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Monday, November 24, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 24067 [24030] rated (+37), 519 [527] unrated (-8).

The high rated count comes from hustling for last week's Rhapsody Streamnotes. More generally, I'm trying to sort out year-end lists -- the working files are here for jazz and non-jazz. By some quirk of fate, both lists currently have 55 A-list albums. I think in past years I've had a fair amount more records in the jazz column, but I'm getting less and less jazz these days. For instance, Tim Niland, whose blog a few years back ran very parallel to mine, posted his Jazz Critics Poll ballot today, and his top-ten includes four records I haven't heard (John Zorn, Audio One, Lean Left, and Brandon Seabrook), and two more I didn't receive (Chicago Underground Duo, Raoul Björkenheim).

I haven't seen much else in the way of year-end lists, although they should start appearing any day now (indeed: Mojo: Beck, War on Drugs, Sleaford Mods, Jack White, St. Vincent, Steve Gunn; Q: War on Drugs, Alt-J, Damon Albarn, Manic Street Preachers, Beck, St. Vincent; American Songwriter: Sturgill Simpson, War on Drugs, Strand of Oaks, Taylor Swift, Ryan Adams, Hurray for the Riff Raff, St. Vincent at 21). Still don't have a plan on how to do a year-end list metacritic file, but thinking about it.

Did some resorting on the year-end lists, resulting in a couple of grade promotions. I'm not able to find time to play many of my favorite records after rating, but Revolutionary Snake Ensemble and Jenny Scheinman have been exceptions.

New records rated this week:

  • Afro Latin Vintage Orchestra: Pulsion (2014, Ubiquity): misnomers all around, closer to electric Miles Davis than anything else, maybe denser [r]: B+(***)
  • Eric Bibb: Blues People (2014, Stony Plain): soft-spoken blues archaeologist spreads his net wide, comes up with mixed bag (maybe the guests?) [r]: B+(*)
  • Big Freedia: Just Be Free (2014, Queen Diva): New Orleans bounce artist, bangs his rap rhymes so hard they double for beats [r]: B+(*)
  • Chumped: Teenage Retirement (2014, Anchorless): punkish group fronted by Anika Pyle, cuts through the gloom, give this a fresh face [r]: A-
  • Dee Daniels: Intimate Conversations (2012 [2014], Origin): standards singer takes it slow, gets little mileage out of a star-studded backing band [cd]: B-
  • Deerhoof: La Isla Bonita (2014, Polyvinyl): polymorphuously perverse noise-pop band thinks of Madonna; for once their twists aren't so ridiculous [r]: B+(**)
  • Michael Denhoff/Ulrich Phillipp/Jörg Fischer: Trio Improvisations for Campanula, Bass and Percussion (2014, Sporeprint, 2CD): for campanula (a tricked-up cello), bass, and drums [cd]: B+(***)
  • Paul Dietrich Quintet: We Always Get There (2013 [2014], Blujazz): Chicago trumpeter plays conventional postbop, with tenor sax, piano, Bjork cover [cd]: B+(*)
  • Ani DiFranco: Allergic to Water (2014, Righteous Babe): staying happy in New Orleans, music not lazy or indifferent, but no tilting at windmills either [r]: B+(*)
  • Expansions: The Dave Liebman Group: Samsara (2013 [2014], Whaling City Sound): Dave Liebman's new quintet, with second reedist (Matt Vashlishan), Bobby Avey on piano, adventurous postbop [cd]: B+(*)
  • Bryan Ferry: Avonmore (2014, BMG): title plays off Ferry's last triumph, but that was 1982; you can't go home, just dream wistfully about it [r]: B+(*)
  • David Friesen Circle 3 Trio: Where the Light Fails (2013 [2014], Origin, 2CD): bassist-led piano trio, plus guitarist Larry Koonse enough to mix it up [cd]: B+(**)
  • Danny Green Trio: After the Calm (2014, OA2): postbop piano trio, works on that Latin tinge thing, finds it often enough [cd]: B+(**)
  • Lefteris Kordis: "Oh Raven, If You Only Had Brains . . .": Songs for Aesop's Fables (2010 [2012], Inner Circle Music): Aesop's fables scored whimsically, narrated, way too often divafied [cd]: B
  • Kronomorfic [David Borgo & Paul Pellegrin]: Entangled (2013 [2014], OA2): long suite, engaging postbop, septet/octet/more led by David Borgo (sax) and Paul Pellegrin (drums) [cd]: B+(*)
  • Little Dragon: Nabuma Rubberband (2014, Republic): bland Swedish electropop fronted by exotically named but also bland singer (Yukimi Nagano) [cd]: B
  • Low Society: You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down (2014, Icehouse): nor can you shut up a Janis Joplin wannabe, not one so armed with '60s blues licks [r]: B+(*)
  • Thurston Moore: The Best Day (2014, Matador): thinner and lighter than your average Sonic Youth album, better for the austere/luxurious guitar [r]: A-
  • Naked Wolf (2014, El Negocito): Dutch group, instrumental passages show jazz prowess but vocals move this into rock, at least skronk [r]: B+(*)
  • The New Basement Tapes: Lost on the River (2014, Island): T-Bone's friends add music to Dylan lyrics, the last gasp of a Woody Guthrie wannabe [r]: B+(*)
  • Sam Newsome: The Straight Horn of Africa: A Path to Liberation [The Art of the Soprano, Vol. 2] (2014, self-released): more art of the soprano, helped by drums and good humor ("Good Golly Miss Mali") [cd]: A-
  • Jim Norton Collective: Time Remembered: Compositions of Bill Evans (2013 [2014], Origin): Bill Evans arranged for an almost-big band, lush with lots of lovely detail [cd]: B+(**)
  • Pink Floyd: The Endless River (2014, Rhino): absence makes the heart grow fonder, especially since the samples revive much of the band's heyday [r]: B+(*)
  • Plymouth: Plymouth (2014, Rare Noise): Jamie Saft project so the organ runs roughshod over avant guitars (Joe Morris, Mary Halvorson), not your old soul jazz [r]: B+(*)
  • Serengeti: Kenny Dennis III (2014, Joyful Noise): third round with the Chicago rapper's fictional mentor, pretty much the same story as last time [r]: A-
  • Noura Mint Seymali: Tzenni (2014, Glitterbeat): griot nobility from Mauritania, conjures up a trance groove for Paris as well as Timbuktu [r]: B+(**)
  • Brian Swartz & the Gnu Sextet: Portraiture (2014, Summit): mainstream postbop, but Swartz's trumpet shines bright, and the rhythm swings some [cd]: B+(**)
  • Natsuki Tamura/Alexander Frangenheim: Nax (2013 [2014], Creative Sources): duets, scratchy avant trumpet and inscrutable double bass [cd]: B+(*)
  • Temples: Sun Structures (2014, Fat Possum): Brit psychedelia, flashback to '60s guitar drone around great clarity with King Crimson flashes [r]: B+(*)
  • TV on the Radio: Seeds (2014, Harvest): fifth album, full of arena-scale grandeur but avoiding pomposity, a good sign but not enough to care [r]: B
  • Piet Verbist/Zygomatik: Cattitude (2014, Origin): Belgian bassist leads quintet w/two saxes -- the baritone is strategic -- and electric keyb [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jessie Ware: Tough Love (2014, Interscope): Brit pop singer masquerading as a soft soul sister; good enough at that, but still looking for a hit [r]: B+(*)

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

  • Peter Brötzmann/Sonny Sharrock: Whatthefuckdoyouwant (1987 [2014], Trost): you're in the wrong house if you expect them to turn it down or make nice [r]: B+(**)
  • Illinois Jacquet/Leo Parker: Toronto 1947 (1947 [2013], Uptown): who says honking r&b sax is incompatible with the breakthroughs of bebop? [r]: B+(***)
  • Howard McGhee: West Coast 1945-1947 (1945-47 [2013], Uptown): weird scenes from the birth pangs of bebop, with Teddy Edwards, Sonny Criss, Hampton Hawes [r]: B+(**)

Old records rated this week:

  • Club Ska '67 (1967 [1980], Mango): 1980 Mango LP catches up on reggae's backstory, one key year anyway [dl]: A-

Grade changes:

  • The Coathangers: Suck My Shirt (2014, Suicide Squeeze): [was: B+(**)] A-
  • Revolutionary Snake Ensemble: Live Snakes (2014, Accurate): [was: A-] A
  • Jenny Scheinman: The Littlest Prisoner (2014, Masterworks): [was: A-] A

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Akua Dixon: Akua Dixon (Akua's Music): January 13
  • Red Garland Trio: Swingin' on the Korner (1977, Elemental Music, 2CD): January 20
  • Johnny Griffith: Dance With the Lady (GB)
  • Manu Katché: Live in Concert (ACT): January 15
  • Jonas Kullhammar: Gentlemen (Moserobie)
  • Wolff & Clark Expedition: Expedition 2 (Random Act): advance, February 24

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Weekend Roundup

This week's notable links follow, especially on Israel, where this summer's Gaza war and the coming elections, on top of nearly twenty years of Likud rule (minus two years for Ehud Barak, 1998-2000) and far-right demagoguery have left a great many Israelis more racist and bloodthirsty than ever. When I talk to people about Israel, they usually throw their hands up in the air, but this is important -- not least because the US is becoming increasingly Israelized, as you can see from Obama's latest escalations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, and as is portended by the Confederate/Tea Party revolt -- the lynchings the latter dream about are now real in Israel.

  • Michael Konczal: Frenzied Financialization:

    The financialization revolution over the past thirty-five years has moved us toward greater inequality in three distinct ways. The first involves moving a larger share of the total national wealth into the hands of the financial sector. The second involves concentrating on activities that are of questionable value, or even detrimental to the economy as a whole. And finally, finance has increased inequality by convincing corporate executives and asset managers that corporations must be judged not by the quality of their products and workforce but by one thing only: immediate income paid to shareholders. [ . . . ]

    But the most important change will be intellectual: we must come to understand our economy not as simply a vehicle for capital owners, but rather as the creation of all of us, a common endeavor that creates space for innovation, risk taking, and a stronger workforce. This change will be difficult, as we will have to alter how we approach the economy as a whole. Our wealth and companies can't just be strip-mined for a small sliver of capital holders; we'll need to bring the corporation back to the public realm. But without it, we will remain trapped inside an economy that only works for a select few.

  • Bill McKibben: Congress is about to sabotage Obama's historic climate deal: Slams Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) for voting in favor of the Keystone/XL pipeline, despite praising Obama for his "climate deal with China." But that's just an example.

    By now it should be clear that giving in to the Republicans does not "pave the way" for future compromises -- that's the Lucy-with-the-football lesson that President Obama has spent his entire term in office learning. Much more fundamentally, though, the problem is this: you can't cut carbon without, you know, cutting carbon.

    The president's accord with China doesn't actually do anything except set a target. To meet that target you have to do things. If you don't do things -- if you keep approving pipelines and coal mines and fracking wells -- then you won't meet the target.

    For the moment, Keystone is the best example of this principle. So far we've stopped it for three years, and in the process pushed companies to pull $17 billion in investment out of the tar sands. That money would have built projects that would have dumped the carbon equivalent of 700 new coal-fired power plants into the atmosphere. We've done something real -- something that will actually help, say, Delaware which has a, you know, coastline.

  • Israel links: There's been a steady stream of reports of communal violence between Israelis (especially West Bank and Jerusalem settlers) and Palestinians, which might seem to be symmetrical except for the Israeli state, which holds a practical monopoly on violence and directs it at Palestinians. The number of incidents of attacks by Palestinians against Israelis (an errant car here, a stabbing there, five killed in a Jewish synagogue) has triggered speculation that a third Intifada is in the works. Like the first two, all a third will prove is how intransigent and unengaging Israeli politics has become -- an old story where pent-up frustration gets the best of caution, even knowing that Israel will take every provocation as an excuse for ever greater violence. However, what is different this time is the degree that Israeli civilians have taken the lead in attacking Palestinians, both violently and economically through their campaign to rid Jewish businesses of Palestinian workers. This is happening partly due to the unchecked racism in Israeli political discourse, and to the loss of restraint in Israel's legal system. So the question this time isn't whether there will be an intifada but why there is already a pogrom -- a state-backed civilian riot against a hated ethnic minority.

    • Kate: Israeli government plans 185 miles of new Jewish settler roads in the West Bank: That's just one of dozens of press reports: Israel to approve 200 units in Jerusalem settlement; Palestinian shot dead by Israeli forces in al-Arrub; Palestinian worker shot dead in Israel; Body of Palestinian man found with signs of torture; Soldier stabbed in Tel Aviv dies; Palestinian suspect shot; Israeli forces open live fire at Palestinians during clashes [in Bethlehem]; 58 Palestinians kidnapped in various Arab towns; Israeli settlers torch mosque in Ramallah-area village; Israeli settlers accost Palestinian officers near Nablus; Gun-toting settlers attack female students near Bethlehem; Jews threaten to kill head teacher for having Arab workers at school. Also a link about the Rasmea Odeh case which shows that Israeli injustice is practiced even in Chicago.
    • Kate: Hate attacks in Jerusalem and Israel include one by settler girls: Also: Palestinian woman run over by Israeli near Shu'fat; 2 Israelis stabbed in fight with Palestinians in East Jerusalem; Child seriously injured during interrogation in Jerusalem; Vandals deface car of Acre imam who called for tolerance after J'lem attack. It was also the 20th anniversary of Baruch Goldstein's massacre of 56 worshippers at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron -- often cited as the pivotal event that wrecked the Oslo Peace Process. Goldstein died during the attack, and has been treated as a martyr: "At his funeral, Goldstein was eulogized as a hero, with one speaker, Rabbi Yaacov Perrin, declaring that even 1 million Arabs 'are not worth a Jewish fingernail,' while attendees shouted, 'We are all Goldsteins!' and 'Arabs out of Israel!' Following the slaughter, Goldstein was also lauded by Rabbi Dov Lior, who was and continues to be the chief rabbi of Kiryat Arba and one of the most influential figures in the religious Zionism movement, who called Goldstein, 'holier than all the martyrs of the Holocaust.'" And many more reports along these lines.
    • Annie Robbins: Kahanists attack school after synagogue killings: In Hebron, where the martyred murderer Goldstein is buried, so I figure the "provocation" was merely convenient. Nor was that the only case of settler violence reported here: "And speaking of stories that the mainstream is not covering, Yusuf Hasan al-Ramouni, 32, a Palestinian husband, father, son, and brother was lynched Sunday in a bus in Mount Scopus, which adjoins Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem." Robbins also has videos of Israeli forces spraying "skunk spray" in Palestinian neighborhoods.
    • Gideon Levy: In Israel, only Jewish blood shocks anyone: In Israel, five Israelis killed in a Jerusalem synagogue is a world-class outrage, but 2200 Palestinians killed in Gaza is a statistic. "But this is a society that sanctifies its dead to the point of death-worship, that wears thin the stories of the victims' lives and deaths, whether it be in a synagogue attack or a Nepal avalanche. It's a society preoccupied with endless commemorations in the land of monuments, services and anniversary ceremonies; a society that demands shock and condemnation after every attack, when it blames the entire world."
    • Philip Weiss: Netanyahu's 'battle for Jerusalem' can't end well for any of us: When some horrible act of violence occurs, the instinct of most political leaders is to call for calm, but Netanyahu's speech following the killing of five Israelis in a Jerusalem synagogue was, as Weiss puts it, "blood curdling."
    • Jeff Halper: Israel sows despair and senseless violence: "And the 'Zionist answer' to the downward cycle of senseless violence in which Jerusalem finds itself: house demolitions, mass arrests, revoking the 'residency' of native-born Jerusalemites, closing Palestinian neighborhoods with concrete blocks, arming Israeli Jewish vigilantes and cheap shots at the last person who believes in a two-state solution, Abu Mazen. Everything, that is, except an end to occupation and a just political solution. This is what happens when a powerful country forgoes any effort to address the grievances of a people under its control and descends into raw oppression."
    • Isabel Kershner: Israeli Cabinet Approves Nationality Bill: Could use more detail here, but the legislation appears to be aimed at stripping rights away from "Arab citizens of Israel," including citizenship in some cases. Intriguing sentence: "In what appeared to be a political deal, Mr. Netanyahu promised government support for the hard-line versions of the bill in a first reading in Parliament this week on the condition that the law would be moderated before any final approval."
    • William Saletan: Hate Thy Neighbor: Subtitle: "How Israel teaches its citizens all the wrong lessons." For instance, there's the policy of demolishing the homes of the families of already-killed "terrorists": "In other words, the logic of the policy is that it punishes people who don't commit acts of terror. Terrorists want to die, so they aren't deterred. Israel targets their loved ones, who would suffer more acutely, in the hope that this "price" will intimidate the would-be perpetrator. That is the logic of hostage taking, and of terrorism."
    • Michael Wilner: Cornered but unbound by nuclear pact, Israel reconsiders military action against Iran: So the sabre-rattling resumes, just as the US and Iran are putting the finishing touches on a deal promising to return Iran to the good graces of the NPT, certified as a state that is not developing nuclear weapons. Of course, Netanyahu wants to torpedo that deal (and is probably expecting the Republican congress to do his dirty work for him -- after all, they were elected precisely for their inability to think independently). He also no doubt wants to bring up the spectre of Iran any time the US suggests he negotiate peace with the Palestinians. But wasn't it just a few months ago when he admitted that his last round of sabre-rattling was nothing more than a scam to hustle the dumb Americans, and that Israel never had any intention of attacking Iran in the first place?

    I also want to single out Richard Silverstein: Terror Rules Jerusalem: He points out that the "heinous synagogue terror attack by Palestinians in the West Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Hof" took place on grounds of the former Palestinian village of Deir Yassin, "where the Irgun murdered 100 Palestinians as part of the pre-war (1948) violence that eventually led to the Nakba," adding "It's horrible to think that this single place could be the site of two such tragedies." He doesn't mention that the ratio of dead is close to the historical norm for matched sets of Israeli and Palestinian massacres. He then quotes Jerry Haber:

    In the next few days, after the IDF and the settlers will have taken their vengeance, under the Orwellian cover of "deterrence," life will go on. The settlers who commit price-tag attacks will be condemned for a day, then understood, then arrested, maybe, convicted maybe, and pardoned, probably. The soldiers and police will do whatever they want with impunity, B'tselem cameras or not. Land will be expropriated, freedoms eliminated, the matrix of control and, most of all, the routine will continue until the next time, when Jews die, and the clueless Israelis hold everybody and everything but themselves responsible.

    Silverstein then moves on to the death of Yusuf Al-Ramuni, who was found hung in an egged bus he drove. The Israelis promptly declared the death a suicide, although there is evidence that he was lynched.

    Further, in the media rush to cover the horrific attack on the Har Nof synagogue, let's not forget that this incident preceded it. Terror always has a context. Do not forget that no matter how heinous an event, something equally heinous preceded and incited it.

    While the world justifiably gasps at an attack on a Jewish house of worship, let's remember that Palestinians see their own mosques and cemeteries torched and desecrated by settler price taggers. They see hundreds of heavily armed Israeli Police defiling the sacred precinct of Haram Al Sharif. Does anyone believe that a Muslim is not as horrified by this encroachment as a Jew is by an assault on praying Jews?

    It takes two, and Palestinian rage derives from Israeli provocation. Certainly, the settlers who murder Palestinians believe the converse. So why not credit Palestinian rage as much as Israeli? [ . . . ]

    Examine once again Bibi's response to the Kafr Kana police murder. He dispensed with rote regret altogether. He launched into barely controlled rage at Palestinian protests against this cold-blooded murder and warned they would be "dealt with" severely if they didn't learn to behave themselves.

    Bibi doesn't mind the current level of civil unrest. It plays into his hand for upcoming elections, and this is literally all he cares about. Israelis flock to the strong man, even if he's utterly unable to stifle Palestinian terror. The problem will be that Bibi will win an election, but have no more idea how to quell the rebellion after the election than he does now.

    Silverstein thinks a Third Intifada is already here, "but unlike the earlier Intifades, this one is a mutual affair in which Jewish terror (whether official and State-sponsored or vigilante-based) responds to Palestinian terror (or vice versa)." Actually, he forgets the overwhelming preponderance of Israeli violence in both previous Intifadas -- a term which gives Palestinians more strategic credit than they deserve. (In fact, I've long argued that the second Intifada should have been named for Shaul Moffaz, the man who started it, and looking back Pogrom might have been more accurate; looking forward it certainly will be.)

