fighting inflation."

    I've often remarked on how dumb I thought it was for Obama to nominate Bernanke for a second term as Fed Chairman: if he's going to be blamed for a depressed economy, and he was, Obama should at least insist on putting his own man in charge of the one government job that has the most day-to-day impact on the economy, but he succumbed to a wave of hype and renominated Bush's man, and got Bush's economy in the bargain. Seems unlikely that Bernanke will get a third term, not so much because Obama's finally decided to appoint people who will help but because the Republicans have developed a huge grudge against Bernanke for trying to do anything at all to expand the economy. Bottom line, though, is that he didn't try much, it didn't work very well, and he has yet to show any visible displeasure with the results.

    Also take a gander at Businessweek Warns That Minorities May Be Buying Houses Again. Isn't the real story here in the fine print: "Flips. No-look bids. 300 percent returns. What could possibly go wrong?" That says much more about the failure of Dodd-Frank to end the practices that caused the housing bubble and recession in the first place.


Also, a few links for further study:

  • Steven Brill: Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills Are Killing Us: Extensive reporting on how hospitals, doctors, etc., rack up charges to individuals far in excess of what they charge insurance companies and Medicare; e.g.:

    Dozens of midpriced items were embedded with similarly aggressive markups, like $283.00 for a "CHEST, PA AND LAT 71020." That's a simple chest X-ray, for which MD Anderson is routinely paid $20.44 when it treats a patient on Medicare, the government health care program for the elderly.

    Also see Paul Krugman here and here for a sanity check on the conclusions. From the latter:

    So why does Obamacare run through the private sector? Raw political necessity: this was the only way that it could get past the insurance industry's power. OK, that was how it had to be.

    But you should really be outraged at the efforts of some states to ensure that the Medicaid expansion is done not via direct government insurance but run through the insurance industry. What you need to understand is that this is a double giveaway, both to the insurers and to the health care industry, because private insurers don't have the government's bargaining power. It is, bluntly, purely a matter of corporate welfare for the medical-industrial complex.

  • Tim Dickinson: The Gun Industry's Deadly Addiction: Hook the kids, seduce the ladies, turn shooting ranges into live-action video games, prep the preppers, supply cartels and criminals.

  • Henry Farrell: Slaves of Defunct Economists: Review of Mark Blyth: Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea (2013, Oxford University Press). Normally we like to believe that growth is good for all, even if its promotion is lavished on business (the job creators get profits, the jobs trickle down). In other words, the growth paradigm is to suck profits up the class scale. What austerity does is push losses down, making sure they are suffered as much or more by the masses as by the rich. Sharing the misery seems to comfort the rich, probably because it isn't shared equally.

  • John Quiggin: Open Thread on Hugo Chavez: The comments here are often as good or better than the pieces. PlutoniumKun seems to have a good start:

    The problem with Chavez is that it was so hard to see past his charisma and ego. His anti-Americanism was justified in many ways, but the manner in which this extended to supporting the likes of Ahmadinejad and Assad was less endearing, although I suppose its no worse than considering the house of al Saud to be a friend. He was good at the broad brush, but it seems that he wasn't particularly good at building up the internal structures which Venezuela so badly needed to ensure his reforms had long term benefits. I fear that he has not left a lasting legacy of deep structural reform in governance in Venezuela, something which it desperately needs. Although arguably the problems are so deep rooted that they are unfixable. But it is absolutely unquestionable for anyone who has looked at the recent history of Venezuela that his policies greatly benefited the poor and dispossessed and that he gave great pride to many South Americans.

  • Amir-Hussein Firouz Radjy: A Forgotten Anniversary: Iran's First Revolution and Constitution: December 1906, when the Qajar monarchy gave way to a first effort at democracy in Iran.

