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Monday, June 22, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 25116 [25116] rated (+0), 439 [439] unrated (+0).

About three days of work here -- less than half a week. On the fourth day I was totally distracted, and on the fifth day I took off for the upper northwest. Although I spent a good deal of time swapping discs out of and into my travel cases, virtually nothing that I'll be taking with me is new work. Rather, I'll have three weeks to listen to things I really liked at some point but haven't had time to play recently.

I don't expect to post much over the next three weeks. I should be reachable via email, at least by the end of the day. Hopefully, I'll get some reading done, and find some time to think about what I want to write about in the future.

New records rated this week:

  • Tiffany Austin: Nothing but Soul (2015, Con Alma): [cd]: B
  • Kenny Carr: Idle Talk (2014 [2015], self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Ivo Perelman/Whit Dickey: Tenorhood (2014 [2015], Leo): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: Callas (2015, Leo, 2CD): [cd]: A-
  • Jamie XX: In Colour (2015, XL/Young Turks): [r]: B+(***)

Old records rated this week:

  • Boredoms: Super AE (1998, Birdman): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jimmy Eat World: Bleed American (2001, Grand Royal): [r]: B-
  • Mastodon: Blood Mountain (2006, Reprise): [r]: B-
  • Nine Inch Nails: Pretty Hate Machine (1989, TVT): [r]: A-
  • Nine Inch Nails: The Fragile (1999, Interscope, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)
  • Nine Inch Nails: With Teeth (2005, Nothing): [r]: B+(**)
  • Nine Inch Nails: The Slip (2008, The Null Corporation): [r]: B+(**)
  • Oasis: Be Here Now (1997, Epic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Teenage Fanclub: Bandwagonesque (1991, DGC): [r]: B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Dennis Angel: On Track (Timeless Grooves): July 1
  • Deepa Chari: Patchwork (self-released): August 7
  • Charlie Dennard: 5 O'Clock Charlie (self-released): August 7
  • Joyfultalk: Muuixx (Drip Audio): June 30
  • Michael McNeill Trio: Flight (self-released): August 18
  • Daniel Smith: Jazz Suite for Bassoon (Summit)
  • Voicehandler: Song Cycle (Humbler)
  • Johannes Wallmann: The Town Musicians (Fresh Sounds New Talent): advance, August 4
  • Tony Wilson 6Tet: A Day's Life (Drip Audio): June 30

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Daily Log

Searching for contact info for Forrest Brown, a cousin living in Washington. Found this obituary:

Forrest "Forry" W. Brown, 88, passed away May 26, 2015 of complications of an aneurysm. He was born to Murph and Nora Brown on March 19, 1927 in Vidette, Arkansas. He married Helen Jacobson August 8, 1947 in Snohomish, Wash. Forry loved playing ball. He put in a basketball court that we all, even the neighborhood, enjoyed. His mom said he always had a ball in his hand. He also liked hunting, fishing and Nascar. Every Sunday he would be on the phone with his son, Doug and brother, Lee, debating over who was the better driver. Jeff Gordon was his favorite. He looked forward to his weekly dinners and cribbage games with his son, Forrest, and granddaughter, Mandy. He loved gardening, especially his tomatoes and dahlias. He retired from Scott Paper (K.C.) after 47 years. Forry was preceded in death by his parents; two grandsons, Jason and Shane; and his great grandson, Drew. He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Helen Jean; three children, Doug (Jeri) Brown, Forrest L. Brown, and Sandy (Greg) Wright; grandchildren, Angie Blankenship and family, Melissa Budig and family, Jeremy Brown and family, Russell Brown and family, Mandy Brown, Stephanie Miller and family, and Nicole Nilson and family; also his two brothers Joe (Betty) Brown and Lee (Linda) Brown. There will be a private graveside burial at a later date. [Published in The Herald (Everett) on June 7, 2015]

Same search also revealed an obituary for Forrest L. "Forry" Brown, my cousin's son, who died four days later:

Forrest L. Brown, nicknamed "Forry," passed away May 30, 2015 after many years of health issues. He was born to Forrest W. and Helen Brown on March 12, 1949 in Everett, Wash. He graduated from Lake Stevens's High School in 1967. Forry worked several jobs during his life time, starting young by riding his bike to the strawberry fields to pick berries. He was a jack of all trades and worked very hard. He loved to play Cribbage with his family and loved the outdoors which included hunting, fishing, and yard work. He was preceded in death by his father, Forrest W. Brown; son, Jason; grandson, Drew Brown. He is survived by his sons, Jeremy (Lyla) Brown and family, Russell Brown and family; daughters, Amanda Brown and Stephanie Miller and family; his mother, Helen J. Brown; his brother, Doug (Jeri) Brown and family; sister, Sandy (Greg) Wright and family. He was loved by all. At Forry's request there will be no services.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Book Roundup

I figure enough books of possible interest come out each month to run a little feature noting 40 of them, but for a variety of reasons I've been lax and haven't run one of these since . . . July 3, 2014, so this is way late. I've tried at least to compensate by selecting the most obviously important books (at least as regards politics). I currently have 97 more grafs in the scratch file, and I still have a dozen or more pages of notes I took in bookstores on my NJ trip last fall. Maybe I'll manage to get a second batch together before my big trip northwest starts on Friday. Meanwhile, here's my top 40. Cover illustrations for those I've actually read in the meantime. (I also have, but haven't read yet, Alexander Cockburn, Thomas Geoghegan, Rick Perlstein, Joseph E Stiglitz's The Great Divide, and Astra Taylor.)

Christian G Appy: American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity (2015, Viking): In the 1950s we were brought up to believe that America was a force for good in the world. The Vietnam War destroyed that self-conception -- at least it did for me and for many of my generation. Appy's brief history reminds us of how dirty the war got -- he starts with a story of GIs playing "gook hockey" (using Jeeps to run down Vietnamese children) -- and reminds us how even LJB but especially Nixon and Kissinger extended the war beyond any hope of success, just to show the world their resolve, to demonstrate how much punishment we could inflict even in defeat. The book goes on to look at how the postwar memory has been sanitized, not least the propagation of a myth that the war was lost not by our brave soldiers but by the cowardly antiwar movement -- America's own Dolchstosslegende (as with Germany's, a license to resume further wars). Worse than defeat, America seems to have learned nothing from Vietnam. With this book, at least, you might learn something. Appy previously wrote Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered From All Sides (2004), an oral history.

Karen Armstrong: Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence (2014, Knopf): One of the better writers on the history of religion, a Christian but not limited thereby. Her thesis in The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions (2007) was that the religions that emerged in the first millennium BCE (as well as Greek rationalism) were developed primarily to limit and control violence, so it isn't surprising that she argues that wars today are not driven primarily by religion. I see the point, and recognize that religion provides a framework that supports many pacifists, but I doubt that would be my conclusion.

Anthony B Atkinson: Inequality: What Can Be Done? (2015, Harvard University Press): Economist, published his first paper on the subject back in 1970 when the problem seemed less dire, not that there was nothing to study then. Most likely an important book on the subject, not least for a lifetime's thought into how to overcome it.

Kai Bird: The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames (2014, Crown): Ames was a CIA operative in Beirut, killed in the 1983 bombing of the US embassy there. He evidently had uncommonly good contacts with Arab political figures as well as the ear of Americans up to president Ronald Reagan, which leaves Bird thinking that had Ames lived longer he might have nudged US policy in the Middle East a bit out of its horrible rut. Bird's memoir Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis shows his own distinctive and idiosyncratic sense of the region.

Steven Brill: America's Bitter Pill: Money, Politics, Backroom Deals, and the Fight to Fix Our Broken Healthcare System (2015, Random House): First significant book on the political struggle to pass the Affordable Care Act (ACA, aka Obamacare). As you know, Obama tried to come up with a solution that would be non-controversial -- at least in the sense that all the interested business groups could buy in, with the hope that the Republicans would recognize the bill as kindred to their own proposals. None of that worked: the result was a system that no one loved or much cared for, a set of expensive compromises that solved some problems and created many more. The book is reportedly good on explaining the underlying problems as well as the backroom deals, but less critical about the act's shortcomings.

Wendy Brown: Undoing the Demos: Neoliberalism's Stealth Revolution (2015, Zone Books Ner Futures): I read Philip Mirowski's Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste in search of an explanation of why the 2008 crash didn't lead to any serious rethinking of what is wrong with conventional economic thought (aka neoliberalism), but that long book didn't get much deeper than pointing out the mental rut no one dared escape. This looks to explain that logic and its grip.

Alexander Cockburn: A Colossal Wreck: A Road Trip Through Political Scandal, Corruption and American Culture (2013; paperback, 2014, Verso): A journal of sorts, from 1995 to his death in 2012, offers a sharp (and often shrill) rewind of history, but reading samples here one finds much broader range than his fondness for slagging the Clintons.

Andrew Cockburn: Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins (2015, Henry Holt): This is the Cockburn brother who previously wrote Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy, as opposed to Patrick (writes mostly about Iraq) and Alexander (until his death one of the new left's most prolific essayists). This is about the US drone program, which makes it possible for the US to surgically assassinate its enemies with unprecedented precision. Of course, the reality is a bit messier than the theory, but the logic of the process is more dangerous. Drone killing is remote, unilateral, shrouded in secrecy. Once a nation decides it can kill its way to victory, that mentality becomes locked in and is impossible to change: after all, victory is only a few notches down your kill list, and you never have to do anything compromising, like negotiating with the real people you've decided are your enemies. Other recent drone books: William M Arkin: Unmanned: Drones, Data, and the Illusion of Perfect Warfare (2015, Little Brown); Peter L Bergen/Daniel Rothenberg, eds: Drone Wars: Transforming Conflict, Law, and Policy (paperback, 2014, Cambridge University Press); Marjorie Cohn, ed: Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues (paperback, 2014, Olive Branch Press); Lloyd C Gardner: Killing Machine: The American Presidency in the Age of Drone Warfare (2013, New Press); Richard Whittle: Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution (2014, Henry Holt); Chris Woods: Sudden Justice: America's Secret Drone Wars (2015, Oxford University Press).

Patrick Cockburn: The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution (paperback, 2015, Verso): Probably a revised reprint of last year's The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising (paperback, 2014, O/R Books). Cockburn has been one of the most reliable reporters on Iraq, so is probably the first book one should look if you want to learn more about ISIS than the standard news media propaganda. He was close to the first out with a book, but there is lots of competition now, many written to drum up support for US entry in the war. Competing books include (all 2015 except as noted, paperback = pb): Carter Andress: Victory Undone: The Defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq and Its Resurrection as ISIS (2014, Regnery); Charles H Dyer/Mark Tobey: The ISIS Crisis: What You Really Need to Know (pb, Moody); Benjamin Hall: Inside ISIS: The Brutal Rise of a Terrorist Army (Center Street); Loretta Napoleoni: The Islamist Phoenix: The Islamic State (ISIS) and the Redrawing of the Middle East (pb, 2014, Seven Stories Press); Jay Sekulow: Rise of ISIS: A Threat We Can't Ignore (pb, 2014, Howard Books); Andrew Sharp: The Rise of ISIS: The West's New Crusade (pb, 2014, Create Space); Jessica Stern/JM Berger: Isis: The State of Terror (Ecco). Of these, only Stern's book is particularly substantial -- she was on Bill Clinton's NSC and wrote the book Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill (2004), so she's built her career on the War on Terror, while co-author Berger wrote Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam (2011). Napoleoni is the only leftist in the bunch. She writes about global capitalism as well as about terrorism, and has close to a dozen books: one intriguing title is Maonomics: Why Chinese Communists Make Better Capitalists Than We Do (2012).

David S Cohen/Krysten Connon: Living in the Crosshairs: The Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion Terrorism (2015, Oxford University Press): The anti-abortion movement is unusual (although not unprecedented) in the violence its supporters have directed against its supposed enemies -- chiefly doctors and health care professionals. By violence I don't just mean the occasional murder or threat, but the whole range of harrassment directed against providers and clients.

Juan Cole: The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East (2014, Simon & Schuster): A view of the Arab Spring, at least before it went sour, when it first seemed like an opening for secular progressives. Cole is an expert on Iraq's Shiites, and has written one of the most informative blogs on the Middle East for more than a decade.

Angus Deaton: The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality (2013, Princeton University Press): The "escape" seems to have been from the hardships that plagued life only a few centuries ago in "the developed world," more recently and sometimes still elsewhere. Deaton lists out such progress but also finds many setbacks -- I suspect that the persistance of inequality has much to do with these.

William Deresiewicz: Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life (2014; paperback, 2015, Free Press): Yale professor, sees America's top universities "turning young people into tunnel-visioned careerists, adept at padding their resumes and filling their bank accounts but unprepared to confront life's most important questions." How old-fashioned not to think that careerism isn't the point of college? After all, exactly that education has long been held up as the answer to inequality -- if not for everyone, at least for the select few who give the system a gloss of meritocracy. Jane Jacobs, in Dark Ages Ahead, argued one of the key signs was "credentialism" -- an aspect of this same problem. Of course, that's a more general problem. This book seems to focus on elite universities, hence on future elites. That they're dumbing down is interesting, but only part of the problem.

G William Domhoff: The Myth of Liberal Ascendancy: Corporate Dominance From the Great Depression to the Great Recession (paperback, 2013, Paradigm): Sociologist, wrote one of the classic books on the distribution of wealth in America, Who Rules America? The Triumph of the Corporate Rich (1967, latest revision 2013). He shows how even during periods when liberals were able to reduce inequality (roughly 1933-69) business remained under the firm control of an upper class that never compromise their own power and were always poised to launch the conservative counterrevolution of the 1980s (once they lost their fear of revolution). Domhoff also wrote Class and Power in the New Deal: Corporate Moderates, Southern Democrats, and the Liberal-Labor Coalition (paperback, 2011, Stanford University Press).

Greg J Duncan/Richard I Murnane: Restoring Opportunity: The Crisis of Inequality and the Challenge for American Education (paperback, 2014, Harvard Education Press): It's long been felt that equal opportunity is more important than equal outcomes, and that the key to equal opportunity lies in improving the public schools system. However, as the economy becomes ever more inequal, the public schools have an ever harder time compensating on the opportunity front, and it isn't clear to me that they're even getting the chance. I don't know how the authors proposed to overcome this but it looks to me like they're trying to solve the symptom rather than the cause: only by reversing the overall economic picture can you start to get some traction from reforming the schools. Duncan/Murnane previously edited: Whither Opportunity? Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children's Life Chances (paperback, 2011, Russell Sage Foundation).

Stephen Emmott: Ten Billion (paperback, 2013, Vintage): The number is the projected near future population, raising the question of how such a population can be supported by available resources and technology -- basically an updated broadside along the lines of Paul Ehrlich's The Population Bomb. Ehrlich's book made short-term predictions of doom that didn't come true, so it's become much easier to deny the concern, but there can be no infinite trendlines, at least in a finite world: sooner or later something has to break. On the same subject: Danny Dorling: Population 10 Billion: The Coming Demographic Crisis and How to Survive It (paperback, 2013, Constable). On Ehrlich, see Paul Sabin: The Bet: Paul Ehrlich, Julian Simon, and Our Gamble Over Earth's Future (2013, Yale University Press).

Tom Engelhardt: Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (paperback, 2014, Haymarket Books): Probably just a collection of TomDispatch posts, worth tracking although a bit more effort into turning them into a current book would be nice. The focus on the so-called intelligence agencies is more relevant than ever as they seem to be driving US military intervention around the world -- the recent discovery and bombardment of the Khorasan group in Syria is a prime example. Then there is the broader issue of how those agencies manage to suck up so much money for doing mischief that has so little value to the American people. Secrecy is a big part of their recipe for success, so any exposure is welcome.

Steve Fraser: The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power (2015, Little Brown): Throughout much of US history most Americans were quick to blame the rich for the inequities all around us, but in recent years that has changed -- giving the rich a free pass, which they have used to great political advantage.

James K Galbraith: The End of Normal: The Great Crisis and the Future of Growth (2014, Simon & Schuster): Important book, argues that the economic growth of much of the 20th century was inflated by a tendency to replace household work (not counted as GDP) with commercial outsourcing (counted as GDP), a trend that more recently has been if anything reversed. What this means is that economic growth will be harder to achieve in the future, so policies which depend on growth to work (like slowing down the increase of inequality) will be harder to achieve or fail completely. I should say this again: I thought Galbraith's The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too (2008) was the best political book of the last decade.

Thomas Geoghegan: Only One Thing Can Save Us: Why America Needs a New Kind of Labor Movement (2014, New Press): Labor lawyer, first book was a fine memoir -- Which Side Are You On? Trying to Be for Labor When It's Flat on Its Back (1991) -- then a few books more narrowly on law before he wrote an eye-opening book on the German welfare state, Were You Born on the Wrong Continent? (2011). This seems to be more of a political manifesto, and while I'm skeptical that unions are going to save us, I'm not going to reject any of his arguments out of hand. Next up on my reading table.

Marie Gottschalk: Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics (2014, Princeton University Press): This so-called "bastion of freedom" is the world's largest jailer, its justice system trapped in a spiral where the only fixes for past mistakes it can conceive of are more mistakes of the same sort. One blurb: "sheds new light on the relationship between criminal justice and the ideological shape, material conditions, and institutional structure of the broader political economy." Looks like an important book.

David Graeber: The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy (2015, Melville House): Radical anthropologist, best known for Debt: The First 5,000 Years (2011), but more recently wrote The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement (2013) based on his involvement with Occupy Wall Street. The focus here is on bureaucracy, how it actually works, and how that affects our perceptions of how the world works (hint: not very well).

Johann Hari: Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs (2015, Bloomsbury USA): Wide-ranging history of the world's futile efforts to ban drug use, starting with the first prohibition one hundred years ago and leading up to at least one country that sensibly legalized the whole gamut. Lessons: "Drugs are not what we think they are. Addiction is not what we think it is. And the drug war has very different motives to the ones we have seen on our TV screens for so long."

Chris Hedges: Wages of Rebellion: The Moral Imperative of Revolt (2015, Nation Books): Extended screed on the many wrongs of the American state, and a call for resistance, rebellion, revolution. Hedges is such a skilled journalist he has little trouble filling out the critique and making it seem reasonable. Harder to gauge as an action manual, but that's always the hard part.

David Cay Johnston, ed: Divided: The Perls of Our Growing Inequality (2014, New Press): Various papers, with overviews by Barrack Obama, Elizabeth Warren, and Adam Smith, and more topical papers, most pretty basic -- focusing perhaps more on the fallout at the bottom of the scale rather than the real action at the top.

Jonathan M Katz: The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster (2013; paperback, 2014, Palgrave Macmillan): The only American news correspondent based in Haiti at the time of the 2010 earthquake, details the international relief effort ($16.3 billion in pledges) and how little it relieved.

Harvey J Kaye: The Fight for the Four Freedoms: What Made FDR and the Greatest Generation Truly Great (2014, Simon & Schuster): Everyone knows that the US fought WWII for freedom, but hardly anyone knows about FDR's inspiring definition of what freedom means, probably because two of those four freedoms got junked almost immediately in America's postwar fight to oppose communism and (under more favorable terms to the US) to restore imperialism. I read Cass R Sunstein, who's hardly my idea of a visionary political thinker, The Second Bill of Rights: FDR's Unfinished Revolution -- and Why We Need It more Than Ever (2004), so I have an idea what Kaye is pushing for. I always saw FDR as a man of the upper class, whose aim was always to save capitalism from its own contradictions. But one thing all the Calvin Coolidge worship in the Republican Party has done is to make FDR relevant -- indeed, necessary -- again. These days, those four freedoms look like a pretty good deal.

Naomi Klein: This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (2014, Simon & Schuster): Canadian political writer, has written a series of bestselling books which seem to sum up the left's thinking about the rot of capitalism -- No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies (2000) on globalization, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007) factoring in the terrorism wars, and now this one taking notice of climate change.

Jeff Madrick: Seven Bad Ideas: How Mainstream Economists Have Damaged the World (2014, Knopf): Author of one of the best historical context books on the recent crash -- Age of Greed: The Triumph of Finance and the Decline of America, 1970 to the Present (2011, Knopf) -- broadens his critique to include a number of key ideas in economics. The ideas range from established zombies to key insights that are often misunderstood and misapplied (like Adam Smith's "invisible hand"). Some economists, like Alan Blinder, were not amused.

John Micklethwait/Adrian Wooldridge: The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State (2014, Penguin): Journalists for The Economist, they've written upbeat books on globalization (A Future Perfect: The Challenge and Hidden Promise of Globalization), conservatism (The Right Nation: Conservative Power in America, and fundamentalism (God Is Back: How the Global Revival of Faith Is Changing the World). Their new riff is that the future belongs to the elites that are most effectively to usurp the power of the state. In this, they're more impressed by Singapore and China than the US, where the rich are trying to destroy democracy lest it ever yield to the masses.

