Sunday, June 16, 2019
Quite a bit below. After a very depressing/blasé week, I got an early
start on Friday, and started feeling better -- not for the nation or the
world, but pleased to be occupied with some straightforward, tangible work.
One thing I can enjoy some optimism about is the Democratic presidential
campaign. I expected it to be swallowed whole with the sort of vacant,
pious clichés that Obama and the Clintons have been campaigning on for
decades now, but what we're actually seeing is a lot of serious concern
for policy. The clear leader in that regard is Elizabeth Warren, and of
course Bernie Sanders has a complete matching set with if anything a
little more courage and conviction, but I've run across distinct and
refreshing ideas from another half-dozen candidates. I haven't noticed
Biden rising to that challenge yet. He remains the main beneficiary of
as fairly widespread faction that would be quite satisfied with their
lives if only the Republican threat would subside in favor of the quiet
competency Obama brought to government. Personally, I wouldn't mind
that either, but I recognize that has a lot to do with my age. Young
people inhabit a very different world, one with less opportunity and
much graver risks, so platitudes from America's liberal past don't do
them much good, or offer much hope. They face real and growing problems,
and not just from Republicans (although those are perhaps the hoariest).
Talking about policy actually offers them some prospect that faith
alone can never fill. And sooner or later, even Biden's going to have
to talk about policy, because that's where the campaign is heading.
This could hardly offer a starker contrast to the 2016 Republican
presidential primary, where there was virtually no difference regarding
policy -- just minor tweaks to each candidate's plan to steer more of
the nation's wealth to the already rich, along with a slight range of
hues on how hawkish one can be on the forever wars and how racist one
can be when dealing with immigrants and the underclass. The real price
of entry wasn't ideas or commitment. It was just the necessity to line
up one or more billionaire sponsors -- turf that credibly favored Trump
as his billionaire/candidate were one. The fact that Cruz and Kasich
folded when they still had primaries they could plausibly have won is
all the proof you need that the financiers pulled the strings, and as
soon as they understood that Trump would win the nomination, they
understood that he was as good for their purposes as anyone else, so
they got on board.
Democrats may have a harder time finding unity in 2020, because
their candidates are actually divided on issues that matter. On the
other hand, they are learning to discuss those issues rationally,
especially the candidates who are pushing the Overton Window left.
Even if they wind up nominating some kind of centrist, that person
is going to be more open to solutions from the left, and that's a
good thing because that's where the real solutions are. Franklin
Roosevelt wasn't any kind of leftist when he was elected in 1932,
and his famous 100 days were all over the map, but he was open to
trying things, and quickly found out that left solutions worked
better than conservative ones. We're not quite as mired in crisis
as America was in 1932, but it's pretty clear that catastrophe is
coming if Trump and the Republicans stay in power. The option for
2020 is whether to face our problems calmly and rationally with
deliberate policy choices or to continue to thrash reflexively
and chaotically. There's no need to imagine how bad the latter
may be, because Trump's illustrating it perfectly day by day.
Some scattered links this week:
Muhammad Idrees Ahmad:
Bellingcat and how open source journalism reinvented investigative
Private equity pillage: grocery stores and workers at risk. I first
noticed this as a
twitter thread, but the article goes into a lot more detail (while
including all the cartoons). The article focuses on food retailers, but
if you want a quick rule-of-thumb, whenever you read about a familiar
company filing for bankruptcy, you can be pretty sure there's a private
equity fund behind it that has already sucked the firm dry of assets
and piled up unsupportable debt. Private equity firms -- you may recall
that's how Mitt Romney got so rich, not that having a rich and famous
father didn't give him a leg up -- are a plague, especially on American
workers. Some policy wonks should come up with a program to put them out
of business. One idea here would be to allow bankrupted companies to be
reorganized as employee-owned, writing down their PE debt, with public
loans to recapitalize the company.
Peter Baker/Maggie Haberman:
Trump campaign to purge pollsters after leak of dismal results.
Don't bother replacing Sarah Sanders -- there is no point.
I figured I should offer something to mark the passing of Trump's second
press secretary, but found very little that captures the true banality
she brought to such a thankless and hopeless job. Failing that, this will
have to do. Although I did also find: Luke O'Neil:
Tweets, lies and the Mueller report: Sarah Sanders' lowest moments.
On the other hand, Trump seems to think she has a future:
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Governor of Arkansas? It's possible.
The Stephanopoulos interview is another fine mess for Trump.
Trump: witness to my crime can't testify, but trust me he's lying:
That would be former White House counsel Don McGahn, who Robert Mueller
interviewed at length.
'The Lehman Trilogy' and Wall Street's debt to slavery: How to get
rich in the 1840s, and how to get richer after that stopped working.
The princes who want to destroy any hope for Arab democracy: Trump's
best buds in "Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are backing
military leaders who kill demonstrators.".
If Donald Trump is the symptom . . . then what's the disease?
Reflects on how Trump was elected based on a widespread fear of decline,
economic as well as military, only to accelerate that decline, taking
much of the planet with him. Some other recent TomDispatch posts:
Getting Chian wrong, yet again: Reviews a Council of Foreign Relations
report entitled "Trump's Foreign Policies are Better Than They Seem," so
yeah, they have lots of examples. Also see: Michael Klare:
Bolton wants to fight Iran, but the Pentagon has its eye on China.
Pentagon strategists have long liked to promote conflicts with Russia
and China, as they help fund their dreams of high-tech weapons systems
that never get tested, because wars with nuclear powers like China and
Russia are still unthinkable. Interesting that Klare's next book also
looks at highly speculative Pentagon funding: All Hell Breaking
Loose: Why the Pentagon Sees Climate Change as a Threat to American
National Security. Without such threats, and the misunderstandings
and myths they are based on, one might realize that such arms spending
is unnecessary and, even worse, dangerous.
Congress's high-stakes budget fight to avert an economic crisis, explained.
The world's most insane energy project moves ahead: the Carmichael
coal mine, in Australia, controlled by Adani Group (of India).
The Best People review: how Trump flooded the swamp: On Alexander
Nazaryan's new book, The Best People: Trump's Cabinet and the Siege
on Washington (out June 18), about "the scandals, the incompetence,
the assault on the federal government, the bungled attempts to impose
order on an administration lost in a chaos of its own making." Green
also reviewed Michael Wolff's recent dirt-dishing Siege: Trump
Siege review: Michael Wolff's Trump tale is Fire and Fury II -- fire
harder. Related: Robert Reich:
Welcome to Trump's corrupt state -- the Star Wars cantina of world
Better schools won't fix America: "Like many rich Americans, I used
to think educational investment could heal the country's ills -- but I
was wrong. Fighting inequality must come first."
Saudi Arabia may execute teenager for his protests -- including when he
Why I'm optimistic about the 'deal of the century': Not because he
thinks Jared Kushner's "peace plan" is viable let alone workable, but it
marks the definitive end of the "two state" albatross that Israel has so
easily slagged off. Rather: "The deal presents the biggest opportunity
to those who have the most to lose from it." I don't get this optimism
yet, although to the limited extent I understand the idea -- despite
the advance publicity, it hasn't been fully presented yet -- but I can
imagine some tuning that might be tolerable going forward. Hearst also
wrote [February 2019]:
Lords of the land: Why Israel's victory won't last. Meanwhile,
some other relevant links:
The UK has now committed to the most aggressive climate target in the
Thomas Kaplan/Jim Tankersley:
Elizabeth Warren has lots of plans. Together, they would remake the
economy. Related: Paul Krugman:
Liberal wonks, or at least Elizabeth Warren, have a plan for that; also
Can Elizabeth Warren win it all?; also: Ed Kilgore:
Elizabeth Warren's one-two punch for conquering Washington; also:
Trump campaign zeroes in on a new threat: Elizabeth Warren. Best
laugh line from the latter piece: "Warren's populist economic agenda,
[Tucker] Carlson said, 'sounds like Donald Trump at his best.'"
Trump can't stop lying about his unpopularity:
Donald J. Trump did not invent the art of political spinning. But he
has perhaps raised it to an infernally high standard of sheer mendacity
in his determination to attack any information suggesting he is anything
other than the most wildly successful and popular politician since Pericles.
That means, among other troubling things, that he is engaged in a perpetual
war against the scientific measurement of public opinion.
Is it actually illegal to accept "campaign dirt" from foreigners?
If it's "something of value" doing so would violate campaign finance
laws. On the other hand, I doubt the law could prevent foreigners from
simply publishing and promoting "dirt" -- which is presumably what a
campaign would do with such information. In fact, most campaigns would
probably prefer that it come from an independent source.
The race to be the next British prime minister, briefly explained:
Seven candidates survived the first round of voting, the most famous
(and possibly the farthest apart politically) Boris Johnson (leader
with 114 votes) and Rory Stewart (last at 19 -- he's written a couple
of books on Afghanistan and Iraq which show some understanding of and
sympathy for the people there). Later rounds will reduce the field to
two, to be decided by registered Conservative Party members -- no one
in power there is eager to risk a new election. No mention of this here,
but since the Tories are a minority in Parliament, it seems to me that
their current coalition partners could scuttle the pick. [PS: See
Michael Savage/Toby Helm:
Boris Johnson's no-deal Brexit plan 'will trigger early election'.]
Sharon LaFraniere/Charlie Savage/Katie Benner:
People are trying to figure out William Barr. He's busy stockpiling
The Fed just released a damning indictment of capitalism: Title
after the jump: "The one percent have gotten $21 trillion richer since
1989. The bottom 50% have gotten poorer."
Dara Lind/Libby Nelson:
The fight over the 2020 census citizenship question, explained.
Trump tells Polish president: US media is corrupt: Actual quote:
"Much of the media unfortunately in this country is corrupt. I have to
tell you that, Mr. President." Trump could have turned this into a much
smarter quote by dropping "unfortunately" and adding: "that's why we
don't have to censor them." Of course, he wouldn't say that, because he
wants to censor them anyway. He feels so entitled he cannot recognize
that the media has been helped him out enormously. And he's such a
thin-skinned whiner he complains about them endlessly. Anything to
avoid a moment of reflection that might acknowledge that he's ever
done anything regrettable, let alone embarrassing.
The American right gets tired of democracy. I'd say the American right
has never liked democracy, and can point as far back as the early 1800s
when proposals to extend the vote to white male non-property holders were
met by worries that such people might use the vote to further their own
personal interests (to the detriment of their richer "betters"). But the
right is certainly getting more brazenly contemptuous of voting rights
and other aspects of democracy. This connects to a cluster of other links,
which purport to grapple with the question of what principles conservatism
has left after the right has pledged itself to politicians like Trump:
Against David French-ism.
Ross Douthat on the crisis of the conservative coalition: Interview
Josh Hawley could be the face of the post-Trump right.
The illiberal right throws a tantrum: sample quote:
I don't want to overstate the significance of this dispute between French
and Ahmari. They are yelling at each other in a walled garden; conservative
pundits in ideological magazines have little influence over a base whose
opinions are guided by the commercial incentives of Fox News and right-wing
talk radio, and the partisan imperatives of the Republican Party. If they
possessed such influence, Trump would not be president.
The question of whether the Republican Party would abandon liberal
democracy for sectarian ethno-nationalism was decided in the 2016 primary,
and all French and Ahmari are doing is arguing about it after the fact.
The commercial and social incentives for conservative writers to succumb
to Trumpism are vast. Some, like French, have had the integrity to stick
to their stated principles. Others, like Ahmari, have already fallen.
Today's skirmishes among conservatives resemble the irregulars in 1865
shooting at one another because they had not yet heard of Robert E. Lee's
surrender at Appomattox. And the support Ahmari has drawn suggests that
the conservative intelligentsia will offer less resistance to
authoritarianism than it did in 2015 and 2016.
