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Monday, July 28, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 23570 [23527] rated (+43), 541 [548] unrated (-7).

Finally got hot here in Wichita last week, so I spent most of my time inside, listening to music, trying to add some flesh to the bones of a Rhapsody Streamnotes column that should be posted before July burns out. The new jazz queue is running low, and much of what remains (possibly including some records below) doesn't officially release until September, so I focused on Rhapsody. So I wound up going for old jazz, glancing at my Penguin Guide 4-star list but digging a little deeper when something caught my fancy -- for instance, Trevor Watts' The Deep Blue was never reviewed by Penguin Guide (although an earlier, similar solo album was). The Chris Anderson and Nancy Harrow twofers also came out later: Anderson I looked up when I was doing his Charlie Haden duo last week, and I noticed Harrow as a side-effect.

The big discovery was Conrad Bauer's wonderful Zentralquartett. I had previously heard (and graded A-) their 2006 album, 11 Songs -- Aus Teutschen Landen, back when I was on Intakt's mailing list, and had long had Plié on my "shopping list," so I expected good things and found even better. Intakt is making more and more of their catalogue available on Rhapsody, and I'm picking them up about as fast as I can find them: 27 in past Streamnotes columns (including a deep dive into Irène Schweizer's work -- her Portrait and Alexander von Schlippenbach's Monk's Casino were the two top releases of my tenure with the label) -- and eight more below. I'll also note that when I received them, their jewel boxes were packed precisely into indestructible mailers, by far the most impressive attention to detail I've seen. (Swiss, you know.)

Not much in the mail this week, but there was one prize, a book by Rick Lopez: The William Parker Sessionography: A Work in Progress. Back cover says, "Attempting a complete historical arc." The book comes to 482 large (8.5x11-inch) pages with 370 illustrations, paperback, weighs 3.2 lbs., and sells for $50 list. The data has long been accumulating on Lopez's website, conveniently in one huge file here, and it chronicles everything Parker played since January 19, 1974 (or February 1, 1974, since Parker noted that he was not at the previous concert), up to the moment. The book, of course, will be instantly obsolete -- the last entry there is for the four sets Parker played at the Nineteenth Annual Vision Festival June 11-15 this year, but it's lovely just to thumb through.

Presumably I got my copy because Lopez used a quote of mine as a blurb: "I want to point out the wonderful discographies that Rick Lopez has produced . . . -- treasure troves of information, some of the finest scholarship available on the internet today." As the plural indicates, Parker has not been the only musician blessed with Lopez's attention, but he has been by far the most prodigious. The quote saves me from writing a review -- not that I won't someday -- but for now let's add that it's also, or should soon be, some of the finest scholarship available in America's finer libraries.

My quote, by the way, comes from a piece I originally wrote for Static in 2003, called Bass Fiddles and Nu Bop: A Consumer Guide to William Parker, Matthew Shipp, et al., which offered Consumer Guide-style reviews to 57 albums. (The link goes to my archive, which includes many additional notes -- that's where you'll find the blurb comment.) The idea for the piece came up after Shipp and Thirsty Ear sent me a huge pile of albums for my Rolling Stone Record Guide entry on Shipp, then Steven Joerg of AUM Fidelity matched that with a deep selection of Parker's work for his label. Several other musicians and label heads helped out, and I made a few strategic purchases. At the time, I distilled a discography from Lopez's data (and other non-Parker sources), listing 259 records, 97 of which I had heard. At some point I should collect all the subsequent reviews and create an updated page -- there must be another 50-100 records since 2003, depending on tightly we narrow the focus on Parker.

A couple more listening notes: I finally broke down and gave the new Miles Davis bootleg one fast 4-hour spin, so the grade there is very perfunctory. The Jarrett-Corea combo is more famous than great, with neither doing what they do best but having fun nonetheless. There's a good chance that comparative listening would have found some chunks (relatively speaking) in this particular set -- certainly Dark Magus and Live at Philharmonic Hall are superior. I note that the one the new release build on is the second weakest of the five -- the worst is the slightly earlier Miles Davis Live at the Fillmore East (March 7, 1970), with Jarrett-Corea the main culprits. Still, I haven't listened to any of those records in years, so it's possible that I was swayed by the reacquaintance with the always attractive trumpet-on-rhythm shtick. On the other hand, the 4-CD set offers more choices that are less exhausting than one 4-hour fly-through. And like I said, listening through my computer I can neither confirm nor deny reports of superior sound. In a set this size, all this matters more than usual. This is one case where I requested a copy and didn't get a reply.

The New Orleans Rhythm Kings also got a relatively cursory one-shot listen. Again, actual CDs would have been a plus, but I was inclined to be generous: I have about half of this on a 1992 Milestone release (the Jelly Roll Morton sides), a set I love, and the sound here (even on computer) is clearly better; the record is a Penguin Guide Crown selection, historically important -- the sort of thing many of us would want to have just to have a proper overview of the history -- and the last third or so simply blew me away. Normally, I wouldn't give a full A to a record heard just once, but consider this a very educated guess.

That's probably true of Cecil Taylor's Silent Tongues as well, but being a single I gave it two spins. What I didn't do was any comparative listening to other Taylor solos, of which there are many. Penguin Guide has this at 4-stars, but they rate two others even higher (For Olim and The Tree of Life, both in their "core collection"). I have those records at B and B+ respectively, last heard long ago and quite possibly underrated. With Taylor as with Tatum, you are probably an all-or-nothing type -- at least most critics are, Morton & Cook included. I'm not: I admire both but don't want to be inundated by either, and I recall I went through a stage where a lot of Taylor's stuff turned me off.

More depth on all of this in Rhapsody Streamnotes, out later this week. Don't know whether I'll continue this pace into August. Maybe travel of something to take a break. By the way, three A- records among the relatively hit-and-miss new records. One was recommended by Jason Gubbels, one came off Chris Monsen's list, one came from both plus Michael Tatum (who gave me the first heads up). Also one A which just popped up in my mailbox.


Recommended music links:


New records rated this week:

  • Dee Alexander: Songs My Mother Loves (2014, Blujazz): shows Mom has good taste, daughter has the spunk, and Chicago friends help out [cd]: B+(**)
  • Gerald Beckett: The Messenger (2013 [2014], Summit): flute jazz, flittering over boppish sax, sloshing along agreeably [cd]: B
  • Todd Bishop Group: Travelogue (2014, Origin): flighty postbop quartet, with Richard Cole on reeds, Weber Iago (dba Jasnam Daya Singh) on piano [cd]: B
  • Drew Ceccato/Adam Tinkle: Eidolon (2014, Edgetone): sax duo, free and prickly but rather hemmed in, as if wondering when the drummer will appear [cd]: B+(*)
  • Dagens Ungdom: Dagens Ungdom (2014, Metronomicon Audio): Norwegian pop-rock band, reportedly jangly but I'm struck by the elegant flow, not that I know [r]: B+(***)
  • Drumheller: Sometimes Machine (2014, Barnyard): Canadian quintet, alto-trombone-guitar-bass-drums, rotating all around, free-ish but slight [r]: B+(*)
  • Dub Thompson: 9 Songs (2013 [2014], Dead Oceans, EP): EP from two 19-year-olds who have digested postpunk from Pere Ubu on and aren't timid about noize [r]: A-
  • The Equity & Social Justice Quartet: The Whisper of Flowers (2013 [2014], Edgetone): genteel free jazz from the Bay Area people's republic [cd]: B+(**)
  • Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott: What Have We Become (2014, Virgin): post-Beautiful Southies struggling in the real world, their sound to comfort [cd]: A-
  • Dave Kain: Raising Kain (2014, Stop Time): guitarist backed with bass and drums, mainstream grooves but not obviously in anyone's school [cd]: B+(**)
  • Søren Kjaegaard/Ben Street/Andrew Cyrille: Syvmileskridt (2014, ILK Music): piano trio, moderate tempos, seems basic but builds stature [bc]: B+(***)
  • La Dispute: Rooms of the House (2014, Vagrant): Michigan post-hardcore grind opens up for Jordan Dreyer's more-spoken-than-sung vocals [r]: B+(***)
  • Le1f: Hey (2014, Terrible/XL, EP): ex-Greedhead rapper/beatmaker makes baby steps to big label stardom, relying on margins between catchy and weird [r]: B+(**)
  • Terry Marshall: Arrival (2014, self-released): run-of-the-mill jazz-funk pianist, heavy with vocals that grow more stilted the jazzier they aim [cd]: C+
  • Bob Mould: Beauty & Pain (2014, Merge): sure it's a comeback, has his trademark sound, even puts that aside for a couple decent songs [r]: B+(**)
  • Real Estate: Atlas (2014, Domino): easy-going, tuneful alt-rock, the gentle lope touched up with a bit of guitar jangle [r]: B+(**)
  • Jochen Rueckert: We Make the Rules (2014, Whirlwind): drummer-led postbop quartet, powered by Lage Lund guitar, flavored by Mark Turner sax [cd]: B+(**)
  • Paul Shapiro: Shofarot Verses (2013 [2014], Tzadik): "rhythm & Jews" thing, honking sax and shofar vying with best-ever Marc Ribot guitar and more [cdr]: A
  • Vinnie Sperrazza: Apocryphal (2012 [2014], Loyal Label): drummer, writes for Loren Stillman-Brandon Seabrook-Eivind Opsvik, alto weepy, guitar powerhouse [cd]: B+(**)
  • Peter Van Huffel/Michael Bates/Jeff Davis: Boom Crane (2013 [2014], Fresh Sound New Talent): free sax trio, leader jagged but so much more in the bass and drums [r]: A-

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • Miles Davis: Miles at the Fillmore (Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 3) (1970 [2014], Columbia/Legacy, 4CD): four nights complete, funk grooves with trumpet and rough spots [r]: B+(***)
  • Nancy Harrow: Wild Women Don't Have the Blues/You Never Know (1960-62 [2014], Fresh Sound): a breeze with Buck Clayton's stars, second makes her work [r]: B+(***)
  • Craig Leon: Early Electronic Works: Nommos Visiting (1981-82 [2014], Aparté): Ramones producer indulges in Eno-Hassel-like exotica, erring on the pop-dance side [r]: A-

Old records rated this week:

  • George Adams/Don Pullen: Don't Lose Control (1979 [1980], Soul Note): [r]: B+(***)
  • George Adams-Don Pullen Quartet: Life Line (1981, Timeless): [r]: B+(*)
  • George Adams & Don Pullen: Melodic Excursions (1982, Timeless): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Chris Anderson Trio: Inverted Image/My Romance (1960-61 [2012], Fresh Sound): little-known Chicago pianist, two buoyant trio albums early, more noticed in 1990s [r]: A-
  • Conrad Bauer: Hummelsummen (2002 [2003], Intakt): wide-ranging solo trombone exercises, subject to the usual limits but gives them a rush [r]: B+(**)
  • Conrad Bauer/Johannes Bauer: Bauer Bauer (1993 [1995], Intakt): two brothers, two trombones, the extra dding harmonic lustre to the limited sonics [r]: B+(**)
  • Conrad Bauer/Peter Kowald/Günter Sommer: Between Heaven and Earth (2001 [2003], Intakt): starts with freaky bass sounds; trombone answers, supersedes [r]: A-
  • Fred Hersch: Fred Hersch Plays Rodgers & Hammerstein (1996, Nonesuch): slyly, artfully, improvising to hide the familiar refrains and make them not matter [r]: B+(***)
  • New Orleans Rhythm Kings: The Complete Set: 1922-1925 (1922-25 [2001], Retrieval, 2CD): pathbreaking early jazz group, with and without Jelly Roll Morton [r]: A
  • Don Pullen: Healing Force (1976, Black Saint): early solo piano, more muscle than finesse, acute rhythmic sense but no signature thrills [r]: B+(**)
  • The Don Pullen Quintet: The Sixth Sense (1985, Black Saint): muddled group, avant rhythm section, postbop/retro horns (Olu Dara, Donald Harrison) [r]: B
  • The Cecil Taylor Quartet: Looking Ahead! (1958 [1990], Contemporary/OJC): sprightly piano trio plus vibes to trick up the odder rhythms, looking but not there yet [r]: B+(***)
  • Cecil Taylor: Silent Tongues (1974, Arista/Freedom): if not his best solo album, the first to show off his whole bag of tricks without tricking you [r]: A-
  • Cecil Taylor: Algonquin (1999 [2004], Bridge): duo with Mat Maneri, the violin darkly shrouding the powerhouse piano [r]: B+(***)
  • Trevor Watts Moiré Music Trio: Moire (1995, Intakt): alto/soprano sax trio, the repeat patterns built on Paapa Mensah's African drums [r]: A-
  • Trevor Watts: The Deep Blue (2008 [2009], Jazzwerkstatt): solo trick, marvellous sax runs over tasty but clean rhythm tracks of synth & percussion [r]: A-
  • Zentralquartett [Conrad Bauer/Günter Sommer/Ulrich Gumpert/Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky]: Zentralquartett (1990 [2001], Intakt): mixed bag of trombone-drums-piano-alto sax [r]: B+(***)
  • Zentralquartett: Plié (1994, Intakt): Bauer's trombone the engine here, allowing the alto sax to dwell in the stratosphere, rhythm go boogie [r]: A
  • Zentralquartett: Careless Love (1997 [1998], Intakt): so many facets to this group, courting chaos, or minimalism, or waltzing with W.C. Handy [r]: A-
  • Zentralquartett/Synopsis: Auf Der Elbe Schwimmt Ein Rosa Krokodil (1974 [2008], Intakt): the full fury (and youth) of the times, closer spectacular [r]: A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Danny Fox Trio: Wide Eyed (Hot Cup)
  • Eric Harland's Voyager: Vipassana (GSI Studios): advance, August 11
  • Rick Lopez: The William Parker Sessionography: A Work in Progress (Centering): book
  • Amanda Ruzza/Mauricio Zottarelli: Glasses, No Glasses (Pimenta Music): September 8
  • Reggie Watkins: One for Miles, One for Maynard (Corona Music): August 26


Miscellaneous notes:

  • Craig Leon: Early Electronic Works: Nommos/Visiting (1981-82 [2014], Aparte): Best known as the producer of rock albums, starting in the 1970s with eponymous LPs Ramones, Blondie, and Suicide along with Richard Hell & the Voidoids' Blank Generation, later Dwight Twilley, The Bangles, and the Go-Betweens' Tallulah, and much later classical albums, but in the early 1980s he released these two albums of electronic music -- too beatwise for "new music" but not snappy enough for techno, closest in spirit to the ambient exotica Jon Hassell was developing, but sui generis nonetheless. [Also available on 2LP as Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music Vol. 1: Nommos/Visiting (RVNG Intl.); this CD edition appears to be missing one 15:20 track.] A- [rhapsody]

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Weekend Roundup

Scattered links this week, mostly Israel (but what else can one do?). Information is less forthcoming in the world's other hotspots -- Libya has emerged as one, alongside Syria and Iraq, and Ukraine. One thing I wonder about the latter is how intense the fighting has been as the central government attempts to beat down the seccessionists. It seems likely that Russia provided the latter with the BUK missile believed to have shot down the Malaysian Airlines plane, and that the rocket was fired by someone expecting Ukrainian military planes rather than a neutral airliner. The downed airliner should be a cautionary lesson for both sides, but instead has been up as a political tool, to villify Russia, making matters worse rather than better. I don't doubt that there is some amount of villainy on the Russian side, but the other side (Ukraine? Europe? America?) is hardly innocent either, and restarting the Cold War will only be worse for all. At times like this, one needs statesmen. Instead, all we got is Obama, hounded by spooks like Lindsey Graham.

Let's start with a couple twitter images, reportedly Gaza City's Sheijayia neighborhood before and after Israeli bombing. Not the same views, but you get the idea:

Meanwhile, back to the links:


  • Mustafa Akyol: Turkey Can Teach Israel How to End Terror: Turkey had battled Kurdish separatists since 1984, their approach described by one of their generals as "killing all terrorists one by one." A couple years ago Turkey changed its approach, started negotiating with PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, and has largely resolved the problem. (Was it a coincidence that Turkey's change coincided with the ending of their alliance with Israel?)

    The Kurds were not angry at Turkey because they were innately prone to violence. They were angry because Turkey had done something grievously wrong to them. And a peace agreement became possible only when the Turkish public and the state acknowledged this fact.

    If Israel is ever going to achieve peace, Israelis will have to overcome their own self-righteous hawkishness as well -- and abandon the intellectually lazy reflex that explains Palestinian militancy as the natural product of Arab and Islamic culture's supposedly violent nature.

  • Uri Avnery: Once and for All!: Of course, it isn't really this symmetric, but the headline talking points could be solved easily:

    In this war, both sides have the same aim: to put an end to the situation that existed before it started.

    Once And For All!

    To put an end to the launching of rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip, Once And For All!

    To put an end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip by Israel and Egypt, Once And For All!

    So why don't the two sides come together without foreign interference and agree on tit for tat?

    They can't because they don't speak to each other. They can kill each other, but they cannot speak with each other. God forbid.

    This is not a war on terror. The war itself is an act of terror.

    Neither side has a strategy other than terrorizing the civilian population of the other side. [ . . . ]

    Both hopes are, of course, stupid. History has shown time and again that terrorizing a population causes it to unite behind its leaders and hate the enemy even more. That is happening now on both sides.

    Avnery didn't point out the greatest symmetry, which is that compliance with the other side's goals would cost nothing and actually benefit both sides. Despite the claims of Israel's most blinded supporters, there is no reason to think that Gazans take any absolute satisfaction in killing Israelis with rockets. Nor, if the rockets stopped, should Israel gain any succor watching Gazans starve. I'm not sure that any Israelis can articulate the real reason they've persisted in keeping Gaza locked up and down. Twice now, Israel has adopted policies which show that they have no long-term desire to keep Gaza: at the start of Oslo when they handed the whole Strip over to the PA, and in 2004 when they dismantled their last settlements in the Strip. One has to wonder why they didn't Cut Gaza Loose -- hand the Gaza Strip off to the UN to form an independent state, more or less as I proposed a couple weeks ago.

    I tried circulating my post around a bit, but got no interest or feedback whatsoever in it. Pro-Palestinians don't like it because they think that splitting off Gaza will make it that much harder to get any sort of independence for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and they may be right. (Assuming no right of return -- I think that's a totally dead prospect given Israel's strength and racism -- it tilts the demographics to the point where Israel might consider granting citizenship to all extant West Bank and Jerusalem Palestinians, although that's likely a long struggle away.) And pro-Israelis don't like it because most Gazans are Israeli refugees with a still legitimate right of return, so at the very least they fear that a Palestinian state might legitimize the refugees' moral case. (If this sounds kind of fishy, it's because it is, but Israelis are raised to see existential threats everywhere; that is, after all, the bedrock Zionism is founded upon.)

    Avnery only sees one way out of the mutual destruction of war-after-war, and that's to do something very similar to what I proposed. So I count him (and the Israeli peace camp) among the people who might advance such a plan. It should also appeal to liberal Zionists, especially outside Israel. It is, for instance, something that should make sense to Kerry and Blair but they can't currently grasp because of their phobia about Hamas and how they see Gaza and Hamas as one. And if they did embrace it, what rejoinder would Netanyahu have? He can't claim that Israeli control in any way benefits Gaza. Nor can he claim that Israel's past and current security efforts are the only way Israel can ensure its own security. The problem with nearly every scheme to resolve the conflict is that it would impose some unacceptable cost to Israel, but cutting Gaza loose doesn't have any costs: it's a scheme that even an implacable stonewaller like Netanyahu can't resist forever. And it would be a positive step, breaking the blockade/rockets cycle that resulted in Israeli escalation and war in 2006, 2008, 2012, and now 2014.

