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Monday, December 11, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28995 [28950] rated (+45), 388 [390] unrated (-2).

First time I calculated the rated count I came up with 31, which looked way low. A closer look kicked it up to 37, and then I went back and rechecked everything in the rated list and found a bunch of records missing grades. I also recalled that I had played two Yaeji EPs, so fixed that. Final rated total winds up pretty close to the upper bounds of a good, solid week. Contributing were two things: one was that I was recuperating from the previous week's cooking madness, taking it easy with hardly any distractions; the other was that I used a good deal of my chill time aggregating EOY lists, which suggested a lot of records to check out. Can't say as they've generated a lot of finds thus far, although one list pointed me to the legendary Kenyan band, and their label's Bandcamp page led me to the Andina compilation. My tip for the '90s pop compilation came from Robert Christgau (at the time I couldn't find the other one he liked, Now That's What I Call Tailgate Anthems, but I've found it now, so next week).

I finally got the Jazz Critics Poll ballot data last night, so I'm swamped with work to do to check and format that data. Still not sure when NPR is going to run -- probably this week, quite possibly before I get my part done. Otherwise I'd write something about how the EOY list aggregate is shaping up, but I suppose you can see for yourself. As I initially suspected, Kendrick Lamar's Damn is well ahead, with the next four slots very close (83-78 by my count, compared to 114 for Lamar and 55 for 6th place Vince Staples: Lorde, LCD Soundsystem, SZA, and St. Vincent. I've compiled far fewer lists than I have in recent years, but I'll note that AOTY's 2017 Music Year End List Aggregate currently shows the same top six albums in the same order (although they have Lorde opening up a clear gap over a virtual tie between LCD Soundsystem and SZA). Their top ten rounds out with War on Drugs, Father John Misty, Sampha, and National, with Slowdive 11th. My top 11 has the same records, order slightly shuffled.

After that we disagree more, with Mount Eerie dropping from 12th on their list to 28th on mine; Tyler the Creator from 13th to 19th; the XX from 21st to 38th, Taylor Swift from 36th to 68th. There are fewer dramatic improvements on my list, although the early UK bias certainly helps Jane Weaver (from 40th to 16th). I'll know more, and be able to say more, next week. One thing I will note is that my list has picked up on so few jazz lists that it's completely useless for predicting the Jazz Critics Poll.

One final note: after reviewing it, I discovered that Octopus is actually scheduled for Jan. 28, 2018 release, so it doesn't appear in my 2017 Jazz List. I did find the FCT album after I cast my Jazz Critics Poll ballot, so as usual it took me just a few days to find an A- album I had missed.

New records rated this week:

  • Bargou 08: Targ (2017, Glitterbeat): [r]: B+(**)
  • Courtney Barnett/Kurt Vile: Lotta Sea Lice (2017, Matador): [r]: B+(*)
  • Pan Daijing: Lack (2017, Pan): [r]: B-
  • Kris Davis & Craig Taborn: Octopus (2016 [2018], Pyroclastic): [cd]: A-
  • Angelo Divino: Love A to Z (2017, self-released): [cd]: B-
  • Fabiano Do Nascimento: Tempo dos Mestres (2017, Now-Again): [r]: B+(**)
  • FCT = Francesco Cusa Trio Meets Carlo Atti: From Sun Ra to Donald Trump (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: A-
  • Nick Fraser: Is Life Long? (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • David Friesen: Structures (2017, Origin, 2CD): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Aldous Harding: Party (2017, 4AD): [r]: B
  • Ryan Keberle/Frank Woeste: Reverso: Suite Pavel (2017 [2018], Phonoart): [cd]: B+(**)
  • King Krule: The OOZ (2017, True Panther Sounds): [r]: B
  • LEF: Hypersomniac (2017, RareNoise): [cdr]: B-
  • Joao Lencastre's Communion 3: Movements in Freedom (2017, Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • Van Morrison: Versatile (2017, Legacy): [r]: B+(*)
  • New Order: NOMC15 (Pledge Music, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Gard Nilssen's Complete Unity: Live in Europe (2016 [2017], Clean Feed, 3CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Orchestre Les Mangelepa: Last Band Standing (2017, Strut): [r]: A-
  • Kelly Lee Owens: Kelly Lee Owens (2017, Smalltown Supersound): [r]: B
  • Phil Parisot: Creekside (2017, OA2): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Princess Nokia: 1992 Deluxe (2017, Rough Trade): [r]: B
  • Nadia Reid: Preservation (2017, Basin Rock): [r]: B+(*)
  • Riddlore: Afro Mutations (2015 [2016], Nyege Nyege Tapes): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Rina Sawayama: Rina (2017, The Vinyl Factory, EP): [r]: B-
  • Sirius: Acoustic Main Suite Plus the Inner One (2017, Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)
  • Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith: The Kid (2017, Western Vinyl): [r]: B
  • Chris Stapleton: From a Room: Volume 2 (2017, Mercury Nashville): [r]: B+(**)
  • John Stowell/Ulf Bandgren Quartet: Night Visitor (2016 [2017], Origin): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Taylor Swift: Reputation (2017, Big Machine): [r]: B+(**)
  • Tune Recreation Committee: Voices of Our Vision (2017, self-released): [bc]: B+(*)
  • The War on Drugs: A Deeper Understanding (2017, Atlantic): [r]: B
  • Jane Weaver: Modern Kosmology (2017, Fire): [r]: B+(*)
  • Wolf Alice: Visions of a Life (2017, Dirty Hit): [r]: B+(*)
  • Yaeji: Yaeji (2017, Godmode, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Yaeji: EP 2 (2017, Godmode, EP): [r]: B+(***)
  • Dave Young/Terry Promane Octet: Vol. 2 (2017, Modica Music): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Neil Young + Promise of the Real: The Visitor (2017, Reprise): [r]: B
  • Waclaw Zimpel/Jakub Ziolek: Zimpel/Ziolek (2017, Instant Classic): [r]: B+(**)

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

  • Andina: The Sound of the Peruvian Andes 1968-1978 (1968-78 [2017], Tiger's Milk/Strut): [r]: A-
  • Bro. Valentino: Stay Up Zimbabwe (1979-80 [2017], Analog Africa, EP): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Oté Maloya: The Birth of Electric Maloya on Réunion Island 1975-1986 (1975-86 [2017], Strut): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Now That's What I Call 90s Pop (1990s [2017], UMG/Sony): [r]: A-

Old music rated this week:

  • Taylor Swift: 1989 (2014, Big Machine): [r]: B+(***)
  • Waclaw Zimpel: Lines (2015 [2016], Instant Classic): [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/William Parker/Bobby Kapp: Heptagon (Leo)
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Jeff Cosgrove: Live in Baltimore (Leo)
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: Live in Brussels (Leo, 2CD)
  • Ivo Perelman/Nate Wooley/Brandon Lopez/Gerald Cleaver: Octagon (Leo)
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Nate Wooley: Philosopher's Stone (Leo)
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Joe Hertenstein: Scalene (Leo)
  • Takaaki: New Kid in Town (Troy)

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Weekend Roundup

The Democrats in Congress, especially the leadership, have had a really bad week, and I fear they've inflicted grave wounds on themselves. John Conyers and Al Franken have resigned after enormous pressure from the party leadership, leaving the party with fewer votes, summarily ending two notable careers. I especially blame Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Shumer. Back in 2016 Hillary Clinton like to posit a "Commander-in-Chief Test," figuring she'd compare favorably to Donald Trump by emphasizing her own fondness for military adventures -- I think her hawkishness was a big part of why she lost, but my point isn't to rehash her delusions. Rather, what we saw last week was a "Shop Steward" test, which Pelosi and Shumer utterly failed. They let a little media pressure blow them over. More importantly, they failed to insist on due process, on the most basic principles of traditional American justice, and in doing so they sacrificed political standing and insulted and demeaned the voters who had elected Conyers and Franken.

Supposedly, one thing the Democrats hope to achieve in sacking Conyers and Franken is "the moral high ground" -- demonstrating their superior sensitivity to and concern for victims of sexual misconduct (pretty broadly defined). In theory, this will pay off in defeating Roy Moore in next week's Alabama Senate race and/or in putting pressure on Donald Trump to resign. In fact, Trump was elected president after 19 women accused him of various shades of assault, and after he bragged about as much. While Moore is facing a closer election than Alabama Republicans are used to, he remains the favorite to win Tuesday. And while some Democrats imagine that if Moore wins the Senate will refuse to seat him, I can't imagine the Republicans sacrificing power like that. Nor, quite frankly, should they. (The only duly elected member I can recall either branch of Congress refusing to seat was Adam Clayton Powell, in a shameful travesty -- although, come to think of it, they did take months before allowing Al Franken to enter.)

Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that mattered in politics this week: The tax reform hit some snags ("Senate Republicans appear to have written a corporate AMT provision that they intended to raise a little bit of revenue in a sloppy way that actually raises a ton of revenue and alienates the businesses who were supposed to benefit from a big tax cut"); President Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital; Al Franken announced he'll resign; The government will stay open for a couple of weeks. Other Yglesias pieces:

    • We have a trial date: March 19, "the beginning of the trial at which the Justice Department will seek to block the merger of AT&T and Time Warner." There is no shortage of good reasons for blocking this merger, and indeed for untangling all of the past mergers between data transit and content companies, although it's surprising to see Trump's DOJ lifting a finger to prevent the further concentration of predatory corporate power.

    • Apple could get a staggering $47 billion windfall from the tax bill:

      What's particularly striking about this windfall is that though Apple has been a fierce advocate for corporate tax reform -- $47 billion is a lot of money after all -- Apple CEO Tim Cook has explained over and over again that shoveling billions into his corporate treasury won't boost his investment spending.

      He already has plenty of cash, but beyond that, when Cook wants Apple to invest more, he borrows the money.

    • Tomorrow's financial crisis today: Points out that less than ten years after the worst recession since the 1930s Trump's administration is working to undermine the Treasury's Office of Financial Research and "let banks take on more risky debt:

      The nature of a banking crisis is you probably won't have one in any given year, regardless of how shoddy your regulatory framework is. As long as asset prices are trending upward, it just doesn't matter. In fact, as long as asset prices are trending upward, a poorly regulated banking sector will be more profitable than a well-regulated one.

      It's all good. Unless things blow up. But if your bad policymaking takes us from a one-in-500 chance of a blow-up in any given year to a one-in-20 chance, you're still in a world where things will probably be fine across even an entire eight-year span in office. Probably.

      Trump has taken a lot of risky bets in his life. And though he's often lost, he's usually been insulated by his inherited wealth and by his very real skill at structuring deals so other people end up holding a lot of the downside. Any presidency inherently has that kind of structure with or without skill. Presidents suffer when they make mistakes, but other people suffer more.

      ?he key phrase here is "as long as asset prices are trending upward." The surest way to keep asset prices rising is to let rich people make and keep more money, which is what happened from the Bush tax cuts forward to 2007-08. What broke then turned out to be pretty simple: a big chunk of those assets were built on subprime mortgages, and the people who signed up for the mortgages weren't able to grow their incomes enough to cover their debts, so they defaulted; meanwhile, the banks had leveraged themselves so much they couldn't cover their losses, so they started to fail in a cascade that threatened to make the "domino theory" look like small potatoes. But the government, especially the Fed, stepped in and pumped several trillions of dollars into the banks to prop them up so they could unwind their losses more gracefully, while the government did very little to help the little people who suffered the brunt of the recession. (I was going to say "virtually nothing," but things like extended unemployment benefits did help keep the recession from matching the desolation caused by the Great Depression.) We're already seeing asset bubbles in things like the stock market. The whole point of Trump's tax cuts and deregulation is to feed this bubble, even though there is no clear way to sustain the trend or to appease the financier's appetite for ever greater profits. Coupled with a massive collapse of business ethics -- this has been growing since the "greed is good" Reagan era, but Trump is an even more shocking role model -- it's only a matter of time before the whole edifice collapses.

    • We need a healthier conversation about partisanship and sexual assault.

    • The tax bill is a tax cut, not a culture war: Pushes back against the idea that Republicans chose targets to "reform" by how much they would hurt "blue states" (the SALT deduction being the obvious example). Shows that the overriding reasoning behind the cuts/reforms is to favor the rich over the poor, regardless of where they may live or do business. Of course, the real cost to poor and working Americans won't appear in scoring the bill -- it will come later in the form of service cuts and the ever-widening chasm between "haves and have-nots."

    • Republicans need Roy Moore to pass their tax bill.

    • Groundbreaking empirical research shows where innovation really comes from.

    • Democrats need to get a grip about the budget deficit: "The tax bill is bad, the debt is fine." ARgues that "Bush's deficits were fine and Trump's will be too" and that "Obama's deficits were way too small."

    • Don't worry about the debt.

  • Matthew Cole/Jeremy Scahill: Trump White House Weighing Plans for Private Spies to Counter "Deep State" Enemies: Evidently one of Erik Prince's schemes, notably backed by Oliver North. One suspicious point is that the scheme would still report to CIA Director Mike Pompeo, figuring him more loyal to Trump than to the "Deep State" he nominally manages a big chunk of. Also see Aram Roston: Private War: Erik Prince Has H is Eye on Afghanistan's Rare Metals. Evidently the mercenary leader is trying to turn his private army into some sort of modern British East India Company colossus.

  • Juliet Eilperin: Uranium firm urged Trump officials to shrink Bears Ears National Monument: Helps explain why Trump and Zinke radically shrunk the borders of the National Monument (see maps). The land still belongs to the federal government, but will now be managed by the Bureau of Land Management. For info on what that means, see Adam Federman: This Is How the Trump Administration Gives Big Oil the Keys to Public Lands.

  • Tara Golsham: Rep. Trent Franks, who is resigning immediately, offered staffer $5 million to be his baby surrogate: One of the more bizarre stories of recent weeks: Arizona Republican, "a deeply conservative member of the House Freedom Caucus and one of the most pro-life members of Congress. Evidently he has that kind of money, and assumes it entitles him to run roughshod over others.

  • Jim Kirby: Hillary Clinton's emails got as much front-page coverage in 6 days as policy did in 69: An analysis of New York Times -- your newspaper or preferred media source may vary (with some never matching that 6-day email window), but for a supposedly sober and serious news source, that's pretty disgusting. One might argue that Hillary's email controversy speaks to her character, but no more so than hundreds or thousands of Donald Trump anecdotes. Even so, you'd think it sensible that news coverage of an election would focus more on likely policies and future scenarios than on past personal quirks. The only excuse I can think of is that today's campaigns are often as shallow as the media covering them -- or at least try to be.

  • Rashid Khalidi: After Jerusalem, the US Can No Longer Pretend to Be an Honest Broker of Peace: Actually, that was clear even before Trump ordered the US embassy moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, as Khalidi knows damn well -- he's even written a whole book about it: Brokers of Deceit: How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East. What I've yet to see anyone comment on is why the US didn't move the embassy earlier. The basic reason is respect for international law, which as this week's announcement shows has sunken to new lows in Washington. The 1947 UN resolution proposing partition of the British Mandate in Palestine -- a resolution that David Ben-Gurion lobbied fervently for -- called for dividing the Mandate into two states, but keeping Jerusalem separate as an international area. Immediately on declaring independence in 1948, Israel launched a military offensive aimed at expanding on the borders the UN prescribed. The main target of that offensive was Jerusalem, which wound up divided between Israeli and Jordanian forces. In 1967 Israel launched another war and drove Jordan from East Jerusalem and the West Bank -- territories that the UN ordered Israel to return, despite Israel's almost immediate annexation of Jerusalem and environs. Israel's de facto control of Jerusalem has never been squared away with the rulings of international law, so no country with respect for international law has conceded Israel's claim. "Until now," you might say, but the US has increasingly shown contempt for international law, and this is just one more example.

    By the way, a headline in the Wichita Eagle today: "After US decision on Jerusalem, Gaza protests turn deadly." First line of article explains how: "Two Hamas militants were killed in an Israeli airstrike on Saturday after rocket fire from the enclave hit an Israeli town, as the death toll in violence linked to President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital rose to four." No damage was reported from the Gazan rockets. For info about the other two deaths, see: Peter Beaumont/Patrick Wintour: Two Palestinians shot dead and one critical in riots after Trump speech. Also: Raja Shehadeh: I have witnessed two intifadas. Trump's stance on Israel may ignite a third.

  • Sarah Kliff: Obamacare sign-ups defy Trump's sabotage campaign.

  • German Lopez: Roy Moore: America "was great at the time when families were united -- even though he had slavery." Anyone who thinks that the problem with Moore is his fondness for underaged girls clearly hasn't paid any attention to his politics or to his political legacy. More worrying is Moore's unwavering contempt for the law -- after all, Moore has been stripped of his position on the Alabama Supreme Court for failing to submit to federal law, specifically the First Amendment. When Donald Trump tries to tout Moore as the "law and order candidate" he does little more than expose his own flimsy and dicey relationship to the law. (Meanwhile, Moore's Democratic opponent, Doug Jones, has a distinguished record as a federal prosecutor, credentials that only someone as reality-challenged as Trump can readily dismiss.) I wish I could say that Moore's casual endorsement of slavery is even more shocking, but we've always known him to be a racist. After all, Alabama's given us George Wallace and Jeff Sessions, so how much worse can Moore be? Well, this statement is a pretty good example: "I think it [America] was great at the time when families were united -- even though we had slavery. They cared for one another. People were strong in the families. Our families were strong. Our country had a direction." The most obvious problem is that slavery was a system which denied family life and bonds, one that allowed slaveowners to prevent or break families by selling members. He could hardly be clearer that he doesn't regard blacks as people -- as Lopez notes, only one of many blind bigotries Moore espouses. Still, I detect another curious note in the quote: it's like he's trying to channel ideologues like George Fitzhugh who tried to defend slavery as anti-capitalist -- an alternative to the coarse materialism that Bible-thumpers like Moore so despise.

    More on Moore:

  • Andrew Prokop: Michael Flynn's involvement in a plan to build nuclear reactors in the Middle East is looking even shadier: More "Russia" scandal this past week, but one should recall that Russian schemes under Putin have nothing to do with fomenting world revolution or curtailing US imperial ambitions: they're founded on pure oligarchic greed, which isn't at all unlike the Trump approach to business. E.g., this piece summarizes a "whistleblower" report about a deal Flynn was working on:

    According to the whistleblower, [Alex] Copson flat-out said the following things:

    • That he "just got" a text message from Flynn saying the nuclear plant project was "good to go," and that his business colleagues should "put things in place"
    • That Flynn was making sure sanctions on Russia would be "ripped up," which would let the project go forward
    • That this was the "best day" of his life, and that the project would "make a lot of very wealthy people"
    • That the project would also provide a pretext for expanding a US military presence in the Middle East (the pretext of defending the nuclear plants)
    • That citizens of Middle Eastern countries would be better off "when we recolonize the Middle East"
  • David Roberts: A moment of truth arrives for Rick Perry's widely hated coal bailout: Long article, really should be a much bigger scandal than anything having to do with "sexual misconduct" -- with billions of dollars of benefits going to five coal companies, paid for by rate hikes from millions of consumers, and championed by a moron like Rick Perry, it wouldn't even take much of a stretch from the media to blow this up, but evidently they're too lazy to care.

  • Aja Romano: MSNBC won't cut ties to Sam Seder after all: succumbing to alt-right outrage was a "mistake": Another cautionary tale, showing you can't trust anything reported on right-wing media, and that the kneejerk "zero tolerance" reactions of "liberal" media combines are set up perfectly to be scammed. More: Ryan Grim: MSNBC Reverses Decision to Fire Contributor Sam Seder.

  • Mark Joseph Stern: The Trump Administration Just Declared War on Public Sector Unions.

  • Corey Williams/David Eggert: Conyers' Congressional Seat Won't Be Filled for Nearly a Year: So, Nancy Pelosi browbeat Conyers into resigning his seat, certain that a Democrat would replace him -- the current gerrymander of Michigan concedes that -- but evidently the Republican governor of Michigan can simply hold the seat open for a whole year?

Monday, December 04, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28950 [28931] rated (+19), 390 [391] unrated (-1).

