October 2018 Notebook
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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 30635 [30591] rated (+44), 293 [300] unrated (-7).

Finished Weekend Roundup at a decent (for me) hour Sunday evening, figuring I'd knock this out on time too. However, the end-of-the-year crunch hit me hard over the weekend, so I have quite a bit of material to cover here. I'll try to be brief (and will probably postpone whatever I can).

First thing is that Francis Davis will be running his annual Jazz Critics Poll again this year, with NPR picking up the tab (such as it is) and bragging rights. I've been hosting the ballots and providing complete results since 2009, and will do that again. But the difference this year is that I'll be doing the ongoing tabulation, so I need to get set up early this year (like right now) instead of waiting for Francis to dump everything in my lap a day or two after the voting deadline (December 9). Francis always urges early submission of ballots, and I have three waiting in my mailbox at the moment. Sometime over the next couple days I'll set up my framework and start counting ballots. Good news for me is that it will spread the work out, but ultimately that will add up to quite a bit more work. It certainly ruins any hopes I had of driving off to see family in Arkansas and Oklahoma.

At this point I have very little idea of the contenders -- not even much sense of my own list. But at least I've cobbled together two very tentative lists: as has been my custom, one for Jazz and one for Non-Jazz. First thing I must say is that I was very surprised to see that both lists have the exact same number of new A-list records: 46. Usually what happens is that when I first put these lists together (Nov. 16 in 2017, Nov. 19 this year) I get about a 60-40 split in favor of jazz (ratio, but I usually have about 100 A-list records at this point, so close to literally). Then as I get a chance to look at non-jazz EOY lists, I catch up on the non-jazz side so the split usually winds up close to 50-50 (in 2014: 69-76; in 2015: 81-83; in 2016: 75-67 -- a slight trend line toward more jazz, which seemed to finally tilt in 2017: 84-61). So while I was expecting that trend to hold, I was also thinking the split might be even more extreme this year, as (my impression at least) I've actually been streaming more jazz than non-jazz this year. So coming up 46-46 is a big surprise to me.

Actually, my perception isn't that far off base. Jazz has a 13-4 A-list edge in Reissues/Historic, which I mention because it's hard to factor those records out of the following grade break-downs (obtained by subtracting Music Tracking: Jazz from All:

GradeTotalJazzNon-JazzJazz %
A 3 1 2 33.3%
A- 102 55 47 53.9%
*** 154 118 44 71.4%
** 215 160 55 74.4%
* 176 118 58 67.8%
B 83 54 29 65.0%
B- 18 11 7 61.1%
C+ 5 4 1 80.0%
C 2 2 0 100.0%
C- 1 1 0 100.0%
D+ 1 1 0 100.0%
Total 760 517 243 68.0%
U 31 31 0 100.0%

So, basically, I'm listening to twice as many jazz as non-jazz records, but I'm a lot pickier about the non-jazz I play. I figure that the jazz percentage (currently 68%) will drop a bit before the year is over, more like last year's 62%. I should also note that the total number of rated records is down this year, from 1185 in 2017 to 760 now (assuming 10 weeks left, a pace that would reach 940 albums).

The jazz grade curve above looks pretty reasonable to me, although compared to past years it looks like A- is down and B+(***) up. I'm on a pace to hit 57 A-list jazz records this year, vs. 81-75-84 over the last three years: the A-list share of all rated records is 6.0% this year, vs. 7.0% last year (or three). I can't explain that. Maybe I'm less patient, or crankier.

As for non-jazz, my most reliable scout this year remains Robert Christgau (although I suspect that statistical analysis might show he's been less reliable this year than before). It's now pretty easy to check up on his grades for 2018 releases. Adding in last week's picks (Homeboy Sandman & Edan, Open Mike Eagle), he has 60 A/A- records among 2018 releases (excluding a dozen-plus belated grades for 2017 releases). I've heard 58 of those (playing Open Mike Eagle now; can't find Chicago Farmer), and my grades break as follows: A: 1, A-: 24, B+(***): 16, B+(**): 8, B+(*): 7, B: 2. That's pretty good correlation: more than half (52.1%) of my non-jazz A-list were rated A/A- by Christgau. (Christgau has two jazz albums on his list: John Hassell [my A-] and MAST [my ***].)

I did an update of the CG database last week -- my first since mid-January. I hadn't been able to work on it for several months, thanks to a major server meltdown, which forced me to rebuild my local copy of the website based on the public copy. That shouldn't have been too hard, but my new machine was running later software revisions, and the public server was also out of sync with my old server. I had more than a hundred files that I needed to revise, and actually still don't have all of that work done. I've been getting by with partial updates, but hadn't been able to change the database until I resolved a character set incompatibility. I made a breakthrough on that a week ago, and it took me until Thursday to catch up and prepare a database update.

I also settled down and wrote up a script to provide a RSS 2.0 feed. If you use a RSS feed reader (most browsers have one built in), you can add this feed to the list you're monitoring, and get notices when new files (or major edits) appear on the website. The current one has titles, links, and dates, but doesn't have article descriptions yet. I'll add those as we go forward. I don't have much experience with RSS, so there are details that I'm unsure of. For instance, should we add links to external websites, given that most of Christgau's new writings appear elsewhere (e.g., Noisey), exclusively for an initial period. (While the embargo is in effect, the RSS will link you to a stub article which includes a link to the current article, so the inconvenience is an extra click.)

I'll promise here to get the rest of the programming changes done by the end of the year. Beyond that, I'm planning on doing a fairly major website redesign next year. The current website was launched in 2001, and we've been hearing complaints about its "antique" design at least since 2004. Most never bothered us, but we keep getting bit by software changes, especially by the now nearly universal adoption of UTF-8. We need to adopt UTF-8, and bring the older pages up to HTML5. We need to add a viewport declaration to work better with phones (and I need to learn what else "phone-first design" entails). We don't use cookies, and there is virtually no javascript to the site -- good things, I've always thought, but I'm starting to wonder. I'm not particularly keen on moving all the articles to the database, but the directory organization has morphed into a sprawling, nonsensical mess -- such that I have little idea where to put many new files. It may be a good idea to come up with a different browsing scheme. There are also maintenance issues, especially as we've seen that the current webmaster can be pretty lax about his duties.

Back in 2001 when I built the site, I had figured that I'd have to rebuild it around 2004-05. In fact, there are dozens of pages scattered around the site with ideas for development -- few that have actually been revisited since 2005. At some point in the next few weeks I'm going to set up a mail exchange and invite interested (and hopefully expert) people to act as a consulting forum on this and similar projects. (My own "ocston" website dates back to 1999, surviving an effort back in 2002 at a major rewrite, so I can be even more lax on my own work.) Maybe we can also provide a sounding board for others who want to work on similar or related projects. (E.g., Chuck Eddy one suggested reviving "Pazz N Jop Product Report," so I wrote a very preliminary spec here, then never did anything about it.) I was thinking I'd announce the forum this week, but didn't get that done. Soon, I promise.

I also hoped to get the RSS feed code backported to my site. (Back when I was using Serendipity for my blog, I had people who publicized my links from its RSS feed -- I know this because I've seen broken links from a year ago.) Also I plan on adding a Q&A feature similar to Christgau's Xgau Sez (a new batch of which came out today). I solved one technical issue last week, and hoped to announce that today, but "real soon now" is the best I can do.

Another thing I didn't get set up this week is the 2018 EOY Aggregate file. Actually all I need to do there is to clean up and repurpose this file, which I had set up for mid-year lists (based on last year's EOY Aggregate framework). I think what I will do there is to turn all of the mid-year list mentions into 1-point miscellaneous references (so that Janelle Monae drops from 52 to 22 points), then replace those as actual lists appear. EOY lists usually start appearing around Thanksgiving. In fact, here is the top 75 from Mojo.


As for this week's music, before I got swamped I was variously intrigued and outraged by Downbeat's Readers Poll. I made an effort to track down the top-ranked albums I hadn't heard of. I also spent the better part of a day trying to check out the late guitarist Allan Holdsworth, who came in second (for the second straight year) in reader Hall of Fame voting. (He lost to Wynton Marsalis last year, and to Ray Charles this year.) I knew the name, and had several of his records listed (but not heard) in my database, filed under rock. After sampling eight (of not much more than a dozen) albums, I have to say I have no idea what fans hear in his guitar. I suppose I could have dug deeper -- he did early work with pianist Gordon Beck, whose Experiments With Pops was a star-making turn for John McLaughlin, and he appeared on two 1975-76 Tony Williams albums I don't know -- but I was pretty sure his 12-CD box set (The Man Who Changed Guitar Forever) was de trop, especially since most of it was also redundant.

Midweek I mostly played Christgau picks. I think I get the appeal of Rich Krueger, but something about his sound turns me off (I called his previous album, Life Ain't That Long, the one Christgau prefers, "Springsteenian.") I wound up reviewing Lithics based on an "abridged version" on Napster and Bandcamp. I usually don't bother with partials (6/12 cuts), but figured that was the only chance I'd get. When I do, I usually hedge, but this seemed like the sort of thing they could keep doing for hours (recommended if you not only like Wire but need more). A couple B+(***) records tempted me for extra plays in case they got better. The one that came closest was by Carol Liebowitz. Several albums this week were recommended by Alfred Soto in an "we're almost there" pre-EOY list. Eric Church's Desperate Man is the only one I'd call a find, but that was after the cutoff (so next week).

One bit of good news at Napster is that the HighNote/Savant back catalogue is now available. I checked out a new archival Frank Morgan release, then found a couple of old ones I had missed. I previously pegged A Night in the Life: Live at the Jazz Standard Vol. 3 at B+(***), so it's not a big surprise that Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 edge it. The other gem in Morgan's catalog is Twogether, a duo with John Hicks, released in 2010 after both died.