  • Dennis B Ross: To Achieve Mideast Peace, Suspend Disbelief: Proposes 14 steps, evenly divided as if the obstacles to peace are evenly distributed. For the Palestinians, these tasks reduce to wait patiently and pretend this is working. For Israel, he wants to step down from further settlement expansion -- a non-starter with the current government not that he says so nor suggests any remedy to -- and tread a bit lighter. The silliest proposal is to "commit to an exchange of classrooms or regular youth exchanges starting as early as third grade" to mitigate against "children on each side are being . . . being socialized to demonize and dehumanize the other." This is typical Ross: a nice liberal idea that will take forever and accomplish nothing. He forgets that the main attraction of the "two state" plan is that it doesn't require either side to like or even forgive the other, and that it's tolerable now only because the separation it assumes has been accomplished, for the most part long ago. Otherwise, if Israelis accepted Palestinians they could implement a "one state" equal-rights solution on their own, immediately. That they don't -- that they won't even consider the possibility -- shows that they won't: that they are too wrapped up in their insistence on ethnic rule and the violent suppression of others to conceive of living in an equitable society.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Expert Comments

Milo Miles:

Ah, more matters of interpretation . . .

I had no idea that Cam Patterson was a Xgau fan of more than 30 years standing. And far as I can tell, all Bob is referring to with the "less striking" remark is Cam's blog, his accomplishments outside of music and so forth. I don't feel slighted in the least.

This, from Tom Hull's site, is more disturbing:

He's referring to the Nieman interview . . .

"Christgau talks more about careers, professionalism, and what he sees as the alternative -- and future, given the way the market for professional rock critics is collapsing, which is almost the same as the enemy -- what he calls the "gentleman amateur" (i.e., folks like me)."

Wow -- really? The Tom Hull model is not what I thought of at all when I read this.

Looked back and can't find whatever triggered the comment about Cam. Then Bradley Sroka added:

I agree with Milo--I interpreted "gentleman amateurs" to be people employed in other fields (lawyers, cardiology) who moonlight as rock critics for fun and fulfillment. I have a few friends that do this, and I've heard that it's hard to get paid well as a critic in some publications because gentleman amateurs don't require nearly as much financial support. Perhaps those with trust funds (or who otherwise come from money) could also be these amateurs. Why is this bad? I assume there's less pressure to be an expert since the role doesn't require such expertise to get published. I'm willing to accept arguments countering this. Obviously not the case in every case, but a worrisome trend nonetheless. (I also suspect Bob is referring to critics and scholars of the past whose work was largely a hobby and therefore not as commanding concerning facts and logic. A lot of early work in musicology, ethnomusicology, and jazz studies started out this way.)

Concerning Tom, I wouldn't call him a gentleman amateur since he certainly was paid for much of his life to write criticism. He's obviously earned the title of professional critic :)

Obviously, Sroka has never audited my books. Milo again:

"Why is this bad?"

Though the tiresome claim is always made that writing about the arts is somehow different, it's bad for the same reason you would rather take your car to be repaired by a professional mechanic rather than the guy down the street who works on cars in his garage (no matter how dedicated he is).

"A lot of early work in musicology, ethnomusicology, and jazz studies started out this way."

Don't know about musicology, but with the other two, this is true, but a lot of such folks were just fanatic collectors who were a lot stronger on information than analysis. There are scattered exceptions, but jazz criticism took a great leap forward when it became at least minimally professional.

Actually, I'd rather take my car to a friend I trust than to the money-gouging "professional" down the street, although that's becoming more difficult as cars become more computerized so the capital needed to repair them becomes more prohibitive. Music writing is different, because with all due respect to "professionalism" -- especially expertise and communications skills -- so much of the aesthetic experience is subjective, and the chances of writing something worthwhile is rather blurred across the line separating paid and unpaid critics.

Christgau:

Tom is a gentleman amateur and always has been--that is, he's never made his living as a writer. He's a good one--they're not all bad, how could they be, and there've been many others. I edited a bunch of them back in the day (my sometime collaborator John Piccarella, for one). But most of the people I edited in the '70s were fulltime writers, for a variety of socioeconomic reasons, most of them having to do with the fading positive fallout of the New Deal and its postwar ramifications. I can't go into all the angles here, but that the loss of those days is bad for criticism I have no doubt, just as I have considerable doubt that the proliferation of online opinionating is good for it--although once again there are always exceptions, I really should not have to say that every time I generalize. Speaking of which, I wonder what Tom means when he generalizes about my "almost unique" ability to carve out a fulltime career as a critic. I'm far from unique There are many fewer of us than there used to be, but there still plenty, at least 100 is my guess, and many of those pretty damn good. Powers? Pareles? Frere-Jones? C'mon--you may not agree with them, but they do the work and advance our understanding.