Sendhil Mullainathan/Eldar Shafir: Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much (2013, Times Books): A piece on behavioral economics, answering much with little: "scarcity creates a similar psychology for everyone struggling to manage with less than they need." Of course, without scarcity there would be no economics, which is a big part of the reason businesses and economists work so hard to enforce scarcity. Also why so much changes when you imagine a transition to post-scarcity conditions. I doubt the authors will go there, but they should give you lots of reasons why you should.

Rick Perlstein: The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan (2014, Simon & Schuster): Third huge volume in the author's history of the right-wing in America, following Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus and Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. Not a flashy period for the rise of the US right, but unless you believe Reagan was some sort of deus ex machina, the shift found some kind of traction in the half-decade's turmoil.

Robert D Putnam: Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis (2015, Simon & Schuster): Sociologist, most famous for his study of the breakdown in social bonds in Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community (2000). He returns to his lower middle class home town here, tracks down what happened to his high school class, and finds that fate has been tough, with fewer and fewer Americans enjoying the opportunity for upward mobility. This won't come as a surprise to anyone who can unpack statistics, but the case examples may make an impression where numbers numb.

James Risen: Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War (2014, Houghton Mifflin): "War corrupts. Endless war corrupts absolutely." Risen has broken several major stories about that corruption, and adds a few more here. I'm not sure it rises to the level of synthesis of the above quote, but it should contribute to one.

Shira Robinson: Citizen Strangers: Palestinians and the Birth of Israel's Liberal Settler State (paperback, 2013, Stanford University Press): After 700,000 Palestinians fled the war zone in what became Israel, the remainder (now 15% of Israel's population) were offered a peculiar form of citizenship ("how to bind indigenous Arab voters to the state while denying them access to its resources"), setting up a tension that continues to the present day. This looks to be one of the few books to address this topic.

Joseph E Stiglitz/Bruce C Greenwald: Creating a Learning Society: A New Approach to Growth, Development, and Social Progress (2014, Columbia University Press): Lectures from a series named for Kenneth J. Arrow, focusing on the role of learning throughout the economy and society, but "lectures" sells this short -- this is a substantial book, well over 500 pages, and likely an important one (not least given how little regard the right has for learning).

Joseph E Stiglitz: The Great Divide: Unequal Societies and What We Can Do About Them (2015, WW Norton): Another volume on inequality, following the author's The Price of Inequality: How Today's Divided Society Endangers Our Future (2012). This is probably a second choice in that it's built from essays written over several years, but Stiglitz is a brilliant economist and the problem is so huge and sweeping you have to come at it from many angles.

Astra Taylor: The People's Platform: Taking Back Power and Culture in the Digital Age (2014, Metropolitan Books): Looks like this creates a strawman argument about what a democratic marvel the internet is then knocks it down showing how "a handful of giants" have cornered it and usurped it for their own nefarious ends. Then she tries to rescue the strawman from the giants. She has made documentary films before, including one on Slavoj Zizek and one she converted into the book, Examined Life: Excursions With Contemporary Thinkers (paperback, 2009, New Press).

Zephyr Teachout: Corruption in America: From Benjamin Franklin's Snuff Box to Citizens United (2014, Harvard University Press): For a variety of reasons, American politics has always been easy to tempt with corruption. The founding fathers struggled with the problem: George Washington famously strived to counter any suggestion that he might put his personal interests above the public's, while Aaron Burr was possibly the most notorious of many who sought office as a path to seeking riches. So there's a lot to write about here, especially lately. As is often the case, the problem may exist perpetually, but it only becomes really severe when we let our guard down, either by losing the sense of public interest or by glorifying the naked greed of self-interest. Both are flagrant problems these days.

Martin Wolf: The Shifts and the Shocks: What We've Learned -- and Have Still to Learn -- From the Financial Crisis (2014, Penguin): Chief economics commentator at the Financial Times in London; previously wrote Why Globalization Works (2005) and Fixing Global Finance (2008), which now seem to be part of the problem. At least he recognizes that there are problems, and Krugman sees value in most of his proposed reforms.

Chinese Dinner in Arkansas

My sister and I went to Arkansas recently to see our cousin Elsie Lee and some of her family (e.g., daughters Brenda and Rhonda). I brought my "magic" ingredients and some tools along and whipped up some Chinese:

Monday, June 15, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 25103 [25069] rated (+34), 429 [432] unrated (-3).

Most of this week's report was scooped by last week's Rhapsody Streamnotes. Since then I've kept going down the Spin list, picking up Raekwon, Yo La Tengo (hey), and moving into Oasis (ugh). On the new jazz front, I've played all three new Ivo Perelman records, but only rated one (the most marginal; the others need another play or two). I almost have a full basket of unrated new jazz. Not much mail this week. (So little I added Monday's mail to Unpacking but it's not yet factored into the current count above.)

Sorry to say I didn't get any time last week to work on the book blurbs. Two days were taken up with people working on the big elm tree in the backyard. (If I recall correctly, Google has an aerial view of the neighborhood where the tree dwarfs the house we live in.) Then there was the Ornette Coleman post, Rhapsody Streamnotes, and a little thing on building a music website.

As you may know, Terminal Zone was a one-shot magazine Don Malcolm and I put together in 1977. A few years back I registered the domain name with the idea of building a music website there. It's gone through three or four (or five or six) design iterations since then, but still isn't anything substantial. But every time Robert Christgau's blog hits the shoals of web-media indifference, I think there might be some value to dusting it off. (Cuepoint failed to post Christgau's June 5 and 12 columns. No word on whether this hiatus is permanent or just a temporary blip.) So I spent a couple days last week touching up the Terminal Zone Website RFC (request for comments, common jargon for Internet specs). I sent it around to a couple people last week but didn't get any response, so I figured I'd mention it here ("run it up the flagpole to see who salutes").

I see two pieces to the website. One is a ratings database, where some number of invited critics file and track record ratings (although in principle it could be used to track non-participating critic ratings, such as Metacritic does). A while back Chuck Eddy suggested that "you" (this was addressed to the Expert Witness Facebook Group) should put together something like the Pazz & Jop Product Report that the Village Voice ran in 1976-77. At the time, I wrote these notes, which of course resemble the new RFC -- PJPR is really just one view into the ratings database. This all requires a fairly substantial amount of programming, which I am interested in doing. In addition to supporting the website, the software could be used for other niche-oriented websites, and could be tailored as an ap for anyone who wants to keep their own personal ratings list. This could be developed as free software, or could have some value if someone wants to build a business around it (and, of course, there are various hybrid options).

The other piece would be a blog which mostly consists of diary entries from critics briefly describing what they've been listening to and what they think of it. I'm thinking of something sort of midway between my Music Week and Rhapsody Streamnotes posts, occurring more or less weekly. These wouldn't be full-fledged record reviews, even in the "ultra-brief" sense of CG reviews. But they would have links to the ratings database, so one could scan the diary entries for mention of an interesting record, then click on the link to get more information on the record (including more critics' views). One of the better examples of the diary format is the pieces collected in Philip Larkin's All That Jazz: A Record Diary.

My guess is that the minimal thresholds for a useful website would be close to ten diarists and 20-30 raters, and it could scale up to much more. We would need a team of editors to keep the copy flowing and clean. (I'm not looking to be one of the people involved in day-to-day content management.) We might come up with a board of "executive editors" to add some prestige and overall direction. (That's more my speed, although at least initially I'm offering to do software development, provide a server free of charge, and the domain name.) The blog part could be created almost immediately. My own database and writings can be freely plundered for initial content. Initially I don't expect to make any money on this, and assume that contributions would have to be gratis (non-exclusive license granted but all other rights retained). I'm open to other business proposals.

By the way, earlier draft were oriented toward doing something more Wikipedia-ish: building a more extensive reference database. Recently I've been looking for something more manageable, easier to do, more simply useful for a certain community -- music fans like you and me who don't find timely information and guidance from the usual music media resources.

Write me if you want more info, or to kick this thing around. Especially if you have editing, writing, rating, sysadmin, and/or engineering skills you'd be interested in contributing.

My own time is likely to be disrupted over the next 3-4 weeks. I'm planning on taking a long car trip starting Friday (Oregon and Washington, if that makes any difference). Most places are connected, so I should have email pretty much everywhere (if not all the time). I do hope to get some writing done along the way, but I imagine things like website updates will be few and far between. And historically I've never managed to do much music rating/reviewing on the road.

New records rated this week:

  • Built to Spill: Untethered Moon (2015, Warner Brothers): [r]: B+(*)
  • Hugo Carvalhais: Grand Valis (2014 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Joe Hertenstein/Pascal Niggenkemper/Thomas Heberer: HNH2 (2013 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Ivo Perelman/Mat Maneri/Joe Morris: Counterpoint (2015, Leo): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Slutever: Almost Famous (2015, self-released, EP): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Universal Indians w/Joe McPhee: Skullduggery (2014 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Juan Wauters: Who Me? (Captured Tracks): [r]: B+(*)

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

  • The Ornette Coleman Quartet: The 1987 Hamburg Concert (1987 [2011], Domino, 2CD): [r]: A-

Old records rated this week:

  • Beyoncé: B-Day (2006, Columbia): [r]: B+(*)
  • Beyoncé: I Am . . . Sasha Fierce (2008, Music World/Columbia, 2CD): [r]: C+
  • Broken Social Scene: You Forgot It in People (2002, Arts & Crafts): [r]: B+(***)
  • Broken Social Scene: Broken Social Scene (2005, Arts & Crafts): [r]: B+(**)
  • Built to Spill: There Is No Enemy (2009, Warner Brothers): [r]: B+(*)
  • Kate Bush: The Kick Inside (1978, EMI America): [r]: B+(**)
  • Kate Bush: Lionheart (1978, EMI America): [r]: B+(**)
  • Kate Bush: Never for Ever (1980, EMI America): [r]: B+(*)
  • Kate Bush: The Dreaming (1982, EMI America): [r]: B
  • Ornette Coleman: Twins (1960-61 [1971], Atlantic): [r]: A-
  • Destiny's Child: Destiny's Child (1998, Columbia): [r]: B+(*)
  • Destiny's Child: The Writing's on the Wall (1999, Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • Destiny's Child: Survivor (2001, Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • Rolf Kühn & Friends: Affairs (1997 [1998], Intuition): [r]: A-
  • John Lewis: Jazz Abstractions (1960, Atlantic): [r]: A-
  • Oasis: Definitely Maybe (1994, Epic): [r]: B+(*)
  • Raekwon: Only Built 4 Cuban Linx (1995, Loud): [r]: A-
  • Slutever: Sorry I'm Not Sorry (2010, self-released, EP): [bc]: B
  • Slutever: Slutever Demos (2013, self-released, EP): [bc]: B+(*)
  • The Stone Roses: The Stone Roses (1989, Silvertone): [r]: B+(*)
  • Sunny Day Real Estate: Diary (1994, Sub Pop): [r]: B
  • Jamaaladeen Tacuma: Jamaaladeen Tacuma's Coltrane Configurations (2008 [2009], Jazzwerkstatt): [r]: B+(***)
  • Yo La Tengo: Ride the Tiger (1986 [1996], Matador): [r]: A-
  • Yo La Tengo: New Wave Hot Dogs (1987, Coyote/Twintone): [r]: B+(**)
  • Yo La Tengo: President Yo La Tengo (1989, Twin/Tone): [r]: A-
  • Yo La Tengo: Fakebook (1990, Bar/None): [r]: B+(*)
  • Yo La Tengo: May I Sing With Me (1992, Alias): [r]: A-
  • Yo La Tengo: Painful (1993, Matador): [r]: B+(***)
  • Yo La Tengo: Genius + Love = Yo La Tengo (1988-95 [1996], Matador, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Yo La Tengo: And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out (2000, Matador): [r]: B+(***)

Grade changes:

  • Ornette Coleman: Beauty Is a Rare Thing (1959-61 [1993], Rhino/Atlantic, 6CD): [was A-] A
  • Yo La Tengo: Electr-O-Pura (1995, Matador): [was: B+] A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Takeshi Asai: French Trio Vol. 2 (De Trois Cités)
  • Jeff Denson/Lee Konitz: Jeff Denson Trio + Lee Konitz (Ridgeway)
  • Laszlo Gardony: Life in Real Time (Sunnyside): July 7
  • Michael Kocour: Wherever You Go, There You Are (OA2)


  • Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly (Top Dawg/Aftermath/Interscope)
  • Huey 'Piano' Smith: Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu ([2012], Hallmark)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Weekend Roundup

We'll start with Richard Crowson's cartoon this week, since we can't seem to escape Brownbackistan. The Kansas state legislature had to go way into overtime to finally come up with a deal to patch up a $400 million shortfall in state tax revenues opened up by Brownback's 2011 income tax cuts (the one which notoriously exempted businessmen from having to pay any state income tax). It's hard to get Republicans to raise any kind of taxes, but some reconciled themselves by coming up with the most regressive tax increases they could find. And some held out to the bitter end, hoping instead to wreck the government and all the evil it stands for. Brownback himself took both positions at one point or another, and reportedly broke down and wept during one of many hopeless meetings with state legislators. The final scheme they came up with satisfied no one, but Brownback did manage to keep some semblance of his signature programs in place (story here). One downside of keeping the legislature in session so long was that they passed even more dumb and vicious bills than they had time for during the regular session -- see the Rosenberg piece below.

Chuck Powell sent in a link to a piece posted on Tyler Cowen's blog (thankfully not written by Cowen), The political economy of Kansas fiscal policy. The post makes a number of reasonable points, such as the split between rural and urban Kansas, and factors which distort both Wichita and Kansas City from urban/suburban norms. Also that "cutting the size of government was never a serious option," mostly because the costs of education and health care -- the two main expenses of state government -- have been rising much faster than inflation and economic growth. At one point the author says, "Republicans should be wise enough to not depend on luck, and they should be wiser predicting how trend lines go." But he doesn't go into why our current generation of Republicans are so bad at those things. For one thing, past generations were a different story -- you could argue that their priorities were wrong, but you rarely doubted their basic competence: something which Brownback and many others make you wonder about daily. One could write a whole post on this one question, but for now I think there are two main reasons: (1) the Republicans have created a very effective grass roots political organization, largely peopled by gun nuts and anti-abortion fanatics, backed by local chambers of commerce and big money, and they have become very effective at scamming the system; one result of this is that Republicans rarely have to worry about losing to Democrats -- their only meaningful debate is among themselves, which makes them increasingly isolated from and ignorant of other people and their problems; (2) in other words, they live in a bubble, and this bubble is increasingly saturated with Fox News and other right-wing media, which mostly just teaches them to scapegoat while making them stupid and mean. The latter, of course, is a problem with Republicans all over the nation. What makes Kansas worse than the rest is how hard it is to beat them at the game they've rigged. In 2014, Republicans ran 5-8% above the best polls all across the ballot, on top of the gerrymander that guaranteed them legislative majorities. I wouldn't rule out fraud and intimidation, but most likely that's their superior get-out-the-vote organization.

Some more scattered links this week:

  • Tom Carson: H.W. Brands: Reagan: The Life: Book review of the new H.W. Brands biography of Ronald Reagan, Reagan: The Life, with a look back at Edmund Morris: Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan. I've read two previous books by Brands: Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (2008) and American Dreams: The United States Since 1945 (2010), and have found him to be a fair and compiler of history, though not much of an interpreter. The limits that Carson notes are plausible -- especially if, as seems to be the case, he feigns admiration for a character I've always regarded as a shill and a fraud, and whose political legacy, both actual and imaginary, has brought us nothing but grief. I've also read Sean Wilentz: The Age of Reagan: A History 1974-2008 which also goes way too far into buying the myth that Reagan was anything more than an aberration. For more sober views, see Will Bunch: Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future (2009), and William Kleinknecht, The Man Who Sold the World: Ronald Reagan and the Betrayal of Main Street America (2009), or Carson here -- my only real gripe with his review is that he buys into the notion that Reagan deserves some credit for the collapse of the Soviet Union ("something only a churl would deny him any credit for" -- I'll grant that his early sabre-rattling may have resulted in some unforced errors that weakened the Sovier Union, and that later on Reagan swung against the hard core cold warriors giving Gorbachev some breathing room). Carson is right when he writes: "All these years later, it isn't just outrage that keeps his political opponents from managing or even trying to see him in perspective; it's disbelief." The roots of that disbelief are firmly grounded in reality. Unless you're extremely rich, it's impossible to see how anything that Reagan accomplished -- and beyond all the sleight-of-hand horseshit (like the rejuvenation of "morning in America" or his triumph in the cold war and the vanquishing of Communism) he clearly did accomplish a lot -- has in any way made our lives better.

    Many interesting comments here, like this one:

    Brands also doesn't grasp the extent to which industry politics -- that nerve-wracking combo of power, fickle fashionability, ambition as a form of submission, and submission as an expression of ambition -- were Reagan's Harvard and Yale. During much of his showbiz career, his agent and patron -- note that contradiction and you'll understand Hollywood -- was Lew Wasserman, the legendary head of MCA. Because Wasserman's links to the Chicago Mob known as "the Outfit" are what makes a man endow hospital wings to burnish his image, whole books could be written about the dark side of Ron's debt to Lew; indeed, one or two have been. But Wasserman's name shows up in Reagan: The Life's index just once, and the reference turns out to be anodyne.

    Why dwell on what Brands gives short shrift? Because Hollywood stayed Reagan's primary frame of reference even after he found the ultimate golden parachute, that's why. When he was an actor facing the glue factory, he couldn't shut up about politics. Once he was president, he had the definition of a captive audience while blathering away about his life in movies as the phone never rang.

    Up to then, we'd never had a professional fantasist in the White House. Nixon needed to be awfully drunk to think gabbing at portraits on walls was a good idea, but Reagan could do it cold sober. His fabled remoteness was eerie enough to disconcert his own family -- even wife Nancy confessed it sometimes unnerved her -- and his most immovable mental furniture seems to have been fashioned with such disregard for most people's notions of corroborating evidence that he and Michael Jackson, his '80s pop-culture counterpart at flights of Peter Pan fancy, really could have been long-lost twins. But Brands doesn't even quote the most celebrated blooper of his man's career: the farewell speech to the 1988 Republican convention in which John Adams's "Facts are stubborn things" came out as "Facts are stupid things -- stubborn things, I should say."

    Even at the time, I viewed Reagan as primarily a front man, the real power residing in his famous "kitchen cabinet" -- the cabal of rich businessmen who had recruited him and backed his political career from the start. (At the time, I wasn't aware that Reagan's real initiation into politics was as a corporate spokesperson for General Electric, a company whose management still nursed grudges over the New Deal.) His was not the first administration where the president seemed blithely unaware of the rampant corruption within -- Ulysses Grant and William Harding were obvious examples -- but Reagan was way more disconnected: to call him a "fantasist" is rather generous. As I frequently said at the time, under Reagan the only growth industry in America was fraud. The HUD scandal, the Savings and Loan fiasco, Iran/Contra all bore that out, but it was evident even earlier, all the way back to the "voodoo economics" behind Reagan's signature tax cut. Carson notes:

    What you'd hardly guess from reading Reagan: The Life is that the United States went from being the world's No. 1 creditor to its No. 1 debtor nation during his tenure. His zest for replacing red tape with red ink ended any pretense that the GOP was the party of fiscal prudence, but when Brands mentions toward the end that the Reagan era's hemorrhaging deficits had tripled the public debt from $700 billion to $2 trillion by 1988, it's the first time the subject has come up [ . . . ] and it's virtually the last one, too.

  • The problem with Reagan's deficits isn't that he created them, and certainly not that we enjoy scolding the Republicans for their spendthrift ways (not to mention hypocrisy), but that Americans got so little of real value out of the extravagance: a lot of worthless military hardware -- the Star Wars-marketed anti-missile system still doesn't work, but the stuff that did work and has since been deployed in wars all around the world has been far more damaging -- and a small number of billionaires with their correspondingly inflated egos. Perhaps even worse, that explosion of debt is now commonly seen as crippling our government -- originally conceived of, by, and for the people as a tool for securing the general welfare -- from doing even relatively simple things that need to be done. The single most damaging thing Reagan ever did was to make a joke about "the scariest words in the English language: I'm from the government and I'm here to help." That such a joke can be turned into a full-blown ideology is a testament to a deeper innovation that Reagan wrought: he liberated American conservatism from the bounds of reality, allowing them to focus on imaginary problems, oblivious to whatever consequences their madness may produce. Back in the 1980s he was said to have "Teflon" -- a non-stick coating that protected him from any of his scandals. Looking back, it now seems that the key to his innocence was his very disconnectedness. Maybe someday a biographer will manage to identify the point when his fantasy gave way to Alzheimer's, but for all practical purposes it hardly matters.