I spent most of last week planning, shopping, prepping, and cooking a massive dinner for the Wichita Peace Center's 25th Annual Dinner, with major (indispensable) help from Janice Bradley, Max Stewart, and Russ Pataki, with a few others pitching in on dinner days, notably including people I didn't know who hung around to help clean up. I fixed a range of Indian dishes: lamb and potatoes in a cream sauce (rogani gosht), tandoori chicken in a tomato-butter sauce (makhni), fish tikka, patiala pilaf (minus the fried onions), a sweet potato/chickpea curry, mattar paneer (peas with cheese), bharta (smoked eggplant), cabbage, kali dal, cucumber raita. We served appetizers at the tables, including a minted aloo chat (potato salad), coconut relish, pineapple sambal, a hot tomato chutney, paratha (flatbread), tapioca chips, a couple of store-bought chutneys (brinjal, lime pickle). Had spice cake and a Moroccan fruit salad for dessert. Best compliment I had was when one friend came up to me and cooed in my ear, "the food is divine." I had my quibbles with the fish and rice -- partly frustration as they were the last things done and both ran into unexpected problems.

Mark McCormick was the featured speaker (buy his new book here). He gave a nice speech, and was even better fielding questions, stressing how we've become disconnected and desensitized to the problems around us. Partial proof of that was evident in the disappointing turnout: a little over 40 people this year, compared to 60 last year. (Not getting an accurate RSVP count until too late, I prepared food for 60, so we had a lot left over.) I was pretty much a wreck by the time it was done. Doubt I'll be able to do it again, but afterwards Max was trying to figure out ways to spread the work out -- I've never been very good at delegating -- and I was wondering whether paella might scale up better. Don't need to decide for nearly a year.

I published the November roll-up of Streamnotes last week. on Tuesday. With everything else going on, I didn't expect I'd be able to find anything new to add to what I had noted last Music Week. But I found four of this week's five A- records in the day between Music Week and Streamnotes: the David S. Ware archival set (from 2010, so still new enough) wasn't unexpected, and the two Chicago tenor saxophonists (Ken Vandermark and Mars Williams, dba Made to Break and Boneshaker, respectively) were right up my alley. But Re-TROS, a tip from Chris Monsen's 2017-in-progress list, was totally unexpected: a Chinese alt-rock group, at times (but not all the time) sounding like a cross between Pulnoc and Konono No. 1 (on Bandcamp, by the way).

December 3 was the deadline for ballots for Francis Davis' Jazz Critics Poll. I resorted my top jazz picks and submitted the following:

New records:

  1. William Parker Quartets: Meditation/Resurrection (AUM Fidelity, 2CD)
  2. Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo: Peace (Libra)
  3. Gonçalo Almeida/Rodrigo Amado/Marco Franco: The Attic (NoBusiness)
  4. Aki Takase/David Murray: Cherry Shakura (Intakt)
  5. Rich Halley/Carson Halley: The Wild (Pine Eagle)
  6. Rocco John: Peace and Love (Unseen Rain)
  7. Buffalo Jazz Octet: Live at Pausa Art House (Cadence Jazz)
  8. François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Alexey Lapin: Freedom Is Space for the Spirit (FMR)
  9. Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Loafer's Hollow (Hot Cup)
  10. Barry Altschul's 3Dom Factor: Live in Krakow (Not Two)

Reissues or historical:

  1. American Epic: The Collection (1916-36, Third Man/Columbia/Legacy, 5CD)
  2. Paul Rutherford/Sabu Toyozumi: The Conscience (1999, NoBusiness)
  3. The Three Sounds: Groovin' Hard: Live at the Penthouse 1964-1968 (Resonance)

Vocal album: Roswell Rudd/Fay Victor/Lafayette Harris/Ken Filiano: Embrace (RareNoise)

Debut album: Buffalo Jazz Octet: Live at Pausa Art House (Cadence Jazz) -- I allowed that if groups aren't eligible (leader Michael McNeill has several albums under his own name) the best individual pick is probably Kate Gentile: Mannequins (Skirl).

Latin Jazz album: Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet: Diablo en Brooklyn (Saponegro) -- I noted that Miguel Zenón: Típico (Miel Music) was actually higher on my list, but I thought Alegria's album was more Latin Jazzy.

My ranking is highly proximate. Parker is the only download, and I probably haven't played it enough, but the two contrasting quartets reminds me of Ornette Coleman's marvelous In All Languages, where he split a double-LP among two groups (more distinctive ones than Parker's). Each half is potentially great, but I still haven't moved it above the A- bin. I replayed maybe half of the top ten last week, but there's still not a lot of distance from top to bottom, or even throughout the A-list.

I was going to make a comment based on something Robert Christgau said in a recent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette interview, but I can't look up the quote due to an "ad blocker" snit fit I don't feel like indulging. As best I recall, he said something about most critics viewing EOY lists as personal branding exercises. My list can be viewed that way. To the extent that I have a brand, or a public persona, it's that of someone who listens far and wide, doesn't follow fashion, and doesn't want to get pigeonholed. On the other hand, this year's list is more avant than usual, and leans toward people I've repeatedly favored in the past -- something I've noticed a lot this past year (while suspecting as some kind of a rut, but not caring enough to break out of).

My Best Non-Jazz of 2017 list is even more problematical, not least because I've cared for it less. I haven't, for instance, played 2nd-ranked Run the Jewels or 3rd-ranked Sylvan Esso since I initially graded them, so early in the year that they were necessarily slotted high on the list. I don't have a Pazz & Jop invitation yet. When I do, I expect I'll do a lot of shuffling, if only to "fit my brand" as it's becoming increasingly impossible to believe that I'm sorting out anything objective.

But if I had to draw a single conclusion out of these lists, it's that nothing this year matters nearly as much to me as the records I've regularly put on top-ten lists in past years -- especially a decade or more back; e.g., in 2007:

  1. Manu Chao: La Radiolina (Nacional/Because)
  2. John Fogerty: Revival (Fantasy)
  3. Powerhouse Sound: Oslo/Chicago Breaks (Atavistic, 2CD)
  4. Gogol Bordello: Super Taranta! (Side One Dummy)
  5. Jewels and Binoculars: Ships With Tattooed Sails (Upshot)
  6. David Murray Black Saint Quartet: Sacred Ground (Justin Time)
  7. Mavis Staples: We'll Never Turn Back (Anti-)
  8. Youssou N'Dour: Rokku Mi Rokka (Nonesuch)
  9. Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Shamokin!!! (Hot Cup)
  10. ROVA: The Juke Box Suite (Not Two)

Or 1997, when the sample size was only 155 records:

  1. Cornershop: When I Was Born for the Seventh Time (Warner Bros.)
  2. Doc Cheatham and Nicholas Payton (Verve)
  3. David Murray: Long Goodbye: A Tribute to Don Pullen (DIW)
  4. Ani DiFranco: Living in Clip (Righteous Babe, 2CD)
  5. Ray Anderson/Mark Helias/Gerry Hemingway: BassDrumBone (Hence the Reason) (Enja)
  6. Bob Dylan: Time Out of Mind (Columbia)
  7. Hamiet Bluiett: Makin' Whoopee: Tribute to the Nat King Cole Trio (Mapleshade)
  8. Latryx: The Album (SoleSides)
  9. Nils Petter Molvaer: Khmer (ECM, 2CD)
  10. Yo La Tengo: I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One (Matador)

I don't have earlier lists I can readily tap into, but 1987 and 1977 would be even more memorable to me -- especially the latter, as it came right after I moved to New York City, during my first stretch writing rock crit for the Village Voice, a time when I really cared about my favorite records, and managed to put a lot of time into them. That doesn't happen any more, and while I suspect the variable is me, I can't totally eliminate the music. I mean, doesn't postmodernism start with ironic detachment? Then why shouldn't it end simply with indifference?

I'm not saying that music in 2017 sucks. This year is more/less as good as last year and the year before and so on -- the only long term trends worth noting are that there's more to listen to every year and less time to devote to it. But what is indubitable is that the world in 2017 sucks, so it's getting harder for music to overcome all that drudgery. And, sure, that's probably worse for someone my age, because pretty much everything gets worse as you get old.

By the way, I have started to aggregate EOY lists, using the same formats and methodology as last year. Thus far I have something like four early lists (Mojo and three British record shops, so all UK) plus three individual JJA top-tens, plus I'm counting my grades as I go along, so take this with several distinct grains of salt. The only thing I'm fairly sure of thus far is that LCD Soundsystem's American Dream is the only record with a decent chance of challenging the obvious favorite, Kendrick Lamar's Damn. Moreover, the three jazz lists I've thus far tallied don't offer a single clue how the Jazz Critics Poll is going to sort out (not a single record appears on more than one ballot so far (nor on mine). If I had to hazard a guess, it would be that Vijay Iyer's Far From Over wins, but it doesn't have a vote so far.

New records rated this week:

  • Espen Aalberg/Jonas Kullhammar/Torbjörn Zetterberg/Susana Santos Silva: Basement Sessions Vol. 4 (The Bali Tapes) (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(***)
  • Boneshaker: Thinking Out Loud (2017, Trost): [bc]: A-
  • Eva Cortés: Crossing Borders (2016 [2017], Origin): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York: Fukushima (2016 [2017], Libra): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Paul Giallorenzo Trio: Flow (2017, Delmark): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Made to Break: Trebuchet (2017, Trost): [bc]: A-
  • Joe McPhee/Pascal Niggenkemper/Ståle Liavik Solberg: Imaginary Numbers (2015 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(***)
  • Kjetil Møster/Jeff Parker/Joshua Abrams/John Herndon: Ran Do (2015 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jeb Loy Nichols: Country Hustle (2017, Inkind): [r]: B-
  • Penguin Cafe: The Imperfect Sea (2017, Erased Tapes): [r]: B+(**)
  • Margo Price: All American Made (2017, Third Man): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ada Rave Trio: The Sea, the Storm and the Full Moon (2015 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)
  • Re-TROS: Before the Applause (2017, Modern Sky Entertainment): [r]: A-
  • Schnellertollermeier: Rights (2016 [2017], Cuneiform): [dl]: B+(*)
  • Brandon Seabrook: Die Trommel Fatale (2016 [2017], New Atlantis): [bc]: B+(**)
  • David S. Ware Trio: Live in New York, 2010 (2010 [2017], AUM Fidelity, 2CD): [dl]: A-

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

  • Hamad Kalkaba: Hamad Kalkaba and the Golden Sounds 1974-1975 (1974-75 [2017], Analog Africa): [bc]: A-
  • Los Cameroes: Resurrection Los Vol. 1 (1976 [2017], Analog Africa): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Pop Makossa: The Invasive Dance Beat of Cameroon 1976-1984 (1976-84 [2017], Analog Africa): [bc]: B+(*)

Old music rated this week:

  • Mars Williams/Paal Nilssen-Love/Kent Kessler: Bonecrusher (2012, Trost): [bc]: B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Liebman/Murley Quartet: Live at U of T (U of T Jazz): December 15
  • New York Electric Piano: State of the Art (Fervor)

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Weekend Roundup

I spent literally most of last week trying to cook for 60 at the Wichita Peace Center Annual Dinner on Friday, and I've been sore and tired ever since. Thought compiling this post might feel like a return to normalcy, but nothing's normal any more.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: The 4 most important stories of the week, explained: Senate Republicans are on track to pass their tax cut (as, indeed, they did); We found our about more sexual harassers (especially Matt Lauer); After Rexit (Rex Tillerson, rumored gone but hanging on); North Korea launched a long-range ICBM (one that could theoretically hit anywhere in the continental United States). Other Yglesias posts:

    • Republicans may regret this tax bill: This seems intuitively right. The biggest political issue in America today is increasing inequality and its various effects, including the binding of political power and personal security to private wealth. Moreover, this is an issue with a strict partisan divide: Republicans are doing everything they can to concentrate wealth and power in the donor class, and Democrats are more or less opposed to this and more or less in favor of a more equitable society (at least like the ones of the New Deal/Great Society era, but with less racism). To the extent people understand the tax bill, it is wildly unpopular, so it's something Democrats can and will run on. It also goes a long ways toward absolving the Democrats' own culpability for increasing inequality: that the Republicans would, strictly through a party-line vote, do something this brazen when inequality is already so severe (and so unpopular) -- and Trump's deregulation program and blatant surrender of the people's government to business interests -- should expose them for all to see. Yglesias cites Josh Barro: The Republican tax plan creates big long-term opportunities for Democrats. By the way, one thing Barro argues that I don't for a moment believe is: "a corporate tax cut should tend to cause wages to rise a little bit, because a lower corporate tax rate makes the US a more attractive location to employ people."

    • We're all in Kansas now: A reference to Gov. Sam Brownback's notorious tax cuts, the enormous fiscal damage they caused, the slower degradation of infrastructure and services, and their near-zero boost to the economy (possibly sub-zero compared to nationwide economic growth during the same period). The only real difference between what Brownback passed and what the Senate just passed is that the US government is able to float much more debt, and thereby soften the degradation. By the way, Brownback, anticipating confirmation as Trump's Ambassador at Large for Religious Liberty, recently gave a "farewell address," not to the public but to the Wichita Pachyderm Club, where the only advice he could offer to his successor is pray.

    • Trump's Treasury Department is lying about its own analysis of the tax bill

    • The tax bill's original sin: The idea that the corporate tax rate must be reduced from 35% all the way to 20%, a much steeper cut than anyone was even agitating for a few years ago (e.g., the Business Roundtable was proposing 25% as recently as 2015). One thing I don't understand is why no one is pushing a progressive tax on business profits: maybe 10% for the first $1M, 15% for $1-10M, 20% for $10-50M, 25% for $50-250M, 30% for $250M-$1B, 35% for $1-5B, 40% above $5B. Probably those rates should be a bit higher, and various loopholes should be filled -- I'd like to see the overall reform on corporate tax rates produce more (not less) revenue. But something like this would benefit most companies while only penalizing companies that use their sheer size and/or monopoly positions to reap huge profits. And slowing them down would be good for everyone.

    • Matt Lauer totally blew it on Trump's blatant lying about Iraq and Libya

    • The rules of "how Congress works" have changed: Points out that the Senate tax bill faced concerted opposition from many special interest lobby groups ("the National Association of Realtors, the National Association of Homebuilders, the AARP, police unions, hospital associations and the AMA, and the higher education lobby"), as well as polling poorly among the public, yet Republicans stuck to their partisan ideology and passed it anyway. That's not how interest group politics has generally worked in Washington. Yglesias doesn't say this, but it more generally fits the model of class warfare. He does note that the Democrats could have crafted a more viable ACA had they not catered to special interest groups, in the vain hope that selling out to lobbyists would rally Republican support for a bipartisan bill.

      Had Democrats gone down a different path and pushed a bill with a strong public option with payment rates linked to Medicare, we would have seen a very different health policy trajectory over the past few years.

      Premiums would have been lower, which would have meant federal subsidy outlays would have been lower, which would have made it affordable for Congress to make the subsidies more generous. Enrollment in ACA exchanges would have been higher; there would have been no issue with "bare counties"; and, because of lower premiums, the "just pay the fine" option would have been less attractive, leading to more stable risk pools.

    • A deficit trigger can't fix the GOP tax plan

    • Crisis at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Also on this, see Matt Taibbi: Trump's Consumer Victory Officially Makes a Joke of Financial Reform.

    • New dynamic score shows the Senate tax bill raises debt by more than advertised

    • The theory behind Trump's tax cuts is exactly what gave us the failed Bush economy: "An influx of foreign hot money isn't what we need." A lot of meat here, but one could dig deeper. Foreign money will drive up asset prices, which will be a windfall for business owners, but once they sell out those businesses will no longer be rooted in the owners' communities. Foreign ownership of American companies has been a mixed blessing: some have gone easier on depressing labor costs, but most wind up operating as American companies do -- as, indeed, whatever they can get away with here -- and they're ultimately as likely to export or automate jobs away as any other capitalists. As Yglesias notes, much of the influx will eventually be converted into bidding up real estate prices (he calls this "housing boom 2.0" but I'm more skeptical that the subprime boom is repeatable, and unless average Americans start making more money -- inconceivable under Republican rule -- we're all stuck in the subprime market). His other point is that the expected influx will strengthen the dollar, hurting exports and manufacturing jobs, so while the rich get richer, the workers get stiffed.

    • If the GOP tax plan is so good, why do they lie so much about it? Partly, I suspect, it's just force of habit, but they really don't have anything potentially popular to offer -- they're just scamming for the donor class, and they'll make the suckers pay for it.

  • New York Times Editorial Board: A Historic Tax Heist:

    With barely a vote to spare early Saturday morning, the Senate passed a tax bill confirming that the Republican leaders' primary goal is to enrich the country's elite at the expense of everybody else, including future generations who will end up bearing the cost. The approval of this looting of the public purse by corporations and the wealthy makes it a near certainty that President Trump will sign this or a similar bill into law in the coming days.

    The bill is expected to add more than $1.4 trillion to the federal deficit over the next decade, a debt that will be paid by the poor and middle class in future tax increases and spending cuts to Medicare, Social Security and other government programs. Its modest tax cuts for the middle class disappear after eight years. And up to 13 million people stand to lose their health insurance because the bill makes a big change to the Affordable Care Act.

    Yet Republicans somehow found a way to give a giant and permanent tax cut to corporations like Apple, General Electric and Goldman Sachs, saving those businesses tens of billions of dollars.

    Other links on the tax bill:

  • Gordon G Chang: Is Donald Trump Getting Ready to Attack North Korea? One theory floated here is that the US could disable North Korea by bombing the pipeline that delivers oil from China and/or their one oil refinery. Or, better still, the US could intimidate China into shutting down the pipeline. I don't see how North Korea's leadership does not take the former as an opening salvo in a war, one that forces them to retaliate. As for China, they probably understand that keeping their oil lifeline open is necessary to keeping the peace. And there are real limits to how much the US can push China around without hurting American investments in China (or much worse). At some point Trump's people need to decide whether North Korea having a deterrent against an American attack that no one in the US military wants to launch is really such a big problem. At present it mostly seems to be an affront to the egos of those who still believe the neocon sole-superpower promise of world domination. Sadly, most of the writers in this "War in Asia?" issue of The National Interest seem to buy into such delusions.

  • Thomas B Edsall: The Self-Destruction of American Democracy: After raising the question of whether Putin backed Trump out of pure malice for the American people, and quoting Henry Aaron (Brookings senior fellow, presumably not the Hall of Famer) that "Trump is a political weapon of mass self-destruction for American democracy -- for its norms, for its morality, for sheer human decency," he has to admit that "we Americans created this mess." Then he starts worrying about America's declining influence and esteem in the world, offering a chart showing only two (of 37) other countries with higher approval numbers for Trump than for Obama: Israel (up to 56 from 49) and Russia (way up to 53 from 11). I think the biggest drop was in Sweden (93 to 10), followed by Germany (86 to 11), Netherlands (92 to 17, South Korea (88 to 17), and France (84 to 14). Britain and Canada dropped down to 23, from 79 and 83 respectively. Still, loss of approval hasn't yet done much damage to the empire (although Egypt's decision to allow Russian air bases is perhaps a harbinger). But this is more to the point:

    Add to Trump's list of lies his race baiting, his attacks on a free press, his charges of "fake news," his efforts to instigate new levels of voter suppression, his undermining of the legitimacy of the electoral process, his disregard for the independence of the judiciary, the hypocrisy of his personal posture on sexual harassment, the patent lack of concern for delivering results to voters who supported him, his contempt for and manipulation of his own loyalists, his "failure of character" -- and you have a lethal corruption of democratic leadership. . . .

    At the moment, Trump's co-partisans, House and Senate Republicans, have shown little willingness to confront him. The longer Trump stays in office, the greater the danger that he will inflict permanent damage on the institutions that must be essential tools in any serious attempt to confront him.

    Edsall's error is that he doesn't recognize that those Congressional Republicans are every bit as contemptuous of democracy as Trump. Indeed, he gives Trump too much credit, and Charles Koch and Paul Ryan not nearly enough.

