January 2018 Notebook
Index
Latest

2018
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2017
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2016
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2015
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2014
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2013
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2012
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2011
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2010
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2009
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2008
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2007
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2006
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2005
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2004
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2003
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2002
  Dec
  Nov
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb
  Jan
2001
  Dec
  Oct
  Sep
  Aug
  Jul
  Jun
  May
  Apr
  Mar
  Feb

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Streamnotes (January 2018)

Pick up text here.

Daily Log

Decided to celebrate my late mother's birthday tonight by going out for what's supposed to be the best fried chicken dinner in Wichita, a place called Stroud's. (They also have a restaurant or two in Kansas City, which has been touted in Road Food.) Interesting, old, ramshackle building near the northeast city limits -- no doubt when it was built Hillside and 37th St. No. were just a couple of two-lane country roads (although possibly paved). Still mostly open farmland to the north, but the black monolith headquarters for Koch Industries is now a mile north, and less than a mile south is the 4-lane bypass K-96.

Strouds serves pan-fried fried chicken, with mashed potatoes, green beans, gravy, and a cinnamon role included for dessert. The chicken would be better if they had a clue about salt and pepper. The gravy would be better if they made it a bit thicker (but, of course, that's tricky; and, by the way, when I tried their chicken-fried steak long ago, it was way oversalted. Green beans were pretty tasteless too, so all-in-all not a very tasty meal. Still, felt satisfying. And of course I remember going there with my mother and trading pretty much the same comments on the food.

When I was growing up, fried chicken was what you served company, and what we were served practically everywhere we went. I can recall at least a dozen variations, although all were dredged in flour (no buttermilk) and pan-fried, partly covered so they weren't especially crispy, and the dripping turned into gravy -- I always preferred biscuits to potatoes (boiled, sometimes mashed), but at home we generally made do with torn-up pieces of white bread. Green beans were common, preferably cooked with onion and bacon -- fresh Kentucky Wonders were especially treasured. Sometimes corn, and some relatives always had cornbread. I always thought Aunt Lucille's chicken was especially good. Much later, after I learned to fry my own, I figured out that her secret was black pepper, which my mother added at the table to her own plate but spared the rest of us. Mine is much like my mother's, but with a generous grind of black pepper.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Music Week

Music: Current count 29253 [29219] rated (+34), 378 [373] unrated (+5).

Ran out of time again, so I'll have to let the lists speak for themselves. The reviews will show up in Streamnotes later this week/month, so I probably mean Wednesday, although I'm not sure how I'll manage that either. My mother's birthday -- she would have been 105 -- I usually mark the day with some home cooking (or Chinese, which is most of what we ate together in 2000). But I'm likely to take a break this year and go out for some inferior fried chicken. (I can match hers, but for some reason Strouds can't.)

Wednesday is also the likely freeze date for my 2017 list. Seems too early, partly because I didn't get much closure from the Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll. Some hope they will eventually manage to post the ballots, but I'm informed their web platform change made that difficult. Nothing on Glenn McDonald's site either, so they've probably frozen him out -- I have little doubt that if he had the data it'd be up now. Still, I noticed a few more pieces dribbling out at the Voice. Here's what I know about so far:

After a long hiatus, I did manage to make a bit of progress on the jazz guides. Up to Adam Schroeder in the Jazz '00s file, 80% (minus the groups which I've been collecting for later), bringing the 21st Century guide to 1351 pages. Still, progress is erratic, and I wouldn't bet on much soon.

As I said, no time left to comment, but I will note that one album I initially graded B+(***) based on a download but bumped up after the publicist sent a CDR. Doesn't happen often, but sometimes extra plays do help (at least if the record is good to start with).


New records rated this week:

  • Cardi B: Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 1 (2016, KSR): [r]: B+(**)
  • Cardi B: Gangsta Bitch Music Vol. 2 (2017, KSR): [r]: B+(*)
  • Stefano Battaglia: Pelagos (2016 [2017], ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • Beck: Colors (2017, Capitol): [r]: B
  • Dave Bennett: Blood Moon (2017, Mack Avenue): [r]: B+(**)
  • Bibio: Phantom Brickworks (2017, Warp): [r]: B
  • Bicep: Bicep (2017, Ninja Tune): [r]: B+(**)
  • Raoul Björkenheim Triad: Beyond (2016 [2017], Eclipse): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Clientele: Music for the Age of Miracles (2017, Merge): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Courtneys: II (2017, Flying Nun): [r]: B+(**)
  • Charlotte Gainsbourg: Rest (2017, Because Music): [r]: B+(**)
  • EMA: Exile in the Outer Ring (2017, City Slang): [r]: B+(**)
  • Peter Evans/Agustí Fernández/Mats Gustafsson: A Quietness of Water (2012 [2017], Not Two): [r]: B+(*)
  • Mary Gauthier: Rifles & Rosary Beads (2018, In the Black): [r]: B+(***)
  • Nona Hendryx & Gary Lucas: The World of Captain Beefheart (2017, Knitting Factory): [r]: A-
  • Robyn Hitchcock: Robyn Hitchcock (2017, Yep Roc): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ibeyi: Ash (2017, XL): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ted Leo: The Hanged Man (2017, SuperEgo): [r]: B
  • Aimee Mann: Mental Illness (2017, SuperEgo): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Ed Palermo Big Band: The Adventures of Zodd Zundgren (2017 [2018], Cuneiform): [cdr]: C+
  • Leslie Pintchik: You Eat My Food, You Drink My Wine, You Steal My Girl! (2018, Pintch Hard): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Christian Sands: Reach (2017, Mack Avenue): [r]: B+(**)
  • Rev. Sekou: In Times Like These (2017, Zent): [r]: B-
  • Siama: Rivers From the Congo to the Mississippi (2016, Siama Music): [r]: B+(**)
  • Harry Styles: Harry Styles (2017, Columbia): [r]: B
  • Kevin Sun: Trio (2017 [2018], Ectomorph Music): [cd]: A-
  • Steve Swell: Music for Six Musicians: Hommage Ā Olivier Messiaen (2017, Silkheart): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Zola Jesus: Okovi (2017, Sacred Bones): [r]: B

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

  • Kenny Burrell: A Generation Ago Today (1966-67 [2018], Verve): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Replacements: For Sale: Live at Maxwell's 1986 (1986 [2017], Rhino, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Buddy Terry: Awareness (1971 [2017], Wewantsounds): [r]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • Fast 'N' Bulbous: Waxed Oop (An Impetuous Stream Bubbled Up) (2009, Cuneiform): [bc]: A-
  • The Replacements: All Shook Down (1990, Sire): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Replacements: All for Nothing/Nothing for All (1985-90 [1997], Reprise, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)


Grade (or other) changes:

  • Raoul Björkenheim Ecstasy: Doors of Perception (2017, Cuneiform): [cdr]: was B+(***) A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Louise Baranger: Louise Baranger Plays the Great American Groove Book (Summit)
  • Sarah Buechi: Contradiction of Happiness (Intakt): February 16
  • Kaze: Atody Man (Libra)
  • Daniel Levin/Chris Pitsiokos/Brandon Seabrook: Stomiidae (Dark Tree)
  • \\livingfossil//: Never Die! (self-released): February 2
  • Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton: Music for David Mossman: Live at Vortex London (Intakt): February 16
  • Samo Salamon/Howard Levy: Peaks of Light (Sazas)
  • Dolores Scozzesi: Here Comes the Sun (Café Pacific): March 1
  • Mike Vax & Ron Romm: Collaboration (Summit)

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Weekend Roundup

I figured the big political story of the week was Trump going to Davos, announcing "America is open for business," and hat-in-hand begging foreign capitalists to invest in America. He'd probably tell you that the reason he's courting foreign investment is to create jobs for Americans, but that's merely a second-order side-effect. The reason capitalists invest money is for profits -- to take more money back out of America than they put in. By "open for business" Trump means "come rip us off -- we'll make it easy for you."

Trump's Davos mission effectively ends any prospect that Trump might have actually tried to implement some sort of "economic nationalist" agenda. The odds that he would do so were never very good. The balance of corporate power has swung from manufacturing to finance, and that has driven the globalization that has undermined America's manufacturing base while greatly increasing the relative wealth of the top percent. Trump himself has benefited from this scheme, not really by working the finance and trade angles as by offering rich investors diversifying investments in high-end real estate.

None of this was really a secret when Trump was campaigning. To the extent he had concrete proposals, they were always aimed at making it easier for businesses, including banks, to screw over customers (and employees), policy consistent throughout his own long career. Given that's all he ever wanted to do, it's not just laziness for him to kick back and let the Republican Party policy wonks go crazy. It's not even clear that Trump cares about his signature anti-immigration stance. Sure, the hard-liners he's surrounded himself with have been able to keep him in line (although his occasional thrashing adds confusion to the issue, and thus far camouflage -- much ado last week about his seemingly generous offer on the "dreamers" wrapped up in numerous unpalatable demands).


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: The 4 most important politics stories of the week: The government reopened (until February 8, anyhow); Trump released his hostage demands; Mueller is working on obstruction of justice; Pennsylvania Republicans got some bad news: embattled Rep. Pat Meehan is retiring, and the Supreme Court ruled against a gerrymander map which gave Republicans a 13-5 House margin. Other Yglesias pieces this week:

  • Dean Baker: The Corporate Tax Cut Bonanza.

  • Jane Coaston: In 2008, Hillary Clinton's faith adviser was accused of sexual harassment -- and was kept on: More telling, his victim was reassigned. Still, for me the more shocking (at least more dispiriting) aspect of the story is that she had a "faith adviser." Didn't that sort of role go out of fashion with Rasputin?

  • Masha Gessen: At Davos -- and Always -- Donald Trump Can Only Think in the Present Tense: Notes that Trump managed to get through Davos without making any outrageous faux pas, while media ignored anything of longer-term import:

    Reading the U.S. media, you would think that all the attendees of Davos 2018 cared about was whether Donald Trump obeyed the teleprompter and sounded reasonably civilized while inviting the moneybags of the world to invest in the United States. [George] Soros's remarks got a bit of coverage, while the more visionary conversation seemed not to register at all. This shows how provincial we have become. Our chronic embarrassment -- or fear of embarrassment -- when it comes to our President may be a new phenomenon, but our lack of imagination is not. The American political conversation has long been based on outdated economic and social ideas, and now it's really showing.

    By the way, I haven't seen this in any piece on the web, but Seth Myers, in a subordinate clause, mentioned that no American president had attended Davos before Trump since 2000. That means the last US president to take advantage of the opportunity to pander before the global elites was . . . Bill Clinton. Even there, it's possible that the lame duck was more interested in lining up contributors to his future foundation than anything else. I think I actually recall a story about Clinton in Davos: if memory serves, he skipped out on the ill-fated Camp David negotiations between Barak and Arafat -- his inattention contributing to both failure and the breakout of the so-called Al-Aqsa Intifada following that failure. Should be some sort of cautionary tale, but it's probably true that Trump had nothing better that he was capable of doing.

    For more on what Soros had to say, see: John Cassidy: How George Soros Upstaged Donald Trump at Davos.

  • Ryan Grim/Lee Fang: The Dead Enders: "Candidates who signed up to battle Donald Trump must get past the Democratic Party first."

  • German Lopez: Marshall County, Kentucky, high school shooting: what we know: For starters, two dead, eighteen others injured. Among the factoids:

    • The shooting comes a day after another shooting at a high school in Italy, Texas, where a 16-year-old student shot a 15-year-old girl, who is now recovering from her injuries.
    • This part of Kentucky has seen school shootings in the past, the AP reported: "Marshall County High School is about 30 minutes from Heath High School in Paducah, Kentucky, where a 1997 mass shooting killed three and injured five."
    • So far in 2018, there have been at least 11 school shootings . . .
  • Kali Holloway: Trump isn't crazy, he's just a terrible person: Interview with Allen Frances, the psychiatrist who wrote the DSM entry on narcissistic personality disorder. Frances also has a more general book: Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump. Such a book could be interesting, but his answers in the interview don't guarantee that it will be.

  • Patrick Lawrence: Now the US is playing spoiler role in Korea, Syria and elsewhere. But why? News items include new, arbitrary and unilateral sanctions against North Korea and Russia, and an avowal to leave US troops in Syria after ISIS has been defeated (meaning, driven from its previous territory). One can think of other cases where the US is acting aggressive arbitrarily with no evident hope or interest in advancing a diplomatic solution. Trump's mandarins seem to regard diplomacy with such phobia they can't even imagine how to accept surrender, much less consider any form of compromise. On Syria, also see Patrick Cockburn: By Remaining in Syria the US Is Fuelling More Wars in the Middle East.

