Latest Notebook Entries


Friday, February 12, 2016

Post-New Hampshire

I didn't really want to let myself get sucked into another post-election commentary like last week's Post-Iowa, but enough links have popped up to be worth a brief post.

On the Democratic side, it's worth noting that Bernie Sanders thus far is running ahead of Barack Obama in 2008 against Hillary Clinton: sure, Obama won Iowa handily where Sanders only tied, but Clinton beat Obama soundly in New Hampshire, and this year lost that same state by even more. Geography tilts Iowa toward Obama and New Hampshire toward Sanders -- a little bad luck for Clinton there, but doesn't Clinton also have the advantage of having done all this before? In both states Sanders gained 20-30 points over the last six months. That's momentum.

Both states are atypical in various ways, and despite all the effort candidates put into winning them, their idiosyncrasies make them poor guides for subsequent primaries, where campaigning is necessarily less personal. The main thing Iowa and New Hampshire seem to do is to winnow down the field. The sixteen Republicans we started with are now down to six: Trump, Kasich, Cruz, Bush, Rubio, and Carson. Not sure if Gilmore still thinks he's running: he got 133 votes, or 0.052%, a figure that trailed three no-longer-running candidates (Paul, Huckabee, Santorum) but at least topped ex-candidates Pataki, Graham, and Jindal; see results here; all 30 names listed were on the Republican ballot, but the list doesn't break out the 1750 write-ins.)

Gilmore (and for that matter Santorum) were also beat by Andy Martin, who Wikipedia describes as "an American perennial candidate who has pursued numerous litigations" and "the primary source of false rumors that then-presidential candidate Barack Obama was secretly a Muslim during the 2008 U.S. Presidential election." Just behind Gilmore (and ahead of Pataki) was Richard Witz, a retired school custodian from Spencer, Massachusetts. The low vote getters on the ballot were Matt Drozd, Robert L. Mann, and Peter Messina, with five votes each (Messina is the only one of those three with as much as a website).

Chris Christie (6th place, 7%) and Carly Fiorina (7th place, 4%) dropped out after New Hampshire. With most of next month's primaries taking place in the South, they didn't really have anything to look forward to. Further down, Ben Carson (8th place, 2%) and Jim Gilmore (13th place, 0%) seem to still be running (as opposed to "in the running").

[PS: On Friday, after I had written the above, Gilmore gave up the ghost. NBC noted that the Republican field had narrowed to six, then gave a rundown that only mentioned five of them. Ben Carson seems to be turning into the invisible man.]

Here are some links to chew on:

  • Nate Silver: Republicans Need to Treat Donald Trump as the Front-Runner: Looks for comparisons in past Iowa-New Hampshire results for patterns and finds everything from Pat Buchanan to Mitt Romney (who in 2012 did 0.2 better in Iowa and 4.2 better in New Hampshire, but really pretty close, at least without adjusting for the competitive fields). The sidebar also (at the moment) shows Trump with a 55% chance of winning South Carolina (which you may recall Romney lost to Newt Gingrich; he has Rubio at 22% and Cruz at 15% but only in the fishy-sounding "polls plus" column). Then Silver abandons the stats and starts dreaming:

    If you could somehow combine Rubio's likability and appeal to conservatives, Kasich's policy smarts and post-New Hampshire momentum, and Bush's war chest and organization, you'd have a pretty good candidate on your hands. But instead, these candidates are likely to spend the next several weeks sniping at one another. The circular firing squad mentality was already apparent in New Hampshire, where fewer advertising dollars were directed against Trump despite his having led all but one poll of the state since July.

    By pegging Trump as the "front runner" Silver seems to be daring the "Republican elites" to get their act together and settle on one anti-Trump miracle and be done with it. Still, you have to wonder (as Elias Isquith does), if, having downplayed Trump's changes, Silver isn't just looking to salvage his reputation. What Silver's own data shows is that Bush-Kasich-Rubio (maybe even Cruz) understand that only by getting past each other does one have a chance of taking on Trump -- the problem is that none of them come close to Silver's dream criteria. What I suspect will eventually happen is that those "elites" will in the end reconcile themselves to Trump, because in the end Trump is no threat to them. That's far more likely than the prospect of the Democratic Party apparatchiki giving in to Sanders even if Sanders sweeps the primaries as thoroughly. Part of this is, as David Frum put it, because the GOP fears its base, whereas the Democrats loathe theirs. But mostly it's because Trump is just another corrupt demagogic symptom of a system that Sanders is promising to upend.

  • Paul Krugman: Hard Money Men: Ohio Governor John Kasich skipped Iowa and ran pretty close to the perfect New Hampshire campaign -- lots of town halls, one-on-ones, presenting a low-key personality with a command of issues and his own temper -- and wound up getting 16% of the vote, pretty unimpressive totals except that he topped Cruz, Bush, and Rubio for second place. Tempting, given his competition, to argue that he's a sane oasis in the Republican field, but Krugman isn't having any of it:

    [N]ote that on economic policy -- which sort of matters -- Kasich is terrible, arguably worse than the rest of the GOP field.

    It's not just his balanced-budget fetishism, which would be disastrous in an economic crisis. He's also a hard-money man.

    Ted Cruz has gotten some scrutiny, although not enough, for his goldbuggism. But Kasich, when asked why wages have stagnated, gave as his number one reason "because the Federal Reserve kept interest rates so low" -- because this diverted investment into stocks, or something. No, it doesn't make any sense -- but it tells you that he is viscerally opposed to monetary as well as fiscal stimulus in the face of high unemployment.

    So no, Kasich isn't sensible. He's just off the wall in ways that differ in some ways from the GOP mainstream. If he'd been president in 2009-10, we'd have had a full replay of the Great Depression.

    For more on Kasich, see Heather Digby Parton: John Kasich is a right-wing Trojan Horse. On the other hand, Jon Huntsman received 17% of the vote in New Hampshire in 2012 (3rd place behind Romney and Ron Paul) and was never heard from again.

  • Emily Douglas: Last Night, Rachel Maddow Perfectly Captured What Bernie's Win Means for the Left: Follow the link for that quote (and some video). What I find more interesting is this later bit:

    Think back to the 1992 conventions, when Pat Buchanan gave his infamous culture-wars speech, announcing a "crusade," as Maddow put it, against gay people, minorities and feminism and concluding that "There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself." In response to that declaration of war, the Democratic Party didn't have much: "As a gay person watching that in 1992, I didn't feel like Bill Clinton had my back. I didn't feel like the Democratic Party had my back," she added. "He was talking about agreeing with Ronald Reagan that government was the problem."

    I saw a little bit of Maddow in the election coverage. She was talking about how Trump is viewed, at least in Europe, as analogous to the neo-fascist right-wing parties there. That's probably true, but Americans have little experience with native-grown fascism, so the same resonance isn't easily felt here. On the other hand, most European countries experienced native fascist movements as well as the fascist-driven World War -- so bad that surviving right-wing parties can't help but be tarred by the experience. You find, for instance, in France large numbers of people who will vote for anyone against Le Pen. The closest analogue in the US was when Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke ran for governor of Louisiana. But aside the KKK, the US has never really had fascist movements. In a sense, the hallmarks of fascism -- racism, rabid xenophobia, militarism -- have become so mainstreamed here that they don't get flagged as such.

  • Martin Longman: Why Sanders Is Still Behind the Eight Ball: Points out that the way the Democratic Party selects "superdelegates" creates a huge baked-in advantage for Clinton (currently 394-42). By comparison, with the proportional split of delegates in New Hampshire, Sanders has made a net gain of 13 delegates. At that rate, it's going to take a long time and a lot of landslide victories for Sanders to catch up. Sure, Clinton had a similar advantage in 2008, but not as extreme as this year: Obama had a number of prominent Democratic supporters (Longman emphasizes Tom Daschle). Still hard to say what happens if the primaries go overwhelmingly for Sanders: those superdelegates may save Clinton, but won't make her look like the people's pick.

  • Joel Beinin: More details about Bernie Sanders and Kibbutz Sha'ar ha-'Amakim: In case you're curious. I've heard reports that after New Hampshire Clinton was going to attack Sanders for being anti-Israel. Good luck with that. Chances are that most supporters of Sanders are already more disturbed by Israel's right-wing polity (not to mention the alliance of Netanyahu with the Republicans) than Sanders himself is -- so attacking him on that is more likely to shift voters against Israel/Likud than it is to harm Sanders.

  • Michelle Alexander: Why Hillary Clinton Doesn't Deserve the Black Vote: "From the crime bill to welfare reform, policies Bill Clinton enacted -- and Hillary Clinton supported -- decimated black America." Then, and these are not unrelated, there's "the economy, stupid":

    An oft-repeated myth about the Clinton administration is that although it was overly tough on crime back in the 1990s, at least its policies were good for the economy and for black unemployment rates. The truth is more troubling. As unemployment rates sank to historically low levels for white Americans in the 1990s, the jobless rate among black men in their 20s who didn't have a college degree rose to its highest level ever. This increase in joblessness was propelled by the skyrocketing incarceration rate. [ . . . ]

    Despite claims that radical changes in crime and welfare policy were driven by a desire to end big government and save taxpayer dollars, the reality is that the Clinton administration didn't reduce the amount of money devoted to the management of the urban poor; it changed what the funds would be used for. Billions of dollars were slashed from public-housing and child-welfare budgets and transferred to the mass-incarceration machine. By 1996, the penal budget was twice the amount that had been allocated to food stamps. During Clinton's tenure, funding for public housing was slashed by $17 billion (a reduction of 61 percent), while funding for corrections was boosted by $19 billion (an increase of 171 percent), according to sociologist Loïc Wacquant "effectively making the construction of prisons the nation's main housing program for the urban poor."

  • Josiah Lee Auspitz: For GOP, It's 270 to Win, but Also 1237 to Lose: Reviews the strange delegate allocation procedures the Republican Party adopted to help ensure the dominance of conservatives by tipping the scales toward smaller states in the west and south.

  • Eric Alterman: Why There Will Be No New New Deal: Draws on the argument of Jefferson Cowie in a new book, The Great Exception: The New Deal and the Limits of American Politics. Cowie seems to believe that the New Deal was an unrepeatable exception because it occurred at the one point in American history when the internal divisions of America's working class -- race, ethnicity, religion -- were at low ebb (even so, he sees the exclusion of blacks from many New Deal benefits as necessary for their passage -- for details see Ira Katznelson's When Affirmative Action Was White). Civil rights for blacks and increased immigration only serve to undermine the New Deal's unique focus on class and solidarity. Alterman also cites Robin Archer's Why Is There No Labor Party in the United States? and Robert J Gordon's The Rise and Fall of American Growth to pile on inevitability. Yet he also notes:

    Beginning midway through Jimmy Carter's presidency, with the New Deal order wheezing on life support, Democrats tried to save themselves by aping right-wing arguments about government being the problem, not the solution, to the challenges that ordinary Americans faced. By tying themselves to the mast of a corrupt campaign-finance system, they have helped to make it so.

    Uh, maybe it wasn't so inevitable. Maybe it had more to do with some bad decisions certain politicians made because the Cold War had blinded them to thinking of America in class terms? Someone like, oh, Bill Clinton? Cowie points to the Great Depression and WWII as the key events that forged the sense of unity and solidarity that made the New Deal, and implies that they are irrepeatable. On the other hand, it's not that we lack for depressions and wars -- just the critical analysis to understand and overcome them.

  • Gar Alperovitz: Socialism in America Is Closer Than You Think: Lest you think that socialism is un-American, Alperovitz has a number of examples of things that already exist that go beyond Sanders' own program. Not all are advertised as "socialism" -- a brand that hasn't fared all that well, not that socialists don't have an honorable legacy, often moving well ahead of more mainstream politicians.

  • Josh Marshall: A Clarifying Encounter: On Thursday's Democratic debate, which Marshall thought was good for both but maybe a bit better for Clinton. He complains, "and yet there's a vague hint of Rubio-ism in Sanders" -- an objection to Sanders repeatedly hitting his campaign talking points. Having heard them all many times I can't say that's something I especially enjoy, but I suspect such repetition is needed to drive his points home -- and they are points that encapsulate broad programs, unlike Rubio's whatever. I caught about three minutes of the debate, which included Sanders citing the 1954 coup against Mossadegh as a lesson in unintended consequences -- and he wasn't just name-dropping; he explained it very succinctly -- and blasting Kissinger's guidance of American foreign policy, citing how the Kissinger's expansion of the Vietnam War destabilized Cambodia and led to three million deaths and how his opening to China has cost millions of American jobs. That's all stuff I know like the back of my hand, but it's also stuff you never hear politicians say. When Sanders promised he wouldn't be seeking Kissinger's advice, Clinton asked he would listen to on foreign policy, and Sanders ignored her. What should he say? The Democratic Party mandarins, like Zbigniew Brzezinski and Madelyn Albright, are every bit as compromised as Kissinger and Condoleezza Rice: indeed, you can't be certified as a "foreign policy expert" in Washington without having been systematically deluded for decades. Maybe Marshall is right and Clinton is exceptionally knowledgeable about wonky policy specifics. But Sanders knows his history, and that's where lessons are to be learned -- not least the ones that have blindsided Clinton time and again.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Music Week

Music: Current count 26231 [26199] rated (+32), 421 [412] unrated (+9).

I don't have much to say this week. Most of the records below are still 2015 releases (11 are 2016, only one of those non-jazz). Since I froze the 2015 file, belatedly graded 2015 releases are appearing in green. (Note to self: this greatly increases the likelihood of a coding error making the file unviewable, so check it more often.) I have decided (for now) to continue adding to the jazz and non-jazz EOY lists, and I've added a few things to the EOY aggregate -- I'm not really looking for more lists, but occasionally stumble onto one (like this one from If Men Had Ears -- supposedly objective because numbers were crunched, but there's still selection bias, and anything that elevates Tame Impala to second place is a bit suspicious).

A fair number of the records below are alt-country. Last year I got a lot of good tips from Saving Country Music. Less so this year, but I checked most of their nominees out -- even Don Henley's not-so-bad album (much better than the James Taylor album that also appeared on Rolling Stone's EOY list). I complained last week about not being able to find Arca's Mutant on Rhapsody -- thanks to the reader who encouraged me to try again. The Eszter Balint album appeared on Christgau's EW post (also Thomas Anderson and Donnie Fritts). It's worth noting that Balint's superb album was totally missed by the 700+ EOY lists I've compiled -- the second (or third) time Christgau has picked something that far from the spotlight. (Foxymorons was the other, with Mark Rubin only appearing on the list of a well known fan.)

Old music has a couple albums from the wonderful Sheila Jordan. I noticed Better Than Anything in Downbeat, and when I found it on Rhapsody, I noticed a couple more albums I hadn't heard. I commented that she hadn't recorded anything new since turning 80 in 2008. Rummaging around a bit I found notice of an 85th birthday concert with Steve Kuhn in 2013, and her website showed events at least into 2014. No doubt she's moving into a treacherous age.

Some more EOY list links:

New records rated this week:

  • Arca: Mutant (2015, Mute): [r]: A-
  • Thomas Anderson: Heaven (2016, Out There): [r]: B+(***)
  • Allison Au Quartet: Forest Grove (2015 [2016], self-released): B+(*)
  • Eszter Balint: Airless Midnight (2015, Red Herring): [r]: A-
  • Blue Muse: Blue Muse Live (2015, Dolphinium): [cd]: B
  • Brooklyn Blowhards (2015 [2016], Little (i) Music): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Brandi Carlile: The Firewatcher's Daughter (2015, ATO): [r]: B+(***)
  • Benjamin Clementine: At Least for Now (2015, Virgin EMI): [r]: B+(**)
  • Anderson East: Delilah (2015, Low Country Sound/Elektra): [r]: B+(***)
  • Mike Freeman ZonaVibe: Blue Tjade (2014 [2016], VOF): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Bill Frisell: When You Wish Upon a Star (2015 [2016], Okeh): [cdr]: B
  • Donnie Fritts: Oh My Goodness (2015, Single Lock): [r]: B+(***)
  • Michael Monroe Goodman: The Flag, the Bible, and Bill Monroe (2015, MammerJam): [r]: B+(***)
  • Grandpa's Cough Medicine: 180 Proof (2015, self-released): [r]: B+(*)
  • William Clark Green: Ringling Road (2015, Bill Grease): [r]: B+(*)
  • Anna von Hausswolff: The Miraculous (2015, Other Music): [r]: B
  • Heads of State: Search for Peace (2015, Smoke Sessions): [r]: B+(**)
  • Don Henley: Cass County (2015, Capitol): [r]: B+(*)
  • Left Lane Cruiser: Dirty Spliff Blues (2015, Alive Naturalsound): [r]: B+(*)
  • Urs Leimgruber/Alex Huber: Lightnings (2015 [2016], Wide Ear): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Rob Mazurek/Exploding Star Orchestra: Galactic Parables: Volume 1 (2013 [2015], Cuneiform, 2CD): [dl]: B+(***)
  • Mekons/Robbie Fulks: Jura (2015, Bloodshot): [r]: B+(***)
  • Whitey Morgan & the 78s: Born, Raised & Live From Flint (2011 [2014], Bloodshot): [r]: B+(**)
  • Whitey Morgan & the 78s: Sonic Ranch (2015, Whitey Morgan Music): [r]: B+(***)
  • Matt Parker Trio: Present Time (2015 [2016], BYNK): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Ken Peplowski: Enrapture (2015 [2016], Capri): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Danilo Pérez/John Patitucci/Brian Blade: Children of the Light (2015, Mack Avenue): [r]: B+(**)
  • Valery Ponomarev Jazz Big Band: Our Father Who Art Blakey (2014 [2016], Zoho Music): [r]: B+(***)
  • J. Peter Schwalm: The Beauty of Disaster (2015 [2016], Rare Noise): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Shatner's Bassoon: The Self Titled Album Shansa Barsnaan (2015, Wasp Millionaire): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Mike Sopko/Simon Lott: The Golden Measure (2015 [2016], self-released): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Turnpike Troubadours: Turnpike Troubadours (2015, Bossier City): [r]: B
  • Ward Thomas: From Where We Stand (2015, WTW Music): [r]: B+(*)

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

  • Sheila Jordan: Better Than Anything: Live (1991 [2015], There): [r]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • Sheila Jordan: Confirmation (1975 [2005], Test of Time): [r]: B+(***)
  • Sheila Jordan: Believe in Jazz (2003 [2004], Ella Productions): [r]: A-
  • Sheila Jordan & E.S.P. Trio: Straight Ahead (2004 [2005], Splasc(H)): [r]: A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Dave Anderson: Blue Innuendo (Label 1): April 1
  • Andy Adamson Quartet: A Cry for Peace (Andros)
  • Thomas Borgmann Trio: One for Cisco (NoBusiness): CDR (LP only)
  • Jean-Luc Cappozzo/Didier Lasserre: Ceremony's a Name for the Rich Horn (NoBusiness): CDR (LP only)
  • Chaise Lounge: Gin Fizz Fandango (Modern Songbook)
  • Ari Erev: Flow (self-released)
  • William Hooker: Light: The Early Years 1975-1989 (NoBusiness, 4CD)
  • Vijay Iyer/Wadada Leo Smith: A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke (ECM): advance, March 25
  • Marilyn Lerner/Ken Filiano/Lou Grassi: Live at Edgefest (NoBusiness): CDR (LP only)
  • Joëlle Léandre: No Comment (Fou)
  • J Mancera: Mancera #5 (self-released): March 1
  • Christian Perez: Anima Mundi (CPM): March 4
  • Rhythm Future Quartet: Travels (Magic Fiddle Music): February 26
  • Alfredo Rodriguez: Tocororo (Mack Avenue/Qwest): March 4
  • Vladimir Tarasov/Eugenius Kanevicius/Ludas Mockunas: Intuitus (NoBusiness): CDR (LP only)
  • The U.S. Army Blues: Live at Blues Alley (self-released)

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Weekend Roundup

I threw this together rather quickly, but here are some links of interest this week:

  • Thomas Frank: It's not just Fox News: How liberal apologists torpedoed change, helped make the Democrats safe for Wall Street:

    As the Obama administration enters its seventh year, let us examine one of the era's greatest peculiarities: That one of the most cherished rallying points of the president's supporters is the idea of the president's powerlessness.

    Today, of course, the Democrats have completely lost control of Congress and it's easy to make the case for the weakness of the White House. For example, when Frank Bruni sighed last Wednesday that presidents are merely "buoys on the tides of history," not "mighty frigates parting the waters," he scarcely made a ripple.

    But the pundit fixation on Obama's powerlessness goes back many years. Where it has always found its strongest expression is among a satisfied stratum of centrist commentators -- people who are well pleased with the president's record and who are determined to slap down liberals who find fault in Obama's leadership. The purveyors of this fascinating species of political disgust always depict the dispute in the same way, with hard-headed men of science (i.e., themselves) facing off against dizzy idealists who cluelessly rallied to Obama's talk of hope and change back in 2008.

    Frank brings up many examples, especially the Obama administration's response to the financial collapse and recession of 2008:

    It would have been massively popular had Obama reacted to the financial crisis in a more aggressive and appropriate way. Everyone admits this, at least tacitly, even the architects of Obama's bailout policies, who like to think of themselves as having resisted the public's mindless baying for banker blood. Acting aggressively might also have deflated the rampant false consciousness of the Tea Party movement and prevented the Republican reconquista of the House in 2010.

    But Obama did the opposite. He did everything he could to "foam the runways" and never showed any real interest in taking on the big banks. Shall I recite the dolorous list one more time? The bailouts he failed to unwind or even to question. The bad regulators he didn't fire. The AIG bonuses that his team defended. The cramdown he never pushed for. The receivership of the zombie banks that never happened. The FBI agents who were never shifted over to white-collar crime. The criminal referral programs at the regulatory agencies that were never restored. The executives of bailed-out banks who were never fired. The standing outrage of too-big-to-fail institutions that was never truly addressed. The top bankers who were never prosecuted for anything on the long, sordid list of apparent frauds.

    Frank concludes that "the financial crisis worked out the way it did in large part because Obama and his team wanted it to work out that way." After all the "hopey-changey" campaign blather in 2008, it came as a shock to discover how hard Obama would work to conserve a banking industry which had frankly gone berserk: not only could Obama not imagine America without its predatory bankers, he couldn't imagine changing ownership of those banks, or even dislodging Jamie Dimon from Chase. It's not clear that anyone in the Republican party is that conservative. Rather, they are like those proverbial bulls in the china shop, blindly breaking stuff just to show off their power.

  • Paul Krugman Reviews The Rise and Fall of American Growth by Robert J. Gordon: Gordon's big book (762 pp.) argues that growth is largely driven by the introduction of new technologies, but that not all technologies have the same growth potential. In particular, a set of technological breakthroughs from the late 19th century up through the 1930s drove high rates of growth up to about 1970, but more recent innovations have had much less effect, so the prospects for future growth are much dimmer. This is pretty much the thesis of James K. Galbraith's 2014 book, The End of Normal: The Great Crisis and the Future of Growth, who I suspect is clearer about why this is the effect, while spending a lot less time on the case histories. For Galbraith, the key is that the earlier innovations tended to move work from the household to factories while cheaper transportation and energy made those factories much more cost-effective. On the other hand, recent innovations in computing and automation increase efficiency at the expense of jobs, and increasingly some of those labor savings are taken as leisure. One reason this matters is that our political system was built around an assumption that growth makes up for inequality -- that conflict over the distribution of wealth is moot as long as there is ample growth for all. But this isn't something that we're just discovering now: growth rates in the US started to dip around 1970, and the result over the next decade was the growth of a conservative political movement that aimed to maintain profit rates even as growth slumped. I actually think that shift was triggered by more tangible factors -- peak oil, moving from a trade surplus to deficit, the many costs of the Vietnam War (including inflation) -- but the technology shift helps explain why no amount of supply-side stimulus ever did any good: every subsequent growth spurt has turned out to be a bubble accompanied by more/less fraud. Krugman suggests some of this, but the more explicit (and challenging) suggestions are in Galbraith's book. Krugman:

    So what does this say about the future? Gordon suggests that the future is all too likely to be marked by stagnant living standards for most Americans, because the effects of slowing technological progress will be reinforced by a set of "headwinds": rising inequality, a plateau in education levels, an aging population and more.

    It's a shocking prediction for a society whose self-image, arguably its very identity, is bound up with the expectation of constant progress. And you have to wonder about the social and political consequences of another generation of stagnation or decline in working-class incomes.

    A couple more things worth noting here. One is that the exceptionally high growth rates of recent years in China, India, and similar countries is tied to them belatedly adopting the technologies that fueled high growth in Europe and America nearly a century ago. Nothing surprising here, although one would hope they'd be smarter about it. The other is that while newer technologies produce less economic growth, they still quite often have quality of life benefits. So while wages and other economic metrics have stagnated, many people don't really feel the pinch. (And where they do, I suspect is largely due to the oppressive weight of debt.)

  • Paul Krugman: Electability: Alright, so Vox asked 6 political scientists if Bernie Sanders would have a shot in a general election, and they said: no, no way. In particular:

    Fear of sudden, dramatic change could impede Sanders in a general election. But just as powerfully, Republicans could also successfully portray Sanders as out of step with the average American's political views, according to the academics interviewed for this story.

    There isn't a lot of doubt that this would have a big impact in an election. Political scientists have had a pretty good idea since the 1950s of how voters tend to make their choices: by identifying which candidate fits closest to them on an ideological spectrum.

    Who's Krugman to argue with such august personages:

    I have some views of my own, of course, but I'm not a political scientist, man -- I just read political scientists and take their work very seriously.

    After all, man, they're scientists! They must be right, even though Krugman has occasionally -- well, more like 3-4 times a week -- been moved to note that the professional practitioners of his own branch of the social sciences, economics, often have their heads wedged. But, I guess, political science must be much more objective than economics, more predictive and all that, less likely to be biased by the political biases of its researchers and analysts. Sure, makes a lot of sense. After all, I know a lot of people who went into political science, and who among them did so because they were interested in politics? Uh, every one of them. I myself majored in sociology, and spent most of my time there dissecting the myriad ways biases corrupt research. I could have done the same thing in economics or political science, but the nonsense in those social sciences was just too easy to debunk. But it's been ages since I've been so reminded how shoddy political science is as I was by the Vox article.

    As for Krugman's value-added, there really isn't any. He doesn't even explain why electability is such a concern. He just proclaims, "The stakes are too high for that, and history will not forgive you," after taunting us: "That's what Naderites said about Al Gore; how'd that work out?" So, like, it's my fault Gore couldn't make a convincing argument why Bush would be a much more terrible president than himself? Sure, in retrospect that's true. In retrospect, it's also clear that enough hints were available at the time to make that argument -- and it's not only Gore's fault that he failed to do so, you can also blame a press that was totally smitten with Bush's good ol' boy shtick.

