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Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 23933 [23893] rated (+40), 543 [526] unrated (+17).

Back from three weeks on the road. I did manage to file a few blog posts with link comments, but there wasn't much I could do with Music Week, or indeed much to do until I got back. The incoming mail jumped up a level while I was gone. I didn't take any new CDs with me. I did take a Chromebook and listen to Rhapsody and jotted down a few record reviews, but I didn't have a lot of time for that. (I got flak for playing Wadada Leo Smith, so wound up switching to Oscar Peterson, but I wasn't able to sort out the songbooks until I got home.)

I also fell out of the habit of writing tweet-length review lines, and it doesn't seem like it would either be fun or all that useful to try to catch up at this point. I'm due to post a Rhapsody Streamnotes before the end of October, so you'll get the reviews soon enough. I only have about 50 notes in the draft file, so it will likely be the shortest one all year, but those are the breaks.

I'll resume the grade-tweets after this post. One thing on my "todo" list is to update the Music Tracking 2014 file. One thing not on my "todo" list is to organize another Turkey Shoot on Thanksgiving. I wouldn't mind running it if someone else stepped forward (or you could, as Christgau suggested to me, self-publish it on Medium). I am leaning toward doing a metacritic file based on year-end lists (as opposed to previous years when I folded year-long review data in). And I expect there will be a Jazz Critics Poll, but don't have any details yet.


New records rated over the previous three weeks:

  • Jhené Aiko: Souled Out (2014, Def Jam): [r]: B+(*)
  • Kenny Barron/Dave Holland: The Art of Conversation (2014, Blue Note): [r]: B+(***)
  • David Binney: Anacapa (2014, Criss Cross): [r]: B+(*)
  • Samuel Blaser/Paul Motian: Consort in Motion (2010 [2011], Kind of Blue): [r]: B+(***)
  • Buck 65: Neverlove (2014, WEA Canada): [r]: B+(**)
  • Lajos Dudas Trio: Live at Porgy & Bess (2009 [2013], Jazz Sick): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Lajos Dudas Quartet: Live at Salzburger Jazzherbst (2012 [2013], Jazz Sick): [cd]: A-
  • El-P/Killer Mike: Run the Jewels (2013, Fat Beats): [r]: B+(***)
  • El-P/Killer Mike: Run the Jewels 2 (2014, Mass Appeal): [r]: B+(**)
  • Bill Frisell: Guitar in the Space Age (2014, Okeh): [r]: B+(***)
  • David Hazeltine: For All We Know (2014, Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(***)
  • Branford Marsalis: In My Solitude: Live at Grace Cathedral (2012 [2014], Okeh): [r]: B+(**)
  • Angaleena Presley: American Middle Class (2014, Slate Creek): [r]: A-
  • Joshua Redman: Trios Live (2009-13 [2014], Nonesuch): [r]: B+(**)
  • Rafael Rosa: Portrait (2014, self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Spoke: (R)anthems (2013 [2014], River): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Wadada Leo Smith/Bill Laswell: The Stone (Akashic Meditation) (2014, MOD Technologies): [r]: B+(*)
  • Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives: Saturday Night/Sunday Morning (2014, Superlatone, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)
  • Dann Zinn: Shangri La (2014, self-released): [cd]: B

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

  • Jerry Heldman: Revelation(s) (1973-74 [2014], Origin, 2CD): [cd]: B
  • Oscar Peterson: Plays the Harry Warren & Vincent Youmans Song Books (1952-59 [2014], Solar, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Oscar Peterson: Plays the Richard Rodgers Song Book (1954-59 [2014], Solar): [r]: B+(**)
  • Oscar Peterson: Plays the Irving Berlin Song Book (1952-59 [2014], Solar): [r]: B+(***)
  • Oscar Peterson: Plays the Jimmy McHugh Song Book (1954-59 [2014], Solar): [r]: B+(**)
  • Lester Young: Boston, 1950 (1950 [2013], Uptown): [r]: B+(*)

Old records rated this week:

  • Oscar Peterson: The Oscar Peterson Trio at Zardi's (1954 [1994], Pablo/OJC, 2CD): [r]: A-
  • Oscar Peterson: Plays My Fair Lady (1958, Verve): [r]: B+(**)
  • Oscar Peterson: Plays the Harold Arlen Song Book (1954-59 [2001], Verve): [r]: B+(**)
  • Oscar Peterson: Plays the Cole Porter Song Book (1959 [1990], Verve): [r]: B+(***)
  • Oscar Peterson: Plays the George Gershwin Song Book (1952-59 [1996], Verve): [r]: B+(***)
  • Oscar Peterson: Plays the Duke Ellington Song Book (1952-59 [1999], Verve): [r]: B+(***)
  • Oscar Peterson: A Jazz Portrait of Frank Sinatra (1959 [1990], Verve): [r]: B+(***)
  • Oscar Peterson: Fiorello (1960, Verve): [r]: B+(*)
  • Oscar Peterson Trio: West Side Story (1962, Verve): [r]: B
  • Oscar Peterson: The Jazz Soul of Oscar Peterson/Affinity (1959-62 [1996], Verve): [r]: B+(**)
  • Richmond Fontaine: Winnemucca (2002, El Cortez): [r]: B+(***)

Grade changes:

  • Oscar Peterson: Plays the Jerome Kern Songbook (1959 [2009], Verve): [was: B+(**)] B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last three weeks:

