March 2015 Notebook


Monday, March 30, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 24768 [24735] rated (+33), 399 [409] unrated (-10).

Average week, but the mix below is a little peculiar. I've been trying to declutter. I have these 13x15.75-inch Stearlite plastic baskets that hold two rows of CDs, about 75-80 total. Back when Jazz CG was jumping, I used two baskets to hold the incoming queue, and sorted them somewhat, so one basket had a row of unpromising shit and a row of vocals, while the other basket had instrumental jazz, sometimes sorted further but more often not. Under this scheme the unpromising shit almost never got touched, so most of it still dates from before the initial sort -- 2011 or 2012, maybe even 2010. Sometime last year I started filing the vocals with the new jazz. Couple weeks ago I merged the baskets, so now I have one basket, with the row of the old unpromising shit on the left and everything else on the right. Under this scheme I've finally started to deplete the left(over) row, and you'll see a fair amount of 2008-10 "new" releases below. Some are not as bad as I expected -- Chris Massey, Project Trio, Times 4, Bossa Brasil -- but none (so far) are things I'm ever likely to want to play again.

Some of the incentive for running through this queue is to get them out of my sight. After I play them, if they are graded B+(**) or less and are by someone I don't have a serious interest in (by definition, for the "unpromising shit" row), then go into another basket. When that basket fills up, I haul it downstairs and empty it into an unsorted shelf unit full of similar records that I can't imagine ever wanting to play again. (These are not necessarily "bad" records -- by definition, anything B+ is actually pretty good, but it's all relative. Unless I'm travelling or something, I almost never play as many as ten previously graded records in a week -- for pleasure or nostalgia or whatever. In a house with, conservatively, ten thousand CDs, well, you do the math.)

When that downstairs shelf unit fills up -- actually, it's the last of three with open space -- I'll be in a quandry. When I moved to Kansas in 1999 I sold off 90% of my LPs for a pittance (35-cents apiece), more to avoid the shipping costs than for what little money I made. I've never sold surplus CDs -- in part because the only decent used stores here shut down long ago -- but I imagine it would wind up being the same miserable experience. I could build more shelves, but I'm running out of space, not to mention patience. Best idea I've come up with is to donate the surplus to a local library. I took a step and contacted Wichita State University last week. Getting cold feet now, but I do need to do something. My main goal over the next month or so is to get rid of all the baskets on the floor except for my one incoming queue. (Looking around, I count nine, plus a couple hundred CDs in front of other CDs in a bookcase. Also need to get several piles of books off the floor.) I'm not exactly a hoarder, but I do have too much shit.

One cluster of exceptional records here comes from Robert Christgau's Expert Witness last week: The Paranoid Style and The Close Readers, two groups I had never heard of -- indeed, their 2013-14 records never appeared in my metacritic files. I sorted the Paranoid Style's EP a bit differently, but remarkable finds.

No less obscure is my jazz pick, Gabriel Amargant. My new jazz queue got very short before some late-week mail game in, so I was scrounging around for some new jazz on Rhapsody. It's been several years since I received whole batches of Fresh Sound New Talent releases, but I've been finding them fairly reliably on Rhapsody, and I've checked out a few names I'm familiar with, but Amargant was a total unknown to me. Still, with nothing else obvious to choose, I looked him up and was blown away. Reminds me that when I did get whole batches, about half of the releases were Spanish artists and I found a fair number of worthwhile records there -- still, few as good as this one.

The other A- this week is by Courtney Barnett. An Australian, she got a fair amount of attention for her "Double EP" compilation last year, A Sea of Split Peas (finished 59th in Pazz & Jop). Still, this first real album is a huge leap forward. For whatever it's worth, I also came real close to giving Action Bronson an A-. I finally backed off because I have a hard time following rap lyrics, especially on computer, and I suspect he's something of an asshole. I could be wrong, and sometimes the music overcomes my doubts. But after three plays, the lower grade felt right.

New records rated this week:

  • Gabriel Amargant: And Now for Something Completely Different (2014 [2015], Fresh Sound New Talent): [r]: A-
  • Christian Artmann: Fields of Pannonia (2014 [2015], self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (2015, Mom + Pop Music): [r]: A-
  • Bossa Brasil and Maurício de Souza Group: Here. There . . . (2010, Pulsa Music): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Action Bronson: Mr. Wonderful (2014 [2015], Atlantic/Vice): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Close Readers: The Lines Are Open (2014, Austin): [r]: A-
  • Tom Collier: Alone in the Studio (2014 [2015], Origin): [cd]: B
  • Bruce Cox Core-Tet: Status Cymbals (2012, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Isaac Darche: Team & Variations (2014 [2015], Challenge): [cd]: B+(**)
  • The Go! Team: The Scene Between (2015, Memphis Industries): [r]: B
  • Susie Hansen: Representante de la Salsa (2010, Jazz Caliente): [cd]: B
  • Kaze: Uminari (2014 [2015], Circum-Libra): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Levon Mikaelian: United Shades of Artistry (2014 [2015], self-released): [cd]: B
  • Chris Massey's "Nue Jazz Project": Vibrainium (2010, Chris Massey Music): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Nellie McKay: My Weekly Reader (2015, 429): [r]: B+(*)
  • Moonbound: Confession and Release (2005-07 [2008], Unsung): [cd]: C
  • Curtis Nowosad: Dialectics (2014 [2015], Cellar Live): [cd]: B+(***)
  • The Paranoid Style: The Purposes of Music in General (2013, Bar/None, EP): [r]: A-
  • The Paranoid Style: Rock and Roll Just Can't Recall (2015, Worldwide Battle, EP): [r]: B+(***)
  • Sarah Partridge: I Never Thought I'd Be Here (2014 [2015], Origin): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Kim Pensyl: Foreign Love Affair (2014 [2015], Summit): [cd]: B
  • Natalie Prass: Natalie Prass (2015, Spacebomb): [r]: B+(*)
  • Project Trio: Project Trio (2010, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Mark Rapp: Token Tales (2009, Paved Earth): [cdr]: B+(*)
  • Times 4: Eclipse (2010, Groove Tonic Media): [cd]: B+(*)
  • TRP (The Reese Project): Eastern Standard Time (2008 [2009], In the Groove): [cd]: B
  • TRP (The Reese Project): Evening in Vermont (2011, Rhombus): [cd]: B-
  • Phil Sargent: A New Day (2010, Sargent Jazz): [cd]: B-
  • The Michael Waldrop Big Band: Time Within Itself (2014 [2015], Origin): [cd]: B
  • Lenny White: Anomaly (2010, Abstract Logix): [cd]: B-
  • Mark Wingfield: Proof of Light (2014 [2015], Moonjune): [cd]: B

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

  • LeAnn Rimes: All-Time Greatest Hits (1996-2007 [2015], Curb): [r]: C+

Old records rated this week:

  • Woody Herman and His Thundering Herd: Keep on Keepin' On: 1968-1970 (1968-70 [1998], Chess/GRP): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Mendoza Line: Lost in Revelry (2002, Absolutely Kosher): [r]: B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet [RAAQ]: Intents and Purposes (Enja)
  • Tony Adamo: Tony Adamo & the New York Crew (Urbanzone): May 1
  • Andrew Bishop: De Profundis (Envoi)
  • Andrew Diruzza Quintet: Shapes and Analogies (self-released)
  • Charles Evans: On Beauty (More Is More): May 12
  • Steve Johns: Family (Strikezone): May 5
  • Tyler Kaneshiro & the Highlands: Amber of the Moment (self-released): May 5
  • Robert Kennedy Trio: Big Shoes (self-released)
  • Curtis Nowosad: Dialectics (Cellar Live)
  • Old Time Musketry: Drifter (NCM East): March 31
  • Dave Stryker: Messin' With Mister T (Strikezone): April 7
  • Javier Vercher: Wish You Were Here (Musikoz)

Sunday, March 29, 2015

In the Dark

No Weekend Roundup this week. Got distracted with what follows, and time got away from me. But if I had the time, the thing to focus on this week is Saudi Arabia's intervention in Yemen. This isn't the first time -- Saudi Arabia and Egypt were fighting in Yemen in the mid-1960s -- but they've never been this overt about it (possibly because Egypt seems to be on their side this time). The US should be appalled, expecially since it's being done with US-manufactured armaments. The UN should condemn this blatant aggression, sanction all countries contributing to war in Yemen, and try to arrange a democratic resolution between the eleven distinct armed groups vying for power there. And needless to say, if democracy is the goal, Saudi Arabia and Egypt cannot be the solution.

When I started writing this blog, I would include more or less short notes whenever I saw a movie, along with grades, but at some point I stopped doing so. I still have some rough notes in my scratch file for movies that date back to 2011-12 (Hugo: B+; The Skin I Live In: B+; The Lincoln Lawyer: A-; Source Code: B+). It seems like we see fewer movies each year. Four independent theaters have closed since we moved to Wichita in 1999, leaving us with Bill Warren's monopoly, and Warren got rid of an older theater that he used for relatively arty films -- said he was looking for a "higher use" for the property and wound up selling it to a church. At the time he promised he'd keep showing those films in his other theaters "because his wife liked them," but within a year he divorced her, too. We also haven't rented movies since moving here -- a fairly regular occurrence when we had a store around the corner in Boston. We've been watching more TV series, but not many films on TV.

I wrote a long post about American Sniper the other day, but didn't wrap it up in a capsule review, so I thought I'd do that here, and round it out with the rest of the little we saw from 2014. I also went back and checked for releases in 2012 and 2013. I would have guess that the number of movies I've seen last year was down, but I came up with 20 in 2014, only 18 in 2013, and 20 in 2012. I can remember back in Boston it seems like we must have seen one or more per week, but those days are long gone. These are collected from various annual release lists, so may well be incomplete -- it's also possible that my memory is fading.

The Lego Movie (Feb. 1): Animated, got rather amazing hype when it came out. Lots of famous actor-voices, with Will Ferrell as the villain, Lord Business. I suppose there is a lesson there about capitalism, which I might have appreciated more had not everything else been so annoying. C+

300: Rise of an Empire (Mar. 4): Sequel to 2007 film 300 (which I haven't seen), based on ancient Greek war legends as Sparta and/or Athens battles Persia, tied to an unpublished Frank Miller graphic novel which raises everyone and every thing to the level of war porn. Of course, as porn I enjoyed Eva Green (Artemisia) much more than Sullivan Stapleton (Themistocles), even though with the fate of civilization at stake she was consigned to the wrong side. [TV] B-

The Grand Budapest Hotel (Mar. 6): Wes Anderson movie, based on various writings by Stefan Zweig, mostly set before and during WWII, told through flashbacks from much later. The hotel appears to be not in Budapest but somewhere in the Austrian Alps -- at least in some mountains somewhere in Central Europe. Remarkably deep cast; Oscar wins for production design, costume design, makeup and hair. Quite a story too. [Saw it a second time on TV] A-

Noah (Mar. 10): Bible epic from Darren Aronofsky, although it could have come from one of those graphic novels, especially as the "Watchers" take over. God destroys the world, but the decision as to whether mankind should expire seems to be Noah's, and he's in a foul mood. Happy ending, of course. [TV] B-

Ida (May 2): Polish movie, directed by Pawel Pawlikowski, nominated for Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, about a sheltered orphan girl raised in a convent from WWII seeking insight into her past. Turns out her parents were Jewish, killed by a farmer who hid her in a convent. More interesting is her aunt, a lawyer who joins the search, and pays a terrible price. In black and white, slow and heavy. [TV] B+

Belle (May 2): The story of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay, the daughter of a British Captain Sir John Lindsay and an enslaved African woman in the West Indies, adopted in 1765 and raised as a "free gentlewoman" by Linday's uncle, William Murray, Earl of Mansfield and Lord Chief Justice (a perfect role for Tom Wilkinson), who eventually writes a key legal ruling that advances the cause of abolition. A-

Boyhood (June 11): Richard Linklater film, shot over 12 years as its principal subject (played by Ellar Coltrane) grows up from six to eighteen, from first grade to leaving home for college, and less closely follows his sister (a couple years older), mother (Patricia Arquette's Oscar role), estranged father (Ethan Hawke, who was evidently absent for most of the previous six years but takes a consistent interest here). Several ill-chosen stepfathers come and go, which provides most of the stress and strain. It all seems rather eventful and remarkable compared, say, to my own life, but also quite ordinary, which is the charm. I left hoping they had shot enough extra footage to craft a Girlhood starring older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater). Otherwise this will remain unique. A

Snowpiercer (June 27): Directed by Joon-ho Bong from a French graphic novel, depicts a future dystopia where the class system is rigidly stratified from the back to the front of a train endlessly racing through frozen wastes. The oppressed masses in the back revolt and try to seize the master in the front. The class analysis became more interesting in retrospect once the action subsided. [TV] B

The Hundred-Foot Journey (August 8): Lasse Hallström food film, with Helen Mirren running a Michelin-star restaurant in the south of France, Indian emigre patriarch Om Puri setting up shop across the street, his son (Manish Dayal) developing into a chef good enough for Mirren to poach, and Charlotte Le Bon as intermediary. The food itself is a little over-the-top, and the story is a bit pat, but both are easy to enjoy. B+

A Most Wanted Man (July 25): Film of a John Le Carré novel starring the late Philip Seymour Hofman as a dissheveled German spy chief, who finds and attempts to use a Chechen refugee to trap a Muslim philanthropist into disclosing a financial conduit to a terrorist organization. The CIA gets involved, turning all of Hofman's reassurances into lies. With Le Carré the fiasco may be the point, but one still expects more of the world within movies. B

Magic in the Moonlight (July 25): Woody Allen movie, with Colin Firth as a illusionist/sceptic who's not skeptical enough, and Emma Stone as a charlatan and love interest. Suffers from some of the worst philosophizing of Allen's career -- reminiscent of his earliest movies but less funny. I wouldn't have minded so much, but Laura went beyond hating this and spent the second half heckling. B

Birdman or (the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (Aug. 27): Oscar-winning movie by Alejandro Iñárritu, about an actor (Michael Keaton), a big star in Hollywood playing a cartoon superhero ("Birdman") seeking to salvage his acting credentials by staging a Broadway adaptation of a Raymond Carver story. Problems ensue, including a scene-stealing co-star (Edward Norton) and the vow of a critic (played by Lindsay Duncan) to pan the opening. Many continuous pan shots turn the theater into a labyrinth, adding to the claustrophobia. Even more annoying were the frequent lapses into fantasy or magic -- Keaton levitating, smashing objects, quarrelling with his Birdman alter-ego. At the climax of his opening, Keaton takes a real gun instead of the stage prop and kills himself -- the ending the movie seemed to be aiming at -- but not even that came off right: we find out that he merely shot his nose off, and that the critic came around for the guy willing to spill his own blood for art. Then he jumps out the hospital window and flies away -- I suppose as Birdman repossesses him. Not without its virtues -- Emma Stone's supporting role is one -- but pretty full of shit. B

Nightcrawler (Sept. 5): Jake Gyllenhaal plays a crook and self-help devotee who finds his calling in shooting gory video at car wrecks and crime scenes -- he's advised, "if it bleeds, it leads" -- and selling it to news broadcasters. He then finds that he can get even more sensational footage by orchestrating the events -- in particular, he stages a shootout between cops and home invaders he tracked down. Creepy. B+

The Imitation Game (Sept. 27): Benedict Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing (mathematician, cryptanalyst, a major figure in the development of computer science), focusing on his work during WWII in breaking Germany's Enigma encryption codes, but extending from grade school to his arrest for homosexuality in 1952 and death in 1954. The latter events were ghastly by any standards, and they make Turing a martyr, but the film plays this up in all sorts of perverse ways, making Turing appear more dysfunctional and stranger than he actually was, distorting his work, and consigning his colleagues at Bletchley to the sidelines, cheering or (more often) booing as he solves all the problems single-handedly. (See Wikipedia's section on "Accuracy" -- the longest I've ever seen.) Keira Knightley has a nice supporting role, again riddled with inaccuracies but something the movie could have used more of. B-

Gone Girl (Oct. 3): David Fincher film of a bestselling novel which Laura and virtually all of her friends had read. Rosamund Pike plays the wicked wife who frames her husband, played by Ben Afleck, for her murder, and he's guilty enough the charges have some traction. Of course, a body would help, but she loses nerve and doesn't go through with her planned suicide. Instead, she returns to a former boyfriend, finds him a bore, murders him, and passes it off as self-defense. Many times you see a movie and leave wondering what happens next, but with these people it's impossible to care (and probably ridiculous to boot). B+

Inherent Vice (Oct. 4): Paul Thomas Anderson film of a Thomas Pynchon novel, set in southern California in the 1970s, with close to a dozen odd characters improbably interconnected in multiple ways -- all that looping back has a whiff of conspiracy, but my brief familiarity with Pynchon (V. is my all-time favorite novel; I failed to get through Gravity's Rainbow but still intend to finish it some day) suggests that's just the way the world is wired. Doesn't feel like a great movie, but a persistently interesting one. A-

St. Vincent (Oct. 24): Bill Murray plays a surly Vietnam Vet -- smokes, drinks, gambles, has a wife with Alzheimer's in a nursing home he can't afford and a Russian prostitute (Naomi Watts) in his bed when he can; otherwise he's just a dirtbag and asshole, until he reluctantly befriends a neighbor kid (starting with a scam for babysitting money). The kid goes to Catholic school, and evidently the only thing they teach there is saints, so when he get an assignment to write up "a real-life saint" he does some research and settles on Murray. Probably the best scene is when some mobsters try to shake him down for money he has a stroke and creeps them out. What creeped me out was the sanctimoniousness over his Vietnam "service." B-

