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Monday, September 30, 2013

Music Week/No Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 22093 [22066] rated (+27), 572 [579] unrated (-7).

Didn't get back from Arkansas/Oklahoma until Wednesday night, so this is a bit more than a half-week's work, plus/including eight new releases this week (most written up earlier and held back). The HMs are interesting albums, but the week belongs to Brazilian saxophonist Ivo Perelman. It's not easy to sort out his many albums -- he's as or maybe even more prolific, at least over the last five years, as Ken Vandermark, Joe McPhee, and Anthony Braxton -- and they rarely wind up high on my year-end lists, but they jump out of the speakers when compared to my typical weekly regimen (like everything else below). Enigma is easily the top one, followed by Serendipity from earlier this year.

With Christgau's Expert Witness kaputt and Tatum's Downloader's Diary only slowly dribbling in -- that September window has all but closed -- I'm on the fence again, tempted either to hang it up or double down: install that blog software over at terminalzone.net and open it up for interested fellow spirits, while resurrecting my long-neglected next-generation ratings/reviews database code and using the thousands of short reviews I've written as a skeleton for an opinionated reference resource.

On the down side, I've noted, for instance, that I'm no longer receiving records from ECM -- especially troubling given that Tina Pelikan was the first jazz publicist who showed an interest in me. On the other hand, I did just get a substantial package from NoBusiness in Lithuania -- not yet unpacked below -- and other desperate pleas for notice. (I'd hazard a guess that few self-acknowledged jazz fans have heard of more than a third of the 18 leaders/co-leaders below; at least a third were new to me.) Can't do this without them, but even as a critic not afraid to dredge up something obscure the gap between what I get and what I want keeps widening.

What Christgau has done for more than forty years, and I have attempted to do much more sporadically, has been to sort out as much music as might be of conceivable interest. That task is way beyond what any human can do, so we each have our cheats: he discards shit when it fails to engage him, and I write it up anyway (albeit not very well). He's managed (until now, anyway) to get paid for his considerable trouble, whereas I haven't (at least since the Village Voice editors lost interest in jazz, but really even before then). And that matters more to him, because he's always tried to make a living writing, whereas (even when I got paid) I never did.

When I moved to New York, I immediately sought out a typesetting job to make ends meet. On the other hand, I had a self-published zine, Terminal Zone, and had every intention of continuing to publish it. That blew up in a horrible misunderstanding with my partner, Don Malcolm, but even before that it had floundered on the question of whether we could get good writing cheap enough. I had expected that when I moved to New York I would meet all kinds of talent, but I mostly ran into expense, and I've never had the business chops to make that work. A couple years after losing Terminal Zone, I gave up writing about music, and started to make a real living, but that came to an end after 2000. Thanks to Christgau I then got an outlet for jazz reviews, and soon found that I could publish anything I wanted to write about on the web. In effect, it became possible to restart Terminal Zone -- but it hasn't happened yet, mostly due to technical problems: I'm not the programmer, or for that matter the worker, I once was, and every time I touch it I get stuck.

As for writers, I expect that if we build it they will come. Why not? The marginal cost of information is zero, and it is at least a public good -- something everyone has at least a minimal interest in creating and preserving. The days when a private party could corner it and extract meaningful rents are numbered, perhaps even negative. So let me throw out this invite: if anyone out there knows their way around Linux, Apache, PHP, MySQL, and (here's where I get shaky) JavaScript/Ajax, and wants to help build a website framework for managing discographical info and attaching reviews and ratings, please get in touch with me.

Also, let me throw out this offer: much of Terminal Zone is available on-line (here), but if anyone wants a physical copy, send me email. As I recall, I have a box full of extras in the basement. I won't guarantee very fast service, and I'm not sure what it's all going to cost (especially postage overseas), but right now I don't forsee any need to charge. It would also be nice to get the rest of the contents online -- I just did my own stuff, but I doubt that anyone else would object, and it would be especially nice to get Kathy's artwork scanned. For the address, look for the contact page.

Also, I have a file with links to a bunch of download links from commenters during the last week of Expert Witness. I expect they will progressively break over the next couple weeks -- some are already gone -- but they've been degunked and are more usable than trying to excavate them from the comments. Again, send me an email request.


Ted Brancato: The Next Step (2012 [2013], Origin): Pianist, grew up in Seattle, "has worked in and around NYC" almost 30 years. This looks to be his first album: all original pieces, with one co-credit to percussionist Mayra Casales. Best known band member is bassist Ron Carter, probably the most recorded musician of all time. Credits list runs long, including guitarists with names like Carri Coltrane and Woody Allen, but the record is most attractive when he keeps it uncluttered. B+(*)

Brasslands [A Motion Picture Soundtrack] (2013, Evergreene): As usual, I have no idea about the film, but the soundtrack features two sets of Balkan brass bands, one from the old country (Serbia) and the other from Brooklyn -- Slavic Soul Party, with its jazz luminaries, I've run across before, but Veveritse Brass Band, Raya Brass Band, and Ziatine Uste are new to me. Same for the Serbian groups -- orchestras led by Dejan Advic, Demiran Cerimovic, and Dejan Petrovic. Not sure if any of them aim for the dance beats popular with Balkan bands in Berlin and Wien, but the rhythm is as central as the brass here and it isn't folkloric -- it flows. B+(**)

Lou Caimano/Eric Olsen: Dyad: Plays Puccini (2012 [2013], self-released): Alto sax and piano, respectively. Second album together. Olsen has a previous album under his own name, two as Urban Survival. Tunes from the opera writer, done straightforwardly with instrumentation that plays up the melodies -- this was, after all, the pop music of the 19th century -- without those horrible voices. B [October 1]

The Matthew Finck Jonathan Ball Project: It's Not That Far (2012 [2013], self-released): Finck plays guitar, Ball sax (tenor in the photo). Band includes Jay Anderson (bass), Adam Nussbaum (drums), and on three tracks Randy Brecker (trumpet/flugelhorn). Neither leader, unlike the others, has much prior discography, but the sax is striking, and as mainstream jazz this is entertaining and substantial -- e.g., "The Way You Look Tonight." B+(**) [October 1]

Erik Friedlander: Claws and Wings (2013, Skipstone): Cellist, composed this in the months after his wife of 22 years died, at once somber, affectionate, and lovely. With Sylvie Courvoisier on piano and Ikue Mori on laptop. B+(***) [October 1]

Florian Hoefner Group: Falling Up (2013, OA2): Pianist, from Germany but based in New York, second album (as far as I can tell), reprising the group from his debut Songs Without Words: Mike Ruby (tenor/soprano sax), Sam Anning (bass), Peter Konreif (drums). Postbop with some edge and quick moves. All by Hoefner except for "Eleanor Rigby" -- usually unjazzable but he keeps it neatly cloaked until the punch line. B+(***)

Tim Horner: The Head of the Circle (2012 [2013], Origin): Drummer, studied at Berklee, moved to New York in 1980; third album under his own name, several dozen side credits going back to 1982. All original material. Band includes Ted Nash (tenor and soprano saxes, bass clarinet, flute), Jim Ridl (piano), Steve Allee (accordion, keyboards), Joe Locke (vibes), and Dean Johnson (bass). Horner adds a scat vocal I don't care for, and the flute leaves something to be desired, unlike Nash's tenor sax leads. B

Keefe Jackson's Likely So: A Round Goal (2013, Delmark): Tenor saxophonist, b. in Fayetteville, AR; based in Chicago where he rotates several band projects -- notably Fast Citizens, which cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm borrowed for a superb album last year (Gather). This group is all saxes and clarinets, seven strong, a mix of Chicagoans (Mars Williams, Dave Rempis, Jackson) and Europeans (Waclaw Zimpel, Marc Stucki, Peter A. Schmid, Thomas K.I. Mejer) recorded live in Switzerland. A mixed bag, remarkable for stretches, annoying in spots, variously thin and shrill and thick and sumptuous. B+(**)

Ahmad Jamal: Saturday Morning (2013, Jazz Village): Pianist, has been recording steadily since Chamber Music of the New Jazz in 1955, mostly trios or, like here, quarters with extra percussion (Manolo Badrena) added to the bass-drums (Reginald Veal, Herlin Riley). At 82 he still runs the keyboard, lots of fleet arpeggios especially when Badrena has that Latin tinge moving, not that he doesn't also handle ballads authoritatively. B+(**)

RJ Miller: Ronald's Rhythm (2013, Loyal Label): Drummer, also plays keyboards and analog synths here, based in Brooklyn, first album; backed by bass, additional keyb or analog synthesizer on most tracks, accordion (Leo Genovese) on one. The analog synths, in particular, give this the feel of vintage electronica. B+(***) [October 1]

Billy Mintz: Quartet (2013, Thirteenth Note): Drummer, first album (although AMG, with its tendency to sort the last name first, credits him with a 1997 album that lists Steuart Liebig and Vinny Golia left-to-right). Quartet includes John Gross on tenor sax, Roberta Piket on piano and organ, and Putter Smith on bass, with Piket singing one. Best part is the sax chasing the beat, but there's also a lot of slow stuff. B+(*)

Michael Moss/Billy Stein: Intervals (2013, 4th Stream): Stein is a guitarist, based in New York; has a previous album that was a high HM back in 2005 (Hybrids). Moss plays clarinet, sax, and flute. He arrived in New York in the mid-1960s, played in a group called Free Life Communication, later Free Energy and Four Rivers. He recorded three albums 1978-80, then got a Ph.D. in psychology. Songs are credited to either or both but feel improvised, surprising even if they wander a bit. And for once I don't advise the saxophonist to tear the flute down and shelve it, although I suspect Stein deserves as much credit there as Moss. B+(***)

Tsuyoshi Niwa: At the End of the Day (2013, self-released): Soprano saxophonist, plays flute on one cut, b. 1972 in Tokyo, Japan; programmed computers, graduated with a degree in chemistry, moved to NY and studied with George Garzone, bounced around returning to NY in 2011. Has a couple previous albums. Starts this quintet off with "My Favorite Things," which thanks to John Coltrane has probably sold more soprano saxophones than any other song or artist, Sidney Bechet and Steve Lacy included. Other five cuts are originals. Randy Brecker's trumpet provides a strong contrasting horn. B+(*)

Meg Okura and the Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble: Music of Ryuichi Sakamoto (2013, self-released): Plays violin and erhu, b. 1973 in Tokyo, Japan; studied at Juilliard and is based in New York. Third album with this group: Anne Drummond (flute), Helen Sung (piano), Dezron Douglas (bass), and E.J. Strickland (drums). I find the CD to be totally impossible to read, so excuse the lack of info. Presumably the dozen pieces are from the very prolific Japanese composer/keyboardist, who started in Yellow Magic Orchestra and now has many dozens of albums (at least 80, half soundtracks, including his Oscar-winning score to The Last Emperor). The "chamber" rubric may be a cliché for violin-flute-piano but they cut against each other's excesses. Not sure Sakamoto isn't a hack, but he provides plenty to chew on. B+(**)

Ivo Perelman/Joe Morris/Balazs Pandi: One (2013, Rare Noise): Tenor sax trio, with Morris playing electric bass for the first time on record -- he established himself on guitar, but has also played acoustic bass more frequently of late -- and Pandi on drums. Perelman's been knocking out a half-dozen records per year recently, with two good ones already this year -- The Art of the Duet, Volume One with Matthew Shipp, and Serendipity with Shipp, William Parker, and Gerald Cleaver -- and this, with its choppy intro and an inspired torrent near the end, is another inspired performance. A- [advance: October 1]

Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Whit Dickey/Gerald Cleaver: Enigma (2013, Leo): Tenor sax, piano, two drummers -- the doubling up isn't conspicuous or necessary even to balance out leaders who run on the loud side, but in an art where "the drummer plays with the band" their separate takes add subtle points -- not that you need them when the Brazilian saxophonist is on such a roll. A- [October 1]

Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Mat Maneri: A Violent Dose of Anything (2013, Leo): Tenor sax, piano, viola. Brazil's leading avant-saxophonist has been releasing six albums a year for a good while now, most with Shipp (their relationship goes back to 1996's Bendito of Santa Cruz duet), so one can wonder whether they wind up being too much of the same thing, or whether, having graded A- no less than ten of his releases since 2000 (13 since 1989) I've lost my objectivity. Perelman's forte is the sax trio: he's basically a free blower and nothing suits him more than a strong rhythm section pushing him on -- Shipp has nearly that same effect in a duo, even more so in a quartet. Perelman usually has more trouble with strings, but those records are just easier to dismiss. But this one is harder. Shipp and Maneri go back at least to a 1998 duo (I don't particularly recommend). The viola is particularly prickly here, often engaging like a second horn although sketching out a more treacherous terrain, which Perelman is eager to explore -- the first few minutes offer some of his most flightful work ever. Title comes from a film for which this is the soundtrack, but the seven pieces are long and coherent with none of the pastiche or cliché that marr filmwork. Played this more than the others and it's barely on the cusp, but in some ways the handicaps make it all the more remarkable. Bump those numbers up one more. A- [October 1]

Matthew Shipp: Piano Sutras (2013, Thirsty Ear): Pianist, a major one since c. 1990, plays solo here, something he's been doing more frequently lately as if he's trying to shake the taint of his early Blue Series albums' veer into jazztronica. The focus here is in dense chord patterns, lots of muscle rather than melodic lines. Two covers ("Giant Steps," "Nefertiti"), short ones for just a whiff of recognition. B+(**)

Dave Slonaker Big Band: Intrada (2012 [2013], Origin): Los Angeles-based outfit, first record, Slonaker arranges and conducts but doesn't play. He grew up in Pittsburgh, studied trombone and piano, got degrees at Indiana and Eastman School of Music, and headed west to work in film and TV. Standard big band lineup (five reeds, four trumpets, four trombones, piano, bass, drums -- many names I recognize but few real stars (Bob Sheppard, Wayne Bergeron, Peter Erskine are probably the best known). All Slonaker originals except for "It's Only a Paper Moon." B-

Matt White: The Super Villain Jazz Band (2012 [2013], Artists Recording Collective): Trumpet player, studied in Miami, based in Nashville, has played in big bands at both stops but this is his own first album. Postbop, gets help from two saxophonists (Evan Cobb and Don Aliquo) plus piano-bass-drums, but his trumpet makes the deepest impression; wrote all but the Tom Waits cover. B+(**) [October 1]


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Dave Bennett: Don't Be That Way (Mack Avenue): October 15
  • The George Bouchard Group: Listen to Your Dreams (self-released): October 15
  • Kris Davis: Massive Threads (Thirsty Ear): advance, November 5
  • Enrico Granafei: Alone Together (CAP)
  • Tom Harrell: Colors of a Dream (High Note): October 22
  • Sue Maskaleris: Bring Nothing but Your Heart (Jazilian)
  • Bill Mays Inventions Trio: Life's a Movie (Chiaroscuro)
  • Houston Person: Nice 'n' Easy (High Note): October 22
  • Ben Wanicur: The Excluded Middle (Middle Path)
  • Phil Woods & the Festival Orchestra: New Celebration (Chiaroscuro)

Daily Log

Music today (JP): Billy Mintz, Dave Slonaker; (RG): Marvin Gaye, Four Tops, Jan & Dean.


Posted this at EW:

Tried posting this earlier but MSN wasn't cooperative. I posted new Jazz Prospecting today. Been thinking about past and future projects, and made an offer there to send out a free copy of my old Terminal Zone magazine to anyone who writes requesting a copy. Also put out a plea there for some programming help on a future Terminal Zone website project. Again, any interest, please write me.

I also have a file collecting nearly all of the download links posted in the last week or so, so if you want that, again, write me.

I was planning on writing something more substantial here or elsewhere, but between my trip and all the catching up I haven't had time. If not here, then elsewhere.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Weekend Roundup

Big story this coming week will be the government shutdown, forced by Republicans in the House for no better reason than that they can. They've staked out an ignorant position, one voters should remember next November -- one the Democrats should relentlessly remind voters of. Moreover, I feel their vindictiveness is aimed explicitly at me. I'm 62 now and unemployed and the only way I'll be able to buy health insurance next year is through an ACA exchange. I don't have any links on this below, but that doesn't mean this isn't important.

Some scattered links this week:


  • Janet Allon: From the Mean-Spirited to the Asinine: 7 Prime Examples of Right-Wing Lunacy This Week: Actually, looks like a formula for a piece she can write every week. The headline list:

    1. Ken Blackwell: Cutting Food Stamps, Oh So Christian
    2. Bill O'Reilly: Jesus Died for Our Taxes
    3. AIG CEO: My Plight Is Similar to Lynch Mob Victims
    4. Gohmert's Pile (of Crap) -- Obamacare and Immigration Are Plots to Deprive Real Americans of Full-time Jobs
    5. NRA Lobbyist: Opposing Elephant Slaugher Is Hitlerian Animal Racism
    6. Bryan Fischer Gets in on the Teenaged Bullying Action
    7. Kansas Christian Group: Stop Oppressing Our Kids By Teaching Them Science
  • Tom Engelhardt: Bragging Rights: Eight exceptional(ly dumb) American achievements of the twenty-first century: Starts quoting and commenting on Obama's "bomb Syria (but not quite yet)" speech, especially the bit about "That's what makes us exceptional." Indeed, let us count the ways:

    1. What other country could have invaded Iraq, hardly knowing the difference between a Sunni and a Shiite, and still managed to successfully set off a brutal sectarian civil war and ethnic cleansing campaigns between the two sects that would subsequently go regional, whose casualty counts have tipped into the hundreds of thousands, and which is now bouncing back on Iraq? [ . . . ]
    2. What other country could magnanimously spend $4-6 trillion on two "good wars" in Afghanistan and Iraq against lightly armed minority insurgencies without winning or accomplishing a thing? [ . . . ]
    3. And talking about exceptional records, what other military could have brought an estimated 3.1 million pieces of equipment -- ranging from tanks and Humvees to porta-potties, coffee makers, and computers -- with it into Iraq, and then transported most of them out again (while destroying the rest or turning them over to the Iraqis)? Similarly, in an Afghanistan where the U.S. military is now drawing down its forces and has already destroyed "more than 170 million pounds worth of vehicles and other military equipment," what other force would have decided ahead of time to shred, dismantle, or simply discard $7 billion worth of equipment (about 20% of what it had brought into the country)? The general in charge proudly calls this "the largest retrograde mission in history." [ . . . ]
    4. What other military could, in a bare few years in Iraq, have built a staggering 505 bases, ranging from combat outposts to ones the size of small American towns with their own electricity generators, water purifiers, fire departments, fast-food restaurants, and even miniature golf courses at a cost of unknown billions of dollars and then, only a few years later, abandoned all of them, dismantling some, turning others over to the Iraqi military or into ghost towns, and leaving yet others to be looted and stripped? [ . . . ]
    5. [ . . . ] Opinion polls there indicate that a Ripley's-Believe-It-or-Not-style 97% of Pakistanis consider [America's drone] strikes "a bad thing." Is there another country on the planet capable of mobilizing such loathing? [ . . . ]
    6. And what other power could have secretly and illegally kidnapped at least 136 suspected terrorists -- some, in fact, innocent of any such acts or associations -- off the streets of global cities as well as from the backlands of the planet? [ . . . ]
    7. Or how about the way the State Department, to the tune of $750 million, constructed in Baghdad the largest, most expensive embassy compound on the planet -- a 104-acre, Vatican-sized citadel with 27 blast-resistant buildings, an indoor pool, basketball courts, and a fire station, which was to operate as a command-and-control center for our ongoing garrisoning of the country and the region? Now, the garrisons are gone, and the embassy, its staff cut, is a global white elephant. [ . . . ]
    8. Or what about this? Between 2002 and 2011, the U.S. poured at least $51 billion into building up a vast Afghan military. [ . . . ] In 2012, the latest date for which we have figures, the Afghan security forces were still a heavily illiterate, drug-taking, corrupt, and inefficient outfit that was losing about one-third of its personnel annually (a figure that may even be on the rise).

    We've never been able to shake the notion that America is exceptional because there are many respects in which it is true. The real problem comes from inflating the facts into a sense of moral superiority and destiny -- Madeleine Albright's formulation, that the United States is "the indispensible nation" sums up this conceit perfectly, and from there it is only a short step to the "exceptional(ly dumb)" blunders enumerated above. Some time ago I found a useful corrective in a Camper Van Beethoven lyric: "And if you weren't born in America, you'd probably have been born somewhere else." And having been born somewhere else, you would likely not be so full of yourself as America's political class feels the need to be.

    Engelhardt also introduces Dilip Hiro: A World in Which No One Is Listening to the Planet's Sole Superpower. It's worth noting that not only isn't the US "indispensible" -- the world is stepping up to take the lead, not least because the US under Obama (as under Bush) is inapable of doing the right thing. If was Russia, after all, that secured the agreement of Syria to give up its chemical weapons, when the only "solution" the US could think of was to shoot some cruise missiles its way. And it was Iran that broke the ice in proposing talks to monitor its nuclear power program when all Obama could think of is crippling economic sanctions. If this looks like marginalizing US power, that's largely because US superpowerdom has crawled into such a tiny mental space already: the Pavlovian impulse to lash out militarily is only exceeded by the whining when others decline to follow Washington's lead.

    On Iran, see Can Washington Reciprocate Iran's "Constructive Engagement"?.

  • John Allen Gay: Obama's Post-Humanitarian Interventionism: An interesting turn of phrase.

    Of course, the administration had many good reasons for making the distinction -- after all, if its justification for war were saving lives, it would have acted sooner. And, as officials repeatedly emphasized, no number of cruise missiles could put Syria back together again. Yet at the bottom of it all, this was a decision rooted in the necessities of domestic politics (few Americans wanted to go into Syria) and of selfish national interests (Syria's war hurts America, but not in a direct, urgent and vital way). Officials certainly would have preferred to defend both the norm against killing innocent civilians and the norm against using chemical weapons. But they recognized that the means available to them could only defend the latter.

    I don't think the US has ever entered a war for anything remotely resembling humanitarian purposes, but US (and other) hawks have often tried their best to cloak their intents in humanitarian guise. It's hard to tell whether Obama's unwillingness to join this charade is because he recognizes that humanitarianism has no political clout anymore -- the GOP-dominated House, after all, just wiped out the food stamp program, so how eager will they be to "protect" Syrians if they could care less whether Americans starve to death -- or because he recognizes the fundamental deceit of the ploy. After all, if he enters a war to "help" people, shouldn't he be judged on whether his war actually does help people? -- a standard which guarantees failure. Yet he's stuck with this "magnificent military" (in Madeleine Albright's conventionally inarguable words), ready to intervene but only in the destructive and self-defeating manner of its design. A sensible president would start to disassemble a military that only leads to such bad outcomes, but a clever one might just try to limit the damage by making the prospect so unappealing.

  • Stephen M Walt: Threat Inflation 6.0: Does al-Shabab Really Threaten the U.S.? While I was in Arkansas, the big story was the "terror" attack on an upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya -- a tragic story, but nothing on why Somalis would be attacking targets in Kenya (like all those Kenyan troops that invaded Somalia in 2011. Rather, favorite angles were whether al-Shabab had recruited Somali-Americans to take part in the attack, and the implication that they could just as well attack here.

    Ditto al Qaeda. Osama bin Laden didn't get up one day and decide he wanted to launch a few terrorist attacks, pull out his atlas, and pick the United States at random. His decision to attack U.S. military forces and government installations, and then to attack the United States directly, was reprehensible and an obvious threat, but it didn't come out of nowhere. On the contrary, the emergence of al Qaeda was a direct response to various aspects of America's Middle East policy (e.g., blanket support for Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia and the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf through the 1990s). As I've noted before, the United States has devoted most of its energy and effort since then to chasing down bad guys and killing them, but hardly any time trying to act in ways that would make the terrorists' message less appealing to potential recruits.

    Note that Walt feels the need to remind us of his opposition to al Qaeda's 9/11 attacks, but he doesn't say anything about the many more people that the US has killed. As such, his argument against inflating threats of terrorism is that doing so is ineffective. In effect, his argument inflates the threat as well. Evidently, the "realist" creed means that we can only talk about ourselves.

    On Kenya, see: David Zarembka: No "Cake Walk" for Kenya in Somalia.


Also, a few links for further study:

  • Robert Christgau: Blind Lemon Jefferson/Rokia Traore/Robert Sarazin Blake With Jefferson Hamer and the Powderkegs: The last batch of capsule reviews written under the benign patronage of Microsoft as the post-Ballmer beancounters have now decided to dispense entirely with original, much less expert and professional, content -- thinking, perhaps, that even paltry profits on zero costs are infinite. Given the logic of the system it's remarkable that it ever worked at all, but the takeaway lesson is that we can no longer count on the inefficiencies of the oligarchy to allow anything worthwhile to be produced. The three reviews provide a microcosm of Christgau's range of interests: in Robert Sarazin Blake he's found a remarkable album by someone you've never heard of (I know I hadn't), in Rokia Traore he shows his pioneering expertise in African pop by not quite falling for the latest by a relatively established star, and in Blind Lemon Jefferson he looks back to the first major bluesman of the recorded music era. But the main reason for following the link is to read the numerous comments (233 at the moment) with dozens of thoughtful remembrances, if not of Christgau himself then of the impact his writing and recommendations have had. Nothing by me, yet -- I've got my own blog to do.

  • David Denby: Hitler in Hollywood: Comments on two new books: Ben Urwand: The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact with Hitler (Harvard), and Thomas Doherty: Hollywood and Hitler, 1933-1939 (Columbia), favoring the latter's less acusatory treatment. One thing people forget now is how respectable Hitler seemed back in the 1930s, though part of that was because the Nazis were pretty aggressive at keeping critical views out of print. George Gyssling was one such agent, and his beat was Hollywood, where he was at least moderately successful, as shown here.

