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Monday, July 21, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 23527 [23501] rated (+26), 548 [534] unrated (+14).

When I got back from my aunt's funeral, there was a surprisingly large pile of new records waiting. I didn't get around to listing them last week, so this week's haul looks more robust than usual. I do, however, get the sense that I've fallen well out of the realm of being a mainstream jazz critic. This week's unpacking list doesn't quite prove my point -- there are a number of reputable artists there I recognize and welcome (Todd Bishop, Bobby Broom, Wayne Horvitz, Ryan Keberle, Greg Reitan, Steve Swallow, Ohad Talmor, Adam Nussbaum, Matt Ulery) most of the records I get these days are from unknowns, with the occasional cult favorite slipping in. (Two of the latter wound up with A- grades, and I doubt that you'll be reading much about either elsewhere.) Part of this is my fault, of course: formerly reliable publicists at labels like High Note and Sunnyside took my hint and stopped sending, and I've done a poor job following up on available downloads from labels like ECM -- I'm not even sure what I do or don't have there, but haven't had time (or curiosity) to sort that out.

When I got back, I didn't feel like facing the queue, so I took a look at my Penguin Guide list and started playing some old jazz from Rhapsody. First three records were high B+, which seems like par for the course. Then Charlie Haden died so I looked up his duet album with Chris Anderson, and the more I played it the more I was entranced. I then moved on to Earl Hines and Art Tatum -- one of the biggest chunks on the Penguin list was Tatum's Solo Masterpieces, which Morton & Cook love indiscriminately. I had long ago picked up Volume Four and Volume Five (both B+), plus I had a 2003 release, The Best of the Complete Pablo Solo Masterpieces (A). So I spent a big chunk of time going through the other six volumes, then for good measure I gave the whole box a spin. Much of it is indeed remarkable, none of it without interest, and I didn't mind the time.

I think the reason I graded the box over its constituent volumes is that when grading the latter the question arises as to which discs are relatively better investments, and the way they are organized makes it impossible to say -- I gave Volume Six an edge mostly because of two or three especially striking songs as opposed to the dozen or so run-of-the-mill Tatums. On the other hand, the box does make sense as a whole, and it is a remarkable accomplishment both within Tatum's career and over the entire history of jazz. Given all that, my nitpicking wasn't enough to drop it below A-. Still, I much prefer The Standard Sessions, which offers livelier performances and concentrates more great songs. Only minor sonic issues, plus my general reserve about solo piano, held it below an A.

I didn't do The Art Tatum Pablo Group Masterpieces because I own and have long graded every one of them. Tatum mostly recorded solo, so the 1954-56 Granz sessions just added to an already huge legacy, but the group sessions are almost the only time Tatum ever appeared in groups -- at least with horns. They vary more in quality, but the best are really extraordinary, both as group efforts and by freeing Tatum from having to carry the rhythm he gets a chance to perform some of his most spectacular embellishments. The best are: Volume Eight (with Ben Webster: A+); Volume Two (with Roy Eldridge: A); Volume Seven (with Buddy DeFranco: A); Volume One (with Benny Carter: A-).

Tatum is as universally revered as Charlie Parker, which may be why I quibble. I'm always reminded of what Tom Piazza wrote in The Guide to Classic Recorded Jazz: "Ask ten pianists to name the greatest jazz pianist ever and eight will tell you Art Tatum. The other two are wrong." I've made a career out of being wrong, so I don't mind telling you that my answer to that question is Earl Hines. He was easily the greatest pianist in 1928 when he (and Louis Armstrong) cut some of the most classic jazz sides ever, and he was dazzling when he toured with Armstrong's 1946 All-Stars. In between he ran a very important big band, and in the 1960s he led a wonderful quartet with Budd Johnson on tenor sax. Later still, he recorded many solo piano albums, including a couple listed below (Tour de Force is probably the first pick, at least the choice title, but these come close). That, in turn, led me to an obscure Johnny Hodges album which couldn't possibly go wrong.

After Tatum and Hines, I pulled out all those jazz vocal albums I've been avoiding and slogged through them. Poet Anne Waldman's album jumped out of that pile. It is a jazz/poetry album somewhat similar to the Rich Halley-Dan Raphael album Children of the Blue Supermarket, which was my favorite album in 2011, although vocally it reminds me more of Patti Smith, with the sax closer to Ornette Coleman (hence my tweet).

Looks like a pretty awful week coming up, both personally and all around the world. I have made some progress on the crashed server, but it's going to be a long while before it's all history.

Recommended music links:

New records rated this week:

  • Al Basile: Swing n' Strings (2013 [2014], Sweetspot): cornet-playing blues singer with an air of Mose Allison, his idea of strings two guitars [cd]: B+(**)
  • Alan Chan Jazz Orchestra: Shrimp Tale (2013 [2014], Crown Heights Audio Network): pianist, leads 17-piece big band on debut, sharp and contemporary, with a spoken word bit [cd]: B+(*)
  • Jason Derulo: Talk Dirty (2014, Warner Brothers): I've heard dirtier, but rarely with more compelling melodies, hooks, beats, and succinct too [r]: A-
  • Sherie Julianne: 10 Degrees South (2014, Azul Do Mar): Bay Area singer into Brazilian pop tunes, helpfully produced by pianist Marcos Silva [cd]: B
  • Mark Meadows: Somethin' Good (2014, self-released): pianist, likes smooth jazz grooves, and sings some, mostly neo-soul moans and murmurs [cd]: B-
  • Rent Romus' Life's Blood Ensemble: Cimmerian Crossroads (2014, Edgetone): alto/soprano sax, honors Arthur Blythe, incinerates Ornette Coleman [r]: A-
  • Sia: 1000 Forms of Fear (2014, RCA): voice like Shakira, only no Latin tinge, just an Australian take on British semipop gloom [r]: B
  • Donna Singer: Destiny: Moment of Jazz (2014, Emerald Baby): standards singer, enjoyable when the song is "Where or When," less so on "Yesterday" [cd]: B
  • Isabel Stover: Her Own Sweet World (2010 [2014], self-released): standard singer's debut album, Taj Mahal an outlier, voice and band all contribute [cd]: B+(*)
  • Anne Waldman: Jaguar Harmonics (2014, Fast Speaking Music): a beat era pot I should have known, imagine Patti Smith in a rush backed by Ornette Coleman [cd]: A-

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

  • Enrico Pieranunzi/Marc Johnson/Joey Baron: Play Morricone 1 & 2: The Complete Recordings (2001-02 [2014], CAM Jazz, 2CD): [r]: A-

Old records rated this week:

  • Duke Ellington and Ray Brown: This One's for Blanton (1972-73 [2000], Pablo/OJC): the pianist recalls what Jimmy Blanton changed, the bassist builds on him [r]: B+(***)
  • Art Farmer: Out of the Past (1960-61 [1996], Chess): two Argo albums minus one cut each, one trumpet ballads with Tommy Flanagan, the other flugelhorn [r]: B+(***)
  • Charlie Haden: Quartet West (1986 [1987], Verve): Mainstream Haden-style, straddling Ornette-Metheny, with Watts-Broadbent feeding the sentimantal [r]: B+(**)
  • Charlie Haden/Chris Anderson: None but the Lonely Heart (1997, Naim): brittle Chicago pianist and sentimental assist open up touching duets [r]: A-
  • Earl Hines: Blues in Thirds (1965 [1989], Black Lion): solo piano, near the top of his game (i.e., peerless), aside from two spots where he tries to sing [r]: A-
  • Earl Hines: One for My Baby (1974 [1995], Black Lion): more solo piano, strutting and striding through seven marvellous Harold Arlen standards [r]: A-
  • Earl Hines: Plays Duke Ellington, Volume Two (1971-75 [1997], New World): solo piano again, what's left after the 2-CD Volume One, swing with extra razzle [r]: B+(***)
  • Johnny Hodges/Earl "Fatha" Hines: Stride Right (1966, Verve): two stars (plus Kenny Burrell) doing what comes naturally on songs that never grow old [r]: A-
  • Art Tatum: Classic Early Solos (1934-1937) (1934-37 [1991], MCA): not really a stride pianist, too busy and ornate for that, but early on not so much so [r]: B+(***)
  • Art Tatum: The Standard Sessions: 1935-1943 Transcriptions (1935-43 [1991], Music & Arts, 2CD): 2-CD of radio shots, 61 mostly great standards given the full Tatum treatment [r]: A-
  • Art Tatum: The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces: Volume One (1953 [1992], Pablo/OJC): doing these one-by-one, but impressive as he is I find myself resisting, almost always at [r]: B+(***)
  • Art Tatum: The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces: Volume Two (1953-55 [1992], Pablo/OJC): [r]: B+(**)
  • Art Tatum: The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces: Volume Three (1953-55 [1992], Pablo/OJC): [r]: B+(***)
  • Art Tatum: The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces: Volume Six (1953-55 [1992], Pablo/OJC): [r]: A-
  • Art Tatum: The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces: Volume Seven (1953-55 [1992], Pablo/OJC): [r]: B+(***)
  • Art Tatum: The Art Tatum Solo Masterpieces: Volume Eight (1953-56 [1992], Pablo/OJC): [r]: B+(***)
  • Art Tatum: The Complete Pablo Solo Masterpieces (1953-56 [1991], Pablo, 7CD): [r]: A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week (plus):

  • Laurie Antonioli: Songs of Shadow, Songs of Light: The Music of Joni Mitchell (Origin)
  • Todd Bishop Group: Travelogue (Origin)
  • Anthony Branker & Word Play: The Forward (Towards Equality) Suite (Origin)
  • Bobby Broom: My Shining Hour (Origin)
  • The Cellar and Point: Ambit (Cuneiform): advance, October 14
  • Eliana Cuevas: Espejo (ALMA)
  • Dave "Knife" Fabris: Lettucs Prey (Musea)
  • Wayne Horvitz: 55: Music and Dance in Concrete (Cuneiform): advance, August 19
  • Jazzhole: Blue 72 (Beave Music)
  • Ryan Keberle & Catharsis: Zone (Greenleaf Music)
  • Ricky Kej/Wouter Kellerman: Winds of Samsara (Listen 2 Africa)
  • Greg Reitan: Post No Bills (Sunnyside): August 19
  • Mitch Shiner and the Blooming Tones Big Band: Fly! (Patois)
  • Street Priest: More Nasty (Humbler)
  • Steve Swallow/Ohad Talmor/Adam Nussbaum: Singular Curves (Auand): advance, August 5
  • Matt Ulery: In the Ivory (Greenleaf Music)
  • The Bill Warfield Big Band: Trumpet Story (Planet Arts)
  • Walter White: Most Triumphant (Summit)
  • Tom Wolfe: Solerovescent (Summit)
  • J.J. Wright: Inward Looking Outward (Ropeadope): August 19


  • Francis Bebey: African Electronic Music 1975-1982 (2012, Born Bad)
  • Haiti Direct: Big Band, Mini Jazz and Twoubadou Sounds, 1960-1978 (Strut, 2CD)
  • Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott: What Have We Become (Virgin)
  • Le Grand Kallé: His Life, His Music (1953-83, Sterns Music, 2CD)
  • Lady Gaga: Artpop (2013, Interscope/Streamline)
  • Hailu Mergia & His Classical Instrument: Shemonmuanaye (1985, Awesome Tapes From Africa)
  • Old 97's: Most Messed Up (ATO)
  • The Strypes: Snapshot (Island/Photo Finish)

Daily Log

Looking at sheet plastic for bath/shower edge blocker. Estimates from TAP Plastics:

  • Polyethylene LDPE white, 1/4" thick, 8x48: $17.33 [$29.40]
  • Polyethylene HDPE white (cutting board), 1/2" thick, 8x48: $32.53
  • Polyethylene HyPact VHMW, 1/4" thick, 8x48: $23.87
  • Polypropylene, natural, 1/4" thick, 8x48: $17.33
  • Polycarbonate, clear, 1/4" thick, 8x48: $34.13
  • Acrylic sheet, green edge, 1/4" thick, 8x48: $36.67
  • Cast acrylic, clear, 1/4" thick, 8x48: $33.87
  • Cast acrylic, sign ivory, 1/8" thick, 8x48: $19.07 (other colors seem to be same price)
  • Cast acrylic, transparent light blue, 1/4" thick, 8x48: $36.67
  • Foamed PVC, white, 1/4" thick, 8x48: $11.33
  • Polycarbonate P-12 sheet, clear (diamond texture), 3/16" thick, 8x48: $32.80
  • High-impact PVC, ultra white, 1/4" thick, 8x48: $32.00

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Weekend Roundup

This week's scattered links, but for one reason or another most still focus on Israel (for one thing, this weekend has been much bloodier than the previous week). Having recently read Stephen F Cohen's Soviet Fates and Lost Alternatives: From Stalinism to the New Cold War (2011), I expected to have more to say about the civil war in Ukraine and the shooting down of a Malaysian Airlines airliner, but in my short time I didn't run across much that improved upon speculation (one of the worst pieces was Bob Dreyfuss: Vladimir Putin Should Take Responsibility for the MH17 Shootdown.) As someone who is inclined to suspect that Putin was responsible for the Moscow apartment bombings that he used as a pretext to re-open the Chechen War, there's not much I would put past him, but neither evidence nor logic is yet compelling, and the unfounded charge is actively being used to further estrange relations with Russia, which quite frankly Obama needs to mend even if that means giving up ground in Ukraine. As I wrote below, Obama has made a colossal error in re-entering Iraq, on top of making an almost utter hash of Syria, and the only way out of the latter is some sort of understanding with Russia. Cohen's book, by the way, is very prophetic about Ukraine -- not necessarily about the country itself but about the massive level of cold war hangover America's foreign policy nabobs suffer from and their utter mindlessness in facing anything having to do with Russia. I've long said that the whole neocon vision was for America to behave all around the world with the same reckless dominance fetish that Israel exhibits in the Middle East. In the last two months that's pretty much what we've been seeing. The only real surprise here is how pathetic it makes the leaders look: Netanyahu, for instance, is wailing about how Hamas is forcing Israel to kill Palestinians, as if he, himself, has no control over his government. Nor does Obama seem to be any more in control of his policies. It's really quite shameful.

Nor am I the only one saying these things. Just looking at my recent twitter feed:

Saree Makdisi: It's quite clear that Israel plunged into its bombardment, as usual, without any strategic plan in mind. Quite literally mindless violence.

Roger Cohen: John Kerry says Israel "under siege" by Hamas. Read that once. Read it twice. Three times. It doesn't get any better. We have a problem here.

Ali Abunimah: Remember, Israel could have had a ceasefire any time if it agreed to basic humanitarian conditions for people of Gaza. It refused.

Sana Saeed: In case you're keeping count: this is the third IDF offensive against Gaza since the Obama administration came into office.

[Actually, the third since Obama was elected president, but Operation Cast Lead occurred before Obama took office. I like to refer to it as Israel's pre-emptive strike against the Obama administration.]

Also as Michael Poage noted, today's Kansans for Peace in Palestine demo today in Wichita drew about 500 people. It led on the KWCH News, ahead of a fairly even-handed report on Gaza that put more emphasis on dead Palestinians than on live Israelis whining about rockets.

  • Juan Cole: Falluja and Gaza: Why Counter-Terrorism fails when the Problem is Political: Yeah, but for a while counter-terrorism is a workable excuse to avoid talking about political problems. It simply declares that authorities can manage dissent with violence.

    Just as the enemies of the US ultimately prevailed in Falluja, so the enemies of Israel will prevail in Gaza.

    Oppression and occupation produce resistance. Until the oppression and the occupation are addressed, the mere inflicting of attrition on the military capabilities of the resistance will not snuff it out. Other leaders will take the place of those killed.

    If Israel really wanted peace or relief from Hamas rockets, its leaders would pursue peace negotiations in good faith with Hamas (which has on more than one occasion reliably honored truces). Otherwise, invading Gaza will have all the same effects, good and bad (but mostly bad) that the US invasion of Falluja had on Iraq.

    Also see Cole's Israel's Groundhog Day: Reverse Snowballs and the Horror of Lawn-Mowing.

  • Annie Robbins: Israel is in a pickle:

    Israel is likely in a pickle. Its stated goal for this invasion is to stop the missile fire (and dismantle Hamas's control of the strip). To do that it must locate Hamas' weapons arsenal and thus far, it appears it is clueless as to where they are. Israel doesn't know the extent of weaponry Hamas has amassed, either in quality or quantity. All the blowing up of civilian infrastructure, including homes and hospitals, won't end the rocket fire because it's extremely unlikely any central stash of weaponry is stored in homes, schools, hospitals or mosques. The weapons are probably underground which is why it requires a ground invasion to find them. This is what "deal with the tunnels" means when Obama says "the current military ground operations are designed to deal with the tunnels."

    Rudoren claimed Netanyahu "won plaudits from Israeli leftists this week for embracing an Egyptian cease-fire proposal." Win plaudits from media pundits he did, but this was not an Egyptian proposal, it was a proposal cobbled together by Tony Blair after Obama had previously spoken with Netanyahu and offered to help broker a truce (without any input from Hamas). A ceasefire catering to Israel represents nothing more than a surrender for Palestine, a surrender worse than retreating to the status quo of endless occupation because hundreds of Palestinian prisoners who were freed in the Gilad Shalit prisoner swap in 2011, were rearrested from the West Bank during a pogrom hyped as a response to the claim Hamas kidnapped the 3 Israeli youths, a claim that has never been backed by even a shred of evidence.

  • Nathan Thrall: How the West Chose War in Gaza: Israel's assault on Gaza is really a war on Hamas, more specifically on the willingness of Hamas to participate in a "national consensus" government alongside Fatah.

    Yet, in many ways, the reconciliation government could have served Israel's interests. It offered Hamas's political adversaries a foothold in Gaza; it was formed without a single Hamas member; it retained the same Ramallah-based prime minister, deputy prime ministers, finance minister and foreign minister; and, most important, it pledged to comply with the three conditions for Western aid long demanded by America and its European allies: nonviolence, adherence to past agreements and recognition of Israel.

    Israel strongly opposed American recognition of the new government, however, and sought to isolate it internationally, seeing any small step toward Palestinian unity as a threat. Israel's security establishment objects to the strengthening of West Bank-Gaza ties, lest Hamas raise its head in the West Bank. And Israelis who oppose a two-state solution understand that a unified Palestinian leadership is a prerequisite for any lasting peace. [ . . . ]

    Hamas is now seeking through violence what it couldn't obtain through a peaceful handover of responsibilities. Israel is pursuing a return to the status quo ante, when Gaza had electricity for barely eight hours a day, water was undrinkable, sewage was dumped in the sea, fuel shortages caused sanitation plants to shut down and waste sometimes floated in the streets. Patients needing medical care couldn't reach Egyptian hospitals, and Gazans paid $3,000 bribes for a chance to exit when Egypt chose to open the border crossing.

    For many Gazans, and not just Hamas supporters, it's worth risking more bombardment and now the ground incursion, for a chance to change that unacceptable status quo. A cease-fire that fails to resolve the salary crisis and open Gaza's border with Egypt will not last. It is unsustainable for Gaza to remain cut off from the world and administered by employees working without pay.

    The weird thing about this story is not so much what Israel has done as how the Obama administration has allowed itself to be paralyzed by the association of Hamas with terrorism. It's not even has if the US has never been willing to reclassify an organization once it wound up on the T-list -- Bush, for instance, made up with Ghaddafi's Libya. But where Israel is involved, Obama suddenly turns chickenshit. It's not just that Netanyahu has outfoxed Obama. It's more like Obama is suffering full-fledged Stockholm Syndrome.

  • More Israel links:

    • 13 IDF soldiers killed in Gaza as Operation Protective Edge death toll climbs to 18: The Palestinian death toll is up to 435, although there is no recognition of that in this piece from the Israeli press. The numbers are increasing quite rapidly as Israel's "ground incursion" proceeds, and while they are still extremely lopsided, this is the first indication that Israel will pay a price for its aggression.
    • Massacre in Gaza: At least 60 killed in Shuja'iyeh, over 60,000 in UN Shelters: This seems to have been the most immediate Israeli response to the loss of 15 Israeli soldiers.
    • Mohammed Omer: Gaza Hospitals Can't Cope. No surprise here, but the problem isn't just increasing demand: it's power plants being disabled, vital supplies being blockaded, and the occasional Israeli bombing of hospitals.
    • Richard Silverstein: Gaza War, Day 14: 18 IDF Dead, 430 Palestinian Dead: Sums up the above, noting "it is precisely this mounting loss of its own soldiers which may cause Israelis to take stock of this bloody mess and step back from the brink. Clearly, Israelis have no sense of proportion or concern when it comes to Palestinian dead."
    • Hamas wants to pile up 'telegenically-dead Palestinians for their cause' -- Netanyahu, on television: Israel's propaganda line is that Hamas is not only responsible for all Palestinian deaths, that they crave more and more Palestinian deaths in their diabolical scheme to shame Israel. Not only is Netanyahu saying this, IDF puppet like David Brooks has put it even more succinctly: "Hamas has basically decided they want to see their own people killed as a propaganda coup." Or as Bill Clinton put it, "in the short and medium term Hamas can inflict terrible public relations damage by forcing (Israel) to kill Palestinian civilians to counter Hamas." Netanyahu has yet to explain why he fell for this dastardly plan, allowing his government and the IDF to be so manipulated by Hamas.
    • Hasbarapocalypse: Naftali Bennett says Hamas committing 'massive self-genocide': I think Bennett (Israel's Economy Minister, head of the second largest party in the latest Knesset elections) gets credit as the first person to describe what's happening in Gaza as "genocide." Most likely he just mangled the talking point, but maybe added a little wish fulfillment.
    • Benjamin Wallace-Wells: Why Israel Is Losing the American Media War: "If Netanyahu is so bothered by how dead Palestinians look on television then he should stop killing so many of them. But his complaint is in itself a concession." The author attributes this to social media exposing more of the actual battleground, but I suspect something that Robbins (above) aludes to: blockaded off as it is, Gaza is becoming increasingly opaque to Israel at the same time it is becoming more transparent to the rest of the world. Moreover, although Israel remains effective at manipulating key parts of the media -- I could assemble a half dozen links on how distorted coverage has been in the Washington Post -- there are just too many alternative sources of news and analysis for them to control. Moreover, there are too many people in the media who know better -- I'm not seeing the link now, but there was an amusing report about Barney Frank feeling he was being ganged up on defending Israel on a CNN interview.
    • Thalif Deen: Why No Vetoed Resolutions on Civilian Killings in Gaza? Partly because Russia and China have vetoed resolutions condemning Assad in Syria, so they don't have a lot of moral authority to go after Israel, and given that all they would get out of it is a bit of embarrassment for the US (a country which has already vetoed hundreds of resolutions on Israel) that's evidently not worth the effort. Turns out all the world's powers have axes to grind -- not with each other so much as with the various people unfortunate enough to fall under the thumbs of their deranged clients.
    • Dead Gazans Missing From Senate Endorsement of Israeli Invasion: All 100 US senators, including some you might expect to know better, voted in favor of an AIPAC-authored, which this piece quotes in toto. While taken as an endorsement of Israel's bombardment and invasion of Gaza, it actually says no such thing: it denounces Hamas rocket attacks (which currently threaten 5 million Israelis), declares them "unprovoked," reaffirms "Israel's right to defend its citizens and ensure the survival of the State of Israel," and demands that Abbas "dissolve the unity governing arrangement with Hamas and condemn the attacks on Israel." To the Senate's knowledge, no Palestinians have been harmed.
    • As Israel attacks Gaza, 110 Palestinians injured and 12 detained in clashes at Al-Aqsa compound: One of Kate's roundups of Israeli press reports, showing among other things that Israel has not let up on arrests in the West Bank, that settlers continue to run amok, and that protests against Israel's operations in Gaza are being brutally suppressed. Also more details on Gaza.
    • Lawrence Weschler: Israel Has Been Bitten by a Bat: Basically a rant, and a couple days old, but worth reading: "I know, I know, and I am bone tired of being told it, when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there is plenty of blame to go around, but by this point after coming on almost 50 years of Israeli stemwinding and procrastinatory obfuscation, I'd put the proportionate distribution of blame at about the same level as the mortality figures -- which is, where are we today (what with Wednesday morning's four children killed while out playing on a Gaza beach)? What, 280 to 2?" The title refers to rabies.