Michael Tatum:

The thing about gentlemen amateurs (and I'm flattered to be called a gentleman, of course) is that they need a great deal of discipline to create superlative work that can stand against -- or be ranked better than -- the professionals. This is not easy: it takes a great deal of work. In the case of the rock scribe, it takes a great deal of listening, writing, editing, writing, editing, and editing, and editing. Having rooted around the web for good rock writing, I know how rare excellent work in this vein can be. One of the reasons I gravitate toward my gentlemen amateur friends (Tom and Jason are prime examples of this) is that they walk and talk like professionals, which is always the goal. And for what it's worth, I didn't take the phrase "gentlemen amateurs" as an insult, though I appreciate Tom's response. In an era where the word has been devalued, we need people who can fight for its sanctity. Isn't that one of the reasons we wound up here in the first place?

Then, I wrote:

I learned to set type in college and made my living at it until 1980. Then I read a few books on software, hacked out some programs, and wrangled a job as a software engineer, and that's how I made my living until I became retired -- easiest work I ever did, and I made good money doing it. On the other hand, I don't think I ever made more than $1000 in my best year writing in the 1970s, or $3000 any year in the last decade. I backed into it, never would have pursued it except for the advocacy of friends, and certainly never had a clue how to make a living off it. And never thought I was much good at it -- only subjects I was weaker in than English was music and athletics (guess that's a case of those who can do, those who can't heckle from the bleachers). Still, I've written about four million words in the last decade, so practice may count for something -- but it doesn't make me a professional: even if they assume a minimal level of competency, getting paid often depends on a different skill set, and attitude.

I have been fortunate in that I've almost never been in a position where I had to do things that I didn't want to, and in fact I've usually been able to plot my own course -- sometimes completely oblivious to the economic considerations (as when I developed free software). By "almost unique" I was thinking timespan (which I wrote about in the Festschrift) but also that in many ways Bob had managed the same thing cultivating his autonomy at the Voice and later. But he's always fretted more about money, and as he gets squeezed (not just) by the internet, it's like he's circling the wagons -- probably why he's more conscious of colleagues like Powers and Pareles -- and aiming his barbs at outsiders. I'm not offended by "gentleman amateurs" -- I knew what he meant and appreciated that (Darwin, Marx, etc.). And I'm thankful that long before I retired to gentleman status he saw in me an amateur worth cultivating. (And let me cite a couple more of my colleagues in addition to Piccarella: Tom Smucker and Georgia Christgau.)

Jason Gubbels (posted while I was writing the above):

The major problem with blogs isn't the writing, although the writing is quite often dreadful. It's the lack of oversight and accountability. Paul Krugman has a blog, and a pretty great one, subsidiary to his more polished and longer essays. It allows him to ramble a bit more, to pursue flights of fancy, to have some fun, to get riled up -- all the things one can't always necessarily find a way to do within the confines of a commissioned piece. But he's Paul Krugman -- he already has a reputation and a general track record of excellence. The problem with blog form is that it allows writers to work outside parameters they haven't necessarily proven they can work within. So it's not the informal nature of blogging that's the problem -- it's the fact that so many prefer the informal because they lack the discipline necessary to be formal.

And, yes, every writer needs and benefits from an editor.

Robert Christgau corrects me:

Just for the record, Georgia was a professional journalist for close to 20 years, working at Creem, The Voice, High Fidelity, an ecology mag I've forgotten the name of, and editing a union newspaper. When you make your living editing and write some, you're no longer an amateur--it's a very common combo. I myself was an editor for the last 32 years I wrote at The Voice, and even when I was no longer responsible for a section (did that for just 10 years) you can believe it ate into my time.

I thought she started out in production at Creem, then wrote movie reviews, then on to records. Her writing there was outstanding. Also at the Voice she mostly worked in production, although she also wrote occasional reviews for Bob. The later jobs were more editorial, and she was/is a fine editor. After she gave up "journalism" (if that's what you call it) she went on to teach high school English.

