August 2015 Notebook


Monday, August 31, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 25408 [25368] rated (+40), 429 [426] unrated (+3).

Christgau makes a big point about never writing about an album until he is sure what he thinks about it, including a firm grade. I've never been so certain about anything, or at least about music, so I've always regarded my grades as provisional approximations. That doesn't mean that I don't take due diligence. I very rarely grade an album A- on one play, although I also rarely give a second play to a B+(*) to give it a chance to rise of fall a notch, or a B- to see how bad it really is. Still, it seems like the line between B+(***) and A- is unusually cloudy this week. The Barry Altschul album and a couple of the old Hat discs are pretty solid, but all the rest of the A- records are borderline. Some of the B+(***) come close, too -- in particular, it's tempting to bump up everything Ellery Eskelin does, while on the other hand, I rarely get excited enough by Paul Bley and/or Jimmy Giuffre.

I finished digging through the ECM records on MPE. They only go back to March (or maybe later, as the label's German and US release dates aren't always the same), so there are still some 2015 ECM releases I missed -- notably everyone's favorite, Jack De Johnette's Made in Chicago. Despite the "[dl]" notation below, everything I rated was based on streaming, and the user interface requires me to login again every time I finish an album, so there's a built-in bias against second plays. The only ECM record I downloaded was Elina Duni's, and I haven't tried burning a copy yet, but it struck me as something I'd be willing to do a little work to hear again. (She's an Albanian folk singer, but works with a first-rate Swiss jazz group, Colin Vallon's piano trio.) Falling just short of that are two other B+(***) albums by Gary Peacock and Stefano Battaglia -- good records, but not as exceptional.

Jerry Bergonzi's new record is probably the most borderline of all. I must have played it six, maybe as many as eight, times, and every time I was ready to file it as a high B+ I'd hear something special -- always from the tenor saxophonist. The problem is he get diluted with a second horn -- no knock on Phil Grenadier, whose trumpet sparkles throughout, but I prefer Bergonzi's trios and quartets, albums like Tenor Talk and Simply Put.

After Christgau declared Stuff Like That There Yo La Tengo's "loveliest album ever," I almost reflexively considered it an A-, but then I looked up Fakebook in my database and was reminded that I had only given it a B+(*) -- the best thing about their covers album was that it showed that they owned some of the same esoteric records I did. Aside from the Hank Williams, this new batch of covers is even more esoteric, sometimes a plus, sometimes not. And while it is lovely -- it reminded me of one of those later, hitless Everly Brothers albums -- much of the middle wasn't especially distinguished. But it ends on a song so good I started having second thoughts. Just didn't follow up on them.

Going into the week, it wasn't clear what I would do down in the old music section, but last week I had followed the new Gary Peacock album with an older Paul Bley duet, Partners -- a 4-star from the Penguin Guide list, and that got me to looking at what else Rhapsody had from Bley that I hadn't heard before. That's when I discovered that Rhapsody had added a sizable chunk of the Hatology (aka Hat Hut and Hat Art and Hat Now) catalogue. Hat was one of a handful of European labels that rescued avant-jazz in the late 1970s -- the only more important label, at least for American avant-gardists, was Black Saint/Soul Note (in Italy), with DIW (Japan) coming a bit later, and Leo (UK) and FMP (Germany) focusing more on European artists.

Checking back through my database, I had previously rated 72 Hat albums, and had another 109 in the "shopping" list. To give you a taste, all of the following are rated A- or higher ([A] so marked):

  • Ray Anderson/Han Bennink/Christy Doran: Cheer Up (1995, Hat Art)
  • Anthony Braxton: Dortmund (Quartet) 1976 (1976, Hat Art)
  • Anthony Braxton: Eight (+3) Tristano Compositions 1989 (1989, Hat Art)
  • Anthony Braxton: Willisau (Quartet) 1991 (1991, Hat Art, 4CD)
  • Anthony Braxton: Charlie Parker Project 1993 (1993, Hat Art, 2CD)
  • Dave Burrell: Windward Passages (1979 [1994], Hat Art)
  • Clusone Trio: Soft Lights and Sweet Music (1993, Hat Art)
  • Dave Douglas: Constellations (1995, Hat Art)
  • Ellery Eskelin/Andrea Parkins/Jim Black: One Great Day (1996 [1997], Hatology)
  • Ellery Eskelin/Andrea Parkins/Jim Black: 12 (+1) Imaginary Views (2001 [2002], Hatology)
  • Ellery Eskelin: Ten (2004, Hatology)
  • Steve Lacy/Roswell Rudd: School Days (1963 [1994], Hat Art)
  • Steve Lacy: Morning Joy: Live at Sunset Paris (1986, Hat Art) [A]
  • Jon Lloyd: Four and Five (1998, Hatology)
  • Joe McPhee: Oleo and A Future Retrospective (1982 [1992], Hat Art)
  • Joe McPhee: Linear B (1990 [1991], Hat Art)
  • Manuel Mengis: Into the Barn (2004 [2005], Hatology)
  • David Murray: 3D Family (1978 [2006], Hatology)
  • Matthew Shipp: The Multiplication Table (1998, Hatology)
  • Matthew Shipp: Expansion, Power, Release (1999 [2001], Hatology)
  • Horace Tapscott: The Dark Tree: 1 (1989, Hat Art) [A]
  • Horace Tapscott: The Dark Tree: 2 (1989, Hat Art)
  • Cecil Taylor: One Too Many Salty Swift and Not Goodbye (1978 [1980], Hat Art, 2CD)
  • Vienna Art Orchestra: From No Time to Rag Time (1982 [1983], Hat Art) [A]
  • Vienna Art Orchestra: The Minimalism of Erik Satie (1983-84, Hat Art)
  • John Zorn: News for Lulu (1987, Hat Art)

So that's 26 A/A- records, before I added six this week (plus one more after the cutoff, so next week). Possible I'm loosening up the curve: I'd expect the percentage of A-/A records to decline over time, having cherry-picked the best prospects early on. Indeed, it has: the legacy share is 36.1% (26/72), whereas this week's haul is down to 28.5% (6/21). I expect it will drop further as I keep tapping into this resource. By the way, I've run across a couple cases where cuts are missing. If that seems minor, I may just hedge, but Mal Waldron & Steve Lacy: Live at Dreher Paris 1981 was reduced from 4CD to three cuts (all takes of "Round Midnight"), so there's nothing a critic can do about that.

Also, I haven't found much here that predates the launch of the Hatology (or as they prefer to style it, "hatOLOGY") label. There are several weird things about Hat's business model. One is that they tout their releases as "limited editions" -- usually that means a run of 3000 units -- so their most popular titles tend to run out of print, while they periodically binge and put the rest on deeply discounted sales (I've picked up a lot of titles for $5 or less over the years). Currently Hatology is used both for new releases and reissues of out-of-print titles.

One pair of grades is worth breaking down. The two Joe McPhee discs are both solo, one coming in at A-, the other B-. As near as I can figure it, McPhee's 1976 album Tenor was his answer to Anthony Braxton's 1969 For Alto, an album often held to be brilliant as well as uncompromising -- Penguin Guide awarded it one of their crowns -- but which I've always found to be plug ugly (I gave it a D based on an LP I no longer own). Tenor takes the same approach and, given the larger horn, digs even deeper. If I were to revisit For Alto (and I do have the CD somewhere) I would probably bump it up some, but I found myself anxious for Tenor & Fallen Angels to end long before it did. On the other hand, As Serious as Your Life varies the instruments -- McPhee is also a superb trumpet player (actually, pocket cornet here), and will astonish you on crashing piano, and he adds some electronics to a couple cuts so he actually has a beat to bounce off, so it winds up being a very different album.

The Tony Coe album is another Penguin Guide 4-star that I found while looking for Hat releases -- he has a couple of them, a long association with Derek Bailey and/or Tony Oxley, an avant side far removed from his roots with Humphrey Lyttelton in Britain's trad jazz movement. Could be this swing album sounded even better as a break from all the avant-jazz. At any rate, I found it delightful.

One more thing to note: with the author's permission, I've revamped the Michael Tatum archive. Hopefully in the future we'll add some more old pieces, but for now it has all of the A Downloader's Diary columns (including his latest), all properly indexed, a total of 978 albums.

New records rated this week:

  • John Adams/San Francisco Symphony/Michael Tilson Thomas: Absolute Jest/Grand Pianola Music (2013 [2015], SFS): [r]: B+(**)
  • Barry Altschul & 3Dom Factor: Tales of the Unforeseen (2014 [2015], TUM): [cd]: A-
  • Stefano Battaglia Trio: In the Morning: Music of Alec Wilder (2014 [2015], ECM): [dl]; B+(***)
  • Jerry Bergonzi: Rigamaroll (2012 [2015], Savant): [cd]: A-
  • Elina Duni Quartet: Dallëndyshe (2014 [2015], ECM): [dl]: B+(***)
  • Daniel Fortin: Brinks (2015, Fresh Sound New Talent): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Roberto Magris: Enigmatix (2013 [2015], JMood): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Stephan Micus: Nomad Songs (2012-14 [2015], ECM): [dl]: B+(*)
  • Olavi Trio: Oh, La Vie! (2013 [2015], TUM): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Enrico Rava Quartet/Gianluca Petrella: Wild Dance (2015, ECM): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Andy Sheppard: Surrounded by Sea (2014 [2015], ECM): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Savina Yannatou/Primavera en Salonico: Songs of Thessaloniki (2014 [2015], ECM): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Yo La Tengo: Stuff Like That There (2015, Matador): [r]: B+(***)

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

  • Manu Katché: Touchstone for Manu (2004-12 [2015], ECM): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Steve Lacy: Shots (1977 [2015], Hatology): [r]: B+(**)
  • Joe McPhee: As Serious as Your Life (1996 [2014], Hatology): [r]: A-

Old records rated this week:

  • Paul Bley/Jimmy Giuffre/Steve Swallow: The Life of a Trio: Sunday (1989 [1990], Owl: [r]: B+(***)
  • Paul Bley: 12 (+6) in a Row (1990 [2008], Hatology): [r]: B+(***)
  • Tony Coe: Some Other Autumn (1971 [1983], Hep): [r]: A-
  • Ellery Eskelin: Forms (1990 [2004], Hatology): [r]: A-
  • Ellery Eskelin/Andrea Parkins/Jim Black: Kulak 29 & 30 (1997 [1998], Hatology): [r]: B+(***)
  • Ellery Eskelin & Han Bennink: Dissonant Characters (1998 [1999], Hatology): [r]: A-
  • Ellery Eskelin/Andrea Parkins/Jim Black: The Secret Museum (1999 [2000], Hatology): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jimmy Giuffre 3: Emphasis, Stuttgart 1961 (1961 [1993], Hat Art): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jimmy Giuffre 3: Flight, Bremen 1961 (1961 [1993], Hat Art): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jimmy Giuffre/Paul Bley/Steve Swallow: Emphasis & Flight 1961 (1961 [2003], Hatology, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Mary Halvorson/Reuben Radding/Nate Wooley: Crackleknob (2006 [2009], Hatology): [r]: B+(**)
  • Steve Lacy: Clinkers (1977 [2000], Hatology): [r]: B+(***)
  • Steve Lacy: N.Y. Capers & Quirks (1979 [2000], Hatology): [r]: A-
  • Steve Lacy: New Jazz Meeting Baden-Baden 2002 (2002 [2006], Hatology): [r]: B+(*)
  • David Liebman/Ellery Eskelin/Tony Marino/Jim Black: Different but the Same (2004 [2005], Hatology): [r]; B+(*)
  • Joe Maneri Quartet: Coming Down the Mountain (1993 [1997], Hatology): [r]: B+(**)
  • Joe Maneri Quartet: Tenderly (1993 [1999], Hatology): [r]: B+(*)
  • Joe McPhee: Tenor & Fallen Angels (1976-77 [2000], Hatology): [r]: B-
  • Myra Melford Trio: Alive in the House of Saints (1993, Hat Art): [r]: A-
  • Myra Melford & Han Bennink: Eleven Ghosts (1994 [1996], Hatology): [r]: A-
  • Misha Mengelberg: The Root of the Problem (1996 [1997], Hatology): [r]: B+(***)
  • Sleaford Mods: Wank (2012, Deadly Beefburger): [bc]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Bob Albanese: Time Remembered (Mayimba): October 2
  • Bob Belden's Animation: Machine Language (Rare Noise): September 25
  • Marcelo dos Reis/Luis Vicente/Theo Ceccaldi/Valentin Ceccaldi: Chamber 4 (FMR)
  • Michael Gallant Trio: Live Plus One (Gallant Music): October 9
  • Ochion Jewell Quartet: Volk (self-released): September 29
  • Bob Merrill: Cheerin' Up the Universe (Accurate): September 4
  • Mike Reed's People Places & Things: A New Kind of Dance (482 Music)
  • Aram Shelton/Fred Lonberg-Holm/Frank Rosaly: Resounder (Singlespeed Music)

Added grades for remembered LPs from way back when:

  • John Adams: Nixon in China (1988, Elektra/Nonesuch, 3LP): Having enjoyed the composer's early minimalism (e.g., Light Over Water) and been amused by his treatment of extracts from his big opera project (The Chairman Dances) I plopped down big bucks for the whole box and found . . . pure opera, with the usual atrocious singers crawling their way through the usual tortured libretto to music I scarcely remember any more. C+
  • Christopher Hobbs/John Adams/Gavin Bryars: Ensemble Pieces (1975, Obscure): One of the first four releases on Brian Eno's short-lived record label, as I recall the most classical-sounding of the bunch. B

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Iran Deal

I want to start with the text of a short speech that Laura Tillem gave at a demonstration at the office of Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-Koch). It does a nice job of summarizing the basic points in favor of the Iran Deal, which Pompeo, in typically kneejerk fashion, opposes.

One thing the opponents of this deal are not doing is listen to the experts. . . . for example The Israeli experts who say "Iran capitulated," who say "every path to a bomb we know of is blocked," who say "on balance, not a bad deal," who say "we can live with it." They are not listening to the UN inspectors, who got it exactly right before the Iraq War, they say that this inspection regime is more thorough than any ever have been. Why would they say these things if they were not sure? Why would they risk their reputations?

And why are the European countries already eagerly investing in Iran because of this agreement? They sure don't seem worried that this will destabilize the Middle East, as the opponents of the deal say. If they are investing it means they expect More stability after this agreement, not less. If this deal was so bad as to let Iran bomb and terrorize everywhere, as the politicians claim, why would these business people risk their money, any more than the experts would risk their reputations? No, in fact, the deal is better for the Middle East, better for the Iranian people, and better for us, (because you know, not a war) better than any alternative by a mile. Only the politicians will not admit it, they not only can't accept the idea that the US might come to an agreement with Iran; they can't stand that the US would even meet with Iranians in person.

The opponents of this deal say the ruling mullahs are bad, but by rejecting this deal they are hurting only the reform movement there, the people who will ultimately change that system for the better, the people who elected a more reform-minded president to replace the hostile Ahmadenijad. What a smack in the face it would be to the millions of Iranian young people who are excited and hopeful about this agreement. Which also points to what is so good about this agreement: it will mean more access to and from other countries, more access to more ideas, more opportunities for students to study here, etc.

And finally, as an American Jew, it is beyond infuriating to see Netanyahu speak for "the Jews." As a Newton resident said recently, "Does the Westboro Baptist Church speak for "the Christians"? In fact, more US Jews support the agreement than oppose it.

We wish there were a brave Republican, and what better place than Kansas, where they all claim to be "independent" and "open-minded," a brave one who would step up and say Yes to peace.

Of course, this is tailored a bit for the Wichita, Kansas audience. The appeal to "open-minded" and "independent" Republicans is partly because the Republicans have such a stranglehold on elective office in Kansas, but such people have been scarce since the Great 2010 Purge. Still, but Sens. Roberts and Moran embraced Obama's normalization efforts with Cuba (as well as his TPP nonsense), and both opposed Obama's request for authorization to use force against Syria (although they didn't object when Obama didn't ask, as in Libya or later in Syria once ISIS clouded the issue). On the other hand, Pompeo, like Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, never saw a war he didn't want to jump into (he's a West Point grad, has run aerospace and oil businesses, rushed to the head of the NSA fan club, and did yeoman service as one of the Republicans' Benghazi! clowns -- he's so intransigent he made Bill Kristol's dream list of "October Surprise" presidential candidates).

The case for supporting the Iran Deal is so overwhelming you have to question the sanity (and/or ethics) of anyone opposing it. Netanyahu opposes it, as far as I can discern, for three reasons: (1) because he is in principle opposed to anything that reduces the usefulness of a marketable enemy (Iran is the prime example, because Americans remain prejudiced against the people who overthrew their beloved Shah, and because Israeli leaders need foreign distractions to avoid talking about the Palestinians); (2) because the internal political dynamics of Israel favors right-wing leader who prove their toughness by never compromising with anyone (even though Israelis negotiated in private with the PLO pre-Oslo, when they refused to agree on a shape of a table for public meetings, and are reportedly negotiating in secret with Hamas now -- if/when such negotiations bear fruit, you can be sure that right-wing leaders like Netanyahu will condemn and undermine them); and (3) Netanyahu has made a personal ploy to bind his party to the Republicans in some sort of grand anti-Obama coalition, which thus far the Republicans are playing along with (among other things, this makes Netanyahu look to his homies like a big player in American politics, and encourages Americans to view Likud as the unified face of Israel). None of these reasons have to do with the effectiveness of the Deal at curbing the Iranian nuclear weapons threat, suggesting Netanyahu never took the threat seriously in the first place. (Gareth Porter wrote a whole book to that effect: Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare [2014]. Trita Parsi wrote an earlier [2007] book, Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States, on the relationship of Iran and Israel over time, pointing out that Israel discovered an existential threat in Iran not when the Ayatollahs came to power but when a new enemy was required after Iraq was disarmed in 1991.)

Obama, on the other hand, seems to have taken the Iranian threat seriously, inasmuch as he bothered to build a coalition with Russia and China that put serious teeth into sanctions, then used that leverage to negotiate a strictly verifiable Deal that ensures that Iranian nuclear technology cannot for many years, if indeed ever, be used to build nuclear weapons. Anyone who took the Iranian threat seriously should be delighted by the Deal, and anyone who isn't -- that is, anyone who claims the previous regime of harsh sanctions, clandestine warfare, and periodic threats of Israel and/or the US bombing select targets would be more effective than inspections based on official agreements -- cannot be taken seriously.

That means Netanyahu and his AIPAC cronies, and it also means the Republicans. The latter's rejection of the Deal is little more than an effort to tarnish one of Obama's signature accomplishments, built on the casual prejudice that Obama and the Democrats are intrinsically weak on security, and the even more casual assumption that Republicans, by snarling more, are tougher. (I won't bother demolishing this, in large part because I think Obama is already way too belligerent for the nation's good.) So most Republicans see this as a game, one they've been playing without much evident downside (forgetting Bush-Cheney), so they don't expect anyone to call them on their warmongering. On the other hand, it's interesting that they agreed to a process they cannot possibly win -- Obama only needs to sustain a veto, which can be done by the Democratic minorities in either house -- so no matter how much they rant and rave the deal will go through. And if, say, Ronald Reagan's demagogic attacks on Jimmy Carter's Panama Canal Deal in 1980 are any indication, they'll never act on what they're threatening now. (Indeed, even when Reagan's VP became president and invaded Panama, he didn't make any effort to renege on ceding the Canal to Panama.)

Still, the Republicans' hot air campaign isn't harmless. Nor should it be painless for them. Every Republican who votes against the Deal should have to account for their stance in the next elections. They should be painted as warmongers: a party that so loathes the idea of diplomacy that they'd rather shoot first, and a party that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, believes that a quick show of force is the answer to all of America's problems in the world. In particular, their opposition to the Iran Deal shows the hollowness of their now common regrets over the Iraq War -- one that was started by Bush in 2003 over the same "WMD" charges, where Bush not only refused to negotiate but insisted that UN inspectors, which had not shown any evidence that Iraq had the alleged WMD, stop their work. What Obama has done is diametrically opposite to what Bush did with Iraq. It very predictably ensures that: (1) Iran will not be able to develop nuclear weapons for the duration of the deal, well beyond 10 years; (2) Iran will continue to be ruled by a stable government, and will not collapse into chaos as Iraq has done; (3) America will not earn new legions of enemies due to attacking another country. In doing this deal, it's hard to see any real cost to the US. Maybe some US defense contractors might lose some Persian Gulf business if Iran seems to be less of a threat. And oil prices may dip as Iran's oil enters the world market. But is that the platform Republicans want to run on in 2016: more arms jobs and higher gas prices? You can see the attraction for someone like Pompeo, but how many Americans actually live in the pockets of the defense and oil industries? -- as compared to, say, how many only pay the bills?

(Lest you object that letting Iranian oil out into the world market would accelerate global warming, that's attacking the problem at the wrong end, with the wrong solution. Right now the main cause of cheap oil is conservation, and the main effect is to make particularly nasty oil, such as the Alberta Tar Sands, uneconomical.)

On the other hand, the cost of a war to topple and replace Iran's regime would run into trillions of dollars (first approximation: Iraq + Afghanistan + another 50%) -- given the GOP's tax lock that adds to a national debt they already deem insupportable (although they won't say that if there's a Republican deficit -- most of the run up came under Reagan and "deficits don't matter" Cheney). The side-effects of such a war are incalculable, but one is that it will validate the argument that the only defense against American/Israeli aggression is to develop nuclear deterrence. Republicans might try to argue that harsher sanctions would suffice to contain Iran, but the only example of such they can point to is nuclear-armed North Korea, probably the most dangerously deranged state in the world today (unless you count Israel and the US -- i.e., the countries which actually do attack other countries with no thought to the consequences).

The biggest problem I see with the deal is that it shows Obama and the Democrats to be not only smart and shrewd but rigorous and tough. The latter trait allows them to sell the deal on the grounds that it will be effective at ending a threat, burying the fact that Iran has never actually threatened to develop, let alone use, nuclear weapons. It allows the Democrats to continue portraying Iran as an international scourge, when in fact the balance of wrongs between the US and Iran is tilted the other way. And by continuing to demonize Iran, we give up opportunities to align with Iran to help stabilize the Middle East. Not that Iran's interests naturally align with America's, but mutual engagement might help both countries move towards peace, stability, democracy with respect for minority rights, open trade -- the sort of things that are mutually agreeable precisely because they are universally aspired to.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 25368 [25326] rated (+42), 426 [426] unrated (+0).

Another big, busy week. Rhapsody Streamnotes came out on Wednesday, so some of this week's loot appeared there. I've added a Comments section to the archive file. The comments in question were scraped from emails from Facebook, mostly in response to a notice I posted. I don't know whether I'll do this as a regular feature. Depends mostly on whether I get feedback that adds to the long-term value of the piece: the clincher this time was Clifford Ocheltree's discography note on Huey "Piano" Smith. Other valuable points/tips are that the A-rated Irène Schweizer/Han Bennink album, Welcome Back, is on Bandcamp (as is about one-third of Intakt's catalog, including A- from this year: Schlippenbach Trio, Marilyn Crispell/Gerry Hemingway, Chico Freeman/Heiri Känzig, Christoph Irniger Trio, and Oliver Lake/William Parker -- looks like a "label of the year"), and that Phil Overeem's "Mid-August Top 50" list -- a big help for me recently -- can be found on his blog. (I've added his blog to my "Music" list on the left.)

Since then I've spread out in all directions. I complained some while back that Rhapsody got rid of their interface for browsing new releases in genres, but it turns out that they merely hid it -- no doubt, as they like to say, "to improve your experience." As I tweeted, I took a look at their new folk releases and picked out three, all rated B+(***) below: Bobby Bare Jr: Don't Follow Me (I'm Lost); Lindi Ortega: Gloryville; and Rod Picott: Fortune. I then turned to country but didn't do so well (Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, Shelby Lynne).

Another resource that offered some things to check out is Robert Christgau's new iteration of Expert Witness at Noisey. Unfortunately, the first two weeks haven't yielded anything that I've been tempted to A-list (Miguel came closest the first week, while I had dismissed Sam Smith with prejudice when the first hype appeared; Hop Along is just too idiosyncratic vocally, and I panned Go! Team when it came out, but I rather like Girlpool). Don't mean to complain, just noting a minor anomaly. I'd also like to plug We Are Nots over any of the girl-rock bands in the second column. And wonder when he'll get to Sleaford Mods? The new one is the third A- I've listed (with their singles comp just a notch lower). And the old ones are on Bandcamp, so you don't have to take my word (or wait for Bob's):

Another new resources is that I finally figured out how to use MPE Player to get recent ECM releases. They only go back a few months, so they don't have this year's early releases, including several I missed (Jack DeJohnette, Julia Hulsmann, Kenny Wheeler; I did manage to hear downloads, now lost, of Tim Berne, Jakob Bro, Vijay Iyer, and Chris Potter). Awkward interface, puts a premium on getting the record right the first pass, but does seem to have a download feature if I find anything worth hearing again. (The Gary Peacock Trio, with Marc Copland and Joey Baron, comes closest so far. PS: Tried downloading Elina Duni Quartet, which seems to have worked.)

The Miles Davis boxes were done in one pass. I might have given the Acrobat an A- if I had the actual box, but Rhapsody only made the first half available (as Volume 1) and doesn't offer the booklet. The selling point is that you're catching John Coltrane in transition from sideman to superstar, a moment of some historical value, but not as rewarding musically as the later recordings where he really made his mark. I haven't seen enough of Acrobat's boxes to have any real guess as to the documentation. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that Legacy's documentation and packaging are first rate. And I've heard nearly all of the music there -- Rhapsody dropped a couple tracks from the first disc -- albeit only once. Of that, I'm quite certain that the second and third discs are really superb -- not that I'd pick them above the best live sets already available from the period (the various Plugged Nickel packages from 1965, Live-Evil and Dark Magus from 1970-73). The fourth disc is more marginal (more like the Fillmores). The first I'm less certain about: it has the most reissued material, mostly from Miles Davis at Newport 1958, which when it came out in 2001 I dismissed with a B. Sounded better than that this time, but not quite A-list. Again, that's just one play (with a break midway), but it's also not stuff I have to recondition my ears to grasp.

The old stuff this week is background to the new. I own a copy of Love and Peace but never got around to it, so I was particularly anxious to knock that off my todo list. The two disco albums and two live jazz albums could be described as varying degrees of competent. I'm still missing a well-regarded 1992 album, Keeping Tradition, but I've heard most of Bridgewater's later work, and it doesn't come close to the Silver set. Partners I had listed under Peacock -- a 4-star Penguin Guide record -- but careful inspection reveals Paul Bley gets top billing. I suppose I should go back and look through Bley's back catalog to see what I'm missing. I currently have 20 records graded, including his dazzling 1953 Introducing Paul Bley (with Mingus and Blakey), his 1958 Quintet (with Ornette Coleman), his 1965 ESP-Disk (Closer), and one more A-.

Still working on the long-promised update to Robert Christgau's website. Any day now.