    I don't doubt the importance of the election, at least in terms of how much damage a Republican victory might inflict. But I don't buy the idea that we all live on a simple left-right ideological continuum, let alone that we all make rational choices based on who is closest to one's individual perch. Gore's problem, for instance, wasn't that he wasn't close enough to the median voter. It was more like he didn't convince enough of his base that he would fight for them, that his election would be better off for them than Bush's. No doubt Clinton is closer to that median voter, but will she fight for you? Or will she cut a deal with whatever donor woos her most? My first close encounter with Hillary was listening to a radio interview with her while her ill-fated health care plan was still in play. She was asked how she would feel if it was rejected, and she said "sad." Right then I realized this was a person who didn't care enough even to get upset. Sanders wouldn't take that kind of rejection lying down. But the Clintons simply forgot about health care for the rest of his terms, and went on to doing "pragmatic" things the Republicans would let them pass: NAFTA, welfare "reform," the repeal of Carter-Glass.

  • Robert Freeman: The new social contract: This is what's roiling the electorate & fueling the success of anti-establishment candidates Trump, Cruz and Sanders: Actually, less about those candidates -- that's just bait -- than the dissolution of the notion that rich and poor are bound together through a "social contract":

    But shared prosperity is no longer the operative social contract. Ronald Reagan began dismantling it in 1981 when he transferred vast amounts of national income and wealth to the already rich. He called it "supply side economics."

    Supposedly, the rich would plow their even greater riches back into the economy, which would magically return that wealth -- and more -- to everyone else. George H.W. Bush called it "voodoo economics." It seemed too good to be true. It was. Consider the facts.

    Since the late 1970s, labor productivity in the U.S. has risen 259 percent. If the fruits of that productivity had been distributed according to the post-World War II shared prosperity social contract the average person's income would be more than double what it is today. The actual change?

    Median income adjusted for inflation is lower today than it was in 1974. A staggering 40 percent of all Americans now make less than the 1968 minimum wage, adjusted for inflation. Median middle-class wealth is plummeting. It is now 36 percent below what it was in 2000.

    Where did all the money go? It went exactly where Reagan intended.

    Twenty-five years ago, the top 1 percent of income earners pulled in 12 percent of the nation's income. Today they get twice that, 25 percent. And it's accelerating. Between 2009 and 2012, 95 percent of all new income went to the top 1 percent.

    This is the exact opposite of shared prosperity. It is imposed penury That is the new deal. Or more precisely, the new New Deal, the new social contract.

    Freeman is right that this is the rot and ferment that breeds support for "anti-establishment" candidates. Trump and Sanders have different answers to the problem: Trump flames foreigners, and that seems to appeal to certain voters; Sanders blames the rich, and that appeals to others. I'm less sure why Freeman lumps Cruz here. Sure, he's "anti-establishment" in the sense that he too has a scapegoat: the government. But he has the very opposite of a solution.

    I should also quote Freeman on Clinton and Sanders, since this runs against the "common sense" of Krugman's "political scientists":

    It is unlikely Hillary will pull many Republicans away from whomever the Republicans nominate. She is both an object of visceral hatred to most Republicans and the establishment candidate in a year of anti-establishmentism.

    Sanders, on the other hand, pulls well from disaffected Republicans. He has little of Hillary's baggage and polls much better against either Trump or Cruz than does Hillary. He is anti-establishment in a year of ervid anti-establishmentism, a fiery mouthpiece for the intense cross-partisan anger roiling the electorate.

    If Sanders can survive the primaries he has a much greater chance of beating any Republican challenger than does Hillary. Whether he can implement his vision of a retrofitted social contract is another matter.

  • Links on the presidential campaign trail:

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

  • Andrew J Bacevich: Out of Bounds, Off-Limits, or Just Plain Ignored: Sub: "Six national security questions Hillary, Donald, Ted, Marco, et al., don't want to answer and won't even be asked." Only one has to do with the "war on terror" -- still the biggest game in town. Not sure that Bacevich has much of a handle on his question six: "Debt."

  • Tom Engelhardt: "The Finest Fighting Force in the History of World": Take Afghanistan, for instance. Engelhardt cites Anand Gopal's No Good Men Among the Living, America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes, which argues that the Taliban disbanded and dissolved after their first taste of American firepower, but the US couldn't leave well enough alone:

    Like their Bush administration mentors, the American military men who arrived in Afghanistan were determined to fight that global war on terror forever and a day. So, as Gopal reports, they essentially refused to let the Taliban surrender. They hounded that movement's leaders and fighters until they had little choice but to pick up their guns again and, in the phrase of the moment, "go back to work."

    It was a time of triumph and of Guantánamo, and it went to everyone's head. Among those in power in Washington and those running the military, who didn't believe that a set of genuine global triumphs lay in store? With such a fighting force, such awesome destructive power, how could it not? And so, in Afghanistan, the American counterterror types kept right on targeting the "terrorists" whenever their Afghan warlord allies pointed them out -- and if many of them turned out to be local enemies of those same rising warlords, who cared?

    It would be the first, but hardly the last time that, in killing significant numbers of people, the U.S. military had a hand in creating its own future enemies. In the process, the Americans managed to revive the very movement they had crushed and which, so many years later, is at the edge of seizing a dominant military position in the country. [ . . . ]

    It's probably accurate to say that in the course of one disappointment or disaster after another from Afghanistan to Libya, Somalia to Iraq, Yemen to Pakistan, the U.S. military never actually lost an encounter on the battlefield. But nowhere was it truly triumphant on the battlefield either, not in a way that turned out to mean anything. Nowhere, in fact, did a military move of any sort truly pay off in the long run. Whatever was done by the FFFIHW and the CIA (with its wildly counterproductive drone assassination campaigns across the region) only seemed to create more enemies and more problems.

    Engelhardt concludes that "Washington should bluntly declare not victory, but defeat, and bring the U.S. military home. Maybe if we stopped claiming that we were the greatest, most exceptional, most indispensable nation ever and that the U.S. military was the finest fighting force in the history of the world, both we and the world might be better off and modestly more peaceful."

  • Ann Jones: Social Democracy for Dummies: After having written books on American failure in Afghanistan and on how maimed US veterans have fared on their return, Jones moved to Norway, to see what life is like in an affluent country free from war. Not bad, really.

  • Thomas Piketty: A New Deal for Europe: The author of possibly the most important book yet in growing inequality, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, offers a few modest proposals for reforms in the Eurozone. Also see Piketty's earlier review of Anthony B Atkinson's Inequality: What Can Be Done?: A Practical Vision of a More Equal Society.

  • Philip Weiss: Dov Yermiya, who said, 'I renounce my belief in Zionism which has failed,' dies at 101. Yermiya fought in Israel's "War for Independence" in 1948, and only issued his renunciation in 2009, in a letter quoted here. You might also take a look at Steven Erlanger: Who Are the True Heirs of Zionism? -- which starts with a bloody admission:

    ZIONISM was never the gentlest of ideologies. The return of the Jewish people to their biblical homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty there have always carried within them the displacement of those already living on the land.

    The Israeli general and politician Yigal Allon defined Zionism in 1975 as "the national liberation movement of a people exiled from its historic homeland and dispersed among the nations of the world." Some years later, and more crudely, perhaps, another general and politician, Rehavam Ze'evi, a tough right-winger, said, "Zionism is in essence the Zionism of transfer," adding, "If transfer is immoral, then all of Zionism is immoral."

    Admissions like this were rarely broadcast to the public during the early days of Israel, when David Ben-Gurion spoke of Israel becoming "a state just like any other." So the recent tendency to speak in such terms may sound like a confession but is rarely accompanied by reflection much less shame: rather, they are bragging, and preparing the grounds for another round of "ethnic cleansing."

Friday, February 05, 2016


Postscript added [Feb. 6].

No Weekend Roundup last Sunday, as I was trying to tie up the loose ends on a Rhapsody Streamnotes column. Since then the ridiculous spectacle of the Iowa Caucuses happened. With all the money being spent on political corruption these days, some small states have spied an economic opportunity in being the first to weigh in on who's going to be the next president, and that's settled out into the convention that New Hampshire runs the first primary -- they've made it clear that if any other state tries to usurp them, they'll just move their primary further up -- with Iowa sneaking ahead with its caucus scam. As you know, everyone who's anyone (plus some who don't seem to be anyone at all) has been campaigning for president for a full year now, so this is the first real opportunity the voters have had to thin the field. That's the main takeaway from the caucuses.

Martin O'Malley was the first one to suspend his campaign after a pitiful showing in Iowa. He was running as the Democrats' insurance policy, figuring that if the voters couldn't stand presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton he'd make himself available as the fallback candidate. So basically he was running against Bernie Sanders as the alternative to Clinton only, you know, without having any policy differences from Clinton and, well, the laws of physics prevailed: substance defeated vacuum. On the other hand, Sanders and Clinton are likely to continue all the way to the convention: the former because he's somehow managed to inspire and organize a sizable chunk of the Democratic base -- with issues, of course, but also integrity -- and the latter because, as 2008 demonstrated, she has a remarkable ability to "take a licking and keep on ticking." More on this later.

As for the Republicans, I think it's fair to say that Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum should hang it up. They won Iowa the last two times out, and they basically have no better prospects ahead. (Huckabee, as a Southern preacher, might want to hang on for South Carolina and maybe even Super Tuesday but if he was going to win he would have placed 1st in Iowa, not 9th.) As I understand it, Kasich and Christie didn't make much of an effort in Iowa -- still Kasich edged Huckabee for 8th, and Christie beat Santorum for 10th -- but see New Hampshire as their big opportunity. If they do as poorly there they'll be laughed out of the race too.

Hard to spin any upside for Jeb Bush either (6th place, 2.8%), not that he ever looked very likely. For starters, I suspect that it's hard to find any Republicans who didn't wind up hating either his brother or his father -- the latter for not being a true conservative, the former for making conservatives look so hideous (not that there aren't some conservatives so purist, or blinkered, as to hate both). But the final blow is probably the coalescence of the anti-Trump, anti-Cruz camp in favor of fellow Floridian Marco Rubio. Bush's only hope is that the romance will prove fleeting: Rubio ran so far ahead of his polls that I suspect that many of his supporters preferred less popular candidates but switched at the last minute trying to stop Trump and Cruz. I doubt you'd see that in a primary, although Rubio's 3rd place (23.1%) finish gives him a chance to carry the banner forward. Also Rubio does appear to have a hard core of supporters: he's emerged as the neocon favorite, even though pretty much every Republican candidate has pledged to start World War III.

Ted Cruz (1st place, 27.6%) seems to have captured most the Christian nationalist bloc which dominated Iowa's GOP caucuses in 2008/2012 -- I can't say as I see the appeal, but that's what people say. (Ben Carson's 4th place, 9.3% share is probably even more evangelical.) It's tempting to say that Cruz beat Trump (2nd place, 24.3%) once Republicans learned that he's the even bigger asshole, but it could just be Trump's excuse about not having a "ground game." That seems like something Trump could fix, or at least neutralize when we start getting into the real primaries. Whether he can repair his tarnished image as a winner is another story. As for who in the long run will reign as the chief asshole, I wouldn't count him out, but on the other hand it wouldn't be a stupid move to let Cruz enjoy his claim.

I have nothing much to say about Carson, Rand Paul (5th, 4.5%), or Carly Fiorina (7th, 1.9%), except that they are unique enough they can probably sustain their irrelevant campaigns longer than most. Still, it's worth noting that Paul, despite all his compromises, isn't doing nearly as well as his father did four (or even eight) years ago. I also see someone named Gilmore on the returns list, trailing even Santorum with 0%. As I understand it, he did so poorly his reported percentage wasn't even rounded down. [PS: After I wrote this, Paul and Santorum suspended their campaigns.]

Still, hard to even care about the Republican results. For starters, on any reality-based scale there's no practical difference between any of the candidates, and the distance between any of them and the worst possible Democratic candidate is so vast the election will most likely split the same regardless of who is nominated. In fact, there's probably a wider ideological split between the two Democrats than between Clinton and the Republicans, but the Democrats appear more cohesive because both camps recognize the very real danger the Republicans, and will tolerate the other rather than risk civilization and the republic. Sanders people are likely to bend your ear on how bad Clinton has been and could be, but unlike Nader people in 2000 they're not going to tell you there's no difference between Bore and Gush. That's one lesson that's been learned to our horror.

That lesson has been the signal accomplishment of Clintonism. When Bill Clinton ran for president in 1992, his real hope was to establish that the Democrats would be better for business than the Republicans had been under Reagan and Bush. The signature accomplishment of his first term was NAFTA, which was not only a giant gift to business; it split the Democratic Party, hitting the unions especially hard. He tried to follow that up with his (well, Hillary's) health care plan, which was intended as a second big giveaway to business, but got squashed when the Republicans decided to go feral on him (the one thing they couldn't allow was for Clinton to appear more pro-business than they were). That turned out to be a blessing for both: Republicans gained control of Congress, freeing Clinton from any need to satify any of his party's desired reforms, and positioning himself as the last defensive rampart against the barbarians at the gate. Clinton was re-elected in 1996 and presided over the strongest economic boom in the US since the 1960s -- partly the good luck of coinciding with a real tech boom, partly opening the economy up to ever greater levels of financial fraud.

But the key thing was how he usurped and monopolized the Democratic Party. He built a personal political machine, a network of rich donors -- he had, after all, made them a lot of money while he was president -- and he kept that going after he left office in 2001, mostly to support Hillary's ambitions. When she ran in 2008 she was both the heir to his machine and, once again, the designated defender of civilization against Republican ruin. As she is now -- the interesting sidelight is how Obama followed Clinton's pattern, spending his initial victory catering to business before provoking a Republican revolt which only he has saved us from. The pattern has become so regular it's hard to imagine a Hillary administration doing anything else: providing huge dividends to business while blaming the Republicans for kneecapping any popular reforms.

Clinton's hegemony over the Democratic Party proved so complete that no mainstream Democrat (unless you count O'Malley) dare run against her. This has less to do with a shortfall of up-and-coming politicians -- it shouldn't be hard to come up with a list of Senators and Governors as qualified as Cruz-Paul-Rubio and Bush-Christie-Jindal-Kasich-Walker -- as the fact that the Clintons had cornered the donor class, strangling the chances anyone else might have had for sponsorship. Sanders escaped their tentacles because he wasn't even a Democrat: he's been elected repeatedly to Congress as an Independent, yet it turns out he's the one able to appeal to the party's hardcore constituency. And the reason is quite simple: he hasn't sold them out like the Clintons have, time and time again.

I've long thought that the left wing, both inside and beyond the Democratic Party, was substantially larger than the paltry vote totals garnered by Ralph Nader and Dennis Kucinich, so I find Sanders' polling gratifying. Surprising too, as 50% in Iowa and 61% (latest poll I've seen) in New Hampshire is even more than I imagined. Part of this is Sanders' personal charisma, which is off the scale compared to Nader and Kucinich. Part of this is that conditions for working people, especially the young, have gotten objectively worse, in the last eight (or 16 or 24 or 36, take your pick) years. Part of this is that the cold war red-baiting which mad anyone even remotely tolerant of socialism anathema has lost much of its sting -- chalk this up to indiscriminate use, but also to how obnoxious those who traffic in such charges have become. But part of it is also residual disgust with the Clintons, who missed (and messed up) their opportunity to roll back the damages of the Reagan-Bush era, and whose minions at least contributed to Obama's post-Bush shortcomings (Larry Summers, for instance, not to mention Obama's Secretary of State).

Still, odds are Clinton will prevail. I know some decent leftists who are already supporting her, mostly on the theory that she's been tested and proven she's tough enough to stand up to the inevitable Republican slander campaign, and that matters because the alternative of a Trump-Cruz-Rubio-whoever becoming president is too horrible to even contemplate. Those people are mostly old enough to remember how the center and a loud slice of the Democratic Party abandoned George McGovern to re-elect the Crook (and War Criminal) Nixon in 1972. (If they know their history, they may even recall how many Democrats turned against the populist campaigns of William Jennings Bryan in 1896-1904 -- if not, they can read Karl Rove's recent book on his hero, William McKinley.) Paul Krugman cites an article on this: David Roberts: Give a little thought to what a GOP campaign against Bernie Sanders might look like. If anything, I think Roberts undersells his case (he admits "I'm not sure I have the requisite killer instinct to fully imagine how the GOP will play a Sanders campaign"). I think we'd be hearing a lot more about how Sanders' programs will kill jobs -- the same tack they took against the ACA, even though there's no evidence of it (but then there's no evidence that anything Republicans say about macroeconomics is true). What's unclear is whether those slanders will have any resonance beyond the right wing's echo chamber. Surely one effect of so many years of such outrageous and brazenly self-serving propaganda has worn thin on many people.

There's a famous David Frum quote where he argues that Republican politicians have learned to fear their base; by contrast, Democratic politicians loathe their base. The latter sentiment seems to fit the Clintons' cynical pandering to and rejection of their voters. Maybe if Sanders keeps rising in the polls, they'll learn to show their base some measure of respect. More likely it will come too late: given the quality of his opponents, it's harder for me to see how Sanders can fail to win the nomination and the election. What I worry about more is that he will have gotten too far out ahead of the party. But there is at least one precedent: Franklin Roosevelt became president before forging a grass roots New Deal coalition to support him. Roosevelt, an aristocrat who was turned into a radical by his times, only gradually realized the need, but as a life-long radical Sanders should know better. I'm still dismayed that he keeps talking about "a political revolution," but what else could that phrase mean?

Milo Miles tweeted a reply to this piece. Not feeling I could write an adequate reply in 144 characters, I thought I'd add a postscript here. Milo's tweet:

There's a good point to think about with your scenario: FDR couldn't walk. He was despised cripple. Makes reasoning different.

No less an authority than Frances Perkins, who knew and worked with FDR before he was struck with polio, felt that his crippling made him much more emphathetic with people, especially the downtrodden, than he had been when he was young and healthy. He was a Democrat, and a very rich and privileged one, by birth, which back then didn't predispose him toward any populist or progressive impulses. The only Democrat to win the presidency in the 19th century after the Civl War was Grover Cleveland, who was quite possibly the most conservative president we ever had. Woodrow Wilson did some progressive things early on, but he seemed to treat them like cough syrup, medicine to be swallowed fast and discarded as soon as possible. More influential was FDR's distant cousin, Theodore Roosevelt, so clearly the model for FDR's own career that some of the rhetoric had to rub off. Still, when FDR was elected president in 1932, I don't think it was obvious that he would wind up far to the left of Herbert Hoover. The voters simply wanted change, and in FDR they got a president who vowed to do something, to try all sorts of things to stem the Great Depression.

In his early days -- what turned into the legendary 100 days -- he indeed tried all sorts of things, all over the political spectrum. He was especially concerned about failing banks, falling farm prices, and deflation in general -- not exactly leftist causes -- but his empathy didn't exclude anyone (even though New Deal programs often excluded agricultural and domestic workers, i.e., blacks). And he was famously fond of balanced budgets, but he went with whatever worked, and what worked moved him far to the left. He finally acted on that in 1938, when he tried to move the Democratic Party to the left by challenging a number of reactionaries within the party, specifically its Southern wing. By and large, his "purge" of the party failed, even backfired, as conservative Democrats increasingly allied with Republicans to fight and in some cases undo New Deal reforms (most famously passing Taft-Hartley over Truman's veto in 1947). Over the longer term, the Democratic Party did evolve toward FDR's political stance -- even posting a few tangible legislative achievements under LBJ -- but in many respects they came up short.

I should make more explicit the point I was leaning to, which is that Sanders' "political revolution" (no matter how innocuously he means that) would be unprecedented in American history. Every major political challenge from the left so far has been voted down rather decisively -- the populist Bryan in 1896 (and 1900 and 1908), the Progressive parties of Roosevelt in 1912 and LaFollette in 1924, McGovern's anti-war candidacy in 1972. The only exception I could think of was FDR in 1932, but as I said, that case was relatively ambiguous, and his subsequent turns to the left were mostly checked. You might wish to nominate Obama in 2008, who was promptly pilloried by right-wing propaganda and the phony Tea Party movement -- not that he was much of a progressive, or any sort of leftist, in the first place.

That doesn't mean that Sanders' campaign is impossible, let alone undesirable. For one thing, historical conditions are every bit as unprecedented. The right-wing threat has never appeared more ominous. And the inadequacy of Clinton/Obama compromises has never been more obvious. In particular, they seem incapable of reversing major shifts of the last few decades: increasing inequality, severe climate change, the hollowing out of America's industrial base, persistent and often thoughtless war, the degeneration of democracy into an auction for the superrich.

Not sure that I answered one point about Milo's tweet: his line, "He was a despised cripple." Some people indeed despised Roosevelt, especially as "a traitor to his class," but my impression is that few people realized that he was so severely crippled, and I'm not aware of it ever becoming a "talking point" against him. I don't doubt that Roosevelt feared that being seen as a cripple would eat at the faith that he could lead the nation, and there's no doubt that he worked very hard to conceal his disability from the public. Hence I focused on the empathy question, which I thought more to the point.

PPS: Somehow I missed the report that Mike Huckabee ended his campaign, evidently on the night of his disastrous Iowa finish, buried in the Martin O'Malley news.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Music Week

Music: Current count 26199 [26163] rated (+36), 412 [408] unrated (+4).

Nearly everything here appeared in yesterday's Rhapsody Streamnotes -- the eagle-eyed will note that the exception is saxophonist Roxy Coss's minor-label debut. That one can wait for late February, by which time it will have some company. How much is hard to say: I really need to start writing more on other things. Wrapping up yesterday's music column precluded a Weekend Roundup. I'll try to start by doing a midweek edition, by which time the Iowa thing will be history (not that I expect to have anything to say on the subject).

In the last week, my jazz and non-jazz EOY files tightened up. When I first put them together, jazz had a big 52-33 lead in A-list files. End of January that had narrowed to 77-73 (with an 11-11 tie in reissues/compilations/vault music). There's a pretty strong correlation between what I think and what Michael Tatum and Robert Christgau write. If you read me, you probably read them, so are familiar with their picks. What I thought I'd do here is to pull out my list's non-jazz A/A- records that neither Christgau nor Tatum have reviewed thus far (the bracketed numbers are rank from my EOY aggregate file, as of yesterday; ** means ≥ 1000, breaking at 5 points):

  1. Lyrics Born: Real People (Mobile Home) [633]
  2. Gwenno: Y Dydd Olaf (Heavenly) [132]
  3. New Order: Music Complete (Mute) [54]
  4. Nozinja: Nozinja Lodge (Warp) [439]
  5. Dr. Yen Lo: Days With Dr. Yen Lo (Pavlov Institute) [205]
  6. Hieroglyphic Being & J.I.T.U. Ahn-Sahm-Buhl: We Are Not the First (RVNG Intl) [283]
  7. Mdou Moctar: Akounak Tedalat Taha Tazoughai [Original Soundtrack Recording] (Sahel Sounds) [826]
  8. ¡Mayday!: Future/Vintage (Strange Music) [993]
  9. Bully: Feels Like (Startime International/Columbia) [136]
  10. Tuxedo: Tuxedo (Stones Throw) [**]
  11. Asleep at the Wheel: Still the King: Celebrating the Music of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys (Bismeaux) [764]
  12. 79rs Gang: Fire on the Bayou (Sinking City/Urban Unrest) [**]
  13. Ray Wylie Hubbard: The Ruffian's Misfortune (Bordello) [**]
  14. BadBadNotGood & Ghostface Killah: Sour Soul (Lex) [126]
  15. The Mowgli's: Kids in Love (Republic) [**]
  16. Laura Marling: Short Movie (Ribbon Music) [65]
  17. Murs: Have a Nice Day (Strange Music) [**]
  18. Protoje: Ancient Future (Indiggnation Collective/Overstand) [**]
  19. Alaska Thunderfuck: Anus (Sidecar) [**]
  20. Downtown Boys: Full Communism (Don Giovanni) [355]
  21. Desaparecidos: Payola (Saddle Creek) [284]
  22. John Moreland: High on Tulsa Heat (Old Omens) [288]
  23. Alan Jackson: Angels and Alcohol (Capitol Nashville) [808]
  24. Robyn & La Bagatelle Magique: Love Is Free (Konichiwa/Cherrytree/Interscope, EP) [**]
  25. Battles: La Di Da Di (Warp) [159]
  26. Steve Hauschildt: Where All Is Fled (Kranky) [333]
  27. Max Richter: From Sleep (Deutsche Grammophon) [117]
  28. Skylar Spence: Prom King (Carpark) [489]
  29. Erykah Badu: But You Caint Use My Phone (Control Freaq) [213]
  30. Archy Marshall: A New Place 2 Drown (True Panther Sounds) [384]
  31. Hieroglyphic Being: The Acid Documents (Soul Jazz) [**]
  32. Metric: Pagans in Vegas (Metric) [998]
  33. Elysia Crampton: American Drift (Blueberry) [277]
  34. Fabiano Do Nascimento: Dança Dos Tempos (Now-Again) [429]
  35. Plastician: All the Right Moves (self-released) [**]

I let the software renumber these, but there's a big gap between my number 1 and 2 -- about a dozen (OK, 11) common albums, although Christgau hasn't touched Ezra Furman (A per Tatum) and sloughed off Sleaford Mods and Low Cut Connie with low HMs. But I'm not looking for disagreements -- for what it's worth, a quick check shows 26 Christgau A/A- records I rated *** (12) or worse, out of 50 (with one records unheard, so I downrate a bit more than 50%) -- just to point out some exceptional records you may not have noticed. (Looking down the list, I find a few more tips I might have flagged, especially from Jason Gubbels, Phil Overeem, and Lucas Fagen.)

PS: Added Arca: Mutant to the A-list while working on this today. Thanks to Thomas Walker for pointing out it finally surfaced on Rhapsody. It will be in next week's list, but is already in the EOY list file, reducing the jazz edge to 77-74. Various things held this normally-on-Monday post up, including continued fiddling with the EOY Aggregates: added a bunch of jazz ballots, two aggregates from Album of the Year, plus I finally scored my own grades (same as I had done for Christgau and Tatum). This resulted in some reshuffling at the top of the list: Father John Misty in 5th breaking the tie with Tame Impala, Kamasi Washington to 8th ahead of Sleater-Kinney, Julia Holter to 10th ahead of Björk, and Alabama Shakes topping Oneohtrix Point Never for 14th. Also the top jazz records got a sizable boost: Maria Schneider (30), Rudresh Mahanthappa (32), Jack DeJohnette (44), Vijay Iyer (48), Henry Threadgill (56), Steve Coleman (67), Mary Halvorson (74), Chris Lightcap (87), Matana Roberts (100), Arturo O'Farrill (112), and Cecile McLorin Salvant (117) -- most of the latter two's gains came from counting the Latin and Vocal votes on Jazz Critics Poll ballots.