I wrote privately to Christgau, and he replied:

Far as I'm concerned. being night editor at the Voice--that was her title--or odd jobs of various sorts at Creem counts as journalism because it's only when publications become much bigger that that sort of printer's union division of labor signifies. At small places everyone's involved, and production involvement in editorial content is more common than not. Almost everyone on Georgia's Voice crew wrote for the paper.

Obviously, "journalist" is an important identity for Christgau. I doubt if Georgia would have made the same claim.

Ham340:

It is needless to say, but I'll go ahead and say I'm here because of Xgau, which I only mention because this is a very interesting thread, and Tom Hull's

he's always fretted more about money, and as he gets squeezed (not just) by the internet, it's like he's circling the wagons -- probably why he's more conscious of colleagues like Powers and Pareles -- and aiming his barbs at outsiders

is, to this thirty-year Xgau reader, a spot-on analysis. How could any fan (and as for me, former low-level professional) of rock criticism be happy that 100 professionals anymore exist in the field? That is paltry, given the literary achievement we're dealing with. Xgau's premise (to pick up Hull's trope), in the Nieman interview and elsewhere, that he's among the few lone guns on an impoverished terrain with only a few favored professionals among the fellow posse, warrants his own survivalist instincts but is not why we love him. Failing some editorial collective of music fans, the editorial work we all know rock writing needs evaporates right along with major publishing houses (did anyone see that piece of crap job Michelle Mercer did for Simon & Schuster on Joni MItchell?) and newspapers. Get your amateurism on, I say.

Christgau wrote further:

One more note about the original gentlemen amateurs of criticism (there were plenty in music--"classical," of course): they were really gentlemen. Of noble blood or wealthy parentage. Usually rentiers, as the French put it: they had An Income. So Hull and Piccarella don't qualify by that standard, and neither does almost anyone else working today (although there are a few, including low earners propped up by their usually female spouses). For them it's an avocation. There are all kinds of avocations, from hobbies to art forms.

Still, doing any of them for a (good) editor makes a world of difference. For one thing, it lowers the expertise requirements, because an expert has your back. And it's 11:40 and I have a cold and I'm trying to finish a piece so I can back back to the book and/or blog tomorrow, and it's nice work if you can get it but it's for damn sure work.

Christgau again:

Only I gotta say one more thing. In the good old days, sigh, I thought the mix of professionals and amateurs was cool. Great that there were public interest lawyers and social workers and, let's face it, college professors chipping in from their useful and insightful perspectives.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Recycled Goods (106): March 2013

New Recycled Goods: pick up text here. Total review count: 3604 (3168 + 436).

Monday, March 04, 2013

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 21103 [21073] rated (+30), 605 [600] unrated (+5).

Rather minimal week of Jazz Prospecting, but what I did listen to came from the top of the deck and is well above average. (In fact, I held back an A- record for lack of a cover scan. Not sure of the release date, but I seem to be way out front on it. I'll also note that the two Clean Feed releases aren't official until March 18, but I've been listening to an advance of the Ches Smith for quite a while, and if I held them back I wouldn't have much left.) That leaves about twenty rated records unaccounted for, so figure most of them will show up in the March Recycled Goods later this week.

I'm not sure how useful this will be for people, but I've rolled up all of the Jazz Prospecting from 2012 here, with everything collected in monthly files, and indexing similar to what I do for Recycled Goods and Rhapsody Streamnotes. I started in January 2012 because that was roughly when Jazz Consumer Guide ended. Jazz Prospecting started back in 2005, so there is a lot more that can be rolled up similarly, but the pre-2012 entries are already rolled up in the Jazz Consumer Guide directory (one file per column, no indexing, no album covers). I plan on carrying the new format forward, but can't guarantee that I'll update it weekly.

The snapshot does show that I wrote 574 Jazz Prospecting entries in 2012. (If I folded in Rhapsody Streamnotes on jazz the total should hit 600; the RS total for 2012 was 605 records.) Not sure whether to be proud or depressed by that. The listening ranges from spotty to in-depth, and the writing leans toward get-it-out-of-the-way although there are some decent-and-better bits in there. But I would never, as Robert Christgau does in a recent interview, dwell on the merits of these squibs as fine writing -- not just because I'm not that fine a writer but because the intent is so basically utilitarian. For what it's worth -- and count it as rationalization if you will -- I still prefer the brash and personal early CG style, which Christgau now disparages, to his longer and more artful recent work.