  • Seymour Hersh on Obama, NSA and the 'pathetic' American media: Haven't heard much from him lately, so this interview piece is most welcome:

    Don't even get him started on the New York Times which, he says, spends "so much more time carrying water for Obama than I ever thought they would" -- or the death of Osama bin Laden. "Nothing's been done about that story, it's one big lie, not one word of it is true," he says of the dramatic US Navy Seals raid in 2011.

    Hersh is writing a book about national security and has devoted a chapter to the bin Laden killing. He says a recent report put out by an "independent" Pakistani commission about life in the Abottabad compound in which Bin Laden was holed up would not stand up to scrutiny. "The Pakistanis put out a report, don't get me going on it. Let's put it this way, it was done with considerable American input. It's a bullshit report," he says hinting of revelations to come in his book. [ . . . ]

    "Like killing people, how does [Obama] get away with the drone programme, why aren't we doing more? How does he justify it? What's the intelligence? Why don't we find out how good or bad this policy is? Why do newspapers constantly cite the two or three groups that monitor drone killings. Why don't we do our own work?

    "Our job is to find out ourselves, our job is not just to say -- 'here's a debate' -- our job is to go beyond the debate and find out who's right and who's wrong about issues. That doesn't happen enough. It costs money, it costs time, it jeopardises, it raises risks. There are some people -- the New York Times still has investigative journalists but they do much more of carrying water for the president than I ever thought they would . . . it's like you don't dare be an outsider any more."

  • Avi Shlaim: It's now clear: the Oslo peace accords were wrecked by Netanyahu's bad faith: Actually, it's been clear for a long time, but the effect was partially masked by Ehud Barak's bad faith, and ultimately by Ariel Sharon's aggression. But Rabin and Peres hadn't laid down a very firm foundation either.

  • David Swainson: Top 45 Lies in Obama's Speech at the UN: I won't list them all, but particularly appreciate this one:

    2. "It took the awful carnage of two world wars to shift our thinking." Actually, it took one. The second resulted in a half-step backwards in "our thinking." The Kellogg-Briand Pact banned all war. The U.N. Charter re-legalized wars purporting to be either defensive or U.N.-authorized.

    After WWI the War Department reverted to a skeletal operating force (aside from occupying the Phillipines and various spots in Central America and the Caribbean). After WWII the War Department was renamed the Department of Defense and after an initial bit of contraction they got ever larger, deadlier, and more reckless.

    Also:

    29. "Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons." Iran's what?

    Israel started predicting that Iran would develop nuclear weapons "within five years" back in the mid-1990s. They've occasionally predicted shorter time frame, and never predicted a longer one, yet it never happened. In the entire history of nuclear weapons, no nation has come so close and yet never managed to produce a weapon. It's almost as if they aren't trying. But they say they're not trying, so we know they must.

  • Michael Vlahos: Why Americans Love Bombardment: "Has justice through retribution become the new American virtue?" Vlahos argues that "bombardment is theater," which makes me think of the Situationist notion of "spectacle" -- above all else, "shock and awe" over Baghdad promised to be a grand fireworks show, photographed at just enough distance to spare you the blood and gore. I'm also reminded of Jim Geraghty's Voting to Kill -- my, what vicious bloodsuckers we've become.

    More critically, it has replaced original, more compassionate framings of American virtue. Bombing nations has in some cases (especially after 9-11) actually come to stand in our minds for liberation itself. It is intended not only as the punishment of evil, but also as its very purification. [ . . ]

    We are Americans, and Americans are by definition, exceptional, because we are chosen. No one else: Not ancien monarchs and sultans, not Victorian prime ministers and les presidents, can go forth among humanity today and lay waste to the wicked. Only we Americans are entitled to do so, declaring all the while the unimpeachable righteousness of what we do.

Daily Log

Watched The Good Wife and The Mentalist series debuts, the Dexter and Breaking Bad season finales. Seems hard to believe that they would kill Lisbon off in the first show of the "Final Red John" season so that was far more surprising and shocking than anything in the finales. Of course, it could just be a feint, but Red John previously demanded that Jane kill Lisbon, and he's made a point in the past of killing Jane's loved ones, and even if he's just out to torture Jane it's hard to make a better case that letting her live has any advantages -- worst scenario I can think of is that it would cause Jane to crack and decide to hunt down the whole list to make sure he got the right guy, which would change the whole nature of the show.

The Breaking Bad finale was OK. Just as well Walt didn't take petty revenge on his ex-partners: cajoling them to launder his money was about as smart a move as he could make. The scene with Skyler was nicely played, with his admission that it was really about his own sense of feeling competent and alive -- a constant going back to cooking his first batch and that scene where he blows up that first drug lord crib, although they lost track of that many times along the way. Jesse killing Todd was the most expected turn. I wondered if he'd make the kill while cooking, like Walt did way back when, but regardless of Jesse's reputed skill there's never been any reason to expect he could improvise with chemistry like Walt did. On the other hand, there was no reason to expect that Walt could have hot-wired that car in New Hampshire, so the good luck of having the keys fall from the visor was more plausible.

One comment from past episodes. I hate the repeated notion that DEA agent Hank was the one character who never "broke bad." As I see it, the DEA is the original sin behind the whole show. Without them and the laws they enforce Walt could have pursued his chemistry without ever getting dragged down into criminality. If he could, say, have taken his meth to farmers markets and sold it like a craft, he would never have gotten involved with Tuco or Gus Fring or Todd or Lydia or any of those people. Of course, you might try arguing that Walt was attracted to the criminality. Certainly it challenged his intellect and added to his adrenaline, and those things helped to compensate for losing the pathetic work and home life he had previously led. Moreover, Hank wasn't just a legalist by-the-book cop. He really enjoyed the power he held, and he flaunted it. I found him at least as creepy and crooked as Walt, and if anything worse in his sanctimoniousness (not that Walt was beyond delusion -- he certainly had his moments).

I have less to say about Dexter. Only watched the last year. None of the characters (except maybe the Latina nanny) were in any way sympathetic, and Hannah's murderous past isn't clear (although it comes in useful). Dexter's realization that he destroys the lives of all the people he cares for comes late but probably required all the sacrifices the show made to sink into his thick skull. I've seen references to him as a vigilante and superhero and the like but he's just another killer in a country that's way too soft on the species.

Music today (JP): Ivo Perelman, Myra Melford; (RG): Marvin Gaye.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Rhapsody Streamnotes (September 2013)

Pick up text here.

Daily Log

Spent most of the day working my way through Expert Witness comments, building up the downloadable table. (Got mail from Georgia requesting some help there.) Thinking about writing a comment, but haven't done anything about it yet.

Went shopping and out for dinner at Yen Ching. Didn't watch any TV. Instead, wrapped up my abbreviated Rhapsody Streamnotes post.

Music today (JP): Ted Brancato, Tsuyoshi Niwa, Meg Okura, Ivo Perelman.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Daily Log

Music today (JP): Keefe Jackson, Brasslands, Matt White, Michael Moss/Billy Stein, Matthew Shipp; (RS): Robert Sarazin Blake.


Much activity today on the occasion of Christgau's last Expert Witness post at MSN.

LarryBud described himself as "a dumb teenager listening to Bachman Turner Overdrive, the Doobie Bothers, and other dreck," before discovering Christgau. I responded:

I have to point out that the first review Christgau commissioned from me was on Bachman-Turner Overdrive, and that request was undoubtedly based on my favorable reviews of their second and/or third albums. So that seemed to have been a signature taste test, and I passed it. Review requests for Lou Reed, Eno, and Nick Lowe followed.

Today's comments were up to the 100 mark before I got around to starting from the beginning. Joe Yanosik got the first word in. Then Cam Patterson (vital stats: 13 in 1976 when The Ramones came out, so b. 1963? went to college in Nashville in 1981):

But to me there is this: I went to medical school and then residency mostly assigned to a tough part of Atlanta, and for basically 6 years straight during that time I was on call every fourth night taking care of patients and hanging out with my colleagues-in-training who shared this experience with me. We saw things you'll never believe, we did a lot of good for people, and we had a lot of fun together inside and outside the hospital. I'd count 8-10 of this group as my deepest, take-a-bullet-for-them friends, but another 100 or so that I could connect with at any time our paths cross and instantly regain an important connection. It's not that I haven't made friends since then, I've got more than I deserve. But that instantaneous connection, that shared experience, that deep look into a colleague's eyes and knowing exactly what was going on -- how could that ever be recreated? And believe me, that experience is miraculous.

For twenty years now, I've been telling the trainees who I teach and mentor that they should recognize that they will never develop such intense personal relationships as the ones they are now cultivating with their peers in the trenches during medical training. And for years this has held true for me. Until Expert Witness happened.

Expert Witness is just as vivid and important a shared experience for me as my residency was. I've made friends I'll hunt down in my travels. I'll share my tough moments. I'll always have my eye out for someone wearing a Wussy t-shirt. And I'll always be there when any Witness gives me a call.

Bradley Sroka (musicology student, writing his dissertation on Christgau's rock crit):

As for our host, what can I say? I've devoted my professional life to his work. The dissertation has had setbacks, and is currently coming out very very slowly. But it's not for lack of interest in my subject. If nothing else, my love and understanding of his work has only grown and become more sophisticated (I hope!) because of this EW community. I didn't realize all of the different ways to receive his writing, and coming to know how multivalent it is has helped me sharpen my own take on his work. It also helps that he has contributed so much and so often to our little club. I consider him a kindred spirit, and knowing him personally even just a little bit like I do has made his writing that much more telling. I treasure this experience and will hold my participation at EW with me as a point of pride forever.

Allen B[elz]:

This particular form of the CG, with it's near-daily interactivity with our host himself is, to my mind, one of the best examples of the digital community idea -- I'm very biased, but I think it justifies the concept all by itself. A group of people with one thing in common, except as soon became apparent in the way the discussion ranged all over the place, it was far more than just the one thing. I'm so happy to have found you bunch of people.

Jonathan Culp:

I grew up in a loving family tragically festooned by a sexually abusive grandpa in the Niagara Region of Ontario. I had few friends and those friendships were eccentrically limited -- I so rarely left the house that in my mid-teens my mom actually took to encouraging me to go to a party or something. I was really, really miserable, and my music reflected that misery -- neurotically escapist dead-ends with Yes at one end of the duality and Weird Al Yankovic at the other.

I was going through a particularly hard time in grade 9, and my soundtrack was Pink Floyd's The Wall. I would listen to it while I made masters (fruit boxes) in the barn, yell along, and be lonely and alienated and angry. Then one day I was at the Beamsville public library, and discovered Christgau's 70s record guide on a shelf. Of course I flipped straight to The Wall, and there was his impossibly concise, scrupulously balanced, and entirely murderous 63-word review. And I knew there was more life in that review than there was in the album, or any of my albums. And I needed to know more.

Carola D[ibbell]:

I'm having a hard time finding words to talk about how much this site has meant to Bob, and to me too, though I post so rarely. I'm not much of an online person or even a list person, so it was not till Bob showed me one thread about novels that I got a sense of what has been going on here, how smart and far ranging the comments can be. And then I began to notice the personal things -- Witnesses wishing other Witnesses luck when a wife went to the hospital, or giving support when a parent died. Do I remember someone posting about a new cat? And then, the Wussy thing! It was fun to meet some of you -- I remember a bunch of us sitting around a bar after the 2012 Cake Shop Wussy show, and then some young guy nobody knows comes striding up, takes a little breath, and says, "I'm Duke," and everyone's mouth drops open. And Ryan who I met before I knew any of his posts -- thanks, Ryan, for quoting me in your wonderful long piece. Thanks, Cam, for all kinds of things, including! The Mark Benno link! Thanks everyone for being so smart and open minded and obsessive. And for making me feel welcome. Till the next time.

Allen B[elz]:

Anyone here who has the urge to want to give back a little something might think about emailing Tom Hull and asking what he needs help with over at the Xgau website. I did that back around 2000 and got to spend a cumulative 2 or 3 years immersing in the writing even more than I already had been, plus I got a lovely thank-you Christmas card from our host as well.

Joe Levy (after recounting a story of a shared evening when he was 22 and Christgau was exactly twice as old):

The people who change you, well, there's very little repaying the favor beyond saying thanks. So here's a thank you to Bob, but also a thank you to all of you guys, you proud and hungry listeners, you devoted readers and writers, you defenders of PJ Harvey, you lovers of cats and dogs, you digitizers and downloaders, you list makers and score keepers and grade grubbers -- you Witnesses. What fine fellows and -- though you be few -- ladies, what good men and women. What a rare lot are you. What a pleasure to be in your company. Tonight, the red wine will poured in your honor, and in honor of he who brought us here: our dean, our king, our kind of human being.

Milo Miles:

In the flood of pop, there's a certain heroism in Keeping Up. With Bob, it's part of his iron work ethic and dedication people have mentioned. But Expert Witness proved liberating, not confining. Not just books, but reissues galore -- artists not considered before or ones massively reevaluated -- past releases -- and more. This cinched it for me if I started my own blog. Shit man, you're not gonna get assignments for a quarter of the things you want to write about all the time -- ever again. So you can remain silent or swallow hard and go for the promo with free writing. Expert Witness showed me the advantages. And it convinced me to keep the action hopping -- throw up a (quality) joke or weirdness if nothing else to reward the audience.

Christgau insists he only writes for money, but he has taken at least a few steps toward surrendering that principle over the course of EW. Some of us less established have fully surrendered, and some are trying to negotiate what's left of the paid space in between. But one thing you give up in writing for cash is the direction of what you write about, at what length, and for what purpose, and at some point it's very liberating to shove all that and take control of your own life.

Michael Tatum:

Most of all, I actually have found people who appreciate my writing -- something I've never really had. You see, my wife, my Mom, my brother, my immediate family -- don't actually read a word I write. It's been a very painful thing to be good at something that the people you care most about can't really appreciate (most common complaint: "I don't understand a thing you say"). But now I not only have an audience, I have also found wonderful friends who love music -- and writing about it -- just as much as I do. I can't even begin to thank you for this gift. There are, of course, things more important in life whether or not you can tell someone that the new Arctic Monkeys blows (EVEN THOUGH IT DOES). But man, thanks to you I've found my karass -- and if I'm swimming in foma, I'm so happy being on this little cloud with my fellow travelers, I could care less.

Same thing backwards - patrick:

So basically everyone here came in as an already full-fledged Xgau nut. Out in the real world, my knowledge of all things Xgau is almost rainman-esque. On this board, it's about average. You can say things here like "Speak for yourself, Ferdinand" or "Mick Jagger should fold up his penis and go home" (or, as someone mentioned earlier, "the one with the orange cover"), or discuss the joys of Have Moicy! or Spoek Mathambo or Pylon's "Cool", and everyone knows what you're referring to. You can share your delight in discovering an almost not negative review of Uriah Heep that never made it to the first CG book. You get to read thoughtful, real-time reactions to Xgau's picks, and animated tangents on politics and literature and baseball and whatever else.


Other comments I clicked "like" on: Jon LaFollette, Jason Gubbels, Philip Brasor, Rodney Taylor, Dan Weiss, Ryan Maffei, Chuck Cleaver, Greg Morton, Dan Weber, Jason Bridges, Matt Rice, Adam Weiner (Low Cut Connie), Richard Cobeen, Kenny Mostern, Liam Smith, Jimmy Cook, Steven Manning, Tom Walker, Damien Wilkins, babysneaks (about time we heard from him), JockRothko, Greg Magarian (complements a story I heard from Christgau without ever putting the name Bruce Ennis to it), Kevin John, SpaceCoast (Jim Chaffin), Erik Best, Richard Cobeen, Jalen Cobeen. Fairly arbitrary, I'm sure.

Should note for future reference that Nina was adopted in 1985 from Honduras. Probably could have recalled and/or figured that out. I would have been in Massachusetts at the time.

Bradley Sroka has set up an email address for further announcements: expertwitnessnewsletter [at] gmail.com -- first I heard of this, but I've been planning on doing an "announce" list.


I eventually worked my way back to the previous half-week's comments.

Scott Manzler:

Some housekeeping before the house is shuttered for good: As Tom noted in a reply to my first post, I've been working with him on several website items. One head-scratcher: Seem to be missing a Newsday-era Creem Consumer Guide (i.e. the CGs between Voice gigs) or two. In addition to those included on the site, have transcriptions pending for 07/72 (lead capsule, Jackson Browne), 01/73 (Eric Andersen) and 02/73 (Rita Coolidge). Between library visits and my own personal cache, seems I should have a complete set, and yet there are several Newsday CG caps of which I'm aware that don't appear in any Voice or Creem column that I've seen (for a sampling, see below). Anyone who can shed some light on this issue, please reply to my post. I'll check back in over the next coupla days. Thanks.

Sampling:

  • Blue Oyster Cult: Tyranny and Mutation
  • Derek and the Dominoes: In Concert
  • Mahavishnu Orchestra: Birds of Fire
  • Yoko One: Approximately Infinite Universe
  • Bill Rose: Uncle Jesus and Auntie Christ
  • Leon Thomas: Blues and the Soulful Truth

Nora Hollywood:

I was asking about other Bird biographies, but really I'm interested in any great writing about jazz. I love Martin Williams' notes on the Smithsonian Classic Jazz box, and I love 'Straight LIfe' by Art Pepper, and 'Four LIves in the Bebop Business, and as I say, I loved 'Bird Lives'. Mingus' 'Beneath the Underdog'. For some weird reason I haven't read Miles' autobiography yet, but I will soon. I used to go through the Penguin Guide by Richard Cook & Brian Morton, and have a great illustrated book (lots of album covers) somewhere which I think is also by Morton. So, apart from other biographies of Bird, does anyone have other recommendations for jazz reading?

Sroka shouts out Gary Giddins. Milo Miles cites "everything you can find by my friends Francis Davis and Bob Blumenthal; also The Freedom Principle: Jazz After 1958 by John Litweiler and But Beautiful by Geoff Dyer." Gubbels mentions Amiri Baraka: Blues People. Lunday mentions Ben Ratliff's Coltrane. Walker adds "Young Man with Horn, a 1938 novel by Dorothy Baker." Morton cites Whitney Balliet: American Musicians and American Musicians II. Milo adds Martin Williams: The Jazz Tradition, Jazz in Its Time, Jazz Masters in Transition, Jazz Masters of New Orleans, Hidden in Plain Sight.

Milo Miles recommends Béla Bartok:

Béla Bartók's The 6 String Quartets captures me every time I play them and won't let go for two-and-a-half hours. Run through the complete set at least every other year. And play both the versions I own.

Bartók first fascinated me because he belonged to no school or movement and seemed to truly cut his own way forward, unlike even independents like Picasso and Stravinsky, who often put their stamp on movements rather than ignore them altogether. But certainly a secondary attraction to the Hungarian was his Magyar madness -- the folk tunes recorded in Transylvania on donkeyback and then splintered into hundreds of rude and beauteous shards in his works.

His restless combinations of sensibilities seal the deal. I feel I can follow an evolving thread through the String Quartets, as Bartók slides from almost-balmy romanticism in the First Quartet (1908) (winding tighter at the conclusion), through the more poison-gassed and bloodied meditation on Debussy in the Second Quartet (1915-17), on to the rising intellectual modernism and frenzied chips of folk in the Third and Fourth Quartets (1927-28 -- the 3rd is a particular favorite). In the Fifth (1934) and Sixth (1939) Quartets, Bartók can do anything, but they are sad works -- Europe is coming to an end, his mother dies, he seems to have premonitions how difficult it will be to compose abroad in America. But the 5th is a wondrous strange thing -- smoke wending through a pitch-black night -- and the piece I would play if had to pick one.

I can't pretend my CD renditions are the best -- they're the only two I know. Turns out that the treatment by Takacs Quartet (London, 1998) is one of the most frequently and highly recommended. But I will not slight the rendition by the Lindsay String Quartet (ASV, 1988), which I've owned and loved longer. It wasn't an arbitrary selection -- somebody I trust recommended it (tempted to say Lloyd Schwartz, but can't really remember). Very roughly, I would say the Takacs feel the folk elements more vividly and hit the modernism more precisely; Lindsay bring out the romanticism smartly and reach deeper into the balm behind the sorrow of the later pieces.

Anyway, all six keep sounding more essential to me. A feast that can never be finished.

Robert Christgau (reply to Deus Vauche, no need to quote that):

As for how much traffic we got or didn't get here and what difference that did or didn't make, you should really learn to both read and think. As my first post on this thread says, and as has been reported widely elsewhere, MSN's entire freelance editorial operation has been axed. This would appear to be the Amazon model (why pay for writing when your customers will write for free), the AOL model (why pay writers when some aggregating sweatshop will extract written inches from piece-workers so much cheaper), or some combination of the two, although I have no inside info on that and wouldn't share it if I did. Any digital empire, as Microsoft certainly is, is ultimately controlled by quants: people who think mathematically. Some quants care about written language. Others disdain it or worse.

Milo Miles:

I don't have much to add beyond what has already been said, though I do wish to concur that Dave Marsh has never been the same since his daughter passed away.

He was a thoroughgoing professional who enriched many copies of the Phoenix when I was Music Editor there. I considered him as much a friend as a college for years. Unfortunately, I thought his professionalism would extend to understanding why I would want Mark Moses to do an honest review of Glory Days (and it wasn't entirely a pan at all -- though he did brilliantly identify that a major problem with Marsh's outlook is that he fixated on a King of Rock -- Elvis, Hendrix, Springsteen -- and there could be no other contenders). Got a phone call from Dave, who told me he was shocked as hell that I would run such a hatchet job on him and that he was not writing for the Phoenix any more and, indirectly, we weren't friends any more.

That was over 25 years ago. It still hurts thinking about it.

I wrote my own "hatchet job" on Marsh back in the mid-1970s. Met him a couple times since then -- was tagging along with Bob, and we managed to bum some pretty good Yankees tickets off him once -- but we never talked. I have, however, always thought that a piece he wrote proclaiming Queen as the "real fascist rock band" was meant as an answer to my ELP piece, which (like so much else) he clearly didn't understand.

Robert Christgau:

My relations with Marsh have been off and on since I had the temerity to suggest that Springsteen wasn't God in 1975 and scant indeed since the mid '90s--I just gave up trying after one too many abusive rants about the Voice as a refuge for bohemians and people who went to college, two of many many things he doesn't know shitlist about. But what he did in the '70s was awesome. He made Creem happen, not Lester, who he had the brains, imagination, and chutzpah to import to Michigan. Lester was more talented, as Marsh knew. But Marsh gave him a home and an outlet he could make his own. At the same time he fought to keep black music coverage in Creem--an issue he's always been strong on. And whatever you think of his analysis, which can be pretty crude, he's identified unstintingly with the left start to finish. His wife works for Springsteen, so that prejudice seems neither here nor there to me, although I'm sure Jeff's credible horror story could be multiplied many times. In any case, the Wikipedia article is an ignorant disgrace. Marsh is so much smarter and FAIRER than whoever wrote it the whole enterprise is called into question.

The whole extended discussion of Marsh here is first rate. I'd have to go back to my original piece to see what turned me so much against him in the first place.

Jason Gubbels:

A few specific thanks from me to some of those assembled here are in order, so in no order:

Milo! Thanks for (among many other things) your Oct. 2011 NPR review of "Turkish Freakout," which convinced me those two compilations were something more than the usual crate-digging third-rate-funk/psych obscurity project. Both volumes have proved favorites in this household.

Joe Levy! Thank you for correcting me when I excitedly burbled on about Dawn Richard going number one across the country or something like that. Having the editor of Billboard on hand as a fact-checkin' cuz was some kind of thrill.

Michael Tatum! Thanks for asking me over Thai food one afternoon if I had ever done any music writing. It was the right question to ask. Thanks also for lending me your copy of "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough," which I did remember to get back to you, right?

Tom Hull and Dan Weiss / ex machina! Thanks for being generous promoters of talent/writing/rockcrit, and thanks Tom for getting me a Pazz & Jop ballot (the great Joey D. also threw in some good words). I owe you.

Cam Patterson! Mike Imes! Bradley Sroka! Mark Rosen! Joey Daniewicz! KT Lindemann! Christopher Monsen! Michael Tatum again! You all made the time to meet up with me in person, often over food/drink, and you're all wonderful. It was my pleasure. What a group.

I'm leaving out so very many people, I know, including our generous host, but that's enough for now. More to come.


In a subcomment, Tatum wrote:

Some rockcrit lessons I've learned in the last 3 years (many through Bob, though he doesn't know it):

  1. The last review you write for a monthly column will always be the one you regret. Sit on any opinion you write for a week or so. Don't rush shit out.
  2. Don't give into hype (this is "The Dombal Rule").
  3. Be an individualist, with your own opinions. Having said that, listening to your friends is sometimes a really good idea.
  4. If you're reviewing world music, READ THE TRANSLATED LYRICS. I wouldn't review a record in English without doing the same, right?
  5. Edit, edit, edit, edit, edit, edit. I was like this before -- more so now. The lines you strike will probably be ones you hold dear. Get used to it -- if they don't work, they don't work. (Example: in my 2/2 posting, "on this cloud" and "swimming in foma" is a mixed metaphor. In this informal case, I'm too lazy to change it. Maybe for Cam and Melnick's book.)

I quote this mostly because I have yet to learn those same lessons (although I probably do OK on 2 and 3). I don't listen to records I write about as much as other critics do. (Two plays is probably the median, with the mean a slightly higher fraction, probably closer to three but certainly less.) That means I do a fair amount of guessing: based on two plays, what grade am I most likely to settle on after 5 or 7 or 10? If specific people I like, whom I trust to have done due dilligence, lean one way I'm somewhat likely to lean that way too -- unless I have good personal reason not to, of course. So I'm not imune to hype, even if I'm not easily swayed by it.

I almost never regret monthly column reviews, possibly because I rarely play the album again. But also I don't venture A+ or A grades very often, so I rarely go way out on a limb. I also rarely go below B-, a grade bad enough for most practical purposes. I usually do force myself to listen to an A- or B+(***) album a second time to see if it sticks, but it usually does. Might be more accurate to space plays out a bit, but that's more work. Might also help to compare against old work, but again that's a lot of extra work for small advantage.

