November 2015 Notebook


Monday, November 30, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 25871 [25829] rated (+42), 388 [399] unrated (-11).

We've had a very pleasant autumn here in Wichita, but the weatherfolk forecast a turn toward miserable for Thanksgiving through the weekend. Objectively I doubt it ever got that bad, at least here. A cold front went stationary along a diagonal which probably extended from Amarillo to Chicago, but which cut across Kansas just north of Wichita. Along this front, wave after wave of rain/sleet/snow-storms slid northeast. In northwest Kansas this was the fourth blizzard of November, although in Wichita we never saw more than an isolated flurry. North and west of Wichita, the rain froze into a thick coat of ice on everything, and there were reports of power outtages in Hutchinson. In Wichita all I noticed was rain, which froze overnight, making driving and walking treacherous. Our solution for that was to stay hunkered down in a warm house. I like to cook when it's miserable out, so made cacciatore on Friday, and braised some pork ribs with garlic-ginger-scallions and fermented black beans on Sunday.

On Thanksgiving we did go out, to a hotel buffet with some friends. Although I've rarely cooked on Thanksgiving, that was the first time we ever took that option. The meal was fairly good as I skipped past the usual fare and found other things more to my taste -- a very moist baked salmon, a nice succotash, some salads, a slice of ham. But the desserts were mediocre: I sampled the pecan pie and carrot cake, and watched others leave half-picked-over slices of cheesecake. I thought I could have done better on each of those, and for that matter on the bread pudding which no one even bothered to taste. Wasn't overfilling, and we weren't stuck with any leftovers, so those are pluses.

Should warm up a bit over the next few days, not that there is anything here to melt, but we should be able to get out and around. Experienced another earthquake last night, just before I went to bed. It measured 4.7, located just over the Oklahoma border northwest of Enid. Heard the house groan, then watched various things sway back and forth for 20-30 seconds. I thought I felt a couple of smaller quakes after I went to bed, but I don't seen them in the USGS log: there was a 3.0 near Edmond 2 hours later, and since then a 3.1 and a 2.7 west of Perry and a 3.2 east of Cherokee, all in Oklahoma and unlikely to be felt here. That's quite a bit of seismic activity for one day. Idaho, Wyoming, and Washington had one quake each in that period (2.6, 3.4, and 3.0 respectively). Puerto Rico had two. California none, although they had a 2.6 at Gilroy the day before. Earthquakes in Kansas and Oklahoma were unheard of as recently as five year ago. They are clearly caused by injection wells, which are drilled in declining oil fields to dispose of the large amount of water that is being pumped up along with the last drops of oil. I think the largest earthquake to date in Oklahoma was a 5.7 -- big enough to do some actual damage (where last night's earthquake was merely creepy).

Pushed quite a few records through the mill last week. Eleven came from my new jazz queue, but those were the most promising 2015 releases there. I also picked up two Mali groups and Craig Finn from Christgau's Expert Witness, and tried out a few Black Friday Special nominees from correspondents. Most other records popped up in EOY lists: John Moreland was in the top ten at American Songwriter; Flako topped the list at Bleep; Gwenno and Ryley Walker were on several lists (and Kurt Vile and Unknown Mortal Orchestra were on way too many lists).

Still too early to say much about EOY lists, but here's the top 20 in my EOY Aggregate File:

  1. Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty) {56}
  2. Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope) {55}
  3. Julia Holter: Have You in My Wilderness (Domino) {50}
  4. Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom + Pop Music) {46}
  5. Tame Impala: Currents (Caroline) {37}
  6. Father John Misty: I Love You, Honeybear (Sub Pop) {35}
  7. Jamie XX: In Colour (XL/Young Turks) {34}
  8. Kamasi Washington: The Epic (Brainfeeder) {31}
  9. Bjork: Vulnicura (One Little Indian) {25}
  10. Joanna Newsom: Divers (Drag City) {24}
  11. Sleaford Mods: Key Markets (Harbinger Sound) {23}
  12. Kurt Vile: B'lieve I'm Goin Down (Matador) {23}
  13. Ryley Walker: Primrose Green (Dead Oceans) {22}
  14. Unknown Mortal Orchestra: Multi-Love (Jagjaguwar) {21}
  15. Sleater-Kinney: No Cities to Love (Sub Pop) {20}
  16. New Order: Music Complete (Mute) {17}
  17. Alabama Shakes: Sound & Color (ATO) {16}
  18. Natalie Prass: Natalie Prass (Sony) {16}
  19. Deerhunter: Fading Frontier (4AD) {15}
  20. Jim O'Rourke: Simple Songs (Drag City) {15}

Stevens is up from 3rd last week, and Lamar is up from 5th. I still expect Lamar to pull away. I've factored in a couple long lists from user-rating sites (Rate Your Music, Sputnik Music), although I don't think they have had much impact. No jazz lists yet: the British mag Jazzwise has published a list of 20 albums (I think) but all I have seen is the top three, and I decided that's not enough to count. Some lists come out in sections. I should be patient, but in one case I've already counted [21-40], while waiting for the top 20.

Would have more, and more comments, but it's gotten late.

New records rated this week:

  • Juhani Aaltonen & Iro Haarla: Kirkastus (2013 [2015], TUM): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Algiers: Algiers (2015, Matador): [r]: B
  • Justin Bieber: Purpose (2015, Def Jam): [r]: B
  • Big K.R.I.T.: It's Better This Way (2015, self-released): [r]: B+(*)
  • Boytoy: Grackle (2015, Papercup Music): [r]: B+(***)
  • Geof Bradfield Quintet: Our Roots (2014 [2015], Origin): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Gaz Coombes: Matador (2015, Hot Fruit): [r]: B+(*)
  • Bram De Looze: Septych (2014 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Kristin Diable: Create Your Own Mythology (2015, Speakeasy): [r]: B
  • Kaja Draksler/Susana Santos Silva: This Love (2015, Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Craig Finn: Faith in the Future (2015, Partisan): [r]: A-
  • The Fireworks: Switch Me On (2015, Shelflife): [r]: B+(**)
  • Flako: Natureboy (2015, Five Easy Pieces): [r]: B+(**)
  • Floating Points: Elaenia (2015, Luaka Bop): [r]: B+(***)
  • Food: This Is Not a Miracle (2013 [2015], ECM): [dl]: A-
  • David Friesen & Glen Moore: Bactrian (2015, Origin): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Jacob Garchik: Ye Olde (2014 [2015], Yestereve): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Georgia: Georgia (2015, Domino): [r]: B+(**)
  • Gwenno: Y Dydd Olaf (2014 [2015], Heavenly): [r]: A-
  • Per Texas Johansson: De Lĺnga Rulltrapporna I Flemingsberg (2014 [2015], Moserobie): [cd]: B+(**)
  • John Moreland: High on Tulsa Heat (2015, Old Omens): [r]: A-
  • Niyaz: Fourth Light (2015, Six Degrees): [r]: B+(***)
  • Tess Parks and Anton Newcombe: I Declare Nothing (2015, 'a' Records): [r]: B+(**)
  • RMaster: New Anime Nation, Vol. 10 (2015, Anime): [r]: B+(*)
  • Wadada Leo Smith & John Lindberg: Celestial Weather (2012 [2015], TUM): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Mike Sopko/Bill Laswell/Thomas Pridgen: Sopko Laswell Pridgen (2015, self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Svenska Kaputt: Suomi (2015, Moserobie): [cd]: A-
  • Terakaft: Alone (Ténéré) (2015, Out Here): [r]: B+(***)
  • Richard Thompson: Acoustic Classics (2014, Beeswing): [r]: B+(***)
  • Richard Thompson: Still (2015, Fantasy): [r]: B+(***)
  • Tinariwen: Live in Paris (2015, Anti-): [r]: A-
  • Torres: Sprinter (2015, Partisan): [r]: B+(*)
  • Unknown Mortal Orchestra: Multi-Love (2015, Jagjaguwar): [r]: B-
  • Kurt Vile: B'lieve I'm Goin Down . . . (2015, Matador): [r]: B
  • Ryley Walker: All Kinds of You (2014, Tompkins Square): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ryley Walker: Primrose Green (2015, Dead Oceans): [r]: B+(**)
  • White Out With Nels Cline: Accidental Sky (2015, Northern Spy): [r]: B+(**)
  • Wreckless Eric: America (2015, Fire): [r]: B+(***)
  • Wussy: Public Domain, Volume 1 (2015, Shake It, EP): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Torbjörn Zetterberg & Den Stora Frĺgan: Om Liv Död (2015, Moserobie): [cd]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • Loren Connors & Jim O'Rourke: Are You Going to Stop . . . in Bern? (1997 [2010], Hatology): [r]: B+(*)

Grade changes:

  • Beach House: Depression Cherry (2015, Sub Pop): [was: B+(*)] B

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Jason Kao Hwang: Voice (Innova): January 29

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Weekend Roundup

Not much time to collect things today, but here are a few links on the week's newsk:

  • Julie Turkewitz/Jack Healy: 3 Are Dead in Colorado Springs Shootout at Planned Parenthood Center: A gunman, identified as Robert Lewis Dear, entered a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, shot some people, and shot at police when they arrived on the scene. He was captured alive and unhurt after killing three people and wounding nine others. This link provides some preliminary reporting. Note especially:

    Since abortion became legal nationally, with the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973, many abortion clinics and staff members across the country have been subjected to harassment including death and bomb threats, and hundreds of acts of violence including arson, bombings and assaults and eight murders, according to figures compiled by the Naral Pro-Choice America Foundation.

    Planned Parenthood's Colorado Springs center was one of many locations around the country that became the site of large anti-abortion protests over the summer after abortion opponents released surreptitious videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing using fetal organs for research. On Aug. 22, the day of nationwide protests to defund Planned Parenthood, more than 300 people protested outside the clinic here, according to local news reports.

    The campaign not just to stigmatize Planned Parenthood but to put it out of business was led this summer by all 16 Republican presidential candidates, while most Republicans in Congress (especially in the House) were so agitated over the issue that they wanted to shut down the federal government if Congress and the President didn't bow to their extortion. Such politicians are casually given the benefit of the doubt when they try to distance themselves from vigilante-terrorists who take their words so seriously they translate them into criminal acts. But in fact most of those politicians do support extra-legal murder and mayhem when the US practices it abroad (e.g., from drones). And one hardly need add that virtually every one of them is equally committed to making sure that vigilante-terrorists here in America have unfettered access to all the guns they can handle. So why excuse them from complicity in murders that are known to have a chilling, and sometimes devastating, effect on the constitutional rights of American women to private health care? (Indeed, see this report: GOP Presidential Candidates Sharing Stage With Pastor Who Hailed Murder of Abortion Provider. The article specifically mentions Cruz, Huckabee, and Jindal. Cruz subsequently received the endorsement of Troy Newman, the leader of Operation Rescue, a group which has been closely aligned with anti-abortion criminals.)

    A few more links on the shooting:

  • DR Tucker: Emma's World: Part III: The first two parts were an attempt to put a human face on one of the casualties of the Paris ISIS attack: specifically, a tourist from Tasmania named Emma Parkinson. This one quotes from a piece written on the occasion of an earlier gun massacre, about a still earlier gun massacre: Will Oremus: After a 1996 Mass Shooting, Australia Enacted Strict Gun Laws. It Hasn't Had a Similar Massacre Since. You may recall that the intermediary massacre, the slaughter of elementary school children and teachers in Newtown, Connecticut, was followed by a loosening of gun regulation, and a few dozen only marginally less shocking mass shootings. Following the 1996 Australian shooting, over 90% of all Australians agreed on the need for much stricter gun control. As I recall, polling showed that after Newtown a majority of Americans also desired stricter gun control, but opinion was far less united, and various institutional factors allowed the gun industry to prevail. A lot of factors differ between Australia and America here. One might, for instance, point to the cultural import of the old west in America, or to the fact that the US since WWII has fought far more wars than anyone else, and that the US government spends more money on arms than the rest of the world does. Still, two factors stand out: one is that Americans care very little about the welfare of their fellow Americans; the other is that Americans have very little understanding of the actual effects of mass gun proliferation. In particular, they don't realize that Australia provides a very relevant case study of the effects of strict gun regulation. Oremus writes:

    What happened next has been the subject of several academic studies. Violent crime and gun-related deaths did not come to an end in Australia, of course. But as the Washington Post's Wonkblog pointed out in August, homicides by firearm plunged 59 percent between 1995 and 2006, with no corresponding increase in non-firearm-related homicides. The drop in suicides by gun was even steeper: 65 percent. Studies found a close correlation between the sharp declines and the gun buybacks. Robberies involving a firearm also dropped significantly. Meanwhile, home invasions did not increase, contrary to fears that firearm ownership is needed to deter such crimes. But here's the most stunning statistic. In the decade before the Port Arthur massacre, there had been 11 mass shootings in the country. There hasn't been a single one in Australia since.

Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted; i.e., I don't have time for this shit right now):

  • Phyllis Bennis: After the Paris Attacks, a Call for Justice -- Not Vengeance. Recapitulates a similar statement made after 9/11, predicting no good would come of responding to the attacks with a "war of vengeance." Indeed. Also cites the common French response to 9/11: "nous sommes tous Américains" -- showing then as now that the French can't shake their self-gratifying identity as colonial masters, even long after their empire went bankrupt.

  • Lauren Fox: Why the Paris Attacks Unleashed a New Level of Anti-Muslim Vitriol in the US: Certainly did, but I'm not sure the author here got the reasons right. For one thing, the US has been fighting several wars against Muslims for 14 years -- and arguably a good deal longer, with 1990 and 1979 key moments of escalation, on top of America's increasing support of Israel, especially coming out of the 1967 and 1973 wars. For another, while the Bush administration was fairly conscientious about positing a battle between "good Muslims" and "bad Muslims," Obama has largely dropped that ball, partly as a result of disengaging from major theatres like Iraq, and partly because the picture itself has become increasingly murky. Also, I think, because the wars have been so unsatisfying that we've lost the commitment that most imperial powers feel to the natives who aligned with them, and are increasingly in trouble because of that -- although this point may just be swamped by the rising tide of nativism stirred up by demagogues like Trump, and the general meanness of the American electorate.

  • Rebecca Gordon: Corruption USA: Doesn't review so much as jump off from Sarah Chayes' book about corruption in Afghanistan, Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security. Raises the question of whether the US is similarly beleaguered by corruption. Spends a lot of time on Ferguson, Missouri, which while pretty clear (and graphic) is small potatoes -- compared to, say, oil and finance.

  • John B Judis: The Paradoxical Politics of Inequality.

  • Nomi Prins: The American Hunger Games: "Six top Republican Candidates Take Economic Policy Into the Wilderness." Looks at the proposed economic policies of Bush, Carson, Cruz, Fiorina, Rubio, and Trump.

  • Abba Solomon: Golem and Big Brother: A review of Jeff Halper's new book, War Against the People: Israel, the Palestinians and Global Pacification (Pluto Press). Halper founded the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, and wrote an essay called "The Matrix of Domination" which was one of the first expositions to show how Israel's many mechanisms for controlling Palestinians work together. The new book shows how Israeli businesses are taking technology developed for controlling Palestinians and marketing it to the rest of the world. If you don't yet think that the conflict over Israel-Palestine concerns you, this book should prove eye-opening.

  • Philip Weiss: Trump's claim of 9/11 celebration in New Jersey is based on arrest of 5 'laughing' Israelis: A story to file away for a possible footnote, if that's what it is. I do clearly recall Benjamin Netanyahu and Shimon Peres smiling on 9/11 and bragging about how good the terror attacks was for Israel -- a faux pas that John Major also made, one that combines "now you know what it feels like" with "with our vast experience in these things we can help you." It should have occurred to people then that the US was being attacked because it had usurped Britain's colonial role in the Middle East and had doubled down on its alliance with Israel against any reasonable alternative. I also recall that Israel almost instantly released stock video that purported to show Palestinians celebrating and burning American flags -- an image that did its intended damage before anyone could soberly think about it.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Turkey Giblets

Old-timers will recall that Robert Christgau ran what he called a Turkey Shoot every Thanksgiving from 1988 to 2005. For most of that time he limited his pans of bad albums to one "dud" per month, so he tried to collect his reviews over the year. Even so, the pains of listening to so much unpleasant music built up, so when he left the Village Voice and retooled his Consumer Guide for a series of blog formats, he dispensed with the turkeys, and even the duds. I've heard it said that you have to write some negative reviews to establish credibility for your positive reviews. I even tried that for a while with my Jazz Consumer Guide, and learned two things: one is that the negatives are easier to write, and second is that people respond to them more (at least I always got more feedback on them). Still, I've always had the nagging suspicion that my distaste for a record is as much (maybe more) a reflection of my own limits as of the record's. Actually, I'm sure that's sometimes the case, but I also suspect that some records really are awful, and that it's rarely worth the time to clearly distinguish one from the other. So I mostly look for good records, and as a matter of conscientious bookkeeping note the records that for one reason or another don't make the grade.

Still, a few years ago I noticed some folks complaining about Christgau no longer writing up his Turkey Shoots, so I came up with the idea of spreading the agony around by crowdsourcing a set of turkey reviews. I published the first one of these in 2012, and another in 2013. One reaction that I got from the former was that some writers would have been willing to contribute but only wanted to write about their finds, so for 2013 I added a second column, the Black Friday Special. Last year and this year I tried to talk other people into taking over this project. I failed both times, so that's your loss.

I also tried rounding up some bare overrated/unappreciated lists, and didn't get much response there either (although I'll share what I did get below). That leaves me with my own subjective impressions, plus some underdeveloped data.