I wound up counting about two-thirds of the Jazz Critics Poll ballots -- in many cases the decision to include or exclude was arbitrary. I also counted 60+ Pazz & Jop ballots, although that's only about 15% of the total (those who voted in both had their ballots merged, with rank points from JCP; I didn't do rank points in P&J because of some presentation quirks).

New records rated this week:

  • Aram Bajakian: There Were Flowers Also in Hell (2014, Sanasar): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Aram Bajakian: Music Inspired by the Color of Pomegranates (2015, Sanasar): [r]: B+(**)
  • Nicholas Bearde: Invitation (2015 [2016], Right Groove): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Big Boi + Phantogram: Big Grams (2015, Epic, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Deafheaven: New Bermuda (2015, Anti): [r]: B+(*)
  • Dilly Dally: Sore (2015, Partisan): [r]: B+(**)
  • DJ Paypal: Sold Out (2015, Brainfeeder): [r]: B+(**)
  • Elephant9 with Reine Fiske: Silver Mountain (2015, Rune Grammofon): [r]: B+(*)
  • Foals: What Went Down (2015, Warner Brothers): [r]: B
  • Helena Hauff: Discreet Desires (2015, Ninja Tune/Werkdiscs): [r]: B+(***)
  • Steve Hauschildt: Where All Is Fled (2015, Kranky): [r]: A-
  • Helen: The Original Faces (2015, Kranky): [r]: B+(*)
  • Mette Henriette: Mette Henriette (2014 [2015], ECM, 2CD): [dl]: B+(*)
  • Ira Hill: Tomorrow (2015, self-released): [cd]: C
  • Florian Hoefner: Luminosity (2015 [2016], Origin): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Jason Kao Hwang: Voice (2014 [2016], Innova): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Abdullah Ibrahim: The Song Is My Story (2014 [2015], Sunnyside): [r]: B
  • Kehlani: You Should Be Here (2015, self-released): [r]: B-
  • Sam Lee & Friends: The Fade in Time (2015, The Nest Collective): [r]: B+(*)
  • Lizzo: Big Grrrl Small World (2015, BGSW): [r]: B+(*)
  • Marina and the Diamonds: Froot (2015, Atlantic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Archy Marshall: A New Place 2 Drown (2015, True Panther Sounds): [r]: A-
  • Pete McCann: Range (2014 [2015], Whirlwind): [r]: B+(*)
  • Nero: Between II Worlds (2015, Cherrytree/Interscope): [r]: B
  • Dick Oatts/Mats Holmquist/New York Jazz Orchestra: A Tribute to Herbie +1 (2015 [2016], Summit): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Chris Pitsiokos Trio: Gordian Twine (2015, New Atlantis): [r]: B+(***)
  • Nathaniel Rateliff: Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats (2015, Stax): [r]: B+(*)
  • Roswell Rudd & Heather Masse: August Love Song (2015 [2016], Red House): [cd]: A-
  • Julian Shore: Which Way Now (2015 [2016], Tone Rogue): [cd]: B
  • Michael Spiro/Wayne Wallace/La Orquesta Sonfonietta: Canto América (2015 [2016], Patois): [cd]: B-
  • Lew Tabackin Trio: Soundscapes (2014-15 [2016], self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Thundercat: The Beyond/Where the Giants Roam (2015, Brainfeeder, EP): [r]: B
  • Ray Vega & Thomas Marriott: Return of the East West Trumpet Summit (2014 [2016], Origin): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Brian Wilson: No Pier Pressure (2015, Capitol): [r]: B+(*)
  • Chelsea Wolfe: Abyss (2015, Sargent House): [r]: B+(*)

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

  • Tubby Hayes Quartet: The Syndicate: Live at the Hopbine 1968 Vol. 1 (1968 [2015], Gearbox): [r]: B+(**)
  • Schlippenbach Trio: First Recordings (1972 [2015], Trost): [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Harris Eisenstadt: Old Growth Forest (Clean Feed)
  • Fred Frith/Darren Johnston: Everybody Is Somebody Is Nobody (Clean Feed)
  • John Grant: Grey Tickles, Black Pressure (2015, Partisan): [r]: B+(*)
  • Dre Hocevar: Collective Effervescence (Clean Feed)
  • Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord: Bring Their 'A' Game (Hot Cup, EP): advance, February 5
  • Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord: Make the Magic Happen (Hot Cup, EP): advance, February 5
  • Ken Peplowski: Enrapture (Capri): February 16
  • Protean Reality: Protean Reality (Clean Feed)
  • Renku: Live in Greenwich Village (Clean Feed)
  • Roswell Rudd/Jamie Saft/Trevor Dunn/Balasz Pandi: Strength & Power (Rare Noise): advance, February 26
  • J. Peter Schwalm: The Beauty of Disaster (Rare Noise): advance, February 26
  • Dan Weiss: Sixteen: Drummers Suite (Pi): February 26

Daily Log

Alfred Soto posted a piece called My Bill Clinton problem. I commented:

Interesting that the Ricky Lee Rector execution plays so large here. I have a cousin, a few years older than me, whose first political cause was Caryl Chessman, who was executed in California in 1960 despite nationwide protests. I voted for Clinton in 1996 -- first time I had voted since 1972 -- mostly because I relished the opportunity to vote against Bob Dole, before Brownback the most loathsome politician in Kansas history. What turned me against Clinton was his repeated, politically opportunistic bombing of Iraq, which I saw as a bad omen the Bush invasion. Of course, that wasn't the first problem with Clinton. The main thrust of his first term was to show that a Democrat could be more better for business than any Republican: NAFTA was his first big issue there, and he pushed it in a way that deliberately undercut the labor unions (and destroyed any chance for his own health care program -- not that it wouldn't have been another bonanza for business). There's too much more to mention here -- well, I do have to mention his deceitful handling of the Camp David negotiations, and his play to reduce capital gains taxes (he was hoping for a one-time selloff of stocks that would temporarily push the budget into surplus before he left office; he got that, plus the tech bubble crash, both setting up the Bush tax cuts). And no reason to think his wife will be any better. Not that we couldn't do worse, but that too is part of the Clinton legacy: a Republican Party ever more desperate to find ground to the Clintons' right, even as it's proven ever more untenable and treacherous.

Billmon tweeting on Sanders phenomenon:

  1. For liberal elites, to be called out as a) elites, & b) centrists in drag - and see those views endorsed by the young 'uns - is intolerable.
  2. Challenges every part of self image as keepers of flame of American progressivism, teachers of idealistic youth, knights in shining armor . . .
  3. . . . doing battle with RW troglodytes on behalf of social enlightenment, tolerance, justice and blah blah blah.
  4. Fact Sanders has put together a large movement that rejects their leadership, sees them as timid careerists who've sold out to Wall Street . . .
  5. . . . and sees THEM as part of the problem, not the solution, isn't something they can easily process.
  6. Neoliberals, social liberals, bourgeois liberals have gotten used to defining themselves exclusively as the left . . .
  7. . . . with unions, poors, radicals reduced to -- at best -- clients in a patronage relationship. Echoes of 19th century Britain.
  8. Idea that sizable chunk of Democratic Party, led by outsider by Sanders, might rebel against that patron/client relationship -- horrifying.
  9. Fact that Sanders might even be able to rebuild bridges to alienated white working class on economic grounds -- even MORE horrifying.
  10. Sanders is challenging a whole set of implicit & explicit relationships and assumptions that the modern Dem coalition is based on.
  11. And he's succeeded -- for 1st time since Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition -- in attracting chunk (different chunk) of Dem base to his cause.
  12. And for liberal elites, that's an earthquake. And they don't know how long it will last or how many fragile structures it will knock down.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Rhapsody Streamnotes (January 2016 Part 2)

Pick up text here.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Music Week

Music: Current count 26163 [26129] rated (+34), 408 [402] unrated (+6).

The dead CD changer crisis is over. Having suffered two dead changers from Sony in just a few years, I splurged and bought the Yamaha. Main problem is that in order to let you change all five discs without having to spin the carousel around, the new unit is a couple inches deeper than the old one. The stereo equipment is housed in a cabinet I built way back in the 1970s for components of the time. The face of the new unit sticks out from the front edge, but at least the feet fit. I suppose I could tidy it up a bit by expanding the small hole in the back for the wires, but for now it works. Sounds pretty good, too.

I continue making minor additions to the EOY Aggregate file, even after Pazz & Jop -- mostly adding selective P&J and JCP ballots. Still, I'm hundreds short of logging them all, so I suppose I could be accused of cherrypicking favorites to tweak the standings. Main result of this has been that Kamasi Washington's The Epic moved ahead of Julia Holter's Have You in My Wilderness to claim 9th place, while Sleater-Kinney's No Cities to Love edged ahead of The Epic to 8th. Neither gainer is a particular favorite of mine, although I do like both more than Holter. Main reason I think I'm doing this is that I'm continuing to scour the lists for prospects, so I'm picking out ballots that look promising. However, no amount of fudging is going to displace Father John Misty or Tame Impala from the top ten. Of course, their current tie for 5th is fragile.

The other reason, I suppose, is that I'm reluctant to move on with my life, even though I've been very neglectful of website work I've committed to (not to mention writing a book or two). In this regard January 31 looms as a drio dead date: I intend to freeze the 2015 list then, which would make it a good date to halt doing everything else 2015-related. This week's finds all come from scrounging around the lists, and I'll do some more of that next week. Every A- record this week came highly rated from someone but was a pleasant surprise to me. I wound up liking Bully more than similar groups like Chastity Belt and Childbirth. Crampton turned out to have one of the year's best electronica albums -- seems like I've parked a lot of those in the high B+ tier this year (Carter Tutti Void, DRKWAV, Floating Points, Jlin, JME, Kammerflimmer Kollektief, Lifted, Lnrdcroy, LoneLady, Noonday Underground, RJD2/STS, Skrillex/Diplo, Jamie XX).

Even better is Plastician. Michaelangelo Matos spent 60 P&J points on his top two: one, as far as I can tell, is a podcast, something I have no clue what to do with (and rather doubt should be considered an album at all), and the other is Plastician's cut and paste dance mix. It at least is CD length, although I have no idea how to get one burned. (For one thing, I doubt the samples are cleared, but if you can figure this out, please consider sending me a copy.)

The reissues lists from electronica specialist publications and stores were full of obscurities I had never heard of. I managed to dig up a handful of those, sorting Patrick Cowley and Savant above the A- cusp -- Mariah and Arthur Russell below. (The Trevor Jackson compilation is more Adrian Sherwood so I wouldn't call it obscure. It's probably possible to assemble an A- Sherwood CD, but why go to that trouble when you can have a half-dozen B+'s instead?) I also waded through three Rough Guides, something that eats at me more than it will you, because I want to have some idea when and where these songs come from, and that information is awful hard to dig up. Still, a winner there, disguised as something else (Lost in Mali).

Three high HMs might have benefitted from more patience and dilligence on my part. Damily is a Malagasy guitarist/band that recycles soukous with extra grit and distortion. Michael Bates is a bassist leading what's basically a Michael Blake sax trio, roughly comparable to Blake's own Tiddy Boom (an A- in 2014). Then there's the Velvet Underground's Complete Matrix Tapes, which at 4CD got one spin and a summary judgment. Lots of wonderful music in there, but also lots of old news -- 1969: Velvet Underground Live came from these tapes -- and I got a bit tired of hearing several songs recycle four or more times. Chances are if I had the box, the booklets, etc., I might have leaned the other way. But I didn't really get the sense that additional sets added much, unlike some jazz boxes I can think of (Miles Davis at the Plugged Nickel, Art Pepper at the Village Vanguard).

Current plans are to publish a Rhapsody Streamnotes by the end of the month. Currently 90 entries in the draft file -- shorter than most columns but not too shabby.

New records rated this week:

  • Julian Argüelles: Let It Be Told (2012 [2015], Basho): [r]: B+(***)
  • Julian Argüelles: Tetra (2014 [2015], Whirlwind): [r]: B+(***)
  • Julien Baker: Sprained Ankle (2015, 6131 Records): [r]: B+(*)
  • Michael Bates: Northern Spy (2015, Stereoscopic): [r]: B+(***)
  • Bully: Feels Like (2015, Startime International/Columbia): [r]: A-
  • Elysia Crampton: American Drift (2015, Blueberry): [r]: A-
  • Damily: Very Aomby (2015, Helico): [r]: B+(***)
  • Stephen Haynes: Pomegranate (2015, New Atlantis): [r]: B+(***)
  • Christine Jensen and Maggi Olin: Transatlantic Conversations: 11 Piece Band Live (2013 [2016], Linedown): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Knxwledge: Hud Dreams (2015, Stones Throw): [r]: B+(*)
  • Los Lobos: Gates of Gold (2015, 429/Savoy Jazz): [r]: B+(**)
  • New York Gypsy All Stars: Dromomania (2015, self-released): [r]: B+(**)
  • Kresten Osgood, Masabumi Kikuchi, Ben Street & Thomas Morgan: Kikuchi/Street/Morgan/Osgood (2008 [2015], ILK Music): [r]: B+(***)
  • Laura Perlman: Precious Moments (2015 [2016], Miles High): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Plastician: All the Right Moves (2015, self-released): [sc]: A-
  • Joan Shelley: Over and Even (2015, No Quarter): [r]: B+(*)
  • Taraf de Haïdouks: Of Lovers, Gamblers and Parachute Skirts (2015, Crammed Discs): [r]: B+(**)
  • James Taylor: Before This World (2015, Concord): [r]: C+
  • Tenement: Predatory Headlights (2015, Don Giovanni): [r]: B+(*)
  • Zomba Prison Project: I Have No Everything Here (2015, Six Degrees): [r]: B+(**)
  • Zs: XE (2015, Northern Spy): [r]: B+(**)

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

  • Buena Vista Social Club: Lost and Found (1996-2000 [2015], World Circuit): [r]: B
  • Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen: Live in San Francisco 1971 (1971 [2015], Sundazed): [r]: B+(**)
  • Patrick Cowley: Muscle Up (1973-81 [2015], Dark Entries): [r]: A-
  • Trevor Jackson Presents: Science Fiction Dancehall Classics (1981-87 [2015], On-U Sound, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Karin Krog: Don't Just Sing: An Anthology: 1963-1999 (1963-99 [2015], Light in the Attic): [r]: B+(**)
  • Lost in Mali: Off the Beaten Track From Bamako to Timbuktu ([2015], Riverboat): [r]: A-
  • Mariah: Utakata No Hibi (1983 [2015], Shan-Shan): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Rough Guide to Psychedelic Salsa (2008-13 [2015], World Music Network): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Rough Guide to Psychedelic Samba (2009-14 [2015], World Music Network): [r]: B+(***)
  • Arthur Russell: Corn (1982-83 [2015], Audika): [r]: B+(**)
  • Savant: Artificial Dance (1981-83 [2015], RVNG Intl): [r]: A-
  • The Velvet Underground: The Complete Matrix Tapes (1969 [2015], Polydor, 4CD): [r]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen: Live From Deep in the Heart of Texas (1973 [1974], MCA): [r]: B+(***)
  • Stephen Haynes: Parrhesia (2010, Engine Studios): [r]: B+(**)
  • New York Gypsy All Stars: Romantech (2011, Traditional Crossroads): [r]: B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Allison Au Quartet: Forest Grove (self-released): February 16
  • Brooklyn Blowhards (Little(i)Music): April 8
  • Heroes Are Gang Leaders: Highest Engines Near/Near Higher Engineers (Flat Langton's Arkeyes)
  • The Great American Music Ensemble: It's All in the Game (Jazzed Media): March 4
  • Florian Hoefner: Luminosity (Origin)
  • Bruce Torff: Down the Line (Summit): February 9

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Lost in Mali: Off the Beaten Track From Bamako to Timbuktu ([2015], World Music Network): A- [rhapsody]
  • The Rough Guide to Psychedelic Samba (2009-14 [2015], World Music Network): B+(***) [rhapsody]
  • The Rough Guide to Psychedelic Salsa (2008-13 [2015], World Music Network): B+(**) [rhapsody]
  • Trevor Jackson Presents: Science Fiction Dancehall Classics (1981-87 [2015], On-U Sound, 2CD): B+(**) [rhapsody]

Added grades for remembered LPs from way back when:

  • The Velvet Underground: Live at Max's Kansas City (1970 [1972], Cotillion): Of course, I had the original LP, recorded on a cassette machine under the table with its attendant awful sound. Don't recall whether I picked up the 2004 2-CD reissue, but if I had it ought to be in the database). B

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links this week. The longest involves some recent attacks on Bernie Sanders from normally left-leaning individuals who have reconciled themselves to a Hillary Clinton nomination. I hadn't given this contest much thought previously, and still don't feel all that partisan today. I have in fact been critical of both candidates, especially on foreign policy where I believe both are dangerously fond of American (and even more so Israeli) military might -- not identically so, as Clinton has been more consistently hawkish (cf. her recent attacks on Sanders for thinking that normalizing relations with Iran might be a good idea).

I suppose you can count me as one of those reconciled to an eventual Clinton nomination. I was very much against her in 2008, not only for the usual policy reasons but because I didn't like the smell of dynasty (something eight years of Bush II did nothing to dispell). That's still an issue, but has been mitigated somewhat by her growing experience and stature, as well as the passage of time. The fact that Obama turned out to be almost identical to what I feared from Clinton in 2008 has added to the fatigue factor. I am, after all, an old guy, cynical after so many disappointments, and skeptical of what any one person can really accomplish as president. On the other hand, being reconciled to Clinton is a far cry from having any will to support her. I don't really have the will to support Sanders either, but at least I find his popularity refreshing -- something I want no part in dampening. So when he is attacked unfairly, which is how I would characterize Krugman and Geier (two writers I generally admire) below, I feel that's worth pointing out. Much as I expect to protest against many policies of whoever wins the election.

Still, it's worth bearing in mind that fundamentally I regard Sanders as decent, honest, and earnest -- more so than any significant presidential candidate since George McGovern. (Nothing still says more about the decay and decline of America during my lifetime than Nixon's margin over McGovern.) Clinton, on the other hand, is every bit as corrupt and opportunistic as her husband (albeit probably somewhat less vain). The Republicans, on the other hand, are all far off the deep end. What distinguishes Clinton from them isn't any edge she has in intellect or character -- it's merely that she hangs with somewhat more decent and sensible people, and knows she has to broaden her appeal more across class and racial and other lines, which means she has to behave more decenty and sensibly herself.

  • Amy Davidson: The Contempt That Poisoned Flint's Water: Flint, Michigan was in bad shape way back in 1989 when Michael Moore filmed his documentary on his dilapidated home town, Roger and Me, but not even Moore followed up to see how bad it could get. Thanks to austerity measures, many of Flint's children have been poisoned with lead.

    Until April, 2014, Flint had been part of Detroit's water system, which had Lake Huron as its source. It was scheduled to be connected to a new pipeline in 2016 or 2017, which would save money; Flint is in such desperate financial straits that it was under the oversight of an Emergency Manager. When that manager felt he couldn't negotiate a low enough price for Detroit water in the interim, the city was left with the option of drinking from the river that ran by it, and past its active and derelict factories, and had been last regularly used decades before. The city would treat the water itself. All the city had to do was pass a few tests; as long as it did, it didn't matter if the residents were, in effect, drinking dirt. But then, almost immediately, the water began to fail the tests. In August, 2014, and again that September, the water was found to have unacceptably high levels of fecal coliform bacteria, and specifically E. coli. Certain neighborhoods were instructed to boil their water, while the city added chlorine to the supply to disinfect it. It took a lot of chlorine -- and that may be where Flint's troubles really began. [ . . . ] By October, 2014, General Motors had announced that it would no longer use the water, because it was corroding its equipment. It was also -- and this should have been entirely predictable -- eating into the lead pipes that delivered the water to people's homes, causing them to crumble into the water. Flint is old, and its water system took decades to build. It took only months of cheap, corrosive water to mangle and perhaps permanently destroy it.

    A lot of things make Flint a bellweather for America -- a depressed city in a depressed state in a depressed region, leading to bankruptcy and a suspension of democratic accountability. But for a big picture, you might look at the American Society of Civil Engineers' 2013 Report Card on Drinking Water. DR Tucker's post has numerous links on this story, especially to Rachel Maddow.

  • Paul Krugman: Weakened at Bernie's: Starting with a lame, ungrammatical pun isn't a good sign. While admitting that "Hillary Clinton is no paragon of political virtue," Krugman takes a couple of cheap shots at Bernie Sanders: first on his single-payer health plan, second on his desire to restore Glass-Steagall and break up the "too big to fail" banks. In both cases he argues that Sanders' plans aren't detailed enough, that they hand-wave some important details and muff others. More substantively, he argues that Sanders fails to appreciate the shadow banking problem. And as often as not, the linch pin in his argument is that political realities don't make Sanders' preferred solutions practical. For details he cites Mike Konczal on banking and Ezra Klein on health care. Between us wonks, those pieces have some merit. But the cheap shot is the way Krugman turns his technical critique into a way of diminishing Sanders' integrity, honesty, and competence:

    But here's the thing: we now have a clear view of Sanders' positions on two crucial issues, financial reform and health care. And in both cases his positioning is disturbing -- not just because it's politically unrealistic to imagine that we can get the kind of radical overhaul he's proposing, but also because he takes his own version of cheap shots. Not at people -- he really is a fundamentally decent guy -- but by going for easy slogans and punting when the going gets tough.

    I won't say that Krugman et al. are simply shilling for Clinton, even though the timing -- a week before the first contest -- is a bit suspicious. But the effect of this sniping is to paint Sanders as some sort of fantasist, implying Clinton -- whose thinking on these issues is utterly conventional, not to mention compromised to the hilt by industry profits -- is the pragmatic choice. But in another post -- How to Make Donald Trump President -- Krugman reveals his fear that if Sanders wins the Democratic nomination, the consequences could be dire. That's always a risk in America, but it would be a shame if we let fear of Trump (or really of any Republican likely to be nominated) stifle much needed debate on real problems and sensible solutions. There will be plenty of time to worry about the demise of civilization after the nominating conventions. (By the way, part of Krugman's nightmare scenario is based on Michael Bloomberg running as a third party -- a threat he's made if Trump and (or?) Sanders are nominated. No More Mister Nice Blog analyzes a possible Bloomberg run here.)

    A second front of attack on Sanders bothers me more: Kathleen Geier: Bernie's Greatest Weakness, who writes:

    On Tuesday, his offhand remarks describing Planned Parenthood and the LGBTQ rights organization the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) as "part of the establishment" created a firestorm, particularly on social-justice Twitter. Less than 24 hours later, his tone-deaf comments on reparations stoked even more outrage. Sanders's left-wing critics have seized on both statements as evidence of his alleged weakness on civil rights, women's rights, and LGBTQ issues.

    Although some of their attacks on Sanders have been unfair, his critics, regrettably, have a point. For all his political virtues, Sanders has had difficulty connecting his message of economic populism to the other major social justice concerns of the modern left, such race, gender, and sexuality. And unless he overcomes these problems, he will be unable to achieve his goal of expanding beyond his base and sparking a popular mass movement. [ . . . ]

    Sanders's Achilles heel is that because he focuses so singlemindedly on economic inequality, he is not always able to speak to the needs and desires of the modern left, a left that is passionate not only about economic injustice but also about injustices tied to race, gender, and sexual identity and orientation. Today the left urgently needs leaders who are fully comfortable with and fluent in the politics of intersectionality, and who clearly understand that, while race and gender inequality are deeply rooted in economics, they also have separate dimensions that cannot be addressed by economic remedies alone.

    And here I was, thinking that the great work Sanders was doing was to restore inequality to the center of political debate. Granted, he's talking in terms of inequality instead of class, but there isn't much difference between the two, and adopting the more inclusive terminology isn't a bad move. When I was growing up there was a tendency in the new left to think of liberation as something you deliver to other people -- the image was pampered suburbanites struggling for oppressed minorities here (and the depressed majority in the third world). The immediate effect was to put all sorts of fringe groups on tiny pedestals, policed by a cult of "political correctness," just as that mindset dovetailed with the right's campaign against unions and workers and pretty much everyone who wasn't filthy rich. The result is that the affluent visions of the 1960s have decayed into a world where a substantial majority have become distressed and depressed -- and the cause there is almost all economic.

    Especially disappointing (to me, at least) is that the piece was written by Geier, who until recently had focused her writings pretty much exclusively on inequality.

    More explicitly pro-Clinton than anti-Sanders is Katha Pollitt: The Hillary Clinton Double Standard (the article's magazine title is less nasty: "Yes, Hillary's a Democrat"): She says some nice things about Sanders, then cavalierly dismisses him:

    But Bernie Sanders isn't going to win the nomination . . . can we at least be honest about that? And if he did, he wouldn't win the general election. And if, by some miracle, he did, he'd still get creamed by the same political and economic forces that hemmed in President Obama.

    I worry a bit about the final point myself, but then I remember that for all the insanity and abuse heaped upon Obama he's still president, and that entails quite a lot. The bigger problem is his inability to implement much of a legislative legacy, but that assumes he wanted to. Sanders may run into more trouble for wanting to do more, but he also might do more because he tries to do more, or because after a decade or two of debauchery and decay more needs to be done. As for the first two arguments, that's mostly conventional thinking: all Sanders needs to do to win the Democratic nomination is to convince most Democrats that he's more committed to their aspirations than Clinton is, which given her slavish devotion to the banking and health care industries plus her penchant for perpetuating and extending overseas wars may be easier done than said. And winning the general election is a proposition that this year's crop of Republican blowhards practically seals: anyone with a proper fear of radical upheaval will have no choice but whoever the Democrats nominate -- even if they prefer a dedicated defender of the status quo like Clinton or Obama, they'll find plenty of ways to rein in Sanders.