Christgau talks more about careers, professionalism, and what he sees as the alternative -- and future, given the way the market for professional rock critics is collapsing, which is almost the same as the enemy -- what he calls the "gentleman amateur" (i.e., folks like me). No doubt he is right about the value of having an editor -- a good one, anyway, and I can attest that he is one. But a structure and format imposed by the market is less of a blessing. I doubt he is a believer in efficient markets theory. Nor, even without theory or math, should it be hard to demonstrate the myriad ways in which the market for rock crit is inefficient. One might even be able to fight, or even exploit, those inefficiencies to carve out a career, as Christgau has almost uniquely done. But there is another path, a far more liberating one, which is to ignore the market and just do what you understand needs to be done -- which is more or less what I've been doing.

Christgau wrote about 294 records in his Expert Witness column in 2012 -- 16 "Odds and Ends" totalling 128 records + 166 paragraph reviews. I wrote about 1588 records (574 JP + 605 RS + 409 RG). He got paid and I didn't, and he no doubt got a premium for his greater experience, superior skills, and reputation, but also for withholding some of his writing, creating a market for its (relative) scarcity. We both spent about 15 hours a day listening -- that's about anyone's limit. Assuming he played the records he wrote about an average of two more times than I did -- I think that's about right from comparing notes -- that still leaves him with about a 700 record deficit, made up of records he played but didn't write about. That's plausible, possibly even an underestimate if you count records he rejects well before finishing them. (I almost always play uninteresting records to the end, since I figure on writing something about them anyway.) So the main difference my bucking the market provides is transparency: it's clear what I've heard, and implicit what I haven't, and each reaction -- even ones not fully formed and articulated -- is mapped out along the way.

"Gentleman amateur" harkens back to 19th century England, where a number of the idle gentry came to dabble especially in science. Most were crackpots, but you could count Charles Darwin among their number, and I'll add Karl Marx, who managed a similar disinterest from the market. Such amateurs were crowded out over the course of the 20th century, partly as science became more capital-intensive, partly because academia expanded, and largely because work came to take such a big bite from our lives. The Republicans want to see the latter continue, and that's one big reason why working hours keep expanding in the US even as they shrink as other countries become more prosperous. (That most of us are losing ground is part of the plan; working harder lets you hang on a bit longer, but doesn't solve the problem.)

Until recently (again, cf. the Republicans), it seemed more likely that rock crit would wind up settling in some dehydrated state into academia. But "amateurs" -- Clay Shirky must have a better term for us -- have a chance collaborating over the internet to do things no professional rock critic could do, like break that 15-hour limit. I have no reason to doubt that what I do is useful for the dozens or hundreds of people who are aware of it. Maybe it can be scaled up, but if so it won't just be me. I'm tapped out, except of ideas.


Mario Adnet: Amazonia: On the Forest Trail (2012 [2013], Adventure Music): Guitarist, from Brazil, arranges this tribute to the rain forest for string orchestra and special guests, including several vocalists (Mónica Salmaso, Vicente Nucci, Antonioa Adnet, Lenine, Roberta Sá). My first reaction to the strings was horrible, but something settled them out -- probably the vocals, which still seem more at home on the beach. B+(*)

Ehud Asherie with Harry Allen: Lower East Side (2009 [2013], Posi-Tone): Mainstream pianist, from Israel, based in New York, playing standards with tenor sax -- in fact, about the closest thing you can get these days to Coleman Hawkins. They did this last year on Upper West Side, and these are basically the leftovers, probably from the same session -- less famous, and less obvious, songs, although they saved "When I Grow Too Old to Dream" for a closer. For me, this is what jazz sounds like, and although I rated other albums higher than I did Upper West Side, I didn't play any of them more often. More is more. A-