Actually, I do have one piece of "objective" data: a list of "most overrated albums of 2015" posted at ILXOR (I'm adding my grades, where known, in brackets):

  1. Fifth Harmony: Reflection
  2. Rae Sremmurd: SremmLife [B+(***)]
  3. Meek Mill: Dreams Worth More Than Money
  4. Fall Out Boy: American Beauty/American Psycho
  5. Meghan Trainor: Title [B+(***)]
  6. Bring Me the Horizon: That's the Spirit
  7. Mbongwana Star: From Kinshasa [A-]
  8. Matt & Kim: New Glow
  9. Sleater-Kinney: No Cities to Love [B+(*)]
  10. Big Sean: Dark Sky Paradise
  11. Future: Dirty Sprite 2 [DS2] [B+(***)]
  12. Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter Three: River Run Thee [B-]
  13. Ellie Goulding: Delirium
  14. James McMurtry: Complicated Game [A-]
  15. Spectres: Dying
  16. Jazmine Sullivan: Reality Show [B+(***)]
  17. Zun Zun Egui: Shackles' Gift [B+(*)]
  18. Napalm Death: Apex Predator - Easy Meat
  19. Bop English: Constant Bop
  20. Passion Pit: Kindred
  21. Arca: Mutant
  22. Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly [A-]
  23. High on Fire: Luminiferous

There's no formal explanation of the methodology here: just one snippet of data which makes me think they're subtracting the user score from the critic score at Album of the Year. For instance, Fifth Harmony has a critic score of 74 (based on 5 reviews) and a user score of 54 (based on 36 ratings), so it comes out +20. Sleater-Kinney has a critic score of 90 and a user score of 78, so it is +12. James McMurtry is (85 - 75 = 10). Kendrick Lamar is (94 - 88 = 6). I only checked the top 20 critics scores (plus Fifth Harmony) and they come out pretty much in this order (7 of the top 20 made the overrated list, which by my figures would also include Bassekou Kouyaté). One obvious problem here is that high critic scores are simply more likely to lead the user scores (20 of the top 20 do, with Jamie XX closest at +1, but also with the second lowest critic score, 84). Grade distribution on both scales probably makes this effect more extreme. (Users grade on a 100 point scale, where critic grades are quantized rather arbitrarily.) Other problems relate to sample size and selection: e.g., note that while Mbongwana Star and Sleater-Kinney are both +12, the latter has approximately four times the number of data points (critics: 26/7, users: 352/76).

In any case, some of the user scores are so high that the record can't possibly be considered a turkey; e.g., Kendrick Lamar at 88, or even Sleater-Kinney at 78. In fact, I'd argue that Lamar's 94 critic score isn't out of line with a user score of 88, although Sleater-Kinney's drop from 90 to 78 does appear to harbor a problem: I'd argue that critics are very prone to overrating comeback albums (No Cities to Love came out 10 years after The Woods). No secret I'm not a fan of the band, but I'm not being petty in thinking that this particular record is rather overrated. Indeed, I think what we've seen so far in EOY lists shows that the record is underperforming relative to its initial (back in January) reviews: its top ranks so far are { 10, 11, 14, 23, 34, 35 }, although the record does occur on virtually every list I've tallied so far, making it tied for 12th overall. It should finish higher -- the early UK list bias hurts it a little while helping other records which will eventually fade -- but it's unlikely to come in 2nd (behind Lamar) as its critic scores had projected.

Still, no matter how much other people overrate it, I don't consider No Cities to Love anywhere near turkey level. Looking at the EOY Aggregate data, the following strike me as most suspicious (again, with my grades, where known, in brackets; order comes from the aggregate score, not some measure of turkey-ness):

  1. Julia Holter: Have You in My Wilderness [B]
  2. Father John Misty: I Love You, Honeybear [B]
  3. Kurt Vile: B'lieve I'm Goin Down [B]
  4. Unknown Mortal Orchestra: Multi-Love [B-]
  5. Björk: Vulnicura [B-]
  6. Low: Ones and Sixes
  7. Beach House: Depression Cherry [B]
  8. Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress (Constellation) [B-]
  9. Panda Bear: Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper [B]
  10. Bob Dylan: Shadows in the Night [C]
  11. Keith Richards: Crosseyed Heart [B]
  12. Matana Roberts: Coin Coin Chapter Three: River Run Thee [B-]

That doesn't include every B record in the EOY List Aggregate (but it does pick the top few), nor does it include some unlisted but fairly well known records I've run across, but mostly it doesn't include a lot of things I haven't bothered chasing down. (I did include Low, which I've never graded higher than B, and 2 (of 4) times graded lower.) But those dozen records would in my mind make a fair Turkey Day repast.

Of course, crowdsourcing would have added more informed opinions, including some folks who actually get paid for listening to bad music -- and therefore pay more attention, and take more offense, at it than I do. Michael Tatum, for instance, has panned several records that I gave low B+ grades to after a cursory listen, including (first my, then his grades in brackets; I'm using his B- as a threshold here -- he listens deeper and gets more annoyed than I do, therefore grades lower):

  • Blur: The Magic Whip [**, C+]
  • Colleen Green: I Want to Grow Up [B, C+]
  • Tobias Jesso Jr: Goon [**, C]
  • Dawn Richard: Blackheart [B, C]
  • Tame Impala: Currents [*, C+]
  • Viet Cong: Viet Cong [**, C-]

I have very little invested in my grades of these records -- I certainly didn't play them enough to let them get annoying. I omitted Björk [C-] and Beach House [B-] from Tatum's list as I had already picked on them. He also panned some records I haven't listened to:

  • Ryan Adams: Live at Carnegie Hall [D+]
  • Ryan Adams: 1989 [B-]
  • Lou Barlow: Brace the Wave [B-]
  • Iris DeMent: The Trackless Woods [C+]
  • Dr Dre: Compton [C+]
  • Darren Hayman: Chants for Socialists [C+]
  • Lower Dens: Escape From Evil [C+]
  • Muse: Drones [C+]
  • Petite Noir: La Vie Est Belle [C]
  • Joss Stone: Water for Your Soul [C]
  • Neil Young: The Monsanto Years [C+]

I got a couple other lists: Lucas Fagen went straight at the records that are dominating EOY lists:

  • Julia Holter: Have You in My Wilderness
  • Tame Impala: Currents
  • Kurt Vile: Blieve I'm Goin Down
  • Grimes: Art Angels
  • Beach House: Depression Cherry

Jason Gross also picked:

  • Adele: 25
  • Vince Staples: Summertime '06
  • Joanna Newsom: Divers

I rather enjoyed the Grimes [B+(**)] and Staples [B+(***)] albums, but again dealt with them superficially. Each appears on only a single list to date, but are certainly well known and widely regarded artists. I doubt that the Grimes will poll as well as well as her debut, but I liked it better -- more pop, which often rubs critics the wrong way. I figure Staples will do better as US lists come in -- should be one of the top 3-5 US hip-hop albums this year. I'm not convinced it's that good -- I seem to be having a lot of trouble hearing mainstream rap on Rhapsody -- although I know people who are into it.

I haven't heard Adele or Newsom, but the others were mentioned above. Tame Impala is a group I regard as too perfunctory to get worked up about, and I'm even more blasé over Kurt Vile: when I see records like those on EOY lists I wonder how much listening the listsmiths have actually done. Still, my impression is that there are a lot fewer bland-outs and a lot less mopeyness on this year's lists than several years ago. Also the wave of prog shit that seemed overwhelming back in 2009 (Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors) has returned to the margins -- sure, this year we still have Father John Misty, Panda Bear, and UMO, but at a more tolerable level.

Actually, the big thing that happened in 2015 was that a lot of long-departed groups have followed Sleater-Kinney's lead and come back from long hiatuses: my favorite thus far is New Order. I'm not up to reconstructing the list, but I don't doubt that the return of so many older musicians has helped to make this year seem more comforting to old ears like mine.

I also asked for candidates for a Black Friday Special: records that aren't widely known but should be -- at least, records that might appeal to those of you who aren't stuck in one musical rut. My correspondents wrote back:

  • Lucas Fagen:
    • R Master: New Anime Nation, Vol. 10 (Anime)
    • Alaska Thunderfuck: Anus (Sidecar)
    • Wonder Girls: Reboot (JYP Entertainment)
    • Niyaz: The Fourth Light (Six Degrees)
    • RuPaul: Realness (RuCo)
    • Twenty One Pilots: Blurryface (Fueled by Ramen)
  • Jason Gross:
    • Lyrics Born: Real People (Mobile Home)
    • Boytoy: Grackle (Papercup Music)
    • The Fireworks: Switch Me On (Shelflife)
  • Milo Miles:
    • Breakfast in Fur: Flyaway Garden (Bar/None)
    • Tanya Tagaq: Animism (Six Shooter)
    • Milford Graves & Bill Laswell: Space/Time*Redemption (TUM)
    • Kate Tempest: Everybody Down (Big Dada '14)
    • Songhoy Blues: Music in Exile (Transgressive)

Tempest and Tagaq were 2014 releases, although the latter -- an electronica-charged Inuit throat singer whose record was the toast of Canada at 2014 list time but unknown elsewhere -- wrangled a US reissue in 2015, so I'd say give her another shot. I have Tempest and Lyrics Born at A, Graves/Laswell and Songhoy Blues at A-, Tagaq at high B+, and the others on my search list.

I thought about trying to construct some lists from ongoing lists-in-progress, especially from Chris Monsen and Phil Overeem, but I'll leave that to you. You'll also find many A-list obscurities in my in-progress jazz and non-jazz files. Rather, my one last list come from Robert Christgau. The following are 2015 releases he reviewed in Expert Witness, graded A- (or better), and are things that virtually no one else has noticed (at least they're not in my EOY Aggregate file yet; my grades in brackets):

  • Laurie Anderson: Heart of a Dog (Nonesuch) [A-]
  • The Bottle Rockets: South Broadway Athletic Club (Bloodshot) [B+(***)]
  • John Kruth: The Drunken Wind of Life: The Poem/Songs of Tin Ujevic (Smiling Fez) [A-]
  • Amy Lavere and Will Sexton: Hallelujah I'm a Dreamer (Archer) [A-]
  • Jeffrey Lewis & Les Bolts: Manhattan (|Rough Trade) [A-]
  • The Paranoid Style: Rock and Roll Just Can't Recall (Worldwide Battle, EP) [B+(***)]
  • Paris: Pistol Politics (Guerrilla Funk) [A-]
  • Mark Rubin Jew of Oklahoma: Southern Discomfort (Rubinchik)
  • Slutever: Almost Famous (self-released, EP) [B+(**)]
  • Tal National: Zoy Zoy (Fat Cat) [B+(***)]
  • Tinariwen: Live in Paris (Anti-)
  • Donnie Trumpet and the Social Experment: Surf (Free) [A-]

Less than half of those came as total surprises to me (Kruth, Paranoid Style, Paris, Rubin, Slutever -- well, I wasn't aware Anderson, LaVere, Lewis, or Tinariwen had new records but had I been I would have checked them out). I was more than vaguely aware of Trumpet, and had actually reviewed Tal National. Other 2015 A-list records according to Christgau: Sleater-Kinney, Ata Kak, Heems, Lupe Fiasco, Kendrick Lamar, Rae Sremmurd, James McMurtry, Courtney Barnett, Nellie McKay, Young Fathers, Mountain Goats, Miguel, Hop Along, Go! Team, Yo La Tengo, Boz Scaggs, Leonard Cohen, Jamie XX, Shamir, Future, Jason Isbell, Mbongwana Star, Bassekou Kouyaté, Craig Finn, Lost in Mali.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 25829 [25787] rated (+42), 399 [420] unrated (-21).

Total was goosed early in the week by finding some more bookkeeping omissions. A more accurate rated count is probably a bit over 30 (indeed, there are 33 new ratings below, although I haven't double checked to make sure that's right either). I threw away Tuesday cooking, and lost Friday afternoon to a doctor thing. Otherwise I worked pretty hard.

I'm late posting this on Monday because I've dusted off last year's EOY List Aggregate scripts and started to accumulate data for 2015. Thus far I have nine lists counted (see the Legend for a full list and links to the source lists; beware that I have only made the most cursory of corrections to the text there and will have to clean it up later). Seven of the first nine lists are from the UK, and five of those are from record stores (each, by the way, running 100 records deep: Drift, Fopp, Piccadilly, Resident Music, Rough Trade). We also have the two big glossy UK rock mags (Mojo, Uncut), and two more specialized US mags (metal-oriented Decibel and Americana-focused American Songwriter). The very early returns looks like this:

  1. Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom + Pop Music) {27} [A-]
  2. Julia Holter: Have You in My Wilderness (Domino) {27} [B]
  3. Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty) {24} [***]
  4. Father John Misty: I Love You, Honeybear (Sub Pop) {18} [B]
  5. Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope) {17} [A-]
  6. Tame Impala: Currents (Caroline) {15} [*]
  7. Ryley Walker: Primrose Green (Dead Oceans) {15} [**]
  8. Bjork: Vulnicura (One Little Indian) {13} [B-]
  9. Sleaford Mods: Key Markets (Harbinger Sound) {13} [A-]
  10. Kurt Vile: B'lieve I'm Goin Down (Matador) {13}
  11. Low: Ones and Sixes (Sub Pop) {12}
  12. Mbongwana Star: From Kinshasa (World Circuit) {12} [A-]
  13. Sleater-Kinney: No Cities to Love (Sub Pop) {12} [*]
  14. New Order: Music Complete (Mute) {11} [A-]
  15. Kamasi Washington: The Epic (Brainfeeder) {11} [**]
  16. Jamie XX: In Colour (XL/Young Turks) {11} [***]
  17. John Grant: Grey Tickles, Black Pressure (Bella Union/Partisan) {10}
  18. Natalie Prass: Natalie Prass (Sony) {10} [*]
  19. Songhoy Blues: Music in Exile (Atlantic) {10} [A-]
  20. Jason Isbell: Something More Than Free (Southeastern) {9} [*]
  21. LoneLady: Hinterland (Warp) {9} [***]
  22. Jim O'Rourke: Simple Songs (Drag City) {9}
  23. Wilco: Star Wars (dBpm) {9} [***]
  24. Ezra Furman: Perpetual Motion People (Bella Union) {8} [A-]
  25. Public Service Broadcasting: The Race for Space (Test Card) {8}
  26. Thee Oh Sees: Mutilator Defeated at Last (Castle Face) {8}
  27. Algiers: Algiers (Matador) {7}
  28. Beach House: Depression Cherry (Sub Pop) {7} [*]
  29. Deerhunter: Fading Frontier (4AD) {7} [***]
  30. Tobias Jesso Jr: Goon (True Panther Sounds) {7} [**]
  31. Joanna Newsom: Divers (Drag City) {7}
  32. Unknown Mortal Orchestra: Multi-Love (Jagjaguwar) {7}
  33. Matthew E White: Fresh Blood (Domino) {7}
  34. Alabama Shakes: Sound & Color (ATO) {6} [*]
  35. BadBadNotGood/Ghostface Killah: Sour Soul (Lex) {6} [A-]
  36. Blur: The Magic Whip (Parlophone/Warner) {6} [**]
  37. Leon Bridges: Coming Home (Columbia) {6} [*]
  38. Gaz Coombes: Matador (Hot Fruit) {6} [*]
  39. Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress (Constellation) {6} [B-]
  40. Gwenno: Y Dydd Olaf (Heavenly) {6}
  41. Tess Parks & Anton Newcombe: I Declare Nothing (A) {6}
  42. Max Richter: From Sleep (Deutsche Grammophon) {6}
  43. Wolf Alice: My Love Is Cool (Dirty Hit) {6}
  44. Young Fathers: White Men Are Black Men Too (Big Dada) {6} [**]

I've fiddled with the formula a bit this year to provide extra points for higher placement (5 for 1, 4 for 2-5, 3 for 6-10, 2 for 11-20, 1 for > 20), and I figure I'll use that consistently for all top-tier lists (all so far count as such). Holter currently tops 3 lists (Mojo, Piccadilly, Uncut), Stevens 1 (Drift), Bjork 1 (Rough Trade), Public Service Broadcasting 1 (Fopp), Algiers 1 (Resident). The top records from American Songwriter (Chris Stapleton) and Decibel (Horrendous) don't appear on any other lists. Barnett ranks no higher than 3 on any list but appears on 8 of 9, 7 in the top 10, the other 12th. The probable favorite, Kendrick Lamar, also appears on 8 lists, but only twice in the top 10 (2 on Mojo, 2 on Uncut). The list with neither Barnett nor Lamar is Decibel's, which only has two albums that also appear on other lists: Deafheaven (2), Killing Joke (1).

Last year I wound up collecting data from 676 lists. I don't expect to come close to that this year, but still it's safe to say that returns are less than 1% in. Also that some identifiable skews are present -- e.g., Sleaford Mods won't finish ahead of Sleater-Kinney once the US lists take over. I've included my grades in brackets for reference. I'm rather surprised to see this top-40 (actually 44) has 8 records (18.2%) I've rated A- (and only 2 B-, and none lower) -- usually I disagree more, often finding no correlation at all between my grades and other people's lists. I currently have 30 of these 44 albums rated, so 68.2% (which includes some things today that will show up in next week's report).

Rhapsody Streamnotes came out on Wednesday, so some of today's list managed to sneak into that file (like the Ivo Peelmans). I should be closing in on my 2015 prospect list, filling out the last slots in my 2015 jazz and non-jazz lists, but surprisingly two of my A- records this week date from 2012-13: one is the Wreckless Eric/Amy Rigby album that eluded me in the past, but which I found now while looking for Eric's new album; the other is by a Bakersfield CA jazz group with a new record, but I noticed an older one, checked it out, and liked it better. Group name is: Invisible Astro Healing Rhythm Quartet.

