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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Today in Kansas

Some items I pulled out of the Wichita Eagle today -- working off the hard copy, so I'll leave it to you to find online versions at their website. The common theme is corruption and/or stupidity in high places, which in these parts means Republicans. There's always some of this evident, but today's load is particularly pungent:

  • Uber hires former Brownback campaign manager: Front page article. Back story is that the KS legislature passed a bill this session to insist on more restrictive (i.e., expensive) standards of insurance for anyone who participates in Uber's ride sharing business than the standards that Uber has been pushing state legislatures to adopt. Uber declared that they would boycott Kansas if the bill became law. Governor Sam Brownback vetoed the bill -- I think that's the only bill he's vetoed this term, although there have been dozens that should have been blocked. Uber then announced they would expand their business in Kansas. Now we see who got the check.

  • Earthquake shakes Kansas, Oklahoma: Only measured 4.1, with center 9 miles northeast of Guthrie, OK, a little more than 60 miles south of the KS state line, a little more than 20 miles west of the major pipeline center of Cushing. Cause is almost certainly wastewater injection into oil wells, which is necessary because oil wells in the region are so depleted they pump out more water than oil. Since the practice started, the number of earthquakes ranging from 4.0 up to about 5.8 has increased from zero to a couple hundred per year.

  • Former U.S. Rep. Tiahrt takes job with D.C. lobbying firm: Tiahrt was a Boeing employee before he ran for Congress in 1994, and during his sixteen years in the House he was for all practial purposes a full-time Boeing lobbyist -- so identified with the company that G.W. Bush nicknamed him "Tanker Todd." He left to run for the Senate, losing the Republican primary to Jerry Moran, then tried to regain his old House seat, only to loose again (this time to the Kochs' guy). Meanwhile he's run his own consulting firm, notably advising Boeing on abandoning sixty years in Wichita for even more anti-labor states (first to go was his beloved tanker program). We always figured he'd wind up with a posh DC lobbying firm, and now it's happened.

  • Brownback to re-enact signing of abortion bill: The bill in question is "the nation's first ban on an abortion procedure that is used in the second trimester of pregnancy." Brownback signed the bill when it was passed, but he's so excited it he's going to travel to four corners of the state and re-enact his signing. Three of the locations are Catholic high schools (Pittsburg, Wichita, and Hays). The fourth is a Catholic church in Lenexa (near Kansas City). Catholics are a small minority in Kansas. Brownback converted to Catholicism as he became ever more bizarrely obsessed with anti-abortion ideology.

  • George W. Bush to visit Garden City on Tuesday: "to attend a private luncheon, according to several local officials." Garden City is about 200 miles west of Wichita. It is home to a number of feed lots and the main meatpacking center in west Kansas. The last time I drove through, I noted that there were no clouds in the sky, but there was a layer of white fog 4-8 feet above the ground, mostly the result of trucks that drive around town spraying perfume to counter the stench of cattle manure. The majority of the working population there is of Mexican descent, but it's unlikely that they will be lunching with Bush. More likely the local plant and yard owners, who are most likely to recall fondly Bush's "guest worker" program.

  • Brownback vs. the Topeka board of education? Well, it's Brownback (and the Republical state legislature) against every local school board, but this quotes the superintendant in Topeka.

  • Man to plead guilty in Jewish site shootings: The man is white supremacist Glenn Miller, who shot and killed three people at a Jewish Community Center and a Jewish retirement home in Overland Park. Miller, 74, is ill and unlikely to live much longer anyway. Reportedly, he's willing to plead guilty so he can make a racist speech in court: one final gesture to inspire the white race.

Seems like there was another story about the county commissioners and a real estate boondoggle -- maybe in the part of the paper we've already recycled.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 24889 [24855] rated (+34), 404 [408] unrated (-4).

Another very frustrating week, leaving me very little to say here. The two A- compilations are marginal, but scratched particular itches. The Cleveland comp should be even better with the missing Pere Ubu and Rocket From the Tombs cuts restored (the latter was "Life Stinks," which later appeared on Pere Ubu's The Modern Dance -- a good candidate for my all-time top ten). Soul Jazz generally has excellent booklets, but I haven't seen this one. The three previous Next Stop Soweto comps got various shades of B+. They nibble around the edges of South African pop, but what made the difference here wasn't better songs so much as a trashier, more amusing (and more upbeat) vibe.

Lots of Christgauvians will go for the Low Cut Connie (see Jason Gubbels) but I fear that no one I know will like the Mowgli's. First thing I read about them talked about Beach Boys-Byrds L.A. pop, but they're closer in spirit and feel to the Fifth Dimension -- stuff that I thought was hopelessly square back in the day, but gives me hope today. Best jazz record this week is probably Kirk Knuffke (again, see Gubbels; also for the Mavis Staples EP, which has a couple of the week's best songs). Or maybe Ben Goldberg -- in both cases I'm working off Rhapsody, while letting my own queue of promo CDs age a bit.

I ordered a copy of Michaelangelo Matos' new book, The Underground Is Massive: How Electronic Dance Music Conquered America, expected to arrive on its release date, tomorrow. I don't have much time to read about music these days, but this is one combination of author and subject I couldn't miss.


New records rated this week:

  • Alabama Shakes: Sound & Color (2015, ATO): [r]: B+(*)
  • Juan Pablo Balcazar: Reversible (2013 [2015], Fresh Sound New Talent): [r]: B+(**)
  • Pat Bianchi Trio: A Higher Standard (2015, 21-H): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Nicki Bluhm & the Gramblers: Loved Wild Lost (2015, Little Sur): [r]: B+(**)
  • Michael Dees: The Dream I Dreamed (2014 [2015], Jazzed Media): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Hugo Fernandez: Cosmogram (2014 [2015], Origin): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Ben Goldberg: Orphic Machine (2015, BAG): [r]: B+(***)
  • José James: Yesterday I Had the Blues: The Music of Billie Holiday (2015, Blue Note): [r]: B+(*)
  • Kirk Knuffke: Arms & Hands (2015, Royal Potato Family): [r]: B+(***)
  • Low Cut Connie: Hi Honey (2015, Ardent Music/Contender): [r]: A-
  • Harold Mabern: Afro Blue (2015, Smoke Sessions): [r]: B
  • Donny McCaslin: Fast Future (2014 [2015], Greenleaf Music): [r]: B+(*)
  • Marcus Miller: Afrodeezia (2015, Blue Note): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Mowgli's: Kids in Love (2015, Republic): [r]: A-
  • Peach Kelli Pop: Peach Kelli Pop III (2015, Burger, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Pascal Niggenkemper: Look With Thine Ears: Solo (2014 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Mario Pavone: Blue Dialect (2014 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Gloria Reuben: Perchance to Dream (2014 [2015], MCG Jazz): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Eve Risser: Des Pas Sur La Neige (2013 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: B
  • Mavis Staples: Your Good Fortune (2015, Anti, EP): [r]: B+(***)
  • Sult: Svimmelhed (2014, Humbler/Conrad Sound): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Boubacar Traoré: Mbalimaou (2014 [2015], Lusafrica): [r]: B+(**)
  • Daniel Weltlinger: Koblenz (2012-13 [2015], Rectify): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Ben Williams: Coming of Age (2014 [2015], Concord Jazz): [r]: B-
  • Young Fathers: White Men Are Black Men Too (2015, Big Dada): [r]: B+(*)

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

  • Next Stop Soweto, Vol. 4: Zulu Rock, Afro-Disco and Mbaqanga 1975-1985 (1975-85 [2015], Strut): [r]: A-
  • Punk 45: Burn Rubber City, Burn! Akron, Ohio: Punk and the Decline of the Mid West 1975-80 (1975-80 [2015], Soul Jazz): [r]: B+(***)
  • Punk 45: Extermination Nights in the Sixth City: Cleveland, Ohio: Punk and the Decline of the Mid-West 1975-82 (1975-82 [2015], Soul Jazz): [r]: A-

Old records rated this week:

  • Ben Goldberg: Eight Phrases for Jefferson Rubin (1996 [1998], Victo): [r]: B+(**)
  • Paul Motian: The Story of Maryam (1983 [1984], Soul Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • Paul Motian Quintet: Jack of Clubs (1984 [1985], Soul Note): [r]: B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Randy Brecker/Bobby Shew/Jan Hasenöhrl: Trumpet Summit Prague (Summit): May 12
  • Cuir: Chez Ackenbush (Fou)
  • Marilyn Crispell/Gerry Hemingway: Table of Changes (Intakt)
  • Dave Douglas: High Risk (Greenleaf Music): June 23
  • Claire Ritter: Soho Solo (Zoning): May 26
  • Harvie S/Sheryl Bailey: Plucky Strum (Whaling City Sound)
  • Katharina Weber/Fred Frith/Fredy Studer: It Rolls (Intakt)

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Weekend Roundup

Geology trumped the news twice this week: first with a volcanic eruption in Chile, then a massive earthquake in Nepal. Worth noting that bad things can still happen that can't be attributed to bad policies of the political right. Also in the news: anniversaries keep happening, including this week the 100th anniversary of one of Winston Churchill's most immediately obvious blunders, the Battle of Gallipoli in Turkey. Churchill got his first taste of battle at Omduran in the Sudan and found it totally exhilarating. Had he been present at Gallipoli he would have gotten a taste of what the Sudanese experienced. Also 100 years ago, the Ottomans started their genocide against the Armenians, ultimately killing up to 1.5 million of them. Turkey has refused to acknowledge what Taner Akcam termed A Shameful Act, which has the accidental benefit of letting Britain and Russia -- who tried to cultivate the Christian Armenians as a "fifth column" against the Ottomans -- off the hook.

Some scattered links this week:


  • Brendan James: Michele Bachmann: Thanks Obama for Bringing On the Apocalypse: As Bachmann explains:

    "Barack Obama is intent, it is his number one goal, to ensure that Iran has a nuclear weapon," she said. "Why? Why would you put the nuclear weapon in the hands of madmen who are Islamic radicals?"

    Bachmann, however, then seemed to approve of the President moving mankind into "the midnight hour."

    "We get to be living in the most exciting time in history," she said, urging fellow Christians to "rejoice."

    "Jesus Christ is coming back. We, in our lifetimes potentially, could see Jesus Christ returning to Earth, the Rapture of the Church."

    "These are wonderful times," she concluded.

    Now, I come from a long line of "Revelations scholars" -- I can still recall (and I was less than ten at the time) my grandfather asking me whether I thought Israel's founding was a sign that the rapture was near. My father, too, spent a lifetime studying "Revelations" -- mostly, as best I could figure out, to prove that his father had understood it all wrong. (My own theory was that the "book" was tacked onto the end just to discredit the whole Bible, as if the other "books" weren't proof enough of some sick hoax.) So I do have a little trouble treating the people who believe in the rapture as batshit crazy, but there is at least one difference between Bachmann and my forefathers: the latter didn't go around acting like it's going to happen any day now.

  • Paul Krugman: The Fiscal Future I: The Hyperbolic Case for Bigger Government: Turns out Clinton threw the baby out with the bath water when he declared that "the age of big government is over." Back in the 1990s some conservatives were arguing that the ideal size of government relative to GDP was set during the Coolidge administration and we should lock that into law. Others preferred to idealize the McKinley administration, and Grover Norquist just wanted to shrink the whole thing so small he could drown it in the bathtub. It's taken a while for someone like Brad DeLong to come along and argue that the opposite is the case: that government should grow even larger.

    So, how big should the government be? The answer, broadly speaking, is surely that government should do those things it does better than the private sector. But what are these things?

    The standard, textbook answer is that we should look at public goods -- goods that are non rival and non excludable, so that the private sector won't provide them. National defense, weather satellites, disease control, etc. And in the 19th century that was arguably what governments mainly did.

    Nowadays, however, governments are involved in a lot more -- education, retirement, health care. You can make the case that there are some aspects of education that are a public good, but that's not really why we rely on the government to provide most education, and not at all why the government is so involved in retirement and health. Instead, experience shows that these are all areas where the government does a (much) better job than the private sector. And Brad argues that the changing structure of the economy will mean that we want more of these goods, hence bigger government.

    He also suggests -- or at least that's how I read him -- the common thread among these activities that makes the government a better provider than the market; namely, they all involve individuals making very-long-term decisions. Your decision to stay in school or go out and work will shape your lifetime career; your ability to afford medical treatment or food and rent at age 75 has a lot to do with decisions you made when that stage of life was decades ahead, and impossible to imagine.

    Now, the fact is that people make decisions like these badly. Bad choices in education are the norm where choice is free; voluntary, self-invested retirement savings are a disaster. Human beings just don't handle the very long run well -- call it hyperbolic discounting, call it bounded rationality, whatever, our brains are designed to cope with the ancestral savannah and not late-stage capitalist finance.

    When you say things like this, libertarians tend to retort that if people mess up on such decisions, it's their own fault. But the usual argument for free markets is that they lead to good results -- not that they would lead to good results if people were more virtuous than they are, so we should rely on them despite the bad results they yield in practice. And the truth is that paternalism in these areas has led to pretty good results -- mandatory K-12 education, Social Security, and Medicare make our lives more productive as well as more secure.

    I'm not wild about calling this stuff "paternalism" -- one of the things that has made government spending objectionable is how often it is subject to political propriety. (For instance, art is generally a public good, especially when it can be reproduced at zero marginal cost. It would be a good public investment to pay lots of artists to produce lots of art, but not such a good idea if every piece had to be approved by a local board of prudes.)