  • Richard Silverstein: Israel's Slaughter, Based on a Lie: Evidently, at least one Israeli "official source" confirms that they realize that Hamas was not responsible for the kidnapping-murder of three Israeli teenagers back on June 12, the event that kicked off a series of events leading to Israel's latest intensive demolition of Gaza. The crime was, instead, the work of a "lone cell" in Hebron. However, Netanyahu sought to use the murders as an excuse to break up the unification deal between Hamas and Fatah. He sent 10,000 IDF troops into the West Bank where they ransacked thousdands of homes, arresting 500 Palestinians (mostly associated with Hamas, many of whom had been in Israeli prisons before being released in last year's prisoner exchange deal), and killing seven. When Hamas protested by shooting off some rockets from Gaza, Israel then began its bombardment and invasion of Gaza, killing well over a thousand more.

    This entire slaughter is based on a lie. And not just a small lie, but a huge, cancerous, evil lie. I do not like to make absolute moral statements if I can avoid it. But there is no doubt in my mind that Bibi Netanyahu is evil. While that doesn't necessarily mean all of Israel is evil, as long as they elect this megalomaniac to office, then all of Israel is culpable in his malevolence. [ . . . ]

    To return to Sheera's tweet, lest anyone question her source, the BBC's Jon Donnison is reporting that Israeli police spokesflack, Mickey Rosenfeld is saying the same thing explicitly.

    On a related matter, several thousand Israelis marched yesterday night in Tel Aviv against the Gaza massacre. It is not easy to do so when 90% of your fellow citizens believe you're being traitorous. I don't know if such protests are enough to exonerate the nation of war crimes. But they are some small solace.

    The lie at the root of the war gives this some resonance with the Bush invasion of Iraq, although lies leading to war are old hat -- the sinking of the Maine in 1898 and the Tonkin Gulf incident in 1964 are two of the more notorious ones in US history. Nor is this anything new for Israel: the false rumors of Syria massing troops on the border in 1967, the assassination of Israel's UK ambassador in 1982 that was used as a pretext for invading Lebanon, and whatever that cockamamie story was in 1956, are just the first examples that jump into mind. Lies and wars go hand-in-hand, first as rationales then to cover up the dirty truth. The only thing remarkable about this war is how fast Israel's lies are being uncovered -- that's partly explained by the prevalence of media but also by how baldfaced the lies are. Sure, Netanyahu is vile, but that's not news either: he was the principal person responsible for destroying the Oslo framework and inciting the second intifada. Since returning to power he's sloughed off the Mitchell and Kerry iniatives and seems well on his way to kicking off a third intifada. But there's no originality in Netanyahu's evil, and little of the personal monstrosity you can find in Ariel Sharon (or Yitzhak Shamir or Menachem Begin or even Yitzhak Rabin, to limit ourselves to Israeli PMs): you can explain everything he's done as the dutiful son of his father, who was Vladimir "Iron Wall" Jabotinsky's secretary in exile in New York. Netanyahu has never enjoyed an original thought in his life. He is, rather, the slave of an old and profoundly wrong idea, which is that the only way Zionism can survive in Israel is by repeatedly beating Palestinians into submission. That idea is what's evil; Netanyahu's is merely its tool.

  • More on Israel's latest war:

    • Kate: Six Palestinians are killed in West Bank in protests of Gaza slaughter: The title piece plus dozens of other reports
    • Helena Cobham: Absence of "peace process" might help Gaza ceasefire negotiations: Main point here is that Abbas has agreed with the Hamas ceasefire proposal, which insists that Israel release the prisoners covered in the Shalit deal who were arrested by Israel in their anti-Hamas sweep of the West Bank, and that the blockade of Gaza be ended. Israel supposedly can't negotiate these points with Hamas because Israel cannot talk to Hamas.
    • Annie Robbins: In Photos: Worldwide protest against Israeli attack on Gaza: Photos and videos of demonstrations from around the world. Also see: Martin Gajsek: Report from historic march on Qalandia checkpoint in solidarity with Gaza.
    • Richard Silverstein: Israel Murders IDF Soldier to Prevent His Capture: Explains the "Hannibal Directive," which basically says that if there is a chance that an IDF soldier might be captured and turned into a bargaining chip (like Gilad Shalit was), the IDF should kill that soldier first. As Silverstein reports, there has been at least one example of that during the present hostilities.
    • Rebecca L Stein: How Israel militarized social media: How the IDF put their best face on for Facebook, Twitter, etc.
    • Al-Haq: Why Israel's legal justifications for 'Operation Proective Edge' are wrong: Israel has made a big deal out of their practice of phoning or other warnings, arguing that if they contact you (or at least try) and their attack subsequently injures you, they are not responsible. To say the least, this assumes they have the right to bomb, and hardly shows any concern for the consequences. Moreover, such calls can themselves be a form of terror. Or they could be misdirecting. This piece focuses mostly on international law, which Israel is in gross violation of.
    • Udi Aloni: The swan song of the Israeli left: Includes a link to the film Forgiveness.
    • Jonathan Freedland: Liberal Zionism After Gaza: A postscript following Freedland's review of Ari Shavit's My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel and John B Judis' Genesis: Truman, American Jews, and the Origins of the Arab/Israeli Conflict. In the latter piece I particularly appreciate Norman Finkelstein's quote on Shavit's "insights": "[they] comprise a hardcore of hypocrisy and stupidity overlaid by a tinsel patina of arrogance and pomposity. He's a know-nothing know-it-all who, if ever there were a context for world's biggest schmuck, would come in second." Shavit's the kind of guy who writes movingly about how Israel force-marched entire towns over the border and into permanent exile, then proclaims the atrocity worthwhile because it now lets him live in a fully Jewish state. (As opposed, I suppose, to a guy like Benny Morris, who uncovered numerous IDF atrocities, only to lament that there weren't more.) In this war as in so many others, liberal Zionists "shoot and cry": as Freedland translates, "the Israeli dove gets to win the admiration of the outside world, Jew and non-Jew alike, but the beauty and sensitivity of his conscience even as the behavior of his country, and the army whose uniform he continues to wear, does not change." And the order is essential: shooting first, by lining up for every war, he assures his comrades of his loyalty, even if he returns to humanity later.
    • Lisa Goldman: The Gaza war has done terrible things to Israeli society: For example: "Peaceful, unarmed [anti-war] demonstrators in Israel's two most liberal cities were physically attacked by ultra-nationalists wielding stones and bottles. In Haifa, nationalist thugs assaulted the Arab deputy mayor, slamming the middle-aged man down on the pavement. In Tel Aviv, they chased anti-war protestors into a cafe and smashed a chair over the head of one of them, even as municipal sirens wailed to announce an incoming rocket from Gaza. The police were ineffective in stopping the violence."
    • Melvin A Goodman: Gaza and the Warsaw Ghetto: A reminder that Gaza resembles nothing so much as a classic ghetto, an open air prison locked down and patrolled from the outside. The most famous one was the Warsaw Ghetto managed by the Nazis in WWII -- one well known in Israel thanks to the valliant but doomed Jewish revolt there, long touted in Israel as one of the few cases where Jews fought back, like good Israelis do today. It is remembered elsewhere for the utter carnage of the Nazi "final solution": they killed over 300,000 Jews in putting the revolt down, laying waste to the entire ghetto. Israel hasn't approached that level of genocide, at least not yet, but they've killed thousands, destroyed uncounted homes and businesses and public buildings and key infrastructure. What keeps Israel from applying its own "final solution"? A mix of conscience, practicality, and concern for world opinion. All of those are wearing thin, especially conscience -- most obviously, Rabbi Dov Lior's ruling in favor of the "destruction of Gaza so that the south should no longer suffer."


Also, a few links for further study:

  • Avi Shlaim: Cursed Victory: Review of Ahron Bregman's new book, Cursed Victory: A History of Israel and the Occupied Territories (2014, Allen Lane [UK]). The review is itself a good short history lesson, especially on Ehud Barak's ill-fated negotiations with Syria and Arafat. ("Bregman confirms the view I have long held -- that the two principal reasons for the collapse of the summit were Barak's intransigence and Clinton's mismanagement.") I doubt that there's much here we don't already know, although Bregman has a reputation for digging through the documents, which as Avi Raz's recent The Bride and the Dowry: Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians in the Aftermath of the June 1967 War made clear, show that Israel's opposition to any sort of peace initiative has been a consistent policy all along.

    Bregman describes Israel as "a heavy-handed and brutal occupier." He regards the four decades of occupation chronicled in this book as a black mark on Israeli, and indeed, Jewish history. He finds it depressing that a people that has suffered such unspeakable tragedies of its own can behave so cruelly towards another. The only sign of hope in this otherwise bleak picture is that the occupation may carry within it the seeds of its own demise. By forcing the Palestinians to live in squalor, Bregman concludes, Israel has "hardened those under its power, making them more determined to put an end to the occupation, by violent means if necessary, and live a life of dignity and freedom."

  • On the slaughter of innocents: Unsigned (the author seems to have been involved in Human Rights Watch), but a long and impressive meditation that recounts the history of mass slaughter -- examples include the Mongol practice of sacking cities and similar desires by both sides in WWII -- but is written with Gaza in mind. A couple examples:

    The Israeli architect and philosopher Eyal Weizman has analyzed how groups like Human Rights Watch participate, inadvertently and from admirable aspirations, in the science of war: their "collusion . . . with military and political powers." Their methods involve a shift "from a focus on the victims of war to an analysis of the mechanism of the violations of law." Law itself, once broken, is treated as the chief victim; the individuals whose lives were at stake fade away in the descriptions of the offense almost as they did in the choosing of targets. This elision, however unwanted, is built into the methods. "Today's forensic investigators of violence move alongside its perpetrators, morphing into them," according to Weizman. "Humanitarianism, human rights and international humanitarian law," he writes, "have become the crucial means by which the economy of violence is calculated and managed."

    The Weizman book quoted is The Least of All Possible Evils: Humanitarian Violence from Arendt to Gaza (2012, Verso Books). I'm not familiar with that book, but have scanned through his Hollow Land: Israel's Architecture of Occupation (2007, Verso Books), one of the most deeply revealing looks at exactly how Israel manages its occupation system. The point about how human rights violations can be trivialized as violations of law is evident in all the reports which claim that Gazan rockets constitute a war crime, which in routine course balances off Israel's war crime -- its use of far more deadlier munitions. The real world difference, of course, is proportionality, which in the Israel-Gaza case is crudely visible in death and injury reports and would very likely be even more striking if you could convert the entire war efforts into some common measure of force.

    The focus on civilian casualties generates a strict, technical approach to the question of responsibility. The individual story is subordinated not just to the lawbooks, but to the slide rule. No side can ensure absolutely that it will prevent civilian casualties, as long as it's at war and killing people. So no side is completely devoid of guilt. But since the Geneva Conventions give a certain latitude for trying but failing, even killers can make a claim to innocence as well. The authority to evaluate such shades of inculpation gives enormous power to the human rights investigator and his organization, power over fine mathematical gradations of right and wrong: much greater power than simpler, starker, less technologically advanced modes of assessing morality could endow.

    But this focus buries other questions, broader ones, about responsibility for the conflict as a whole. [ . . . ]

    The aim of Israel's various "operations" in Gaza is not just to take out specific people, but to cow a population. (Even the famous text messages that supposedly warn residents a bomb is about to blast their home have, as Gazans can tell you, at least as much to do with showing off the invisible, terrifying omniscience of a military surveillance system. We know where you are.) Unleashed with that intent behind them, weapons -- however "smart" -- will terrorize, not just target; the very targeting is an aspect of terror, a reminder of superior knowledge as well as superior means, but spillover is equally intrinsic to the effect. The message inevitably exceeds the "purely" military purpose, and the collateral damage itself becomes the point: a sign of exultant excess, the means drowning the end. You can't go on talking about equivalence without acknowledging Israel's military domination, its unmeasurable ability to destroy. And to cap its technological triumph, it is (and has been for forty years) the only state in a thousand-mile radius with nuclear bombs.

    Much more in this piece, such as the line: "The confrontation between popular rebellion and a rapacious settler society isn't just an old, cowboys-and-Indians story that we can look on with disinterest or restrained amusement." (One might note that the US-Indian wars are still taught in the US military academies, and US troops frequently refer to counterinsurgency operations as operating in "Injun territory." Judging from scattered quotes, it would seem that part of Israel's hasbara toolkit is to remind Americans of their struggle to conquer the Indians -- ancient history in the US but a vivid analogy in Israel.)


In local news, sorry to hear that Randy Brown died: a longtime newspaperman, journalism professor, and political dabbler, certainly a positive presence in Wichita. And here's a sampler of his columns. In other Wichita news today, the Eagle published Sen. Jerry Moran's op-ed on why it would be better to let the lesser prairie chicken go extinct than to inconvenience any Kansas oil or gas producers. And in the big money 4th Congressional District primary, the Eagle endorsed vile Mike Pompeo (R-Koch) over evil Todd Tiahrt (R-Boeing). I can't find the candidate questions box, but Tiahrt's professed desire to be a public servant was almost touching, until he added that bit about standing up to special interests. In his sixteen years in the House, no one was a bigger corporate whore. The best you can say for him is that he sold himself cheap, and not a lot of the money stuck to his fingers, so you could buy into his sincerity thing, if only you were part of the public he so dedicated himself to serving. Curiously, Tiahrt's gained in the polls recently by attacking Pompeo's defense of the NSA -- a position he almost certainly wouldn't have thought of had Pompeo not been so rabid on it. If I could ask a debate question it would be about where they stand on the Export-Import Bank: the tea party (and most likely the Kochs) are all agitated against it, but the main beneficiary is Boeing -- and even though Boeing abandoned Wichita, I can't imagine "Tanker Todd" parting with them.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Daily Log

Woke up uncommonly early this morning, to find the following headline at TPM: Israel Hits 30 Gaza Homes, Kills Militant. Of course, it is only Israel's opinion as to who is or is not a militant, but I suppose it's hard to bomb out thirty homes in Gaza and not kill someone who is pissed off at Israel. I still find the de rigeur separating out of "civilians" from total Gazan deaths insulting and pointless. Unlike Israel, Gaza has no military, hence no soldiers in the true sense, and while there are Gazan armed groups -- I suppose you could call them "militias" -- the Gaza City Chief of Police (one of the Hamas officials Israel is most proud of killing) anywhere else would be considered a civil servant.

The Wichita Eagle headline this morning was: "15 dead in attack on UN shelter in Gaza Strip." Doesn't say "Israeli attack" but that's clearly what it was. And while Israel denies targeting UN shelters, the fact is that the UN is deeply hated by the Israeli military, and every time Israel "mows the lawn" they managed to bomb a couple UN facilities (as well as any neighboring Al Jazeera offices).

Monday, July 21, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 23527 [23501] rated (+26), 548 [534] unrated (+14).

When I got back from my aunt's funeral, there was a surprisingly large pile of new records waiting. I didn't get around to listing them last week, so this week's haul looks more robust than usual. I do, however, get the sense that I've fallen well out of the realm of being a mainstream jazz critic. This week's unpacking list doesn't quite prove my point -- there are a number of reputable artists there I recognize and welcome (Todd Bishop, Bobby Broom, Wayne Horvitz, Ryan Keberle, Greg Reitan, Steve Swallow, Ohad Talmor, Adam Nussbaum, Matt Ulery) most of the records I get these days are from unknowns, with the occasional cult favorite slipping in. (Two of the latter wound up with A- grades, and I doubt that you'll be reading much about either elsewhere.) Part of this is my fault, of course: formerly reliable publicists at labels like High Note and Sunnyside took my hint and stopped sending, and I've done a poor job following up on available downloads from labels like ECM -- I'm not even sure what I do or don't have there, but haven't had time (or curiosity) to sort that out.

When I got back, I didn't feel like facing the queue, so I took a look at my Penguin Guide list and started playing some old jazz from Rhapsody. First three records were high B+, which seems like par for the course. Then Charlie Haden died so I looked up his duet album with Chris Anderson, and the more I played it the more I was entranced. I then moved on to Earl Hines and Art Tatum -- one of the biggest chunks on the Penguin list was Tatum's Solo Masterpieces, which Morton & Cook love indiscriminately. I had long ago picked up Volume Four and Volume Five (both B+), plus I had a 2003 release, The Best of the Complete Pablo Solo Masterpieces (A). So I spent a big chunk of time going through the other six volumes, then for good measure I gave the whole box a spin. Much of it is indeed remarkable, none of it without interest, and I didn't mind the time.

I think the reason I graded the box over its constituent volumes is that when grading the latter the question arises as to which discs are relatively better investments, and the way they are organized makes it impossible to say -- I gave Volume Six an edge mostly because of two or three especially striking songs as opposed to the dozen or so run-of-the-mill Tatums. On the other hand, the box does make sense as a whole, and it is a remarkable accomplishment both within Tatum's career and over the entire history of jazz. Given all that, my nitpicking wasn't enough to drop it below A-. Still, I much prefer The Standard Sessions, which offers livelier performances and concentrates more great songs. Only minor sonic issues, plus my general reserve about solo piano, held it below an A.

I didn't do The Art Tatum Pablo Group Masterpieces because I own and have long graded every one of them. Tatum mostly recorded solo, so the 1954-56 Granz sessions just added to an already huge legacy, but the group sessions are almost the only time Tatum ever appeared in groups -- at least with horns. They vary more in quality, but the best are really extraordinary, both as group efforts and by freeing Tatum from having to carry the rhythm he gets a chance to perform some of his most spectacular embellishments. The best are: Volume Eight (with Ben Webster: A+); Volume Two (with Roy Eldridge: A); Volume Seven (with Buddy DeFranco: A); Volume One (with Benny Carter: A-).

Tatum is as universally revered as Charlie Parker, which may be why I quibble. I'm always reminded of what Tom Piazza wrote in The Guide to Classic Recorded Jazz: "Ask ten pianists to name the greatest jazz pianist ever and eight will tell you Art Tatum. The other two are wrong." I've made a career out of being wrong, so I don't mind telling you that my answer to that question is Earl Hines. He was easily the greatest pianist in 1928 when he (and Louis Armstrong) cut some of the most classic jazz sides ever, and he was dazzling when he toured with Armstrong's 1946 All-Stars. In between he ran a very important big band, and in the 1960s he led a wonderful quartet with Budd Johnson on tenor sax. Later still, he recorded many solo piano albums, including a couple listed below (Tour de Force is probably the first pick, at least the choice title, but these come close). That, in turn, led me to an obscure Johnny Hodges album which couldn't possibly go wrong.

After Tatum and Hines, I pulled out all those jazz vocal albums I've been avoiding and slogged through them. Poet Anne Waldman's album jumped out of that pile. It is a jazz/poetry album somewhat similar to the Rich Halley-Dan Raphael album Children of the Blue Supermarket, which was my favorite album in 2011, although vocally it reminds me more of Patti Smith, with the sax closer to Ornette Coleman (hence my tweet).

Looks like a pretty awful week coming up, both personally and all around the world. I have made some progress on the crashed server, but it's going to be a long while before it's all history.