New records rated this week:

  • Dan Ballou: Solo Trumpet (2015, Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Peter Brötzmann/Peeter Uuskyla: Red Cloud on Silver (2014 [2015], Omlott, 2LP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Eric Church: Mr. Misunderstood (2015, EMI Nashville): [r]: B+(**)
  • Chvrches: Every Open Eye (2015, Glassnote): [r]: B+(**)
  • Scott Clark 4tet: Bury My Heart (2015, Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Agedoke Steve Colson: Tones for Harriet Tubman/Sojourner Truth/Frederick Douglass (2015, Silver Sphinx, 2CD): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jorrit Dijkstra: Neither Odd nor Even (2014-15 [2015], Driff): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Jorrit Dijkstra/Pandelis Karayorgis/Nate McBride/Curt Newton: Matchbox (2014 [2015], Driff): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Brian Fielding: An Appropriate Response: Volume One (2015 [2016], Broken Symmetries Music)
  • Cee Lo Green: Heart Blanche (2015, Atlantic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Grimes: Art Angels (2015, 4AD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Brian Harnetty: The Star-Faced One: From the Sun Ra/El Saturn Archives (2013, Atavistic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Brian Harnetty: Rawhead & Bloodybones (2015, Dust-to-Digital): [r]: B+(**)
  • Invisible Astro Healing Rhythm Quartet: Invisible Astro Healing Rhythm Quartet (2012 [2013], Epigraph): [bc]: A-
  • Invisible Astro Healing Rhythm Quartet: 2 (2014 [2015], Trouble in Mind): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jeff Jenkins Organization: The Arrival (2014 [2015], OA2): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Martin Leiton: Poetry of Sound (2014 [2015], UnderPool): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Daniel Levin/Mat Maneri: The Transcendent Function (2015, Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Nicki Parrott: Sentimental Journey (2015, Venus): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ivo Perelman/Mat Maneri/Tanya Kalmanovitch: Villa Lobos Suite (2015, Leo): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: Complementary Colors (2015, Leo): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Whit Dickey: Butterfly Whispers (2015, Leo): [cd]: A-
  • Powertrio: Di Lontan (2015, Clean Feed): [cd]: B
  • Nate Wooley Quintet: (Dance to) the Early Music (2015, Clean Feed): [cd]: A-

Old music rated this week:

  • Tony Fruscella: Tony Fruscella (1955, Atlantic): [r]: B+(***)-
  • Erroll Garner: Body & Soul (1951-52 [1991], Columbia): [r]: B+(***)
  • Erroll Garner: The Erroll Garner Collection, Vol. 2: Dancing on the Ceiling (1961-65 [1989], Emarcy): [r]: B+(***)
  • Last Exit: Last Exit (1986, Enemy): [r]: A-
  • Last Exit: Köln (1988 [2005], Atavistic): [r]: B+(***)
  • Last Exit: The Noise of Trouble: Live in Tokyo (1986, Enemy): [r]: B+(**)
  • Brew Moore: The Brew Moore Quintet (1955, Fantasy): [r]: B+(**)
  • Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby: Two-Way Family Favourites (2010, Southern Domestic): [r]: B
  • Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby: A Working Museum (2012, Southern Domestic): [r]: A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • The 3.5.7 Ensemble: Amongst the Smokestacks and Steeples (Milk Factory Productions): January 1
  • Jason Kao Hwang: Voice (Innova): January 29
  • Danny Mixon: Pass It On (self-released)
  • Sonny Sharrock: Ask the Ages (1991, MOD Technologies)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Weekend Roundup

Much blather this week about the existential threat posed to the United States by the prospect of allowing 10,000 Syrian refugees to resettle here. Some demagogues like Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush insisted that we only allow Syrian Christians to enter (7.8% in 1960, the last Syrian census to bother to count sectarian identity, although a 2006 estimate bumps this up to 10%). Others insisted on a vetting process to weed out terrorist infiltrators, evidently unaware that a rather onerous one already exists. Dozens of Republican governors, including our own Sam Brownback (who recently displaced Bobby Jindal as the least popular sitting governor in the US), issued executive orders to help stanch the deluge of Syrian/Arab/Muslim immigrants. Donald Trump not only opposed all immigration, but went further to entertain the idea of a federal registry of Muslims in America. He finally received some backlash for that (rather casual) statement, but it appeals to a base distinguished only by the depths of their ignorance. I'm seeing reports that "only 49% of GOP voters in Iowa think that the religion of Islam should even be legal."

Reading Wikipedia's piece on Islam in the United States would help alleviate this ignorance. You will find, for instance, that about 1% of the American population is Muslim (2.77 million). Also, Muslims are immigrating to the US at a rate of about 110,000 per year. So 10,000 extra Syrians represents less than 10% of the current immigration rate, about 0.36% of the total Muslim population (1 in 277). If everyone shut up and just let this happen, no one would ever notice anything. The problem, though, is that by making a big stink about it, you're not just barring 10,000 Syrians, you're sending a message of hate and fear to 2.77 million Americans. How does that help?

About one-fourth of the Muslims in America are African-Americans, notably political leaders (including two members of Congress) and many prominent athletes and musicians. Most others are first or second generation immigrants, but some date back to immigrants from the 1880-1910 era, and some can trace their families back to the colonial era. The piece has numerous examples, plus a section on "Religious freedom" that shows that Americans were aware of Islam when they declared freedom of religion in the US Constitution.

One minor point I wasn't aware of is that the first country to recognize the United States as an independent country was the Sultanate of Morocco. It's worth adding that the US had generally good relationships in the Arab world up through WWII. In the first world war, Woodrow Wilson had refused to join Britain and France in declaring war on the Ottoman Empire, and he later declined an Anglo-French proposal that the US occupy Turkey when they were divvying up the spoils of war. Before then, the US was primarily known for its missionary schools like the American Universities in Beirut and Cairo. (The Presbyterians who founded those schools restricted their missionary work to Christians so as not to offend Muslim authorities, but welcomed Muslims to study and respected them, allowing the Universities to develop as intellectual centers of liberal, nationalist, and anti-colonial thinking.) Arab/Muslim respect for America only eroded after the US sided with Israel's colonialist project and replaced Britain as the protector of the aristocracies that claim personal ownership of the region's oil wealth.

US good will in the Arab world was built on a reputation for fairness and mutual respect, but has since been squandered in an anachronistic, foolhardy attempt to grab the spoils of empire. In some sense, we've gone full circle. The first significant number of Muslims to appear in colonial America were brought here from Africa, and they proved to be especially difficult to manage as slaves. Islam was then and now a religion that stood for justice and fought back against injustice. It should not be surprising that today's right-wing sees imposing Christianity on Muslims as key to ending their disobedience, as that was precisely what their forebears the slaveholders had done. After all, the prime directive of conservatism is to defend hierarchy by forcing everyone into their "proper" place. Of course, that was easier to do before conservative institutions like slavery and the inquisition were discredited, but the more we live in a world where people with money think they can buy anything, the more we see even the hoariest fantasies of conservatism come back to haunt us.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Richard Silverstein: Why "Reform" Islam?: This is mostly a response to a NY Times piece, Tim Arango: Experts Explain How Global Powers Can Smash ISIS. (If I may interject, my own response is that the piece shows how low the bar is to qualify as an "expert" on this subject.) Arango writes:

    Talking to a diverse group of experts, officials, religious scholars and former jihadis makes clear there is no consensus on a simple strategy to defeat the Islamic State. But there are some themes -- like . . . pushing a broader reformation of Islam -- that a range of people who follow the group say must be part of a solution.

    Some of those "experts" go further in insisting that terrorism is so intimately tied to Islam that only by "reforming" the latter can it be purged of such instincts. Silverstein replies:

    But even if we concede for argument's sake that there is some correlation, no matter how tenuous, why do we blame an entire religion? Why do we blame an entire sacred book when a tiny minority of a religion misinterpret it? Why do we say the religion is at fault rather than the human beings who betray or distort it?

    Baruch Goldstein was a mass murderer who killed 29 Palestinian Muslim worshippers at a religious shrine. He did this in the name of his twisted form of Judaism (which I prefer to call settler Judaism to distinguish it from normative Judaism). Did I hear Tim Arango or anyone else wring their hands about the correlation between Torah and mass murder? Even if I did, should I have?

    There is nothing wrong with Torah. Just because Jews misread their sacred text, must I blame the text itself?

    The problems here are so ridiculous it's hard to enumerate them. One, of course, is scale: there are over a billion Muslims in the world today, and hardly any of them present a "terrorist" threat, so why try to discredit the majority's religion? And who are we to decide to reform what they believe? Religions are changed by prophets, not by academics or politicians, and for lots of reasons it's ever getting harder to do that. Established religions like Christianity are certain non-starters, as they've already been rejected. Doubt is easier than replacement, so maybe atheism, secular humanism, or Marxism might make a dent, especially if one attempted to apply such "reform" here as well as there -- but even the Soviets weren't very effective at banishing old religions. So why even talk about such impractical nonsense?

    Well, it's mostly transference: our way of saying that they're the problem. The facts rather argue differently. At the simplest level, you can compare the frequency and size of acts of violence by Muslims that occur in Europe and the US -- what we like to call "terrorism" -- with the same measure of acts of violence by the US and Europe in the Muslim world, and you'll find that there are far more of the latter than the former. Also, if you put them on a timeline, you'll find that the latter predate the former (at least for any time after the early 8th century). Maybe the religions or the ideologies of the west are the ones that should be reformed? A more promising route might be to find a sense of justice that is acceptable to both (or all) religions, and build on that. But the key to doing so isn't dominating the other into submission. It is looking into oneself to find something that might work as common ground. Unfortunately, you don't get to be an "expert" on ISIS by understanding that.

    Also see another of Silverstein's pieces: "Remember the Stranger, for You Yourselves Were Strangers:

    This could just as well be the motto of the United States as one of the cardinal verses in the Torah. It should be stamped on Bibi Netanyahu's forehead since he violates this precept virtually every day that he maintains prison camps for African refugees, who he refuses to grant asylum or even an application process. For those who take the passage to heart, it means be humble, remember the refugee, show kindness and hospitality to the less fortunate. The Republican presidential candidates apparently don't read their Bibles. Or if they do, they're reading the wrong passages.

    The GOP is now making hay out of the Paris terror attacks. Each candidate falls all over himself to be more punitive, more intolerant than the next. 23 governors, including one Democrat, have said they will refuse to accept Syrian refugees within their states. This, despite the fact that governors have no say in immigration matters and may not expel legal refugees. That's the job of the federal government. But don't tell the governors that. It might educate them about the separate powers delegated to the states and federal government. A little something called the Constitution.

    Another historical fact worth mentioning: in 1938, 937 European Jews boarded the S.S. St. Louis en route to America where they hoped to find refuge from Hitler's encroaching hordes. They waited for months in Cuba and other sites while their supporters sought a safe haven in this country. At long last, they gave up and sailed back to Europe. Where 250 of them were swallowed in the Holocaust and exterminated along with 6-million other European Jews.

    There is a catastrophe enveloping Syria in which nearly 200,000 civilians have died. 500,000 Syrians have fled toward Europe and any other safe harbor they might find. These are not terrorists, not ISIS, though most are Muslim. There is nothing criminal in being either Syrian, a Muslim or a refugee. Despite what viewers saw on this FoxNews panel which quoted approvingly Winston Churchill's bit of colonial Islamophobia: "Islam is as dangerous in a man as rabies in a dog." It would take FoxNews to dredge up 19th century British religious-cultural imperialism, spoken by the leader who epitomized empire in all its worst forms.

  • Yousef Munayyer: There Is Only One Way to Destroy ISIS: This says pretty much what I said last week, except that I didn't feel the need to cast the optimal outcome as the destruction of ISIS. I think it's clear that ISIS will adapt to conditions, so I'd say that the thing to do is to change the conditions to render ISIS much less malign. Munayyer is aiming at the same result, but he's pitching it to people who assume that destroying ISIS is a necessity, but who are flexible and sensible enough to comprehend that just going into ISIS territory and killing (or as we like to call it, liberating) everyone won't do the trick (even if it is possible, which isn't at all clear). Munayyer draws the picture this way:

    I've found that the best way to think about comprehensive counter-terror strategy is the boiling-pot analogy. Imagine that you're presented with a large pot of scalding water and your task is to prevent any bubbles from reaching the surface. You could attack each bubble on its way up. You could spot a bubble at the bottom of the pot and disrupt it before it has a chance to rise. Many bubbles might be eliminated in this way, but sooner or later, bubbles are going to get to the surface, especially as the temperature rises and your counter-bubble capabilities are overwhelmed.

    The other pathway is to turn down, or off, the flame beneath the pot -- to address the conditions that help generate terrorism. When it comes to the question of ISIS in particular and broader terrorism in general, Western counter-terror strategy has focused on the bubbles and not the flame. While significant resources have been invested in intelligence and homeland security, too few have been invested in resolving the conditions that generate terrorism. In fact, too often, the West has contributed significantly to those conditions.

    Munayyer blames the US for invading Iraq, but while key leadership of ISIS came from the anti-American resistance in Iraq, the context which allowed them to claim statehood was the civil war in Syria. End that civil war and ISIS can no longer claim statehood and caliphate. That still leaves the concept, and we've seen that the concept can inspire guerrilla groups and lone wolves elsewhere, but concepts are a poor substitute for reality. Ending that civil war is no easy task, partly because every belligerent group believes they can ultimately impose their will by force -- a fantasy fueled by foreign support -- and partly because every group fears that the others will treat it unjustly. To turn the heat down, you have to phase out the foreign interests, convince each group that its cause is futile, and get each group to accept a set of strictures that will ensure fair and equal treatment for all. ISIS might well be the last group to join into a peace agreement, and it may take force to get the leaders of ISIS to see that their war is futile, but the vow to destroy them is premature: a peace which includes them is much sounder than the perpetual war you get from excluding them or the stench of martyrdom that remains even if you manage to kill them all. Moreover, as you reduce the heat, the popular support that the leaders depend on will fade away.

    After Paris, no one wants to speak about ISIS in terms other than its unconditional destruction, yet when they do so, they reveal how little they understand ISIS, and how little they know about themselves. France and Britain still like to think of their recent empires as some sort of blessing to mankind, but their actual history is full of contempt, repression, racism, and bloody violence. The former colonial master of Syria was no arbitrary target for ISIS, a point which was underscored by how quickly Hollande was able to reciprocate by bombing Raqqa. Similarly, New York and Washington were not picked for 9/11 because they would look good on TV. The US was cited for specific offenses against the Muslim world, and Bush wasted no time proving America's culpability by doing exactly what Bin Laden wanted: by sending his army in to slaughter Muslims in foreign lands, starting with Afghanistan. Bush did that because was locked into an imperial mindset, believing that America's power was so great he could force any result he wanted, and that America's virtue was so unquestioned that he never needed to give a thought to why or how. And Hollande, ostensibly a man of the left, proved the same. (Indeed, so does Bernie Sanders -- see the link below -- even though he's neither as careless nor as cocky as Bush.)

  • Protester gets punched at Trump rally. Trump: "Maybe he deserved to get roughed up": Billmon has been obsessed this week with Trump-as-Fascist analogies (see his Twitter feed), but this is one story that brings the point home. The thing that distinguished Mussolini and Hitler was not that they held conservative views but that they were so bloody minded about it: they were bullies, eager to fight, anxious to draw blood, and they started with beating up bystanders who looked at them funny. They celebrated such violence, and the more power they grabbed the more they flaunted it. Trump may not be in their league, but he's doing something more than merely condoning this "roughing up" -- he's feeding his crowd's frenzy of hate. I thought Jim Geraghty was onto something when he described Bush's supporters as "voting to kill." Trump's fans are basically the same folks, but now he's offering them something more visceral.

Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted; i.e., I don't have time for this shit right now):

  • David Atkins: White Resentment of Welfare Is More Than Just About Racism Now: Builds on a NY Times piece on Kentucky, Alec MacGillis: Who Turned My Blue State Red?, noting that Republican voters are as harsh and unforgiving of the white poor as they are of blacks, etc. I can think of anecdotal evidence that confirms this, and it revolves around shame: the belief that we are each personally responsible for our success and failure. Part of the trick is to get the "failures" to blame themselves and drop out of the political process -- the only way poorer states vote red is when poor people give up on voting their own interest. And part of it is that marginally successful people think they're immune from failure thanks to their superior characters.

  • Benjamin Balthaser: Jews Without Money: Toward a Class Politics of Anti-Zionism: Starts by noting the class divide between the rich patrons of the Jewish National Fund and the middle class Jewish Voice for Peace protesters outside. I figured he would expand on this by noting how often rich Jews have supported Zionism almost as a way of shuttling their poor brethren from Russia to Israel -- Lord Balfour, after all, addressed his Declaration to Baron von Rothschild, the richest Jew of his time and the one he most wanted to ingratiate himself with. Instead, Balthaser goes off in other directions, all interesting.

  • Tom Boggioni: Ex-CIA director: White House ignored months of warnings about 9/11 to avoid leaving 'paper trail' of culpability: Some of these stories are familiar, although Tenet used to be more dedicated to sucking up to Bush, whose indifference to Al-Qaeda before 9/11 was exceeded only by his demagogic opportunism after.

