June 2015 Notebook


Monday, June 22, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 25116 [25116] rated (+0), 439 [439] unrated (+0).

About three days of work here -- less than half a week. On the fourth day I was totally distracted, and on the fifth day I took off for the upper northwest. Although I spent a good deal of time swapping discs out of and into my travel cases, virtually nothing that I'll be taking with me is new work. Rather, I'll have three weeks to listen to things I really liked at some point but haven't had time to play recently.

I don't expect to post much over the next three weeks. I should be reachable via email, at least by the end of the day. Hopefully, I'll get some reading done, and find some time to think about what I want to write about in the future.

New records rated this week:

  • Tiffany Austin: Nothing but Soul (2015, Con Alma): [cd]: B
  • Kenny Carr: Idle Talk (2014 [2015], self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Ivo Perelman/Whit Dickey: Tenorhood (2014 [2015], Leo): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: Callas (2015, Leo, 2CD): [cd]: A-
  • Jamie XX: In Colour (2015, XL/Young Turks): [r]: B+(***)

Old records rated this week:

  • Boredoms: Super AE (1998, Birdman): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jimmy Eat World: Bleed American (2001, Grand Royal): [r]: B-
  • Mastodon: Blood Mountain (2006, Reprise): [r]: B-
  • Nine Inch Nails: Pretty Hate Machine (1989, TVT): [r]: A-
  • Nine Inch Nails: The Fragile (1999, Interscope, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)
  • Nine Inch Nails: With Teeth (2005, Nothing): [r]: B+(**)
  • Nine Inch Nails: The Slip (2008, The Null Corporation): [r]: B+(**)
  • Oasis: Be Here Now (1997, Epic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Teenage Fanclub: Bandwagonesque (1991, DGC): [r]: B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Dennis Angel: On Track (Timeless Grooves): July 1
  • Deepa Chari: Patchwork (self-released): August 7
  • Charlie Dennard: 5 O'Clock Charlie (self-released): August 7
  • Joyfultalk: Muuixx (Drip Audio): June 30
  • Michael McNeill Trio: Flight (self-released): August 18
  • Daniel Smith: Jazz Suite for Bassoon (Summit)
  • Voicehandler: Song Cycle (Humbler)
  • Johannes Wallmann: The Town Musicians (Fresh Sounds New Talent): advance, August 4
  • Tony Wilson 6Tet: A Day's Life (Drip Audio): June 30

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Daily Log

Searching for contact info for Forrest Brown, a cousin living in Washington. Found this obituary:

Forrest "Forry" W. Brown, 88, passed away May 26, 2015 of complications of an aneurysm. He was born to Murph and Nora Brown on March 19, 1927 in Vidette, Arkansas. He married Helen Jacobson August 8, 1947 in Snohomish, Wash. Forry loved playing ball. He put in a basketball court that we all, even the neighborhood, enjoyed. His mom said he always had a ball in his hand. He also liked hunting, fishing and Nascar. Every Sunday he would be on the phone with his son, Doug and brother, Lee, debating over who was the better driver. Jeff Gordon was his favorite. He looked forward to his weekly dinners and cribbage games with his son, Forrest, and granddaughter, Mandy. He loved gardening, especially his tomatoes and dahlias. He retired from Scott Paper (K.C.) after 47 years. Forry was preceded in death by his parents; two grandsons, Jason and Shane; and his great grandson, Drew. He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Helen Jean; three children, Doug (Jeri) Brown, Forrest L. Brown, and Sandy (Greg) Wright; grandchildren, Angie Blankenship and family, Melissa Budig and family, Jeremy Brown and family, Russell Brown and family, Mandy Brown, Stephanie Miller and family, and Nicole Nilson and family; also his two brothers Joe (Betty) Brown and Lee (Linda) Brown. There will be a private graveside burial at a later date. [Published in The Herald (Everett) on June 7, 2015]

Same search also revealed an obituary for Forrest L. "Forry" Brown, my cousin's son, who died four days later:

Forrest L. Brown, nicknamed "Forry," passed away May 30, 2015 after many years of health issues. He was born to Forrest W. and Helen Brown on March 12, 1949 in Everett, Wash. He graduated from Lake Stevens's High School in 1967. Forry worked several jobs during his life time, starting young by riding his bike to the strawberry fields to pick berries. He was a jack of all trades and worked very hard. He loved to play Cribbage with his family and loved the outdoors which included hunting, fishing, and yard work. He was preceded in death by his father, Forrest W. Brown; son, Jason; grandson, Drew Brown. He is survived by his sons, Jeremy (Lyla) Brown and family, Russell Brown and family; daughters, Amanda Brown and Stephanie Miller and family; his mother, Helen J. Brown; his brother, Doug (Jeri) Brown and family; sister, Sandy (Greg) Wright and family. He was loved by all. At Forry's request there will be no services.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Book Roundup

I figure enough books of possible interest come out each month to run a little feature noting 40 of them, but for a variety of reasons I've been lax and haven't run one of these since . . . July 3, 2014, so this is way late. I've tried at least to compensate by selecting the most obviously important books (at least as regards politics). I currently have 97 more grafs in the scratch file, and I still have a dozen or more pages of notes I took in bookstores on my NJ trip last fall. Maybe I'll manage to get a second batch together before my big trip northwest starts on Friday. Meanwhile, here's my top 40. Cover illustrations for those I've actually read in the meantime. (I also have, but haven't read yet, Alexander Cockburn, Thomas Geoghegan, Rick Perlstein, Joseph E Stiglitz's The Great Divide, and Astra Taylor.)

Christian G Appy: American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity (2015, Viking): In the 1950s we were brought up to believe that America was a force for good in the world. The Vietnam War destroyed that self-conception -- at least it did for me and for many of my generation. Appy's brief history reminds us of how dirty the war got -- he starts with a story of GIs playing "gook hockey" (using Jeeps to run down Vietnamese children) -- and reminds us how even LJB but especially Nixon and Kissinger extended the war beyond any hope of success, just to show the world their resolve, to demonstrate how much punishment we could inflict even in defeat. The book goes on to look at how the postwar memory has been sanitized, not least the propagation of a myth that the war was lost not by our brave soldiers but by the cowardly antiwar movement -- America's own Dolchstosslegende (as with Germany's, a license to resume further wars). Worse than defeat, America seems to have learned nothing from Vietnam. With this book, at least, you might learn something. Appy previously wrote Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered From All Sides (2004), an oral history.

Karen Armstrong: Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence (2014, Knopf): One of the better writers on the history of religion, a Christian but not limited thereby. Her thesis in The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions (2007) was that the religions that emerged in the first millennium BCE (as well as Greek rationalism) were developed primarily to limit and control violence, so it isn't surprising that she argues that wars today are not driven primarily by religion. I see the point, and recognize that religion provides a framework that supports many pacifists, but I doubt that would be my conclusion.

Anthony B Atkinson: Inequality: What Can Be Done? (2015, Harvard University Press): Economist, published his first paper on the subject back in 1970 when the problem seemed less dire, not that there was nothing to study then. Most likely an important book on the subject, not least for a lifetime's thought into how to overcome it.

Kai Bird: The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames (2014, Crown): Ames was a CIA operative in Beirut, killed in the 1983 bombing of the US embassy there. He evidently had uncommonly good contacts with Arab political figures as well as the ear of Americans up to president Ronald Reagan, which leaves Bird thinking that had Ames lived longer he might have nudged US policy in the Middle East a bit out of its horrible rut. Bird's memoir Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis shows his own distinctive and idiosyncratic sense of the region.

Steven Brill: America's Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Backroom Deals, and the Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System (2015, Random House): First significant book on the political struggle to pass the Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka Obamacare). As you know, Obama tried to come up with a solution that would be non-controversial -- at least in the sense that all the interested business groups could buy in, with the hope that the Republicans would recognize the bill as kindred to their own proposals. None of that worked: the result was a system that no one loved or much cared for, a set of expensive compromises that solved some problems and created many more. The book is reportedly good on explaining the underlying problems as well as the backroom deals, but less critical about the act's shortcomings.

Wendy Brown: Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism's Stealth Revolution (2015, Zone Books Ner Futures): I read Philip Mirowski's Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste in search of an explanation of why the 2008 crash didn't lead to any serious rethinking of what is wrong with conventional economic thought (aka neoliberalism), but that long book didn't get much deeper than pointing out the mental rut no one dared escape. This looks to explain that logic and its grip.

Alexander Cockburn: A Colossal Wreck: A Road Trip Through Political Scandal, Corruption and American Culture (2013; paperback, 2014, Verso): A journal of sorts, from 1995 to his death in 2012, offers a sharp (and often shrill) rewind of history, but reading samples here one finds much broader range than his fondness for slagging the Clintons.

Andrew Cockburn: Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins (2015, Henry Holt): This is the Cockburn brother who previously wrote Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy, as opposed to Patrick (writes mostly about Iraq) and Alexander (until his death one of the new left's most prolific essayists). This is about the US drone program, which makes it possible for the US to surgically assassinate its enemies with unprecedented precision. Of course, the reality is a bit messier than the theory, but the logic of the process is more dangerous. Drone killing is remote, unilateral, shrouded in secrecy. Once a nation decides it can kill its way to victory, that mentality becomes locked in and is impossible to change: after all, victory is only a few notches down your kill list, and you never have to do anything compromising, like negotiating with the real people you've decided are your enemies. Other recent drone books: William M Arkin: Unmanned: Drones, Data, and the Illusion of Perfect Warfare (2015, Little Brown); Peter L Bergen/Daniel Rothenberg, eds: Drone Wars: Transforming Conflict, Law, and Policy (paperback, 2014, Cambridge University Press); Marjorie Cohn, ed: Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues (paperback, 2014, Olive Branch Press); Lloyd C Gardner: Killing Machine: The American Presidency in the Age of Drone Warfare (2013, New Press); Richard Whittle: Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution (2014, Henry Holt); Chris Woods: Sudden Justice: America's Secret Drone Wars (2015, Oxford University Press).

Patrick Cockburn: The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution (paperback, 2015, Verso): Probably a revised reprint of last year's The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising (paperback, 2014, O/R Books). Cockburn has been one of the most reliable reporters on Iraq, so is probably the first book one should look if you want to learn more about ISIS than the standard news media propaganda. He was close to the first out with a book, but there is lots of competition now, many written to drum up support for US entry in the war. Competing books include (all 2015 except as noted, paperback = pb): Carter Andress: Victory Undone: The Defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq and Its Resurrection as ISIS (2014, Regnery); Charles H Dyer/Mark Tobey: The ISIS Crisis: What You Really Need to Know (pb, Moody); Benjamin Hall: Inside ISIS: The Brutal Rise of a Terrorist Army (Center Street); Loretta Napoleoni: The Islamist Phoenix: The Islamic State (ISIS) and the Redrawing of the Middle East (pb, 2014, Seven Stories Press); Jay Sekulow: Rise of ISIS: A Threat We Can't Ignore (pb, 2014, Howard Books); Andrew Sharp: The Rise of ISIS: The West's New Crusade (pb, 2014, Create Space); Jessica Stern/JM Berger: Isis: The State of Terror (Ecco). Of these, only Stern's book is particularly substantial -- she was on Bill Clinton's NSC and wrote the book Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill (2004), so she's built her career on the War on Terror, while co-author Berger wrote Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam (2011). Napoleoni is the only leftist in the bunch. She writes about global capitalism as well as about terrorism, and has close to a dozen books: one intriguing title is Maonomics: Why Chinese Communists Make Better Capitalists Than We Do (2012).

David S Cohen/Krysten Connon: Living in the Crosshairs: The Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion Terrorism (2015, Oxford University Press): The anti-abortion movement is unusual (although not unprecedented) in the violence its supporters have directed against its supposed enemies -- chiefly doctors and health care professionals. By violence I don't just mean the occasional murder or threat, but the whole range of harrassment directed against providers and clients.

Juan Cole: The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East (2014, Simon & Schuster): A view of the Arab Spring, at least before it went sour, when it first seemed like an opening for secular progressives. Cole is an expert on Iraq's Shiites, and has written one of the most informative blogs on the Middle East for more than a decade.

Angus Deaton: The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality (2013, Princeton University Press): The "escape" seems to have been from the hardships that plagued life only a few centuries ago in "the developed world," more recently and sometimes still elsewhere. Deaton lists out such progress but also finds many setbacks -- I suspect that the persistance of inequality has much to do with these.