    I think there's also a macroeconomic argument. For a variety of reasons, it strikes me that the private sector economy has become increasingly incapable of sustaining full employment, and as such needs permanent, possibly increasing, stimulus. (It could be that the deficit is the result of increasing inequality, which depresses demand while producing a savings glut. And/or it could be due to technology which keeps reducing the number of work hours needed to produce a constant amount of goods and services. Most likely both.)

    Krugman followed up with The Fiscal Future II: Not Enough Debt?. This is more technical, so I won't bother quoting it here. The upshot is that you can grow government without having to pay for all of it through increased taxes.

  • Caitlin MacNeal: White House: Two Hostages Killed in US Counterterrorism Attack: Quotes the White House statement disclosing that the CIA had killed two Al-Qaida hostages with a drone strike "in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan" (evidently doesn't matter which side of the border was struck). Also that two US citizens involved with Al-Qaida were killed (but not targeted) in drone strikes "in the same region." Of the hostages, "No words can fully express our regret over this terrible tragedy." Of the other two, well, stuff happens. The statement goes on: "The President . . . takes full responsibility for these operations." The statement doesn't explain how Obama intends to "take responsibility": Will he turn himself over to the ICC or local authorities to be tried? Will he change US policy to prevent any repeat of these tragedies? Or is he just enjoying one of those "the buck stops here" moments? What should be clear is that the CIA has no fucking idea who they're killing and maiming with their Hellfire missiles. Lacking such "intelligence" all they're doing is embarrassing themselves (and Obama and the nation) and aggravating and escalating animosities. Indeed, by going into their back yards to kill anonymous people with no hint of due process they're conceding the moral high ground as surely as Al-Qaida did on Sept. 11, 2001 when they launched attacks on American soil.

    For more on the drone strikes, see Spencer Ackerman: Inside Obama's drone panopticon: a secret machine with no accountability:

    Thanks to Obama's rare admission on Thursday, the realities of what are commonly known as "signature strikes" are belatedly and partially on display. Signature strikes, a key aspect for years of what the administration likes to call its "targeted killing" program, permit the CIA and JSOC to kill without requiring them to know who they kill.

    The "signatures" at issue are indicators that intelligence analysts associate with terrorist behavior -- in practice, a gathering of men, teenaged to middle-aged, traveling in convoys or carrying weapons. In 2012, an unnamed senior official memorably quipped that the CIA considers "three guys doing jumping jacks" a signature of terrorist training.

    Civilian deaths in signature strikes, accordingly, are not accidental. They are, as Schiff framed it, more like a cost of doing business -- only the real cost is shielded from the public.

    An apparatus of official secrecy, built over decades and zealously enforced by Obama, prevents meaningful open scrutiny of the strikes. No one outside the administration knows how many drone strikes are signature strikes. There is no requirement that the CIA or JSOC account for their strikes, nor to provide an estimate of how many people they kill, nor even how they define legally critical terms like "combatant," terrorist "affiliate" or "leader." The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing an obstinate administration to compel disclosure of some of the most basic information there is about a program that has killed thousands of people. [ . . . ]

    Schiff's reaction condensed the root argument of the administration's drone advocates: it's this or nothing. The Obama administration considers the real alternatives to drone strikes to be the unpalatable options of grueling ground wars or passive acceptance of terrorism. Then it congratulates itself for picking the wise, ethical and responsible choice of killing people without knowing who they are. [ . . . ]

    No Obama official involved in drone strikes has ever been disciplined: not only are Brennan and director of national intelligence James Clapper entrenched in their jobs, David Barron, one of the lawyers who told Obama he could kill a US citizen without trial as a first resort, now has a federal judgeship.

    Beyond the question of when the US ought to launch drone strikes lie deeper geostrategic concerns. Obama's overwhelming focus on counter-terrorism, inherited and embraced from his predecessor, subordinated all other considerations for the drone battlefield of Yemen, which he described as a model for future efforts.

    The result is the total collapse of the US Yemeni proxy, a regional war Obama appears powerless to influence, the abandonment of US citizens trapped in Yemen and the likely expansion of al-Qaida's local affiliate. A generation of Yemeni civilians, meanwhile, is growing up afraid of the machines loitering overhead that might kill them without notice.

  • Sinéad O'Shea: Mediterranean migrant crisis: Why is no one talking about Eritrea?:

    Horror has been expressed at the latest catastrophe in the Mediterranean. Little has been said, however, about Eritrea. Yet 22% of all people entering Italy by boat in 2014 were from Eritrea, according to the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR. After Syrians, they are the second most common nationality to undertake these journeys. Many who died this week were from the former Italian colony.

    So why is it so rarely discussed? The answer is essentially the problem. Eritrea is without western allies and far away. It is also in the grip of a highly repressive regime. This week, it was named the most censored country in the world by the Committee to Protect Journalists, beating North Korea, which is in second place. Reporters without Borders has called it the world's most dangerous country for journalists.

    Nobody talks about Eritrea because nobody (ie westerners) goes there. In 2009, I travelled there undercover with cameraman Scott Corben. We remain the only independent journalists to have visited in more than 10 years. There we witnessed a system that was exerting total control over its citizens. It was difficult to engage anybody in conversation. Everyone believed they were under surveillance, creating a state of constant anxiety. Communications were tightly controlled. Just three roads were in use and extensive documentation was required to travel. There were constant military checks. It is one of the most expensive countries in the world to buy petrol. Even maps are largely prohibited. At the time, Eritreans had to seek permission from a committee to obtain a mobile phone.

    Dissent is forbidden. It is thought there are more than 800 prisons dispersed across the country. Some take the form of shipping containers in the desert. Torture is widespread. [ . . . ]

    Eritreans are thus faced with a terrible choice. They must either live in misery or risk death by leaving. I met a number of people who were preparing to go. Despite a shoot-to-kill policy on the border, thousands still leave each month.

    Of course, one reason some of us don't talk much about bad countries is that we don't want the US to attack, invade, and "fix" them.


Also, a few links for further study:

  • Christian Appy: From the Fall of Saigon to Our Fallen Empire: Appy has a new book out, American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity, which I've just started reading. This piece is written for the 40th anniversary of the "fall of Saigon" (or the end of Vietnam's American War). Subtitle: "How to Turn a Nightmare into a Fairy Tale."

    Oddly enough, however, we've since found ways to reimagine that denouement which miraculously transformed a failed and brutal war of American aggression into a tragic humanitarian rescue mission. Our most popular Vietnam end-stories bury the long, ghastly history that preceded the "fall," while managing to absolve us of our primary responsibility for creating the disaster. Think of them as silver-lining tributes to good intentions and last-ditch heroism that may come in handy in the years ahead.

    The trick, it turned out, was to separate the final act from the rest of the play. To be sure, the ending in Vietnam was not a happy one, at least not for many Americans and their South Vietnamese allies. This week we mark the 40th anniversary of those final days of the war. We will once again surely see the searing images of terrified refugees, desperate evacuations, and final defeat. But even that grim tale offers a lesson to those who will someday memorialize our present round of disastrous wars: toss out the historical background and you can recast any U.S. mission as a flawed but honorable, if not noble, effort by good-guy rescuers to save innocents from the rampaging forces of aggression.

    The worst thing about the Vietnam War wasn't losing it, nor even not learning anything from the experience. It was the lies we told ourselves to keep from facing what actually happened, including how much responsibility the US bore for making the whole debacle far more horrendous than it was bound to be. We wouldn't, for instance, have wound up with any less of a loss had we allowed democratic elections in 1956, as agreed to in Geneva in 1954. Instead, we escalated again and again, unleashing new horrors for no practical gain. I've always thought the worst of those escalations was Nixon's "incursion" in Cambodia, which soon destabilized the neutral Prince Sihanouk and delivered the country to "the killing fields" of Pol Pot. Millions died because Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon couldn't face losing the war, and while they clearly cared nothing at all about the Vietnamese, the damage they did to their own country may have seemed relatively trivial -- 58,000 Americans dead, many billions of dollars wasted -- it went far deeper and lasted much longer. The war was founded on lies, even well before the fake "Gulf of Tonkin Incident," and in the end that lying became a way of life. Nixon himself must have set some record for mendacity, but it was Ronald Reagan who recast American politics on a basis of sheer narcissistic fantasy, and no American politician has ever looked at reality squarely again. The Vietnam War was the worst thing that ever happened to America, not because we lost it but because we were wrong in the first place and never learned better. That in turn led to the recapitulation in Iraq and Afghanistan: the main differences there were that the latter wars had less effect on everyday life so they generated less anti-war movement, while the undrafted army proved somewhat more resilient, allowing the propagandists more leeway to cover up the debacle. Appy himself concludes:

    The time may come, if it hasn't already, when many of us will forget, Vietnam-style, that our leaders sent us to war in Iraq falsely claiming that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction he intended to use against us; that he had a "sinister nexus" with the al-Qaeda terrorists who attacked on 9/11; that the war would essentially pay for itself; that it would be over in "weeks rather than months"; that the Iraqis would greet us as liberators; or that we would build an Iraqi democracy that would be a model for the entire region. And will we also forget that in the process nearly 4,500 Americans were killed along with perhaps 500,000 Iraqis, that millions of Iraqis were displaced from their homes into internal exile or forced from the country itself, and that by almost every measure civil society has failed to return to pre-war levels of stability and security?

    The picture is no less grim in Afghanistan. What silver linings can possibly emerge from our endless wars? If history is any guide, I'm sure we'll think of something.

  • Ben Branstetter: 7 whistle-blowers facing more jail time than David Petraeus: OK, that's a low bar, given that Petraeus avoided all jail time, punished with two years of probation after pleading guilty to passing classified secrets to his mistress-hagiographer Paula Broadwell. But then his intent was never to help Americans understand that their government is doing in secret. It was just self-promotion, business-as-usual for the ambitious general. On the other hand, Chelsea Manning has been sentenced to 35 years in prison -- nearly twice as long as Albert Speer was sentenced for running Nazi Germany's armaments industry.

  • Chris Wright: Always Historicize!: Chews on the old Leninist bone of what-is-to-be-done, the perennial of those who think of themselves as activists, as opposed to us normal folk who only occasionally get swept up in the tides of history. Wright starts with the pitiful state of the Left, concluding that to be unsurprising given that the Left is, by nature of its constituency, always starved of resources, and "one needs resources to get things done." Yet this does nothing to explain the few cases when everything suddenly lurches toward the Left. That happens not when the balance of resources shifts from Right to Left, but when the Establishment collapses in chaos, opening up opportunity for the Left to save the day, provided some combination of ideas and organization. Wright sort of understands this. He is skeptical of the notion that "radical social change is a matter mainly of will and competence . . . pushing back against reactionary institutions so as, hopefully, to reverse systemic trends." He argues, instead, that "the proper way for radicals to conceive of their activism, on a broad scale, is in terms of the speeding up of current historical trends, not their interruption or reversal."

    I suppose that all depends on what trends you're talking about, but the notion that historical trends are for the better hasn't been born out by history: I can think of a few that turned rotten after initial promise, and others that were rotten from the start. The trend Wright identifies is "the protracted collapse of corporate capitalism and the nation-state system itself." I'm not so sure of that myself -- not that I don't see some problems there, but they mostly come from overreach, something not all that far removed from panic. (The Right's massive attempt to corner the political system, which has much to do with the resource imbalance cited above, seems more rooted in fear than in greed, not that its sponsors can ever free themselves of the latter. Sometimes it looks like the Right is winning, but their successes rarely go beyond the most corruptible of institutions, and when they do seize power they often crash and burn.)

    I keep coming back to ideas and organization. While there are a lot of the former floating around, it's proven remarkably difficult to get them into common circulation -- the point, I would say, of Philip Mirowski's Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste, showing how a prison of constantly reiterated neoliberal ideology kept politicians from even considering alternatives after an economic collapse caused by precisely that thinking. That suggests to me that ideas have to be channelled through organization -- a role that unions filled during the industrial revolution but are unlikely to recover and repeat in the future. Figure that out and the Left won't look so lame. Don't and we run the risk that no one will be able to pick up the pieces after the Right fucks everything up.

Daily Log


I wrote the following in a letter to Christgau (who sent me the Wright link above) tonight:

I wrote something about this link in my post last night, although I'm not sure I followed it, nor that I agree with much of what I got. Marxists have always thought they had an inside track on understanding history, mostly because they look at larger-scale forces rather than chalking everything up to individuals, but they have a bad habit of falling into materialist determinism and the imposition of dialectics can cause all sorts of weird blips. I still believe most of what I learned there, but gravitate more toward Keynes -- in particular on the primacy of ideas, not that some Marxists haven't written insightfully on ideology.

One of my few relatively original insights is my belief that the New Left was wildly successful at everything except securing a power base: the core tenets of civil rights, anti-war, women's liberation, and ecological awareness have all become common culture for most Americans -- not that there hasn't been a concerted effort at undoing those gains, but the right-wing counterrevolution seems bigger (and scarier) than it is because it's so pointed at the levers of power. Old leftists like Tony Judt carp about the New Left being too individualist and it's true that's part of the makeup, part of the deep distrust of power -- all organizations were suspect, with the Democratic Party and the union aristocracy high on the list. Similarly, the 1950s sense of affluence tended to blunt sensitivity to economic issues -- not that poverty went unnoticed, but it was usually someone else's problem. Even now I don't think economic issues have much traction among people left-of-center culturally. Certainly more than in the 1960s, but still not a driving force. And I don't see any way that unions are going to make much of a comeback, so that leaves the political left-of-center with a huge organizational hole.