    You might also read Silverstein's later post, In Race for Next Shin Bet Chief, May Worst Man Win. In the US we're so used to voting for "lesser evils" that the "may worst man win" notion is not just alien, it's downright terrifying. Ever since the German CP really did let the worst man win, we've been popular frontists -- partly because the world has never been so vile, nor the hope for revolution so sweet, to let the world crash so dismally. (The right, on the other hand, with its distorted vision and messianic fervor, has often done just that.) On the other hand, Silverstein has become so pessimistic about Israel that the only chance he sees is complete breakdown. It's a scary argument.

  • Also, the US war machine is heating up: If Republicans want to pick a fight over the arbitrary, unilateral abuse of presidential power, they're welcome to start here:

Also, a few links for further study:

  • Paul Krugman: The Structure of Obamacare: This is fairly basic, but still above most heads, so worth explaining:

    It's important to be clear what this does NOT mean -- it doesn't mean that there is a huge hidden burden on the public. For the most part, people buying health insurance would have bought it anyway. Under single-payer, they would have stopped doing that, and paid taxes instead; under the ACA, they continue to pay premiums but don't pay the extra taxes. There's no secret extra cost.

    So, why was Obamacare set up this way? It's mainly about politics, but nothing that should shock you. Partly it was about getting buy-in from the insurance industry; a switch to single payer would have destroyed a powerful industry, and realistically that wasn't going to happen. Partly it was about leaving most people unaffected: employment-based coverage, which was the great bulk of private insurance, remained pretty much as it was. This made sense: even if single-payer would have been better than what people already had, it would have been very hard to sell them on such a big change. And yes, avoiding a huge increase in on-budget spending was a consideration, but not central.

    The main point was to make the plan incremental, supplementing the existing structure rather than creating massive changes. And all of this was completely upfront; I know I wrote about it many times.

    Most single-payer advocates will counter that the health insurance industry deserved to be destroyed. Of course, I agree, and would like to go further in nationalizing health care -- the insurance industry isn't the only sector that rips the public off, even if it is unique in how little value it adds to the system. However, if the obstacle to single-payer is the political power of the health insurance industry, it would be worthwhile looking at reforms to ACA that would knock that industry down a notch or two. The "public option," which was a key part of the original act, was one: this would weaken the industry in two ways: by drawing customers away, and by reducing profit margins through tougher competition.

    I suspect the main source of opposition to the ACA is the kneejerk belief common on the right that prefers policy made by profit-seeking private companies over the public-servants of government bureaucracies. It's hard to see why anyone should believe that, but sometimes business doesn't cut its own throat, and sometimes government does.

    Krugman writes more about ACA and partisan blinders here:

    The mind reels. How is it possible for anyone who has been following politics and, presumably, policy for the past six years not to know that Obamacare is, in all important respects, identical to Romneycare? It has the same three key provisions -- nondiscrimination by insurers, a mandate for individuals, and subsidies to make the mandate workable. It was developed by the same people. I and many others have frequently referred to ObamaRomneycare.

    Well, I've know for years that many political pundits don't think that understanding policy is part of their job. But this is still extreme. And I'm sorry to go after an individual here -- but for God's sake, don't you have to know something about the actual content of a policy you critique?

    And what's actually going on here is worse than ignorance. It's pretty clear that we're watching a rule of thumb according to which if Republicans are against a proposal, that means it must be leftist and extreme, and the burden on the White House is to find a way to make the GOP happy. Needless to say, this rewards obstructionism -- there is literally nothing Obama can do to convince some (many) pundits that he's making a good faith effort, because they don't pay any attention to what he does, only to the Republican reaction.

  • Nancy Le Tourneau: Understanding the Threat of a Confederate Insurgency: Starts with a long quote from Doug Muder's Not a Tea Party, a Confederate Party, which makes the point that the first war the US lost was the Civil War -- not in 1865, when the Confederate Army was disbanded, but by 1877, when Reconstruction ended with the restoration of the Confederate aristocracy, setting the stage for Jim Crow and all that. If I understand LeTourneau correctly, she's arguing that the explosion of neo-Confederates is a last-ditch reaction against change -- something more likely to be a sporadic nuisance than a gathering wave. Nonetheless, the ability of the right to resist and even roll back reform is a repeated theme in American history, and we're seeing way too much of it now.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Rhapsody Streamnotes (November 2014)

Pick up text here.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 24030 [23996] rated (+34), 527 [531] unrated (-4).

Rated count topped 24,000 this week. It passed 23,000 the week of March 24, 2014, a bit less than eight months ago. That probably means June-July, 2015 for 25,000, although I wouldn't be surprised if I started to slow down. New records are down at least a hundred this year.

Francis Davis has arranged with NPR to keep his Jazz Critics Poll going for another year. Ballots have been sent out, and I have one. Even though I've listened to close to 500 new jazz albums this year, I have virtually no idea who the leading candidates are this year, let alone who will win. I barely even have a sense of who I might vote for, and that's after I went to the trouble to split out my 2014-in-progress file into two more presentable year-end lists: one for Jazz and another for Non-Jazz. Each picks up (at least initially) the text and cover scan from Rhapsody Streamnotes. As I was doing this, the first thing that occurred to me was my haphazard insertions into the list throughout the year are far from adding up to a sort. Before I declare anything even tentatively official -- the Jazz Critics Poll deadline is December 7 -- I expect to do a lot of resorting.

I still need to do quite a bit of work on the files. I'll probably reorganize them to reflect Davis' revised rules on reissue/historical. (I've moved a couple records over, but not all of them.) I also need to go back and dig up December (or post-Thanksgiving) 2013 releases, since they weren't available early enough for last year's premature ballots). Then there is the "prospect" list in the notes: technically, any record I'm aware of existing that I think might have a 2% (or greater) chance of panning out into an A-list release. This involves looking at the prospect file and various other resources.

Much more unpacking than usual this week, but nothing I'm especially looking forward to. (It occurs to me that David Friesen must be one of the best-regarded jazz musicians I've never listened to an album by, and now I got a double. Only four more names strike me as familiar, and they're not all that memorable.)

By the way, the Fred McDowell album popped up as a new digital dump, but I cited the older CD. I found the Ross Johnson set when I was looking for something newer (though probably still old) by him, and got curious.

The draft file for Rhapsody Streamnotes has about 80 records in it now. I expect I'll post it later this week, then probably do two in December as the 2014 year-end lists appear. (I will say that the two leading candidates there are St. Vincent and War on Drugs, and while neither made my A-list, neither is totally undeserving either.)

New records rated this week:

  • Omer Avital: New Song (2014, Motéma): bassist's generic Middle Eastern grooves plus horns (Avishai Cohen, Joel Frahm), as if that's all it takes [r]: B+(*)
  • Azealia Banks: Broke With Expensive Taste (2014, Prospect Park): young rapper lives fast, offers her take on her corner of the human condition [r]: B+(***)
  • Batida: Dois (2014, Soundway): Angolan-Portuguese DJ project, with post-African beats, electronica blips, international hip-hop raps and samples [r]: B+(**)
  • Freddy Cole: Singing the Blues (2014, High Note): not really a blues guy but he knows from "sad young men," and saxophonist Harry Allen helps [cd]: B+(**)
  • Chick Corea Trio: Trilogy (2010-12 [2014], Concord, 3CD): 3 discs of piano trio from 3 years of touring, a fine pianist when his head's not fused or lost [r]: B+(***)
  • Tara Davidson: Duets (2014, Addo): alto/soprano saxophonist cycles through various duet partners -- piano, guitar, bass, other saxophonits [cd]: B+(**)
  • Ex Cops: Daggers (2014, Downtown): feigned punk, but Amalie Bruun offers more pop aura than expected [r]: B+(*)
  • Marianne Faithfull: Give My Love to London (2014, Easy Sound): recruits an odd assortment of songwriters, but none measure up to Hoagy Carmichael [r]: B+(*)
  • Ananda Gari: T-Duality (2013 [2014], Auand): Italian drummer gets his name of a merely average Tim Berne-Rez Abbasi-Michael Formanek album [r]: B+(**)
  • Darius Jones: The Oversoul Manual (2014, AUM Fidelity): puts down his sax to conduct a quartet of operatic female voices through some bs mythology [r]: B-
  • Thomas Marriott: Urban Folklore (2013 [2014], Origin): Seattle trumpet player moving up in the world -- at least getting a world-class rhythm section [cd]: B+(*)
  • Tony Monaco: Furry Slippers (2014, Summit): Hammond B-3 groove merchant adds guitarist Fareed Haque, but settles for ballads in the end [cd]: B
  • Parquet Courts: Parkay Quarts: Content Nausea (2014, What's Your Rupture?): another throwaway EP, but their post-Velvets drone isn't wasted on shlock; it thrives there [r]: A-
  • Rex Richardson & Steve Wilson: Blue Shift (2014, Summit): saxophonist as solid as ever, but Richardson's trumpet should turn some ears [cd]: B+(***)
  • Ryan Shultz Quintet: Hair Dryers (2013 [2014], Origin): bass trumpet adds a note of gravity (and distinction) to a fusion-inclined group [cd]: B+(*)
  • Tyshawn Sorey: Alloy (2014, Pi): drummer-led piano trio with Corey Smythe and Christopher Tordini, mostly ambles aleatorically [cd]: B+(***)
  • Lyn Stanley: Potions: From the 50's (2014, A.T. Music): from the 1950s, including "Love Potion #9" but tending toward pre-rock, somehow missing ole black magic [cd]: B+(**)
  • Aki Takase/Alexander von Schlippenbach: So Long, Eric!: Homage to Eric Dolphy (2014, Intakt): German avant big band, led by two pianists, recalls nine Dolphy tunes [r]: B+(***)
  • T.I.: Paperwork (2014, Grand Hustle): enough with the gangsta shit, especially when all it takes to sell out is to hire Pharrell for some wack hooks [r]: B+(**)
  • Marlene VerPlanck: I Give Up, I'm in Love (2014, Audiophile): octogenarian songbird sings standards, both big band and small swing impeccable [cd]: A-
  • Jason Yeager Trio: Affirmation (2014, Inner Circle Music): piano trio helped by guests -- Noah Preminger looms large, but the singer is stuck with "Julia" [cd]: B
  • Peter Zak Trio: The Disciple (2013 [2014], Steeplechase): smart pianist, covers the greats (Monk & Silver are the standouts), writes originals that fit [cd]: B+(***)

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

  • Hailu Mergia and the Walias: Tche Belew (1977 [2014], Awesome Tapes From Africa): Ethiopian keyboardist spins enchanting, slightly cocktail-ish grooves, charming [r]: A-

Old records rated this week:

  • Ross Johnson: Make It Stop: The Most of Ross Johnson (1979-2006 [2008], Goner): Alex Chilton sideman's collected jokes, pranks, rockabilly primitivism [r]: B+(***)
  • Fred McDowell: Amazing Grace (1966 [1994], Shout!/Testament): blues primitive goes to church, finds Hunter's Chapel Singers, puts his guitar at their service [r]: A-

Grade changes:

  • Jerry Lee Lewis: The Knox Phillips Sessions: The Unreleased Recordings (1970s, Time-Life): [was B+(**)] A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Malonie Carre: Forever (self-released)
  • Ron Di Salvio: Songs for Jazz Legends (Blujazz)
  • David Friesen Circle 3 Trio: Where the Light Fails (Origin, 2CD): November 17
  • Polly Gibbons: Many Faces of Love (Resonance, CD+DVD): February 3
  • Danny Green Trio: After the Calm (OA2): November 17
  • Maggie Herron: Good Thing (self-released)
  • Anthony Jefferson: But Beautiful (self-released)
  • Paul Jones: Short History (Blujazz)
  • Collette Michaan: Incarnate/Encarna (self-released): December 2
  • Jim Norton Collective: Time Remembered: Compositions of Bill Evans (Origin): November 17
  • Old Style Sextet (Blujazz)
  • Rich Pellegrin Quintet: Episodes IV-VI (OA2): November 17
  • Sonya Perkins: Dream a Little Dream (self-released)
  • Diane Roblin: Reconnect (self-released)
  • Joanne Tatham: Out of My Dreams (Cafe Pacific): December 2
  • Piet Verbist/Zygomatik: Cattitude (Origin): November 17

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Daily Log

Laura wrote a draft "letter to the editor":

A recent letter seems to think that Hamas seized power in Gaza and this gives Israel has the right to kill Palestinians in Gaza. Regardless of the repressive and violent nature of Hamas, this idea is false. In 2006 the Palestinians, encouraged by the US, held an election. This is under occupation, don't forget. Hamas got the most votes, not because people wanted to kill Israelis, but because they were rejecting Fatah, which had shown itself to be corrupt and ineffective in opposing Israel's occupation. Israel and the US decided this was not to their liking, so they instigated Fatah's violent attempt to take over in Gaza in 2007.But Hamas defeated this coup attempt and remained in power, so a displeased Israel, which already controlled the borders, airspace and seacoast of Gaza, instituted an even more draconian system by blockading Gaza. This is collective punishment pure and simple, and civilized people should not support that.

She asked me to fact-check her assertions, so I wrote back:

The facts as I know them (do with them what you will):

In 1947 the UN proposed dividing Palestine into two separate countries, one Jewish (Israel), the other Arab (Palestine). One of three disconnected Palestinian territories was the Gaza Strip. By 1949, when Israel signed an armistice with Egypt, the Gaza Strip had been reduced in size by about half, and its population more than doubled with refugees from Israeli territory. Egypt administered Gaza until 1967, when Israel invaded and placed Gaza under military law (occupation). In 1993, Israel signed the Oslo Accords, and as stage one gave limited administration of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority (PA), led at the time by Fatah chairman Yasser Arafat. Fatah was a secular party -- it included both Christians and Muslims -- and had long been the dominant political faction within the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization). After Arafat died in 2004, a presidential election was held in 2005 and won by Arafat's deputy, Mahmoud Abbas. When legislative elections were held in 2006, Fatah was challenged by Hamas -- a social welfare group founded in 1987, aligned with the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas had originally bee supported by Israel as an alternative to Fatah, but after the PA was established Hamas became more militant and Israel started to target Hamas leaders. leading to a cycle of terrorism, especially in the years 2001-03 when Ariel Sharon became Prime Minister of Israel and destroyed any chance that the "peace process" would result in separate Israeli and Palestinian states. The end of the "peace process," the death of Arafat, and the widespread perception that Abbas and other Fatah leaders were corrupt resulted in a victory for Hamas in the 2006 legislative elections. However, Israel and Bush rejected the results of a clearly democratic election, and conspired with Fatah officials to seize power in a coup. Their effort was successful in the West Bank, but was rebuffed by Hamas in Gaza. Israel, which continued to control the borders to Gaza (as they had since 1967) then locked those borders down in an attempt to "put Gaza on a diet" -- to starve Hamas into submission. Hamas, in turn, has tried various strategies to work around Israel's blockade, ranging from digging tunnels to smuggle goods from Egypt to firing small rockets over Israel's border wall to declaring truces (the Arabic term is "hudna"), which are invariably terminated by Israeli shelling or bombing. Israel has in turn at various times loosened or tightened the blockade, and has launched four large-scale punitive wars against Gaza (in 2006, 2008, 2012, and 2014) -- the latest killed over 2000 Palestinians -- and numerous smaller-scale attacks. The 2014 war was largely occasioned by an agreement between Fatah and Hamas to reunify the PA government (under Fatah leadership but with Hamas participation). If Israel had any desire to negotiate fair peace terms they would welcome a unified leadership of the two major factions within Palestinian politics; indeed, they would have recognized whatever leadership Palestinians democratically chose to represent them. Clearly, Israel's current leaders have no desire for peace, nor do they have any respect for US-led peace efforts.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Daily Log

Dinner menu for the Alice Powell memorial "Jerusalem" dinner, based on Jerusalem, by Yotam Oggolenghi and Sami Tamimi. Invited about 12 people.


  • Roasted sweet potatoes & fresh figs (p. 26): substitute mejdol dates for figs.
  • Chermoula eggplant with bulgur & yogurt (p. 59)
  • Butternut squash & tahini spread (p. 69)
  • Parsley & barley salad (p. 81)
  • Roasted chicken with clementines & arak (p. 179): serves 4, so double recipe
  • Chopped liver (p. 186)
  • Lamb meatballs with barberries, yogurt & herbs (p. 199)
  • Marinated sweet & sour fish (238): Gretchen to fix, so not in below.
  • Mutabbaq (p. 262)
  • Poached pears in white wine & cardamom (p. 267): scale up by 1.5, so you have 1/2 pear per person
  • Cardamom rice pudding with pistachios & rose water (p. 270): maybe Gretchen will do this?
  • Yogurt with cucumber (p. 299)
  • Harissa (p. 301)

Also made a half-recipe of pita bread (8 pieces), using 1/2 cup of whole wheat flower. Forgot to serve the yogurt with cucumber. Rannfrid made Turkish coffee to go with dessert. People generally avoided the chicken -- I shouldn't have scaled the recipe up, not just because I had more than half left over but because the quantity piled up so many pieces didn't brown (they were fully cooked and the uncrisp skin was still flavorful). The pita was the first to go, and the meatballs got plucked out of the sauce. I forgot to use the saffron with the pears, so they didn't have the brilliant yellow look of the picture. (I bought six bartlett pears, figuring I'd scale the recipe up so each person would get one-half pear, then I bought three bosc pears, and decided to use them instead, so the serving size was 1/4 pear.) Someone took some pictures, but I don't have them.

Shopping list:

  • chicken, 2 whole or 16 chicken thighs (skin on, bone in)
  • chicken livers, 14 oz
  • lamb, ground, 1.5 lb
  • chile,red, 4
  • chives, chopped, 1 tbsp
  • cilantro, 0.33 oz + 2 tbsp + part of 3 tbsp
  • clementines, 8
  • cucumbers, mini, 2
  • dill, part of 3 tbsp
  • eggplants, 2 medium
  • fennel, 4 medium bulbs
  • garlic, 12 cloves
  • mint, fresh, 0.33 oz + 2 tbsp + part of 3 tbsp
  • olives, green, pitted, 0.33 c
  • onion, 2 large (3 c) + 2 medium
  • onion, red, 1 small
  • parsley, flat-leaf, 3.67 oz + garnish
  • pepper, red bell, 1
  • scallions, 22
  • shallots, 1.5 lb
  • squash, butternut, 1 large (2.5 lb)
  • sweet potatoes, 4 small (2.25 lb)
  • tarragon, part of 3 tbsp
  • tomato, paste, 1.5 tsp
  • almonds, sliced, 1/3 c
  • dates, mejdol
  • figs, dried, 5 oz
  • pears, firm, 6
  • pistacchios, unsalted
  • raisins, golden, 0.33 c
  • butter, unsalted, 2/3 c
  • cheese, feta, 5 oz
  • cheese, goat's milk, 14 oz
  • cheese, ricotta, 2 c
  • creme fraiche
  • eggs, 5
  • yogurt, greek, 4 c
  • barley, pearl, 1/4 c
  • bulghur, fine, 1 c
  • filo pastry, 14 sheets
  • arak (or pernod or ouzo), 13 tbsp
  • wine, 3.75 c + 2 tbsp
  • wine, dessert, 4 tbsp
  • date syrup, 1.5 tsp
  • duck or goose fat, 6.5 tbsp
  • lemon juice, 18.75 tbsp
  • lemon, preserved peel, 2 tbsp
  • olive oil, 0.67 c + 23 tbsp
  • orange juice, 6 tbsp
  • stock, chicken, 2 c
  • sugar, 2 tsp
  • sugar, superfine, 2.625 c + 1.5 tbsp
  • sugar, brown, 6 tbsp
  • tahini, light paste, 5 tbsp
  • vinegar, balsalmic, 3 tbsp
  • allspice, ground, 1.25 tsp
  • barberries, 6 tbsp
  • bay leaves, 2
  • caraway, seeds, 0.5 tsp
  • cardamom, pods, 22
  • chile, flakes, 1 tsp
  • cinnamon, ground, 1.75 tsp
  • coriander, ground, 2 tsp
  • coriander, seeds, 1 tsp
  • cumin, seeds, 0.5 tsp
  • cumin, ground, 2.25 tsp
  • fennel, seeds, 5 tbsp
  • mint, dried, 1 tbsp
  • mustard, grain, 4 tbsp
  • paprika, sweet, 1 tsp
  • pepper, black, 0.5 tsp (always freshly ground)
  • pepper, cayenne, pinch
  • pepper, white, 0.25 tsp
  • saffron, threads, 0.75 tsp
  • salt, 2 tsp (usually sea salt)
  • sesame seeds, black and/or white, 1 tsp
  • thyme, leaves, 2 tbsp + 2 sprigs
  • za'atar, 1 tsp

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Random Thoughts on World War I

I attended a talk given by Gretchen Eick on World War I, which got me to thinking. Much of what I heard there was familiar to me, although one point that wasn't was the extent of British efforts to mold public opinion in the US in favor of entering the war. So what I'm doing below isn't trying to recapitulate Eick so much as marshall what little I do know about the war.