Also, a few links for further study:

  • Hayes Brown: What You Need to Know About the Tunnels That Bring Life -- and Death -- Into Gaza: Some useful background on the Gaza tunnels that Israel is so desperately attempting to destroy. The key point is that since Israel tightened its blockade of Gaza after removing its settlements in 2005 -- Israel referred to this as "putting Gazans on a diet" -- the tunnels have become an indispensible lifeline, at least partly alleviating the suffering that Israel imposes:

    All told, what passes through the tunnels makes up a substantial portion, if not the vast majority, of the Gazan economy at this point. In October 2011, United Nations figures estimated that "800,000 liters (around 5,000 barrels) of fuel, 3,000 tons of gravel, 500 tons of steel rods and 3,000 tons of cement" passed through the tunnels daily.

    Of course, missiles and other contraband enter Gaza through the tunnels, but as long as the tunnels are needed for importing essentials like food and building materials there will be no popular support for shutting them down.

  • Dahr Jamail: Incinerating Iraq: Probably the best journalist working in Iraq since the US invasion -- see his Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq (2007) -- brings us up to date. From early on the US was responsible for stirring up Sunni-Shiite civil war in Iraq, and when things got out of hand the US was able to shift alliances, offering protection to Sunni tribal leaders willing to turn on "Al-Qaeda in Iraq" and thereby temporarily reducing the violence. When US troops left, they advised Maliki to ease up on the Sunnis, but true to form -- this was, after all, why the Americans installed him in the first place -- he kept pushing down the Sunnis and wound up with an explosion engulfing the northwestern third of Iraq and threatening Baghdad. If Obama had any sense, he would have backed away from Maliki, offering US aid to negotiate a diplomatic solution (preferably extending the talks to Syria, now that Assad isn't looking so awful). Instead, he reaffirmed his support for the discredited post-occupation Iraqi government, the only way Americans seem to know how: by sending bombers, "advisers," and special forces troops, a commitment that will convince Maliki that he doesn't have to reform a thing, that he can win outright, and one that puts Obama on the slippery slope of having to send more and more reinforcements in to stave off a face-loosing debacle. This was possibly the single dumbest decision in month chock full of foreign policy disasters (e.g., Ukraine/Russia, Israel/Gaza, Syria, Afghanistan/Pakistan).

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Cut Gaza Loose

Up-to-date information on Israel's latest major siege of Gaza -- dubbed Operation Protective Edge, at least in English (the Hebrew is closer to Solid Rock) -- is scarce and hard to sort out, especially since Israel sent ground troops into Gaza. The latest totals I have are that since July 8 Israeli forces have killed 303 Palestinians, while 1 Israeli soldier and 1 Israeli civilian have died. (The latter, by the way, would easily have met Israel's criterion for declaring a Palestinian a "militant" in the propaganda battles over who killed whom. The former was killed by an Israeli tank shell, "friendly fire." It's worth recalling that a third of the Israeli soldiers killed in 2008's Operation Cast Lead were killed by fellow Israelis.) [A later report now says 341 Palestinians have been killed, with 40,000 people "internally displaced" -- i.e., bombed out of their homes.] One of the more pointed stories I've read recently was reported here by Richard Silverstein:

Two days ago an Israeli navy artillery "sharpshooter" picked out a choice target. Little boys playing soccer on the beach, where their father earned his living as a fisherman. The first shell only killed one of them. The boys, their legs not yet muscled to run fast enough, flew as fast as they could to the beachside tent where foreign reporters congregated. The second shell, finely calibrated to hit them as they fled, struck them and killed another three. Killing children: fine sport in the Israeli navy.

Stories like that are going to be harder to come by since NBC pulled its correspondent from Gaza (who broke that story), Ayman Mohyeldin. CNN also pulled one of its reporters, Diana Magnay, after she reported on how Israelis camp out on hills near the Gaza border to watch and cheer the bombardment. That kind of damage control helps Israel avoid embarrassment, but only temporarily. [The uproar over Mohyeldin has since convinced NBC to send him back to Gaza.]

Past Israeli incursions (2006, 2008, 2012 -- the frequency is reflected in that choice Israeli phrase, "mowing the lawn") have always been met with appeals and pressure for ceasefire, but the Obama administration has been shockingly cavalier about the slaughter and destruction this time. Part of this may be the full court press of the Israel lobby, not least that Obama has been serially beat up by Israel for nearly six years now, but part may also be due to Obama's desire to escalate US involvement in the wars in Iraq and Syria, plus all the reckless hawkishness on Ukraine, plus the 15 people just killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan. They say, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Evidently, Obama is way too busy making war to spare a few moments to plead for peace. And if the US doesn't step up to restrain Israel, who else can?

It's wholly predictable how Israel's current operation will end. Like all of its predecessors going back to 2006, it will end in a ceasefire with Hamas as firmly in charge of Gaza as ever, with Israel in possession of the keys to a ghetto containing 1.8 million trapped, terrorized people. Many buildings will be destroyed, including critical infrastructure -- electric power, sewage treatment, water treatment, hospitals, roads, food resources. A few hundred Palestinians will have been killed, and a few thousand injured -- some intended targets but most just unfortunately in the way, and some like the children on the beach just capriciously targeted by bored soldiers who know that no matter what they do they'll never be punished.

Israel will have destroyed a few tunnels, and the rocket stockpiles will have been more or less depleted -- not that they were ever a threat anyway. (Both sides seem to tacitly agree that the symbolism of Gazans defying Israel and shooting rockets over the walls matters much more than the scant damage they cause.) But in the end the cumulative weight of atrocities will embarrass Israel, as should the increasingly genocidal emotions the war is stirring up among Israelis. Israel is on the verge of losing whatever sympathy and support they had built up -- especially in Europe, but even in the US (with the exception of Congress) they are losing their grip. So they'll wind up about where they started. At least that's Israel's best-case scenario. They could hit some world opinion tipping point -- like they did with Turkey in 2008. Or they could give in to their hawks and crank the war machine up, moving from hundreds to thousands or tens or hundreds of thousands of Palestinian deaths. Or they could ignite a sympathetic intifada in the West Bank, which could link up with ISIS. You can't predict what will happen once you go to war.

One thing that's lost in all the chatter about rockets and atrocities is that there is a very simple solution to the Gaza problem (and hence to all those rockets and atrocities): just cut Gaza loose from Israel and let the people there fend for themselves. For many years, debate over how to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict has been divided between a "1-state solution" and a "2-state solution." In the latter there are separate Israeli and Palestinian states alongside each other, dividing up the land of the former British mandate of Palestine. Most scenarios call for Israel to return to its pre-1967 borders, and a Palestinian state to be created in the remaining 22% of the land: the small Gaza Strip on the west and the larger West Bank (including East Jerusalem) in the east. Other variations are possible, including "mutual land swaps" (which the "Clinton parameters" and the "Geneva Accords" specified) or Israel just keeping more (the de facto result of Israel's "illegal settlements").

In the "1-state solution" Israel keeps all the land, but also has to grant full and equal rights to all the people living on that land. This has the great advantage of avoiding dismantling the settlements or transferring any additional people, but means that Israel, which prides itself as "the Jewish state," would wind up with a rather large percentage of non-Jews, perhaps even a majority. Most Israelis -- at least most Israeli politicians -- don't like either "solution": as Levi Eshkol described the conquests of the 1967 war, "we received a very nice dowry [the land], but we don't really like the bride [the people]." Since then, Israel has devised a sophisticated system for taking the land while excluding the people, denying the latter even basic human rights, corralling them into ever tighter ghettos, and hoping they'll just go away. The cost of this system is that the conflict grinds on forever: for Israel, this means paying for a huge military and police state, engaging in a propaganda war that eventually turns self-deluding, and suffering the corrosive morality of militarism and racism; for Palestinians it means living under a system of extreme regimentation and regulation, one that degrades their humanity and denies them opportunities all people expect as a human right.

Most Israelis, in short, want no solution. They accept their lot as a people that has been oppressed for millennia because they believe that their state (and only their state) can defend them, and must do so now and forever more. Anyone well acquainted with Jewish history can appreciate that position, but most of us recognizes that we are not doomed to endlessly replicate the past: that conflicts can be resolved fairly and equitably, and that when they are they disappear into the depths of the past. The prerequisite for any solution is to see it as possible. Unfortunately, that's been the undoing of both "1-state" and "2-state" solutions: many Israelis reject the former because they can't stand the idea of sharing their state with so many Palestinians, and they reject the latter because they feel that would mean the end of the Zionist project of reclaiming their "promised land."

For some time, Palestinians have indicated they would be happy with any solution. Political elites may tend toward "2-state" because that would carve out a state they could control, while the less ambitious may just welcome the opportunity to participate in Israel's prosperous economy without the present discrimination and conflict. But either way they have been at the mercy of Israel's rejection of any sort of solution, at best hoping that some higher power (like the US) will weigh in to support their aspirations. They problem there is that at the US becomes ever more inequitable internally, it becomes ever less sensitive to the human rights of people elsewhere, and that leads to this current hideous stalemate.

On the other hand, there is no reason for stalemate on Gaza. In 2005, Israel (under Ariel Sharon) withdrew from and dismantled every one of its settlements in the Gaza Strip, and since then there has been no effort on Israel's part to recolonize Gaza. It should be clear to everyone that Israel has no interest in Gaza -- at least, other than the "security threat" an independent Gaza might create. The West Bank and Jerusalem are complicated places where it is hard (if not impossible) to resolve the conflict, but Gaza is simple: Israel doesn't want it, and any interest Gazans have in uniting with a Palestinian state in the West Bank is something that can be dealt with if/when such a state is created. Why not solve the one piece that can be solved now, and cut Gaza free of Israel?

This seems to obvious to me that I'm astonished that no one is pushing the idea. The closest I've seen to a discussion along these lines is the Hamas ceasefire proposal, which promises a 10-year truce in exchange for the following ten provisions:

  1. Withdrawal of Israeli tanks from the Gaza border.
  2. Freeing all the prisoners that were arrested after the killing of the three youths.
  3. Lifting the siege and opening the border crossings to commerce and people.
  4. Establishing an international seaport and airport which would be under U.N. supervision.
  5. Increasing the permitted fishing zone to 10 kilometers.
  6. Internationalizing the Rafah Crossing and placing it under the supervision of the U.N. and some Arab nations.
  7. International forces on the borders.
  8. Easing conditions for permits to pray at the Al Aqsa Mosque.
  9. Prohibition on Israeli interference in the reconciliation agreement.
  10. Reestablishing an industrial zone and improvements in further economic development in the Gaza Strip.

Most of these points are completely reasonable, things that Israel should agree to in any case. They highlight that the basic problem that Gaza has faced since 2005 has been the stranglehold that Israel (and to some extent Egypt) have had over Gaza, and how that's been used to keep Gaza from developing a normal economy and everyday life. In exchange for a more normal life, Hamas is offering a truce -- which is to say, no rockets or mortar shells launched over the wall, and no tunneling under the wall. The demands fall short of sovereignty for Gaza, but they do try to substitute UN for Israeli supervision, and as such they offer some hints as to where Hamas would be willing to limit Gazan sovereignty. One can easily build an independence proposal on top of this ceasefire proposal, and reasonably expect that it would be agreeable to Hamas, the current de facto governor of Gaza.

This is a quick first draft, but this is what I'm thinking of:

  1. This would have to be agreed to by Israel, Hamas, the US, the UN, and Egypt, with additional nations and organizations invited to sign on and participate. The problem here is that the US and Israel regard Hamas as a "terrorist organization," and use that as an excuse to avoid dealing with Gaza diplomatically. Instead, Israel insists on only engaging with Gaza militarily.

  2. The agreement on Gaza should not be regarded as resolving any other issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the status of refugees. The Gaza Strip will be referred to as West Palestine.

  3. The border between Israel and West Palestine will be based on the current wall between Israel and the Gaza Strip. Israel will retain ownership of the wall. West Palestine will exercise sovereignty over all the land on the Gaza side up to the base of the wall.

  4. The UN would assume responsibility for directing the transition of West Palestine to independence within three months of agreement. This includes framing of basic governance law -- a constitution which follows common democratic practices, civil law, protections for basic human rights, and special legal oversight at stated below -- followed by parliamentary and municipal elections. To the extent practicable, existing governmental organizations will continue, subject to UN supervision, during the transitional period. Once a new government is formed, the UN role will be reduced and phased out (except as below). Once formed, West Palestine will join the United Nations, and will be free to join any other international organizations it wishes, and to negotiate and sign international treaties. It will not be allowed to file claims against any other government for acts prior to agreement.

  5. The UN will charter a "development bank" which will manage contributions from donor nations to help rebuild West Palestine. The funds will also act as an insurance plan, with first claim on the funds to Israel to cover any damages caused by acts of terror originating in Gaza. (Conversely, any acts of terror originating in Israel will be judged and charged to Israel. The point here is that any lapses in the peace between Israel and West Palestine, either by government or by individuals, will be converted into cash awards and both governments will be incentivized to reduce any such claims.) The funds should be released at an economically responsible rate. The UN will maintain a special court to judge terrorism claims and to investigate and prosecute corruption.

  6. West Palestine will have no armed forces. Its defense will be ensured by international agreement. Imports will be subject to inspection by the UN (until all agree that this function can be turned over to the West Palestine government). Various armaments, including missiles, mortars, and artillery, will be prohibited. Any illegal armaments currently in the country can be turned over for cash rewards during the first year after agreement.

  7. All militias will be outlawed. All existing political parties will be disbanded (including Hamas and Fatah), and their old names will be disallowed, but political parties under new names can be formed. There will be a general amnesty for acts before agreement. Palestinian prisoners held by Israel will be repatriated to West Palestine, provided that's their request and the government of West Palestine agrees to take them.

  8. The government of West Palestine will have full responsibility for its air and sea space, the latter out to at least 10 kilometers from shore line. Projects will be established for developing airport and seaport facilities. West Palestine will be free to exchange goods with any nations it desires, subject to UN review on prohibited items. Israel and Egypt are encouraged to trade with West Palestine through their land ports.

  9. The UN may at its discretion install monitors on either side of the borders between West Palestine and Israel and/or Egypt. The monitors will have unimpeded access to report any suspected border violations, but will have no responsibility for actually patrolling the borders. The monitors will be withdrawn from a border when both countries (West Palestine and Israel or Egypt) agree.

  10. West Palestine will issue appropriate papers, including passports, for its residents. All residents as of the agreement will be citizens of West Palestine. West Palestinian citizenship will not affect refugee status, although we recommend that Israel and West Palestine join on a program to settle the refugee status of Palestinians displaced from Israel, and to replace current "refugee camps" with permanent housing.

I think this covers six or seven of Hamas' ten points. It allows Gaza to develop a normal economy and civil society. There should be no cases where Israelis continue to hold power over residents of Gaza. Israel's security concerns are satisfied in several ways: by limiting the military power of the West Palestinian state; by outlawing a wide range of military hardware; and by imposing a substantial cost to the state for any acts by Gaza residents which actually harm Israeli life and/or property. On the other hand, Israel is similarly penalized for any hostilities against Gazan life and/or property. If these schemes prove insufficient, it's always possible that Israel could withdraw from the treaty and declare war on West Palestine -- the agreement does not in any way limit Israel's warmaking capability, nor for that matter does it reduce whatever deterrence Israel enjoys from its overwhelming firepower advantage. I didn't include anything about Hamas' demand that Israel back its tanks away from the border because I thought that level of regulation unnecessary -- all that is really necessary is that Israel not fire tank shells, or any kind of ordnance, into Gaza. As long as they are not used, where Israel parks its tanks is of little practical concern.

The imposed constitution is something Gazans may not appreciate, but it greatly expedites the transition to self-rule, and it provides reassurance in many ways that the resulting government will remain democratic and will respect individual rights of all its citizens. The constitution should be broadly open to a mix of capitalist and socialist approaches, to be determined by the legislature. (I suspect this will actually prove to be a bigger sticking point with American ideologists than the lack of a sharia foundation will be with Muslims, although the latter will likely get more print.) The constitution should eventually be amendable, although perhaps not for 10-20 years (subject to UN approval) to give it a chance to work.

The matter of donor money is also critically important, both because it is urgently needed and because it provides an elegant insurance system to reinforce the peace. Personally, I think a lot of that should come from Israel, which I regard as solely responsible for the destruction and degradation of life in Gaza especially in the last decade (although really going back to 1948), but fat chance of that, so the world needs to step up. Eventually, of course, the money will run out and West Palestine will need to stand on its own economy. It is important, therefore, that the government build an efficient tax system. I haven't said anything about currency, figuring that's a detail other people are more competent in. The other especially important thing I've left out is water. I wanted to minimize the burdens imposed on Israel, but some fair allocation of the miniscule Gaza watershed is essential.

There will no doubt be other technical issues to work out. Some may be best worked out bilaterally between Israel and West Palestine. Questions like permits to pray at Al-Aqsa certainly fall in that category. While that may be something Gazans care deeply about, it doesn't strike me as a war-or-peace issue. To gain any agreement, the international community (not least the US) is going to have to put pressure on a very recalcitrant Israeli government, and that's easier to do if the demands are minimal and separable. Israel's security policy regarding Gaza is both malicious and demonstrably ineffective, so that has to change. But while it would be a nice thing to allow more personal travel between countries, that isn't a necessary condition for peace. The only necessary conditions for peace are to stop the bombing, the shooting, the blockade, and to allow all people on all sides to live a normal life. That's what this proposal does.

The decision to disband Hamas in Gaza is largely cosmetic: it will simply make everyone more comfortable to bury past terrorism with the agreement. It also allows Hamas to go on in the West Bank, doing whatever it is they are doing. I thought about adding more strictures separating West Palestine groups from any sort of work in the West Bank. The fact is that after agreement the conditions will be very different and incomparable. The question of refugees is one that may need more thought, as it is one thing that remains a common problem for a free Gaza and an occupied West Bank, but it is a thorny problem, here at least best swept under the rug.

One reason no one talks about a Gaza-only solution is that at least some people on both sides have been seduced by the notion that it is possible to come up with a "final status" resolution. Arguing against this is the fact that no one has come close, but also the more general point that nothing is ever really final. So I think one of the basic principles of resolving this conflict is that we should always do what we can when we can do it, then take stock and consider problems remain and what else can be done about them. I have no doubt that a Gaza-only solution will help move all sides closer to an eventual West Bank solution.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Again They've Gone Too Far

In 2010 Norman Finkelstein wrote a book about Israel's 2008 war on Gaza. His title was "This Time We Went Too Far": Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion. Like Israel's 2006 war on Lebanon, their so-called Operation Cast Lead ended having accomplished nothing so much as the revelation of Israel as a serial committer of atrocities, of crimes against humanity -- acts they tried to cover up with a thin propaganda at once asserting their victimhood and threatening ever graver results should anyone defy or deny their omnipotence. The problem was not just that Israel far exceeded the provocation. The problem was that it was hard to discern any reason for Israel's actions other than to further poison the well. The only thing Israel's leaders fear is peace, so they stir up the pot every few years, hoping to reinforce the "no partner for peace" canard.

They're at it again, and again they've gone way too far -- at least for anyone paying the least attention. Their current operation's pretext dates to June 12, when three Israeli teenaged settlers of the West Bank were kidnapped and killed -- a crime certain to arouse sympathy for Israel even though that involves overlooking the much greater violence committed by Israel in 1967 when they invaded the Jordanian-held West Bank and the 57 subsequent years of military occupation. The best you can say for the "boys" is that they were unwitting pawns in Israel's effort to permanently secure the lands of the West Bank by settling their "chosen" people and privileging them over the people who lived and worked there before they were overrun by war and overwhelmed by police force. That does not mean they deserved to be kidnapped and killed, but neither have thousands of Palestinians who have met similar fates since 1967.

On July 6, I wrote a piece that reviewed what turned out to be the first of two stages (so far) in the current escalation: A Case of Kidnapping and Murder. In short, Israel's response to the crime was not to focus on the killers -- they identified as suspects two members of a Hebron clan that is well known for acting on its own to sabotage relatively peaceful periods in the conflict -- but to use the crime as a pretext for a systematic attack on nearly everyone affiliated with Hamas in the West Bank. Moreover, it should be obvious that Hamas' real offense was that they had agreed to form a unity government with Fatah. That should have been good news for anyone with the least desire for peace, as it meant that for the first time since the failed 2006 coup to overthrow Hamas in Gaza there would be a unified, broadly popular Palestinian representation. But since Israel (above all Netanyahu) hates peace, it became imperative to break the unity government up by showing that Hamas is still committed to terrorism, something which pinning the murders on Hamas would aid. So Israel proceeded to arrest hundreds of Hamas members -- the distinction between arrest and kidnapping here is no more than a thin legal veneer -- and soon had killed more than a dozen Palestinians, and soon enough Israeli racism was riled up so much that a group of Israeli settlers bent on revenge kidnapped and burned to death a Palestinian teenager.