  • Michael Knights: Doubling Down on a Doubtful Strategy: Subhed: "Why the current US plan to win back Iraq only guarantees the Islamic State won't be defeated." Knights seems to be arguing that the US should take over and greatly escalate the war despite his analysis that what the US is actually doing can't possibly work. Still you have to wonder whether any amount of commitment could overcome the mental blinders the US military brings with it to Iraq:

    Time is decidedly not on the side of the United States. As then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki told me in March 2014, the Iraqi government had been requesting U.S. airstrikes and Special Forces assistance against the Islamic State since the end of 2013. The U.S. unwillingness to act then did not save it anything: Its Iraqi ally collapsed, and now it has been forced into another military campaign.

    When U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter opined that Iraqis "showed no will to fight" in Ramadi, he demonstrated a complete lack of empathy for the situation of the Iraqi combat troops on the front lines against the Islamic State.

    America's Iraqi allies are exhausted, and many units are barely hanging on. They've been demonstrating plenty their "will to fight" in the 12 months since Mosul fell, in the 16 months since Fallujah and Ramadi were overrun, and in the decade since Iraqi forces came to outnumber U.S. forces as the main security force in Iraq.

    No U.S. service member serving in Iraq ever had to stay in the combat zone for as long as the Iraqi troops have. Many of these Iraqis have no safe place to go on leave, allowing no respite for years on end. No U.S. unit in recent history has ever had to suffer the chronic lack of supply and near-complete lack of good officers that Iraqi soldiers live with every day.

    If the United States can totally misunderstand the conditions its allies are experiencing, it's fair to ask what else it is getting wrong about how Iraqis are going to behave in the future.

    Knights offers a list of "faulty assumptions" the US has about Iraq, but two of them are just clichés ("The more we do, the less they do" and "We cannot want the stability of Iraq more than Iraqis want it themselves" -- both assume Iraqis want what we want but just don't want it bad enough) and the third is false ("The Islamic State is a terrorist group, not an army" -- ISIS is both and will fight according to its opponent, so the more you Americanize the war, the more ISIS will adapt with techniques proven effective against the US military). Consider Knights' final pitch:

    If America is only in Iraq to kill Islamic State fighters, it is eventually going to face the reality of an unfixable collapsed state that will demand an open-ended counterterrorism campaign. The alternative is that the United States help Iraqis preserve the fabric of their nation to whatever extent is still possible. To do so will require a different outlook and greater decisiveness. Deliberation is understandable, but U.S. policy in Iraq has been verging on paralysis.

    This is not rocket science: The U.S. options are clear. If the Obama administration wants to fully commit to the hard work of rebuilding Iraq, it should commit 3,000 to 5,000 U.S. Special Forces and support elements as combat advisers, so that Iraqi ground forces and coalition airpower can become far more effective. Secondly, it should use this intensified U.S. military commitment as leverage with Baghdad to win more sustained federal Iraqi government engagement of the Sunnis and the Kurds. Finally, it should accelerate the training of Iraqi forces to leave the next president with a better chance of responsibly downscaling the U.S. commitment in Iraq.

    Without these steps, we should not expect to expel the Islamic State from Iraq. In the absence of undeniable U.S. commitment, our Iraqi allies may define victory down into something that looks more like defeat. And that is a risk that neither Iraq, nor the United States, can afford.

    What exactly can we not afford? The worst case scenario is that ISIS occupies about a third of Iraq -- it has no appeal in the Shiite south or in Kurdistan, and Baghdad is effectively Shiite now -- and the rump state in Baghdad concedes those gains, thereby ridding themselves of a lot of people they don't like and who don't want them. That allows ISIS to focus on Syria, where the US has no real interests or concerns. Why can't we afford that? That represents no real US investment or trade, so we have nothing to lose in that regard. We wouldn't be spending anything bombing and killing them, so that would be a gain. US trade with and investment in Iraq and Kurdistan would be more stable with an end to Iraq's civil war. ISIS might eventually threaten Jordan or Saudi Arabia, but those nations would be much easier to defend than Iraq is. ISIS might try to export terrorism, but they'd have much less reason to do so if the US wasn't bombing them. Sure, ISIS rule would be bad for some of the people living under it, but that's true of other nations and is much easier to remedy diplomatically than through war.

    On the other hand, fighting ISIS means we have to somehow reform Iraq's government to make it more amenable to the Sunnis who have deserted it in favor of ISIS. This is something the US has repeatedly proved incapable of doing. It's something the present government of Iraq doesn't want, and that government is backed by a democratic mandate, so who are we to tell its people they didn't make the right choices? It also means coming to a solution in Syria, which either involves some deft diplomacy that the US has repeatedly failed at or a massive ground invasion and occupation, which is what the US tried in Iraq and failed so miserably at. One might fantasize, but really, why should anyone think the US might do a better job there? One obvious downside is that everyone who might conceivably oppose us -- which is to say everyone -- is already armed and fighting. At least with Iraq the US had a grace period until the resistance got up to speed and changed the US mission from "nation building" to force protection. That's the point where we throw all the humanitarian ballast overboard and decide that the war is only about us. That's the point where we're lost, even if we haven't technically lost yet, because if anything has become clear through America's post-WWII wars, it's that we can't look into our own hearts and see the arrogance and contempt that reside there.

    When people like Knights say that the US can't afford to lose in Iraq, what they mean is that the US can't continue if people get the idea that we're not omnipotent. The obvious first riposte is that it's a little late in the day to be worrying about that. The second is that would make us like everyone else, and what's so bad about that? It doesn't mean that desirable outcomes to world problems can't be worked out. It just means that the US would have to work with other countries to reach agreement, on terms that are mutually inoffensive. It means the US would have to learn to respect others, rather than just dictating to them. But it would also steer US foreign policy away from the maxim that power corrupts (and absolute power corrupts absolutely). But even if all we did was curl up into an isolationist ball and mope, that would probably be better for all concerned than bumbling our way into a holy war we don't have the slightest understanding of -- which is pretty much what Knights wants us to do. Perhaps the "paralysis" Knights complains of is really just because there's an irreconcilable division in the foreign policy elite as more and more people sober up and realize the lack of good options. For one example of this shift, see Stephen M Walt: What Should We Do if the Islamic State Wins? His answer: "live with it." Really, you think "die with it" is a better answer? Even Donald Rumsfeld (see George W. Bush Was Wrong About Iraq) is thinking that it would be better to counter ISIS with ideas ("more like the Cold War") rather than bullets. By the way, what Rumsfeld thinks Bush was wrong about wasn't invading Iraq; it was thinking that the US could build "an American-style democracy" there. As a long-time Cold Warrior, Rumsfeld always had a preference for compliant strong men over democracy.

  • Heather Digby Parton: The Koch brothers just took a huge step toward a GOP civil war: Having created a system where money is everything, the Republican Party is now turning into a plaything for a handful of billionaires, especially the Kochs, who seem intent to use their deep pockets to launch a hostile takeover of the RNC.

    One of the more enduring metaphors of this political era is bound to be that of the Republican Dr. Frankenstein and his Tea Party monster. What was once a staid, mainstream political party full of Rotary Club businessmen, hard-scrabble farmers and pillars of America's communities has become a boisterous bunch of rebellious revolutionaries. [ . . . ]

    Its ideology became a matter of faith-based adherence to abstract principles about "freedom" and "small government" even as the Republican Party made a devil's bargain with both the religious right, which sought to enforce "family values," and the military industrial complex, which grew to gargantuan proportions under both parties. These alliances were strategic moves by the Party elders seeking a winning governing coalition and it worked beautifully for decades. They formed a strong "conservative" identity out of this coalition, while demonizing the identity of liberalism to such an extent that liberals were forced to abandon it altogether and adopt another name to describe themselves.

    Meanwhile, the party banked on overweening victimization among its mainly white, resentful voters in the wake of the revolution in law and culture that began in the 1960s with civil rights for minorities and the economic and social changes that sent women pouring into the workplace and changing the traditional organization of family and home. This too worked very well for quite some time. Fear, anger and resentment of everything from racial integration to middle class stagnation to imaginary foreign threats became intrinsic to the Republican identity.

    All of this was of great benefit to the Republican party's electoral success and the message discipline within the echo chamber of their partisan media ensured that the ideology among the various strands of the Republican coalition held together in what sounded like a coherent program. But it never really was coherent. [ . . . ]

    But the irony of the Party that fetishizes money now becoming a victim of the 1 percent monster it has coddled, nurtured and enabled is overwhelming. Unfortunately, that particular beast has been unleashed on all of us and it doesn't seem as though anyone knows how to stop it. The Tea Partyers who come together and vote out a stale incumbent they don't like in favor of a right wing zealot is not something that's good for the country, to be sure. But at least it's democratic, however unpleasant the result. The idea that a vastly wealthy pair of right wing fanatics could literally take over one of the two major American political parties is more than a little disturbing. It's downright monstrous.

  • Paul Rosenberg: Sam Brownback guts Kansas even more: This is life under America's worst Republican governor: Brownback, then a Senator, ran for President in 2008. He expected to do especially well in Iowa, but got no credit for coming from the corn belt, and lost the holy rollers to Mike Huckabee (a baptist minister, whereas Brownback's a convert to high church catholicism). He was polling about 2% when he dropped out. He then regrouped, giving up his safe Senate seat to run for Governor, with the hope of proving himself such a brilliant state executive that party and nation would have to bow down to his next presidential campaign. He won handily, then proved himself to be, as the headline says, "America's worst Republican governor" (not that several others I can think of, including Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker, have a lot of breathing room). First thing he did was pulling a Reagan and hiring Arthur Laffer to prescribe a round of pro-business income tax cuts, including an exemption for business moguls from all state income taxes. That saved one Republican legislator $60,000 per year (do the math and that means he's raking in about $10 million; he actually proposed reducing the break). That probably saved Charles Koch a lot more. But the economy didn't respond as advertised, and Kansas has been facing budget gaps on the order of $400 million/year, and responding with drastic spending cuts -- which have further tanked the economy -- and increases in regressive sales taxes, "sin" taxes, and local property taxes. Brownback has another signature program where he's promising tax exemptions to out-of-staters to move into depopulating counties in rural Kansas. Presumably the people struggling to hang on in those counties will be happy to pay for their new neighbors schooling and services. That, of course, hasn't cost Kansas much so far, because hardly anyone is desperate enough for a tax break to live in Gove or Hodgeman counties. Indeed, hardly anyone lived there before the breaks (my relatives got out of Hodgeman, where my great-great-grandfather homesteaded in the 1860s). When not appealing to tax cheats, the state legislature has passed an extraordinary number of dumb and/or vicious bills this session. Rosenberg writes about one that allows Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a notorious partisan hack, to prosecute anyone he sees fit for voting fraud. Back in Brownback's first term Kansas passed one of the most restrictive anti-voter registration laws in the country. I'll let Rosenberg describe another law:

    This past week drew national attention to two of those aspects in the form of new laws Brownback signed. The first law would defund the state courts if they rule against a 2014 law which was seen by many as retaliation for the Gannon decision. That law stripped the Supreme Court of supervisory functions established in the state constitution. Hence, Brownback and the legislature are defying the power of the court to decide constitutional law. This is the very opposite of the true meaning of "limited government" -- government limited by the rule of law (as opposed to absolute government, limited by nothing.)

    Another of the new laws in Kansas is one that drops the requirement of a license (and some minimal training) for concealed carry of guns. By contrast, see: Katie McDonough: This is the NRA's worst nightmare: The new gun safety study that gun nuts don't want you to hear about:

    A law requiring people to apply for a permit before buying a handgun helped Connecticut quietly reduce its firearm-related homicide rate by 40 percent, according to a new study out from Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. And this week, announced in conjunction with the research, lawmakers from Connecticut introduced a measure to encourage other states to adopt their own permit programs.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Rhapsody Streamnotes (June 2015)

Pick up text here.

Daily Log

Posted two tweets to mark the end of the Kansas state legislature session:

The Kansas state legislature's reign of terror finally ended in an orgy of regressive tax hikes, still leaving a hole so Brownback can cut.

Has any state legislature ever passed more dumb and vicious laws than Kansas has this year? Bad as Brownback is, his "helpers" are worse.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Ornette Coleman

As I'm sure you know by now, Ornette Coleman died yestertoday, age 85. He was the first jazz musician I developed a real interest in and affection for. That was in the mid-1970s, at least 15 years after Coleman made his initial big splash, about the time he was inventing a second wave of jazz-rock fusion, one much more radical than the funk-oriented Miles Davis or the prog of John McLaughlin.

Coleman was part of the first wave of jazz avant-gardists, a group which variously sought to explore and find novel sounds, rhythms, and harmonics -- to violate the known rules of jazz, to do things that are wrong and somehow make them sound right. (Mingus put it most succinctly: "It's like organized disorganization, or playing wrong right.") Most of that wave wound up contributing to the postmodern synthesis jazz students today are taught: what we call postbop. Martin Williams was so impressed with Coleman that he concluded his Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz with three Coleman pieces (plus a Coltrane), arguing that [early] Coleman was the endpoint of the classic jazz tradition. Yet even today most novices find [early] Coleman puzzling before they are swept away. I saw this at work when my hip-hop-loving nephew wanted to get acquainted with jazz and I handed him The Shape of Jazz to Come.

Later Coleman pushed further and harder, but by the time he cut his last album, 2006's Sound Grammar, all the stars aligned: no jazz record in the past decade (or really, ever -- and I've been involved in a lot of critic polling on such things) has been so universally exclaimed. It even won the Pulitzer Prize that had so notoriously been denied Duke Ellington. Yet it sounded so offhand you could imagine him knocking sequels out every year -- so it seems odd that it came ten years after his previous album, and nine years before his death. He had remained active well into last year -- playing at a tribute concert in his honor in Brooklyn (and suing to keep the ablum from being released). He never got comfortable with the record business as he hopped from label to label, taking long breaks, never settling in -- he didn't even seem to be happy with his own labels, going back to Artist House in the late 1970s. One imagines he has hoards of tapes that greedy heirs will eventually dump onto the market. Or respectful ones, given that his son Denardo has been his preferred drummer ever since puberty in the 1970s. (Denardo first played on an album in 1966 when he was 10, but it took him a while to finally push Ed Blackwell, Billy Higgins, and Shannon Jackson out of the picture.)

My semi-obligatory database dump:

Mainline Albums:

  • Ornette Coleman: Something Else: The Music of Ornette Coleman (1958, Contemporary) -- ([1988], Contemporary/OJC): B+(***)
  • Ornette Coleman: Tomorrow Is the Question (1959, Contemporary) -- ([1988, Contemporary/OJC): B+(**)
  • Ornette Coleman: The Shape of Jazz to Come (1959, Atlantic) -- ([1990], Atlantic): A+
  • Ornette Coleman: Change of the Century (1959 [1960], Atlantic) -- ([1992], Atlantic): A-
  • The Ornette Coleman Quartet: This Is Our Music (1960 [1961], Atlantic): A-
  • Ornette Coleman Double Quartet: Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation (1960 [1961], Atlantic): A-
  • Ornette Coleman: Ornette! (1961 [1962], Atlantic): A-
  • Ornette Coleman: Ornette on Tenor (1961 [1962], Atlantic): B+(***)
  • Ornette Coleman: Town Hall, 1962 (1962 [1965], ESP-Disk): B+(***)
  • Ornette Coleman: Chappaqua Suite (1965, Columbia): B+
  • The Ornette Coleman Trio: At the "Golden Circle" Stockholm: Volume One (1965 [1966], Blue Note) -- (1987, Blue Note): A
  • The Ornette Coleman Trio: At the "Golden Circle" Stockholm: Volume Two (1965 [1966], Blue Note) -- (1987, Blue Note): A-
  • Ornette Coleman: New York Is Now! (1968, Blue Note) -- ([1989], Blue Note): A-
  • Ornette Coleman: Love Call (1968 [1971], Blue Note): B+(**)
  • Ornette Coleman: Friends and Neighbors: Live at Prince Street (1970 [1972], Flying Dutchman) -- ([2013], BGP): A-
  • Ornette Coleman: Skies of America (1972, Columbia) -- ([2000], Columbia/Legacy): B+
  • Ornette Coleman: Dancing in Your Head (1973-75 [1977], Verve) -- ([2000], Verve): A
  • Ornette Coleman/Charlie Haden: Soapsuds, Soapsuds (1977, Artists House) -- ([1996], Verve/Harmolodic): B+
  • Ornette Coleman: Body Meta (1976 [1978], Artists House) -- ([1996], Verve/Harmolodic): A-
  • Ornette Coleman: Of Human Feelings (1979 [1982], Antilles): A
  • Ornette & Prime Time: Opening the Caravan of Dreams (1985, Caravan of Dreams): B+
  • Ornette Coleman [The Original Quartet & Prime Time]: In All Languages (1985 [1987], Caravan of Dreams, 2LP): A
  • Ornette Coleman: Virgin Beauty (1988, Portrait): A-
  • Ornette Coleman & Prime Time: Tone Dialing (1995, Harmolodic/Verve): B+
  • Ornette Coleman: Sound Museum: Hidden Man (1996, Harmolodic/Verve): B+
  • Ornette Coleman: Sound Museum: Three Women (1996, Harmologic/Verve): B
  • Ornette Coleman + Joachim Kühn: Colors: Live From Leipzig (1996 [1997], Verve/Harmolodic): A-
  • Ornette Coleman: Sound Grammar (2005 [2006], Sound Grammar): A

Miscellaneous Albums: side-credits, compilations, live albums that only appeared much after the fact:

  • Paul Bley Quintet: The Fabulous Paul Bley Quintet (1958 [], Musidisc) -- also released as Paul Bley/Ornette Coleman/Don Cherry/Charlie Haden/Billy Higgins: Live at the Hilcrest Club 1958 (1958 [1976], Inner City), and Coleman Classics, Vol. 1 (IAI): A-
  • John Lewis Presents: Contemporary Music 1: Jazz Abstractions (1960 [1961], Atlantic) -- compositions by Gunther Schuller and Jim Hall; other cover names: Coleman, Eddie Costa, Eric Dolphy, Bill Evans, Scott LaFaro: A-
  • Ornette Coleman: To Whom Who Keeps a Record (1959-60 [1975], Atlantic) -- ([2007], Water): A-
  • Ornette Coleman: The Art of the Improvisers (1959-61 [1970], Atlantic) -- ([1988], Atlantic): A-
  • Ornette Coleman: Twins (1959-61 [1971], Atlantic) -- ([2008], Water): A-
  • Ornette Coleman: Beauty Is a Rare Thing (1959-61 [1993], Rhino/Atlantic, 6CD) -- collects all the Atlantic recordings: A-
  • Jackie McLean/Ornette Coleman: New and Old Gospel (1967, Blue Note) -- ([2007], Blue Note): Coleman plays trumpet: A-
  • Alice Coltrane: Universal Consciousness (1971, Impulse): B
  • Ornette Coleman: The Complete Science Fiction Sessions (1971-72 [2000], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD) -- collects Science Fiction [1972] and the outtakes later issued as Broken Shadows [1982]: A-
  • Ornette Coleman: Ken Burns Jazz: The Definitive Ornette Coleman (1958-75 [2000], Columbia/Legacy): A-
  • Charlie Haden: Closeness (1976, Horizon) -- one of four duets: B+
  • Charlie Haden: The Golden Number (1976 [1977], Horizon) -- one of four duets: B+(***)
  • James Blood [Ulmer]: Tales of Captain Black (1978 [1979], Artists House) -- ([1979], DIW): A-
  • Jamaaladeen Tacuma: Renaissance Man (1983 [1984], Gramavision): B
  • Pat Metheny/Ornette Coleman: Song X (1985 [1986], Geffen): A-; Song X: Twentieth Anniversary ([2005], Nonesuch): A
  • The Ornette Coleman Quartet: The 1987 Hamburg Concert (1987 [2011], Domino, 2CD): A-
  • Geri Allen: Eyes in the Back of Your Head (1995-96 [1997], Blue Note): B+
  • Rolf Kühn & Friends: Affairs (1997, Intuition): Coleman on 1 cut: A-
  • Lou Reed: The Raven (2003, Sire/Reprise): B+
  • Jamaaladeen Tacuma: For the Love of Ornette (2010 [2011], Jazzwerkstatt): B+(***)
  • Sonny Rollins: Road Shows Vol. 2 (2010 [2011], Doxy/Emarcy) -- one cut: A-
  • The Master Musicians of Jajouka, et al.: The Road to Jajouka: A Benefit Album (2013, Howe): A-

Selected albums I have not heard:

  • Ornette Coleman: The Empty Foxhole (1966 [1967], Blue Note)
  • Ornette Coleman: Ornette at 12 (1968 [1969], Impulse!)
  • Yoko Ono: Plastic Ono Band (1968-70 [1970], Apple) -- Coleman played on the one 1968 track
  • Ornette Coleman: Crisis (1969 [1972], Impulse!)
  • Louis Armstrong: Louis Armstrong and His Friends (1970, Flying Dutchman) -- no dream date: Armstrong only sings, and Coleman's credit reads "backing vocals"
  • Cosmetic With Jamaaladeen Tacuma: So Tranquilizin' (1985, Gramavision)
  • Ornette Coleman: Prime Design/Time Design (1985, Caravan of Dreams): composition only, played by string quartet + Denardo Coleman
  • Ornette Coleman: Naked Lunch [Soundtrack] (1988, Portrait)
  • New Vocabulary: New Vocabulary (2014, System Dialing) -- Coleman sued over this "unauthorized" release.