New records rated this week:

  • Ethan Ardelli: The Island of Form (2018, self-released): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Mandy Barnett: Strange Conversation (2018, Dame Productions/Thirty Tigers): [r]: A-
  • Pat Bianchi: In the Moment (2018, Savant): [r]: B
  • Magnus Broo Trio: Rules (2017 [2018], Moserobie): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Bobby Broom & the Organi-sation: Soul Fingers (2018, MRi): [cd]: B
  • Rosanne Cash: She Remembers Everything (2018, Blue Note): [r]: B+(***)
  • Annie Chen Octet: Secret Treetop (2018, Shanghai Audio & Video): [cd]: B
  • Randy Halberstadt: Open Heart (2018, Origin): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Clay Harper: Bleak Beauty (2018, self-released): [r]: B+(*)
  • Christopher Hollyday: Telepathy (2018, Jazzbeat Productions): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Homeboy Sandman & Edan: Humble Pi (2018, Stones Throw, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Adam Hopkins: Crickets (2018, Out of Your Head): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jason Kao Hwang Burning Bridge: Blood (2018, True Sound): [cd]: A-
  • Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra With Wynton Marsalis: Una Noche Con Rubén Blades (2014 [2018], Blue Engine): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Rich Krueger: NOWThen (2018, Rockin'K Music): [r]: B+(***)
  • Lawful Citizen: Internal Combustion (2018, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Carol Liebowitz/Birgitta Flick: Malita-Malika (2017 [2018], Leo): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Lithics: Mating Surfaces (2018, Kill Rock Stars): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Roc Marciano: RR2: The Bitter Dose (2018, Marci): [r]: B+(***)
  • Rhett Miller: The Messenger (2018, ATO): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mr. Fingers: Cerebral Hemispheres (2018, Aleviated): [r]: B+(**)
  • Old Man Saxon: The Pursuit (2018, Pusher, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Chris Pasin: Ornettiquette (2018, Planet Arts): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Lucas Pino's No Net Nonet: That's a Computer (2018, Outside In Music): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Paul Simon: In the Blue Light (2018, Legacy): [r]: B
  • Vince Staples: FM! (2018, Def Jam, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • David S. Ware Trio: The Balance (Vision Festival XV+) (2009-10 [2018], AUM Fidelity): [r]: B+(***)
  • Way North: Fearless and Kind (2018, self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Kenny Werner: The Space (2016 [2018], Pirouet): [cd]: B+(*)

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

  • Frank Morgan/George Cables: Montreal Memories (1989 [2018], High Note): [r]: B+(***)
  • Outlaws & Armadillos: Country's Roaring '70s (1971-79 [2018], Legacy, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Joe Strummer: 001 (1981-2002, Ignition, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ben Webster: Valentine's Day 1964 Live! (1964 [2018], Dot Time): [r]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • Mandy Barnett: The Original Nashville Cast Recordings of "Always . . . Patsy Cline": Live at the Ryman Auditorium (1995, Decca): [r]: B+(*)
  • Allan Holdsworth: I.O.U. (1982 [1985], Enigma): [r]: B
  • Allan Holdsworth With I.O.U.: Metal Fatigue (1985, Enigma): [r]: B-
  • Allan Holdsworth: Atavachron (1986, Enigma): [r]: C+
  • Allan Holdsworth: Sand (1987, Relativity): [r]: B-
  • Allan Holdsworth: Secrets (1989, Intima): [r]: C+
  • Allan Holdsworth: Wardenclyffe Tower (1992, Restless): [r]: B-
  • Allan Holdsworth: The Sixteen Men of Tain (2000, Gnarly Geezer): [r]: B-
  • Allan Holdsworth/Alan Pasqua/Jimmy Haslip/Chad Wackerman: Blues for Tony (2007 [2009], Moonjune, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)
  • Frank Morgan: City Nights: Live at the Jazz Standard (2003 [2004], High Note): [r]: A-
  • Frank Morgan: Raising the Standard: Live at the Jazz Standard Vol. 2 (2003 [2005], High Note): [r]: A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Carla Campopiano Trio: Chicago/Buenos Aires Connections (self-released): December 7
  • Dustin Carlson: Air Ceremony (Out of Your Head)
  • Fred Hersch: Fred Hersch Trio '97 @ The Village Vanguard (Palmetto): December 7
  • Simone Kopmajer: Spotlight on Jazz (Lucy Mojo)
  • Ivo Perelman/Mat Maneri/Mark Feldman/Jason Hwang: Strings 1 (Leo)
  • Ivo Perelman/Mat Maneri/Hank Roberts/Ned Rothenberg: Strings 2 (Leo)
  • Yoko Yamaoka: Diary 2005-2015: Yuko Yamaoka Plays the Music of Satoko Fujii (Libra, 2CD)


Daiy Log

Miscellaneous Album Notes:

  • Outlaws & Armadillos: Country's Roaring '70s (1971-79 [2018], Legacy, 2CD): B+(**)

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Weekend Roundup

No intro this week. A few updates but really not much on the elections, let alone political futures for 2020. I barely managed to work in notice of Israel's latest round of punitive bombings in Gaza. I'm sure there's much more to it, but most of the links I did notice have to do with cease fire negotiations (not going well, I gather) as opposed to why it happened when. (I will note that this isn't the first time Israel launched a wave of terror right after an American election.) I think there was also a story about how last week was the first time the US defended Israel's occupation of the Golan Heights, seized by Israel in the 1967 war. Another thing I wanted to write about was the NY Times piece claiming that North Korea has "snookered" Trump and is still developing missiles. I gather this has been debunked in various places -- my wife is on top of this and other stories I haven't had time for -- but I didn't land on a link that made sense of it all. Also, I have no real opinions on possible leadership contests for the Democrats in the new Congress. I've been pretty critical of both Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer in the past, and no doubt will again in the future. (Whenever I think of Schumer I'm reminded of a story about how he greeted our friend Liz Fink on the street with his customary "how am I doing?" -- to which she answered, "you're evil, man.") Still, politics is a dirty business, and no one can afford to get too bent out of shape over it. Whoever wins, we'll support them when we can, and oppose them when we must. That much never changes.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias pieces this week:

    • HQ2 is a perfect opportunity to massively upgrade the DC area's commuter rail.

    • What the Amazon tax breaks really mean.

    • New Pew poll: the public prefers congressional Democrats to Trump on most issues: Oddly enough, the two questions Trump leads are "Jobs and econ growth" (44-33) and "Trade policy" (40-38), with "Taxes" near even (38-39). Strongest Democratic advantages: "The environment" (55-19), "Ethics in government" (48-22), "Medicare" (51-26), "Health care" (51-28), and "Social Security" (48-26).

    • Trump's latest interview shows a president who's in way over his head: "but what else is new?"

      In some ways, the friendliest Donald Trump interviews are the most revealing. Given the opportunity to ramble and free-associate without any pushback whatsoever, you can see what channels his mind naturally follows.

      His latest interview with the Daily Caller shows a president who's fundamentally out to sea. The sycophantic interviewers can't get Trump to answer a policy question of any kind, no matter how much of a softball they lob at him. The only subjects he is actually interested in talking about are his deranged belief in his incredible popularity and how that popularity is not reflected in actual vote totals because he's the victim of a vast voter fraud conspiracy.

      Actually a fairly long piece with a lot of excerpts backing up the summary.

    • Trump's incompetence and authoritarianism are both scary: Takes exception to a David Brooks tweet about Trump ("It's the incompetence, not the authoritarianism we should be worried about"), nothing that "autocrats are often incompetent." Indeed, you could argue that authoritarianism is Trump's crutch against his own incompetence, much like how people who cannot speak in the listener's language think that more volume will do the trick. Brooks' tweet refers to Jonathan V Last: The Vaporware Presidency, which sums Trump's approach as: "Step 1: Propose something ridiculous. Step 2: Cause chaos but don't deliver it. Lather, rinse, repeat." Yglesias offers the example of promoting Thomas Homan to replace Kirstjen Nielsen (Secretary of Homeland Security):

      This is both stupid and authoritarian at the same time and for the same reason.

      Trump's primary interest is in putting people in place who will aggressively support Trump rather than people who know what they are doing. Consequently, he'd rather have a DHS head who suggests arresting local politicians for disagreeing with Trump than a DHS head who advises Trump to avoid doing illegal stuff.

      This is simultaneously a recipe for vaporware and for autocracy. Homan, at the end of the day, probably won't actually go around arresting liberal mayors -- it's just something that sounded good to say. But when you fill your Cabinet with people who make these kinds of suggestions and make it clear that's what you want to hear from your top lieutenants, sooner or later, someone goes and does it.

      Even more inevitable is that those who don't follow through with their stupid/authoritarian sound bites will be taunted for failure, giving rise to ever more shameless opportunists.

    • What the 2018 results tell us about 2020: "Realistically, not much." Actually, the main difference between presidential elections and "mid-terms" (a term I've always hated) is turnout: about 60% vs. 40%. The big change in 2018 was that turnout jumped to almost 50%. While Republicans have been very effective at getting their base out to vote, that bump (relative to past "mid-terms") skewed Democratic. In fact, at this point both parties have come to believe that their fates will mostly be decided by voter turnout (hence the R's efforts at voter suppression). The election also revealed two regional trends. The Southwest from Texas to California has shifted toward the Democrats, flipping Senate seats in Arizona and Nevada. You can chalk that up to demography, further polarized by Trump's anti-immigrant policies. Also, Trump's gains in the belt from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin and Iowa have mostly evaporated. There's no reason to think that either of those shifts will reverse in 2020. I can think of a half-dozen more points to add in moving from 2018 to 2020, but should hold them back for a longer essay. My point is that a lot happened in 2018 that bodes well for Democrats looking forward, and there's very little on the other side of the ledger. Of course, Democrats could blow it by nominating another candidate with massive credibility issues.

      For another piece on shifting political grounds, see: Stanley B Greenberg: Trump Is Beginning to Lose His Grip.

    • Jim Acosta vs. the Trump White House, explained:

      This particular weird incident with Acosta and the staffer might be no more remembered than a dozen other bizarre moments from that press conference. (Trump openly mocked losing House Republican candidates, misstated the tipping point states in the Electoral College, threatened politically motivated investigations of House Democrats, blamed "Obama's regime" for Russian annexation of Crimea, claimed to be unable to understand foreign journalists' accents, wildly mischaracterized both DACA and the Affordable Care Act, and said some stuff about China that was so incoherent, it's hard to even call it lying.)