  • Daniel Marans: How Wall Street's Short-Term Fixation Is Destroying the Economy: The business management motto at the root of short-termism is "make your quarters, and you'll make your year." Of course in the real world businesses stumble from time to time, so managers have learned to adjust, packing the quarters they blow with all the losses they've been hiding to make it easier to make new quarters, the year be damned. Marans notes that corporate reinvestment of profits averaged 48% from 1952-84 but dropped to 22% from 1985-2013. The obvious reason is that high pre-Reagan taxes favored reinvesting profits, whereas low taxes made it less painful to extract those profits and put them elsewhere -- indeed set up a dynamic of owners devouring their companies (a practice which vulture capitalists soon perfected). There are a couple more epicycles to this diagram: tying CEO compensation to the stock market helped to ween top management from the workforce and turn them into stock manipulators, opening up all sorts of opportunities for insider trading scams. This, in turn, makes the stock market more volatile, an opportunity for quick traders to trample over ordinary investors, reducing the quantum of short-term thinking from the quarter to weeks, days, minutes.

  • Ben Railton: For More Than 200 Years, America Has Shunned a 'War on Islam': Looks like Railton has read the Wikipedia article I opened with, although he adds a little more on the Barbary Wars (which gave the Marines that "shores of Tripoli" stanza). Along similar lines, see John Nichols: Muslims Have Been Living in America Since Before the Revolutionary War.

  • Rich Yeselson: The Decline of Labor, the Increase of Inequality: Useful, informative piece on the decline of labor unions in recent decades.

  • Senator Bernie Sanders on Democratic Socialism in the United States: Fairly major speech by Sanders attempting to establish a "democratic socialism" brand name that is so modest and reasonable it's as American as apple pie. I haven't read this closely: if I did, I'd probably find much to second guess (and some things to outright oppose, minimally including much of the end section on ISIS). On the other hand, as I get older and more modest in my ambitions, I find myself gravitating more toward Keynes than Marx, and more to FDR's "second bill of rights" than more radical manifestos, and those are things that are central to this speech.

    By the way, I backed into this link from Mike Konczal: Thoughts on Bernie Sanders's Democratic Socialism and the Primary. Also note that one thing Konczal cites is a new book by Joseph Stiglitz: Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy: An Agenda for Growth and Shared Prosperity (he mentions hardcover and Kindle, but a paperback is also available) -- a book I intend to pick up ASAP. He also mentions Lane Kenworthy's Social Democratic America, which makes the case for increasing government spending up toward Scandinavian levels -- an argument I have some sympathy for, but I wouldn't neglect the smarter rules Stiglitz (and others like Dean Baker) argue for, and I can think of some times the Scandinavians haven't managed to do yet. (Kenworthy also has an outline and parts of a future book, The Good Society, here.) Konczal doesn't mention this, but there is at least one more "vision of left-liberalism": see the pro-union books of Thomas Geoghegan: Were You Born on the Wrong Continent? How the European Model Can Help You Get a Life and Only One Thing Can Save Us: Why America Needs a New Kind of Labor Movement.

  • Finally, several pieces to file under "Americans Acting Like Jerks":

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Rhapsody Streamnotes (November 2015)

Pick up text here.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 25787 [25726] rated (+61), 420 [439] unrated (-19).

Several reasons for the huge rated bump this week: one is that I procrastinated in cataloguing the incoming so the week ended Monday afternoon instead of my usual Sunday evening (which also means I've included Monday's mail in the unpacking); I knocked off almost all of the records listed below in a single play (which actually includes the week's two A- picks); about 20 of the records were streamed -- less than half, but they tend to go quick; finally, I noticed a record ungraded in the database that I was pretty sure I had heard, so I made a quick check of all the ungraded post-2000 jazz and that bumped the rated count up from 47 to 61.

I'd guess that probably close to ten records got a second play: Bathysphere, John Dikeman, Giovanni Di Domenico, Ingrid Laubrock, at least one of the Martin Küchens, Jack Mouse, Statik Selektah, both old and posthumous Sun Ra, John Carter (even though it's 2CD), Thank Your Lucky Stars. Still, the only one that came close to an A- was the Beach House, but I didn't feel like spending the extra time, especially after Depression Cherry (and Bloom and Teen Dream) had left so little mark.

The Arab rap anthology (Khat Thaleth) was recommended by Bob Christgau just in time for the massive outpouring of anti-Arab vitriol that followed the terror attacks in Paris (and Beirut, but who's counting?). Even without downloading the trots, it's pretty obvious that these Arabs are not those Arabs. It comes as a unique item, although it probably isn't.

The Errol Garner reissue raises the question of redundancy, as you get two takes of the concert: one complete spread out on 2CD, the other as originally edited (plus one of those interviews that are interesting the first time around but unnecessary after that). Still, I had the old 1987 CD reissue at A-, and most of the cuts that the complete edition adds are every bit as good. Also, I'm relieved to point out that the whole 3CD package only costs $12.89 (at Amazon, although if you want vinyl the price jumps to $39.36). By the way, the original CD is still in print, down at $4.99. One downside is that the CD package is irregularly sized, so most likely it won't fit on your shelf.

I should also note that I was a little surprised to look back in my database and not find any other A- albums by Garner. In fact there are only three other entries: two B (Long Ago and Far Away and The Original Misty), one B+ (Easy to Love [The Erroll Garner Collection Vol. 1]). But Penguin Guide also only credits Garner with one 4-star album, no surprise given their predilection for solo piano: Solo Time! [The Erroll Garner Collection Vols. 4/5] (although they tabbed Concert by the Sea, with 3.5 stars, as a "core collection" album). Seems like there should be more because was such a distinctive stylist.

I had a few more things I wanted to write about this week. Let me just briefly mention one: Tim Niland's book, Music and More: Selected Blog Posts 2003-2015. My copy arrived and it looks terrific (although the perfect binding has developed a small bubble). Tons of reviews, an ongoing chronicle of twelve of the most productive years in jazz history. I do have a couple of quibbles: there is no table of contents or index, so it's going to be hard to find any particular review; for that matter, it doesn't even have page numbers, which should have been pretty easy to set up. I imagine the search function will help out here with the Kindle edition, if you're into that platform. Still, I'm very pleased to own a print copy. I'm adding the book cover to my book roll.

I also wanted to note that I've been working on my soon-to-be-obsolete Music Tracking File. I finally implemented the genre switches, and I've been scraping more sources for data: at this point I've added virtually every 2015 jazz record reviewed by Free Jazz Collective, and I've worked my way back to August in All About Jazz, resulting in a list of 1044 jazz releases this year (I've reviewed or at least own 540 of them). My coverage of other genres is much spottier, but currently adds up to 2748 records. The list will eventually give way to an EOY aggregate list, but meanwhile helps me sort out what I need (or would like to) listen to.

New records rated this week:

  • The 14 Jazz Orchestra: Nothing Hard Is Ever Easy (2015 [2016], self-released): [cd]: B
  • Bathysphere: Bathysphere (2015, Driff): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Beach House: Depression Cherry (2015, Sub Pop): [r]: B+(*)
  • Beach House: Thank Your Lucky Stars (2015, Sub Pop): [r]: B+(***)
  • Beach Slang: The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us (2015, Polyvinyl): [r]: B
  • Tony Bennett & Bill Charlap: The Silver Lining: The Songs of Jerome Kern (Columbia): [r]: B+(*)
  • Randy Bernsen: Grace Notes (2015, Jericho Jams): [cd]: B
  • Bizingas: Eggs Up High (2015, NCM East): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Björk: Vulnicura (2015, One Little Indian): [r]: B-
  • Bobby Bradford-Frode Gjerstad Quartet: The Delaware River (2014 [2015], NoBusiness): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Leon Bridges: Coming Home (2015, Columbia): [r]: B+(*)
  • Dani Comas: Epokhé (2014 [2015], UnderPool): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Guy Davis: Kokomo Kidd (2015, M.C.): [r]: B+(*)
  • Giovanni Di Domenico/Peter Jacquemyn/Chris Corsano: A Little Off the Top (2013 [2015], NoBusiness): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • John Dikeman/William Parker/Hamid Drake: Live at La Resistenza (2014 [2015], El Negocito): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Carlos Falanga: Gran Coral (2014 [2015], UnderPool): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Amina Figarova: Blue Whisper (2015, In + Out): [cd]: B
  • Clare Fischer: Out of the Blue (2015, Clavo): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Tigran Hamasyan: Luys I Luso (2014 [2015], ECM): [dl]: B-
  • Aaron Irwin Quartet: A Room Forever (2015, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Khat Thaleth [Third Line]: Initiative for the Elevation of Public Awareness (2013, Stronghold Sound): [r]: A-
  • Martin Küchen/Johan Berthling/Steve Noble: Night in Europe (2014 [2015], NoBusiness): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Martin Küchen/Jon Rune Strřm/Tollef Řstvang: Melted Snow (2014 [2015], NoBusiness): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Nancy Lane: Let Me Love You (2015, self-released): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Adam Larson: Selective Amnesia (2015, Inner Circle Music): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Ingrid Laubrock: Ubatuba (2014 [2015], Firehouse 12): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Daniel Levin/Rob Brown: Divergent Paths (2012 [2015], Cipsela): [cd]: B+(*)
  • John Lindberg/Anil Eraslan: Juggling Kukla (2011 [2015], NoBusiness): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Luis Lopes/Jean-Luc Guionnet: Live at Culturgest (2011 [2015], Clean Feed): [r]: B-
  • Roy McGrath Quartet: Martha (2014 [2015], JL Music): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Kristine Mills: Bossa Too (2015, InkWell Publishing): [cd]: B
  • Jack Mouse & Scott Robinson with Janice Borla: Three Story Sandbox (2015 [2016], Tall Grass): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Roots Manuva: Bleeds (2015, Big Dada): [r]: B
  • Herb Silverstein: Younger Next Year (2015, self-released): [cd]: B
  • Spanglish Fly: New York Boogaloo (2015, Caco World Music): [r]: B+(*)
  • Chris Stapleton: Traveller (2015, Mercury Nashville): [r]: B+(*)
  • Statik Selektah: Lucky 7 (2015, Showoff/Duck Down Music): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ike Sturm + Evergreen: Shelter of Trees (2014 [2015], Kilde): [cd]: B-
  • Sun Ra Arkestra Under the Direction of Marshall Allen: Babylon Live (2014 [2015], In+Out): [r]: B+(**)
  • Survival Unit III: Game Theory (2010 [2013], Not Two): [r]: B+(**)
  • Survival Unit III: Straylight (2014 [2015], Pink Palace): [bc]: B+(***)
  • U.S. Girls: Half Free (2015, 4AD): [r]: B
  • Manuel Valera & Groove Square: Urban Landscape (2015, Destiny): B+(**)
  • Doug Webb: Triple Play (2014 [2015], Posi-Tone): [r]: B-

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

  • John Carter: Echoes From Rudolph's (1976-77 [2015], NoBusiness, 2CD): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Hamid Drake/Michael Zerang: For Ed Blackwell (1995 [2015], Pink Palace): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Free Jazz Group Wiesbaden: Frictions/Frictions Now (1969-71 [2015], NoBusiness): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Erroll Garner: The Complete Concert by the Sea (1955 [2015], Columbia/Legacy, 3CD): [cd]: A-
  • Sun Ra: The Magic City (1965 [2015], Enterplanetary Koncepts): [r]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • Guy Davis: Juba Dance (2013, M.C.): [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Juhani Aaltonen & Iro Haarla: Kirkastus (TUM)
  • Tom Collier: Across the Bridge (Origin): November 20
  • Bram De Looze: Septych (Clean Feed)
  • Kaja Draksler/Susana Santos Silva: This Love (Clean Feed)
  • Erik Friedlander: Oscalypso: Tribute to Oscar Pettiford (Skipstone)
  • David Friesen & Glen Moore: Bactrian (Origin): November 20
  • Jacob Garchik: Ye Olde (Yestereve)
  • Miho Hazama: Time River (Sunnyside)
  • Heroes Are Gang Leaders: The Avant Age Garde I AMs of the Gal Luxury (Flat Langton's Arkeyes)
  • Florian Hoefner: Luminosity (Origin): advance, January 15
  • Will Holshouser/Matt Munisteri/Marcus Rojas: Introducing Musette Explosion (Aviary)
  • Per Texas Johansson: De Lĺnga Rulltrapporna I Flemingsberg (Moserobie)
  • George Lewis: The George Lewis Solo Trombone Album (1976, Delmark/Sackville)
  • Luis Lopes/Jean-Luc Guionnet: Live at Culturgest (Clean Feed)
  • Mundell Lowe/Lloyd Wells/Jim Ferguson: Poor Butterfly (Two Helpins' of Collards)
  • Tobias Meinhart: Natural Perception (Enja/Yellowbird)
  • Charles Rumback: In the New Year (Ears & Eyes): December 4
  • Richard Sears Trio: Skyline (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Wadada Leo Smith & John Lindberg: Celestial Weather (TUM)
  • Mike Sopko/Bill Laswell/Thomas Pridgen: Sopko Laswell Pridgen (self-released)
  • Svenska Kaputt: Suomi (Moserobie)
  • Curt Sydnor: Materials and Their Destiny (Ears & Eyes)
  • The People Having a Meeting (Black & Grey/Fast Speaking Music)
  • Torbjörn Zetterberg & Den Stora Frĺgan: Om Liv Död (Moserobie)


  • Laurie Anderson: Heart of a Dog (Nonesuch)
  • Blackalicious: Imani, Vol. 1 (OGM)
  • Lyrics Born: Real People (Mobile Home)
  • James McMurtry: Complicated Game (Complicated Game)
  • Paris: Pistol Politics (Guerrilla Funk, 2CD)
  • Sleaford Mods: Key Markets (Harbinger Sound)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Weekend Roundup

It's been a good week for warmongering anti-Islamist bigots, what with the Kurdish "liberation" of ISIS-held Sinjar, the ISIS-blamed bombing of a Russian airliner, the drone-murder of reality TV star "Jihadi John," and ISIS-linked murderous assault in Paris on the innocent fans of a band called Eagles of Death Metal. Ann Coulter was so thrilled she tweeted that America just elected Donald Trump as its next president. Shell-shocked post-Benghazi! Democrats were quick to denounce it all as terrorism, using the precise words of the Republican thought police. Someone even proposed changing the Freedom Fries to "French Fries" in solidarity. French president François Hollande declared that the Paris attacks meant war, momentarily forgetting that he had already started the same war when France joined the anti-ISIS bombing party in Syria. He and other decried this "attack on western civilization." Gandhi could not be reached, but he's probably sticking to his line that western civilization would be a good idea.

I'll return to this subject below, but the main point to make up here is that this is above all a time to keep your cool. In fact, take a couple steps back and try to recover some of the cool we've lost ever since demonizing ISIS became so ubiquitous nobody gives it a second thought. I have no wish to defend them, but I will point out that what they're accused of is stuff that virtually all armies have done throughout history. Also that they exist because governments in Damascus and Baghdad became so violently oppressive that millions of people (who in normal times want peace and prosperity as much as everyone else does) became so desperate as to see them as the lesser evil. No doubt ISIS can be brutal to those under their thumb, but ISIS could not exist without some substantial measure of public support, and that means two things: one is that to kill off ISIS you'd have to kill an awful lot of people, revealing yourself to be an even more brutal monster; the other is that you can't end this by simply restoring the old Damascus and Baghdad powers, because they will inevitably revert to type. Yet who on the US political spectrum has a plan to do anything different?

Before this flare up I had something more important I wanted to write about: inequality. Admittedly, war is more urgent: it has a way of immediately crowding out all other problems. But the solution is also much simpler: just don't do it. All you need to know about war has been said many times, notably by people like A.J. Muste and David Dellinger. It might be argued that inequality is the root of war, or conversely that equitable societies would never have any reason to wage war. The ancient justification for war was always loot. And while we've managed to think of higher, more abstract and idealized concepts for justifying war, there's still an awful lot of looting going on. In America, we call that business.

The piece I've been thinking about is a Bloomberg editorial that appeared in the Wichita Eagle: Ramesh Ponnuru: Is income inequality a big deal? He starts:

We conservatives tend to get less worked up about economic inequality than liberals do, and I think we're right about that.

We should want most people, and especially poor people, to be able to get ahead in absolute terms. We should want to live in a society with a reasonable degree of mobility rather than one where people are born into relative economic positions they can never leave.

But so long as those conditions are met, the ratio of the incomes of the top 1 percent to the median worker should be fairly low on our list of concerns; and if those conditions aren't met, we should worry about our failure to meet them rather than their effects on inequality.

If you take "worked up" in the sense of bothered, sure, but if you mean concerned, his disclaimer is less true. The bare fact is that virtually every principle and proposal conservatives hold dear is designed to increase inequality. Cutting taxes allows the rich to keep more income and concentrate wealth, lifting them up further. Cutting food stamps and other "entitlements" pushes the poor down, also increasing inequality. Maybe desperation will nudge some people off welfare into low wage jobs, further depressing the labor market and allowing savvy businessmen to reap more profits. Of course, making it harder for workers to join unions works both ways -- lower wages, higher profits -- and conservatives are in the forefront there. They're also in favor of deregulating business -- never deny the private sector an opportunity to reap greater profits from little things like pollution or fraud. They back "free trade" agreements, designed mostly to protect patent (property) owners and let businesses expand into more profitable markets overseas, at the minor cost of outsourcing American jobs -- actually a double plus as that outsourcing depresses the labor market, meaning lower wages and higher profits. Sandbagging public education advantages those who can afford private schools. Saddling working class upstarts with college debt helps keep the children of the rich ahead. And the list goes on and on. Maybe you can come up with some conservative hot list items that don't drop straight to the bottom line (abortion? guns? drug prohibition? gambling? war? -- one could argue that all of those hurt the working class more than the rich, but I doubt that's really the point). Still, you won't find any conservative proposals to counter inequality.