  • Greg Abate Quartet: Motif (Whaling City Sound)
  • Allison Au Quartet: The Sky Was Pale Blue, Then Grey (self-released)
  • David Borbo & Paul Pellegrin: Kronomorfic Entangled (Origin)
  • Nels Cline & Julian Lage: Room (Mack Avenue): advance, November 25
  • Freddy Cole: Singing the Blues (High Note)
  • Kevin Conlon/The Groove Rebellion: In Transit (Blujazz)
  • Michael Denhoff/Uli Phillipp/Jörg Fischer: Trio Improvisations for Campanula, Bass and Percussion (Sporeprint)
  • Expansions: The Dave Liebman Group: Samsara (Whaling City Sound)
  • Jean Luc Fillon: Oboman Plays Cole Porter: Begin the Night . . . (Soupir Editions)
  • Brad Goode Quartet: Montezuma (Origin)
  • Jonathan Kreisberg: Wave Upon Wave (New for Now Music)
  • Thomas Marriott: Urban Folklore (Origin)
  • Delfeayo Marsalis: The Last Southern Gentlemen (Troubadour Jass)
  • Sam Newsome: The Straight Horn of Africa: A Path to Liberation [The Art of the Soprano, Vol. 2] (self-released)
  • Clarence Penn & Penn Station: Monk: The Lost Files (Origin)
  • Rex Richardson & Steve Wilson: Blue Shift (Summit)
  • Boris Savoldelli/Garrison Fewell: Electric Bat Conspiracy (Creative Nation Music)
  • Ryan Schultz Quintet: Hair Dryers (Origin)
  • Pat Senatore Trio: Ascensione (Fresh Sound)
  • Judy Silvano with Michael Abene: My Dance (JSL): January 6
  • Tyshawn Sorey: Alloy (Pi)
  • The Spin Quartet: In Circles (Origin)
  • Lyn Stanley: Potions (A.T. Music)
  • Brian Swartz & the Gnu Sextet: Portraiture (Summit)
  • Natsuki Tamura/Alexander Frangenheim: Max (Creative Sources)
  • Touch and Go Sextet: Live at the Novara Jazz Festival (Nine Winds)
  • Marlene VerPlanck: I Give Up, I'm in Love (Audiophile)
  • Walter White: Most Triumphant (Summit)
  • Jason Yeager Trio: Affirmation (Inner Circle Music)
  • Peter Zak Trio: The Disciple (Steeplechase)
  • Miguel Zenón: Identities Are Changeable (Miel Music): November 4

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Oscar Peterson: Plays the Harry Warren & Vincent Youmans Songbooks (1952-54 [2011], Solar, 2CD): B+(***) [rhapsody]
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of the Sahara [Second Edition] (1980-2013 [2014], World Music Network, 2CD): B+(***)/B+(**) [rhapsody]

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Weekend Roundup

Having jotted down one or two of these on the road, I figured on doing a Sunday links column, followed by a Monday music column, just like normal times. Didn't work out that way, but thanks to the magic of back-dating my tardiness will eventually be forgotten.


  • Alex Henderson: Rise of the American police state: 9 disgraceful events that paved the way: Let's just list 'em:

    1. Ronald Reagan Escalates the War on Drugs
    2. Rodney King Beating of 1991
    3. 9/11 Terrorist Attacks
    4. Waterboarding and Torture at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base
    5. Growth and Expansion of Asset Forfeiture Laws
    6. National Defense Authorization Act and Erosion of Habeas Corpus
    7. Department of Homeland Security Promoting Militarization of Local Police Departments
    8. Growth of the Prison/Industrial Complex
    9. NYPD Assault on Occupy Wall Street

    Note that nothing facilitates the creation of a police state like war -- even pretend-wars like the one on drugs, but see how the pace picks up with 2001?

  • Paul Krugman: The Invisible Moderate: A more accurate assessment of Obama than the one Krugman put forth in his Rolling Stone puff piece:

    I actually agree with a lot of what David Brooks says today. But -- you know there has to be a "but" -- so does a guy named Barack Obama. Which brings me to one of the enduringly weird aspects of our current pundit discourse: constant calls for a moderate, sensible path that supposedly lies between the extremes of the two parties, but is in fact exactly what Obama has been proposing. [ . . . ]

    Well, the Obama administration would love to spend more on infrastructure; the problem is that a major spending bill has no chance of passing the House. And that's not a problem of "both parties" -- it's the GOP blocking it. Exactly how many Republicans would be willing to engage in deficit spending to expand bus networks? (Remember, these are the people who consider making rental bicycles available an example of "totalitarian" rule.) [ . . . ]

    It's an amazing thing: Obama is essentially what we used to call a liberal Republican, who faces implacable opposition from a very hard right. But Obama's moderation is hidden in plain sight, apparently invisible to the commentariat.

    Actually, when I think of Obama as a "liberal Republican" I flash back to an earlier Illinois senator, Charles Percy, who was better on foreign policy and no worse on economics or civil rights than Obama. But Obama doesn't have the luxury of being a liberal Republican, or for that matter a centrist Democrat. Today's Republicans allow no such luxury, nor do today's problems. As far back as 1998, Jim Hightower warned: "there's nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos." Today there's just more roadkill.

    By the way, Krugman's too kind to Brooks, whom he quotes as saying, "the government should reduce its generosity to people who are not working but increase its support for people who are. That means reducing health benefits for the affluent elderly . . ." You may wonder why the party of the rich proposes adding means tests to Medicare. It's because they don't want anyone to think they have a right to medical care.

  • Seth McElwee: Why Turning Out the Vote Makes a Huge Difference in Four Charts: The charts show that non-voters are consistently more liberal than voters, which reinforces the by-now-conventional view that Democrats win when then can get the vote out, while the key for Republican gains is voter suppression. This doesn't go into the question of why non-voters don't vote, even though voting is one of the few ways they have to advance their own interests. Clearly one reason is that the economic costs of voting (which include things like the time it takes to vote) are high enough to suppress turnout. Another likely reason is widespread cynicism about politicians -- especially about Democrats, who appeal for public support on election day but more often than not spend the rest of their time triangulating between interest group lobbies, raising money that they often see as more valuable in securing reëlection than any work they do to benefit their constituents.

    When voter turnout is discussed in public it is often treated as a civic obligation, rather than a means to advance individual interests. Republican candidates often denounce low-income voters for voting for the party that best advances their class interests (while at the same time supporting massive tax cuts for their rich constituents). Yet when Benjamin Page interview the rich he finds that they, "acknowledged a focus on fairly narrow economic self-interest" when discussing their engagement in the political process. In this way, the recent Lil' Jon video, "Turnout For What," while tacky, has reframed the voting as a means to forward political interests, rather than as a civic obligation. Since some 41 percent of non-voters claim that their vote wouldn't matter, this message is important. It's also important to remove barriers to voting. Research by Jame Avery and Mark Peffley finds, "states with restrictive voter registration laws are much more likely to be biased toward upper-class turnout." In contrast, states that have adopted same-day registration and vigorously enforced the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) have lower levels of class bias in their electorate. Research also suggests that unions are an important mechanism for low and middle income voters to engage with the political process. Attempts to disempower than should also be viewed through the lens of voter suppression.