      Also note this:

      But more broadly, to cast the press as the real "opposition party" in America -- as Trump has -- offers some meaningful tactical advantages. Trump, in an unusual way, won the 2016 presidential election without being popular. Not only did he win fewer votes than Hillary Clinton on Election Day, but his favorability rating was lower than that of the losing candidates from the 2012, 2008, 2004, and 2000 presidential elections.

      The nonpartisan press can (and does) report facts that are unflattering to Trump. But a lack of unflattering facts or a failure by the public to appreciate their existence has never been the foundation of Trump's political success. And the press isn't going to do the work of an actual opposition party, which is to formulate a political alternative that an adequate number of people find to be sufficiently inspiring to go out and vote for.

      That's the job of the Democratic Party, an institution that's had considerable trouble attracting press attention to its own message and ideas ever since Trump exploded on the scene. And keeping the media focused on a self-referential feud between Trump and the media is a way to maintain his preferred approach of trying to suck up all the oxygen in the room.

      Meanwhile, what matters to Trump isn't any actual crushing of the media but simply driving the narrative in his core followers' heads that the media is at war with him. With that pretense in place, critical coverage and unflattering facts can be dismissed even as Trump selectively courts the press to inject his own preferred ideas into the mainstream.

      PS: Aaron Rupar: Trump-appointed judge orders White House to temporarily restore Acosta's credentials. "Even Fox News released a statement siding with CNN."

    • Republicans just lost a Senate seat in Arizona because Trump is an egomaniac.

    • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez slams Amazon's imminent arrival in Queens. For a further critique, see: Alexia Fernández Campbell: The US economy doesn't need more Amazon jobs. It needs higher wages.

    • One chart that shows racism has everything and nothing to do with Republican election wins: The chart shows a fairly strong correlation between denial of racism and voting Republican. It's long been hard to get an accurate survey of racism in America because much of what amounts to racial prejudice is subconscious (or rarely conscious), and very few people admit to being racists, even those who often act and/or talk the part.

  • Michelle Alexander: The Newest Jim Crow: "Recent criminal justice reforms contain the seeds of a frightening system of 'e-carceration.'"

  • Zack Beauchamp: What's going on with Brexit, explained in under 500 words: Or, in under 30 words: Prime Minister Theresa May negotiated a "soft Brexit" deal that would retain UK access to Europe's common market and an "open border" in Ireland. Nobody likes it. Also see: John Cassidy: The Brexit Fantasy Goes Down in Tears; and Jane Mayer: New Evidence Emerges of Steve Bannon and Cambridge Analytica's Role in Brexit.

  • Tom Engelhardt: The Donald and the Fake News Media.

  • Kathy Gannon: After 17 years, many Afghans blame US for unending war.

  • Jeff Goodell: The President's Coal Warrior: All about EPA head (and former coal industry lobbyist) Andrew Wheeler, and his "highly effective campaign to sacrifice public health in favor of the fossil-fuel industry."

  • Glenn Greenwald: As the Obama DOJ Concluded, Prosecution of Julian Assange for Publishing Documents Poses Grave Threats to Press Freedom.

  • Michael Grunwald: How Everything Became the Culture War: I guess this is an important subject, but this could be treated better. One problem is the meticulously balanced centrism:

    At a time when Blue and Red America have split into two warring tribes inhabiting two separate realities, and "debate" has been redefined to evoke split-screen cable-news screamfests, this ferocious politicization of everything might seem obvious and unavoidable. . . . Democrats and Republicans are increasingly self-segregated and mutually disdainful, each camp deploying the furious language of victimhood to justify its fear and loathing of the gullible deplorables in the other.

    This is followed by a list of caricatures, evenly sorted between two camps, except that a strange asymmetry sets in: the terminology, not to mention the ominous overtones, comes almost exclusively from the right. For instance, there is nothing remotely like a Church of Global Warming Leftists. It's not that leftists cannot play culture war games, but the right uses them as proxies for policies never get aired out (like the promise to "repeal and replace" ACA with something "better and cheaper"). The reason culture war has increasingly swamped political discourse is that conservatives have little chance of convincing most Americans of the merits of their program, so they try to manipulate what they hope is a viable target base with appeals to their identity, and big lies and massive shots of fear and loathing. It's gotten much worse in the last couple years, but isn't that just Trump? I don't know whether he tries to turn everything into culture war because he has some shrewd insight into mass psychology or because he has no grasp of policy whatsoever -- he certainly never manages to say anything intelligible on whatever he's up to.

    I think it's safe to say Obama was never like that, even as he was subjected to repeated attempts to impugn his patriotism, his religion, his honesty, his dignity. It's true that not every Republican took that tack, but many did (not least Trump himself). I just ran across a meme in my Facebook feed today that is possibly the most offensive one I've seen: "The Obamas continue to linger, like the stench of human waste that fouls the air and assaults the nostrils." The comments just build on this.

  • Umair Irfan: Why the wildfire in Northern California was so severe: "Heat, wind, and drought -- and long-term climate trends -- conspired to create the deadly Camp Fire." Also: Brian Resnick: Northern California now has the worst air quality in the world, thanks to wildfire smoke; and Gabriel Thompson: As Toxic Smoke Blankets California, Who Has the Ability to Escape? Subhed ("while the wealthy can flee toward cleaner air, the poorest have no choice but to stay put") isn't exactly true on any count, not that the wealthy don't have more options. But the wealthy also need to note that they're the ones who own most of the property threatened by climate-driven disaster. Beachfront houses aren't owned by poor people, nor are most of the houses destroyed in California towns like Paradise and Malibu. Moreover, that "bad air" map covers a lot of wealthy towns, and air is about the only thing rich and poor still share alike. Maybe some ultra-rich folk hopped in their jets and went elsewhere, but most middling property owners are as stuck as everyone else.

  • Paul Krugman: Why Was Trump's Tax Cut a Fizzle? No surprises here. Just a review of the things Republicans say to get special favors for their donors, and how quickly they are forgotten.

    Last week's blue wave means that Donald Trump will go into the 2020 election with only one major legislative achievement: a big tax cut for corporations and the wealthy. Still, that tax cut was supposed to accomplish big things. Republicans thought it would give them a big electoral boost, and they predicted dramatic economic gains. What they got instead, however, was a big fizzle.

    The political payoff, of course, never arrived. And the economic results have been disappointing. True, we've had two quarters of fairly fast economic growth, but such growth spurts are fairly common -- there was a substantially bigger spurt in 2014, and hardly anyone noticed. And this growth was driven largely by consumer spending and, surprise, government spending, which wasn't what the tax cutters promised.

    Meanwhile, there's no sign of the vast investment boom the law's backers promised. Corporations have used the tax cut's proceeds largely to buy back their own stock rather than to add jobs and expand capacity.

    Also by Krugman: The Tax Cut and the Balance of Payments (Wonkish). Also: Jim Tankersley/Matt Phillips: Trump's Tax Cut Was Supposed to Change Corporate Behavior. Here's What Happened.

  • Caroline Orr: US joins Russia, North Korea in refusing to sign cybersecurity pact: This may not be the right deal -- one major plank is to protect "intellectual property" which often is meant to force an arbitrary division of the world into owners and renters -- but some sort of effort like this should be negotiated, and it needs to include Russia and the US, simply because those (along with China and Israel) are the nations with the worst track record of waging cyberwar. Take away the idea of cyberwar, and you could even start to crack down on everyday nuisance hacking, which would make all of our lives easier.

  • Sarah Smarsh: A Blue Wave in Kansas? Don't Be So Surprised: The only state which has elected three female governors, all Democrats (also a female three-term Senator, Republican Nancy Kassebaum).

  • Michael Robbins: Looking Busy: The Rise of Pointless Work: A review of David Graeber's latest book, Bullshit Jobs: A Theory.

  • Matt Taibbi: Trump's Defense Spending Is Out of Control, and Poised to Get Worse:

  • Sabrina Tavernise: These Americans Are Done With Politics: "The Exhausted Majority needs a break."

    A deep new study of the American electorate, "Hidden Tribes," concludes that two out of three Americans are far more practical than that narrative suggests. Most do not see their lives through a political lens, and when they have political views the views are far less rigid than those of the highly politically engaged, ideologically orthodox tribes.

    The study, an effort to understand the forces that drive political polarization, surveyed a representative group of 8,000 Americans. The nonpartisan organization that did it, More in Common, paints a picture of a society that is far more disengaged -- and despairing over divisions -- than it is divided. At its heart is a vast and often overlooked political middle that feels forgotten in the vitriol, as if the country has gone on without it. It calls that group the Exhausted Majority, a group that represented two-thirds of the survey.

    "It feels very lonely out here," said Jamie McDaniel, a 36-year-old home health care worker in Topeka, Kan., one of several people in the study who was interviewed for this article. "Everybody is so right or left, and you're just kind of standing there in the middle saying, "What happened?'"

  • Rachel Withers: CIA reportedly concludes that Jamal Khashoggi was killed on the Saudi crown prince's orders. Also: Alex Ward: Trump doesn't want to punish Saudi Arabia over Khashoggi. His new sanctions prove it. I don't doubt Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's culpability here, even with the CIA attesting to it, but I also don't think the US should be unilaterally sanctioning Saudi Arabia or its citizens, except perhaps through an international process, perhaps based on the World Court or the International Criminal Court. On the other hand, the US does need to rethink its relationship to Saudi Arabia. The US should cut off all arms sales and support as long as Saudi Arabia is engaged in its war of aggression against Yemen. The US should also stop catering to Saudi hostility against Iran and seek to negotiate deals that would allow Iran to enjoy normal, mutually beneficial relationships with the US and its various neighbors. But the idea that the US should act as judge and jury in deciding to punish other states and people is arrogant and unfair, a force of injustice and destabilization which ultimately does more harm than good.

    Speaking of Saudi Arabia and the mischief MBS is up to: David Hearst: Bin Salman 'tried to persuade Netanyahu to go to war in Gaza' say sources. Note that Israel in fact launched a series of attacks on Gaza starting on November 11; also see Alex Ward: Israel and Gaza just saw their worst violence in years. It could get worse.

  • Rachel Withers: Weekend midterms update: Democrats concede Florida and Georgia but complete their Orange County sweep: "Plus, where the rest of the outstanding races stand." For an earlier rundown, see: All the House seats Democrats have flipped in the 2018 elections. Withers also wrote: Trump skipped Arlington Cemetery on Veterans Day because he was "extremely busy"; and Trump attacks retired Navy SEAL Admiral Bill McRaven, suggests he should have gotten bin Laden sooner.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 30591 [30559] rated (+32), 300 [292] unrated (+8).

