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Monday, March 23, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 24735 [24701] rated (+34), 409 [420] unrated (-11).

Eighteen records below come from Rhapsody. I played Kendrick Lamar and Modest Mouse three times: one clicked, the other did not. I see that Christgau has given Modest Mouse six A- grades plus a relatively long ungraded review (not in his Dean's List so presumably B+ or less). I have them with four A- records (including the one Christgau missed), so I'm less of a fan but not unable to tune into their shade of alt. This one just strikes me as real patchy.

Also played Vijay Iyer three times, also on the computer because ECM -- once the best-bankrolled label in jazz -- has lately gotten cheap. I'm often hard pressed to explain why I like some piano trios and less so others (unless there's a lot of crashing involved, often the case with Irène Schweizer or Satoko Fujii), but I usually know (as I did with Iyer's two previous albums with this trio) but this time I didn't. I'm a bit bothered that in recent lists both Jason Gubbels and Chris Monsen -- two critics who usually line up very closely with me -- picked Break Stuff as among the best jazz albums so far this year, and I'm always aware that listening on the computer is far from ideal. But I feel like I gave Iyer a fair shot, and besides I have a bigger disagreement with Gubbels and Monsen: Rudresh Mahanthappa's Bird Calls, number 3 and 1 respectively, a record I dislike far more than the B+(*) I gave it suggests. Iyer and Mahanthappa have huge reputations I mostly agree with (in my database, Iyer has 10 A- grades and Mahanthappa has 5, plus each has one full A). Otherwise I scoured the lists for records I hadn't heard (6/16 from Gubbels, 2/6 Monsen). Checked out DRKWAV and Makaya McCraven from Gubbels list, and have them at B+(***).

More surprising for me is that only one of the eleven jazz albums on my 2015 A-list is on either list: Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth: Epicenter (my #1, #2 on Gubbels). The others:

  1. Schlippenbach Trio: Features (Intakt)
  2. Joe Fiedler Trio: I'm In (Multiphonics Music)
  3. Charles McPherson: The Journey (Capri)
  4. John O'Gallagher Trio: The Honeycomb (Fresh Sound New Talent) *
  5. Mikko Innanen: Song for a New Decade (TUM, 2CD)
  6. Milford Graves & Bill Laswell: Space/Time · Redemption (TUM)
  7. Ryan Truesdell: Lines of Color (Blue Note/ArtistShare)
  8. Jim Snidero: Main Street (Savant)
  9. Katie Thiroux: Introducing Katie Thiroux (BassKat)
  10. Oliver Lake/William Parker: To Roy (Intakt)

I expect most of them will get there eventually. One curious thing about this list is that all of my A-list jazz has come actual CDs (some in curious advance packaging), and none from Rhapsody or downloads. (All four of my non-jazz A-list records are from Rhapsody.) I've rated 19 jazz records this year based on a computer source: 6 ***, 7 **, 4 *, 1 B, 2 B-. The grade breakdown for physical jazz CDs: 11 A-, 22 ***, 29 **, 21 *, 12 B, 3 B- -- similar curve aside from the shutout at the top. One might conclude I'm susceptible to bribes. Maybe I just tend to appreciate the effort. Or maybe there's a selection effect, where people send me things I'm more likely to like (and skip things I'm more likely to dis). Or maybe it's just the speakers and the audio quality.

Robert Christgau's 2014 Dean's List has finally appeared at BN Review. He came up with 63 records, for some reason omitting Steve Reich's Radio Rewrite (rated A- on Jan. 30, same date as two other list items) and Angola Soundtrack 2 (A- on Mar. 13, same date as Aby Ngana Diop). Only one record on the list hasn't been reviewed in Expert Witness: Sunny Sweeney's Provoked. He offers some excuses for the shorter-than-usual list -- he's come up with close to 90 in recent full-employment years, and slacked off toward 60 during a previous CG hiatus -- then concludes: "Maybe the field is thinning out, or maybe the downtick is a blip." My own experience was that I came up with an all-time record 170+ A-list albums released in 2014, so I can only conlcude that the music is there if you have the time and tenacity to dig it out. The industry's bottom line may suck, but there's no evidence that lack of incentive is keeping musicians from making good music. And with streaming, more music is probably accessible to more people than ever before.

On the other hand, I can't say anything hopeful about incentives for writing about music.

Another deadline snuck up on me, so no Twitter reviews this week.

New records rated this week:

  • Oren Ambarchi: Quixotism (2014, Editions Mego): [r]: B+(**)
  • Antoine Berjeaut: Wasteland (2013 [2014], Fresh Sound New Talent): [r]: B+(*)
  • Dewa Budjana: Hasta Karma (2014 [2015], Moonjune): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Clem Snide: Girls Come First (2015, Zaphwee): [r]: B+(**)
  • Dahi Divine: The Element (2013 [2015], Right Direction): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Stephan Crump/Mary Halvorson: Secret Keeper (2013 [2015], Intakt): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • DRKWAV: The Purge (2015, Royal Potato Family): [r]: B+(***)
  • John Fedchock Quartet: Live: Fluidity (2013 [2015], Summit): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Janice Friedman Trio: Live at Kitano (2011 [2015], CAP): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Gang of Four: What Happens Next (2015, Metropolis): [r]: B+(*)
  • Maxfield Gast: Ogo Pogo (2014 [2015], Militia Hill): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Colleen Green: I Want to Grow Up (2015, Hardly Art): [r]: B
  • Vijay Iyer Trio: Break Stuff (2014 [2015], ECM): [dl]: B+(***)
  • Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope): [r]: A-
  • Jenna Mammina & Rolf Sturm: Spark (2014 [2015], Water Street Music): [cd]: B+(**)
  • The Mavericks: Mono (2015, Valory): [r]: B+(**)
  • Makaya McCraven: In the Moment (2014 [2015], International Anthem): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Modest Mouse: Strangers to Ourselves (2015, Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • Raoul: The Spanish Donkey (2014 [2015], Rare Noise): [cdr]: B
  • Sachal: Slow Motion Miracles (2014 [2015], Okeh): [cdr]: B
  • Benny Sharoni: Slant Signature (2014 [2015], Papaya): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Alex Sipiagin: Balance 38-58 (2014 [2015], Criss Cross): [r]: B+(***)
  • Bjørn Solli: Aglow: The Lyngør Project Vol. 1 (2013 [2015], Lyngør): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jacky Terrasson: Take That (2014 [2015], Impulse): [r]: B+(**)
  • Steve Turre: Spiritman (2014 [2015], Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(**)
  • Unhinged Sextet: Clarity (2014 [2015], OA2): [cd]: B

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

  • David Borden: Music for Amplified Keyboard Instruments (1981 [2015], Spectrum Spools): [r]: B+(***)
  • James Clay: The Kid From Dallas: Tenorman (1956-57 [2015], Fresh Sound): [r]: B+(***)
  • Connie Converse: How Sad, How Lovely (1954 [2015], Squirrel Thing): [r]: B+(**)
  • Dance Mania: Ghetto Madness (1989-98 [2015], Strut): [r]: B+(**)

Old records rated this week:

  • Milford Graves: Percussion Ensemble With Sunny Morgan (1965 [2003], ESP-Disk): [r]: B+(*)
  • Randy Weston: Blues to Africa (1974, Arista/Freedom): [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Isaac Darche: Team & Variations (Challenge): April 14
  • Kansas: Miracles Out of Nowhere (Epic/Legacy, DVD+CD)
  • Kaze: Uminari (Circum-Libra): May 5
  • Jason Miles/Ingrid Jensen: Kind of New (Whaling City Sound)

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Dance Mania: Ghetto Madness (1989-98 [2015], Strut): B+(**) [rhapsody]
  • LeAnn Rimes: All-Time Greatest Hits (1996-2007 [2015], Curb): C+ [rhapsody]
  • Swamp Dogg: The Best of Swamp Dogg (1970-76 [1982], War Bride): A- [rhapsody]

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Weekend Roundup

The top story of last week's news cycle was Israel's elections for a new parliament (Knesset). Many people hoped that the voters would finally dispose of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but in the last minutes "Bibi" swung hard to the racist right and wound up with a six-seat plurality, mostly at the expense of small parties nominally to the right of Likud. That still leaves Netanyahu only half way to forming a new Knesset majority coalition, but few observers see that as a problem, although it probably means further concessions to the "religious" parties -- Shas, United Torah, etc. Best place to start reading about this is Richard Silverstein: Israeli Election Post-Mortem: Rearranging the Deck Chairs:

In shreying about the Arab masses running to polling places and foreign governments funneling shovels-full of cash to topple him, he appealed to the worst devils of Israel's nature, to turn Lincoln's quotation on his head.

The results cannot but worsen the growing rancidness of the Likud vision of contemporary Israel in the noses of many Israelis, Diaspora Jews and the world at large. There is a growing sense that Israel cannot get itself out of the mess it's in.

Some other links on Israel:

  • Robert Fantina: Netanyahu's victory - what is the cost? Netanyahu, of course, figures there should be none, as he's already walked back many of the inflammatory things he said to rally Israel's right to his election cause. If there were any doubts that he is a liar, someone who will say whatever it takes under any circumstances, that should have been dispelled, especially if you add the Boehner speech to what he said before and after election. There is no doubt that more and more people are noticing this -- especially previous supporters of Israel who are becoming embarrassed at what their fantasy has turned into. But the campaign not only haunts Netanyahu, the election taints the voters. By re-electing Netanyahu, Israel's voters have shown that they're unwilling to do anything to change course. Therefore, only other nations can help Israel change course. We've nudged closer to that realization, but the US in particular probably isn't there yet. Still, every new event will be seen through the prism of this election.
  • Allison Deger: Meet the Knesset members from the Joint List: as I look at these pictures, I'm reminded of Bill Clinton's promise to appoint a cabinet "that looks like America looks."
  • Richard Silverstein: Israel's Election: Bibi and Blood in the Water: Starts with Netanyahu's pre-election press conference statement, then adds, "Bibi is runnin' scared." Post-election we know that his hysteria worked, saving Likud from finishing second to "Just Not Bibi." Not sure this is helpful, but Annie Robbins: An American translation of Netanyahu's racist get out the vote speech translates Netanyahu's screed into an American political context (replacing "Arab" with "black," "right wing" and "Likud" with "Republican," "Labor" with "Democrats," "Israel" with "United States"). That may help you understand just how far Israeli political culture has sunk, and why certain Americans are so gung ho about getting the US to emulate Israel more, but you'll miss some nuances: e.g., Democrats in the US welcome the support of blacks and aren't ashamed to appoint a couple to cabinet posts and such, Israel's Labor Party (aka The Zionist Camp) wouldn't dare do anything like that. Indeed, their fondness of "the two-state solution" is more often presented as a way to separate Jewish Israelis from Arabs.
  • Josh Marshall: Bibi: Wait, the Arabs Love Me!: Netanyahu starts to explain away his recent racist comments, including extracts from an interview for American ears (with Andrea Mitchell).
  • Jonathan Alter: Bibi's Ugly Win Will Harm Israel: "Netanyahu came back from the dead by doing something politicians almost never do -- predicting his own defeat. He told base voters that he would lose if they didn't abandon far-right-winger Naftali Bennett's Habayit Hayeudi Party and flock back to Likud. Instead of trying to hide his desperation, he flaunted (or contrived) it, to great political effect, winning by several seats more than expected." Something not often talked about is how often right-wingers have to appeal to liberal values to cover up their own inadequacies. Thus someone like Netanyahu has to talk about his desire for peace and security, or even something as specific (and easily disproven) as his commitment to providing infrastructure for Arab Citizens of Israel, even while making such laudable goals impossible. That they get away with it is because their platitudes are so universal they are rarely questioned. Even rank hypocrisy is often excused as mere incompetence. GW Bush, for instance, is famous for his failed wars, his imploded economy, his gross incompetence after Hurricane Katrina -- an embarrassing string of bad luck, as no one would dare suggest that his results were intended. But really, those results were entirely predictable given his worldview. Likewise, Netanyahu's repeated failures to make any progress whatsoever toward peace and justice have been deliberate, and in a sense heroic.
  • Alex Kane: J Street's fall from relevance: "In a postelection statement [Jeremy] Ben-Ami said J Street would continue to stand 'for an end to occupation, for a two-state solution and for an Israel that is committed to its core democratic principles and Jewish values.' It's a nice sentiment but one that is out of touch with the facts on the ground, as Netanyahu's final days of campaigning revealed."
  • David Shulman: Israel: The Stark Truth: "Mindful of Netanyahu's long record of facile mendacity, commentators on the left have tended to characterize these statements as more dubious 'rhetoric'; already, under intense pressure from the United States, he has waffled on the question of Palestinian statehood in comments directed at a foreign, English-speaking audience. But I think that, for once, he was actually speaking the truth in that last pre-election weekend -- a popular truth among his traditional supporters."
  • Anshel Pfeffer: Netanyahu stoked primal fears in Israel: "Netanyahu, in his own tiny bubble of privilege and sycophancy, was on the verge of losing the election. But he emerged in time to stoke the primal fears of his electorate of their fate. It was a destructive tactic that took advantage of racism and ignorance and jeopardised Israel's diplomatic position within the international community. It won the election but has divided Israel like never before."
  • Ryan Rodrick Beller: To evangelicals, Zionism an increasingly tough sell: When the British invaded Palestine and set up their "home for the Jewish people" there, about 10% of the native population were Christians -- communities dating from the Crusades or even earlier. To the Zionist Yishuv, however, those Christians were just Arabs, same as the Muslims. It's always been curious how completely American evangelicals sided with the Zionists against their own co-religionists. The standard explanation had to do with seeing Israel's ingathering of Jews as a precondition for the Apocalypse. That always struck me as sick and demented, and anti-semitic seeing as how the Jews are destroyed in the end while the true believers ascend to heaven. But this story suggests that a big part of the explanation is sheer ignorance, changed when evangelicals learn of how Palestinian Christians are treated by Israel.
  • Juan Cole: Obama with Drama: Translating his cojmments on Israel's Netanyahu from the Vulcan: And not exactly into ordinary English, more like Cole calls "Bones-speak": "Netanyahu's attitude toward Palestinian-Israelis makes 1960s Southern governors like George Wallace and Orval Faubus look like effing Nelson Mandelas in comparison. He's creating a Jim Crow atmosphere."
  • Philip Weiss: Who can save Israel now?: "Yaniv was almost in tears. When will the liberal Zionists help Yaniv and call for real outside pressure? Last night Peter Beinart, the leading liberal Zionist, tweeted a comment by Rep. Adam Schiff on CNN that from now on the US must not veto Palestinian statehood resolutions in the Security Council. Beinart is rising to the occasion, making his way toward BDS."
  • Jeff Halper: Netanyahu's victory marks the end of the two-state solution: "No one can be happy when racism and oppression win the day. In a wider perspective, however, the election may represent a positive game-changer. Not that anything has really changed, but finally the fig-leaf that allowed even liberal Israeli apologists to argue that the two-state solution is still possible has been removed. [ . . . ] Since Israel itself eliminated the two-state solution deliberately, consciously and systematically over the course of a half-century, and since it created with its own hands the single de facto state we have today, the way forward is clear. We must accept the ultimate "fact on the ground," the single state imposed by Israel over the entire country, but not in its apartheid/prison form. Israel has left us with only one way out: to transform that state into a democratic state of equal rights for all of its citizens."

Weiss also quotes the Zionist Camp activist Yaniv as saying "We need a Mandela." The problem is more like Israel can't even come up with a De Clerk. (Arguably Yitzhak Rabin auditioned for the part, but he couldn't deliver, partly because he didn't face the demographics and worldwide ostracism white South Africa faced, and partly because he got killed before he could rise to the situation -- if indeed he could.) Still, nobody remembers De Clerk as a great man, partly because his hands were plenty dirty before he relinquished power, partly because Mandela took the glory when he showed such grace and dignity in assuming power.

Still, Israel's situation isn't exactly analogous to De Clerk's. It's not that the Apartheid metaphor isn't applicable. If anything, Israel's treatment of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories is more rigorous, terrifying, and dehumanizing than anything South Africa did. And it's only a matter of time until most of the world sees Israel's Occupation as a gross affront to human rights, peace, and justice, and takes action to isolate and ostracize Israel. But the demographics will never be equivalent: whites in South Africa amounted to no more than 15% of the population, whereas Jews are a majority within Greater Israel, and that majority could be grown by lopping off territory with large concentrations of Palestinians (most easily, Gaza). Sure, free return of Palestinian refugees from 1947-49 might tip the scales, but realistically that's not going to happen.

This demographic position gives Israel's leaders options, but time and again they've chosen to maintain the status quo, at the cost of continued strife and insecurity. They've done this partly because they've psyched themselves into both into believing they'll always live in peril -- that the world will never accept them as peaceable neighbors -- and into thinking they will always win. (This mentality was amply illustrated in Tom Segev's 1967, which showed how terrified Israeli civilians were of impending war and how utterly confident Israel's generals were of their victory.)

History also gives Israel's leaders options. The Zionist movement is now 135 years old, more than a century has passed since Britain's Balfour Declaration opened up Jewish immigration, and the state of Israel has existed for 67 years, under its current borders for 48 years (aside from returning Sinai to Egypt in a deal that established that Israel could coexist with a neighboring Arab state). Fifty years ago one could imagine Israel meeting the fate of Algeria, but no one believes that now. By 2001, all Arab states were willing to recognize Israel in exchange for a deal which would create a Palestinian state from the territory Israel seized in 1967. The PLO had already agreed to that, and Hamas has since come to that position. Only Israeli greed and intransigence has prevented a peace deal from happening. Well, that and the gullibility of American political leaders, who for one reason of another have been spineless when they needed to stand up to Israel.