  1. It was called the Great War at the time, which suits it more than being demoted to a mere preview of WWII. I'll go with that name here.

  2. For one thing, the first world war was probably the Seven Years' War of 1756-63, fought principally between Great Britain, France, and Spain for colonial possessions on several continents, although it also involved Sweden, Prussia, Austria, Russia, Portugal, and others, and included anticolonial elements (in America it is remembered as the French and Indian War, and it was a close precursor of the War for Independence in 1776 -- much as WWII catalyzed the War for Independence in Vietnam).

  3. For another, the phrase "Great War" provides a flavor of the time. The war was the logical (if not necessary) culmination of the two great themes of the previous century-plus: the rise of nation states (greatly accelerated by the unification of Germany and Italy), and Europe's imperial domination of the rest of the world. Most of the states that fought the war had through their empires achieved unprecedented levels of greatness -- Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire were declining exceptions, their fears and envy proving the point.

  4. Arno Mayer coined the term "The Thirty-Years War of the 20th Century" to bind the two world wars into a single, more coherent entity -- one that both binds the two major wars together and helps to sweep up numerous related conflicts between the bookends (e.g., the Russian Civil War, the Greek-Turkish War, Italy's invasion of Ethiopia, the Spanish Civil War, Japan's grab of Manchuria). The seeds of the later war were planted in the settlement of the first: not so much because Germany was treated harshly, although that was part of the problem, as because the war failed to convince both sides of the folly and futility of empire.

  5. The Great War was greeted by an outpouring of mass patriotic fervor, something unprecedented and, as the grim realities of 20th century warfare set in, never again repeated. Both sides expected a quick and favorable, even painless, result, as they had become accustomed to in their military encounters with Africans and Asians. Europe's subjugation of Asia-Africa had swollen heads with racism, matching their embrace of national identity.

  6. David Fromkin, in Europe's Last Summer: Who Started the Great War in 1914?, blames Germany for starting the war. There is little reason to believe that Austria-Hungary would have declared war on Serbia without Germany's backing, so that decision rested more in Berlin than in Vienna. The Junker aristocracy that controlled Germany's military argued that war with Russia was inevitable, and that Germany should attack now rather than wait for Russia to modernize and grow more powerful.

  7. One reason Germany was so confident was the War of 1870, when a Prussian-led North German Confederation easily defeated France, seizing Alsace-Lorraine as booty and in the process unifying Germany into a single modern nation-state. Since then Germany grabbed a handful of territories in Africa and islands in the Pacific, but all the prime colonies had been grabbed by other powers, so further German expansion would have to come at the expense of others. To that end, Germany built up a navy to rival Britain's, but the most obvious target (and clearest rival) was Russia, with its long land border snug up against Germany.

  8. Russia expanded steadily from 1550 up to its losing war with Japan in 1905, fighting the Mongols to the east and south, moving down the Volga into Ukraine, accreting bits of territory through numerous wars with the Poles and Turks, racing across Siberia to the Pacific (and briefly onto Alaska), and in the 19th century pushing south through the Kazakhs and Uzbeks until their "Great Game" with Britain stalled. Even beyond their own borders, they cultivated fellow Slavs in the Balkans and fellow Christians in the Caucasus and used both as a wedge, ultimately hoping to pry the Ottomans from Istanbul.

  9. Germany, in turn, sought to thwart Russia by using its largely dependent ally, Austria-Hungary, to dominate the southern Slavs and by forging an economic and military alliance with the Ottomans. The "young Turks" who took over the Ottoman Empire saw the war as a way to start to reverse two centuries of decline as the various powers of Europe had picked away one bit of territory after another while forcing the Ottomans into "capitulations" -- carve-outs of sovereignty that allowed foreign powers special roles within the Empire (as when the French became "protectors" of the Maronites of Lebanon.

  10. The Ottoman Empire reached its peak size in 1683 when Austria repelled the Ottoman army at the Battle of Vienna, although the Empire had started to weaken earlier. This trend accelerated after 1800, as nationalism spread and Russia (in the Balkans) and Britain (in Greece) fomented "national liberation movements" to tear the Ottoman Empire apart. In the decade before the Great War there were two Balkan Wars which cost the Ottomans much of their remaining European territory. During the war the Russians tried to use Armenians and the British tried to use Arabs to fragment the Ottomans. After the war, Britain goaded Greece into attacking Turkey: the idea was to expand Greece to include Greek communities in Asia Minor, but it backfired and caused those communities to be exiled. The net effect of all the "national liberation movements" was to create a militant Turkish nationalism where none had existed before. Turkish nationalism soon manifested itself was in genocidal attacks on Armenians.

  11. France, of course, was eager to fight Germany to undo the stain of their loss to Prussia in 1870, and to regain the lost province of Alsace-Lorraine. They could have avoided the war by breaking their alliance with Russia.

  12. Great Britain nominally entered the war in defense of Belgian neutrality, which had been violated when Germany sent troops through Belgium to attack France. Again, Britain could have backed out of its alliance with France, or better still inveighed on France to back out on Russia, limiting the war to a probable stalemate in Eastern Europe, but they didn't. They were eager to reassert themselves as the world's dominant navy, and as the Versailles Treaty showed, they expected to gain most of Germany's territories in Africa and a large chunk of the Ottoman Empire.

  13. One theory the Great War disproved on day one was that Britain could maintain peace in Europe by shifting alliances to neutralize whichever continental power appeared strongest. Britain had followed that theory for several centuries, and it repeatedly failed, resulting in wars between Britain and Spain, then France, then Germany, and I suppose you could add the Cold War against the Soviet Union. (The balance of powers theory is still championed by Henry Kissinger, whose track record is no better.)

  14. The Great War quickly developed a reputation for mass slaughter, widely thought to be a case of new technology overwhelming old tactics. Indeed, the twenty-five years before the Great War had seen some of the most dramatic advances of technology ever recorded -- especially, widespread use of electricity and oil power, the latter so efficient it could power aircraft. But it could not have been the case that the destructive potential of that technology was not understood. Much of the firepower had, after all, been tested in colonial assaults in Africa and Asia -- for instance, at the 1898 "Battle of Omdurman," where the British killed or wounded 23,000 in a single day while losing only 47 of their own soldiers. The difference was that with both sides similarly equipped, the expected massacre turned into a mutual bloodbath -- at Somme in 1916 over one million people were killed or wounded, which testifies not only to the deadliness of the technology but to the unprecedented ability of all sides to raise and deploy armies. Of course, that too was not so new or surprising, as the Napoleonic Wars of the 1810s and the US Civil War in the 1860s show.

  15. The first use of poison gas was in the Great War, by Germany against Russia. France, Britain, and the United States also used poison gas. It was terrifying but not especially effective -- it hardly merits being called a "weapon of mass destruction" in the age of atomic bombs (or for that matter AC-130 gunships) -- and countermeasures were effective, so it was never again deployed against enemies capable of responding in kind. Which isn't to say it was never again used: the British used it in Iraq in 1920 (in case you ever wondered where Saddam Hussein got the idea).

  16. The overwhelming majority of deaths due to military action during the Great War were soldiers. By far the largest block of non-soldiers were Armenians killed in Turkey -- if you leave them out the ratio of soldiers to civilians goes from four to ten times. (Civilian deaths due to malnutrition and disease were much higher but still less than half as many as soldiers killed in war. In most past wars the opposite is true.) Most battles were fought away from cities, and aerial bombardment was limited by small and inefficient planes -- a problem solved in WWII.

  17. On the other hand, the idea that one could blame the masses for the acts of national leaders, or more nefariously that one could undermine leaders' resolve by inflicting hardships on the masses, was in the air, and had, of course, been tested in Africa and Asia. The most explicit effort was the British blockade of Germany, meant to starve the German people. (Churchill was reported disappointed that the war ended before starvation became widespread.) Again, such practices weren't innovated in WWII so much as perfected.

  18. Nor was genocide invented in the Great War, although it was vastly scaled up. European colonization had the effect of killing off huge numbers of natives, especially in the Americas, from the very beginning (1492), and those numbers sometimes added up to the extermination of whole tribes. Argentina and Tasmania were totally depopulated. Within what became the United States native population was reduced by close to 90%. (Sven Lindqvist covers some of this in his book, "Exterminate All the Brutes": One Man's Odyssey Into the Heart of Darkness and the Origins of European Genocide.) Only some of this was intentional, but incidental slaughter in the 18th and 19th centuries led to directed slaughter in the 20th. The first widescale instance was directed by Germany against the Herero in Southwest Africa. During the Great War the Ottoman Empire oversaw a widespread effort to annihilate Armenians (with estimates up to 1.5 million killed). In WWII, Germany went after the Jews (over 6 million killed).

  19. The United States, which at the time was the world's largest economic power, entered the Great War in 1917, although it had been supplying arms, supplies, and financing preferentially to Britain since the start of the war, often in violation of its own "neutrality" laws. We tend now to think of the war as a dress rehearsal for WWII, which profoundly changed the character of the republic, but nearly all the elements of the change first appeared in the Great War. Before the war, the US eschewed any sort of foreign entanglements in war-prone Europe. (The Monroe Doctrine, which later came to be seen as declaring a zone of American hegemony, was originally just a threat to warn Europe to stay clear of the Americas and mind its own business.) Americans also realized that standing armies poised a threat to democracy, so the US barely had one. (Entering the Great War, the US had fewer troops in uniform than Bulgaria did.) After WWII all that changed.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 23996 [23966] rated (+30), 531 [540] unrated (-9).

Thought the odds I might cross the 24000 rated level this week were pretty good, but despite a fairly productive week I fell a bit short. Next week for sure. Probably not tonight. Most likely tomorrow. Just a number, and in some ways a rather low one. I recall talking to John Rockwell back in the 1970s when he had twenty-some thousand LPs in his collection. If he only had the pedestrian habit of keeping lists and jotting down grades, he could have well over 100,000 by now. I only started doing this as an aide de memoire in the 1990s, when I had about 3000 LPs and less than a thousand CDs. However, as so often happens when you start to measure something, it takes on a life of its own. I doubt Cap Anson had any clue that he had 3000 hits, nor that Sam Crawford realized he retired just short (2961). Al Kaline was conscious enough of his stats that he hung on to get 3007 hits, but I remember him saying that had he realized that 400 home runs would have put him into one of those exclusive clubs, he would have hit more. (He wound up with 399.)

Didn't get any new records this past week -- the three listed below came today, and two of those have 2015 release dates. I've had to open 2015 files, not that there is anything interesting in them yet. The 2014 metafile is currently up to 2615 records (807 rated or owned). I worked a little on it last week, mostly trying to fill in some missing jazz records -- that led me to Smoke Sessions, a generally good mainstream label (if that's your bag).

The Jinx Lennon records are on Bandcamp. Liam Smith is a fan, and he turned Robert Christgau onto them, resulting in last week's Expert Witness. I (more or less) agree, although I'll add that I didn't find Lennon's outrage either comforting or cathartic. I just find so much of what's happening today to be sad and pathetic -- not least because it wouldn't take much intelligence, sensitivity, and good will to come up with very different outcomes.

I didn't tweet about the Jinx Lennon albums, mostly because my own longer write-ups aren't very coherent. Ideally, I'd take another run at the writing (if not the albums) before Rhapsody Streamnotes posts (probably next week rather than this, although I currently have 56 reviews in the draft file).

New records rated this week:

  • Greg Abate Quartet: Motif (2014, Whaling City Sound): alto saxophonist with mainstream quartet leaning bebop, plays fast, brilliant sound, jumps right out [cd]: A-
  • Allison Au Quartet: The Sky Was Pale Blue, Then Grey (2012 [2014], self-released): Toronto group, alto sax-piano-bass-drums, moody postbop with spoken word [cd]: B+(**)
  • Otis Brown III: The Thought of You (2014, Blue Note): drummer, would like to break out if not cross over, but gets comflicting advice/help [r]: B
  • Kevin Conlon/The Groove Rebellion: In Transit (2014, Blujazz): bassist-crooner, the guitar-bass-drums groove more swing than funk, nice sax too [cd]: B+(*)
  • Farmers by Nature: Love and Ghosts (2011 [2014], AUM Fidelity, 2CD): piano trio -- Gerald Cleaver, William Parker, Craig Taborn -- my how Taborn has grown! [r]: A-
  • Jean Luc Fillon: Oboman Plays Cole Porter: Begin the Night . . . (2013 [2014], Soupir Editions): along with Pianoman and Violaman, a nice little chamber jazz trio, actually too nice [cd]: B
  • Brad Goode Quartet: Montezuma (2013 [2014], Origin): trumpet quartet, elegant, spacious with knots of tension, poised for the trumpet to break through [cd]: B+(**)
  • Vincent Herring: Uptown Shuffle (2014, Smoke Sessions): alto saxophonist, leading a very mainstream quartet (Chestnut, Farnsworth), runs a little hot [r]: B+(**)
  • Eric Hofbauer Quintet: Prehistoric Jazz Volume 1: The Rite of Spring (2014, Creative Nation Music): Stravinsky for jazz quintet, the classical lurch modern and campy, the guitar sweet [cd]: B+(***)
  • Eric Hofbauer Quintet: Prehistoric Jazz Volume 2: Quintet for the End of Time (2014, Creative Nation Music): Messiaen for jazz quintet, focus cello but interesting when chaos breaks [cd]: B+(**)
  • Will Holshouser/Matt Munister/Marcus Rojas: Introducing Musette Explosion (2014, Aviary): accordion-guitar-tuba for folkish, semipop jazz [cd]: B+(**)
  • Javon Jackson: Expression (2014, Smoke Sessions): tenor saxophonist goes back to basics with a straightforward quartet, notably Orrin Evans on piano [r]: B+(*)
  • Jonathan Kreisberg: Wave Upon Wave (2014, New for Now Music): guitar jazz that doesn't break out of the Montgomery mode, always a comfort zone [cd]: B+(*)
  • Harold Mabern: Right on Time (2014, Smoke Sessions): veteran postbop pianist, never quite lost his Memphis roots, plays a trio with Webber/Farnsworth [r]: B+(*)
  • Michael Mantler: The Jazz Composer's Orchestra Update (2013 [2014], ECM): scores from JCOA's 1960s heyday, but outsourced to cost-effective pros [dl]: B
  • Delfeayo Marsalis: The Last Southern Gentlemen (2014, Troubadour Jass): trombonist leads piano-bass-drums through genteel, sombre, charming standards [cd]: B+(***)
  • Ross Martin/Max Johnson/Jeff Davis: Big Eyed Rabbit (2014, Not Two): guitar-bass-drums, didn't know the guitarist, and still don't [r]: B
  • Bette Midler: It's the Girls! (2014, East/West): girl group repertoire, great songs done respectably, but didn't she used to be a bit subversive? [r]: B
  • Miho Nobuzane: Simple Words: Jazz Loves Brazil (2014, self-released): Japanese pianist, picks up a Brazilian band in Brooklyn, get the vibe right [cd]: B+(*)
  • O'Death: Out of Hands We Go (2014, Northern Spy): Brooklyn alt-rock band with a bit of Irish, mostly filtered through folkies like Dock Boggs [r]: B+(***)
  • Clarence Penn & Penn Station: Monk: The Lost Files (2012 [2014], Origin): drummer-led sax quartet, ten Monk tunes, one never tires of hearing them [cd]: B+(*)
  • Doug Seegers: Going Down to the River (2014, Rounder): honky tonker, fell through cracks of Nashville, discovered by a Swedish tourist [r]: A-
  • The Spin Quartet: In Circles (2013 [2014], Origin): postbop, trumpet-tenor sax-bass-drums, all names you don't know with own albums but stronger together [cd]: B+(**)
  • Vince Staples: Hell Can Wait (2014, Def Jam, EP): west coast rapper with some mixtapes, got a label now but only a seven-song, 23:30 EP budget [r]: B+(*)
  • Touch and Go Sextet: Live at the Novara Jazz Festival (2012 [2014], Nine Winds): Lisa Mezzacappa (bass) and Vijay Anderson (drums) stir up four horn leads [cd]: B+(***)
  • Ernie Watts Quartet: A Simple Truth (2013 [2014], Flying Dolphin): tenor saxophonist, always recognizable, and still able to sprint through "Bebop" [r]: B+(**)

Old records rated this week:

  • Jinx Lennon: Live at the Spirit Store (2000, Septic Tiger): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Jinx Lennon: 30 Beacons of Light for a Land Full of Spite, Thugs, Drug Slugs and Energy Vampires (2002, Septic Tiger): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Jinx Lennon: Know Your Station Gouger Nation!!! (2006, Septic Tiger): [bc]: A-
  • Jinx Lennon: Trauma Themes Idiot Times (2009, Septic Tiger): [r]: A-
  • Jinx Lennon: National Cancer Strategy (2010, Septic Tiger): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Bette Midler: Live at Last (1977, Atlantic): [r]: B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Ballister: Worse for the Wear (Aerophonic): January 6
  • Michel Lambert: Journal des Épisodes II (Jazz From Rant): November 18
  • Nate Wooley/Dave Rempis/Pascal Niggenkemper/Chris Corsano: From Wolves to Whales (Aerophonic): January 6

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Weekend Update

Thought I'd do a quickie on post-election links but I've been so bummed and lethargic this week it's taken until Sunday anyway. Not just the elections, either, nor the news that the Supreme Court will practice its ideological activism on insurance subsidies for people unfortunate enough to live in states that couldn't (actually, wouldn't) get their act together under the ACA.

The takeaway from the election seems to be that voter suppression and nearly infinite money works for Republicans. The 4% "skew" toward the Democrats that Nate Silver found in the polls seems to be people who intended to vote but at the last minute either didn't or couldn't. That was enough to tilt about 5-6 senate races. But also Democrats didn't do a good job of articulating issues -- it's noteworthy that progressive issues won pretty much across the board when they weren't attached to candidates who could be linked to Obama. To pick on one example: Mark Pryor's campaign consisted of a vacuous slogan ("Put Arkansas First") and ads warning that Tom Cotton wanted to kill off Medicare and Social Security. That's not inaccurate, and would have won if voters really took Cotton to be that much of a threat, but many voters concluded that the risk wasn't that great. On the other hand, Cotton's ads did nothing more than equate Pryor with Obama. I can't tell you why that mattered, or why that worked, but it did.

  • Ryan Cooper: What Democrats get wrong about inequality: Lots of things.

    There are various complex models for this, but the general explanation is fairly intuitive: Modern economies are built on a mass market. But if the great majority of people don't have much (or any) disposable income, then there is no mass market, and it's harder to start a business relying on any kind of mass sales. And with weak consumer spending, existing businesses have little reason to invest in growth, and instead disgorge their profits to shareholders, exacerbating the trend. In the end, you get a hollowed-out, bifurcated economy, where low-grade goods are sold to the broke masses on razor-thin margins, while incomprehensible sums slosh around weird luxury markets.

    There's more to it than this. The breakdown of capital controls makes it easy to reinvest profits abroad, where there is more potential for middle-class growth. (I first noticed this in the early 1990s, when Greenspan lowered interest rates to stimulate the economy, and virtually all of that cheap money went abroad -- mostly, it seemed, into currency speculation, resulting in busts in East Asia, Mexico, and elsewhere. Conversely, foreign investors buy up assets in the US -- there was a tremendous boom in this during the 1980s, and while less commented on the trend continues.)

    By the way, I accidentally clicked on a link in Cooper's article and it led to a fascinating article by J.W. Mason, Disgorge the Cash:

    If you read the business press, you're used to these kinds of stories. A company whose mission is making something gets bought out or bullied into becoming a company whose mission is making payments to shareholders. Apple is only an especially dramatic example. But the familiarity of this kind of story is a sign of a different relationship between corporations and the financial system from what prevailed a generation ago.

    Prior to the 1980s, share repurchases were tightly limited by law, and a firm that borrowed in order to pay higher dividends would have been regarded as engaging in a kind of fraud. Shareholders were entitled to their dividends and nothing more -- neither a share in any exceptional profits, nor a say in the management of the firm. In the view of Owen Young, the long-serving chairman of General Electric in the early 20th century, "the stockholders are confined to a maximum return equivalent to a risk premium. The remaining profit stays in the enterprise, is paid out in higher wages, or is passed on to the customer."