House Democrats want to make accepting dirt on campaign opponents
from foreign governments a crime: "Democrats are rolling out a
new package of election security bills after Trump said he's open
to taking dirt on his 2020 opponents." That, or even the lesser
requirement to report foreign offers to the FBI, strikes me as a
bad idea: it practically begs foreign agents to set up and expose
Alabama's law forcing sex offenders to get chemically castrated,
Will climate change kill everyone -- or just lots and lots of people?
Oddly enough, I can think of adverse scenarios that are worse than the
ones discussed here -- war over diminishing habitat and resources is the
most obvious one -- but I can't imagine that no one would survive even
that, and I'm dead certain that the survivors will prove adaptable enough
to recover from any climate-induced dystopia. As for civilization ending,
the bigger threat is politically-directed stupidity (which seems to have
already claimed most of the Republican Party). As this explainer points
out, much of the dispute here really turns on the question of how much
threat we have to feel to act politically. Those who feel unheeded are
eager to turn out the hyperbole, but my impression is that so far that
has only had the perverse of undermining their credibility.
Trump's legally problematic claim that he'd accept "oppo research" from
foreign governments, explained.
Bosses pocket Trump tax windfall as workers see job promises vanish.
David E Sanger/Nicole Perlroth:
US escalates online attacks on Russia's power grid. Part of the
rationale here is to deter Russia from interfering in US elections,
but this reads more like a provocation along the lines of Nixon's
famous "madman theory" of threatening nuclear war. The assumption
seems to be that Russia will react rationally to such insanity, but
if they believe that, why not just sit down and negotiate some kind
of deal that would lessen the threat of cyberwarfare and present a
unified front against hacking by private parties and other countries.
Probably the same reason the US works to preserve its unique "first
strike" capability: to cower the rest of the world into submission
at the first demonstration of "shock and awe."
Is Pompeo angling to interfere in British politics? "In leaked
comments from a recent meeting with Jewish leaders, the US secretary
of state cites the need to 'push back' against a potential Corbyn
victory." Found a couple of useful links there:
Donald Trump and the art of the lie. He draws some examples from
Michael Wolff's Siege, others from the George Stephanopoulos
interview, but he could write the same article with fresh examples
any week of the year.
For Trump, lying is central to his disturbed psyche, and to his success.
The brazenness of it unbalances and stupefies sane and adjusted people,
thereby constantly giving him an edge and a little breathing space while
we try to absorb it, during which he proceeds to the next lie. And on it
goes. It's like swimming in choppy water. Just when you get to the surface
to breathe, another wave crashes into you. . . .
A tyrant's path to power is not a straight line, it's dynamic. Each
concession is instantly banked, past vices are turned into virtues, and
then the ante is upped once again. The threat rises exponentially with
time. If we can't see this in front of our own eyes, and impeach this
man now, even if he will not be convicted, we are flirting with the very
stability of our political system.
Sullivan also writes about Boris Johnson in the next section down
the page: "My Old Chum Boris." Sullivan knew Johnson from their school
days at Oxford together:
Boris was so posh it was funny. . . . He belonged, for example, to the
Bullingdon Club, an exclusive upper-class fraternity that specialized
in hosting expensive restaurant dinners for themselves, in white tie
and tails no less, with members eating and drinking till they were
stuffed and thoroughly shit-faced and then proceeded to puke on the
floors and vandalize the joint, smashing tables and chairs and china,
breaking windows and the like. Daddy would always pick up the price
for repairs. . . . Legend has it Johnson kept reinventing himself
politically and playing down his Toryism and poshness -- with the
help of then-student Frank Luntz, believe it or not -- and eventually
it worked and he won. I have to say I found him hugely entertaining,
and great company, but could never really take him seriously. He has
a first-class wit but a second-class mind and got a second-class
degree. If you want to measure the quality of his scholarship, check
out his deeply awful biography of Churchill, a thinly veiled attempt
to redescribe his own career as a Second Coming of Winston. . . .
But there is some sweet cosmic justice in Boris having to take
responsibility for the Brexit he backed. It may be a catastrophe,
but it will be his, and, for him at least, it sure will be fun.
Company part-owned by Jared Kushner got $90m from unknown offshore
investors since 2017. Also, Vicky Ward:
Jared Kushner may have an ethics problem -- to the tune of $90m.
Ivanka Trump cashed $4 million from her father's DC hotel in 2018:
"She and her husband, Jared Kushner, reported earning between $28.8 million
and $135.1 million in 2018.
How Trump turned liberal comedians conservative: Nice idea for a
piece, but doesn't deliver on its premise, nor approximate its title.
Weiss laments the eclipse of "wry satire," complaining that today "it's
all outrage and punching up -- and it's not always clear where the joke
is." I don't doubt that there has been a coarsening of humor since Trump
became president. Is any other reaction possible? I worry that many of
the jokes offer lazy simplifications (e.g., ragging on Trump for his
spelling and vocabulary lapses, like "covfefe"). I've also noted that
no one seems to be able to tell funny jokes about Democrats (exception
Hillary, but mostly in contrast to Trump). For instance, I can't recall
Seth Myers ever cracking a funny joke about Bernie Sanders. Also, I've
found myself with a pre-emptive groan every time Colbert does his "Doin'
It Donkey Style" routine. On the other hand, the real thing I've found
myself looking for from these comedians is solidarity. I rarely need
their help in understanding the news, but it's gratifying to know that
someone else shares my outrage.
UK signs order for WikiLeaks' Julian Assange to be extradicted to the US.
Why Trump remains open to receiving foreign aid during election
campaigns: Mostly links to other articles, but his summary is
As much as the media might be inclined to cast Trump's views on this
issue as an aberration, they are, on the contrary, completely in line
with what has become the GOP's overarching strategy for retaining power
as its capacity to win votes declines: through gerrymandering, stacking
courts, gutting campaign finance regulations, and now welcoming help
from foreign governments.
The Republicans' power-hunger corresponds directly with their
dwindling democratic opportunities.
A party that has realized it can't succeed by conforming with the
operating rules for a functioning democracy has concluded its self-ascribed
"right to govern" depends upon the systematic subversion of the principles
upon which this country was founded.
A tanker war in the Middle East -- again? Two oil tankers were
struck in the Straits of Hormuz between Iran and Oman. The Trump
administration and Trump's "allies" in Saudi Arabia and the UAE were
quick to blame Iran (with no proof but lots of innuendo), and Iran
immediately denied responsibility. One line in passing here sticks
with me: "Within hours, oil prices rose four per cent." A reminder
here of the "tanker war" in the late 1980s, although no mention of
the Iranian civilian airliner the US shot down then. More on Iran:
Meanwhile, no skepticism at the New York Times, where Bret Stephens
is already clamoring for war:
If Iran won't change its behavior, we should sink its navy.
Friday, June 14, 2019
My tweet on Trump's boast to the president of Poland that "much of
the media unfortunately in this country is corrupt":
So Trump tells president of Poland that the media in this country is
corrupt. Would have been smarter to add "that's why we don't have to
censor them." Or that he's built his career by exploiting that
corruption. But he's so vain he'd like to censor anyway.
Saturday, June 08, 2019
Expanded blog post,
Music: current count 31614  rated (+27), 251  unrated (+3).
Ran the numbers late Sunday evening, but added Monday's unpacking,
so the numbers have a slight skew from reality. I'm especially pleased
to get a copy of Orakel, the Swedish label Moserobie. It's
currently ranked number two on
Chris Monsen's Favorites list, and follows a Moserobie release
my own 2018 list. It's
gotten very expensive to mail CDs from Europe to the US recently,
and several of the last few labels I've been getting service from
seem to have dropped out (the ones I've felt the worst about are
Intakt and NoBusiness, plus Clean Feed a couple years back). With
labels like that, I try to find streaming sources, but it's not
Joe Yanosik wrote to tell me he's working up a Franco discography,
and asked whether I've considered doing a deep dive, especially into
his numerous Sonodisc recordings. I had, in fact, picked up a couple
of them in my shopping days, and have generally enjoyed everything I
picked up. Napster has a few of them I hadn't heard, so before long
I started working my way through them -- limiting myself to ones I
could figure out dates for. The grades below split 3 A-, 4 B+(***),
but there wasn't all that much to separate best from worst.
Notable music links this week:
Hank Shteamer: Anthony Braxton's Big Ideas.
New York City Jazz Record: I've never managed to see this before,
although it seems like most of the Jazz Critics Poll voters write
for it. I was first struck by Kurt Gottschalk's label spotlight on
Fundacja Sluchaj -- a Polish label I follow fairly closely because
they put whole records up on Bandcamp.
New records reviewed this week:
- Akiko Hamilton Dechter: Equal Time (2018 , Capri): [cd]: B+(*)
- Angles 9: Beyond Us (2018 , Clean Feed): [r]: B+(***)
- Big Thief: U.F.O.F. (2019, 4AD): [r]: A-
- Alan Broadbent Trio: New York Notes (2019, Savant): [r]: A-
- Avishai Cohen: Arvoles (2019, Razdaz/Sunnyside): [cd]: B+(***)
- Satoko Fujii/Ramon Lopez: Confluence (2018 , Libra): [cd]: B+(***)
- Injury Reserve: Injury Reserve (2019, Senaca Village): [r]: B+(***)
- Kedr Livanskiy: Your Need (2019, 2MR): [r]: B
- Rosie Lowe: Yu (2019, Wolf Tone): [r]: B+(**)
- Kelsey Lu: Blood (2019, Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
- Martha: Love Keeps Kicking (2019, Dirtnap): [r]: B+(**)
- Orville Peck: Pony (2019, Sub Pop): [r]: B-
- Red Kite: Red Kite (2019, RareNoise): [cdr]: B+(**)
- Chanda Rule: Sapphire Dreams (2016 , PAO): [cd]: B
- The Jamie Saft Quartet: Hidden Corners (2019, RareNoise): [r]: [cdr]: B+(**)
- The Twilight Sad: It Won/t Be Like This All the Time (2019, Rock Action): [r]: B
- Federico Ughi: Transoceanico (2016 , 577): [r]: A-
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries:
- Paul Bley/Gary Peacock/Paul Motian: When Will the Blues Leave (1999 , ECM): [r]: B+(**)
- Alex Chilton: Songs From Robin Hood Lane (1991-94 , Bar/None): [r]: B+(*)
- Franco Et TP OK Jazz: 1966/1968 (1966-68 , Sonodisc): [r]: B+(***)
- Franco Et TP OK Jazz: 1967/1968 (1967-68 , Sonodisc): [r]: A-
- Franco & Le TP OK Jazz: 1971/1972: Likambo Ya Ngana (1971-72 , Sonodisc): [r]: A-
- Franco, Vicky Et L'OK Jazz: Marceline Oh! Oh! (1972 , Sonodisc): [r]: B+(***)
- Franco Et Le T.P. OK Jazz: 79/80/81 Live: Kinshasa Makambo (1979-81 , Sonodisc): [r]: B+(***)
- Franco Et Le TP OK Jazz: Makambo Ezali Bourreau: 1982/1984/1985 (1982-85 , Sonodisc): [r]: B+(***)
- Franco/Simaro/Jolie Detta Et Le T.P. O.K. Jazz: 1986-1987-1988 (1986-88 , Sonodisc): [r]: A-
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
- Sharman Duran: Questioning Reality (self-released)
- Rosana Eckert: Sailing Home (OA2): June 21
- Per 'Texas' Johansson/Torbjörn Zetterberg/Konrad Agnas: Orakel (Moserobie)
- La La Lars: La La Lars II (Headspin)
- Xavier Lecouturier: Carrier (Origin): June 21
- Greta Matassa: Portrait (Origin): June 21
- Moutin Factory Quintet: Mythical River (Laborie Jazz)
- Matt Olson: 789 Miles (OA2): June 21
- Marlene Rosenberg: MLK Convergence (Origin): June 21
- Chanda Rule: Sapphire Dreams (PAO)
- Erik Skov: Liminality (OA2): June 21
- Ståhls Trio: Källtorp Sessions: Volume One (Moserobie)
Friday, June 07, 2019
No introduction. Cut my finger while cooking, and can't type worth
a damn. Getting late, too.