If the New Left won, that suggests that the counterrevolution is mostly panic and deceit. Indeed, it's easy to find examples to back that up, with the Obama period regularly achieving new levels of dementedness. One result of this is that people who are aware of the threat are increasingly satisfied with playing defense. I don't mind that myself, but personally I'd rather focus on articulating ideas that may be more useful under a much more favorable political mix, no matter how unlikely that seems.

I'm familiar with Alperovitz's work, especially on worker-owned enterprises, which I regard as a better solution than unions. This was the first reference I've seen to "solidarity economy," but the ideas are similar to the post-capitalist stuff I originally tried writing up nearly twenty years ago. But those are fairly blue sky ideas. I'm not as pessimistic as he is about the welfare state. It may have to advance in somewhat different forms, but what does exist should remain pretty defensible.

On health, I haven't had any acute problems, but my chronic allergies have been very bad, and I had a couple of minor reflux incidents last week that woke me up and kept me up with very little sleep, and I was very run down for several days after that. Nothing as debilitating as a bad case of bronchitis, but also nothing that's likely to run its course and get better.

A- records last week: Low Cut Connie, the Mowgli's, Next Stop Soweto 4, Punk 45 Cleveland. Last two are very marginal (and Rhapsody cheated me out of three Pere Ubu cuts), and I imagine a lot of people will hate the Mowgli's.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Downbeat Critics Poll 2015

Earlier this week I filled out my ballot for Downbeat's 2015 Critics Poll. I took my usual copious notes, but I'll just give you the highlights here -- follow the link for more details. The poll is very time-consuming: I've never finished it in a single day (took two this time, at least ten hours). The big problem is that they ask about fifty questions: mostly to identify the best (or most important or something like that) musicians by instrument (or some other category like composer or arranger), and for each question they have a second ballot slot for "rising star." They used to call the latter TDWR, an acronym for "talent deserving wider recognition," which makes much more sense to me. Even if I wanted to, I'm not sure what sense it would make to try to rank musicians. So all I can try to do is to mention a few people I think we should be aware of.

Sometimes those people are obvious -- until their deaths, Steve Lacy on soprano sax and Billy Bang on violin were automatic choices. Often they aren't, in some cases because there's so much competition -- piano, bass, and drums are the top tier; trumpet, alto sax, tenor sax, and increasingly guitar the second -- and sometimes because there is so little (flute, baritone sax -- a special case here is an instrument mostly played by non-specialists, like soprano sax, electric bass, and electric keyboards). Still, in all cases, the picks I made were spur of the moment, subject to the limited information I could think of and whatever whims occurred to me. More often than not, I limited my picks to names listed on the ballot form. This was especially so in nebulous categories like "Jazz Artist" or things I don't keep good mental tabs on (like "Arranger," "Composer," and "Producer").

I have fewer qualms about ranking albums. It's all too true that it is often impossible to weigh the relative merits -- even on such a subjective basis as personal pleasure -- of any pair of albums. The only consistent criteria I can think of would be the order in which I'd buy albums. Of course, that is the most subjective scale of all, which makes it pretty arbitrary when anyone else looks at it. Such rank lists should be easy for me give that I've already spent much effort at constructing them -- e.g., see my 2014 EOY Jazz List. (I haven't assembled a 2015 Jazz List yet, but the list-in-progress can be sorted out from my 2015 List.) One complication is that Downbeat insists on skewing the eligibility list to run from April 1, 2014 through March 31, 2015 release dates instead of using the previous (2014) calendar year. I don't generally keep track of release dates below year granularity, so it would be a huge effort at this point to research 2014 release dates. (Actually, I can't even trust 2015 release dates: I already have several April releases in my 2015 file. So I can save myself some work by limiting my vote to Downbeat's ballot. The problem here is that Downbeat only lists 10-12 albums I consider A-list, out of 60-70 albums I grade that high. Writing in a name sometimes encourages Downbeat to include that name on future ballots, but writing in an album won't have any future effect. So I tried to apply my rank list (interpolating early 2015 releases in place of early 2014 releases) to their ballot, with the result that I voted for my number 1 and 24 2014 albums plus one 2015 album that will probably wind up close to number 20. I took the same approach to Historical Album, Blues Album, and Beyond Album (surprised that Wussy got nominated in the latter). The notes file provides the full breakdowns for the album votes. One reason I make a point of jotting down all of the records I haven't heard is that they give me a reference for future listening (although, frankly, they put a lot of albums on these lists I know better than to bother with).


Each category allowed me to split 10 points among three candidates. I followed their earlier convention of spliting those points 5-3-2 for the two three picks. Write-ins are italicized below. So, without further ado, my votes:

  • Hall of Fame: Lee Konitz (5), George Russell (3), Don Byas (2).
  • Jazz Artist: Anthony Braxton (5), William Parker (3), Ken Vandermark (2).
  • Rising Star -- Jazz Artist: Steve Lehman (5), Mary Halvorson (3), Craig Taborn (2).
  • Jazz Album of the Year (April 1, 2014-March 31, 2015): Steve Lehman Octet, Mis En Abime (Pi) (5); Charles McPherson, The Journey (Capri -15) (3); Bobby Avey, Authority Melts From Me (Whirlwind) (2).
  • Historical Album (April 1, 2014-March 31, 2015): Sun Ra, In the Orbit of Ra (Strut) (5); Charles Lloyd, Manhattan Stories (Resonance) (3); Charlie Haden/Jim Hall, Charlie Haden -- Jim Hall (Impulse!) (2).
  • Jazz Group: Microscopic Septet (5), Mostly Other People Do the Killing (3), Rova (2).
  • Rising Star Jazz Group: Revolutionary Snake Ensemble (5), Mostly Other People Do the Killing (3), Digital Primitives (2).
  • Big Band: Steven Bernstein Millennial Territory Orchestra (5), ICP Orchestra (3), Ken Vandermark's Resonance Ensemble (2).
  • Rising Star Big Band: Ken Vandermark's Resonance Ensemble (5), Ghost Train Orchestra (3), Howard Wiley and the Angola Project (2).
  • Trumpet: Dave Douglas (5), Wadada Leo Smith (3), Steven Bernstein (2).
  • Rising Star Trumpet: Peter Evans (5), Taylor Ho Bynum (3), Darren Johnston (2).
  • Trombone: Roswell Rudd (5), Steve Swell (3), Joe Fiedler (2).
  • Rising Star Trombone: Joe Fiedler (5), Samuel Blaser (3), Jacob Garchik (2).
  • Soprano Saxophone: Sam Newsome (5), Bob Wilber (3), Vinny Golia (2).
  • Rising Star Soprano Saxophone: Mike Ellis (5), Jason Robinson (3), Jasmine Lovell-Smith (2).
  • Alto Saxophone: Oliver Lake (5), François Carrier (3), Anthony Braxton (2).
  • Rising Star Alto Saxophone: Steve Lehman (5), Dave Rempis (3), Mike DiRubbo (2).
  • Tenor Saxophone: David Murray (5), Ivo Perelman (3), Ken Vandermark (2).
  • Rising Star Tenor Saxophone: Ellery Eskelin (5), Assif Tsahar (3), Rodrigo Amado (2)
  • Baritone Saxophone: Mats Gustafsson (5), Scott Robinson (3), Gebhard Ullmann (2).
  • Rising Star Baritone Saxophone: Gebhard Ullmann (5), Brian Landrus (3), Josh Sinton (2).
  • Clarinet: Ben Goldberg (5), Marty Ehrlich (3), Michael Moore (2).
  • Rising Star Clarinet: Avram Fefer (5), Rudi Mahall (3), Gebhard Ullmann (2).
  • Flute: Juhani Aaltonen (5), Henry Threadgill (3), Lew Tabackin (2).
  • Rising Star Flute: Kali Z. Fasteau (5), Idan Santhaus (3).
  • Piano: Irène Schweizer (5), Myra Melford (3), Marilyn Crispell (2).
  • Rising Star Piano: Kris Davis (5), Nik Bärtsch (3), Russ Lossing (2).
  • Electronic Keyboard: Matthew Shipp (5), Uri Caine (3), Craig Taborn (2).
  • Rising Star Electronic Keyboard: Nik Bärtsch (5), George Colligan (3), Rob Mazurek (2).
  • Organ: Gary Versace (5), John Medeski (3), Brian Charette (2).
  • Rising Star Organ: Alexander Hawkins (5), Vince Seneri (3), Wayne Peet (2).
  • Violin: Jason Kao Hwang (5), Jenny Scheinman (3), Carlos Zingaro (2).
  • Rising Star Violin: Szilard Mezei (5), Jesse Zubot (3), Aaron Weinstein (2).
  • Guitar: Marc Ribot (5), Bill Frisell (3), Marty Grosz (2).
  • Rising Star Guitar: Raoul Björkenheim (5), Samo Salamon (3), Anders Nilsson (2),
  • Bass: William Parker (5), Reggie Workman (3), Peter Washington (2).
  • Rising Star Bass: Adam Lane (5), Ken Filiano (3), Moppa Elliott (2).
  • Electric Bass: Steve Swallow (5), Bob Cranshaw (3), Ingebrigt Haker Flaten (2).
  • Rising Star Electric Bass: Chris Morrissey (5), Stomu Takeishi (3), Nate McBride (2).
  • Drums: Andrew Cyrille (5), Gerry Hemingway (3), Lewis Nash (2).
  • Rising Star Drums: Tom Rainey (5), Tyshawn Sorey (3), Paal Nilssen-Love (2).
  • Vibes: Jason Adasiewicz (5), Kenny Wolleson (3), Warren Smith (2).
  • Rising Star Vibes: Mulatu Astatke (5), Kevin Norton (3), Bryan Carrott (2).
  • Percussion: Han Bennink (5), Adam Rudolph (3), Kahil El'Zabar (2).
  • Rising Star Percussion: Kevin Diehl (5), Lukas Ligeti (3), Ravish Momin (2).
  • Miscellaneous Instrument: Bob Stewart (tuba) (5), Richard Galliano (accordion) (3), Rabih Abou Khalil (oud) (2).
  • Rising Star Miscellaneous Instrument: Colin Stetson (bass sax) (5), Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello) (3), Cooper-Moore (diddley-bow) (2).
  • Male Vocalist: Freddy Cole (5), James Blood Ulmer (3), Mose Allison (2).
  • Rising Star Male Vocalist: Jamie Davis (5), Mark Winkler (3), Ku-umba Frank Lacy (2).
  • Female Vocalist: Sheila Jordan (5), Barbara Morrison (3), Marlene VerPlanck (2).
  • Rising Star Female Vocalist: Fay Victor (5), Catherine Russell (3), Lisa Sokolov (2).
  • Composer: Carla Bley (5), Wayne Shorter (3), John Zorn (2).
  • Rising Star Composer: Steve Lehman (5), Adam Lane (3), Anthony Branker (2).
  • Arranger: Steven Bernstein (5), Misha Mengelberg (3), Carla Bley (2).
  • Rising Star Arranger: David Weiss (5), Michael Bates (3), Marcus Shelby (2).
  • Record Label: Clean Feed (5), Intakt (3), No Business (2).
  • Producer: Joe Fields (5), John Zorn (3), Don Was (2).
  • Rising Star Producer: John Corbett (5), Taylor Ho Bynum (3), Leo Feigin (2).
  • Blues Artist or Group: Maria Muldaur (5), James Blood Ulmer (3), Duke Robillard (2).
  • Blues Album (April 1, 2014 to March 31, 2015): Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin, Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy (Yep Roc) (5); Leo Welch: Sabougla Voices (Big Legal Mess) (3); John Hiatt, Terms of My Surrender (New West) (2).
  • Beyond Artist of Group: The Roots (5), Merle Haggard (3), Aretha Franklin (2).
  • Beyond Album (April 1, 2014 to March 31, 2015): Wussy, Attica! (Shake It) (5); Jason Derulo, Talk Dirty (Beluga Heights/Warner Bros.) (3); D'Angelo, Black Messiah (RCA) (2). This is limited to their ballot. For a more expansive list (just 2014) look here.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 24855 [24826] rated (+29), 408 [398] unrated (+10).

Third straight week at 29, so I guess that's the new 30. Wouldn't have hit that but for a lark decision to check out the early Charles Lloyd records on Rhapsody after the new one underwhelmed me. They, at least, were relatively short, but ultimately merged into a solid, indistinguishable mass -- aside from Keith Jarrett's outstanding rhythm work. Very little of Lloyd's post-1970 work is on Rhapsody, so it's hard to say anything definitive about his now obscure 1970s and 1980s records. In 1989 he joined ECM and patiently rebuilt his career, hitting a peak when he started working with another amazing pianist, Jason Moran. Make what you will that the new one marks his move from ECM to Blue Note, and that Moran is out, replaced by a pianist whose name I've already forgotten. On the other hand, Blue Note's pairing of Joe Lovano and Dave Douglas works as expected.