Netanyahu's great value to Israel has always been his ability to manipulate US opinion -- something he's been known to brag about, unseemly as that may be -- but lately he bound his fate to the Republican Party. In doing so he has started to alienate Democratic supporters of Israel, but more than that he has opened up a mental association between Israeli and Republican policies -- militarism, racism, harsh justice, targeted assassinations, an omnipotent security state, increasing economic inequality, and much more.

I'll try to write more later about what should be done, but for now I just want to leave you with a warning. Unless something is done to correct the trends we're seeing in Israel, the situation there will continue to grow more desperate and unjust, and unless the US can break its tail-wags-dog subservience to Israel we will wind up in the same dystopia.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Daily Log

Jason Gubbels published this Jazz 2015: First Quarter Round Up [Ranked Roughly]. I'll add my grades in brackets (where I have them):

  1. Jack DeJohnette, Made in Chicago (ECM)
  2. Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth, Epicenter (Clean Feed) [A-]
  3. Vijay Iyer Trio, Break Stuff (ECM) [***]
  4. New Vocabulary (with Ornette Coleman), New Vocabulary/b> (System Dialing)
  5. Rudresh Mahanthappa, Bird Calls (ACT) [*]
  6. Makaya McCraven, In the Moment (International Anthem)
  7. Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet, Intents and Purposes (Enja) [*]
  8. Albert "Tootie" Heath, Philadelphia Beat (Sunnyside)
  9. Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord, Jeremiah (Hot Cup) [***]
  10. Hypercolor, Hypercolor (Tzadik) [**]
  11. Mark Helias/Tony Malaby/Tom Rainey, The Signal Maker (Intakt) [***]
  12. Drkwav, The Purge (Royal Potato Family)
  13. Curtis Nowosad, Dialectics (Cellar Live)
  14. Benny Sharoni, Slant Signature (Papaya) [**]
  15. Prism Quartet, Heritage/Evolution (Innova) [**]
  16. Matt Lavelle/John Pietaro, Harmolodic Monk (Unseen Rain '14) [**]

So 16 records, 6 I haven't heard, 1 A- (a very strong one), a 3-4-2 split among B+, nothing obviously lame let alone awful. The mass of unheard records initially bothered me the most, but I'll catch up with most of them in due course. Chris Monsen has also started a 2015: favorites list, and if we leave out the non-jazz (Sleater-Kinney, Jazmine Sullivan, Aphex Twin) and a couple belated 2014 releases, you get:

  1. Rudresh Mahanthappa: Bird Calls (ACT) [*]
  2. Detail: First Detail (Rune Grammofon)
  3. Kirk Knuffke: Arms and Hands (Royal Potato Family)
  4. Vijay Iyer Trio: Break Stuff (ECM) [***]
  5. Hypercolor: Hypercolor (Tzadik) [**]
  6. Wooley/Rempis/Niggenkemper/Corsano: From Wolves to Whales (Aerophonic) [**]

Three records in common with Gubbels, and I'm not a big fan of any of them -- least of all Bird Calls (and my complaint isn't that the record is tied to Charlie Parker; if anything it's that it veers too far away from its ostensible subject matter).

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Rhapsody Streamnotes (March 2015)

Pick up text here.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 24701 [24687] rated (+14), 420 [420] unrated (+0).

Oklahoma trip chewed up three days, so doesn't completely explain this week's shortfall. While I felt rather depressed before and melancholy (and tired) after, could be that the rest of the drop came from giving Madonna and Myra Melford at least five spins each before my lack of an A- response sealed their fates. Neither album reduces my estimation of the artist, but when I want to hear them I'll go elsewhere. I wound up landing on B+(***) a lot this week: six times out of fourteen records. Tanya Tagaq has by far the most uncertain grade, with some upside if I cared to work at it more than I'm willing, but also some downside. Most likely to be overrated are Atomic and Hailey Niswanger, although they gave me more pleasure than Melford or Madonna.

The one A- is Ryan Truesdell's second Gil Evans Project album. It also took about five spins. I didn't go back to recheck its predecessor, 2012's Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans. At the time I was duly impressed giving it B+(***), but many other jazz critics were wowed and it wound up fourth in the Jazz Critics Poll. Possibly deserves a revisit, but I wouldn't be surprised to find that the more proven arrangements and the live sparkle still give the new album the edge.

Not much mail either. And despite adding quite a bit of bulk to the Music Tracking file, I'm not finding much of interest to look up on Rhapsody, and often not finding what I look for. I do have some downloads from Cuneiform and ECM but haven't been in a hurry to get to them. Haven't been in much of a hurry to do anything.

Should have a Rhapsody Streamnotes out in a day or two. While I was belatedly hacking out the tweets collected below, Matos wrote:

Much as I sometimes miss "keeping up," I am so happy not to drum up instapinions anymore unless I want to. Bcz it's that or nothing unless you've got leverage or tenure or w/e. Otherwise it's chump work. There are exceptions, but that's what they are. I wasted years on it. "What did you spend your thirties doing?" "A debased version of something I did in my twenties."

Sure rained on my parade. Been one of those days.

New records rated this week:

  • Atomic: Lucidity (2014 [2015], Jazzland): Norwegian quintet loses all-star status with drummer change, not that Broo and Ljungkvist don't step up [cd]: B+(***)
  • Phil Bowler: Phil Bowler & Pocket Jungle (2013 [2014], Zoho Music): bassist-led group goes for mild-mannered Afro-Cuban tryst with Grupo Los Santos stalwarts [r]: B+(*)
  • Madonna: Rebel Heart (2015, Interscope): the good songs level out long before you reach 19, although the "deluxe" ones almost earn their keep [r]: B+(***)
  • Myra Melford: Snowy Egret (2013 [2015], Enja/Yellowbird): pianist's compositions turn on electric guitar/bass (Liberty Ellman/Stomu Takeishi), with cornet [cd]: B+(***)
  • Billy Mintz: The 2 Bass Band . . . Live (2014 [2015], Thirteenth Note): drummer-led tentet, many stars, not quite avant but skew their postbop that way [cd]: B+(**)
  • Tisziji Muñoz & Marilyn Crispell: The Paradox of Independence (2014 [2015], MRI): guitarist and pianist clash and contrast, backed by bass-drums [r]: B+(**)
  • Hailey Niswanger: PDX Soul (2013-14 [2015], Calmit Productions): tenor saxophonist goes full r&b, often with organ, but seems to still be auditioning singers [cd]: B+(***)
  • Open Field + Burton Greene: Flower Stalk (2012 [2015], Cipsela): Portuguese string trio (guitar-viola-bass) with some bite risk prepared piano thrash [cd]: B+(***)
  • Gretchen Peters: Blackbirds (2015, Scarlet Letter): country singer-songwriter, some clicks, some doesn't, probably not cost-effective to sort out [r]: B+(*)
  • Roberta Piket: Emanation (Solo: Volume 2) (2014 [2015], Thirteenth Note): solo piano, checks off McPartland, Hancock, and Chopin as well as Gillespie, Monk [cd]: B+(*)
  • Dawn Richard: Blackheart (2015, Our Dawn): neo-soul singer, some interesting beat production but strikes me as cluttered and cranky [r]: B
  • Pops Staples: Don't Lose This (1999 [2015], dBpm): demo vocals from 1999, dressed up comfortably by daughter Mavis and producer Jeff Tweedy [r]: B+(**)
  • Tanya Tagaq: Animism (2014 [2015], Six Shooter): less interesting for aboriginal throat singing than for the attempt to give voice to geologic strata [r]: B+(***)
  • Ryan Truesdell: Lines of Color (2014 [2015], Blue Note/ArtistShare): Gil Evans' archivist produces a greatest hits live thing with star power and just enough vocals [cd]: A-

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

  • The Rough Guide to the Best African Music You've Never Heard (World Music Network): a short-lived proposition, until you've heard it and know better [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Tom Collier: Alone in the Studio (Origin): March 17
  • Joe Fiedler Trio: I'm In (Multiphonics Music): April 7
  • Michael Oien: And Now (Fresh Sound New Talent): advance, June
  • Sarah Partridge: I Never Thought I'd Be Here (Origin): March 17
  • Unhinged Sextet: Clarity (OA2): March 17
  • The Michael Waldrop Big Band: Time Within Itself (Origin): March 17

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Weekend Roundup

It's been a slow week for me, as I spent much of it in Oklahoma, visiting relatives and attending the funeral of my cousin Harold Stiner. Harold was just shy of his 90th birthday, and is survived by his wife, Louise, whom he married in 1948 and lived with until death did they part. Their life together was a sweet story, but I wouldn't go so far as to dub it the American Dream -- they never made the sort of money American Dreamers feel entitled to, but they never really wanted either, and left behind two children, four grand-kids, and eleven great-grands, so it certainly counts as a human success story. The one part of the funeral I was somewhat troubled by was the "military honors" -- the flag-draped coffin, two soldiers standing at attention, one playing "taps," the ritual folding and presentation of the flag. It's not that Harold hadn't earned the honor. Like most Americans his age, he got sucked up into the US military in the closing stretch of WWII and wound up in the army that occupied Japan, where he served as a guard in the courts that tried Japanese war criminals. He talked about that experience often, but never talked about actual combat -- and he was a mere 20 on VJ day. My own father (only two years older) was also in the army at that time, but he never invested any identity in being a veteran, and died in 2000, before the War on Terror turned into a bizarre Cult of the Troops. I wondered whether Harold's identity was conditioned by that newer Cult, and felt like the stink of America's recent wars (Vietnam most certainly included) hasn't come to taint Harold's more honorable service.

Just a thought, but war does imbue this week's select links:

  • Nancy LeTourneau: Feith Demonstrates Republican Ignorance on Foreign Policy: Lots of things one can say about the 47 Republican Senators who signed Tom Cotton's letter vowing to sabotage any agreement Obama manages to sign with Iran, although critics have tended to latch onto the notion that the letter violates the Logan Act (itself very probably unconstitutional, something that hasn't been ruled on because no one has tried to enforce it) and the challenge the letter represents to the president's prerogative to conduct foreign policy. It would be better to focus on how totally counterproductive the letter was: how it shows that the US cannot become a trusted party in negotiations because a substantial factional power only believes that disputes can only be solved through war.

    One of the unintended consequences of the Tom Cotton letter fiasco is that the media focus has turned away from the actual negotiations with Iran to the various excuses Republican leaders are coming up with to explain why they signed it.

    But there are a couple of exceptions. I have to give Joshua Muravchik some credit. At least he dispensed with all the right wing cover about how we need a "better deal" and got right down to it with War With Iran is Probably Our Best Option. But what he's really recommending are surgical strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities. He has to admit that won't stop Iran from continuing to build new ones, so we'll have to commit to a kind "whack-a-mole" ongoing war. And then he has to admit that we'll have to do that without IAEA inspectors, so the whole argument devolves into one big mess.

    Then there's Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal that published an op-ed on the negotiations by none other than Doug Feith, who purports to have found the "fatal flaw in Obama's dealings with Iran." [ . . . ]

    Feith's point is that President Obama is taking a "cooperative" approach to the negotiations when he should be taking a "coercive" approach. [ . . . ]

    This one reminds me a lot of the Republican insistence that we can't talk about a "pathway to citizenship" for undocumented immigrants until we "secure the border." The result of that insistence is that the border is never secure enough -- just as Iran never stops being enough of a threat to pursue an agreement. It is meant to leave regime change (most likely via military intervention) as the only option on the table.

    I can only shake my head at the ignorance of people who don't remember that it was regime change in Iran that got us here in the first place.

    I think it's time Americans admit that we got off on the wrong foot with Iran's Islamic Republic in 1979, and that we need a fresh start based on mutual respect. That won't be easy because we utterly lack the ability to see ourselves as others do (not that many others dare say so to our faces -- cf. "The Emperor's New Clothes" for insight). Americans always assume that our own intentions are benign, and never think that our interventions in the rest of the world aren't welcome; actually, we wouldn't even call them interventions, despite presence of US military in over 100 other countries and the CIA in the rest, the US Navy on all seven seas and satellites in space able to spy on every square inch of the world's surface. We do, however, perpetuate childish grudges against any nation that offends us, regardless of how counterproductive our shunning becomes: North Korea is the longest running example, and for its people perhaps the saddest; then there is Cuba, Vietnam, Iran, Syria, and a few others -- the neocons would love to add Russia and China to that list. The fact is that the US has done Iran much more harm than vice versa, yet we are totally unaware of any of that: the 1953 coup, equipping the Shah's police state, supporting Iraq's invasion (one of the deadliest wars since WWII), prodding the Saudis to promote anti-Shiite propaganda, crippling sanctions, cyber warfare. Iran hasn't been totally without fault either, and a little contrition on their part would be good for everyone. But the attitudes you see from Cotton, from Feith, from Muravchik and so forth show you how blind and vicious we can be. Iran, after all, has at least as much reason to worry about a nuclear-armed Israel as vice versa, and even more so about a nuclear-armed United States -- a country which within the last fifteen years has invaded and pretty much wrecked two neighboring countries (Afghanistan and Iraq). And an isolated, villified, wounded Iran is far more dangerous than an Iran that is integrated into global trade and culture. The latter might even contribute constructively to our many problems in the region.

    I could say much more about this, but for now I just want to bring up one side point. I have no real worries about Iran producing nuclear bombs -- I don't think they ever intended to build them let alone to use them, possibly because they suspect that they would be useless (as they have been for everyone else but the US against WWII Japan). But I do worry about Iran's ambitions to build nuclear power plants: to see why, recall that the worst nuclear wasteland in Japan isn't the A-bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; it's the drowned nuclear power plants at Fukishima. On the other hand, I don't see that the US can arbitrarily deny Iran access to nuclear power -- the NPT promises not to limit that access, and dozens of other countries (most notably India) have nuclear power plants. But if Iran is going to have nuclear power plants, we should do everything possible to ensure that they will be as safe as those plants can be, which means sharing advanced technology and making sure the plants are inspected and follow "best practices." To do that we need cooperation, not war.

  • Gideon Levy: To see how racist Israel has become, look to the left: Of course the right is racist -- see Max Blumenthal's Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel for abundant proof of that -- but loathing of Arabs is as much of a driving force behind the former left in Israel as for the right.

    The foreign minister [Avigdor Lieberman] said "Those who are against us . . . we need to pick up an ax and cut off his head," aiming his ax at Arab Israelis. Such a remark would end the career and guarantee lifetime ostracism of any Western statesman. [ . . . ] But such is the intellectual, cultural and moral world of Israel's foreign minister, a bully who was once convicted of physically assaulting a child. The world can't understand how Lieberman's remark was accepted with such equanimity in Israel, where some highly-regarded commentators still believe this cynical, repellent politician is a serious, reasonable statesman.

    No less repugnant was his savaging, in a televised debate, of Joint List leader Iman Odeh, whom he called a "fifth column" and told, "you're not wanted here," "go to Gaza." None of the other party heads taking part, including those of leftist and centrist slates, leader in the debate, stepped in to stop Lieberman's tirade. [ . . . ]

    The racism of the campaign season has been planted well beyond the rotten, stinking gardens of Lieberman, Naftali Bennett, Eli Yishai and Baruch Marzel. It is almost everywhere. Our cities have recently been contaminated by posters whose evil messages are nearly on a par with the slogans "Kahane was right" and "death to Arabs."

    "With BibiBennett, we'll be stuck with the Palestinians forever," threaten the posters plastered on every overpass and hoarding, on behalf of the Peace and Security Association of National Security Experts. It is impossible to know their level of expertise on matters of peace and security, but they are clearly experts in incitement. The message and its signatories are considered center-left, but it too spreads hate and racism. [ . . . ]

    Such is the state of public discourse in Israel. Yair Lapid and "the Zoabis," in reference to Haneen Zoabi, Moshe Kahlon who says he won't sit in a government coalition "with the Arabs," Isaac Herzog who will conduct coalition negotiations with all the parties with the exception of the Arab ones, Tzipi Livni and her obsession with her Jewish -- and also nationalistic and ugly -- state. Even the dear and beloved (to me) Amos Oz, who in Haaretz ("Dreams Israel should abandon -- fast," March 13) called for a "fair divorce" from the Palestinians. He has the right not to believe in the prospects for a shared life, we must call for their liberation, but to call for a divorce without asking the Palestinians what they want rings with a rejection of them. And what about Israel's Arab citizens? How are they supposed to feel when one of the most important intellectuals of Israel's peace camp says he wants a divorce? Are they to remain among us as lepers?

    I've said for quite some time now that the main rationale behind the "two-state" partition resolution is that it doesn't depend on Israelis to rise above their deep-seated racism; all it depends on is their will to cut loose some land and prerogatives they still want and a lot of people they can't stand and have constantly wronged.

    Also see Haviv Rettig Gur: Is Netanyahu about to loose the election? for its review of the prospects for post-election coalition building, especially in the face of the refusal of all Zionist parties (left, right, or center) to negotiate with the Joint (Arab) List. For more on this, see Philip Weiss: Herzog and Netanyahu are likely to share power -- because Herzog won't share it with Arab List. (I suppose there are Republicans who feel that the election of a Democrat should be invalidated if a majority of whites vote otherwise, but unlike Israel we don't have a political system that makes it easy to sort out votes like that, or a media that legitimizes such racism. In Israel Jews even have their own language.)