Some scattered links this week:
13 Democrats recorded messages about Israel. Only one spoke with
courage. Bernie Sanders.
Democrats learned the wrong lesson from Clinton's impeachment: "It
didn't actually cost the GOP all that much."
Alexia Fernández Campbell:
The May jobs report is a big disappointment for workers and bad news for
Juliet Eilperin/Josh Dawsey/Brady Dennis:
White House blocked intelligence agency's written testimony calling
climate change 'possibly catastrophic'.
The persistent ghost of Ayn Rand, the forebear of zombie neoliberalism.
Review of Lisa Duggan's Mean Girl: Ayn Rand and the Culture of Greed.
After mentioning various political figures, like Paul Ryan and Mike Pompeo,
infatuated with Rand, Gessen finishes:
Their version of Randism is stripped of all the elements that might
account for my inability to throw out those books: the pretense of
intellectualism, the militant atheism, and the explicit advocacy of
sexual freedom. From all that Rand offered, these men have taken only
the worst: the cruelty. They are not even optimistic. They are just
What HBO's "Chernobyl" got right, and what it got terribly wrong:
We watched all five episodes this week, and I thought they did a
remarkable job of explaining the causes and consequences of one of
the devastating man-made disasters of our time. Gessen compliments
the series whenever it sheds a harsh light on the Soviet bureaucracy,
then attacks it for not being harsh enough. Her critique is most
effective regarding Ulyana Khomyuk (Emily Watson), a single character
invented to represent the hundreds of scientists assigned to figure
out what went wrong, what more could go wrong, and how best to deal
with all that. Gessen faults Khomyuk as a stock Hollywood hero, but
what bothers me more is the reduction of a large group effort, with
all the complex interaction of major scientific endeavors, to small
acts of individual heroism. I've made the same complaint about the
series Manhattan, which reduced nearly all of the high-level
technical decision to just two characters -- both American, losing
any recognition that most of the major scientists working on the
project were Europeans (who, aside from some Brits and a celebrity
visit by Niels Bohr, were totally written out of the story). The
other conspicuous omission/error I found was when the lead scientist
attributed the critical "design flaw" and the lack of a containment
chamber to the Soviets' tendency to do things on the cheap. As I
understand it, the main consideration for the RBMK reactor design
was its use for producing bomb fuel as well as electricity, which
required frequent access to extract plutonium from the core. Still,
I think the writer here, Craig Mazin, makes a good case for telling
the story this way. See: Emily Todd VanDerWerff:
HBO's Chernobyl is a terrific miniseries. Its writer hopes you don't
think it's the whole truth. I haven't yet followed the link to
podcasts, which reportedly go into more detail about what's true
and what's been fictionalized in the series. VanDerWerff also wrote:
Chernobyl's stellar finale makes a case for the show as science
fiction. Also: Peter Maass:
What the horror of "Chernobyl" reveals about the deceit of the Trump
John Hudson/Loveday Morris:
Pompeo delivers unfiltered view of Trump's Middle East peace plan in
off-the-record meeting: What he told "a closed-door meeting with
An Iranian activist wrote dozens of articles for right-wing outlets.
But is he a real person? "Heshamat Alavi is a persona run by a
team of people from the political wing of the MEK. This is not and
has never been a real person."
Why conservatives are winning the internet: Interview with Jen
Schradie, author of The Revolution That Wasn't: How Digital Activism
Favors Conservatives. "Ultimately, it's not about the tool; it's
about the inequalities in our society that give certain people advantages
4 disturbing details you may have missed in the Mueller report: "and
none of them are favorable to the president."
How Trump could restart the nuclear arms race. And how this dovetails
with Putin's interests in the same: Reese Erlich:
Nuclear disarmament: the view from Moscow.
Manifest destinies: "The tangled history of American and Israeli
exceptionalism." Review of Amy Kaplan's book, Our American Israel:
The Story of an Entangled Alliance.
Trump tightens Cuba travel rules: "The US bans cruises and restricts
certain travel in a move meant to pressure Cuba. . . . All of these
policy moves reflect the administration's Cold War-esque approach to
Latin America that has emerged since Bolton arrived as National Security
I want to live in Elizabeth Warren's America: "The Massachusetts
senator is proposing something radical: a country in which adults
discuss serious ideas seriously."
I'm impressed instead by something more simple and elemental: Warren
actually has ideas. She has grand, detailed and daring ideas, and
through these ideas she is single-handedly elevating the already
endless slog of the 2020 presidential campaign into something
weightier and more interesting than what it might otherwise have
been: a frivolous contest about who hates Donald Trump most.
Michael E Mann:
Trump is giving Americans dirty water, dirty air, and a very dirty
climate: Alternate title by Paul Woodward -- Newsweek's is "Trump
lied to Prince Charles's face -- and to the world."
To say that Donald Trump's jaw-dropping display of environmental ignorance
while in the United Kingdom is an embarrassment to all Americans would be
an understatement. But the worst part of his ramblings about how we have
"among the cleanest climates there are based on all statistics" isn't that
it sounds like the ramblings of a Fox News addict. It's that his
administration is doing everything it can to work towards the opposite:
dirty water, dirty air, and, well, a very dirty climate.
Found a link there to another article which people who regard Trump
as Putin's stooge might pick up and run with: Hannah Osborne:
Climate change could make Russia's frozen Siberia far more habitable
by the 2080s.
Dylan Matthews/Byrd Pinkerton:
The incredible influence of the Federalist Society, explained.
The nudgeocrat: "Navigating freedom with Cass Sunstein." Review of
Sunstein's recent short book, On Freedom, although he's been
rehashing those same ideas for a long time now, most notoriously in
Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness
(co-authored by Richard H. Thaler). He pushes "libertarian paternalism,"
where technocratic elites rig default choices to help guide the minions
to better choices without making them feel like they're being run.
Joe Biden's evolution on abortion, explained.
America needs to reexamine its wartime relationships: "The lessons
of the 1920s have been painfully relearned." Evidently not the author's
title, as the main thrust of the article is that Keynes was right about
the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, and is still right today. Quiggin also
pointed me to this report:
Advertising as a major source of human dissatisfaction: Cross-national
evidence on one million Europeans.
Nathan J Robinson:
The best they've got: "Examining the National Review's 'Against
Socialism' issue" -- an article-by-article answer, which mostly suggests
that the writers are blithering idiots, with most authors understanding
nothing more than that socialism is bad, bad, bad.
Forget GDP -- New Zealand is prioritizing gross national well-being.
Why Joe Biden is holding on to such a strong lead in the 2020 primary
polls: "Biden has one big advantage in the 2020 Democratic primary
polls: older voters." Some numbers: with voters over age 45, Biden leads
sanders 45-10%; under 45, Sanders leads Biden 26-19%. Older dividing
lines increase the break for Biden. I'd guess that the world looks very
different as you move away from the 45 dividing line: older voters have
their lives relatively set and secure, as long as moderate Democrats can
protect Social Security/Medicare against further Republican depredation;
on the other hand, younger voters have bleaker job prospects, lots of
debt (their children's prospects looking even worse), and longer range
fears over the environment and war. They see Biden as representative of
the generation of mainstream Democrats whose accommodation to business
and the Republicans have let their prospects decline.
Trump is really unpopular in the most important 2020 battleground states:
"Trump is deep underwater in New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Michigan, and other
key 2020 states.
Tim Starks/Laurens Cerulus/Mark Scott:
Russia's manipulation of Twitter was far vaster than believed. Of
course, not just Russia funds trolls. See: Jason Rezaian:
The State Department has been funding trolls. I'm one of their targets.
The climate crisis is our third world war. It needs a bold response.
I get his point, but when he brings up this particular analogy he wanders
into all sorts of conceptual minefields. War and climate change both
cause vast devastation, but the agencies are different, and so are most
of the effects. Even more specious is the notion that we need a war to
work up the courage and will to tackle difficult problems -- as phony
wars on poverty and drugs and so forth have repeatedly shown. Moreover,
you can never measure the true cost of wars in dollars -- as Stiglitz
tried to do in The Three Trillion Dollar War: The Truth Cost of the
Iraq Conflict (2008, so by now probably a couple trillion short).
When the US was attacked during the second world war no one asked, "Can
we afford to fight the war?" It was an existential matter. We could not
afford not to fight it. The same goes for the climate crisis. Here, we
are already experiencing the direct costs of ignoring the issue -- in
recent years the country has lost almost 2% of GDP in weather-related
disasters, which include floods, hurricanes, and forest fires. The cost
to our health from climate-related diseases is just being tabulated, but
it, too, will run into the tens of billions of dollars -- not to mention
the as-yet-uncounted number of lives lost. We will pay for climate breakdown
one way or another, so it makes sense to spend money now to reduce emissions
rather than wait until later to pay a lot more for the consequences -- not
just from weather but also from rising sea levels. It's a cliche, but it's
true: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
The war on the climate emergency, if correctly waged, would actually
be good for the economy -- just as the second world war set the stage for
America's golden economic era, with the fastest rate of growth in its
history amidst shared prosperity. The Green New Deal would stimulate
demand, ensuring that all available resources were used; and the
transition to the green economy would likely usher in a new boom.
Lots of other analogies bother me here. I can't imagine that any
amount of climate change will end human habitation or civilization,
and even if it did the earth will carry on, oblivious to evolution
of its surface chemistry. The great risk from climate change is that
it will cause destabilization and disruption, and that those things
will impose pain and loss and, most likely, greater strife. It may
be hard to convince people that such threats matter, but reasonable
people recognize that they do.
Michael Wolff's 'Siege' is like his last book -- but worse.
Bowe Bergdahl's story lays bare the tragedy of our forever wars:
review of American Cipher: Bowe Bergdahl and the U.S. Tragedy in
Afghanistan, a book by Matt Farwell and Michael Ames.
Trump's D-Day speech was great. He was the wrong man to give it.
If all I knew was the title, I'd guess that someone wrote him a fairly
decent speech, but it felt off because Trump is incapable of delivering
the emotions the speech intended to convey. Aside from his peculiar form
of malicious humor, which he manages to deliver with unthinking grace,
he may be the worst speaker I've ever seen among major political figures.
Even when he's reading lines, he's so obviously out of character it's
disconcerting to try to follow him. But Ward doesn't say any of that.
He genuinely praises the speech, quoting sections which reveal nothing
more than the sanctimonious pablum of high school orators. Then he
denies that Trump is entitled to be valedictorian, because he dodged
the draft to avoid Vietnam, and because he's said various impolitic
things about NATO, America's anointed allies, and Robert Mueller --
reminding us that Mueller is a veteran as well as a patriot. Final
line: "If Trump really wants to honor D-Day's heroes, he should live
and work by their values from here on out." Sometimes it's hard to
sort out who confuses Ward the most, but given their demographics
(male, 93+ years old) those surviving "D-day heroes" probably voted
overwhelmingly for Trump. They were no more than typical Americans
at the time, and 75 years of cynical, self-serving militarism later
their view of the world is unlikely to be less warped than that of
anyone else today.
Oh, by the way, isn't the celebration of D-Day anniversaries a
bit chauvinistic (for America, of course, but also for France, which
bequeathed us the term)? The turning point of WWII in Europe was the
Battle of Stalingrad, where the Soviet Union, at enormous cost, halted
and started to reverse the German advance. Even after D-Day the war was
overwhelmingly fought in the East, where the suffering was immense. Not
that D-Day was a picnic. For something realistic, see: David Chrisinger:
The man who told America the truth about D-Day, a profile of famed
journalist Ernie Pyle.
Trump escalates feud with London mayor by calling him a "stone cold
loser": "Trump's spat with Sadiq Khan has lasted years."
In Alabama -- where lawmakers banned abortion for rape victims --
rapists' parental rights are protected.
Human rights in the US are worse than you think: "From police shootings
to voter suppression to arrests of asylum seekers, a new report finds US
human rights are abysmal."
