June 2018 Notebook
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Saturday, June 30, 2018

Streamnotes (June 2018)

Pick up text here.

Daily Log

Noticed this Maura Johnston tweet of "top whatever albums of the first half of the year" (my grades in brackets, just keeping score):

  • Jenny Wilson: Exorcism []
  • Tracey Thorn: Record [**]
  • Daphne & Celeste Save the World [B]
  • The Breeders: All Nerve [*]
  • Star Season 2 OST []
  • Lucy Dacus: Historian [*]
  • Drinks: Hippo Lite []
  • Wye Oak: The Louder I Call the Faster It Runs []
  • Laurie Anderson and Kronos Quartet: Landfall [A-]
  • Ashley Monroe: Sparrow [B-]
  • Meshell Ndegeocello: Ventriloquism [*]
  • Natalie Prass: The Future and the Past []
  • Mary Lattimore: Hundreds of Days []
  • Shopping: The Official Body [A-]
  • Starchild & the New Romantic: Language []
  • Flasher: Constant Image []
  • Lily Allen: No Shame [A-]
  • Chris Dave and the Drumhedz [B]
  • Chloe x Halle: The Kids Are Alright [**]
  • Panic! at the Disco: Pray for the Wicked []
  • Dream Wife [***]
  • Theo & the Wild: Ikaros []
  • Screaming Females: All at Once []
  • Mock Identity: Paradise []
  • Sloan: 12 []
  • Neko Case: Hell On []
  • Khadja Bonet: Childqueen []

Monday, June 25, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 29859 [29839] rated (+20), 348 [349] unrated (-1).

I expected many distractions last week to depress this week's rated count. Indeed, I didn't manage to play any new music until Friday, when my nephew flew out after nine days of photographing my late sister's art. We did a big mixed grill bash on Thursday to wrap things up -- chicken wings; kebabs of lamb, pork, and swordfish; quail, squid, thin-sliced steak, with a range of marinades from Turkey, Iran, China, and Korea. Added a sweet potato platter, horiatiki salad, soft shell crabs, and grilled Japanese eggplant with spicy peanut sauce. Date pudding for dessert. Only thing there I had never done before was the pork, but I found some fresh ham, cut it into cubes, and mixed up a hoisin/bean sauce. Very tasty. Should be memorable. We gave most of the excess away, but I kept the lamb and made Turkish yogurtlu kebap with the leftovers.

Friday I started working on the intro to yesterday's Weekend Roundup. After finding the latest Satoki Fujii in the queue, I turned to my tracking file looking for jazz I could find on Napster, figuring I would have trouble mustering the requisite attention for sorting out new pop records but I could multitask new jazz easily enough. Wound up playing a lot of records (some old) on the Danish SteepleChase label, and they all went pretty fast (although the new Pierre Dørge merited a couple of extra spins). Moved on to Clean Feed, and I'm still working there.

Meanwhile, my website/system recovery work has slowed down. I probably have about half of the robertchristgau.com files working at this stage. I did manage to implement a new feature but it hasn't been announced yet: something similar to the Ask Greil thing, where you can ask questions and Bob can answer (if he deigns them worthy of an answer, or maybe just if he thinks his answer would be worthwhile). I suppose I could consider offering something similar here, if there's any interest. I've long suspected I would be more productive on demand-driven projects (or in collaborations where I'd feel more compelled to keep up my end).

I'm still not doing complete updates of any of my websites. I'm not aware of a lot of unfixed problems with this one, but need to get some testing in before I feel confident to update. Nor have I extracted and tested my old disk drives. One thing I did want to do was to replace my cheap keyboard here with a fancy mechanical one. To that end I bought a Corsair Strafe, only to find out it doesn't work at all with my computer. So back to the drawing board on that.

Month runs out on Saturday, so I should post Streamnotes no later than then. Draft file currently runs to 99 records (100 counting the new Lily Allen, which I'm not done with yet), of which 72 are new (65 new music, 7 compilations). Despite the shortfalls the last two weeks, should wind up as a pretty average month. Also, despite scant A-list records the last two weeks, should wind up pretty solid in that regard too.


New records rated this week:

  • JD Allen: Love Stone (2018, Savant): [r]: B+(**)
  • Angles 3: Parede (2016 [2018], Clean Feed): [r]: A-
  • Craig Brann: Lineage (2017 [2018], SteepleChase): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ronnie Cuber: Ronnie's Trio (2017 [2018], SteepleChase): [r]: B+(*)
  • Olegario Diaz: I Remember Chet (2017 [2018], SteepleChase): [r]: B+(***)
  • Pierre Dørge: Soundscapes (2017 [2018], SteepleChase): [r]: B+(***)
  • Marty Ehrlich: Trio Exaltation (2017 [2018], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(***)
  • Honest John w/ Ab Baars: Treem (2016 [2018], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)
  • Joe Magnarelli: Magic Trick (2017 [2018], SteepleChase): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jason Palmer: At Wally's: Volume 1 (2016 [2018], SteepleChase): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jason Palmer: At Wally's: Volume 2 (2016 [2018], SteepleChase): [r]: B
  • This Is It! [Satoko Fujii]: 1538 (2018, Libra): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Rafael Toral/Hugo Antunes/João Pais Filipe/Ricardo Webbens: Space Quartet (2017 [2018], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)

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

  • Lee Konitz: Prisma: By Guenter Buhles (2000 [2018], QFTF): [r]: B

Old music rated this week:

  • Pierre Dørge Quartet: Ballad Round the Left Corner (1979 [1980], SteepleChase): [r]: B+(**)
  • Pierre Dørge/Harry Beckett/Marilyn Mazur/Klavs Hovman: Echoes Of . . . (1990, Olufsen): [r]: B+(**)
  • Pierre Dørge & New Jungle Orchestra: Zim Zag Zinfoni (2000 [2001], Stunt): [r]: B+(**)
  • Pierre Dørge: Blui (2014 [2015], SteepleChase): [r]: B+(**)
  • John Tchicai & Pierre Dørge: Ball at Louisiana (1981 [1983], SteepleChase): [r]: B+(*)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Aaron Shragge & Ben Monder: The World of Dew (Human Resource)
  • Verve Jazz Ensemble: Connect the Dots (Lightgroove Media): July 20

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Weekend Roundup

Sometime last week I got the feeling that the Trump administration has entered a new phase or level. From the start, they said and often did bad things, but they came off as confused, stupid, and/or evil, and they weren't very good at following through, so most people didn't feel any real change. The administration seemed to be collapsing into chaos, while a highly motivated resistance was scoring political points even when they fell short of disrupting Trump's agenda. It's still possible to look at last week that way, especially as public outrage forced Trump to make a tactical retreat from his policy of breaking up and jailing refugee families at the border.

Nonetheless, as I've watched clips of Trump and read stories of his cronies this week, I've started to see a potentially compelling story coming together. And as I've watched the late-night anti-Trump comics fumble and flail in their attempts to skewer the news, I'm reminded of that line about how the Democrats managed to misunderestimate Bush on his way to a second term. For me, the clearest example was how the big three (Colbert, Kimmel, Meyers) all jumped on a Trump line where he bragged about eliminating more regulations within 500 days than any previous president -- regardless of how many years they served ("4, or 8, or in one case 16 years"). All three pounced on "16 years" as the big lie, pointing out that while Franklin Roosevelt was elected to four four-year terms, he died a couple months into his fourth, so actually only served 12 years. If I didn't know better, I'd suspect Trump tossed that in just to throw them off the scent.

The real problem -- the things that critics need to focus on -- is the claim of eliminating a record number of regulations in whatever time frame you want to use: Trump's "500 days," a whole term, full tenure, etc. I have no way of checking -- it's not like anyone's been keeping records on this -- but Trump's claim is at least plausible. I suppose you might nominate Harry Truman, who ended rationing, wage and price controls, and many other regulations after WWII ended, but none of those were ever intended to last beyond wartime. But much of "deregulation" during Truman's first term was done by Congress, most extensively after Republicans won Congress in 1946, in some cases passing laws (like Taft-Hartley) over Truman's veto. Carter and Reagan did some deregulating, but mostly through Congress. Congress has helped Trump out a little, but nearly all of his "deregulation" has been done by executive order and/or through the discretionary acts of his political appointees.

Trump's boast assumes that cutting regulations is always a good thing, but that isn't necessarily the case. Each regulation needs to be reviewed on its own merits. Often they need to be revised, curtailed, or expanded, based on how effective (including cost-effective) they are at achieving stated goals. But it must be understood that some degree of regulation is necessary to protect the public from unscrupulous and/or simply sloppy operators -- especially businesses, which always feel pressure to cut corners. Trump's own motivations are twofold: first, he seems hell bent on obliterating everything Obama signed his name to; second, he's eager to shower favors on any business/lobbyist he or his cronies deem to be in their corner. In short, Trump's deregulation boast is a perfect storm of vanity, ego, ideological extremism, and graft. There's no shortage of things to criticize there. Nitpicking over when FDR died misses it all.

The thing is, unless you start tearing apart the vanity and corruption of Trump's "deregulation" record -- I'm tempted to put it into quotes because it's not just eliminating regulations, it also involves changing them to favor private over public interests, or to signal what will and will not be enforced -- will congeal into a positive story that lots of people will find attractive. (After all, few things are less favorably viewed than government red tape -- salmonella, for instance, or airplane crashes and oil spills.) Trump's trade moves and tariffs are another case. Democrats haven't figured out a workable counter to Trump's emerging story here, and if no one really seems to understand the issues, Trump's likely to score a political coup hurling a simple "fuck you" at China and Canada. Lots of Americans will eat that up.

Meanwhile, the economy is not significantly worse for most people, and is downright peachy for the very rich. It looks like Trump has scored some sort of win against ISIS, and maybe a diplomatic break with North Korea, and none of the other wars he's left on autopilot have blown up in his face yet (although the Saudis seem to be making a real mess of Yemen). And Congress has passed a few truly odious bills recently, including serious damage to Dodd-Frank and a farm bill with major cuts to SNAP. Six months ago one could point out how little Trump has actually accomplished, but it's beginning to look like quite a lot -- nearly all bad, but who exactly notices?

I'm not even sure Trump's losing on immigration. Sure, he's had a bad week with the family separation/incarceration fiasco, but even after his retreat, he's still got the incarceration part working: so the net result is that refugee-immigrants will be detained in places that look less like jails and more like concentration camps? He had a similar bad week when he ended DACA, and while he seemed to wobble for a while, he's emerged more hardcore than ever. If Democrats get stuck with the impression that they're more concerned with immigrants than with native-born American citizens, that's bound to hurt.

Nor do I have any hope that Mueller's going to come up with anything that changes the game. Sure, he's got Russian hackers, but he hasn't come up with any interaction between Trump's hackers and Russians, which is where collusion might amount to something. The higher-level meetings are mostly between idiot-functionaries -- lying for them is habitual, so catching them hardly matters. Then there is the corruption around the fringes -- Flynn, Manafort, Cohen -- which will give Mueller some scalps, but change nothing. As long as Mueller stays within the parameters of Russia and the 2016 election, there's not enough there, and Trump can keep his followers in tow with his "witch hunt" whines. The Democrats have to move beyond those parameters, which for starters means they have to realize that Russia's favoring Trump reflects the same interests and analysis as other corrupt and authoritarian regimes (notably Saudi Arabia and Israel), and that Trump's courting of crooks abroad is just a subset of his service to America's own moguls (not least himself).