That's about where my previous post ended. Most of this had been limited to the West Bank (although the revenge kidnapping took place in Jerusalem), but Israel was also making menacing gestures toward Gaza, which is still nominally controlled by Hamas. Since then, Israel has repeatedly attacked Gaza, and as a result have faced some measure of rocket fire from groups in Gaza (evidently including Hamas). While I've been on the road, this situation has continued to deteriorate. The following links are my attempt to catch up.

  • A good place to start is by reviewing Richard Silverstein's daily posts:

    • Gaza War: Day 9, 202 Palestinians, 1 Israeli Dead: Israel's ceasefire proposal, rubber-stamped by Egypt and put out "under their letterhead as if it was their own"; Israel suffered its first fatality: "A man who'd collected food parcels at his West Bank settlement and trucked them to Erez Crossing to give to the troops, came under mortar attack and was killed." I've taken the liberty of revising Silverstein's title.
    • Gaza War, Day 8: 180 Palestinian Dead: first ceasefire proposal.
    • Gaza War, Day 7: 174 Palestinian Dead: more on Israel's botched commando raid, although it doesn't seem that Hamas killed any IDF soldiers.
    • In First Gaza Ground Battle, Israeli Commandos Repelled: "This is the same command unit which massacred 10 Turkish activists on the Mavi Marmara." "The air force bombed a rehabilitation center where two disabled women died. It also destroyed the home of Gaza's police chief and the next door mosque during evening prayers. Eighteen worshippers and family members were killed during services, four of them children. 50 more were injured."
    • Israeli Invasion to Begin in "Coming Hours"
    • Gaza War: Day 5, Palestinian Dead: 121: "Today marked the first demonstrations in major world cities against the assault. There was a large protest in London and other places. This must be only the beginning. The U.S. response has been shameful. The Obama administration released a statement denouncing the rockets attacking Israel while making no mention of Israel's indecent attack on Gaza's civilian population."
    • Gaza War: Day 4, 99 Gazan Dead, Half Women and Children, Ground Invasion Imminent: "In at least three separate instances, the air force has deliberately targeted private homes in which families sheltered. In some instances, all or most of the families were wiped out. Israel's claim is that it is targeting the homes of militant leaders. Though those killed were family members, Israel mendaciously claims they were 'human shields.'" "The very notion of calling this invasion by its Israeli bestowed name, Protective Edge, is racist. Why do we accept the IDF's nomenclature? What do Gazans call it? Does anyone care?"
    • Gaza War: Day 3, 72 Palestinians Dead, 13 Children: "Sheera Frenkel writes that the IAF concedes it has already bombed anything of military value in Gaza. Now it's pursuing 'secondary targets,' which it defines as residential homes!"
    • Gaza Invasion: Day 2, 27 Palestinian Dead: "Which begs the question: if Israel invaded the West Bank after three teenagers were murdered, arresting 500, killing 7, and ransacking hundreds of homes just for the hell of it -- after a Palestinian boy was murdered in equally, if not more brutal fashion, are the Palestinians not entitled to vent their rage? Or is it only Israel that has that right?" "The name 'Operation Protective Edge' has no relation to the original Hebrew name, Solid Rock (Tzuk Eytan). The army's hasbara department realized that 'Solid Rock' just would not due for the foreign audience. It connoted military strength, assertiveness and aggression. Those are all qualities that appeal to Israelis, but don't look so good to an international audience already predisposed to think the worst regarding Israeli militarism."
    • Operation Solid Rock, Gaza Invasion, Begins: "All of these deaths are needless of course. They're testimony not just to Israel's obduracy and rejectionism, but to the indifference of the international community which needs to come to its senses and intervene to stop the slow-mo decimation of peace, justice, and Palestinian sovereignty."
  • Robert Naiman: Netanyahu's War: What Is It Good For?: A good short overview of the war, emphasizing that until Netanyahu started his "violent crackdown on Hamas supporters in the West Bank, Hamas hadn't fired a single rocket from Gaza and had largely suppressed fire by smaller jihadi groups."

    There is no plausible story that Netanyahu's war is a just war. As J.J. Goldberg recounts in the Jewish Daily Forward, the justification for Netanyahu's war on Gaza given by the chief spokesman of the Israeli military on July 8 was this: "We have been instructed by the political echelon to hit Hamas hard."

    That is not a just war. There is no just goal offered that killing is supposed to bring about. Killing itself is the goal.

    As Goldberg and Max Blumenthal note, the racist revenge frenzy in the Israeli political system to which Netanyahu's military escalation is purportedly responding was deliberately manufactured by Netanyahu himself.

    He also quotes Goldberg explaining that "The last seven years have been the most tranquil in Israel's history. Terror attacks are a fraction of the level during the nightmare intifada years -- just six deaths in all of 2013." Naiman adds, "The United States government has many levers on Netanyahu." He enumerates several of those, then notes that "All it [the Obama administration] lacks is sufficient public political pressure to use them to force an end to the killing." Still, despite Netanyahu's repeated humiliation of Obama and Kerry, and despite the complete mess they find themselves in over Iraq and Syria, I see no evidence that the US has the will to butt in, even discreetly.

  • Phan Nguyen: How many people have died from Gaza rockets into Israel?: The chart also includes mortar fire from Gaza, so the total is now 28 (including an Israeli killed by mortar fire on July 15, the first and thus far only Israeli death since three Israeli settler teenagers were kidnapped and killed on or near June 12. Before this death, no Israelis were killed by Gaza mortar or rocket fire since November 2012. The piece provides a number of links. Notably, it questions numbers reported on Wikipedia as erroneous (64 deaths reported there). It's worth noting that rocket fire from Gaza varies enormously from year to year according to how restrictive Israel's blockade of Gaza is and how much firepower Israel directs at Gaza (factors that no one seems to keep track of). During 2013, for example, no Israelis were killed or injured by Gazan rocket or mortar fire (a total of 44 incidents). In other words, the factors that determine Gazan rocket fire are almost totally under Israeli control, even if the ultimate responsibility for firing the rockets isn't.

  • Ira Glunts: Hamas offers Israel 10 conditions for a 10 year truce: All ten appear to be completely reasonable, with most focused on opening up trade and commerce in an effort to move Gaza from its current status as an "open air prison" to relative normalcy -- assuming all the points involving UN supervision don't turn onerous. Moreover, few in any way affect everyday life in Israel, although one -- "prohibition on Israeli interference in the reconciliation agreement" -- points toward a future peace settlement, something Israel dreads. It's easy to question the morality of Gazan rocket attacks, especially given how they play into Israel's hands, but if they didn't happen what other leverage would Hamas have to bargain with? Do you really think it would do any good to appeal to Israel's better nature? As for the ten year term, how can anyone believe that after ten years of economic growth and normalcy Palestinians will be eager to return to the old days of the siege? Just hopeless racists, of which Israel (and America) have no shortage.

  • Philip Weiss: Netanyahu says there will never be a real Palestinian state: As far as Netanyahu is concerned, this is at most a bit more explicit than his usual weasel-wording, but he's never done anything to reassure American politicians that he has any interest in their "two state" fantasies, and he's rarely said anything that someone the least bit objective could misconstrue. Weiss also cites a piece by Jeff Halper, Israel's message to the Palestinians: Submit, leave or die, which sums up the deep attitude Netanyahu and many other Israelis have developed, one which has only surfaced more explicitly since early June:

    Operations Brothers' Keeper and Protective Edge represent the imposition of a regime of warehousing, of outright imprisonment of an entire people. The seemingly blind and atavistic destruction and hatred unleashed on the Palestinians over the past few weeks is not merely yet another "round of violence" in an interminable struggle. It is the declaration of a new political reality. The message is clear, unilateral and final: This country has been Judaized: it is now the Land of Israel in the process of being incorporated into the state of Israel. You Arabs (or "Palestinians" as you call yourselves) are not a people and have no national rights, certainly to our exclusively Jewish country. You are not a "side" to a "conflict." Once and for all we must disabuse you of the notion that we are actually negotiating with you. We never have and never will. You are nothing but inmates in prison cells, and we hereby declare through our military and political actions that you have three options before you: You can submit as inmates are required to you, in which case we will allow you to remain in your enclave-cells. You can leave, as hundreds of thousands have done before you. Or, if you choose to resist, you will die.

    Warehousing is worse than apartheid. It does not even pretend to find a political framework for "separate development," it simply jails the oppressed and robs them of all their collective and individual rights. It is the ultimate form of oppression before actual genocide, and in that it robs a people of its identity, its land, its culture and the ability to reproduce itself, it is a form of cultural genocide that can lead to worse. This is what Israel has left the Palestinians, this is the meaning of the bombing of Gaza, the terrorizing of the West Bank -- and the ongoing destruction of Bedouin and Palestinian homes within Israel.

  • Noam Sheizaf: Netanyahu's Bankrupt Strategy:

    Launching military campaigns in Israel is easy: the public idolizes the army and tends to support whatever measures it takes, and the parliamentary opposition rallies behind the government at such moments. Indeed, Benjamin Netanyahu's second campaign in Gaza as prime minister -- and the third the country has launched in less than five years -- was true to form, enjoying nearly unanimous support in Israel, despite heavy civilian casualties on the Palestinian side and the disruption to daily life caused by hundreds of rockets launched by Hamas, including at Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Israel's international airport. [ . . . ]

    If Israel does end the war now, Prime Minister Netanyahu will face attacks from his political base on the right and among the settlers. The hard right, with its echo chamber in the media, already senses an opportunity. Amos Regev, the editor of the pro-Netanyahu daily Yisrael Hayom, called in an editorial for bombing Gaza "back to the stone age." Avigdor Lieberman went as far as saying that Israel should seize direct control of the Strip again, and on the eve of the military operation he broke his political pact with Netanyahu and the Likud, though he remains a part of the government. [ . . . ]

    Netanyahu can only blame himself for his political troubles. By demonizing the Palestinian leadership -- Abbas just the same as Hamas -- he raised expectations in the Israeli public for a decisive victory and opened the door for attacks from the right. His refusal to commit to a meaningful political process with the Palestinians, along with his insistence on maintaining the status quo through military superiority alone, will pretty much guarantee that this cycle of violent escalations continues in years to come.

    But isn't that the plan? And in the end, Netanyahu can point out that he did much of what the right wanted, and still kept the US in line. On the US front, Phyllis Bennis sees some progress, just not a lot.

    Joshua Tartakovsky: Israel's Bombardment of Gaza: What Is Different This Time? answers the question with this list:

    What is different, however, this time, is that even some in the US mainstream media that traditionally tends to unquestionably adopt Israel's narrative, began to depict life in Gaza. The Washington Post, for example, posted a video of Israeli attacks on the Gaza Strip from the ground level, a perspective not often seen on the American press and issued a list of children killed. What is also different, this time, is that Israeli politicians have openly declared the entire Palestinian people to be the enemy, and radical right wing Israelis have staged demonstrations calling for "death to the Arabs." Indeed, the brutal burning to death of a Palestinian child, carried out by Israeli radicals, has indicated the degree to which the anti-Arab incitement has been that severe that the Israeli government may be losing control of the situation. Additionally, this time, unlike in earlier events, Hamas leader Khaled Masha'al issued a statement directly to Israelis arguing they should blame Netanyahu for their current predicament. This time too, unlike in previous attempts, an Israeli ground invasion in Gaza, and even a recapturing of the entire strip, is a realistic possibility. While it is hard to say whether Israel has escalated the situation because of its desire to get rid of Hamas or due to its interest in gas reserves found near the Gaza coast, Israeli citizens, who are rightfully fearful due to the constant rocket attacks, are for the most part still united behind the Israeli government's "Protective Edge" operation, just as they support "Pillar of Cloud" and "Cast Lead" although none of the previous operations has provided them with security or a lasting peace. To what degree the international community will continue to support Israel's actions in Gaza remains to be seen.

    The US has at least counselled against that ground operation, although Israel has "warned" 100,000 residents of Gaza City to evacuate their homes, and Lieberman has argued that "IDF must end operation with control of entire Gaza Strip." [link]

  • David Sheen: Israeli calls for Palestinian blood ring at fever pitch: Just a taste of the hatred -- cataloguing it all would be so tiresome -- but here we have an Israeli Knesset member declaring "the entire Palestinian people is the enemy," advocating its "complete destruction, 'including its elderly and its women,' adding that these must be slaughtered, otherwise they might give birth to more 'little snakes.'" We have a Rabbi calling for "the killing of at least 300 Palestinians, and for scalping their foreskins and taking them as trophies." We have a municipal official in Jerusalem issuing "a similar barely-veiled call to mutilate and murder Palestinians." We have mobs of young Jewish thugs chanting "Death to Arabs" and "Death to Leftists." This outpouring of hatred is still shocking, although it's actually old news, as attested by the legacy of Rabbi Meir Kahane, by the Rabbis who called for Yitzhak Rabin's head (and the dutiful Kahanist who obliged them), by the authors of books (cited in Max Blumenthal's Goliath) on when and why it is permissible to kill goyim. But it shouldn't be surprising: this sort of racist hatred occurs in every society where one social group arrogates itself to a cult of superiority over others.

  • Chris Hedges: Israel Is Captive to Its 'Destructive Process': Cites Raul Hilberg on a well-known but not irrelevant case, then generalizes:

    The belief that a race or class is contaminated is used by ruling elites to justify quarantining the people of that group. But quarantine is only the first step. The despised group can never be redeemed or cured -- Hannah Arendt noted that all racists see such contamination as something that can never be eradicated. The fear of the other is stoked by racist leaders such as Netanyahu to create a permanent instability. This instability is exploited by a corrupt power elite that is also seeking the destruction of democratic civil society for all citizens -- the goal of the Israeli government (as well as the goal of a U.S. government intent on stripping its own citizens of rights). Max Blumenthal in his book Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel does a masterful job of capturing and dissecting this frightening devolution within Israel. [ . . . ]

    When all this does not work, when it becomes clear that the Palestinians once again have not become dormant and passive, Israel will take another step, more radical than the last. The "process of destruction" will be stopped only from outside Israel. Israel, captive to the process, is incapable of imposing self-restraint.

  • Paul Woodward: Israelis take pride in 'how few' Palestinians they kill: "True. And so what?" Given all the firepower Israel can muster, the fact that they've only killed a little more than 200 Palestinians in more than a week of bombardment interesting, and certainly a measure of restraint, even though the seeming randomness of who gets killed where and the conspicuously high concentration of women and children among the dead doesn't suggest much precision. On the other hand, one could say -- not that I've heard anyone even conjecture it -- that the inability of Gaza's rockets to hit anyone suggests that they are deliberately aimed at nowhere rather than ineptly targeted: that they are in fact meant to be nothing more than symbolic gestures. In some sense the military aspect of the conflict feels like Kabuki theater, where the status quo always returns:

    The current assault on Gaza, like previous ones, has little to do with destroying Hamas or establishing "quietness," as Benjamin Netanyahu puts it. It is a ritual beating whose purpose is to re-assert the authority of the Palestinians' military overlord. [ . . . ]

    On the other side, in spite of Israel's assertions that it exercises restraint, every day we witness new examples of senseless violence -- today with the deaths of Ahed Bakr, aged 10; Zakaria, 10; and two other boys from the Bakr family, both named Mohammad, aged 11 and nine. These children were struck down by an Israeli missile while playing on a beach.

    How can Israel which kills "so few" Palestinians, explain why so many are children and babies?

    Part of the reason is that war is sloppy so while Israel can regulate the overall level of carnage, they can't eliminate accidents, but also it's sort of a distinction without a difference. It's well known that Israel's war logic is to impose such a high price on rebellion that its "enemies" will eventually desist and give up. Part of that price is exacted by killing "militants" (often defined as any "military age" male), but there are many other ways of exacting that price, including house demolitions, expulsions, jail, and killing one's loved ones. The only downside to being so indiscriminate is that people may come to view Israelis as monsters, but as long as they are feared that doesn't seem to bother Israel much.

  • Bob Dreyfuss: The Palestinians Must Put an End to Suicidal Hamas: Usually an astute critic of the Middle East, but I think Dreyfuss has missed the boat here, when he approvingly quotes Bret Stephens, "Israel has no stupider enemy than Hamas." Hamas was almost certainly not responsible for the kidnappings that escalated the current hostilities, and they were even more certainly targeted by Netanyahu in an effort to break up the unity efforts between Hamas and Fatah. It is true that Hamas has hurt its international image by escalating rocket attacks on Israel, and in doing so they've given Israel a widely accepted excuse to inflict massive suffering upon Gaza. On the other hand, they're not deeply compromised by complicity with Israel like Abbas, and as long as Abbas gets nothing for his obsequiousness -- which if Netanyahu gets his way will be forever -- Hamas will maintain its popular credibility. (And if you bother to read their proposed ceasefire terms they might even start to recover from the international smear campaign Israel and the US have waged against them.) They may, as Dreyfuss says, be a "useful boogeyman" to Israel, but he errs in concluding they're "Israel's useful boogeyman."

    For a contrary view on Hamas, see (which also has a lot on Kerry's pathetic diplomacy).

Finally, I want to cite one more piece: John Feffer: Mowing the Lawn in Gaza, which goes back to 2006, to the specific wrong turn that lead to today's seemingly intractable conflict. (Of course, it doesn't explain the entire conflict, which goes back much further, most critically to 1948, but the die was cast even earlier.):

Like the Algerians in 1990 and the Egyptians in 2012, Gazans went to the polls in 2006 and voted for the wrong party. Rather than supporting the secular choice, they cast their ballots for Hamas. Not all Palestinians are Muslim (6 percent or so are Christian). But by opting for the Islamic Resistance Movement -- Hamas, for short -- Gazans had effectively nullified their own ballots.

It didn't matter that the EU and other institutions declared the elections free and fair. The results were what mattered, and Israel's judgment carried the day. Even though the newly elected government extended an olive branch to both Israel and the United States, the Israeli government didn't consider Hamas a legitimate political actor.

"Israel stated that Hamas were terrorists and Western leaders did not challenge this line," writes Cata Charrett in an excellent piece at Mondoweiss. "On the contrary, they refused to meet diplomatically with Hamas leaders, they cut off all possible financing to the newly elected government, and they supported Israel's complete sanction and seizure of Gazan territory." A direct peace overture to President George W. Bush offering a long-term truce went unanswered.

Israel's political leadership -- the PM at the time was Ariel Sharon -- took this position because it wants to sustain a state of military occupation and it dreads any resolution to the conflict. The US political leadership -- that was G.W. Bush -- acceded to Israel because it was stupid (and because the Israel desk was run by foreign agents like Elliott Abrams). Hamas offered a fresh opportunity to work on resolving the conflict, especially if we had been willing to negotiate short-term accommodations (like truces for economic freedom) instead of focusing on "final status" issues, which had proved so difficult for both sides. Moreover, Hamas had credibility from not having been involved in the Arafat deals and decisions, and they offered the prospect of bringing a far greater degree of Palestinian unity to the table than Abbas could ever achieve on his own. However, by rejecting Hamas, the US allowed Sharon and his successors to ignore every US-backed peace proposal.

We should be clear here: while Israel has no desire for peace, the US has no future in the Middle East without it. In its efforts to form a unity government with Fatah, Hamas has offered the US a present, but in order to use it the US now has to stand up to Israel in favor of the sort of ceasefire that Hamas has offered. That's a tall order for Obama and Kerry, one that requires them to rise above their basic political cowardice.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 23501 [23488] rated (+13), 534 [538] unrated (-4).

I got the news that my aunt Freda Bureman died Tuesday morning and drove to Independence, KS on Thursday afternoon. She had moved there about six years ago, living in Eagle Estates, where she could be closely attended to by her son, my cousin, Ken Brown. The funeral was Friday, with Ken and his older sisters, Lou Jean Fleron and Jan Barnes, giving touching and eloquent testimony to how much Freda meant to them, and really to us all. She was 99, had suffered from increasing dementia over the last few years, and had been unresponsive the last few weeks, essentially wasting away -- a slow fade into oblivion in stark contrast to how engaged I recall her at, say, her 90th birthday party. So I spent most of the week with my cousins, some of their children and many of their grandkids (the great-grand was among the missing), and as a result was pretty much off the grid -- my cell phone carrier didn't even provide coverage for Independence.

Hence, very little music to report below. Also, although I got back early enough today, a long nap and some TV kept me from getting the incoming packages logged. Things should return to normal, or to whatever the new normal is, next week.

I should also note that the dedicated server that I lease from Hosting & Designs was hosed a week ago. It crashed, and when they finally got it running again all of the configuration and data was erased. I've yet to receive an explanation of what happened, and don't have backups in any form that makes it easy to reconstruct, so it will be a while before I get that all running again (if indeed I do). Needless to say, I was very distracted last week. Hopefully I will be able to focus more this week.

New records rated this week:

  • Bobby Hutcherson/David Sanborn/Joey DeFrancesco: Enjoy the View (2014, Blue Note): vibes on organ better than expected, sax somewhat less so [r]: B+(*)
  • Jua: Colors of Life (2014, Chocolate Chi Music): [cd]: B-
  • Roberto Magris Trio: One Night in With Hope and More, Vol. 2 (2008-10 [2013], JMood): sparkling piano trio resurrects vintage bebop treasures [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Roberto Magris Quintet: Cannonball Funk'n Friends (2010 [2013], JMood): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Roberto Magris Septet: Morgan Rewind: A Tribute to Lee Morgan Vol. 2 (2010 [2014], JMood, 2CD): a pianist's tribute to Lee Morgan, two discs, gets rhythm right, but not trumpet [cdr]: B+(*)
  • Roberto Magris Space Trek: Aliens in a Bebop Planet (2011 [2012], JMood, 2CD): pianist returns to the '50s, treating each touchstone as a find, with cool sax [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Paul Marinaro: Without a Song (2014, Myrtle): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Beata Pater: Golden Lady (2013 [2014], B&B): [cd]: B
  • Sam Reed Meets Roberto Magris: Ready for Reed (2013, JMood): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Ellynne Rey: A Little Bit of Moonlight (2013 [2014], self-released): [cd]: B
  • Nicky Schrire: To the Spring (2013 [2014], self-released, EP): [r]: B-

Old records rated this week:

  • Chris Burn: Music for Three Rivers (1995-97 [1997], Victo): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ron Carter/Herbie Hancock/Tony Williams: Third Plane (1977 [1983], Milestone/OJC): [r]: B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week (does not include end of week):

  • Dee Alexander: Songs My Mother Loves (Blujazz)
  • Drumheller: Sometimes Machine (Barnyard)
  • Bob Mamet: London House Blues (Blujazz)
  • Jochen Rueckert: We Make the Rules (Whirlwind)
  • Vinnie Sperrazza: Apocryphal (Loyal Label): September 9
  • Tilting: Holy Seven (Barnyard)

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Rhapsody Streamnotes (July 2014)

Pick up text here.