    The rest of Pollitt's article is an argument with Doug Henwood, who wrote a long essay in Harper's titled Stop Hillary! Vote no to a Clinton dynasty and has expanded it to book-length as My Turn: Hillary Clinton Targets the Presidency. I haven't seen the book, but the article strikes me as actually pretty mild -- aside from giving Dick Morris unwarranted opportunity to fantasize. The main problem I see is that the Clintons have built a political machine that serves their personal ambitions while the Democratic Party atrophies. Obama was similarly neglectful of the party base, so both presidents spent most of their terms with Republican-dominated Congresses as the excuse for not delivering any gains for their voters, while they were free to cozy up to business supporters. Given her track record and connections, it's inconceivable that Hillary will break that pattern. Nor is she likely to undermine the neocon orthodoxies of US foreign policy. So why lift a finger for her until the conventions, when she's likely to wind up the last ditch defense against the Republicans?

    Yet The Nation is running articles like Suzanna Danuta Walters: Why This Socialist Feminist Is for Hillary -- the subtitle concludes with a myopic "but it can't hurt." Again, she embraces Clinton by assuming the inevitability of conventional wisdom:

    And visibility matters: It's substantively different to have a woman president advocating for gender equality as opposed to having a man do so, just as it is to have a black president advocating for racial justice -- because gender and racial difference live in and through our marked bodies. This is why, for example, the struggles for affirmative action and diversity remain so pertinent to all aspects of social, political, and educational life. It's unlikely that Bernie's redistributive economic policies, admirable as they are, would ever make their way through Congress. How is a leftist agenda that remains little more than a vision better for women than actually having a woman (who has, don't forget, an agenda that shares much in common with this vision) -- after all these years -- in the Oval Office?

    A lot of wishful thinking and special pleading there, from the notion that the wife of a former president will be a feminist icon to the claim that claim that Clinton "shares much in common" with Sanders' vision. I'm old enough to recall a bunch of cases, especially in the South, where term-limited male governors ran their spouses as surrogates -- the Wallaces of Alabama for one -- not to see the Clintons furthering that tradition. I'm not saying that Hillary will be a transparent front for an extra Bill Clinton term, but I'll be surprised if there's any substantive difference.

  • Robert Kuttner: Thinking Harder about Political Correctness:

    But what exactly is political correctness? The term was first used by lefties to make fun of themselves. I've been hearing it used ironically since the 1970s. As in: "This may not be politically correct, but may I buy you a drink?"

    This use of "politically correct" initially reflected the New Left and the feminist movement of that era mocking the efforts by the Communist Party to insist on rigid conventions of speech, along the lines of George Orwell's Thought Police in his novel 1984.

    Then the right got hold of the phrase and used it to claim that left-wingers were the new conformists, enforcing speech codes and embracing extreme identity politics. Allan Bloom's 1987 book, The Closing of the American Mind, attacked liberal college professors for imposing "politically correct" ways of thinking on impressionable undergraduates. The term then became a staple of rightwing rhetoric against liberals.

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

  • Ta-Nehisi Coates: Bernie Sanders and the Liberal Imagination: I found this too late to work into the attacks-on-Sanders section above, even as a footnote to Geier's piece. Coates at least doesn't argue that we should dump Sanders because Clinton is inevitable. Rather, he argues that Sanders is fair game to attack because he purports himself as someone who supports the same ends as Coates -- an end to racism and equality regardless of race -- but disagrees with Coates' preferred means (reparations). To make his point, Coates flips the roles of class and race inequality, arguing that you can't make real progress on the former unless you first tackle race. If that were true -- and I think it partly is -- it would behoove us to find ways to target race-specific economic inequality above and beyond the universal. (And note that this is different from the more common notion of attempting to redress past iniquity, something which in a zero-sum context would create as many present losers as there had been past losers.) On the other hand, a point I think has been clearly proven is that attempting to end racism at the same time political forces are driving economic inequality to unprecedented heights does not work -- and not just because creating a black 1% that parallels the white 1% helps so few, but it also if anything deepens the grip of inequality on our thinking, inevitably adding to the iniquities that already exist.

  • Gilad Edelman: How to Corral the Donor Class: Book review of Richard L Hasen: Plutocrats United: Campaign Money, the Supreme Court, and the Distortion of American Elections. E.g.:

    The corruption theories, Hasen explains, tend to boil down to inequality anyway. Lessig's argument -- that money causes politicians to rely too much on wealthy funders -- is just another way of saying that rich people have more influence than the rest of us. Teachout's theory of corruption as putting private interests ahead of public interests sounds appealing, but how do we know the $74 million spent by the environmentalist Tom Steyer to support Democratic candidates in 2014, for example, wasn't in the public interest? We have to assume that public interest is, by definition, determined only through equal democratic participation.

    Hasen thinks that assumption is right; it just has nothing to do with corruption. "[G]iven that we have fundamental disagreements over the meaning of the public interest," he writes, "the best we can do is to define the public interest procedurally, by ensuring that every voter has a roughly equal chance to influence policies and elections." In other words, what makes money different is that there's no correlation between how rich someone is and how closely his views align with what the public wants. The problem with Senator Smith, who wants Soros's money, isn't that he's "corrupt." It's that letting one rich benefactor sidestep the deliberative democratic process and determine a policy choice that affects everyone seems fundamentally unfair.

  • Bill McKibben: The Real Zombie Apocalypse: Thought I'd flag this now that 2015 looms as the hottest year in recorded history globally (although only the second-hottest in the US, a tiny victory for all you naysayers).

  • David Remnick: Seeds of Peace: Profile of MK Ayman Odeh, a Palestinian leader of the Balad Party.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Music Week

Music: Current count 26129 [26097] rated (+32), 402 [389] unrated (+13).

Missed my usual Monday deadline this week. Stuff happens, most of which is getting me down.

Rated count dropped back into normal range, although that may just be because I lost Sunday to cooking (Italian, for six). I played old favorites that day, winding up with Ben Webster's Soulville -- I'm tempted to bump it up a notch to A+, but the CD player (a Sony CDP-CD345) was dead this morning, so it will be some time before I play anything on the good stereo. I suppose I can still play CDs on the computer, but that's not really the same thing (and I've never done it except to test the sound system). I can still stream stuff, so there'll be more of that in the next week or so until I sort this out. The problem is in the mechanics: the motor, gears, belts, or what have you that are used to open the tray and change discs. I've gone through four or five CD changers in the lifespan of one receiver, and they seem to be getting crappier all the time. They're also not getting cheaper (actually, I mean less expensive; a free market should weed out planned obsolescence, but when have we had one of those?).

Pazz & Jop came out last week. I meant to do some of my usual analysis this week, but that got wiped out with the rest of the week. The album totals are here, compiled by Glenn McDonald. I've noted the standings there in my EOY Aggregate, scoring them like a regular list (which means 1 point for everything from 21st to the end). Some notes:

  1. There were 481 voters this time, out of a "thousand plus" invites sent out (past years have had close to 1500, but they're less forthcoming this year. Kendrick Lamar was on 43.6% of those ballots; Courtney Barnett 34.6%; no one else more than 20%. The top three point totals were 2639-1872-1073, so huge margins for Lamar and Barnett. The former was no surprise at all. The latter shouldn't have been, but Sufjan Stevens has been securely ranked second in my EOY aggregate ever since Lamar passed him. P&J reliably values American hip-hop more than my EOY Aggregate, which includes dozens of British and European lists. Kendrick Lamar topped both lists by large margins, but below nearly every US hip-hop artist gained from EOYA to P&J:

    • Vince Staples: Summertime '06: from 12 to 7
    • Drake: If You're Reading This It's Too Late: 19 to 18
    • Future: DS2: 20 to 17
    • Miguel: Wildheart: 22 to 14
    • Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment: Surf: from 32 to 15
    • Shamir: Ratchet: 34 to 31
    • The Weeknd: Beauty Behind the Madness: 35 to 19
    • Earl Sweatshirt: I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside: 39 to 26
    • Dr Dre: Compton: A Soundtrack: 41 to 56
    • ASAP Rocky: At.Long.Last.ASAP: 52 to 65
    • Rae Sremmurd: SremmLife: 64 to 40
    • Young Thug: Barter 6: 66 to 32
    • The Internet: Ego Death: 67 to 57
    • Jazmine Sullivan: Reality Show: 94 to 39
    • Dawn Richard: Blackheart: 100 to 29

    On the other hand, Sleaford Mods: Key Markets dropped from 36 to 122, and Young Fathers dropped from 56 to 120. My theory for the two drops on this list (Dr. Dre and ASAP Rocky, but especially the former) is that the albums sucked. I won't try to dig through the data, but I think there's a fairly decent correlation between quality (as measured by the gold standard of my grades) and the gain from the EOYA baseline to P&J.

    It would be helpful if P&J made available demographic data on the electorate. I imagine that at least 95% of the voters are Americans (or at least based in the US), and that helps tilt the electorate toward US hip-hop. On the other hand, the voters are probably 90-95% white, and the number of hip-hop specialists is probably quite small.

  2. Note that the biggest gains in my hip-hop list above were posted by women (Dawn Richard, Jazmine Sullivan). P&J voters are also more likely to favor women artists relative to the EOYA baseline. To wit:

    • Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit: from 3 to 2
    • Grimes: Art Angels: 7 to 4
    • Julia Holter: Have You in My Wilderness: 8 to 33
    • Sleater-Kinney: No Cities to Love: 10 to 5
    • Bjork: Vulnicura: 11 to 23
    • Joanna Newsom: Divers: 13 to 16
    • Carly Rae Jepsen: E-mo-tion: 16 to 3
    • Beach House: Depression Cherry: 23 to 38
    • Adele: 25: 27 to 35
    • Natalie Prass: Natalie Prass: 42 to 67
    • Lana Del Rey: Honeymoon: 46 to 61
    • Kacey Musgraves: Pageant Material: 47 to 20
    • Wolf Alice: My Love Is Cool: 49 to 115
    • Florence + the Machine: How Big How Blue How Beautiful: 50 to 64
    • Hop Along: Painted Shut: 59 to 22
    • Laura Marling: Short Movie: 61 to 112
    • Torres: Sprinter: 65 to 28
    • Chelsea Wolfe: Abyss: 71 to 176
    • Jenny Hval: Apocalypse Girl: 72 to 112
    • Ibeyi: Ibeyi: 74 to 143
    • Beach House: Thank Your Lucky Stars: 78 to 118
    • Waxahatchee: Ivy Tripp: 79 to 37
    • Susanne Sundfor: Ten Love Songs: 83 to 72
    • Jessica Pratt: On Your Own Love Again: 90 to 63
    • Jazmine Sullivan: Reality Show: 94 to 39
    • Dawn Richard: Blackheart: 100 to 29
    • Ashley Monroe: The Blade: 102 to 36
    • Rhiannon Giddens: Tomorrow Is My Turn: 105 to 52

    The trend is a bit less pronounced here, because other styles and the US/UK split enter into the matter, and because the electorate is probably 80-85% male (I counted once, but don't recall the numbers). To sharpen it a bit I dropped two non-singers (Holly Herndon, who dropped from 21 to 78, and Maria Schneider, 69-289). I also extended the EOYA cutoff to 110 to pick up Monroe and Giddens (no hip-hop artists in that range, but the next one down, Heems, got a bump from 113 to 74). Among style issues, P&J likes country (including alt) more than EOYA (aside from Musgraves and Monroe, above, Chris Stapleton rose from 62 to 24, James McMurtry from 107 to 51, and Eric Church from 138 to 83). On the other hand, with rare crossover exceptions P&J has little interest in electronica, with rare crossover exceptions, really isn't very interested in electronica.

  3. Last week I made a list of albums I thought would finish higher in P&J than in my EOYA. My list included several names that did indeed make significant gains: Sleater-Kinney (10-5), Vince Staples (12-7), Kacey Musgraves (47-20), Hop Along (59-22), Chris Stapleton (62-24), Bob Dylan: Shadows in the Night (81-49), Bob Dylan: The Cutting Edge (96-86), Ashley Monroe (102-36), James McMurtry (107-51), and Heems (113-74). Others on my list didn't do so well: Oneohtrix Point Never: Garden of Delete (14-30), Lana Del Rey (46-61), JLin: Dark Energy (48-127), ASAP Rocky (52-65), Arca: Mutant (57-66), Ezra Furman: Perpetual Motion People (76-184), . Most of these are records that had steadily gained throughout my list build. Furman was probably just wishful thinking, given that almost all of his support came from UK lists. Oneohtrix was my main surprise here: it had closed strong late, was as close to hip-hop as to electronica, and had quite a bit of US support (including an A- from Christgau), so it seemed likely to buck the anti-electronica bias (similar to Flying Lotus last year).

  4. Some big gains I didn't mention: Carly Rae Jepsen (16-3), Jason Isbell: Something More Than Free (28-11), The Weeknd (35-19), Waxahatchee (79-37), Titus Andronicus (75-50). I also didn't look far enough down the EOYA list to even consider: Hamilton (134-21), Royal Headache (108-44), Beach Slang (144-48), Future: 56 Nights (194-56), Bully: Feels Like (136-62), Colleen Green: I Want to Grow Up (342-68), Yo La Tengo: Stuff Like That There (126-69), Julien Baker: Sprained Ankle (219-70), The Sonics: This Is the Sonics (356-73), Speedy Ortiz: Foll Deer (159-77), Joan Shelley: Over and Even (253-80), Laurie Anderson: Heart of a Dog (193-83), JD McPherson: Let the Good Times Roll (226-94), Erykah Badu: But You Caint Use My Phone (218-95), Beauty Pill: Describes Things as They Are (492-97), Jeffrey Lewis: Manhattan (211-98). The biggest surprise for me was Jepsen, despite being aware that the album made substantial gains over time. Hamilton was less of a surprise, but it's such an unusual item (and appeared so late in the year) there were no obvious rules for how it might move. I hadn't even been aware of it until Rolling Stone -- almost alone among publications -- listed it 8th. (Its only other top ten placement was number 2 at Billboard.) I played it, and found it a rather unique item -- a trait some like a lot, while most of the rest of us simply put it out of mind. (I quibbled more with the tone than with the facts of the history -- I never thought of Hamilton as an immigrant striver; he seemed much more to be a proto-Napoleon, an empire-builder. Of course, constant contrast to Burr makes him look good. As for as the music is concerned, I appreciate the hip-hop as a joke, but it's clear to me Lin Manuel-Garcia draws more on the hack-musical tradition than any other resource.)

  5. I didn't attempt to predict many losses: I flagged Julia Holter (8-33) and Kamasi Washington (9-8) as possibles, and Blur (15-53) and Sleaford Mods (36-122) as probables, and thought Adele (27-35) could go either way. Otherwise, I rather expected everything on the EOYA list that wasn't rising would fall a bit but roughly maintain order. To some extent that happened toward the top of the list: Sufjan Stevens: Carrie and Lowell (2-6), Jamie XX: In Colour (4-9), Father John Misty: I Love You Honeybear (5-10), Tame Impala: Currents (6-12), Bjork (11-23), Kurt Vile: B'lieve I'm Goin Down (17-27). Beyond that most of the exceptional drops were genre-related: electronica: Jamie XX (4-9), Chvrches: Every Open Eye (31-41), Arca (56-66), Floating Points: Elaenia (29-76), Holly Herndon (21-78), Four Tet: Morning/Evening (82-104); jazz: Maria Schneider (69-289), Rudresh Mahanthappa: Bird Calls (99-190), Vijay Iyer: Break Stuff (98-232); metal: Deafheaven: New Bermuda (24-54), Ghost: Meliora (84-104), Faith No More: Sol Invictus (63-125), Tribulation: The Children of the Night (95-143), Iron Maiden: The Book of Souls (73-179); and something I can only disparage as damaged art rock: Holter (8-33), Unknown Mortal Orchestra: Multi-Love (30-106), Tobias Jesso Jr: Goon (44-102), Godspeed You! Black Emperor: Asunder Sweet and Other Distress (77-538) -- but note that Beauty Pill was an exception.

  6. Kamasi Washington: The Epic (9-8) is a unique case. The idea that it might drop was largely based on the fact that it got reasonably good support among jazz critics (4th place in the Jazz Critics Poll, I pick up a lot of jazz lists, and P&J has very few jazz critics voting. Take those jazz critics away and The Epic finishes a few slots lower (12-15th). I also noted that it did exceptionally well in Europe, and that would work against it in P&J. I also don't think it's all that great (and as I noted, records I don't like tend to sink), but it's also a fairly unique item if you get into it, and I've long suspected that there is a latent jazz audience waiting for something to break out of the tradition and the school system. So it wasn't certain to drop, but I wouldn't have been surprised if it did. And now we know that it held its own, passing four records ahead of it (Stevens, XX, Misty, and Holter) while getting passed by three others (Jepsen, S-K, and Staples). Maybe I should be hopeful that more such crossovers will follow, but I still rather think it's a fluke.

  7. The vote distribution has a long tail: only 2 records appear on more than 20% of the ballots, 14 on more than 10%, 32 on 5% or more, roughly 100 on 2%, roughly 200 on 1%, and more than 1200 on fewer ballots (the highest single ballot album came in 267th). Relative rankings are pretty much meaningless after 250th place (if not more like 200th). I've long felt that the poll would be much more interesting if you allowed voters to cast longer ballots -- to fatten up that tail -- where 11-20 are accorded 3 points (vs. minimum 5 for the top 10), 21-30 2 points, and everything after that 1 point. The marginal points wouldn't have much impact on the totals, but they would make it much easier to analyze the voting base and the affinities of individual voters. The poll could also solicit various forms of demographic information. I'd also like to construct a taste profile where voters rate a selected list of records independently of their rankings. More work, sure, but a lot more useful data. (I did use the expanded voting scheme on a couple of polls I ran on the Christgau website, and I thought it worked well -- the voter base was small and pretty homogeneous, so the extra data helped a lot.)

  8. Glenn McDonald also calculates a number of extra metrics to help explain the data (explanation here). Aside from kvltosis, which attempts to find records that were popular among voters who stayed clear of the really popular records -- a dialectic which can elevate records favored by smallish cliques (like jazz and metal) rather than true obscurities -- McDonald's other categories have meaningful names which undermined by peculiar definitions. One you can sort of understand is enthusiasm: the ratio of points to votes. The list it generates is a mix of poll leaders (6. Lamar, 14. Stevens, 16. Jepsen, 23. Washington, 25. Barnett, 28. Grimes) and low-vote albums where odds suggest that there will be a wider spread of vote value. To limit the latter effect, McDonald only lists albums with 5+ votes: the result is that the top three have 5-6 votes, and half of the top 40 have 10 votes or less. Some of those certainly do show albums that only a small circle likes a lot (like #19 Laurie Anderson, or with a wider circle #4 Hamilton) but some are statistical flukes.

  9. Several of McDonald's terms seem almost as arbitrary as their definitions. Hipness, for instance, favors album voters who also voted for singles over those who didn't. I've been on both sides of that equation, and hardly feel hipper for having filled out a singles list this year. The Hipness list itself may steer slightly toward pop, but mostly looks like noise to me. Except, that is, for the bottom five (min. 5 ballots): Dave & Phil Alvin: Lost Time, Ezra Furman, Jeffrey Lewis, Laurie Anderson, and Yo La Tengo. Michael Tatum must be kicking himself for not filing a singles ballot this year (also Robert Christgau and Cam Patterson).

  10. I'm not going to bother with deconstructing McDonald's other terms, like Monolithity, Vitality, and Singularity, none of which mean anything you can imagine. I will note that I personally followed a voting strategy which undermines those categories: I deliberately only picked singles from albums I didn't pick. I don't know how common that strategy is -- you'd largely eliminate it by allowing more than 10 album picks -- but it complicates using singles data to gain insights into voters. (I'll note, for instance, that Dan Weiss moved up on my "similar ballots" list because I literally cribbed some singles from his ballot. We did have two albums in common -- Barnett and Heems -- enough to put him on my list, but further down.) I will comment on Metalism, a category which exists only because McDonald is a Metalist (#5 this year). The same concept could be applied with any reasonably identifiable genre -- hip-hop, country, jazz, electronica, Latin, African, etc. As someone who is the proud owner of a .000 lifetime metalism score, I dare say anything else would be more interesting.

  11. My own ballot-plus-analysis is here, including previous ballots back to 2008 (used to calculate Breadth, another concept I find statistically dubious). The Centricity score is more useful: it measures how much overlap a voter has with the poll average, so the people who go with the crowd have high scores (I find it curious that I only recognize 2 of the 20 most centric voters) and those who abhor crowds have low scores. My centricity scores have averaged .131, with a low in 2014 of .061, but reached a record high this year at .234, almost exclusively on the strength of voting for Courtney Barnett: 166 other votes; after that it's James McMurtry (16), Heems (11), Laurie Anderson (8), Sleaford Mods (6), Henry Threadgill (4), Irene Schweizer (2), Lyrics Born (1), and Paris (1). I could have totally goosed my score by voting for Kendrick Lamar, which would have placed in my top 20, but as much as I admire the album, I still don't really feel it (and I've played it twice since voting), nor did I feel like wasting a vote (that ultimately went to Heems but probably should have gone to a third jazz album, Schlippenbach Trio or Chris Lightcap). The point being that these numbers are volatile, depending as much on strategic choices as taste.

  12. All of the EOYA values listed above are taken from last week's file. Since then I've added in a bunch of new lists, plus noted all the P&J results. I'll add more data over the next few days, but I'm getting pretty close to done. Main thing I will be doing is jumping from individual ballot to ballot. For instance, I'll check out everyone I don't already know who has a similar ballot to mine. (Michael Tatum, not for the first time, topped that list.) Ever since the Voice built its database-driven P&J reporting system this kind of hopscotch has been its most useful feature, allowing you to repeatedly pose the questions: who likes the albums I like, and what do they also like.

  13. Also see the Hilary Hughes interview with the former Pazz & Jop poobahs: Robert Christgau, Joe Levy, Ann Powers, and Greg Tate on the Year That Was. Christgau gets cranky about Hamilton, Kamasi Washington, and Chris Stapleton, and I have to admit I basically agree with him on those.

The big music news of the week was David Bowie's death. I was a pretty serious fan back in the 1970s, but I have to admit that I've been surprised by the outpouring of testaments and such. (Last time that happened was with Michael Jackson, who like Bowie touched many people deeper than I realized. Here are some links I collected:

I spent a few days last week going through nearly all of the Bowie albums I had missed. I can't say that I missed much, although the song "I'm Afraid of Americans" has only become truer. Despite the jazz moves, I can't, however, see his new album, Blackstar, as some sort of final masterpiece. Which isn't to deny that it is a big improvement -- his best since Scary Monsters (1980) or maybe even Heroes (1977). (Actually, my favorite Bowie album ever is Lust for Life, under Iggy Pop's name, which also came out in 1977.)

Finally, more EOY lists:

New records rated this week:

  • The Arcs: Yours, Dreamily (2015, Nonesuch): [r]: B
  • Battles: La Di Da Di (2015, Warp): [r]: A-
  • The Bellfuries: Workingman's Bellfuries (2015, Hi-Style): [r]: B
  • David Bowie: Blackstar (2016, Columbia): [r]: B+(***)
  • Kenny Carr: Exit Moon (2015, Zoozazz Music): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Bob Gluck/Billy Hart/Eddie Henderson/Christopher Dean Sullivan: Infinite Spirit: Revisiting Music of the Mwandishi Band (2015 [2016], FMR): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Health: Death Magic (2015, Loma Vista): [r]: B+(*)
  • Lil Dicky: Professional Rapper (2015, self-released, 2CD): [r]: A-
  • Lions: Lions EP (2014 [2015], self-released, EP): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Jenny Maybee/Nick Phillips: Haiku (2015 [2016], self-released): [cd]: B
  • Terrence McManus and John Hébert: Saints and Sinners (2015, Rowhouse Music): [dl]: B+(*)
  • John Raymond: John Raymond & Real Feels (2014 [2016], Shifting Paradigm): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Adam Rudolph/Go: Organic Guitar Orchestra: Turning Towards the Light (2015, Cuneiform): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Skyzoo & Antman Wonder: An Ode to Reasonable Doubt (2013, self-released, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Skyzoo: Music for My Friends (2015, First Generation Rich): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Stryker/Slagle Band Expanded: Routes (2015 [2016], Strikezone): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Snarky Puppy/Metropole Orkest: Sylva (2014 [2015], Impulse!): [r]: B+(***)

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

  • Mike Osborne: Dawn (1966-70 [2015], Cuneiform): [dl]: A-
  • Gloria Ann Taylor: Love Is a Hurtin' Thing (1971-77 [2015], Luv N' Haight): [r]: B+(*)

Old music rated this week:

  • David Bowie: David Live (1974 [2005], Virgin EMI, 2CD): [r]: B
  • David Bowie: Stage (1978 [2005], Virgin EMI, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • David Bowie: Tonight (1984, EMI America): [r]: B-
  • David Bowie: Never Let Me Down (1987, EMI America): [r]: B-
  • David Bowie: Black Tie White Noise (1993, Virgin): [r]: B
  • David Bowie: The Buddha of Suburbia (1993 [2007], Virgin): [r]: B
  • David Bowie: Outside (1995, Virgin): [r]: B-
  • David Bowie: Earthling (1997, Virgin): [r]: B
  • David Bowie: Hours . . . (1999, Virgin): [r]: B-
  • David Bowie: Heathen (2002, ISO/Columbia): [r]: B
  • David Bowie: Nothing Has Changed (1995-2014 [2014], Columbia/Legacy): [r]: B+(*)
  • Sue Foley: Change (2004, Ruf): [r]: B+(***)
  • Peter Karp/Sue Foley: Beyond the Crossroads (2012, Blind Pig): [r]: B+(*)
  • Tin Machine: Tin Machine (1989, EMI): [r]: C+

Grade changes:

  • Carly Rae Jepsen: E-MO-TION (2015, Interscope/Schoolboy/Silent): [r]: [was: B+(***)] A-
  • Lord Huron: Strange Trails (2015, Iamsound): [r]: [was: B+(**)] B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Melissa Aldana: Back Home (Wommusic): advance, March 11
  • Cowboys & Frenchmen: Rodeo (Outside In Music): CD, no cover
  • Blue Muse: Blue Muse Live (Dolphinium)
  • Kenny Carr: Exit Moon (Zoozazz Music)
  • Roxy Coss: Restless Idealism (Origin)
  • Mike Freeman ZonaVibe: Blue Tjade (VOF): January 25
  • Ira Hill: Tomorrow (self-released)
  • Joseph Howell: Time Made to Swing (Summit)
  • Christine Jensen and Maggi Olin: Transatlantic Conversations: 11 Piece Band Live (Linedown): February 15
  • Matt Kane & the Kansas City Generations Sextet: Acknowledgement (Bounce-Step): March 4
  • Urs Leimgruber/Alex Huber: Lightnings (Wide Ear)
  • Dick Oatts/Mats Holmquist/New York Jazz Orchestra: A Tribute to Herbie +1 (Summit)
  • La Orquesta Sonfonietta: Canto América (Patois): February 12
  • Matt Parker Trio: Present Time (BYNK): February 12
  • Jemal Ramirez: Pomponio (First Orbit Sounds Music)
  • Roswell Rudd & Heather Masse: August Love Song (Red House): February 26
  • Samo Salamon Bassless Trio: Unity (Samo)
  • Carlos Vega: Bird's Ticket (Origin)
  • Ray Vega & Thomas Marriott: Return of the East West Trumpet Summit (Origin)

Miscellaneous notes:

  • David Bowie: Nothing Has Changed (1995-2014 [2014], Columbia/Legacy): B+(**)
  • Gloria Ann Taylor: Love Is a Hurtin' Thing (1973 [2015], Luv N' Haight): B+(*) [rhapsody]

Added grades for remembered LPs from way back when:

  • Ed Sanders: Beer Cans on the Moon (1972, Reprise): B-

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Daily Log

Made a belated birthday dinner for T.J. Edmonds last night: a rather somber occasion coming a month or so after the death of David Brewer, his "long-time companion" and, thanks to the blessings of the US Supreme Court, finally husband. They were long-term friends of my sister's -- virtual family would be more like it. David worked at the local public TV station (program director, if memory serves). I used to run into T.J. a couple times a week when he worked for Wichita's last decent record store. He was into techno, worked on the side as a DJ, and did some original electronica music.