New records rated this week:

  • Beegie Adair/Don Aliquo: Too Marvelous for Words (2015, Adair Music Group): [cd]: A-
  • JD Allen: Graffiti (2015, Savant): [cd]: A-
  • Takeshi Asai: French Trio Vol. 2 (2014 [2015], De Trois Cités): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Bobby Bare Jr.: Don't Follow Me (I'm Lost) [Original Motion Picture Soundtrack] (2015, Bloodshot): [r]: B+(***)
  • Dee Dee Bridgewater: Dee Dee's Feathers (2014 [2015], Okeh): [r]: B+(**)
  • Greg Cohen: Golden State (2014, Relative Pitch): [r]: B+(**)
  • Darts & Arrows: Altamira (2015, Ears & Eyes): [r]: B+(*)
  • Mathias Eick: Midwest (2014 [2015], ECM): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Electric Squeezebox Orchestra: Cheap Rent (2014 [2015], OA2): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Clay Giberson: Minga Minga (2013 [2015], Origin): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Girlpool: Girlpool (2014, Wichita, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Girlpool: Before the World Was Big (2015, Wichita): [r]: B+(**)
  • Giovanni Guidi Trio: This Is the Day (2014 [2015], ECM): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell: The Traveling Kind (2015, Nonesuch): [r]: B+(*)
  • Will Herrington: Solace (2015, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Hommage à Eberhard Weber (2015, ECM): [dl]: B+(*)
  • Hop Along: Painted Shut (2015, Saddle Creek): [r]: B+(*)
  • Keith Jarrett: Creation (2014 [2015], ECM): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Carly Rae Jepsen: E-MO-TION (2015, Interscope/Schoolboy Silent): [r]: B+(***)
  • Joanna Gruesome: Peanut Butter (2015, Slumberland): [r]: B+(*)
  • Anders Jormin/Lena Willemark/Karin Nakagawa: Trees of Light (2013 [2015], ECM): [dl]: B+(*)
  • Shelby Lynne: I Can't Imagine (2015, New Rounder): [r]: B
  • Merzbow/Balasz Pandi/Mats Gustafsson/Thurston Moore: Cuts of Guilt/Cuts Deeper (2014 [2015], Rare Noise, 2CD): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • The Montgomery Hermann Quinlan Sextet: Hear, Here (2015, Summit): [cd]: B
  • Richard Nelson/Aardvark Jazz Orchestra: Deep River (2015, Heliotrope): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Lindi Ortega: Faded Gloryville (2015, Last Gang): [r]: B+(***)
  • Gary Peacock Trio: Now This (2014 [2015], ECM): [dl]: B+(***)
  • Rod Picott: Fortune (2015, Welding Rod): [r]: B+(***)
  • Sleaford Mods: Key Markets (2015, Harbinger Sound): [r]: A-
  • Grant Stewart: Trio (2014 [2015], Cellar Live): [r]: B+(**)
  • David Torn: Only Sky (2014 [2015], ECM): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Juli Wood Quartet: Synnkä Metsä (Dark Forest) (2015, OA2): [cd]: B+(**)

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

  • Tad Britton: Cicada (1992-93 [2015], Origin): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The Continental Drifters: Drifted: In the Beginning & Beyond (1992-2001 [2015], Omnivore, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)
  • Miles Davis: All of You: The Last Tour 1960 (1960 [2014], Acrobat, 4CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Miles Davis: Miles Davis at Newport 1955-1975 [The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4] (1955-75 [2015], Columbia/Legacy, 4CD): [r]: A-
  • Keith Jarrett: Barber/Bartók (1984-85 [2015], ECM New Series): [dl]: B-
  • Nu Yorica! Culture Clash in New York City: Experiments in Latin Music 1970-77 (1970-77 [2015], Soul Jazz, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Huey "Piano" Smith: Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu (1956-62 [2012], Hallmark): [cd]: A-

Old records rated this week:

  • Paul Bley/Gary Peacock: Partners (1989 [1991], Owl): [r]: B+(***)
  • Dee Dee Bridgewater: Dee Dee Bridgewater (1976, Atlantic): [r]: B
  • Dee Dee Bridgewater: Dee Dee Bridgewater (1980, Elektra): [r]: B-
  • Dee Dee Bridgewater: Live in Paris (1986 [1987], Impulse): [r]: B+(*)
  • Dee Dee Bridgewater: Live in Montreux (1990 [1991], Verve): [r]: B
  • Dee Dee Bridgewater: Love and Peace: A Tribute to Horace Silver (1994 [1995], Verve): [r]: A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • JD Allen: Graffiti (Savant)
  • Jerry Bergonzi: Rigamaroll (Savant)
  • João Camões/Rodrigo Pinheiro/Miguel Mira: Earnear (Tour de Bras)
  • Dave Douglas Quintet: Brazen Heart (Greenleaf Music): October 2
  • Jon Irabagon: Behind the Sky (Irabbagast): September 15
  • Jon Irabagon: Inaction Is an Action (Irabbagast): September 15
  • Dave McDonnell Group: The Time Inside a Year (Delmark): August 21
  • Fred Randolph: Song Without Singing (Creative Spirit): August 28
  • The Dan Trudell Trio: Dan Trudell Plays the Piano (self-released): September 15
  • Mort Weiss: Mort Weiss Is a Jazz Reality Show (SMS Jazz)

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Miles Davis: Miles Davis at Newport 1955-1975 [The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4] (1955-75 [2015], Columbia/Legacy, 4CD): A- [rhapsody]
  • Nu Yorica! Culture Clash in New York City (1970-77 [2015], Soul Jazz): B+(***) [rhapsody]

  • Huey "Piano" Smith: Serious Clownin': The History of Huey "Piano" Smith and the Clowns (1956-60 [1986], Rhino): A
  • Huey "Piano Smith & His Clowns: Having a Good Time: The Very Best Of, Volume 1 (1956-62 [1997], Westside): U
  • Huey "Piano" Smith: This Is . . . Huey "Piano" Smith (1956-62 [1998], Music Club): A-
  • Huey "Piano" Smith: Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu ([2012], Hallmark): A-

Added grades for remembered LPs from way back when:

  • Huey "Piano" Smith: Serious Clownin': The History of Huey "Piano" Smith and the Clowns (1956-60 [1986], Rhino): A

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links this week:

  • Josh Marshall: Breaking: Nuclear Stuff Really Complicated:

    But they've had an extremely difficult time making substantive arguments against the deal because according to almost all technical experts it is about as tight and comprehensive and total a surveillance regime as we've ever seen. Ever. Iran will not have a nuclear weapon under any circumstances for 10 to 20 years. Unless they choose to cheat. And if they do, the U.S. and the international community will almost certainly catch them and catch them before they're able to weaponize. But here's the problem -- that's only the opinion of people who actually know what they're talking about.

    Marshall follows this up with examples of stories based on ignorance and innuendo that supposedly show flaws in the inspections process, and cites the appropriate authorities on why they're false. I don't see any point in going down these various rat holes. The most comprehensive rebuttal I've seen is from Uzi Even, an Israeli physicist who's built nuclear weapons, who studied the deal and concluded: "the deal was written by nuclear experts and blocks every path I know to the bomb." The only exception I would take to Marshall's "nuclear stuff is complicated . . . so it's important to consult the people who know about nuclear stuff, people called scientists" is that the details of the inspection process only really matter if you assume that Iran actually was working on developing nuclear weapons, and that they secretly intend to continue on that path after sanctions are lifted, once Iran opens up to foreign investment and can trade freely with the rest of the world -- in short, starts to become a normal country.

    I think that Ayatollah Khamanei drew a sharp line in the sand with his fatwa declaring nuclear weapons contrary to Islam, so while Iran certainly wanted to show the world its mastery of nuclear technology, including the fuel cycle, and possibly thereby gain some deterrence against the long-present threat of foreign attack, they never had any intention of moving from capability to weaponization. Hence, it makes sense to me that Iran would agree to an inspections process that foreclosed any possibility of doing what they hadn't intended on doing in the first place -- especially in exchange for ending the sanctions, which were extremely offensive to Iran in the first place.

  • Dan Simpson: The United States owns part of Europe's migrant problem: If anything, he understates American responsibility. Even though most of the political pressure for intervention in Libya came from Europe, the model (as well as the firepower) came from the US. Nor should one ignore US impacts further south in Africa, especially in countries like Somalia and Mali. (Ironically, Libya used to be able to absorb many migrants from war-torn Africa.)

    The biggest problem of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa at the moment is massive migration.

    It is a result of American direct and indirect war-making in recent years in those regions. Most Americans regard the problem as someone else's. We get away with it because people don't think the matter through.

    The United States is responsible for two aspects of the problem. The first is that we have massively disrupted the societies and economies of the countries that are producing the refugees through war. The second source of our responsibility is that our role in the overthrow of the government in Libya turned that country into a rat's nest of chaos and non-government. The result is that Libya has come to serve as the jumping-off point for the boatloads of African and other refugees jamming their way into Southern Europe and even trying to cross the English Channel.

    A quick glance at the countries of origin of the refugees make America's role clear. They are Afghans, Iraqis, Libyans and Syrians, nationals of countries where we have tried to determine what government should be in power, including by raining countless bombs and drone-mounted missiles down on them. In each of these countries, America has destroyed order and the economy, making life unbearable and employment unobtainable. Put another way, we have turned Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria into countries that people are desperate to escape, no longer able to imagine their lives there given the dangerous, lawless cauldrons the countries have become.

    But I also blame Europe for not having the smarts and guts to stand up to the American neocons' misguided and mistaken efforts to transform the world through fire. (GW Bush: "Sometimes a show of force by one side can really clarify things." Quoted in Ron Suskind: The One Percent Doctrine.)

  • Stephen M Walt: So Wrong for So Long: Why neoconservatives are never right: Well, some of the reasons anyway:

    Getting Iraq wrong wasn't just an unfortunate miscalculation, it happened because [the neocons'] theories of world politics were dubious and their understanding of how the world works was goofy. [ . . . ]

    For starters, neoconservatives think balance-of-power politics doesn't really work in international affairs and that states are strongly inclined to "bandwagon" instead. In other words, they think weaker states are easy to bully and never stand up to powerful adversaries. Their faulty logic follows that other states will do whatever Washington dictates provided we demonstrate how strong and tough we are. This belief led them to conclude that toppling Saddam would send a powerful message and cause other states in the Middle East to kowtow to us. If we kept up the pressure, our vast military power would quickly transform the region into a sea of docile pro-American democracies. [ . . . ]

    Today, of course, opposition to the Iran deal reflects a similar belief that forceful resolve would enable Washington to dictate whatever terms it wants. As I've written before, this idea is the myth of a "better deal." Because neocons assume states are attracted to strength and easy to intimidate, they think rejecting the deal, ratcheting up sanctions, and threatening war will cause Iran's government to finally cave in and dismantle its entire enrichment program. On the contrary, walking away from the deal will stiffen Iran's resolve, strengthen its hard-liners, increase its interest in perhaps actually acquiring a nuclear weapon someday, and cause the other members of the P5+1 to part company with the United States. [ . . . ]

    Fourth, as befits a group of armchair ideologues whose primary goal has been winning power inside the Beltway, neoconservatives are often surprisingly ignorant about the actual conditions of the countries whose politics and society they want to transform. Hardly any neoconservatives knew very much about Iraq before the United States invaded -- if they had, they might have reconsidered the whole scheme -- and their characterizations of Iran today consist of scary caricatures bearing little resemblance to Iran's complicated political and social reality. In addition to flawed theories, in short, the neoconservative worldview also depends on an inaccurate reading of the facts on the ground.

    Walt lists a couple more reasons neocons are always wrong, and misses or only glances on a few more. One is that they're extremely squeamish about dealing with people they perceive as enemies -- i.e., people who don't show the proper submissive repose to the righteousness of their power. Neocons not only can't accept the idea that the US might come to an agreement with Iran; they can't stand that the US would even meet with Iranians in person. In some ways, their insistence on only dealing with the world by projecting force derives from insecurities about personal (they would say moral) hygiene.

    Walt correctly notes that "the neoconservatives' prescriptions for US foreign policy are perennially distorted by a strong attachment to Israel," but doesn't add that the obvious motive behind that attachment is envy: they want the US to confront the whole world with the same arrogance and contempt Israel projects in its neighborhood. One can make a pretty good argument that such policies don't even benefit Israel let alone are scalable worldwide.

    Despite the terminology, there is nothing especially new about neocon-ism. The core idea first emerged following the development of nuclear bombs and the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki: that's when the US became the world's sole superpower, a moment of omnipotence the neocons have been yearning to regain ever since (hence all the "end of history" brouhaha after the collapse of the Soviet Union). Aside from the early Bush-Cheney administration, they've rarely been able to dictate American policy, but the delusions of power their ideas spring from has been a driving force behind America's post-WWII war machine -- indeed, they've spun up an entire ideology (calcified into a secular religion) that nearly all American politicians are swamped by. This, despite the fact that every war started with the assumption that American power will prevail, and every fiasco with the notion that nothing unmanageably bad could occur.

    But even before the bomb, neocon-ism rested on a conservative doctrine that goes back millennia: the master-slave relationship, the eternal backbone of American conservatism, and of empires everywhere. Conservatism has always depended on two assumptions so deep you can only accept or reject them: one is that some people are (usually innately) superior to others and therefore should be privileged to rule; the other is that contrary to the first can (meaning should) ever change over time. But critics as far back as Hegel understood that the relationship wasn't timeless: that over time the master engenders opposition that ultimately undoes slavery. By the same measure, the projection of American power creates resistance, something no amount of belief in enduring superiority can overcome. Jonathan Schell called this "the unconquerable world."

  • More Iran links:

Also, a few links for further study:

  • Eric Foner: Struggle and Progress: An wide-ranging interview with one of the most important historians working today.

  • Reynard Loki: Environmentalists Blast Obama's Decision to Let Shell Drill in Arctic: I recall something about Republican presidential platforms always ticking off the same five or so bullet items, one of which was energy self-sufficiency for the US, generic blather for loosening up environmental regulations and importing a lot more Canadian crude (which in the tar sands tundra is very crude indeed), possibly with something about "clean coal" (the oxymoron to end all oxymorons). I don't expect Obama will ever get any credit for it, but during the time Obama has been president that plank has largely been realized. For one thing, by delaying the Keystone Pipeline he hasn't solved the problem with Canadian imports. Nor has he done it with coal, although you have to give wind and solar some credit there. Actually, it's mostly been North Dakota's Bakken field plus a lot of fracking -- which he hasn't raised a finger to slow down despite environmental concerns. But the one big thing Obama has done to promote the oil industry has been to open up a lot more offshore drilling -- this article reports on Shell's project to drill in the Arctic Ocean. Still, I doubt Obama's offshore license has had much effect yet: just when he was opening up the Atlantic, BP blew a major spill in the Gulf of Mexico and that gummed up the works.

  • Aman Sethi: At the Mercy of the Water Mafia: On the edges of Delhi.

    In conversations, Sanghwan is annoyed by concerns about the sustainability of his small empire, about the short-term nature of his profits compared with his work's potentially devastating long-term implications. Such questions, he says, demonize the poor and water providers like him, while letting the rich and the government off the hook. He claims he would welcome efforts to lay a proper pipe network in his neighborhood, but given the government's track record, he isn't holding his breath.

  • Chris Sullentrop: The Kansas Experiment: Long article by the nephew of Kansas Republican legislator Gene Sullentrop. Kinship opened a few doors, not that the lowdown on Brownback's dog or his preferred basketball strategies humanizes him, much less renders his obsessions sensible. Still, the nephew provides a fair accounting of the session's fiscal crisis. He does drop in the line about how "the state is a petri dish for movement conservatism, a window into how the national Republican Party might govern if opposition vanished." But he doesn't even mention 80% of the vile insanity that was passed by the legislature in addition to the education cuts and regressive tax increases.

  • Steve Weintz: Worst Idea Ever: Dropping Nuclear Bombs During the Vietnam War: As I recall, there was occasional loose talk all during the long American War in Vietnam about using nuclear weapons. At the time the US was putting a lot of effort into reducing the size of nuclear weapons to try to come up with something that could be used for "tactical" strikes as opposed to obliterating entire cities. They even managed to deploy an Atomic Bazooka (1961-68) -- a portable launcher that could shoot a 10-20 kiloton (i.e., Hiroshima/Nagasaki-sized) bomb about three miles. Weintz reports on some recently declassified documents, which show that the possible use of "tactical nukes" in Vietnam was seriously studied, and wasn't rejected for the obvious moral and political reasons -- the Mandarins doing the studying didn't want to look "soft" -- but because they couldn't figure out a way to make them work effectively.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Thinking About the Unthinkable

Christian Appy: America's Hiroshima and Nagasaki 70 Years Later: On Aug. 6, 1945, the US obliterated the Japanese city of Hiroshima with a single bomb. Three days later they repeated that feat with Nagasaki, demonstrating that the "total war" that had been fought for the past six years (actually, longer in China) would turn much more destructive in the future. Japan surrendered a couple weeks later, pretty much on terms they had (too discreetly) proposed in the weeks before Hiroshima: clearer messages could have spared us all the ordeal of nuclear warfare (but then mutual respect and understanding might have spared us so much more). I know people who every year mark the anniversary of Hiroshima with vigils, not because they remember the 100,000+ victims there any different than the other 60 million lives the war took. They mark Hiroshima because the weapon the US introduced there still looms over us with its threat to instantly devastate life as we know it. And they mark it because our own nation -- not the only one to possess such weapons but the only one to have actually used them on an "enemy" people -- has still not demonstrated the maturity and modesty necessary to put the age of nuclear terror behind us. Two pieces of evidence here: one is that the US, despite having negotiated a deal (the NPT) where the world's nuclear powers promise to dismantle their arsenals in exchange for the rest of the world pledging to never develop such weapons, continues to build new bombs and formulate war plans assuming their use; the other is that the US has engaged in conventional and guerrilla warfare almost continuously since WWII ended, using its nuclear weapons as an umbrella for an empire of bases that girdle the world, allowing the US to poke its nose into nearly every country around the world (and shun the few -- at least the little ones -- that deny its hegemony). Or maybe the second is just the reason and effect of the first. Another way to phrase the second is that the US has repeatedly failed to support international efforts to resolve conflicts (especially its own) without resorting to war. So where many thought the advent of nuclear weapons would make further wars unthinkable, American defense mandarins not only embraced the horror -- the classic is Herman Kahn's Thinking About the Unthinkable -- but have resuscitated the concept of limited war and applied it repeatedly (even though they've virtually never achieved their stated goals).

I understand and appreciate anti-nuclear protesters, especially in the 1960s (which led to the Test Ban Treaty and the NPT) and in the 1980s (which led to several arms reduction treates between the US and USSR). I also fully appreciate that Japan would have surrendered in 1945 regardless of whether the US bombed Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Nonetheless, those bombings don't bother me more than the rest of the war. I feel that it was inevitable that the bombs would be used once developed, and the end of WWII was as appropriate as any time could be: they were the icing on the cake, as if the fire-bombings of Dresden and Tokyo weren't enough, or the German death camps, or the Rape of Nanking, or the starvation of Bengals far from the fighting lines. They remind us, among other things, that by the end of the war the US had descended to the barbarity of its enemies -- that indeed the real enemy was war, and that it had morally crippled those it didn't kill outright. That realization gave rise to the UN as a forum for preventing future wars -- a failure nearly from the start, but at least the fear of another Hiroshima many times over, of what came to be called MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), forced powers with no good will whatsoever to pull back from brinksmanship. Arguably, nuclear deterrence also thwarted a fourth India-Pakistan war in 2002, and has kept Israel safe from attack since 1973 -- no Arab nation even thinks of such a thing, even though Israel continues to strike Syria whenever it feels like it. I think it's fair to say deterrence works, but also that its driving force is fear, the effect of which is to preserve and nurture hostility or worse: our so-called "limited wars."

Appy does a good job of reviewing Truman's "decision" to bomb Hiroshima:

Truman understood, of course, that if Hiroshima was a "military base," then so was Seattle; that the vast majority of its residents were civilians; and that perhaps 100,000 of them had already been killed. Indeed, he knew that Hiroshima was chosen not for its military significance but because it was one of only a handful of Japanese cities that had not already been firebombed and largely obliterated by American air power. U.S. officials, in fact, were intent on using the first atomic bombs to create maximum terror and destruction. They also wanted to measure their new weapon's power and so selected the "virgin targets" of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In July 1945, Secretary of War Henry Stimson informed Truman of his fear that, given all the firebombing of Japanese cities, there might not be a target left on which the atomic bomb could "show its strength" to the fullest. According to Stimson's diary, Truman "laughed and said he understood." [ . . . ]

By 1945, most Americans didn't care that the civilians of Hiroshima and Nagasaki had not committed Japan's war crimes. American wartime culture had for years drawn on a long history of "yellow peril" racism to paint the Japanese not just as inhuman, but as subhuman. As Truman put it in his diary, it was a country full of "savages" -- "ruthless, merciless, and fanatic" people so loyal to the emperor that every man, woman, and child would fight to the bitter end. In these years, magazines routinely depicted Japanese as monkeys, apes, insects, and vermin. Given such a foe, so went the prevailing view, there were no true "civilians" and nothing short of near extermination, or at least a powerful demonstration of America's willingness to proceed down that path, could ever force their surrender. As Admiral William "Bull" Halsey said in a 1944 press conference, "The only good Jap is a Jap who's been dead six months."

Appy also writes about changing American attitudes to Hiroshima, which most recently appear to have hardened. For example, he writes about Laura Hillenbrand's 2010 bestseller, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption:

The book is decidedly a page-turner, but its focus on a single American's punishing ordeal and amazing recovery inhibits almost any impulse to move beyond the platitudes of nationalistic triumphalism and self-absorption or consider (among other things) the racism that so dramatically shaped American combat in the Pacific. That, at least, is the impression you get combing through some of the astonishing 25,000 customer reviews Unbroken has received on Amazon. "My respect for WWII veterans has soared," a typical reviewer writes. "Thank you Laura Hillenbrand for loving our men at war," writes another. It is "difficult to read of the inhumanity of the treatment of the courageous men serving our country." And so on.

Unbroken devotes a page and a half to the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, all of it from the vantage point of the American crew of the Enola Gay. Hillenbrand raises concerns about the crew's safety: "No one knew for sure if . . . the bomber could get far enough away to survive what was coming." She describes the impact of the shockwaves, not on the ground, but at 30,000 feet when they slammed into the Enola Gay, "pitching the men into the air."

Also see Susan Southard: Entering the Nuclear Age, Body by Body, on the bombing of Nagasaki -- adapted from her new book, Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War. The second bomb has been much less documented than the first -- Southard seems to be aiming for a belated companion to John Hersey's first-on-the-scene reporting in Hiroshima. Lest you forget the immediate experience:

The five-ton plutonium bomb plunged toward the city at 614 miles per hour. Forty-seven seconds later, a powerful implosion forced its plutonium core to compress from the size of a grapefruit to the size of a tennis ball, generating a nearly instantaneous chain reaction of nuclear fission. With colossal force and energy, the bomb detonated a third of a mile above the Urakami Valley and its 30,000 residents and workers, a mile and a half north of the intended target. At 11:02 a.m., a superbrilliant flash lit up the sky -- visible from as far away as Omura Naval Hospital more than 10 miles over the mountains -- followed by a thunderous explosion equal to the power of 21,000 tons of TNT. The entire city convulsed.

At its burst point, the center of the explosion reached temperatures higher than at the center of the sun, and the velocity of its shock wave exceeded the speed of sound. A tenth of a millisecond later, all of the materials that had made up the bomb converted into an ionized gas, and electromagnetic waves were released into the air. The thermal heat of the bomb ignited a fireball with an internal temperature of over 540,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Within one second, the blazing fireball expanded from 52 feet to its maximum size of 750 feet in diameter. Within three seconds, the ground below reached an estimated 5,400 to 7,200 degrees Fahrenheit. Directly beneath the bomb, infrared heat rays instantly carbonized human and animal flesh and vaporized internal organs.

As the atomic cloud billowed two miles overhead and eclipsed the sun, the bomb's vertical blast pressure crushed much of the Urakami Valley. Horizontal blast winds tore through the region at two and a half times the speed of a category five hurricane, pulverizing buildings, trees, plants, animals, and thousands of men, women, and children. In every direction, people were blown out of their shelters, houses, factories, schools, and hospital beds; catapulted against walls; or flattened beneath collapsed buildings.

The Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs were simple kiloton-range devices. The fusion-powered bombs first tested in the early 1950s were as much as a thousand times more powerful. J. Robert Oppenheimer famously argued against developing fusion bombs because the real-world targets were too small. Edward Teller was able to convince the US military not only to go ahead but to strip Oppenheimer of his security clearance, excluding him from future influence. With hawks like Teller clearing out all possible opposition, it shouldn't be surprising that virtually every proposal of a pre-emptive nuclear strike came from the US. Until the Soviet Union developed its own bomb, many hard-core anti-communists agitated for "preventive war." When American efforts in Korea stalled and Vietnam went from bad to worse, many hawks saw nukes as a way to snatch victory from defeat. Nixon's version of this was what he called his "Madman Strategy": the idea was to convince the Soviets that he was so crazed he'd risk destroying the world to avoid losing Vietnam. By the 1980s, Andropov was so unnerved by America's "first strike" threats that the Soviets almost started a nuclear war by accident. Even recently, the US was promoting the idea of nuclear bombs as "bunker busters" to "take out" deeply buried infrastructure in Iran and North Korea. In fact, every time an American politician makes a point about "not taking options off the table," the world hears a threat to use nuclear weapons. No wonder the US is so flustered by Iran: every time we look at them, we see a mirror image of the US. (Israel, of course, has the same problem.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Rhapsody Streamnotes (August 2015)

Pick up text here.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 25326 [25277] rated (+49), 426 [432] unrated (-6).

Huge rated count. I got off to a fast start when I decided to fill in the records I hadn't previously heard by Kurt Elling and Alan Jackson, both with new records last week. I've never cared for Elling, but he has a huge reputation, including four Penguin Guide 4-stars. Main thing I found out was that his exuberance on the first two albums makes his mannerisms more palatable. After Elling, Jackson cleaned my ears out, and the albums were so short they piled up fast. Still best, I think, to approach his early work through compilations, like 1995's The Greatest Hits Collection, or 2007's more economical 16 Biggest Hits. His new one, Angels and Alcohol, was A- last week. (Elling's new Passion World came in at C: by my reckoning his worst ever, not that Night Moves or 1619 Broadway were much better.)

The next thing that happened was that Phil Overeem posted a list on Facebook of his top 50 albums so far this year. I jotted them down in my notebook, and tallied up that 25 of the 34 I had heard were rated B+(***) or higher. That's close enough to my taste that I tried tracking down the rest. I managed to find 11 of the missing 16, and the first three (79rs Gang, Nots, Mdou Moctar) came in at A- (as did, later on, Dead Moon). Overeem's list also included the new Sonics album (***), which led me to their back catalog and a belated A- for their 1965 debut. Of the remaining five, I managed to find bits of Big Chief Don Pardo and Golden Comanche (New Orleans Indians) and the Reactionaries (pre-Minutemen D. Boon from 1979) -- not enough to rate but both sounded promising. That leaves three albums to keep an eye open for: Jack DeJohnette, Made in Chicago; Iris DeMent, The Trackless Woods; and J.D. Allen, Graffiti.

I had, by the way, tracked down Coneheads (***) and The Red Line Comp (*) from earlier Overeem notices -- I would never have known about them otherwise. One thing I had trouble with was hip-hop: three albums (two from Overeem's list -- Doomtree and Vince Staples -- plus Future) wound up at B+(***). I gave them two plays each, all were pretty good, but they didn't come through quite clearly enough to grade higher. That seems to be happening a lot -- others on my 2015 list: Joey Badass, Action Bronson, Cannibal Ox, Rae Sremmurd. Or maybe that's just a normal break: A- hip-hop so far: BBNG/Ghostface Killah, Heems, Kendrick Lamar, Murs.

Michael Tatum, who's resumed his A Downloader's Diary, recommended Songhoy Blues -- a close second, I think, to Moctar's soundtrack. Overeem also recommended the new Tamikrest (**), so I went back and filled in the old ones, netting Toumastin. Mamman Sani (Overeem picked his 2013 album) is also from Niger, but not in the dessert blues genre -- more like spacey electronic minimalism. It was a big help for me finding Sahel Sounds on Bandcamp -- will probably explore some more older titles later on.

That didn't leave a lot of time for my current jazz queue, but I moved Irène Schweizer to the front and was dazzled: not a surprise given that her previous record with Han Bennink was an A -- one of 4 A records I credit her with (plus 5 A-). A really great pianist, and a pretty great percussionist too. The one I still recommend to start with is her 2006 2-CD compilation, Portrait. Maybe I should change its grade to A+.

Biondini (*), Braden (*), Halvorson (***), Harris (**), Letizia (**), Maestro (*), Mazzarella (***), and Orozco (**) also came from the new jazz queue, but I had to grab James Brandon Lewis (A-) from Rhapsody. I did find some mail on the record, apparently with a watermarked download link I never bothered with. No telling how many records like that slip past me. My pre-crash system for dealing with download links is still broken -- Firefox refuses to connect to a mail server that has self-signed SSL certificates, even after storing the exception, so my message-passing mechanism is broken. Also, all the ECM links I had are stale now, and I find myself not caring enough to get them refreshed. Similarly, I hardly ever deal with the world music links I get from Rock Paper Scissors: true that a high percentage of important world music comes through them, but also true that that's a small slice of what they promote. I keep getting disabused of the concept that I can cover it all. There needs to be some meeting of the willing for this to work, but this week at least it seems to have worked pretty well.