  • Charlie May: The Koch brothers are "all in" for 2018 with plans to spend up to $400 million: As Charles Koch said, "We've made more progress in the last five years than I had in the previous 50."

  • Sarah Okeson: Making the world safe for loan sharks: "Trump's consumer protection office helps payday loan companies exploit borrowers." Moreover, they don't even have to try changing the law. They can just stop enforcing it: Paul Kiel: Newly defanged, top consumer protection agency drops investigation of high-cost lender.

  • Andrew Prokop: Trump's attempt to fire Robert Mueller, explained: The event in question actually happened last June, when the White House counsel threatened to resign rather than carry out the order. Trump was subsequently talked down by White House staff. Strikes me as one of many cases where Trump's default position is to think he can do anything he wants -- even something which is not a very good idea. Very likely Trump ran into problems like that even before becoming president: businessmen routinely check with lawyers before carrying out their arbitrary whims, and probably get shot down a lot. So I wouldn't make a big deal out of this particular incident, but it does illustrate that Trump thinks he's above the law, and that could well turn into a problem. For more, see: Emily Stewart: Lindsey Graham: firing Mueller "would be the end" of the Trump presidency; Esme Cribb: Gowdy to GOP Colleagues: Mueller Is 'Fair' So 'Leave Him the Hell Alone'; Jeffrey Toobin: The Answer to Whether Trump Obstructed Justice Now Seems Clear.

  • Daniel Rodgers: The Uses and Abuses of "Neoliberalism", plus comments Julia Ott: Words Can't Do the Work for Us, Mike Konczal: How Ideology Works, NDB Connolly: A White Story, and Timothy Shenk: Jargon or Clickbait?, plus a reply by Rodgers. I haven't sorted through all of this, but Konczal is certainly right that there is a coherent and dangerous ideology there, even if the word "neoliberalism" isn't an especially good summation of it. My own experience with the word is largely conditioned by the following:

    • I first encountered the word as used by British leftists like David Harvey -- author of A Brief History of Neoliberalism (2005); also see his interview, Neoliberalism Is a Political Project, Thinking Through David Harvey's Theorisation of Neoliberalism, and (more graphically) RSA Animate: Crises of Capitalism -- so it always struck me as an Anglicism, preconditioned by the fact that in British politics the Liberal party is distinct from Labour and rooted in 19th century laissez-faire. Similar liberals once existed in the US, but they generally made their peace with labor in the New Deal Democrats, while conservatives have turned "liberal" into a broad curse word meant to cover any and all leftist deviancies.
    • Granted, since the 1970s a faction of Democrats have wanted to stress both their traditional liberal beliefs and their opposition to social democracy/welfare state, usually combined with support for an aggressive anti-communist foreign policy. Some actually called themselves neoliberals. Later the term became useful to opponents for describing so-called New Democrats, with their eager support for business interests, globalization and ("humanitarian") interventionist foreign policy -- the Clintons, most obviously.
    • Meanwhile, a group which single-mindedly promoted an aggressive, hegemony-seeking foreign policy came to call themselves neoconservatives. While they tended to support conventional conservative causes in domestic policy, they frequently styled their prescriptions for other countries as neoliberalism -- presumably to give it a softer edge, although the agenda meant to impose austerity in government while liberating capital everywhere. For a while I was tempted to treat this as a unified ideology and call it "neoism."

  • Danny Sjursen: Wrong on Nam, Wrong on Terror: Reviews a long list of books about America's Vietnam War seeking to reverse in theory the actual results of the war: failure, withdrawal, and defeat. (One book he doesn't get around to is Max Boot: The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam.) Sjursen points out that many of today's prominent War on Terror architects became officers shortly after Vietnam, so their education was formed in understanding (or more often misunderstanding) that war's lessons. That should give them a head start in rewriting imaginary Wars on Terror -- you know, the kind where we get to win.

  • Matt Taibbi: How Donald Trump's Schizoid Administration Upended the GOP: Taibbi continues to worry about the health of our two-party system.

    Pre-trump, the gop was a brilliant if unlikely coalition -- a healthy heaping of silent-majority racial paranoia, wedded to redundant patriotism and Christian family values, in service of one-percenter policies that benefited exactly the demographic the average Republican voter hated most of all: Richie Rich city dwellers who embraced globalist economics, read The Economist and may even have been literally Jewish. In other words, Jared Kushner.

    Just 12 months later, all of those groups are now openly recoiling from one another with the disgusted vehemence of a bunch of strangers waking up in a pile after a particularly drunken and embarrassing keg party. Polls show that conservative Christians, saddled with a president who pays off porn stars and brags about grabbing women by the pussy, are finally, if slowly, slinking away from the Trump brand.

    Yacht-accident victim Rupert Murdoch and other GOP kingmakers are in a worse spot. They've watched in horror as once-obedient viewers shook off decades of Frankensteinian programming and went rogue. Since 2016, the audience has turned to the likes of Breitbart and Alex Jones' InfoWars for more purely distilled versions of the anti-government, anti-minority hysteria stations like Fox once pumped over the airwaves to keep old white people awake and agitated enough to watch the commercials. An October Harvard-Harris poll showed 61 percent of Republicans support Bannon's movement to unseat the Republican establishment. . . .

    A year into this presidency, in other words, the Republicans have become a ghost ship of irreconcilable voter blocs, piloted by a madman executive who's now proved he's too unstable to really represent any of them, and moreover drives party divisions wider every time he opens his mouth.

    Taibbi misunderestimates Republicans at all levels. For the base, it would be nice to think that they flocked to Trump over fifteen generic conservative clones because they wanted a candidate who would protect safety nets like Social Security, who would "drain the swamp" of moneyed special interests, who would avoid war, and who might even have the bold imagination to replace crappy Obamacare with single payer. You can find support for all those hopes in Trump's campaign blather, but if you paid more than casual attention you'd realize he was simply the biggest fraud of all. Rather, it's more likely that the base flocked to Trump because they recognized he was as confused and filled with kneejerk spite as they were. Where they misjudged him wasn't on policy; it was in thinking that as a billionaire he must be a functional, competent sociopath -- someone who could act coherently even with an agenda that made no sense.

    On the other hand, all the Republican donor establishment really wanted was a front man who could sell their self-interest to enough schmoes to seize power and cram their agenda through. While Trump wasn't ideal, they realized he had substantial appeal beyond what more reliable tools like Paul Ryan and Mike Pence could ever dream of. Perhaps some recognized the downside of running a flamboyant moron, but even so they've managed to overcome incredible embarrassments before and bounce right back: witness the Tea Party outburst and their triumphant 2010 election just two years after GW Bush oversaw the meltdown of the entire economy. So Trump proves to be a complete disaster? They'll steal what they can while they can, maybe lose an election, and bounce right back as if nothing that happened was ever their fault.

    For more on how they do this, see: Ari Berman: How the GOP Rigs Elections.

  • Rachel Wolfe: The awards for 2018's quintessentially American restaurants all went to immigrants.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Daily Log

A few days back I bought a frozen side of pork ribs, thinking I might put them in a Korean marinade and roast them, making for a fairly easy but tasty dinner. Figured there'd be enough to to invite a couple friends over. Meant to cook them on Thursday, so went out shopping for some side dishes on Wednesday. Got up about 2pm on Thursday and realized I wasn't going to manage that afternoon -- for one thing, the ribs required 4-24 hours marinating, and I didn't get them bagged up until 5:15 pm. So I rescheduled for Friday, and belatedly sorted out a menu. Did a fair amount of leisurely prep Thursday evening, and got up around noon on Friday with everything planned out reasonably. Dinner was ready at 6pm on the dot, beating my guests by a few minutes. Menu worked out like this:

  • Pork ribs: separated, marinated overnight in a lot of Korean bean sauce, a little Korean chili sauce, pear, onion, garlic, some sugar, probably a few more things, then baked for 45 minutes at 350F.
  • Stir-fried noodles: based on an udon recipe, but substituted thin rice noodles, boiled very briefly, with squid, shrimp, green bell pepper, onion, some fried tofu, and a sauce (mostly dark soy and sake).
  • Eggplant: Japanese, steamed, with a garlic-soy sauce.
  • Sweet potatoes: cut, baked, deep fried, in a brown sugar syrup with ground almonds.
  • Baby bok choy: blanched, then stir fried with sesame oil.
  • Daikon: cut into matchsticks, dressed with wasabi and lemon juice.
  • Mushrooms: fresh shiitake, braised in dark soy with onion.
  • Zucchini: Korean, sliced thin and stir fried with dried shrimp.
  • Lotus root: braised with dark soy and maple syrup.

This was more than I had initially planned, but scaled down a bit from two Korean dinners I made last year -- which involved homemade kimchi. I meant to serve some store-bought kimchi but forgot. I also neglected the other two main traits of Korean food -- heat and sesame seeds, but served some diluted Korean chili sauce and sesame seeds on the side.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Music Week

Music: Current count 29219 [29181] rated (+38), 373 [367] unrated (+6).

Before we get to music, I want to point out Leonard Pitts' column trying to sum up what Donald Trump, his enablers and fellow travelers have wrought in just one year. This would have fit neatly as a coda to yesterday's Weekend Roundup:

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more visceral illustration of how our sensibilities have been bludgeoned into submission in the last year. Surprises no longer surprise. Shocks no longer shock. We have bumped up against the limits of human bandwidth, find ourselves unable to take it all in.

One simply cannot keep up with, much less respond with proper outrage to, all of this guy's scandals, bungles, blame-shifting, name-calling and missteps, his sundry acts of mendacity, misanthropy, perversity and idiocy. It's like trying to fill a teacup from Niagara Falls. It's like trying to read the Internet.

One year later, we've seen a procession of feuds that would impress a Hatfield, a McCoy or a '90s rapper, running beefs with Mitch McConnell, Elizabeth Warren, Bob Corker, Jeff Flake, Jeff Sessions, Dick Durbin, Colin Kaepernick, James Comey, Joe Scarborough, Mika Brzezinski, CNN, The New York Times and reality, to name just a few.

One year later, the man who promised to "work so hard" for the American people is setting new standards for presidential laziness, a short work day, hours of television and endless golf.

One year later, the man who vowed to bring in "the best people" has hired and fired the sorry likes of Michael Flynn, Sean Spicer, Steve Bannon, Omarosa Manigault Newman, Reince Priebus and Anthony "The Mooch" Scaramucci.

One year later, the man who bragged of having "the best words" has pundits parsing the difference between "shithouse" and "shithole" as descriptors of Africa, El Salvador and Haiti, home, collectively, to about 17 percent of humanity.

One year later, the man who asked African Americans "what the hell" they had to lose by voting for him, is praised by tiki-torch-wielding white supremacists -- "very fine people," he says -- and his name is chanted as a racist taunt by white mobs.

One year later, we live in a state of perpetual nuclear stand off, a Cuban Missile Crisis that never ends.

But hey, at least the stock market is doing well.

Almost fifty years ago I read an essay, "The Obvious," by R.D. Laing, which pointed out that different people have very different notions of what's obvious. This resonated with a word I had recently learned from John N. Bleibtreu's book about cognitive differences between different species, The Parable of the Beast (1968). The word was Umwelt, from the German, the world around oneself. Everyone sees a limited slice of the world, at best tenuously connected to other people's slices, and that's been a limitation since time immemorial. Epistemologists like Kant struggled to find interlinked forms beneath the appearances, but there's a more empirical way to show how external changes affect and limit our understanding of the world. Given that our comprehension of the world is achieved and articulated through a prism of language, we generally find ourselves trapped in a world spun by mass media. Hence, overexposure to Trump normalizes him, and changes us. I'm not at all sure this is deliberate -- ineptness seems more plausible -- but it is strangely effective.

But I am sure that there are many forces which seem to subtly shape our environment in ways that serve their purposes and preclude chances for alternatives -- in business, politics, religion, etc. For instance, I have a book on the shelf in front of me by Philip Mirowski called Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste, about the 2008 financial meltdown and recession, and more specifically how the crisis, which should have totally discredited neoliberal economic theory, resulted in virtually no real change -- mostly because no one in a position of power could see their way around those beliefs. Obama's election in 2008 represented a desire for change, but it wasn't accompanied by any real change in the way Democrats thought about such basic issues as economics and war.


Listened to quite a few records last week, informed by numerous EOY lists (notably including one from Jason Gross), yet I didn't find much to recommend. I did dig into a bunch of Soul Jazz compilations, which might have fared better if I had the booklets (usually pretty good) to go along with the music. The two A-list records I did come up with turned out to be 2016 releases.