    More Israel links:

    Akira Eldar: Who will stop the Israeli settlers?:

    On March 13, 2005, the second Ariel Sharon government decided to dismantle all the illegal outposts that had been erected since the government came into office in March 2001, and were listed in the report prepared by attorney Talia Sasson.

    The government averred that it would thus fulfill the first stage of the Road Map set down by the Quartet, in keeping with an Israeli commitment made in May 2003. This clause, which included a total freeze on settlement construction, was not included among the 14 reservations Israel presented to the Quartet.

    The signature of then-Finance Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on this decision is just as worthless as the paper upon which the Wye River Memorandum, the Bar-Ilan speech and all the "two-state" speeches made before the United States Congress and the United Nations General Assembly are written.

    But it's time to remind those with short memories that Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni were also part of that government. The latter was appointed head of a special ministerial committee whose job was to convert the outpost report into action -- primarily by ensuring the dismantling of outposts built after the formation of the previous government (in which Livni also served). A significant portion of those outposts were built on private Palestinian land.

    Data from the Central Bureau of Statistics show that over the past decade, the settler population in the West Bank has grown by 112,000 (from 244,000 to 356,000).

    Figures from Peace Now show that in the same period, the illegal outposts gained 9,000 more residents -- about three times their population 10 years ago. More than half of the growth occurred during the time when Livni and Herzog bore ministerial responsibility for this gross violation of Israeli and international law.

    The Kadima/Hatnuah leader and the Labor Party and Zionist Union chairman were also both partly responsible for allowing hundreds of millions of shekels to flow to the settlements via the leaky pipe known as the "settlement division," which suddenly became the national punching bag.

    According to the outpost report (presented a decade ago), the division "mainly erected many unauthorized outposts, without approval from the authorized political officials." [ . . . ]

    Every Israeli government since 2005 has ignored the report's unequivocal recommendation to clip the wings of the division, especially its budget, which continues to fund the effort to wreck peace.

    William Greider: What About Israel's Nuclear Bomb? Israel began its work on developing nuclear weapons in the 1950s when fear that it might be overwhelmed by much more populous adversaries was more credible. By the mid-1960s, Israel's denials offered a convenient out while the US attempted to corral all other nations (including Iran) within the confines of the NPT. But one side effect of US acquiescence in this "don't ask, don't tell" treatment is that we're not allowed to factor in Israel's nuclear deterrence capabilities when evaluating possible threats from possible enemies like Iran. No nuclear-armed power has ever directly attacked another nuclear-armed power, not even at the height of conflict between the US and the Soviet Union. One can even argue that conflicts become more stable when both adversaries possess nuclear weapons: one can point not only to the Cold War but to the way India and Pakistan walked back from a likely fourth war in 2002. Israel hates the idea of a nuclear-armed Iran less because it fears Iran -- Iran, after all, has not committed direct military aggression against another country for several centuries now, whereas Israel has done so close to ten times since 1948 -- so much as because it hates the idea that any nation it attacks might fight back.

    Anne-Marie Codur: Why Iran is not and has never been Israel's #1 enemy.

  • Mike Lofgren: Operation Rent Seeking: Reviewing James Risen's book, Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War, on how the Global War on Terror turned into a racket and a cash cow for the nation's military profiteers:

    It is difficult to read Pay Any Price and not come away with the sick feeling that the Bush presidency -- which, after all, only assumed office by the grace of judicial wiring and force majeure -- was at bottom a corrupt and criminal operation in collusion with private interests to hijack the public treasury. But what does that say about Congress, which acted more often as a cheerleader than a constitutional check? And what does it tell us about the Obama administration, whose Justice Department not only failed to hold the miscreants accountable, but has preserved and expanded some of its predecessors' most objectionable policies?

    Partisans may squabble over the relative culpability of the Bush and Obama administrations, as well as that of Congress, but that debate is now almost beside the point. If Risen is correct, America's campaign against terrorism may have evolved to the point that endless war is the tacit but unalterable goal, regardless of who is formally in charge.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

A Funeral in Oklahoma

I took some notes from a gravestone in the cemetery on the east edge of Stroud, Oklahoma: William M. Stiner, born January 14, 1896; died November 29, 1973. Lola Stiner, born July 7, 1900; died March 27, 1968. They were married, till death they did depart. on November 2, 1919. Lola was my mother's oldest sibling, the eldest in of ten born to Ben and Mary Lou Brown, eight surviving infancy: my mother the youngest, plus three girls I knew as aunts and four boys I knew as uncles. I knew William M. as Uncle Melvin. I was in the cemetery to bury his oldest son, who I always knew as Harold Stiner, but who turns out to have been a William also, William H. Stiner. He was born in Milfay, Oklahoma, on May 11, 1925, and died March 7 this year, at the age of 89.

Aunt Lola was born and grew up on a farm near Vidette, Arkansas, a three-way junction which in its heyday was the location of a post office and two other buildings, but which has long since disappeared from maps. (The closest towns today are Henderson, seven miles west; Viola, eight miles east; and Bakersfield, Missouri, seven miles north; much larger is Mountain Home, sixteen miles west, past Lake Norfolk.) Our great-grandfather and his father moved from Ohio to Mountain Home shortly after the Civil War -- I reckon that made them carpetbaggers, although Baxter County was a unique Republican enclave in the former slave state.) When Ben Brown died in 1935, that farm was passed on to his oldest son, Ted, who by then had his own adjacent farm and was able to buy his mother and siblings out.

Melvin also came from those hills, growing up on a farm a few miles north and west, near Gamaliel, practically on the Missouri border. He and Lola got married in Arkansas, and sometime before Harold was born in 1925 moved to Oklahoma, eventually settling on 160 acres a few miles east of Stroud, their driveway attached to US-66, and they grew that farm into substantially larger by the 1950s. They had a second son, Duan, in 1927, and a daughter, Mary Lou, who died two days after her birth in 1935. We visited often, usually every two or three months, from as early as I can recall in the 1950s up to Lola's death in 1968. I did miss her funeral -- I went through a very anti-social period in the mid-late 1960s -- and didn't return to Oklahoma until after I moved back to Wichita in 1999. I doubt my parent went much either. For one thing, Melvin isn't fondly remembered by anyone I know. Even when we were children, he was recognized as gruff and something of a blowhard -- a guy who would argue points that were plainly ridiculous. After he came down with diabetes he got even more cranky and whiny, self-centered and demanding. He also had a nasty habit of pinching Lola. She was heavy and had a high-pitched voice, so it's like he liked to hear her squeal. And that got so bad Duan's wife tried to talk Lola into leaving Melvin.

After Lola died, a quite sudden massive heart attack, Melvin was beside himself. He survived another five years, and remarried twice in that stretch, in the process squandering nearly all of the money he had accumulated. Those marriages aren't noted on their tombstone (which was probably arranged on Lola's death, when that seemed like the right thing to do). Duan told me that his dad "went woman crazy" after Lola died, but I always figured he was hard up and desperate for comfort and support, and he himself didn't have much to offer in return -- except money. I wasn't close enough to know whether he got fleeced or whether one or both of the wives earned every penny -- both scenarios were possible.

Nonetheless, I always rather liked Melvin. He managed to run a large and complicated farm -- chickens and pigs and lots of cattle, corn and hay (I heard stories about cotton but don't recall seeing any), a big vegetable garden with exceptional green beans, quite a bit of pastureland including a large pond we fished at, some woods including a rugged valley under the dam; also a couple oil wells and we were impressed with how much money he made from billboards along US-66, at least until the Turner Turnpike stole the traffic. Before the turnpike, the trip took five or six hours each way -- two-lane country roads and crawling through a dozen-plus towns, notably Stillwater and Cushing. I-35 and the Turnpike cut that drive down to a bit more than three hours. He worked hard, from dawn to sunset and then some, but he took time to socialize, and had a wicked sense of humor.

By the time I remember going down there, both Harold and Duan were grown, had served in the Army, married, and were living on their own. I'm not sure whether Harold saw any action in WWII -- he turned 20 in March of 1945 as the US was fighting for Iwo Jima -- but after Japan surrendered he was part of the occupation force, and most memorably was a guard on duty during at least some of the Tokyo war crimes trials. Nor am I sure how long Harold served -- I've seen pictures of him in uniform with corporal stripes -- but by 1948 he had returned to Oklahoma, and he married Louise Byrd on June 9 of that year. About that time, he bought a farm three miles north of Stroud, and they lived there from then until they moved into a Stroud nursing home last year. Their marriage lasted almost 67 years. (I can only think of one longer.) They had two children, Julie and Jeffrey, but not until the early 1960s, so I barely knew them at the time. They went on to have children (4) and grandchildren (11 for now).

I doubt that Harold ever made a living as a farmer. He drove trucks and worked in gas stations, even owned one for a while. He was deeply religious, for many years a "song leader" at the Stroud Church of Christ, so active in the church I can recall him running out on a visit to go there. He was so kind and generous to everyone that it seems like he was often targeted by scam artists, but he always seemed to make do, was satisfied with his lot, and hardly ever complained. I never begrudged his faith, but I did have my doubts about the pride he took in his military service. It seems like every subsequent male member of his family signed up and followed suit, and when I visited in recent years I always heard stories of so-and-so in Afghanistan or Iraq -- a sad waste of American lives that has only caused far greater suffering around the world. Yet I never heard any articulation of the ideology that drives US power projection; all I heard was the naive belief that by "serving" they were somehow "keeping America safe."

And those were the themes of Harold's funeral: his unstinting dedication to church and country. Harold isn't the first person I've known to plot out his funeral in advance, picking favorite bible verses and songs, but he probably went furthest in planning the entire event. He was certainly the first person I've known to have installed a grave marker ahead of time. (I've known spouses with names on markers while they were still living -- in fact, one who did it twice.) I don't know whose idea it was to bring a military honor guard to the burial, but the casket was draped in a US flag, two soldiers in dress uniforms stood at attention off to the right behind the casket. One played taps, then they folded the flag and presented it, rather nervously, to Louise.

I've known many veterans, but I had never seen anything like this. My grandfather was in the army in France during WWI, but that played no part in his funeral. My father was in the Army toward the end of WWII -- he was only two years older than Harold -- but it never occurred to us to emphasize that he had been a veteran. (Indeed, he regarded his time in the Army as a time when he did nothing useful or worthwhile.) My cousin Bob Burns was a veteran of Korea, but there was nothing military at his funeral. I skipped a lot of funerals so my sample size isn't large, but for most WWII veterans service was something you just did and forgot as you got on with your life. The "greatest generation" hoopla didn't occur until after Vietnam gave war a bad name (actually, an even worse name), and only with the post-9/11 terror/oil wars, when soldiers are recruited from an ever narrower segment of the population, has military funeral honors turned into such a self-identified cult. Maybe I could see this for someone with 20+ years in the Air Force like James Hull, my last surviving uncle -- he didn't actually fight in Vietnam but he services airplanes that dropped thousands of tons of bombs, killing thousands of Vietnamese -- but for Harold it feels like wrapping his own honorable service with the stink of more recent wars. At the least it shows his naivete.

Harold's brother, Duan, turned 18 the same day Americans bombed Hiroshima. He, too, joined the Army, and did a tour in the occupation of Japan. He got out, then was called back and did a tour in Korea, where he saw combat (but seems to more clearly remember the cold). He came back, got a job as a butcher in a grocery store, and married Catherine. She had a son already named Johnny, about my age, and they had two daughters in quick succession, about my sister's age, Judy Kay and Cathy. (They later had a son, Michael Duan, who I only knew as an infant until recently.) Whereas we usually only saw Harold when we went to his place, Duan and Catherine came to Aunt Lola's pretty much every time we visited, and their children often stayed over. In the 1960s Duan started his own meat business, and my parents would periodically buy a half beef from him.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Daily Log

Got back from Oklahoma today. Took a back roads route, driving NW from Bristow to Pawnee, then jogging over to Ponca City. Wanted to see the Pioneer Woman memorial there, since I picked up a number of old photos with various relatives on or near to it. Picked up the highway at Blackwell and zipped home.

Wasn't able to get on the Internet during the trip, so waiting for me was 268 email messages and 216 new tweets.

Matt Rice reviewed 20 albums:

  1. Belle and Sebastian: Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance (Matador) [A-]
  2. Bjork: Vulnicura (One Little Indian) [B]
  3. Death Grips: Fashion Week (Third Woods) [B+]
  4. Bob Dylan: Shadows in the Night (Colubia) [B-]
  5. Fall Out Boy: American Beauty/American Psycho (Island) [B]
  6. Father John Misty: I Love You, Honeybear (Sub Pop) [B]
  7. Lupe Fiasco: Tetsuo & Youth (Atlantic) [B+]
  8. Fifth Harmony: Reflection (Epic/Syco) [B+]
  9. Indiana: No Romeo (Deluxe Edition) (Epic) [B]
  10. Joey Bada$$: B4.Da.$$ (Cinematic/Relentless) [B-]
  11. Lil Wayne: Sorry 4 the Wait 2 (free download) [C+]
  12. Ne-Yo: Non-Fiction (Motown) [B+]
  13. Rae Lynn: Me (Valory Music Group) [C]
  14. Rae Sremmurd: SremmLife (EarDrummers/Interscope) [B+]
  15. Dawn Richard: Blackheart (Our Dawn) [A-]
  16. Sleater-Kinney: No Cities to Love (Sub Pop) [A]
  17. Jazmine Sullivan: Reality Show (RCA) [A]
  18. Tanya Tagaq: Animism (Six Shooter) [A]
  19. Meghan Trainor: Title (Epic) [B-]
  20. Viet Cong: Viet Cong [B]

Monday, March 09, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 24687 [24592] rated (+95), 420 [499] unrated (-79).

Saturday evening I checked the rated count and found I was only +17 for the week, a pace that would leave me well short of a productive +30 week. I decided that would be a good time to make a pass through the unrated file and see if any of those albums had been rated elsewhere (checking against the year-end files and sometimes the indexes for Recycled Goods or Rhapsody Streamnotes). I've made less systematic sweeps in the past and often netted a dozen or two missing grades. This time I picked up 72 albums, turning a slack week into a monster, statistically speaking.

Wound up with 26 records below, so not much shy of a normal "good" week. Two new non-jazz A-list releases (or three if you count a reissue of a cassette that only previously had a run of 50 units) so that may finally break the 2015 drought -- although all three are close to the borderline, and McMurtry and Tuxedo nearly got written up as HMs until 4-5 plays nudged me over the line. The live McMurtry was something I've been meaning to check out, so this seemed like a good time.

My Rhapsody Streamnotes draft file is already long enough to post. Good chance I'll post it some time this week, although I won't promise. For one thing, I'll be out of town a few days: one of my cousins, Harold Stiner, passed away on Saturday, so I want to at least make an appearance at the funeral. He was 89 -- a teenager when he joined the Army and wound up stationed as a guard during war crimes trials in Japan. When he returned, he bought a small farm north of Stroud, married Louise Byrd, and they both lived there until moving to a nursing home a few months ago, more than 65 years. We went down there often when I was a child, and I spent a lot of time fishing his pond. He was an exceptionally kind, open, generous person, and will be missed and remembered fondly.