Daily Log

Freda [Shelby] [Brown] Bureman died this morning, about 9AM, in Independence, KS. She was 99 (b. February 8, 1915). She is believed to have suffered a stroke a little over two weeks ago, and has been unresponsive since then. She has suffered from increasing dementia over the last five or so years. She was under hospice care over a year ago, but subsequently rallied. Indeed, this time she survived longer than the hospice people initially predicted. She was married to my uncle, Allen Brown, from June 17, 1939 until April 2, 1952, when Allen died following a car wreck. At the time they lived in Russell County, Kansas, where Allen worked as an roughneck for Shell Oil. Freda had a degree and teaching certificate, and soon got a job teaching elementary school in Kinsley, KS, where she stayed until she retired. They had three children -- Lou Jean, Jan, and Ken, 10 to 7 years older than me -- and our families were very close, especially while we were growing up, but they remain my closest and dearest friends to this day.

Sasha Frere-Jones published a list of his top 30 albums so far this year. They are in a spreadsheet, sorted by release date, but broken into three tiers. I've resorted them, putting "holy cats" first, "oh man" second, and "wow" third -- not that that's an obvious grading scale, but in the accompanying note he focuses on two of his "holy cats" artists (St. Vincent, Sharon Van Etten). My grades in brackets, in case you care.

  • Actress: Ghettoville (Werkdiscs) [*]
  • Beck: Morning Phase (Capitol)
  • Angel Olsen: Burn Your Fire for No Witness (Jagjaguwar) [*]
  • Le1f: Hey (Terrible)
  • Sd Laika: That's Harakiri (Tri Angle)
  • Swans: To Be Kind (Young God) [B]
  • Sharon Van Etten: Are We There (Jagjaguwar) [B-]
  • Moodymann: Moodymann (KDJ) [*]
  • Tinariwen: Emmaar (Anti-) [***]
  • Patten: Estoile Naiant (Warp)
  • St. Vincent: St. Vincent (Loma Vista) [***]
  • Evian Christ: Waterfall EP (Tri Angle)
  • Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: Piñata (Madlib Invazion) [***]
  • EMA: The Future's Void (Matador) [***]
  • Ratking: So It Goes (XL) [B]
  • Fennesz: Bécs (Editions Mego) [*]
  • Helado Negro: Island Universe Story Three (Asthmatic Kitty)
  • Jason Lescalleet: Much to My Demise (Kye)
  • Ben Frost: Aurora (Mute/Bedroom Community) [**]
  • Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal (What's Your Rupture?/Mom + Pop) [A-]
  • Clipping: CLPPNG (Sub Pop)
  • Craig Leon: Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music (RVNG)
  • M Geddes Gengras: Ishi (Leaving)
  • Ancient Astronaut: Ancient Astronaut (Other People)
  • Valentin Stip: Sigh (Other People)
  • Fatima al Qadiri: Asiatisch (Hyperdub)
  • Sylvan Esso: Sylvan Esso (Partisan)
  • Doprah: Doprah (Arch Hill)
  • Lana Del Rey: Ultraviolence (Interscope) [***]
  • Eno & Hyde: High Life (Warp)

Monday, July 07, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 23488 [23459] rated (+29), 538 [539] unrated (-1).

Cut this off Sunday night, so I don't have Monday's mail in the unpacking. Main reason I fell short of thirty records was that I spent two days playing almost nothing but the Sonny Simmons box. Main reason I even came close to thirty records was that I went through Album of the Year's The Highest Rated Albums of 2014 and played a lot of things on Rhapsody that I had missed. The notebook has a table of the top 100 records with my grades where I have them. Thus far I've heard 40 of those 100, pretty concentrated toward the top of the list (18 of top 20, 24 of top 30, 27 of top 40, 32 of top 50, only 8 of the next 50 (Sharon Jones, Dolly Parton, Laura Cantrell, Schoolboy Q, Future, Luke Haines, YG, Lykke Li).

AOTY's list isn't very useful for prospecting. Only 6 of those top 100 albums are on my 63-album A-list (Todd Terje, Cloud Nothings, Ought, Parquet Courts, Miranda Lambert, Laura Cantrell -- I haven't heard the UK-only Paul Heaton/Jacqui Abbott record at 56, although Michael Tatum and Jason Gubbells have convinced me I'll love it ), 11 more as high HMs (St. Vincent, The War on Drugs, Sun Kil Moon, Neneh Cherry, Carla Bozulich, EMA, Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, Isaiah Rashad, Tinariwen, Sturgill Simpson, Fear of Men).

Most of my missing A-list is jazz, but skipping the non-vocal jazz records, the following records on my A-list didn't make AOTY's top 100: Lily Allen, The Strypes, Jenny Scheinman, The Hold Steady, Old 97's, Pharrell Williams, Shakira, Barbara Morrison, Rodney Crowell, Deena, Big Ups, Mary Gauthier, Grieves, Catherine Russell, Jon Langford, Wussy, Company Freak, The New Mendicants, Willie Nelson, Dave Alvin/Phil Alvin, Leo Welch, Amy LaVere, and Supreme Cuts. I'm partial, of course, but it strikes me that the difference between these artists and the AOTY ones I downgraded is personality (and maybe brains).

For a second opinion, I checked Michael Tatum's grades, skipping compilations. He has 10 AOTY 100 records graded A- or above (Against Me!, Laura Cantrell, Cloud Nothings, EMA, Freddie Gibbs/Madlib, Paul Heaton/Jacqui Abbott, Bob Mould, Parquet Courts, St. Vincent, Tinariwen -- two records there I haven't heard); and 22 A-list albums not in the AOTY 100 (Lily Allen, Katy B, Toni Braxton/Babyface, Company Freak, Deena, Drive-By Truckers, Hold Steady, Chrissie Hynde, Kool AD, Kool and Kass, Amy LaVere, Steve Malkmus, Modern Baseball, The New Mendicants, Conor Oberst, Old 97's, The Roots, Shakira, Withered Hand, Wussy, Young Thug/Bloody Jay, Young Thug/Gucci Mane -- I had 23).

I didn't bother writing up tweets for many of the AOTY records. Some of them I just played and felt next to nothing, they were so instantly forgettable. Some, like Ab-Soul or Conor Oberst, weren't so bad but left me feeling I had little to say. I've promised in the past to do better on that, but this week I slipped up a bit.

Some personal things are very much up in the air right now. My last remaining aunt, Freda Bureman, appears to be dying. If/when that happens, I'll have to drop whatever I'm doing and take care of some things. Also, the server I lease looks to be dead (and the support staff doesn't seem too healthy or alert either). I had a bunch of work I wanted to do on that machine, so that's totally up in the air. Indeed, I may wind up having to reconstruct everything previously stored there (at best, a lot of unpleasant work; at worst, impossible).

Barring disaster, I should post Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week. (I currently have 77 records in the draft file.) I hope to get through the Roberto Magris records by then. Meanwhile, the incoming queue has dried up so severely I could remove one (maybe two of three) baskets from my floor. Perhaps it's time to buckle down, clean up, put all this crap behind me.

Recommended music links:

New records rated this week:

  • Ab-Soul: These Days . . . (2014, Top Dawg): [r]: B+(**)
  • Beat Funktion: Voodooland (2014, DO Music): Swedish acid jazz group plays rudimentary disco, groove without purpose or even much fun [cd]: B-
  • Sébastien Chaumont Quartet: Still Walkin' (2011-13 [2014], ITI): alto saxophonist, rich tone, hits sweet spot with mainstream piano-bass-drums [cd]: B+(**)
  • Ry Cooder/Corridos Famosos: Live at the Great American Music Hall, San Fransicsco Aug 31-Sept 1, 2011 (2011 [2013], Nonesuch): [r]; B+(**)
  • East India Youth: Total Strife Forever (2014, Stolen): [r]: B
  • Kali Z. Fasteau: Piano Rapture (2014, Flying Note): after playing scads of instruments, turns out she's one helluva pianist, with usual reed freaks [cd]: A-
  • Lee Fields: Emma Jean (2014, Truth & Soul): James Brown wannabe, had a terrific debut in 1979 reissued last year, follows with new one, a bit slower [r]: B+(**)
  • Ben Frost: Aurora (2014, Bedroom Community): [r]: B+(**)
  • Future Islands: Singles (2013 [2014], 4AD): [r]: B+(*)
  • Luke Haines: New York in the '70s (2014, Cherry Red): [r]: B
  • B.J. Jansen: Ronin (2013 [2014], ARC): baritone sax, backed with piano-bass-drums, goes mainstream, even a bit romantic on the ballads [cd]: B+(**)
  • Seun Kuti + Egypt 80: A Long Way to the Beginning (2013 [2014], Knitting Factory): Fela's youngest son cranks his Afrobeat band to the max, mixes in raps [r]: B+(***)
  • Dawn Landes: Bluebird (2014, Western Vinyl): [r]: B+(**)
  • The John A. Lewis Trio: One Trip Out (2014, Valarteri): veteran pianist out of Dallas, possibly his debut, leads a nice, soulful piano trio [cd]: B+(*)
  • Pete McGuinness Jazz Orchestra: Strength in Numbers (2013 [2014], Summit): trombonist/singer runs a big band, some striking passages, three vocals [cd]: B+(*)
  • Willie Nelson: Band of Brothers (2014, Legacy): wrote some new songs, mostly about women he's had once and is done with now, and the bile helps [r]: A-
  • Conor Oberst: Upside-Down Mountain (2014, Nonesuch): [r]: B+(**)
  • Matt Pavolka: The Horns Band (2013 [2014], Fresh Sound New Talent): bassist with cornet-trombone-alto sax and drums, not bright but the post-whatever shuffle entices [cd]: B+(**)
  • Jefferson Rose Band: Feel Like Dancing (2014, self-released): Seattle "world music" group offers an upbeat groove album with Alex Kitchen singing [cd]: B
  • Sonny Simmons: Leaving Knowledge, Wisdom and Brilliance/Chasing the Bird? (2006-14 [2014], Improvising Beings, 8CD): extravagant indulgence, 8CD of quasi-Indian exotica [r]: B+(***)
  • Strand of Oaks: Heal (2014, Dead Oceans): [r]: B-
  • Sun Kil Moon: Benji (2014, Caldo Verde): [r]: B+(***)
  • Swans: To Be Kind (Young God, 2CD): [r]: B
  • Sharon Van Etten: Are We There (2014, Jagjaguwar): [r]: B-
  • The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream (2014, Secretly Canadian): rock band, vocals flung out w/not much sticking, but the tuneful guitar layering appeals [r]: B+(***)
  • Wild Beasts: Present Tense (2014, Domino): [r]: B

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

  • Dexter Johnson & Le Super Star de Dakar: Live à l'Étoile (1969 [2014], Teranga Beat): Senegal doowop-boogaloo cross, led by sax man who gets his licks in [r]: B+(***)
  • Oscar Peterson/Ben Webster: During This Time (1972 [2014], Art of Groove): no DVD, but tenor sax great in fine form a year before death, perked up by pianist [r]: A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Al Basile: Swing n' Strings (Sweetspot)
  • Drew Ceccato/Adam Tinkle: Eidolon (Edgetone)
  • The Equity & Social Justice Quartet: The Whisper of Flowers (Edgetone)
  • Sherie Julianne: 10 Degrees South (Azul Do Mar)
  • Vincent Lyn: Live in New York City (Budo)
  • Terry Marshall: Arrival (self-released)
  • Rent Romus' Life's Blood Ensemble: Cimmerian Crossroads (Edgetone)
  • Paul Shapiro: Shofarot Verses (Tzadik): advance
  • Donald Singer: Destiny: Moment of Jazz (Emerald Baby)

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Weekend Roundup

Short after spending so much time trying to follow what's happening in Israel, but still have some scattered links this week:

  • Bob Dreyfuss: Is Obama on a Slippery Slope Toward Mission Creep in Iraq? Of course, he is. The first step is all it really takes: by sending any troops at all, Obama has chosen sides in Iraq's civil war and committed America's prestige and power to defending Maliki (even at the same time admitting that Maliki is the problem and should be replaced by someone less abrasive). Henceforth, any time Iraq stumbles, the US will have to pick up the slack, otherwise the prestige and power of the US will be compromised.

    So in total the president sent troops to Iraq three times, on June 16, June 27 and June 30. As Kirby put it: "And then so all that comes down to the bottom there, a total of 770 authorized, 650 on the ground. And that's where we are right now."

    The first question involved the weaponry that the troops are bringing with them, including helicopters, drones and so on. Kirby said that the aircraft include "a mix of helicopters and UAVs [drones]," adding, "The helicopters are attack helicopters, Apaches." And, he said, they'll be flown by American crews, not Iraqis.

  • Paul Krugman: Charlatans, Cranks and Kansas: Been there, done that, but gratifying to see that someone noticed:

    Two years ago Kansas embarked on a remarkable fiscal experiment: It sharply slashed income taxes without any clear idea of what would replace the lost revenue. Sam Brownback, the governor, proposed the legislation -- in percentage terms, the largest tax cut in one year any state has ever enacted -- in close consultation with the economist Arthur Laffer. And Mr. Brownback predicted that the cuts would jump-start an economic boom -- "Look out, Texas," he proclaimed.

    But Kansas isn't booming -- in fact, its economy is lagging both neighboring states and America as a whole. Meanwhile, the state's budget has plunged deep into deficit, provoking a Moody's downgrade of its debt.

    There's an important lesson here -- but it's not what you think. Yes, the Kansas debacle shows that tax cuts don't have magical powers, but we already knew that. The real lesson from Kansas is the enduring power of bad ideas, as long as those ideas serve the interests of the right people. [ . . . ]

    And the Kansas debacle won't matter either. Oh, it will briefly give states considering similar policies pause. But the effect won't last long, because faith in tax-cut magic isn't about evidence; it's about finding reasons to give powerful interests what they want.

    The whole magic about "supply side" is that it is a trickle down theory: first you give capitalists more money -- taking less in taxes is about the laziest way possible to do this -- then you hope that they will invest the money productively and that their increased production will trickle down through the economy to at least marginally lift everyone's standard of living. This never works very efficiently, but it doesn't work at all if there is already an excess of capacity, which is usually due to a shortfall of demand. In that case, additional money forced into the supply side is redirected into asset bubbles. If what you want is to see the economy functioning more efficiently, the alternative is to prop up the demand side -- which, sure, can be done by reducing taxes (especially the most regressive ones, like sales and payroll), or lots of other ways.

  • Gideon Levy: Netanyahu's offspring: This does a nice job of summing up much of what I wrote yesterday/earlier today on Israel:

    The media in the Jewish state wallows in the murder of three yeshiva students, while almost entirely ignoring the fates of several Palestinian youths of the same age who have been killed by army fire over the last few months, usually for no reason.

    No one was punished for these acts -- in the Jewish state there is one law for Jews and another for Arabs, whose lives are cheap. There is no hint of abiding by international laws and conventions. In the Jewish state, there is pity and humane feelings only for Jews, rights only for the Chosen People. The Jewish state is only for Jews.

  • Phillip Longman: Clueless or Craven? The White House Gets the VA Story Exactly Backwards: Longman wrote the book on the VA health care system (Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Health Care Is Better Than Yours), so you'd think someone in the Obama administration would pay him some heed. He's argued throughout the recent scandal that the problem isn't with the delivery of care once veterans get in the door, but the bureaucratic strictures on who's eligible when, and some macro-level alignment of facilities with population -- the delays seem to be concentrated in Sun Belt states like Arizona which have higher-than-average numbers of vets. Longman starts by taking exception to a report by White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors describing the VA as beset with a "corrosive culture" -- a phrase which became the takeaway headline despite the lack of any evidence for it even in the report. (If you want to check out what a "corrosive culture" is, look no further than Congress.) It's not that Longman doesn't recognize any problems with the VA, but most of what he sees were introduced by the Bush administration -- greater centralization, and more privatization (which the Bushies like not to save money but to create patronage opportunities). He concludes with a real sad thud:

    Sadly, rather than reversing that trend, the Obama administation just let the centralizing continue. As Ken Kizer, Undersecretary for Health in the Clinton administration and the man most responsible for turning the VA around in the 1990s observes in a recent piece in the New England Journal of Medicine: "In recent years, there has been a shift to a more top-down style of management whereby the central office has oversight of nearly every aspect of care delivery. Indeed, over that period the VA central office staff tasked to health care adminstrative duties has grown from about 800 in the late 1990s to nearly 11,000 today."

    Clueless? Yeah it would seem. Except over the weekend, the White House announced that after deep and thoughtful deliberation, it had come up with just the man to turn things around at the VA, and he turned out to be a Republican soap and toothpaste salesman -- a man with no experience whatsoever in running a health care or social services organization but who happens to be a close financial backer of Republican House Speaker John Boehner. No, that's not clueless-- it's a cynical sellout of veterans by an adminstration that, in the wake of a monumental failure of the press to put this story in context, just wants to move on at any cost.

    Also see: Kenneth W Kizer/Ashish K Jha: Restoring Trust in VA Health Care.

Also, a few links for further study:

A Case of Kidnapping and Murder

On June 12 this year three Israeli teenagers -- Naftali Frenkel (16), Gilad Shaer (16), and Eyal Yifrah (19), residents and yeshiva students in Israel's occupied territories -- were kidnapped while hitchhiking from Gush Etzion, an illegal settlement in Area C, the section still under full Israeli military control. One of the three was eventually reported to have been able to call authorities to alert them of the kidnapping, but that was initially treated as a prank call. The three dead bodies were found on June 30, in a field northwest of Hebron. Details are sketchy: I gather that then were shot and killed shortly after their abduction. Piecing information together from news sources is very difficult, but there is a good overview at Wikipedia.

If this was an isolated, atomic event, it would be treated as it should be, as a heinous crime, with the public waiting passively -- aside from the usual media sensationalism -- while authorities sifted through evidence, tracked down, apprehended, and tried and punished the perpetrators. But the crime could not be isolated from its context, and it set off a series of subsequent events -- many of them criminal as well -- that continue to this day and into the future. Someone with a clear vantage and access to all the data could write a book showing the myriad ways the crimes and the conflicts reflect and refract each other, creating a cage which traps anyone and everyone committed to the conflict. The only way out of this cage is to see each crime in its own light, and never justify a new crime on the basis of an old one.

Of course, everyone behaved predictably. In Israel there are two kinds of kidnapping. One is very common, on the order of 1,000 or more instances per year: this is when any of Israel's various security outfits "arrests" Palestinian "suspects." They can be held without charge or legal cause pretty much indefinitely, although in practice they tend to be held a few months then released. As such, the total number of Israeli-held "prisoners" is limited -- in 2008, Adallah put the number at 11,000 -- but many more Palestinian men have been cycled through the system. In the weeks immediately following the kidnappings, Israelis "arrested" another 400 Palestinians, as if they were stocking up for an eventual exchange to ransom the three Israeli teens.

Much rarer are Palestinian kidnappings of Israelis: by far the most famous the kidnapping of an IDF soldier on the Gaza border in 2006, Gilad Shalit. He was held for five years by Hamas operatives and eventually repatriated in a deal that that involved release by Israel of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners. With many thousands of more Palestinians locked away in Israeli prisons, there was some sentiment among Palestinians in favor of kidnapping more Israelis, but in fact there have been very few such cases, especially leading to successful hostage exchanges. Still, given the costs of getting Shalit back, it's easy to understand why Israel would overreact to a new kidnapping.

And overreact is precisely what Israel did. Aside from snatching up more than 400 prisoners, Israelis have thus far killed at least 10 Palestinians. Much of this was initially done by the IDF in what they called Operation Brother's Keeper, as they went through various Palestinian villages and refugee camps, searching and damaging over 1,000 buildings. Early on, the Netanyahu government decided to blame Hamas for the kidnappings. They quickly identified two Hebron residents as suspects, and claimed that they had been Hamas operatives. While there is no doubt that Hamas was responsible for the Shalit abduction, Hamas has recently agreed with Fatah to form a "unity government" in the Palestinian Authority, something the Netanyahu government rejects and is very keen on breaking up.

It's very important to understand that Netanyahu in particular (and for that matter nearly all prominent Israeli politicians today and in the past going back to Ben Gurion) has absolutely no desire to negotiate any sort of conflict resolution with the Palestinians. They have at present pretty much what they want: all of Jerusalem and the ancient land of Samaria and Judea, the Golan Heights, a system which keeps Palestinian and Arab violence to a low level despite subjecting the Palestinians to grossly unequal treatment, an absence of credible threats from regional powers, a generous subsidy of their military by the US, friendly alliances with the US and most nations in Europe, and a high standard of living. They may on occasion give lip service to negotiations, but in fact they give up nothing as they continue building on Palestinian land and tightening up their matrix of control. They see negotiation as a losing proposition: to resolve the conflict, they'd have to give up land and money, they'd have to give equitable rights, and for little improvement in security they'd obsolete a military system that defines so much of what Israelis live for -- that is in fact the main path to personal success, in business as well as politics.

Of course, that's a rather myopic view of Israeli success, but one they work very hard at propagandizing. They try to push two contradictory messages simultaneously: to the Palestinians, they emphasize their overwhelming power, trying to drive home the futility of resistance; to Israeli Jews, they reinforce a culture of victimhood, where their only protection is the state; and to the world, they play up every act of violence against them while playing down the much greater violence they perpetrate.

So Israel's security forces react to the kidnapping in several ways: they use the incident to reinforce their propaganda messages, and they use it as an excuse to pursue their political goals. The biggest threat to Israel's propaganda line is Hamas seeking to gain international legitimacy as a representative of the Palestinians, so Israel has used this incident to track down and pick up everyone they know of with Hamas connections. But the IDF also used this as an excuse to raid Mustafa Barghouti's Palestinial National Initiative (BDS) organization and confiscate its computers. And they subjected hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to curfews, and shut down various checkpoints.