  • Jill Filipovic: The Men Who Cost Clinton the Election: I'm not so sure about the headline, but is there something more than coincidence going on here?

    Many of the male journalists who stand accused of sexual harassment were on the forefront of covering the presidential race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Matt Lauer interviewed Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Trump in an official "commander-in-chief forum" for NBC. He notoriously peppered and interrupted Mrs. Clinton with cold, aggressive, condescending questions hyper-focused on her emails, only to pitch softballs at Mr. Trump and treat him with gentle collegiality a half-hour later. Mark Halperin and Charlie Rose set much of the televised political discourse on the race, interviewing other pundits, opining themselves and obsessing over the electoral play-by-play. Mr. Rose, after the election, took a tone similar to Mr. Lauer's with Mrs. Clinton -- talking down to her, interrupting her, portraying her as untrustworthy. Mr. Halperin was a harsh critic of Mrs. Clinton, painting her as ruthless and corrupt, while going surprisingly easy on Mr. Trump. The reporter Glenn Thrush, currently on leave from The New York Times because of sexual harassment allegations, covered Mrs. Clinton's 2008 campaign when he was at Newsday and continued to write about her over the next eight years for Politico.

    A pervasive theme of all of these men's coverage of Mrs. Clinton was that she was dishonest and unlikable. These recent harassment allegations suggest that perhaps the problem wasn't that Mrs. Clinton was untruthful or inherently hard to connect with, but that these particular men hold deep biases against women who seek power instead of sticking to acquiescent sex-object status. . . .

    It's hard to look at these men's coverage of Mrs. Clinton and not see glimmers of that same simmering disrespect and impulse to keep women in a subordinate place. When men turn some women into sexual objects, the women who are inside that box are one-dimensional, while those outside of it become disposable; the ones who refuse to be disposed of, who continue to insist on being seen and heard, are inconvenient and pitiable at best, deceitful shrews and crazy harpies at worst. That's exactly how some commentary and news coverage treated Mrs. Clinton.

    Of course, it's possible that an individual's hostility to Hillary has more to do with her being a Clinton than a woman. There's no doubt that many in the media treated her unfairly. Still, I'm more struck by how gingerly they treated dozens of more damning scandals, especially Trump's own sexual abuse history. Filipovic also wrote: Matt Lauer is gone. He's left heartbreak in his wake.

  • Susan Hennessey et al: The Flynn Plea: A Quick and Dirty Analysis. One recalls that from early on Flynn was offering testimony for immunity. One thing the guilty plea suggests is he does indeed have something to further Mueller's investigation as it closes in on Trump's inner circle. Also note that while investigations into foreign interference in American elections has always focused on Russia, the incident Flynn pleaded guilty to involved lobbying Russia for Israel: see Philip Weiss: Flynn's plea on Russia influence reveals . . . Israel's influence!; also Richard Silverstein: Flynn Pleads Guilty to Lying About Trump Sabotage of Security Council Resolution Against Israeli Settlements. Trump's reaction, of course, was to turn up the crazy: Dana Milbank: Get ready for Trump's fireworks:

    I tried to ignore the Trump shenanigans this week, instead writing about the drug industry executive Trump tapped to oversee drug pricing and about the administration lawyer who orchestrated Trump's takeover of the CFPB after serving as lawyer for a payday lender cited by the CFPB for abuses. But such pieces generate only a fraction of the clicks of pieces I and others write about Trump's pyrotechnics.

    Those pyrotechnics are going to increase now that Mueller has turned Flynn. Trump's distractions will be impossible to ignore. But we -- lawmakers, the media and the public -- need to keep our focus on the real damage Trump is doing.

  • Shira A Scheindlin: Trump's new team of judges will radically change American society:

  • Paul Woodward: Have we been lied to about the Kate Steinle case? Steinle was allegedly killed by an undocumented immigrant, Garcia Zarate, who was acquitted of murder charges last week. Zarate had been deported five times, which "made him a very effective villain for Trump's border security campaign messages." The shooting was clearly an accident, and it's pretty unlikely the case would ever have been prosecuted had Zarate been a card-carrying NRA member. But Trump (aka "the xenophobic, racist, bigot, defiling the Oval Office") went ballistic over the verdict.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28931 [28909] rated (+22), 391 [394] unrated (-3).

Rated count down, mostly attributable to Thanksgiving, when I fixed a small dinner: roast goose with potatoes, baked zucchini niçoise, oven-braised pumpkin, sweet and sour cabbage. All recipes were new to me, and came out as well as hoped. For dessert I made three pies: maple pecan, chocolate pecan, and key lime. For the first two, I tried two different pie shell recipes, and found the "easy" one not only not as good but also not as easy. The key lime had a graham cracker crust that came out rather crumbly, but otherwise I was very pleased.

Further disruptions over the weekend: stereo went on the blink on Saturday, which drove me to listening to so-so albums on Napster. It (for reasons currently unfathomable) started working on Sunday, but I couldn't focus, as I was cooking several Indian dishes to get an idea how several menu ideas for next week's Peace Center Annual Dinner might play out. I'll be directing dinner for sixty on Friday, December 1, and until then I expect to have very little time for music. Menu will be Indian (except for dessert), mostly because I can cook more recipes ahead of time, making the logistics relatively manageable. Still, an enormous amount of work for an amateur like myself.

The dinner work already wiped out any chance at a Weekend Roundup -- possibly the first one I've missed since Trump was elected (though I may have blocked something out -- I do recall at least one threat to throw in the towel).

Current plan is to publish November's Streamnotes on Tuesday. Not likely to have much not already in the file, and there's at least a small chance I might not get the indexing done. But it needs to get up before the end of the month, and I won't have any time after Tuesday. Still will have more records than October (current count 114).

While I'm at it, I'd like to recommend Mark E. McCormick: Some Were Paupers, Some Were Kings: Dispatches From Kansas. McCormick wrote an op-ed column at the Wichita Eagle, and this collects many of his best pieces, not least on the perennial topic of race relations. Laura Tillem helped edit and design the book, and I helped her a bit with the conversion from one hideous Microsoft format to another. By the way, McCormick will be giving the main presentation at Friday's Peace Center 25th Annual Dinner.

By the way, François Carrier sent me a note asking that I mention his crowdfunding project. I routinely ignore requests to post notices, and certainly don't want to encourage more of them, but a few years ago when I got especially flustered I wrote a mass email to everyone who was sending me CDs announcing my intent to stop reviewing. François wrote me back immediately and insisted he was going to keep sending them anyway. As you can see here, few musicians have given me more pleasure more consistently. So by all means, encourage him to play and record more.

By the way, I thought the iconic story of last week was when Trump pardoned the turkey on Thanksgiving, and said "I feel so good about myself doing this." (See Jessica Contrera.) When I first read the quote, I thought it the perfect example of his narcissism. Only when I saw the video later did the full perversity sink in. As Contrera notes, the lead up to the quote was: "Are we allowed to touch? Wow." The video looks like Trump groping the turkey as he says, "I feel so good about myself" -- his look suggesting fond remembrances of other birds he's groped.

Another iconic moment was captured in this tweet by Daniel Dale (picture here; story here):

Trump is holding this event honouring Native American code talkers, and insulting Warren as "Pocohontas," in front of a portrait of president Andrew Jackson, who signed the Indian Removal Act.

Very sad to see John Conyers caught up in the sex abuse scandals. He was first elected to the Congress in 1964 and was one of the first dozen House members to vote against the Vietnam War. Aside from his brief post-9/11 lapse, he has been one of the most consistent critics of American belligerence abroad, as well as a steady champion of civil rights and liberties. Not perfect, I guess -- I certainly don't like his "Pro-IP Act" -- but for a very long time one of the very best Congress had to offer.

New records rated this week:

  • Björk: Utopia (2017, One Little Indian): [r]: B+(*)
  • Raoul Björkenheim Ecstasy: Doors of Perception (2017, Cuneiform): [dl]: B+(***)
  • Carn Davidson 9: Murphy (2017, self-released): [cd]: B
  • Ori Dagan: Nathaniel: A Tribute to Nat King Cole (2017, Scat Cat): [cd]: B
  • Deer Tick: Vol. 1 (2017, Partisan): [r]: B+(*)
  • Deer Tick: Vol. 2 (2017, Partisan): [r]: B+(*)
  • Die Enttäuschung: Lavaman (2017, Intakt): [cd]: A-
  • Jari Haapalainen Trio: Fusion Nation (2017, Moserobie): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Alexander Hawkins-Elaine Mitchener Quartet: Uproot (2017, Intakt): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Kasai Allstars & Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste: Around Félicité (2017, Crammed Discs): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Kasai Allstars: Félicité Remixes (2017, Crammed Discs): [r]: B+(*)
  • Joe McPhee/Damon Smith/Alvin Fielder: Six Situations (2016 [2017], Not Two): [r]: B+(***)
  • Lorrie Morgan/Pam Tillis: Come See Me & Come Lonely< (2017, Goldenlane): [r]: B+(*)
  • Evan Parker & RGG: Live @ Alchemia (2016 [2017], Fundacja Sluchaj): [bc]: A-
  • William Parker Quartets: Meditation/Resurrection (2016 [2017], AUM Fidelity, 2CD): [dl]: A-
  • Frank Perowsky Jazz Orchestra: Gowanus (2017, Jazzkey): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Gregory Porter: Nat "King" Cole & Me (2017, Blue Note): [r]: C+
  • Daniel Rosenthal: Music in the Room (2016 [2017], American Melody): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Blake Shelton: Texoma Shore (2017, Warner Brothers Nashville): [r]: B+(*)
  • Dave Zinno Unisphere: River of January (2017, Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(*)

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

  • Dion: Kickin' Child: The Lost Album 1965 (1965 [2017], Norton): [r]: C-

Old music rated this week:

  • Die Enttäuschung: Die Enttäuschung 4 (2006 [2007], Intakt): [r]: B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Kris Davis & Craig Taborn: Octopus (Pyroclastic): January 28
  • Angelo Divino: Love A to Z (self-released)
  • Ryan Keberle/Frank Woeste: Reverso: Suite Pavel (Phonoart): February 9
  • Thiefs: Graft (Le Greffe) (Jazz & People): February 5
  • Dave Young/Terry Promane Octet: Vol. 2 (Modica Music): December 8

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Peace Dinner Planning

Dinner is Friday, December 1, 2017, at Lorraine Avenue Menonite Church. Expected turnout: 80. Dinner will be mostly Indian: the main theory being that Indian food often benefits from being cooked ahead of time, allowing the spices more time to permeate the food. Dishes will be very mild (at least very little hot pepper), although we will provide hotter condiments for those who prefer it that way.

Tables will be set with small bowls of condiments and bread, as noted below. Food will be served in a buffet line. Unfortunately, we don't have chafing dishes to keep the food warm, so there is a bias toward dishes that can be served "room temp."

Dishes will be cooked or warmed up at the church on the day of the dinner, Friday (F below). Advance cooking will be done Thursday evening at the church (Th below). Some cooking will be done even earlier at Tom Hull's house (W or Tu below). Most shopping will be done on Tuesday or Wednesday.

The main cookbook to be used is Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Cooking. Recipes that refer to it are just given page numbers. Dish names are English translations with Hindi in parentheses. Other recipes are noted by a cookbook code before the page number: Most of Sahni's recipes are designed to serve 8. We will generally scale them by 3-4, while providing more variety of dishes than assumed. This approach was used last year where, for instance, we got by with 16 lbs of chicken and 8 lbs of fish.

Condiment table settings:

  • Cold Minted Potatoes (Aloo Podina Chat) (103 x2): Boiled red potatoes with cucumber. mint, and spices. [NB: Originally planned on aloo chat, with tomatoes, onions, and cilantro.]
  • Hot Hyderabadi Tomato Relish (Hyderabadi Tomatar Chutney) (441 x2): Tomatoes cooked with green chilies, red pepper, and other spices. [NB: This should be seriously hot, so it can be used to spice up anything else.]
  • Cucumber and Yogurt Salad (Kheere ka Raita) (343 x4): Cucumber, tomato, yogurt, with mint and spices.
  • Sweet and Sour Tamarind Relish (Imli Chutney) (442 x2): Tamarind, golden raisins, dates, brown sugar, and spices. [NB: A variation on this would add banana.]
  • Several store-bought chutneys and pickles; e.g. Major Grey Chutney (Mango) and Lime Pickle (Mild), Hot Mango Pickle.
  • Also thinking about Fried Nuts (cashews and almonds) with spices, Onion Sambal (chopped raw onion with chili powder) and Pineapple Sambal (same idea).

It would be nice to be able to provide bread and/or lentil wafers on table. Easiest way to do bread would be to buy frozen Paratha, Chapati, and/or Naan -- the first two are unleavened and can be prepared on a griddle, the latter is leavened and would need to be heated up in the oven. It's not terribly hard to make Chapati (393) from scratch, and only a bit harder to make Naan. The bread should be cut into fourths or sixths.

The lentil wafers (papad) are usually puffed in oil (425). Not clear whether we can find ones that can be more simply heated (although they probably can be fried a few hours ahead of time).

Main dishes:

  • Lamb Braised in Aromatic Cream Sauce (Rogani Gosht) (164 x4, 12 lb): Lamb cubes, marinated in onion, ginger, yogurt and spices, cooked with potatoes, garlic, spices, and cream.
  • Velvet Butter Chicken (Makhani Murgh) (225 x4), based on Tandoori (Indian Barbecued) Chicken (221 x3, 16 lb): Chicken, skinned and quartered, marinated in garlic, ginger, yogurt and spices, grilled over gas then deboned; cooked in tomatoes, ginger, butter, cream, and spices with cilantro.
  • Baked Tandoori Fish (recipe TBD, 8 lb): Pacific cod, marinated in yogurt and spices, baked in hot oven. [NB: This would normally be grilled in a tandoor or over charcoal.]
  • Sweet Potato and Chickpea Curry (Nigella Lawson x3): Sweet potatoes and chickpeas cooked with onions and ginger in coconut milk and stock, flavored with tamarind and spices. [NB: Should make vegetable stock (45) for this.]
  • Green Peas and Indian Cheese in Fragrant Tomato Sauce (Matar Paneer) (266 x3): Peas and cubes of white cheese, in sauce with onions, tomatoes, and spices. [NB: Cheese available in store.]
  • Buttered Smothered Cabbage (Bandh Gobhi Ki Sabzi) (298 x3): White cabbage with ginger, tomato, and spices.
  • Smoked Eggplant with Fresh Herbs (Bharta) (305 x3): Grilled eggplant, peeled and chopped, cooked with onion, tomatoes, peas, spices, and cilantro.
  • Stir-Fried Okra (Bindi Sabzi) (309 x4): Cut okra fried. [NB: recipe doesn't call for it, but I would loose dredge in chickpea flour (besan), fry, then add spices.]
  • Fragrant Buttered Greens (Saag) (319 x3): Spinach, kale, mustard and/or collard greens, steamed, cooked in ghee with potatoes and spices.
  • Buttered Black Beans (Kali Dal) (337 x3): Black whole gram beans (sabat urad dal) and red kidney beans (2 tbs/1 cup dal), cooked slow with onion, tomatoes, ginger, and spices; add tadka (onions, cooked in ghee with spices and cream) when cooked.
  • Patiala Pilaf (366 x4 8c): Basmati rice, cooked with onion, garlic and whole spices. [NB: Recipe calls for topping with crisp fried onion, which I would omit. We could use ground spices instead of whole.]

We're leaning against doing any traditional Indian desserts. Rice pudding had the most interest. I've never successfully made ras malai (a cheese dumpling in sweetened milk), and never attempted gulab jamun (fried dough balls in syrup). I've made kulfi (ice cream, usually made with pistachios) but would have trouble scaling it up. There are some other puddings, mango fool, and barfi (like fudge, usually made with almonds). I suggested instead my Autumn Spice Cake (x5) and a fruit salad similar to last year's Macedonia (I did a Moroccan version recently, with mixed fruit in a citrus dressing, that should work nice -- maybe with some mango thrown in).

Haven't given much thought to drink. Presumably we'll have coffee, iced tea, and water available. An Indian option would be Spiced Tea (486), which I imagine we could serve iced (perhaps with the milk on the side).

Quick notes on logistics (more on this later):

  • Dishes that need to be cooked on Friday: fish, rice, okra, bread, lentil wafers, sambals. Of these, the fish and rice should be scheduled to be done near serving time. Others can be done earlier in day. Most other dishes should be rewarmed in Friday, checked for seasoning, etc. It's probably impossible to serve everything hot.
  • I'm thinking it's OK to bake cake night before, then wrap, and add frosting (which can be made night before) on Friday. I think fruit salad can be made night before, but should check on that.
  • Probably best way to do the kali dal is to cook the beans ahead of time (maybe Wednesday due to long cooking time), then add tadka on Friday after rewarming.
  • Thursday night (at church) plan on making raita, sweet potatoes, peas, cabbage, greens, and aloo chat.
  • Lamb, chicken, and eggplant could be made at home Wednesday night, or at church on Thursday night. Chicken and eggplant need to be grilled (at home) earlier in day. Chicken would be best marinated night before grilling. I'm inclined to push them up.
  • Shopping should be done Tuesday evening or, at latest, Wednesday afternoon. Asia Bazaar is good for most Indian specialty items. Lamb is probably best sourced at Yoder Meats or Yaacoub Meat Market. Fish and chicken are at Dillons, as are most vegetables. I went to Thai Binh looking for things like green mangoes (didn't find any green enough); they're a good source for many things, but don't have much specifically Indian. I've bought fresh garlic naan at Dillons; if we want that, someone should shop for it on Friday (or we could buy it ahead of time and freeze it). I'm thinking I'll buy all new spices at Asia Bazaar -- I have pretty much everything we'd need, but old and maybe not enough.
  • Major step is to assemble a shopping list with all of the recipes scaled as needed. I should have that done by Monday. I can then check off things I already have, and prepare for shopping. Inputs to that include estimate of number of people to serve, and general agreement on menu.
  • On Sunday, I plan on fixing a couple dishes where I'm going off-menu (fish, okra), so you're all invited to stop by Sunday dinner-time (or later) to sample and kibbitz. I went shopping on Saturday to pick up some options -- various chutneys, breads, lentil wafers -- so we'll try some things out and make some decisions.

This piece was initially written Friday-Saturday ahead of the dinner. I'll revise it as needed.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Daily Log

Got a Facebook message from John Chacona, asking for a writeup on my grading system. I replied:

Got your facebook query on grades, and thought it better to email than to reply there.

I don't know that I've ever written a real guide to my grades, at least not like Christgau's '70s and '90s legends. I originally compiled an ungraded records list back in the 1990s, then started tacking on grades as a sort of memory aid, then eventually as a searching convenience. I went with letter grades because they were familiar from Christgau and I'd seen enough of them they seemed to mean something. I never graded as low as Christgau, and rarely graded as high -- a basic difference in our personalities, but also until I started JCG I only searched out highly regarded records, so never had to spend much time with bad ones. In the 1970s Christgau still wanted to hear everything, but he lost interest in various genre and artists over the 1980s and turned his CG into what he privately called "The A-List" around 1990-91, as he finished the CG-80s book. From 1991 through MSN he ranked HMs, but his stars convention only appeared in the CG-90s book. I don't know when he came up with that notation. I suspect he retrospectively sorted the HMs into three bins based on his previous rankings. I think it was clear from context that all of those starred records were shades of B+, although he occasionally muddied the waters by explicitly reviewing a record as B+. I started splitting up my B+ records into tiers sometime in 2005, when I found that I only had HM space for high B+ records in JCG.

I figured that if anywhere I had written about grades, it would have been in in the notebook somewhere. I can't really take time to scour it all, but in May 2005 I wrote quite a bit about grades, but nothing about stars. In November 2005 I made several mentions to stars as tiers within B+. What I was discovering was that the overwhelming majority of jazz records were good enough to fit into B+ territory. At some point I gave up on ranking them (well after ranking was in any way meaningful, I'm afraid) But broad tiers still made sense: basically the high (***) ones were HM candidates and the (*) ones were records I thought were pretty good but not nearly interesting enough to recommend; (**) never has had a clear definition -- they're just somewhere in between, maybe a bit of both. I thought I should always make the B+ explicit.