I spent a good deal of time this past week sorting through old shelves of jazz CDs. Currently the work area is still quite some mess, but I expect to make some progress this week. I had planned on keeping all of the Jazz CG-era B+(***) and A-list albums in a set of six modular shelf units, but it now looks like the number needed is eight. I have the extra two nearby, but their contents need to be moved elsewhere, and I'm cleaning out that elsewhere. The next space likely to be exhausted is the basement hell where the most unwanted items go to linger. Those I need to start to cull -- although the general high quality of jazz these days has led me to consign more than a few good records by obscure artists or interesting failures by better known musicians there. Could be a neverending struggle. For some reason the incoming mail picked up this week.

Not so many A-list records this week, although eight high-B+ records came close. Milo Miles put Ayelet Rose Gottlieb at the top of his 1st Quarter 2015: Jazz list and, if memory recalls, had previously touted Tal National. Michael Tatum is a big fan of the Skrillex/Diplo record. My own favorites among the three-stars are Sergi Sirvent's Unexpected piano trio and Oleg Frish's kitschy standards duets, although Hu Vibrational got the most spins (five, I think).

Incoming mail included unsolicited copies of all three albums by Damien Wilkins' New Zealand group, The Close Readers. Christgau reviewed their latest and I concurred in last week's Rhapsody Streamnotes. I was tempted to check out the earlier titles -- they're here (via bandcamp) -- but let my mind wander elsewhere. Now I feel obligated to go back. As a down payment, we'll include the album cover and note the known grade in unpacking.

I need to get cracking on my Downbeat Critics Poll ballot. Expect a report later this week.


New records rated this week:

  • Perry Beekman: S'Wonderful: Perry Beekman Sings and Plays Gershwin (2015, self-released): [cd]: B
  • Oleg Frish: Duets With My American Idols (2014 [2015], Time Out Media): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Ghost Train Orchestra: Hot Town (2013 [2015], Accurate): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Ayelet Rose Gottlieb: Roadsides (2014, Arogole Music): [r]: B+(***)
  • Hu Vibrational: The Epic Botanical Beat Suite (2014 [2015], MOD Technologies): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Steve Johns: Family (2014 [2015], Strikezone): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Tyler Kaneshiro & the Highlands: Amber of the Moment (2013 [2015], self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Charles Lloyd: Wild Man Dance (2013 [2015], Blue Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas: Sound Prints: Live at Monterey Jazz Festival (2013 [2015], Blue Note): [r]: A-
  • The Magic Words: The Day We Ran Away (Magic Words Demos) (2015, self-released): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Barney McClure: Show Me! (2014 [2015], OA2): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Michael Oien: And Now (2014 [2015], Fresh Sound New Talent): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Plunge: In for the Out (2014 [2015], Immersion): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Adam Shulman Sextet: Here/There (2014 [2015], OA2): [cd]: B
  • Skrillex/Diplo: Skrillex and Diplo Present Jack Ü (2015, Mad Decent/OWSLA): [r]: B+(***)
  • Tal National: Zoy Zoy (2015, Fat Cat): [r]: B+(***)
  • John Tropea: Gotcha Rhythm Right Here (2014 [2015], STP): [cd]: B-
  • Tyler, the Creator: Cherry Bomb (2015, Odd Future): [r]: B+(*)
  • Unexpected: Munchies (2013 [2014], Fresh Sound New Talent): [r]: B+(***)
  • Dwight Yoakam: Second Hand Heart (2015, Warner Brothers): [r]: B

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

  • Dion: Recorded Live at the Bitter End August 1971 (1971 [2015], Omnivore): [r]: B

Old records rated this week:

  • Charles Lloyd: Discovery! (1964, Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • Charles Lloyd: Nirvana (1962-65 [1968], Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Charles Lloyd Quartet: Dream Weaver (1966, Atlantic): [r]: B+(***)
  • Charles Lloyd: Forest Flower: Charles Lloyd at Monterey (1966 [1968], Atlantic): [r]: A-
  • The Charles Lloyd Quartet: The Flowering of the Original Charles Lloyd Quartet (1966 [1971], Atlantic): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Charles Lloyd Quartet: Charles Lloyd in Europe (1966 [1968], Atlantic): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Charles Lloyd Quartet: Love-In (1967, Atlantic): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Charles Lloyd Quartet: Journey Within (1967, Atlantic): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Charles Lloyd Quartet: Charles Lloyd in the Soviet Union (1967 [1970], Atlantic): [r]: B+(***)
  • Charles Lloyd: Soundtrack (1968 [1969], Atlantic): [r]: B+(***)


Grade changes:

  • Gorka Benitez: Solo La Verdad Es Sexy (2003 [2004], Fresh Sound New Talent): [was B+] B+(***)
  • Eddie Gale: Afro-Fire (2004, Black Beauty): [was B+]: B+(***)
  • Lafayette Gilchrist: The Music According to Lafayette Gilchrist (2004, Hyena/Shantytone): [was B+]: B+(***)
  • The Great Jazz Trio: Someday My Prince Will Come (2002-03 [2004], Eighty-Eights/Columbia): [was B+]: B+(***)
  • Charles Lloyd: Just Before Sunrise (1966-67 [1999], 32 Jazz, 2CD): reissue combines Dream Weaver and Love-In: [was B]: B+(**)
  • Paradigm Shift: Shifting Times (2004, Nagel Heyer): [was B+]: B+(***)
  • Randy Sandke: Cliffhanger (1999 [2003], Nagel Heyer): [was B+]: B+(***)
  • Ignasi Terraza Trio: IT's Coming (2004, TCB): [was B+]: B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • David Berkman: Old Friends and New Friends (Palmetto): May 5
  • The Dan Brubeck Quartet: Celebrating the Music and Lyrics of Dave & Iola Brubeck (Blue Forest, 2CD): April 28
  • The Close Readers: Group Hug (2011, Austin)
  • The Close Readers: New Spirit (2012, Austin)
  • The Close Readers: The Lines Are Open (2014, Austin) [A-]
  • Wild Bill Davison: The Jazz Giants (1968, Delmark/Sackville)
  • Lorenzo Feliciati: Koi (Rare Noise): advance, May 26
  • Rich Halley 4: Creating Structure (Pine Eagle)
  • Lauren Henderson: A La Madrugada (self-released): May 19
  • Heikki Koskinen/Teppo Hauta-Aho/Mikko Innanen: Kellari Trio (Edgetone)
  • Joe Locke: Love Is a Pendulum (Motéma): May 26
  • Phil Maturano: At Home Everywhere (self-released): May 19
  • Metallic Taste of Blood: Doctoring the Dead (Rare Noise): advance, May 26
  • Pascal Niggenkemper: Look With Thine Ears: Solo (Clean Feed)
  • Mario Pavone: Blue Dialect (Clean Feed)
  • Eve Risser: Des Pas Sur La Neige (Clean Feed)
  • Elliott Sharp: Octal: Book Three (Clean Feed)
  • Eli Wallace/Jon Arkin/Karl Evangelista: Cabbages, Captain, & King (Edgetone)
  • Zubatto Syndicate: Zubatto Syndicate 2 (Boscology): advance, June 9

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Weekend Roundup

Late start but I had the Civil War links, and added a couple more. Plus, for local color, let's start with Crowson's cartoon today:

By the way, babyfaced State Senator O'Donnell (R) happens to represent my district. You can read more about his bill in, well, The Guardian, or The Chicago Tribune. Jordan Weissmann looks at what welfare recipients actually spend money on here. One thing I haven't seen much discussion of is how this law is to be enforced. Will the state be assigning accountants to go over welfare recipients' books? Or will we expect movie ticket takers to rat out customers they suspect of being on welfare?


  • Gregory P Downs: The Dangerous Myth of Appomattox: When I was 10 years old the centennial of the Civil War seemed like such a big deal, whereas I hadn't noticed any 150th anniversaries until someone wrote that Lee's surrender at Appomattox should be a national holiday. Back in 1960 you could still practically taste the gunpowder residue. I knew, for instance, that my great-great-grandfathers had fought in that war -- on my father's side from Pennsylvania, a man who after the war homesteaded in western Kansas and named his first son Abraham Lincoln Hull; on my mother's side from Ohio, a man who then moved to northern Arkansas and became sheriff of Baxter County (in other words, one of those oft-villified "carpetbaggers"). Back then Kansas still identified with the North, and I saw enough of the South to reinforce my belief in civil rights, because by then the South had reconstituted its racist caste system as if their "war for independence" had won out. (Downs quotes Albion Tourgée saying that the South "surrendered at Appomattox, the North has been surrendering ever since.")

    Over the course of the Civil War's Centennial the tide of surrender had shifted with the passage of landmark civil rights acts. Fifty years later we're more inclined to memorialize the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march than the 150th of Lee's surrender. Not that we shouldn't worry about erosion of voting rights. But one thing we don't worry about over is that the South will secede again -- indeed, when various Texans spout off to that effect, the usual reaction is "good riddance." But celebration of Appomattox has always been something of a ruse. As Downs points out, the war didn't really end there, nor has the reunification of the country gone smoothly. Indeed, one of the great ironies of American history is that the party of Lincoln -- the party my great-greats fought for -- has lately been captured by the sons of the Confederacy (often, amusingly enough, in the guise of adopted sons with names like Jindal, Cruz, Rubio, and Bush).

    Meanwhile, Downs is more concerned with the problems the postwar occupation (aka reconstruction) ran into:

    Grant himself recognized that he had celebrated the war's end far too soon. Even as he met Lee, Grant rejected the rebel general's plea for "peace" and insisted that only politicians, not officers, could end the war. Then Grant skipped the fabled laying-down-of-arms ceremony to plan the Army's occupation of the South.

    To enforce its might over a largely rural population, the Army marched across the South after Appomattox, occupying more than 750 towns and proclaiming emancipation by military order. This little-known occupation by tens of thousands of federal troops remade the South in ways that Washington proclamations alone could not.

    And yet as late as 1869, President Grant's attorney general argued that some rebel states remained in the "grasp of war." When white Georgia politicians expelled every black member of the State Legislature and began a murderous campaign of intimidation, Congress and Grant extended military rule there until 1871.

    Meanwhile, Southern soldiers continued to fight as insurgents, terrorizing blacks across the region. One congressman estimated that 50,000 African-Americans were murdered by white Southerners in the first quarter-century after emancipation. "It is a fatal mistake, nay a wicked misery to talk of peace or the institutions of peace," a federal attorney wrote almost two years after Appomattox. "We are in the very vortex of war."

    Downs has a book that sounds interesting: After Appomattox: Military Occupation and the Ends of War. It is inevitable that any such book written these days will reflect the manifest failures of the US occupation of Iraq. One recalls that in the run up to the invasion of Iraq, Bush's intellectuals studied up on the post-WWII occupations of Germany and Japan -- held to be a model of enlightened reconstruction, although that conceit took a good deal of misreading both of history and of the current state of Bush politics to come to that cheery conclusion. But in all cases, the fiasco is the consequence both of poorly understood goals and corrupt practices.

    Also worth reading: Christopher Dickey: The Civil War's Dirty Secret: It Was Always About Slavery. A sequel could be written on how racism went from being a rationale for slavery to becoming a proxy. In any case, the two are so inextricably linked that the iconography for one, like the continuing cult of the Confederacy, supports the other. That's why if you don't like the one, you shouldn't make excuses for the other.

  • Mark Mazzetti/Helene Cooper: Sale of US Arms Fuels the Wars of Arab States: Even if we overlook Israel, the most intensely militarized nation in the world, the Middle East has long been a bonanza for arms dealers -- and not just for American ones, although the US remains by far the largest purveyor of lethal hardware. And to paraphrase Madeleine Albright, what's the point of having this magnificent military technology if you never use it? That's been a conundrum for many years, but more and more nominal US allies like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar, even Egypt, are discovering targets they can safely attack: the ad hoc militias of destabilized neighbors like Yemen, Libya, and Syria. All they have to do is to pin a label like Al-Qaeda, ISIS, or Iran, and the US blesses them with further supplies. For example:

    Saudi Arabia spent more than $80 billion on weaponry last year -- the most ever, and more than either France or Britain -- and has become the world's fourth-largest defense market, according to figures released last week by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, which tracks global military spending. The Emirates spent nearly $23 billion last year, more than three times what they spent in 2006.

    Qatar, another gulf country with bulging coffers and a desire to assert its influence around the Middle East, is on a shopping spree. Last year, Qatar signed an $11 billion deal with the Pentagon to purchase Apache attack helicopters and Patriot and Javelin air-defense systems. Now the tiny nation is hoping to make a large purchase of Boeing F-15 fighters to replace its aging fleet of French Mirage jets. Qatari officials are expected to present the Obama administration with a wish list of advanced weapons before they come to Washington next month for meetings with other gulf nations.

    American defense firms are following the money. Boeing opened an office in Doha, Qatar, in 2011, and Lockheed Martin set up an office there this year. Lockheed created a division in 2013 devoted solely to foreign military sales, and the company's chief executive, Marillyn Hewson, has said that Lockheed needs to increase foreign business -- with a goal of global arms sales' becoming 25 percent to 30 percent of its revenue -- in part to offset the shrinking of the Pentagon budget after the post-Sept. 11 boom. [ . . . ]

    Meanwhile, the deal to sell Predator drones to the Emirates is nearing final approval. The drones will be unarmed, but they will be equipped with lasers to allow them to better identify targets on the ground.