Recommended music links:


New records rated this week:

  • Al Basile: Swing n' Strings (2013 [2014], Sweetspot): cornet-playing blues singer with an air of Mose Allison, his idea of strings two guitars [cd]: B+(**)
  • Alan Chan Jazz Orchestra: Shrimp Tale (2013 [2014], Crown Heights Audio Network): pianist, leads 17-piece big band on debut, sharp and contemporary, with a spoken word bit [cd]: B+(*)
  • Jason Derulo: Talk Dirty (2014, Warner Brothers): I've heard dirtier, but rarely with more compelling melodies, hooks, beats, and succinct too [r]: A-
  • Sherie Julianne: 10 Degrees South (2014, Azul Do Mar): Bay Area singer into Brazilian pop tunes, helpfully produced by pianist Marcos Silva [cd]: B
  • Mark Meadows: Somethin' Good (2014, self-released): pianist, likes smooth jazz grooves, and sings some, mostly neo-soul moans and murmurs [cd]: B-
  • Rent Romus' Life's Blood Ensemble: Cimmerian Crossroads (2014, Edgetone): alto/soprano sax, honors Arthur Blythe, incinerates Ornette Coleman [r]: A-
  • Sia: 1000 Forms of Fear (2014, RCA): voice like Shakira, only no Latin tinge, just an Australian take on British semipop gloom [r]: B
  • Donna Singer: Destiny: Moment of Jazz (2014, Emerald Baby): standards singer, enjoyable when the song is "Where or When," less so on "Yesterday" [cd]: B
  • Isabel Stover: Her Own Sweet World (2010 [2014], self-released): standard singer's debut album, Taj Mahal an outlier, voice and band all contribute [cd]: B+(*)
  • Anne Waldman: Jaguar Harmonics (2014, Fast Speaking Music): a beat era pot I should have known, imagine Patti Smith in a rush backed by Ornette Coleman [cd]: A-

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • Enrico Pieranunzi/Marc Johnson/Joey Baron: Play Morricone 1 & 2: The Complete Recordings (2001-02 [2014], CAM Jazz, 2CD): [r]: A-

Old records rated this week:

  • Duke Ellington and Ray Brown: This One's for Blanton (1972-73 [2000], Pablo/OJC): the pianist recalls what Jimmy Blanton changed, the bassist builds on him [r]: B+(***)
  • Art Farmer: Out of the Past (1960-61 [1996], Chess): two Argo albums minus one cut each, one trumpet ballads with Tommy Flanagan, the other flugelhorn [r]: B+(***)
  • Charlie Haden: Quartet West (1986 [1987], Verve): Mainstream Haden-style, straddling Ornette-Metheny, with Watts-Broadbent feeding the sentimantal [r]: B+(**)
  • Charlie Haden/Chris Anderson: None but the Lonely Heart (1997, Naim): brittle Chicago pianist and sentimental assist open up touching duets [r]: A-
  • Earl Hines: Blues in Thirds (1965 [1989], Black Lion): solo piano, near the top of his game (i.e., peerless), aside from two spots where he tries to sing [r]: A-
  • Earl Hines: One for My Baby (1974 [1995], Black Lion): more solo piano, strutting and striding through seven marvellous Harold Arlen standards [r]: A-
  • Earl Hines: Plays Duke Ellington, Volume Two (1971-75 [1997], New World): solo piano again, what's left after the 2-CD Volume One, swing with extra razzle [r]: B+(***)
  • Johnny Hodges/Earl "Fatha" Hines: Stride Right (1966, Verve): two stars (plus Kenny Burrell) doing what comes naturally on songs that never grow old [r]: A-
  • Art Tatum: Classic Early Solos (1934-1937) (1934-37 [1991], MCA): not really a stride pianist, too busy and ornate for that, but early on not so much so [r]: B+(***)
  • Art Tatum: The Standard Sessions: 1935-1943 Transcriptions (1935-43 [1991], Music & Arts, 2CD): 2-CD of radio shots, 61 mostly great standards given the full Tatum treatment [r]: A-
  • Art Tatum: The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces: Volume One (1953 [1992], Pablo/OJC): doing these one-by-one, but impressive as he is I find myself resisting, almost always at [r]: B+(***)
  • Art Tatum: The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces: Volume Two (1953-55 [1992], Pablo/OJC): [r]: B+(**)
  • Art Tatum: The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces: Volume Three (1953-55 [1992], Pablo/OJC): [r]: B+(***)
  • Art Tatum: The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces: Volume Six (1953-55 [1992], Pablo/OJC): [r]: A-
  • Art Tatum: The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces: Volume Seven (1953-55 [1992], Pablo/OJC): [r]: B+(***)
  • Art Tatum: The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces: Volume Eight (1953-56 [1992], Pablo/OJC): [r]: B+(***)
  • Art Tatum: The Complete Pablo Solo Masterpieces (1953-56 [1991], Pablo, 7CD): [r]: A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week (plus):

  • Laurie Antonioli: Songs of Shadow, Songs of Light: The Music of Joni Mitchell (Origin)
  • Todd Bishop Group: Travelogue (Origin)
  • Anthony Branker & Word Play: The Forward (Towards Equality) Suite (Origin)
  • Bobby Broom: My Shining Hour (Origin)
  • The Cellar and Point: Ambit (Cuneiform): advance, October 14
  • Eliana Cuevas: Espejo (ALMA)
  • Dave "Knife" Fabris: Lettucs Prey (Musea)
  • Wayne Horvitz: 55: Music and Dance in Concrete (Cuneiform): advance, August 19
  • Jazzhole: Blue 72 (Beave Music)
  • Ryan Keberle & Catharsis: Zone (Greenleaf Music)
  • Ricky Kej/Wouter Kellerman: Winds of Samsara (Listen 2 Africa)
  • Greg Reitan: Post No Bills (Sunnyside): August 19
  • Mitch Shiner and the Blooming Tones Big Band: Fly! (Patois)
  • Street Priest: More Nasty (Humbler)
  • Steve Swallow/Ohad Talmor/Adam Nussbaum: Singular Curves (Auand): advance, August 5
  • Matt Ulery: In the Ivory (Greenleaf Music)
  • The Bill Warfield Big Band: Trumpet Story (Planet Arts)
  • Walter White: Most Triumphant (Summit)
  • Tom Wolfe: Solerovescent (Summit)
  • J.J. Wright: Inward Looking Outward (Ropeadope): August 19

Purchases:

  • Francis Bebey: African Electronic Music 1975-1982 (2012, Born Bad)
  • Haiti Direct: Big Band, Mini Jazz and Twoubadou Sounds, 1960-1978 (Strut, 2CD)
  • Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott: What Have We Become (Virgin)
  • Le Grand Kallé: His Life, His Music (1953-83, Sterns Music, 2CD)
  • Lady Gaga: Artpop (2013, Interscope/Streamline)
  • Hailu Mergia & His Classical Instrument: Shemonmuanaye (1985, Awesome Tapes From Africa)
  • Old 97's: Most Messed Up (ATO)
  • The Strypes: Snapshot (Island/Photo Finish)

Daily Log

Looking at sheet plastic for bath/shower edge blocker. Estimates from TAP Plastics:

  • Polyethylene LDPE white, 1/4" thick, 8x48: $17.33 [$29.40]
  • Polyethylene HDPE white (cutting board), 1/2" thick, 8x48: $32.53
  • Polyethylene HyPact VHMW, 1/4" thick, 8x48: $23.87
  • Polypropylene, natural, 1/4" thick, 8x48: $17.33
  • Polycarbonate, clear, 1/4" thick, 8x48: $34.13
  • Acrylic sheet, green edge, 1/4" thick, 8x48: $36.67
  • Cast acrylic, clear, 1/4" thick, 8x48: $33.87
  • Cast acrylic, sign ivory, 1/8" thick, 8x48: $19.07 (other colors seem to be same price)
  • Cast acrylic, transparent light blue, 1/4" thick, 8x48: $36.67
  • Foamed PVC, white, 1/4" thick, 8x48: $11.33
  • Polycarbonate P-12 sheet, clear (diamond texture), 3/16" thick, 8x48: $32.80
  • High-impact PVC, ultra white, 1/4" thick, 8x48: $32.00

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Weekend Roundup

This week's scattered links, but for one reason or another most still focus on Israel (for one thing, this weekend has been much bloodier than the previous week). Having recently read Stephen F Cohen's Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War (2011), I expected to have more to say about the civil war in Ukraine and the shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines airliner, but in my short time I didn't run across much that improved upon speculation (one of the worst pieces was Bob Dreyfuss: Vladimir Putin Should Take Responsibility for the MH17 Shootdown.) As someone who is inclined to suspect that Putin was responsible for the Moscow apartment bombings that he used as a pretext to re-open the Chechen War, there's not much I would put past him, but neither evidence nor logic is yet compelling, and the unfounded charge is actively being used to further estrange relations with Russia, which quite frankly Obama needs to mend even if that means giving up ground in Ukraine. As I wrote below, Obama has made a colossal error in re-entering Iraq, on top of making an almost utter hash of Syria, and the only way out of the latter is some sort of understanding with Russia. Cohen's book, by the way, is very prophetic about Ukraine -- not necessarily about the country itself but about the massive level of cold war hangover America's foreign policy nabobs suffer from and their utter mindlessness in facing anything having to do with Russia. I've long said that the whole neocon vision was for America to behave all around the world with the same reckless dominance fetish that Israel exhibits in the Middle East. In the last two months that's pretty much what we've been seeing. The only real surprise here is how pathetic it makes the leaders look: Netanyahu, for instance, is wailing about how Hamas is forcing Israel to kill Palestinians, as if he, himself, has no control over his government. Nor does Obama seem to be any more in control of his policies. It's really quite shameful.

Nor am I the only one saying these things. Just looking at my recent twitter feed:

Saree Makdisi: It's quite clear that Israel plunged into its bombardment, as usual, without any strategic plan in mind. Quite literally mindless violence.

Roger Cohen: John Kerry says Israel "under siege" by Hamas. Read that once. Read it twice. Three times. It doesn't get any better. We have a problem here.

Ali Abunimah: Remember, Israel could have had a ceasefire any time if it agreed to basic humanitarian conditions for people of Gaza. It refused.

Sana Saeed: In case you're keeping count: this is the third IDF offensive against Gaza since the Obama administration came into office.

[Actually, the third since Obama was elected president, but Operation Cast Lead occurred before Obama took office. I like to refer to it as Israel's pre-emptive strike against the Obama administration.]

Also as Michael Poage noted, today's Kansans for Peace in Palestine demo today in Wichita drew about 500 people. It led on the KWCH News, ahead of a fairly even-handed report on Gaza that put more emphasis on dead Palestinians than on live Israelis whining about rockets.


  • Juan Cole: Falluja and Gaza: Why Counter-Terrorism fails when the Problem is Political: Yeah, but for a while counter-terrorism is a workable excuse to avoid talking about political problems. It simply declares that authorities can manage dissent with violence.

    Just as the enemies of the US ultimately prevailed in Falluja, so the enemies of Israel will prevail in Gaza.

    Oppression and occupation produce resistance. Until the oppression and the occupation are addressed, the mere inflicting of attrition on the military capabilities of the resistance will not snuff it out. Other leaders will take the place of those killed.

    If Israel really wanted peace or relief from Hamas rockets, its leaders would pursue peace negotiations in good faith with Hamas (which has on more than one occasion reliably honored truces). Otherwise, invading Gaza will have all the same effects, good and bad (but mostly bad) that the US invasion of Falluja had on Iraq.

    Also see Cole's Israel's Groundhog Day: Reverse Snowballs and the Horror of Lawn-Mowing.

  • Annie Robbins: Israel is in a pickle:

    Israel is likely in a pickle. Its stated goal for this invasion is to stop the missile fire (and dismantle Hamas's control of the strip). To do that it must locate Hamas' weapons arsenal and thus far, it appears it is clueless as to where they are. Israel doesn't know the extent of weaponry Hamas has amassed, either in quality or quantity. All the blowing up of civilian infrastructure, including homes and hospitals, won't end the rocket fire because it's extremely unlikely any central stash of weaponry is stored in homes, schools, hospitals or mosques. The weapons are probably underground which is why it requires a ground invasion to find them. This is what "deal with the tunnels" means when Obama says "the current military ground operations are designed to deal with the tunnels."

    Rudoren claimed Netanyahu "won plaudits from Israeli leftists this week for embracing an Egyptian cease-fire proposal." Win plaudits from media pundits he did, but this was not an Egyptian proposal, it was a proposal cobbled together by Tony Blair after Obama had previously spoken with Netanyahu and offered to help broker a truce (without any input from Hamas). A ceasefire catering to Israel represents nothing more than a surrender for Palestine, a surrender worse than retreating to the status quo of endless occupation because hundreds of Palestinian prisoners who were freed in the Gilad Shalit prisoner swap in 2011, were rearrested from the West Bank during a pogrom hyped as a response to the claim Hamas kidnapped the 3 Israeli youths, a claim that has never been backed by even a shred of evidence.

  • Nathan Thrall: How the West Chose War in Gaza: Israel's assault on Gaza is really a war on Hamas, more specifically on the willingness of Hamas to participate in a "national consensus" government alongside Fatah.

    Yet, in many ways, the reconciliation government could have served Israel's interests. It offered Hamas's political adversaries a foothold in Gaza; it was formed without a single Hamas member; it retained the same Ramallah-based prime minister, deputy prime ministers, finance minister and foreign minister; and, most important, it pledged to comply with the three conditions for Western aid long demanded by America and its European allies: nonviolence, adherence to past agreements and recognition of Israel.

    Israel strongly opposed American recognition of the new government, however, and sought to isolate it internationally, seeing any small step toward Palestinian unity as a threat. Israel's security establishment objects to the strengthening of West Bank-Gaza ties, lest Hamas raise its head in the West Bank. And Israelis who oppose a two-state solution understand that a unified Palestinian leadership is a prerequisite for any lasting peace. [ . . . ]

    Hamas is now seeking through violence what it couldn't obtain through a peaceful handover of responsibilities. Israel is pursuing a return to the status quo ante, when Gaza had electricity for barely eight hours a day, water was undrinkable, sewage was dumped in the sea, fuel shortages caused sanitation plants to shut down and waste sometimes floated in the streets. Patients needing medical care couldn't reach Egyptian hospitals, and Gazans paid $3,000 bribes for a chance to exit when Egypt chose to open the border crossing.

    For many Gazans, and not just Hamas supporters, it's worth risking more bombardment and now the ground incursion, for a chance to change that unacceptable status quo. A cease-fire that fails to resolve the salary crisis and open Gaza's border with Egypt will not last. It is unsustainable for Gaza to remain cut off from the world and administered by employees working without pay.

    The weird thing about this story is not so much what Israel has done as how the Obama administration has allowed itself to be paralyzed by the association of Hamas with terrorism. It's not even has if the US has never been willing to reclassify an organization once it wound up on the T-list -- Bush, for instance, made up with Ghaddafi's Libya. But where Israel is involved, Obama suddenly turns chickenshit. It's not just that Netanyahu has outfoxed Obama. It's more like Obama is suffering full-fledged Stockholm Syndrome.

  • More Israel links:

    • 13 IDF soldiers killed in Gaza as Operation Protective Edge death toll climbs to 18: The Palestinian death toll is up to 435, although there is no recognition of that in this piece from the Israeli press. The numbers are increasing quite rapidly as Israel's "ground incursion" proceeds, and while they are still extremely lopsided, this is the first indication that Israel will pay a price for its aggression.
    • Massacre in Gaza: At least 60 killed in Shuja'iyeh, over 60,000 in UN Shelters: This seems to have been the most immediate Israeli response to the loss of 15 Israeli soldiers.
    • Mohammed Omer: Gaza Hospitals Can't Cope. No surprise here, but the problem isn't just increasing demand: it's power plants being disabled, vital supplies being blockaded, and the occasional Israeli bombing of hospitals.
    • Richard Silverstein: Gaza War, Day 14: 18 IDF Dead, 430 Palestinian Dead: Sums up the above, noting "it is precisely this mounting loss of its own soldiers which may cause Israelis to take stock of this bloody mess and step back from the brink. Clearly, Israelis have no sense of proportion or concern when it comes to Palestinian dead."
    • Hamas wants to pile up 'telegenically-dead Palestinians for their cause' -- Netanyahu, on television: Israel's propaganda line is that Hamas is not only responsible for all Palestinian deaths, that they crave more and more Palestinian deaths in their diabolical scheme to shame Israel. Not only is Netanyahu saying this, IDF puppet like David Brooks has put it even more succinctly: "Hamas has basically decided they want to see their own people killed as a propaganda coup." Or as Bill Clinton put it, "in the short and medium term Hamas can inflict terrible public relations damage by forcing (Israel) to kill Palestinian civilians to counter Hamas." Netanyahu has yet to explain why he fell for this dastardly plan, allowing his government and the IDF to be so manipulated by Hamas.
    • Hasbarapocalypse: Naftali Bennett says Hamas committing 'massive self-genocide': I think Bennett (Israel's Economy Minister, head of the second largest party in the latest Knesset elections) gets credit as the first person to describe what's happening in Gaza as "genocide." Most likely he just mangled the talking point, but maybe added a little wish fulfillment.
    • Benjamin Wallace-Wells: Why Israel Is Losing the American Media War: "If Netanyahu is so bothered by how dead Palestinians look on television then he should stop killing so many of them. But his complaint is in itself a concession." The author attributes this to social media exposing more of the actual battleground, but I suspect something that Robbins (above) aludes to: blockaded off as it is, Gaza is becoming increasingly opaque to Israel at the same time it is becoming more transparent to the rest of the world. Moreover, although Israel remains effective at manipulating key parts of the media -- I could assemble a half dozen links on how distorted coverage has been in the Washington Post -- there are just too many alternative sources of news and analysis for them to control. Moreover, there are too many people in the media who know better -- I'm not seeing the link now, but there was an amusing report about Barney Frank feeling he was being ganged up on defending Israel on a CNN interview.
    • Thalif Deen: Why No Vetoed Resolutions on Civilian Killings in Gaza? Partly because Russia and China have vetoed resolutions condemning Assad in Syria, so they don't have a lot of moral authority to go after Israel, and given that all they would get out of it is a bit of embarrassment for the US (a country which has already vetoed hundreds of resolutions on Israel) that's evidently not worth the effort. Turns out all the world's powers have axes to grind -- not with each other so much as with the various people unfortunate enough to fall under the thumbs of their deranged clients.
    • Dead Gazans Missing From Senate Endorsement of Israeli Invasion: All 100 US senators, including some you might expect to know better, voted in favor of an AIPAC-authored, which this piece quotes in toto. While taken as an endorsement of Israel's bombardment and invasion of Gaza, it actually says no such thing: it denounces Hamas rocket attacks (which currently threaten 5 million Israelis), declares them "unprovoked," reaffirms "Israel's right to defend its citizens and ensure the survival of the State of Israel," and demands that Abbas "dissolve the unity governing arrangement with Hamas and condemn the attacks on Israel." To the Senate's knowledge, no Palestinians have been harmed.
    • As Israel attacks Gaza, 110 Palestinians injured and 12 detained in clashes at Al-Aqsa compound: One of Kate's roundups of Israeli press reports, showing among other things that Israel has not let up on arrests in the West Bank, that settlers continue to run amok, and that protests against Israel's operations in Gaza are being brutally suppressed. Also more details on Gaza.
    • Lawrence Weschler: Israel Has Been Bitten by a Bat: Basically a rant, and a couple days old, but worth reading: "I know, I know, and I am bone tired of being told it, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is plenty of blame to go around, but by this point after coming on almost 50 years of Israeli stemwinding and procrastinatory obfuscation, I'd put the proportionate distribution of blame at about the same level as the mortality figures -- which is, where are we today (what with Wednesday morning's four children killed while out playing on a Gaza beach)? What, 280 to 2?" The title refers to rabies.


Also, a few links for further study:

  • Hayes Brown: What You Need to Know About the Tunnels That Bring Life -- and Death -- Into Gaza: Some useful background on the Gaza tunnels that Israel is so desperately attempting to destroy. The key point is that since Israel tightened its blockade of Gaza after removing its settlements in 2005 -- Israel referred to this as "putting Gazans on a diet" -- the tunnels have become an indispensible lifeline, at least partly alleviating the suffering that Israel imposes:

    All told, what passes through the tunnels makes up a substantial portion, if not the vast majority, of the Gazan economy at this point. In October 2011, United Nations figures estimated that "800,000 liters (around 5,000 barrels) of fuel, 3,000 tons of gravel, 500 tons of steel rods and 3,000 tons of cement" passed through the tunnels daily.

    Of course, missiles and other contraband enter Gaza through the tunnels, but as long as the tunnels are needed for importing essentials like food and building materials there will be no popular support for shutting them down.

