February 2018 Notebook
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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Streamnotes (February) 2018

Pick up text here.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 29423 [29386] rated (+37), 367 [375] unrated (-8).

Paid more attention to the new jazz queue last week, but still most of the newly rated albums are old -- some from my unrated list (mostly revisited via Napster, but they clear up old U marks), plus a few others that caught my fancy. The connection between this splurge in old music and my work on the Jazz Guide(s) is more tenuous and opportunistic this week, as I've been having trouble thinking of groups/records to look up. On the other hand, few 2018 releases are coming to my attention. Two months into the new year, my A-list is only five albums long: four jazz (Kevin Sun, Gregory Lewis, Evan Parker, Kris Davis/Craig Taborn), one non-jazz (Mary Gauthier). Part seasonal, I guess, and part don't-give-a-fuck. I'm having a tough time this year.

February Streamnotes should be up by Wednesday. Right now looks like: 57 new records, 2 recent old music releases, 97 old releases. Not sure if that counts as a very big month, or a very slim one. When I post it, I'll copy the new reviews into the Jazz Guide files, and call them done -- at least for what I've been calling Stage 2, pretty close to the compilation of all the reviews in my various CG-like columns since 2003. Currently my files contain 765 pages for the 20th Century (music recorded up through 1999), and 1650 pages for the 21st Century (music released from 2000 on). The definitions allow for a small amount of overlap (e.g., records cut in 1999 but not released until 2000, although some are earlier and/or later). Next step will be to figure out some way to make these files more accessible. The most obvious option is to export PDF, which I did at the end of Stage 1. One possible problem is that the PDF files are much larger than the LibreOffice source files -- though whether that turns out to be a real problem will take some testing.

Another approach would be to export the files as HTML and load them on a website somewhere. LibreOffice has a function to do that, but I've never used it, and it doesn't look like it will work nicely. Perhaps the thing to do then would be to write yet another program to read through the generated HTML and hack it up into usable shape. Seems like some of these things must have been done many times before. In addition to the built-in features, there are some obvious extensions to look at; e.g., LibreWeb, and Writer2ePub. (Actually, at first glance LibreWeb doesn't look useful at all. More promising is third-party free software like Calibre and Alkinea.)

Another interesting question is whether I can convert the book(s) to populate a website CMS like MediaWiki. Whereas exporting from LibreOffice to HTML/E-book would be a periodic (and therefore automated) process as changes are made to the original source file, the idea behind using MediaWiki would be put the work into a playpen where it could be further edited/enhanced. One thing that's clear to me is that while I've invested a hell of a lot of work into writing those 2415 (and counting) pages, I've long lost the struggle to keep on top of the domain -- indeed, that's something no one person can do these days. Indeed, I didn't even bother collecting my non-jazz reviews -- probably another 1000 pages buried all over the current website. That's a project for someone else to step up to, but I suppose I can still try to figure out how it might work.

I started collecting the reviews for the Jazz Guide(s) back in August 2016, more than 18 months ago. During all that time I had the luxury of knowing I had something I could work on no matter how low or dull I felt, but that task is pretty much done now, throwing me back into some sort of transitional phase. Wish I felt up to it, but I don't.


New records rated this week:

  • Louise Baranger: Louise Baranger Plays the Great American Groove Book (2017, Summit): [cd]: B
  • Dan Block: Block Party: A Saint Louis Connection (2015 [2018], Miles High): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Owen Broder: Heritage: The American Roots Project (2017 [2018], ArtistShare): [cd]: B
  • Sarah Buechi: Contradiction of Happiness (2017 [2018], Intakt): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Kaze: Atody Man (2017 [2018], Libra): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Daniel Levin/Chris Pitsiokos/Brandon Seabrook: Stomiidae (2017 [2018], Dark Tree): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Living Fossil: Never Die! (2017 [2018], self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton: Music for David Mossman: Live at Vortex London (2016 [2018], Intakt): [cd]: A-
  • Dolores Scozzesi: Here Comes the Sun (2017 [2018], Café Pacific): [cd]: B
  • Andy Sheppard Quartet: Romaria (2017 [2018], ECM): [r]: B+(*)
  • Mike Vax & Ron Romm: Collaboration (2017 [2018], Summit): [cd]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • The Dirty Dozen Brass Band: The New Orleans Album (1989 [1990], Columbia): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Dirty Dozen Brass Band: Jelly: The Dirty Dozen Brass Band Plays Jelly Roll Morton (1992-93 [1993], Columbia): [r]: B
  • Gerry Hemingway Quintet: Special Detail (1990 [1991], Hat Art): [r]: B+(***)
  • Gerry Hemingway Quartet: Down to the Wire (1991 [1993], Hat Art): [r]: B+(*)
  • Gerry Hemingway Quintet: The Marmalade King (1994 [1995], Hat Art): [r]: B+(***)
  • Charles Lloyd Quartet: Fish Out of Water (1989 [1990], ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • Charles Lloyd: The Call (1993, ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • Charles Lloyd: All My Relations (1994 [1995], ECM): [r]: B+(*)
  • Charles Lloyd: Canto (1996 [1997], ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • Charles Lloyd: Hyperion With Higgins (1999 [2001], ECM): [r]: A-
  • Charles Lloyd: Lift Every Voice (2002, ECM, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Jon Lloyd Quartet: Head! (1993, Leo): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jon Lloyd Quartet: By Confusion (1996 [1997], Hatology): [r]: A-
  • Jon Lloyd Group: Vanishing Points (2013, 33): [r]: B+(**)
  • Joe Lovano Nonet: On This Day . . . at the Vanguard (2002 [2003], Blue Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mokave [Glen Moore/Larry Karush/Glen Velez]: Afrique (1993 [1994], Audioquest): [r]: B+(*)
  • Henry Threadgill: X-75 Volume 1 (1979, Arista/Novus): [r]: C+
  • Glen Velez: Doctrine of Signatures (1990 [1991], CMP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mal Waldron Trio: Free at Last (1969 [1970], ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mal Waldron: Blues for Lady Day (1972 [1973], Black Lion): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mal Waldron: A Little Bit of Miles (1972 [1974], Trio/Freedom): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mal Waldron Quintet: Where Are You? (1989 [1994], Soul Note): [r]: B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Benjamin Boone/Philip Levine: The Poetry of Jazz (Origin): Origin: March 16
  • The Heavyweights Brass Band: This City (Lulaworld): March 9
  • Patricia Nicholson/William Parker: Hope Cries for Justice (Centering): April 13
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: Oneness (Leo, 3CD)
  • Chris Platt Trio: Sky Glow (self-released): March 9
  • Scott Reeves Jazz Orchestra: Without a Trace (Origin): March 16
  • Jay Rodriguez: Your Sound: Live at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola (Whaling City Sound)

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Weekend Roundup

Too late to write an intro, but you know the drill.


Some scattered links this week:

Monday, February 19, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 29386 [29345] rated (+41), 375 [375] unrated (+0).

Only one record from my jazz queue this week, and only two other "new" records: a guitar band from Niger recommended by Christgau, and a slice (two of three CDs) from the first serious effort to cash in on Ornette Coleman's death -- courtesy of a reader who didn't think the third leg of this stool was worth the trouble. I played the latter at least three times before deciding that it would be recommended if you didn't have to pay much more than I did -- but I certainly can't see forking over $100 for the "budget" edition. Makes me wonder if Benardo has been taking business correspondence courses along with the world's most demanding home schooling on the drums.

Only one recent reissue/compilation, too, sort of a consolation prize as the new Youssou N'Dour bootleg Christgau recommended in the same post proved too elusive for my hacking talents (or, rather, beyond my patience). Maybe it, too, will someday show up unbidden in my post. Meanwhile, I've been playing old jazz, partly because I've been working hard on my Jazz Guides, and partly because it was easier than thinking up (or, ugh, researching) new things to check out.

There is, actually, a small bit of logic to the old picks. I started by looking for old jazz records marked in my database with a U: stands for "ungraded," the initial default state of my new mail, but also used for old records that I haven't played since I started keeping grades, and otherwise don't remember well enough to specify. These constitute most of the "375 unrated" noted above, and it occurred to me that it would be easier to stream them than to dig the LPs out (assuming I still have them), dust off the old turntable, and flip the damn things over.

Then, once I played the unrated Kenny Barron record (Scratch), I noticed a PG 4-star album by Barron (Green Chimneys), and found it as well. Everyone else on the old music list had at least one unrated album (although I didn't actually find any of the unrated DeJohnettes). How many more depended on how quickly my interest waned, with the exercise not yielding much to crow about. Still, I'll most likely keep poking around a bit as I try to wrap up the Jazz Guide(s). Next on my search list is Ricky Ford, but neither of his two unrated records are on Napster. Still, pointed me to a Mal Waldron record I missed. Alas, not a great one.

Substantial progress on the Jazz Guide(s) last week. I finished going through the gigantic Jazz 00's file, and started working back through a scratch file of Streamnotes reviews, including the year-and-a-half's worth written since I started compiling the book(s). I've worked backwards through about four months of them. This brings my page totals to 1616 (21st Century) + 756 (20th Century). Both files are growing at this point, the newer one 4-5 times as fast as the older -- but given that I have to jump around to add each entry, "fast" really isn't the right word. I have no way of estimating how much longer this mop-up phase will take. I also need to look through my JCG/JP/RG file to see if there are any marginal entries I missed, and I need to take another pass through compilations and archival releases. Still, at this point I'm not trying to be too perfectionist. I just want to get to a point where I can say I've packaged what I've written over the past fifteen years, and this is what it looks like. Turning that into a real book (or books) and/or a website, cleaning up the writing, filling in holes, etc., is a next stage thing, hard even to imagine at this point. Before I move on, I'd at least like to be able to distribute what I have, at least to a few friends and associates. How I do that? Right now I have no real idea.