(Tatum may have more regrets because he's more excitable, hoping to find new gems first and sometimes jumping the gun.)

I never read translated lyric sheets. In fact, I almost never read lyric sheets. In fact, I worry very little about lyrics. If I get them, fine; if I don't, no big problem. I'm not a lit guy. I'm not indifferent to words, but not obsessed with them either. I don't worry about artists slipping words past me. I review what I hear. And if it's in a language I don't understand (even if that's nominally English) what I'm hearing is just music anyway.

And I'm too lazy to do much editing. I'm not proud of that, and I know for a fact that extra editing passes improve the writing. I just lack the patience to go through those steps.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Daily Log

Took it easy today.

Music today (JP): Florian Hoefner, Ahmad Jamal, Tim Horner.

Daily Log

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Daily Log

Wednesday. Duan and I drove to Stroud and up to see Harold and Louise. Harold, 88, got up and came out to see us, a good deal more alert and less depressed than when I had seen him a year ago, although no more coherent. Louise, also 88, seemed to be doing well -- she had reportedly fell and "broke her hip" (twice) but I couldn't see any evidence of that, either when she stood up from a low chair or when she walked. They depend on their daughter (Julie) to take care of them, and Louise in particular seemed irritated by restrictions -- can't drive, can't go out and shop, even the thermostat was under lock and key. We spent a couple hours, then drove back. Stopped at Aunt Lola's old farmhouse, which is a wreck these days (and no longer connected to any farm). Took a couple pictures and returned to Bristol. Later we met Judy Kay at a new chain place in town, Boomerang Cafe. Had chicken fried steak, which was tasty but my stomach was upset afterwards. I went to drive home after dinner, but wound up having to stop at several restrooms on the way back. Part of the drive was straight into the setting sun, and the whole thing was miserable. Got back around 11 PM, about 200 miles. Was worn out and irritable but finally my stomach started to settle down.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Daily Log

Tuesday. Packed up and left Elkins before noon. Drove 200 miles to Bristow, Oklahoma, taking a southerly route that drove through Fayetteville and on to Tallequah and Muskogee, bypassing Tulsa and all those hideous toll roads. Lunch at Carl's Jr. in Tallequah. Got to Duan's around 4PM. Judy Kay joined us around 5:30. She heated up some ribs that Michael D. had smoked, plus baked beans and corn. Duan seemed to be doing pretty good, at least for 86. Judy Kay told me that she had been operated on for a brain tumor underneath the pituitary gland. Surgery went in under her lip so there were no obvious scars, and the tumor had detached and was benign. Weird. Stayed over at Duan's.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 22066 [22042] rated (+24), 579 [581] unrated (-2).

I expect to be on the road by the time this Jazz Prospecting appears, but much of this has been sitting around for several weeks, and there's plenty enough to run, especially if you focus on the top grades. Should be back before the following Monday, but don't know how much work I'll manage to get in.


Howard Alden/Andy Brown Quartet: Heavy Artillery (2012 [2013], Delmark): Two guitarists, retro-swing guys with special fondness for George Van Eps, backed with bass and drums. Alden, based in New York, is well established with close to 30 albums since 1985, most on Concord or Arbors. Brown is much younger, based in Chicago, has an album under his own name and a nice duo backing his wife, singer Petra van Nuis (Far Away Places). Nothing heavy here, let alone artillery-like: title song actually comes from Django Reinhardt, another shared hero. B+(***)

Geri Allen: Grand River Crossings: Motown & Motor City Inspirations (2012 [2013], Motéma Music): Solo piano, except for four duos: three with trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, one with alto saxophonist David McMurray. Three Allen originals, the rest Detroit themed, mostly Motown -- "Tears of a Clown" benefits from the subtle pianistic twists, but "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'" is short on thrust. The horns jump out at you, while the piano sneaks slyly around. B+(**)

Marnix Busstra: Sync Dreams (2013, Buzz Music): Dutch guitarist, b. 1965, no idea how extensive his discography is, since at least some of it is buried in groups like Buzz Bros Band or credited to vibraphonist Mike Mainieri (co-leader of a quartet). This is a quartet with a pianist named Rembrandt and a bassist (acoustic) named Dooyeweerd. Brings out his inner John Scofield in particularly appealing ways. B+(**)

Claudia Quintet: September (2013, Cuneiform): John Hollenbeck's soft-toned group -- Matt Moran's vibraphone is more than ever the focal center, with accordion (Red Wienenge) and clarinet/tenor sax (Chris Speed) for color, and bass to round out the bottom. All pieces composed in various Septembers since 2001, a pivot point in Hollenbeck's career. One samples a speech -- sounds like Franklin Roosevelt, and is titled "1936 We Warn You," but I don't follow why he should be complaining about "the present administration" which would have been his -- chopping it up and replaying it for its musical tones. The rest are percussion jams, as inspired as ever. A- [September 24]

Joey DeFrancesco: One for Rudy (2013, High Note): Organ trio, with Steve Cotter on guitar and Ramon Banda on drums. Rudy is Van Gelder, possibly the most famous jazz producer and recording engineer of the last 50-60 years, and that concept sets up a vintage songbook -- Davis/Powell, Rollins, Monk, Hubbard, "Stardust," finished off with an original for the title track. No pumping or grinding, just a pleasing light touch on everything. B+(***) [September 24]

Anne Drummond: Revolving (2012 [2013], Origin): Flute player, from Seattle, studied at Manhattan School of Music and is based in New York; third album, also plays piano on three cuts, yielding to Benny Green on six, David Chesky on the other; the tracks without Green have Vic Juris on guitar and/or Dave Eggar on cello. Two Green pieces, one Pixinguinha, the rest by Drummond. Aims for a chamber feel, but also comes off a bit corny, which is probably a plus. B

Kenny Garrett: Pushing the World Away (2013, Mack Avenue): Alto saxophonist, eighteen albums since 1984, graduated to a major label in 1989 and has been one of the most prominent mainstream players ever since. Wrote all original material except for Bacharach-David's "I Say a Little Prayer," but "Chucho's Mambo" (for Valdes) and the calypso "J'ouvert (Homage to Sonny Rollins)" don't fall far from the tree. Switches between two core bands (with common bassist Corcoran Holt), swaps in guests including strings, and fills up 72:06. Troubles me that the above-listed pro forma pieces are the most appealing -- the others don't stand out even when they push hard. B [advance]

Marsha Heydt and the Project of Love: Diggin' the Day (2013, Blujazz): Alto saxophonist, second album, also plays soprano and flute here. Good natured but unadventurous pop jazz, helped out by Daniel Sadownick on percussion and, especially, James Zollar on trumpet and flugelhorn. One vocal by Carla Cook, three cuts with strings plus a fourth featuring violinist Sam Bardfield. B

Oliver Jones: Just for My Lady (2012 [2013], Justin Time): Pianist, b. 1934 in Montreal, studied briefly with Oscar Peterson's sister but didn't start recording until 1984, now up around 22 albums. The lady on the cover is violinist Josée Aidans, and they're backed with bass (Éric Lagacé) and drums (Jim Doxas), mostly Jones originals but the Gershwin tune at the end, "Lady Be Good," is the one that sticks in your mind. B+(***) [September 24]

Dave King Trucking Company: Adopted Highway (2013, Sunnyside): Drummer with the Bad Plus and Happy Apple; second album under this group name, with two tenor saxes (Chris Speed, Brandon Wozniak), electric guitar (Erik Fratzke), and acoustic bass (Adam Linz). The guitar is central here, not that King intends anything fusion-like but he has that rock beat he can fall back on, and he likes layering even when it gets a bit thick and sludgy. B+(**) [September 24]

Matt Mitchell: Fiction (2012 [2013], Pi): Pianist, based in Philadelphia, first album under own name after side credits with Dave Douglas, Darius Jones, and Tim Berne. Duo, with Ches Smith on percussion, including vibes. Very sharp, angular attack in free time, sometimes out-percussing the drummer, although the pianist can't quite shake the beat, no matter how hard he tries to dodge it. B+(***) [September 24]

Jonathan Moritz Trio: Secret Tempo (2012 [2013], Hot Cup): Tenor saxophonist (soprano too), b. 1977 in Tehran, Iran; moved to Southern California quite young, then to Belgium to study, then back for more study at California Institute for the Arts. Website offers nine records for sale: this is the first under his own name, but the others are mostly sax trios or quartets -- Trio Caveat, The Up, Evil Eye; The E.R.A. is a larger group -- that I would file under his name (at least once I recognized it). This one has Shayna Dulberger on bass and Mike Pride on drums. First impression was that this is the sort of sax record I fall easiest for. After several replays the soprano had me wavering, but the bassist sold the deal. A-

Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Red Hot (2012 [2013], Hot Cup): Moppa Elliott's Pennsylvania hick group takes its terror act to Dixieland, expanding from a quartet to septet along the way -- additions are at piano (Ron Stabinsky), bass trombone (David Taylor), banjo (Brandon Seabrook), while Jon Irabagon picks up the C melody sax, soprano too. The harmony is reminiscent of old times, but the group knows too many new tricks to go authentic -- free rhythm, abstract piano solos, some electronic drone. As usual, they're just out to mess with you. A- [advance: September 24]

Bill O'Connell + The Latin Jazz All-Stars: Zócalo (2013, Savant): Seems like I mess up a lot of credits/titles when I rush through the unpacking, but the actual title here is in very small and broken type, much harder to read than the label logo or the enlisted All-Stars: Conrad Herwig, Steve Slagle, Richie Flores, Luques Curtis, Adam Cruz. O'Connell is a pianist with nine (or so) albums since 1978 (unless my sources have him confused with the drummer with the same name). Moved into Latin jazz with his 2004 album Latin Jazz Fantasy, and shows real affinity for it, much like his trombonist. B+(**) [September 24]

Michael Pedicin: Why Stop Now/Ubuntu (2013, Groundblue): Tenor saxophonist from Philadelphia, mainstream guy although his quintet included both guitar and piano (Johnnie Valentino and Rick Germanson) instead of a second horn. Title matches the first and last songs. Has a big, bold tone. B+(**) [September 24]

Sachal Studios Orchestra: Jazz and All That: In Memory of Dave Brubeck (2013, Imagine Music): Large orchestral group, at least as configured here, based in Lahore, Pakistan: 24 violins, 3 cellos, sitar, tabla, dholoks/percussion, a chorus, 9 more listed as "UK Musicians" including trumpet, piano, guitar, and bass, but also harp, sarod, ghatam and moorsing. They play 13 songs arranged by Izzat Majeed, only one ("Blue Rondo a la Turk") I in any way associate with Dave Brubeck. Less jazz than exotica, or orchestral kitsch, especially on tunes like "Eleanor Rigby" and "The Pink Panther" that are infectious even when they're awful (which is most of the time). B-

Ira Sullivan Presents the Jim Holman Trio: Blue Skies (2011-12 [2013], Delmark): Sullivan, b. 1931, came up in Chicago during the bebop era, playing trumpet and tenor sax; his discography is widely scattered, with an Introduces in 1956, a Bird Lives! in 1962, a prolific stretch from 1978-83, and roughly a record per decade since. Holman is a pianist, and there's some confusion here over who's in his trio, but drummer Roger Humphries is listed as "special guest." Holman does a fine job of framing these songs. Sullivan may have seemed like a minor figure way back when, but in his eighties if he isn't the real thing he's one of the last links to it. B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Chaise Lounge: Dot Dot Dot (Modern Songbook): September 24
  • Laurent Coq: Dialogue (Sunnyside): November 5
  • Amir ElSaffar: Alchemy (Pi): October 22
  • Diane Hubka: West Coast Strings (SSJ): October 2
  • Kidd Jordan/Hamid Drake: A Night in November: Live in New Orleans (Valid): November 5
  • Myra Melford: Life Carries Me This Way (Firehouse 12)
  • Chris Parker: The Chris Parker Trio (GPR)
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Whit Dickey/Gerald Cleaver: Enigma (Leo): October 1
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Mat Maneri: A Violent Dose of Anything (Leo): October 1
  • Quartet San Francisco: Pacific Premieres: New Works by California Composers (Violin Jazz): September 24
  • Ed Reed: I'm a Shy Guy (Blue Shorts): October 1
  • Fay Victor Ensemble: Absinthe & Vermouth (Greene Avenue Music): November 5

Daily Log

Monday, still in Elkins, Arkansas. I offered to fix dinner, hoping to attract Rhonda's sons Chad and Chris (Chad missed the party, so he was the only one of Elsie Lee's grandkids I hadn't seen), as well as to draw out Skyler and Colter, but none of that worked out. I drove to Harps to shop for groceries, then wound up having to go to WalMart (surprisingly far away) for a few key items and some kitchenware. Took a couple hours and I grabbed lunch at Steak & Shake. Came back and cooked: baked shrimp and feta cheese, Apullian roast potatoes, horiatiki salad, mast va khiar (yogurt, cucumber, scallions, sultanas, walnuts, mint). Shrimp came out suboptimal: not sure whether to blame the shelled frozen shrimp or the Dutch oven -- I usually use a 9x12 baking dish, which exposes more surface area to the hot oven.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Daily Log

Sunday: I tried sleeping in, but the sun hit my eyes through the blinds around 9:45 so I got up. Rhonda had already left. Brenda, Richard, and Marianne were getting ready to take Elsie Lee to church. I went back to bed. Caught a couple more hours sleep, and they brought more chicken and rolls for lunch. Richard and Marianne left mid-afternoon. Brenda's ex-ami Lloyd stopped by and we talked about music and history. Last time I was in those parts they were living together on his old family farm west of Fayetteville. I eventually got the story that a schism had developed between him and Brenda's two sons, so Brenda effectively had to choose between them. The older son is college-aged (but not currently enrolled), but the younger is a sophomore (I think) and wanted to move to Elkins to play basketball for a particular coach who had taken an interest in him. At the same time Elsie Lee's lease in Mountain Home was running out, so Brenda rented a fairly new four-bedroom house in Elkins and moved her sons and Elsie Lee in there. An "experiment," Brenda said.

Called up Thelma and had her talk to Elsie Lee, delighting both.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Daily Log

Failed utterly to write my trip log on the fly. Wanted to pick up a fresh notebook to write in, but that didn't happen until well into the trip. Also forgot to bring my keyboard, and had some trouble with the Dell laptop, not that the built-in keyboard wasn't turnoff enough. So I'm writing these entries after the return.


Saturday. Got up around 11 AM and rushed to finish packing. Laura had a meeting at noon so we swapped the cars around and she left. I pulled out a little after 1 PM, headed for Arkansas where my cousin Elsie Lee was celebrating her 80th birthday in a new house I hadn't previously seen: in Elkins, AR, a few miles southeast of Fayetteville. I drove out of town on US-400 (formerly K-96). I've driven the road many times to Independence, but this time I skipped past the turnoff, skirting past Parsons and Pittsburg to the end where it merges into I-44, just past the Missouri border a few miles short of Joplin.

Turned south from Joplin. Highway ran out at the Arkansas border as I drove through Bella Vista -- brought back memories of visiting my late cousin Bob Burns (hadn't drove through there since the funeral trip). Then on past Bentonville, Springdale, and Fayetteville. GPS steered me around to the south end of town then back a bit until I picked up AR-16 and drove out to Elkins. GPS didn't find the house address, so I had to get directions and poke around a little. Lots of people there, as it was Elsie Lee's 80th birthday: Rhonda, one of her two sons (Chris + Karen); Tammy and her three kids; Brenda and her two sons (Skyler and Colter); Richard's three children (Richard and Marianne were out shopping but returned later). No one told Elsie Lee I was coming so that much had a surprise element. They had food, cake, ice cream.

Tammy left later that night. Richard and Marianne finally showed up.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Backsplash

We started working on remodeling the kitchen in late 2008. Finally got the last planned thing done, less than five years after we started. That was the backsplash between the solid surface (LG Hi-Macs) countertop and the large window, a small area about 74 inches wide by 8 inches high. It was previously painted light blue, but the plaster was deteriorating. We looked at lots of tile, but nothing quite fit the color scheme until we found this mosaic of 5/8-inch tiles covered with stainless steel. Added a pearl gray grout, and tried to bevel it around the edges. Looks like this, or did until we cluttered it up again:

Spice rack to the right. The countertop from it on back is stainless steel sheet, and there's a Capital 36-inch 6-burner range just out of the picture. Dishwasher is the old GE that we had before the remodel. We figured we'd replace it (and the refrigerator) with stainless steel front models when they broke, but they haven't obliged yet.

Daily Log

Steve says Josi is coming to Wichita to go to the Hamilton Junior High (Intermediate) School reunion this week. Doesn't seem to be year-specific. Looks like there are two events (organized on Facebook):

  • O'Malley's Irish Pub, 2405 W. 31st South, 7:00 PM, Friday, Sept. 27
  • Loretta Boone-Hollinger's house, 1602 W. 61st Street North, 5:00 PM, Saturday, Sept. 28: pot luck dinner.

Facebook lists 13 people coming (4 maybe, 15 more invited). Don't recognize any names. I went to Hamilton 1962-65; my brother followed me 1965-68, and my sister 1969-72. Josi would have been in between the latter, probably closer to Kathy (say 1968-71). Classmates.com lists 246 Hamilton alumni -- again, don't recognize any. There were approximately 900 students when I attended, so 300 per grade (7-8-9 at the time; now 6-7-8). The school was built in 1919, so has probably had more than 10,000 students pass through it. (Peak enrollment was 1,100; average in the 1990s was 500; to get to 10,000, you'd have to average 318 per year.)

Talked to Christgau about the impending doom of his Expert Witness column. Can't quite summarize that here, but it's going to cause some churning.

Trying to get organized and packed for the drive to Arkansas tomorrow. Lots of stuff to do. Will try to keep a log as I travel, and fold it back into the notebook here when I get back. (Assuming, of course, the laptop still works.)

Music today (JP): Ira Sullivan, Jon Moritz.


Robert Christgau, at EW:

Just woke up so I won't go into too much detail at the moment, but now I can make it official. As rumored, Expert Witness will be no more at MSN as of October 1. As I understand it, Microsoft is shutting down the entire MSN freelance arts operation at that time, including its film coverage, where the estimable Glenn Kenny has done so much good work, as well as my music colleagues Maura Johnston, Alan Light, and the other bloggers. I got this news 12 days ago, at which time I'd stockpiled enough reviews to get me through my last scheduled post on September 27, and since I do write for money stopped all CG-style writing at that time. I'll have more to say in the hours and days to come, but that's the nub of it. Thanks to all who comment here and all who lurk and all who never look at the comments because in the online world that's usually such a waste of time, as it has never been here.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Daily Log

Baked a meatloaf and potatoes for dinner. Slight refinement of the recipe I've been working on: used three cloves of raw garlic instead of six cloves roasted garlic this time, and used two eggs. Ground beef was frozen and hadn't fully thawed, so I tried dumping it in the cooked onion-tomato sauce, which partially cooked it. The result was too hot and runny to form into a loaf, so I put it into the freezer for 12-15 minutes. Still wasn't ideal -- could form the loaf but it left more juices in the pan underneath the potatoes. Still, nothing that wouldn't render eventually. After an hour at 375F, the result was near perfect.

Watched Orange Is the New Black. Finished the jigsaw puzzle.

Talked to Rhonda Pyeatt about her plans for Elsie Lee's 80th birthday party. I promised to drive down there -- Elkins, AR, near Fayetteville -- Saturday afternoon. Doing so, I'll probably bypass Independence to avoid the delay. Talked to Steve later and he tells me that Josi is coming to Wichita on Wednesday, and might want to go to Independence while she's here. Not sure if I'll get back to Wednesday, but will be back before she leaves, so could make the Independence trip then. Still no contact in Oklahoma. I should call Duan tomorrow.

Music today (JP): Matthew Finck/Jonathan Ball; (RS): ZZK Sound Vol. 3, Trombone Shorty, The Sadies, Factor, Forest Swords, Mark Ernestus. RS file presently has 25 records.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Daily Log

Got a haircut. Picked up some chicken on the way back.

Music today (JP): Brian Haas, Anne Drummond, Gavin Templeton; (RS): Body/Head.


Christgau's EW picks today were Nuggets (Rhino, presumably the 2012 40th anniversary reissue, replicating Lenny Kaye's 1972 2LP of 1963-68 singles) and Flamin Groovies: Supersnazz (CBS 1990, originally released in 1969). I have both records graded a notch up (which for Supersnazz means A+). I wrote this:

Two of my all-time favorite albums, huge influences in my formative years as a rock critic -- both graded a notch higher in my database. Admittedly, I didn't get to Nuggets until its 1976 Sire reissue, by which point Lenny Kaye had become more famous as Patti Smith's guitarist than he ever was as a writer, but most of the songs were familiar from their heyday. Bob's characterization of the album as punk's folk music is far more apt than anything having to do with psychedelia or for that matter any attempt to cast those bands as first-generation punks.

I got to the Groovies a bit earlier, introduced by Paul Yamada -- the third writer in the first edition of Terminal Zone, and I think the principal writer of the third edition (which I've heard about but never seen) -- working backward from their next albums, Flamingo and Teenage Head. They, too, were rediscovered by Sire in 1976, regrouping (minus Roy Loney) for the lame Shake Some Action. By then "Teenage Head" was roots rock recycled by Ducks Deluxe on their second album, cementing the notion that Groovies' retro spawned pub rock and hence new wave.

I've long thought it was less linear and more epochal: Supersnazz wasn't an oldies act (like Sha Na Na or, for the thinkers, Bette Midler) but the first really good shot of postmodernism in rock. After 1969 you lose the directional arrow of modernism (in jazz as well as rock), and the whole of history becomes a direction-less plaything, with new bands recycling old riffs every which way. (Sure, Creedence was already doing something like that, making new music that sounded old, as did Springsteen later, but they never played with it like, say, Nick Lowe.)

Loney, by the way, released a terrific EP in 1978 called Artistic as Hell, followed by a good 1979 album, Out After Dark (a B- from Christgau, I know, and disagree). Also, Bob failed to mention Al Dexter. There's an ASV collection called Pistol Packin' Mama which has way more than you need but shows that the title cut wasn't anyway near his only song worth hearing.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 22042 [22016] rated (+26), 581 [571] unrated (+10).

Not real sure what happened, or didn't, this past week, but the inbox queues have started to fill back up. Was trying to listen to some new music on Rhapsody, but didn't get very far, and at least for now that's on hold. After the robbery, I built two new computers using Antec boxes. One was an AMD-powered Linux machine for everyday work, and I've since refitted it with new motherboard, cpu, and memory, and it's been rock solid as long as I don't run Facebook on it. The other was an Intel-powered Windows Vista box which I had speakers on and used for nothing but playing music and the occasional DVD. It's hosed now. We've had two power outages in the last few days. One occurred when I was asleep and persisted long enough to drain the UPS. The Windows box didn't reboot clean after that, but eventually did come up with I wasn't looking, so was able to run until the next shutdown. Now it's not coming up, and I'm unable to find the original repair discs -- the latter have to be somewhere, but that's the rub. The office has devolved into an incredible mess where I can't find anything. Straightening it all out is almost inconceivable -- I shudder even to think about it.

Good chance I'll take a trip later this week, so that will slow things down even more.