William Deresiewicz: Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life (2014; paperback, 2015, Free Press): Yale professor, sees America's top universities "turning young people into tunnel-visioned careerists, adept at padding their resumes and filling their bank accounts but unprepared to confront life's most important questions." How old-fashioned not to think that careerism isn't the point of college? After all, exactly that education has long been held up as the answer to inequality -- if not for everyone, at least for the select few who give the system a gloss of meritocracy. Jane Jacobs, in Dark Ages Ahead, argued one of the key signs was "credentialism" -- an aspect of this same problem. Of course, that's a more general problem. This book seems to focus on elite universities, hence on future elites. That they're dumbing down is interesting, but only part of the problem.

G William Domhoff: The Myth of Liberal Ascendancy: Corporate Dominance From the Great Depression to the Great Recession (paperback, 2013, Paradigm): Sociologist, wrote one of the classic books on the distribution of wealth in America, Who Rules America? The Triumph of the Corporate Rich (1967, latest revision 2013). He shows how even during periods when liberals were able to reduce inequality (roughly 1933-69) business remained under the firm control of an upper class that never compromise their own power and were always poised to launch the conservative counterrevolution of the 1980s (once they lost their fear of revolution). Domhoff also wrote Class and Power in the New Deal: Corporate Moderates, Southern Democrats, and the Liberal-Labor Coalition (paperback, 2011, Stanford University Press).

Greg J Duncan/Richard I Murnane: Restoring Opportunity: The Crisis of Inequality and the Challenge for American Education (paperback, 2014, Harvard Education Press): It's long been felt that equal opportunity is more important than equal outcomes, and that the key to equal opportunity lies in improving the public schools system. However, as the economy becomes ever more inequal, the public schools have an ever harder time compensating on the opportunity front, and it isn't clear to me that they're even getting the chance. I don't know how the authors proposed to overcome this but it looks to me like they're trying to solve the symptom rather than the cause: only by reversing the overall economic picture can you start to get some traction from reforming the schools. Duncan/Murnane previously edited: Whither Opportunity? Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children's Life Chances (paperback, 2011, Russell Sage Foundation).

Stephen Emmott: Ten Billion (paperback, 2013, Vintage): The number is the projected near future population, raising the question of how such a population can be supported by available resources and technology -- basically an updated broadside along the lines of Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb. Ehrlich's book made short-term predictions of doom that didn't come true, so it's become much easier to deny the concern, but there can be no infinite trendlines, at least in a finite world: sooner or later something has to break. On the same subject: Danny Dorling: Population 10 Billion: The Coming Demographic Crisis and How to Survive It (paperback, 2013, Constable). On Ehrlich, see Paul Sabin: The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble Over Earth's Future (2013, Yale University Press).

Tom Engelhardt: Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (paperback, 2014, Haymarket Books): Probably just a collection of TomDispatch posts, worth tracking although a bit more effort into turning them into a current book would be nice. The focus on the so-called intelligence agencies is more relevant than ever as they seem to be driving US military intervention around the world -- the recent discovery and bombardment of the Khorasan group in Syria is a prime example. Then there is the broader issue of how those agencies manage to suck up so much money for doing mischief that has so little value to the American people. Secrecy is a big part of their recipe for success, so any exposure is welcome.

Steve Fraser: The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power (2015, Little Brown): Throughout much of US history most Americans were quick to blame the rich for the inequities all around us, but in recent years that has changed -- giving the rich a free pass, which they have used to great political advantage.

James K Galbraith: The End of Normal: The Great Crisis and the Future of Growth (2014, Simon & Schuster): Important book, argues that the economic growth of much of the 20th century was inflated by a tendency to replace household work (not counted as GDP) with commercial outsourcing (counted as GDP), a trend that more recently has been if anything reversed. What this means is that economic growth will be harder to achieve in the future, so policies which depend on growth to work (like slowing down the increase of inequality) will be harder to achieve or fail completely. I should say this again: I thought Galbraith's The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too (2008) was the best political book of the last decade.

Thomas Geoghegan: Only One Thing Can Save Us: Why America Needs a New Kind of Labor Movement (2014, New Press): Labor lawyer, first book was a fine memoir -- Which Side Are You On? Trying to Be for Labor When It's Flat on Its Back (1991) -- then a few books more narrowly on law before he wrote an eye-opening book on the German welfare state, Were You Born on the Wrong Continent? (2011). This seems to be more of a political manifesto, and while I'm skeptical that unions are going to save us, I'm not going to reject any of his arguments out of hand. Next up on my reading table.

Marie Gottschalk: Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics (2014, Princeton University Press): This so-called "bastion of freedom" is the world's largest jailer, its justice system trapped in a spiral where the only fixes for past mistakes it can conceive of are more mistakes of the same sort. One blurb: "sheds new light on the relationship between criminal justice and the ideological shape, material conditions, and institutional structure of the broader political economy." Looks like an important book.

David Graeber: The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy (2015, Melville House): Radical anthropologist, best known for Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011), but more recently wrote The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement (2013) based on his involvement with Occupy Wall Street. The focus here is on bureaucracy, how it actually works, and how that affects our perceptions of how the world works (hint: not very well).

Johann Hari: Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs (2015, Bloomsbury USA): Wide-ranging history of the world's futile efforts to ban drug use, starting with the first prohibition one hundred years ago and leading up to at least one country that sensibly legalized the whole gamut. Lessons: "Drugs are not what we think they are. Addiction is not what we think it is. And the drug war has very different motives to the ones we have seen on our TV screens for so long."

Chris Hedges: Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt (2015, Nation Books): Extended screed on the many wrongs of the American state, and a call for resistance, rebellion, revolution. Hedges is such a skilled journalist he has little trouble filling out the critique and making it seem reasonable. Harder to gauge as an action manual, but that's always the hard part.

David Cay Johnston, ed: Divided: The Perls of Our Growing Inequality (2014, New Press): Various papers, with overviews by Barrack Obama, Elizabeth Warren, and Adam Smith, and more topical papers, most pretty basic -- focusing perhaps more on the fallout at the bottom of the scale rather than the real action at the top.

Jonathan M Katz: The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster (2013; paperback, 2014, Palgrave Macmillan): The only American news correspondent based in Haiti at the time of the 2010 earthquake, details the international relief effort ($16.3 billion in pledges) and how little it relieved.

Harvey J Kaye: The Fight for the Four Freedoms: What Made FDR and the Greatest Generation Truly Great (2014, Simon & Schuster): Everyone knows that the US fought WWII for freedom, but hardly anyone knows about FDR's inspiring definition of what freedom means, probably because two of those four freedoms got junked almost immediately in America's postwar fight to oppose communism and (under more favorable terms to the US) to restore imperialism. I read Cass R Sunstein, who's hardly my idea of a visionary political thinker, The Second Bill of Rights: FDR's Unfinished Revolution -- and Why We Need It more Than Ever (2004), so I have an idea what Kaye is pushing for. I always saw FDR as a man of the upper class, whose aim was always to save capitalism from its own contradictions. But one thing all the Calvin Coolidge worship in the Republican Party has done is to make FDR relevant -- indeed, necessary -- again. These days, those four freedoms look like a pretty good deal.

Naomi Klein: This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (2014, Simon & Schuster): Canadian political writer, has written a series of bestselling books which seem to sum up the left's thinking about the rot of capitalism -- No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies (2000) on globalization, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007) factoring in the terrorism wars, and now this one taking notice of climate change.

Jeff Madrick: Seven Bad Ideas: How Mainstream Economists Have Damaged the World (2014, Knopf): Author of one of the best historical context books on the recent crash -- Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present (2011, Knopf) -- broadens his critique to include a number of key ideas in economics. The ideas range from established zombies to key insights that are often misunderstood and misapplied (like Adam Smith's "invisible hand"). Some economists, like Alan Blinder, were not amused.

John Micklethwait/Adrian Wooldridge: The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State (2014, Penguin): Journalists for The Economist, they've written upbeat books on globalization (A Future Perfect: The Challenge and Hidden Promise of Globalization), conservatism (The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America, and fundamentalism (God Is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith Is Changing the World). Their new riff is that the future belongs to the elites that are most effectively to usurp the power of the state. In this, they're more impressed by Singapore and China than the US, where the rich are trying to destroy democracy lest it ever yield to the masses.

Sendhil Mullainathan/Eldar Shafir: Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much (2013, Times Books): A piece on behavioral economics, answering much with little: "scarcity creates a similar psychology for everyone struggling to manage with less than they need." Of course, without scarcity there would be no economics, which is a big part of the reason businesses and economists work so hard to enforce scarcity. Also why so much changes when you imagine a transition to post-scarcity conditions. I doubt the authors will go there, but they should give you lots of reasons why you should.

Rick Perlstein: The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan (2014, Simon & Schuster): Third huge volume in the author's history of the right-wing in America, following Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus and Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. Not a flashy period for the rise of the US right, but unless you believe Reagan was some sort of deus ex machina, the shift found some kind of traction in the half-decade's turmoil.

Robert D Putnam: Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis (2015, Simon & Schuster): Sociologist, most famous for his study of the breakdown in social bonds in Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000). He returns to his lower middle class home town here, tracks down what happened to his high school class, and finds that fate has been tough, with fewer and fewer Americans enjoying the opportunity for upward mobility. This won't come as a surprise to anyone who can unpack statistics, but the case examples may make an impression where numbers numb.

James Risen: Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War (2014, Houghton Mifflin): "War corrupts. Endless war corrupts absolutely." Risen has broken several major stories about that corruption, and adds a few more here. I'm not sure it rises to the level of synthesis of the above quote, but it should contribute to one.

Shira Robinson: Citizen Strangers: Palestinians and the Birth of Israel's Liberal Settler State (paperback, 2013, Stanford University Press): After 700,000 Palestinians fled the war zone in what became Israel, the remainder (now 15% of Israel's population) were offered a peculiar form of citizenship ("how to bind indigenous Arab voters to the state while denying them access to its resources"), setting up a tension that continues to the present day. This looks to be one of the few books to address this topic.

Joseph E Stiglitz/Bruce C Greenwald: Creating a Learning Society: A New Approach to Growth, Development, and Social Progress (2014, Columbia University Press): Lectures from a series named for Kenneth J. Arrow, focusing on the role of learning throughout the economy and society, but "lectures" sells this short -- this is a substantial book, well over 500 pages, and likely an important one (not least given how little regard the right has for learning).

Joseph E Stiglitz: The Great Divide: Unequal Societies and What We Can Do About Them (2015, WW Norton): Another volume on inequality, following the author's The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future (2012). This is probably a second choice in that it's built from essays written over several years, but Stiglitz is a brilliant economist and the problem is so huge and sweeping you have to come at it from many angles.

Astra Taylor: The People's Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age (2014, Metropolitan Books): Looks like this creates a strawman argument about what a democratic marvel the internet is then knocks it down showing how "a handful of giants" have cornered it and usurped it for their own nefarious ends. Then she tries to rescue the strawman from the giants. She has made documentary films before, including one on Slavoj Zizek and one she converted into the book, Examined Life: Excursions With Contemporary Thinkers (paperback, 2009, New Press).

Zephyr Teachout: Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin's Snuff Box to Citizens United (2014, Harvard University Press): For a variety of reasons, American politics has always been easy to tempt with corruption. The founding fathers struggled with the problem: George Washington famously strived to counter any suggestion that he might put his personal interests above the public's, while Aaron Burr was possibly the most notorious of many who sought office as a path to seeking riches. So there's a lot to write about here, especially lately. As is often the case, the problem may exist perpetually, but it only becomes really severe when we let our guard down, either by losing the sense of public interest or by glorifying the naked greed of self-interest. Both are flagrant problems these days.

Martin Wolf: The Shifts and the Shocks: What We've Learned -- and Have Still to Learn -- From the Financial Crisis (2014, Penguin): Chief economics commentator at the Financial Times in London; previously wrote Why Globalization Works (2005) and Fixing Global Finance (2008), which now seem to be part of the problem. At least he recognizes that there are problems, and Krugman sees value in most of his proposed reforms.

Chinese Dinner in Arkansas

My sister and I went to Arkansas recently to see our cousin Elsie Lee and some of her family (e.g., daughters Brenda and Rhonda). I brought my "magic" ingredients and some tools along and whipped up some Chinese:

Monday, June 15, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 25103 [25069] rated (+34), 429 [432] unrated (-3).

Most of this week's report was scooped by last week's Rhapsody Streamnotes. Since then I've kept going down the Spin list, picking up Raekwon, Yo La Tengo (hey), and moving into Oasis (ugh). On the new jazz front, I've played all three new Ivo Perelman records, but only rated one (the most marginal; the others need another play or two). I almost have a full basket of unrated new jazz. Not much mail this week. (So little I added Monday's mail to Unpacking but it's not yet factored into the current count above.)