One effect of this unique confluence of paranoia, fanaticism, and buckraking is that the hopes some had that sensible Republicans would turn on Trump have been shattered. The first clue, I suppose, was when Senators Flake and Cocker decided not to risk facing Trump candidates in their primaries. Then there was Ryan's decision to quit the House. Since then the tide in Trump's direction, at least within increasingly embattled Republican ranks, has only strengthened. As long as Trump seems to be getting away with his act, there's little they can do but protect and cling to him.

The highlight of Trump's week was his rally in Duluth, where he said a bunch of stupid things but seemed to be glowing, basking in the adulation of his crowd. A big part of his speech was a pitch to get more Republicans elected in 2018, so unlike Obama in 2010, he's going to try to turn the election into a referendum on himself -- instead of passively letting the other party run roughshod. I'm not sure it will work -- an awful lot of Americans still can't stand anything about the guy -- but he's showing a lot more confidence than just a few months ago.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: The 4 most important stories of the week, explained: Outrage boiled over at family separations; Trump got ready for a legal battle (again, over family separations under Trump's "zero tolerance" anti-immigrant policy); House Republicans spun their wheels on immigration (losing the vote on a "hard-line" bill, and offering a "compromise" bill that has zero Democratic support); There were more Cabinet scandals (Wilbur Ross, yet another Scott Pruitt). Other Yglesias pieces:

  • Umair Irfan: Deepwater Horizon led to new protections for US waters. Trump just repealed them.

    The Interior Department is also presiding over the largest rollback of federal land protections in US history, opening up public lands to fossil fuel extraction and mineral mining. Plus, Secretary Zinke opened up nearly all coastal waters to drilling last year and started the process for the largest offshore lease sale ever.

  • Rebecca Jennings: Melania Trump wears "I really don't care, do u?" jacket on trip to migrant children: Some truly trivial trivia, in lieu of a story that probably doesn't make any sense anyway.

  • German Lopez: Canada just legalized marijuana. That has big implications for US drug policy.

  • Libby Nelson: Donald Trump's plan to (sort of) eliminate the Department of Education, briefly explained:

    The Trump administration wants to combine the standalone Education and Labor Departments into a new Cabinet-level agency: the Department of Education and the Workforce.

    The proposal is part of the administration's broader plan to reorganize the federal government, released Thursday. Overall, the plan would eliminate and combine government programs and give private industry a bigger role, including in the US Postal Service. It would also rename the Department of Health and Human Services to the Department of Public Welfare (and give it jurisdiction over food stamps), among nearly 30 other changes to how the federal government operates.

    "This effort, along with the recent executive orders on federal unions, are the biggest pieces so far of our plan to drain the swamp," said Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney in a statement touting the plan.

    My first reaction to the name changes is that they're designed to make the departments more vulnerable to right-wing attacks, specifically as a step in the Grover Norquist process of "shrinking the federal government to where you can drown it in a bathtub." I'm not opposed to Public Welfare. In fact, I think the government should be doing much more to increase it and to distribute its blessings more equitably, but you can pretty much predict what the right-wing propaganda mills will be spewing out. Even more pernicious is the semantic shift from Labor to Workforce. The former are people -- specifically, the people who do all the actual work producing goods and services in the economy -- but the latter is little more than a view of a cost factor from business management.

    Mulvaney's "drain the swamp" comment also took me aback. My guess is that when the American people heard Trump vow to "drain the swamp in Washington," 99% of them figured that he was talking about the pervasive and pernicious effect of money in Washington, especially as routed through lobbyists, into campaign coffers, and for greasing the revolving door between government agencies and private interests. I know that's what I thought, and I'm usually pretty good at deciphering Trumpian bullshit. That 99% has, of course, been frustrated since Trump took office, and turned his administration into a vast bazaar of corporate favoritism. But now Mulvaney is saying that the den of corruption that has flourished in Washington for decades (and to a lesser extent ever since Washington was founded in the late 1790s) isn't "the swamp" at all. It turns out that his definition of "the swamp" is simply that part of the federal government that does things to help people who aren't already filthy rich. Who could have known that?

  • Ella Nilsen: Michael Bloomberg is going all in on Democratic House candidates in 2018: The billionaire former and former Republican mayor of New York City is pledging to spend $80 million on the 2018 elections, mostly for Democrats (although I doubt you'll find many Bernie Sanders supporters on his shopping list). I've often wondered in the past whether there aren't wealthy swing voters who actually favored divided government -- one party controlling Congress and the other the Presidency -- because that keeps either party from upsetting the cart while still allowing compromises in favor of the one group both parties esteem: the rich (well, also the military). Bloomberg's a concrete example of this hypothetical niche. Indeed, it seems likely that Democrats will raise a lot of money this cycle (although note that Sheldon Adelson has already given $30 million to the Republicans, and the Kochs talk about much more).

  • David Roberts: Energy lobbyists have a new PAC to push for a carbon tax. Wait, what? Excellent piece, covering both the proposal and the political calculations behind it. For 20-30 years now, there have been two basic markets-oriented approaches to reducing carbon dioxide and therefore global warming: "cap and trade" (which by creating a market for pollution credits incentivizes companies -- mostly power plants -- to transition to non-carbon sources), and a "carbon tax" (which adds to the cost of coal, oil, and gas, making renewables and non-carbon sources like nuclear relatively more affordable). The Democrats tried pushing "cap and trade" through Congress in 2009-10, hoping that as a sop to "free market" ideology -- the idea originated in right-wing "thank tanks" -- they'd pick up some Republican support, but they didn't. At the time, companies like Exxon-Mobil decided that they'd rather have a carbon tax than cap-and-trade, but they could just as well have gone the other way had that helped defeat the proposal in play. Indeed, while Trent Lott and John Breaux are petro-lobbyists, there's little reason to think Exxon et al. are any more serious about this flier than they were a decade ago. (As I recall, Clinton proposed a carbon tax back in the 1990s, but Exxon sure didn't support it then.)

    This policy is not bipartisan in any meaningful sense, it is not likely to be political popular, it's not all that great as policy to being with, and it is naive to see it as a gambit that arises primarily, or even tangentially, from environmental concerns. It is first and foremost a bid by oil and gas and nuclear to secure the gentlest and most predictable possible energy transition.

    More broadly, it is the US Climate Action Partnership all over again. That was the effort, starting around 2006, to develop a climate bill that big, polluting industries would support. The idea was that support from such companies, combined with support from establishment green groups, would lend the effort credibility and political momentum. Instead, it yielded a compromised bill that no one loved, which died a lonely death in the Senate in 2010.

    Roberts' subheds give you an idea of the piece's points:

    • This is oil, gas, and nuclear making their opening bid on climate policy
    • The oil and gas industry is trying to get ahead of the climate policy curve
    • This proposal is aimed at Democrats, not Republicans
    • This proposal is "bipartisan" in that it lacks support from both parties
    • There's no reason to think tax-and-dividend is the most popular climate policy
    • It's time to quit pre-capitulating to garbage policy

    One interesting twist here is that the carbon tax receipts never hit the federal budget. They go straight back to the people in the form of "per-capita carbon dividends." This is presumably meant as a concession to Republicans with their "no tax increase" pledges -- but, as Roberts notes, every Republican in Congress has also signed a "no carbon tax" pledge. Still, this does offer the prospect of a small but non-trivial universal basic income ("the group estimates will start around $2,000 a year for a family of four'), which makes it one form of income redistribution (one relatively palatable to Republicans, not that they would support it). On the other hand, after 30-40 years of increasing austerity, the things Democrats desire most demand increasing tax revenues, not neutral.

  • Sam Rosenfeld: The Democratic Party is moving steadily leftward. So why does the left still distrust it? Not really a hard one to answer: the party bureaus are still dominated by people installed by the Clintons and Obama, their main focus is to raise money, and the people who bankroll them are rich, probably liberal on social issues, mostly moderate on the maintaining a viable safety net, but still concerned to protect and advance their business interests. What distinguished Clinton and Obama above other Democrats was their ability to raise money. And while both ran campaigns that promised to benefit their voters, as soon as they got elected, they started to back pedal and prioritize the interests of their donors. Even worse, on winning they put their personal interests way above those of the party. Both lost Democratic control of Congress after two years, further undermining their credibility with their voters. Moreover, Deamocratic leaders and pundits repeatedly made concessions to seek common ground with Republicans, undermining their own voter interests and legitimizing an increasingly extreme reactionary agenda. Their collusion, both with their donors and with their sworn enemies, has resulted in (among many other maladies): a vast series of perpetual wars that only serve to make the world more violent and resentful; an extreme increase in inequality to levels never before seen in US history; a drastic loss of rights and power for workers; an austerity program which has made education and health care almost prohibitively expensive while public infrastructure has decayed to a dangerous extent; general degradation of environmental protections, along with widespread denial of increasingly obvious climate change; and a systemic effort to undermine democracy at all levels. Sure, much of this can fairly be blamed on Republicans and their propaganda organs, but when, say, Hillary Clinton spends much more time schmoozing with donors than trying to rally voters, how surprised should we be when marginal voters decide that she's more problem than solution?

    Of course, this isn't something Rosenfeld wants to dwell on. He wants to commit "left-liberal activism" to working within the Democratic Party, stressing that activists can move the party to the left, even offering a few historical examples (actually, pretty uninspiring ones, even without trotting out the biggies, when establishment Democrats actively sabotaged the nominations of William Jennings Bryan and George McGovern). Still, I agree with his conclusion: the Democratic Party is the only viable forum within which to organize reversal of forty years of loss to conservatives and to get back on a progressive track, one that is sorely needed given the numerous ailments we currently face. But I would stress that that's not because recent Democratic leaders are trustworthy but because most of the people we want and need to convince have already aligned with the Democrats -- many, of course, in reaction to being maligned and hounded by the increasingly racist, reactionary, and aristocratic Republicans. Given this alternative, I think there should be some sort of compact between Democratic factions to support whoever gets nominated. In this, I'm reminded that even as dogmatic a conservative as Ronald Reagan used to talk about an "11th commandment: never speak ill of a fellow Republican." Of course, that was at a time when Republicans were a minority, when the option of running liberals like Jacob Javits and Mark Hatfield gave them a chance to pick up seats real Reaganites didn't have a chance at. Of course, those days are long gone now, with hardcore conservatives chasing even devout Reaganites like Jeff Flake out of primaries.

    Reagan's "11th commandment" didn't stop conservatives from advancing their ideas and initiatives, but it gave Reagan an air of moderation and sanity (unmerited, I should add), which made him acceptable to many people who recoiled against Barry Goldwater. Actually, hardcore conservatism has never won nationally: it snuck in shrouded in Reagan's sunny optimism; the Bushes ran moderate campaigns only to turn the reins over to Dick Cheney; and while Trump traded in rage vs. optimism, the far-right has only seized power on his coattails.