Once again, a long, slow slog through Weekend Roundup links pushed Music Week into Tuesday. I wrote a brief summary/introduction Monday evening, and was prepared to post then, but figured I'd roll this post into the same update. Then I found myself spending a few hours Tuesday afternoon adding links -- generally trying to limit myself to items posted by Sunday, but wound up adding a few new ones in the end.

For instance, since I already had a long list of Matthew Yglesias links, I added one called The 2018 electorate was older, whiter, and better educated than in 2016 that I ultimately decided was misleading: those are shifts that occur in every midterm election from the previous presidential election, because many fewer people vote in midterms. On the other hand, you get the exact opposite effect if you compare 2018 to 2014, 2010, etc. And that happened precisely because many more people voted in 2018 than in 2014, 2010, . . . in fact, you have to go back to 1966 to find a midterm election with higher voter participation (see Camila Domonoske: A Boatload of Ballots: Midterm Voter Turnout Hit 50-Year High). This year's turnout was 47.5%, down from 60.1% in 2016, but way up from 36.7% in 2014.

Still, I had to stop somewhere, so I left four Tuesday Yglesias links for next week: the most important is Democrats' blue wave was much larger than early takes suggested. Also especially interesting is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez slams Amazon's imminent arrival in Queens. I'm not sure that the left much less Democrats in general have developed a coherent response to the repeated scamming of states and cities by big corporations like Amazon -- and the list goes on forever, ranging from the $4 billion Foxconn con in Wisconsin to the dozens of local outrages we fend with every year here in Wichita -- but this one has the makings of serious public exposure.

As for music, it's been a fairly typical week. Solid rate count, would have been higher except for a new 3-CD Art Pepper archive set, followed by an older (and even better) 4-CD set that I had only heard a sampler from at the time. Late last week I got Downbeat's December issue with their 83rd Annual Readers Poll results, so I started out by checking out leading albums I hadn't heard. I think I had only heard 5 of the top 10 new albums -- also (less surprising) 5 of the top 10 historical albums -- so I had some work to do there. Most of those were on last week's list (Chick Corea/Steve Gadd, Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra/Wynton Marsalis, Joey Alexander, Kurt Elling, and further down Esperanza Spalding), although the only missing historical album I found was Jimi Hendrix's Both Sides of the Sky, which led me to the old one below.

First Rays of the New Rising Sun was the only non-jazz album on this week's list until Sunday, when ventured into a batch of country albums in Robert Christgau's Expert Witness. I don't think the Pistol Annies album is as good as he says, but figure it's good enough, as are the others (Becky Warren, Mandy Barnett, and Robbie Fulks/Linda Gail Lewis -- the latter was an A- here some weeks ago).

I haven't done an update of the Christgau Consumer Guide database since late January: initially because it's takes enough work I tend to put it off, but then I suffered a one-two punch as first my local server than my public server crashed. When I pulled the data back from archive, I ran into a character set incompatibility that made it impractical to update the database (i.e., there was no point changing anything until the underlying problem was fixed). I floundered with it for a while, then put it off, working on other things instead. Finally I took another shot at it last week, and got to the root of the problem (a hidden flag in the server-side export utility that I hadn't run into before). Once I got a clean copy of the database, I started adding in more recent reviews. I'm up through September now, and will catch up in a couple days (maybe tonight).

I should be able to just update the database without reconciling the entire website. Since the server crash, I've been doing limited incremental updates every week (instead of waiting months, as was my previous custom). There are tradeoffs: I could wind up forgetting something, but I'm in the middle of a bunch of programming changes because a lot of functions have been dropped from PHP 7 (which is what I'm running locally, vs. PHP 5 on the public server). Until I get all of those things fixed (hundreds of changes) I don't dare do a full synch up. In the past I've always done database and website file updates at the same time, but they are independent enough I should be able to do each as needed. I guess we'll see.


New records rated this week:

  • Richie Cole: Cannonball (2018, RCP): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Andrew Cyrille: Lebroba (2017 [2018], ECM): [r]: B+(***)
  • Josephine Davies: Satori (2016 [2017], Whirlwind): [r]: A-
  • Josephine Davies' Satori: In the Corners of Clouds (2018, Whirlwind): [bc]: A-
  • John Escreet: Learn to Live (2018, Blue Room): [r]: B+(*)
  • David Hazeltine: The Time Is Now (2018, Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(*)
  • Fredrik Kronkvist: Kronicles (2017 [2018], Connective): [r]: B+(**)
  • Chris Lightcap: Superette (2018, The Royal Potato Family): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Donny McCaslin: Blow. (2018, Motéma): [r]: B+(*)
  • Makaya McCraven: Universal Beings (2017-18 [2018], International Anthem): [r]: A-
  • John O'Gallagher Trio: Live in Brooklyn (2015 ]2016], Whirlwind): [r]: B+(***)
  • Pistol Annies: Interstate Gospel (2018, RCA Nashville): [r]: A-
  • Nikita Rafaelov: Spirit of Gaia (2016-17 [2018], Gotta Let It Out): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Rudy Royston: Flatbed Buggy (2018, Greenleaf Music): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jerome Sabbagh/Greg Tuohey: No Filter (2017 [2018], Sunnyside): [r]: B
  • Yuhan Su: City Animals (2018, Sunnyside): [r]: B+(**)
  • Subtone: Moose Blues (2018, Laika): [r]: B+(*)
  • Harry Vetro: Northern Ranger (2018, T.Sound): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Cuong Vu 4Tet: Change in the Air (2017 [2018], RareNoise): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Becky Warren: Undesirable (2018, self-released): [r]: A-
  • Jeff Williams: Lifelike (2017 [2018[, Whirlwind): [r]: B+(***)

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

  • Charlie Haden & Brad Mehldau: Long Ago and Far Away (2007 [2018], Impulse): [r]: A-
  • Keith Jarrett: La Fenice (2006 [2018], ECM, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)
  • Art Pepper: The Art Pepper Quartet (1956 [2017], Omnivore): [r]: A-
  • Art Pepper: Unreleased Art Pepper Vol. 10: Toronto (1977 [2018], Widow's Taste, 3CD): [cd]: A-

Old music rated this week:

  • Jimi Hendrix: First Rays of the New Rising Sun (1968-70 [1997], MCA): [r]: A-
  • Joakim Milder: Ways (1990-92 [1993], Dragon): [r]: B+(*)
  • Red Mitchell/Joakim Milder/Roger Kellaway: Live in Stockholm (1991 [1993], Dragon): [r]: B+(**)
  • Art Pepper: Blues for the Fisherman: Unreleased Art Pepper Vol VI (1980 [2011], Widow's Taste, 4CD): [r]: A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • The 14 Jazz Orchestra: The Future Ain't What It Used to Be (Dabon Music): January 1
  • Anguish: Anguish (RareNoise): November 30
  • Eraldo Bernocchi: Like a Fire That Consumes All Before It (RareNoise): advance, November 30
  • Magnus Broo Trio: Rules (Moserobie)
  • The Gil Evans Orchestra: Hidden Treasures Monday Nights: Volume One (Bopper Spock Suns Music): December 7
  • Adam Forkelid: Reminiscence (Moserobie)
  • David Friesen: My Faith, My Life (Origin, 2CD): November 16
  • Thomas Marriott: Romance Language (Origin): November 16
  • Joakim Milder/Fredrik Ljungkvist/Mathias Landraeus/Filip Augustson/Fredrik Rundkvist: The Music of Anders Garstedt (Moserobie)
  • Jay Thomas With the Oliver Groenewald Newnet: I Always Knew (Origin): November 16
  • Piet Verbist: Suite Réunion (Origin): November 16
  • Aida Bird Wolfe: Birdie (self-released): November 15

Purchases:

  • The Ex: 27 Passports (2018, Ex)
  • William Parker Quartets: Meditation/Resurrection (2017, AUM Fidelity, 2CD)

Weekend Roundup

When I went to bed around 5AM after Tuesday's elections, the Democrats had won the House and beat Kris Kobach here in Kansas, but it seemed like a lot of close elections had broke bad. I heard Wednesday that a couple elections had flipped: Ned Lamont picked up the CT governorship, and more importantly, Scott Walker lost in Wisconsin. Tester pulled out his Senate seat in Montana. Nevada had looked promising on Tuesday, and firmed up, while Arizona got close, and even started to lean toward Democrat Krysten Sinema. Florida tightened up.

Still, could (should) have been better. Compared to 2014 and 2018, the Democrats did much better on several counts: they ran better candidates and contested more seats; and they did a better job of getting out their vote. Trump didn't get a popular opinion honeymoon after he took office. He was deeply offensive to most Democrats from the start, and everything he did prodded them to resist more fervently. That's what motivated people to run, to campaign, to organize, and ultimately to vote, and often to win -- although even some of the losses, like Beto O'Rourke in Texas, or Stacey Abrams in Georgia, were close enough they seemed like progress.

On the other hand, Trump and the Republicans haven't lost much ground. They've done a lot of things that in themselves are very unpopular -- the big corporate tax cut, for instance, and they dodged blame for ACA repeal only by failing to pass it -- but their base has held firm, they still have a lot of money, a strong captive media, and a very effective ground game. Of course, it helped that the economy hasn't capsized yet, that their reckless foreign policy hasn't led to major wars, that their corporate deregulation hasn't produced major disasters yet, and that only a few of their corrupt minions have been convicted or indicted. On the other hand, their global warming denialism is beginning to wear thin with major hurricanes and an unprecedentedly horrific fire season. Branch Rickey used to say that luck is the residue of design. Trump's political designs are so faulty that it's unlikely his luck will hold.

On the other hand, he did something in 2018 that Obama had failed to do in 2014 and 2010, which is that he campaigned relentlessly for his party in the months and weeks leading up to the election -- indeed, he never really stopped campaigning after 2016. He hasn't been all that effective, mostly because he isn't really very popular, but he did keep his base enthused, and (unlike in 2006, when everyone was sick and tired of Bush and Cheney) he got his base out to vote. It's going to take a lot of hard work to get enough people to realize how harmful Republicans are to most people's interests. And expect a lot of noise and distraction from Fox and friends along the way: the "caravan" story was as good an example of truly fake news as you can imagine. Hard to say whether how much it helped Republicans, but it sucked a lot of air from broadcast news during the last few weeks.