Trump's obfuscation on the climate crisis.
Public support for left-wing policymaking has reached a 60-year high:
"Just slightly higher than the previous high point of 1961." The study
specifically looks at public attitudes to "big government," although
that's a right-wing scare term. The more basic question is how many
people think government should take a more active role in addressing
general problems, and consequently look to progressive politicians for
help. One thing I find interesting about this is that this shift in
opinion hasn't been led by Democratic politicians advocating a larger
role for government. Rather, it seems to be a groundswell, as more and
more people realize that the Republican "small government" obsession
has lost credibility. I'd also add that popular belief in liberal and
progressive ideals, so dominant in the New Deal/Great Society era,
never changed. Rather, people lost faith in the Democrats' ability
to defend and extend those ideals, which gave Reagan and his ilk a
chance to argue that their conservative ideas might do a better job
of securing the American Dream. They succeeded to a remarkable degree,
but only used their power to increase inequality and injustice. As
their effects have become more manifest, their rationalizations have
become more threadbare and disingenuous, to the point where fewer
and fewer people believe anything they say. The last to realize
this seem to be the mainstream media and centrist Democrats, but
even they are losing their blinders. Eric Levitz also writes
about this study:
America's political mood is now the 'most liberal ever recorded'.
Why Trump's Mexico tariffs are producing a revolt when China tariffs
didn't. Trump's China trade war is (mostly) pro-business, while
Trump's Mexico trade war is about immigration. Opposing immigration
may still be good politics for Trump, but restricting trade makes it
bad for business, and that's the one thing Republicans are willing to
break with Trump on.
What makes this standoff interesting is that Trump is asking, in a
small way, for a sacrifice the business wing of the GOP is never asked
to make. . . . The way the deal is supposed to work is that cultural
conservatives provide the votes, and they get their way on issues the
business community doesn't care about (until cultural conservatives'
views become an unpopular embarrassment the way opposition to same-sex
marriages and military service is), but business isn't supposed to
actually sacrifice its interests for the sake of cultural conservative
causes. With the tariff gambit on Mexico, Trump is overturning that
logic in a way that his other trade shenanigans haven't. And that's
why congressional Republicans are resisting in an unusual way.
The Joe Biden climate plan plagiarism "scandal," explained: "A
reminder of some bad history, but far and away the least important
part of his climate plan." Reviews the "bad history" of plagiarism
charges against Biden in 1987 for cribbing from a speech by a British
politician, which led to his withdrawal from the 1988 presidential
race. Neither case bothers me as plagiarism -- admittedly, not much
does -- but the charges reinforce the notion that Biden isn't a very
original thinker. But so does his climate plan. Indeed, his embrace
of received opinion is the foundation of his campaign.
Judy Shelton's potential nomination to a Federal Reserve Board seat,
Elizabeth Warren's latest big idea is "economic patriotism": "The
plan is to marry industrial policy to environmentalism and transform
the economy." Robert Reich applauds:
Elizabeth Warren's economic nationalism vision shows there's a better
Jared Kushner's telling indifference on refugees.
Banning former members of Congress from lobbying won't fix the revolving
door: "Congress needs more staff money and public financing, not
tighter rules." Yglesias previously argued
members of Congress themselves should be paid more, so he's extending
that logic to staff members: maybe if they're paid more as public servants
better people would seek these jobs, and be less likely to sell out to
lobbyists later. I rather doubt this. On the other hand, while a lifetime
ban strikes me as excessive, I can imagine some regulations helping. One
could, for instance, limit pay by lobbying firms, which would have put a
severe cramp into Billy Tauzin's move from the House to head up PHARMA
just after Tauzin managed the passage of the Medicare D bill (which kept
insurers from negotiating prices with pharmaceutical companies). Still,
it's hard to think of things that couldn't be worked around. The core
problem is that we live in a very inequal society, which rewards (and
therefore drives) everyone to maximize income, and rarely (if ever)
enforces taboos (let alone laws) against graft. That may seem like too
tall an order, but some little steps would help: much higher tax rates
for high incomes, making lobbying expenses taxable, and most important
of all, cutting off the main flow of corruption by public funding of
How bad can Brexit get? "Theresa May is out, but the crisis that made
her premiership both possible and untenable has intensified."
Wednesday, June 05, 2019
Scraped from Kathleen Geier's Facebook post:
If I am Donald Trump, the Democrat I most want to run against in
2020 is definitely Joe Biden.
Here are some of the reasons why:
I can tell working class voters of all races about Biden has
fucked them over by supporting NAFTA and championing the slimiest
practices of the credit card industry and other corporate
predators. This should help me hold on to some of the support I got
from white working class voters in the Midwest and it will depress
voter turnout among the working class voters who normally vote
If I once again get accused of sexual harassment or sexual
assault, I can neutralize these charges by pointing to Hairsniffer
Joe's history of touching women inappropriately, a behavior that
continue into the present, as well as his treatment of Anita
I will be sure to have my people place targeted ads that remind
African-American voters of Biden's crime bill and his history as a
white backlash anti-busing candidate. Do I think this will win me
their votes? No, but it will cause a lot of them to stay
When people raise concerns about my cognitive decline and my
being too old to be president, I can point the finger at Biden, who at
76 is four years older than me, and whose affect and campaign is
Best of all, even if I lose, Biden has made it clear that,
unlike Warren or Sanders, he's not going to make any structural
changes to the system that made me so powerful in the first
place. Biden has pledged that things will go "back to normal," which
means that white collar elites like me, who have committed fraud and
abuse in the private sector and high crimes and misdemeanors in
office, won't be held accountable for them. Not only do I and my peeps
get off the hook, but Biden's approach will breed the kind of apathy
and cynicism that discourages left-wing activism and empowers the
right and the GOP.
No other Democrat is anywhere near as vulnerable on a whole range
of issues as Joe Biden is. He is clearly the weakest top-tier
candidate in the race and the one that Trump, and the rest of the
Republican party, would give their collective right arm to run
I am praying that my fellow Democrats don't make their dream come
Monday, June 03, 2019
Expanded blog post,
Music: current count 31587  rated (+29), 248  unrated (-3).
So, 29 again. Ran the counter this afternoon, after I found a missed
grade and added a "remembered LP" grade -- an LP I distinctly remember
having but which didn't get picked up when I jotted down my first grade
list (mid-1990s, I think). I may have cut it some slack -- main thing I
remember was being disappointed by it.
Once again, surprised that I bagged that many -- after a very slow
start, one that kept the Salamon Freequestra album in the changer for
close to three days. Finished with Alfred Soto's
top 20 list, checking out Mountain Goats, National, Tyler, and
Weyes Blood, leaving me with only 5 A- records from his 20 (Control
Top's Covert Contracts, Billie Eilish's When We All Fall
Asleep, Where Do We Go?, Robert Forster's Inferno, Lizzo's
Cuz I Love You, and Nilüfer Yanya's Miss Universe).
Only one Christgau pick in those five (Eilish), and only one more
in Soto's other 15 (Sharon Van Etten's Remind Me Tomorrow,
a low B+ for me).
Speaking of Eilish, Phil Freeman dissed her album in the course of
making a Facebook rant:
I will never stop griping about "Best Albums of [Year]" lists that
should be called "Best *Pop and Indie Rock* Albums of [Year]". Billie
fucking Eilish's album (to pick but one example: sub in Tyler, the
Creator if you're worried about sexism) is not better than the Art
Ensemble of Chicago's, so own your ignorance or just fuck off, OK?
And no, I'm not saying all jazz > all pop. I hear shitty jazz
records every day. I'm just saying that if you're simply ignoring
the possibility that a jazz album could even be one of the best
records of the year, especially given what's been happening in the
genre in the last 4-5 years, that's *fucked up*, and major publications
are fucking up by doing it.
I commented, taking exception to his examples: Eilish is currently
12 on my
Music Year 2019 list, behind 7 jazz
albums (counting my top-rated Heroes Are Gang Leaders: The Amiri
Baraka Sessions, which admittedly has vocals, although the other
6 don't) and 4 other non-jazz.
Of course, Freeman isn't complaining about me ignoring jazz albums in
my annual lists. And I'm not much bothered that who spends most of his
non-jazz time listening to metal should have trouble appreciating a
lo-fi girl singer-songwriter. Or even that he offers Tyler, a hip-hop
artist who buries himself in soft off-kilter tones, as another option
in hype. (I agree that he is overrated, but I also find Igor
to be his most pleasing and interesting album yet.) Where I disagree
is in positing that the Art Ensemble of Chicago survivors reunion album
is this year's flagship jazz hope. I played it (both CDs) until I gave
up all hope, then let if off easy with a B+(**), which is to say that
I currently have at least 50 jazz records this year that I like better.
On the other hand, if I had to handicap the 2019 Jazz Critics Poll,
I doubt I'd find more than a couple of my A- records in the top ten:
James Brandon Lewis's An Unruly Manifesto seems most likely,
then maybe Matthew Shipp's Signature, Moppa Elliott's Jazz
Band/Rock Band/Dance Band, Quinssin Nachoff's Path of Totality,
or David Berkman's Six of One -- hunches based as much on labels
and publicists as on the records themselves. But none of those artists
have fared well in past polls, which is a much stronger indicator.
Some albums you're more likely to find on JCP ballots (my grades in
- Art Ensemble of Chicago: We Are on the Edge: A 50th Anniversary Celebration (Pi, 2CD) [**]
- Bill Frisell/Thomas Morgan: Epistrophy (ECM) [*]
- Vijay Iyer/Craig Taborn: The Transitory Poems (ECM) [**]
- Julian Lage: Love Hurts (Mack Avenue) [***]
- Joe Lovano: Trio Tapestry (ECM) [***]
- Branford Marsalis Quartet: The Secret Between the Shadow and the Soul (Okeh) [***]
- Matt Mitchell: Phalanx Ambassadors (Pi) [**]
- Joshua Redman Quartet: Come What May (Nonesuch) [***]
- Wadada Leo Smith: Rosa Parks: Pure Love: An Oratorio of Seven Songs (TUM) [*]
- David Torn/Tim Berne/Ches Smith: Sun of Goldfinger (ECM) [***]
AEC looks pretty imposing on this list: it's big (last year was
dominated by 2-CD releases and won by Wayne Shorter's 3-CD monstrosity),
has historic cachet that reconciles the avant-garde with the tradition;
it augments what's left of a legendary group augmented with lots of
guest stars, and is on a label which always places records high in EOY
polls (that same label is the reason Mitchell is on this list). None
of the other records have that sort of cred, so maybe Freeman is right
to pick it. My only complaint is that it isn't good enough. If I wanted
to broaden the horizons of non-jazz critics, I'd start by recommending
Christgau remarked recently that EOY list-building has more to do
with brand identification than diligent sorting and ranking. I know
that to be true of my own lists, where my brand is somone who listens
to all kinds of things and doesn't give a fuck about what anyone else
thinks. As the Dean, I figure Christgau is more focused on building a
pantheon, but individual lists tend to be idiosyncratically personal
(and his certainly is). Freeman's referring to corporate lists, which
are carefully crafted to cater to a target audience. There's no place
for jazz in most, not because their writers dislike jazz (although
many do, or simply don't get the exposure -- hardly anyone hears much
outside of their niche these days), but because their editors don't
expect their readers to be interested in such things. So what you see
is what you'd expect when people of limited knowledge try to write
down to appeal/appease people who know even less.
Nonethless, as someone who has compiled literally thousands of EOY
lists in recent years, I believe that there is actually a tiny trend
toward more crossover jazz in predominantly indie/pop lists (although
more so in UK than US). Last year the major breakthroughs were Kamasi
Washington, Makaya McCraven, and Sons of Kemet (two A- records among
those three, the other a high B+, so those picks were much more
respectable as jazz than, say, Bad Bad Not Good from a few years
I could write volumes more on EOY lists (for data, see last
EOY aggregate and
Jazz Critics Poll).