From time immemorial the very purpose of conservatism has been to defend the rulers against the masses. From time to time that's required some adjustments to conservative thinking: in America at least, cons no longer defend the prerogatives of kings and titled aristocracy (not that they have any problems with the Saudis or Hashemites, or nearly any tin-pot dictator who lets their companies profit); and they've given up on slavery (and the most overt expressions of racism), but still can't stand the idea of unions, and they never have trusted democracy. For a while they liked the idea that America offered a chance for equal opportunity (without guaranteeing equal results), an idea Ponnuru is still fond of, not that he'd actually cross any of his betters by suggesting we do something about it. For one thing they'd probably point out that equal opportunity is how we wound up with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, whereas the worst you'd have to put up with in a closed oligarchy is someone like Jeb Bush (or, pick your poison, Donald Trump).

Ponnuru refers to an article by George Packer: The Republican Class War, probably because the article starts off a "reformocon" conference organized by Ponnuru's wife April (high among the Republican Party's "family values" is nepotism). The reformocons have a book full of policy proposals that allegedly help the middle if not the lower class, but none of the things Packer mentions looks promising. Ponnuru cites a study on opportunity mentioned by Packer then dismisses it with another study on something else. He continues:

When he moved to macroeconomics, Packer was on even shakier ground: "Inequality saps the economy by draining the buying power of Americans whose incomes have stagnated, forcing them to rely on debt to fund education, housing, and health care. At the top, it creates deep pools of wealth that have nowhere productive to go, leading to asset bubbles in capital markets bearing little or no relation to the health of the overall economy. (Critics call this the "financialization" of the economy.) These fallouts from inequality were among the causes of the Great Recession."

Saying that "inequality" has caused income stagnation is question-begging. If most Americans are experiencing stagnant incomes, that would cause difficulties regardless of how the top 1 percent is doing. In the 1980s and 1990s, though, income growth for most people coincided with rising inequality. And the theory that inequality leads to financial crises has a weak evidentiary basis.

Uh, 1907? 1929? 2008? That's a pretty strong series. Maybe some lesser recessions don't correlate so well: 1979-81 was induced by the Fed's anti-inflation hysteria, so the recovery was unusual as well. Income stagnation also started with the early 1980s recession, as did the first major tax cuts for the rich, although even larger sources of inequality that decade were trade deficits (resulting in a major sell-off of assets to foreign investors) and real estate fraud (bankrupting the S&L industry, resulting in a recession). In the 1990s the main sources of inequality were the massive bid-up of the stock market and a loosening of bank regulations, and they too led to a recession in 2001. The labor market did tigheten up enough in the late 1990s for real wages to rise a bit, but that was wiped out in the following recession, and the "Bush recovery" was the worst to date at generating new jobs, as it was fueled almost exclusively by debt and fraud.

Packer finally splits from the reformocons, and Ponnuru's reaction is basically a hand wave.

"The reformocons, for all their creativity and eloquence, don't grasp the nature of the world in which their cherished middle-class Americans actually live," Packer said. "They can't face its heartlessness."

I don't mean to sound heartless myself when I say that no sensible policy agenda is going to protect all towns and industries from the effects of global competition and technological change. But most members of the vast American middle class aren't looking for work in the steel mills or wishing they could be.

Ponnuru may not relish it, but being heartless is part of what it takes to be a conservative these days. So is being a devious little prevaricator. Let me close this section with a couple paragraphs from Packer (starting with the one on macro that Ponnuru thinks he disproved, because it's so very succinctly stated):

Inequality saps the economy by draining the buying power of Americans whose incomes have stagnated, forcing them to rely on debt to fund education, housing, and health care. At the top, it creates deep pools of wealth that have nowhere productive to go, leading to asset bubbles in capital markets bearing little or no relation to the health of the over-all economy. (Critics call this the "financialization" of the economy.) These fallouts from inequality were among the causes of the Great Recession.Inequality is also warping America's political system. Greatly concentrated wealth leads to outsized political power in the hands of the few -- even in a democracy with free and fair elections -- which pushes government to create rules that favor the rich. It's no accident that we're in the era of Citizens United. Such rulings give ordinary Americans the strong suspicion that the game is rigged. Democratic institutions no longer feel legitimate when they continue to produce blatantly unfair outcomes; it's one of those insights that only an élite could miss. And it's backed up by evidence as well as by common sense. Last year, two political scientists found that, in recent times, policy ideas have rarely been adopted by the U.S. government unless they're favored by corporations and the wealthy -- even when those ideas are supported by most Americans. The persistence of the highly unpopular carried-interest loophole for hedge-fund managers is simply the most unseemly example.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Dan Sanchez: On Veterans Day, Who Should Thank Whom?:

    Randolph Bourne famously wrote, "War is the health of the State." By that he meant that foreign wars nourish domestic tyranny because they place people into a siege mentality that makes them more apt to give up their freedoms for the sake of the war effort. And indeed, the American national security state, from militarized cops to domestic spying, has metastasized under the cover of the War on Terror.

    So, no, the activity of U.S. soldiers has not secured our freedoms, but eroded them. More specifically, contrary to the common argument discussed above, the troops are not busy protecting freedom of speech for all Americans, including those who are anti-war. Rather, by contributing to foreign wars, they make it more likely that someday the country's siege mentality will get so bad that speech (especially anti-war speech) will be restricted.

    Since foreign wars are inimical to domestic freedom, it is those who strenuously oppose war who are actually fighting for freedom. If not for opponents and skeptics of war, we would have even more war than we do. And in that case, individual freedoms would have been even more infringed upon.

    I grew up visiting houses that had pictures of young men in uniform on their shelves and mantles, mostly from WWII, some from Korea. My grandfather went to Europe for the Great War: I don't recall any photos but he came back with a couple ribbons and medals. Some relatives posted a couple of those photos on Facebook, and I found them touching -- not so much that I thought they did anything worthwhile as because they were just ordinary Americans who happened to get caught up in America's last popular war. On the other hand, we had no such photos in my house, not because my father didn't get drafted into the war but because he considered the experience so pointless. That probably contributed to my skepticism about the army, but Vietnam sealed my opposition. Ever since my opposition to war has only grown. I know a handful of people who went to Iraq, and I have nothing to say to them: I can't thank them because they did nothing worthwhile, and I can't apologize to them because I did everything I reasonably could to keep them from going. So for me all Veteran's Day does is remind me of old (and in many cases now dead) men, who thankfully survived the holocaust and returned to live relatively normal lives -- no one in my family perished in that war -- something I can't say for the atrocities that came later. The only heroes from those wars are the people who opposed them.

  • David Atkins: The Morning After Paris: What Do We Do Now?: A generally thoughtful piece, although sometimes he thinks himself into odd positions, especially when he tries to counter straw puppets from the left, but this bit of equivalence with the right resonates:

    Ultimately, what drives both domestic jingoist conservatism and ISIL's brand of extremism is a commitment to violent aggression beyond its own borders, a weird fetishization of guns and gun violence, a misogynistic hatred of sexual freedom for women and non-traditional relationships of all kind, and a deep commitment to conservative religious fundamentalism and patriarchal gerontocracy as the organizational structures of society.

    Earlier he wrote:

    The immediate reaction from many on the left is to simply blame the problem on blowback, insisting that if Western powers simply stopped trying to exert influence on the Middle East, terrorism would not reach Western shores. Many liberals further argue that the social problems in most middle eastern countries suffering from extremist violence are the direct result of a history of imperialism and colonialism.

    These are thornier arguments to dismiss, not only because they contain a great deal of truth, but also because unlike conservative claims that are testable and false, the blowback argument is unfalsifiable.

    He also charges liberals with "special pleading," which he tries to disprove by comparing the CIA coups in Iran and Chile, noting that the latter "has not led to decades of Chilean anti-American terrorism." He doesn't bother adding that even after Pinochet fell the US didn't impose sanctions on Chile, or shoot down Chilean air liners, or blow up Chilean oil rigs -- clear instances of American belligerence, some of which if done by anyone else would meet our definition of terrorism. Nor does he admit that there's not much if any case that Iran has actually committed any acts of anti-American terror. Anti-American sentiment? Sure, but that's not unknown in Chile either. But these are minor quibbles, and clearly the effects of colonialism, imperialism, and cronyism on the Middle East are more layered and more complex than this caricature. (Also note that "blowback" isn't always so indirect: when the US armed the Afghan mujahideen and Hekmatyar and Bin Laden later turned on the US, that wasn't "unfalsifiable.") Atkins carries his confusion forward:

    One could step back and remove all Western influence from the region, both in Syria and in Iraq. One could simply let the Shi'ites, Kurds, Syrian Assad loyalists and Syrian anti-Assad moderates (if any exist) battle it out themselves and hope that some combination of the above emerges victorious, trying not to draw any of their ire and taking in as many refugees from the war-ravaged conflict zones as possible. But it's highly unlikely that the attacks against the West would stop, it's likely that their propaganda would be increasingly successful at radicalizing young men in the West, and it's certainly true that populations across Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East would be greatly harmed by allowing ISIL to expand. Even if America and its allies immediately abandoned all conflict in the Middle East, terrorism would likely continue -- and even 30 years from now the Glenn Greenwalds of the world would still say any such attacks were just so much blowback. Those outcomes and that ideology are not acceptable at a moral or a practical level.

    Atkins' conjecture here (and it's really nothing more) -- that Islamic groups will continue to commit acts of terror in the West even if the US and its allies cease all provocations -- is unfalsifiable as well, because it's not going to be tested: US business has too much money at stake to back away, and US military power has too much ego at stake to back down. (One might imagine a political challenge to the latter, but it's hard to see where it might come from: clearly not Clinton, and even nominal critics of US war policy Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul are pretty compromised.) But one reason to doubt Atkins is that no less an authority than Bin Laden has stated that if the provocations cease, so will the attacks in the West. I'm not sure that the anonymous intellects behind ISIS have thought this through so rigorously, but Atkins seems to have bought the whole party line on their inhumanity -- "an active group of murderous, barbaric theocratic cutthroats who adore violence, desire and rape women as a matter of official policy, desecrate and destroy monuments that have stood for thousands of years, and seek to establish a regional and global caliphate with the goal of a final battle against the Great Satan" -- a definition that is far outside the bounds of any group in the history (and not just of Islam). It clearly serves the interest of Americans who want to escalate the war against ISIS to inflate such visions of evil, and I fear Atkins' repetition of these claims just helps them out.

    My own prescription for what the US should be doing is straightforward:

    1. We should eschew the use of force to settle any and all disputes in the region (or anywhere else, really, but let's focus here on the Middle East). Consequently, we should negotiate a multilateral arms embargo for the entire region (including Egypt, Israel, the Arabian peninsula, Iran, and Turkey), and we should move toward this unilaterally as long as doing so doesn't create a vacuum to be filled with other arms suppliers.
    2. We should promote and facilitate negotiations aimed at resolving all conflicts and protecting minority and individual human rights in accordance with well-established international standards (like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).
    3. We should negotiate an international treaty which establishes a new human right: to exile, which allows anyone jailed or otherwise endangered anywhere to appeal to be granted asylum elsewhere.
    4. We should be willing to grant amnesty to anyone (including ISIS) that agrees to participate in peaceable democratic conflict resolution. We should recognize that disarmament is a goal of this process, not a prerequisite.
    5. We should back up these diplomatic appeals with economic aid. Conversely, any nations that persist in using violence against their own people and/or exporting violence abroad should be ostracized with economic sanctions. (The BDS campaign against Israel is a start here.)

    How hard can that be to understand? But in today's media heat, who's talking like that?

  • Some more related ISIS links:

    • Why John Kerry and the French president are calling ISIS "Daesh": A little history on the ever-shifting arts of naming yourself and your enemies. Kerry et al. don't like Islamic State (or IS) because it suggests at least the potential of a single state representing all Muslims, something they want to nip in the bud. So they've come up with something meaningless and slightly exotic, DAESH (or Daesh) derived from the transliterated Arabic initials (like Hamas). Still, ISIS makes more sense to the rest of us, since it spatially delimits the Islamic State within Iraq and Syria (actually more accurate than the broader al-Sham they used to use, which got translated as Levant). My takeaway is to use ISIS, since I think it is very important to understand that their rump state is an artifact of the lost control of the governments in Damascus and Baghdad. On the other hand, I'm not sure that the aspiring but still pre-state groups in Libya, Yemen, etc., are all that linked with ISIS. Still, Islamic State is clearly a concept (and increasingly a brand name) that resonates with a good many people outside Syria and Iraq. That matters mostly because it means that even if the West smashes (or as Sarkozy put it "exterminates") ISIS the concept will continue to inspire terror groups indefinitely. Obama probably understood this when he talked about "containing and degrading" ISIS -- words that now test as namby-pamby (compared to defeat and exterminate).

    • DR Tucker: And That's the Way It Is: Live-Blogging the CBS Democratic Debate: Bad timing, the evening after the Paris attacks. And, no big surprise, the Democrats all vow to wage war:

      In his opening statement, Sanders condemns the attacks and vows to "rid this planet of ISIS" as president, before decrying income inequality, the broken campaign finance system, and calling for a political revolution. Clinton says prayers are not enough for Paris; we need resolve to bring the world together to combat jihadist radicals. Clinton vows to fight terrorism aggressively as president. O'Malley says his heart goes out to the people of France, and says the US must work collaboratively with other nations to thwart terrorism.

      Sanders seems to prefer using Arab proxies in the war against ISIS, calling this a "war for the soul of Islam." He doesn't that if this metaphorical war is fought with real arms, armed warfare will be the only winner. Clinton insists that ISIS "cannot be contained; it must be defeated." She doesn't wonder what an American "victory" might mean for the vanquished, or whether indeed there will be any. David Atkins has a follow-up post to the one quoted above: The Right Will Win if the Left Doesn't Forcefully Confront ISIS. He applauds Hollande and Sanders for "sounding aggressively militaristic in response." The idea is that leftish politicians should deliberately act stupid and malicious in order to save electorates from electing right-wingers who would act stupid and malicious, and in the process really screw everything up. In the debate, at least, Sanders was able to scold Clinton, reminding her that her Iraq War vote was profoundly wrong. Atkins wants to squelch that dissent, and Sanders seems willing to throw his career away going along. Indeed, it's reasonable to argue that had the 2003 Iraq War not happened, ISIS would never have come around. On the other hand, it did, and we're here. Still, that doesn't make bowing to a flare-up of war fever right just because it is (for the moment) popular. Saddam Hussein was painted as every bit as evil then as ISIS is now. But it really doesn't matter how evil the enemy is if you can't do anything constructive about it, and we've proven that we can't. One more thing: while Sanders voted against Iraq, he did vote for the post-9/11 Afghanistan War -- in the heat of the moment, you might say. To my mind, that was the real strategic blunder.

    • Alissa J Rubin/Anne Barnard: France Strikes ISIS Targets in Syria in Retaliation for Attacks: Hollande, having vowed to be "unforgiving with the barbarians," takes the path with the least mental effort, not to mention conscience, and goes straight after command headquarters in Raqqa. Of course, they wouldn't have been able to react so quickly except that they were already bombing Syria. The article also quotes Nicolas Sarkozy saying, "We need everybody in order to exterminate Daesh." Grammar isn't totally clear there, but the genocide word is.

    • Peter Beinart: ISIS Is Not Waging a War Against Western Civilization: Mostly critiques some particularly dumb things Marco Rubio said. Beinart, who has a checkered history of first supporting and then having second thoughts about America's wars in the Middle East -- he wrote one book, The Good Fight: Why Liberals -- and Only Liberals -- Can Win the War on Terror which can be read as why conservatives are clueless, and another The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris. He concludes here that "both morally and strategically, limiting -- and ultimately eliminating -- the Islamic State's nightmarish dominion over millions of human beings justifies war," but he also argues that it's mostly geopolitics and not some clash of civilizations. One thing I will add is that even if you accept Beinart's conclusion that war against ISIS is justified, it doesn't follow that the US is the one that should be fighting that war. Given Beinart's track record, he'll figure that out . . . eventually.

      Beinart's pre-Paris piece is better: The Mindless Logic of Republican Foreign Policy: Sure, it's like shooting sitting ducks. But at least he's still skeptical on Syria:

      The experience of the last 15 years offers little reason to believe that waging a larger war in Syria will make Syria more stable or America more safe. But for most of the GOP presidential contenders, that's irrelevant. It doesn't really matter where American foreign policy leads, as long as America leads.

    • Peter Van Buren: Paris: You Don't Want to Read This:

      But I do have this: stop what we have been doing for the last 14 years. It has not worked. There is nothing at all to suggest it ever will work. Whack-a-mole is a game, not a plan. Leave the Middle East alone. Stop creating more failed states. Stop throwing away our freedoms at home on falsehoods. Stop disenfranchising the Muslims who live with us. Understand the war, such as it is, is against a set of ideas -- religious, anti-western, anti-imperialist -- and you cannot bomb an idea. Putting western soldiers on the ground in the MidEast and western planes overhead fans the flames. Vengeance does not and cannot extinguish an idea.

