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Monday, November 23, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 25829 [25787] rated (+42), 399 [420] unrated (-21).

Total was goosed early in the week by finding some more bookkeeping omissions. A more accurate rated count is probably a bit over 30 (indeed, there are 33 new ratings below, although I haven't double checked to make sure that's right either). I threw away Tuesday cooking, and lost Friday afternoon to a doctor thing. Otherwise I worked pretty hard.

I'm late posting this on Monday because I've dusted off last year's EOY List Aggregate scripts and started to accumulate data for 2015. Thus far I have nine lists counted (see the Legend for a full list and links to the source lists; beware that I have only made the most cursory of corrections to the text there and will have to clean it up later). Seven of the first nine lists are from the UK, and five of those are from record stores (each, by the way, running 100 records deep: Drift, Fopp, Piccadilly, Resident Music, Rough Trade). We also have the two big glossy UK rock mags (Mojo, Uncut), and two more specialized US mags (metal-oriented Decibel and Americana-focused American Songwriter). The very early returns looks like this:

  1. Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom + Pop Music) {27} [A-]
  2. Julia Holter: Have You in My Wilderness (Domino) {27} [B]
  3. Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty) {24} [***]
  4. Father John Misty: I Love You, Honeybear (Sub Pop) {18} [B]
  5. Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope) {17} [A-]
  6. Tame Impala: Currents (Caroline) {15} [*]
  7. Ryley Walker: Primrose Green (Dead Oceans) {15} [**]
  8. Bjork: Vulnicura (One Little Indian) {13} [B-]
  9. Sleaford Mods: Key Markets (Harbinger Sound) {13} [A-]
  10. Kurt Vile: B'lieve I'm Goin Down (Matador) {13}
  11. Low: Ones and Sixes (Sub Pop) {12}
  12. Mbongwana Star: From Kinshasa (World Circuit) {12} [A-]
  13. Sleater-Kinney: No Cities to Love (Sub Pop) {12} [*]
  14. New Order: Music Complete (Mute) {11} [A-]
  15. Kamasi Washington: The Epic (Brainfeeder) {11} [**]
  16. Jamie XX: In Colour (XL/Young Turks) {11} [***]
  17. John Grant: Grey Tickles, Black Pressure (Bella Union/Partisan) {10}
  18. Natalie Prass: Natalie Prass (Sony) {10} [*]
  19. Songhoy Blues: Music in Exile (Atlantic) {10} [A-]
  20. Jason Isbell: Something More Than Free (Southeastern) {9} [*]
  21. LoneLady: Hinterland (Warp) {9} [***]
  22. Jim O'Rourke: Simple Songs (Drag City) {9}
  23. Wilco: Star Wars (dBpm) {9} [***]
  24. Ezra Furman: Perpetual Motion People (Bella Union) {8} [A-]
  25. Public Service Broadcasting: The Race for Space (Test Card) {8}
  26. Thee Oh Sees: Mutilator Defeated at Last (Castle Face) {8}
  27. Algiers: Algiers (Matador) {7}
  28. Beach House: Depression Cherry (Sub Pop) {7} [*]
  29. Deerhunter: Fading Frontier (4AD) {7} [***]
  30. Tobias Jesso Jr: Goon (True Panther Sounds) {7} [**]
  31. Joanna Newsom: Divers (Drag City) {7}
  32. Unknown Mortal Orchestra: Multi-Love (Jagjaguwar) {7}
  33. Matthew E White: Fresh Blood (Domino) {7}
  34. Alabama Shakes: Sound & Color (ATO) {6} [*]
  35. BadBadNotGood/Ghostface Killah: Sour Soul (Lex) {6} [A-]
  36. Blur: The Magic Whip (Parlophone/Warner) {6} [**]
  37. Leon Bridges: Coming Home (Columbia) {6} [*]
  38. Gaz Coombes: Matador (Hot Fruit) {6} [*]
  39. Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress (Constellation) {6} [B-]
  40. Gwenno: Y Dydd Olaf (Heavenly) {6}
  41. Tess Parks & Anton Newcombe: I Declare Nothing (A) {6}
  42. Max Richter: From Sleep (Deutsche Grammophon) {6}
  43. Wolf Alice: My Love Is Cool (Dirty Hit) {6}
  44. Young Fathers: White Men Are Black Men Too (Big Dada) {6} [**]

I've fiddled with the formula a bit this year to provide extra points for higher placement (5 for 1, 4 for 2-5, 3 for 6-10, 2 for 11-20, 1 for > 20), and I figure I'll use that consistently for all top-tier lists (all so far count as such). Holter currently tops 3 lists (Mojo, Piccadilly, Uncut), Stevens 1 (Drift), Bjork 1 (Rough Trade), Public Service Broadcasting 1 (Fopp), Algiers 1 (Resident). The top records from American Songwriter (Chris Stapleton) and Decibel (Horrendous) don't appear on any other lists. Barnett ranks no higher than 3 on any list but appears on 8 of 9, 7 in the top 10, the other 12th. The probable favorite, Kendrick Lamar, also appears on 8 lists, but only twice in the top 10 (2 on Mojo, 2 on Uncut). The list with neither Barnett nor Lamar is Decibel's, which only has two albums that also appear on other lists: Deafheaven (2), Killing Joke (1).

Last year I wound up collecting data from 676 lists. I don't expect to come close to that this year, but still it's safe to say that returns are less than 1% in. Also that some identifiable skews are present -- e.g., Sleaford Mods won't finish ahead of Sleater-Kinney once the US lists take over. I've included my grades in brackets for reference. I'm rather surprised to see this top-40 (actually 44) has 8 records (18.2%) I've rated A- (and only 2 B-, and none lower) -- usually I disagree more, often finding no correlation at all between my grades and other people's lists. I currently have 30 of these 44 albums rated, so 68.2% (which includes some things today that will show up in next week's report).

Rhapsody Streamnotes came out on Wednesday, so some of today's list managed to sneak into that file (like the Ivo Peelmans). I should be closing in on my 2015 prospect list, filling out the last slots in my 2015 jazz and non-jazz lists, but surprisingly two of my A- records this week date from 2012-13: one is the Wreckless Eric/Amy Rigby album that eluded me in the past, but which I found now while looking for Eric's new album; the other is by a Bakersfield CA jazz group with a new record, but I noticed an older one, checked it out, and liked it better. Group name is: Invisible Astro Healing Rhythm Quartet.

New records rated this week:

  • Dan Ballou: Solo Trumpet (2015, Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Peter Br÷tzmann/Peeter Uuskyla: Red Cloud on Silver (2014 [2015], Omlott, 2LP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Eric Church: Mr. Misunderstood (2015, EMI Nashville): [r]: B+(**)
  • Chvrches: Every Open Eye (2015, Glassnote): [r]: B+(**)
  • Scott Clark 4tet: Bury My Heart (2015, Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Agedoke Steve Colson: Tones for Harriet Tubman/Sojourner Truth/Frederick Douglass (2015, Silver Sphinx, 2CD): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jorrit Dijkstra: Neither Odd nor Even (2014-15 [2015], Driff): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Jorrit Dijkstra/Pandelis Karayorgis/Nate McBride/Curt Newton: Matchbox (2014 [2015], Driff): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Brian Fielding: An Appropriate Response: Volume One (2015 [2016], Broken Symmetries Music)
  • Cee Lo Green: Heart Blanche (2015, Atlantic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Grimes: Art Angels (2015, 4AD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Brian Harnetty: The Star-Faced One: From the Sun Ra/El Saturn Archives (2013, Atavistic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Brian Harnetty: Rawhead & Bloodybones (2015, Dust-to-Digital): [r]: B+(**)
  • Invisible Astro Healing Rhythm Quartet: Invisible Astro Healing Rhythm Quartet (2012 [2013], Epigraph): [bc]: A-
  • Invisible Astro Healing Rhythm Quartet: 2 (2014 [2015], Trouble in Mind): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jeff Jenkins Organization: The Arrival (2014 [2015], OA2): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Martin Leiton: Poetry of Sound (2014 [2015], UnderPool): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Daniel Levin/Mat Maneri: The Transcendent Function (2015, Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Nicki Parrott: Sentimental Journey (2015, Venus): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ivo Perelman/Mat Maneri/Tanya Kalmanovitch: Villa Lobos Suite (2015, Leo): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: Complementary Colors (2015, Leo): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Whit Dickey: Butterfly Whispers (2015, Leo): [cd]: A-
  • Powertrio: Di Lontan (2015, Clean Feed): [cd]: B
  • Nate Wooley Quintet: (Dance to) the Early Music (2015, Clean Feed): [cd]: A-

Old music rated this week:

  • Tony Fruscella: Tony Fruscella (1955, Atlantic): [r]: B+(***)-
  • Erroll Garner: Body & Soul (1951-52 [1991], Columbia): [r]: B+(***)
  • Erroll Garner: The Erroll Garner Collection, Vol. 2: Dancing on the Ceiling (1961-65 [1989], Emarcy): [r]: B+(***)
  • Last Exit: Last Exit (1986, Enemy): [r]: A-
  • Last Exit: K÷ln (1988 [2005], Atavistic): [r]: B+(***)
  • Last Exit: The Noise of Trouble: Live in Tokyo (1986, Enemy): [r]: B+(**)
  • Brew Moore: The Brew Moore Quintet (1955, Fantasy): [r]: B+(**)
  • Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby: Two-Way Family Favourites (2010, Southern Domestic): [r]: B
  • Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby: A Working Museum (2012, Southern Domestic): [r]: A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • The 3.5.7 Ensemble: Amongst the Smokestacks and Steeples (Milk Factory Productions): January 1
  • Jason Kao Hwang: Voice (Innova): January 29
  • Danny Mixon: Pass It On (self-released)
  • Sonny Sharrock: Ask the Ages (1991, MOD Technologies)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Weekend Roundup

Much blather this week about the existential threat posed to the United States by the prospect of allowing 10,000 Syrian refugees to resettle here. Some demagogues like Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush insisted that we only allow Syrian Christians to enter (7.8% in 1960, the last Syrian census to bother to count sectarian identity, although a 2006 estimate bumps this up to 10%). Others insisted on a vetting process to weed out terrorist infiltrators, evidently unaware that a rather onerous one already exists. Dozens of Republican governors, including our own Sam Brownback (who recently displaced Bobby Jindal as the least popular sitting governor in the US), issued executive orders to help stanch the deluge of Syrian/Arab/Muslim immigrants. Donald Trump not only opposed all immigration, but went further to entertain the idea of a federal registry of Muslims in America. He finally received some backlash for that (rather casual) statement, but it appeals to a base distinguished only by the depths of their ignorance. I'm seeing reports that "only 49% of GOP voters in Iowa think that the religion of Islam should even be legal."

Reading Wikipedia's piece on Islam in the United States would help alleviate this ignorance. You will find, for instance, that about 1% of the American population is Muslim (2.77 million). Also, Muslims are immigrating to the US at a rate of about 110,000 per year. So 10,000 extra Syrians represents less than 10% of the current immigration rate, about 0.36% of the total Muslim population (1 in 277). If everyone shut up and just let this happen, no one would ever notice anything. The problem, though, is that by making a big stink about it, you're not just barring 10,000 Syrians, you're sending a message of hate and fear to 2.77 million Americans. How does that help?

About one-fourth of the Muslims in America are African-Americans, notably political leaders (including two members of Congress) and many prominent athletes and musicians. Most others are first or second generation immigrants, but some date back to immigrants from the 1880-1910 era, and some can trace their families back to the colonial era. The piece has numerous examples, plus a section on "Religious freedom" that shows that Americans were aware of Islam when they declared freedom of religion in the US Constitution.

One minor point I wasn't aware of is that the first country to recognize the United States as an independent country was the Sultanate of Morocco. It's worth adding that the US had generally good relationships in the Arab world up through WWII. In the first world war, Woodrow Wilson had refused to join Britain and France in declaring war on the Ottoman Empire, and he later declined an Anglo-French proposal that the US occupy Turkey when they were divvying up the spoils of war. Before then, the US was primarily known for its missionary schools like the American Universities in Beirut and Cairo. (The Presbyterians who founded those schools restricted their missionary work to Christians so as not to offend Muslim authorities, but welcomed Muslims to study and respected them, allowing the Universities to develop as intellectual centers of liberal, nationalist, and anti-colonial thinking.) Arab/Muslim respect for America only eroded after the US sided with Israel's colonialist project and replaced Britain as the protector of the aristocracies that claim personal ownership of the region's oil wealth.

US good will in the Arab world was built on a reputation for fairness and mutual respect, but has since been squandered in an anachronistic, foolhardy attempt to grab the spoils of empire. In some sense, we've gone full circle. The first significant number of Muslims to appear in colonial America were brought here from Africa, and they proved to be especially difficult to manage as slaves. Islam was then and now a religion that stood for justice and fought back against injustice. It should not be surprising that today's right-wing sees imposing Christianity on Muslims as key to ending their disobedience, as that was precisely what their forebears the slaveholders had done. After all, the prime directive of conservatism is to defend hierarchy by forcing everyone into their "proper" place. Of course, that was easier to do before conservative institutions like slavery and the inquisition were discredited, but the more we live in a world where people with money think they can buy anything, the more we see even the hoariest fantasies of conservatism come back to haunt us.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Richard Silverstein: Why "Reform" Islam?: This is mostly a response to a NY Times piece, Tim Arango: Experts Explain How Global Powers Can Smash ISIS. (If I may interject, my own response is that the piece shows how low the bar is to qualify as an "expert" on this subject.) Arango writes:

    Talking to a diverse group of experts, officials, religious scholars and former jihadis makes clear there is no consensus on a simple strategy to defeat the Islamic State. But there are some themes -- like . . . pushing a broader reformation of Islam -- that a range of people who follow the group say must be part of a solution.

    Some of those "experts" go further in insisting that terrorism is so intimately tied to Islam that only by "reforming" the latter can it be purged of such instincts. Silverstein replies:

    But even if we concede for argument's sake that there is some correlation, no matter how tenuous, why do we blame an entire religion? Why do we blame an entire sacred book when a tiny minority of a religion misinterpret it? Why do we say the religion is at fault rather than the human beings who betray or distort it?

    Baruch Goldstein was a mass murderer who killed 29 Palestinian Muslim worshippers at a religious shrine. He did this in the name of his twisted form of Judaism (which I prefer to call settler Judaism to distinguish it from normative Judaism). Did I hear Tim Arango or anyone else wring their hands about the correlation between Torah and mass murder? Even if I did, should I have?

    There is nothing wrong with Torah. Just because Jews misread their sacred text, must I blame the text itself?

    The problems here are so ridiculous it's hard to enumerate them. One, of course, is scale: there are over a billion Muslims in the world today, and hardly any of them present a "terrorist" threat, so why try to discredit the majority's religion? And who are we to decide to reform what they believe? Religions are changed by prophets, not by academics or politicians, and for lots of reasons it's ever getting harder to do that. Established religions like Christianity are certain non-starters, as they've already been rejected. Doubt is easier than replacement, so maybe atheism, secular humanism, or Marxism might make a dent, especially if one attempted to apply such "reform" here as well as there -- but even the Soviets weren't very effective at banishing old religions. So why even talk about such impractical nonsense?

    Well, it's mostly transference: our way of saying that they're the problem. The facts rather argue differently. At the simplest level, you can compare the frequency and size of acts of violence by Muslims that occur in Europe and the US -- what we like to call "terrorism" -- with the same measure of acts of violence by the US and Europe in the Muslim world, and you'll find that there are far more of the latter than the former. Also, if you put them on a timeline, you'll find that the latter predate the former (at least for any time after the early 8th century). Maybe the religions or the ideologies of the west are the ones that should be reformed? A more promising route might be to find a sense of justice that is acceptable to both (or all) religions, and build on that. But the key to doing so isn't dominating the other into submission. It is looking into oneself to find something that might work as common ground. Unfortunately, you don't get to be an "expert" on ISIS by understanding that.

    Also see another of Silverstein's pieces: "Remember the Stranger, for You Yourselves Were Strangers:

    This could just as well be the motto of the United States as one of the cardinal verses in the Torah. It should be stamped on Bibi Netanyahu's forehead since he violates this precept virtually every day that he maintains prison camps for African refugees, who he refuses to grant asylum or even an application process. For those who take the passage to heart, it means be humble, remember the refugee, show kindness and hospitality to the less fortunate. The Republican presidential candidates apparently don't read their Bibles. Or if they do, they're reading the wrong passages.

    The GOP is now making hay out of the Paris terror attacks. Each candidate falls all over himself to be more punitive, more intolerant than the next. 23 governors, including one Democrat, have said they will refuse to accept Syrian refugees within their states. This, despite the fact that governors have no say in immigration matters and may not expel legal refugees. That's the job of the federal government. But don't tell the governors that. It might educate them about the separate powers delegated to the states and federal government. A little something called the Constitution.

    Another historical fact worth mentioning: in 1938, 937 European Jews boarded the S.S. St. Louis en route to America where they hoped to find refuge from Hitler's encroaching hordes. They waited for months in Cuba and other sites while their supporters sought a safe haven in this country. At long last, they gave up and sailed back to Europe. Where 250 of them were swallowed in the Holocaust and exterminated along with 6-million other European Jews.

    There is a catastrophe enveloping Syria in which nearly 200,000 civilians have died. 500,000 Syrians have fled toward Europe and any other safe harbor they might find. These are not terrorists, not ISIS, though most are Muslim. There is nothing criminal in being either Syrian, a Muslim or a refugee. Despite what viewers saw on this FoxNews panel which quoted approvingly Winston Churchill's bit of colonial Islamophobia: "Islam is as dangerous in a man as rabies in a dog." It would take FoxNews to dredge up 19th century British religious-cultural imperialism, spoken by the leader who epitomized empire in all its worst forms.

  • Yousef Munayyer: There Is Only One Way to Destroy ISIS: This says pretty much what I said last week, except that I didn't feel the need to cast the optimal outcome as the destruction of ISIS. I think it's clear that ISIS will adapt to conditions, so I'd say that the thing to do is to change the conditions to render ISIS much less malign. Munayyer is aiming at the same result, but he's pitching it to people who assume that destroying ISIS is a necessity, but who are flexible and sensible enough to comprehend that just going into ISIS territory and killing (or as we like to call it, liberating) everyone won't do the trick (even if it is possible, which isn't at all clear). Munayyer draws the picture this way:

    I've found that the best way to think about comprehensive counter-terror strategy is the boiling-pot analogy. Imagine that you're presented with a large pot of scalding water and your task is to prevent any bubbles from reaching the surface. You could attack each bubble on its way up. You could spot a bubble at the bottom of the pot and disrupt it before it has a chance to rise. Many bubbles might be eliminated in this way, but sooner or later, bubbles are going to get to the surface, especially as the temperature rises and your counter-bubble capabilities are overwhelmed.

    The other pathway is to turn down, or off, the flame beneath the pot -- to address the conditions that help generate terrorism. When it comes to the question of ISIS in particular and broader terrorism in general, Western counter-terror strategy has focused on the bubbles and not the flame. While significant resources have been invested in intelligence and homeland security, too few have been invested in resolving the conditions that generate terrorism. In fact, too often, the West has contributed significantly to those conditions.

    Munayyer blames the US for invading Iraq, but while key leadership of ISIS came from the anti-American resistance in Iraq, the context which allowed them to claim statehood was the civil war in Syria. End that civil war and ISIS can no longer claim statehood and caliphate. That still leaves the concept, and we've seen that the concept can inspire guerrilla groups and lone wolves elsewhere, but concepts are a poor substitute for reality. Ending that civil war is no easy task, partly because every belligerent group believes they can ultimately impose their will by force -- a fantasy fueled by foreign support -- and partly because every group fears that the others will treat it unjustly. To turn the heat down, you have to phase out the foreign interests, convince each group that its cause is futile, and get each group to accept a set of strictures that will ensure fair and equal treatment for all. ISIS might well be the last group to join into a peace agreement, and it may take force to get the leaders of ISIS to see that their war is futile, but the vow to destroy them is premature: a peace which includes them is much sounder than the perpetual war you get from excluding them or the stench of martyrdom that remains even if you manage to kill them all. Moreover, as you reduce the heat, the popular support that the leaders depend on will fade away.

    After Paris, no one wants to speak about ISIS in terms other than its unconditional destruction, yet when they do so, they reveal how little they understand ISIS, and how little they know about themselves. France and Britain still like to think of their recent empires as some sort of blessing to mankind, but their actual history is full of contempt, repression, racism, and bloody violence. The former colonial master of Syria was no arbitrary target for ISIS, a point which was underscored by how quickly Hollande was able to reciprocate by bombing Raqqa. Similarly, New York and Washington were not picked for 9/11 because they would look good on TV. The US was cited for specific offenses against the Muslim world, and Bush wasted no time proving America's culpability by doing exactly what Bin Laden wanted: by sending his army in to slaughter Muslims in foreign lands, starting with Afghanistan. Bush did that because was locked into an imperial mindset, believing that America's power was so great he could force any result he wanted, and that America's virtue was so unquestioned that he never needed to give a thought to why or how. And Hollande, ostensibly a man of the left, proved the same. (Indeed, so does Bernie Sanders -- see the link below -- even though he's neither as careless nor as cocky as Bush.)

  • Protester gets punched at Trump rally. Trump: "Maybe he deserved to get roughed up": Billmon has been obsessed this week with Trump-as-Fascist analogies (see his Twitter feed), but this is one story that brings the point home. The thing that distinguished Mussolini and Hitler was not that they held conservative views but that they were so bloody minded about it: they were bullies, eager to fight, anxious to draw blood, and they started with beating up bystanders who looked at them funny. They celebrated such violence, and the more power they grabbed the more they flaunted it. Trump may not be in their league, but he's doing something more than merely condoning this "roughing up" -- he's feeding his crowd's frenzy of hate. I thought Jim Geraghty was onto something when he described Bush's supporters as "voting to kill." Trump's fans are basically the same folks, but now he's offering them something more visceral.

Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted; i.e., I don't have time for this shit right now):

  • David Atkins: White Resentment of Welfare Is More Than Just About Racism Now: Builds on a NY Times piece on Kentucky, Alec MacGillis: Who Turned My Blue State Red?, noting that Republican voters are as harsh and unforgiving of the white poor as they are of blacks, etc. I can think of anecdotal evidence that confirms this, and it revolves around shame: the belief that we are each personally responsible for our success and failure. Part of the trick is to get the "failures" to blame themselves and drop out of the political process -- the only way poorer states vote red is when poor people give up on voting their own interest. And part of it is that marginally successful people think they're immune from failure thanks to their superior characters.

  • Benjamin Balthaser: Jews Without Money: Toward a Class Politics of Anti-Zionism: Starts by noting the class divide between the rich patrons of the Jewish National Fund and the middle class Jewish Voice for Peace protesters outside. I figured he would expand on this by noting how often rich Jews have supported Zionism almost as a way of shuttling their poor brethren from Russia to Israel -- Lord Balfour, after all, addressed his Declaration to Baron von Rothschild, the richest Jew of his time and the one he most wanted to ingratiate himself with. Instead, Balthaser goes off in other directions, all interesting.

  • Tom Boggioni: Ex-CIA director: White House ignored months of warnings about 9/11 to avoid leaving 'paper trail' of culpability: Some of these stories are familiar, although Tenet used to be more dedicated to sucking up to Bush, whose indifference to Al-Qaeda before 9/11 was exceeded only by his demagogic opportunism after.

  • Daniel Marans: How Wall Street's Short-Term Fixation Is Destroying the Economy: The business management motto at the root of short-termism is "make your quarters, and you'll make your year." Of course in the real world businesses stumble from time to time, so managers have learned to adjust, packing the quarters they blow with all the losses they've been hiding to make it easier to make new quarters, the year be damned. Marans notes that corporate reinvestment of profits averaged 48% from 1952-84 but dropped to 22% from 1985-2013. The obvious reason is that high pre-Reagan taxes favored reinvesting profits, whereas low taxes made it less painful to extract those profits and put them elsewhere -- indeed set up a dynamic of owners devouring their companies (a practice which vulture capitalists soon perfected). There are a couple more epicycles to this diagram: tying CEO compensation to the stock market helped to ween top management from the workforce and turn them into stock manipulators, opening up all sorts of opportunities for insider trading scams. This, in turn, makes the stock market more volatile, an opportunity for quick traders to trample over ordinary investors, reducing the quantum of short-term thinking from the quarter to weeks, days, minutes.

  • Ben Railton: For More Than 200 Years, America Has Shunned a 'War on Islam': Looks like Railton has read the Wikipedia article I opened with, although he adds a little more on the Barbary Wars (which gave the Marines that "shores of Tripoli" stanza). Along similar lines, see John Nichols: Muslims Have Been Living in America Since Before the Revolutionary War.

  • Rich Yeselson: The Decline of Labor, the Increase of Inequality: Useful, informative piece on the decline of labor unions in recent decades.

  • Senator Bernie Sanders on Democratic Socialism in the United States: Fairly major speech by Sanders attempting to establish a "democratic socialism" brand name that is so modest and reasonable it's as American as apple pie. I haven't read this closely: if I did, I'd probably find much to second guess (and some things to outright oppose, minimally including much of the end section on ISIS). On the other hand, as I get older and more modest in my ambitions, I find myself gravitating more toward Keynes than Marx, and more to FDR's "second bill of rights" than more radical manifestos, and those are things that are central to this speech.

    By the way, I backed into this link from Mike Konczal: Thoughts on Bernie Sanders's Democratic Socialism and the Primary. Also note that one thing Konczal cites is a new book by Joseph Stiglitz: Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy: An Agenda for Growth and Shared Prosperity (he mentions hardcover and Kindle, but a paperback is also available) -- a book I intend to pick up ASAP. He also mentions Lane Kenworthy's Social Democratic America, which makes the case for increasing government spending up toward Scandinavian levels -- an argument I have some sympathy for, but I wouldn't neglect the smarter rules Stiglitz (and others like Dean Baker) argue for, and I can think of some times the Scandinavians haven't managed to do yet. (Kenworthy also has an outline and parts of a future book, The Good Society, here.) Konczal doesn't mention this, but there is at least one more "vision of left-liberalism": see the pro-union books of Thomas Geoghegan: Were You Born on the Wrong Continent? How the European Model Can Help You Get a Life and Only One Thing Can Save Us: Why America Needs a New Kind of Labor Movement.

  • Finally, several pieces to file under "Americans Acting Like Jerks":

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Rhapsody Streamnotes (November 2015)

Pick up text here.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 25787 [25726] rated (+61), 420 [439] unrated (-19).

Several reasons for the huge rated bump this week: one is that I procrastinated in cataloguing the incoming so the week ended Monday afternoon instead of my usual Sunday evening (which also means I've included Monday's mail in the unpacking); I knocked off almost all of the records listed below in a single play (which actually includes the week's two A- picks); about 20 of the records were streamed -- less than half, but they tend to go quick; finally, I noticed a record ungraded in the database that I was pretty sure I had heard, so I made a quick check of all the ungraded post-2000 jazz and that bumped the rated count up from 47 to 61.