New records rated this week:

  • Ornette Coleman: Celebrate Ornette: Brooklyn Prospect Park (2014 [2016], Song X, 2CD): [cdr]: A-
  • Samo Salamon/Howard Levy: Peaks of Light (2017 [2018], Sazas): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Tal National: Tantabara (2018, Fat Cat): [r]: B+(***)

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

  • Youssou N'Dour: Africa Rekk: Réédition (2016 [2017], Jive/Epic): [r]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • Kenny Barron: Scratch (1985, Enja): [r]: B+(**)
  • Kenny Barron: Green Chimneys (1983-87 [1988], Criss Cross): [r]: B+(***)
  • Carla Bley: Tropic Appetites (1973-74 [1974], Watt): [r]: B+(*)
  • Carla Bley: Dinner Music (1976 [1977], Watt): [r]: B+(**)
  • Carla Bley: Social Studies (1980 [1981], Watt): [r]: B+(*)
  • Carla Bley: Live (1981 [1982], Watt/ECM): [r]: A-
  • Carla Bley: Heavy Heart (1983 [1984], Watt/ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Carla Bley Band: I Hate to Sing (1981-83 [1984], Watt/ECM): [r]: B+(***)
  • Carla Bley: Night-glo (1985, Watt/ECM): [r]: B-
  • Carla Bley: Sextet (1986-87 [1987], Watt/ECM): [r]: B+(*)
  • Carla Bley: Fleur Carnivore (1988 [1989], Watt/ECM): [r]: B+(***)
  • Carla Bley/Steve Swallow: Go Together (1992 [1993], Watt/ECM): [r]: B+(*)
  • Carla Bley: Big Band Theory (1992 [1993], Watt/ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • Carla Bley/Andy Sheppard/Steve Swallow: Songs With Legs (1994 [1996], Watt/ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Carla Bley Big Band: Goes to Church (1996, Watt/ECM): [r]: B+(*)
  • Carla Bley: Fancy Chamber Music (1997 [1998], Watt/ECM): [r]: B
  • Carla Bley/Steve Swallow: Are We There Yet? (1998 [1999], Watt/ECM): [r]: B+(*)
  • Carla Bley: 4X4 (1999 [2000], Watt/ECM): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jack DeJohnette: The DeJohnette Complex (1968 [1969], Milestone): [r]: B
  • Jack DeJohnette: Pictures (1976 [1977], ECM): [r]: B-
  • Jack DeJohnette: New Directions (1978, ECM): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jack DeJohnette: Special Edition (1979 [1980], ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jack DeJohnette New Directions: In Europe (1979 [1980], ECM): [r]: B+(*)
  • Amy Denio/Pavel Fajt/Csaba Hajnóczy/Gabi Kenderesi: The Danubians (1999 [2000], Cuneiform): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Keith Jarrett/Jack DeJohnette: Ruta and Daitya (1971 [1973], ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • Keith Jarrett: Facing You (1971 [1972], ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • Keith Jarrett: Arbour Zena (1975 [1976], ECM): [r]: B-
  • Keith Jarrett: The Survivor's Suite (1976 [1977], ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • Keith Jarrett: Nude Ants (1979 [1980], ECM, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Keith Jarrett: Personal Mountains (1979 [1989], ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • Michael Mantler: Something There (1983, Watt/ECM): [r]: B
  • Michael Mantler With Don Preston: Alien (1985, Watt/ECM): [r]: B+(*)
  • Michael Mantler: Live (1987, Watt/ECM): [r]: B-
  • Michael Mantler: Many Have No Speech (1987 [1988], Watt/ECM): [r]: C+
  • Michael Mantler: Folly Seeing All This (1992 [1993], ECM): [r]: B
  • Michael Mantler: Cerco Un Paese Innocente (1994 [1995], ECM): [r]: B+(*)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Heather Bennett: Lazy Afternoon (Summit)
  • Dogwood: Hecate's Hounds (Nusica.org)
  • Thomas Johansson: Home Alone (Tammt Z)
  • Lucas Niggli: Alchemia Garden (Intakt): March 16
  • Aruän Ortiz Trio: Live in Zürich (Intakt): March 16
  • Sara Serpa: Close Up (Clean Feed): March 18
  • Bill Warfield Big Band: For Lew (1990-2014, Planet Arts): March 9

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Weekend Roundup

Late. No time for an introduction. This is what I came up with in a day of checking the usual sources. Obviously, there's much more to report, but the framework remains the same.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: The 4 stories that drove politics this week: A gunman killed 17 at a Florida high school; All the different immigration bills failed in the Senate; The White House's Rob Porter story unraveled; There were a bunch of other scandals: including expense abuses at EPA and VA. Other Yglesias pieces:

  • Andrew J Bacevich: The War That Will Not End: Review of Steve Coll's new book, Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, effectively a sequel to his 2004 book Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001: it's oft remarked that "9/11 changed everything," but as far as America's perverse interest in Afghanistan is concerned, 9/11 was merely a convenient dividing line for two lengthy volumes on the same tale of ignorance, arrogance, and misadventure. Bacevich's opening paragraph is chilling:

    Steve Coll has written a book of surpassing excellence that is almost certainly destined for irrelevance. The topic is important, the treatment compelling, the conclusions persuasive. Just don't expect anything to change as a consequence.

    Bacevich notes that the American delusion continues past the scope of Coll's book, quoting Mike Pence's recent pronouncement, "I believe victory is closer than ever before."

    And by the way, US military forces are deployed many more places. The only reason people noticed Niger, in the central Sahara, is that four US soldiers were killed there last year. For a long report: Rukmini Callimachi, et al.: 'An Endless War': Why 4 U.S. Soldiers Died in a Remote African Desert.

  • Alexia Fernandez Campbell: This is America: 9 out of 10 public schools now hold mass shooting drills for students. As the conclusion states, "This trend is super depressing." I don't actually recall any of those "duck and cover" atomic attack drills back in the 1950s, even though we all knew that Wichita was a prime target, with military industries, an Air Force base, and a ring of Titan missile silos. I do recall drills for fires and tornadoes -- neither was very likely, but not unheard of. One thing about drills is that they tend to normalize and routinize the threat. We stopped doing atomic bomb drills not because the threat went away but because we realized such drills really didn't do any good. And while I imagine fire and storm drills have continued, the main thrust there has long been prevention: build safer buildings, and prevent fire hazards. On the other hand, mass shooting drills seem to be driven by the fear that nothing can be done to prevent such incidents -- that they are as inevitable as storms and earthquakes. That's pretty much the gist of Josh Marshall: Our Collective Impotence Feeds the Power of Guns, but it shows a lack of political will to face the mythology that's built up around guns and killing (see Taibbi, below). By the way, one of the myths is exploded in Paul Ratnet: Just 3% of Americans own more than half of the country's guns.

  • Joyce Chen: Donald Trump's Alleged Affair With Playboy Playmate: 6 Things We Learned. This is a separate story from the one Chen reported on in Stormy Daniels Details Alleged Donald Trump Fling: 8 Things We Learned, although the "things" are pretty much all of a piece. Still, some details may gross you out; e.g.: "Trump told Daniels that he believed his wealth and his power are linked to his hair."

  • Ryan Cooper: The rise and fall of Clintonism: Reviews two books -- Michael Tomasky: Bill Clinton and Amie Parnes/Jonathan Allen: Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign -- but the books themselves don't fully support the author's overarching thesis, nicely summed up in his conclusion:

    In the context of postwar politics, the upper class accommodated itself to a truce in the class war, for about three decades. But when the system came under strain, the elites launched a renewed class war, leveraging stagflation to destroy and devour the welfare state. Clintonism could work in the early stages of that process, buoyed by the economic bubble of the 1990s. But when the inevitable disaster struck, it would become an anchor around the neck of the Democratic Party -- and it remains one to this day.

    Thomas Frank's Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? provides a more trenchant critique of Clintonism, but Cooper's outline occasionally adds something.

  • Masha Gessen: Trump Has Created an Entire Class of People Who Are Never Safe:

    Many Americans understand how important it is for every person in this land to feel safe. The most commonly advanced argument for sanctuary cities (or towns, or states) is that immigrants must feel safe reporting crimes -- they must know that the police will not be monitoring their immigration status. This is the simplest expression of the thesis that none of us are safe unless all of us are safe.

    Trump seems to understand this instinctively. Tyrants -- or aspiring tyrants -- thrive when populations feel unstable and under threat. His Administration's ongoing attack on sanctuary cities is more than the belligerent demand for total compliance: it is part of an effort to insure that some of us are never safe, in order to insure that no one is ever really safe.

  • Rakeen Mabud/Eric Harris Bernstein: Does America believe in public infrastructure anymore? Yglesias explains the mechanics of Trump's infrastructure proposal above, but one thing he doesn't make clear enough is that the only real reason for designing the plan that way is to pave the way for auctioning off public works to private owners, allowing them to set up toll traps to recoup their investments and to further line their pockets. Such a scheme should be laughable but lots of people have been snowed by the argument that the public can't be trusted to safeguard let alone advance the public interest, so we're better off handing the job over to private interests. Give it a mere minute's thought and you'll realize that's nuts, yet I read an op-ed in the Wichita Eagle (some "Fox News contributor," I forget who) arguing that the TVA and other government properties should be privatized.

    Still, see Paul Krugman: Trump Doesn't Give a Dam:

    And even the $200 billion is essentially fraudulent: The budget proposal announced the same day doesn't just impose savage cuts on the poor, it includes sharp cuts for the Department of Transportation, the Department of Energy and other agencies that would be crucially involved in any real infrastructure plan. Realistically, Trump's offer on infrastructure is this: nothing.

    That's not to say that the plan is completely vacuous. One section says that it would "authorize federal divestiture of assets that would be better managed by state, local or private entities." Translation: We're going to privatize whatever we can.