The Village Voice has published a list of the top 100 albums and top 50 singles from its Pazz & Jop Critics Poll, plus two essays: one by Robert Christgau, Personal, Political, and Otherwise: King Kendrick Rules Pazz & Jop; the other by Sasha Frere-Jones, Cardi B: In Control of Pazz & Jop Singles. I don't see complete totals, individual ballots, or critic comments, as in previous years, and I don't see any statistical analysis over at Glenn MacDonald's Furia site, which has been an invaluable resource in recent years (2008-2016). We don't even have such basic information as who voted. I'll hold off on commenting on Pazz & Jop and my own EOY Aggregate until next week, by which point I should have stopped fiddling with the latter.

I've been working on bringing Robert Christgau's website up to date. In my private copy, I now have all of the Expert Witness monthlies up to last week, and I have all of those stuffed into the database. I'm still a day or two away from updating the website, but have squirreled away two files of EW entries in the hopes that someone with better eyes might take a look at them and spot errors. See January 2017-June 2017 and July 2017-January 2018. Email me directly or webmaster (which comes to me). Please excuse the broken style sheet and other links.

The update will also include a 2017 Dean's List (not published at Village Voice). One of the tasks I have left to do is to format that and hook in the links.


New records rated this week:

  • 21 Savage/Offset/Metro Boomin: Without Warning (2017, Epic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Fatima Al Qadiri: Shaneera (2017, Hyperdub, EP): [r]: B
  • Django Bates' Beloved: The Study of Touch (2016 [2017], ECM): [r]: B+(*)
  • Bully: Losing (2017, Sub Pop): [r]: B+(**)
  • Chronixx: Chronology (2017, Soul Circle Music/Virgin): [r]: B+(*)
  • Cleric: Resurrection (2017, Figure, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Cleric: Retrocausal (2017, Web of Memory): [r]: B-
  • Sylvie Courvoisier Trio: D'Agala (2017 [2018], Intakt): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Scott DuBois: Autumn Wind (2017, ACT): [r]: B+(***)
  • Fleet Foxes: Crack-Up (2017, Nonesuch): [r]: C+
  • Jeff Hamilton Trio: Live From San Pedro (2017 [2018], Capri): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings: Soul of a Woman (2017, Daptone): [r]: B+(*)
  • Stacey Kent: I Know I Dream: The Orchestral Sessions (2017, Okeh): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Koreatown Oddity: Finna Be Past Tense (2017, Stones Throw): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mr. Lif & Brass Menazeri: Resilient (2017, Waxsimile): [r]: B+(*)
  • L'Orange: The Ordinary Man (2017, Mello Music Group): [r]: B+(***)
  • Luka Productions: Fasokan (2017, Sahel Sounds): [r]: B+(**)
  • Miguel: War & Leisure (2017, ByStorm/RCA): [r]: B+(*)
  • Mount Kimbie: Love What Survives (2017, Warp): [r]: B
  • Maciej Obara Quartet: Unloved (2017, ECM): [r]: B
  • Lucas Pino: The Answer Is No (2017, Outside In Music): [r]: B+(***)
  • Queens of the Stone Age: Villains (2017, Matador): [r]: B
  • Real Estate: In Mind (2017, Domino): [r]: B
  • The Regrettes: Feel Your Feelings Fool! (2017, Warner Brothers): [r]: B+(**)
  • Nadine Shah: Holiday Destination (2017, 1965): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ecca Vandal: Ecca Vandal (Dew Process): [r]: B+(**)
  • Weird Beard [Florian Egli/Dave Gisler/Martina Berther/Rico Bauman]: Orientation (2017 [2018], Intakt): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Roy Woods: Say Less (2017, OVO Sound/Warner Brothers): [r]: B+(**)
  • Msafiri Zawose: Uhamiaji (2017, Soundway): [r]: B+(*)

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

  • Acetone: 1992-2001 (1992-2001 [2017], Light in the Attic): [r]: B
  • Boombox: Early Independent Hip Hop, Electro and Disco Rap 1979-82 (1979-82 [2016], Soul Jazz): [r]: A-
  • Boombox 2: Early Independent Hip Hop Electro and Disco Rap 1979-83 (1979-83 [2017], Soul Jazz): [r]: B+(***)
  • Dancehall: The Rise of Jamaican Dancehall Culture (1977-93 [2017], Soul Jazz, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Deutsche Elektronische Musik 3: Experimental German Rock and Electronic Music 1971-81 (1971-81 [2017], Soul Jazz, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Lloyd McNeill Quartet: Asha (1969 [2017], Soul Jazz): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Lloyd McNeill Quartet: Washington Suite (1970 [2017], Soul Jazz): [r]: B
  • New Orleans Funk Vol. 4: Voodoo Fire in New Orleans 1951-77 (1951-77 [2016], Soul Jazz): [r]: A-
  • Punk 45: Les Punks: The French Connection: The First Wave of French Punk 1977-80 (1977-80 [2016], Soul Jazz): [r]: B+(***)
  • Space, Energy & Light: Expermental Electronic and Acoustic Soundscapes 1961-88 (1961-88 [2017], Soul Jazz): [r]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • Luka Productions: Mali Kady (2016, Sahel Sounds): [r]: B+(*)
  • New Orleans Funk Vol. 3: Two-Way-Pocky-Way, Gumbo Ya-Ya & the Mardi Gras Mambo (1959-84 [2013], Soul Jazz): [r]: B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • David Bertrand: Palmyra & Other Places (Blujazz)
  • Nick Biello: Vagabond Soul (Blujazz)
  • Fred Farell: Distant Song (Whaling City Sound): January 26
  • Craig Fraedrich: Out of the Blues (Summit)
  • James Hall: Lattice (Outside In Music): February 8
  • Cecilia Sanchietti: La Verza Via (Blujazz)
  • Steve Swell: Music for Six Musicians: Hommage Ā Olivier Messiaen (Silkheart)


Miscellaneous notes:


  • Dancehall: The Rise of Jamaican Dancehall Culture (1977-93 [2017], Soul Jazz): B+(***)
  • New Orleans Funk Vol. 3: Two-Way-Pocky-Way, Gumbo Ya-Ya & the Mardi Gras Mambo (1959-84 [2013], Soul Jazz): B+(***)

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Weekend Roundup

This week marks the first anniversary of Trump's inauguration as president, or as we're more inclined to note: one year down, three more to go. Supporters like to tout the economy, especially the record high stock market -- something which affects few Americans, but at least partially reflects things Trump has actually done, like turning a blind eye to corruption, and slashing corporate tax rates. Supporters also point to low unemployment and marginal wage growth, two trends that started before Trump but at least he hasn't wrecked yet. Also, Trump's approval ratings have seen a slight uptick over the last month, but he is still way under water, with by far the worst ratings of any first-year president since they've been measuring. I'm not sure where Herbert Hoover ranks: by the end of his first year the stock market had crashed and the Great Depression started, but even three years later, with conditions worsening, Hoover's vote share was higher than Trump's approval ratings.

Perhaps economic indicators are overrated? Or maybe it's just that most people aren't feeling part of the much touted growth? What little wage growth there has been most likely gets sucked up by higher prices -- oil, for instance, is up sharply, while help like food stamps is being cut back. But most likely most of us have yet to be hit with the full impact of Trump's regulatory and tax shifts. Moreover, much of what Trump's minions have done over the last year simply increase risk -- something you may not notice and won't have to pay for until it's too late. The most obvious risk is war with North Korea, which hasn't happened but could break out with shocking speed. Other risks, like withdrawal from the Paris Accords on global warming, will necessarily play out slower, but could be even harder to reverse. In between, it's a pretty sure bet that increasing inequality and deregulation will create financial bubbles which will burst and turn into recession. Other instances of risk increase include EPA changes which will increase pollution, changes to Obamacare which will reduce the number of people insured, and continued reduction of educational opportunities -- as the future becomes ever more dependent on people with technical skills, those skills will become rarer (well, except for immigrants, but Trump's working on curtailing them too).


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: The government is shutting down because Donald Trump doesn't know what he's doing: The basic argument is that Trump precipitated the government shutdown by rescinding Obama's DACA order, setting the enforcement clock at six months to provide pressure on Congress to do something. However, the Republicans who run Congress don't want to do anything, and their opposition makes it impossible for Democrats to advance any legislation, even when it has support of most Americans and enough Republicans to create a majority. There's little reason to think Democrats would choose to disrupt government simply to force action on DACA, but for twenty years now Republicans have routinely used the threat of shutdown to coerce concessions, and even now they have various schemes up their sleeves -- Trump, in particular, saw this as an opportunity to sneak funding for his Great Wall through. As Yglesias points out, Trump has made this worse by being totally unclear about his own goals and intentions.

    Other Yglesias pieces:

    • Trump's biggest weakness is on regular policy issues.

      And that's the reality of Trumpism. His immigration policies are contrary to the tangible interests of most Americans, and all the rest of his policies are too. Here are a few policy stories from January alone:

      • Trump is opening coastal waters to offshore drilling, even in states whose Republican governors don't want it (to say nothing of states whose Democratic governors don't).
      • Trump's Consumer Financial Protection Bureau announced plans to go easier on payday lenders with new, laxer rules down the road and generous waivers immediately.
      • Trump also offered waivers from full regulatory sanctions for a bunch of banks that have been convicted of crimes, including the German giant Deutsche Bank, to which he is personally in debt.
      • Three-quarters of the National Parks Advisory Board quit, citing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's "inexcusable" stewardship of precious natural resources.
      • We learned that America has 3.2 million more uninsured people than it did a year ago despite a growing economy, as the Trump administration rolls out a broad suite of Medicaid cuts.

      It's a fallacy to think that Trump's various antics are a deliberate effort to distract attention from these policy issues. A president who was capable of planning and executing a political master plan wouldn't be looking at a 39 percent approval rating amid good economic conditions.

      It is true, however, that discussing Trump primarily as a personality, a media phenomenon, and a locus of culture war politics puts a kind of floor under his support. By contrast, there's basically no constituency at all for Trump's anti-Medicaid agenda, with only 22 percent of Republicans saying they want to see cuts to the program.

    • Donald Trump's terrifying plan to win the 2018 midterms.

    • Congressional Republicans think Donald Trump's sloth and ignorance is a feature, not a bug: "A weak, easy-to-manipulate president is what they want." A nice rundown here of recent cases where Trump started to zag off course only to have his Republican minders turn him around.

    Some other links on the shutdown:

    A couple more thoughts, which occurred to me while reading Krugman but nothing specific there. The constitutional system of checks and balances was set up before anyone had any inkling that there would be political parties, much less that party blocs could distort or even scam the system. The first such flaw was made obvious by the 1800 election, and was quickly patched over by amendment. But later flaws have been harder to fix, especially when becomes committed to exploiting a flaw -- e.g., the Republicans have elected four minority presidents since 1860, versus zero for the Democrats. Up into the 1980s there was a fair amount of bipartisan trading in Congress, mostly because both parties had overlapping minorities -- liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats. Since then, Republicans have captured nearly every right- (or center-) leaning Democratic constituency, and Republicans have adopted internal caucus rules that encourage block voting. After 2008, Republicans took advantage of every parliamentary trick Congress (especially the Senate) had to obstruct efforts by the Democrats -- getting their way almost all of the time. Now, with razor-thin majorities in Congress, they expect to get their way all of the time, even when they're trying to pass enormously unpopular programs -- something they have no qualms or inhibitions about. Those checks always favored inaction over change, which generally suited conservatives, but for the nonce seems about the only recourse Democrats have left, lest the Republicans complete their destruction of liberal democracy -- if the stakes were less you'd never see Democrats holding out anywhere near as tenaciously as Republicans did against Obama.

    The other thing I've noticed is that the Republicans have really mastered the art of being the opposition party, obstructing and haranguing the Democrats and, given the public's deep cynicism about politicians, they've managed to avoid any responsibility for their role in Washington dysfunction. I suspect that one reason Trump won was that the American people wanted to spare themselves another four years of relentless Clinton-bashing. On the other hand, what's worked so well in opposition has done nothing to prepare the Republicans for ruling responsibly. Rather, they've kept up the same old demagoguery, the only difference being that as the party in power they find it more profitable to sell off favors. A year ago some significant number of voters evidently believed that Clinton would be more corrupt than Trump -- either because Trump had no track record in politics, or because the Clinton had faithfully served their donors for decades. What this past year has proven is that Trump has not only taken over the swamp, he's made it more fetid than ever.