    If the sale goes through, it will be the first time that the drones will go to an American ally outside of NATO.

    There's very little here to keep these wars from spinning out of control. The US has allied itself with dictatorial oligarchs, and enabled them to suppress all manner of popular movements, including peaceful demonstrations for democracy. And when the most violent of those movements blowback against the US, that just reinforces the war mentality. Sure, some worry about putting US troops in harm's way, but we're pretty cavalier about getting Arabs to kill other Arabs, especially when Arabs are paying us for the gear -- think of all those "good jobs" proxy wars will create. Invading Iraq in 2003 was still a hard sell, but spinning up ISIS as an enemy was a breeze. Also see Richard Silverstein's comment on this article, War is America's Business.

  • Justin Logan: Iraq 2.0: The REAL Reason Hawks Oppose the Iran Deal:

    Let's be honest for a second: 90-plus percent of supporters of the Iran framework would have supported any framework the Obama administration produced (this author included). Close to 100 percent of the opponents of the framework would have opposed any framework it produced.

    What's going on here? Why are we having this kabuki debate about a deal whose battle lines were established before it even existed? At Brookings, Jeremy Shapiro suggests that "the Iranian nuclear program is not really what opponents and proponents of the recent deal are arguing about."

    Shapiro says the bigger question is about what to do regarding "Iran's challenge to U.S. leadership" in the countries surrounding Iran and whether to "integrate Iran into the regional order."

    One could put this more baldly: anti-agreement hawks want to preserve a state of belligerency (non-cooperation at the very least) between the US and Iran; agreement supporters want to defuse the state of belligerency, ultimately by normalizing relations between the two countries. One reason the hawks have is the profits from arms sales generated through the Middle East's growing set of proxy wars (see the Mazzetti/Cooper article above). It's also likely that oil profits would skyrocket if there was any disruption of Persian Gulf exports -- something which may matter more than usual given how invested US oil companies are in expensive sources (like shale and offshore oil). But there's also a more basic ideological reason: right-wingers believe in a world where conflict, like hierarchy, is inevitable and brutal, whereas left-wingers believe that conflicts can be resolved and people can cooperate to level up everyone's standard of living.

  • After torching Palestinian cafe and painting 'Revenge' on its door, 4 Israeli teens get community service; Before prayers finished Friday, Israeli military began firing teargas canisters and rubber-coated bullets; A 22-year-old Palestinian dies after imprisonment, then his cousin, 27, is killed at his funeral: 'Passover siege' in Hebron: Palestinians endure military lockdown so Israelis can enjoy holiday in occupied West Bank: more of Kate's remarkable compilations of Israeli news reports. Also see Alice Rothchild: The most massive child abuse int he world: "Not a single house has been rebuilt in Gaza since the end of the devastating war 9 months ago, UNRWA reports."

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Rhapsody Streamnotes (April 2015)

Pick up text here.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Music Week

 

Music: Current count 24826 [24797] rated (+29), 398 [404] unrated (-6).

Another sub-30 week, again just shy by one. Possible reason this week is that all those A- records took extra spins to verify, not to mention enjoy. (Except perhaps Heems, where I can't say my enjoyment was up to the grade, caught as the album is between sucking up to a jingoism that both of us know better than.) In fact, none of the A- records really blew me away: they're all huddled in the lower half of my 2015 list-in-progress (well, Marty Grosz and Old Time Musketry are just above the mid-point). So maybe I blew out my curve. Or maybe the stars just aligned.

Expect a Rhapsody Streamnotes this week -- probably tomorrow. The draft file has 112 records at present. Certainly doesn't need any more -- longer than most since I switched to flexible scheduling. Still, closer to four weeks than three -- another dimension in which I'm slipping, if only a bit. With this week's bumper crop, the A-list is up to 27 records about 15 weeks into the year: still well below where I expect it to wind up (2014 is up to 156, not that I expect to listen to as much this year), and still tilted heavily toward jazz (17-10, counting Nascimento in the non-jazz, although that's pretty borderline).

Thought I might try to drive out to EMP in Seattle this year, but I couldn't get organized in time. Instead, I'm suffering through one of the worst spring allergy funks I've had since moving to KS. My progress in cleaning up the office, sorting and shelving CDs, etc., has largely stalled -- albeit in a much better place than it was. The recent jazz sort has mostly been by grade, and I was a bit surprised to find that the shelves I allocated for recent B+(***) and higher jazz are well short of what I need.

I've decided to start donating some CDs to WSU's library, and will try to dump the first box off later this week. The recycle dumpster, which I largely filled with paper more than a week ago, should be emptied in the morning, so I can resume packing it. Still have vast quantities of music magazines I'll never do anything constructive with. Hate to just throw them away, but it doesn't look like I'll have any takers.

I've fallen way behind in many other projects -- notably a much needed update to Robert Christgau's website. Also failing to make any progress on my own larger writing projects. Hard even to read much when your eyes are bleary and you can hardly breathe. Probably hasn't helped my productivity that I've fallen into watching more TV than in ages -- even such obvious trainwrecks as American Crime (just completely dispicable), The Good Wife (a former good show gone bad -- half-dedicated to killing off Kalinda Sharma [at least Will Gardner went quick], half drowning Alicia in a political campaign we always thought she was too smart to get taken by, and ending it as badly as possible), and Empire (probably the worst season finale I've ever seen). At least still hoping that Justified will end in decent shape. (Finally finished the second season of Orange Is the New Black, and that finale was remarkably satisfying.)

Another week without tweet reviews. Just been hard hanging in there.


New records rated this week:

  • Albare: Only Human (2014 [2015], Alfi): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Tim Berne's Snakeoil: You've Been Watching Me (2014 [2015], ECM): [dl]: B+(***)
  • Jakob Bro: Gefion (2013 [2015], ECM): [dl]: B+(**)
  • The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra: The Symphonic Celtic Album (2011, Silva Screen): [cd]: C-
  • Ernest Dawkins Live the Spirit Residency Big Band: Memory in the Center: An Afro Opera: Homage to Nelson Mandela (2014 [2015], Dawk): [cd]: A-
  • Andrew Diruzza Quintet: Shapes and Analogies (2015, self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Fabiano Do Nascimento: Dança Dos Tempos (2015, Now-Again): [r]: A-
  • Tomas Fujiwara & the Hook Up: After All Is Said (2014 [2015], 482 Music): [r]: A-
  • Marty Grosz Meets the Fat Babies: Diga Diga Doo (2013-2014 [2015], Delmark): [cd]: A-
  • Heems: Eat Pray Thug (2015, Megaforce): [cd]: A-
  • Ray Wylie Hubbard: The Ruffian's Misfortune (2015, Bordello): [r]: A-
  • The Kandinsky Effect: Somnambulist (2014 [2015], Cuneiform): [dl]: A-
  • Robert Kennedy Trio: Big Shoes (2014 [2015], self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The Mountain Goats: Beat the Champ (2015, Merge): [r]: A-
  • Lalo Schifrin: Invocations: Jazz Meets the Symphony #7 (2010 [2011], Aleph): [cd]: B
  • Soulive: Rubber Soulive (2010, Royal Family): [cdr]: C+
  • Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell (2015, Asthmatic Kitty): [r]: B+(***)
  • Waxahatchee: Ivy Tripp (2015, Wichita): [r]: B+(**)
  • Cassandra Wilson: Coming Forth by Day (2015, Legacy): [r]: B+(**)

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

  • Highlife on the Move: Selected Nigerian & Ghanaian Recordings From London & Lagos 1954-66 (1954-66 [2015], Soundway, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Humphrey Lyttelton: Humphrey Lyttelton in Canada (1983 [2015], Sackville/Delmark): [cd]: B+(***)

Old records rated this week:

  • Big Satan: I Think They Liked It Honey (1996 [1997], Winter & Winter): [r]: B+(***)
  • Louis Jordan: Five Guys Named Moe (1943-46 [1993], Charly): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Larry Levan Live at the Paradise Garage (1975-79 [2000], Strut/West End, 2CD): [cd]: A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Perry Beekman: S'Wonderful: Perry Beekman Sings and Plays Gershwin (self-released): June 5
  • Pat Bianchi Trio: A Higher Standard (21-H): June 5
  • Michael Dees: The Dream I Dreamed (Jazzed Media): May 12
  • Harris Eisenstadt: Golden State (Songlines)
  • Hugo Fernandez: Cosmogram (Origin): April 21
  • Oleg Frish: Duets With My American Idols (Time Out Media): May 19
  • Hu Vibrational: The Epic Botanical Beat Suite (MOD Technologies): May 19
  • Barney McClure: Show Me! (OA2): April 15
  • Adam Shulman Sextet: Here/There (OA2): April 15
  • Daniel Weltlinger: Koblenz (Rectify)

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Weekend Roundup

The big, and for that matter good, news today is Chapa, the missing beaver, returns home to Riverside Park. That Hillary Clinton chose today to launch her 2016 presidential campaign just shows she doesn't have the sort of control over the news cycle she'd like. If you want to fret about Clinton, you can start with Bill Curry: Hillary Clinton just doesn't get it: She's already running a losing campaign. Still, for me, the most interesting line was:

On Friday, Clinton's campaign let slip its aim to raise $2.5 billion; maybe that's not the best way to say hello to a struggling middle class.

A couple months ago, the Koch's made news by threatening to raise just shy of $1 billion for their war on democracy in 2016. Suddenly, that doesn't look like such a daunting amount of money. And the fact is, Clinton is probably a good investment for her big-money donors -- at least compared to the sort of morons running for the Republican nomination. And while the middle class aren't likely to get much from Clinton, they're not where that $2.5 billion is coming from. Main thing they can hope for is less collateral damage in the partisan struggle between pro-growth money and the people who'd rather wreck the economy than see any of their spoils levelled down.

I've paid very little attention to the Republicans who aspire to be president. The "tea party" reaction did little more than double down on the dumbest, crudest platforms of the party, and now there is nothing left there. For example, one thing that has been popping up a lot is the idea of convening a constitutional convention to pass an amendment forbidding the federal government from running a deficit. They might as well poke their eyes out -- that's the level of self-mutilation such an amendment would produce. Clinton has nothing to offer, but at least she's not that stupid. Or take Iran: Clinton has frequently made her mark as a hawk, but she's not so delusional as to think we'd be better off rejecting negotiations with Iran that gave us every assurance we wanted.

I opposed Clinton in 2008 and I would do so again given any real chance of winning something tangible. But I don't see who else is going to raise the sort of money she can raise, and more and more it looks like that money will be needed to make it plain enough how necessary it is to beat the Republicans in 2016. I just hope to see some of that money trickle down the party ticket.

Some more scattered links this week:


  • Patrick Cockburn: A Young Prince May Cost Syria and Yemen Dear: Someone could write a very interesting book on the waxing and waning of Saudi outreach -- a broad term ranging from strategic investments to salafist proselytizing to armed intervention -- since the 1970s (with some pre-history back to WWI contacts with the British and FDR's WWII meeting with Kind Saud), how they viewed their mission, and how it did or didn't dovetail with US interests. It would be hard to get the nuances right. For instance, when Bill Casey would meet with King Fahd, neither was playing with a full deck, nor no matter how much they seemed to agree were their intents aligned. While it is clear that the US pressed the Saudis to pump a lot of money for arms into the Afghan muhajideen, was the salafist export part of the deal, or just part of the price? Lately, the Saudis seem to be taking charge: I doubt that Obama would be plotting his own intervention in Yemen, but he didn't hesitate in supporting the new Saudi king.

    Part of the explanation may lie with the domestic politics of Saudi Arabia. Madawi al-Rasheed, a Saudi visiting professor at LSE's Middle East Centre, says in the online magazine al-Monitor that Saudi King Salman's defence minister and head of the royal court, his son Mohammed bin Salman, aged about 30, wants to establish Saudi Arabia as absolutely dominant in the Arabian Peninsula. She adds caustically that he needs to earn a military title, "perhaps 'Destroyer of Shiite Rejectionists and their Persian Backers in Yemen,' to remain relevant among more experienced and aspiring siblings and disgruntled royal cousins." A successful military operation in Yemen would give him the credentials he needs.

    A popular war would help unite Saudi liberals and Islamists behind a national banner while dissidents could be pilloried as traitors. Victory in Yemen would compensate for the frustration of Saudi policy in Iraq and Syria where the Saudis have been outmanoeuvred by Iran. In addition, it would be a defiant gesture towards a US administration that they see as too accommodating towards Iran.

    Yemen is not the only country in which Saudi Arabia is taking a more vigorous role. Last week, President Bashar al-Assad of Syria suffered several defeats, the most important being the fall of the provincial capital Idlib, in northern Syria, to Jabhat al-Nusra which fought alongside two other hardline al-Qaeda-type movements, Ahrar al-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa. Al-Nusra's leader, Abu Mohammed al-Golani, immediately announced the instruction of Shia law in the city. Sent to Syria in 2011 by Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to create al-Nusra, he split from Baghdadi when he tried to reabsorb al-Nusra in 2013. Ideologically, the two groups differ little and the US has launched air strikes against al-Nusra, though Turkey still treats it as if it represented moderates.