New records rated this week:

  • Aphex Twin: Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments, Pt. 2 (2015, Warp, EP): outtakes EP, maybe just an afterthought, from last year's "Syro" [r]: B+(**)
  • Ab Baars Trio & NY Guests: Invisible Blow (2012 [2015], Wig): Dutch tenor saxophonist, group goes back to 1990, so they've grown old and mellow together [cd]: B
  • Ab Baars Trio: Slate Blue (2014 [2015], Wig): Fay Victor and Vincent Chancey -- I like them enough but they're not what Baars needs [cd]: B+(***)
  • Belle and Sebastian: Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance (2015, Matador): while the boys make clunky music and hog the vocals [r]: B+(*)
  • Anat Cohen: Luminosa (2014 [2015], Anzic): leads with her clarinet, group less than focused except when her Brazilian guests take charge [cd]: B+(***)
  • Father John Misty: I Love You, Honeybear (2015, Sub Pop): not an artist I want to get to know better, not that the fancy production never clicks [r]: B
  • Ross Hammond: Flight (2014 [2015], Prescott): guitarist meant for bigger things tries his hand at folk-oriented solo pastorale [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Mikko Innanen: Song for a New Decade (2010-12 [2015], TUM, 2CD): Finnish saxophonist gets all the help he needs: William Parker and Andrew Cyrille [cd]: A-
  • James McMurtry: Complicated Game (2013-14 [2015], Complicated Game): hard luck songs continue, less political because he's too smart to blame it all on Obama [r]: A-
  • Kyle Nasser: Restive Soul (2013 [2015], AISA): tenor saxophonist, uses guitar-piano-bass-drums for complex postbop layering, very au courant [cd]: B+(*)
  • Prism Quartet: Heritage/Evolution, Volume 1 (2014, Innova, 2CD): obscure but long-running sax quartet invite six famous saxophonists to guest, rub off [cd]: B+(**)
  • Nate Radley: Morphoses (2013 [2014], Fresh Sound New Talent): guitarist-led trio plus Loren Stillman's sax for extra splotches of contrasting color [r]: B+(*)
  • John Raymond: Foreign Territory (2014 [2015], Fresh Sound New Talent): young trumpet player backed by solid pros on piano-bass-drums, postbop but pretty sharp at that [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Spin Marvel: Infolding (2014 [2015], RareNoise): Brit jazztronica group host Nils Petter Molvaer, a bright spot in their post-Miles underworld [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Story City: Time and Materials (2012, self-released): jazz-rock returns, not hot enough for fusion, not soft enough for smooth, not bad but no matter [cd]: B
  • Tradisyon Ka: Gwo Ka: Music of Guadeloupe, West Indies (2014, Soul Jazz): a drum-and-chant music never far removed from Africa, done by trad band with guests [r]: B+(**)
  • Tuxedo: Tuxedo (2015, Stones Throw): Jake One and Mayer Hawthorne go retro-disco, which treats them as well as retro-Motown did; who knew we still need this? [r]: A-
  • Typefighter: The End of Everything (2014, Hope Witch): pretty good DC-based garage-pop band -- i.e., rough as punk but hooks pop out [r]: B+(**)
  • Carlos "Zíngaro": Live at Mosteiro de Santa Clara a Velha (2012 [2015], Cipsela): Spanish violinist, improvised from classical to jazz, goes solo [cd]: B+(**)

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

  • Ata Kak: Obaa Sima (1994 [2015], Awesome Tapes From Africa): rapper from Ghana, belated release of Brian Shimkovitz's original inspiration for Awesome Tapes From Africa [r]: A-
  • Next Stop . . . Soweto, Vol. 2: Soul, Funk and Organ Grooves From the Townships 1969-1987 (1969-76 [2010], Strut): soul, funk, organ grooves from South Africa, thin glosses on things done better elsewhere [r]: B+(*)
  • Next Stop . . . Soweto, Vol. 3: Giants, Ministers and Makers: Jazz in South Africa 1963-1978 (1963-78 [2010], Strut): the iceberg beneath the more visible stars that went into exile [r]: B+(**)
  • No Seattle: Forgotten Sounds of the North-West Grunge Era 1986-97 (1986-97 [2014], Soul Jazz, 2CD): 28 songs by 23 bands with one or more members who played on a bill with Nirvana [r]: B

Old records rated this week:

  • Chico Hamilton and Euphoria: Arroyo (1990 [1993], Soul Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • Chico Hamilton and Euphoria: My Panamanian Friend (1992 [1994], Soul Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • James McMurtry and the Heartless Bastards: Live in Aught-Three (2004, Compadre): first live album sums up a decade-plus of learning and writing [r]: A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Stephan Crump/Mary Halvorson: Secret Keeper (Intakt): advance, April
  • Maxfield Gast: Ogo Pogo (Militia Hill)
  • Bradley Williams: Investigation (21st Century Entertainment, 2CD)

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links this week:

  • David Atkins: Missing Selma: The Final Death of GOP Minority Outreach: When I saw the movie Selma, I couldn't help but think of how much that was gained by the civil rights movement in the 1960s has been lost in the last decade due to Republican courts, state legislatures, and the failure of Congress to renew voting rights protections. (Of course, more than renewal is needed: voting rights protections need to be extended beyond the deep South to everywhere Republicans hold power.)

    Facing demographic reality after their devastating defeat in 2012, Republicans issued a report saying they needed to consider policy changes to court minority voters. That olive branch lasted a few weeks before their base and its mouthpieces on AM radio urgently reminded them that bigotry is a core Republican value and would only be dismissed at the peril of any politician that didn't toe the Tea Party line.

    Now the party finds itself shutting down Homeland Security to protest the President's mild executive order on immigration and almost ignoring the Selma anniversary entirely. The minority outreach program is not just dead: it's a public embarrassment and heaping ruin. [ . . . ]

    And they will continue to try to disenfranchise as many minority voters as possible -- one of the reasons why the Selma memorial is so problematic for them. Republicans are actively trying to remove as many minority voters as possible from the eligible pool, and have no interest in being reminded of Dr. King's struggle to achieve the end of Jim Crow and true voting rights for African-Americans.

    The GOP has made it abundantly clear that things are going to get much uglier before they get better. Their base won't have it any other way.

    This is probably as good a place as ever to hook a link to Kris Kobach Floats Idea Obama Wants to Protect Black Criminals From Prosecution. Of course that's taken a bit out of context -- Kobach is obsessed with voting irregularities and has repeatedly pleaded with the Kansas state legislature to give him authority to prosecute voting infractions (seeing that county prosecutors rarely do so, preoccupied as they are with killing and stealing), and his actual examples are voting-related. Still, he was unwilling to raise any objection to a caller who repeated the whole racist canard, and by adding his own parochial examples the caller no doubt considered his paranoia confirmed.

  • Conservatives Who Hate "Big Government" Are, Shockingly, Not Up in Arms About Ferguson: References Adam Serwer, who dug through the DOJ's report on police abuses in Ferguson, Missouri (those protests last year weren't only about police shooting an unarmed teenager -- that sort of thing happens all over the country -- but were rooted in a long pattern of predation).

    You're probably aware that Ferguson used the cops and courts to generate tax revenues. How extreme were the fines? From the report:

    [O]ur investigation found instances in which the court charged $302 for a single Manner of Walking violation; $427 for a single Peace Disturbance violation; $531 for High Grass and Weeds; $777 for Resisting Arrest; and $792 for Failure to Obey, and $527 for Failure to Comply, which officers appear to use interchangeably.

    Now, here's the thing: Isn't this the sort of thing right-wingers ought to be complaining about? Government charging you a three-figure fine for walking wrong, or not cutting your grass properly? Aren't some of these an awful lot like taxes? Don't right-wingers hate taxes? Don't they hate government attempts to micromanage citizens' lives? Isn't turning "high grass and weeds" into a rime punishable by large fines a sort of aesthetic political correctness? [ . . . ]

    Oh, but of course. . . .

    Available data show that, of those actually arrested by FPD only because of an outstanding municipal warrant, 96% are African American.


    Data collected by the Ferguson Police Department from 2012 to 2014 shows that African Americans account for 85% of vehicle stops, 90% of citations, and 93% of arrests made by FPD officers, despite comprising only 67% of Ferguson's population.

    So I guess it doesn't matter that this is oppressive Big Government using jackbooted-thug powers to restrict citizens' FREEDOM!!!! and shovel more and more cash into the insatiable maw of the bureaucracy -- because, y'know, that stuff doesn't matter when it happens to Those People.

    No More Mr. Nice Blog also reports that This Frigid Winter Is Not Frigid in the West (see the map). And on that front, see Florida Officials Banned From Using Term 'Climate Change'. Not clear whether this also means that Floridians will be banned from calling for help when the last glaciers melt and their state vanishes under the rising ocean. (The article points out that "sea-level rise" is still a permitted term.)

    It's always tempting to shame conservatives for their hypocrisies and frequent lack of principles, much as it's tempting to point out that the movement to change the existing order to make it even more hierarchical and inequal (and usually more brutal) is more properly termed fascist. My own pet example is abortion/birth control, which used to be more closely associated with the right (albeit often tainted with racist "eugenics" concerns) than the left. More properly, conservatives should support abortion/birth control rights because: (a) it is a matter of personal freedom in an area where the state has no legitimate interest; (b) we expect parents to assume a great deal of responsibility for their children, and the assumption of such responsibility should be a matter of choice (whereas pregnancy is much more a matter of chance). If you want, you can add various secondary effects: unwanted children are more likely to become burdens on the state, to engage in crime, etc. But the Republicans sniffed out a political opportunity for opposing abortion -- mostly inroads into traditionally Democratic religious blocks (Roman Catholic and Baptist), plus the view resonated as prohibitionist and anti-sex, reaffirming their notion of the Real America as a stern patriarchy, and adding a critical faction to the GOP's coalition of hate.

    Conservatives should also be worried by unjust and discriminatory law enforcement such as we've seen in Ferguson -- after all their own property depends on a system of law that is widely viewed as basically fair and just. They also should worry about global warming, which in the long run will disproportionately affect property owners -- that they aren't is testimony to the political influence bought by the oil industry (along with the short-sightedness of other businesses). But again these worries are easily swept aside by demagogues seeking to discredit science, reason, and decency.

  • Ed Kilgore: How Mike Huckabee Became the New Sarah Palin: I always thought that had Huckabee run in 2012 he would have won the Republican nomination: he was as well established as the "next guy in line" as Romney, we would have captured all of the constituency that wound up supporting Rick Santorum (I mean, who on earth really wanted Santorum?). I'm less certain he's got the inside track in 2016, but he's kept up his visibility and he's learned a few tricks from his fellow Fox head, Sarah Palin. On the other hand, it's hard to look at Huckabee's new book title -- God, Guns, Grits and Gravy -- and not wonder whether he's toppled over into self-caricature.

    While nobody has written a full-fledged manifesto for conservative cultural resentment, Mike Huckabee's new pre-campaign book is a significant step in the direction of full-spectrum cry for the vindication of Real Americans. It is telling that the politician who was widely admired outside the conservative movement during his 2008 run for being genial, modest, quick-witted, and "a conservative who's not mad about it" has now released a long litany of fury at supposed liberal-elite condescension toward and malevolent designs against the Christian middle class of the Heartland. [ . . . ]

    In a recent column recanting his earlier enthusiasm for Sarah Palin, the conservative writer Matt Lewis accused La Pasionaria of the Permafrost of "playing the victim card, engaging in identity politics, co-opting some of the cruder pop-culture references, and conflating redneck lowbrow culture with philosophical conservatism." The trouble now is that she hardly stands out.

    Speaking of Huckabee, he's been pushing this placcard on twitter, proclaiming "Netanyahu is a Churchill in a world of Chamberlains." This vastly mis-estimates all checked names. Neville Chamberlain's reputation as a pacifist is greatly exaggerated: he did, after all, lead Britain into WWII when he decided to declare war against Germany over Poland after having "appeased" Hitler in letting Germany annex a German-majority sliver of Czechoslovakia. From a practical standpoint, his war declaration did Poland no good whatsoever, so it's impossible to see how declaring war any earlier would have had any deterrence or punitive effect. (Moreover, declaring war over Poland definitely moved up Hitler's timetable for attacking France, leading to the British fiasco at Dunkirk.) Of course, by the time Chamberlain declared war, hawks like Churchill were on the rise in Britain, and Churchill took over once Britain was committed to war with Germany.

    Churchill is generally given high marks for leading Britain through WWII, but more so in America than in England, which voted him out of office as soon as the war was over. A more sober assessment is that as a military strategist he didn't make as many bad mistakes in WWII as he had in the first World War (at least nothing on the scale of Gallipoli). But he failed miserably in his attempt to keep the British Empire intact, in large part because he was so tone deaf about it. If you look at his entire career, you'll see he did nothing but promote war and imperialism, and in doing so he left his stink on nearly every disastrous conflict of the 20th century. Indeed, he got a head start in the 1890s in the Sudan, then moved on to the Boer War in South Africa. His penchant for dividing things led to the partitions of Ireland, India, and Palestine, each followed by a series of wars. He was a major architect of Britain's push into Palestine and Iraq (and, unsuccessfully, Turkey) during the first World War, and followed that up by supporting Greece against Turkey and the "whites" in the Russian Civil War. As WWII was winding down he sided in yet another Greek Civil War and attempted to reassert British control of Malaya. After WWII he is credited with the keynote speech of the Cold War, which led to virtually all of the world's post-WWII conflicts (up to 1990) aside from his post-partition wars. He also was the main instigator behind the 1953 US coup in Iran, so give him some credit for all that ensued there -- including Netanyahu's speech this week. Churchill died in 1965, but even today he is invoked by hawks in the US and UK as the patron saint of perpetual war and injustice. He should be counted as one of the great monsters of his era.

    Netanyahu, on the other hand, is a much smaller monster, if only because he runs a much smaller country. Still, even within Israeli history, he hasn't had an exceptionally violent career: certainly he ranks far behind Ariel Sharon and David Ben Gurion, nor does he have the sort of intimate sense of blood-on-his-hands as Menachem Begin or Yitzhak Shamir or even Ehud Barak, nor the sort of military glory of Yitzhak Rabin or Moshe Dayan. I'm not even sure I'd rank him above Shimon Peres, the political figure most responsible for Israel's own atom bomb project, but he certainly moved up on the list with last year's turkey shoot in Gaza (and to a lesser extent the West Bank). But for two decades of rant about the "existential threat" posed by Iran, he's stayed out of actual war. What he is really exceptional at is avoiding peace. He was the most effective politician in Israel when it came to sabotaging the Oslo "peace process" and he has been singularly effective at wrecking Obama's peace efforts. Indeed, his entire Iran obsession makes more sense as an anti-Palestinian stall than as a real concern. What makes Netanyahu inordinately dangerous isn't so much what he can do directly as prime minister of Israel as his skill at persuading official opinion in the US: as we saw, for instance, when he helped parlay the 9/11 attacks into a Global War on Terror, or when he shilled for Bush's invasion of Iraq, or his longstanding efforts to drive the US to war against Iran. Huckabee's attempt to ride on Netanyahu's coattails should show you just how dangerous Netanyahu can be, and what a fool Huckabee is.

  • Paul Krugman: Larry Kudlow and the Failure of the Chicago School: On the conservative predeliction for economic frauds:

    Jonathan Chait does insults better than almost anyone; in his recent note on Larry Kudlow, he declares that

    The interesting thing about Kudlow's continuing influence over conservative thought is that he has elevated flamboyant wrongness to a kind of performance art.

    And Chait doesn't even mention LK's greatest hits -- his sneers at "bubbleheads" who thought something was amiss with housing prices, his warnings about runaway inflation in 2009-10, his declaration that a high stock market is a vote of confidence for the president -- but only, apparently, if said president is Republican.

    But what's really interesting about Kudlow is the way his influence illustrates the failure of the Chicago School, as compared with the triumph of MIT.

    But, you say, Kudlow isn't a product of Chicago, or indeed of any economics PhD program. Indeed -- and that's the point.

    There are plenty of conservative economists with great professional credentials, up to and including Nobel prizes. But the right isn't interested in their input. They get rolled out on occasion, mainly as mascots. But the economists with a real following, the economists who have some role in determining who gets the presidential nomination, are people like Kudlow, Stephen Moore, and Art Laffer. [ . . . ]

    Maybe the right prefers guys without credentials because they really know how things work, although I'd argue that this proposition can be refuted with two words: Larry Kudlow. More likely, it's that affinity fraud thing: Professors, even if they're conservative, just aren't the base's kind of people. I don't think it's an accident that Kudlow still dresses like Gordon Gekko after all these years.

    Also see Krugman's Slandering the 70s. Some time back I read Robert J. Samuelson's The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath: The Past and Future of American Affluence, which tries to argue that the stagflation of the 1970s was every bit as disastrous as the Great Depression. I figured out that Samuelson's mind was permanently wedged -- a conclusion that's been repeatedly reaffirmed ever since -- but I never quite understood why he was so agitated. Krugman's third graph suggests an answer: changes in income for the top 1% only rose by about 1% from 1973-1979, vs. 72% for 1979-1989, 55% for 1989-2000, and 13% for 2000-2007. Moreover, median income 1973-79 was up nearly 4%, so the elite 1% actually trailed the economy as a whole. Still, no one actually came out and said that the right turn from 1979 through Reagan's reign was needed because capital returns during the 1970s were insufficient. But that does seem to be the thing that motivated the rich to so brazenly exploit the corruptibility of the American political system to advance their own interests. And they succeeded spectacularly, so much so that there doesn't seem to be any countervaling power that can bring the system back toward equilibrium. On the other hand, the second surprise in the chart is the relatively anemic gains of the 1% under Bush, as the increasingly inequal economy started to drag everyone down -- an effect Bush was desperate to hide behind tax cuts, booming deficits, and the real estate bubble.

  • Mike Konczal: Why Are Liberals Resigned to Low Wages? I'm not sure that Konczal's term "liberal nihilism" helps us in any way, but I am reminded that throughout history liberals, unlike labor socialists, have sucked up the notion of free markets -- one source of our political dysfunction is that even left-of-center we tend to confuse two rather different sets of political ideas. But Konczal is right that the stagnant or declining wages -- one part of the increasing inequality problem -- has little to do with the "stories" you hear urging resignation to the status quo. He explains:

    But wage growth is also a matter of how our productive enterprises are organized. Over the past thirty-five years, a "shareholder revolution" has re-engineered our companies in order to channel wealth toward the top, especially corporate executives and shareholders, rather than toward innovation, investments and workers' wages. As the economist J.W. Mason recently noted, companies used to borrow to invest before the 1980s; now they borrow to give money to stockholders. Meanwhile, innovations in corporate structures, including contingent contracts and franchise models, have shifted the risk down, toward precarious workers, even as profits rise. As a result, the basic productive building blocks of our economy are now inequality-generating machines.

    The third driver of wage stagnation is government policy. As anthropologist David Graeber puts it, "Whenever someone starts talking about the 'free market,' it's a good idea to look around for the man with the gun." Despite the endless talk of a "free market," our economy is shaped by myriad government policies -- and no matter where we look, we see government policies working against everyday workers. Whether it's letting the real value of the minimum wage decline, making it harder to unionize, or creating bankruptcy laws and intellectual-property regimes that primarily benefit capital and the 1 percent, the way the government structures markets is responsible for weakening labor and causing wages to stay stuck.

    Konczal delves deeper into the robots story here.