  • Kate Aronoff: Stunning Special Election in Wisconsin Shows Scott Walker's Foxconn Deal Isn't the Political Winner It Was Sold As: A state senate district Trump won by 20 points just elected a Democrat.

  • Anna Maria Barry-Jester: There's Been a Massive Shift to the Right in the Immigration Debate: Headline's a bit overstated. What's happened is that between Trump and the anti-immigrant faction of the Republican Party, it's become much harder to get any sort of immigration reform passed. Meanwhile, the pro-immigration faction of the Democratic Party has been forced into a corner, fighting a rear-guard battle to salvage immigration hopes for the most broadly popular segment (the "Dreamers"), often at the expense of others. But underlying views haven't shifted so much, if at all -- indeed, it's possible that the public as a whole is moving slightly more pro-immigrant, in part in reaction to Trump and his racist outbursts.

  • Nathan Heller: Estonia, the Digital Republic: By far the most successful of the former SSRs. Evidently, a big part of their success is how extensively they've "gone digital," wiring the country together and making government open and accessible through those wires. Sample sentence: "Many ambitious techies I met in Tallinn, though, were leaving industry to go work for the state." -- Which is to say, for the public. A lot of this has long seemed possible, but isn't done in the US because the essential degree of trust is inevitably lacking in a system with predatory capitalism and a coercive police state. But a tiny country on the Baltic which twenty years ago was dirt poor can get it together. Interesting.

  • Elizabeth Kolbert: The Psychology of Inequality: Reports on various sociological and psychological studies into how people think about inequality, mostly as summarized by Keith Payne in his book The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live, and Die. One thing I've noticed from extensive reading about increasing inequality is that it's easy to recite the numbers that show what's happening with money, but it's much harder to translate those numbers to changes to human lives -- and simply fleshing them out with examples still doesn't seem to work. These studies, in and of themselves, may not be convincing either, but (like the statistics) they help frame the problem. An important piece.

  • Mark Joseph Stern: An Awful Ruling From One of Trump's Worst Judicial Appointees: "John K Bush's opinion in Peffer v. Stephens will let the police ransack almost any suspect's home." Remember, Trump's judges will be around much longer than he will. Just another long-term consequence of a blind, ignorant, stupid decision last November.

  • Matt Taibbi: Forget the Memo -- Can We Worry About the Banks? Also on that memo, see Glenn Greenwald/Jon Schwarz: Republicans Have Four Easy Ways to #ReleaseTheMemo.

  • Robin Wright: One Year In, Trump's Middle East Policy Is Imploding: This makes it sound more coherent than it ever was:

    Trump had four goals in the Middle East when he came into office, beginning with energizing the peace process. The second was wrapping up the war against the Islamic State launched by his predecessor, in 2014. The third was checking Iran's influence in the region and wringing out new concessions on its nuclear program. The fourth was deepening support for a certain type of Arab leader, notably Egypt's President, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, and the Saudi royal family.

    Moreover, the people tasked with these jobs (e.g., Jared Kushner), show how little care or thought went into the plan. Actually, you could reduce these four ventures into a single directive: do whatever pro-Israeli donors tell you to do. Israel-Palestine peace prospects have been a complete bust, and Trump's vow to remember who voted against the US at the UN will further strain relationships. Even with Trump's full support, the Saudis' adventures are bogged down everywhere. Trump's sniping at Iran has provoked protests, but none of the other parties want to break or change the deal, and there is no evidence that Iran is in violation of it. The war against ISIS may seem like more of a success: the US has helped to drive ISIS out of Iraq and its major strongholds in Syria, but that just means that the conditions that allowed ISIS to emerge -- the power vacuum in Syria and the sectarian regime in Iraq -- have been reset. Maybe if Trump had negotiated a resolution to Syria's civil war the former ISIS area would stabilize, but Trump and Tillerson have failed to negotiate a single treaty -- indeed, they don't seem to have any desire, inclination or skill to do so. The result is that not just in the Middle East but everywhere US relations with world powers have become more strained and dangerous.

    For more on Yemen, see: Nicolas Niarchos: How the U.S. Is Making the War in Yemen Worse.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Daily Log

Very cold day here in Wichita (high about 12F, traces of snow on the ground), so seemed like a good day to cook. Jerry and Maureen came over. I cook two versions of lemon chicken: one with chunks of chicken breast, marinated overnight in a velvet marinade (wine, egg white, cornstarch, oil, salt) then topped with lemon slices and steamed in a tasty sauce (bean sauce, hoisin, soy, wine, lemon juice/zest, sugar); the other wings, marinated in ginger, egg yolk, cornstarch, and a little water, then deep fried, then reheated in a lemon sauce (similar but no beans/hoisin), with olive nuts. I made fried rice, with red bell pepper, peas, egg, scallions, dried shrimp, a little bit of chorizo, pine nuts. Also two side dishes: stir fried carrots and zucchini, and mushrooms in oyster sauce. The basic fried rice recipe calls for ham and egg, but I've been expermenting with whatever happens to be handy. Unusual that none of these particular dishes called for garlic, and only one for ginger. No dessert. Made a huge mess in the kitchen, which turned into a frenzied fire drill with five burners in use. Still cleaned up pretty quick. Not many leftovers. No dessert.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Music Week

Music: Current count 29181 [29150] rated (+31), 367 [368] unrated (-1).

Initial calculation came out at 24 new ratings, surprisingly low. Still, the list below only comes to 26. I looked through the unrated list and found the discrepancies, plus a few others, nudging me over the thirty mark. That should have been easy given the weather and the availability of EOY lists suggesting things to check out. Still, main reason I didn't get more done was the Danny Fox Trio album, which I must have listened to 7-8 times. Came out pretty much as I surmised from the first play, but I couldn't come up with anything to write -- indeed, I don't seem to have any vocabulary to describe what I was hearing. Very frustrating.

Also must have played Gregory Lewis at least five times -- a surprise, but I noticed several critics jumped the gun and listed this 2018 release on their 2017 Jazz Critics Poll ballots. One record with some upside potential that only got two plays was Big K.R.I.T.'s double: I concluded, as far as I got, that first disc is A-, but second falls a bit short.

One thing I could use some help on is proofreading updates to Robert Christgau's CG database. All of the reviews from January through June 2017 are here (please excuse the style sheet confusion). I'll add a second batch when I get it entered. Christgau is writing a Pazz & Jop piece for the Village Voice this year. Not sure when that's going to be posted, but he expressed a desire that I get his reviews up by then. (Probably won't happen this week, but odds are much better for next.) Main things to look out for are missing italics and elided words -- for technical reasons the things I'm most likely to screw up.

I'm still fiddling with my EOY Aggregate file. It should correlate somewhat well with the Pazz & Jop results, but retains a relative (but not very significant) UK bias, and has a distortion that raised three Expert Witness favorites into the top twenty (Jason Isbell, Jens Lekman, Waxahatchee). I went back and spent more time on several Christgau favorites, resulting in two upgrades (Isbell, Princess Nokia), though I couldn't quite see adding them to my still short non-jazz A-list.


New records rated this week:

  • Big K.R.I.T.: 4Eva Is a Mighty Long Time (2017, Multi Alumni/BMG, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Anouar Brahem: Blue Margins (2017, ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • Daniel Caesar: Freudian (2017, Golden Child): [r]: B+(*)
  • CunninLynguists: Rose Azura Njano (2017, A Piece of Strange Music/RBC): [r]: B+(**)
  • CupcakKe: Ephorize (2018, self-released): [r]: B+(***)
  • Eminem: Revival (2017, Aftermath/Shady/Interscope): [r]: A-
  • Danny Fox Trio: The Great Nostalgist (2016 [2018], Hot Cup): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Ghostpoet: Dark Days + Canapes (2017, Play It Again Sam): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ishmael Ensemble: Songs for Knotty (2017, Banoffee Pies, EP): [r]: B
  • Kondi Band: Salone (2017, Strut): [r]: B+(***)
  • Gregory Lewis: Organ Monk Blue (2017 [2018], self-released): [cd]: A-
  • Lil Uzi Vert: Luv Is Rage 2 (2017, Atlantic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Roc Marciano: Rosebudd's Revenge (2017, Quality Control/300/Atlantic): [r]: B+(**)
  • JD McPherson: Undivided Heart & Soul (2017, New West): [r]: B+(*)
  • Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band: Front Porch Sessions (2017, Family Owned): [r]: B+(**)
  • Portico Quartet: Art in the Age of Automation (2017, Gondwana): [r]: B+(**)
  • Dan Pugach Nonet: Plus One (2017 [2018], Unit): [cd]: B-
  • Steve Slagle: Dedication (2017 [2018], Panorama): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Mavis Staples: If All I Was Was Black (2017, Anti-): [r]: B+(***)
  • David Virelles: Gnosis (2016 [2017], ECM): [r]: B+(*)
  • Mark Wade Trio: Moving Day (2017 [2018], self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Wiki: No Mountains in Manhattan (2017, XL): [r]: B+(**)

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

  • Otim Alpha: Gulu City Anthems (2004-15 [2017], Nyege Nyege): [bc]: B
  • Willie Nelson: Willie's Stash Vol 2: Willie Nelson and the Boys (2011-12 [2017], Legacy): [r]: B+(*)
  • Hermeto Pascoal & Grupo Vice Versa: Viajando Com O Som: The Lost 1976 Vice Versa Studio Sessions (1976 [2017], Far Out): [r]: B+(**)
  • Soul of a Nation: Afro-Centric Visions in the Age of Black Power: Underground Jazz Street Funk & the Roots of Rap 1968-79 (1968-79 [2017], Soul Jazz): [r]: B+(*)


Grade (or other) changes:

  • Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit: The Nashville Sound (2017, Southeastern): [r]: [was B+(**)] B+(***)
  • Princess Nokia: 1992 Deluxe (2017, Rough Trade): [r]: [was B] B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Dawn Clement: Tandem (Origin): January 19
  • George Cotsirilos Quartet: Mostly in Blue (OA2): January 19
  • Kate McGarry/Keith Ganz/Gary Versace: The Subject Tonight Is Love (Binxtown)
  • Leslie Pintchik: You Eat My Food, You Drink My Wine, You Steal My Girl! (Pintch Hard): February 23
  • Margo Rey: The Roots of Rey/Despacito Margo (Origin): January 19
  • Edgar Steinitz: Roots Unknown (OA2)
  • Kevin Sun: Trio (Ectomorph Music): February 2
  • Thiefs: Graft (Le Greffe) (Jazz & People)
  • Michael Waldrop: Origin Suite (Origin): January 19

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Weekend Roundup

After Trump made his "shit-hole countries" comment, Matt Taibbi asked on Twitter whether any president had previously said anything comparable. Not sure what he found out. My own first thought was that Thomas Jefferson probably said something less succinct but roughly equivalent about Haiti, and such views were probably very common among American politicians -- certainly as long as slaveholders remained in power, and probably much later. Indeed, GW Bush's critique of "nation building" was pointedly directed at Haiti, and the Clinton operation Bush so disparaged was primarily instigated to stem the influx of refugees from Haiti's dictatorship. (Indeed, it was Clinton who converted Guantanamo from a navy base into a prison "holding tank" for Haitian refugees.)

But I do want to share one example I picked up from a tweet (by Remi Brulin). This is evidently from a transcript of a conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, from May 4, 1972:

President: I'll see that the United States does not lose. I'm putting it quite bluntly. I'll be quite precise. South Vietnam may lose. But the United States cannot lose. Which means, basically, I have made my decision. Whatever happens to South Vietnam, we are going to cream North Vietnam. . . . For once, we've got to use the maximum power of this country . . . against this shit-ass little country, to win the war. . . . The only place where you and I disagree . . . is with regard to the bombing. You're so goddamned concerned about the civilians and I don't give a damn. I don't care.

Kissinger: I'm concerned about the civilians because I don't want the world to be mobilized against you as a butcher . . .


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: The 4 most important stories in politics this week: Trump scuttled a DACA deal; CHIP got cheaper but still didn't pass; Trump said some things; Arizona's Senate race heated up. Other Yglesias posts:

    • Arizona's already very complicated Senate race, explained.

    • Tuesday's DACA negotiation stunt showed how dangerously we've lowered the bar for Trump.

      There's something more than a little pointless about the mental fitness debate. Trump is, for better or worse, now pursuing an utterly orthodox Republican Party approach on every policy issue under the sun. Ultimately, Trump's slothful work habits and boundless incuriosity are more a problem for that party's leaders than for anyone else. If their considered judgment is that this policy agenda is better pursued by a lazy, ignorant cable news addict than by Mike Pence, that's really their problem.