    One thing I'm always struck by is how viscerally divergent our views are of the Islamic State we know (in Saudi Arabia) and the one we don't know (ISIS). The two have much in common, including a great fondness for beheadings and an intolerance of non-Muslims. One difference is that ISIS proclaims its leader to be Caliph, but the Saudi royal family is similarly blessed by the Wahabbi ulema, and the Saudi possession of the "holy cities" of Mecca and Medina confers great prestige. What sets the Saudis apart for US officials may be nothing more than the size of Saudi bank accounts. The old notion that advancing Saudi hegemony over the Muslim world in any way helps us looks ever more misguided.

  • Michelle Goldberg: Indiana Just Sentenced a Woman Convicted of Feticide to Twenty Years in Prison: More disturbing than Indiana's Religious Bigotry law:

    On Monday, 33-year-old Purvi Patel, an unmarried woman from a conservative Hindu family who bought abortion drugs online, was sentenced to twenty years in prison for the crimes of feticide and neglect of a dependent. It was not the first time that feticide laws, passed under the guise of protecting pregnant women from attack, have been turned against pregnant women themselves. Indiana, after all, was also the state that jailed Bei Bei Shuai, an immigrant who tried to commit suicide by poisoning herself while pregnant, and whose baby later died. But the Patel case is still a disturbing landmark. "Yes, the feticide laws in other states have been used to arrest and sometimes punish the pregnant women herself," says Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, which advised Patel's defense. "This is the first time it's being used to punish what they say is an attempted self-abortion."

    The feticide law has an exception for "legal abortion" so I have to wonder about the quality of legal representation afforded these immigrant women. The great fear we always had about feticide laws was that prosecutors would abuse their authority. In some ways the suicide attempt bothers me more: if the woman was depressed enough to try to kill herself before, I don't see how locking her up in jail will improve her spirits.

  • Nicola Perugini/Neve Gordon: How Amnesty International Criminzliaes Palestinians for Their Inferior Weapons:

    Unlawful and Deadly, Amnesty International's recent report on 'rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian armed groups during the 2014 Gaza/Israel conflict,' accuses Hamas and others of carrying out 'indiscriminate attacks' on Israel: 'When indiscriminate attacks kill or injure civilians, they constitute war crimes.' [ . . . ]

    There is an implied contrast with Israel's superior technological capabilities, which the IDF claims allow it to carry out airstrikes with 'surgical precision.' But the figures tell a different story. At least 2100 Palestinians were killed during Israel's military campaign in Gaza last summer; around 1500 are believed to have been civilians (according to Amnesty some of them were killed by stray Palestinian rocket fire). On the Israeli side, 72 people were killed, 66 combatants and six civilians. These numbers point to a clear discrepancy. It is not only that Israel killed 300 times as many Palestinian civilians, but that the proportion of civilian deaths among Palestinians was much greater: 70 per cent of those killed by Israel were civilians, compared to 8 per cent of those killed by Palestinians. These figures clearly indicate that there is no correlation between precision bombing and distinguishing combatants from civilians. Hi-tech weapons systems can kill indiscriminately too.

    I don't have a problem declaring that Palestinian rockets shot into Israel constitute some kind of crime -- I am, after all, of the belief that all war under all circumstances is criminal -- so long as doing so doesn't distract from the proportionate responsibility for the violence, and the original responsibility for setting the conditions and context within which such violence occurs. The above statistics give you some idea of proportion -- which is to say that nearly all of the violence was launched by Israel against Gaza and its population. I might even quibble that the stats understate how disproportionate Israeli firepower was. As for responsibility for the context of war, that is totally due to Israel's occupation. One might even argue that Palestinian violence aimed at freeing Gaza from Israel's grip is justified, whereas Israeli violence to curb the revolt and prolong the occupation is not. I wouldn't go that far because I don't believe that the ends excuse the means, but those of you who view fighting for freedom as a noble cause should find it harder to condemn those who fight for Palestine.

    One can make other arguments, too. It occurs to me that the inaccuracy and extreme inefficiency of Palestinian rockets makes whoever fires them less culpable: who's to say that they're not mere "warning shots"? On the other hand, launching "precision munitions" clearly shows the intent to kill. Still, the real problem with the Amnesty International report, as with the Goldstone report on previous Israeli atrocities in Gaza, is that by criminalizing Palestinian rockets they suggest a false equivalence between both sides. There is in fact nothing equal about Israel and Gaza.

    By the way, Perugini and Gordon have a forthcoming book on how "human rights" arguments can be used to extend and expand Israeli occupation: The Human Right to Dominate.


Also, a few links for further study:

  • Grégoire Chamayou: Manhunters, Inc.: An excerpt from Chamayou's book, A Theory of the Drone, offering a fairly lengthy history of drone development and applications. E.g.:

    In 2001, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had become convinced that "the techniques used by the Israelis against the Palestinians could quite simply be deployed on a larger scale." What he had in mind was Israel's programs of "targeted assassinations," the existence of which had recently been recognized by the Israeli leadership. As Eyal Weizman explains, the occupied territories had become "the world's largest laboratory for airborne thanatotactics," so it was not surprising that they would eventually be exported. [ . . . ]

    Within the United States, not all the high-ranking officers who were informed of these plans greeted them with enthusiasm. At the time, journalist Seymour Hersh noted that many feared that the proposed type of operation -- what one advisor to the Pentagon called "preemptive manhunting" -- had the potential to turn into another Phoenix Program, the sinister secret program of murder and torture that had once been unleashed in Vietnam.

    Chamayou goes on to talk about "hunting warfare" ("a competition between the hiders and the seekers"), "network-centric warfare," "nexus topography," "effects-based operations" ("targeting a single key node in a battlefield system has second, third, n-order effects"), and "prophylactic elimination." The jargon suggests that the campaign is endless, that there is no way to determine when the enemies list has been exhausted, let alone when it might become counterproductive.

  • Steve Fraser: Plutocracy the First Time Around: An excerpt from Fraser's new book, The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power.

  • Rivka Galchen: Weather Underground: About injection wells and the sudden surge in earthquakes in Oklahoma, not that you can get a straight answer from the state government. I always thought that the reason there are pumping oil wells on the state capitol grounds had less to do with making money than with reminding the legislators who they work for.

  • Seymour M Hersh: The Scene of the Crime: Hersh returns to Vietnam to see how the massacre at My Lai, which he first reported back in 1969, is remembered.

  • Mike Konczal: Liberal Punishment: Book review of Naomi Murakawa's The First Civil Right: How Liberals Built Prison America (2014, Oxford University Press). Focuses on anti-crime initiatives by liberals connected to racial violence in the 1940s, 1960s, and prison revolts in the 1970s. No doubt that's part of the story, but conservatives have contributed too, only partly because they pushed liberals into a corner where they wound up competing to see who is the more draconian.

  • Jill Lepore: Richer and Poorer: A survey of recent literature on increasing inequality, including: Robert Putnam, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis (Simon & Schuster); Steve Fraser, The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power (Little Brown); and Anthony Atkinson, Inequality: What Can Be Done? (Harvard). Fraser's book is the one I rushed out to buy. One of my own theories that I'll test against Fraser is that the Cold War's celebration of capitalism was meant as much to cower the working class into submission and impotence. Another is that the evident acquiescence is concentrated in the media.

  • David Palumbo-Liu: Business of backlash: GOP cashes in on Koch/Adelson anti-BDS donations: Based on a report, "The Business of Backlash: The Attack on the Palestinian Movement and other Movements for Social Justice," by a group I'm not familiar with, the "International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network," this starts to identify a who's who of the secret funders who always seem to come down whenever some academic says something politically incorrect about Israel. I'm a bit surprised to see the non-Jewish Koch brothers listed alongside Sheldon Adelson and the usual suspects. Makes me wonder about extending BDS.

  • Richard Silverstein: South African Intelligence Cables Expose Mossad Africa Operations: Long and fascinating survey of Israeli spying in Africa, both in cooperation with Apartheid-era South Africa and beyond. A couple points that particularly struck me: one was about Mossad's use of El Al Airlines as a cover; another was the estimate that Mossad has 4,000 "sayanim" (voluntary spy assets) "in the UK alone" -- make me wonder whether certain people here in Wichita have Mossad handlers.

  • Matt Taibbi: The Year's Most Disgusting Book: "From Jailer to Jailed: My Journey From Correction and Police Commissioner to Inmate and Police Commissioner, contractor hired to help train the Baghdad police, Bush nominee for Secretary of Homeland Security before all the dirty laundry came out and he wound up in jail, where he finally discovered that US prisons are run poorly, counterproductively even. Taibbi remains a stickler for hypocrisy, preferring the prison memoir of an unrepentant asshole like G. Gordon Liddy. Meanwhile, I can think of a few other candidates for "most disgusting book of the year" -- Mike Huckabee's God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy leaps to mind, but I'm sure there would be others if I took a bit of time to research the subject.

  • Tzvia Thier: My personal journey of transformation: An Israeli reexamines what she's been taught:

    It has been hard work to examine my own mind. Many questions that leave me wondering how could I have not thought about them. My solid identity has been shaken and then broken . . . I have been an eyewitness to the systematic oppression, humiliation, racism, cruelty and hatred by "my" people towards the "others" and what you see, you can no longer unsee . . .

Monday, April 06, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 24797 [24768] rated (+29), 404 [399] unrated (+5).

Close enough to thirty, which is, after all, only an arbitrarily roundish number, I doubt I have any need to apologize. Or even note that the 29th record (Bradley Williams') was a double which got more plays than needed because it made for good ambiance while focusing on last night's Iran opus. Two new A- records, although if so inclined you might enjoy Leo Welch or Rae Sremmurd as much. Welch's 2014 debut, Sabgoula Voices, made a deeper impression, possibly because it came first. Christgau likes Sremm Life, but I didn't find the "party rap" as fun as advertised -- then again I didn't give it the second and third plays rap records often need. The other high B+ items are more certainly where they belong.

Two old-music A- records, too. I played the second Carter-Bradford first and had it at A-, then dialed it back when Flight for Four came in much clearer. The records show up now because I gather they've been reissued on one of Ace's labels (BGP?), but the digital copies correspond to the original Flying Dutchman LPs, so I credit them as such. If Ace -- one of the world's premier reissue companies -- wants to start sending me shit, I'll show them more respect. Rhapsody listed the Eddie Higgins album under Scott Hamilton. I always jump on unheard Hamilton, and he really shines on these standards.

Van Morrison's useless Duets got me to check up on Chris Farlowe, but I only found the one early compilation and doubt that it's as good as could be -- holes include his only UK hit single. He does have the only voice on the album that adds something to Morrison's, but evidently he didn't always have it.


I've finally made some significant progress at sorting out the many piles and baskets of CDs that made walking in my office area treacherous. I had the idea that I could put all of the Jazz CG A-/B+(***) CDs into seven of those cheap $20 CD cases -- six on a desk blocking the window behind me, one to my left for the most recent ones -- but I keep finding more such records. Plan B is to empty out two more cases that currently house especially interesting B+(**) records and fill them up with surplus B+(***). Anything graded lower goes into storage downstairs, unless it's by someone I keep in the upstairs shelves. Unless I slow down, I should make it through the rest in another week. After that, I'll be able to move around enough to install a new router and a long-planned network upgrade. The next huge mess will be sorting out the tools.

It's possible that I have enough storage now for all of the books and CDs, but I'm feeling increasing pressure to finally start weeding out the least useful items. I've never sold CDs -- I did sell off most of my vinyl when I moved from New Jersey in 1999 (a bad experience) -- so I'm inclined to start donating them (Wichita State University is interested). (I know I've threatened/promised to do this before, but this time seems likely to actually happen.) I figure I'll work on this gradually, in batches of 100 or so, and see how it feels. In deference to the efficiencies of the market, I'd consider running a private sale list if anyone wants to pick up something I'd otherwise give away. Let me know, and if there's enough interest I'll put something together.

One of the first things that should go is the hoard of music mags I've been saving up over the last fifteen years (I doubt if there's anything older than the 1999 move). One reason I kept these was that I was thinking of going back through them and extracting quotes for my long-planned music review website. It's pretty clear now that I'm never going to do that. (There may still be a site with a lot of my writing but not with that research investment.) There should be complete decade-or-longer sets of Jazz Times, Downbeat, and Cadence (except for the last year or two). Also large stacks of Wire and Blender, Signal to Noise and Mojo, and scattered other titles. I've organized everything from upstairs but that still leaves a row about eight feet long in the basement plus a large bin full of Cadence. Any (or all) of that is free to the first person who wants to haul it off. WSU isn't interested, although I may get them to post a notice for their students. (I may change my mind and keep Wire, although I stopped buying new ones several years ago.) Rolling Stone is already gone. Recycle bin is currently full of paper, but won't be picked up for another week.

I thought about driving to EMP this year, but couldn't get myself organized in time. Everyone tells me it's interesting, plus I have an ulterior motive, in that I want to track down some long estranged relatives in Washington. So I still want to make the trip sooner or later this year. Just not this week.

Did manage to knock out tweets on the new records this week. I also passed on a link to Old Time Musketry's Gather, which is on Bandcamp here. I imagine I'll do a Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week. Draft file is currently close to 90 records.