I offered him the usual bewildering range of choices, and he opted for something Italian (not seafood). I consulted Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, and came up with a menu:

  • Pasta (Penne) with Peas, Bacon and Ricotta Sauce (p. 163)
  • Veal Scaloppine with Tomato, Oregano, and Capers (p. 364): scaled up by 50%
  • Sauteed Broccoli with Olive Oil and Garlic (p. 477)
  • Zucchini Gratin with Tomato and Marjoram (p. 533)
  • Baked Stuffed Mushroom Caps (p. 76)
  • Panzanella (Bread Salad) (p. 554)
  • Romaine Lettuce Salad with Gorgonzola Cheese and Walnuts (p. 551)
  • New York Cheesecake -- from Ruth Reichl's autobiography

I always assume we need a cake for a birthday, but neither Hazan's almond nor her walnut cake seemed appropriately grand, and I thought the creaminess of the cheesecake would be a nice ending. I've made the stuffed mushrooms several times before, and had made different panzanella recipes. I've made several other scaloppine recipes -- the one with cream, capers, and grappa is my favorite, edging out even the piccata -- but thought that since I went non-tomato with the pasta, I'd put the tomato sauce on the veal.

Veal has always been difficult to buy around here, but a couple strategic Dillons stores have recently started stocking several cuts in tightly sealed packages. Still, I was only able to come up with one 8 oz. package of scaloppine, but found a couple "veal chops" -- looked like thick T-bones -- deboned and sliced them into three layers and pounded them thinner, and they worked fine.

Only other shopping problem was that I couldn't find any porcini to mix into the mushroom stuffing, but I figured that would have been overkill -- for one thing, I was using baby portabellas instead of the usual buttons. I also cut the pancetta back and made up the difference with diced prosciutto, although that too hardly made any difference.

Aside from a minor cosmetic glitch with the cheesecake, I thought everything came out splendid. Was anticipating eight people, but only six showed. Good group. Was pleased that I could do it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Pazz & Jop Notes

At the last minute, Brad Luen ran a poll at the Expert Witness Facebook group. He counted 47 ballots: "34 in the voting thread and 13 solicited through other means." Voters allocated P&J points. He broke point ties by "(i) points per vote, (ii) points after dropping highest score." I wasn't aware of this, so didn't vote, although it's not inconceivable that my P&J ballot -- posted on my blog more than a week ago -- was one of those picked up "by other means." I've scraped off the Facebook thread, so will get a better idea when/if I analyze it [e.g., Paris got one vote for 8 points, like on my ballot; I was the only one to vote for Paris in P&J].

Meanwhile, the standings (the three numbers are total points, number of votes, and highest points on any ballot; any album with only one vote wasn't ranked, even if the point total would have placed it):

  1. Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (423/35/20)
  2. James McMurtry: Complicated Game (282/26/18)
  3. Sleater-Kinney: No Cities to Love (272/26/18)
  4. Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly (269/19/30)
  5. Yo La Tengo: Stuff Like That There (190/19/15)
  6. Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment: Surf (187/20/15)
  7. Jeffrey Lewis & Los Bolts: Manhattan (183/17/20)
  8. Laurie Anderson: Heart of a Dog (161/15/18)
  9. Mbongwana Star: From Kinshasa (147/15/15)
  10. Ezra Furman: Perpetual Motion People (141/14/16)
  11. Heems: Eat Pray Thug (139/17/16)
  12. Grimes: Art Angels (113/10/17)
  13. The Paranoid Style: Rock and Roll Just Can't Recall (91/10/15)
  14. Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording) (89/6/20)
  15. Irène Schweizer/Han Bennink: Welcome Back (62/5/20)
  16. Jazmine Sullivan: Reality Show (58/6/12)
  17. Young Fathers: White Men Are Black Men Too (57/5/15)
  18. Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth: Epicenter (57/5/16)
  19. The Chills: Silver Bullets (57/6/15)
  20. Joanna Newsom: Divers (50/3/25)
  21. Future: DS2 (50/6/12)
  22. Robert Forster: Songs to Play (48/5/11)
  23. Sleaford Mods: Key Markets (45/5/10)
  24. The Mountain Goats: Beat the Champ (43/5/11)
  25. The Velvet Underground: The Complete Matrix Tapes (42/2/22)
  26. Hop Along: Painted Shut (42/5/14)
  27. Rudresh Mahanthappa: Bird Calls (40/5/12)
  28. Lana Del Rey: Honeymoon (39/3/15)
  29. Oneohtrix Point Never: Garden of Delete (35/4/11)
  30. Kacey Musgraves: Pageant Material (31/2/19)
  31. Miguel: Wildheart (31/4/14)
  32. Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell (30/4/10)
  33. Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Ba Power (29/3/13)
  34. Fabiano Do Nascimento: Dança Dos Tempos (28/2/14)
  35. Lyrics Born: Real People (28/2/18)
  36. Jack DeJohnette: Made in Chicago (27/2/20)
  37. Aram Bajakian: There Were Flowers Also in Hell (27/3/12)
  38. J.D. McPherson: Let the Good Times Roll (26/2/20)
  39. Blackalicious: Imani, Vol. 1 (24/3/9)
  40. Protomartyr: The Agent Intellect (23/2/13)

Also receiving at least two votes:

  1. Father John Nisty: I Love You, Honeybear (22/2/15)
  2. Highest reported point totals with one vote:

    • D'Angelo & the Vanguard: Black Messiah (25/1/25)
    • Chris Stapleton: Traveler (25/1/25)

    Monday, January 11, 2016

    Music Week

    Music: Current count 26097 [26050] rated (+47), 389 [395] unrated (-6).

    Most of the following list appeared in last week's Rhapsody Streamnotes, so no news there. I think I ran the program that counts the ratings on Thursday when I cloned the file and was surprised to find the ratings count at +32, normally a good week's work. Or maybe that was Friday when it was posted. The new draft file, which I set up as "January 2016 Part 2" currently has 20 records, a pretty healthy start. (Actually, I think I seeded it with three 2016 releases I had already written up -- Friday's RS had no 2016 releases.)

    The 2016 releases thus far are jazz items I shoved to the end of the queue to concentrate on 2015 releases. I haven't begun to look for new 2016 streamables, although I did notice a new David Bowie album on Rhapsody last night, and with the news of his death I'm spinning it now. (Marks a return of the "thin white duke" crooner, with orchestral swing and quite a bit of sax adding a jazzy air, the dramatic flair reminding me of Ziggy Stardust as much as anything else. Bowie produced a lot of lousy records following 1983's Let's Dance -- itself a very mixed bag -- and I thought his much-touted 2013 The Next Day came up short, but I can imagine someone more sentimental than I falling for this record. Will play it again for next week. Maybe I'll also get around to that 1993 album still marked 'U' in my database.)

    I expect good things from Intakt, but still was surprised to find my first A record of 2016, an African-born, balafon-driven jazz trio called Kalo Yele. The balafon player, Aly Keïta, comes from Côte D'Ivoire, but the other two musicians are recognizably Swiss, yet somehow managed to be born in Cameroon (once a German colony, divided between France and Britain after 1919, independent in 1960 with the British dragging their heels until 1961). Lucas Niggli is a well-known drummer I need to look into further -- I do know that he was a protégé of Lucien Favre, who's long been fascinated by African drumming. But I've never heard of clarinetist Jan Galega Brönnimann, who provides the perfect complement to the percussion. Marvelous.

    I also came close to A-listing Intakt's other January release, a piano trio with Aruán Ortiz, Eric Revis, and Gerald Cleaver. A lot of piano trio fall into my "nice" trough, and this one -- largely thanks to the rhythm section -- rose above that, but only a few each year really dazzle me, and this didn't quite.

    One piano trio that did dazzle me was released in 1953 as Introducing Paul Bley -- as much as Revis and Cleaver impressed me, note that Bley managed to get help from Charles Mingus and Art Blakey. Bley's second great album came in 1958 when he expanded to a quintet by hiring a young alto saxophonist named Ornette Coleman: I first ran across this as Live at the Hilcrest Club, but my current copy is simply The Fabulous Paul Bley Quintet. And in 1961-62 he was in one of the most famous avant-garde trios in jazz history, with Jimmy Giuffre and Steve Swallow. He was also famous for having married two brilliant musicians, the composer-pianist Carla Borg (better known under his name) and the singer-songwriter Annette Peacock (don't know her maiden name, but her first husband was bassist Gary Peacock, later an important collaborator of Bley's), and he recorded several albums of their compositions. Bley continued to record through 2008, mostly solo and trio albums, some exceptional (1965's Closer and 1989's BeBopBeBopBeBopBeBop are personal favorites but I've only heard about a third of them). Anyhow, he died a week ago, and should be remembered as a giant of modern jazz.

    I rarely listen to multi-disc sets on Rhapsody because they are invariably too much to swallow in one stretch, and it's hard to break up the experience like I would normally if I had separate discs. However, I took a chance with a 4-CD box that Phil Overeem has been touting, Chicken Heads: A 50-Year History of Bobby Rush last night when I was working on my screed about ISIS, and it fit the bill perfectly, running on and on with deep blues and soul grooves and the occasional chintzy cover. Rush missed the heyday of Chicago blues, failed at Philadelphia International, then spent three or four decades working the chitlin circuit, a nice career for a guy who never came close to stardom. I wrote my review before the last disc finished, only to find that the last few cuts tailed off quite a bit. I thought about docking the grade then, but decided to let it slide by. Having only heard one previous album (out of at least three dozen), I'm going out on a limb saying that he probably doesn't have a single A- record in his catalog so there's something inherently unseemly about grading a 4-CD box that high, but he was so steady he grows on you, and over the course of a long career one winds up admiring that.

    Maybe I'll find an appropriate time to try The Complete Matrix Tapes. Last time I looked, The Cutting Edge wasn't there, at least in a recognizable product configuration. (The Dylan bootlegs, by the way, completely buried the Miles Davis bootlegs in my EOY Aggregate: Old Music, 37-15, with Ata Kak's Obaa Sima (one of those Awesome Tapes From Africa) in third place. The list is pretty idiosyncratic, largely because it's built from 20-30 lists, less than 10% of the new release albums lists I've compiled, and partly because the longer lists skew toward obscure electronica (although it looks like most are so obscure I haven't flagged them).

    Meanwhile, I keep adding to the EOY Aggregate (although I haven't touched it in a couple days). Current standings (with Pazz & Jop coming out later this week; my grades in brackets):

    1. [728]: Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly (Aftermath/Top Dawg/Interscope) [A-]
    2. [477]: Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty) [***]
    3. [404]: Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom + Pop Music) [A-]
    4. [352]: Jamie XX: In Colour (XL/Young Turks) [***]
    5. [325]: Father John Misty: I Love You Honeybear (Sub Pop) [B]
    6. [325]: Tame Impala: Currents (Caroline) [*]
    7. [282]: Grimes: Art Angels (4AD) [A-]
    8. [265]: Julia Holter: Have You in My Wilderness (Domino) [B]
    9. [249]: Kamasi Washington: The Epic (Brainfeeder) [**]
    10. [247]: Sleater-Kinney: No Cities to Love (Sub Pop) [*]
    11. [237]: Bjork: Vulnicura (One Little Indian) [B-]
    12. [219]: Vince Staples: Summertime '06 (Def Jam) [***]
    13. [199]: Joanna Newsom: Divers (Drag City)
    14. [162]: Oneohtrix Point Never: Garden of Delete [***]
    15. [139]: Blur: The Magic Whip (Parlophone/Warner) [**]
    16. [136]: Carly Rae Jepsen: E-mo-tion (Interscope/School Boy) [***]
    17. [132]: Kurt Vile: B'lieve I'm Goin Down (Matador) [B]
    18. [131]: Alabama Shakes: Sound & Color (ATO) [*]
    19. {130]: Drake: If You're Reading This It's Too Late (Cash Money) [B]
    20. [127]: Future: DS2 (Epic) [A-]
    21. [121]: Holly Herndon: Platform (4AD) [**]
    22. [121]: Miguel: Wildheart (RCA) [***]
    23. [120]: Beach House: Depression Cherry (Sub Pop) [B]
    24. [119]: Deafheaven: |New Bermuda (Anti)
    25. [116]: Deerhunter: Fading Frontier (4AD) [***]
    26. [104]: Viet Cong: Viet Cong (Jagjaguwar) [**]
    27. [98]: Adele: 25 (XL)
    28. [97]: Jason Isbell: Something More Than Free (Southeastern) [*]
    29. [96]: Floating Points: Elaenia (Luaka Bop) [***]
    30. [92]: Unknown Mortal Orchestra: Multi-Love (Jagjaguwar) [B-]
    31. [88]: Chvrches: Every Open Eye (Universal) [**]
    32. [86]: Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experment: Surf (self-released) [A-]
    33. [85]: Mbongwana Star: From Kinshasa (World Circuit) [A-]
    34. [85]: Shamir: Ratchet (XL) [A-]
    35. [84]: The Weeknd: Beauty Behind the Madness (Republic) [*]
    36. [80]: Sleaford Mods: Key Markets (Harbinger Sound) [A-]
    37. [78]: Wilco: Star Wars (dBpm) [***]
    38. [77]: Destroyer: Poison Season (Merge) [*]
    39. [76]: Earl Sweatshirt: I Don't Like Shit I Don't Go Outside (Columbia) [*]
    40. [75]: D'Angelo & the Vanguard: Black Messiah (RCA -14) [A-]
    41. [75]: Dr Dre: Compton: A Soundtrack by Dr Dre (Aftermath/Interscope) [B-]
    42. [75]: Natalie Prass: Natalie Prass (Sony) [*]

    My grades here are pretty evenly distributed: 8 A-, 8 ***, 5 **, 8 *, 5 B, 3 B-, 3 ungraded. Robert Christgau, who's always a bit more in step with the critical consensus, graded eight (or nine with Adele) of these records higher than I did, moving five over the A- line: Jamie XX, Sleater-Kinney, Oneohtrix Point Never, Miguel, Jason Isbell. Other aggregate lists pretty much agree, regardless of depth or method -- I'd say they're probably more consistent this year than most. P&J will shuffle these around a bit, but I don't forsee anything major, unless Holter or Washington take a dive (Sleater-Kinney will probably pass them, maybe Vince Staples and/or Oneohtrix Point Never too. UK favorites typically fall off, but that mostly means Blur and Sleaford Mods. The closest thing to a late gainer (like Beyoncé and D'Angelo in recent years) is Adele, which could go either way.

    Also not a lot of lower-ranked albums with much P&J upside potential. The best outside shots I see are: Lana Del Rey: Honeymoon (46), Kacey Musgraves: Pageant Material (47), Jlin: Dark Energy (48), ASAP Rocky: At.Long.Last.ASAP (52), Arca: Mutant (57); Hop Along: Painted Shut (59), Chris Stapleton: Traveler (62); Ezra Furman: Perpetual Motion People (76), Ashley Monroe: The Blade (102), James McMurtry: Complicated Game (107), Heems: Eat Pray Thug (113). Bob Dylan has also always run much higher in P&J than in aggregates, so either Shadows in the Night (81) or, more likely, The Cutting Edge bootlegs could crack the top 40.

    New records rated this week:

    • Brian Andres and the Afro-Cuban Jazz Cartel: This Could Be That (2015 [2016], Bacalao): [cd]: B+(*)
    • Babyface: Return of the Tender Lover (2015, Def Jam): [r]: B+(***)
    • Beauty Pill: Beauty Pill Describes Things as They Are (2015, Butterscotch): [r]: B
    • Carter Tutti Void: f(x) (2015, Industrial): [r]: B+(***)
    • Mary Foster Conklin: Photographs (2014 [2016], MockTurtle Music): [cd]: B+(**)
    • Joseph Daley/Warren Smith/Scott Robinson: The Tuba Trio Chronicles (2015 [2016], JoDa Locust Street Music): [cd]: B+(**)
    • Dâm-Funk: Invite the Light (2015, Stones Throw): [r]: B
    • Dej Loaf: #AndSeeThatsTheThing (2015, Columbia, EP): [r]: B
    • Dr. Dre: Compton (2015, Aftermath/Interscope): [r]: B-
    • C Duncan: Architect (2015, Fat Cat): [r]: B-
    • FKA Twigs: M3LL155X (2015, Young Turks, EP): [r]: C+
    • The Foxymorons: Fake Yoga (2015, Foxyphoton): [bc]: B+(***)
    • Michael Gibbs & the NDR Bigband: Play a Bill Frisell Set List (2013 [2015], Cuneiform): [dl]: A-
    • Hieroglyphic Being: The Acid Documents (2013 [2015], Soul Jazz): [r]: A-
    • Hieroglyphic Being & J.I.T.U. Ahn-Sahm-Buhl: We Are Not the First (2015, RVNG Intl): [r]: A-
    • Ryan Keberle & Catharsis: Azui Infinito (2015 [2016], Greenleaf Music): [cd]: B+(**)
    • The Libertines: Anthems for Doomed Youth (2015, Virgin EMI): [r]: B+(*)
    • Liturgy: The Ark Work (2015, Thrill Jockey): [r]: C-
    • Lnrdcroy: Much Less Normal (2014 [2015], Firecracker): [r]: B+(***)
    • Meek Mill: Dreams Worth More Than Money (2015, Atlantic/MMG): [r]: B+(*)
    • Gabriel Mervine: People (2015 [2016], Synergy Music): [cd]: B
    • Milo: So the Flies Don't Come (2015, Ruby Yacht): [r]: B+(**)
    • Hudson Mohawke: Lantern (2015, Warp): [r]: B
    • Róisin Murphy: Hairless Toys (2015, PIAS): [r]: B+(**)
    • Noonday Underground: Body Parts for Modern Art (2015, Stubbie): [r]: B+(***)
    • Aruán Ortiz Trio: Hidden Voices (2015 [2016], Intakt): [cd]: B+(***)
    • Protomartyr: The Agent Intellect (2015, Hardly Art): [r]: B+(**)
    • Raury: All We Need (2015, Columbia): [r]: B+(*)
    • Schnellertollermeier: X (2013 [2015], Cuneiform): [dl]: B+(**)
    • Dale Watson: Call Me Insane (2015, Red House): [r]: B+(**)

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

    • Rastafari: The Dreads Enter Babylon 1955-83 (1955-83 [2015], Soul Jazz): [r]: A-
    • Bobby Rush: Chicken Heads: A 50-Year History of Bobby Rush (1964-2014 [2015], Omnivore, 4CD): [r]: A-
    • Ty Segall: Ty-Rex (2011-13 [2015], Goner, EP): [r]: B+(*)
    • Idrissa Soumaoro: Djitoumou (2010 [2015], Lusafrica): [r]: B+(***)
    • Dale Watson: Truckin' Sessions, Vol. 3 (2014 [2015], Red River): [r]: B+(***)

    Old music rated this week:

    • Michael Gibbs: Tanglewood 63 (1970, Deram): [r]: B+(*)
    • Michael Gibbs With Joachim Kühn: Europeana: Jazzphony No. 1 (1994 [1995], ACT): [r]: B+(**)
    • Throbbing Gristle: The First Annual Report of Throbbing Gristle (1975 [2001], Thirsty Ear): [r]: B

    Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

    • Steve Barta: Symphonic Arrangement: Suite for Flute and Jazz Piano Trio (Steve Barta Music)
    • Nicholas Bearde: Invitation (Right Groove): January 29
    • Laura Perlman: Precious Moments (Miles High)
    • Julian Shore: Which Way Now (Tone Rogue): February 12
    • The Stryker/Slagle Band Expanded: Routes (Strikezone): February 5

    Sunday, January 10, 2016

    Weekend Roundup

    Some scattered links this week, mostly about that perennial favorite, war in the Middle East -- nothing on the Oregon standoff (aside from this link to Josh Marshall, who describes it as "white privilege performance art"). Also, in honor of the five 4.0 or higher earthquakes that hit just northwest of Enid, Oklahoma, here's Crowson's cartoon:

    You'd think anyone worried that much about the price of gas would take an interest in the wars disrupting the world's largest oil producing region, but, well, Kansas isn't lacking for "stone-age brains" (see below). So back to the wars:

    • Thomas E Ricks: What are the Saudis up to with those executions? Regional dominance: Actually, this column appears to have been subcontracted to Sarah Kaiser-Cross, no great loss since Ricks has never impressed us as a deep thinker. The argument:

      Saudi Arabia had a difficult year. Despite Saudi Arabia's best efforts at restoring order in neighboring Yemen, the Kingdom's efforts to pummel its way to peace have largely failed. Near Saudi Arabia's northern borders, Syria and Iraq continue to struggle through maddening states of chaos and civil war. Internally, Saudi Arabia is battling domestic terror cells, ISIS recruiters, and Shiite protesters. Finally, its American partner, in Saudi Arabia's eyes, all but abandoned the Kingdom by signing the nuclear deal that resulted in greater economic and political power for its long time rival, Iran.

      Saudi Arabia's recent executions and the subsequent tension with its rival, Iran, were calculated moves, designed to send a clear message to opponents at home and abroad that Saudi Arabia remains in control. Simultaneously, the executions forced Iran to engage in a no longer subtle political battle for regional dominance.

      Power (and hubris) in Saudi Arabia has long been based on two things: the world's largest and most profitable oil reserves, and possession of the "holy cities" of Mecca and Medina. Even in the 1960s the Saudis thought they could take on the rising tide of pan-Arab nationalism in a proxy war against Egypt in Yemen. Oil provided the money to advance their ambitions, and much of that went into propaganda as they pushed their rigid, backward-looking version of Islam throughout the region. Through the 1970s, that seemed to be working out, with oil prices on the rise and the Nixon-Kissinger policy of bolstering regional allies (Iran and Saudi Arabia). However, in 1979 there were two crises: one was the revolt in Mecca that seized the Grand Mosque; the other was the revolution in Iran which, among other things, presented a new claimant for leadership of the Islamic world. The Saudis struggled through the depressed oil market of the 1980s, doubling down on their proselytizing -- conveniently tied to the US-sponsored jihad against the infidel Soviets in Afghanistan -- and helping finance Iraq's ambitious and brutal war against Iran. That led to a new crisis in 1989-90, when Iraq, ending its bloody stalemate with Iran, turned on Kuwait and threatened the rest of the Persian Gulf. The Americans saved Kuwait then, at the expense of compromising the sovereignty of the Saudi Kingdom -- at least in the eyes of its salafist followers. Meanwhile, Iran carefully cultivated ties to Shiite Muslims, aided by the increasingly virulent anti-Shiite behavior of the salafists. Then the US finally returned to "finish the job" in Iraq in 2003, igniting a full-bore Sunni-Shiite civil war that eventually spread into Syria, and erupted elsewhere where order had broken down (mostly due to the sort of interventionism Saudi Arabia has so long engaged in). The net result is that the Saudis find themselves facing opposition from the increasingly restless Shiites living in the Kingdom's eastern parts (i.e., where the oil is), from the increasingly militant salafists who resent the Kingdom's cozy relationship with the US, and from the ever-present pressures to liberalize -- iconically represented by efforts to overturn the Kingdom's ban on women driving, although the prospect of the people voting for their own leaders is surely more disconcerting. And, well, bummer about those low oil prices, which has plunged the government into deficits for the first time in many decades.

      This situation has been deteriorating for some time, but has gotten much worse in the past year -- especially after King Abdullah's death, which brought to power a new king and a much more aggressive coterie of bureaucrats. It suits this power elite to see every turn against them as having been orchestrated by archenemies in Tehran, much as it suited American cold warriors to see every peasant revolt and strike as the handiwork of devious manipulators in Moscow. Hence, the mostly Shiite Houthis in Yemen were viewed as Iranian proxies when they had more likely emerged as an indigenous alternative to the complete mess that pro- and anti-Saudi Sunnis had made of the country. (Much the same happened with Hezbollah in Lebanon, although the fracturing and the level of foreign manipulation there was much more complex.)

      So, sure, Ricks (Kaiser-Cross) is right that the mass executions were KSA's way of showing who's in charge, and that the consequences of rebellion will be severe. (And thankfully they didn't throw in a couple of women drivers to round out their demonology.) But they've also demonstrated to the world that their ridiculous regime rests on little more than sheer brutality, with even its usual trappings of piety looking shamefully tattered. Thankfully, the Iranians reacted crudely as usual: if they had any sense, they'd stop chanting "death to . . . ," issue a fatwa that capital punishment is un-Islamic, and curtail their own efforts to force a return to medieval religion. It would, after all, be easier to counter anti-Muslim hysteria in the west if the self-appointed leaders of the Islamic world can't control their bloodlust.

      For more on the paranoia and madness underlying Saudi aggression, see Kenneth M Pollack: Fear and Loathing in Saudi Arabia. I found the following paragraphs particularly amusing:

    • Finally, the Saudis feel frustrated and abandoned by the United States. Many Saudis and other Gulf Arabs consider President Barack Obama deeply ignorant, if not outright foolish, about the world and the Middle East. They evince out-and-out contempt for him and his policies. From their perspective, the United States has turned its back on its traditional allies in the Middle East. Washington is doing the least it can in Iraq, and effectively nothing in Libya and Syria, with the result that none of those conflicts is getting better. If anything, they are actually getting worse. Moreover, Saudi Arabia seems to differ over whether Obama is using the new nuclear deal with Tehran to deliberately try to shift the United States from the Saudi side to the Iranian side in the grand, regional struggle or if he is allowing it to happen unintentionally. The more charitable Saudi position is the former, because that suggests that Obama at least understands what he is doing, even if they think it a mistake and a betrayal. The latter view, for Saudis, sees him as a virtual imbecile who is destroying the Middle East without any understanding or recognition.