By June 20 Israel's operations generated more resistance, which they answered with more violence. Wikipedia:

Throughout the week, the arrest of Hamas leaders went quietly as they acceded to their detention, but by Friday sporadic popular resistance began to emerge. Three Palestinians were wounded in a raid on Qalandiya refugee camp, near Jerusalem, while another five were wounded in clashes at the Dheisheh refugee camp by Bethlehem, whose Ibdaa cultural center was wrecked, cheques and money from its safe, together with five computers, confiscated. Four of the victims were reportedly run over by an Israeli jeep. During a clash near the Qalandiya checkpoint in Ramallah, in which handmade grenades were hurled at Israeli soldiers who felt their lives were threatened and returned live fire at Palestinian crowds that confronted them, Mustafa Hosni Aslan (22) received a gunshot wound to his head, and was pronounced clinically dead. He died on 25 June. Live fire was used according to the IDF in response to Molotov cocktails, pipe bombs, one makeshift grenade, firecrackers, and stones being thrown at soldiers at the camps. In Dura's Haninia neighbourhood, after a night-long raid, involving many clashes with local youths, to detain a person Israelis consider to be a terrorist, as troops were withdrawing, eyewitness testimonies report that a retreating Israeli soldier fired 6 shots and killed 15-year-old Mohammed Dudeen. 25 more Palestinians were arrested at Dura and Dheisheh, bringing the number of detainees to 320, of which 240 are considered Hamas operatives. The number of sites searched mounted to 1,150, of which 1,000 buildings were damaged, the figure including over 750 homes. According to Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki Israel had destroyed 150 homes by week's end. In another dawn raid on the Dean's Office and Student Union of the Arab American University in Jenin papers were seized, and Amir Saadi, 17, was shot in the shoulder. The villages of Arraba, Al-Louz, and Artas were also raided.

Until June 26, when the bodies were found, Israeli censorship had prevented publication of suspicions that the three teenagers had been killed. Among other things, this gave a cover of urgency for Israel's widespread military operations. After the bodies were found, Israeli politicians started talking more about collective punishment. On July 1, Israeli jets and helicopters struck 34 locations in Gaza. These were answered by small rockets launched from Gaza, so Israel bombed Gaza again, and again. Collective punishment is nothing new to Israel. The British practiced it to suppress the Arab Revolt in 1937-39, and Israel has made an art of it, from Ariel Sharon's Qibya massacre in 1953 to the sonic boom flyovers of Gaza after Israel dismantled their settlements there in 2005. Israel is reportedly massing troops along the Gaza border again, for a possible attack on Hamas like they did in 2006 after Shalit was abducted, and again in 2008's Operation Cast Lead.

One thing the Wikipedia article doesn't go into much is the widespread eruption of hatred against Palestinians within Israeli civil society, at least occasionally turning to violence. (One 16-year-old Palestinian boy, Mohamed Abu Khdai, was killed by being burning alive.) For a sense of this, see this Haaretz piece by Chemi Shalev:

But make no mistake: the gangs of Jewish ruffians man-hunting for Arabs are no aberration. Theirs was not a one-time outpouring of uncontrollable rage following the discovery of the bodies of the three kidnapped students. Their inflamed hatred does not exist in a vacuum: it is an ongoing presence, growing by the day, encompassing ever larger segments of Israeli society, nurtured in a public environment of resentment, insularity and victimhood, fostered and fed by politicians and pundits -- some cynical, some sincere -- who have grown weary of democracy and its foibles and who long for an Israel, not to put too fine a point on it, of one state, one nation and, somewhere down the line, one leader.

In the past 24 hours alone, a Facebook Page calling for "revenge" for the killings of the three kidnapped teens has received tens of thousands of "likes," replete with hundreds of explicit calls to kill Arabs, wherever they are. The one demanding the execution of "extreme leftists" reached almost ten thousand likes within two days. These, and countless other articles on the web and on social media are inundated, today as in most other days, with readers comments spewing out the worst kind of racist bile and calling for death, destruction and genocide.

For an example, Allison Deger (The Aftermath: Home demolitions and dead Palestinian teen follow Netanyahu call for revenge) interviews an 18-year-old Israeli settler, Mier Sh'aribi, at the same hitchhiking spot where the three teens were abducted, then continues:

Sh'aribi's sentiments were echoed in the adjacent settlement of Beit Ayn, renowned as home to members of the Jewish Underground who were arrested while planting a bomb in a Palestinian girl's school a decade ago. "This country has no more balls anymore and they are not killing enough Arabs," said Reuven Efraimou, 17, while relaxing on a rock outside of the shabby settlement's stone synagogue. Despite his age, he's pelted Palestinians with stones admitting he "threw rocks at their heads" motivated by retaliation for the death of one of his friend four years ago. The army he said, "used to be on our side," but now Efraimou thinks they only "protect Arabs." He longed for a time when "not a single Arab would walk with their heads" held high knowing better than to "dare to look a Jew in the eye."

Anyone who's read Max Blumenthal's Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel will not be surprised by these reactions. The roots of this loathing run deep: the most striking thing about Tom Segev's 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year That Transformed the Middle East is the extreme contrast between Israel's supremely confident military leaders and its intentionally terrified citizenry. That the military was proven justified in the Six-Day War gave them a free hand for subsequent adventurism, always be bolstered by panicking a public that grew up on holocaust stories. More often than not, those ventures -- Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2008 are prime examples -- had to be ended early because they had turned into public embarrassments.

Israel's heavy-handed response to the kidnapping and murder of the three teens will also eventually be seen as a public embarrassment, but thus far the hasbara machine has milked the deaths for maximum sympathy while keeping most of everything else under wraps -- most reports of hostilities along the Gaza border focus on toy rockets (invariably attributed to Hamas) as if they are equivalent to F-16 sorties. (Of course, in some moral sense they are, but as a practical matter they are as far apart as any other measurement of relative violence in the conflict: e.g., abductions, house demolitions.) Similarly, the media routinely accepts the legitimacy of Israel's security forces, even when they operate in occupied territories, where they are allowed to invent laws on whim, selectively enforce them, all in support of illegal settlements. No one wants to point out that the three teens were illegal settlers, pawns in a political drama that's meant to dispossess and degrade the Palestinians who have lived on the land for many centuries. That's because no one wants to besmirch the innocence of the victims, but you don't need to deny facts -- that the occupation is illegal and immoral, and that the teens are, perhaps unwittingly, perhaps not, are part of that occupation -- to see the killings as despicable. All one needs to understand is that no crime in the series justifies the next.

Where the story threatens to get out of hand is with the hate mobs and their revenge killings -- as opposed to the casual deaths that inevitably follow IDF operations in Palestinian villages. Israel did finally manage to arrest six Israelis for kidnapping and torturing (burning) Mohamed Abu Khdai to death -- here "arrest" is the right word: they are charged with specific crimes and entitled to the legal rights including a fair trial (although "fair" for whom is open to debate, as the Israeli legal system has been notoriously lax when it comes to crimes committed by Jews against Arabs. One of the first things I noted in reading about the kidnappings was that the two 16-year-olds (and for that matter the bloodthirsty 17-year-old quoted above) are considered to be juveniles under Israeli law, but 16-year-old Palestinians are tried (when they are tried at all) as adults.

A system is racist when it divides the population into two (or more) groups and makes legal distinctions among them, such as the law that treats Palestinian teens as adults while at the same time treating Jewish teens as juveniles. That's just one of dozens or hundreds of cases of legal discrimination practiced by Israel. Another is that Israel has no death penalty for its citizens, but Israeli security forces have assassinated hundreds of Palestinians with no judicial review whatsoever -- some with F-16s resulting in dozens of collateral deaths. One might still debate whether Zionism is intrinsically racist -- certainly some Zionists are not -- but the actual State of Israel clearly is, as is a substantial portion of its citizens (especially concentrated in the settlements in the occupied territories -- for the history of which, see Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar: Lords of the Land: The War for Israel's Settlements in the Occupied Territories, 1967-2007, with Blumenthal, op. cit., a useful update).

There is much more one can mention here. (One of the suspects Israel named belongs to the Kawasmeh clan in Hebron, which has some Hamas connections but also has a long history of freelance operations counter to Hamas truces. The guilt of the suspects is presumed because they recently disappeared. Israel went ahead and demolished the suspects' houses rather than stake them out.) As I said, someone should write a book, because the whole conflict is woven into this story, provided you look at it comprehensively enough.

Daily Log

Twitter announcement for above:

I wrote a piece on the kidnapping/murder of three Israeli teens, plus ten more [Palestinians] killed by [Israel's] Keystone Kops and mobs:

Friday, July 04, 2014

Daily Log

Good time for a mid-year check up, so I've been going through Album of the Year's The Highest Rated Albums of 2014, picking off things I should have heard but have been ignoring. So far, not finding much I'm impressed with (graded in blue):

  1. Swans: To Be Kind (Young God, 2CD) [B-]
  2. St. Vincent: St. Vincent (Loma Vista/Republic) [***]
  3. The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream (Secretly Canadian) [***]
  4. Sharon Van Etten: Are We There (Jagjaguwar) [B-]
  5. Wild Beasts: Present Tense (Domino) [B]
  6. Sun Kil Moon: Benji (Caldo Verde) [***]
  7. East India Youth: Total Strife Forever (Stolen) [B]
  8. Angel Olsen: Burn Your Fire for No Witness (Jagjaguwar) [*]
  9. Strand of Oaks: Heal (Dead Oceans) [B-]
  10. Todd Terje: It's Album Time (Olsen) [A-]
  11. Tune-Yards: Nikki Nack (4AD) [**]
  12. Neneh Cherry: Blank Project (Smalltown Supersound) [***]
  13. Mac DeMarco: Salad Days (Captured Tracks) [B]
  14. Ben Frost: Aurora (Bedroom Community) [**]
  15. Cloud Nothings: Here and Nowhere Else (Carpark) [A-]
  16. Ought: More Than Any Other Day (Constellation) [A-]
  17. Future Islands: Singles (4AD) [*]
  18. Woods of Desolation: As the Stars (Northern Silence)
  19. A Sunny Day in Glasgow: Sea When Absent (Lefse)
  20. Carla Bozulich: Boy (Constellation) [***]
  21. Fennesz: Bécs (Editions Mego) [*]
  22. Lee Fields: Emma Jean (Truth & Soul) [**]
  23. Owen Pallett: In Conflict (Domino)
  24. The Horrors: Luminous (XL/XLP)
  25. The Antlers: Familiars (Anti-)
  26. EMA: The Future's Void (Matador) [***]
  27. Moodymann: Moodymann (Mahogani) [*]
  28. Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal (What's Your Rupture?) [A-]
  29. White Lung: Deep Fantasy (Domino)
  30. Young Fathers: Dead (Anticon) [*]
  31. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib: Piñata (Madlib Invazion) [***]
  32. Perfect Pussy: Say Yes to Love (Captured Tracks)
  33. François and the Atlas Mountains: Piano Ombre (Domino)
  34. Protomartyr: Under Color of Official Right (Hardly Art)
  35. Miranda Lambert: Platinum (RCA Nashville) [A-]
  36. Bo Ningen: III (Stolen)
  37. Eric Church: The Outsiders (Captiol Nashville)
  38. Behemoth: The Satanist (Metal Blade)
  39. Against Me!: Transgender Dysphoria Blues (Total Treble) [**]
  40. Thee Silver Mt Zion Memorial Orchestra: Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything (Constellation)
  41. Isaiah Rashad: Cilvia Demo (Top Dawg) [***]
  42. Tinariwen: Emmaar (Anti-) [***]
  43. Wovenhand: Refractory Obdurate (Deathwish)
  44. Split Single: Fragmented World (Inside Outside)
  45. Wooden Wand: Farmer's Corner (Fire)
  46. Lydia Loveless: Somewhere Else (Bloodshot) [**]
  47. Douglas Dare: Whelm (Erased Tapes)
  48. Sturgill Simpson: Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (High Top Mountain) [***]
  49. Marissa Nadler: July (Sacred Bones)
  50. Fear of Men: Loom (Kanine) [***]
  51. Arc Iris: Arc Iris (Anti-Epitaph)
  52. Ásgeir: In the Silence (One Little Indian)
  53. Total Control: Typical System (Iron Lung)
  54. Alcest: Shelter (Prophecy)
  55. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings: Give the People What They Want (Daptone) [*]
  56. Paul Heaton & Jacqui Abbott: What Have We Become (UMG)
  57. Samaris: Silkidrangar (One Little Indian)
  58. HTRK: Psychic 9-5 Club (Ghostly International)
  59. Dolly Parton: Blue Smoke (Sony Masterworks) [*]
  60. Glass Animals: Zaba (Harvest)
  61. The Phantom Band: Strange Friend (Chemikal Underground)
  62. Jolie Holland: Wine Dark Sea (Anti)
  63. Laura Cantrell: No Way There From Here (Thrift Shop) [A-]
  64. The Body: I Shall Die Here (RVNG)
  65. La Dispute: Rooms of the House (Vagrant)
  66. Perc: The Power and the Glory (Perc Trax)
  67. Beck: Morning Phase (Capitol/Virgin)
  68. Lone: Reality Testing (R&S)
  69. Hundred Waters: The Moon Rang Like a Bell (Owsla)
  70. Fucked Up: Glass Boys (Matador)
  71. Amen Dunes: Love (Sacred Bones)
  72. Eat Lights Become Lights: Into Forever (Rocket Girl)
  73. MØ: No Mythologies to Follow (RCA)
  74. Schoolboy Q: Oxymoron (Interscope) [**]
  75. Triptykon: Melana Chasmata (Century Media)
  76. Future: Honest (Epic) [**]
  77. Remember Remember: Forgetting the Present (Rock Action)
  78. Luke Haines: New York in the '70s (Cherry Red) [B]
  79. Agalloch: The Serpent & the Sphere (Profound Lore)
  80. First Aid Kit: Stay Gold (Columbia)
  81. Blank Realm: Grassed Inn (Fire)
  82. Nickel Creek: A Dotted Line (Nonesuch)
  83. Bob Mould: Beauty & Ruin (Merge)
  84. Gruff Rhys: American Interior (Turnstile)
  85. YG: My Krazy Life (Def Jam) [B-]
  86. Liars: Mess (Mute)
  87. Taylor McFerrin: Early Riser (Brainfeeder)
  88. Tori Amos: Unrepentant Geraldines (Mercury Classics)
  89. Tara Jane O'Neil: Where Shine New Lights (Kranky)
  90. Wye Oak: Shriek (Merge)
  91. Hurray for the Riff Raff: Small Town Heroes (ATO)
  92. Big Freedia: Just Be Free (Queen Diva)
  93. Old Crow Medicine Show: Remedy (ATO)
  94. Untold: Black Light Special (Hemlock)
  95. Lorelle Meets the Obsolete: Chambers (Sonic Cathedral/Captcha)
  96. Chet Faker: Built on Glass (Downtown)
  97. Lykke Li: I Never Learn (Atlantic) [**]
  98. The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger: Midnight Sun (Chimera Music)
  99. Pup: Pup (Side One Dummy)
  100. Polar Bear: In Each and Every One (The Leaf Label)

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Book Roundup

Last New Book Notes was on April 2, the one before that on February 11, so this is about when I should be coming up with another collection of forty blurbs. If anything, I'm a little late, but then I always seem to be late. Actually, I have another batch of forty in the draft file, so I may well come up with a second post this week.

Anyhow, these are the most interesting titles I've noticed on real and virtual bookstore shelves recently:

Julia Angwin: Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance (2014, Times Books): A journalist surveys the surveillance nation -- not just the NSA but your phone company and Google too -- senses that the response to surveillance will be self-censorship to the point of losing freedom, and tries to figure out ways to cope, even to carve out some measure of privacy.

Gary J Bass: The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide (2013, Knopf): About the 1971 revolt and war that split Bangladesh off from Pakistan, and how Nixon and Kissinger were so wrapped up in their Cold War machinations they didn't notice (nor did they care) that millions of people were perishing. Bass has a rotten history as one of those liberal hawks who invariably wants the US to jump into wars everywhere there's a chance to save lives, and this is a case that suits him to a T. (As I recall, Noam Chomsky cited India's intervention as one of the very few cases where a war actually did some good.) And it never hurts to be reminded that Nixon and Kissinger were war criminals of the highest order. Still, beware the hidden agenda.

Michael Burleigh: Small Wars, Faraway Places: Global Insurrection and the Making of the Modern World, 1945-1965 (2013, Viking): Given the years covered, most of those faraway wars were revolts against European (and American) imperialism, many of which got caught up in the Cold War as the United States forsake liberalism in favor of any tinpot despot who could be counted as anticommunist. That adds up to a pretty big book (668 pp) with "18 distinct story lines of terrorism, counter-terrorism, intrigue, nationalism, and Cold War rivalry." Good chance he spreads himself thin, as well as missing the upshot -- which is that the Cold War was primarily responsible for undermining democracy and undoing the middle class in America.

Tyler Cowen: Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation (2013, Dutton): New York Times pundit, on the conservative side, does at least approach real problems while denying that they can be fixed (often by reassuring us that the right people are working on it). E.g., his brief on the economic decline of the middle class was The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better. This book is about how inequality is good because, well, it generates more millionaires.

Robert F Dalzell Jr: The Good Rich and What They Cost Us (2013, Yale University Press): The pictures on the cover depict George Washington, Oprah Winfrey, and two guys in the middle -- I gather one is John D. Rockefeller, who despite the enormous foundation that still bears his name was never much regarded as "good," for the public at least. Probes the contradiction between a public committed to democracy and one that seems to celebrate the rich.

John Demos: The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic (2014, Knopf): A study in racism, really, as Demos examines a school set up by New England evangelists for "heathens" from around the globe -- Henry Obookiah, from Hawaii, was a famous student here -- and how the Connecticut community reacted to that school.

Barbara Ehrenreich: Living With a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth About Everything (2014, Grand Central): A memoir of sorts, about the search for truth or knowledge or understanding. One of the few people I'd read anything by.

Graham Farmelo: Churchill's Bomb: How the United States Overtook Britain in the First Nuclear Arms Race (2013, Basic Books): One can argue that early in WWII Britain had the best shot at inventing the atomic bomb, and that Churchill for one reason or another ceded that lead to the US -- that seems to be the thrust here, and it would probably be interesting to find out what Churchill did and did not understand about the project, although in the end it's hard to see it mattering much. The British Empire could hardly stand on its own let alone pay for the mother country's disastrous wars, so it was no surprise that Britain emerged from the war reduced to America's loyal (and dependent) sidekick -- something else Churchill may or may not have understood, but ultimately couldn't do anything about.

Carlotta Gall: The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan 2001-2014 (2014, Houghton Mifflin): Longtime war reporter argues that the US war in Afghanistan failed because the "real enemy" wasn't the Taliban. It was Pakistan. That's not exactly news, but it opens up more questions than it answers, and more importantly it leaves unexamined America's contribution to its own failure.

Timothy F Geithner: Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises (2014, Crown): Obama's Secretary of the Treasury was already deeply involved in the struggle to save the big banks as head of the New York Fed in 2008. I doubt he has much to say about other financial crises, but for the one he experienced first hand he's happy to take credit for saving not only the banks but the bankers who ran them into the ground. As for the rest of the economy, well, that's more complicated, and as far as I can tell not something Geithner reflects on much, or even cares about.

Malcolm Gladwell: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (2013, Little Brown): Stories showing how underdogs can leverage their weakness to get ahead, or something like that. I don't have a strong opinion on him one way or the other: he has a knack for making trivial points, and a great fondness of success even when it's pretty superficial, but sometimes he runs across something interesting or important and he's rarely stupid or inelegant about it.

Anand Gopal: No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes (2014, Metropolitan): Focuses on three examples (a Taliban commander, a member of the US-backed government, and a village housewife), showing through each how the occupying Americans are viewed in Afghanistan, and therefore the limits of what they can hope to do.

Glenn Greenwald: No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Surveillance State (2014, Metropolitan Books): A lawyer, Greenwald reacted to the Patriot Act by becoming a blogger focused on how the security state is encroaching on civil liberties -- a transformation he explained in his book How Would a Patriot Act? Since then he's found more and more to worry about, most dramatically when Snowden passed him leaked info about NSA spying.

David Harvey: Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism (2014, Oxford University Press): English Marxist, has been picking at the scab of capitalism for many years, churning out books like Limits to Capital (2007), A Short History of Neoliberalism (2007), and The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism (2010) -- I read the latter and found it tedious but deeply insightful. No surprise that he finds capitalism rife with contradictions -- many are obvious even casually -- or that they periodically crack up but that "end" has proven elusive.

Ann Jones: They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America's Wars: The Untold Story (paperback, 2014, Haymarket Books): Former NGO worker, wrote Winter in Kabul: Life Without Peace in Afghanistan about what she saw in Afghanistan in 2002, and two more books following the casualties: War Is Not Over When It's Over: Women and the Unseen Consequences of Conflict, and now this short book on maimed US soldiers -- the real VA scandal.

Robert D Kaplan: Asia's Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific (2014, Random House): Former travel writer to uncomfortable backwaters, has proven to be useful enough to the US security state he got appointed to the Defense Policy Board, where he's probably regarded as a deep thinker. No doubt he'd like nothing better than to stir up a Cold War with China, giving the Pentagon cover for buying up another generation of war toys.

Harvey J Kaye: The Fight for the Four Freedoms: What Made FDR and the Greatest Generation Truly Great (2014, Simon & Schuster): The Four Freedoms -- "Franklin Roosevelt's vision of a truly just and fair America" -- was war propaganda and thus easily forgotten once FDR died and the war against Germany and Japan was concluded. They are, however, something we can and should aspire to today, especially given the beating at least two freedoms (from want and from fear) have taken from the right in recent decades. Kaye previously wrote Thomas Paine and the Promise of America (2005, Hill and Wang).

Lane Kenworthy: Social Democratic America (2014, Oxford University Press): Argues that the US has been progressing slowly toward the social democracy common in most wealthy nations, but isn't that a stretch given how hard it is to talk about such things in their customary terms? So I expect this is longer on prescription than description, but mapping popular programs like Social Security and Medicare into the social democratic matrix is a step toward realizing what we're missing.

Benjamin Kunkel: Utopia or Bust: A Guide to the Present Crisis (paperback, 2014, Verso): Short "crash course" in the latest Marxist/Leftist thinking on the economy -- names dropped include Zizek, Harvey, Graeber, Jameson. Previously wrote the novel Indecision.