New records rated this week:

  • Joey Bada$$: B4.DA.$$ (2015, Cinematic Music Group): I loathe the crass typographic quirks, but a blindfold test suggests he's not thoughtless nor dull [r]: B+(***)
  • Andrew Bishop: De Profundis (2015, Envoi): title from Josquin Des Prez (1440-1521), whose work is "reimagined" for free jazz sax trio [cd]: B+(***)
  • Will Butler: Policy (2015, Merge): Arcade Fire bassist's solo album, notably upbeat rockers tossed off with an ease few alt/indies match [r]: B+(**)
  • Chastity Belt: Time to Go Home (2015, Hardly Art): punk girl band from Walla Walla, conscious and pressurized but short on release [r]: B+(*)
  • Lila Downs: Balas y Chocolate (2015, RCA): Mexican pop singer with roots up north, upbeat norteno vibe stirring but ballads corny [r]: B+(*)
  • Drake: If You're Reading This It's Too Late (2015, Cash Money/Motown): "so intelligent, so articulate, so (relatively) decent" -- yet has nothing to say [r]: B
  • Eliane Elias: Made in Brazil (2015, Concord): thinking, hoping, a trip home might warm those old bones, but "Sings Jobim" had its own heat [r]: B+(*)
  • Charles Evans: On Beauty (2014 [2015], More Is More): baritone saxophonist, with Dave Liebman on soprano mocking the title, piano and bass but no drums [cd]: B
  • Tobias Jesso, Jr.: Goon (2015, True Panther Sounds): piano-playing crooner-songwriter, splits difference between John Lennon and Billy Joel -- do we care? [r]: B+(**)
  • Oded Lev-Ari: Threading (2014 [2015], Anzic): pianist, loves lush strings, Anat Cohen's luscious clarinet; makes way for a couple singers [cd]: B+(**)
  • Laura Marling: Short Movie (2015, Ribbon Music): the best of those folkie-ish Brits; I should at last stop confusing her with Sharon Van Etten [r]: A-
  • Earl MacDonald: Re: Visions (2008 [2010], Death Defying): pianist-composer-arranger with a sharp big band rehearsing his "Works for Jazz Orchestra" [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jason Miles/Ingrid Jensen: Kind of New (2014 [2015], Whaling City Sound): the compositions are new, but the sound is recycled from a higher Miles [cd]: B
  • Van Morrison: Duets: Re-Working the Catalogue (2015, RCA): odd mix of relatively obscure songs and duetists, none up to the master [r]: B+(*)
  • Old Time Musketry: Drifter (2013 [2015], NCM East): accordion roots this in popular melodies, sax roughs up the textures and edges [cd]: A-
  • Panda Bear: Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper (2015, Domino): "Sgt. Pepper" without songs, Zappa sans jokes, everything toned down but the reverb [r]: B
  • Rae Sremmurd: Sremm Life (2015, Eardrum/Interscope): Atlanta rap duo, not teens but they play at it, promising fun but delivering somewhat less [r]: B+(***)
  • Earl Sweatshirt: I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside (2015, Columbia/Tan Cressida): Odd Future rapper, short album, beats dense and dull, murk its own reward [r]: B+(*)
  • Javier Vercher: Wish You Were Here (2014 [2015], Musikoz): tenor saxophonist, loud and clear over a first-rate guitar-piano-bass-drums rhythm section [cd]: B+(***)
  • Leo Welch: I Don't Prefer No Blues (2015, Big Legal Mess): primal bluesman lived 80 years before his debug "Sabgoula Voices"; one more for sequel [r]: B+(***)
  • Bradley Williams: Investigation (2014 [2015], 21st Century Entertainment, 2CD): big band pianist, one disc of originals recall swing, one with vocals updates cabaret [cd]: B+(***)

Old records rated this week:

  • John Carter & Bobby Bradford Quartet: Flight for Four (1969, Flying Dutchman): [r]: A-
  • John Carter/Bobby Bradford: Self Determination Music (1970, Flying Dutchman): [r]: B+(***)
  • Chris Farlowe: The R&B Years [Charly R&B Masters Vol. 5] (1962-67 [1994], Charly): [r]: B+(*)
  • Eddie Higgins Quartet: My Funny Valentine (2004 [2006], Venus): [r]: A-
  • Randy Weston/The Gnawa Master Musicians of Morocco: Spirit: The Power of Music (1999 [2003], Sunnyside): [r]: B+(***)


Grade changes:

  • Duke Ellington: The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse (1971 [1991], Fantasy/OJC): [cd]: [was: B] A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Albare: Only Human (Alfi): May 15
  • Beauty School: Residual Ugly (Humbler): cassette
  • Steve Coleman and the /Council of Balance: Synovial Joints (Pi): April 28
  • Ernest Dawkins Live the Spirit Residency Big Band: Memory in the Center: Homage to Nelson Mandela (Dawk)
  • Ghost Train Orchestra: Hot Town (Accurate): May 12
  • Marty Grosz Meets the Fat Babies: Diga Diga Doo (Delmark)
  • Oded Lev-Ari: Threading (Anzic): April 28
  • Humphrey Lyttelton: Humphrey Lyttelton in Canada (1983, Sackville/Delmark)
  • Brad Myers: Prime Numbers (Colloquy): June 5
  • Luis Perdomo & Controlling Ear Unit: Twenty-Two (Hot Tone Music); May 19
  • Plunge: In for the Out (Immersion): April 20
  • Gloria Reuben: Perchance to Dream (MCG Jazz): April 14
  • Sult: Svimmelhed (Humbler/Conrad Sound)
  • John Tropea: Gotcha Rhythm Right Here (STP): May 15

Purchases:

  • D'Angelo and the Vanguard: Black Messiah (RCA)
  • Heems: Eat Pray Thug (Megaforce)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: The Knox Phillips Sessions: The Unreleased Recordings (1970s, Time-Life)

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Weekend Update (Iran Edition)

I've been groping for some handle on understanding last week's deal between the US and Iran. The deal is very good news. What it means is that certain crazy people will not pre-emptively launch a disastrous war to impose their will secured in their conviction that they represent a higher power. (Not that those people -- "neocons" in the US along with their allies in the ruling camp in Israel -- are taking this agreement lying down. They're doing everything they can to undo it, as it both admits exception to their cherished prerogative to start wars, it also normalizes one of their most successful fear-inducing bogeymen.) It also suggests that key leaders in the US may have learned something from the Bush debacle in Iraq -- even though the return of US troops to Iraq to fight ISIS shows that they haven't learned enough.

The Iran Nuclear Scare is almost precisely a repeat of the Great WMD Scare that led up to the Bush invasion of Iraq in 2003. The theat was invented largely from whole cloth, and sold on the basis of a paranoia largely rooted in Israel (where every conceivable enemy is quickly seen as Hitler reincarnate). The only possible solution was held to be regime change, and while one held hope that the Iraqi/Iranian people would rise up and throw off their oppressive regimes, the only timely way to affect that is to invade and conquer. (Fortunately, secure in the conviction that we will be greeted as liberators.)

Of course, Bush could have negotiated with Iraq in 2002-03. Iraq had allowed UN weapons inspectors full access and they were well on the way toward establishing that Iraq had none of the proscribed WMD, a finding which should have defused the crisis. But Bush wanted war, not just to save us from the threat of imaginary WMD but to show the world what US power could do, and that resistance to US power would be futile. And Bush hadn't just aimed at overthrowing Iraq: he conured up an "Axis of Evil" to serve notice to Iran (Iraq's mortal enemy) and North Korea (even more isolated from Iraq and Iran than from the US) that they would be the neocons' next target.

While the US invasion of Iraq was overwhelming, the occupation soon fell into disarray and disaster, something the US survived by playing Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds off against each other. In the end, what Iraq proved was not the invincibility of American power but how inept, corrupt, and clueless it really was. (Of course, that lesson was already available from the occupation of Afghanistan a little more than a year earlier, but disaster there unfolded more slowly, probably because Bush didn't put as much effort there.)

At the time it was widely recognized that Iran and North Korea would be more formidable military opponents than Iraq -- one widely quoted neocon line was, "anyone can go to Baghdad; real men want to go to Tehran." Iran is much larger, with over three times as many people. Although its military struggled to a draw with Iraq over eight years in the 1980s, it hadn't been degraded after 1990 like Iraq's: it still has an air force, a navy, a substantial number of missiles which could conceivably hit US bases in the region (although not the US directly). Iran could conceivably block shipping through the Straits of Hormuz, which would greatly reduce the world supply of oil. Iran had also cultivated allies abroad -- notably Hezbollah in Lebanon -- that could conceivably retaliate against a US strike on Iran. Given all that had gone wrong in Iraq and Afghanistan, and all that could go wrong with Iran, we are fortunate that cooler heads prevailed.

As for North Korea, the US military had even less interest in indulging neocon fantasies -- despite the fact that North Korea (alone among the Axis of Evil) actually had programs to develop nuclear bombs and intercontinental missiles (successfully testing a bomb in 2006 and twice since). Even assuming that China wouldn't come to North Korea's aid, as they did in the stalemated 1950-53 war that cost the lives of over 35,000 US soldiers, North Korea is the most thoroughly militarized and best bunkered nation on earth. Moreover, their primary threat should war start is a mass of thousands of pieces of large artillery aimed at South Korea's capital, Seoul (pop. 10 million): they could kill thousands almost instantly without bringing out the nukes.

It's worth noting that during the 1989-92 thaw when the Soviet Union broke up and Communist governments collapsed from Mongolia to Albania, the only ones that survived were the ones that had fought most directly with the US, and (aside from China) had consequently been singled out for punitive sanctions: North Korea, Vietnam, and Cuba. Similarly, US sanctions against Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Libya only served to harden those regimes. Presumably, all this experience finally weighed in for Obama as he chose to negotiate rather than continue the malign neglect that US presidents had long considered the more prudent course. Cuba is another example, but Iran has been more difficult for Obama not so much because there was ever anything to worry about in Iran's "nuclear program" as because Iran has been caught up in the neocons' ideology, the increasing Islamophobia of the "terror wars," and Israel's own calculated Holocaust anxiety.

The basic fact is that America's relationship with Iran got off on the wrong foot in 1953 and we've never had the self-consciousness to recognize that or the will to repair the damage. Iran was never officially a European colony but in the 1800s England and Russia took advantage of the weakness of the Qajar dynasty and obtained various rights and privileges at the expense of Iranian sovereignty -- for instance, an English company (BP, formerly Anglo-Iranian) was bought very cheaply exclusive rights to all the oil in Iran. After the Russian Revolution, Lenin renounced Russian interests in Iran, but the British hung on, and in the 1940s deposed the first Shah Reza Pahlavi (the first post-Qajar Shah), replacing him with his more compliant son, Reza Mohammed Pahlavi, but shifting authority (if now power) toward the Majlis -- Iran's parliament. By 1953, Mohammad Mossadeq was Prime Minister, and he had nearly unanimous support within the Majlis to confiscate British oil holdings in Iran. Mossadeq was very popular both in Iran and in America, which he had recently visited. But when Eisenhower became president, his security team (the Dulles brothers, one secretary of state, the other head of the CIA) were persuaded by the British that Iran had become a hotbed of Communist insurrection, so they set in motion a coup to overthrow Mossadeq. The result was that Mossadeq was imprisoned, the Majlis was suspended, the Shah became an absolute despot, and Anglo-Iranian's oil interests were sold to a consortium of mostly US oil companies. (For more details, see Stephen Kinzer's book, All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror [2003].)

The coup was run by a CIA operative named Kermit Roosevelt, a son of president Theodore Roosevelt. Two aspects of the story struck me as particularly telling. The atmosphere for the coup was started by staging various demonstrations in Tehran, and for the counter-demonstrations Roosevelt mostly bribed local imams -- one of the first instances of CIA alliances with Muslim clergy. The second was that when Mossadeq realized he was in trouble, he went to the US embassy hoping his American friends would help him, when in fact they were running the coup. (Under Truman the US had not infrequently leaned against British efforts to restore their prewar empire.)

Of course, the US was delighted by the post-coup Shah, and didn't even mind when he finally did what Mossadeq had set out to and nationalized Iranian oil. (He did, after all, sell the oil through American companies, and had no qualms about selling oil to Israel.) The Shah bought weapons from the US and built a vicious police state which suppressed all opposition -- the communists, socialists, liberals, and just as well conservative clergy like Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who went into exile in 1964 after denouncing a "status of forces agreement" which would give US soldiers stationed in Iran immunity from Iranian law.

The Shah became an increasingly hated figure in Iran and was deposed by massive street demonstrations in 1979. At the time the Shah fled, the revolution was a broad coalition of left and right, but after Khomeini returned he was able to consolidate power in the clergy, largely based on his longstanding critique of the Shah as an American puppet. At this point many Americans were delighted to see the Shah deposed, but the relationship between Americans and the revolution turned sour after Jimmy Carter allowed the Shah to take refuge in the US. Remembering Mossadeq's folly at the US embassy in 1953, a group of Iranian "students" seized the embassy and held 52 Americans hostage there for over a year. (They were released immediately after Ronald Reagan became president. It is widely believed that the Reagan campaign, fearing an "October surprise," secretly negotiated with Iran to keep the hostages until after the 1980 election.)

The US was alternately upset at losing its client and influence and at its own impotence at securing the return of its diplomats. Khomeini, for his part, found it useful to blame the US both for the Shah and for Iran's post-revolution isolation. Khomeini caused further problems in attempting to exploit his notoriety for standing up to the US (the "great satan" rhetoric comes from this period) to export Iran's revolution elsewhere in the Middle East -- notably to Saudi Arabia, and more effectively to Lebanon, torn up by its own civil war. The US, meanwhile, rallied its Sunni clients around the Persian Gulf against Iran, and they largely bankrolled Iraq's war against Iran. That war lasted from 1980-88, with horrendous losses on both sides, but especially to Iran.