      The depth of Saudi anger and contempt for the current American leadership is important to understand because it is another critical element of their worldview and policies, as best we can understand them. With the Middle East coming apart at the seams (in Saudi Arabia's view), the United States -- the traditional regional hegemon -- is doing nothing to stop it and even encouraging Iran to widen the fissures. Since the United States can't or won't do anything, someone else has to, and that someone can only be Saudi Arabia. The dramatic increase in Riyadh's willingness to intervene abroad, with both financial and military power, has been driven by its sense that dramatic action is required to prevent the region from melting down altogether and taking the kingdom down with it.

      This view of Obama correlates with reading too much Chales Krauthammer, a certifiable form of dementia. The fact is that US interests have never aligned very well with Saudi interests, but the US humored the theocratic despots because they helped recycle a lot of money back to the US, and the Saudis had a way of dismissing what they didn't like (especially US support for Israel) because alignment with the US let them pursue their real interests -- pre-eminence in the Islamic world -- relatively freely. Along the way they (like Israel) learned that they could push America's buttons by opposing Iran, so they wound up blaming everything on Iran. American enmity toward Iran has been irrational (and counterproductive) ever since the 1980 Hostage Crisis. Obama wasn't ignorant in realizing that, although he was perhaps foolish in not admitting as much, and in not pursuing a more constructive relationship with Iran -- one that would defuse much of the hostility in the region, not least by undermining the rationales for Saudi (and Israeli) aggression. Pollack's next paragraph almost admits that the Saudis have a cockeyed view of everything:

      That is why the Saudis have been consistently overreacting to events in Washington's eyes. We look at Bahrain and see an oppressed Shiite majority looking for some degree of political participation and economic benefit from the minority Sunni regime. The Saudis see an Iranian-backed mass uprising that could spread to the kingdom if it were to succeed -- which is why the Iranians are helping it do so. We look at the Yemeni civil war and see a quagmire with only a minor Iranian role and little likelihood of destabilizing Saudi Arabia. The Saudis see an Iranian bid to stealthily undermine the kingdom. We see a popular Saudi Shiite cleric who would become a martyr if he is executed. The Saudis see an Iranian-backed firebrand stoking revolution in their country's oil-producing regions. In the Syrian peace talks, we see a need to bring the Iranians in because of their critical support for Bashar al-Assad's regime. The Saudis see the United States legitimizing both a Shiite/Persian/Iranian influence in a majority Sunni Arab state and the murderous, minority Shiite regime. The list goes on.

      Pollack then suggests that the Saudis are right and the the US is abandoning its traditional ally in favor of its enemy. Actually, Obama's real shortcoming is his failure to criticize nominal allies like Saudi Arabia when they are dead wrong (and Iraq and Egypt and Turkey and most of all, in case you're wondering where this cowardice comes from, Israel). But then his failure to criticize is symptomatic of a deeper problem, which is the lack of constructive principle behind US foreign policy -- a legacy of the cold war when America routinely favored pro-business despotism over popular democracy -- and the naive faith that a sufficient show of force solves every problem.

    • Stephen M Walt: Give Peace a Chance (And why none of the current presidential candidates want to talk about it): As a "realist" Walt admits "one could argue that the United States benefited from war in the past." I won't let myself be sucked into that one, even though one of his examples -- "the Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980s" -- cries out for correction. The thing about being a "realist" is that you can excuse anything if it furthers your "national interest" -- whatever that means. For a long time American foreign policy was nothing but service to American business interests: mainly supporting "open trade" (as in the "opening" of Japan), allowing American banks and business to make loans and investments abroad. Then came WWII and the US started building bases around the world, evolving into the capital vs. labor class struggle known as the Cold War. Business (and not just American business) obviously gained from this shift, but along with foreign bases and alliances came a cult of power for its own sake. When you go down a list of the world's countries, America's view is that the "good guys" are the ones largely subservient to US power, and the "bad guys" are the ones that chafe and resent us, or worse still go their own way. (The closest to exceptions here are Israel and Saudi Arabia, which profess alliance but go their own way, showing that one of the traits we most appreciate in a foreign country is hypocrisy.)

      Walt lays out four reasons why promoting peace should be considered part of the national interest, and therefore a goal of our government:

      1. "When a country is on top of the pyramid, the last thing it should want is anything that might dislodge it." The US is the richest country in the world, so why risk that through the risk and uncertainty of war? Especially since the US hasn't been very successful at war lately (like since WWII). Or, as Walt puts it, "as we learned to our sorrow in Iraq, what looks like a smashing success at first can easily turn into a costly quagmire."
      2. "Second, peace is good business." Sure, there are a few businesses that sell arms, but they are "a small and declining fraction of America's $17 trillion economy." He adds, "peace encourages economic interdependence and thus global growth and welfare. . . . If you think globalization is a good thing, in short, promoting peace should be a key part of your agenda."
      3. "Third, peace privileges people who are good at promoting human welfare, whether in the form of cool new products, better health care, improved government services, inspiring books, art, and music, and all the other things that bring us joy. War, by contrast, elevates people who are good at using violence and who profit from collective hatred: rebel leaders, warlords, terrorists, revolutionaries, xenophobes, etc."
      4. "Last, but not least, peace is morally preferable. There's an enormous amount of human suffering in any war, and our basic moral instincts tell us that the alleviation of that suffering is intrinsically desirable."

      Still, every Republican presidential candidate dwells on how much more tougher he'd (or she'd) be than any Democrat, and every Democrat (including Sanders) takes pains to show how high a hurdle that would be to clear. So why isn't anyone even giving lip service to peace? Walt offers some reasons, including the excess adulation for "the troops" that practically everyone feels obliged to buy into. Let me add a few more:

      • We've become highly compartmentalized, so very few people (voters) in America have any conscious stake in foreign policy, or indeed in the rest of the world. If the US overthrows a democratic government in Iran or Chile, that may be big news there but it means nothing here. As such, the few people who really care about foreign policy are like a special interest group, and virtually all of them are economically bound to the current system. That only gives a practical politician one option for a campaign pitch. And it's even worse when you win and find yourself stuck in an unmovable system.
      • The title of "commander in chief" has become baked into the job description of President of the United States, and indeed has come to tower over the position's other responsibilities (like respecting and protecting the constitution). Maybe it has something to do with the idea that chief executives delegate tasks but commanders lead. Politicians certainly prefer the latter image. (Indeed, we came to wonder whether Bush thought the job entailed anything else.)
      • People readily accept the assertion that "we're engaged in a war" even though the alleged war is almost totally disconnected from their everyday lives. Selecting a president is one of the few war-related acts anyone has to do -- an appeal that the media readily subscribes to. This is especially attractive to Republican candidates, who have nothing else of substance to offer (their economic programs are all geared to the donor class).
      • It is widely thought that leading the nation in a time of war is a higher calling than leading it during peace. Franklin Roosevelt, for instance, broke tradition and ran for a third term because war loomed and he wanted to be the man who ran it. Both Bushes started wars to recast themselves as glorious commanders (although one failed to pick fights he could claim to win).
      • Indeed, the US has a long history of electing former generals to become president: Washington, Jackson, Harrison, Taylor, Pierce, Grant, Hayes, Garfield, the other Harrison, but only Eisenhower in the last 120 years. Theodore Roosevelt was famous for his Rough Riders stunt. Truman in WWI, and Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, and the first Bush in WWII, and Carter post-WWII all made a big point about their service (if not their rank; Reagan was in the US Army Reserve, where he "narrated pre-flight training films").

      Walt also revisits Syria, asking Could We Have Stopped This Tragedy? It's a fair question, and after a fair review he concludes "no" -- vindicating his initial suspicions. Still, his "realism" trips him up, leading him to imagine counterfactuals whereas simply listing what the US in fact did should have sufficed to show that no variation could have worked. He touches on that here:

      To be sure, the Obama administration has not handled Syria well at all.

      President Barack Obama erred when he jumped the gun in 2011 and insisted "Assad must go," locking the United States into a maximalist position and foreclosing potential diplomatic solutions that might have saved thousands of lives. Second, Obama's 2012 off-the-cuff remark about chemical weapons and "red lines" was a self-inflicted wound that didn't help the situation and gave opponents a sound bite to use against him. The president wisely backed away from that position, however, and (with Russian help) eventually devised an arrangement that got rid of Assad's chemical arsenal. This was no small achievement in itself, but the whole episode did not exactly inspire confidence. The administration eventually agreed to start a training program for anti-Assad forces, but did so with neither enthusiasm nor competence.

      And consider what has happened since then. More than 200,000 people are now dead -- that's approaching 100 times as many victims as 9/11 -- and numerous towns, cities, and villages have been badly damaged, if not destroyed. There are reportedly some 11 million displaced people either internally or out of the country, about half Syria's original population. A flood of refugees and migrants has landed in Europe, provoking a new challenge to the European Union's delicate political cohesion and raising the specter of a sharp increase in right-wing xenophobia. The carnage in Syria has also helped fuel the emergence and consolidation of the so-called Islamic State, intensified the Sunni-Shiite split within Islam, and put additional strain on Syria's other neighbors.

      Obama's failures here largely stem from his blanket acceptance of the main tenets of American foreign policy. The only thing he's rejected has been the Bush (Cheney/Bremer/but probably not Rumsfeld) notion that US troops can occupy and rebuild a Middle East nation like Iraq -- a tenet that no one in the security establishment still believes. But he still accepts: that the US has vital interests in the region; that the main thing there is to credibly project power such that the nations' leaders defer to American directives; that the US should have a free hand to intervene destructively anywhere we are challenged (or evidently just for the hell of it); and that the people in those nations don't matter at all. Thus the US instinctively saw the uprising in Syria as an opportunity to get rid of the insufficiently servile Assad regime. They just couldn't figure out a way to make that happen once a direct command failed. Even now, there is no "humanitarian" option: all they can do is destroy, so all they can do is to add ISIS (and Al-Nusra and who knows what else) to their enemies list. The result is that the US is actively engaging in attacking both sides of the civil war. It's as if the US had decided to fight WWII by bombing both German and Russian forces on the Eastern Front, hoping that they'd be able to recruit some Free Poles once everyone was killed.

      Until the US realizes that the lives and welfare of ordinary people matter more than the fickle allegiances of a handful of corrupt elites, the US will have nothing constructive to offer the region (or the world). And if they did, they'd realize that the brutal force they so worship is the problem, not part of the solution. Of course, it's hard to imagine the US changing to improve the lives of people abroad when Republicans here are working so hard to reduce the livelihoods of most Americans here. (Similarly, Democrats need to realize that they cannot help their voters here unless they start to respect people abroad, which means they have to start to unwind America's imperial tentacles, and return to the Four Freedoms that Roosevelt envisioned as the New Deal of the postwar order. You'd think that Sanders, at least, would figure that out.)

    • Rick Shenkman: How We Learned to Stop Worrying About People and Love the Bombing: Lest you think that my comments above about how Americans react to problems with brute, unthinking force, without any care for the human lives affected, here's a case example: when Sen. Ted Cruz promised to "carpet bomb" ISIS, his poll numbers went up.

      While many factors can affect a candidate's polling numbers, one uncomfortable conclusion can't be overlooked when it comes to reactions to Cruz's comments: by and large, Americans don't think or care much about the real-world consequences of the unleashing of American air power or that of our allies. The other day, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that, in September and October, a Saudi Arabian coalition backed by the United States "carried out at least six apparently unlawful airstrikes in residential areas of the [Yemeni] capital," Sana'a. The attacks resulted in the deaths of 60 civilians. Just about no one in the United States took notice, nor was it given significant media coverage. More than likely, this is the first time you've heard about the HRW findings.

      Shenkman has a theory on this, something to do with what he calls "our stone-age brain" -- in fact, he has a whole book on the subject (Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics). In particular, we fail to recognize the victims of our bombs as human, let alone as people much like us. Distance has much to do with this, as do the various grouping words we use to sort people. I tend to think of it as a failure of imagination: in particular, the ability to imagine the situation reversed, as almost any interaction can be. (The Golden Rule, in its numerous variations, is an attempt to formulate this logically. When you hear someone talk like Cruz, you should realize that he lacks the most basic skill needed to live in society.) Shenkman emphasizes the value of storytelling as a means of restoring humanity to the people our warriors target.

      Shenkman suggests that this "stone-age brain" may have had some Darwinian advantage, but you don't have to buy that. What you do need to recognize is that we're no longer living in stone-age tribes. We live in a complex society where we routinely confront strangers, and indeed depend on their good will for our own survival. In this world, the instinct to rally behind a charismatic strongman is overrated and quite possibly disastrous, even though it still seems to be the bread and butter of American politics -- at least it's second nature to politicians with a natural knack for appealing to our basest instincts. But it's not uniquely American: people all around the world think the same thing. The difference is in who has the power to "carpet bomb" other countries. In that regard, the US is most potent and dangerous, but probably not unique -- despite neocon fantasies of a unipolar world.

    • Paul Woodward: How to lose the propaganda war with ISIS: Big announcement Friday was that the Obama administration is launching a new propaganda ministry to counter ISIS's mastery of social media (see New York Times article). After all, nothing can be more potent than their lies except for our lies. Woodward comments (emphasis original):

      Picture the many meetings that must have taken place over recent months in which policymakers repeatedly said: in order to stop ISIS we need to improve the image of the West.

      This proposition should have been met with howls of scorn and yet instead, multiple teams of straight-faced bureaucrats from multiple agencies nodded their heads in agreement.

      At the same time, I greatly doubt anyone believes this kind of PR exercise will have any value whatsoever and yet the consensus of support derives from one fact: no one has come up with a better idea.

      Better to do something worthless than to do nothing at all -- so the thinking goes.

      The term radicalization has been pathologized, thereby divorcing it from its psychological meaning. It's viewed as a disease, with the implication that if the right steps are taken, the contagion can be controlled.

      But to be radicalized is to rebel and anyone who has taken up such a position of defiance has, in the case of ISIS, already reached a conclusion about the West. Indeed, they have most likely reflected more deeply on the West than the majority of their generational counterparts who, being less likely to engage in cultural critiques of any kind, don't have a particularly coherent view of the West -- good or bad.

      Woodward's critique is right but the problem is worse than that. The one group of people most likely to swallow the propaganda whole is the one that creates. It amounts to a process of self-delusion, where constant reiteration drums the talking points deep into the psyche. As such, it moves the argument away from reality and into the fantasy world of the propagandist, where logic turns self-fulfilling. It's already hard to think of any war the US entered more thoughtlessly than the war against ISIS, and the propagation of this propaganda is likely to cement current delusions (e.g., about our righteousness and their evil). If, that is, it works at all, which I guess isn't a given.

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

    • Nu'man Abd al-Wahid: How Zionism helped create the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: Delicious lede:

      The covert alliance between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Zionist entity of Israel should be no surprise to any student of British imperialism. The problem is the study of British imperialism has very few students. . . . but if you would like to delve into how and why the British Empire waged war on mankind for almost four hundred years you're practically on your own in this endeavor. One must admit, that from the British establishment's perspective, this is a formidable and remarkable achievement.

      The Saud family took over Hijaz in 1925 after the British switched sides against their former "Arab revolt" client, Sharif Hussain -- the main disagreement between the latter and the British was the Zionist colony in Palestine. Thus Saudi Arabia became a Beitish (and later American) client state.

    • Justin Fox: Why Economists Took So Long to Focus on Inequality. Income of the top 1% started to grow cancerously in the 1980s, but few economists noticed let alone studied it, at least until Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez came along and made the data impossible to ignore. Fox has some ideas, but they aren't very convincing. Paul Krugman has a comment here.

    • Olivier Roy: France's Oedipal Islamist Complex: Roy is a French expert on militant Islam -- has written several books on the subject. He points out that French jihadists are either recent converts, which he sees as radicalized youth who turned to Islam to formalize their revolt, or second generation Muslims, similarly radicalized from their experiences. On the other hand, he notes that there are no jihadis among first-generation immigrants or the more thoroughly integrated third-generation. That seems roughly right for the US as well.

      Why Islam? For members of the second generation, it's obvious: They are reclaiming, on their own terms, an identity that, in their eyes, their parents have debased. They are "more Muslim than the Muslims" and, in particular, than their parents. The energy that they put into reconverting their parents (in vain) is significant, but it shows to what extent they are on another planet (all the parents have a story to tell about these exchanges). As for the converts, they choose Islam because it's the only thing on the market of radical rebellion. Joining the Islamic State offers the certainty of terrorizing.

    • Omid Safi: Ten Ways on How Not to Think About the Iran/Saudi Conflict: All are worth considering, including "we in the United States should do some long and hard looking into our own culpability" -- and not just for the two points Safi mentions (selling arms to Saudi Arabia and overlooking Saudi human rights violations) -- for starters, I recall how we did the same things when Iran was controlled by a despotic monarchy, how much we resent Iran's rejection of us, and how we've let Israel and Saudi Arabia manipulate our loathing of the Iranian government to hurt the Iranian people. Also noteworthy is oil: Saudi Arabia is already suffering from low oil prices; once we let Iranian oil flood the world market, Saudi Arabia will be hurting even more. The history of the waxing and waning of Shi'ism is fascinating, but that's the sort of fact that opportunists can parlay into an excuse for war and repression, as we've seen, e.g., in America's attempts to pit Shi'a against Sunni since 1990 (not that Iran didn't try something similar after Iraq attacked in the 1980s).

    Thursday, January 08, 2015

    Rhapsody Streamnotes (January 2016)

    Pick up text here.

    Sunday, January 04, 2015

    Music Week

    Music: Current count 26050 [26017] rated (+33), 395 [396] unrated (-1).

    One New Year's resolution that I've been able to keep is that I stop adding records to the previous year's list, so that now that 2015 is gone, I'm officially done with 2014. The final list for 2014 is here. Since the January 31, 2015 freeze date, I added 81 records to the file, bringing the total number of records there to 1248. That was up slightly from 2013 (1222) and 2012 (1190), but still well below the record years of 2011 (1415) and 2010 (1300). The first year I topped 1000 records was 2004, when I started Jazz Consumer Guide -- 1052 that year, which has only dropped below 1000 twice since (982 in 2005, 996 in 2008). The last Voice-published JCG was in 2011, and the freebies thinned out after then, but I had started using Rhapsody in 2007, which took up the slack (and then some).

    In fact, the share of rated records I've sourced from Rhapsody (and a few other download sources, including links from publicists) has increased every year since 2007 (16.1%), up to 58.1% in 2014. (The series from 2008-13: 21.9% 34.0%, 42.5%, 46.8%, 47.4%, 49.5%.) It is not clear whether that trend will be sustained for 2015: my plan is to "freeze" the file no later than January 31, and to continue to add stragglers until December 31, 2016. The current 2015 file lists 1007 albums, of which 505 (50.1%) are from Rhapsody, etc. Virtually everything I add in that time will be streamed, so if I wind up with 1200 records (a little less than my 2012-14 average) I'll wind up at 58.5%. Odds of that happening are probably 50-50. Last year I added approximately 230 albums to my 2014 list after January 1 (133 in the pre-freeze January 24 Rhapsody Streamnotes, plus about one-third of the 50 more in the February 13 RS, plus 81 post-freeze albums, so another 193 wouldn't be out of ordinary. However, I suspect that I'm beginning to slow down, so I may not add that any. The number of physical albums I received (or in some cases bought -- not easy to separate the two, but the latter is certainly a tiny share for the last 5-6 years) has declined every year since 2011 (753, 623, 617, 523, 502), and significantly since 2004-07 (1017, 941, 1092, 956) -- peak JCG years, but also pre-Rhapsody, so I was also buying more CDs.

    It would be a lot of work (and probably not worth doing) but I could go back through the metacritic files (and I'd probably need some additional sources) and figure out my share of all (at least fairly well known) jazz releases. If I did so, I have little doubt that it would show that my share has decreased regularly since 2004-07 (with a probable peak year of 2004). I've currently heard 211 of the 426 jazz records in the 2015 EOY Aggegate List, so 49.5% -- better than I would have expected, but I have many fewer jazz lists compiled this year. (Actually, I have a larger sample list, 2015 Music Tracking: Jazz, with 1040 jazz albums listed, of which I've heard 610 -- 58.6%; that list includes everything I have heard, whereas the aggregate only lists records that have appeared on other lists.) That's just one data point -- not a trend -- and while it strikes me as respectable I still sense that I am slipping.

    I keep expecting my Jazz and Non-Jazz EOY lists to converge in length, but while I added four non-jazz albums this week (Days With Dr. Yen Lo, Halsey, Nozinja, and Skylar Spence -- underground rap, teen pop, Afro-electronica, and disco), Allen Lowe matched that on the jazz side (with a little help from Matthew Shipp), and Steve Swell added an extra, so now the counts are 76-63. Evening out compared to a month ago, but still there are blips. After the JCP ballots were sent off, I received 5-CD packages from both Lowe and Swell. It took a while to sort them out, but I wound up with five A- and 4 B+(***) (one of Swell's is 2-CD). Lowe's are all fairly matched, with a couple regulars and many friends circling around a common approach -- the sort of thing he previously released in single packages (the 3-CD Blues and the Empirical Truth and the 4-CD Mulatto Radio). Three of Swell's sets are the sort of avant-jazz that has little chance of appealing to non-believers -- solo trombone album, a compilation of scattered live sets (including more solo), and a trio with Peter Brötzmann -- but all are exceptionally well done, hence my grades. The fourth, Kende Dreams, is an all-star quintet where everyone excels. Good chance had I gotten it earlier it would have wound up on my ballot, but not feeling like bumping anyone so soon, I left it a notch lower in my file. Terrific album, even for someone with no interest or knowledge of Bartók (like me).

    Among the old music, I picked out the two Kaiser records because I had them marked as ungraded, and could skip the step of finding them by tuning into Rhapsody. The unrated account is listed weekly. These are records that I have (at least at one point had) but never got around to. New records pile onto the end of that list, but I currently only have two unrated 2015 releases -- a cassette tape I can't play and a Kansas CD I won't (at least not now) -- and most recent years have been handled with similar efficiency. So most of those records are ten or more years old, many bought up when the last decent local record stores went out of business, and some date back to the LP era (in which case I quite possibly don't have them anymore). Still, I always like to knock a few off whenever I get in the neighborhood, as I was with the new Kaiser/Russell album.

    Negro Religious Field Recordings appeared in an Allen Lowe Facebook post. I clicked on it, then found it on Rhapsody, and figured why not? There's probably a lot more down that rabbit hole, and maybe some day I'll go there, but for me this resonated not just from hearing Lowe's latest records but from checking out a Staples Family reissue that's nowhere near as good.

    Good chance I'll post a Rhapsody Streamnotes sometime this week. Draft file is currently 125 records deep, more than enough. Probably enough time left in January for a second column too, although I have a couple other ideas kicking around.

    EOY Aggegate list should be winding down, but I'm still have a bunch of lists I haven't transcribed yet, and a few stragglers are coming in. One thing I did do was to score the Robert Christgau [RC] and Michael Tatum [MT] grades I've been tracking: 5 for A/A+, 4 for A-, 3 for B+/***, 2 for **, 1 for *. I'm not sure I have them all yet, and will add new ones when they appear (until I stop working on the file). I might wind up doing the same thing for my own grades, but that would be a lot more work.

    Here are some EOY lists by critics you should know by name (and note I especially appreciate long lists, which I regard as realistic for people who listen broadly):


    For a list of many more lists, look here.