American Sniper (Nov. 11): Clint Eastwood's Iraq War film traces the path of Chris Kyle from good-hearted Texas simpleton to serial killer but gets caught up in the action sequences, leaving us with only the sketchiest sense of how he played his "legend" into postwar fame and fortune, or even how he got martyred as an advocate for the therapeutic value of shooting guns for the mentally ill. Sienna Miller reminds us that wives can be forgiving as well as hysterical. Bradley Cooper plays Kyle partly as modest stoic and partly as action junkie, clearly preferring the hunt to his home life, not that he has the critical facilities to question any convention. That any Iraqis emerge with more dimensions than paper targets is due to the scriptwriter's fabrications, but even they turn out to be clichés, and even more absent is any hint of the thinking that made American soldiers arbiters of life and death in that miserable country. I could imagine someone making a mirror movie from the sniper Mustapha's viewpoint, with all that discipline and craft ending as his head explodes from Kyle's distant shot, but who in America would pay to see such a thing? We'd rather be fed the self-adulatory pablum this picture delivers. Still, it's sad that the only pride America can take from this war is the efficacy of its assassins. B-

Selma (Nov. 11): Daniel Oyelowo does a fine job as Martin Luther King as the SCLC moved into Selma, Alabama to campaign for voting rights in 1965, and great care was taken in the casting of the many others who made up the movement, including the tensions between SCLC and SNCC. The white violence against the marchers was also palpable (although several incidents were merely mentioned). On the other hand, I was constantly irritated by how far portrayals of major political figures strayed from my own vivid memories from the day: especially Tom Wilkinson as Lyndon Johnson and Tim Roth as George Wallace. (I was more forgiving of Dylan Baker, who often plays psychotic killers, as J. Edgar Hoover, although the resemblance was equally remote.) One could have made a stronger point that the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which came from demonstrations in Selma, coincides with recent Republican moves to gut the Act and once again to deny poorer Americans the right to vote. B+

I suppose it wouldn't hurt to include 2015 (to date):

The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (Feb. 26): Two or three storyline threads stretch our favorite Indian hotelier, Sonny Kapoor (played by Dev Patel) way past the breaking point, but this is saved by the same thing that saved its predecessor: it's a marvelous showcase for venerable British actors and actresses -- Bill Nighy and Ronald Pickup have the most to do sorting out their love lives, and Penelope Wilton makes a brief show for a trailer laugh. On the downside, it seems like they spent a lot of time at the end trying to kill Maggie Smith off, then couldn't do it. Ends inevitably with a big Bollywood dance. B

Movies I didn't see but would have liked to:

  • Chef (May 9): Jon Favreau as LA chef who quits his job and opens a food truck in Miami (with Sofia Vergara).
  • Foxcatcher (May 19): Steve Carrell Oscar nominee.
  • Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (Aug. 22): Roberto Rodriguez film based on Frank Miller graphic novel.
  • The Drop (Sept. 12): Dennis Lehane story, with the late James Gandolfini.
  • The Theory of Everything (Sept. 27): Stephen Hawking biopic, with Eddie Redmayne Oscar win.
  • Whiplash (Oct. 10): JK Simmons Oscar win.
  • A Most Violent Year (Nov. 6): Crime and business in New York City in 1981, with Jessica Chastain.
  • Still Alice (Dec. 5): Julianne Moore Oscar win.
  • Wild (Dec. 5): Reese Witherspoon Oscar nominee.
  • Mr. Turner (Dec. 19): Mike Leigh film about painter J.M.W. Turner.
  • Two Days, One Night (Dec. 24): Marion Cotillard.
  • Big Eyes (Dec. 25): Tim Burton movie.

For a baseline, I went through the 2013 film list. Just wrote down grades (and can't guarantee my memory is perfect there).

  • Fruitvale Station (Jan. 19): Sundance Grand Jury winner, a day in the life of a young black man killed by police in Oakland. A-
  • 42 (Apr. 12): Jackie Robinson in 1947. A-
  • Iron Man 3 (Apr. 14): Robert Downey Jr. [TV] B-
  • Mud (Apr. 26): Matthew McConaughey. A-
  • The Great Gatsby (May 10): Baz Luhrmann film, very disappointing. C+
  • All Is Lost (May 22): Robert Redford sinks at sea (or maybe not). [TV] B+
  • Before Midnight (May 24): Richard Linklater film with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, third in series. A
  • Red 2 (July 19): Bruce Willis shoot-em-up, with Anthony Hopkins as a mad scientist. [TV] B+
  • The Butler (Aug. 16): Lee Daniels film, based on long-term White House butler. B+
  • Gravity (Aug. 28): Alfonso Cuarón film, George Clooney and Sandra Bullock go to space, only one comes back. B+
  • Philomena (Aug. 31): Stephen Frears film. B+
  • 12 Years a Slave (Oct. 18): The story of a free black man kidnapped and sold into slavery in Louisiana. A
  • The Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Nov. 15): Sequel, prequel, indecisive. [TV] B
  • Inside Llewyn Davis (Dec. 6): Coen brothers take on '60s folk scene. B+
  • American Hustle (Dec. 12): Abscam movie. A-
  • The Wolf of Wall Street (Dec. 17): Martin Scorsese film about greed in the 1980s. B-
  • Saving Mr. Banks (Dec. 20): Emma Thompson as P.L. Travers, author of Mary Poppins, sparring with Walt Disney.

And 2012:

  • Arbitrage (Jan. 21): Investment fraud film, with Richard Gere. B+
  • The Hunger Games (Mar. 12): Future games. B+
  • Marvel's the Avengers (Apr. 11): Comic/fantasy mish-mash. B-
  • The Three Stooges (Apr. 13): Farrelly brothers update the classic. B-
  • The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (May 4): Retirement home for famous British actors. B+
  • Moonrise Kingdom (May 25): Wes Anderson film. A-
  • Five Broken Cameras (May 30): Documentary, protesting the wall at Bil'in. A-
  • Ice Age: Continental Drift (June 27): Cartoon. [TV] B-
  • Argo (Aug. 31): CIA stages fake film in Iran. B+
  • Hyde Park on Hudson (Aug. 31): Bill Murray as FDR. A-
  • The Master (Sept. 1): Paul Thomas Anderson film about spiritual cult. B-
  • Anna Karenina (Sept. 7): Joe Wright film of Tolstoy's novel. [TV] B
  • Silver Linings Playbook (Sept. 8): Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence. B+
  • Quartet (Sept. 9): Retired British singers. B+
  • Trouble With the Curve (Sept. 21): Clint Eastwood, baseball scout. [TV] B+
  • Seven Psychopaths (Oct. 12): Criminals, screenwriters, and dogs in southern California. B+
  • Lincoln (Oct. 8): Steven Spielberg film, with Daniel Day Lewis. A-
  • Killing Them Softly (Nov. 30): Hit men. B+
  • Django Unchained (Dec. 11): Quentin Tarantino film. A-
  • Les Miserables (Dec. 25): Hugo musical. [TV] B

Time prevents me from going back further. One last statistical check is for how many A/A- records in each year: 2014: 4; 2013: 6; 2012: 5. Down last year, but not much more than random chance.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

American Sniper

I finally got around to seeing Clint Eastwood's American Sniper film yesterday. It took me so long mostly because my wife, who usually picks the films we see, wanted no part of it: I had to go alone, something I hadn't done since I caught the "last chance" showing of Pedro Almodovar's The Skin I Live In in 2011. I didn't argue very hard. Everything I had read[1] suggested that the movie has many problems and few virtues. More importantly, I read Nicholas Schmidle's profile of the sniper in question, Chris Kyle (In the Crosshairs), so I had a pretty good idea what the story was going to be. The only question was whether director Clint Eastwood might add some nuance and conflict that Kyle doesn't seem to have ever grasped. But after Eastwood's senior moment at the GOP convention, and given his occasional infatuation with American jingoism, that wasn't guaranteed.

It turns out that the movie is remarkably compressed (despite a 2:20 running time). It starts with what became the trailer, a scene with Kyle on a rooftop in Fallujah contemplating shooting a child and/or his mother as armored vehicles inch down a rubble-strewn street with US soldiers methodically going house-to-house, kicking doors in. He ultimately kills both, but before the shots are fired, the scene is interrupted for a little background.

We see a pre-teen Kyle hunting with his father, and fighting with schoolkids. At the family dinner table, his father explains that there are three types of people in the world: sheep, wolves, and sheep dogs, who protect the sheep from the wolves -- Kyle's worldview in a nut shell. Grown up, Kyle rides bulls and broncs in a rodeo. Then, after a news report of a terror attack he signs up for the Navy Seals. We then get many scenes of sadistic basic training, a bar break where he picks up a wife, intense sniper training, 9/11, and his first tour in Iraq, where his first kills were that child and mother.

The bulk of the film recounts his four tours in Iraq, each staged with an intense action sequence, separated by brief returns home as his family grows. Two of the action sequences involve talking to his wife on the phone, so she gets in on the war experience. As a sniper, Kyle lurks patiently on rooftops and in buildings, surveying the war calmly, methodically picking off "bad guys." But over time he seeks more action, so he joins in on clearing buildings, and is close by as two of his closest buddies get shot (one killed instantly, the other survived but was blinded and died in a later surgery).

The action intensifies, with the final battle ultimately won by Mother Nature as a sandstorm engulfed Sadr City. That was the one where he made an "impossibly long shot" to kill his nemesis, a notorious Syrian sniper, only to have his building surrounded by swarming enemies with AK-47s -- the intense action interrupted by a call to the wife to tell her he's "ready to come home now." Of course, the crowds ate it up. The postwar scenes were anticlimactic: at first he showed signs of PTSD, but they fade away as he dedicates his life to helping other veterans. He takes one multiple-amputee to the shooting range, and when the disabled vet hits the target, he announces that he feels like he got his balls back. Salvation through shooting becomes Kyle's cause. In the last scene, he gets into a truck with another PTSD-damaged vet. Then the movie cuts to black, revealing that the vet murdered Kyle that day. The movie ends with footage of Kyle's funeral, and indeed it is touching. Just not clear for what.

The film is based on Kyle's autobiography, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History, written with two co-authors. The book came out in 2012 and was a bestseller before his death in 2013, and has sold many more copies (more than 1.2 million) since. The movie doesn't show anything about Kyle's post-Navy business or how the book and his self-promotion affected his life. The movie doesn't bring up Kyle's claim to have shot looters after Hurricane Katrina from atop the Superdome, or his story about "punching out Scruff Face" -- Jesse Ventura, who successfully sued Kyle's estate for libel (see Nicholas Schmidle: The Ventura Verdict).

This would be a good time to quote Wikipedia's paragraph on "Historical accuracy":

The film takes several dramatic liberties with the story; The Guardian wrote that "this film alters Kyle's book significantly." The child that Kyle is forced to shoot in his first engagement is not found in the memoir. The characters of Mustafa and the Butcher were created for the film, and Kyle's real-life 2100 yard shot was taken to kill an insurgent holding a rocket launcher. Slate notes that the climatic battle in a sandstorm at the end of the film never took place. A scene in which Kyle finds weapons hidden under an insurgent's floorboards, and the subsequent firefight, was also created solely for the film.

"The Butcher" is an "Al-Qaeda enforcer" who is shown attacking a child -- the son of a "sheik" who gave info to Americans after Kyle's team broke into his house -- with a drill. He is killed in the firefight after the scene with the weapons stash. Mustafa is an enemy sniper -- an Olympic-winning marksman from Syria who appears at least three times in the movie, becoming a personal obsession for Kyle. Kyle kills him with his 2100-yard long shot, as part of the climactic battle scene.

In other words, each and every significant encounter Kyle has with any Iraqi was invented for dramatic effect. (Presumably at least some of the anonymous, long-distance sniper kills come from the book. Kyle was credited with 160 kills. The movie shows maybe a dozen.) No doubt the fiction adds to the movie's drama. Perhaps it also whitewashes the US war effort, but Kyle was never more than a small cog in the military machine -- his rank after four tours was Chief Petty Officer, basically a sergeant -- and his approach to the war was so simplistic you hardly expect anything more: kill "bad guys"! Who are the "bad guys"? The ones who are trying to kill you.

One of Donald Rumsfeld's most indelible one-liners was that "you go to war with the army you have, not necessarily the one you want." The actual army that Kyle belonged to is defined simply: they are trained to be extraordinarily lethal, when deployed they are very focused on their own self-defense, and their primary defense strategy is to be as aggressive as possible. No one in Kyle's army questions why they are in Iraq. No one doubts their right to be where they are or go where they want. And everyone is deeply affronted any time they meet any form of resistance. No one recognizes that other points of view are possible. For Kyle, in particular, everyone he kills is evil; if not, he wouldn't have killed them. The whole movie, from the sheepdog story on, is testament to Kyle's moral certainty, and the tearful funeral excess just serves to elevate his moral certainty to the nation as a whole. And that's why the movie elicits such a solemn reaction from a certain kind of American: the one who believes that America is the greatest nation in the world, so great that the rest of the world can (or should) prostrate itself at our feet.

Nothing in the movie gives you a chance to question either the politics or the wisdom of Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq, let alone the wider trajectory of US involvement in the region. Even though most of the movie takes place in a foreign land, it never leaves an American mindset. For that reason it works as propaganda: even without explicit lies it reaffirms the war by not questioning it. What makes that worse is that the trajectory of understanding the Iraq war started to change with the Surge in 2007. The early period, 2003-04, was eventually viewed as an unmitigated disaster, but that boiled down to three things:

  1. Initially the war was supposed to be this huge success, so everything was very open, and journalists actually wrote about Iraqis -- Anthony Shadid's Night Draws Near is a good example, but Thomas Ricks' Fiasco uncovered the military, Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City took on the occupation administration, and Seymour Hersh's Chain of Command exposed Abu Ghraib.
  2. After Paul Bremer left, the US essentially shut down coverage of Iraq, and few journalists ventured beyond the Green Zone, so little was written. This didn't fix the perception that Iraq was a disaster, but it limited the political damage.
  3. From 2007, the Surge military escalation was accompanied by a great increase in military-focused reporting. Again, the Iraqi countryside was too dangerous to cover, but more importantly, the US military refocused on saving its reputation. This is when Ricks changed his tune and wrote The Gamble, and you start seeing books like Bing West's The Strongest Tribe, Linda Robinson's Tell Me How This Ends, and an avalanche of soldier memoirs, including Kyle's.

It's hard to remember that when Bush et al. conjured up this war, even though they led with the fear card, they tried to present the war like we'd be doing the Iraqis one big favor. That sentiment was one of the first casualties of the war. There's an old joke that goes: it's hard to remember that your mission was to drain the swamp when you're ass-deep in alligators. In the early days, Iraq was seen as an epic adventure in nation building. In the end, it's no more than alligator killing, which is probably why the SEALs are the last soldiers standing tall.

Moreover, the worldview has changed. Early in the War on Terror, the "bad guys" were few: the religious fanatics of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the Baathist elites of Iraq and Syria, a few others -- as much oppressors of their own people as enemies of the US. However, it turns out that the US was never "greeted as liberators" -- that everywhere the US bombed turned into enemy territory. That should have led us to question our entire approach, indeed who we are, but not being capable of introspection, we've changed out view of them instead. Looking at the US response to ISIS, even we can imagine no upside: just a long slog of killing a neverending supply of "bad guys," because once we enter a region, practically everyone turns into "bad guys."

Of course, if you're not entranced by this latest, most vicious twist on "the American religion," it's possible to view American Sniper differently. It is a celebration of a cold blooded killer, but it also details his descent into PTSD, as he turns into someone his wife at one point says she no longer recognizes. Kyle at least saves himself by doubling down on the militaristic pietism that made him rich and famous, but he is surrounded by other vets who can't make that work -- including the one who killed him. It takes an extraordinary amount of empathy to watch this movie and conclude that the war has been disastrous for Iraqi families, even though there are scenes that show just that. But it should be easier to see how expensive the toll on American lives has been, whether you do or do not accord any special value to the lives of soldiers. Kyle should be viewed as a tragic figure in American history. He sure is no hero.

[1] Some links from previous posts:

We can add a few more:

One more thought about the movie. One thing that is loosely implied is that Kyle got a perverse satisfaction out of sniping, at least for a while. Bradley Cooper plays Kyle as exceptionally modest -- lots of other characters dub him "The Legend" and offer other accolades, but Kyle mostly sloughs them off. Even though he's always teamed with a spotter, sniping is patient and methodical work, not something full of adrenaline rushes. But as he goes from tour to tour, he keeps getting drawn back for more and more -- although he never articulates it, there is something to sniping that he never experienced before and that once he experienced it would be missing from his life. It reminded me of a remarkable interview in the second season of The Fall, where serial killer Paul Prescott explains the intense sensation of living that he feels when he kills someone. Of course, Prescott killed far fewer people than Kyle, and did so furtively against the law whereas Kyle was on his government's payroll -- the difference was that Kyle never had to hide what he was doing -- but both were similar in the meticulous, artful way they set up and dispatched their victims. (You can find a summary of the episode here, although it skips the part I'm referring to.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Daily Log

A draft letter to a big shot today:

Dear Secretary John Kerry,

I doubt you'll ever read this, much less take me seriously, but seeing as how you're stuck with Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel's PM for the rest of your term, and seeing as how no one else is saying the sort of things I offer below, I figure there's no harm in trying.

As you know, Netanyahu vowed that there will never be a Palestinian state as long as he's PM. That wasn't just a rare moment of candor -- in his first term he turned Rabin's "Peace Process" into a sham, and more recently he frustrated George Mitchell's peace mission. That is the one thing he has been consistent about through a long career of playing politics about everything else.

But it's not just Netanyahu. As Avi Raz shows in his book, The Bride and the Dowry, Israel could very easily have negotiated a peace deal in 1967 with the Arab states while creating a viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza without any of the mess and fuss of later settlements, but none of the major politicians of the period were willing to do so. Instead, you get Abba Eban jumping from one line to another, whatever it took to hold at bay the diplomats who crafted UNSCR 235.

I could go on and on -- I've considered writing a book on the subject -- but Netanyahu's statements and his election make it clear for now that Israel will resist any efforts to resolve the conflict. Still, it is more important now than ever that someone make the effort, and you are perhaps the only one who can do that. But you'll have to go about it differently from all past efforts. In particular, you need to realize that negotiations can only work if both sides have compatible goals -- "prevention of a Palestinian state" is not one of those -- and reasonably equal power. The Oslo Accords is an example of what happens when one power holds all the cards.