Robert Christgau found a new outlet for his Expert Witness -- I still think of it as The Consumer Guide -- column, at Noisey, promising a new one every Friday. Last week's covered three "love men" he likes more than I do: Miguel (***), Jason Derulo (*), and (most surprising) Sam Smith (B- last time I heard it), with Tinashe (**) and Oceaán (* -- the only one I hadn't previously checked out) in the HMs. Once again, he's catching up to make up for the downtime since Medium sacked him in early June. I've noticed, for instance, that there were 17 albums on his 2013 Dean's List that he never caught up with when he moved from MSN to Cuepoint. (My plan is to add stubs in his website database for those records -- presumably all A- or A, but not my place to say. I'm also looking through earlier lists to see if anything else should be stubbed -- thus far I've found three albums, but it's a slow slog to check everything.)

By the way, I am getting closer to doing an update of Christgau's website. I've already uploaded a number of fixes since the ISP's server change ("upgrade") broke some old code, but the long delay demanded by Medium and my own procrastination kept me from doing an update to the CG database. Right now, I have everything from Medium in my local copy, and I'm working through some proofreading (my heroes there are George Allan and Lucas Fagen). Probably later this week, assuming I don't hold it up to do more stub work. (I've long thought that the artist pages should list albums that don't have proper CG reviews but do have significant mentions in lists or ACN, so that's a long-term project.)

I should also mention that I got a notice today that Carola Dibbell's recent novel, The Only Ones, is now available as an audiobook, narrated by Sasha Dunbrooke.

New records rated this week:

  • 79rs Gang: Fire on the Bayou (2015, Sinking City/Urban Unrest): [r]: A-
  • Gregg Allman: Gregg Allman Live: Back to Macon, GA (2014 [2015], Rounder, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Luciano Biondini: Senza Fine (2014 [2015], Intakt): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Don Braden: Luminosity (2010-14 [2015], Creative Perspective Music): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Jay Collins and the Kings County Band: Rivers Blues and Other People (2012, Sundown): [r]: B+(***)
  • Doomtree: All Hands (2015, Doomtree): [r]: B+(***)
  • Future: DS2 (2015, Epic): [r]: B+(***)
  • Mary Halvorson: Meltframe (2014 [2015], Firehouse 12): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Lafayette Harris, Jr. Trio: Bend to the Light (2011 [2015], Airmen): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Gaetano Letizia/Mike Clark/Wilbur Krebs: Froggy & the Toads (2015, self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • James Brandon Lewis: Days of FreeMan (2015, Okeh): [r]: A-
  • Shai Maestro Trio: Untold Stories (2014 [2015], Motema): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Nick Mazzarella Trio: Ultraviolet (2015, International Anthem): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Mdou Moctar: Afelan (2013, Sahel Sounds): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Mdou Moctar: Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai [Original Soundtrack Recording] (2015, Sahel Sounds): [bc]: A-
  • Nots: We Are Nots (2014, Goner): [dl]: A-
  • Obnox: Know America (2015, Ever/Never): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Oceaán: The Grip (2014, B3SCI, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • César Orozco & Kamarata Jazz: No Limits for Tumbao (2015, Alfi): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Irène Schweizer/Han Bennink: Welcome Back (2015, Intakt): [cd]: A
  • Songhoy Blues: Music in Exile (2015, Atlantic): [r]: A-
  • The Sonics: This Is the Sonics (2015, Revox): [r]: B+(***)
  • Vince Staples: Summertime '06 (2015, Def Jam, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Tamikrest: Taksera (2015, Glitterbeat): [r]: B+(**)

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

  • Dead Moon: Live at Satyricon (1993 [2015], Voodoo Doughnut): [r]: A-
  • Phil Haynes: Sanctuary (1999 [2015], Corner Store Jazz): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Mammane Sani et Son Orgue: La Musique Electronique du Niger (1978 [2013], Sahel Sounds): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Mamman Sani: Taaritt (1985-88 [2014], Sahel Sounds): [bc]: B+(**)
  • J.B. Smith: No More Good Time in the World for Me (1965-66 [2015], Dust-to-Digital, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)

Old records rated this week:

  • Kurt Elling: Close Your Eyes (1994 [1995], Blue Note): [r]: B
  • Kurt Elling: The Messenger (1994-96 [1997], Blue Note): [r]: B+(*)
  • Kurt Elling: This Time It's Love (1997-98 [1998], Blue Note): [r]: B
  • Kurt Elling: Flirting With Twilight (2001, Blue Note): [r]: B-
  • Kurt Elling: Man in the Air (2003, Blue Note): [r]: B-
  • Alan Jackson: Here in the Real World (1989, Arista): [r]: B+(***)
  • Alan Jackson: Don't Rock the Jukebox (1991, Arista): [r]: A-
  • Alan Jackson: A Lot About Livin' (and a Little 'Bout Love) (1992, Arista): [r]: B+(**)
  • Alan Jackson: Everything I Love (1996, Arista): [r]: B+(**)
  • Alan Jackson: High Mileage (1998, Arista): [r]: B+(***)
  • Alan Jackson: Under the Influence (1999, Arista): [r]: B
  • Alan Jackson: When Somebody Loves You (2000, Arista): [r]: B
  • Alan Jackson: Like Red on a Rose (2006, Arista Nashville): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Sonics: Here Are the Sonics (1965, Etiquette): [r]: A-
  • The Sonics: Boom (1966, Etiquette): [r]: B+(**)
  • Tamikrest: Adagh (2010, Glitterbeat): [r]: B+(**)
  • Tamikrest: Toumastin (2011, Glitterbeat): [r]: A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Barry Altschul & 3Dom Factor: Tales of the Unforeseen (TUM): September 18
  • Tad Britton: Cicada (Origin): August 21
  • Electric Squeezebox Orchestra: Cheap Rent (OA2): August 21
  • Liberty Ellman: Radiate (Pi): August 21
  • Garrison Fewell: Invisible Resonance Trio (Creative Nation Music): September 25
  • Clay Giberson: Minga Minga (Origin): August 21
  • Josh Maxey: Celebration of Soul (Miles High)
  • Olavi Trio: Oh, La Vie! (TUM): September 18
  • Juli Wood Quartet: Synnkä Metsä (Dark Forest) (OA2): August 21


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Weekend Roundup

I just saw a tweet by Ben Norton (author of an article linked to below). It consists of two lists: "places bombed by the US" and "places where ISIS is growing." The lists are identical: "Iraq, Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan." The only chance the US has of breaking that identity would be for the US to bomb more non-Muslim countries.

Some scattered links this week:

  • William D Cohan: How Wall Street's Bankers Stayed Out of Jail: "After the savings-and-loan crisis of the 1980s, more than 1,000 bankers were jailed." However, after the much larger 2008 financial crisis? One, even though plenty of wrongdoing was uncovered:

    Since 2009, 49 financial institutions have paid various government entities and private plaintiffs nearly $190 billion in fines and settlements, according to an analysis by the investment bank Keefe, Bruyette & Woods. That may seem like a big number, but the money has come from shareholders, not individual bankers. (Settlements were levied on corporations, not specific employees, and paid out as corporate expenses -- in some cases, tax-deductible ones.) In early 2014, just weeks after Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan Chase, settled out of court with the Justice Department, the bank's board of directors gave him a 74 percent raise, bringing his salary to $20 million.

    The more meaningful number is how many Wall Street executives have gone to jail for playing a part in the crisis. That number is one. (Kareem Serageldin, a senior trader at Credit Suisse, is serving a 30-month sentence for inflating the value of mortgage bonds in his trading portfolio, allowing them to appear more valuable than they really were.)

    The authors quote several sources arguing that, despite all those fines paid by companies, "the evidence does not show clear misconduct by individuals." What this suggests to me is that we as a country (at least our prosecutors, who are usually pretty vigilant about such things) have radically changed our view of individual responsibility for ethical behavior: either we consider things ethical now that were deemed unethical two decades ago (especially in pursuit of corporate and/or personal profits), or we think that individuals (extending up to corporate CEOs) no longer have sufficient autonomy to be considered responsible for their own actions. I suppose there is a third possibility (or factor), which is that the political system has become so corrupt that it's become all but unthinkable to prosecute the donor class. But no matter how you slice this, it speaks volumes about the moral rot that goes hand-in-hand with a world of increasing inequality and decreasing democracy.

  • Conor Friedersdorf: A Letter to Donald Trump Supporters With One Big Question:

    Dear Donald Trump Supporters:

    You're fed up. This much I understand. You're fed up with politicians who say one thing on the campaign trail, like that they're going to stop illegal immigration, and then do another in Washington; you're fed up with insiders who rig the system for their benefit at your expense; and you're fed up with coastal media elites and their insular subculture. [ . . . ]

    What I don't understand is why you think a President Trump would treat us better. If you elect the billionaire, what makes you think that he will use whatever talents that he possesses to address your grievances rather than to benefit himself? After all, he's a man who has zealously pursued his self-interest all his life. [ . . . ]

    Right now, Trump is telling you all the things you want to hear.

    There was a time when his two ex-wives and the many former business partners he has since sued felt the same way. Those relationships didn't work out very well for them.

    Why do you think that you'll fare better?

    "Trump brags about making a lot of money in Atlantic City, then ditching the place as it slid into misery," Michael Brendan Dougherty observed in The Week. "Believing Trump will bring America back is as foolish as believing he would bring Atlantic City back. Unlike Rubio and Bush, he's a free man -- and perfectly willing to walk away and say it was your fault, but that he enjoyed the ride anyway."

    Trump is a billionaire, you say, so he won't need to pander to special interests -- unlike other Republicans, he can ignore the business lobby and stop illegal immigration.

    But that makes no sense. Granted, Trump has all the money he'll ever need, yet that's been true for decades, and he's continued to expend a lot of effort to earn still more money. Like other men with significant, diversified business holdings -- some of them hotels and golf courses, no less! -- a large supply of cheap immigrant labor is in his personal financial interests. If the business elite is for illegal immigration, he is the business elite! And he'll face the exact same political incentives as every other elected Republican from George W. Bush to John McCain. [ . . . ]

    Instead you're just taking him on faith. Why? Does Trump strike you as a person who is unusually inclined to keep his word? Someone who never flip-flops? Come on.

    On the other hand, there's already a Trump Fulfills Campaign Promise article out -- clearly, the bar's so low it doesn't take much.

    Also see Stanley Aronowitz: The Real Reason Donald Trump Embarrasses the GOP:

    At the debate and numerous public appearances, Trump has matter-of-factly stated that he is an equal opportunity donor to Republican and Democratic candidates -- not for the purpose of civic duty or altruism, but in exchange for influence. He has openly deemed his gifts to politicians a business expense. He went so far as to declare, before 24 million viewers at the debate, that he uses his donations to obtain favors from legislators who are all too eager to bow to his requests. He not-so-subtly implies that politicians are bought and paid for by him and other financial moguls. And he expects a fair return for those dollars, measured in policy rewards like zoning adjustments, subsidies for building projects and long-term tax relief.

    In short, he lets the cat out of the bag about something the political system has spent more than a century to disguise.

  • Fred Kaplan: Shallow Jeb: Jeb Brush tried to burnish his foreign policy cred with a 40-minute speech at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Kaplan describes it as "a hodgepodge of revisionist history, shallow analysis, and vague prescriptions." The main revisionist claim is the assertion that the Petraeus "surge" in Iraq was a big success which gave the US a "hard-won victory," which was in turn squandered by Obama's withdrawal of US forces from Iraq in 2011. Every word in that claim is false, but it has already become gospel among Republican presidential aspirants. From such false premises, all sorts of insane inferences can be made.

    Later in Tuesday night's speech, Bush said that the Iraq surge can serve as a model for how "Islamic moderates can be pulled away from extremist forces" in Syria. I doubt that he was proposing to send 100,000 U.S. troops to Syria, as his brother did in Iraq -- an idea that would appeal to almost no American generals or voters. But what he was proposing isn't at all clear. [ . . . ]

    He did say, "In all of this," referring to the fight against jihadists, "the United States must engage with friends and allies, and lead again in that vital region." Which friends and allies does he mean? The Saudis try to rope us into a savage, fruitless war against the Houthi rebels, whom it portrays as Iranian proxies. The Turks lend us an air base to step up strikes against ISIS but then use the moment of goodwill as cover to attack their bigger enemy, the Kurds, who rank as the jihadists' most potent foe (and to whom Bush promised in his speech to send heavy armaments). ISIS derives much of its strength from the deep disunity of its natural foes, some of whom are our allies, some of whom aren't. "Action, coordination and American leadership," the solutions Bush calls for, are more complex than he -- and many other Republicans who have never held national office -- seems to recognize.

    He criticized Obama for drawing a "red line" against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons, then failing to follow through. Many of Obama's defenders have filed the same complaint. But what would Bush do? "Under my strategy," he said, "the aim would be to draw the [Syrian] moderates together and back them up as one force . . . not just in taking the fight to the enemy but in helping them to form a stable moderate government once ISIS is defeated and Assad is gone." How would he do this? By replicating his brother's surge in Iraq. After all, he added with blithe confidence, "the strategic elements in both cases [Iraq circa 2007 and Syria today] are the same" -- thus demonstrating that he and his speechwriters have no understanding of the tangled politics in Syria or of what made the Iraqi surge work to the extent that it did.

    The most malleable concept here is "Islamic moderates" -- the proper definition seems to be "Muslims who are willing to follow the US lead," which actually says less about them than about us. Following the Surge -- which if you recall at the time escalated the violence without any tangible results -- a number Sunni tribal leaders in Iraq made a deal with the US where in exchange for money and protection from Shiite militias and the central Iraqi government they turned against Al-Qaeda in Iraq, thereby becoming "Islamic moderates." When the US left, the deal broke down, and the same tribal leaders discovered they would be better off siding with ISIS than with the Maliki government. Clearly, for them becoming "radicals" or "moderates" is mere tactics.

    I don't think I've mentioned this before, but for some insight into where Bush's money comes from, see Nomi Prins: All In: The Bush Family Goes for Number Three (With the Help of Its Bankers). You don't think he's running for president on brains or looks, now do you?

  • Matt Riedl: Kris Kobach comments on how GOP has done on six key issues: Kansas' Secretary of State is probably more wired into ALEC and its push to enact right-wing legislation at the state level, so it's interesting both what he considers the critical issues and how he measures progress. The six: "guns, abortion, elections, illegal immigration, taxation and spending, and courts." He likes what Kansas has done on the first three: "constitutional carry" means criminals as well as citizens don't have to get permits or have any training to carry guns; late-term abortions have been banished in Kansas, though he doesn't mention that the trick there was extralegal: the murder of Dr. George Tiller; and Kobach himself has been empowered to prosecute his imaginary "election fraud" cases. He's had more trouble pushing his anti-immigrant laws (hint: there are business interests in the state that profit from cheap labor). On taxes, he touts the Brownback cuts that have brought disaster, but bemoans this year's regressive tax increase that was needed to keep the state solvent. As for the courts, he complains about "no accountability" and says "we need to have a court that's not activist in striking things down." The main complaint Republicans have with the Kansas Supreme Court is that the Court has ruled that the State Constitution requires adequate funding of local schools, and that messes with their tax/spending cut agenda. But then Kobach has such a peculiar notion of constitutionality that he's constantly running into trouble with the courts.

  • Some Iran Deal links:

    • Abbas Milani/Michael McFaul: What the Iran-Deal Debate Is Like in Iran: Long story short, most Iranians -- especially the sort of people who westerners hope will moderate the Revolution -- support the deal, while many of those who are heavily invested in Iran's opposition to the west are opposed to the deal (much like their hawkish counterparts in the US and Israel -- indeed the rationales and tactics are almost equivalent):

      Conservative opponents of the deal tend to emphasize its near-term negative security consequences. They point out that the agreement will roll back Iran's nuclear program, which was intended to deter an American or Israeli attack, and thereby increase Iran's vulnerability. They have denounced the system for inspecting Iranian nuclear facilities as an intelligence bonanza for the CIA. And they have issued blistering attacks on the incompetence of Iran's negotiating team, claiming that negotiators caved on many key issues and were outmaneuvered by more clever and sinister American diplomats.

      And yet such antagonism appears to be about more than the agreement's clauses and annexes. The deal's hardline adversaries also seem concerned about the same longer-term consequences that the moderates embrace. For instance, IRGC leaders must worry that a lifting of sanctions will undermine their business arrangements for contraband trade. In a not-too-discreet reference to these concerns, Rouhani declared them to be "peddlers of sanctions," adding that "they are angry at the agreement" while the people of Iran pay the price for their profiteering. Over time, more exposure to the wider world of commerce is likely to diminish if not destroy the IRGC's lucrative no-bid government contracts for infrastructure and construction projects.

      Perhaps more threatening for this coalition is the loss of America as a scapegoat for all domestic problems. The conservatives need an external enemy to excuse their corrupt, inefficient, and repressive rule. Some have even suggested that the United States is trying to do to Iran what it did to the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, when Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev foolishly trusted U.S. President Ronald Reagan and sought closer ties with the West. The result was the collapse of the Soviet regime.

      Obviously, some conservatives like Ayatollah Khamanei are not too worried about the deal bringing down the political system, but he probably has a broader view of the system than the Revolutionary Guards do. Conversely, Reagan's opening to Gorbachev was opposed by nearly all of Reagan's cold war advisers, who were convinced to the end that the Evil Empire's reform efforts were just a feint to get the US to lower its guard. Deal critics who keep bringing up Iranian mobs chanting "death to America" are every bit as far estranged from reality.

    • Michael R Gordon: Head of Group Opposing Iran Accord Quits Post, Saying He Backs Deal: The group, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) was founded by Gary Samore several years ago to agitate for harsh sanctions against Iran over its suspected (alleged) nuclear program. However, Samore concluded that the deal does in fact address his concerns, so he's come out in favor of it, saying, "I think President Obama's strategy succeeded. He has created economic leverage and traded it away for Iranian nuclear concessions." UANI, in turn, rejected the deal, nudged him out, and replaced him with a more politically dependable flack, Joe Lieberman (you remember: McCain's favorite "useful idiot"). Samore, by the way, is still very anti-Iran.

      He is also not convinced that Iran will continue to adhere to the accord once economic sanctions are lifted. Even so, he argues, the accord will put the United States in a stronger position to respond than a congressional rejection would.

      "We will have bought a couple of years, and if Iran cheats or reneges we will be in an even better position to double down on sanctions or, if necessary, use military force," Mr. Samore said. "If I knew for certain that in five years they would cheat or renege, I'd still take the deal."

      He'd take the deal because he seems to be one of the few people who was actually worried about Iran's "nuclear program" -- as opposed to the many who have cynically manufactured the spectre of an Iranian bomb to show off their own toughness. Had those people actually been worried, they would have been hard pressed to favor a strategy -- continued sanctions and threats of war -- that would only push Iran's efforts further underground over one that fully discloses whatever Iran is doing.

    • Richard Silverstein: Israeli Ex-Security Chiefs Endorse Iran Nuclear Deal: Thirty-six of them, although some appear more interested in the bonanza of military hardware Obama is offering Israel. The fact is that Israeli opinion at all levels is very divided on the deal, so you'd think that Americans -- especially those whose primary loyalty is to Israel -- would be equally divided. But Netanyahu has made a big deal out of rejecting the deal -- and I suspect this is for pure political reasons, as it benefits him to show his right-wing supporters that he can stand up to America and even kick her around a little -- and AIPAC is less an Israeli front than the Likud's Washington PAC.

    • Mel Levine: On Iran, a regrettable rush to judgment: A former congressman (D-CA 1983-93) and AIPAC board member comes out in favor of the Iran deal, arguing that "my friends in AIPAC and some of my friends in Israel have made a regrettable rush to judgment in immediately opposing the Iran agreement and doing so in ways likely to cause long-term harm to Israel, especially in terms of Israel's vital need for bipartisan support in the United States."

    • Daniel Levy: Israel's Iran Deal Enthusiasts: An authoritative summary of Israeli reaction to the Iran Deal, which roughly breaks down: against are the politicians and pundits, especially Netanyahu; in favor are the security and science czars (Uzi Even, a physics professor and former senior scientist at the Dimona nuclear reactor, concluded "the deal was written by nuclear experts and blocks every path I know to the bomb"). Levy goes on to explain Israel's strategly:

      Israel led the push to isolate Iran via focusing on its nuclear program and the nonproliferation imperative. That took some chutzpah, given that Israel sits on the Middle East's only nuclear weapons stockpile -- but before milk and honey, Israel has always been a land flowing with chutzpah. Israel assumed that either its own Washington lobby could indefinitely hold U.S. negotiators to an unrealistically maximalist negotiating position or that Iran would never offer a pragmatic compromise or both. For as long as the deadlock held, Iran would remain at least a permanently sanctioned pariah; regime change was the preferred alternative, successful diplomacy was never the goal.

      The bet paid off pretty well for the better part of two decades. Despite its size and lack of natural regional allies, Israel has enjoyed a degree of unchallenged regional hegemony, freedom of military action, and diplomatic cover that it is understandably reluctant to concede or even recalibrate. Israel's status has been underwritten by U.S. preeminence in the region, which offered other countries there a binary choice: Either side with the United States and, by extension, go easy on Israel or stand against it and be isolated or worse (see: Iraq).

    • Ben Norton: AIPAC spending estimated $40 million to oppose Iran Deal:

      In the first half of 2015, AIPAC spent approximately $1.7 million lobbying Congress to oppose the deal. Yet this is mere chump change compared to what it has since funneled into advertisements and lobbying.

      AIPAC created a new tax-exempt lobbying group in July called Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran. The sole purpose of the organization is to oppose the Iran deal -- which, in spite of the name of the group, will in fact prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons (weapons the Iranian government denies ever even seeking in the first place, and for which there is not a shred of evidence) in return for an end to Western sanctions on the country.

      Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran is spending up to $40 million to place anti-Iran deal ads in 35 states, according to the Times, up from a previous estimate of $20 million. This figure may increase even more as the 60-day period in which Congress can review the deal draws to a close.

      Part of AIPAC's lobbying effort involves flying members of Congress to Israel for some intensive Hasbara; for instance, see: AIPAC taking all but 3 freshmen Congresspeople to Israel in effort to sabotage Iran deal.

    • Gareth Porter: Don't Expect Much Change in Post-Vienna US Middle East Policy: That's basically because Obama is pushing the deal not as a diplomatic breakthrough which buries past sins and opens up a future of US-Iranian cooperation but as a narrow arrangement which reliably contains Iran's malevolent nuclear ambitions while changing nothing else. (Porter previously complained about this in Obama's Line on the Iran Nuclear Deal: A Second False Narrative. You can get a sense of Porter's take on Iran's nuclear program from his book title, Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.)

      There are obviously some differences between the administration and its pro-Israel and Saudi critics regarding Iran's regional role. Otherwise Obama would not even acknowledge the possibility of discussions with Iran in the future. But it would be a mistake to ignore the degree to which Obama's weakness in the face of the lobby's arguments about the regional dimension of the agreement reflects its acceptance of the basic premises of those arguments -- just as it has accepted the lobby's premise that Iran has been trying obtain nuclear weapons.

      Obama and senior administration officials have repeated many times in the past two years the mantra that Iran is a state sponsor of terrorism and that its regional role is destabilizing. Key US national security institutions also continue to reinforce that hoary political line on Iran as well. The well-worn habits of mind of senior officials and institutional interest will certainly continue to impose severe limits on the administration's diplomatic flexibility with regard to both Iran and Saudi Arabia through the end of the Obama administration.

      As you should recall, Netanyahu has been harping about the Iranian threat since day one of the Obama administration. Most likely his real concern was to deflect any desire Obama might have to pressure Israel into a settlement with the Palestinians, but Obama seems to have taken Netanyahu's talk at face value. He then came up with a real solution to the hypothetical problem -- unlike Netanyahu's unilateral bombing fantasies, which would only have made matters worse -- so I suppose it makes sense that he's talking like his real solution addresses a real problem, but it also feeds the opposition's rhetoric. On the other hand, it's hard to believe that any of the deal's opponents ever thought Iran was serious about developing nuclear weapons -- otherwise, they'd embrace the real solution. (Indeed, there are a few such people.) Still, the real payoff of an Iran deal would come if the US and Iran could work together on diplomatic solutions, especially in Syria and Iraq (where both nations oppose ISIS).

  • Other Middle East links:

    • Omar Ashour: Rabaa's massacre: The political impact: After Egypt's military coup removed democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi and his government, the regime cracked down violently on protesters, killing at least 600 in one 10 hour stretch in 2013. The author compares this to other notorious government "crimes against humanity."

    • Michael Young: Talks suggest the endgame is afoot in Syrian crisis: Reports on Russian efforts to negotiate some form of resolution on Syria with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the US, aimed at a compromise between the old Syrian regime (with or without Assad) and whatever qualifies as "moderate" opposition -- supposedly Jaysh Al Fatah is involved ("including the Al Qaeda-affiliated Jabhat Al Nusra") but ISIS/ISIL is out. This occurs in the wake of a series of government defeats, weakening Assad's position. It also seems like a sane turn, unlike the US's schizo attacks both on Assad and ISIS, or Turkey's similar attacks both on ISIS and the Kurds.

    • Nancy LeTourneau: "The Obama Method" and Potential Realignment in the Middle East: The interesting news here is that Iran will hold talks with the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on Syria and Yemen. Iran supports Assad in Syria (GCC members have helped finance oppositions groups, including Salafist Jihadis) and has backed the Houthis in Yemen (Saudi Arabia is bombing the Houthis there), so this is a case where both sides should talk because the shooting has been intolerable. Such talks aren't tied to the US-Iran Deal, but the Deal makes them much more likely to happen, even to be productive.

      Also see the author's President Obama on Finding Openings. Mostly quotes from journalists Obama recently engaged, he talked about how Nixon didn't know how his overture to China might work out at the time, but he saw that as an example of the sort of "openings" he looked to create. LeTourneau adds:

      That is an incredibly wise grasp of how history works -- even for the most powerful person on the planet. It is a striking rebuke of much that we hear from would-be Republican leaders these days who presume that a President of the United States can control world events via military dominance. For those with some knowledge of history, it is especially important given that the discussion is taking place about a country where we tried that back in 1953 and paid the price for it via the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

      She also quotes the rarely lucid Tom Friedman:

      What struck me most was what I'd call an "Obama doctrine" embedded in the president's remarks. It emerged when I asked if there was a common denominator to his decisions to break free from longstanding United States policies isolating Burma, Cuba and now Iran. Obama said his view was that "engagement," combined with meeting core strategic needs, could serve American interests vis-a-vis these three countries far better than endless sanctions and isolation. He added that America, with its overwhelming power, needs to have the self-confidence to take some calculated risks to open important new possibilities -- like trying to forge a diplomatic deal with Iran that, while permitting it to keep some of its nuclear infrastructure, forestalls its ability to build a nuclear bomb for at least a decade, if not longer.

Also, a few links for further study:

  • Marshall Ganz: Organizing for Democratic Renewal: Essay written in 2007 (h/t Nancy LeTourneau: Balancing Private Wealth With Public Voice). Ganz starts off by quoting Sidney Verba ("Democracy is based on the promise that equality of voice can balance inequality of resources.") and Alexis de Tocqueville ("In democratic countries, knowledge of how to combine is the mother of all other forms of knowledge; on its progress depends that of all the others." I think his key insight is:

    But only by joining with others could we come to appreciate the extent to which our fates are linked, gain an understanding of our common interests, and make claims on the political power we needed to act on those interests.

    The notion of a public interest, which in pre-Bowling Alone days was taken for granted, has taken a beating over the last 30-40 years, reducing American democracy into a raw contest between private interests. Still, the public even now gets some lip service, as one politician after another asserts that the private profits they seek will somehow be good for everyone. (My favorite example remains Bush's giveaway to the timber industry, happily named the Healthy Forests Initiative.)

  • Christina Larson: The End of Hunting? Essay from 2006, arguing that "only progressive government can save a great American pastime." Good description of Kansas' open access program. (I'm not aware of the state's recent ultra-right turn endangering this program, but it has resulted in steep rises for hunting and fishing licenses. And the Republicans' lust to pre-emptively exterminate the lesser prairie chicken -- lest the species' endangered status cramps local oil interests -- is nothing short of shameful.)

  • Rick Perlstein: The New Holy Grail of GOP Primaries: Piece touches on several Republican presidential candidates, their benefactors, and the idiot press. Here's just one story, featuring Ohio Governor John Kasich:

    "Randy Kendrick, a major contributor and the wife of Ken Kendrick, the owner of the Arizona Diamondbacks, rose to say she disagreed with Kasich's decision to expand Medicaid coverage, and questioned why he'd said it was 'what God wanted.'" Kasich's "fiery" response: "I don't know about you, lady. But when I get to the pearly gates, I'm going to have to answer what I've done for the poor."