    This, of course, has all changed since the 1980s, and it's worth underscoring that changes in law, and therefore political policy, were necessary to enable it. Much more of interest here -- I like the line on the post-WWII corporation: "Whether the managerial firm was the 'soulful corporation' of Galbraith or the soul-crushing monopoly capital of Baran and Sweezy, it was run according to its own growth imperatives, not to maximize returns to shareholders." Then there's this:

    Keynes's call for the "euthanasia of the rentier" toward the end of The General Theory is typically taken as a playful provocation. But as Jim Crotty has argued, this idea was one of Keynes's main preoccupations in his political writings in the 1920s. In his 1926 essay "The End of Laissez Faire," he observed that "one of the most interesting and unnoticed developments of recent decades has been the tendency of big enterprise to socialize itself." As shareholders' role in the enterprise diminishes, "the general stability and reputation of the institution are more considered by the management than the maximum of profit for the shareholders." With enough time, the corporations may evolve into quasi-public institutions like universities, "bodies whose criterion of action within their own field is solely the public good as they understand it." Veblen, observing the same developments but with a less sunny disposition, imagined that the managers of productive enterprises would eventually tire of "sabotage" by the notional owners and organize to overthrow them, seizing control of production as a "Soviet of engineers."

    Of course, that never happened, but maybe it should have -- the "euthanasia of the rentier" if not necessarily the "Soviet of engineers."

  • Kathleen Geier: Inequality, the Flavor of the Month: From June, but linked to post-election to remind us how little mileage the Democrats gained from the great issue of our time.

    Truth be told, it was never clear how serious Obama ever was about fighting inequality. Though his big inequality speech marked a step forward, as many of us noted at the time, it also contained serious omissions. The economist Max Sawicky observed that much of that speech didn't actually concern inequality. Rather, it was about social mobility, which is something entirely different.

    Writer Anat Shenker-Osorio pointed out that perhaps the most glaring omission of all in Obama's inequality speech was a simple one: a villain. To hear Obama and the Democrats tell it, inequality is something that just happened. An awful lot of sentences in Obama's speech used passive voice constructions -- phrases like "the deck is stacked," "taxes were slashed," and so on. His speech failed to craft any compelling narrative about exactly who did what to whom. Inequality remained an abstract concept.

    The timidity of Obama's rhetoric -- a faintness of heart that extends to many other Dems -- stands in sharp contrast to the talking points of many Republicans. Right-wing populists consistently point the finger at a rogues' gallery of liberal elitists, government bureaucrats, and the like. In the past, not only did economically progressive presidents vilify the plutocratic enemies of the American people, but they went about it with a certain gusto. Theodore Roosevelt issued thundering denunciations against "malefactors of great wealth." In his "I welcome their hatred" speech, FDR attacked as "tyrants" the "employers and politicians and publishers" who opposed the pro-labor policies of the New Deal.

    But today's Democratic Party is a different animal. By default, Democrats are the party of working Americans, and sometimes they do pass legislation that helps the majority. But they are also deeply corrupted by their own corporate ties. The Democrats' anti-equality agenda is a case in point. The party supports some admirable policies targeted at helping low-income Americans -- like raising the minimum wage, expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit, and universal pre-K. But party leaders are far more ambivalent about policies that challenge the one percent and the power of capital -- stricter financial regulations, cracking down on CEO pay, a return to confiscatory income tax rates, fair trade, and intellectual property reform. Unless we rein in the wealth and power of the one percent, inequality will continue to spiral out of control.

  • Paul Krugman: The Uses of Ridicule: Case example is billionaire hedge fund operator Paul Singer, who has discovered proof that hyperinflation is actually happening:

    Meanwhile, a quick hit. Matt O'Brien has a lot of fun with Paul Singer, a billionaire inflation truther who is sure that the books are cooked because of what he can see with his own eyes:

    . . . 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

    Hyperinflation in the Hamptons; hard to beat that for comedy, although Matt adds value with the Billionaires Price Index.

    Actually, I noticed this long ago (so long it certainly doesn't suggest Weimar- or Zimbabwe-style hyperinflation). When workers' wages rise, we worry about inflation, assuming those rises will be factored into future prices (because, heaven forbid, they can't possibly come out of profits). On the other hand, when asset prices rise, we assume they're finding their true value, even though the 2008 collapse of the housing bubble shows us that there is no such thing. That all seems awfully convenient for asset holders (and damn unfortunate for wage earners). But doesn't basic economic theory tell us that prices reflect the balance of supply and demand? When demand goes up relative to supply, prices rise -- and how is that different from inflation? We happen to live in a world where the rich is getting so much richer so fast that there simply isn't enough rich-folk-goods (Hamptons real estate, high-end art) to go around, so of course they bid up, and therefore inflate, the prices. That's really all there is to the bubble in Hamptons real estate. And the corrollary to that is that a lot of very rich people currently own assets that aren't really worth anything like they think: there is a substantial real transfer of wealth going on from the 99% to the 1%, but also this asset inflation bubble. If, say, there was a serious effort to rein in the super rich -- increasing income (and capital gains) taxes up toward 70%, regulating hedge funds and other rentiers out of business -- that asset bubble would collapse.

    Krugman makes other good points, but the best come from this golden oldie by Molly Ivins (from 1995, on Rush Limbaugh, but how little has changed?).

    Psychologists often tell us there is a great deal of displaced anger in our emotional lives -- your dad wallops you, but he's too big to hit back, so you go clobber your little brother. Displaced anger is also common in our political life. We see it in this generation of young white men without much education and very little future. This economy no longer has a place for them. The corporations have moved their jobs to Singapore. Unfortunately, it is Limbaugh and the Republicans who are addressing the resentments of these folks, and aiming their anger in the wrong direction.

    In my state, I have not seen so much hatred in politics since the heyday of the John Birch Society in the early 1960s. Used to be you couldn't talk politics with a conservative without his getting all red in the face, arteries standing out in his neck, wattles aquiver with indignation -- just like a pissed-off turkey gobbler. And now we're seeing the same kind of anger again.

  • Martin Longman: Waning Power for Blacks and Democrats: No coincidence that 2014 was the first election without the Voting Rights Act to protect black voters in the Old South. The Republicans have put a lot of effort into eradicating white Democratic office holders in the South, no matter how little ideological difference they present. The effect is reduce visible Democratic office holders to the black minority, reinforcing the Republican brand as the White People's Party. Whether they've done this because they are racists or just because it's a winning strategy, the effect is to prolong racism in the South and elsewhere. Assuming Landrieu is toast, the only Democratic senator in the old confederate states are in outliers Virginia and Florida, and neither is easy.

    There's no point in sugar-coating this. In the Deep South, the Democratic Party is now the non-white party, and minority politicians don't have the white partners they need to exercise any but the most local political power. While the problem is less severe in the border states, it has clearly made advances there. You can look at pretty much the whole Scots-Irish migration from the Virginias to Oklahoma and see that the Democrats were trounced last Tuesday. They badly lost Senate elections in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Mississippi, and Arkansas, and they actually lost two Senate elections each in South Carolina and Oklahoma. Their seat in Virginia was only (just barely) saved by the DC suburbs in the northeastern part of the state.

    Longman also has a detailed piece on the House elections, The Midterm Results Were Not Completely Preordained, if you're still interested. If not, you might consider this paragraph -- one recipe for an exceptionally low turnout is the media message that these elections didn't matter:

    Regardless, you can say that your models predicted a big night for the Republicans all you want, but I still blame the media. I blame the media for creating the first federal election season in my lifetime in which the elections weren't the top story for the last two months of the campaign. By focusing so heavily on other stories, like ISIS and the Ebola virus, the media smothered the Democratic message.

  • Wendy R Weiser: How Much of a Difference Did New Voting Restrictions Make in Yesterday's Close Races?: The 2014 election was the first one run without the protections of the Voting Rights Act. It was also the first midterm election run under a spate of new voter suppression laws ushered in by Republicans after 2010 to keep turnout low. Weiser cites close election cases in North Carolina, Kansas, Virginia, and Florida, with various studies showing 2-3% drops due to new laws. "Under Florida's law, the harshest in the country, one in three African-American men is essentially permanently disenfranchised." Weiser also points out that while the Texas governorship was decided by more than "the 600,000 registered voters in Texas who could not vote this year because they lack IDs the state will accept" those citizens' inability to vote has an effect up and down the ticket, and indeed makes it that much harder for Democrats to run candidates. One thing that's rarely commented upon is that voter restriction laws not only prevent some people from exercising their voting rights, they intimidate many more from even trying.

    For more, see Brad Friedman: The Results Were Skewed Toward Republicans, which cites Wieser but goes much further, as well as casting a jaundiced eye at Nate Silver's conclusion that the polls were skewed.

Also, a few links for further study:

  • Q&A: James K Galbraith on the Myth of Petpetual Growth, How Language Shapes Economic Thought, and More: An interview with Galbraith, whose new book, The End of Normal: The Great Crisis and the Future of Growth is next on my reading list. Galbraith seems to doubt Ryan Cooper's argument that we need to counter inequality to increase growth. I've long agreed with Cooper (and Stiglitz, but not Krugman) that inequality is depressing demand at least in the US, but Galbraith seems to be arguing that growth is being hampered by more than just inequality -- e.g., that technology has something to do with it. One thing I'm pretty sure of is that technological advances have done much to blunt the political impact of inequality -- in effect, big TVs and smart cell phones make us less bitter about the rich getting richer. The new book is certain to be interesting. I've said many times that Galbraith's The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too is the best political book of the last decade.

  • Mike Konczal/Bryce Covert: The Real Solution to Wealth Equality: "Instead of just giving people more purchasing power, we should be taking basic needs off the market altogether." Social Security does this. So would universal healthcare and free education. Konczal and Covert have expanded this into a regular column in The Nation. All of these are worth reading:

  • Peter Van Buren: What Could Possibly Go Right? Iraq War 3.0, he calls it. Ignoring 1.0, I'm reminded more of Marx's quip about the Bonapartes: history repeats itself, first as tragedy, then as farce -- although for all concerned it'll look more like tragedy all over again: it's only from an insensitive distance that one can sit back and revel in how ridiculous everyone involved is.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

Got up this morning. The sky was clear, the air crisp, a really lovely day. People went to work. Some drove by. Others walked their dogs. The mail came. It all seems like a normal day. The ramifications of yesterday's elections will take some time to manifest themselves. It occurs to me that maybe I shouldn't fret so much. I'm 64. By the time the Republicans destroy Obamacare I'll be 65 and eligible for Medicare. By the time they kill off Medicare, I'll be dead. And otherwise I'm relatively immune to the scourges of Republican rule: I don't need decent or affordable schools, I'm unlikely to be harrassed by police or criminals (and the odds of a self-righteous gun nut striking me aren't much higher than the odds of being struck by lightning or mowed down by a tornado). I'm out of the job market, but (for now at least) don't need welfare either. And I don't have children, so while I wish good things for generations to come I don't have much skin in that game. If other Americans don't care what happens to them, why should I?

What happened? Nate Silver's postmortem claims The Polls Were Skewed Toward Democrats. I wish he had phrased this differently: the takeaway is likely to be that the pollsters were biased, something Republicans are always whining about (although Democrats usually suspect the opposite). Other reasons are possible: late shifts, volatile voter turnout levels. Pollsters try to limit their samples to "likely voters" but that can be hard to guess ahead of the fact. I don't have much data on turnout so far, but accepting the premise that people who don't vote are generally more liberal than people who do -- there's quite a bit of evidence for that -- a Democratic vote shortfall suggests a lower-than-expected turnout.[1] One turnout figure I have is Sedgwick County in KS (Wichita), where turnout was 51.5% -- actually a bit less than in 2010, despite much more competitive races this year. I suspect a variation on the so-called Bradley Effect (where people tell pollsters something that sounds better than the truth): I suspect more people told pollsters they would vote than actually did.

Silver's data shows that Republican Senate candidates did better than their weighted poll averages in 26 (of 34) races (he leaves KS off the list; Orman ran as an independent, but everyone treated him as a Democrat, especially since the Democratic nominee dropped out and wasn't on the ballot); Republican Gubernatorial candidates did better in 28 (of 35) races. Had the polls been right, the Democrats would have won two Senate seats (North Carolina, Alaska) and four governorships (Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland) they lost, but they would have lost Connecticut. Had the Democrats run two points better than their polls, they would have saved or picked up three Senate seats (Colorado, Georgia, Iowa) and three governships (Maine, Michigan, Wisconsin). That would have turned into a decent night.

Still, polling wasn't the reason Republicans won. I hadn't taken it that seriously, but the main reason's been staring me in the face every time I visited Talking Points Memo: in their "PollTracker" Obama has had a steady job approval rating of 42.9%, ten points below is 52.9% disapproval. That number hasn't budged in months, and it's hard to imagine what Obama could do to move it. He can't legislate anything without help from Congress, and that's something the Republicans won't permit. He could, like Harry Truman when faced a Republian-controlled Congress in 1948, go out on the campaign trail and attack his "do-nothing Congress," but that's not his style (and anyway, he's not up for election). Nor does he really have much to talk about: the economy is recovering but it's not doing most people much good (nor did he do it much good); he has positive stories on issues ranging from domestic oil surpluses to reducing the national debt, but who cares?; he's managed to get back into Iraq and involved in Syria without having a clue where that's going; then there's the panic on Ebola, where the message is a boring we're doing what needs to be done. The quiet competency and subtle nudges he's always aimed for don't move anyone.

The rest of TPM's widget doesn't look so bad for Democrats: their unfavorable rating is 8 point higher than their favorable (46-38), but the Republicans are 20 points unfavorable (50-30). One troubling point is that even though Republicans are less liked and more loathed voters still give them a +2.4% (45.7% to 43.3%) edge in the generic congressional ballot (plus, in the House, they have more incumbents due mostly to gerrymandering). One reason I dismissed the top line is that some people, like me, disapprove of Obama but wouldn't think of defecting to the Republicans over it. (My main gripe is Obama's handling of what I call the Four Wars of 2014 -- Syria, Iraq, Gaza, and Ukraine.) But evidently there aren't many of us. On the other hand, in race after race Republicans figure all they have to do is to identify the Democrat (or in Kansas, independent Greg Orman) with Obama and voters will snap. I expected most people to see through something that transparent, but for various reasons (including but not limited to racism) lots of people are ready to blame Obama for whatever bugs them, no matter what. And a big chunk of the $3.6 billion spent on the campaign went into driving that one point home.

Matt Yglesias explained what's been happening in a post on Mitch McConnell's reëlection:

In the winter of 2008-2009, the leaders of the Obama transition effort had a theory as to how things would go and mainstream Washington agreed with them.

The theory went like this. With large majorities in the House and Senate, it was obvious that lots of Democratic bills would pass. But the White House would be generous and make concessions to Republicans who were willing to leap on the bandwagon. Consequently, incumbent Republicans from states Obama won (Maine, New Hampshire, Ohio, North Carolina, Indiana, Nevada) would be eager to cut deals in which they backed Obama bills in exchange for key concessions. With that process under way, many Republicans who weren't even that vulnerable would be eager to cut deals as well, in search of a piece of the action. As a result, bills would pass the Senate with large 70- to 75-vote majorities, and Obama would be seen as the game-changing president who healed American politics and got things done.

McConnell's counter plan was to prevent those deals. As McConnell told Josh Green, the key to eroding Obama's popularity was denying him the sheen of bipartisanship, and that meant keep Republicans united in opposition:

"Reporters underestimate how powerful the calendar is," says Jim Manley, the former communications director for Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate leader. "Say you want to break a filibuster. On Monday, you file cloture on a motion to proceed for a vote on Wednesday. Assuming you get it, your opponents are allowed 30 hours of debate post-cloture on the motion to proceed. That takes you to Friday, and doesn't cover amendments. The following Monday you file cloture on the bill itself, vote Wednesday, then 30 more hours of debate, and suddenly two weeks have gone by, for something that's not even controversial." All of this has slowed Senate business to a crawl.

"We worked very hard to keep our fingerprints off of these proposals," McConnell says. "Because we thought -- correctly, I think -- that the only way the American people would know that a great debate was going on was if the measures were not bipartisan. When you hang the 'bipartisan' tag on something, the perception is that differences have been worked out, and there's a broad agreement that that's the way forward."

To prevent Obama from becoming the hero who fixed Washington, McConnell decided to break it. And it worked. Six years into the affair, we now take it for granted that nothing will pass on a bipartisan basis, no appointment will go through smoothly, and everything the administration tries to get done will take the form of a controversial use of executive power.

It's been ugly. But in most voters' mind, the ugliness has attached to Obama and, by extension, Democrats.

Anyone who's paid much attention is aware of Republican obstruction and hostage taking -- some approving and some aghast -- but many don't notice until it's too late, and it's easy for them to blame Obama, especially with the right-wing media attacking Obama for pretty much everything they can imagine. The one exception that reflects back on Republicans seems to be shutting down the government, but folks rarely notice when the safety net is shredded until they fall through and go splat. Similarly, who notices when jobs (e.g., judges and ambassadors) go unfilled as long as they don't affect you personally. But the idea isn't just to obstruct Obama, it's to make life so difficult that the Democrats don't even try to do new things -- and that has the effect of making Obama and the Democrats look ineffective, like they aren't even trying.

What McConnell and the Republicans have done isn't unprecedented -- indeed they did much the same thing to Clinton -- except in frequency and persistence: there's never been anything quite like that before. The Senate, in particular, has many arcane rules ripe for abuse, and only limited by conscience -- something rarely seen among a group who increasingly favor incompetent and unrepresentative government. Like most schemes, the only way around it is to cut through it, exposing the ill intent and holding all sides to a higher standard of public interest. One might expect the mainstream media to do just that, but their sense of even-handedness blinds them to asymmetric behavior. Nor does it help that the media are held by large corporations, not the public trust (an idea increasingly regarded as quaint).

I'm not interested in speculating on what Obama can or cannot, should or should not do during the last two years of his term. I will say that the Democratic Party needs a spokesman independent of the White House, and that they need to rebuild the party from the roots up, much like the Republicans did in the early 1990s. Obama blew his opportunity to get much done when he lost Congress in 2010, much as Clinton did in 1994. That plus eight much-worse-than-wasted years with GW Bush has left us with an increasing roll of problems, little wherewithal to solve them, and it seems even less imagination. Until the latter opens up, we're stuck in this hopeless game, where nothing is possible because nothing viable can be imagined. In this, I'd say the Democrats are as blind as the Republicans, albeit somewhat less cynical.

It's worth noting that nearly all of the actual issues on the various ballots were won by progressives, including a higher minimum wage in Arkansas, more thorough gun control checks in Washington, guaranteed sick leave in several states, and decriminalization of marijuana. (A medical marijuana initiative in Florida lost when it fell just short of a 60% supermajority requirement, after Sheldon Adelson spent millions against it.) Perhaps more Democrats should have run on issues, instead of shying away from them. It's been observed that the election results will most likely end medicare expansion in Arkansas, Kentucky, and West Virginia, but that's due to Republican gains, not to referenda on the issue. Indeed, it's doubtful most voters in those states realize what they've done. All they think they've done is to have thwarted Obama and his nefarious plots.

[1] Indeed, the first turnout numbers show Preliminary Turnout Numbers Are Way Down From 2010 and 2012, the overall percentage voting dropping from 40.9% in 2010 to 36.6% in 2014. (The presidential elections Obama won in 2008 and 2012 drew 56.8% and 53.6% respectively.) Turnout varied from 59.3% in Maine to 28.5% in Texas; Kansas was 42.8%. Although the bottom of the barrel was solid red (Texas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Oklahoma), some Democratic-leaning states had low turnouts (New York: 30.2%; California: 34.8%). I think there are at least two factors here: there is an underlying variation by state (e.g., Minnesota, which ranked 5th this year, is usually near the top, while Texas is almost always at the bottom), which are then tweaked somewhat by having competitive races.

There is also a map which compares 2014 to 2010. States with higher turnout in 2014 are: Nebraska (+7.6), Louisiana, Wisconsin, Maine, Arkansas, Alaska, New Hampshire (+3.1). Kansas was +1.1, a pretty small gain compared to campaign spending (through the roof). Colorado was +1.8, Kentucky +1.8, North Carolina +1.5, Florida +1.4.