But my bottom line is learn what you can from the data, don't
begrudge other people's pleasures, and don't rag on people for
not liking what you like.
Back to my original thread about what I reviewed this week:
beyond Soto's list, I looked at
AOTY's Highest Rated Albums of 2019 and picked out a few records
that seemed promising. Three sounded good enough to warrant multiple
plays before I settled on B+(***): Fontaines D.C.'s Dogrel (1),
Slowthai's Nothing Great About Britain (22), and Craig Finn's
I Need a New War. Two previously graded A- in top 25: Dave's
Psychodrama (2), and Little Simz's Grey Area (6), and
a bunch more I haven't heard. By the way, the Lee Perry dive started
Christgau's review of Rainford. I couldn't find it on
Napster, so went to
Obviously, a lot more Perry I haven't heard. I've always recommended
the 3-CD compilation, Arkology, but that only gets you 4 prime
years (expect overlap with Super Ape). I also really like the
recent (2014) Back at the Controls.
New records reviewed this week:
- Melissa Aldana: Visions (2019, Motéma): [r]: B+(**)
- Bruce Barth: Sunday (2017 , Blau): [r]: B+(**)
- Jerry Bergonzi: The Seven Rays (2019, Savant): [r]: B+(*)
- Dave Douglas/Uri Caine/Andrew Cyrille: Devotion (2018 , Greenleaf Music): [r]: B+(*)
- Ezra Collective: You Can't Steal My Joy (2019, Enter the Jungle): [r]: B
- Craig Finn: I Need a New War (2019, Partisan): [r]: B+(***)
- Fontaines D.C.: Dogrel (2019, Partisan): [r]: B+(***)
- Ryan Keberle & Catharsis: The Hope I Hold (2018 , Greenleaf Music): [cd]: B+(**)
- Maren Morris: Girl (2019, Columbia Nashville): [r]: B
- The Mountain Goats: In League With Dragons (2019, Merge): [r]: B+(**)
- The National: I Am Easy to Find (2019, 4AD): [r]: B+(**)
- Lee Scratch Perry: Rainford (2019, On-U Sound): [r]: A-
- Rotten Girlz: Punk You (2018 , Sazas): [cd]: B+(*)
- Samo Salamon & Freequestra: Free Sessions, Vol. 2: Freequestra (2016 , Klopotec): [cd]: A-
- Samo Salamon/Szilárd Mezei/Jaka Berger: Swirling Blind Unstilled (2018 , Klopotec): [cd]: B+(**)
- Slowthai: Nothing Great About Britain (2019, Method): [r]: B+(***)
- Peter Stampfel and the Atomic Meta Pagans: The Ordovician Era (2019, Don Giovanni): [r]: B+(*)
- Mavis Staples: We Get By (2019, Anti-): [r]: A-
- Tyler, the Creator: Igor (2019, Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
- Vampire Weekend: Father of the Bride (2019, Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
- Weyes Blood: Titanic Rising (2019, Sub Pop): [r]: B-
- Jerry Bergonzi Trio: Lost in the Shuffle (1998, Double Time): [r]: B+(**)
- Jerry Bergonzi: Spotlight on Standards (2016, Savant): [r]: B+(***)
- Lee Perry: Africa's Blood (1971, Trojan): [r]: B+(*)
- Lee Perry and the Upsetters: Some of the Best (1968-79 , Heartbeat): [r]: B+(***)
- The Upsetters: Super Ape (1976, Mango): [r]: A-
- The Upsetters: Return of the Super Ape (1978, Upsetter): [r]: B+(**)
Added grades for remembered lps from way back when:
- Lee "Scratch" Perry: The Return of Pipecock Jackxon (1980, Black Star Liner): B
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
- Akiko Hamilton Dechter: Equal Time (Capri): June 21
- Satoko Fujii/Ramon Lopez: Confluence (Libra): July 29
Sunday, June 02, 2019
No time for an intro, but let's credit Bernie Sanders for this tweet:
Soon we will send soldiers to Afghanistan who weren't even born yet
on September 11, 2001.
We've spent $5 trillion dollars on wars since 9/11.
And now some of the same people that got us into Iraq are trying
to start a war with Iran.
We must end our endless wars.
Some scattered links this week:
Alexia Fernández Campbell:
Mexican president to Trump: tariffs and coercion won't work.
A major coal company went bust. Its bankruptcy filing shows that it was
funding climate change denialism.
Saudi Arabia first: "The president is helping a repressive monarchy
wage war in open defiance of Congress. That's grounds for
What to do when you're a country in crisis: Review of Jared Diamond's
new book, Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in Crisis. Critiques
Diamond for imposing his "framework" on his historical cases, and goes
deep on fact checking -- some for sure, others pissier (like complaints
about using "unanimous" where unanimity is statistically impossible). I
recently wrote a Book Roundup blurb on Diamond's book, positing a similar
critique but not having read the book, not distracted by trivia.
Giridharadas ends by offering Jill Lepore's These Truths as a
contrast, but I did read that book, and noted a handful of egregious
factual errors there, as well.
Dahr Jamail/Barbara Cecil:
What would it mean to deeply accept that we're in planetary crisis?
David D Kirkpatrick:
The most powerful Arab ruler isn't M.B.S. It's M.B.Z.: Mohammed bin
Zayed, crown prince of United Arab Emirates. Related: David Hearst:
Abu Dhabi is trapped in a nightmare of its own making.
How Nancy Pelosi's tactics affirm the Trumpian style of politics.
"Trump will be gone someday, but the possibilities that Trumpism has
created will remain." This strikes me as wrong. To have any degree of
effectiveness, Pelosi has had to figure out how to stand her ground
against Trump's bullying. Adjusting to Trump's reality doesn't imply
accepting it as the new norm.
Republicans' successful campaign to protect Trump from Mueller's report
in one quote.
Bannon described Trump Organization as 'criminal enterprise,' Michael Wolff
More than 200 tornadoes devastated the Midwest over 13 days. Why?
One subtitle isn't very convincing: "Storm damages are getting worse,
but climate change isn't too much of a factor." Below it confirms my
suspicion that "Tornado Alley . . . is shifting east" in what appears
to be a long-term shift.
Bill Barr's Trump-toadying lickspittle ways, explained.
Bernie Sanders's most socialist idea yet, explained: "He wants to
mandate employee ownership of big companies." Also: Eric Levitz:
In appeal to moderates, Sanders calls for worker-ownership of means of
production. I've long felt that employee ownership of companies is
much preferable, both for workers and the public, to labor unions. I've
seen firsthand how giving employees an ownership stake makes their work
more productive and satisfying. Anything else generates class conflict,
often degenerating into a zero-sum contest. Of course, I support labor
unions, as they provide countervailing power against the arrogance and
abuse of unfettered management: strong unions help their workers, of
course, but they also strengthen the economy and reinforce/revitalize
We found the guy behind the viral 'drunk Pelosi' video.
Emily S Rueb:
'Freedom Gas,' the next American export.
Trump thinks the courts might save him from impeachment. It doesn't work
Troika fever: Key American allies in the Middle East are the real
This is what a real conservative looks like in 2019: In self-serving
praise of Robert Mueller and Justin Amash. Defines conservatism as "a
philosophy of limited, constitutional government, individual rights, trust
in tradition, love of country, prudence in foreign policy and restraint
at home." That's actually closer to classic liberalism: just town down the
reflexive jingoism, and allow for the possibility of progress -- e.g.,
extending individual rights to more (potentially all) people. The more
consistent core creed of self-annointed conservatives is their belief in
a natural social/political/economic hierarchy which places some people
above others. As democratic principles spread, conservatives have had
to hide their true agenda behind faux populism -- appeals to tradition,
to pride, and to prejudice -- which have often led them to embrace some
pretty unsavory politicians. Trump won them over by offering them the
only thing that matters to them: the spoils of winning.
Julian Assange must never be extradited.
Trump could save his presidency the way Bill Clinton did: Clever
Getting things done may be Trump's best hope of survival -- as the last
president who found himself in the impeachment crosshairs demonstrated.
In 1998, as Bill Clinton's presidency became engulfed in scandal
surrounding his affair with a White House intern, his mastery of what
was then called "compartmentalization" was tested. Day in and day out,
Clinton made sure Americans saw a functioning presidency. . . .
He could not prevent the investigation from going forward, or Congress
from trying to remove him from office. In December 1998, the House voted
two articles of impeachment against him, for perjury and for obstruction
But that very week, Clinton's job approval in the Gallup poll reached
73 percent -- not only the highest of his presidency, but among the best
recorded by any chief executive since the mid-1960s. By then, it had
become clear that the charges against him would not stick in the Senate,
which just under eight weeks later acquitted him.
By doing his job, Clinton saved his presidency.
Even in this polarized environment, there are still opportunities for
Trump to do the same.
Still, partisan asymmetry matters more than competency or popularity.
There was never any chance that Clinton would lose enough Democrats in
the Senate to be convicted there, and Trump is if anything in a stronger
position in the Senate now. His real problem is that his approval numbers
have never topped 43% since the election (compare to Clinton's 73%).
Maybe if Clinton was that low, he'd have something to worry about, but
Republicans are used to being unpopular, and most of what Trump is
unpopular for these days is being a hardcore Republican.
In Japan, Trump broke a cardinal rule of being America's president.
The 9 least popular Democrats running for president, briefly explained:
"The Laggard Nine," aka "the Sub-2 Percent Club"): Jay Inslee, Steve Bullock,
John Delaney, Eric Swalwell, Bill de Blasio, Tim Ryan, Michael Bennet, Seth
Moulton, Marianne Williamson.
Trump's new plan to tax Mexican imports, explained.
Robert Mueller should testify before Congress.
Joe Biden's low-key campaigning schedule, explained.
I started to include this link, because it fits into a discussion
several friends have been having about creating a game that would make
a case against nominating Joe Biden. I have mixed feelings about this,
partially explained below. On the other hand, I didn't get around to
presenting the other hand, so decided to drop it from the post.
Mehdi Hassan/Rebecca Traister:
Joe Biden would be a disaster: Podcast with transcript. I don't agree
that Biden would be a disaster, although I do think that nominating him
would be a missed opportunity. As I've noted, I think that 2020 may be a
pivotal, era-founding election. (There's no ironclad law at work here,
but we can identify four eras, each founded by a legendary president,
each ending with a notoriously bad president: Jefferson-Buchanan,
Lincoln-Hoover, Roosevelt-Carter, and Reagan-Trump; one might have
included Washington-Adams, but 12 years doesn't make for much of an era.
The latest era is anomalous in several respects, especially in that it
represents a turn away from the progressive expansion of democratic
rights.) Biden's total experience and instincts are totally rooted in
the compromises Democrats made to compete in the Reagan-Trump era. That
doesn't mean that if elected in 2020 he would continue to practice the
same submissive triangulation that marred the Clinton and Obama presidencies.
The party base today is going to pull him to the left, because it's
increasingly clear that the solutions to pressing problems are on the
left, and because we now know that centering impulses weaken the party.