    While I believe as a matter of principle that the left should have more popular appeal than the right, I doubt that the left will ever dominate and control the Democratic Party, and while I wouldn't say that's for the best, I will say that doesn't bother me. The Party, as Rosenfeld is aware, always has had to balance competing interests, dividing between idealists and pragmatists (often just opportunists). It matters that they take care of business -- just not at the expense of everyone else and democracy itself. But the party sorely needs its left nowadays, mostly because it needs to regain its bearings as "the party of the people" (as Thomas Frank put it, using the past tense). The problem is that many establishment Democrats seem to hate the left more than they hate the right. The roots of this date back to the start of the Cold War, when liberals led the purge of the left ("communists and fellow travelers") from labor unions and the party. They made such a big show of their anti-communism that they blundered into wars in Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan, with many remaining cheerleaders for the Bush oil wars in the Middle East. Indeed, while most Democrats opposed the 1990 and 2003 wars against Iraq, the party's leaders have almost exclusively come from Bush supporters. (The popular exception, Barack Obama, went on to make his own contributions to the Bush war legacy.) Similarly, Democratic "leaders" have a long history of support for privatization schemes, deregulation, and globalization, which along with slack taxes on the rich have greatly exacerbated inequality and the many problems it entails. Even the Democrats one signature social welfare program of the last twenty years, the ACA with its partial and inadequate nod towards universal health care, was designed as a giant subsidy to the insurance industry. For decades now "new Democrats" have been lecturing us on how we can't afford to do anything better, and their failure to deliver anything better, while looking schetchy and corrupt in the bargain, has destroyed their credibility. The left in America consists of people who care, are sincere and honest, and most of whom are directly affected by real problems and have real stakes in their solution. So, yeah, the left needs the Democrats to get things done, but the Democrats need the left even more to get back into the fight.

  • Charles Silver/David A Hyman: Here's a plan to fight high drug prices that could unite libertarians and socialists: "First, attack monopolies. Second, replace patents with prizes." I don't mind the prize idea, but would put more stress on public funding of "open source" pharmaceutical research, and would pursue international treaties to ensure that other countries made comparable research grants, with the understanding that all research would be funded. I'd also consider public funding of development efforts in exchange for price guarantees, again attempting to leverage production worldwide (with reasonable regulatory standards to ensure quality). Same thing can be done with medical devices and supplies.

  • Tara Golshan/Dylan Scott: Why House Republicans' immigration debate is a shitshow, explained by a Republican lawmaker: But not explained very well. I doubt, for instance, that the real problem is that Trump doesn't know what he wants. I think he pretty clearly wants a lot of shit he can't even get his Republican House majority to give him, let alone clear the filibuster bar in the Senate. Moreover, any effort to compromise in the hope of gaining "moderate" votes automatically lops off "extremist" votes, as well as weakening Trump's own support. Nor is Trump willing to cut a deal with the Democrats that would undercut his own extreme anti-immigrant stance, even on very limited issues like DACA where public opinion is against him. But also, there's very little incentive for Trump to ever give in on any of this. He runs on rage and anger, and the more Washington frustrates him, the more rage he can cultivate from his base. That's what brought him to the White House in the first place.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Daily Log

Mike heads home today, so things are starting to revert to normal, which isn't to say recovery from the past week's wear and tear. Last night we celebrated with a big cookout -- something which I haven't done for five years or more (luckily, we had just enough propane left to do the grilling). I don't much care for cooking outdoors, so what made this possible was Matt agreeing to run the grill, with Mike's assistance (he described himself as an "expediter"). Most of my work was done the night before, as I put everything into marinade. I also made the sweet potatoes, Greek salad, squid, soft shell crabs, and peanut sauce. The menu:

  • Grilled swordfish kebabs: Turkish marinade, mostly onion, lemon, olive oil, paprika.
  • Grilled chicken wings: Persian: olive oil, onion, saffron, yogurt.
  • Grilled lamb (leg) kebabs: Turkish: olive oil, yogurt, onion juice, thyme.
  • Grilled quail: same marinade as chicken.
  • Grilled fresh pork butt kebabs: Chinese: hoisin sauce, bean sauce, wine, soy sauce, sugar.
  • Grilled thin-sliced beef: Korean (bulgogi): Korean pear, onion, scallion, soy sauce, sugar, sesame.
  • Grilled squid: Mediterranean: olive oil, lemon, garlic, parsley.
  • Grilled asparagus: just olive oil, salt and pepper.
  • Roasted sweet potato wedges with mejdol dates, scallions, balsamic reduction, and goat cheese.
  • Grilled Japanese eggplant with Chinese peanut sauce: sliced 1/4-inch planks; sauce has a lot of garlic and cilantro, a little hot oil.
  • Horiatiki (Greek) salad: green/yellow bell peppers, cucumber, red onion, tomatoes, anchovies, black olives, feta cheese.
  • Shallow-fried soft shell crabs: Chinese, in a sweet-sour sauce.
  • Ciabatta: one of those "bake it yourself" loaves.
  • Date pudding, topped with caramel sauce and whipped cream.

Over the course of the week I had cooked several small dinners for Mike, Ram, and various others: baked fish with olives and capers; a roast chicken; Korean ribs with fried rice. First two had potatoes. Did a cheesy garlic bread with the chicken, topped with mozzarella and gorgonzola, which was a big hit. Didn't do dessert with any of them, but I thought the last night should be a bigger production, and nothing I do is better than the date pudding.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 29839 [29818] rated (+21), 349 [344] unrated (+5).

A day late and a few records short of a normal week. We attended a reception for the opening of the Sacred Space Exhibition at Wichita State University. My nephew, Mike Hull, came to Wichita for the reception, and has stayed on to continue photographing artwork my late sister Kathy Hull. My modest contribution to all this hasn't gone much beyond cooking, including a roast chicken last night, and some Korean ribs today. Unfortunately, I didn't feel up to doing a big Korean thing today, so I decided to accompany with my everyday Chinese fried rice and lima beans. [PS: Wound up also making three distinctly Korean little dishes: sliced cucumbers with garlic, sesame, and Korean red pepper; dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked and stir-fried with garlic, sesame, and scallions; and dried squid softened up in a sweet-and-spicy glaze.]

Started working on the Korea piece back on Thursday, thinking of a different entry angle -- one that would focus on how Democrats should talk about Trump when he veers away from neocon warmongering. But I didn't do my due dilligence there, and as the dumb chatter died down decided not to beat myself up over it. (When Colbert last night announced he'd be doing something "after the break" on Kim, Trump, and Putin, I hit delete.) And, as I noted, the family separation at the border story has taken over. I have little to add there, and don't even feel much like piling on. (Although, here's a link to a video Mike and Ellyssa Roberson did on a demonstration here in Wichita.) Nor am I the least bit obsessive about the Russia collusion/obstruction news, but it's hard to believe that even Trump's diehard supporters aren't picking up on how guilty he's managing to look -- of course, some of them are actually get off on his criminal side.

Mixed bag of records this week, including four very different ones at A-. Also a couple of lower-than-usual grades. Not much jazz. I wasn't able to find the new Skadedyr record Chris Monsen likes, so checked out the old ones but didn't get into them. Next week should be similar, maybe even shorter.


New records rated this week:

  • Dave Alvin and Jimmie Dale Gilmore: Downey to Lubbock (2018, Yep Roc): [r]: A-
  • Toni Braxton: Sex & Cigarettes (2018, Def Jam): [r]: B+(**)
  • Chromeo: Head Over Heels (2018, Big Beat/WEA): [r]: A-
  • The English Beat [Dave Wakeling]: Here We Go Love (2018, Here We Go): [r]: B-
  • Satoko Fujii/Joe Fonda/Gianni Mimmo: Triad (2017 [2018], Long Song): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Jon Hassell: Listening to Pictures (Pentimento Volume One) (2018, Ndeya): [r]: A-
  • Allegra Levy: Looking at the Moon (2018, SteepleChase): [r]: B+(**)
  • Lykke Li: So Sad So Sexy (2018, RCA): [r]: B+(*)
  • Melody's Echo Chamber: Bon Voyage (2018, Fat Possum): [r]: B
  • Marieann Meringolo: Between Yesterday and Tomorrow: The Songs of Alan & Marilyn Bergman (2017 [2018], Blujazz): [cd]: C+
  • Rolling Blackouts C.F.: Hope Downs (2018, Sub Pop): [r]: A-
  • J. Peter Schwalm: How We Fall (2017 [2018], RareNoise): [cdr]: B+(*)
  • Ebo Taylor: Yen Ara (2018, Mr. Bongo): [r]: B+(**)
  • Will Vinson: It's Alright With Three (2017 [2018], Criss Cross): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jerry Vivino: Coast to Coast (2005-17 [2018], Blujazz): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Tim Warfield: Jazzland (2017 [2018], Criss Cross): [r]: B+(*)
  • WorldService Project: Serve (2017 [2018], Rare Noise): [cdr]: C-

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

  • Gene Clark: Gene Clark Sings for You (1967 [2018], Omnivore): [r]: B

Old music rated this week:

  • Gene Clark: Gene Clark With the Gosdin Brothers (1967, Columbia): [r]: B+(*)
  • Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen: We've Got a Live One Here (1976, Warner Brothers): [r]: B+(**)
  • Skadedyr: Kongekrabbe (2013, Hubro): [r]: B
  • Skadedyr: Culturen (2016, Hubro): [r]: B+(*)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Rodrigo Amado: A History of Nothing (Trost)
  • John Bailey: In Real Time (Summit): June 22
  • Big Heart Machine: Big Heart Machine (self-released): August 24
  • Benje Daneman: Light in the Darkness (ACI): August 31
  • Jeremy Ledbetter Trio: Got a Light? (Alma)
  • Charles Pillow Large Ensemble: Electric Miles (MAMA): June 22
  • Pocket Aces: Cull the Heard (Creative Nation Music): September 7
  • Sibarg Ensemble: Cipher (self-released)
  • The Thing: Again (Trost)
  • Toronto Jazz Orchestra: 20 (2018, self-released)

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Korea on My Mind

The evening after the short and sweet Singapore summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, I watched the reactions from late show hosts Stephen Colbert, Seth Meyers, and Jimmy Kimmel. One expects them to take some liberties with the facts, but since Trump's election in 2016 they've generally tried to do so in ways that help illuminate the world they are satirizing. However, they botched this big story almost completely Tuesday night. And Colbert was so bad Wednesday I wound up walking out of the room. Thanks to DVR, we've watched Colbert and Meyers almost nightly since the election, and as I've noted, I've often taken heart in their daily reminder that there are many people -- some with public platforms -- that can't stand Trump and the cruel, vicious, and avaricious regime he heads. But the only way their humor works is when it's rooted in a deep and critical understanding and and a sense of empathy that goes beyond mere partisan advantage. They blew the Singapore summit because they don't know or understand the history of how we got here, and because they don't appreciate the costs and risks of perpetuating the state of belligerency that's prevailed in Korea for 68 years now.

Meyers at least conceded that it's better that Trump and Kim are talking than shooting, but he invariably followed that concession with a "but," like it was something his lawyer forced him to disclaim. All three repeatedly described Kim as "murderous dictator" (sometimes just "brutal dictator"). Granted, a couple of times they built jokes implying that Trump, too, is (or wants to be) a dictator. But they wouldn't dare characterize Trump as murderous, even though as president he's rung up by far the larger body count. And while people think it's ironic that Kim is fat while millions of North Koreans starve, no one bothered to mention how US and UN sanctions impose hardships on the North Korean people (without, obviously, cramping the style of regime leaders like Kim).

It is easy for many Americans to fall into the rut of hurling crude slurs at North Korea and ad hominem attacks on Kim. Such were a staple of Cold War propaganda, going back to the "yellow peril" fears of the 1940s -- originally Japan, but readily remapped by racist minds to China, Korea, Vietnam. In the anti-communist mind we are free, and they are enslaved, ruled by brutal dictators in the name of atheistic, collectivist ideology. The Cold War mindset thawed a bit after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992, but when North Korea (and China, Vietnam, and Cuba -- coincidentally the only Communist states the US had actually fought hot wars and imposed long-term embargos against) persisted, the old tropes were available for recycling. And no nation has been treated more harshly by the US than North Korea.