      The agenda itself, however, is a problem. . . .

      On a policy level, however, Ike Brannon and Logan Albright of the Cato Institute have concluded that "deporting the approximately 750,000 people currently in the DACA program would be over $60 billion to the federal government along with a $280 billion reduction in economic growth over the next decade."

      Of course, there is no realistic way that all 750,000 DACA recipients will be deported, but losing legal authorization to live and work in the United States will hurt them nonetheless by forcing them out of the legitimate labor market and into the shadows. A report compiled this summer by the Center for American Progress concluded that obtaining DACA protection raised recipients' wages by 69 percent on average, and it stands to reason that losing it would cause a large-scale reversal with concomitant negative effects for GDP growth, productivity, and tax collection.

      With the economy finally enjoying low unemployment (as Trump likes to brag), there is no conceivable upside to deporting a large group of young, well-educated workers who are contributing meaningfully to the American economy. Which is precisely why Republicans keep teasing their willingness to offer them some legislative relief. But instead of doing the right thing for the country, the GOP is hung up on the idea of using the DACA issue as leverage to jam up the Democrats and either extract some concessions on other immigration issues or force the party into an internecine argument about whether they are doing enough for the DREAMers.

    • Trump is mad that "Sneaky Dianne Feinstein" debunked a key Republican theory on Trump and Russia.

    • Newly released Senate testimony debunks a key conservative theory on Trump and Russia.

    • Donald Trump's phony war with the press, explained.

    • Filing your taxes on a postcard isn't going to happen.

  • Thomas Frank: Paul Krugman got the working class wrong. That had consequences: Frank's been pushing a line about how white blue-collar workers have been flocking to the Republican Party at least since his 2004 book What's the Matter With Kansas?, while Krugman has preferred to point out that base support for the Republicans comes from above-average income families. I've tended to agree with Krugman on this for two reasons: one is that the data generally shows support for Republicans -- even Trump -- is more upscale; the other is that I've felt that the urban professionals Democrats have tried to appeal to lately have been too quick to discard or ignore the white working class, and this blunts their understanding of inequality. Still, if the trend has gotten worse -- and Trump's election argues that it has -- this is largely because Frank is right about the corrosive effects of the New Democrats' appeal to urban elitism. Moreover, it matters not just because it's cost the Democrats some critical elections; it's one problem that would be relatively straightforward to fix. For instance, see: Joan C Williams: Liberal elite, it's time to strike a deal with the working class.

  • Greg Grandin: The Death Cult of Trumpism:

    Trump won by running against the entire legacy of the postwar order: endless war, austerity, "free trade," unfettered corporate power, and inequality. A year into his tenure, the war has expanded, the Pentagon's budget has increased, and deregulation has accelerated. Tax cuts will continue the class war against the poor, and judicial and executive-agency appointments will increase monopoly rule.

    Unable to offer an alternative other than driving the existing agenda forward at breakneck speed, Trumpism's only chance at political survival is to handicap Earth's odds of survival. Trump leverages tribal resentment against an emerging manifest common destiny, a true universalism that recognizes that we all share the same vulnerable planet. He stokes an enraged refusal of limits, even as those limits are recognized. "We're going to see the end of the world in our generation," a coal-country voter said in a recent Politico profile, explaining what he knows is his dead-end support for Trump.

  • Glenn Greenwald: The Same Democrats Who Denounce Donald Trump as a Lawless, Treasonous Authoritarian Just Voted to Give Him Vast Warrantless Spying Powers: The House passed a bill to renew NSA's warrantless eavesdropping on American citizens, rejecting an amendment to at least require a warrant. Among the bill's backers were Nancy Pelosi and the House Democratic leadership, including many who have spent much of the last year arguing that Trump is in league with Putin. For more, see: John Nichols: Democratic Defections Allow an Assault on Civil Liberties to Pass the House.

  • Sean Illing: Richard Rorty's prescient warnings for the American left: Rorty died in 2007, and this is mostly picked up from his 1998 book Achieving Our Country, a time when what was probably America's largest "left" organization, Move On, was preoccupied with defending President Bill Clinton from impeachment charges based on lies about his consensual but inappropriate sex with a White House intern. That wasn't what you'd call a high water point for the American left. Sure, we might have found ourselves in the same lame position in 2017 had Hillary Clinton been elected president, but while her loss has been a setback for mainstream liberals, it has done wonders to clarify why we need a principled and ambitious left. As such, events have rendered Rorty's book obsolete. Two problems here: first is that Rorty's task -- to explain why the left in America had become atrophied and ineffective -- has been rendered academic by the renascent left; and second, his answer turns out not to have been a very good one. He tries to argue that the problem is that the "reformist left," which had accomplished so many important reforms from 1900 to 1964, gave way to a "cultural left," which abandoned effective politics as it retreated into academia to focus on cultural matters. He starts critiquing the latter by charging that the new left was hostile to "anyone opposed to communism -- including Democrats, union workers, and technocrats." Makes you wonder whether he was paying any attention at all: in the first place, what distinguished the new left from the old was its rejection of the Soviet Union (and its Trotskyite and Maoist critics) as the model and exemplar of socialism. Still, it is true that the new left were critical of US practice in the Cold War -- especially the practice of Democratic Party leaders like presidents Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson. The all-important fact is that the fundamental directive of the Cold War was to undermine labor and anti-colonial movements around the world and ultimately within the US itself. The fact is that Democrats failed to support unions as business waged an unrelenting struggle to contain, cripple, and roll back labor even well before the new left -- and even more so when the New Democrats rose under Reagan and ruled with Clinton.

    I'm getting rather tired of people blaming "the left" for the rise of the right since the late 1970s. The left has never come anywhere near the levers of power in the US. At best, the labor movement in the 1930s, civil rights in the 1960s, antiwar and environment and women in the 1970s, prodded establishment liberals into making some reforms to calm down the challenge. And while Democrats have enjoyed brief periods of power from Carter in 1977 through Obama in 2016, the ones in power have done damn little to advance the quintessential left positions: toward more equality, peace, and freedom.

  • Jonathan M Katz: This is how ignorant you have to be to call Haiti a 'shithole': After overthrowing slavery in 1804, and defeating a force sent by Napoleon to reclaim the colony. France demanded "reparations" in 1825, effectively bankrupting Haiti for the rest of the 19th century. After that, the Americans entered, invading Haiti in 1915 and occupying the country until 1934, returning periodically through CIA coups and other acts, with full-scale military invasions in 1994 and 2004.

    Some more relevant links here:

  • Mike Konczal: 3 Reasons Why Republicans Will Let the Rich Abuse the Tax Code. Also by Konczal: Trump Is Creating a Grifter Economy.

  • Andrew Prokop: Wall Street Journal: Trump's lawyer arranged for $130,000 in hush money for an ex-porn star.

  • Corey Robin: If authoritarianism is looming in the US, how come Donald Trump looks so weak? Offers a cautionary note on the temptation to compare Trump to Hitler, that other notorious racist demagogue who came into power through a crooked back door deal. As Robin points out, the big difference is that a year after seizing power Hitler had consolidated his control to the point where he had thousands of opponents locked up in concentration camps, whereas Trump's most public opponents headline high-rating television shows and are looking forward to massive election wins later this year. Maybe you can liken ICE under Trump to the Gestapo, but their charter is so limited few Americans give them a second thought. I have no doubt but that the Republican Party, with its gerrymanders and voter suppression and psychological research and propaganda machine, has taken a profoundly anti-democratic turn -- I've been reading Nancy McLean's brilliant and deeply disturbing Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America -- and I'm sure Trump would score very high on Theodor Adorno's F-Scale (a measure of "authoritarian personality" developed right after WWII). And, sure, MAGA has overtones similar to Thousand-Year Reich, but Republicans are more interested in smashing and stripping the state than building it up its power. Trump may blunder his way into nuclear war, but he isn't about to conquer the world. Trump's nationalism is peculiarly hollow. Even his racism comes off more as bad manners than as a coherent belief. I'm not one to belittle how much real damage he is doing, but we shouldn't overstate it either. Still, I'm extra worried about his threats because America has already suffered (even if survived) a long series of Republican malefactors, whose repeated depredations have contributed to the toll Trump adds to. Robin does us a service to quoting Philip Roth on Nixon in 1974:

    Of course there have been others as venal and lawless [as Richard Nixon] in American politics, but even a Joe McCarthy was more identifiable as human clay than this guy is. The wonder of Nixon (and contemporary America) is that a man so transparently fraudulent, if not on the edge of mental disorder, could ever have won the confidence and approval of a people who generally require at least a little something of the 'human touch' in their leaders.

  • Tierney Sneed: How Kris Kobach Has Created a Giant Headache for the Trump Administration.

  • Emily Stewart: Hawaii's missile scare "reminds us how precarious the nuclear age is": For nearly a year now Trump and Kim Jong Un have been taunting one another about nuclear war, setting an ominous context for Saturday's false alarm of a "ballistic missilb threat inbound to Hawaii." Also see (posted before the Hawaii event) Robert Andersen/Martin J Sherwin: Nuclear war became more likely this week -- here's why.

    Stewart also wrote: Gamer who made "swatting" call over video game dispute now facing manslaughter charges: This is a local Wichita story. While I believe that the guy who called in the false report that resulted in deployment of a SWAT team and the killing of a totally innocent man is some kind of criminal act, there's been no mention in the local press whatsoever of the SWAT cop who actually fired the shot. The fact that only one cop fired underscores how unclear it was that anyone needed to shoot. I've also seen no discussion of whether it's reasonable policy to dispatch an entire SWAT team to a situation where there has been no on-site investigation to determine that such a response is appropriate -- in this case it clearly wasn't. Speaking of Wichita, also note this story: Wichita Police Officer's Shot Misses Dog, Injures Girl. This was in response to a "domestic dispute," but the man and woman weren't even in the room when, for some unexplained reason (or, I suppose, none) a cop decided to shoot the dog. He missed, the bullet richocheted, and the girl was hit.

  • More fallout from Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury:

Monday, January 08, 2018

Music Week

Music: Current count 29150 [29119] rated (+31), 368 [364] unrated (+4).

Expected rated count would be a bit higher, given that I've mostly been working off EOY lists, but it checks out fairly well. Some quick numbers: rated count for 2017 releases: 1048; length of Jazz A-List: 80; length of Non-Jazz A-List: 55; number of new albums in EOY Aggregate: 1936; number of total albums in Music Tracking List: 2895.

The ratio of Jazz/Non-Jazz A-list always starts out high, but usually balances out around by the end of January. Last year it wound up 75/67 (52.8% jazz, up to 59.2% jazz this year). If I recall correctly, in previous years it was closer to even, sometimes even favoring non-jazz. Most likely explanation is that my ratio of jazz/non-jazz grades is higher than usual: currently 673/296 (69.4% jazz), vs. 689/358 (65.8% -- closer than I expected, but still likely to explain part of the greater split).

Someone pointed out on Facebook that I hadn't given a single A grade to a new release in 2017. I think it's safe to say that's never happened before, although the numbers have been declining, especially the last few years: from 2010 on { 15, 6, 7, 6, 12, 2, 3, 0 }. Several reasons occur to me: the number of physical CDs I've received has been dropping, and I've almost completely stopped buying CDs; I only listen to streamed or downloaded material while working on the computer, and when I do so it's almost something I haven't rated yet. For instance, back in 2010 I rated 133 A/A- records, of which 36 (27.0%) were streamed. This year I have 136 A/A- records, 79 streamed (58.0%). The increase in the top 30 is even more extreme, going from 2 (6.7%) in 2010 to 14 (46.7%) in 2017. Also note that the jazz split in the top 30 increased from 12 (40.0%) to 19 (63.3%).

I've always thought that part of the definition of an A (vs. A-) record was that it held up over many plays over time. Indeed, in past years I routinely promoted 4-6 albums from A- to A at EOY time. This year I got crushed at deadline time and hardly replayed anything, leaving little but memory and notes to help me compile my ballots. It's probably also true that my listening time has declined a bit -- although the number of records processed this year is similar to 2010 (1009 new + 73 old music, vs. 968 new + 81 old in 2017), so maybe I'm rushing more?

Of course, there are other possibilities. While it seems unlikely that there is less good music being released these days, it may well be harder to find. More likely is that my own interest is flagging, whether due to age and creeping infirmity or to general depression. Back in my twenties I discovered music to be a psychic refuge from all sorts of everyday ordeals, and that's a big part of the reason I got so deep into it. While I don't think my taste or erudition or even my memory have declined much, it does seem that music has lost a bit of its magic for me. I wouldn't be surprised if I listen to less and less in the future. But I do note an uptick in unpacking this week, so that may keep me going.