Adventure Music: 10 Years (2003-2012 [2012], Adventure Music, 3CD): Mike Marshall, a mandolin player who started in bluegrass then developed an affection for choro, founded this label in 2003, initially to document his own collaborations with Brazilian musicians, then to give the latter a US outlet, and over time has expanded to include other musicians from South America, their allies and fellow travelers. I've been fortunate enough to follow this label from shortly after its inception, and have 66 of their records in my ratings database -- my favorites are the Moacir Santos compilation, Ouro Negro, and the 2006 record Renewed Impressions, by Brazilian trombonist Vittor Santos. This expansive label compilation was selected by vocalist Monday Michiru, and arguably favors singers a bit too much, but does a nice job of plotting out the label's breadth. B+(*)

Cacaw: Stellar Power (2012 [2013], Skirl): Trio -- Oscar Noriega (sax), Landon Knoblock (keyboards), Jeff Davis (drums) -- but Knoblock wrote all the pieces. The electric keybs give this a flair that is alternately cheesy and rocky, at odds with the more avant inclinations of the others. Sometimes that even works for them. Favorite title: "Neutron Star, Eating Its Binary Neighbor." B+(**) [September 17]

Tom Dempsey: Saucy (2013, Planet Arts): Guitarist, five albums since 1998, backed by organ (Ron Oswanski) and drums (Alvin Atkinson) here, a soul jazz move when he's playing Buddy Montgomery or Lee Morgan or his own originals, less soulful with Paul Simon. B+(*) [September 17]

FivePlay Jazz Quintet: Five & More (2012 [2013], Auraline): Quintet, principally Tony Corman (guitar) and Laura Klein (guitar), who split the writing 5-4, plus Dave Tidball (sax, clarinet, wrote one song), Paul Smith (acoustic bass), Alan Hall (drums). They have two previous albums, this one adding guests -- four clarinets on two cuts, four trombones on two other, some vibes. B [September 17]

Griffith Hiltz Trio: This Is What You Get . . . (2013, self-released): Canadian trio: Johnny Griffith (saxes, bass clarinet), Nathan Hiltz (guitar, bass pedals), Sly Juhas (drums). Regular beat, guitar more important than the sax, doesn't quite slide into either the fusion or smooth jazz ruts, too scrawny for the former, not slick enough for the latter. B [September 19]

Jessica Jones/Connie Crothers: Live at the Freight (2011 [2013], New Artists): Tenor sax and piano respectively, duets, live, three improvs, one piece by Jones, three standards: "All the Things You Are," "In a Sentimental Mood," "There Will Never Be Another You." Crothers has nearly 20 albums since 1974. Jones has been much less prolific, but both are adventurous players, even if this is a little dicey. B+(*) [September 17]

Bryn Roberts: Fables (2012 [2013], Nineteen-Eight): Pianist, originally from Winnipeg, based in New York, two previous albums. Quartet, with Seamus Blake (tenor/soprano sax), Orlando LeFleming (bass), Jonathan Blake (drums). Six originals, two standards ("In the Still of the Night," "Guess I'll Hang My Tears Out to Dry"). B+(**) [September 17]

Samo Salamon Quartets: Stretching Out (2008-12 [2013], Samo, 2CD): Guitarist, b. 1978 in the future Slovenia, has spent some time in New York but is still based in Slovenia; 13 records since 2003, this one a double, one disc each with an American quartet in 2008 and a European one in 2012. The latter, with Dominique Pifarely on violin, Bruno Chevillon on bass, and Roberto Dani on drums, is dense, scratchy, and ultimately rewarding although it took me a lot of time to pan out. The former, with Donny McCaslin on tenor sax, John Hébert on bass, and Gerald Cleaver on drums, is no trouble at all -- the guitarist brings back his John Scofield roots, and McCaslin follows seamlessly, never tripping himself up. A- [September 20]

Salsa de la Bahia: A Collection of SF Bay Area Salsa and Latin Jazz (2003-10 [2013], Patois, 2CD): I don't have the eyes to sort through all the small print here -- the year range, for instance, only covers the first disc, so it's possible there are outliers on the second. The San Francisco area has become home to a huge range of world music, but I've rarely been impressed by what I've heard. This, however, holds up surprisingly well. Only name I recognize is John Santos, although there are doubtless more in the fine print. B+(**)

Zansa: Djansa (2013, self-released): Afropop group based in Asheville, North Carolina; led by Adama Dembele, who figures himself a 33rd generation musician, tracing his ancestry back through his native Cöte d'Ivoire. The rest of the band look like they crawled out of the Appalachian hollers, with Matt Williams' fiddle especially prominent. Ends with a striking fish-out-of-water story. B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Howard Alden/Andy Brown Quartet: Heavy Artillery (Delmark)
  • Dave Askren/Jeff Benedict: It's All About the Groove (DaWay Music)
  • Ted Brancato: The Next Step (Origin)
  • David Buchbinder's Odessa/Havana: Walk to the Sea (Tzadik): advance, September 24
  • Laurent Coq: Dialogue (Sunnyside): advance, November 5
  • Sérgio Galvăo: Phantom Fish (Pimenta): September 24
  • Florian Hoefner Group: Falling Up (OA2)
  • Tim Horner: The Head of the Circle (Origin)
  • Keefe Jackson's Likely So: A Round Goal (Delmark)
  • Billy Mintz: Quartet (Thirteenth Note)
  • Carol Morgan: Retroactive (Blue Bamboo Music)
  • Justin Morell Dectet: Subjects and Compliments (Sonic Frenzy): October 29
  • Mary Ann Redmond/Paul Langosch/Jay Cooley: Compared to What (self-released): September 24
  • David Sills: Blue's the New Green (Gut String): October 1
  • Ricardo Silveira/Vinicius Cantuária: RSVC (Adventure Music)
  • Dave Slonaker Big Band: Intrada (Origin)
  • Ira Sullivan Presents the Jim Holman Trio: Blue Skies (Delmark)
  • Tierney Sutton: After Blue (BFM Jazz): September 24

The Kind of Progress We Are Seeing Today

A front page article in the Wichita Eagle this morning is titled "Summers out of running for Fed chairman." I wasn't able to find the article on the Eagle's website, but it is by Kevin G. Hall (McClatchy Washington Bureau), and here's a link. Above the headline, the article pointed out that "women's groups, others opposed nomination." Indeed, aside from some of Summers' fellow economists -- if I recall correctly, Brad DeLong is the one I'm most likely to credit -- the only person who seems to have favored Summers was Barack Obama. This has always struck me as a bit odd: if you read Ron Suskind's book on Obama's economic team, Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President, only Tim Geithner -- who flat-out obstructed Obama decisions against the big banks -- comes off worse than Summers, who comes off as a self-appointed bottleneck making sure that Obama never got advice he didn't pre-approve. Given that things didn't work out so great, you'd think the president would hold some lingering resentment of the stifling adviser, but evidently not. The article quotes Obama:

Larry was a critical member of my team as we faced down the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and it was in no small part because of his expertise, wisdom and leadership that we wrestled the economy back to growth and made the kind of progress we are seeing today.

Say that again, "the kind of progress we are seeing today." As it happens, I just posted a chart at the top of yesterday's Weekend Roundup that shows "What's Up, What's Down" since July 2007, when the economy started to go south. What's up? S&P 500 +8, corporate profits +42%, financial profits +59%. What's down? Employment/population ratio –6.7%. I also cited a piece by Mike Konczal on how the richest 1% of Americans took home a larger share of the nation's income than in any year since 1928. (Key quote there: "the top 1 percent have enjoyed 95 percent of all income growth from 2009 to 2012.") I also cited Jeff Madrick's piece where he argues that unemployment isn't just a bit high, but has metastasized into an entire "jobless generation."

So when Obama talks about "the kind of progress we are seeing today" he must be seeing things than I am not and not seeing things that I am. In the decade before the collapse financial profits had grown to 40% of all corporate profits, something that was only possible due to the predatory behavior of banks. Obama and Summers not only didn't stem that tide. They've increase financial profits even further. Higher corporate profits feed off three main factors: financialization (corporations playing finance games), increasing monopoly rents, and squeezing the labor market. None of those are things that make the economy stronger, let alone things that lead to higher living standards for more people. Yet under Obama and Summers those trends have become even worse. Worse still, under Obama and Summers those trends are counted as "progress."

Hall's article goes on to quote Sen. Bernie Sanders:

What the American people want now is a Fed chairman prepared to stand up to the greed, recklessness and illegal behavior on Wall Street, not a Wall Street insider whose deregulation efforts helped pave the way for a horrendous financial crisis and the worst economic downturn in the country since the Great Depression.

Within the narrow confines of what Fed chairmen can do, I don't consider Summers a horrible choice -- he would, for instance, have been better than Ben Bernanke in 2009. (I've long felt that Obama's failure to appoint his own Fed chair was one of the worst mistakes of his presidency.) But there's little in his past to suggest that he wouldn't immediately become a captured regulator of the largest (and most corrupt) banks in America, and there are alternatives that don't carry his brand of arrogance and corruption. (And, by the way, Donald Kohn -- another Obama favorite -- isn't one of them.) But Summers is a relatively known commodity. What's more disturbing here is that Obama's own view of the economy seems to be so narrowly subservient to the bankers' view -- and so far disconnected from what's actually happened to workers in America.


By the way, had a power blackout during last night's storms, and that delayed (and forced a hastil conclusion to) yesterday's Weekend Update post. Also backed up Jazz Prospecting, which will come out late tonight or early tomorrow, unless we have another blackout. Sorry for the delays, but I also wanted to sneak this morsel in.

Daily Log

Ordered books from Amazon: Josh Ruebner: Shattered Hopes: The Failure of Obama's Middle East Peace Process; Andrew J. Bacevich: Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country; Michael Geier: How to Diagnose and Fix Everything Electric. Also, Laura wanted the DVD of Damages: The Complete Fifth Season. The electronics book is a first, at least in a long time. We've gotten into the habit of just replacing everything that breaks around here, but I'm often reluctant to junk things if it seems like they could be repaired. Problem is I don't know how to repair electronics, appliances, etc., so the junk accumulates. I have some tools, like a DMM, but not others. (I used to have an oscilloscope but never got much use out of it.) Anyhow, would like to be able to set up a small test bench, and also explore problems like speaker hum (just where does that noise come from?). Not sure this will ever mount to anything, but this book looks like a modest start.

Meanwhile, Windows PC is hosed. Having trouble finding the old discs. Windows 7 and 8 have come out since then -- talk about shit I hate to spend money on, but the easiest fix is probably to take it to a repair shop and have them install the upgrade. Performance on that machine can be sluggish too, so maybe I should look into upgrading it.

Music today (JP): Samo Salamon, Geri Allen.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Weekend Roundup

Obama has had a lucky week. First, Vladimir Putin secured agreement with Assad to destroy Syria's chemical weapons -- a far greater result than Obama had even hoped for from his threat of an "incredibly small" but "not a pinprick" threat to bomb Syria. And now Larry Summers has finally ended speculation that Obama would appoint the chief architect of the 2008 banking meltdown to be chair of the Federal Reserve.

Some scattered links this week:


  • Jonathan Chait: The Arguments of the Great Recession Are Over. Hooray.: First, a chart:

    In other words, employment is down, weakening labor, and profits are up, especially for the most predatory sectors of the economy. In other words, the "recovery" has been strictly on the backs of workers, who haven't recovered at all. Obama and the Democrats have advanced some muddled policy initiatives that might help a little bit, while the Republicans started with a set of faulty theories which have since, as they've proven untenable, been replaced by sheer mean-spirited obduracy. Or, as Chait puts it:

    The right has consumed itself with a lively internal argument about the direction of conservatism and the Republican Party -- libertarian populism, conservative reform, and all that. But this discussion has ignored the front and center economic questions. Do conservatives still think cutting short-term deficits will increase rather than retard growth? Academic support for that position has almost entirely collapsed. I don't even see many conservative intellectuals defending it in columns. And yet the Republican Party marches on, opposing any effort to lift short-term austerity policies that economists almost all believe are holding back the recovery. It's as if the head of the austerity monster has been sliced off, but the body lurches forward regardless.

    Meanwhile, however Republicans resolve their long-term vision debate, they have coalesced around a short-term vision. It is to repeal Obamacare without a replacement, maintain short-term austerity, weaken labor laws, loosen financial regulation, and defend every tax deduction enjoyed by the affluent. I don't see how this policy mix could be remotely defended in light of actual circumstances. Almost nobody on the right seems to want to defend it. But nobody seems interested in placing even the slightest pressure on the Congressional party to alter its stance, either.

  • Conor Friedersdorf: Obama Acts Like He Doesn't Know He's an Executive-Power Extremist: Sub: "On the fake moderation of a president who talks a good game but doesn't follow through."

    We know that Obama is an executive-power extremist in his actions. He believes the president has the power to intervene militarily without Congress in places that do not threaten America; that he can order American citizens killed in secret without due process; that he can secretly collect data on the phone calls of all Americans; that he can invoke the state-secrets privilege to avoid adjudicating constitutional challenges to his policies on their merits; that he can indefinitely detain prisoners without evidence, charges or due process, that he can sit in judgment of anyone on earth, then send a drone anywhere to strike them.

  • Jeff Madrick: America's Jobless Generation:

    Consider the bleak prospects of young people entering the workforce today: the portion of people aged twenty to twenty-four who have jobs has fallen from 72.2 percent in 2000 to just 61.5 percent. Meanwhile, if we adjust for inflation, the median earnings of men between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four working full-time has fallen by nearly 30 percent since 1973. For women, the median has fallen by 17 percent. As Andy Sum, an economist at Northeastern University who has studied youth unemployment for many years, has shown, if you are out of work or underemployed during those initial years of adulthood, chances are far higher you will be unemployed, poor, or dependent on welfare later on. [ . . . ]

    In fact, it is not technology and China that are the main causes of joblessness among the rising generation. First, by a long shot, ours is a nation that refuses to take the economic measures necessary to get itself to anything resembling full employment. The sequestration -- Obama's own proposal -- is reducing government spending just at the moment when it might help the economy finally reach the conditions for lasting job growth. Instead, we have a situation in which older, more qualified adults are taking scarce jobs from young adults, young adults from teens, the college-educated from those with only a high school degree.

  • Robert Maiman: With War Off the Table, It's Time for Syria Cease-Fire, Negotiations and Talking to Iran: Couldn't agree more, but thus far Kerry's negotiations with Russia have been limited to things like "verifiability" and Kerry and Obama keep talking about how they're keeping the "threat of force on the table," even though any such thing would clearly be an illegal act of war. But if Kerry really does want "verifiability" a cease-fire will be essential, as well as the right thing to do.

    Michael Ignatieff: How to Save the Syrians, despite the author's notorious past as a "liberal hawk," winds up agreeing:

    This is hardly a failure to intervene: external intervention has been constant from the beginning. A ferocious, well-armed proxy war is devouring Syria, with weapons pouring in from all sides. Iran, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the Gulf States, and Hezbollah have each tried to tip the military balance in favor of the regime or the rebels. Far from succeeding, they have aggravated the atrocities and exposed civilians on every side to repeated, deliberate, and murderous attack. [ . . . ]

    From stalemate comes a ray of hope, the hope that all the external sponsors of the conflict will begin to reduce weapons supplies to all sides. A strategy of asphyxiation could be followed by concerted pressure at the UN for a negotiated cease-fire. If no side can win it all, it is just conceivable that each may settle for what it already has. The result would be a divided Syria, with Assad in sovereign control, but with effective authority in the north and east in rebel and Kurdish hands.

    Leaving Assad in place, in other words, may be the only way we can protect civilians from carnage without end. An uglier trade-off between peace and justice is hard to imagine, but continuing to demand Assad's departure, in the absence of any effective means to force him out, has become an empty threat and an even emptier strategy.


Also, a few links for further study:

  • W James Antle III: Antiwar Conservatism Isn't Going Away: I don't buy many of his examples -- Marco Rubio, John Cornyn, Sarah Palin, John Bolton, Sean Hannity -- who would most likely be happy to go to war if they could wrap the flag around themselves, but he's right that the drift among conservatives is anti-intervention. Still, I think the real test will be whether conservatives start to embrace international law as an alternative to American hegemony and dysfunction. Otherwise they have little defense against the isolationism charge -- other than that it sure beats the recent alternative.

  • Andrew J Bacevich: David Brooks Is Constantly Wrong: An excerpt from Bacevich's new book, Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country, which could just as well have been written about all sorts of right-wing apologists. For instance, Thomas Friedman.

  • Zack Beauchamp: Largest Gun Study Ever: More Guns, More Murder: Mostly methodological, explained in part by the roadblocks the NRA has erected to even studying the effects of gun ownership on violence, so this isn't as striking at it could be. I'm fairly resigned to the fact that there will be no significant movement toward greater legal restrictions on gun ownership or sales, but the notion that we should not study gun use nor attempt to draw lessons from it is dangerous and absurd.

  • Peter Beinart: The Rise of the New New Left: Argues that today's youngest new voters will make up a generation that moves America significantly to the left.

    The argument between the children of Reagan and the children of Clinton is fierce, but ideologically, it tilts toward the right. Even after the financial crisis, the Clinton Democrats who lead their party don't want to nationalize the banks, institute a single-payer health-care system, raise the top tax rate back to its pre-Reagan high, stop negotiating free-trade deals, launch a war on poverty, or appoint labor leaders rather than Wall Streeters to top economic posts. They want to regulate capitalism modestly. Their Reaganite Republican adversaries, by contrast, want to deregulate it radically. By pre-Reagan standards, the economic debate is taking place on the conservative side of the field. But -- and this is the key point -- there's reason to believe that America's next political generation will challenge those limits in ways that cause the leaders of both parties fits.

    Beinart also has a long piece applying his generational analysis to American Jews viz. Israel: The American Jewish Cocoon.

    For further thoughts on generations, see Nona Willis Arnowitz: What is the Crash Generation?: people who came of age during the crash have been doubly damned as opportunities have vanished.

  • Sarah Gold: Why Obama Can't Make Peace in Israel-Palestine: Short review of Josh Reubner's new book, Shattered Hopes: The Failure of Obama's Middle East Peace Process. Review doesn't cover it all, but the book starts with Obama's pre-election experiences and covers the 2008 Operation Cast Lead, which was the first shot across the bow after Obama was elected. Not clear how much the book has on Iran, which was Netanyahu's preoccupation any time Obama tried to point Israel toward any sort of "peace process" -- eventually Obama swallowed the bait there whole.

  • Mike Konczal: The 1 Percent Took Home the Largest Share of Income Since 1928 Last Year: Data from Emmanuel Saez. Konczal notes that the top 1% share drops with each recession, but since the 1980s has been rebounding ever higher: 2012 more than recovers from the dips in 2008 and 2009, which helps explain why the rich care so little about growing the economy: they already got theirs.

  • Thomas E Mann/Norman J Ornstein: Brighter future for politics and policy requires a different Republican Party: Another book excerpt, from It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism. Actually, we already have the "different Republican Party" the authors advocate -- it's called the Democratic Party. What we need is a party to its left that can propose and advocate for real solutions to real problems.

  • Vladimir V Putin: A Plea for Caution From Russia: The Russian president's hands are far from clean given his efforts in restarting the Chechen War, but the first US president to win a Nobel Peace Prize was Theodore Roosevelt, who unlike John McCain actually did find a war he didn't want to jump into the middle of -- the 1905 Russo-Japanese War, which he negotiated an end to. Putin has been slammed for butting in on Obama's Syria war, and especially for scoffing at Obama's "what makes us exceptional" war speech, but any fair comparison of the two documents shows the Russian to be taking far more reasonable and coherent stands: "From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future. We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law." That, like his proposal that Syria surrender its chemical weapons, is something to try to build on.

  • Diane Ravitch: School privatization is a hoax, "reformers" aim to destroy public schools: An excerpt from her new book, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America's Public Schools. Argues that the main reason people think public schools are broken is the propaganda of people out to make quick bucks by peddling solutions that don't work. Doesn't deny that some public schools are indeed in trouble, but mostly due to poverty and the perpetuation of the underclass.

Daily Log

Had to go out for groceries today, so did that late afternoon. Stopped at Hog Wild for dinner: basic Wichita barbecue. Got caught in a thunderstorm on the way back, briefly raining very heavy. Sky was super patchy, and we had a stretch driving into bright sunlight while it was pouring down.

Tried to pull a Weekend Roundup column together. Was surprised that Salon had a lot of interesting-looking things, but they nearly all turned out to be book excerpts. Watched Breaking Bad. Power went out shortly after that. Was out for about an hour, but cable was broken after that, so we had no phone or internet. Got that back a little after 3AM, then took some fiddling with the computers to get them working. Finally filed Weekend Roundup, but backdated it to the end of Sunday. (Server is on Pacific Time, so actually only cheated about 1:30.

Music today (JP): Harris Eisenstadt, Samo Salamon; (RS): Congo Natty, Factory Floor.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Daily Log

Missed yesterday, and probably most of the day before. Baked cookies for a Peace Center event: two batches of Best Recipe's chewy chocolate chip cookies, but with dark chocolate chunks in one, pecans and butterscotch in the other. The event was a talk by Marjorie Cohn on Obama's use of drones, especially the substitution of targeted assassination (as well as "signature bombings" which are killings of unidentified people who merely look suspicious) for incarceration, given the political embarrassments and thorny legal problems that the latter (especially at Guantanamo) has given rise to. She has a book on the subject coming out next year, as well as previous books along those lines: The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration, and Abuse (2011); Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law (2007); and with Kathleen Gilberd: Rules of Engagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent (2009). No surprises, but good speaker, and generally good q&a following. Only had about 30 people in an uncomfortably hot church. Used the basement for refreshments afterwards, but the crowd had largely dissipated, and my cookies wasted.

Music today (JP): Zansa; (RS): Arctic Monkeys, 2 Chainz, Superchunk, Franz Ferdinand, Nine Inch Nails, Chelsea Wolfe.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Recycled Goods (112): September, 2013

New Recycled Goods: pick up text here. Total review count: 3788 (342 + 444).

Daily Log

Power was off when we got up, or at least when I got up after noon. UPS's had drained, so computers were flatlined. Tux failed to come up at first; had to be rebooted, and being ancient takes forever to boot, fsck and all that, but finally came up. Reminds me I need to replace it. More immediate problem is that the Windows machine won't start. Wants me to insert the original disc and use the repair option. It's still running Vista, which was damned expensive when I bought it, and has been auto-updated dozens of times since. Scrounging around I have yet to find the software. Will have to keep looking, or take it to some computer shop. Also, the LCD monitor on the camera has gone black. The little blue power light flashes -- don't know what that means, but none of the menu buttons do anything either. I think this is the third monitor we've had there. They run 24/7 and don't last long. At least the DVR looks good, and we can see the camera feeds on the TV, but the monitor is essential to our security.

Went to Office Depot and found a small monitor on sale for $89.99, so that filled the bill. Aspect ratio is a bit wider, and color is a bit more bluish, and mounting screws made it impossible to plug the audio wire in (the audio only works on playback, so that's fairly minor). Stopped by the fancy office equipment store downtown and ordered an expensive Herman Miller chair -- "Embody," basic graphite, soft wheels, cost $801 and change. Should arrive in a couple weeks. Will be a great pleasure to throw the one I'm sitting in into the dumpster. Not sure whether it's worth it, but I do spend a lot of time on the damn thing.

Music today: didn't keep track.


My comment at Expert Witness (sums up some Marshall Berman stuff), and plugs Recycled Goods.

Back when I was deep into Marxist theory I wanted to write a book of intellectual and cultural history under the title "Secret Agents" -- comes from a Walter Benjamin quote where he describes Baudelaire as "an agent of the bourgeoisie's secret discontent with their own rule." In it I would paint Marx and his followers as prisoners within the bourgeoisie's love-hate relationship with the economy, society, and culture they created. I always wondered whether Marshall Berman's magnum opus was a close relative of what I had in mind -- it does, after all, have that pivotal section on Baudelaire -- but I never got around to reading it (indeed, I've read nothing in the field since the mid-1970s, about the time I dived into rock-crit). I can say that I spent a lot of time studying Berman's first book, "The Politics of Authenticity," and was much influenced by it.

Also note that Berman had a piece in the Christgau festschrift. I've never been clear on why we're not publishing more of those pieces -- certainly not the fault of HUP's lawyers.

I'm also saddened to note that Saul Landau has died. The 1966 book that he edited with Paul Jacobs, "The New Radicals: A Report with Documents," was the first political book I bought and read after I dropped out of high school, and as such had a big part in shaping the frustration and indignation that I felt as a teenager into a coherent political critique.

By the way, I posted a new Recycled Goods tonight, which I mention because it's very long and has been a huge amount of work, although on the downside it will be of interest to very few of you: the main theme is Polish jazz, and yes, I do love typing all those names.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Ever-Evolving Folly of 9/11

Twelfth anniversary of the late Osama Bin Laden's orchestrated attack on the big buildings of New York and Washington, but today that appears strangely overshadowed by the first anniversary of a gunfight at the "US consulate" in Benghazi -- actually, just a CIA station, but an ambassador on the State Dept. payroll was killed along with three other Americans. The Benghazi attack has become a major bugbear for Republicans for reasons that have never made much sense, at least until recently.

Initially, the major complaint was that the administration (specifically UN Ambassador Susan Rice) confused the armed attack with angry but peaceful demonstrations at other US embassies over a YouTube film trailer that was believed to be blasphemously anti-Islamic, and failed to use the proper codeword ("terrorist") to describe the attack. While Rice no doubt misspoke, Obama himself never missed a beat in using the T-word or in avowing all the time-tested V-sentiments from vigilance to vengeance.

This gripe then evolved into a more general complaint that the Obama administration had covered up the event, which is true inasmuch as they tried to deny the central role and presence of the CIA, both in Benghazi on that day and in Libya during the summer-long operation that overthrew Gaddafi -- one where Obama had promised a limited NATO-led air offensive and "no boots on the ground." Obama's people never understood an issue here: presidents always have to lie to protect their covert operatives, and besides, weren't the Republicans way more hawkish on Libya than Obama was? Certainly John McCain and Lindsey Graham were, and weren't they the GOP's Fearless Leaders on foreign policy?

Well, we now know that McCain and Graham are no longer representative of the party: they're just a pair of superhawks, dedicated to getting the US into jams practically no one else wants to get stuck with. One hint should have been that when Obama belatedly went to Congress for approval of his Libya intervention, the Republican-led House refused to consent. Of course, that didn't matter much at the time -- Obama had done what he wanted to do -- but over time it became clear that a Congress that hadn't bought into the war in the first place felt free to snipe at every little setback: hence, Benghazi.

That turns out to have been a big part of the reason Obama went to Congress before bombing Syria. Back in the 1990s when Clinton would bomb Iraq Republicans may have seethed in private but they were so heavily committed to bombing Iraq themselves that they couldn't raise an objection to the act. McCain and Graham are still around, but most Republicans have quietly moved on. For example, consider this letter by William Stout in the Wichita Eagle today:

On Wednesday the nation will mourn the 12th anniversary of an attack on American soil by the terrorist organization al-Qaida that claimed the lives of more than 3,000 innocent Americans and destroyed a national landmark.

Wednesday will also mark the one-year anniversary of another terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, that claimed the lives of four more Americans. Our government has spent a full year lying about that event.

Finally, for the biggest insult of all, Congress is debating whether the United States should assist rebels linked to al-Qaida and attack Syria (a sovereign nation).

What has the nation become in 12 years? What have we allowed to happen? We have sacrificed our freedom and our personal liberty. We have allowed the media and our current administration to remove the word "terrorist" from our language, and now we are at the edge of voting to aid the enemy.

Voting to aid the enemy that took so many American lives is unthinkable. Every member of Congress who votes to authorize an attack on Syria should be impeached on grounds of treason.

This letter didn't come from anyone in the traditional "peace and justice" camp. I would have toned it differently, but I can't say that I disagree with a word of it (well, I'm not wild about "treason" but it makes sense in context). I have several very different reasons for reaching the same conclusion, but if this is the way you think about the world, at least you're no longer the problem. And even if not every anti-Assad insurgent in Syria is anti-American, a US attack on Syria will push enough Syrians over the edge to make the net effect anti-American.

Personally, I could do without the word "terrorist": not that it is never applicable, but I've seen it used so casually to dehumanize people who are merely defending their homes -- Robert Fisk's big book on Lebanon, Pity the Nation, is so full of such examples it gradually eats at the author until he himself explodes. On the other hand, the assertion about sacrificing "freedom and personal liberty" is spot on: the monstrous NSA surveillance program could only have grown in an atmosphere of perpetual war.