Some relevant history: Organized states in Korea date back to Goguryeo in 37 BCE, with various kingdoms coming and going, broken up by periods of foreign (mostly Chinese) domination. Korea had become a borderland repeatedly attacked by foreign powers, like Japan in 1592-98, the Manchus in 1627 and 1636. After the Manchus established the Qing Dynasty in China, Korea became a vassal. As China weakened in the 19th century, Britain, France, Russia, and Japan ventured into Korea. The US also got into the action, sending gunboats (ostensibly to "open trade") to Korea, notably conflicts in 1853, 1866, and 1871 -- the latter killing 243 Koreans, one of those incidents that they remember but we don't. Japan fought a war with China in 1894-95. One result was the short-lived Korean Empire, annexed by Japan in 1910, and occupied until the Empire was defeated in World War II.

American gunboats sailed into Tokyo Bay to force Japan to open itself to foreign trade in 1853. This resulted in a revolution in Japan that transformed the nation into an imperial state (the Meiji Restoration), as the Japanese scrambled to adopt western technology and empire-building. Japan fought a war against China in 1894-95, capturing Taiwan (Formosa), breaking Korea off, and establishing a toehold on the Chinese mainland. In 1905 Japan defeated Russia, grabbing some Russian territory and concessions in Manchuria. In 1910 Japan annexed Korea. During WWI Japan declared war on Germany, capturing a number of German islands in the west Pacific. In 1929, Japan invaded Manchuria and set up a puppet kingdom there. In 1936, Japan expanded its war against China, occupying major cities and much of the coastline. In 1940, Japan signed the Tripartite Act, allying itself with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, but in April 1941 Japan signed a Neutrality Pact with the Soviet Union, sparing Russia the risk of having to fight a two-front war against Germany and Japan, while allowing Japan to direct its imperial aims south. In December 1941, Japan attacked the US Navy in Pearl Harbor, as part of a major offensive in which they quickly overrun Malaya, Indonesia, and the Philippines. Thus the US entered World War II.

In 1945, with Germany defeated, Truman begged the Soviet Union to join in the war against Japan. Japanese forces had "fought to the death" against American invaders, especially on Okinawa, and Americans were fearful that they would prove even more fatalistic when, in late 1945, the US could finally mount an invasion of Japan itself. However, Japanese resolve collapsed in August 1945 after the Soviet Union entered the war, driving through Manchuria, and the US dropped its first atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The sudden victory gave the US more leverage viz. its allies in Asia than it had in Europe, where Stalin was able to insist on a partition of Germany and Austria (but not Italy, which like Japan was under exclusively American control). The Japanese themselves were desperate to avoid any form of Russian occupation, but the US had no troops in Korea, so offering the split the country at the 38th Meridian was more of a Russian concession than an American one.

Both the US and the USSR installed congenial dictators over their respective partitions. Both had spent the war in exile, garnering favors from their respective hosts: Syngman Rhee was the toast of cocktail parties in New York and Washington, and Kim Il Sung commanded a small guerrilla unit biding its time in Siberia. Once in power, both waged brutal crackdowns on those they deemed "subversives" while vowing to reunite Korea under their domination. History tells us that the North invaded the South on June 25, 1950, but that act was at least in part precipitated by massive arrests in the South. Kim's forces nearly overran the entire peninsula before the US was able to muster a counteroffensive, which in turn by October nearly reached Korea's northern border. Then on October 25 a large number of Chinese "volunteers" entered Korea, bringing the war to a stalemate formalized in the 1953 Armistice line.

By the time Eisenhower replaced Truman and signed the Armistice, over 36,000 US soldiers had been killed, some 183,000 Chinese, and pproximately 3 million Koreans -- more than 10% of the Peninsula's total population, higher in the North, where the US dropped more tons of bombs than it had dropped on Japan during WWII. Although the front had stabilized in early 1951, the war ground on for two more years. Even in signing the Armistice, neither side was willing to admit that its aims had failed. The US retained massive bases in the South and nearby regions. Both sides engaged in provocative behavior and extravagantly belligerent rhetoric. North Korea made enormous, self-hampering investments in defense, maintaining a huge army, digging bunkers deep underground, developing massive artillery, rocketry, and ultimately nuclear warheads. All along the US refused to end the formal state of war and normalize relations, even to the extent it normally accorded other Communist states.

After the Soviet Union collapsed, and after China introduced a degree of capitalism that attracted western interests, North Korea became even more isolated. Meanwhile, South Korea overthrew their US-backed military dictatorship, and developed a vibrant export-led economy, becoming one of the wealthiest nations in Asia while the North stagnated in isolation, its orthodox communist party evolving into a strange quasi-religious cult around the "dear leader." Or so it seemed, because the extreme isolation made it almost impossible for Americans (or anyone) to understand what life was like there -- of course, that didn't stop our so-called experts from playing up their "human rights violations" and decrying their sanctions-imposed shortcomings.

North Korea's economy rapidly deteriorated after the Soviet Union ended its subsidies in 1991, with China only grudgingly offering a trade relationship. Kim Il Sung's health deteriorated, and he died in 1994, replaced by his son Kim Jong-il. North Korea has long been haunted by its lack of petroleum and coal resources, so started to look at nuclear power, which was its right as a member of the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty). The US, recognizing the potential use of any nuclear power technology for developing warheads, raised a huge stink and tightened its restrictions on North Korea even further. This came to a head in 1994, when Jimmy Carter trekked to Pyongyang and negotiated the "Agreed Framework" between the US and North Korea, but Clinton's residual cold warriors sandbagged the deal, and GW Bush blew it up completely, ominously grouping North Korea into his "Axis of Evil" along with two countries it had no relations with -- two countries which had fought a decade-long war against each other, Iran and Iraq. Bush invaded and desroyed Iraq, while his lieutenants joked about taking on Iran next ("real men go to Tehran"). North Korea responded to the threat by withdrawing from the NPT and accelerating their nuclear weapons and missile work, testing a bomb in 2006. That may have dampened Bush's ardor to attack, but Iraq was already turning out to be more than Bush's army could handle.

Still, the "weapons of mass destruction" pitch Bush had used to sell his invasion of Iraq was easily retooled for Iran and North Korea, with harsh sanctions the preferred stick for coercion, but no enticing carrot -- "normalization," maybe, but most hard-liners wouldn't accept anything less than regime change. Obama did sign an agreement which allowed them to continue low-grade enrichment while ending any possible advance toward nuclear weapons, but the deal fell far short of normal diplomatic relations, allowing US sanctions not tied to Iran's "nuclear program" to continue -- and Trump, bowing to pressure from Israel and Saudi Arabia, reneged from even that modest deal. (One hesitates to refer to Israel and Saudi Arabia as America's allies, given how Trump has subordinated America's interests to their parochial whims. But clearly neither country takes Iran's "nuclear threat" seriously enough to give up the immediate value their leaders find in isolating Iran.)

Whereas the nuclear programs Iraq, Iran, and Libya supposedly posed were never serious, North Korea does have bombs (including hydrogen-boosted) plus they have missiles capable of delivering them to the continental America. After Bush provoked North Korea to accelerate their program, Obama largly ignored them. Trump, on the other hand, panicked, mocking "little Rocket Man" and threatening "fire and fury like the world's never seen" if Kim didn't surrender. As near as I can tell, four things changed his course and attitude:

  1. The Defense Department refused to offer a military option to end the crisis: it was clear to them, as it has been for years, that there is no way the US can pre-emptively attack and defeat North Korea at an acceptable cost.
  2. South Korea elected Moon Jae-in as president, who is much more open to normalizing relations with North Korea than recent South Korean leaders.
  3. Kim Jong-un sought a direct meeting with Trump, and arbitrarily made a number of concessions ahead of the summit, most importantly ending the recent series of nuclear and missile tests.
  4. Mike Pompeo, Trump's CIA Directory and now Secretary of State, traveled twice to Pyongyang to act as the main intermediary between Kim and Trump (thus far making up for Trump's pick of ultra-hawkish John Bolton as National Security Director).

I don't care to speculate on what will happen next, but there's no good reason why the state of hostility shouldn't end, including the sanctions that have imposed such fear and hardship on the Korean people. Both Korea should dial back their militaries, with the US withdrawing its forces from South Korea. Trade and travel should be eased, and diplomatic relations established. I doubt that North Korea will make any significant changes to its politico-economic system, but that shouldn't be a problem for the US: while many Americans claim to be sensitive about North Korean "human rights violations," the US government (especially under Trump) has been remarkably unbothered when its ostensible allies are concerned (e.g., Israel, Saudi Arabia, China, the Philippines). Trump has promised that if Kim follows his lead, North Korea will become prosperous, but there is zero evidence that the prescriptions known as "the Washington consensus" actually raise living standards. More likely, Kim will look at other models, like the mix of a closed political system and private incentives that China has used to generate persistent double-digit growth rates. As a leftist, I may not approve, but as an American I can hardly object.

What concerns me more is how people ostensibly on the left/democratic end of the American political spectrum react to Trump's summit and to the possible opening up of North Korea. The reaction so far has been very mixed, with much of it -- as with the late-night comics I started with -- downright atrocious. This matters because it's critical that Democrats take smarter positions on world affairs, especially on matters of war and peace. While most Democrats (and really most Americans) have grown weary of the perpetual war machine, Democratic politicians have reflexively bought into the world-hegemonic mindset, styling themselves as the true believers in Americanism -- the civic religion that thinks American leadership will save the world by conquering it. (Republicans, on the other hand, cynically expect power to cower the world, reaping profits. Neither approach has worked lately, partly because condescension is no more appealing than arrogance.)

Oddly enough, Trump is on a mini-roll. While there is much to disagree with, Democrats need to talk intelligently about these issues, rather than just fall back on familiar tropes to score cheap points. Consider:

  • Trump's tariffs are popular with people who think America has bent over backwards to appease foreign powers, often to the detriment of American workers. This includes labor unions establishment Democrats have been so quick to throw under the bus.
  • Trump's snub of the G7 conference elicited a torrent of ridicule from pundits, who seem to feel more allegiance to "America's allies" than to American voters. Throughout history, alliances have been ad hoc associations to fight (or, rarely, and less effectively, to prevent) wars. The US and USSR were allies against Germany and Japan, but once WWII was over, without a common enemy their alliance dissolved, and each constructed new alliances to check the ambitions of the other. Those Cold War alliances should also have dissolved with the USSR, but the US decided to maintain NATO, in large part to turn Russia back into a potential enemy. Trump has questioned why we still want to treat Russia as an enemy -- why we kicked Russia out of the G8, why we sanction Russia, why we maintain NATO. He is right to do so, but he gets attacked by neocons (who value Russia as a stimulus to military spending) and by Democrats (who have their own grudges).
  • Coming immediately after Trump's G7 tantrums, his glad-handing of Kim Jong-un in Singapore struck a certain kind of Democrat as more evidence of Trump's man-crush on foreign dictators, rather than as an earnest attempt to avoid an utterly senseless nuclear war.