For a while, I thought that A records were ones people would like even if they didn't generally like the genre, that A- records were superb within genre, and that B+ would almost only appeal to genre fans. For a while I figured the A-/B+ line was where I'd draw the line between buying a record and not, but lately I buy so few things that no longer makes sense. Nowadays my decisions (for jazz CDs, at least) are mostly made for storage considerations. I have the last couple years of A-/B+(***) records alphabetized on one shelf set (older ones on another), B+(**) unsorted on another shelf, and everything B+(*) or below goes to the basement, with vague plans of eventually getting rid of the latter. I still try to rank A/A- records, and looking at my current list all I can say is I'm not doing a very good job of it. The other grades are just big bins, alphabetized in the lists.

I went to a numerical system (1-10) for the Jazz Guides. I needed some mechanical way to translate extant grades, and tried a couple of schemes before deciding on: A+/A = 10, A- = 9, B+(***) = 8, B+(**) = 7, B+(*) = 6, B = 5, B- = 4, C+ = 3, C = 2, C- or lower = 1. I consulted several people before adopting this, and they all thought that A- should map to 8, perhaps with me moving some high A- to 9 and maybe some A to 10. I've shied away from A/A+ grades in recent years because the ones I originally assigned (late '90s/early '00s) were often based on decades of familiarity, often from years when I bought relatively few records (perhaps as few as 100/year in the early 1980s). In trying to keep the grades consistent, I found that it's almost impossible to listen to a new record enough to slot it among past A/A+ record -- a fact that only grew harder when I started hitting 1000 records/year. Under such circumstances I never stick with a good record long enough to really love it, or a bad record enough to really hate it, so things tend to bunch up in the middle. Curvewise, that means B+(**) [7] -- I've never graphed these things, but I've tallied them up several years, and the curve seems pretty consistent, at least since I started streaming a lot of stuff I'm mildly curious about but would never buy. I recall a Bill James essay where he argues that nothing is baseball is normally distributed, for reasons that are equally applicable to records.

I thought I had written something on grading in the Jazz Guide intro, but can't find anything worth quoting here. Bottom line, I suppose, is that grading is a quantizing of personal pleasure relative to everything else I've ever listened to. Hard to claim it's anything more.

Was disappointed not to see a Jazz Critics ballot from you last year. Hope you're doing well.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28909 [28874] rated (+35), 394 [391] unrated (+3).

The Best Albums of the Year usually starts around Thanksgiving. I was going to say that I hadn't seen any yet, but it turns out the first few are indeed out: Rough Trade (100); Decibel (40); Mojo (50); Piccadilly Records (100); and Uncut (75). AOTY is aggregating these lists here, where the order is currently (for laughs, I'll include my grades, where I've heard the record):

  1. LCD Soundsystem: American Dream [**]
  2. Aldous Harding: Party
  3. Kendrick Lamar: DAMN [A-]
  4. The War on Drugs: A Deeper Understanding
  5. Jane Weaver: Modern Kosmology
  6. Thundercat: Drunk [*]
  7. The National: Sleep Well Beast [***]
  8. Kelly Lee Owens: Kelly Lee Owens
  9. Paradise Lost: Medusa
  10. Queens of the Stone Age: Villains
  11. Slowdive: Slowdive [*]
  12. St. Vincent: Masseduction [A-]
  13. Hurray for the Riff Raff: The Navigator [*]
  14. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile: Lotta Sea Lice
  15. Oh Sees: Orc
  16. Nadia Reid: Preservation
  17. Ryan Adams: Prisoner [*]
  18. Spirit Adrift: Curse of Conception
  19. Richard Dawson: Peasant [B]
  20. Father John Misty: Pure Comedy [B-]

Note (as if you couldn't reverse engineer this factoid) that four of the lists are British (two record stores, two publications), and the other specializes in heavy metal. Expect much of this list to change as more representative critics chime in. I'd have to rate Kendrick Lamar's DAMN as the odds-on favorite -- AOTY's Highest Rated Albums of 2017 lists it first, barely ahead of Lorde's Melodrama [A-], with LCD Soundsystem at 6 and St. Vincent at 8. The other contender I see on AOTY's list is Vince Staples' Big Fish Theory [***] at 4. I expect that Mount Eerie's A Crow Looked at Me [*] (3), Valerie June's The Order of Time [**] (5), and Jlin's Black Origami [**] (7) to get a few nods but have a tougher time adding them up. Beyond that I don't see many contenders on AOTY's list -- maybe Arca (10) [B], Sampha's Process [*] (16), Algiers' The Underside of Power [B] (25). The Richard Dawson album is 15 at AOTY, but I'd be surprised if it has much US support. Further down the AOTY list you'll find The National (31) and Father John Misty (38).

The only jazz album in AOTY's top 50 is Vijay Iyer Sextet's Far From Over [***] (29). I suppose that makes it the famous to win this year's NPR Jazz Critics Poll (run by Francis Davis with some help from myself), although that's mostly because I have no idea which albums will be contenders. Diana Krall's Turn Up the Quiet [***] won Downbeat's Readers Poll. When I look at my own A-list, I see very little that jumps out as likely to get broad support -- maybe Steve Coleman's Morphogenesis, Jimmy Greene's Flowers, Hudson, Rudresh Mahanthappa's Agrima, Eric Revis' Sing Me Some Cry, Tyshawn Sorey's Verisimilitude, Wadada Leo Smith's Najwa, Craig Taborn's Daylight Ghosts, Miguel Zenón's Típico. But most years most of the top-20 come from my [***] and [**] lists, and I have no particular knack or (right now) inclination to try to sift them out.

With ballots for the Jazz Poll due December 3, I finally got around to sorting out my own 2017 Jazz and Non-Jazz lists. First thing I'm struck by is how unreliable the ordering of these lists is. One sign is that the order favors albums that came out early in the year, not because they've had longer to sink in but because they got to the top of the list first. A fact of my life is that I almost never go back and replay graded records any more (and when I do, I'm more likely to pick something old and classic, often from my travel cases). I expect I'm going to stir the order up quite a bit before I'm done, but whether that's from replay or just memory remains to be seen.

Health rated count this week, once again very jazz-heavy even when I'm streaming off internet -- last week's ratio was 30-2. That will probably hold up until I file my jazz ballot, then pivot as I see more EOY lists. At some point I expect I'll start running my own aggregate of 2017 EOY lists, like I did for last year. Main obstacle is that I expect the next 3-4 weeks to be heavily interrupted. First, I'll be cooking a small dinner for Thanksgiving. Then I'm in charge of fixing the Wichita Peace Center annual banquet -- last year we had eighty people, so unless I hear otherwise that's on plan this year. Then I'll need to do some work publishing the individual critic ballots for the NPR Jazz Critics Poll. Sometime in early December I'd like to work in a much-postponed trip to see relatives in Arkansas. In this rush, I'll probably go ahead and post a Streamnotes early this month, to get it out of the way.

Presumably I'll need to file a Pazz & Jop ballot in mid-December. By the end of December, I vow to finish two other long-delayed projects: compiling my existing reviews into two Jazz Guide files, and catching up Robert Christgau's website. Lot of work for a guy who's increasingly feeling his advancing age. As Stephen Colbert noted tonight: most presidents age visibly in office, but Trump is aging us.

One last note on unpacking: got a large batch of CDs (many multiple sets) from University of North Texas, which has the oldest and probably largest jazz education program outside of the Boston-NY corridor -- it doesn't produce as many famous names as Berklee and Juilliard, but as a working critic I've noticed a lot of fine musicians with UNT degrees. Still, good chance I got some of the artist attributions wrong there -- something I'll have to revisit with I finally get the magnifying glass out and try to decipher the fine print.

New records rated this week:

  • Rahsaan Barber: The Music in the Night (2017, Jazz Music City): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Sam Bardfeld: The Great Enthusiasms (2017, BJU): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Sheryl Bentyne: Rearrangements of Shadows: The Music of Stephen Sondheim (2017, ArtistShare): [cd]: B-
  • Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band: Body and Shadow (2017, Blue Note): [r]: B-
  • Geof Bradfield: Birdhoused (2017, Cellar Live): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Brand New: Science Fiction (2017, Procrastinate! Music Traitors): [r]: B
  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert: Out of Silence (2015 [2017], FMR): [cd]: A-
  • Bill Charlap Trio: Uptown Downtown (2017, Impulse!): [r]: B+(**)
  • Michelle Coltrane: Awakening (2017, Blujazz): [cd]: B+(**)
  • David's Angels: Traces (2016-17 [2017], Kopasetic): [cd]: B+(*)
  • DKV Trio: Latitude 41.88 (2014 [2017], Not Two): [bc]: A-
  • Christoph Erb/Jim Baker/Frank Rosaly: . . . Don't Buy Him a Parrot . . . (2014 [2017], Hatology): [r]: B+(***)
  • Lorenzo Feliciati: Elevator Man (2017, RareNoise): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Taylor Haskins & Green Empire: The Point (2017, Recombination): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Hear in Now [Mazz Swift/Tomeka Reid/Silvia Bolognesi]: Not Living in Fear (2012-14 [2017], International Anthem): [r]: B+(**)
  • Vincent Herring: Hard Times (2017, Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(*)
  • Harold Mabern: To Love and Be Loved (2017, Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(*)
  • Markley & Balmer: Standards & Covers (2017, Soona Songs): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Kyle Motl Trio: Panjandrums (2016 [2017], Metatrope): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Pan-Scan Ensemble: Air and Light and Time and Space (2016 [2017], Hispid/PNL): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: Live in Brussels (2016 [2017], Leo, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jamie Reynolds: Grey Mirror (2015 [2017], Fresh Sound New Talent): [r]: B+(**)
  • Whitney Rose: Rule 62 (2017, Six Shooter): [r]: B+(**)
  • Roswell Rudd/Fay Victor/Lafayette Harris/Ken Filiano: Embrace (2017, RareNoise): [cdr]: A-
  • Shelter: Shelter (2016 [2017], Audiographic): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Paula Shocron/German Lamonega/Pablo Diaz: Tensegridad (2016 [2017], Hatology)
  • Jen Shyu: Song of Silver Geese (2016 [2017], Pi): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Martial Solal & Dave Liebman: Masters in Bordeaux (2016 [2017], Sunnyside): [r]: B+(***)
  • Vinnie Sperrazza Apocryphal: Hide Ye Idols (2015 [2017], Loyal Label): [r]: B+(**)
  • Galen Weston: The Space Between (2017, Blujazz): [cd]: B
  • Eric Wyatt: Look to the Sky (2017, Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(**)

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

  • Gentle Giants: The Songs of Don Williams (2017, Slate Creek): [r]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • Michael Gregory Jackson: Clarity (1976 [2010], ESP-Disk): [r]: B
  • Woody Shaw: Song of Songs (1972 [1997], Contemporary/OJC): [r]: B+(**)
  • Woody Shaw: The Time Is Right (1983 [1993], RED): [r]: B+(**)
  • Woody Shaw: Imagination (1987 [1998], 32 Jazz): [r]: B+(**)

Grade (or other) changes:

  • Kyle Motl: Transmogrification (2016 [2017], Metatrope): title previously reviewed as Solo Contrabass, label self-released; B+(**)
  • Woody Shaw: Blackstone Legacy (1970 [1996], Contemporary): [r]: was B+(**), now B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Airstream Artistry: Jim Riggs' Best of the TWO (UNT, 3CD)
  • Ernaldo Bernocchi: Rosebud (RareNoise): advance, December 8
  • Eva Cortés: Crossing Borders (Origin)
  • David Friesen: Structures (Origin)
  • Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York: Fukushima (Libra)
  • Paul Giallorenzo Trio: Flow (Delmark)
  • LEF: Hypersomniac (RareNoise): advance, December 8
  • Legacy: Neil Slater at North Texas (UNT, 4CD)
  • Gregory Lewis: Organ Monk Blue (self-released): January 5
  • Nice! Jay Saunders' Best of the TWO (UNT, 2CD)
  • One O'Clock Lab Band: Lab 2017 (UNT)
  • Phil Parisot: Creekside (OA2)
  • Perseverance: The Music of Rick DeRosa at North Texas (UNT)
  • Steve Slagle: Dedication (Panorama): January 4
  • John Stowell/Ulf Bandgren Quartet: Night Visitor (Origin)

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Weekend Roundup

I've often heard that "politics is the art of the possible" -- the quote is most often attributed to Otto von Bismarck, who continued: "the attainable -- the art of the next best." Bismarck is best known now as the architect of the modern welfare state, something he achieved with autocratic Prussian efficiency, his generally satisfactory answer to the threat of proletarian revolution. But the earlier generations he was better known as the founder of German militarism, a bequest which less pragmatic followers parlayed into two disastrous world wars. Then, as now, the "possible" was always limited by preconceptions -- in Bismarck's case, allegiance to the Prussian nobility, which kept his innovations free of concessions to equality and democracy.

After immersing myself into the arcana of mainstream politics in the 1960s -- I used to trek to the library to read Congressional Quarterly's Weekly Reports, I subscribed to the Congressional Record, and I drew up electoral maps much like Kevin Phillips -- I pivoted and dove into the literature of the politically impossible, reading about utopian notions from Thomas More to Ignatius Donnelly to Paul Goodman (whose Utopian Essays & Practical Proposals is a title I still fancy recapitulating). But I never really lost my bearings in reality. In college I worked on the philosophy journal Telos, which taught one to always look toward ends (or goals) no matter the immediate terrain, and I studied neo-Kantians with a knack for making logic work to bridge the chasm. Later I turned into an engineer, and eventually had the epiphany that we could rationally think our way through complex political and economic problems to not necessarily ideal but much more viable solutions.

From the start I was aware of the standard and many other objections to "social engineering." No time to go into them now, but my background in engineering taught me that I have to work within the bounds of the possible, subject to the hard limits of physics and the slightly messier lessons I had learned from my major in sociology. Without really losing my early ideals -- my telos is equality, because that's the only social arrangement that is mutually agreeable, the only one that precludes scheming, strife, and needless harm -- I came to focus on little steps that nudge us in the right direction, and to reject ideas that couldn't possibly work. Thinking about this has made me a much more moderate person, without leading me to centrism or the notion that compromise is everything.

A good example of a political agenda that cannot be implemented -- indeed, one that offers nothing constructive -- was provided a while back by Alan Keys, a Republican presidential candidate whose entire world view revolved around teenagers having sex and how society needs to stop them. Maybe his analysis has some valid points, and maybe there are some paternalistic nudges that can trim back some of the statistical effects (like the rate of teen pregnancy), but nothing -- certainly no tolerable level of coercion -- can keep teenagers from being interested in sex. Of course, Keys was an outlier, even among Republican evangelicals. Only slightly more moderate is Roy Moore, who's evidently willing to carve out an exception for teens willing to have sex with himself. You might chalk that up to hypocrisy, which is common among all Americans, but is especially rife among conservatives (who regard it as a privilege of the virtuous rich) and evangelicals (who expect personal salvation for the fervor with which they damn all of you). But Moore's own agenda for making his peculiar take on Christianity the law of the land is every bit as dangerous and hopeless as Keys' obsession with teen sex.

The most chilling thing I've read in the last week was a column by Cal Thomas, Faith in Politics, where he urges conservative evangelicals to put aside their frivolous defenses of Roy Moore and go back to such fundamentals as Martin Luther's 95 Theses, where "Luther believed governments were ordained by God to restrain sinners and little else." The striking thing about this phrasing is how cleverly it forges an alliance with the libertarian right, who you'd expect to be extremely wary of God-ordained governmental restraint. But sin has always been viewed through the eyes of tyrants and their pet clergy, a "holy alliance" that has been the source of so much suffering and injustice throughout world history.

News recently has been dominated by a seemingly endless series of reports of sexual misconduct, harassment and/or assault, on all sides of the political spectrum (at least from Roy Moore to Al Franken), plus a number of entertainers and industry executives. Conservatives and liberals react to these stories differently -- aside from partisan considerations (which certainly play a part when a Senate seat is at stake), conservatives are hypocritically worked up about illicit sex, while liberals are more concerned with respecting the rights of women. Yet both sides (unless the complaint hits particularly close to home) seem to be demanding harsh punishment (see, e.g., Mark Joseph Stern: Al Franken Should Resign Immediately Michelle Goldberg and Nate Silver agree, mostly because they want to prove that Democrats are harsher and less hypocritical on sexual misconduct; indeed, instant banishment seems to have been the norm among entertainers, which Kevin Spacey, Louis CK, and Jeffrey Tambor having projects canceled, as well as more delayed firings of Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly, and Harvie Weinstein). This drive to punish, which has long been a feature of America's notion of justice, can wind up making things worse (and not just because it could trigger a backlash, as Isaac Chotiner and Rebecca Traister discuss).

I'm sure many women have many things to object to here -- the Weinstein testimonies seem especially damning, and I suspect the hushed up Ailes and O'Reilly legacies are comparable -- but I'm finding some aspects of the whole brouhaha troubling. Sex is a messy subject, often fraught and embarrassing to negotiate, subject to wildly exaggerated hopes and fears, but inevitably a part of human nature -- I keep flashing back on Brecht's chorus: "what keeps mankind alive? bestial acts." On the other hand, we might be better off looking at power disparities (inequality), which are clearly evident in all of these cases, perhaps even more so in entertainment than in politics. I can't help but think that in a more equitable society, one that valued mutual respect and eased up a bit on arbitrary punishment, would be bothered less by these problems.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: The 4 biggest stories in politics this week: The House passed a major tax bill ("but the House bill, as written, doesn't conform to Senate rules and clearly can't pass"); Senate Republicans drafted a tax bill ("that does conform to Senate rules at the expense of creating an even starker set of financial tradeoffs"); Bob Menendez isn't guilty (I would have said something more like "dodged conviction via mistrial"); Things are looking worse for Roy Moore. Other Yglesias posts last week:

    • Senate Republicans' tax plan raises taxes on families earning less than $75,000. The chart, clearly demonstrating how regressive the plan is, is for 2027, without showing how one gets there. To satisfy the Senate's "budget reconciliation" rules many of the tax cuts have to expire in less than ten years, so this is the end state the bill aims for, probably with the expectation that some further cuts will be renewed before they run out (as happened with the Bush cuts). So on the one hand, this exaggerates the "worst case" scenario, it also clarifies the intent behind the whole scam.

    • Watch CEOs admit they won't actually invest more if tax reform passes: Gary Cohn feigns surprise that so few CEOs raised their hands.

      The reason few hands are raised is there's little reason to believe that the kind of broad corporate income tax cut Republicans are pushing for will induce much new investment. . . . The biggest immediate winners, in fact, would be big, established companies that are already highly profitable. Apple, for example, would get a huge tax cut even though the company's gargantuan cash balance is all the proof in the world that the its investments are limited by Tim Cook's beliefs about what Apple can usefully take on, not by a limited supply of cash or a lack of profitability.

    • Bill Clinton should have resigned: "What he did to Monica Lewinsky was wrong, and he should have paid the price." I've sympathized with versions of this argument -- Gary Wills has written much on how Clinton should have resigned, and I'm on record as having said that Had I been in the Senate I would have voted to convict him (less because I agreed with the actual charges than because I felt he should "pay the price" for other things he did that were wrong -- at the time I was most upset about Clinton's bombing of Iraq, something his Republican inquisitors applauded, prefiguring the 2003 Bush invasion). However, I was under the impression that whatever he did with Lewinsky was mutually consented to and should have remained private. Indeed, before Clinton (or more specifically, before the Scaife-funded investigation into Clinton) politicians' private affairs had hardly ever become objects of public concern. (I suppose Grover Cleveland, America's only bachelor president, is the exception.) Given that all US presidents have been male, you can argue that this public nonchalance is part of a longstanding patriarchal culture, but there's no reason to think that the right-wingers who went after Clinton were in any way interested in advancing feminism. Perhaps Clinton himself could have turned his resignation into a feminist talking point: Yglesias insists, "Had Clinton resigned in disgrace under pressure from his own party, that would have sent a strong, and useful, chilling signal to powerful men throughout the country." Still, I doubt that's the lesson the Republicans would have drawn. Rather, it would have shown to them that they had the power to drive a popular, charismatic president from office in disgrace using pretty flimsy evidence. While there's no reason to doubt he did it for purely selfish reasons, at the time many people were delighted that Clinton stood firm and didn't buckle under right-wing media shaming (e.g., that was the origin of the left-Democratic Move On organization). As for long-term impact, Yglesias seems to argue that had Clinton resigned, we wouldn't have found ourselves on the moral slope that led to Trump's election.