Also, Ed Kilgore reports (What the Hell Happened to the Democratic Vote):

Comparing yesterday's exit polls to those of 2012, the first thing that jumps out at you is a big shift in age demographics: under-30 voters dropped from 19 percent of the electorate in 2012 to 13 percent in 2014, while over-65 voters climbed from 16 percent in 2012 to 22 percent in 2014. That's quite close to the age demographics of 2010.

[2] By the way, here's a report on Kansas: How the Kansas Democratic Party Drove Itself to Near Extinction (Pt 1): I can't really vouch for this -- I know some people who are active in the party, but I'm not one of them -- but certainly the lack of organization, offices, and candidate support is a big problem here. The Democrat who ran for an empty Senate seat against Jerry Moran did so with a total budget of about $23,000 (vs. about $5 million, if memory serves). This makes me wonder whether the Democratic gubernatorial ticket this year would have been stronger with Jill Docking on top and Davis slotted for Lieutenant Governor. For one thing, Docking wouldn't have been characterized as a "Lawrence liberal" (she's from Wichita), nor would she have been subject to those lurid "strip club" ads. Women have a good track record in KS politics: the last two Democratic governors were women, and before that two previous Democratic governors were named Docking (Jill married into a rather famous family, as by the way did Kathleen Sebelius). Also see Pt. 2.

Daily Log

I sent this letter to Harold Dean's Democracy for America:

I've made this point repeatedly in my blog, but in the wake of yesterday's election fiasco, let's make sure you hear it: the biggest political mistake Obama made was to get rid of Howard Dean as chairman of the Democratic Party. It's time to bring Dean back and rebuild the party from the bottom up, across all fifty states. Also to provide a party spokesman who can speak up for the party rank-and-file -- the people who voted for Clinton and Obama and were forgotten as soon as inauguration day came around.

I'm from Kansas, and we worked very hard this year to throw off the Republican yoke. After all, we know better than most how bad it can get. In 2006, with help from Dean, we elected a Democratic governor and two (of four) US Representatives. Then Obama wrote Kansas off in 2008.

Billmon did one of his multipart tweet things. I thought I'd try to straighten it out (to see if it makes any sense):

  1. You already know next few days will see MSM reading last rites for Dems & predicting 1000 year GOP Reich. So some perspective is needed.
  2. I'm definitely not the right guy to be looking for silver linings, especially for Democratic Party, which is essentially useless.
  3. But only interesting thing about 2014 election (2 me) was what it showed about continuing decline of GOP's white conservative voting base.
  4. Haven't seen final numbers, but looks like electorate was considerably whiter & RW than 2012, but less than 2010. About what you'd expect.
  5. Results probably also about what you'd expect: GOP year, magnified by strong Red State lean of 2014 Senate class. But lots of narrow wins.
  6. Year this reminds of most (ironically) is 1986, when Dems retook Senate by beating bunch of GOPers elected in 1980 Reagan wave.
  7. Also lots of relatively tight races in 1986 -- but most of them tilted to the Dems at the end, like they fell to the GOP this year.
  8. Much excitement among Dems after '86 victories, much talk party was emerging from shadow of Reagan & 1984 landslide. Rising hopes for '88.
  9. But '88 Senate cycle was basically a wash: Dems +1 seat. And as GOP fully mobilized ITS presidential majority, Dukakis lost. False dawn.
  10. As @ed_kilgore pointed out, effective tomorrow a new cycle begins. And GOP faces even worse fundamentals in 2016 than Dems did in 1988.
  11. GOP will be defending 24 seats in 2016 -- many of them in the 2010 wave. Dems will defend only 10 -- in a presidential year.
  12. But if tonight's vote demos are correct, 2010 was as good as it gets for GOP -- and probably better than it will get again for long time.
  13. Viewed in long-term context of declining U.S. white majority, this year looks very different than MSM braying about tonight's GOP wins.
  14. GOP & its billionaires (party's real base) moved heaven & earth, spent gazillions, rolled and/or coopted Tea Party candidates . . .
  15. . . . suppressed black votes whenever/wherever they could -- basically threw the kitchen sink at the Dems.
  16. Koch brothers essentially retooled their entire political/financial machine to fight this year's elections.
  17. A huge, all-out effort -- in order to win a handful of key Senate & gubernatorial races by narrow margins & a 3-4 seat Senate majority.
  18. In an on-off year election in which all the normal cyclical political factors (2nd term off year) were pulling in GOP's favor.
  19. Why does any of this matter? It's not like the stakes are that high for the billionaire class. The Dems aren't exactly the Red Army.
  20. But a whole bunch of the class warriors among the 1% apparently seem to think that putting/keeping GOP in power is a vital interest.
  21. Big chunk of plutocracy is either so fanatical and/or so scared of losing control it refuses 2 tolerate even Dems weak tea liberalism.
  22. Like I said, don't really understand desperate quality of fear/hatred that plutocratic RWers have of/towards the Dems. Seems silly.
  23. But real lesson of 2014 is that for GOP & Koch clones the battle is getting harder, & the victories more expensive & tougher to come by.

Best subsequent tweet:

Unfortunately, trend towards majority-dumb population also shows no signs of slowing.

Kathleen Geier tweet:

This summer, the Dems made a calculated decision to shut up about economic inequality. How'd that work out for them? [link]

Monday, November 03, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 23966 [23933] rated (+33), 540 [543] unrated (-3).

Week didn't start until Wednesday, when I posted last Music Week, so the rate count rate was exceptionally high -- 30 is a very solid 7-day week, ridiculous for a 5-day week. Played a lot of new stuff on Rhapsody, including a couple records I had acquainted myself with on the road. While the top-rated records all got multiple spins, I didn't dawdle on the clear misses (other than Dan Weiss favorite Ex Hex).

I've especially been missing the recommendations of Jason Gubbels, so was glad to see his Third Quarter 2014 Wrap-Up -- really just a cribsheet. He tabs five records as "pretty great": Run the Jewels, Angaleena Presley, Leonard Cohen, Spider Bags, and Aphex Twin. I had three of those, but "ran the jewels" way too fast a week back to get any real feel for the record, not that I didn't like what I heard [**]. I gave Spider Bags another play: I probably have it too low [*], but not so much so that I felt compelled to regrade it. I only know about half of the "pretty goods" (including Elio Villafranca and Changari below), but only have Orlando Julius' Jaiyede Afro at A-. No major disagreements below that, although the "pretty meh" Bill Frisell was well received by my friends on the Cape (I wound up at [***]), and I dislike Jason Moran's All Rise more than my grade [*] suggests.

Thought I noticed a blip in B+(**) grades this week, so I went to the year-in-progress file to check. I assumed B+ grades would be evenly distributed, but there is a small bell curve in the middle: 168-185-162. Actually, that bump was much more pronounced last year: 222-318-262. And now that I think about it last year's distribution makes more sense: there should be fewer higher-rated records than lower, but my actual lower-rated counts are progressively attenuated as we get ever deeper into records I don't consider prospects. Consider this sequence, comparing this year's count-per-grade to last year's: [A-] 68.7%, [***] 75.6%, [**] 58.1%, [*] 61.8%, [B] 52.9%, [B-] 76.9%. The way I read this, I'm listening to less crap this year -- probably because I don't have the metacritic file to make me conscious of lousy records other people like.

By the way, adding up all these numbers shows I only have 64.2% as many records in the 2014 (738) file as in 2013 (1149 and still growing until I freeze it end of December). It seems unlikely I'll ever make that deficit up (although 1000 is probably a 50-50 proposition).

Get out and vote tomorrow. It's the only day of the year when you get to act like you live in a democracy, even though your choices aren't likely to amount to much and the powers-that-be have done all they could to rig the results. Also the day you can blame your fellow citizens for their foolish choices, as opposed to every other day when the problem is more likely to be the corruption of the system.

New records rated this week:

  • Allo Darlin': We Came From the Same Place (2014, Slumberland): I don't follow lyrics well enough to be sure these are as deep as they might be [r]: A-
  • Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga: Cheek to Cheek (2014, Interscope): Italian-Americans bonding over their roots: great songs with shlocky arrangements [r]: B+(*)
  • Maggie Björklund: Shaken (2014, Bloodshot): singer-songwriter from Denmark to LA, given to open spaces and melancholy with steel guitar shimmer [r]: B
  • Chingari [Ranjit Barot/U Shrinivas/Etienne Mbappé]: Bombay Makossa (2014, Abstract Logix): two Indians (mandolin, drums) and a bassist from Cameroon fusion with fusion jazz then sing about it [r]: B+(*)
  • Gary Clark, Jr.: Live (2014, Warner Brothers, 2CD): major Texas blues hopeful returns to his strong suit after that awful debut LP, then stretches too long [r]: B+(*)
  • Chris Dundas: Oslo Odyssey (2014, BLM, 2CD): LA pianist goes to Norway, picks up a band with a saxophonist suited to his pace, a bass great too [cd]: B+(***)
  • Brian Eno/Karl Hyde: High Life (2014, Warp): rough-edged guitar replaces synth for the riffwork, like Fripp minus the Frippertronics [r]: A-
  • Ex Hex: Rips (2014, Merge): Mary Timony leads a tight pop-punk trio, no vocal presence, second hand riffs, but they're close to irresistible [r]: B+(***)
  • Flying Lotus: You're Dead (2014, Warp): and you've gone to hell with a soundtrack that taunts you with talent then slams the door, repeatedly [r]: B+(**)
  • Fumaça Preta: Fumaça Preta (2014, Soundway): Dutch band led by Portuguese-Venezuelan drummer is rooted in garage rock but sports exotic psychedelia and more [r]: A-
  • Benjamin Herman: Trouble (2013 [2014], Dox): polishing up standards, stretched and strained by Daniel von Piekartz's sentimental piano and vocals [r]: B+(*)
  • EG Kight: A New Day (2014, Blue South): blueswoman from Georgia via Chicago stays close to classic form, which keeps her consistent [r]: B+(**)
  • Jerry Lee Lewis: Rock & Roll Time (2014, Vanguard): at 79 has turned full circle back to Memphis; appreciates the guest help but doesn't need it [r]: B+(**)
  • Logic: Under Pressure (2014, Def Jam): young rapper makes debut after four mixtapes, avoids guests, does a fair job justifying his name [r]: B+(**)
  • Jemeel Moondoc/Connie Crothers: Two (2012, Relative Pitch): alto sax-piano duets, free but far from rough partly because they don't aim for speed [r]: B+(*)
  • The New Pornographers: Brill Bruisers (2014, Matador): much viable talent, many pop hooks, often a bit bruised which isn't the problem; caring is [r]: B+(*)
  • Karen O: Crush Songs (2006-10 [2014], Cult, EP): Yeah Yeah Yeahs singer goes lo-fi (more like demo quality and EP-length), crude but not without interest [r]: B+(*)
  • Tineke Postma/Greg Osby: Sonic Halo (2013 [2014], Challenge): two alto saxes play like one (only better), spur Matt Mitchell to try to steal the show [r]: B+(***)
  • Bobby Previte: Terminals (2014, Cantaloupe): five pieces match SO Percussion with a guest; Greg Osby brings jazz, Nels Cline something beyond [r]: B+(*)
  • Sylvain Rifflet & Jon Irabagon: Perpetual Motion: A Celebration of Moondog (2013 [2014], Jazz Village): saxophonists toast Moondog, but they also drag a choir in, so texts matter? [r]: B+(*)
  • Pat Senatore Trio: Ascensione (2008-12 [2014], Fresh Sound): Josh Nelson plays piano in bassist-led trio, loves the lush harmonies until they're squishy [cd]: B+(**)
  • Elio Villafranca and His Jazz Syncopators: Caribbean Tinge: Live From Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola (2011-12 [2014], Motéme): Cuban pianist does two shows uptown, toning down that tinge [r]: B+(*)
  • Ezra Weiss Sextet: Before You Know It: Live in Portland (2013 [2014], Roark): live in home town Portland, the gritty horns warm up the joint, a gorgeous ballad closes [cd]: A-
  • Luke Winslow-King: Everlasting Arms (2014, Bloodshot): overeducated eclectic singer-songwriter can't quite figure out what to do in New Orleans [r]: B
  • Yelle: Complètement Fou (2014, Kemosabe): French electronica leaning toward dance-pop, not crazy at all let alone crazy enough [r]: B+(**)

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

  • Jerry Lee Lewis: The Knox Phillips Sessions: The Unreleased Recordings (1970s [2014], Time-Life): at 44(?) he drowns his mid-life crisis, threatening to kick your ass but doesn't [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Paul Dietrich Quintet: We Always Get There (Blujazz)
  • Aaron Goldberg: The Now (Sunnyside)
  • Tony Monaco: Furry Slippers (Summit)

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Weekend Roundup

Tuesday is election day. Six years ago Barack Obama was elected president with 69 million votes -- 52.9% of the 132 million voters (56.8 of the voting-age population, the highest share since 1968) -- and the Democrats swept both houses of Congress, even achieving what was widely touted as a "fillibuster-proof Senate" (not that I can recall them breaking any fillibusters with narrow partisan votes, aside from the ACA health care reform). Almost immediately, right wing talk radio exploded with hatred for Obama and the Democrats, and the Republican members of Congress turned into intransigent and remarkably effective obstructionists.

Meanwhile, Obama quickly pivoted from promising to change Washington to doing whatever he could to salvage the status quo, starting with the banks that had crashed the economy and Bush's military misadventures in the Middle East. Instead of using his congressional majorities, he plead for bipartisan support, often compromising before he even introduced a plan -- as when he sandbagged his own stimulus program by saddling it with ineffective tax cuts, or introduced health care reform and global warming proposals that were originally hatched in right-wing think tanks. He gave the incumbent Republican Federal Reserve chair an extra term, and he kept on the incumbent Republican Secretary of Defense -- and both screwed him in short form. Moreover, like Bill Clinton when he won in 1992, Obama dismantled a successful national Democratic Party leadership and replaced them with cronies who promptly threw the 2010 congressional election.

The 2010 elections rival 1946 as one of the dumbest things the American people ever did. The Republicans took over the House, not only ending any prospect of progressive legislation but constantly threatening to shut down the federal government. Republicans also took over many governorships and state houses, and used those power bases to consolidate their power: by gerrymandering districts, and by passing laws to make it harder to vote. It turns out that the difference between 2008 and 2010 was not just a matter of Republican enthusiasm and Democratic lethargy: it registered as a massive drop in the number of voters, from 132 million to 90 million, from 56.8% of voting-age population to 37.8% (link; note also that the 2006 turnout was only 37.1% and that produced a Democratic landslide, so it's somewhat variable who stays home).

In 2012, when Obama finally took a personal interest in an election, he was again able to get out the vote (albeit still a bit off from 2008 with 130 million, 53.6%). Obama won again, the Democrats increased their share of the Senate, and won a majority of the vote for the House (but not a majority of seats, thanks to all that gerrymandering, so the last two years have seen the same level of obstruction as the previous two). If those trends hold, turnout will be down again this year, and that will give the elite-favoring Republicans an edge: at this point, nobody expects them to lose the House, and most "experts" expect the Republicans to gain control of the Senate. That would be a horrific outcome, which makes you wonder why the Democrats don't seem to be taking it seriously, and more generally why the press doesn't talk about it as anything but a horserace. That trope suggests a race between two more-or-less equals, horses, whereas the actual race is between predator and prey: if the Democrat is a horse, the Republican is more like a lion, or a pack of wolves (or an army of flesh-eating ants). The Republicans don't back off when a Democrat wins a race. They don't socialize, and don't compromise. They keep attacking, figuring that no matter how much damage they do, the public will blame the incumbent.

An old, but not outdated, Crowson cartoon

It's a long story how the Republicans have gotten to be the menace they currently are -- one I can't go into with any hope of posting today. Suffice it to say they've managed to combine three threads:

  • An anti-democratic campaign ethic ranging from Nixon's "dirty tricks" to voter suppression to flooding the airwaves with bile, baldfaced lies, and carefully vetted pet phrases -- anything to seize power.
  • Their single substantial political position is to help the rich grow richer, a position that has hardened even as business has become more predatory -- indeed, their individualist, "greed is good" ideology has hardened into self-destructive dogma.
  • Since anti-populism is an inherently losing strategy in a democracy, they've built a diverse base by cultivating "single issue voters" -- especially ones who can be focused to hate proxy groups (including those so-called "cultural elites," but mostly the non-white, the poor, single women, deviants, peaceniks, policy wonks, anyone who doesn't like guns).

I know that this sounds like a recipe for disaster, and indeed every time the Republicans have tried to put their ideas into practice they have backfired. (Reagan got away relatively free although his S&L deregulation disaster was a harbinger of things to come, and his arming of the mujahideen in Afghanistan still haunts us. But the Bushes plunged us into endless, bankrupting war, and the latter's laissez-faire bank policy wrecked the economy, while Katrina exposed the moral rot caused by Bush's privatization of government services. And right now Kansas is reeling from Gov. Brownback's "experiments" -- they say that "absolute power corrupts absolutely," and the total hammerlock of the RINO-purged ultra-right party in the Sunflower State offers further proof.) Yet much of the country, led by the fawning mainstream media, continues to accord Republicans a measure of respect they've done nothing to earn. For while the Republicans could care less about destroying the social fabric of the nation, they are always careful to honor the rich, their businesses, the military, the nation's self-important legacy, and, of course, almighty God -- their idea of the natural order of things, one no Democrat politician dare challenge. (Indeed, the Democrats' cheerleader-in-chief for those verities has been Barack Obama -- the very man most Republicans insist is the root of all evil.)

When the dust settles the amount of money spent on this election will be staggering, not that many people will move on to the next obvious question: since businessmen always seek profits, what sort of return do the rich expect from their largesse? Thanks to modern technology -- caller ID to screen calls and a DVR to skip through commercials -- we've managed to avoid most of the deluge, but I've managed to catch enough to get a sense of how bad unlimited campaign spending has become. Kansas and Arkansas both have competitive races for Governor and Senator, and in both cases the Republicans, with their sense of entitlement, have pulled out all the stops. However, their commercials are one-note attacks on Obama, as if that's the magic word that boils voters' blood.

That acrimony is hard to fathom: a combination of prejudice and ignorance and, well, gullibility if not downright stupidity. For anyone who's paid the least bit of attention over the last six years, Obama is a very cautious, inherently conservative politician -- one who goes out of his way not to ruffle feathers, least of all of the rich and powerful. Indeed, that makes perfect sense: all his life he's strove to conform to the powers that exist, and he's been so adept at it that he's been richly rewarded for his service. The idea that he's surreptitiously out to destroy the country that so flattered him by making him president is beyond ridiculous, yet judging from their cynical ads, Republicans don't just believe this -- they take it as something so obvious they need merely to repeat it. And that's just one of many cases where the Republicans think they can simply talk their way out of reality.

Some scattered links this week:

  • Dean Baker: Economists Who Saw the Housing Bubble Were Not Worried About a Depression: The article doesn't really explain the title, but the main point is worth repeating:

    It is quite fashionable among Washington elite types to insist that we would have had another depression if we didn't save the Wall Street banks, but do any of them have any idea what they mean by this?

    The first Great Depression was the result of not having enough demand in the economy. We got out of it finally in 1941 by spending lots of money. The motivation for spending lots of money was fighting World War II, but the key point was spending the money. It might have been difficult politically to justify the spending necessary to restore the economy to full employment without the war, but that is a political problem not an economic problem. We do know how to spend money.

    In effect, the pundits who say that we would have had a depression if we did not bail out the banks are saying that our economic policy is so dominated by flat-earth types that we would have to endure a decade or more of double-digit unemployment, with the incredible amount of suffering it would cause, because the flat-earthers would not allow the spending necessary to restore full employment.

    That characterization of our political process could be accurate, but it is important to be clear what is being said. The claim is not that anything about the financial crisis itself would have caused a depression. The claim is rather that Washington economic policy is totally controlled by people without a clue about economics.

    In fact, let's repeat it again. One of the most basic things we know from macroeconomics is that government can restore a depressed economy to full employment by sufficiently increasing spending, and that if the depression is caused by insufficient demand, government spending is the only way that works. We know that this depression is due to insufficient demand because businesses are sitting on cash instead of investing in more capacity, and giving them more money doesn't change a thing. So the only way to bring employment is for government to spend more, and there are several obvious benefits to that. For one thing, investments in infrastructure pay dividends well into the future, and they are never cheaper than during a depression. That's also true of investments in "human capital" -- education, science, engineering, the arts. But even plain transfers are a plus, as they move money from people who have more than they spend to people who need to spend more. One obvious thing to do when the housing bubble burst was to make it possible to refinance mortgages -- it would have helped banks clean up their balance sheets and it would have help people hang onto their homes -- but it wasn't done, for purely political reasons.