Kris Davis: Capricorn Climber (2012 [2013], Clean Feed): Pianist, from Canada, has put together a strong discography since 2004 -- especially the records with Tony Malaby, like Rye Eclipse. This is a quintet, with Ingrid Laubrock (alto sax, also in Paradoxical Frog with Davis), Mat Maneri (viola), Trevor Dunn (bass), and Tom Rainey (drums). Laubrock doesn't drive an album like Malaby, and Davis tends to lie back here, leaving the viola as the signature sound -- interesting as far as it goes. B+(**)

Food: Mercurial Balm (2010-11 [2013], ECM): Named on the cover: Thomas Strřnen (drums, electronics), Iain Ballamy (sax, electronics). Fifth group album since 2002, although Ballamy recorded the album Food back in 1998. First half-plus adds Christian Fennesz (guitar, even more electronics) for some pleasant ambient groove. The rest replaces Fennesz with Eivind Aarset, adding Prakash Sontakke (slide guitar, vocals) for a little exotica, plus trumpet (Nils Petter Molvaer) on one track. B+(*) [advance]

Keith Jarrett: Hymns/Spheres (1976 [2013], ECM, 2CD): An exercise in baroque pipe organ played at Benedictine Abbey in Ottobeuren, Germany, the hymns sound appropriately (even stuffily) churchy, the 9-movement "Spheres" more new agey and more appealing for that -- you weren't expecting B3 funk moves, were you? B+(*)

Anders Nilsson/Joe Fonda/Peter Nilsson: Powers (2012, Konnex): Guitar-bass-drums trio. Anders Nilson has several excellent albums -- Blood, Aorta Ensemble, his Kalabalik meet up with Raoul Björkenheim -- and makes a strong impression as a sideman, but loses a bit of edge here, probably because the bassist tries to steer this into open improv waters, finding an interesting balance. B+(***)

Ben Sidran: Don't Cry for No Hipster (2012 [2013], Unlimited Media): Pianist-singer-songwriter, b. 1943, started out in rock, especially with the Steve Miller Band, before eventually evolving into an "existential jazz rapper." Two dozen albums since 1971, first I've heard, first impression is that he's following Mose Allison, his "Hipster" skilled at getting gone, but sheltering a "Rich Interior Life." One cover: always good to hear "Sixteen Tons." B+(***)

Ches Smith & These Arches: Hammered (2012 [2013], Clean Feed): Drummer, has a couple albums under his own name, a lot of side credits since 2001 on various avant and left-field projects -- Ben Goldberg, Mary Halvorson, Darius Jones, Marc Ribot, Jason Robinson. Wrote all the pieces here for two roughhousing saxes (Tim Berne and Tony Malaby), with Halvorson (guitar) and Andrea Parkins (accordion, electronics) supporting, sometimes as cross purposes, but this percolates madly. B+(***)

Eberhard Weber: Résumé (2012 [2013], ECM): Bassist, b. 1940 in Stuttgart, Germany; 15th album since 1973, all on ECM, where he's long been the most pastoral of the label's artists. He had a stroke in 2007 and hasn't been able to play bass since, so for this album he started with previously recorded solos -- mostly bass but also some keyboards -- and brought in Jan Garbarek (soprano and tenor sax) and Michael DiPasqua (percussion) to dress them up a bit. The percussion tracks break out of the pastoral mode, and Garbarek is as lovely as ever. B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • The Stephen Anderson Trio: Believe (Summit)
  • Michael Blanco: No Time Like the Present (Cognitive Dissonance)
  • Jaimeo Brown: Transcendence (Motema): advance, April 9
  • Joe Burgstaller: License to Thrill (Summit)
  • The Kahil El'Zabar Quartet: What It Is! (Delmark)
  • Olivia Foschi: Perennial Dreamer (self-released)
  • Robert Hurst: Bob: A Palindrome (Bebob)
  • Steve Kuhn: The Vanguard Date (1986, Sunnyside)
  • Mikrokolektyw: Absent Minded (Delmark)
  • Nicole Mitchell's Ice Crystal: Aquarius (Delmark)
  • Ron Oswanski: December's Moon (self-released)
  • Jacky Terrasson: Gouache (Sunnyside)
  • Bruce Torff: Look Again (Summit)
  • Renée Yoxon/Mark Ferguson: Here We Go Again (self-released)