    • The tax reform debate is stuck in the 1970s: "The '70s were a crazy time," but he could be clearer about what the Republican tax cut scheme was really about, and vaguer about the Democrat response -- worry about the deficit came more after the damage was done (until they Democrats were easily tarred as advocates of "tax-and-spend"). And even though he's right that the situations are so different now that allowing companies and rich investors to keep more after-tax income is even less likely to spur job growth now, the fact is it didn't really work even when it made more sense. Here's an inadvertently amusing line: "The politics of the 1970s, after all, would have been totally different if inflation, unemployment, interest rates, and labor force growth were all low while corporate profits were high." I'd hypothesize that if corporate profits were artificially raised through political means (which is pretty much what's happened starting with the Reagan tax cuts in 1981) all those other factors would have been reduced. Increasing corporate profits even more just adds to the burden the rich already impose on us all.

  • Sean Illing: "The fish rots from the head": a historian on the unique corruption of Trump's White House: An interview with Robert Dallek, who "estimates that historical examples of corruption, like that of the Warren G. Harding administration, don't hold a candle to how Trump and his people have conducted themselves in the White House." One thing I noticed here is how small famous scandals were in comparison to things that are happening every day under Trump: e.g., Teapot Dome ("in which Harding's secretary of the interior leased Navy petroleum reserves in Wyoming and California to private oil companies at incredibly low rates without a competitive bidding process"). Isn't that exactly what Zinke is trying to do with Alaska's oil reserves? Wasn't that Zinke's rationale behind reducing several National Monuments? And how does that stack up against the monetary value of various deregulation orders (especially those by the EPA and FCC)? To get a handle on corruption today, you have to look beyond first-order matters like Trump family business and direct payoffs to the windfalls industries claim from administration largess and beyond to corporate predation that will inevitably occur as it sinks in that the Trump administration is no longer enforcing regulations and laws that previously protected the public. Even short of changing laws to encourage further predation (as Bush did with his tax cuts and "tort reform"), the Trump administration is not just profiting from but breeding corruption. Curiously, Dallek doesn't even mention the closest relatives: the Reagan administration, with its embrace of "greed is good" leading to dozens of major scandals, and the second Bush, which imploded so utterly we wound up with the deepest recession since the 1930s.

  • Cristina Cabrera: Trump Puts on Hold Controversial Rollback of Elephant Trophy Ban: In the "could be worse" department:

    The U.S Fish & Wildlife Service announced on November 16 that it was rolling back an Obama-era ban preventing the import of hunted elephants in Zimbabwe. A similar ban had also been lifted for hunted elephants in Zambia.

    The decision was met with overwhelming backlash, with both liberals and conservatives slamming the move as needlessly cruel and inhumane. The notorious photos of the President's sons posing with a dead leopard and a dismembered tail of a elephant from their hunting expeditions didn't help.

    According to the Service, it can allow such imports "only when the killing of the animal will enhance the survival of the species." African elephants are protected as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act, and critics questioned the Interior Department's defense that allowing hunters to kill more of them would enhance their survival.

    To be fair to the Trump administration, "allowing hunters to kill more of them would enhance their survival" is also the common logic that binds together most key Republican initiatives, like their "repeal and replace Obamacare" and "tax cuts and jobs" acts. It's also basically why they made Betsy De Vos Secretary of Education. For more, see Tara Isabella Burton: Trump stalls controversial decision on big game hunting.

  • Alvin Chang: This simple chart debunks the conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton sold uranium to Russia: The latest "lock her up" chorus, cheerleadered by Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX). I can't make any sense of his chart, but the simplified one is easy enough to follow (although it could use a dateline). Still, a couple of troubling points. One is why Russian state-owned Rosatom would buy a Canadian uranium country with operations in the US. Presumably it's just business, and Uranium One still sells (as well as produces) uranium in the US market. The other point is that the Clinton Foundation never has and never will cleanse itself of the stench of operating as an influence peddler with ties into the US government -- although it helps that Hillary is no longer Secretary of State or otherwise government-employed, and it will help more as Clinton's numerous political cronies move away from the family and its foundation.

  • Adam Federman: The Plot to Loot America's Wilderness: Meet Jim Cason, who "seems to be running the show" under Ryan Zinke at the Department of Interior, where he's actively cultivating what promises to be a hundred Teapot Dome scandals.

  • Brent D Griffiths: Trump on UCLA basketball players: 'I should have left them in jail': If run in The New Yorker, this article would have been filed under "Annals of Pettiness."

  • Gregory Hellman: House declares US military role in Yemen's civil war unauthorized: Vote was 366-30, declaring that intervention in Yemen is not authorized under previous "authorization of force" resolutions, including the sweeping "war on terror" resolution from 2001. The US has conducted drone attacks in Yemen well before the Saudi intervention in a civil war that grew out of Arab Spring demonstrations (although the Houthi revolt dates back even further). The US has supported the Saudi intervention verbally, with arms shipments, and with target intelligence, contributing to a major humanitarian disaster. Unfortunately, the new resolution seems to have little teeth.

  • Cameron Joseph: Norm Coleman: I'd Have Beaten Franken in '08 if Groping Photo Had Come Out: Probably. The final tally had Franken ahead by 312 votes, so Coleman isn't insisting on much of a swing. On the other hand, I don't live in Minnesota, so I don't have any real feel for how the actual 2008 campaign played out. Coleman won his seat in 2002 after Paul Wellstone died in a plane crash and was replaced by a shockingly tone-deaf Walter Mondale -- inactive in politics since 1984. Coleman's win was a fluke, and he was never very popular, but Franken had a very tough job unseating him in 2008 -- I suspect his real problem was Upton Sinclair Complex (the famous novelist ran for governor of California in 1934 and lost, in no small part because opponents could pick strange quotes from his novels and present them out of context). Franken's comedy career must have presented Coleman's handlers with a treasure trove of bad jokes and faux pas, so many that the "groping picture" might even have gotten lost in the noise. For his part, Franken bent over backwards to present himself as serious and sober, and six years later was reelected easily, by 10.4 points, an improvement suggesting many of the voters' doubts have been answered. I've never been much of a fan, either of his comedy or of how he cozied up to the military to gain a mainstream political perch. Still, I've reluctantly grown to admire his dedication and earnestness as a politician, a vocation that has lately become ever more precarious for honest folk. So I was shocked when the photo/story revealed, not so much by the content as by how eagerly the media gobbled it up. In particular, TPM, which I usually look at first when I get up for a quick summary of the latest political flaps, filed eight straight stories on Franken in their prioritized central column, to the exclusion of not just Roy Moore (who had the next three stories) but also of the House passing the Republican tax scam bill.

    A couple more links on Franken:

    In addition to Yglesias above, I'm running into more reconsiderations of Bill Clinton, basically showing that the atmosphere has changed between the 1990s and now, making Clinton look all the worse. For example:

  • Fred Kaplan: Trigger Warning: "A congressional hearing underlines the dangers posed by an unstable president with unchecked authority to launch nuclear weapons."

  • Azmat Khan/Anand Gopal: The Uncounted: Long and gruesome article on the air war against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, who and what got hit, paying some attention to the mistakes that are never expected but somehow always occur whenever the US goes to war.

    Between April 2016 and June 2017, we visited the sites of nearly 150 airstrikes across northern Iraq, not long after ISIS was evicted from them. We toured the wreckage; we interviewed hundreds of witnesses, survivors, family members, intelligence informants and local officials; we photographed bomb fragments, scoured local news sources, identified ISIS targets in the vicinity and mapped the destruction through satellite imagery. We also visited the American air base in Qatar where the coalition directs the air campaign. There, we were given access to the main operations floor and interviewed senior commanders, intelligence officials, legal advisers and civilian-casualty assessment experts. We provided their analysts with the coordinates and date ranges of every airstrike -- 103 in all -- in three ISIS-controlled areas and examined their responses. The result is the first systematic, ground-based sample of airstrikes in Iraq since this latest military action began in 2014. . . .

    We found that one in five of the coalition strikes we identified resulted in civilian death, a rate more than 31 times that acknowledged by the coalition. It is at such a distance from official claims that, in terms of civilian deaths, this may be the least transparent war in recent American history. Our reporting, moreover, revealed a consistent failure by the coalition to investigate claims properly or to keep records that make it possible to investigate the claims at all. While some of the civilian deaths we documented were a result of proximity to a legitimate ISIS target, many others appear to be the result simply of flawed or outdated intelligence that conflated civilians with combatants. In this system, Iraqis are considered guilty until proved innocent. Those who survive the strikes, people like Basim Razzo, remain marked as possible ISIS sympathizers, with no discernible path to clear their names.

  • Mike Konczal: Republicans are weaponizing the tax code: Key fact here: "Corporations are flush with cash from large profits and aggressively low interest rates, yet they aren't investing." This belies any pretense that cutting corporate tax rates. Without any real growth prospects, the cuts not only favor the rich, the other changes are meant to penalize everyone else, moving into the realm of class war ("capital is eating the economy").

    The crucial thing to realize is that this tax reform effort reflects more than the normal conservative allergic reaction to progressive taxation -- going far beyond undoing the modest progressive grains achieved by Presidents Obama and Clinton. Three major changes stand out: These taxes are far more focused on owners than on workers, even by Republican standards. They take advantage of the ambiguity of what counts as income, weaponizing that vagueness to help their friends and hurt their enemies.

    And after years of pushing for a safety net that works through the tax code, in order to keep more social democratic reforms at bay, Republicans now reveal their willingness to demolish even those modest protections. Their actions make clear that a welfare state based on tax credits and refunds, rather than universal commitments, is all too vulnerable.

    More links on taxes:

  • Josh Marshall: There's a Digital Media Crush. But No One Will Say It: The key sentence here is "The move to video is driven entirely by advertiser demand." The reasoning behind this is left unexplained, but obviously it's because advertising embedded in videos is more intrusive than static space advertising. Part of this is that it's harder for users to block as well as ignore, for the same reason radio and television advertising are more intrusive than print advertising. They're also dumber, because they don't have to offer something useful like information to catch your attention. If past experience is any guide, it also leads to a dumbing down of content, which eventually will make the content close to worthless. This is all bad news for media companies hoping to make bucks off the Internet, and more so for writers trying to scratch out a living from those companies. But more than anything else, it calls into question the public value of an information system based on advertising. From the very beginning, media dependent on advertising have been corrupted by it, and that's only gotten worse as advertisers have gained leverage and targeting data. Concentration of media business only makes this worse, but even if we could reverse the latter -- breaking up effective monopolies and monopsonies and restoring "net neutrality" rules -- we should be questioning the very idea of public information systems built on advertising.

  • Dylan Matthews: Senate Republicans are making it easier to push through Trump's judge picks: Technically, this is about "blue slips," which is one of those undemocratic rules which allow individual Senators to flout their power, but few things in the Republican agenda are more precious to them (or their donors) than packing the courts with verified movement conservatives.

  • Andrew Prokop/Jen Kirby: The Republican Party's Roy Moore catastrophe, explained. A couple impressions here. For one, their listing of Moore's "extremist views" seem pretty run-of-the-mill -- things that some 15-20% of Americans might if not agree with him at least find untroubling. I suspect this understates his extremism, especially on issues of religious freedom, where he has staked out his turf as a Christian nationalist. Second, I've been under the impression that his sexual misdeeds were in the range of harassment (compounded by the youth of his victims, as young as 14), but at least one of the complaints reads like attempted assault -- the girl in question was 16, and when Moore broke off the attack, he allegedly said to the girl: "You are a child. I am the Dictrict Attorney of Etowah County. If you tell anyone about this, no one will believe you." I reckon it as progress that such charges are highly credible now. As for the effect these revelations may have on the election, note: "A recent poll even showed that 29 percent of the state's voters say the allegations make them more likely to vote for Moore."

    Also on Moore:

  • Corey Robin: Trump's Fantasy Capitalism: "How the president undermines Republicans' traditional economic arguments." Robin, by the way, has a new edition of his The Reactionary Mind book out, the subtitle Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Donald Trump as opposed to the original Sarah Palin. For reviews, see John Holbro and Paul Rosenberg.

  • Grant Schulte/James Nord: Oil Leak Will Not Factor Into Decision to Expand Keystone Pipeline: Of course, because right after a 250,000 gallon oil leak time is no time to talk about how approving a pipeline could lead to more oil leaks. Also, note how the authors had to walk back one of their more outrageous claims:

    This version of the story corrects that there have been 17 leaks the same size or larger than the Keystone spill instead of 17 larger than this spill. One of the spills was the same size.

  • Matt Taibbi: RIP Edward Herman, Who Co-Wrote a Book That's Now More Important Than Ever: The book, co-authored by Noam Chomsky, is Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, originally published in 1988.

    The really sad part about the Herman/Chomsky thesis was that it didn't rely upon coercion or violence. Newspapers and TV channels portrayed the world in this America-centric way not because they were forced to. Mostly, they were just intellectually lazy and disinterested in the stated mission of their business, i.e., telling the truth.

    In fact, media outlets were simply vehicles for conveying ads, and a consistent and un-troubling view of the political universe was a prerequisite for selling cars, candy bars, detergent, etc. Upset people don't buy stuff. This is why Sunday afternoon broadcasts featured golf tournaments and not police beatings or reports from cancer wards near Superfund sites.

    The news business was about making money, and making money back then for big media was easy. So why make a fuss?

    It occurs to me that the big money isn't so easy any more, which helps explain the air of desperation that hangs over cable and internet news outlets these days -- their need to provoke fear and stoke fights, building up an air of loyalty. One even suspects that Fox gravitated to right-wing politics less because of its sponsorship than due to a psychological profile of a sizable audience that could be captured. As Taibbi concludes, "It's a shame [Herman] never wrote a sequel. Now more than ever, we could use another Manufacturing Consent."

    By the way, while Herman and Chomsky identified "anti-communism" as their "fifth filter," that should be generalized to denigrating anyone on the US list of bad countries or movements -- especially the routine characterization of Russia, Iran, and Venezuela as non-democracies, even though all three have elections that are arguably fairer and freer than America's 2016 election. One consequence of this is that American media has lost all credibility in many of these nations. For example, see Oleg Kashin: When Russians stopped believing in the Western media.

  • Zephyr Teachout: The Menendez trial revealed everything that's gone wrong with US bribery law: The corruption case against Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) ended in a hung jury mistrial, even short of the appeals process which has severely weakened most anti-corruption laws.

    I'm with the jury: Even after closely following the trial, I have no strong view on Menendez's guilt or innocence, given the laws they have to work with. I do have a view, however, that the Supreme Court has been playing a shell game with corruption laws. It has stripped anti-corruption legislation of its power in two areas: campaign finance laws and anti-bribery laws. The public is left with little recourse against a growing threat of corruption. Whatever happens with this particular case, this is no way to do corruption law. . . .

    It is fitting that the trial ended with a hung jury. The Court has struck down so many laws that would have made this case easier. If laws prohibiting Super PACs were still in place, we'd have no $600,000 donation. But in the very case enabling Super PACs, Citizens United, the Court suggested that bribery laws would be powerful tools to combat corruption threats -- and then went ahead and weakened those laws. . . .

    Was it friendship? Was it corrupt? Or was it our fault for creating a system that encourages "friendships" that blur the line?

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Daily Log

Thinking about roasting a goose for Thanksgiving. As I recall, The Gefilte Manifesto has a recipe.

Meanwhile, I found the following roast goose recipes:

Monday, November 13, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28874 [28842] rated (+32), 391 [396] unrated (-5).

Tis the season when most critics (and especially their publishers) start thinking about year-end lists. I expect that before the month is out I'll take my first pass at constructing this year's version of last year's Jazz and Non-Jazz lists. To that end, I started taking a belated look at AOTY's Highest Rated Albums of 2017 list, and picked out a few things to check out (most successfully, St. Vincent's 8th-rated Masseduction). I sought out several albums from Robert Christgau's recent Expert Witness albums (Pere Ubu's 20 Years in a Montant Missile Silo the only thing I've really liked there recently). I also made a point of looking up everything I had missed on Alfred Soto's Best albums of 2017 -- third quarter edition. Rather surprised I didn't find more there.

The present Year 2017 file lists 834 albums (28 of those pending grades). That's down from 1075 for 2016 by freeze time (January 28, 2017). Figuring I have 11 weeks left, and I've averaged 18.1 new releases per week over the first 46 weeks, that extrapolates to 1033 records: down a bit from last year, but not much. Down more from previous years, of course, but I won't bother dredging those numbers up.

I finally got a bit of work done on compiling the Jazz Guide(s): 21st Century up to 1267 pages (64% through the Jazz '00s database file, up to Ferenc Nemeth); 20th Century edged up to 750 pages as I found a couple stragglers. 21st Century should wind up 1450-1500 pages, hopefully by the end of the year. (So much for my earlier August-September estimates!) Thinking a bit about what should happen next. The drafts are collected using LibreOffice. Obviously, I can export them as PDF, and distribute them as I did the JCG-only version. I don't know the first thing about exporting to ebook formats, but I see there is a Writer2ePub extension, and also a "cross-platform free and open-source e-book reader and word processor" called Calibre. Both of those look promising.

It occurs to me that the collected writing would be more useful reorganized as a website. LibreOffice can export as HTML, but I'd need some way to explode the file into many webpages. It's possible that there is an extension somewhere to support that, but thus far is looks like a job for custom programming. That's something I'll need to look into and think about -- not that I haven't thought about pouring my database and reviews into a website for a long time now. It's just that I've always had trouble coming up with an album-based database schema to hang everything on. In recent years I've been gravitating more toward an artist-based schema, even though it doesn't normalize as nicely. That's probably the level I'd try to explode an HTML export of the Jazz Guides. One idea is to dispense with the database and just use Mediawiki, organizing the reviews by artist. In that case one could simply cut and paste from the book to the website. That would still be a lot of work.

More troubling for me is the amount of editing that the reviews require. The relatively easy part is stripping out the redundancy that occurs when discrete reviews are stacked up under an artist name. I expect to move dates, instruments, band associations, and other such attributes to a brief artist intro, cutting them out of the album reviews. In many cases that leaves virtually nothing but the credits and grade. It would be nice to flesh them out a bit, but that now appears to be a job for another lifetime, or for someone else. At this point, I'd be happy to let my framework stand as a starting point for someone else to build on, or maybe a whole community. Unclear whether anyone is interested.

One thing I neglected to mention last week was Downbeat's 82nd Annual Readers Poll (October 2017 issue). Biggest surprise for me was the late Allan Holdsworth (1946-2017) finishing second on the HOF ballot. I had him filed under rock (1970s) and hadn't rated (or heard) any of his albums. Wikipedia says he "was cited as an influence by a host of rock, metal and jazz guitarists" but the following list of twelve only includes one name I recognize as jazz (Kurt Rosenwinkel). I suppose I should do some research, possibly starting with Gordon Beck's Sunbird (1979; Beck's 1967 Experiments With Pops, with 3rd place finisher John McLaughlin, is a favorite) and two Tony Williams albums not yet in my database.

McLaughlin would have been a perfectly respectable choice. I've heard at least two dozen of his albums, with Extrapolation (1969) and Mahavishnu Orchestra's The Inner Mounting Flame (1971) early masterpieces. Fourth- and fifth-place finishers Les Paul and George Benson would have been disgraceful picks, although I can point to at least one superb record each is on.