Sorry to say I didn't get any time last week to work on the book blurbs. Two days were taken up with people working on the big elm tree in the backyard. (If I recall correctly, Google has an aerial view of the neighborhood where the tree dwarfs the house we live in.) Then there was the Ornette Coleman post, Rhapsody Streamnotes, and a little thing on building a music website.

As you may know, Terminal Zone was a one-shot magazine Don Malcolm and I put together in 1977. A few years back I registered the terminalzone.net domain name with the idea of building a music website there. It's gone through three or four (or five or six) design iterations since then, but still isn't anything substantial. But every time Robert Christgau's blog hits the shoals of web-media indifference, I think there might be some value to dusting it off. (Cuepoint failed to post Christgau's June 5 and 12 columns. No word on whether this hiatus is permanent or just a temporary blip.) So I spent a couple days last week touching up the Terminal Zone Website RFC (request for comments, common jargon for Internet specs). I sent it around to a couple people last week but didn't get any response, so I figured I'd mention it here ("run it up the flagpole to see who salutes").

I see two pieces to the website. One is a ratings database, where some number of invited critics file and track record ratings (although in principle it could be used to track non-participating critic ratings, such as Metacritic does). A while back Chuck Eddy suggested that "you" (this was addressed to the Expert Witness Facebook Group) should put together something like the Pazz & Jop Product Report that the Village Voice ran in 1976-77. At the time, I wrote these notes, which of course resemble the new RFC -- PJPR is really just one view into the ratings database. This all requires a fairly substantial amount of programming, which I am interested in doing. In addition to supporting the website, the software could be used for other niche-oriented websites, and could be tailored as an ap for anyone who wants to keep their own personal ratings list. This could be developed as free software, or could have some value if someone wants to build a business around it (and, of course, there are various hybrid options).

The other piece would be a blog which mostly consists of diary entries from critics briefly describing what they've been listening to and what they think of it. I'm thinking of something sort of midway between my Music Week and Rhapsody Streamnotes posts, occurring more or less weekly. These wouldn't be full-fledged record reviews, even in the "ultra-brief" sense of CG reviews. But they would have links to the ratings database, so one could scan the diary entries for mention of an interesting record, then click on the link to get more information on the record (including more critics' views). One of the better examples of the diary format is the pieces collected in Philip Larkin's All That Jazz: A Record Diary.

My guess is that the minimal thresholds for a useful website would be close to ten diarists and 20-30 raters, and it could scale up to much more. We would need a team of editors to keep the copy flowing and clean. (I'm not looking to be one of the people involved in day-to-day content management.) We might come up with a board of "executive editors" to add some prestige and overall direction. (That's more my speed, although at least initially I'm offering to do software development, provide a server free of charge, and the domain name.) The blog part could be created almost immediately. My own database and writings can be freely plundered for initial content. Initially I don't expect to make any money on this, and assume that contributions would have to be gratis (non-exclusive license granted but all other rights retained). I'm open to other business proposals.

By the way, earlier draft were oriented toward doing something more Wikipedia-ish: building a more extensive reference database. Recently I've been looking for something more manageable, easier to do, more simply useful for a certain community -- music fans like you and me who don't find timely information and guidance from the usual music media resources.

Write me if you want more info, or to kick this thing around. Especially if you have editing, writing, rating, sysadmin, and/or engineering skills you'd be interested in contributing.

My own time is likely to be disrupted over the next 3-4 weeks. I'm planning on taking a long car trip starting Friday (Oregon and Washington, if that makes any difference). Most places are connected, so I should have email pretty much everywhere (if not all the time). I do hope to get some writing done along the way, but I imagine things like website updates will be few and far between. And historically I've never managed to do much music rating/reviewing on the road.

New records rated this week:

  • Built to Spill: Untethered Moon (2015, Warner Brothers): [r]: B+(*)
  • Hugo Carvalhais: Grand Valis (2014 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Joe Hertenstein/Pascal Niggenkemper/Thomas Heberer: HNH2 (2013 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Ivo Perelman/Mat Maneri/Joe Morris: Counterpoint (2015, Leo): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Slutever: Almost Famous (2015, self-released, EP): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Universal Indians w/Joe McPhee: Skullduggery (2014 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Juan Wauters: Who Me? (Captured Tracks): [r]: B+(*)

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

  • The Ornette Coleman Quartet: The 1987 Hamburg Concert (1987 [2011], Domino, 2CD): [r]: A-

Old records rated this week:

  • Beyoncé: B-Day (2006, Columbia): [r]: B+(*)
  • Beyoncé: I Am . . . Sasha Fierce (2008, Music World/Columbia, 2CD): [r]: C+
  • Broken Social Scene: You Forgot It in People (2002, Arts & Crafts): [r]: B+(***)
  • Broken Social Scene: Broken Social Scene (2005, Arts & Crafts): [r]: B+(**)
  • Built to Spill: There Is No Enemy (2009, Warner Brothers): [r]: B+(*)
  • Kate Bush: The Kick Inside (1978, EMI America): [r]: B+(**)
  • Kate Bush: Lionheart (1978, EMI America): [r]: B+(**)
  • Kate Bush: Never for Ever (1980, EMI America): [r]: B+(*)
  • Kate Bush: The Dreaming (1982, EMI America): [r]: B
  • Ornette Coleman: Twins (1960-61 [1971], Atlantic): [r]: A-
  • Destiny's Child: Destiny's Child (1998, Columbia): [r]: B+(*)
  • Destiny's Child: The Writing's on the Wall (1999, Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • Destiny's Child: Survivor (2001, Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • Rolf Kühn & Friends: Affairs (1997 [1998], Intuition): [r]: A-
  • John Lewis: Jazz Abstractions (1960, Atlantic): [r]: A-
  • Oasis: Definitely Maybe (1994, Epic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Raekwon: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (1995, Loud): [r]: A-
  • Slutever: Sorry I'm Not Sorry (2010, self-released, EP): [bc]: B
  • Slutever: Slutever Demos (2013, self-released, EP): [bc]: B+(*)
  • The Stone Roses: The Stone Roses (1989, Silvertone): [r]: B+(*)
  • Sunny Day Real Estate: Diary (1994, Sub Pop): [r]: B
  • Jamaaladeen Tacuma: Jamaaladeen Tacuma's Coltrane Configurations (2008 [2009], Jazzwerkstatt): [r]: B+(***)
  • Yo La Tengo: Ride the Tiger (1986 [1996], Matador): [r]: A-
  • Yo La Tengo: New Wave Hot Dogs (1987, Coyote/Twintone): [r]: B+(**)
  • Yo La Tengo: President Yo La Tengo (1989, Twin/Tone): [r]: A-
  • Yo La Tengo: Fakebook (1990, Bar/None): [r]: B+(*)
  • Yo La Tengo: May I Sing With Me (1992, Alias): [r]: A-
  • Yo La Tengo: Painful (1993, Matador): [r]: B+(***)
  • Yo La Tengo: Genius + Love = Yo La Tengo (1988-95 [1996], Matador, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Yo La Tengo: And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out (2000, Matador): [r]: B+(***)

Grade changes:

  • Ornette Coleman: Beauty Is a Rare Thing (1959-61 [1993], Rhino/Atlantic, 6CD): [was A-] A
  • Yo La Tengo: Electr-O-Pura (1995, Matador): [was: B+] A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Takeshi Asai: French Trio Vol. 2 (De Trois Cités)
  • Jeff Denson/Lee Konitz: Jeff Denson Trio + Lee Konitz (Ridgeway)
  • Laszlo Gardony: Life in Real Time (Sunnyside): July 7
  • Michael Kocour: Wherever You Go, There You Are (OA2)


  • Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope)
  • Huey 'Piano' Smith: Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu ([2012], Hallmark)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Weekend Roundup

We'll start with Richard Crowson's cartoon this week, since we can't seem to escape Brownbackistan. The Kansas state legislature had to go way into overtime to finally come up with a deal to patch up a $400 million shortfall in state tax revenues opened up by Brownback's 2011 income tax cuts (the one which notoriously exempted businessmen from having to pay any state income tax). It's hard to get Republicans to raise any kind of taxes, but some reconciled themselves by coming up with the most regressive tax increases they could find. And some held out to the bitter end, hoping instead to wreck the government and all the evil it stands for. Brownback himself took both positions at one point or another, and reportedly broke down and wept during one of many hopeless meetings with state legislators. The final scheme they came up with satisfied no one, but Brownback did manage to keep some semblance of his signature programs in place (story here). One downside of keeping the legislature in session so long was that they passed even more dumb and vicious bills than they had time for during the regular session -- see the Rosenberg piece below.

Chuck Powell sent in a link to a piece posted on Tyler Cowen's blog (thankfully not written by Cowen), The political economy of Kansas fiscal policy. The post makes a number of reasonable points, such as the split between rural and urban Kansas, and factors which distort both Wichita and Kansas City from urban/suburban norms. Also that "cutting the size of government was never a serious option," mostly because the costs of education and health care -- the two main expenses of state government -- have been rising much faster than inflation and economic growth. At one point the author says, "Republicans should be wise enough to not depend on luck, and they should be wiser predicting how trend lines go." But he doesn't go into why our current generation of Republicans are so bad at those things. For one thing, past generations were a different story -- you could argue that their priorities were wrong, but you rarely doubted their basic competence: something which Brownback and many others make you wonder about daily. One could write a whole post on this one question, but for now I think there are two main reasons: (1) the Republicans have created a very effective grass roots political organization, largely peopled by gun nuts and anti-abortion fanatics, backed by local chambers of commerce and big money, and they have become very effective at scamming the system; one result of this is that Republicans rarely have to worry about losing to Democrats -- their only meaningful debate is among themselves, which makes them increasingly isolated from and ignorant of other people and their problems; (2) in other words, they live in a bubble, and this bubble is increasingly saturated with Fox News and other right-wing media, which mostly just teaches them to scapegoat while making them stupid and mean. The latter, of course, is a problem with Republicans all over the nation. What makes Kansas worse than the rest is how hard it is to beat them at the game they've rigged. In 2014, Republicans ran 5-8% above the best polls all across the ballot, on top of the gerrymander that guaranteed them legislative majorities. I wouldn't rule out fraud and intimidation, but most likely that's their superior get-out-the-vote organization.

Some more scattered links this week:

  • Tom Carson: H.W. Brands: Reagan: The Life: Book review of the new H.W. Brands biography of Ronald Reagan, Reagan: The Life, with a look back at Edmund Morris: Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan. I've read two previous books by Brands: Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (2008) and American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (2010), and have found him to be a fair and compiler of history, though not much of an interpreter. The limits that Carson notes are plausible -- especially if, as seems to be the case, he feigns admiration for a character I've always regarded as a shill and a fraud, and whose political legacy, both actual and imaginary, has brought us nothing but grief. I've also read Sean Wilentz: The Age of Reagan: A History 1974-2008 which also goes way too far into buying the myth that Reagan was anything more than an aberration. For more sober views, see Will Bunch: Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future (2009), and William Kleinknecht, The Man Who Sold the World: Ronald Reagan and the Betrayal of Main Street America (2009), or Carson here -- my only real gripe with his review is that he buys into the notion that Reagan deserves some credit for the collapse of the Soviet Union ("something only a churl would deny him any credit for" -- I'll grant that his early sabre-rattling may have resulted in some unforced errors that weakened the Sovier Union, and that later on Reagan swung against the hard core cold warriors giving Gorbachev some breathing room). Carson is right when he writes: "All these years later, it isn't just outrage that keeps his political opponents from managing or even trying to see him in perspective; it's disbelief." The roots of that disbelief are firmly grounded in reality. Unless you're extremely rich, it's impossible to see how anything that Reagan accomplished -- and beyond all the sleight-of-hand horseshit (like the rejuvenation of "morning in America" or his triumph in the cold war and the vanquishing of Communism) he clearly did accomplish a lot -- has in any way made our lives better.

    Many interesting comments here, like this one:

    Brands also doesn't grasp the extent to which industry politics -- that nerve-wracking combo of power, fickle fashionability, ambition as a form of submission, and submission as an expression of ambition -- were Reagan's Harvard and Yale. During much of his showbiz career, his agent and patron -- note that contradiction and you'll understand Hollywood -- was Lew Wasserman, the legendary head of MCA. Because Wasserman's links to the Chicago Mob known as "the Outfit" are what makes a man endow hospital wings to burnish his image, whole books could be written about the dark side of Ron's debt to Lew; indeed, one or two have been. But Wasserman's name shows up in Reagan: The Life's index just once, and the reference turns out to be anodyne.

    Why dwell on what Brands gives short shrift? Because Hollywood stayed Reagan's primary frame of reference even after he found the ultimate golden parachute, that's why. When he was an actor facing the glue factory, he couldn't shut up about politics. Once he was president, he had the definition of a captive audience while blathering away about his life in movies as the phone never rang.