    In fact, virtually none of this was done, again for political reasons -- and that mostly means because of Republican obstruction (although in states with Republicans in power, like Kansas, they did considerably worse). Of course, the Democrats weren't too sharp here either. Obama's belief in "the confidence fairy" was so strong that he spent his first two years insisting that the economy was in better shape than it was, foolishly believing that business would believe him (and not their own accountants) and stop deleveraging. By the time he realized that wasn't working: he had missed the opportunity to blame the whole mess on Bush, he had settled for a stimulus bill way too small, he missed the opportunity to unwind the Bush tax cuts for the rich (and therefore found himself in a gaping deficit hole), and then he stupidly bought into the argument that deficit reduction was more important than cutting unemployment. It's easy enough to see why the Republicans didn't mind sandbagging the economy: it weakened labor markets, scarcely touched monopoly profits, reduced government (and the possibility that government might do something for the people), and in the end people would blame Obama anyway. It's harder to understand why Obama inflicted all this misery on himself, his party, and his voters.

    Forty years ago all this was common sense -- so much so that Richard Nixon proclaimed, "We are all Keynesians now." But the US was more of a democracy then, and the economic effects of government were more clearly seen for what they were. Nixon was a Keynesian because he wanted to get reëlected, and that was what worked. With Obama, you have to wonder.

  • Henry Farrell: Big Brother's Liberal Friends: "Sean Wilentz, George Packer and Michael Kinsley are a dismal advertisement for the current state of mainstream liberal thought in America. They have systematically misrepresented and misunderstood Edward Snowden and the NSA." Intellectuals like those three, who spend [at least] as much time trying to separate themselves from the left as they invest in their proclaimed liberalism, are why I felt such contempt for liberals during the Vietnam War (and its broader Cold War context).

    Why do national-security liberals have such a hard time thinking straight about Greenwald, Snowden and the politics of leaks? One reason is sheer laziness. National-security liberals have always defined themselves against their antagonists, and especially their left-wing antagonists. They have seen themselves as the decent Left, willing to deploy American power to make the world a happier place, and fighting the good fight against the knee-jerk anti-Americans.

    This creates a nearly irresistible temptation: to see Greenwald, Snowden and the problems they raise as antique bugbears in modern dress. Wilentz intimates that Greenwald is plotting to create a United Front of anti-imperialist left-wingers, libertarians and isolationist paleoconservatives. Packer depicts Greenwald and Snowden as stalwarts of the old Thoreauvian tradition of sanctimonious absolutism and moral idiocy. Kinsley paints Snowden as a conspiracy-minded dupe and Greenwald as a frustrated Jacobin.

    Yet laziness is only half the problem. A fundamental inability to comprehend Greenwald and Snowden's case, let alone to argue against it, is the other half. National-security liberals have enormous intellectual difficulties understanding the new politics of surveillance, because these politics are undermining the foundations of their worldview.

    I suspect that part of that worldview is a desire to see themselves as part of the security state, something they project as having their own morality, even though there is no evidence of such. This makes them defensive when confronted with an outsider like Greenwald or a turncoat like Snowden. It also makes them gullible to campaigns like the Bush snow job on invading Iraq: their sense of belonging with the state isolates them from adverse consequences to others, even while they justify their acts by pointing to supposed benefits to others (whom I doubt they are actually capable of relating to).

    Another quote:

    Snowden and Greenwald suggest that this project is not only doomed but also corrupt. The burgeoning of the surveillance state in the United States and its allies is leading not to the international spread of liberalism, but rather to its hollowing out in the core Western democracies. Accountability is escaping into a realm of secret decisions and shadowy forms of cross-national cooperation and connivance. As Princeton constitutional scholar Kim Lane Scheppele argues, international law no longer supports national constitutional rights so much as it undermines them. U.S. efforts to promote surveillance are hurting civil liberties at home as well as abroad, as practices more commonly associated with international espionage are redeployed domestically, and as security agencies (pursuing what they perceive as legitimate goals) arbitrage the commingling of domestic and international data to gather information that they should not be entitled to.

  • Thomas Frank: Righteous rage, impotent fury: the last days of Sam Brownback and Pat Roberts: I'm still skeptical that Brownback and Roberts will fall on Tuesday, but he's right that it's close, and that it's notable in a year when so much of the conventional wisdom expects Republican gains. It's worth noting that Brownback and Roberts got to this point by two very different routes, but they're likely to fall for the same reasons. Six years ago Roberts was cruising to an easy third term, and Brownback was up in Iowa campaigning for president. Brownback fizzled embarrassingly, losing the caucuses not just to Mike Huckabee -- his rival for the pious church crowd -- but to everyone else as well. He then decided to burnish his credentials with some executive experience, so he gave up his own safe senate seat in 2010 to run for governor. He won easily, then set out to establish his presidential bona fides by overhauling everything in state government to meet state-of-the-art Republican standards. He was, after all, convinced that his ideology worked, and meant to run not just on theory but on proven success. For starters, he had Kansas hire the memorably named Arthur Laffer to come up with a tax proposal: one that eliminated all state income taxes for "small business" owners, which in Kansas includes billionaires like Charles Koch. Laffer assured us that the taxes would be a "shot of adrenaline" straight into the Kansas economy. The only effect they had was to blow a monster hole in the state budget, which led to cutbacks all across the state, which . . . stalled the economy. With Republicans controlling both houses of the state legislature, Brownback had no trouble getting his "experiments" approved, but in 2012 he didn't like the occasional no vote from the few remaining moderate Republicans, so he arranged a purge of the so-called RINOs -- pushing the legislature even more to the right. Resistance against Brownback has been growing almost since the day he took office. The taxes are just one of dozens of issues Brownback has been offensive on, ranging from fanciful new restrictions against abortion providers to a campaign to exterminate the lesser prairie chicken (before the federal government can declare it an "endangered species" -- some kind of inconvenience to ranchers).

    Roberts, on the other hand, had nothing to fear but fear itself, but being the very definition of chickenshit, when the tea partyfolk started questioning his fanaticism he lurched suddenly to the right, even going so far as to vote against the Agriculture bill most Kansas farming corporations depend on. He barely escaped a primary where he was tagged as "liberal in Washington, rarely in Kansas" (indeed, he had to fire a campaign manager who told the press that Roberts had "gone home to Virginia"). And then when he assumed that he'd have no trouble with whoever the Democrats nominated, he wound up facing a well-to-do independent, Greg Orman, with the Democrat bowing out. Since then, his campaign commercials have never risen above the level of trying to equate Orman with Obama and Harry Reid. Orman's ads also identify Obama and Reid as problems in Washington, but add Mitch McConnell and Pat Roberts to the list. Where Brownback is some sort of true believer in things that clearly don't work, Roberts is a mere poster boy for the usual run of Washington corruption. Neither approach is very popular anywhere, but Kansas offers exceptionally vivid choices.

    What Frank doesn't do is take credit for causing this debacle. His book, What's the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (2004) made a big point about how Republicans took advantage of rank-and-file cultural conservatives, catering to them with election rhetoric then only implementing business favors once elected. Since Frank's book came out, the rank-and-file revolted, and they've pushed their crazy agenda through the legislature -- that's why, for instance, Kansas passed a law to nullify federal gun laws, and another to allow conceal/carry into all government office buildings. Under the old pre-Frank scheme, electing far-right nuts helped the rich get richer but didn't impact many others. Now, everyone's affected, which is one reason for the backlash. Another is the purge, which has rallied hundreds of prominent RINOs to campaign against Brownback.

  • Stephen M Walt: Netanyahu's Not Chickenshit, the White House Is: Israeli pawn/propagandist Jeffrey Goldberg quoted an anonymous White House aid as describing Benjamin Netanyahu as "chickenshit" -- evidently for not attacking Iran like the Israelis promised Goldberg they'd do -- so the Israelis got worked up into a snit fit and demanded apoligies, a diplomatic nicety the US didn't bother to demand a few weeks ago when Naftali Bennett accused John Kerry of anti-semitism. Evidently, Netanyahu has a very prickly sensibility, whereas we all know that Obama is used to sloughing off far worse insults. Walt covers the whole "chickenshit-gate" affair here. I've said a lot of things about Netanyahu, but I'd never call a politician who wields nuclear weapons "chickenshit" -- even if he was, I wouldn't dare taunt him.

    Actually, I doubt that Netanyahu is that thin-skinned. Rather, he saw this as an opportunity to remind his supporters how completely he has Obama under his thumb. When Netanyahu came to power in the wake of Obama's victory, I figured it would be short order before his narrow coalition would fall. All the nudge it would take would be a clear signal from Obama that Netanyahu wasn't someone we could work with, and that decision wouldn't take long. There even were a few hints, but nothing Netanyahu couldn't wiggle out of. After a couple years Obama stopped trying, threw in the towel on settlements, and he's been Netanyahu's bitch ever since. For more, see Gideon Levy: Who's the real chickenshit?.

    The United States' policy can only be described as "abject cowardice." Netanyahu, at least, is acting according to his ideology and belief. Obama is acting against his -- and that's pure cowardice. A captive of internal politics and a victim of the de-legitimization campaign in his country, the president didn't have the guts to overcome those obstacles, follow his world view and bring an end to the occupation. Yes, he could. Israel is totally dependent on America and he is America's president. Instead Obama continued the policy of automatic support for Israel, believing, in vain, that flattery will change its policy.

    Obama was destined to be the game changer in the Middle East. When he was elected, he ignited the hope that he would do that. But he preferred to stay with his cowardice. To grovel before Israel and turn his back on the Palestinians. To talk about peace and support Israel's built-in violence.

    Now, in the winter of his career, he is showing signs of being fed up with all this. He can still change things, but not with insults, only with deeds that shake Israel up. Two years are time enough for an American president to make it clear to Israel that its corrupt banquet is over. But for that we need a president who isn't a chickenshit.

  • Some stupid politics links (from TPM, where it's impossible to find stories more than two days old, but they carry roughly a dozen like these every week):

    Then there is:

Also, a few links for further study:

  • Larry Diamond: Chasing Away the Democracy Blues: It bothers me when pundits get on their high horse about democracy and use that to dismiss states with basic democratic institutions that offend them for some other reason -- usually that they have elected leaders the US doesn't approve of for one reason or another. Diamond, for instance, doesn't think much of Russia, Iran, Turkey, or Venezuela, but he likes Ukraine much better since a coup deposed its last democratically elected president. Of course, I don't like restrictions on free press like we've seen in Russia and Turkey recently, nor restrictions on who can run for office like those practiced in Iran, but few political systems cannot be improved. I'll add that while I agree with Diamond and virtually everyone else that China is not a democracy, my impression is that the Chinese government is more popular and a more effective public servant than the governments of many nominal democracies. Diamond's US-centric list of democracies -- you don't find Hungary mentioned anywhere, but the antidemocratic laws recently passed there aimed at perpetuating the power of a right-wing party look like something ALEC would work up for the Republicans here -- shows widespread decay which a more balanced list might reduce, but the following paragraph raises an interesting point:

    Like many of you who travel widely, I am increasingly alarmed by how pervasive and corrosive is the worldwide perception -- in both autocracies and democracies -- that American democracy has become dysfunctional and is no longer a model worth emulating. Fortunately, there are many possible models, and most American political scientists never recommended that emerging democracies copy our own excessively veto-ridden institutions. Nevertheless the prestige, the desirability, and the momentum of democracy globally are heavily influenced by perceptions of how it is performing in its leading examples. If we do not mobilize institutional reforms and operational innovations to reduce partisan polarization, encourage moderation and compromise, energize executive functioning, and reduce the outsized influence of money and special interests in our own politics, how are we going to be effective in tackling these kinds of challenges abroad?

    Of course, one answer is that maybe we shouldn't -- especially as long as we seem incapable of distinguishing public interests from the parochial private interests and imperial hubris that dominate US foreign policy. Winston Churchill used to quip that democracy was the worst possible form of government, except for all the rest. I've long thought that the key virtue of democracy was that it offers a way to remove leaders like Winston Churchill from power without having to shoot them. Democracy promises stability even where leadership changes, and stability is reason enough to want to see democracy propagated throughout the world. There are, of course, others, like accountability of leaders to subjects, an essential element of justice, which is in turn essential for the mutual trust that every modern society requires.

  • Mark Kleiman: Cannabis Legalization in Oregon: Is Measure 91 Close Enough for Government Work?: I don't get (or care for) all the quibbles, but I am glad to see progress on this front.

  • Corey Robin: Jews, Camps, and the Red Cross: Recent research shows that Israel ran several "detention camps" from 1948 into the 1950s where they kept Palestinians as prisoners and subjected them to the usual concentration camp degradations, including forced labor. I'm not sure if this is news -- Israel has run its gulags as long as I can recall, so 1948 is a plausible starting date. I've long known that Israel's military rule regime ran from 1948-67, when it was dismantled a few months before being reconstituted for the Occupied Territories. I've been reading Shira Robinson's Citizen Strangers: Palestinians and the Birth of Israel's Liberal Settler State, which covers this period fairly well.

  • Juliet Schor: Debating the Sharing Economy: A fairly long survey both of commercial and nonprofit sharing organizations with various pluses and minuses -- something that is analogous to my Share the Wealth project but not clear what I want to do. (I suppose the nonprofits are close to what I have in mind, but my own thoughts are far from developed.) Schor has a series of interesting books, the most recent and relevant True Wealth: How and Why Millions of Americans Are Creating a Time-Rich, Ecologically-Light, Small-Scale, High-Satisfaction Economy (2011), which among other things goes into makerspace technology at great length.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 23933 [23893] rated (+40), 543 [526] unrated (+17).

Back from three weeks on the road. I did manage to file a few blog posts with link comments, but there wasn't much I could do with Music Week, or indeed much to do until I got back. The incoming mail jumped up a level while I was gone. I didn't take any new CDs with me. I did take a Chromebook and listen to Rhapsody and jotted down a few record reviews, but I didn't have a lot of time for that. (I got flak for playing Wadada Leo Smith, so wound up switching to Oscar Peterson, but I wasn't able to sort out the songbooks until I got home.)

I also fell out of the habit of writing tweet-length review lines, and it doesn't seem like it would either be fun or all that useful to try to catch up at this point. I'm due to post a Rhapsody Streamnotes before the end of October, so you'll get the reviews soon enough. I only have about 50 notes in the draft file, so it will likely be the shortest one all year, but those are the breaks.

I'll resume the grade-tweets after this post. One thing on my "todo" list is to update the Music Tracking 2014 file. One thing not on my "todo" list is to organize another Turkey Shoot on Thanksgiving. I wouldn't mind running it if someone else stepped forward (or you could, as Christgau suggested to me, self-publish it on Medium). I am leaning toward doing a metacritic file based on year-end lists (as opposed to previous years when I folded year-long review data in). And I expect there will be a Jazz Critics Poll, but don't have any details yet.

New records rated over the previous three weeks:

  • Jhené Aiko: Souled Out (2014, Def Jam): [r]: B+(*)
  • Kenny Barron/Dave Holland: The Art of Conversation (2014, Blue Note): [r]: B+(***)
  • David Binney: Anacapa (2014, Criss Cross): [r]: B+(*)
  • Samuel Blaser/Paul Motian: Consort in Motion (2010 [2011], Kind of Blue): [r]: B+(***)
  • Buck 65: Neverlove (2014, WEA Canada): [r]: B+(**)
  • Lajos Dudas Trio: Live at Porgy & Bess (2009 [2013], Jazz Sick): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Lajos Dudas Quartet: Live at Salzburger Jazzherbst (2012 [2013], Jazz Sick): [cd]: A-
  • El-P/Killer Mike: Run the Jewels (2013, Fat Beats): [r]: B+(***)
  • El-P/Killer Mike: Run the Jewels 2 (2014, Mass Appeal): [r]: B+(**)
  • Bill Frisell: Guitar in the Space Age (2014, Okeh): [r]: B+(***)
  • David Hazeltine: For All We Know (2014, Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(***)
  • Branford Marsalis: In My Solitude: Live at Grace Cathedral (2012 [2014], Okeh): [r]: B+(**)
  • Angaleena Presley: American Middle Class (2014, Slate Creek): [r]: A-
  • Joshua Redman: Trios Live (2009-13 [2014], Nonesuch): [r]: B+(**)
  • Rafael Rosa: Portrait (2014, self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Spoke: (R)anthems (2013 [2014], River): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Wadada Leo Smith/Bill Laswell: The Stone (Akashic Meditation) (2014, MOD Technologies): [r]: B+(*)
  • Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives: Saturday Night/Sunday Morning (2014, Superlatone, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)
  • Dann Zinn: Shangri La (2014, self-released): [cd]: B

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

  • Jerry Heldman: Revelation(s) (1973-74 [2014], Origin, 2CD): [cd]: B
  • Oscar Peterson: Plays the Harry Warren & Vincent Youmans Song Books (1952-59 [2014], Solar, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Oscar Peterson: Plays the Richard Rodgers Song Book (1954-59 [2014], Solar): [r]: B+(**)
  • Oscar Peterson: Plays the Irving Berlin Song Book (1952-59 [2014], Solar): [r]: B+(***)
  • Oscar Peterson: Plays the Jimmy McHugh Song Book (1954-59 [2014], Solar): [r]: B+(**)
  • Lester Young: Boston, 1950 (1950 [2013], Uptown): [r]: B+(*)

Old records rated this week:

  • Oscar Peterson: The Oscar Peterson Trio at Zardi's (1954 [1994], Pablo/OJC, 2CD): [r]: A-
  • Oscar Peterson: Plays My Fair Lady (1958, Verve): [r]: B+(**)
  • Oscar Peterson: Plays the Harold Arlen Song Book (1954-59 [2001], Verve): [r]: B+(**)
  • Oscar Peterson: Plays the Cole Porter Song Book (1959 [1990], Verve): [r]: B+(***)
  • Oscar Peterson: Plays the George Gershwin Song Book (1952-59 [1996], Verve): [r]: B+(***)
  • Oscar Peterson: Plays the Duke Ellington Song Book (1952-59 [1999], Verve): [r]: B+(***)
  • Oscar Peterson: A Jazz Portrait of Frank Sinatra (1959 [1990], Verve): [r]: B+(***)
  • Oscar Peterson: Fiorello (1960, Verve): [r]: B+(*)
  • Oscar Peterson Trio: West Side Story (1962, Verve): [r]: B
  • Oscar Peterson: The Jazz Soul of Oscar Peterson/Affinity (1959-62 [1996], Verve): [r]: B+(**)
  • Richmond Fontaine: Winnemucca (2002, El Cortez): [r]: B+(***)

Grade changes:

  • Oscar Peterson: Plays the Jerome Kern Songbook (1959 [2009], Verve): [was: B+(**)] B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last three weeks:

  • Greg Abate Quartet: Motif (Whaling City Sound)
  • Allison Au Quartet: The Sky Was Pale Blue, Then Grey (self-released)
  • David Borbo & Paul Pellegrin: Kronomorfic Entangled (Origin)
  • Nels Cline & Julian Lage: Room (Mack Avenue): advance, November 25
  • Freddy Cole: Singing the Blues (High Note)
  • Kevin Conlon/The Groove Rebellion: In Transit (Blujazz)
  • Michael Denhoff/Uli Phillipp/Jörg Fischer: Trio Improvisations for Campanula, Bass and Percussion (Sporeprint)
  • Expansions: The Dave Liebman Group: Samsara (Whaling City Sound)
  • Jean Luc Fillon: Oboman Plays Cole Porter: Begin the Night . . . (Soupir Editions)
  • Brad Goode Quartet: Montezuma (Origin)
  • Jonathan Kreisberg: Wave Upon Wave (New for Now Music)
  • Thomas Marriott: Urban Folklore (Origin)
  • Delfeayo Marsalis: The Last Southern Gentlemen (Troubadour Jass)
  • Sam Newsome: The Straight Horn of Africa: A Path to Liberation [The Art of the Soprano, Vol. 2] (self-released)
  • Clarence Penn & Penn Station: Monk: The Lost Files (Origin)
  • Rex Richardson & Steve Wilson: Blue Shift (Summit)
  • Boris Savoldelli/Garrison Fewell: Electric Bat Conspiracy (Creative Nation Music)
  • Ryan Schultz Quintet: Hair Dryers (Origin)
  • Pat Senatore Trio: Ascensione (Fresh Sound)
  • Judy Silvano with Michael Abene: My Dance (JSL): January 6
  • Tyshawn Sorey: Alloy (Pi)
  • The Spin Quartet: In Circles (Origin)
  • Lyn Stanley: Potions (A.T. Music)
  • Brian Swartz & the Gnu Sextet: Portraiture (Summit)
  • Natsuki Tamura/Alexander Frangenheim: Max (Creative Sources)
  • Touch and Go Sextet: Live at the Novara Jazz Festival (Nine Winds)
  • Marlene VerPlanck: I Give Up, I'm in Love (Audiophile)
  • Walter White: Most Triumphant (Summit)
  • Jason Yeager Trio: Affirmation (Inner Circle Music)
  • Peter Zak Trio: The Disciple (Steeplechase)
  • Miguel Zenón: Identities Are Changeable (Miel Music): November 4

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Oscar Peterson: Plays the Harry Warren & Vincent Youmans Songbooks (1952-54 [2011], Solar, 2CD): B+(***) [rhapsody]
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of the Sahara [Second Edition] (1980-2013 [2014], World Music Network, 2CD): B+(***)/B+(**) [rhapsody]

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Weekend Roundup

Having jotted down one or two of these on the road, I figured on doing a Sunday links column, followed by a Monday music column, just like normal times. Didn't work out that way, but thanks to the magic of back-dating my tardiness will eventually be forgotten.