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Art Ensemble of Chicago: Message to Our Folks (1969, BYG): B+(***) [rhapsody]
  • Art Ensemble of Chicago: Reese and the Smooth Ones (1969, BYG): B+(***) [rhapsody]
  • Art Ensemble of Chicago: A Jackson in Your House (1969, BYG): B+(**) [rhapsody]

Sunday, March 03, 2013

Troubles in Paradise

In case you're wondering what it's like to live in a Republican Paradise, look to Kansas where Republicans -- and none of those wussy RINOs anymore; we're talking the real thing here -- control every facet of government. The Wichita Eagle chose to dedicate its lead article today to celebrate "Kansas legislators' decisions so far in the session." So for all you blue-staters out there, see what you're missing, read and weep:

DRUG TESTING

Senators have agreed to require drug tests of welfare and unemployment recipients suspected of using illegal substances, sending those who fail to treatment and job training. Democrats forced successful vote to include lawmakers in such tests. The bill now goes to the House.

GUNS

A House committee has endorsed a plan to shield Kansas-made guns and ammunition from federal gun-control measures. Federal officers who tried to intervene could be arrested. A proposal to let licensed Kansans carry concealed guns into more public buildings is also still alive.

EDUCATION

The Senate has approved a proposal to let voters decide on a constitutional amendment preventing courts from ordering lawmakers to spend more on schools; it still must go to the House. Gov. Sam Brownback's plan to hold back third-graders who can't pass reading tests failed in committee.

The article notes that more bills are pending: on further tax cuts (or increases, if you're poor enough); abortion (banning if done to select the sex of the child -- either will do); alcohol (allow more stores to sell); judicial appointments (let Brownback pick 'em); labor (no payroll deductions for unions); immigration (they probably mean Kris Kobach's nonsense, but the Chamber of Commerce is all for undocumented workers); and "more" (under the circumstances, the most ominous word in the English language -- the west Kansas feedlot and packing industries depend on them).

Only good news coming out of Topeka these days is that they make Richard Crowson's life easier. Here's his cartoon today (the subject is evidently part of that "more"):

The big item above is the education amendment, as this generation of Kansas Republicans renege on the commitment of a previous generation to provide all Kansans with a quality education. I suspect this has much less to do with education per sé than with the prerogatives of power. The courts have repeatedly ruled against the legislature's failure to appropriate adequate funds, and the lege can't stand the notion that they have to operate within a framework of law -- they were, after all, elected to make law, and they'll damn well make any kind of law they like, even if (as is increasingly often the case) what they want to do is contrary to the US constitution.

It's not hard to see where they got this attitude: from owning and running businesses, where they feel entitled to dictate every moment, and throw a fit at the slightest inconvenience -- laws, workers, even customers (although they still try to put on a better face there). Michael Kinsley has a critique of American politics as a collection of "big babies," but the biggest babies of all are those who feel entitled to make (and break) the rules. The Republicans are still inconvenienced by shreds of democracy in the political sphere, but in their businesses they've made major steps toward dictatorship. If they can force drug tests on their workers, why not require the same of the wards of the state? The object, after all, isn't drug control but humiliation. The old saw about "absolute power corrupting absolutely" is evident once again.


On the Eagle's editorial page, consider this Opinion Line item:

Rep. Mike Pompeo blasts Obama every chance he gets. Kansas Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran voted against Chuck Hagel's confirmation while Florida Sen. Bill Nelson voted for him. Beechcraft lost the Air Force job to Florida, and it doesn't look good for McConnell Air Force Base to get the new tankers.

Beechcraft's failed bid was for small prop planes for the Afghan Air Force, a pretty large contract ($450 million, if memory serves). They lost the bid more than a year ago, pulled some strings to get it rebid, and lost it again. The tankers are an old subject in these pages. Boeing eventually prevailed in convincing the Air Force to waste $35 billion for a fleet of obsolete airliners -- at least, unlike the state-of-the-art 787, they're likely to fly -- dressed up as portable filling stations. Then, having won the bid, they shut down their Wichita plant, which had been promised the work -- a "no brainer" considering that Wichita had done the work on the "obsolete" tanker fleet, primarily based at McConnell AFB, also here in Wichita. Having used all their political assets in Kansas (which unlike the workers are still on the payroll), Boeing then decided to move the work elsewhere -- to whichever state will pay them the most (preferably one with fewer or no union workers).