What I want to propose is that you put together a complete, standalone deal, preferably supported by the Quartet, which Israel can accept or reject, the latter with adverse consequences (loss of aid, economic sanctions). The deal would only cover Gaza, which would become a state, fully independent of Israel, with no claims on Israel or claims for Palestinian people not living in Gaza. Gaza would defined by its borders, a state representing the people who live there.

Gaza's founding would be subject to several conditions. The state and legal system would be based on a constitution written to ensure democratic procedures and minority rights, including strong protections for freedom of speech, religion, assembly and petition, privacy, etc. (though not gun ownership), and a pacifism clause similar to the one in the constitution of Japan. The constitution could be amended after 10-20 years by two-thirds vote. Gaza would also be subject to special international tribunals that would have the power to reject and remove judges (for 10-20 years) and investigate and prosecute corruption of public officials (for as long as substantial foreign aid is offered to reconstruct Gaza). Gaza would have no army, limited policing, and strictly regulated armaments.

Everyone who lives in Gaza at the time of independence will enjoy full and equal rights of citizenship. This will not prejudice any claims refugees may have to "right of return" elsewhere. But the UNRWA program for Palestinian refugees will begin to be phased out.

Israel would remain responsible for policing its own border with Gaza, but would not be allowed to enter Gaza (including air space), and will not interfere with shipping into Gaza. (An international team may be tasked with inspecting shipping to identify any contraband.) An international tribunal will resolve any border conflicts between Gaza and Israel/Egypt. An international bank will be set up to handle all aid contributions to Gaza, and the bank's funds will insure any border damage claims. Israel would be responsible for covering any damage claims found against the government or any of its people. Water is also subject to this tribunal.

Draft proposals for all of this should be circulated publicly and comments collected and considered, but all final decisions are yours, informed by the guiding principle that the resulting state should be as fair, equitable, peaceable, and prosperous as possible. The whole package would then be voted on in Gaza. If approved, Israel would accept (or reject), with a time frame set as part of the package.

One of the principles here is that we should do what we can when we can do it, not wait until some hypothetical future point where everything can be given a "final status." (More than anything else, it was the "final status" requirement that broke Oslo.) Since Israel deconstructed its Gaza settlements in 2005 there has been nothing but self-perpetuating "security concerns" preventing Gaza from being separated from the problems of Israel's other occupied territories. This still leaves the West Bank, Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights, which are more conflicted, more difficult issues that may in turn require different solutions. Another day for them, but we should at least make a start by clearly articulating the requirement that no matter how many states and what borders we wind up with, every person currently under Israel's thumb, and every stateless refugee from the conflict, must attain full and equal rights under whatever state he or she lands in.

Obviously, a lot more details need to be worked out, but this is a clear and basic strategy which would make a substantial step toward peace in the region. That is something you would like to accomplish, isn't it?

Monday, March 23, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 24735 [24701] rated (+34), 409 [420] unrated (-11).

Eighteen records below come from Rhapsody. I played Kendrick Lamar and Modest Mouse three times: one clicked, the other did not. I see that Christgau has given Modest Mouse six A- grades plus a relatively long ungraded review (not in his Dean's List so presumably B+ or less). I have them with four A- records (including the one Christgau missed), so I'm less of a fan but not unable to tune into their shade of alt. This one just strikes me as real patchy.

Also played Vijay Iyer three times, also on the computer because ECM -- once the best-bankrolled label in jazz -- has lately gotten cheap. I'm often hard pressed to explain why I like some piano trios and less so others (unless there's a lot of crashing involved, often the case with Irène Schweizer or Satoko Fujii), but I usually know (as I did with Iyer's two previous albums with this trio) but this time I didn't. I'm a bit bothered that in recent lists both Jason Gubbels and Chris Monsen -- two critics who usually line up very closely with me -- picked Break Stuff as among the best jazz albums so far this year, and I'm always aware that listening on the computer is far from ideal. But I feel like I gave Iyer a fair shot, and besides I have a bigger disagreement with Gubbels and Monsen: Rudresh Mahanthappa's Bird Calls, number 3 and 1 respectively, a record I dislike far more than the B+(*) I gave it suggests. Iyer and Mahanthappa have huge reputations I mostly agree with (in my database, Iyer has 10 A- grades and Mahanthappa has 5, plus each has one full A). Otherwise I scoured the lists for records I hadn't heard (6/16 from Gubbels, 2/6 Monsen). Checked out DRKWAV and Makaya McCraven from Gubbels list, and have them at B+(***).

More surprising for me is that only one of the eleven jazz albums on my 2015 A-list is on either list: Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth: Epicenter (my #1, #2 on Gubbels). The others:

  1. Schlippenbach Trio: Features (Intakt)
  2. Joe Fiedler Trio: I'm In (Multiphonics Music)
  3. Charles McPherson: The Journey (Capri)
  4. John O'Gallagher Trio: The Honeycomb (Fresh Sound New Talent) *
  5. Mikko Innanen: Song for a New Decade (TUM, 2CD)
  6. Milford Graves & Bill Laswell: Space/Time · Redemption (TUM)
  7. Ryan Truesdell: Lines of Color (Blue Note/ArtistShare)
  8. Jim Snidero: Main Street (Savant)
  9. Katie Thiroux: Introducing Katie Thiroux (BassKat)
  10. Oliver Lake/William Parker: To Roy (Intakt)

I expect most of them will get there eventually. One curious thing about this list is that all of my A-list jazz has come actual CDs (some in curious advance packaging), and none from Rhapsody or downloads. (All four of my non-jazz A-list records are from Rhapsody.) I've rated 19 jazz records this year based on a computer source: 6 ***, 7 **, 4 *, 1 B, 2 B-. The grade breakdown for physical jazz CDs: 11 A-, 22 ***, 29 **, 21 *, 12 B, 3 B- -- similar curve aside from the shutout at the top. One might conclude I'm susceptible to bribes. Maybe I just tend to appreciate the effort. Or maybe there's a selection effect, where people send me things I'm more likely to like (and skip things I'm more likely to dis). Or maybe it's just the speakers and the audio quality.

Robert Christgau's 2014 Dean's List has finally appeared at BN Review. He came up with 63 records, for some reason omitting Steve Reich's Radio Rewrite (rated A- on Jan. 30, same date as two other list items) and Angola Soundtrack 2 (A- on Mar. 13, same date as Aby Ngana Diop). Only one record on the list hasn't been reviewed in Expert Witness: Sunny Sweeney's Provoked. He offers some excuses for the shorter-than-usual list -- he's come up with close to 90 in recent full-employment years, and slacked off toward 60 during a previous CG hiatus -- then concludes: "Maybe the field is thinning out, or maybe the downtick is a blip." My own experience was that I came up with an all-time record 170+ A-list albums released in 2014, so I can only conlcude that the music is there if you have the time and tenacity to dig it out. The industry's bottom line may suck, but there's no evidence that lack of incentive is keeping musicians from making good music. And with streaming, more music is probably accessible to more people than ever before.

On the other hand, I can't say anything hopeful about incentives for writing about music.

Another deadline snuck up on me, so no Twitter reviews this week.

New records rated this week:

  • Oren Ambarchi: Quixotism (2014, Editions Mego): [r]: B+(**)
  • Antoine Berjeaut: Wasteland (2013 [2014], Fresh Sound New Talent): [r]: B+(*)
  • Dewa Budjana: Hasta Karma (2014 [2015], Moonjune): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Clem Snide: Girls Come First (2015, Zaphwee): [r]: B+(**)
  • Dahi Divine: The Element (2013 [2015], Right Direction): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Stephan Crump/Mary Halvorson: Secret Keeper (2013 [2015], Intakt): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • DRKWAV: The Purge (2015, Royal Potato Family): [r]: B+(***)
  • John Fedchock Quartet: Live: Fluidity (2013 [2015], Summit): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Janice Friedman Trio: Live at Kitano (2011 [2015], CAP): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Gang of Four: What Happens Next (2015, Metropolis): [r]: B+(*)
  • Maxfield Gast: Ogo Pogo (2014 [2015], Militia Hill): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Colleen Green: I Want to Grow Up (2015, Hardly Art): [r]: B
  • Vijay Iyer Trio: Break Stuff (2014 [2015], ECM): [dl]: B+(***)
  • Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope): [r]: A-
  • Jenna Mammina & Rolf Sturm: Spark (2014 [2015], Water Street Music): [cd]: B+(**)
  • The Mavericks: Mono (2015, Valory): [r]: B+(**)
  • Makaya McCraven: In the Moment (2014 [2015], International Anthem): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Modest Mouse: Strangers to Ourselves (2015, Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • Raoul: The Spanish Donkey (2014 [2015], Rare Noise): [cdr]: B
  • Sachal: Slow Motion Miracles (2014 [2015], Okeh): [cdr]: B
  • Benny Sharoni: Slant Signature (2014 [2015], Papaya): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Alex Sipiagin: Balance 38-58 (2014 [2015], Criss Cross): [r]: B+(***)
  • Bjørn Solli: Aglow: The Lyngør Project Vol. 1 (2013 [2015], Lyngør): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jacky Terrasson: Take That (2014 [2015], Impulse): [r]: B+(**)
  • Steve Turre: Spiritman (2014 [2015], Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(**)
  • Unhinged Sextet: Clarity (2014 [2015], OA2): [cd]: B

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

  • David Borden: Music for Amplified Keyboard Instruments (1981 [2015], Spectrum Spools): [r]: B+(***)
  • James Clay: The Kid From Dallas: Tenorman (1956-57 [2015], Fresh Sound): [r]: B+(***)
  • Connie Converse: How Sad, How Lovely (1954 [2015], Squirrel Thing): [r]: B+(**)
  • Dance Mania: Ghetto Madness (1989-98 [2015], Strut): [r]: B+(**)

Old records rated this week:

  • Milford Graves: Percussion Ensemble With Sunny Morgan (1965 [2003], ESP-Disk): [r]: B+(*)
  • Randy Weston: Blues to Africa (1974, Arista/Freedom): [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Isaac Darche: Team & Variations (Challenge): April 14
  • Kansas: Miracles Out of Nowhere (Epic/Legacy, DVD+CD)
  • Kaze: Uminari (Circum-Libra): May 5
  • Jason Miles/Ingrid Jensen: Kind of New (Whaling City Sound)

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Dance Mania: Ghetto Madness (1989-98 [2015], Strut): B+(**) [rhapsody]
  • LeAnn Rimes: All-Time Greatest Hits (1996-2007 [2015], Curb): C+ [rhapsody]
  • Swamp Dogg: The Best of Swamp Dogg (1970-76 [1982], War Bride): A- [rhapsody]

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Weekend Roundup

The top story of last week's news cycle was Israel's elections for a new parliament (Knesset). Many people hoped that the voters would finally dispose of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but in the last minutes "Bibi" swung hard to the racist right and wound up with a six-seat plurality, mostly at the expense of small parties nominally to the right of Likud. That still leaves Netanyahu only half way to forming a new Knesset majority coalition, but few observers see that as a problem, although it probably means further concessions to the "religious" parties -- Shas, United Torah, etc. Best place to start reading about this is Richard Silverstein: Israeli Election Post-Mortem: Rearranging the Deck Chairs:

In shreying about the Arab masses running to polling places and foreign governments funneling shovels-full of cash to topple him, he appealed to the worst devils of Israel's nature, to turn Lincoln's quotation on his head.

The results cannot but worsen the growing rancidness of the Likud vision of contemporary Israel in the noses of many Israelis, Diaspora Jews and the world at large. There is a growing sense that Israel cannot get itself out of the mess it's in.

Some other links on Israel:

  • Robert Fantina: Netanyahu's victory - what is the cost? Netanyahu, of course, figures there should be none, as he's already walked back many of the inflammatory things he said to rally Israel's right to his election cause. If there were any doubts that he is a liar, someone who will say whatever it takes under any circumstances, that should have been dispelled, especially if you add the Boehner speech to what he said before and after election. There is no doubt that more and more people are noticing this -- especially previous supporters of Israel who are becoming embarrassed at what their fantasy has turned into. But the campaign not only haunts Netanyahu, the election taints the voters. By re-electing Netanyahu, Israel's voters have shown that they're unwilling to do anything to change course. Therefore, only other nations can help Israel change course. We've nudged closer to that realization, but the US in particular probably isn't there yet. Still, every new event will be seen through the prism of this election.
  • Allison Deger: Meet the Knesset members from the Joint List: as I look at these pictures, I'm reminded of Bill Clinton's promise to appoint a cabinet "that looks like America looks."
  • Richard Silverstein: Israel's Election: Bibi and Blood in the Water: Starts with Netanyahu's pre-election press conference statement, then adds, "Bibi is runnin' scared." Post-election we know that his hysteria worked, saving Likud from finishing second to "Just Not Bibi." Not sure this is helpful, but Annie Robbins: An American translation of Netanyahu's racist get out the vote speech translates Netanyahu's screed into an American political context (replacing "Arab" with "black," "right wing" and "Likud" with "Republican," "Labor" with "Democrats," "Israel" with "United States"). That may help you understand just how far Israeli political culture has sunk, and why certain Americans are so gung ho about getting the US to emulate Israel more, but you'll miss some nuances: e.g., Democrats in the US welcome the support of blacks and aren't ashamed to appoint a couple to cabinet posts and such, Israel's Labor Party (aka The Zionist Camp) wouldn't dare do anything like that. Indeed, their fondness of "the two-state solution" is more often presented as a way to separate Jewish Israelis from Arabs.
  • Josh Marshall: Bibi: Wait, the Arabs Love Me!: Netanyahu starts to explain away his recent racist comments, including extracts from an interview for American ears (with Andrea Mitchell).
  • Jonathan Alter: Bibi's Ugly Win Will Harm Israel: "Netanyahu came back from the dead by doing something politicians almost never do -- predicting his own defeat. He told base voters that he would lose if they didn't abandon far-right-winger Naftali Bennett's Habayit Hayeudi Party and flock back to Likud. Instead of trying to hide his desperation, he flaunted (or contrived) it, to great political effect, winning by several seats more than expected." Something not often talked about is how often right-wingers have to appeal to liberal values to cover up their own inadequacies. Thus someone like Netanyahu has to talk about his desire for peace and security, or even something as specific (and easily disproven) as his commitment to providing infrastructure for Arab Citizens of Israel, even while making such laudable goals impossible. That they get away with it is because their platitudes are so universal they are rarely questioned. Even rank hypocrisy is often excused as mere incompetence. GW Bush, for instance, is famous for his failed wars, his imploded economy, his gross incompetence after Hurricane Katrina -- an embarrassing string of bad luck, as no one would dare suggest that his results were intended. But really, those results were entirely predictable given his worldview. Likewise, Netanyahu's repeated failures to make any progress whatsoever toward peace and justice have been deliberate, and in a sense heroic.
  • Alex Kane: J Street's fall from relevance: "In a postelection statement [Jeremy] Ben-Ami said J Street would continue to stand 'for an end to occupation, for a two-state solution and for an Israel that is committed to its core democratic principles and Jewish values.' It's a nice sentiment but one that is out of touch with the facts on the ground, as Netanyahu's final days of campaigning revealed."
  • David Shulman: Israel: The Stark Truth: "Mindful of Netanyahu's long record of facile mendacity, commentators on the left have tended to characterize these statements as more dubious 'rhetoric'; already, under intense pressure from the United States, he has waffled on the question of Palestinian statehood in comments directed at a foreign, English-speaking audience. But I think that, for once, he was actually speaking the truth in that last pre-election weekend -- a popular truth among his traditional supporters."
  • Anshel Pfeffer: Netanyahu stoked primal fears in Israel: "Netanyahu, in his own tiny bubble of privilege and sycophancy, was on the verge of losing the election. But he emerged in time to stoke the primal fears of his electorate of their fate. It was a destructive tactic that took advantage of racism and ignorance and jeopardised Israel's diplomatic position within the international community. It won the election but has divided Israel like never before."
  • Ryan Rodrick Beller: To evangelicals, Zionism an increasingly tough sell: When the British invaded Palestine and set up their "home for the Jewish people" there, about 10% of the native population were Christians -- communities dating from the Crusades or even earlier. To the Zionist Yishuv, however, those Christians were just Arabs, same as the Muslims. It's always been curious how completely American evangelicals sided with the Zionists against their own co-religionists. The standard explanation had to do with seeing Israel's ingathering of Jews as a precondition for the Apocalypse. That always struck me as sick and demented, and anti-semitic seeing as how the Jews are destroyed in the end while the true believers ascend to heaven. But this story suggests that a big part of the explanation is sheer ignorance, changed when evangelicals learn of how Palestinian Christians are treated by Israel.
  • Juan Cole: Obama with Drama: Translating his cojmments on Israel's Netanyahu from the Vulcan: And not exactly into ordinary English, more like Cole calls "Bones-speak": "Netanyahu's attitude toward Palestinian-Israelis makes 1960s Southern governors like George Wallace and Orval Faubus look like effing Nelson Mandelas in comparison. He's creating a Jim Crow atmosphere."
  • Philip Weiss: Who can save Israel now?: "Yaniv was almost in tears. When will the liberal Zionists help Yaniv and call for real outside pressure? Last night Peter Beinart, the leading liberal Zionist, tweeted a comment by Rep. Adam Schiff on CNN that from now on the US must not veto Palestinian statehood resolutions in the Security Council. Beinart is rising to the occasion, making his way toward BDS."
  • Jeff Halper: Netanyahu's victory marks the end of the two-state solution: "No one can be happy when racism and oppression win the day. In a wider perspective, however, the election may represent a positive game-changer. Not that anything has really changed, but finally the fig-leaf that allowed even liberal Israeli apologists to argue that the two-state solution is still possible has been removed. [ . . . ] Since Israel itself eliminated the two-state solution deliberately, consciously and systematically over the course of a half-century, and since it created with its own hands the single de facto state we have today, the way forward is clear. We must accept the ultimate "fact on the ground," the single state imposed by Israel over the entire country, but not in its apartheid/prison form. Israel has left us with only one way out: to transform that state into a democratic state of equal rights for all of its citizens."