  • Dahr Jamail: Incinerating Iraq: Probably the best journalist working in Iraq since the US invasion -- see his Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq (2007) -- brings us up to date. From early on the US was responsible for stirring up Sunni-Shiite civil war in Iraq, and when things got out of hand the US was able to shift alliances, offering protection to Sunni tribal leaders willing to turn on "Al-Qaeda in Iraq" and thereby temporarily reducing the violence. When US troops left, they advised Maliki to ease up on the Sunnis, but true to form -- this was, after all, why the Americans installed him in the first place -- he kept pushing down the Sunnis and wound up with an explosion engulfing the northwestern third of Iraq and threatening Baghdad. If Obama had any sense, he would have backed away from Maliki, offering US aid to negotiate a diplomatic solution (preferably extending the talks to Syria, now that Assad isn't looking so awful). Instead, he reaffirmed his support for the discredited post-occupation Iraqi government, the only way Americans seem to know how: by sending bombers, "advisers," and special forces troops, a commitment that will convince Maliki that he doesn't have to reform a thing, that he can win outright, and one that puts Obama on the slippery slope of having to send more and more reinforcements in to stave off a face-loosing debacle. This was possibly the single dumbest decision in month chock full of foreign policy disasters (e.g., Ukraine/Russia, Israel/Gaza, Syria, Afghanistan/Pakistan).

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Cut Gaza Loose

Up-to-date information on Israel's latest major siege of Gaza -- dubbed Operation Protective Edge, at least in English (the Hebrew is closer to Solid Rock) -- is scarce and hard to sort out, especially since Israel sent ground troops into Gaza. The latest totals I have are that since July 8 Israeli forces have killed 303 Palestinians, while 1 Israeli soldier and 1 Israeli civilian have died. (The latter, by the way, would easily have met Israel's criterion for declaring a Palestinian a "militant" in the propaganda battles over who killed whom. The former was killed by an Israeli tank shell, "friendly fire." It's worth recalling that a third of the Israeli soldiers killed in 2008's Operation Cast Lead were killed by fellow Israelis.) [A later report now says 341 Palestinians have been killed, with 40,000 people "internally displaced" -- i.e., bombed out of their homes.] One of the more pointed stories I've read recently was reported here by Richard Silverstein:

Two days ago an Israeli navy artillery "sharpshooter" picked out a choice target. Little boys playing soccer on the beach, where their father earned his living as a fisherman. The first shell only killed one of them. The boys, their legs not yet muscled to run fast enough, flew as fast as they could to the beachside tent where foreign reporters congregated. The second shell, finely calibrated to hit them as they fled, struck them and killed another three. Killing children: fine sport in the Israeli navy.

Stories like that are going to be harder to come by since NBC pulled its correspondent from Gaza (who broke that story), Ayman Mohyeldin. CNN also pulled one of its reporters, Diana Magnay, after she reported on how Israelis camp out on hills near the Gaza border to watch and cheer the bombardment. That kind of damage control helps Israel avoid embarrassment, but only temporarily. [The uproar over Mohyeldin has since convinced NBC to send him back to Gaza.]

Past Israeli incursions (2006, 2008, 2012 -- the frequency is reflected in that choice Israeli phrase, "mowing the lawn") have always been met with appeals and pressure for ceasefire, but the Obama administration has been shockingly cavalier about the slaughter and destruction this time. Part of this may be the full court press of the Israel lobby, not least that Obama has been serially beat up by Israel for nearly six years now, but part may also be due to Obama's desire to escalate US involvement in the wars in Iraq and Syria, plus all the reckless hawkishness on Ukraine, plus the 15 people just killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan. They say, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Evidently, Obama is way too busy making war to spare a few moments to plead for peace. And if the US doesn't step up to restrain Israel, who else can?


It's wholly predictable how Israel's current operation will end. Like all of its predecessors going back to 2006, it will end in a ceasefire with Hamas as firmly in charge of Gaza as ever, with Israel in possession of the keys to a ghetto containing 1.8 million trapped, terrorized people. Many buildings will be destroyed, including critical infrastructure -- electric power, sewage treatment, water treatment, hospitals, roads, food resources. A few hundred Palestinians will have been killed, and a few thousand injured -- some intended targets but most just unfortunately in the way, and some like the children on the beach just capriciously targeted by bored soldiers who know that no matter what they do they'll never be punished.

Israel will have destroyed a few tunnels, and the rocket stockpiles will have been more or less depleted -- not that they were ever a threat anyway. (Both sides seem to tacitly agree that the symbolism of Gazans defying Israel and shooting rockets over the walls matters much more than the scant damage they cause.) But in the end the cumulative weight of atrocities will embarrass Israel, as should the increasingly genocidal emotions the war is stirring up among Israelis. Israel is on the verge of losing whatever sympathy and support they had built up -- especially in Europe, but even in the US (with the exception of Congress) they are losing their grip. So they'll wind up about where they started. At least that's Israel's best-case scenario. They could hit some world opinion tipping point -- like they did with Turkey in 2008. Or they could give in to their hawks and crank the war machine up, moving from hundreds to thousands or tens or hundreds of thousands of Palestinian deaths. Or they could ignite a sympathetic intifada in the West Bank, which could link up with ISIS. You can't predict what will happen once you go to war.

One thing that's lost in all the chatter about rockets and atrocities is that there is a very simple solution to the Gaza problem (and hence to all those rockets and atrocities): just cut Gaza loose from Israel and let the people there fend for themselves. For many years, debate over how to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict has been divided between a "1-state solution" and a "2-state solution." In the latter there are separate Israeli and Palestinian states alongside each other, dividing up the land of the former British mandate of Palestine. Most scenarios call for Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders, and a Palestinian state to be created in the remaining 22% of the land: the small Gaza Strip on the west and the larger West Bank (including East Jerusalem) in the east. Other variations are possible, including "mutual land swaps" (which the "Clinton parameters" and the "Geneva Accords" specified) or Israel just keeping more (the de facto result of Israel's "illegal settlements").

In the "1-state solution" Israel keeps all the land, but also has to grant full and equal rights to all the people living on that land. This has the great advantage of avoiding dismantling the settlements or transferring any additional people, but means that Israel, which prides itself as "the Jewish state," would wind up with a rather large percentage of non-Jews, perhaps even a majority. Most Israelis -- at least most Israeli politicians -- don't like either "solution": as Levi Eshkol described the conquests of the 1967 war, "we received a very nice dowry [the land], but we don't really like the bride [the people]." Since then, Israel has devised a sophisticated system for taking the land while excluding the people, denying the latter even basic human rights, corralling them into ever tighter ghettos, and hoping they'll just go away. The cost of this system is that the conflict grinds on forever: for Israel, this means paying for a huge military and police state, engaging in a propaganda war that eventually turns self-deluding, and suffering the corrosive morality of militarism and racism; for Palestinians it means living under a system of extreme regimentation and regulation, one that degrades their humanity and denies them opportunities all people expect as a human right.

Most Israelis, in short, want no solution. They accept their lot as a people that has been oppressed for millennia because they believe that their state (and only their state) can defend them, and must do so now and forever more. Anyone well acquainted with Jewish history can appreciate that position, but most of us recognizes that we are not doomed to endlessly replicate the past: that conflicts can be resolved fairly and equitably, and that when they are they disappear into the depths of the past. The prerequisite for any solution is to see it as possible. Unfortunately, that's been the undoing of both "1-state" and "2-state" solutions: many Israelis reject the former because they can't stand the idea of sharing their state with so many Palestinians, and they reject the latter because they feel that would mean the end of the Zionist project of reclaiming their "promised land."

For some time, Palestinians have indicated they would be happy with any solution. Political elites may tend toward "2-state" because that would carve out a state they could control, while the less ambitious may just welcome the opportunity to participate in Israel's prosperous economy without the present discrimination and conflict. But either way they have been at the mercy of Israel's rejection of any sort of solution, at best hoping that some higher power (like the US) will weigh in to support their aspirations. They problem there is that at the US becomes ever more inequitable internally, it becomes ever less sensitive to the human rights of people elsewhere, and that leads to this current hideous stalemate.

On the other hand, there is no reason for stalemate on Gaza. In 2005, Israel (under Ariel Sharon) withdrew from and dismantled every one of its settlements in the Gaza Strip, and since then there has been no effort on Israel's part to recolonize Gaza. It should be clear to everyone that Israel has no interest in Gaza -- at least, other than the "security threat" an independent Gaza might create. The West Bank and Jerusalem are complicated places where it is hard (if not impossible) to resolve the conflict, but Gaza is simple: Israel doesn't want it, and any interest Gazans have in uniting with a Palestinian state in the West Bank is something that can be dealt with if/when such a state is created. Why not solve the one piece that can be solved now, and cut Gaza free of Israel?

This seems to obvious to me that I'm astonished that no one is pushing the idea. The closest I've seen to a discussion along these lines is the Hamas ceasefire proposal, which promises a 10-year truce in exchange for the following ten provisions:

  1. Withdrawal of Israeli tanks from the Gaza border.
  2. Freeing all the prisoners that were arrested after the killing of the three youths.
  3. Lifting the siege and opening the border crossings to commerce and people.
  4. Establishing an international seaport and airport which would be under U.N. supervision.
  5. Increasing the permitted fishing zone to 10 kilometers.
  6. Internationalizing the Rafah Crossing and placing it under the supervision of the U.N. and some Arab nations.
  7. International forces on the borders.
  8. Easing conditions for permits to pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque.
  9. Prohibition on Israeli interference in the reconciliation agreement.
  10. Reestablishing an industrial zone and improvements in further economic development in the Gaza Strip.

Most of these points are completely reasonable, things that Israel should agree to in any case. They highlight that the basic problem that Gaza has faced since 2005 has been the stranglehold that Israel (and to some extent Egypt) have had over Gaza, and how that's been used to keep Gaza from developing a normal economy and everyday life. In exchange for a more normal life, Hamas is offering a truce -- which is to say, no rockets or mortar shells launched over the wall, and no tunneling under the wall. The demands fall short of sovereignty for Gaza, but they do try to substitute UN for Israeli supervision, and as such they offer some hints as to where Hamas would be willing to limit Gazan sovereignty. One can easily build an independence proposal on top of this ceasefire proposal, and reasonably expect that it would be agreeable to Hamas, the current de facto governor of Gaza.

This is a quick first draft, but this is what I'm thinking of:

  1. This would have to be agreed to by Israel, Hamas, the US, the UN, and Egypt, with additional nations and organizations invited to sign on and participate. The problem here is that the US and Israel regard Hamas as a "terrorist organization," and use that as an excuse to avoid dealing with Gaza diplomatically. Instead, Israel insists on only engaging with Gaza militarily.

  2. The agreement on Gaza should not be regarded as resolving any other issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the status of refugees. The Gaza Strip will be referred to as West Palestine.

  3. The border between Israel and West Palestine will be based on the current wall between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Israel will retain ownership of the wall. West Palestine will exercise sovereignty over all the land on the Gaza side up to the base of the wall.

  4. The UN would assume responsibility for directing the transition of West Palestine to independence within three months of agreement. This includes framing of basic governance law -- a constitution which follows common democratic practices, civil law, protections for basic human rights, and special legal oversight at stated below -- followed by parliamentary and municipal elections. To the extent practicable, existing governmental organizations will continue, subject to UN supervision, during the transitional period. Once a new government is formed, the UN role will be reduced and phased out (except as below). Once formed, West Palestine will join the United Nations, and will be free to join any other international organizations it wishes, and to negotiate and sign international treaties. It will not be allowed to file claims against any other government for acts prior to agreement.

  5. The UN will charter a "development bank" which will manage contributions from donor nations to help rebuild West Palestine. The funds will also act as an insurance plan, with first claim on the funds to Israel to cover any damages caused by acts of terror originating in Gaza. (Conversely, any acts of terror originating in Israel will be judged and charged to Israel. The point here is that any lapses in the peace between Israel and West Palestine, either by government or by individuals, will be converted into cash awards and both governments will be incentivized to reduce any such claims.) The funds should be released at an economically responsible rate. The UN will maintain a special court to judge terrorism claims and to investigate and prosecute corruption.

  6. West Palestine will have no armed forces. Its defense will be ensured by international agreement. Imports will be subject to inspection by the UN (until all agree that this function can be turned over to the West Palestine government). Various armaments, including missiles, mortars, and artillery, will be prohibited. Any illegal armaments currently in the country can be turned over for cash rewards during the first year after agreement.

  7. All militias will be outlawed. All existing political parties will be disbanded (including Hamas and Fatah), and their old names will be disallowed, but political parties under new names can be formed. There will be a general amnesty for acts before agreement. Palestinian prisoners held by Israel will be repatriated to West Palestine, provided that's their request and the government of West Palestine agrees to take them.

  8. The government of West Palestine will have full responsibility for its air and sea space, the latter out to at least 10 kilometers from shore line. Projects will be established for developing airport and seaport facilities. West Palestine will be free to exchange goods with any nations it desires, subject to UN review on prohibited items. Israel and Egypt are encouraged to trade with West Palestine through their land ports.

  9. The UN may at its discretion install monitors on either side of the borders between West Palestine and Israel and/or Egypt. The monitors will have unimpeded access to report any suspected border violations, but will have no responsibility for actually patrolling the borders. The monitors will be withdrawn from a border when both countries (West Palestine and Israel or Egypt) agree.

  10. West Palestine will issue appropriate papers, including passports, for its residents. All residents as of the agreement will be citizens of West Palestine. West Palestinian citizenship will not affect refugee status, although we recommend that Israel and West Palestine join on a program to settle the refugee status of Palestinians displaced from Israel, and to replace current "refugee camps" with permanent housing.

I think this covers six or seven of Hamas' ten points. It allows Gaza to develop a normal economy and civil society. There should be no cases where Israelis continue to hold power over residents of Gaza. Israel's security concerns are satisfied in several ways: by limiting the military power of the West Palestinian state; by outlawing a wide range of military hardware; and by imposing a substantial cost to the state for any acts by Gaza residents which actually harm Israeli life and/or property. On the other hand, Israel is similarly penalized for any hostilities against Gazan life and/or property. If these schemes prove insufficient, it's always possible that Israel could withdraw from the treaty and declare war on West Palestine -- the agreement does not in any way limit Israel's warmaking capability, nor for that matter does it reduce whatever deterrence Israel enjoys from its overwhelming firepower advantage. I didn't include anything about Hamas' demand that Israel back its tanks away from the border because I thought that level of regulation unnecessary -- all that is really necessary is that Israel not fire tank shells, or any kind of ordnance, into Gaza. As long as they are not used, where Israel parks its tanks is of little practical concern.

The imposed constitution is something Gazans may not appreciate, but it greatly expedites the transition to self-rule, and it provides reassurance in many ways that the resulting government will remain democratic and will respect individual rights of all its citizens. The constitution should be broadly open to a mix of capitalist and socialist approaches, to be determined by the legislature. (I suspect this will actually prove to be a bigger sticking point with American ideologists than the lack of a sharia foundation will be with Muslims, although the latter will likely get more print.) The constitution should eventually be amendable, although perhaps not for 10-20 years (subject to UN approval) to give it a chance to work.

The matter of donor money is also critically important, both because it is urgently needed and because it provides an elegant insurance system to reinforce the peace. Personally, I think a lot of that should come from Israel, which I regard as solely responsible for the destruction and degradation of life in Gaza especially in the last decade (although really going back to 1948), but fat chance of that, so the world needs to step up. Eventually, of course, the money will run out and West Palestine will need to stand on its own economy. It is important, therefore, that the government build an efficient tax system. I haven't said anything about currency, figuring that's a detail other people are more competent in. The other especially important thing I've left out is water. I wanted to minimize the burdens imposed on Israel, but some fair allocation of the miniscule Gaza watershed is essential.

There will no doubt be other technical issues to work out. Some may be best worked out bilaterally between Israel and West Palestine. Questions like permits to pray at Al-Aqsa certainly fall in that category. While that may be something Gazans care deeply about, it doesn't strike me as a war-or-peace issue. To gain any agreement, the international community (not least the US) is going to have to put pressure on a very recalcitrant Israeli government, and that's easier to do if the demands are minimal and separable. Israel's security policy regarding Gaza is both malicious and demonstrably ineffective, so that has to change. But while it would be a nice thing to allow more personal travel between countries, that isn't a necessary condition for peace. The only necessary conditions for peace are to stop the bombing, the shooting, the blockade, and to allow all people on all sides to live a normal life. That's what this proposal does.

The decision to disband Hamas in Gaza is largely cosmetic: it will simply make everyone more comfortable to bury past terrorism with the agreement. It also allows Hamas to go on in the West Bank, doing whatever it is they are doing. I thought about adding more strictures separating West Palestine groups from any sort of work in the West Bank. The fact is that after agreement the conditions will be very different and incomparable. The question of refugees is one that may need more thought, as it is one thing that remains a common problem for a free Gaza and an occupied West Bank, but it is a thorny problem, here at least best swept under the rug.

One reason no one talks about a Gaza-only solution is that at least some people on both sides have been seduced by the notion that it is possible to come up with a "final status" resolution. Arguing against this is the fact that no one has come close, but also the more general point that nothing is ever really final. So I think one of the basic principles of resolving this conflict is that we should always do what we can when we can do it, then take stock and consider problems remain and what else can be done about them. I have no doubt that a Gaza-only solution will help move all sides closer to an eventual West Bank solution.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Again They've Gone Too Far

In 2010 Norman Finkelstein wrote a book about Israel's 2008 war on Gaza. His title was "This Time We Went Too Far": Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion. Like Israel's 2006 war on Lebanon, their so-called Operation Cast Lead ended having accomplished nothing so much as the revelation of Israel as a serial committer of atrocities, of crimes against humanity -- acts they tried to cover up with a thin propaganda at once asserting their victimhood and threatening ever graver results should anyone defy or deny their omnipotence. The problem was not just that Israel far exceeded the provocation. The problem was that it was hard to discern any reason for Israel's actions other than to further poison the well. The only thing Israel's leaders fear is peace, so they stir up the pot every few years, hoping to reinforce the "no partner for peace" canard.

They're at it again, and again they've gone way too far -- at least for anyone paying the least attention. Their current operation's pretext dates to June 12, when three Israeli teenaged settlers of the West Bank were kidnapped and killed -- a crime certain to arouse sympathy for Israel even though that involves overlooking the much greater violence committed by Israel in 1967 when they invaded the Jordanian-held West Bank and the 57 subsequent years of military occupation. The best you can say for the "boys" is that they were unwitting pawns in Israel's effort to permanently secure the lands of the West Bank by settling their "chosen" people and privileging them over the people who lived and worked there before they were overrun by war and overwhelmed by police force. That does not mean they deserved to be kidnapped and killed, but neither have thousands of Palestinians who have met similar fates since 1967.

On July 6, I wrote a piece that reviewed what turned out to be the first of two stages (so far) in the current escalation: A Case of Kidnapping and Murder. In short, Israel's response to the crime was not to focus on the killers -- they identified as suspects two members of a Hebron clan that is well known for acting on its own to sabotage relatively peaceful periods in the conflict -- but to use the crime as a pretext for a systematic attack on nearly everyone affiliated with Hamas in the West Bank. Moreover, it should be obvious that Hamas' real offense was that they had agreed to form a unity government with Fatah. That should have been good news for anyone with the least desire for peace, as it meant that for the first time since the failed 2006 coup to overthrow Hamas in Gaza there would be a unified, broadly popular Palestinian representation. But since Israel (above all Netanyahu) hates peace, it became imperative to break the unity government up by showing that Hamas is still committed to terrorism, something which pinning the murders on Hamas would aid. So Israel proceeded to arrest hundreds of Hamas members -- the distinction between arrest and kidnapping here is no more than a thin legal veneer -- and soon had killed more than a dozen Palestinians, and soon enough Israeli racism was riled up so much that a group of Israeli settlers bent on revenge kidnapped and burned to death a Palestinian teenager.

That's about where my previous post ended. Most of this had been limited to the West Bank (although the revenge kidnapping took place in Jerusalem), but Israel was also making menacing gestures toward Gaza, which is still nominally controlled by Hamas. Since then, Israel has repeatedly attacked Gaza, and as a result have faced some measure of rocket fire from groups in Gaza (evidently including Hamas). While I've been on the road, this situation has continued to deteriorate. The following links are my attempt to catch up.