  • Various links on or related to the Netanyahu speech:

Also, a few links for further study:

  • Andrew Bacevich: How to Create a National Insecurity State: Much here going back to Vietnam, occasioned by Christian Appy's new book, American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity, but in the plus ça change, plus c'est le même chose spirit I want to point out this paragraph on Obama's new Defense Secretary, Ash Carter:

    So on his second day in office, for example, he dined with Kenneth Pollack, Michael O'Hanlon, and Robert Kagan, ranking national insecurity intellectuals and old Washington hands one and all. Besides all being employees of the Brookings Institution, the three share the distinction of having supported the Iraq War back in 2003 and calling for redoubling efforts against ISIS today. For assurances that the fundamental orientation of U.S. policy is sound -- we just need to try harder -- who better to consult than Pollack, O'Hanlon, and Kagan (any Kagan)?

  • Subhankar Banerjee: Arctic Nightmares: Author of Arctic Voices: Resistance at the Tipping Point, on oil exploration in the Arctic Ocean, what it entails, and where it's taking us.

  • Lee Drutman: A Lobbyist Just for You: Businesses have hired lobbyists in Washington to defend and advance their interests in all matter of ways. Sometimes they seek advantages over other businesses, as in the recent squabble between retailers and banks over "cash card" fees, but mostly they seek to cheat the less organized "public interest" -- i.e., you. We could seek to limit their predation by regulating lobbying, but courts have increasingly viewed that as a restriction of free speech (the idea that corporations should enjoy individual rights weighs in here, even though "free speech" for corporations is mostly a matter of money pushing its weight around -- there's nothing free about it). So Drutman poses another approach, which is to support public interest lobbyists as an antidote to private interest lobbyists. He also proposes more transparency in lobbying, and more competent staff for Congress to sort through the pros and expose the cons of lobby propaganda. It's a useful start, but he ignores another aspect, which is all the PAC money going to elect Congress in the first place.

  • Phillip Longman: Lost in Obamacare: A review of Steven Brill: America's Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Back-Room Deals, and the Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System, promising "Buried in Steven Brill's convoluted tome are important truths about how to reform our health care delivery system." That does indeed take some digging, even in the review, but here's one point:

    What Brill gets most importantly right about the political economy of health care is the role that provider cartels and monopolies increasingly play in driving up prices. He provides excellent on-the-ground reporting, for example, on how the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has emerged as a "super monopoly" dominating the health care market of all of western Pennsylvania -- first by buying up rival hospitals or luring away their most profitable doctors, and now by vertically integrating to become a dominating health insurance company as well.

    Brill similarly reports how the Yale-New Haven Hospital gobbled up its last remaining local competitor in 2012 to become a multibillion-dollar colossus. Importantly, Brill shows readers how, after the merger, an insurer could not "negotiate discounts with Yale-New Haven," because "it could not possibly sell insurance to area residents without including the only available hospital in its network and the increasing share of the area's doctors whose practices were also being bought up by the hospital."

    Obamacare essentially attempted to rebalance the health care industry on a basis of universal coverage as opposed to the previous (and worsening) basis of discriminatory insurance pricing (which had pushed most Americans out of the market, often into "safety net" programs), while leaving the rest of the profit-seeking industry unchanged. That was a real improvement, but a rather temporary one as the industry adjusts to the changes. Clearly one such adjustment is increasing consolidation and monopoly rents. I know, for instance, that the largest hospital in Wichita (Via Christi) has been buying up previously independent physician groups. At the very least, this calls for aggressive antitrust enforcement -- something Bush destroyed and Obama has been loathe to resurrect. Or single-payer. Or both.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Daily Log

Good letters in Wichita Eagle today. Gretchen Eick:

War on education is a nightmare

Kansans are living a horror movie. The governor recently cut $44.5 million from public education to help cover his horrific budget gap this fiscal year of more than $300 million. Another shortfall of more than $600 million is expected for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Who doesn't know that tax cuts for the wealthy produced this?

Meanwhile, the mindless majority in the Kansas Senate passed a bill that would criminalize teachers and librarians who expose students to material deemed harmful.

These Neanderthals also want to repeal five years of work by educators on the Common Core standards. This could also cancel Advanced Placement classes and the International Baccalaureate program. How would our students be competitive with students from other states?

Kansas Republicans would also cut by more than half Parents as Teachers funds for early childhood education.

Our governor and Legislature are waging war against public education and the dedicated teachers on the front lines. This is a nightmare.

Also Laura Tillem:

Pushing us to war

Israel and its belligerent leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are the only serious threat I face as an American Jew.

Netanyahu helped push the United States into the stupid Iraq War. Now we face the prospect of our Congress giving in to the aggressive Israeli desire to see us go to war with Iran.

Israel does not speak for me and many other American Jews. Israel is the one with nuclear bombs that the world is not supposed to mention, let alone inspect. Netanyahu's Israel is the one whose politicians threaten to nuke Iran. Israel is the one pretending to be afraid of ISIS but underplaying its horrors because ISIS is an enemy of Iran.

His Israel is the one that goes around trying to undermine and manipulate our U.S. democratic elections and blackmail or buy out our politicians. Israel is the one that has taken more U.S. aid than any other country ever.

Can we please remember this quote from our "friend" Bibi? "If you take out Saddam, Saddam's regime, I guarantee you that it will have enormous positive reverberations on the region."

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Daily Log

Took the " Experience Survey (March 2015). My answer to "6. What issues did you face or what question sdid you have when filling out your application or looking for plans?"

First time there were numerous problems with site availability, state maintenance, restarting procedure. Not clear why all the info requested is needed. Many plans were offered with little differences, including many plans with inapplicable features (e.g., childhood dental). Second time unclear how to continue previous plan. Both times provided insufficient feedback that enrollment was successful -- seems like expects the insurance company to handle the response, but my insurance company (BSBCKS) didn't do that, so I had to wait days/weeks for confirmation. I've never explored dental insurance options because I didn't want to further complicate health insurance enrollment. I've seen warnings that I need to file some sort of income documentation to continue getting my discounts, but it's not clear how to do that -- I'm hoping my tax person will know what to do there. I get email from you about messages sent to me, but don't get the messages in my email. I have to log in to access the messages, and never seem to be able to find them.

David Everall wrote me a letter, asking this question:

Secondly, when you state "As long as recorded music is treated as private monopoly instead of as a public resource we're cheating ourselves out of a higher standard of living and cultural understanding." I'd be interested to know how you feel artists should be remunerated for their work. Your post seems to imply that all music should be available for free on sights such as Rhapsody. If you've ever posted anything related to this issue I'd appreciate being pointed towards it.

Rather belatedly, I wrote back:

Not sure if I've ever written at more length on this specific question -- something that should be worked out in the "Share the Wealth" project. One point is that we could significantly reduce copyright periods without having any significant impact on the motivations of creators. Another is that more mechanical licensing (as opposed to monopoly rents) within the copyright period would make for wider distribution. Another is that even under the current regime we're seeing a lot of music freely released -- mostly with some promo angle, but enough that a person could easily fill every waking minute with free music and never hear the same thing twice. Even if copyrights were abolished (which, unlike patents, isn't something I particularly advocate) it seems likely that there would still be a lot of new recorded music released -- maybe at first not as much as now, certainly not exactly the same musicians as now, and maybe the "quality" would lag a bit, but a lot more than anyone could handle. Then, of course, you could add other means of inducements or motivations -- Kickstarter type things, prizes, resume builders, other private or public grants. Also worth noting that changes to society/economy that make possible more leisure time would result in more music being given away -- it's not something that can only get done by paying people to do it.

I'm not saying that Rhapsody should be free. As with software, I don't mind people trying to build a business around distributing and sorting free content. Of course, if the content is indeed free, the businesses will have to be competitive and efficient.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Daily Log

I wrote the following about Minnie Minoso in a facebook comment:

As someone who stopped paying attention to baseball in the late 1990s, but who knew a great deal about its history up to then, I was a little surprised in reading Minnie Minoso's obits that he hadn't been inducted into the BBHOF. He wasn't a classic power hitter like Mays or Aaron (out in the midwest I followed the later more closely and consider them to be very close to equals), but he was a very good hitter and very solid all-around ballplayer for a very long time. His longevity helps you forget that he missed about as much of his prime career to segregation as Monte Irvin (in the HOF) and that if he had come up when he was talented enough he almost certainly would have wound up with 3,000 hits. I always thought he had a strong (though not "slam dunk" HOF case) even apart from his special merit as the black Cuban pioneer. Way back when, though, I figured him a victim of what I thought of as the cult of Branch Rickey: to make Rickey look even braver than he was, the HOF nabobs slighted the contributions of other owners and players who made critical advances in integrating baseball -- above all Bill Veeck. The actual contrast there is interesting: where Rickey only signed established negro league stars still in the first half of their careers (Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe -- basically certain stars; and he passed Irvin on to the Giants because he didn't want his team to become too black), Veeck signed players Rickey wouldn't touch: Larry Doby was too young, Satchel Paige was too old, Luke Easter was a lot older than he let on, and Minoso was Cuban. Most important, all of those signings worked out (although Paige and Easter didn't last long). Since I lost interest, Veeck and Doby made the Hall of Fame. The case for Minoso is if anything better than the one for Doby. Back when I tried to rank baseball players I had him close to (or maybe even ahead of) Roberto Clemente.

Interesting that Elvis Costello took the time to come up with a list of "500 albums essential to a happy life" -- I can do quite happily without all the classical myself, but while there are a few records I dislike on the list, more I would nitpick, and many more that I'd say he missed, it is a pretty decent list.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 24592 [24560] rated (+32), 499 [493] unrated (+6).

Surprised at all the mail that came in this past week, especially today. (I don't always get Monday's mail added into Unpacking, but this week I did.) In particular, I've gotten more than a few packages from publicists who seemed to give up on me years ago. I'm not sure whether I should be gratified by the recognition. I've actually been quite bummed this winter with my inability to move on to what seem to me to be more serious writing projects.

A mid-week check suggested that the ratings rate was falling off, possibly because the EOY Aggregate File seems finally to be finished. (Don't know what happened to the Dean's List I promised last week.) But bad weather kept me inside, and the growing queue encourage me to pick some items off. May also have helped that I have more than the usual number of recommendations to make this week. I started off last week checking out some records featuring the late trumpet player Clark Terry: Dinah Washington was the first of a great many singers to tap Terry; I only found one record he recorded with Coleman Hawkins, but it grew on me (as Hawk almost always does); the Buddy Tate didn't include Terry (some confusion on my part, but I followed through anyway).

I looked for the Tristano several months ago but it wasn't available. I haven't received Uptown's vault releases for a couple years now, but have tried to catch them when they showed up on Rhapsody. I usually found them disappointing -- often sound, sometimes annoying patter or just uninspired performances, but Chicago 1951 grabbed me right away. There are other good examples of the interplay between Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz, but this is the best example I've found of Tristano's innovative playing. Braxton's duets with Dave Holland are also remarkable: Braxton has often been much easier to follow on standards than through his own knotty compositions, but you rarely get to focus so intently on his bass playing. The relationship between the two musicians goes back a couple years earlier, at least to Holland's 1972 album Conference of the Birds, with one of Braxton's most virtuosic performances ever.

Three new jazz albums made the grade -- all on European labels. Chris Lightcap's album jumped to the top of my nascent 2015 list. Non-jazz 2015 A-list albums continue to lag: I could cite Ghostface Killah's disc as the first of the year, but even there top billing went to the Canadian jazz group BadBadNotGood. I was tempted by A Place to Bury Strangers, but didn't feel like a second spin would make a difference.

Also in today's mail were copies of Robert Christgau's new memoir, Going Into the City: Portrait of a Critic as a Young Man, and Carola Dibbell's first published (but not first written) novel, The Only Ones. I read an early draft of the former, and my wife read an even earlier draft of the latter. Christgau's book was released last week, so I've been gathering links of reviews and interviews for possible use on his website. I'm not sure how many of these we will use on the website, but here is my current, unexpurgated list:

For more on Carola's novel, look here.

New records rated this week:

  • BadBadNotGood & Ghostface Killah: Sour Soul (2015, Lex): a very noir-ish (if not exactly jazzy) soundtrack for "pimping ain't easy" raps [r]: A-
  • Daniel Bennett Group: The Mystery at Clown Castle (2014 [2015], Manhattan Daylight): saxophonist, can cruise with a good beat but too much shout/circus/flute here [cd]: B+(*)
  • Mike Campbell: Close Enough for Love (2014 [2015], ITI): standards singer, makes the most of Steely Dan, much less of Kenny Loggins [cd]: B+(*)
  • Chamber 3: Grassroots (2013 [2015], OA2): guitar-sax-drums trio + bassist for good measure, not a chamber jazz lineup, even when coverng Nirvana [cd]: B+(*)
  • Lainie Cooke: The Music Is the Magic (2014 [2015], Onyx Music): standards singer, draws more on jazz repertoire than cabaret, gets help from Myron Walden [cd]: B
  • Paul Elwood: Nice Folks (2011 [2015], Innova): banjo player recapitulates career, starting with folk songs, moving on to avant and/or worldly groove [cd]: B+(***)
  • Otzir Godot: In- (2014 [2015], Epatto): Finnish percussionist cuts a solo album; tunings are unique but I prefer the drumming to the ambient noise [cd]: B+(**)
  • Milford Graves & Bill Laswell: Space/Time · Redemption (2013 [2015], TUM): legendary drummer gets help from bassist who adds just enough body [cd]: A-
  • Mark Helias Open Loose: The Signal Maker (2014 [2015], Intakt): puzzling over why Tony Malaby never breaks loose, I see the bassist wrote the tunes [cd]: B+(***)
  • Eddie Henderson: Collective Portrait (2014 [2015], Smoke Sessions): trumpet-led classic hard bop quintet, Gary Bartz on alto, George Cables riffing blues [r]: B+(**)
  • I Never Meta Guitar Three (2011-13 [2015], Clean Feed): Elliott Sharp's invitational for solo avant-jazz guitarists, looking to break new ground, or strings [cd]: B+(**)
  • The Susan Krebs Chamber Band: Simple Gifts (2014 [2015], GreenGig Music): jazz singer backed by piano-reeds-percussion-violin/viola, a crucial weepy effect [cd]: B+(***)
  • Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth: Epicenter (2013 [2015], Clean Feed): two saxes (Malaby & Cheek), stellar work by Craig Taborn, especially on the VU cover [cd]: A-
  • Chad McCullough & Bram Weijters: Abstract Quantities (2014 [2015], Origin): Dutch-US (Seattle) quartet, postbop so skilled I never noticed a thing [cd]: B+(*)
  • Tatsuya Nakatani/Kris Tiner/Jeremy Drake: Ritual Inscription (2012, Epigraph, LP): avant-jazz from Bakersfield, ground fractured forever shifting [bc]: B+(**)
  • Not Twice: Flight Plans (2014, Epigraph, EP): avant-trumpeter Kris Tiner backed with keybs/electronics, not much traction for trumpet, short too [bc]: B
  • Kate Pierson: Guitars and Microphones (2015, Lazy Meadow Music): B-52s singer goes solo, sets up the classic beat but doesn't quite hit the punch lines [r]: B+(*)
  • A Place to Bury Strangers: Transfixiation (2015, Dead Oceans): sort of heavy metal shoegaze, trading fuzzy noise for something harder [r]: B+(***)
  • Chris Potter Underground Orchestra: Imaginary Cities (2013 [2015], ECM): still kicks ass when he solos, still struggles as a big band arranger [dl]: B+(**)
  • Reggie Quinerly: Invictus (2014 [2015], Redefinition Music): drummer-led quintet, the vibes-guitar-piano adding up to frothy lightness [cd]: B+(*)
  • Schlippenbach Trio: Features (2013 [2015], Intakt): with Evan Parker and Paul Lovens, together since 1972, free jazz fractured but superbly balanced [cd]: A-
  • Songsmith Collective: Songsmith Collective (2014 [2015], Blujazz): Andrew Rathbun's homework assignment: take a poem, compose a score, sing it backed by jazz nonet [cd]: B
  • Jack Wright/Ben Wright/Kris Tiner: For Instance (2014, Epigraph): father-son sax-bass duo, avant-wilderness wanderers, meet trumpeter with label [bc]: B+(*)

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

  • Anthony Braxton: Trio and Duet (1974 [2015], Delmark/Sackville): an amusingly abstract puzzle for trio, plus you-focused standards with Dave Holland [cd]: A-
  • The Rough Guide to African Rare Groove: Volume 1 ([2015], World Music Network): one suspects that what makes it rare is the not quite fully realized groove [r]: B+(**)
  • Lennie Tristano: Chicago April 1951 (1951 [2014], Uptown, 2CD): with disciples Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh, of course, a slightly stranger shade of bebop [r]: A-

Old records rated this week:

  • Coleman Hawkins/Clark Terry: Back in Bean's Bag (1962 [2014], Essential Jazz Classics): relaxed mainstream swing masters, with Tommy Flanagan; reissue adds much[r]: A-
  • Buddy Tate Quartet & Quintet: Tate a Tete: At La Fontaine, Copenhagen (1975 [1999], Storyville): Texas tenor goes to Denmark, picks up local band including Tete Montoilu [r]: B+(**)
  • Dinah Washington: Dinah Jams (1954 [1997], Verve): one party everyone wanted to jump into; trumpets alone: Brown, Terry, Ferguson [r]: A-
  • Dinah Washington: Sings Fats Waller (1957 [2010], Fresh Sound): Eddie Chamblee's duets don't mesh, but she gets under the skin of "Black & Blue" [r]: B+(**)
  • Dinah Washington: Sings Bessie Smith (1957-58 [2010], Fresh Sound): she's more polished but savors Smith's grit and sass while the trombone gets dirty [r]: B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Christian Artmann: Fields of Pannonia (self-released): April 7
  • Atomic: Lucidity (Jazzland): March 17
  • Dewa Budjana: Hasta Karma (Moonjune)
  • Anat Cohen: Luminosa (Anzic): March 17
  • Dahi Divine: The Element (Right Direction): April 7
  • John Fedchock Quartet: Live: Fluidity (Summit)
  • Janice Friedman Trio: Live at Kitano (CAP)
  • Milford Graves & Bill Laswell: Space/Time · Redemption (TUM)
  • Mikko Innanen: Song for a New Decade (TUM, 2CD)
  • Jenna Mammina & Rolf Sturm: Spark (Water Street Music): April 7
  • Myra Melford: Snowy Egret (Enja/Yellowbird): March 24
  • Merzbow/Balasz Pandi/Mats Gustafsson/Thurston Moore: Cuts of Guilt/Cuts Deeper (Rare Noise, 2CD): advance, April 7
  • Levon Mikaelian: United Shades of Artistry (self-released): April 7
  • Billy Mintz: The 2 Bass Band . . . Live (Thirteenth Note): May 12
  • Kyle Nasser: Restive Soul (AISA): March 24
  • Hailey Niswanger: PDX Soul (Calmit Productions): April 7
  • Kim Pensyl: Foreign Love Affair (Summit)
  • Roberta Piket: Emanation (Solo: Volume 2) (Thirteenth Note): May 12
  • Raoul: The Spanish Donkey (Rare Noise): advance, April 7
  • Sachal: Slow Motion Miracles (Okeh): advance, April 7
  • Benny Sharoni: Slant Signature (Papaya): March 17
  • Ryan Truesdell: Lines of Color (Blue Note/ArtistShare): March 17
  • Mark Wingfield: Proof of Light (Moonjune)

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Weekend Roundup

The Kansas state legislature has past the half-way point in their scheduled session this year, and the Republicans there have already succeeded in their most evident goal: to make Kansas the laughing stock of the nation (with all due respect to the state legislatures of Texas and Missouri). Crowson's cartoon:

This primarily refers to a bill that passed the Senate (see Luke Brinker: Kansas could put teachers in prison for assigning books prosecutors don't like), but the war on public schools has gone through a number of skirmishes: first and foremost a massive funding cut -- from levels that the courts had already established were the minimum required by the state constitution. But also there have been two bills to rejigger the election of local school boards (a festering ground for people likely to sue when the state doesn't deliver its mandated funding): one is to move the election dates and make them partisan (assuming the Republican brand holds; voters have been known to accidentally elect Democrats in non-partisan elections), and another to make it illegal for any schoolteacher or relative of a schoolteacher to run for any school board (this would, for instance, disqualify 2014 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Paul Davis). There is also a bill, still pending, where the state would pay foster parents more for foster children who are privately- or home-schooled.