I meant to write more about the EOY Aggregate files (link above), which I've kept adding to. Major adds in the last week include close to forty top-ten lists from the Facebook Expert Witness group, which has produced major spurts for Jens Lekman, Jason Isbell, Waxahatchee, and Alex Fahey (the only one without a Christgau A grade). I've also added Christgau's grades next to mine, so a mutual A- gets an 8 point boost regardless of how obscure (e.g., Matt North, Conor Oberst, Robt Sarazin Blake, Swet Shop Boys, Starlito & Don Trip, Chuck Berry). Neither of these tweaks, nor anything else, has had much impact on the top of the list, which remains: Kendrick Lamar, Lorde, SZA, LCD Soundsystem, St. Vincent, Vince Staples, The National, then a tight knot of (105-100 points): Jay-Z, Sampha, War on Drugs, Slowdive, and Perfume Genius.


New records rated this week:

  • Wali Ali: To Be (2017, Mendicant): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jeff Baker: Phrases (2017 [2018], OA2): [cd]: B
  • Blanck Mass: World Eater (2017, Sacred Bones): [r]: B+(*)
  • Cigarettes After Sex: Cigarettes After Sex (2017, Partisan): [r]: A-
  • EABS: Repetitions (Letters to Krzysztof Komeda) (2017, Astigmatic): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Hillary Gardner/Ehud Asherie: The Late Set (2017, Anzic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Japanese Breakfast: Soft Sounds From Another Planet (2017, Dead Oceans): [r]: B+(**)
  • Perfect Giddimani: Live My Life Again (2017, Giddimani): [r]: B+(*)
  • Natalie Hemby: Puxico (2017, GetWrucke): [r]: B+(**)
  • LeeAnn Ledgerwood: Renewal (2016 [2017], SteepleChase): [r]: B+(**)
  • Daniele Luppi and Parquet Courts: Milano (2017, 30th Century/Columbia): [r]: B+(***)
  • Mad Professor/Jah9: Mad Professor Meets Jah9 in the Midst of the Storm (2017, VP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Marker: Wired for Sound (2017, Audiographic): [bc]: B
  • Michete: Cool Tricks 3 (2017, self-released, EP): [sc]: B
  • Roscoe Mitchell: Discussions (2016 [2017], Wide Hive): [r]: B+(**)
  • Youssou N'Dour: Seeni Valeurs (2017, Jive/Epic): [r]: A-
  • Evan Parker/Mikolaj Trzaska/John Edwards/Mark Sanders: City Fall: Live at Café Oto (2014 [2017], Fundacja Sluchaj): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Protomartyr: Relatives in Descent (2017, Domino): [r]: B+(***)
  • As Is Featuring Alan & Stacey Schulman: Here's to Life (2017 [2018], self-released): [cd]: B
  • Thiefs: Graft (Le Greffe) (2017 [2018], Jazz & People): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Tricky: Ununiform (2017, False Idols): [r]: B+(*)
  • Valley Queen: Destroyer (2017, self-released, EP): [r]: B-
  • Ken Vandermark: Momentum 2 & 3 (2016 [2017], Audiographic): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Trevor Watts/Veryan Weston/Alison Blunt/Hannah Marshall: Dialogues With Strings: Live at Café Oto in London (2017, Fundacja Sluchaj): [bc]: B+(*)

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

  • Airstream Artistry: Jim Riggs' Best of the TWO (1991-2008 [2017], UNT, 3CD): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Gary Husband: A Meeting of Spirits (2005 [2017], Edition): [r]: B+(*)
  • Legacy: Neil Slater at North Texas (1982-2015 [2017], UNT, 4CD): [cd]: B
  • Sun Ra: Discipline 27-II (1972 [2017], Strut/Art Yard): [r]: B
  • The Revelators: We Told You Not to Cross Us [20th Anniversary Edition] (1997 [2017], Crypt): [bc]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • EABS: Puzzle Mixtape (2012-15 [2016], self-released): [bc]: B+(*)
  • The Revelators: Let a Poor Boy Ride . . . (1998 [2009], Crypt): [bc]: A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • As Is Featuring Alan & Stacey Schulman: Here's to Life (self-released): February 16
  • Jeff Baker: Phrases (OA2)
  • Raoul Björkenheim Ecstasy: Doors of Perception (2017, Cuneiform): advance
  • Harley Card: The Greatest Invention (self-released): January 12
  • Sylvie Courvoisier Trio: D'Agala (Intakt): January 19
  • Danny Fox Trio: The Great Nostalgist (Hot Cup): January 19
  • Satoko Fujii: Solo (Libra): January 26
  • Jeff Hamilton Trio: Live From San Pedro (Capri): February 18
  • Musique Noire: Reflections: We Breathe (self-released)
  • The Ed Palermo Big Band: The Adventures of Zodd Zundgren (Cuneiform): advance
  • Dan Pugach Nonet: Plus One (Unit): February 16
  • Jamie Saft: Solo a Genova (RareNoise): January 26
  • Mark Wade Trio: Moving Day (self-released): February 2
  • Weird Beard [Florian Egli/Dave Gisler/Martina Berther/Rico Bauman]: Orientation (Intakt): January 19


Miscellaneous notes:

  • Now That's What I Call Tailgate Anthems (1975-2016 [2017], Sony Music Entertainment): B+(*) [Rhapsody]

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Weekend Roundup

Started collecting the Yglesias links and Taibbi on Wolff last night, and this is as far as I got today. Of Yglesias' big four stories, I left oil drilling, anti-pot enforcement, and the Pakistan aid cut on the floor: mostly didn't run across anything very good on those subjects, although that's partly because it seems like my source trawling has taken a big hit (especially since Paul Woodward's WarInContext went on hiatus). That leaves a bunch on the Wolff book, the unseemly end of the Kobach Commission, and some Iran links. Oh, and dumb Trump tricks, but that's a gimme.

Of the missing stories (and, of course, there are many more than the "known unknowns"), the break with Pakistan seems likely to be most fateful. Americans have bitched since 2002 that they're not getting their money's worth in Pakistan, but Pervez Musharraf's turn against the Taliban was never popular there, especially with the ISI, and only a combination of sticks and carrots made the move at all palatable. It remains to be seen whether Trump removing the carrots will tip the balance, but renewed Pakistani support for the Taliban could make the US stake in Afghanistan much more precarious -- at worst it might provoke a major US escalation there, with pressure to attack Pakistan's border territories ("sanctuaries"), with a real risk of igniting a much larger conflagration. Probably won't come to that, but Pakistan is a country with more than 200 million people, with a large diaspora (especially in the UK), with nuclear weapons, with a military which has fought three major wars with India and remains more than a little paranoid on that front.

The reasonable solution for Arghanistan is to try to negotiate some sort of loose federation which allows the Taliban to share power, especially in the Pashtun provinces where it remains popular, while the US military exits gracefully. This is unlikely to happen because the Trump administration has no clue how diplomacy works and no desire to find out. Pakistan could be a useful intermediary, so cutting them out seems like a short-sighted move. But it is a trademark Trump move: rash, unconsidered, prone to violence with no regard for consequences; cf. Syria, Libya, Somalia, Palestine, North Korea. It's only a matter of time before one of those bites back hard.

Same is basically true of the offshore oil leases, but probably on a slower time schedule. It will take several years before anyone starts drilling, and there will be a lot of litigation along the way. But eventually some of those offshore rigs will blow up and spread oil all over tourist beaches in Florida and/or California. Some people will make money, at least short-term, and some will be hit with losses in the longer term, but at least it will mostly be money. That matters a lot to Trump, but less so to you and me.

Less clear what the marijuana prosecution impact will be. In theory Sessions just kicked the ball down to local US attorneys, who can choose to prosecute cases or not. But a year ago Sessions initiated a purge and replaced all of Obama's prosecutors with his own, so it's likely that at least some of them will take the bait and try to make names for themselves. Meanwhile, politicization of the Department of Justice keeps ratcheting up. Trump and Congressional Republicans have renewed attacks on Sessions for failing to protect Trump from the Mueller investigation, and they've gone further to question the political loyalties of the FBI. Meanwhile the courts are increasingly being filled up with Republican hacks. The net result of all this is that people on all sides are coming to view "justice" in America as a vehicle of partisan patronage. It's going to be hard to restore trust in law once it's been abused so severely by goons like Trump and Sessions.

I haven't written much about the whole Russia situation. A big part early on was the fear that neocons were just using it to whip up a new cold war, which is something they were very keen on at least as early as 2001, when Bush took office and Yeltsin gave way to Putin. With his KGB background, it's always been easy to paint Putin as bearing Cold War grudges, even more so as a master of underhanded tactics -- most egregiously, I think, in his reopening of the Chechen War. The Cold War was very good for the defense industry, and generally bad for the American people (as well as many others around the world), so I regard any effort to reignite it as dastardly.

The neocons had modest success doing so during the Obama years, especially with recent sanctions in response to the Russia annexing Crimea and, allegedly, supporting separatists in eastern Ukraine. Hillary Clinton was especially vociferous at Russia-baiting, so it was no surprise that Putin favored her opponent. Trump himself had pitched numerous business ventures to Russian oligarchs, so he must have seemed to Putin like someone to deal with. Indeed, there seems to have been mutual attraction between many Republicans and Putin, possibly based on the former's admiration of strong men and contempt for democracy. It's worth noting that Russia is the only country where the ultra-rich have profited more inequally since 2000 than the United States.

The second major reason for resisting the post-election claims of Russian interference has been how it was used by Clinton dead-enders as an excuse for losing the 2016 election. Their desperation to blame anyone but the candidate has blinded them to the real lessons of the campaign's failure. (Presumably I don't need to reiterate them here.) A third reason, I reckon, is the hypocrisy of blaming Russia while ignoring Israel's much more pervasive involvement in US elections: I've seen numerous liberals describe Trump as "Putin's bitch" (most recently in Dawn Oberg's song, "Nothing Rhymes With Orange"), but if Trump's anyone's bitch, it's Netanyahu's (or more directly, Sheldon Adelson's -- who, as Philip Weiss notes in the link below put more money into the campaign than Trump himself did).

On the other hand, the "Russiagate" story is sticking, and lately the focus has shifted to culprits one feels no sympathy whatsoever for. The problem isn't really collusion: Trump's people were very sloppy about their meetings with Russians, but they were sloppy and inept in pretty much everything they did. On the other hand, it sure looks like they would have colluded had they figured out how, and they were aware enough that they were overstepping bounds to lie about it afterwards -- greatly increasing their culpability. It's also clear that Flynn and Manafort had their own Russian deals, which wound up looking worse than they initially were after they joined the campaign.

What Russia actually did to tilt the election toward Trump wasn't much -- certainly cost-wise it's a small drop in the ocean of money agents working for Adelson and the Kochs spent to get Trump elected. It would be a mistake to play up Russia's hacking genius, just as one shouldn't underestimate the effect of AFP's grassroots organizing. Elections are run in a crooked world -- even more so since the Citizens United ruling unlocked all that "dark money" -- but one thing that Clinton really can't complain about is not having enough money to compete.

On the other hand, what "Russiagate" is making increasingly clear is the utter contempt that Donald Trump and (increasingly) the whole Republican Party have for law, justice, truth, and fairness. I don't hold any fondness for James Comey, whose own handling of the Clinton email server case was shameless political hackery, and I've actively disliked Robert Mueller for decades -- ever since he prosecuted that ridiculous Ohio 7 sedition case (which my dear friend, the late Elizabeth Fink, was a successful defense counsel on). But Trump's interference in their jobs has been blatantly self-serving -- if not technically obstruction of justice easily conveying that intent. We seem to only be a short matter of time until Trump's contempt becomes too blatant to ignore, and while I doubt that will phase his Republican enablers or his most fervently blinkered base, it should at least help bury his awful political agenda.


Meanwhile, here are some other ways Trump has stunk up last week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: Trump's week of feuds with Bannon, Pakistan, marijuana smokers, and ocean waters, explained: Trump broke ties with Steve Bannon; Trump opened up huge areas to offshore drilling; Trump is cracking down on marijuana; Trump is cutting off aid to Pakistan. Trump breaking with Bannon doesn't amount to much, but Bannon will struggle for a while without the Mercers' money. Basically what happened there was that Bannon's always been a side bet for them, useful for electing Trump but unnecessary with Trump in office, able to further their graft. The oil drilling story is a prime example of graft under Trump, while the other two are cases where ideology and arrogance threaten to blow things up. Other Yglesias stories:

    • The Steele dossier, explained, with Andrew Prokop.