I'm even more struck by the Eagle's editorial, titled Casualties still mounting, which starts like this:

Twelve years after al-Qaida terrorists drew the United States into war, the military casualties are still mounting on the battlefront in Afghanistan. As tragically, they also continue on the homefront -- including a record 352 suicides among active-duty troops last year.

That heartbreaking tally exceeded not only the 301 such suicides the year before but also the 295 Americans who died in combat in Afghanistan in 2012. At least another 157 active-duty and mobilized National Guard and reserve troops have taken their own lives this year.

For each family, the loss is a private shock and sorrow. One such Iowa family shares its grief and story in "Dillion," a documentary directed by Wichita filmmaker Tom Zwemke, a former Cessna Aircraft employee and Vietnam veteran, that will air at 8 p.m. Wednesday on KPTS, Channel 8 in Wichita.

After serving U.S. Army tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Dillion Naslund was slated for a third deployment this year. He had been drinking too much and struggling to sleep when, at 25, he ended his life last December. "He was fighting the demons, and those demons took over," his father, Jeff Naslund, says in the film, in which his mother, Lisa Naslund, urges those in pain to get help.

Collectively, the suicides are a public shame for a nation that has worn its patriotism so proudly since Sept. 11, 2001, yet failed to get so many of these warriors the treatment they need to handle post-traumatic stress disorder, brain injuries, depression, addiction and other challenges.

This, by the way, was written by Rhonda Holman, who invariably takes the right-wing view on the editorial board. The first point is the active noun in the first sentence: "al-Qaida terrorists drew the United States into war." The US was suckered into a war that only compounded the initial suffering with more and more, a war where we can take no comfort in knowing that others have suffered even more.

Twelve years ago that rush to war was automatic, unthinking, a conditioned response to our self-image as the world's sole superpower -- the culmination of 55 years of patting ourselves on the back for saving the world in the second World War, and never admitting that we had made a mistake along the way. Osama Bin Laden recognized that hubris and knew how to play on it. He knew that empires including the British and the Soviet Union had crumbled in Afghanistan, and figured that he could topple the United States by luring it into war there -- and as much as we hate to admit it, he hasn't been proven wrong.

But if you carefully read Obama's "bomb Syria" speech last night, you'll see how skillfully he pushes the same buttons that let us be driven into war in 2001, but you will also feel that they ring hollow. This is partly because his arguments are exceptionally disingenuous and his logic is tortured, but it's mostly because we're no longer excited by the prospect of more war. Given that poison gas is on the menu, I'm most tempted to compare this to the first World War, which began with jubilant parades and ended four-and-a-half years later with 21 million dead, with its survivors holding much more somber views of war. (By the way, poison gas fatalities in WWI are estimated at close to 90,000 -- less than 4% of military deaths. Its use was largely discontinued after that not because it was universally abhorent so much as because it wasn't very effective or manageable. It doesn't seem to have been used on civilian populations, where it would have been more effective.)

But to return to Holman's editorial for a minute, she goes on to make an interesting point:

A further puzzlement is why so many of those who've taken their own lives -- more than half the active-duty suicide victims between 2008 and 2011 -- had never served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Some wonder if many of those who joined the military after 2001 had pre-existing conditions that made them vulnerable to suicide.

A study published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association raised questions by indicating that the spike in active-duty and veteran suicides has as much, if not more, to do with mental illness, substance abuse, and financial and relationship troubles as with combat and foreign deployments.

I'm not sure what to make of this. It is at least relatively easy to see how the debilitating injuries and PTSD make one more likely to commit suicide. But absent those exceptional stresses, this also suggests that mentally troubled people are more likely to join the military and/or are more fragile when exposed to military culture -- it does, after all, celebrate killing even for those not on the front lines. But also the military has become a very peculiar form of safety net for individuals who lack civilian opportunities, yet the skill set it leaves veterans with is increasingly at odds with what the economy needs.

(David Finkel has a new piece in the New Yorker, The Return, on veterans with PTSD -- unfortunately, only online for subscribers.)


The Eagle today also featured a frequent columnist writing what turns out to be an antiwar column: Cal Thomas: Mideast mistakes likely to be repeated in Syria:

Perhaps if America had a successful track record in the Middle East, President Obama's appeal for a "limited" attack on Syria might carry more weight. But because our attention span in the region increasingly resembles that of a fidgety 4-year-old, an examination of recent history is in order.

Consider Iran. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter supported toppling the shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Whatever the shah's shortcomings, who believes the theocratic government of the ayatollahs that replaced him was better than the one we helped overthrow? At least the shah was not pursuing nuclear weapons or fighting proxy wars like Syria.

Or Iraq. In 2003, President Bush ordered an invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein and rid the country of weapons of mass destruction. Remember the Iraqi refugee code-named "Curveball"? He was the main provider of "intelligence" that Saddam was pursuing WMDs. No WMDs were ever found. In 2004, "Curveball" was officially classified a "fabricator" by the CIA -- too late for those thousands of Americans who died or were wounded.

Now, Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry say we can trust the intelligence on Syria. Do you?

Even if the videos showing dead Syrian children are real and the intelligence is accurate, that is still not sufficient reason to attack Syria. Given our experience with Iran and Iraq -- and the increased likelihood that growing instability in Afghanistan, Libya, possibly Egypt and even Lebanon might turn out unfavorably for the U.S. -- what makes anyone think history won't repeat itself?

Now, Thomas is no genius. In fact, he's one of the worst columnists working in America these days. And he's got virtually everything wrong about Iran. Carter may have been somewhat sympathetic to early demonstrators against Iran's Shah -- who had by then become one of the most embarrassing despots in America's shadowy closet of dictator-allies -- but he did nothing to overthrow the Shah, and his sole contribution to helping turn what was initially a democratic revolution into a theocratic one was by making the US public enemy number one by inviting the Shah to enter the US. And, by the way, the Shah did too have a nuclear program, and was involved in proxy fights (albeit against Iraq, not Syria).

So it's odd to read a column about the importance of history lessons written by someone with so little grasp of his subject, but even Thomas understands that bombing people to send a government a message isn't going to have the intended effect.


Today's reading on Syria:

  • Bob Dreyfuss: Russia Trumps Obama War Plan: Meant to cite this one yesterday, but this much is still true: "Meanwhile, the incompetence and bumbling of Obama and Secretary of State Kerry on Syria is staggering. Obama's mistakes on Syria make a long list: first, calling for the fall of Assad in 2011, without any means to make it happen; second, drawing a "red line" on chemical weapons in 2012, thus boxing himself in when reports of Syrian gas use began piling up; third, promising to arm the Syrian rebels months ago, thus escalating the war and getting the rebels excited, with no real follow-up; fourth, oddly allowing Qatar and Saudi Arabia to take the lead in Syria policy, led by Prince Bandar and Saudi intelligence, while the United States took a back seat and the war was taken over by Islamists, the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda types; fifth, opting for a military strike with no obvious strategic value; and sixth, tossing the whole mess into Congress' lap." I'd add last night's speech, where the key new point of accepting Putin's diplomatic efforts is buried in a speech otherwise advocating military strikes. Dreyfuss also points out: "Putin's action wasn't sudden, shocking or surprising. As I blogged last week, the Russians have been signaling for quite a while that they might be willing to join a United Nations-sponsored Syria effort centered on chemical weapons, but not if the United States insisted on a military strike. The idea of getting Russia's constructive help on Syria didn't seem to occur to the United States, and Kerry's odd statement yesterday seemed more designed to undermine the Russian plan, not aid it."
  • Greg Mitchell: Four New Polls Show Americans Strongly Against Attack on Syria: "Turns out the more President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry talked about it -- and liberal pundits like Bill Keller and Nick Kristof promoted it -- the more people hated the idea. Polls turned more firmly against the bombing a few days ago, and now four new polls show opposition is overwhelming -- even though most now agree that (1) chemicals were used and (2) the Assad side used them."
  • George Monbiot: Obama Is Presiding Over the Biggest Rogue State in the World, Trampling Every Law It Demands That Others Uphold: Some of us know this stuff but Obama's speech depends on you not knowing anything, just believing in fairy tale American virtue.
  • Alex Pareene: The political press presents how not to cover the Syria debate: E.g., debating on Crossfire, ex-Senators Rick Santorum and Joe Lieberman: "So, representing 'the right': the Rick Santorum who supported striking Syria until approximately five days ago. And representing 'the left': the Joe Lieberman who supports striking Syria and basically everywhere else while we're at it. A hawk from the right and a hawk from the right-pretending-to-be-the-middle, both with essentially identical foreign policy views on every single issue besides one issue that they began to disagree about less than a week ago, representing 'both sides of the debate,' or 'both' 'sides,' of 'the debate.'" Then goes on to Dana Milbank, and concludes: "These are the options the objective political press presents: No point of view beyond naked cynicism, or two dueling, equally idiotic points of view locked in a symbiotic forever argument."
  • William Rivers Pitt: The Long Lesson, and New Legacy, of September 11: On Obama's speech: "To wit: Gas sucks, dead children are terrible, so I want to attack, but Congress needs to be involved, and now we're working on a diplomatic solution, yet if you're on the right and love the military, or if you're on the left and love human rights, you totally have to look at the dead kids on YouTube and get behind me on attacking Syria, because we're not the world's policeman even though we're totally in charge of policing the world on stuff like this, but since I've asked Congress to suspend the vote and we're pursuing diplomacy, there won't be an attack, or something. P.S. Hitler, and American exceptionalism, and dead kids are bad." Left out "God bless America," but that about sums it up.
  • Micah Zenko: The Wrong Way to Be Right: "If President Obama does not follow any of these near universally accepted enforcement procedures, and -- with or without Congress's approval -- authorizes a near-unilateral attack against Assad regime targets, the U.S. will be derided, rejected, or ignored by much of the international community. An attack would build upon the already long and tragic history of American military involvement in the Middle East. Nobody in the region, or elsewhere for that matter, would conceive of this particular intervention in isolation from all the U.S. troops, missiles, and bombs that preceded them. Nothing captures public attention and anger like widely televised and well reported uses of military force. Should Obama proceed on the current path, the world will again remember America's bombs far longer than the horrendous war crime that they were a response to."

War in Context has a series of posts arguing that the Russian-Syrian plan to give up chemical weapons will work in Assad's favor. This seems to bother Paul Woodward, although not everything he runs seems to be rebel propaganda. (Woodward's own piece on "Why Syria was so quick to support the chemical weapons deal," which I linked to yesterday, is a useful summary of that point-of-view.) Right now, the biggest risk to the chemical weapons deal is that the US and other "rebel" sympathizers will sabotage it in favor of trying to force regime change.

Daily Log

Again, barely got the stub written, so once again I'm filling in. Trying to finish Recycled Goods, but keep listening to more records, and, besides, had to say some more about Syria.

Watched The Bridge and Broadchurch. Latter is finally getting somewhere. Former jumped the shark several weeks ago and is now running from one incredible twist to another.

Music today (JP): Joey DeFrancesco; lots of other stuff.


Cam Patterson:

So, a few thoughts on sports and PEDs:

1. I get that some people aren't into sports. Some people aren't into music the way I am too, and it bugs me when they give me grief because I put so much effort into it.

2. Although these are relative distinctions, I think that PEDs warp baseball for serious fans moreso than is the case for, say, football or soccer, because baseball is not just about how things sort out at the end of the year, but it's such a sport of personal and team records. And even moderately attentive fans focus on cross-generational comparisons in ways that just aren't quite as intense in many other sports. Thus, the "live-ball" era frequently gets invoked, and folks have all kinds of issues with comparing pitchers before and after the height of the pitching mound was changed. PEDs are a major (and glaringly obvious) distorting factor in these comparisons.

3. Anabolic steroids in the doses used by professional athletes are bad for your health. And this effect is compounded in young kids who use PEDs to emulate their heroes.

4. I'm not convinced that PEDs somehow level the playing field for non-"white capitalists." Maybe there is some skewing of failed tests from Latinos because they don't have sophisticated doping schedules that can obfuscate the current testing regimens -- the Lance Armstrong situation bears this out to some extent. A case can be just as easily made that PEDs give a greater advantage to the more privileged athletes.

5. I pretty much agree with Rodney's analysis of Sappera's rhetoric. What do "protestants" have to do with any of this? (Full disclosure: I am not, and have never been, a protestant.) Give me a break. I get JMel's point, but respectfully disagree. Without going off the deep end on a topic I pay a lot of attention to, access to reasonable health care isn't "performance-enhancing," it's a fundamental right in any society that can afford it. Comparing health care (or other) disparities with PEDs is somewhere I don't want to go. Satchel Paige may have been the greatest pitcher in the history of baseball, but the reason that we don't know for sure isn't because the white guys had a "performance-enhancing" advantage -- it was because Paige and all African-American athletes in the US for most of the 20th century were horribly discriminated against. It serves no purpose to equate the two issues.

Robert Christgau:

Here's something I just sent to a friend of mine at the NY Times. As many of you know, Marshall was a close friend of mine and probably the most brilliant person I ever met--certainly the most brilliant I ever knew well. His mind was fully active till the day he died.

Marshall Berman, author of the celebrated and widely translated Marxist-humanist celebration of late modernism All That Is Solid Melts in Air, died this morning, apparently of a heart attack. Berman was a graduate of Columbia University with a Ph.D from Harvard who also did graduate work at Oxford. Since 1966 he had taught at the City University of New York, where he was a Distinguished Professor of Political Science and in May delivered CUNY's annual Lewis Mumford Lecture, an honor rarely accorded faculty. He was born November 24, 1940 in the Bronx, a locale that inspired writing about the city that ranged from ancient Jerusalem to Baudelaire's Paris to Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro.

Christgau again:

Let me add two things to what's below

  1. If you haven't read All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, do so. It's one of the great books of the 20th century, and not a difficult read at all.
  2. Marshall had read all the biggies of Western Civ--he read constantly, endlessly--yet he enjoyed, respected, and cared about popular culture like few academic intellectuals I'm aware of, and that includes some who specialize in the stuff. Loved hip-hop, although he did lose track a little. Loved Dylan even more. Appeared in Doug Simmons's music section at the Voice.

I could go on.

Joe Levy:

We actually passed a copy of All That Is Solid Melts Into Air around among my friends at college after one of us accidentally shoplifted it -- started reading a copy while having a coffee at bookstore cafe and walked out still reading it without even realizing what he was doing. That book isn't just hellishly smart. It's exciting. When I worked at the Voice, Marshall Berman reviewed Public Enemy's Apocalypse '91 for me. He was one the warmest, most relentlessly curious and fascinating people I've ever met. A lovely man. A great mind. They don't always go together.

Christgau again:

This from Jon Langford of the Mekons:

All that is Solid was a huge influence on mekons round the time of the Curse album - Tom was particularly obsessed with the Conjuring!

Marshall called me once to meet up at the Art Institute in Chicago and suggested the sofa opposite Seurat's Grand Jatte as a suitable meeting place. My Mum was visiting from Wales so I took her with me and we sat on the sofa before having afternoon tea in the AIC Cafe. He was there to promote his latest book in and my Mum asked him what it was called. "Adventures in Marxism" replied Marshall. "Oh, that's nice" said my Mum.

I stopped reading Marxism after I left college, and never returned except for an occasional book on economics or contemporary politics -- e.g., Tariq Ali's The Clash of Fundamentalisms and Bush in Babylon. Berman's All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience of Modernity wasn't published until 1982, so it landed about the time my interest in such things was at its low point. Nonetheless, I bought the paperback, but never did more than thumb through it. (I had spent a lot of time with Berman's 1970 book, The Politics of Authenticity: Radical Individualism and the Emergence of Modern Society. Don't remember clearly what it was about, but can summon up the cover image.)

Back in my Marxist phase I fancied writing a book about Marx and the radical, revolutionary, and reformist streams that followed him. My title was Secret Agents, which came from a line Walter Benjamin used to describe Baudellaire -- "a secret agent of the bourgeoisie's discontent with its own rule." Baudellaire was a key focus of Berman's book, so I always fancied that we were secret allies, and that as my book became something I would never write, his book would have to do as the closest approximation of my thought to see print. I met him a couple times after Christgau befriended him, but I never talked much to him.

My thesis was that Marx's revolutionary imagination was limited by his bourgeois framework, and as such could never see beyond reforming capitalism. I think one can work out examples from the arts, as Berman does (or John Berger), although I'd be most interested in exploring the buzz and whirr of machines. Love-hate affairs abound, consciously enough that Marx's main contribution is a methodology for exploring (and possibly exploding) them.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Obama and the Sadness of a War Denied

Note: This post was substantially written before Obama have his big speech tonight. The speech reiterates his desire to bomb Syria, either to punish Assad for using chemical weapons (adding to the death toll of Syria's civil war) or just to remind the world of America's might-makes-right moral superiority (adding to the death toll of Syria's civil war). And he still wants Congress to rally behind his leadership and bless his right to bomb Syria, but he's going to hold off on that for a few days -- not so much because Congress was prepared to vote against his war mongering as because he's willing to give Russia and the UN a few days to wrap up a deal where Syria would give up its chemical weapons (although he still wants the UN to authorize him to bomb Syria if they don't do it to his satisfaction). Not that he actually needs anyone's permission to bomb Syria -- he is, after all, the Commander-in-Chief and he can damn well bomb anyone he pleases: "That's what makes America different. That's what makes us exceptional." And, uh, "God bless the United States of America."


One reason I've been harping so much on Obama's failures to engage Russia (and Iran) over Syria is that a deal such as the one Putin proposed (and Assad agreed) to on chemical weapons has always seemed possible. The Obama administration is now trying to spin this as a victory for their sabre rattling (see White House Takes Credit for Syria's Apparent Concession), but the main reason they have for embracing it is that it gives them an opportunity to put off potentially face-loosing votes in Congress. However, in order for the deal to go through, Russia insists that the US withdraw its threats to bomb Syria -- how, they argue, can you get a state to voluntarily disarm while under threat of attack?. Already, the French have attempted to undermine the deal by tying it to a UN Security Council Resolution that would authorize force. (See Russia balks at French plan for U.N. Security Council resolution on Syrian chemical arms). I've also seen reports that the insurgent groups are opposed to the deal.

For an example of how little effort the Obama administration put into diplomatic efforts, and how strong their mental blinders are, consider this quote from the latter article:

The possibility of placing Syrian chemical weapons under international control was discussed by Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin when they met Friday at the Group of 20 summit in St. Petersburg. On Monday, appearing before reporters, Kerry referred to it almost sarcastically when he was asked whether there was anything Assad could do to avoid a U.S. attack.

"Sure, he could turn over every bit of his weapons to the international community within the next week, without delay," Kerry responded with a shrug. "But he isn't about to."

As Kerry flew back to Washington to help lobby lawmakers, he received a midair call from Lavrov, who said he had heard the secretary's remarks and was about to make a public announcement. The statement in Moscow came before Kerry landed.

Lucky for us that Putin, at least, was paying attention. Also that he recognized that chemical weapons were a matter of some ambivalence for Assad. Chemical weapons have never been very effective -- the few exceptions were mostly cases where they were used on people who had nothing comparable to fight back with, such as when the British used them in Iraq in the 1920s or when the Italians used them in Ethiopia in the 1930s. Nor have they been an effective deterrent against powers like Israel and the United States. On the other hand, their possession can be pointed to in propaganda, as the US did with Iraq and is doing now with Syria.

As far as I can tell, Syria developed chemical weapons thinking they would provide a deterrent against Israeli attack, maybe even offering a cheap balance against Israel's arsenal of nukes. A second reason may have been Iraq, at least back when Saddam Hussein had (and was fond of using) chemical weapons. Syria and Iraq were both Ba'ath Party states, but they had split in terms of what that meant, and were rivals for the leadership of the broader Ba'ath movement (Arab nationalism). Syria was so hostile to Hussein it became an agitator for the US-led Gulf War against Iraq.

But the Ba'ath rivalty with Iraq is long past, and it never was clear that chemical weapons did much to deter Israel -- which continues to bomb Syria periodically, but is unlikely to send its army into Damascus, not because it fears the Syrian army but because there are just too damn many Arabs living there. So there's little reason for Syria not to give up its chemical weapons. Indeed, there's the risk that rebels will loot them for use against the government. So for Syria this isn't a setback. If anything, it makes the regime appear more reasonable and legitimate.

Aside from France, some Syrian insurgent groups, and superhawks like John McCain, everyone else is pleased by this turn of events. One more quote from the article is especially interesting:

In Tehran, newly appointed Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marzieh Afkham said Iran "welcomes Moscow's initiative at this stage to resolve the Syrian crisis. The Islamic Republic of Iran sees this initiative as a way to halt militarization in the region."

This is an interesting choice of words, not least because the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia -- probably the three largest per capita military spenders in the world -- habitually accuse Iran of being the one militarizing a "Shiite Crescent" from Iran across to Lebanon. Afkham's choice of words not only express approval for ridding Syria of chemical weapons, they open the door to further demilitarization in Syria and elsewhere. Also, the word "resolve" is significant: the civil war could go on indefinitely without chemical weapons, but that doesn't seem to be Iran's intent or desire. We should look at this as one step of several toward a resolution.

It seems essential to me that there should be a ceasefire while the chemical weapons are being inventoried and secured. A ceasefire would freeze the current territorial division, and set up the basis for a negotiated resolution. It would stem the current torrent of refugees, and allow at least some to go home. It would be the right thing to do.


More reading today:

  • Ezra Klein: The White House may really be about to win on Syria: "Remember: The White House's aim here wasn't to topple Assad, or even to hurt him. It was to affirm and reinforce the international norm against chemical weapons. [ . . . ] But the White House shouldn't work too hard to set the bar high here. If Assad is willing to sign the treaty and stop using chemical weapons, they should declare victory. It's a better outcome than they could have hoped for."
  • Natasha Lennard: Obama's embarrassing Syria scramble: "While the Obama administration and its key mouthpieces have been banging the war drum with mounting vigor in recent weeks -- touting the immutable moral imperative of military action in the face of "humanity's red line" being crossed -- the chemical weapons handover initiative made Russia look a dove to America's hawkish leadership. Little wonder Obama was then swift to call the proposal a 'possible breakthrough' and insist that it was his idea all along. The fact that the president and Putin may have discussed a possible chemical weapons resolution last week hardly undoes Obama's rhetoric-drenched push for military action in recent days."
  • Robert Collier: World's best diplomats: Here's how to achieve peace in Syria: "negotiate aggressively; include all regional powers -- including Iran; no preconditions about core issues; no war crimes trials -- at least not right away; be creative; freeze out the true extremists."
  • Megan Iorio: How Syria Plays Into AIPAC Mythology: "Iran's influence with the Assad regime is undeniable and their cooperation will be necessary to secure a cease-fire. Yet, last year, Iran was not invited to a peace conference on Syria that was held in Geneva, a fact which many attribute to the conference's failure. A second Geneva conference has been proposed, but the US has refused to allow Iran to attend, which, in turn, has prevented the conference from convening. The US has also yet to engage directly with Iran to find a diplomatic way to address the chemical weapons issue, even though new Iran President Hassan Rouhani, who ran on a message of reconciliation with the US, has condemned the alleged use of chemical weapons."
  • 'A disaster anyway we cut it' -- Phyllis Bennis on the folly of U.S. strikes on Syria: "You know, one of the things that nobody is talking about, is if President Obama went on television Tuesday night and said to the American people, not just, "there have been 100,000 people killed in this terrible war in Syria, and we have to go after the dictator who is responsible." If instead of saying that, he said, "there have been 100,000 people killed in this civil war" -- 43 percent of them, according to the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights -- 43 percent are government, pro-Syrian government militiamen and 37 percent are civilians, and 17 percent are opposition fighters, would people feel the same way? The implication is always that these are 100,000 innocent civilians, all killed by the regime, when in fact almost half are regime soldiers and militiamen who have been killed by the other side." Obama, of course, didn't say any such thing. He went on and on about 400-some children killed by sarin gas. Curiously, 1400 dead including 400 children is almost exactly the number of Palestinians killed by Israel in Gaza in Operation Cast Lead in 2008 -- facts that didn't raise a peep from the president-elect.
  • Gareth Porter: Obama's Case for Syria Didn't Reflect Intel Consensus: "In essence, the White House selected those elements of the intelligence community assessments that supported the administration's policy of planning a strike against the Syrian government force and omitted those that didn't. In a radical departure from normal practice involving summaries or excerpts of intelligence documents that are made public, the Syria chemical weapons intelligence summary document was not released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence but by the White House Office of the Press Secretary."
  • Linda J Bilmes: The Cost of Striking Syria: 4 Lessons From Iraq and Afghanistan: "The Pentagon's accounting system is so flawed that there is no way even to perform an audit. Indeed, officials admit they have 'lost visibility' on tens of billions of dollars. [ . . . ] We also do not account for the value of lives lost, or the future value of deferred benefits owed to veterans. The economic lessons from 12 years in Iraq and Afghanistan are that we underestimated the costs, borrowed all the money to pay for them, and failed to account for where it was all spent."
  • New claim that order for chemical attacks did not come from Assad.
  • Israel skeptical about Russian plan; Netanyahu said to be personally lobbying Congress to support attack on Syria; also Does Israel have chemical weapons too? When Syria signs, that will leave only six nations in the world that haven't signed the Chemical Weapons Convention: North Korea, Angola, Egypt, South Sudan, Burma, and Israel.
  • Paul Woodward: Why Syria was so quick to support the chemical weapons deal: "The only way of ensuring that the operation could successfully be completed and that chemical weapons could be prevented from falling into the hands of opposition militias would be for Assad to remain in power. The United States and Russia would in effect become the guarantors of Assad's continuing rule." There's something to this, and it certainly won't set well with the insurgent groups. But this step also marks the start of an effort to reform the Syrian government. There is still an awful lot that needs to be done in that direction, but it strikes me as more promising than waiting for a central government collapse and subsequent fighting between the fractured resistance.
  • Helena Cobban: The Russia-Syria deal: What it means and what now? Details how this is a win-win-win deal, then adds: "Who is this deal not good for? I would say, firstly, the Qaeda-linked and other takfiris in Syria, who have been working assiduously since spring 2011 to draw the Americans in, in order to "win" their battles in Syria for them -- a gameplan they had pursued with such success in Libya in March 2011. (Has anyone looked at the situation in Libya recently??)" Also: "The deal is definitely not good for Susan Rice, Samantha Power, or John Kerry. The attempts these three have made to (a) hype the threat in Syria, (b) express certainty where none was warranted, and (c) sell the war to Congress and the American people -- let alone that 95% of humankind who are not U.S. citizens! -- have been mendacious, ill-informed, and unsuccessful. They have led the president into looking pretty stupid."