Miscellaneous unheard live albums:

  • Ornette Coleman Quintet: Complete Live at the Hillcrest Club (1958 [2007], Gambit) -- see above, usually attributed to Paul Bley Quintet
  • Ornette Coleman/Don Cherry/Jimmy Giuffre/Kenny Dorham: The Lenox Jazz School Concert: August 29, 1959 (1959 [2009], Free Factory)
  • Ornette Coleman: The Great London Concert (1960 [1975], Arista/Freedom, 2LP) -- also released as An Evening With Ornette Coleman ([1967], Polydor, 2LP)
  • Ornette Coleman Trio: Live at the Tivoli (1965 [1992], Magnetic)
  • Ornette Coleman Trio: Croydon Concert (1965 [2008], Free Factory)
  • Ornette Coleman: Who's Crazy? (1966 [1982], Affinity, 2LP) -- previously two separate LPs, 1 and 2 ([1979], Atmosphere)
  • Ornette Coleman: Lonely Woman Trio '66 (1966, no label): Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Ornette Coleman: Live in Milano (1968 [1989], Jazz Up)
  • Ornette Coleman: The Unprecedented Music of Ornette Coleman (1968 [1996], Passport)
  • Ornette Coleman: The Belgrade Concert (1971 [1995], Jazz Door)
  • Ornette Coleman: European Concert (1971, Unique Jazz): Berlin
  • Ornette Coleman: Paris Concert (1971 [1977], Trio, 2LP) -- later Live in Paris 1971 (1971 [2008], Gambit)
  • Ornette Coleman: Lonely Woman Quartet '74 (1974, no label): Italy
  • Ornette Coleman/Prime Time: Jazzbühne Berlin '88 (1988 [1990], Repertoire)
  • Ornette Coleman Quartet: Reunion 1990 (1990 [2010], Domino, 2CD): Reggio Emilia, Italy

I expect many more live albums will appear in the future, especially as his estate swings into action, and as Europe's 50-year copyright limit legitimizes more bootlegs.

An informal scan indicates that at least 500 albums have Ornette Coleman compositions on them (maybe more than 600; I couldn't check, but "Lonely Woman" is undoubtedly the song leader). I'd hazard a wild guess that two dozen or more albums are tributes/dedicated to Ornette Coleman: most obviously, everything by Old and New Dreams (Don Cherry, Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, Ed Blackwell -- note that Coleman outlived all the members of his ghost band); also (hard to check this precisely): Affinity [Joe Rosenberg], Borah Bergman, Paul Bley, Charlie Haden, Dave Liebman, Pat Metheny, Paul Motian, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, John Zorn.

Ornette Coleman was one of the few jazz musicians Robert Christgau continued to review regularly. His own Consumer Guide reviews are here. This reminds me that the first time I heard Dancing in Your Head was when Bob played it for me. The symphony theme was the most deliriously joyful piece of music I had ever heard. That wasn't the first time I heard Coleman, but it pushed my interest to a higher level.

Some links as others write about Coleman:

Some older pieces:

For a final word, Sonny Rollins (quoted in Gans, above):

We're all happy that we had an opportunity to witness the work and life of Ornette Coleman, and the human race is better for it.

Daily Log

Had to figure this out and write it down somewhere, so here. Slutever discography (all self-released, on Bandcamp):

  • Slutever x Girlpool Split Tape (2014.10.14 EP: 4 songs [2 each], 9:14)
  • White Flag (2014.07.22 digital track: 1 song, 2:26)
  • 1994/Spit (2013.05.21 7" single: 2 songs, 8:41)
  • Slutever Demos (2013.04.05 EP: 8 songs, 27:53)
  • Pussycat (2012.04.20 Cassingle: 1 song, 2:10)
  • Pretend to Be Nice (2011.03.29 EP: 4 songs, 9:11)
  • Sorry I'm Not Sorry (2010.07.27 EP: 6 songs, 12:22)

Monday, June 08, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 25069 [25024] rated (+45), 432 [422] unrated (+10).

When I counted the number of newly rated records below, I found more than my count this week. I went back and rechecked the database, and found four albums listed as unrated that I should have filled in grades for. Then the count exceeded the list, so I went to the Streamnotes draft file and checked what I had written up against the Music Week lists, and found more discrepancies. I added them to the list below, and now the list is longer than the rated count increase again. Most likely that's the Pixies, who probably should have been reported last week. (At least seems to me like it's been a while.) Of course, if I had a system where I didn't have to update my records 4-5 times when I file a grade, I'd make fewer mistakes. But they'd also be harder to fix, so I guess there's that.

The large quantity of old music is due to my attempt to fill in the holes in Spin's Top 300 Albums: 1985-2014 list. I'm a little more than a third of the way through the list. I'm not just doing albums on the list: if I find something else that has a substantial rep and/or looks interesting, I'll slip it in too. Still working on Built to Spill. Next up is Kate Bush (list isn't alphabetical). I'm not spending a lot of time with them, although the A- records get at least two spins, as do some near misses. I'm also not reviewing anything I've graded before, even though some of them look like I may have underrated a bit. It's impossible to keep a list as long as mine in lockstep.

New records include two jazz A-listers from old favorites, albeit of very different stripes. But I have been dragging my feet on the jazz queue, which has been growing at a surprising rate. The main source of new records this week was Spin's 50 Best Albums of 2015 . . . So Far (my comp list is buried in the June 1 notebook). That led me to: American Wrestlers, Cannibal Ox, Dan Deacon, Eye, I Love Makonnen, Knocks, Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba, Monster Rally & Jay Stone, Colin Stetson/Sarah Neufeld, and Young Thug -- two more A-list records there, with Cannibal Ox real close and nothing real bad. I expected Jason Derulo on that list too -- it was plugged as "Spin album of the week" on the same page, and has gotten rapturous reviews from critics I usually agree with, and I loved Talk Dirty as much as they did. I played it twice and it irritated me more than my low B+ grade reveals. The other two new A-list records were obvious things to listen to (Murs, Willie Nelson/Merle Haggard). For a while last week I was logging so many A- records I wondered if I was going soft.

As you may have noticed, Medium's music venture Cuepoint hasn't added any new content since June 2, notably missing last Friday's expected appearance of Robert Christgau's Expert Witness. I don't have any inside info on what's happening, but there's evidently some sort of shakeup going on. The basic idea behind Medium is to sucker people into contributing free content, but Christgau at least has been paid from the start. It wasn't unreasonable at first to seed the free content with some commissioned pieces, but sooner or later some bean counter is going to insist on cutting expenses, and freelancers are easy to stiff. So one possibility is that Medium is tightening the screws. Another is that the "vertical" websites like Cuepoint built on Medium's platform haven't clicked. I think one problem with Cuepoint is that they've never had anyone else doing the sort of thing Christgau does -- either as a columnist with a regular schedule or as a reviewer. Everything else is feature writing, and I only recognize two writers on their current homepage, so they're not exactly trying to build a prestige roster. One result is that I've never found anything other than Christgau worth reading there.

You may recall that something similar happened at the previous home of Christgau's consumer guide, MSN Music. They had a slightly better music site, probably because living off the fat of Microsoft's monopoly they had more money to throw at it. They had a few columnists, although none generated as much as 5% of Christgau's comment traffic. They hired Christgau to write some live reports, and occasionally you could find something else worth reading there, but it was never organized very well. There are other music websites that seem to be successful, but they do so by cultivating a niche audience and covering that niche at considerable depth -- I'm thinking of Pitchfork, PopMatters, All About Jazz, not that I know how much money they really make. But both MSN Music and Cuepoint seemed to have the idea that they could build a mass audience by covering music at the most superficial level. That they failed should not be a big surprise.

Christgau wrote for MSN Music and for Cuepoint for the most pedestrian of reasons: because they paid him to do something he wanted to do anyway. If Cuepoint folds this could be the end of Christgau's Consumer Guide. Or he could find another web angel willing to lose money on him (though it's hard to imagine an infinite chain of them). He could even publish a few CG reviews in a non-paying outlet -- he had written a number of them during his last hiatus just because writing had become an integral part of the way he understands records, and was thinking about giving them to Odyshape (which more or less suspended operations last September). I'd be happy to publish them on his website, where at least they'd add value and interest.

Or he could just hang it up -- something I think about, even after I reconciled myself to writing for free. Could be time to start thinking about a post-Christgau website.

Expect a Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week. Current draft has 50 new records, 3 new compilations, and 75 old records, so that should be plenty. I'm also working on a series of book blurb posts. I came back from New Jersey last fall with many pages of notes I took in various bookstores, but technical problems have kept me from working on them. The last Book Roundup was on July 3, 2014, so nearly a year. There should be several hundred books worth mentioning in that time.

New records rated this week:

  • All Included: Satan in Plain Clothes (2014 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(***)
  • American Wrestlers (2014 [2015], Fat Possum): [r]: B
  • Cannibal Ox: Blade of the Ronin (2015, iHipHop): [r]: B+(***)
  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert: Io (2013 [2015], FMR): [cd]: B+(***)
  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Rafal Mazur: Unknowable (2014 [2015], Not Two): [cd]: A-
  • Dan Deacon: Gliss Rifter (2015, Domino): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jason Derulo: Everything Is 4 (2015, Warner Brothers): [r]: B+(*)
  • Deux Maisons: For Sale (2013 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Chris Dingman: The Subliminal & the Sublime (2013 [2015], Inner Arts Initiative): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The Eye: The Future Will Be Repeated (2015, Ba Da Bing): [r]: B+(**)
  • Scott Hamilton: Scott Hamilton Plays Jule Styne (2015, Blue Duchess): [cd]: A-
  • I Love Makonnen: Drink More Water 5 (2015, OVO Sound): [dl]: B+(**)
  • The Knocks: So Classic (2015, Big Beat, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Ba Power (2015, Glitterbeat): [r]: A-
  • Major Lazer: Peace Is the Mission (2015, Mad Decent): [r]: B+(*)
  • Monster Rally & Jay Stone: Foreign Pedestrians (2014 [2015], Gold Robot): [r]: B+(*)
  • Murs: Have a Nice Day (2015, Strange Music): [r]: A-
  • Willie Nelson/Merle Haggard: Django and Jimmie (2015, Legacy): [r]: A-
  • Pixies: Indie Cindy (2014, Pixiesmusic): [r]: B
  • Colin Stetson/Sarah Neufeld: Never Were the Way She Was (2015, Constellation): [r]: A-
  • Davide Tammaro: Ghosts (2014 [2015], self-released): [cd]: B
  • Frank Vignola & Vinny Raniolo: Swing Zing! (2015, FV): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Young Thug: Barter 6 (2015, 300/Atlantic): [r]: B+(**)

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

  • The Red Line Comp: A DCHC Compilation ([2015], self-released, EP): [bc]: B+(*)

Old records rated this week:

  • Mary J. Blige: What's the 411? (1992, Uptown/MCA): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mary J. Blige: No More Drama (2001, MCA): [r]: B+(**)
  • Built to Spill: Ultimate Alternative Wavers (1992, C/Z): [r]: B+(***)
  • Built to Spill: There's Nothing Wrong With Love (1994, Up): [r]: A-
  • Built to Spill: Keep It Like a Secret (1999, Warner Brothers): [r]: A-
  • Built to Spill: Ancient Melodies of the Future (2001, Warner Brothers): B
  • Built to Spill: You in Reverse (2006, Warner Brothers): [r]: B+(**)
  • Depeche Mode: Construction Time Again (1983, Sire): [r]: B
  • Depeche Mode: Some Great Reward (1984, Sire): [r]: B+(*)
  • Depeche Mode: Catching Up With Depeche Mode (1980-85 [1985], Sire): [r]: B+(**)
  • Depeche Mode: Black Celebration (1986, Sire): [r]: B
  • Depeche Mode: Violator (1990, Sire/Reprise): [r]: B
  • Depeche Mode: Songs of Faith and Devotion (1993, Sire/Reprise): [r]: B-
  • Dinosaur Jr.: You're Living All Over Me (1987, SST): [r]: B+(**)
  • Pixies: Come On Pilgrim (1987, 4AD, EP): [r]: B+(*)
  • Pixies: Surfer Rosa (1988, 4AD/Elektra): [r]: B+(*)
  • Primal Scream: XTRMNTR (2000, Astralwerks): [r]: A-
  • Radiohead: Pablo Honey (1993, Capitol): [r]: B+(**)
  • Radiohead: The Bends (1995, Capitol): [r]: B
  • Radiohead: Hail to the Thief (2003, Capitol): [r]: B+(*)
  • Tears for Fears: The Hurting (1983, Mercury): [r]: B+(*)
  • Tears for Fears: Songs From the Big Chair (1985, Mercury): [r]: B
  • Tears for Fears: The Seeds of Love (1989, Mercury): [r]: B-

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Stephen Anderson/360° Jazz Initiative: Distracted Society (Summit)
  • Brett Carson: Quattuor Elephantis (Edgetone)
  • Casa: Futuro (Clean Feed)
  • Linda Dachtyl: A Late One (Summit)
  • Benjamin Duboc/Jean-Luc Petit: Double-Basse: This Is Not Art (Clean Feed)
  • Satoko Fujii Tobira: Yamiyo Ni Karasu (Libra): July 14
  • Vance Gilbert: Nearness of You (Disismye Music)
  • Chris Golinski/Tim McNally/Boaz Roberts: Rodeo (Edgetone)
  • Dre Hocevar Trio: Coding of Evidentiality (Clean Feed)
  • Keith Kelly Ask Not: A Grand Apparatus, Discarded (Edgetone)
  • Lona Kozik/Chris Golinski: Spelaeology (Edgetone)
  • Lama + Joachim Badenhorst: The Elephant's Journey (Clean Feed)
  • Marsa Fouty: Concerts (Fou)
  • Bob Mintzer Big Band: Get Up! (MCG Jazz): June 23
  • Gard Nilssen's Acoustic Unity: Firehouse (Clean Feed)
  • Caili O'Doherty: Padme (Odo): July 7
  • Rent Romus' Life's Blood Ensemble: The Otherworld Cycle (Edgetone)
  • Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet: Intercambio (Patois): July 7

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links this week:

  • Jason Ditz: Senate Votes to Block Pentagon Paying Millions to NFL to 'Honor Troops': You probably thought (if you thought about it at all) that the NFL was just engaging in patriotic showboating, but it turns out they were on the government dole. Precious quote, from Sens. McCain, Flake, and Blumenthal: "the US cannot afford to give 'scarce defense dollars to wealthy sports teams.'" They're talking about $5.4 million, a tiny drop in the trillion or so dollars the US spends on "defense" each year. Indeed, it's probably only a small fraction of what the Defense Dept. spends on PR, the effect of which is to make war more politically acceptable.

  • Paul Krugman: Why Am I a Keynesian?

    Noah Smith sort-of approvingly quotes Russ Roberts, who views all macroeconomic positions as stalking horses for political goals, and declares in particular that

    Krugman is a Keynesian because he wants bigger government. I'm an anti-Keynesian because I want smaller government.

    OK, I'm not going to clutch my pearls and ask for the smelling salts. Politics can shape our views, in ways we may not recognize. [ . . . ]

    So, am I a Keynesian because I want bigger government? If I were, shouldn't I be advocating permanent expansion rather than temporary measures? Shouldn't I be for stimulus all the time, not only when we're at the zero lower bound? When I do call for bigger government -- universal health care, higher Social Security benefits -- shouldn't I be pushing these things as job-creation measures? (I don't think I ever have). I think if you look at the record, I've always argued for temporary fiscal expansion, and only when monetary policy is constrained. Meanwhile, my advocacy of an expanded welfare state has always been made on its own grounds, not in terms of alleged business cycle benefits.

    In other words, I've been making policy arguments the way one would if one sincerely believed that fiscal policy helps fight unemployment under certain conditions, and not at all in the way one would if trying to use the slump as an excuse for permanently bigger government.

    But in that case, why am I a Keynesian? Maybe because of convincing evidence?

    First of all, the case for viewing most recessions -- and the Great Recession in particular -- as failures of aggregate demand is overwhelming.

    Now, this could be a case for using monetary rather than fiscal policy -- and that actually is the policy I advocate in response to garden-variety slumps. But when the slump pushes rates down to zero, and that's still not enough, any simple model I can think of says that fiscal expansion can be a useful supplement, while fiscal austerity makes a bad situation worse.

    And while it's true that there was limited direct evidence on the effects of fiscal policy 6 or 7 years ago, there's now a lot, and it's very supportive of a Keynesian view.

    Krugman is generally right that Keynesian macro is preferred because it provides a more accurate and efficient understanding of the interaction between government spending and economic growth, and can back that up with evidence, especially of a predictive nature. But whether you want growth and what kind of growth you want are political issues. Those who do, like Krugman (or Nixon, when he wanted to take credit for a robust economy, and had one that often seemed to be on the verge of collapse), will be Keynesians because they want tools that work. But those who don't care about growth (except of business profits) will disparage Keynes -- after all, why acknowledge an analysis that could work when that's not what you want? Keynes wouldn't be controversial but for the purely political desire to slag the economy. You might wonder why Republicans would want to do that -- some combination of making a Democrat in the White House look bad and a preference for increasing inequality over economic growth.

    The "big government" association with Keynesianism is, as Krugman shows, misdirection. I'd personally like to trim large segments of government -- especially the biggest one of all, the military. That doing so would be contractionary doesn't bother me. One can always spend more elsewhere, and finding more productive investments than the US military should be easy. Or you can reduce taxes and, as Bush liked to put it, let people spend their own money. Strangely enough, anti-government obsessives rarely worry about the military -- even though from the founding of the republic up to WWII many Americans regarded a standing army as the greatest threat to liberty. Rather, what they object to is that government is subject to democratic rule and as such can be used to rebalance private fortunes, whereas their vaunted private sector tends to exacerbate inequities. They object not to the government which they need to secure private property, but to what that government might do to satisfy the masses. Over the ages they've pulled every trick imaginable to keep the belief that the nation was founded upon -- that all men are created equal -- from becoming reality. Denying the efficacy of Keynesian economics is just one such trick.

  • Bill McKibben: How mankind blew the fight against climate change: Strange scenes from Exxon Mobil's annual shareholders meeting:

    The meeting came two days after Texas smashed old rainfall records -- almost doubled them, in some cases -- and as authorities were still searching for families swept away after rivers crested many feet beyond their previous records. As Exxon Mobil's Rex Tillerson -- the highest-paid chief executive of the richest fossil fuel firm on the planet -- gave his talk, the death toll from India's heat wave mounted and pictures circulated on the Internet of Delhi's pavement literally melting. Meanwhile, satellite images showed Antarctica's Larsen B ice shelf on the edge of disintegration.

    And how did Tillerson react? By downplaying climate change and mocking renewable energy. To be specific, he said that "inclement weather" and sea level rise "may or may not be induced by climate change," but in any event technology could be developed to cope with any trouble. "Mankind has this enormous capacity to deal with adversity and those solutions will present themselves as those challenges become clear," he said.

    But apparently those solutions don't include, say, the wind and sun. Exxon Mobil wouldn't invest in renewable energy, Tillerson said, because clean technologies don't make enough money and rely on government mandates that were (remarkable choice of words) "not sustainable." He neglected to mention the report a week earlier from the not-very-radical International Monetary Fund detailing $5.3 trillion a year in subsidies for the fossil fuel industry.

    All in all, a sneering and sad performance by a man paid nearly $100,000 a day, whose company spends $100 million a day looking for new oil and gas even though scientists say we simply can't burn most of the fossil fuel we've already located without devastating consequences.

    The science explaining climate change, like Keynesian economics (above), has become inconvenient for certain well established interests who prefer to think that politics trumps science, or that anything that challenges their personal interests and prejudices must be nothing but propaganda against them. While this is often true, nowhere more so than in the oil industry, where fortunes were built on nothing more than a lottery of land titles, yet every tycoon considers himself a self-made man, not to mention graced by God.

  • Daniel Strauss: Brownback May Empower Kris Kobach to Prosecute 'Voter Fraud' Cases Himself: Kobach has been lobbying for this power ever since he was elected Secretary of State in 2010, although it's never been clear who he'd prosecute with this -- as he hasn't been able to get a single county to prosecute one of his cases yet. If anyone should be prosecuted for voter fraud it's Kobach, Brownback, and the state legislature, whose ID laws have prevented thousands of otherwise eligible citizens from voting. Josh Marshall comments: "He can just prosecute anyone he wants." Certainly a dream come true for a self-aggrandizing demagogue.