Carter had previously declared the Persian Gulf as a strategic interest of the US and started building bases around the Gulf. US troops occasionally clashed with Iran: shooting down a civilian airliner, attacking an offshore Iranian oil rig. Under Reagan, the US sold arms to Iran via Israel (embarrassingly, and illegally, what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal), then tilted toward Iraq and sold arms to Saddam Hussein. After the Iran-Iraq War, oil prices tanked and Iraq was pressed to repay war debt to Kuwait. Hussein answered by invading Kuwait, but was ejected in 1990 by a multinational force led by the US, with Syria an ally and Iran a supportive non-combatant. Since then the US and Iran have often had their interests in the region align, but the US was unable to let go of past affronts -- let alone to own up to its own past transgressions.

From Independence Day (1948), Israel pursued a strategy to ally with non-Arabs against Arabs throughout the Middle East. This led to close relationships with Turkey and Iran as well as subversive support for Marionites in Lebanon and Kurds in Iraq. After the revolution, Israel continued to enjoy a close relationship with Iran, which even extended to bombing Iraq's nuclear center during the Iraq-Iran War, and acting as a conduit for American arms under Iran-Contra. After the 1990 Gulf War, Iraq ceased to be a serious threat to Israel, so Israel cast about and decided that Iran would work as an existential threat to justify maintaining the high level of Israeli militarism. The main reason Iran worked was that American officials were already primed to view Iran as a renegade and enemy. As it happens, Iran had started a fledgling nuclear program with US support under the Shah, so Israel could point to the reactor project as a development path toward nuclear weapons. From there it was a short step to the equation: Islamic fanaticism + nuclear weapons = Judeocide.

Israeli leaders started projecting that Iran was five years or less away from testing a nuclear bomb as early as 1996. That it has never happened -- that Iran has disavowed any intention of developing nuclear bombs, that Iran continues to belong to the NPT, that IAEA inspectors have never shown any evidence of bomb development, that supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has issued a fatwa declaring that nuclear bombs are contrary to Islam -- has never led Israel to tone down its hysteria, nor has it phased the credulity of American politicians, often shameless in their devotion to all things Israeli.

Moreover, if anything the level of Israeli hysteria jumped a notch when Netanyahu became Prime Minister in 2009. At that time Obama gave former Senator George Mitchell the task of negotiating a peace between Israel and the Palestinians -- something Netanyahu could not possibly be bothered with discussing as long as Israel was at the mercy of Iranian bombsights (although Netanyahu had plenty of time to plan more illegal settlements in Jerusalem and the West Bank). And now that there is a deal which ensures that Israel will never be threatened by the prospect of an Iranian bomb, Netanyahu is pulling out stops in his haste to scuttle the deal. It seems that the only thing Netanyahu fears more than Iran developing nuclear weapons is Iran signing a detailed, verifiable deal that precludes any possibility of developing nuclear weapons and which ends the isolation and hostility that has pushed Iran into such a defensive posture that there seemed to be a need for nuclear deterrence.

It's as if Israel's worst fear is living in a world where it has no existential enemies, except perhaps living in a world where Jews and non-Jewish Arabs enjoy equal rights and justice. The great irony of the deal is that Obama seems to have taken Israel's concerns so literally that he held out and wore Iran down until the point where he could deliver the most ironclad assurance to Israel possible. Indeed, the deal is so strong it's hard not to see any opponent of the deal as a completely bonkers warmonger -- an interesting trap for Netanyahu and for the Republicans who instinctively assume that anything Obama would agree to must be weak-kneed appeasement.

The more interesting question is why would Iran agree to such restrictions on rights they regard as their under the NPT, rights that many other nations are clearly allowed. (Germany and Japan, for instance, have such extensive nuclear facilities and know how that their "breakout" time is unlikely to be more than a few months.) One is that Iran's leader must realize that while having the skills and know how to build a bomb may offer some prestige, the weapons themselves are effectively unusable, so giving them up is hardly a sacrifice. One might argue that nuclear weapons mean deterrence against foreign attack, but Iran's most threatening enemies are Israel and the US, and Iran has no hope of winning an arms race with either. (Pakistan and India came close to a fourth war in 2002. The fact that both had demonstrated nuclear weapons by then may have contributed to the cool down, but so did other factors like the chilling effect war would have had on foreign investment. South Africa developed nuclear weapons but they turned out to be useless against their own beleaguered majority, let alone against world opinion. Israel's nuclear weapons may have ended any hopes by neighboring Arab countries of ending Israel's existence, but by the time they became public knowledge Egypt was suing for peace and Syria had no hopes without Egyptian support.)

It's also possible that Iran's interest in nuclear power has waned, particularly has oil prices have dropped and the popularity of nuclear power in Japan and Germany has plummeted -- right now only India seems to be particularly bullish on nuclear power. That leaves things like medical isotopes as something Iran can continue to work on -- a mere fig leaf for all the investment, but ending sanctions and normalizing relations and trade is worth much more, especially in the short term. Indeed, given the intransigence the US has displayed in perpetuating its view of its enemies, one has to wonder what else Iran could have created to trade for normalcy. The costs to Iran of sanctions have been great, but the costs to the US from isolating Iran -- mostly slightly higher oil costs and extra defense spending, both of which have influential political beneficiaries in the US -- have been trivial.


Some Iran links:

  • Trita Parsi: Confirmed: The Hawks Were Wrong on Iran:

    Peace won. War lost. It's as simple as that. Make no mistake, the framework agreement that was announced yesterday is nothing short of historic. A cycle of escalation has been broken -- for the first time, Iran's nuclear program will roll back, as will the sanctions Iran has been subjected too.

    In 2003, as I describe in Treacherous Alliance - the Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran and the US, Iran only had 164 centrifuges. It offered to negotiate with the United States, but the George Bush administration refused. "We don't talk to evil," Vice President Dick Cheney quipped in response to the negotiation offer. Instead, the Bush administration resorted to threats of war and sanctions.

    Iran, in turn, expanded its program. By 2005, it had 3,000 centrifuges. Again, it sought negotiations and offered to stop expanding its nuclear program. Again, the United States refused.

    By the time President Barack Obama came to power, the Iranians were operating around 8,000 centrifuges. After his initial, limited attempt at diplomacy failed, Obama embarked on what was called the pressure track -- sanctions. As the United States ramped up unprecedented sanctions, Iran accelerated its nuclear activities. By end of 2013, Iran had 22,000 centrifuges. It had a large stockpile of both low and medium enriched uranium. It had mastered the fuel cycle. It was closer to a breakout capability than ever before.

    Pressure yielded pressure. Sanctions begot centrifuges. The escalation had left the United States increasingly faced with the worst option -- war.

    Until diplomacy begun in earnest -- much thanks to the commitment of President Obama and the election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

    It's only now -- thanks to their persistent and tireless diplomacy -- that the growth of the Iranian nuclear program has not only been stopped, it has been reversed. This is the first time that the number of centrifuges Iran operates will have been reduced. No other policy has achieved this. The critics can't touch this.

    They have not only been wrong in how to handle the Iranian nuclear program -- they have been wrong on almost anything about Iran.

    Also see Parsi's pre-deal (Mar. 26) Why Iran's Supreme Leader Wants a Nuclear Deal. One popular meme in the American press, at least among supporters of the deal, is that hawks on both sides want to derail the deal. But for now at least, it's hard to identify those hawks in Iran.

  • Fred Kaplan: The Deal of a Lifetime: "Anyone who denounces this framework is not a serious person or is pursuing a parochial agenda." E.g.:

    Netanyahu's unlikely allies in opposing the deal -- the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and other Sunni Muslim oligarchies -- simply don't want a deal at all. They fear above all an ascendant Shiite Iran, especially an Iran enriched by the flow of money that comes with the end of sanctions and the resumption of global investment and trade. They would, in fact, prefer an Iran that aspires to build nuclear weapons -- an Iran that blatantly looks like a threat -- to an Iran that might be stalled in the nuclear realm (and thus might seem more peaceful) but in fact still pursues its expansionist aims.

  • Peter Beinart: The Real Achievement of the Iran Nuclear Deal: "Details of the accord matter less than the potential end of Washington's cold war with Tehran."

    American hawks, addled by the mythology they have created around Ronald Reagan, seem to think that the more hostile America's relationship with Iran's regime becomes, the better the United States can promote Iranian democracy. But the truth is closer to the reverse. The best thing Reagan ever did for the people of Eastern Europe and the U.S.S.R. was to embrace Mikhail Gorbachev. In 1987, American hawks bitterly attacked Reagan for signing the INF agreement, the most sweeping arms-reduction treaty of the Cold War. But the tougher it became for Soviet hardliners to portray the United States as menacing, the tougher it became for them to justify their repression at home. And the easier it became for Gorbachev to pursue the policies of glasnost and perestroika that ultimately led to the liberation of Eastern Europe and the disintegration of the U.S.S.R.

    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, like Gorbachev, wants to end his country's cold war with the United States because it is destroying his country's economy. And like Gorbachev, he is battling elites who depend on that cold war for their political power and economic privilege. As Columbia University Iran expert Gary Sick recently noted, Iran's hardline Revolutionary Guards "thrive on hostile relations with the U.S., and benefit hugely from sanctions, which allow them to control smuggling." But "if the sanctions are lifted, foreign companies come back in, [and] the natural entrepreneurialism of Iranians is unleashed." Thus "if you want regime change in Iran, meaning changing the way the regime operates, this kind of agreement is the best way to achieve that goal."

  • Ariane Tabatabai: Don't Fear the Hard-Liners:

    The scenes in Tehran in the hours following the announcement of the nuclear deal were a testament to how important Iranians felt it was to their lives. In different cities, people took to the streets on Thursday, honking horns, waving flags, cheering. It had been a long time coming. In the months leading up to the deadline, whenever I visited or called friends and family in Iran, the first questions I heard were typically, "What's going on in the talks? Will we get a deal?" A day after the agreement was made public in Lausanne, when Friday prayers were held across Iran, prayer leaders welcomed a "success" for the Islamic Republic, and upon his arrival at the airport, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif's return to the country was celebrated as if he'd led Iran to the next World Cup. [ . . . ]

    The hard-liners will continue to stage their protests. A headline in Saturday's Kayhan, for instance, reads, "The nuclear [program] is gone, the sanctions remain." But popular support, the ayatollah and the IRGC's cautious endorsements, and Zarif's efforts to set the terms of this round of debate early on mean that hard-line criticism from Tehran will likely be contained to a few scathing editorials, harsh statements, and attempts to undermine the negotiating team -- but no major efforts at sabotage. If only Congress were so predictable.

  • Jeffrey Goldberg: On Iran, the Least-Worst Option: Per title, supports the deal, but as one of the most inflamatory war shills rejects the idea that "a bullying, terror-supporting, Assad-backing would-be regional hegemon whose ideology is built on anti-Americanism becomes more reasonable once it becomes richer and more empowered." Goes further and calls on Obama to "confront Iran in Syria and Yemen and Lebanon in a sustained and creative way." (But not Iraq?).

  • David Atkins: Netanyahu Continues to Erode the Alliance Between US and Israel: Starts with a quote on some recent polling:

    The number of Americans who view Israel as an ally of the United States has sharply decreased, according to a new poll published Thursday. Only 54% of Americans polled said that Israel is their country's ally, a decline from 68% in 2014 and 74% in 2012.

    This is mostly the result of Netanyahu's partisan alignment with the Republicans, which may provide a limit to how low the polling can sink, but the sheer implausability of Netanyahu's rejection of an agreement that gives Israel exactly what they've said they've wanted from Iran for two decades now in favor of doing nothing but threatening a war that can only make matters worse has yet to fully sink in.

If I had the time, I could probably dig up many more links -- e.g., Philip Weiss: The epic season of spinning the Iran deal begins!, Gareth Porter: Iran Won Upfront Sanctions Relief, but With Potential Snags, Rachel Shabi: Poof! There goes Netanyahu's Iran bogeyman (ever hear of the "Iran-Lausanne-Yemen axis"?), Paul Waldman: The Insane Logic Underlying Republican Opposition to the Iran Deal, Josh Marshall: The Emerging GOP War Platform.


Earlier draft:

US President Barack Obama and Iran President Hassan Rouhani, as well as the leaders of the other participating nations, should complimented for coming to a significant diplomatic agreement over limiting Iran's "nuclear program" and ending US and international sanctions and threats of war that have for many years pushed Iran into a defensive corner. No commitment as yet to normalizing relations between the US and Iran, let alone jointly applying the same path of negotiation to the many other problem areas where the US and Iran have differed.

Nor can we say that the deal was fair and even-handed. Indeed, the deal itself reflects the imbalance of power between the US and Iran, but also for once acknowledges that even such a huge imbalance has limits. The restrictions imposed on Iran's "nuclear program" are not shared by the US or its "allies." On the other hand, it's possible that Iran's "nuclear program" was never more than a bargaining chip constructed to trade for removal of the sanctions that preceded it. Ask yourself: how else could Iran bring its isolation to a close without surrendering its government and independence?


Mar 2015 May 2015