Weiss also quotes the Zionist Camp activist Yaniv as saying "We need a Mandela." The problem is more like Israel can't even come up with a De Clerk. (Arguably Yitzhak Rabin auditioned for the part, but he couldn't deliver, partly because he didn't face the demographics and worldwide ostracism white South Africa faced, and partly because he got killed before he could rise to the situation -- if indeed he could.) Still, nobody remembers De Clerk as a great man, partly because his hands were plenty dirty before he relinquished power, partly because Mandela took the glory when he showed such grace and dignity in assuming power.

Still, Israel's situation isn't exactly analogous to De Clerk's. It's not that the Apartheid metaphor isn't applicable. If anything, Israel's treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories is more rigorous, terrifying, and dehumanizing than anything South Africa did. And it's only a matter of time until most of the world sees Israel's Occupation as a gross affront to human rights, peace, and justice, and takes action to isolate and ostracize Israel. But the demographics will never be equivalent: whites in South Africa amounted to no more than 15% of the population, whereas Jews are a majority within Greater Israel, and that majority could be grown by lopping off territory with large concentrations of Palestinians (most easily, Gaza). Sure, free return of Palestinian refugees from 1947-49 might tip the scales, but realistically that's not going to happen.

This demographic position gives Israel's leaders options, but time and again they've chosen to maintain the status quo, at the cost of continued strife and insecurity. They've done this partly because they've psyched themselves into both into believing they'll always live in peril -- that the world will never accept them as peaceable neighbors -- and into thinking they will always win. (This mentality was amply illustrated in Tom Segev's 1967, which showed how terrified Israeli civilians were of impending war and how utterly confident Israel's generals were of their victory.)

History also gives Israel's leaders options. The Zionist movement is now 135 years old, more than a century has passed since Britain's Balfour Declaration opened up Jewish immigration, and the state of Israel has existed for 67 years, under its current borders for 48 years (aside from returning Sinai to Egypt in a deal that established that Israel could coexist with a neighboring Arab state). Fifty years ago one could imagine Israel meeting the fate of Algeria, but no one believes that now. By 2001, all Arab states were willing to recognize Israel in exchange for a deal which would create a Palestinian state from the territory Israel seized in 1967. The PLO had already agreed to that, and Hamas has since come to that position. Only Israeli greed and intransigence has prevented a peace deal from happening. Well, that and the gullibility of American political leaders, who for one reason of another have been spineless when they needed to stand up to Israel.

Netanyahu's great value to Israel has always been his ability to manipulate US opinion -- something he's been known to brag about, unseemly as that may be -- but lately he bound his fate to the Republican Party. In doing so he has started to alienate Democratic supporters of Israel, but more than that he has opened up a mental association between Israeli and Republican policies -- militarism, racism, harsh justice, targeted assassinations, an omnipotent security state, increasing economic inequality, and much more.

I'll try to write more later about what should be done, but for now I just want to leave you with a warning. Unless something is done to correct the trends we're seeing in Israel, the situation there will continue to grow more desperate and unjust, and unless the US can break its tail-wags-dog subservience to Israel we will wind up in the same dystopia.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Daily Log

Jason Gubbels published this Jazz 2015: First Quarter Round Up [Ranked Roughly]. I'll add my grades in brackets (where I have them):

  1. Jack DeJohnette, Made in Chicago (ECM)
  2. Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth, Epicenter (Clean Feed) [A-]
  3. Vijay Iyer Trio, Break Stuff (ECM) [***]
  4. New Vocabulary (with Ornette Coleman), New Vocabulary (System Dialing)
  5. Rudresh Mahanthappa, Bird Calls (ACT) [*]
  6. Makaya McCraven, In the Moment (International Anthem)
  7. Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet, Intents and Purposes (Enja) [*]
  8. Albert "Tootie" Heath, Philadelphia Beat (Sunnyside)
  9. Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord, Jeremiah (Hot Cup) [***]
  10. Hypercolor, Hypercolor (Tzadik) [**]
  11. Mark Helias/Tony Malaby/Tom Rainey, The Signal Maker (Intakt) [***]
  12. Drkwav, The Purge (Royal Potato Family)
  13. Curtis Nowosad, Dialectics (Cellar Live)
  14. Benny Sharoni, Slant Signature (Papaya) [**]
  15. Prism Quartet, Heritage/Evolution (Innova) [**]
  16. Matt Lavelle/John Pietaro, Harmolodic Monk (Unseen Rain '14) [**]

So 16 records, 6 I haven't heard, 1 A- (a very strong one), a 3-4-2 split among B+, nothing obviously lame let alone awful. The mass of unheard records initially bothered me the most, but I'll catch up with most of them in due course. Chris Monsen has also started a 2015: favorites list, and if we leave out the non-jazz (Sleater-Kinney, Jazmine Sullivan, Aphex Twin) and a couple belated 2014 releases, you get:

  1. Rudresh Mahanthappa: Bird Calls (ACT) [*]
  2. Detail: First Detail (Rune Grammofon)
  3. Kirk Knuffke: Arms and Hands (Royal Potato Family)
  4. Vijay Iyer Trio: Break Stuff (ECM) [***]
  5. Hypercolor: Hypercolor (Tzadik) [**]
  6. Wooley/Rempis/Niggenkemper/Corsano: From Wolves to Whales (Aerophonic) [**]

Three records in common with Gubbels, and I'm not a big fan of any of them -- least of all Bird Calls (and my complaint isn't that the record is tied to Charlie Parker; if anything it's that it veers too far away from its ostensible subject matter).

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Rhapsody Streamnotes (March 2015)

Pick up text here.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 24701 [24687] rated (+14), 420 [420] unrated (+0).

Oklahoma trip chewed up three days, so doesn't completely explain this week's shortfall. While I felt rather depressed before and melancholy (and tired) after, could be that the rest of the drop came from giving Madonna and Myra Melford at least five spins each before my lack of an A- response sealed their fates. Neither album reduces my estimation of the artist, but when I want to hear them I'll go elsewhere. I wound up landing on B+(***) a lot this week: six times out of fourteen records. Tanya Tagaq has by far the most uncertain grade, with some upside if I cared to work at it more than I'm willing, but also some downside. Most likely to be overrated are Atomic and Hailey Niswanger, although they gave me more pleasure than Melford or Madonna.

The one A- is Ryan Truesdell's second Gil Evans Project album. It also took about five spins. I didn't go back to recheck its predecessor, 2012's Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans. At the time I was duly impressed giving it B+(***), but many other jazz critics were wowed and it wound up fourth in the Jazz Critics Poll. Possibly deserves a revisit, but I wouldn't be surprised to find that the more proven arrangements and the live sparkle still give the new album the edge.

Not much mail either. And despite adding quite a bit of bulk to the Music Tracking file, I'm not finding much of interest to look up on Rhapsody, and often not finding what I look for. I do have some downloads from Cuneiform and ECM but haven't been in a hurry to get to them. Haven't been in much of a hurry to do anything.

Should have a Rhapsody Streamnotes out in a day or two. While I was belatedly hacking out the tweets collected below, Matos wrote:

Much as I sometimes miss "keeping up," I am so happy not to drum up instapinions anymore unless I want to. Bcz it's that or nothing unless you've got leverage or tenure or w/e. Otherwise it's chump work. There are exceptions, but that's what they are. I wasted years on it. "What did you spend your thirties doing?" "A debased version of something I did in my twenties."

Sure rained on my parade. Been one of those days.

New records rated this week:

  • Atomic: Lucidity (2014 [2015], Jazzland): Norwegian quintet loses all-star status with drummer change, not that Broo and Ljungkvist don't step up [cd]: B+(***)
  • Phil Bowler: Phil Bowler & Pocket Jungle (2013 [2014], Zoho Music): bassist-led group goes for mild-mannered Afro-Cuban tryst with Grupo Los Santos stalwarts [r]: B+(*)
  • Madonna: Rebel Heart (2015, Interscope): the good songs level out long before you reach 19, although the "deluxe" ones almost earn their keep [r]: B+(***)
  • Myra Melford: Snowy Egret (2013 [2015], Enja/Yellowbird): pianist's compositions turn on electric guitar/bass (Liberty Ellman/Stomu Takeishi), with cornet [cd]: B+(***)
  • Billy Mintz: The 2 Bass Band . . . Live (2014 [2015], Thirteenth Note): drummer-led tentet, many stars, not quite avant but skew their postbop that way [cd]: B+(**)
  • Tisziji Muñoz & Marilyn Crispell: The Paradox of Independence (2014 [2015], MRI): guitarist and pianist clash and contrast, backed by bass-drums [r]: B+(**)
  • Hailey Niswanger: PDX Soul (2013-14 [2015], Calmit Productions): tenor saxophonist goes full r&b, often with organ, but seems to still be auditioning singers [cd]: B+(***)
  • Open Field + Burton Greene: Flower Stalk (2012 [2015], Cipsela): Portuguese string trio (guitar-viola-bass) with some bite risk prepared piano thrash [cd]: B+(***)
  • Gretchen Peters: Blackbirds (2015, Scarlet Letter): country singer-songwriter, some clicks, some doesn't, probably not cost-effective to sort out [r]: B+(*)
  • Roberta Piket: Emanation (Solo: Volume 2) (2014 [2015], Thirteenth Note): solo piano, checks off McPartland, Hancock, and Chopin as well as Gillespie, Monk [cd]: B+(*)
  • Dawn Richard: Blackheart (2015, Our Dawn): neo-soul singer, some interesting beat production but strikes me as cluttered and cranky [r]: B
  • Pops Staples: Don't Lose This (1999 [2015], dBpm): demo vocals from 1999, dressed up comfortably by daughter Mavis and producer Jeff Tweedy [r]: B+(**)
  • Tanya Tagaq: Animism (2014 [2015], Six Shooter): less interesting for aboriginal throat singing than for the attempt to give voice to geologic strata [r]: B+(***)
  • Ryan Truesdell: Lines of Color (2014 [2015], Blue Note/ArtistShare): Gil Evans' archivist produces a greatest hits live thing with star power and just enough vocals [cd]: A-

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

  • The Rough Guide to the Best African Music You've Never Heard (World Music Network): a short-lived proposition, until you've heard it and know better [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Tom Collier: Alone in the Studio (Origin): March 17
  • Joe Fiedler Trio: I'm In (Multiphonics Music): April 7
  • Michael Oien: And Now (Fresh Sound New Talent): advance, June
  • Sarah Partridge: I Never Thought I'd Be Here (Origin): March 17
  • Unhinged Sextet: Clarity (OA2): March 17
  • The Michael Waldrop Big Band: Time Within Itself (Origin): March 17

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Weekend Roundup

It's been a slow week for me, as I spent much of it in Oklahoma, visiting relatives and attending the funeral of my cousin Harold Stiner. Harold was just shy of his 90th birthday, and is survived by his wife, Louise, whom he married in 1948 and lived with until death did they part. Their life together was a sweet story, but I wouldn't go so far as to dub it the American Dream -- they never made the sort of money American Dreamers feel entitled to, but they never really wanted either, and left behind two children, four grand-kids, and eleven great-grands, so it certainly counts as a human success story. The one part of the funeral I was somewhat troubled by was the "military honors" -- the flag-draped coffin, two soldiers standing at attention, one playing "taps," the ritual folding and presentation of the flag. It's not that Harold hadn't earned the honor. Like most Americans his age, he got sucked up into the US military in the closing stretch of WWII and wound up in the army that occupied Japan, where he served as a guard in the courts that tried Japanese war criminals. He talked about that experience often, but never talked about actual combat -- and he was a mere 20 on VJ day. My own father (only two years older) was also in the army at that time, but he never invested any identity in being a veteran, and died in 2000, before the War on Terror turned into a bizarre Cult of the Troops. I wondered whether Harold's identity was conditioned by that newer Cult, and felt like the stink of America's recent wars (Vietnam most certainly included) hasn't come to taint Harold's more honorable service.

Just a thought, but war does imbue this week's select links:

  • Nancy LeTourneau: Feith Demonstrates Republican Ignorance on Foreign Policy: Lots of things one can say about the 47 Republican Senators who signed Tom Cotton's letter vowing to sabotage any agreement Obama manages to sign with Iran, although critics have tended to latch onto the notion that the letter violates the Logan Act (itself very probably unconstitutional, something that hasn't been ruled on because no one has tried to enforce it) and the challenge the letter represents to the president's prerogative to conduct foreign policy. It would be better to focus on how totally counterproductive the letter was: how it shows that the US cannot become a trusted party in negotiations because a substantial factional power only believes that disputes can only be solved through war.

    One of the unintended consequences of the Tom Cotton letter fiasco is that the media focus has turned away from the actual negotiations with Iran to the various excuses Republican leaders are coming up with to explain why they signed it.

    But there are a couple of exceptions. I have to give Joshua Muravchik some credit. At least he dispensed with all the right wing cover about how we need a "better deal" and got right down to it with War With Iran is Probably Our Best Option. But what he's really recommending are surgical strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities. He has to admit that won't stop Iran from continuing to build new ones, so we'll have to commit to a kind "whack-a-mole" ongoing war. And then he has to admit that we'll have to do that without IAEA inspectors, so the whole argument devolves into one big mess.

    Then there's Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal that published an op-ed on the negotiations by none other than Doug Feith, who purports to have found the "fatal flaw in Obama's dealings with Iran." [ . . . ]

    Feith's point is that President Obama is taking a "cooperative" approach to the negotiations when he should be taking a "coercive" approach. [ . . . ]

    This one reminds me a lot of the Republican insistence that we can't talk about a "pathway to citizenship" for undocumented immigrants until we "secure the border." The result of that insistence is that the border is never secure enough -- just as Iran never stops being enough of a threat to pursue an agreement. It is meant to leave regime change (most likely via military intervention) as the only option on the table.

    I can only shake my head at the ignorance of people who don't remember that it was regime change in Iran that got us here in the first place.

    I think it's time Americans admit that we got off on the wrong foot with Iran's Islamic Republic in 1979, and that we need a fresh start based on mutual respect. That won't be easy because we utterly lack the ability to see ourselves as others do (not that many others dare say so to our faces -- cf. "The Emperor's New Clothes" for insight). Americans always assume that our own intentions are benign, and never think that our interventions in the rest of the world aren't welcome; actually, we wouldn't even call them interventions, despite presence of US military in over 100 other countries and the CIA in the rest, the US Navy on all seven seas and satellites in space able to spy on every square inch of the world's surface. We do, however, perpetuate childish grudges against any nation that offends us, regardless of how counterproductive our shunning becomes: North Korea is the longest running example, and for its people perhaps the saddest; then there is Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Syria, and a few others -- the neocons would love to add Russia and China to that list. The fact is that the US has done Iran much more harm than vice versa, yet we are totally unaware of any of that: the 1953 coup, equipping the Shah's police state, supporting Iraq's invasion (one of the deadliest wars since WWII), prodding the Saudis to promote anti-Shiite propaganda, crippling sanctions, cyber warfare. Iran hasn't been totally without fault either, and a little contrition on their part would be good for everyone. But the attitudes you see from Cotton, from Feith, from Muravchik and so forth show you how blind and vicious we can be. Iran, after all, has at least as much reason to worry about a nuclear-armed Israel as vice versa, and even more so about a nuclear-armed United States -- a country which within the last fifteen years has invaded and pretty much wrecked two neighboring countries (Afghanistan and Iraq). And an isolated, villified, wounded Iran is far more dangerous than an Iran that is integrated into global trade and culture. The latter might even contribute constructively to our many problems in the region.

    I could say much more about this, but for now I just want to bring up one side point. I have no real worries about Iran producing nuclear bombs -- I don't think they ever intended to build them let alone to use them, possibly because they suspect that they would be useless (as they have been for everyone else but the US against WWII Japan). But I do worry about Iran's ambitions to build nuclear power plants: to see why, recall that the worst nuclear wasteland in Japan isn't the A-bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; it's the drowned nuclear power plants at Fukishima. On the other hand, I don't see that the US can arbitrarily deny Iran access to nuclear power -- the NPT promises not to limit that access, and dozens of other countries (most notably India) have nuclear power plants. But if Iran is going to have nuclear power plants, we should do everything possible to ensure that they will be as safe as those plants can be, which means sharing advanced technology and making sure the plants are inspected and follow "best practices." To do that we need cooperation, not war.

  • Gideon Levy: To see how racist Israel has become, look to the left: Of course the right is racist -- see Max Blumenthal's Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel for abundant proof of that -- but loathing of Arabs is as much of a driving force behind the former left in Israel as for the right.

    The foreign minister [Avigdor Lieberman] said "Those who are against us . . . we need to pick up an ax and cut off his head," aiming his ax at Arab Israelis. Such a remark would end the career and guarantee lifetime ostracism of any Western statesman. [ . . . ] But such is the intellectual, cultural and moral world of Israel's foreign minister, a bully who was once convicted of physically assaulting a child. The world can't understand how Lieberman's remark was accepted with such equanimity in Israel, where some highly-regarded commentators still believe this cynical, repellent politician is a serious, reasonable statesman.

    No less repugnant was his savaging, in a televised debate, of Joint List leader Iman Odeh, whom he called a "fifth column" and told, "you're not wanted here," "go to Gaza." None of the other party heads taking part, including those of leftist and centrist slates, leader in the debate, stepped in to stop Lieberman's tirade. [ . . . ]

    The racism of the campaign season has been planted well beyond the rotten, stinking gardens of Lieberman, Naftali Bennett, Eli Yishai and Baruch Marzel. It is almost everywhere. Our cities have recently been contaminated by posters whose evil messages are nearly on a par with the slogans "Kahane was right" and "death to Arabs."