    Up to then, we'd never had a professional fantasist in the White House. Nixon needed to be awfully drunk to think gabbing at portraits on walls was a good idea, but Reagan could do it cold sober. His fabled remoteness was eerie enough to disconcert his own family -- even wife Nancy confessed it sometimes unnerved her -- and his most immovable mental furniture seems to have been fashioned with such disregard for most people's notions of corroborating evidence that he and Michael Jackson, his '80s pop-culture counterpart at flights of Peter Pan fancy, really could have been long-lost twins. But Brands doesn't even quote the most celebrated blooper of his man's career: the farewell speech to the 1988 Republican convention in which John Adams's "Facts are stubborn things" came out as "Facts are stupid things -- stubborn things, I should say."

    Even at the time, I viewed Reagan as primarily a front man, the real power residing in his famous "kitchen cabinet" -- the cabal of rich businessmen who had recruited him and backed his political career from the start. (At the time, I wasn't aware that Reagan's real initiation into politics was as a corporate spokesperson for General Electric, a company whose management still nursed grudges over the New Deal.) His was not the first administration where the president seemed blithely unaware of the rampant corruption within -- Ulysses Grant and William Harding were obvious examples -- but Reagan was way more disconnected: to call him a "fantasist" is rather generous. As I frequently said at the time, under Reagan the only growth industry in America was fraud. The HUD scandal, the Savings and Loan fiasco, Iran/Contra all bore that out, but it was evident even earlier, all the way back to the "voodoo economics" behind Reagan's signature tax cut. Carson notes:

    What you'd hardly guess from reading Reagan: The Life is that the United States went from being the world's No. 1 creditor to its No. 1 debtor nation during his tenure. His zest for replacing red tape with red ink ended any pretense that the GOP was the party of fiscal prudence, but when Brands mentions toward the end that the Reagan era's hemorrhaging deficits had tripled the public debt from $700 billion to $2 trillion by 1988, it's the first time the subject has come up [ . . . ] and it's virtually the last one, too.

  • The problem with Reagan's deficits isn't that he created them, and certainly not that we enjoy scolding the Republicans for their spendthrift ways (not to mention hypocrisy), but that Americans got so little of real value out of the extravagance: a lot of worthless military hardware -- the Star Wars-marketed anti-missile system still doesn't work, but the stuff that did work and has since been deployed in wars all around the world has been far more damaging -- and a small number of billionaires with their correspondingly inflated egos. Perhaps even worse, that explosion of debt is now commonly seen as crippling our government -- originally conceived of, by, and for the people as a tool for securing the general welfare -- from doing even relatively simple things that need to be done. The single most damaging thing Reagan ever did was to make a joke about "the scariest words in the English language: I'm from the government and I'm here to help." That such a joke can be turned into a full-blown ideology is a testament to a deeper innovation that Reagan wrought: he liberated American conservatism from the bounds of reality, allowing them to focus on imaginary problems, oblivious to whatever consequences their madness may produce. Back in the 1980s he was said to have "Teflon" -- a non-stick coating that protected him from any of his scandals. Looking back, it now seems that the key to his innocence was his very disconnectedness. Maybe someday a biographer will manage to identify the point when his fantasy gave way to Alzheimer's, but for all practical purposes it hardly matters.

  • Michael Knights: Doubling Down on a Doubtful Strategy: Subhed: "Why the current US plan to win back Iraq only guarantees the Islamic State won't be defeated." Knights seems to be arguing that the US should take over and greatly escalate the war despite his analysis that what the US is actually doing can't possibly work. Still you have to wonder whether any amount of commitment could overcome the mental blinders the US military brings with it to Iraq:

    Time is decidedly not on the side of the United States. As then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told me in March 2014, the Iraqi government had been requesting U.S. airstrikes and Special Forces assistance against the Islamic State since the end of 2013. The U.S. unwillingness to act then did not save it anything: Its Iraqi ally collapsed, and now it has been forced into another military campaign.

    When U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter opined that Iraqis "showed no will to fight" in Ramadi, he demonstrated a complete lack of empathy for the situation of the Iraqi combat troops on the front lines against the Islamic State.

    America's Iraqi allies are exhausted, and many units are barely hanging on. They've been demonstrating plenty their "will to fight" in the 12 months since Mosul fell, in the 16 months since Fallujah and Ramadi were overrun, and in the decade since Iraqi forces came to outnumber U.S. forces as the main security force in Iraq.

    No U.S. service member serving in Iraq ever had to stay in the combat zone for as long as the Iraqi troops have. Many of these Iraqis have no safe place to go on leave, allowing no respite for years on end. No U.S. unit in recent history has ever had to suffer the chronic lack of supply and near-complete lack of good officers that Iraqi soldiers live with every day.

    If the United States can totally misunderstand the conditions its allies are experiencing, it's fair to ask what else it is getting wrong about how Iraqis are going to behave in the future.

    Knights offers a list of "faulty assumptions" the US has about Iraq, but two of them are just clichés ("The more we do, the less they do" and "We cannot want the stability of Iraq more than Iraqis want it themselves" -- both assume Iraqis want what we want but just don't want it bad enough) and the third is false ("The Islamic State is a terrorist group, not an army" -- ISIS is both and will fight according to its opponent, so the more you Americanize the war, the more ISIS will adapt with techniques proven effective against the US military). Consider Knights' final pitch:

    If America is only in Iraq to kill Islamic State fighters, it is eventually going to face the reality of an unfixable collapsed state that will demand an open-ended counterterrorism campaign. The alternative is that the United States help Iraqis preserve the fabric of their nation to whatever extent is still possible. To do so will require a different outlook and greater decisiveness. Deliberation is understandable, but U.S. policy in Iraq has been verging on paralysis.

    This is not rocket science: The U.S. options are clear. If the Obama administration wants to fully commit to the hard work of rebuilding Iraq, it should commit 3,000 to 5,000 U.S. Special Forces and support elements as combat advisers, so that Iraqi ground forces and coalition airpower can become far more effective. Secondly, it should use this intensified U.S. military commitment as leverage with Baghdad to win more sustained federal Iraqi government engagement of the Sunnis and the Kurds. Finally, it should accelerate the training of Iraqi forces to leave the next president with a better chance of responsibly downscaling the U.S. commitment in Iraq.

    Without these steps, we should not expect to expel the Islamic State from Iraq. In the absence of undeniable U.S. commitment, our Iraqi allies may define victory down into something that looks more like defeat. And that is a risk that neither Iraq, nor the United States, can afford.

    What exactly can we not afford? The worst case scenario is that ISIS occupies about a third of Iraq -- it has no appeal in the Shiite south or in Kurdistan, and Baghdad is effectively Shiite now -- and the rump state in Baghdad concedes those gains, thereby ridding themselves of a lot of people they don't like and who don't want them. That allows ISIS to focus on Syria, where the US has no real interests or concerns. Why can't we afford that? That represents no real US investment or trade, so we have nothing to lose in that regard. We wouldn't be spending anything bombing and killing them, so that would be a gain. US trade with and investment in Iraq and Kurdistan would be more stable with an end to Iraq's civil war. ISIS might eventually threaten Jordan or Saudi Arabia, but those nations would be much easier to defend than Iraq is. ISIS might try to export terrorism, but they'd have much less reason to do so if the US wasn't bombing them. Sure, ISIS rule would be bad for some of the people living under it, but that's true of other nations and is much easier to remedy diplomatically than through war.

    On the other hand, fighting ISIS means we have to somehow reform Iraq's government to make it more amenable to the Sunnis who have deserted it in favor of ISIS. This is something the US has repeatedly proved incapable of doing. It's something the present government of Iraq doesn't want, and that government is backed by a democratic mandate, so who are we to tell its people they didn't make the right choices? It also means coming to a solution in Syria, which either involves some deft diplomacy that the US has repeatedly failed at or a massive ground invasion and occupation, which is what the US tried in Iraq and failed so miserably at. One might fantasize, but really, why should anyone think the US might do a better job there? One obvious downside is that everyone who might conceivably oppose us -- which is to say everyone -- is already armed and fighting. At least with Iraq the US had a grace period until the resistance got up to speed and changed the US mission from "nation building" to force protection. That's the point where we throw all the humanitarian ballast overboard and decide that the war is only about us. That's the point where we're lost, even if we haven't technically lost yet, because if anything has become clear through America's post-WWII wars, it's that we can't look into our own hearts and see the arrogance and contempt that reside there.

    When people like Knights say that the US can't afford to lose in Iraq, what they mean is that the US can't continue if people get the idea that we're not omnipotent. The obvious first riposte is that it's a little late in the day to be worrying about that. The second is that would make us like everyone else, and what's so bad about that? It doesn't mean that desirable outcomes to world problems can't be worked out. It just means that the US would have to work with other countries to reach agreement, on terms that are mutually inoffensive. It means the US would have to learn to respect others, rather than just dictating to them. But it would also steer US foreign policy away from the maxim that power corrupts (and absolute power corrupts absolutely). But even if all we did was curl up into an isolationist ball and mope, that would probably be better for all concerned than bumbling our way into a holy war we don't have the slightest understanding of -- which is pretty much what Knights wants us to do. Perhaps the "paralysis" Knights complains of is really just because there's an irreconcilable division in the foreign policy elite as more and more people sober up and realize the lack of good options. For one example of this shift, see Stephen M Walt: What Should We Do if the Islamic State Wins? His answer: "live with it." Really, you think "die with it" is a better answer? Even Donald Rumsfeld (see George W. Bush Was Wrong About Iraq) is thinking that it would be better to counter ISIS with ideas ("more like the Cold War") rather than bullets. By the way, what Rumsfeld thinks Bush was wrong about wasn't invading Iraq; it was thinking that the US could build "an American-style democracy" there. As a long-time Cold Warrior, Rumsfeld always had a preference for compliant strong men over democracy.

  • Heather Digby Parton: The Koch brothers just took a huge step toward a GOP civil war: Having created a system where money is everything, the Republican Party is now turning into a plaything for a handful of billionaires, especially the Kochs, who seem intent to use their deep pockets to launch a hostile takeover of the RNC.

    One of the more enduring metaphors of this political era is bound to be that of the Republican Dr. Frankenstein and his Tea Party monster. What was once a staid, mainstream political party full of Rotary Club businessmen, hard-scrabble farmers and pillars of America's communities has become a boisterous bunch of rebellious revolutionaries. [ . . . ]

    Its ideology became a matter of faith-based adherence to abstract principles about "freedom" and "small government" even as the Republican Party made a devil's bargain with both the religious right, which sought to enforce "family values," and the military industrial complex, which grew to gargantuan proportions under both parties. These alliances were strategic moves by the Party elders seeking a winning governing coalition and it worked beautifully for decades. They formed a strong "conservative" identity out of this coalition, while demonizing the identity of liberalism to such an extent that liberals were forced to abandon it altogether and adopt another name to describe themselves.

    Meanwhile, the party banked on overweening victimization among its mainly white, resentful voters in the wake of the revolution in law and culture that began in the 1960s with civil rights for minorities and the economic and social changes that sent women pouring into the workplace and changing the traditional organization of family and home. This too worked very well for quite some time. Fear, anger and resentment of everything from racial integration to middle class stagnation to imaginary foreign threats became intrinsic to the Republican identity.

    All of this was of great benefit to the Republican party's electoral success and the message discipline within the echo chamber of their partisan media ensured that the ideology among the various strands of the Republican coalition held together in what sounded like a coherent program. But it never really was coherent. [ . . . ]

    But the irony of the Party that fetishizes money now becoming a victim of the 1 percent monster it has coddled, nurtured and enabled is overwhelming. Unfortunately, that particular beast has been unleashed on all of us and it doesn't seem as though anyone knows how to stop it. The Tea Partyers who come together and vote out a stale incumbent they don't like in favor of a right wing zealot is not something that's good for the country, to be sure. But at least it's democratic, however unpleasant the result. The idea that a vastly wealthy pair of right wing fanatics could literally take over one of the two major American political parties is more than a little disturbing. It's downright monstrous.