Costas Lapavitsas: Profiting Without Producing: How Finance Exploits Us All (paperback, 2014, Verso): British economist, previous book focused on Eurozone issues, sees "financialization" as the root of most of our current evils. There can be little doubt that most of the profits capitalism produces these days go to the financial sector, and it would be interesting to understand why.

Nathan Lean: The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims (paperback, 2012, Pluto Press): One of many (mostly but not all critical) books on the fear of and hatred against Muslims that has been cultivated in the US and Europe recently, concurrent with the US War on Terror and the termination of Israel's "peace process." Lean sees a right-wing conspiracy as responsible, with the Israel lobby at least complicit. I suspect it's uglier and dumber than that, in part because the hatred has overshot US neo-imperial goals, turning right-wingers anti-war (as we saw with Syria). Other recent books (no idea if they're any good or not): Chris Allen: Islamophobia (paperback, 2010, Ashgate); Carl W Ernst, ed: Islamophobia in America: The Anatomy of Intolerance (paperback, 2013, Palgrave Macmillan); John L Esposito/Ibraham Kalin, eds: Islamophobia: The Challenge of Pluralism in the 21st Century (paperback, 2011, Oxford University Press); Peter Gottschalk/Gabriel Greenberg: Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy (2007, Rowman & Littlefield); Deepa Kumar: Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire (paperback, 2012, Haymarket Books); Stephen Sheehi: Islamophobia: The Ideological Campaign Against Muslims (paperback, 2011, Clarity Press); John R Bowen: Blaming Islam (2012, MIT Press); Walid Shoebat/Ben Barrack: The Case FOR Islamophobia: Jihad by the Word; America's Final Warning (2013, Top Executive Media). I could also mention: Jack Shaheen: Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People (2nd ed, paperback, 2009, Olive Branch Press); and Martha C Nussbaum: The New Religious Intollerance: Overcoming the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age (2012, Belknap Press).

Michael Lewis: Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt (2014, WW Norton): A book on high-frequency trading, entertaining and informative no doubt, with something of a moral centre even though the journalist is inordinately fond of rich people.

Isaac Martin: Rich People's Movements: Grassroots Campaigns to Untax the One Percent (2013, Oxford University Press): That would be the Tea Party, the best irate mob money can buy, which gave an air of faux populism to some of the most extremely reactionary ideas of the last few decades, struggling above all against the idea that the government should serve the people who elected it. Title here reminds one of the Frances Fox Piven/Richard A Cloward classic, Poor People's Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail (1977; paperback, 1978, Vintage Books).

Mariana Mazzucato: The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths (paperback, 2013, Anthem): Two myths seem especially prevalent today: that public investment only comes at the expense of private investment, and that that's a bad thing. I can think of others, but that's not necessarily the point here: she seems to be focusing on technology and business subsidies governments give out that are ultimately snapped up by private sector investors -- an obvious case in point is support of "green energy" sectors like wind and solar (efforts so hated by the oil-bound Kochs).

Suzanne Mettler: Degrees of Inequality: How the Politics of Higher Education Sabotaged the American Dream (2014, Basic Books): Until the 1970s public support of higher education tended to make American society and economy more equitable, but that has since changed. Personally, I think education has long been overrated, especially as a panacea, but lately it's higher costs and mountains of debt have turned into a cruel trap. The real roots of inequality are political, and the very suggestion that you can compensate for that by raising an educated caste is itself part of the problem -- maybe even one that prefigured the political shift?

Ian Morris: War: What's It Good For? (2014, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Edwin Starr could answer that in far less than these 512 pages: "absolutely nothing." Morris likes to jump all over the place, as in his previous Why the West Rules -- For Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future, but his bottom line seems to be "war made the state, and the state made peace." I'm tempted to add: but only after making war unbearable, and even now way too many people haven't learned the lesson.

Ralph Nader: Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State (2014, Nation Books): Given how extensively the "grass roots" right has been underwritten by the same corporations Nader decries, I have to question the wisdom of any such "alliance" -- even when left and right may agree on a point, such as the TARP bailout slush fund, all the two sides can conceivably do is to block something particularly foul. What they can't do is to create something that would work fairly, because the right is fundamentally set on destruction of the public sphere. Still, if obstruction is the sole goal -- as in keeping Obama from bombing Syria, or allowing the NSA to spy on all Americans -- sure, there's some potential there.

Richard Overy: The Bombers and the Bombed: Allied Air War Over Europe 1940-1945 (2014, Viking): Attempts to broaden our understanding of the air war over Europe by including the experiences of the bombed, especially in horrific fire storms like Hamburg and Dresden. The US edition omits a complementary survey of the German bombing of England, some 300 pages from the UK edition (The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945).

Nomi Prins: All the President's Bankers (2014, Nation Books): Wrote one of the better books on the finance meltdown (It Takes a Pillage: Behind the Bailouts, Bonuses, and Backroom Deals from Washington to Wall Street). This seems to go deeper into the historic relationship between bankers and politics, as if JP Morgan had anything to do with our current mess. Of course, he probably did, and Andrew Mellon and David Rockefeller and Walter Wriston too.

David Reynolds: The Long Shadow: The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century (2014, WW Norton): One hundred years after the Great War (as it was known at the time, WWI as it was renamed, or the opening of the "30-years war of the 20th century" (as Arno Mayer reconceived it), we're suddenly seeing an avalanche of books on the subject, with much arguing over how it all started, and much detailing of the exceptional gore (WWII was much worse on civilians, but rarely matched the earlier war for pitched battles -- Stalingrad was an exception, but still couldn't match Marne). This book at least tries to make good use of the intervening century. I've noted a fair number of these books separately (Christopher Clark, Geoffrey Wawro), but also: Tim Butcher: The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War; Prit Butlar: Collision of Empires: The War on the Eastern Front in 1914 (Osprey); Charles Emmerson: 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War (2013, Public Affairs); Peter Hart: The Great War: A Combat History of the First World War (2013, Oxford University Press); Max Hastings: Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War (2013, Knopf); Paul Jankowski: Verdun: The Longest Battle of the Great War (Oxford University Press); Philip Jenkins: The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade; Nick Lloyd: Hundred Days: The Campaign That Ended World War I (Basic Books); Margaret MacMillan: The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 (2013, Random House); Gordon Martel: The Month that Changed the World: July 1914 (7/1, Oxford University Press); Shawn McMeekin: July 1914: Countdown to War (2013, Basic Books); William Mulligan: The Great War for Peace (Yale University Press); Michael Neiberg: The Military Atlas of World War I (Chartwell); TG Otte: July Crisis: The World's Descent into War, Summer 1914 (Cambridge University Press); William Philpott: War of Attrition: Fighting the First World War (Overlook); Ian Senior: Invasion 1914: The Schelieffen Plan to the Battle of the Marne (8/19, Osprey); Gary Sheffield: Morale and Command: The British Army on the Western Front (Pen and Sword); David Stone: The Kaiser's Army: The German Army in World War I (7/24, Conway); Kristian Coates Ulrichsen: The First World War in the Middle East (7/25, Hurst); Alexander Watson: Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I (10/7, Basic Books).

Amanda Ripley: The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way (2013, Simon & Schuster): Like TR Reid in The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care, Ripley travels around the world searching out what seems to work and offering it as an alternative to what doesn't work in the US: an easy approach that avoids theory but also misses many of the pitfalls theory introduces. I doubt however that the process will work as well, because it's easier to define what a good health care system is -- one where fewer people get sick and stuck in that system -- than what would make for a good education system: indeed, much of the "theory" out there is really a dispute over what education should do (e.g., make people smarter vs. train people better to fill assigned slots).

Dana Roithmayr: Reproducing Racism: How Everyday Choices Lock in White Advantage (2014, NYU Press): Examines how racial advantages and disadvantages have persisted despite the establishment of supposedly color-neutral legal rights and systems.

Jake Rosenfeld: What Unions No Long Do (2014, Harvard University Press): Have much political clout for one thing, which is a problem given how much our system depends on countervaling powers to keep from going insane in favor of one interest group -- mainly business. But also they don't seem to care as much about the broader groups of people who aren't unionized, effectively leaving them without political representation. (Arguably, American unions have always been weak there, but still.)

Daniel Schulman: Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America's Most Powerful and Private Dynasty (2014, Grand Central): Much in the news recently for their efforts to destroy democracy in the US (err, to safeguard the freedom of second-generation oil billionaires), this gives you some background on who they are, where they and all their money came from, and how they've evolved from John Birch Society paranoids to Tea Party astroturfers.

Rebecca Solnit: Men Explain Things to Me (paperback, 2014, Haymarket Books): Short (100 pp) collection of essays, the title one about male mistakes in talking to women, and others about war, Virginia Woolf, and the IMF.

Joshua Steckel/Beth Zasloff: Hold Fast to Dreams: A College Guidance Counselor, His Students, and the Vision of a Life Beyond Poverty (2014, New Press): The author left his job at a ritzy private school to try to guide poor kids into college, and illustrates that task with profiles of ten students, the innumerable problems they faced, and some measure of success, sometimes.

Matt Taibbi: The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap (2014, Spiegel & Grau): Defines "the divide" as: "the seam in American life where our two most troubling trends -- growing wealth inequality and mass incarceration -- come together . . . what allows massively destructive fraud by the hyperwealthy to go unpunished, while turning poverty itself into a crime." So this expands upon his previous fraud-focused book, Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America (2010), broadening the context, and probably looks back to his earlier work on politics.

Elizabeth Warren: A Fighting Chance (2014, Metropolitan): I don't put much stock on books by politicians, but before she ran for office she co-write The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents Are Going Broke (2004), a timely issue if ever there was one. This one is more of a memoir, but the path from where she came from to where she is now feels authentic, and her grip on how policy affects ordinary people is smart and shrewd.

Geoffrey Wawro: A Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire (2014, Basic Books): Focuses on Austria-Hungary, which gambled on its ability to seize Serbia and lost everything in the first world war -- a failure he finds rooted in the previous decline of the empire.

John F Weeks: Economics of the 1%: How Mainstream Economics Serves the Rich, Obscures Reality and Distorts Policy (paperback, 2014, Anthem): Uh, sure. Even if economics somehow managed to only study the actual workings of the economy it would be most useful to the rich for uncovering opportunities to profit, but in fact most economists not only study capitalism but are in thrall to it and more than willing to propagandize on behalf of the rich, even making arguments that contradict well known maxims. Weeks is far from the first author to notice this.

Some books previously mentioned that have since come out in paperback. Normally I'd write a bit on each, but I've had trouble researching this section, and it turns out that my draft file is mostly stubs (some rather old), so for this time (at least) I figure I should just flush it:

  • Donald L Barlett/James B Steele: The Betrayal of the American Dream (2012; paperback, 2013, Public Affairs):
  • Breaking the Silence: Our Harsh Logic: Israeli Soldiers' Testimonies from the Occupied Territories, 2000-2010 (2012, Metropolitan Books; paperback, 2013, Picador):
  • Thomas B Edsall: The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics (2012, Doubleday; paperback, 2012, Anchor):
  • Chrystia Freeland: Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else (2012; paperback, 2013, Penguin Press):
  • Glenn Greenwald: With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful (2011, Metropolitan Books; paperback, 2012, Picador):
  • Chris Hedges/Joe Sacco: Days of Destruction Days of Revolt (2012; paperback, 2014, Nation Books):
  • Neil Irwin: The Alchemists: Three Central Bankers and a World on Fire (2013; paperback, 2014, Penguin Press):
  • Ann Jones: War Is Not Over When It's Over: Women and the Unseen Consequences of Conflict (2010, Metropolitan Books; paperback, 2011, Picador):
  • Ira Katznelson: Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time (2013; paperback, 2014, Liveright):
  • Rashid Khalidi: Brokers of Deceit: How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East (2013; paperback, 2014, Beacon Press):
  • Lawrence Lessig: Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress -- and a Plan to Stop It (2011; paperback, 2012, Twelve):
  • Robert Jay Lifton: Witness to an Extreme Century: A Memoir (2011; paperback, 2014, Free Press):
  • Charles C Mann: 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created (2011, Knopf; paperback, 2012, Vintage):
  • Thomas E Mann/Norman J Ornstein: It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Plitics of Extremism (2012; paperback, 2013, Basic Books):
  • George Packer: The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America (2013; paperback, 2014, Farrar Straus and Giroux):
  • Elaine Pagels: Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, & Politics in the Book of Revelation (2012, Viking; paperback, 2013, Penguin):
  • Michael Pollan: Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation (2013; paperback, 2014, Penguin):
  • Corey Robin: The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism From Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin (2011; paperback, 2013, Oxford University Press):
  • Dani Rodrik: The Globalization Paradox: Democracy and the Future of the World Economy (2011; paperback, 2012, WW Norton):
  • Seth Rosenfeld: Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's Rise to Power (2012, Farrar Straus and Giroux; 2013, Picador):
  • Shlomo Sand: The Invention of the Land of Israel: From Holy Land to Homeland (2012; paperback, 2014, Verso):
  • Jeff Sharlet: C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy (2010; paperback, 2011, Back Bay Books):
  • Avi Shlaim: Israel and Palestine: Reflections, Revisions, Refutations (2009; paperback, 2010, Verso):
  • Hedrick Smith: Who Stole the American Dream? (2012; paperback, 2014, Random House):
  • Louisa Thomas: Conscience: Two Soldiers, Two Pacifists, One Family -- a Test of Will and Faith in World War I (2011; paperback, 2012, Penguin):
  • Nick Turse: Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (paperback, 2013, Picador):
  • Patrick Tyler: Fortress Israel: The Inside Story of the Military Elite Who Run the Country -- and Why They Can't Make Peace (2012; paperback, 2013, Farrar Straus and Giroux):

Maybe with a fresh start I'll write more next time. Usually there's an implied recommendation in the paperback listings -- I don't go out and look to see if books I have no interest in have been reprinted -- but the only ones above I have read are: Louisa Thomas' fine book on her ancestors (most famously Norman Thomas); and three books on Israel (Rashid Khalidi, Shlomo Sand, and Patrick Tyler). I do, however, have Corey Robin, Christia Freedland, and Breaking the Silence on the shelf and mean to get to them sooner or later. Several others are things I'd like to read if I can find the time.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 23459 [23423] rated (+36), 539 [559] unrated (-20).

Highest rated count in some time, although a couple of those came from catching bookkeeping omissions. With nothing (of note) coming in, I took a big bite out of the jazz queue -- but still haven't gotten into the stack of Roberto Magris albums, or the Sonny Simmons box. I had one reader ask why I haven't said anything about the Miles Davis bootleg, but despite asking for it I didn't receive, and I'm not in any hurry to try to judge three discs on Rhapsody with none of the doc that is essential for "historical" releases.

Knocked out five tweets while wrapping this up, skipping the Joe Henderson albums from nearly a week ago. They'll be in the next Rhapsody Streamnotes, along with the previous week's Hendersons. My twitter feed is now up to 50 followers, so I guess that's a milestone, but it doesn't seem like much of one. Those who have signed up have seen 238 tweets.

Recommended music links:

New records rated this week:

  • Itamar Borochov Quartet: Outset (2011 [2014], Realbird): trumpet, fences with Hagai Amir on alto sax for a snappy pianoless hard bop group [cd]: B+(**)
  • Camper Van Beethoven: La Costa Perdida (2013, 429 Records): [r]: B
  • Camper Van Beethoven: El Camino Real (2014, 429 Records): return stalled, but new album gets their sound right, plus songs [r]: B+(**)
  • Mark Charig/Georg Wolf/Jörg Fischer: Free Music on a Summer Evening (2010 [2014], Spore Print): avant cornet/alto horn trio, scrawny, scrappy, scratchy [cd]: B+(*)
  • Jeff Colella/Putter Smith: Lotus Blossom (2013 [2014], The American Jazz Institute/Capri): piano-bass duets, Strayhorn title, rather quiet, unimposing, all the lovelier for that [cd]: B+(**)
  • Davina & the Vagabonds: Sunshine (2014, Roustabout): MN band, Devina Sowers writes and sings sunny blues with a jazz feel and a Fats Waller cover [cd]: B+(**)
  • Lana Del Rey: Ultraviolence (2014, Interscope): slow and not much fun, until sonics and perversity kick in, but still not sure I want to know her [r]: B+(***)
  • Danny Freyer: Must Be Love (2014, Blue Bend): "Dean Martin looks, Frank Sinatra voice" -- ok, discount that by 30%, and beware the strings [cd]: B-
  • Holly Hofmann: Low Life: The Alto Flute Project (2014, Capri): flute jazz rarely appeals, but helps that she sticks to alto here, also gets help from Anthony Wilson [cd]: B+(*)
  • Kasai Allstars: Beware the Fetish [Congotronics 5] (2014, Crammed Discs, 2CD): Kinshasa megagroup, rough vocals over thumb pianos and makeshift percussion, wears a bit [r]: B+(***)
  • Peter Lerner: Continuation (2014, OA2): guitarist manages a slickly integrated octet, Geof Bradfield on reeds, Willie Pickens on piano [cd]: B+(***)
  • Mars 4-Tet: The Blind Watchmaker (2014, Summit): average-good sax-piano quartet, pick up a bit when covering Monk, Jarrett, and Led Zeppelin [cd]: B+(**)
  • Felix Peikli: Royal Flush (2013 [2014], self-released): Norwegian clarinetist, quintet with guitar and piano, plus guests (special and not) for extra clutter [cdr]: B
  • The Ralph Peterson Fo'tet Augmented: Alive at Firehouse 12: Vol 2: Fo' n Mo' (2013 [2014], Onyx): clarinet-vibes-drums trio + soprano sax & percussion on a kick [cd]: B+(***)
  • Popcaan: Where We Come From (2014, Mixpak): Jamaican dancehall star, riddims strike me as more idiosyncratic than that, lyrics more oblique [r]: B+(***)
  • Rallidae: Paper Birds (2013 [2014], self-released, EP): art-song trio rubs me raw, better when the two instrumentalists (sax, bass) just play [cd]: B-
  • Andrew Rathbun Quartet: Numbers & Letters (2012 [2014], SteepleChase): saxophonist with Phil Markowitz piano trio, wide range of postbop moves and motifs [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Harold Rubin/Barre Phillips/Tatsuya Nakatani: E on a Thin Line (2009 [2014], Hopscotch): old but avant Israeli clarinetist, has had an interesting life, still full of surprises [cd]: B+(***)
  • Saxophone Summit [Dave Liebman/Ravi Coltrane/Joe Lovano]: Visitation (2011 [2014], ArtistShare): post-Brecker, teamwork rules, Liebman-Lovano-Coltrane flow, Markowitz-McBee-Hart help out [cd]: B+(***)
  • Bobby Selvaggio: Short Stories (2013 [2014], Origin): alto saxophonist, fills album with fast, swooping, virtuosic sax runs, with Aaron Goldberg piano [cd]: B+(**)
  • Sonzeira: Brasil Bam Bam Bam (2014, Talkin' Loud/Virgin): Gilles Peterson production, Brazilian stars + Seun Kuti, a dance mix with attractive quirks [r]: B+(***)
  • Storyboard [David Boswell/Alex Locasio/Rod MacDowell]: Hello (2014, My Quiet Moon): guitar-electric bass-drums trio, not quite fusion, nor soul jazz, just a basic groove with nowhere to go [cd]: B
  • Paul Tynan & Aaron Lington: Bicoastal Collective: Chapter Four (2013 [2014], OA2): trumpet/baritone sax marriage, their shrinking band an organ trio [cd]: B+(*)<
  • Cornelius Veit/Eugen Prieur/Jörg Fischer: Stromraum (2012-13 [2014], Spore Print): guitar-electric bass-drums, even scratchier but fits tight and goes places [cd]: B+(***)
  • Brahja Waldman Quintet: Sir Real Live at Resonance (2013 [2014], self-released): limited vinyl, two-sax quintet with piano-bass-drums, basically vamps with frills [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Walt Weiskopf: Overdrive (2014, Posi-Tone): tenor saxophonist, gets lots of help (piano, guitar, vibes) and blows right through the clutter [r]: B

Old records rated this week:

  • Joe Henderson: Joe Henderson in Japan (1971 [2006], Milestone/OJC): [r]: B+(***)
  • Joe Henderson: Joe Henderson Big Band (1992-96 [1997], Verve): [r]: B+(*)
  • Art Hodes: Keepin' Out of Mischief Now (1988, Candid): 84-year-old trad jazz pianist sums up a lifetime on this solo stroll through classics [r]: A-
  • Oscar Peterson et Joe Pass: A La Salle Pleyel (1975 [1997], Pablo/OJC, 2CD): two solo sets by virtuosi who need no help, and a few duets, turning on the charm [r]: A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Dave Kain: Raising Kain (Stop Time)
  • Mark Meadows: Somethin' Good (self-released)
  • Isabel Stover: Her Own Sweet World (self-released)

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links this week:

  • Josh Barro: Yes, if You Cut Taxes, You Get Less Tax Revenue: On Sam Brownback's tax cuts in Kansas:

    Kansas has a problem. In April and May, the state planned to collect $651 million from personal income tax. But instead, it received only $369 million.

    In 2012, Kansas lawmakers passed a large and rather unusual income tax cut. It was expected to reduce state tax revenue by more than 10 percent, and Gov. Sam Brownback said it would create "tens of thousands of jobs."

    In part, the tax cut worked in the typical way, by cutting tax rates and increasing the standard deduction. But Kansas also eliminated tax on various kinds of income, including income described commonly -- and sometimes misleadingly -- as "small-business income." Basically, if your income results in the generation of a Form 1099-MISC instead of a W-2, it's probably not taxable anymore in Kansas.

    Barro goes through the details, showing how to move income around to lower your tax rate, mentioning cases where reduced tax liability in Kansas is offset elsewhere. But the bottom line is that the revenue loss is much greater than advertised, and the jobs gain is hard to see if not flat out negative. Susan Wagle, the Republican Senate leader, has recently admitted that the purpose of the tax cuts was to "starve the beast" [state government], and therefore claimed that they were working, regardless of the disingenuous sales pitch. The latest GOP plan for making up the shortfall is to borrow $600 million, so that will also contribute to "starving the beast." Barro also doesn't go into cases where local governments have raised property and/or sales taxes to compensate for less state revenue. Nor that things like state college tuition keeps rising much faster than inflation, so students will bear extra burden.