  • A good place to start is by reviewing Richard Silverstein's daily posts:

    • Gaza War: Day 9, 202 Palestinians, 1 Israeli Dead: Israel's ceasefire proposal, rubber-stamped by Egypt and put out "under their letterhead as if it was their own"; Israel suffered its first fatality: "A man who'd collected food parcels at his West Bank settlement and trucked them to Erez Crossing to give to the troops, came under mortar attack and was killed." I've taken the liberty of revising Silverstein's title.
    • Gaza War, Day 8: 180 Palestinian Dead: first ceasefire proposal.
    • Gaza War, Day 7: 174 Palestinian Dead: more on Israel's botched commando raid, although it doesn't seem that Hamas killed any IDF soldiers.
    • In First Gaza Ground Battle, Israeli Commandos Repelled: "This is the same command unit which massacred 10 Turkish activists on the Mavi Marmara." "The air force bombed a rehabilitation center where two disabled women died. It also destroyed the home of Gaza's police chief and the next door mosque during evening prayers. Eighteen worshippers and family members were killed during services, four of them children. 50 more were injured."
    • Israeli Invasion to Begin in "Coming Hours"
    • Gaza War: Day 5, Palestinian Dead: 121: "Today marked the first demonstrations in major world cities against the assault. There was a large protest in London and other places. This must be only the beginning. The U.S. response has been shameful. The Obama administration released a statement denouncing the rockets attacking Israel while making no mention of Israel's indecent attack on Gaza's civilian population."
    • Gaza War: Day 4, 99 Gazan Dead, Half Women and Children, Ground Invasion Imminent: "In at least three separate instances, the air force has deliberately targeted private homes in which families sheltered. In some instances, all or most of the families were wiped out. Israel's claim is that it is targeting the homes of militant leaders. Though those killed were family members, Israel mendaciously claims they were 'human shields.'" "The very notion of calling this invasion by its Israeli bestowed name, Protective Edge, is racist. Why do we accept the IDF's nomenclature? What do Gazans call it? Does anyone care?"
    • Gaza War: Day 3, 72 Palestinians Dead, 13 Children: "Sheera Frenkel writes that the IAF concedes it has already bombed anything of military value in Gaza. Now it's pursuing 'secondary targets,' which it defines as residential homes!"
    • Gaza Invasion: Day 2, 27 Palestinian Dead: "Which begs the question: if Israel invaded the West Bank after three teenagers were murdered, arresting 500, killing 7, and ransacking hundreds of homes just for the hell of it -- after a Palestinian boy was murdered in equally, if not more brutal fashion, are the Palestinians not entitled to vent their rage? Or is it only Israel that has that right?" "The name 'Operation Protective Edge' has no relation to the original Hebrew name, Solid Rock (Tzuk Eytan). The army's hasbara department realized that 'Solid Rock' just would not due for the foreign audience. It connoted military strength, assertiveness and aggression. Those are all qualities that appeal to Israelis, but don't look so good to an international audience already predisposed to think the worst regarding Israeli militarism."
    • Operation Solid Rock, Gaza Invasion, Begins: "All of these deaths are needless of course. They're testimony not just to Israel's obduracy and rejectionism, but to the indifference of the international community which needs to come to its senses and intervene to stop the slow-mo decimation of peace, justice, and Palestinian sovereignty."
  • Robert Naiman: Netanyahu's War: What Is It Good For?: A good short overview of the war, emphasizing that until Netanyahu started his "violent crackdown on Hamas supporters in the West Bank, Hamas hadn't fired a single rocket from Gaza and had largely suppressed fire by smaller jihadi groups."

    There is no plausible story that Netanyahu's war is a just war. As J.J. Goldberg recounts in the Jewish Daily Forward, the justification for Netanyahu's war on Gaza given by the chief spokesman of the Israeli military on July 8 was this: "We have been instructed by the political echelon to hit Hamas hard."

    That is not a just war. There is no just goal offered that killing is supposed to bring about. Killing itself is the goal.

    As Goldberg and Max Blumenthal note, the racist revenge frenzy in the Israeli political system to which Netanyahu's military escalation is purportedly responding was deliberately manufactured by Netanyahu himself.

    He also quotes Goldberg explaining that "The last seven years have been the most tranquil in Israel's history. Terror attacks are a fraction of the level during the nightmare intifada years -- just six deaths in all of 2013." Naiman adds, "The United States government has many levers on Netanyahu." He enumerates several of those, then notes that "All it [the Obama administration] lacks is sufficient public political pressure to use them to force an end to the killing." Still, despite Netanyahu's repeated humiliation of Obama and Kerry, and despite the complete mess they find themselves in over Iraq and Syria, I see no evidence that the US has the will to butt in, even discreetly.

  • Phan Nguyen: How many people have died from Gaza rockets into Israel?: The chart also includes mortar fire from Gaza, so the total is now 28 (including an Israeli killed by mortar fire on July 15, the first and thus far only Israeli death since three Israeli settler teenagers were kidnapped and killed on or near June 12. Before this death, no Israelis were killed by Gaza mortar or rocket fire since November 2012. The piece provides a number of links. Notably, it questions numbers reported on Wikipedia as erroneous (64 deaths reported there). It's worth noting that rocket fire from Gaza varies enormously from year to year according to how restrictive Israel's blockade of Gaza is and how much firepower Israel directs at Gaza (factors that no one seems to keep track of). During 2013, for example, no Israelis were killed or injured by Gazan rocket or mortar fire (a total of 44 incidents). In other words, the factors that determine Gazan rocket fire are almost totally under Israeli control, even if the ultimate responsibility for firing the rockets isn't.

  • Ira Glunts: Hamas offers Israel 10 conditions for a 10 year truce: All ten appear to be completely reasonable, with most focused on opening up trade and commerce in an effort to move Gaza from its current status as an "open air prison" to relative normalcy -- assuming all the points involving UN supervision don't turn onerous. Moreover, few in any way affect everyday life in Israel, although one -- "prohibition on Israeli interference in the reconciliation agreement" -- points toward a future peace settlement, something Israel dreads. It's easy to question the morality of Gazan rocket attacks, especially given how they play into Israel's hands, but if they didn't happen what other leverage would Hamas have to bargain with? Do you really think it would do any good to appeal to Israel's better nature? As for the ten year term, how can anyone believe that after ten years of economic growth and normalcy Palestinians will be eager to return to the old days of the siege? Just hopeless racists, of which Israel (and America) have no shortage.

  • Philip Weiss: Netanyahu says there will never be a real Palestinian state: As far as Netanyahu is concerned, this is at most a bit more explicit than his usual weasel-wording, but he's never done anything to reassure American politicians that he has any interest in their "two state" fantasies, and he's rarely said anything that someone the least bit objective could misconstrue. Weiss also cites a piece by Jeff Halper, Israel's message to the Palestinians: Submit, leave or die, which sums up the deep attitude Netanyahu and many other Israelis have developed, one which has only surfaced more explicitly since early June:

    Operations Brothers' Keeper and Protective Edge represent the imposition of a regime of warehousing, of outright imprisonment of an entire people. The seemingly blind and atavistic destruction and hatred unleashed on the Palestinians over the past few weeks is not merely yet another "round of violence" in an interminable struggle. It is the declaration of a new political reality. The message is clear, unilateral and final: This country has been Judaized: it is now the Land of Israel in the process of being incorporated into the state of Israel. You Arabs (or "Palestinians" as you call yourselves) are not a people and have no national rights, certainly to our exclusively Jewish country. You are not a "side" to a "conflict." Once and for all we must disabuse you of the notion that we are actually negotiating with you. We never have and never will. You are nothing but inmates in prison cells, and we hereby declare through our military and political actions that you have three options before you: You can submit as inmates are required to you, in which case we will allow you to remain in your enclave-cells. You can leave, as hundreds of thousands have done before you. Or, if you choose to resist, you will die.

    Warehousing is worse than apartheid. It does not even pretend to find a political framework for "separate development," it simply jails the oppressed and robs them of all their collective and individual rights. It is the ultimate form of oppression before actual genocide, and in that it robs a people of its identity, its land, its culture and the ability to reproduce itself, it is a form of cultural genocide that can lead to worse. This is what Israel has left the Palestinians, this is the meaning of the bombing of Gaza, the terrorizing of the West Bank -- and the ongoing destruction of Bedouin and Palestinian homes within Israel.

  • Noam Sheizaf: Netanyahu's Bankrupt Strategy:

    Launching military campaigns in Israel is easy: the public idolizes the army and tends to support whatever measures it takes, and the parliamentary opposition rallies behind the government at such moments. Indeed, Benjamin Netanyahu's second campaign in Gaza as prime minister -- and the third the country has launched in less than five years -- was true to form, enjoying nearly unanimous support in Israel, despite heavy civilian casualties on the Palestinian side and the disruption to daily life caused by hundreds of rockets launched by Hamas, including at Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Israel's international airport. [ . . . ]

    If Israel does end the war now, Prime Minister Netanyahu will face attacks from his political base on the right and among the settlers. The hard right, with its echo chamber in the media, already senses an opportunity. Amos Regev, the editor of the pro-Netanyahu daily Yisrael Hayom, called in an editorial for bombing Gaza "back to the stone age." Avigdor Lieberman went as far as saying that Israel should seize direct control of the Strip again, and on the eve of the military operation he broke his political pact with Netanyahu and the Likud, though he remains a part of the government. [ . . . ]

    Netanyahu can only blame himself for his political troubles. By demonizing the Palestinian leadership -- Abbas just the same as Hamas -- he raised expectations in the Israeli public for a decisive victory and opened the door for attacks from the right. His refusal to commit to a meaningful political process with the Palestinians, along with his insistence on maintaining the status quo through military superiority alone, will pretty much guarantee that this cycle of violent escalations continues in years to come.

    But isn't that the plan? And in the end, Netanyahu can point out that he did much of what the right wanted, and still kept the US in line. On the US front, Phyllis Bennis sees some progress, just not a lot.

    Joshua Tartakovsky: Israel's Bombardment of Gaza: What Is Different This Time? answers the question with this list:

    What is different, however, this time, is that even some in the US mainstream media that traditionally tends to unquestionably adopt Israel's narrative, began to depict life in Gaza. The Washington Post, for example, posted a video of Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip from the ground level, a perspective not often seen on the American press and issued a list of children killed. What is also different, this time, is that Israeli politicians have openly declared the entire Palestinian people to be the enemy, and radical right wing Israelis have staged demonstrations calling for "death to the Arabs." Indeed, the brutal burning to death of a Palestinian child, carried out by Israeli radicals, has indicated the degree to which the anti-Arab incitement has been that severe that the Israeli government may be losing control of the situation. Additionally, this time, unlike in earlier events, Hamas leader Khaled Masha'al issued a statement directly to Israelis arguing they should blame Netanyahu for their current predicament. This time too, unlike in previous attempts, an Israeli ground invasion in Gaza, and even a recapturing of the entire strip, is a realistic possibility. While it is hard to say whether Israel has escalated the situation because of its desire to get rid of Hamas or due to its interest in gas reserves found near the Gaza coast, Israeli citizens, who are rightfully fearful due to the constant rocket attacks, are for the most part still united behind the Israeli government's "Protective Edge" operation, just as they support "Pillar of Cloud" and "Cast Lead" although none of the previous operations has provided them with security or a lasting peace. To what degree the international community will continue to support Israel's actions in Gaza remains to be seen.

    The US has at least counselled against that ground operation, although Israel has "warned" 100,000 residents of Gaza City to evacuate their homes, and Lieberman has argued that "IDF must end operation with control of entire Gaza Strip." [link]

  • David Sheen: Israeli calls for Palestinian blood ring at fever pitch: Just a taste of the hatred -- cataloguing it all would be so tiresome -- but here we have an Israeli Knesset member declaring "the entire Palestinian people is the enemy," advocating its "complete destruction, 'including its elderly and its women,' adding that these must be slaughtered, otherwise they might give birth to more 'little snakes.'" We have a Rabbi calling for "the killing of at least 300 Palestinians, and for scalping their foreskins and taking them as trophies." We have a municipal official in Jerusalem issuing "a similar barely-veiled call to mutilate and murder Palestinians." We have mobs of young Jewish thugs chanting "Death to Arabs" and "Death to Leftists." This outpouring of hatred is still shocking, although it's actually old news, as attested by the legacy of Rabbi Meir Kahane, by the Rabbis who called for Yitzhak Rabin's head (and the dutiful Kahanist who obliged them), by the authors of books (cited in Max Blumenthal's Goliath) on when and why it is permissible to kill goyim. But it shouldn't be surprising: this sort of racist hatred occurs in every society where one social group arrogates itself to a cult of superiority over others.

  • Chris Hedges: Israel Is Captive to Its 'Destructive Process': Cites Raul Hilberg on a well-known but not irrelevant case, then generalizes:

    The belief that a race or class is contaminated is used by ruling elites to justify quarantining the people of that group. But quarantine is only the first step. The despised group can never be redeemed or cured -- Hannah Arendt noted that all racists see such contamination as something that can never be eradicated. The fear of the other is stoked by racist leaders such as Netanyahu to create a permanent instability. This instability is exploited by a corrupt power elite that is also seeking the destruction of democratic civil society for all citizens -- the goal of the Israeli government (as well as the goal of a U.S. government intent on stripping its own citizens of rights). Max Blumenthal in his book Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel does a masterful job of capturing and dissecting this frightening devolution within Israel. [ . . . ]

    When all this does not work, when it becomes clear that the Palestinians once again have not become dormant and passive, Israel will take another step, more radical than the last. The "process of destruction" will be stopped only from outside Israel. Israel, captive to the process, is incapable of imposing self-restraint.

  • Paul Woodward: Israelis take pride in 'how few' Palestinians they kill: "True. And so what?" Given all the firepower Israel can muster, the fact that they've only killed a little more than 200 Palestinians in more than a week of bombardment interesting, and certainly a measure of restraint, even though the seeming randomness of who gets killed where and the conspicuously high concentration of women and children among the dead doesn't suggest much precision. On the other hand, one could say -- not that I've heard anyone even conjecture it -- that the inability of Gaza's rockets to hit anyone suggests that they are deliberately aimed at nowhere rather than ineptly targeted: that they are in fact meant to be nothing more than symbolic gestures. In some sense the military aspect of the conflict feels like Kabuki theater, where the status quo always returns:

    The current assault on Gaza, like previous ones, has little to do with destroying Hamas or establishing "quietness," as Benjamin Netanyahu puts it. It is a ritual beating whose purpose is to re-assert the authority of the Palestinians' military overlord. [ . . . ]

    On the other side, in spite of Israel's assertions that it exercises restraint, every day we witness new examples of senseless violence -- today with the deaths of Ahed Bakr, aged 10; Zakaria, 10; and two other boys from the Bakr family, both named Mohammad, aged 11 and nine. These children were struck down by an Israeli missile while playing on a beach.

    How can Israel which kills "so few" Palestinians, explain why so many are children and babies?

    Part of the reason is that war is sloppy so while Israel can regulate the overall level of carnage, they can't eliminate accidents, but also it's sort of a distinction without a difference. It's well known that Israel's war logic is to impose such a high price on rebellion that its "enemies" will eventually desist and give up. Part of that price is exacted by killing "militants" (often defined as any "military age" male), but there are many other ways of exacting that price, including house demolitions, expulsions, jail, and killing one's loved ones. The only downside to being so indiscriminate is that people may come to view Israelis as monsters, but as long as they are feared that doesn't seem to bother Israel much.

  • Bob Dreyfuss: The Palestinians Must Put an End to Suicidal Hamas: Usually an astute critic of the Middle East, but I think Dreyfuss has missed the boat here, when he approvingly quotes Bret Stephens, "Israel has no stupider enemy than Hamas." Hamas was almost certainly not responsible for the kidnappings that escalated the current hostilities, and they were even more certainly targeted by Netanyahu in an effort to break up the unity efforts between Hamas and Fatah. It is true that Hamas has hurt its international image by escalating rocket attacks on Israel, and in doing so they've given Israel a widely accepted excuse to inflict massive suffering upon Gaza. On the other hand, they're not deeply compromised by complicity with Israel like Abbas, and as long as Abbas gets nothing for his obsequiousness -- which if Netanyahu gets his way will be forever -- Hamas will maintain its popular credibility. (And if you bother to read their proposed ceasefire terms they might even start to recover from the international smear campaign Israel and the US have waged against them.) They may, as Dreyfuss says, be a "useful boogeyman" to Israel, but he errs in concluding they're "Israel's useful boogeyman."

    For a contrary view on Hamas, see (which also has a lot on Kerry's pathetic diplomacy).


Finally, I want to cite one more piece: John Feffer: Mowing the Lawn in Gaza, which goes back to 2006, to the specific wrong turn that lead to today's seemingly intractable conflict. (Of course, it doesn't explain the entire conflict, which goes back much further, most critically to 1948, but the die was cast even earlier.):

Like the Algerians in 1990 and the Egyptians in 2012, Gazans went to the polls in 2006 and voted for the wrong party. Rather than supporting the secular choice, they cast their ballots for Hamas. Not all Palestinians are Muslim (6 percent or so are Christian). But by opting for the Islamic Resistance Movement -- Hamas, for short -- Gazans had effectively nullified their own ballots.

It didn't matter that the EU and other institutions declared the elections free and fair. The results were what mattered, and Israel's judgment carried the day. Even though the newly elected government extended an olive branch to both Israel and the United States, the Israeli government didn't consider Hamas a legitimate political actor.

"Israel stated that Hamas were terrorists and Western leaders did not challenge this line," writes Cata Charrett in an excellent piece at Mondoweiss. "On the contrary, they refused to meet diplomatically with Hamas leaders, they cut off all possible financing to the newly elected government, and they supported Israel's complete sanction and seizure of Gazan territory." A direct peace overture to President George W. Bush offering a long-term truce went unanswered.

Israel's political leadership -- the PM at the time was Ariel Sharon -- took this position because it wants to sustain a state of military occupation and it dreads any resolution to the conflict. The US political leadership -- that was G.W. Bush -- acceded to Israel because it was stupid (and because the Israel desk was run by foreign agents like Elliott Abrams). Hamas offered a fresh opportunity to work on resolving the conflict, especially if we had been willing to negotiate short-term accommodations (like truces for economic freedom) instead of focusing on "final status" issues, which had proved so difficult for both sides. Moreover, Hamas had credibility from not having been involved in the Arafat deals and decisions, and they offered the prospect of bringing a far greater degree of Palestinian unity to the table than Abbas could ever achieve on his own. However, by rejecting Hamas, the US allowed Sharon and his successors to ignore every US-backed peace proposal.

We should be clear here: while Israel has no desire for peace, the US has no future in the Middle East without it. In its efforts to form a unity government with Fatah, Hamas has offered the US a present, but in order to use it the US now has to stand up to Israel in favor of the sort of ceasefire that Hamas has offered. That's a tall order for Obama and Kerry, one that requires them to rise above their basic political cowardice.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 23501 [23488] rated (+13), 534 [538] unrated (-4).

I got the news that my aunt Freda Bureman died Tuesday morning and drove to Independence, KS on Thursday afternoon. She had moved there about six years ago, living in Eagle Estates, where she could be closely attended to by her son, my cousin, Ken Brown. The funeral was Friday, with Ken and his older sisters, Lou Jean Fleron and Jan Barnes, giving touching and eloquent testimony to how much Freda meant to them, and really to us all. She was 99, had suffered from increasing dementia over the last few years, and had been unresponsive the last few weeks, essentially wasting away -- a slow fade into oblivion in stark contrast to how engaged I recall her at, say, her 90th birthday party. So I spent most of the week with my cousins, some of their children and many of their grandkids (the great-grand was among the missing), and as a result was pretty much off the grid -- my cell phone carrier didn't even provide coverage for Independence.

Hence, very little music to report below. Also, although I got back early enough today, a long nap and some TV kept me from getting the incoming packages logged. Things should return to normal, or to whatever the new normal is, next week.

I should also note that the dedicated server that I lease from Hosting & Designs was hosed a week ago. It crashed, and when they finally got it running again all of the configuration and data was erased. I've yet to receive an explanation of what happened, and don't have backups in any form that makes it easy to reconstruct, so it will be a while before I get that all running again (if indeed I do). Needless to say, I was very distracted last week. Hopefully I will be able to focus more this week.