    New records rated this week:

    • Peter Brötzmann/Steve Swell/Paal Nilssen-Love: Krakow Nights (2015, Not Two): [cd]: B+(***)
    • Cécile & Jean-Luc Cappozzo: Soul Eyes (2015, Fou): [cd]: B+(**)
    • Lana Del Rey: Honeymoon (2015, Interscope): [r]: B+(***)
    • Deradoorian: The Expanding Flower Planet (2015, Anticon): [r]: B
    • The Deslondes: The Deslondes (2015, New West): [r]: B
    • Dr. Yen Lo: Days With Dr. Yen Lo (2015, Pavlov Institute): [r]: A-
    • Open Mike Eagle: A Special Episode Of (2015, Mello Music Group, EP): [r]: B+(**)
    • Jean-Marc Foussat & Jean-Luc Petit: . . . D'Où Vient La Lumière! (2015, Fou): [cd]: B+(**)
    • Patty Griffin: Servant of Love (2015, PGM): [r]: B+(**)
    • Halsey: Badlands (2015, Astralwerks): [r]: A-
    • Hamilton [Original Broadway Cast Recording] (2015, Atlantic, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
    • Ted Hearne: The Source (2015, New Amsterdam): [r]: B+(*)
    • Amy Helm: Didn't It Rain (2015, E1): [r]: B+(**)
    • Henry Kaiser & Ray Russell: The Celestial Squid (2014 [2015], Cuneiform): [dl]: B+(***)
    • Toby Keith: 35 MPH Town (2015, Show Dog Nashville): [r]: B
    • Kode9: Nothing (2015, Hyperdub): [r]: B+(**)
    • Lightning Bolt: Fantasy Empire (2015, Thrill Jockey): [r]: B+(**)
    • Low: Ones and Sixes (2015, Sub Pop): [r]: B
    • Allen Lowe: In the Diaspora of the Diaspora: Man With Guitar: Where's Robert Johnson? (2013 [2015], Constant Sorrow): [cd]: A-
    • Allen Lowe: In the Diaspora of the Diaspora: Where a Cigarette Is Smoked by Ten Men (2015, Constant Sorrow): [cd]: A-
    • Allen Lowe: In the Diaspora of the Diaspora: We Will Gather When We Gather (2015, Constant Sorrow): [cd]: A-
    • Allen Lowe/Matthew Shipp/Kevin Ray/Jake Millett: In the Diaspora of the Diaspora: Ballad for Albert (2015, Constant Sorrow): [cd]: B+(***)
    • Old Man Luedecke: Domestic Eccentric (2015, True North): [r]: B+(***)
    • Nozinja: Nozinja Lodge (2015, Warp): [r]: A-
    • Dave Rawlings Machine: Nashville Obsolete (2015, Acony): [r]: B+(*)
    • Rival Consoles: Howl (2015, Erased Tapes): [r]: B+(**)
    • Royal Headache: High (2015, What's Your Rupture?): [r]: B+(*)
    • Matthew Shipp: Matthew Shipp Plays the Music of Allen Lowe: I Alone: The Everlasting Beauty of Monotony (2015, Constant Sorrow): [cd]: A-
    • Troye Sivan: Blue Neighbourhood (2015, Capitol): [r]: B+(*)
    • Skylar Spence: Prom King (2015, Carpark): [r]: A-
    • Susanne Sundfør: Ten Love Songs (2015, Sonnet Sound): [r]: B+(*)
    • Steve Swell: Kanreki: Reflection & Renewal (2011-14 [2015], Not Two, 2CD): [cd]: B+(***)
    • Steve Swell: Steve Swell's Kende Dreams: Hommage à Bartók (2014 [2015], Silkheart): [cd]: A-
    • Steve Swell: The Loneliness of the Long Distasnce Improviser (2015, Swell): [cd]: B+(***)

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

    • Ed Sanders: Yiddish-Speaking Socialists of the Lower East Side (2006 [2015], Okraina, EP): [bc]: B+(*)
    • Sonny Simmons: Reincarnation (1991 [2015], Arhoolie): [r]: B+(**)
    • The Staple Singers: Freedom Highway Complete: Recorded Live at Chicago's New Nazareth Church (1965 [2015], Epic/Legacy): [r]: B+(*)

    Old music rated this week:

    • Henry Kaiser: Devil in the Drain (1987, SST): [r]: B+(*)
    • Henry Kaiser & David Lindley: A World Out of Time, Vol. 2 (1993, Shanachie): [r]: B+(*)
    • Negro Religious Field Recordings: From Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee (1934-1942): Vol. 1 (1934-42 [1994], Document): [r]: A-
    • Team Hegdal: Vol 1 (2009 [2010], Øra Fonogram): [r]: B+(***)
    • Team Hegdal: Vol 2 (2011, Øra Fonogram): [r]: B+(***)

    Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

    • Jenny Maybee/Nick Phillips: Haiku (self-released): January 29
    • Gabriel Mervine: People (Synergy Music): January 22
    • Naked Truth: Avian Thug (Rare Noise): January 22

    Added grades for remembered LPs from way back when:

    • Ed Sanders: Beer Cans on the Moon (1972, Reprise): B-

    Saturday, January 03, 2015

    Saudi Kills

    I've missed doing this the last couple of weeks. I've had other things to focus on, and figured I'd wind up writing pretty much the same things about the same outrages when I returned as I would have written before. So Saudi Arabia's mass execution of 47 mostly political prisoners came as a bit of a shock. Not a complete shock, mind you. Since King Abdullah's death last year, the Saudi monarchy has been increasingly aggressive about throwing its power around, most obviously in its entry and escalation of Yemen's civil war: one of the most blatant war crimes of the last decade, one that practically every day generates reports of atrocities. But Saudi Arabia has been meddling in the affairs of other countries since 1980 -- partly in response to the twin shocks of the Iranian Revolution and the siege at Mecca's Grand Mosque, both in 1979, but largely because the Reagan administration, following Kissinger's 1970s strategy of promoting regional powers as proxies for American mischief, encouraged the Saudis to help finance the Holy War in Afghanistan against the infidel Russians. The Saudis not only ponied up the money, they understood that to recruit Mujahideen they needed to promote their state-linked Salafist doctrine throughout the Islamic world. In doing so, the Saudis (and their fellow aristocrats among the former British cronies of the Persian Gulf states) built the financial and human infrastructure that promotes reactionary terror throughout the Middle East -- one that has taken on a life and logic of its own, turning on its former masters as surely as the Terror devoured the Jacobins.

    America's role in all of this can has resulted in one blunder after another, the root cause two beliefs we picked up from the British who got there (and got out) first. One is the conviction that all those who (however temporarily) stand with us are advancing civilization (basically a mental framework we have for admiring ourselves). The second is blind faith that any problem can be solved by force, so long as it is so swift and brutal that no one will dare repeat the offense. The first is little more than a invitation for sycophancy and corruption, one that attracts the worst possible allies, but which wears thin on anyone with integrity or principles. While the latter is so blatantly unjust that that it only breeds resentment and subversion, including those asymmetric acts of sudden violence we dub "terror" -- terminology oblivious to what real machines of war, like B-1 bombers and C-5 gunships, routinely wreak.

    Of course, the British only made matters worse, except for a few oil company owners, but they trained the Israelis in their methods -- in some cases personally, as with Ronald Wingate and Moshe Dayan; often by example, as with their suppression of the 1937-39 Arab Revolt; and ultimately well enough that the Israelis preserved the whole of British colonial law for selective application to the Palestinians. With such methods, the Israelis have managed to destabilize their dominance and extend their conflict for many generations. America followed in those footsteps not because the approach seemed to work as out of arrogance, figuring that the self-appointed rulers of the free world were destined to succeed.

    Of course, they haven't. Nearly fifteen years of active US military intervention in the region has cycled tragedy and farce in an ever more irresistible whorl -- among the casualties we find the brains of all current presidential candidates (even Rand Paul; even Bernie Sanders). Isn't one of those textbook definitions of insanity the belief that repeating the same act will produce a different result? The most immediate threat we face comes from the neocons, refreshed by a brief respite from an Iraq fiasco that they're now convinced they had won (until the lily-livered Obama sold them out), anxious to send American troops back into the fray. To accomplish this, they not only peddle flattering self-delucions, they never waste a chance to paint ISIS as the gravest threat to civilization, like, ever. And they've been so successful that hardly any "very serious" political pundit dispute the urgent need to "smash ISIS" (that seems to be the favored phrase, as if several million people living on their land are mere cockroaches).

    Their propaganda campaign has worked is largely because we seem to have this primordial fear of an Islamic State -- presumably dating to the downfall of Constantinople in 1454 if not the Battle of Tours in 732, although who knows about either? (More likely this is some sort of mirror reflection where we fear that others should do to us as we did to them; e.g., in the Crusades from 1092 and the Inquisition from 1492. Islam was almost never spread by the sword after the 8th century -- the exceptions were converts with a history of raiding, like the Turks and Mughals, and most people under the early Caliphs retained their pre-Islamic religions and legal systems without compulsion.) But while we're geing goaded into war with an "Islamic State" centered in Raqaa, we hear nothing about the more/less equally brutal Islamic State in Riyadh -- Saudi Arabia -- which represses Shi'a, bans all non-Muslims, punishes people they consider criminals with beheadings, which even practices the ancient art of crucifixion. Last week's mass executions, on top of the bombing and invasion of Yemen, should offer us a wake up call. Saudi Arabia gets a free pass from the neocons because they are rich, both selling the West oil and reinvesting their profits in Western banks. The only reason the Raqaa IS seems more brutal is that they are engaged in a life-and-death struggle, whereas the Riyadh IS is sitting high, directing most of its brutality abroad -- but not all, as we should see clearly now.

    I shouldn't need to say this, but I am not advocating US military intervention to right the wrongs of Saudi Arabia. I don't think the US can or should do that, but we should stop helping the Saudis commit those wrongs -- every bomb they drop in Yemen is, after all, made in America -- and we should realize our limits in Syria and Iraq (among other things, that we can't really distinguish friend from foe, that we don't really have anything to offer the people there other than death and destruction, and that we have no business doing that).

    Maybe you think I'm one of those awful isolationists? I have two answers to that. One is that if you have to choose between being a serial murderer and a hermit, I'd much prefer that you opt for the latter. The other is that it is possible to interact with the Middle East (or anyplace else) without becoming one or the other. You can, for instance, trade, invest, exchange students and tourists -- all you need for that is stability and security and mutual respect, which pacts, meddling, an arms race, and intervention obliterates. In fact, aside from a tempest over piracy (the Barbary Wars, 1801-05) the US pretty much did just that, all the way up through 1945: after that Israel, the Cold War, and oil greed and fear distorted things, but also the US forgot its founding principles, starting with appreciation of freedom from foreign dominance and entanglements, an aversion to maintaining a standing army, and at least a nominal belief that "all men are created equal, and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights" -- you know, life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness. Ironically, the same time Americans were losing their principles the UN was adopting them as basic human rights. One could have built a foreign policy around those ideals, but Truman and Eisenhower didn't, and later presidents -- especially Nixon, Reagan, and the Bushes, but also fatefully the Democrats as well -- only got worse.

    Here are some links on the Saudi mass executions:

    • Saudi Arabia: Mass Execution Largest Sine 1980:

      The mass execution to begin 2016 follows a 20-year high of 158 executions in 2015. [ . . . ]

      Human Rights Watch has documented longstanding due process violations in Saudi Arabia's criminal justice system that make it difficult for a defendant to get a fair trial even in capital cases. A Human Rights Watch analysis in September revealed serious due process concerns during four trials of Shia protesters before the Specialized Criminal Court. They include broadly framed charges that do not resemble recognizable crimes, denial of access to lawyers at arrest and during pretrial detention, quick dismissal of allegations of torture without investigation, and admission of confessions that defendants claimed were coerced.

    • Angus McDowall: Saudi mass execution driven by fear of Sunni militancy: Most of the negative reaction has focused on Shiites who were killed for "crimes" we would view as free speech, but also on the list were dozens of people we would call "Sunni militants" and probably put on our own kill lists:

      The Al Saud ruling family regard the expansion of Shi'ite Iran's influence in the Middle East as a threat to their security and to their ambition of playing the leading role among Arab states.

      Inside the kingdom, however, it is the threat of a rebellion by the majority Sunnis that most alarms a dynasty whose rule is based on conservative support at home and an alliance with the West.

      All past threats to the Al Saud, from a 1920s tribal rebellion to riots in the 1960s, a siege at Mecca's Grand Mosque in 1979 and protests in the 1990s, were caused by conservative Sunni anger at modernisation or ties with the West.

      That was why the al Qaeda uprising that began in 2003, and attacked the Al Saud by turning its own conservative Salafi brand of Sunni Islam against it, was such a danger. It is why the jihadist movement's latest iteration, Islamic State, is also a problem.

      While Islamic State seems to lack real support among Saudis, some may sympathise with its broader goals, approving of its rhetoric against Shi'ites and the West and its criticism of corruption among the Al Saud.

      By executing al Qaeda ideologues and attackers, Riyadh was showing its determination to crush support for the militant cause. By also killing four Shi'ites, angering Iran in the process, it was telling conservative Sunnis it was still on their side.

      In other words, the Saudis seek to solve all their problems by killing anyone who questions the right of the ruling family to usurp all of the nation's vast wealth.

    • Adam Withnall: How Saudi Arabia's own media reported on the execution of 47 people:

      The Saudi press, regulated by the government and required by the country's constitution-like charter to "strengthen national unity," exists under a perpetual state of self-censorship.

      In an editorial entitled "Law took its course," the major Riyadh-based English language news outlet Arab News portrays the executions in the context of prominent terror attacks on foreigners in the kingdom and "proceedings that took years in the courts."

      I believe KSA means Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

    • Ben Hubbard: Iranian Protesters Ransack Saudi Embassy After Execution of Shiite Cleric

    • Simon Tisdall: Saudi executions put ball of regional tension in Iran's court:

    • Nimr's merciless dispatch will thus be seen as deliberate Saudi defiance of western opinion and international human rights concerns and, possibly, as a direct challenge to Tehran. Iran's leadership may now feel duty bound to pick up the gauntlet. This is why the outrage and condemnation currently being expressed by Iraqi, Lebanese and Yemeni Shia politicians is essentially background noise. Likewise the limited, spontaneous street protests in Bahrain that followed the executions. Shias in Saudi Arabia and across the region will wait to see what Iran decides. They will take their lead from Tehran.

      At the very least, Iran can be expected to exploit these events diplomatically, stepping up its propaganda campaign against what it habitually terms the illegitimate and irresponsible Saudi regime. Countries such as Britain and the US, closely allied to Riyadh, are already embarrassed by Saudi human rights abuses. Public disgust will increase their discomfort, though they will not abandon their strategic Saudi alliance for one dead Shia cleric.

    • Saudi Arabia breaks off ties with Iran after al-Nimr execution

    • Caroline Mortimer: David Cameron criticised for turning 'blind eye' to mass executions in Saudi Arabia

    • Jessica Schulberg: Fiorina and Carson Defend Saudi Government, Which Cites Sharia Law to Execute 47 People. You could probably get similar statements from most other candidates.

    • Maajid Nawaz: Saudi Arabis's ISIS-Like Justice:

      Among those killed today was Ayatollah Nimr al-Nimr. He was a vocal Saudi-Shia opposition cleric who publicly criticized the ruling al-Saud family and called for elections. In 2011 Nimr said that he favored protest over violence, "The weapon of the word is stronger than bullets, because authorities will profit from a battle of weapons." The Saudi interior ministry however, accused him of being behind attacks on police and allying with another regional theocracy, Shia Iran.

      In fact, Saudi Arabia's regional tension with Iran has reached such levels that it is prepared to countenance the execution of minors. A 17 year old relation of al-Nimr has been sentenced to crucifixion -- his headless corpse to be displayed in public for several days. And Abdullah al-Zaher, who was 15 when he was arrested, also awaits beheading. This makes him the youngest person so far to be sentenced to death.

      Beyond executions, Nobel Prize nominee Raif Badawi, a blogger who started the "Free Saudi Liberals" forum in 2008, has been convicted of "insulting Islam" and given a 10-year prison term with 1,000 lashes. And as Lujain al-Hathloul's and Maysa Al Amour's imprisonment shows, women still can't drive in Saudi Arabia. Nor, apparently, can they use social media to complain about being unable to drive. Meanwhile, neighboring Yemen has been carpet-bombed to oblivion by the House of Saud.

    • Rami G Khouri: 2015's Dark Legacy in the Middle East:

      Applying this principle to the last year in the Middle East reveals several troubling trends that have made life difficult for hundreds of millions of people. One in particular stands out, and strikes me as a root cause of many other negative trends that plague our region. This is the tendency of governments to use increasingly harsh measures to restrict the freedoms of their citizens to express themselves and meaningfully to participate politically and hold power accountable.

      Several aspects of this behavior make it especially onerous. It is practiced by all states in the region -- Arab, Israeli, Iranian, and Turkish -- leaving few people in this part of the world who can live as fully free and dignified human beings. It is justified on the basis of existing constitutional powers, so governments can jail tens of thousands of their citizens, rescind their nationality, or torture and kill them in the worst cases, simply because of the views they express, without any recourse to legal or political challenge. It shows no signs of abating, and indeed may be worsening in lands like Egypt, Turkey, and others. And, it is most often practiced as part of a "war on terror" that seeks to quell criminal terror attacks, but in practice achieves the opposite; the curtailment of citizen rights and freedoms exacerbates the indignities and humiliations that citizens feel against their government, which usually amplifies, rather than reduces, the threat of political violence.

    • Capital punishment by country: Lots of statistics: 102 nations have completely abolished capital punishment, it's fallen into disuse but hasn't been outlawed in 57 more, leaving 37 nations who actively make a habit of killing their own people. In 2014, China killed the most, but 2nd place Iran killed the most per million (aside from a statistical blip in Equatorial Guinea), followed by Saudi Arabia. With Saudi Arabia's body count growing from 90 in 2014 to 158 in 2015 (or 205 in 2015 + 2 days), there's little doubt that Saudi Arabia is the most execution-prone state. United States is ranked fifth at 35, but that vastly underestimates the number of death sentences handed out here. Egypt is listed 8th with 15, but last year Egypt handed out hundreds of death sentences in a single day/trial. Israel is not listed because all of their executions are extrajudicial. We also don't have statistics for people shot and killed by police, but those are significant factors in the US and Israel. Nor for people killed by governments in military actions -- a statistic that Syria and Iraq excel in, although Saudi Arabia has been racking up a high score in Yemen recently, and I calculated that during Israel's recent 51-day assault on Gaza their kill rate per capita was higher than Syria's.

      If I could whisper into the ear of Ayatollah Khamanei, I'd suggest he should review the relevant books and conclude that capital punishment, at least under circumstances today, is contrary to the laws and spirit of Islam. Abolishing the institution in Iran would do wonders for that nation's international respect, and would instantly give it moral high ground to criticize Saudi Arabia. As it is, Iran is nearly as bad as Saudi Arabia, and the pair, with their deep conceits and pretensions are embarrassments to Islam. This is because the belief that it is just for the state to execute criminals opens the door for all kinds of state-directed violence. We see this even in the US, which until recently could point to a strong legacy of due process.

    Ran out of time to comment on anything more, but here are some single-line links I had opened up:

    Friday, January 02, 2015

    How to Fish

    Thought I'd share a recipe I evolved for two since I tried it last night, working mostly from memory and hunch, and it came out marvelous. My original idea was to write it up and mail it to a cousin, but then I thought of a couple more people who might enjoy it. And then it dawned on me that I could just as easily post it here for the masses who read this blog.

    The basic recipe is "Baked Fish with Capers and Olives" from Nancy Harmon Jenkins, The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook, which I've transcribed and annotated here. That recipe calls for two pounds of fish to serve 6-8. I picked out three filets from a bag of frozen pacific cod, probably a bit less than 1 lb. I also had two Yukon gold potatoes on hand, so I peeled them (not necessary) and cut them up into a rough 1/2-inch dice. Put them in a bowl, added some extra virgin olive oil (about a tablespoon, a generous amount), salt and pepper. Also coarsely chopped three cloves of garlic, added to the potatoes, then spread them out in a 9x12 baking dish (effectively oiling the dish). I placed the fish in the middle of the pan, moving the potatoes to the side.

    Heat the oven to 400F. In the same empty bowl (no, I didn't wash), I put one 14 oz. can of diced fire-roasted tomatoes, a teaspoon of lemon juice (not fresh, but do it right if you want), 1/2 teaspoon of sugar, about two tablespoons of capers, and about one-half cup of green olives (from the Dillons olive bar: large, pitted, no stuffing; cut in half lengthwise). Stir this mixture up, then spoon it over the fish. Sprinkle bread crumbs on top. (I used "gluten free" but you can probably find something better.) Finally, drizzle a little more olive oil on top (I used about 2 teaspoons).

    Bake for 35-40 minutes, by which the potatoes should be done, the sauce bubbly, and the fish flaky. The recipe above also promises browned bread crumbs, but mine stay pretty white (although they do add some texture. And that's it: about 10-12 minutes of prep, plus the wait while it bakes. You could add a green salad -- I'd probably do horiatiki (Greek) [1] or panzanella (Italian) [2] or maybe fattoush (Lebanese) [3] depending on what I had on hand (or some ad hoc mix, since they're all pretty compatible).

    If the fish is frozen (and not very thick) you don't even need to thaw it out. Fresh tomatoes would be more work, and unless they're home grown aren't worth the trouble (use them in the salad). Use any kind of flaky white fish -- you can probably get away with farm fish like swai or tilapia but it won't be as good as cod. I suppose you could try this with salmon, but I'd rather do something else with it [4]. Bluefish should work. Catfish might -- I've never tried baking it [5]. For salt cod, try this (it's a fair amount of work, and a staple that was once cheap enough to feed to slaves but isn't anymore).


    [1] Horiatiki (Greek) salad: toss together romaine lettuce, cucumber (peeled, seeded, chopped), red onion (chopped), tomatoes (cut into wedges or chunks), bell pepper (any color, sliced thin), kalamata olives (pitted), feta cheese, parsley, anchovies, capers (most of these are optional, but it won't be recognized as a Greek salad without the lettuce, tomatoes, olives, and feta; the capers aren't in Jenkins' recipe). For dressing, use 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, juice of 1/2 lemon, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, salt and pepper to taste: shake it up, pour it on, and toss.

    [2] Panzanella is an Italian salad with bread -- ciabatta works well, cut the crust off and dice it; mix it with shopped tomatoes so it starts to get mushy (it should blend into the salad, not stand out like croutons -- nothing against croutons). Also use romaine lettuce, red onion, cucumber, and basil (again, more or less -- the bread and tomatoes are key). Not in the recipe, but you can add some grated parmesan. For dressing, use 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon balsamic, salt and pepper.

    [3] Fattoush is another bread salad, from Lebanon, but here you want some crunch: traditionally use toasted pita bread, although I'd rather make croutons from French bread than use those pita crisps that show up at most local restaurants. (The best I've made was with Turkish pide bread, which is not the same thing as pita.) Use romaine lettuce, cucumber, radishes (chunked), scallions (chopped), tomatoes (chunked), parsley, mint (again, more or less). Jenkins calls for pickles ("plain brine-pickled cucumbers, not sweetened or heavily flavored with garlic or dill"), which isn't a bad idea but I'd rather add capers, and I'm surprised she didn't include olives (kalamata, pitted, coarsely chopped) and/or feta. For dressing, crush a couple garlic cloves in some kosher salt, then add 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons of ground sumac.

    [4] The easiest thing to do with salmon is to marinate it in teriyaki sauce (equal parts, e.g. 1/4 cup each, regular soy sauce, sake [Japanese rice wine], and sugar) for half an hour, then skin-side down broil it 6-10 minutes (or until it browns on top and flakes), brushing it with reserved marinade midway. If no skin, turn it over midway. I usually make rice (sometimes fried with ham and egg) and stir-fried lima beans with it, although there are lots of other options -- unfortunately, they almost all take longer to cook than the salmon.

    Of course, there is much more you can do with salmon. I've had several guests tell me that Barbara Tropp's Clear-Steamed Salmon with Ginger-Black Bean Vinaigrette was the most delicious meal they had ever had. The ingredient list can be daunting -- my secret is Chef Chow's Szechuan Hot Bean Paste, which as far as I can tell is no longer sold (I've bought two jars in my life, both in NJ, one when I lived there in the early 1980s, the other when I moved back in the late 1990s -- I use it sparely but I'm almost out). But the techniques are pretty straightforward: marinate the salmon, steam it (over onion and spinach), mix up a big bowl of vinaigrette in the food processor, and spoon it over the steamed fish.

    [5] I don't think I've ever made catfish from a recipe. I grew up on fried catfish, some of which I personally caught (well, not many). So I can do that, but nowadays what I prefer is dredge it in flour, sautee it in olive oil infused with a couple crushed cloves of garlic, and season with salt and pepper. Usually serve that with pasta. In fact, add some preserved lemon peel, chopped garlic, and capers to the oil I cooked the fish in and use it to sauce the pasta. Actually, you dump the pasta into the pan, put the fish on top, spritz it with lemon juice, and garnish with parsley.

    Jenkins' book has become my go-to standard for Mediterranean, although I also use Claudia Roden, Paula Wolfert, Sarah Woodward, and lately Yotam Ottolenghi -- also Penelope Casas for Spanish, Marcella Hazan for Italian, and Tess Mallos for Greek and Middle Eastern. (Whoa! Just checked those names and discovered that the latter three, all in their 70s, died in 2012-13. Roden and Wolfert are also in their 70s. Don't know about Woodward, whose short but well-illustrated Classic Mediterranean Cuisine is a perfect first book on the subject -- and my still-best sources for a dozen or more recipes I've made many times, from Paella Valenciana to Imam Bayildi).

    Someone once told me that if you can read a cookbook, you can make anything. I would like to think I've shown that to be true.

    Monday, December 28, 2015

    Music Week

    Music: Current count 26017 [25987] rated (+30), 396 [394] unrated (+2).

    Ratings down a bit due to the holidays -- I cooked traditional family fare for my sister and nephew on Xmas Eve, then next day drove out to a nearby farm for dinner with a cousin and his wife's family -- and also due to the Pazz & Jop ballot deadline. After kicking some things around, I filed the following ballot a day early:


    1. Lyrics Born: Real People (Mobile Home) 16
    2. Irène Schweizer/Han Bennink: Welcome Back (Intakt) 14
    3. Sleaford Mods: Key Markets (Harbinger Sound) 12
    4. Blackalicious: Imani, Vol. 1 (OGM) 10
    5. James McMurtry: Complicated Game (Complicated Game) 10
    6. Laurie Anderson: Heart of a Dog (Nonesuch) 8
    7. Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom + Pop Music) 8
    8. Paris: Pistol Politics (Guerrilla Funk, 2CD) 8
    9. Henry Threadgill Zooid: In for a Penny, In for a Pound (Pi, 2CD) 8
    10. Heems: Eat Pray Thug (Megaforce) 6


    1. Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth, "All Tomorrow's Parties" (from Epicenter, Clean Feed)
    2. Tuxedo, "Do It" (from Tuxedo, Stones Throw)
    3. Ezra Furman, "Ordinary Life" (from Perpetual Motion People, Bella Union)
    4. Lindstrøm & Grace Hall, "Home Tonight" (Feedility)
    5. Aesop Rock & Homeboy Sandman, "Get a Dog" (from Lice, Stones Throw)
    6. Kendrick Lamar, "King Kunta" (from To Pimp a Butterfly, Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope)
    7. Ashley Monroe, "Dixie" (from The Blade, Warner Music)
    8. Death Team, "Fucking Bitches in the Hood" (no label)
    9. Gwenno, "Chwyldro" (from Y Dydd Olaf, Heavenly)
    10. Jason Derulo, "Want to Want Me" (from Everything Is 4, Warner Bros)

    I'm reasonably satisfied with the albums list, although you might note that the Threadgill album is higher (6 vs. 9) on my official 2015-in-progress list than several non-jazz albums on the ballot, and four more jazz albums are on the list ahead of Heems:

    1. Schlippenbach Trio: Features (Intakt)
    2. Mike Reed's People Places & Things: A New Kind of Dance (482 Music)
    3. Joe Fiedler Trio: I'm In (Multiphonics Music)
    4. Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth: Epicenter (Clean Feed)

    I don't like the idea that Pazz & Jop should be the non-jazz (actually, rock/rap-only) forum it effectively is, but I've already touted the jazz records above in the Jazz Critics Poll, but at the moment felt like spreading the action around a bit. (Actually, I doubt that I'll be the only person voting for Schweizer/Bennink or Threadgill in Pazz & Jop, and might not have been the only one for Reed and Lightcap, although I will be surprised if any of the others clear a vote.) I've been keeping separate Jazz and Non-Jazz EOY lists for several years now, but I don't think I've ever skewed the scales before. This may just be a temporary aberration, but it also has something to do with the way I've been working, which keeps me from really falling in love with practically any of the records I've been recommending.

    At this point, I still only have two full-A records for 2015 (whereas Christgau has 9 plus 1 A+, not counting anything he has in reserve, and Tatum has 7 plus 3 A+, not counting Courtney Barnett [number 4 on his P&J ballot]). I did manage to play six of my ballot picks this week, but didn't move any of them up from A- to A -- most years I move 4-5 up, so I can't say if this is the records or me. (I also rechecked 4 albums I had filed in the B+ range, all records that Christgau had A-listed, and did move three up to A-, which helps even out the Jazz/Non-Jazz lists -- currently 71 to 59. The straggler was Jamie XX's In Colour, certainly a fine album but not enough so to get me to do all the associated paperwork.)