    Also see John Eligon: Brownback Leads Kansas in Sharp Right Turn, which is four months old and kind of a puff piece. Brownback ran for president in 2008 and got something like 3% in neighboring Iowa's Republican caucus, so he gave up his safe Senate seat to get some executive experience as governor and prove to the nation how wonderful his radical "red state model" would be, hoping that would put him back into the presidential race. Needless to say, he's been a complete disaster.

  • Dominic Gates: 787 still having problems with unfinished work from SC: You remember this story: Boeing's genius management decided they could pinch pennies by moving 787 assembly from Washington to South Carolina -- at least they pocketed a big kickback for "creating" all those jobs (i.e., the ones they destroyed in Washington). The new workers slowed Boeing down and proved so inept that Boeing has had to ship their work back to Washington to be repaired.

    According to employees, when mechanics removed the cradles that held the rear fuselage in place on Dreamliner No. 214 -- destined for Royal Jordanian Airways -- nearly 100 improperly installed fasteners clattered to the factory floor.

    A subsequent inspection found the South Carolina team in Everett had installed hundreds of temporary fasteners near the join between the two aft fuselage sections without the collars needed to hold them in place.

    "If they can't make sure this is done, what else are they forgetting?" said a frustrated Everett employee.

    He said that the error showed a lack of the most basic knowledge and that this work should be routine at this stage in the jet program.

    Also see Paul Krugman: An Innovation Lesson From Germany: Less Disruption, More Quality:

    Here's the key point on the remarkable German export story: German labor is very expensive, even compared with the United States' (see this chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics).

    And this has been true for decades, yet Germany is a very successful exporter all the same. Not by producing the latest tech product, but by maintaining a reputation for producing high-quality goods, year after year.

    If Germany seems remarkably competitive given its high costs, the United States is the reverse; our productivity is high, but we seem to be consistently bad at exporting -- and have remained so throughout my professional life. I used to think it was our cultural insularity, our difficulty in thinking about what other people might want. But is that still plausible?

    Actually, Boeing has long been the largest US exporter, usually by a huge margin, so they clearly know how to build for world markets. Also, their only serious competitor is Airbus, based in Germany and France, where their wages are higher than Boeing's, so there's no competitive reason why Boeing has to cut labor costs. Boeing does so for purely ideological reasons, and not infrequently they hurt themselves in the process.

  • Alicia Johnson: Supreme Court Throws Up More Abortion Barriers by Knocking Down Buffer Zones: Anti-abortion "protesters" routinely harass women as they attempt to enter Planned Parenthood and other clinics where abortions are performed -- happens routinely here in Wichita, and often elsewhere. Massachusetts passed a law promising a 35-foot hassle-free buffer zone around clinic entrances, and the Supreme Court unanimously threw it out claiming it violates the free speech of the protesters. I tend to think of myself as more protective of free speech than most Americans, but I find this ruling appalling. It says in effect not only that one has the right to speak freely but they also have the right to get in your face, to force you to listen to their rants. Moreover, in this specific case the ruling advances a specific political agenda for taking a basic right away -- something the Court should start to take an interest in protecting, given how anti-abortion agitators have used harrassment, vandalism, and murder to reduce availability of abortions. (Of course, murder remains illegal, but in places like Massachusetts and Wichita it has only occurred after an atmosphere of harrassment has developed, and that's what this ruling permits.)

    Of course, this ruling could be interpreted to allow all sorts of more aggressive, in-your-face demonstrations for worthy causes. Why shouldn't Occupy Wall Street protesters be able to hector traders and bankers all the way to their business doors? Why shouldn't Code Pink be allowed to say their piece when they interrupt speeches and government hearings? Why don't we set up gauntlets around Army recruiting offices similar to what the anti-abortion protesters do? All of this would be consistent with the Court's unanimous ruling, but in fact we do commonly place limits on where free speech can take place -- e.g., many demonstrations are penned up in so-called "free speech zones" where they can't make their targets hear their message.

  • Gaius Publius: Obama Loosens Four-Decade Ban on Crude Oil Exports: Every GOP platform I can remember has an N-point plan calling for "energy independence" but it's only under Obama that the elusive goal has been met. Still, the decision to allow crude oil exports after banning them for 40 years shouldn't have been automatic. Absent the export option, one of two things would have happened: companies would slow production down to conserve oil for later demand, or they'd pump it and cut the price until current demand caught up. Either would have benefited consumers, which is to say most Americans, and the former would be better for limiting carbon emissions. Allowing exports only helps production companies.

    Why worry about climate change when there's money? That's not oil in those tankers and pipelines; that's cash. And it's Obama's job, and every other president's so far, to not get between the owners of carbon and their profit-making (sorry, job-creating).

    Your takeaway? This is another example of Obama protecting the profits of the carbon industry, while at the same time he laments the damage it does.

  • Joseph E Stiglitz: Inequality Is Not Inevitable: This sums up a series of posts called The Great Divide.

    So why has America chosen these inequality-enhancing policies? Part of the answer is that as World War II faded into memory, so too did the solidarity it had engendered. As America triumphed in the Cold War, there didn't seem to be a viable competitor to our economic model. Without this international competition, we no longer had to show that our system could deliver for most of our citizens.

    Ideology and interests combined nefariously. Some drew the wrong lesson from the collapse of the Soviet system. The pendulum swung from much too much government there to much too little here. Corporate interests argued for getting rid of regulations, even when those regulations had done so much to protect and improve our environment, our safety, our health and the economy itself.

    But this ideology was hypocritical. The bankers, among the strongest advocates of laissez-faire economics, were only too willing to accept hundreds of billions of dollars from the government in the bailouts that have been a recurring feature of the global economy since the beginning of the Thatcher-Reagan era of "free" markets and deregulation.

    The American political system is overrun by money. Economic inequality translates into political inequality, and political inequality yields increasing economic inequality. In fact, as he recognizes, Mr. Piketty's argument rests on the ability of wealth-holders to keep their after-tax rate of return high relative to economic growth. How do they do this? By designing the rules of the game to ensure this outcome; that is, through politics.

    One minor quibble I have here is that I wouldn't say that "America [or capitalism] triumphed in the Cold War." I'm reminded of a wrestling match where one fighter dies of a heart attack and the other falls on top of the corpse to claim the win. The Soviet Union's economic system indeed performed poorly in the 1980s, but for Russia the real economic disaster occurred in the 1990s when state resources were turned over to a handful of oligarchs.

    But the basic point is solid: growing inequality is the result of policies that favor the rich and disadvantage virtually everyone else, and can be reversed by other policies. The rich were able to obtain those policies for a number of reasons, including that the US political system has always been highly susceptible to corruption -- and was, therefore, defenseless when business interests started their sustained assault on the political system in the 1970s (cf. the Potter Stewart letter, a conspicuous turning point).

Also, a few links for further study:

  • Juan Cole: Waiting for the Arab Summer: An excerpt from Cole's new book, The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East. He's looking for a return of the liberal democrats that started the Arab Spring, that have largely been eclipsed of late, but figures the demographics will still be there once the flames of war have burned out.

  • Fred Guerin: The Compelling Conclusion About Capitalism That Piketty Resists: Well it's that capitalism, in practice if not necessarily in theory, sucks. Since Piketty takes pains to distance himself from Marx (even while adopting his title), it's the first point on the mind of every Marxist critic. This at least articulates the point at length, and rather eloquently.

  • Elias Vlanton: The Unkindest Cut: Book review of Joshua Steckel/Beth Zasloff: Hold Fast to Dreams: A College Guidance Counselor, His Students, and the Vision of a Life Beyond Poverty. Vlanton, by the way, is a very dear friend from my college days, and could well write his own book on this subject.

  • Some Iraq links:

    • Juan Cole: Top 5 Reasons US Aid to "Moderate" Syrian Fighters Is Quixotic
    • Roi Kais: US fears Israel would be dragged into war with ISIS: Fears? Dragged? Didn't Israel already bomb ISIS positions in Syria last week? Admittedly, if Israel enters an existing US war against Arabs, that's going to reflect poorly on the US, but it's not as if the US hasn't already tarred itself with its slavish support of Israel's numerous violations of human rights and international law. Given that alliance, it's all the more stupid for the US to get into an anti-Arab (or specifically an anti-Sunni) war.
    • Yifa Yaakov: US: Jordan may ask Israel to go to war against ISIL: Same credibility issues as the US asking for Israeli support, except that the latter doesn't involve any domestic risk, it just adds credibility to ISIS/ISIL in that it gives them another enemy pretty much anyone likely to support them already detests. On the other hand, if the Hashemites need Israeli support to survive a revolt of their own people, they're pretty much doomed anyway. (Not that they didn't get away with it once before, but that was a long time ago and a complete surprise.)

    There's lots more that could be said on the subject of Iraq, but I'm not finding many links that make what I feel is the key point. The only just endpoint for the now-linked civil wars in Syria and Iraq is a diplomatic agreement where all sides agree to step down and stop killing each other, and let their differences be sorted out peacefully at the ballot box. It's widely assumed that Sunni jihadists would never agree to this, but in fact Sunni Islamists do exceptionally well in elections, and only resort to terrorism when peaceful political routes are blocked. One certainly shouldn't assume that they're the problem, especially when you have dictators in Damascus (and Amman) and a narrowly sectarian government in Iraq to deal with, not to mention regional interests of the Kurds. It won't be easy to solve these issues, especially since a solution will have to appear to be fair to (i.e., to give a fair chance to) all groups. One might, for instance, consider redrawing some borders (since, frankly, Sykes and Picot didn't do a very good job). Or one might consider restructuring the countries among more federalist lines, which would allow more local control at a finer level of granularity. There's also the thorny question of oil revenues, which should be pooled and distributed per capita (benefitting Syria, and Jordan if they got involved, but inequity in Iraq is also a problem). For that matter, it would be good to throw some Saudi and Kuwaiti oil into the pool (the other Persian Gulf emirates too). But the most important thing is to get the outsiders to stop interfering: Iran, of course, but also the Saudis, Qataris, and whoever else has been bankrolling all those jihadis. Also Russia and the US, which means the US cutting some kind of side deal with Iran to ensure that the Persian Gulf shipping lanes will remain open. (It would also be good to solve the Israel-Palestine thing, but thus far it looks like that's separable -- a good thing given that Israel refuses to solve anything, and thinking about Israel costs the US about 40 IQ points.)

    So if that's the end point, what should the US be doing now? Unless Baghdad is on the verge of getting overrun, I don't see any value in backing Maliki -- least of all in giving him air support that suggests he has a hope of regaining lost Sunni territory. Nor does arming the so-called Syrian "moderate rebels" make any sense, since that just prolongs the war there. US sanctions against Iran and Russia are probably not helpful either, although surrendering them would help as would settling side issues (like that mess in Ukraine). The bigger problem is how to get some leverage on the Saudis and Gulf Arabs, but those monarchs (and their families) own a lot of assets in Europe and the US that could be frozen, and for that matter those monarchies are overdue for democratic revolutions (especially given US support, including air cover).

    If this reads like fantasy, compare its likelihood to the chance that anything good might come out of Obama's pledges of "advisers" and drones for Maliki and $500M of small arms for those "moderates" in Syria. (And try to recall the last time when any ad hoc group with $500M of arms exercised any moderation at all.) The US has repeatedly tried to pick sides in the Middle East, thinking its "lesser evils" will always trump those "greater evils," and almost invariably coming up wrong. We need to come to a comprehension that the only US interest in the region is peace and stability, and that peace and stability only comes through democracy and a sense of social justice and equality. Also that one essential part of the solution is that the US give up its military presence in the region, which has thus far brought nothing but war and instability, not least through our backing of a corrupt oligarchy.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Home Town Blackout?

Tweeted this today:

B&N pushes Sons of Wichita on their website, so I expected to find it on sale at their store, but in Wichita they don't even stock it.

The book is Daniel Schulman: Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America's Most Powerful and Private Dynasty. B&N has it on sale for 35% off -- a much better deal than Amazon offers (looks like the publisher is one of those Amazon's been trying to shake down). B&N's website lists is as the 7th best selling book in politics & current events, just ahead of Elizabeth Warren's A Fighting Chance and Glenn Greenwald's No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Surveillance State. Wichita is the home turf of the Koch family and their company, probably the second (or third) largest employer in town, so you'd think their would be more than average interest in the book here -- certainly not zero. So you don't have to be paranoid to wonder whether someone's arm's been twisted a bit.

I've seen a couple excerpts from Schulman's book in Mother Jones, and they strike me as basically fair:

I've also seen a piece (don't have link) where Schulman speculates that the Koch's libertarianism could help steer the Republicans back to more moderate positions on "culture war" issues. I've never seen any evidence of this. Presumably, for instance, as libertarians the Kochs support abortion rights, but not enough to break with any Republican who comes close to them on money issues. And they should be against drug prohibition and every aspect of America's military presence in Asia and Africa, but those issues never seem to factor into their political patronage.

Daily Log

Monday, June 23, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 23423 [23394] rated (+29), 559 [568] unrated (-9).

Most of what follows showed up on Saturday's Rhapsody Streamnotes column -- Mary Gauthier's lovely little record is an exception, as are several of the "old music" entries, including two Joe Henderson sets. (More Henderson next week -- such splits are what you get with arbitrary cutoffs.) With Henderson, I've started to go beyond Penguin Guide 4-stars (Our Thing) to pick up a few 3.5 stars (Relaxin' at Camarillo, which by the way I think is the better of the two, probably because he's more comfortable as the sole horn). The unrated 4-star list was already 950 long and I was in no worry about running out (even with Rhapsody's omissions cutting that list way down). It just seemed likely that I would find some of the 3.5-star records more appealing -- indeed, I know that's often the case. I've started to put an unrated 3.5-star record list together, and it will have a bit more than 4000 records. I doubt that I'll put much effort into tracking them all down, but when I hit an artist I'm inclined to explore further (like Henderson, or the late Horace Silver) I'm likely to delve a bit deeper down the list.

Finished painting my basement steps, and that looks like a real improvement. Probably the next step is to paint a segment of basement wall that I want to build some new storage in and around. At some point I want to cover up the cement floor with something nicer, but it will take a number of steps to get there, and that wall is the start. On the other hand, the real critical project is reducing the clutter around my workspace -- a bummer, I'm afraid, every time I enter and try to work on something. Not just hideous but ridiculous.

Note that the incoming mail practically dried up this week. Indeed, only two (of five) records were by names I recognized -- one of those by a recently deceased flute player. Sorry I haven't been able to keep up with tweeting all the old music grades. I need to hit them more in real time to avoid clustering.

Recommended music links:

New records rated this week:

  • Darren Barrett: Energy in Motion: The Music of the Bee Gees (2014, dB Studios): trumpeter, a little postbop on melodies that can't escape muzak [cd]: B-
  • Darren Barrett dB Quintet: Live and Direct 2014 (2014, dB Studios): postbop trumpet, Myron Walden on sax, try running fast and wild but not far [cd]: B
  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Alexey Lapin: The Russian Concerts (2013 [2014], FMR): also sounds unique but keeps growing, the pianist helps too [cd]: A-
  • Andrew Downing/Jim Lewis/David Occhipinti: Bristles (2013 [2014], Occdav Music): bass-trumpet-guitar chamber jazz trio, polite standards and light improv [cd]: B+(*)
  • Mary Gauthier: Trouble & Love (2014, In the Black): folk singer-songwriter from Louisiana, moves slowly through eight songs, deepening their truth [r]: A-
  • Paul Giallorenzo's GitGo: Force Majeure (2013 [2014], Delmark): Chicago pianist with the fun horns of the original V5 (Jeb Bishop, Mars Williams) [cd]: B+(***)
  • Brian Groder Trio: Reflexology (2013 [2014], Latham): trumpet trio with Michael Bisio and Jay Rosen, avant-jazzers working within the tradition [cd]: B+(***)
  • Chrissie Hynde: Stockholm (2014, Caroline): past pretending to be a Pretender, sounds unique as ever but never was so great that's all she needs [r]: B+(*)
  • Ideal Bread: Beating the Teens: Songs of Steve Lacy (2013 [2014], Cuneiform, 2CD): quartet (Josh Sinton, Kirk Knuffke, Tomas Fujiwara) dedicated to Steve Lacy plays on (and on) [cd]: B+(***)
  • Dolly Parton: Blue Smoke (2014, Sony Masterworks): terrific Dylan cover, amusing French-speak, nice one about old friends, hot up front, then cluttered [cd]: B+(*)
  • Adam Schroeder: Let's (2013 [2014], Capri): baritone saxophonist, fine contrast to Anthony Wilson's guitar, with John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton [cd]: B+(***)
  • The David Ullmann 8: Corduroy (2014, Little Sky): guitarist leads an octet with four name horns (Stillman, McGinnis, Knuffke, Drye) and vibes [cd]: B+(**)
  • Peter Van Huffel's Gorilla Mask: Bite My Blues (2013 [2014], Clean Feed): avant-grunge trio (sax and electric bass), plays at ugly, gets serious at ugly [cd]: B+(*)

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

  • Sleepy John Estes with Hammie Nixon: Live in Japan (1974 [2014], Delmark): grizzled oldtime blues whiner from Tennessee w/hometown harpist, served raw [r]: B+(***)

Old records rated this week:

  • Air: Open Air Suit (1978, Novus): [r]: B+(**)
  • Gil Evans: Gil Evans & Ten (1957 [1989], Prestige/OJC): [r]: B
  • The Gil Evans Orchestra: Into the Hot (1961 [1999], Impulse): [r]: B
  • Gil Evans/Steve Lacy: Paris Blues (1987 [1988], Owl): [r]: B+(**)
  • Gerry Hemingway Quartet: Devil's Paradise (1999 [2003], Clean Feed): looks like a dream group (Ray Anderson, Ellery Eskelin, Mark Dresser), but not quite [r]: B+(***)
  • Joe Henderson: Our Thing (1963 [1995], Blue Note): equally a showcase for Kenny Dorham, but look out for Andrew Hill's piano bubbling under it all [r]: A-
  • Joe Henderson: Relaxin' at Camarillo (1979 [1993], Contemporary/OJC): tenor sax quartet, Henderson enjoys the sole horn slot, and Chick Corea is at his best [r]: A-
  • New Air Featuring Cassandra Wilson: Air Show No. 1 (1986 [1989], Black Saint): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Horace Silver Quintet: The Tokyo Blues (1962 [2009], Blue Note): one of the few Blue Notes I missed and for no good reason: catchy, funky, transcendent [r]: A-
  • Horace Silver: Paris Blues: Olympia Theater, Paris, 1962 (1962 [2002], Pablo): live shot, repeats two Tokyo Blues tunes, adds three classics, stretched out a bit too much [r]: B+(**)
  • Horace Silver: The Hardbop Grandpop (1996, Impulse): big time comeback album, the rush of stars (Michael Brecker, Steve Turre) missing the point [r]: B+(*)
  • Horace Silver: Jazz Has a Sense of Humor (1998, Verve): last album, a new quintet young like the old ones, the old pianist feeling young too [r]: B+(***)
  • Terrell Stafford: Centripetal Force (1996 [1997], Candid): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Michael Jefry Stevens/Dominic Duval Quintet: Elements (1994 [1996], Leo): [r]: B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Alan Chan Jazz Orchestra: Shrimp Tale (Crown Heights Audio Network)
  • Wayne Coniglio/Scott Whitfield: Fast Friends (Summit)
  • Kali Z. Fasteau: Piano Rapture (Flying Note)
  • Sam Most: New Jazz Standards (Summit)
  • Anne Waldman: Jaguar Harmonics (Fast Speaking Music)

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Weekend Roundup

Let's start with Richard Crowson's cartoon of the week for a little dose of Kansas politics:

Mike Pompeo is the current two-term Republican congressman from the greater Wichita area. He is generally regarded as a Koch crony, although he's extremely hawkish, a first-line defender of the NSA. Todd Tiahrt is his eight-term predecessor, a Tom DeLay disciple, closer to the Christian right, closer still to Boeing (Bush nicknamed him "Tanker Todd"), and he feels entitled to reclaim his House seat, so they're fighting it out in a big money primary. And being Republicans, that means they're trying to out-asshole one another, something both have real talent for (although I have to give Tiahrt the edge there, ground Pompeo will try to make up with money). And, of course, the shifty-eyed guy on the right is Gov. Sam Brownback, who's actually done the sort of damage that Pompeo and Tiahrt only dream about.

Some scattered links this week (mostly on Iraq):

  • Paul Krugman: The Loneliness of the Non-Crazy Republican: Hank Paulson wrote an opinion piece on the need to face up to climate change, "in the same way we acted to contain the financial crisis." Paulson is a Republican, in fact a very rich one, but Krugman points out:

    But that's not the sad part about Paulson's piece; no, what's sad is that he imagines that anyone in the party he still claims as his own is listening. Earth to Paulson: the GOP you imagine, which respects science and is willing to consider even market-friendly government interventions like carbon taxes, no longer exists. The reins of power now rest firmly, irreversibly, in the hands of men who believe that climate change is a hoax concocted by liberal scientists to justify Big Government, who refuse to acknowledge that government intervention to correct market failures can ever be justified.

    Given the state of US politics today, climate action is entirely dependent on Democrats. With a Democrat in the White House, we got some movement through executive action; if Democrats eventually regain the House, there could be more. If Paulson believes that he can support Republicans while still pushing for climate action, he's just delusional.

    Nor is climate change the only, or even an exceptional, topic where Republicans have simply evacuated any sort of rational ground.

  • Elizabeth Samet: Can an American Soldier Ever Die in Vain?: Samet teaches literature to officer cadets at West Point, which leads to more than a little weirdness, as we become sentimental about war instead of rigorously analytical about how to prevent or end it.

    Yet even after the revolutions in modern consciousness ostensibly occasioned by conflict in the 20th century, a pernicious American sentimentality about nation and war has triumphed, typified by demonstrative expressions of, and appeals to, a kind of emotion that short-circuits reason.

    It is a language of the heart that works to insulate us from the decisions we have made and paradoxically distances us from those whose military service we seek to recognize. We see it in the empty profusion of yellow ribbons and lapel-pin flags. We hear it in the organized celebrations of American heroes and patriotic values: celebrity public service announcements, beer commercials about military homecomings, the more jingoistic variants of country music, and the National Football League's "Salute to Service" campaign. All these observances noisily claim to honor and celebrate, in the words of the NFL, "the service and sacrifice of our nation's troops." We have become exhibitionists of sentiment: The more public and theatrical our emotional displays, the better we seem to feel.