The HOF winner, Wynton Marsalis, is a ho-hum choice: a solid hard bop trumpeter, probably better than Kenny Dorham or maybe even Woody Shaw but less exciting than Lee Morgan and not as versatile as Freddie Hubbard. He also became a huge celebrity, built an empire at Lincoln Center, and wrote some of the most ponderous compositions of the era. I've always liked him best when he was least serious. I credit him with three A- records: his soundtrack Tune In Tomorrow (1990); his Jelly Roll Morton tribute, Mr. Jelly Lord (1999); and his Play the Blues meetup with Eric Clapton (2011). Dorham and Shaw, by the way, have two A- records each, in shorter careers.

Elsewhere, the winners were on the stodgy side of mainstream -- the relatively hip picks were Chris Potter (tenor sax), Anat Cohen (clarinet), and I can never fault Jack DeJohnette (drums). Two flat out bad picks: Snarky Puppy (group), and Trombone Shorty (trombone). (Well, Gregory Porter too, but consider his competition.) I don't have time to go deeper down the lists, but for example, Marsalis won trumpet, and I'd have to drop to 13th to find someone I would have voted for ahead of him (in fact did: Wadada Leo Smith; Dave Douglas came in 15th; 4th-place Terence Blanchard gave me pause).

Only other down-ballot pick I'll mention is Geri Allen, who came in 3rd at piano. Would have been a pleasant surprise, but she died to get there, and still got beat by Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, who haven't produced exceptional albums since the early 1970s (OK, I did rather like Corea's 2014 Trilogy).

New records rated this week:

  • 2 Chainz: Pretty Girls Like Trap Music (2017, Def Jam): [r]: B+(*)
  • Nicole Atkins: Goodnight Rhonda Lee (2017, Single Lock): [r]: B
  • Big Thief: Capacity (2017, Saddle Creek): [r]: B+(**)
  • Corey Christiansen: Dusk (2015 [2017], Origin): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Anat Cohen Tentet: Happy Song (2016 [2017], Anzic): [r]: B+(***)
  • Richie Cole: Latin Lover (2017, RCP): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Miley Cyrus: Younger Now (2017, RCA): [r]: B+(*)
  • ExpEAR & Drew Gress: Vesper (2015 [2017], Kopasetic): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Lee Gamble: Mnestic Pressure (2017, Hyperdub): [r]: B+(*)
  • Howe Gelb: Future Standards (2016 [2017], Fire): [r]: B+(*)
  • Tee Grizzley: My Moment (2017, 300/Atlantic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Kelela: Take Me Apart (2017, Warp): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Billy Lester Trio: Italy 2016 (2016 [2017], Ultra Sound): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Delfeayo Marsalis: Kalamazoo (2015 [2017], Troubadour Jass): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Roy McGrath: Remembranzas (2017, JL Music): [cd]: B
  • Lisa Mezzacappa: Glorious Ravage (2017, New World): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The National: Sleep Well Beast (2017, 4AD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Diana Panton: Solstice/Equinox (2017, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Pere Ubu: 20 Years in a Montana Missile Silo (2017, Cherry Red): [r]: A-
  • Pink: Beautiful Trauma (2017, RCA): [r]: B+(**)
  • Lee Ranaldo: Electric Trim (2017, Mute): [r]: B+(*)
  • Rostam: Half-Light (2017, Nonesuch): [r]: B+(**)
  • Romeo Santos: Golden (2017, Sony Latin): [r]: B+(*)
  • Sheer Mag: Need to Feel Your Love (2017, Static Shock): [r]: B+(**)
  • Idit Shner: 9 Short Stories (2017, OA2): [cd]: B+(**)
  • St. Vincent: Masseduction (2017, Loma Vista): [r]: A-
  • Gabriele Tranchina: Of Sailing Ships and the Stars in Your Eyes (2017, Rainchant Eclectic): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Mark Wingfield/Markus Reuter/Asaf Sirkis: Lighthouse (2016 [2017], Moonjune): [cd]: B
  • Lee Ann Womack: The Lonely, the Lonesome & the Gone (2017, ATO): [r]: B+(**)
  • Charlie Worsham: Beginning of Things (2017, Warner Bros. Nashville): [r]: B

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

  • Motörhead: Under Cover (1992-2014 [2017], Silver Lining Music): [r]: B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last two weeks (sorry I forgot to post last week):

  • Barry Altschul's 3Dom Factor: Live in Krakow (Not Two)
  • Carn Davidson 9: Murphy (self-released)
  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert: Out of Silence (FMR)
  • Ori Dagan: Nathaniel: A Tribute to Nat King Cole (Scat Cat)
  • David's Angels: Traces (Kopasetic)
  • Die Enttäuschung: Lavaman (Intakt)
  • Brad Garton/Dave Soldier: The Brainwave Music Project (Mulatta): January 5
  • Jari Haapalainen Trio: Fusion Nation (Moserobie)
  • Alexander Hawkins-Elaine Mitchener Quartet: Uproot (Intakt)
  • Nick MacLean Quartet: Rites of Ascension (Browntasaurus)
  • Negative Press Project: Eternal Life: Jeff Buckley Songs and Sounds (Ridgeway)
  • Jen Shyu: Song of Silver Geese (Pi)
  • The United States Air Force Band Airmen of Note: Veterans of Jazz (self-released)

Peace Dinner

Initial mail for the Peace Dinner team:

After talking with Laura and Janice, I agreed to direct the Peace Center annual dinner on Friday, December 1, at Lorraine Avenue Mennonite Church.

I'll be sending out emails as planning and discussion develops. If you don't wish to receive these emails, let me know. You're under no obligation to help, but I will need help to pull this off. If you think of someone else who might be interested (especially in helping), please let me know.

I assume we can have access to the church kitchen that day from noon on, the night before (Thursday, November 30) from 6pm on, and briefly on Tuesday and/or Wednesday afternoon or early evening. I expect to do most of the shopping on Tuesday and/or Wednesday, and leave most of the groceries in the church Wednesday. I'll do some cooking at home on Wednesday (you're invited to join me and/or help with the shopping). More (perhaps most) of the cooking will be done at the church on Thursday evening, and it would be good to have 2-4 people join in there. Everything else will be fixed on Friday, and served when? 6pm? We could use 3-6 people on Friday, including setup of tables, and several people afterwards for cleanup.

The dinner will be mostly Indian. I felt that would be easier than last year given that many dishes benefit from being made ahead of time (allows the flavors to penetrate), then reheated. I'm assuming about the same number of guests (80?). I haven't tried to figure out how to scale the recipes yet, but will adjust them when I get firmer numbers.

Last year we served various appetizers on the tables. This menu doesn't offer a lot of appetizers, but at the table we can provide a variety of relishes, chutneys and pickles. I may make several of these, but for the most part I'll rely on store-bought products (mango chutney, lime pickle, etc.; note that we already don't have enough lead time for some of my favorite homemade chutneys/pickles). I'm also thinking about buying frozen paratha (flaky bread), heating it on a griddle, cutting it into 1/6 slices and serving it at the table. The bread will be good for mopping up curries. I'll also look and see if there is a viable option for buying lentil wafers (papad).

Most Indian food is spiced moderately to severely hot. All the main dishes below will be cooked with a minimum of red pepper (although lots of non-hot spices). The store-bought chutneys will be hotter, and for good measure I'll make a batch of Hyderabadi tomato chutney, which will be very hot. Diners can mix it in or skip it.

My main cookbook is Julie Sahni's "Classic Indian Cooking," and that's the only one I've looked at so far (exceptions noted). I have another dozen or so Indian cookbooks, so I may come up with other recipes that look promising. But here's a first pass:

  • A chicken curry, probably makhni or masala cooked with chicken tikka (small, boneless chunks). The chicken would initially be skinned, deboned, marinated and grilled, then cooked in a flavorful gravy.
  • A lamb curry, probably rogani gosht, which is chunks of lamb and potatoes in a thick gravy.
  • Baked tandoori fish, probably pacific cod, marinated in yogurt and spices, and baked just before serving in a hot oven. (Ideally this is grilled, but that isn't practical. Same for fried fish. Fish curries don't really lend themselves to advance cooking, so that isn't an option either.)
  • A basmati rice pilaf. I like to make patiala pilaf instead of plain rice: it's cooked with onion and whole spices (cinnamon, cardamom, cloves), but we could substitute powdered spices if the whole ones seem troublesome.
  • A sweet potato-chickpea curry (a somewhat unorthodox recipe I copied from Nigella Lawson, using red onions and flavored with coconut milk and tamarind, so a very substantial vegetarian dish).
  • Bharta: grilled eggplant with tomatoes.
  • Mattar paneer: green peas with cheese (which I'll probably buy not make).
  • Buttered smothered cabbage.
  • Crisp-fried okra.
  • Saag: spinach and greens with fried potatoes.
  • Kali dal: buttered black gram beans (urad dal), with a tadka (fried onions and cream); this shouldn't be too soupy.
  • Raita: yogurt, probably with cucumber and tomato (although there are other options) -- could be served at table, especially if more than one.

Not a lot of good appetizer options: samosas are big and complicated, fritters require frying. Cookbook has some others, which I won't bother listing here. Aloo chat is possible, basically Indian potato salad, usually flavored with tamarind. It wouldn't be hard and could be served with the relishes. Kachumber is a cucumber-tomato-mint chopped salad, one of the few raw salad options (not in Sahni). It's a pretty easy recipe to add.

Lots of other vegetable options: cauliflower with ginger is the one I came closest to adding. I originally wanted to do dum aloo, but it calls for whole potatoes (small ones, peeled, browned) and the lamb and saag also have potatoes (and we could make aloo chat), so that seemed excessively redundant. I've been looking for standard dishes that are discrete, identifiable, without a lot of gravy, so I skipped things like navratan korma (mixed veggies in a mild sauce). I'll consider some other dishes. I'm looking for more variety without having to scale a few things way up.

If you really want to cut down on the number of dishes, I'd start with the peas and okra. Still, I think, would be very good to have.

A lot of vegetable dishes are normally cooked in ghee (clarified butter). Let me know if you think that's a problem. Also, some also use yogurt (in some cases I can substitute coconut cream). The fish, lamb, and probably chicken use yogurt, but it's less common on vegetable dishes (non-optional for raita).

Okra would have to be cooked the day of, to keep crisp. Rice is also same day, as is fish. Pretty much everything else can be done a day or more in advance.

I'm willing to consider making fresh bread, depending on how much help and interest there is. Main options are chapati (unleavened flat bread, cooked on griddle) and naan (leavened flatbread, cooked in oven). Paratha requires multiple rolling to get the flaky layers, and poori needs to be cooked over an open flame to puff up correctly, so those are things that would be tougher to do in quantity.

Indian desserts are also problematical: mostly puddings, kulfi (ice cream), or gulab jamun (fried dough balls in syrup). We considered kheer (rice pudding). I also considered last year's muttabaq or (virtually the same amount of work) baklava. But I also mentioned that cake would be easier, and suggested my autumn spice cake, which is very good (topped with a cooked brown sugar frosting). We could also do a fruit salad with optional vanilla cream like we did last year. This is certainly still open, but that's the current thinking. I wonder about making homemade kulfi to go with the cake?

I'd like to have a menu page on the website. Possibly printed out with the program also. I'm hoping Jerry can take some pictures.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Weekend Roundup

Matt Taibbi is a dedicated, insightful journalist and a terrific writer, but ever since the 2016 campaign started he's repeatedly gotten tripped up by having to meet advance deadlines for Rolling Stone that have left many of his pieces dated on arrival. His latest is especially unfortunate: A Year After Trump's Election, Nothing Has Changed. The factoid he chose to build his article around was a recent poll arguing that 12 months later, Trump would probably still win the 2016 election. The assumption is that Trump is still running against Hillary Clinton. Trump, of course, has been in the news every day since the election, and is already raising money for 2020 and making rally appearances in active campaigning mode. Aside from her self-serving, self-rationalizing book tour Clinton has largely dropped out of site, conceding she's not running again, and not scoring any points attacking Trump -- not that Trump's stopped attacking her, most recently accusing her of being the real "Russia colluder." Still, the poll in question shows Trump and Clinton in a dead 40-40 tie -- i.e., both candidates are doing worse than they did one year ago, but in the interest of sensationalism, the author gives Trump the tiebreaker ("Given that Trump overperformed in key, blue-leaning swing states, that means he'd probably have won again.")

As it happens, Taibbi's article was written before and appeared after the 2017 elections where Democrats swept two gubernatorial races (in VA and NJ), and picked up fairly dramatic gains in down-ballot elections all over the country. For details, start with FiveThirtyEight's What Went Down on Election Night 2017. Nate Silver explains further:

Democrats had a really good night on Tuesday, easily claiming the Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial races, flipping control of the Washington state Senate and possibly also the Virginia House of Delegates, passing a ballot measure in Maine that will expand Medicaid in the state, winning a variety of mayoral elections around the country, and gaining control of key county executive seats in suburban New York.

They also got pretty much exactly the results you'd expect when opposing a Republican president with a 38 percent approval rating.

That's not to downplay Democrats' accomplishments. Democrats' results were consistent enough, and their margins were large enough, that Tuesday's elections had a wave-like feel. That includes how they performed in Virginia, where Ralph Northam won by considerably more than polls projected. When almost all the toss-up races go a certain way, and when the party winning those toss-up races also accomplishes certain things that were thought to be extreme long shots (such as possibly winning the Virginia House of Delegates), it's almost certainly a reflection of the national environment.

Silver also notes:

  • President Trump's approval rating is only 37.6 percent.
  • Democrats lead by approximately 10 points on the generic Congressional ballot.
  • Republican incumbents are retiring at a rapid pace; there were two retirements (from New Jersey Rep. Frank LoBiondo and Texas Rep. Ted Poe) on Tuesday alone.
  • Democrats are recruiting astonishing numbers of candidates for Congress.
  • Democrats have performed well overall in special elections to the U.S. Congress, relative to the partisanship of those districts; they've also performed well in special elections to state legislatures.
  • The opposition party almost always gains ground at midterm elections. This is one of the most durable empirical rules of American politics.

The thing I find most striking about these election results is the unity Democrats showed. Mainstream Democrats still bitch about lefties who defected to Ralph Nader in 2000, but as someone who remembers how mainstream Democrats sandbagged McGovern in 1972 (and who's read about how Bryan was repeatedly voted down after 1896), I've long been more concerned about how "centrists" might break if anyone on the left wins the Democratic Party nomination. Yet last week saw a remarkably diverse group of Democrats triumphant. The lesson I take away from the results is that most voters have come to realize is that the problem isn't just Trump and some of his ilk but the whole Republican Party, and that the only hope people have is to unite behind the Democrats, regardless of whether they zig left or zag right. Especially after last week's flap over Donna Brazile's book Hacks, that's good news.

It's also news that belies Taibbi's main thesis: not so much that nothing has changed in the year since Trump's shocking election win as the charge that we're still responding as stupidly to Trump as we did during the campaign. On the former, the administration's worker bees have torn up thousands of pages of regulations meant to protect us from predatory business, major law enforcement organizations have been reoriented to persecute immigrants while ignoring civil rights and antitrust, and the judiciary is being stock with fresh right-wingers. The full brunt of those changes may not have sunk in -- they certainly haven't hit all their intended victims yet -- but even if you fail to appreciate the threats these changes have a way of becoming tangible very suddenly. And given how Republican health care proposals polled down around 20%, you may need to rethink your assumptions about how dumb and gullible the American people are.

Republican proposals on "tax reform" are polling little better than their effort to wreck health care. This polling is helping to stall the agenda, but Republicans in Congress are so ideological, and so beholden to their sponsors, that most are willing to buck and polls and follow their orders. What we've needed all year has been for elections to show Republicans that their choices have consequences, and hopefully that's started to happen now.

But whereas the first half of Taibbi's article can be blamed on bad timing, the second half winds up being even more annoying:

Despising Trump and his followers is easy. What's hard is imagining how we put Humpty Dumpty together again. This country is broken. It is devastated by hate and distrust. What is needed is a massive effort at national reconciliation. It will have to be inspired, delicate and ingenious to work. Someone needs to come up with a positive vision for the entire country, one that is more about love and community than blame.

That will probably mean abandoning the impulse to continually litigate the question of who is worse, Republicans or Democrats. . . . The people running the Democratic Party are opportunists and hacks, and for as long as the despicable and easily hated Trump is president, that is what these dopes will focus on, not realizing that most of the country is crying out for something different.

Well, I'm as eager as the next guy for a high-minded conversation about common problems and reasonable solutions, but that's not what politics is about these days (and probably never was). But let's face it, the immediate problem is that one side's totally unprincipled and totally unreasonable, and the only way past that is to beat that side down so severely no one ever dares utter "trickle down" again. They need to get beat down as bad as the Nazis in WWII -- so bad the stink of collaboration much less membership takes generations to wash off. Then maybe we can pick up the pieces.

As for the "hacks and opportunists," sure they are, but they're approachable in ways the Republicans simply aren't. I've seen good people, hard-working activists, come into Wichita for years and urge us to go talk to our Congressman, as if the person in that office (remember, we're talking about Todd Tiahrt, Mike Pompeo, and Ron Estes) was merely misinformed but fundamentally reasonable. I've met plenty of hacks and opportunists who are at least approachable, but not these guys. They've sold their souls, and they're never coming back.

By the way, Thomas Frank's article on the Trump Day anniversary runs into pretty much the same problem: We're still aghast at Donald Trump -- but what good has that done? Well, the American political system doesn't give you a lot of latitude to repair a botched election -- everyone in office has fixed terms, the option of signing recall petitions is very limited (and doesn't apply to Trump), impeachment is virtually impossible without massive Republican defections -- so sometimes being constantly aghast is all one can do. And while the last three US presidents had their share of intractably obsessive opponents, they pale to the numbers of people constantly on Trump's case. Frank wants to minimize our effect, not least because he wants us to consider bigger, wider, deeper, older faults that Trump makes worse but isn't uniquely responsible for.

Trump's sins are continuous with the last 50 years of our history. His bigotry and racist dog-whistling? Conservatives have been doing that since forever. His vain obsession with ratings, his strutting braggadocio? Welcome to the land of Hollywood and pro wrestling.

His tweeting? The technology is new, but the urge to evade the mainstream media is not. His outreach to working-class voters? His hatred of the press? He lifts those straight from his hero Richard Nixon. His combination of populist style with enrich-the-rich policies? Republicans have been following that recipe since the days of Ronald Reagan. His "wrecking crew" approach to government, which made the cover of Time magazine last week? I myself made the same observation, under the same title, about the administration of George W Bush.

The trends Trump personifies are going to destroy this country one of these days. They've already done a hell of a job on the middle class.

But declaring it all so ghastly isn't going to halt these trends or remove the reprobate from the White House. Waving a piece of paper covered with mean words in Trump's face won't make him retreat to his tower in New York. To make him do that you must understand where he comes from, how he operates, why his supporters like him, and how we might coax a few of them away.

The parade of the aghast will have none of that. Strategy is not the goal; a horror-high is. And so its practitioners routinely rail against Trump's supporters along with Trump himself, imagining themselves beleaguered by a country they no longer understand nor particularly like.

As an engineer, I've long related to the idea that you have to understand something to change it -- at least to change it in a deliberate and viable way -- but politics doesn't seem to work that way. For nearly all of my life, the most powerful political motivator has been disgust. And while that may seem like a recent bad trend, I pretty clearly remember characters like Dick Nixon, Barry Goldwater, and George Wallace. So it really doesn't bother me when people are simply aghast at Trump without understanding the fine points. Sure, at some point we need to get a better idea of what to do, but all the present situation demands is resistance, and as people line up to defend and demean Trump, those connections Frank wants us to learn are getting made.

My tweet for the day:

Wasn't #VeteransDay originally Armistice Day (a celebration of peace at the end of an unprecedentedly horrific war)? I guess when the US went to a permanent war footing, they had to rename it.

Some scattered links this week:

Friday, November 10, 2017

Daily Log

Matt Taibbi posted a link to his new column: "New column on the first anniversary of Trump's election, and why America hasn't evolved since and basically sucks." I tweeted a reply:

Nothing has changed? Bad timing. Trump misrule is producing increasingly tangible damage to many lives, and one effect, as shown by Tuesday's elections, is more Dem solidarity, not just left supporting neolibs but the latter more willing to look left.