    Indeed, Republican opposition to unions seems to have more to do with reducing their political effectiveness than as a favor to the rich. Since their blip in 2010, when Obama voters took a nap, Republicans have seized the opportunity to do as much as they could to suppress voting (as well as to distort it through the infusion of extraordinary sums of money). I expect this to produce some kind of backlash -- the message for those who bother to pay attention is that your vote must be worth something, otherwise why would they be so eager to take it away? -- but thus far the clearest message is how shameless Republicans have become about their desire to exclude a really large segment of the American people. For more on voter suppression efforts, see Jeffrey Toobin: Freedom Summer, 2015 (and from 2012, Jane Mayer: The Voter-Fraud Myth).

  • Paul Woodward: Terrorism exists in the eye of the beholder: I was in Arkansas Tuesday [October 22], when a soldier on duty at a "war memorial" in Ottawa [Canada] was shot by a lone gunman, presumably the person shot and killed later that day in Canada's Parliament building. The TV was tuned into CNN, where they spent the entire day blabbing on and on based on scant information and fervid imagination. The shooter was later identified as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.

    In 2012 there were seven murders in Ottawa (population close to a million), 2013 nine murders, and so far in 2014 there have been five (including yesterday's).

    The overwhelming majority of the crazy men running round shooting innocent people are on this side of the border. What makes them dangerous is much less the ideas in their heads than the ease with which they can lay their hands on a gun.

    It's often hard to be clear about what should be described as terrorism. What's much easier to discern is hysteria.

    By the way, Zehaf-Bibeau's gun was evidently a Winchester Model 94 lever-action rifle, a design that dates back to 1894 and is limited to eight rounds, which have to be individually loaded -- a very inefficient choice for a "shooting rampage."

    Then on Friday [October 24], a high school student in suburban Seattle went on his own shooting rampage, killing two and injuring three more before shooting himself. I missed CNN's wall-to-wall coverage (assuming that's what they did), but it's safe to guess that the talking heads spent much less time speculating on the shooter's ties to ISIS. For one thing, shooting each other is just something Americans do.

  • I don't have time to dig through Israel's recent garbage, but if you do here are some typical links from Mondoweiss:


Also, a few links for further study:

  • Tom Engelhardt: Entering the Intelligence Labyrinth: An introduction, or precis, of Engelhardt's new book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (paperback, Haymarket Books). It bears repeating that the US annually spends $68 billion on 17 major "intelligence" agencies -- sorry for the quotes but it's hard to think of them without choking on that word -- that do, well, what exactly? Sorry, that's a secret, but thanks to the occasional leak or boast we do know a wee bit:

    You build them glorious headquarters. You create a global surveillance state for the ages. You listen in on your citizenry and gather their communications in staggering quantities. Your employees even morph into avatars and enter video-game landscapes, lest any Americans betray a penchant for evil deeds while in entertainment mode. You collect information on visits to porn sites just in case, one day, blackmail might be useful. You pass around naked photos of them just for . . . well, the salacious hell of it. Your employees even use aspects of the system you've created to stalk former lovers and, within your arcane world, that act of "spycraft" gains its own name: LOVEINT.

    You listen in on foreign leaders and politicians across the planet. You bring on board hundreds of thousands of crony corporate employees, creating the sinews of an intelligence-corporate complex of the first order. You break into the "backdoors" of the data centers of major Internet outfits to collect user accounts. You create new outfits within outfits, including an ever-expanding secret military and intelligence crew embedded inside the military itself (and not counted among those 17 agencies). Your leaders lie to Congress and the American people without, as far as we can tell, a flicker of self-doubt. Your acts are subject to secret courts, which only hear your versions of events and regularly rubberstamp them -- and whose judgments and substantial body of lawmaking are far too secret for Americans to know about.

    You have put extraordinary effort into ensuring that information about your world and the millions of documents you produce doesn't make it into our world. You even have the legal ability to gag American organizations and citizens who might speak out on subjects that would displease you (and they can't say that their mouths have been shut). You undoubtedly spy on Congress. You hack into congressional computer systems. And if whistleblowers inside your world try to tell the American public anything unauthorized about what you're doing, you prosecute them under the Espionage Act, as if they were spies for a foreign power (which, in a sense, they are, since you treat the American people as if they were a foreign population). You do everything to wreck their lives and -- should one escape your grasp -- you hunt him implacably to the ends of the Earth.

    As for your top officials, when their moment is past, the revolving door is theirs to spin through into a lucrative mirror life in the intelligence-corporate complex. [ . . . ]

    Keep in mind that the twenty-first-century version of intelligence began amid a catastrophic failure: much crucial information about the 9/11 hijackers and hijackings was ignored or simply lost in the labyrinth. That failure, of course, led to one of the great intelligence expansions, or even explosions, in history. (And mind you, no figure in authority in the national security world was axed, demoted, or penalized in any way for 9/11 and a number of them were later given awards and promoted.) However they may fail, when it comes to their budgets, their power, their reach, their secrecy, their careers, and their staying power, they have succeeded impressively.

    Speaking of secrets, also see: Nick Turse: Uncovering the Military's Secret Military (back from 2011, more relevant than ever):

    In 120 countries across the globe, troops from Special Operations Command carry out their secret war of high-profile assassinations, low-level targeted killings, capture/kidnap operations, kick-down-the-door night raids, joint operations with foreign forces, and training missions with indigenous partners as part of a shadowy conflict unknown to most Americans. Once "special" for being small, lean, outsider outfits, today they are special for their power, access, influence, and aura.

    That aura now benefits from a well-honed public relations campaign which helps them project a superhuman image at home and abroad, even while many of their actual activities remain in the ever-widening shadows. Typical of the vision they are pushing was this statement from Admiral Olson: "I am convinced that the forces . . . are the most culturally attuned partners, the most lethal hunter-killers, and most responsive, agile, innovative, and efficiently effective advisors, trainers, problem-solvers, and warriors that any nation has to offer."