I'd guess that probably close to ten records got a second play: Bathysphere, John Dikeman, Giovanni Di Domenico, Ingrid Laubrock, at least one of the Martin KŘchens, Jack Mouse, Statik Selektah, both old and posthumous Sun Ra, John Carter (even though it's 2CD), Thank Your Lucky Stars. Still, the only one that came close to an A- was the Beach House, but I didn't feel like spending the extra time, especially after Depression Cherry (and Bloom and Teen Dream) had left so little mark.

The Arab rap anthology (Khat Thaleth) was recommended by Bob Christgau just in time for the massive outpouring of anti-Arab vitriol that followed the terror attacks in Paris (and Beirut, but who's counting?). Even without downloading the trots, it's pretty obvious that these Arabs are not those Arabs. It comes as a unique item, although it probably isn't.

The Errol Garner reissue raises the question of redundancy, as you get two takes of the concert: one complete spread out on 2CD, the other as originally edited (plus one of those interviews that are interesting the first time around but unnecessary after that). Still, I had the old 1987 CD reissue at A-, and most of the cuts that the complete edition adds are every bit as good. Also, I'm relieved to point out that the whole 3CD package only costs $12.89 (at Amazon, although if you want vinyl the price jumps to $39.36). By the way, the original CD is still in print, down at $4.99. One downside is that the CD package is irregularly sized, so most likely it won't fit on your shelf.

I should also note that I was a little surprised to look back in my database and not find any other A- albums by Garner. In fact there are only three other entries: two B (Long Ago and Far Away and The Original Misty), one B+ (Easy to Love [The Erroll Garner Collection Vol. 1]). But Penguin Guide also only credits Garner with one 4-star album, no surprise given their predilection for solo piano: Solo Time! [The Erroll Garner Collection Vols. 4/5] (although they tabbed Concert by the Sea, with 3.5 stars, as a "core collection" album). Seems like there should be more because was such a distinctive stylist.

I had a few more things I wanted to write about this week. Let me just briefly mention one: Tim Niland's book, Music and More: Selected Blog Posts 2003-2015. My copy arrived and it looks terrific (although the perfect binding has developed a small bubble). Tons of reviews, an ongoing chronicle of twelve of the most productive years in jazz history. I do have a couple of quibbles: there is no table of contents or index, so it's going to be hard to find any particular review; for that matter, it doesn't even have page numbers, which should have been pretty easy to set up. I imagine the search function will help out here with the Kindle edition, if you're into that platform. Still, I'm very pleased to own a print copy. I'm adding the book cover to my book roll.

I also wanted to note that I've been working on my soon-to-be-obsolete Music Tracking File. I finally implemented the genre switches, and I've been scraping more sources for data: at this point I've added virtually every 2015 jazz record reviewed by Free Jazz Collective, and I've worked my way back to August in All About Jazz, resulting in a list of 1044 jazz releases this year (I've reviewed or at least own 540 of them). My coverage of other genres is much spottier, but currently adds up to 2748 records. The list will eventually give way to an EOY aggregate list, but meanwhile helps me sort out what I need (or would like to) listen to.

New records rated this week:

  • The 14 Jazz Orchestra: Nothing Hard Is Ever Easy (2015 [2016], self-released): [cd]: B
  • Bathysphere: Bathysphere (2015, Driff): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Beach House: Depression Cherry (2015, Sub Pop): [r]: B+(*)
  • Beach House: Thank Your Lucky Stars (2015, Sub Pop): [r]: B+(***)
  • Beach Slang: The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us (2015, Polyvinyl): [r]: B
  • Tony Bennett & Bill Charlap: The Silver Lining: The Songs of Jerome Kern (Columbia): [r]: B+(*)
  • Randy Bernsen: Grace Notes (2015, Jericho Jams): [cd]: B
  • Bizingas: Eggs Up High (2015, NCM East): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Bj÷rk: Vulnicura (2015, One Little Indian): [r]: B-
  • Bobby Bradford-Frode Gjerstad Quartet: The Delaware River (2014 [2015], NoBusiness): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Leon Bridges: Coming Home (2015, Columbia): [r]: B+(*)
  • Dani Comas: EpokhÚ (2014 [2015], UnderPool): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Guy Davis: Kokomo Kidd (2015, M.C.): [r]: B+(*)
  • Giovanni Di Domenico/Peter Jacquemyn/Chris Corsano: A Little Off the Top (2013 [2015], NoBusiness): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • John Dikeman/William Parker/Hamid Drake: Live at La Resistenza (2014 [2015], El Negocito): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Carlos Falanga: Gran Coral (2014 [2015], UnderPool): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Amina Figarova: Blue Whisper (2015, In + Out): [cd]: B
  • Clare Fischer: Out of the Blue (2015, Clavo): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Tigran Hamasyan: Luys I Luso (2014 [2015], ECM): [dl]: B-
  • Aaron Irwin Quartet: A Room Forever (2015, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Khat Thaleth [Third Line]: Initiative for the Elevation of Public Awareness (2013, Stronghold Sound): [r]: A-
  • Martin KŘchen/Johan Berthling/Steve Noble: Night in Europe (2014 [2015], NoBusiness): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Martin KŘchen/Jon Rune Str°m/Tollef ěstvang: Melted Snow (2014 [2015], NoBusiness): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Nancy Lane: Let Me Love You (2015, self-released): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Adam Larson: Selective Amnesia (2015, Inner Circle Music): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Ingrid Laubrock: Ubatuba (2014 [2015], Firehouse 12): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Daniel Levin/Rob Brown: Divergent Paths (2012 [2015], Cipsela): [cd]: B+(*)
  • John Lindberg/Anil Eraslan: Juggling Kukla (2011 [2015], NoBusiness): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Luis Lopes/Jean-Luc Guionnet: Live at Culturgest (2011 [2015], Clean Feed): [r]: B-
  • Roy McGrath Quartet: Martha (2014 [2015], JL Music): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Kristine Mills: Bossa Too (2015, InkWell Publishing): [cd]: B
  • Jack Mouse & Scott Robinson with Janice Borla: Three Story Sandbox (2015 [2016], Tall Grass): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Roots Manuva: Bleeds (2015, Big Dada): [r]: B
  • Herb Silverstein: Younger Next Year (2015, self-released): [cd]: B
  • Spanglish Fly: New York Boogaloo (2015, Caco World Music): [r]: B+(*)
  • Chris Stapleton: Traveller (2015, Mercury Nashville): [r]: B+(*)
  • Statik Selektah: Lucky 7 (2015, Showoff/Duck Down Music): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ike Sturm + Evergreen: Shelter of Trees (2014 [2015], Kilde): [cd]: B-
  • Sun Ra Arkestra Under the Direction of Marshall Allen: Babylon Live (2014 [2015], In+Out): [r]: B+(**)
  • Survival Unit III: Game Theory (2010 [2013], Not Two): [r]: B+(**)
  • Survival Unit III: Straylight (2014 [2015], Pink Palace): [bc]: B+(***)
  • U.S. Girls: Half Free (2015, 4AD): [r]: B
  • Manuel Valera & Groove Square: Urban Landscape (2015, Destiny): B+(**)
  • Doug Webb: Triple Play (2014 [2015], Posi-Tone): [r]: B-

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

  • John Carter: Echoes From Rudolph's (1976-77 [2015], NoBusiness, 2CD): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Hamid Drake/Michael Zerang: For Ed Blackwell (1995 [2015], Pink Palace): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Free Jazz Group Wiesbaden: Frictions/Frictions Now (1969-71 [2015], NoBusiness): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Erroll Garner: The Complete Concert by the Sea (1955 [2015], Columbia/Legacy, 3CD): [cd]: A-
  • Sun Ra: The Magic City (1965 [2015], Enterplanetary Koncepts): [r]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • Guy Davis: Juba Dance (2013, M.C.): [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Juhani Aaltonen & Iro Haarla: Kirkastus (TUM)
  • Tom Collier: Across the Bridge (Origin): November 20
  • Bram De Looze: Septych (Clean Feed)
  • Kaja Draksler/Susana Santos Silva: This Love (Clean Feed)
  • Erik Friedlander: Oscalypso: Tribute to Oscar Pettiford (Skipstone)
  • David Friesen & Glen Moore: Bactrian (Origin): November 20
  • Jacob Garchik: Ye Olde (Yestereve)
  • Miho Hazama: Time River (Sunnyside)
  • Heroes Are Gang Leaders: The Avant Age Garde I AMs of the Gal Luxury (Flat Langton's Arkeyes)
  • Florian Hoefner: Luminosity (Origin): advance, January 15
  • Will Holshouser/Matt Munisteri/Marcus Rojas: Introducing Musette Explosion (Aviary)
  • Per Texas Johansson: De Lňnga Rulltrapporna I Flemingsberg (Moserobie)
  • George Lewis: The George Lewis Solo Trombone Album (1976, Delmark/Sackville)
  • Luis Lopes/Jean-Luc Guionnet: Live at Culturgest (Clean Feed)
  • Mundell Lowe/Lloyd Wells/Jim Ferguson: Poor Butterfly (Two Helpins' of Collards)
  • Tobias Meinhart: Natural Perception (Enja/Yellowbird)
  • Charles Rumback: In the New Year (Ears & Eyes): December 4
  • Richard Sears Trio: Skyline (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Wadada Leo Smith & John Lindberg: Celestial Weather (TUM)
  • Mike Sopko/Bill Laswell/Thomas Pridgen: Sopko Laswell Pridgen (self-released)
  • Svenska Kaputt: Suomi (Moserobie)
  • Curt Sydnor: Materials and Their Destiny (Ears & Eyes)
  • The People Having a Meeting (Black & Grey/Fast Speaking Music)
  • Torbj÷rn Zetterberg & Den Stora Frňgan: Om Liv D÷d (Moserobie)


  • Laurie Anderson: Heart of a Dog (Nonesuch)
  • Blackalicious: Imani, Vol. 1 (OGM)
  • Lyrics Born: Real People (Mobile Home)
  • James McMurtry: Complicated Game (Complicated Game)
  • Paris: Pistol Politics (Guerrilla Funk, 2CD)
  • Sleaford Mods: Key Markets (Harbinger Sound)

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Weekend Roundup

It's been a good week for warmongering anti-Islamist bigots, what with the Kurdish "liberation" of ISIS-held Sinjar, the ISIS-blamed bombing of a Russian airliner, the drone-murder of reality TV star "Jihadi John," and ISIS-linked murderous assault in Paris on the innocent fans of a band called Eagles of Death Metal. Ann Coulter was so thrilled she tweeted that America just elected Donald Trump as its next president. Shell-shocked post-Benghazi! Democrats were quick to denounce it all as terrorism, using the precise words of the Republican thought police. Someone even proposed changing the Freedom Fries to "French Fries" in solidarity. French president Franšois Hollande declared that the Paris attacks meant war, momentarily forgetting that he had already started the same war when France joined the anti-ISIS bombing party in Syria. He and other decried this "attack on western civilization." Gandhi could not be reached, but he's probably sticking to his line that western civilization would be a good idea.

I'll return to this subject below, but the main point to make up here is that this is above all a time to keep your cool. In fact, take a couple steps back and try to recover some of the cool we've lost ever since demonizing ISIS became so ubiquitous nobody gives it a second thought. I have no wish to defend them, but I will point out that what they're accused of is stuff that virtually all armies have done throughout history. Also that they exist because governments in Damascus and Baghdad became so violently oppressive that millions of people (who in normal times want peace and prosperity as much as everyone else does) became so desperate as to see them as the lesser evil. No doubt ISIS can be brutal to those under their thumb, but ISIS could not exist without some substantial measure of public support, and that means two things: one is that to kill off ISIS you'd have to kill an awful lot of people, revealing yourself to be an even more brutal monster; the other is that you can't end this by simply restoring the old Damascus and Baghdad powers, because they will inevitably revert to type. Yet who on the US political spectrum has a plan to do anything different?

Before this flare up I had something more important I wanted to write about: inequality. Admittedly, war is more urgent: it has a way of immediately crowding out all other problems. But the solution is also much simpler: just don't do it. All you need to know about war has been said many times, notably by people like A.J. Muste and David Dellinger. It might be argued that inequality is the root of war, or conversely that equitable societies would never have any reason to wage war. The ancient justification for war was always loot. And while we've managed to think of higher, more abstract and idealized concepts for justifying war, there's still an awful lot of looting going on. In America, we call that business.

The piece I've been thinking about is a Bloomberg editorial that appeared in the Wichita Eagle: Ramesh Ponnuru: Is income inequality a big deal? He starts:

We conservatives tend to get less worked up about economic inequality than liberals do, and I think we're right about that.

We should want most people, and especially poor people, to be able to get ahead in absolute terms. We should want to live in a society with a reasonable degree of mobility rather than one where people are born into relative economic positions they can never leave.

But so long as those conditions are met, the ratio of the incomes of the top 1 percent to the median worker should be fairly low on our list of concerns; and if those conditions aren't met, we should worry about our failure to meet them rather than their effects on inequality.

If you take "worked up" in the sense of bothered, sure, but if you mean concerned, his disclaimer is less true. The bare fact is that virtually every principle and proposal conservatives hold dear is designed to increase inequality. Cutting taxes allows the rich to keep more income and concentrate wealth, lifting them up further. Cutting food stamps and other "entitlements" pushes the poor down, also increasing inequality. Maybe desperation will nudge some people off welfare into low wage jobs, further depressing the labor market and allowing savvy businessmen to reap more profits. Of course, making it harder for workers to join unions works both ways -- lower wages, higher profits -- and conservatives are in the forefront there. They're also in favor of deregulating business -- never deny the private sector an opportunity to reap greater profits from little things like pollution or fraud. They back "free trade" agreements, designed mostly to protect patent (property) owners and let businesses expand into more profitable markets overseas, at the minor cost of outsourcing American jobs -- actually a double plus as that outsourcing depresses the labor market, meaning lower wages and higher profits. Sandbagging public education advantages those who can afford private schools. Saddling working class upstarts with college debt helps keep the children of the rich ahead. And the list goes on and on. Maybe you can come up with some conservative hot list items that don't drop straight to the bottom line (abortion? guns? drug prohibition? gambling? war? -- one could argue that all of those hurt the working class more than the rich, but I doubt that's really the point). Still, you won't find any conservative proposals to counter inequality.

From time immemorial the very purpose of conservatism has been to defend the rulers against the masses. From time to time that's required some adjustments to conservative thinking: in America at least, cons no longer defend the prerogatives of kings and titled aristocracy (not that they have any problems with the Saudis or Hashemites, or nearly any tin-pot dictator who lets their companies profit); and they've given up on slavery (and the most overt expressions of racism), but still can't stand the idea of unions, and they never have trusted democracy. For a while they liked the idea that America offered a chance for equal opportunity (without guaranteeing equal results), an idea Ponnuru is still fond of, not that he'd actually cross any of his betters by suggesting we do something about it. For one thing they'd probably point out that equal opportunity is how we wound up with Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, whereas the worst you'd have to put up with in a closed oligarchy is someone like Jeb Bush (or, pick your poison, Donald Trump).

Ponnuru refers to an article by George Packer: The Republican Class War, probably because the article starts off a "reformocon" conference organized by Ponnuru's wife April (high among the Republican Party's "family values" is nepotism). The reformocons have a book full of policy proposals that allegedly help the middle if not the lower class, but none of the things Packer mentions looks promising. Ponnuru cites a study on opportunity mentioned by Packer then dismisses it with another study on something else. He continues:

When he moved to macroeconomics, Packer was on even shakier ground: "Inequality saps the economy by draining the buying power of Americans whose incomes have stagnated, forcing them to rely on debt to fund education, housing, and health care. At the top, it creates deep pools of wealth that have nowhere productive to go, leading to asset bubbles in capital markets bearing little or no relation to the health of the overall economy. (Critics call this the "financialization" of the economy.) These fallouts from inequality were among the causes of the Great Recession."

Saying that "inequality" has caused income stagnation is question-begging. If most Americans are experiencing stagnant incomes, that would cause difficulties regardless of how the top 1 percent is doing. In the 1980s and 1990s, though, income growth for most people coincided with rising inequality. And the theory that inequality leads to financial crises has a weak evidentiary basis.

Uh, 1907? 1929? 2008? That's a pretty strong series. Maybe some lesser recessions don't correlate so well: 1979-81 was induced by the Fed's anti-inflation hysteria, so the recovery was unusual as well. Income stagnation also started with the early 1980s recession, as did the first major tax cuts for the rich, although even larger sources of inequality that decade were trade deficits (resulting in a major sell-off of assets to foreign investors) and real estate fraud (bankrupting the S&L industry, resulting in a recession). In the 1990s the main sources of inequality were the massive bid-up of the stock market and a loosening of bank regulations, and they too led to a recession in 2001. The labor market did tigheten up enough in the late 1990s for real wages to rise a bit, but that was wiped out in the following recession, and the "Bush recovery" was the worst to date at generating new jobs, as it was fueled almost exclusively by debt and fraud.

Packer finally splits from the reformocons, and Ponnuru's reaction is basically a hand wave.

"The reformocons, for all their creativity and eloquence, don't grasp the nature of the world in which their cherished middle-class Americans actually live," Packer said. "They can't face its heartlessness."

I don't mean to sound heartless myself when I say that no sensible policy agenda is going to protect all towns and industries from the effects of global competition and technological change. But most members of the vast American middle class aren't looking for work in the steel mills or wishing they could be.

Ponnuru may not relish it, but being heartless is part of what it takes to be a conservative these days. So is being a devious little prevaricator. Let me close this section with a couple paragraphs from Packer (starting with the one on macro that Ponnuru thinks he disproved, because it's so very succinctly stated):

Inequality saps the economy by draining the buying power of Americans whose incomes have stagnated, forcing them to rely on debt to fund education, housing, and health care. At the top, it creates deep pools of wealth that have nowhere productive to go, leading to asset bubbles in capital markets bearing little or no relation to the health of the over-all economy. (Critics call this the "financialization" of the economy.) These fallouts from inequality were among the causes of the Great Recession.Inequality is also warping America's political system. Greatly concentrated wealth leads to outsized political power in the hands of the few -- even in a democracy with free and fair elections -- which pushes government to create rules that favor the rich. It's no accident that we're in the era of Citizens United. Such rulings give ordinary Americans the strong suspicion that the game is rigged. Democratic institutions no longer feel legitimate when they continue to produce blatantly unfair outcomes; it's one of those insights that only an Úlite could miss. And it's backed up by evidence as well as by common sense. Last year, two political scientists found that, in recent times, policy ideas have rarely been adopted by the U.S. government unless they're favored by corporations and the wealthy -- even when those ideas are supported by most Americans. The persistence of the highly unpopular carried-interest loophole for hedge-fund managers is simply the most unseemly example.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Dan Sanchez: On Veterans Day, Who Should Thank Whom?:

    Randolph Bourne famously wrote, "War is the health of the State." By that he meant that foreign wars nourish domestic tyranny because they place people into a siege mentality that makes them more apt to give up their freedoms for the sake of the war effort. And indeed, the American national security state, from militarized cops to domestic spying, has metastasized under the cover of the War on Terror.

    So, no, the activity of U.S. soldiers has not secured our freedoms, but eroded them. More specifically, contrary to the common argument discussed above, the troops are not busy protecting freedom of speech for all Americans, including those who are anti-war. Rather, by contributing to foreign wars, they make it more likely that someday the country's siege mentality will get so bad that speech (especially anti-war speech) will be restricted.

    Since foreign wars are inimical to domestic freedom, it is those who strenuously oppose war who are actually fighting for freedom. If not for opponents and skeptics of war, we would have even more war than we do. And in that case, individual freedoms would have been even more infringed upon.

    I grew up visiting houses that had pictures of young men in uniform on their shelves and mantles, mostly from WWII, some from Korea. My grandfather went to Europe for the Great War: I don't recall any photos but he came back with a couple ribbons and medals. Some relatives posted a couple of those photos on Facebook, and I found them touching -- not so much that I thought they did anything worthwhile as because they were just ordinary Americans who happened to get caught up in America's last popular war. On the other hand, we had no such photos in my house, not because my father didn't get drafted into the war but because he considered the experience so pointless. That probably contributed to my skepticism about the army, but Vietnam sealed my opposition. Ever since my opposition to war has only grown. I know a handful of people who went to Iraq, and I have nothing to say to them: I can't thank them because they did nothing worthwhile, and I can't apologize to them because I did everything I reasonably could to keep them from going. So for me all Veteran's Day does is remind me of old (and in many cases now dead) men, who thankfully survived the holocaust and returned to live relatively normal lives -- no one in my family perished in that war -- something I can't say for the atrocities that came later. The only heroes from those wars are the people who opposed them.

  • David Atkins: The Morning After Paris: What Do We Do Now?: A generally thoughtful piece, although sometimes he thinks himself into odd positions, especially when he tries to counter straw puppets from the left, but this bit of equivalence with the right resonates:

    Ultimately, what drives both domestic jingoist conservatism and ISIL's brand of extremism is a commitment to violent aggression beyond its own borders, a weird fetishization of guns and gun violence, a misogynistic hatred of sexual freedom for women and non-traditional relationships of all kind, and a deep commitment to conservative religious fundamentalism and patriarchal gerontocracy as the organizational structures of society.

    Earlier he wrote:

    The immediate reaction from many on the left is to simply blame the problem on blowback, insisting that if Western powers simply stopped trying to exert influence on the Middle East, terrorism would not reach Western shores. Many liberals further argue that the social problems in most middle eastern countries suffering from extremist violence are the direct result of a history of imperialism and colonialism.

    These are thornier arguments to dismiss, not only because they contain a great deal of truth, but also because unlike conservative claims that are testable and false, the blowback argument is unfalsifiable.

    He also charges liberals with "special pleading," which he tries to disprove by comparing the CIA coups in Iran and Chile, noting that the latter "has not led to decades of Chilean anti-American terrorism." He doesn't bother adding that even after Pinochet fell the US didn't impose sanctions on Chile, or shoot down Chilean air liners, or blow up Chilean oil rigs -- clear instances of American belligerence, some of which if done by anyone else would meet our definition of terrorism. Nor does he admit that there's not much if any case that Iran has actually committed any acts of anti-American terror. Anti-American sentiment? Sure, but that's not unknown in Chile either. But these are minor quibbles, and clearly the effects of colonialism, imperialism, and cronyism on the Middle East are more layered and more complex than this caricature. (Also note that "blowback" isn't always so indirect: when the US armed the Afghan mujahideen and Hekmatyar and Bin Laden later turned on the US, that wasn't "unfalsifiable.") Atkins carries his confusion forward:

    One could step back and remove all Western influence from the region, both in Syria and in Iraq. One could simply let the Shi'ites, Kurds, Syrian Assad loyalists and Syrian anti-Assad moderates (if any exist) battle it out themselves and hope that some combination of the above emerges victorious, trying not to draw any of their ire and taking in as many refugees from the war-ravaged conflict zones as possible. But it's highly unlikely that the attacks against the West would stop, it's likely that their propaganda would be increasingly successful at radicalizing young men in the West, and it's certainly true that populations across Iraq, Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East would be greatly harmed by allowing ISIL to expand. Even if America and its allies immediately abandoned all conflict in the Middle East, terrorism would likely continue -- and even 30 years from now the Glenn Greenwalds of the world would still say any such attacks were just so much blowback. Those outcomes and that ideology are not acceptable at a moral or a practical level.

    Atkins' conjecture here (and it's really nothing more) -- that Islamic groups will continue to commit acts of terror in the West even if the US and its allies cease all provocations -- is unfalsifiable as well, because it's not going to be tested: US business has too much money at stake to back away, and US military power has too much ego at stake to back down. (One might imagine a political challenge to the latter, but it's hard to see where it might come from: clearly not Clinton, and even nominal critics of US war policy Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul are pretty compromised.) But one reason to doubt Atkins is that no less an authority than Bin Laden has stated that if the provocations cease, so will the attacks in the West. I'm not sure that the anonymous intellects behind ISIS have thought this through so rigorously, but Atkins seems to have bought the whole party line on their inhumanity -- "an active group of murderous, barbaric theocratic cutthroats who adore violence, desire and rape women as a matter of official policy, desecrate and destroy monuments that have stood for thousands of years, and seek to establish a regional and global caliphate with the goal of a final battle against the Great Satan" -- a definition that is far outside the bounds of any group in the history (and not just of Islam). It clearly serves the interest of Americans who want to escalate the war against ISIS to inflate such visions of evil, and I fear Atkins' repetition of these claims just helps them out.

    My own prescription for what the US should be doing is straightforward:

    1. We should eschew the use of force to settle any and all disputes in the region (or anywhere else, really, but let's focus here on the Middle East). Consequently, we should negotiate a multilateral arms embargo for the entire region (including Egypt, Israel, the Arabian peninsula, Iran, and Turkey), and we should move toward this unilaterally as long as doing so doesn't create a vacuum to be filled with other arms suppliers.
    2. We should promote and facilitate negotiations aimed at resolving all conflicts and protecting minority and individual human rights in accordance with well-established international standards (like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).
    3. We should negotiate an international treaty which establishes a new human right: to exile, which allows anyone jailed or otherwise endangered anywhere to appeal to be granted asylum elsewhere.
    4. We should be willing to grant amnesty to anyone (including ISIS) that agrees to participate in peaceable democratic conflict resolution. We should recognize that disarmament is a goal of this process, not a prerequisite.
    5. We should back up these diplomatic appeals with economic aid. Conversely, any nations that persist in using violence against their own people and/or exporting violence abroad should be ostracized with economic sanctions. (The BDS campaign against Israel is a start here.)

    How hard can that be to understand? But in today's media heat, who's talking like that?

  • Some more related ISIS links:

    • Why John Kerry and the French president are calling ISIS "Daesh": A little history on the ever-shifting arts of naming yourself and your enemies. Kerry et al. don't like Islamic State (or IS) because it suggests at least the potential of a single state representing all Muslims, something they want to nip in the bud. So they've come up with something meaningless and slightly exotic, DAESH (or Daesh) derived from the transliterated Arabic initials (like Hamas). Still, ISIS makes more sense to the rest of us, since it spatially delimits the Islamic State within Iraq and Syria (actually more accurate than the broader al-Sham they used to use, which got translated as Levant). My takeaway is to use ISIS, since I think it is very important to understand that their rump state is an artifact of the lost control of the governments in Damascus and Baghdad. On the other hand, I'm not sure that the aspiring but still pre-state groups in Libya, Yemen, etc., are all that linked with ISIS. Still, Islamic State is clearly a concept (and increasingly a brand name) that resonates with a good many people outside Syria and Iraq. That matters mostly because it means that even if the West smashes (or as Sarkozy put it "exterminates") ISIS the concept will continue to inspire terror groups indefinitely. Obama probably understood this when he talked about "containing and degrading" ISIS -- words that now test as namby-pamby (compared to defeat and exterminate).