  • Paul Rosenberg: Sam Brownback guts Kansas even more: This is life under America's worst Republican governor: Brownback, then a Senator, ran for President in 2008. He expected to do especially well in Iowa, but got no credit for coming from the corn belt, and lost the holy rollers to Mike Huckabee (a baptist minister, whereas Brownback's a convert to high church catholicism). He was polling about 2% when he dropped out. He then regrouped, giving up his safe Senate seat to run for Governor, with the hope of proving himself such a brilliant state executive that party and nation would have to bow down to his next presidential campaign. He won handily, then proved himself to be, as the headline says, "America's worst Republican governor" (not that several others I can think of, including Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker, have a lot of breathing room). First thing he did was pulling a Reagan and hiring Arthur Laffer to prescribe a round of pro-business income tax cuts, including an exemption for business moguls from all state income taxes. That saved one Republican legislator $60,000 per year (do the math and that means he's raking in about $10 million; he actually proposed reducing the break). That probably saved Charles Koch a lot more. But the economy didn't respond as advertised, and Kansas has been facing budget gaps on the order of $400 million/year, and responding with drastic spending cuts -- which have further tanked the economy -- and increases in regressive sales taxes, "sin" taxes, and local property taxes. Brownback has another signature program where he's promising tax exemptions to out-of-staters to move into depopulating counties in rural Kansas. Presumably the people struggling to hang on in those counties will be happy to pay for their new neighbors schooling and services. That, of course, hasn't cost Kansas much so far, because hardly anyone is desperate enough for a tax break to live in Gove or Hodgeman counties. Indeed, hardly anyone lived there before the breaks (my relatives got out of Hodgeman, where my great-great-grandfather homesteaded in the 1860s). When not appealing to tax cheats, the state legislature has passed an extraordinary number of dumb and/or vicious bills this session. Rosenberg writes about one that allows Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a notorious partisan hack, to prosecute anyone he sees fit for voting fraud. Back in Brownback's first term Kansas passed one of the most restrictive anti-voter registration laws in the country. I'll let Rosenberg describe another law:

    This past week drew national attention to two of those aspects in the form of new laws Brownback signed. The first law would defund the state courts if they rule against a 2014 law which was seen by many as retaliation for the Gannon decision. That law stripped the Supreme Court of supervisory functions established in the state constitution. Hence, Brownback and the legislature are defying the power of the court to decide constitutional law. This is the very opposite of the true meaning of "limited government" -- government limited by the rule of law (as opposed to absolute government, limited by nothing.)

    Another of the new laws in Kansas is one that drops the requirement of a license (and some minimal training) for concealed carry of guns. By contrast, see: Katie McDonough: This is the NRA's worst nightmare: The new gun safety study that gun nuts don't want you to hear about:

    A law requiring people to apply for a permit before buying a handgun helped Connecticut quietly reduce its firearm-related homicide rate by 40 percent, according to a new study out from Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. And this week, announced in conjunction with the research, lawmakers from Connecticut introduced a measure to encourage other states to adopt their own permit programs.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Rhapsody Streamnotes (June 2015)

Pick up text here.

Daily Log

Posted two tweets to mark the end of the Kansas state legislature session:

The Kansas state legislature's reign of terror finally ended in an orgy of regressive tax hikes, still leaving a hole so Brownback can cut.

Has any state legislature ever passed more dumb and vicious laws than Kansas has this year? Bad as Brownback is, his "helpers" are worse.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Ornette Coleman

As I'm sure you know by now, Ornette Coleman died yestertoday, age 85. He was the first jazz musician I developed a real interest in and affection for. That was in the mid-1970s, at least 15 years after Coleman made his initial big splash, about the time he was inventing a second wave of jazz-rock fusion, one much more radical than the funk-oriented Miles Davis or the prog of John McLaughlin.

Coleman was part of the first wave of jazz avant-gardists, a group which variously sought to explore and find novel sounds, rhythms, and harmonics -- to violate the known rules of jazz, to do things that are wrong and somehow make them sound right. (Mingus put it most succinctly: "It's like organized disorganization, or playing wrong right.") Most of that wave wound up contributing to the postmodern synthesis jazz students today are taught: what we call postbop. Martin Williams was so impressed with Coleman that he concluded his Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz with three Coleman pieces (plus a Coltrane), arguing that [early] Coleman was the endpoint of the classic jazz tradition. Yet even today most novices find [early] Coleman puzzling before they are swept away. I saw this at work when my hip-hop-loving nephew wanted to get acquainted with jazz and I handed him The Shape of Jazz to Come.

Later Coleman pushed further and harder, but by the time he cut his last album, 2006's Sound Grammar, all the stars aligned: no jazz record in the past decade (or really, ever -- and I've been involved in a lot of critic polling on such things) has been so universally exclaimed. It even won the Pulitzer Prize that had so notoriously been denied Duke Ellington. Yet it sounded so offhand you could imagine him knocking sequels out every year -- so it seems odd that it came ten years after his previous album, and nine years before his death. He had remained active well into last year -- playing at a tribute concert in his honor in Brooklyn (and suing to keep the ablum from being released). He never got comfortable with the record business as he hopped from label to label, taking long breaks, never settling in -- he didn't even seem to be happy with his own labels, going back to Artist House in the late 1970s. One imagines he has hoards of tapes that greedy heirs will eventually dump onto the market. Or respectful ones, given that his son Denardo has been his preferred drummer ever since puberty in the 1970s. (Denardo first played on an album in 1966 when he was 10, but it took him a while to finally push Ed Blackwell, Billy Higgins, and Shannon Jackson out of the picture.)

My semi-obligatory database dump:

Mainline Albums:

  • Ornette Coleman: Something Else: The Music of Ornette Coleman (1958, Contemporary) -- ([1988], Contemporary/OJC): B+(***)
  • Ornette Coleman: Tomorrow Is the Question (1959, Contemporary) -- ([1988, Contemporary/OJC): B+(**)
  • Ornette Coleman: The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959, Atlantic) -- ([1990], Atlantic): A+
  • Ornette Coleman: Change of the Century (1959 [1960], Atlantic) -- ([1992], Atlantic): A-
  • The Ornette Coleman Quartet: This Is Our Music (1960 [1961], Atlantic): A-
  • Ornette Coleman Double Quartet: Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation (1960 [1961], Atlantic): A-
  • Ornette Coleman: Ornette! (1961 [1962], Atlantic): A-
  • Ornette Coleman: Ornette on Tenor (1961 [1962], Atlantic): B+(***)
  • Ornette Coleman: Town Hall, 1962 (1962 [1965], ESP-Disk): B+(***)
  • Ornette Coleman: Chappaqua Suite (1965, Columbia): B+
  • The Ornette Coleman Trio: At the "Golden Circle" Stockholm: Volume One (1965 [1966], Blue Note) -- (1987, Blue Note): A
  • The Ornette Coleman Trio: At the "Golden Circle" Stockholm: Volume Two (1965 [1966], Blue Note) -- (1987, Blue Note): A-
  • Ornette Coleman: New York Is Now! (1968, Blue Note) -- ([1989], Blue Note): A-
  • Ornette Coleman: Love Call (1968 [1971], Blue Note): B+(**)
  • Ornette Coleman: Friends and Neighbors: Live at Prince Street (1970 [1972], Flying Dutchman) -- ([2013], BGP): A-
  • Ornette Coleman: Skies of America (1972, Columbia) -- ([2000], Columbia/Legacy): B+
  • Ornette Coleman: Dancing in Your Head (1973-75 [1977], Verve) -- ([2000], Verve): A
  • Ornette Coleman/Charlie Haden: Soapsuds, Soapsuds (1977, Artists House) -- ([1996], Verve/Harmolodic): B+
  • Ornette Coleman: Body Meta (1976 [1978], Artists House) -- ([1996], Verve/Harmolodic): A-
  • Ornette Coleman: Of Human Feelings (1979 [1982], Antilles): A
  • Ornette & Prime Time: Opening the Caravan of Dreams (1985, Caravan of Dreams): B+
  • Ornette Coleman [The Original Quartet & Prime Time]: In All Languages (1985 [1987], Caravan of Dreams, 2LP): A
  • Ornette Coleman: Virgin Beauty (1988, Portrait): A-
  • Ornette Coleman & Prime Time: Tone Dialing (1995, Harmolodic/Verve): B+
  • Ornette Coleman: Sound Museum: Hidden Man (1996, Harmolodic/Verve): B+
  • Ornette Coleman: Sound Museum: Three Women (1996, Harmologic/Verve): B
  • Ornette Coleman + Joachim Kühn: Colors: Live From Leipzig (1996 [1997], Verve/Harmolodic): A-
  • Ornette Coleman: Sound Grammar (2005 [2006], Sound Grammar): A

Miscellaneous Albums: side-credits, compilations, live albums that only appeared much after the fact:

  • Paul Bley Quintet: The Fabulous Paul Bley Quintet (1958 [], Musidisc) -- also released as Paul Bley/Ornette Coleman/Don Cherry/Charlie Haden/Billy Higgins: Live at the Hilcrest Club 1958 (1958 [1976], Inner City), and Coleman Classics, Vol. 1 (IAI): A-
  • John Lewis Presents: Contemporary Music 1: Jazz Abstractions (1960 [1961], Atlantic) -- compositions by Gunther Schuller and Jim Hall; other cover names: Coleman, Eddie Costa, Eric Dolphy, Bill Evans, Scott LaFaro: A-
  • Ornette Coleman: To Whom Who Keeps a Record (1959-60 [1975], Atlantic) -- ([2007], Water): A-
  • Ornette Coleman: The Art of the Improvisers (1959-61 [1970], Atlantic) -- ([1988], Atlantic): A-
  • Ornette Coleman: Twins (1959-61 [1971], Atlantic) -- ([2008], Water): A-
  • Ornette Coleman: Beauty Is a Rare Thing (1959-61 [1993], Rhino/Atlantic, 6CD) -- collects all the Atlantic recordings: A-
  • Jackie McLean/Ornette Coleman: New and Old Gospel (1967, Blue Note) -- ([2007], Blue Note): Coleman plays trumpet: A-
  • Alice Coltrane: Universal Consciousness (1971, Impulse): B
  • Ornette Coleman: The Complete Science Fiction Sessions (1971-72 [2000], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD) -- collects Science Fiction [1972] and the outtakes later issued as Broken Shadows [1982]: A-
  • Ornette Coleman: Ken Burns Jazz: The Definitive Ornette Coleman (1958-75 [2000], Columbia/Legacy): A-
  • Charlie Haden: Closeness (1976, Horizon) -- one of four duets: B+
  • Charlie Haden: The Golden Number (1976 [1977], Horizon) -- one of four duets: B+(***)
  • James Blood [Ulmer]: Tales of Captain Black (1978 [1979], Artists House) -- ([1979], DIW): A-
  • Jamaaladeen Tacuma: Renaissance Man (1983 [1984], Gramavision): B
  • Pat Metheny/Ornette Coleman: Song X (1985 [1986], Geffen): A-; Song X: Twentieth Anniversary ([2005], Nonesuch): A
  • The Ornette Coleman Quartet: The 1987 Hamburg Concert (1987 [2011], Domino, 2CD): A-
  • Geri Allen: Eyes in the Back of Your Head (1995-96 [1997], Blue Note): B+
  • Rolf Kühn & Friends: Affairs (1997, Intuition): Coleman on 1 cut: A-
  • Lou Reed: The Raven (2003, Sire/Reprise): B+
  • Jamaaladeen Tacuma: For the Love of Ornette (2010 [2011], Jazzwerkstatt): B+(***)
  • Sonny Rollins: Road Shows Vol. 2 (2010 [2011], Doxy/Emarcy) -- one cut: A-
  • The Master Musicians of Jajouka, et al.: The Road to Jajouka: A Benefit Album (2013, Howe): A-

Selected albums I have not heard:

  • Ornette Coleman: The Empty Foxhole (1966 [1967], Blue Note)
  • Ornette Coleman: Ornette at 12 (1968 [1969], Impulse!)
  • Yoko Ono: Plastic Ono Band (1968-70 [1970], Apple) -- Coleman played on the one 1968 track
  • Ornette Coleman: Crisis (1969 [1972], Impulse!)
  • Louis Armstrong: Louis Armstrong and His Friends (1970, Flying Dutchman) -- no dream date: Armstrong only sings, and Coleman's credit reads "backing vocals"
  • Cosmetic With Jamaaladeen Tacuma: So Tranquilizin' (1985, Gramavision)
  • Ornette Coleman: Prime Design/Time Design (1985, Caravan of Dreams): composition only, played by string quartet + Denardo Coleman
  • Ornette Coleman: Naked Lunch [Soundtrack] (1988, Portrait)
  • New Vocabulary: New Vocabulary (2014, System Dialing) -- Coleman sued over this "unauthorized" release.