This whole scam has been unfolding for more than a decade, and one thing you could count on is an editorial (and often a guest column) in the Eagle every month or so extolling the virtues of Boeing as the best company to build those desparately needed tankers. Back in January, I wrote two letters to the Eagle -- a longer "rough draft" and a proper letter paired down to their size requirements. They ran neither, nor anything remotely like it. The occasion was a series of articles on the Air Force's process for deciding where to base the new tankers. The longer letter follows:

If Boeing had not reneged on its promises to build the new tanker fleet in Wichita, with all its promises of 1,000 more jobs, the Air Force wouldn't even be examining other places to base the new planes: the obvious place to put them would be at McConnell, just as it has been with the KC-135 fleet.

Instead, Boeing pulled out of Wichita, taking 1,000 real jobs along with the promised ones, so when the new fleet phases in, the Air Force will have no reason to keep McConnell open -- costing the area what? another 1,000 jobs? Make no mistake about it: the more successful the Republicans are at "starving the beast" in Washington, the more military bases will be closed, and the new tankers make McConnell as obsolete as the KC-135s.

If Senators Roberts and Moran had any sense, they'd use whatever influence they have to save the Air Force $35 billion by scuttling the tanker deal and keep McConnell open. And they'd have more clout if they weren't wasting their time opposing the nomination of Chuck Hagel, who will very likely call the shots about which bases get closed in the next few years.

New tankers never were a good idea. At most they make it easier and quicker to get into foreign wars, but even there the strategic bombers they were originally built to serve have long given way, most lately to drones that don't need them at all. But now even the Keynesian jobs argument has proven hollow. Makes one wonder whether the senators will ever decide to represent us rather than Boeing?

McConnell AFB, which is to say the dreaded federal government, which is to say "your tax dollars," injects about $500 million into the Wichita economy each year. It was built not because the Air Force had an urgent need to station its aircraft as far as possible away from the nation's borders, but because it was just across the street from a very large Boeing plant -- one, by the way, built by the US government during WWII and used to build the majority of B-17 and B-29 bombers used during the war, and B-47 and B-52 bombers built during the heyday of the Strategic Air Command. It was also where Boeing turned its 707 airlines into KC-135 tankers. Those new planes stopped production around 1960, but Boeing continued to provide mods to update the B-52s and KC-135s still used by the Air Force. Again, without Boeing it's hard to see any reason for McConnell. The AFB's survival will depend on nothing more than political favor and inertia, neither of which are likely to save it from future rounds of defense spending cuts.

Personally, it wouldn't bother me if McConnell closed. No doubt it would hurt the local economy, but the facilities would be recycled and new business would emerge. Plus you'd get rid of those dreadful planes flying over east Wichita every few minutes. (I didn't even consider buying a house in the area because of the noise factor, not to mention memory of what happens when one of those loaded tankers drops from the sky and razes a neighborhood.) But we need the new tankers even less than the AFB, and the cost there is pure waste and corruption. Their role is to help move and project massive US firepower anywhere in the world, and the more difficult that task becomes, the better for the world (and for that matter for us).

This is a good time to talk about cutting back from the insane defense spending levels of recent years. Sequestration is probably the dumbest way to implement cuts, except to a military budget which produces much harm and virtually no tangible good. The only way you would ever notice even far greater cuts than the ones in effect would be if you yourself were on the dole. And while the loss of spending destimulates the economy, the multipliers for military expense are exceptionally low -- especially where spent abroad, or simply blown up.

On the other hand, if/when the tanker is cut from the defense budget, it will probably be in recognition of its obsolescence. The military is moving more and more to drones, which are vastly more fuel-efficient than fighters or bombers. So like everything with the military, there's not much point because what passes for thought in those circles is so far removed from real life -- except, of course, when it kills.


Feb 2013 Apr 2013