    Krugman also wrote: Budgets, Bad Faith, and 'Balance'.

  • Andrew Prokop: The new Mueller indictments tell us a lot about Russian trolls: The link promised "What Mueller's new Russia indictments mean -- and what they don't." The indictments seem to show that various Russians were acting as internet trolls, spreading false information to influence the 2016 elections, but doesn't directly tie them either to Putin or to Trump. None of the Russians are likely to be arrested or tried, so I suspect this is merely the foundation to something else. There was, by the way, another new indictment, a Richard Pinedo, of which we know very little; see David Kurtz: Mueller Playing It So Damn Close to the Vest. Next on the burner, see Emily Stewart: Rick Gates is reportedly about to plead guilty to Robert Mueller.

    Also, in light of the indictments, Nate Silver tries to factor How Much Did Russian Interference Affect the 2016 Election? He doesn't come up with an answer, but he does note "the magnitude of the interference revealed so far is not trivial but is still fairly modest as compared with the operations of the Clinton and Trump campaigns" and "thematically, the Russian interference tactics were consistent with the reasons Clinton lost." In other words, "the Russians were at least adding fuel to the right fire." Still, I'm struck by how much more the Trump and Clinton campaigns spent -- $617 million by Trump and pro-Trump super PACs, $1.2 billion by Clinton. Alignment between Trump and Russia doesn't prove collusion, but it is some form of symbiosis. As for Clinton, the burning issue remains what did she do with all that money? And why didn't she get more value for what she spent? That's the same question I was left with after reading Shattered. Also, note that other Russian activities haven't been factored in here -- e.g., the DNC email hacks, which many believe to have been Russian work but haven't been proven.

    Of course, it's not just the Russians who meddle in other people's elections. For a primer, see Scott Shane: Russia Isn't the Only One Meddling in Elections. We Do It, Too.

  • Richard Silverstein: If Israeli Police Take Down Bibi, Don't Expect Much Good to Come of It: Pretty detailed explanation of the corruption case against Netanyahu.

  • Matt Taibbi: If We Want Kids to Stop Killing, the Adults Have to Stop, Too:

    Over two decades ago, I traveled to a city in the Russian provinces called Rostov-On-Don to interview a psychiatrist named Alexander Bukhanovsky.

    Bukhanovsky, now deceased, was famous. If you've seen the movie Citizen X, about the capture of serial killer Andrei Chikatilo, Bukhanovsky was the guy played by Max Von Sydow. He was the Soviet Union's first criminal profiler.

    One of the first things he said was that both Russia and America produced disproportionate shares of mass killers.

    "Giant militarized countries," he said, "breed violent populations."

    Bukhanovsky at the time was treating a pre-teen who had begun killing animals. He told me this young boy would almost certainly move on to killing people eventually. He was seeing more and more of these cases, he said.

    Nikolas Cruz, the 19 year-old just arrested for shooting and killing 17 people in Parkland, Florida, supposedly bragged about killing animals. He reportedly even posted photos of his work on Instagram.

    There will be lots of hand-wringing in the coming days about gun control, and rightfully so -- it's probably easier to get a semi-automatic rifle in this country than it is to get some flavors of Pop Tarts -- but with each of these shootings, we seem to talk less and less about where the rage-sickness causing these massacres comes from.

    The single most salient fact of life during my lifetime -- nearly seventy years -- is that the US has continuously been at war abroad. Even during the decade between the approximate end of the Cold War and the advent of the War on Terror, the militarist ethos was so imbued in American thought that we came up with "humanitarian" rationales for a half-dozen interventions (Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti, Colombia, Kosovo, East Timor, what'd I miss?). And since 2001, that attitude has hardened into an obsession with targeting and killing individuals. Taibbi notes:

    In an era of incredible division and political polarization, military killing is the most thoroughly bipartisan of all policy initiatives. Drone murders spiked tenfold under Obama, and Trump has supposedly already upped the Obama rate by a factor of eight. The new president apparently killed more civilians in his first seven months in office than Obama did overall, making use of our growing capacity for mechanized murder.

    "We are killing these sons of bitches faster than they can grow them now," a CIA official reportedly told a subordinate with glee some years back. Another CIA vet told the Washington Post the agency had become ""one hell of a killing machine." . . .

    These aren't just scenes from bad movies. They're foundational concepts in our society. We're conditioned to disbelieve in the practicality of nonviolence and peace, and to disregard centuries of proof of the ineffectiveness of torture and violence as a means of persuasion.

    On the other hand, we're trained to accept that early use of violence is frequently heroic and necessary (the endless lionization of Winston Churchill as the West's great realist is an example here) and political courage is generally equated with the willingness to use force. JFK's game of nuclear poker with Nikita Khruschev is another foundational legend, while Khruschev is generally seen as a loser for having backed down. . . .

    Gun control? I'm all for it. But this madness won't stop until we stop believing that killing makes us strong, or that we can kill without guilt or consequence just by being "precise." What beliefs like that actually make us is insane and damaged, and it's no surprise that our kids, too, are beginning to become collateral damage.

    Note that the Florida shooter wasn't a veteran, but was in ROTC, so war and the military were very much on his mind. Also that the gun used in the Florida shooting, and indeed in many recent mass shootings, was designed for America's wars abroad. See: Tim Dickinson: All-American Killer: How the AR-15 Became Mass Shooters' Weapon of Choice. Also related: Marcus Weisgerber: Obama's Final Arms-Export Tally More Than Doubles Bush's.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Music Week

Music: Current count 29345 [29288] rated (+57), 375 [378] unrated (-3).

Surprised by the high initial rated count (48), but there were 49 records listed below, so I actually undercounted. I went back and found the error, plus another record I reviewed last week (bringing the list below to 50), plus two more older grades I had failed to register, so I manually added them in. [PS: Also manually added in the Curlew albums I played after my normal cutoff, to keep them together.]

I took a break last week from compiling EOY lists, and as such from searching for 2017 records I had missed, to compiling my old reviews into my Recorded Jazz in the 21st Century guide book. Even made some notable progress on it, finishing the Jazz '00s artist list, and reaching midway in the groups list (52% to be precise, Le Boeuf Brothers). That brings the draft file up to 1518 pages. I'll probably finish up the groups this week, reaching a little over 1550 pages. I then need to go back and pick up things I missed, mostly because I've continued to write new reviews since I started compiling in August 2016, but also because there's some fringe stuff I wanted to include but it's filed elsewhere in the database (e.g., Latin, African, rock).

Once I've done all that -- end of February is a possibility but not a lock -- I'm not sure what happens next. I'll probably make a PDF available and issue an RFC (request for comments). I need to look into tools for converting LibreWriter files into E-book format(s). I'm sure it would take a massive further effort to edit it into a worthwhile book -- maybe more than I can ever do (especially given that I don't have a lot of time to work with). I really don't know what happens next. I certainly didn't expect to be stuck at this stage for eighteen months, but that's the size of it.

A side effect of working on the Jazz Guide(s) is that I started checking out old jazz records. First one was the Italian group Scoolptures, in my database but with nothing I'd heard, so seemed like a good idea to give them a try. After that I found it easier to think of old records to check out than new ones, and they sort of took over the week.

At some point I looked at Milo Miles' blog -- probably because he had an RIP post on John Perry Barlow, and as I scrolled through past posts I noticed a long one on Cuneiform Records: they're going on some kind of hiatus, where they'll continue to take orders but not release new records -- usual gripes there about the forces killing the record business. For some time now, they've used Bandcamp as a promo tool but made very little music available to the public there, but last week I noticed that the entire second Fast 'N' Bulbous album was available. (I reviewed it, Waxed Oop, gave it an A-.) Turns out that virtually all of their records are on Bandcamp now, so I started filling in some of the jazz titles I had missed.

I've also noticed that ECM's back catalog is now mostly up on Napster. Thus far the only things I've looked up have been a couple of records that intersect with other artists I've been looking up -- Raoul Björkenheim has several albums on Cuneiform, but also two Krakatau albums on ECM, so it made sense to serialize them below. Still, a lot more unheard ECM to work through sooner or later. I've been working on this stuff pretty quickly, looking for wider rather than deeper coverage. Sometimes that's easy, sometimes it's frustrating. The Tippett-Dunmall-Dean albums tend to blur together. I'm listening to a series of Curlew albums now, and they're even more of a mixed bag.

One last note on Barlow. Seems like he was always identified as a Grateful Dead lyricist, but I never knew or cared whatever that was supposed to signify. I knew him through his work in Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), where he was an important advocate for free software and a free internet. The recent FCC decision to end net neutrality is just further proof that his work is more needed now than ever.