    Other years, before other audiences, such public piety might have sounded banal. This year, it's enough to kill a candidacy:

    "About 20 audience members walked out of the room, and two governors also on the panel, Nikki Haley of South Carolina and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, told Kasich they disagreed with him. The Ohio governor has not been invited back to a Koch seminar."

    Which is, of course, astonishing. But even more astonishing was the lesson the Politico drew from it -- one, naturally, about personalities: "Kasich's temper has made it harder to endear himself to the GOP's wealth benefactors." His temper. Not their temper. Not, say, "Kasich's refusal to kowtow before the petulant whims of a couple of dozen greedy nonentities who despise the Gospel of Jesus Christ has foreclosed his access to the backroom cabals without which a Republican presidential candidacy is inconceivable."

    To see how consequential the handing over of this kind of power to nonentities like these is, consider the candidates' liabilities with another constituency once considered relevant in presidential campaigns: voters. Chris Christie's home state approval rating, alongside his opening of a nearly billion-dollar hole in New Jersey's budget, is 35 percent. While Christie has only flirted with federal law enforcement, Rick Perry has been indicted. Scott Walker's approval rating among the people who know him best (besides David Koch) is 41 percent, and only 40 percent of Wisconsinites believe the state is heading in the right direction. Bobby Jindal's latest approval rating in the Pelican State is 27 percent. Senator Lindsey Graham announced his presidency by all but promising he'd take the country to war; Jeb Bush by telling Americans they need to work more. Rick Santorum not so long ago made political history: he lost his Senate seat by 19 points, an unprecedented feat for a two-term incumbent.

  • Richard Silverstein: Transforming the US into Clone of Israeli National Security State: Article lists many points where techniques and technologies Israel developed for controlling the Palestinians have been promoted and often applied by the US, both in operations abroad (e.g., targeted assassinations) and at home (often by local police departments). One of the most alarming things about Israel is how eagerly many Americans follow its model for dealing with the world.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Daily Log

Mom's Meatloaf recipe, per Josi Hull:

  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped fine
  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 2 eggs (slightly beaten)
  • 2 slices white bread, toasted
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce
  • salt and pepper (to taste)


  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. After toasting the bread, crumble and put into milk, just to soften.
  3. Combine ingredients. Put into a loaf bread pan, or if using a 9x11 baking dish, form in center leaving 1.5-2 inches around the sides. You can add new potatoes and/or other root vegetables around the edges, to roast in the meatloaf juices.
  4. Bake at 350F for one hour.
  5. Put under broiler to brown the top, then serve.

I always recall her making this with potatoes. I also recall the meatloaf being even better the next day, cold in sandwiches (with nothing else, although now I could imagine some nice garnishes like thinly-sliced red onion).

For my improvised variation on the recipe, look here.

Phil Overeem's mid-August list (my grades added, just to keep track, especially to identify the unheard albums; late grades in parens as well as brackets):

  1. Jack DeJohnette: Made in Chicago (ECM) []
  2. Willie Nelson and Sister Bobbie: December Day (Legacy -14) [B]
  3. Kendrick Lamar: to pimp a butterfly (Aftermath) [A-]
  4. Iris DeMent: The Trackless Woods (Flariella) []
  5. Africa Express: Terry Riley's "In C"--Mali (Transgressive -14) [***]
  6. Kate Tempest: Everybody Down (Big Dada -14) [A]
  7. 79rs Gang: Fiyo on the Bayou (Sinking City) [(A-)]
  8. Nots: We Are Nots (Goner -14) [(A-)]
  9. J.D. Allen: Graffiti (Savant) []
  10. Low-Cut Connie: Hi Honey (Ardent) [A-]
  11. Mdou Moctar: Soundtrack to the film Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai (Sahel Sounds) [(A-)]
  12. Coneheads: L.P.1. aka "14 Year Old High School PC-Fascist Hype Lords Rip Off Devo for the Sake of Extorting $$$ from Helpless Impressionable Midwestern Internet Peoplepunks L.P." (Erste Theke Tontraeger) [***]
  13. Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty) [***]
  14. Heems: Eat Pray Thug (Megaforce) [A-]
  15. The Paranoid Style: Rock and Roll Just Can't Recall (self-released) [***]
  16. Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom & Pop) [A-]
  17. The Close Readers: The Lines are Open (Austin -14) [A-]
  18. Dwight Yoakam: Second Hand Heart (Warner Brothers) [B]
  19. Tamikrest: Taksera (Glitterbeat) [(**)]
  20. Mammane Sani et son Orgue: La Musique Electronique du Niger (Sahel Sounds -13) [(***)]
  21. Shamir: Racket (XL) [A-]
  22. Dead Moon: Live at Satyricon (Voodoo Doughnut) [(A-)]
  23. Alex Chilton: Ocean Club '77 (Norton) [**]
  24. Mbongwana Star: From Kinshasa (World Circuit) [A-]
  25. Bob Dylan: Shadows in the Night (Sony) [C]
  26. Various Artists: Burn, Rubber City, Burn (Soul Jazz) [***]
  27. Henry Threadgill & Zooid: In for a Penny, In for a Pound (Pi) [A-]
  28. Young Fathers: White Men are Black Men Too (Ninja Tune) [**]
  29. Big Chief Don Pardo and Golden Comanche: Spirit Food (self-released) []
  30. Swamp Dogg: The White Man Made Me Do It (S.D.E.G.) [*]
  31. Various Artists: The Red Line Comp (self-released) [*]
  32. Pop Staples: Don't Lose This (Anti-) [**]
  33. Bob Marley & The Wailers: Easy Skankin' in Boston, 1978 (Tuff Gong) [A-]
  34. Sleater-Kinney: No Cities to Love (Sub Pop) [*]
  35. Leo Bud Welch: I Don't Prefer No Blues (Big Legal Mess) [***]
  36. Mountain Goats: Beat the Champ (Merge) [A-]
  37. Obnox: Know America (Ever/Never) [(*)]
  38. Vince Staples: Summertime '06 (Def Jam) [(***)]
  39. Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard: Django & Jimmy (Legacy) [A-]
  40. Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni: Ba Power (Glitterbeat) [A-]
  41. Vijay Iyer: Break Stuff (ECM) [***]
  42. J.B. Smith: No More Good Time in the World For Me (Dust-To-Digital) [(**)]
  43. Doomtree: All Hands (Doomtree) [(***)]
  44. The Sonics: This is The Sonics (Revox) [(***)]
  45. Kasey Musgraves: Pageant Material (Mercury) [***]
  46. The Falcons: The World's First Soul Group--The Complete Recordings (History of Soul -14) [A-]
  47. Sonny Simmons and Moksha Samnyasin: Nomadic (Svart -14) [***]
  48. Reactionaries: 1979 (Water Under the Bridge) []
  49. James McMurtry: Complicated Game (Complicated Game) [A-]
  50. Rae Sremmurd: StremmLife (Eardruma) [***]

Unheard: 16; Graded: A: 1, A-: 14; ***: 10; **: 3; *: 3; B: 2; C:1. 25/34 rated *** or higher.

[Adding in later grades: Unheard: 5; Graded: A: 1, A-: 18; ***: 14; **: 5; *: 4; B: 2; C:1. 33/45 rated *** or higher.]

Monday, August 10, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 25277 [25234] rated (+43), 432 [451] unrated (-19).

I hit the bottom of the Spin 1985-2014 list early in the week. Of 300 records, I've not heard/rated 290. That leaves the following (not on Rhapsody, Christgau grades in brackets):

  1. Metallica: Master of Puppets (1986, Elektra)
  2. Bikini Kill: The Singles (1998, Kill Rock Stars) [A-]
  3. Guided by Voices: Bee Thousand (1994, Scat) [B-]
  4. Dr. Dre: The Chronic (1992, Death Row) [C+]
  5. Kate Bush: Hounds of Love (1985, EMI America) [B]
  6. Primal Scream: Screamadelica (1991, Sire) [N]
  7. Aaliyah: One in a Million (1996, Blackground) [S]
  8. The Field: From Here We Go Sublime (2007, Kompakt)
  9. The Books: Thought for Food (2002, Tomlab)
  10. Kompakt: Total 4 (2002, Kompakt)

I've been told that most/all of these records are on YouTube, but haven't tried looking them up there. My final grade distribution is at the bottom of the file. Basically: A or A+: 29 (10.0%), A-: 80 (27.5%); B+: 114 (29.3%); B: 45 (15.5%); B- or lower: 22 (7.5%). When the list first came out I was missing 81 of them, so I've heard 71 since mid-May. I don't see a similar grade breakdown in my notebook at the time, but I did note that I had 103 records rated A- or above. That's up to 109 now, so I picked up 6 new A- records (8.4% of the adds, way down from the initial 44.9% A- (or better: i.e., 103/229). I picked up 4 new B- or below albums, which was also down from my initial rate (5.6% vs. 9.9%). The big growth came in B albums, up by 20 (28.1%) vs. 25 initially (11.3%). Records could wind up graded B for lots of reasons, but the most common is uninspired competency. Of course, you may just write this off as my relative indifference to the alt/indie rock that's Spin's bread and butter. Probably some truth to that. But it's not like I hate every alt/indie record. Lots of good ones on the list.

With that project done, I wanted to focus on the books posts, and not think much about what I was listening to. This time I went into the new jazz queue and cleared out a lot of stuff I've been skipping over. No great finds there, although avant fans will enjoy Louie Belogenis' Blue Buddha project, and Stefan Keune's vinyl-only release offers quite a rush. Still, I probably enjoyed Dan Brubeck's tribute to his parents even more -- just didn't give it a second spin, mostly because it's a double but also because brother Chris has also tapped into the family well, with similarly fine results.

Another high HM is the new Miguel album. I played it several times, went back to his debut, and even gave his sophomore album another shot. Tatum tells me it takes time to sink in, but that's not how I work -- and when I do give a record extra time, it's almost always because it's giving me something back. Still, I like the album much more than I do its widely admired predecessor -- don't get that one at all, even though I nudged its grade up a notch. Tatum, by the way, reviews Wildheart in his revived A Downloader's Diary (41). Biggest surprise for me there was the A grade for Young Thug's Barter 6 -- talk about someone who needs time to sink in! I gave it one spin and a B+(**) a while back. That's one I'm not in any hurry to revisit, but maybe Christgau will weigh in? Of course, our biggest grade difference was over Sleater-Kinney, but you know how that goes. Still, a great column. I should get around to archiving it sometime.

Note: I cut the week off a bit short last night, so I didn't pick up today's mail (most notably, new albums by guitarists Liberty Ellman and Garrison Fewell). The Rhapsody Streamnotes draft file is up around 90 albums even though August is less than one-third over, so I should start thinking about posting it up.

Also, the CDR of Howard Riley: 10.11.12 (NoBusiness) didn't have any music on it I could hear. It's one of their vinyl-only releases, probably solo piano, something of intrinsically limited interest to me, but he's a musician I've been wanting to hear more of. I did track down two of his early Columbia releases -- Angle (1969) and The Day Will Come (1970), both A- in my book -- but I've only heard one later record, a B+(*) live solo. According to my records, he has another 21 records which Penguin Guide gave 3.5 or 4 stars to, so a major figure, at least in their book.

New records rated this week:

  • Alessio Alberghini/Garrison Fewell: Inverso (2014 [2015], Floating Forest): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Baltazanis: End of Seas (2015, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Bastet: Eye of Ra (2015, self-released): [cd]: B
  • Louie Belogenis: Blue Buddha (2015, Tzadik): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Karl Berger/Kirk Knuffke: Moon (2013-14 [2015], NoBusiness, 2CD): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Michael Blum/Jim Stinnett: Commitment (2015, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The Dan Brubeck Quartet: Celebrating the Music and Lyrics of Dave & Iola Brubeck (2013 [2015], Blue Forest, 2CD): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Casa: Futuro (2012 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: B
  • Kasey Chambers: Bittersweet (2015, Sugar Hill): [r]: B
  • The Coneheads: L.P. 1 (2015, Erste Theke Tonträger, EP): [bc]: B+(***)
  • The Convergence Quartet: Owl Jacket (2013 [2015], NoBusiness): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Easton Corbin: About to Get Real (2015, Mercury Nashville): [r]: B
  • Benjamin Duboc/Jean-Luc Petit: Double-Basse: This Is Not Art (2013 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Kurt Elling: Passion World (2015, Concord): [r]: C
  • Field Music: Music for Drifters (2015, Memphis Industries): [r]: B+(**)
  • Nick Finzer: The Chase (2014 [2015], Origin): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Laszlo Gardony: Life in Real Time (2014 [2015], Sunnyside): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Albert "Tootie" Heath/Ethan Iverson/Ben Street: Philadelphia Beat (2014 [2015], Sunnyside): [r]: B+(**)
  • Paul Hubweber/Frank Paul Schubert/Alexander von Schlippenbach/Clayton Thomas/Willi Kellers: Intricacies (2014 [2015], NoBusiness, 2CD): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Alan Jackson: Angels and Alcohol (2015, Capitol Nashville): [r]: A-
  • Stefan Keune/Dominic Lash/Steve Noble: Fractions (2013 [2015], NoBusiness): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Lama + Joachim Badenhorst: The Elephant's Journey (2015, Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Frantz Loriot/Manuel Perovic Notebook Large Ensemble: Urban Furrow (2014 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Miguel: Wildheart (2015, RCA): [r]: B+(***)
  • Larry Newcomb Quartet: Live Intentionally! (2015, Essential Messenger): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Matt Panayides: Conduits (2014 [2015], Pacific Coast Jazz): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Evan Parker/Joe Morris/Nate Wooley: Ninth Square (2014 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Simon Phillips: Protocol III (2015, Phantom): [cd]: B
  • Robert Sabin: Humanity Part II (2014 [2015], Ranula Music): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Brianna Thomas: You Must Believe in Love (2015, Sound on Purpose): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Helen Tzatzimakis: Soulfully (2014 [2015], Cobalt Music): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Brad Allen Williams: Lamar (2012-13 [2015], Sojourn): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Mark Winkler: Jazz and Other Four Letter Words (2015, Cafe Pacific): [cd]: B+(***)

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

  • Charlie Haden/Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Tokyo Adagio (2005 [2015], Impulse): [r]: B+(*)
  • Daniel Smith: Jazz Suite for Bassoon (1995-97 [2015], Summit): [cd]: B

Old records rated this week:

  • The Deftones: White Pony (2000, Maverick): [r]: B+(*)
  • Green Day: Kerplunk (1992, Lookout): [r]: B+(*)
  • Green Day: Nimrod (1997, Reprise): [r]: B+(**)
  • Green Day: Warning (2000, Reprise): [r]: A-
  • Green Day: American Idiot (2004, Reprise): [r]: B+(*)
  • Miguel: All I Want Is You (2010, Jive): [r]: B+(**)

Grade changes:

  • Miguel: Kaleidoscope Dream (2012, RCA): [r]; [was: B] B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Beegie Adair/Don Aliquo: Too Marvelous for Words (Adair Music Group): September 4
  • Luciano Biondini: Senza Fine (Intakt)
  • João Camões/Jean-Marc Foussat/Claude Parle: Bien Mental (Fou)
  • Robin Eubanks Mass Line Big Band: More Than Meets the Ear (ArtistShare): advance, November 20
  • Phil Haynes: Sanctuary (1999, Corner Store Jazz): September 29
  • Miho Hazama: Time River (Sunnyside): advance, October 2
  • Roberto Magris: Enigmatix (JMood)
  • Richard Nelson/Aardvark Jazz Orchestra: Deep River (self-released)
  • Irène Schweizer/Han Bennink: Welcome Back (Intakt)

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Book Roundup (4)

Once again, I skipped Weekend Roundup for more book blurbs. I doubt that's much of a loss, given how last week's news was so dominated by the first Fox Republican Presidential Debate Orgy -- really, if you have nothing more enlightening to talk about than Donald Trump, Scott Walker, Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee, and/or Chris Christie (swap any of a dozen other names into this list if you so desire), you should cancel your news show and slot in a nice golf match or bowling or something. Otherwise you run the risk that the Republicans' insane attacks on the Iran deal might leak through to weak-minded Democrats -- Sen. Chuck Schumer is the latest to disgrace himself (OK, here's a link).

Aside from the Republicans, who'll still be around next week, and certainly won't be any smarter or less disgraceful then, the most common news story this past week was the shooting atrocity, practically an everyday occurrence. (A foreign exchange student was killed just outside his dorm here in Wichita this week.) Those, unlike the Republicans, are terminal events, but no doubt there will be another fresh batch of them next week to.

Meanwhile, back to the books. This is the fourth installment in a little more than a week, and will probably be the last for a while. I just have a handful more entries in my draft file, and a couple of them are for books that aren't scheduled for publication until September-October. My catchup project has involved going through close to a dozen notebooks where I jotted down book names when I was in bookstores or libraries over the last few years. I'm not quite done with that, but have managed to fill up four posts -- 160 books. Some of the notebooks are rather old, mostly yielding books published in 2008-09 (between the lists I've found several Borders discount coupon numbers), but the main one I haven't gotten to was filled out in New Jersey last fall. I'll keep working on that, and maybe it'll yield a fifth post, or maybe it'll just get me started for a post this fall. We'll see.

Stanley Aronowitz: The Death and Life of American Labor: Toward a New Worker's Movement (2014, Verso Books): Unions have taken a beating, especially in the private sector, over the last 30-40 years, dropping from representing more than 30% of American workers to less than 10%. The "death" part is an old story, so what about the "life" part? Or the "new" bit? I read Thomas Geoghegan's Only One Thing Can Save Us: Why America Needs a New Kind of Labor Movement (2014, New Press), which has some specific ideas on things that can be done to breathe new life into the labor movement, but I don't see what Aronowitz has up his sleeve. I do recall his early book, False Promises: The Shaping of American Working Class Consciousness (1974), and know that he's been working this issue for most of his life, both as scholar and activist.

Shlomo Avineri: Herzl's Vision: Theodor Herzl and the Foundation of the Jewish State (2014, Blue Bridge): Herzl wasn't the first Zionist, but he headed the World Zionist Organization until his early death (1904) and wrote two books (The Jewish State and The Old New Land, the latter a novel) articulating his vision for what became Israel in 1948. He was notable during his life for appealing to imperial powers to adopt the Zionists as a colonization project, and he painted a much more starry-eyed picture than what actually transpired. But then don't all imperialists start out starry-eyed?

Zygmunt Bauman: Does the Richness of the Few Benefit Us All? (paperback, 2013, Polity): Short (100 pp) essay by a philosophy prof, evidently picks apart various arguments ("finding them one by one to be false, deceitful and misleading") to arrive at "no." I'm not inclined to disagree, especially on the so-called "trickle down" theories (unless that trickling is aided by redistributive tax policies). I don't know whether Bauman considers the argument that the extravagances and idiosyncrasies of the rich may on occasion create something of lasting cultural value -- e.g., the Taj Mahal -- that would never have been created in a more egalitarian society. On the other hand, such arts only attain popular value when they have been opened to the public. (The policy which would promote this would be a confiscatory estate tax, which would encourage the rich to build monuments to their memory while also ensuring public access in due course. It would also limit that aristocracy problem.)

James Bradley: The China Mirage: The Hidden History of American Disaster in Asia (2015, Little Brown): Americans have been fascinated by China from first encounters, and as Bradley shows contributed to the opium wars, used the "open door policy" to carve out fortunes, developed a fateful alliance with the Kuomintang that continued into exile on Taiwan, fought nasty wars against the "red menace," and invested lavishly when China opened up to foreign capital. All that while, one might argue that those Americans understood nothing, not so much because the Chinese world was impenetrable as because Americans were so blunt and dull. Thomas has written a number of books about the US in East Asia, notably The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War (2009, Little Brown). This seems to be where he tries to sum it all up.

HW Brands: Reagan: The Life (2015, Doubleday): A bid for a comprehensive single-volume biography (816 pp) of the mediocre actor, corporate shill, and demagogic (albeit absent-minded) politician who spent eight years as one of America's most corrupt presidents. Brands is a capable historian who's knocked off biographies on Ben Franklin, Andrew Jackson, and both Roosevelts -- I read his A Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (2008) and recommend it, especially if you don't know much about the man or the era -- as well as some broad-brush books like American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (2010). On the other hand, I already know too much about Reagan, and I'm not likely to enjoy (or benefit from) any author who is not as repulsed by the man and his movement as I already am. I did, after all, live through this travesty. (And I've read Sean Wilentz: The Age of Reagan: A History 1974-2008 [2008], so it's not like I haven't tried.)

Richard Davenport-Hines: Universal Man: The Lives of John Maynard Keynes (2015, Basic Books): A new biography of the great liberal economist, a figure whose relevance has only grown since the 2008 "Great Recession" happened -- although it seems like most political leaders and central bankers have yet to acknowledge the point. Also relatively new (and brief: 136pp): Peter Temin/David Vines: Keynes: Useful Economics for the World Economy (2014, MIT Press).

Alain de Botton: The News: A User's Manual (2014, Pantheon): British philosopher/social critic, originally from Switzerland -- has also written novels and appeared on television -- asks the question: what is our constant preoccupation with news doing to our minds? He picks apart various common story lines -- disasters, celebrity gossip, political scandals -- and tries to put their impacts into the context of everyday life. Previous books include: How Proust Can Change Your Life (1997); The Architecture of Happiness (2006); Relgion for Atheists: A Non-Believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion (2012); How to Think More About Sex (2012).

DW Gibson: Not Working: People Talk About Losing a Job and Finding Their Way in Today's Economy (paperback, 2012, Penguin Books): A collection of interviews, some 480 pp, about just that -- reviewers compare this to Studs Terkel's Working, and to James Agee, high praise indeed. My own view of getting fired is that it's increasingly often like getting shot down by a random sniper -- you have little sense of it coming, it seems to single you out in a way that leaves you very isolated (and often feeling somewhat guilty), and in an instant you lose something you may never be able to put back together again. (In some ways that describes me after I was fired by SCO, although I had more of a safety net than most folks do.) Sure, there are differences: getting fired in America today is not a random act -- some people, including old guys like me, are statistically more likely to get hit -- nor is it an isolated act -- public policies that promote (or simply permit) mergers, union busting, outsourcing or offshoring of jobs, or other forms of corporate predation often result in mass firings.

DW Gibson: The Edge Becomes the Center: An Oral History of Gentrification in the Twenty-First Century (2015, Overlook Press): More interviews, but where the author's previous Not Working traveled around the country to focus on how getting sacked affects a wide range of people, here he focuses on one city (New York City, of course) and a phenomenon that affects people in various ways (although higher rent is one common denominator).

Benjamin Ginsberg: The Worth of War (2014, Prometheus): Most recently wrote The Value of Violence (2013, Prometheus), so this is a sequel as well as a doubling down. His arguments are much like those who delight in the "creative destruction" of capitalism, except with more blood and guts. Still, in both cases, what makes the argument sanitary is that the violence/war he praises is comfortably in the past ("few today would trade our current situation for the alternative had our forefathers not resorted to the violence of the American Revolution and the Civil War"). Maybe he has something more in mind -- he does see that the modern state is rife with implicit violence ("the police, prisons, and the power of the bureaucratic state to coerce and manipulate"), and he's right that we are less free of violence than we'd like to think, but by rationalizing war instead of rejecting it, he's not doing us any favors. He's written many other books, mostly anti-government tracts like The Captive Public: How Mass Opinion Promotes State Power (1986), but also: How the Jews Defeated Hitler: Exploding the Myth of Jewish Passivity in the Face of Nazism (2013, Rowman & Littlefield). I have no idea how he makes the leap from his subtitle to his title, but it's kind of like noting a few worthwhile technical advancements that were developed during a war and concluding that war is a good thing.

Steven K Green: Inventing a Christian America: The Myth of the Religious Founding (2015, Oxford University Press): Author has written several books on church-state relations -- The Second Disestablishment: Church and State in Nineteenth-Century America (2010, Oxford University Press); The Bible, the School, and the Constitution: The Clash That Shaped Church-State Doctrine (2012, Oxford University Press) -- and returns here to dissect the oft-repeated claim that the founders intended a Christian republic.

Raymond J Haberski Jr: God and War: American Civil Religion Since 1945 (2012, Rutgers University Press): Americans have long been conceited about their uniqueness in the world, and this gradually cohered into the notion of a civil religion -- something which got a huge boost during the Cold War era, as the American brand alternately stood for freedom and capitalism. All nations claim to fight for God, but few have bound them together so unquestionably as the US has done.

Gary A Haugen/Victor Boutros: The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence (2014; paperback, 2015, Oxford University Press). The authors are primarily talking about "common violence like rape, forced labor, illegal detention, land theft, and police abuse" but more organized forms of violence are even more effective at depressing a population and locking them in poverty. One thinks, for instance, of the total inability of the US occupying forces to rebuild Afghanistan and Iraq when faced with even relatively sporadic insurgent violence. Nor does the violence have to be "eruptive" -- the enforcement of economic sanctions depresses economies and pushes people into poverty (e.g., Gaza, or 1991-2003 Iraq, although the latter got worse). The authors argue that ending "common violence" requires effective criminal justice systems. Although you can find worse examples around the world, that doesn't let the US off lightly.

Steve Inskeep: Jacksonland: President Andrew Jackson, Cherokee Chief John Ross, and a Great American Land Grab (2015, Penguin Books): In case you ever got queasy about Stalin moving whole nations to the barren margins of Russia, beware that he got the idea from an American, Andrew Jackson, who ordered the Cherokee (and other tribes) uprooted and moved from North Carolina to Oklahoma (then designated "Indian Territory"). The story, retold here with uncommon focus on the Cherokee chief, is commonly known as the "Trail of Tears." Ready why. The author, by the way, was last seen writing about Pakistan: Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi (2011, Penguin Books).

Alyssa Katz: The Influence Machine: The US Chamber of Commerce and the Corporate Capture of American Life (2015, Spiegel & Grau): I don't know how common this is, but in Wichita at least the Chamber of Commerce is extremely Republican and very active in pushing state politics to the extreme right. Evidently this is more widespread: "Through its propaganda, lobbying, and campaign cash, the Chamber has created a right-wing monster that even it struggles to control, a conservative movement that is destabilizing American democracy as never before."

Walter Kempowski: Swansong 1945: A Collective Diary of the Last Days of the Third Reich (2015, WW Norton): History from a thousand scraps of paper -- diaries and letters from ordinary civilians, soldiers and prisoners of both sides, here and there some bigwig, a contemporary picture of the Reich in ruins. Kempowski (1929-2007) assembled ten volumes of diaries like this, as well as writing a number of novels, but this is his first book translated into English.

David M Kotz: The Rise and Fall of Neoliberal Capitalism (2015, Harvard University Press): Economist, "one of the few academic economists to predict it [the great recession in 2008]," rehashes the neoliberal economic policies that led to the crash. Not clear, though, what the "fall" is, sine no matter how hard they got tripped up, the politicians haven't been forced to rethink the standard approaches.

Jonathan Kozol: Fire in the Ashes: Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America (2012, Crown): Bernard Goldberg wrote a book a while back listing "101 people screwing up America." Most were good people, but you could sort of see where their political stances ticked off Goldberg (Noam Chomsky, for instance, even though he's almost always right). However, the one thing I couldn't forgive, or even see anything but pure moral rot in, was his picking on Jonathan Kozol, a teacher who's never done anything more than expose how poor children are treated shabbily in our public schools. The only book of his that I've read was his first, Death at an Early Age: The Destruction of the Hearts and Minds of Negro Children in the Boston Public Schools (1967), but he's written a dozen others, notably: Rachel and Her Children: Homeless Families in America (1988); Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools (1991); and The Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America (2005). Here he revists people he knew as children and growing up, over some twenty-five years, a mix of success stories and all-too-common failure.

Mark Kurlansky/Talia Kurlansky: International Night: A Father and Daughter Cook Their Way Around the World (2014, Bloomsbury USA): The elder author has written a number of popular history books with built around food -- Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World (1997), which led him to The Basque History of the World (1999); Salt: A World History (2002); The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell (2006); and Birdseye: The Adventures of a Curious Man (2012). The idea here is to spin the globe, land on a country, and fix dinner appropriate to that country. They wrote up a year's worth of meals, including the recipes. The sort of book I might be able to write, although his randomizing approach ventures further than I have. He also wrote two other books I've read (and recommend): 1968: The Year that Rocked the World (2004), and Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea (2006).