    • Chris Floyd: Age of Despair: Reaping the Whirlwind of Western Support for Extremist Violence:

      Without the American crime of aggressive war against Iraq -- which, by the measurements used by Western governments themselves, left more than a million innocent people dead -- there would be no ISIS, no "Al Qaeda in Iraq." Without the Saudi and Western funding and arming of an amalgam of extremist Sunni groups across the Middle East, used as proxies to strike at Iran and its allies, there would be no ISIS. Let's go back further. Without the direct, extensive and deliberate creation by the United States and its Saudi ally of a world-wide movement of armed Sunni extremists during the Carter and Reagan administrations (in order to draw the Soviets into a quagmire in Afghanistan), there would have been no "War on Terror" -- and no terrorist attacks in Paris tonight. [ . . . ]

      I write in despair. Despair of course at the depravity displayed by the murderers of innocents in Paris tonight; but an even deeper despair at the depravity of the egregious murderers who have brought us to this ghastly place in human history: those gilded figures who have strode the halls of power for decades in the high chambers of the West, killing innocent people by the hundreds of thousands, crushing secular opposition to their favored dictators -- and again, again and again -- supporting, funding and arming some of the most virulent sectarians on earth.

    • Jason Ditz: Yazidis Burn Muslim Homes in 'Liberated' Iraqi City of Sinjar: What goes around comes around.

      ISIS carried out several bloody attacks against the Yazidis early in their takeover of the region, and labeled the homes of Sinjar's Sunni residents as such, apparently to advise their forces to leave them alone in their various crackdowns. Now, the homes labeled Sunni are a target.

      Sunnis are often the targets of violent recriminations after ISIS loses control of cities and towns, under the presumption that anyone ISIS wasn't persecuting (or at least was persecuting less publicly) must've been secretly collaborating with them.

    • Patrick Cockburn: Paris Terror Attacks: No Security Can Stop ISIS -- the Bombers Will Always Get Through, and Paris Attack: ISIS Has Created a New Kind of Warfare.

    • Graeme Wood: What ISIS Really Wants: This is evidently the source of the notion that ISIS is obsessed with hastening the apocalypse that Atkins cites in his pieces. I have no way of judging such views, but I am skeptical that there is a single idea and a single motivation behind a group the size of ISIS. I'll also note that there are plenty of Christians who are similarly obsessed with end times, and while we don't often talk about them, some have even had an inordinate amount of influence when it comes to the Middle East. (One I am aware of was David Lloyd George, Britain's Prime Minister who oversaw the Balfour Declaration, which announced Britain's intention to facilitate the return of the Jews to Palestine, as foretold in the Book of Revelations. Another, who's been very vocal on the subject of late, is former GOP presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann.)

    • Scott Atran: Mindless terrorists? The truth about Isis is much worse: Another attempt to probe the ISIS mind, this one focusing on the psychological appeal of jihad to young Western Muslims -- the recruiting grounds for attacks like the ones in Paris. One lesson I draw from this is the importance of establishing the perception that the West treats the Muslim world fairly and justly. Another is that the rising racism and bigotry that prevents Muslims from assimilating in the West helps drive them against us.

If I stayed up a few more hours I could collect many more ISIS links, but this will have to be enough for now. I doubt that my main points will change any. And I don't mind the occasional pieces that show you how maniacal ISIS can be. None prove that the US military is the answer.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 25726 [25691] rated (+35), 439 [439] unrated (-0).

Fall is coming to Wichita several weeks later than usual this year, but we raked up a first bag of leaves yesterday (many more are still on the trees, but no longer green). That got me started thinking about EOY lists. My own lists-in-progress currently show 59 jazz and 42 non-jazz new records on the A-list (reissues/historic music: 6 + 5).

I added eight records to those lists this week. Michael Tatum reviewed the Chills in his latest column, and also tipped me off on two of this week's three rap albums (Blackalicious and Peaceable Solutions, although I was vaguely aware of the former). The third rap record was Paris, reviewed by Robert Christgau a while back. I had put it off because it's a double, and only gave it one spin, but it's so solid it's in my shopping basket (along with Laurie Anderson, Blackalicious, Lyrics Born, and Sleaford Mods) as a possible P&J contender.

Four jazz records too. Jörg Fischer has been sending me CDs for a couple years and Spicy Unit finally hit the spot. The other two -- Ochs-Robinson Duo and Michael Zerang & the Blue Lights -- I had to stream. I spent a big chunk of time last week scanning through The Free Jazz Collective's blog and adding all the new 2015 releases they reviewed to my 2015 release list file. I don't find their ratings to be very reliable, but they do cover a lot of avant-jazz. I probably added a hundred albums, noted a couple dozen to look up, and listened to a handful. The Zerang album is the Mars Williams-Dave Rempis joust of my dreams (and its companion is either more or less depending on your perspective). And the Larry Ochs duo is as clear a showcase for his powerful tenor sax as I can recall. The trawl also located a few links below.

The fourth jazz record was one I got in the mail and played a lot (4-5 times), wavering on the fence. Josh Berman is actually in Zerang's band, but he is better heard on his own new trio record. Probably would have been an easier call had I not played it right after Ochs and the two Zerangs and started worrying that everything was sounding A-worthy. (As I'm writing this, I'm playing random shit from the queue and not having that problem at all.)

The release list file is currently approaching 2500 entries (2389; about one-third are jazz: 813). I'll keep growing the file for a while, but eventually it will give way to an EOY List Aggregate file, like the one I did last year. EOY lists start showing up in mid-November, especially in the UK (which probably has more music magazines than the US does). The counter in the music tracking file shows 751 records either rated or in hand this year. Unlikely I'll hit 1000 this year, as I have done a couple of times in the past.

Recommended music links:

The first few links come from the Free Jazz Collective crawl.

  • Free Jazz Collective: To Ornette Coleman: A retrospective of pretty much all the albums. The Free Jazz Collective also did a 50-year series on AACM: Introduction, 1965-1974, 1975-1984, 1985-1994, 1995-2004, 2005-2015.

  • My trawl also neeted this interview with Tom Surgall, director of the free jazz documentary Fire Music, with his list of "important free jazz albums": his pick of John Tchicai's Afrodiasica spurred me to listen to a number of the Danish saxophonist's albums (see old music below).

  • Milo Miles: First Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Ballot: Goes through some rationalization about being "too good" to vote in Pazz & Jop (a status some of us have yet to achieve), then prints out a list of fifteen ballot choices for 2016 (any write-ins?). Then he asks, "which five did I vote for?" I wouldn't presume to know, but I wouldn't feel bad about voting for: Chic, The JB's, Los Lobos. After that it gets a bit dicier. Looking back, I see at least one A- grade for (C means a best-of compilation) for: Janet Jackson (2), Nine Inch Nails (3), The Smiths (1C). I wouldn't mind any of those, but they're not what I think of as all-time legends, and I bet I can find better acts the Hall passed over. I also see that Christgau has at least one A- grade for: The Cars (1C), Chaka Khan (1C), Steve Miller (1C), The Spinners (2+2C). I should probably give that Spinners comp another spin, maybe even check out the Atlantics I totally missed. The others: Cheap Trick (probably entertaining live), Chicago (maybe the worst rock band of all time, not that they started so bad), Deep Purple (nothing in my database, nothing I remember hearing, although I surely must have), N.W.A. (made a big impression on teens at the time), and Yes (very popular among my college friends, but I moved on).

PS: Sometime back I incorrectly got the group and album title swapped: should be The Spanish Donkey: Raoul (2015, Rare Noise). Group members are: Joe Morris, Jamie Saft, and Mike Pride. Grade: B.

New records rated this week:

  • Josh Berman Trio: A Dance and a Hop (2015, Delmark): A-
  • Blackalicious: Imani, Vol. 1 (2015, OGM): [r]: A-
  • The Chills: Silver Bullets (2015, Fire): [r]: A-
  • Marcelo Dos Reis/Angélica V. Salvi: Concentric Rinds (2013 [2015], Cipsela): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Robin Eubanks Mass Line Big Band: More Than Meets the Ear (2015, ArtistShare): [cdr]: B+(*)
  • Sergi Felipe: Whisper Songs (2011, UnderPool): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Sergi Felipe/Whisper Songs: Bombú Es Libre En El Espacio (2013, UnderPool): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Garrison Fewell: Invisible Resonance Trio (2013 [2015], Creative Nation Music): [r]: B+(***)
  • Mike Holober: Balancing Act (2015, Palmetto): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Hot Jazz Jumpers: The Very Next Thing (2015, On the Bol): [cd]: B
  • Guus Janssen: Meeting Points (1989-2014 [2015], Bimhuis): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Marco Mezquida Mateos: Live in Terrassa (2015, UnderPool): [cd]: B+(***)
  • The Monash Art Ensemble/George Lewis: Hexis (2013 [2014], Jazzhead): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ŕlvar Montfort/Lucas Martinez/Jordi Matas/Abel Boquera/Pep Mula: Underpool 4 (2014 [2015], UnderPool): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Larry Ochs/Don Robinson Duo: The Throne (2011 [2015], Not Two): [r]: A-
  • Paris: Pistol Politics (2015, Guerrilla Funk, 2CD): [r]: A-
  • Peaceful Solutions: Barter 7 (2015, self-released): [bc]: A-
  • Pol Pedrós/Noč Escolŕ/Albert Cirera/Rai Paz/Paco Weht/Ildefons Alonso: Underpool 3 (2014, UnderPool): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Martin Speicher/Peter Geisselbrecht/Jörg Fischer: Spicy Unit (2014 [2015], Spore Print): [cd]: A-
  • Spinifex: Veiled (2015, Trytone): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jacob Varmus Septet: Aegean: For Three Generations of Jazz Lovers (2013 [2015], Crows' Kin): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Carrie Wicks: Maybe (2015, OA2): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Patrick Williams: Home Suite Home (2015, BFM): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Dave Wilson Quartet: There Was Never (2015, Zoho): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Michael Zerang & the Blue Lights: Songs From the Big Book of Love (2014 [2015], Pink Palace): [bc]: A-
  • Michael Zerang & the Blue Lights: Hash Eaters and Peacekeepers (2014 [2015], Pink Palace, EP): [bc]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • The Chills: Kaleidoscope World (1982-84 [1989], Homestead): [r]: B+(*)
  • Marty Grosz and the Collectors Items Cats: Thanks (1993, Jazzology): [r]: B+(**)
  • Marty Grosz Quartet: Just for Fun! (1996, Nagel Heyer): [r]: B+(*)
  • Marty Grosz: Left to His Own Devices (2000 [2001], Jazzology): [r]: B+(*)
  • Grant McLennan: In Your Bright Ray (1996 [1997], Beggars Banquet): [r]: B+(*)
  • Grant McLennan: Intermission: The Best of the Solo Recordings 1990-1997 (1990-97 [2007], Beggars Banquet): [r]: A-
  • John Tchicai: Cadentia Nova Danica (1968, Freedom): [r]: A-
  • John Tchicai and Cadentia Nova Danica: Afrodisiaca (1969, MPS): [r]: B+(**)
  • John Tchicai-Irene Schweizer-Group: Willi the Pig: Live at the Willisau Jazz Festival (1975 [2000], Atavistic Unheard Music Series): [r]: A-
  • John Tchicai & Strange Brothers: Darktown Highlights (1977, Storyville): [r]: B+(***)
  • John Tchicai: Put Up the Fight (1987, Storyville): [r]: B+(*)
  • John Tchicai: Darktown Highlights/Put Up the Fight (1977-87 [2012], Storyville, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Dan Ballou: Solo Trumpet (Clean Feed)
  • Bathysphere: Bathysphere (Driff)
  • Scott Clark 4tet: Bury My Heart (Clean Feed)
  • Di Lontan: Power Trio (Clean Feed)
  • Jorrit Dijkstra: Neither Odd nor Even (Driff)
  • Jorrit Dijkstra/Pandelis Karayorgis/Nate McBride/Curt Newton: Matchbox (Driff)
  • Brian Fielding: An Appropriate Response: Volume One (Broken Symmetries Music): January 1
  • Daniel Levin/Mat Maneri: The Transcendent Function (Clean Feed)
  • Jack Mouse & Scott Robinson with Janice Borla: Three Story Sandbox (Tall Grass): January 1
  • Ivo Perelman/Mat Maneri/Tanya Kalmanovitch: Villa Lobos Suite (Leo)
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: Complementary Colors (Leo)
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Whit Dickey: Butterfly Whispers (Leo)
  • Nate Wooley Quintet: (Dance to) the Early Music (Clean Feed)

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Weekend Roundup

Nothing from Crowson this week: he wasted his editorial space with a celebration of the World Series victors. I enjoyed the Kansas City Royals' wins, too -- even watched a couple innings of Game 2, where I didn't recognize a single name but had no problem understanding the many nuances of the game. At least that much doesn't change much, or fade away.

The main topic this week is the mental and moral rot that calls itself conservatism, also known as the Republican Party. Scattered links:

  • Anne Kim: The GOP's Flat Tax Folly: It seems like every Republican presidential candidate has his own special tax jiggering plan, although they all have common features, namely letting the rich pay less (so they can save more) and increasing the federal deficit (hoping to trim that back a bit by cutting spending, although not on "defense" or on privatization schemes or on putting more people in jail). And those who lack the staff or imagination to come up with signature schemes fall back on the so-called "flat tax" scam (even more euphamistically called "the fair tax" -- as spelled out in Neal Boortz's The Fair Tax Book): Kim's list of flat-taxers includes Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Ben Carson, who likens the tax to a tithe. One thing flat-taxers always claim is that a single rate would greatly simplify the income tax code, but today's "complicated" rate chart is maybe two pages of the code. Reducing that to one line in an age where everything is computerized is nothing. All the rest of the complexity addresses the many questions of what is (or is not) income, at least for taxability purposes. For individuals who don't have many itemizable deductions that's already been simplified, but for businesses that's where all the complexity comes in. The loopholes for any given business may vary, but the bottom line is that businesses (including self-employed individuals) get to deduct many expenses that the rest of us cannot. The flat-taxers may think they're going to cut through a lot of special cases, but it's often hard to separate perks out from necessary expenses, to take one example. Another complicating factor is that we often implement policy through tax incentives. For instance, the tax code favors property owners over renters, married people over single, and families with dependent children over those without (although not nearly as much as the actual increased cost of maintaining those children). The tax code has long favored private health insurance (effectively subsidizing it), and since ACA added penalties for those who are uninsured (who are, after all, not only hurting themselves but becoming public liabilities). And this list could go on and on, from things that seem eminently reasonable to others that are truly perverse (like the oil depletion allowance).

    If the economy itself were totally fair -- if all markets were optimally transparent and competitive, and if had enough leverage they could fully share in productivity gains and profits -- then a flat income tax might also be a fair tax (although it would be easier to account for and collect a business-only tax like a VAT). However, virtually everything in the private sector economy is unbalanced in ways that favor property owners and limit potential competitors. The result, as we plainly see today, is vast and increasing inequality, which at its current stage is undermining democracy and tearing at the social fabric. Indeed, this is happening despite a current tax system which is still progressive: which taxes the rich more than it taxes the poor, and which provides some redistribution from rich to poor. In this context, the flat tax does three things, all bad: it reduces the tax on the rich, increasing inequality; it increases taxes on the poor and at least half of all working Americans, in many cases pushing them into (or deeper into) poverty; and it kills the critical idea of progressivity in tax collection. If anything, we need to extend the notion of progressivity throughout the tax system. For instance, we currently have a flat tax on capital gains and dividends -- almost exclusively a favor to the rich -- but both are forms of income. If anything, as unearned income you can make a case for taxing them more progressively -- since they contribute more to inequality, and since the tax rate has no disincentive. (A higher tax rate offers more incentive to hide income through fraud, but not to gain the income in the first place. I've argued in the past that the proper framework for calculating a progressive scale for unearned income should be the lifetime, which would encourage saving by the young and/or poor.) I'd also like to see progressive taxes on corporations, which would help even the playing field between small and large companies. (At present the latter tend to use their scale advantage to crowd out competition.) Of course, it's not true that every tax should be progressive. But some taxes have to be progressive enough to counter the economic system's built-in bias toward inequality.

    As a rule of thumb, any time you hear "flat-tax" or "fair-tax" you should automatically reject its advocate. Most likely they don't know what they're talking about, but to the extent that they do they are out to trash society, the economy, and the public institutions that make them possible.

  • Paul Krugman: The Conspiracy Consensus:

    So, are we supposed to be shocked over Donald Trump claiming that Janet Yellen is keeping rates low to help Obama? Folks, this is a widely held position in the Republican Party; Paul Ryan and John Taylor accused Ben Bernanke years ago of doing something dastardly by preventing the fiscal crisis they insist would and should have happened under Obama. If Trump's remarks seem startling, it's only because the press has soft-pedaled the conspiracy theorizing of seemingly respectable Republicans.

    Uh, doesn't this mean that Trump understands that low interest rates are the right thing for the economy? Sure, he's pissed that Obama gets credit for the stimulated growth, but if he were president he'd want the same low rates so he could get credit for the growth. Maybe he thinks that Yellen is such a partisan hack that if a Republican were president she's raise interest rates just to get them blamed for the downturn. On the other hand, what does that say about Republicans calling for higher interest rates? That they're willing to harm the economy as long as they think a Democrat will be blamed for it? On the other hand, when they were in power, you have Nixon saying "we are all Keynesians now" and Cheney "deficits don't matter."

  • Nancy LeTourneau: The Effects of Anti-Knowledge on Democracy: Starts with a long quote from Mike Lofgren: The GOP and the Rise of Anti-Knowledge -- worth checking out on its own, among other things because the first thing you see after a quote attributed to Josh Billings ("The trouble with people is not that they don't know, but that they know so much that ain't so.") is a picture of Ben Carson. Lofgren writes about Carson (evidently before last week's revelations about pyramids and arks):

    This brings us inevitably to celebrity presidential candidate Ben Carson. The man is anti-knowledge incarnated, a walking compendium of every imbecility ever uttered during the last three decades. Obamacare is worse than chattel slavery. Women who have abortions are like slave owners. If Jews had firearms they could have stopped the Holocaust (author's note: they obtained at least some weapons during the Warsaw Ghetto rising, and no, it didn't). Victims of a mass shooting in Oregon enabled their own deaths by their behavior. And so on, ad nauseam.