Some more scattered links this week:

  • Dean Baker: Robert Samuelson's 'Golden Age' Mythology: I actually read Samuelson's book The Great Inflation and Its Aftermath: The American Dream in the Age of Entitlement (2008), where he argues that the inflation spiral of the 1970s was every bit as damaging as the Great Depression in the 1930s -- a point my parents, who lived through both, would have found incredible. So I'm well prepared to reject anything Samuelson has to say, but note the following:

    Robert Samuelson (Washington Post, 2/22/15) was inspired by a graph in the new Economic Report of the President to tell readers that the real problem for the middle class is not inequality but rather productivity growth. His point is that if we had kept up the rates of productivity growth of the Golden Age (1943-73), it would have mattered much more to middle-income families' living standards than the rise in inequality since 1980.

    This is true in the sense of "if I were six feet five inches, I would be taller than I am," but it's not clear what we should make of the point. We don't know how to have more rapid productivity growth (at least not Golden Age rates), so saying that we should want more rapid productivity growth is sort of like hoping for the Second Coming.

    Superficially, Samuelson is just grasping at straws to dismiss the obvious effects of increasing inequality. Sure, if we had much more productivity growth, the middle class might be better off, but only if it were possible for the middle class to capture a substantial share of that productivity growth -- but in recent years, no share of productivity growth has gone to increased wages. As Baker points out:

    If we can only sustain the 1.5 percent annual productivity growth of the slowdown years (1973-1995), this would still imply income gains of almost 60 percent over three decades. While it would of course be better to have Golden Age productivity growth, since we don't know how to get back such rapid growth, why not pursue the policies that we know will be effective in restoring middle class income growth?

    It is also worth noting that these equality enhancing policies are also likely to provide some boost to productivity. We know that the most important determinant of investment is growth in demand. This means that if we push the economy, rather than have the Fed slam on the brakes with higher interest rates, we will likely see more investment in new plant, equipment and software, and therefore more productivity growth.

    In addition, in a tighter labor market workers will leave low-productivity jobs for jobs with higher productivity that offer higher wages. A reason that many workers, including many with college degrees, have taken jobs in restaurants is that there are not better-paying jobs available. If the economy were stronger, better jobs would be available causing productivity to rise due to a shift in composition.

    The bulk of the article reviews Samuelson's period breakdown and shows where his effort to force history into his preconceived periods breaks down. Baker skips over the question of why 1946-64 productivity levels are no longer attainable, but James K. Galbraith wrote a whole book on the subject: The End of Normal: The Great Crisis and the Future of Growth (2014) -- something I'll get around to writing about sooner or later.

    By the way, see Galbraith's Reading the Greek Deal Correctly. He sees the recent agreement between Greece's new left-leaning government and the ECB not as a defeat for Greece's voters so much as a way everyone can save face by kicking the ball down the road a few weeks.

  • Josh Marshall: Kerry's Clean Hit: When John Kerry pointed out how wrong Benjamin Netanyahu's predictions supporting the 2003 Iraq War were, I recalled how Kerry had voted for the Iraq War Resolution in 2002 and wrote them off as two peas in the same pod. Marshall argues that Kerry's position was more, uh, nuanced than my memory recalled:

    There's some important background on this new intrusion of the Iraq War into the current debate about Iran, Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli election. It's true that like a number of Senate Democrats, John Kerry voted for the Iraq War resolution in late 2002. That was due to a mix of belief in national unity, political cowardice and a credulous assumption that President Bush was actually on the level when he said he needed the authorization to wage war to avoid it, to get inspectors back into Iraq. It was or should have been clear that this was not true, that inspectors and Weapons of Mass Destruction were not the goal that made the threat of war necessary. They were cudgels and covers to help make the war a fait accompli.

    Many Democrats either didn't think Saddam would relent or thought that if he did, Bush would lose his casus belli. I don't exonerate them. They were helped along in these maybe misunderstandings by a health dose of cowardice and what they saw at the time as political self-preservation. As it happened, when Bush lost his rationale for war, he simply invaded anyway.

    This was mainly obvious at the time, not entirely obvious to everyone. But to suggest that Secretary Kerry 'supported' the Iraq War like President Bush or Benjamin Netanyahu is silly.

    That brings us to Netanyahu. Some believe that the Israeli government either wanted the Iraq War to happen or goaded the Americans into the attack. In fact, the Israeli security establishment was very divided on the wisdom of the US administration's policy. Indeed, Ariel Sharon pointedly warned President Bush of the dangers of what he was planning. Indeed, the best account of his discussions with President Bush suggests his warnings were highly prescient -- about the spillover of radicalism growing out of a US occupation, the zero sum empowerment of Iran and more.

    It was Netanyahu, then technically a private citizen, though he would soon enter Sharon's government in late 2002 who not only supported a US attack on Iraq but advocated for it endlessly within the US.

    Italics in the original; I added the bold. Of course, the practical effect of Kerry, Clinton, Edwards, and others in voting for Bush's Iraq War Resolution was to rubber-stamp the invasion. (As I recall Marshall at least wobbled on the war plans: in particular, I recall him praising Kenneth Pollack's influential pro-war book, The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq.) But he is right that Netanyahu's warmongering went much further, both in words and in actually lining up his rich American donor network to lobby war support. Marshall also includes a video of Netanyahu testifying before a House committee promoting the war. Even among Israelis few politicians have that sort of chutzpah. Of course, no one's dredging this episode up because we're interested in learning from history. Netanyahu's past record of influencing Congress matters right now because he's still at it, with an invitation by House Republicans to address Congress to try to undo any progress Obama might make on negotiating a deal that would ensure that Iran not develop nuclear weapons. I haven't bothered collecting links on the various aspects of this -- either the propriety of Natanyahu's speech (widely opposed both in Israel and in the US) or on the tortuous negotiations (often hamstrung by hypothetical scenarios only Americans can imagine). (OK, if you are curious, check out: Paul R Pillar; Gareth Porter, also here; Robert Einhorn; William J Perry, et al.; Jeffrey Simpson; JJ Goldberg; Stephen M Walt (interview); Philip Weiss; Richard Silverstein.) Also, let's quote from Jeffrey Goldberg: A Partial Accounting of the Damage Netanyahu Is Doing to Israel (recalling that Goldberg has a long history of parrotting whatever Israel's current propaganda line is on Iran):

    Netanyahu is engaging in behavior that is without precedent: He is apparently so desperate to stay in office that he has let the Republicans weaponize his country in their struggle against a Democratic president they despise. Boehner seeks to do damage to Obama, and he has turned Netanyahu into an ally in this cause. It's not entirely clear here who is being played.

    For decades, it has been a cardinal principle of Israeli security and foreign-policy doctrine that its leaders must cultivate bipartisan support in the United States, and therefore avoid even the appearance of favoritism. This is the official position of the leading pro-Israel lobbying group in Washington, AIPAC, as well, which is why its leaders are privately fuming about Netanyahu's end-run around the White House. Even though AIPAC's leadership leans right, the organization knows that support for Israel in America must be bipartisan in order for it to be stable. "Dermer and Netanyahu don't believe that Democrats are capable of being pro-Israel, which is crazy for a lot of reasons, but one of the main reasons is that most Jews are Democrats," one veteran AIPAC leader told me.

    In Israel, cynicism about Netanyahu's intentions is spreading. "Netanyahu, who purports to be the big expert on everything American, subordinated Israel's most crucial strategic interests to election considerations, and the repercussions will endure for some time," Chuck Freilich, a former deputy head of Israel's National Security Council, wrote last week.

  • Robert Wright: The Clash of Civilizations That Isn't: Reaction to Roger Cohen's polarizing rant, "Islam and the West at War," along with Graeme Wood's Atlantic piece, "What ISIS Really Wants" (links in the article if you really want them). You may recall that GW Bush (aside from a momentary slip-of-the-tongue about "crusades") was very careful to make clear that his Global War on Terror wasn't a campaign against his family friends in Saudi Arabia. (Indeed, Bush was practically the only politician in America to defend a deal that would sell US ports to Abu Dhabi: proof, if you want it, that for him at least money always trumps identity.) But most Americans have never been very disciplined or principled about distinguishing the targets of our wars from anyone else who might share superficial traits, so it isn't surprising that prolonged war with self-identified Muslims should result in more than random acts of slander and violence. In the days of purely nationalist wars (e.g., the two World Wars), this was mostly ugly and repaired easy enough once the war ended. (Indeed, the anti-Kraut hysteria of WWI was much reduced in WWII, as the embarrassment of the former provided a vaccination against repeat in the latter -- not that Japanese-Americans were spared.) But in more recent wars -- let's call them "post-colonial" -- US entry is predicated on dividing populations into groups we call allies and enemies, one we support and the other we kill, and in such wars any mental generalization undermines the mission and ultimately loses the war. (Vietnam is as good an example of the dynamic as Afghanistan or Iraq, but the downside was much more limited there: it ultimately turned into a nationalist war, with the US deciding that perpetual scorn and isolation was still some measure of victory.)

    Those post-colonial wars have, without exception that I am aware of, been fools' missions, but they would pale compared to the fevered notion that "the West" must wage war with all of Islam -- well over one billion people, including a few million already resident in "the West." Wright points out that this insanity can point to an intellectual pedigree:

    In 1996, when I reviewed Samuel Huntington's book The Clash of Civilizations for Slate, I fretted that Huntington's world view could become "a self-fulfilling prophecy." This was before 9/11, and I wasn't thinking about Islam in particular. Huntington's book was about "fault lines" dividing various "civilizations," and I was just making the general point that if we think of, say, Japanese people as radically different from Americans -- as Huntington's book, I believed, encouraged us to do -- we were more likely to treat Japan in ways that deepened any Japanese-Western fault line.

    Since 9/11, I've realized that, in the case of Islam, the forces that could make the clash of civilizations a self-fulfilling prophecy are particularly powerful. For one thing, in this case, our actual enemies, such as Al Qaeda and ISIS, themselves favor the clash-of-civilizations narrative, and do their best to encourage it. When the Atlantic tells us that ISIS is "very Islamic" and the New York Times runs the headline "Islam and the West at War," it's party time in Mosul. Order up another round of decapitations! Get Roger Cohen more freaked out! Maybe he'll keep broadcasting a key recruiting pitch of both Al Qaeda and ISIS: that the West is at war with Islam! (Wood noted, a week after his article appeared, its "popularity among ISIS supporters.")

    Wright doesn't go very deeply into the people in "the West" that buy into this "clash of civilizations" malarkey, except to note:

    I don't think it's a coincidence that commentators who dismiss attempts to understand the "root causes" of extremism tend to be emphatic in linking the extremism to Islam, and often favor a massively violent response to it.

    By the way, the wind is at their backs. Last week, CBS News reported that, for the first time, a majority of Americans polled -- fifty-seven per cent -- favored sending ground troops to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

    Haven't we seen this movie? The Iraq War, more than any other single factor, created ISIS. After the 2003 invasion, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian who led an obscure group of radical Islamists, rebranded it as an Al Qaeda affiliate and used the wartime chaos of Iraq to expand it. Al-Zarqawi's movement came to be known as Al Qaeda in Iraq, and then evolved into ISIS.

    Note that more and more post-colonial rationales -- the idea that we're fighting for some (good) Afghanis/Iraqis/Muslims against other (bad) ones -- is giving way to outright nationalist/colonialist ideas (not yet with Obama and his echelons but with the people most loudly beating the war drums).

    Also worth quoting Paul Woodward on ISIS and the caliphate:

    Millions of Muslims, without being extremists of any variety, see the Islamic world as having been carved up by Western colonialism, robbed of its sovereignty, and placed under the control of compliant and corrupt rulers. Broadly speaking, what's on offer right now is a brutal ISIS caliphate vs. a fractious status quo. That seems like a lousy choice.

    As Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and Libya demonstrated over the last half century, the project of pan-Arab secular nationalism was a spectacular failure.

    On the other hand, the Arab monarchies have the durability of a chronic disease -- their ability to survive has accomplished little more than cripple the region.

    If ISIS and the other forms of Islamic extremism are seen for what they are -- symptoms of a disease, rather than the disease itself -- then the remedy cannot be found by merely looking for ways to suppress its symptoms.

Also, a few links for further study:

  • Henry Farrell: Dark Leviathan: Subhed: "The Silk Road might have started as a libertarian experiment, but it was doomed to end as a fiefdom run by pirate kings." As a libertarian experiment, this reminds me of some of those Murray Rothbard schemes I typeset for the Kochs back in the 1970s -- especially the naive notion that trust can be comoditized and brokered through a marketplace.

    All of these petty principalities are vulnerable to criminals trying to extract ransom, and increasingly to law enforcement, which has inveigled its way into trusted positions so that it can gather information and destroy illicit marketplaces. The libertarian hope that markets could sustain themselves through free association and choice is a chimera with a toxic sting in its tail. Without state enforcement, the secret drug markets of Tor hidden services are coming to resemble an anarchic state of nature in which self-help dominates.

  • Nancy Le Tourneau: The Scott Walker Antidote: Minnesota: Compares and contrasts the results of Democratic government in Minnesota under Mark Dayton and Republican government in Wisconsin with Scott Walker. You can follow up with Ed Kilgore: Scott Walker's Koch Angle: you don't have to be as screwed up as Kansas to get screwed. For more on Walker, see A Noun, a Verb, and "Union Thugs".

Monday, February 23, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 24560 [24527] rated (+33), 493 [501] unrated (-8).

Wichita got hit by two snowstorms last week. Cumulative damage is about an inch on the grass, less on the concrete. I figure that if I don't pay it any attention it'll vanish by tomorrow afternoon. Cold today, though. The weather did keep me inside, and I bagged the usual bounty of records. Three of this week's four A- records came from very late-breaking, currently unpublished EOY lists: Lucas Fagen came up with a half-dozen albums I had yet to hear of -- mostly K-Pop and Middle Eastern pop or classical, with Nancy Ajram the one that clicked hardest. Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Wormburner appeared on Robert Christgau's Dean's List (or should appear when it's published at BN Review, most likely this week). Those bring my 2014 A-list to 155 records (plus 24 compilations). I think that qualifies as the longest EOY list this year -- John Mulvey stopped at 154 albums, Jason Gubbels at 150, Under the Radar at 140) -- oops, metal-friendly (but not exclusively so) Louder Than War went all the way to 200 albums, but figure that as a staff (not an individual) list. The secret to a long list is listening to a lot of records (in my case, 1206 last year) and having broad taste and a relatively open mind. I couldn't have come remotely close to that much coverage had it not been for streaming services like Rhapsody, freely streamable albums such as one finds on Bandcamp, and more or less legit downloadables (although frankly I've taken very little advantage of the latter). Still, there were hundreds of albums I searched for but couldn't find, and who knows how many worthwhile items I never knew about. As long as recorded music is treated as private monopoly instead of as a public resource we're cheating ourselves out of a higher standard of living and cultural understanding.