James Mahaffey: Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters: From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima (2014; paperback, 2015, Pegasus): A survey of an important problem, although the author previously wrote a book proselytizing a brilliant future for the nuclear power industry -- Atomic Awakening: A New Look at the History and Future of Nuclear Power (2009, Pegasus) -- and sometimes he seems a little glib here: e.g., Chapter 3: A Bit of Trouble in the Great White North; Chapter 6: In Nuclear Research Even the Goof-ups are Fascinating; Chapter 8: The Military Almost Never Lost a Nuclear Weapon. Fukushima Daiichi is at least called a tragedy, although you wonder whether he felt that for Japan or for the industry.

Joshua Muravchik: Making David Into Goliath: How the World Turned Against Israel (2014, Encounter Books): Author notes that as late as 1967 Americans and Europeans overwhelmingly favored Israel in its conflict with the Arabs, but the tide of public opinion in the west has markedly turned against Israel. I doubt the author attributes this shift to the "facts on the ground" Israel has so assiduously constructed -- the occupation, the settlements, the failure to resolve the world's largest and most persistent refugee crisis, the denial of basic civil rights to Palestinians, Israel's periodic bombing of neighboring countries, the growing power of an increasingly racist right-wing. Rather, he looks at the public relations battle, how Israeli Hasbara has been countered in various forums (especially among the democratic left, which he accuses of a new "leftist orthodoxy in which class struggle was supplanted by noble struggles of people of color").

Michael B Oren: Ally: My Journey Across the American-Israeli Divide (2015, Random House): Author of what is probably the standard military history of the 1967 war (at least from the Israeli side, Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East; I can't think of anything remotely comparable from the Arab sides) and a long history of US adventures in the Middle East (Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present), Oren is also a political activist of Israel's right-wing, serving as Israeli ambassador to the US 2009-13. So this is a memoir of his advocacy, which primarily involved beating the war drums against his fantasy view of Iran while avoiding doing anything constructive about the real conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Adding to the surrealism is that Oren was born in the US, citizenship which he only renounced in 2009 -- a background which helps him promote the myth that the two nations should really act as one, with Israel calling the shots.

Timothy H Parsons: The Rule of Empires: Those Who Built Them, Those Who Endured Them, and Why They Always Fall (2010; paperback, 2012, Oxford University Press): His examples: Roman Britain, Muslim Spain, Spanish Peru, Napoleonic Italy, British India and Kenya, Vichy France. I imagine you could add your own examples, especially as the dynamics reappear in case after case -- although his cases vary in many respects, such as time (four centuries down to six years), integration of local elites, the religion of the rulers and the degree of conversion, the empires are inevitably driven by exploitation and instinct for survival to make themselves unwelcome. One can also argue that the world's tolerance for empires is declining, even cases which cloak their control as ingeniously as the US does.

Henry M Paulson: Dealing With China: An Insider Unmasks the New Economic Superpower (2015, Twelve): Head of Goldman Sachs, Treasury Secretary to GW Bush, some insider, close enough much of the book can be done as memoir. There are whole shelves of books on China's economic rise and the threat that implies to American economic supremacy (as if the latter is even a real thing in this age of multinational corporations and unrestricted capital flows).

Richard Reeves: Infamy: The Shocking Story of the Japanese-American Internment in World War II (2015, Henry Holt): Shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought the US into WWII, the government began rounding up Japanese-Americans and trucked them off to spend the war in concentration camps -- a story which in the muddled mind of Wesley Clark became a template for a new wave of camps for troubled Muslim youths, but which most Americans with any awareness recall as one of the more shameful episodes in American history. Racism against East Asians has largely faded in recent years, but was rampant well past WWII, and it was at the root of this.

Richard Rhodes: Twilight of the Bombs: Recent Challenges, New Dangers, and the Prospects for a World Without Nuclear Weapons (2010; paperback, 2011, Vintage): No idea how I missed this, having read all three of Rhodes' previous books on the subject: The Making of the Atomic Bomb (1986); Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb (1995); and Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race (2007). This volume attempts to tie up various loose ends, and spends a lot of time on Iraq, less on securing the former Soviet Union's arsenal, the dismantling of South Africa's bombs, North Korea, and the NPT -- less so on the French and Chinese projects that produced bombs in the 1960s, on Israel-India-Pakistan (the latter developed a bomb by 1990, the former two in the 1970s), the Iran controversy, and various other countries that worked on bombs but abandoned them (he mentions Taiwan and South Korea, both pressured by the US). Probably enough material left over for a fifth book. Doesn't look like he's going to find closure any time soon, although it's likely that Iran will soon be as dormant as Iraq seems now.

James S Robbins: This Time We Win: Revisiting the Tet Offensive (2010; paperback, 2012, Encounter Books): Put this on a shelf with Lewis Sorley's A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam (1999) as a piece of Monday-morning quarterbacking, an attempt to argue that the United States needn't have lost in Vietnam -- that in fact the troops were winning the war but the American people and their leaders let them down. Part of this view is the notion that the Tet Offensive in 2008, when Vietnamese forces penetrated to the center of most Vietnamese cities, spent so many resources that by the time the offensive was beaten back the Vietnamese were near defeat. But at the time, it didn't look that way: what the Tet Offensive showed, graphically, was that the propaganda coming out of Washington, justifying the war and touting future victory, was plain horseshit. Same for these revisionist ploys: they depend on the same sort of magical thinking that makes all American war planning seen invincible. How rational people can continue to believe this after the actual track record both in Vietnam and later in Afghanistan and Iraq is unfathomable, but the DOD and CIA have plenty of jobs for people who persist in this fantasy. One clue why is the reason I couldn't bring myself to write "NVA" or "VC" above -- I wrote "Vietnamese," because America's enemies there were the Vietnamese people, and the US couldn't claim victory there without killing nearly all of them. The cold fact is that had the Army not thrown in the towel and quit in 1973, had each administration after the other hung tough and kept the killing going, however many Vietnamese are left would still be fighting America today. The revisionists are offering a formula not for peace but for perpetual war, and that war is wrong not just because it can never be won -- it's wrong because it was never right in the first place.

Jan Jarboe Russell: The Train to Crystal City: FDR's Secret Prisoner Exchange Program and America's Only Family Internment Camp During World War II (2015, Scribner): In addition to the mass internment of Japanese-Americans, FDR set up a concentration camp in Texas where the US kept whole families of German and Italian natives (many US citizens), on the theory that they could be traded both Americans trapped behind enemy lines by the outbreak of war -- something called "quiet passage."

Shlomo Sand: How I Stopped Being a Jew (2014, Verso): Short essay (112 pp), from a relentless critic of Israel's system of identity classifications (Jew, etc.), hard-and-fast rules he's argued against in several previous books: The Invention of the Jewish People (2009, Verso); The Invention of the Land of Israel: From Holy Land to Homeland (2012, Verso).

David Satter: It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway (paperback, 2013, Yale University Press): Explores current Russian attitudes to the Soviet Union, including the fact that many Russians "actually mourn the passing of the Soviet regime." Satter previously wrote two of the more important books on recent Russian history: Age of Delirium: The Decline and Fall of the Soviet Union (1996) and Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State (2003). For a different angle on this, see: Peter Pomerantsev: Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia (2014, Public Affairs).

Eric Schlosser: Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety (2013; paperback, 2014, Penguin Press): Since Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, no nation has used nuclear weapons in war. One might chalk that up to the idea, much touted by the very scientists who invented the thing in the first place, that nuclear weapons have made war unthinkable, although you'd also have to concede that it was not for lack of "thinking about the unthinkable" by the world's Dr. Strangeloves (Herman Kahn even wrote a book with that title). It's also the case that no one has accidentally set a nuclear bomb off, the prospect that Schlosser writes about. The "Damascus accident" occurred in 1980 in a Titan missile silo near Damascus, Arkansas (a few miles north of Little Rock): a dropped tool punctured a fuel tank, which caused the missile to explode, but the nuclear warhead on top of the missile didn't detonate (although the explosion did spray radioactive materials hither and yon). Needless to say, this wasn't the only such accident. Schlosser covers a wide range of them, the engineering problems they presented, and the politics on all sides.

Frederick AO Schwarz Jr: Democracy in the Dark: The Seduction of Government Secrecy (2015, New Press): Former chief counsel to the Church Committee on Intelligence -- you know, back in the 1970s, the last time Congress seriously tried to figure out what the CIA had been up to. Much of what we know about the CIA was aptly summed up by Tim Weiner: Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA (2007). They've been able to get away with such incompetence and criminality only inasmuch as they've been able to keep what they've done secret. Indeed, secrecy hides rot and degeneracy everywhere it occurs in government.

David K Shipler: Freedom of Speech: Mightier Than the Sword (2015, Knopf): Journalist, wrote a basic book, The Working Poor: Invisible in America (2004), has lately turned his attention to threats to fundamental American liberties -- The Rights of the People: How Our Search for Safety Invades Our Liberties (2011), and Rights at Risk: The Limits of Liberty in Modern America (2012). I'd expect this to be the balanced book on freedom of speech issues that Kirsten Powers' The Silencing isn't. I wonder how far this goes into the recent vogue for extending corporate powers under the guise of free speech -- e.g., the "right" to engage in unlimited campaign graft.

Jason Stanley: How Propaganda Works (2015, Princeton University Press): I read a book on sales closes once and it included some helpful advice on how to keep from being sold something you don't want: recognize the close. Like a good close, propaganda needs to sneak up on you to be effective, so if this book does reveal the secrets, it will help you see through them, and take back control over your own mind. Although anyone can construct propaganda for any position, in real life propaganda is very unbalanced. Part of this is that it's expensive, something the rich can afford while the poor cannot. Also, propaganda is needed for positions that cannot be argued by appealing to logic, facts, and the general welfare, and those are overwhelmingly concentrated on the right. For example, one of the better ones was Bush's proposal to allow timber companies to shred public lands: they called this the Health Forests Initiative. Likewise, Stanley's examples are mostly from the right. Stanley previously wrote Know How (paperback, 2013, Oxford University Press).

Bettina Strangneth: Eichmann Before Jerusalem: The Unexamined Life of a Mass Murderer (2014, Knopf): Author picks through "more than 1,300 pages of Eichmann's own recently discovered written notes -- as well as seventy-three extensive audio reel recordings of a crowded Nazi salon held weekly during the 1950s in a popular district of Buenos Aires" to construct a portrait of the Nazi war criminal in exile, and concludes that his self-effacing act on trial in Jerusalem in 1961, which led Hannah Arendt to coin the term "balanity of evil" -- was just an act.

Bert Randolph Sugar: The Baseball Maniac's Almanac: The Absolutely, Positively, and Without Question Greatest Book of Facts, Figures, and Astonishing Lists Ever Compiled (3rd edition, paperback, 2010, Skyhorse): Caught my eye because I used to belong to a club called Baseball Maniacs, but pretty sure none of us got any royalties. Basically a trivia book, chock full of statistical lists, some pretty obvious but most involving multiple selection criteria; e.g. "3000 Hits, 500 Home Runs, and a .300 Batting Average, Career": just Hank Aaron and Willie Mays; "Players with 2500 Career Hits, Never Having a 200-Hit Season": 29 players topped by Carl Yastrzemski, Eddie Murray, Dave Winfield, and Cap Anson (who never played a 100-game season until he was 32 and only topped 140 once), and including great hitters who walked a lot, like Rickey Henderson, Mel Ott, Barry Bonds, and Ted Williams. The old players I recognize, like George Gore (a teammate of Anson's with a lifetime .301 BA), still the player born in Maine with the most base hits. Instantly obsolete, of course, the kind of book that's unlikely to be updated in the future -- it would be easy to replace it with a free website. Sugar has several list books like this, but his real interest is boxing.

Elana Maryles Sztokman: The War on Women in Israel: A Story of Religious Radicalism and the Women Fighting for Freedom (2014, Sourcebooks): Jewish feminist, has written two other books on Israel's politically established Orthodox Judaism -- The Men's Section: Orthodox Jewish Men in an Egalitarian World (2011, Brandeis); Educating in the Divine Image: Gender Issues in Orthodox Jewish Day Schools (2013, Brandeis) -- and their increasing insistence on segregating and bullying women over what they consider immodest dress. She should probably write her next book on Orthodox homophobia -- an Orthodox recently stabbed six people in a Jerusalem Gay Pride parade. Also on the evolution of Israeli Orthodoxy: Marc B Shapiro: Changing the Immutable: How Orthodox Judaism Rewrites It History (2015, Littman Library of Jewish Civilization).

David Vine: Base Nation: How American Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World (2015, Metropolitan Books): Even skipping the better known war zones, there are hundreds of bases, costing on the order of $100 billion per year. Their presence is one reason the US shares blame for the regimes they reside in, and one reason the US is repeatedly dragged into the world's wars -- even ones we're not directly responsible for. Closing those bases is an essential step to extricating the US from war abroad, with all the damage that causes both there and here.

Nikolaus Wachsmann: KL: A History of the Nazi Concentration Camps (2015, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Attempts to provide a complete history of Nazi Germany's concentration camps -- KL for Konzentrationslager -- from the beginning in March 1933 when the target was ostensibly "social deviants -- an ever-expanding definition that came to include everyone who suffered the Fuhrer's ire. Big job, big book (880 pp). Other books continue to come out, most showing that no matter how definitive the big book looks, there's always more misery to uncover: Sarah Helm: Ravensbruck: Life and Death in Hitler's Concentration Camp for Women (2015, Nan A Talese); Elissa Malländer: Female SS Guards and Workaday Violence: The Majdanek Concentration Camp, 1942-1944 (2015, Michigan State University Press); Dan Stone: The Liberation of the Camps: The End of the Holocaust and Its Aftermath (2015, Yale University Press); Kim Wünschmann: Before Auschwitz: Jewish Prisoners in the Prewar Concentration Camps (2015, Harvard University Press).

Michael Walzer: The Paradox of Liberation: Secular Revolutions and Religious Counterrevolutions (2015, Yale University Press): "Many of the successful campaigns for national liberation in the years following World War II were initially based on democratic and secular ideals. Once established, however, the newly independent nations had to deal with entirely unexpected religious fierceness." Examples are: India, Israel, Algeria. Walzer's skill at rationalizing "just wars" is always suspect, but he raises a fair question. I wonder whether he recognizes the role of the US (and other post-colonial powers) in promoting religious reactionaries to undermine socialism? Or that the violence needed to liberate those nations was itself fertile ground for religious reaction?

Especially on the old lists, there were a lot of books that I didn't feel like writing up, mostly because they're no longer timely (or recent), but some just because I didn't have much to say about. So I figured I'd just list them here. In a couple cases I've added a very short explanation, but mostly I'll let the titles/subtitles speak for themselves. I also saved a few of the more recent ones, so this is likely to become a regular feature (given that books worth noting the existence of but not worth spending much time on are likely to be published in the future; in fact, in a couple cases I threw away blurbs that didn't say anything to file the books here).

  • Spencer Abraham: Lights Out!: Ten Myths About (and Real Solutions to) America's Energy Crisis (2010; paperback, 2011, St Martin's Griffin)
  • Patrick Allitt: A Climate of Crisis: America in the Age of Environmentalism (2014; paperback, 2015, Penguin Books)
  • Theresa Amato: Grand Illusion: The Myth of Voter Choice in a Two-Party Tyranny (2009, New Press)
  • Thomas G Andrews: Killing for Coal: America's Deadliest Labor War (paperback, 2010, Harvard University Press)
  • Kate Ascher: The Works: Anatomy of a City (paperback, 2007, Penguin): how things work in a modern city.
  • Dan Barber: The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food (2013, Penguin Press)
  • Ugo Bardi: Extracted: How the Quest for Mineral Wealth Is Plundering the Planet (paperback, 2014, Chelsea Green)
  • Harper Barnes: Never Been a Time: The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked the Civil Rights Movement (2008, Walker Books): East St. Louis, IL.
  • Sheldon D Beebe/Mary H Kaldor: The Ultimate Weapon Is No Weapon: Human Security and the New Rules of War and Peace (2010, Public Affairs)
  • Scott Berkun: The Year Without Pants: and the Future of Work (2013, Jossey-Bass)
  • Richard Bessel: Germany 1945: From War to Peace (2009, Harper; paperback, 2010, Harper Perennial)
  • Richard X Bove: Guardians of Prosperity: Why America Needs Big Banks (2013, Portfolio)
  • Michael Brooks: 13 Things That Don't Make Sense: The Most Baffling Scientific Mysteries of Our Time (paperback, 2009, Vintage Books)
  • Robert Bryce: Power Hungry: The Myths of "Green" Energy and the Real Fuels of the Future (paperback, 2011, Public Affairs)
  • Tom Buk-Swienty: The Other Half: The Life of Jacob Riis and the World of Immigrant America (2008, WW Norton)
  • Michael Burleigh: Moral Combat: Good and Evil in World War II (2011, Harper Collins)
  • Charles W Calomiris/Stephen H Haber: Fragile by Design: The Political Origins of Banking Crises and Scarce Credit (2014; paperback, 2015, Princeton University Press)
  • Daniel Carlat: Unhinged: The Trouble With Psychiatry -- A Doctor's Revelations About a Profession in Crisis (2010, Free Press)
  • Erwin Chemerinsky: The Case Against the Supreme Court (2014, Viking)
  • CJ Chivers: The Gun (2010; paperback, 2011, Simon & Schuster): on the AK-47.
  • John Weir Close: A Giant Cow-Tipping by Savages: The Boom, Bust, and Boom Culture of M&A (2013, St Martin's Press)
  • Robert Coles: Lives We Carry With Us: Profiles of Moral Courage (2010, New Press)
  • Paul Collier: The Plundered Planet: Why We Must -- and How We Can -- Manage Nature for Global Prosperity (2010; paperback, 2011, Oxford University Press)
  • Bob Coen/Eric Nadler: Dead Silence: Fear and Terror on the Anthrax Trail (2009, Counterpoint)
  • Deborah Dwork/Robert Jan Van Pelt: Flight From the Reich: Refugee Jews, 1933-1946 (2009; paperback, 2012, WW Norton)
  • Alice Echols: Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture (2010; paperback, 2011, WW Norton)
  • Dan Fagin: Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation (2013, Bantom Books)
  • James Fallows: China Airborne: The Test of China's Future (2012, Pantheon; paperback, 2013, Vintage Books)
  • John V Fleming: The Anti-Communist Manifestos: Four Books That Shaped the Cold War (2009, WW Norton)
  • Richard Florida: The Great Reset: How the Post-Crash Economy Will Change the Way We Live (2010; paperback, 2011, Harper Business)
  • James R Flynn: Where Have All the Liberals Gone? Race, Class, and Ideals in America (2008, Cambridge University Press)
  • Todd Gitlin/Liel Leibovitz: The Chosen Peoples: America, Israel, and the Ordeals of Divine Election (2010, Simon & Schuster)
  • Ian Goldin/Mike Mariathasan: The Butterfly Defect: How Globalization Creates Systemic Risks, and What to Do About It (2014, Princeton University Press)
  • Temple Grandin: Animals Make Us Human: Creating the Best Life for Animals (paperback, 2010, Mariner Books)
  • Richard S Grossman: Wrong: Nine Economic Policy Disasters and What We Can Learn From Them (2013, Oxford University Press)
  • Randall Hansen: Fire and Fury: The Allied Bombing of Germany (2009; paperback, 2010, NAL)
  • John Hofmeister: Why We Hate the Oil Companies: Straight Talk From an Energy Insider (2010; paperback, 2011, St Martin's Griffin)
  • David Isby: Afghanistan: Graveyard of Empires: A New History of the Borderland (2010; paperback, 2011, Pegasus)
  • Brian Kahn: Real Common Sense (2011, Seven Stories Press)
  • Sandor Ellix Katz: The Art of Fermentation: An In-Depth Exploration of Essential Concepts and Processes From Around the World (2012, Chelsea Green)
  • L Douglas Keeney: 15 Minutes: General Curtis LeMay and the Countdown to Nuclear Annihilation (2011; paperback, 2012, St Martin's Griffin)
  • Eli Kintisch: Hack the Planet: Science's Best Hope -- or Worst Nightmare -- for Averting Climate Catastrophe (2010, Wiley)
  • Nicholas D Kristof/Sheryl WuDunn: Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (2009, Knopf; paperback, 2010, Vintage Books)
  • Matt Latimer: Speech-less: Tales of a White House Survivor (2009, Crown; paperback, 2010, Broadway): Bush/Rumsfeld speechwriter
  • Martin Lindstrom: Buy-ology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy (2008; paperback, 2010, Crown Business)
  • Christopher Lloyd: What on Earth Happened? The Complete Story of the Planet, Life, and People From the Big Bang to the Present Day (2008, Bloomsbury USA)
  • Kenan Malik: From Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and Its Aftermath (2010, Melville House)
  • Paula Mallea: The War on Drugs: A Failed Experiment (paperback, 2014, Dundum)
  • John Marriott/Mika Minio Paluello: The Oil Road: Journeys From the Caspian Sea to the City of London (2012; paperback, 2013, Verso)
  • John McPhee: Silk Parachute (2010; paperback, 2011, Farrar Straus and Giroux): essay collection.
  • Timothy Mitchell: Carbon Democracy: Political Power in the Age of Oil (2011; paperback, 2013, Verso)
  • Ingrid Monson: Freedom Sounds: Civil Rights Call Out to Jazz and Africa (paperback, 2010, Oxford University Press)
  • Wolfgang Munchau: The Meltdown Years: The Unfolding of the Global Economic Crisis (2009, McGraw-Hill)
  • Craig Nelson: The Age of Radiance: The Epic Rise and Dramatic Fall of the Atomic Era (2014, Scribner)
  • David Niose: Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans (2012; paperback, 2013, St Martin's Griffin)
  • Scott Reynolds Nelson: A Nation of Deadbeats: An Uncommon History of America's Financial Disasters (2012, Knopf; paperback, 2013, Vintage Books)
  • Eli Pariser: The Filter Bubble: How the New Personalized Web Is Changing What We Read and How We Think (2011; paperback, 2012, Penguin Books)
  • Claire L Parkinson: Coming Climate Crisis? Consider the Past, Beware the Big Fix (2010; paperback, 2012, Rowan & Littlefield)
  • David Pilling: Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival (2014; paperback, 2015, Penguin Books)
  • Ian Plimer: Heaven and Earth: Global Warming, the Missing Science (paperback, 2009, Taylor)
  • Christopher Potter: You Are Here: A Portable History of the Universe (2009, Harper; paperback, 2010, Harper Perennial)
  • Eswar S Prasad: The Dollar Trap: How the US Dollar Tightened Its Grip on Global Finance (2014, University of Princeton Press)
  • Nathan Rabin: The Big Rewind: A Memoir Brought to You by Pop Culture (2009; paperback, 2010, Scribner)
  • Ray Raphael: Founders: The People Who Brought You a Nation (2009; paperback, 2010, New Press)
  • Scott Ritter: Dangerous Ground: America's Failed Arms Control Policy, From FDR to Obama (2010, Nation Books)
  • Eugene Robinson: Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America (2010, Doubleday; paperback, 2011, Anchor)
  • Nick Rosen: Off the Grid: Inside the Movement for More Space, Less Government, and True Independence in Modern America (paperback, 2010, Penguin Books)
  • Jay W Richards: Infiltrated: How to Stop the Insiders and Activists Who Are Exploiting the Financial Crisis to Control Our Lives and Our Fortunes (2013, McGraw-Hill)
  • Thaddeus Russell: A Renegade History of the United States (paperback, 2011, Free Press)
  • Larry Samuel: Rich: The Rise and Fall of American Wealth Culture (2009, AMACOM)
  • Carmine Sarracino/Kevin M Scott: The Porning of America: The Rise of Porn Culture, What It Means, and Where We Go From Here (2008, Beacon Press)
  • Richard C Sauer: Selling America Short: The SEC and Market Contrarians in the Age of Absurdity (2010, Wiley)
  • Peter D Schiff: How an Economy Grows and Why It Crashes (2010, Wiley)
  • Peter J Schifferle: America's School for War: Fort Leavenworth, Officer Education,a nd Victory in World War II (2010, University Press of Kansas)
  • Brigid Schulte: Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time (2014, Sarah Crichton; paperback, 2015, Picador)
  • Dominic Tierney: How We Fight: Crusades, Quagmires, and the American Way of War (2010; paperback, 2012, University of Nebraska Press)
  • Anya Von Bremzen: Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food & Longing (2013; paperback, 2014, Crown)

  • Peter Ward: The Flooded Earth: Our Future in a World Without Ice Caps (2010; paperback, 2012, Basic Books)
  • Charles Wohlforth: The Fate of Nature: Rediscovering Our Ability to Rescue the Earth (2010, Thomas Dunne; paperback, 2011, Picador)

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Daily Log

Did a search for Yoplait Thick & Creamy Vanilla Yogurt: UPC 070470001128.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Downbeat Readers Poll

Downbeat sent me a couple pieces of mail asking me to vote in their Readers Poll, but without clear instructions. Google shows the SurveyMonkey URI to be here. (By all means, follow it and vote. I think the deadline is August 12. FYI, Tim Niland also posted his ballot here.) I voted in their Critics Poll back in April. That's a more complex ballot -- main difference is that we were asked to identify Rising Stars in each category -- and I tried to think of that task as a critic. For the Readers Poll, I figure I just have to be a fan. I also figure there are more people voting, and it probably won't do any good to write names in. I also intend to go fast: to look nothing up, to write no comments. The only thing slow I'm doing is to keep the following list. The first one listed is the one I voted for. Others are possible choices I picked out in scanning the list (in alphabetical, not rank, order). "NOB" means not on ballot: I'm not trying to suggest names for the ballot, but sometimes a name occurs to me that I might have voted for but wasn't on the ballot. Since the ballots typically have 30-60 names, such omissions are especially egregious. The alternates fade out past percussion -- it was getting late, and I don't think much about categories like Composer or Arranger (or Blues Album).

  • Hall of Fame: George Russell + Han Bennink, Anthony Braxton, Don Byas, Don Cherry, Jimmy Giuffre, Abdullah Ibrahim, Illinois Jacquet, Sam Rivers, Tomasz Stanko, Cedar Walton. [NOB: Mal Waldron.]
  • Jazz Artist: Anthony Braxton + Dave Douglas, William Parker, Matthew Shipp, Wadada Leo Smith, Henry Threadgill, Ken Vandermark.
  • Jazz Group: Rova + Claudia Quintet, Microscopic Septet. [NOB: Mostly Other People Do the Killing.]
  • Big Band: ICP Orchestra + Steven Bernstein Millennial Territory Orchestra, Either/Orchestra.
  • Jazz Album (Released June 1, 2014 to May 31, 2015): Steve Lehman Octet, Mise En Abime (Pi)
  • Historical Jazz Album (Released June 1, 2014 to May 31, 2015): Sun Ra, In the Orbit of Ra (Strut)
  • Trumpet: Wadada Leo Smith + Steven Bernstein, Dave Douglas, Tomasz Stanko, Kenny Wheeler.
  • Trombone: Roswell Rudd + Ray Anderson, Joe Fiedler, Steve Swell.
  • Soprano Saxophone: Evan Parker + Sam Newsome.
  • Alto Saxophone: François Carrier + Tim Berne, Anthony Braxton, Ornette Coleman, Lee Konitz, Oliver Lake, Steve Lehman, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Henry Threadgill, Miguel Zenón.
  • Tenor Saxophone: David Murray + Harry Allen, James Carter, Jon Irabagon, Joe Lovano, Tony Malaby, Joe McPhee, Evan Parker, Ivo Perelman, Houston Person, Ken Vandermark.
  • Baritone Saxophone: Ken Vandermark + Mats Gustafsson.
  • Clarinet: Michael Moore + Buddy DeFranco, Marty Ehrlich, Ben Goldberg, Perry Robinson, Louis Sclavis.
  • Flute: Henry Threadgill
  • Piano: Satoko Fujii + Kenny Barron, Uri Caine, Marilyn Crispell, Abdullah Ibrahim, Vijay Iyer, Keith Jarrett, Myra Melford, Misha Mengelberg, Alexander von Schlippenbach, Matthew Shipp, Craig Taborn.
  • Keyboard: Craig Taborn
  • Organ: John Medeski
  • Guitar: Marc Ribot + Nels Cline, Bill Frisell, Mary Halvorson.
  • Bass: William Parker + Arild Andersen, Mark Dresser, Charlie Haden, John Hébert, Peter Washington, Reggie Workman.
  • Electric Bass: Steve Swallow
  • Violin: Jenny Scheinman + Jason Kao Hwang.
  • Drums: Andrew Cyrille + Joey Baron, Han Bennink, Jim Black, Gerald Cleaver, Jack DeJohnette, Hamid Drake, Gerry Hemingway, Lewis Nash, Tyshawn Sorey, Matt Wilson.
  • Vibraphone: Warren Smith + Joe Locke.
  • Percussion: Kahil El'Zabar + Han Bennink, Hamid Drake, Adam Rudolph.
  • Miscellaneous Instrument: Bob Stewart (tuba)
  • Male Vocalist: Freddy Cole
  • Female Vocalist: Sheila Jordan
  • Composer: John Zorn
  • Arranger: Steven Bernstein
  • Record Label: Clean Feed
  • Blues Artist or Group: Taj Mahal
  • Blues Album (Released June 1, 2014 to May 31, 2015): Boz Scaggs, A Fool to Care (429 Records)
  • Beyond Artist or Group: The Roots
  • Beyond Album (Released June 1, 2014-May 31, 2015): Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom and Pop)

Full album ballot breakdowns follow the fold.