I haven't had time or stomach to track down many of the stupid things Democratic pundits and politicos have said about Trump and North Korea. (I have seen a few wretched examples on Twitter, and my wife has been fuming about many more, so I've been aware of more than I've read.) I've been using Vox as my first source on most things political, so the first post-summit piece I read was Zack Beauchamp/Jennifer Williams: 4 winners and 4 losers from the Trump-Kim summit. They saw Kim as a clear winner, describing him as "a brutal dictator who starves and imprisons his own citizens." His triumph? "And he just got the president of the United States to fly halway around the world to meet, shake his hand, and cencel military exercises with his greatest enemy -- all without giving up anything major in return." How quickly the authors forgot that North Korea had already released three American prisoners (search for "hostages" or you'll miss the story), halted all nuclear and missile tests, and destroyed his nuclear test site; also that the US and South Korea had called off their scheduled "war games" as a pre-summit gesture. For months now we've been hearing that Kim's real goal was to get world legitimacy by being photographed with Trump. And here they're still clinging to this line a mere week after Steph Curry and LeBron James went out of their way to make sure they wouldn't get a White House invite from Trump. (Granted, Kim may be more hard up for attention than they are, but on the other hand, the US hasn't been organizing "war games" to terrorize the NBA.

Worse still, the authors listed South Korea as the big loser in the summit, because they lost out on participating in those "war games," therefore undermining their confidence that the US would defend them from an attack from the North. Moreover, they claimed that South Korea wasn't even consulted before Trump sold them out -- another case of the US double-crossing its faithful allies. In point of fact, South Korea had previously agreed to canceling the "war games," and after the fact reassured Trump of their agreement. But the most important fact forgotten here is that South Korea has by far the most to lose in a war between the US and North Korea, and therefore the most to gain by agreements for peace. Except maybe for the "suffering North Koreans," also counted among the summit's losers, because nothing concrete was agreed to relieve their suffering at the summit -- as if the only way out of their conundrum would be an American "humanitarian war." Even if "hundreds of thousands of Koreans have died in these gulags over the past several decades," a renewed war would surely kill more than the three million killed with relatively primitive weapons 65 years ago.

After thinking about it a couple more days, Vox revised its winner-loser calculations, concluding The big winner of the Trump-Kim summit? China. Again, their calculus was based exclusively on geopolitical strategic concerns: if the US withdraws troops from South Korea, that would make it easier for the Chinese military to flex its muscles in the region. Of course, no consideration was given to other reasons why China might benefit from avoiding a new war in Korea: most obviously the threats of stray radiation and massive refugees.


Several links worth reading on the Singapore summit:

Also on the G7, see George Monbiot: Donald Trump was right. The rest of the G7 were wrong. I wouldn't go so far as to say that Trump's opposition to NAFTA and other trade deal is right, because I doubt that his reasoning on the subject. On the other hand, sometimes you have to credit unlikely allies for doing the right thing, even if for the wrong reasons.

By the way, I haven't run across nearly as many dumb Dem-leaning articles on the summit as I expected, probably because many of the writers so-inclined have moved onto safer moral high ground, attacking Trump for the new policy of separating children from parents at the border. That has become by far the big story of the past week.


Some scattered, discarded paragraphs:

I don't doubt that there is a time and place to take a serious look at Kim's regime on a whole range of questions including human rights issues, but bringing it up in the context of negotiations aimed at averting war and normalizing relations between the US and North Korea is totally uncalled for. One can't avoid the suspicion that Trump's critics are doing so in hopes of poisoning agreement -- if not to actually promote war, at least to extend the sanctions that are causing the North Korean people so much misery. Somehow they feel it's their prerogative to tell other country's leaders how to govern. This must give them a self-satisfied sense of moral superiority, but it comes off as impractical hypocrisy, and snobbish to boot.

However, since the early 1990s -- when Russian subsidies ended -- the DPRK has alternated between inflamatory threats and grudging pleas to end the isolation. Both have fallen on closed ears because US leaders haven't felt any reason or motivation to change -- in part because they never any responsibility for their actions, in part because they've gotten trapped in their permanent superpower rhetoric.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 29818 [29786] rated (+32), 344 [339] unrated (+5).

Not much to say about music this week. Just sort of feeling my way around the new computer. One thing I noticed is that it's much easier to go straight to a download/stream from email now that I'm doing both on the same machine. In particular, I used to get a lot of CDs from the world music publicist Rock Paper Scissors, but for the last few years all they've sent was email, which I almost never dealt with. But a couple records below (Diali Cissokho, Ginkgoa, Parliament) came out of their mail. I also made a point of thumbing through the July issue of Downbeat and looking up most of the reviewed records I didn't receive. Neither of those strategies led to great discoveries, but they did turn up some pretty good records.

Overall count for the week was solid. Most likely it will fall off next week, as we're expecting company for a big event on Wednesday, 4:30-7:00 PM, at McKnight Art Center on the campus of Wichita State University: Sacred Space Exhibition Reception. This is a set of seven large portals: doorways opening to views of the world through various prisms of religion. The artwork was originally constructed and painted back in 2002, under the direction of the late Diane Thomas Lincoln, with my sister, Kathy Hull, taking a major role. I have write ups and some pictures from the original development and exhibit here. The artwork has been in storage for much of the intervening time. Before her fatal accident this spring, my sister had campaigned to remount the exhibit, and she conspired with my nephew Mike Hull to produce a documentary on the work. This project won't come off quite as originally intended, but Mike will be here to film what he can, and we'll try to be helpful.

The exhibit will be on view, free to the public, 9 A.M.-5 P.M. at the Clayton Staples Gallery, second floor of McKnight Art Center West, through August 31, 2018.

Coincidentally, I just heard this week that another of Kathy's major projects -- a mural based on the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration on the south side of a laundromat at Arkansas and 25th St N here in Wichita -- is going to be painted over sometime soon. I only found one Google image search picture, here, as it was being painted (Linda Jordan left, Kathy right). I also have a finished photo in my archives, as well as a picture of Kathy holding her sketch in front of the work-in-progress which at the time appeared in the Wichita Eagle. Ram Lama Hull posted a couple more recent photos on Facebook: here and here. Ram commented:

My mother, who died in March, was the designer and lead artist for the mural back in 2006. . . . In honor of and respect for my mother, please give the owner of the building peace.

Now that I'm back in communication with the building's owner, I will be looking for a new place to recreate the mural. The new mural that will be taking its place at 25th and Arkansas will celebrate the cycles of life and the women in the community, both of which are things my mother found important.

Mike has already photographed a lot of Kathy's art, and I expect he will be doing more this week, including some "last shots" of the mural.


Actually, I guess I do have a couple of brief notes on music. Michael Tatum has been doing one of those "10 records in 10 days" things on Facebook. His first three picks recapitulate my own evolving tastes in the years just before I started writing rock crit: The Byrds, Sweetheart of the Rodeo; Rhino's disco compilation, Turn the Beat Around (1974-1978); and Roxy Music, Siren. I would have picked Stranded, and tried to work in Al Green, I'm Still in Love With You, and Brinsley Schwarz's New Favourites, but Michael is definitely onto something. Given that I've archived his work in the past, I've started to squirrel away these new posts.

I'll also note that Robert Christgau's latest Expert Witness has two A records that I gave very solid A- grades to some time back: Parquet Courts: Wide Awaaaaake!, and No Age: Snares Like a Haircut. I see now that I screwed up the news roll notice for that post -- sorry about that. I've been making slow progress fixing my local copy of the website, but I'm still a long ways away from being able to do a general update. (Same, really, for my own websites.)

I'll also note that I played the new Lily Allen album (No Shame) a half-dozen times today without being able to grade it A-. May still happen: I've decided to back off and give it some time, but it's clearly not going to be my album of the year, as her last two were. Not that I don't still adore her, but only a few songs reinforce that (like "Waste"). On the other hand, a couple songs are very bland, and "Cake" is way too much of a cliché. And only on the last play did it sink in that "Three" is meant to be in the voice of her daughter. Sure, makes sense that way, but doesn't sound right.


New records rated this week:

  • Courtney Barnett: Tell Me How You Really Feel (2018, Mom + Pop Music): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jamie Baum Septet+: Bridges (2018, Sunnyside): [4]: B+(*)
  • Bombino: Deran (2018, Partisan): [r]: B+(***)
  • Diali Cissokho & Kaira Ba: Routes (2018, Twelve/Eight): [dl]: B+(***)
  • Detroit Bop Quintet: Two Birds (2014 [2018], TQM, EP): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Fatoumata Diawara: Fenfo: Something to Say (2018, Shanachie): [r]: B+(**)
  • Elina Duni: Partir (2017 [2018], ECM): [r]: B+(*)
  • Enemy: Enemy (2016 [2018], Edition): [r]: B+(**)
  • Román Filiú: Quarteria (2018, Sunnyside): [r]: B+(*)
  • Erik Friedlander: Artemisia (2017 [2018], Skipstone): [r]: B+(**)
  • Tia Fuller: Diamond Cut (2018, Mack Avenue): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ginkgoa: One Time (2018, self-released, EP): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Vinny Golia/Steph Richards/Bert Turetzky: Trio Music (2017 [2018], PfMentum): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Gene Jackson Trio NuYorx: Power of Love (2017 [2018], Whirlwind): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Nellie McKay: Sister Orchid (2018, Palmetto): [r]: B+(**)
  • Brad Mehldau: After Bach (2017 [2018, Nonesuch): [r]: B
  • Brad Mehldau: Seymour Reads the Constitution! (2018, Nonesuch): [r]: B+(*)
  • Parliament: Medicaid Fraud Dogg (2018, C Kunspyruhzy): [r]: B
  • Jure Pukl/Matija Dedic: Hybrid (2016 [2017], Whirlwind): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Jure Pukl: Doubtless (2017 [2018], Whirlwind): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Joshua Redman/Ron Miles/Scott Colley/Brian Blade: Still Dreaming (2018, Nonesuch): [r]: B+(**)
  • Stephanie Richards: Fullmoon (2018, Relative Pitch): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Chris Thile/Brad Mehldau: Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau (2017, Nonesuch): [r]: B-
  • Sidi Touré: Toubalbero (2018, Thrill Jockey): [r]: B+(**)
  • Joshua Trinidad: In November (2015 [2018], RareNoise): [cdr]: B+(*)

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

  • Anthony Braxton: The Essential Anthony Braxton: The Arista Years (1974-80 [2018], Arista/Legacy): [r]: A-
  • The Rough Guide to the Best Country Blues You've Never Heard (1927-36 [2018], World Music Network): [r]: B+(***)
  • Esbjörn Svensson Trio: E.S.T. Live in London (2005 [2018], ACT, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • Sidi Touré: Hoga (1996, Sterns Africa): [r]: B+(***)
  • Sidi Touré: Alafia (2013, Thrill Jockey): [r]: B+(**)
  • Whirl: Revolving Rapidly Around an Axis (2014 [2015], Den): [bc]: B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Tucker Antell: Grime Scene (OA2): June 15
  • Jarod Bufe: New Spaces (OA2): June 15
  • The End: The End (RareNoise): advance, June 29
  • Pete McCann: Pay for It on the Other Side (McCannis Music): July 20
  • Marieann Meringolo: Between Yesterday and Tomorrow: The Songs of Alan & Marilyn Bergman (Blujazz)
  • Dori Rubbicco: Stage Door Live! (Whaling City Sound)
  • The Jamie Saft Quartet: Blue Dream (RareNoise): advance, June 29
  • Rafal Sarnecki: Climbing Trees (Outside In Music): July 27
  • Jerry Vivino: Coast to Coast (Blujazz)
  • Kobie Watkins Grouptet: Movement (Origin): June 15

Daily Log

Miscellaneous Album Notes:

  • The Rough Guide to the Best Country Blues You've Never Heard (1927-36 [2018], World Music Network): B+(***)

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Weekend Roundup

Big news this coming week will be the Singapore summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un. No one I've read has any idea what the Koreans (either North or South) are thinking going into the summit, nor do they seem to have any grasp on the Trump administration -- not just because Trump has been even cagier than usual (by which I mean his peculiar habit of masking ignorance with uncertainty and whimsy and passing it all off as unpredictability). Still, one piece I tried to read was Alex Ward: Trump just made 3 shocking statements about North Korea. I've cited Ward's pieces on Korea before, and expect something more or less sensible from him, but this isn't that. First problem here is that I can't find any statements, much less "shocking" ones, by Trump here. Actually, the most ignorant statements appear to be coming from Ward, such as: "Presidents don't habitually welcome murderous dictators to the White House"; and "Experts I spoke to said that's [a "normal" relationship with the US] something North has wanted for years because it would legitimize the Kim regime in the eyes of the world." Isn't it a little late to think that meeting with Donald Trump will legitimize anyone? Having been shunned by the Philadelphia Eagles and the Golden State Warriors, isn't Trump the one left with a desperate craving for legitimization?