New records rated this week:

  • David Bertrand: Palmyra & Other Places (2017, Blujazz): [cd]: B+
  • Girma Bèyènè & Akalé Wubé: Éthiopiques 30: "Mistakes on Purpose" (2017, Buda Musique): [r]: A-
  • Nick Biello: Vagabond Soul (2016 [2018], Blujazz): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Harley Card: The Greatest Invention (2015 [2018], self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Fred Farell: Distant Song (2016 [2018], Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Craig Fraedrich: Out of the Blues (2017, Summit): [cd]: B-
  • Brad Garton/Dave Soldier: The Brainwave Music Project (2017 [2018], Mulatta)
  • James Hall: Lattice (2016 [2018], Outside In Music): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Jupiter & Okwess: Kin Sonic (2017, Glitterbeat): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Rich Krueger: Life Ain't That Long (2017 [2018], Rockink): [r]: B+(**)
  • Julian Lage: Modern Lore (2018, Mack Avenue): [r]: B
  • David Murray feat. Saul Williams: Blues for Memo (2016 [2018], Motéma): [r]: B+(**)
  • Negative Press Project: Eternal Life: Jeff Buckley Songs and Sounds (2017, Ridgeway, 2CD): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Quelle Chris: Being You Is Great, I Wish I Could Be You More Often (2017, Mello Music Group): [bc]: B-
  • Cecilia Sanchietti: La Verza Via (2017 [2018], Blujazz): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Dr. Lonnie Smith: All in My Mind (2018, Blue Note): [r]: B-
  • Spellling: Pantheon of Me (2017, self-released): [bc]: B
  • Edgar Steinitz: Roots Unknown (2017 [2018], OA2): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Bobo Stenson Trio: Contra La Indecisión (2017 [2018], ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • Hideo Yamaki/Bill Laswell/Bjorn Björkenheim/Mike Sopko/Dominic James: Inaugural Sound Clash for the 2 Americas (2017, MOD Technologies): [r]: B+(***)

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

  • Mulatu Astatke: Mulatu of Ethiopia (1972 [2017], Strut): [r]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • Raoul Björkenheim & Krakatau: Ritual (1988-90 [1996], Cuneiform): [bc]: B+(***)
  • George Cartwright: Dot (1994, Cuneiform): [bc]: B+(*)
  • George Cartwright: The Memphis Years: Terminal Moraine (2000, Cuneiform): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Curlew: Live in Berlin (1986-87 [1990], Cuneiform): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Curlew: Bee (1990 [1991], Cuneiform): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Curlew: A Beautiful Western Saddle (1993, Cuneiform): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Curlew: Paradise (1996, Cuneiform): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Curlew: Fabulous Drop (1998, Cuneiform): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Curlew: Meet the Curlews (2002, Cuneiform): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Curlew: Mercury (1998, Cuneiform): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Elton Dean/Howard Riley/Paul Rogers/Mark Sanders: All the Tradition (1990, Slam): [r]: B+(***)
  • Elton Dean: The Vortex Tapes (1990, Slam): [r]: B+(**)
  • Elton Dean Quintet: Silent Knowledge (1995 [1996], Cuneiform): B+(***)
  • Elton Dean Quartet: Rumours of an Incident (1996 [1997], Slam): [r]: B+(**)
  • Elton Dean/Paul Dunmall/Tony Levin/Paul Rogers/Roswell Rudd/Keith Tippett: Bladik (1996 [1997], Cuneiform): [bc]: A-
  • Paul Dunmall Octet: The Great Divide (2000 [2001], Cuneiform): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Paul Dunmall/John Adams/Mark Sanders: Totally Fried Up (1998 [1999], Slam): [r]: B+(**)
  • Vinny Golia/Aurora Josephson/Henry Kaiser/Mike Keneally/Joe Morris/Damon Smith/Weasel Walter]: Healing Force: The Songs of Albert Ayler (2006 [2007], Cuneiform): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Franz Koglmann: Schlaf Schlemmer, Schlaf Magritte (1984 [1993], Hat Art): [r]: B+(*)
  • Franz Koglmann: About Yesterday's Ezzthetics (1988 [1989], Hat Art): [r]: B+(*)
  • Franz Koglmann: A White Line (1989 [1990], Hat Art): [r]: B+(**)
  • Eero Koivistoinen: Helium (1999 [2001], Texicali): [r]: B+(**)
  • Eero Koivistoinen & UMO Jazz Orchestra: Arctic Blues (2005-16 [2016], Svart, 2CD): B+(*)
  • Krakatau: Volition (1991 [1992], ECM): [r]: B
  • Krakatau: Matinale (1993 [1994], ECM): [r]: B+(*)
  • Mujician: The Journey (1990, Cuneiform): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Mujician: Poem About the Hero (1994, Cuneiform): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Mujician: Colours Fulfilled (1997 [1998], Cuneiform): [bc]: A-
  • Mujician: Spacetime (2001 [2002], Cuneiform): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Scoolptures: Materiale Umano (2009, Leo): [r]: B+(**)
  • Scoolptures: White Sickness (2009 [2011], Leo): [r]: B
  • Scoolptures: Please Drive-by Carefully (2012 [2013], Leo, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Scorch Trio: Brolt! (2007 [2008], Rune Grammofon): [r]: B+(**)
  • Keith Tippett: Mujician Solo IV (Live in Piacenza) (2012 [2015], Dark Companion): [r]: B+(**)


Grade (or other) changes:

  • Raoul Björkenheim//Ingebrigt Håker Flaten/Paal Nilssen-Love: Scorch Trio (2002, Rune Grammofon): [bc]: was A-, B+(***)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Peter Kuhn: Dependent Origination (FMR -17)
  • Peter Kuhn Trio: Intention (FMR)
  • Roberta Donnay & the Prohibition Mob Band: My Heart Belongs to Satchmo (Blujazz): February 28
  • Electric Squeezebox Orchestra: The Falling Dream (OA2): February 16
  • Hal Galper Quartet: Cubist (Origin): February 16
  • Sergio Galvao/Lupa Santiago/Clement Landais/Franck Enouf: 2X2 (Origin): February 16
  • Mike Jones/Penn Jillette: The Show Before the Show: Live at the Penn & Teller Theater (Capri): March 16
  • Joe Lovano & Dave Douglas: Sound Prints: Scandal (Greenleaf Music): April 6
  • Sahkers n' Bakers: Heart Love (Little i Music): February 14 (digital)/May 26 (CD)

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Weekend Roundup

I've been reading David Frum's Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic, and generally finding it useful in its clear and principled critique of Trump's vanity, authoritarianism, and corruption, and how Frum's fellow conservatives have squandered whatever principles they may have had (probably not many) in becoming toadying enablers to such a public menace. Among other things, he's finally convinced me that the Russians had something to do with electing Trump, especially (not quite the same thing) by releasing the Podesta hack mere hours after the "Access Hollywood" tape. (By the way, what we need to really clarify the issue isn't a more complete record of Trump-Russia contacts, but a much better understanding of the various Trump/Republican cyber efforts, which seem to have had an outsized impact on election day. My guess is that expertise and data flowed both ways, not that I've seen any proof of that. We do have proof of high-level contacts, which suggests intent to collude, but how did that get turned into meaningful acts?)

The book is not without faults, such as his fawning over General H.R. McMaster (among other things a Vietnam War defeat denier), or his own background as a G.W. Bush speechwriter (reportedly the guy who coined the "axis of evil" phrase). Based on the intro, at some point I expected him to finally explain why Trumpism is bad for conservatives, and he finally takes a shot at that on pp. 206-207:

Maybe you do not much care about the future of the Republican Party. You should. Conservatives will always be with us. If conservatives become convinced that they cannot win democratically, they will not abandon conservatism. They will reject democracy. The stability of American society depends on conservatives' ability to find a way forward from the Trump dead end, toward a conservatism that can not only win elections but also govern responsibly, a conservatism that is culturally modern, economically inclusive, and environmentally responsible, that upholds markets at home and US leadership internationally.

He then spends another page expanding on what enlightened, principled conservatives believe in and should be doing -- none of which has any currency within the actual Republican Party, at least as constituted in the White House and Congress. He doesn't say this, but the closest match to his ideal conservative politician is Barack Obama. On the other hand, his beloved Republicans have already realized that they cannot win fair democratic elections, so grasp at every campaign trick and every tactical manoeuvre at their disposal: huge money, bald-faced lies, gerrymandering, filibusters, packing the courts. They know full well that their policies are extremely unpopular, but they persist in pushing them through, hoping that come election time they can turn the voters' ire against opponents who are often caught up in their own corruption and incompetence.

If you look back at how the Republicans formed their coalition -- one that has never been overwhelmingly popular, one that has often had to depend on low voter turnout to edge out narrow wins -- you'll find that they have repeatedly swapped away responsible establishmentarian (which is a form of conservative) positions to capture blocks willing to vote against their own economic interests. It wouldn't be difficult to imagine conservatives who didn't pander to racial or other prejudice, who accepted that abortion is a private matter, who favored sensible restrictions on guns, who favored a much lower profile for the military, who didn't feel threatened by immigration, who understood the need to protect and preserve the environment, who recognized that equal justice is essential for any sort of free and fair society. Republicans took those positions not out of ideological conviction but because they hoped to capture significant blocks of irrational voters. Indeed, it's not uncommon for conservatives in other countries to accept high progressive taxes and a robust social welfare net, because those policies have proven effective at building stable middle class nations. (For example, right-leaning parties in Switzerland and Taiwan were responsible for creating universal health care systems -- if only to take the issue away from left-leaning parties.)

But not only have Republicans undermined their traditional values by opportunistic demagoguery, they've surrendered control of the party to a very small cabal of extremely wealthy donors, who've imposed an extreme laissez-faire economic doctrine on top of all the bigotry and invective they've built the Party on. The problem there is not only does their ideology not work for the Party's base voters, it doesn't work as a governing philosophy. Thus far, Republican rule has blown up three times: under Nixon's skullduggery, under Bush I's corruption, and under Bush II's war and much more. And the prospects of Trump solving any of those problems are about as close to zero as you can get. The fact that Republicans keep bouncing back after each disaster is the chief political problem of our times, especially as it appears they've doubled down each time. Until they're totally repudiated, nothing in the party will get better.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: The 4 most important stories in politics this week: The government shut down for six hours; What the bill actually does: the budget deal that ended the shutdown; DREAMers in the balance: one of the most pressing problems not addressed in the bill; Another senior White House official resigned in disgrace: Rob Porter. The first three were all tangents of the shutdown/budget deal, so I expected more. Other Yglesias pieces this week:

  • Jeff Bezos' Quest to Find America's Stupidest Mayor: So Amazon is taking bids from cities/counties/states to host their "HQ2," offering some large number of office jobs to the winner, i.e., the taxpayers willing to offer them the biggest kickback. Businesses do this all the time, and the bigger the prize they can offer, the more saliva they have to wade through. Is this a good deal, even locally? Most likely not. Of course, it's even worse for the federal government, where the zero sum game adds up to zero. There should be a federal law to either outlaw tax allowances for developments or to tax them punitively. That wouldn't end all such bidding, but it would be a good start, and taxing other enticements could follow. As for the supposed paybacks:

    However, most research indicates that the cost to state and local governments for these subsidies typically outweighs the benefits in terms of employment and tax revenue, including in the cases of Amazon's growing network of fulfillment centers.