    "With BibiBennett, we'll be stuck with the Palestinians forever," threaten the posters plastered on every overpass and hoarding, on behalf of the Peace and Security Association of National Security Experts. It is impossible to know their level of expertise on matters of peace and security, but they are clearly experts in incitement. The message and its signatories are considered center-left, but it too spreads hate and racism. [ . . . ]

    Such is the state of public discourse in Israel. Yair Lapid and "the Zoabis," in reference to Haneen Zoabi, Moshe Kahlon who says he won't sit in a government coalition "with the Arabs," Isaac Herzog who will conduct coalition negotiations with all the parties with the exception of the Arab ones, Tzipi Livni and her obsession with her Jewish -- and also nationalistic and ugly -- state. Even the dear and beloved (to me) Amos Oz, who in Haaretz ("Dreams Israel should abandon -- fast," March 13) called for a "fair divorce" from the Palestinians. He has the right not to believe in the prospects for a shared life, we must call for their liberation, but to call for a divorce without asking the Palestinians what they want rings with a rejection of them. And what about Israel's Arab citizens? How are they supposed to feel when one of the most important intellectuals of Israel's peace camp says he wants a divorce? Are they to remain among us as lepers?

    I've said for quite some time now that the main rationale behind the "two-state" partition resolution is that it doesn't depend on Israelis to rise above their deep-seated racism; all it depends on is their will to cut loose some land and prerogatives they still want and a lot of people they can't stand and have constantly wronged.

    Also see Haviv Rettig Gur: Is Netanyahu about to loose the election? for its review of the prospects for post-election coalition building, especially in the face of the refusal of all Zionist parties (left, right, or center) to negotiate with the Joint (Arab) List. For more on this, see Philip Weiss: Herzog and Netanyahu are likely to share power -- because Herzog won't share it with Arab List. (I suppose there are Republicans who feel that the election of a Democrat should be invalidated if a majority of whites vote otherwise, but unlike Israel we don't have a political system that makes it easy to sort out votes like that, or a media that legitimizes such racism. In Israel Jews even have their own language.)

    More Israel links:

    Akira Eldar: Who will stop the Israeli settlers?:

    On March 13, 2005, the second Ariel Sharon government decided to dismantle all the illegal outposts that had been erected since the government came into office in March 2001, and were listed in the report prepared by attorney Talia Sasson.

    The government averred that it would thus fulfill the first stage of the Road Map set down by the Quartet, in keeping with an Israeli commitment made in May 2003. This clause, which included a total freeze on settlement construction, was not included among the 14 reservations Israel presented to the Quartet.

    The signature of then-Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on this decision is just as worthless as the paper upon which the Wye River Memorandum, the Bar-Ilan speech and all the "two-state" speeches made before the United States Congress and the United Nations General Assembly are written.

    But it's time to remind those with short memories that Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni were also part of that government. The latter was appointed head of a special ministerial committee whose job was to convert the outpost report into action -- primarily by ensuring the dismantling of outposts built after the formation of the previous government (in which Livni also served). A significant portion of those outposts were built on private Palestinian land.

    Data from the Central Bureau of Statistics show that over the past decade, the settler population in the West Bank has grown by 112,000 (from 244,000 to 356,000).

    Figures from Peace Now show that in the same period, the illegal outposts gained 9,000 more residents -- about three times their population 10 years ago. More than half of the growth occurred during the time when Livni and Herzog bore ministerial responsibility for this gross violation of Israeli and international law.

    The Kadima/Hatnuah leader and the Labor Party and Zionist Union chairman were also both partly responsible for allowing hundreds of millions of shekels to flow to the settlements via the leaky pipe known as the "settlement division," which suddenly became the national punching bag.

    According to the outpost report (presented a decade ago), the division "mainly erected many unauthorized outposts, without approval from the authorized political officials." [ . . . ]

    Every Israeli government since 2005 has ignored the report's unequivocal recommendation to clip the wings of the division, especially its budget, which continues to fund the effort to wreck peace.

    William Greider: What About Israel's Nuclear Bomb? Israel began its work on developing nuclear weapons in the 1950s when fear that it might be overwhelmed by much more populous adversaries was more credible. By the mid-1960s, Israel's denials offered a convenient out while the US attempted to corral all other nations (including Iran) within the confines of the NPT. But one side effect of US acquiescence in this "don't ask, don't tell" treatment is that we're not allowed to factor in Israel's nuclear deterrence capabilities when evaluating possible threats from possible enemies like Iran. No nuclear-armed power has ever directly attacked another nuclear-armed power, not even at the height of conflict between the US and the Soviet Union. One can even argue that conflicts become more stable when both adversaries possess nuclear weapons: one can point not only to the Cold War but to the way India and Pakistan walked back from a likely fourth war in 2002. Israel hates the idea of a nuclear-armed Iran less because it fears Iran -- Iran, after all, has not committed direct military aggression against another country for several centuries now, whereas Israel has done so close to ten times since 1948 -- so much as because it hates the idea that any nation it attacks might fight back.

    Anne-Marie Codur: Why Iran is not and has never been Israel's #1 enemy.

  • Mike Lofgren: Operation Rent Seeking: Reviewing James Risen's book, Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War, on how the Global War on Terror turned into a racket and a cash cow for the nation's military profiteers:

    It is difficult to read Pay Any Price and not come away with the sick feeling that the Bush presidency -- which, after all, only assumed office by the grace of judicial wiring and force majeure -- was at bottom a corrupt and criminal operation in collusion with private interests to hijack the public treasury. But what does that say about Congress, which acted more often as a cheerleader than a constitutional check? And what does it tell us about the Obama administration, whose Justice Department not only failed to hold the miscreants accountable, but has preserved and expanded some of its predecessors' most objectionable policies?

    Partisans may squabble over the relative culpability of the Bush and Obama administrations, as well as that of Congress, but that debate is now almost beside the point. If Risen is correct, America's campaign against terrorism may have evolved to the point that endless war is the tacit but unalterable goal, regardless of who is formally in charge.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Funeral in Oklahoma

I took some notes from a gravestone in the cemetery on the east edge of Stroud, Oklahoma: William M. Stiner, born January 14, 1896; died November 29, 1973. Lola Stiner, born July 7, 1900; died March 27, 1968. They were married, till death they did depart. on November 2, 1919. Lola was my mother's oldest sibling, the eldest in of ten born to Ben and Mary Lou Brown, eight surviving infancy: my mother the youngest, plus three girls I knew as aunts and four boys I knew as uncles. I knew William M. as Uncle Melvin. I was in the cemetery to bury his oldest son, who I always knew as Harold Stiner, but who turns out to have been a William also, William H. Stiner. He was born in Milfay, Oklahoma, on May 11, 1925, and died March 7 this year, at the age of 89.

Aunt Lola was born and grew up on a farm near Vidette, Arkansas, a three-way junction which in its heyday was the location of a post office and two other buildings, but which has long since disappeared from maps. (The closest towns today are Henderson, seven miles west; Viola, eight miles east; and Bakersfield, Missouri, seven miles north; much larger is Mountain Home, sixteen miles west, past Lake Norfolk.) Our great-grandfather and his father moved from Ohio to Mountain Home shortly after the Civil War -- I reckon that made them carpetbaggers, although Baxter County was a unique Republican enclave in the former slave state.) When Ben Brown died in 1935, that farm was passed on to his oldest son, Ted, who by then had his own adjacent farm and was able to buy his mother and siblings out.

Melvin also came from those hills, growing up on a farm a few miles north and west, near Gamaliel, practically on the Missouri border. He and Lola got married in Arkansas, and sometime before Harold was born in 1925 moved to Oklahoma, eventually settling on 160 acres a few miles east of Stroud, their driveway attached to US-66, and they grew that farm into substantially larger by the 1950s. They had a second son, Duan, in 1927, and a daughter, Mary Lou, who died two days after her birth in 1935. We visited often, usually every two or three months, from as early as I can recall in the 1950s up to Lola's death in 1968. I did miss her funeral -- I went through a very anti-social period in the mid-late 1960s -- and didn't return to Oklahoma until after I moved back to Wichita in 1999. I doubt my parent went much either. For one thing, Melvin isn't fondly remembered by anyone I know. Even when we were children, he was recognized as gruff and something of a blowhard -- a guy who would argue points that were plainly ridiculous. After he came down with diabetes he got even more cranky and whiny, self-centered and demanding. He also had a nasty habit of pinching Lola. She was heavy and had a high-pitched voice, so it's like he liked to hear her squeal. And that got so bad Duan's wife tried to talk Lola into leaving Melvin.

After Lola died, a quite sudden massive heart attack, Melvin was beside himself. He survived another five years, and remarried twice in that stretch, in the process squandering nearly all of the money he had accumulated. Those marriages aren't noted on their tombstone (which was probably arranged on Lola's death, when that seemed like the right thing to do). Duan told me that his dad "went woman crazy" after Lola died, but I always figured he was hard up and desperate for comfort and support, and he himself didn't have much to offer in return -- except money. I wasn't close enough to know whether he got fleeced or whether one or both of the wives earned every penny -- both scenarios were possible.

Nonetheless, I always rather liked Melvin. He managed to run a large and complicated farm -- chickens and pigs and lots of cattle, corn and hay (I heard stories about cotton but don't recall seeing any), a big vegetable garden with exceptional green beans, quite a bit of pastureland including a large pond we fished at, some woods including a rugged valley under the dam; also a couple oil wells and we were impressed with how much money he made from billboards along US-66, at least until the Turner Turnpike stole the traffic. Before the turnpike, the trip took five or six hours each way -- two-lane country roads and crawling through a dozen-plus towns, notably Stillwater and Cushing. I-35 and the Turnpike cut that drive down to a bit more than three hours. He worked hard, from dawn to sunset and then some, but he took time to socialize, and had a wicked sense of humor.

By the time I remember going down there, both Harold and Duan were grown, had served in the Army, married, and were living on their own. I'm not sure whether Harold saw any action in WWII -- he turned 20 in March of 1945 as the US was fighting for Iwo Jima -- but after Japan surrendered he was part of the occupation force, and most memorably was a guard on duty during at least some of the Tokyo war crimes trials. Nor am I sure how long Harold served -- I've seen pictures of him in uniform with corporal stripes -- but by 1948 he had returned to Oklahoma, and he married Louise Byrd on June 9 of that year. About that time, he bought a farm three miles north of Stroud, and they lived there from then until they moved into a Stroud nursing home last year. Their marriage lasted almost 67 years. (I can only think of one longer.) They had two children, Julie and Jeffrey, but not until the early 1960s, so I barely knew them at the time. They went on to have children (4) and grandchildren (11 for now).

I doubt that Harold ever made a living as a farmer. He drove trucks and worked in gas stations, even owned one for a while. He was deeply religious, for many years a "song leader" at the Stroud Church of Christ, so active in the church I can recall him running out on a visit to go there. He was so kind and generous to everyone that it seems like he was often targeted by scam artists, but he always seemed to make do, was satisfied with his lot, and hardly ever complained. I never begrudged his faith, but I did have my doubts about the pride he took in his military service. It seems like every subsequent male member of his family signed up and followed suit, and when I visited in recent years I always heard stories of so-and-so in Afghanistan or Iraq -- a sad waste of American lives that has only caused far greater suffering around the world. Yet I never heard any articulation of the ideology that drives US power projection; all I heard was the naive belief that by "serving" they were somehow "keeping America safe."

And those were the themes of Harold's funeral: his unstinting dedication to church and country. Harold isn't the first person I've known to plot out his funeral in advance, picking favorite bible verses and songs, but he probably went furthest in planning the entire event. He was certainly the first person I've known to have installed a grave marker ahead of time. (I've known spouses with names on markers while they were still living -- in fact, one who did it twice.) I don't know whose idea it was to bring a military honor guard to the burial, but the casket was draped in a US flag, two soldiers in dress uniforms stood at attention off to the right behind the casket. One played taps, then they folded the flag and presented it, rather nervously, to Louise.

I've known many veterans, but I had never seen anything like this. My grandfather was in the army in France during WWI, but that played no part in his funeral. My father was in the Army toward the end of WWII -- he was only two years older than Harold -- but it never occurred to us to emphasize that he had been a veteran. (Indeed, he regarded his time in the Army as a time when he did nothing useful or worthwhile.) My cousin Bob Burns was a veteran of Korea, but there was nothing military at his funeral. I skipped a lot of funerals so my sample size isn't large, but for most WWII veterans service was something you just did and forgot as you got on with your life. The "greatest generation" hoopla didn't occur until after Vietnam gave war a bad name (actually, an even worse name), and only with the post-9/11 terror/oil wars, when soldiers are recruited from an ever narrower segment of the population, has military funeral honors turned into such a self-identified cult. Maybe I could see this for someone with 20+ years in the Air Force like James Hull, my last surviving uncle -- he didn't actually fight in Vietnam but he services airplanes that dropped thousands of tons of bombs, killing thousands of Vietnamese -- but for Harold it feels like wrapping his own honorable service with the stink of more recent wars. At the least it shows his naivete.

Harold's brother, Duan, turned 18 the same day Americans bombed Hiroshima. He, too, joined the Army, and did a tour in the occupation of Japan. He got out, then was called back and did a tour in Korea, where he saw combat (but seems to more clearly remember the cold). He came back, got a job as a butcher in a grocery store, and married Catherine. She had a son already named Johnny, about my age, and they had two daughters in quick succession, about my sister's age, Judy Kay and Cathy. (They later had a son, Michael Duan, who I only knew as an infant until recently.) Whereas we usually only saw Harold when we went to his place, Duan and Catherine came to Aunt Lola's pretty much every time we visited, and their children often stayed over. In the 1960s Duan started his own meat business, and my parents would periodically buy a half beef from him.

From the Parks Brothers website, Obituary for William Harold Stiner:

William Harold Stiner was born in Milfay, Oklahoma on May 11, 1925 and departed this life in Stroud, Oklahoma on Saturday, March 7, 2015 at the age of 89 years.

Harold was the son of Melvin and Lola (Brown) Stiner. He was a resident of Stroud area all of his life. He was in the United States Army where he served in WWII. He was a member of the Church of Christ in Stroud and retired from Lincoln County as truck driver. He married Louise Byrd in Stroud, Oklahoma on June 9, 1948. Harold was preceded in death by his parents, one step grandson and one sister.

Survivors include wife, Louise of home, one son and daughter in law, Jeff and Jan Stiner of Atlanta, Georgia, one daughter and son in law, Julie and Johnny Rainwater of Stroud, one brother, Duan Stiner of Bristow, four grandchildren, Rachel Richey, Jerred Eversole, Jana Angelo, and Jamilyn Glidewell, and eleven great grandchildren, Kylee, Dylan, Mason, Addison, Sydney, Skyler, Tayler, Chandler, Keller, Nicholas and Trevor, other relatives and friends.

Funeral service will be held at the Church of Christ in Stroud on Wednesday, March 11, 2015 at 1:30 P.M. with L.D. Byrd and Kyle Wright officiating. Burial will follow in the Stroud Cemetery under the direction of Parks Brothers Funeral Service in Stroud.

Family will receive friends at the Parks Brothers Funeral Chapel on Tuesday, March 10, 2015 form 6:00 P.M. to 8:00 P.M.

Link for photos.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Daily Log

Got back from Oklahoma today. Took a back roads route, driving NW from Bristow to Pawnee, then jogging over to Ponca City. Wanted to see the Pioneer Woman memorial there, since I picked up a number of old photos with various relatives on or near to it. Picked up the highway at Blackwell and zipped home.

Wasn't able to get on the Internet during the trip, so waiting for me was 268 email messages and 216 new tweets.

Matt Rice reviewed 20 albums:

  1. Belle and Sebastian: Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance (Matador) [A-]
  2. Bjork: Vulnicura (One Little Indian) [B]
  3. Death Grips: Fashion Week (Third Woods) [B+]
  4. Bob Dylan: Shadows in the Night (Colubia) [B-]
  5. Fall Out Boy: American Beauty/American Psycho (Island) [B]
  6. Father John Misty: I Love You, Honeybear (Sub Pop) [B]
  7. Lupe Fiasco: Tetsuo & Youth (Atlantic) [B+]
  8. Fifth Harmony: Reflection (Epic/Syco) [B+]
  9. Indiana: No Romeo (Deluxe Edition) (Epic) [B]
  10. Joey Bada$$: B4.Da.$$ (Cinematic/Relentless) [B-]
  11. Lil Wayne: Sorry 4 the Wait 2 (free download) [C+]
  12. Ne-Yo: Non-Fiction (Motown) [B+]
  13. Rae Lynn: Me (Valory Music Group) [C]
  14. Rae Sremmurd: SremmLife (EarDrummers/Interscope) [B+]
  15. Dawn Richard: Blackheart (Our Dawn) [A-]
  16. Sleater-Kinney: No Cities to Love (Sub Pop) [A]
  17. Jazmine Sullivan: Reality Show (RCA) [A]
  18. Tanya Tagaq: Animism (Six Shooter) [A]
  19. Meghan Trainor: Title (Epic) [B-]
  20. Viet Cong: Viet Cong [B]

Monday, March 09, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 24687 [24592] rated (+95), 420 [499] unrated (-79).

Saturday evening I checked the rated count and found I was only +17 for the week, a pace that would leave me well short of a productive +30 week. I decided that would be a good time to make a pass through the unrated file and see if any of those albums had been rated elsewhere (checking against the year-end files and sometimes the indexes for Recycled Goods or Rhapsody Streamnotes). I've made less systematic sweeps in the past and often netted a dozen or two missing grades. This time I picked up 72 albums, turning a slack week into a monster, statistically speaking.

Wound up with 26 records below, so not much shy of a normal "good" week. Two new non-jazz A-list releases (or three if you count a reissue of a cassette that only previously had a run of 50 units) so that may finally break the 2015 drought -- although all three are close to the borderline, and McMurtry and Tuxedo nearly got written up as HMs until 4-5 plays nudged me over the line. The live McMurtry was something I've been meaning to check out, so this seemed like a good time.