  • Maybe the GOP Candidates Are Just as Self-Deluding as Their Voter Base: Much discussion with little insight into the plethora of Republicans who are mounting campaigns for president in 2016. This keys off a Kevin Drum piece (title: Why Do So Many Obvious Losers Think They Can Be President?) that, in the most pedestrian tradition of horserace journalism tries to handicap the hopefuls. Both pieces are governed by the idea that only candidates with reasonable chances should bother running -- an idea which in the past has mostly been used to avoid considering the issues that "fringe" candidates (Dennis Kucinich is pretty close to the archetype here) run on and for. But Republicans are so ideologically homogeneous that it's hard to think of a candidate with issues to be silenced. (Drum tries to dismiss Rand Paul as having views "just flatly too far out of the tea party mainstream" -- actually, Paul's tea party bona fides are as strong as any candidate's [Cruz being the only obvious competition], his one major unorthodoxy [opposition to the PATRIOT Act] is quite popular among tea party rank-and-file, and he's shown remarkable willingness to shelve libertarian positions on fetish issues like abortion and Israel.)

    Of course, Drum's supposition is fully operative among Democrats. Hillary Clinton's inevitability -- a combination of name, stature, and an almost unique access to a resource base formidable enough to stand up to Republican money power -- doesn't give any other Democrats any real chance at raising the money they'd need to be taken seriously. (This on top of the usual Democratic fundraising disadvantages, such as a lower return on graft.)

    On the other hand lots of Republicans seem to be coming up with the money to run, and the fact that they're all saying the same thing just helps reinforce the brand. (One person's may be a crackpot, but three add up to a trend, and nine gives you a new conventional wisdom even if what they're saying still sounds crazed.) And all saying the same thing reduces the contest to one of personality -- something they'd much rather have us talking about than issues, which usually require a thick layer of packaging to be palatable at all. As usual with the Republicans, one suspects that this is just pre-primary dog-and-pony show to drum up interest, with the fix revealed later at an appropriately dramatic moment.

    One hint here is the recent demise of the candidacy of Dennis Michael Lynch -- a candidate you never heard of, probably because he doesn't fit the profile of "rising Republican star," maybe because his obsessive issue (anti-immigration) is one Republican powers would rather not talk about. On the other hand, there is a role for the nearly-as-obscure Carly Fiorina. Steve M. writes:

    My first impression of [Fiorina's] campaign wasn't that it was a campaign for president or vice president -- it was that, as a candidate, she's like the one female member of a rich accused rapist's defense dream team, the attorney whose principal role is to do a really vicious cross-examination of the victim, because that would come of as sexist if a man did it.

Also, a few links for further study:

  • Chloe Angyal: The Subculture of Embattled Abortion Workers: Abortion is one of the very few political issues today where ordinary debate is shadowed and haunted by one side adopting a network of harrassment and terror. Of course, this is not unprecedented in American history: the civil rights movement was met by even more violence, both in the 1960s and throughout the previous century, with much of that violence orchestrated by the various states. The labor movement up to the 1930s comes in a not-too-distant second. Still, while racism and anti-laborism persist, the level of violence and its chilling effects are far less than that experienced by the people who run and work with clinics that provide abortions. (Part of the reason may be the demagoguery of anti-choice politicians like Sam Brownback, playing the role George Wallace and Lester Maddox did on race.) Angyal reviews a book by David S Cohen and Krysten Connon: Living in the Crosshairs: The Untold Stories of Anti-Abortion Terrorism (2015, Oxford University Press), which details much of this history.

  • Jared Bernstein/Ben Spielberg: Inequaliity Matters: Lead in:

    Lately, one argument that's been making the rounds is that people should worry less about inequality and more about opportunity. Arthur Brooks, head of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said, "I don't care about income inequality per se; I care about opportunity inequality." Senator and presidential candidate Marco Rubio believes that inequality is but a symptom of immobility and constrained opportunity. Tyler Cowen argued in the New York Times that what matters is not the fact that the top 1 percent is capturing a much larger share of total income growth than they used to, but that the poor are stuck in poverty.

    These individuals have identified a worthy goal. Unequal access to opportunity offends deeply held American values, and poverty is not only a matter of near-term material deprivation -- too often, it also robs low-income children of the chance to realize their intellectual and economic potential.

    But it's not possible to effectively address either poverty or inadequate opportunity if America hives off its opportunity concerns from the broader problem of inequality (nor, as Senator Rubio intimates, can America reduce inequality by focusing solely on increasing mobility). Boosting mobility will require reductions in wage, income, and wealth inequalities.

    The authors back up their initial assertions. One question they don't address is whether opportunity is being deliberately constricted by the rich; e.g., by making elite education both more necessary for advancement and more inaccessible to the unwealthy. It makes sense that a politically aggressive upper class recognizing a stagnant economy with austerity reducing the number of slots near the top would focus more on securing those slots for their own progeny. I don't know that anyone has sorted out the evidence for this, but there are many hints -- e.g., the nepotism boom under the second Bush administration.

  • Garrett Epps: Out of Spite: The Governor of Nebraska's Threat to Execute Prisoners: Nebraska's state legislature passed a bill to ban capital punishment. Governor Ricketts vetoed the bill, and the legislature overrode the veto, making the bill law. So what does Ricketts do? Follow the law? No. He vows to speed up the executions of ten prisoners already on death row. Epps surveys many of the issues, including the increasing difficulty that states are having obtaining lethal injection drugs.

  • David Himmelstein/Steffie Woolhandler: The Post-Launch Problem: The Affordable Care Act's Persistently High Administrative Costs:

    Insuring 25 million additional Americans, as the CBO projects the ACA will do, is surely worthwhile. But the administrative cost of doing so seems awfully steep, particularly when much cheaper alternatives are available.

    Traditional Medicare runs for 2 percent overhead, somewhat higher than insurance overhead in universal single payer systems like Taiwan's or Canada's. Yet traditional Medicare is a bargain compared to the ACA strategy of filtering most of the new dollars through private insurers and private HMOs that subcontract for much of the new Medicaid coverage. Indeed, dropping the overhead figure from 22.5 percent to traditional Medicare's 2 percent would save $249.3 billion by 2022.

    The ACA isn't the first time we've seen bloated administrative costs from a federal program that subcontracts for coverage through private insurers. Medicare Advantage plans' overhead averaged 13.7 percent in 2011, about $1,355 per enrollee. But rather than learn from that mistake, both Democrats and Republicans seem intent on tossing more federal dollars to private insurers.

  • Esther Kaplan: Losing Sparta: The Bitter Truth Behind the Gospel of Productivity: That's Sparta, Tennessee, home of a huge unionized factory owned by Philips and shut down in 2010, the equipment (and business) to be moved to Mexico.

    When Philips announced its plans to shut down the plant in Sparta, the firm was in the black, aided by $7.2 million in federal stimulus grants and contracts. Profits were even better the following year as the firm began to lay off the plant's nearly 300 workers. Even Philips's lighting division was doing well. By late 2010, three years into the recovery, corporate profits, in general, had bounced back decisively, reaching record highs. Yet layoffs continued apace -- 1.4 million in 2010, 1.3 million a year in 2011 and 2012 -- well above prerecession levels.

    Among other profitable firms -- indeed, Fortune's list of America's most profitable firms in 2012, the year the Philips plant finally closed its gates -- closures and layoffs have been widespread: Chevron lays off 103 from a New Mexico mine; Walmart shuts down a New York office, putting 275 out of work; Ford shuts down two assembly plants in Minnesota, laying off nearly 1,700; IBM lays off 1,790 from its business units; Microsoft lays off 5,000. Exxon, ranked number one in profitability by Fortune in 2012, with $41 billion in profits in 2011, shrank its global workforce by more than 15,000 between 2010 and 2012. Chevron, at number two with profits of $27 billion, added only a thousand US jobs during that period. Apple was the only one of the country's five most profitable firms to add more than 10,000 jobs during that time (and Apple's public disclosures don't specify how many of those jobs were domestic). The latest Commerce Department data show that all US multinationals combined added a net total of only half a million jobs domestically between 2002 and 2011, but added 3.5 million jobs abroad, an indication of offshoring on a very grand scale.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Daily Log

List from Spin's The 50 Best Albums of 2015 . . . So Far (my grades in brackets, red

  • Action Bronson: Mr. Wonderful (Atlantic/Vice) [***]
  • Alabama Shakes: Sound & Color (ATO) [*]
  • American Wrestlers: American Wrestlers (Fat Possum) [B]
  • Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba: Ba Power (Glitterbeat) [A-]
  • Best Coast: California Nights (Harvest) [*]
  • Björk: Vulnicura (One Little Indian) []
  • Black Cilice: Mysteries (Iron Bonehead) []
  • Blur: The Magic Whip (Parlophone) [**]
  • The Body/Thou: You, Whom I Have Always Hated (Thrill Jockey) []
  • Cannibal Ox: Blade of the Ronin (IGC) [***]
  • Chastity Belt: Time to Go Home (Hardly Art) [*]
  • Ciara: Jackie (Epic) [***]
  • Colin Stetson/Sarah Neufeld: Never Were the Way She Was (Constellation) [A-]
  • Colleen Green: I Want to Grow Up (Hardly Art) [B]
  • Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom + Pop) [A-]
  • Dan Deacon: Gliss Riffer (Domino) [*]
  • Dawn [Richard]: Blackheart (Our Dawn) [B]
  • Drake: If You're Reading This It's Too Late (Cash Money) [B]
  • Dwight Yoakam: Second Hand Heart (Warner Bros) [B]
  • Earl Sweatshirt: I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside (Columbia) [*]
  • Eye: The Future Will Be Repeated (Ba Da Bing) [**]
  • Father John Misty: I Love You, Honeybear (Sub Pop) [B]
  • Fifth Harmony: Reflection (Epic) []
  • Girl Band: The Early Years (Rough Trade) []
  • Heems: Eat Pray Thug (Megaforce) [A-]
  • iLoveMakonnen: Drink More Water 5 (self-released) [**]
  • Jack Ü [Skrillex/Diplo]: Jack Ü (Atlantic/Mad Decent/OWSLA) [***]
  • Juan Wauters: Who Me? (Captured Tracks) [*]
  • Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly (Top Dawg/Interscope) [A-]
  • The Knocks: So Classic (Big Beat, EP) [*]
  • Laura Marling: Short Movie (Ribbon Music) [A-]
  • Levon Vincent: Levon Vincent (Novel Sound) []
  • Liturgy: The Ark Work (Thrill Jockey) []
  • Marina & the Diamonds: Proof (Atlantic) []
  • Metz: Metz II (Sub Pop) []
  • Monster Rally & Jay Stone: Foreign Pedestrians (Gold Robot) [*]
  • Panda Bear: Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper (Domino) [B]
  • The Paranoid Style: Rock and Roll Just Can't Recall (Worldwide Battle, EP) [***]
  • Screaming Females: Rose Mountain (Don Giovanni) []
  • Shamir: Ratchet (XL) [A-]
  • Sleater-Kinney: No Cities to Love (Sub Pop) [*]
  • Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty) [***]
  • Timeghost: Cellular (Load) []
  • Torche: Restarter (Relapse) []
  • various artists: PC Music Volume 1 (PC Music) [**]
  • Viet Cong: Viet Cong (Jagjaguwar) [**]
  • Waxahatchee: Ivy Tripp (Wichita) [**]
  • Young Fathers: White Men Are Black Men Too (Big Dada) [**]
  • Young Guv: Ripe 4 Luv (Slumberland) [***]
  • Young Thug: Barter 6 (self-released) [**]

Initial list check stats: [A-]: 5 (7); [***]: 6 (7); [**]: 5 (8); [*]: 5 (8); [B]: 6; []: 23 (14).

Top non-jazz records missing here:

  1. James McMurtry: Complicated Game (Complicated Game) **
  2. Low Cut Connie: Hi Honey (Ardent Music/Contender) **
  3. BadBadNotGood & Ghostface Killah: Sour Soul (Lex) **
  4. Tuxedo: Tuxedo (Stones Throw) **
  5. The Mountain Goats: Beat the Champ (Merge) **
  6. Ray Wylie Hubbard: The Ruffian's Misfortune (Bordello) **
  7. The Mowgli's: Kids in Love (Republic) **
  8. Mbongwana Star: From Kinshasa (World Circuit) **
  9. Fabiano Do Nascimento: Dança Dos Tempos (Now-Again) **

Music Week

Music: Current count 25024 [25005] rated (+19), 422 [420] unrated (+2).

Missed four days for my trip to Arkansas. Fortunately, caught a break in the moonsoon on both travelling days, although it rained a lot the two full days at my cousin's house. They let me cook. I opted for comfort food on Friday -- boiled chicken with biscuits with green beans on the side -- and for blowout eight-dish Chinese on Saturday. Still, best meal was probably the standard Arkansas breakfast my second cousin put together Sunday morning -- including the chocolate gravy her grandmother (my aunt) was famous for, although I prefer the sausage gravy on my biscuits.

For "old music" I continue to pick off unheard albums from Spin's 1985-2014 list. Sometimes I go deeper into back catalogs I never paid much attention to back in the day, and sometimes not. In the case of Blur I started with a couple of early unheard albums, then skipped to the one selected (13), then checked out this year's reunion album, but I left a few holes I didn't bother with. I started from the git go with Depeche Mode, but doubt I'll go beyond the list album (1990's Violator). Running across more records not on Rhapsody, like Dr. Dre's The Chronic and Guided by Voices' Bee Thousand.

Didn't get to much new jazz last year, but did find two surprises: a teenaged standards singer from Spain, Andrea Motis, and a tribute album to little-remembered vibraphonist Gary McFarland. I wrote a little tweet-review of the former mostly to share the bandcamp link. The McFarland tribute was an even bigger surprise: I hear a lot of fine mainstream postbop, but almost by definition the genre sticks with ordinary conventions. But after sitting on the fence for a couple plays, the sparkling performances paid off here.

New records rated this week:

  • Priscilla Badhwar: Mademoiselle (2014 [2015], self-released, EP): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Blur: The Magic Whip (2015, Parlophone): [r]: B+(**)
  • Joan Chamorro & Andrea Motis: Feeling Good (2012 [2015], Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Lorin Cohen: Home (2014 [2015], Origin): [cd]: B
  • Colours Jazz Orchestra: Home Away From Home: Plays the Music of Ayn Inserto (2013 [2015], Neu Klang): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The Gary McFarland Legacy Ensemble: Circulation: The Music of Gary McFarland (2015, Planet Arts): [cd]: A-

Old records rated this week:

  • Blur: Leisure (1991, SBK): [r]: B
  • Blur: Modern Life Is Rubbish (1993, SBK): [r]: B-
  • Blur: 13 (1999, Virgin): [r]: B+(**)
  • Daft Punk: Homework (1997, Virgin): [r]: B
  • Depeche Mode: Speak & Spell (1981, Sire): [r]: B
  • Depeche Mode: A Broken Frame (1982, Sire): [r]: B-
  • J Dilla: Donuts (2006, Stones Throw): [r]: B
  • Slayer: Reign in Blood (1986, Def American): [r]: B
  • TLC: CrazySexyCool (1994, La Face): [r]: B+(**)
  • TLC: Fanmail (1999, La Face): [r]: B+(***)
  • A Tribe Called Quest: Midnight Marauders (1993, Jive): [r]: A-
  • A Tribe Called Quest: Beats, Rhymes and Life (1996, Jive): [r]: A-
  • A Tribe Called Quest: The Love Movement (1998, Jive): [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Tiffany Austin: Nothing but Soul (Con Alma): June 2
  • Kevin Bachelder/Jason Lee Bruns: Cherry Avenue (Panout Music Group)
  • Kenny Carr: Idle Talk (self-released)
  • Jerry Granelli Trio + 3: What I Hear Now (Addo)
  • Brianna Thomas: You Must Believe in Love (Sound On Purpose)
  • John Yao and His 17-Piece Instrument: Flip-Flop (See Tao): June 9

One thing that inevitably comes up when I visit Arkansas was the political legacy of the Clintons. My cousin expressed her belief that Bill Clinton was a pretty good president. But rather than agree, at least relative to other recent presidents, I detailed a list of things that I thought Clinton did that were bad:

  1. Clinton failed to control the US military, starting with his cave-in on "don't ask, don't tell" and his failure to force any real post-Cold War cuts. This led to an expansion of military actions, especially where a liberal/humanitarian excuse could be cooked up (e.g., Haiti, Kosovo). Clinton himself found ad hoc bombing attacks useful, expecially in Iraq. His failure to resolve Iraq made Bush's 2003 invasion possible.
  2. Clinton was a sponsor or at least a willing collaborator in several pieces of banking deregulation (including repeal of Glass-Steagall) that led to, perhaps inevitably, the 2008 crash.
  3. Clinton pushed various "free trade" measure, starting with NAFTA, which have had exported jobs and weakened the American working class.
  4. Clinton (and Hillary deserves a fair amount of blame here) bungled his health care system fix, delaying any reform by two decades, leaving us even today short of a system that works fairly.

I suppose I could have added something about jail sentences and something about welfare "reform" but I have less of a handle on exactly how Clinton screwed those things up. There's also question as to what extend Clinton was responsible for the Democrats' loss of Congress in 1994, and beyond that the damage he did to the party by his hoarding and squandering of party resources -- problems which Obama recapitulated with remarkable indifference.

All that said, sure, Clinton was a much better president than either the Bush before or the Bush after him; even more so compared to Reagan. Possibly even compared to Obama, although in many respects the Obama administration we got more closely resembles the Hillary administration we voted for Obama to improve on. Obama certainly has a better thought out approach to foreign policy (aka war), banking, health care, etc., although he's had to make deeper compromises given the situation he inherited (and was so reluctant to complain about).

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Bully Pulpit

Ed Kilgore quotes Mike Huckabee on, well, I guess you'd call this defense doctrine, though I'm not sure you can do that with a straight face:

I'm not a war monger, let me be very clear -- I think the best way to avoid war is to have the most robust military in the history of mankind and the kind of military nobody ever wants to wake up and find on the other end of the fight.

I learned this on the playground as a kid, all of you did. If there is a bully in your school, who does he pick on? He picks on who he thinks he can whip his butt. He never picks on a kid who he thinks can whip his butt. And the day that he picks on the wrong kid, and that kid beats his butt, he never does it again.

This reminds me of a lot of things, but let's start with Robert Fulghum's slim 1989 bestseller, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Fulghum was a minister, so that may explain why he never needed to know anything about geometry or chemistry or, more generally, history and arts and sciences. Even so, I doubt he really meant to deprecate post-kindergarten learning. Rather, he wanted to make a point about the value of certain things that can be learned in kindergarten. A Wikipedia summary:

The title of the book is taken from the first essay in the volume, in which Fulghum lists lessons normally learned in American kindergarten classrooms and explains how the world would be improved if adults adhered to the same basic rules as children, i.e. sharing, being kind to one another, cleaning up after themselves, and living "a balanced life" of work, play, and learning.

I never read the book, but got the gist from the blurb, and it always struck me as a clever idea with a kernel of wisdom. I thought of it because Huckabee is also a minister, so that got me wondering whether a kindergarten frame of mind is endemic to the profession. On the other hand, I don't recall Fulghum's list -- as I recall, 21 short items (the shortest: "Flush.") -- including anything on the importance of beating down bullies. Maybe that's a Baptist thing? (Fulghum's ministry was Unitarian Universalist.)

Still, there's more wrong with Huckabee's bully analogy than his infantilist mindset. I suppose it's possible that bullies are more of a problem today than they were when I went to grade school -- I knew a couple but I'd characterize them more as thugs than bullies. But while Huckabee is probably right that bullies tend to pick on kids weaker than themselves, what distinguishes them more is their isolation from social norms and their willingness to cross authority. As usual, the best defense was to keep the problem from appearing, which has more to do with good management than stern policing. But one thing I never saw was a "sheepdog" (to use Chris Kyle's term) who would defend the weak (the "sheep") by beating down the bullies (the "wolves"). But then, had one appeared, he would have gotten nabbed by the authorities: bullying is intimidation, so it makes sense that intimidating "bullies" is bullying too.

In Kyle's mind what distinguishes the sheepdog from the wolf is the purity of his intentions. One thing that means is that it is hard, perhaps impossible, for an independent observer to tell the difference. For the US Army, pure intentions are a given -- not something any American politician, least of all a simpleton like Huckabee, would dare examine. If the US Army whips your butt, you had it coming. Still, there are at least four problems with this assumption: one is that pure intentions are real hard to come to and maintain (especially in an individualist/capitalist society which puts so much motivational weight on self-interest); second, even if your intentions are pure, the information you act on is often faulty (which is the main reason we keep killing people we didn't intend to); third, power is seductive and addictive, so as you build it you'll be tempted to flaunt it (cf. Madeleine Albright's tease: "What's the point of having this superb military that you're always talking about if we can't use it?" ); fourth, no one else can see (or trust) your intentions, so all they have to go on is your acts.