    Indeed, what's the point of war if it doesn't give you that warm and fuzzy sense of unity that is so foreign to everyday existence in America today? Consider this passage:

    Everyone rose in unison, and some members of Congress wept as Obama extolled the sergeant's sacrifice. In this, antagonistic leaders could evince a solidarity they had not shown since they united in sending Remsburg to war in the first place. Submerged in the celebration of a "new generation of heroes" were all those nagging questions about the use of force that ought to have dominated debate in the first place. Lawmakers seemed to be seeking absolution for their earlier uncritical enthusiasm by joining together in a tearful expression of feeling.

    This sort of sentimental ity is one way Americans avoid the actual experience of war. While plenty of individuals experience tragic loss, the nation as a whole goes from one fake triumph to another, refusing to admit that so many individuals died for nothing -- "in vain," as the unspeakable phrase goes. Last week Obama was explaining the need to send more military forces into Iraq so as to prevent those who had died in the 2003-11 war from having "died in vain." The fact is that all those American soldiers -- more than 3000 of them -- died for no good reason and to no good effect, "for a mistake" as John Kerry once (but no more) had the guts to say.

  • Stephen M Walt: Being a Neocon Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry: Walt identifies four factors why people (in high places in government and the media) still take neoconservatives seriously, despite their perfect track record for being disastrously wrong: Shamelessness (their utter disregard for the truth); Financial Support (noting that even Elliott Abrams can "land a well-funded senior fellowship at CFR"); Receptive and Sympathetic Media (including New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post); and Liberal Allies (including Samantha Power and Susan Rice still working for Oama).

    The neocons' staying power also reminds us that the United States can get away with irresponsible public discourse because it is very, very secure. Iraq was a disaster, and it helped pave the way to defeat in Afghanistan, but at the end of the day the United States will come home and probably be just fine. True, thousands of our fellow citizens would be alive and well today had we never listened to the neoconservatives' fantasies, and Americans would be more popular abroad and more prosperous at home if their prescriptions from 1993 forward had been ritually ignored. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis would be alive too, and the Middle East would probably be in somewhat better condition (it could hardly be worse).

    I'd say that the problem is more deeply ideological. The American political class suffers from a tightly bound set of delusions that derive from the notions that America has a unique role in the world, that it has that role because of its unique commitment to freedom and justice, that dominant military power enhances that commitment, and that the result of American hegemony is benevolent for everyone in the world (except evil people who hate our freedom). The depth and resilience of belief in these tenets is really pretty amazing. It derives, I think, from the Cold War interpretation of the US in WWII, although that story was laid on top of a much older and deeper doctrine of American exceptionalism. It works because it is deeply flattering, and it continues to work because our political leaders (both in office and in the media, including followers of both parties as well as avowed centrists) keep repeating and reinforcing it -- a fairly trivial but nonetheless annoying example is how Obama ends every speech with "God bless America."

    Yet it wouldn't be hard to rephrase those planks in ways that make their absurdity obvious. Clearly, there are people who chafe at American power but are not evil, and all too often American power diminishes freedom. Clearly, military power does not ensure virtue, and in fact we readily recognize that power can be and often is abused. And on some level we must realize that Americans are not all that different from people elsewhere. In fact, it's worth noting that one of the old tenets of American exceptionalism was that we were a relatively classless society (at least as compared to Europe), something clung to more in theory than in fact then, but grossly overturned now -- whatever moral claims the US had as one of the world's more equitable societies has been squandered away, yet many cling to the belief and are repeatedly surprised when the world disagrees.

    It's worth noting that this cluster of ideological beliefs is more often than not untested. Although some people, mostly on the liberal interventionist side of the spectrum, instinctively see each and every problem in the world as ripe for American fixing, the powers that be have less appetite for trouble, so most conflicts are conveniently ignored. The neocons have little sympathy for all that humanitarian crap (although, as Walt says, they are shameless when it suits them -- cf. the Bushes fawning over all those Afghan schoolgirls they liberated), but what gets them worked up is any threat to US power. Thus, the US had to attack Afghanistan after 9/11, not to help anyone but to remind the world that the US can still kick their asses.

    The neocons are back now because one of their cherished myths is being tested: that the US occupation of Iraq had been a success, leaving a stable, viable allied government in place. (Conveniently, the neocons don't have to prove that any such thing ever existed, because they can quote Obama saying just that.) They argue that Obama has to act now not because lots of Iraqis may be killed -- their kind of action will just make that happen earlier rather than later -- but because if he doesn't act the myth of American omnipotence will be lost. And it looks like Obama believes them, not because they're credible so much as because the ideology they all adhere to is beyond question.

Also, a few links for further study:

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Rhapsody Streamnotes (June 2014)

Pick up text here.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Disruption in Theory and Practice

I read Jill Lepore's The Disruption Machine: What the Gospel of Innovation Gets Wrong with great interest and a little nostalgia. Her subject is Clayton M. Christensen, who became an instant business guru with his 1997 book The Innovator's Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business. From 1980 through 2000, I worked in a variety of businesses -- two large typesetting equipment manufacturers, a prepress software startup, and an operating systems spinoff -- as a software engineer and product manager. Almost from the beginning, I had unusually close access to top management, in part because I always tried to look at the big picture, at how the business worked and what it needed to survive and grow. In this I was often informed by reading business management books, although I often took them with a grain of salt.

The first big fad book I ran into was In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-Run Companies (1982), by Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr. The executives at my company at the time, Varityper, were much taken with the book, taking great pains to list out all the areas where their own management could be rated excellent. There was, in fact, little evidence for their conceit. I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out how they even managed to stay in business, and eventually came up with an understanding of how a company with mediocre products and service could muddle through. But the relevant lesson here was realizing how fickle top management could be, how readily they could fall for the flattery of self-appointed business gurus.

Christensen's book had a similar impact when I was working for SCO much later. Like In Search of Excellence, The Innovator's Dilemma attempts to promulgate a set of general lessons from a handful of carefully selected case studies. Lepore goes back and reviews those cases, showing how arbitrarily they were selected and how systematically they were misanalyzed, effectively demolishing the book's research claims. But like Peters, who parlayed his fame into a lucrative consulting business (and continued to churn out increasingly ecstatic books, including: Thriving on Chaos, Liberation Management, The Pursuit of WOW!, and after Christensen came around, Re-Imagine! Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age), Christensen moved to cash in almost immediately.

The notion of "disruption" made a certain intuitive sense to anyone in the computer industry. The essential fact of electronics since the advent of integrated circuits has been radically falling costs and increasing capacity. The central challenge that high-tech companies faced was to find new markets for newly cost-effective technology, and often as not this was done by startup companies. By definition, their success was innovative, and that contrasted with the staid "cash cow" management strategies popular in "mature" industries. Christensen's innovation was to add the word "disrupt" to management vocabularies, which made him a big hit with managers flattered by this swashbuckling identity.

Christensen's book set off a great snark hunt for "disruption." SCO's business was selling UNIX operating systems ported to Intel microprocessors. They mostly sold OS licenses for about $1000 per machine through VARs, who would combine relatively inexpensive PC hardware, UNIX, and their own applications software into some kind of turnkey system which would be price/performance competitive against offerings from Sun and other UNIX-based "workstation" vendors. You could make an argument that SCO's business model was disruptive, and indeed companies like Sun would lose a good deal of business in the following decade. Moreover, SCO's business plan called for them to continue to profit as ever-faster-and-cheaper Intel chips powered larger-and-larger "enterprise" computers. SCO's management hired Christensen to speak at one of their gatherings, and sure enough he blessed their business plan as "disruptive."

However, when I read the book, I drew a different lesson. I saw that SCO was increasingly vulnerable to Linux, the "open source" UNIX-like operating system that anyone could use and work on for free. Companies that adopted it could add features that they needed. They just couldn't keep those features exclusively, but sharing the code reduced their costs and helped Linux grow rapidly for larger and more powerful computers. (At the time, I often quipped that SCO could sell UNIX to people who were too smart for Microsoft, or to people who were too dumb for Linux, but not both at the same time.) Needless to say, despite their endorsement from Christensen, SCO got disrupted before they could disrupt anyone. They enjoyed record revenues leading up to the Y2K drop dead rate, then collapsed and were effectively out of business a couple years later.

I don't really think that Christensen's original research and thesis were as bad as Lepore makes out. I did get several useful insights from the book: particularly, a reminder of how desperately managers cling to existing margin models. (Not really news to me: I recall Varityper's VP of Marketing explaining to me that he would like to sell a publishing front end based on Apple's $10k Lisa computer but couldn't afford to sell one based on Apple's then-forthcoming $1.5k Macintosh. The former turned out to be an overpriced stepping stone, while the latter turned out to be the desktop publishing platform that ate the entire typesetting industry. We were, by the way, fully aware of DTP start-ups like Aldus, but we were petrified by our business model.) But what I find indefensible about Christensen is how he turned his research into a business, and how easily he perverted that research into paid advertising.

My academic background was in sociology, and my focus there was in understanding how sociological research is perverted to reproduce the assumptions of its practitioners. Happens all the time, even when the researcher isn't the least bit corrupt or deceitful. But sociology at least aims at being a science. The same can't be said of whatever you call what business departments do: like, say, seminaries, they train people to fulfill a function (e.g., CEO) and to that end provide some common cultural information, scattered skills, and contacts. I don't know what all goes into the making of an MBA -- I imagine one popular course would be "Sports Clichés for Managers" but it could be that everyone in the program would test out of that -- but the essential insight MBA programs aim for seems to be that money is everything (at least all that matters). That's the environment that produces con men like Christensen.

Some other posts commenting on Lepore's piece:

Krugman makes the best point, which is that not only does the cult theory of disruptive innovation flatter rich high-tech entrepreneurs, it lets them be more insensitive to the plight of others (the people commonly known as losers. Krugman also recalls how Schumpeter's famous definition of capitalism as "creative destruction" has the same effect, hence its popularity among capitalists.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Bush Legacy's Caretaker-in-Chief

I was thinking about doing a roundup of Iraq/Syria war posts, but despite finding some useful links -- cf. Juan Cole: Who are Iraq's Sunni Arabs and What Did We Do to Them?; Bob Dreyfuss: How Iraq's Crisis Got Started, and How It Didn't -- they seemed to be coming in rather scattershot. Then I ran across the following Obama quote in a comment and it pretty well sums up the essential incoherence of the American position(s). Obama's quote was from November 2010 on occasion of "The Erbil Agreement" which secured a second term as Prime Minister for Nouri al-Maliki:

I want to briefly comment on the agreement in Iraq that's taken place on the framework for a new government. There's still challenges to overcome, but all indications are that the government will be representative, inclusive, and reflect the will of the Iraqi people who cast their ballots in the last election. This agreement marks another milestone in the history of modern Iraq. Once again, Iraqis are showing their determination to unify Iraq and build its future and that those impulses are far stronger than those who want Iraq to descend into sectarian war and terror. For the last several months, the United States has worked closely with our Iraqi partners to promote a broad-based government -- one whose leaders share a commitment to serving all Iraqis as equal citizens. Now, Iraq's leaders must finish the job of forming their government so that they can meet the challenges that a diverse coalition will inevitably face. And going forward, we will support the Iraqi people as they strengthen their democracy, resolve political disputes, resettle those displaced by war, and build ties of commerce and cooperation with the United States, the region and the world.

Maliki got his first term in 2006 when the Bush administration conspicuously meddled in Iraq's political process to get rid of then-Prime Minister Ibrahimi al-Jaafari, an intellectual who was considered too socialist and too timid when it came to controlling the Sadr Movement militia (the Mahdi Army), perceived by the US as a major threat to its occupation. Maliki proved to be an effective strong man, but that was partly because the US could offer Sunni Awakening groups protection against Shiite assassination squads. With the departure of US troops, the protection and bribes that the US had provided vanished behind a thin cloud of rhetoric such as Obama spouts above.

Obama's speech is doubly dangerous. The obvious problem is that what he's describing is pure fantasy: Maliki is a sectarian, and the entire basis for his government, indeed the very structure of that government, was a set of tradeoffs designed to cultivate and reward sectarian parties. It may be obvious to Obama that what the Iraqi government needs to do is to is to become more inclusive and fair, but there was no reason to think that any politician in Iraq would put the public interest above his own pocketbook (and that of his own family, clan, etc.). That just wasn't in the cards, and that wasn't an accident: the US built Iraq that way.

Beyond the obvious problem of its fantasy lies a deeper problem in Obama's speech: he's trying to use Iraq's progress toward stability and prosperity as something vindicating Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq. For someone who gained a large chunk of his credibility for his early opposition to the Iraq War, his stance is stupid and insane. It's stupid because it wasn't true and it's falsity would become clear as soon as Iraq's government faltered -- which is what just happened. It's also stupid because it shifts the blame for Iraq's failure from Bush (who was solely responsible for the war) to Obama (casting away the credibility he gained from his antiwar stance). What Obama should have done is to remind people that this was Bush's war each and every time the subject came up, that it was a disaster, and what the real costs have been. Instead, Obama's legacy is littered with speeches like the one above, where he not only lies to us, he lies to himself. That's insane.

Many commentators (e.g., see Dreyfuss above) have pointed out that the Sunni Islamist insurgencies in Syria and Iraq are joined together. That is, after all, embedded in the name ISIS. They've also pointed out that while Iran and Qatar are consistent in supporting their co-religionists, the US is confused, backing Maliki while opposing Assad. It's certainly hard to see either government as worthy of support, nor is there any reason to think that either insurgency would solve anything. Indeed, the only sensible lesson that one can derive from either war is that all those who resort to violence should be condemned. But Obama isn't drawing that lesson, and you have to wonder why. The simplest explanation is that Maliki is "our" guy while Assad isn't, but that assumes continuity between the Bush administration (which was responsible for empowering Maliki) and Obama. Then there's the notion that the US can't help but choose sides and back one with military power -- there's simply no one in power who can think differently.

Still, that's hardly reassuring for the guy who campaigned on how he wanted to change the way we think about war.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Iraq/Syria Roundup

  • Juan Cole: Who are Iraq's Sunni Arabs and What Did We Do to Them?: History going back to the succession of Prophet Mohammad in 632, but with enough detail to reveal details that I didn't know (like how southern Iraq came to be predominantly Shiite, and more recently the evolution of ISIS).

  • Bob Dreyfuss: The Iraq-Syria Civil War Challenges Both the US and Iran: Emphasizes that the civil wars in Syria and Iraq "are one" -- a point US pundits have trouble comprehending because their instincts are to fight for one side in Syria and the other in Iraq. Dreyfus expands on this in How Iraq's Crisis Got Started, and How It Didn't.

  • Shireen T Hunter: The Real Causes of Iraq's Problems: Goes against the grain somewhat in trying to defend al-Maliki, citing "US efforts to achieve too many contradictory and incompatible goals," and the perversely confused interference of so many more of Iraq's neighbors.

  • Peter Van Buren: Why America Can Never Win in Iraq: Former State Dept. "hearts and minds" guy has learned enough from his experiences to draw further conclusions. One is that each failure detracts from the credibility that the US depends on to promise anything remotely close to success. But the US has more against it than its long legacy of failure. It isn't clear that anyone who supports intervention has even a cursory understanding of what's gone wrong, and perhaps more importantly they can't even articulate what success would look like.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 23394 [23370] rated (+24), 568 [574] unrated (-6).

Everything down this week, myself especially. The hardest blow, of course, was the death of Alice Powell. The obit describes her as a "Hollywood liberal activist," but I recognized her as a Jewish "red diaper baby" with with the resilience and rock-solid political principles of those who expect nothing more than a lifetime of struggle -- an creed I could map to the old "protestant ethic" I admired but could never quite believe in. She was first and foremost an activist, working the masses from her first day in Wichita, not just through the venerable Wichita Peace group but through anyone who would have her -- notably, she organized a speaker program for an ad hoc group of liberal Republican women. With more than a little Hollywood glamor -- she was married to screenwriter Dick Powell, and before that to folksinger Cisco Houston -- she was exotic for Wichita, but she put on no airs. She was not just committed, she was genuinely interested in the people she met -- I'm tempted to say "everyone she met," but what I'm most certain of was that she took a special interest in me. I spent very little time with her on picket lines, but we wined and dined each other -- her parties were plainly meant to broaden our social horizons -- and we exchanged books. She cajoled me into giving a lecture on jazz to "the group" -- I dreaded it but it turned out not to be a disaster. She sent me Otmar Ottolenghi's Jerusalem cookbook, which I used for a fancy dinner the night before she died. We saw her last in March in Florida, when she had partly recovered from an initial round of cancer treatments -- possibly the one sweet spot in her ordeal. We were very lucky that she dropped into our lives. It doesn't seem like it was only five years.

And, of course, there's other stuff, not worth talking about. I only caught up with my tweets last night. The two A- records this week are marginal: Tsahar's is not as impressive as his Digital Primitive album last week, but after I wrote my line comparing him to Ayler and Coltrane I listened to the recent Coltrane vault dig -- while the sound was as expected, it turned out to be far more tedious than expected, something Tsahar never is. Ajemian's probably runs too long, and I doubt many rock crits will prefer it to PIL's Metal Box, but that's only the obvious comparison because there's so little like it.

Not a lot on Rhapsody this past week. (In fact, when I tried last night it wouldn't run for me.) Would probably be a good idea to run Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week -- I think I'm up to about 50 records, still well below recent averages in the 70s but enough to go around. I'll also work on that Pazz & Jop Product Report spec -- got a good start on that, then haven't found time to get back into it.

Recommended music links:

New records rated this week:

  • Jason Ajemian/Tony Malaby/Rob Mazurek/Chad Taylor: A Way a Land of Life (2006 [2014], NoBusiness): two freewheeling horns, or electronics when the pace wanes [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Jason Ajemian: Folklords (2012 [2014], Delmark): avant-bassist goes industrial, writes and sings like John Lydon, less intense, knottier rhythm [cd]: A-
  • Tigger Benford & Party: Vessel of Gratitude (2014, self-released): plays amadinda (Ugandan xylophone) with violin-bass-drums for a seductive groove [cd]: B+(*)
  • Tom Chang: Tongue & Groove (2012 [2014], Raw Toast): guitarist with postbop saxes (Greg Ward, Jason Rigby), hot rhythm, and bits of Carnatic classicism [cd]: B+(**)
  • John Coltrane: Offering: Live at Temple University (1966 [2014], Impulse, 2CD): adds to the history, but the hard, earnest search finds few pleasures [cd]: B+(**)
  • Mac DeMarco: Salad Days (2014, Captured Tracks): young singer-songwriter with a '70s vibe, like Buffett with no humor or Scaggs with no sex appeal [r]: B
  • Bob Dylan in the 80s: Volume One (2014, ATO): nobodies sing obscurities by a legend at the bottom of his game, oddly seems like the right combo [r]: B+(**)
  • John Fullbright: Songs (2014, Red Dirt): Oklahoma singer-songwriter, aims for plainspoken simplicity, if anything overshoots his target [r]: B+(*)
  • José James: While You Were Sleeping (2014, Blue Note): jazz singer slouches into neo-soul, his limits never clearer than when he tries on Al Green [r]: B
  • Tony Malaby Tamarindo: Somos Aqua (2013 [2014], Clean Feed): Avant saxophonist, with William Parker and Nasheet Waits, often terrific, less so on soprano [cd]: B+(***)
  • Lenny Pickett With the UMO Jazz Orchestra: The Prescription (2012 [2014], Random Act): showy sax leads, backed by smarter-than-average Euro big band [cd]: B+(***)
  • Samo Salamon Bassless Quartet: 2Alto (2012 [2014], SteepleChase LookOut): "bassless quartet" weaves the guitar tightly with two alto saxes I'd expect to be more distinct [cd]: B+(*)
  • Spiral Mercury Chicago/São Paulo Underground Feat. Pharoah Sanders: Pharoah & the Underground (2013 [2014], Clean Feed): Rob Mazurek, his toys, and a hero who doesn't add much [cd]: B+(*)
  • Sturgill Simpson: Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (High Top Mountain): some rockish feedback, but doesn't let postmodern distract from basics [r]: B+(***)
  • Assif Tsahar/Gerry Hemingway/Mark Dresser: Code Re(a)d (2011 [2014], Hopscotch): BassDrumSax, the latter sounding like Ayler and Coltrane on same horn [cd]: A-
  • Jack White: Lazaretto (2014, Third Man): blues rootsman quotes well but can't control himself, wrecking song after song, as if an accomplishment? [r]: B-

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

  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Mali [Second Edition] (1996-2013 [2014], World Music Network): leaner and meaner desert blues threaten to sweep away the polyphonic south [r]: B+(***)

Old records rated this week:

  • Miles Davis: The Complete Birth of the Cool (1948-50 [1998], Capitol Jazz): early nonet sides with Konitz, Mulligan, & Gil Evans aim for cool, hit slinky [r]: B
  • Bob Dylan: MTV Unplugged (1995, Columbia): [r]: B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Davina & the Vagabonds: Sunshine (Roustabout): advance, July 15
  • Jua: Colors of Life (Chocolate Chi Music)
  • Paul Marinaro: Without a Song (Myrtle)
  • Matt Pavolka: The Horns Band (Fresh Sound New Talent): June 24
  • The Ralph Peterson Fo'tet Augmented: Alive at Firehouse 12: Vol 2: Fo' n Mo' (Onyx)
  • Allison Adams Tucker: April in Paris (Allegato Music)

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Bob Dylan: Playlist: The Very Best of Bob Dylan '80s (1981-89 [2010], Columbia/Legacy): B+(*) [rhapsody]
  • Al Haig: Al Haig Trio (1954 [2012], Essential Media Group): One of the best early bebop pianists -- in the late 1940s played with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Stan Getz. Cut two trio records in 1954 with Bill Crow and Lee Abrams: this one for Vogue (although it says Period on the cover) and the other for Esoteric, both reissued by Fresh Sound. Esoteric got the crown, probably because there's more of it. B+(***) [rhapsody]
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Mali [Second Edition] (1996-2013 [2014], World Music Network): A landlocked slice of Saharan desert and western Sahel including a stretch of the Niger River, population 14 million (50% Mande with Fula, Tuareg, and Songhai also prominent), Mali has probably produced more significant music stars per capita than any other African state, but has fallen into chaos lately as Libyan arms have fed Tuareg and Islamist rebellions, and the French have intervened. This leans more to the lately fashionable arid blues and Saharan rock of the north, with Oumou Sangare the exception in all respects. B+(***) [rhapsody]

   Mar 2001