My Rhapsody Streamnotes draft file is already long enough to post. Good chance I'll post it some time this week, although I won't promise. For one thing, I'll be out of town a few days: one of my cousins, Harold Stiner, passed away on Saturday, so I want to at least make an appearance at the funeral. He was 89 -- a teenager when he joined the Army and wound up stationed as a guard during war crimes trials in Japan. When he returned, he bought a small farm north of Stroud, married Louise Byrd, and they both lived there until moving to a nursing home a few months ago, more than 65 years. We went down there often when I was a child, and I spent a lot of time fishing his pond. He was an exceptionally kind, open, generous person, and will be missed and remembered fondly.

New records rated this week:

  • Aphex Twin: Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments, Pt. 2 (2015, Warp, EP): outtakes EP, maybe just an afterthought, from last year's "Syro" [r]: B+(**)
  • Ab Baars Trio & NY Guests: Invisible Blow (2012 [2015], Wig): Dutch tenor saxophonist, group goes back to 1990, so they've grown old and mellow together [cd]: B
  • Ab Baars Trio: Slate Blue (2014 [2015], Wig): Fay Victor and Vincent Chancey -- I like them enough but they're not what Baars needs [cd]: B+(***)
  • Belle and Sebastian: Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance (2015, Matador): while the boys make clunky music and hog the vocals [r]: B+(*)
  • Anat Cohen: Luminosa (2014 [2015], Anzic): leads with her clarinet, group less than focused except when her Brazilian guests take charge [cd]: B+(***)
  • Father John Misty: I Love You, Honeybear (2015, Sub Pop): not an artist I want to get to know better, not that the fancy production never clicks [r]: B
  • Ross Hammond: Flight (2014 [2015], Prescott): guitarist meant for bigger things tries his hand at folk-oriented solo pastorale [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Mikko Innanen: Song for a New Decade (2010-12 [2015], TUM, 2CD): Finnish saxophonist gets all the help he needs: William Parker and Andrew Cyrille [cd]: A-
  • James McMurtry: Complicated Game (2013-14 [2015], Complicated Game): hard luck songs continue, less political because he's too smart to blame it all on Obama [r]: A-
  • Kyle Nasser: Restive Soul (2013 [2015], AISA): tenor saxophonist, uses guitar-piano-bass-drums for complex postbop layering, very au courant [cd]: B+(*)
  • Prism Quartet: Heritage/Evolution, Volume 1 (2014, Innova, 2CD): obscure but long-running sax quartet invite six famous saxophonists to guest, rub off [cd]: B+(**)
  • Nate Radley: Morphoses (2013 [2014], Fresh Sound New Talent): guitarist-led trio plus Loren Stillman's sax for extra splotches of contrasting color [r]: B+(*)
  • John Raymond: Foreign Territory (2014 [2015], Fresh Sound New Talent): young trumpet player backed by solid pros on piano-bass-drums, postbop but pretty sharp at that [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Spin Marvel: Infolding (2014 [2015], RareNoise): Brit jazztronica group host Nils Petter Molvaer, a bright spot in their post-Miles underworld [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Story City: Time and Materials (2012, self-released): jazz-rock returns, not hot enough for fusion, not soft enough for smooth, not bad but no matter [cd]: B
  • Tradisyon Ka: Gwo Ka: Music of Guadeloupe, West Indies (2014, Soul Jazz): a drum-and-chant music never far removed from Africa, done by trad band with guests [r]: B+(**)
  • Tuxedo: Tuxedo (2015, Stones Throw): Jake One and Mayer Hawthorne go retro-disco, which treats them as well as retro-Motown did; who knew we still need this? [r]: A-
  • Typefighter: The End of Everything (2014, Hope Witch): pretty good DC-based garage-pop band -- i.e., rough as punk but hooks pop out [r]: B+(**)
  • Carlos "Zíngaro": Live at Mosteiro de Santa Clara a Velha (2012 [2015], Cipsela): Spanish violinist, improvised from classical to jazz, goes solo [cd]: B+(**)

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

  • Ata Kak: Obaa Sima (1994 [2015], Awesome Tapes From Africa): rapper from Ghana, belated release of Brian Shimkovitz's original inspiration for Awesome Tapes From Africa [r]: A-
  • Next Stop . . . Soweto, Vol. 2: Soul, Funk and Organ Grooves From the Townships 1969-1987 (1969-76 [2010], Strut): soul, funk, organ grooves from South Africa, thin glosses on things done better elsewhere [r]: B+(*)
  • Next Stop . . . Soweto, Vol. 3: Giants, Ministers and Makers: Jazz in South Africa 1963-1978 (1963-78 [2010], Strut): the iceberg beneath the more visible stars that went into exile [r]: B+(**)
  • No Seattle: Forgotten Sounds of the North-West Grunge Era 1986-97 (1986-97 [2014], Soul Jazz, 2CD): 28 songs by 23 bands with one or more members who played on a bill with Nirvana [r]: B

Old records rated this week:

  • Chico Hamilton and Euphoria: Arroyo (1990 [1993], Soul Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • Chico Hamilton and Euphoria: My Panamanian Friend (1992 [1994], Soul Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • James McMurtry and the Heartless Bastards: Live in Aught-Three (2004, Compadre): first live album sums up a decade-plus of learning and writing [r]: A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Stephan Crump/Mary Halvorson: Secret Keeper (Intakt): advance, April
  • Maxfield Gast: Ogo Pogo (Militia Hill)
  • Bradley Williams: Investigation (21st Century Entertainment, 2CD)

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links this week:

  • David Atkins: Missing Selma: The Final Death of GOP Minority Outreach: When I saw the movie Selma, I couldn't help but think of how much that was gained by the civil rights movement in the 1960s has been lost in the last decade due to Republican courts, state legislatures, and the failure of Congress to renew voting rights protections. (Of course, more than renewal is needed: voting rights protections need to be extended beyond the deep South to everywhere Republicans hold power.)

    Facing demographic reality after their devastating defeat in 2012, Republicans issued a report saying they needed to consider policy changes to court minority voters. That olive branch lasted a few weeks before their base and its mouthpieces on AM radio urgently reminded them that bigotry is a core Republican value and would only be dismissed at the peril of any politician that didn't toe the Tea Party line.

    Now the party finds itself shutting down Homeland Security to protest the President's mild executive order on immigration and almost ignoring the Selma anniversary entirely. The minority outreach program is not just dead: it's a public embarrassment and heaping ruin. [ . . . ]

    And they will continue to try to disenfranchise as many minority voters as possible -- one of the reasons why the Selma memorial is so problematic for them. Republicans are actively trying to remove as many minority voters as possible from the eligible pool, and have no interest in being reminded of Dr. King's struggle to achieve the end of Jim Crow and true voting rights for African-Americans.

    The GOP has made it abundantly clear that things are going to get much uglier before they get better. Their base won't have it any other way.

    This is probably as good a place as ever to hook a link to Kris Kobach Floats Idea Obama Wants to Protect Black Criminals From Prosecution. Of course that's taken a bit out of context -- Kobach is obsessed with voting irregularities and has repeatedly pleaded with the Kansas state legislature to give him authority to prosecute voting infractions (seeing that county prosecutors rarely do so, preoccupied as they are with killing and stealing), and his actual examples are voting-related. Still, he was unwilling to raise any objection to a caller who repeated the whole racist canard, and by adding his own parochial examples the caller no doubt considered his paranoia confirmed.

  • Conservatives Who Hate "Big Government" Are, Shockingly, Not Up in Arms About Ferguson: References Adam Serwer, who dug through the DOJ's report on police abuses in Ferguson, Missouri (those protests last year weren't only about police shooting an unarmed teenager -- that sort of thing happens all over the country -- but were rooted in a long pattern of predation).

    You're probably aware that Ferguson used the cops and courts to generate tax revenues. How extreme were the fines? From the report:

    [O]ur investigation found instances in which the court charged $302 for a single Manner of Walking violation; $427 for a single Peace Disturbance violation; $531 for High Grass and Weeds; $777 for Resisting Arrest; and $792 for Failure to Obey, and $527 for Failure to Comply, which officers appear to use interchangeably.

    Now, here's the thing: Isn't this the sort of thing right-wingers ought to be complaining about? Government charging you a three-figure fine for walking wrong, or not cutting your grass properly? Aren't some of these an awful lot like taxes? Don't right-wingers hate taxes? Don't they hate government attempts to micromanage citizens' lives? Isn't turning "high grass and weeds" into a rime punishable by large fines a sort of aesthetic political correctness? [ . . . ]

    Oh, but of course. . . .

    Available data show that, of those actually arrested by FPD only because of an outstanding municipal warrant, 96% are African American.


    Data collected by the Ferguson Police Department from 2012 to 2014 shows that African Americans account for 85% of vehicle stops, 90% of citations, and 93% of arrests made by FPD officers, despite comprising only 67% of Ferguson's population.

    So I guess it doesn't matter that this is oppressive Big Government using jackbooted-thug powers to restrict citizens' FREEDOM!!!! and shovel more and more cash into the insatiable maw of the bureaucracy -- because, y'know, that stuff doesn't matter when it happens to Those People.

    No More Mr. Nice Blog also reports that This Frigid Winter Is Not Frigid in the West (see the map). And on that front, see Florida Officials Banned From Using Term 'Climate Change'. Not clear whether this also means that Floridians will be banned from calling for help when the last glaciers melt and their state vanishes under the rising ocean. (The article points out that "sea-level rise" is still a permitted term.)

    It's always tempting to shame conservatives for their hypocrisies and frequent lack of principles, much as it's tempting to point out that the movement to change the existing order to make it even more hierarchical and inequal (and usually more brutal) is more properly termed fascist. My own pet example is abortion/birth control, which used to be more closely associated with the right (albeit often tainted with racist "eugenics" concerns) than the left. More properly, conservatives should support abortion/birth control rights because: (a) it is a matter of personal freedom in an area where the state has no legitimate interest; (b) we expect parents to assume a great deal of responsibility for their children, and the assumption of such responsibility should be a matter of choice (whereas pregnancy is much more a matter of chance). If you want, you can add various secondary effects: unwanted children are more likely to become burdens on the state, to engage in crime, etc. But the Republicans sniffed out a political opportunity for opposing abortion -- mostly inroads into traditionally Democratic religious blocks (Roman Catholic and Baptist), plus the view resonated as prohibitionist and anti-sex, reaffirming their notion of the Real America as a stern patriarchy, and adding a critical faction to the GOP's coalition of hate.

    Conservatives should also be worried by unjust and discriminatory law enforcement such as we've seen in Ferguson -- after all their own property depends on a system of law that is widely viewed as basically fair and just. They also should worry about global warming, which in the long run will disproportionately affect property owners -- that they aren't is testimony to the political influence bought by the oil industry (along with the short-sightedness of other businesses). But again these worries are easily swept aside by demagogues seeking to discredit science, reason, and decency.

  • Ed Kilgore: How Mike Huckabee Became the New Sarah Palin: I always thought that had Huckabee run in 2012 he would have won the Republican nomination: he was as well established as the "next guy in line" as Romney, we would have captured all of the constituency that wound up supporting Rick Santorum (I mean, who on earth really wanted Santorum?). I'm less certain he's got the inside track in 2016, but he's kept up his visibility and he's learned a few tricks from his fellow Fox head, Sarah Palin. On the other hand, it's hard to look at Huckabee's new book title -- God, Guns, Grits and Gravy -- and not wonder whether he's toppled over into self-caricature.

    While nobody has written a full-fledged manifesto for conservative cultural resentment, Mike Huckabee's new pre-campaign book is a significant step in the direction of full-spectrum cry for the vindication of Real Americans. It is telling that the politician who was widely admired outside the conservative movement during his 2008 run for being genial, modest, quick-witted, and "a conservative who's not mad about it" has now released a long litany of fury at supposed liberal-elite condescension toward and malevolent designs against the Christian middle class of the Heartland. [ . . . ]

    In a recent column recanting his earlier enthusiasm for Sarah Palin, the conservative writer Matt Lewis accused La Pasionaria of the Permafrost of "playing the victim card, engaging in identity politics, co-opting some of the cruder pop-culture references, and conflating redneck lowbrow culture with philosophical conservatism." The trouble now is that she hardly stands out.

    Speaking of Huckabee, he's been pushing this placcard on twitter, proclaiming "Netanyahu is a Churchill in a world of Chamberlains." This vastly mis-estimates all checked names. Neville Chamberlain's reputation as a pacifist is greatly exaggerated: he did, after all, lead Britain into WWII when he decided to declare war against Germany over Poland after having "appeased" Hitler in letting Germany annex a German-majority sliver of Czechoslovakia. From a practical standpoint, his war declaration did Poland no good whatsoever, so it's impossible to see how declaring war any earlier would have had any deterrence or punitive effect. (Moreover, declaring war over Poland definitely moved up Hitler's timetable for attacking France, leading to the British fiasco at Dunkirk.) Of course, by the time Chamberlain declared war, hawks like Churchill were on the rise in Britain, and Churchill took over once Britain was committed to war with Germany.

    Churchill is generally given high marks for leading Britain through WWII, but more so in America than in England, which voted him out of office as soon as the war was over. A more sober assessment is that as a military strategist he didn't make as many bad mistakes in WWII as he had in the first World War (at least nothing on the scale of Gallipoli). But he failed miserably in his attempt to keep the British Empire intact, in large part because he was so tone deaf about it. If you look at his entire career, you'll see he did nothing but promote war and imperialism, and in doing so he left his stink on nearly every disastrous conflict of the 20th century. Indeed, he got a head start in the 1890s in the Sudan, then moved on to the Boer War in South Africa. His penchant for dividing things led to the partitions of Ireland, India, and Palestine, each followed by a series of wars. He was a major architect of Britain's push into Palestine and Iraq (and, unsuccessfully, Turkey) during the first World War, and followed that up by supporting Greece against Turkey and the "whites" in the Russian Civil War. As WWII was winding down he sided in yet another Greek Civil War and attempted to reassert British control of Malaya. After WWII he is credited with the keynote speech of the Cold War, which led to virtually all of the world's post-WWII conflicts (up to 1990) aside from his post-partition wars. He also was the main instigator behind the 1953 US coup in Iran, so give him some credit for all that ensued there -- including Netanyahu's speech this week. Churchill died in 1965, but even today he is invoked by hawks in the US and UK as the patron saint of perpetual war and injustice. He should be counted as one of the great monsters of his era.

    Netanyahu, on the other hand, is a much smaller monster, if only because he runs a much smaller country. Still, even within Israeli history, he hasn't had an exceptionally violent career: certainly he ranks far behind Ariel Sharon and David Ben Gurion, nor does he have the sort of intimate sense of blood-on-his-hands as Menachem Begin or Yitzhak Shamir or even Ehud Barak, nor the sort of military glory of Yitzhak Rabin or Moshe Dayan. I'm not even sure I'd rank him above Shimon Peres, the political figure most responsible for Israel's own atom bomb project, but he certainly moved up on the list with last year's turkey shoot in Gaza (and to a lesser extent the West Bank). But for two decades of rant about the "existential threat" posed by Iran, he's stayed out of actual war. What he is really exceptional at is avoiding peace. He was the most effective politician in Israel when it came to sabotaging the Oslo "peace process" and he has been singularly effective at wrecking Obama's peace efforts. Indeed, his entire Iran obsession makes more sense as an anti-Palestinian stall than as a real concern. What makes Netanyahu inordinately dangerous isn't so much what he can do directly as prime minister of Israel as his skill at persuading official opinion in the US: as we saw, for instance, when he helped parlay the 9/11 attacks into a Global War on Terror, or when he shilled for Bush's invasion of Iraq, or his longstanding efforts to drive the US to war against Iran. Huckabee's attempt to ride on Netanyahu's coattails should show you just how dangerous Netanyahu can be, and what a fool Huckabee is.

  • Paul Krugman: Larry Kudlow and the Failure of the Chicago School: On the conservative predeliction for economic frauds:

    Jonathan Chait does insults better than almost anyone; in his recent note on Larry Kudlow, he declares that

    The interesting thing about Kudlow's continuing influence over conservative thought is that he has elevated flamboyant wrongness to a kind of performance art.

    And Chait doesn't even mention LK's greatest hits -- his sneers at "bubbleheads" who thought something was amiss with housing prices, his warnings about runaway inflation in 2009-10, his declaration that a high stock market is a vote of confidence for the president -- but only, apparently, if said president is Republican.

    But what's really interesting about Kudlow is the way his influence illustrates the failure of the Chicago School, as compared with the triumph of MIT.

    But, you say, Kudlow isn't a product of Chicago, or indeed of any economics PhD program. Indeed -- and that's the point.

    There are plenty of conservative economists with great professional credentials, up to and including Nobel prizes. But the right isn't interested in their input. They get rolled out on occasion, mainly as mascots. But the economists with a real following, the economists who have some role in determining who gets the presidential nomination, are people like Kudlow, Stephen Moore, and Art Laffer. [ . . . ]

    Maybe the right prefers guys without credentials because they really know how things work, although I'd argue that this proposition can be refuted with two words: Larry Kudlow. More likely, it's that affinity fraud thing: Professors, even if they're conservative, just aren't the base's kind of people. I don't think it's an accident that Kudlow still dresses like Gordon Gekko after all these years.

    Also see Krugman's Slandering the 70s. Some time back I read Robert J. Samuelson's The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath: The Past and Future of American Affluence, which tries to argue that the stagflation of the 1970s was every bit as disastrous as the Great Depression. I figured out that Samuelson's mind was permanently wedged -- a conclusion that's been repeatedly reaffirmed ever since -- but I never quite understood why he was so agitated. Krugman's third graph suggests an answer: changes in income for the top 1% only rose by about 1% from 1973-1979, vs. 72% for 1979-1989, 55% for 1989-2000, and 13% for 2000-2007. Moreover, median income 1973-79 was up nearly 4%, so the elite 1% actually trailed the economy as a whole. Still, no one actually came out and said that the right turn from 1979 through Reagan's reign was needed because capital returns during the 1970s were insufficient. But that does seem to be the thing that motivated the rich to so brazenly exploit the corruptibility of the American political system to advance their own interests. And they succeeded spectacularly, so much so that there doesn't seem to be any countervaling power that can bring the system back toward equilibrium. On the other hand, the second surprise in the chart is the relatively anemic gains of the 1% under Bush, as the increasingly inequal economy started to drag everyone down -- an effect Bush was desperate to hide behind tax cuts, booming deficits, and the real estate bubble.