Democracy took a step forward last Tuesday. A small one. Hopefully the first of many.


Quick election results recap:

  • US Senate: Republicans gained two seats, for a 51-46 edge, with 3 undecided: Mississippi (runoff, R favored), Florida (R +13k), Arizona (D +33k [since I wrote this called for the Democrat]), so it will probably wind up 53-47 (counting Sanders and King with the Democrats). Only one-third of the Senate's seats are up for election each two years, and this year the Democrats were much more vulnerable (after exceptionally strong showings in 2006 and 2012). To put the net losses of 2-4 seats in perspective, Democrats won (counting AZ but not FL/MS) 24 seats to the Republicans' 10. Democrats won 57.4% of the Senate vote, vs. 41.0% for Republicans. This split was inflated because both of California's "top two" primary winners are Democrats. All four (counting FL) Republican pickups were in states Trump won -- 3 by 10+ points, 2 against Democrats who won in 2012 after Republicans nominated especially controversial "Tea Party" candidates. On the other hand, Democrats won 7 Senate seats (counting AZ) in states carried by Trump, plus defeated a Republican incumbent in a state Trump lost (NV).

  • US House of Representatives: Democrats gained 32 seats, with 10 still undecided, for a current 227-198 advantage. Democrats received 51.4% of the popular vote, vs. 46.7% for Republicans, for a margin of 4.7%.

  • Governors: Democrats gained 7, giving them 23; Republicans lost 6 (assuming FL and GA go Republican; the difference is that Republicans picked up previously independent Alaska). Popular vote favored Democrats 49.4-48.2%, as state races were less polarized than Congressional ones (e.g., Republicans won easily in MA, MD, and VT). Democrats gained: ME, MI, WI, IL, KS, NM, and NV. Republicans gained AK.

  • 538: What Went Down in the 2018 Midterms: Live blog until they got tired and signed off.

  • 538: The 2018 Midterms, in 4 Charts.


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: Trump voters stood by Trump in the midterms -- but there just aren't enough of them: Trump was elected president in 2016 with just 46% of the vote. Republicans got about the same 46% of the vote in the 2018 congressional elections, so a cursory analysis suggests that they held their own, while everyone else (including independent voters for Jill Stein and Gary Johnson) joined the Democrats. Probably not that simple: Republicans did better than 46% in 2016 congressional races, so they lost that edge this year. In particular, they lost ground in the Rust Belt and in the Latino Belt from Texas through Arizona and Nevada to California, while they hung on more effectively in a swath from Florida up to Idaho. Other Yglesias pieces:

    • The 2018 electorate was older, whiter, and better educated than in 2016: "Democrats hit some of their GOTV targets but missed others." OK, but isn't the relevant comparison 2014 to 2018? Turnout was up for a midterm (2018 and 2014), but down from the presidential election (2016). From 2016 to 2018, 18-39 turnout was -7,but from 2014 to 2018, it was +4. White was +2 vs. 2016, but -3 vs. 2014.

    • Matthew Whitaker's appointment is the latest Trump Tax the GOP is paying: "A nominee whose only qualification is his unfitness."

      Matthew Whitaker is, by any standard, a wildly unsuitable choice to serve as Attorney General of the United States.

      He's a small time crook who finished fourth in the Iowa GOP Senate primary back in 2014. He apparently got his job as Chief of Staff in the Justice Department because Trump liked his TV hits, experience that would at best qualify him to one the DOJ's chief spokesperson not to be chief of staff and certainly not to run the Justice Department. Meanwhile, Kellyanne Conway's husband, a prominent Washington attorney, says Whitaker's appointment is illegal.

      The point, however, is that in a normal administration the question of legality would simply never arise here. The Justice Department is full of competent, professional, Senate-confirmed officials who would be more suitable than Whitaker on both substance and procedural grounds. It's commonplace in liberal circles to see Whitaker as an inappropriate selection in light of his previous comments about Robert Mueller's investigation, but the truth is the Mueller issue is his only conceivable qualification for the job. Trump's problem with the senior staff at the Justice Department is he has no way of knowing whether or not they share with Jeff Sessions and Ron Rosenstein a reluctance to fatally compromise the rule of law in pursuit of Trump's personal self-interest.

    • House Democrats must resist Trump's infrastructure trap.

    • House Democrats must resist Trump's infrastructure trap.

    • The tragedy of Amazon's HQ2 selections, explained: After announcing they'd like to auction off the location of a second headquarters site, they've evidently settled on two winners: one in Virginia's DC suburbs, the other in Long Island City, Queens, New York. Lots of problems.

    • Matt Whitaker suggested the attorney general might keep Robert Mueller's conclusions secret forever.

    • Debbie Stabenow reelected to the Senate.

    • Ned Lamont elected governor of Connecticut.

    • Trump's bizarre post-election press conference, explained.

      But shocking as it was in its way, it confirmed what we know about Trump. He is shameless, relentlessly dishonest, poorly informed about policy, disrespectful of the norms and principles of constitutional government, and fundamentally dangerous. He also continues to benefit from a benign economic situation and from a lack of crises abroad that make a serious impact on the typical American. For all of our sakes, we'd better hope that holds up because he does not appear to have the capacity to respond in a remotely appropriate way to any kind of adversity. . . .

      The price of this sort of conduct has already been high. An island destroyed, a wave of Trump-inspired bombings, a needless destabilization of relations with key allies, and a growing diminution of the standards of conduct that we accept for public officials. But for most Americans, day-to-day life has proceeded apace and that's put a floor under Trump's approval ratings that's been good enough to keep the whole Republican Party afloat given gerrymandering and a skewed Senate map. Losing the House would be a wake-up call for a normal president, but there is no waking up Trump -- only the hope that nothing goes too badly wrong while he lasts in office.

    • Tammy Baldwin reelected to US Senate: a progressive champion wins in Wisconsin.

    • Sherrod Brown reelected to US Senate: old-time labor liberalism triumphs over Ohio's rightward drift.

    • Why Stacey Abrams isn't conceding yet.

    • 4 winners and 2 losers from the 2018 midterm elections: Winners: "the favored quarter backlash"; Donald Trump; "the blue wall"; gerrymandering. Losers: Taylor Swift; "the live models." The explanation on Trump:

      And while losing the House is the death knell for the Republican Party's legislative agenda, Trump himself has rarely seemed to care that much about the GOP legislative agenda. Indeed, the death of the GOP legislative agenda could even be good news for Trump politically since much of that agenda was toxically unpopular. An expanded majority in the Senate, meanwhile, will let Trump do things he actually cares about, like replace Cabinet members and other executive branch officials who've displeased him, while continuing to keep the judicial confirmation conveyor belt that's so important to his base moving.

    • The lesson of the midterms: resistance works.

  • Radley Balko: Jeff Sessions, the doughty bigot:

    Jeff Sessions's final act as attorney general was perfectly on-brand. On the way out of office, he signed an order making it more difficult for the Justice Department to investigate and implement reform at police departments with patterns of abuse, questionable shootings, racism, and other constitutional violations. Sessions once called such investigations -- like those that turned up jaw-dropping abuses in places such as Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore and Chicago -- "one of the most dangerous, and rarely discussed, exercises of raw power." He has had only cursory criticism of the horrific abuses actually described in those reports (which he later conceded he sometimes didn't bother to read), which disproportionately affect blacks and Latinos. For Sessions, it is the federal government's investigation of such abuses that amounts to not just an unjustified "exercise of raw power," but a "most dangerous" one.

  • Bob Bauer: An Open-and-Shut Violation of Campaign-Finance Law.

  • Jonathan Blitzer: Jeff Sessions Is Out, but His Dark Vision for Immigration Policy Lives On.

  • James Carroll: Entering the Second Nuclear Age?: With his withdrawal from the INF treaty with Russia, and with big plans to renovate and rebuild America's nuclear arsenal, "Donald Trump welcomes the age of "usable" nuclear weapons." Also at TomDispatch:

    • Michael Klare: On the Road to World War III?.

    • William Hartung: The pentagon's Plan to Dominate the Economy:

      Industrial policy should not be a dirty word. The problem is: the Pentagon shouldn't be in charge of it. The goal of an effective industrial policy should be to create well-paying jobs, especially in sectors that meet pressing national needs like rebuilding America's crumbling infrastructure and developing alternative energy technologies that can help address the urgent dangers posed by climate change.

    • Tom Engelhardt: Autocrats, Incorporation: Thoughts on Election Day 2018.

    • Arnold Isaacs: Misremembering Vietnam: Alt title: "Making America's Wars Great Again: The Pentagon Whitewashes a Troubling Past."

      The cliché that our armed forces are the best and mightiest in the world -- even if the U.S. military hasn't won any of its significant wars in the last 50 years -- resonates in President Trump's promise to make America great again. Many Americans, clearly including him, associate that slogan with military power. And we don't just want to be greater again in the future; we also want to have been greater in the past than we really were. To that end, we regularly forget some facts and invent others that will make our history more comfortable to remember.

    • Rory Fanning: Will the War Stories Ever End? Author of a book of his own war stories, Worth Fighting For: An Army Ranger's Journey Out of the Military and Across America (2014, Haymarket Books).

  • Maureen Dowd: Who's the Real American Psycho? A look back at Dick Cheney, occasioned by the screening of a new movie called Vice. As for the "psycho" question, such things take time and perspective. If you got sick eight years ago and got sick again now, you won't be able to make meaningful comparisons until (and if) you survive and recover. Between Trump ("a frothing maniac with a meat cleaver") and Cheney ("a professional assassin") the latter may still in theory be the more menacing, but the threat right now is so immediate and so open-ended that it's the one you have to deal with right now. Dowd, by the way, also recently wrote this clever piece on Saudi Arabia: Step Away From the Orb:

    Our Faustian deal was this: As long as the Saudis kept our oil prices low, bought our fighter jets, housed our fleets and drones and gave us cover in the region, they could keep their country proudly medieval.