  • Alex Henderson: Rise of the American police state: 9 disgraceful events that paved the way: Let's just list 'em:

    1. Ronald Reagan Escalates the War on Drugs
    2. Rodney King Beating of 1991
    3. 9/11 Terrorist Attacks
    4. Waterboarding and Torture at Guantánamo Bay Naval Base
    5. Growth and Expansion of Asset Forfeiture Laws
    6. National Defense Authorization Act and Erosion of Habeas Corpus
    7. Department of Homeland Security Promoting Militarization of Local Police Departments
    8. Growth of the Prison/Industrial Complex
    9. NYPD Assault on Occupy Wall Street

    Note that nothing facilitates the creation of a police state like war -- even pretend-wars like the one on drugs, but see how the pace picks up with 2001?

  • Paul Krugman: The Invisible Moderate: A more accurate assessment of Obama than the one Krugman put forth in his Rolling Stone puff piece:

    I actually agree with a lot of what David Brooks says today. But -- you know there has to be a "but" -- so does a guy named Barack Obama. Which brings me to one of the enduringly weird aspects of our current pundit discourse: constant calls for a moderate, sensible path that supposedly lies between the extremes of the two parties, but is in fact exactly what Obama has been proposing. [ . . . ]

    Well, the Obama administration would love to spend more on infrastructure; the problem is that a major spending bill has no chance of passing the House. And that's not a problem of "both parties" -- it's the GOP blocking it. Exactly how many Republicans would be willing to engage in deficit spending to expand bus networks? (Remember, these are the people who consider making rental bicycles available an example of "totalitarian" rule.) [ . . . ]

    It's an amazing thing: Obama is essentially what we used to call a liberal Republican, who faces implacable opposition from a very hard right. But Obama's moderation is hidden in plain sight, apparently invisible to the commentariat.

    Actually, when I think of Obama as a "liberal Republican" I flash back to an earlier Illinois senator, Charles Percy, who was better on foreign policy and no worse on economics or civil rights than Obama. But Obama doesn't have the luxury of being a liberal Republican, or for that matter a centrist Democrat. Today's Republicans allow no such luxury, nor do today's problems. As far back as 1998, Jim Hightower warned: "there's nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos." Today there's just more roadkill.

    By the way, Krugman's too kind to Brooks, whom he quotes as saying, "the government should reduce its generosity to people who are not working but increase its support for people who are. That means reducing health benefits for the affluent elderly . . ." You may wonder why the party of the rich proposes adding means tests to Medicare. It's because they don't want anyone to think they have a right to medical care.

  • Seth McElwee: Why Turning Out the Vote Makes a Huge Difference in Four Charts: The charts show that non-voters are consistently more liberal than voters, which reinforces the by-now-conventional view that Democrats win when then can get the vote out, while the key for Republican gains is voter suppression. This doesn't go into the question of why non-voters don't vote, even though voting is one of the few ways they have to advance their own interests. Clearly one reason is that the economic costs of voting (which include things like the time it takes to vote) are high enough to suppress turnout. Another likely reason is widespread cynicism about politicians -- especially about Democrats, who appeal for public support on election day but more often than not spend the rest of their time triangulating between interest group lobbies, raising money that they often see as more valuable in securing reëlection than any work they do to benefit their constituents.

    When voter turnout is discussed in public it is often treated as a civic obligation, rather than a means to advance individual interests. Republican candidates often denounce low-income voters for voting for the party that best advances their class interests (while at the same time supporting massive tax cuts for their rich constituents). Yet when Benjamin Page interview the rich he finds that they, "acknowledged a focus on fairly narrow economic self-interest" when discussing their engagement in the political process. In this way, the recent Lil' Jon video, "Turnout For What," while tacky, has reframed the voting as a means to forward political interests, rather than as a civic obligation. Since some 41 percent of non-voters claim that their vote wouldn't matter, this message is important. It's also important to remove barriers to voting. Research by Jame Avery and Mark Peffley finds, "states with restrictive voter registration laws are much more likely to be biased toward upper-class turnout." In contrast, states that have adopted same-day registration and vigorously enforced the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) have lower levels of class bias in their electorate. Research also suggests that unions are an important mechanism for low and middle income voters to engage with the political process. Attempts to disempower than should also be viewed through the lens of voter suppression.

    Indeed, Republican opposition to unions seems to have more to do with reducing their political effectiveness than as a favor to the rich. Since their blip in 2010, when Obama voters took a nap, Republicans have seized the opportunity to do as much as they could to suppress voting (as well as to distort it through the infusion of extraordinary sums of money). I expect this to produce some kind of backlash -- the message for those who bother to pay attention is that your vote must be worth something, otherwise why would they be so eager to take it away? -- but thus far the clearest message is how shameless Republicans have become about their desire to exclude a really large segment of the American people. For more on voter suppression efforts, see Jeffrey Toobin: Freedom Summer, 2015 (and from 2012, Jane Mayer: The Voter-Fraud Myth).

  • Paul Woodward: Terrorism exists in the eye of the beholder: I was in Arkansas Tuesday [October 22], when a soldier on duty at a "war memorial" in Ottawa [Canada] was shot by a lone gunman, presumably the person shot and killed later that day in Canada's Parliament building. The TV was tuned into CNN, where they spent the entire day blabbing on and on based on scant information and fervid imagination. The shooter was later identified as Michael Zehaf-Bibeau.

    In 2012 there were seven murders in Ottawa (population close to a million), 2013 nine murders, and so far in 2014 there have been five (including yesterday's).

    The overwhelming majority of the crazy men running round shooting innocent people are on this side of the border. What makes them dangerous is much less the ideas in their heads than the ease with which they can lay their hands on a gun.

    It's often hard to be clear about what should be described as terrorism. What's much easier to discern is hysteria.

    By the way, Zehaf-Bibeau's gun was evidently a Winchester Model 94 lever-action rifle, a design that dates back to 1894 and is limited to eight rounds, which have to be individually loaded -- a very inefficient choice for a "shooting rampage."

    Then on Friday [October 24], a high school student in suburban Seattle went on his own shooting rampage, killing two and injuring three more before shooting himself. I missed CNN's wall-to-wall coverage (assuming that's what they did), but it's safe to guess that the talking heads spent much less time speculating on the shooter's ties to ISIS. For one thing, shooting each other is just something Americans do.

  • I don't have time to dig through Israel's recent garbage, but if you do here are some typical links from Mondoweiss:

Also, a few links for further study:

  • Tom Engelhardt: Entering the Intelligence Labyrinth: An introduction, or precis, of Engelhardt's new book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (paperback, Haymarket Books). It bears repeating that the US annually spends $68 billion on 17 major "intelligence" agencies -- sorry for the quotes but it's hard to think of them without choking on that word -- that do, well, what exactly? Sorry, that's a secret, but thanks to the occasional leak or boast we do know a wee bit:

    You build them glorious headquarters. You create a global surveillance state for the ages. You listen in on your citizenry and gather their communications in staggering quantities. Your employees even morph into avatars and enter video-game landscapes, lest any Americans betray a penchant for evil deeds while in entertainment mode. You collect information on visits to porn sites just in case, one day, blackmail might be useful. You pass around naked photos of them just for . . . well, the salacious hell of it. Your employees even use aspects of the system you've created to stalk former lovers and, within your arcane world, that act of "spycraft" gains its own name: LOVEINT.

    You listen in on foreign leaders and politicians across the planet. You bring on board hundreds of thousands of crony corporate employees, creating the sinews of an intelligence-corporate complex of the first order. You break into the "backdoors" of the data centers of major Internet outfits to collect user accounts. You create new outfits within outfits, including an ever-expanding secret military and intelligence crew embedded inside the military itself (and not counted among those 17 agencies). Your leaders lie to Congress and the American people without, as far as we can tell, a flicker of self-doubt. Your acts are subject to secret courts, which only hear your versions of events and regularly rubberstamp them -- and whose judgments and substantial body of lawmaking are far too secret for Americans to know about.

    You have put extraordinary effort into ensuring that information about your world and the millions of documents you produce doesn't make it into our world. You even have the legal ability to gag American organizations and citizens who might speak out on subjects that would displease you (and they can't say that their mouths have been shut). You undoubtedly spy on Congress. You hack into congressional computer systems. And if whistleblowers inside your world try to tell the American public anything unauthorized about what you're doing, you prosecute them under the Espionage Act, as if they were spies for a foreign power (which, in a sense, they are, since you treat the American people as if they were a foreign population). You do everything to wreck their lives and -- should one escape your grasp -- you hunt him implacably to the ends of the Earth.

    As for your top officials, when their moment is past, the revolving door is theirs to spin through into a lucrative mirror life in the intelligence-corporate complex. [ . . . ]

    Keep in mind that the twenty-first-century version of intelligence began amid a catastrophic failure: much crucial information about the 9/11 hijackers and hijackings was ignored or simply lost in the labyrinth. That failure, of course, led to one of the great intelligence expansions, or even explosions, in history. (And mind you, no figure in authority in the national security world was axed, demoted, or penalized in any way for 9/11 and a number of them were later given awards and promoted.) However they may fail, when it comes to their budgets, their power, their reach, their secrecy, their careers, and their staying power, they have succeeded impressively.

    Speaking of secrets, also see: Nick Turse: Uncovering the Military's Secret Military (back from 2011, more relevant than ever):

    In 120 countries across the globe, troops from Special Operations Command carry out their secret war of high-profile assassinations, low-level targeted killings, capture/kidnap operations, kick-down-the-door night raids, joint operations with foreign forces, and training missions with indigenous partners as part of a shadowy conflict unknown to most Americans. Once "special" for being small, lean, outsider outfits, today they are special for their power, access, influence, and aura.

    That aura now benefits from a well-honed public relations campaign which helps them project a superhuman image at home and abroad, even while many of their actual activities remain in the ever-widening shadows. Typical of the vision they are pushing was this statement from Admiral Olson: "I am convinced that the forces . . . are the most culturally attuned partners, the most lethal hunter-killers, and most responsive, agile, innovative, and efficiently effective advisors, trainers, problem-solvers, and warriors that any nation has to offer."

    I suspect that the main target of that propaganda campaign is the president, to drive home the point that "special forces" are a no-risk, high-return, small scale option for any problem that can be solved simply (with a bullet, that is).

  • Rory Fanning: Why Do We Keep Thanking the Troops?: I can't be the only person who finds the constant adulation given to the "troops" of the US military downright disgusting, but it sure is hard to find anyone saying so in print. America has always cultivated hypocrisy, and those in my generation suffered through more than usual dose. We noted the beginnings of a cult of the troops in the Vietnam War, where failure on the battlefield was ever-more-generously decorated with medals, but memory was too close to WWII to get carried away: WWII was an intense, all-encompassing collective effort; with so few uninvolved it would have seemed silly to declare everyone a hero (although as memory dimmed that eventually happened with the "greatest generation" hype). The obvious excuse for putting troops on a pedestal today is that so few people sign up (and many of them are tricked into thinking it's some sort of jobs program). Still, this idolatry obscures one of the fundamental political questions of our time: do the sacrifices of US troops do any good for the vast majority of Americans who are otherwise uninvolved? The answer, I'm certain, is no. If all the US had done after 9/11/2001 was to put out a few Interpol warrants, I doubt that even the tiny number of "terrorist attacks" we've seen since would have happened. Had we practiced policies in the Middle East favoring democracy and basic human rights for all but eschewing intervention and arms sales we probably would have missed out on 9/11 (and both Gulf Wars). Sure, the troops had no real say in the decision to squander their lives in a vain attempt to buttress the Neocon ego, but I'm not so sure they shouldn't shoulder some of the blame. Back in the Vietnam War days there was a popular saying: "suppose they gave a war and nobody came." We were under no illusion that most of those who "came" for the war then were compelled to do so. I can understand, and even sympathize, how one might succumb to the force of the state -- I did, after all, feel that force -- but for me that made those who resisted, either by going to jail or avoiding that fate, were the era's real heroes; nothing one could do in battle came close. Since the draft ended, the choice to deny the war machine its bodies is less fraught, and indeed most people choose that path. So today's troops range from malevolent to the merely misinformed, but they all help to enable a set of policies that ultimately do massive harm to the nation and its people. And often, of course, they do great harm to themselves, adding to the public costs of war. (Aside from the dead and maimed, Fanning mentions that "there is a veteran suicide every 80 minutes in this country," nor does the PTSD stop there.) Of course, there are more nuances to the whole phenomenon, but at root is a common misconception that those who "served" did something to protect the rest of us, something that we all should be grateful for. That simply did not happen. That they sacrificed for something we should regret and be embarrassed by, well, that's more to the point. Only once we recognize that can we get past the charades, and that will be better for all of us.

  • David Bromwich: American Exceptionalism and Its Discontents: Speaking of hypocrisies, here's the hoary mother lode, the notion that we're so special the world wouldn't know what to do without our enlightened guidance. Needless to say, the tone has changed over time. Once America was unique in declaring that "all men are created equal"; today our self-esteem is the very celebration of inequality.

  • David Gerald Finchman: The hidden documents that reveal the true borders of Israel and Palestine: In 1947 David Ben Gurion begged the UN to vote in favor of partition borders for Palestine which would give 55% of the mandate to a majority-Jewish nation that represented only 35% of the total population, and 45% to an almost exclusively Arabic-speaking nation. In 1948 Israel's Declaration of Independence proclaimed a Jewish State but said nothing about borders. This unwillingness to define borders has kept Israel in a state of war ever since, with Israel grabbing another 23% of the Mandate's territory during the 1947-49 war, and the remaining 22% in 1967 (plus chunks of Egypt and Syria). This piece looks into the decision-making process from UN-borders to no-borders. A longer version is available here.

  • Karen Greenberg: Will the US Go to "War" Against Ebola? It's telling that Obama's initial response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa was to send in the US military. That made some sense inasmuch as AFRICOM has money to burn and some expertise in logistics, but it also imposes a rigid worldview and introduces a dangerous level of intimidation. The one thing Ebola does have in common with Terrorism is an exaggerated level of hysteria, but that seems of a piece with the media's highly orchestrated kneejerk reactions. I'm reminded of the anthrax scare of 2001, which would have soon gone freaking insane had the perpetrator not had the good sense to stop. Greenberg points out many ways Ebola differs from the Terrorism model.

  • Louis Menand: Crooner in Rights Spat: A useful review of copyright matters:

    Baldwin joins Saint-Amour, the law professors Lawrence Lessig, Jeanne Fromer, and Robert Spoo, and the copyright lawyer William Patry in believing that, Internet or no Internet, the present level of copyright protection is excessive. By the time most works fall into the public domain, they have lost virtually all their use value. If the public domain is filled with items like hundred-year-old images of the back of Rod Stewart's head, the public good will suffer. The commons will become your great-grandparents' attic.

    As it is, few creations outlive their creators. Of the 187,280 books published between 1927 and 1946, only 2.3 per cent were still in print in 2002. But, since there is no "use it or lose it" provision in copyright law, they are all still under copyright today. Patry, in his recent book, "How to Fix Copyright," notes that ninety-five per cent of Motown recordings are no longer available. Nevertheless, you can't cover or imitate or even sample them without paying a licensing fee -- despite the fact that your work is not competing in the marketplace with the original, since the original is no longer for sale.

  • Katha Pollitt: How Pro-Choicers Can Take Back the Moral High Ground: An excerpt from Pollitt's new book, Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights.

    A man's home is his castle, but a woman's body has never been wholly her own. Historically, it's belonged to her nation, her community, her father, her family, her husband -- in 1973, when Roe was decided, marital rape was legal in every state. Why shouldn't her body belong to a fertilized egg as well? And if that egg has a right to live and grow in her body, why shouldn't she be held legally responsible for its fate and be forced to have a cesarean if her doctor thinks it's best, or be charged with a crime if she uses illegal drugs and delivers a stillborn or sick baby? Incidents like these have been happening all over the country for some time now. Denying women the right to end a pregnancy is the flip side of punishing women for their conduct during pregnancy -- and even if not punishing, monitoring. In the spring of 2014, a law was proposed in the Kansas Legislature that would require doctors to report every miscarriage, no matter how early in the pregnancy. You would almost think the people who have always opposed women's independence and full participation in society were still at it. They can't push women all the way back, but they can use women's bodies to keep them under surveillance and control.

  • Peter Van Buren: Seven Bad Endings to the New War in the Middle East: I know what you're saying: "only seven?" Van Buren doesn't get to the political effects of continuing the War on Terrorism -- of continuing to fund the surveillance state, of the increasing militarization of police departments, of the circumvention of the justice system, of how public funds are being drained as remote and preventable problems are prioritized over real and immediate ones by a political establishment deeply in hock to the security phantom.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

When I'm Sixty-Four

When I was sixteen I probably knew every lyric to every Beatles song extant, so it wasn't hard to recall at least the refrain of the jaunty little title tune on my 64th birthday. "Will you still need me? Will you still feed me?" Back then I wouldn't have had a clue who "you" might be, but I never worried about food: my mother's theme song should have been Cab Calloway's "Everybody Eats When They Come to My House" -- a house I also didn't have a clue how to escape. I celebrated my 16th birthday a couple months late by dropping out of high school. I stayed home a couple days after Christmas when a cousin was visiting. I went back the next day and was so sickened I never returned.

For the next five years I basically hid out in my attic room. I skewed my hours to minimize contact with my parents and siblings, going to sleep minutes before my father got up for work, waking mid-afternoon just in time to watch Dark Shadows and Star Trek reruns. I had a tiny black-and-white TV that ran out of stations shortly after midnight, a tinny stereo with not much more than a dozen LPs, a typewriter, and a growing collection of books and periodicals -- what I spent nearly all of my $10/week allowance on. Evenings I could take the family car out, mostly downtown to bookstores and the library. I was only at ease when surrounded by books, and while my own life was locked down reading made me aware of other worlds and other possibilities.

As I was traveling last week, it occurred to me that there are two types of people in America today: those who can mentally put themselves in other people's predicaments and empathize, and those who can't (or just don't). What triggered this thought was a depression-era story about Uncle Ted: he had heard vigilante threats against a destitute family that had been stealing, so he picked them up and drove them to another county where they had kinfolk; he explained later to his family that he could imagine being so hungry that he might resort to stealing too. Whenever I heard this story, I first think of my harsh experience with thieves, but having known Ted and something of his life and history I wind up recognizing that this story is more complex and nuanced than my own narrow experience knows.

Of course, the point was reinforced many times as I watched political commercials last week. The "two types" don't precisely split along party lines. Indeed, Democrats can appeal to a majority along self-interest lines -- and do so effectively when they point out how Republicans like Tom Cotton (their Senate hopeful in Arkansas) are out to undermine and even dismantle Social Security and Medicare -- but the Republican appeals almost invariably depend on drawing lines between the voters they court and everyone else (all those people outside their identity group, most obsessively president Obama).