    A new analysis by the Economic Policy Institute looking at employment in counties that managed to land a fulfillment center in the last 15 years found no evidence that overall employment increased, and in some instances employment even fell relative to comparison counties. The implication was that the commitments made to win Amazon's facilities -- subsidies likely worth over $1 billion dollars in total -- usually were enough of a drag on the rest of the economy, either by imposing a higher tax burden or diverting resources, to more than offset any jobs and spending created by Amazon.

    One side note: Contrary to the article, Amazon has collected sales tax here in Kansas (one of the highest in the country) for many years now, but in our case at least that has little if any effect on whether we buy locally or through Amazon. Price, selection, and home delivery are our main reasons for buying on Amazon. I realize some people hate Amazon on principle, but I'm not one of them. Still, doesn't mean I'm not bothered about some of the shit they pull. For instance, the reason we pay sales tax is they opened a distribution center in southeast KS, with a lot of local perks for the jobs. They closed that as soon as the initial perks expired (but they still collect KS sales tax).

    Baker also wrote: Three Percent GDP Growth and Democrats' Irresponsible Opposition to Trump Tax Cuts. Note that he's not saying that opposition was irresponsible. Just that some of the reasons Democrats gave for opposing the bill were less than helpful: especially worries about increasing federal debt, and the argument that a 3% GDP growth rate was impossible -- although he does admit that nothing in the bill gets us anywhere near 3%. He should also acknowledge that an extra $1.5 trillion in debt will place downward pressure on public spending, and that would hurt the economy, as well as the people's valuation of government services. We would, for instance, be better off if the government left tax rates unchanged and simply spent an extra $1.5 trillion, especially on infrastructure but actually on pretty much anything. He goes into more nuts and bolts on GDP growth, but the bottom line there is that lowering taxes on the rich doesn't do a thing for GDP growth. The trick there -- what is needed to get past our current sluggish recovery -- is to pay workers more, creating more demand and luring more currently unemployed people into the workforce (standard unemployment rates are exceptionally low now, but labor participation rates are still well below 2007 levels, which helps explain why this recover doesn't feel as strong as previous ones.)

  • Dan Balz: White House under John Kelly is not so calm and competent after all: That's still mostly Trump, but people who thought Kelly himself was "calm and competent" have begun to have doubts -- and, really, this dates back before the Porter/Sorensen scandals. In particular, it's been pretty clear that Kelly was instrumental in getting Trump to back down from any bipartisan DACA deal, so he seems as much an ideology-driven activist as guys he's banished like Bannon and Gorka. I think he's still safe from external cries for his head (e.g., John Nichols: John Kelly Has Got to Go) but having embarrassed the petulant president, he's suddenly on thin ice. Another Kelly piece: Heather Digby Parton: John Kelly's True Self and ICE's Mission Creep: Tyranny Is Spreading.

  • David Dayen: Senate Republicans Kept Provision to Fight High Drug Prices Out of Spending Bill, Democrats Say.

  • Leo Gerard: Donald Trump's broken trade promises:

    The U.S. Commerce Department announced this week that the 2017 trade deficit rose to the highest level since 2008. . . . The Commerce Department reported the trade deficit rose 12 percent during Trump's first year in office, that the goods deficit with China jumped 8 percent to a record $375.2 billion, that the overall non-petroleum goods deficit shot up to an unprecedented high of $740.7 billion. Those terrible numbers testify to an administration dawdling, not performing for American workers who voted for Donald Trump based on campaign promises of quick and easy action to cure bad trade.

    I note this because I'm a bit surprised by the numbers, although most likely they're a continuation of past trends. Trade deficits dropped after 2008 because the economy crashed, resulting in less trade. If nothing else changed (and damn little did), it makes sense that trade deficits would have risen with the slow recovery. On the other hand, I've heard charges that Trump's treasury has been suppressing the dollar to improve exports, and I've noticed several instances of "punitive" tariffs (one that Boeing lobbied for would have added three times the cost of competing Canadian aircraft; it has since been struck down). I wouldn't go as far as the author in crediting "right thinking" to Trump officials like Wilbur Ross or Peter Navarro, nor would I whine about China "stealing trade secrets from American companies." Trump may be trying to renegotiate NAFTA, but he's finding that he's up not just against Canada and Mexico but many US businesses (including farmers) that have a stake in the status quo. Indeed, a big part of the rationale for his tax bill was that it would make it more attractive for foreigners to invest capital in the US. For that to happen, the US will need to run higher trade deficits, so foreigners will have more capital to return to the US. And what happens then is less that the new capital will generate jobs than that it will inflate asset prices, increasing inequality, while turning more and more American businesses into siphons for the rich abroad.

  • Thomas Gibbons-Neff: Trump Wants a Military Parade. But Not Everyone Is in Step. The official story is that Trump got the idea watching a Bastille Day parade in France. He assumed that if a second-rate power like France could put on a good show, a nation which spends more than ten times as much on soldiers and high-tech gadgetry could put on something really spectacular -- something he might cite as proof that he had "made America great again." Of course, it might have just been his fetish for large crowds and high ratings. But the first image that popped into my mind was stock footage of the parades of missiles and tanks the Soviet Union used to put on -- used by the American press to whip up Cold War fears, not least by reminding us that the Soviet system was close-minded, militaristic, and sinister. (Nowadays the same footage is most often used to represent North Korea.) The second image, of course, was of Nazi parades meant to psych up the Volk to launch WWII. The third was the military parade in Egypt where Sadat was assassinated. None of these images seem fitting for a peaceful democracy -- although you can appreciate Trump's confusion, as the America he seeks to "make great again" scarcely qualifies on either count. Indeed, one wonders why France march-steps: nostalgia for their former globe-spanning empire? some kind of complex over their having been reduced to a bit role in NATO? maybe they feel some need to intimidate their revolution-minded citizens? Colbert reacted to Trump: "He knows Bastille Day is about poor people chopping off rich people's heads, right?"

    Among the reactions to Trump's parade: Jonathan Freedland: Trump's desire for a military parade reveals him as a would-be despot; Alex Ward: Ex-Navy SEAL calls Trump's military parade idea "third world bullshit".

  • Umair Irfan: Puerto Rico's blackout, the largest in American history, explained.

  • Fred Kaplan: No Time to Talk: "Trump's foreign policy is all military, no diplomacy. We're starting to see the consequences." Trump's tilt toward the military reflects a belief that force (and only force) works -- that all America has to do is act like a Great Power (which Obama manifestly failed to do) and the world will fall in line. In such a world, adding to the military reinforces US primacy, while diplomacy (successful or not) undercuts it. Accordingly, Nikki Haley's job at the UN isn't to negotiate consensus; it's to bark out threats and orders. The problem is that the only way conflicts actually end is through agreement. Sometimes this can be very one-sided, as in the German and Japanese surrenders in WWII, but usually it's more complicated, involving more give-and-take. That's a worldview Trump cannot even conceive of, and that's not likely change, as it suits the neocons in his administration. They believe that it's actually good for conflicts to fester indeterminately, as long as the only response the president can conceive of is building up more power. Obama and Kerry (if not necessarily Clinton) could occasionally see another way out, but Trump cannot.

    Kaplan also wrote on nuclear strategy: Mattis Goes Nuclear: "Trump's secretary of defense has recently adopted some dubious and dangerous ideas about nuclear strategy." This piece fits in neatly with Matt Taibbi: Donald Trump's Thinking on Nukes Is Insane and Ignorant. It's certainly the case that Mattis isn't ignorant, and it's possible he's not insane either, but he's certainly deluded if he thinks he can see any strategic use for nuclear weapons. While Taibbi makes occasional reference to Trump's mental state, his article is actually more focused on the US military's latest strategizing on nuclear weapons, including the proliferation of "low-yield" warheads as part of a trillion dollar "modernization" program -- i.e., he's at least as troubled by what "adults" like Mattis are thinking as what Trump might foolishly do. One thing Taibbi and Kaplan don't do is explain why the nuclear bomb mandarins are pushing such an ambitious program now, and why it makes sense to people like Trump (aside from the obvious points about insanity and ignorance). What we're seeing is the convergence of two big ideas: the neocon notion that world order can only be enforced by a single global power, one that forces everyone else to tremble and pay tribute, and the conservative notion that the rich are rightful (and righteous) rulers. This trillion dollar nuclear "modernization" is the sort of thing big businesses do precisely because their smaller competitors cannot afford to. This actually fits well with the neocon hysteria over other countries' "nuclear ambitions" -- how dare anyone else try to compete with us?

    By the way, one other point occurs to me. Trump has long styled himself as the consummate dealmaker, so many people assumed he'd use his skills to negotiate (and in some cases re-negotiate) deals with America's adversaries. But actually, the deals Trump has done throughout his career are a very limited subset: alliances, based on mutual greed, to be satisfied at the expense of someone else (or, rather often it seems, his investors). About the only deal he's worked so far was with the Saudis: he sold them arms (and blanket support for their imperial ambitions in Yemen and elsewhere). But even that deal only worked because the Saudis were so eager to suck up to him -- a posture he's used to in the business world, but much rarer in world affairs. Of course, even that wasn't his own work. It was, at best, something others pitched to him in ways he could understand.