    It was accepted wisdom that it was futile to press the Saudis on the feudal, the degradation of women and human rights atrocities, because it would just make them dig in their heels. Even Hillary Clinton, as secretary of state, never made an impassioned Beijing-style speech about women in Saudi Arabia being obliterated under a black tarp.

  • Atul Gawande: Why Doctors Hate Their Computers: Fairly long piece on computerized medical records, which should be great to have but are a lot of work to maintain, and the slacker and sloppier you get about that, the less great they are. First point I take from this is that there is a lot of real work to be done to make the health care system work better beyond the obvious advantages of single-payer insurance -- something that tends to be forgotten in that argument. Gawande identifies several problems with the software, ranging from its impact on focus and communication to the increasing brittleness of sprawing code systems. One thing worth exploring is how open source might help, but you also have to look at how to finance development and support. Another dimension is the increasing use of AI. I believe that the only way to build trust in complex software is through open source, but what's needed can't be developed as a free hacker hobby.

  • Masha Gessen: After the White House Banned Jim Acosta, Should Other Journalists Boycott Its Press Briefings? Also: Margaret Sullivan: Words and walkouts aren't enough> CNN should sue Trump over revoking Acosta's press pass.

  • Adam Hochschild: A Hundred Years After the Armistice: Due to the world's fascination with round numbers, I'm reminded that our Nov. 11 Veterans Day originally started as Armistice Day, marking the end of what was then called the Great War but was soon eclipsed, now better known as World War I. A date that should remind all how precious peace is has since become a celebration of American militarism, as we thank the hapless soldiers and gloss over the politicians who put them in harm's way. One could write reams about that war, and indeed its centennary has brought dozens of new books out. Hochschild wrote one I read back in 2011: To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918, which focused on anti-war resisters in Britain (like Bertrand Russell -- as close to a hero as I ever had). The tag line on this piece is: "If you think the First World War began senselessly, consider how it ended." He recounts several stories of how allied generals (especially Americans, notably including white commanders of negro troops) continued to launch offensives after the armistice was agreed to up to the moment (11AM) it was to take effect, resulting in thousands of avoidable casualties. He also notes, in less depth, the insistence of French general Foch on making the armistice as punitive as possible, leaving a "toxic legacy" that lead to a second world war. Many more books have been written about the post-armistice Versailles Treaty, like Arno Mayer's massive Politics and Diplomacy of Peacemaking, but the best title to date is David Fromkin's A Peace to End All Peace. The excessively punitive Versailles Treaty is now widely acknowledge as a cause of WWII. (Arno Mayer has referred to the two World Wars as 30 Years War of the Twentieth Century.) More important in my mind is that Versailles failed to repudiate imperialism. In fact, Britain, France, Italy, and Japan extended their empires through war, especially whetting the appetites of the latter, while leaving Germany and others convinced that they needed to enlarge themselves to compete with the rich nations. By the way, Josh Marshall recommends The Vanquished: Why the First World War Failed to End. Another interesting piece on the war: Patrick Chovanec: World War I Relived Day by Day.

  • Fred Kaplan: Could House Democrats Cancel the Pentagon's Blank Check? Perhaps, but it would take uncommon discipline, given that more than a few Democrats are deficit hawks and/or Pentagon Keynesians. Given narrow margins (and the absence of anything like the "Hastert Rule" for Democrats), Republicans could try to forge opportunistic alliances with either group. One thing for sure is that House Democrats won't be able to raise taxes, so there's very little they can do about deficits. On the other hand, spending bills originate in the House, so with a little discipline they can keep important programs funded and cut useless and even damaging ones. But, as I said, that's not something they've ever been much good at.

    Kaplan also wrote: Trump Retreats From the West: "The president's performance in Paris was a stunning abdication of global leadership." That sounds like good news to me -- not to deny that Trump did it pretty ugly. Maybe Trump was peeved at this: Macron denounces nationalism as a 'betrayal of patriotism' in rebuke to Trump at WWI remembrance. Then, Trump skipped a US cemetery visit abroad. The French army trolled him for avoiding the rain. But the fact is, Trump's "America First" fetish doesn't leave him much to offer the rest of the world -- where, as in everyday life, generosity is appreciated and peevishness scorned. On the other hand, for many years now US administrations have done little that actually helps either people abroad or at home that we'd all be better off if the US (especially its military) would back away. For more on Trump's Paris trip, see Jen Kirby: The controversies of Trump's Paris trip, explained.

  • Paul Krugman: What the Hell Happened to Brazil? (Wonkish): "How did an up-and-coming economy suffer such a severe slump?"

  • Robert Kuttner: The Crash That Failed: Review of the latest big book on the 2008 financial collapse, the "great recession" that followed, and various government efforts to clean up the mess: Adam Tooze's Crashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World. Interesting sidelight of an illustration: William Powhida: Griftopia, based on Matt Taibbi's book.

  • Dara Lind: The asylum ban -- Trump's boldest immigration power grab yet -- explained.

  • Mark Mazzetti/Ronen Bergman/David D Kirkpatrick: Saudis Close to Crown Prince Discussed Killing Other Enemies a Year Before Khashoggi's Death.

  • Bill McKibben: A Very Grim Forecast: On Global Warming of 1.5°C: An IPCC Special Report.

  • Yascha Mounk: Is More Democracy Always Better Democracy? Noted for future reference, no agreement implied. Author of a recent centrist manifesto: The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger & How to Save It. Reviews Frances McCall Rosenbluth: Responsible Parties: Saving Democracy From Itself (2018) -- arguing: "the most important ingredient of a functioning democracy . . . is strong political parties that can keep their rank-and-file members in check" -- and looks back to Marty Cohen/David Karol/Hans Noel/John Zaller: The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform (2008). Mounk's prime example of "too much democracy" was the 1972 nomination and loss of George McGovern, although for a token example Republican he cites Mark Sanford's primary loss to a Trump zealot (who last week lost Sanford's SC district). The main problem with Mounk's thesis is that organizations which lack effective democratic oversight almost inevitably wind up putting their leaders' elite interests ahead of their voters. At least with McGovern's Democratic Party reforms, the party was able to nominate a presidential candidate who reflected the majority view among rank-and-file Democrats to quit the Vietnam War. That sounds more to me like an example of democracy working -- especially more than 2016, when the party elites prevailed in picking a candidate who was even more unpopular. (Sure, Hillary Clinton polled better than McGovern, but consider her opponent.) As for the Republicans, you can fault their rank-and-file for favoring someone as odious as Donald Trump, but at least the limited democracy Republicans practice saved them from the party elites nominating Jeb Bush.

  • Rachel Withers: Trump responds to worst fires in California's history by threatening to withhold federal aid. Also on the fires: Robinson Meyer: The Worst Is Yet to Come for California's Wildfires; also Umair Irfan: California's wildfires are hardly "natural" -- humans made them worse at every step.

  • Benjamin Wittes: It's Probably Too Late to Stop Mueller: The morning after the election, Trump fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and installed Matthew Whitaker as acting AG, making it easier for Trump to terminate Robert Mueller's prosecution of Trump-Russia issues. Wittes takes stock:

    Eighteen months ago, I said, President Donald Trump had an opportunity to disrupt the Russia investigation: He had fired the FBI director and had rocked the Justice Department back on its heels. But Trump had dithered. He had broadcast his intentions too many times. And in the meantime, Mueller had moved decisively, securing important indictments and convictions, and making whatever preparations were necessary for hostile fire. And now Democrats were poised to take the House of Representatives. The window of opportunity was gone.

    In the 48 hours since Trump fired Jeff Sessions and installed Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general, I have had occasion to wonder whether I was being overly optimistic a week ago. Whitaker is the kind of bad dream from which career Justice Department officials wake up at night in cold sweats. He's openly political. The president is confident in his loyalty and that he won't recuse himself from the investigation -- notwithstanding his public statements about it and his having chaired the campaign of one of the grand-jury witnesses. There are legal questions about his installation at the department's helm. And he's known as the White House's eyes and ears at Justice.

    By the way: Jerome Corsi says Mueller will soon indict him for perjury.

Finally, some more election-related links:

Daily Log

A while back my nephew Mike posted a menu:

MICHAEL HULL'S 42ND BIRTHDAY

Please enjoy a selection of Mike's Italian favorites. To be served in order of listing.

ANTIPASTO

CAPONATA, INSALATE CAPRESE, FICHI AL PROSCIUTTO
Eggplant caponata (cold), tomato & basil salad, figs with proscuitto

MOZZARELLA EN CARROZZA
Fresh mozzarella in sliced bread, lightly battered and fried

MONK GREENS, ENDIVES & ANCHOVIES
Sautéd mixed greens with garlic, toasted endive with light anchovy sauce

SPAGHETTI AL LIMONE
Fresh spaghetti in lemon cream sauce

INSALATE CAVOLO
Shredded Savoy caggabe salad

PASTA

PASTA GNOCCHI
Potato pasta balls in basil & pine nut sauce

RAGU ALLA NAPOLETANA
Rolled beef slow cooked in tomato sauce over fresh fettuccini

MEAT

CHICKEN/VEAL SALTIMBOCCA
Chicken and veal cutlets with prosciutto and sage, lightly breaded and fried

DESSERT

CHOCOLATE PUDDING WITH CROCCANTE, ALMOND CAKE
Chestnut pudding with roasted almond praline
Almond cake

Coffee

Whiskey

11/05/2018 6 pm All Welcome

Haven't heard anything about how this came out, but it sounds very, very good. Main change I would make is that I wouldn't do chicken if I could get enough veal. I'd probably throw in a fish dish, or scampi, and cut back on the pasta. As I told him, I've never made fresh pasta (or for that matter, gnocchi). He tells me it's easy, and I suppose it isn't too bad if you stick to noodles and have a quality crank machine. Not sure how you'd make penne, especially after Mike quoted Hazan on how hideous the machines that extrude dough through nozzles are. (Just typed "penne maker" into Amazon and got a whole page of nothing but panini grills.) "Pasta shape machine" got me a couple of machines and attachments that might do the trick, but they're rather pricey: $269.99 for Philips HR2357/05 Noodle Pasta Maker; there's a cheaper Philips HR2372/05 for $146.34.