That's a good line to end on: "They have led the president into looking pretty stupid." Unfortunately, if you read his speech, you'll see that he has scarcely begun to recover.

Daily Log

Quiet day at home, mostly spent catching up on the latest Syria War twists, leading to the post above.

Watched second episode of Silk, which Laura passed on. Much depends there are very arcane aspects of the English judicial system -- e.g., the organization of prosecutors and defense lawyers into "chambers" -- that I don't really get. Also watched Copper.l

Music today (JP): Salsa de la Bahia, Griffith Hiltz Trio, Adventure Music: 10 Years; (RG): Los Angeles Jazz Quartet, Andrzej Przybielski, Construction Party.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 22016 [21976] rated (+40), 571 [574] unrated (-3).

Late getting this up today. Spent the whole day fixing much too much Indian food for a dinner party for seven tonight: a lamb and potato curry (rogani ghosht), saffron pilaf with peaches, kali dal (a very rich small black lentil mash), cabbage, eggplant (bharta), yogurt with spinach (palak raita), served with a homemade lemon pickle, several store-bought chutneys and pickles, and heated-up (and not very good) paratha. My dessert pudding was inedible, but I had a can of gulab jamun and one of the guests brought ice cream, so we made do. (I have a long history of flubbing Indian desserts.) Much talk about Syria, which we all agree the US shouldn't bomb, although a couple people were more sensitive to the plight of the Syrians and more inclined to grasp at straws.

Didn't manage to play much today, or unpack today's mail. Last week, however, was pretty productive, especially as I close in on wrapping up September's Recycled Goods (which, as it turns out, won't be a 1960s special -- wound up spending much too much time listening to Polish jazz). Today's Jazz Prospecting list is perhaps the first to benefit from holding records back until release week. I started this practice over a month ago when I realized that I had managed to write up this week's top-rated album way ahead of its release date. After slow weeks for August and Labor Day, the new releases are picking up this week. (Though I will note that because I only had an advance copy of Dave Holland's new one, I missed its release date.)

Rated count topped 22,000 this week. With all the Rhapsody quickies, I'm rolling over thousand marks just about once a year. Still, I recall a conversation long ago -- perhaps as far back at the late-1970s although it could have been later -- with Bob Christgau and John Rockwell where record collection size came up, and those numbers stuck in my mind. Bob had something like 10K LPs stashed away at various addresses, but Rockwell, who wrote equally about classical music, had twice as many. I doubt that I had more than 3,000 LPs when I moved from New Jersey and sold most of them off. Of course, again thanks to Rhapsody, I doubt that I have half as many CDs as I have rated, and finding places to store those I do have is maddening.


Lucian Ban: Elevation/Mystery (2010 [2013], Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1969 in Romania, based in New York. Seventh or so album since 2002, most with baritone saxophonist Alex Harding, and second one this year, following Transylvanian Concert with Mat Maneri on ECM. That stretched out his folkloric/classical side, but this one -- a quartet with Abraham Burton (tenor sax), John Hébert (bass), and Eric McPherson (drums) -- recorded live at Cornelia Street Cafe in NYC sets him in an avant context, especially when the saxophonist works up a full head of steam. Nor is a quiet spot with just the bassist any less interesting. By the way, the "Mystery" part of the title is obscured -- how clever some graphic designers are! I missed it on unpacking, and most likely others will too. A- [September 10]

Cheryl Bentyne and Mark Winkler: West Coast Cool (2013, Summit): Standards singers, both have long careers; Bentyne principally with Manhattan Transfer since 1979 but also 13 albums under her own name; Winkler with a dozen albums since 1985. The "West Coast Cool" songs start with Dave Brubeck and Chet Baker, include a Neal Hefti piece by that title, and inevitably end up with Nat Cole and Bobby Troup medleys -- the warmer and more personable Winkler makes "Hungry Man" a highlight. B+(**) [September 10]

Brandon Bernstein Trio: But Beautiful (2012 [2013], Jazz Collective): Guitarist, based in Los Angeles, teaches at Pasadena City College, co-authored a book of Kurt Rosenwinkel transcriptions for Mel Bay; website refers to his "CDs" (plural), but I've only found one previous one, a collection of Tom Waits songs. This trio, with bass and drums, is all standards (two by Jimmy Van Heusen). Has a light tough, with a bit of Django. B+(**)

Brussels Jazz Orchestra/Joe Lovano: Wild Beauty (2012 [2013], Half Note): Lovano is listed on cover and spine as "featuring" but he's more than just the guest draw here; he's the main point. Title could be, or subtitle probably is -- parsing album covers is such a wretched business -- Sonata Suite for the Brussels Jazz Orchestra, but I'll stick to the big type. The other name phrase on the cover is "arranged by Gil Goldstein." The compositions belong to Lovano, so it would make most sense to credit the whole thing to Lovano and combine title: subtitle. The big band -- no strings here other than guitar and bass -- has a huge sound and gallops hard, its occasional lurches and lapses annoying, but the leader towers above it all, a talent that goes back to his days with Woody Herman. B+(***) [September 10]

Stephan Crump's Rosetta Trio: Thwirl (2012 [2013], Sunnyside): Bassist, eighth album since 1997, a turning point being 2006's Rosetta, where he introduced this trio with Liberty Ellman on acoustic guitar and Jamie Fox on electric guitar, with 2010's Rosetta Trio album Reclamation the breakthrough. The group's sound has always been meticulously balanced so no single instrument dominates, but the risk is that none will stand out, which is the problem here. B+(**) [September 10]

Charles Evans: Subliminal Leaps (2013, More Is More): Baritone saxophonist, two previous albums including his solo debut, has a chamberish quartet here with David Liebman's soprano sax for contrast, Ron Stabinsky on piano, and Tony Marino on bass. No drummer to rush things along. B+(**) [September 10]

John Funkhouser: Still (2013, Jazsyzygy): Pianist, has at least one previous album under his own name, plus the 1998 eponymous group album Funkhouse suggesting that his name overdetermines his style. Mostly trio, plus guitar on 3 (of 8) cuts and Aubrey Johnson vocalizing on two cuts. Three covers: "House of the Rising Sun," "My Romance," "Little Rootie Tootie." Does get the funk idea. B+(*) [September 12]

Dave Holland: Prism (2012 [2013], Dare2): This is being touted as a return to Holland's early days with Miles Davis at the birth of fusion. If he has to step back, I'd rather recall his work with Sam Rivers or Anthony Braxton -- Conference of the Birds, from 1972, remains his greatest record -- but you have to take what you can get. Quartet, with Kevin Eubanks on guitar, Craig Taborn on keyboards, and Eric Harland on drums. Jumps off with impressive flow, with Eubanks reminding one of another Davis alumni (Scofield, not McLaughlin), and Taborn showing why he's the most effective Fender Rhodes player of his generation. Still, lacks that extra point of reference Davis added, and trails off into ballad territory by the end. B+(**) [advance]

Vijay Iyer & Mike Ladd: Holding It Down: The Veterans' Dreams Project (2012 [2013], Pi): Ladd does spoken word projects, eleven since 1997, including two memorable discs with pianist Iyer providing the music: In What Language? (2003), and Still Life With Commentator (2007). This new project pulls texts from Iraq and/or Afghanistan veterans describing their dreams, the texts read by Ladd, Maurice Decaul, Lynn Hill, and Pamela Z. The words are vivid and often disturbing, a fair reminder of the hell our politicians have put these people through. Less sure what the make of the music, with Liberty Ellman (guitar), Okkyung Lee (cello), and Kassa Overall (drums), dreamy or just put together by chance, nor am I sure how much hell I care to listen to, just to reconfirm what a horrible idea that whole "war on terror" was. B+(**) [September 10]

Chad Lefkowitz-Brown: Imagery Manifesto (2013, self-released): Tenor saxophonist, first album, wrote all the pieces; group includes trumpet, guitar, piano, bass (Linda Oh), and drums for a complex and dense postbop gumbo. Website gave me a lot of aggravation, but that's neither here nor there. B+(*)

Pedro Martins: Dreaming High (2009-10 [2013], Adventure Music): Guitarist, from Brazil, b. 1993 so Martins would have been 16 when this was recorded. (Looks like his first album, originally released as Sonhando Alto in 2011.) All original pieces. Guitar doesn't stand out a lot, but he gets good help, especially Josué Lopez on tenor sax. B+(*)

Pete McGuinness: Voice Like a Horn (2013, Summit): Vocalist, started out playing trombone which he still does here. Has a couple previous albums, one with a quintet, one with a big band, is co-lead with the New York Trombone Conspiracy; side credits include a lot more big band work. Backed here by Ted Kooshian's piano trio, plus "special guest" slots for Jon Gordon (alto sax) and Bill Mobley (trumpet), two cuts each. Songbook standards plus "Birks' Works" -- an occasion to let the scat fly. But his voice isn't really "like a horn" -- nothing wrong with his scat runs, but he has a firm grip on the text and the language, something vocalists who aspire to mimic horns often lose. B+(***)

M1, Brian Jackson & the New Midnight Band: Evolutionary Minded (2013, Motema): The late Gil Scott-Heron's one-time partner raises the banner again, recycling a list of songs for the revolution still to come, with help from various MCs -- M1 up front, Chuck D, Stic Man, Killah Priest, and Wise Intelligent get "feat." slots, as well as singers named Martin Luther and Gregory Porter, and spoken words from gun rights advocate Bobby Seale. B+(***) [September 10]

James Zollar: It's All Good People (2012 [2013], JZAZ): Trumpet player, originally from Kansas City, only three albums under his own name since 1997 (the excellent Soaring With Bird), but his side credits include David Murray, Billy Bang, Sam Rivers, Don Byron, Bob Stewart, and quite a bit with Marty Ehrlich. Surprisingly goes for down home funk grooves here, with a bit of rap, vocals by Sheryl Rene and Erika Matsuo, a bit of Gregoire Maret harmonica, and a closer looking back at his elders, called "For Cootie & Clark." I'd be tempted to say he's wasting his talent here, but the trumpet is stellar, and I can't begrudge a guy for having a good time. B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Randy Brecker: The Brecker Brothers Band Reunion (Piloo, CD+DVD): October 8
  • Wilford Brimley With the Jeff Hamilton Trio (Capri): September 17
  • The Elec Tet: Shiny Metal Objects (Blujazz)
  • Marsha Heydt and the Project of Love: Diggin' the Day (Blujazz)
  • Ahmad Jamal: Saturday Morning (Jazz Village)
  • Mike Jones Trio: Plays Well With Others (Capri): September 17
  • Frank Potenza: For Joe (Capri): September 17
  • Samo Salamon Quartets: Stretching Out (Sazas, 2CD)
  • Clark Terry/Buddy DeFranco/Terry Gibs/Jackie Ryan: Grand Masters of Jazz (Open Art): October 15
  • The Ian Torres Big Band: January (Blujazz)
  • Matt White: The Super Villain Jazz Band (Artists Recording Collective): October 1

Daily Log

Spent the day cooking (menu in main post above). Maher and Stephanie Muslem, Michael Poage, Gretchen Eick, and Alice Powell joined us for dinner. Struggled to get the lamb cooked dry enough while had the opposite problem with the dal. Eggplant was a bit disappointing. The frozen paratha had no layering, just puffy little discs of dough. I grilled four of them, and they were all eaten -- didn't taste awful, but it's a brand to avoid. Most aggravating part was the peaches, in part because I have so little taste for fruit anyway. Had to peal them (blanching didn't work, but the vegetable peeler did), then slice them (they didn't come at all easy off the pit) and sautée in ghee. In the end they carmelized nicely and didn't get mushy. Still not a big fan of that pilaf.

Music today (JP): Matt Mitchell, Michael Pedicin.

Monday, September 08, 2003

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links this week (sorry, no cartoons):


  • Max Ehrenfreud: Flouting International Norms in Kenya:

    In Nairobi this week (since I promised not to discuss Syria on this blog this morning) the Kenyan parliament voted to withdraw from the International Criminal Court. If Kenya follows the motion with a formal notice to the United Nations, Kenya will be the first country to withdraw from the court, establishing a clear precedent for leaders in all of the courts' member states: You can commit atrocities as long as you have the support of a a majority of the electorate and your allies in the region. Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta is accused of inciting his followers to violence after the disastrous election of 2007. It is true that his case hasn't gone to trial yet, so it would be wrong to make assumptions about his culpability. In addition, the country's withdrawal does not remove Kenyatta's legal obligation to appear before the court, since the investigation was already underway. Still, the Kenyan parliament's message seems clear. Perhaps in the future, other countries where heads of state have guilty consciences will remove themselves from the court in a more timely manner.

    This is one "norm" the US is unlikely to enforce, given that the "guilty consciences" in the US Senate refused to join the International Criminal Court in the first place.

  • Paul Krugman: It Takes a Government (to Make a Market), and Picturing the Winners and Losers from Obamacare: A couple posts on private insurance rates under ACA, which now look to be up but "are generally lower than expected." From the former piece:

    What's going on here? Partly it's a vindication of the idea that you can make health insurance broadly affordable if you ban discrimination based on preexiting conditions while inducing healthy individuals to enter the risk pool through a combination of penalties and subsidies. But there's an additional factor, that even supporters of the Affordable Care Act mostly missed: the extent to which, for the first time, the Act is creating a truly functioning market in nongroup insurance.

    Until now there has been sort of a market -- but one that, as Kenneth Arrow pointed out half a century ago, is riddled with problems. It was very hard for individuals to figure out what they were buying -- what would be covered, and would the policies let them down? Price and quality comparisons were near-impossible. Under these conditions the magic of the marketplace couldn't work -- there really wasn't a proper market. And insurers competed with each other mainly by trying to avoid covering people who really needed insurance, and finding excuses to drop coverage when people got sick.

    With the ACA, however, insurers operate under clear ground rules, with clearly defined grades of plan and discrimination banned. The result, suddenly, is that we have real market competition.

    I think that's true as far as it goes, but how much "magic" we get remains to be seen. Any opportunities to scam this system will be exploited. And while a market should reduce the profit share the insurance companies take, the entire health care system is chock full of rent-seeking opportunists. Krugman reminds us that "I believe that single-payer would be better and cheaper, and it's still a goal we should seek."

  • MJ Rosenberg: Obama Is No JFK: I'm not a big believer in the JFK revisionism that argues that he was on his way out of Vietnam, and even less so that he "had decided to reach out to Castro" -- points Rosenberg makes citing David Talbot's Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years, but much evidence suggests that Kennedy was at least aware that the CIA, FBI, and DOD were untrustworthy:

    Kennedy got it, not all of it or he would have survived his term, but enough of it to begin changing the world.

    There is no evidence Obama gets it at all. He is now planning to launch an attack on the Middle East advocated by the same people who gave us the Iraq war. He is about to appoint as head of the Federal Reserve, the very same official whose policies gave us the economic collapse of 2008.

    If he has learned anything since becoming president, it is hard to know what it is. Kennedy stopped trusting the system, understanding that he didn't run it. Obama thinks he does and that, although it is far from perfect, all it will take to fix it is some tinkering around the edges.

    Gordon Goodstein's book on McGeorge Bundy, Lessons in Disaster, makes the point that in their respective approaches to Vietnam, Lyndon Johnson wanted to be perceived as strong, whereas Kennedy wanted to be right. Obama, like Clinton before him, seems to share LBJ's concern, perhaps because they have repeatedly been slagged as weak and wobbly, and challenged to prove their manhood by senselessly killing people, and once they've tasted blood they have more and more trouble backing away. Has anyone noticed that this is more like an initiation rite into organized crime than anything else?

    Kennedy was a virulent anti-communist, but the most egregious examples of that came early in his career -- such as being the last Democrat to defend Joseph McCarthy. But Kennedy's first taste of blood was the Bay of Pigs, and he didn't enjoy it one bit.


Also, a few links for further study:

  • Sasha Abramsky: Shake a Stick in Post-Financial Collapse America, and One Hits Poverty: Intro to Abramsky's book, The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives (Nation Books).

  • Leslie H Gelb: Bomb Scare: The doyen of American foreign policy hacks reviews Kenneth M. Pollack's newbook, Unthinkable: Iran, the bomb, and American Strategy. Pollack, a CIA veteran and Brookings Institute pundit, argued for invading Iraq in his influential 2003 book, The Threatening Storm, but in his later book on Iran, The Persian Puzzle, politely stepped back from the "real men" who yearned to invade Tehran. It now looks like, having considered Iran's "nuclear program" further, he's backed off even further -- to the point that he'd rather coexist with Iran having nuclear weapons than risk all the mayhem that could result from trying to prevent those weapons with military interventions. But Obama has already proclaimed a "red line" against that, and Congress has already committed at least to supporting any act of war Israel takes against Iran. Gelb goes even further than Pollack, urging negotiations:

    If negotiations fail, they fail, and that, of course, would be tragic. But Obama's current path is already heading toward war, and Pollack's position of containment may not be able to prevent it. Only negotiating all the hot-button issues offers the hope of reconciling two enemies -- enemies who should be friends.

  • Rachel Maddow: Overcommitted: Book review of Andrew J Bacevich: Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country:

    What is successful is the persuasiveness of Bacevich's argument -- through this and his last several books -- that we try to use the United States military against problems that have no military solution, and in ways that exacerbate our inclination to overuse it in the first place. In Breach of Trust, with prose that is occasionally clunky but always unsparing, Bacevich dismantles the warrior myth we civilians and politicians so enjoy worshiping from afar, and replaces that idol with flesh and blood, vulnerable humans, who deserve better than the profligate, wasteful way in which we treat them.

  • John Perr: Health Insurance "Coverage Gap" Coming to a Red State Near You: The tally of Republican rejection of expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

  • Corey Robin: Jean Bethke Elshtain Was No Realist: A review of the late hawk's life and work.

  • Matt Taibbi: The Last Mystery of the Financial Crisis: Explores the ratings agencies, like S&P, who were paid handsomely to certify toxic securities as AAA.

And today's reading on Syria:

  • Andrew J Bacevich: The Hill to the Rescue on Syria?: A conservative who blames it all on the Carter Doctrine wants a definitive answer on America's "30 years war" in the Middle East:

    A debate over the Syrian AUMF should encourage members of Congress -- if they've got the guts -- to survey this entire record of U.S. military activities in the Greater Middle East going back to 1980. To do so means almost unavoidably confronting this simple question: How are we doing? To state the matter directly, all these years later, given all the ordnance expended, all the toing-and-froing of U.S. forces, and all the lives lost or shattered along the way, is mission accomplishment anywhere in sight? Or have U.S. troops -- the objects of such putative love and admiration on the part of the American people -- been engaged over the past 30-plus years in a fool's errand? How members cast their votes on the Syrian AUMF will signal their answer -- and by extension the nation's answer -- to that question.

    No reason Congress will be forthcoming, in large part because so many have so much vested in the mistakes of the past, but if we had not seen one misjudgment after another, one fiasco after another, for so long this wouldn't be happening. In retrospect, a clear sign that their war fever had broken was when the Republicans let the sequester eat away at the military budget.

  • Juan Cole: When Syria was a US Ally (or at Least Helpful): Recently I've made several comments about Syria's efforts to ally, or at least curry favor, with the United States. Cole has a checklist here. Of course, the US has mostly taken its cues on Syria from Israel, so that limits the list -- as does Syria's dependency on Russia for arms. And there's much more to Syria's involvement is Lebanon: the US invited Syria in, and eventually insisted that Syria leave, and in between their role wasn't always to our liking, although for the long period when Israel occupied southern Lebanon (1982-2000) Syria's presence elsewhere in Lebanon was more often than not a stabilizing force.

  • Conor Friedersdorf: President Shouldn't Be Able to Credibly Threaten Wars That the People Oppose: You keep hearing that we have to bomb Syria so people (in Iran, no less) will realize that they have to take him seriously even when he makes an ill-considered offhand comment that virtually no one in America actually agrees with.

    It is the hawks who threaten American credibility most in the long run, both because they'd make us subject to any chance comment from the series of fallible politicians who make it to the White House, and because waging an ill-conceived war, with all the attendant negative consequences, hurts the credibility of a nation a lot more than any mere rhetoric. When we look back at blows to American credibility, we think of Vietnam and Iraq, not some bit of rhetoric and the way the world interpreted our follow through. If an American intervention in Syria goes badly, our credibility will suffer profoundly, and hawks will once again bear blame for weakening America more than any other Americans.

    Also, America Has Little to Fear From Congress Rejecting Force in Syria:

    For some time, we've known that the Iraq War will cost trillions of dollars, that almost 5,000 Americans lost their lives there, that their families are devastated, that tens of thousands of combat veterans are wounded due to the war, some with missing limbs and others with traumatic brain injuries, and that PTSD is epidemic and suicides are epidemic. But Galston says we're only now reckoning its full costs -- now that the "costs" include reluctance to enter another war of choice. If you compare the actual costs the United States and its people bore from Vietnam and Iraq to the costs we've born as a result of a reluctance to intervene, it becomes clear that interventionists are the ones with a "syndrome."

  • MJ Rosenberg: The Education of Congressman Van Hollen: From Mensch to AIPAC Hack: Recounts how Van Hollen (D-MD) criticized Israel for its 2006 war on Lebanon and felt the political fury of AIPAC. "Two years later, when Israel smashed Gaza killing 1400 civilians including 400 children, Van Hollen not only didn't criticize, he applauded. And now he supports bombing Syria."

  • David Sirota: Narcissists are ruining America: "We're on the verge of bombing another country -- because a few conceited people want to feel good about themselves."

    Many Americans supporting a new war in the Middle East want to feel good about themselves. Many want to feel like we did "the right thing" and didn't stand by while chemical weapons were used (even though we stand by -- or use them ourselves -- when we're told that's good for America). But, then, many war supporters desperately want these heartwarming feelings without the worry that they may face any inconvenient costs like higher taxes or body bags at Dover Air Force Base.

    What emerges is a portrait of pathological self-absorption. That's right -- despite the pro-war crowd's self-congratulatory and sententious rhetoric, this isn't about helping the Syrian people. Channeling the zeitgeist of that famous quote in Broadcast News, this is all about us. To the pro-war crowd, if both feeling morally superior and avoiding any real sacrifice mean having to kill lots of Syrians without a chance of actually stopping their civil war, then it's worth the carnage, especially because it's half a world away.

    A classic example of this was Madeleine Albright's comment, when asked about reports that US sanctions against Iraq in the 1990s had resulted in up to a million deaths of Iraqis while not in any serious way undermining the regime, insisting that the sanctions were "worth it." Easly to be callous when all you think about is yourself.

  • Max Weiss: Diplomacy is the best way to intervene in Syria:

    For lack of a compelling legal, moral or humanitarian argument, the U.S. administration seems to be ramping up for what might be called Operation Save Face. Obama wants to drop bombs because he once said he would. Such a callous calculus is hardly grounds for a just and viable Middle East policy.

    Key figures in the Syrian opposition abroad and inside the country reject negotiations with the regime; they want al-Assad's head on a pike. Yet there is good reason to believe that military escalation in Syria will likely only result in further military escalation in Syria. Bashar al-Assad is unlikely to respond without a credible threat, but a stick-heavy approach devoid of carrots is a policy bound to fail.

    Rory Stewart draws the same conclusion, although he writes more about Bosnia, recalling the negotiations that ended the war, where most hawks point to the bombs that preceded the negotiations. There is no necessary correlation between bombing and negotiation, and the differences between Bosnia and Syria are daunting: Milosevic had the simple option of retreating to Serbia (although the deal wound up more generous, giving Serbs a slice of Bosnia); Assad has no other country to retreat to.

    Stephen Kinzer goes even further, arguing To resolve the Syria crisis, the US must negotiate with Iran. Kinzer, you may recall, wrote the book on the the CIA's 1953 plot against democracy in Iran (All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, which he followed up with Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change From Hawaii to Iraq). Nor is Syria the only thing the US should negotiate with Iran over.

Daily Log

Music today (JP): M1.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Daily Log

Slipping up: missed this entry, making it up the following day, but I won't try to reconstruct the music list.

Put two coats of grout sealer on the backsplash. Tried using the applicator brush, then a finer brush. Wound up favoring the former, but just for speed. No way to limit the sealer to the grout, but it looks like it wipes off the stainless steel easily enough. They also make a spray, which would have been even more indiscriminate.

Went out and shopped for Monday's big dinner. Watched Orange Is the New Black.

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Syria Again, Again

Saw an article in the Wichita Eagle today about Obama bumping into Putin at the G20 conference in Russia. They greeted each other cordially, but didn't set up a much needed tete-a-tete on Syria. Although in general I don't like nations meddling in the internal politics of any country, the US and Russia are the principal arms suppliers to that conflict (so are in effect already involved) and also hold the most economic impact on the future of Syria. So right now the best chance for a ceasefire and a negotiated settlement lies in Obama and Putin putting aside their other differences and agreeing to press to end this war. But Obama isn't even trying for that chance.

I dashed off the following to the Wichita Eagle's Opinion Line:

Obama says he wants a negotiated solution to Syria's civil war, but even though he is in Russia he refuses to meet with Putin, who is the one person in the world best positioned to put pressure on Assad. I guess he's too busy starting a war to do anything about ending it.