Downbeat published their Critics Poll results in their August issue. Good year for the Indian-Americans with Vijay Iyer winning Jazz Artist and Jazz Group and Rudresh Mahanthappa on top of the album chart. (Iyer finished 4th at piano, behind Kenny Barron, Jason Moran, and Fred Hersch, but ahead of guys named Corea, Hancock, and Jarrett. Mahanthappa won at alto sax, ahead of Kenny Garrett and two Colemans.) I'm not a fan of Bird Calls, and voted for neither of them, but they've done a lot of outstanding work, some together and most separately.

Lee Konitz finally won the Hall of Fame vote. He's been in the top 3-4 spots as long as I can recall, but people keep dying and getting a sympathy (or consciousness) bounce ahead of him. I've voted for him every year so far I could. My runner up pick, the late George Russell, is down in 18th, so I despair of him ever getting in. The Veterans Committee added Muddy Waters, which gives you an idea of how poorly populated their blues wing is -- even having recently added Robert Johnson (VC-2013), Dinah Washington (VC-2014), and B.B. King (R-2014). (Among those still missing: Big Bill Broonzy, Tampa Red, Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Memphis Minnie. T-Bone Walker got some VC votes but fell short, as did Eubie Blake and Herbie Nichols.)

The win I least fathom is Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), big margin over Dave Douglas and Wadada Leo Smith. There used to be a big edge in this poll for artists on major labels, especially Blue Note. You see hints of this elsewhere: Joe Lovano and Charles Lloyd finished 1-2 in tenor sax, but that doesn't raise any eyebrows. Nor does Jason Moran at 2nd in piano (1st was Kenny Barron, on Impulse, a duo album with number 2 bassist Dave Holland). On the other hand, Robert Glasper won keyboard (ok, a weak/wobbly category), Gregory Porter topped male vocalist (with José James 4th), and Brian Blade knocked off Jack DeJohnette in drums. Blue Note did lose top label to ECM (with Iyer, Lloyd until recently, Jarrett, DeJohnette, and a lot of Europeans that American critics never vote for). Given that Blue Note and ECM only send me links, I may not be as appreciative as other critics, but I also suspect there's more to it than the publicist schmoozing. Downbeat's critics do like to stay in a comfortable mainstream: for evidence, let me point to a couple former-Verve artists who have won many polls and still do well: Kenny Garrett (2 in alto saxophone), and Christian McBride (1 in bass).

Downbeat's Rising Star divisions are always problematical in that there's no hard/fast rules for who is eligible vs. who has risen (or established that they haven't). For instance, Khan Jamal came in 3rd as Rising Star in vibraphone: he's older than I am, cut his first album in 1972 (Sounds of Liberation, a terrific album Porter reissued in 2010), and hasn't had a record out since 2009 (on SteepleChase, a Danish label no one gets). I recall being impressed by him on a couple of Matthew Shipp's Blue Series records, but I've never heard any of his own records (Wikipedia lists 18). As I recall, Sam Most was listed as a Rising Star into his 80s, even though he literally invented bebop flute in the 1950s (i.e., before Herbie Mann, or any other jazz musician you've ever heard of playing flute).

Of course, those are categories where you're always scrambling for names. The major categories are more meaningful: Kirk Knuffke won trumpet (Peter Evans 3rd, Taylor Ho Bynum 5th, Amir ElSaffar 7th); Ryan Keberle trombone (Joe Fiedler 5th, Jacob Garchik 6th); Steve Lehman alto sax (Darius Jones 2nd, Matana Roberts 4th, Mike DiRubbo 9th, Dave Rempis 12th); Chris Speed clarinet (Oscar Noriega 2nd); David Virelles piano (Kris Davis 2nd); Tyshawn Sorey drums (Paal Nilssen-Love 10th). Lehman, by the way, also won artist, and his album, Mise En Abime, came in 2nd. On the other hand Concord topped two major categories with artists who haven't impressed me yet: Ben Williams (bass, beating Eric Revis) and Melissa Aldana (tenor sax, ahead of Marcus Strickland). As I've said, it's tough to fill out these ballots.

On the other hand, a few people won whose names have yet to register in my memory (assuming I've run across them at all: Erica von Kleist (flute), Giovanni Hidalgo (percussion), Allan Harris (male vocalist). That happens, especially in the minor categories. I might have added Michael Blum (guitar) to that list, but he sent me his first album (a low B+) with a personal cover letter asking me to vote for him. He's not the only one who ever did that, but somehow he won a 96-69 landslide -- with 5 points max he managed to get at least 20 out of 141 critics to vote for him. (That he bought a full-page ad to congratulate himself couldn't possibly have had any influence?)

The thing is, consider his competition: the top ten guitarists he beat were Lage Lund (5 albums + 2 as OWL Trio), Jakob Bro (10 albums, his latest on ECM), Joel Harrison (16 albums), Liberty Ellman (4 albums, important side credits), Jonathan Kreisberg (10 albums), Paul Bollenback (8 albums), Gilad Hekselman (4 albums), Matthew Stevens (3 albums, Christian Scott), Adam Rogers (8 albums, Chris Potter), Jeff Parker (5 albums, nearly every Chicago avant group since 1994 that needed a guitarist); the next nine include Will Bernard, Brandon Seabrook, Raoul Björkenheim, and Nguyên Lê -- I voted for Björkenheim and two guys who didn't place in the top 20: Samo Salamon and Anders Nilsson, and I noted as candidates: Scott DuBois, Nir Felder, Gordon Grdina, Ross Hammond, Eric Hofbauer, Luis Lopes, Jon Lundbom, Pete McCann, Terrence McManus, Michael Musillami, Miles Okazaki, Mark O'Leary, Kevin O'Neil, Jacob Young, and a bunch of older guys who weren't on either ballot (like Marc Ducret, Dom Minasi, Brad Shepik, Ulf Wakenius, and a dozen more).

Blum, by the way, has a second album out, which I like about as much as the first. I'd say he's roughly on a level with Andy Brown and Joe Cohn -- has some traits of each, and since he sings some on the second album, maybe he aspires to someone like John Pizzarelli (although he's nowhere near the singer). Those are all guys who make albums I rather like, so I don't mean to be insulting, but none of those names made it to the previous paragraph.

Jazz album ballot sorted by grade: Breakdown: A: 1; A-: 13; B+(***): 26; B+(**): 32; B+(*): 24; B: 8; B-: 4; C+: 0; C: 1; unheard/unrated: 90; total graded: 109 (54.7%). The high percentage of things I haven't heard (45.3%) is personally disturbing -- especially given that about two-thirds of those (58 by rough count) are on labels that I used to get regularly. (Almost by definition, in order to show up on Downbeat you have to be on a well-promoted label.) There's probably a slight positive correlation on the grade breakdown, but the intersection of their ballot and my list isn't much better than random.

  • Steve Lehman Octet, Mise En Abime (Pi)
  • Bobby Avey, Authority Melts From Me (Whirlwind)
  • Michael Blake, Tiddy Boom (Sunnyside)
  • Farmers by Nature, Love and Ghosts (AUM Fidelity)
  • Fred Hersch Trio, Floating (Palmetto)
  • The Hot Sardines, The Hot Sardines (Decca)
  • Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth, Epicenter (Clean Feed)
  • Joe Lovano/Dave Douglas, Sound Prints: Live at Monterey Jazz Festival (Blue Note)
  • Charles McPherson, The Journey (Capri)
  • Sam Newsome, The Straight Horn of Africa: A Path to Liberation (self-released)
  • Wadada Leo Smith, The Great Lakes Suites (TUM)
  • Jim Snidero, Main Street (Savant)
  • Henry Threadgill's Zooid, In for a Penny, In for a Pound (Pi)
  • Ryan Truesdell Gil Evans Project, Lines of Color: Live at Jazz Standard (Blue Note/Artist Share)
  • Atomic, Lucidity (Jazzland)
  • Kenny Barron/Dave Holland, The Art of Conversation (Impulse!)
  • Tim Berne's Snakeoil, You've Been Watching Me (ECM)
  • Henry Butler, Steven Bernstein and the Hot 9, Viper's Drag (Impulse!)
  • Jimmy Cobb, The Original Mob (Smoke Sessions)
  • Anat Cohen, Luminosa (Anzic)
  • Steve Coleman & the Council of Balance, Synovial Joints (Pi)
  • Chick Corea Trio, Trilogy (Stretch/Concord)
  • Bill Frisell, Guitar in the Space Age! (OKeh)
  • Ben Goldberg, Orphic Machine (BAG Production)
  • David Hazeltine, I Remember Cedar (Sharp Nine)
  • Vijay Iyer Trio, Break Stuff (ECM)
  • Kirk Knuffke, Arms & Hands (Royal Potato Family)
  • Lee Konitz/Dan Tepfer/Michael Janisch/Jeff Williams, First Meeting: Live in London, Volume 1 (Whirlwind)
  • Joe Locke, Love Is a Pendulum (Motéma)
  • Delfeayo Marsalis, The Last Southern Gentlemen (Troubadour Jass)
  • Myra Melford, Snowy Egret (Enja/Yellowbird)
  • Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble, Intergalactic Beings (FPE)
  • Paal Nilssen-Love Large Unit, Erta Ale (PNL)
  • Tineke Postma/Greg Osby, Sonic Halo (Challenge)
  • Rex Richardson & Steve Wilson, Blue Shift (Summit)
  • Alex Sipiagin, Balance 38-58 (Criss Cross)
  • Tyshawn Sorey, Alloy (Pi)
  • Dave Stryker, Messin' With Mister T (Strikezone)
  • Aki Takase/Alexander Von Schlippenbach, So Long, Eric!: Homage to Eric Dolphy (Intakt)
  • Wolff & Clark Expedition, Expedition 2 (Random Act)
  • The Bad Plus Joshua Redman, The Bad Plus Joshua Redman (Nonesuch)
  • Terence Blanchard, Breathless (Blue Note)
  • Jakob Bro, Gefion (ECM)
  • Bobby Broom, My Shining Hour (Origin)
  • Maureen Budway, Sweet Candor (MCG)
  • Joey Calderazzo, Going Home (Sunnyside)
  • The Cookers, Time and Time Again (Motema)
  • Isaac Darche, Team & Variations (Challenge)
  • Kris Davis Infrasound, Save Your Breath (Clean Feed)
  • Dave Douglas/Uri Caine, Present Joys (Greenleaf)
  • Orrin Evans, Liberation Blues (Smoke Sessions)
  • Mary Halvorson, Reverse Blue (Relative Pitch)
  • Eddie Henderson, Collective Portrait (Smoke Sessions)
  • ICP Orchestra, East of the Sun (ICP)
  • Justin Kauflin, Dedication (Jazz Village)
  • Oliver Lake Organ Quartet, What I Heard (Passin' Thru)
  • Azar Lawrence, The Seeker (Sunnyside)
  • Oded Lev-Ari, Threading (Anzic)
  • Charles Lloyd, Wild Man Dance (Blue Note)
  • Mike Longo Trio, Celebrates Oscar Peterson Live (Consolidated Artists Productions)
  • Brian Lynch/Emmet Cohen, Question/Answer (Holistic Musicworks)
  • Branford Marsalis, In My Solitude: Live at Grace Cathedral (Marsalis Music/OKeh)
  • Chris Potter Underground Orchestra, Imaginary Cities (ECM)
  • Joshua Redman, Trios Live (Nonesuch)
  • Secret Keeper, Emerge (Intakt)
  • Rotem Sivan Trio, For Emotional Use Only (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Jacky Terrasson, Take This (Impluse)
  • Mark Turner, Lathe of Heaven (ECM)
  • Steve Turre, Spiritman (Smoke Sessions)
  • David Virelles, Mboko (ECM)
  • Kamasi Washington, The Epic (Brainfeeder)
  • Cassandra Wilson, Coming Forth by Day (Sony Legacy)
  • Rez Abbasi, Intents and Purposes (Enja)
  • Cyrille Aimée, It's a Good Day (Mack Avenue)
  • Melissa Aldana & Crash Trio, Melissa Aldana & Crash Trio (Concord Jazz)
  • Omer Avital, New Song (Motéma)
  • Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga, Cheek to Cheek (Streamline/Interscope/Columbia)
  • Nels Cline/Julian Lage, Room (Mack Avenue)
  • Eliane Elias, Made in Brazil (Concord)
  • Aaron Goldberg, The Now (Sunnyside)
  • Jimmy Greene, Beautiful Life (Mack Avenue)
  • Vincent Herring, Night and Day (Smoke Sessions)
  • Bobby Hutcherson/David Sanborn/Joey DeFrancesco/Billy Hart, Enjoy the View (Blue Note)
  • José James, Yesterday I Had the Blues: The Music of Billie Holiday (Blue Note)
  • Rudresh Mahanthappa, Bird Calls (ACT)
  • Donny McCaslin, Fast Future (Greenleaf)
  • Chris McNulty, Eternal (Palmetto)
  • Medeski Scofield Martin & Wood, Juice (Indirecto)
  • Marcus Miller, Afrodeezia (Blue Note)
  • Jason Moran, All Rise: A Joyful Elegy for Fats Waller (Blue Note)
  • Reggie Quinerly, Invictus (Redefinition)
  • Matthew Shipp, I've Been to Many Places (Thirsty Ear)
  • Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Over Time: The Music of Bob Brookmeyer (Planet Arts)
  • Elio Villafranca and the Jass Syncopators, Caribbean Tinge (Motéma)
  • Joanna Wallfisch with Dan Tepfer, The Origin of Adjustable Things (Sunnyside)
  • Miguel Zenón, Identities Are Changeable (Miel)
  • Randy Brecker, Bobby Shew & Jan Hasenoehrl, Trumpet Summit Prague (Summit)
  • Otis Brown III, The Thought of You (Revive/Blue Note)
  • Jamie Cullum, Interlude (Blue Note)
  • Harold Mabern, Afro Blue (Smoke Sessions)
  • Michael Mantler, The Jazz Composer's Orchestra Update (ECM)
  • Jason Miles & Ingrid Jensen, Kind of New (Wallhall Eternity)
  • Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Blue (Hot Cup)
  • Walt Weiskopf, Overdrive (Posi-Tone)
  • Billy Childs, Map to the Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro (Sony Masterworks)
  • Diana Krall, Wallflower (Verve)
  • Nicholas Payton, Numbers (Paytone)
  • Ben Williams, Coming of Age (Concord)
  • Dr. John, Ske-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit of Satch (Concord)
  • Afro Bop Alliance, Angel Eyes (Zoho)
  • JD Allen, Graffiti (Savant)
  • Liam Bailey, Definitely Now (Flying Buddha/Sony Masterworks)
  • Ginger Baker, Why? (Motéma)
  • Peter Bernstein, Solo Guitar (Live at Smalls) (SmallsLive)
  • Andy Bey, Pages From an Imaginary Life (HighNote)
  • Chris Biesterfeldt, Phineas (Biest)
  • Stefano Bollani, Joy In Spite Of Everything (ECM)
  • Paul Bollenback, Portraits in Space and Time (Mayimba)
  • Anthony Braxton, Trio (New Haven) 2013 (New Braxton House)
  • Georg Breinschmid, Double Brein (Preiser)
  • Jane Bunnett and Maqueque, Maqueque (Justin Time)
  • Uri Caine, Callithump (Winter & Winter)
  • Michael Carvin Experience, Flash Forward (Motema)
  • Marc Cary, Rhodes Ahead Vol. 2 (Motéma)
  • Sharel Cassity, Manhattan Romance (Venus)
  • Brian Charette, Good Tipper (Posi-Tone)
  • Sarah Elizabeth Charles, Inner Dialogue (Truth Revolution)
  • David Chesky Jazz in the New Harmonic, Primal Scream (Chesky)
  • Cyrus Chestnut, A Million Colors In Your Mind (HighNote)
  • Stanley Clarke Band, Up (Mack Avenue)
  • Jeff Coffin & The Mu'tet, Side Up (Ear Up Records)
  • Avishai Cohen's Trevini, Dark Nights (Anzic)
  • Larry Coryell, Heavy Feel (Wide Hive)
  • Matt Criscuolo, Heading Out (Jazzeria)
  • Joey DeFrancesco, Home for the Holidays (JD Music)
  • Jack DeJohnette, Made In Chicago (ECM)
  • Paquito D'Rivera, Jazz Meets the Classics (Paquito/Sunnyside)
  • Duchess, Duchess (Anzic)
  • Duane Eubanks Quintet, Things of That Particular Nature (Sunnyside)
  • Kevin Eubanks & Stanley Jordan, Duets (Mack Avenue)
  • Chris Foreman, Now Is the Time (The Sirens)
  • Steve Gadd Band, 70 Strong (BFM)
  • Hilary Gardner, The Great City (Anzic)
  • Mark Giuliana, My Life Starts Now (Beat Music Productions)
  • Tigran Hamasyan, Mockroot (Nonesuch)
  • Jeff Hamilton Trio, Great American Songs: Through the Years (Capri)
  • Darryl Harper, The Need's Got to Be So Deep (Hipnotic Records)
  • Tom Harrell, Trip (HighNote)
  • Allan Harris, Black Bar Jukebox (Love Production Records)
  • Albert "Tootie" Heath, Philadelphia Beat (Sunnyside)
  • Conrad Herwig, The Latin Side of Joe Henderson (Half Note)
  • Hiromi, Alive (Telarc/Concord)
  • Hush Point, Blues and Reds (Sunnyside)
  • Abdullah Ibrahim, The Song Is My Story (Sunnyside)
  • James Farm, City Folk (Nonesuch)
  • Keith Jarrett, Creation (ECM)
  • Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden, Last Dance (ECM)
  • Eric Johnson & Mike Stern, Eclectic (Heads Up)
  • Sean Jones Quartet, Im.Pro.Vise: Never Before Seen (Mack Avenue)
  • Keep On Keepin' On -- Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Universal)
  • Frank Kimbrough, Quartet (Palmetto)
  • Annie Lennox, Nostalgia (Blue Note)
  • Carmen Lundy, Soul to Soul (Afrasia)
  • Peter Madsen's CIA Trio, Elvis Never Left the Building (Playscape)
  • Russell Malone, Love Looks Good on You (HighNote)
  • Karen Mantler, Business Is Bad (Xtrawatt)
  • Jason Marsalis Vibes Quartet, The 21st Century Trad Band (Basin Street)
  • Rob Mazurek, Return the Tides (Cuneiform)
  • Ron Miles, Circuit Rider (Enja/Yellow Bird)
  • Roscoe Mitchell, Angel City (Rogue Art)
  • Johnny O'Neal, Live at Smalls (Smallsville)
  • John Patitucci Electric Guitar Quartet, Brooklyn (Three Faces)
  • Gary Peacock Trio, Now This (ECM)
  • Jeremy Pelt, Tales, Musings and Other Reveries (High Note)
  • Lenny Pickett with UMO Jazz Orchestra, The Prescription (Random Act)
  • Enrico Pieranunzi, Stories (CAMJazz)
  • Marcus Roberts and the Modern Jazz Generation, Romance, Swing, and the Blues (J-Master)
  • Pete Rodriguez, El Conde Negro (Destiny)
  • Kermit Ruffins, #imsoneworleans (Basin Street)
  • Jerome Sabbagh, The Turn (Sunnyside)
  • Dino Saluzzi Group, El Valle De La Infancia (ECM)
  • Joe Sample NDR Big Band, Children of the Sun (PRA)
  • David Sanborn, Time and the River (Okeh)
  • Antonio Sanchez, Three Times Three (Cam Jazz)
  • Walter Smith III, Still Casual (Self Release)
  • Omar Sosa, Ilé (Otá)
  • Dayna Stephens, Peace (Sunnyside)
  • Bob Stewart, Connections: Mind the Gap (Sunnyside)
  • E.J. Strickland Quintet, The Undying Spirit (Strick Muzik)
  • David Torn, Only Sky (ECM)
  • John Tropea, Gotcha Rhythm Right Here (STP)
  • Jeremy Udden & Nicolas Moreaux, Belleville Project (Sunnyside)
  • Manuel Valera Trio, Live at Firehouse 12 (Mavo)
  • Doug Webb, Triple Play (Posi-Tone)
  • Kenny Werner, Coalition (Half Note)
  • Kenny Wheeler, Songs for Quintet (ECM)
  • Whiplash -- Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Varese Sarabande)
  • Steve Wilson & Wilsonian's Grain, Live in New York: The Vanguard Sessions (Random Act)
  • Denny Zeitlin, Stairway to the Stars (Sunnyside)

Historical jazz album ballot sorted by grade: Grade breakdown: A: 1; A-: 7; B+(***): 7; B+(**): 1; unheard/ungraded: 36; total graded: 16 (30.7%). Grade distribution correlates positively, even with the large number of unheard (69.3%, not exceptionally high in this category, although dropping the asterisks would increase it to 76.9%).

Note: * indicates grade based on previous edition. The Solar reissue of Sun Ra's Supersonic Jazz includes a second, unheard album, Fate in a Pleasant Mood. The Oscar Peterson and Wayne Shorter albums were graded B+. The Peterson box no doubt includes extra material.

  • Steve Lacy Four, Morning Joy . . . Paris Live (HatHut) *
  • Red Garland Trio, Swingin' on the Korner: Live From Keystone Korner (Ingrooves)
  • Charlie Haden/Jim Hall, Charlie Haden -- Jim Hall (Impulse!)
  • Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden/Paul Motian, Hamburg '72 (ECM)
  • Charles Lloyd, Manhattan Stories (Resonance)
  • Sun Ra, In the Orbit of Ra (Strut)
  • Sun Ra, Supersonic Jazz (Solar) *
  • Lennie Tristano, Chicago April 1951 (Uptown Records)
  • Jimmy Guiffre 3&4, New York Concerts (Elemental)
  • Chubby Jackson, Ooh, What an Outfit! NYC 1949 (Uptown Jazz)
  • Vivian "Yabby You" Jackson, Dread Prophecy: The Strange and Wonderful Story of Yabby You (Shanachie)
  • Oscar Peterson, Exclusively For My Friends [Box Set] (MPS) *
  • Don Pullen, Richard's Tune (Sackville)
  • Wayne Shorter, Speak No Evil (Blue Note) *
  • Junior Wells, South Side Blues Jam (Delmark)
  • John Coltrane, Offering: Live at Temple University (Resonance)
  • Cannonball Adderley Sextet, Complete Live In Tokyo (Solar)
  • Monty Alexander, Rass! (MPS)
  • Allman Brothers Band, 1971 Fillmore East Recordings (Mercury)
  • Louis Armstrong & the All Stars, Complete Newport 1956 & 1958 (Mosaic)
  • Tony Bennett/Bill Evans, The Complete Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Recordings (Fantasy)
  • The Brecker Brothers, The Bottom Line Archive (BFD)
  • Jack Bruce, Rockpalast: The 50th Birthday Concerts (M.i.G)
  • Don Cherry, Eternal Rhythm (MPS)
  • Classic African American Songsters (Smithsonian Folkways)
  • Ornette Coleman/Howard Shore, Naked Lunch: The Complete Original Soundtrack Remastered (Howe Records)
  • John Coltrane, So Many Things: The European Tour 1961 (Acrobat)
  • The Complete Dial Modern Jazz Sessions (Mosaic)
  • Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, CSNY 1974 (Rhino)
  • Miles Davis, All of You: The Last Tour, 1960 (Acrobat)
  • Jerry De Villiers Jr., The Turning Point (Timeless Momentum)
  • Bob Dylan, The Basement Tapes Complete: The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 (Columbia/Legacy)
  • Duke Ellington, The Treasury Shows Volume 18 (Storyville)
  • Jan Garbarek/Terje Rypdal/Art Farmer/Benny Bailey, From Europe With Jazz (MPS)
  • Johnny Hodges/Billy Strayhorn, Hodges With Strayhorn and the Orchestra (Apo)
  • Jazz in Polish Cinema (Jazz on Film)
  • Charles Lloyd, Arrows Into Infinity (DVD) (ECM)
  • Henry Mancini, The Classic Soundtrack Collection (Sony Music)
  • Pat Martino/Jim Ridl, Nexus (HighNote)
  • Gary McFarland, This Is Gary McFarland (Century 67)
  • Joe McPhee, As Serious As Your Life (Hat Hut)
  • Thelonious Monk, The Complete 1966 Geneva Concert (Sonar)
  • Wes Montgomery, In the Beginning (Resonance)
  • Sal Mosca, The Talk of the Town (Sunnyside)
  • Mark Murphy, Shadows (TCB Music)
  • Joe Pass, Intercontinental (MPS)
  • Art Pepper, Neon Art Volume 2 (Omnivore)
  • Jean-Luc Ponty, Sunday Walk (MPS)
  • Elvis Presley, That's The Way It Is -- Deluxe Edition (Legacy)
  • Tony Scott, Lost Tapes: Tony Scott in Germany 1957 & Asia 1962 (Jazzhaus)
  • Horace Silver Quintet, June 1977 (Promising Music/HGBS)
  • Soft Machine, Switzerland 1974 (Cuneiform)

Blues album ballot sorted by grade: Grade breakdown: A-: 3; B+(***): 1; B+(**): 4; B+(*): 4; unheard/ungraded: 45; total graded: 12 (21.0%). Unheard rate (79.0%) is probably down from previous years, but nothing to brag about. I suspect that if I heard more, the grade breakdown would skew south. Note that all three A- records were by long-established rock stars, and that's probably the way to classify Benjamin Booker as well (and Elvin Bishop and Steve Earle, while Freddy Cole is a jazz singer).