The most shocking statement in the article is a subhed: "Kim has given little away. Trump has offered a lot." What exactly has Trump offered, other than his passive-aggressive willingness to meet, most recently couched in a vow to walk out of the meeting within ten minutes if he doesn't like the vibe? Ward cites an Ankit Panda tweet as "on table for June 12 should things go well, as of Trump's recent remarks":

  • declaration on end of Korean War
  • move toward normalization
  • agreement on moving toward a peace treaty
  • invitation for Kim Jong Un to the US
  • no sanctions relief until denuclearization (per Abe)

The first point is really a no-brainer. The War effectively ended 65 years ago, and nobody wants to restart it. Normalization should also be, and should move directly into some degree of sanctions relief -- certainly for trade of non-military goods. The US had diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union long before it broke up, and with China long before they adopted any market reforms, and it's certain that even the constrained degree of normalization there helped bring about reform. The US hasn't been willing to engage with North Korea because Americans bear grudges over the 1950-53 war they couldn't win, because North Korea is a useful enemy to bolster defense spending, and because (unlike China, to pick an obvious example) businesses don't forsee a lot of profit opportunity there. In short, it has, thus far, cost the US very little to perpetuate a state of hostility, and until North Korea developed ICBMs with nuclear warheads, there never seemed to be any risk.

There really isn't much risk even now: Kim certainly understands that any offensive use of his new weapons will only result in the obliteration of his country. It's become abundantly clear that the only value anyone has ever gained with nuclear weapons is deterrence against foreign attack. Still, no one likes being tested, let alone intimidated, and dread makes a fragile foundation for peace. Closed, hostile relations are lose-lose. Open, equitable relations can be win-win: most obviously by opening up free trade. What's happened over the past two years is that North Korea first put on a show of force to get US attention, then followed that up with a series of conciliatory gestures opening up the prospect of normal relations and mutual economic growth. If the US had sensible people in charge of foreign policy, this whole process would be straightforward. Unfortunately, we have Trump, and Trump has Bolton, but even people who should know better (like Ward) keep falling back into unhelpful habits.

The big question this summit faces is whether Trump and Kim can figure out a way to sequence steps they ultimately seem to be willing to agree to: ending the official state of hostilities, normalizing relations (which both includes ending sanctions and deescalating military threats). The Bolton position insists on North Korea giving up everything before the US gives in on anything, and Bolton is ideally positioned to whisper in Trump's gullible ear.

I could write something about what I think should happen, but it won't. As Trump says, "we'll see."


Still not doing full website updates, although I've been making plodding progress fixing the massive breakage from the crash. One thing of particular note is that I lost various passwords for my wife's media accounts. I've restored a couple, but not all of them, and I'm getting annoying complaints for lack of the rest. Thus far a more conspicuous problem is that I'm running Firefox without an ad blocker, so for the first time in years I'm experiencing the entire torrent of hideousness that supposedly keeps the internet free. I guess I'll chalk it up to experience, but the irritation factor is immense, and I'm not sure how long before I break down and try to defend myself. Still, I can imagine some sort of add-on short of a blocker that would make it more tolerable: some way to point at an object and either delete or cover it up.

Keyboard still giving me aggravation, but I have a replacement ready to plug in: a mechanical (brown) switch gaming thing with red LED backlighting. Certainly the most expensive keyboard I've bought since my typesetting days, or maybe my old IBM Selectric.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias didn't flag any important stories last week, but he did post some:

  • Zeeshan Aleem: The G7 summit looked like it was going okay. Then Trump got mad on Twitter. Note photo of Trump sitting meekly with his arms crossed and hands tucked away, while Angela Merkel gets in his face, with Shinzo Abe and John Bolton looking shifty in the background. [PS: Saw a tweet with this picture, captioned: 'The Persuasion of the Imbecile' by Caravaggio.] As everyone knows, Trump is a world class asshole, but he's not the sort who'll pick a fight in person. One recalls that back during the campaign he made a publicity trip to Mexico to confront the president there over his wall idea but was so polite he didn't dare ruffle any feathers, only to return to a rally in Phoenix that night where he delivered one of his most racist and xenophobic speeches. So I guess it's no surprise that he waited until he was back in his comfort zone -- tweeting from the plane as he flew away -- to trash the G7 conference and his fellow leaders' lukewarm efforts to make nice. Or maybe it just took some private time with Bolton to buck the president up. For what happened next, see: Matt Shuham: G7 Nations Respond to Trump's Rejection of Joint Statement: 'Let's Be Serious'. Given that the former G8 kicked Russia out to show their disapproval of Russia's annexation of Crimea, maybe they'll soon become the G6. Actually, I think Trump is right here: Trump wants Russia invited back into the G7. This notion that nations are entitled to shun and shame other countries because it plays well in domestic polling is hacking the world up into hostile camps, at a time when cooperation is more important than ever. And right now the biggest divider is none other than Donald Trump, although he actually gets way too much help from many Democrats. For instance here's a tweet that got forwarded to my feed:

    Popular vote winner Hillary Clinton warned everyone that Russia was interfering in the election and that, if elected, Trump would serve as Putin's Puppet.

    Trump just ruined the G7 summit and pissed off our allies . . . She was right about everything.

    Actually, she's not even right about this: the G7/8 isn't necessarily a meeting of "our allies" -- the members are supposedly the world's major economies -- and more inclusive would be better than less. On the other hand, she wouldn't have withdrawn from Paris, or from the Iran agreement, nor would she have levied steel and aluminum tariffs, which Trump turned into points of contention, not just with "allies" but with everyone. For more on this, see: Susan B Glasser: Under Trump, "America First" Really Is Turning Out to Be America Alone. You might also note this data point: a poll of Germans reveals that only 14% "consider the US a reliable partner"; the figure for Russia is 36%, China 43%.

  • Katie Annand: I work with children separated from caregivers at the border. What happens is unforgibable.

    In addition to the nearly incomprehensible suffering the United States is imposing on these children, the administration's new policy, which separates children from parents, makes it much harder for the child to make a claim for US protection. As of last month, all parents are being referred for prosecution because they crossed into the United States without documentation. The parents are placed into US Marshals custody in an adult detention facility, while the child is rendered "unaccompanied" and deportation proceedings are initiated against the child alone. Their case is completely separated from their parents and little to no communication is facilitated between the parent and child.

    Parents don't know what's happening to their children, and vice versa. This has significant implications for the child's ability to make their case for US protection. Often, adult family members have information and documents that are vital to making their case. We see children who may not know why they came to the United States -- parents and caregivers often do not tell their children the full story, lest they be scared or traumatized.

    Also see: Ryan Devereaux: 1,358 Children and Counting -- Trump's "Zero Tolerance" aBorder Policy Is Separating Families at Staggering Rates.

  • Nicholas Bagley: Trump's legal attack on the ACA isn't about health care. It's a war on the rule of law. Also: Dylan Scott: The Trump Administration believes Obamacare's preexisting conditions protections are now unconstitutional.

  • Fiona Harvey: 'Carbon bubble' could spark global financial crisis, study warns: A "bubble," here as elsewhere, is an excessively high valuation of an asset, making it likely to rapidly deflate in the future, probably damaging the global financial system. There is good reason to think that oil and gas reserves are overvalued, mostly because demand is likely to decline in favor of non-carbon energy sources (especially solar). Harvey also wrote What is the carbon bubble and what will happen if it bursts?

  • Emily Heiler: The New Yorker's Jane Mayer recommends 3 books about money and American politics: Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer -- and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class; F Scott Fitzgerald: The Diamond as Big as the Ritz; and Kim Phillips-Fein: Invisible Hands: The Businessmen's Crusade Against the New Deal. I've read two of those -- not hard to guess which -- and they're pretty good, but better still is Mayer's own Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, and I should also mention Max Blumenthal: Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party, and Thomas Frank: The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule. And while it's a bit dated -- as Michael Lewis later noted on his book on 1980s financial scandals, Liar's Poker: "how quaint" -- you can still learn things from Kevin Phillips: American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush (2004). For my part, I've been aware of the pervasive influence of money in politics at least since c. 1970, when I read G. William Domhoff's Who Rules America? (1967) and the Ferdinand Lundberg's The Rich and the Super-Rich: A Study in the Power of Money Today (1968, revising his 1936 America's 60 Families) -- and that was back in the golden age of American equality (Paul Krugman dubbed it "the great compression"). But once you start noticing the role money plays in politics, you find it everywhere.

  • German Lopez: Trump wants to execute drug dealers. But he granteed commutation to one because Kim Kardashian asked.

  • Jay Rosen: Why Trump Is Winning and the Press Is Losing: Sure, Trump's pre-emptive war on "Fake News" is mostly a prophylactic between Trump's supporters and the possibility that honest media might expose some of his lies and distortions, and more importantly the real effects of Republican policies on people's lives. "Nixon seethed about the press in private. Trump seethes in public." And it's not just Trump: "At the bottom of the pyramid is an army of online trolls and alt-right activists who shout down stories critical of the president and project hatred at the journalists who report them. Between the president at thetop and the baseat the bottom are the mediating institutions: Breitbart, Drudge Report, The Daily Caller, Rush Limbaugh, and, especially, Fox News." Of course, you know all that. But what about this:

    There is a risk that journalists could do their job brilliantly, and it won't really matter, because Trump supporters categorically reject it, Trump opponents already believed it, and the neither-nors aren't paying close enough attention. In a different way, there is a risk that journalists could succeed at the production of great journalism and fail at its distribution, because the platforms created by the tech industry have so overtaken the task of organizing public attention.

    Actually, there isn't much chance of brilliant journalism, for lots of reasons -- institutional biases, of coruse, but also issue complexity, received frameworks, the neverending struggle between superficiality and depth, and the simple question of who cares about what. For example, "There is a risk that Republican elites will fail to push back against Trump's attacks on democratic institutions, including the press" -- but why assume they should push back when they're leading the charge? It's always been the case that one's interests colored one's views. What is relatively new is the insistence that only views matter, that there are no objective facts worth considering. In the old days, one tried to spin the news. Now you just run roughshod over your opposition. And it's really not Trump who started this. The first real articulation of the idea came during the Bush years, when someone (Karl Rove?) made fun of "the reality-based community." From there, it was only a short step before Republicans started wondering why we should encourage people to get a higher education. Trump simply bought into the prevailing party line. As I said during the campaign, Republicans have been adept at "dog whistling" racism for many years, but Trump doesn't do that. He's just the dog.