    • DR Tucker: And That's the Way It Is: Live-Blogging the CBS Democratic Debate: Bad timing, the evening after the Paris attacks. And, no big surprise, the Democrats all vow to wage war:

      In his opening statement, Sanders condemns the attacks and vows to "rid this planet of ISIS" as president, before decrying income inequality, the broken campaign finance system, and calling for a political revolution. Clinton says prayers are not enough for Paris; we need resolve to bring the world together to combat jihadist radicals. Clinton vows to fight terrorism aggressively as president. O'Malley says his heart goes out to the people of France, and says the US must work collaboratively with other nations to thwart terrorism.

      Sanders seems to prefer using Arab proxies in the war against ISIS, calling this a "war for the soul of Islam." He doesn't that if this metaphorical war is fought with real arms, armed warfare will be the only winner. Clinton insists that ISIS "cannot be contained; it must be defeated." She doesn't wonder what an American "victory" might mean for the vanquished, or whether indeed there will be any. David Atkins has a follow-up post to the one quoted above: The Right Will Win if the Left Doesn't Forcefully Confront ISIS. He applauds Hollande and Sanders for "sounding aggressively militaristic in response." The idea is that leftish politicians should deliberately act stupid and malicious in order to save electorates from electing right-wingers who would act stupid and malicious, and in the process really screw everything up. In the debate, at least, Sanders was able to scold Clinton, reminding her that her Iraq War vote was profoundly wrong. Atkins wants to squelch that dissent, and Sanders seems willing to throw his career away going along. Indeed, it's reasonable to argue that had the 2003 Iraq War not happened, ISIS would never have come around. On the other hand, it did, and we're here. Still, that doesn't make bowing to a flare-up of war fever right just because it is (for the moment) popular. Saddam Hussein was painted as every bit as evil then as ISIS is now. But it really doesn't matter how evil the enemy is if you can't do anything constructive about it, and we've proven that we can't. One more thing: while Sanders voted against Iraq, he did vote for the post-9/11 Afghanistan War -- in the heat of the moment, you might say. To my mind, that was the real strategic blunder.

    • Alissa J Rubin/Anne Barnard: France Strikes ISIS Targets in Syria in Retaliation for Attacks: Hollande, having vowed to be "unforgiving with the barbarians," takes the path with the least mental effort, not to mention conscience, and goes straight after command headquarters in Raqqa. Of course, they wouldn't have been able to react so quickly except that they were already bombing Syria. The article also quotes Nicolas Sarkozy saying, "We need everybody in order to exterminate Daesh." Grammar isn't totally clear there, but the genocide word is.

    • Peter Beinart: ISIS Is Not Waging a War Against Western Civilization: Mostly critiques some particularly dumb things Marco Rubio said. Beinart, who has a checkered history of first supporting and then having second thoughts about America's wars in the Middle East -- he wrote one book, The Good Fight: Why Liberals -- and Only Liberals -- Can Win the War on Terror which can be read as why conservatives are clueless, and another The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris. He concludes here that "both morally and strategically, limiting -- and ultimately eliminating -- the Islamic State's nightmarish dominion over millions of human beings justifies war," but he also argues that it's mostly geopolitics and not some clash of civilizations. One thing I will add is that even if you accept Beinart's conclusion that war against ISIS is justified, it doesn't follow that the US is the one that should be fighting that war. Given Beinart's track record, he'll figure that out . . . eventually.

      Beinart's pre-Paris piece is better: The Mindless Logic of Republican Foreign Policy: Sure, it's like shooting sitting ducks. But at least he's still skeptical on Syria:

      The experience of the last 15 years offers little reason to believe that waging a larger war in Syria will make Syria more stable or America more safe. But for most of the GOP presidential contenders, that's irrelevant. It doesn't really matter where American foreign policy leads, as long as America leads.

    • Peter Van Buren: Paris: You Don't Want to Read This:

      But I do have this: stop what we have been doing for the last 14 years. It has not worked. There is nothing at all to suggest it ever will work. Whack-a-mole is a game, not a plan. Leave the Middle East alone. Stop creating more failed states. Stop throwing away our freedoms at home on falsehoods. Stop disenfranchising the Muslims who live with us. Understand the war, such as it is, is against a set of ideas -- religious, anti-western, anti-imperialist -- and you cannot bomb an idea. Putting western soldiers on the ground in the MidEast and western planes overhead fans the flames. Vengeance does not and cannot extinguish an idea.

    • Chris Floyd: Age of Despair: Reaping the Whirlwind of Western Support for Extremist Violence:

      Without the American crime of aggressive war against Iraq -- which, by the measurements used by Western governments themselves, left more than a million innocent people dead -- there would be no ISIS, no "Al Qaeda in Iraq." Without the Saudi and Western funding and arming of an amalgam of extremist Sunni groups across the Middle East, used as proxies to strike at Iran and its allies, there would be no ISIS. Let's go back further. Without the direct, extensive and deliberate creation by the United States and its Saudi ally of a world-wide movement of armed Sunni extremists during the Carter and Reagan administrations (in order to draw the Soviets into a quagmire in Afghanistan), there would have been no "War on Terror" -- and no terrorist attacks in Paris tonight. [ . . . ]

      I write in despair. Despair of course at the depravity displayed by the murderers of innocents in Paris tonight; but an even deeper despair at the depravity of the egregious murderers who have brought us to this ghastly place in human history: those gilded figures who have strode the halls of power for decades in the high chambers of the West, killing innocent people by the hundreds of thousands, crushing secular opposition to their favored dictators -- and again, again and again -- supporting, funding and arming some of the most virulent sectarians on earth.

    • Jason Ditz: Yazidis Burn Muslim Homes in 'Liberated' Iraqi City of Sinjar: What goes around comes around.

      ISIS carried out several bloody attacks against the Yazidis early in their takeover of the region, and labeled the homes of Sinjar's Sunni residents as such, apparently to advise their forces to leave them alone in their various crackdowns. Now, the homes labeled Sunni are a target.

      Sunnis are often the targets of violent recriminations after ISIS loses control of cities and towns, under the presumption that anyone ISIS wasn't persecuting (or at least was persecuting less publicly) must've been secretly collaborating with them.

    • Patrick Cockburn: Paris Terror Attacks: No Security Can Stop ISIS -- the Bombers Will Always Get Through, and Paris Attack: ISIS Has Created a New Kind of Warfare.

    • Graeme Wood: What ISIS Really Wants: This is evidently the source of the notion that ISIS is obsessed with hastening the apocalypse that Atkins cites in his pieces. I have no way of judging such views, but I am skeptical that there is a single idea and a single motivation behind a group the size of ISIS. I'll also note that there are plenty of Christians who are similarly obsessed with end times, and while we don't often talk about them, some have even had an inordinate amount of influence when it comes to the Middle East. (One I am aware of was David Lloyd George, Britain's Prime Minister who oversaw the Balfour Declaration, which announced Britain's intention to facilitate the return of the Jews to Palestine, as foretold in the Book of Revelations. Another, who's been very vocal on the subject of late, is former GOP presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann.)

    • Scott Atran: Mindless terrorists? The truth about Isis is much worse: Another attempt to probe the ISIS mind, this one focusing on the psychological appeal of jihad to young Western Muslims -- the recruiting grounds for attacks like the ones in Paris. One lesson I draw from this is the importance of establishing the perception that the West treats the Muslim world fairly and justly. Another is that the rising racism and bigotry that prevents Muslims from assimilating in the West helps drive them against us.

If I stayed up a few more hours I could collect many more ISIS links, but this will have to be enough for now. I doubt that my main points will change any. And I don't mind the occasional pieces that show you how maniacal ISIS can be. None prove that the US military is the answer.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 25726 [25691] rated (+35), 439 [439] unrated (-0).

Fall is coming to Wichita several weeks later than usual this year, but we raked up a first bag of leaves yesterday (many more are still on the trees, but no longer green). That got me started thinking about EOY lists. My own lists-in-progress currently show 59 jazz and 42 non-jazz new records on the A-list (reissues/historic music: 6 + 5).

I added eight records to those lists this week. Michael Tatum reviewed the Chills in his latest column, and also tipped me off on two of this week's three rap albums (Blackalicious and Peaceable Solutions, although I was vaguely aware of the former). The third rap record was Paris, reviewed by Robert Christgau a while back. I had put it off because it's a double, and only gave it one spin, but it's so solid it's in my shopping basket (along with Laurie Anderson, Blackalicious, Lyrics Born, and Sleaford Mods) as a possible P&J contender.

Four jazz records too. J÷rg Fischer has been sending me CDs for a couple years and Spicy Unit finally hit the spot. The other two -- Ochs-Robinson Duo and Michael Zerang & the Blue Lights -- I had to stream. I spent a big chunk of time last week scanning through The Free Jazz Collective's blog and adding all the new 2015 releases they reviewed to my 2015 release list file. I don't find their ratings to be very reliable, but they do cover a lot of avant-jazz. I probably added a hundred albums, noted a couple dozen to look up, and listened to a handful. The Zerang album is the Mars Williams-Dave Rempis joust of my dreams (and its companion is either more or less depending on your perspective). And the Larry Ochs duo is as clear a showcase for his powerful tenor sax as I can recall. The trawl also located a few links below.

The fourth jazz record was one I got in the mail and played a lot (4-5 times), wavering on the fence. Josh Berman is actually in Zerang's band, but he is better heard on his own new trio record. Probably would have been an easier call had I not played it right after Ochs and the two Zerangs and started worrying that everything was sounding A-worthy. (As I'm writing this, I'm playing random shit from the queue and not having that problem at all.)

The release list file is currently approaching 2500 entries (2389; about one-third are jazz: 813). I'll keep growing the file for a while, but eventually it will give way to an EOY List Aggregate file, like the one I did last year. EOY lists start showing up in mid-November, especially in the UK (which probably has more music magazines than the US does). The counter in the music tracking file shows 751 records either rated or in hand this year. Unlikely I'll hit 1000 this year, as I have done a couple of times in the past.

Recommended music links:

The first few links come from the Free Jazz Collective crawl.

  • Free Jazz Collective: To Ornette Coleman: A retrospective of pretty much all the albums. The Free Jazz Collective also did a 50-year series on AACM: Introduction, 1965-1974, 1975-1984, 1985-1994, 1995-2004, 2005-2015.

  • My trawl also neeted this interview with Tom Surgall, director of the free jazz documentary Fire Music, with his list of "important free jazz albums": his pick of John Tchicai's Afrodiasica spurred me to listen to a number of the Danish saxophonist's albums (see old music below).

  • Milo Miles: First Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Ballot: Goes through some rationalization about being "too good" to vote in Pazz & Jop (a status some of us have yet to achieve), then prints out a list of fifteen ballot choices for 2016 (any write-ins?). Then he asks, "which five did I vote for?" I wouldn't presume to know, but I wouldn't feel bad about voting for: Chic, The JB's, Los Lobos. After that it gets a bit dicier. Looking back, I see at least one A- grade for (C means a best-of compilation) for: Janet Jackson (2), Nine Inch Nails (3), The Smiths (1C). I wouldn't mind any of those, but they're not what I think of as all-time legends, and I bet I can find better acts the Hall passed over. I also see that Christgau has at least one A- grade for: The Cars (1C), Chaka Khan (1C), Steve Miller (1C), The Spinners (2+2C). I should probably give that Spinners comp another spin, maybe even check out the Atlantics I totally missed. The others: Cheap Trick (probably entertaining live), Chicago (maybe the worst rock band of all time, not that they started so bad), Deep Purple (nothing in my database, nothing I remember hearing, although I surely must have), N.W.A. (made a big impression on teens at the time), and Yes (very popular among my college friends, but I moved on).

PS: Sometime back I incorrectly got the group and album title swapped: should be The Spanish Donkey: Raoul (2015, Rare Noise). Group members are: Joe Morris, Jamie Saft, and Mike Pride. Grade: B.

New records rated this week:

  • Josh Berman Trio: A Dance and a Hop (2015, Delmark): A-
  • Blackalicious: Imani, Vol. 1 (2015, OGM): [r]: A-
  • The Chills: Silver Bullets (2015, Fire): [r]: A-
  • Marcelo Dos Reis/AngÚlica V. Salvi: Concentric Rinds (2013 [2015], Cipsela): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Robin Eubanks Mass Line Big Band: More Than Meets the Ear (2015, ArtistShare): [cdr]: B+(*)
  • Sergi Felipe: Whisper Songs (2011, UnderPool): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Sergi Felipe/Whisper Songs: Bomb˙ Es Libre En El Espacio (2013, UnderPool): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Garrison Fewell: Invisible Resonance Trio (2013 [2015], Creative Nation Music): [r]: B+(***)
  • Mike Holober: Balancing Act (2015, Palmetto): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Hot Jazz Jumpers: The Very Next Thing (2015, On the Bol): [cd]: B
  • Guus Janssen: Meeting Points (1989-2014 [2015], Bimhuis): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Marco Mezquida Mateos: Live in Terrassa (2015, UnderPool): [cd]: B+(***)
  • The Monash Art Ensemble/George Lewis: Hexis (2013 [2014], Jazzhead): [r]: B+(**)
  • └lvar Montfort/Lucas Martinez/Jordi Matas/Abel Boquera/Pep Mula: Underpool 4 (2014 [2015], UnderPool): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Larry Ochs/Don Robinson Duo: The Throne (2011 [2015], Not Two): [r]: A-
  • Paris: Pistol Politics (2015, Guerrilla Funk, 2CD): [r]: A-
  • Peaceful Solutions: Barter 7 (2015, self-released): [bc]: A-
  • Pol Pedrˇs/NoŔ EscolÓ/Albert Cirera/Rai Paz/Paco Weht/Ildefons Alonso: Underpool 3 (2014, UnderPool): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Martin Speicher/Peter Geisselbrecht/J÷rg Fischer: Spicy Unit (2014 [2015], Spore Print): [cd]: A-
  • Spinifex: Veiled (2015, Trytone): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jacob Varmus Septet: Aegean: For Three Generations of Jazz Lovers (2013 [2015], Crows' Kin): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Carrie Wicks: Maybe (2015, OA2): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Patrick Williams: Home Suite Home (2015, BFM): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Dave Wilson Quartet: There Was Never (2015, Zoho): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Michael Zerang & the Blue Lights: Songs From the Big Book of Love (2014 [2015], Pink Palace): [bc]: A-
  • Michael Zerang & the Blue Lights: Hash Eaters and Peacekeepers (2014 [2015], Pink Palace, EP): [bc]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • The Chills: Kaleidoscope World (1982-84 [1989], Homestead): [r]: B+(*)
  • Marty Grosz and the Collectors Items Cats: Thanks (1993, Jazzology): [r]: B+(**)
  • Marty Grosz Quartet: Just for Fun! (1996, Nagel Heyer): [r]: B+(*)
  • Marty Grosz: Left to His Own Devices (2000 [2001], Jazzology): [r]: B+(*)
  • Grant McLennan: In Your Bright Ray (1996 [1997], Beggars Banquet): [r]: B+(*)
  • Grant McLennan: Intermission: The Best of the Solo Recordings 1990-1997 (1990-97 [2007], Beggars Banquet): [r]: A-
  • John Tchicai: Cadentia Nova Danica (1968, Freedom): [r]: A-
  • John Tchicai and Cadentia Nova Danica: Afrodisiaca (1969, MPS): [r]: B+(**)
  • John Tchicai-Irene Schweizer-Group: Willi the Pig: Live at the Willisau Jazz Festival (1975 [2000], Atavistic Unheard Music Series): [r]: A-
  • John Tchicai & Strange Brothers: Darktown Highlights (1977, Storyville): [r]: B+(***)
  • John Tchicai: Put Up the Fight (1987, Storyville): [r]: B+(*)
  • John Tchicai: Darktown Highlights/Put Up the Fight (1977-87 [2012], Storyville, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Dan Ballou: Solo Trumpet (Clean Feed)
  • Bathysphere: Bathysphere (Driff)
  • Scott Clark 4tet: Bury My Heart (Clean Feed)
  • Di Lontan: Power Trio (Clean Feed)
  • Jorrit Dijkstra: Neither Odd nor Even (Driff)
  • Jorrit Dijkstra/Pandelis Karayorgis/Nate McBride/Curt Newton: Matchbox (Driff)
  • Brian Fielding: An Appropriate Response: Volume One (Broken Symmetries Music): January 1
  • Daniel Levin/Mat Maneri: The Transcendent Function (Clean Feed)
  • Jack Mouse & Scott Robinson with Janice Borla: Three Story Sandbox (Tall Grass): January 1
  • Ivo Perelman/Mat Maneri/Tanya Kalmanovitch: Villa Lobos Suite (Leo)
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: Complementary Colors (Leo)
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp/Whit Dickey: Butterfly Whispers (Leo)
  • Nate Wooley Quintet: (Dance to) the Early Music (Clean Feed)

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Weekend Roundup

Nothing from Crowson this week: he wasted his editorial space with a celebration of the World Series victors. I enjoyed the Kansas City Royals' wins, too -- even watched a couple innings of Game 2, where I didn't recognize a single name but had no problem understanding the many nuances of the game. At least that much doesn't change much, or fade away.

The main topic this week is the mental and moral rot that calls itself conservatism, also known as the Republican Party. Scattered links:

  • Anne Kim: The GOP's Flat Tax Folly: It seems like every Republican presidential candidate has his own special tax jiggering plan, although they all have common features, namely letting the rich pay less (so they can save more) and increasing the federal deficit (hoping to trim that back a bit by cutting spending, although not on "defense" or on privatization schemes or on putting more people in jail). And those who lack the staff or imagination to come up with signature schemes fall back on the so-called "flat tax" scam (even more euphamistically called "the fair tax" -- as spelled out in Neal Boortz's The Fair Tax Book): Kim's list of flat-taxers includes Rand Paul, Lindsey Graham, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Ben Carson, who likens the tax to a tithe. One thing flat-taxers always claim is that a single rate would greatly simplify the income tax code, but today's "complicated" rate chart is maybe two pages of the code. Reducing that to one line in an age where everything is computerized is nothing. All the rest of the complexity addresses the many questions of what is (or is not) income, at least for taxability purposes. For individuals who don't have many itemizable deductions that's already been simplified, but for businesses that's where all the complexity comes in. The loopholes for any given business may vary, but the bottom line is that businesses (including self-employed individuals) get to deduct many expenses that the rest of us cannot. The flat-taxers may think they're going to cut through a lot of special cases, but it's often hard to separate perks out from necessary expenses, to take one example. Another complicating factor is that we often implement policy through tax incentives. For instance, the tax code favors property owners over renters, married people over single, and families with dependent children over those without (although not nearly as much as the actual increased cost of maintaining those children). The tax code has long favored private health insurance (effectively subsidizing it), and since ACA added penalties for those who are uninsured (who are, after all, not only hurting themselves but becoming public liabilities). And this list could go on and on, from things that seem eminently reasonable to others that are truly perverse (like the oil depletion allowance).

    If the economy itself were totally fair -- if all markets were optimally transparent and competitive, and if had enough leverage they could fully share in productivity gains and profits -- then a flat income tax might also be a fair tax (although it would be easier to account for and collect a business-only tax like a VAT). However, virtually everything in the private sector economy is unbalanced in ways that favor property owners and limit potential competitors. The result, as we plainly see today, is vast and increasing inequality, which at its current stage is undermining democracy and tearing at the social fabric. Indeed, this is happening despite a current tax system which is still progressive: which taxes the rich more than it taxes the poor, and which provides some redistribution from rich to poor. In this context, the flat tax does three things, all bad: it reduces the tax on the rich, increasing inequality; it increases taxes on the poor and at least half of all working Americans, in many cases pushing them into (or deeper into) poverty; and it kills the critical idea of progressivity in tax collection. If anything, we need to extend the notion of progressivity throughout the tax system. For instance, we currently have a flat tax on capital gains and dividends -- almost exclusively a favor to the rich -- but both are forms of income. If anything, as unearned income you can make a case for taxing them more progressively -- since they contribute more to inequality, and since the tax rate has no disincentive. (A higher tax rate offers more incentive to hide income through fraud, but not to gain the income in the first place. I've argued in the past that the proper framework for calculating a progressive scale for unearned income should be the lifetime, which would encourage saving by the young and/or poor.) I'd also like to see progressive taxes on corporations, which would help even the playing field between small and large companies. (At present the latter tend to use their scale advantage to crowd out competition.) Of course, it's not true that every tax should be progressive. But some taxes have to be progressive enough to counter the economic system's built-in bias toward inequality.

    As a rule of thumb, any time you hear "flat-tax" or "fair-tax" you should automatically reject its advocate. Most likely they don't know what they're talking about, but to the extent that they do they are out to trash society, the economy, and the public institutions that make them possible.

  • Paul Krugman: The Conspiracy Consensus:

    So, are we supposed to be shocked over Donald Trump claiming that Janet Yellen is keeping rates low to help Obama? Folks, this is a widely held position in the Republican Party; Paul Ryan and John Taylor accused Ben Bernanke years ago of doing something dastardly by preventing the fiscal crisis they insist would and should have happened under Obama. If Trump's remarks seem startling, it's only because the press has soft-pedaled the conspiracy theorizing of seemingly respectable Republicans.

    Uh, doesn't this mean that Trump understands that low interest rates are the right thing for the economy? Sure, he's pissed that Obama gets credit for the stimulated growth, but if he were president he'd want the same low rates so he could get credit for the growth. Maybe he thinks that Yellen is such a partisan hack that if a Republican were president she's raise interest rates just to get them blamed for the downturn. On the other hand, what does that say about Republicans calling for higher interest rates? That they're willing to harm the economy as long as they think a Democrat will be blamed for it? On the other hand, when they were in power, you have Nixon saying "we are all Keynesians now" and Cheney "deficits don't matter."

  • Nancy LeTourneau: The Effects of Anti-Knowledge on Democracy: Starts with a long quote from Mike Lofgren: The GOP and the Rise of Anti-Knowledge -- worth checking out on its own, among other things because the first thing you see after a quote attributed to Josh Billings ("The trouble with people is not that they don't know, but that they know so much that ain't so.") is a picture of Ben Carson. Lofgren writes about Carson (evidently before last week's revelations about pyramids and arks):

    This brings us inevitably to celebrity presidential candidate Ben Carson. The man is anti-knowledge incarnated, a walking compendium of every imbecility ever uttered during the last three decades. Obamacare is worse than chattel slavery. Women who have abortions are like slave owners. If Jews had firearms they could have stopped the Holocaust (author's note: they obtained at least some weapons during the Warsaw Ghetto rising, and no, it didn't). Victims of a mass shooting in Oregon enabled their own deaths by their behavior. And so on, ad nauseam.

    It is highly revealing that, according to a Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll of likely Republican caucus attendees, the stolid Iowa burghers liked Carson all the more for such moronic utterances. And sure enough, the New York Times tells us that Carson has pulled ahead of Donald Trump in a national poll of Republican voters. Apparently, Trump was just not crazy enough for their tastes. [ . . . ]

    This brings us back to Ben Carson. He now suggests that, rather than abolishing the Department of Education, a perennial Republican goal, the department should be used to investigate professors who say something he doesn't agree with. The mechanism to bring these heretics to the government's attention should be denunciations from students, a technique once in vogue in the old Soviet Union.

    Perhaps Lofgren was trying to burnish his conservative bona fides with that Soviet Union example: one closer to the mark would be the Salem witch trials.

    LeTourneau adds:

    That's why I'd suggest that the root cause of an attraction to anti-knowledge was the creation of Fox News. What Murdoch managed to do with that network was to pose the proposition that facts were merely the liberal media at work. So on one side of the "debate" you have the conservative garage logic and on the other you have liberal facts. The rest of the media -- in an attempt to prove they weren't liberal -- accepted this frame, giving credence to anti-knowledge as a legitimate position. That traps us into things like having to argue over whether the science of human's contribution to climate change is real because denialism is given credence as the opposing conservative view.

    I've seen an argument that right-wing opposition to climate science is based on the perception (or maybe just intuition) that the whole thing is just an excuse to promote government regulation; i.e., that because we reject the solution, we have to deny the problem and all the science behind it. That only works if the problems aren't real, which is to say never -- although global warming has had an unusually long run because people readily confuse the variability of everyday weather with the uniformity of climate, and because the latter is a bit too stochastic for certainty. There are many other examples of this -- taxes, stimulus spending, military intervention, defense spending, personal guns: all cases where the right-wing holds to a position based on political conviction regardless of the facts. Part of the problem here is that right-wingers have taken extreme stands, based on pure rhetoric, that have seized their brains like prime directives: like the notion that all government regulation is bad, or that government is incompetent to act. Part is that when right-wing "think tanks" have taken problems seriously and tried to come up with conservative solutions, they've sometimes been adopted by their enemy (leading one to doubt their sincerity: cap-and-trade and Obamacare are examples). As the right-wing has lost more and more arguments, it's only natural that they'd start to flail at the facts and science that undermines their ideological positions. From there it's a slippery slope. For many years, the right has complained about leftists in academia poisoning young minds, but in 2012 Rick Santorum broke new ground in arguing that people shouldn't go to college because the very institutions teach people to think like liberals. Since then the GOP's struggle against science, reason, and reality has only intensified. That leads us guys like Carson, and he's far from alone (see, e.g., the flat-tax brigade, above).

    Also see LeTourneau's "Who's to Blame for This Mess?". Most of the post is a quote from a Robert Reich post, where Reich is interviewing "a former Republican member of Congress," who starts out with "They're all nuts" then goes down the presidential lineup, starting with Carson and Trump ("they're both out of their f*cking minds") and ending with Bush and Christie ("they're sounding almost as batty as the rest"). He places blame: "Roger Ailes, David and Charles Koch, Rupert Murdoch, Rush Limbaugh. I could go on. They've poisoned the American mind and destroyed the Republican Party").

    LeTourneau has yet another piece, The Policy Vacuum of Movement Conservatism, where she quotes Michael Lind:

    Yet by the 1980s, movement conservatism was running out of steam. Its young radicals had mellowed into moderate statesman. By the 1970s, Buckley and his fellow conservatives had abandoned the radical idea of "rollback" in the Cold War and made their peace with the more cautious Cold War liberal policy of containment. In the 1960s, Reagan denounced Social Security and Medicare as tyrannical, but as president he did not try to repeal and replace these popular programs. When he gave up the confrontational evil-empire rhetoric of his first term toward the Soviet Union and negotiated an end to the Cold War with Mikhail Gorbachev in his second term, many conservatives felt betrayed . . .

    Indeed, it's fair to say that the three great projects of the post-1955 right -- repealing the New Deal, ultrahawkishness (first anti-Soviet, then pro-Iraq invasion) and repealing the sexual/culture revolution -- have completely failed. Not only that, they are losing support among GOP voters.