  • Mike Konczal: Why Are Liberals Resigned to Low Wages? I'm not sure that Konczal's term "liberal nihilism" helps us in any way, but I am reminded that throughout history liberals, unlike labor socialists, have sucked up the notion of free markets -- one source of our political dysfunction is that even left-of-center we tend to confuse two rather different sets of political ideas. But Konczal is right that the stagnant or declining wages -- one part of the increasing inequality problem -- has little to do with the "stories" you hear urging resignation to the status quo. He explains:

    But wage growth is also a matter of how our productive enterprises are organized. Over the past thirty-five years, a "shareholder revolution" has re-engineered our companies in order to channel wealth toward the top, especially corporate executives and shareholders, rather than toward innovation, investments and workers' wages. As the economist J.W. Mason recently noted, companies used to borrow to invest before the 1980s; now they borrow to give money to stockholders. Meanwhile, innovations in corporate structures, including contingent contracts and franchise models, have shifted the risk down, toward precarious workers, even as profits rise. As a result, the basic productive building blocks of our economy are now inequality-generating machines.

    The third driver of wage stagnation is government policy. As anthropologist David Graeber puts it, "Whenever someone starts talking about the 'free market,' it's a good idea to look around for the man with the gun." Despite the endless talk of a "free market," our economy is shaped by myriad government policies -- and no matter where we look, we see government policies working against everyday workers. Whether it's letting the real value of the minimum wage decline, making it harder to unionize, or creating bankruptcy laws and intellectual-property regimes that primarily benefit capital and the 1 percent, the way the government structures markets is responsible for weakening labor and causing wages to stay stuck.

    Konczal delves deeper into the robots story here.

  • Various links on or related to the Netanyahu speech:

Also, a few links for further study:

  • Andrew Bacevich: How to Create a National Insecurity State: Much here going back to Vietnam, occasioned by Christian Appy's new book, American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity, but in the plus ça change, plus c'est le même chose spirit I want to point out this paragraph on Obama's new Defense Secretary, Ash Carter:

    So on his second day in office, for example, he dined with Kenneth Pollack, Michael O'Hanlon, and Robert Kagan, ranking national insecurity intellectuals and old Washington hands one and all. Besides all being employees of the Brookings Institution, the three share the distinction of having supported the Iraq War back in 2003 and calling for redoubling efforts against ISIS today. For assurances that the fundamental orientation of U.S. policy is sound -- we just need to try harder -- who better to consult than Pollack, O'Hanlon, and Kagan (any Kagan)?

  • Subhankar Banerjee: Arctic Nightmares: Author of Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point, on oil exploration in the Arctic Ocean, what it entails, and where it's taking us.

  • Lee Drutman: A Lobbyist Just for You: Businesses have hired lobbyists in Washington to defend and advance their interests in all matter of ways. Sometimes they seek advantages over other businesses, as in the recent squabble between retailers and banks over "cash card" fees, but mostly they seek to cheat the less organized "public interest" -- i.e., you. We could seek to limit their predation by regulating lobbying, but courts have increasingly viewed that as a restriction of free speech (the idea that corporations should enjoy individual rights weighs in here, even though "free speech" for corporations is mostly a matter of money pushing its weight around -- there's nothing free about it). So Drutman poses another approach, which is to support public interest lobbyists as an antidote to private interest lobbyists. He also proposes more transparency in lobbying, and more competent staff for Congress to sort through the pros and expose the cons of lobby propaganda. It's a useful start, but he ignores another aspect, which is all the PAC money going to elect Congress in the first place.

  • Phillip Longman: Lost in Obamacare: A review of Steven Brill: America's Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Back-Room Deals, and the Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System, promising "Buried in Steven Brill's convoluted tome are important truths about how to reform our health care delivery system." That does indeed take some digging, even in the review, but here's one point:

    What Brill gets most importantly right about the political economy of health care is the role that provider cartels and monopolies increasingly play in driving up prices. He provides excellent on-the-ground reporting, for example, on how the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has emerged as a "super monopoly" dominating the health care market of all of western Pennsylvania -- first by buying up rival hospitals or luring away their most profitable doctors, and now by vertically integrating to become a dominating health insurance company as well.

    Brill similarly reports how the Yale-New Haven Hospital gobbled up its last remaining local competitor in 2012 to become a multibillion-dollar colossus. Importantly, Brill shows readers how, after the merger, an insurer could not "negotiate discounts with Yale-New Haven," because "it could not possibly sell insurance to area residents without including the only available hospital in its network and the increasing share of the area's doctors whose practices were also being bought up by the hospital."

    Obamacare essentially attempted to rebalance the health care industry on a basis of universal coverage as opposed to the previous (and worsening) basis of discriminatory insurance pricing (which had pushed most Americans out of the market, often into "safety net" programs), while leaving the rest of the profit-seeking industry unchanged. That was a real improvement, but a rather temporary one as the industry adjusts to the changes. Clearly one such adjustment is increasing consolidation and monopoly rents. I know, for instance, that the largest hospital in Wichita (Via Christi) has been buying up previously independent physician groups. At the very least, this calls for aggressive antitrust enforcement -- something Bush destroyed and Obama has been loathe to resurrect. Or single-payer. Or both.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Daily Log

Good letters in Wichita Eagle today. Gretchen Eick:

War on education is a nightmare

Kansans are living a horror movie. The governor recently cut $44.5 million from public education to help cover his horrific budget gap this fiscal year of more than $300 million. Another shortfall of more than $600 million is expected for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Who doesn't know that tax cuts for the wealthy produced this?

Meanwhile, the mindless majority in the Kansas Senate passed a bill that would criminalize teachers and librarians who expose students to material deemed harmful.

These Neanderthals also want to repeal five years of work by educators on the Common Core standards. This could also cancel Advanced Placement classes and the International Baccalaureate program. How would our students be competitive with students from other states?

Kansas Republicans would also cut by more than half Parents as Teachers funds for early childhood education.

Our governor and Legislature are waging war against public education and the dedicated teachers on the front lines. This is a nightmare.

Also Laura Tillem:

Pushing us to war

Israel and its belligerent leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are the only serious threat I face as an American Jew.

Netanyahu helped push the United States into the stupid Iraq War. Now we face the prospect of our Congress giving in to the aggressive Israeli desire to see us go to war with Iran.

Israel does not speak for me and many other American Jews. Israel is the one with nuclear bombs that the world is not supposed to mention, let alone inspect. Netanyahu's Israel is the one whose politicians threaten to nuke Iran. Israel is the one pretending to be afraid of ISIS but underplaying its horrors because ISIS is an enemy of Iran.

His Israel is the one that goes around trying to undermine and manipulate our U.S. democratic elections and blackmail or buy out our politicians. Israel is the one that has taken more U.S. aid than any other country ever.

Can we please remember this quote from our "friend" Bibi? "If you take out Saddam, Saddam's regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region."

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Daily Log

Took the " Experience Survey (March 2015). My answer to "6. What issues did you face or what question sdid you have when filling out your application or looking for plans?"

First time there were numerous problems with site availability, state maintenance, restarting procedure. Not clear why all the info requested is needed. Many plans were offered with little differences, including many plans with inapplicable features (e.g., childhood dental). Second time unclear how to continue previous plan. Both times provided insufficient feedback that enrollment was successful -- seems like expects the insurance company to handle the response, but my insurance company (BSBCKS) didn't do that, so I had to wait days/weeks for confirmation. I've never explored dental insurance options because I didn't want to further complicate health insurance enrollment. I've seen warnings that I need to file some sort of income documentation to continue getting my discounts, but it's not clear how to do that -- I'm hoping my tax person will know what to do there. I get email from you about messages sent to me, but don't get the messages in my email. I have to log in to access the messages, and never seem to be able to find them.

David Everall wrote me a letter, asking this question:

Secondly, when you state "As long as recorded music is treated as private monopoly instead of as a public resource we're cheating ourselves out of a higher standard of living and cultural understanding." I'd be interested to know how you feel artists should be remunerated for their work. Your post seems to imply that all music should be available for free on sights such as Rhapsody. If you've ever posted anything related to this issue I'd appreciate being pointed towards it.

Rather belatedly, I wrote back:

Not sure if I've ever written at more length on this specific question -- something that should be worked out in the "Share the Wealth" project. One point is that we could significantly reduce copyright periods without having any significant impact on the motivations of creators. Another is that more mechanical licensing (as opposed to monopoly rents) within the copyright period would make for wider distribution. Another is that even under the current regime we're seeing a lot of music freely released -- mostly with some promo angle, but enough that a person could easily fill every waking minute with free music and never hear the same thing twice. Even if copyrights were abolished (which, unlike patents, isn't something I particularly advocate) it seems likely that there would still be a lot of new recorded music released -- maybe at first not as much as now, certainly not exactly the same musicians as now, and maybe the "quality" would lag a bit, but a lot more than anyone could handle. Then, of course, you could add other means of inducements or motivations -- Kickstarter type things, prizes, resume builders, other private or public grants. Also worth noting that changes to society/economy that make possible more leisure time would result in more music being given away -- it's not something that can only get done by paying people to do it.

I'm not saying that Rhapsody should be free. As with software, I don't mind people trying to build a business around distributing and sorting free content. Of course, if the content is indeed free, the businesses will have to be competitive and efficient.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Daily Log

I wrote the following about Minnie Minoso in a facebook comment:

As someone who stopped paying attention to baseball in the late 1990s, but who knew a great deal about its history up to then, I was a little surprised in reading Minnie Minoso's obits that he hadn't been inducted into the BBHOF. He wasn't a classic power hitter like Mays or Aaron (out in the midwest I followed the later more closely and consider them to be very close to equals), but he was a very good hitter and very solid all-around ballplayer for a very long time. His longevity helps you forget that he missed about as much of his prime career to segregation as Monte Irvin (in the HOF) and that if he had come up when he was talented enough he almost certainly would have wound up with 3,000 hits. I always thought he had a strong (though not "slam dunk" HOF case) even apart from his special merit as the black Cuban pioneer. Way back when, though, I figured him a victim of what I thought of as the cult of Branch Rickey: to make Rickey look even braver than he was, the HOF nabobs slighted the contributions of other owners and players who made critical advances in integrating baseball -- above all Bill Veeck. The actual contrast there is interesting: where Rickey only signed established negro league stars still in the first half of their careers (Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe -- basically certain stars; and he passed Irvin on to the Giants because he didn't want his team to become too black), Veeck signed players Rickey wouldn't touch: Larry Doby was too young, Satchel Paige was too old, Luke Easter was a lot older than he let on, and Minoso was Cuban. Most important, all of those signings worked out (although Paige and Easter didn't last long). Since I lost interest, Veeck and Doby made the Hall of Fame. The case for Minoso is if anything better than the one for Doby. Back when I tried to rank baseball players I had him close to (or maybe even ahead of) Roberto Clemente.

Interesting that Elvis Costello took the time to come up with a list of "500 albums essential to a happy life" -- I can do quite happily without all the classical myself, but while there are a few records I dislike on the list, more I would nitpick, and many more that I'd say he missed, it is a pretty decent list.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 24592 [24560] rated (+32), 499 [493] unrated (+6).

Surprised at all the mail that came in this past week, especially today. (I don't always get Monday's mail added into Unpacking, but this week I did.) In particular, I've gotten more than a few packages from publicists who seemed to give up on me years ago. I'm not sure whether I should be gratified by the recognition. I've actually been quite bummed this winter with my inability to move on to what seem to me to be more serious writing projects.

A mid-week check suggested that the ratings rate was falling off, possibly because the EOY Aggregate File seems finally to be finished. (Don't know what happened to the Dean's List I promised last week.) But bad weather kept me inside, and the growing queue encourage me to pick some items off. May also have helped that I have more than the usual number of recommendations to make this week. I started off last week checking out some records featuring the late trumpet player Clark Terry: Dinah Washington was the first of a great many singers to tap Terry; I only found one record he recorded with Coleman Hawkins, but it grew on me (as Hawk almost always does); the Buddy Tate didn't include Terry (some confusion on my part, but I followed through anyway).

I looked for the Tristano several months ago but it wasn't available. I haven't received Uptown's vault releases for a couple years now, but have tried to catch them when they showed up on Rhapsody. I usually found them disappointing -- often sound, sometimes annoying patter or just uninspired performances, but Chicago 1951 grabbed me right away. There are other good examples of the interplay between Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz, but this is the best example I've found of Tristano's innovative playing. Braxton's duets with Dave Holland are also remarkable: Braxton has often been much easier to follow on standards than through his own knotty compositions, but you rarely get to focus so intently on his bass playing. The relationship between the two musicians goes back a couple years earlier, at least to Holland's 1972 album Conference of the Birds, with one of Braxton's most virtuosic performances ever.

Three new jazz albums made the grade -- all on European labels. Chris Lightcap's album jumped to the top of my nascent 2015 list. Non-jazz 2015 A-list albums continue to lag: I could cite Ghostface Killah's disc as the first of the year, but even there top billing went to the Canadian jazz group BadBadNotGood. I was tempted by A Place to Bury Strangers, but didn't feel like a second spin would make a difference.

Also in today's mail were copies of Robert Christgau's new memoir, Going Into the City: Portrait of a Critic as a Young Man, and Carola Dibbell's first published (but not first written) novel, The Only Ones. I read an early draft of the former, and my wife read an even earlier draft of the latter. Christgau's book was released last week, so I've been gathering links of reviews and interviews for possible use on his website. I'm not sure how many of these we will use on the website, but here is my current, unexpurgated list:

For more on Carola's novel, look here.

New records rated this week:

  • BadBadNotGood & Ghostface Killah: Sour Soul (2015, Lex): a very noir-ish (if not exactly jazzy) soundtrack for "pimping ain't easy" raps [r]: A-
  • Daniel Bennett Group: The Mystery at Clown Castle (2014 [2015], Manhattan Daylight): saxophonist, can cruise with a good beat but too much shout/circus/flute here [cd]: B+(*)
  • Mike Campbell: Close Enough for Love (2014 [2015], ITI): standards singer, makes the most of Steely Dan, much less of Kenny Loggins [cd]: B+(*)
  • Chamber 3: Grassroots (2013 [2015], OA2): guitar-sax-drums trio + bassist for good measure, not a chamber jazz lineup, even when coverng Nirvana [cd]: B+(*)
  • Lainie Cooke: The Music Is the Magic (2014 [2015], Onyx Music): standards singer, draws more on jazz repertoire than cabaret, gets help from Myron Walden [cd]: B
  • Paul Elwood: Nice Folks (2011 [2015], Innova): banjo player recapitulates career, starting with folk songs, moving on to avant and/or worldly groove [cd]: B+(***)
  • Otzir Godot: In- (2014 [2015], Epatto): Finnish percussionist cuts a solo album; tunings are unique but I prefer the drumming to the ambient noise [cd]: B+(**)
  • Milford Graves & Bill Laswell: Space/Time · Redemption (2013 [2015], TUM): legendary drummer gets help from bassist who adds just enough body [cd]: A-
  • Mark Helias Open Loose: The Signal Maker (2014 [2015], Intakt): puzzling over why Tony Malaby never breaks loose, I see the bassist wrote the tunes [cd]: B+(***)
  • Eddie Henderson: Collective Portrait (2014 [2015], Smoke Sessions): trumpet-led classic hard bop quintet, Gary Bartz on alto, George Cables riffing blues [r]: B+(**)
  • I Never Meta Guitar Three (2011-13 [2015], Clean Feed): Elliott Sharp's invitational for solo avant-jazz guitarists, looking to break new ground, or strings [cd]: B+(**)
  • The Susan Krebs Chamber Band: Simple Gifts (2014 [2015], GreenGig Music): jazz singer backed by piano-reeds-percussion-violin/viola, a crucial weepy effect [cd]: B+(***)
  • Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth: Epicenter (2013 [2015], Clean Feed): two saxes (Malaby & Cheek), stellar work by Craig Taborn, especially on the VU cover [cd]: A-
  • Chad McCullough & Bram Weijters: Abstract Quantities (2014 [2015], Origin): Dutch-US (Seattle) quartet, postbop so skilled I never noticed a thing [cd]: B+(*)
  • Tatsuya Nakatani/Kris Tiner/Jeremy Drake: Ritual Inscription (2012, Epigraph, LP): avant-jazz from Bakersfield, ground fractured forever shifting [bc]: B+(**)
  • Not Twice: Flight Plans (2014, Epigraph, EP): avant-trumpeter Kris Tiner backed with keybs/electronics, not much traction for trumpet, short too [bc]: B
  • Kate Pierson: Guitars and Microphones (2015, Lazy Meadow Music): B-52s singer goes solo, sets up the classic beat but doesn't quite hit the punch lines [r]: B+(*)
  • A Place to Bury Strangers: Transfixiation (2015, Dead Oceans): sort of heavy metal shoegaze, trading fuzzy noise for something harder [r]: B+(***)
  • Chris Potter Underground Orchestra: Imaginary Cities (2013 [2015], ECM): still kicks ass when he solos, still struggles as a big band arranger [dl]: B+(**)
  • Reggie Quinerly: Invictus (2014 [2015], Redefinition Music): drummer-led quintet, the vibes-guitar-piano adding up to frothy lightness [cd]: B+(*)
  • Schlippenbach Trio: Features (2013 [2015], Intakt): with Evan Parker and Paul Lovens, together since 1972, free jazz fractured but superbly balanced [cd]: A-
  • Songsmith Collective: Songsmith Collective (2014 [2015], Blujazz): Andrew Rathbun's homework assignment: take a poem, compose a score, sing it backed by jazz nonet [cd]: B
  • Jack Wright/Ben Wright/Kris Tiner: For Instance (2014, Epigraph): father-son sax-bass duo, avant-wilderness wanderers, meet trumpeter with label [bc]: B+(*)