    It is highly revealing that, according to a Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll of likely Republican caucus attendees, the stolid Iowa burghers liked Carson all the more for such moronic utterances. And sure enough, the New York Times tells us that Carson has pulled ahead of Donald Trump in a national poll of Republican voters. Apparently, Trump was just not crazy enough for their tastes. [ . . . ]

    This brings us back to Ben Carson. He now suggests that, rather than abolishing the Department of Education, a perennial Republican goal, the department should be used to investigate professors who say something he doesn't agree with. The mechanism to bring these heretics to the government's attention should be denunciations from students, a technique once in vogue in the old Soviet Union.

    Perhaps Lofgren was trying to burnish his conservative bona fides with that Soviet Union example: one closer to the mark would be the Salem witch trials.

    LeTourneau adds:

    That's why I'd suggest that the root cause of an attraction to anti-knowledge was the creation of Fox News. What Murdoch managed to do with that network was to pose the proposition that facts were merely the liberal media at work. So on one side of the "debate" you have the conservative garage logic and on the other you have liberal facts. The rest of the media -- in an attempt to prove they weren't liberal -- accepted this frame, giving credence to anti-knowledge as a legitimate position. That traps us into things like having to argue over whether the science of human's contribution to climate change is real because denialism is given credence as the opposing conservative view.

    I've seen an argument that right-wing opposition to climate science is based on the perception (or maybe just intuition) that the whole thing is just an excuse to promote government regulation; i.e., that because we reject the solution, we have to deny the problem and all the science behind it. That only works if the problems aren't real, which is to say never -- although global warming has had an unusually long run because people readily confuse the variability of everyday weather with the uniformity of climate, and because the latter is a bit too stochastic for certainty. There are many other examples of this -- taxes, stimulus spending, military intervention, defense spending, personal guns: all cases where the right-wing holds to a position based on political conviction regardless of the facts. Part of the problem here is that right-wingers have taken extreme stands, based on pure rhetoric, that have seized their brains like prime directives: like the notion that all government regulation is bad, or that government is incompetent to act. Part is that when right-wing "think tanks" have taken problems seriously and tried to come up with conservative solutions, they've sometimes been adopted by their enemy (leading one to doubt their sincerity: cap-and-trade and Obamacare are examples). As the right-wing has lost more and more arguments, it's only natural that they'd start to flail at the facts and science that undermines their ideological positions. From there it's a slippery slope. For many years, the right has complained about leftists in academia poisoning young minds, but in 2012 Rick Santorum broke new ground in arguing that people shouldn't go to college because the very institutions teach people to think like liberals. Since then the GOP's struggle against science, reason, and reality has only intensified. That leads us guys like Carson, and he's far from alone (see, e.g., the flat-tax brigade, above).

    Also see LeTourneau's "Who's to Blame for This Mess?". Most of the post is a quote from a Robert Reich post, where Reich is interviewing "a former Republican member of Congress," who starts out with "They're all nuts" then goes down the presidential lineup, starting with Carson and Trump ("they're both out of their f*cking minds") and ending with Bush and Christie ("they're sounding almost as batty as the rest"). He places blame: "Roger Ailes, David and Charles Koch, Rupert Murdoch, Rush Limbaugh. I could go on. They've poisoned the American mind and destroyed the Republican Party").

    LeTourneau has yet another piece, The Policy Vacuum of Movement Conservatism, where she quotes Michael Lind:

    Yet by the 1980s, movement conservatism was running out of steam. Its young radicals had mellowed into moderate statesman. By the 1970s, Buckley and his fellow conservatives had abandoned the radical idea of "rollback" in the Cold War and made their peace with the more cautious Cold War liberal policy of containment. In the 1960s, Reagan denounced Social Security and Medicare as tyrannical, but as president he did not try to repeal and replace these popular programs. When he gave up the confrontational evil-empire rhetoric of his first term toward the Soviet Union and negotiated an end to the Cold War with Mikhail Gorbachev in his second term, many conservatives felt betrayed . . .

    Indeed, it's fair to say that the three great projects of the post-1955 right -- repealing the New Deal, ultrahawkishness (first anti-Soviet, then pro-Iraq invasion) and repealing the sexual/culture revolution -- have completely failed. Not only that, they are losing support among GOP voters.

    On the other hand, Lind omits the one project that Reagan and successors succeeded spectacularly at: tilting the economy to favor the well-to-do, especially at the expense of organized labor. One might argue -- I would emphatically disagree -- that Reagan offered a necessary correction to the liberal/egalitarian tilt of the previous five decades, but what's happened since then has tipped the nation way too far back toward the rich. And it's clear that the right, like the rich, has no concept of too much and no will to turn their rhetoric back toward center. Still, they can only keep pushing their same old nostrums, even having watched them fail so universally under Bush. Lind's generation of conservatives may have mellowed as he claims, but there have been at least two later points when the Republicans turned starkly toward the right -- in the 1990s under Gingrich continuing through the Bush administration, and after 2009 with the Tea Party doubling down in the wake of failure. Moreover, they haven't given up on the defeats Lind identified, even though they continue to look like losing propositions. Indeed, it's hard to see that they have any viable policy options, leaving them with little beyond their conviction that all they really need is the right character -- maybe a Trump or maybe a Carson. After all, they wrap themselves so ostentatiously in piety and patriotic jingoism that they feel entitled to rule, even when they lose as bad as McCain did to Obama.

Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted; i.e., I don't have time for this shit right now):

  • Olga Khazan: Middle-Aged White Americans Are Dying of Despair: One of the most disturbing discoveries of the last twenty years: the average life expectancy in Russia took an alarming downturn after the fall of communism. When I was growing up, one thing we could take for granted was that we were making progress on nearly all fronts, one being that we could expect to live longer lives, and our children longer still. Russia showed that politically-engendered economic despair could end and even reverse that progress. But who thought it could happen here? I first read these reports a year ago and did a quick inventory. On my mother's side of the family, I have a cohort of 20 cousins, b. 1925-43. The first of those cousins to die was in 2003 (emphysema, i.e. cigarettes). The youngest to die was 71, in 2011, and the youngest still alive has beat that. The oldest still alive is 89. But a number of their children are already gone: the first a victim of the Vietnam War, one to a car wreck, one to cancer in her 30s, several more (and my records are incomplete). Perhaps the most striking was one who died at 64, just three days after his father died at 88. I'm pretty sure all of my cousins did better economically than their parents, but despite more education that's less true for the next generation. Just some data, but it fits, and makes the stats more concrete. Khazan cites the work of two economists who blame inequality. That's right, but we need a better way to explain how that works.

    PS: Paul Krugman also has a comment on this, including this chart which shows a downward trend in deaths for all the charted wealthy countries (plus US Hispanics), compared to a slight rise among US whites:

    The Anne Case/Angus Deaton paper both posts refer to is Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century.

  • Gareth Porter: The New Yorker Doesn't Factcheck What 'Everyone Knows' Is True: Examines a New Yorker article by Dexter Filkins on the shooting of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who had tried to make a case that Iran and Hezbollah were responsible for the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center (AMIA) in Buenos Aires. I've long be skeptical about Hezbollah's (and Iran's) guilt here, mostly because it seems out of character, but it's become such a propaganda point for Israel and the US that most western journalists (like Filkins) take it for fact. Nisman's indictment of prominent Iranian and Hezbollah added fire to the charges, but as Porter points out there is little substance in the indictment -- the main source is the MEK, an anti-Iranian terrorist organization originally set up by Saddam Hussein but lately primarily used by Israel to disseminate disinformation about Iran's nuclear program. Nisman further charged that Argentine presidents Carlos Menem and Cristina Kirchner conspired with Iran to cover up the bombing, but again his evidence is suspicious. As is Nisman's death, apparently a suicide but still, like the bombing, unresolved.

  • David Waldman: Good guy with a gun takes out a theater shooter! GunFAIL CLXIII: What's that, 168? Looks like Waldman's been collecting stories of gun mishaps for a while now, and this is about one week's worth (Oct. 11-17, 2015): 47 events. The title refers to a guy in Salina, KS who was watching a movie and fidgeting with a gun in his pant-pocket, finally shooting himself in the leg (i.e., the "theater shooter" he "took out" was himself).

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Daily Log

Alfred Soto commented on my Facebook post yesterday, asking what Cuban dishes I cook. He could have looked in the notebook, but I responded, recapping:

I've been using a cookbook called "The Cuban Table." I've cooked from many cuisines (mostly a straight line from Spain and Morocco to China-Korea-Japan). Always enjoyed Cuban in restaurants, so I thought I'd give it a try. Birthday dinner is a tradition going back to the 1990s where I pick a cuisine and fix too many dishes in, sort of a tasting menu. (Chinese was first, then Turkish then Indian; I'd also count Spanish in my "big four.") This year: Creole Fried Chicken, Picadillo with Potatoes (a ground beef hash with olives and raisins), Rabo Alcaparrado (oxtail in caper sauce), a shrimp dish (with scallops added), black beans, rice, corn on the cob with cotijo cheese, two calabaza salads (one with broiled pineapple). Also had non-Cuban cake (oatmeal stout) and ice cream (orange-date). The corn was a Mexican recipe, but I've had the same thing (only grilled) in Cuban restaurants. I meant to do an avocado salad and some fried plantains, and originally planned to do the scallops in a coconut sauce, but got rushed. You're right: lots of garlic, sour orange juice (I used an orange-lime mix). Spices were mostly cumin and oregano. I've only made a couple other dishes in the past, like Masas de Puerco. Next time I think I'll try that with fresh ham instead of shoulder: we have a Vietnamese grocer here that sells every conceivable slice of pork.

By the way, we finished up the last of the leftovers a couple days ago: I reheated the oxtail and beans, fried the leftover plantains, and served them with polenta. Not much meat to the oxtail, but hard to exaggerate how delicious it was. Actually, Laura saved a bit of the sauce, planning on eating it with the leftover plantains. The day before I salvaged the avocados by making guacamole. Still had some tomatoes left over (plus more neighbors had given us), so I decided to make pizza. Used Mark Bittman's shell recipe -- easy to mix in the food processor -- and made a sauce with half an onion chopped, five or so cloves of garlic, the tomatoes, chopped fresh parsley and oregano, capers, kalamata olives, paprika, salt, black pepper -- trying to use up my shopping excess. For meat I fried up four slices of bacon, a couple slices of ham, and about half of a stick of chorizo. For cheese I used four slices of harvati, a similar amount of smoked gruyere, a half cup of shredded sharp cheddar, and a liberal sprinkling of parmesan. Also sliced up a small green bell pepper and a little bit of red onion. Rolled it out on one of those pizza pans with lots of small holes, and baked it at 500F for 15 minutes. Not very cheesy, but quite tasty, even cold the next day.

List of important free jazz albums from an interview with Tom Surgall, who made the film Fire Music (alphabetical by artist, my grades in brackets):

  1. Albert Ayler: Bells [A-]
  2. BAG (Black Artists Group)
  3. Gato Barbieri: In Search of the Mystery
  4. Anthony Braxton: For Alto [D]
  5. Peter Brötzmann: Machine Gun [B+]
  6. Bill Dixon: Intents and Purposes
  7. Don Cherry: Where Is Brooklyn [A-]
  8. John Coltrane/Rashied Ali: Interstellar Space [A-]
  9. Eric Dolphy: Out to Lunch [A-]
  10. Milford Graves featuring Don Pullen: Nommo
  11. Noah Howard: The Black Ark
  12. Frank Lowe: Black Beings [B-]
  13. Evan Parker/Derek Bailey/Han Bennink: The Topography of the Lungs
  14. Pharoah Sanders: Tauhid [A-]
  15. Archie Shepp: Life at the Donaueshingen Music Festival
  16. Sonny Simmons: Burning Spirits
  17. Sun Ra: Astro Black
  18. Horace Tapscott: The Giant Is Awakened
  19. Cecil Taylor: Unit Structures [B+]
  20. John Tchicai: Afrodisiaca
  21. Frank Wright: Frank Wright Trio

Monday, November 02, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 25691 [25653] rated (+38), 439 [447] unrated (-8).

A busy week, in all regards except unpacking. Rated count is back up after last week's dip. I got a jump there by looking at everything I hadn't previously heard on Alfred Soto's "third quarter report" (ASAP Rocky, Speedy Ortiz, Florence + the Machine, Brandon Flowers, Angel Haze, Destroyer, Robert Forster, Janet Jackson). Some good records there, but nothing I especially loved. Still, the exercise did send me back to Forster's best-of (didn't get to Grant McLennan's companion comp, something I should remedy; at least with McLennan I'm more familiar with the source albums, a couple of which I've A-listed -- Watershed and Horsebreaker Star).

Most importantly, Michael Tatum published a new A Downloader's Diary last week. (My archive copy is here.) Not a lot there I hadn't heard already -- Deerhunter, Forster, and Destroyer are in my list this week but I got them earlier, without the benefit of Tatum's advice. (I came up with slightly lower grades for Deerhunter, Forster, and Jill Scott -- any of which could be chalked up to lack of patience with records a bit outside of my wheelhouse.) Aside from ratings quibbles, I should point out that the Heems and even more so the Kendrick Lamar reviews rank among the year's best music writing.

I did get two A-list records from Robert Christgau's Expert Witness this week: Laurie Anderson's Heart of a Dog and Jeffrey Lewis' Manhattan. I gave them two spins each -- not enough to rise beyond A-, although Lewis was getting better, and I can certainly see the appeal of Anderson's stories (I'm just not as swept away by the music as I was by Strange Angels, or even Home of the Brave). I'll probably break down and order copies of both, but actually the new record that impressed me the most this week was Lyrics Born's Real People (also two spins). Evidently it came out in May but the first I heard of it was when it showed up on one of Mosi Reeves' Rhapsody lists. Tom Shimura is as much a cult-favorite among Christgauvians as Anderson or Lewis, so I'm surprised no one flagged it. (Or did I just slip up and not notice?)

Very rare that I actually buy records any more: after Yesterdays closed there are no decent record stores in Wichita, and the impulse buys I would occasionally pick up at Best Buy petered out as their inventory continued to shrink. I do continue to buy books, though not often music books. (I did feel a desire to own, but haven't yet read, Michaelangelo Matos' The Underground Is Massive.) I was tempted last week by the two Allen Lowe books I don't own: Really the Blues? A Horizontal Chronicle of the Vertical Blues, 1893-1959 (the companion to his massive 36-CD trawl through blues history) and, especially, God Didn't Like It: Electric Hillbillies, Singing Preachers, and the Beginning of Rock and Roll, 1950-1970, but I got weak knees in Paypal hell (maybe later).

However, the book I did order, and want to offer a preëmptive plug for, is Tim Niland's Music and More: Selected Blog Posts 2003-2015. I've been reading Niland's Music and More blog for many years now, not so much to find new music (since we seem to be on the exact same mailing lists) as to check my sanity. Blogs are pretty much designed to be disposable but his is the opposite: if compiled into an indexed, searchable Christgau-like website it would be viewed as an essential reference resource. His 822-page book is the next best thing. Bargain-priced, too.

Two more A-listed new jazz albums this week (plus one old one). You may recall that I also liked Nat Birchall's Live in Larissa last year. Maybe the Coltrane-isms are too obvious, but it's not like we'd turn out noses up at a new vault discovery. The fact is I'd take either Birchall album over The Offering (the 1966 tape that swept the polls last year). I've never gotten anything by Birchall in the mail, so reviewing him is strictly a Rhapsody bonus (with the usual caveats: in this case I have no idea who else played on the album, although they're pretty damn good).

Matthew Shipp's trio took a lot more time to suss out -- I must have given it five (maybe six) spins. Without doing any A/B, I think it's his best trio since he moved back away from the jazztronica of last decade, maybe because I hear more of the knockabout rhythmizing of the Ware Quartet and his later albums with Ivo Perelman.

I should probably mention that there will be a memorial "to celebrate the remarkable life of Elizabeth Marcia Fink," who died on September 22. I've seen a very nice invitation, but can't find any public posting of it, so here are the details: the memorial will be on Saturday, November 7, 2015, from 3:00-6:00 pm, at Union Theological Seminary, 3041 Broadway at 121st Street, New York, NY 10027. The invitation asks for RSVP. We're not up for another trip to New York at the moment, but we do miss Liz -- in fact, remark on it every single day.