    On the other hand, Lind omits the one project that Reagan and successors succeeded spectacularly at: tilting the economy to favor the well-to-do, especially at the expense of organized labor. One might argue -- I would emphatically disagree -- that Reagan offered a necessary correction to the liberal/egalitarian tilt of the previous five decades, but what's happened since then has tipped the nation way too far back toward the rich. And it's clear that the right, like the rich, has no concept of too much and no will to turn their rhetoric back toward center. Still, they can only keep pushing their same old nostrums, even having watched them fail so universally under Bush. Lind's generation of conservatives may have mellowed as he claims, but there have been at least two later points when the Republicans turned starkly toward the right -- in the 1990s under Gingrich continuing through the Bush administration, and after 2009 with the Tea Party doubling down in the wake of failure. Moreover, they haven't given up on the defeats Lind identified, even though they continue to look like losing propositions. Indeed, it's hard to see that they have any viable policy options, leaving them with little beyond their conviction that all they really need is the right character -- maybe a Trump or maybe a Carson. After all, they wrap themselves so ostentatiously in piety and patriotic jingoism that they feel entitled to rule, even when they lose as bad as McCain did to Obama.

Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted; i.e., I don't have time for this shit right now):

  • Olga Khazan: Middle-Aged White Americans Are Dying of Despair: One of the most disturbing discoveries of the last twenty years: the average life expectancy in Russia took an alarming downturn after the fall of communism. When I was growing up, one thing we could take for granted was that we were making progress on nearly all fronts, one being that we could expect to live longer lives, and our children longer still. Russia showed that politically-engendered economic despair could end and even reverse that progress. But who thought it could happen here? I first read these reports a year ago and did a quick inventory. On my mother's side of the family, I have a cohort of 20 cousins, b. 1925-43. The first of those cousins to die was in 2003 (emphysema, i.e. cigarettes). The youngest to die was 71, in 2011, and the youngest still alive has beat that. The oldest still alive is 89. But a number of their children are already gone: the first a victim of the Vietnam War, one to a car wreck, one to cancer in her 30s, several more (and my records are incomplete). Perhaps the most striking was one who died at 64, just three days after his father died at 88. I'm pretty sure all of my cousins did better economically than their parents, but despite more education that's less true for the next generation. Just some data, but it fits, and makes the stats more concrete. Khazan cites the work of two economists who blame inequality. That's right, but we need a better way to explain how that works.

    PS: Paul Krugman also has a comment on this, including this chart which shows a downward trend in deaths for all the charted wealthy countries (plus US Hispanics), compared to a slight rise among US whites:

    The Anne Case/Angus Deaton paper both posts refer to is Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century.

  • Gareth Porter: The New Yorker Doesn't Factcheck What 'Everyone Knows' Is True: Examines a New Yorker article by Dexter Filkins on the shooting of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman, who had tried to make a case that Iran and Hezbollah were responsible for the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center (AMIA) in Buenos Aires. I've long be skeptical about Hezbollah's (and Iran's) guilt here, mostly because it seems out of character, but it's become such a propaganda point for Israel and the US that most western journalists (like Filkins) take it for fact. Nisman's indictment of prominent Iranian and Hezbollah added fire to the charges, but as Porter points out there is little substance in the indictment -- the main source is the MEK, an anti-Iranian terrorist organization originally set up by Saddam Hussein but lately primarily used by Israel to disseminate disinformation about Iran's nuclear program. Nisman further charged that Argentine presidents Carlos Menem and Cristina Kirchner conspired with Iran to cover up the bombing, but again his evidence is suspicious. As is Nisman's death, apparently a suicide but still, like the bombing, unresolved.

  • David Waldman: Good guy with a gun takes out a theater shooter! GunFAIL CLXIII: What's that, 168? Looks like Waldman's been collecting stories of gun mishaps for a while now, and this is about one week's worth (Oct. 11-17, 2015): 47 events. The title refers to a guy in Salina, KS who was watching a movie and fidgeting with a gun in his pant-pocket, finally shooting himself in the leg (i.e., the "theater shooter" he "took out" was himself).

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Daily Log

Alfred Soto commented on my Facebook post yesterday, asking what Cuban dishes I cook. He could have looked in the notebook, but I responded, recapping:

I've been using a cookbook called "The Cuban Table." I've cooked from many cuisines (mostly a straight line from Spain and Morocco to China-Korea-Japan). Always enjoyed Cuban in restaurants, so I thought I'd give it a try. Birthday dinner is a tradition going back to the 1990s where I pick a cuisine and fix too many dishes in, sort of a tasting menu. (Chinese was first, then Turkish then Indian; I'd also count Spanish in my "big four.") This year: Creole Fried Chicken, Picadillo with Potatoes (a ground beef hash with olives and raisins), Rabo Alcaparrado (oxtail in caper sauce), a shrimp dish (with scallops added), black beans, rice, corn on the cob with cotijo cheese, two calabaza salads (one with broiled pineapple). Also had non-Cuban cake (oatmeal stout) and ice cream (orange-date). The corn was a Mexican recipe, but I've had the same thing (only grilled) in Cuban restaurants. I meant to do an avocado salad and some fried plantains, and originally planned to do the scallops in a coconut sauce, but got rushed. You're right: lots of garlic, sour orange juice (I used an orange-lime mix). Spices were mostly cumin and oregano. I've only made a couple other dishes in the past, like Masas de Puerco. Next time I think I'll try that with fresh ham instead of shoulder: we have a Vietnamese grocer here that sells every conceivable slice of pork.

By the way, we finished up the last of the leftovers a couple days ago: I reheated the oxtail and beans, fried the leftover plantains, and served them with polenta. Not much meat to the oxtail, but hard to exaggerate how delicious it was. Actually, Laura saved a bit of the sauce, planning on eating it with the leftover plantains. The day before I salvaged the avocados by making guacamole. Still had some tomatoes left over (plus more neighbors had given us), so I decided to make pizza. Used Mark Bittman's shell recipe -- easy to mix in the food processor -- and made a sauce with half an onion chopped, five or so cloves of garlic, the tomatoes, chopped fresh parsley and oregano, capers, kalamata olives, paprika, salt, black pepper -- trying to use up my shopping excess. For meat I fried up four slices of bacon, a couple slices of ham, and about half of a stick of chorizo. For cheese I used four slices of harvati, a similar amount of smoked gruyere, a half cup of shredded sharp cheddar, and a liberal sprinkling of parmesan. Also sliced up a small green bell pepper and a little bit of red onion. Rolled it out on one of those pizza pans with lots of small holes, and baked it at 500F for 15 minutes. Not very cheesy, but quite tasty, even cold the next day.

List of important free jazz albums from an interview with Tom Surgall, who made the film Fire Music (alphabetical by artist, my grades in brackets):

  1. Albert Ayler: Bells [A-]
  2. BAG (Black Artists Group)
  3. Gato Barbieri: In Search of the Mystery
  4. Anthony Braxton: For Alto [D]
  5. Peter Br÷tzmann: Machine Gun [B+]
  6. Bill Dixon: Intents and Purposes
  7. Don Cherry: Where Is Brooklyn [A-]
  8. John Coltrane/Rashied Ali: Interstellar Space [A-]
  9. Eric Dolphy: Out to Lunch [A-]
  10. Milford Graves featuring Don Pullen: Nommo
  11. Noah Howard: The Black Ark
  12. Frank Lowe: Black Beings [B-]
  13. Evan Parker/Derek Bailey/Han Bennink: The Topography of the Lungs
  14. Pharoah Sanders: Tauhid [A-]
  15. Archie Shepp: Life at the Donaueshingen Music Festival
  16. Sonny Simmons: Burning Spirits
  17. Sun Ra: Astro Black
  18. Horace Tapscott: The Giant Is Awakened
  19. Cecil Taylor: Unit Structures [B+]
  20. John Tchicai: Afrodisiaca
  21. Frank Wright: Frank Wright Trio
  22. Monday, November 02, 2015

    Music Week

    Music: Current count 25691 [25653] rated (+38), 439 [447] unrated (-8).

    A busy week, in all regards except unpacking. Rated count is back up after last week's dip. I got a jump there by looking at everything I hadn't previously heard on Alfred Soto's "third quarter report" (ASAP Rocky, Speedy Ortiz, Florence + the Machine, Brandon Flowers, Angel Haze, Destroyer, Robert Forster, Janet Jackson). Some good records there, but nothing I especially loved. Still, the exercise did send me back to Forster's best-of (didn't get to Grant McLennan's companion comp, something I should remedy; at least with McLennan I'm more familiar with the source albums, a couple of which I've A-listed -- Watershed and Horsebreaker Star).

    Most importantly, Michael Tatum published a new A Downloader's Diary last week. (My archive copy is here.) Not a lot there I hadn't heard already -- Deerhunter, Forster, and Destroyer are in my list this week but I got them earlier, without the benefit of Tatum's advice. (I came up with slightly lower grades for Deerhunter, Forster, and Jill Scott -- any of which could be chalked up to lack of patience with records a bit outside of my wheelhouse.) Aside from ratings quibbles, I should point out that the Heems and even more so the Kendrick Lamar reviews rank among the year's best music writing.

    I did get two A-list records from Robert Christgau's Expert Witness this week: Laurie Anderson's Heart of a Dog and Jeffrey Lewis' Manhattan. I gave them two spins each -- not enough to rise beyond A-, although Lewis was getting better, and I can certainly see the appeal of Anderson's stories (I'm just not as swept away by the music as I was by Strange Angels, or even Home of the Brave). I'll probably break down and order copies of both, but actually the new record that impressed me the most this week was Lyrics Born's Real People (also two spins). Evidently it came out in May but the first I heard of it was when it showed up on one of Mosi Reeves' Rhapsody lists. Tom Shimura is as much a cult-favorite among Christgauvians as Anderson or Lewis, so I'm surprised no one flagged it. (Or did I just slip up and not notice?)

    Very rare that I actually buy records any more: after Yesterdays closed there are no decent record stores in Wichita, and the impulse buys I would occasionally pick up at Best Buy petered out as their inventory continued to shrink. I do continue to buy books, though not often music books. (I did feel a desire to own, but haven't yet read, Michaelangelo Matos' The Underground Is Massive.) I was tempted last week by the two Allen Lowe books I don't own: Really the Blues? A Horizontal Chronicle of the Vertical Blues, 1893-1959 (the companion to his massive 36-CD trawl through blues history) and, especially, God Didn't Like It: Electric Hillbillies, Singing Preachers, and the Beginning of Rock and Roll, 1950-1970, but I got weak knees in Paypal hell (maybe later).

    However, the book I did order, and want to offer a preŰmptive plug for, is Tim Niland's Music and More: Selected Blog Posts 2003-2015. I've been reading Niland's Music and More blog for many years now, not so much to find new music (since we seem to be on the exact same mailing lists) as to check my sanity. Blogs are pretty much designed to be disposable but his is the opposite: if compiled into an indexed, searchable Christgau-like website it would be viewed as an essential reference resource. His 822-page book is the next best thing. Bargain-priced, too.

    Two more A-listed new jazz albums this week (plus one old one). You may recall that I also liked Nat Birchall's Live in Larissa last year. Maybe the Coltrane-isms are too obvious, but it's not like we'd turn out noses up at a new vault discovery. The fact is I'd take either Birchall album over The Offering (the 1966 tape that swept the polls last year). I've never gotten anything by Birchall in the mail, so reviewing him is strictly a Rhapsody bonus (with the usual caveats: in this case I have no idea who else played on the album, although they're pretty damn good).

    Matthew Shipp's trio took a lot more time to suss out -- I must have given it five (maybe six) spins. Without doing any A/B, I think it's his best trio since he moved back away from the jazztronica of last decade, maybe because I hear more of the knockabout rhythmizing of the Ware Quartet and his later albums with Ivo Perelman.

    I should probably mention that there will be a memorial "to celebrate the remarkable life of Elizabeth Marcia Fink," who died on September 22. I've seen a very nice invitation, but can't find any public posting of it, so here are the details: the memorial will be on Saturday, November 7, 2015, from 3:00-6:00 pm, at Union Theological Seminary, 3041 Broadway at 121st Street, New York, NY 10027. The invitation asks for RSVP. We're not up for another trip to New York at the moment, but we do miss Liz -- in fact, remark on it every single day.

    New records rated this week:

    • Laurie Anderson: Heart of a Dog (2015, Nonesuch): [r]: A-
    • Dennis Angel: On Track (2014 [2015], Timeless Grooves): [r]: B-
    • ASAP Rocky: At.Long.Last.ASAP (2015, Polo Grounds/RCA): [r]: B+(**)
    • Nat Birchall: Invocations (2015, Jazzman): [r]: A-
    • Sarah Buechi: Flying Letters (2013 [2014], Intakt): [r]: B+(*)
    • Sarah Buechi: Shadow Garden (2015, Intakt): [cd]: B+(***)
    • JoŃo Cam§es/Rodrigo Pinheiro/Miguel Mira: Earnear (2015, Tour de Bras): [cd]: B+(**)
    • JoŃo Cam§es/Jean-Marc Foussat/Claude Parle: Bien Mental (2015, Fou): [cd]: B+(***)
    • Romain Collin: Press Enter (2013 [2015], ACT): [cd]: B+(**)
    • Caroline Davis Quartet: Doors: Chicago Storylines (2013 [2015], Ears & Eyes): [cd]: B+(***)
    • Deerhunter: Fading Frontier (2015, 4AD): [r]: B+(***)
    • Destroyer: Poison Season (2015, Merge): [r]: B+(*)
    • Marcelo Dos Reis/Luis Vicente/ThÚo Ceccaldi/Valentin Ceccaldi: Chamber 4 (2013 [2015], FMR): [cd]: B+(**)
    • Empress Of: Me (2015, Terrible/XL): [r]: B+(*)
    • Florence + the Machine: How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful (2015, Island/Republic): [r]: B
    • Brandon Flowers: The Desired Effect (2015, Virgin EMI): [r]: B+(**)
    • Robert Forster: Songs to Play (2015, Tapete): [r]: B+(**)
    • Angel Haze: Back to the Woods (2015, self-released): [r]: B+(***)
    • Holly Herndon: Platform (2015, 4AD): [r]: B+(**)
    • Keigo Hirakawa: And Then There Were Three (2014 [2015], self-released): [r]: B+(*)
    • Sam Hunt: Between the Pines: Acoustic Mixtape (2015, MCA Nashville): [r]: B
    • Janet Jackson: Unbreakable (2015, Rhythm Nation): [r]: B+(*)
    • Hiatus Kaiyote: Choose Your Weapon (2015, Flying Buddha): [r]: B-
    • Emma Larsson: Sing to the Sky (2014 [2015], Origin): [cd]: B
    • Jeffrey Lewis & Los Bolts: Manhattan (2015, Rough Trade): [r]: A-
    • Lyrics Born: Real People (2015, Mobile Home): [r]: A-
    • Michael Sarian & the Chabones: The Escape Suite (2014-15 [2015], self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
    • Maria Schneider Orchestra: The Thompson Fields (2014 [2015], ArtistShare): [cd]: B+(**)
    • Matthew Shipp Trio: The Conduct of Jazz (2015, Thirsty Ear): [cd]: A-
    • Slobber Pup: Pole Axe (2015, Rare Noise): [cdr]: B+(**)
    • Speedy Ortiz: Foil Deer (2015, Carpark): [r]: B+(*)
    • The Spook School: Try to Be Hopeful (2015, Fortuna Pop): [r]: B+(**)
    • Total Babes: Heydays (2015, Wichita): [r]: B+(*)
    • Webb Wilder: Mississippi Moderne (2015, Landslide): [r]: B+(*)

    Old music rated this week:

    • Robert Forster: Intermission: The Best of the Solo Recordings 1990-1997 (1990-97 [2007], Beggars Banquet): [r]: A-
    • Marty Grosz and His Sugar Daddies: On Revival Day: Live at the Atlanta Jazz Party! (1995, Jazzology): [r]: B+(**)
    • Marty Grosz & His Hot Puppies: Rhythm Is Our Business (2000-01 [2003], Sackville): [r]: B+(***)
    • John Law Quartet: Exploded on Impact (1992 [1993], Slam): [r]: B+(***)
    • John Law: Extremely Quartet (1996 [1997], Hat Art): [r]: A-
    • John Law Quartet: Abacus (2000 [2001], Hatology): [r]: B+(***)

    Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

    • Aaron Irwin Quartet: A Room Forever (self-released): November 24
    • Ernie Krivda: Requiem for a Jazz Lady (Capri): November 17

    Sunday, November 01, 2015

    Weekend Roundup

    Some scattered links this week:

    • Gary Legum: Sam Brownback is a harbinger of national doom: Bleeding Kansas' scary lesson for America: Brownback's approval ratings are down to 18%, about where Bush's were when his presidency ended. Crowson put it like this:

      Of course, Brownback wasn't much more popular when he was reŰlected governor in 2014, but the trick there is to play up the fear of the unknown Democrat -- that plus a mysterious shift where Republicans across the board ran about five points higher than the polls predicted. Brownback's income tax cuts, including a free ride for business owners, passed early in his first term, and immediately blew a $600 billion hole in the state budget, leading to massive spending cuts and tax increases (both state and local, all regressive) to keep government marginally functional. Kansas had gotten through the early stages of the Great Recession relatively well, mostly because there was relatively little real estate bubble to pop, but since Brownback became governor economic growth has lagged in every comparison. This should be no surprise to anyone who knows the first thing about macroeconomics: just as more government spending stimulates more economic growth, less undermines growth (or worse). What's harder to calculate is how much long-term damage this level of economic strangulation will cause -- especially the hardships to be inflicted on a whole generation of students -- but there can be no doubt that harm is being done.

      Legum properly sees Kansas as a warning to the nation of what happens when Republicans get too much (or actually any -- his other example is Wisconsin) power, especially when led by an ambitious ideologue. Legum quips: "The biggest mystery about Brownback at this point is that he has been such an awful governor, it's a wonder he's not running for president." Brownback did run for president in 2008 and quit after he couldn't top 2% in Iowa polls. He then decided to give up his Senate seat and run for governor to prove himself as an executive and, well, he simply hasn't done that yet -- in fact, his unwillingness to compromise on rolling back some of his income tax cuts last year shows he's still convinced that they'll pan out eventually. Besides, the early field for governors with hideous records was already overfull with Scott Walker and Bobby Jindal (whose approval rates in Louisiana are even worse), plus his Bible buddy Rick Perry was running -- sure, that niche has opened up with Perry and Walker the first dropouts, but nothing suggests that Brownback would do any better.

    • Paul Krugman: The Hamptons Hyperinflation Endorsement:

      As a public service, some background to Marco Rubio's latest campaign coup. As the Times reports, Paul Singer -- a huge contributor to Republican causes -- has thrown his support behind Rubio.

      What it doesn't mention are two facts about Paul Singer that are, I think, relevant.

      First, he's most famous for his practice of buying up distressed debt of Third World governments, then suing to demand full repayment.

      Second, he's an inflation truther -- with an unusual twist. [ . . . ] But Singer has taken a different tack: he knows, just knows, that inflation is running away because of what it's doing to the prices of the things he cares about:

      Check out London, Manhattan, Aspen and East Hampton real estate prices, as well as high-end art prices, to see what the leading edge of hyperinflation could look like.

      Even if you only know one thing about economics, it's probably that prices rise on fixed goods when buyers have more money to spend. If the price of Aspen real estate is going up faster than the general rate of inflation, it's because the people who are in the market to buy that real estate are bidding each other up, and what makes that possible is that they have more money to spend. That would be obvious for a commodity, but real estate and fine art are also thought of as assets, so it's easy for buyers to fool themselves into thinking they're worth all they paid. One sign of increasing inequality is asset inflation, and the more the merrier.

      Also see Richard Silverstein on Singer: Pro-Israel Hedge Fund Billionaire, Paul Singer, Buys Large Stake in Rubio Inc.. Rubio also appears in Policy and Character, but more importantly Krugman gets to remind you of how prescient he's been in the past, and it's a case worth repeating:

      My view here is strongly influenced by the story of George W. Bush. Younger readers may not know or remember how it was back in 2000, but back then the universal view of the commentariat was that W was a moderate, amiable, bluff and honest guy. I was pretty much alone taking his economic proposals -- on taxes and Social Security -- seriously. And what I saw was a level of dishonesty and irresponsibility, plus radicalism, that was unprecedented in a major-party presidential candidate. So I was out there warning that Bush was a bad, dangerous guy no matter how amiable he seemed. [ . . . ]

      And proposing wildly unaffordable stuff is itself a declaration of priorities: Rubio is saying that keeping the Hair Club for Growth happy is more important to him than even a pretense of fiscal responsibility. Or if you like, what we've seen is a willingness to pander without constraint or embarrassment.

    • Tom Engelhardt: Campaign 2016 as a Demobilizing Spectacle: No less than a short history of post-WWII America pivoting around the question of when and where the American public is actively engaged ("mobilized") in public affairs, or not. For instance, he quotes Bernie Sanders: "We need to mobilize tens of millions of people to begin to stand up and fight back and to reclaim the government, which is now owned by big money." He ten adds a telling example: "We do, of course, have one recent example of a mobilization in an election season. In the 2008 election, the charismatic Barack Obama created a youthful, grassroots movement, a kind of cult of personality that helped sweep him to victory, only to demobilize it as soon as he entered the Oval Office." He doesn't mention the Tea Party, but that's another reflection of the sense that the government has turned into an alien entity that needs to be "taken back" (perhaps because they view it as something to be destroyed rather than restored as an instrument of the public interest).

      The desire to take the American public out of the "of the people, by the people, for the people" business can minimally be traced back to the Vietnam War, to the moment when a citizen's army began voting with its feet and antiwar sentiment grew to startling proportions not just on the home front, but inside a military in the field. It was then that the high command began to fear the actual disintegration of the U.S. Army.

      Not surprisingly, there was a deep desire never to repeat such an experience. (No more Vietnams! No more antiwar movements!) As a result, on January 27, 1973, with a stroke of the pen, President Richard Nixon abolished the draft, and so the citizen's army. With it went the sense that Americans had an obligation to serve their country in time of war (and peace).

      From that moment on, the urge to demobilize the American people and send them to Disney World would only grow. First, they were to be removed from all imaginable aspects of war making. Later, the same principle would be applied to the processes of government and to democracy itself. In this context, for instance, you could write a history of the monstrous growth of secrecy and surveillance as twin deities of the American state: the urge to keep ever more information from the citizenry and to see ever more of what those citizens were doing in their own private time. Both should be considered demobilizing trends.

      The line that stands out there is "No more antiwar movements!" -- most likely because antiwar movements question not just the strategy of a particular war but the material basis that makes it possible to fight wars, and the very morality of starting wars. Also, in the case of the United States, it is very easy to uncover a long list of dubious choices that led to war -- many taken in secret and covered up by the self-perpetuating security state.

    • Robert Parry: A Glimmer of Hope for Syria: For many years one of the best sources on the Middle East has been Paul Woodward's War in Context blog, but something unfunny happened a few years back when he started giving half or more of his blog to articles that seemed to be promoting western intervention in the Syrian Civil War. That didn't render the blog worthless, but it gave it an off odor. (An example today is Syria's horror shows the tragic price of Western inaction. I wouldn't call any of these things inaction: Obama's speech telling Assad he had to step down, the CIA's many attempts to train and arm "moderate" opposition groups, the "red line" ultimatum on chemical weapons, the arming of Kurdish troops operating in Syria, the bombing of all things ISIS, last week's insertion of Special Forces into Syria. And while I'm not sure what Woodward means by "Western" the US, at least, is at least partly complicit in the acts of its allies like Israel, Turkey (above and beyond NATO), Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar -- the first three have bombed Syria, and the latter two have at least shipped arms and money into the war. If anything there's been way too much action -- a charge I don't exempt Russia, Iran, and Hezbollah from.) Woodward doesn't flinch from the human tragedy the war has wrought, but the notion that some "action" is what's needed to bring the war to a just (or merely sane) close is magical thinking of the most fantastical sort. The only thing that can work is some form of agreement where all sides give up the war. Parry's article gives you some background, and a bit of hope. (The part I don't see as hopeful is that while he posits that Russia and Iran may press Assad to compromise, which is indeed essential, I don't see any comparable pressure to get the US to step down. Indeed, it seems to be a common hope that an agreement on Damascus will make it possible for the US, Russia, and Iran to join forces in demolishing ISIS, which is to say in not ending the war.) Also worth reading along these lines is Jimmy Carter: A Five-Nation Plan to End the Syrian Crisis. Still, even Carter's endgame leaves ISIS fighting:

      Mr. Assad's governing authority could then be ended in an orderly process, an acceptable government established in Syria, and a concerted effort could then be made to stamp out the threat of the Islamic State.

      Scaling the civil war back to just ISIS vs. the world would be preferable to the status quo, but certainly isn't optimal.

    • The US Spends $35 Billion Helping Out the World . . . But Where Does All This Money Really Go?: Well, the graphic says it all:

      I doubt this factors in the money the Defense Department and the CIA spend -- Afghanistan would be much larger -- but it does seem to count some money not destined for established governments (e.g., Syria, but where is Libya?). Of course, Israel you know about, and its two neighboring dictatorships, primarily tasked with keeping Palestinians pent up on their reservations in Gaza and the West Bank. One thing this shows is the extent to which "economic aid" has been reduced to a slush fund for America's imperial ventures. Another is that the US is becoming increasingly entangled in Africa.

    • DR Tucker: The Dawn of Darkness:

      This Wednesday marks the thirty-fifth anniversary of one of the great tragedies in American history, a moment of indelible shame, a choice that harmed so many in this country and around the world: the defeat of President Jimmy Carter at the hands of right-wing former California Governor Ronald Reagan. [ . . . ]

      Reagan's economic agenda literally took from the poor and gave to the rich. His race-baiting on the 1980 campaign trail and his demonization of civil rights as president laid the foundation for reckless Republican rhetoric on race during the Obama era. His illegal wars in Central America and his irresponsible invasion of Grenada served as the model for George W. Bush's Iraq misadventure. His scorn of environmental concerns put us on the painful path to a climate crisis.

      Amen. I'll add that while the full horror of those points only became clear over time, even back when Reagan was president I frequently noted that under him the only growth industry in America is fraud.

    • David Atkins: Will the Press Recognize the Existential Threat and Fight Back, or Buckle Under?:

      It should astonish even the jaded that Republicans are calling CNBC, that stodgy home of supply-side Wall Street cheerleading, an agent of the left.

      Still apoplectic at being asked some basic questions at the debate, Republican candidates are doubling down on their freakout.

      Ted Cruz is flat-out calling CNBC debate moderators "left-wing operatives" and demanding that right-wing radio hosts moderate their debates, instead.

      Donald Trump, who openly lied during the debate about what is on his own website, called debate moderator John Harwood a "dope" and a "fool."

      All of this after Republican candidates spewed forth one of the most embarrassing explosion of lies ever witnessed during a television presidential debate.

      The press is facing an existential threat. With Republicans increasingly unashamed to tell grandiose lies and respond to any press criticism with derogatory insults and whines about media bias as well as blackmail threats to cancel appearances if the questions are too tough, the press must decide how to respond on two fronts. First, it must decide how to present an objective face while acknowledging that both sides do not, in fact, behave equally badly. Second, it must determine whether it will continue to ask the tough questions that need answers regardless of the threats made by the GOP, or whether it will meekly submit to the demands for kid-glove treatment.