    I suspect that the main target of that propaganda campaign is the president, to drive home the point that "special forces" are a no-risk, high-return, small scale option for any problem that can be solved simply (with a bullet, that is).

  • Rory Fanning: Why Do We Keep Thanking the Troops?: I can't be the only person who finds the constant adulation given to the "troops" of the US military downright disgusting, but it sure is hard to find anyone saying so in print. America has always cultivated hypocrisy, and those in my generation suffered through more than usual dose. We noted the beginnings of a cult of the troops in the Vietnam War, where failure on the battlefield was ever-more-generously decorated with medals, but memory was too close to WWII to get carried away: WWII was an intense, all-encompassing collective effort; with so few uninvolved it would have seemed silly to declare everyone a hero (although as memory dimmed that eventually happened with the "greatest generation" hype). The obvious excuse for putting troops on a pedestal today is that so few people sign up (and many of them are tricked into thinking it's some sort of jobs program). Still, this idolatry obscures one of the fundamental political questions of our time: do the sacrifices of US troops do any good for the vast majority of Americans who are otherwise uninvolved? The answer, I'm certain, is no. If all the US had done after 9/11/2001 was to put out a few Interpol warrants, I doubt that even the tiny number of "terrorist attacks" we've seen since would have happened. Had we practiced policies in the Middle East favoring democracy and basic human rights for all but eschewing intervention and arms sales we probably would have missed out on 9/11 (and both Gulf Wars). Sure, the troops had no real say in the decision to squander their lives in a vain attempt to buttress the Neocon ego, but I'm not so sure they shouldn't shoulder some of the blame. Back in the Vietnam War days there was a popular saying: "suppose they gave a war and nobody came." We were under no illusion that most of those who "came" for the war then were compelled to do so. I can understand, and even sympathize, how one might succumb to the force of the state -- I did, after all, feel that force -- but for me that made those who resisted, either by going to jail or avoiding that fate, were the era's real heroes; nothing one could do in battle came close. Since the draft ended, the choice to deny the war machine its bodies is less fraught, and indeed most people choose that path. So today's troops range from malevolent to the merely misinformed, but they all help to enable a set of policies that ultimately do massive harm to the nation and its people. And often, of course, they do great harm to themselves, adding to the public costs of war. (Aside from the dead and maimed, Fanning mentions that "there is a veteran suicide every 80 minutes in this country," nor does the PTSD stop there.) Of course, there are more nuances to the whole phenomenon, but at root is a common misconception that those who "served" did something to protect the rest of us, something that we all should be grateful for. That simply did not happen. That they sacrificed for something we should regret and be embarrassed by, well, that's more to the point. Only once we recognize that can we get past the charades, and that will be better for all of us.

  • David Bromwich: American Exceptionalism and Its Discontents: Speaking of hypocrisies, here's the hoary mother lode, the notion that we're so special the world wouldn't know what to do without our enlightened guidance. Needless to say, the tone has changed over time. Once America was unique in declaring that "all men are created equal"; today our self-esteem is the very celebration of inequality.

  • David Gerald Finchman: The hidden documents that reveal the true borders of Israel and Palestine: In 1947 David Ben Gurion begged the UN to vote in favor of partition borders for Palestine which would give 55% of the mandate to a majority-Jewish nation that represented only 35% of the total population, and 45% to an almost exclusively Arabic-speaking nation. In 1948 Israel's Declaration of Independence proclaimed a Jewish State but said nothing about borders. This unwillingness to define borders has kept Israel in a state of war ever since, with Israel grabbing another 23% of the Mandate's territory during the 1947-49 war, and the remaining 22% in 1967 (plus chunks of Egypt and Syria). This piece looks into the decision-making process from UN-borders to no-borders. A longer version is available here.

  • Karen Greenberg: Will the US Go to "War" Against Ebola? It's telling that Obama's initial response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was to send in the US military. That made some sense inasmuch as AFRICOM has money to burn and some expertise in logistics, but it also imposes a rigid worldview and introduces a dangerous level of intimidation. The one thing Ebola does have in common with Terrorism is an exaggerated level of hysteria, but that seems of a piece with the media's highly orchestrated kneejerk reactions. I'm reminded of the anthrax scare of 2001, which would have soon gone freaking insane had the perpetrator not had the good sense to stop. Greenberg points out many ways Ebola differs from the Terrorism model.

  • Louis Menand: Crooner in Rights Spat: A useful review of copyright matters:

    Baldwin joins Saint-Amour, the law professors Lawrence Lessig, Jeanne Fromer, and Robert Spoo, and the copyright lawyer William Patry in believing that, Internet or no Internet, the present level of copyright protection is excessive. By the time most works fall into the public domain, they have lost virtually all their use value. If the public domain is filled with items like hundred-year-old images of the back of Rod Stewart's head, the public good will suffer. The commons will become your great-grandparents' attic.

    As it is, few creations outlive their creators. Of the 187,280 books published between 1927 and 1946, only 2.3 per cent were still in print in 2002. But, since there is no "use it or lose it" provision in copyright law, they are all still under copyright today. Patry, in his recent book, "How to Fix Copyright," notes that ninety-five per cent of Motown recordings are no longer available. Nevertheless, you can't cover or imitate or even sample them without paying a licensing fee -- despite the fact that your work is not competing in the marketplace with the original, since the original is no longer for sale.

  • Katha Pollitt: How Pro-Choicers Can Take Back the Moral High Ground: An excerpt from Pollitt's new book, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights.

    A man's home is his castle, but a woman's body has never been wholly her own. Historically, it's belonged to her nation, her community, her father, her family, her husband -- in 1973, when Roe was decided, marital rape was legal in every state. Why shouldn't her body belong to a fertilized egg as well? And if that egg has a right to live and grow in her body, why shouldn't she be held legally responsible for its fate and be forced to have a cesarean if her doctor thinks it's best, or be charged with a crime if she uses illegal drugs and delivers a stillborn or sick baby? Incidents like these have been happening all over the country for some time now. Denying women the right to end a pregnancy is the flip side of punishing women for their conduct during pregnancy -- and even if not punishing, monitoring. In the spring of 2014, a law was proposed in the Kansas Legislature that would require doctors to report every miscarriage, no matter how early in the pregnancy. You would almost think the people who have always opposed women's independence and full participation in society were still at it. They can't push women all the way back, but they can use women's bodies to keep them under surveillance and control.