Robert Christgau's memoir, Going Into the City: A Portrait of a Critic as a Young Man (Dey Street Books) will be released tomorrow (Tuesday, February 24). I read an early draft of the book, so know that it starts with his childhood, goes through adolescence, college, his discovery that "a rock and roll critic is something to be" (my phrase with a hat tip to the Byrds -- I used it in my contribution to his Festschrift), his tenure editing the music section at The Village Voice, up to 1985 when he became a father. I've known him since 1975, when he invited me to write for Voice music section (and befriended me), so I know some of this firsthand, some more secondhand, and learned much more. I'll write more once I've seen the published book, but can recommend it heartily to anyone even remotely interested in thinking about popular culture in the pivotal decade of the 1970s.

Meanwhile, those of you in New York should consider two book launch events this week:

  • Tuesday, Feb. 24, 7-8pm with Jody Rosen at Powerhouse Arena in Brooklyn [link]
  • Wednesday, Feb. 25, 7-8pm with Rob Sheffield at Strand Books in Manhattan [link]

Also, several excerpts from the book have been posted:

Not much on his website yet about the book, but I'm working on that.

Clark Terry died last week, age 94. My favorite tweet:

Christian McBride @mcbridesworld
Every musician in the world who ever met Clark Terry is a better musician & person because of it. He now belongs to the ages. RIP, sir.

According to Tom Lord, Terry recorded 902 sessions from February 1947 to July 2008 (114 as leader and 788 as sideman; PDF here).

Some Clark Terry records I recommend (mostly side credits although hardly ever marginal; he raised everyone's game, but the records he led were only rarely exceptional):

  • Count Basie: America's #1 Band: The Columbia Years (1935-50 [2003], Columbia/Legacy, 4CD): Terry played with Basie 1948-51, so only caught the end of this.
  • Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: Ellington Uptown (1947-52 [2004], Columbia/Legacy)
  • Dinah Washington: Dinah Jams (1954 [1997], Verve)
  • Duke Ellington and His Orchestra: Such Sweet Thunder (1955-56 [1999], Columbia/Legacy)
  • Duke Ellington: Ellington at Newport 1956 (Complete) (1956 [1999], Columbia/Legacy)
  • Thelonious Monk: Brilliant Corners (1956 [2008], Riverside)
  • Clark Terry Quintet: Serenade to a Bus Seat (1957 [1992], Riverside/OJC)
  • Ella Fitzgerald: Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook (1956-57 [1999], Verve, 3CD)
  • Clark Terry Quartet with Thelonious Monk: In Orbit (1958 [1987], Riverside OJC)
  • Duke Ellington: Blues in Orbit (1958-59 [2004], Columbia/Legacy)
  • Duke Ellington: Jazz Party (1959 [1991], Columbia/Legacy)
  • Duke Ellington: Anatomy of a Murder (1959 [1991], Rykodisc)
  • Jimmy Heath's Big Band: Really Big! (1960 [2007], Riverside)
  • Budd Johnson: Budd Johnson and the Four Brass Giants (1960 [1999], Riverside OJC): with Nat Adderley, Harry Edison, and Ray Nance
  • Dizzy Gillespie and His Orchestra: Gillespiana/Carnegie Hall Concert (1960-61 [1993], Verve)
  • Tubby Hayes/Clark Terry: New York Sessions (1961 [1990], Columbia)
  • Coleman Hawkins/Clark Terry: Back in Bean's Bag (1962 [2014], Essential Jazz Classics)
  • Oscar Peterson: Trio + One: Clark Terry (1964 [1984], Emarcy)
  • Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life (1964-65 [2000], Red Baron)
  • Earl Hines: Once Upon a Time (1966 [2003], Impulse)
  • Jimmy Rushing: Every Day I Have the Blues (1967 [1999], Impulse)
  • Duke Ellington: . . . And His Mother Called Him Bill (1967 [1987], RCA)
  • Swing Fever: Grand Masters of Jazz (1998-2001 [2013], Open Art): with Buddy DeFranco, Terry Gibbs, Jackie Ryan
  • Clark Terry/Max Roach: Friendship (2002 [2003], Eighty-Eights/Columbia)
  • Jon Faddis: Teranga (2005 [2006], Koch)
  • Louie Bellson/Clark Terry: Louie & Clark Expedition 2 (2007 [2008], Percussion Power)

Probably a lot more where those came from. Some other musicians who show up with albums in Terry's discography (I'm just looking at leaders; Lord has counted 2504 musicians Terry played with): Cannonball Adderley, Henry "Red" Allen, Gene Ammons, Louis Armstrong (Terry picked up the horn when Armstrong couldn't play on "What a Wonderful World"), Charlie Barnet, Art Blakey, Bob Brookmeyer, Ray Brown, Ruth Brown, Ray Bryant, Kenny Burrell, Benny Carter, Ray Charles, Al Cohn, Chris Connor, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Arne Domnerus, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Roy Eldridge, Bill Evans, Art Farmer, Bud Freeman, Stan Getz, Paul Gonsalves, Benny Goodman, Wendell Gray, Johnny Griffin, Bengt Hallberg, Woody Herman, Lionel Hampton, John Hicks, Johnny Hodges, Billie Holiday, Freddie Hubbard, Milt Jackson, J.J. Johnson, Hank Jones, Elvin Jones, Quincy Jones, Lee Konitz, Yusef Lateef, Abbey Lincoln, Herbie Mann, Marian McPartland, Jay McShann, Charles Mingus, Blue Mitchell, Modern Jazz Quartet, Wes Montgomery, James Moody, Gerry Mulligan (Concert Jazz Band), Oliver Nelson, Babatunde Olatunji, Flip Phillips, Bud Powell, Dianne Reeves, Sonny Rollins, Pee Wee Russell, Lalo Schifrin, Shirley Scott, Tony Scott, Horace Silver, Jimmy Smith, Martial Solal, Sonny Stitt, Buddy Tate, Billy Taylor, Cecil Taylor, Cal Tjader, Big Joe Turner, Stanley Turrentine, McCoy Tyner, UMO Jazz Orchestra, Sarah Vaughan, Ben Webster, Randy Weston, Ernie Wilkins, Joe Williams, Gerald Wilson, Teddy Wilson. (Incomplete, of course.)

It's too late for me to even bother trying to knock out tweet-views of this week's newly rated albums. We'll start next week with a clean slate -- and there will be reviews of all these albums in the next Rhapsody Streamnotes column, most likely in early March.

New records rated this week:

  • Nancy Ajram: Nancy 8 (2014, In2musica): [r]: A-
  • Béatrice Alunni/Marc Peillon: Dance With Me (2014 [2015], ITI): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Andy Brown: Soloist (2014 [2015], Delmark): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Harley Card: Hedgerow (2012 [2015], self-released): [cd]: B
  • Ernesto Cervini: Turboprop (2014 [2015], Anzic): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Dena DeRose: Travelin' Light: Live in Antwerp, Belgium (2010 [2012], MaxJazz): [r]: B+(*)
  • Laura Dickinson: One for My Baby: To Frank Sinatra With Love (2013 [2014], Blujazz): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Justin Townes Earle: Absent Fathers (2015, Vagrant): [r]: B+(*)
  • Silke Eberhard/Dave Burrell: Darlingtonia (2010 [2012], Jazzwerkstatt): [r]: B+(***)
  • Silke Eberhard/Ulrich Gumpert: Peanuts & Vanities (2011 [2012], Jazzwerkstatt): [r]: B+(**)
  • Gramatik: The Age of Reason (2014, Lowtemp): [r]: B+(**)
  • Scott Hesse Trio: The Stillness of Motion (2014 [2015], Origin): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The Ted Howe Jazz Orchestra: Pinnacle (2013 [2015], Hot Stove): [cd]: B
  • Ibeyi: Ibeyi (2015, XL): [r]: B
  • Kitten: Kitten (2014, Elektra): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ladysmith Black Mambazo: Always With Us (2010-12 [2014], self-released): [r]: A-
  • Nilson Matta: East Side Rio Drive (2014 [2015], World Blue): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Chris McNulty: Eternal (2013 [2015], Palmetto): [cd]: B+(*)
  • John O'Gallagher Trio: The Honeycomb (2014 [2015], Fresh Sound New Talent): [cdr]: A-
  • Ahmet Özhan: Gülmira (2014, Esen Musik): [r]: B+(***)
  • Lisa Parrott: Round Tripper (2014 [2015], Serious Niceness): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Renaud Penant Trio: Want to Be Happy (2014 [2015], ITI Music): [cd]: B+(**)
  • John Petrucelli Quintet: The Way (2014 [2015], self-released, 2CD): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Lucas Pino: No Net Nonet (2013 [2015], Origin): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Potsa Lotsa Plus: Plays Love Suite by Eric Dolphy (2014 [2015], Jazzwerkstatt): [r]: B+(**)
  • John Stowell/Michael Zilber Quartet: Live Beauty (2012 [2015], Origin): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Gebhard Ullmann/Johannes Fink/Jan Leipnitz/Gebhard Gschlößl: Gulf of Berlin (2012 [2014], Jazzwerkstatt): [r]: B+(***)
  • Wormburner: Pleasant Living in Planned Communities (2014, Dive): [r]: A-

Old records rated this week:

  • Moppa Elliott: Moppa Elliott's Mostly Other People Do the Killing (2004 [2005], Hot Cup): [r]: B+(***)
  • Tangerine Dream: Phaedra (1974, Virgin): [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Ab Baars Trio: Slate Blue (Wig)
  • Ab Baars Trio & NY Guests: Invisible Blow (Wig)
  • Lainie Cooke: The Music Is the Magic (Onyx Music): March 17
  • I Never Meta Guitar Three (Clean Feed)
  • The Susan Krebs Chamber Band: Simple Gifts (GreenGig Music): March 3
  • Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth: Epicenter (Clean Feed)
  • Open Field + Burton Greene: Flower Stalk (Cipsela)
  • Reggie Quinerly: Invictus (Redefinition Music): March 17
  • Carlos "Zingaro": Live at Mosteiro de Santa Clara a Velha (Cipsela)

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Weekend Roundup

I've been very lazy when it comes to politics the last few weeks. Much of what's wrong is so wrong on so many levels it boggles the mind. You can try to organize it, boxing various articles up into bins like "Republicans acting dumb," "Democrats acting dumb," "The bipartisan Washington foreign policy mandarins fumbling one stupid war after another," and so on -- the common thread is a chronic inability to think clearly about anything. There was a piece in the Eagle today about a "post-mortem" report some Democratic Party bigwigs cobbled together (can't find the Eagle link, but here's a similar one at CNN). The "report" includes lines like this:

It is strongly believed that the Democratic Party is loosely understood as a long list of policy statements and not as people with a common set of core values (fairness, equality, opportunity). This lack of cohesive narrative impedes the party's ability to develop and maintain a lifelong dialogue and partnership with voters.

What these party bigwigs fail to recognize is for the party to win it has to go beyond touting common values and articulate a set of viable self-interests that will motivate popular support. A classic example of this was the 1860 Republican platform, which instead of decrying slavery or declaring the sanctity of the union crassly declared: "vote yourself a farm -- vote yourself a tariff." Even today, Republican appeals are scarcely less crass: vote yourself a tax cut, vote for guns everywhere, vote to outlaw abortion. If the Democrats wanted to compete, they should consider a slogan like "vote yourself a government that works for you" -- and if they wanted to scare the bejesus out of the Republicans, they could add: "vote yourself a union."

Instead, there was a story this week about the head of the Democratic Party in Kansas testifying in favor of a Republican state bill that would double the limits for political contributions. That may make his particular job a bit easier, but it would move the party away from the people it needs votes from, and it would reinforce the notion that elections are up for sale.

The report lays out brutal losses since Obama swept into office in 2008: Democrats have shed 69 House seats, 13 Senate seats, 910 state legislative seats, 30 state legislative chambers and 11 governor's offices.

Obama deserves a substantial amount of blame for those offices -- not so much for his policies, mediocre and unfocused as they've been, as for his messaging, and for undermining the party for his personal benefit. By messaging, I mean his failure to clearly break from the Bush administration's manifest disasters as well as to keep the public focused on the partisan responsibility for those disasters, But he also wrecked the Democratic Party organization that won elections in 2006-08. Just because he personally could raise money to beat McCain and Romney doesn't mean that he was right to ignore the problem of money in politics. He has, after all, done nothing to counter the Kochs' threat to raise $900 million to buy 2016. If anything, he's made their corruption all the more inevitable.

So while it's possible to make fun of the Republicans in Kansas, as Crowson does here:

Still, it's not that funny. Most of the Kansas legislature's bills have been predictable, but this one breaks new ground in terms of being wrong on so many levels: Kansas bill would reward foster parents who are married, faithful, alcohol-free. Among other things, the bill treats foster care as a business, offering incentive pay for behaviors which the drafter believes to be morally superior, and hidden within it is "state education aid to either home school or send their foster kids to private school" -- yet another ploy to undermine public schools and the idea that everyone has an equal right to a quality education. As for church going, my recollection is that some of the worst scandals in the history of foster care involve churches.

Nor is Kansas the only state where absolute Republican power has corrupted absolutely. See Kansas not only state trying to prevent LGBT protections. Brownback recently revoked a Kansas executive order extending various protections to LGBT workers. Arkansas wants to go one step further and prevent any local governments from offering anti-discriminatory protections to its workers.

A few more scattered links this week:

  • Justin Gillis/John Schwartz: Deeper Ties to Corporate Cash for Doubtful Climate Researcher: You always hear from right-wingers about how the scientific research on anthropogenic climate change ("global warming") is conflicted. One major source of that conflict is Wei-Hock Soon, "who claims that variations in the sun's energy can largely explain recent global warming."

    But newly released documents show the extent to which Dr. Soon's work has been tied to funding he received from corporate interests.

    He has accepted more than $1.2 million in money from the fossil-fuel industry over the last decade while failing to disclose that conflict of interest in most of his scientific papers. At least 11 papers he has published since 2008 omitted such a disclosure, and in at least eight of those cases, he appears to have violated ethical guidelines of the journals that published his work.

    The documents show that Dr. Soon, in correspondence with his corporate funders, described many of his scientific papers as "deliverables" that he completed in exchange for their money. He used the same term to describe testimony he prepared for Congress.

  • Ali Khedery: Iran's Shiite Militias Are Running Amok in Iraq: I think Khedery puts more emphasis on Iran's relationship to the Shiite militias than is warranted. The US was actively organizing those same militias to fight Saddam Hussein before and during the 2003 invasion, and they've alternately been turned loose or reined in at various times during the American occupation: I doubt they are wholly tools either of the US or Iran so much as autonomous agents only loosely aligned with Iraqi shiite political parties, but what should be clear by now is that they cannot be trusted to implement a disciplined military campaign -- such as the much-touted plan to retake Mosul.

    Countless memories haunt me after a decade of service in Iraq. Gripping the hands of an assassin-felled member of the provisional government as the life slipped out of her body in 2003; watching al Qaeda's beheadings of American hostages in 2004; seeing photos of young Sunni prisoners raped and tortured by Iran-backed Shiite militias serving within the Iraqi police in 2005; and sitting helplessly at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad as news came in of al Qaeda's 2006 bombing of al-Askari Mosque, one of the holiest sites for Shiite Islam, ushering in the civil war. [ . . . ]

    The Iraqi government is hopelessly sectarian, corrupt, and generally unfit to govern what could be one of the world's most prosperous nations. Washington's response to the Islamic State's (IS) advance, however, has been disgraceful: The United States is now acting as the air force, the armory, and the diplomatic cover for Iraqi militias that are committing some of the worst human rights abuses on the planet. These are "allies" that are actually beholden to our strategic foe, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and which often resort to the same vile tactics as the Islamic State itself. [ . . . ]

    There is no reason to believe that the militias will disarm and disband after IS's defeat. Indeed, with the central government weaker than ever, trillions of dollars of Iraqi oil wealth up for grabs, and the U.S. military no longer deployed in large numbers to constrain them, the militias have more incentive than ever to stay in business. And let's not forget that it is in Iran's strategic interest to use these militias to consolidate its gains over Iraq and the Levant, and to advance its ambitions for regional hegemony, which Iranian commanders are now publicly flaunting.

    Iran's "ambitions for regional hegemony" is one of those things that could (and should) be covered in bilateral talks between the US and Iran -- indications are that Iran would see more value in normalizing relations with the US than in vying for "hegemony" over wastelands like Iraq and Syria.

  • Paul Krugman: Rip Van Skillsgap:

    What strikes me about this paper -- and in general what one still hears from many people inside the Beltway -- is the continuing urge to make this mainly a story about the skills gap, of not enough workers having higher education or maybe the right kind of education. [ . . . ]

    But if my math is right, the 90s ended 15 years ago -- and since then wages of the highly educated have stagnated. Why on earth are we still hearing the same rhetoric about education as the solution to inequality and unemployment?

    The answer, I'm sorry to say, is surely that it sounds serious. But, you know, it isn't.

    I'm not even sure how serious it is: it's just that the right doesn't have many options for addressing increasing inequality that don't impact the gains of the rich. Prescribing more education is a way of punting, knowing that it might help a few individuals -- at least compared to peer individuals, as opposed to the effect it had several decades ago -- and for everyone else it will take time to fail. But as a general rule, it is already clear that more education isn't an answer: given stagnant wages, the rising cost of education (and it has risen a lot) mean the return on investment in more education has been negative, and growing more so. And if there really is a "skills gap" that loss has depressed the economy.