If the last paragraph seems theoretical, remember that what Huckabee is proposing isn't a hypothetical. The US has had the world's most dominant, most expensive, most far-reaching military in the world at least since 1945, so we have seventy years of history we can reflect upon. No one can doubt that the US had the power to destroy any nation that tried to bully it. As a first approximation, you might even think that strategy worked: no other nation has directly attacked US soil, nor the soil of any nation the US has a multilateral defense treaty with. On the other hand, that hasn't meant 70 years of secure peace. In fact, the US has engaged in dozens of overt and/or covert wars throughout the period. I'm not going to run down the list. The point is that being able to "whip butts" isn't a formula for peace. As practiced by the US for seventy years, it's a formula for perpetual war.

One reason is that lots of people have come to view the US as the bully. After all, what do bullies do? They use the threat of violence, demonstrated on occasion, to intimidate weaker folks, to take advantage of them, to limit their freedom. Arguably the US has done this many times. Bullying doesn't explain every US war -- US support for the Contras in Nicaragua and the Muhajedin in Afghanistan was more malicious, meant not to impose order but to tear down an order we didn't like -- but it is a pattern, and is more often than not never comes to war, the merest of threats sufficing. On the other hand, the bully pose is most explicit when faced with possible defeat: the Bush response to 9/11 was obsessed with reasserting American global domination, while the Nixon response to impending defeat in Vietnam was to raise the stakes, to show the world how much anyone who challenged us could be made to suffer.

On the other hand, the calculus of bullying is more complex, as Todd Snider points out in his song, Is This Thing On?, where he describes a kid who stands up to a bully, not by beating him down but by letting the bully disgrace himself:

Well, that bully just laughed and laughed
Of course, and so did all of his friends
And he beat that kid unmercifully
For days and days on end

Only less and less impressively
To that girl and all his friends
Who would eventually, secretly
Start hoping, the kid might win

You can see this dynamic most clearly with Israel and Palestine, where the former's periodic wars, no matter how overwhelming the result, only generate more sympathy for the latter. But even where the tide of public opinion never turns, overwhelming intimidation may be met not with submission but with greater resolve to find other, more asymmetric, forms of resistance. Guerrilla warfare and terrorism are two such forms, but the range of options is myriad. And while the US has weapons sufficient to kill virtually every living thing on earth, all that power has proven impossible to use with much precision. (The central problem of the "war on terror" is to distinguish friend from foe, but inability to exclusively target the latter has actually led to a multiplication of foes, a trend that portends failure.)

One more point: In the early post-WWII (post-New Deal) period, the US enjoyed a full range of options for dealing with the rest of the world, backed by an ideology which for the most part was democratic, progressive, and anti-colonial. In particular, the US supported international organizations, especially the UN, to provide a diplomatic framework for resolving conflicts, based on a broad and universal declaration of human rights, much as law provides a framework for resolving civil conflicts. The US also had the wherewithal to provide extensive economic aid to other countries. The military only became a significant factor with the Berlin Blockade (1948) and the Korean War (1950), and has become increasingly hegemonic in American thinking, with the CIA gaining ground in the 1950s. This shift in approaches was locked into an ideological sea change, as the US came to side with capitalism against labor, and as such with crony dictators against popular movements. This shift not only makes it harder to justify America's "pure intentions" -- it has led Americans to take an increasingly brutal view of the rest of the world, and indeed of ourselves. One tiny example is the hero worship accorded a stone cold killer like Chris Kyle (the SEAL hero of American Sniper), but you find it everywhere, not least in Huckabee's passion for whipping butt.

I have a little quote from Linda Robinson's review of Bill Russell Edmonds: God Is Not Here:

All that said, Edmonds's time in Iraq did give him an opportunity to capture an essential lesson about the war: Americans' behavior toward ordinary Iraqis contributed actively to frictions, discontent, anger and ultimately a population that was less inclined to assist the United States-backed government than to aid the insurgency -- or at least stay silent. As the violence grew, American soldiers became more aggressive, which, coupled with the protective measures they took and their general ignorance of Iraqi culture, created a highly dysfunctional atmosphere. Edmonds's book is full of Iraqi voices expressing outrage at the Americans. As an adviser, he had to deal with almost daily invective. He concludes: "Our actions, our tactics and our one-on-one American and Iraqi interactions are causing a few civilians to turn insurgent and the majority to look away when the few insurgents act."

Edmonds was stationed in Mosul in 2005-06, and was working as an advisor to Iraqi intelligence officers, so was involved in interrogating Iraqi civilians (the key word in the subtitle is "Torture") He later suffered some sort of mental breakdown, something this book attempts to reckon with. Just one case, but this sheds some light on how the bully army breaks down at the individual level. Many other soldier reports don't show this because most soldiers are more isolated from the people they harrass and kill -- contained within their units, fearing the unknown.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 25005 [24971] rated (+34), 420 [407] unrated (+13).

Rated count creeped over the 25,000 mark yesterday. Much of last week's haul was picked up on Rhapsody as I've been filling in the previously unheard records on Spin's Top 300 1985-2014 list. Thus far I've filled in all but one of the top 75 slots -- Metallica won't allow their precious music (ranked 34 was 1986's Master of Puppets) to be exposed through a cheap streaming service, so fuck them too. I've only found two A-list albums in this exercise so far -- Nas' Illmatic last week and, more marginally, Aphex Twin's I Care Because You Do this week (not actually on Spin's list but I checked it out and gave it a slight edge over two high-B+ albums on the list, Selected Ambient Works 85-92 and Richard D. James Album). (Oh, already forgot about those two Smiths best-ofs, not on the list but picked up in my sweep.)

Not sure if I'll stick with this exercise. I was only missing 11 of the top 75 albums (14.6%), but I haven't heard 64 of the remaining 225 (28.4%), and wouldn't be surprised if the law of diminishing expectations kicks in. Indeed, it may alraedy have: I played three Smashing Pumpkins albums yesterday (including Gish, not on the Spin list). All three were better than I expected, but pricked no personal interest whatsoever. Slayer (77) comes next. Then Bikini Kill (80), but not on Rhapsody. Then A Tribe Called Quest (84), Pixies (86), J Dilla (90), Daft Punk (93), Blur (96), TLC (99), Guided by Voices (100) -- a stretch of records I can look forward to.

I've been rather slow going through the incoming mail, but this week brought in a new batch of Clean Feeds, two records from François Carrier, three from Ivo Perelman, and a pleasant change-of-pace from Scott Hamilton (I've had to go to Rhapsody to pick up six of his last eight albums). Still, may be a while before I get to them. I'll be out of town most of this coming week.

Memorial Day hadn't really sunk into my consciousness yesterday even though I wrote two Weekend Roundup items on the Iraq War and its beleaguered veterans. Thinking back today, one thing I wonder is when did the military come to dominate Memorial Day (or as it used to be called, Decoration Day). Many of my extended family members served in the armed forces during WWII, including my father, but none of them were killed in the war (one uncle war shot and partially disabled; another uncle saw sailors killed on both sides of him, but came out unscathed, only to die in a car accident six years later). Another bunch got caught up in Korea. One second cousin was killed in Vietnam (probably by a soldier under his command, an utter waste). But I don't recall singling out soldiers when as a child we'd go to cemeteries on Decoration Day -- we'd often wind up at the Flutey Cemetery in Arkansas, where several generations of my mother's family were buried. (Or more rarely at the Spearville [KS] Cemetery, where a comparable set of my father's relatives rested.) It used to be a day of remembering where you came from, one more poignant to my parents, who recalled more of the buried, than it ever was to me.

Before WWII most Americans had little experience with war or the army, aside from two notable instances. My grandfather (father's side, the only one I knew) was swept up in WWI and sent to Europe. A great-great-grandfather and his sons fought for Ohio in the Civil War and settled afterwards in Arkansas. About 405,000 Americans were killed in WWII, but that was still a small percentage of the population (0.307%), so the odds of a family like mine, with a dozen or more WWII soldiers, finishing with no death aren't bad. (Percentage-wise, the wars fought on US soil were much higher: 2.385% for the Civil War, 0.899% for the Revolutionary War. The shorter WWI was 0.110%. For other recent wars: Vietnam 0.030%, Korea Korea 0.020%, Iraq/Afghanistan ["War on Terror"] 0.002% -- source.)

The real difference is that wars up through WWII were exceptions to long periods where the US had virtually no Army. But since 1945 the US has fielded a huge standing Army as well as more clandestine operations like the CIA, and as such the nation has perpetually been on a war footing, more often than not actively engaged. If you look at the table of "United States military casualties of war" cited above, the only post-1945 years without military operations are: well, none. If we exclude the 1947-1991 USSR Cold War and 1950-1972 China Cold War lines, you get: 1954 (Korea ended in 1953, although a state of cold war continues to this day; Vietnam started in 1955, although the US supported France until its defeat in 1954); 1976-1979 (Vietnam ended in 1975, also followed by a cold war; operations in Iran and El Salvador started in 1980), and 1985 (between Beirut 1982-1984 and bombing Libya in 1986). The basic fact is that the United States has been at war all around the world ever since 1945. Of course, those wars produce dead soldiers, and those dead soldiers produce popular sympathy, so it's not surprising that the people who promote those wars should use Memorial Day to reinforce and perpetuate their warmongering. One irony of this is that we no longer have a day of rememberance for the people who actually built this country, the vast majority of our forbears who lived normal and industrious lives, because that day has been turned over to only recognize those Americans who have had their lives snatched away by America's imperial ambitions. That may not be so bad if we took the day to remind ourselves of the folly of those deaths, but officially at least we don't: we fly flags, salute, play taps, sometimes with pride swelling up, more often just self-pity. And we never comment on the deaths and destruction our wars have wrought: the chart above has no column for deaths and injuries we have caused. Indeed, in many cases we have no idea: estimates of Vietnamese dead range from 1.450 to 3.595 million (between 25 and 62 times the number of American dead). Nor could we care less.

Let me end this with a quote from Ray McGovern: How to Honor Memorial Day:

First, let's be clear on at least this much: the 4,500 U.S. troops killed in Iraq -- so far -- and the 2,350 killed in Afghanistan -- so far -- did not "fall." They were wasted on no-win battlefields by politicians and generals -- cheered on by neocon pundits and mainstream "journalists" -- almost none of whom gave a rat's patootie about the real-life-and-death troops. They were throwaway soldiers.

Meanwhile, enjoy the week's new music. It will help you get past today's orgy of necrophilia.

  • Randy Brecker/Bobby Shew/Jan Hasenöhrl: Trumpet Summit Prague (2012 [2015], Summit): [cd]: B
  • Christoph Irniger Trio: Gowanus Canal (2012 [2013], Intakt): [r]: B+(***)
  • Christoph Irniger Pilgrim: Italian Circus Story (2014, Intakt): [r]: B+(**)
  • Christoph Irniger Trio: Octopus (2014 [2015], Intakt): [cd]: A-
  • Deborah Latz: Sur L'Instant (2013 [2015], June Moon): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Ingrid Laubrock Anti-House: Roulette of the Cradle (2014 [2015], Intakt): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Mbongwana Star: From Kinshasa (2015, World Circuit): [r]: A-
  • Jeff Richman: Hotwire (2015, Nefer): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Shamir: Ratchet (2015, XL): [r]: A-
  • Enoch Smith Jr.: Misfits II: Pop (Misfitme Music)
  • U2: Songs of Innocence (2014, Interscope): [r]: B

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

  • Yabby You: Dread Prophecy: The Strange and Wonderful Story of Yabby You (1972-85 [2015], Shanachie, 3CD): [r]: B+(***)

Old records rated this week:

  • Aphex Twin: Selected Ambient Works 85-92 (1992, R&S): [r]: B+(***)
  • Aphex Twin: I Care Because You Do (1990-94 [1995], Sire): [r]: A-
  • Aphex Twin: Richard D. James Album (1996, Elektra): [r]: B+(***)
  • Björk: Debut (1993, Elektra): [r]: B+(*)
  • Björk: Post (1995, Elektra): [r]: B
  • Björk: Greatest Hits (1993-2001 [2002], Elektra): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Cure: Three Imaginary Boys (1979, Fiction): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Cure: The Head on the Door (1985, Elektra): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Cure: Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me (1987, Elektra): [r]: B
  • The Cure: Disintegration (1989, Elektra): [r]: B
  • The Flaming Lips: The Soft Bulletin (1999, Warner Brothers): [r]: B
  • The Flaming Lips: Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (2002, Warner Brothers): [r]: B+(***)
  • Neutral Milk Hotel: On Avery Island (1995 [1996], Merge): [r]: B
  • Neutral Milk Hotel: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea (1998, Merce): [r]: B+(**)
  • Smashing Pumpkins: Gish (1992, Caroline): [r]: B
  • Smashing Pumpkins: Siamese Dream (1993, Virgin): [r]: B
  • Smashing Pumpkins: Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1993, Virgin, 2CD): [r]: B
  • Elliott Smith: Either/Or (1997, Kill Rock Stars): [r]: B
  • U2: Achtung Baby (1991, Island): [r]: B+(*)
  • U2: Zooropa (1983, Island): [r]: B+(**)
  • U2: Pop (1997, Island): [r]: B+(*)
  • Weezer: Pinkerton (1996, Geffen): [r]: B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Aguankö: Invisible (Aguankö Music)
  • All Included: Satan in Plain Clothes (Clean Feed)
  • Bastet: Eye of Ra (self-released): May 26
  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert: Io (FMR)
  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Rafal Mazur: Unknowable (Not Two)
  • Hugo Carvalhais: Grand Valis (Clean Feed)
  • Joan Chamorro & Andrea Motis: Feeling Good (Whaling City Sound): June 2
  • Deux Maisons: For Sale (Clean Feed)
  • Chris Dingman: The Subliminal & the Sublime (Inner Arts Initiative): June 16
  • Scott Hamilton: Scott Hamilton Plays Jule Styne (Blue Duchess)
  • Joe Hertenstein: HNH (Clean Feed)
  • Makaya McCraven: In the Moment (International Anthem) [was: B+(***)]
  • Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: Callas (Leo, 2CD)
  • Ivo Perelman/Mat Maneri/Joe Morris: Counterpoint (Leo)
  • Ivo Perelman/Whit Dickey: Tenorhood (Leo)
  • Simon Phillips: Protocll III (Phantom)
  • Ben Stapp & the Zozimos: Myrrha's Red Book: Act 1 (Evolver)
  • Davide Tammaro: Ghosts (self-released): May 26
  • Universal Indians w/Joe McPhee: Skullduggery (Clean Feed)
  • Frank Vignola & Vinny Raniolo: Swing Zing! (FV): June 5

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links this week:

  • Charles Krauthammer: It's Obama who lost Iraq: I don't normally bother citing right-wing propagandists here. I'd rather use links to learn something or at least point out something new, and the insight that Krauthammer is a devious, despicable warmonger is far from new. Nor is Krauthammer capable of the sort of idiosyncracies -- like you might find from Cal Thomas or David Brooks -- that might shed some light into the bizarre thinking processes of conservatives. The one strength Krauthammer has is his ability to proceed from false premise to faulty conclusion: few conservatives are as rigorous, or as ridgid. But I can't let this false premise go unnoted:

    Second, the "if you knew then" question implicitly locates the origin and cause of the current disasters in 2003. As if the fall of Ramadi was predetermined then, as if the author of the current regional collapse is George W. Bush.

    This is nonsense. The fact is that by the end of Bush's tenure, the war had been won. You can argue that the price of that victory was too high. Fine. We can debate that until the end of time.

    But what is not debatable is that it was a victory. Bush bequeathed to Obama a success. By whose measure? By Obama's. As he told the troops at Fort Bragg on Dec. 14, 2011, "We are leaving behind a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people." This was, said the President, a "moment of success."

    Which Obama proceeded to fully squander. With the 2012 election approaching, he chose to liquidate our military presence in Iraq. We didn't just withdraw our forces. We abandoned, destroyed or turned over our equipment, stores, installations and bases.

    We surrendered our most valuable strategic assets, such as control of Iraqi airspace, soon to become the indispensable conduit for Iran to supply and sustain the Assad regime in Syria and cement its influence all the way to the Mediterranean. [ . . . ]

    Iraq is now a battlefield between the Sunni jihadists of the Islamic State and the Shiite jihadists of Iran's Islamic Republic. There is no viable center. We abandoned it. The Obama administration's unilateral pullout created a vacuum for the entry of the worst of the worst.

    Probably the biggest mistake Obama made in the early days of his presidency was how graciously he let Bush off the hook, not only for his disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq but for his mishandling of the economy and numerous other malfeasances of government. He did this in some sort of unrequited lust for bipartisan appeal, thinking that, for instance, if he expressed confidence that would help the economy. The real definition of the "success" he referred to was that he had managed to extricate American troops from an occupation that went sour from the very start and that would continue to be resisted violently as long as it went on. Those troops left not because they had accomplished any American goals but because the Iraqi government, whose legitimacy we could not dispute, had insisted on their leaving -- indeed, that government would never be regarded as legitimate in the eyes of its own people had the US continued to prop them up. Whether Obama wanted that to happen or not is beside the point. What he tried to do was to buck up the troops is a moment of retreat. Doing so was, I think, a mistake, and not just because it allowed Krauthammer to twist his words around. It was mostly a mistake because he squandered an opportunity to remind the nation that the entire Iraq War was a disastrous misjudgment, principally by George W. Bush. His generous words to the troops not only sullied his own reputation, it denied America a critical opportunity to learn from past mistakes.

    For an example of Krauthammer's weasel wording, consider his line: "With the 2012 election approaching, he chose to liquidate our military presence in Iraq." After the Dec. 14, 2011 "success" pronouncement, this implies that the "liquidation" came later -- perhaps closer to November 2012 election. In fact, the "liquidation" was completed by Dec. 18, 2011, four days after Obama's speech. And as I said, it wasn't Obama who chose to withdraw. All he decided was to honor and implement an agreement Bush signed in 2008 that set a Dec. 31, 2011 timetable for US withdrawal, and that was largely because Iraq didn't offer any other option.

    Perhaps had Obama sided with history, and the vast majority of the American people, that the 2003 invasion of Iraq had been a mistake, and laid the blame for that mistake clearly at the feet of the people responsible for it, he might not have repeated the mistake in sending troops back to Iraq to fight ISIS -- a move which, by the way, Krauthammer applauded. By the way, Ramadi fell to ISIS not in the wake of the US withdrawal, but after Obama sent troops back into Iraq.

    The implication that Iraq had a "viable center" before Obama withdrew is especially scurrilous. Iraq has essentially the same shiite-dominated government now it had in 2011 (or for that matter since the US arranged for Nouri al-Maliki to become Prime Minister in 2006). While a continued US military presence might have meant a few more "allies" ready to take American cash, they would never have developed into a politically significant faction -- in large part because as far back as Bush I the US viewed Iraq as a triad of sectarian forces to play against each other (first urging the shiites to rise up against Saddam Hussein, then helping the Kurds break away, then using both as proxies in the 2003 invasion, and later fomenting a Shiite-Sunni civil war to keep the anti-American Sadr movement from linking up with various anti-American Sunni forces (everything from Baathists to Al-Qaida-in-Iraq). But also because "American interests" in Iraq never extended beyond the military-industrial complex and other corporations (notably in the oil industry), so the US never offered anything concrete to the Iraqi people.

    Krauthammer also has a peculiar argument about 2003:

    It's a retrospective hypothetical: Would you have invaded Iraq in 2003 if you had known then what we know now?

    First, the question is not just a hypothetical, but an inherently impossible hypothetical. It contradicts itself. Had we known there were no weapons of mass destruction, the very question would not have arisen. The premise of the war -- the basis for going to the UN, to the Congress and, indeed, to the nation -- was Iraq's possession of WMD in violation of the central condition for the ceasefire that ended the first Gulf War. No WMD, no hypothetical to answer in the first place.

    He seems to be saying that had Bush known Iraq had no WMD, he wouldn't have even considered invading Iraq. But actually there is little reason to think either that Bush's top security people believed Iraq possessed WMD or that that possession was the real reason they wanted to invade and occupy Iraq. Every scrap of stovepiped intelligence that the administration presented had been refuted well before the invasion -- the Niger uranium buy, the aluminum tubes, the mobile biological weapons vans, what else was there? -- and repeated inspections had failed to find anything. If Bush wanted to find proof he should have allowed the UN inspectors to continue their work, but he cut them short. As for real reason, Bush's people were very forthcoming about their desire to remake the Middle East in America's image -- actually, during the Bremer viceroyship it looked more like the aim was Texas's image -- while Bush himself much enjoyed the political prospects of leading a successful war (something his father nearly managed but lost by allowing Saddam Hussein to survive). The phrase "knowing what we know now" doesn't just mean "knowing Iraq had no WMD"; it means "knowing that the war would last eight year, cost over 4,000 US soldiers lives, kill hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and leave the country mired in a civil war with no end in sight, hosting groups like ISIS that present threats impossible under Saddam Hussein." Krauthammer doesn't like that question because even now, even given that everyone across the political spectrum from George W. Bush to Jeb Bush would answer the question "no" -- Krauthammer himself would still say "yes," because quite frankly Krauthammer likes disastrous wars as much as he likes rousing wars, because he knows how to spin both into future wars, and that's all he really cares about.