  • Patrick Lawrence: A major opening at the Pyeongchang Olympics -- but not from Mike Pence: "Kim Jong-un's sister and the South Korean president have lunch, while Mike Pence rattles the sabers ever louder." Lawrence makes several points:

    First, we can discard all assertions in the American press that Moon, the South Korean president, had suddenly turned hostile toward the North in conformity with U.S. policy after his election last May. . . .

    Second, there is as of now no evident intention in Washington to approach the negotiating table, as all other nations traditionally involved in the Korean crisis urge. This appears to hold true under any circumstances. . . .

    Third, in view of Pence's remarks in Tokyo and Seoul, we must conclude that there are no moderating voices on foreign policy left in the Trump administration -- to the extent, I mean, that there may have been any from the beginning. There had been intermittent suggestions that tempering perspectives in the executive were keeping things at least minimally civilized. Read Pence's remarks and imagine they were uttered by Mattis or H.R. McMaster, Trump's ever-belligerent national security adviser; either of the other two could have made those statements verbatim. By all appearances, these figures are now interchangeable. In short, the military runs the White House on the foreign policy side -- this without any inhibiting pressure one can detect from other quarters.

  • Dara Lind: Trump's draft plan to punish legal immigrants for sending US-born kids to Head Start: "Or getting insured through the Children's Health Insurance Program, or getting assistance to heat their homes."

  • Anna North: Trump's long history of employing -- and defending -- men accused of hurting women: Rob Porter, of course, but note the list also includes Andrew Puzder, Trump's Secretary of Labor nominee who was forced to withdraw due to assaulting his (now ex-) wife. Related: Jen Kirby: John Kelly has a history of believing men over women. And since these articles appeared, Kirby has also written about Trump speechwriter David Sorensen: A second White House aide resigns over domestic abuse allegations. Also see: David Remnick: A Reckoning With Women Awaits Trump: One reason the spousal abuse charges against Porter, Sorensen, and ultimately Kelly, blew up so fast is that they fit in perfectly with what we know and despise about Trump himself:

    Donald Trump is the least mysterious figure in the history of the American Presidency. His infantile character, duplicity, cold-heartedness, and self-dealing greed are evident not merely to the majority of the poll-answering electorate but, sooner or later, to those who make the decision to work at his side. . . . Sooner or later, Trump's satraps and lieutenants, present and former, come to betray a vivid sense of just how imperilled and imperilling this Presidency is. In their sotto-voce remarks to the White House press, these aides seem to compete in their synonyms for the President's modesty of intelligence ("moron," "idiot," "fool"); his colossal narcissism; his lack of human empathy. They admit to reporters how little he studies the basics of domestic policy and national security; how partial he is to autocrats like himself; how indifferent he is to allies. They are shocked, they proclaim, absolutely shocked. In the past few days, it has been Trump's misogyny, his heedless attitude toward women and issues of harassment and abuse, that has shocked them most. And those who know him best recognize the political consequences ahead.

  • Mark Schmitt: The Art of the Scam:

    Most American workers this month will see their take-home pay go up, some a little and a few quite a bit, as the new tax act takes effect and less money is withheld for federal income taxes.

    But for many, the gift will be short-lived. Because the law was rushed and written in a partisan frenzy, withholding may not be accurate and you might owe money to the I.R.S. next year. You might even be advised to file new forms so that more money is withheld -- and then the forms and withholding amounts are likely to change again later in the year and then again every year thereafter as the cuts for individuals head toward expiration. . . .

    It's the experience of the scam economy, where nothing is certain and anything gained might disappear without warning. It's an economy where risk is shifted onto individuals and families, financial predators lurk behind every robocall and pop-up ad, work schedules are changed without notice and Americans have endless choices about savings, education, health care and other needs but very little clear guidance about how to make those choices wisely or safely. . . .

    A proposal for paid family leave recently floated by Ivanka Trump and Senator Marco Rubio takes the policy of "give with one hand, take away with the other" to an absurd extreme: New parents could pay for leave from their future Social Security payments, trading a week of paid leave for a week of retirement benefits, as if people could make a rational, informed choice between needs that will typically fall 40 years apart in the life cycle.

    Finally, this administration has eagerly taken down the guardrails intended to protect individuals from the worst predators: the "fiduciary rule," which had required investment advisers to act in the interest of their clients; the hard-fought rules that protect students from worthless for-profit colleges and student loans they can't repay; and even the recent Labor Department rule requiring that employees receive the tips that are intended for them. Virtually every enforcement action of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has been put on hold or canceled -- even the investigation of the Equifax hack that disclosed the financial records of millions of people -- exposing all of us to even more scams and tricks.

    It bears noting that all this is happening at the same time people are encouraged to grab as much money as they can now because without it their future looks increasingly bleak -- a practice increasingly free of scruples, as certain political leaders attest.

  • Alex Ward: Israel just attacked Syria. That's scary, but nothing new. I've been reading that the US military's favorite option for dealing with North Korea is what they call a "bloody nose" attack: the US swoops in, blows some shit up, causes some hurt, but in a limited way that doesn't invite the escalation of a full-scale response. This is basically what Israel has been doing to Syria, repeatedly, since well before civil war broke out, and it's happened a half-dozen times or more during the war. Syria doesn't want to fight Israel, so they don't respond in kind, let alone escalate. The assumption is that North Korea doesn't really want to fight either, so would hold back and be humiliated rather than risk massive destruction. If you believe that, you have to ask yourself why you let North Korea's missiles and nuclear bombs worry you in the first place. Of course, introspection isn't a strong trait of anyone in the Trump administration, least of all the blowhard-in-chief.

    By the way, for more on what we're risking in Korea see: Yochi Dreazen: Here's what war with North Korea would look like. Also, a reminder of the last time the US made war on North Korea: David McNeill: Unknown to most Americans, the US 'totally destroyed' North Korea once before.

Monday, February 05, 2018

Music Week

Music: Current count 29288 [29253] rated (+35), 378 [378] unrated (+0).

I got to most of this week's count after posting January Streamnotes, but there are a couple of surprises below. I've continued to add to my EOY Aggregate. One new list was Ann Powers' Top 10 Underheard Albums, and three of those records were unknown to me, all on the folk side of Americana. One, by Anna Tivel, proved quite good (the others, well, not so good), so that was my first post-freeze A-. The second was Wu-Tang's The Saga Continues, which first showed up at number 100 on the Banquet Records list. The Stampfel album wasn't available when I looked last year, but showed up when I went looking for this year's album (unavailable on Napster).


Shortly after posting Weekend Roundup, I noticed several quoteworthy tweets:

From LOLGOP (presumably satire, quoting Paul Ryan's presumably sober "pleasantly surprised her pay up $1.50 a week," but the perspective rings true):

Charles, a Koch brother in Wichita, said he was pleasantly surprised that his pay went up $26,923,076 a week . . . he said [that] will more than cover the cost of buying several more Paul Ryans.

From Rep. Keith Ellison (also a bit of a stretch, but shows some understanding of how corporate CEOs think these days):

"Kimberly-Clark, maker of paper products like Kleenex, Viva paper towels, Cottonelle bathroom tissue and Huggies diapers, announced earlier this month it would use its tax cut windfall to pay the costs of closing 10 factories and dumping as many as 5,500 workers."

I also want to link to a piece by Dean Baker, which provides a bit of plausible corrective to expectations of financial collapse under Trump (like yesterday's link to Nomi Prins): It Actually Doesn't Feel at All Like 2006: Refusing to Learn the Lesson of the Housing Bubble. I've come to similar conclusions based on a few less informed hunches: we're beginning to see a small housing bubble, but I doubt anything comparable to 2006 is possible now -- partly because banks are a bit better regulated (although Republicans hope to change that), but more importantly because I can't see that ordinary Americans will again be willing (or, perhaps more important, able) to take on the extraordinary debt they did in the run up to 2008. This doesn't mean the economy won't run into some severe bumps in the years ahead. Baker mentions some problem areas, like the stock bubble. Two more I'll mention are: I expect corruption and deceit to spread out from the White House into even more corporate boardrooms, leading to a long series of scandals and failures; and deregulation is likely to channel capital investment into increasingly risky ventures, some of which will turn into major disasters. I might add a third point, but I'm less certain about how it will play out: over the last forty years, the rich have made a huge power play to amass ever greater wealth, which at least in the US has largely involved capping and withering the welfare and prospects of an overwhelming majority of Americans. Surely they can't keep tightening the screws indefinitely without something snapping.

Paul Krugman covered this same turf last Friday, asking Has Trumphoria Finally Hit a Wall. Baker responded: Taking Issue with Paul Krugman, We're Still Not at Full Employment. I suspect Krugman would agree with Baker's point. All of this appears to have been written before Monday's big market slip -- for that, see Matt Phillips: Dow Jones and S&P Slide Again, Dropping by More Than 4%. Probably not coincidentally, Trump's pick to take over the Fed, Jerome Powell, was sworn in today, replacing Janet Yellen. My impression is that for once Trump didn't pick the worst possible nominee, but that remains to be seen -- he's certainly got investors nervous.


I've started reading David Frum's Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic, which 50-pages in is sober and useful, not that there aren't occasional embarrassments: e.g., his description of Gen. Michael Flynn as a "battlefield commander" (he was an "intelligence" officer), his ridiculous praise for Gen. H.R. McMaster, and his line about the "wise men" of the American foreign policy establishment, immediately followed by a quote from Sen. John McCain. Frum is smarter than most arch-conservatives, but one should not forget that he made his own pitch for membership in the "wise man" club by inserting the "axis of evil" line into GW Bush's 2003 SOTA.