New records rated this week:

  • Bobby Hutcherson/David Sanborn/Joey DeFrancesco: Enjoy the View (2014, Blue Note): vibes on organ better than expected, sax somewhat less so [r]: B+(*)
  • Jua: Colors of Life (2014, Chocolate Chi Music): [cd]: B-
  • Roberto Magris Trio: One Night in With Hope and More, Vol. 2 (2008-10 [2013], JMood): sparkling piano trio resurrects vintage bebop treasures [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Roberto Magris Quintet: Cannonball Funk'n Friends (2010 [2013], JMood): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Roberto Magris Septet: Morgan Rewind: A Tribute to Lee Morgan Vol. 2 (2010 [2014], JMood, 2CD): a pianist's tribute to Lee Morgan, two discs, gets rhythm right, but not trumpet [cdr]: B+(*)
  • Roberto Magris Space Trek: Aliens in a Bebop Planet (2011 [2012], JMood, 2CD): pianist returns to the '50s, treating each touchstone as a find, with cool sax [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Paul Marinaro: Without a Song (2014, Myrtle): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Beata Pater: Golden Lady (2013 [2014], B&B): [cd]: B
  • Sam Reed Meets Roberto Magris: Ready for Reed (2013, JMood): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Ellynne Rey: A Little Bit of Moonlight (2013 [2014], self-released): [cd]: B
  • Nicky Schrire: To the Spring (2013 [2014], self-released, EP): [r]: B-

Old records rated this week:

  • Chris Burn: Music for Three Rivers (1995-97 [1997], Victo): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ron Carter/Herbie Hancock/Tony Williams: Third Plane (1977 [1983], Milestone/OJC): [r]: B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week (does not include end of week):

  • Dee Alexander: Songs My Mother Loves (Blujazz)
  • Drumheller: Sometimes Machine (Barnyard)
  • Bob Mamet: London House Blues (Blujazz)
  • Jochen Rueckert: We Make the Rules (Whirlwind)
  • Vinnie Sperrazza: Apocryphal (Loyal Label): September 9
  • Tilting: Holy Seven (Barnyard)

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Rhapsody Streamnotes (July 2014)

Pick up text here.

Daily Log

Freda [Shelby] [Brown] Bureman died this morning, about 9AM, in Independence, KS. She was 99 (b. February 8, 1915). She is believed to have suffered a stroke a little over two weeks ago, and has been unresponsive since then. She has suffered from increasing dementia over the last five or so years. She was under hospice care over a year ago, but subsequently rallied. Indeed, this time she survived longer than the hospice people initially predicted. She was married to my uncle, Allen Brown, from June 17, 1939 until April 2, 1952, when Allen died following a car wreck. At the time they lived in Russell County, Kansas, where Allen worked as an roughneck for Shell Oil. Freda had a degree and teaching certificate, and soon got a job teaching elementary school in Kinsley, KS, where she stayed until she retired. They had three children -- Lou Jean, Jan, and Ken, 10 to 7 years older than me -- and our families were very close, especially while we were growing up, but they remain my closest and dearest friends to this day.


Sasha Frere-Jones published a list of his top 30 albums so far this year. They are in a spreadsheet, sorted by release date, but broken into three tiers. I've resorted them, putting "holy cats" first, "oh man" second, and "wow" third -- not that that's an obvious grading scale, but in the accompanying note he focuses on two of his "holy cats" artists (St. Vincent, Sharon Van Etten). My grades in brackets, in case you care.

  • Actress: Ghettoville (Werkdiscs) [*]
  • Beck: Morning Phase (Capitol)
  • Angel Olsen: Burn Your Fire for No Witness (Jagjaguwar) [*]
  • Le1f: Hey (Terrible)
  • Sd Laika: That's Harakiri (Tri Angle)
  • Swans: To Be Kind (Young God) [B]
  • Sharon Van Etten: Are We There (Jagjaguwar) [B-]
  • Moodymann: Moodymann (KDJ) [*]
  • Tinariwen: Emmaar (Anti-) [***]
  • Patten: Estoile Naiant (Warp)
  • St. Vincent: St. Vincent (Loma Vista) [***]
  • Evian Christ: Waterfall EP (Tri Angle)
  • Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: Piñata (Madlib Invazion) [***]
  • EMA: The Future's Void (Matador) [***]
  • Ratking: So It Goes (XL) [B]
  • Fennesz: Bécs (Editions Mego) [*]
  • Helado Negro: Island Universe Story Three (Asthmatic Kitty)
  • Jason Lescalleet: Much to My Demise (Kye)
  • Ben Frost: Aurora (Mute/Bedroom Community) [**]
  • Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal (What's Your Rupture?/Mom + Pop) [A-]
  • Clipping: CLPPNG (Sub Pop)
  • Craig Leon: Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music (RVNG)
  • M Geddes Gengras: Ishi (Leaving)
  • Ancient Astronaut: Ancient Astronaut (Other People)
  • Valentin Stip: Sigh (Other People)
  • Fatima al Qadiri: Asiatisch (Hyperdub)
  • Sylvan Esso: Sylvan Esso (Partisan)
  • Doprah: Doprah (Arch Hill)
  • Lana Del Rey: Ultraviolence (Interscope) [***]
  • Eno & Hyde: High Life (Warp)

Monday, July 07, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 23488 [23459] rated (+29), 538 [539] unrated (-1).

Cut this off Sunday night, so I don't have Monday's mail in the unpacking. Main reason I fell short of thirty records was that I spent two days playing almost nothing but the Sonny Simmons box. Main reason I even came close to thirty records was that I went through Album of the Year's The Highest Rated Albums of 2014 and played a lot of things on Rhapsody that I had missed. The notebook has a table of the top 100 records with my grades where I have them. Thus far I've heard 40 of those 100, pretty concentrated toward the top of the list (18 of top 20, 24 of top 30, 27 of top 40, 32 of top 50, only 8 of the next 50 (Sharon Jones, Dolly Parton, Laura Cantrell, Schoolboy Q, Future, Luke Haines, YG, Lykke Li).

AOTY's list isn't very useful for prospecting. Only 6 of those top 100 albums are on my 63-album A-list (Todd Terje, Cloud Nothings, Ought, Parquet Courts, Miranda Lambert, Laura Cantrell -- I haven't heard the UK-only Paul Heaton/Jacqui Abbott record at 56, although Michael Tatum and Jason Gubbells have convinced me I'll love it ), 11 more as high HMs (St. Vincent, The War on Drugs, Sun Kil Moon, Neneh Cherry, Carla Bozulich, EMA, Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, Isaiah Rashad, Tinariwen, Sturgill Simpson, Fear of Men).

Most of my missing A-list is jazz, but skipping the non-vocal jazz records, the following records on my A-list didn't make AOTY's top 100: Lily Allen, The Strypes, Jenny Scheinman, The Hold Steady, Old 97's, Pharrell Williams, Shakira, Barbara Morrison, Rodney Crowell, Deena, Big Ups, Mary Gauthier, Grieves, Catherine Russell, Jon Langford, Wussy, Company Freak, The New Mendicants, Willie Nelson, Dave Alvin/Phil Alvin, Leo Welch, Amy LaVere, and Supreme Cuts. I'm partial, of course, but it strikes me that the difference between these artists and the AOTY ones I downgraded is personality (and maybe brains).

For a second opinion, I checked Michael Tatum's grades, skipping compilations. He has 10 AOTY 100 records graded A- or above (Against Me!, Laura Cantrell, Cloud Nothings, EMA, Freddie Gibbs/Madlib, Paul Heaton/Jacqui Abbott, Bob Mould, Parquet Courts, St. Vincent, Tinariwen -- two records there I haven't heard); and 22 A-list albums not in the AOTY 100 (Lily Allen, Katy B, Toni Braxton/Babyface, Company Freak, Deena, Drive-By Truckers, Hold Steady, Chrissie Hynde, Kool AD, Kool and Kass, Amy LaVere, Steve Malkmus, Modern Baseball, The New Mendicants, Conor Oberst, Old 97's, The Roots, Shakira, Withered Hand, Wussy, Young Thug/Bloody Jay, Young Thug/Gucci Mane -- I had 23).

I didn't bother writing up tweets for many of the AOTY records. Some of them I just played and felt next to nothing, they were so instantly forgettable. Some, like Ab-Soul or Conor Oberst, weren't so bad but left me feeling I had little to say. I've promised in the past to do better on that, but this week I slipped up a bit.

Some personal things are very much up in the air right now. My last remaining aunt, Freda Bureman, appears to be dying. If/when that happens, I'll have to drop whatever I'm doing and take care of some things. Also, the server I lease looks to be dead (and the support staff doesn't seem too healthy or alert either). I had a bunch of work I wanted to do on that machine, so that's totally up in the air. Indeed, I may wind up having to reconstruct everything previously stored there (at best, a lot of unpleasant work; at worst, impossible).

Barring disaster, I should post Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week. (I currently have 77 records in the draft file.) I hope to get through the Roberto Magris records by then. Meanwhile, the incoming queue has dried up so severely I could remove one (maybe two of three) baskets from my floor. Perhaps it's time to buckle down, clean up, put all this crap behind me.


Recommended music links:


New records rated this week:

  • Ab-Soul: These Days . . . (2014, Top Dawg): [r]: B+(**)
  • Beat Funktion: Voodooland (2014, DO Music): Swedish acid jazz group plays rudimentary disco, groove without purpose or even much fun [cd]: B-
  • Sébastien Chaumont Quartet: Still Walkin' (2011-13 [2014], ITI): alto saxophonist, rich tone, hits sweet spot with mainstream piano-bass-drums [cd]: B+(**)
  • Ry Cooder/Corridos Famosos: Live at the Great American Music Hall, San Fransicsco Aug 31-Sept 1, 2011 (2011 [2013], Nonesuch): [r]; B+(**)
  • East India Youth: Total Strife Forever (2014, Stolen): [r]: B
  • Kali Z. Fasteau: Piano Rapture (2014, Flying Note): after playing scads of instruments, turns out she's one helluva pianist, with usual reed freaks [cd]: A-
  • Lee Fields: Emma Jean (2014, Truth & Soul): James Brown wannabe, had a terrific debut in 1979 reissued last year, follows with new one, a bit slower [r]: B+(**)
  • Ben Frost: Aurora (2014, Bedroom Community): [r]: B+(**)
  • Future Islands: Singles (2013 [2014], 4AD): [r]: B+(*)
  • Luke Haines: New York in the '70s (2014, Cherry Red): [r]: B
  • B.J. Jansen: Ronin (2013 [2014], ARC): baritone sax, backed with piano-bass-drums, goes mainstream, even a bit romantic on the ballads [cd]: B+(**)
  • Seun Kuti + Egypt 80: A Long Way to the Beginning (2013 [2014], Knitting Factory): Fela's youngest son cranks his Afrobeat band to the max, mixes in raps [r]: B+(***)
  • Dawn Landes: Bluebird (2014, Western Vinyl): [r]: B+(**)
  • The John A. Lewis Trio: One Trip Out (2014, Valarteri): veteran pianist out of Dallas, possibly his debut, leads a nice, soulful piano trio [cd]: B+(*)
  • Pete McGuinness Jazz Orchestra: Strength in Numbers (2013 [2014], Summit): trombonist/singer runs a big band, some striking passages, three vocals [cd]: B+(*)
  • Willie Nelson: Band of Brothers (2014, Legacy): wrote some new songs, mostly about women he's had once and is done with now, and the bile helps [r]: A-
  • Conor Oberst: Upside-Down Mountain (2014, Nonesuch): [r]: B+(**)
  • Matt Pavolka: The Horns Band (2013 [2014], Fresh Sound New Talent): bassist with cornet-trombone-alto sax and drums, not bright but the post-whatever shuffle entices [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jefferson Rose Band: Feel Like Dancing (2014, self-released): Seattle "world music" group offers an upbeat groove album with Alex Kitchen singing [cd]: B
  • Sonny Simmons: Leaving Knowledge, Wisdom and Brilliance/Chasing the Bird? (2006-14 [2014], Improvising Beings, 8CD): extravagant indulgence, 8CD of quasi-Indian exotica [r]: B+(***)
  • Strand of Oaks: Heal (2014, Dead Oceans): [r]: B-
  • Sun Kil Moon: Benji (2014, Caldo Verde): [r]: B+(***)
  • Swans: To Be Kind (Young God, 2CD): [r]: B
  • Sharon Van Etten: Are We There (2014, Jagjaguwar): [r]: B-
  • The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream (2014, Secretly Canadian): rock band, vocals flung out w/not much sticking, but the tuneful guitar layering appeals [r]: B+(***)
  • Wild Beasts: Present Tense (2014, Domino): [r]: B

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • Dexter Johnson & Le Super Star de Dakar: Live à l'Étoile (1969 [2014], Teranga Beat): Senegal doowop-boogaloo cross, led by sax man who gets his licks in [r]: B+(***)
  • Oscar Peterson/Ben Webster: During This Time (1972 [2014], Art of Groove): no DVD, but tenor sax great in fine form a year before death, perked up by pianist [r]: A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Al Basile: Swing n' Strings (Sweetspot)
  • Drew Ceccato/Adam Tinkle: Eidolon (Edgetone)
  • The Equity & Social Justice Quartet: The Whisper of Flowers (Edgetone)
  • Sherie Julianne: 10 Degrees South (Azul Do Mar)
  • Vincent Lyn: Live in New York City (Budo)
  • Terry Marshall: Arrival (self-released)
  • Rent Romus' Life's Blood Ensemble: Cimmerian Crossroads (Edgetone)
  • Paul Shapiro: Shofarot Verses (Tzadik): advance
  • Donald Singer: Destiny: Moment of Jazz (Emerald Baby)

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Weekend Roundup

Short after spending so much time trying to follow what's happening in Israel, but still have some scattered links this week:


  • Bob Dreyfuss: Is Obama on a Slippery Slope Toward Mission Creep in Iraq? Of course, he is. The first step is all it really takes: by sending any troops at all, Obama has chosen sides in Iraq's civil war and committed America's prestige and power to defending Maliki (even at the same time admitting that Maliki is the problem and should be replaced by someone less abrasive). Henceforth, any time Iraq stumbles, the US will have to pick up the slack, otherwise the prestige and power of the US will be compromised.

    So in total the president sent troops to Iraq three times, on June 16, June 27 and June 30. As Kirby put it: "And then so all that comes down to the bottom there, a total of 770 authorized, 650 on the ground. And that's where we are right now."

    The first question involved the weaponry that the troops are bringing with them, including helicopters, drones and so on. Kirby said that the aircraft include "a mix of helicopters and UAVs [drones]," adding, "The helicopters are attack helicopters, Apaches." And, he said, they'll be flown by American crews, not Iraqis.

  • Paul Krugman: Charlatans, Cranks and Kansas: Been there, done that, but gratifying to see that someone noticed:

    Two years ago Kansas embarked on a remarkable fiscal experiment: It sharply slashed income taxes without any clear idea of what would replace the lost revenue. Sam Brownback, the governor, proposed the legislation -- in percentage terms, the largest tax cut in one year any state has ever enacted -- in close consultation with the economist Arthur Laffer. And Mr. Brownback predicted that the cuts would jump-start an economic boom -- "Look out, Texas," he proclaimed.

    But Kansas isn't booming -- in fact, its economy is lagging both neighboring states and America as a whole. Meanwhile, the state's budget has plunged deep into deficit, provoking a Moody's downgrade of its debt.

    There's an important lesson here -- but it's not what you think. Yes, the Kansas debacle shows that tax cuts don't have magical powers, but we already knew that. The real lesson from Kansas is the enduring power of bad ideas, as long as those ideas serve the interests of the right people. [ . . . ]

    And the Kansas debacle won't matter either. Oh, it will briefly give states considering similar policies pause. But the effect won't last long, because faith in tax-cut magic isn't about evidence; it's about finding reasons to give powerful interests what they want.

    The whole magic about "supply side" is that it is a trickle down theory: first you give capitalists more money -- taking less in taxes is about the laziest way possible to do this -- then you hope that they will invest the money productively and that their increased production will trickle down through the economy to at least marginally lift everyone's standard of living. This never works very efficiently, but it doesn't work at all if there is already an excess of capacity, which is usually due to a shortfall of demand. In that case, additional money forced into the supply side is redirected into asset bubbles. If what you want is to see the economy functioning more efficiently, the alternative is to prop up the demand side -- which, sure, can be done by reducing taxes (especially the most regressive ones, like sales and payroll), or lots of other ways.

  • Gideon Levy: Netanyahu's offspring: This does a nice job of summing up much of what I wrote yesterday/earlier today on Israel:

    The media in the Jewish state wallows in the murder of three yeshiva students, while almost entirely ignoring the fates of several Palestinian youths of the same age who have been killed by army fire over the last few months, usually for no reason.

    No one was punished for these acts -- in the Jewish state there is one law for Jews and another for Arabs, whose lives are cheap. There is no hint of abiding by international laws and conventions. In the Jewish state, there is pity and humane feelings only for Jews, rights only for the Chosen People. The Jewish state is only for Jews.

  • Phillip Longman: Clueless or Craven? The White House Gets the VA Story Exactly Backwards: Longman wrote the book on the VA health care system (Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Health Care Is Better Than Yours), so you'd think someone in the Obama administration would pay him some heed. He's argued throughout the recent scandal that the problem isn't with the delivery of care once veterans get in the door, but the bureaucratic strictures on who's eligible when, and some macro-level alignment of facilities with population -- the delays seem to be concentrated in Sun Belt states like Arizona which have higher-than-average numbers of vets. Longman starts by taking exception to a report by White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors describing the VA as beset with a "corrosive culture" -- a phrase which became the takeaway headline despite the lack of any evidence for it even in the report. (If you want to check out what a "corrosive culture" is, look no further than Congress.) It's not that Longman doesn't recognize any problems with the VA, but most of what he sees were introduced by the Bush administration -- greater centralization, and more privatization (which the Bushies like not to save money but to create patronage opportunities). He concludes with a real sad thud:

    Sadly, rather than reversing that trend, the Obama administation just let the centralizing continue. As Ken Kizer, Undersecretary for Health in the Clinton administration and the man most responsible for turning the VA around in the 1990s observes in a recent piece in the New England Journal of Medicine: "In recent years, there has been a shift to a more top-down style of management whereby the central office has oversight of nearly every aspect of care delivery. Indeed, over that period the VA central office staff tasked to health care adminstrative duties has grown from about 800 in the late 1990s to nearly 11,000 today."

    Clueless? Yeah it would seem. Except over the weekend, the White House announced that after deep and thoughtful deliberation, it had come up with just the man to turn things around at the VA, and he turned out to be a Republican soap and toothpaste salesman -- a man with no experience whatsoever in running a health care or social services organization but who happens to be a close financial backer of Republican House Speaker John Boehner. No, that's not clueless-- it's a cynical sellout of veterans by an adminstration that, in the wake of a monumental failure of the press to put this story in context, just wants to move on at any cost.

    Also see: Kenneth W Kizer/Ashish K Jha: Restoring Trust in VA Health Care.


Also, a few links for further study:

A Case of Kidnapping and Murder

On June 12 this year three Israeli teenagers -- Naftali Frenkel (16), Gilad Shaer (16), and Eyal Yifrah (19), residents and yeshiva students in Israel's occupied territories -- were kidnapped while hitchhiking from Gush Etzion, an illegal settlement in Area C, the section still under full Israeli military control. One of the three was eventually reported to have been able to call authorities to alert them of the kidnapping, but that was initially treated as a prank call. The three dead bodies were found on June 30, in a field northwest of Hebron. Details are sketchy: I gather that then were shot and killed shortly after their abduction. Piecing information together from news sources is very difficult, but there is a good overview at Wikipedia.

If this was an isolated, atomic event, it would be treated as it should be, as a heinous crime, with the public waiting passively -- aside from the usual media sensationalism -- while authorities sifted through evidence, tracked down, apprehended, and tried and punished the perpetrators. But the crime could not be isolated from its context, and it set off a series of subsequent events -- many of them criminal as well -- that continue to this day and into the future. Someone with a clear vantage and access to all the data could write a book showing the myriad ways the crimes and the conflicts reflect and refract each other, creating a cage which traps anyone and everyone committed to the conflict. The only way out of this cage is to see each crime in its own light, and never justify a new crime on the basis of an old one.