    By the way, in looking up some points above, I ran across Ali Khedery: Why we stuck with Maliki -- and lost Iraq. Khedery was a high-level US operative in Iraq, working for various US ambassadors and General Petraeus, and claims to be the guy who secured US support to make Maliki Prime Minister in 2006. His article supports several of Krauthammer's premises. In particular, he regards Petraeus's "surge" was a brilliant success, and as such he thinks that Iraq was something the US had to lose, then lost it. But he sees this as something that Iran did, not something Obama didn't do. In fact, his only mention of Obama is rather oblique:

    The crisis now gripping Iraq and the Middle East was not only predictable but predicted -- and preventable. By looking the other way and unconditionally supporting and arming Maliki, President Obama has only lengthened and expanded the conflict that President Bush unwisely initiated. Iraq is now a failed state, and as countries across the Middle East fracture along ethno-sectarian lines, America is likely to emerge as one of the biggest losers of the new Sunni-Shiite holy war, with allies collapsing and radicals plotting another 9/11.

    Khedery is arguing that Maliki (his own pick in 2006) should have been removed from power in 2009-10 in favor of an alternative who would have worked to heal the sectarian divisions the US exacerbated since 2003 (actually 1991), as if the US effectively had the power (and insight and wisdom) to manipulate the elected government. Had Obama managed that, and had the reformed government reunited Iraq and sparked widely shared economic growth, then ISIS wouldn't have been able to expand from Syria, and the US wouldn't have gotten dragged back into Iraq's conflict. That's a lot of hypotheticals.

    As for the "radicals plotting another 9/11" that's almost completely because the US continues to be intimately involved in the civil war conflicts of the Middle East, picking allies and attacking enemies on both sides of the Sunni-Shiite divide, because the only coherent allegiance we have is how we favor the oligarchs over the masses -- no big surprise that the Cold War lives on in Washington, firm in the conviction that we'll support any despot willing to do business with us, and we'll adopt any religious fanaticism that seems to help our cause. Long ago sane people realized that this was an insane way to view the world, and we'd be better off just quietly doing nothing. Then all we'd have to worry about is pundits like Krauthammer and Trudy Rubin and their perpetual warmongering.

  • Brent Frazee: Tying lures and fishing help put veteran on the road back from war: After reading several articles trying to use vets as pawns in debates over the Iraq War, I ran across this one, which may not be typical but at least is a realistic slice of life:

    When Joe Bragg caught a live well full of big crappies Thursday, it represented one more step on his road to recovery.

    Just two months ago, the Army veteran couldn't imagine such moments would ever be enjoyed again.

    "I was totally stressed out," said Bragg, 36, who served two tours of duty in Iraq. "My life just hit rock bottom.

    "At the time I couldn't see any way out."

    After returning from the war, Bragg's life unraveled. His wife left him, he lost his house, he couldn't find a job, and he suffered from the effects of post traumatic stress disorder.

    That's when he turned to a unique kind of therapy. During the nights when he couldn't sleep, he started tying feather crappie jigs. It was a craft he learned years ago from his father, who looked for unique lures that the fish hadn't seen before. [ . . . ]

    "I started tying jigs so I didn't have to sit in front of Wal-Mart begging for money," said Bragg, who lives in Topeka. "It was that bad.

    "I was a master carpenter before I went into the service, but after you've been in the Army, your body gets banged up. The mind's willing, but the body just can't handle a lot of things." [ . . . ]

    Serving in a war can be tough on a man, he'll tell you. He witnessed horrors that he wouldn't wish on anyone. He saw friends killed. He survived mortar fire 17 times (yes, he remembers the exact number), and he suffered the pain of losing three friends to suicide.

    "Not one of them was over 25 years old," he said.

    Bragg served in the Army from October 2006 to July 2013 and was in a unit that did scouting. He was on the front line, and he and his unit won commendations for their service.

    Personally, I don't think that anyone, ever, under any circumstances, should sign up to join the US Army or any of the other "armed services" (with the marginal exception of the Coast Guard). I don't think the US military has done anything in my lifetime that's been worth the cost, and not just in dead or broken soldiers. Moreover, I think that people should be sufficiently well informed to decide not to join -- as I was and did when my time came. So when they do join, especially now that the draft is no longer trying to coerce them, I think that's a person who doesn't understand what they're getting into, or why -- certainly not someone I can give any credit to. Some survive their ordeal without obvious damage, but many -- it seems like the ratio has increased over time -- come out more/less damaged. Some learn better, and some come out with totally warped worldviews. People like to believe that what they do for a living is worthwhile to the world at large, and sometimes they go to ridiculous lengths to do so.

    One of the veterans pieces I saw was Rebecca Santana: Iraq war question frustrating veterans:

    Veterans of the Iraq war have been watching in frustration as Republican presidential contenders distance themselves from the decision their party enthusiastically supported to invade that country.

    Some veterans say they long ago concluded their sacrifice was in vain, and are annoyed that a party that lobbied so hard for the war is now running from it. Others say they still believe their mission was vital, regardless of what the politicians say. And some find the question being posed to the politicians -- Knowing what we know now, would you have invaded? -- an insult in itself.

    All sorts of comments follow, starting with an ex-Army sniper who "feel such a strong attachment to Iraq that he's thought about going back to fight as the country has plunged into chaos since U.S. troops left." Another vet says he "feels the emphasis really shouldn't be on the decision to invade but on whether the U.S. should have stayed past its 2011 departure date to secure the gains made. Many vets blame President Obama -- not Bush -- for the current state of affairs, saying he was in too much of a hurry to withdraw." The fact is that people go to remarkable lengths to justify their choices and actions, to impart some greater value to them than they ever had. Of course, there are antiwar vets too -- one is quoted, "A mistake doesn't sum up the gravity of that decision."

    No More Mr. Nice Blog cites a story about the mother of a SEAL who died in Ramadi, complaining "my son's blood is on Ramadi soil. Now ISIS has it . . . that's 'gut wrenching' to me." Steve M. replies (emphasis in original):

    Look, I'm sorry it worked out this way for everyone who fought there. But I'm not sorry we withdrew -- I'm sorry we sent these troops to a war we never should have asked them to fight. It's a harsh truth, but yes, their sacrifice was for nothing. That's our fault. They did what we asked them to do. We deserve to burn in hell for asking them to do it.

  • Paul Krugman: Hypocritical Sloth: Notes Politico posted a "hit piece on Elizabeth Warren, alleging that she's being hypocritical in her opposition to a key aspect of TPP," because, well, I'm not sure -- something. Krugman sees this as "another illustration of the poisonous effect the determination to sell TPP is having on the Obama team's intellectual ethics." He goes on to generalize:

    And more generally, the whole affair is an illustration of the key role of sheer laziness in bad journalism.

    Think about it: when is the charge of hypocrisy relevant? Basically, only when a public figure is preaching about individual behavior, and perhaps holding himself or herself up as a role model. So yes, it's fair to go after someone who preaches morality but turns out to be a crook or a sexual predator. But articles alleging that someone's personal choices are somehow hypocritical given their policy positions are almost always off point. Someone can declare that inequality is a problem while being personally rich; they're calling for policy changes, not mass self-abnegation. Someone can declare our judicial system flawed while fighting cases as best they can within that system -- until policy change happens, you have to live in the world as it is.

    Oh, and it's very definitely OK to advocate policies that would hurt one's own financial interests -- it's just bizarre when the press suggests that there's something insincere and suspect when high earners propose tax increases.

    So why are charges of hypocrisy so popular? Mainly, I think, as a way to avoid taking on policy substance. Is Elizabeth Warren right or wrong about TPP? Never mind, let's sneer at her for having been a prominent law professor.

    The same motives drive the preoccupation with flip-flopping. You once said that deficits were bad, now you say that they're OK. Hah! Never mind whether deficits are in fact OK right now, and whether either the situation has changed or you have learned something. (As someone pointed out, both Mitt Romney and Hillary Clinton have rejected policies they used to support -- but Romney has rejected policies that worked, while Clinton has rejected policies that didn't. A bit of a difference.)

    I think it was Violent Femmes who did a song that went America is the home of the hypocrite. I remember hypocrisy being a big deal when I was a teenager and seemed to be running into it in every corner. The writer then known as Leroi Jones (you know him as Amiri Baraka) wrote a novel -- one of the first "adult" books I read -- called The System of Dante's Hell where he noted that he would assign hypocrites to a lower spot in hell than Dante had, because they were a more egregious problem now than then. Some early examples were pompous public preachers getting caught in sex scandals -- the sort of thing that returned as farce with this week's Josh Duggar scandal -- but the worst cases always struck me as political, like J. Edgar Hoover as the defender of freedom, or the refrain "kill for peace." I suspect that charges of hypocrisy often have instant resonance for ex-believers. Still, these days I worry more about consistent, relentless liars -- like Charles Krauthammer up above, who always has an agenda to make the world a more miserable place. And it hardly matters whether his interest in doing so is because he's a paid hack or a true believer (in God or the ruling class or the principle of sheer greed or something equally loony). On the other hand, hypocrisy is starting to look like part of the human condition, a failing we should probably forgive lest we lose everything. For instance, Thomas Jefferson is well known to us as a slaveholding hypocrite, but his declaration that "all men are created equal" should still matter to us.

  • Cathy O'Neil: Kansas redistributes money from the poor to the banks: Reaction to a recent Kansas state law which imposes a long list of restrictions on welfare recipients, intended to prevent them from enjoying any "luxuries" at the state's expense. One such restriction is that one cannot withdraw more than $25 from an ATM at one time. As O'Neil points out, most ATMs (certainly all the ones I use) only deal in $20 bills, so that is the effective limit. Also, most charge fixed fees per transaction, the same amount for $20 as for $200 or more, so forcing people to make more transactions is effectively a subsidy for the banks. O'Neil doesn't note that this part of the state law is contrary to federal law and will probably have to be dropped unless the point is to kill off the state welfare program by disqualifying it from federal money -- that is, after all, where the money comes from. (That may seem insane, but Kansas is one of the states that refuses Obamacare's Medicaid expansion, much to the consternation of the program's real beneficiaries: the state's hospitals, doctors, and their corporate support networks.) There's also much more to the state law than this banking proviso. Among the prohibited "luxuries" are movie tickets -- note that Wichita has a discount second-run theater where shows are $2 on Tuesdays, but that's still a prohibited luxury. I've seen a lot of discussion about this law -- the sponsor, by the way, is Michael O'Donnell, a young Republican who unfortunately represents my state senate district; he is what we used to call a PK [preacher's kid], and is a textbook example of how ignorant and unrealistic a sheltered and pampered young person can be -- but one thing I've never seen discussed is how the hell all these restrictions are going to be enforced. Are movie theaters going to be held responsible for making sure no welfare recipients buy tickets? Are ATMs going to be reprogrammed to enforce limits on withdrawals? (That, at least, would be easier given that the accounts could be flagged.) Maybe they could hire auditors to comb through the books of the poorest people in Kansas? Or they could set up a hot line so nosy neighbors could rat on the welfare cheats? If there is any enforcement, it is bound to be sporadic and arbitrary -- just the thing to impress on poor people that government is hostile and views them as probable criminals. Indeed, that seems to be where this anti-welfare mindset is heading, even if someone like O'Donnell is way too clueless to figure it out. If they succeed in making the welfare system so onerous that no one will deal with it, they will wind up driving more people into crime, and into prisons -- the most expensive and destructive of "safety nets." They forget that welfare, even with the stigma that it is unearned, is the least destructive and least expensive remedy for people who lack the skills and/or opportunity to earn a living -- and increasingly for people whose jobs don't pay enough to live on. Welfare could be done better if government put more effort into developing skills and personal discipline, in increasing opportunity by growing the economy, and in providing affordable services -- especially banking. (For one thing, free bank accounts would kill off the predatory check cashing/payday loan industry; for another it would give poor people the chance to manage their money the way the better off do.)

    By the way, as the Kansas state legislature tries to plug the budget hole caused by Brownback's income tax cuts (especially, exempting business income from taxation) and their inverse Laffer Effect (rather than stimulating the economy, they forced cutbacks which depressed it). They've been scrounging around for ways to make the tax code more regressive -- a favorite has been increasing one of the nation's highest state sales tax rates -- and they've finally found a real winner: eliminate the earned income tax credit (EITC). Conservatives have traditionally supported EITC as a way to make low-wage jobs more attractive -- a break to skinflint employers as much as to their workers. The only problem with such poor-get-poorer strategies is their isn't much tax revenue to be raised there. Sooner or later they're going to have to tax the rich if for no other reason than that's where all the money is. (The state legislator who's trying to write the new tax bill admits that the exclusion for business owners goes too far. He's one of the beneficiaries of the scheme, but he's pushing a compromise, whereby his current $60,000 savings would be reduced to $32,000. As I recall, the top state income tax rate is about 6%, so that means his pretax income is about $10 million.)

    Max Ehrenfreud: Kansas has found the ultimate way to punish the poor is also about this.

  • Nancy LeTourneau: President Obama is "Deeply in Touch With the Heart and Spirit of the Jewish People": Mostly taken from an interview Jeffrey Goldberg did with Obama, including a long quote where Obama expands upon his sense of how the principles of "Jewish democracy" are inextricably linked with his commitment to civil rights. This is Obama:

    And I care deeply about preserving that Jewish democracy, because when I think about how I came to know Israel, it was based on images of, you know -- Kibbutzim, and Moshe Dayan, and Golda Meir, and the sense that not only are we creating a safe Jewish homeland, but also we are remaking the world. We're repairing it. We are going to do it the right way. We are going to make sure that the lessons we've learned from our hardships and our persecutions are applied to how we govern and how we treat others.

    In other words, Obama's stuck in a time warp, believing in an Israel that probably never existed but was constructed as myth and embraced by distant, hopeful admirers. Josh Ruebner, in Shattered Hopes: Obama's Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace, has a long section on Obama's tutelage and mentorship by liberal Jewish political figures in Chicago, offering many examples of why Obama has such deep sentimental affiliation with Israel. So sure, this quote rings true as something Obama believes, and it helps explain why he is so ineffectual in his efforts to realign Israel with its supposed ideals. I find it especially ironic that he cites Dayan as one of his Zionist icons. Dayan once said "Our American friends offer us money, arms, and advice. We take the money, we take the arms, and we decline the advice." When you revere Dayan, as Obama does, you don't even notice the latter. You're so convinced of Israel's moral authority it never occurs to you that their failure to achieve peace or to manage a society that is even remotely just and equitable could be their own fault. It must, you know, be those evil Palestinians, so full of hate they constantly provoke good Israelis to tear down their houses, rip up their land, jail and kill them. What's that Golda Meir line? "We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us." Obviously, they don't, because we don't have peace yet. So when Obama reiterates his belief in Jewish/Israeli ideals, all the Israelis have to do is smile and agree. Acts are never required.

    By the way, after writing the above, I found this link: Donald Johnson: The grotesque injustice of Obama's speech at the Washington synagogue. Much the same language, but also a joke that "Palestinians are not easy partners."

  • Nancy LeTourneau: President Obama Helped Moved the Overton Window to the Left: The "Overton Window" is defined as "the range of ideas the public will accept," which for all practical purposes is equivalent to "the range of ideas the mainstream media will discuss seriously." The latter is a more conservative formulation since, well, mainstream media is by definition owned by rich people, who as a class skew well to the right. One can think of things like, say, nuclear disarmament that the public may very well endorse but are never seriously discussed because few elites feel like bucking the status quo. Until recently, marijuana legalization was in that category. LeTourneau expects Clinton to run a much more progressive presidential campaign in 2016 than she did in 2008, and attributes this to Obama moving "the Overton Window to the left." Clearly, some things (like marijuana legalization) are on the table now that weren't a few years ago, but it's hard to relate most of them with anything that Obama has done (Cuba is an exception here, and maybe Iran). Rather, it looks to me like the window has shifted partly because conditions on the ground have worsened -- e.g., it's harder to pretend that inequality isn't a problem, that the rich are undertaxed, that government services are extravagantly inefficient, or that the US military is the answer to all the Middle East's problems -- and partly because Republican nostrums for common problems have fallen off the deep end, becoming so implausible Democrats are losing the fear they developed during the Reagan era. It's also notable that while Democrats in Washington have been prevented from enacting any remotely progressive legislation -- there wasn't even much to show for the large 2009-11 "fillibuster-proof majority" (not that the finance and health care laws were nothing; indeed, they've clearly helped, even if not as much as we wanted) -- left-leaning think tanks and bloggers have kept working on real problems, advancing real solutions. I think all of this does add up to a slight leftward shift in public opinion, not that there aren't plenty of well-moneyed obstacles (including a mainstream media that cares little for "public interest journalism"). So I wouldn't be surprised if that drift shows up in Clinton's polls as something she needs to cultivate, regardless of her disinclination. And in the long run, Obama will probably deserve some credit: although I'm much more struck by how deeply conservative his conventional liberalism is, he clearly has broken some barriers, and the nonsense spouted by his crazed enemies will soon enough fade into the shameful dark corners of American history.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 24971 [24940] rated (+31), 407 [402] unrated (+5).

Still closing in on 25,000 records rated -- odds about 50-50 that can be announced next week, although it still seems like a tall order. My "new records" count was way down last week, so the only way I cleared 30 was with "old records" -- more on that below.

Rhapsody Streamnotes appeared last week, so some of the following list was scooped there -- although at this point that seems like a long time ago. Dmitry Baevsky appeared there. The Fred Hersch set was well-regarded from last year, but I wasn't serviced on it and couldn't find it on Rhapsody. Turns out that a friendly publicist did handle the record and a download link showed up in a back catalog mailing. Maybe they figured I shouldn't be bothered with a mainstream piano trio, and that's probably a fair rule. However, it's a damn good one, and not the first A- Hersch has scored (OK, it's the second, along with dozens of eminently fine B+ records). Chris Monsen had it on his A-list last year.

Zooid (Henry Threadgill) will be a serious top-ten list contender. I was tempted to give it a full A, but felt that grade needs more time, and as a double I didn't feel like giving it that much time now -- I think I played one disc twice and the other three times. The group has historically done better in critics polls than on my lists, so go so far as to rank it the current favorite for EOY polls. (Main competition so far is the Lovano-Douglas Sound Prints album, and maybe the Jack DeJohnette title I haven't heard, Made in Chicago.) My list is still topped by Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth: Epicenter, fewer critics have heard it.)

Cracker's Berkeley to Bakersfield was a Christgau pick last week, and I gave it three plays before deciding it fell just short (though had they split it up I would have given the Bakersfield disc an A-). Turns out it was a late 2014 release, getting 1 point in last year's EOY Aggregate. The Willi Williams rasta-reggae disc was also a 2014 release, and didn't make the EOY Aggregate at all. I saw a review in Downbeat and gave it a chance.

Spin published a list last week with their picks for the 300 best albums of 1985-2014. I copied their list down here and added my grades, mostly to get a sense of how much I've missed over the years (initially, 81 records, for 27%). A fair number of those are albums I've been credibly warned against, but still I thought I'd make an effort to fill in the cracks. Working my way down, the Smiths' The Queen Is Dead was number 5 on the list, so I started there, followed by Nas (Illmatic was number 23) and Weezer (their first eponymous album was number 31). I skipped Metallica (Master of Puppets at 34, but not on Rhapsody), and I'm working on U2's Achtung Baby (number 37) as I write this. Coming up: Elliott Smith, Neutral Milk Hotel, Flaming Lips, Björk, Aphex Twin, The Cure, Smashing Pumpkins, Slayer, Bikini Kill (number 80). Given that I've already rated 25 B, 13 B-, and 3 C+ records from the list, I don't expect much, but I also have slightly more than a third (103) at A- or above, now including Illmatic.

I suppose the thing that most disappointed me about the list was the seemingly inevitable first place finish for Nirvana's Nevermind -- a record (and for that matter a group) I find utterly ordinary, totally uninteresting. (I'm on record, after all, saying that I turned to jazz in the mid-1990s in reaction to my disinterest in grunge and gangsta.

Of course, the bigger issue is what's missing, which is quite a lot. Here's a first draft list of 44 omissions (not including jazz or best-ofs or compilations of older music), only one per artist (with some "also" notes). Everything here is A or higher, and I could probably double the list without dipping into A- records.