    I also replayed the consensus record of the year, Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly, but never gave it all the time it seems to demand. And while I flagged it as a very solid A- the first time I streamed it, it's never cohered enough to move on up. No chance it won't win Pazz & Jop -- it's way ahead (577-381-320-285) in my EOY List Aggregate, and no other record has any late momentum like D'Angelo's Black Messiah last year, or any identifiable demographic advantage -- so it felt like it would be a wasted vote. So I nudged Heems above it: not sure it's the better album, but it might be, and is the more interesting choice. Among other things, it makes for two Asian-American rappers on my list. (For what it's worth, Heems will do better in P&J than it has in my EOY List Aggregate: its support is almost exclusively concentrated among Christgau's Expert Witnesses, who amount to a block of 20-30 voters. The effect should be about midway between Wussy and Withered Hand in 2014, where Wussy rose from 66 to 24, and Withered Hand from 100 to 92, but note that I'm working with final metafile tallies for 2014, which already include a lot of individual ballots from the Expert Witness poll. Currently I only have a few of them -- and haven't counted any points for Christgau, Tatum, or myself -- so Heems at 142 is probably a bit better than Withered Hand was at the same stage. I predict it will get 15-20 P&J votes and end up in the 50-70 range. Last year Wussy got 29 and Withered Hand got 8.)

    On the other hand, I have no confidence in my songs list. I almost didn't bother, but wanted to tout Chris Lightcap's Velvet Underground cover -- especially since I skipped over his album. It then occurred to me that I could pick songs from other albums that missed the cut -- Lamar, of course, plus Furman, Gwenno, Monroe, and especially Tuxedo (the year's most memorable single). I looked a couple friends' lists, and watched 10-15 videos (more than I've done all year), picking out songs that seemed good enough. I wound up with two non-album singles that Dan Weiss likes, and one choice cut from an album that otherwise I don't much care for (Jason Derulo's). Also the standout track from one of the few EPs I graded A-.

    Certainly a decent list, but one that I'm sure could have been improved had I spent a few more days checking things out, especially if I considered cuts from my top-ten albums ("Free People" would easily have made the list, and very likely "Flag Shopping"). I sort of get the appeal of "best songs" lists on two levels: I grew up in an era when we first heard music on AM radio (KLEO was my station) and bought 45s, so it seems perfectly natural to me to segue "Wild Thing," say, into "Woolly Bully." Until 1965 I didn't even have a record player that could play LPs, and I doubt that I bought twenty of them through the end of the decade. On the other hand, by the early 1970s we came to think of LP sides as integral works of art, meant to be consumed whole, and from 1970 up to about 1977 I doubt I bought a single 45 -- good chance the record that broke that streak was "God Save the Queen."

    I also approve, at least in principle, of the idea of programming your own playlists, something that home computers made accessible to the masses. However, I've never gotten the hang of the technology, not so much because I find it incomprehensible as because it doesn't suit the way I work. Even streaming, I rarely bother with anything but album-length chunks, because that still makes sense to me as the unit to write about -- and for today, at least, I mostly listen to write. I can imagine at some point turning back inward and starting to reduce my collection to its rare finest moments, but that's mostly to eliminate clutter. (At some point I suspect all collections decay into clutter.) Nor am I sure that constant exposure to brilliance would be such a good thing. I suspect I'd get too used to it.

    The other thing that bothers me about "best songs" is how much they are tied to videos. I hated MTV when it started to exercise its tyranny over popular music in the 1980s. My initial complaint was how it added an extraneous and expensive obstacle for music to reach the public. Moreover, it worked to select popular music by how photogenic the musicians were. Of course, since then music videos have been democratized (and amateurized) with the usual mixed bag of results. My research this year consisted of nothing more than watching Youtube videos, which were equally divided between nonsensical collages and Bollywood-worthy dance numbers. (Conceiving singles as studio product, I didn't bother with the third great class: live performance documents.) So inadvertently I bought into the notion that it's not a song unless it comes packaged in a video.

    I've also been invited to participate in El Intruso's 8th Creative Music Critics Poll. I think it's based in Argentina, and the focus is avant-jazz. About half of the 40+ critics are Americans I recognize. Instructions call for no more than three answers in each category. Most of those categories are instruments, which raises all sorts of awkward problems -- it's hard enough to rank albums, but I don't really believe in ranking people, so the names I jotted down below are just ones I thought could use some extra recognition. Also note that the instruments themselves weren't created equal: I could reel off the names of twenty tenor saxophonists (and fifteen altoists) before I could get to a third soprano or baritone. Also, while there are quite a few good acoustic bassists who also play electric, I hardly ever recognize them as such. Final point is I spent less than half an hour doing this, mostly by looking back over last year's notes file. Anyhow, this is what I sent in:

    • Musician of the year: Allen Lowe
    • Newcomer Musician: Tomeka Reid, Gard Nilssen, Katie Thiroux
    • Group of the year: Old Time Musketry, The Kandinsky Effect, The Resonance Ensemble
    • Newcomer group: Free Nelson Mandoomjazz
    • Album of the year: Irene Schweizer/Han Bennink: Welcome Back (Intakt)
    • Composer: Mike Reed
    • Drums: Milford Graves, Gerry Hemingway, Michael Zerang
    • Acoustic Bass: William Parker, Chris Lightcap, Ken Filiano
    • Electric Bass: Nate McBride
    • Guitar: Liberty Ellman, Samo Salamon, Mary Halvorson
    • Piano: Irene Schweizer, Marilyn Crispell, Michael McNeill
    • Keyboards/Synthesizer/Organ: Gary Versace
    • Tenor Saxophone: Dave Rempis, Rich Halley, Rodrigo Amado
    • Alto Saxophone: Francois Carrier, Rent Romus, John O'Gallagher
    • Baritone Saxophone: Ken Vandermark
    • Soprano Saxophone: Evan Parker
    • Trumpet/Cornet: Taylor Ho Bynum, Amir ElSaffar, Kirk Knuffke
    • Clarinet/bass clarinet: Michael Moore, Mort Weiss, Josh Sinton
    • Trombone: Steve Swell, Joe Fiedler
    • Flute: Nicole Mitchell
    • Violin/Viola: Jason Kao Hwang
    • Cello: Erik Friedlander, Fred Lonberg-Holm
    • Vibraphone: Jason Adasiewicz, Joe Locke
    • Electronics: Thomas Stronen
    • Others instruments: Cooper-Moore
    • Female Vocals: Sheila Jordan, Katie Bull
    • Male Vocals: Freddy Cole
    • Best Live Band: Mostly Other People Do the Killing
    • Record Label: Clean Feed, Intakt, Pi

    It would, I think, be more interesting if they did more of a record poll, especially if the ballots could extend beyond a top ten.

    Probably the first week ever where everything in the newly rated list came from streaming. I did play several records in the new jazz queue but didn't get around to writing them up. My first impression is that Allen Lowe's In the Diaspora of the Diaspora would have easily added up to an A- had he packed them into a box, but releasing them individually is making me do more work. Steve Swell's Hommage à Bartok is also certainly an A-, but he begged me to write "more than your usual" and nothing slows me down like that.

    Also spent a lot of time adding to the EOY List Aggregate files, but have no time left to write about them. Maybe next week, or when Pazz & Jop comes out (January 13). As of this moment I have 318 lists compiled, referencing 3126 albums. Still working on it, but I have a pretty good idea how it all sorts out (Kendrick Lamar, Sufjan Stevens, Courtney Barnett, Jamie XX, Father John Misty, Tame Impala, Grimes, Julia Holter, Bjork, Sleater-Kinney, Vince Staples, Kamasi Washington, Joanna Newsom, Oneohtrix Point Never; 4-5-6 are pretty close but fairly stable; 9-12 are even closer and more volatile; 14 is gaining, but has too much ground to make up to bump 13; the rest of the top-20 are Kurt Vile, Carly Jepsen, Blur, Drake, Alabama Shakes, Viet Cong, and they're still likely to change).

    New records rated this week:

    • Scott Amendola: Fade to Orange (2014 [2015], Sazi): [r]: B+(*)
    • Lotte Anker: What River Is This (2012 [2014], ILK Music): [r]: B+(*)
    • Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Style (2015, Matador): [r]: B
    • Brian Charette/Will Bernard/Rudy Royston: Alphabet City (2014 [2015], Posi-Tone): [r]: B+(*)
    • Chick Corea & Béla Fleck: Two (2015, Concord, 2CD): [r]: B
    • Stanley Cowell: Juneteenth (2014 [2015], Vision Fugitive): [r]: B+(*)
    • Crack Ignaz: Kirsch (2015, Melting Pot): [r]: B+(*)
    • Adrian Cunningham: Ain't That Right! The Music of Neal Hefti (2015, Arbors): [r]: B+(**)
    • Downtown Boys: Full Communism (2015, Don Giovanni): [r]: A-
    • The Greg Foat Group: The Dancers at the Edge of Time (2015, Jazzman): [r]: B+(*)
    • Future: 56 Nights (2015, Freebandz, EP): [r]: B+(*)
    • Have Moicy 2: The Hoodoo Bash (2015, Red Newt): [r]: A-
    • Wayne Horvitz: Some Places Are Forever Afternoon (2015, Songlines): [r]: B+(***)
    • Jenny Hval: Apocalypse, Girl (2015, Sacred Bones): [r]: B+(*)
    • I Love Makonnen: I Love Makonnen 2 (2015, OVO Sound, EP): [r]: B+(*)
    • The Internet: Ego Death (2015, Odd Future/Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
    • Becky Kilgore/Nicki Parrott: Two Songbirds of a Feather (2015, Arbors): [r]: B+(***)
    • Julian Lage: World's Fair (2014 [2015], Modern Lore): [r]: B+(*)
    • !Mayday!: Future/Vintage (2015, Strange Music): [r]: A-
    • Mika: No Place in Heaven (2015, Casablanca): [r]: B+(**)
    • Pusha T: King Push Darkest Before Dawn: The Prelude (2015, Def Jam): [r]: B+(***)
    • Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen: Hold My Beer, Vol. 1 (2015, Lil' Buddy Toons): [r]: B+(***)
    • Todd Rundgren/Emil Nikolaisen/Hans-Peter Lindstrøm: Runddans (2015, Smalltown Supersound): [r]: B-
    • John Scofield: Past Present (2015, Impulse!): [r]: B+(***)
    • Christian Scott: Stretch Music (2015, Ropeadope): [r]: B+(*)
    • Sophie: Product (2013-15 [2015], Numbers, EP): [r]: B+(**)
    • Wolf Alice: My Love Is Cool (2015, Dirty Hit/RCA): [r]: B+(*)

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

    • Kenny Knight: Crossroads (1980 [2015], Paradise of Bachelors): [r]: B+(***)
    • Sherwood at the Controls, Volume 1: 1979-1984 (1979-84 [2015], On-U Sound): [r]: B+(**)

    Grade changes:

    • Leonard Cohen: Can't Forget: A Souvenir of the Grand Tour (2012-13 [2015], Columbia): [r]: [was B+(***)]: A-
    • Future: DS2 (2015, Epic): [r]: [was B+(***)]: A-
    • Grimes: Art Angels (2015, 4AD): [r]: [was B+(**)]: A-

    Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

    • Ross Hammond and Sameer Gupta: Upward (Prescott): advance, March
    • Mike Sopko/Simon Lott: The Golden Measure (self-released): advance, March 25

    Wednesday, December 23, 2015

    Music Week

    Music: Current count 25987 [25944] rated (+43), 394 [381] unrated (+13).

    The Tenth Annual Jazz Critics Poll, which Francis Davis started at the Village Voice, then after the Voice tanked kept going first at Rhapsody and now at NPR, appeared today. In 2009 Voice Music Editor Rob Harvilla asked me to compile and host all of the critic ballots, and I've continued doing so through all of the subsequent gyrations. Deadline for the ballots was last Sunday, and Davis forwarded them to me on Tuesday or Wednesday, but I putzed around and didn't start on them until Saturday. That wiped out my weekend and, well, today, and I still have work to do. Among other things, I figured out a system for double checking the collated ballots against Francis' tabulations. When I first got all of the data plugged in, my diff-checker spit out 480 lines of discrepancies -- roughly 120 of about 650 albums that received votes. Since then, one of the main things I've been doing has been to whittle down that discrepancy list. As I write this, I have it down to five more records that I have to check. It's fair to say that about half of those have been errors in Francis' original tabulation, and half were problems I introduced during data entry.

    A second category of changes has to do with a sort of canonic representation of artist/title/label names. Francis doesn't like spurious group names attached to artist names so, say, The Gabriel Alegria Afro-Peruvian Sextet becomes Gabriel Alegria, Steve Coleman and the Council of Balance is Steve Coleman, and Satoko Fujii Tobira is just Satoko Fujii. He also doesn't like slashes for multiple artists -- says they mean either/or -- so two artists use & and three or more use dashes, even when the album itself uses slashes (although more likely they just use space). Part of the reason is no doubt practical: when 147 meticulous critics and supposedly literate writers jot down lists, the sheer quantity of variations they come up with is mind-boggling. Still, several of these canonicalizations are arguable, and some are far from clear. At some point in the ballot collating process I get to comparing the data hacked according to his rules with a similar set of data I've been accumulating (with different rules) all year long. Unfortunately, that point is still in the future -- probably when I get around to feeding a fair amount of ballot data into my own EOY List Aggregate file (which, by the way, has significantly less jazz data now than it has in recent years, mostly because so few jazz critics have been using the JJA website to post their lists/ballots). Still, if I had some magical way to filter out the non-majority-jazz lists, my data would have reasonably well anticipated the JCP results. (Kamasi Washington and Matana Roberts would have lost most, but far from all, of their support, and Colin Stetson would have lost everything -- curiously enough Stetson's is my favorite of those three.) The main blip I see is that Jack DeJohnette ran much better in JCP, while Vijay Iyer (and JD Allen) ran a bit better in my sparser data. (I haven't weighed my own grades into my data yet, so that isn't a factor.)

    There are two main pages at NPR to look at:

    • The 2015 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll, where Francis Davis presents a list of the top sixty finishers, with paragraph write-ups on the top ten finishers. (Davis voted for six of the ten -- Rudresh Mahanthappa, Maria Schneider, Jack DeJohnette, Vijay Iyer, Henry Threadgill, and Mary Halvorson -- and had one more (Steve Coleman) in his HM list (leaving Kamasi Washington, Charles Lloyd, and Chris Lightcap -- only Washington gets much of a critique).

    • Close Enough for Jazz: How the 2015 NPR Jazz Critics Poll Was Fit to Be Tied: Francis Davis' annual essay on the poll -- the title refers to the effective tie between Mahanthappa and Schneider (same point total, but Mahanthappa on four more ballots -- still the official tie-breaker in my own tabulation) -- plus Davis' own ballot including an Honorable Mention list.

    Much more data is available at my site, including complete totals for all five categories (new, reissue/historical, vocal, debut, Latin jazz) and complete ballots for all of the 147 participating critics. This site isn't built on a full-fledged database, but the data is internally tabled up in such a way that one need only write a little more software to organize it like, say, the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop section: one would need a script to list out all of the critics who voted for any given album, and another to fetch the ballot for any single critic -- plus a lot of extra links in each file, and some CSS to present those links. I actually wrote the second script in a couple hours last year, so critics could link to their own ballots (mine is here) without confusing the issue by picking up other critics' ballots. Unfortunately, I only think about writing things like this when I'm up to my ears facing an annual deadline, stuck with more pressing things to do.

    I don't have time to comment on the results, other than to make the obvious point that I'm not much of a fan of either of the winning records (although it's been quite some time since I played either; I have them at low- and middle-B+ grades). I've liked Mahanthappa's work much more in the past, but don't get (or find interesting) his postbop take on Charlie Parker (my issue is definitely not that I find the record too bebop-y). And while I enjoyed Schneider's new album more than her previous much-hyped work, her ornate expressionism has scant appeal for me. I'm not real disappointed to see these two records doing so well: I figure they're just different strokes for different folks, especially ones grounded in classical but open to the greater vitality of postmodern jazz. (I, on the other hand, have always detested classical music, and look to jazz that builds on the rowdy subversion I first found in rock and roll.)

    The next two finishers don't do much for me either. For Jack DeJohnette, the problem is (most likely) purely business. Since ECM stopped servicing me with actual product, I've had to make do with time-limited download links I often don't get to in time, and I missed the DeJohnette link -- and didn't get a second chance, despite several requests. So I simply haven't heard a record that looks great on paper and has a terrific reputation. Then there's the matter of Kamasi Washington: again I didn't get a copy -- a real practical problem for something that fills up three CDs -- again despite a further request. However, I was able to hear it on Rhapsody, and recently gave it a second complete spin. I do like him as a saxophonist, and the '70s-throwback-vibe that Davis complains about is one of my favorite jazz era-niches, but I don't get off on the electro-flavored choral goop that fills most of the first two discs. (Complicit in all of this is Steve Ellson, aka Flying Lotus, whose own work leaves me cold.)

    In the end, I only had two of the top 10 albums on my A-list (with this week's bonanza 71 albums deep -- Threadgill and Lightcap were also on my ballot). Add one more for 11-20 (Ryan Truesdell), a clump of five in 21-30 (Mike Reed, Matthew Shipp, Amir ElSaffar, Liberty Ellman, Nicole Mitchell). Three for 31-40 (Irène Schweizer, MOPDtK, Barry Altschul). Two in 41-50 (Noah Preminger, Tomeka Reid). Four more for 51-60 (Erik Friedlander, James Brandon Lewis, Gary McFarland Legacy Ensemble, Joe Lovano). It thins out further from there, mostly because the number of records I haven't heard grows. For instance, only six more from 61-100 (Ochion Jewell, Milford Graves, Alex von Schlippenbach, William Parker, Satoko Fujii, Michael Blake -- Steve Swell's record just came in the mail). Only seven from 101-200 (Josh Berman, Charles McPherson, Nate Wooley, Ray Anderson, Tomas Fujiwara, Rich Halley, Chico Freeman).

    No doubt I'll find more good records by sniffing around the ballots -- actually, more so than by looking at the totals. While working on the ballots, I spent my time streaming items I found there, and indeed came up with two A- records this week (Ray Anderson and Tomeka Reid; the Bobby Bradford/John Carter archival release was already in my CD queue, as were voteless discs by François Carrier and and Andrew Jamieson; Daniel Rosenboom also got no votes, but was recommended in another EOY list somewhere; same for Max Richter, which I gather is classical music, but it sure fooled me).

    New records rated this week:

    • Ray Anderson's Organic Quartet: Being the Point (2015, Intuition): [r]: A-
    • Blanck Mass: Dumb Flesh (2015, Sacred Bones): [r]: B+(***)
    • Samuel Blaser: Spring Rain (2014-15 [2015], Whirlwind): [r]: B+(**)
    • Cam: Welcome to Cam Country (2015, Arista Nashville, EP): [r]: B
    • Cam: Untamed (2015, Arista Nashville): [r]: B+(**)
    • François Carrier/Steve Beresford/John Edwards/Michel Lambert: Outgoing (2014 [2015], FMR): [cd]: A-
    • Container: LP (2015, Spectrum Spools): [r]: B+(**)
    • Dungen: Allas Sak (2015, Mexican Summer): [r]: B
    • Duane Eubanks Quintet: Things of That Particular Nature (2014 [2015], Sunnyside): [r]: B+(**)
    • Nils Frahm: Solo (2015, Erased Tapes): [r]: B+(**)
    • Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott: Wisdom, Laughter and Lines (Virgin EMI): [r]: B+(***)
    • John Hébert: Rambling Confessions (2011 [2015], Sunnyside): [r]: B+(*)
    • Andrew Jamieson: Heard the Voice (2015, Edgetone): [cd]: A-
    • Jlin: Dark Energy (2015, Planet Mu): [r]: B+(***)
    • Kanaku y El Tigre: Quema Quema Quema (2015, Strut/Tigers Milk): [r]: B+(*)
    • Kelela: Hallucinogen (2015, Warp/Cherry Coffee, EP): [r]: B+(*)
    • Kneebody + Daedelus: Keedelus (2015, Brainfeeder): [r]: B+(***)
    • Jeffrey Lewis: Jeffrey Lewis & the Jrams (2014, self-released): [bc]: B+(***)
    • Lifted: 1 (2015, PAN): [r]: B+(***)
    • Amy London/Darmon Meader/Dylan Pramuk/Holli Ross: Royal Bopsters Project (2015, Motéma): [r]: B
    • Lionel Loueke: Gaia (2015, Blue Note): [r]: B+(**)
    • Møster!: When You Cut Into the Present (2015, Hubro): [r]: B+(***)
    • The Necks: Vertigo (2015, Northern Spy): [r]: B+(*)
    • Neon Indian: Vega Intl. Night School (2015, Mom + Pop Music): [r]: B+(*)
    • Noertker's Moxie: Simultaneous Windows (2015, Edgetone): [cd]: B+(**)
    • Larry Novak: Invitation (2014 [2015], Delmark): [cd]: B+(***)
    • The Nu Band: The Cosmological Constant (2014 [2015], Not Two): [r]: B+(**)
    • Evan Parker/Peter Jacquemyn: Marsyas Suite (2012 [2015], El Negocito): [r]: B+(***)
    • John Patitucci Electric Guitar Quartet: Brooklyn (2015, Three Faces): [r]: B
    • Bucky Pizzarelli: Renaissance: A Journey From Classical to Jazz (2015, Arbors): [r]: B
    • Tomeka Reid: Tomeka Reid Quartet (2015, Thirsty Ear): [r]: A-
    • RJD2/STS: STS X RJD2 (2015, RJ's Electrical Connections): [r]: B+(***)
    • Daniel Rosenboom: Astral Transference & Seven Dreams (2014 [2015], Orenda, 2CD): [r]: A-
    • Alejandro Sanz: Sirope (2015, Universal): [r]: B+(*)
    • Dexter Story: Wondem (2015, Soundway): [r]: B+(*)
    • They Might Be Giants: Glean (2015, Idlewild): [r]: B+(*)
    • The Thing: Shake (2015, Thing): [r]: B+(***)
    • Samba Touré: Gandadiko (2015, Glitterbeat): [r]: B+(***)
    • Kenny Werner: The Melody (2014 [2015], Pirouet): [r]: B+(**)
    • Barrence Whitfield & the Savages: Under the Savage Sky (2015, Bloodshot): [r]: B+(*)
    • Nate Wooley/Ken Vandermark: East by Northwest (2013 [2015], Audiographic): [bc]: B+(**)

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

    • Bobby Bradford & John Carter Quintet: No U Turn: Live in Pasadena 1975 (1975 [2015], Dark Tree): [cd]: A-
    • Billie Holiday: Banned From New York City: Live 1948-1957 (1948-57 [2015], Uptown, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
    • Sun Ra and His Arkestra: To Those of Earth . . . and Other Worlds (1956-83 [2015], Strut, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)

    Old music rated this week:

    • They Might Be Giants: Long Tall Weekend (1999, Idlewild): [r]: B+(***)

    Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

    • Brian Andres and the Afro-Cuban Jazz Cartel: This Could Be That (Bacalao): January 15
    • Peter Brötzmann/Steve Swell/Paal Nilssen-Love: Krakow Nights (Not Two)
    • Mary Foster Conklin: Photographs (MockTurtle Music): February 2
    • Ryan Keberle & Catharsis: Azui Infinito (Greenleaf Music): March 4
    • Aly Keïta/Jan Galega Brönnimann/Lucas Niggli: Kalo-Yele (Intakt): advance, January
    • Allen Lowe: In the Diaspora of the Diaspora: Where a Cigarette Is Smoked by Ten Men (Constant Sorrow)
    • Allen Lowe: In the Diaspora of the Diaspora: We Will Gather When We GAther (Constant Sorrow)
    • Allen Lowe/Matthew Shipp/Kevin Ray/Jake Millett: In the Diaspora of the Diaspora: Ballad for Albert (Constant Sorrow)
    • Allen Lowe: In the Diaspora of the Diaspora: Man With Guitar: Where's Robert Johnson? (Constant Sorrow)
    • Aruán Ortiz Trio: Hidden Voices (Intakt): advance, January
    • Matthew Shipp: Matthew Shipp Plays the Music of Allen Lowe (Constant Sorrow)
    • Steve Swell: Kanreki: Reflection & Renewal (Not Two, 2CD)
    • Steve Swell's Kende Dreams: Hommage à Bartok (Silkheart)
    • Steve Swell: The Loneliness of the Long Distasnce Improviser (Swell)
    • Lew Tabackin Trio: Soundscapes (self-released): February 5

    Tuesday, December 15, 2015

    Rhapsody Streamnotes (December 2015)

    Pick up text here.

    Daily Log

    From a letter I wrote today:

    One thing I want to mention is that I thoroughly butchered that book I mentioned. The author is David Fromkin (not Dworkin), and the title is "A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East." It was written in 1989, so there are other books since then that cover the same ground, but it's been republished several times since then.

    I don't think anyone has written a really good book on the way European imperialism picked at the carcass of the Ottoman Empire over the long 19th century -- roughly from 1798 (Napoleon's invasion of Egypt; cf. Juan Cole's "Napoleon's Egypt") and 1804 (the Serbian Revolt; cf. Misha Glenny's "The Balkans") up through the Balkan Wars (1912-13), the Great War and the Greco-Turkish War (1919-22) -- and the Turks' often-futile efforts at modernization (and even more fateful, the occasional efforts the Ottomans made at alliances with various European powers) during that period. Actually, would need to go one step further to encompass Ataturk's reforms, which is when the modernization finally took root. The difficulty has been that Western authors are congenitally insensitive to the self-interested hypocrisies of the West and disrespectful to those not so indoctrinated -- I think this is what Said tried to critique as Orientalism, although I gather he didn't do a very good job of it. After all, for every Lawrence or Bell who understood something, there were scads of bureaucrats fated to abuse any legitimate insights. This is, of course, a problem that persists in America today.

    By the way, speaking of books, I would like to plug Gilles Kepel's "Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam." Written (or rather translated into English) in 2000, Kepel traces both the deobandi and salafist strains of jihadism, and finds those movements nearing exhaustion by 2000. He later described the 2001 attack as something of a "hail Mary pass" -- unfortunately, George Bush, for his own perverse reasons, intercepted it and ran it into the wrong end zone.

       Mar 2001