New records rated this week:

  • Samuel Blaser With Marc Ducret/Peter Bruun: Taktlos Zurich 2017 (2017 [2018], Hatology): [r]: B+(*)
  • Dawn Clement: Tandem (2017 [2018], Origin): [cd]: B+(*)
  • George Cotsirilos Quartet: Mostly in Blue (2017 [2018], OA2): [r]: B+(*)
  • Rose Cousins: Natural Conclusion (2017, Old Farm Pony): [r]: B
  • Duchess: Duchess (2015, Anzic): [r]: B+(**)
  • Duchess: Laughing at Life (2016 [2017], Anzic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Harris Eisenstadt: Recent Developments (2016 [2017], Songlines): [r]: B+(**)
  • Satoko Fujii: Solo (2017 [2018], Libra): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Camilla George Quartet: Isang (2016 [2017], Ubuntu Music): [r]: B+(*)
  • Dua Lipa: Dua Lipa (2017, Warner Brothers): [r]: B+(**)
  • Kate McGarry/Keith Ganz/Gary Versace: The Subject Tonight Is Love (2017 [2018], Binxtown): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Mdou Moctar: Sousoume Tamachek (2017, Sahel Sounds): [r]: B+(*)
  • Juana Molina: Halo (2017, Crammed Discs): [r]: B+(*)
  • Musique Noire: Reflections: We Breathe (2017, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Arturo O'Farrill & Chucho Valdes: Familia: Tribute to Bebo & Chico (2017, Motema): [r]: B+(**)
  • Allison Pierce: Year of the Rabbit (2017, Masterworks): [r]: B
  • Stuart Popejoy: Pleonid (2017, Leo): [r]: B+(**)
  • Margo Rey: The Roots of Rey/Despacito Margo (2017 [2018], Origin): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jamie Saft: Solo a Genova (2017 [2018], RareNoise): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Ryuichi Sakamoto: Async (2017, Milan): [r]: B+(*)
  • Peter Stampfel and the Brooklyn & Lower Manhattan Fiddle/Mandolin Swarm: Holiday for Strings (2016, Don Giovanni): [r]: A-
  • Anna Tivel: Small Believer (2017, Fluff and Gravy): [r]: A-
  • Traxman: Tekvision (2017, Teklife): [r]: B-
  • Ty Dolla Sign: Beach House 3 (2017, Atlantic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Michael Waldrop: Origin Suite (2017 [2018], Origin): [cd]: B-
  • Wu-Tang: The Saga Continues (2017, eOne): [r]: A-

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

  • Louis Armstrong: The Standard Oil Sessions (1950 [2017], Dot Time): [r]: B+(**)
  • Azar Lawrence: Bridge Into the New Age (1974 [2017], Prestige): [r]: A-
  • Lucky Thompson: In Paris 1956: The All Star Orchestra Sessions (1956 [2017], Fresh Sound): [r]: B+(*)
  • Lucky Thompson: Complete Parisian Small Group Sessions 1956-1959 (1956-59 [2017], Fresh Sound, 4CD): [r]: A-
  • Trevor Watts Amalgam: Closer to You (1976 [2018], Hi4Head): [bc]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • Derek Bailey/Evan Parker/Hugh Davies/Jamie Muir/Christine Jeffrey: The Music Improvisation Company (1970, ECM): [r]: B
  • Cecil Taylor: Garden 2nd Set (1981 [2015], Hatology): [r]: B+(***)
  • Colin Vallon Trio: Ailleurs (2006, Hatology): [r]: B+(**)


Grade (or other) changes:

  • Mary Gauthier: Rifles & Rosary Beads (2018, In the Black): [r]: [was B+(***)] A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Dan Block: Block Party: A Saint Louis Connection (Miles High)
  • Owen Broder: Heritage: The American Roots Project (ArtistShare): March 1
  • Dave Liebman/Tatsuya Nakatani/Adam Rudolph: The Unknowable (RareNoise): cdr, February 25
  • Bobby Previte: Rhapsody (RareNoise): cdr, February 25
  • Steve Tyrell: A Song for You (New Design): February 9

Purchases:

  • Randy Newman: Dark Matter (2017, Nonesuch)

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Weekend Roundup

Can't say as I really felt any energy or appetite for doing a roundup this weekend. Still, practically wrote itself:


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: 4 big stories from a very weird week in Washington: It's a "new American moment" (Trump's "state of the union" speech); we talked a lot about a memo (the Nunes memo, accusing the FBI of picking on Trump for "deep state" political reasons); Trump has an infrastructure plan ("all that's missing, basically, are the details"); Amazon is (maybe) going to revolutionize health care (maybe) -- some kind of new joint venture between Amazon, Berkshire, and JP Morgan. Other Yglesias pieces:

    • The Steele dossier, explained, with Andrew Prokop.

    • Trump's new infrastructure "plan," explained: "No money, no details, and no explanation of how it works." Well, some numbers, but they're beyond ridiculous. The federal government would pony up $200 billion, but from spending cuts elsewhere (and presumably not military), not from new revenues (which the tax bill will shrink by $1.5 trillion), so the net stimulus effect will be negative. The expectation is that the federal money would then be matched at a 6.5/1 ratio by state and local governments, despite the fact that the latter have nowhere near that kind of borrowing power -- so the key idea is to nudge them into forming "public-private partnerships," which will put tollgates on everything they do, so the public will wind up paying much more for the infrastructure development than would be the case if government did it all itself. Why?

      A more cynical view would be that the main issue here is Trump likes to talk about the idea of a big infrastructure package, but Trump doesn't actually run the Trump administration. Neither congressional Republicans nor the veteran GOP politicians and operatives who do run the Trump administration want to see a big federal infrastructure package. If they wanted one, they would have done a deal with Barack Obama when he was president and called over and over again for one.

      What they actually want is cuts in the social safety net -- cuts that Democrats aren't going to agree to and that aren't especially popular.

      Now Trump has a thing that he can say is his plan, congressional conservatives can propose paying for it with safety net cuts that Democrats won't agree to, and Republicans can try to pass the whole thing off as an example of gridlock or obstruction rather than reflecting the fact that conservatives don't favor spending more money on federal infrastructure.

    • If Trump acted normal, he'd be an unpopular president with an unpopular agenda: actually, he is, but if he acted normal, we'd be talking about how unpopular that agenda is, instead of what a boor and moron he is.

      It's worth emphasizing that the Trump Show does have some real strategic benefits for Trump.

      For starters, it ensures that all but the very biggest policy stories are deprived of oxygen. The typical American has never been exposed to a robust news cycle about the administration's move to allow broadband internet providers to sell private user data, its various assaults on non-climate environmental policy, the dismantling of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, or budget proposals that starve the very job training and vocational education programs Trump touted in his State of the Union address.

      While some of Trump's antics and culture war battles are misfires that turn off even voters who might be sympathetic to his policy agenda, overall, he does better during the Trump Show. In moments when he manages to effectively fracture American society along racial lines, he regains the loyalty of the white voters who continue to make up a large majority of the electorate. Trump's actual execution of the politics of racial demagoguery is often not so deft, but the basic concept of elevating racial conflict and downplaying banal public policy debates makes perfect sense for him. . . .

      Whether his erratic behavior sinks him in the end, meanwhile, is likely to have less to do with political perceptions than with actual policy outcomes. During campaign 2016, I worried -- as did many observers -- that Trump's erratic, impulsive behavior would get the country ensnared in a disastrous war or crash the American economy. So far, he hasn't done either of those things.

      That's a low bar, to be sure. But it's not a given that a president will clear it; just ask George W. Bush.

    • In Kennedy's speech, Democrats rediscovered Barack Obama's compelling vision: "America is about equality, across all dimensions."

      Trump's game is to pit people against each other and get them so caught up in their internecine games that they don't notice the wholesale looting of America that's taking place under his administration.

    • Donald Trump as no solutions for America's big problems: Useful list here.

      The Puerto Rico saga is marginal to American politics because Puerto Rico itself is a marginal part of the country -- an island physically separated from the mainland, whose residents lack representation in Congress or the right to vote in presidential elections.

      But the sad state of that island is worth dwelling on, because the devastation of Hurricane Maria remains the one real crisis that Trump's dealt with that hasn't simply been self-inflicted. He's been inattentive, ill-informed, dishonest, and ineffective, capping it with tonight's solemn pledge of solidarity that's totally disconnected from the actual reality on the ground.

      Most of the problems Trump is ignoring are chronic rather than acute, and if the country needs to suffer through a few more years of neglect we'll make it. Puerto Rico is facing acute problems and the president is, likewise, doing nothing.

      If we're lucky, those of us on the mainland won't have to find out what it's like to live through that. But Trump makes it clear on a daily basis that if we ever do, there's no way he's going to rise to the occasion.

    • Trump's approval rating is below 50% in 38 states: Map is interesting. Note that he's below 50% here in Kansas, as well as Nebraska and Utah, Mississippi and South Carolina. He's only under 40% in one state that he actually carried, but it's a big one: Texas.

    • The truth about the Trump economy, explained: The low unemployment rates Trump touted in his SOTA, like most other growth statistics, are easily explained as extensions of trends established over the past 5-6 years, which is to say under Obama. Trump hasn't caused them, but he hasn't blown them up either. On the other hand, that growth partly masks a longer-term weakness in the economy, which is why workforce participation is still below 2000 levels: there may be a lot of jobs, but not very good ones. The one area where Trump has had a discernible effect is the stock market boom, which started under Obama but has been boosted further by Trump's deregulation agenda, and now by business tax cuts. Nonetheless, last week was a rough one for Wall Street, which has been blamed on fear of interest rate hikes, but like all bubbles is mostly a matter of the investor class having more money than it knows what to do with.

      It's largely forgotten now, but back during the mid-aughts (a time of more rapid wage growth than what we saw in 2017, incidentally), it was commonplace in conservative circles to proclaim that we were living through a "Bush Boom" touched off by his game-changing tax cuts and deregulation. That story, obviously, eventually ended in tears, as a poorly supervised financial system channeled inequitably shared growth into an unsustainable pyramid of debt that eventually collapsed.