    • Cory Gardner showed how Senate Republicans could check Trump if they wanted to.

    • 2018 is the year that will decide if Trumpocracy replaces American democracy: Two takeaway points here: one is that despite all of the chaos surrounding him, Trump has consolidated effective power within the Republican Party, such that opposing him in any significant way marks one has a heretic and traitor; the second is that if Republicans are not rebuffed in the 2018 elections Trump's control will harden and become even more flagrant and dangerous. Yglesias gets a little carried away on the latter point, at one point noting that "even Adolf Hitler was dismissed by many as a buffoon" -- Trump's megalomania is comparatively fickle and suffused with greed, making African dictators like Idi Amin and Mobutu closer role models. He also fails to note the key point: that in all substantive respects, it was Trump who surrendered to the orthodox Republicans. Trump didn't bend anyone to his will; he merely proved himself to be a useful tool of movement conservatism, which in turn agreed to provide him cover for his personal graft. In some ways, this makes the Republicans more vulnerable in 2018, if Democrats can convince voters that the Party and the President are one.

    • The scary reality behind Trump's long Tuesday of weird tweets: "He's relying on Fox News for all his information." Of course, that was equally true before he became president. Back during the campaign, I noted that he didn't engage in didn't follow Republican custom in couching his racism in "dog whistle" terms because he wasn't a "whistler," he was a "dog." Among Republican rank-and-file, his lack of subtlety and cleverness was taken as authenticity and conviction, even though he merely echoed the coarseness he heard on Fox. Of course, one might reasonably expect a responsible statesman to seek out more reliable information, even if as a politician he chooses to bend it to his own purposes. But Trump lacks such skills, and would probably just get confused trying to sort out the truth. Sticking with Fox no doubt makes his life easier, but makes ours more dangerous.

  • Esme Cribb: Trump: 'Ronald Reagan Had the Same Problem' as Me With 'Fake News': Actually, Reagan had the same problem with facts, with truth, although even Reagan knew when to throw in the towel. After all, what was his Iran-Contra quote? "A few months ago I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions tell me that's true, but the facts and evidence tell me it is not." As Matt Taibbi notes (see link below), Reagan was cognitively impaired well before he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's: e.g., the CIA used to shoot movies to brief Reagan on world leaders, finding that the only way to get his attention. Still, no previous president has shown so little regard for facts or so much hostility to honest investigation so early in his term as Trump. While it's possible that age-related cognitive impairment may contribute to this, it strikes me as overly charitable to blame mental illness. From early on, Trump was a liar and scoundrel, a spoiled one given his inherited wealth, and he's only gotten worse as he's gotten caught up in his many intrigues.

    Josh Marshall (see Is President Trump Mentally Ill? It Doesn't Matter) adds this comment:

    All the diagnosis of a mental illness could tell us is that Trump might be prone to act in ways that we literally see him acting in every day: impulsive, erratic, driven by petty aggressions and paranoia, showing poor impulsive control, an inability to moderate self-destructive behavior. He is frequently either frighteningly out of touch with reality or sufficiently pathological in his lying that it is impossible to tell. Both are very bad.

  • John Feffer: Trump and Neocons Are Exploiting an Iran Protest Movement They Know Nothing About: I don't doubt that most Iranians have good reason to assemble and protest against their government, indeed their entire political system, and indeed as an American I sympathize with the rights of people everywhere to organize and petition their governments for change. But Washington pols habitually play their kneejerk games, touting dissent against so-called enemies while overlooking suppression of dissent by so-called allies, showing their own motives to be wholly cynical. Thus, American support for protests in Iran immediately taints those protesters as pro-American and anti-Iranian. (Nor are we just talking about Trump, who has become little more than an Israeli-Saudi puppet on Iran; Hillary Clinton was also quick to support the Iranian masses against theocracy, jumping to the conclusion that their goals are the same as her own.) For more, see Trita Parsi: These Are the Real Causes of the Iran Protests; Simon Tisdall: Iran unrest: it's the economy, stupid, not a cry for freedom or foreign plotters; and Sanam Vakil: How Donald Trump's tweets help Iran's supreme leader.

  • German Lopez: Trump has disbanded his voter fraud commission, blaming state resistance and Trump's voter fraud commission, explained: Presidential commissions have long been a method for addressing matters of broad and/or deep concern. Lyndon Johnson, for instance, convened two of the more famous ones: the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and the Kerner Commission on domestic violence (i.e., the "race riots" of 1965-68). They've rarely proved very satisfactory, although the commission investigating the Challenger NASA disaster (famously including physicist Richard Feynman) did appear to get to the bottom of the story. But Obama's sop to the deficit hawks, the Simpson-Bowles commission, proved to be biased and useless. There were some suggestions that Trump should have appointed a commission to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election, but (not by choice) he wound up with a special prosecutor instead. One area where a commission might be useful would be to look into immigration laws and patterns, to try to clear away many of the popular myths on the subject, and try to come up with a sensible balance between all the competing interests and views. (Of course, had Trump done that, he would have stacked the deck supporting his own prejudices, thereby losing any possibility of building consensus.) Instead, the one (and only) problem Trump decided to be worthy of a presidential commission was the vanishingly tiny question of voter fraud. This was widely viewed as a vehicle for Kansas Secretary of State (and ALEC busybody) Kris Kobach, who appeared on Trump's doorstep with a folder full of schemes -- this appears to be the one that struck Trump's fancy: as the article makes clear, "the voter fraud myth has been used repeatedly to suppress voters." And few things have been more evident over recent decades than Republican efforts to undermine the popular vote. Indeed, that makes perfect sense, given that the Republican agenda heaps favors on the rich and powerful while undermining the vast majority -- people who could rise up and vote them out of office if only the Democrats offered a credible alternative.

  • Jeff Sparrow: Milo Yiannopoulos's draft and the role of editors in dealing with the far-right.

  • Michael Wolff: Donald Trump Didn't Want to Be President: An excerpt from Wolff's new book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, Amazon's #1 bestseller and the talk of Washington (except on Fox News) this past week. The excerpt runs from election night to a few months past inauguration -- Priebus and Bannon are still on board at the end, but probably not Flynn -- but the title focuses on election night, when "the unexpected trend" shook Trump, who "looked as if he had seen a ghost. Melania was in tears -- and not of joy."

    Some other pieces on the book:

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Music Week

Music: Current count 29119 [29058] rated (+61), 364 [388] unrated (-24).

Initial calculation on rated count was +41, which seemed plausible enough, but when I moved the albums list from the scratch file to the notebook I counted 44, so clearly something was amiss. I went back and searched for unrated albums and found 20 I had failed to update -- obviously going back before last week, in some cases more than a year. I don't have a lot of unrated physical 2017 CDs -- maybe a dozen, including some inconvenient but still playable vinyl -- so I've been doing a lot of streaming, especially items from interesting EOY lists, and a fair number of them have been short: the Dawn Oberg is just three songs, more are legitimately EPs, and with the refocusing on vinyl a lot of regular albums clock in close to 30 minutes. I try to work faster streaming, avoiding replays unless I really feel the need to confirm a good record, and short goes faster still.

December's Streamnotes went up on the last possible day, which has in turn pushed Weekend Roundup and this post a day later than normal -- three-day weekends and all that.

I got a last minute Pazz & Jop invite, thanks to some strings Bob Christgau pulled. I finally did a quick sort on my Best Non-Jazz list without actually resampling anything, then slipped William Parker's Meditation/Resurrection into the top ten to maintain a little jazz cred. (Also bumps Kendrick Lamar's Damn, which I have little doubt will win without me.) I have no confidence that these are the ten best (mostly non-jazz) albums of 2017, but they are good ones, interesting ones, ones worth noting:

  1. William Parker Quartets: Meditation/Resurrection (AUM Fidelity) 12
  2. Orchestra Baobab: Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng (Nonesuch/World Circuit) 10
  3. Sylvan Esso: What Now (Loma Vista) 10
  4. Pere Ubu: 20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo (Cherry Red) 10
  5. Joey Bada$$: All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ (Pro Era/Cinematic) 10
  6. Hamell on Trial: Tackle Box (New West) 10
  7. Re-TROS: Before the Applause (Modern Sky Entertainment) 10
  8. The Perceptionists: Resolution (Mello Music Group) 10
  9. Steve Earle & the Dukes: So You Wannabe an Outlaw (Warner Bros.) 9
  10. Craig Finn: We All Want the Same Things (Partisan) 9

I don't keep track of singles, so I'm hopeless there. One idea that did occur to me was to look up anti-Trump songs. I found lists from Guardian, Mic, Pitchfork, and Rolling Stone. In the end, I picked (only seven, but I expected zero):

  • Joey Bada$$, "Land of the Free" (Pro Era/Cinematic)
  • Oddisee, "NNGE" (Mello Music Group)
  • The XX, "On Hold" (Young Turks)
  • DJ Shadow (feat. Run the Jewels), "Nobody Speak" (Mass Appeal)
  • Perfect Giddimani, "Dollnald Trummp" (Giddimani)
  • L7, "Dispatch From Mar-a-Lago" (Don Giovanni)
  • Dawn Oberg, "Nothing Rhymes With Orange" (self-released)

Obviously, could have done better had I spent more time, but top four would probably have hung on. I did manage to sample another half-dozen songs, including Fiona Apple's "Tiny Hands" and YG's "FDT" (but didn't get to Brujeria's "Viva Presidente Trump!" -- on virtually all the lists -- until too late).


New records rated this week:

  • Aesop Rock & Homeboy Sandman: Triple Fat Lice (2017, Stones Throw, EP): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Alvvays: Antisocialites (2017, Polyvinyl): [r]: B+(**)
  • Julien Baker: Turn Out the Lights (2017, Matador): [r]: B
  • Blushh + Maddie Ross: Split (2017, self-released, EP): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Brockhampton: Saturation (2017, Question Everything/Empire): [r]: B+(*)
  • Brockhampton: Saturation II (2017, Question Everything/Empire): [r]: B+(**)
  • Brockhampton: Saturation III (2017, Question Everything/Empire): [r]: B+(**)
  • Tyler Childers: Purgatory (2017, Hickman Holler): [r]: B+(**)
  • CupcakKe: S.T.D (Shelters to Deltas) (2016, self-released): [r]: B+(**)
  • CupcakKe: Audacious (2016, self-released): [r]: B+(***)
  • CupcakKe: Queen Elizabitch (2017, self-released): [r]: B+(**)
  • Dev: I Only See You When I'm Dreamin' (2017, Devishot): [r]: A-
  • Fever Ray: Plunge (2017, Rabid/Mute): [r]: B+(*)
  • Dori Freeman: Letters Never Read (2017, MRI): [r]: A-
  • Charles Gayle Trio: Solar System (2016 [2017], ForTune): [bc]: A-
  • Justin Gray & Synthesis: New Horizons (2017 [2018], self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Emily Herring: Gliding (2017, Eight 30): [r]: B
  • Homeboy Sandman: Veins (2017, Stones Throw, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Hvalfugl: By (2017, self-released): [r]: B+(**)
  • NERD: No One Ever Really Dies (2017, I Am Other/Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • New York Electric Piano: State of the Art (2017, Fervor): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Dawn Oberg: Nothing Rhymes With Orange (2017, self-released, EP): [bc]: B+(*)
  • One O'Clock Lab Band: Lab 2017 (2017, UNT): [cd]: B
  • Rapsody: Laila's Wisdom (2017, Def Jam): [r]: B+(**)
  • Dave Rempis/Matt Piet/Tim Daisy: Hit the Ground Running (2017, Aerophonic): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Eve Risser/Kaja Draksler: To Pianos (2017, Clean Feed): [r]: B
  • Serengeti: Jueles/Butterflies (2017, self-released): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Peter Sommer: Happy-Go-Lucky Locals (2017, self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Moses Sumney: Aromanticism (2017, Jagjaguwar): [r]: B+(*)
  • Takaaki: New Kid in Town (2016 [2017], Albany): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Turnpike Troubadours: A Long Way From Your Heart (2017, Bossier City): [r]: B
  • The United States Air Force Band Airmen of Note: Veterans of Jazz (2017, self-released): [cd]: D+
  • Charli XCX: Pop 2 (2017, Asylum): [r]: B+(***)