      Atkins also argues that Debate Questions Naturally Lean Left Because Mainstream Voters and Reality Do. One piece of evidence here is how often the right starts to dissemble when they plan on doing something unpopular -- like when Bush dubbed his giveaway bill to the timber industry the "health forests initiative." Brownback moved heaven and earth in 2014 to try to convince Kansans that he was the education governor, after years of underfunding schools and attacking teacher rights. This doesn't necessarily mean that voters lean that far left -- all they need to do is come in left of the Republicans, which isn't hard to do: a litttle decency and integrity suffices.

      The fact that Republicans have more unpopular positions and a weaker track record of success isn't the fault of debate moderators. It's the fault of Republican candidates and their ideology.

    • Israel links:

    Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted):

    • Rebecca Gordon: How the US Created Middle East Mayhem: Provides an explanation why Tunisia alone among the "Arab Spring" countries seems to have developed into a viable democracy -- while there are some local factors of note, one big one is that the US hadn't had much involvement or interest in Tunisia, especially its military. Gordon goes on to report on the region's "Arab Spring" failures: Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, and Syria -- each of those are nations the US and/or its so-called allies have repeatedly interfered in. Supposedly these are all nations the US state and defense departments regard as "vital national interests" -- yet somehow stability, popular democratic rights, and social justice aren't reckoned as things that matter.

    • James George Jatras: Benghazi: What Neither Hillary Nor the Republicans Want to Talk About: I'm afraid I'm not following all of this, but it is clear that the ending of the Gaddafi regime put a large amount of weapons into circulation, and it seems not unlikely that the CIA was in Benghazi to help direct some of those weapons to supposed allies/clients in Syria and possibly elsewhere.

    • Dylan Matthews: Ben Carson accidentally stumbled on a great idea for improving education: James Hamblin quotes Carson: "Wouldn't it make more sense to put the money in a pot and redistribute it throughout the country so that public schools are equal, whether you're in a poor area or a wealthy area?" Carson eventually walked part of that back, but he stumbled onto a basic truth: the federal government has much stronger tax authority than state/local government, plus has the ability to run deficits, but most government spending, especially on things that (unlike the military) directly affect Americans, is done at the state and local level. Figuring out a scheme to redistribute tax receipts from the federal level down would eliminate a lot of inequities -- especially the current race-to-the-bottom of giving tax subsidies to businesses -- and provide more robust support for essential government spending.

    • George Monbiot: Indonesia is burning. So why is the world looking away? Massive forest fires in the US have been a news staple, but this one is new to me:

      A great tract of Earth is on fire. It looks as you might imagine hell to be. The air has turned ochre: visibility in some cities has been reduced to 30 metres. Children are being prepared for evacuation in warships; already some have choked to death. Species are going up in smoke at an untold rate. It is almost certainly the greatest environmental disaster of the 21st century -- so far.

      Well, it is far away from here, but it's still the same planet, and ultimately the same atmosphere:

      Fire is raging across the 5,000km length of Indonesia. It is surely, on any objective assessment, more important than anything else taking place today. And it shouldn't require a columnist, writing in the middle of a newspaper, to say so. It should be on everyone's front page. It is hard to convey the scale of this inferno, but here's a comparison that might help: it is currently producing more carbon dioxide than the US economy. And in three weeks the fires have released more CO2 than the annual emissions of Germany. [ . . . ]

      It's not just the trees that are burning. It is the land itself. Much of the forest sits on great domes of peat. When the fires penetrate the earth, they smoulder for weeks, sometimes months, releasing clouds of methane, carbon monoxide, ozone and exotic gases such as ammonium cyanide. The plumes extend for hundreds of miles, causing diplomatic conflicts with neighbouring countries.

    • Thomas Schaller: 55-45 Politics in a 50-50 Country: This looks into various areas where the Republicans have built-in advantages which skew power in their favor -- something which includes but extends beyond the gerrymandered House districts. Then there's also the peculiarity that Republicans ("the party of no") are more often satisfied simply to obstruct Democratic initiatives -- a task that the system's numerous checks and balances favors, as do historical quirks like the Senate fillibuster.

    Friday, October 30, 2015

    Beneath Debate

    My patience for political debates gave out long ago. I think the clincher was a 1984 encounter which somehow favored Ronald Reagan despite the clear fact that Walter Mondale out-hustled him on every single question. (I was rather annoyed with Mondale because so many of those tussles revealed him to be the more aggressive and tenacious cold warrior.) It was almost a replay of my first debate experience, Kennedy-Nixon, except where Kennedy appealed to a hopeful future, that future had passed by 1984 and America was ready to be led into senility -- at least they sure picked the guy to do it.

    However, some bloggers I follow still take these things seriously, so I figured I'd cite a few of their comments. After all, watching ten right-wing jerks fumble their way through a set of questions and spinning them into their fantasies does offer some opportunity to examine the psychosis that afflicts so-called conservatives today. Whereas Reagan had a knack for amalgamating an imagined past with a fantasy future, at least he was pretty sure it would be a positive future. But today's Republican standard-bearers are united in their conviction that the nation stands on the brink of a catastrophe that only their kind of determined leadership can stave off, even though the scenarios most likely to push the country off the deep end are the very ones that adopt their policy proposals.

    Some links:

    • Gail Collins: Oh, Those Debating Republicans:

      But about Wednesday night's debate -- the topic was economics, and the big takeaway was probably that when there are 10 people onstage, nobody is going to have to explain how that flat tax plan adds up. When in doubt, complain about government regulations.

      Carson appears to have a particular genius on this front. Asked what to do about the pharmaceutical industry's outrageous pricing policies, he mildly said: "No question that some people go overboard when it comes to trying to make profits," and then he careened off to the cost of government rules on "the average small manufacturer."

      Every seasoned politician is good at answering a difficult question with the answer to something entirely different. But Carson -- who isn't supposed to be a politician at all -- was possibly the champ. Where do you think he picked that up? It's a little unnerving to think this kind of talent is useful in the operating room.

      Because Carson's voice always sounds so moderate, responses that make no sense whatsoever can sound sort of thoughtful until you replay them in your head. Asked why, as an opponent of gay marriage, he serves on the board of a company that offers domestic partner benefits, Carson said that he believed "marriage is between one man and one woman and there is no reason that you can't be perfectly fair to the gay community." He then proposed, in his measured tones, that "the P.C. culture . . . it's destroying this nation."

    • Ezra Klein: Ted Cruz's best moment of the Republican debate was also completely wrong:

      "The questions that have been asked so far in this debate illustrate why the American people don't trust the media," Ted Cruz said with considerable disgust. "This is not a cage match."

      Cruz ticked off the insults the CNBC moderators had lobbed Wednesday night at the assembled Republicans. "Donald Trump, are you a comic book villain? Ben Carson, can you do math? John Kasich, will you insult two people over here? Marco Rubio, why don't you resign? Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen? How about talking about the substantive issues?"

      The crowd roared. Republican pollster Frank Luntz reported with some awe that his focus group gave Cruz's riff a 98. "That's the highest score we've ever measured," Luntz tweeted. "EVER."

      Cruz's attack on the moderators was smart politics -- but it was almost precisely backwards. The questions in the CNBC debate, though relentlessly tough, were easily the most substantive of the debates so far. And the problem for Republicans is that substantive questions about their policy proposals end up sounding like hostile attacks -- but that's because the policy proposals are ridiculous, not because the questions are actually unfair.

      Klein goes on to quote some of the questions that Cruz caricatured:

      Moderator John Harwood asked, "Mr. Trump, you have done very well in this campaign so far by promising to build another wall and make another country pay for it. Send 11 million people out of the country. Cut taxes $10 trillion without increasing the deficit." [ . . . ]

      Similarly, Ben Carson wasn't asked whether he could do math. He was asked whether his tax plan's math added up.

      "You have a flat tax plan of 10 percent flat taxes," said moderator Becky Quick. "This is something that is very appealing to a lot of voters, but I've had a really tough time trying to make the math work on this. If you were to take a 10 percent tax, with the numbers right now in total personal income, you're gonna bring in $1.5 trillion. That is less than half of what we bring in right now. And by the way, it's gonna leave us in a $2 trillion hole. So what analysis got you to the point where you think this will work?" [ . . . ]

      Meanwhile, Cruz himself was also asked a substantive question. The moderators asked why he was opposing a bipartisan budget deal that would avert a debt ceiling crisis, a Medicare crisis, and a Social Security Disability Insurance crisis. Rather than answer that question, he attacked the moderators for refusing to ask substantive questions, during which he pretended a slew of unusually substantive questions were trivial political attacks.

      Cruz's whine was so popular that the RNC decided to act on it and break an agreement they had with NBC to host a debate in February. See: Jack Mirkinson: The GOP's media warfare goes nuclear: How the RNC is trying to hold journalism hostage. One more example how firmly GOP leadership can act to get things done (or, actually, undone).

      Although Klein has some piece of a point -- the candidates certainly did manage to avoid answering anything substantial in the questions, more than a few came off as snarky and their opening shot, as Stephen Colbert justly complains, was the worst question ever.

    • Rick Perlstein: Sociopaths on a Merry-Go-Round:

      I sure hope you didn't bother to watch the absurd Republican debate on CNBC Wednesday night. That's what you have me for. Here are two takeaways: Ben Carson said "crap." (Specifically, that "the government picking winners and losers" is "a bunch of crap.") And, remember that time a few years ago when I wrote that getting anointed a star among the Republican elite "is mainly a question of riding out the lie: showing that you have the skill and the stones to brazen it out, and the savvy to ratchet up the stakes higher and higher"? I worry I understated the case. [ . . . ]

      Something you will not learn consuming accounts of the debate from all those talking heads, the poor saps, forced by the professional canons of "objectivity" to grit their teeth and pretend what went on on that stage in Boulder was legitimate political discussion. No. This was two straight hours of sociopathy.

      Perlstein details examples from Carson, Fiorina, and Rubio, but he could go on and on.

    • Heather Digby Parton: The medical miracles of Mike Huckabee: Inside the absurd, dangerous & contradictory health care plans of the GOP candidates: Parton also looks at Carson, who has a history of promoting a fraudulent supplement as a miracle cure for Alzheimer's and cancer. Huckabee, who's made a career out of opposing medical research based on fetal tissue, has suddenly found the solution to America's health care woes: "let's cure the four big cost-driving diseases . . . diabetes, heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer's." Not clear how he'll do all that -- maybe he's bought into Carson's snake oil? More likely it's just that old standby of the religious right: miracles. Huckabee's a big "flat tax" promoter too, if you want another example of magical thinking. Parton concludes:

      So here we have two Republican candidates for president. One has offered an incomprehensible health care plan that he cannot explain to the public. The other proposes that the correct approach is to "pass real reform that will actually lower costs, while focusing on cures and prevention rather than intervention.") Both of them oppose fetal tissue research that promise advances in actually curing diseases while endorsing ludicrous scams that don't work.

      Every Republican promises to vote to repeal Obamacare. It's a litmus test right up there with tax cuts and abortion. Carson says it's the worst thing since slavery, Huckabee calls it a "nightmare." It looks like magical snake oil cures are now what passes for serious health care policy to replace it.

      Parton also unloaded on Jeb Bush's performance: Jeb Bush's stunning, televised implosion: How the former GOP frontrunner became a sad, pathetic joke.

    • Jesse Berney: These Republicans are petulant children: What's really behind their whining about the big, bad media:

      But of course the complaints about the media aren't really about getting easier questions at debates; they're much more pernicious than that.

      Republicans are working the refs. They don't care what questions they're asked; what they care about is destroying the credibility of anyone who might criticize their policies or their rhetoric. When Quick asked Carson about the $1.1 trillion in new deficits his tax plan would create, Carson simply replied "That's not true" -- an assertion he could make confidently because he knows Republican primary audiences are much more likely to trust Ben Carson than a member of the media.

      Of course his tax plan would be a disaster -- it would involve huge cuts for the richest Americans and drain the treasury, pushing America even deeper into debt. But facts, even obvious facts, don't matter if you can convince people the arbiters of those facts are liars.

    • Ed Kilgore: Stand With Rand . . . for Nineteen Minutes!: Rand Paul's big moment in the debate was his announcement that he would fillibuster the much-hated Bipartisan Budget Deal (at least much-hated by the faction who'd seize any excuse to shut down the government). Turns out that when he did take the Senate floor to oppose the bill, he spoke against it all of 19 minutes. Ted Cruz can't even read Green Eggs & Ham that fast.

    • Charles Pierce: I Have Come to the Conclusion That It's Very Easy to Be a Republican Candidate:

      Here at the shebeen, we have been talking almost since our grand opening in 2011 about how the institutional Republican party is nothing more than a sham of a mockery of a fašade of a shell of its former self. Now, it seems, the candidates may be forming a creepy little cabal aimed at taking even the debate process away from obvious anagram Reince Priebus, the emptiest suit in American politics.

      "I think the bigger frustration you saw is that all those candidates onstage had prepared for a substantive debate. Everyone was ready to talk about trade policy and the debt and tax policies," Rubio said on Fox News. "And we're ready for that, everybody was. And then, you got questions that everyone got, which were clearly designed to get us to fight against each other or get us to say something embarrassing about us and then get us to react."

      Again, bullshit, all the way down. Rubio was asked a very substantive question about the lunatic tongue-bath to the wealthy that he calls a tax plan. John Harwood cited the conservative Tax Foundation's assessment that his highly redistributive notion of where all the money should end up would balloon the deficit and be an unprecedented windfall for the likes of Norman Braman and (shh!) Sheldon Adelson. If Rubio was "embarrassed" by that question, he should have been.

      But nobody is so unencumbered by facts, and nobody is so utterly unburdened by honesty, as the Tailgunner [Ted Cruz], who has proposed a debate moderated by the superstars of conservative talk-radio.

      "How about a debate moderated by Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, and Rush Limbaugh? Now that would be a debate." Hannity replied with enthusiasm: "I'm in!"

      By all means, senator. Let's do that.

      I'm not sold on Limbaugh, who has a history of massive flop-sweat attacks whenever he appears on television, or anywhere else outside the cocoon of his studio. And Hannity, I think, still wants too much to be a player in mainstream conservative politics to be very entertaining. But Mark Levin? Abso-freaking-lutely. Mark Levin thinks Paul Ryan is a squish. Mark Levin wants the Constitution rewritten to eliminate the popular election of senators and so that states can nullify federal laws. Let Levin moderate a debate and he'll push these clowns so far to the right that they'll end up in Kazakhstan.

    • Josh Marshall: Some More Thoughts on the Debate: If you dig through the archives you can probably find his "live blogging" -- which I did read but have largely forgotten by now. Here he points out that Carly Fiorina got more time than anyone else (funny no one has tabbed her as winning or even gaining this time, like they did last debate), and Jeb Bush "got the least by a significant margin" (although lots of people have commented on how "sad" or "pathetic" Bush seemed). Plus this:

      But as I reflect on the debate a bit more I think a big reason the debate was so weird was that so many of the questions were based on obscurantist and myopic CNBC nonsense -- which is not only far-right and identified with great wealth but specifically owned by the bubble of Wall Street. That led to a lot of odd questions -- like Jim Cramer's saying why aren't GM execs going to jail, Santelli's wild questions or that question about fantasy football. Lots of people are into fantasy football. But whether it's betting and whether it should be regulated, that's a Wall Streeter question -- in the same way huge amounts of the money that gets pushed through political betting sites comes off Wall Street. It's hard for Republicans to say this. But I think this is a significant reason why the debate seemed so odd. And it made it kind of odd to hear anti-liberal bias attacks on the moderators when they were asking questions like shouldn't the Fed be forced to take us back to the gold standard.

      I should never miss the opportunity to say that the stupidest thing any political figure can possibly say is that we should go back to the gold standard.

      OK, here are the live blog links: #1, #2, #3, #57 (who knows)?, Why is this debate so bad?, Some initial thoughts. For a much longer live blog -- one that will take you longer to read than it would have taken to watch the damn thing -- go to 538. Some side-excursions too. One that I found interesting is that Trump's support is pretty even across the ideological spectrum (23-28%, plus a blip at 30% for Tea Party), where Carson is strictly conservative (with a 27% peak for White Evangelical -- a group that raises Huckabee from 4% to 7% and drops Fiorina from 7% to 2%).

    • William Greider: Why Today's GOP Crackup Is the Final Unraveling of Nixon's 'Southern Strategy': Not on the debates -- I assume this piece was a response to the House's GOP leadership squabble. The key point is that the pluralism that Ronald Reagan promoted with his "11th commandment" has given way to a hard-core purism that sees every issue as a litmus test and labels any deviant as a RINO.

      A Republican lobbyist of my acquaintance whose corporate client has been caught in the middle of the political disturbances shared a provocative insight. "I finally figured it out," he told me. "Obama created the Tea Party." I laughed at first, but he explained what he meant. "We told people that Obama was a dangerous socialist who was going to wreck America and he had to be stopped, when really we knew he was a moderate Democrat, not all that radical," the lobbyist said. "But they believed us."

      In other words, the extremist assaults on the black president, combined with the economic failures, were deeply alarming for ordinary people and generated a sense of terminal crisis that was wildly exaggerated. But it generated popular expectations that Republicans must stand up to this threat with strong countermeasures -- to win back political control and save the country.

      Greider posits an "odd couple" alliance forged by the Nixon and Reagan "southern strategy" -- a cynical decision by the Republican establishment to broaden their voting base by catering to the racism of southern (and let's not forget many northern) whites. I hardly regard this as so odd: the rich never have the numbers to win in a democracy, so they always have to wrap their naked self interests in a cloak of something that might enjoy broader appeal. Since WWII that was mainly cold war propaganda, with its adulation of capitalism, defense of religion (against "godless communism"), and the growth of a military caste with all the patriotic trappings, including a lot of jingo about "freedom." Admittedly it took a while for Republicans to appropriate those myths as wholly their own, but Barry Goldwater had put it together in terms so stark it could be used to tar liberals as traitors, and Nixon and Reagan only made Goldwater's synthesis more palatable. (What made Nixon appear to be more moderate was that he was generally respectful of unions, albeit more due to pragmatism than to ideology, while Goldwater and Reagan seethed contempt.) If adding a bit of "dogwhistle racism" adds to the vote total, how much of an "odd couple" sacrifice is that really to the Republican rich? There are exceptions, for sure, but the elite country clubs have never lacked for prejudice or snobbery -- why else refer to them as "exclusive"?

      I don't see Greider's evidence that the contradictions at the root of the "odd couple" strategy are coming apart -- for one thing, the appetite of Americans for hypocrisy has never been greater, but also the rich have gotten so rich they've become oblivious to the damage and decay the rest of the world have to live in -- but Republicans do have problems keeping their shit together. The first big thing is that the Bush administration from 2001-09 was an utter clusterfuck: so much so that nearly every substantive policy that any Republican can think of today has been tried out and proven to be disastrous. Bush ended his term with approval ratings way below the Mendoza Line (and Cheney's was in single digits, about half of Bush's). The initial response of sentient Republicans to that debacle was to crawl into a hole somewhere, but all that did was to let the crazies loose, and when they seemed to be having some success, the rest of the party, lacking any better ideas or principles, lined up behind them. The only reason they've been able to survive by doubling down on disaster has been their ability to get people to blame the adverse effects of their policies on the Democrats. (Obama and the Democrats abetted this not only by continuing many Bush policies, like the wars in the Middle East and the bank bailouts, but by not squarely placing blame where it belonged, and by not pushing reforms that would make a real difference.)

      The reason the Tea Party exploded in 2009 was that the Republican propaganda machine, after eight years of lamely recycling pro-Bush talking points, got a chance to go on the offensive, and they did so with a vengeance. They did so by characterizing Obama as a devious monster "out to wreck America," and they clearly equated America not with the majority who had voted for Obama but with the small minority who listened to the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck -- a group that flattered themselves as the only true Americans, the vanguard to "take America back." They may even be right that "their America" is slipping away, but they're also letting themselves be used.

      I could probably spend several pages just unpacking that last sentence: there are obvious cons like Beck's gold racket, and there are broader problems embedded in dozens of policy proposals, and there are deeper and subtler problems when a society devolves into nothing but rapacious individuals each out for number one. It seems like a premise of the debates is that all Republicans think alike, so the only thing to decide is the character and tone you want in a leader (ranging from a blowhard like Trump to a soft sell like Carson).

      For more along these lines, see Jacob Hacker/Paul Person: No Cost for Extremism. Subhed: "Why the GOP hasn't (yet) paid for its march to the right."

    Monday, October 26, 2015

    Music Week

    Music: Current count 25653 [25626] rated (+27), 447 [449] unrated (-2).

    Rated count slipped a bit, mostly because I lost a day-plus cooking up another chapter in my birthday dinner series. Tried my hand at Cuban cuisine this time, something I've sampled in restaurants not much more than a half-dozen times (mostly one in Royal Oak, MI, although we lucked into a very good place southwest of Miami). I've done a lot of Spanish (and Basque and Catallan and Portuguese, so should I say Iberian?) dishes, but very little from south of the border (aside from a massive feijoada one birthday). As with Spanish, Cubans use a lot of garlic but not much in the way of chilis. I've never liked the peppers that dominate Mexican cuisine, although I should figure out my way around them (as I've done with Indian, Thai, and Indonesian) given that the hardest part of any exotic cuisine is the shopping, and there are countless Mexican stores in these parts. (Actually, for this dinner I picked up most of the less conventional ingredients not from the bilingual Kroger but from a large Vietnamese grocer I frequent -- among other things, the only place in town I can get salt cod.)

    More details on the dinner in the notebook. Suffice it to say that despite some very poor planning and last-minute panicking pretty much everything came out splendid. Good company too, although by the time I was finished I was a bit too frazzled to get into it. Much on my mind was the thought that I'm getting too old for this sort of thing. No one thought to take pictures. Where's Max Stewart when you really need him? Also nostalgic for so many previous guests, especially Liz Jones, who inspired the first few dinners (and has long since lost touch), and the late Liz Fink -- people who really appreciated good food. (Liz, of course, was represented by her dog Sadie, who earned the title sous-chef by always being under my feet.)

    While cooking, I suspended my usual listening work and played oldies, starting with the Beatles and winding up with Atlantic R&B. The former hadn't happened in many years, but when I went out to shop for the meal, before I could pop a CD in -- I had picked out Rumba en el Patio by Conjunto Kubavana (1944-47) -- a song came on which struck me as the most completely marvelous thing I've ever heard: "All My Loving." I probably hadn't heard it since shortly after I bought the With the Beatles CD, but I found myself intimately familiar with every note and harmony. It was followed by Elvis Presley singing "All Shook Up," by comparison merely great, then something else I only vaguely recognized and didn't care for.

    Most of this week's list already appeared in October's Rhapsody Streamnotes. I noted there how many of my jazz picks were by (or featured) saxophonists, so maybe I'm compensating a bit for that here. My two top HMs this week -- Rich Halley's Eleven and Scott Hamilton's Live in Bern -- are by long-time personal favorites who have already scored A- records this year (Creating Structure and Plays Jule Styne). I have minor quibbles about both, but I haven't been conscientious enough to do the A:B comparisons to see which is really the better record. I will say that there is some terrific music on both. Instead, I went with another long-time favorite saxophonist, Rodrigo Amado. I suppose one could quibble there too, but Joe McPhee (who has another A- record this year) adds extra bite to some of the year's most impressive sax runs.

    The best post-RS record on the list is Marty Grosz's debut. I noticed that Rhapsody added some old Grosz Jazzology titles, and worked my way back. I mostly listen to avant-jazz these days, but I still hold to the idea that the old jazz is the real jazz, so guys like Grosz are always on my radar. Grosz was born a year before Bix Beiderbecke died, and well into his 80s he's still active -- his Fat Babies album Diga Diga Doo is also on this year's A-list.

    No comments so far on my question whether it'd be worthile to do another Turkey Shoot/Black Friday Special this year. I dropped the ball last year and no one picked it up -- I had hopes for Odyshape, but they crashed shortly before. I don't want to do the heavy lifting this year -- soliciting and editing entries -- but would be willing to format and post it and might even contribute something. So let me know if you want to volunteer. Time is running out. I'm not going to bring this up again.