I could have written a letter about this and unpacked it a bit more. It's worth recalling that both the 1967 and 1973 Arab-Israeli wars were ended under the pressure of UN ceasefire resolutions that were hammered out by the USSR and US -- the arms suppliers and economic allies of the belligerents. An Obama-Putin agreement would be easily ratified by the UN. Putin could put a lot of pressure on Syria for a ceasefire, and most likely for some controls in chemical weapons -- something Obama has no chance of doing through bombing. Obama would have to give up his missile campaign, and his insistence on Assad's removal as a precondition for negotiation, and would have to put pressure on Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and any other "allies" arming the insurgents. But none of those "concessions" really hurt American "interests." Syria is not a proxy fight between the US and Russia (and/or Iran). It is something that happened locally, and has sucked in foreign powers because of their pre-existing conflicts. (The US should empathize: we have been sucked into more than a few civil wars in defense of dictators we should have wanted no part of -- lots of examples in Latin America, but the most costly one was Vietnam.)

Besides, there was already a good letter in the Eagle today, from Kathleen Butler (don't know her):

Regarding "Obama's indecisiveness sends wrong message" (Sept. 4 Opinion): What do pundits like Cal Thomas want from President Obama? If Obama goes into Syria with guns blazing, he's a guy without a plan who should have asked for permission from the "people" before doing so. If he waits and asks for the permission they demand, he's weak and indecisive. Which is it?

Our situation is not helped by a guy like Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has never met a war he didn't like. He insists we should have run headlong into the Syrian civil war from the get-go. After all, doing so in Iraq and Afghanistan went so well.

The bottom line: War is hell and people die. And whether it is from chemical attacks or bullets, they are just as dead. As bad as Syria is, I say let them sort it out. Maybe they'll finally wake up to the fact that it is only under dictatorships that their sectarian differences are kept in check.

If it gets any worse, we have the capability to turn Syria, Iran or, for that matter, Russia into a parking lot. But until then, I am tired of the United States going broke fighting other people's wars and being hated no matter who wins.

I would quibble a bit here. I doubt that the "sectarian differences" in Syria were checked by the dictatorship so much as were things that didn't much matter until the civil war led both sides to associate minorities with the Assad regime. Those differences would again vanish under a properly liberal democratic society, but civil war may turn the conflict toward genocide. Indeed, that's exactly what happened in Iraq, and for that matter in Afghanistan -- in both cases groups that had lived relatively peacably with one another for thousands of years soon became bitter enemies.

The Eagle also had a good opinion column from a local professor, Russel Arben Fox: Vote 'no' on Syria strike, for whatever reason. They've also run pro-war columns by Clive Crook and Cal Thomas, and something in between by Kathleen Parker ("Credibility matters, but so does being wise").


More useful links keep coming it (cartoon from Truthdig):

  • Israeli view of Syria: 'Let them both bleed, hemorrage to death': At least they don't call it their "good neighbor" policy. Israel actually has a long history of fomenting conflicts in the Arab world, especially when they've supported non-Arab groups like the Kurds in Iraq. They had a longstanding policy of developing alliances with peripheral non-Arab states like Iran and Turkey. They sent arms to the Hashemites in Jordan to attack the PLO. They've made a whole series of alliances to split up Lebanon. They consciously sought to prolong the Iran-Iraq war, generally favoring Iran while the US and the Gulf States catered to Iraq. So, of course, they're enjoying the misery in Syria. For one thing, as long as it's going on, no one's going to pressure them to return the Syrian land they've occupied since 1967.
  • Gavin de Becker: Fooling Ourselves Into War: Talks about the Geneva Conventions and chemical weapons, finding them not to be fundamentally different from "bullets, bombs, and white phosphorus," then makes the point: "The act of identifying one type of lethal weapon as being unacceptable carries with it the implicit endorsement of the other lethan weapons as acceptable." Actually, what Obama proposed isn't implicit at all: he's explicitly saying that it's not just proper but a matter of morality to punish the use of chemical weapons with cruise missiles. [The web page also has a committed vote count. Currently the House is opposed 227-40 (166 undecided, which even if they broke 100% for war wouldn't be enough to pass). The Senate is much closer, but still opposed 31-28 (41 undecided).]
  • Alex Kane: 6 major players who turned Syria into a proxy war nightmare: In Kane's order: United States, Iran, Hezbollah, Israel, Russia, Saudi Arabia (Qatar gets a mention here). All true, and the proxy war aspects are the most dangerous thing here, not so much because they promise to spread the war (although that's a real risk, and has already happened in Lebanon) as because it takes the nations that might have had reason to mediate the conflict and ties them to the fate of internal groups, making each of them more intransigent. Several other nations could have been discussed here -- Egypt, for instance, was promising rebel support before the coup -- but the glaring omission is Turkey, which has many longstanding issues with Syria, a lot of refugees, clear partisanship, a major bug up its ass regarding the Kurds, and the sort of arrogance that comes from once having ruled the place. Speaking of which, there's also France, who took over from Turkey.
  • Ezra Klein: Why the very bad arguments for intervening in Syria matter: Some pretty ridiculous examples -- Sen. Barbara Boxer's "Not only is it important to keep North Korea in mind" is priceless. Many try to suggest that an act calculated to change nothing will in fact miraculously change everything. Klein concludes: "The problem is that achieving that goal requires a military intervention of a size and length that America is not willing to countenance. So they're increasingly trying to justify the military intervention that Americans might countenance by using the arguments for the military interventions they won't consider." One of the most interesting aspects to the congressional votes is how many truly bad ideas will be voted down if Obama's bombing resolution fails.
  • Noah Millman: There Is No Liberal Internationalist Case for War in Syria: "If we launch an attack on Syria, it will not be under any legal warrant whatsoever. But the entire public justification for an attack is the to punish Syria for a crime of war -- that is to say, the justification is the need to uphold international law. In other words, an attack would be an open declaration that the United States arrogates to itself the right to determine what the law is, who has violated it, what punishment they deserve, and to take whatever action is necessary to see it carried out. If that's liberal internationalism, then I'm a kumquat. With each American intervention since the end of the Cold War, the fig leaf that America operates as the anchor state in some sort of collective-security architecture grows more and more tattered."
  • Alex Pareene: McCain town hall sums up entire Syria debate: "The people at McCain's town hall were not peacenik outliers. The majority of Americans are opposed to airstrikes in Syria. (Democrats oppose them more strongly than Republicans do, so thus far 'liberal hypocrisy' on the issue is primarily limited to elected officials, as ever.) If President Obama loses a congressional vote and then doesn't strike Syria, well, that might actually be a pretty politically popular move. But it would lead to John McCain and a chorus of Washington pundits calling him 'weak.' Doing your best to reflect the will of the people, as represented either by polls or by the votes of popularly elected representatives, is always considered 'weaker' than just doing hugely unpopular stuff because a couple of rich guys want you to." Also links to a Mother Jones map of all the countries McCain has threatened to attack, as well as sample quotes. Russia, by the way, should be a brighter shade of red on the map, especially for his extraordinarily bellicose tantrum over Georgia. Even as unhappy as I am with Obama this week, every day I'm thankful he defeated McCain. Hell, I'm even happy GW Bush bumped McCain off in 2000.
  • 12 US Intelligence Officials Tell Obama It Wasn't Assad; Top Chemical Weapons Expert Highly Skeptical of US Case Against Syrian Government; Yes, the Syrian Rebels DO Have Access to Chemical Weapons: I haven't generally been passing these reports along, partly because I think the whole "chemical weapons" issue is misguided (there are lots of reasons why) and partly because I don't want either to get into weighing the morals of the various sides. But there certainly is ample reason to question the "intelligence" and propaganda put out by every side and by every interested party. How can you tell the latter? Well, for one thing, anyone who sincerely cared for the welfare of the Syrian people would have made a major point of resolving the Israel conflict, and I don't see anyone in the US government with credentials like that.
  • Kelley Vlahos: Neocons Are Back -- But Not in the GOP: Surveys many of the usual suspects, including "a letter signed last week by 60 mostly neoconservative throw-backs from the Iraq War -- including Paul Bremer, Karl Rove, Dan Senor, and Elliott Abrams -- calling for the president 'to take meaningful and decisive actions to stem the Assad regime's relentless aggression and help shape and influence the foundations for a post-Assad Syria" -- basically, the neocon position on Iraq fifteen years ago. On the other hand, that's become an increasingly tough sell among Republicans. It occurs to me that one reason is that the neocons themselves developed a critique of Clinton's containment-with-occasional-symbolic-bombings approach that said not only that they wanted boots-on-the-ground but that nothing less would do the job. Under Bush they got their wish and, well, that didn't work out too well either. Now what Obama is doing is basically reverting to the Clinton approach -- limited, deadly but ultimately ineffective bombing to express symbolic twitches -- and even if they didn't distrust Obama it's pretty obvious that nothing worthwhile is going to come from the effort. Maybe if Republicans had a Fearless Leader in the White House like, say, Lynne Cheney, they'd give it another shot, but that isn't the case. The real question is why any Democrats are buying it. Sure, back in the 1990s bombing forays made Democrats feel all macho, plus they enjoyed the Republicans, having staked themselves out as the war party, squirming as they reflexively rallied around the president. But that only worked as long as the Republicans played along. Right now the Democrats are in real danger of losing their brand as the peace party, and at the very moment it's become massively popular. Obama, Kerry, and maybe Hilary Clinton have just forever tarnished their careers by their misjudgment here. What remains to be seen is how many more lemmings will follow them over the cliff -- a real shame given how hard the Republicans have worked lately to destroy their own credibility.
  • Stephen M Walt: An Open Letter to My Congressman About Syria: To an "undecided" Democrat. There are other arguments I prefer, but you got to argue with people where they live. When addressing Republicans, you might even complain about all those Syrians who'll want asylum here, and how the deeper we find ourselves mired in the Middle East, the closer we come to sharia law here. Or you might just point out that a no vote will make Obama look like a pussy.
  • Aaron Blake/Sean Sullivan: The "no's" keep piling up on Syria resolution in the House: Straw polls, in the Senate as well. The generally worthless Kansas delegation is listed as 5-to-1 against the war -- the sole hawk is Wichita Rep. Mike Pompeo. Democrats in the hawk column should be considered for primary challenges: two especially embarrassing big names are Al Franken and Keith Ellison. What is it about Minnesota? They sure picked the wrong issue to try to differentiate themselves from Michelle Bachmann. I've spent nearly every day since the 2010 election complaing about Republicans on virtually every issue, but if they are the margin by which this insane motion is defeated -- well, I don't know, but the Democrats who go along with Obama on this issue will neither be forgotten nor forgiven.


I saw a bit of TV discussion tonight where veteran Washington pundits were sitting around absolutely incredulous that Congress might reject Obama's war resolution -- one admitting that his own reporting didn't confirm anything he believed. It's been clear that ever since the "sole superpower" moment following the collapse of the Soviet Union -- the "end of history" and all that-- that the US was declining as a world power, and for lots of reasons: the hollowing out of the economy, a series of debilitating military misadventures, fiscal crises, neglect of education and even public contempt for science, gross internal divisions. But all along politicians of both parties pretended nothing was amiss. And now they worry that the president may face a "loss of credibility" when in fact they're the only ones so myopic as to still deny that it's already been lost. The congressional vote may finally be their comeuppance. Welcome to the real world.

Daily Log

Went out and looked at some fancy Herman Miller chairs. My office chair is complete crap at the moment, so I started thinking that maybe I should invest in something nice. Went out to a Mexican restaurant after that -- keep forgetting the name, but on Arkansas just north of 21st.

Watched three episodes of Luther. Rather strange to watch a show where cops don't have guns or wear kevlar vests.

Music today (JP): Diego Urcola, Dave Holland, John Funkhouser, Dave King; (RG): Michael Marcus.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Daily Log

Music today (JP): James Zollar; (RG): Orange Trane, Rosa Luxembourg New Quintet, Simple Acoustic Trio.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Syria, Again

As long as the war drums are beating for Syria, we might as well keep the links coming. But first, let me quote myself. I was asked to write something for a Wichita Peace Center press release, and turned in the following paragraph. (I've since added some paragraph breaks.) Not sure what they did with it, but I gather it was longer than expected, so they trimmed here and there. Anyhow, it's a succinct position paper, touching on a lot of the central points.

The Civil War in Syria is both tragedy and folly: tragedy for the 100,000 people who have been killed since the Assad regime met demonstrations for democracy with bullets and opponents of the regime tried to overthrow it by armed struggle, and folly because by resorting to violence both sides are only deepening the nation's wounds. The only solution is for both sides to cease fire and seek help in mediating their differences.

A big part of the reason this hasn't happened is that foreign countries have chosen sides and are sending in arms to further fuel the fire: Russia and Iran back Assad, while Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and Turkey support the insurgents, and such aid gives both sides hope that they will triumph in a war which, like all wars, only has losers. Meanwhile, Lebanon is divided and fears that the war will spread, and Israel has been more or less at war with Syria since 1948, and has perpetuated hostilities by occupying the Syrian (aka Golan) Heights since 1967 -- much of the reason Syria is so militarized and so autocratic can be traced back to its losing conflict with Israel.

Nor has the United States done anything to end the war in Syria. In particular, President Obama has made a series of unfortunate statements -- stating that "Assad must go," offering arms to the insurgents, declaring a "red line" over the use of chemical weapons, and most recently asking Congress for a resolution to endorse his desire to launch missiles at undisclosed targets in Syria. No one -- not even Obama -- thinks that bombing Syria will do anything but prolong and escalate the killing and suffering. So why do it? Supposedly it has something to do with the president's "credibility" -- so that people will understand that when they cross his "red lines" they will face a stiff punishment.

But that only makes sense if you assume that the US has a right to interfere in every other nation's business, and an obligation to be judge and executioner over other peoples. Even more critically, it assumes we are so prescient as to use our powers wisely. Unfortunately, from the CIA's 1953 coup against a liberal democratic government in Iran up to Obama's latest tantrum over Syria, it is hard to think of a single instance when this was true of the US in the Middle East. But at least this time, Obama has given us, through Congress, a chance to reject the drumbeat of war. We should take this opportunity and resoundingly say, "hell no, we won't go!"

I didn't want to play up the question of chemical weapons. I'm not convinced that Assad's forces have actually used chemical weapons, but I don't think they have any particular scruples against doing so. One of the many problems with Obama's "red line" speech is that it gives anti-Assad forces reason to fake chemical attacks in the hope that if credible such attacks might push the US into providing more anti-Assad support. If that turns out to be the case, Obama could wind up bearing some responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

In any case, we won't know more about recent alleged chemical attacks until the UN inspectors finish and publish their analysis. At that point the findings should be kicked up to the UN Security Council for action, which could condemn Syria, impose sanctions, and/or authorize the US to use force to punish Syria, or not. But unless that happens, the strikes that Obama is proposing are war crimes, nothing less. I didn't get into that point either, because at this point it's virtually impossible to win an argument on the basis that the action you're opposed to would be a war crime. The problem is that hardly anyone in the US appreciates the prospect of living under international law any more. Proof of that is that even if he passes on Syria, Obama is already a war criminal, one of many in a procession that dates back through Bush and Clinton and on to the other Bush and Reagan, and Nixon and Johnson, and arguably other presidents.

We could, of course, debate about the need for international law and what that law should cover, and we could go into the need for reforms that would make the UN more effective. But you don't have to be so idealistic to see the folly in Obama's plans, so that is what I chose to focus on. I also didn't get into the matter of how much open-ended war with Syria would cost, or what else should be done with the money. For one thing the reflexive politics of Washington will always find money for any wars they want to fight, and can never be counted on to allocate that same money to any other project.

Needless to say, anyone who wants to limit government, let alone safeguard freedom, should first cast a jaundiced eye at the military. But those who do fall into the "limited government" trap will never be persuaded by arguing that the same money could be better spent on schools and bridges. Indeed, most of them have repeatedly voted for war on the theory that if the government has to spend money, at least there it won't be spent on anything constructive.


Some links (plus cartoons from Truthdig):

  • Associated Press: Putin on Syria: Interview with the president of Russia -- you know, the guy Obama refuses to meet with even though he's in Russia this week, the one world leader who is in the best position to get Assad to agree to a ceasefire and negotiations.
  • Brian Beutler: Elites fall right into trap, fecklessly support war secrecy: Kerry pleading his case at the Senate. Last line: "Much later in the hearing, Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., reflected on a series of U.S. missile strikes against Iraq in the 1990s, which in a real way primed the country for the invasion in 2003. That's the scenario Kerry tried but failed to hide."
  • Patrick Cockburn: In Syria, it's a case of all or nothing: I don't see how the "all in" case would work, but this much is surely true: "All sides are dependent on outside backers, and even those who most want to fight need weapons, ammunition and money. Heavy pressure could be put on them to agree to a peace conference and a temporary ceasefire." Also: "In practice there has been a stalemate in most of Syria for the last year. If the Syrian army did use poison gas, it shows it does not have the strength to retake even the inner rebel-held suburbs of Damascus. It is better therefore for the battle lines to be frozen under some form of UN supervision. Long-term solutions will only begin to be feasible when Syrians are no longer at the mercy of what Northern Ireland politicians used to call 'the politics of the last atrocity.'"
  • Juan Cole: A US attack on Syria will Prolong the War, and On Syria: The US Is No Long Ranger and Should Put That Six Shooter Away: The former makes its case succinctly, especially that US support for the insurgents makes them less likely to negotiate. (I would go further: the US is starting to see this as a proxy war against Russia and Iran, and as such a chance to relive Cold War glory.) The latter goes down the whole chemical weapons rathole, where the US and UK don't exactly have clean hands. (The UK, you may recall, were the first to use chemical weapons in the region.) Last point: "In 1998, then-President Bill Clinton fired cruise missiles at the Sudan of President Omar al-Bashir. If you don't know, do a quick Google search for whom the sitting president of the Sudan is now. Bombs are seldom the answer to geopolitical problems."
  • EJ Dionne, Jr: Syria and the Return of Dissent: "Ultimately, after intricate negotiations, the balance of power among all these factions will almost certainly give the president the congressional victory he needs to take action -- in part because majorities in both houses know that an Obama defeat on Syria would be devastating to American foreign policy." I wish it were that easy, but my second thought is that Dionne (who on most matters is a sensible journalist) is drawing a "red line" of his own. If Obama's war resolution fails Congress, even if it fails by failing to garner support from superhawks who don't think it goes far enough -- accommodations to which, by the way, were necessary to get it through the Senate committee vote -- it will be a shocking rebuke to Washington's "conventional wisdom" which has thus far sheltered and enabled the world's largest war machine. Once it proves possible to say no to war, it will only get easier.
  • Tom Engelhardt: Alone and Delusional on Planet Earth: Like Lind (below), a history of the neocon impulse, which Engelhardt finds still deeply entrenched, even if pivoting toward easier game in Africa after having made an expensive mess of the Asian belt from Pakistan to Lebanon -- not that they would pass up the opportunity to show the colors in Syria, and possibly regenerate some of that terrorist blowback that proved so profitable in the last decade.
  • Robert Fisk: Once Washington made the Middle East tremble -- now no one there takes it seriously: Rambles a bit, but the common thread of all the examples is how little Obama and company know about the Middle East and how ridiculous that makes them look -- the scoffing of a man who does indeed know quite a lot. Also see Fisk's Iran, Not Syria, Is the West's Real Target. The surest way to perpetuate war in Syria is to view it as a proxy contest with Iran.
  • Chas Freeman: Don't Just Sit There, Bomb Something: A long-time US diplomat -- you may recall that when he initially took office Obama tried hiring Freeman as a Middle East advisor, but he was bullied into withdrawing the offer because Freeman wasn't Zionist enough. Nothing here on Israel -- a subject that actually has much to do with the equation -- but lots of useful history and perspective that seems to be lacking in the currently AIPAC-certified White House staff.
  • Glenn Greenwald: Obama, Congress and Syria: "There are few things more bizarre than watching people advocate that another country be bombed even while acknowledging that it will achieve no good outcomes other than safeguarding the 'credibility' of those doing the bombing." It will be interesting to see how Kerry's insistence that Obama has the right to bomb Syria even if Congress rejects the resolution plays out. Lack of consequences may prove liberating to Congress, allowing members to vote their conscience, or even (gasp!) the popular view, and it will probably give Republicans leeway just to vote against Obama. As Greenwald points out, the House rejected a resolution to rubber stamp Obama's bombing of Libya, and that's fed into their peculiar obsession with Benghazi.
  • Haaretz: Israel lobby strongly supports attack on Syria: "The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations said in a statement that 'failing to take action would damage the credibility of the U.S. and negatively impact the effort to prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capacity.'" So this is a case of one foreign country (Israel) using its political influence in the US to promote a war with another foreign country (Syria) in order to further its own conflict with a third foreign country (Iran).
  • Glenn Kessler: History lesson: When the United States looked the other way on chemical weapons: Argues that Syria's chemical weapons stockpile had been tacitly accepted by the US as a trade-off against Israel's unacknowledged nuclear weapons. Makes me wonder whether Iraq's chemical weapons, which never bothered the US when they were being used against Iran (and didn't raise much of a peep, at least at the time, when used against Iraq's Kurdish minority) weren't covered by a similar "understanding." Again, this shows how US failure to work out peace treaties to resolve Israel's various conflicts has helped to destabilize the entire region.
  • Michael Lind: Bye-bye, neocons: Your fantasy has finally died: Tries to sort out the major schools of US foreign policy in light of the Syria intervention question. Not sure that he has this right, or even that: "Neoconservative dreams of creating a hard-edged, neo-imperial American hegemony over the world died in the rubble of Iraq and Afghanistan." The dreams still rise in such fevered minds, and more importantly Obama hasn't come close to "changing the way we think about war." Thus far, it appears that the neocons are divided: willing to give Obama unlimited war powers, but skeptical that he will use them to their satisfaction. Lind likes to blame their war lust on Dixie macho, but their mantra is more along the lines of: what would Israel do if that small nation had the full resources of the US? Until we confront their "Iron Wall" fixation we won't be free of the neocon madness.
  • Paul Pillar: The Coming Congressional Debate on Syria: "Congress being Congress, however, let us not get too high our hopes for care and profundity in the deliberative process that is about to begin."
  • Gareth Porter: How Intelligence Was Twisted to Support an Attack on Syria: Too much here to quote, as Porter casts doubt on point after point that John Kerry insisted "we know," including the Israeli providence of intercepts. Always amazes me when they call this stuff "intelligence." Last line: "Regardless of what evidence emerges in coming weeks, we would do well to note the inconsistencies and misleading language contained in the assessment, bearing in mind the consequences of utilizing ambiguous intelligence to justify an act of war."
  • Stephen M Walt: Applying the 8 Questions of the Powel Doctrine to Syria: As opposed to the unquestioning credulity of Powell's UN speech on Iraq's WMDs. The "Powell doctrine" from 1990 was designed to prevent the US from getting into another Vietnam while allowing smaller, more limited conflicts like the 1990-91 Gulf War a free pass. Had Powell thought to apply it to Iraq in 2003, and been at all honest with himself and us, that war would probably not have passed muster. As Walt shows, Syria isn't even close.
  • Matt Welch: John Kerry's Morally, Linguistically, and Historically Obscene Case for War in Syria: Goes through Kerry's Senate testimony with a much finer comb than I had the stomach for, with a lot of revealing finds -- especially his description of the upcoming Senate vote as a "Munich moment." (JP Sottile followed up on this: When in Doubt, Say 'Hitler'; so did Conor Friedersdorf: Godwin's Corollary: In War Debates, the Probability of Hawks Invoking Hitler Approaches One). As I've written many times before, the anti-Munich taunt was never even accurate about Munich: it was rationalized after the fact, and has been used by pro-war hacks ever since then. In the current context, it means little more than, "you're a sissy if you don't pull the trigger."
  • Stephen Zunes: Eight Arguments Against Going to War With Syria: Only eight? "1) A US military attack would be illegal. 2) There is little strategic rationalization. 3) Military intervention likely would lead to more death and destruction. 4) The US has little credibility regarding chemical weapons. 5) A military attack likely would strengthen the Syrian regime. 6) A military strike likely would reduce the chances of successfully ending the war. 7) The United States is isolated in the international community. 8) The American public opposes military intervention in Syria." I'd edit out at least three "likely" qualifiers there, and as you can see from my statement, focus less on international law and hypocrisy -- although if Obama were serious about "international norms" viz. unconventional weapons (and Cole, above, quite rightly points out the US fondness for mines and cluster bombs, also condemned by international law as well as "norms") the way he could actually have an impact would be to make a case for laws above the whims of states, even the US. Zunes also misses the far more basic reason that engaging in this violence is simply wrong -- most likely he thinks he's gaining some credibility by not being one of those pacifist folks.


Given that this issue will be voted on in Congress, this is a rare time when it might actually work to put as much pressure as possible on your representatives -- especially in the case of Democrats, who seem to be especially wobbly on Obama (as well as soft on Israel). Much of Obama's own legitimacy as a presidential candidate owed to his prescient opposition to the 2003 Iraq War, but he has squandered his reputation several times over since assuming office, and nowhere more clearly than here. The same standards should be applied to all his potential successors: in particular, Hillary Clinton has once again proven her unfitness for the Oval Office. By all means be clear about that.

Daily Log

At this point the backsplash is looking pretty good. The grout edges have dried out to a very unassuming gray, which blends nicely into the blue paint as well as the stainless steel tiles. Still need to put some grout sealer on. They say wait 72 hours for that. Also need to decide between putting the paper towel holder back and installing a rectangular basket that I found -- 22 inches long, about 6 deep, would bolt onto the window sill.

Got new phones in the mail today. Need to charge them 12 hours before using them, so I just plugged the batteries in, and the transformers into a couple power strips. Hoped to mount at least some on the wall, but all the holders are designed to sit loose on desktops. Can't imagine no one else wants wall-mounted phone chargers, but it's really hard to find such things these days. Also astonishing both how cheap the phones are -- we got five cordless plus a bluetooth headset for $130 -- and how narrow the range of optional functionality is. Almost like one company in China has cornered the market, and all the brands are just fronts with minor cosmetic differences.