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

  • Vinny Golia Wind Quartet: Live at the Century City Playhouse: Los Angeles, 1979 (1979 [2017], Dark Tree): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Nice! Jay Saunders' Best of the TWO (2009-14 [2017], UNT, 2CD): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Art Pepper: Presents "West Coast Sessions!" Volume 1: Sonny Stitt (1980 [2017], Omnivore, 2CD): [r]: A-
  • Art Pepper: Presents "West Coast Sessions!" Volume 2: Pete Jolly (1980 [2017], Omnivore): [r]: B+(***)
  • Art Pepper: Presents "West Coast Sessions!" Volume 3: Lee Konitz (1982 [2017], Omnivore): [r]: A-
  • Art Pepper: Presents "West Coast Sessions!" Volume 4 With Bill Watrous (1980 [2017], Omnivore): [r]: A-
  • Art Pepper: Presents "West Coast Sessions!" Volume 5: Jack Sheldon (1980 [2017], Omnivore): [r]: A-
  • Art Pepper: Presents "West Coast Sessions!" Volume 6: Shelly Manne (1981 [2017], Omnivore): [r]: A-
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of West Africa ([2017], World Music Network): [r]: B+(***)
  • Sweet as Broken Dates: Lost Somali Tapes From the Horn of Africa (1969-2002 [2017], Ostinato): [r]: B+(***)

Monday, January 01, 2018

Weekend Roundup

As 2017 ends, I'm reminded of how sick to my stomach I was election night 2016 -- I normally stay up past 4AM, so pretty much the whole weight of the catastrophe was clear before I tried to sleep. At that point I could predict a whole series of unfortunate future events. In that regard, I haven't been especially surprised by what Trump and the Republicans have done in 2017. They've pretty much lived up to the threat they clearly posed -- the main surprises coming in the form of comic excess, like cabinet secretaries Betsy DeVos, Rick Perry, and Ben Carson. Trump himself has proven to be even more of a bloviating buffoon than he was during the campaign. And his scatterbrained reign is succeeding in one important respect where Hillary Clinton's campaign failed: through his own ineptness, he's making it clear that the real threat to most Americans these days comes from regular Republicans. One shouldn't get overoptimistic that Democrats will capitalize on that point with a resounding electoral win in 2018, but that's not as much of a fantasy as it was a year ago when Clinton et al. snatched defeat from what should have been a clearcut victory.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Umair Irlan/Brian Resnick: Megadisasters devastated America this year. They're going to get worse. The big ticket items were hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, but floods, droughts, tornadoes, wildfires, and other severe weather took their toll.

    Requests for federal disaster aid jumped tenfold compared to 2016, with 4.7 million people registering with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

    As of October, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had counted 15 disasters with damages topping $1 billion, tying 2017 with 2011 for the most billion-dollar disasters in a year to date. And that was before the California wildfires.

    Many people reflexively blame these disasters on climate change, and there is evidence that some of that is true -- the piece looks at several such arguments. But the price tag is also rising due to increasing development, and also due to infrastructure neglect -- the Puerto Rican power grid the most obvious example. The other big question (not really raised here) is what happens if/when government fails to cope with disaster costs. Unfortunately, we're bound to find out the hard way.

  • Fred Kaplan: The UN Vote on Jerusalem Was a Dramatic Rebuke to Trump That He Brought on Himself: The UN voted 128-9 (with 35 abstentions) to "declare null and void the United States' recent recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel." The US (Trump and Nikki Haley) responded by throwing a hissy fit:

    The rebuke is amplified by the fact that Trump had announced the day before that he would revoke financial aid for any country that voted for the resolution. "Let them vote against us," he said at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday. "We'll save a lot. We don't care. But this isn't like it used to be where they could vote against you and then you pay them hundreds of millions of dollars. We're not going to be taken advantage of any longer."

    Trump's U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, wrote a letter to other delegates, warning, "The U.S. will be taking names" during the roll call. "As you consider your vote," she elaborated, "I encourage you to know the president and the U.S. take this vote personally. She then tweeted, "At the UN we're always asked to do more and give more. So, when we make a decision, at the will of the American ppl, abt where to locate OUR embassy, we don't expect those we've helped to target us." . . .

    The countries that voted for the resolution -- or, as Trump sees it, against him -- include four of the five biggest recipients of U.S. aid: Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, and Jordan. They also include countries that Trump has courted since taking office -- Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, India, Pakistan, and Vietnam. They also include every country in Western Europe, though Trump might not care about that.

  • Ezra Klein: Incoherent, authoritarian, uninformed: Trump's New York Times interview is a scary read. Charles P Pierce has a similar take on the same interview: Trump's New York Times Interview Is a Portrait of a Man in Cognitive Decline. Trump's becoming so incoherent it's impossible to discern any method in his madness. That may seem alarming, but it's giving too much credit to the office, assuming the myth of leadership that hasn't been true for many years. Even highly competent presidents -- Obama, most clearly, or Clinton or Johnson, or for that matter Eisenhower -- are often prisoners of their administrations, alliances and choices. Having approved a series of astonishingly bad personnel picks, Trump's already handed his administration over to its fate, something which will be increasingly clear as he continues to lose his grip. The best we can do under these circumstances is to refocus on what his staff actually do, and recognize the corruption and moral rot it's shot through with.

  • Paul Krugman: America Is Not Yet Lost: Still, it's been pretty bad:

    Many of us came into 2017 expecting the worst. And in many ways, the worst is what we got.

    Donald Trump has been every bit as horrible as one might have expected; he continues, day after day, to prove himself utterly unfit for office, morally and intellectually. And the Republican Party -- including so-called moderates -- turns out, if anything, to be even worse than one might have expected. At this point it's evidently composed entirely of cynical apparatchiks, willing to sell out every principle -- and every shred of their own dignity -- as long as their donors get big tax cuts.

    Meanwhile, conservative media have given up even the pretense of doing real reporting, and become blatant organs of ruling-party propaganda.

    Like Yglesias below, Krugman sees hope in the broad popular resistance that has risen up against Trump and the Republicans. Still:

    And even if voters rise up effectively against the awful people currently in power, we'll be a long way from restoring basic American values. Our democracy needs two decent parties, and at this point the G.O.P. seems to be irretrievably corrupt.

    Isn't that the rub? The Republicans have clawed their way back into power, after eight GW Bush years that by any objective standards should have been totally discrediting, precisely because most Americans (not just Republicans but many Democrats who supported Clinton) see avarice, greed, power, and corruption as the American value. That is what needs to be changed to restore decency to politics, to make democracy work for all. In that regard, I'd focus more on converting one party than both. The Republicans will change, as they always have, once the vast majority recoil against their corruption. But that won't happen until the people are presented with an honest alternative, which is what Hillary Clinton somehow failed to do in 2016.

    Krugman also wrote: Republicans Despise the Working Class and Republicans Despise the Working Class, Continued:

    Josh Barro argues that Republicans have forgotten how to talk about tax cuts. But I think it runs deeper: Republicans have developed a deep disdain for people who just work for a living, and this disdain shines through everything they do. This is true both on substance -- the tax bill heavily favors owners over workers -- and in the way they talk about it.

    I think one pretty obvious clue came when Ayn Rand groupie Paul Ryan gave a Labor Day speech extolling America's entrepreneurs ("job creators") without even mentioning the people who actually do the work. Such people regard jobs alternatively as charity or more often as a bottom line loss -- an expense best cut by automation or offshoring.

  • Sharon Lerner: Banned from the Banking Industry for Life, a Scott Pruitt Friend Finds a New Home at the EPA: Albert Kelly, head of the EPA's Superfund program -- a job he has no relevant experience for, unless fraud counts.

  • Maryam Saleh: One Year of Immigration Under Trump: My first thought a year ago was that of all the areas Trump could affect as president, the one he's likely to impact most directly, and most cruelly, is immigration. Plenty of competition, and some of his efforts have been partially stymied, but that fear has proven well grounded.

  • Mitch Smith: Fatal 'Swatting' Episode in Kansas Raises Quandry: Who Is to Blame? Big story here in Wichita also noted nationwide. A gamer in Los Angeles called police in Wichita reporting a murder and hostage situation. Police deployed a SWAT team to the prank address and shot and killed a resident.

  • Matthew Yglesias: The political lesson of 2017: resistance works: No week-in-review piece this week, but this is a fair note to strike to sum up the past year. Problem, of course, is that while resistance has halted or slowed down some very bad things, it hasn't won anything of note, while Trump and the Republicans have pushed lots of things through that will be hard if even possible to reverse. True, several attempts at "repeal and replace of Obamacare" failed, but Republicans still managed to sneak a repeal of the "individual mandate" -- never very popular but long touted as the cornerstone of any scheme to get to universal coverage through private insurance -- tacking it onto a bill that was already overwhelmingly unpopular. Where Democrats are easily cowed by any hint of unpopularity, Republicans just get more determined to use the power they have to enact the changes they want, always figuring they can con the public into giving them more power. That the electoral tide has shifted is a good sign, but in the short term will only make them more desperate. The tax bill is a prime example of taking what you can when you can, with no regard to public opinion. Indeed, the whole "smash and grab" operation known as the Trump administration is driven like that.

    Other Yglesias pieces:

    • How to Make Metro Great Again: Tinkering with the DC subway system.

    • The biggest surprise of Trump's first year is his hard-right economic policy: About the only "populist" move of Trump's early campaign was the scorn he heaped on big money donors, a luxury he enjoyed only so long as he could afford to self-finance his campaign. He eased off on that late in the campaign, secure that many voters would cut him some slack compared to the donor queen, Crooked Hillary. There never was any substance to his "economic populism" -- e.g., look at his tax cut proposals during the campaign -- and he wasted no time surrendering all the key economic positions to ultra-rich donors and their lackeys. Less successfully, he's let orthodox Republicans in Congress run his legislative agenda; in exchange, they haven't questioned his personal or political scandals, and more often than not tried to provide him cover. In the end, he lacks both the moral courage and intellectual depth to plot his own way. Hence he's turned himself into little more than a tool, a particularly rusty one at that.

    • The economy is normal again

  • Micah Zenko: How Donald Trump Learned to Love War in 2017: Well, seems to be an inescapable part of the job. In his first year, Obama may not have come to love war -- at least not as ardently as GW Bush in his first year -- but he was well on the way to becoming an enthusiastic participant. Hillary Clinton tried to convince us that she, and not Trump, the one truly prepared to be Commander-in-Chief, but all it takes is deference to the top brass to get passing marks in that test -- something she should have remembered as it was key to husband Bill's embrace of the military in his first war-loving year. The hope some had for Trump was that he would push his fondness for business deals ahead of the failed neocon agenda and realize that customary rivals like Iran, Russia, China, and even North Korea could be turned into business opportunities, benefiting American investors (if not workers).

    In reality, the Donald Trump administration has demonstrated no interest in reducing America's military commitments and interventions, nor committed itself in any meaningful way to preventing conflicts or resolving them. Moreover, as 2017 wraps up, the trend lines are actually running in the opposite direction, with no indication that the Trump administration has the right membership or motivation to turn things around.

    President Trump has maintained or expanded the wars that he inherited from his predecessor.

    As Jennifer Wilson and I pointed out in an appropriately titled column in August, "Donald Trump Is Dropping Bombs at Unprecedented Levels." Within eight months of assuming office, Trump -- with the announcement of six "precision aistrikes" in Libya -- had bombed every country that former President Barack Obama had in eight years. One month after that, the United States surpassed the 26,172 bombs that had been dropped in 2016. Through the end of December 2017, Trump had authorized more airstrikes in Somalia in one year (33), than George W. Bush and Obama had since the United States first began intervening there in early 2007 (30).

    The growth in airstrikes was accompanied by a more than proportional increase in civilian deaths, . . . But as the volume of airstrikes and deaths increased, the Trump administration has subsequently made no progress in winding down America's wars. Moreover, it doesn't even pretend that the United States should play any role in supporting diplomatic outcomes.

    While Obama was campaigning, he liked to say that he wants to change the way we think about war, but in remarkably short time it was he who changed his thinking. Trump scarcely had any thinking to change. His instinct to give the generals unstinting support locked him into Obama's failing wars. The Russia collusion scandal precludes any opening there. Obeisance to Israel and Saudi Arabia have reopened conflict with Iran. His own stupid bluster has turned North Korea into a potential nuclear confrontation. Meanwhile, he's tearing down the international institutions that offer the only path toward peace and stability.

  • TPM: 2017 Golden Dukes Winners Announced! Considering everything they had to choose from, a pretty lame selection: Scott Pruitt is guilty alone of more conspicuous corruption than anyone ranked here. Or maybe they didn't have that much to choose from? Maybe they only read TPM headlines? Rep. Duke Cunningham raked in millions and wound up in jail to get this award named.



Dec 2017 Feb 2018