Miscellaneous unheard live albums:

  • Ornette Coleman Quintet: Complete Live at the Hillcrest Club (1958 [2007], Gambit) -- see above, usually attributed to Paul Bley Quintet
  • Ornette Coleman/Don Cherry/Jimmy Giuffre/Kenny Dorham: The Lenox Jazz School Concert: August 29, 1959 (1959 [2009], Free Factory)
  • Ornette Coleman: The Great London Concert (1960 [1975], Arista/Freedom, 2LP) -- also released as An Evening With Ornette Coleman ([1967], Polydor, 2LP)
  • Ornette Coleman Trio: Live at the Tivoli (1965 [1992], Magnetic)
  • Ornette Coleman Trio: Croydon Concert (1965 [2008], Free Factory)
  • Ornette Coleman: Who's Crazy? (1966 [1982], Affinity, 2LP) -- previously two separate LPs, 1 and 2 ([1979], Atmosphere)
  • Ornette Coleman: Lonely Woman Trio '66 (1966, no label): Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Ornette Coleman: Live in Milano (1968 [1989], Jazz Up)
  • Ornette Coleman: The Unprecedented Music of Ornette Coleman (1968 [1996], Passport)
  • Ornette Coleman: The Belgrade Concert (1971 [1995], Jazz Door)
  • Ornette Coleman: European Concert (1971, Unique Jazz): Berlin
  • Ornette Coleman: Paris Concert (1971 [1977], Trio, 2LP) -- later Live in Paris 1971 (1971 [2008], Gambit)
  • Ornette Coleman: Lonely Woman Quartet '74 (1974, no label): Italy
  • Ornette Coleman/Prime Time: Jazzbühne Berlin '88 (1988 [1990], Repertoire)
  • Ornette Coleman Quartet: Reunion 1990 (1990 [2010], Domino, 2CD): Reggio Emilia, Italy

I expect many more live albums will appear in the future, especially as his estate swings into action, and as Europe's 50-year copyright limit legitimizes more bootlegs.

An informal scan indicates that at least 500 albums have Ornette Coleman compositions on them (maybe more than 600; I couldn't check, but "Lonely Woman" is undoubtedly the song leader). I'd hazard a wild guess that two dozen or more albums are tributes/dedicated to Ornette Coleman: most obviously, everything by Old and New Dreams (Don Cherry, Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, Ed Blackwell -- note that Coleman outlived all the members of his ghost band); also (hard to check this precisely): Affinity [Joe Rosenberg], Borah Bergman, Paul Bley, Charlie Haden, Dave Liebman, Pat Metheny, Paul Motian, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, John Zorn.

Ornette Coleman was one of the few jazz musicians Robert Christgau continued to review regularly. His own Consumer Guide reviews are here. This reminds me that the first time I heard Dancing in Your Head was when Bob played it for me. The symphony theme was the most deliriously joyful piece of music I had ever heard. That wasn't the first time I heard Coleman, but it pushed my interest to a higher level.

Some links as others write about Coleman:

Some older pieces:

For a final word, Sonny Rollins (quoted in Gans, above):

We're all happy that we had an opportunity to witness the work and life of Ornette Coleman, and the human race is better for it.

Daily Log

Had to figure this out and write it down somewhere, so here. Slutever discography (all self-released, on Bandcamp):

  • Slutever x Girlpool Split Tape (2014.10.14 EP: 4 songs [2 each], 9:14)
  • White Flag (2014.07.22 digital track: 1 song, 2:26)
  • 1994/Spit (2013.05.21 7" single: 2 songs, 8:41)
  • Slutever Demos (2013.04.05 EP: 8 songs, 27:53)
  • Pussycat (2012.04.20 Cassingle: 1 song, 2:10)
  • Pretend to Be Nice (2011.03.29 EP: 4 songs, 9:11)
  • Sorry I'm Not Sorry (2010.07.27 EP: 6 songs, 12:22)

Monday, June 08, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 25069 [25024] rated (+45), 432 [422] unrated (+10).

When I counted the number of newly rated records below, I found more than my count this week. I went back and rechecked the database, and found four albums listed as unrated that I should have filled in grades for. Then the count exceeded the list, so I went to the Streamnotes draft file and checked what I had written up against the Music Week lists, and found more discrepancies. I added them to the list below, and now the list is longer than the rated count increase again. Most likely that's the Pixies, who probably should have been reported last week. (At least seems to me like it's been a while.) Of course, if I had a system where I didn't have to update my records 4-5 times when I file a grade, I'd make fewer mistakes. But they'd also be harder to fix, so I guess there's that.

The large quantity of old music is due to my attempt to fill in the holes in Spin's Top 300 Albums: 1985-2014 list. I'm a little more than a third of the way through the list. I'm not just doing albums on the list: if I find something else that has a substantial rep and/or looks interesting, I'll slip it in too. Still working on Built to Spill. Next up is Kate Bush (list isn't alphabetical). I'm not spending a lot of time with them, although the A- records get at least two spins, as do some near misses. I'm also not reviewing anything I've graded before, even though some of them look like I may have underrated a bit. It's impossible to keep a list as long as mine in lockstep.

New records include two jazz A-listers from old favorites, albeit of very different stripes. But I have been dragging my feet on the jazz queue, which has been growing at a surprising rate. The main source of new records this week was Spin's 50 Best Albums of 2015 . . . So Far (my comp list is buried in the June 1 notebook). That led me to: American Wrestlers, Cannibal Ox, Dan Deacon, Eye, I Love Makonnen, Knocks, Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba, Monster Rally & Jay Stone, Colin Stetson/Sarah Neufeld, and Young Thug -- two more A-list records there, with Cannibal Ox real close and nothing real bad. I expected Jason Derulo on that list too -- it was plugged as "Spin album of the week" on the same page, and has gotten rapturous reviews from critics I usually agree with, and I loved Talk Dirty as much as they did. I played it twice and it irritated me more than my low B+ grade reveals. The other two new A-list records were obvious things to listen to (Murs, Willie Nelson/Merle Haggard). For a while last week I was logging so many A- records I wondered if I was going soft.

As you may have noticed, Medium's music venture Cuepoint hasn't added any new content since June 2, notably missing last Friday's expected appearance of Robert Christgau's Expert Witness. I don't have any inside info on what's happening, but there's evidently some sort of shakeup going on. The basic idea behind Medium is to sucker people into contributing free content, but Christgau at least has been paid from the start. It wasn't unreasonable at first to seed the free content with some commissioned pieces, but sooner or later some bean counter is going to insist on cutting expenses, and freelancers are easy to stiff. So one possibility is that Medium is tightening the screws. Another is that the "vertical" websites like Cuepoint built on Medium's platform haven't clicked. I think one problem with Cuepoint is that they've never had anyone else doing the sort of thing Christgau does -- either as a columnist with a regular schedule or as a reviewer. Everything else is feature writing, and I only recognize two writers on their current homepage, so they're not exactly trying to build a prestige roster. One result is that I've never found anything other than Christgau worth reading there.

You may recall that something similar happened at the previous home of Christgau's consumer guide, MSN Music. They had a slightly better music site, probably because living off the fat of Microsoft's monopoly they had more money to throw at it. They had a few columnists, although none generated as much as 5% of Christgau's comment traffic. They hired Christgau to write some live reports, and occasionally you could find something else worth reading there, but it was never organized very well. There are other music websites that seem to be successful, but they do so by cultivating a niche audience and covering that niche at considerable depth -- I'm thinking of Pitchfork, PopMatters, All About Jazz, not that I know how much money they really make. But both MSN Music and Cuepoint seemed to have the idea that they could build a mass audience by covering music at the most superficial level. That they failed should not be a big surprise.

Christgau wrote for MSN Music and for Cuepoint for the most pedestrian of reasons: because they paid him to do something he wanted to do anyway. If Cuepoint folds this could be the end of Christgau's Consumer Guide. Or he could find another web angel willing to lose money on him (though it's hard to imagine an infinite chain of them). He could even publish a few CG reviews in a non-paying outlet -- he had written a number of them during his last hiatus just because writing had become an integral part of the way he understands records, and was thinking about giving them to Odyshape (which more or less suspended operations last September). I'd be happy to publish them on his website, where at least they'd add value and interest.

Or he could just hang it up -- something I think about, even after I reconciled myself to writing for free. Could be time to start thinking about a post-Christgau website.

Expect a Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week. Current draft has 50 new records, 3 new compilations, and 75 old records, so that should be plenty. I'm also working on a series of book blurb posts. I came back from New Jersey last fall with many pages of notes I took in various bookstores, but technical problems have kept me from working on them. The last Book Roundup was on July 3, 2014, so nearly a year. There should be several hundred books worth mentioning in that time.

New records rated this week:

  • All Included: Satan in Plain Clothes (2014 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(***)
  • American Wrestlers (2014 [2015], Fat Possum): [r]: B
  • Cannibal Ox: Blade of the Ronin (2015, iHipHop): [r]: B+(***)
  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert: Io (2013 [2015], FMR): [cd]: B+(***)
  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Rafal Mazur: Unknowable (2014 [2015], Not Two): [cd]: A-
  • Dan Deacon: Gliss Rifter (2015, Domino): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jason Derulo: Everything Is 4 (2015, Warner Brothers): [r]: B+(*)
  • Deux Maisons: For Sale (2013 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Chris Dingman: The Subliminal & the Sublime (2013 [2015], Inner Arts Initiative): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The Eye: The Future Will Be Repeated (2015, Ba Da Bing): [r]: B+(**)
  • Scott Hamilton: Scott Hamilton Plays Jule Styne (2015, Blue Duchess): [cd]: A-
  • I Love Makonnen: Drink More Water 5 (2015, OVO Sound): [dl]: B+(**)
  • The Knocks: So Classic (2015, Big Beat, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Ba Power (2015, Glitterbeat): [r]: A-
  • Major Lazer: Peace Is the Mission (2015, Mad Decent): [r]: B+(*)
  • Monster Rally & Jay Stone: Foreign Pedestrians (2014 [2015], Gold Robot): [r]: B+(*)
  • Murs: Have a Nice Day (2015, Strange Music): [r]: A-
  • Willie Nelson/Merle Haggard: Django and Jimmie (2015, Legacy): [r]: A-
  • Pixies: Indie Cindy (2014, Pixiesmusic): [r]: B
  • Colin Stetson/Sarah Neufeld: Never Were the Way She Was (2015, Constellation): [r]: A-
  • Davide Tammaro: Ghosts (2014 [2015], self-released): [cd]: B
  • Frank Vignola & Vinny Raniolo: Swing Zing! (2015, FV): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Young Thug: Barter 6 (2015, 300/Atlantic): [r]: B+(**)

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

  • The Red Line Comp: A DCHC Compilation ([2015], self-released, EP): [bc]: B+(*)

Old records rated this week:

  • Mary J. Blige: What's the 411? (1992, Uptown/MCA): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mary J. Blige: No More Drama (2001, MCA): [r]: B+(**)
  • Built to Spill: Ultimate Alternative Wavers (1992, C/Z): [r]: B+(***)
  • Built to Spill: There's Nothing Wrong With Love (1994, Up): [r]: A-
  • Built to Spill: Keep It Like a Secret (1999, Warner Brothers): [r]: A-
  • Built to Spill: Ancient Melodies of the Future (2001, Warner Brothers): B
  • Built to Spill: You in Reverse (2006, Warner Brothers): [r]: B+(**)
  • Depeche Mode: Construction Time Again (1983, Sire): [r]: B
  • Depeche Mode: Some Great Reward (1984, Sire): [r]: B+(*)
  • Depeche Mode: Catching Up With Depeche Mode (1980-85 [1985], Sire): [r]: B+(**)
  • Depeche Mode: Black Celebration (1986, Sire): [r]: B
  • Depeche Mode: Violator (1990, Sire/Reprise): [r]: B
  • Depeche Mode: Songs of Faith and Devotion (1993, Sire/Reprise): [r]: B-
  • Dinosaur Jr.: You're Living All Over Me (1987, SST): [r]: B+(**)
  • Pixies: Come On Pilgrim (1987, 4AD, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Pixies: Surfer Rosa (1988, 4AD/Elektra): [r]: B+(*)
  • Primal Scream: XTRMNTR (2000, Astralwerks): [r]: A-
  • Radiohead: Pablo Honey (1993, Capitol): [r]: B+(**)
  • Radiohead: The Bends (1995, Capitol): [r]: B
  • Radiohead: Hail to the Thief (2003, Capitol): [r]: B+(*)
  • Tears for Fears: The Hurting (1983, Mercury): [r]: B+(*)
  • Tears for Fears: Songs From the Big Chair (1985, Mercury): [r]: B
  • Tears for Fears: The Seeds of Love (1989, Mercury): [r]: B-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Stephen Anderson/360° Jazz Initiative: Distracted Society (Summit)
  • Brett Carson: Quattuor Elephantis (Edgetone)
  • Casa: Futuro (Clean Feed)
  • Linda Dachtyl: A Late One (Summit)
  • Benjamin Duboc/Jean-Luc Petit: Double-Basse: This Is Not Art (Clean Feed)
  • Satoko Fujii Tobira: Yamiyo Ni Karasu (Libra): July 14
  • Vance Gilbert: Nearness of You (Disismye Music)
  • Chris Golinski/Tim McNally/Boaz Roberts: Rodeo (Edgetone)
  • Dre Hocevar Trio: Coding of Evidentiality (Clean Feed)
  • Keith Kelly Ask Not: A Grand Apparatus, Discarded (Edgetone)
  • Lona Kozik/Chris Golinski: Spelaeology (Edgetone)
  • Lama + Joachim Badenhorst: The Elephant's Journey (Clean Feed)
  • Marsa Fouty: Concerts (Fou)
  • Bob Mintzer Big Band: Get Up! (MCG Jazz): June 23
  • Gard Nilssen's Acoustic Unity: Firehouse (Clean Feed)
  • Caili O'Doherty: Padme (Odo): July 7
  • Rent Romus' Life's Blood Ensemble: The Otherworld Cycle (Edgetone)
  • Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet: Intercambio (Patois): July 7

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links this week:

  • Jason Ditz: Senate Votes to Block Pentagon Paying Millions to NFL to 'Honor Troops': You probably thought (if you thought about it at all) that the NFL was just engaging in patriotic showboating, but it turns out they were on the government dole. Precious quote, from Sens. McCain, Flake, and Blumenthal: "the US cannot afford to give 'scarce defense dollars to wealthy sports teams.'" They're talking about $5.4 million, a tiny drop in the trillion or so dollars the US spends on "defense" each year. Indeed, it's probably only a small fraction of what the Defense Dept. spends on PR, the effect of which is to make war more politically acceptable.