    On the other hand, maybe you can make a case for brilliant journalism: Jon Schwarz: Seymour Hersh's New Memoir Is a Fascinating, Flabbergasting Masterpiece. Matt Taibbi also wrote: Seymour Hersh's Memoir Is Full of Useful Reporting Secrets.

  • Jeremy Scahill: More Than Just Russia -- There's a Strong Case for the Trump Team Colluding With Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the UAE: Even before you get to the question of who got the most bang for their bucks.

  • Emily Stewart: Why there's so much speculation about Starbucks chair Howard Schultz's 2020 ambitions: Well, he's a rich Democrat, and as far back as the Kennedys the party has been jonesing for candidates rich enough to fund their own campaigns. Stewart mentions other rich and often famous rumored candidates like Mark Cuban, Bob Iger, Mark Zuckerberg, and Oprah Winfrey. Clearly, the media is smitten with the idea, especially those who saw Trump's election as a popular rebuke to the Washington establishment. But hasn't Trump utterly discredited the notion that America would be better off run like a corporation? I suppose you could counter that Trump wasn't actually much good at running his business, whereas other entrepreneurs are more competent, at least to the point of recognizing when they need to hire skilled help. But frankly the record for successful businessmen moving into the presidency isn't encouraging. Stewart offers some examples:

    To be sure, Trump isn't the only US president to have experience in business. George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, and Herbert Hoover also had significant private sector experience on their résumés, and none, arguably, performed spectacularly well.

    Well, the Bushes were always hacks, who got set up in the Texas oil business thanks to political connections, and still didn't get much out of it. (G.W. Bush made most of his money as the front man "owner" of the Texas Rangers baseball franchise, where the money came from real oil men.) Unlike the Bushes (Jack Germond liked to refer to them as "empty suits"), Hoover and Carter were very smart, knowledgeable, dilligent, and earnest, and terrible presidents. I've been toying with the idea that American political history breaks down to four eras each with a dominant party, demarcated by elections in 1800, 1860, 1932, and 1980 (Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and [ugh!] Reagan). Hoover and Carter lost reëlection bids in two of those (James Buchanan ended the 1800-60 era, although he bears no other resemblance to Hoover or Carter). Trump will probably wind up sinking the Reagan era, but had it not been for the haplessness of the Democrats under Clinton and Obama, either Bush could have been the endpost. (The former lost to Clinton after a single term, and while the latter scratched out a second term, his final approval ratings were in the 20% range -- the worst since polling began.)

    I find it interesting that the richest US president before Trump, relative to his time of course, was George Washington -- a president Trump bears no other similarity to whatsoever. In particular, while Washington's "I cannot tell a lie" legend is apocryphal, he did go to great lengths to make certain that he was viewed as honest and "disinterested" -- that his statements and actions as president were virtuous and free of any hint of corruption. Trump is his polar opposite, a reflexive liar who scarcely ever bothers to conceal his financial interests in his power. Moreover, although several factors have conspired lately to thrust the wealthy into public office -- Mitt Romney, for instance, has a net worth close to Washington's (relatively speaking), and John McCain and John Kerry married rich heiresses. That atmosphere lends credibility to the moguls listed in the article. On the other hand, while almost anyone else on the Forbes 400 list could mount a campaign as "a better billionaire," one doubts the American people will feel like buying another. But given the DNC's crush on the rich and/or famous, they'd most likely welcome the idea.

  • Alexia Underwood: 5 Anthony Bourdain quotes that show why he was beloved around the world: Very much saddened at news of Bourdain's death. I read three of his books -- Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Cullinary Underbelly, A Cook's Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisine, and Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook. I recognized a kindred spirit not just in taste but more importantly in appreciating the work that goes into preparing good food. That isn't unusual among food writers, but time and again he surprised me with his take on people and history. I recall the Kissinger quote here from the book, or something very like it -- he wrote a lot about Vietnam and Cambodia in that book. The only one of the five quotes here that seems off is the one about North Korea, but that's because he didn't go there, didn't meet people and cook and eat with them, so all he's got is the newsreel. Maybe what he's been told is right, but elsewhere he took the bother to find out for himself. And as he's discovered repeatedly, people pretty much everywhere come up with ingenious ways of coping even with terrible hardships. No reason North Koreans should be that different. I doubt I've seen his shows more than five times, but liked them well enough to imagine watching more -- just never found the time. But the one thing I've repeatedly observed is that he's shown it's possible to appreciate good food without taking on snobbish airs. That's mostly because he respects everyone and everything that goes into a meal.

    I went back to the notebook to see what I had written about Bourdain over the years. Not as much as I thought I remembered, but there is his The Post-Election Interview. I also found a quote I had copied down, from Medium Raw, which has suddenly taken on a new chill:

    I was forty-four years old when Kitchen Confidential hit -- and if there was ever a lucky break or better timing, I don't know about it. At forty-four, I was, as all cooks too long on the line must be, already in decline. You're not getting any faster -- or smarter -- as a cook after age thirty-seven. The knees and back go first, of course. That you'd expect. But the hand-eye coordination starts to break up a little as well. And the vision thing. But it's the brain that sends you the most worrying indications of decay. After all those years of intense focus, multitasking, high stress, late nights, and alcohol, the brain stops responding the way you like. You miss things. You aren't as quick reading the board, prioritizing the dupes, grasping at a glance what food goes where, adding up totals of steaks on hold and steaks on the fire -- and cumulative donenesses. Your hangovers are more crippling and last longer. Your temper becomes shorter -- and you become more easily frustrated with yourself for fucking up little things (though less so with others). Despair -- always a sometime thing in the bipolar world of the kitchen -- becomes more frequent and longer-lasting as one grows more philosophical with age and has more to despair about.

    Some more scattered Bourdain links:


Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Daily Log

Dredged up by Facebook from two years ago today:

In Ansonia CT today, enjoying the generous hospitality of Maher and Stephanie Musleh. Been reading Karen Armstrong's Fields of Blood, and founded this on p. 226: "All three Abrahamic faiths began with defiant rejection of inequity and systemic violence, which reflects the persistent conviction of human beings, dating back perhaps to the hunter-gatherer period, that there should be an equitable distribution of resources." Context was the anti-Cathar Crusade of 1207, one of history's most violent instances of the rich and powerful's perpetual efforts to silence their critics.

I was driving home from attending the New York City wedding of my nephew Mike Hull and Morgan Foley, admittedly jogging a bit out of my way to see friends in Connecticut and Massachusetts before driving back through Buffalo and Arkansas. I can't help but wonder whether if I had seen more evidence of the "defiant rejection of inequity and systemic violence" among the church-going Christians I had grown up with I wouldn't have lost my teenaged faith so completely and irretrievably.


Ran across a problem with my "mdweb" program today, which is generating spurious junk characters in my "all.tbl" file. This probably has something to do with the wholesale adoption of UTF-8 over ISO-8859-1 in recent Ubuntu releases, but it looks rather like some strings aren't properly terminated and picking up some extra bytes (e.g., "\215=^?" -- looks like "^?" means "\177"). After some sleuthing, I discovered that strncpy() wasn't properly terminating the copied strings, so they were left with garbage at end of buffer. Also may (or may not) have helped that I installed an en_US.iso88591 locale definition. I changed mdweb to explicitly set this instead of inheriting the system definition. The program will have to undergo a major rewrite to work with UTF-8.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 29786 [29759] rated (+27), 339 [344] unrated (-5).

Rated count better than expected, but mostly due to listening to old (often familiar) music -- only 11 new releases below. Could be that I listened to/rated/reviewed a few albums between last Monday's update and my catastrophic computer crash. If so, I'll have to go back and redo. But I did find a couple of bookkeeping discrepancies that added to the rated count.

Current computer status:

  • Old work machine dead. New power supply had no effect, so motherboard is dead. Haven't removed and tested disks each. They are RAID-1, so both should have same data, and I should be able to recover from either one, but there's some learning curve there. Also possible the surge fried one or both.
  • Using my "music/media" machine I built a couple years ago. It is same or better (albeit cheaper), with an 8-core AMD processor (FX-8350), ASUS 970 Pro Gaming ATX motherboard, 32 GB SDRAM (1866), ASUS Radeon 2GB video card (best I could find for less than $60), 2 TB SATA hard disk, 24X DVD burner. It's running Ubuntu 16.04, which is a big advance from 12.04 on the dead machine. It is surprisingly fast at most things. But the newer software presents its own problems.
  • I had the computers on two opposite desks, so I've just turned around rather than try to move computers. However, the new desk is messier, the keyboard and mouse are less convenient (newer but generally crummier -- slower and more accident prone), and the lighting worse, so I need to work on all that.
  • I've recovered and restored the data on my various web servers, and set up local vhosted copies of each of the websites. Most have suffered quite a bit of breakage -- sometimes configuration problems, but mostly due to changes from PHP 5 to PHP 7. The worst of these problems is that the interface code for Robert Christgau's CG database has to be rewritten. Thus far I've only done this for three files -- but they, at least, work, and the other 30-40 files should be similar. The more vexing problem is that all of my stuff assumes the ISO-Latin-1 character set, and recent software defaults to UTF-8. I've temporarily solved this problem in some cases, but still have a problem with the database that I need to figure out. The better solution long-term would be to convert everything to UTF-8, but "everything" is a lot. [PS: While working on this post, I tried running a routine grep command on one of my files, only to have it fail, complaining that my ISO-8859-1 file is "binary." Spent an hour looking for workarounds, to little avail. It seems to be getting to the point where UTF-8 is so baked into the system that we have no other option than to adapt/adopt.]
  • Until I'm confident that I have everything working locally, I'm only doing limited updates to the servers -- mostly just poking new blog posts (although I'll need to add some image files for this one, and I should update the book roll). That means things like the year-to-date and music tracking lists are stuck in pre-crash state. That means I've done the indexing for last week's Streamnotes locally but haven't shipped it up to the server. No estimate on when I'll be able to update fully. End of June might be a reasonable goal.
  • I'm not feeling a lot of need for the many files I've lost, but one exception is a spellcheck program I wrote, which I find much more useful than standard tools like ispell. (I need to try my hand at rewriting that.) The biggest problem is likely to be the loss of many years of mail and my accumulated address book. I woke up one day last week feeling bad about never getting around to responding to kind notes from friends and (especially) strangers after my sister died. Would be nice to hear from those people again.
  • I'm putting off indefinitely the task of trying to recover the old disks. Also to figure out what to do with the old computer carcass. (The old Antec box is very nice, but the layout boxes the power supply up in the bottom of the case, so it has to be vented out the back. Nearly all power supplies these days are designed with fans pointing up, the idea being to mount them in the top of the box, which makes more sense give that hot air rises.)

As some point I may push a few of the more volatile music files onto the server. (Maybe I should try writing an explicit pathname archival tool today, since that would be useful now and again in the near future? OK, that's done.)

A couple of notes on this week's music. Back in December, Cuneiform announced that they wouldn't be releasing any new music -- you can still buy their back catalog, and they've put it up on Bandcamp so you can actually listen to it. (They've always been a holdout from streaming services.) So I was surprised when the two new Thumbscrew releases showed up in the mail. Looks like they have some more digital-only releases, but these are (or soon will be) physical. And they're so good I went back and tried to play Mary Halvorson's other new record this year, Code Girl. I still don't like it, the problem a singer who grates on my nerves. Vocals also undermine the Phil Haynes double, but his No Fast Food album is possibly the best showcase in recent memory for Dave Liebman.