  • Dave Alvin + Phil Alvin, Common Ground: The Songs of Big Bill Broonzy (Yep Roc)
  • John Hiatt, Terms of My Surrender (New West)
  • Boz Scaggs, A Fool to Care (429 Records)
  • Benjamin Booker, Benjamin Booker (ATO)
  • Elvin Bishop, Can't Even Do Wrong Right (Alligator)
  • Freddy Cole, Singing the Blues (HighNote)
  • Davina and the Vagabonds, Sunshine (Roustabout)
  • Steve Earle & the Dukes, Terraplane (New West)
  • Marcia Ball, The Tattooed Lady And The Alligator Man (Alligator)
  • Eric Bibb, Blues People (Stony Plain)
  • Gary Clark Jr., Live! (Warner Bros.)
  • Roberta Donnay, Bathtub Gin (Motéma)
  • Altered Five Blues Band, Cryin' Mercy (Self Release)
  • Billy Boy Arnold, The Blues Soul of Billy Boy Arnold (Stony Plain)
  • Big Harp George, Chromaticism (Self Release)
  • Selwyn Birchwood, Don't Call No Ambulance (Alligator)
  • Rory Block, Hard Luck Child: A Tribute to Skip James (Stony Plain)
  • Joe Bonamassa, Muddy Wolf At Red Rocks (Ingrooves)
  • Michael Jerome Brown, Sliding Delta (Borealis)
  • The Cash Box Kings, Holding Court (Blind Pig)
  • Eric Clapton & Friends, The Breeze: An Appreciation of JJ Cale (Bushbranch)
  • Otis Clay & Johnny Rawls, Soul Brothers (Catfood)
  • Sean Costello, In the Magic Shop (Vizz Tone)
  • Voo Davis, Midnight Mist (Butter & Bacon)
  • Delta Moon, Low Down (Jumping Jack)
  • Tinsley Ellis, Tough Love (HeartFixer Music)
  • Empress of the Blues: A Tribute to Bessie Smith (Reimagine Music)
  • Rick Estrin & The Nightcats, You Asked for It . . . Live! (Alligator)
  • Mary Flower, When My Bluebird Sings (Bluesette)
  • Ruthie Foster, Promise of a Brand New Day (Blue Corn Music)
  • Ramon Goose, Blues and Spirituals (Acoustic Music/Rough Trade)
  • Erin Harpe & the Delta Swingers, Love Whip Blues (Juju/VizzTone)
  • Peter Herzog & Dennis Walker, Waiting for the Rain (Self Release)
  • Gregor Hilden, In Phase (Acoustic Music)
  • Markus James, Head For The Hills (Firenze)
  • Layla Zoe, Live at the Spirit of 66 (Cable Car)
  • Doug MacLeod, Exactly Like This (Reference)
  • Janiva Magness, Original (Fathead)
  • Mannish Boys, Wrapped Up And Ready (Delta Groove Productions)
  • Mud Morganfield & Kim Wilson, For Pops: A Tribute to Muddy Waters (Severn)
  • Greg Nagy, Stranded (Big O)
  • Andy T-Nick Nixon Band, Livin' It Up (Delta Groove)
  • Mike Osborn, In The Dog House (Je Gagne)
  • Charlie Parr, Stumpjumper (Red House)
  • Bobby Patterson, I Got More Soul! (Omnivore)
  • Lucky Peterson, The Son of a Bluesman (Jazz Village)
  • The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band, So Delicious! (Shanachie/Yazzo)
  • Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers, Emergency Situation (Blind Pig)
  • John Primer & the Teardrops, Live: You Can Make It If You Try! (Wolf)
  • Royal Southern Brotherhood, Heartsoulblood (RUF)
  • Deb Ryder, Let It Rain (Bejeb Music)
  • Sugar Ray & the Bluetones, Living Tear to Tear (Severn)
  • The Texas Horns, Blues Gotta Holda Me (Vizz-Tone)
  • Vaneese Thomas, Blues For My Father (Segue)
  • Walter Trout, The Blues Came Callin' (Mascot Label Group)
  • Johnny Winter, Step Back (Megaforce)
  • Nancy Wright, Putting Down Roots (Direct Hit)

"Beyond" album ballot sorted by grade: Grade breakdown: A-: 12; B+(***): 11; B+(**): 12; B+(*): 5; B: 10; B-: 2; C+: 2; C: 2; unheard/ungraded: 27; total graded: 56 (67.4%). Too incoherent a category to draw conclusions.

  • Aphex Twin, Syro (Warp)
  • BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah, Sour Soul (Lex)
  • Brian Eno and Karl Hyde, High Life (Warp)
  • Kouyate and Ngoni Ba, Ba Power (Glitterbeat)
  • Courtney Barnett, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom and Pop)
  • Leonard Cohen, Popular Problems (Columbia)
  • D'Angelo, Black Messiah (RCA)
  • Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly (Top Dawg)
  • Miranda Lambert, Platinum (RCA Nashville)
  • Nicki Minaj, The Pinkprint (Young Money)
  • Parquet Courts, Sunbathing Animal (What's Your Rupture)
  • Spoon, They Want My Soul (Loma Vista)
  • Joey Bada$$, B4.DA.$$ (Cinematic)
  • Azealia Banks, Broke With Expensive Taste (Prospect Park)
  • Mary J. Blige, The London Sessions (Capitol)
  • Action Bronson, Mr. Wonderful (Atlantic)
  • Lana Del Rey, Ultraviolence (Interscope)
  • Ex Hex, Rips (Merge)
  • Jenny Lewis, The Voyager (Warner Bros.)
  • Seattle Symphony/John Luther Adams, Become Ocean (Cantaloupe)
  • Shabazz Palaces, Lese Majesty (Sub Pop)
  • Tal National, Zoy Zoy (Fat Cat)
  • Jamie xx, In Colour (Young Turks)
  • Against Me!, Transgender Dysphoria Blues (Total Treble)
  • Tony Allen, Film of Life (Jazz Village)
  • Blur, The Magic Whip, (Parlophone)
  • Caribou, Our Love (Merge)
  • Lee Fields & the Expressions, Emma Jean (Truth & Soul)
  • Flying Lotus, You're Dead! (Warp)
  • Rhiannon Giddens, Tomorrow Is My Turn (Nonesuch)
  • Grouper, Ruins (Kranky)
  • Bob Mould, Beauty and Ruin (Merge)
  • Run the Jewels, Run The Jewels 2 (Mass Appeal)
  • Pops Staples, Don't Lose This (Anti-)
  • Tinashe, Aquarius (RCA)
  • Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color (ATO)
  • The New Pornographers, Brill Bruisers (Matador/Last Gang)
  • Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Hypnotic Eye (Reprise)
  • Sleater-Kinney, No Cities To Love (Sub Pop)
  • Earl Sweatshirt, I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside (Tan Cressida)
  • Alt-J, This Is All Yours (Infectious)
  • Arca, Xen (Mute)
  • Rubén Blades, Tangos (Sunnyside)
  • Drake, If You're Reading This It's Too Late (Cash Money)
  • FKA Twigs, Lp1 (Young Turks)
  • Father John Misty, I Love You, Honeybear (Sub Pop)
  • Perfume Genius, Too Bright (Matador)
  • Sia, 1000 Forms Of Fear (RCA)
  • TV on the Radio, Seeds (Harvest)
  • U2, Songs of Innocence (Interscope/Island)
  • Mr Twin Sister, Mr Twin Sister (Infinite Best/Twin Group)
  • Jack White, Lazaretto (Third Man/Columbia)
  • Little Big Town, Pain Killer (Liberty)
  • Ariel Pink, Pom Pom (4AD)
  • Bob Dylan, Shadows in the Night (Columbia)
  • Scott Walker + Sun O))), Soused (4AD)
  • Jason Aldean, Old Boots, New Dirt (Broken Bow)
  • A$AP Rocky, At. Long. Last. A$AP (A$AP Worldwide/Polo Grounds Music)
  • Birdman Soundtrack -- Original Drum Score by Antonio Sanchez (Milan)
  • Björk, Vulnicura (One Little Indian)
  • Black Bananas, Electric Brick Wall (Drag City)
  • Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn, Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn (Rounder)
  • Buena Vista Social Club, Lost and Found (World Circuit)
  • Joyce DiDonato, Stella Di Napoli (Erato)
  • Foo Fighters, Sonic Highways (Roswell/RCA)
  • Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, Chasing Yesterday (Sour Mash)
  • Ghostpoet, Shedding Skin (Pias America)
  • Hot Chip, Why Make Sense? (Domino)
  • Hozier, Hozier (Rubyworks/Island)
  • Vijay Iyer & Prashant Bhargava, Radhe Radhe: Rites of Holi (DVD) (Universal)
  • Daniel Lanois, Flesh And Machine (Anti-)
  • Mumford & Sons, Wilder Mind (Glassnote)
  • My Morning Jacket, The Waterfall (ATO/Columbia)
  • Jim O'Rourke, Simple Songs (Drag City)
  • Pharmakon, Bestial Burden (Scared Bones)
  • Robert Plant, Lullaby and . . . the Ceaseless Roar (Nonesuch/Warner Bros.)
  • Steve Riley & the Mamou Playboys, Voyaguers (Mamou Playboy)
  • Mark Ronson, Uptown Special (RCA)
  • Ty Segall, Manipulator (Drag City)
  • Songhoy Blues, Music In Exile (Atlantic)
  • Lucinda Williams, Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone (Highway 20)
  • Weezer, Everything Will Be Alright In The End (Republic)
  • Brian Wilson, No Pier Pressure (Capitol)

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Book Roundup (3)

I started doing these book blurb "roundups" in April 2007. This is the 57th such column, so I've averaged about 7 per year. I don't recall when I introduced the 40-book limit, but that should add up to a little more than 2000 books over 8 years. (The actual cumulative file has 3319 paragraphs in it, of which a couple hundred are probably redundant blurbs -- most often written for paperback reprints.) This last week I've been trying to catch up with the last 12 months -- a break in my postings, although I had taken notes and written a few entries during that time. That yielded a column on June 17 and two more last week, with this the third. Forty books here leave me with a little more than twenty in the draft file. I'm going to try to round them up to a fourth installment later this week. The main thing that's slowing me down is that I have at least eight notebooks with lists of books I jotted down at various bookstores, and I'm slowly going through them, trying to decipher my atrocious handwriting, and look things up. Some of the books are worth adding, but many more are dated -- in fact, I'm finding a lot from around 2010 (along with notes on Borders coupons; frankly, I haven't been to many bookstores since Borders was shut down). More on that later.

Meanwhile, here's another forty books from the last year or two. My interest in collecting these is to get a sense of the public debate on important political/social/economic issues and their history (although sometimes my interests are a bit wider than that). With very few exceptions, these are not books I've read, or even actually looked at. The information is mostly gathered by browsing through Amazon or (rarely) other websites, so it depends on published summaries, blurbs, occasionally reader comments, and sometimes by looking at the partial preview scans.

Ali Abunimah: The Battle for Justice in Palestine (paperback, 2014, Haymarket Books): Palestinian blogger, previously wrote One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse, tries to remain hopeful.

Hisham D Aidi: Rebel Music: Race, Empire, and the New Muslim Youth Culture (paperback, 2014, Vintage): Explores musical subcultures among Muslim youth around the world, primarily hip-hop but also rock, reggae, and more traditional forms like Gnawa. Also seems to know the history where bits of traditional Muslim music worked into blues, jazz, and other genres we don't associate with the Muslim world. I see no mention of metal here, but it's worth noting Mark LeVine: Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam (paperback, 2008, Three Rivers Press).

George A Akerlof/Robert J Shiller: Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception (2015, Princeton University Press): Two Nobel Prize economists who built their careers by exploring cases where markets fail, co-authors of Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism (2009). Proper functioning of markets depends on perfect information, but that rarely exists. That leaves a lot of opportunity for profit through fraud, and that's what this is about.

David Bromwich: Moral Imagination: Essays (2014, Princeton University Press): A dozen essays, three in Part Two on Abraham Lincoln. The ones I'd be most interested in reading: "The Meaning of Patriotism in 1789" and "Comments on Perpetual War" with its sections on Cheney, Snowden, and "What 9/11 Makes Us Forget." I read an essay of his on American Exceptionalism that doesn't seem to be here, unless it's the better-titled "The American Psychosis" (or "The Self-Deceptions of Empire").

Paul Buhle/David Berger: Bohemians: A Graphic History (paperback, 2014, Verso): Buhle was editor of Radical America way back when. A historian, he had an interest in comics long before graphic novels became commonplace. This explores the counterculture before the word was coined. Buhle also collaborated on: w/Nicole Schulman: Wobblies! A Graphic History of the Industrial Workers of the World (paperback, 2005, Verso); w/Sharon Rudahl: Dangerous Woman: The Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman (paperback, 2007, New Press); w/Howard Zinn/Mike Konopacki: A People's History of American Empire (paperback, 2008, Metropolitan Books); w/Denis Kitchen: The Art of Harvey Kurtzman: The Mad Genius of Comics (2009, Abrams); w/Harvey Pekar: Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic History (paperback, 2009, Hill & Wang); w/Harvey Pekar: The Beats: A Graphic History (2009; paperback, 2010, Hill & Wang); and he's written two "For Beginners" books -- which, by the way, is a good place to start on anything they cover: FDR and the New Deal for Beginners (paperback, 2010, For Beginners); Lincoln for Beginners (paperback, 2015, For Beginners).

Ha-Joon Chang: Economics: The User's Guide (2014, Bloomsbury Press): A basic economics primer from a Korean economist who's been known to cast a critical eye on capitalism and its myths of development strategy; cf. his Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective (2002), Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism (2007) and 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism (2011).

Ta-Nehisi Coates: Between the World and Me (2015, Spiegel & Grau): Short (176 pp) book, a memoir as a letter to a teenage son, life lessons and all that, an Afro-American essayist being compared to James Baldwin but from a different (but not that different) era. Previously wrote The Beautiful Struggle: A Memoir (2009).

Paul Collier: Exodus: How Migration Is Changing Our World (2013; paperback, 2015, Oxford University Press): A more general book on what we narrow-mindedly call immigration, Collier is the author of several books on things that generate migration, including: The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What Can Be Done About It (paperback, 2007, Oxford University Press); Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places (2009, Harper; paperback, 2010, Harper Perennial); and The Plundered Planet: Why We Must -- and How We Can -- Manage Nature for Global Prosperity (2010; paperback, 2011, Oxford University Press). Book's original subtitle (in UK): Immigration and Multiculturalism in the 21st Century.

Tom Engelhardt: Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (paperback, 2014, Haymarket Books): Another collections of columns from the author's TomDispatch website, on various aspects of the US security state and its shaky pretensions to empire.

Rory Fanning: Worth Fighting For: An Army Ranger's Journey Out of the Military and Across America (paperback, 2014, Haymarket Books): A former Army Ranger, a member of the same unit that killed Pat Tillman in Afghanistan, leaves the military and tries to find the America he once thought he was serving. Turns out his service was not in vain -- it was just suspended for a few years due to his wrong turn into the Army.

Robert A Ferguson: Inferno: An Anatomy of American Punishment (2014, Harvard University Press): America's criminal justice system is broken, in large part because those who run it seem unable to grasp the notion that punishment should be limited, both for practical reasons (like declining effectiveness) and because it systematizes brutality.

Martin Ford: Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future (2015, Basic Books): Written by "a Silicon Valley entrepreneur," argues that with recent and expected advances in automation and artificial intelligence the future will offer ever fewer "good jobs" (or for that matter jobs of any sort). The result will be unprecedented unemployment -- made worse, I'm sure, by the conservative mantra that forces people into ever poorer jobs. By the way, that's also pretty much the point of James K Galbraith: The End of Normal: The Great Crisis and the Future of Growth (2014, Simon & Schuster).

Brandon L Garrett: Too Big to Jail: How Prosecutors Compromise With Corporations (2014, Belknap Press): Although we've lately seen some large fines, none of the people who wrecked the economy in 2008 (except Bernie Madoff, I guess) have been so much as threatened with jail terms -- surprising given the magnitude of fraud in some of the cases.

Jonathan Marc Gribetz: Defining Neighbors: Religion, Race, and Early Zionist-Arab Encounter (2014, Princeton University Press): Explores how Jews and Arabs interacted in the early days of Zionist settlement, especially under Ottoman rule before the British tilted the tables in favor of Zionism. Gribetz argues that at least within this period the two peoples didn't see themselves in nationalist terms, but were separated on other bases (like religion and race). It occurs to me that the Ottomans provided just that framework, one which changed dramatically when the English took over (when Zionists adopted British colonial attitudes and tactics, while both sides realized that nationalism would provide a path to independence).

Tim Harford: The Undercover Economist Strikes Back: How to Run -- or Ruin -- an Economy (2014, Riverhead): Author of a series of book that try to explain economics with everyday examples, attempts to make the leap from micro to macro here. Not sure whether he's up to it, especially given the summaries I've read. I've read one of his book, and don't remember a thing about it.

Andrew Hartman: A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture Wars (2015, University of Chicago Press): The phrase "culture war" is brandied about so often that you probably know what Hartman is writing about -- a laundry list of hot-button issues ("abortion, affirmative action, art, censorship, feminism, and homosexuality") that the (mostly religious) right got worked up about since whenever, their hysteria more effective once they aligned with the right-wing Reagan juggernaut. But to call this a "war" posits a skirmish where both sides attack the other: in fact, the attacks almost all come from the right, and what they're attacking is most often an extension of basic civil and human rights contrary to the most cherished prejudices of the right. Note that the list above doesn't include theocracy, which is what most of the huff is really about.

Dale Jamieson: Reason in a Dark Time: Why the Struggle Against Climate Change Failed -- and What It Means for Our Future (2014, Oxford University Press): Author, a philosopher, seems to accept the basic science of climate change -- indeed, "in his view, catastrophic ecological damage is a foregone conclusion" -- but has more trouble with why so many people have trouble coming to grips with the issue. One thing he focuses on is lack of agency: the sense that what little we can do as individuals doesn't matter. Not clear that he digs behind this sense of powerlessness to look at the economic interests that benefit -- at least within the narrow confines of their accounting systems -- from filling the atmosphere with carbon dioxide. Related: George Marshall: Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change (2014, Bloomsbury Press).

Mark LeVine/Mathias Mossberg, eds: One Land, Two States: Israel and Palestine as Parallel States (paperback, 2014, University of California Press): A collection of essays that attempt to work out how two states, defined not by territory but by their respective citizenship cohorts, might work to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I don't see the term, but this looks like a refinement of the bi-national notion that pops up periodically when prospects for two-states or one-state look especially grim, but never seems more than an idea. This is, indeed, "thinking outside the box" (a chapter title).

John R MacArthur: The Outrageous Barriers to Democracy in America: Or, Why a Progressive Presidency is Impossible (paperback, 2012, Melville House): Written after Obama had nearly finished his first term but before his reelection, it's clear that the author didn't consider his first term progressive -- well, neither did I. Also early enough to include a blurb by George McGovern, who knows a few things about what can happen to a smart and fundamentally decent human being when he dares run for president. And while running is bad enough, one recalls how both Clinton and Obama abandoned issues they ran on almost the instant they entered the White House. MacArthur's previous books include The Selling of "Free Trade": NAFTA, Washington, and the Subversion of American Democracy (2000).

Michaelangelo Matos: The Underground Is Massive: How Electronic Dance Music Conquered America (2015, Dey Street Books): The one critic I try to follow regularly for his insights into techno or electronica or EDM or whatever you call it -- I still remain blissfully ignorant of the distinctions between the dozen or so subgenres my favorite Detroit-area record store uses. So I grabbed this as soon as it came out, and some day hope to get around to it.

Jane McAlevey: Raising Expectations (and Raising Hell): My Decade Fighting for the Labor Movement (paperback, 2014, Verso): Trying to revive the American labor movement, from the front lines, by a (relatively) successful labor organizer.

Robert W McChesney: Blowing the Roof Off the Twenty-First Century: Media, Politics, and the Struggle for Post-Capitalist Democracy (2014, Monthly Review Press): Professor of communications, media critic, has a pile of books, mostly on how media in America is perverted by corporate control, and the ill effect that has on democracy.

David Ohana/David Maisel: The Origins of Israeli Mythology: Neither Canaanites Nor Crusaders (paperback, 2014, Cambridge University Press): Attempts to explain Zionism through the symbolic opposition and entanglement of two story lines: one that roots the Israelis unshakably deep in the history of the land, the other that recognizes their conquest from outside but proclaims it divine.

Thomas Piketty: Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty: Summary, Key Ideas and Facts (paperback, 2014, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform): Short (112 pp.) summary of Piketty's bestselling book: the most important book to have appeared recently on increasing inequality, the central political problem of our time.

Thomas Piketty: The Economics of Inequality (2015, Belknap Press): A short (160 pp) general text on inequality, older than last year's monumental Capital in the Twenty-First Century -- most likely a translation (and possibly update) of 2004's L'économie des inégalités.

Katha Pollitt: Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights (2014, Picador): One of the few books I've seen recently that seeks to regain the moral high ground on the issue of reproductive rights, of which access to safe abortions is essential. A longtime feminist flag-waving columnist, her essays were previously collected as Virginity or Death! And Other Social and Political Issues of Our Time (paperback, 2006, Random House).

Jake Rosenfeld: What Unions No Longer Do (2014, Harvard University Press): A history of the decline of labor unions in America, and what we as a nation lose by no longer having unions to advocate for American workers sharing a more equitable stake in the economy. Several more recent books on the decline (and/or hoped for revitalization) of unions: Stanley Aronowitz: The Death and Life of American Labor: Toward a New Worker's Movement (2014, Verso Books); Steve Early: Save Our Unions: Dispatches From a Movement in Distress (paperback, 2013, Monthly Review Press); Raymond L Hogler: The End of American Labor Unions: The Right-to-Work Movement and the Erosion of Collective Bargaining (2015, Praeger). Thomas Geoghegan, in Only One Thing Can Save Us Now: Why America Needs a New Kind of Labor Movement (2014, New Press), argues for treating the right to join a union (which is enshrined by law under the Wagner Act but virtually unenforceable) as a civil right, under civil rights law.

Peter Schweizer: Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes, and Line Their Own Pockets (2013, Houghton Mifflin): Would seem like an equal-opportunity politician-hater -- previous book was Throw Them All Out: How Politicians and Their Friends Get Rich Off Insider Stock Tips, Land Deals, and Cronyism That Would Send the Rest of Us to Prison but he's also written tomes flattering conservatives (Makers and Takers: Why Conservatives Work Harder, Feel Happier, Have Closer Families, Take Fewer Drugs, Give More Generously, Value Honesty More, Are Less Materialistic and Envious, Whine Less . . . and Even Hug Their Children More Than Liberals) and slamming government (Architects of Ruin: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation). The fact is that the entire political system is open to corruption, and insiders of both parties are protective of it: indeed, they're pretty much selected for their ability to raise money. Still, there are differences: on the one side there is the party that acknowledges that there is such a thing as the public interest and occasionally considers the desires of people without money, and on the other side there is the celebrates the naked pursuit of self-interest and does everything it can to allow businesses and property owners to rip your off. Obama promised much during his campaign, and one thing promised he did absolutely nothing on was to work to limit the influence of money on politics. Whether he was sincere or not is almost beside the point: as you can see by the alignment of the majority in the Citizens United case, the leading promoters of corruption in politics today are conservatives, in large part because they realize their is to anti-popular that the only way they can win is to bury the issues in expensive propaganda. Still, the likely error here is thinking that politicians are shaking down business (extortion) rather than business corrupting the politicians. To test what's really happening you should weigh the relative economic slices. One thing you'll find is that politicians work pretty cheap.

Richard Seymour: Against Austerity: How We Can Fix the Crisis They Made (paperback, 2014, Pluto Press): Prescribing austerity to cure a recession is much like the mediaeval practice of bleeding patients, and backed by about as much science and logic. British writer, sees austerity as class struggle, as an attack on the working class, as if the recession didn't do damage enough.

Pat Shipman: The Invaders: How Humans and Their Dogs Drove Neanderthals to Extinction (2015, Belknap Press): Co-author of The Neandertals: Changing the Image of Mankind (1993, with Erik Trinkaus), also wrote The Animal Connection: A New Perspective on What Makes Us Human (2011). The former book did much to give us a sense of how modern neanderthals were, so the question of their extinction continued to puzzle, advancing speculation (or whatever) here.

Les Standiford: Water to the Angels: William Mulholland, His Monumental Aqueduct, and the Rise of Los Angeles (2015, Ecco): The story of the Los Angeles Water Company and construction of a 233-mile aqueduct to move water from the Sierra Nevada to the desert valley that became Los Angeles -- a story vaguely familiar if you've seen the movie Chinatown, or read Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water (1986, revised 1993).

Wolfgang Streeck: Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism (paperback, 2014, Verso): Lectures providing a brief history and critique of neoliberalism since the 1970s, focusing on how the business doctrine interacts with (undermines) democracy.

Richard H Thaler: Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics (2015, WW Norton): One of the first economists to look at irrational behavior in economics (as opposed to the usual math-simplifying assumption of rational actors), became better known when he teamed with political theorist Cass Sunstein for Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Presumably more analysis here, and less of the wonkery they call "libertarian paternalism."

Laurence Tribe/Joshua Matz: Uncertain Justice: The Roberts Court and the Constitution (2014, Henry Holt): On the very divided Supreme Court, which seems to tip one way or the other on uncertain whims, sometimes as extreme as the Citizens United ruling which practically turns elections into auctions.

George R Tyler: What Went Wrong: How the 1% Hijacked the American Middle Class . . . and What Other Countries Got Right (2013, BenBella Books): Author has a background in international non-profits, particularly regarding pharmaceuticals, so he not only understands the nuts and bolts of increasing inequality, he knows how more robust safety nets outside the US have cushioned the blow.

Kenneth P Vogel: Big Money: 2.5 Billion Dollars, One Suspicious Vehicle, and a Pimp -- on the Trail of the Ultra-Rich, Hijacking American Politics (2014, Public Affairs): Sort of a "who's who" of the big money players in American politics, some notorious like Sheldon Adelson and the Kochs, others more discreet. American politics has always been highly corruptible, all the more so as the nation's wealth is increasingly captured to a tiny elite.

David Weil: The Fissured Workplace: Why Work Became So Bad for So Many and What Can Be Done About It (2014, Harvard University Press): The reason is worker's loss of power/leverage. Weil specifically focuses on outsourcing but that's only one piece, and indeed the threat of outsourcing is often effective at cutting the knees from under workers. Loss of worker power lets companies do other dastardly things, but even if they are less malign, the loss of interest lets all sorts of rot set in. Weil sees better regulations as helping without denying companies "the beneficial aspects of this innovative business strategy." Another approach would be unions.

Tim Weiner: One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon (2015, Henry Holt): Author of two sprawling histories, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA (2007) and Enemies: A History of the FBI (2012). As more of Nixon's tapes are opened up more precision is added to the history, not that the general lines weren't adequately revealed at the time. I mentioned this in a long list of recent Nixon books under the entry for Douglas Brinkley/Luke A Nichter: The Nixon Tapes: 1971-1972, but felt it was worth singling out. For one thing, this is likely to be the most damning of the non-fringe books, and no one deserves a more jaundiced critical eye than Nixon.

Eric Weisbard: Top 40 Democracy: The Rival Mainstreams of American Music (paperback, 2014, University of Chicago Press): As I recall, pop/rock seemed like a single mass culture in the early 1970s, but even then radio stations were coming up with various genre/formats to attract desired advertising niches, and by the '80s it was all over: one could listen to pop/rock all the time and never come across a top-ten single (excepting Madonna). In retrospect, other genres had split off well before the 1970s, and each makes for its own peculiar view into its own slice of the culture. This book looks back on the main ones, with the last chapter's post-millennial fragmentation the only one I have no sense of.

Darrell M West: Billionaires: Reflections on the Upper Crust (paperback, 2014, Brookings Institution Press): Billionaires are different from mere millionaires. Many of the latter have the sort of economic security that ensures they can survive misfortunes and will never go wanting, but they are still need to do the accounting to keep their fortunes in shape. Billionaires are not just secure. They are so secure they have money they can't think of any conceivable use for other than to remake the world in their own image. US politics has become little more than a plaything for billionaires, much like polo ponies in olden days but far more dangerous.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 25234 [25190] rated (+44), 451 [453] unrated (-2).

After wrapping up last week's (month's) Rhapsody Streamnotes on Wednesday, I decided I wanted to work on the long-delayed book posts -- two appeared on Friday and Saturday, and a third will probably appear tomorrow -- so I didn't want to think much about what to listen to while I was working. And nothing could have taken less thought than picking off records from the Spin 1985-2014 list, so that's what I did. A week ago there were 31 records on the list I hadn't heard. Now there are 12 -- 9 not on Rhapsody, 3 more I haven't checked yet (Deftones, Green Day, Total 4), so I'll at least check out the latter. (Several people mentioned that the missing albums are on YouTube, a resource I've never used for music -- probably because I've hated watching music videos since they first became mandatory in the '80s. I have occasionally consulted YouTube for plumbing tips.)

As the grades below attest, the alt/indie rock albums toward the bottom of Spin's list were pretty awful -- most so bad I didn't bother trying to fill in any other albums I had missed. (I did check out Aerosmith's Greatest Hits and Animal Collective's Feels, which beat the recommended albums, and Cursive's Domestica and M83's Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts, which didn't.) I did go deeper into 2Pac and Lil Wayne (having only heard the former's posthumous Better Dayz, but I've heard most of the latter's later work -- even some of the numerous mixtapes). Main insight I got into 2Pac was that by the time All Eyez on Me arrived he had become so submerged in the process all those posthumous records shouldn't have been a surprise -- after all, his presence hardly matters. Lil Wayne had little presence in his first albums -- they are really just mixtapes (before their time) -- but he emerged as a star as Tha Carter series started. Dimmed after that stint in jail, of course, but the first three Tha Carters are pretty amazing records. (Good chance Tha Carter II would wind up full-A if I spent more time with it.)