Jan Barnes posted on Facebook about her father and father-in-law as veterans. I added this comment:

Thought I should comment here just to slip Uncle Allen's picture into the thread. My father was drafted in 1945, but the war ended before they could ship him abroad. He hated his time in the Army, thought it was stupid and wasteful, and never identified as a veteran or had anything to do with veterans organizations. I find it sad that we've taken Armistice Day, the return to peace, and turned it into Veterans Day, celebrating a legacy of war. The US has engaged in war (sometimes "cold" but often much more) nearly every day of my life. That's something we should be ashamed of, not proud.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Music Week

Music: current count 30559 [30524] rated (+35), 292 [293] unrated (-1).

October's Streamnotes came out last week. Four of the week's A- records made it into that column. Three of those had been pick hits in Robert Christgau's Expert Witness columns.

By the way, there is a new batch of XgauSez on Christgau's website.

More things I'd like to write about here, but absolutely no time to do so. I'm exhausted after Weekend Roundup once again took much too long to write, while once again I wound up not getting to scads of material worth reading. In particular, I wanted to say something about Downbeat's Readers Poll, which suggested some of the recent records this week. Also about my nephew's birthday dinner, which I'm afraid puts my own recent efforts to shame.


New records rated this week:

  • Eric Alexander: Song of No Regrets (2017, High Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • Joey Alexander: Joey. Monk. Live! (2017, Motéma): [r]: B
  • Joey Alexander: Eclipse (2017 [2018], Motéma): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Bottle Rockets: Bit Logic (2018, Bloodshot): [r]: B+(*)
  • Don Byron/Aruán Ortiz: Random Dances and (A)tonalities (2017 [2018], Impakt): [cd]: B+(***)
  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert/John Edwards: Elements (2015-16 [2018], FMR): [cd]: A-
  • The Chick Corea + Steve Gadd Band: Chinese Butterfly (2017 [2018], Stretch/Concord, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)
  • David Dominique: Mask (2018, Orenda): [cd]: C
  • Kurt Elling: The Questions (2017 [2018], Okeh): [r]: B-
  • Michael Formanek Elusion Quartet: Time Like This (2018, Intakt): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Hamell on Trial: The Night Guy at the Apocalypse: Profiles of a Rushing Midnight (2018, Saustex): [r]: B+(*)
  • Idles: Joy as an Act of Resistance (2018, Partisan): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra With Wynton Marsalis: Handful of Keys (2016 [2017], Blue Engine): [r]: B+(**)
  • Maria Muldaur: Don't You Feel My Leg: The Naughty, Bawdy Blues of Blue Lu Barker (2018, The Last Music Company): [r]: A-
  • Riton & Kah-Lo: Foreign Ororo (Riton Time): [r]: A-
  • Esperanza Spalding: 12 Little Spells (2018, Concord): [r]: B-
  • Tropical Fuck Storm: A Laughing Death in Meatspace (2018, Tropical Fuck Storm/Mistletone): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Colter Wall: Songs of the Plains (2018, Young Mary's): [r]: B+(**)

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

  • Dexter Gordon Quartet: Espace Cardin 1977 (1977 [2018], Elemental Music): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jimi Hendrix: Both Sides of the Sky (1968-70 [2018], Legacy): [r]: B+(**)
  • I'm Not Here to Hunt Rabbits ([2018], Piranha): [r]: A-
  • Woody Shaw/Louis Hayes: The Tour: Volume One (1976 [2016], High Note): [r]: A-
  • Woody Shaw/Louis Hayes: The Tour: Volume Two (1976 [2017], High Note): [r]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • One for All: Too Soon to Tell (1997, Sharp Nine): [r]: B+(*)
  • Woody Shaw: Live Volume One (1977 [2000], High Note): [r]: B+(***)
  • Woody Shaw: Live Volume Two (1977 [2001], High Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • Woody Shaw: Live Volume Three (1977 [2001], High Note): [r]: B+(*)
  • Woody Shaw: Live Volume Four (1981 [2005], High Note): [r]: B+(***)
  • Sarah Vaughan: After Hours (1961, Roulette): [r]: B+(***)
  • Sarah Vaughan: The Best of Sarah Vaughan [20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection] (1954-66 [2004], Hip-O): [r]: B-
  • Sarah Vaughan: Live in Japan: Volume 1 (1973 [1991], Mainstream): [r]: B+(**)
  • Sarah Vaughan: Live in Japan: Volume 2 (1973 [1991], Mainstream): [r]: B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Big Bold Back Bone: In Search of Emerging Species (Shhpuma)
  • Big Bold Back Bone: Emerge (Wide Ear)
  • Collective Order: Collective Order Vol. 3 (self-released): November 23
  • Julien Desprez/Luís Lopes: Boa Tarde (Shhpuma): cdr
  • LFU: Lisbon Freedom Unit: Praise of Our Folly (Clean Feed)
  • Ernesto Rodrigues/Guilherme Rodrigues/Bruno Parrinha/Luís Lopes/Vasco Trillo: Lithos (Creative Sources)

Weekend Roundup

Last pre-election post. One measure of the impact of elections is that I've been writing about 50% more on politics since Trump and the Republicans won big in 2016, as compared to the previous four years under Obama. And it's not like I didn't have things to complain about with Obama -- although I wrote much more then about foreign affairs and wars, including a lot on Israel (which hasn't in any way changed for the better with Trump, but has been crowded out of consciousness). And the fact is, the ratio would be even greater if I had the time and patience to dig through everything that matters.

One thing I learned long ago is that elections don't fix problems, but if they go the wrong way they can make many of our lives worse off. You can't expect that the people you elect will do good things with their power -- in fact, power doesn't make anyone a better person -- but you can at least try to weed out the ones you know better than. I can't really blame people who thought they were doing us a favor in 2016 by retiring Hillary Clinton. I could have written a long book on why she should never have been considered for president, so I'm not surprised that many other people didn't like or trust her. Of course, that doesn't justify them voting for Trump. Elections are almost always about "lesser evils," and it helps to weigh them out carefully, even to lean a bit against your prejudices. While it was easy to see why people might think Hillary "crooked," you have to flat-out ignore tons of evidence to judge Hillary more crooked than Trump. Nor was that the only dimension: build a list of any trait you might think matters in a president, and if you're honest about the evidence, Trump will lose out to her. Electing him was a glaring lapse of judgment on the part of the American people.

Nor was it their first. My first election was 1972, when we had the change to elect one of the most fundamentally decent people who ever ran for high office, but by a large margin the American people preferred Dick Nixon. Given that Nixon was even less of an unknown than Reagan, the Bushes, or Trump, that's a pretty damning reflection on the American people. I've regularly been disappointed by elections. After my 1972 experience, I didn't vote again until 1996, when I was living in Massachusetts but couldn't ignore the opportunity to vote against Bob Dole (who was second only to Nixon among the villains I voted against in 1972 -- people forget what a rat bastard he was in his first couple of terms).

Still, worse than Trump's election in 2016 was the Republicans seizing complete control of Congress. Not only did this make Trump much more dangerous, it shows that voters haven't fully realized the monolithic threat that Republicans represent. I think a lot of the blame here belongs to Obama and the Clintons, who pursued their presidential campaigns with scant concern for the welfare of the rest of the party, largely by not leading the public to understand what Republicans were up to. In particular, Clinton focused her campaign on picking up Trump-averse Republicans in the suburbs with little concern for Trump-attracted working class Democrats. When the 2016 returns came in, Republicans who didn't particularly like Trump still voted for him due to party loyalty, as did independents who for various reasons (deplorable and sometimes not) happened to like Trump.

Even now, when I meet up with Democrats, they're more likely to want to talk about who they like for president in 2020 than winning Congress here and now. My answer is simple: whoever works hardest to put the party ahead of themselves, but no Democratic president is going to be worth a damn without a solid partisan base. I've never been a diehard Democrat, but Republicans have left us no other choice.


I wouldn't call these links recommendations, but here's a brief list of things I'm looking at to get a feel for the current elections:

Silver's piece above mentions a number of historical and current trends, and how they weigh on the elections. Obviously, one reason people are leery about predicting big Democratic gains is that Trump in particular and Republicans in general did better in 2016 than the polls suggested. That has people worried that Republicans are being systematically undercounted, and we won't know if that's the case until the votes are counted. Could just be a statistical fluke with no relationship to past or future elections. To the extent that any correction needed to be made, it's likely that pollsters have done that already. My own view is that Republicans have developed a very effective get-out-the-vote system, which Democrats (except for Obama, and then mostly for himself) never matched. (Clinton was especially lax in that regard.)

My own reservations about the Democrats' prospects are mostly due to respect for their "ground game" -- their ability to keep their base motivated, angry, hungry, and responsive to their taunts and jeers. The Democrats totally dropped the ball in 2010, and didn't fare much better in 2014. One thing you have to credit Republicans with is not letting up in 2018. And while Obama seemed aloof from his party, Trump has been totally committed to rallying his voters. Moreover, he does have a fairly robust economy to tout, and no big new wars to be mired in, and he was saved from blowing a huge hole in health care coverage. A lot of things he's done will eventually cost Americans dearly, but many of the effects are incremental. So he should be in pretty good shape, he's clearly trying hard, and his party machinery remains very efficient. Also, he's fortunate in having a playing field very tilted in his favor: the House is so thoroughly gerrymandered Republicans can lose the popular vote by 5-7% and still wind up with control, and the break on Senate seats favors the Republicans even more. The fact there is that even not counting California (where the top two open primary finishers are both Democrats, so there's no Republican on the ballot), the Democrats can win the popular vote by 10% or more without gaining a seat.

On the other hand, even though Trump has managed to hang on to virtually all of his supporters (and in many cases he's delighted them), he never has been very popular, and people who dislike him really detest him. By making the election so much a referendum on himself, he's drawing many young and disaffected people out to vote against Republicans, pretty much everywhere. Silver identifies two important points favoring the Democrats. One is that they've done a very strong job of raising money. Even more important (although the two aren't unrelated) the Democrats have recruited exceptionally strong candidates to contest virtually every election.