Monday, November 06, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28842 [28813] rated (+29), 396 [405] unrated (-9).

After many short weeks, back to semi-normal last week, a swing that would have been even more pronounced had I not gotten distracted over the weekend: cooked a fairly large dinner on Saturday, had guests and a birthday party to attend on Sunday. Monday, too, has largely been chewed up by technical problems, so I'm getting a late start on this post, and not including Monday's unpacking.

The short and scattered nature of yesterday's Weekend Roundup was one consequence of my weekend distractions. One thing I did there was to cite Donna Brazile's controversial Inside Hillary Clinton's Secret Takeover of the DNC, as well as a rejoinder by Josh Marshall, before moving on to my own concerns. Shortly after I posted, I noticed Charles Pierce's own anti-Brazile rant: The Democratic Party Is Finding a Way to F*ck This Up, which starts off with this hideous preface:

I will go to my grave convinced that the 2016 Democratic primary process was the single most depressing political event I ever witnessed. . . . But the Democratic nominating circus was an endless slog that veered between a coronation and a smug, self-righteous quasi-insurgency that quickly developed a paranoid streak a mile wide. This set a perfect stage for the nearly omnipresent Russian ratfcking. The ratfckers didn't have to create divisions to exploit, they already were there.

I mean, sure, it was more depressing than 2008, when Hillary Clinton was denied the Democratic Party nomination and therefore was unable to blow the general election. But even though I was delighted with Obama's primary successes in 2008, Bernie Sanders' campaign was unprecedented, and his near-success even more thrilling. The Republican primaries had more faces, and some stylistic variation, but there ultimately wasn't a dime's worth of difference between the candidates. But there were real, significant differences between Sanders and Clinton, and they were things that mattered -- so how could one not get swept up in the opportunity?

I don't know, but I have a hypothesis, based on a few people I know who I think of as having more/less lefty (but pro-Hillary) politics and extrapolating to more establishment-oriented liberals. It involves two factors: one is a cynical belief that substantial progressive change is not possible; the other is blind faith in liberal meritocracy, which has anointed the long line of Democratic Party leaders from aristocrats like the Roosevelts and Kennedys to accommodating strivers like the Clintons and Obama. That cynicism lets such people dismiss Bernie with whatever epithet they fancy (for Pierce, "smug, self-righteous") even though there is no evidence for their assertions, while always giving Hillary the benefit of any doubts, even though her own track record is full of compromises and betrayals. Such people are very hurt, probably more by Hillary's loss than by Trump's victory, because the former calls into question their belief in American exceptionalism, whereas the latter mostly hurts other people.

Russia is their perfect villain, a way of blaming their failure not on other Americans but on some external evil. Still, I recently read David Daley's Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America's Democracy, and I don't recall a single Russian operative in the entire book. The "ratfuckers" -- the people conspiring to engineer districts and electorates to their partisan advantage -- are Republicans, and they've been very effective at it. I don't doubt that Russia helped them out here and there, but the game plan was hatched in Republican circles, and they were the ones who mostly carried it out. Blaming Russia may make some Democrats feel better about themselves, but it mostly means they're continuing to turn a blind eye to their real enemies. And in their failure to recognize real enemies, they've not only been ineffective at defending against them -- they've lost credibility among the very people who suffer Republican rule the worst.

Pierce goes on to attack "SPW" ("Senator Professor Warren"), and to set up scapegoating the left if the Democrat Ralph Northam loses the Virginia gubernatorial race. He's right that the Democrats have various problems achieving unity, even in the face of the most obviously horrid Republicans in history, but it beats me how he thinks he's contributing to solidarity by trashing Bernie.

Since I posted, I've run across two more pieces on the Brazile Affair: Glenn Greenwald: Four Viral Claims Spread by Journalists on Twitter in the Last Week Alone That Are False -- three attacking Brazile, two of those repeated by Pierce -- and Matt Taibbi: Why Donna Brazile's Story Matters -- But Not for the Reason You Might Think. The lesson Taibbi draws from the story is how the Clinton camp distrusted democracy -- they sought to rig the primaries not because they couldn't win otherwise, but because they didn't think they should have to submit to the voters.

New records rated this week:

  • Thomas Anderson: My Songs Are the House I Live In (2017, Out There): [r]: A-
  • Big Thief: Masterpiece (2016, Saddle Creek): [r]: B+(*)
  • Robt Sarazin Blake: Recitative (2017, Same Room, 2CD): [r]: A-
  • Mihály Borbély Quartet: Be by Me Tonight/Gyere Hozzám Estére (2016, BMC): [r]: B+(**)
  • Peter Brötzmann/Steve Swell/Paal Nilssen-Love: Live in Tel Aviv (2016 [2017], Not Two): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Ernesto Cervini's Turboprop: Rev (2013-16 [2017], Anzic): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Cowboys and Frenchmen: Bluer Than You Think (2017, Outside In Music): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Marc Devine Trio: Inspiration (2017, ITI): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Jeff Dingler: In Transit (2017, self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Matthieu Donarier/Santiago Quintans: Sun Dome (2017, Clean Feed): [r]: B-
  • Sinne Eeg: Dreams (2017, ArtistShare): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Satoko Fujii Quartet: Live at Jazz Room Cortez (2016 [2017], Cortez Sound): [cd]: B
  • Dre Hocevar: Surface of Inscription (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B-
  • Adam Hopkins: Party Pack Ice (2015 [2017], pfMENTUM, EP): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Jon Langford: Jon Langford's Four Lost Souls (2017, Bloodshot): [r]: B+(***)
  • Large Unit: Fluku (2016 [2017], PNL): [bc]: A-
  • Paal Nilssen-Love/Frode Gjerstad: Nearby Faraway (2016 [2017], PNL): [bc]: B+(***)
  • The Paranoid Style: Underworld USA (2017, Bar/None, EP): [r]: B+(***)
  • Adam Rudolph: Morphic Resonances (2017, M.O.D. Technologies): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Samo Salamon/Szilárd Mezei/Achille Succi: Planets of Kei: Free Sessions Vol. 1 (2016 [2017], Not Two): [cd]: B+(***)
  • A. Savage: Thawing Dawn (2017, Dull Tools): [r]: B+(*)
  • Slow Is Possible: Moonwatchers (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)
  • Trio S: Somewhere Glimmer (2017, Zitherine): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Deanna Witkowski: Makes the Heart to Sing: Jazz Hymns (2017, Tilapia): [cd]: B
  • Mark Zaleski Band: Days, Months, Years (2016 [2017], self-released): [cd]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • Mihály Borbély Quartet: Hungarian Jazz Rhapsody (2014, BMC): [r]: B+(***)

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Weekend Roundup

Again, a very late start, so this is very catch-as-catch-can.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that drove politics this week: I moved Yglesias' weekly summaries up top a couple weeks ago as I've found lately that he's become a pretty good chronicler of the Trump travesty, which especially as I've started to tune out myself makes for a useful intro to whatever happened recently. This week's stories: We finally saw the GOP's tax bill; Mueller revealed indictments -- and a guilty plea; Jeff Sessions is back in the spotlight: specifically, for Russia stuff, going back to his false testimony during his confirmation hearings; and, Jerome Powell will be the next Federal Reserve chair. Other Yglesias pieces:

    • Republicans should admit to themselves they mostly don't want big change: "It's a cranky old person party, not a policy visionary party."

    • The Republican tax plan, in one chart:

      Big-picture summary is that over the first 10 years, the bill has:

      • $1 trillion net tax cut for business owners
      • $172 billion tax cut for people who inherit multi-million dollar estates
      • $300 billion net tax cut for individuals.
    • Republicans changed their minds and now want to cut the mortgage deduction.

    • Jerome Powell, President Trump's reported choice to head the Federal Reserve, explained: "Good news for people who like lax bank regulation."

    • Republicans promised a tax reform bill by today. Here's why they don't have one: November 1. "Nobody knew taxes were so complicated."

    • Booker calls on antitrust regulators to start paying attention to workers. Key word to add to your vocabulary is "monopsony":

      Antitrust law normally comes up in the context of monopoly power, the prospect that a company will control such a large share of output that it can raise prices or reduce quality. But it also applies to situations of monopsony power, in which market concentration offers undue leverage over workers or upstream suppliers. Antitrust regulators have consistently recognized the importance of the monopsony issue when it comes to cartels between separate companies -- suing a number of big Silicon Valley companies that had reached an illegal "no poaching" agreement to depress engineers' wages -- but has not in recent years appeared to recognize such concerns when conducting merger review. . . .

      Booker's letter starts with a premise that's now become common in progressive circles: that the American economy is becoming broadly more concentrated across a range of sectors. . . . At the same time, corporate profits as a share of the overall economy are at an unusually high level, the stock market is booming, and wage growth has been incredibly restrained even as the economy has recovered from the depths of the Great Recession.

    • Congressional Republicans are helping Trump with a big cover-up: Several things here, including:

      George W. Bush put his personal wealth in a blind trust. Jimmy Carter sold his peanut farm. Barack Obama held all his assets in simple diversified index funds. There is a way in which a modern president with a modicum of integrity conducts himself, and Trump has refused to do it.

      Rather than liquidate his assets and put the proceeds in a trust, Trump has simply turned over day-to-day management of the family business to his two older sons -- sons who continue to serve as surrogates and part of his political operation, even while his oldest daughter and her husband serve as top White House aides. Ivanka Trump is reeling in Chinese trademarks while Eric and Donald Jr. do real estate deals in India. Trump is billing the Secret Service six figures for the privilege of renting golf carts at his golf courses. People with interests before the government can -- and do -- pay direct cash bribes to the president by joining his Mar-a-Lago club or holding events at his hotel in Washington, DC. . . .

      There's an interesting lesson in the fact that Paul Manafort is being brought down by criminal money laundering and tax evasion charges that are at best tangentially related to his work for Trump's campaign -- there's a lot of white-collar crime happening in America that people are getting away with. . . .

      Manafort's criminal misconduct only came to light because he happened to have stumbled into massive political scandal that put his conduct under the microscope in a way that most rich criminals avoid.

      By the same token, over the years Trump has been repeatedly fined for breaking federal money laundering rules, been paid millions in hush money to settle civil fraud claims, been caught breaking New Jersey casino law, been caught violating the Hart-Scott-Rodino Act, been caught violating federal securities law, been caught violating New York nonprofit law, and -- of course -- been accused of multiple counts of sexual assault.

      Yet throughout this storied history of lawbreaking, Trump has never faced a major criminal charge. He gets caught, he pays a civil penalty, and he keeps on being a rich guy who enjoys rich-guy impunity -- just like Manafort.

    • Paul Ryan won't let indictments stop him from cutting taxes on the rich.

    • Trump's response to indictments: "why aren't Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????"

    • The question that matters now: what will Republicans do when Trump fires Mueller? "Probably nothing."

  • Tom Engelhardt: Doing Bin Laden's Bidding: I read (or maybe misread) a turn of phrase today that describes America's "War on Terror" aptly: "flailing forward." I always thought freedom meant you can choose what to do, and therefore free people can refuse to do stupid things just because they get taunted. Maybe Bin Laden didn't appreciate how much destruction the US would wreak when he challenged the insecure egos of American power, but he was certainly baiting the giant to blunder into "the graveyard of empires" -- as Afghanistan was known even before 2001.

    Looking back, 16 years later, it's extraordinary how September 11, 2001, would set the pattern for everything that followed. Each further goading act, from Afghanistan to Libya, San Bernardino to Orlando, Iraq to Niger, each further humiliation would trigger yet more of the same behavior in Washington. After all, so many people and institutions -- above all, the U.S. military and the rest of the national security state -- came to have a vested interest in Osama bin Laden's version of our world. . . .

    After all, Osama bin Laden managed to involve the United States in 16 years of fruitless wars, most now "generational" conflicts with no end in sight, which would only encourage the creation and spread of terror groups, the disintegration of order across significant parts of the planet, and the displacement of whole populations in staggering numbers. At the same time, he helped turn twenty-first-century Washington into a war machine of the first order that ate the rest of the government for lunch. He gave the national security state the means -- the excuse, if you will -- to rise to a kind of power, prominence, and funding that might otherwise have been inconceivable. In the process -- undoubtedly fulfilling his wildest dreams -- he helped speed up the decline of the very country that, since the Cold War ended, had been plugging itself as the greatest ever.

    That, of course, is old news. The new news here concerns Niger, where four US special forces soldiers were recently killed despite hardly anyone in America realizing they were there. What's happened since is a recapitulation of the Afghanistan-Iraq-Libya disaster:

    And suddenly U.S. Africa Command was highlighting its desire for more money from Congress; the military was moving to arm its Reaper drones in Niger with Hellfire missiles for future counterterrorism operations; and Secretary of Defense Mattis was assuring senators privately that the military would "expand" its "counterterrorism focus" in Africa. The military began to prepare to deploy Hellfire Missile-armed Reaper drones to Niger. "The war is morphing," Graham insisted. "You're going to see more actions in Africa, not less; you're going to see more aggression by the United States toward our enemies, not less; you're going to have decisions being made not in the White House but out in the field."

    Rumors were soon floating around that, as the Washington Post reported, the administration might "loosen restrictions on the U.S. military's ability to use lethal force in Niger" (as it already had done in the Trump era in places like Syria and Yemen). And so it expectably went, as events in Niger proceeded from utter obscurity to the near-apocalyptic, while -- despite the strangeness of the Trumpian moment -- the responses came in exactly as anyone reviewing the last 16 years might have imagined they would.

    All of this will predictably make things in central Africa worse, not better, leading to . . . well, more than a decade and a half after 9/11, you know just as well as I do where it's leading. And there are remarkably few brakes on the situation, especially with three generals of our losing wars ruling the roost in Washington and Donald Trump now lashed to the mast of his chief of staff.

    Our resident expert on US Africa Command is Nick Turse, but while this was happening, he was distracted by A Red Scare in the Gray Zone.

  • Juliette Garside: Paradise Papers leak reveals secrets of the world elite's hidden wealth. Also: Jon Swaine/Ed Pilkington: The wealthy men in Trump's inner circle with links to tax havens.

  • William Greider: What Killed the Democratic Party? Cites a recent report: Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis. This appeared before publication of Donna Brazile: Inside Hillary Clinton's Secret Takeover of the DNC, which details the remarkable extent the Clinton campaign controlled the DNC all through the primary season. Brazile's revelations are further monetized in her book, Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House. Josh Marshall attempts to mount a counterattack in Donna Brazile Needs to Back Up Her Self-Serving Claims, insisting that "There's zero advantage to re-litigating the toxic 2016 primaries." Personally, I felt that Hillary Clinton had earned the right to tell her side of the story in What Happened, so I see no further harm in Brazile's Hacks. (I suppose I might draw a line if Debby Wasserman-Schultz manages to find a publisher.) Still, the one thing that keeps bugging me about all of the 2016 Democratic autopsies -- especially the Jonathan Allen/Amie Parnes Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign -- is the nagging question: where did all of the money Clinton raised go? And why didn't she use more of it to build up the party she supposedly was the leader of?

  • Mike Konczal: Trump Is Creating a Grifter Economy.

  • German Lopez/Karen Turner: Sutherland Springs, Texas, church shooting: what we know: "At least 26 people were killed . . . The shooter is also dead following a brief chase." Also: Texas church shooting: suspect named as at least 26 confirmed dead -- as it happened.

  • Noam Maggor: Amazon wants goodies and tax breaks to move its HQ to your city. Say no thanks. I want to underscore that the practice of giving tax breaks and incentives to companies that promise jobs is actually far worse than a zero-sum "race to the bottom." For evidence specific to Amazon, look no further than the perks they received to open a distribution center in Coffeyville, KS. Then try to find it. They've already closed it, moving on to greener pastures.

  • Mike McIntire/Sasha Chavkin/Martha M Hamilton: Commerce Secretary's Offshore Ties to Putin 'Cronies'. Also, Jesse Drucker: Kremlin Cash Behind Billionaire's Twitter and Facebook Investments.

  • Simon Tisdall: Trump's Asia tour will expose his craving for the approval of despots: Not just despots. I got stuck watching Japan's Prime Minister blowing smoke up Trump's ass in their first press appearance. Trump's vanity clearly hasn't escaped the notice of world leaders.

  • Alex Ward: Bowe Bergdahl isn't going to prison. But he is getting a "dishonorable discharge" -- you know, like the shooter in Texas got. Among those who thought the sentence too lenient:

    Donald Trump made it a campaign issue in 2016, calling Bergdahl a "traitor," even suggesting that he should be executed. About an hour after the ruling by a military judge, Trump tweeted his thoughts: "The decision on Sergeant Bergdahl is a complete and total disgrace to our Country and to our Military."

    Of course, Bergdahl isn't the only soldier Trump has disparaged for "getting captured."

  • Sarah Wildman: Saudi Arabia announces arrest of billionaire prince Alwaleed bin Talal. Without specifically commenting on Prince Alwaleed, Trump evidently approves: Mark Landler: Trump Tells Saudi King That He Supports Modernization Drive. Also by Wildman: Mueller has enough evidence to charge Michael Flynn.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Daily Log

I've been reading Sean Wilentz's The Politicians and the Egalitarians: The Hidden History of American Politics, which came out in May 2016. I am, as always, impressed by the depth of his knowledge and insight into American politics from after the Revolution up to the Civil War -- the subject of his magisterial The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln. So this collection of odd book reviews was catnip to me, even though a quick glimpse of his pan of Oliver Stone toward the end -- as I'm writing, I've just finished Theodore Roosevelt, with the ominous "The Liberals and the Leftists" next to come, but so far, so good. I've also read his The Age of Reagan: A History 1974-2008, which is not so great: competent, but little I didn't understand better merely by living through it all, but not as soft on Reagan as his setup implies.

Somewhere along the way, I picked up Alan Wolfe's New York Times Book Review critique of the new book. It reminds me first of why my wife holds Wilentz in such contempt:

Even before his book appeared, Wilentz, in a sort of advance copy of his argument, spent the bulk of the 2008 presidential campaign delivering one slashing criticism of Barack Obama after another. Obama, we were told, appealed to the Mugwumpish post-partisanship that makes elites feel good about themselves but is rarely helpful to ordinary people. Looking back, I cannot recall any left-wing intellectual more hostile to Obama than Wilentz. Turning racial politics on its head, Wilentz even managed to argue in The New Republic that Obama practiced "the most outrageous deployment of racial politics since the Willie Horton ad campaign in 1988 and the most insidious since Ronald Reagan kicked off his 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Miss., praising states' rights."

The Politicians and the Egalitarians can be read as Wilentz's explanation for his credulity-straining position: Hillary Clinton was the politician and Obama the egalitarian. Egalitarians speak the language of an America struggling to live up to its ideals; so powerfully does egalitarian language resonate in this country, Wilentz points out, that even defenders of slavery relied upon it. (Slavery, they claimed, made white people of all economic classes equal in their freedom.) Down to the Reagan presidency, and even extending to the gross inequalities of today, Republicans do best when they couch their programs for the rich as benefits to the poor. Obama's efforts at post-­partisanship, in Wilentz's view, furthered this idealistic rhetoric of equality: Americans from all walks of life would reason together to find what is common among us.

However important egalitarianism may be, Wilentz continues, only those adept in the skills of politics can do something about actually advancing it.

Wolfe notes a couple books that I perhaps should track down:

  • Nancy L Rosenblum: On the Side of the Angels: An Appreciation of Parties and Partisanship (2008; paperback, 2010, Princeton University Press): "pretty much says it all?"
  • Marty Cohen/David Karol/Hans Noel/John Zaller: The Party Decides: Presidential Nominations Before and After Reform (paperback, 2008, University of Chicago Press): "No book has been more widely debated in recent campaigns . . . its thesis that party insiders play an outsize role in choosing candidates for president is being challenged in 2016 by Sanders and Trump, but it is also being confirmed by Clinton."