I also checked out Best of Frankie Knuckles but it just gathers up his early 12-inchers and doesn't find its stride until the second half. He might benefit from the sort of career-spanning treatment Rhino gave Larry Levan in Journey Into Paradise: The Larry Levan Story, but thus far at least I've always found Chicago House a bit dull.

As I was going through the Spin list, I noticed new albums by Lil Wayne, Mount Eerie (ex Microphones), and Swervedriver. None turned out to be special. I managed to work a few new jazz CDs into the week, but nothing made much of an impression until Amir ElSaffar. Among other things -- and there are a lot of other things -- this is the first album where he's really made a big splash with his trumpet chops.

I don't make anything resembling a systematic effort to track books on music, but I do note some that strike my personal fancy. But in case some readers glaze over when presented with long lists of politics-economics-history, I thought I'd note the music (more or less) books from this spate of book posts (including a sneak peek at tomorrow's):

  • Hisham D Aidi: Rebel Music: Race, Empire, and the New Muslim Youth Culture (paperback, 2014, Vintage)
  • Robert Christgau: Going Into the City: Portrait of a Critic as a Young Man (2015, Dey Street Books): memoir
  • Richard Goldstein: Another Little Piece of My Heart: My Life of Rock and Revolution in the '60s (2015, Bloomsbury): another memoir
  • Michaelangelo Matos: The Underground Is Massive: How Electronic Dance Music Conquered America (2015, Dey Street Books)
  • John Szwed: Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth (2015, Viking): biography
  • Eric Weisbard: Top 40 Democracy: The Rival Mainstreams of American Music (paperback, 2014, University of Chicago Press)
  • Stephen Witt: How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy (2015, Viking)
  • James Wolcott: Critical Mass: Four Decades of Essays, Reviews, Hand Grenades, and Hurrahs (2013, Doubleday): essay collection (probably not much music)

I've read Christgau's memoir, and have bought Matos' book -- something I want to learn more about, from someone I have immense respect for. The other one I find tempting is Aidi's Rebel Music, which among other things is likely to cognitively baffle most westerners with their preconceptions about Islamic fundamentalism. (I did read Mark LeVine's Heavy Metal Islam: Rock, Resistance, and the Struggle for the Soul of Islam, but I'm less fond of metal than hip-hop.) But the fact is that I have other reading priorities, and have long been coasting on the music knowledge-base I accumulated last century. So most of the music books I have bought over the last decade -- Szwed's Sun Ra biography and George Lewis' A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music are two important books that come to mind -- remain unread. Ned Sublette's Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo is the exception (and should be yours).

New records rated this week:

  • Linda Dachtyl: A Late One (2015, Summit): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Amir ElSaffar: Crisis (2015, Pi): [cd]: A-
  • Nick Fraser: Too Many Continents (2015, Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Daniel Levin Quartet: Friction (2015, Clean Feed): [cd]: B
  • Lil Wayne: The Free Weezy Album (2015, Young Money/Republic): [dl]: B+(*)
  • Bob Mintzer Big Band: Get Up! (2015, MCG Jazz): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Mount Eerie: Sauna (2015, PW Elverum & Sun): [r]: B-
  • Jason Roebke: Every Sunday (2014 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Roots Magic: Hoodoo Blues & Roots Magic (2014 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Swervedriver: I Wasn't Born to Lose You (2015, Cobraside): [r]: B
  • Tame Impala: Currents (2015, Caroline): [r]: B+(*)
  • Bill Warfield and the Hell's Kitchen Funk Orchestra: Mercy Mercy Mercy (2015, Blujazz): [cd]: B+(*)

Old records rated this week:

  • 2Pac: 2Pacalypse (1991, Interscope): [r]: B+(*)
  • 2Pac: Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z... (1993, Interscope): [r]: B
  • 2Pac: Me Against the World (1995, Interscope): [r]: B-
  • 2Pac: All Eyez on Me (1996, Death Row, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)
  • Aerosmith: Aerosmith's Greatest Hits (1972-79 [1980], Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • Aerosmith: Pump (1989, Geffen): [r]: B-
  • Tori Amos: Little Earthquakes (1991, Atlantic): [r]: B
  • Animal Collective: Sung Tongs (2004, Fat Cat): [r], C+
  • Animal Collective: Feels (2005, Fat Cat): [r], B+(*)
  • Birdman & Lil Wayne: Like Father, Like Son (2006, Cash Money/Universal): [r]: B+(***)
  • Neko Case: Blacklisted (2000, Bloodshot): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Close Readers: Group Hug (2010 [2011], Austin): [cd]: B+(***)
  • The Close Readers: New Spirit (2012, Austin): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Cursive: Domestica (2000, Saddle Creek): [r]: B
  • Cursive: The Ugly Organ (2003, Saddle Creek): [r]: B-
  • Killers: Hot Fuss (2004, Island/Universal): [r]: B
  • Frankie Knuckles: Best of Frankie Knuckles (1986-87 [1998], Mirakkle): [r]: B+(**)
  • Frankie Knuckles: Beyond the Mix (1991, Virgin): [r]: B+(**)
  • Lil Wayne: Tha Block Is Hot (1999, Cash Money/Universal): [r]: B+(**)
  • Lil Wayne: 500 Degreez (2002, Cash Money/Universal): [r]: B+(***)
  • Lil Wayne: Tha Carter (2004, Cash Money/Universal): [r]: A-
  • Lil Wayne: Tha Carter II (2005, Cash Money/Universal): [r]: A-
  • Lil Wayne: The Leak (2007, Cash Money, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • M83: Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts (2003, Gooom Disques): [r]: B-
  • M83: Saturdays = Youth (2008, Mute): [r]: B
  • Maxwell: Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite (1996, Columbia): [r]: B
  • The Microphones: The Glow, Pt. 2 (2002, K): [r]: B+(**)
  • My Chemical Romance: Three Cheers for Sweet Revenge (2004, Reprise): [r]: B-
  • Ride: Nowhere (1990, Sire): [r]: B+(***)
  • Slint: Spiderland (1991, Touch & Go): [r]: B
  • Swervedriver: Mezcal Head (1993, A&M): [r]: B+(**)
  • System of a Down: Toxicity (2001, American): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Unicorns: Who Will Cut Our Hair When We're Gone? (2003, Alien8): [r]: B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • The Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet: 10 (Zoho): August 7
  • Don Braden: Luminosity (Creative Perspective Music): September 15
  • John Fedchock New York Big Band: Like It Is (MAMA): August 7
  • Daniel Fortin: Brinks (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Gaetano Letizia/Mike Clark/Wilbur Krebs: Froggy & the Toads (self-released): September 4
  • Shai Maestro Trio: Untold Stories (Motema): August 28

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Frankie Knuckles: Best of Frankie Knuckles (1986-87 [1998], Mirakkle): B+(**) [rhapsody]

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Book Roundup (2)

As I noted yesterday, I had fallen way behind on my book blurb roundups -- almost a year missing until my June 17 post. (By the way, I blame Amazon for much of this, since their immensely useful website is all but guaranteed to crash my browser within a half-dozen pages. Lately I've been using the Chromebook's browser for Amazon, an awkward workflow but less troublesome.) I picked out most of the top political books for the June 27 post, and added most of the top historical books yesterday. That leaves a wide scattering of other subjects -- all at least nominally non-fiction. I don't generally track music books, but there are a few of those here. Some science too -- the main thing I read back in the 1980s, although I've scarcely had time for it in the last decade-plus (although I have at least tracked most of the climate catastrophe books). Some books lead to lists of related books, where I hope the titles are self-explanatory. And there are more of the usual political and historical books -- perhaps a bit more marginal given I've already picked through them in recent posts. Sometimes I pick out a right-wing book to argue with (Brooks, Gairdner, Powers, and Voegeli fit that bill below). Sometimes I don't have much to say about a left-wing book but want to note it anyway.

Sometimes I jump the gun before deciding that a book is really interesting, and those pieces tend to get stuck in my draft file until I finally flush them out. I have enough left over for at least one more post, so I may do that tomorrow (instead of Weekend Update, the file for which is empty at the moment).

Only one book below I have the cover cached for (i.e., I've already read), although I've also bought a copy of Steele's The Open-Source Everything Manifesto.

Samuel Avery: The Pipeline and the Paradigm: Keystone XL, Tar Sands, and the Battle to Defuse the Carbon Bomb (paperback, 2013, Ruka Press): On Alberta's tar sands and why they represent such a threat to irrevesibly amplify global warming. Also available: Andrew Nikiforuk: Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent (rev ed, paperback, 2010, Greystone Books); William Marsden: Stupid to the Last Drop: How Alberta Is Bringing Environmental Armageddon to Canada (and Doesn't Seem to Care (2007; paperback, 2008, Vintage). If you want to explore the other side, there's Alastair Sweeny: Black Bonanza: Canada's Oil Sands and the Race to Secure North America's Energy Future (2010, Wiley), and Ezra Levant: Ethical Oil: The Case for Canada's Oil Sands (2007, paperback, 2011, McClelland & Stewart) -- the latter is an anti-Arab rant, and the former plays on that prejudice while declaring everything else squeaky clean.

Robert B Baer: The Perfect Kill: 21 Laws for Assassins (2014, Blue Rider Press): Ex-CIA agent, wrote about his career in See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism (2002); also Sleeping With the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude (2003), and The Devil We Know: Dealing With the New Iranian Superpower (2008). Not clear how critical and/or complicit he his, but this manual for assassins may try to have it both ways -- as if there are two sides to the story.

Alex Berezow/Hank Campbell: Science Left Behind: Feel-Good Fallacies and the Rise of the Anti-Scientific Left (2014, Public Affairs): It should be clear by now that there is no single omnipresent Left in America, especially given how easily writers can construct strawman examples to kick about. This book picks on ones that the authors at least associate with the left, although from the list I see many (if not all) of the issues focus more on what corporations do with science and what the potential risks may be than on the science itself. Still, I do know people who might be considered left-leaning who understand very little of science and sympathisize with all sorts of nonscientific nonsense, but that's no less true of ignorant right-leaning people. What is different about the right is the number of people who seriously reject not just the policy application but the scientific principles behind climate change and evolution.

John Brockman, ed: What Should We Worried About?: Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night (paperback, 2014, Harper Perennial): One thing that should be clear by now is that people aren't very good at assessing risks, especially ones that are large and/or distant, but also ones that are near and/or familiar. This book promises the clarity of science, but many of the pieces are a bit fuzzy ("Tim O'Reilly forsees a coming Dark Age; Douglas Rushkoff fears humanity is losing its soul" -- those are pieces that actually intrigue me more than meteoric catastrophes or financial black holes). Brockman, by the way, has a whole cottage industry editing books along these lines. Recent ones include (all Harper Perennial paperbacks): What Have You Changed Your Mind About?: Today's Leading Minds Rethink Everything (1/2009); This Will Change Everything: Ideas That Will Shape the Future (12/2009); Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?: The Net's Impact on Our Minds and Future (1/2011); This Will Make You Smarter: New Scientific Concepts to Improve Your Thinking (2/2012); This Explains Everything: Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works (1/2013); Thinking: The New Science of Decision-Making, Problem-Solving, and Prediction (10/2013).

David Brooks: The Road to Character (2015, Random House): Always one to jump out in front of a fad, this is a timely guide for those who want to blame social, economic, and political failures on those who have lost out, on their intrinsic character -- a lack of the sort of virtues that are assumed to lead to success. Those virtues, of course, are the usual conservative homilies. As a self-help book this might have some value, but Brooks is nothing if not a political hack, so when, say, he praises civil rights leaders A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin for their "reticence and the logic of self-discipline" he really means to dismiss all the others who don't show enough deferrence to the conservative order.

Noam Chomsky/Andre Vltchek: On Western Terrorism: From Hiroshima to Drone Warfare (paperback, 2013, Pluto Press): Chomsky has a tendency to batter you with long list of facts, and one of his favorite lists is the violent, anti-democratic acts of the US and its allies around the world. Unpleasant as the beating is, if you aren't aware of those facts you're likely to fall for the usual sanctimonious explanations that conspire to keep the list growing.

Robert Christgau: Going Into the City: Portrait of a Critic as a Young Man (2015, Dey Street Books): Memoir from childhood growing up in Queens through college at Dartmouth and several newspaper jobs through his stretch as music editor at the Village Voice, ending in the early 1980s. Disclosure: he's a friend, and I make a couple brief appearances in the book, plus one in the acknowledgments. More prominent in the book is his wife, Carola Dibbell, who it should be noted has a new novel out, The Only Ones (paperback, 2015, Two Dollar Radio).

Niles Eldredge: Extinction and Evolution: What Fossils Reveal About the History of Life (2014, Firefly): Paleontologist, co-author (with Stephen Jay Gould) of the "punctuated equilibria" theory of evolution, which was suggested by the general lack of transitional finds in the fossil record. Illustrated, almost an art book. For a more technical book, see Eldredge's recent Eternal Ephemera: Adaptation and the Origin of Species From the Nineteenth Century Through Punctuated Equilibria and Beyond (2015, Columbia University Press). Over the years I've read a lot by Eldredge, but hadn't noticed: The Fossil Factory: A Kid's Guide to Digging Up Dinosaurs, Exploring Evolution, and Finding Fossils (with Douglas Eldredge, paperback, 2002, Roberts Reinhart); Why We Do It: Rethinking Sex and the Selfish Gene (paperback, 2005, WW Norton); Darwin: Discovering the Tree of Life (2005, WW Norton); and Concrete Jungle: New York City and Our Last Best Hope for a Sustainable Future (with Sidney Horenstein, 2014, University of California Press).

Peter Finn/Petra Couvée: The Zhivago Affair: The Kremlin, the CIA, and the Battle Over a Forbidden Book (2014, Pantheon): The book was Boris Pasternak's famous novel, Doctor Zhivago, banned in the Soviet Union -- an opportunity the CIA seized upon by publishing it in Russian as a propaganda coup. The authors managed to get hold of CIA documents on the affair, most likely Russian sources as well.

William D Gairdner: The Great Divide: Why Liberals and Conservatives Will Never, Ever Agree (2015, Encounter Books): Author is Canadian, previously wrote books like The Trouble With Canada and The Trouble With Democracy, and the publisher is right-wing, so I don't expect he comes up with much of an answer. I'd say that polarization reflects increasing inequality, which by definition means we have less in common, and that leads to less respect for one another. In a polarized society, people are less likely to compromise on the self-interest of others (unless they are compelled, so the power to do that is increasingly sought). While some of these traits are even-sided, others are asymmetrical. In particular, the right is much more fond of using force to achieve its ends (war, violence, guns, jail). On the other hand, the left is more likely to recognize the humanity of the right than vice versa: the left's definition of "us" is broadly inclusive, the right's is exclusive. And the goals are fundamentally different: the right seeks to preserve the wealth and privilege of the few, whereas the left prefers to share the wealth among all people. Gairdner may muddy this up a bit by sticking to "conservative" and "liberal" labels.

Atul Gawande: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End (2014, Metropolitan Books): Surgeon, has written several eloquent books on his craft, the health care industry, and sometimes how they don't mesh very well. For instance, hospitals often spend a lot of time and effort (for a lot of money) doing fruitless procedures on people who are dying anyway, often causing more suffering than they can alleviate.

Russell Gold: The Boom: How Fracking Ignited the American Energy Revolution and Changed the World (2014, Simon & Schuster): It's long been known that you can boost oil production by pumping liquids into oil fields to force the oil toward the producing wells. That's been done in Saudi Arabia since the 1940s, but hasn't been cost-effective in the US until recently. Hydraulic fracturing goes a step further, opening up oil- (and gas-) saturated shales that otherwise would be too dense to produce. The US has a lot of gas-shale, and that's the base for the so-called boom. US oil production has been diminishing since its peak in 1969, and we're seeing similar limits and declines all around the world -- a phenomenon that validates the "peak oil" hypothesis. Fracking, therefore, to some observers looks like a reversal of the laws of physics rather than just the next increasingly-expensive recovery methods. My view is that the boom is temporary, and that in the US in particular, where there is so little effort aimed at conserving petroleum resources, it's something that we'll burn through pretty quickly (while depositing all that greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, trapping solar energy and cooking the planet). Other recent books (2014 unless noted): Ezra Levant: Groundswell: The Case for Fracking (Signal); Michael Levi: The Power Surge: Energy, Opportunity, and the Battle for America's Future (2013, Oxford University Press); Alex Prudhomme: Hydrofracking: What Everyone Needs to Know (paperback, 2013, Oxford University Press); George Zuckerman: The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters (2013, Portfolio); but also see: Walter M Brasch: Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting With Disaster (paperback, Greeley & Stone); and Richard Heinberg: Snake Oil: How Fracking's False Promise of Plenty Imperils Our Future (paperback, 2013, Post Carbon Institute).

Richard Goldstein: Another Little Piece of My Heart: My Life of Rock and Revolution in the '60s (2015, Bloomsbury USA): A memoir by a good candidate for America's first rock critic, who started writing "Pop Eye" for the Village Voice in 1966. By the time I started reading him he was mostly writing about politics, which was fine with me.

John Michael Greer: Decline and Fall: The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st Century America (paperback, 2014, New Society): Prime concern is economic sustainability, which he doesn't find much evidence of in the US. Has a number of doom and gloom works, aside from his interest in organic gardening.

Mohsin Hamid: Discontent and Its Civilizations: Dispatches from Lahore, New York, and London (2015, Riverhead): Novelist from Pakistan, has lived in those other towns (currently a UK citizen), collects essays on "life, art, politics, and 'the war on terror.'"

Simon Head: Mindless: Why Smarter Machines Are Making Dumber Humans (2014, Basic Books): Focuses on Computer Business Systems (CBSs) used to run large businesses, including the supply chains of Walmart and Amazon but also the financial shenanigans of Goldman Sachs. That this sort of technology is used to automate jobs and suppress wages has long been obvious. But who gets dumber as a result?

Bob Herbert: Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America (2014, Doubleday): Former New York Times opinion columnist travels around America and finds much to worry, and complain, about.

Matthew W Hughey/Gregory S Parks: The Wrongs of the Right: Language, Race, and the Republican Party in the Age of Obama (2014, NYU Press): Looks at how Republicans talk about Obama and finds various ways they exploit lingering racism in America.

Kojin Karatani: The Structure of World History: From Modes of Production to Modes of Exchange (paperback, 2014, Duke University Press): Japanese philosopher, has written about Kant and Marx in the past (Transcritique: On Kant and Marx), revisits Marx somewhere between anthopology and globalization.

Edward D Kleinbard: We Are Better Than This: How Government Should Spend Our Money (2014, Oxford University Press): An attempt to reframe government taxation/spending debates not on traditional left-right terms but in terms of return on investments regardless of size. I think this is fundamentally right, although the devil will be in the details. There are many useful and important things that government can do more efficiently and more effectively than the private sector -- indeed, there are some that the private sector will only do if plied with exorbitant bribes. Nice to think we're smart enough we can figure this out, but there's little evidence of that.

Jon Krakauer: Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town (2015, Doubleday): A small city, population nearly 70,000, home of University of Montana so about 15,000 students. Local authorities were notoriously lax investigating rape complaints, so Krakauer investigated and this is what he found out. FWIW, I've read five previous books by Krakauer (out of six).

Daniel J Levitin: The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload (2014, Dutton): Brain book, verging into self-help territory. Author has a couple of books on music: This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession and The World in Six Songs: How the Musical Brain Created Human Nature. Information overload is a real issue, and a reliable method for coping is something one might desire. However, as long as misinformation is profitable that will be a tall order.

Charles Lewis: 935 Lies: The Future of Truth and the Decline of America's Moral Integrity (2014, Public Affairs): IF Stone used to say, "all governments lie." Still, we'd be better off with fewer lies, which I suppose is the point of this. But getting to the truth is surely a more complex process. Lewis is such a stickler for the certainty of truth that his title refers to a documented count of "lies that led to the war in Iraq." Sure, there were lies, many of them, but some were big and some were small, some flowed automatically from others, most from misperceptions about how the world works and how American force functions in that world. Correcting for lies is a worthwhile step, but understanding why powers lie and being able to detect when they do even if you don't know what the truth is are more important still.

William McDonough/Michael Braungart: The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability, Designing for Abundance (paperback, 2013, North Point Press): An architect and a chemist, previously wrote Cradle to Cradle: Remking the Way We Make Things (2002), an engineering ethic that not only dispenses with planned obsolence but goes much farther.

Kirsten Powers: The Silencing: How the Left Is Killing Free Speech (2015, Regnery): Billed as a "lifelong liberal," worked in the Clinton administration, etc. But note the publisher, that she's a "Fox news contributor," and that her blurb authors are: Charles Krauthammer, Brit Hume, Juan Williams, Eric Metaxas, Ron Fournier, and George F Will. Or just the subtitle: no one on the left actually refers to the left as such, partly because we realize what they call the left we know to be a wide range of often conflicting views with no effective organizational unity. (We can, of course, speak of the right, with their daily talking points endlessly drummed into their marching base via Fox News, although lately even some of them seem to be going off message.) I have no idea what actual examples Powers has come up with -- maybe the old anti-PC rant that people should be able to express themselves as racists without fear of objection or challenge. It's true that occasionally someone says something racist on mainstream media and gets canned for embarrassing the network, but it's not the left that owns those media. For most of my life the right has been the far more serious threat to free speech -- most chillingly during the McCarthy period, but even now there's a concerted right-wing effort to purge universities of left-leaning professors (something David Horowitz, who uses "left" repeatedly in his book titles, is very active at). One can also mention efforts to prosecute (or "hold in contempt") journalists who reveal classified secrets -- James Risen is a prominent recent case. Since Obama's DOJ went after Risen, and Powers' people regard Obama as part of "the left," maybe that made Powers' list? I doubt it, since that's just the sort of thing the right would do given the opportunity. If you want to find out about real threats to free speech, check with the ACLU.

Diana Preston: A Higher Form of Killing: Six Weeks in World War I That Forever Changed the Nature of Warfare (2015, Bloomsbury Press): Historian, has written about the Boxer Rebellion, the Lusitania, and Before the Fallout: From Marie Curie to Hiroshima (2009), and with her husband has written historical fiction pseudonymously as Alex Rutherford. Her six-week window here was April to June 1915, during which the Germans introduced submarine warfare, aerial bombing (from a zeppelin), and poison gas (chlorine) -- innovations which "forever changed the nature of warfare." Her title, by the way, isn't original; see Robert Harris/Jeremy Paxman: A Higher Form of Killing: The Secret History of Chemical and Biological Warfare (paperback, 2002, Random House). Still, the notion that less discriminate forms of killing are "higher" is perplexing.

Arundhati Roy: Capitalism: A Ghost Story (paperback, 2014, Haymarket Books): Short political broadside from the famous Indian novelist, critic, and activist. She has a bunch of these, including: Walking With the Comrades (paperback, 2011, Penguin); Field Notes on Democracy: Listening to Grasshoppers (paperback, 2009, Haymarket); An Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire (paperback, 2004, South End Press); Public Power in the Age of Empire (paperback, 2004, Seven Stories Press); War Talk (paperback, 2003, South End Press); Power Politics (2nd ed, paperback, 2002, South End Press); The Cost of Living (paperback, 1999, Modern Library).

Asne Seierstad: One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway (2015, Farrar Straus and Giroux): In 2011 Breivik killed eight with a bomb and shot and killed sixty-nine more at a Labour Party youth camp -- crimes he justified with a lengthy racist tract. Seierstad, from Norway, has written well-regarded journalism about Afghanistan (The Bookseller of Kabul, Iraq (One Hundred and One Days: A Baghdad Journal, and Chechnya (Angel of Grozny: Inside Chechnya).

Micah L Sifry: The Big Disconnect: Why the Internet Hasn't Transformed Politics (Yet) (paperback, 2014, O/R Books): "This is a book for social and political activists." The Internet promised more democracy. It didn't exactly deliver less, but it wrapped it up in so much noise it made many things harder to sort out, and harder to do. By offering us more connection, it's wound up making us more isolated. I read some of this and see the problems, but only a limited slice is available in the preview: any answers he has seem to be beyond the cut. Ain't that just typical?

Ken Silverstein: The Secret World of Oil (2014, Verso): Focuses more on the corruption of the finance and trading sides of the industry, as opposed to more mundane matters like exploration and production. Needless to say, there is a lot of corruption to report.

Vaclav Smil: Harvesting the Biosphere: What We Have Taken From Nature (2012, MIT Press): Rather technical assessment of how much of the Earth's biosphere has been captured by human beings, and how this affects the carrying capacity of the planet. Important info for that population bomb debate.

Robert David Steele: The Open-Source Everything Manifesto: Transparency, Truth, and Trust (paperback, 2012, Evolver Editions): Author started out as a spy, but found that the shroud of secrecy in his business wound up distorting everything. He came up with the idea of Open Source Intelligence as a way of untangling the subversion, then picked up the lessons from Open Source Software and tried to generalize that into Open Source Everything. Needless to say, this sounds right to me -- at least until proven otherwise.

John Paul Stevens: Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution (2014, Little Brown): Brief book by retired Supreme Court justice wants to tinker. The subjects: the "anti-commandeering" rule; political gerrymandering; campaign finance; sovereign immunity; the death penalty; the second amendment (gun control).

John Szwed: Billie Holiday: The Musician and the Myth (2015, Viking): Biography of the legendary jazz singer, timed to come out 100 years after Holiday's birth. Szwed has written excellent biographies of Sun Ra, Miles Davis, and Alan Lomax, as well as the essential primer, Jazz 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Jazz (2000).

Dominic Tierney: The Right Way to Lose a War: America in an Age of Unwinnable Conflicts (2015, Little Brown): Military theoretician, so no chance he'll advise avoiding conflicts let alone wars. But he's aware that the US hasn't won, by any definition, much of anything since WWII, and that the problem lies in the nature of the conflicts (which American thrashing only aggravates). His formula is surge-talk-leave. This assumes there's some tangible goals short of occupation, but that's probably another book/author. (I could imagine that the credible threat of US invasion might cajole some sort of power-sharing agreement -- that's sort of what happened with Bosnia/Serbia -- but that's hardly the American way.) Author previously co-wrote Failing to Win: Perceptions of Victory and Defeat in International Politics (2006) and wrote FDR and the Spanish Civil War: Neutrality and Commitment in the Struggle That Divided America (2007) and How We Fight: Crusades, Quagmires, and the American Way of War (2010).

William Voegeli: The Pity Party: A Mean-Spirited Diatribe Against Liberal Compassion (2014, Broadside Books): A new twist on an old complaint, that liberal programs to help the less fortunate don't work (help the less fortunate) because, well -- fill in the blank. Being an asshole, Voegeli doesn't really care why they don't work, since he rejects the notion that compassion is a good reason to do anything, and he regards people who are compassionate as "unfit to govern" -- most conservatives agree, but try to palm off their mean-spiritedness as something a bit more palatable, like "tough love" (lest they look like assholes). I doubt that Voegeli is really doing his kind any favors here. It strikes me that both conservatives and liberals are more or less equally likely to empathize or be compassionate, but the kind of people conservatives care about is much more limited (to people most like themselves), whereas liberals are less picky about the people they care for. This leads Voegeli to a key misunderstanding: most programs he decries as compassionate (because they benefit people he would regard as pitiable if he wasn't such an asshole) are seen by liberals as self-help -- after all, they help people not unlike oneself.

Janine R Wedel: Unaccountable: How Elite Power Brokers Corrupt our Finances, Freedom, and Security (2014, Pegasus): Any doubt that American policy is primarily driven by the profit motive, both for the elites that control it and the corporations that bankroll them, should be dispelled here. This not only delegitimizes policies, it is more often than not dysfunctional, guaranteeing that the sponsored policies will fail. Wedel initially studied corruption in Poland. Then she came home, to see how it is really done.

Edward O Wilson: The Social Conquest of Earth (paperback, 2013, Liveright): Invented something I never trusted that he calls sociobiology, but he is one of the foremost writers on the impact of human beings on nature, and there is no doubt that humans have conquered earth, for better or worse. Or maybe this book is just about insect societies? -- another of his major topics.

Stephen Witt: How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy (2015, Viking): Business writer focuses on how file sharing works and rose in prominence, undermining the recorded music industry.

James Wolcott: Critical Mass: Four Decades of Essays, Reviews, Hand Grenades, and Hurrahs (2013, Doubleday): Bio doesn't mention Village Voice, where I know him from, but the music reviews go back that far, and are complemented by pieces on film and TV, books, other things a literate raconteur would bump into over the last 30-40 years.

Jul 2015