After the post, I noticed an open tab with a multi-part tweet by
Jared Yates Sexton that someone had pointed my way. I rather hate
these things, so I may not have linked to it if I had noticed it in
time, but thought I might copy it here to see how much sense it makes:
I've written about this extensively in my new book The Man They
Wanted Me To Be, but it's really important to get this out: Trump's
behavior with Pelosi completely reflects the cycle of abuse that
myself and other survivors have endured. 1/
It's a really unpleasant thing to endure and it brings up some very
awful memories from my childhood, where I was systematically
physically and emotionally abused by insecure and unwell
men. Unfortunately, the president is an insecure and unwell man, the
The cycle is very simple. When an insecure man is threatened, he'll
lash out. This can be verbally or physically. It can be a dressing
down, a verbal tirade, the throwing of things, or a beating. Then,
after it's over, he'll try and make good or question the abusee's
Trump calling Pelosi "crazy" yesterday was really, really
triggering. I've seen, time and again, abusive men calling the women
they abuse crazy, calling into question what they endured, what I
watched happen. It's almost as bad as the actual abuse because it
fractures reality. 4/
Trump having his staff corroborate his version of events is
something that happens all the time. I've been made to corroborate
events I knew to be false simply because I was a frightened and
intimidated child. It was . . . jarring to watch it happen on the
national stage 5/
How this happens is pretty complicated and a lot to process. It
begins with childhood, where men are systematically abused themselves
in an effort to "toughen them up." By telling boys they can't have
emotions they're actually being emotionally abused in the
The message that's being sent though is that anyone who has
emotions, in this case women, are irrational. That means that men own
rationality and reality and that anytime a woman questions your
reality she's being "crazy" or irrational, which is what happened with
As I chronicle in THE MAN THEY WANTED ME TO BE, traditional
masculinity is a lie. Nobody can repress their emotions. But they can
pretend and pretend until eventually men develop what's called
alexithymia, which is a terrible emotional condition where they lose
With alexithymia men lose the ability to understand their own
emotions, they lose the ability to understand other's emotions, which
leads to them being "crazy" or "irrational." They often lose the frame
for their own emotional outbursts and ability to understand their
Watching Donald Trump, it's not hard to imagine he suffers from
alexithymia. Obviously he doesn't understand his own outbursts and has
no frame for the things he says and does. When he's questioned he
lashes out. In this case, maybe he believed he was calm, but he's
When men behave this way, those around them only have a few
options. You either submit to their worldview or face vicious
abuse. You see men around Trump who kowtow in fear constantly. That's
part of this cycle. With Pelosi, unfortunately, Trump isn't going to
As part of socialization men are taught the only acceptable
expressions are anger and violence. What we're seeing with Trump is
all his range of emotions. Pelosi challenged him and so he lashed
out. He questioned her sanity and has even promoted fake videos to
prove his point 12/
To anyone who's been abused, Trump is the embodiment of this
cycle. He brags incessantly while he's obviously pathetically
insecure. Anyone who even dares question him is ostracized and
attacked, belittled because he's afraid. He's really, really
It makes me sad to see the country resemble the abusive households
of my youth. Every day we worry what mood the president will be in,
whether it's a bad day or if we'll just be left alone. I've talked to
other survivors and the memories are visceral, palpable. 14/
Yesterday, as I heard him line up staff to back up his twisted
memories, I felt like I was four years old all over again, an angry
and dangerous man lording over me and demanding loyalty or else
promising violence. You don't shake that, and unfortunately that's
where we are. 15/
The truth is, Trump is unwell. Mentally, yes, but emotionally it's
undeniable. He's the embodiment of toxic masculinity and is so far
gone there's no reaching him. This is an abusive relationship, an
abusive situation we're living through, and he simply knows no other
We're going to keep seeing this cycle repeat itself until he's out
of office and we're going to be living with the ghosts of
it. Survivors of abuse carry their abuse with them the rest of their
lives. I certainly do, and to get better you have to recognize the
abuse as abuse. 17/
Listening to shows last night call it maneuvering just hid the true
nature of this. It isn't politics, it's personal, one-on-one abuse,
and if we don't recognize it we're not going to escape it or
understand it. There are many, many layers to this and simplifying
worsens it. 18/
A large reason why Trump enjoys the devotion he does is because the
people supporting him are locked into unhealthy cycles of
abuse. They've been victims too and they become locked in with his
abuse. It happens all the time. And to get past it we must recognize
In the meantime, as a survivor of abuse, I can tell you this: reach
out to anyone you know who is a survivor. These are really, really
trying times that reawaken the scars of abuse. Everyday the president
perpetuates a new dose of abuse and it takes a powerful
Saturday, June 01, 2019
When I posted my latest
on March 15 -- eleven months after my only 2018 compilation, after two
in 2017, four in 2016, and five in 2015 -- I figured another one would
be eminent. I got distracted, but here's a second batch of 40+ books,
and I'm pretty certain that a third will be ready in a few weeks. These
surveys are useful to me as a means of keeping track of what the world
knows and is thinking about. I've been trying to track "the coming dark
age" for some time now, but while lots of people seem to be getting
dumber (or at least more certain of their ignorance), a lot of smart
thinking is still being developed and preserved in books.
As I've started doing recently, I'm including various related books
in bullet lists following a leading one. There's also a supplemental
list at the end, of books worth noting but not (as far as I'm concerned)
at much length.
Jill Abramson: Merchants of Truth: The Business and the Fight
for Facts (2019, Simon & Schuster): Tries to update David
Halberstam's The Powers That Be (1979) by profiling four major
media corporation (The New York Times, The Washington Post, BuzzFeed,
and VICE) as they make business out of the public's appetite for news.
That, of course, raises the question of how the selection and reporting
of news is filtered and often distorted by each of their business and
cultural models. That's an intrinsically interesting question, but not
necessarily one that can be answered -- for one thing the author adds
her own limited vantage point. I can't say anything about charges that
sections of the book were plagiarized. Related:
- Alan Rusbridger: Breaking News: The Remaking of Journalism
and Why It Matters Now (2018, Farrar Straus and Giroux).
Carol Anderson: One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is
Destroying Our Democracy (2018, Bloomsbury USA): At some point
in recent history, Republicans came to realize that it was easier to
win by suppressing the vote among Democratic constituencies than it was
to convince those voters of a political program which actually promises
little more than to make the rich richer at the expense of everyone else.
Of course, this isn't new: all republics have struggled over who counts
and who doesn't, but the core idea of democracy -- each and every person
is entitled to the same vote -- has been hard to argue with, until very
recently. Even now, even among Republicans, the arguments tend to be
disguised, and much of the mischief avoids the spotlight. Also wrote,
with Tonya Bolden, We Are Not Yet Equal: Understanding Our Racial
Divide (2018, Bloomsbury). Previously wrote: White Rage: The
Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide (2016). Also on voting rights:
- Allan J Lichtman: The Embattled Vote in America: From the
Founding to the Present (2018, Harvard University Press).
Max Blumenthal: The Management of Savagery: How America's
National Security State Fueled the Rise of Al Qaeda, ISIS, and Donald
Trump (2019, Verso): For the most part, a basic primer on how
the US fed and nurtured its eventual enemies in the Middle East, in a
long series of events that ultimately show how arrogant and self-centered
the architects of American policy have been. That general book has been
written a half-dozen times already, with dozens of other tomes treating
one aspect or another of the big picture. However, by dropping Trump
into the title, he's adding another dimension: not just what American
plots and wars have done to the Middle East, but what such persistent
warmaking has done to the psyches of ignorant and oblivious Americans--
Trump being an example.
Steven Brill: Tailspin: The People and Forces Behind America's
Fifty-Year Fall -- and Those Fighting to Reverse It (2018,
Knopf): Journalist, wrote a book on Obamacare called America's
Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Backroom Deals, and the Fight to Fix
Our Broken Healtcare System (2015), looks for a bigger picture
and finds it in "an erosion of responsibility and accountability,
an epidemic of shortsightedness, an increasingly hollow economic
and political center, and millions of Americans gripped by apathy
and hopelessness." That sounds a bit like a backgrounder for Trump's
"Make American Great Again" campaign slogan, but it appears that
the culprit Brill identifies is Trump's own billionaire class.
Arthur C Brooks: Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save
America From the Culture of Contempt (2019, Broadside Books):
Someone might be able to write a decent book on this theme, but I doubt
that the president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative
propagandist who revels in his sense of moral superiority, is up to
the task. Previous feel-good books include: Who Really Cares: The
Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism (2006); Gross
National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America -- and How We Can
Get More of It (2008); The Battle: How the Fight Between Big
Government and Free Enterprise Will Shape America's Future (2010);
The Road to Freedom: How to Win the Fight for Free Enterprise
(2012), and The Conservative Heart: How to Build a Fairer, Happier,
and More Prosperous America (2015). Turns out that it's easy to
"love your enemies" once you've ground them under heel, which is the
author's real mission. More recent efforts to make the conservatives
seem like they think and care:
- Noah Rothman: Unjust: Social Justice and the Unmaking of
America (2019, Gateway).
- Ben Shapiro: The Right Side of History: How Reason and Moral
Purpose Made the West Great (2019, Broadside Books).
Contrast these with the right's more pedestrian hackwork, designed
to rile up hatred (and otherwise confuse you):
- Dinesh D'Souza: The Big Lie: Exposing the Nazi Roots of the
American Left (2017, Regnery).
- Jonah Goldberg: Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of
Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics Is Destroying
American Democracy (2018, Crown Forum).
- Mary Katherine Ham/Guy Benson: End of Discussion: How the
Left's Outrage Industry Shuts Down Debate, Manipulates Voters, and
Makes America Less Free (and Fun) (2015; paperback, 2017,
- Derek Hunter: Outrage, Inc.: How the Liberal Mob Ruined
Science, Journalism, and Hollywood (2018, Broadside Books).
- Mark R Levin: Rediscovering Americanism: And the Tyranny of
Progressivism (2017, Threshold Editions).
- Ben Shapiro: Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate
America's Youth (2004; paperback, 2010, Thomas Nelson).
Paul Buhle/Steve Max: Eugene V Debs: A Graphic Biography
(paperback, 2019, Verso): Buhle was editor of Radical America, a
major historian of American radical movements (co-editor of Encyclopedia
of the American Let), and a long-time of the
graphic book form, so the only thing surprising here is that it took
so long to come together. Art by Noah Van Sciver, with additional help
by Dave Nance. Actually, I've noted several of Buhle's graphic histories
in the past. Here's a longer list (credits aren't always clear):
- Paul Buhle/Nicole Schulman: Wobblies! A Graphic History of
the Industrial Workers of the World (paperback, 2005, Verso).
- Paul Buhle: The Beats: A Graphic History (2009;
paperback, 2010, Hill & Wang).
- Paul Buhle/Sabrina Jones: FDR and the New Deal for Beginners
(paperback, 2010, For Beginners).
- Paul Buhle: Radical Jesus: A Graphic History of Faith
(paperback, 2013, Herald Press).
- Paul Buhle/Noah Van Sciver: Johnny Appleseed (2017,
- Kate Evans: Red Rosa: A Graphic Biography of Rosa Luxemburg
(paperback, 2015, Verso): ed, Paul Buhle.
- Harvey Pekar/Paul Buhle: Studs Terkel's Working: A Graphic
Adaptation (paperback, 2009, New Press).
- Harvey Pekar: Students for a Democratic Society
(paperback, 2009, Hill & Wang): ed, Paul Buhle.
- Harvey Pekar/Paul Buhle: Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular and
the New Land (2011, Harry N Abrams).
- Spain Rodriguez: Che: A Graphic Biography (paperback,
2017, Verso): ed, Paul Buhle.
- Sharon Rudahl: Dangerous Woman: The Graphic Biography of
Emma Goldman (paperback, 2007, New Press): ed, Paul Buhle.
- Gilbert Shelton/Paul Buhle: Radical America Komiks
(paperback, 2019, PM Press): reprint of Radical America
"underground comix" edition from 1969.
- Nick Thorkelson/Paul Buhle/Andrew Lamas: Herbert Marcuse:
Philosophy of Utopia: A Graphic Biography (paperback, 2019,
- Howard Zinn/Mike Konopacki/Paul Buhle: A People's History
of American Empire: A Graphic Adaptation (paperback, 2008,
Chapo Trap House: The Chapo Guide to Revolution: A Manifesto
Against Logic, Facts, and Reason (2018, Atria Books): I went
through a kneejerk period in the 1960s when I rebelled so hard against
the liberal warmongers of the Democratic Party that I was willing to
throw away all appeals to "logic, facts, and reason," and embrace its
opposite (arts, irrationality, mysticism). I changed my tune when I
found that one could arrive at right conclusions through reason, and
I wound up more dedicated to rationality than ever before. So at first
glance I took this book to be complete, reactionary bullshit. But it
turns out this is meant to be funny, and it's aimed at young people
today who feel the same incoherent rage and disgust over the powers
that be as I felt back in the 1960s. The authors are comedians who
run some kind of podcast. And while there are some lame jokes and
outright bullshit here, their core claim harbors a kernel of truth:
"Capitalism, and the politics it spawns, is not working for anyone
under thirty who is not a sociopath." Once you understand that, you
can look elsewhere for better-reasoned explanations and proposals,
but that insight is a good place to start.