Of course, everyone behaved predictably. In Israel there are two kinds of kidnapping. One is very common, on the order of 1,000 or more instances per year: this is when any of Israel's various security outfits "arrests" Palestinian "suspects." They can be held without charge or legal cause pretty much indefinitely, although in practice they tend to be held a few months then released. As such, the total number of Israeli-held "prisoners" is limited -- in 2008, Adallah put the number at 11,000 -- but many more Palestinian men have been cycled through the system. In the weeks immediately following the kidnappings, Israelis "arrested" another 400 Palestinians, as if they were stocking up for an eventual exchange to ransom the three Israeli teens.

Much rarer are Palestinian kidnappings of Israelis: by far the most famous the kidnapping of an IDF soldier on the Gaza border in 2006, Gilad Shalit. He was held for five years by Hamas operatives and eventually repatriated in a deal that that involved release by Israel of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners. With many thousands of more Palestinians locked away in Israeli prisons, there was some sentiment among Palestinians in favor of kidnapping more Israelis, but in fact there have been very few such cases, especially leading to successful hostage exchanges. Still, given the costs of getting Shalit back, it's easy to understand why Israel would overreact to a new kidnapping.

And overreact is precisely what Israel did. Aside from snatching up more than 400 prisoners, Israelis have thus far killed at least 10 Palestinians. Much of this was initially done by the IDF in what they called Operation Brother's Keeper, as they went through various Palestinian villages and refugee camps, searching and damaging over 1,000 buildings. Early on, the Netanyahu government decided to blame Hamas for the kidnappings. They quickly identified two Hebron residents as suspects, and claimed that they had been Hamas operatives. While there is no doubt that Hamas was responsible for the Shalit abduction, Hamas has recently agreed with Fatah to form a "unity government" in the Palestinian Authority, something the Netanyahu government rejects and is very keen on breaking up.

It's very important to understand that Netanyahu in particular (and for that matter nearly all prominent Israeli politicians today and in the past going back to Ben Gurion) has absolutely no desire to negotiate any sort of conflict resolution with the Palestinians. They have at present pretty much what they want: all of Jerusalem and the ancient land of Samaria and Judea, the Golan Heights, a system which keeps Palestinian and Arab violence to a low level despite subjecting the Palestinians to grossly unequal treatment, an absence of credible threats from regional powers, a generous subsidy of their military by the US, friendly alliances with the US and most nations in Europe, and a high standard of living. They may on occasion give lip service to negotiations, but in fact they give up nothing as they continue building on Palestinian land and tightening up their matrix of control. They see negotiation as a losing proposition: to resolve the conflict, they'd have to give up land and money, they'd have to give equitable rights, and for little improvement in security they'd obsolete a military system that defines so much of what Israelis live for -- that is in fact the main path to personal success, in business as well as politics.

Of course, that's a rather myopic view of Israeli success, but one they work very hard at propagandizing. They try to push two contradictory messages simultaneously: to the Palestinians, they emphasize their overwhelming power, trying to drive home the futility of resistance; to Israeli Jews, they reinforce a culture of victimhood, where their only protection is the state; and to the world, they play up every act of violence against them while playing down the much greater violence they perpetrate.

So Israel's security forces react to the kidnapping in several ways: they use the incident to reinforce their propaganda messages, and they use it as an excuse to pursue their political goals. The biggest threat to Israel's propaganda line is Hamas seeking to gain international legitimacy as a representative of the Palestinians, so Israel has used this incident to track down and pick up everyone they know of with Hamas connections. But the IDF also used this as an excuse to raid Mustafa Barghouti's Palestinial National Initiative (BDS) organization and confiscate its computers. And they subjected hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to curfews, and shut down various checkpoints.

By June 20 Israel's operations generated more resistance, which they answered with more violence. Wikipedia:

Throughout the week, the arrest of Hamas leaders went quietly as they acceded to their detention, but by Friday sporadic popular resistance began to emerge. Three Palestinians were wounded in a raid on Qalandiya refugee camp, near Jerusalem, while another five were wounded in clashes at the Dheisheh refugee camp by Bethlehem, whose Ibdaa cultural center was wrecked, cheques and money from its safe, together with five computers, confiscated. Four of the victims were reportedly run over by an Israeli jeep. During a clash near the Qalandiya checkpoint in Ramallah, in which handmade grenades were hurled at Israeli soldiers who felt their lives were threatened and returned live fire at Palestinian crowds that confronted them, Mustafa Hosni Aslan (22) received a gunshot wound to his head, and was pronounced clinically dead. He died on 25 June. Live fire was used according to the IDF in response to Molotov cocktails, pipe bombs, one makeshift grenade, firecrackers, and stones being thrown at soldiers at the camps. In Dura's Haninia neighbourhood, after a night-long raid, involving many clashes with local youths, to detain a person Israelis consider to be a terrorist, as troops were withdrawing, eyewitness testimonies report that a retreating Israeli soldier fired 6 shots and killed 15-year-old Mohammed Dudeen. 25 more Palestinians were arrested at Dura and Dheisheh, bringing the number of detainees to 320, of which 240 are considered Hamas operatives. The number of sites searched mounted to 1,150, of which 1,000 buildings were damaged, the figure including over 750 homes. According to Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki Israel had destroyed 150 homes by week's end. In another dawn raid on the Dean's Office and Student Union of the Arab American University in Jenin papers were seized, and Amir Saadi, 17, was shot in the shoulder. The villages of Arraba, Al-Louz, and Artas were also raided.

Until June 26, when the bodies were found, Israeli censorship had prevented publication of suspicions that the three teenagers had been killed. Among other things, this gave a cover of urgency for Israel's widespread military operations. After the bodies were found, Israeli politicians started talking more about collective punishment. On July 1, Israeli jets and helicopters struck 34 locations in Gaza. These were answered by small rockets launched from Gaza, so Israel bombed Gaza again, and again. Collective punishment is nothing new to Israel. The British practiced it to suppress the Arab Revolt in 1937-39, and Israel has made an art of it, from Ariel Sharon's Qibya massacre in 1953 to the sonic boom flyovers of Gaza after Israel dismantled their settlements there in 2005. Israel is reportedly massing troops along the Gaza border again, for a possible attack on Hamas like they did in 2006 after Shalit was abducted, and again in 2008's Operation Cast Lead.

One thing the Wikipedia article doesn't go into much is the widespread eruption of hatred against Palestinians within Israeli civil society, at least occasionally turning to violence. (One 16-year-old Palestinian boy, Mohamed Abu Khdai, was killed by being burning alive.) For a sense of this, see this Haaretz piece by Chemi Shalev:

But make no mistake: the gangs of Jewish ruffians man-hunting for Arabs are no aberration. Theirs was not a one-time outpouring of uncontrollable rage following the discovery of the bodies of the three kidnapped students. Their inflamed hatred does not exist in a vacuum: it is an ongoing presence, growing by the day, encompassing ever larger segments of Israeli society, nurtured in a public environment of resentment, insularity and victimhood, fostered and fed by politicians and pundits -- some cynical, some sincere -- who have grown weary of democracy and its foibles and who long for an Israel, not to put too fine a point on it, of one state, one nation and, somewhere down the line, one leader.

In the past 24 hours alone, a Facebook Page calling for "revenge" for the killings of the three kidnapped teens has received tens of thousands of "likes," replete with hundreds of explicit calls to kill Arabs, wherever they are. The one demanding the execution of "extreme leftists" reached almost ten thousand likes within two days. These, and countless other articles on the web and on social media are inundated, today as in most other days, with readers comments spewing out the worst kind of racist bile and calling for death, destruction and genocide.

For an example, Allison Deger (The Aftermath: Home demolitions and dead Palestinian teen follow Netanyahu call for revenge) interviews an 18-year-old Israeli settler, Mier Sh'aribi, at the same hitchhiking spot where the three teens were abducted, then continues:

Sh'aribi's sentiments were echoed in the adjacent settlement of Beit Ayn, renowned as home to members of the Jewish Underground who were arrested while planting a bomb in a Palestinian girl's school a decade ago. "This country has no more balls anymore and they are not killing enough Arabs," said Reuven Efraimou, 17, while relaxing on a rock outside of the shabby settlement's stone synagogue. Despite his age, he's pelted Palestinians with stones admitting he "threw rocks at their heads" motivated by retaliation for the death of one of his friend four years ago. The army he said, "used to be on our side," but now Efraimou thinks they only "protect Arabs." He longed for a time when "not a single Arab would walk with their heads" held high knowing better than to "dare to look a Jew in the eye."

Anyone who's read Max Blumenthal's Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel will not be surprised by these reactions. The roots of this loathing run deep: the most striking thing about Tom Segev's 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year That Transformed the Middle East is the extreme contrast between Israel's supremely confident military leaders and its intentionally terrified citizenry. That the military was proven justified in the Six-Day War gave them a free hand for subsequent adventurism, always be bolstered by panicking a public that grew up on holocaust stories. More often than not, those ventures -- Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2008 are prime examples -- had to be ended early because they had turned into public embarrassments.

Israel's heavy-handed response to the kidnapping and murder of the three teens will also eventually be seen as a public embarrassment, but thus far the hasbara machine has milked the deaths for maximum sympathy while keeping most of everything else under wraps -- most reports of hostilities along the Gaza border focus on toy rockets (invariably attributed to Hamas) as if they are equivalent to F-16 sorties. (Of course, in some moral sense they are, but as a practical matter they are as far apart as any other measurement of relative violence in the conflict: e.g., abductions, house demolitions.) Similarly, the media routinely accepts the legitimacy of Israel's security forces, even when they operate in occupied territories, where they are allowed to invent laws on whim, selectively enforce them, all in support of illegal settlements. No one wants to point out that the three teens were illegal settlers, pawns in a political drama that's meant to dispossess and degrade the Palestinians who have lived on the land for many centuries. That's because no one wants to besmirch the innocence of the victims, but you don't need to deny facts -- that the occupation is illegal and immoral, and that the teens are, perhaps unwittingly, perhaps not, are part of that occupation -- to see the killings as despicable. All one needs to understand is that no crime in the series justifies the next.

Where the story threatens to get out of hand is with the hate mobs and their revenge killings -- as opposed to the casual deaths that inevitably follow IDF operations in Palestinian villages. Israel did finally manage to arrest six Israelis for kidnapping and torturing (burning) Mohamed Abu Khdai to death -- here "arrest" is the right word: they are charged with specific crimes and entitled to the legal rights including a fair trial (although "fair" for whom is open to debate, as the Israeli legal system has been notoriously lax when it comes to crimes committed by Jews against Arabs. One of the first things I noted in reading about the kidnappings was that the two 16-year-olds (and for that matter the bloodthirsty 17-year-old quoted above) are considered to be juveniles under Israeli law, but 16-year-old Palestinians are tried (when they are tried at all) as adults.

A system is racist when it divides the population into two (or more) groups and makes legal distinctions among them, such as the law that treats Palestinian teens as adults while at the same time treating Jewish teens as juveniles. That's just one of dozens or hundreds of cases of legal discrimination practiced by Israel. Another is that Israel has no death penalty for its citizens, but Israeli security forces have assassinated hundreds of Palestinians with no judicial review whatsoever -- some with F-16s resulting in dozens of collateral deaths. One might still debate whether Zionism is intrinsically racist -- certainly some Zionists are not -- but the actual State of Israel clearly is, as is a substantial portion of its citizens (especially concentrated in the settlements in the occupied territories -- for the history of which, see Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar: Lords of the Land: The War for Israel's Settlements in the Occupied Territories, 1967-2007, with Blumenthal, op. cit., a useful update).

There is much more one can mention here. (One of the suspects Israel named belongs to the Kawasmeh clan in Hebron, which has some Hamas connections but also has a long history of freelance operations counter to Hamas truces. The guilt of the suspects is presumed because they recently disappeared. Israel went ahead and demolished the suspects' houses rather than stake them out.) As I said, someone should write a book, because the whole conflict is woven into this story, provided you look at it comprehensively enough.

Daily Log

Twitter announcement for above:

I wrote a piece on the kidnapping/murder of three Israeli teens, plus ten more [Palestinians] killed by [Israel's] Keystone Kops and mobs: goo.gl/lqUeyU.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Daily Log

Good time for a mid-year check up, so I've been going through Album of the Year's The Highest Rated Albums of 2014, picking off things I should have heard but have been ignoring. So far, not finding much I'm impressed with (graded in blue):

  1. Swans: To Be Kind (Young God, 2CD) [B-]
  2. St. Vincent: St. Vincent (Loma Vista/Republic) [***]
  3. The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream (Secretly Canadian) [***]
  4. Sharon Van Etten: Are We There (Jagjaguwar) [B-]
  5. Wild Beasts: Present Tense (Domino) [B]
  6. Sun Kil Moon: Benji (Caldo Verde) [***]
  7. East India Youth: Total Strife Forever (Stolen) [B]
  8. Angel Olsen: Burn Your Fire for No Witness (Jagjaguwar) [*]
  9. Strand of Oaks: Heal (Dead Oceans) [B-]
  10. Todd Terje: It's Album Time (Olsen) [A-]
  11. Tune-Yards: Nikki Nack (4AD) [**]
  12. Neneh Cherry: Blank Project (Smalltown Supersound) [***]
  13. Mac DeMarco: Salad Days (Captured Tracks) [B]
  14. Ben Frost: Aurora (Bedroom Community) [**]
  15. Cloud Nothings: Here and Nowhere Else (Carpark) [A-]
  16. Ought: More Than Any Other Day (Constellation) [A-]
  17. Future Islands: Singles (4AD) [*]
  18. Woods of Desolation: As the Stars (Northern Silence)
  19. A Sunny Day in Glasgow: Sea When Absent (Lefse)
  20. Carla Bozulich: Boy (Constellation) [***]
  21. Fennesz: Bécs (Editions Mego) [*]
  22. Lee Fields: Emma Jean (Truth & Soul) [**]
  23. Owen Pallett: In Conflict (Domino)
  24. The Horrors: Luminous (XL/XLP)
  25. The Antlers: Familiars (Anti-)
  26. EMA: The Future's Void (Matador) [***]
  27. Moodymann: Moodymann (Mahogani) [*]
  28. Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal (What's Your Rupture?) [A-]
  29. White Lung: Deep Fantasy (Domino)
  30. Young Fathers: Dead (Anticon) [*]
  31. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: Piñata (Madlib Invazion) [***]
  32. Perfect Pussy: Say Yes to Love (Captured Tracks)
  33. François and the Atlas Mountains: Piano Ombre (Domino)
  34. Protomartyr: Under Color of Official Right (Hardly Art)
  35. Miranda Lambert: Platinum (RCA Nashville) [A-]
  36. Bo Ningen: III (Stolen)
  37. Eric Church: The Outsiders (Captiol Nashville)
  38. Behemoth: The Satanist (Metal Blade)
  39. Against Me!: Transgender Dysphoria Blues (Total Treble) [**]
  40. Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra: Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything (Constellation)
  41. Isaiah Rashad: Cilvia Demo (Top Dawg) [***]
  42. Tinariwen: Emmaar (Anti-) [***]
  43. Wovenhand: Refractory Obdurate (Deathwish)
  44. Split Single: Fragmented World (Inside Outside)
  45. Wooden Wand: Farmer's Corner (Fire)
  46. Lydia Loveless: Somewhere Else (Bloodshot) [**]
  47. Douglas Dare: Whelm (Erased Tapes)
  48. Sturgill Simpson: Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (High Top Mountain) [***]
  49. Marissa Nadler: July (Sacred Bones)
  50. Fear of Men: Loom (Kanine) [***]
  51. Arc Iris: Arc Iris (Anti-Epitaph)
  52. Ásgeir: In the Silence (One Little Indian)
  53. Total Control: Typical System (Iron Lung)
  54. Alcest: Shelter (Prophecy)
  55. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings: Give the People What They Want (Daptone) [*]
  56. Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott: What Have We Become (UMG)
  57. Samaris: Silkidrangar (One Little Indian)
  58. HTRK: Psychic 9-5 Club (Ghostly International)
  59. Dolly Parton: Blue Smoke (Sony Masterworks) [*]
  60. Glass Animals: Zaba (Harvest)
  61. The Phantom Band: Strange Friend (Chemikal Underground)
  62. Jolie Holland: Wine Dark Sea (Anti)
  63. Laura Cantrell: No Way There From Here (Thrift Shop) [A-]
  64. The Body: I Shall Die Here (RVNG)
  65. La Dispute: Rooms of the House (Vagrant)
  66. Perc: The Power and the Glory (Perc Trax)
  67. Beck: Morning Phase (Capitol/Virgin)
  68. Lone: Reality Testing (R&S)
  69. Hundred Waters: The Moon Rang Like a Bell (Owsla)
  70. Fucked Up: Glass Boys (Matador)
  71. Amen Dunes: Love (Sacred Bones)
  72. Eat Lights Become Lights: Into Forever (Rocket Girl)
  73. MØ: No Mythologies to Follow (RCA)
  74. Schoolboy Q: Oxymoron (Interscope) [**]
  75. Triptykon: Melana Chasmata (Century Media)
  76. Future: Honest (Epic) [**]
  77. Remember Remember: Forgetting the Present (Rock Action)
  78. Luke Haines: New York in the '70s (Cherry Red) [B]
  79. Agalloch: The Serpent & the Sphere (Profound Lore)
  80. First Aid Kit: Stay Gold (Columbia)
  81. Blank Realm: Grassed Inn (Fire)
  82. Nickel Creek: A Dotted Line (Nonesuch)
  83. Bob Mould: Beauty & Ruin (Merge)
  84. Gruff Rhys: American Interior (Turnstile)
  85. YG: My Krazy Life (Def Jam) [B-]
  86. Liars: Mess (Mute)
  87. Taylor McFerrin: Early Riser (Brainfeeder)
  88. Tori Amos: Unrepentant Geraldines (Mercury Classics)
  89. Tara Jane O'Neil: Where Shine New Lights (Kranky)
  90. Wye Oak: Shriek (Merge)
  91. Hurray for the Riff Raff: Small Town Heroes (ATO)
  92. Big Freedia: Just Be Free (Queen Diva)
  93. Old Crow Medicine Show: Remedy (ATO)
  94. Untold: Black Light Special (Hemlock)
  95. Lorelle Meets the Obsolete: Chambers (Sonic Cathedral/Captcha)
  96. Chet Faker: Built on Glass (Downtown)
  97. Lykke Li: I Never Learn (Atlantic) [**]
  98. The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger: Midnight Sun (Chimera Music)
  99. Pup: Pup (Side One Dummy)
  100. Polar Bear: In Each and Every One (The Leaf Label)

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Book Roundup

Last New Book Notes was on April 2, the one before that on February 11, so this is about when I should be coming up with another collection of forty blurbs. If anything, I'm a little late, but then I always seem to be late. Actually, I have another batch of forty in the draft file, so I may well come up with a second post this week.

Anyhow, these are the most interesting titles I've noticed on real and virtual bookstore shelves recently:


Julia Angwin: Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance (2014, Times Books): A journalist surveys the surveillance nation -- not just the NSA but your phone company and Google too -- senses that the response to surveillance will be self-censorship to the point of losing freedom, and tries to figure out ways to cope, even to carve out some measure of privacy.

Gary J Bass: The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide (2013, Knopf): About the 1971 revolt and war that split Bangladesh off from Pakistan, and how Nixon and Kissinger were so wrapped up in their Cold War machinations they didn't notice (nor did they care) that millions of people were perishing. Bass has a rotten history as one of those liberal hawks who invariably wants the US to jump into wars everywhere there's a chance to save lives, and this is a case that suits him to a T. (As I recall, Noam Chomsky cited India's intervention as one of the very few cases where a war actually did some good.) And it never hurts to be reminded that Nixon and Kissinger were war criminals of the highest order. Still, beware the hidden agenda.