The unpacking queue has thinned out considerably in the last month, and not having time to do much research, I've resorted to using Napster's very limited "featured" offerings. That got me to Chvrches, Gift of Gab, Pusha T, and Kanye West. I wound up giving West's 7-track "album" an extra play after a Facebook friend raved about it, and another stressed how much better it got after multiple plays. I also followed links to reviews by Rob Harvilla. Meaghan Garvey, and Lindsay Zoladz, none of which turned out to be all that positive. I looked the album up on Metacritic, where its average score is 67 for 20 reviews (user score is 7.4 on 397 ratings). I wound up bumping the album one slot, but was already regretting that before "Ghost Town" finished.

I'm counting the 7-cut (21-23 minute) West productions as EPs. In the past I've often lowballed EPs, not because I think they lack value but because usually a record takes some time to make itself felt. Still, two of my A- grades this week are EPs (both six cuts, one a mere 21:16, the other a near-LP 28:40). Both are terrific, but also feel pretty substantial to me. Between the vinyl revival and the dominance of digital formats, that sort of length range is becoming common, making labels awkward.

As for my "old music," one of the scripts I tested was the one that prints out my grade database for a given artist. I used the Rolling Stones as my test case, and noticed the ungraded Black and Blue and a few albums I've never heard. Most were available on Napster, so I figured they'd make for easy listening while I was working on the website. Once I caught up with the missing items, I decided to go back and pick up the UK versions of early albums I knew from US editions. (One thing that inspired me here was Michael Tatum's review of Out of Our Heads -- US edition, although I had to look that detail up. By and large, the UK editions turned out not to be as good -- or maybe they just sounded a bit thin (on the computer) and dated? I didn't do any rechecking. I also didn't prepare cover images, even when they rose to A- or even A.

I imagine I'll follow similar strategies in coming weeks, and see where it all leads me. But I'll also take a look at Phil Overeem's latest list and see what else pops up. Played the new Sidi Touré album while writing this, realizing (again) there are old ones I should catch up with.


New records rated this week:

  • Chvrches: Love Is Dead (2018, Glassnote): [r]: B+(*)
  • Gift of Gab: Rejoice! Rappers Are Rapping Again! (2018, Giftstribution Unlimited, EP): [r]: A-
  • Phil Haynes & Free Country: 60/69: My Favorite Things (2014 [2018], Corner Store Jazz, 2CD): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Bongwool Lee: My Singing Fingers (2016 [2018], Origin): [cd]: B+(**)
  • No Fast Food: Settings for Three (2016 [2018], Corner Store Jazz): [cd]: A-
  • Pusha T: Daytona (2018, GOOD/Def Jam, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Thumbscrew: Ours (2017 [2018], Cuneiform): [cd]: A-
  • Thumbscrew: Theirs (2017 [2018], Cuneiform): [cd]: A-
  • Kanye West: Ye (2018, Def Jam/GOOD Music, EP): [r]: B+(*)

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

  • Ernie Krivda and Swing City: A Bright and Shining Moment (1998-2002 [2018], Capri): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Professor Rhythm: Professor 3 (1991 [2018], Awesome Tapes From Africa, EP): [r]: A-

Old music rated this week:

  • The Rolling Stones: The Rolling Stones [UK] (1964, Decca): [r]: A-
  • The Rolling Stones: The Rolling Stones No. 2 [UK] (1965, Decca): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Rolling Stones: Out of Our Heads [UK] (1965, Decca): [r]: A-
  • The Rolling Stones: Aftermath [UK] (1966, Decca): [r]: A-
  • The Rolling Stones: Got Live if You Want It! (1963-66 [1966], Abkco): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Rolling Stones: Between the Buttons [UK] (1967, Decca): [r]: A
  • The Rolling Stones: The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus (1968 [1996], Abkco): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Rolling Stones: Made in the Shade (1969-74 [1975], Rolling Stones): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Rolling Stones: Black and Blue (1976, Rolling Stones): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Rolling Stones: Still Life (American Concert 1981) (1981 [1982], Rolling Stones/Virgin): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Rolling Stones: Undercover (1983, Rolling Stones): [r]: B
  • The Rolling Stones: Flashpoint (1989-90 [1991], Rolling Stones/Virgin): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Rolling Stones: Voodoo Lounge (1994, Virgin): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Rolling Stones: Bridges to Babylon (1997, Virgin): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Rolling Stones: Live Licks (2002-03 [2004], Virgin, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Satoko Fujii/Joe Fonda/Gianni Mimmo: Triad (Long Song)
  • Satoko Fujii: This Is It! (Libra)

Daily Log

Ryan Maffei raved about Ye on Facebook. After replaying, I commented:

Metacritic score 67 on 25 reviews, so no matter how much you like it P&J prospects are nil. (Janelle Monae is 89/30; of course, read those numbers with a grain of thought -- Rolo Tomassi tops list at 92 and will be forgotten by December.) But you got me to give "ye" another play, and I bumped it up a notch and rewrote the end of my review. Then "Ghost Town" dragged on and on. The Kanye-produced Pusha T is better. Gift of Gab better still.


Miscellaneous Album Notes:

  • The Rolling Stones: The Rolling Stones [UK] (1964, Decca): A-
  • The Rolling Stones: The Rolling Stones No. 2 [UK] (1965, Decca): B+(***)
  • The Rolling Stones: Out of Our Heads [UK] (1965, Decca): A-
  • The Rolling Stones: Aftermath [UK] (1966, Decca): A-
  • The Rolling Stones: Between the Buttons [UK] (1967, Decca): A

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Weekend Roundup

Impossible to put the usual amount of work into this weekly feature, but filling out and posting something of a stub is at least a step back toward normalcy, as well as something I can look back on for a timeline to this miserable period in the nation's storied but increasingly sorry history. The main problem is that I'm still waylaid by the crash of my main working computer. I've restored local copies of my websites, but the shift to a new computer, running newer software, has resulted in massive breakage. I'm making slow but steady progress there, but this website in particular is nowhere near stable enough for me to do my usual update. So while I'm doing the usual work locally, the only files I'm updating on the server are the blog posts.

A secondary problem is that my workspace has been disrupted, which among other things leaves me facing a different (even more cluttered) desk, using a different (and less comfortable) keyboard and mouse, with less satisfactory lighting, and other minor nuisances. Among other things, expect more typos: the keyboard touch is worse (although this one is less prone to dropping 'c'), a subtle change in emacs drops spaces where I expect to have to delete them (so I've caught myself deleting first characters of words), and a spellcheck script I wrote is gone and will have to be reinvented. Also note that where I used to keep twenty-some news/opinion sites permanently open, I've yet to re-establish the practice, nor have I looked up passwords to the few sites I have such access to, so my survey this week will be especially limited. I'm also running a browser without NoScript or even an ad blocker, so we'll see how long I can stand that.

Got email from Facebook reminding me that today is Bill "Xcix" Phillips' birthday. I usually don't bother with such notices, but last year I did, only to find out that Bill had died a few months earlier. So today's email reminds me that he's still dead, and how dearly I miss him.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: The 4 biggest political stories of the week, explained: Puerto Rico got a credible estimate of Maria's death toll (approximately 4,600 excess deaths); Trump imposed tariffs on American allies; Roseanne got canceled; Dinesh D'Souza got a pardon. Other Yglesias posts:

  • Maureen Dowd: Obama -- Just Too Good for Us: Not my line or take. One problem is that we (by which I mostly mean the liberal punditocracy) spent so much effort into preëmptively congratulating ourselves on our foresight and good nature in electing Obama, we never bothered to consider whether we shouldn't wait until he did some things. (Case in point: the Nobel Peace Prize.) We did expect him to do things (good things), didn't we? And when he didn't, shouldn't we have been at least a little bit critical? Anyone can be naïve, but if after eight years you let the Clinton campaign shame you for doubting anything about Obama, you've moved on to foolishness and irrelevance. Dowd, quoting Obama adviser and new author Ben Rhodes (The World as It Is):

    The hunger for revolutionary change, the fear that some people were being left behind in America and that no one in Washington cared, was an animating force at the boisterous rallies for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

    Yet Obama, who had surfed a boisterous wave into the Oval, ignored the restiveness -- here and around the world. He threw his weight behind the most status quo, elitist candidate.

    "I couldn't shake the feeling that I should have seen it coming," Rhodes writes about the "darkness" that enveloped him when he saw the electoral map turn red. "Because when you distilled it, stripped out the racism and misogyny, we'd run against Hillary eight years ago with the same message Trump had used: She's part of a corrupt establishment that can't be trusted to change."

  • Norman G Finkelstein: Strong as Death: "Truth is that the Israeli army has no answer to non-violence resistance. . . . Therefore, the army's reaction is to open fire, in order to induce the Palestinians to start violent actions. With these the army knows how to deal." Note that Finkelstein has two recent books: Method and Madness: The Hidden Story of Israel's Assaults on Gaza, and Knowing Too Much: Why the American Jewish Romance With Israel Is Coming to an End.

  • Thomas Frank: Forget Trump -- populism is the cure, not the disease. A response to two recent books attacking "populism" as a right-wing assault on democracy: Yascha Mounk's The People vs. Democracy and William A. Galston's Anti-Pluralism: The Populist Threat to Liberal Democracy. As a fellow Kansan, I've long sided with our populist heritage, so I agree with Frank that anti-populism is rooted in elitism, even when dressed up as an embrace of liberal democracy. After all, isn't the point of democracy to bend government to the will of the people?

  • Ed Pilkington: Trump's 'cruel' measures pushing US inequality to dangerous level, UN warns: Just to be clear, the complaint isn't about the rich getting even richer, but how Trump and his party are shredding what's left (after Reagan and Clinton and Bush) of the "safety net," making the poor more miserable and desperate.

  • Andrew Prokop: Why Trump hasn't tried to pardon his way out of the Mueller probe -- yet.

  • Ganesh Sitaraman: Impeaching Trump: could a liberal fantasy become a nightmare? Provocative title for a favorable book review of Laurence Tribe/Joshua Matz: To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment. My view is that impeachment is a purely political act, so unless/until you have the power to back it up there's no point talking about it. On the other hand, if I had a vote, and the question was put to a vote, sure, I'd vote guilty, even if the actual charges didn't exactly align with my own position (cf. Bill Clinton). By the way, I highly recommend Sitaraman's book, The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution. I've since moved on to start Gordon S. Wood's Empire of Liberty, and have been pleased to find the two books in general agreement.

  • David Smith: How Donald Trump is weaponising the courts for political ends. Also by Smith: Trump goes it alone: running the White House not like a president, but a CEO. This hook would make more sense if it was widely understood how CEOs have evolved over the last 30-40 years. Where once CEOs were viewed as competent general managers of vast and complex enterprises, as their rewards have expanded tenfold relative to average employees, they've become increasingly imperious, egotistical, and desperate given how much "skin in the game" they have (mostly short-term bonuses and stock options). Their obsessions with busting unions and stripping regulations are of a piece with their insatiable power grab. On the other hand, Trump is actually worse than a modern CEO. He's an owner, so he's never been constrained by a board or stockholders (let alone the SEC).

    Harry Litman uses a different metaphor in President Trump Thinks He Is a King . . . and not one of your boring constitutional monarchs, either; more like the kind who could say, "L'état, c'est moi."

  • Li Zhou: Sen. Gillibrand said Bill Clinton should've resigned over Monica Lewinsky. Clinton disagrees. Well, he certainly should have resigned for something, but one thing about the Clintons is that they've always put their personal fortunes above their party and especially above the people who support that party.


May 2018 Jul 2018