Sarah Churchwell: Behold, America: The Entangled History of
"America First" and "the American Dream" (2018, Basic Books):
Two iconic notions, offered as sweeping generalizations about America's
role in the world, adopted by various political movements for varying
ends depending on the time and place. The contemporary interest angle
is that both played large roles in the 2016 election, perhaps even more
so than in their long and storied past. On the other hand, they're
basically bullshit, at once able to flatter and mislead their political
targets, and there's something rather hollow about stretching a book
Kimberly Clausing: Open: The Progressive Case for Free Trade,
Immigration, and Global Capital (2019, Harvard University Press):
Theory tells us that free trade and unrestricted mobility of capital and
labor increases wealth all around. The reality is something else, as
global capital has exploited economic theory to effectively escape
nation-state regulation, leading to ever more extreme inequality,
stripping most people of most nations of their political standing.
That has in turn produced a backlash, both on the reactionary right
and on the left, which sees things like "free trade agreements" as
little more than a power- and wealth-grab. Causing attempts to save
theory from practice, by advancing political schemes to make open
borders work for everyone.
Anna Clark: The Poisoned City: Flint's Water and the American
Urban Tragedy (2018, Metropolitan Books): We routinely receive
warnings about America's crumbling infrastructure, but usually assume
those threats are things that could happen in the future, not things
already happening today. But the water system in Flint, Michigan has
already turned toxic, killing and irreparably harming people who merely
happened to live in the wrong place.
Michael D'Antonio/Peter Eisner: The Shadow President: The
Truth About Mike Pence (2018, Thomas Dunne Books): Two key
questions here: How bad is Pence? And how powerful is he? Trump had
promised to give his vice president unprecedented day-to-day power --
the first evidence of that was that Pence had the leading role in
staffing the administration, which is how Trump got surrounded by
so many orthodox extreme conservatives. But beyond his immediate
influence, I can't recall a moment of disharmony between Trump and
Pence -- indeed, hard to think of anyone else in the administration
one can say that about. Part of this is that Pence has been eager
and willing to support Trump's Kulturkampf fetishes, no matter how
loony (e.g., his stunt leaving a NFL game after players took the
knee during the national anthem, or his ridiculous task of holding
the official press conference announcing the Space Force). The
import of this is how Pence has set an example for even the most
hopelessly ideological Republicans to line up behind and join
forces with Trump.
Jared Diamond: Upheaval: Turning Points for Nations in
Crisis (2019, Little Brown): An anthropologist who since
his famous Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies
(1997) has used his license to practice macrohistory, taking a view
that straddles vast stretches of time and space to wrap big questions
up into tidy boxes. He picks on six countries for his turning points
this time: Japan (forced opening by US in 1860s), Finland (attacked
by Soviet Union in 1939 following their "non-aggression" pact with
Nazi Germany), Germany and Austria (post-WWII), Indonesia and Chile
(victims of US-backed coups in 1965 and 1973). He draws lessons for
Americans today. I doubt he has much to say about karma.
William Egginton: The Splintering of the American Mind:
Identity Politics, Inequality, and Community on Today's College
Campuses (2018, Bloomsbury): "Egginton argues that our
colleges and universities have become exclusive, expensive clubs
for the cultural and economic elite instead of a national, publicly
funded project for the betterment of the country. Only a return to
the goals of community, and the egalitarian values underlying a
liberal arts education, can head off the further fracturing of the
body politic and the splintering of the American mind." Lots of
gripes about higher education these days, many from the right.
Hard for me to sort these book out, probably because my own stake
in academia is so tenuous:
- Greg Lukianoff/Jonathan Haidt: The Coddling of the American
Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation
for Failure (2018, Penguin Books).
- Heather MacDonald: The Diversity Delusion: How Race and
Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermined Our Culture
(2018, St Martin's Press).
David Graeber: Bullshit Jobs: A Theory (2018, Simon
& Schuster): It's long been obvious -- I first picked up this
insight from a book by Paul Sweezy written in the 1950s -- that we
have a lot of jobs that don't really produce anything of value,
that are effectively pointless and parasitical, what Graeber has
finally called bullshit. He's an anthropologist and anarchist, the
writer of a major tome Debt: The First 5,000 Years, and a
book of his experience and theory of Occupy Wall Street, The
Democracy Project:A History, a Crisis, a Movement.
Greg Grandin: The End of Myth: From the Frontier to the Border
Wall in the Mind of America (2019, Metropolitan Books): Author
of a number of first-rate books on America's impact on Latin America --
e.g., Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the
Rise of the New Imperialism (2006) -- easily sees the links between
two centuries of US aggression and the militarization of the US-Mexico
border. Timely enough to include Trump's border wall fixation, though
not the latest blow up in Venezuela.
Bradley W Hart: Hitler's American Friends: The Third Reich's
Supporters in the United States (2018, Thomas Dunne Books):
Some were well known, like Charles Coughlin and Charles Lindbergh,
the Bund and the America First Committee. I wouldn't be surprised to
hear names like Koch and Trump pop up, although neither appear in
what I've read. Still, I'd guess that actual supporters were fewer
in number than sympathizers and apologists, especially those with
home-grown racist and/or anti-labor agendas. On the other hand I
really doubt that every isolationist was anti-semitic. Before WWII,
Americans had a long history of believing that we should stay away
from foreign entanglements, and the war schemes they lead to.
Daniel Immerwahr: How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater
United States (2019, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Beyond the 48
continental states, the US managed to pick up various far-flung lands,
and has actually managed to keep more of them than any European rival:
Alaska and Hawaii have become full-fledged states, Puerto Rico and
various smaller islands are in limbo, the Philippines were let go
but only losing them to Japan, the Panama Canal Zone was returned to
Panama (which was itself a US creation), Cuba was never officially on
the books but treated like a colony until its revolution. This surveys
most of that list, stopping short of the coups and incursions and a
globe-straddling archipelago of bases and even more pervasive property
claims by private Americans and friendly investors.
Stephen Kinzer: The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark
Twain, and the Birth of American Empire (2017; paperback,
2018, St Martin's Griffin): To be clear, Roosevelt was for and
Twain was against in this particular political debate (c. 1898,
what we've dubbed the Spanish-American War) over whether America
should impose itself on others as an empire -- arguably not the
first such debate, and most certainly not the last. Evan Thomas
covered the pro-empire side (mostly) in The War Lovers: Roosevelt,
Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire (2010); also Kinzer has
previously written about the 1898 annexation of Hawaii in Overthrow:
America's Century of Regime Change From Hawaii to Iraq (2006).
Still, would be good to pay more attention to the anti-war/empire
Eric Klinenberg: Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure
Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life
(2018, Crown): Sociologist, writes about the value of shared spaces --
examples given include libraries, childcare centers, bookstores, churches,
synagogues, and parks -- for building social bonds and a sense of common
interests, as opposed to the fragmentation and isolation that has lately
taken hold almost everywhere.
Kevin M Kruse/Julian E Zelizer: Fault Lines: A History of the
United States Since 1974 (2019, WW Norton): A broad history of
what I've started calling the Reagan-to-Trump era, backing up a couple
years (the falls of Nixon and Saigon, OPEC embargoes, desegregation
riots in Boston) to get a running start. Jill Lepore says this details
how "Americans abandoned a search for common ground in favor of a political
culture of endless, vicious, and -- very often -- mindless division."
Kruse previously wrote White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern
Conservatism (2005), and One Nation Under God: How Corporate America
Invented Christian America (2015). Zelizer has written The Fierce Urgency
of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society
(2015, Penguin Press), and a few more, including books on the presidencies
of Jimmy Carter, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.
Milton Lodge/Charles S Taber: The Rationalizing Voter
(paperback, 2013, Cambridge University Press): Argues that "political
behavior is the result of innumerable unnoticed forces and conscious
deliberation is often a rationalization of automatically triggered
feelings and thoughts," testing five basic hypotheses: "hot cognition,
automaticity, affect transfer, affect contagion, and motivated reasoning."
Yglesias used this book to explain Kanye West's embrace of Trump.
Michael Mandelbaum: The Rise and Fall of Peace on Earth
(2019, Oxford University Press): Argues that "in the twenty-five years
after 1989, the world enjoyed the deepest peace in history." Further
asserts that this blissful state ended "because three major countries --
Vladimir Putin's Russia in Europe, Xi Jinping's China in East Asia, and
the Shia clerics' Iran in the Middle East -- put an end to end to it
With aggressive nationalist policies aimed at overturning the prevailing
political arrangements in their respective regions." Pretty amazing that
anyone can look at the last 25-30 years and fail to identify the one
nation that has been almost constantly at war, attacking "enemies" in
more than a dozen countries scattered all around the world. Also that
the author overlooked a number of other wars that broke out during the
period, including the period's most deadly wars (in and around Congo).
Bill McKibben: Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself
Out? (2019, Henry Holt): Wrote one of the early books on global
warming, The End of Nature (1989). I read it during a mid-summer
trip to Florida, where my initial skepticism was overcome by seeing and
feeling how much heat could be absorbed into the atmosphere. Still, I
hated his metaphor, and he has a knack for coming up with new irritating
ways to say the same thing ever since. (Eaarth was the worst.)
This is his latest, probably even more impassioned as he's made his
career move from critic to activist. I'd probably find his 2013 memoir,
Oil and Honey: The Education of an Unlikely Activist, more to
my taste than this doomsday screed. But despite the hyperbole, he's
been basically right all along. You have to respect that.
John J Mearsheimer: The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams
and International Realities (2018, Yale University Press):
Foreign policy mandarin, subscribes to the realist wing like his
sometime co-author Stephen M Walt, has developed a healthy skepticism
about how American foreign policy is practiced. Problem here is
likely to be his choice of "Liberal Dreams" as his evil strawman.
Although political liberals, especially in the anti-communist 1950s,
readily supported America's originally bipartisan, military-first
foreign policy, this policy has never advanced "liberal dreams."
For the last 30-40 years, "liberal hegemony" has never been more
than a neocon ruse, an attempt to dress up old-fashioned imperial
power projection with a patina of nice words. Meanwhile, Walt has
his own new book:
- Stephen M Walt: The Hell of Good Intentions: America's
Foreign Policy Elite and the Decline of US Primacy (2018,
Farrar Straus and Giroux).
Steve Pearlstein: Can American Capitalism Survive? Why Greed
Is Not Good, Opportunity Is Not Equal, and Fairness Won't Make Us Poor
(2018, St Martin's Press): Reminded me first of Robert Kuttner's 2018
book Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism (still unread on
my shelf), but the questions are slightly different. Pearlstein seems
to assume democracy will have the final say, and asks instead whether
capitalism can be reformed in ways that will make it palatable to most
people. Clearly, its current practices like "squeezing workers, cheating
customers, avoiding taxes, and leaving communities in the lurch" tend
to undermine public trust and confidence.
Nomi Prins: Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World
(2018, Nation Books): Former bond trader, found her calling writing
about the banking racket in the Bush years -- Other People's
Money: The Corporate Mugging of America (2004), Jacked: How
"Conservatives" Are Picking Your Pocket (Whether You Voted for Them
or Not) (2006), It Takes a Pillage: Behind the Bailouts,
Bonuses, and Backroom Deals From Washington to Wall Street
(2009) -- looks at how "the open door between private and central
banking has ensured endless opportunities for market manipulation
and asset bubbles." I'm not a big fan of the titles per sé,
but few people have written more lucidly about how theirs racket
John Quiggin: Economics in Two Lessons: Why Markets Work So
Well, and Why They Can Fail So Badly (2019, Princeton University
Press): Author of Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among
Us, an important effort to clear out much of the dead wood, takes
up Henry Hazlitt's 1946 classic, Economics in One Lesson, which
he summarizes as "leave markets alone, and all will be well." But all
isn't well, as there are many cases of market failures, so Quiggin adds
"Lesson Two: Market prices don't reflect all the opportunity costs we
face as a society." He gives 400 pages of examples and explanations,
in what may be one of the essential texts of modern economics.