    New records rated this week:

    • Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin: Lost Time (2015, Yep Roc): [r]: B+(*)
    • Rodrigo Amado: This Is Our Language (2012 [2015], Not Two): [cd]: A-
    • Randy Brecker: Randy Pop: Live (2015, Piloo): [cd]: B
    • Art "Turk" Burton and Congo Square: Spirits: Then & Now (1983-2015 [2015], ATB): [cd]: B+(**)
    • Marnix Busstra: Firm Fragile Fun (2015, Buzz Music): [cd]: B+(*)
    • Rich Halley 4: Eleven (2014 [2015], Pine Eagle): [cd]: B+(***)
    • Scott Hamilton & Jeff Hamilton Trio: Live in Bern (2014 [2015], Capri): [cd]: B+(***)
    • Alfred 23 Harth/J÷rg Fischer/Marcel Daemgen: Confucius Tarif Reduit (2014 [2015], Spore Point): [cd]: B+(**)
    • Dale Head: Swing Straight Up (2015, Blujazz): [cd]: B
    • Carlos Henriquez: The Bronx Pyramid (2015, Blue Engine): [r]: B+(**)
    • Innerroute: Fourmation (2015, self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
    • Bill Kirchner: An Evening of Indigos (2014 [2015], Jazzheads, 2CD): [cd]: B+(**)
    • Frank Kohl Quartet: Invisible Man (2013 [2015], Pony Boy): [cd]: B+(*)
    • John Kruth: The Drunken Wind of Life: The Poem/Songs of Tin Ujevic (2015, Smiling Fez): [bc]: A-
    • Amy LaVere and Will Sexton: Hallelujah I'm a Dreamer (2015, Archer): [r]: A-
    • Russ Lossing: Eclipse (2012 [2015], Aqua Piazza): [cd]: B+(**)
    • Hans Luchs: Time Never Pauses (2015, OA2): [cd]: B+(*)
    • Whitney Marchelle: Dig Dis (2015, Blujazz): [cd]: B+(*)
    • Matt Mitchell: Vista Accumulation (2015, Pi, 2CD): [cd]: B+(**)
    • Ben Patterson: For Once in My Life (2015, Origin): [cd]: B+(*)
    • Scottish National Jazz Orchestra/Makoto Ozone: Jeunehomme: Mozart Piano Concerto No 9 K-271 (2014 [2015], Spartacus): [cdr]: B+(*)
    • Voicehandler: Song Cycle (2013-14 [2015], Humbler): [cd]: B+(*)
    • Lou Volpe: Tremembering Ol' Blue Eyes (Songs of Sinatra) (2015, Jazz Guitar): [cd]: B+(**)
    • Bastian Weinhold: Cityscape (2014 [2015], Frame Music): [cd]: B+(*)
    • Galen Weston: Plugged In (2015, Blujazz): [cd]: B-

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

    • Willem Breuker Kollektief: Angoulŕme 18 Mai 1980 (1980 [2015], Fou, 2CD): [cd]: A-

    Old music rated this week:

    • Marty Grosz and His Honoris Causa Jazz Band: Hooray for Bix! (1957 [1958], Good Time Jazz): [r]: A-
    • Marty Grosz with Destiny's Tots: Sings of Love and Other Matters (1986, Jazzology): [r]: A-
    • Marty Grosz: Songs I Learned at My Mother's Knee & Other Low Joints (1992 [1994], Jazzology): [r]: B+(**)
    • Marty Grosz: Keep a Song in Your Soul (1994, Jazzology): [r]: B+(***)
    • The Bill Kirchner Nonet: One Starry Night (1987 [2011], Jazzheads): [r]: B+(**)

    Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

    • June Bisantz: It's Always You: June Bisantz Sings Chet Baker Vol. 2 (self-released)
    • Bizingas: Eggs Up High (NCM East): November 6
    • Bobby Bradford-Frode Gjerstad Quartet: The Delaware River (NoBusiness): CDR of LP-only
    • The Katie Bull Group Project: All Hot Bodies Radiate (Ashokan Indie): November 10
    • John Carter: Echoes From Rudolph's (1977, NoBusiness, 2CD)
    • Agedoke Steve Colson: Tones for Harriet Tubman/Sojourner Truth/Frederick Douglass (Silver Sphinx, 2CD)
    • Joseph Daley/Warren Smith/Scott Robinson: The Tuba Trio Chronicles (JoDa Locust Street Music): January 1
    • Giovanni Di Domenico/Peter Jacquemyn/Chris Corsano: A Little Off the Top (NoBusiness): CDR of LP-only
    • Free Jazz Group Wiesbaden: Frictions/Frictions Now (NoBusiness)
    • Amina Figarova: Blue Whisper (In + Out)
    • Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis: Big Band Holidays (Blue Engine): October 30
    • Martin KŘchen/Jon Rune Str°m/Tollef ěstvang: Melted Snow (NoBusiness): CDR of LP-only
    • Martin KŘchen/Johan Berthling/Steve Noble: Night in Europe (NoBusiness)
    • Ingrid Laubrock: Ubatuba (Firehouse 12): November 6
    • Jon Lindberg/Anil Eraslan: Juggling Kukla (NoBusiness): CDR of LP-only
    • Roy McGrath Quartet: Martha (JL Music): November 6
    • Rova: Channeling Coltrane: Electric Ascension / Cleaning the Mirror (RogueArt, 2DVD): January 7
    • Ramana Veiera: Fado Da Vida (Fate of Life)

    Sunday, October 25, 2015

    Weekend Roundup

    No real time to write this week's roundup -- it's my birthday and I'm busy cooking (see the notebook for the menu). But I do have a bunch of links open in various tabs and I thought I might share them before they become stale. In no particular order:

    • Uri Avinery: The Settler's Prussia: In the 19th century, Germany was, fatefully, taken over by a marginal state on its far northeastern border, Prussia. Avinery sees the settler movement doing something like that in Israel. Also see Avinery's Weep, Beloved Country.

    • Andrew J Bacevich: Yes, the US can leave Afghanistan:

      What we have here is temporizing dressed up in policy drag. It is a gesture designed to convey an appearance of purposefulness to an enterprise whose actual purpose has long since vanished in the mists of time.

      Having inherited from his predecessor two wars begun in 2001 and 2003, respectively, Obama will bequeath those same two wars to the person who will succeed him as president in 2017. It is incumbent upon Americans to contemplate the implications of this disturbing fact. By their very endlessness, the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq constitute a judgment on American statecraft, one further compounded by the chaos now enveloping large swaths of the Islamic world. Here are the consequences that stem from misunderstanding military power and misusing a military instrument once deemed unstoppable.

      Only by owning up to the mindless failure of U.S. military efforts since 9/11 does it become possible to restore real choice. Alternatives to open-ended war waged on the other side of the globe do exist. Contrary to Carter's lame insistence, the United States can leave Afghanistan. Protecting Americans from the relatively modest threat posed by the Taliban or Al Qaeda or Islamic State -- or all three combined for that matter -- does not require the permanent stationing of U.S. forces in the Islamic world, especially given the evidence that the presence of American troops there serves less to pacify than to provoke.

      Bacevich also wrote a more substantial piece at TomDispatch, On Building Armies (and Watching Them Fail).

    • Peter Beinart: Trump Is Right About 9/11: As was well known if not at the time then shortly after, there were a number of concrete things the Bush administration could have done that might have kept 9/11 from happening. Terrorism "czar" Richard Clarke was especially unhappy about how Bush's neocons dropped the ball on Al-Qaeda, and Beinart dredges up all that story -- one that few in the press seem to recall, but which makes Trump's reminder that 9/11 happened during Bush's presidency appear to have more weight. Beinart could have made an even stronger case had he pointed out some of the things Bush did to aggravate tensions in the Middle East, such as his Clinton-esque bombing of Iraq and his support for Sharon's Counter-Intifada in Palestine. One might counter that Trump has unrealistic notions about what presidents can do, but that's a big part of his charm (or absurdity).

    • Tom Carson: 'Spies' Like Us: Steven Spielberg and the Cold War's Forgotten Battles: Review of Bridge of Spies and the Cold War it illuminates, for once.

    • Kathleen Frydl: Donald Trump and the Know-Nothings: More useful as an historical excursion into the short-lived 1850s nativist party than as an analysis of Trump himself, but that's because the "Know Nothings" were more colorful and their ignorance was more florid. One of history's great truisms: stupid people in the past could be interesting, but stupid people today are just tiresome.

    • Assaf Gavron: Confessions of an Israeli traitor:

      The internal discussion in Israel is more militant, threatening and intolerant than it has ever been. Talk has trended toward fundamentalism ever since the Israeli operation in Gaza in late 2008, but it has recently gone from bad to worse. There seems to be only one acceptable voice, orchestrated by the government and its spokespeople, and beamed to all corners of the country by a clan of loyal media outlets drowning out all the others. Those few dissenters who attempt to contradict it -- to ask questions, to protest, to represent a different color from this artificial consensus -- are ridiculed and patronized at best, threatened, vilified and physically attacked at worst. Israelis not "supporting our troops" are seen as traitors, and newspapers asking questions about the government's policies and actions are seen as demoralizing. [ . . . ]

      The cumulative effect of this recent mindless violence is hugely disturbing. We seem to be in a fast and alarming downward swirl into a savage, unrepairable society. There is only one way to respond to what's happening in Israel today: We must stop the occupation. Not for peace with the Palestinians or for their sake (though they have surely suffered at our hands for too long). Not for some vision of an idyllic Middle East -- those arguments will never end, because neither side will ever budge, or ever be proved wrong by anything. No, we must stop the occupation for ourselves. So that we can look ourselves in the eyes. So that we can legitimately ask for, and receive, support from the world. So that we can return to being human.

    • Ed Kilgore: The Cult of the Second Amendment:

      And to a remarkable extent, the default position of conservatives has less and less to do with arguments about the efficacy of gun regulation or the need for guns to deter or respond to crime. Instead, it's based on the idea that the main purpose of the Second Amendment is to keep open the possibility of revolutionary violence against the U.S. government.

      This was once an exotic, minority view even among gun enthusiasts who tended to view the Second Amendment as protecting an individual right to gun ownership not to overthrow the government but to supplement the government's use of lethal force against criminals. [ . . . ]

      Nowadays this revolutionary rationale for gun rights is becoming the rule rather than the exception for conservative politicians and advocates. Mike Huckabee, a sunny and irenic candidate for president in 2008, all but threatened revolutionary violence in his recent campaign book for the 2016 cycle, God, Guns, Grits and Gravy:

      If the Founders who gave up so much to create liberty for us could see how our government has morphed into a ham-fisted, hypercontrolling "Sugar Daddy," I believe those same patriots who launched a revolution would launch another one. Too many Americans have grown used to Big Government's overreach. They've been conditioned to just bend over and take it like a prisoner [!]. But in Bubba-ville, the days of bending are just about over. People are ready to start standing up for freedom and refusing to take it anymore.

      Dr. Ben Carson, another candidate thought to be a mild-mannered Christian gentleman, recently disclosed that he used to favor modest gun control measures until he came to realize the importance of widespread gun ownership as a safeguard against "tyranny."

      "When you look at tyranny and how it occurs, the pattern is so consistent: Get rid of the guns," Carson told USA Today. [ . . . ]

      Indeed, a lot of Second Amendment ultras appear to think the right to revolution is entirely up to the individual revolutionary.

      My own view is that the second amendment was meant to ensure that state militias would be able to fight the Civil War, although the other obvious reading had to do with fighting Indians. Both meanings had become obsolete by 1900, and civilians have never had a significant role in fighting against criminals. The second amendment wasn't repealed then because it didn't seem to be all that harmful -- no least because the courts consistently ruled against an individual right to guns. That's only changed recently, and the full impact has yet to be felt, but what's disturbing about it isn't just the increase in the number of guns out there and the number of (often incompetent) people carrying them, but the sheer nonsense gun advocates wind up spouting. One stupid idea is that if everyone was armed we'd all wind up treating each other with more proper respect. A deeper one is that we're shifting responsibility for managing conflict from law and the courts to the streets. Then there's the notion Kilgore dwells on, that because individuals have a right to own guns they have a right to use them to oppose the rule of law when they (alone) find it unjust. The latter is often used not just to rationalize gun ownership but to permit individuals to own ever more powerful firearms because that's what it would take to neutralize the power of the state. The problem here is not just practical -- after all, we're talking about a state that owns AC-130 gunships that can fire thousands of rounds of depleted uranium per minute, and that's not even the scariest example. The real problem is that it gives up on making sure the state is responsible to the public in a fair and equitable way.

    • Nancy LeTourneau: What I Learned From Watching the Benghazi Hearing: Mostly, that Clinton kept her cool through eleven hours of idiots trying to rile her. But also it has something to do with the word preferences between Republicans and the administration, not that I get all the nuances there. For example, I tire of hearing the word "terrorist" used so indiscriminately: partly because it seems to be all it takes to gain license to kill someone (and perhaps a few others in the vicinity), partly because it seems like much (if not most) of the real terror is perpetrated by the so-called anti-terrorists. Still, lest the Republicans turn Clinton into some sort of heroic figure, see Jason Ditz: Bizarre Revisionism: Hillary Claims Libya Shows Consequences of US Military Withdrawals.

    • Mark LeVine: The tide is turning against Zionist extremism:

      As the inherent contradiction between Israel's self-image as a modern, democratic and progressive country and the reality of a half-century-long brutal occupation become clear to all, the erosion of support for Israel by the emerging generation of American Jews will continue and likely increase, with profound consequences not just for Israel but also for the future of the American Jewish community.

      For an example LeVine didn't cite, see Two establishment Jews (Harvard and Microsoft) endorse boycott of Israel and 'single state' in Washington Post.

    • Josh Marshall: Netanyahu Reduced to Defending Hitler, Really . . .: This is the first piece I saw on Netanyahu's speech to the World Zionist Congress, where he argued that Hitler "just wanted to deport the Jews" until he met exiled Palestinian Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, whose answer to Hitler's "So what should I do with them?" was "Burn them." With the Palestinian Revolt of 1937-39 failed, al-Husseini went into exile and spent WWII in Nazi Germany. It is known that he met with Hitler once, in 1941, and Israelis have been trying to make mountains out of that mole hill ever since. Still, it seems bizarre that any Israeli, much less the Prime Minister, would try to make Hitler seem less horrific just to blame some Palestinian -- anything, I guess, to distract from all of Israel's self-inflicted problems. More links on this:

    • Gareth Porter: Why the US Owns the Rise of Islamic State and the Syria Disaster:

      The causal chain begins with the role of the U.S. in creating a mujahedeen force to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Osama bin Laden was a key facilitator in training that force in Afghanistan. Without that reckless U.S. policy, the blowback of the later creation of al-Qaida would very likely not have occurred. But it was the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq that made al-Qaida a significant political-military force for the first time. The war drew Islamists to Iraq from all over the Middle East, and their war of terrorism against Iraqi Shiites was a precursor to the sectarian wars to follow.

      The actual creation of Islamic State is also directly linked to the Iraq War. The former U.S. commander at Camp Bucca in Iraq has acknowledged that the detention of 24,000 prisoners, including hard-core al-Qaida cadres, Baathist officers and innocent civilians, created a "pressure cooker for extremism." It was during their confinement in that camp during the U.S. troop surge in Iraq 2007 and 2008 that nine senior al-Qaida military cadres planned the details of how they would create Islamic State.

    • Gareth Porter: The US Could End Saudi War Crimes in Yemen -- It Just Doesn't Want To:

      According to a joint report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 2,682 civilian deaths and injuries resulted from air bombardment in Yemen from late March to the end of July 2015 -- more than anywhere else in the world during the first seven months of the year.

      The Saudis have also imposed a tight blockade on Yemen by air, land and water, to prevent not only weapons, but also food, fuel and medicine from reaching millions of Yemenis, creating a humanitarian disaster. Doctors Without Borders declared in July that the Saudi blockade was killing as many people in Yemen as the bombing. US Navy ships have been patrolling alongside Saudi ships to prevent arms from entering Yemen, while disclaiming any involvement in the Saudi-led blockade of food, fuel and medical supplies.

      The Amnesty report points out that the United States has a legal obligation under the Arms Trade Treaty not to provide weaponry it knows will be used in the indiscriminate bombing of Yemen. Article 6 of that treaty, which entered into force in October 2014, forbids the transfer of arms and munitions to a party to an armed conflict if it has knowledge that the weaponry will be used for "attacks directed against civilian objects or civilians protected as such, or other war crimes as defined by international agreements to which it is a party."

      I suspect one reason for Obama's reluctance to criticize Saudi Arabia for killing civilians in Yemen is that the US had been doing exactly that through its drone program for many years now. Some details of that (plus much more) appear in Cora Currie: The Kill Chain: The Lethal Bureaucracy Behind Obama's Drone War.

    • Jon Schwarz: A Short History of US Bombing of Civilian Facilities, and Tom Engelhardt: The US Has Bombed at Least Eight Wedding Parties Since 2001: Two immediate (and rather obvious) responses to the US bombing of a MÚdicins Sans FrontiŔres hospital in Afghanistan. The Schwarz piece includes a cartoon with a quote from Obama's then-latest mass shooting speech (the one in Oregon).

    • Nathan Thrall: The End of the Abbas Era:

      For Abbas, political survival depended on making significant gains before any of this occurred. His strategy entailed several gambles. First, that providing Israel with security, informing on fellow Palestinians, and suppressing opposition to the occupation would convince Israel's government that Palestinians could be trusted with independence. Second, that after Palestinians had met US demands to abandon violence, build institutions and hold democratic elections, the US would put pressure on Israel to make the concessions necessary to establish a Palestinian state. Third, that after being invited to participate in legislative elections, Hamas would win enough seats to be co-opted but too few to take over. Fourth, that by improving the Palestinian Authority economy and rebuilding its institutions, Abbas would buy enough time to achieve Palestinian statehood.

      In all four respects, he came up short. Israel took his security co-operation for granted and the Israeli public did not demand that its government reward Abbas for his peaceful strategy. The US did not apply the necessary pressure to extract significant concessions from Israel. Hamas won the legislative elections, took over Gaza, and refused to adopt Abbas's political programme (though Hamas's victory also strengthened international support for Abbas, as the international community shifted from democracy promotion to democracy prevention). And West Bankers, though dependent on the jobs and economic infrastructure provided by the PA, also resent it, and have lost whatever faith they once had that Abbas's strategy could succeed. According to an opinion poll taken last month, two-thirds of West Bankers and Gazans want him to resign.

    Daily Log

    Planning out birthday dinner (Cuban theme). Cookbooks:

    1. Ana Sofia Pelaez/Ellen Silverman: The Cuban Table: A Celebration of Food, Flavors, and History
    2. Maricel E Presilla: Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America
    3. Regan Daley: In the Sweet Kitchen


    1. Pollo Frito a la Criolla: chicken [1:149]
    2. Picadillo a Caballo: ground beef + potatoes [1:157]
    3. Rabo Alcaparrado: oxtail in caper sauce [1:166]
    4. Camarones Enchilados: shrimp [1:189]
    5. Mariscos en Salsa de Coco: seafood in coconut sauce [1:194]
    6. Potaje de Frijoles Negros: black beans (meat variation) [1:113]
    7. Elotes con Crema y Quesa Plaza de San Francisco: corn on the cob [2:237]
    8. Ensalada de Aguacate: avocado salad [1:211]
    9. Calabaza con Mojo: calabaza [1:224]; or: Ensalada de Calabaza y Pino: with pineapple and cacao nibs [2:558]
    10. Arroz Blanco: white rice [1:121]
    11. CafÚ Cubano [1:45]
    12. Oatmeal Stout Cake with a Chewy Oat Topping and Orance Date Ice Cream: [3:384,555]

    I split the calabaza in half and made both dishes -- each impressive in its own way although the broiled pineapple made a difference. On the other hand, I ran out of burners, and out of time. I ditched the Mariscos en Salsa de Coco and moved the scallops I had marinated into the shrimp dish. I'm not sure I really got it right, although it wasn't bad. Also never got to the avocado salad, nor to the coffee. I also cut back and only made a half-recipe of rice. That turned out to be a good decision, given that we still had some leftover. Minor quibbles on the food -- the picadillo was not as good as last time I fixed it (possibly the victim of the last-minute rush); the beans could have been softer; the corn seemed to lose heat quickly, and the cotijo cheese tended to flake off; the ox-tail wasn't easy to serve (four big pieces, a few very small ones) but was a revelation if you were able to dig the meat out; some of the dates in the ice cream were tough (I'd almost say leathery). The last-minute rush got me flustered, and left the kitchen a complete mess.

    I had only made Cuban food a couple times before, and only had one real cookbook to work out of. Nearly all the dishes are braises, so the tendency is to collect a lot of pots on the stove toward the end. I had six burners operating, and needed two more. I should have done more of the prep up front -- nearly everything was built on the same sofrito. Still, came out pretty good. Had ten people, so the table was pretty crowded.

    Saturday, October 24, 2015

    Rhapsody Streamnotes (October 2015)

    Pick up text here.

    Tuesday, October 20, 2015

    The Counter-Intifada Grows Desperate

    I don't really understand what's been going on there over the last few weeks, other than that it this episode of escalating violence isn't all that different from every other one -- in that it's mostly explained by the exhaustion of hope for change by any means other than yet another mass uprising. In 1989, as 22 years of military rule over the Occupied Territories turned increasingly rote and rigid, numb and dumb, with the Palestinian political leadership broken and scattered, the popular revolt that broke out was called the intifada -- an Arabic word denoting a tremor, shivering, shuddering, derived from nafada meaning to shake, to shake off, to get rid of. It was an almost involuntary response to the daily grind of oppression, and it took the PLO as much by surprise as it shocked Israel's security czars. Their kneejerk reaction then was summed up in Yitzhak Rabin's vow to "break the bones" of those who would dare protest against Israeli power. Nearly all of the violence was the work of Israelis, who killed hundreds of Palestinians, injured and/or detained thousands, and looked foolish. The worst the Palestinians did was to throw rocks at the armed gendarmes, not exactly textbook nonviolence but for two peoples who grew up on the stories of David and Goliath, more an act of symbolic than physical resistance.

    Rabin eventually saw the the way out of the embarrassment of the Intifada was to insert a buffer layer of Palestinian "leaders" between the Israeli masters and most of the Palestinian masses: a role that Yassir Arafat all too readily agreed to, as long as it was sugar-coated with vague promises of future Palestinian independence. This was the Oslo "peace process" -- by design it spurred a redoubling of Israeli efforts to "create facts on the ground" (Israel's jargon for building illegal settlements and outposts on occupied Palestinian land) while forces on both sides -- and not just the "extremists" like Kach-ist settlers and Hamas -- worked to poison the agreement. We can only speculate on what might have happened had Rabin not been assassinated; had his successor, Shimon Peres, not recklessly provoked a wave of Hamas terrorism which got him voted out; had Benjamin Netanyahu not come to power and used that power to subvert the "process"; had Ehud Barak, elected with a mandate to deliver the "final status" negotiations, not gotten cold feet, reneged on his promises, tore up the Oslo agreement, initiated the so-called "Second Intifada" while ushering Ariel Sharon into power to nail the coffin shut. But what we know now is that the growing power of Israel's settler movement, its militarist security state, and its right-wing political parties, has buried, as far into the future as we can see, any prospect for equal rights, for justice and peace, under Israel's yoke.

    It's unfair to blame the Second Intifada for killing Oslo, but the resort to violence by Hamas and factions of the PLO, especially the practice of "suicide bombing," helped to harden right-wing Israeli attitudes and determination. I always thought the two Intifadas were completely different phenomena: the former a spontaneous mass revolt in the face of Israel's overwhelming potential violence; the latter a calculated attempt by small cadres of militants to show Israel's powers that their subversion of the "peace process" must have adverse consequences for the Israeli people. The former exposed the rotten truth about Israel's "enlightened occupation"; the latter revealed that in a naked test of violence with Israel the Palestinians never stood a chance.

    The great failure of Arafat's political leadership was that he was never able to move beyond his famous UN speech where he offered Israel the choice of peace or war, symbolized by an olive branch and an AK-47. When he failed to negotiate a "final status" deal with Barak in 2000 -- which as we now know was almost totally Barak's fault -- his natural instinct was to pick up the gun. It's not clear to me that's what he did: he always held out the hope for further negotiations, but he couldn't distance himself from the militants without admitting that he had no control over them, and as such no leverage against Israel (or for that matter use to Israel). The notion that Arafat launched the "Al-Aqsa Intifada" -- the term widely abused to associate the Second Intifada with the Moslem holy site, hence with Jihad -- is as ridiculous as the notion that Arafat rejected "unprecedentedly generous offers" at Camp David. Besides, we now know the Intifada was something the Palestinians were goaded into: by Barak's self-serving spin after Camp David, by Sharon's massive armed "visit" to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and most of all by Chief of Staff Shaul Moffaz's decision to open fire on Palestinian demonstrators against Sharon's provocations. It's never seemed quite right to view the violence of 2000-05 as an intifada when it was originally set up as an ambush.

    It's hard to change long-established terminology, but it would make more sense to refer to the 2000-05 ("Second Intifada") period as the Counter-Intifada. The original Intifada led to the Oslo Agreements and the "peace process" which the Counter-Intifada destroyed: that much should by now be perfectly clear. One can debate whether the Counter-Intifada ever ended: Arafat died in November 2004, depriving the Intifada of its most prominent boogeyman (his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, was so firmly opposed to the Intifada that he was useless as an enemy face, a role that was quickly shifted to Hamas); Sharon withdrew Israeli settlements from Gaza in September 2005; in 2006 Hamas called a truce, and entered the Palestinian Authority's electoral system, winning a landslide before being cut off by a US-sponsored coup attempt. And while Israel's military actions against Palestinians never really subsided, including massive shellings against Gaza in 2006 (and 2008-09 and 2012 and 2014), the violence was at least temporarily eclipsed by Israel's brutal 2006 bombardment of Lebanon (Condoleezza Rice's notorious "birth pangs of a new Middle East").

    Levels of eruptive violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have waxed and waned, but Israel has always threatened and exercised much more violence in its efforts to control Palestinians. In most years since 1967, the number of Palestinians killed by Israeli forces is ten times as many as the number of Israelis killed by Palestinian "terrorists." Ironically, the ratio drops to about four-to-one in 2001-03, the one (and only) period where there was significant armed Palestinian resistance. (By the way, the distinction between "eruptive" and "potential" violence is a key concept in the book The One State Condition: Occupation and Democracy in Israel/Palestine, by Ariella Azoulay and Adi Ophir. Eruptive violence is something that Israelis and Palestinians can compete at, but potential violence totally favors Israel: it is, for instance, what allows Israel to require permits, to impose checkpoints, to pick up and hold prisoners. Comparing the ratios of killed or injured, even when we're talking ten-to-one, doesn't even hint at balancing the power scales.)

    Most eruptive violence is, at least as rationalized by those who perpetrate it, retaliatory, which means as a first approximation is perpetual, a self-sustaining cycle. However, the actual incidence is far from regular. Palestinians, who suffer disproportionately, are more likely to declare unilateral truces and less likely to break them. And while Palestinians will sometimes inflict violence just to remind Israel that Israel's own violence will not go unanswered, Israelis put much more stock in the deterrence value of violence. Moreover, Israelis are much more likely to see violence as a path to personal advancement. For starters, a majority of Israel's Prime Ministers built their careers on their military records -- more if you count paramilitary terrorists like Begin and Shamir. And as Israel continues its drift toward the extreme right, even mainstream politicians take on genocidal airs.

    But while Israel's eruptive violence never seems to go away -- the one exception was the year-and-a-half from when Barak won with his peace mandate in 1998 until he squandered it at Camp David and let Sharon run amok at Al-Aqsa in 2000 -- the eagerness of Palestinian militants to match Israel's violence with their own seems to roughly correlate with a generational (12-15 year) cycle -- making this year's uptick in stabbings seem like a harbinger of a third Intifada. I think three things are going on here: (1) people confuse intifada -- a significant increase in activism meant to "throw off" the occupier -- with violence, a tactic that cannot conceivably stand up against the military and police power of Israel; (2) much of the talk of Intifada comes from militant groups seeking to exploit widespread discontent for their own sectarian purposes (or, conversely, from Israelis who see the militants as their ticket to more devastating repression; (3) while at the same time a rigorously non-violent intifada, aimed at soliciting international support especially for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign, has been the predominant political expression of Palestinians for the last decade -- Israelis hope that by provoking more violence they can draw attention away from non-violent and increasingly international organization.

    The uptick in violence that's been getting the most attention (at least in the US press) concerns stabbing attacks, notably in Jerusalem. The location is significant because Netanyahu's administration has been especially active in building Jewish-only settlements and in isolating Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. One thing that can drive people to desperate acts of violence is hopelessness, and life for Palestinians in East Jerusalem has never been grimmer. I've yet to see a comprehensive report on such events (maybe one will show up in the links below), but my initial impression is that the stabbings are ineffective even on their own terms: hardly any of the people stabbed die, few are injured seriously, while nearly all of the stabbers are quickly apprehended and/or killed on the spot. Rather, this seems like some form of suicide ritual. Some years back one of Israel's security gurus said that the goal of the occupation was to convince Palestinians that they are "an utterly defeated people." When I read that I didn't know what it might look like, but here it is.

    Of course, what I just said only applies to Palestinians attempting to stab Jews. There have been a similar number of Israeli Jews stabbing Palestinians (plus at least one case of an Israeli Jew stabbing a Mizrahi Jew mistaken as Arab). In those cases the assailant is much less likely to be apprehended, let alone gunned down immediately. And if arrested, the Israeli Jew is less likely to be convicted, and far less likely to serve any significant time behind bars. Israel has different courts for Jews and Palestinians, different laws, different rights of appeal, and different punishments -- there is, for instance, no death penalty for Israeli citizens, but Palestinians are routinely targeted extrajudicially. Again, I haven't seen a clear statistical analysis, but a casual review of news items (Kate's compendia at Mondoweiss is a good source) suggests that Israeli settlers have become much more violent in the last couple of years, and that officials are doing little to curb their enthusiasm.