Looking these books up on Amazon suggested a number of related books I wasn't familiar with; e.g.:

  • Matthew Levendusky: The Partisan Sort: How Liberals Became Democrats and Conservatives Became Republicans (paperback, 2009, University of Chicago Press)
  • Nancy L Rosenblum: Good Neighbors: The Democracy of Everyday Life in America (2016, Princeton University Press)

On equality, Wolfe also cites Thomas Pikkety: Capital in the Twenty-First Century and Robert J Gordon: The Rise and Fall of American Growth. I own both, but haven't read either -- just reviews, initially by Paul Krugman.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Streamnotes (October 2017)

Pick up text here.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28813 [28799] rated (+14), 405 [398] unrated (+7).

Rated count is the lowest of any week this year -- you probably have to go back to a travel week to find one lower, although this month has been consistently low: 18 last week, 15 the week before, 17 the week before that. Three major reasons/excuses for this week: I took a day off cooking dinner on my birthday (old family favorites, keeping it relatively simple this year); I spent three days playing pretty much nothing but a 5-CD box, American Epic: The Collection; and I hurt myself rather badly, probably strains from moving some heavy (for me, these days) equipment. I'm still feeling pretty crippled, which is why yesterday's Weekend Roundup was so late and short, and this too will be brief. Also brief will be tomorrow's October-ending Streamnotes -- brief because of the light rated weeks all month long, but I doubt I'll write much introduction either.

The equipment story: I finally replaced an old Yamaha receiver with a new Harmon-Kardon unit. The Yamaha had developed an annoying buzz, which I've suffered through for many months now. A friend came over and conclusively proved that it was the Yamaha's fault, and recommended the new unit. I'm very happy with it, but swapping it in wasn't easy. The whole setup is in a large piece of furniture I built back when I lived in New York, so close to forty years ago. It's taller than I am, much wider, deeper too, and weighted down with all of my residual LP collection (about 400 albums). It originally had three equipment shelves: one for the turntable, one for one of those wedge-shaped Nakamichi tape decks, and one on top for an integrated amplifier and tuner. The gear it was built for has expired and been replaced, with one shelf returned to albums, an old turntable resting on top of a CD changer, and now the new receiver filling half of the top.

The problem was moving it all away from the wall to get access to the wires in the back. I also had to add a power strip, since the new receiver doesn't have secondary outlets. And, of course, it all needed cleaning. I still don't have it all put back together. Meanwhile, we have another equipment crisis: local wi-fi has been increasingly flaky. I've planned on replacing it for quite some time, buying a new wi-fi router appliance but never installing it. Looks like I need to do that soon. Unfortunately, it involves getting down on the floor and moving cables. It also means reconfiguring the firewall/router, and ultimately decommissioning a very old Linux box (one I built in NJ before moving to Kansas in 1999). So, some point next week everything breaks, then we scramble to put it back together again.

I thought I might get away for a brief road trip this week, but the way things are going I'm beginning to wonder if I'll ever go anywhere again. Might not be so bad if I could report progress on book projects, but all I can claim for last week are new ideas I haven't done anything about. For instance, I thought a bit about writing an essay in the form of "A Letter to the Democrats" -- partly reaction to reading Mark Lilla's short and unconvincing The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics, and partly revulsion with much of what I hear from the all-too-loyal opposition party spokespeople in Washington. (Although, not that anyone cares, the Casey Yingling story here in Kansas could offer a rich lode of material.)

Meanwhile, I've made no progress even on the most pedestrian of all of my projects, the Jazz Guides. Still only 53% through the last of the monster database files.

New records rated this week:

  • Banda Magda: Tigre (2017, GroundUP Music): [r]: B+(*)
  • Peter Bernstein: Signs LIVE! (2015 [2017], Smoke Sessions, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Cortex: Avant-Garde Party Music (2017, Clean Feed): [r]: B+(***)
  • Dylan Hicks: Ad Out (2017, Soft Launch): [r]: B+(**)
  • Danny Janklow: Elevation (2015 [2017], Outside In Music): [cd]: B
  • Roberto Magris Sextet: Live in Miami @ the WDNA Jazz Gallery (2015 [2017], JMood): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Nicole Mitchell and Haki Madhubuti: Liberation Narratives (2016-17 [2017], Black Earth Music): [cd]: A-
  • Paul Moran: Smokin' B3 Vol. 2: Still Smokin' (2017, Prudential): [cd]: B-
  • Marta Sánchez Quintet: Danza Imposible (2017, Fresh Sound New Talent): [cd]: B+(**)

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

  • American Epic: The Collection (1916-36 [2017], Third Man/Columbia/Legacy, 5CD): [cd]: A
  • American Epic: The Best of Blues (1927-36 [2017], Third Man/Columbia/Legacy): [r]: B+(***)
  • American Epic: The Best of Country (1927-34 [2017], Third Man/Columbia/Legacy): [r]: A-
  • Sky Music: A Tribute to Terje Rypdal (2016 [2017], Rune Grammofon): [cd]: B+(*)

Old music rated this week:

  • Jack DeJohnette: Made in Chicago (2013 [2015], ECM): [dl]: A-
  • Fats Domino: Alive and Kickin' (2000 [2006], Tipitina's): [r]: A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Derek Bailey & Greg Goodman: Extracting Fish-Bones From the Back of the Despoiler (1992, The Beak Doctor): vinyl, November 1
  • Rahsaan Barber: The Music in the Night (Jazz Music City): November 3
  • Michelle Coltrane: Awakening (Blujazz)
  • John Gruntfest & Greg Goodman: In This Land All the Birds Wore Hats and Spurs (1984-2008, The Beak Doctor): vinyl, November 1
  • Taylor Haskins & Green Empire: The Point (Recombination): November 7
  • Markley & Balmer: Standards & Covers (Soona Songs)
  • Delfeayo Marsalis: Kalamazoo (Troubadour Jass)
  • Frank Perowsky Jazz Orchestra: Gowanus (Jazzkey)
  • Daniel Rosenthal: Music in the Room (American Melody): November 14
  • Galen Weston: The Space Between (Blujazz)
  • Eric Wyatt: Look to the Sky (Whaling City Sound)
  • Dave Zinno Unisphere: River of January (Whaling City Sound)


  • American Epic: The Collection (1916-36 [2017], Third Man/Columbia/Legacy, 5CD)

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Weekend Roundup

Just the bare bones this week.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Matthew Yglesias: 4 stories that mattered this week: Congressional Republicans passed a budget; More sexual harassment shoes dropped; Retiring Republicans blasted Trump; Opioid abuse is officially an emergency. Other Yglesias posts:

    • There's less than meets the eye to the Trump stock rally: "German, French, and Japanese stocks are all doing way better."

    • Lou Dobbs's Trump interview is a masterpiece of sycophancy and nonsense: "precisely because the softball format leads to such easy questions, Trump's frequent inability to answer them reveals the depths of his ignorance better than any tough grilling possibly could."

    • Jeff Flake, Bob Corker, and John McCain need to start acting like senators, not pundits.

    • Trump and a key Senate Republican are fighting on Twitter.

    • The real stakes in the tax reform debate:

      Democrats have grown more critical of inequality in recent years with Barack Obama proclaiming economic inequality to be the "defining challenge of our time." Energy in the party shifted even-further-left and fueled an unexpected level of support for Bernie Sanders and an unprecedented level of skepticism about the basic fundraising model of American politics.

      Even more surprisingly, in the GOP camp Donald Trump ran hard to the right on culture war issues while also promising a more egalitarian form of economics -- promising to be a champion of working class interests.

      But in office, while Trump has continued to obsessively feed the culture war maw, he is pushing a policy agenda that would add enormous fuel to the fire of inequality -- enormous, regressive rate cuts flying under the banner of "tax reform."

      Yglesias touts a report by Kevin Hassett, head of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, as "crucial because it's honest," but even "honesty" doesn't help much when you're extraordinarily full of shit:

      Hassett's contention, in essence, is that the best way to benefit the American worker is to engage in a global version of this subsidy game. Instead of targeted subsidies for new investments from one particular company, he and Trump want to offer a broad subsidy to all investment profits -- old profits and new profits, real returns on productive investments and returns on monopoly rents -- in the hopes of maximally catering to investor interests. By catering to the interests of the global investor class in this way, he thinks, we can do so much to boost the growth of the American economy that almost everyone will end up better off.

      Even if "almost everyone will end up better off" by cutting the taxes that rich people pay, that doesn't mean that tax cuts are "the best way to benefit the American worker." Direct redistribution to workers would be much more efficient. So would less direct approaches such as increasing labor's leverage. But the supposition that "almost everyone will end up better off" is itself highly suspect. The only way giving the rich more money "trickles down" is when the rich spend it to increase demand (which they don't do much of, although that does account for a few jobs here in Wichita building private jets) or when the rich invest more in productive capacity. The problem here is that even at present -- before Trump's tax cuts kick in -- the rich have more money than they know how to productively invest. A big part of the problem here is that by sucking up money that working folks and the government would be spending, their hoarding reduces aggregate demand, and as such reduces the return on investments in productive capacity. This effect is so large one has to wonder whether tax cuts generate any tangible growth at all, much less growth so substantial that "almost everyone benefits."

      Yglesias goes further and notes that "Doug Holtz-Eakin, a well-regarded former Congressional Budget Office director and current think tank leader, believes that eliminating the estate tax will create lots of jobs." The piece cited was written for the American Family Business Foundation, a political front group founded to promote repeal of estate and gift taxes, and is typical of the hackwork Holtz-Eakin has made a career out of.

    • Trump's latest big interview is both funny and terrifying: Before the Lou Dobbs interview, this one with Maria Bartiromo, also of Fox Business Channel. Subheds include: "Trump doesn't know anything about any issue"; "Bartiromo keeps ineptly trying to cover for Trump"; and "Trump gets all kinds of facts wrong."

      Over the course of the interview, Trump also claims to be working on a major infrastructure bill, a major welfare reform bill, and an unspecified economic development bill of some kind.

      Under almost any other past president, that kind of thing would be considered a huge news-making get for an interviewer. But even Fox didn't tout Bartiromo's big scoops on Trump's legislative agenda, because 10 months into the Trump presidency, nobody is so foolish as to believe that him saying, "We're doing a big infrastructure bill," means that the Trump administration is, in fact, doing a big infrastructure bill. The president just mouths off at turns ignorantly and dishonestly, and nobody pays much attention to it unless he says something unusually inflammatory.

  • Dean Baker: The problem of doctors' salaries.

  • Julian Borger: Trump team drawing up fresh plans to bolster US nuclear arsenal.

  • Alastair Campbell: The time has come for Theresa May to tell the nation: Brexit can't be done: Fantasy from Tony Blair's former director of communications, but the facts are sound enough, just the political will is weak. Campbell has also written: My fantasy Corbyn speech: 'I can no longer go along with a ruinous Brexit'.

  • Alexia Fernández Campbell: Nurses returning from Puerto Rico accuse the federal government of leaving people to die.

  • Danica Cotto: Puerto Rico Says It's Scrapping $300M Whitefish Contract: Not clear how a 2-year-old company from Interior Secretary's Ryan Zinke's home town managed to win a $300M no-bid contract, but the more people look into it the more suspicious it seems. For instance: Whitefish Energy contract bars government from auditing deal. For more: Ken Klippenstein: $300M Puerto Rico Recovery Contract Awarded to Tiny Utility Company Linked to Major Trump Donor; also Kate Aronoff: Disaster Capitalists Take Big Step Toward Privatizing Puerto Rico's Electric Grid.

  • Thomas Frank: What Harvey Weinstein tells us about the liberal world: I'm not sure you can draw any conclusions about political philosophy from someone like Weinstein, who more than anything else testifies that people with power tend to abuse it, regardless of their professed values. Still, this is quasi-amusing:

    Perhaps Weinstein's liberalism was a put-on all along. It certainly wasn't consistent or thorough. He strongly disapproved of Bernie Sanders, for example. And on election night in November 2008, Weinstein could be found celebrating Barack Obama's impending victory on the peculiar grounds that "stock market averages will go up around the world."

    The mogul's liberalism could also be starkly militaristic. On the release of his work of bald war propaganda, Seal Team Six, he opined to CNN as follows:

    "Colin Powell, the best military genius of our time, supports the president -- supports President Obama. And the military love him. I made this movie. I know the military. They respect this man for what he's done. He's killed more terrorists in his short watch than George Bush did in eight years. He's the true hawk."

  • Ronald A Klain: He who must be named:

    For decades, conservatives labored to make their movement more humane. Ronald Reagan put a jovial face on conservative policies -- more Dale Carnegie than Ayn Rand; George H.W. Bush promised a "kinder, gentler" tenure; George W. Bush ran on "compassionate conservatism." . . .

    That was then. Today, we are living the Politics of Mean. In the Trump presidency, with its daily acts of cruelty, punching down is a feature, not a bug. And the only thing more disquieting than a president who practices the Politics of Mean are the voters who celebrate it. . . .

    Since Trump's victory, his meanness has been infectious. We have seen it in neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville and elsewhere, students chanting "build that wall" at Hispanic peers, and a rise of racial epithets and anti-Semitic graffiti on college campuses. Puerto Rico, again, provides a current example. As The Post's Jenna Johnson recently reported, countless Trump supporters -- including some in Texas, who themselves took Federal Emergency Management Agency aid after Hurricane Harvey -- back the president's proposal to limit aid to Puerto Rico and believe that fellow Americans there should "fix their own country up."

    The obvious difference between then (1980-2000) and now is sixteen years of endless war, although it's worth noting that conservatism has always prided itself on being a hard way of life, a stance which never took much prodding to tip over into meanness. Indeed, even while feigning compassion conservative political pitches always started with playing on people's prejudices -- primordially racism, as Reagan made clear when he launched his 1980 campaign over the graves of slain civil rights workers. Klain calls for a list of recent presidents and wannabes to stand up to Trump's Politics of Mean. They should, of course, but it would be even more helpful if they owned up to how their own errors got us here.

  • Julia Manchester: National Weather Service 'on the brink of failure' due to job vacancies.

  • Rupert Neate: World's witnessing a new Gilded Age as billionaires' wealth swells to $6tn.

    Billionaires' fortunes increased by 17% on average last year due to the strong performance of their companies and investments, particularly in technology and commodities. The billionaires' average return was double that achieved by the world's stock markets and far more than the average interest rates of just 0.35% offered by UK instant-access high street bank accounts.

  • John Nichols: Trump's FCC Chair Moves to Undermine Journalism and Democracy.

  • Mark Perry: Are Trump's Generals in Over Their Heads? "For many in Washington, they're the only thing standing between the president and chaos. But their growing clout is starting to worry military experts." One problem is that as more generals move into politics, the military itself (at least at the top) becomes increasingly politicized. I would add that the competency and maturity they supposedly possess are traits with little real evidence to back them up. Paul Woodward also adds:

    The problem with viewing the former and current generals in this administration as the indispensable "adult supervision" Trump requires, is that these individuals are the sole source of legitimacy for his presidency -- exactly the reason he surrounded himself with this kind of Teflon political protection.

    Instead of seeing Mattis et al as the only thing that stands between us and Armageddon, we should probably see them as the primary obstacle to the outright exposure of the fraud that has been perpetrated by Trump and the cadre of visibly corrupt cronies he has installed in most of the executive branch of government.

    Speaking of the alleged competence of generals, see Senior military officials sanctioned for more than 500 cases of serious misconduct: That just since 2013.

  • Andrew Prokop: 6 charts that explain why American politics is so broken: "The Pew Research Center's political typology report, explained." Actually, I'm not sure he charts do explain "why American politics is so broken" -- for one thing, nothing here on the influence of money, which is by far the biggest breaker. They do show several disconnects, including "Most Americans -- including a good chunk of Republicans -- want corporate taxes raised, not lowered" and "It's only a vocal minority of Americans who are anti-immigrant." Nor do most of the typology groups make much sense, although "Country-First Conservatives" are defined exclusively by their hatred for immigrants. Still, worth noting that "Solid Liberals" are more numerous than "Core Conservatives" (16-13% among the general public, 25-20% among "politically engaged."

  • Charlie Savage: Will Congress Ever Limit the Forever-Expanding 9/11 War?

  • Joseph E Stiglitz: America Has a Monopoly Problem -- and It's Huge.

  • Nick Turse: It's Not Just Niger -- U.S. Military Activity Is a "Recruiting Tool" for Terror Groups Across West Africa.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Daily Log

Birthday yesterday. In past years, going back to the late 1990s, I've made "birthday dinner": pick a national cuisine and make 3-6 main dishes and up to a dozen small ones, for a dinner party that never seemed had enough people to eat it all. Back in Boston my most reliable guests were Liz Jones and Nina Schlosberg, coworkers back in Contex days, and the idea came out of one of our lunch dates. The first such was Chinese, the second probably Indian, the third most likely Turkish. In New Jersey I returned to Indian for the biggest dinner ever, both in terms of dishes and guests: Bob Christgau, Carola Dibbell, Georgia Christgau, Steven Levy, Elizabeth Fink, Richard Millen, and Laura. I scheduled a leftover dinner the next day for NJ friends, but it was poorly attended. (I concluded the idea had little appeal.) After moving to Wichita in 1999, I've made a few comparable dinners -- a Thai one stands out, Spanish, also an Ottolenghi (Israeli) -- but I've also cut corners a few times (made feijoada one year but didn't add enough side dishes to qualify as Brazilian), and skipped the odd year. (One year we bailed and had fried chicken at the Brookville Hotel.)

This year kind of snuck up on me: I knew the week was coming, but didn't realize until the Friday before that Wednesday could be the day, and that didn't give me much time. Besides, I had fixed at least four more-or-less comparably sized dinners in recent months: Japanese, Turkish, Korean, and Ashkenazi Jewish (Gefilte Manifesto). I came up with a list of a dozen or so possible themes, but by the time I got going, I would have had trouble both sorting out the menu and rounding up the guests. I considered a later date (not unprecedented), but Sunday or Monday I decided to make a tactical retreat: I'd fix a simpler dinner on my birthday with just a handful of my most dependably available guests. The menu would be old family favorites:

  • Fried Round Steak in Mushroom Gravy: Something my mother probably got of a Campbell's soup can (Cream of Mushroom), where you cut up round steak into small squares, dip in milk and flour, and brown them (I used light olive oil -- she would have used vegetable oil or, further back, shortening). Move the fried steak to a covered baking dish. Pour off excess oil, and dump a can of soup and a can of milk into the frying pan, scraping up all the droppings. Pour the gravy over the fried steak, cover the pan, and bake at 350F for one hour. I started adding chopped mushrooms to the pan before the soup, using baby portabellas and (rehydrated) dried porcini this time. I had about three pounds of steak, so used two cans of soup, and a bit less than two cans of milk.
  • Baked Beans with Bacon: Take a 9x13 baking dish, and add two large cans of Van Camp's Pork 'n' Beans (after draining off most of the tomato sauce). Add mustard (I used dijon), ketchup, brown sugar (I split this with maple syrup), and worcestshire sauce, to taste. (I added a little onion powder.) Top with thick bacon (I used about 2/3 pound). I baked uncovered in same oven at 350F for an hour, but the bacon wasn't browned enough so I cranked it up to 400F for another 15 minutes.
  • Green Beans: Boiled in water for 12 minutes and drained. I chopped up 1/3 pound of bacon and fried it until partly done. I poured off the excess bacon fat, then added one fine-chopped onion, and cooked with bacon until it was clearly softened. Add the green beans to the pan, plus 2-3 tablespoons of chicken stock to loosen everything up. I finally boiled most of the stock away.
  • Broccoli Salad: Cut up a head of broccoli, both flowerets and stems. Bring a pot of water to a boil, then add stems. Cook one minute, then add flowerets. Cook 1-2 minutes further, then drain and shock with ice water. Cover golden raisins with hot water. Fry some bacon crisp. Put broccoli into bowl, adding raisins, black walnuts, and bacon. Mix mayonnaise and vinegar (recipe calls for balsamic, but I used apple cider and a dash of sugar), add to bowl, mix, and chill.
  • Coconut Cake: My mother's specialty: two-layers topped with an icing made by beating a cooked sugar syrup into whipped egg whites, with shredded fresh coconut.

   Mar 2001