Michael Burleigh: Small Wars, Faraway Places: Global Insurrection and the Making of the Modern World, 1945-1965 (2013, Viking): Given the years covered, most of those faraway wars were revolts against European (and American) imperialism, many of which got caught up in the Cold War as the United States forsake liberalism in favor of any tinpot despot who could be counted as anticommunist. That adds up to a pretty big book (668 pp) with "18 distinct story lines of terrorism, counter-terrorism, intrigue, nationalism, and Cold War rivalry." Good chance he spreads himself thin, as well as missing the upshot -- which is that the Cold War was primarily responsible for undermining democracy and undoing the middle class in America.

Tyler Cowen: Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation (2013, Dutton): New York Times pundit, on the conservative side, does at least approach real problems while denying that they can be fixed (often by reassuring us that the right people are working on it). E.g., his brief on the economic decline of the middle class was The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better. This book is about how inequality is good because, well, it generates more millionaires.

Robert F Dalzell Jr: The Good Rich and What They Cost Us (2013, Yale University Press): The pictures on the cover depict George Washington, Oprah Winfrey, and two guys in the middle -- I gather one is John D. Rockefeller, who despite the enormous foundation that still bears his name was never much regarded as "good," for the public at least. Probes the contradiction between a public committed to democracy and one that seems to celebrate the rich.

John Demos: The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic (2014, Knopf): A study in racism, really, as Demos examines a school set up by New England evangelists for "heathens" from around the globe -- Henry Obookiah, from Hawaii, was a famous student here -- and how the Connecticut community reacted to that school.

Barbara Ehrenreich: Living With a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth About Everything (2014, Grand Central): A memoir of sorts, about the search for truth or knowledge or understanding. One of the few people I'd read anything by.

Graham Farmelo: Churchill's Bomb: How the United States Overtook Britain in the First Nuclear Arms Race (2013, Basic Books): One can argue that early in WWII Britain had the best shot at inventing the atomic bomb, and that Churchill for one reason or another ceded that lead to the US -- that seems to be the thrust here, and it would probably be interesting to find out what Churchill did and did not understand about the project, although in the end it's hard to see it mattering much. The British Empire could hardly stand on its own let alone pay for the mother country's disastrous wars, so it was no surprise that Britain emerged from the war reduced to America's loyal (and dependent) sidekick -- something else Churchill may or may not have understood, but ultimately couldn't do anything about.

Carlotta Gall: The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan 2001-2014 (2014, Houghton Mifflin): Longtime war reporter argues that the US war in Afghanistan failed because the "real enemy" wasn't the Taliban. It was Pakistan. That's not exactly news, but it opens up more questions than it answers, and more importantly it leaves unexamined America's contribution to its own failure.

Timothy F Geithner: Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises (2014, Crown): Obama's Secretary of the Treasury was already deeply involved in the struggle to save the big banks as head of the New York Fed in 2008. I doubt he has much to say about other financial crises, but for the one he experienced first hand he's happy to take credit for saving not only the banks but the bankers who ran them into the ground. As for the rest of the economy, well, that's more complicated, and as far as I can tell not something Geithner reflects on much, or even cares about.

Malcolm Gladwell: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (2013, Little Brown): Stories showing how underdogs can leverage their weakness to get ahead, or something like that. I don't have a strong opinion on him one way or the other: he has a knack for making trivial points, and a great fondness of success even when it's pretty superficial, but sometimes he runs across something interesting or important and he's rarely stupid or inelegant about it.

Anand Gopal: No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes (2014, Metropolitan): Focuses on three examples (a Taliban commander, a member of the US-backed government, and a village housewife), showing through each how the occupying Americans are viewed in Afghanistan, and therefore the limits of what they can hope to do.

Glenn Greenwald: No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Surveillance State (2014, Metropolitan Books): A lawyer, Greenwald reacted to the Patriot Act by becoming a blogger focused on how the security state is encroaching on civil liberties -- a transformation he explained in his book How Would a Patriot Act? Since then he's found more and more to worry about, most dramatically when Snowden passed him leaked info about NSA spying.

David Harvey: Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism (2014, Oxford University Press): English Marxist, has been picking at the scab of capitalism for many years, churning out books like Limits to Capital (2007), A Short History of Neoliberalism (2007), and The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism (2010) -- I read the latter and found it tedious but deeply insightful. No surprise that he finds capitalism rife with contradictions -- many are obvious even casually -- or that they periodically crack up but that "end" has proven elusive.

Ann Jones: They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America's Wars: The Untold Story (paperback, 2014, Haymarket Books): Former NGO worker, wrote Winter in Kabul: Life Without Peace in Afghanistan about what she saw in Afghanistan in 2002, and two more books following the casualties: War Is Not Over When It's Over: Women and the Unseen Consequences of Conflict, and now this short book on maimed US soldiers -- the real VA scandal.

Robert D Kaplan: Asia's Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific (2014, Random House): Former travel writer to uncomfortable backwaters, has proven to be useful enough to the US security state he got appointed to the Defense Policy Board, where he's probably regarded as a deep thinker. No doubt he'd like nothing better than to stir up a Cold War with China, giving the Pentagon cover for buying up another generation of war toys.

Harvey J Kaye: The Fight for the Four Freedoms: What Made FDR and the Greatest Generation Truly Great (2014, Simon & Schuster): The Four Freedoms -- "Franklin Roosevelt's vision of a truly just and fair America" -- was war propaganda and thus easily forgotten once FDR died and the war against Germany and Japan was concluded. They are, however, something we can and should aspire to today, especially given the beating at least two freedoms (from want and from fear) have taken from the right in recent decades. Kaye previously wrote Thomas Paine and the Promise of America (2005, Hill and Wang).

Lane Kenworthy: Social Democratic America (2014, Oxford University Press): Argues that the US has been progressing slowly toward the social democracy common in most wealthy nations, but isn't that a stretch given how hard it is to talk about such things in their customary terms? So I expect this is longer on prescription than description, but mapping popular programs like Social Security and Medicare into the social democratic matrix is a step toward realizing what we're missing.

Benjamin Kunkel: Utopia or Bust: A Guide to the Present Crisis (paperback, 2014, Verso): Short "crash course" in the latest Marxist/Leftist thinking on the economy -- names dropped include Zizek, Harvey, Graeber, Jameson. Previously wrote the novel Indecision.

Costas Lapavitsas: Profiting Without Producing: How Finance Exploits Us All (paperback, 2014, Verso): British economist, previous book focused on Eurozone issues, sees "financialization" as the root of most of our current evils. There can be little doubt that most of the profits capitalism produces these days go to the financial sector, and it would be interesting to understand why.

Nathan Lean: The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims (paperback, 2012, Pluto Press): One of many (mostly but not all critical) books on the fear of and hatred against Muslims that has been cultivated in the US and Europe recently, concurrent with the US War on Terror and the termination of Israel's "peace process." Lean sees a right-wing conspiracy as responsible, with the Israel lobby at least complicit. I suspect it's uglier and dumber than that, in part because the hatred has overshot US neo-imperial goals, turning right-wingers anti-war (as we saw with Syria). Other recent books (no idea if they're any good or not): Chris Allen: Islamophobia (paperback, 2010, Ashgate); Carl W Ernst, ed: Islamophobia in America: The Anatomy of Intolerance (paperback, 2013, Palgrave Macmillan); John L Esposito/Ibraham Kalin, eds: Islamophobia: The Challenge of Pluralism in the 21st Century (paperback, 2011, Oxford University Press); Peter Gottschalk/Gabriel Greenberg: Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy (2007, Rowman & Littlefield); Deepa Kumar: Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire (paperback, 2012, Haymarket Books); Stephen Sheehi: Islamophobia: The Ideological Campaign Against Muslims (paperback, 2011, Clarity Press); John R Bowen: Blaming Islam (2012, MIT Press); Walid Shoebat/Ben Barrack: The Case FOR Islamophobia: Jihad by the Word; America's Final Warning (2013, Top Executive Media). I could also mention: Jack Shaheen: Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People (2nd ed, paperback, 2009, Olive Branch Press); and Martha C Nussbaum: The New Religious Intollerance: Overcoming the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age (2012, Belknap Press).

Michael Lewis: Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt (2014, WW Norton): A book on high-frequency trading, entertaining and informative no doubt, with something of a moral centre even though the journalist is inordinately fond of rich people.

Isaac Martin: Rich People's Movements: Grassroots Campaigns to Untax the One Percent (2013, Oxford University Press): That would be the Tea Party, the best irate mob money can buy, which gave an air of faux populism to some of the most extremely reactionary ideas of the last few decades, struggling above all against the idea that the government should serve the people who elected it. Title here reminds one of the Frances Fox Piven/Richard A Cloward classic, Poor People's Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail (1977; paperback, 1978, Vintage Books).

Mariana Mazzucato: The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths (paperback, 2013, Anthem): Two myths seem especially prevalent today: that public investment only comes at the expense of private investment, and that that's a bad thing. I can think of others, but that's not necessarily the point here: she seems to be focusing on technology and business subsidies governments give out that are ultimately snapped up by private sector investors -- an obvious case in point is support of "green energy" sectors like wind and solar (efforts so hated by the oil-bound Kochs).

Suzanne Mettler: Degrees of Inequality: How the Politics of Higher Education Sabotaged the American Dream (2014, Basic Books): Until the 1970s public support of higher education tended to make American society and economy more equitable, but that has since changed. Personally, I think education has long been overrated, especially as a panacea, but lately it's higher costs and mountains of debt have turned into a cruel trap. The real roots of inequality are political, and the very suggestion that you can compensate for that by raising an educated caste is itself part of the problem -- maybe even one that prefigured the political shift?

Ian Morris: War: What's It Good For? (2014, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Edwin Starr could answer that in far less than these 512 pages: "absolutely nothing." Morris likes to jump all over the place, as in his previous Why the West Rules -- For Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future, but his bottom line seems to be "war made the state, and the state made peace." I'm tempted to add: but only after making war unbearable, and even now way too many people haven't learned the lesson.

Ralph Nader: Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State (2014, Nation Books): Given how extensively the "grass roots" right has been underwritten by the same corporations Nader decries, I have to question the wisdom of any such "alliance" -- even when left and right may agree on a point, such as the TARP bailout slush fund, all the two sides can conceivably do is to block something particularly foul. What they can't do is to create something that would work fairly, because the right is fundamentally set on destruction of the public sphere. Still, if obstruction is the sole goal -- as in keeping Obama from bombing Syria, or allowing the NSA to spy on all Americans -- sure, there's some potential there.

Richard Overy: The Bombers and the Bombed: Allied Air War Over Europe 1940-1945 (2014, Viking): Attempts to broaden our understanding of the air war over Europe by including the experiences of the bombed, especially in horrific fire storms like Hamburg and Dresden. The US edition omits a complementary survey of the German bombing of England, some 300 pages from the UK edition (The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945).

Nomi Prins: All the President's Bankers (2014, Nation Books): Wrote one of the better books on the finance meltdown (It Takes a Pillage: Behind the Bailouts, Bonuses, and Backroom Deals from Washington to Wall Street). This seems to go deeper into the historic relationship between bankers and politics, as if JP Morgan had anything to do with our current mess. Of course, he probably did, and Andrew Mellon and David Rockefeller and Walter Wriston too.

David Reynolds: The Long Shadow: The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century (2014, WW Norton): One hundred years after the Great War (as it was known at the time, WWI as it was renamed, or the opening of the "30-years war of the 20th century" (as Arno Mayer reconceived it), we're suddenly seeing an avalanche of books on the subject, with much arguing over how it all started, and much detailing of the exceptional gore (WWII was much worse on civilians, but rarely matched the earlier war for pitched battles -- Stalingrad was an exception, but still couldn't match Marne). This book at least tries to make good use of the intervening century. I've noted a fair number of these books separately (Christopher Clark, Geoffrey Wawro), but also: Tim Butcher: The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War; Prit Butlar: Collision of Empires: The War on the Eastern Front in 1914 (Osprey); Charles Emmerson: 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War (2013, Public Affairs); Peter Hart: The Great War: A Combat History of the First World War (2013, Oxford University Press); Max Hastings: Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War (2013, Knopf); Paul Jankowski: Verdun: The Longest Battle of the Great War (Oxford University Press); Philip Jenkins: The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade; Nick Lloyd: Hundred Days: The Campaign That Ended World War I (Basic Books); Margaret MacMillan: The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 (2013, Random House); Gordon Martel: The Month that Changed the World: July 1914 (7/1, Oxford University Press); Shawn McMeekin: July 1914: Countdown to War (2013, Basic Books); William Mulligan: The Great War for Peace (Yale University Press); Michael Neiberg: The Military Atlas of World War I (Chartwell); TG Otte: July Crisis: The World's Descent into War, Summer 1914 (Cambridge University Press); William Philpott: War of Attrition: Fighting the First World War (Overlook); Ian Senior: Invasion 1914: The Schelieffen Plan to the Battle of the Marne (8/19, Osprey); Gary Sheffield: Morale and Command: The British Army on the Western Front (Pen and Sword); David Stone: The Kaiser's Army: The German Army in World War I (7/24, Conway); Kristian Coates Ulrichsen: The First World War in the Middle East (7/25, Hurst); Alexander Watson: Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I (10/7, Basic Books).

Amanda Ripley: The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way (2013, Simon & Schuster): Like TR Reid in The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care, Ripley travels around the world searching out what seems to work and offering it as an alternative to what doesn't work in the US: an easy approach that avoids theory but also misses many of the pitfalls theory introduces. I doubt however that the process will work as well, because it's easier to define what a good health care system is -- one where fewer people get sick and stuck in that system -- than what would make for a good education system: indeed, much of the "theory" out there is really a dispute over what education should do (e.g., make people smarter vs. train people better to fill assigned slots).

Dana Roithmayr: Reproducing Racism: How Everyday Choices Lock in White Advantage (2014, NYU Press): Examines how racial advantages and disadvantages have persisted despite the establishment of supposedly color-neutral legal rights and systems.

Jake Rosenfeld: What Unions No Long Do (2014, Harvard University Press): Have much political clout for one thing, which is a problem given how much our system depends on countervaling powers to keep from going insane in favor of one interest group -- mainly business. But also they don't seem to care as much about the broader groups of people who aren't unionized, effectively leaving them without political representation. (Arguably, American unions have always been weak there, but still.)

Daniel Schulman: Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America's Most Powerful and Private Dynasty (2014, Grand Central): Much in the news recently for their efforts to destroy democracy in the US (err, to safeguard the freedom of second-generation oil billionaires), this gives you some background on who they are, where they and all their money came from, and how they've evolved from John Birch Society paranoids to Tea Party astroturfers.

Rebecca Solnit: Men Explain Things to Me (paperback, 2014, Haymarket Books): Short (100 pp) collection of essays, the title one about male mistakes in talking to women, and others about war, Virginia Woolf, and the IMF.

Joshua Steckel/Beth Zasloff: Hold Fast to Dreams: A College Guidance Counselor, His Students, and the Vision of a Life Beyond Poverty (2014, New Press): The author left his job at a ritzy private school to try to guide poor kids into college, and illustrates that task with profiles of ten students, the innumerable problems they faced, and some measure of success, sometimes.

Matt Taibbi: The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap (2014, Spiegel & Grau): Defines "the divide" as: "the seam in American life where our two most troubling trends -- growing wealth inequality and mass incarceration -- come together . . . what allows massively destructive fraud by the hyperwealthy to go unpunished, while turning poverty itself into a crime." So this expands upon his previous fraud-focused book, Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America (2010), broadening the context, and probably looks back to his earlier work on politics.

Elizabeth Warren: A Fighting Chance (2014, Metropolitan): I don't put much stock on books by politicians, but before she ran for office she co-write The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents Are Going Broke (2004), a timely issue if ever there was one. This one is more of a memoir, but the path from where she came from to where she is now feels authentic, and her grip on how policy affects ordinary people is smart and shrewd.

Geoffrey Wawro: A Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire (2014, Basic Books): Focuses on Austria-Hungary, which gambled on its ability to seize Serbia and lost everything in the first world war -- a failure he finds rooted in the previous decline of the empire.

John F Weeks: Economics of the 1%: How Mainstream Economics Serves the Rich, Obscures Reality and Distorts Policy (paperback, 2014, Anthem): Uh, sure. Even if economics somehow managed to only study the actual workings of the economy it would be most useful to the rich for uncovering opportunities to profit, but in fact most economists not only study capitalism but are in thrall to it and more than willing to propagandize on behalf of the rich, even making arguments that contradict well known maxims. Weeks is far from the first author to notice this.


Some books previously mentioned that have since come out in paperback. Normally I'd write a bit on each, but I've had trouble researching this section, and it turns out that my draft file is mostly stubs (some rather old), so for this time (at least) I figure I should just flush it:

  • Donald L Barlett/James B Steele: The Betrayal of the American Dream (2012; paperback, 2013, Public Affairs):
  • Breaking the Silence: Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers' Testimonies from the Occupied Territories, 2000-2010 (2012, Metropolitan Books; paperback, 2013, Picador):
  • Thomas B Edsall: The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics (2012, Doubleday; paperback, 2012, Anchor):
  • Chrystia Freeland: Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else (2012; paperback, 2013, Penguin Press):
  • Glenn Greenwald: With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful (2011, Metropolitan Books; paperback, 2012, Picador):
  • Chris Hedges/Joe Sacco: Days of Destruction Days of Revolt (2012; paperback, 2014, Nation Books):
  • Neil Irwin: The Alchemists: Three Central Bankers and a World on Fire (2013; paperback, 2014, Penguin Press):
  • Ann Jones: War Is Not Over When It's Over: Women and the Unseen Consequences of Conflict (2010, Metropolitan Books; paperback, 2011, Picador):
  • Ira Katznelson: Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time (2013; paperback, 2014, Liveright):
  • Rashid Khalidi: Brokers of Deceit: How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East (2013; paperback, 2014, Beacon Press):
  • Lawrence Lessig: Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress -- and a Plan to Stop It (2011; paperback, 2012, Twelve):
  • Robert Jay Lifton: Witness to an Extreme Century: A Memoir (2011; paperback, 2014, Free Press):
  • Charles C Mann: 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (2011, Knopf; paperback, 2012, Vintage):
  • Thomas E Mann/Norman J Ornstein: It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Plitics of Extremism (2012; paperback, 2013, Basic Books):
  • George Packer: The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America (2013; paperback, 2014, Farrar Straus and Giroux):
  • Elaine Pagels: Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, & Politics in the Book of Revelation (2012, Viking; paperback, 2013, Penguin):
  • Michael Pollan: Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation (2013; paperback, 2014, Penguin):
  • Corey Robin: The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism From Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin (2011; paperback, 2013, Oxford University Press):
  • Dani Rodrik: The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy (2011; paperback, 2012, WW Norton):
  • Seth Rosenfeld: Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's Rise to Power (2012, Farrar Straus and Giroux; 2013, Picador):
  • Shlomo Sand: The Invention of the Land of Israel: From Holy Land to Homeland (2012; paperback, 2014, Verso):
  • Jeff Sharlet: C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy (2010; paperback, 2011, Back Bay Books):
  • Avi Shlaim: Israel and Palestine: Reflections, Revisions, Refutations (2009; paperback, 2010, Verso):
  • Hedrick Smith: Who Stole the American Dream? (2012; paperback, 2014, Random House):
  • Louisa Thomas: Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family -- a Test of Will and Faith in World War I (2011; paperback, 2012, Penguin):
  • Nick Turse: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (paperback, 2013, Picador):
  • Patrick Tyler: Fortress Israel: The Inside Story of the Military Elite Who Run the Country -- and Why They Can't Make Peace (2012; paperback, 2013, Farrar Straus and Giroux):

Maybe with a fresh start I'll write more next time. Usually there's an implied recommendation in the paperback listings -- I don't go out and look to see if books I have no interest in have been reprinted -- but the only ones above I have read are: Louisa Thomas' fine book on her ancestors (most famously Norman Thomas); and three books on Israel (Rashid Khalidi, Shlomo Sand, and Patrick Tyler). I do, however, have Corey Robin, Christia Freedland, and Breaking the Silence on the shelf and mean to get to them sooner or later. Several others are things I'd like to read if I can find the time.


Jun 2014 Aug 2014