New records rated this week:

  • Laurie Anderson: Heart of a Dog (2015, Nonesuch): [r]: A-
  • Dennis Angel: On Track (2014 [2015], Timeless Grooves): [r]: B-
  • ASAP Rocky: At.Long.Last.ASAP (2015, Polo Grounds/RCA): [r]: B+(**)
  • Nat Birchall: Invocations (2015, Jazzman): [r]: A-
  • Sarah Buechi: Flying Letters (2013 [2014], Intakt): [r]: B+(*)
  • Sarah Buechi: Shadow Garden (2015, Intakt): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Joăo Camőes/Rodrigo Pinheiro/Miguel Mira: Earnear (2015, Tour de Bras): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Joăo Camőes/Jean-Marc Foussat/Claude Parle: Bien Mental (2015, Fou): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Romain Collin: Press Enter (2013 [2015], ACT): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Caroline Davis Quartet: Doors: Chicago Storylines (2013 [2015], Ears & Eyes): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Deerhunter: Fading Frontier (2015, 4AD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Destroyer: Poison Season (2015, Merge): [r]: B+(*)
  • Marcelo Dos Reis/Luis Vicente/Théo Ceccaldi/Valentin Ceccaldi: Chamber 4 (2013 [2015], FMR): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Empress Of: Me (2015, Terrible/XL): [r]: B+(*)
  • Florence + the Machine: How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful (2015, Island/Republic): [r]: B
  • Brandon Flowers: The Desired Effect (2015, Virgin EMI): [r]: B+(**)
  • Robert Forster: Songs to Play (2015, Tapete): [r]: B+(**)
  • Angel Haze: Back to the Woods (2015, self-released): [r]: B+(***)
  • Holly Herndon: Platform (2015, 4AD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Keigo Hirakawa: And Then There Were Three (2014 [2015], self-released): [r]: B+(*)
  • Sam Hunt: Between the Pines: Acoustic Mixtape (2015, MCA Nashville): [r]: B
  • Janet Jackson: Unbreakable (2015, Rhythm Nation): [r]: B+(*)
  • Hiatus Kaiyote: Choose Your Weapon (2015, Flying Buddha): [r]: B-
  • Emma Larsson: Sing to the Sky (2014 [2015], Origin): [cd]: B
  • Jeffrey Lewis & Los Bolts: Manhattan (2015, Rough Trade): [r]: A-
  • Lyrics Born: Real People (2015, Mobile Home): [r]: A-
  • Michael Sarian & the Chabones: The Escape Suite (2014-15 [2015], self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Maria Schneider Orchestra: The Thompson Fields (2014 [2015], ArtistShare): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Matthew Shipp Trio: The Conduct of Jazz (2015, Thirsty Ear): [cd]: A-
  • Slobber Pup: Pole Axe (2015, Rare Noise): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Speedy Ortiz: Foil Deer (2015, Carpark): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Spook School: Try to Be Hopeful (2015, Fortuna Pop): [r]: B+(**)
  • Total Babes: Heydays (2015, Wichita): [r]: B+(*)
  • Webb Wilder: Mississippi Moderne (2015, Landslide): [r]: B+(*)

Old music rated this week:

  • Robert Forster: Intermission: The Best of the Solo Recordings 1990-1997 (1990-97 [2007], Beggars Banquet): [r]: A-
  • Marty Grosz and His Sugar Daddies: On Revival Day: Live at the Atlanta Jazz Party! (1995, Jazzology): [r]: B+(**)
  • Marty Grosz & His Hot Puppies: Rhythm Is Our Business (2000-01 [2003], Sackville): [r]: B+(***)
  • John Law Quartet: Exploded on Impact (1992 [1993], Slam): [r]: B+(***)
  • John Law: Extremely Quartet (1996 [1997], Hat Art): [r]: A-
  • John Law Quartet: Abacus (2000 [2001], Hatology): [r]: B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Aaron Irwin Quartet: A Room Forever (self-released): November 24
  • Ernie Krivda: Requiem for a Jazz Lady (Capri): November 17

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links this week:

  • Gary Legum: Sam Brownback is a harbinger of national doom: Bleeding Kansas' scary lesson for America: Brownback's approval ratings are down to 18%, about where Bush's were when his presidency ended. Crowson put it like this:

    Of course, Brownback wasn't much more popular when he was reëlected governor in 2014, but the trick there is to play up the fear of the unknown Democrat -- that plus a mysterious shift where Republicans across the board ran about five points higher than the polls predicted. Brownback's income tax cuts, including a free ride for business owners, passed early in his first term, and immediately blew a $600 billion hole in the state budget, leading to massive spending cuts and tax increases (both state and local, all regressive) to keep government marginally functional. Kansas had gotten through the early stages of the Great Recession relatively well, mostly because there was relatively little real estate bubble to pop, but since Brownback became governor economic growth has lagged in every comparison. This should be no surprise to anyone who knows the first thing about macroeconomics: just as more government spending stimulates more economic growth, less undermines growth (or worse). What's harder to calculate is how much long-term damage this level of economic strangulation will cause -- especially the hardships to be inflicted on a whole generation of students -- but there can be no doubt that harm is being done.

    Legum properly sees Kansas as a warning to the nation of what happens when Republicans get too much (or actually any -- his other example is Wisconsin) power, especially when led by an ambitious ideologue. Legum quips: "The biggest mystery about Brownback at this point is that he has been such an awful governor, it's a wonder he's not running for president." Brownback did run for president in 2008 and quit after he couldn't top 2% in Iowa polls. He then decided to give up his Senate seat and run for governor to prove himself as an executive and, well, he simply hasn't done that yet -- in fact, his unwillingness to compromise on rolling back some of his income tax cuts last year shows he's still convinced that they'll pan out eventually. Besides, the early field for governors with hideous records was already overfull with Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal (whose approval rates in Louisiana are even worse), plus his Bible buddy Rick Perry was running -- sure, that niche has opened up with Perry and Walker the first dropouts, but nothing suggests that Brownback would do any better.

  • Paul Krugman: The Hamptons Hyperinflation Endorsement:

    As a public service, some background to Marco Rubio's latest campaign coup. As the Times reports, Paul Singer -- a huge contributor to Republican causes -- has thrown his support behind Rubio.

    What it doesn't mention are two facts about Paul Singer that are, I think, relevant.

    First, he's most famous for his practice of buying up distressed debt of Third World governments, then suing to demand full repayment.

    Second, he's an inflation truther -- with an unusual twist. [ . . . ] But Singer has taken a different tack: he knows, just knows, that inflation is running away because of what it's doing to the prices of the things he cares about:

    Check out London, Manhattan, Aspen and East Hampton real estate prices, as well as high-end art prices, to see what the leading edge of hyperinflation could look like.

    Even if you only know one thing about economics, it's probably that prices rise on fixed goods when buyers have more money to spend. If the price of Aspen real estate is going up faster than the general rate of inflation, it's because the people who are in the market to buy that real estate are bidding each other up, and what makes that possible is that they have more money to spend. That would be obvious for a commodity, but real estate and fine art are also thought of as assets, so it's easy for buyers to fool themselves into thinking they're worth all they paid. One sign of increasing inequality is asset inflation, and the more the merrier.

    Also see Richard Silverstein on Singer: Pro-Israel Hedge Fund Billionaire, Paul Singer, Buys Large Stake in Rubio Inc.. Rubio also appears in Policy and Character, but more importantly Krugman gets to remind you of how prescient he's been in the past, and it's a case worth repeating:

    My view here is strongly influenced by the story of George W. Bush. Younger readers may not know or remember how it was back in 2000, but back then the universal view of the commentariat was that W was a moderate, amiable, bluff and honest guy. I was pretty much alone taking his economic proposals -- on taxes and Social Security -- seriously. And what I saw was a level of dishonesty and irresponsibility, plus radicalism, that was unprecedented in a major-party presidential candidate. So I was out there warning that Bush was a bad, dangerous guy no matter how amiable he seemed. [ . . . ]

    And proposing wildly unaffordable stuff is itself a declaration of priorities: Rubio is saying that keeping the Hair Club for Growth happy is more important to him than even a pretense of fiscal responsibility. Or if you like, what we've seen is a willingness to pander without constraint or embarrassment.

  • Tom Engelhardt: Campaign 2016 as a Demobilizing Spectacle: No less than a short history of post-WWII America pivoting around the question of when and where the American public is actively engaged ("mobilized") in public affairs, or not. For instance, he quotes Bernie Sanders: "We need to mobilize tens of millions of people to begin to stand up and fight back and to reclaim the government, which is now owned by big money." He ten adds a telling example: "We do, of course, have one recent example of a mobilization in an election season. In the 2008 election, the charismatic Barack Obama created a youthful, grassroots movement, a kind of cult of personality that helped sweep him to victory, only to demobilize it as soon as he entered the Oval Office." He doesn't mention the Tea Party, but that's another reflection of the sense that the government has turned into an alien entity that needs to be "taken back" (perhaps because they view it as something to be destroyed rather than restored as an instrument of the public interest).

    The desire to take the American public out of the "of the people, by the people, for the people" business can minimally be traced back to the Vietnam War, to the moment when a citizen's army began voting with its feet and antiwar sentiment grew to startling proportions not just on the home front, but inside a military in the field. It was then that the high command began to fear the actual disintegration of the U.S. Army.

    Not surprisingly, there was a deep desire never to repeat such an experience. (No more Vietnams! No more antiwar movements!) As a result, on January 27, 1973, with a stroke of the pen, President Richard Nixon abolished the draft, and so the citizen's army. With it went the sense that Americans had an obligation to serve their country in time of war (and peace).

    From that moment on, the urge to demobilize the American people and send them to Disney World would only grow. First, they were to be removed from all imaginable aspects of war making. Later, the same principle would be applied to the processes of government and to democracy itself. In this context, for instance, you could write a history of the monstrous growth of secrecy and surveillance as twin deities of the American state: the urge to keep ever more information from the citizenry and to see ever more of what those citizens were doing in their own private time. Both should be considered demobilizing trends.

    The line that stands out there is "No more antiwar movements!" -- most likely because antiwar movements question not just the strategy of a particular war but the material basis that makes it possible to fight wars, and the very morality of starting wars. Also, in the case of the United States, it is very easy to uncover a long list of dubious choices that led to war -- many taken in secret and covered up by the self-perpetuating security state.

  • Robert Parry: A Glimmer of Hope for Syria: For many years one of the best sources on the Middle East has been Paul Woodward's War in Context blog, but something unfunny happened a few years back when he started giving half or more of his blog to articles that seemed to be promoting western intervention in the Syrian Civil War. That didn't render the blog worthless, but it gave it an off odor. (An example today is Syria's horror shows the tragic price of Western inaction. I wouldn't call any of these things inaction: Obama's speech telling Assad he had to step down, the CIA's many attempts to train and arm "moderate" opposition groups, the "red line" ultimatum on chemical weapons, the arming of Kurdish troops operating in Syria, the bombing of all things ISIS, last week's insertion of Special Forces into Syria. And while I'm not sure what Woodward means by "Western" the US, at least, is at least partly complicit in the acts of its allies like Israel, Turkey (above and beyond NATO), Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar -- the first three have bombed Syria, and the latter two have at least shipped arms and money into the war. If anything there's been way too much action -- a charge I don't exempt Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah from.) Woodward doesn't flinch from the human tragedy the war has wrought, but the notion that some "action" is what's needed to bring the war to a just (or merely sane) close is magical thinking of the most fantastical sort. The only thing that can work is some form of agreement where all sides give up the war. Parry's article gives you some background, and a bit of hope. (The part I don't see as hopeful is that while he posits that Russia and Iran may press Assad to compromise, which is indeed essential, I don't see any comparable pressure to get the US to step down. Indeed, it seems to be a common hope that an agreement on Damascus will make it possible for the US, Russia, and Iran to join forces in demolishing ISIS, which is to say in not ending the war.) Also worth reading along these lines is Jimmy Carter: A Five-Nation Plan to End the Syrian Crisis. Still, even Carter's endgame leaves ISIS fighting:

    Mr. Assad's governing authority could then be ended in an orderly process, an acceptable government established in Syria, and a concerted effort could then be made to stamp out the threat of the Islamic State.

    Scaling the civil war back to just ISIS vs. the world would be preferable to the status quo, but certainly isn't optimal.

  • The US Spends $35 Billion Helping Out the World . . . But Where Does All This Money Really Go?: Well, the graphic says it all:

    I doubt this factors in the money the Defense Department and the CIA spend -- Afghanistan would be much larger -- but it does seem to count some money not destined for established governments (e.g., Syria, but where is Libya?). Of course, Israel you know about, and its two neighboring dictatorships, primarily tasked with keeping Palestinians pent up on their reservations in Gaza and the West Bank. One thing this shows is the extent to which "economic aid" has been reduced to a slush fund for America's imperial ventures. Another is that the US is becoming increasingly entangled in Africa.

  • DR Tucker: The Dawn of Darkness:

    This Wednesday marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of one of the great tragedies in American history, a moment of indelible shame, a choice that harmed so many in this country and around the world: the defeat of President Jimmy Carter at the hands of right-wing former California Governor Ronald Reagan. [ . . . ]

    Reagan's economic agenda literally took from the poor and gave to the rich. His race-baiting on the 1980 campaign trail and his demonization of civil rights as president laid the foundation for reckless Republican rhetoric on race during the Obama era. His illegal wars in Central America and his irresponsible invasion of Grenada served as the model for George W. Bush's Iraq misadventure. His scorn of environmental concerns put us on the painful path to a climate crisis.

    Amen. I'll add that while the full horror of those points only became clear over time, even back when Reagan was president I frequently noted that under him the only growth industry in America is fraud.

  • David Atkins: Will the Press Recognize the Existential Threat and Fight Back, or Buckle Under?:

    It should astonish even the jaded that Republicans are calling CNBC, that stodgy home of supply-side Wall Street cheerleading, an agent of the left.

    Still apoplectic at being asked some basic questions at the debate, Republican candidates are doubling down on their freakout.

    Ted Cruz is flat-out calling CNBC debate moderators "left-wing operatives" and demanding that right-wing radio hosts moderate their debates, instead.

    Donald Trump, who openly lied during the debate about what is on his own website, called debate moderator John Harwood a "dope" and a "fool."

    All of this after Republican candidates spewed forth one of the most embarrassing explosion of lies ever witnessed during a television presidential debate.

    The press is facing an existential threat. With Republicans increasingly unashamed to tell grandiose lies and respond to any press criticism with derogatory insults and whines about media bias as well as blackmail threats to cancel appearances if the questions are too tough, the press must decide how to respond on two fronts. First, it must decide how to present an objective face while acknowledging that both sides do not, in fact, behave equally badly. Second, it must determine whether it will continue to ask the tough questions that need answers regardless of the threats made by the GOP, or whether it will meekly submit to the demands for kid-glove treatment.

    Atkins also argues that Debate Questions Naturally Lean Left Because Mainstream Voters and Reality Do. One piece of evidence here is how often the right starts to dissemble when they plan on doing something unpopular -- like when Bush dubbed his giveaway bill to the timber industry the "health forests initiative." Brownback moved heaven and earth in 2014 to try to convince Kansans that he was the education governor, after years of underfunding schools and attacking teacher rights. This doesn't necessarily mean that voters lean that far left -- all they need to do is come in left of the Republicans, which isn't hard to do: a litttle decency and integrity suffices.

    The fact that Republicans have more unpopular positions and a weaker track record of success isn't the fault of debate moderators. It's the fault of Republican candidates and their ideology.

  • Israel links:

Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted):

  • Rebecca Gordon: How the US Created Middle East Mayhem: Provides an explanation why Tunisia alone among the "Arab Spring" countries seems to have developed into a viable democracy -- while there are some local factors of note, one big one is that the US hadn't had much involvement or interest in Tunisia, especially its military. Gordon goes on to report on the region's "Arab Spring" failures: Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria -- each of those are nations the US and/or its so-called allies have repeatedly interfered in. Supposedly these are all nations the US state and defense departments regard as "vital national interests" -- yet somehow stability, popular democratic rights, and social justice aren't reckoned as things that matter.

  • James George Jatras: Benghazi: What Neither Hillary Nor the Republicans Want to Talk About: I'm afraid I'm not following all of this, but it is clear that the ending of the Gaddafi regime put a large amount of weapons into circulation, and it seems not unlikely that the CIA was in Benghazi to help direct some of those weapons to supposed allies/clients in Syria and possibly elsewhere.

  • Dylan Matthews: Ben Carson accidentally stumbled on a great idea for improving education: James Hamblin quotes Carson: "Wouldn't it make more sense to put the money in a pot and redistribute it throughout the country so that public schools are equal, whether you're in a poor area or a wealthy area?" Carson eventually walked part of that back, but he stumbled onto a basic truth: the federal government has much stronger tax authority than state/local government, plus has the ability to run deficits, but most government spending, especially on things that (unlike the military) directly affect Americans, is done at the state and local level. Figuring out a scheme to redistribute tax receipts from the federal level down would eliminate a lot of inequities -- especially the current race-to-the-bottom of giving tax subsidies to businesses -- and provide more robust support for essential government spending.

  • George Monbiot: Indonesia is burning. So why is the world looking away? Massive forest fires in the US have been a news staple, but this one is new to me:

    A great tract of Earth is on fire. It looks as you might imagine hell to be. The air has turned ochre: visibility in some cities has been reduced to 30 metres. Children are being prepared for evacuation in warships; already some have choked to death. Species are going up in smoke at an untold rate. It is almost certainly the greatest environmental disaster of the 21st century -- so far.

    Well, it is far away from here, but it's still the same planet, and ultimately the same atmosphere:

    Fire is raging across the 5,000km length of Indonesia. It is surely, on any objective assessment, more important than anything else taking place today. And it shouldn't require a columnist, writing in the middle of a newspaper, to say so. It should be on everyone's front page. It is hard to convey the scale of this inferno, but here's a comparison that might help: it is currently producing more carbon dioxide than the US economy. And in three weeks the fires have released more CO2 than the annual emissions of Germany. [ . . . ]

    It's not just the trees that are burning. It is the land itself. Much of the forest sits on great domes of peat. When the fires penetrate the earth, they smoulder for weeks, sometimes months, releasing clouds of methane, carbon monoxide, ozone and exotic gases such as ammonium cyanide. The plumes extend for hundreds of miles, causing diplomatic conflicts with neighbouring countries.

  • Thomas Schaller: 55-45 Politics in a 50-50 Country: This looks into various areas where the Republicans have built-in advantages which skew power in their favor -- something which includes but extends beyond the gerrymandered House districts. Then there's also the peculiarity that Republicans ("the party of no") are more often satisfied simply to obstruct Democratic initiatives -- a task that the system's numerous checks and balances favors, as do historical quirks like the Senate fillibuster.

Oct 2015