      For another explanation of the current economy, see Dean Baker: It's Still the Yellen-Obama Economy. For a view of how it may end, see: Nomi Prins: Here Comes the Next Financial Crisis.

    • An immigration crackdown is a recipe for national decline.

    Yglesias also contributed to: The real state of the union in 2018, explained.

  • Glenn Greenwald: In a Major Free Speech Victory, a Federal Court Strikes Down a Law that Punishes Supporters of Israel Boycott: Story has a local angle, as it was a Kansas Mennonite who challenged the state law. Note that the governor who signed that law is the new US "ambassador at large for religious freedom."

  • Jacob Hacker: Trump's tax cuts are worse than fiercest critics claim: Introduces a term that's unlikely to mean anything to anyone:

    The problem isn't just that the cuts will make inequality worse -- if that were the case, then adding more tax cuts for the middle class and poor would fix things. Nor is the issue that driving up the debt will threaten popular social programs like Social Security and Medicare -- though it certainly will.

    The fundamental problem concerns not redistribution but predistribution: all the ways in which government rules and activities change how American capitalism distributes its rewards in the first place. Predistribution policies -- like public investments in infrastructure, education, research and development, and the regulation of labor and financial markets -- built the American middle class. And the collapse of such investment and regulations is the main reason that the middle class has experienced stagnant wages, plummeting bargaining power and a declining share of national income since the late 1970s. If we are going to tackle American inequality, we need to take seriously the imperative of changing how markets work. . . .

    Thus, the biggest defect of tax cuts -- any tax cuts -- is that they represent a huge lost opportunity to invest in our future. If the past generation has taught us anything, it's that tax cuts for investors and a soaring stock market do little or nothing to help most Americans. By contrast, we know that public investments in productive physical and human assets do help, and they disproportionately help the less well off. Rich people have plenty of private capital to invest. Those who aren't rich have their human capital (which rests on public investments) and the public capital that we all share as citizens: transportation and communication networks, shared scientific knowledge fostered by public R&D spending, civic institutions and so on.

    If we really want to boost growth, we need to return to the successful investment model that really made America great in the 20th century. And that requires more revenues, not less; a more effective IRS, not a weaker one; and, yes, new taxes, such as a levy on carbon emissions that threaten our planet and a surcharge on short-term financial speculation that threatens our economy.

    Two (possibly more) points here: the real sources of inequality lie outside of the tax code: the real engine of inequality is the drive for profit, which we tend to overlook by viewing it as the natural state of capitalism. In fact, inequality can be limited or even rolled back by political policies which: increase competition, which both reduces and spreads out profits; strengthen labor, which distributes gross margins more equitably to workers; and progressive taxation, which redistributes profits through public works and services. Conversely, inequality can be increased by opposite policies, as we've seen repeatedly over the past forty years. Hacker's "predistribution" policy point is important, but relatively minor -- effectively, a subset of the third point, that reducing government income is itself an intrinsic goal of the right's push for tax cuts. It's not just that the right doesn't want government to help people; the right doesn't want people to get in the habit of looking to government to help themselves. (On the other hand, they can get pretty agitated when they need help themselves.)

    Hacker's leaning against the fact that the only time we tend to talk about inequality is when considering tax bills, and even there the right likes to muddy the waters by offering chump change to the masses. It is true that strongly progressive taxation (combined with direct income redistribution) could compensate for inequality built into the private sector economy, but hardly anyone on the left is pushing for rates that would effectively cap private wealth (or, beyond occasional mentions of a "basic income" for significant income support). Rather, both sides struggle to move the scrimmage line a bit (for marginal income rates between 33-39%, although the right has been more ambitious in their proposals to eliminate estate taxes and vastly reduce taxes on capital gains and business income -- matters of import to the very rich, but esoteric to most people). [PS: Just noticed this, pace my generalization: Hamilton Nolan: The Estate Tax Should Be 100 Percent. Nolan also wrote: The Entire Rationale for These Tax Cuts Is Bullshit. Found these links by following Alex Pareene: Tom Steyer Has Too Much Money.]

  • Ezra Klein: How democracies die, explained: Ruminations based on a new book by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, How Democracies Die.

    Demagogues and authoritarians do not destroy democracies. It's established political parties, and the choices they make when faced with demagogues and authoritarians, that decide whether democracies survive.

    "2017 was the best year for conservatives in the 30 years that I've been here," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week. "The best year on all fronts. And a lot of people were shocked because we didn't know what we were getting with Donald Trump."

    The best year on all fronts. Think about that for a moment. If you want to know why congressional Republicans are opening an assault on the FBI in order to protect Trump, it can be found in that comment. This was a year in which Trump undermined the press, fired the director of the FBI, cozied up to Russia, baselessly alleged he was wiretapped, threatened to jail his political opponents, publicly humiliated his attorney general for recusing himself from an investigation, repeatedly claimed massive voter fraud against him, appointed a raft of unqualified and occasionally ridiculous candidates to key positions, mishandled the aftermath of the Puerto Rico hurricane, and threatened to use antitrust and libel laws against his enemies.

    And yet McConnell surveyed the tax cuts he passed and the regulations he repealed and called this not a mixed year for his political movement, not a good year for his political movement, but the best year he'd ever seen.

    Richard J Evans has written a couple of relevant book reviews on the the most exercised of analogies: A Warning From History and Rule by Fear -- the former on a new biography of Hitler, the latter a broader history of "the rise and fall of the Third Reich." Back during the Bush years I found the analogy tempting enough that I bought a copy of Evans' own book, The Coming of the Third Reich, but I never got around to reading it. (I read Cullen Murphy's more explicitly topical Are We Rome? instead, partly because at the time I knew considerably less about Rome. Most recently I've been reading Tony Judt's essays from the Bush years, When the Facts Change, which reminds me how awful Bush was, while at the same time bringing to mind Michael Lewis' intro to the 2010 reprint of Liar's Poker, his book about financial scandal in the 1980s, a tale he finally had to deem "how quaint.")

  • PR Lockhart: Trump's reaction to the NFL protests shows how he fights the culture war. Not sure this subject is worth this much reading, but I'll note that I think the reason many conservatives take a special delight in football is that they relate to the idea of the strong dominating the relatively weak through force and violence. That's a view peculiar to fans. The players, and observers who actually watch the play and not just the markers, know that what really matters is teamwork. And while most plays are intricately planned, there's also a fair amount of leeway for improvisation. You also see teamwork in baseball and basketball, but in no other sport is it so central as it is in football. That makes the players more like workers, and helps foster solidarity -- a point which more than any (other than opportunism, I guess) explains Trump's vituperation. He's bothered less by supposed disrespect for the flag than by his disgust that the owners can't control their workers.

  • Josh Marshall: First Take: The 'Nunes Memo' Is Even Weaker Than Expected. Also see: Zack Beauchamp/Alex Ward: The 9 biggest questions about the Nunes memo, answered; Alex Emmons: Nunes Memo Accidentally Confirms the Legitimacy of the FBI's Investigation.

  • Dylan Scott: Trump's abandoned promise to bring down drug prices, explained: Something Trump mentioned in the SOTA, then gestured to Democrats that now would be a good time for them to applaud.

  • Emily Stewart: The Trump administration's surprising idea to nationalize America's 5G network, explained: "Nobody thinks it's a good idea, including the FCC." Well, as their handling of the "net neutrality" matter shown, the FCC doesn't work for the public interest any more; it's been captured by the industry it was meant to regulate. I doubt Trump's people will pursue this further, because it's a non-starter with the corrupt cabal known as the Congressional Republicans, and the communications industry has been more bipartisan than most, so they have a fair number of Democrats in their pocket as well. But on the surface, sure, why not nationalize the 5G network? It would be easier (and cheaper) for the federal government to raise the investment. They wouldn't have to engineer all sorts of cutouts and paywalls to recoup their investment. And they could make it a point to provide inexpensive, reliable service everywhere instead of having private companies cherry-pick a few lucrative markets. This sort of thing hasn't happened often in the past because it's rare for Congress to interfere in a market private companies think they can make money. (The Post Office and the TVA are two such exceptions.)

    Stewart also wrote: Paul Ryan tweets -- then deletes -- brag about public school worker who saw $1.50 pay raise. Fact check: that's a weekly pay check, so the deduction change nets out to less than four cents per hour.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Daily Log

Jan asked me about how Mom died. I wrote her back:

Mom died of heart failure. More specifically, she went into atrial fibrilation (a very irregular heart rhythm) a few hours after we took her off the ventilator and signed a DNR form. She was in hospital and on a heart monitor, and Steve, Kathy and I were present (about 3am), so we could actually watch the monitor track her last heart beats. She had been in the hospital for almost a week. She was to have an angioplasty -- she had had a dozen or more, some notably successful and some not -- to unblock a couple of blood vessels on the heart, but just as they started went into atrial fibrilation, halting the procedure. They were then able to restore her heart rhythm and put her on the ventilator and transfer her to the hospital (at the time, across the street). I never saw her conscious after the night before -- Kathy says she did, and Mom told her she wanted to die. She had certainly been very depressed after Dad died (three months and three days before she passed, March 3 and June 6, 2000, easy-to-remember dates), and I regret talking her into going in for the procedure.

From about age 65, her major health problem was arteriosclerosis, which is what necessitated the angioplasties and a major instance of vascular surgery -- she wasn't able to get adequate blood supply to her stomach, so they went in and replaced the lower aorta and numerous blood vessels. She had had at least one heart attack -- I'm not sure of the details on that but it was probably triggered by a blood vessel blockage. Her first balloon treatment was to open up an artery (or arteries) to her leg(s), which was successful in alleviating her chronic leg pain.

Longer term, the problem was probably nicotine, which hardens arteries, although it's likely that she had high cholesterol as well. She always credited that Tar Guard for saving her lungs, but it didn't stop the nicotine.


Jan 2018 Mar 2018