    Of course, if the "skills gap" was seriously regarded as a real problem, the people conscious of it would be proposing real programs to solve it: they would be hard at work increasing wages for workers with the needed skills, and they would be urging the government to shoulder more of the costs of education to get those needed workers trained. You don't exactly see that happening. In fact, you see right-wingers working to undercut education all the way from pre-school to college, and to make what education is still available more class-stratified -- something the rich can still provide for their own children through private channels while everyone else rots or struggles.

  • Chris Stephen: Libya's Arab spring: the revolution that ate its children: It's worth considering Iraq and Libya as two models of what can go wrong in establishing post-intervention states. In Iraq the US dug in and tried to micromanage every aspect of nation building following the 2003 invasion -- an approach that failed not just because the Bush administration was clueless and had its own peculiar interests but because the US military became a symbol and target of occupation. On the other hand, NATO's intervention in Libya left no troops on the ground as competing militias turned on each other resulting in chaos. The latest development in Libya has been the emergence of ISIS -- I suspect more as an idea than an outgrowth of the rump Islamic State in war-torn Syria and neighboring Iraq -- which in turn has provoked further military intervention by Egypt. (ISIS has proven a potent brand both of rebellion and for deadly foreign intervention.) I have no real idea how to fix this -- even less so than Syria where much of the problem is tied to foreign interests. The gist of the article is that many of the people who initially supported the revolt against Gaddafi have come to regret their stands. On the other hand, I doubt that many of the better-dead-than-red types in the NSC or CIA have had second thoughts. After all, they never risked their own lives on the outcome, and they enjoy the luxury of putting their ideals above the lives of real people.

  • Talking Points Memo's sense of politics remains skin deep at most, but today's headlines are even shallower than usual -- gotcha news like Giuliani: Obama Influenced by Communism At Young Age, Giuliani Says He Received Death Threats After Comments On Obama, Scott Walker Says He Doesn't Know If Obama Is Christian, and Issa: 'We Should Thank' Giuliani For Comment On Obama's Patriotism. (No More Mister Nice Blog has an amusing story about how while Obama's grandfather served during WWII, Giuliani's father did not -- because he was a convicted felon.) Only slightly deeper is Is Obama Failing the YAARRRR! Test?, which compares Obama's anti-ISIS war rhetoric unfavorably to Mel Gibson in Braveheart.

Also, a few links for further study:

  • James Carden: Here's Why Arming Ukraine Would Be a Disaster: Well, some of the reasons, anyway. It's not clear to me to what extent Russia is actually arming or otherwise supporting separatist groups in eastern Ukraine, but it certainly is true that if Obama chose to add more fuel to the fire, Putin could more than reciprocate in kind. (Carden quotes Putin as saying, "if I want to, I can take Kiev in two weeks." Russia didn't go that far in Georgia when the latter tried to quash separatist provinces in 2008, but could easily have.) Also see Barry R. Posen: Just Say No: America Should Avoid These Wars -- Ukraine leads the list, but the list doesn't stop there.

  • Dylan Scott: Meet the Man at the Center of the Unprecedented US-Israeli Rift: A report on Ron Dermer, Israel's ambassador to the US since 2013, and evidently the person who worked out the deal for Netanyahu to speak before the US Congress "just days before elections in Israel" -- evidently to do what he can to torpedo any deal Obama works out to limit (or eliminate) Iran's alleged "nuclear program." Dermer was well placed, having been born in the US and having worked for Newt Gingrich before emigrating to Israel.

  • Imraan Sidiqi: Hate in the aftermath of Chapel Hill: On February 10 three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, NC were murdered. Sidiqi notes other recent examples of violence directed at American Muslims. That isn't the only possible context -- Michael A. Cohen argues that the killer was a gun nut and that the crime fits the pattern of a long list of gun-enabled crime. No doubt that has something to do with "how" but as so much gun crime is "senseless" it doesn't explain "why" -- for that we have to look at the continuing series of wars where the US has sent hundreds of thousands of soldiers to abroad to kill (and be killed by) Muslims. The US has never engaged in a war abroad where Americans didn't also project the hatred of war onto those fellow Americans most similar to foreign enemies. So it isn't surprising that it is happening again now, or that it is worst among the racist, militarist bigots of the far right. Nor that it is one of the things that makes war so poisonous, here as well as there.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Daily Log

Jan Barnes wrote to me: "I think America is in such a mess and what ISI is doing is just the worst I've ever heard of in my life, such evil people, can't even image thinking about things they are doing." I wrote her back:

Two points to keep in mind whenever you hear something bad about ISIS (or any other "terrorist" group in the Middle East): (1) is that there are various propaganda organizations (including one that's part of the US State Department -- CSCC, stands for Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications) that are constantly working to sway public opinion against those groups, in large part because they want to promote US military intervention in the region; and (2) ISIS would probably not exist (and would certainly not be a threat) except for repeated US efforts to destabilize Iraq (under Saddam Hussein) and Syria (under the Assad family). Also keep in mind that the so-called ISIS movements in Libya and Yemen and anywhere else outside of Syria-Iraq are wholly separate groups, not a greater conspiracy.

I'm not saying this to excuse ISIS. Like the Taliban, they were created in war, and have become habituated to it -- have managed to work the atrocities that occur on all sides in war into their moral framework, which is buttressed by a very primitive, intolerant reading of their religion. It's worth recalling that minority religious groups like the Yazidis and Alawis have coexisted with the majority Sunni Islam for over 1300 years. But Egypt and north Africa were conquered by European colonial powers (Morocco-Algeria-Tunisia by France, Libya by Italy, Egypt by England) in the late 19th century; after the first World War France grabbed Syria and Lebanon, England took Palestine, Iraq, the Persian Gulf "states" and Yemen, while the Saudis seized control of the central Arabian peninsula (with first British then American support). In 1948 Israel was created and went to war to expand its borders, driving over 700,000 Palestinians from their homes and lands. British oil companies grabbed large claims on Arab and Iranian oil, and after 1945 US oil companies became dominant. After 1970, the British withdrew, handing their bases over to the US, and Britain's client monarchs became US wards. The US alliance with Israel drove Egypt, Syria, and Iraq to seek arms from the Soviet Union, and the US expanded the "cold war" in the Middle East by getting the Saudis to spend billions of dollars proselytizing their very reactionary brand of Islam (Wahabism, an offshoot of Salafism, which was founded in the 13th century in reaction to catastrophic war losses Arabs suffered when attacked by Mongols and Turks). The "jihadist" ideology behind Al Qaeda and ISIS is nothing more than Saudi state religion stripped of the economic need to be nice to US/UK oil companies and bankers, and rededicated to fighting against foreign influence and control. This ideology is very bad stuff, but it's important to realize that it's really just a reaction against the influence and control of the US, its allies, and cronies -- something which became far more malevolent when US troops invaded Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003. (There was, for instance, no "Al Qaeda in Iraq" before Bush invaded, and there was no "ISIS" in Syria before the US started to arm "moderate rebels" in Syria -- those guns almost all winding up in the hands of religious fanatics.)

The lesson in all of this is that no matter how offended one is by ISIS, the worst possible way to reduce its influence is for American troops to go in and try to kill all its followers. There needs to be a diplomatic agreement where the Syrian government reforms but in an orderly way, without creating the sort of vacuum that has been so destructive in Libya. There needs to be a diplomatic agreement in Iraq which gives Sunni and Kurdish areas more autonomy and security. There needs to be a diplomatic agreement that reduces the tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and between Iran and Israel, and there needs to be something which finally ends Israel's conflict with the Palestinians and with its neighbors (including Syria). And none of this can happen as long as the US insists on pitting faction against faction, picking and arming sides, and backing its (often momentary) favorites with air power.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Daily Log

Shortly after I complained (last week's Weekend Roundup) about the fits of ideological madness working their way through the Kansas Legislature than this article comes along: Kansas bill would reward foster parents who are married, faithful, alcohol-free.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 24527 [24491] rated (+36), 501 [500] unrated (+1).

I shot most of my wad on Friday's Rhapsody Streamnotes, but since then I was pleasantly surprised by three straight jazz vocal albums: Denia Ridley's became an old friend over three plays; the late Maureen Budway caught my attention with a warm "White Cliffs of Dover," annoyed me with a song about fireworks and freedom, then redeemed real American music with a marvelous Gershwin medley; and young Katie Thiroux came up with a novel approach to singing standards while playing bass, helped by superb spots for guitar and sax. Never heard of any of these women before (although pianist David Budway does sound familiar -- let's see, I had his 2011 A New Kiss as a mid-B+, and he played behind Chris McNulty on a forgettable 2005 album). Was also pleasantly surprised by H2 Big Band's vocals, although a check of the credits reveals the name of René Marie, who's often on that level. Those are four albums I wouldn't have bothered searching out to stream, but I listened to them because publicists took the trouble to mail hard copies to me. More often, big bands and singers are the bane of my existence, so this just goes to show you never can tell.

Still, two of those four albums will most likely be packed away to the basement, never to be played again. I have five of those cheap six-row 120-CD cases on top of a desk blocking a window, which were filled with Jazz CG albums several years ago. I've been going through them, packing everything B+(**) and below into baskets to carry to the basement -- effectively that opens up about half of those shelves, soon to be filled with higher-rated CDs currently in piles on the floor. The half that remained are all exceptionally good, often great albums, virtually none of which have been played since I reviewed them. I've always liked the idea of maintaining a library, but despair of ever finding time to use it. Same problem exists, to a greater or lesser extent (I'm not sure), with print. I probably have enough surplus to endow a small library. Wonder how one goes about doing that.

By the way, while I only added a half dozen or so lists to the EOY Aggregate last week, but they managed to make two changes in the top ten: Caribou had run in 5th place ever since the near-beginning but slipped to 6th behind Flying Lotus a week ago; since then it shot back to 5th, even opening up more space (6 points) than Flying Lotus enjoys over 7th place Aphex Twin (3 points). The other big change is that Angel Olsen moved into 10th place, 3 points ahead of Beck (now tied for 11th with Spoon). Also worth noting that Taylor Swift has continued to climb, now in 15th place, as has D'Angelo, now in 20th. Can't say there will be no changes in the future -- actually waiting on one promised email, and I'll add Christgau's list if he ever parts with it (or I'll just pick it up in dribs and drabs, like Tune-Yards and TV on the Radio from last week's Expert Witness).

By the way, Christgau's memoir, Going Into the City: Portrait of a Critic as a Young Man, will be released on February 24 (preorder links from Amazon and Barnes & Noble; and here's an excerpt just posted at Rolling Stone). I haven't heard anything about promoting it on the website yet, but I imagine I'll have to get busy on that. Carola Dibbell's novel The Only Ones comes out on March 10, and we've already done a lot more work on promoting it.

New records rated this week:

  • Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet [RAAQ]: Intents and Purposes (2014 [2015], Enja): guitar-vibes-bass-drums quartet, has a nice intricacy but short on juice [r]: B+(*)
  • Tony Allen: Film of Life (2014, Jazz Village): Afrobeat drummer works the electronics to add shimmer and chime; too bad the vocal slumps [r]: B+(**)
  • Andrew Barker/Paul Dunmall/Tim Dahl: Luddite (2012 [2014], New Atlantis): avant sax trio, drummer earns top billing, saxophonist sometimes at his peak [r]: B+(**)
  • Big Lazy: Don't Cross Myrtle (2014, Tasankee): guitar-bass-drums trio, prefer tight and tidy rockish tunes, especially surf guitar, to improv [r]: B+(***)
  • Blu: Good to Be Home (2014, Nature Sounds, 2CD): long mixtape, beats merely functional but raps get stronger as he goes on (and on) [r]: B+(***)
  • Wade Bowen: Wade Bowen (2014, Amp): Texas variant of the standard hard touring Nashville country hound, ambivalent about success and still arrogant [r]: B+(*)
  • Maureen Budway: Sweet Candor (2014 [2015], MCG Jazz): late jazz singer's belated debut album showcases a fine voice; Gershwin medley tops Americana [cd]: B+(**)
  • Cornershop: Hold On It's Easy (2015, Ample Play): 20th anniversary memento, recasts first album with lots of Elastic Big Band brass [r]: B
  • The Cunninlynguists: Strange Journey, Volume Three (2014, Bad Taste): underground rap mixtape, exceptional flow when they hit their stride [r]: B+(***)
  • Disappears: Irreal (2015, Kranky): postpunk band, started with short sharp songs but have now moved over to repeated Wire-like figures [r]: B+(***)
  • Bob Dylan: Shadows in the Night (2015, Columbia): makes his long-feared crooner move, minus the voice and arrangements, even the songs, he needs [r]: C
  • Emika: Klavirni (2015, Emika): electronica artist shows off her classical piano chops on meditative miniatures, cheating once in a while [r]: B+(*)
  • George Ezra: Wanted on Voyage (2014, Columbia): heard that a "big voice" is something good to have, tried it and became overbearing [r]: B-
  • Free Nelson Mandoomjazz: Awakening of a Capital (2014 [2015], RareNoise): Scottish trio, fuzzy electric bass riffs smeared with snarling sax, a formula [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Chantale Gagné: The Left Side of the Moon (2014 [2015], self-relased): pianist from Quebec, picked up her perfect band: S Wilson/P Washington/L Nash [cd]: B+(***)
  • Rhiannon Giddens: Tomorrow Is My Turn (2014, Nonesuch): roots songster employs T-Bone Burnett for coming out, casts wide net, catches some [r]: B+(**)
  • Ja, Panik: Libertatia (2014, Staatsakt): I figure they're Germany's answer to TV on the Radio, maybe crossed a bit with Flaming Lips [r]: B+(*)
  • Oliver Lake/William Parker: To Roy (2014 [2015], Intakt): dedicated to late trumpeter Roy Campbell, alto sax-bass duet, somber but stirring [cd]: A-
  • Lupe Fiasco: Tetsuo & Youth (2015, Atlantic): I thought the woefully misunderstood "Lasers" was marvelous, but have no clue about this [r]: B+(*)
  • J.D. McPherson: Let the Good Times Roll (2015, New Rounder): Okie singer-songwriter, dresses his country impulses up as rockabilly [r]: B+(**)
  • Gurf Morlix: Eatin' at Me (2015, Rootball): folksy singer-songwriter, songs pretty easy going -- this time, anyhow [r]: B+(**)
  • Mr Twin Sister: Mr Twin Sister (2014, Twin Group/Infinite Best): electropop group, added "Mr" to name, presumably to suggest they've grown up -- less bubbly, more angst [r]: B-
  • Pitbull: Globalization (2014, Polo Grounds/RCA): highly commercial party rap, no critical visibility, sales tanked too, crass but I get a charge off it [r]: B+(**)
  • Denia Ridley & the Marc Devine Trio: Afterglow (2014 [2015], ITI Music): standards singer, front-loaded with Gershwin/Porter, ends on a blues note [cd]: B+(***)
  • Sleater-Kinney: No Cities to Love (2015, Sub Pop): strategic comeback, 90+ metacritic scores; strikes me as their blandest, not most irritating [r]: B+(*)
  • Jim Snidero: Main Street (2014 [2015], Savant): mainstream alto sax guy, but with a glorious tone and a rhythm section that mixes things up [cd]: A-
  • Jazmine Sullivan: Reality Show (2015, RCA): grappling with success, or putting on a front, running the gamut from "Dumb" to "Stupid Girl" [r]: B+(***)
  • Jamie T: Carry On the Grudge (2014, Virgin): transposes pop hooks with Clash power, not that I detect corresponding principles [r]: B+(**)
  • Aki Takase/Ayumi Paul: Hotel Zauberberg (2014 [2015], Intakt): builds a magic mountain of piano-violin minimalism, then sneaks in Bach/Mozart [r]: B+(***)
  • Katie Thiroux: Introducing Katie Thiroux (2014 [2015], BassKat): bassist-singer, superb standards, guitar and sax help out but bass ties it together [cd]: A-
  • Paul Thorn: Too Blessed to Be Stressed (2014, Perpetual Obscurity): country singer-songwriter bemoans mediocrity, resigns himself to stray dogs and Jesus [r]: B+(**)
  • Joanna Wallfisch with Dan Tepfer: The Origin of Adjustable Things (2014 [2015], Sunnyside): Brit singer-songwriter backed by piano only for intimate feel [cd]: B+(*)

Old records rated this week:

  • Cornershop: Hold On It Hurts (1993, Merge): missed that first album, pop barely emerging from a punk cocoon, weird then, almost prophetic now [r]: B+(***)

Grade changes:

  • Cornershop: Woman's Gotta Have It (1995, Warner Brothers): rechedked this, nearly as gnarly as the first and just a bit more of a missing link [r]: [was: B+] B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Daniel Bennett Group: The Mystery at Crown Castle (Manhattan Daylight)
  • Laura Dickinson: One for My Baby: To Frank Sinatra With Love (Blujazz)
  • Paul Elwood: Nice Folks (Innova)
  • Otzir Godot: In- (Epatto)
  • Ross Hammond: Flight (Prescott): advance, April 14
  • Tony Malaby/Mark Helias/Tom Rainey: The Signal Maker (Intakt): advance, March
  • Nilson Matta: East Side Rio Drive (World Blue)
  • Chris McNulty: Eternal (Palmetto): March 24
  • John Raymond: Foreign Territory (Fresh Sound New Talent): advance, April 28
  • Schlippenbach Trio: Features (Intakt): advance, March
  • Bjørn Solli: Aglow: The Lyngør Project Vol. 1 (Lyngør): May 4
  • Songsmith Collective (Blujazz)

   Mar 2001