  • Peter Van Buren: Seven Bad Endings to the New War in the Middle East: I know what you're saying: "only seven?" Van Buren doesn't get to the political effects of continuing the War on Terrorism -- of continuing to fund the surveillance state, of the increasing militarization of police departments, of the circumvention of the justice system, of how public funds are being drained as remote and preventable problems are prioritized over real and immediate ones by a political establishment deeply in hock to the security phantom.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

When I'm Sixty-Four

When I was sixteen I probably knew every lyric to every Beatles song extant, so it wasn't hard to recall at least the refrain of the jaunty little title tune on my 64th birthday. "Will you still need me? Will you still feed me?" Back then I wouldn't have had a clue who "you" might be, but I never worried about food: my mother's theme song should have been Cab Calloway's "Everybody Eats When They Come to My House" -- a house I also didn't have a clue how to escape. I celebrated my 16th birthday a couple months late by dropping out of high school. I stayed home a couple days after Christmas when a cousin was visiting. I went back the next day and was so sickened I never returned.

For the next five years I basically hid out in my attic room. I skewed my hours to minimize contact with my parents and siblings, going to sleep minutes before my father got up for work, waking mid-afternoon just in time to watch Dark Shadows and Star Trek reruns. I had a tiny black-and-white TV that ran out of stations shortly after midnight, a tinny stereo with not much more than a dozen LPs, a typewriter, and a growing collection of books and periodicals -- what I spent nearly all of my $10/week allowance on. Evenings I could take the family car out, mostly downtown to bookstores and the library. I was only at ease when surrounded by books, and while my own life was locked down reading made me aware of other worlds and other possibilities.

As I was traveling last week, it occurred to me that there are two types of people in America today: those who can mentally put themselves in other people's predicaments and empathize, and those who can't (or just don't). What triggered this thought was a depression-era story about Uncle Ted: he had heard vigilante threats against a destitute family that had been stealing, so he picked them up and drove them to another county where they had kinfolk; he explained later to his family that he could imagine being so hungry that he might resort to stealing too. Whenever I heard this story, I first think of my harsh experience with thieves, but having known Ted and something of his life and history I wind up recognizing that this story is more complex and nuanced than my own narrow experience knows.

Of course, the point was reinforced many times as I watched political commercials last week. The "two types" don't precisely split along party lines. Indeed, Democrats can appeal to a majority along self-interest lines -- and do so effectively when they point out how Republicans like Tom Cotton (their Senate hopeful in Arkansas) are out to undermine and even dismantle Social Security and Medicare -- but the Republican appeals almost invariably depend on drawing lines between the voters they court and everyone else (all those people outside their identity group, most obsessively president Obama).

Of course, I didn't get to the ability to empathize with others very early. As a child I was exceptionally selfish and greedy, and as an adolescent I withdrew from my social network even before I physically isolated myself. Therefore, much of my early reading focused on my own experiences: education, psychology, religion. One most influential book on the former was Charles Weingartner/Neil Postman's Teaching as a Subversive Activity. Their main argument was that the most valuable thing schooling could do was to encourage students to develop their own finely tuned "bullshit detectors." Needless to say, school as I had known it was strongly focused on rote learning -- including the stock moralism of the day. But there was no shortage of bullshit in the late 1960s, so detection soon became easy. I was soon reexamining every assumption I had been brought up to believe. I had an earlier interest in mainstream politics, so my move to the New Left had conventional framing (except that my ancestral reference system was rooted deeper in Populism and Republican Progressivism than in New Deal/Great Society Liberalism).

As I thought more critically, I came to realize that what gets called madness is often just social nonconformity -- something I had developed a literary and artistic taste for. As for my personal dysfunction, I was much taken with Gregory Bateson's "double-bind theory of schizophrenia": I could see how impossible it was to satisfy all the contradictory moral authorities of my youth. That insight turned my personality problem into a matter of logic, something that reason, and therefore I, could sort out.

Not that it was so simple. I had to force myself to socialize. In 1970 I got a GED and enrolled in Wichita State University. A year later I had 59 units of straight-A credit and a scholarship to transfer to Washington University (St. Louis). Two years later I got my first job, was finally able to support myself, and had had a couple of sexual relationships. A couple years later I moved to New York and soon moved in with my first wife. After she died several years later, I found another relationship, and we've been together for more than twenty-five years now.

And now I'm sixty-four -- a milestone monumental enough to inspire a pop song forty-eight years ago, but today it mostly means that I have one more year to suffer through Obamacare (and, sure, be thankful for that) before Medicare kicks in, eliminating one of the great worries of my de facto retirement. Fifteen years ago I used to joke on my "career assessment forms" that my "career goal" was retirement -- one of many times I've crossed some unstated but expected line of conformity -- but I'm more or less there now. My father retired from his factory job as soon as he could afford to, and thereby got a few good years before a stroke pinned him down. For him, as for most people fortunate enough to be able to afford it, retirement was freedom. I've enjoyed that same freedom since SCO let me go in 2000. But while my work ethic hasn't much flagged, I've become increasingly uncomfortable with my lack of accomplishment (what in engineering we call "deliverables").

My recent travels gave me some time to think about this. I spent, for instance, some time with the same cousin I played hooky to see when I was sixteen. We reminisced, but also she poked some holes in my inequality book outline, making me realize how difficult it's going to be to craft arguments that are almost too obvious to me. I believe that inequality is the core political issue of our time, but not so much to balance everyone's supply of stuff as because it profoundly corrupts our sense of justice, and losing the sense that the political order is ultimately just unravels the whole social fabric. Indeed, it may be that stuff is the wrong way to account for inequality. My working title, Share the Wealth (from Huey Long), could just as well be Share the Freedom -- assuming, as I've concluded, that it takes a certain level of wealth to be free, although it's not clear that more wealth makes one more free (although it has been shown that excess wealth doesn't make one happier).