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

  • Anthony Braxton: Trio and Duet (1974 [2015], Delmark/Sackville): an amusingly abstract puzzle for trio, plus you-focused standards with Dave Holland [cd]: A-
  • The Rough Guide to African Rare Groove: Volume 1 ([2015], World Music Network): one suspects that what makes it rare is the not quite fully realized groove [r]: B+(**)
  • Lennie Tristano: Chicago April 1951 (1951 [2014], Uptown, 2CD): with disciples Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh, of course, a slightly stranger shade of bebop [r]: A-

Old records rated this week:

  • Coleman Hawkins/Clark Terry: Back in Bean's Bag (1962 [2014], Essential Jazz Classics): relaxed mainstream swing masters, with Tommy Flanagan; reissue adds much[r]: A-
  • Buddy Tate Quartet & Quintet: Tate a Tete: At La Fontaine, Copenhagen (1975 [1999], Storyville): Texas tenor goes to Denmark, picks up local band including Tete Montoilu [r]: B+(**)
  • Dinah Washington: Dinah Jams (1954 [1997], Verve): one party everyone wanted to jump into; trumpets alone: Brown, Terry, Ferguson [r]: A-
  • Dinah Washington: Sings Fats Waller (1957 [2010], Fresh Sound): Eddie Chamblee's duets don't mesh, but she gets under the skin of "Black & Blue" [r]: B+(**)
  • Dinah Washington: Sings Bessie Smith (1957-58 [2010], Fresh Sound): she's more polished but savors Smith's grit and sass while the trombone gets dirty [r]: B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Christian Artmann: Fields of Pannonia (self-released): April 7
  • Atomic: Lucidity (Jazzland): March 17
  • Dewa Budjana: Hasta Karma (Moonjune)
  • Anat Cohen: Luminosa (Anzic): March 17
  • Dahi Divine: The Element (Right Direction): April 7
  • John Fedchock Quartet: Live: Fluidity (Summit)
  • Janice Friedman Trio: Live at Kitano (CAP)
  • Milford Graves & Bill Laswell: Space/Time · Redemption (TUM)
  • Mikko Innanen: Song for a New Decade (TUM, 2CD)
  • Jenna Mammina & Rolf Sturm: Spark (Water Street Music): April 7
  • Myra Melford: Snowy Egret (Enja/Yellowbird): March 24
  • Merzbow/Balasz Pandi/Mats Gustafsson/Thurston Moore: Cuts of Guilt/Cuts Deeper (Rare Noise, 2CD): advance, April 7
  • Levon Mikaelian: United Shades of Artistry (self-released): April 7
  • Billy Mintz: The 2 Bass Band . . . Live (Thirteenth Note): May 12
  • Kyle Nasser: Restive Soul (AISA): March 24
  • Hailey Niswanger: PDX Soul (Calmit Productions): April 7
  • Kim Pensyl: Foreign Love Affair (Summit)
  • Roberta Piket: Emanation (Solo: Volume 2) (Thirteenth Note): May 12
  • Raoul: The Spanish Donkey (Rare Noise): advance, April 7
  • Sachal: Slow Motion Miracles (Okeh): advance, April 7
  • Benny Sharoni: Slant Signature (Papaya): March 17
  • Ryan Truesdell: Lines of Color (Blue Note/ArtistShare): March 17
  • Mark Wingfield: Proof of Light (Moonjune)

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Weekend Roundup

The Kansas state legislature has past the half-way point in their scheduled session this year, and the Republicans there have already succeeded in their most evident goal: to make Kansas the laughing stock of the nation (with all due respect to the state legislatures of Texas and Missouri). Crowson's cartoon:

This primarily refers to a bill that passed the Senate (see Luke Brinker: Kansas could put teachers in prison for assigning books prosecutors don't like), but the war on public schools has gone through a number of skirmishes: first and foremost a massive funding cut -- from levels that the courts had already established were the minimum required by the state constitution. But also there have been two bills to rejigger the election of local school boards (a festering ground for people likely to sue when the state doesn't deliver its mandated funding): one is to move the election dates and make them partisan (assuming the Republican brand holds; voters have been known to accidentally elect Democrats in non-partisan elections), and another to make it illegal for any schoolteacher or relative of a schoolteacher to run for any school board (this would, for instance, disqualify 2014 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis). There is also a bill, still pending, where the state would pay foster parents more for foster children who are privately- or home-schooled.

Some more scattered links this week:

  • Dean Baker: Robert Samuelson's 'Golden Age' Mythology: I actually read Samuelson's book The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath: The American Dream in the Age of Entitlement (2008), where he argues that the inflation spiral of the 1970s was every bit as damaging as the Great Depression in the 1930s -- a point my parents, who lived through both, would have found incredible. So I'm well prepared to reject anything Samuelson has to say, but note the following:

    Robert Samuelson (Washington Post, 2/22/15) was inspired by a graph in the new Economic Report of the President to tell readers that the real problem for the middle class is not inequality but rather productivity growth. His point is that if we had kept up the rates of productivity growth of the Golden Age (1943-73), it would have mattered much more to middle-income families' living standards than the rise in inequality since 1980.

    This is true in the sense of "if I were six feet five inches, I would be taller than I am," but it's not clear what we should make of the point. We don't know how to have more rapid productivity growth (at least not Golden Age rates), so saying that we should want more rapid productivity growth is sort of like hoping for the Second Coming.

    Superficially, Samuelson is just grasping at straws to dismiss the obvious effects of increasing inequality. Sure, if we had much more productivity growth, the middle class might be better off, but only if it were possible for the middle class to capture a substantial share of that productivity growth -- but in recent years, no share of productivity growth has gone to increased wages. As Baker points out:

    If we can only sustain the 1.5 percent annual productivity growth of the slowdown years (1973-1995), this would still imply income gains of almost 60 percent over three decades. While it would of course be better to have Golden Age productivity growth, since we don't know how to get back such rapid growth, why not pursue the policies that we know will be effective in restoring middle class income growth?

    It is also worth noting that these equality enhancing policies are also likely to provide some boost to productivity. We know that the most important determinant of investment is growth in demand. This means that if we push the economy, rather than have the Fed slam on the brakes with higher interest rates, we will likely see more investment in new plant, equipment and software, and therefore more productivity growth.

    In addition, in a tighter labor market workers will leave low-productivity jobs for jobs with higher productivity that offer higher wages. A reason that many workers, including many with college degrees, have taken jobs in restaurants is that there are not better-paying jobs available. If the economy were stronger, better jobs would be available causing productivity to rise due to a shift in composition.

    The bulk of the article reviews Samuelson's period breakdown and shows where his effort to force history into his preconceived periods breaks down. Baker skips over the question of why 1946-64 productivity levels are no longer attainable, but James K. Galbraith wrote a whole book on the subject: The End of Normal: The Great Crisis and the Future of Growth (2014) -- something I'll get around to writing about sooner or later.

    By the way, see Galbraith's Reading the Greek Deal Correctly. He sees the recent agreement between Greece's new left-leaning government and the ECB not as a defeat for Greece's voters so much as a way everyone can save face by kicking the ball down the road a few weeks.

  • Josh Marshall: Kerry's Clean Hit: When John Kerry pointed out how wrong Benjamin Netanyahu's predictions supporting the 2003 Iraq War were, I recalled how Kerry had voted for the Iraq War Resolution in 2002 and wrote them off as two peas in the same pod. Marshall argues that Kerry's position was more, uh, nuanced than my memory recalled:

    There's some important background on this new intrusion of the Iraq War into the current debate about Iran, Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli election. It's true that like a number of Senate Democrats, John Kerry voted for the Iraq War resolution in late 2002. That was due to a mix of belief in national unity, political cowardice and a credulous assumption that President Bush was actually on the level when he said he needed the authorization to wage war to avoid it, to get inspectors back into Iraq. It was or should have been clear that this was not true, that inspectors and Weapons of Mass Destruction were not the goal that made the threat of war necessary. They were cudgels and covers to help make the war a fait accompli.

    Many Democrats either didn't think Saddam would relent or thought that if he did, Bush would lose his casus belli. I don't exonerate them. They were helped along in these maybe misunderstandings by a health dose of cowardice and what they saw at the time as political self-preservation. As it happened, when Bush lost his rationale for war, he simply invaded anyway.

    This was mainly obvious at the time, not entirely obvious to everyone. But to suggest that Secretary Kerry 'supported' the Iraq War like President Bush or Benjamin Netanyahu is silly.

    That brings us to Netanyahu. Some believe that the Israeli government either wanted the Iraq War to happen or goaded the Americans into the attack. In fact, the Israeli security establishment was very divided on the wisdom of the US administration's policy. Indeed, Ariel Sharon pointedly warned President Bush of the dangers of what he was planning. Indeed, the best account of his discussions with President Bush suggests his warnings were highly prescient -- about the spillover of radicalism growing out of a US occupation, the zero sum empowerment of Iran and more.

    It was Netanyahu, then technically a private citizen, though he would soon enter Sharon's government in late 2002 who not only supported a US attack on Iraq but advocated for it endlessly within the US.

    Italics in the original; I added the bold. Of course, the practical effect of Kerry, Clinton, Edwards, and others in voting for Bush's Iraq War Resolution was to rubber-stamp the invasion. (As I recall Marshall at least wobbled on the war plans: in particular, I recall him praising Kenneth Pollack's influential pro-war book, The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq.) But he is right that Netanyahu's warmongering went much further, both in words and in actually lining up his rich American donor network to lobby war support. Marshall also includes a video of Netanyahu testifying before a House committee promoting the war. Even among Israelis few politicians have that sort of chutzpah. Of course, no one's dredging this episode up because we're interested in learning from history. Netanyahu's past record of influencing Congress matters right now because he's still at it, with an invitation by House Republicans to address Congress to try to undo any progress Obama might make on negotiating a deal that would ensure that Iran not develop nuclear weapons. I haven't bothered collecting links on the various aspects of this -- either the propriety of Natanyahu's speech (widely opposed both in Israel and in the US) or on the tortuous negotiations (often hamstrung by hypothetical scenarios only Americans can imagine). (OK, if you are curious, check out: Paul R Pillar; Gareth Porter, also here; Robert Einhorn; William J Perry, et al.; Jeffrey Simpson; JJ Goldberg; Stephen M Walt (interview); Philip Weiss; Richard Silverstein.) Also, let's quote from Jeffrey Goldberg: A Partial Accounting of the Damage Netanyahu Is Doing to Israel (recalling that Goldberg has a long history of parrotting whatever Israel's current propaganda line is on Iran):

    Netanyahu is engaging in behavior that is without precedent: He is apparently so desperate to stay in office that he has let the Republicans weaponize his country in their struggle against a Democratic president they despise. Boehner seeks to do damage to Obama, and he has turned Netanyahu into an ally in this cause. It's not entirely clear here who is being played.

    For decades, it has been a cardinal principle of Israeli security and foreign-policy doctrine that its leaders must cultivate bipartisan support in the United States, and therefore avoid even the appearance of favoritism. This is the official position of the leading pro-Israel lobbying group in Washington, AIPAC, as well, which is why its leaders are privately fuming about Netanyahu's end-run around the White House. Even though AIPAC's leadership leans right, the organization knows that support for Israel in America must be bipartisan in order for it to be stable. "Dermer and Netanyahu don't believe that Democrats are capable of being pro-Israel, which is crazy for a lot of reasons, but one of the main reasons is that most Jews are Democrats," one veteran AIPAC leader told me.

    In Israel, cynicism about Netanyahu's intentions is spreading. "Netanyahu, who purports to be the big expert on everything American, subordinated Israel's most crucial strategic interests to election considerations, and the repercussions will endure for some time," Chuck Freilich, a former deputy head of Israel's National Security Council, wrote last week.

  • Robert Wright: The Clash of Civilizations That Isn't: Reaction to Roger Cohen's polarizing rant, "Islam and the West at War," along with Graeme Wood's Atlantic piece, "What ISIS Really Wants" (links in the article if you really want them). You may recall that GW Bush (aside from a momentary slip-of-the-tongue about "crusades") was very careful to make clear that his Global War on Terror wasn't a campaign against his family friends in Saudi Arabia. (Indeed, Bush was practically the only politician in America to defend a deal that would sell US ports to Abu Dhabi: proof, if you want it, that for him at least money always trumps identity.) But most Americans have never been very disciplined or principled about distinguishing the targets of our wars from anyone else who might share superficial traits, so it isn't surprising that prolonged war with self-identified Muslims should result in more than random acts of slander and violence. In the days of purely nationalist wars (e.g., the two World Wars), this was mostly ugly and repaired easy enough once the war ended. (Indeed, the anti-Kraut hysteria of WWI was much reduced in WWII, as the embarrassment of the former provided a vaccination against repeat in the latter -- not that Japanese-Americans were spared.) But in more recent wars -- let's call them "post-colonial" -- US entry is predicated on dividing populations into groups we call allies and enemies, one we support and the other we kill, and in such wars any mental generalization undermines the mission and ultimately loses the war. (Vietnam is as good an example of the dynamic as Afghanistan or Iraq, but the downside was much more limited there: it ultimately turned into a nationalist war, with the US deciding that perpetual scorn and isolation was still some measure of victory.)

    Those post-colonial wars have, without exception that I am aware of, been fools' missions, but they would pale compared to the fevered notion that "the West" must wage war with all of Islam -- well over one billion people, including a few million already resident in "the West." Wright points out that this insanity can point to an intellectual pedigree:

    In 1996, when I reviewed Samuel Huntington's book The Clash of Civilizations for Slate, I fretted that Huntington's world view could become "a self-fulfilling prophecy." This was before 9/11, and I wasn't thinking about Islam in particular. Huntington's book was about "fault lines" dividing various "civilizations," and I was just making the general point that if we think of, say, Japanese people as radically different from Americans -- as Huntington's book, I believed, encouraged us to do -- we were more likely to treat Japan in ways that deepened any Japanese-Western fault line.

    Since 9/11, I've realized that, in the case of Islam, the forces that could make the clash of civilizations a self-fulfilling prophecy are particularly powerful. For one thing, in this case, our actual enemies, such as Al Qaeda and ISIS, themselves favor the clash-of-civilizations narrative, and do their best to encourage it. When the Atlantic tells us that ISIS is "very Islamic" and the New York Times runs the headline "Islam and the West at War," it's party time in Mosul. Order up another round of decapitations! Get Roger Cohen more freaked out! Maybe he'll keep broadcasting a key recruiting pitch of both Al Qaeda and ISIS: that the West is at war with Islam! (Wood noted, a week after his article appeared, its "popularity among ISIS supporters.")

    Wright doesn't go very deeply into the people in "the West" that buy into this "clash of civilizations" malarkey, except to note:

    I don't think it's a coincidence that commentators who dismiss attempts to understand the "root causes" of extremism tend to be emphatic in linking the extremism to Islam, and often favor a massively violent response to it.

    By the way, the wind is at their backs. Last week, CBS News reported that, for the first time, a majority of Americans polled -- fifty-seven per cent -- favored sending ground troops to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

    Haven't we seen this movie? The Iraq War, more than any other single factor, created ISIS. After the 2003 invasion, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian who led an obscure group of radical Islamists, rebranded it as an Al Qaeda affiliate and used the wartime chaos of Iraq to expand it. Al-Zarqawi's movement came to be known as Al Qaeda in Iraq, and then evolved into ISIS.

    Note that more and more post-colonial rationales -- the idea that we're fighting for some (good) Afghanis/Iraqis/Muslims against other (bad) ones -- is giving way to outright nationalist/colonialist ideas (not yet with Obama and his echelons but with the people most loudly beating the war drums).

    Also worth quoting Paul Woodward on ISIS and the caliphate:

    Millions of Muslims, without being extremists of any variety, see the Islamic world as having been carved up by Western colonialism, robbed of its sovereignty, and placed under the control of compliant and corrupt rulers. Broadly speaking, what's on offer right now is a brutal ISIS caliphate vs. a fractious status quo. That seems like a lousy choice.

    As Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and Libya demonstrated over the last half century, the project of pan-Arab secular nationalism was a spectacular failure.

    On the other hand, the Arab monarchies have the durability of a chronic disease -- their ability to survive has accomplished little more than cripple the region.

    If ISIS and the other forms of Islamic extremism are seen for what they are -- symptoms of a disease, rather than the disease itself -- then the remedy cannot be found by merely looking for ways to suppress its symptoms.

Also, a few links for further study:

  • Henry Farrell: Dark Leviathan: Subhed: "The Silk Road might have started as a libertarian experiment, but it was doomed to end as a fiefdom run by pirate kings." As a libertarian experiment, this reminds me of some of those Murray Rothbard schemes I typeset for the Kochs back in the 1970s -- especially the naive notion that trust can be comoditized and brokered through a marketplace.

    All of these petty principalities are vulnerable to criminals trying to extract ransom, and increasingly to law enforcement, which has inveigled its way into trusted positions so that it can gather information and destroy illicit marketplaces. The libertarian hope that markets could sustain themselves through free association and choice is a chimera with a toxic sting in its tail. Without state enforcement, the secret drug markets of Tor hidden services are coming to resemble an anarchic state of nature in which self-help dominates.

  • Nancy Le Tourneau: The Scott Walker Antidote: Minnesota: Compares and contrasts the results of Democratic government in Minnesota under Mark Dayton and Republican government in Wisconsin with Scott Walker. You can follow up with Ed Kilgore: Scott Walker's Koch Angle: you don't have to be as screwed up as Kansas to get screwed. For more on Walker, see A Noun, a Verb, and "Union Thugs".

Feb 2015 Apr 2015