    Israel's elections last year brought the most extreme right government to power in the nation's history, with Netanyahu finally making explicit his opposition to any form of peace settlement. His cabinet includes members who have called for the forcible expulsion of all Palestinians, in some cases Israeli citizens as well as the unfortunate inhabitants of the Occupied Territories. Last year Israel stepped up harassment of the West Bank, then turned to a 51-day bombardment of Gaza where its kill rate rivals that of Syria's Assad regime. (For some reason you never hear about Israel "killing its own people" like Saddam and the Kurds or Assad and the Sunnis although the ethnic differences are comparable.) Lately various Israeli religious leaders have issued ruling that aim to legitimize indiscriminate killing of Palestinians, while the Netanyahu government has adopted the policy of shooting stone throwers.

    If you know one thing about Israel it should be the utter unwillingness of its right-wing political class to do anything to mitigate a conflict that goes back 50 or 70 or 100 years. (Amy Dockser Marcus' Jerusalem 1913: The Origins of the Arab-Israel Conflict sees the origin in 1913 resolutions that committed Zionists to seeking exclusive power over Eretz Israel.) They grew up on that conflict, thrived even, advancing to the most prestigious positions in an increasingly militarized society. And quite frankly, they wouldn't know what to do without the conflict -- so they fight on, inventing new existential threats to replace vanquished ones. (Egypt might have been a real one had they focused on Israel but Nasser had other preoccupations. Syria was never a threat without Egypt as an ally. Iraq had actually fought Israel in 1948, but Saddam Hussein was much more interested in the Lebensraum to his east. And Iran, even under the Ayatollahs, had never been less than friendly toward Israel, but Netanyahu sold them to the Americans as a monstrous threat -- which worked because deep down Americans realized that Iran had good reason to hate the United States.) They even find threats hiding in the closets, like the so-called demographic problem. And they've so conditioned the Israeli public, long steeped in the legacy of Jewish victimhood from the razing of the ancient temples to the Holocaust, that every act against them, regardless of how trivial -- like the rockets from Gaza that never hit anything, or a vote from an American church group to divest from companies that profit from the occupation, or an agreement between Iran and the world ensuring that Iran won't develop nuclear weapons -- is received by ordinary Israelis as nothing less than bone-chilling terror.

    The main thing you'll learn if you read Tom Segev's 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year That Transformed the Middle East is how split Israelis were over the coming war: on the one hand, the military leaders were utterly confident of victory; on the other hand, the Israeli public was completely terrified. Of course, overconfidence is endemic in the military (cf. Germany and Japan in WWII, everyone in WWI, Bush in Iraq), but has rarely been rewarded so quickly as when Israel attacked Egypt in 1967. Victory inflated the egos of all Israelis, especially the quaking masses who concluded they were protected not just by the IDF but by God. Israel's leaders were still cognizant enough of world (and especially American) opinion to treat lightly, but almost immediately a dynamic developed where civilians (notably the energized Gush Emunim) and politicians competed to see who could most aggressively expand the Yishuv onto Palestinian land, over the Palestinian people.

    For many years, politicians like Shimon Peres and Ariel Sharon exploited the settler movement for their own (mostly militarist) purposes, but under Netanyahu it's hard to tell who's pushing whom, in large part because the settler movement and the political powers have largely become one. Netanyahu's own contribution to this comes not just from his pedigree as right-wing royalty -- his father was Vladimir Jabotinsky's secretary in exile in New York -- as from his conceit that he is a master not just of Israeli but of American politics. Moshe Dayan famously said that "America gives us money, arms, and advise; we take the money and arms, and ignore the advice." Even as powerful a politician as Sharon had to humor George Bush when he came calling. Netanyahu, on the other hand, has repeatedly flaunted his contempt for Obama, confident that no matter what the President feels the US is stuck in its carte blanche support of all things Israeli.

    Whether Netanyahu is right about America remains to be seen, but for how his position has freed Israel from any pretense of civility -- the last barrier against all sorts of ghastly policies. One could write a whole book about what right-wing Israelis are up to, both as officials and as vigilantes -- indeed, Max Blumenthal wrote one such, Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel, but his 2013 book already seems quaintly dated. The upshot is that a growing number of Israelis have decided that they can't abide the presence of non-Jews anywhere in Eretz Israel, even completely submissive ones. That's probably not a majority view yet, but one should recall that in 1937, when the British offered to "transfer" all the Arabs out of the proposed Jewish partition of Palestine, the notoriously pragmatic David Ben-Gurion was little short of ecstatic. (A decade later, Ben-Gurion engineered the nakba -- the expulsion of 700,000 Palestinians from territory seized by Israel. Ben-Gurion argued against seizing more land in the 1967 war on grounds that this time the Arabs wouldn't flee, but like everyone else got caught up in the glory of Israel's "victory.") The fact is that as far back as 1913 "transfer" has been a fundamental (albeit sometimes tactically unspoken) plank of the Zionist platform. The question isn't whether a majority of Zionist-identified Israelis approve of "transfer" -- it's only whether it can be done cleanly, and even that matters less as Israel proves they can get away with ugly.

    As it happens, Netanyahu is running two pilot projects to show the feasibility of "transfer" ("ethnic cleansing" is the more accurate term, even if it, too, is merely a euphemism -- the Serbs coined it at Srebrenica). One involves the Bedouin who have for ages lived in the Negev Desert in the southern quarter of Israel. The plan there is to force them off the land and move them into newly constructed Arab-only villages (synonyms are ghettos and concentration camps). This would allow Israel to build new Jewish-only settlements pushing ever further into the Desert. The other is in East Jerusalem, which Israel took from Jordan in the 1967 war and "annexed" days later. Israelis have been building Jewish-only neighborhoods ever since, but as "security tensions" increase they've become more aggressive at isolating and separating Palestinian neighborhoods. The latest round of closures, house demolitions, and exiles are clearly meant to push Palestinians out of Jerusalem, eventually aiming at a city where only Jews can live. And when that happens, demands to raze the Al-Aqsa Mosque and build a Third Temple -- something we already hear -- will be deafening.

    For many years now critics have pointed out the similarities between Israel and other colonial settler states -- notably South Africa, with its Apartheid policies. The links if anything go deeper: Israelis call their foundation, in emulation of the United States, their War for Independence, but in fact Israel preserved nearly all of Britain's intrinsically racist colonial laws -- they merely reshuffled who was privileged and who was not. Ever since 1948, Palestinians under Israeli control have lived under unequal laws and an often brutal administration, impoverished by both formal and informal descrimination. But while growing inequality is a grave political and economic, indeed moral, problem in the US (and very likely within the Jewish segment of Israel), non-Jews under Israeli control are locked by birth into a life of perpetual crisis, one that is currently worsening, one which ultimately, at least on the individual level, is a matter of life or death.

    Whether Israel arrives at the final solution that is the logical outcome of Zionist ideology and unchecked power ultimately depends on whether they can stop themselves. There are, for instance, some number of dissenters within Israel: some are explicitly anti-Zionist, some style themselves as post-Zionist; more are repulsed by the growing violence of the settler movement, or by the chokehold of established orthodox Judaism. The BDS movement is also likely to become more of a burden to Israel, especially if the atrocities the current regime seems to produce like clockwork mount and the credibility of Israeli hasbara wanes. Given how modest the BDS movement's goals are -- equal rights for all, the one thing we should all be able to compromise on -- one can't call BDS a threat to Israel, except inasmuch as Israelis insist that their privileges and prerogatives should be maintained to the exclusion of everyone else.

    Some recent links:

    • Richard Silverstein: Third Intifada or Zionist Jihad: Israel Escalates Tensions With Execution Style Force: Surveys many recent events and argues that "Netanyahu has no strategy for addressing Palestinian grievances short of more force and more blood spilled from Israelis and Palestinians alike." Here are a couple samples:

      This video shows Ahmad after he was struck by the settler driver. Two Israeli ambulances arrive and emergency medical personnel approach, stand over him, and then withdraw. Bystanders curse the wounded 13-year-old boy, telling him: "Die, you son of a bitch," and goading police to shoot him.

      As of Wednesday, at least 31 Palestinians have been killed and as many as 1,200 others injured amid escalating clashes between Israeli security forces and protesters in Gaza and the West Bank in the past two weeks alone. During this period, eight Israelis have been killed and dozens others injured. [ . . . ]

      Those suspected of committing a terrorist act will have their residency permits revoked, effectively expelling them from Jerusalem. This is just one more instance in a series of acts of ethnic cleansing imposed by Israel.

      This is a return to the martial law regime which ruled over Israeli Palestinians from 1948-1966. Under these regulations, they were not governed by civil law, but by a military government which imposed a far more restrictive regime. This new development is yet another sign of devolution from democratic rule and values into a form of authoritarianism. It further reinforces the notion of apartheid in which Israeli Jews enjoy superior rights to the Arab minority. [ . . . ]

      On Sunday, Israeli journalist Meron Rapoport quoted a series of statements from various Israeli ministers and NGOs indicating that the government is at fault for inciting the latest wave of protests. He quotes the current culture minister, Miri Regev, who said a year ago: "It is unacceptable that Muslims should have freedom of worship on the Temple Mount, but not Jews." Regev, who was former chairman of the interior for the Knesset at the time, advocated a division of the site as exists at the Cave of the Patriarchs, where Baruch Goldstein murdered 29 Palestinians in 1994. [ . . . ]

      On Sunday, IDF soldiers raided the Bethlehem offices of the International Middle East Media Center, a Palestinian human rights organization which documents the activities of security personnel in the West Bank. Video surveillance footage shows a gang of soldiers breaking into the office at 4 a.m. They rampaged through the facility, overturning and breaking computers, destroying equipment and stealing files containing the records of informants.

      After a prior IDF break-in, the organization discovered that its informants were later arrested and harassed by security forces and threatened for engaging in the legal act of observing and documenting the actions of Israeli security personnel. [ . . . ]

      Last week, in one of the most heinous of a series of incidents in which Palestinians were killed by Israeli security and police forces, Fadi Alloun, a 20-year-old man from the village of Issawiya, was accosted by a mob of Israelis near Jerusalem's Old City. This unruly group, believing that Alloun had stabbed an Israeli Jew, pursued him, screaming: "Shoot him, shoot him!" They summoned the police, and when an officer arrived at the scene and exited his vehicle, he immediately shot and killed the Palestinian with multiple shots. [ . . . ]

      Over the weekend, a freelance journalist and Palestinian investigator for Human Rights Watch wearing a clearly marked "Press" sign, was shot three times -- twice with rubber bullets, and once with live ammunition -- by Israeli forces as she documented and photographed a protest. She could easily have been killed. Israeli forces have been known in the past to directly target and even kill Palestinian journalists covering unrest in a systematic assault on the press. [ . . . ]

      He continues, relaying the experiences of others on the ground, including a young man who drove his wounded friend to the hospital on Friday, journalists who agree that it seems "live bullets were fired at specific targets," and doctors who said "they were shocked at the numbers of victims with precise bullet wounds, which they say appeared to be deliberately aimed not to injure, but to kill or cause the maximum amount of damage." [ . . . ]

      It's important to note that Jewish terrorists are never shot, let alone murdered, when apprehended in the midst of an attack. After a Jew stabbed three Palestinians and a Bedouin in Dimona over the weekend, not a hair on his head was mussed. When Yaakov Schlissel murdered an Israeli woman at the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade this summer, he wasn't harmed in any way. The only Jewish terrorists ever killed during commission of their acts of mass murder were Baruch Goldstein and Eden Natan Zenda, who were killed by their Palestinian victims. There are Israeli Jews who have the temerity to condemn Palestinians for taking the law into their own hands in these cases.

      The focus on Jerusalem in general and Al-Aqsa in particular seems intent on provoking the most devout Muslims (and perhaps also of messianic Jews) into acts of violence. I can't describe either the Mosque or the West Wall as "holy places" because I believe all such designations are ridiculous, and doing so only feeds the fantasy world of the "believers" -- something that has long hampered efforts to settle the conflict. The 1967 decision to carve out a Jewish space around the West Wall while leaving the Haram al-Sharif to the Waqf was a concession to coexistence that is increasingly rejected by right-wing Israelis: even those who don't particularly relish the erection of a Third Temple see it as a blight on Jewish power in the Jewish state. Those same people object not just to any sort of parity with non-Jews but to their very presence, especially in their Holy City. Pretty much everything that we are witnessing derives from the notion that the end game requires the elimination of non-Jews from Israel. Piecemeal this is becoming Israeli policy, dismantling all checks against the abuse of total power. Netanyahu and his ilk are being swept along by the mob, because they have no alternative vision.

    • Jonathan Cook: Chaos in Jerusalem is a warning of things to come:

      Strangely, in the face of all this, there are signs of a parallel breakdown of order and leadership on the Israeli side.

      Mobs of Jews patrol Jerusalem and Israeli cities, calling out "Death to the Arabs!" A jittery soldier causes pandemonium by firing his rifle in a train carriage after a bogus terror alert. An innocent Eritrean asylum seeker is shot by a security guard during an attack because he looks "Arab," then beaten to a pulp by a lynch mob that includes soldiers.

      Meanwhile, politicians and police commanders stoke the fear. They call for citizens to take the law into their own hands. Palestinian workers are banned from Jewish towns. Israeli supermarkets remove knives from shelves, while 8,000 Israelis queue up for guns in the first 24 hours after permit rules are eased.

      Some of this reflects a hysteria, a heightened sense of victimhood among Israelis, fuelled by the knife attack videos. But the mood dates to before the current upheavals.

      It is also a sign of the gradual leaching of the settler's lawlessness into the mainstream. A popular slogan from the past weeks is: "The army's hands are tied." Israeli civilians presumably believe they must take up arms instead.

    • Willa Frej: Violence Escalates in Jerusalem and West Bank: Scattered reporting, much familiar but this is another angle:

      Four Israeli cities, including Tel Aviv, voted Sunday to temporarily ban all Arab workers from their schools.

      "Entrance to cleaning and maintenance workers will be forbidden during school hours," the Hod Hasharon municipality wrote on its website.

      Israel's Education Ministry has yet to comment, but the Interior Ministry released a statement calling for municipalities to "continue to act with respect and equality towards all their workers, irrespective of religion, ethnicity or gender."

      Israeli police were also granted greater stop-and-frisk powers. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterated Sunday that these measures were about "preserving the status quo, we will continue to do so."

    • Meron Rapoport: The paradox of Jerusalem:

      The Palestinians in Jerusalem live in a very peculiar situation. They carry Israeli identity cards, so they enjoy freedom of movement denied to their fellow Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. But contrary to Palestinians living in Israel, they are not Israeli citizens and their temporary residency status could be abolished at any time.

      And above all, Jerusalemite Palestinians feel the burden of Israeli discrimination on a daily basis. While they represent 37 percent of the total population in the city, the poverty rate among them has reached 75 percent, a third of their youth drops out before finishing high school and 39 percent of their houses are built without permits. Events on al-Aqsa ignited a longstanding frustration built for many years.

      As always, Israel responded to the violent events in Jerusalem by tightening its security control over the Palestinian parts of the city, sending in thousands of extra police forces. It also gave these policemen almost an open hand to shoot to kill any Palestinian involved in attacks. "Any event in which policemen or civilians are hurt must end with the killing of the attacking terrorist," said Moshe (Chico) Edry, the commander of Jerusalem's police.

    • Ran HaCohen: What Israel Is Up to in Jerusalem:

      Once again, war atmosphere in Israel. In television day and night nothing but Palestinians stabbing, hurling, burning; current footage is recycled ad nauseam, and, a second before vomiting, reminders from previous Intifadas are aired, to place the present event in the right historical context. As the fruit juice seller told me, "It has always been like that: they always kill us. First Temple, Second Temple, the Crusades, the Holocaust, and now this." (He was overwhelmed when I wondered where the Amalekites had gone, who it was that killed them.) So you have on the one hand Palestinians armed with knives and stones -- not even bombs and guns this time -- and a regional nuclear superpower, one of the world's biggest exporters of weaponry on the other hand, and is quite obvious that the poor, innocent victim is the latter. When the Gods want to destroy a nation, they first make it blind. [ . . . ]

      In coping with the violence -- no community can tolerate daily stabbing of innocents on its streets -- Netanyahu has very little to offer. After all, he refused to negotiate with the Palestinians in years of relative quite (in 2012, for example, not a single Israeli was killed by Palestinian violence), so he won't start now. Demolishing terrorists' homes has been reintroduced as a means of deterrence, a decade after the Israeli army itself under Chief-of-Staff -- now Minister of Defense -- Ye'elon officially recommended stopping such demolitions. With one nuance, though: now Israel has taken the right not only to demolish the houses, but to confiscate their land as well. And this is significant. [ . . . ]

      The Palestinians constitute 35% of Jerusalem's population, a "demographic threat" in Israeli eyes. East Jerusalem is not cut off from West Jerusalem; this is hardly feasible, as East Jerusalem is packed with Jewish settlements. Instead, the Palestinian neighborhoods in Jerusalem are further cut off from each other, encircled and besieged by checkpoints and concrete blocks. There are small extremist Jewish settlements even within many Palestinian neighborhood; the land of demolished houses will be given to them to expand. Palestinians in the strangulated Jerusalem neighborhood will have little choice but to leave to the West Bank enclaves; and, to make things even clearer, deportations and retraction of their Israeli citizenship are already considered. What is likely to take place now is not a division of Jerusalem, but rather its ethnic cleansing.

    • Sam Bahour: The Non-Violent Way Young Palestinians Are Flipping Israel's Script:

      Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has built his entire political career on a platform of violence against Palestinians. Leading up to his first election as prime minister in 1996 he publicly and aggressively mocked Israel's erstwhile prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, for entering into an interim peace agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization. The toxic environment Netanyahu operated in was partly behind the motivation of a Jewish extremist to assassinate Rabin. Netanyahu prides himself on being the leader who stopped the peace process in its tracks. To make sure peace would never have a chance, he accelerated settlement building in the West Bank, attacked Gaza multiple times, demolished more Palestinian homes, arrested Palestinians, including minors, often without charges, and failed to bring to justice the Jewish settlers who recently burned alive a Palestinian family while they slept in their home.

      But why does Israel seemingly seek violence? The answer is elementary to anyone following this conflict. Israel has a single gamebook against the legitimate Palestinian struggle for freedom and independence: that of using their well-oiled military machine to squash any Palestinian who attempts to resist occupation. Israel since 1948 and 1967 has routinely used war and violence to seize more land, all the while pushing Palestinians to either turn violent or emigrate.

      During the past few years, Israel found itself in a strategic bind. Palestinians shifted gears and started to operate in non-violent venues. Palestinians call it "smart resistance." New tools of resistance, such as calling for a boycott of Israeli products, divestment from Israeli investments, and working to get states to apply sanctions to Israel, contribute to this shift in strategy.

    • Philip Weiss: Facing down hecklers in NY, Gideon Levy calls for equal rights for all in one state: Levy offers what is probably the most succinct summary of the Israeli worldview:

      Levy says that Jewish Israelis have been able to live happily with occupation because of three deep-rooted beliefs/blindnesses: One, we are the chosen people, we can do anything we want, and international law doesn't apply to us. Two, we the Jews are the biggest victim in history and the only victim in history. Golda Meir said after the Holocaust Jews have the right to do whatever we want. And third, that Palestinians are not exactly human beings. "Killing Palestinians is not really a violation of human rights."

      Levy is equally succinct about what is happening today, and what needs to change:

      Now even Israeli Jewish society is threatened by "one lynch after another, day after day." Scenes that he had never thought even imaginable are occurring. [ . . . ]

      "The two state solution is in my view dead. The settlers won." And there is only one alternative: the one-state solution. It's not easy. I have no illusions. "But it is the only game that is in town . . . Therefore the struggle the discourse must be from now on I think a very simple one. Equal rights. That's all." [ . . . ]

      Levy says that only an international intervention will save Israel's "moral profile."

      Life in Israel is too good, Israel is too strong, and brainwashing is much too efficient to expect a change from within the Israeli society.

      No country in the world remains powerful when it lives only on its sword. . . . .

      The world must bring pressure on Israel so that it will consider whether it "is worth it" to continue the criminal occupation.

    • Kate, at Mondoweiss, continues to file two or three long posts every week, compiling many of the everyday news items that get overlooked. Here's just one little sample that caught my eye: Extremist settler kills 40 lambs:

      An Israeli settler ran over 40 lambs in the eastern part of the West Bank city of Nablus, on Tuesday evening. Owner Ayesh al-Da'ajneh said that one of his sons was taking care of the lambs as they were eating in a pasture at the edge of the city. "The Israeli vehicle approached the lambs and my son raised a light sign in his face thinking the settler had taken the wrong side of the road," Al-Da'ajneh said, according to Days of Palestine. He continued: "The settler hit the lambs several times and my son, who was unarmed, could not stop him." Forty lambs, out of 300, were killed and at least 20 others were wounded. Illegal Jewish Israeli settlers and armed forces frequently target Palestinian farmers, killing their sheep and cattle, as well as burning their crops.

      I've also found the rather schematic (and studiously matter-of-fact) lists at Wikipedia to be useful; notably:

      For a sample, the entry for October 20 (the most recent day listed) reads:

      • An Israeli soldier was lightly wounded, suffered scratches when a Palestinian, Udaay Hashim al-Masalma (24) reportedly tried to stab him during clashes at Beit Awwa, west of Hebron. Israeli sources say the incident occurred near the settlement of Negohot, and the assailant threw himself at troops. The suspect in turn was shot dead with a bullet to the head.
      • A settler from Kiryat Arba was killed when he was run over by a truck after he exited his car, which had been struck by rocks, and perhaps with a gun on him. The truck-driver turned himself in to Palestinian police, saying it was an accident.
      • A Palestinian, Hamzeh Moussa al-Imla (25) from Beit Ula, is reported to have rammed his car into Israelis at a bus stop at the Gush Etzion junction. 2 Israelis were injured, one lightly, the other moderately. He is said also either to have tried to stab people after getting out of his car, or to have been found with a knife on him.
      • 9 Gazan Palestinians were wounded by live fire, and one Ahmad al-Sarhi (27), was shot dead. 6 were wounded east of the al-Bureij refugee camp, and a further 3 were wounded near the Eretz Crossing.
      • 9 West Bank Palestinians were wounded by live fire, 3 in Bireh and 2 in Ni'lin.
      • Bashar Nidal al-Jabari (15) and Hussam Jamil al-Jabari (17) were shot dead at a checkpoint near the near the Rajabi house close to Kiryat Arba. It is alleged one of the two tried to stab a soldier. A soldier lightly wounded.

      That's one day, a rather ordinary one by present standards. The thing is it wouldn't take much effort to radically reduce this cycle of violence, only it has to be started by the people with the power to change things: the government of Israel.

    Monday, October 19, 2015

    Music Week

    Music: Current count 25626 [25588] rated (+38), 449 [449] unrated (+0).

    Last week was disrupted by a "sleep study": turns out I don't get enough oxygen when I sleep, which leads to all sorts of unfortunate side effects, ranging from heart trouble to early senility. I've been feeling exceptionally tired this week, and pretty stupid as well. Presumably an expensive treatment regimen will follow. That is, after all, the American way.

    I did make a stab at a Weekend Roundup, but didn't get it done in time to post on Sunday. Look for it later this week -- hopefully tomorrow. Also, beware that it won't cover all the stupid things going on in the world right now. Thus far it's limited to Israel, and why the so-called Third Intifada is a ruse meant to derail an increasingly successful BDS movement by clouding the issue with senseless violence.

    This week I hope to do some serious cooking. Birthday dinner is coming up. Hopefully we can find some guests. I'm thinking Cuban, which means I'll finally have to learn how to make coffee.

    Usual mixed bag of records this week. Christgau recommended the Bottle Rockets and two John Kruth records. I didn't find the latest Kruth [PS: it's on Bandcamp], but took a look at holes in both back catalogs (I only knew Kruth from his duo with John Greene, Tribecastan). I also looked into Ulrich Gumpert's back catalog: a pianist from East Germany, he was at the center of one of the most adventurous jazz circles behind the Iron Curtain (along with Conrad Bauer, GŘnter Sommer, Klaus Koch, and the remarkable saxophonist, Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky). Gumpert has one of this week's two new A- jazz records: the other I attribute to Joe McPhee but I've also seen an album cover with Jamie Saft's name in big print, and the pianist is clearly the one who holds it together.

    Much more new jazz in the queue, including some real prospects. I got a large package of material from a Spanish label I wasn't familiar with: UnderPool. Also a package from my Dutch friends at ToonDist -- but it was a little light, omitting the new (and presumably last) one from ICP Orchestra. Reports are that the brilliant Misha Mengelberg has been sidelined with dementia -- very sad news, incredible given the mental dexterity of his work going back to the 1960s.

    Among the stupider things I did this week was to write a letter to the Village Voice to inquire whether the new ownership might have any interest in reviving Jazz Consumer Guide. I'm not sure that's a good idea, but in my benighted state it seems at least like something I can still do.

    Latest Rhapsody Streamnotes draft count is 104 records. I guess that means I'm due to release one in the next week or so. I should also note that I took a pass at a year-end list: actually, two, one for jazz and another for non-jazz. I expect to do much resorting before the actual end-of-year, as well as adding more records, so take this list with more than the usual grain of salt. One thing that is clear is that the jazz list is shaping up as close to last year's (currently 52 new records, vs. 69 last year), but I'm way short of last year's pace for non-jazz (33 vs. 76 last year). The latter almost certainly reflects lack of effort on my part. Even though I've kept a tracking file this year, it isn't very comprehensive nor have I made much effort tracking things down. I expect to do better by the actual end-of-year, but it's beginning to look like a tall order.