Of course, I didn't get to the ability to empathize with others very early. As a child I was exceptionally selfish and greedy, and as an adolescent I withdrew from my social network even before I physically isolated myself. Therefore, much of my early reading focused on my own experiences: education, psychology, religion. One most influential book on the former was Charles Weingartner/Neil Postman's Teaching as a Subversive Activity. Their main argument was that the most valuable thing schooling could do was to encourage students to develop their own finely tuned "bullshit detectors." Needless to say, school as I had known it was strongly focused on rote learning -- including the stock moralism of the day. But there was no shortage of bullshit in the late 1960s, so detection soon became easy. I was soon reexamining every assumption I had been brought up to believe. I had an earlier interest in mainstream politics, so my move to the New Left had conventional framing (except that my ancestral reference system was rooted deeper in Populism and Republican Progressivism than in New Deal/Great Society Liberalism).

As I thought more critically, I came to realize that what gets called madness is often just social nonconformity -- something I had developed a literary and artistic taste for. As for my personal dysfunction, I was much taken with Gregory Bateson's "double-bind theory of schizophrenia": I could see how impossible it was to satisfy all the contradictory moral authorities of my youth. That insight turned my personality problem into a matter of logic, something that reason, and therefore I, could sort out.

Not that it was so simple. I had to force myself to socialize. In 1970 I got a GED and enrolled in Wichita State University. A year later I had 59 units of straight-A credit and a scholarship to transfer to Washington University (St. Louis). Two years later I got my first job, was finally able to support myself, and had had a couple of sexual relationships. A couple years later I moved to New York and soon moved in with my first wife. After she died several years later, I found another relationship, and we've been together for more than twenty-five years now.

And now I'm sixty-four -- a milestone monumental enough to inspire a pop song forty-eight years ago, but today it mostly means that I have one more year to suffer through Obamacare (and, sure, be thankful for that) before Medicare kicks in, eliminating one of the great worries of my de facto retirement. Fifteen years ago I used to joke on my "career assessment forms" that my "career goal" was retirement -- one of many times I've crossed some unstated but expected line of conformity -- but I'm more or less there now. My father retired from his factory job as soon as he could afford to, and thereby got a few good years before a stroke pinned him down. For him, as for most people fortunate enough to be able to afford it, retirement was freedom. I've enjoyed that same freedom since SCO let me go in 2000. But while my work ethic hasn't much flagged, I've become increasingly uncomfortable with my lack of accomplishment (what in engineering we call "deliverables").

My recent travels gave me some time to think about this. I spent, for instance, some time with the same cousin I played hooky to see when I was sixteen. We reminisced, but also she poked some holes in my inequality book outline, making me realize how difficult it's going to be to craft arguments that are almost too obvious to me. I believe that inequality is the core political issue of our time, but not so much to balance everyone's supply of stuff as because it profoundly corrupts our sense of justice, and losing the sense that the political order is ultimately just unravels the whole social fabric. Indeed, it may be that stuff is the wrong way to account for inequality. My working title, Share the Wealth (from Huey Long), could just as well be Share the Freedom -- assuming, as I've concluded, that it takes a certain level of wealth to be free, although it's not clear that more wealth makes one more free (although it has been shown that excess wealth doesn't make one happier).

Better developed is an outline for an essay on Israel, something I talked to several people about. The first two sections would explore the only issues of importance to understanding why Israel's leaders have acted for the better part of a century. The first concerns colonial settler demography: the only places where settlers have retained power are places where the population mix tilted decisely in favor of the settlers (the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Argentina) while everywhere settlers remained in the minority power has reverted to the majority (most relevantly in South Africa and Algeria). Israel is in between -- secure enough within its 1967 borders but far less so with the Occupied Territories.

The second issue -- perhaps the first chronologically in that it concerns the initial founding of the Zionist movement, but I think it makes more sense to treat it second -- is the dependent dialectic between Zionism and anti-semitism, how it has played out over history, and how it has been twisted around in Israeli self-consciousness. As anti-semitism has waned in the West this link can be questioned, but it is deeply held within Israel, and that has many ramifications that have to be understood. (Israel's obsession with security, for instance, has as much to do with imagined enemies as with real ones.)

The third part would review all significant "peace" proposals since the Peel Commission (or maybe the Balfour Declaration) and pick apart why they have failed -- almost invariably because Israelis have been unable (or unwilling) to reconcile their colonial project with emerging standards of international law on human rights, and lately because Israelis have been able to exploit the archaic rightward turn in US foreign policy. In the past I've written up my pet ideas about how the conflict could be resolved, and some of those ideas may return in an epilogue but my experience is that few people care for my ideas as long as they can hope for something more advantageous.

The other book-like project that came up here and there is the idea of writing a memoir: basically a huge expansion of this post, although I also see it as an occasion to write a personalized history of the era from October 1950 -- a point just before the Chinese entered and turned the tide in the Korean War -- to the present: a long history of imperial decline, with most of the rot on the moral side. (It isn't exactly irony that the US empire expanded as long as we were plausibly anti-imperialist, then declined once we started believing in our destiny. It's just hubris.)

A memoir would also let me look back at where my family came from, how they represented America, and what has happened to more than just me. I could work in some of the stories we batted around on the Arkansas leg of my trip. One of the political ads I saw last week lamented that Arkansas was 48th of 50 states in job creation, but I know good and well that's an old story: seven of my mother's cohort of eight siblings left Arkansas in the 1930s looking for work elsewhere. (Three came to Kansas.) Their stories are interesting, and while I'll never know enough to do them justice, I'd like to know more, and use that as some sort of context. As odd as I grew up, I came from remarkably average roots, and maybe there's some hope in that.

I meant this to come out on my birthday, but events didn't let it work out that way. I was touched by all the good wishes on Facebook, but it was hardly a "great day" -- don't care to go into details, but it slipped out of hand. And the resulting post is rather "stream of consciousness" as I flit from one topic to another.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Weekend Roundup

Links for further study:

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links this week:

  • Thomas B Edsall: The State-by-State Revival of the Right: Points out that Republicans have "complete control" (governors and state legislatures) in 23 states, "more than at any time since Dwight D. Eisenhower won the presidency in 1952." Also that "they are exercising their power to gain partisan advantage far more aggressively than their Democratic counterparts."

    The most visible effort is the drive to gut public sector unions, a key source of votes and financial support for Democrats. Wisconsin, under Republican Governor Scott Walker, has led the charge on this front. With support from the Koch brothers, the state has severely restricted collective bargaining rights for public employees, ended mandatory union dues and limited wage hikes to the rate of inflation.

    Both supporters and opponents of Walker's initiative realized that this was a key battleground -- pathbreaking, in fact -- hence the rallies, the recall and so on.

    Many Republican-controlled states have weakened or eliminated laws and regulations protecting the environment. In North Carolina the state legislature cut the budgets of regulators and prohibited local governments from enacting strict pro-environmental rules. The state chapter of the League of Conservation Voters has rated members of the legislature every year since 1999. Between 1999 and 2012, the group issued North Carolina a total of 48 scores of zero. In 2013 alone, 82 North Carolina Republicans got zeros. [ . . . ]

    Democrats today convey only minimal awareness of what they are up against: an adversary that views politics as a struggle to the death. The Republican Party has demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice principle, including its historical commitments to civil rights and conservation; to bend campaign finance law to the breaking point; to abandon the interests of workers on the factory floor; and to undermine progressive tax policy -- in a scorched-earth strategy to postpone the day of demographic reckoning.

    One key point here is that this does not represent a turn in public opinion toward the right. The Democratic Party collapsed in 2010 because Obama gutted the successful national organization that Howard Dean had built, then muddled all the key issues, many by thinking that bipartisan approaches would be superior to partisan ones -- clearly a mistake the Republicans didn't make.

  • Paul Krugman: In Defense of Obama: If some pollster came along and asked me the standard question of whether I approve or disapprove of the job Obama has done as president, I'd have to answer "disapprove." I'm not unaware of, or unappreciative of, some positive accomplishments under Obama. And I wouldn't withhold my approval just because I thought Obama could have done more and better than he did. On the other hand, I can't give him credit merely for not being as bad as any Republican -- especially John McCain and Mitt Romney -- one might vote for a "lesser evil," but that is no reason to approve of one. Nor should one go to the lengths of creating strawman arguments like Krugman does here:

    There's a different story on the left, where you now find a significant number of critics decrying Obama as, to quote Cornel West, someone who "posed as a progressive and turned out to be counterfeit." They're outraged that Wall Street hasn't been punished, that income inequality remains so high, that "neoliberal" economic policies are still in place. All of this seems to rest on the belief that if only Obama had put his eloquence behind a radical economic agenda, he could somehow have gotten that agenda past all the political barriers that have constrained even his much more modest efforts. It's hard to take such claims seriously.

    That's hardly the only critique of Obama from the left, but it shouldn't be dismissed so cavalierly. One reason Obama failed to implement much of the "change" he campaigned on in 2008 was that he stopped talking about the need for such change as soon as he was elected. By backpedaling he not only gave up on success, he let the issues vanish from public discussion -- creating a vacuum that all the Tea Party nonsense quickly filled. Maybe we expected more from Obama than he was ever willing to deliver, but the ease with which he moved from critic of the status quo to defender should have been alarming. What alarmed me more than anything was how readily he dismantled the very successful Democratic Party organization that Howard Dean had built -- giving credence to David Frum's quip that where the Republican Party fears its base, the Democratic Party despises its core constituency. Time and again the people who paid the price for Obama's retreats were the people who voted for him, whose trust he squandered, whose interests he sold out.

    I pretty much accept Krugman's arguments for Obama's health care and finance reform programs, and for various other details -- the value of the stimulus, of higher tax rates on the rich, of more aggressive environmental regulation, etc. Where I disagree most strongly is on foreign policy, where Obama has failed to break decisively with neocon orthodoxy on everything from Israel to Russia to Iran to Iraq. That is -- what else can he do? -- the point where Krugman resorts to the argument that Obama isn't as bad as McCain. That strikes me as wishful thinking, inasmuch as Obama has wound up doing exactly what McCain wants.

  • Rick Perlstein: The Long Con: Written in 2012, hence the introduction on "Mittdacity," but the background info on the long association between Republican propaganda and mail order scams and other cons is as apposite as ever.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Midweek Update

OK, this is an on-the-road experiment: instead of collecting a week's (or half-week's) links and comments, then posting the final result, I'll try it bit-by-bit (with a delayed posting date):

  • Peter Beinart: Without a two-state solution, Americans will challenge Zionism itself: Behind their paywall, but the basic argument is that American liberals have tended to support Israel because they like the appeal of Israel as a liberal democracy (like us) -- and the only thing holding up the long-promised "two-state solution" is Palestinian intransigence. However, that is in fact wrong -- pretty much categorically so, as should be clear to anyone who listens to what Netanyahu and his cohort say. If, in the end, all the "Jewish state" has to justify itself with is an ethnocracy empowered by gratuitous violence -- i.e., about the only plausible explanation of Netanyahu's tantrum this summer -- few Americans (neocon militarists and Apocalypse-minded Christians) will be willing to continue supporting Israel. That strikes me as fair, even if a bit removed from the jingoism still dominant in US political discourse.

    This dawning of reality would be taken as good news by most critical thinkers, but Beinart remains committed to the Zionist idea that Israel's existence is a good thing for Jews not only in Israel (where they are, in Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar's phrase, "lords of the land") but also in the Diaspora. A more accurate analysis would show that Zionism is intrinsically hostile to the Diaspora, no matter how conveniently Zionists suck up to generous (albeit misguided) foreign donors.

    I still believe the best answer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a democratic Jewish state alongside a democratic Palestinian one. I believe that because, in a post-Holocaust world, I want there to be one country that has as its mission statement the protection of Jewish life. And I believe it because among both Palestinians and Israeli Jews, nationalism remains a massively powerful force. To assume each community could subordinate its deep-seeded nationalism to a newfound loyalty to secular state strikes me as utopian. Secular binationalism barely works in Belgium. Between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea it's probably a recipe for civil war.

    But this requires arguing that Israel/Palestine is, at least right now, fundamentally different than the United States. It requires defending Zionism as something alien to the American experience, something necessary because in Israel/Palestine, the civic nationalism we revere here is neither possible nor desirable. That's very different than arguing that the United States should support Israel because it's America's Middle Eastern twin.

    But if you take the "twin" aspect away, it's hard to see many Americans caring about Jewish nationalism, especially since the anti-semitism that Israel is supposedly the solution to is hardly evident -- nor is it clear that Israel's "solution" really works.

  • Paul Krugman: Why Weren't the Alarm Bells Ringing?: Review of Martin Wolf's The Shifts and the Shocks: What We've Learned -- and Have Still to Learn -- from the Financial Crisis, which explains the 2008 financial meltdown and ensuing depression using the now-standard Minsky model: that prolonged economic stability leads to financial laxness, excessive leverage, and collapse. Krugman is skeptical that that's all there is to it.

    First, while the depression that overtook the Western world in 2008 clearly came after the collapse of a vast financial bubble, that doesn't mean that the bubble caused the depression. Late in The Shifts and the Shocks Wolf mentions the reemergence of the "secular stagnation" hypothesis, most famously in the speeches and writing of Lawrence Summers (Lord Adair Turner independently made similar points, as did I). But I'm not sure whether readers will grasp the full implications. If the secular stagnationists are right, advanced economies now suffer from persistently inadequate demand, so that depression is their normal state, except when spending is supported by bubbles. If that's true, bubbles aren't the root of the problem; they're actually a good thing while they last, because they prop up demand. Unfortunately, they're not sustainable -- so what we need urgently are policies to support demand on a continuing basis, which is an issue very different from questions of financial regulation.

    Wolf actually does address this issue briefly, suggesting that the answer might lie in deficit spending financed by the government's printing press. But this radical suggestion is, as I said, overshadowed by his calls for more financial regulation. It's the morality play aspect again: the idea that we need to don a hairshirt and repent our sins resonates with many people, while the idea that we may need to abandon conventional notions of fiscal and monetary virtue has few takers.

    I've always found "secular stagnation" to be an oddly opaque term. The "persistent low demand" at its center is most certainly the effect of increasing inequality, where most people are increasingly denied the option to spend on real goods, while the rich often find their gains wrapped up in the illusion of inflated asset prices. This is, of course, a much deeper and more persistent problem than the stability of the banks. The Bush-Obama (or Paulson-Geithner) solution was to save the banks, figuring that if the front lines of the crisis held people wouldn't suspect that there was anything more rotten at the core of the crisis. But the fact that the "Obama recovery," like the "Bush recovery" before it, feels so hollow should dispel us of such illusions.

    Krugman's note on 2011 and All That is worth quoting at length:

    But [Bill] Gross was by no means alone in getting these things wrong. Indeed, 2011 was a sort of banner year for bad macroeconomic analysis by people who had no excuse for their wrong-headedness. And here's the thing: aside from Gross, hardly any of the prominent wrong-headers have paid any price for their errors.

    Think about it: 2011 was the year when Bowles and Simpson predicted a fiscal crisis within two years. There was never a hint of crisis, but BS are still given reverent treatment by the Beltway media.

    2011 was also the year when Paul Ryan warned Ben Bernanke that he was "debasing" the dollar, arguing that rising commodity prices were the harbinger of runaway inflation; the Bank for International Settlements made a similar argument, albeit with less Ayn Rand. They were completely wrong, but Ryan is still the intellectual leader of the GOP and the BIS is still treated as a fount of wisdom.

    The difference is, of course, that Gross had actual investors' money on the line. But you should not take that to imply that the profit motive leads to intellectual clarity; Gross has been forced out at Pimco, but I've seen hardly any press coverage tying that to his having the wrong macro model.

    Speaking of getting things wrong, also see Jeff Madrick: Why the Experts Missed the Recession. Madrick's sources are primarily recently released FOMC debates and "Greenbook" economic forecasts, which show how completely events blindsided the very "experts" who were responsible for setting Fed interest rates, and thereby adjusting the economy.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 23893 [23870] rated (+23), 526 [521] unrated (+5).

Actually, the week for me ended on Friday, October 3.

New records rated this week:

  • Marcia Ball: The Tatooed Lady and the Alligator Man (2014, Alligator): sings blues, plays boogie-woogie, spins a fine yarn then goes for the filler [r]: B+(*)
  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Alexey Lapin: The Russian Concerts Volume 2 (2013 [2014], FMR): more if you want more, but start with superv Vol. 1 [cd]: B+(***)
  • Jack Clement: For Once and for All (2014, IRS Nashville): the late Nashville producer reclaims a few of his songs, with genteel smiling cowboy aplomb [r]: B+(***)
  • Neil Cowley Trio: Touch and Flee (2014, Naim Jazz): Brit piano trio for fans of EST and Jarrett continue to keep semipopular jazz respectable [r]: B+(*)
  • Mark Elf: Returns 2014 (2013 [2014], Jen Bay Jazz): guitarist who admires Tal Farlow backed by David Hazletine, Peter Washington, Lewis Nash dream band [cd]: B+(**)
  • Alice Gerrard: Follow the Music (2014, Tompkins Square): pioneering harmony woman of bluegrass belatedly strikes out on her own, ancient and ragged [r]: B+(***)
  • Prince: Art Official Age (2014, Warner Brothers): wondered if he was done, but give him a major label and he'll lay out some major label funk for you [r]: B+(*)
  • Prince/3rdEyeGirl: Plectrum Electrum (2014, Warner Brothers): "all-female power trio" means they know Cream's basslines but don't sing like Jack Bruce [r]: B+(*)
  • Matthew Shipp: I've Been to Many Places (2014, Thirsty Ear): yet another solo piano record, louder than ever in case you didn't get the point yet [r]: B+(*)
  • Tricky: Adrian Thaws (2014, !K7): discovers own name and recovers old tricks for a wide range of poses, must be some kind of midlife crisis [r]: B+(***)
  • Ulf Wakenius: Solo: Momento Magico (2013 [2014], ACT): solo guitar, goes for thick chords to add gravitas to an intrinsically light album [r]: B+(*)

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

  • Bambara Mystic Soul: The Raw Sound of Burkina Faso 1974-1979 (1974-79 [2011], Analog Africa): obscurities from the heart of the heart of West Africa [r]: B+(**)
  • The Evergreen Classic Jazz Band: Early Tunes 1915-1932 (1995 [2014], Delmark): Seattle trad jazz band with banjo and tuba, makes the old songs zing [cd]: A-
  • Charlie Haden/Jim Hall: Charlie Haden/Jim Hall (1990 [2014], Impulse): live in Montreal a year late for Haden's big fête, but this is more about the guitarist, drawing him out [r]: A-
  • The Rough Guide to Arabic Jazz ([2014], World Music Network, 2CD): rougher than need be, especially with the scene-stealing Cuban ringer the best cut by far [r]: B+(*)
  • The Rough Guide to Bollywood Disco (1965-93 [2014], World Music Network, 2CD): dance dance dance with a pre-disco highlight that reminds me of Chubby Checker [r]: B+(***)
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of the Sahara [Second Edition] (1980-2013 [2014], World Music Network, 2CD): label annoying as ever, not that they can't program a songlist [r]: B+(***)
  • Wild Jimmy Spruill: Scratchin': The Wild Jimmy Spruill Story (1956-63 [2014], GVC, 2CD): various singers sharing Spruill's guitar, a still vital r&b period compiled [cd]: A

Old records rated this week:

  • Ruby Braff: Linger Awhile (1953-55 [1999], Vanguard): early sessions led by Buck Clayton and Vic Dickenson, showing the company he keeps and progress [r]: B+(**)
  • Matthew Shipp/Guillermo E. Brown: Telephone Popcorn (2005 [2008], Nu Bop): piano-drums duo, half of David Ware's quartet, not quite finished [r]: B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Alessandro Collina/Rodolfo Cervetto/Marc Peillon/Fabrizio Bosso: Michel on Air (ITI)
  • Lajos Dudas Trio: Live at Porgy & Bess (Jazz Sick)
  • Lajos Dudas Quartet: Live at Salzburger Jazzherbst (Jazz Sick)
  • Eric Hofbauer: Prehistoric Jazz Volume 1: The Rite of Spring (Creative Nation Music)
  • Eric Hofbauer: Prehistoric Jazz Volume 2: Quintet for the End of Time (Creative Nation Music)
  • Will Holshouser/Matt Munister/Marcus Rojas: Introducing Musette Explosion (Aviary): November 1
  • Bill Watrous/Pete Christlieb/Carl Saunders: A Beautiful Friendship (Summit)


  • Dave Alvin/Phil Alvin: Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy (Yep Roc)
  • Shaver: Shaver's Jewels (1993-2001, New West)
  • Wild Jimmy Spruill: Scratchin': The Wild Jimmy Spruill Story (1956-63, GVC, 2CD)

Friday, October 03, 2014

Working Links

A quick listing of some open tabs as I'm shutting down the computer:

   Mar 2001