Some other briefly-noted stories on campaigns, polls, and some more general statements of principles:


Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: Journalists should stop repeating Trump's lies: Refers back to the author's Hack Gap piece, which should be required homework before voting in this election. Trump's claim that no other nation has "birthright citizenship" is a prime example of a lie that's been much repeated simply because Trump told it. Other Yglesias posts this week:

    • What's at stake in Tuesday's elections: Nice, concise statement of the implications of various outcomes. The one that's missing is the question of whether Trump, presented with a Democratic Congress, might veer off in a direction of bipartisan compromises, which could steer the Republicans out of the dead-end the party's far-right has trapped them in. As long as he's had Republican control of Congress, he's had no reason to reach across the aisle, and this has let the far-right effectively veto any attempts at compromise. But if there's no way a strict party vote can deliver him any results, he would likely find the Democrats more agreeable than the far-right. And one thing that is fairly certain is that, win or lose, Trump has gained strength as the party's leader. He has, after all, really pulled out all the stops to promote the party. Of course, he could just as well hold firm and run his 2020 campaign against the Democrat-obstructionists. Indeed, his base may prefer that stance, and he may prefer it. But there is middle ground he could gain if he actually did something constructive (infrastructure is a likely place to start). So he could emerge stronger after a defeat than a win.

    • What Democrats can learn from Larry Hogan: Also Charlie Baker, who looks to be "cruising to reelection in Massachusetts." Hogan and Baker are Republican governors in otherwise solidly Democratic states -- states that Democrats would start with if they really were looking to push a far-left agenda. I'm not sure what lessons Democrats should draw from this, but one for Republicans seems pretty obvious: that Republicans can win and even thrive in solid Democratic states by running candidates that are moderate, judicious, and not sociopathic. There's an element of luck to this, but also a deep-seated distrust of Democratic politicians, not least among the party rank-and-file. Massachusetts, for instance, has had many more Republican governors over the last 30 years than Democrats, but note that the latest Democrat, Deval Patrick, elected with impeccable progressive credentials, wound up so tightly enmeshed in business interests that he wound up as one of the villains in Thomas Frank's Listen, Liberal! (eclipsed only by Andrew Cuomo among governors, Rahm Emmanuel among mayors, and the Clintons nationwide). It strikes me that there's a double standard here: people expect more from Democrats; when Democrats are elected, they get swamped in everyday administration tasks (which mostly means working with business lobbies); they can't figure out how to get their platforms implemented; people are disappointed and grow increasingly cynical. The best one can hope for in a Republican is quiet competence, and in the rare cases when a Republican can do that without embarrassment, he or she gets a free pass.

    • The cynical politics of John Bolton's "Troika of Tyranny": the subject of what was effectively a campaign speech delivered in Miami, a fairly transparent attempt to galvanize Cuban support for Republicans in Florida "even as President Donald Trump's closing argument in the 2018 midterms is demagogic fear-mongering about would-be asylum-seekers from Central America." Pre-Trump, Republicans distinguished between "good" and "bad" refugees from Latin America: the "good" ones fled from communism in Cuba, the "bad" ones from capitalism and US-allied "death squads" from elsewhere. Trump has managed to muddle this a bit, as his racist, xenophobic base tends to group all immigrants and all Latin Americans together -- a point that threatens the Cuban-Republican alliance. Still, not clear to me this works even as cynical politics. Obama's opening to Cuba actually played pretty well to Cuban-Americans, who saw opportunities as Cuba itself was becoming more business-friendly. Moreover, Trump's militant stands against Venezuela and Nicaragua do more to prop up the left-ish governments there than to undermine them. Nor is it likely that Bolton can parlay his strategy into visas for right-wingers to immigrate to the US, as happened with Cuba. And as policy, of course, this is plain bad. Also see: Alex Ward: John Bolton just gave an "Axis of Evil" speech about Latin America.

    • Ted Cruz and the Zodiac Killer, explained.

  • Jill Lepore: Reigns of Terror in America: A brief history lesson on what's new and not after last week's terrorizing shootings and would-be bombings. Mostly what's not:

    On Friday, May 9, 1958, Rabbi Jacob M. Rothschild, of the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation, in Atlanta, delivered a sermon called "Can This Be America?" Crosses had been burned and men had been lynched, but Rothschild was mainly talking about the bombs: bundled sticks of dynamite tied with coiled fuses. In the late nineteen-fifties, terrorists had set off, or tried to, dozens of bombs -- at black churches, at white schools that had begun to admit black children, at a concert hall where Louis Armstrong was playing, at the home of Martin Luther King, Jr. One out of every ten attacks had been directed at Jews, at synagogues and community centers in Charlotte, in Nashville, in Jacksonville, in Birmingham. In March, 1958, about twenty sticks of dynamite, wrapped in paper yarmulkes, had exploded in an Orthodox synagogue in Miami. The blast sounded like a plane crash. . . .

    America's latest reign of terror began not with Trump's election but with Obama's, the Brown v. Board of the Presidency. "Impeach Obama," yard signs read. "He's Unconstitutional." In 2011, Trump began demanding that Obama prove his citizenship. "I feel I've accomplished something really, really important," Trump told the press, when, that spring, the White House offered up the President's birth certificate.

    I'm still working my way through Lepore's big book, These Truths: A History of the United States -- currently 575 pages in (roughly 1956), 217 to go before the notes -- and even though I've been over this terrain many times before, I'm still picking up new (or poorly understood) pieces of information. For instance, she puts some emphasis on the development of print and broadcast media, of journalism and advertising and political consultants, and the effects of each on our democracy.

  • Mike Konczal/Nell Abernathy: Democrats Must Become the Party of Freedom: notably economic freedoms: "Freedom From Poverty"; "Freedom for Workers"; "Freedom From Corporate Power."

  • PR Lockhart: Georgia, 2018's most prominent voting rights battleground, explained. The governor's race there will largely be determined by who goes to the polls and who doesn't. The Republican candidate, Brian Kemp, is currently Georgia's Secretary of State, which gives him a direct hand in managing voter access, and he's been using his position to tilt the election his way. Same sorts of things are happening elsewhere, but Georgia has an especially long history of voter suppression, and Kemp is actively adding to that legacy. For the latest, also note: Emily Stewart: Brian Kemp's office opens investigation into Georgia Democratic Party days ahead of the election.

  • Gregory Magarian: Don't Call Him "Justice": A few more words on Brett Kavanaugh, whose new position on the Supreme Court only promises to debase the word "justice" even further.

  • David Roberts: The caravan "invasion" and America's epistemic crisis: Yglesias linked to this above, but I wanted to show the title, and the piece is worth examining closer. Especially the term "epistemic crisis" -- a blast from my past, applicable to all sorts of gross misunderstandings, including how the right-wing mythmongers take tiny germs of fact and reason and spin them into lurid fears and fantasies. Not to deny that sometimes they totally make shit up (like the ISIS jihadis alleged to have joined "the caravan"), but "the caravan" is basically a dramatization of a fairly common process, where the poor, threatened, and/or ambitious of poor countries like Guatemala seek a better life in a richer country like the US. One might think that an influx of poor people to a rich country might drag the latter down, or that the continued impoverty of immigrants might make them more prone to crime, but there is hardly any evidence of that.

    The thing I find most curious about "the caravan" is that it is so public -- more than anything else, it reminds me of civil rights marches, which makes it very different from past migration routes (more like the slave era "underground railroad": quiet and stealthy). Civil rights marches challenged relatively friendly federal powers to intervene and limit unfriendly local powers. Nothing like that applies here, with Trump's administration more likely to be provoked to harsher measures than to accept the migrants. Given the timing and publicity, a much more rational explanation would be that "the caravan" is a publicity stunt designed to promote and legitimize Trump's rabid anti-immigrant political platform. I'm surprised I haven't seen any investigation into such an obvious suspicion. Maybe it's that the liberal press assumes that everyone secretly wants to move here, so it doesn't occur to them to ask: why these people? and why now? Roberts sticks to the safe ground of "epistemic crisis":

    Trump does not view himself as president of the whole country. He views himself as president of his white nationalist party -- their leader in a war on liberals. He has all the tools of a head of state with which to prosecute that war. Currently, he is restrained only by the lingering professionalism of public servants and a few thin threads of institutional inertia.

    The caravan story, a lurid xenophobic fantasia that has now resulted in thousands of troops deployed on US soil, shows that those threads are snapping. The epistemic crisis Trump has accelerated is now morphing into a full-fledged crisis of democracy.

    Other "caravan" links:

  • Emily Stewart: Trump said there was a middle-class tax cut coming before the election. There's no way that's happening. "Instead of running on the tax bill they already passed, Republicans are trying to convince voters with a new (nonexistent) one."

  • Kenneth P Vogel/Scott Shane/Patrick Kingsley: How Vilification of George Soros Moved From the Fringes to the Mainstream.

  • Alex Ward: The US will impose new sanctions on Iran next week: "The goal is to change Iran's behavior. It's unclear if that will happen." There's hardly any evidence that sanctions do anything other than to lock in and harden existing stances. If the goal was to "change Iran's behavior," the key element would be laying out a path for that changed behavior to be validated, but the sanctions described are all stick, no carrot, and they're being imposed by a Trump regime that has already shown no consideration for Iran's steady compliance with the previous agreement. Moreover, the politics behind the new sanctions are almost totally being driven by Israel and Saudi Arabia. One obvious Saudi goal (shared by US oil companies and other major oil exporters, including Russia) is to keep Iranian oil off the world market -- an interest that will remain regardless of Iran's "behavior." It's a shame that Trump cannot conceive of the US having any broader interests (like peaceful coexistence) than the price of oil and the market for arms. Also see:

Friday, November 02, 2018

Daily Log

Bunches of little things to note over the last couple days.

I bought a new cell phone, a Samsung S9. I've only barely started to set it up. Also got a tablet, an Alcatel 3T 8-inch, which was almost free with a (cheaper) change to our monthly plan. Set them both up on local wi-fi (although the tablet only detected the slower wi-fi band, and seems very slow for web access). Much learning curve, I'm sure, on both.

One of the first things I tried was to access my website, which turned out to be down. First crash for the new server. H&D got it up and running fast, but no idea what caused the problem. I've been getting an email warning practically hourly from the server about rpcbind taking too long to run, so that's been one way to verify the server's up. I asked H&D to look into that.


Oct 2018