    New records rated this week:

    • The Bottle Rockets: South Broadway Athletic Club (2015, Bloodshot): [r]: B+(***)
    • A Bu Trio: 88 Tones of Black and White (2014 [2015], Blujazz, CD+DVD): [cd]: B+(*)
    • De Beren Gieren: One Mirrors Many (2015, Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)
    • East West Quintet: Anthem (2011 [2015], self-released): [cd]: B-
    • Eskmo: SOL (2015, Apollo): [r]: B+(**)
    • EZTV: Calling Out (2015, Captured Tracks): [r]: B
    • Ulrich Gumpert Quartett: A New One (2014 [2015], Intakt): [cd]: A-
    • Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis: Live in Cuba (2010 [2015], Blue Engine, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
    • Left Exit Mr K: Featuring Michael Duch & Klaus Holm (2013 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)
    • The Liberation Music Collective: Siglo XXI (2015, self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
    • Joe McPhee/Jamie Saft/Joe Morris/Charles Downs: Ticonderoga (2014 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: A-
    • Mark Christian Miller: Crazy Moon (2015, Sliding Jazz Door Productions): [cd]: B+(*)
    • Ben Monder: Amorphae (2010-13 [2015], ECM): [dl]: B
    • Tom Rainey Trio: Motel Grief (2015, Intakt): [cd]: B+(**)
    • Daniel Romano: If I've Only One Time Askin' (2015, New West): [r]: B+(*)
    • Jen Shyu & Jade Tongue: Sounds and Cries of the World (2014 [2015], Pi): [cd]: B-
    • Susana Santos Silva/Torbj÷rn Zetterberg/Hampus Lindwall: If Nothing Else (2014 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)
    • Ben Winkelman Trio: The Knife (2014 [2015], OA2): [cd]: B+(**)

    Old music rated this week:

    • The Bottle Rockets: 24 Hours a Day (1997, Atlantic): [r]: B+(***)
    • Bottle Rockets: Leftovers (1998, Doolittle): [r]: B+(**)
    • The Bottle Rockets: Brand New Year (1999, Doolittle): [r]: B+(*)
    • The Bottle Rockets: Zoysia (2006, Bloodshot): [r]: B+(**)
    • Ulrich Gumpert: Workshop Band (1978-79 [2008], Jazzwerkstatt, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
    • Ulrich Gumpert: Erik Satie: Danses Gothiques/Quatre Preludes/Petite Ouverture a Danser (1989 [2013], Phil.Harmonie): [r]: B+(*)
    • Ulrich Gumpert Workshop Band: Smell a Rat (1995 [2007], Jazzwerkstatt): [r]: B+(***)
    • Ulrich Gumpert: Quartette (2006 [2007], Intakt): [r]: B+(**)
    • Ulrich Gumpert Workshop Band: Suites (2008, Jazzwerkstatt): [r]: A-
    • John Kruth: Banshee Mandolin (1992, Flying Fish): [r]: B+(***)
    • John Kruth: Eva Destruction (2006, Crustacean): [r]: B+(**)
    • John Kruth: Splitsville (2008, Smiling Fez): [r]: A-

    Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

    • Josh Berman Trio: A Dance and a Hop (Delmark)
    • Geof Bradfield Quintet: Our Roots (Origin)
    • Dani Comas: EpokhÚ (UnderPool)
    • John Dikeman/William Parker/Hamid Drake: Live at La Resistenza (El Negocito)
    • Carlos Falanga: Gran Coral (UnderPool)
    • Sergi Felipe: Whisper Songs (2011, UnderPool)
    • Sergi Felipe: Whisper Songs: Bomb˙ Es Libre En El Espacio (2013, UnderPool)
    • Erroll Garner: The Complete Concert by the Sea (1955, Columbia/Legacy, 3CD)
    • Guus Janssen: Meeting Points (Bimhuis)
    • Jeff Jenkins Organization: The Arrival (OA2)
    • Nancy Lane: Let Me Love You (self-released)
    • Emma Larsson: Sing to the Sky (Origin)
    • Martin Leiton: Poetry of Sound (UnderPool)
    • Marco Mezquida Mateos: Live in Terrassa (UnderPool)
    • Spinifex: Veiled (Trytone)
    • Underpool 3 (UnderPool)
    • Underpool 4 (UnderPool)
    • Jacob Varmus Septet: Aegean: For Three Generations of Jazz Lovers (Crows' Kin): October 23
    • Carrie Wicks: Maybe (OA2)

    Thursday, October 15, 2015

    Daily Log

    Started this but couldn't finish it:

    You may have heard about how Israelis are terrified these days by a wave of stabbings of Jews by Palestinians, especially in Jerusalem. Since October 1 (based on this Wikipedia list):

    Monday, October 12, 2015

    Music Week

    Music: Current count 25588 [25572] rated (+16), 449 [437] unrated (+12).

    Two weeks ago, Monday Sept. 28, we packed up the car and drove east from Wichita, the main objective being to pick up the late Liz Fink's dog, Sadie, and bring her back to Wichita. (For more on Liz, look here.) We finally got out around 1PM, bypassed Kansas City before traffic got bad, had dinner in Columbia [MO], skipped north of St. Louis, finally pulling into our day's destination, a cheap motel in Effingham [IL], 565 miles out. Seems like I've done that drive dozens of times -- most recently a year ago when I drove to Cape Cod. Last year my second day pushed into southwestern Pennsylvania, but this time we faced constant rain and only made 405 miles, to Cambridge [OH].

    That turned out to be close enough to reach Brooklyn on Wednesday. Overcast all day, rain threatening but we never got more than a few sprinkles here and there (and some eerie fog crossing an Appalachian pass). Drove through the Holland Tunnel, then "straight ahead for 3.8 miles" (as the GPS lady put it: down Walker merging into Canal, over the Manhattan Bridge, down Flatbush to Grand Army Plaza) then unload and park -- the part I dreaded most. (We played the "alternate side" parking game that night, then found a safe lot the next morning.) The apartment felt disheveled but mostly familiar -- the closets had been emptied of clothes, and someone unplugged everything so it took a while to get Internet working. My nephew Mike came over, as did Liz's friend Carol, who brought the dog -- a 7-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Laura had spent much time with but I barely recognized. (I had visited in spring 2014, my first New York venture since 2004. In the interrim and after, Laura had been there ten or so times.)

    Next day, Pearl Smith (Big Black's widow, Liz's heir, not that there's not much Liz hadn't already given away), Larry Fink (Liz's brother, the famed photographer), his daughter Molly (Snyder-Fink), and some others came over to sort through affects -- packing some things to pick up later but not taking much at the moment. Over the next few days several other friends of Liz showed up to look around, reminiscence, and occasionally pick up mementos. A few of our friends also came over to chat, and sometimes to go out for a bite to eat. When we got to NYC, the weather forecast called for five straight days of rain climaxing with Hurricane Joaquin (expected to miss us but not clear by how much). We only ventured into Manhattan once, a dinner with Georgia Christgau, Steve Levi, Robert Christgau, and Carola Dibbell.

    I figured the best time to get out would be Sunday afternoon. My nephew and his fiancÚe came over to help us load up the car. The drive down Flatbush, across the Manhattan Bridge, up Canal and through the tunnel was as easy as I could imagine. I would normally have driven half way across Pennsylvania after such an exit, but we were due for an oil change, and the dealers didn't do service business on Sunday. So I settled with driving to a friend's house near Newton, NJ, figuring I'd get the oil changed first thing Monday morning. That worked out pretty much as planned, and by 11AM we had driven back to I-80 and turned west. We made it through Akron and turned southeast, stopping in Mansfield, OH for the evening. Tuesday we got off to our earliest start and wound up in Columbia, leaving about 330 miles for Wednesday, home by 5PM.

    Normally when I drive that far, I have people and spots I want to see along the way, but Laura doesn't have a lot of patience for that, and I was feeling pretty miserable the whole trip. Before the trip, we had talked about the possibility of stopping in DC on the way out, coming back through Buffalo-Detroit-Chicago, and possibly making a side-trip to Cape Cod. None of that happened this time. (In 2004, I drove out through Kentucky to DC, then went to western Massachusetts before coming back through Buffalo and Detroit, then I took a detour to Ste. Saint Marie and Duluth just to see what I had never seen before. In 2014 I drove straight out to NJ, then on to Cape Cod, back to NJ, up to Buffalo, then down to Arkansas and Oklahoma. In 2001 I took a deeper southern return route, through DC into NC and across Tennessee and Arkansas.)

    Since we got home, Sadie has gotten a radical trim and been to the vet's, so now we have all the paperwork in order to get her properly licensed. (A lot more effort than it takes to get an UZI or AR-15 here in Kansas.) We have a two story house (plus a basement of sorts), and a fenced-in backyard she can have the run of -- stocked with squirrels and birds and occasionally visited by wilder life. She seems to be adjusting. Maybe I will too.

    I didn't manage to get a Weekend Roundup done yesterday. Had to work on the yard, plus my rhythm is totally screwed up due to a bad head cold on top of all the time changes. Anyhow, I didn't skip this weekly exercise because there was nothing to write. (I usually go into a news deepfreeze when I travel but somehow missed that this time.) Still, this week's stories diverge only marginally from last week's, or next week's, and one gets tired of writing the same over and over again -- so maybe the occasional break is needed just to maintain sanity.

    Still, two things I want to at least mention:

    • Don Melvin: At least 95 killed in twin bombings near train station in Turkey's capital: The "twin bombings" were set to disrupt and maim and kill peace protestors, which is to say demonstrations against the ruling party in Turkey. Subsequent articles tell us that the official investigation is targeting ISIS. Not clear why ISIS would bomb a demo against Turkey's war against ISIS. Same for Turkey's perennial enemy the PKK, since Turkey's "war against ISIS" is really little more than cover for Turkish attacks against anti-ISIS Kurds. I'm always opposed to whoever would do such a dire thing, but I'm even more touched by the targeting of "my people" -- the anti-war movement.
    • Israel has right to completely destroy Gaza, right-wing rabbi says, and even more pointedly, Richard Silverstein: Israeli Advocates Palestinian Holocaust. With Netanyahu's recent decision to use "live ammo" to kill Palestinians who throw stones, Israel's increasingly right-wing government is inching ever further toward "the final extermination of the Palestinian people." Ideologues like Rabbi Dov Lior have long been out in front of this, but the movement is palpably closing in on its goal. I never thought Israel would sink so low, but it's hard to see any force within Israeli society providing a check against such violent racism.

    I have very little to add about the records below -- roughly one-half of a week's worth. The two picks were items I found on Liz Fink's shelf, and are possibly not the best Jazz Tribune picks for either artist -- Bechet is also represented by Volumes 1/2 which goes back to the mid-1930s, and RCA has both a slice of c. 1930 big band Armstrong and a 1947 live set, The Complete Town Hall Concert. Also, arguably I also overstepped my needs, in that I already have most of the music here, in Armstrong's 4-CD The Complete RCA Victor Recordings and Bechet's The Victor Sessions: Master Takes. Still, there's something to be said for not coming home empty handed.

    New records rated this week:

    • Gonšalo Almeida/Martin van Duynhoven/Tobias Klein: Vibrate in Sympathy (2015, Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(***)
    • Laurie Antonioli & Richie Beirach: Varuna (2006-15 [2015], Origin): [cd]: B-
    • Benoit Delbecq/Miles Perkin/Emile Biayenda: Ink (2014 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(***)
    • Expansions: The Dave Liebman Group: The Puzzle (2015, Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(***)
    • Gerry Gibbs Thrasher Dream Trio: Live in Studio (2015, Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(**)
    • Julia Holter: Have You in My Wilderness (2015, Domino): [r]: B
    • Jason Isbell: Something More Than Free (2015, Southeastern): [r]: B+(*)
    • Ivan & Alyosha: It's All Just Pretend (2015, Dualtone): [r]: B
    • Oddisee: The Good Fight (2015, Mello Music Group): [r]: B+(*)
    • Ought: Sun Coming Down (2015, Constellation): [r]: B+(*)
    • Charlie Parr: Stumpjumper (2015, Red House): [r]: B+(**)
    • Keith Richards: Crosseyed Heart (2015, Mindless/Virgin): [r]: B
    • Jill Scott: Woman (2015, Atlantic): [cd]: B+(***)
    • Snik: Metasediment Rock (2014 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)

    Old music rated this week:

    • Louis Armstrong: From the Big Band to the All Stars (1946-1956) (1932-56 [1992], RCA, 2CD): [cd]: A-
    • Sidney Bechet: The Complete Sidney Bechet Volumes 3/4 (1941) (1941 [1986], RCA, 2CD): [cd]: A-

    Unpacking: Found in the mail last two weeks:

    • Sarah Buechi: Shadow Garden (Intakt)
    • Ann Hampton Callaway: The Hope of Christmas (MCG Jazz)
    • Chaise Lounge: A Very Chaise Lounge Christmas (Modern Songbook)
    • Romain Collin: Press Enter (ACT)
    • Caroline Davis Quartet: Doors: Chicago Storylines (Ears & Eyes): November 6
    • Kirsten Edkins: Art & Soul (self-released): November 3
    • Clare Fischer: Out of the Blue (Clavo)
    • The 14 Jazz Orchestra: Nothing Hard Is Ever Easy (self-released): January 1, 2016
    • Mike Holober: Balancing Act (Palmetto): November 13
    • Hot Jazz Jumpers: The Very Next Thing (On the Bol): November 6
    • Russ Lossing: Eclipse (Aqua Piazza): November 7
    • Kristine Mills: Bossa Too (InkWell Publishing)
    • Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra: Joyful Jazz (MCG Jazz): October 23
    • Matthew Shipp Trio: The Conduct of Jazz (Thirsty Ear)
    • Herb Silverstein: Younger Next Year (self-released): October 23
    • Slobber Pup: Pole Axe (Rare Noise): advance, October 30
    • Lou Volpe: Tremembering Ol' Blue Eyes (Songs of Sinatra) (Jazz Guitar): November 6
    • Dave Wilson Quartet: There Was Never (Zoho): November 6


    • Louis Armstrong: From the Big Band to the All Stars (1946-1956) (1932-56, RCA, 2CD)
    • Sidney Bechet: The Complete Sidney Bechet Volumes 3/4 (1941) (1941, RCA, 2CD)

    Some unfinished drafts:

    Nonetheless, I think odds that Israel may commit statistically significant genocide against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank have nudged up perceptively. As usual, Rabbi Dov Lior is out in the lead (see Israel has right to completely destroy Gaza, right-wing rabbi says). Such sentiments aren't new: Max Blumenthal wrote about Lior and others in 2010; Ali Abunimah wrote about several other rabbis in 2007; although one reported by Richard Silverstein is particularly chilling:

    The only solution is to understand that eventually only the one people will exist between the Jordan river and the sea, and the other people will undergo a dreadful holocaust and annihilation. The only conclusion is that even though the conditions are not yet ripe, we must act quietly to lay the ground for the final extermination of the Palestinian people.

    Genocidal demands, both from religious and secular political leaders, occur every time the conflict heats up in Israel/Palestine, and indeed that's what is happening now: the RT article notes that "Israel's military campaign in Gaza over the past 15 days has so far resulted in the deaths of more than 600 Palestinians, many of them women and children, with more than 4,500 wounded."

    But these appeals by prominent Israeli religious figures are reflected in such recent policy changes as the decision to use "live ammo" to shoot and kill "Palestinian stone throwers" (at the same time as reports that Israeli undercover agents have been encouraging Palestinians to throw stones). And this is within an increasing cycle of actual violence, one that . . .

    Monday, September 28, 2015

    Music Week

    Music: Current count 25572 [25544] rated (+28), 437 [436] unrated (+1).

    Cut this week short, closing it on Sunday afternoon so I can move on to packing. I'll be on the road for the next 2-3 weeks, driving straight east to New York City, then some less straight route back. Not sure about internet access, especially while we are in New York. At any rate I won't have the computers, tools, books, and gear I use to produce these posts, so don't expect much here. Lot of stuff still in the queue, and there will be more before I get back. Ulrich Gumpert album is sounding pretty good at the moment, but I should hold back on it.

    Time may have contributed to the dip in rated count, but also note the sheer number of A- records this week. Most of them took 4-5 plays -- only New Order and the older Hooker were obvious picks from the start, and I still don't think the new MOPDtK is as good as most of the old ones (although Jon Irabagon has a field day). The Pop Group, the Specials, and Madness got extra plays in just missing, too. The latter came out of the Pitchfork 1970s list (well, not Madness, but it seemed like the moment). Very little left there that I haven't heard, just a couple records that aren't on Rhapsody.

    John Lee Hooker's Don't Turn Me From Your Door was a suggestion from Phil Overeem. There are, of course, dozens of Hooker albums I haven't heard, but On Vee-Jay 1955-1958 was on Robert Santelli's blues list, number 18. Metric is probably the most marginal of the A- records, something that became more apparent after I played New Order.

    New records rated this week:

    • Bob Albanese: Time Remembered (2012 [2015], Mayimba): [r]: B+(*)
    • Ezra Furman: Perpetual Motion People (2015, Bella Union): [r]: A-
    • Miho Hazama: Time River (2015, Sunnyside): [cdr]: B+(**)
    • Metric: Pagans in Vegas (2015, Metric): [r]: A-
    • Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Mauch Chunk (2015, Hot Cup): [cd]: A-
    • Caili O'Doherty: Padme (2015, Odo): [cd]: B+(**)
    • New Order: Music Complete (2015, Mute): [r]: A-
    • The Pop Group: Citizen Zombie (2015, Freaks R Us): [r]: B+(*)
    • Noah Preminger: Pivot: Live at the 55 Bar (2015, self-released): [cd]: A-
    • Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment: Surf (2015, self-released): [r]: A-
    • John Wojciechowski: Focus (2015, Origin): [cd]: B+(**)

    Old music rated this week:

    • Madness: One Step Beyond . . . (1979, Stiff): [r]: B+(**)
    • Madness: Absolutely (1980, Stiff): [r]: B
    • Madness: Complete Madness (1979-82 [1982], Stiff): [r]: B+(***)
    • The Pop Group: Y (1979 [2007], Radar): [r]: B+(***)
    • The Pop Group: For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder? (1980, Rough Trade): [dl]: B+(**)
    • Saturday Night Fever [The Original Movie Sound Track] (1976, Polydor): [r]: B+(*)
    • The Specials: The Specials (1979, Chrysalis): [r]: B+(***)
    • The Specials: More Specials (1980, Chrysalis): [r]: B+(*)
    • The Specials: The Singles Collection (1979-84 [1991], Chrysalis): [cd]: A-
    • Suicide: Suicide (1977, Red Star): [r]: B
    • Suicide: Suicide (1980, Antilles/ZE): [r]: B+(**)
    • This Are Two Tone (1979-82 [1983], Chrysalis): [r]: A-

    Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

    • Marnix Busstra: Firm Fragile Fun (Buzz Music)
    • Rich Halley 4: Eleven (Pine Eagle)
    • Scott Hamilton & Jeff Hamilton Trio: Live in Bern (Capri): October 20
    • Harth/Fischer/Daemgen: Confucius Tarif Reduit (Spore Point)
    • Keigo Hirakawa: And Then There Were Three (self-released)
    • Innerroute: Fourmation (self-released): October 15
    • Matt Mitchell: Vista Accumulation (Pi): October 16
    • Maria Schneider Orchestra: The Thompson Fields (ArtistShare)
    • Martin Speicher/Peter Geisselbrecht/J÷rg Fischer: Spicy Unit (Spore Print)
    • Manuel Valera & Groove Square: Urban Landscape (Destiny)
    • Galen Weston: Plugged In (Blujazz)
    • Patrick Williams: Home Suite Home (BFM)

    Added grades for remembered LPs from way back when:

    • Get Down and Boogie (1974-76 [1976], Casablanca): A dance sampler label promo mixed onto two non-stop sides, the first with two tracks each from Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer, the second breaking disco discipline with two funk classics from Parliament. I was reminded of this by Christgau's Saturday Night Fever review, and tried to assemble a songlist on Rhapsody, but most of the lesser lights were AWOL. B+

    Sunday, September 27, 2015

    Weekend Roundup

    With the weekend approaching, I had one entry (on drug pricing) in the draft file. Don't have time to add much, but I do have some open tabs I want to take note of before I go offline:

    • Paul Krugman: Religions Are What People Make Them:

      The current crop of Republican presidential candidates is accomplishing something I would have considered impossible: making George W. Bush look like a statesman. Say what you like about his actions after 9/11 -- and I did not like, at all -- at least he made a point of not feeding anti-Muslim hysteria. But that was then.

      Reason probably doesn't do much good in these circumstances. Still, to the extent that there are people who should know better declaring that Islam is fundamentally incompatible with democracy, or science, or good things in general, I'd like to recommend a book I recently read: S. Frederick Starr's Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia's Golden Age From the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane. It covers a place and a time of which I knew nothing: the medieval flourishing of learning -- mathematics, astronomy, medicine, philosophy -- in central Asian cities made rich by irrigated agriculture and trade.

      As Starr describes their work, some of these scholars really did prefigure the Enlightenment, sounding remarkably like Arabic-speaking precursors of David Hume and Voltaire. And the general picture he paints is of an Islamic world far more diverse in its beliefs and thinking than anything you might imagine from current prejudices.

      Now, that enlightenment was eventually shut down by economic decline and a turn toward fundamentalism. But such tendencies are hardly unique to Islam.

      People are people. They can achieve great things, or do terrible things, under lots of religious umbrellas. (An Israeli once joked to me, "Judaism has rarely been a religion of oppression. Why? Lack of opportunity.") It's ignorant and ahistorical to claim unique virtue or unique sin for any one set of beliefs.

      A couple quick points: Bush understood that American intervention in the Middle East wouldn't work without local allies, which the US at least had to go through the motions of cultivating. One side effect of this is that Americans and Arabs would develop attachments which would eventually result in many of the latter coming to the US (much as had happened with Cuba and Vietnam). Islamophobes should have understood this dynamic from the beginning, and as such should have resisted Bush's imperial ventures. Of course, they didn't do that -- they're not very bright, but at least they understood that Bush's wars in the Middle East were wars against the people there. Not so clear that either side understood that long-term wars there would only increase intrinsic Islamophobia among Americans, but that's probably the easiest lesson one could have deduced from a study of America's wars.

      The ending of the Arab enlightenment didn't correspond to economic downturn so much as military defeat, primarily by the Mongols and Turks. (A similar thing happened in Spain, first with the Moors then the Christians.) Of course, once the Mongols sack Baghdad it's hard to rebuild the economy. We've seen that in real time with the American occupation, which by most accounts was considerably less brutal.

      In Israel, Jewish military power has turned Judaism into a religion of oppression -- indeed a remarkably nasty one. Perhaps that "lack of opportunity" has prevented any safeguards from evolving. Indeed, one can point to episodes where Christian rule was at least as brutal -- the Spanish Inquisition, for one.

    • Andrew Pollack: Drug Goes From $13.50 a Tablet to $750, Overnight: The drug is Daraprim, a 62-year-old generic which was acquired by "Turing Pharmaceuticals, a start-up run by a former hedge fund manager." The first thing you learn in MBA school is that the price of something has nothing to do with its cost: it's simply what the market will bear. For a drug that can be the difference between life and death, a seller can get away with a pretty steep price. Under such circumstances, there's little difference between "smart business" and the highwayman's motto, "your money or your life." What's unusual here is that the drug is generic, so in principle there's nothing to stop other companies from competing, and competition should bring the price down to something related to costs. However, as the article shows, there are ways an operator can create and exploit a temporary monopoly -- even where none should exist. One the article doesn't mention goes back to MBA school doctrine: if all the smart operators look for is huge margin opportunities, they'll never bother to compete a price down -- which leaves the first mover with monopoly rents.

      The article gives several other examples of extortionate price increases. I've seen other reports that couple of them have been rolled back, basically by shaming the companies, although I suspect that the real leverage is that a few large insurance companies and, ultimately, the government are the main buyers of pharmaceuticals -- and while you may be powerless, they less committed to your health than to their own bottom line.

      Dean Baker tweeted: "We don't negotiate firefighters' pay when they show up at the burning house, why would we pay for drugs this way?" Baker argues that we should End Patent Monopolies on Drugs. I agree with everything Baker says here:

      The United States stands out among wealthy countries in that we give drug companies patent monopolies on drugs that are essential for people's health or lives and then allows them to charge whatever they want. Every other wealthy country has some system of price controls or negotiated prices where the government limits the extent to which drug companies can exploit the monopoly it has given them. The result is that we pay roughly twice as much for our drugs as the average for other wealthy countries. This additional cost is not associated with better care; we are just paying more for the same drugs. [ . . . ]

      A monopoly that allows drug companies to sell their drugs at prices that can be hundreds of times the free market price has all the problems economics predicts when governments interfere with the market. Drug companies routinely mislead doctors and the public about the safety and effectiveness of their drugs to increase sales. The cost in terms of bad health outcomes and avoidable deaths runs into the tens of billions of dollars every year.

      Drug companies also spend tens of millions on campaign contributions and lobbying to get [even] longer and stronger patent protection. The pharmaceutical industry is one of the main forces behind the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and its demands for stronger patent protections is one of the main obstacles to reaching an agreement with the other countries.

      We don't need patent monopolies to support research. We already spend more than $30 billion a year financing research through the National Institutes of Health. Everyone, including the drug companies, agrees that this money is very productive. We could double or triple this spending and replace the patent supported research done by the drug companies. With the research costs paid upfront, most drugs would be available for the same price as a bottle of generic aspirin.

      Still, as Pollack's article proves, the problem with drug pricing isn't just patents. Purchasers also need more leverage in negotiating prices -- by consolidating their purchasing power and by promoting more competitive options.

    Also, a few links for further study (briefly noted; i.e., I don't have time for this shit right now):

    Daily Log

    I wrote this letter to Roy Wenzl at the Wichita Eagle, responding to an article he wrote on how inhospitable Wichita has become to entrepreneurship (Entrepreneurship in Wichita -- a best-known trait now old history?):

    As I was reading your story today, I recalled an incident from long ago (1976). I was a typographer, working at a printing shop downtown ("Letters, Inc.") and I was out-producing everyone else in the shop, but the small raises I had been getting under the original owner had dried up when he quit for medical reasons and left his idiot son in charge. After many months, I finally asked for a raise, and I was told that was impossible: that I was already earning the maximum wage for my work, and that if I really needed to make more money, I should move to a higher-wage market -- like Tulsa. All that did was confirm my suspicion that Wichita businessmen were the dumbest species on earth. I quit, announcing my intention to move to New York City (I knew better than Tulsa). Of course, they came back with a raise offer, even a parking spot. I moved back to Wichita in 1999 when my parents' health was fading. I was able to keep my job in NJ, telecommuting, although that fell apart after a couple years. I dreaded the prospect of having to work for any of the morons who run businesses here -- a fear that was confirmed, for instance, when one company offered me $12.50/hour to develop a database application that was being outsourced from China (their two previous programmers had failed utterly; I had a spotless record as a consulting software engineer but was used to getting $50/hour back east). I thought about starting a business, something with an open source software approach to home automation. I wrote a business plan, talked to a bunch of people, never found the right mix of talent, so I never got around to finding out how bad the financial situation here was. (Of course, I suspected.) One thing I did notice was that T-1 lines, for instance, cost about 4-5 times as much here as they did in California. So I wound up kind of wasting away here, supported by my wife (who had kept her job through two moves, from Boston to NJ to Wichita). We're retired now, so I'm not fretting this, but nothing you wrote surprised me.

    The politicians, of course, believe the way to grow the economy here is to poach freeloading businesses from elsewhere with tax and other incentives. Even in the rare cases when that works, the companies never develop the commitment to the community home-grown businesses have, and they're just as likely to flutter away after the next sweet deal. Similarly, when home-grown businesses are sold off to big conglomerates (as has happened with Beech, Cessna, and Lear Jet) their new owners start to look at Wichita as a curse rather than a blessing, and the whole community suffers for the greed of the heirs.

       Mar 2001