  • Paul Krugman: Why Am I a Keynesian?

    Noah Smith sort-of approvingly quotes Russ Roberts, who views all macroeconomic positions as stalking horses for political goals, and declares in particular that

    Krugman is a Keynesian because he wants bigger government. I'm an anti-Keynesian because I want smaller government.

    OK, I'm not going to clutch my pearls and ask for the smelling salts. Politics can shape our views, in ways we may not recognize. [ . . . ]

    So, am I a Keynesian because I want bigger government? If I were, shouldn't I be advocating permanent expansion rather than temporary measures? Shouldn't I be for stimulus all the time, not only when we're at the zero lower bound? When I do call for bigger government -- universal health care, higher Social Security benefits -- shouldn't I be pushing these things as job-creation measures? (I don't think I ever have). I think if you look at the record, I've always argued for temporary fiscal expansion, and only when monetary policy is constrained. Meanwhile, my advocacy of an expanded welfare state has always been made on its own grounds, not in terms of alleged business cycle benefits.

    In other words, I've been making policy arguments the way one would if one sincerely believed that fiscal policy helps fight unemployment under certain conditions, and not at all in the way one would if trying to use the slump as an excuse for permanently bigger government.

    But in that case, why am I a Keynesian? Maybe because of convincing evidence?

    First of all, the case for viewing most recessions -- and the Great Recession in particular -- as failures of aggregate demand is overwhelming.

    Now, this could be a case for using monetary rather than fiscal policy -- and that actually is the policy I advocate in response to garden-variety slumps. But when the slump pushes rates down to zero, and that's still not enough, any simple model I can think of says that fiscal expansion can be a useful supplement, while fiscal austerity makes a bad situation worse.

    And while it's true that there was limited direct evidence on the effects of fiscal policy 6 or 7 years ago, there's now a lot, and it's very supportive of a Keynesian view.

    Krugman is generally right that Keynesian macro is preferred because it provides a more accurate and efficient understanding of the interaction between government spending and economic growth, and can back that up with evidence, especially of a predictive nature. But whether you want growth and what kind of growth you want are political issues. Those who do, like Krugman (or Nixon, when he wanted to take credit for a robust economy, and had one that often seemed to be on the verge of collapse), will be Keynesians because they want tools that work. But those who don't care about growth (except of business profits) will disparage Keynes -- after all, why acknowledge an analysis that could work when that's not what you want? Keynes wouldn't be controversial but for the purely political desire to slag the economy. You might wonder why Republicans would want to do that -- some combination of making a Democrat in the White House look bad and a preference for increasing inequality over economic growth.

    The "big government" association with Keynesianism is, as Krugman shows, misdirection. I'd personally like to trim large segments of government -- especially the biggest one of all, the military. That doing so would be contractionary doesn't bother me. One can always spend more elsewhere, and finding more productive investments than the US military should be easy. Or you can reduce taxes and, as Bush liked to put it, let people spend their own money. Strangely enough, anti-government obsessives rarely worry about the military -- even though from the founding of the republic up to WWII many Americans regarded a standing army as the greatest threat to liberty. Rather, what they object to is that government is subject to democratic rule and as such can be used to rebalance private fortunes, whereas their vaunted private sector tends to exacerbate inequities. They object not to the government which they need to secure private property, but to what that government might do to satisfy the masses. Over the ages they've pulled every trick imaginable to keep the belief that the nation was founded upon -- that all men are created equal -- from becoming reality. Denying the efficacy of Keynesian economics is just one such trick.

  • Bill McKibben: How mankind blew the fight against climate change: Strange scenes from Exxon Mobil's annual shareholders meeting:

    The meeting came two days after Texas smashed old rainfall records -- almost doubled them, in some cases -- and as authorities were still searching for families swept away after rivers crested many feet beyond their previous records. As Exxon Mobil's Rex Tillerson -- the highest-paid chief executive of the richest fossil fuel firm on the planet -- gave his talk, the death toll from India's heat wave mounted and pictures circulated on the Internet of Delhi's pavement literally melting. Meanwhile, satellite images showed Antarctica's Larsen B ice shelf on the edge of disintegration.

    And how did Tillerson react? By downplaying climate change and mocking renewable energy. To be specific, he said that "inclement weather" and sea level rise "may or may not be induced by climate change," but in any event technology could be developed to cope with any trouble. "Mankind has this enormous capacity to deal with adversity and those solutions will present themselves as those challenges become clear," he said.

    But apparently those solutions don't include, say, the wind and sun. Exxon Mobil wouldn't invest in renewable energy, Tillerson said, because clean technologies don't make enough money and rely on government mandates that were (remarkable choice of words) "not sustainable." He neglected to mention the report a week earlier from the not-very-radical International Monetary Fund detailing $5.3 trillion a year in subsidies for the fossil fuel industry.

    All in all, a sneering and sad performance by a man paid nearly $100,000 a day, whose company spends $100 million a day looking for new oil and gas even though scientists say we simply can't burn most of the fossil fuel we've already located without devastating consequences.

    The science explaining climate change, like Keynesian economics (above), has become inconvenient for certain well established interests who prefer to think that politics trumps science, or that anything that challenges their personal interests and prejudices must be nothing but propaganda against them. While this is often true, nowhere more so than in the oil industry, where fortunes were built on nothing more than a lottery of land titles, yet every tycoon considers himself a self-made man, not to mention graced by God.

  • Daniel Strauss: Brownback May Empower Kris Kobach to Prosecute 'Voter Fraud' Cases Himself: Kobach has been lobbying for this power ever since he was elected Secretary of State in 2010, although it's never been clear who he'd prosecute with this -- as he hasn't been able to get a single county to prosecute one of his cases yet. If anyone should be prosecuted for voter fraud it's Kobach, Brownback, and the state legislature, whose ID laws have prevented thousands of otherwise eligible citizens from voting. Josh Marshall comments: "He can just prosecute anyone he wants." Certainly a dream come true for a self-aggrandizing demagogue.

  • Maybe the GOP Candidates Are Just as Self-Deluding as Their Voter Base: Much discussion with little insight into the plethora of Republicans who are mounting campaigns for president in 2016. This keys off a Kevin Drum piece (title: Why Do So Many Obvious Losers Think They Can Be President?) that, in the most pedestrian tradition of horserace journalism tries to handicap the hopefuls. Both pieces are governed by the idea that only candidates with reasonable chances should bother running -- an idea which in the past has mostly been used to avoid considering the issues that "fringe" candidates (Dennis Kucinich is pretty close to the archetype here) run on and for. But Republicans are so ideologically homogeneous that it's hard to think of a candidate with issues to be silenced. (Drum tries to dismiss Rand Paul as having views "just flatly too far out of the tea party mainstream" -- actually, Paul's tea party bona fides are as strong as any candidate's [Cruz being the only obvious competition], his one major unorthodoxy [opposition to the PATRIOT Act] is quite popular among tea party rank-and-file, and he's shown remarkable willingness to shelve libertarian positions on fetish issues like abortion and Israel.)

    Of course, Drum's supposition is fully operative among Democrats. Hillary Clinton's inevitability -- a combination of name, stature, and an almost unique access to a resource base formidable enough to stand up to Republican money power -- doesn't give any other Democrats any real chance at raising the money they'd need to be taken seriously. (This on top of the usual Democratic fundraising disadvantages, such as a lower return on graft.)

    On the other hand lots of Republicans seem to be coming up with the money to run, and the fact that they're all saying the same thing just helps reinforce the brand. (One person's may be a crackpot, but three add up to a trend, and nine gives you a new conventional wisdom even if what they're saying still sounds crazed.) And all saying the same thing reduces the contest to one of personality -- something they'd much rather have us talking about than issues, which usually require a thick layer of packaging to be palatable at all. As usual with the Republicans, one suspects that this is just pre-primary dog-and-pony show to drum up interest, with the fix revealed later at an appropriately dramatic moment.

    One hint here is the recent demise of the candidacy of Dennis Michael Lynch -- a candidate you never heard of, probably because he doesn't fit the profile of "rising Republican star," maybe because his obsessive issue (anti-immigration) is one Republican powers would rather not talk about. On the other hand, there is a role for the nearly-as-obscure Carly Fiorina. Steve M. writes:

    My first impression of [Fiorina's] campaign wasn't that it was a campaign for president or vice president -- it was that, as a candidate, she's like the one female member of a rich accused rapist's defense dream team, the attorney whose principal role is to do a really vicious cross-examination of the victim, because that would come of as sexist if a man did it.

Also, a few links for further study:

  • Chloe Angyal: The Subculture of Embattled Abortion Workers: Abortion is one of the very few political issues today where ordinary debate is shadowed and haunted by one side adopting a network of harrassment and terror. Of course, this is not unprecedented in American history: the civil rights movement was met by even more violence, both in the 1960s and throughout the previous century, with much of that violence orchestrated by the various states. The labor movement up to the 1930s comes in a not-too-distant second. Still, while racism and anti-laborism persist, the level of violence and its chilling effects are far less than that experienced by the people who run and work with clinics that provide abortions. (Part of the reason may be the demagoguery of anti-choice politicians like Sam Brownback, playing the role George Wallace and Lester Maddox did on race.) Angyal reviews a book by David S Cohen and Krysten Connon: Living in the Crosshairs: The Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion Terrorism (2015, Oxford University Press), which details much of this history.

  • Jared Bernstein/Ben Spielberg: Inequaliity Matters: Lead in:

    Lately, one argument that's been making the rounds is that people should worry less about inequality and more about opportunity. Arthur Brooks, head of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said, "I don't care about income inequality per se; I care about opportunity inequality." Senator and presidential candidate Marco Rubio believes that inequality is but a symptom of immobility and constrained opportunity. Tyler Cowen argued in the New York Times that what matters is not the fact that the top 1 percent is capturing a much larger share of total income growth than they used to, but that the poor are stuck in poverty.

    These individuals have identified a worthy goal. Unequal access to opportunity offends deeply held American values, and poverty is not only a matter of near-term material deprivation -- too often, it also robs low-income children of the chance to realize their intellectual and economic potential.

    But it's not possible to effectively address either poverty or inadequate opportunity if America hives off its opportunity concerns from the broader problem of inequality (nor, as Senator Rubio intimates, can America reduce inequality by focusing solely on increasing mobility). Boosting mobility will require reductions in wage, income, and wealth inequalities.

    The authors back up their initial assertions. One question they don't address is whether opportunity is being deliberately constricted by the rich; e.g., by making elite education both more necessary for advancement and more inaccessible to the unwealthy. It makes sense that a politically aggressive upper class recognizing a stagnant economy with austerity reducing the number of slots near the top would focus more on securing those slots for their own progeny. I don't know that anyone has sorted out the evidence for this, but there are many hints -- e.g., the nepotism boom under the second Bush administration.

  • Garrett Epps: Out of Spite: The Governor of Nebraska's Threat to Execute Prisoners: Nebraska's state legislature passed a bill to ban capital punishment. Governor Ricketts vetoed the bill, and the legislature overrode the veto, making the bill law. So what does Ricketts do? Follow the law? No. He vows to speed up the executions of ten prisoners already on death row. Epps surveys many of the issues, including the increasing difficulty that states are having obtaining lethal injection drugs.