Eric Rauchway: Winter War: Hoover, Roosevelt, and the First
Clash Over the New Deal (2018, Basic Books): After an overwhelming
majority of Americans voted to free themselves from President Herbert
Hoover, they faced a four-month delay until the new president could be
sworn in -- a period so grueling that the US Constitution was changed
to move future inaugurations up from March to January. This book covers
those four months, a kind of pre-history to the famous "100 days" that
followed Franklin Roosevelt's inauguration. In terms of anticipatory
obstructionism, Hoover probably holds the record -- although John Adams
in 1800-01 raised the bar, and Donald Trump will no doubt try to top
them all in the shorter 2020-21 transition period.
Richard Rhodes: Energy: A Human History (2018, Simon
& Schuster): Recaps the history of mankind as the story of claiming
and taming sources of energy, possibly starting with human and domesticated
animal muscle, but wood, coal, oil, and nuclear play larger roles in this
story -- Rhodes seems to be especially fond of nuclear, although the four
major books he's written on nuclear bombs can be read as cautionary tales.
I've read those four books, plus a couple more, and don't doubt that he
is capable of synthesizing such a large and important story.
Nathaniel Rich: Losing Earth: A Recent History (2019,
MCD): A history, pointing out that by 1979 "we knew nearly everything
we understand today about climate change -- including how to stop it,"
which goes on to show how supposedly responsible people failed to act
on that knowledge, letting us slide into the ever-increasing crisis
we face today. The Reagan administration's determination to promote
coal and cripple the EPA and drive science from the policy process --
I'd say "echoes of Trump" but it's the other way around -- were key,
but the thing you keep running into is human reluctance to deal with
a catastrophe that seems to merely loom in the future, because the
worst hasn't struck yet.
Sam Rosenfeld: The Polarizers: Postwar Architects of Our Partisan
Era (2017, University of Chicago Press): Assumes that the problem
with politics today is partisan polarization, and seeks to find where that
came from by examining the political period from 1945 through 1980, moving
from "The Idea of Responsible Partisanship" to "The Making of a Vanguard
Party" and "Liberal Alliance-Building for Lean Times." Winds up with a
chapter on 1980-2000 and a "Conclusion: Polarization without Responsibility,
2000-2016." Rosenfeld attributes the idea that the two parties should
be realigned on a liberal-conservative axis to Franklin Roosevelt. What
actually forced the realignment was a single issue -- civil rights --
which straddled the 1980 divide (what we might call the tipping point).
Whether this was a good or bad thing depends a lot on how important you
think that issue is. But more generally, polarization always occurs
when issues become more serious and less amenable to compromise --
and we see that happening now, on race (of course) but also on the
more general principles of equality, fairness, justice, and whether
government will serve or oppress the vast majority of the people.
I don't mean to argue that polarization has no down side. The main
one is that it's led one party in particular to view politics as a
zero-sum game, even worse as it's blinded that party to recognizing
common problems (most obviously, climate change, which Republicans
furiously deny because it's inconvenient for some of their major
Joseph E Stiglitz: People, Power, and Profits: Progressive
Capitalism for an Age of Discontent (2019, WW Norton): Major
liberal economist, advised Clinton in the 1990s and bragged about it
in The Roaring Nineties: A New History of the World's Most Prosperous
Decade (2003), warned about Bush in the 2000s and reminded us in
Freefall: America, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World
Economy (2010), wrote an important book on The Price of
Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future
(2012), and several books on trade, starting with Globalization
and Its Discontents (2002). I've read (and admired) most of his
books, but overlooked an earlier book, Whither Socialism?,
which claimed that "market socialism" couldn't work. His analysis
back then probably has much to do with his decision now to push
for what he calls "progressive capitalism" as the alternative to
the burgeoning movement for socialism. I'm sure he's very smart
about it, but I always find it a bit sad that the only occasions
when the left gains enough power to do something, they first have
to spend all their energy saving capitalism's sorry ass.
Bhaskar Sunkara: The Socialist Manifesto: The Case for Radical
Politics in an Era of Extreme Inequality (2019, Basic Books).
Editor of Jacobin offers a primer on the history of socialism
since the mid-1800s and "a realistic vision for its future" -- well
short of the Soviet-era ideals, but carefully, cautiously tailored to
provide universal, fair and equitable solutions to economic problems.
- Bhaskar Sunkara: The ABCs of Socialism (paperback,
- Cinzia Arruzza/Tithi Bhattacharya/Nancy Fraser: Feminism
for the 99%: A Manifesto (paperback, 2019, Verso).
- Rutger Bregman: Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal
World (2017, Little Brown; paperback, 2018, Back Bay Books).
- Nancy Fraser: The Old Is Dying and the New Cannot Be Born
(paperback, 2019, Verso).
- Nancy Fraser/Rahel Jaeggi: Capitalism: A Conversation in Critical
Theory (paperback, 2018, Polity).
- Kristen R Ghodsee: Why Women Have Better Sex Under Socialism:
And Other Arguments for Economic Independence (2018, Bold Type
- Avel Honneth: The Idea of Socialism: Towards a Renewal
(2017; paperback, 2018, Polity).
- Danny Katch: Socialism . . . Seriously: A Brief Guide to Human
Liberation (paperback, 2015, Haymarket Books).
- Leigh Phillips: Austerity Ecology & the Collapse-Porn
Addicts: A Defence of Growth, Progress, Industry and Stuff
(paperback, 2015, Zero Books).
- Leigh Phillips/Michal Rozworski: The People's Republic of
Walmart: How the World's Biggest Corporations Are Laying the Foundation
for Socialism (paperback, Verso).
- Chantal Mouffe: For a Left Populism (2018, Verso).
Michael W Twitty: The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African
American Culinary History in the Old South (2017, Amistad):
A family history back to its roots, focusing on the food that made
each generation, and crossed in various ways from black to white
and back. Also on food and the South: John T Edge: The Potlikker
Papers: A Food History of the Modern South (2017, Penguin).
Craig Unger: House of Trump, House of Putin: The Untold Story
of Donald Trump and the Russian Mafia (2018, Dutton): A
journalist with a nose for corrupt relationships, previously wrote
House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the
World's Two Most Powerful Dynasties (2004), seems to have a ripe
subject digging into Trump's various deals with Russian mobsters and
Jose Antonio Vargas: Dear America, Notes of an Undocumented
Citizen (2018, Dey Street Books): Author spent 25 years as
an "undocumented" American, "living illegally in a country that does
not consider me one of its own," before outing himself to write about
the experience in the New York Times -- becoming a spokesman for the
millions of "undocumented" Americans. Less about immigration either
as policy or practice than about what it feels like to live in a
country you have to hide from. Other recent books on immigration:
- Francisco Cantú: The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches From the
Border (2018; paperback, 2019, Riverhead Books).
- Abdi Nor Iftin: Call Me American: A Memoir (2018,
- Viet Tranh Nguyen, ed: The Displaced: Refugee Writers on
Refugee Lives (2018, Harry N Abrams).
- Peter Schrag: The World of Aufbau: Hitler's Refugees in
America (2019, University of Wisconsin Press).
- Matthew Soerens/Jenny Yang: Welcoming the Stranger: Justice,
Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate (paperback,
2018, IVP Books).
William T Vollmann: Carbon Ideologies: Volume One: No
Immediate Danger/Volume Two: No Good Alternative (2018,
Viking): Mostly a novelist, occasionally writes non-fiction and
has been known to get carried away, like his Imperial
(1306 pp). This "almanac of global energy use" is similar-sized,
but published in two volumes.
Jon Ward: Camelot's End: Kennedy vs. Carter and the Fight That
Broke the Democratic Party (2019, Twelve): This suggests that
Reagan's triumph in 1980 had more to do with a breakdown caused by Ted
Kenndy's almost unprecedented primary challenge against a president of
his own party. The closest analogy I can think of was Teddy Roosevelt's
rebuke of William Howard Taft in 1912, which wound up with his Bull
Moose third party and both losing to Woodrow Wilson. Lots of parallels
there, not least the challengers' sense of entitlement. Looking back
now it's clear that Carter was a forerunner of many of Reagan's issues,
and as such helped to legitimize someone who had previously been viewed
as a far-right fringe candidate. One wonders whether the clearer choice
that Kennedy might have presented would have faired better.
Alan Wolfe: The Politics of Petulance: America in an Age of
Immaturity (2018, University of Chicago Press). More like
senescence, which has less to do with age than the popular choice
38 years ago to turn away from facing reality and pretend we're fine
in Ronald Reagan's fantasy world. Wolfe is a political science prof
(emeritus) with a long list of books, including The Seamy Side of
Democracy: Repression in America (1973), Marginalized in the
Middle (1996), Does American Democracy Still Work? (2006),
and At Home in Exile: Why Diaspora Is Good for the Jews (2014).
I last noticed him when he published The Future of Liberalism
(2009), a spirited defense that this must contrast with.
Shoshana Zuboff: The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight
for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power (2019 PublicAffairs):
Seems to focus on the new information businesses, specifically the ones
that track your every step in navigating the Internet, and analyze and
market that information to others hoping to manipulate you. I'm not sure
how far you can push this model: is it really that important? I suspect
it may even be self-limiting.
Other recent books also noted without comment:
Ben S Bernanke/Timothy F Geithner/Henry M Paulson Jr: Firefighting:
The Financial Crisis and Its Lessons (paperback, 2019, Penguin
William J Burns: The Back Channel: A Memoir of American
Diplomacy and the Case for Its Renewal (2019, Random House).
Tucker Carlson: Ship of Fools: How a Selfish Ruling Class
Is Bringing America to the Brink of Revolution (2018, Free
Robert A Caro: Working (2019, Knopf).
Susan Faludi: In the Darkroom (2016, Metropolitan
Books; paperback, 2017, Picador).
Henry Louis Gates Jr: Stony the Road: Reconstruction, White
Supremacy, and the Rise of Jim Crow (2019, Penguin Press).
Gary Giddins: Bing Crosby: Swinging on a Star: The War Years
1940-1946 (2018, Little Brown).
Jonah Goldberg: Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of
Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics Is
Destroying American Democracy (2018, Crown Forum).
Max Hastings: Vietnam: An Epic Tragedy, 1945-1975
Steven Johnson: Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That
Matter the Most (2018, Riverhead Books).
Dan Kaufman: The Fall of Wisconsin: The Conservative Conquest
of a Progressive Bastion and the Future of American Politics
(2018, WW Norton).
Yasmin Khan: India at War: The Subcontinent and the Second
World War (2015, Oxford University Press).
Lawrence Lessig: America, Compromised (2018, University
of Chicago Press).
Steve Luxenberg: Separate: The Story of Plessy V. Ferguson,
and America's Journey From Slavery to Segregation (2019, WW
Anna Merlan: Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists
and Their Surprising Rise to Power (2019, Metropolitan Books).
Ashoka Mody: Euro Tragedy: A Drama in Nine Acts (2018,
Oxford University Press).
Raghuram Rajan: The Third Pillar: How Markets and the State
Leave the Community Behind (2019, Penguin Press).
Jeffrey D Sachs: A New Foreign Policy: Beyond American
Exceptionalism (2018, Columbia University Press).
Darrel M West: Divided Politics, Divided Nation: Hyperconflict
in the Trump Era (2019, Brookings Institution Press).
Joan C Williams: White Working Class: Overcoming Class
Cluelessness in America (2017, Harvard Business Review