Better developed is an outline for an essay on Israel, something I talked to several people about. The first two sections would explore the only issues of importance to understanding why Israel's leaders have acted for the better part of a century. The first concerns colonial settler demography: the only places where settlers have retained power are places where the population mix tilted decisely in favor of the settlers (the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Argentina) while everywhere settlers remained in the minority power has reverted to the majority (most relevantly in South Africa and Algeria). Israel is in between -- secure enough within its 1967 borders but far less so with the Occupied Territories.

The second issue -- perhaps the first chronologically in that it concerns the initial founding of the Zionist movement, but I think it makes more sense to treat it second -- is the dependent dialectic between Zionism and anti-semitism, how it has played out over history, and how it has been twisted around in Israeli self-consciousness. As anti-semitism has waned in the West this link can be questioned, but it is deeply held within Israel, and that has many ramifications that have to be understood. (Israel's obsession with security, for instance, has as much to do with imagined enemies as with real ones.)

The third part would review all significant "peace" proposals since the Peel Commission (or maybe the Balfour Declaration) and pick apart why they have failed -- almost invariably because Israelis have been unable (or unwilling) to reconcile their colonial project with emerging standards of international law on human rights, and lately because Israelis have been able to exploit the archaic rightward turn in US foreign policy. In the past I've written up my pet ideas about how the conflict could be resolved, and some of those ideas may return in an epilogue but my experience is that few people care for my ideas as long as they can hope for something more advantageous.

The other book-like project that came up here and there is the idea of writing a memoir: basically a huge expansion of this post, although I also see it as an occasion to write a personalized history of the era from October 1950 -- a point just before the Chinese entered and turned the tide in the Korean War -- to the present: a long history of imperial decline, with most of the rot on the moral side. (It isn't exactly irony that the US empire expanded as long as we were plausibly anti-imperialist, then declined once we started believing in our destiny. It's just hubris.)

A memoir would also let me look back at where my family came from, how they represented America, and what has happened to more than just me. I could work in some of the stories we batted around on the Arkansas leg of my trip. One of the political ads I saw last week lamented that Arkansas was 48th of 50 states in job creation, but I know good and well that's an old story: seven of my mother's cohort of eight siblings left Arkansas in the 1930s looking for work elsewhere. (Three came to Kansas.) Their stories are interesting, and while I'll never know enough to do them justice, I'd like to know more, and use that as some sort of context. As odd as I grew up, I came from remarkably average roots, and maybe there's some hope in that.


I meant this to come out on my birthday, but events didn't let it work out that way. I was touched by all the good wishes on Facebook, but it was hardly a "great day" -- don't care to go into details, but it slipped out of hand. And the resulting post is rather "stream of consciousness" as I flit from one topic to another.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Weekend Roundup

Links for further study:

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links this week:


  • Thomas B Edsall: The State-by-State Revival of the Right: Points out that Republicans have "complete control" (governors and state legislatures) in 23 states, "more than at any time since Dwight D. Eisenhower won the presidency in 1952." Also that "they are exercising their power to gain partisan advantage far more aggressively than their Democratic counterparts."

    The most visible effort is the drive to gut public sector unions, a key source of votes and financial support for Democrats. Wisconsin, under Republican Governor Scott Walker, has led the charge on this front. With support from the Koch brothers, the state has severely restricted collective bargaining rights for public employees, ended mandatory union dues and limited wage hikes to the rate of inflation.

    Both supporters and opponents of Walker's initiative realized that this was a key battleground -- pathbreaking, in fact -- hence the rallies, the recall and so on.

    Many Republican-controlled states have weakened or eliminated laws and regulations protecting the environment. In North Carolina the state legislature cut the budgets of regulators and prohibited local governments from enacting strict pro-environmental rules. The state chapter of the League of Conservation Voters has rated members of the legislature every year since 1999. Between 1999 and 2012, the group issued North Carolina a total of 48 scores of zero. In 2013 alone, 82 North Carolina Republicans got zeros. [ . . . ]

    Democrats today convey only minimal awareness of what they are up against: an adversary that views politics as a struggle to the death. The Republican Party has demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice principle, including its historical commitments to civil rights and conservation; to bend campaign finance law to the breaking point; to abandon the interests of workers on the factory floor; and to undermine progressive tax policy -- in a scorched-earth strategy to postpone the day of demographic reckoning.

    One key point here is that this does not represent a turn in public opinion toward the right. The Democratic Party collapsed in 2010 because Obama gutted the successful national organization that Howard Dean had built, then muddled all the key issues, many by thinking that bipartisan approaches would be superior to partisan ones -- clearly a mistake the Republicans didn't make.

  • Paul Krugman: In Defense of Obama: If some pollster came along and asked me the standard question of whether I approve or disapprove of the job Obama has done as president, I'd have to answer "disapprove." I'm not unaware of, or unappreciative of, some positive accomplishments under Obama. And I wouldn't withhold my approval just because I thought Obama could have done more and better than he did. On the other hand, I can't give him credit merely for not being as bad as any Republican -- especially John McCain and Mitt Romney -- one might vote for a "lesser evil," but that is no reason to approve of one. Nor should one go to the lengths of creating strawman arguments like Krugman does here:

    There's a different story on the left, where you now find a significant number of critics decrying Obama as, to quote Cornel West, someone who "posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit." They're outraged that Wall Street hasn't been punished, that income inequality remains so high, that "neoliberal" economic policies are still in place. All of this seems to rest on the belief that if only Obama had put his eloquence behind a radical economic agenda, he could somehow have gotten that agenda past all the political barriers that have constrained even his much more modest efforts. It's hard to take such claims seriously.