Watched The Bridge and Broadchurch.

Music today (JP): Brussels Jazz Orchestra, James Zollar; (RG): Szilárd Mezei, Joe McPhee, 3D, Hasidic New Wave.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Daily Log

Missed a day, something that was bound to happen sooner or later.

Music today (JP): Cacaw; (RG): Szilárd Mezei; possibly others.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 21976 [21937] rated (+39), 574 [585] unrated (-11).

Relatively slim week, especially in the unpacking section. September releases don't seem to amont to much until next week -- I have five Sept. 10 releases cued up for next week (including Lucian Ban and Vijay Iyer), four more Sept. 17 releases for the following week, and Mostly Other People Do the Killing the week after.

Wasn't initially sure whether to do The Road to Jajouka here or in Streamnotes, but the clincher was producer Billy Martin, whose Wicked Knee album, Heels Over Head, is still number two on my 2013 list -- you can make a case for him as Jazz Musician of the Year.

Looks like I should postpone my promised 1960s Recycled Goods special. Got distracted so I've been doing something else. RG will probably run later this week, although it's not clear right now when I'll hit bottom, much less resurface.


Chicago Jazz Orchestra: Burstin' Out! (2012 [2013], Origin): Originally founded in 1978, currently directed by Jeff Lindberg, don't have a good sense of their recording history (only album in their web store is this one). Also don't recognize hardy any of the big band musicians, let alone the phalanx of strings that become noticeable whenever this hits a dull patch. However, that rarely happens: the standards repertoire is stellar, and "guest vocalist" Cyrille Aimée is a real sparkplug -- best big band singer I've heard in years. B+(***)

Tom Goehring: A Reflected Journey (2013, Mengli Music): Trumpet player, based in New York, plays in big bands led by Jamie Begian and Darcy James Argue; first album on his own, a hard bop/post-bop quintet, with Roger Rosenberg on saxes/bass clarinet and Dave Leonhardt on piano. Starts with four originals, followed by five covers -- Thad Jones and Dizzy Gillespie the obvious sources. B+(**)

Craig Hartley: Books on Tape Vol. 1 (2011 [2013], self-released): Pianist, studied at Manhattan School of Music; first album, a trio with Carlo De Rosa (bass) and Henry Cole (drums), plus trumpet (Fabio Morgera) on two tracks. Originals, including one with lyrics sung by Dida Pelled, and one cover, "My Foolish Heart." B+(**) [September 3]

Tom Kennedy: Just Play! (2012 [2013], Capri): Bassist, b. 1960 in St. Louis, moved to New York in 1984, fourth album since 1996's Basses Loaded, plus one as the Kennedy Brothers with pianist Ray Kennedy, and side credits back to 1985. Star-laden nonet, two tenor saxes (George Garzone, Steve Wirts), Tim Hagans (trumpet), John Allred (trombone), Renee Rosnes (piano), two guitars (Mike Stern, Lee Ritenour), Dave Weckl (drums). One piece by Stern, most of the rest jazz standards (Ellington, Rollins, Timmons, Hubbard, Walton, Brubeck), two songbook chestnuts (Young, Porter). Rich, expansive, somehow works in a nice bass solo. B+(**)

Anya Malkiel: From the Heart (2013, self-released): Standards singer, grew up in the Soviet Union, emigrating to the US in 1990. First album, backed by piano trio, Jim Schneider on tenor sax and flute, Christian Tambur on vibes. Accent threw me off a bit. B+(*)

The Miami Saxophone Quartet: Four of a Kind (2012 [2013], Fortitude): Gary Keller on soprano, Gary Lindsay on alto, Ed Calle on tenor, Mike Brignola on baritone -- cover type changes to red for him (the name, well aside from Calle, I thought I recognized; turned out to be confusion with the late, unrelated baritonist Nick Brignola). De facto leader is Lindsay, who wrote most of the pieces and arranged the rest (sharing blame with Calle for "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star"). Usual problem with sax quartets is the lack of rhythm to push things along and harmonic limits of four instruments that can only produce one note each at a time, but these guys solve those problems the old-fashioned way, by cheating -- adding a piano trio, Svet Stoyanov on mallets, and for good measure Brian Lynch on trumpet. Together they generate big band swing, and the live audience approves. B+(***) [September 3]

Ken Peplowski: Maybe September (2012 [2013], Capri): Plays clarinet and tenor sax, has close to forty albums since 1987, several with Benny Goodman in the title, others with Ellington or Strayhorn, a mild-mannered retro-swing guy who rarely exceeds expectations, but I wound up playing this repeatedly during an afternoon of cooking and never felt the need for anything else. Basic quartet with Ted Rosenthal on piano; one original, standards by Berlin and Warren; nods to Ellington, Poulenc, and Artie Shaw; a Lennon-McCartney I can live with, a "Caroline, No" I relish. B+(***)

The Road to Jajouka: A Benefit Album (2013, Howe): Known nowadays as the Master Musicians of Jajouka led by Bachir Attar, the Moroccan institution first came to worldwide attention when Brian Jones (Rolling Stones, you might recall) released a 1968 album of theirs called The Pipes of Pan at Jajouka. Attar would have been four at the time, the son of then-leader Hadj Abdesalam Attar. They have scattered albums of their own -- AMG lists eight starting with the Jones affair (which, by the way, was certainly the first album from Africa or the Middle East I ever heard) -- but this one they owe to western intermediaries: above all, Billy Martin (of Medeski & Wood fame), whose illybeats lay the techno-fusion foundation for a parade of guests, including Marc Ribot, DJ Logic, Lee Ranaldo, John Zorn, Bill Laswell, and Ornette Coleman. A-

Clark Sommers: Clark Sommers' Ba(SH) (2012 [2013], Origin): Bassist, b. 1977 in Lake Forest, IL; claims 40 side credits over last 15 years, but this is first album under his own name. Trio, with Geof Bradfield (tenor/soprano sax, bass clarinet) and Dana Hall (drums). Moderately paced postbop, much depending on the saxophonist to shape and articulate the tone on top of the base lines, and pretty successful at that. B+(**)

Manuel Valera & New Cuban Express: Expectativas (2013, Mavo): Pianist, from Cuba, moved to US to study at New School around 1994, has a half-dozen albums since 2004. Band includes Yosvany Terry (sax), Tom Guarna (guitar), John Benitez (electric bass), and various percussionists. Lots of sophisticated stop-start rhythmic breaks, seems to be the Afro-Cuban signature. B+(*)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Jeri Brown: Echoes (Jongleur Productions, 2CD)
  • The Matthew Finck Jonathan Ball Project: It's Not That Far (self-released): October 1
  • Michael Moss/Billy Stein: Intervals (4th Stream)
  • Matthew Shipp: Piano Sutras (Thirsty Ear): Setpember 24

Daily Log

Grouted the backsplash today. Thought it looked good as I was doing it, but I evidently mopped up too much with the sponge, leaving me with relatively deep cracks between the mosaic tile. Also seems the small tiles are glued on at irregular angles, so a lot of jitteriness. We'll see how this looks when it all dries. Could be that a little raggedness isn't such a bad thing.

I was pretty wiped out by the time I was done. Wanted to order a pizza (which Laura doesn't eat these "gluten free" days), but asked for fish, but the shop seems to have been closed. I went out for dinner instead, stopping at Hog Wild only to find they're closed today (Labor Day), and wound up at a deli with a BLT. Watched Under the Dome, which is killing off characters at a pretty rapid pace.

Music today (JP): Anya Malkiel, Cacaw; (RG): Nu Band, Leszek Kulakowski, Ravish Momin, Yuri Yaremchuk.


Laura wrote this as a possible press release for the Peace Center on Syria:

What the president is proposing is an act of war, and illegal, since international law says only the UN can intervene militarily. We oppose any military attack on Syria because 1) It will not help end the civil war, but only make it worse - even the refugee crisis has grown worse in recent weeks because of the fear of US bombs. 2) The US has no moral standing in this: we used chemical warfare ourselves when we used depleted uranium and white phosphorus on Falluja, we defended Saddam Hussein when he used poison gas on Iranian troops in 1984, and Iraqi towns in 1988, and Vietnam is still recovering from napalm and Agent Orange. We and the UK are the main producers and sellers of these very chemical weapons. 3) There are non-violent ways to help the refugees and stop the violence -- at the least we should pressure Russia and Iran to stop supplying Assad with more deadly weapons, and we should pressure Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates to stop supplying the rebels with more deadly weapons. 4) In addition, we like most Americans, want to see our resources going to rebuilding this country and fixing our massive environmental and social problems.

She then asked me to look at it and comment, and I was in the middle of trying to do something else, so I put her off -- something she wasn't very happy about. I finally looked at it in the middle of the night. Nothing wrong with what she said, but I think the emphasis should be shifted a bit, and it might help to end on an action note. I tried to keep close to her length -- don't know why she chose that -- and jotted down the following:

The Civil War in Syria is both tragedy and folly: tragedy for the 100,000 people who have been killed since the Assad regime met demonstrations for democracy with bullets and opponents of the regime tried to overthrow it by armed struggle, and folly because by resorting to violence both sides are only deepening the nation's wounds. The only solution is for both sides to cease fire and seek help in mediating their differences. A big part of the reason this hasn't happened is that foreign countries have chosen sides and are sending in arms to further fuel the fire: Russia and Iran back Assad, while Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and Turkey support the insurgents, and such aid gives both sides hope that they will triumph in a war which, like all wars, only has losers. Meanwhile, Lebanon is divided and fears that the war will spread, and Israel has been more or less at war with Syria since 1948, and has perpetuated hostilities by occupying the Syrian (aka Golan) Heights since 1967 -- much of the reason Syria is so militarized and so autocratic can be traced back to its losing conflict with Israel. Nor has the United States done anything to end the war in Syria. In particular, President Obama has made a series of unfortunate statements -- stating that "Assad must go," offering arms to the insurgents, declaring a "red line" over the use of chemical weapons, and most recently asking Congress for a resolution to endorse his desire to launch missiles at undisclosed targets in Syria. No one -- not even Obama -- thinks that bombing Syria will do anything but prolong and escalate the killing and suffering. So why do it? Supposedly it has something to do with the president's "credibility" -- so that people will understand that when they cross his "red lines" they will face a stiff punishment. But that only makes sense if you assume that the US has a right to interfere in every other nation's business, and an obligation to be judge and executioner over other peoples. Even more critically, it assumes we are so prescient as to use our powers wisely. Unfortunately, from the CIA's 1953 coup against a liberal democratic government in Iran up to Obama's latest tantrum over Syria, it is hard to think of a single instance when this was true of the US in the Middle East. But at least this time, Obama has given us, through Congress, a chance to reject the drumbeat of war. We should take this opportunity and resoundingly say, "hell no, we won't go!"

Should probably be split into multiple paragraphs. As for shortening it, well, what point do you want to drop? As yesterday's post showed, there is a lot more that could be added.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Suppose They Gave a War and Nobody Came

The best piece I've seen recently on Washington's incessant drumbeat for intervening militarily in Syria is Stephen M Walt: We're Going to War Because We Just Can't Stop Ourselves:

Yet we now appear to be getting ready to drop a lot of ordnance on Syria -- and for a pretty flimsy reason. John Kerry is outraged that Assad's forces have used chemical weapons -- or so he believes -- but as I've noted before, that fact (if true) is not dispositive. Assad's forces have already killed tens of thousands with good old-fashioned high explosive, which is much more effective than sarin in most cases. Yes, chemical weapons are illegal and yes, there's a taboo against their use, but going to war solely to reinforce a rather unimportant norm is a poor reason. The fact that Assad is killing innocent people with this particular tool and not some other equally nasty tool is not by itself a reason to get involved.

What is most striking about this affair is how Obama seems to have been dragged, reluctantly, into doing something that he clearly didn't want to do. He probably knows bombing Syria won't solve anything or move us closer to a political settlement. But he's been facing a constant drumbeat of pressure from liberal interventionists and other hawks, as well as the disjointed Syrian opposition and some of our allies in the region. He foolishly drew a "red line" a few months back, so now he's getting taunted with the old canard about the need to "restore U.S. credibility." This last argument is especially silly: If being willing to use force was the litmus test of a president's credibility, Obama is in no danger whatsoever. Or has everyone just forgotten about his decision to escalate in Afghanistan, the bombing of Libya, and all those drone strikes?

Since Walt wrote those words, the UK Parliament voted against joining in the American folly. First time that's happened, so I'm reminded of the 1960s sign, "suppose they gave a war and nobody came?" And today, Obama announced that he'll seek Congressional authority before he'll launch that war, and John Boehner slated the House vote on Sept. 9. So while the chatterers on last night's Washington Week were excitedly expecting a volley of cruise missiles before Obama's trip to Russia next week, retribution is at least ten days away.

Lots of things can happen in those ten days. The UN will get a chance to finish its evaluation of the alleged chemical weapons attack, and debate its own legal recourse. (Any American attack without UN sanction would be illegal under international law, not that the threat of war crimes trials has ever stopped the US in the past.) Obama will have some face time to negotiate with Putin in Russia. Someone might realize that there is a new president in Iran who might be more amenable to diplomatic measures than the previous one. (Not that there is any justification for the popular notion that the Syrian Civil War is a "proxy fight" between Iran and "pro-Western forces" -- you know, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.) And Congress might decide to buck its 20% approval rating and do something that actually aligns popularly with the wishes of the American people. Also expect some large anti-war rallies along the way.

In Congress, opposition to a resolution giving Obama the option to "use force" will be bipartisan. How that breaks depends a lot on how much pressure Obama puts on Democrats to give their president the benefit of their doubts: the more so the more Democrats he gets, and the fewer Republicans. From the Wichita Eagle today, I know that Tim Huelskamp will oppose in any case, but I also see Mike Pompeo very critical of "a warning shot across the bow" -- he wants what he calls a "robust response," but since Obama is unlikely to satisfy his bloodlust, he too may oppose. (In this he's not as bloodthirsty as John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who'll take what they can get and pray the war gets worse and we get sucked in ever deeper -- although I've seen reports of even them holding out for a more resolution that commits the US to toppling Assad.) Also, his patron David Koch has come out against intervention.

And while the Senate seems more likely to consent than advise, can't we at least expect a fillibuster?

Some things I've been reading as I try to catch up (much more pro-hawk than I'd like; cartoons from Truthdig):


The Syrian Civil War is a great human tragedy, and a decent United States government should do everything reasonable to help bring it to a just and peaceful solution. However, a decent US government would not have conspired to overthrow the democratic government of Iran in 1953, nor subsidized and rationalized Israel's aggressive war in 1967 and occupation of Syrian and Palestinian land ever since then, nor subsidized a civil war in Afghanistan since 1979, nor countenanced let alone abetted Israel's interference in Lebanon from 1982-2000 (again in 2006), nor supported Iraq in their 1980s war against Iran, nor repeatedly and almost promiscuously bombed Libya and Sudan and Iraq and Afghanistan (and with drones much more, from Somalia to Pakistan), nor helped Egypt and Jordan and Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States suppress democratic movements for decades, nor invaded and fomented a civil war in Iraq from 2003-09, and that list goes on and on -- did I mention Yemen yet? Nor is there much evidence that anything that the US consciously tried to do in the Middle East has actually turned out the way expected. The bottom line here is that the US has no credibility trying to insert itself, militarily or clandestinely, anywhere in the entire region. And the degree of US failure in the region isn't exactly a secret. The regimes we put in place in Iran and Egypt proved to be so corrupt and hated that they led to revolutions. And US acts have generated blowback like kidnappings and bombings including the 1983 Beirut event and the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. We should know better by now. After all, we have laws like "3 strikes and you're out" which seek to prevent serial offenders from ever getting another chance to do ill -- yet the CIA and the DOD goes on and on, from one blunder to another.

So the first reason why the US shouldn't intervene in Syria is that we've proven that we're absolutely incapable of doing so in a way that doesn't make things worse. The second reason is that in order to quit intervening (and making matters worse), we need to break down the institutional support for doing so. They only way to stop making these mistakes in the future is to deny ourselves the ability to make them. (Then you won't have some Madeleine Albright character coming around and taunting you with "what's the point of having this magnificent military if you never use it?")

Beyond this obvious point there is a more profound one, which is that war or the threat of war almost never resolves a conflict without making it much worse, at least in the short run. Lots of people don't recognize this, and that's a big problem, but we can run through hundreds of cases, and it's really hard to find cases where wars couldn't have been profitably avoided had people made the effort to negotiate just solutions ahead of time. A corollary here is that the defense dogma -- the idea that we can avoid war by preparing a strong military defense -- is utter bullshit, as anyone can see by looking at the how often the dominant military power wound up using that power (e.g., the UK in the 18th-19th centuries, and the US since 1945; in between the dominant power was mostly Germany, which doesn't counter my point).

So again, on these grounds, what the US should be doing is cutting back its military power (including the CIA and NSA), not blundering its way into more wars.

So far these are just general statements that would apply anywhere to any such conflict, such as the decisions to invade Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. While those instances were disastrous enough they shouldn't generate much controversy, the models that you hear socalled experts jaw about as pertaining to Syria are Kosovo in 1998 and Libya in 2008 -- air-only campaigns that are commonly remembered as successful, mostly because our memory is rather selective, and is focused rigidly on minimal costs to us as opposed to the suffering of actual people in the countries the US claimed to be helping. Two points here: one is that neither of those cases weaken by one iota the general principles above; the other is that many of the specific circumstances that made Kosovo and Libya relatively manageable are not applicable to Syria. (Also note that Libya turned out not to be as painless as originally thought, as several Americans were killed in blowback against a CIA base in Benghazi.)

Given the above, we shouldn't have to argue specifics about Syria, but some are worth noting. The first is that Syria is approximately the same size and population as Iraq and Afghanistan: two countries that the US was able to quickly invade but never quite pacify. Unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, it has a stronger, more modernized military that is actively supplied by Russia and Iran. It has a functioning air force and anti-aircraft defenses, intermediate range missiles, and evidently some chemical weapons -- none of which Iraq had in working order in 2003, or Afghanistan had ever. So the bottom line there is that Syria would be more difficult, at least more painful, for the US to invade than Iraq was. That Obama isn't contemplating "boots on the ground" pretty much acknowledges this difficulty.

That in turn brings back the question of the effectiveness of airpower only. That was widely debated a decade ago, when Bush decided to invade Iraq, arguing that the "no flight" zones that the US had enforced over Iraq for more than a decade had no real effect on Saddam Hussein's control within Iraq. For many reasons Syria is more similar to Iraq than it is to Kosovo or Libya, so what article of faith makes people think that "no flight" zones and periodic bombing that didn't work in Iraq would work now? (On the contrary, Syria's superior air defenses make at least some observers think the opposite.) The only thing that makes Syria seem more vulnerable is the ongoing civil war, which has broken Assad's power in several scattered areas of the country. That opens up the possibility that the US could arm and direct rebel armies as proxy "boots on the ground" -- that the US could fashion a combination of sophisticated weaponry and tight air support that would eventually defeat Syria's professional army, air force, and security services.

That was, after all, what basically happened in Libya, but: Syria is a more populous country with a larger, better equipped, and much better trained army; taking out Syria's air defenses would be a major undertaking, whereas Libya's were wiped out in two days; Assad has a much larger internal security organization than Gaddafi had (in large part because he had been challenged much more before the civil war broke out); Assad (or his regime) is also, by any conceivable measure, much more popular within Syria than Gaddafi was in Libya -- moreover, the split in Syria is largely sectarian, which quickly hardened the lines in the civil war, and raised fears of mass killings (especially if Assad loses); meanwhile, the anti-Assad forces are split and scattered, and it seems very likely that even if they defeated Assad they would wind up fighting among themselves (as did the Afghans).

Most of those problems can be overcome if the US is desperate and committed enough to make the investments and bear the pain -- pilots shot down, CIA operatives lost, etc. But neither Obama nor the DOD (see Dempsey's testimony above) really seem up for that level of involvement, so they are vulnerable to the charge that whatever they do will won't be enough to get the job done. But the latter is the real vexing problem. It turns out that the most militant of the anti-Assad forces are affiliated with Al-Qaida, making our worst enemies in the region our best friends in this particular battle (and not for the first time -- recall Afghanistan in the 1980s, when Osama Bin Laden got his first taste for blood working for the US war effort). A good indication of how big a problem this is can be gleaned by the fact that some months ago Obama decided to start arming the Syrian rebels, but now we know that the US hasn't delivered any of those arms, mostly because we haven't found any rebels we trust with those arms.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but if you can't find any Syrian rebel groups to arm, the strategy that is based on arming the rebels isn't really an option. So that leaves you with the plan that says you're just going to bomb shit until Assad cries uncle. OK, that one worked in Kosovo, but there the Serbs had the option of just retreating into Serbia, where they were unthreatened (an option that Assad, and more importantly his sectarian supporters, lack). But what Obama's proposing isn't even that: it's that, like, the US is going to bomb Syria until we feel like we've punished Assad enough, then leave him be until he pisses us off again, at which point we'll bomb him some more, and maybe, eventually, he'll get tired of it, or we'll get tired of it, or something.

The more you dig into these specifics, the less reason you can come up with why anything the US is likely to do is likely to come anywhere close to working. It's certainly true that a dictator who responds to peaceful demonstrations by shooting people or firing artillery into whole cities has no right to continue ruling. He should be arrested and hauled before the ICC, or dealt with appropriately by a local court. On the other hand, demonstrators who respond to such provocations by starting an insurrection, leading to a civil war resulting in over 100,000 deaths, don't deserve to rule either. Nor do you ever want to set up a situation where people simply because they are affiliated with a sectarian group -- sunnis, alawites, kurds, christians; you can slice and dice Syria dozens of ways -- are put at risk simply because people associate those groups with various power factions. All that has happened in Syria, and, sure, someone needs to sort it out, but it can't be the US, it can't be Israel, it can't be Turkey, it can't be the Arab League, it can't be Russia, it can't be Iran, it can't be Hezbollah; it has to be done in Syria, and sooner or later the factions (if not the individual leaders) need to learn to live together and accommodate one another. Maybe a non-violent group like the UN could facilitate in a useful way, and it would probably help if everyone else get behind them in some way. But what doesn't help at all is for outsiders to try to align with inside groups.

If you'll indulge a fantasy solution, it's that while Obama and Putin are drinking in Moscow next week they'll agree to freeze arms shipments to Syria, press whatever other countries they have any influence with (Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia for the US; Iran for Russia) to do the same; insist on a cease-fire with no jockeying for control; get Syria to bring the UN in to oversee dismantling their chemical arms (which, as with Iraq in the 1990s, are more a liability than an asset); negotiate a broad framework for opening up the existing Syrian government to democratic reforms while at the same time ensuring minority rights (e.g., from the sort of overreach the Muslim Brotherhood tried in Egypt). Even if the latter parts of this fantasy are a tough sell in Damascus, any sort of international arms embargo would start to starve out the war, whereas Obama's current plans can only escalate it.

And by the way, the demonization of Assad (which I admittedly did a bit of above) isn't helpful. While it might be ideal to see everyone on every side responsible for any death brought to justice, these conflicts usually end in broad amnesties and it is better to have lifted the burden of revenge. (Even the US let Robert E. Lee retire from the battlefield.) Again, Iraq offers a good example of what not to do: the demonization of Saddam Hussein gave the regime no reason to compromise or liberalize, and the complete sacking of the Baath state and army led directly to chaos and civil war which still smolders today. One thing that makes today's hawks so dangerous is that they haven't begun to come to grips with their tragic mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Two more points need to be made, if only briefly:

The first is that Israel has had an enormous impact on the thinking of America's hawks, and that this has completely distorted their sense of America's interests in the region. Israel's deepest desire is to preserve its unity and ethos as a warrior-settler state, which means it has no desire for conflict resolution. In 1951 Syria was the first Arab state to seek a peace agreement with Israel, and they were rebuffed. Israel initiated many border skirmishes with Syria over the next 16 years, after which they occupied and annexed a substantial strip of Syrian territory, now called the Golan Heights. Since then, Israel has kept Syria as a close enemy, and that status has informed America's own troubled relationship with Syria -- despite occasional attempts by Syria to cozy up to the US, especially when they supported the Gulf War against Iraq. But Syria could never make peace with Israel as long as Israel held onto Syrian territory, and Syria had no choice but to depend on Russia for weapons in a region with many enemies. The only real US interest in the region is for peace, free trade, and free capital flows, and that's the opposite of Israel's warrior-settler interest. Yet because US policy has been so reflexively stupid for so long, Israel can easily manipulate the US into opposing its enemies -- Iran has been the big project since Iraq was defanged in 1991 -- and as such we keep feeding the conflicts that Israel depends on.

If Obama were to make peace with Syria and Iran, he would move a long way toward freeing American foreign policy from the perverse stranglehold of Israel.

The second, and last, point I want to make here is that growing Republican opposition to Middle Eastern entanglements is the logical outcome of their racism and Islamophobia. I wouldn't want to support their thinking in those terms, but at least it gets you to the right policy answer, which is disengagement. The right were the first to see that the Syrian rebels were mostly sunni fundamentalists, and that arming them is equivalent to arming Al-Qaida. (The liberal hawks, on the other hand, reflexively see only fellow liberal hawks in the region.) If Obama's war powers resolution fails in Congress, it will largely be a victim of Republican nativism. That's not the best reason to vote against Obama, but it's the right vote.

Daily Log

Took Laura to acupuncture, for what will be the last time in three months -- her therapist is going to Kazakhstan, where her aged mother lives. Did some grocery shopping, and had dinner at Yen Ching. Watched Breaking Bad and Copper.

Music today (JP): Chicago Jazz Orchestra, Clark Sommers; (RG): The Resonance Ensemble, Kris Wanders.


Aug 2013 Oct 2013