  • David Himmelstein/Steffie Woolhandler: The Post-Launch Problem: The Affordable Care Act's Persistently High Administrative Costs:

    Insuring 25 million additional Americans, as the CBO projects the ACA will do, is surely worthwhile. But the administrative cost of doing so seems awfully steep, particularly when much cheaper alternatives are available.

    Traditional Medicare runs for 2 percent overhead, somewhat higher than insurance overhead in universal single payer systems like Taiwan's or Canada's. Yet traditional Medicare is a bargain compared to the ACA strategy of filtering most of the new dollars through private insurers and private HMOs that subcontract for much of the new Medicaid coverage. Indeed, dropping the overhead figure from 22.5 percent to traditional Medicare's 2 percent would save $249.3 billion by 2022.

    The ACA isn't the first time we've seen bloated administrative costs from a federal program that subcontracts for coverage through private insurers. Medicare Advantage plans' overhead averaged 13.7 percent in 2011, about $1,355 per enrollee. But rather than learn from that mistake, both Democrats and Republicans seem intent on tossing more federal dollars to private insurers.

  • Esther Kaplan: Losing Sparta: The Bitter Truth Behind the Gospel of Productivity: That's Sparta, Tennessee, home of a huge unionized factory owned by Philips and shut down in 2010, the equipment (and business) to be moved to Mexico.

    When Philips announced its plans to shut down the plant in Sparta, the firm was in the black, aided by $7.2 million in federal stimulus grants and contracts. Profits were even better the following year as the firm began to lay off the plant's nearly 300 workers. Even Philips's lighting division was doing well. By late 2010, three years into the recovery, corporate profits, in general, had bounced back decisively, reaching record highs. Yet layoffs continued apace -- 1.4 million in 2010, 1.3 million a year in 2011 and 2012 -- well above prerecession levels.

    Among other profitable firms -- indeed, Fortune's list of America's most profitable firms in 2012, the year the Philips plant finally closed its gates -- closures and layoffs have been widespread: Chevron lays off 103 from a New Mexico mine; Walmart shuts down a New York office, putting 275 out of work; Ford shuts down two assembly plants in Minnesota, laying off nearly 1,700; IBM lays off 1,790 from its business units; Microsoft lays off 5,000. Exxon, ranked number one in profitability by Fortune in 2012, with $41 billion in profits in 2011, shrank its global workforce by more than 15,000 between 2010 and 2012. Chevron, at number two with profits of $27 billion, added only a thousand US jobs during that period. Apple was the only one of the country's five most profitable firms to add more than 10,000 jobs during that time (and Apple's public disclosures don't specify how many of those jobs were domestic). The latest Commerce Department data show that all US multinationals combined added a net total of only half a million jobs domestically between 2002 and 2011, but added 3.5 million jobs abroad, an indication of offshoring on a very grand scale.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Daily Log

List from Spin's The 50 Best Albums of 2015 . . . So Far (my grades in brackets, red

  • Action Bronson: Mr. Wonderful (Atlantic/Vice) [***]
  • Alabama Shakes: Sound & Color (ATO) [*]
  • American Wrestlers: American Wrestlers (Fat Possum) [B]
  • Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba: Ba Power (Glitterbeat) [A-]
  • Best Coast: California Nights (Harvest) [*]
  • Björk: Vulnicura (One Little Indian) []
  • Black Cilice: Mysteries (Iron Bonehead) []
  • Blur: The Magic Whip (Parlophone) [**]
  • The Body/Thou: You, Whom I Have Always Hated (Thrill Jockey) []
  • Cannibal Ox: Blade of the Ronin (IGC) [***]
  • Chastity Belt: Time to Go Home (Hardly Art) [*]
  • Ciara: Jackie (Epic) [***]
  • Colin Stetson/Sarah Neufeld: Never Were the Way She Was (Constellation) [A-]
  • Colleen Green: I Want to Grow Up (Hardly Art) [B]
  • Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom + Pop) [A-]
  • Dan Deacon: Gliss Riffer (Domino) [*]
  • Dawn [Richard]: Blackheart (Our Dawn) [B]
  • Drake: If You're Reading This It's Too Late (Cash Money) [B]
  • Dwight Yoakam: Second Hand Heart (Warner Bros) [B]
  • Earl Sweatshirt: I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside (Columbia) [*]
  • Eye: The Future Will Be Repeated (Ba Da Bing) [**]
  • Father John Misty: I Love You, Honeybear (Sub Pop) [B]
  • Fifth Harmony: Reflection (Epic) []
  • Girl Band: The Early Years (Rough Trade) []
  • Heems: Eat Pray Thug (Megaforce) [A-]
  • iLoveMakonnen: Drink More Water 5 (self-released) [**]
  • Jack Ü [Skrillex/Diplo]: Jack Ü (Atlantic/Mad Decent/OWSLA) [***]
  • Juan Wauters: Who Me? (Captured Tracks) [*]
  • Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly (Top Dawg/Interscope) [A-]
  • The Knocks: So Classic (Big Beat, EP) [*]
  • Laura Marling: Short Movie (Ribbon Music) [A-]
  • Levon Vincent: Levon Vincent (Novel Sound) []
  • Liturgy: The Ark Work (Thrill Jockey) []
  • Marina & the Diamonds: Proof (Atlantic) []
  • Metz: Metz II (Sub Pop) []
  • Monster Rally & Jay Stone: Foreign Pedestrians (Gold Robot) [*]
  • Panda Bear: Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper (Domino) [B]
  • The Paranoid Style: Rock and Roll Just Can't Recall (Worldwide Battle, EP) [***]
  • Screaming Females: Rose Mountain (Don Giovanni) []
  • Shamir: Ratchet (XL) [A-]
  • Sleater-Kinney: No Cities to Love (Sub Pop) [*]
  • Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty) [***]
  • Timeghost: Cellular (Load) []
  • Torche: Restarter (Relapse) []
  • various artists: PC Music Volume 1 (PC Music) [**]
  • Viet Cong: Viet Cong (Jagjaguwar) [**]
  • Waxahatchee: Ivy Tripp (Wichita) [**]
  • Young Fathers: White Men Are Black Men Too (Big Dada) [**]
  • Young Guv: Ripe 4 Luv (Slumberland) [***]
  • Young Thug: Barter 6 (self-released) [**]

Initial list check stats: [A-]: 5 (7); [***]: 6 (7); [**]: 5 (8); [*]: 5 (8); [B]: 6; []: 23 (14).

Top non-jazz records missing here:

  1. James McMurtry: Complicated Game (Complicated Game) **
  2. Low Cut Connie: Hi Honey (Ardent Music/Contender) **
  3. BadBadNotGood & Ghostface Killah: Sour Soul (Lex) **
  4. Tuxedo: Tuxedo (Stones Throw) **
  5. The Mountain Goats: Beat the Champ (Merge) **
  6. Ray Wylie Hubbard: The Ruffian's Misfortune (Bordello) **
  7. The Mowgli's: Kids in Love (Republic) **
  8. Mbongwana Star: From Kinshasa (World Circuit) **
  9. Fabiano Do Nascimento: Dança Dos Tempos (Now-Again) **

Music Week

Music: Current count 25024 [25005] rated (+19), 422 [420] unrated (+2).

Missed four days for my trip to Arkansas. Fortunately, caught a break in the moonsoon on both travelling days, although it rained a lot the two full days at my cousin's house. They let me cook. I opted for comfort food on Friday -- boiled chicken with biscuits with green beans on the side -- and for blowout eight-dish Chinese on Saturday. Still, best meal was probably the standard Arkansas breakfast my second cousin put together Sunday morning -- including the chocolate gravy her grandmother (my aunt) was famous for, although I prefer the sausage gravy on my biscuits.

For "old music" I continue to pick off unheard albums from Spin's 1985-2014 list. Sometimes I go deeper into back catalogs I never paid much attention to back in the day, and sometimes not. In the case of Blur I started with a couple of early unheard albums, then skipped to the one selected (13), then checked out this year's reunion album, but I left a few holes I didn't bother with. I started from the git go with Depeche Mode, but doubt I'll go beyond the list album (1990's Violator). Running across more records not on Rhapsody, like Dr. Dre's The Chronic and Guided by Voices' Bee Thousand.

Didn't get to much new jazz last year, but did find two surprises: a teenaged standards singer from Spain, Andrea Motis, and a tribute album to little-remembered vibraphonist Gary McFarland. I wrote a little tweet-review of the former mostly to share the bandcamp link. The McFarland tribute was an even bigger surprise: I hear a lot of fine mainstream postbop, but almost by definition the genre sticks with ordinary conventions. But after sitting on the fence for a couple plays, the sparkling performances paid off here.

New records rated this week:

  • Priscilla Badhwar: Mademoiselle (2014 [2015], self-released, EP): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Blur: The Magic Whip (2015, Parlophone): [r]: B+(**)
  • Joan Chamorro & Andrea Motis: Feeling Good (2012 [2015], Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Lorin Cohen: Home (2014 [2015], Origin): [cd]: B
  • Colours Jazz Orchestra: Home Away From Home: Plays the Music of Ayn Inserto (2013 [2015], Neu Klang): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The Gary McFarland Legacy Ensemble: Circulation: The Music of Gary McFarland (2015, Planet Arts): [cd]: A-

Old records rated this week:

  • Blur: Leisure (1991, SBK): [r]: B
  • Blur: Modern Life Is Rubbish (1993, SBK): [r]: B-
  • Blur: 13 (1999, Virgin): [r]: B+(**)
  • Daft Punk: Homework (1997, Virgin): [r]: B
  • Depeche Mode: Speak & Spell (1981, Sire): [r]: B
  • Depeche Mode: A Broken Frame (1982, Sire): [r]: B-
  • J Dilla: Donuts (2006, Stones Throw): [r]: B
  • Slayer: Reign in Blood (1986, Def American): [r]: B
  • TLC: CrazySexyCool (1994, La Face): [r]: B+(**)
  • TLC: Fanmail (1999, La Face): [r]: B+(***)
  • A Tribe Called Quest: Midnight Marauders (1993, Jive): [r]: A-
  • A Tribe Called Quest: Beats, Rhymes and Life (1996, Jive): [r]: A-
  • A Tribe Called Quest: The Love Movement (1998, Jive): [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Tiffany Austin: Nothing but Soul (Con Alma): June 2
  • Kevin Bachelder/Jason Lee Bruns: Cherry Avenue (Panout Music Group)
  • Kenny Carr: Idle Talk (self-released)
  • Jerry Granelli Trio + 3: What I Hear Now (Addo)
  • Brianna Thomas: You Must Believe in Love (Sound On Purpose)
  • John Yao and His 17-Piece Instrument: Flip-Flop (See Tao): June 9

One thing that inevitably comes up when I visit Arkansas was the political legacy of the Clintons. My cousin expressed her belief that Bill Clinton was a pretty good president. But rather than agree, at least relative to other recent presidents, I detailed a list of things that I thought Clinton did that were bad:

  1. Clinton failed to control the US military, starting with his cave-in on "don't ask, don't tell" and his failure to force any real post-Cold War cuts. This led to an expansion of military actions, especially where a liberal/humanitarian excuse could be cooked up (e.g., Haiti, Kosovo). Clinton himself found ad hoc bombing attacks useful, expecially in Iraq. His failure to resolve Iraq made Bush's 2003 invasion possible.
  2. Clinton was a sponsor or at least a willing collaborator in several pieces of banking deregulation (including repeal of Glass-Steagall) that led to, perhaps inevitably, the 2008 crash.
  3. Clinton pushed various "free trade" measure, starting with NAFTA, which have had exported jobs and weakened the American working class.
  4. Clinton (and Hillary deserves a fair amount of blame here) bungled his health care system fix, delaying any reform by two decades, leaving us even today short of a system that works fairly.

I suppose I could have added something about jail sentences and something about welfare "reform" but I have less of a handle on exactly how Clinton screwed those things up. There's also question as to what extend Clinton was responsible for the Democrats' loss of Congress in 1994, and beyond that the damage he did to the party by his hoarding and squandering of party resources -- problems which Obama recapitulated with remarkable indifference.

All that said, sure, Clinton was a much better president than either the Bush before or the Bush after him; even more so compared to Reagan. Possibly even compared to Obama, although in many respects the Obama administration we got more closely resembles the Hillary administration we voted for Obama to improve on. Obama certainly has a better thought out approach to foreign policy (aka war), banking, health care, etc., although he's had to make deeper compromises given the situation he inherited (and was so reluctant to complain about).

May 2015 Jul 2015