    That's hardly the only critique of Obama from the left, but it shouldn't be dismissed so cavalierly. One reason Obama failed to implement much of the "change" he campaigned on in 2008 was that he stopped talking about the need for such change as soon as he was elected. By backpedaling he not only gave up on success, he let the issues vanish from public discussion -- creating a vacuum that all the Tea Party nonsense quickly filled. Maybe we expected more from Obama than he was ever willing to deliver, but the ease with which he moved from critic of the status quo to defender should have been alarming. What alarmed me more than anything was how readily he dismantled the very successful Democratic Party organization that Howard Dean had built -- giving credence to David Frum's quip that where the Republican Party fears its base, the Democratic Party despises its core constituency. Time and again the people who paid the price for Obama's retreats were the people who voted for him, whose trust he squandered, whose interests he sold out.

    I pretty much accept Krugman's arguments for Obama's health care and finance reform programs, and for various other details -- the value of the stimulus, of higher tax rates on the rich, of more aggressive environmental regulation, etc. Where I disagree most strongly is on foreign policy, where Obama has failed to break decisively with neocon orthodoxy on everything from Israel to Russia to Iran to Iraq. That is -- what else can he do? -- the point where Krugman resorts to the argument that Obama isn't as bad as McCain. That strikes me as wishful thinking, inasmuch as Obama has wound up doing exactly what McCain wants.

  • Rick Perlstein: The Long Con: Written in 2012, hence the introduction on "Mittdacity," but the background info on the long association between Republican propaganda and mail order scams and other cons is as apposite as ever.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Midweek Update

OK, this is an on-the-road experiment: instead of collecting a week's (or half-week's) links and comments, then posting the final result, I'll try it bit-by-bit (with a delayed posting date):

  • Peter Beinart: Without a two-state solution, Americans will challenge Zionism itself: Behind their paywall, but the basic argument is that American liberals have tended to support Israel because they like the appeal of Israel as a liberal democracy (like us) -- and the only thing holding up the long-promised "two-state solution" is Palestinian intransigence. However, that is in fact wrong -- pretty much categorically so, as should be clear to anyone who listens to what Netanyahu and his cohort say. If, in the end, all the "Jewish state" has to justify itself with is an ethnocracy empowered by gratuitous violence -- i.e., about the only plausible explanation of Netanyahu's tantrum this summer -- few Americans (neocon militarists and Apocalypse-minded Christians) will be willing to continue supporting Israel. That strikes me as fair, even if a bit removed from the jingoism still dominant in US political discourse.

    This dawning of reality would be taken as good news by most critical thinkers, but Beinart remains committed to the Zionist idea that Israel's existence is a good thing for Jews not only in Israel (where they are, in Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar's phrase, "lords of the land") but also in the Diaspora. A more accurate analysis would show that Zionism is intrinsically hostile to the Diaspora, no matter how conveniently Zionists suck up to generous (albeit misguided) foreign donors.

    I still believe the best answer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a democratic Jewish state alongside a democratic Palestinian one. I believe that because, in a post-Holocaust world, I want there to be one country that has as its mission statement the protection of Jewish life. And I believe it because among both Palestinians and Israeli Jews, nationalism remains a massively powerful force. To assume each community could subordinate its deep-seeded nationalism to a newfound loyalty to secular state strikes me as utopian. Secular binationalism barely works in Belgium. Between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea it's probably a recipe for civil war.

    But this requires arguing that Israel/Palestine is, at least right now, fundamentally different than the United States. It requires defending Zionism as something alien to the American experience, something necessary because in Israel/Palestine, the civic nationalism we revere here is neither possible nor desirable. That's very different than arguing that the United States should support Israel because it's America's Middle Eastern twin.

    But if you take the "twin" aspect away, it's hard to see many Americans caring about Jewish nationalism, especially since the anti-semitism that Israel is supposedly the solution to is hardly evident -- nor is it clear that Israel's "solution" really works.

  • Paul Krugman: Why Weren't the Alarm Bells Ringing?: Review of Martin Wolf's The Shifts and the Shocks: What We've Learned -- and Have Still to Learn -- from the Financial Crisis, which explains the 2008 financial meltdown and ensuing depression using the now-standard Minsky model: that prolonged economic stability leads to financial laxness, excessive leverage, and collapse. Krugman is skeptical that that's all there is to it.

    First, while the depression that overtook the Western world in 2008 clearly came after the collapse of a vast financial bubble, that doesn't mean that the bubble caused the depression. Late in The Shifts and the Shocks Wolf mentions the reemergence of the "secular stagnation" hypothesis, most famously in the speeches and writing of Lawrence Summers (Lord Adair Turner independently made similar points, as did I). But I'm not sure whether readers will grasp the full implications. If the secular stagnationists are right, advanced economies now suffer from persistently inadequate demand, so that depression is their normal state, except when spending is supported by bubbles. If that's true, bubbles aren't the root of the problem; they're actually a good thing while they last, because they prop up demand. Unfortunately, they're not sustainable -- so what we need urgently are policies to support demand on a continuing basis, which is an issue very different from questions of financial regulation.

    Wolf actually does address this issue briefly, suggesting that the answer might lie in deficit spending financed by the government's printing press. But this radical suggestion is, as I said, overshadowed by his calls for more financial regulation. It's the morality play aspect again: the idea that we need to don a hairshirt and repent our sins resonates with many people, while the idea that we may need to abandon conventional notions of fiscal and monetary virtue has few takers.

    I've always found "secular stagnation" to be an oddly opaque term. The "persistent low demand" at its center is most certainly the effect of increasing inequality, where most people are increasingly denied the option to spend on real goods, while the rich often find their gains wrapped up in the illusion of inflated asset prices. This is, of course, a much deeper and more persistent problem than the stability of the banks. The Bush-Obama (or Paulson-Geithner) solution was to save the banks, figuring that if the front lines of the crisis held people wouldn't suspect that there was anything more rotten at the core of the crisis. But the fact that the "Obama recovery," like the "Bush recovery" before it, feels so hollow should dispel us of such illusions.

    Krugman's note on 2011 and All That is worth quoting at length:

    But [Bill] Gross was by no means alone in getting these things wrong. Indeed, 2011 was a sort of banner year for bad macroeconomic analysis by people who had no excuse for their wrong-headedness. And here's the thing: aside from Gross, hardly any of the prominent wrong-headers have paid any price for their errors.

    Think about it: 2011 was the year when Bowles and Simpson predicted a fiscal crisis within two years. There was never a hint of crisis, but BS are still given reverent treatment by the Beltway media.

    2011 was also the year when Paul Ryan warned Ben Bernanke that he was "debasing" the dollar, arguing that rising commodity prices were the harbinger of runaway inflation; the Bank for International Settlements made a similar argument, albeit with less Ayn Rand. They were completely wrong, but Ryan is still the intellectual leader of the GOP and the BIS is still treated as a fount of wisdom.

    The difference is, of course, that Gross had actual investors' money on the line. But you should not take that to imply that the profit motive leads to intellectual clarity; Gross has been forced out at Pimco, but I've seen hardly any press coverage tying that to his having the wrong macro model.

    Speaking of getting things wrong, also see Jeff Madrick: Why the Experts Missed the Recession. Madrick's sources are primarily recently released FOMC debates and "Greenbook" economic forecasts, which show how completely events blindsided the very "experts" who were responsible for setting Fed interest rates, and thereby adjusting the economy.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 23893 [23870] rated (+23), 526 [521] unrated (+5).

Actually, the week for me ended on Friday, October 3.


New records rated this week:

  • Marcia Ball: The Tatooed Lady and the Alligator Man (2014, Alligator): sings blues, plays boogie-woogie, spins a fine yarn then goes for the filler [r]: B+(*)
  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Alexey Lapin: The Russian Concerts Volume 2 (2013 [2014], FMR): more if you want more, but start with superv Vol. 1 [cd]: B+(***)
  • Jack Clement: For Once and for All (2014, IRS Nashville): the late Nashville producer reclaims a few of his songs, with genteel smiling cowboy aplomb [r]: B+(***)
  • Neil Cowley Trio: Touch and Flee (2014, Naim Jazz): Brit piano trio for fans of EST and Jarrett continue to keep semipopular jazz respectable [r]: B+(*)
  • Mark Elf: Returns 2014 (2013 [2014], Jen Bay Jazz): guitarist who admires Tal Farlow backed by David Hazletine, Peter Washington, Lewis Nash dream band [cd]: B+(**)
  • Alice Gerrard: Follow the Music (2014, Tompkins Square): pioneering harmony woman of bluegrass belatedly strikes out on her own, ancient and ragged [r]: B+(***)
  • Prince: Art Official Age (2014, Warner Brothers): wondered if he was done, but give him a major label and he'll lay out some major label funk for you [r]: B+(*)
  • Prince/3rdEyeGirl: Plectrum Electrum (2014, Warner Brothers): "all-female power trio" means they know Cream's basslines but don't sing like Jack Bruce [r]: B+(*)
  • Matthew Shipp: I've Been to Many Places (2014, Thirsty Ear): yet another solo piano record, louder than ever in case you didn't get the point yet [r]: B+(*)
  • Tricky: Adrian Thaws (2014, !K7): discovers own name and recovers old tricks for a wide range of poses, must be some kind of midlife crisis [r]: B+(***)
  • Ulf Wakenius: Solo: Momento Magico (2013 [2014], ACT): solo guitar, goes for thick chords to add gravitas to an intrinsically light album [r]: B+(*)

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

  • Bambara Mystic Soul: The Raw Sound of Burkina Faso 1974-1979 (1974-79 [2011], Analog Africa): obscurities from the heart of the heart of West Africa [r]: B+(**)
  • The Evergreen Classic Jazz Band: Early Tunes 1915-1932 (1995 [2014], Delmark): Seattle trad jazz band with banjo and tuba, makes the old songs zing [cd]: A-
  • Charlie Haden/Jim Hall: Charlie Haden/Jim Hall (1990 [2014], Impulse): live in Montreal a year late for Haden's big fête, but this is more about the guitarist, drawing him out [r]: A-
  • The Rough Guide to Arabic Jazz ([2014], World Music Network, 2CD): rougher than need be, especially with the scene-stealing Cuban ringer the best cut by far [r]: B+(*)
  • The Rough Guide to Bollywood Disco (1965-93 [2014], World Music Network, 2CD): dance dance dance with a pre-disco highlight that reminds me of Chubby Checker [r]: B+(***)
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of the Sahara [Second Edition] (1980-2013 [2014], World Music Network, 2CD): label annoying as ever, not that they can't program a songlist [r]: B+(***)
  • Wild Jimmy Spruill: Scratchin': The Wild Jimmy Spruill Story (1956-63 [2014], GVC, 2CD): various singers sharing Spruill's guitar, a still vital r&b period compiled [cd]: A

Old records rated this week:

  • Ruby Braff: Linger Awhile (1953-55 [1999], Vanguard): early sessions led by Buck Clayton and Vic Dickenson, showing the company he keeps and progress [r]: B+(**)
  • Matthew Shipp/Guillermo E. Brown: Telephone Popcorn (2005 [2008], Nu Bop): piano-drums duo, half of David Ware's quartet, not quite finished [r]: B+(*)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Alessandro Collina/Rodolfo Cervetto/Marc Peillon/Fabrizio Bosso: Michel on Air (ITI)
  • Lajos Dudas Trio: Live at Porgy & Bess (Jazz Sick)
  • Lajos Dudas Quartet: Live at Salzburger Jazzherbst (Jazz Sick)
  • Eric Hofbauer: Prehistoric Jazz Volume 1: The Rite of Spring (Creative Nation Music)
  • Eric Hofbauer: Prehistoric Jazz Volume 2: Quintet for the End of Time (Creative Nation Music)
  • Will Holshouser/Matt Munister/Marcus Rojas: Introducing Musette Explosion (Aviary): November 1
  • Bill Watrous/Pete Christlieb/Carl Saunders: A Beautiful Friendship (Summit)

Purchases:

  • Dave Alvin/Phil Alvin: Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy (Yep Roc)
  • Shaver: Shaver's Jewels (1993-2001, New West)
  • Wild Jimmy Spruill: Scratchin': The Wild Jimmy Spruill Story (1956-63, GVC, 2CD)

Friday, October 03, 2014

Working Links

A quick listing of some open tabs as I'm shutting down the computer:


Sep 2014 Nov 2014