  1. The Beautiful South: Welcome to the Beautiful South (1990, Go! Discs) -- also 0898 Beautiful South (1992)
  2. Pet Shop Boys: Very (1993, Capitol) -- also Introspective (1988) and Behaviour (1990)
  3. Lily Allen: It's Not Me, It's You (2009, Capitol)
  4. Cornershop: When I Was Born for the Seventh Time (1997, Warner Brothers) -- also Handcream for a New Generation (2002)
  5. Buck 65: Talkin' Honky Blues (2003, Warner Music Canada) -- also Square (2002)
  6. Iris Dement: My Life (1994, Warner Brothers) -- also The Way I Should (1996)
  7. Laurie Anderson: Strange Angels (1989, Warner Brothers)
  8. The Roches: A Dove (1992, MCA)
  9. Jimmie Dale Gilmore: Spinning Around the Sun (1993, Elektra) -- also Jimmie Dale Gilmore (1989)
  10. Lucinda Williams: Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998, Polygram) -- list includes Lucinda Williams (1988) -- also Sweet Old World (1992)
  11. Sonic Youth: Dirty (1992, DGC) -- list includes Daydream Nation (1988), Goo (1990), and Sister (1987)
  12. Hurricane Zouk (1988, Earthworks)
  13. Leonard Cohen: Live in London (2008, Columbia) -- also I'm Your Man (1988) and The Future (1992)
  14. Willie Nelson/Hank Snow: Brand on My Heart (1985, Columbia)
  15. Manu Chao: Proxima Estacion: Esperanza (2001, Virgin) -- also Clandestino (1998)
  16. They Might Be Giants: They Might Be Giants (1986, Restless)
  17. The Music in My Head (1998, Sterns)
  18. Camper Van Beethoven: Camper Van Beethoven (1986, IRS)
  19. Maria Muldaur: Richland Woman Blues (2001, Stony Plain)
  20. Los Lobos: Colossal Head (1996, Warner Brothers)
  21. Neneh Cherry: Raw Like Sushi (1989, Virgin)
  22. John Prine: In Spite of Ourselves (1999, Oh Boy) -- also Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings (1995)
  23. Mzwakhe Mbuli: Resistance Is Defence (1992, Earthworks)
  24. M People: Elegant Slumming (1994, Epic)
  25. Blackalicious: Nia (2000, Quannum Projects)
  26. Guitar Paradise of East Africa (1991, Earthworks)
  27. Bob Dylan: Love and Theft (2001, Columbia)
  28. Neil Young: Freedom (1989, Reprise)
  29. Todd Snider: The Devil You Know (2006, New Door) -- also East Nashville Skyline (2004) and Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables (2012)
  30. Amy Rigby: Diary of a Mod Housewife (1996, Koch)
  31. Mavis Staples: We'll Never Turn Back (2007, Anti-)
  32. Youssou N'Dour: Nothing's in Vain (2002, Nonesuch) -- also Rokku Mi Rokka (2007)
  33. Carlene Carter: I Fell in Love (1990, Reprise)
  34. Lyrics Born: Later That Day . . . (2003, Quannum Projects)
  35. The Cucumbers: The Cucumbers (1987, Profile)
  36. Pere Ubu: The Tenement Year (1988, Capitol)
  37. Beats International: Let Them Eat Bingo (1990, Elektra)
  38. Stevie Wonder: Characters (1987, Motown)
  39. The Feelies: Time for a Witness (1991, A&M)
  40. Lost in the Stars: The Music of Kurt Weill (1985, A&M)
  41. Gogol Bordello: Super Taranta! (2007, Side One Dummy)
  42. Pulnoc: City of Hysteria (1991, Arista)
  43. NERD: In Search of . . . (2002, Virgin)
  44. The Streets: Original Pirate Material (2002, Vice/Atlantic)

I went long on the Smiths, partly because I had Michael Tatum's Downloader's Diary Guide. He's more of a fan than I am, and also paid much more attention and writes at much greater depth. I miss his writing since Odyshape closed shop. Bright Eyes placed one record on Spin's list, but I just got to it before the list appeared. I had two of their CDs that I bought used a decade ago and found on the unrated shelf, so I thought I'd do some housekeeping, and wound up checking out the earlier albums for context. The unrated albums are organized better now, and I'll try to do a better job closing them out. (Unlike Bright Eyes, most are freebies I never had any interest in -- lot of soundtracks and gospel albums -- so we'll see.)

New records rated this week:

  • Aimée Allen: Matter of Time (2013-14 [2015], Azuline): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Dmitry Baevsky: Over and Out (2014 [2015], Jazz Family): [cd]: A-
  • Best Coast: California Nights (2015, Harvest): [r]: B+(*)
  • Cracker: Berkeley to Bakersfield (2014, 429, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Cuir: Chez Ackenbush (2014 [2015], Fou): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Dead Sara: Pleasure to Meet You (2015, Pocket Kid): [r]: B+(*)
  • Fred Hersch Trio: Floating (2014, Palmetto): [dl]: A-
  • Brian Landrus Trio: The Deep Below (2014 [2015], BlueLand/Palmetto): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Rhett Miller: The Traveler (2015, ATO): [r]: B+(**)
  • Opus: Definition (2014 [2015], BluJazz): [cd]: B
  • Henry Threadgill Zooid: In for a Penny, In for a Pound (2014 [2015], Pi, 2CD): [cd]: A-
  • Kamasi Washington: The Epic (2015, Brainfeeder, 3CD): [r]: B+(**)

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

  • Art-i-facts: Great Performances From 40 Years of Jazz at NEC (1973-2008 [2010], New England Conservatory): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Willi Williams: Unification: From Channel One to King Tubby\'s (1979 [2014], Shanachie): [r]: A-

Old records rated this week:

  • Bright Eyes: A Collection of Songs Written and Recorded 1995-1997 (1995-97 [1998], Saddle Creek): [r]: B+(*)
  • Bright Eyes: Letting Off the Happiness (1997-98 [1998], Saddle Creek): [r]: B
  • Bright Eyes: Fevers and Mirrors (1999 [2000], Saddle Creek): [r]: B+(**)
  • Bright Eyes: I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning (2005, Saddle Creek): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Nas: Illmatic (1994, Columbia): [r]: A-
  • The Smiths: The Smiths (1984, Sire): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Smiths: Hatful of Hollow (1983-84 [1993], Sire): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Smiths: Meat Is Murder (1985, Sire): [r]: B
  • The Smiths: The Queen Is Dead (1986, Sire): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Smiths: The World Won't Listen (1984-86 [1993], Sire): [r]: B
  • The Smiths: Strangeways, Here We Come (1987, Sire): [r]: B
  • The Smiths: Rank (1986 [1988], Sire): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Smiths: Singles (1983-87 [1995], Reprise): [r]: A-
  • The Smiths: The Sound of the Smiths (1983-87 [2008], Reprise, 2CD): [r]: A-
  • Weezer: Weezer (1994, DGC): [r]: B

Grade changes:

  • Young Fathers: White Men Are Black Men Too (2015, Big Dada): [was: B+(*)] B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Colours Jazz Orchestra: Home Away From Home: Plays the Music of Ayn Inserto (Neu Klang)
  • Devin Gray: RelativE ResonancE (Skirl): June 9
  • Christoph Irniger Trio: Octopus (Intakt): June 1
  • Deborah Latz: Sur L'Instant (June Moon)
  • Ingrid Laubrock Anti-House: Roulette of the Cradle (Intakt): June 1
  • The Gary McFarland Legacy Ensemble: Circulation: The Music of Gary McFarland (Planet Arts): May 29
  • Florian Wittenburg: Aleatoric Inspiration (NurNichtNur)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Weekend Roundup

No head start this week, and didn't have much time on Sunday what with going to a Global Learning Center panel on Israel/Palestine (Laura Tillem was one of the panelists). Still came up with the following links and comments:

  • Josh Marshall: Sorry. Iraq Wasn't a Good Faith Mistake. It Was Based on Lies. Fox News is on a kick of asking Republican presidential wannabes whether "knowing what we know now" they would still have invaded Iraq in 2003. Most candidates answered no, they wouldn't invade, although it did take Jeb Bush two guesses to get the right answer. Frank Conniff tweeted: "Stop asking GOP candidates about Iraq War. It distracts us from their stupid & incoherent thoughts on a host of other issues." Actually, they remain pretty stupid and incoherent today. Whether they would have invaded is only part of the question. Another is whether they would have contrived the phony evidence Bush and Cheney collected to support their predisposition to go to war. Marshall explains:

    While it's welcome to see the would-be heirs of President Bush, including his own brother, acknowledging the obvious, this history is such a staggering crock that it's critical to go back and review what actually happened. Some of this was obvious to anyone who was paying attention. Some was only obvious to reporters covering the story who were steeped in the details. And some was only obvious to government officials who in the nature of things controlled access to information. But in the tightest concentric circle of information, at the White House, it was obviously all a crock at the time.

    While it is true that "WMD" was a key premise for the war, the sheer volume of lies, willful exaggerations and comically wishful thinking are the real story.

    Marshall got some catcalls for this piece, at least from those who remembered that he was one of the ones suckered into supporting Bush's folly. Many of us knew better at the time -- even if we didn't know exactly which points were fabricated, we had better instincts, mostly because we had learned painful lessons from previous wars. The real question that the presidential candidates (Clinton included) should be asked is what have they learned from the Iraq War experience? Given how many of them are itchy to rejoin and escalate the war against ISIS, it doesn't look like they learned enough.

    Paul Krugman (Blinkers and Lies) repeats the point then adds something more:

    Finally, and this is where Atrios comes in, part of the answer is that a lot of Very Serious People were effectively in on the con. They, too, were looking forward to a splendid little war; or they were eager to burnish their non-hippie credentials by saying, hey, look, I'm a warmonger too; or they shied away from acknowledging the obvious lies because that would have been partisan, and they pride themselves on being centrists. And now, of course, they are very anxious not to revisit their actions back then. [ . . . ]

    But back to Iraq: the crucial thing to understand is that the invasion wasn't a mistake, it was a crime. We were lied into war. And we shouldn't let that ugly truth be forgotten.

    I want to emphasize one more point here: the lies weren't just what the Bush administration told us about Saddam Hussein and Iraq. They also lied to us about ourselves (who America was and what US troops could and would do) and about themselves (what Bush's own ambitions were for the war). And those lies worked mostly because they built on self-delusions that Americans have been telling themselves for years, especially since the nation turned its back on reality in electing Ronald Reagan in 1980. That, too, was known (or knowable) at the time: I recall John Dower writing that the occupation of Iraq would not resemble the US occupation of Japan not only because Iraq is not Japan but also because America now is not the same country America was then. It's an easy (and sobering) exercise to sort out both sides of that ledger, and that's all it should have taken. But politicians in America aren't selected for their grasp of history. They are, rather, elected for their ability to flatter voters, telling us how wonderful we are, how capable, how competent, how righteous, how magnamimous. That's a much bigger crock than the one Marshall sees. Indeed, it's the one that swallowed him up.

  • Richard Silverstein: Israeli Government Most Racist, Extremist in History:

    Israel named its new cabinet yesterday and the names are a Who's Who of the most rabid, racist, brutal and cruel politicians in the nation. The only one who rivals them and is missing from the show is Avigdor Lieberman, who's bowed out for political reasons of his own. In the past, nations of the world have isolated individual leaders of nations and refused to visit or meet with them because their ideas are so noxious that they fall outside the consensus of international discourse. Kurt Waldheim and Jorg Haider are examples of this. The time has come to put the Israeli government in herem. You can pick your poison among them as to which deserves special ostracism.

    This intro is followed by quotes, their "Greatest Hits of Hate," with Naftali Bennett's "I've killed many Arabs in my life and there's no problem with that" and Eli Ben-Dahan's "In my opinion, they are beasts, not humans" singled out, although I'm not sure those are worse than the many cancer analogies. Not everyone managed to score an obscene quote. Some were noted for their felony records. And for an example of exception-proving-the rules, there's Benny Begin (son of terrorist prime minister Menachem Begin): "ejected from [Likud] Party leadership during last party primaries for his so-called 'moderate' views; apparently he's been included as a moderate fig-leaf for an extremist government." I remember Begin when he was a young firebrand trying to outflank his father, so score one for maturity, and subtract two for the rabid drift that has managed to make him look good (albeit only relatively).

  • Richard Silverstein: AIPAC Wants Congress to Criminalize BDS: I have three points to make about BDS (the boycott-divest-sanctions movement against Israel's occupation and apartheid regime): one is that if Europeans and Americans reject BDS they'll be sending a message to Palestinians that violence is their only resort. The other is that BDS is something America and Europe routinely does to express disapproval without resorting to war -- the difference here is that by starting with individuals and private organizations BDS is a grass roots movement, not just something imposed by state powers for their own purposes. Third is that Israel is enough of a democracy that its political response should be fluid -- as opposed to dictatorships (North Korea being the most extreme example) which have only been hardened by sanctions. BDS finally imposes a (small) cost on Israel for acts it gets away with the way most bullies do, and that's their basic response to BDS. Gandhi on non-violent political movements: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." Trying to outlaw BDS is the kneejerk reaction of bullies. With all due respect to AIPAC's Congressional prowess, I can't see Americans abandoning their right to free speech just to let Israel ignore criticism. Indeed, it looks like AIPAC's proposal is somewhat more circuitous in that what it seeks to do is impose trading sanctions on Europe if Europe implements BDS through some back door TPP-like mechanism. Looks like Gandhi's stage three.

  • Richard Silverstein: GOP's Go-To Jews: One of the classic anti-semetic tropes is the suggestion that Jews are secretly running things, pulling strings to exert inordinate power. In the old days such aspersions were demonstrably untrue, but the trope seems due for a comeback, partly because one can point to real-life examples like these. And while truth be told Adelson et al. are acting more like pompous billionaires than Jews, they make matters worse when they wrap themselves in the Israeli flag and use their influence to prod the US into self-destructive wars in the Middle East.

    Over the past week, the media has exposed several critical relationships between major GOP presidential candidates and their key Jewish donors, including Sen. Marco Rubio and Scott Walker. Though I didn't coin this term, it's apt to call these individuals "go-to" Jews; or in older parlance, they are the Court Jews who provide access for the pro-Israel community to the arenas of power.

    Rubio has for years enjoyed the patronage of Norman Braman, a wealthy Miami auto-dealer. Braman has not only heavily financed the Senator's campaigns for state and federal office, he's employed both Rubio and his wife and engaged in an extensive set of financial relationships with them involving gifts, loans and other support.

    But in just the past week or so, an even greater Jewish (blue and) white knight has emerged to bless Rubio's candidacy: none other than Sheldon Adelson. It seems the self-made fat cat Jews who pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps are enamored by Rubio's life story of growing up poor as a Cuban immigrant and making something of his life in the contemporary version of the American Dream. The media report that Adelson has decided to go "all-in" with Rubio, as he did with Newt Gingrich in the last presidential campaign. Politico adds that Paul Singer, the Likudist hedge fund billionaire, is joining Rubio's camp as well.

    I'm wondering when Adelson's involvement with the Chinese mob, including offering his blessing to Chinese triads engaged in gambling, prostitution and loansharking at his Macau casino, will catch up to him. GOP presidential candidates are delighted to take his $100-million (in the last election cycle -- likely to rise to $200-million in the 2016 cycle). But when will the moment come when the public will realize how dirty Sheldon's money is and severely penalize candidates who've availed themselves of it? This is a ticking bomb for Republicans. Adelson is a golden teat, till he isn't.

    Walker's sugar daddy is Larry Mizel: "paving the way for Scott Walker's visit to the Holyland, where he will presumably make a pilgrimage to the Stations of the GOP pro-Israel cross. . . . Walker, having no previous pro-Israel credentials given his role as Wisconsin governor, is strongly in need of a pro-Israel heksher (kosher certification), which Mizel provides."

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Flaming Horseshit

Googling "FLAME" (caps intended) I see the noun first defined as "the visible, gaseous part of a fire . . . caused by a highly exothermic reaction taking place in a thin zone." Next result is a rapper I'm not familiar with, then a piece of computer malware. Before we get to the group whose acronym stands for Facts and Logic About the Middle East, we're offered a steakhouse, a band, an online paint program, another restaurant, and an article about "cancer-linked flame retardants." I was aware of FLAME before, but was still taken aback by their full-page ad in the May 10, 2015 Nation. Title: "Can the U.S. -- Can the World -- Afford a Palestinian State?"

Now, The Nation is a famously (some might say "notoriously") left-liberal weekly, and they take great pride in appealing to readers who know more than a little about world affairs, and who have some level of commitment to peace, equality, and broadly shared prosperity. Hence, you can expect that most of those readers are aware of Israel's numerous wars, of the second or third class treatment it accords non-Jews who live on land it occupies. Admittedly, even some Nation writers, like Eric Alterman and Michelle Goldberg, have sizable blind spots re Israel, but wouldn't you expect someone who advertises in The Nation to at least make some effort to build on what readers there know rather than spout "facts" that are plainly false and "logic" that makes no sense? But FLAME's ad is nothing more than the discredited talking points that obsessive hasbarists have been telling one another for years. Whereas hasbarists once sought to explain Israel, increasingly they only speak to themselves, to keep convincing themselves that Israel is in the right even when it plainly isn't.

Consider, for instance, this little historical paragraph (my comments in brackets and italics):

Why don't the Palestinians already have a state? The Arabs were offered a state next to Israel by the United Nations in 1948, but turned it down. [This is the UN partition of Palestine proposal, which Zionists lobbied for at the UN then rejected the proposed borders and waged a war to drive into exile most of the Palestinians who lived in the territory that became Israel. Palestinian leaders wanted a single state where they would have a 2-to-1 majority. When the UN sent a mediator to negotiate the proposal further, the Zionist terrorist group EZL killed him. The Zionist Authority also invited Transjordan to invade Palestine and annex Palestinian-majority areas in the West Bank to prevent formation of an independent Palestinian state there.] After Israel's defeat of three invading Arab armies in 1967, the Jewish state offered to negotiate land for peace, but again the Arabs refused. [There were no "invading Arab armies." Israel was the aggressor against Egypt, while "mutual defense" treaties between Egypt and Syria and Jordan gave Israel an excuse to grab long-coveted territories in the Golan Heights and West Bank -- most of all East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed in a matter of days. Israel seemed to assent to "land-for-peace" under UNSCR 235, but almost immediately began arguing that the lack of a definite article before "occupied territories" meant they wouldn't be obligated to return some territories. We now know from sources like Avi Raz: The Bride and the Dowry that Israel never had any intention of returning land and that Abba Eban's diplomatic posturing was purely for show. An Arab conference later in 1967 did take a "hard line" toward Israel, but various Arab leaders made "back channel" entreaties toward Isarel and they were all rejected.] As recently as 2001 and 2008, under the auspices of the United States, Israel offered the Palestinians up to 95 percent of the West Bank and Gaza, plus a capital in East Jerusalem, but again the Arabs walked away from statehood and have for more than 60 years stubbornly refused to recognize the Jewish state. [The 2000 "offer" by Ehud Barak at Camp David was clearly not serious -- see Charles Enderlin: Shattered Dreams, and/or Clayton Swisher: The Truth About Camp David; negotiations continued at Taba in 2001 and were reportedly very close to agreement when Barak pulled all offers back (saving Sharon the trouble). For the Geneva Accords, which Arafat agreed to but Sharon rejected, see Yossi Beilin: The Path to Geneva: The Quest for a Permanent Solution, 1996-2003. I suspect the 2008 "offer" by Ehud Olmert -- much less has been written about this -- was also bogus (among other things, Olmert was a "lame duck" PM who had lost control of his party with elections approaching). Again, the "offer" was quickly withdrawn. And both "offers" were followed by anti-Palestinian military action and election of right-wing Israeli governments (Sharon in 2001, Netanyahu in 2009). And yes, note the order: it was the "peacemakers" who resorted to war, not to force an agreement they wanted but to keep their "offers" from being taken seriously.]

The inescapable conclusion is that Israel never has wanted peace and normal relations, least of all with the people who lived in Palestine before the Zionists came. They won't allow any form of Palestinian state because they fear that might legitimize claims on the land they took, mostly by force. But they also won't allow it because practically speaking it would be the end of settlement building -- the unifying purpose of Zionism from its founding in the 1880s up through the latest hilltop outposts in the West Bank. That sense of mission is reinforced by the deep-seated fear that anti-semitism is so endemic around the world that Jews will always be endangered, and that only strong militarism stands between Jews and doom. Four books together give you a coherent picture:

  • Patrick Tyler: Fortress Israel: The Inside Story of the Military Elite Who Run the Country -- and Why They Can't Make Peace (2012, Farrar Straus and Giroux): for Tyler the key event was David Ben Gurion's "coup" against Moshe Sharrett in the 1950s, which eliminated the most diplomatic-minded of Israel's Prime Ministers and led to expansionary wars in 1956 and 1967.
  • Richard Ben Cramer: Why Israel Lost: The Four Questions (2004, Simon & Schuster): Cramer focuses on the various splits among Israel's Jews (old Ashkenazi vs. Sephardic/Mizrahi vs. the relatively recent immigrés from Russia), showing how a common enemy is the one thing that binds Israeli political community together.
  • Idith Zertal/Akiva Eldar: Lords of the Land: The War for Israel's Settlements in the Occupied Territories, 1967-2007 (2007, Nation Books): the best history of the post-1967 settler movement, which isn't exactly the same thing as a history of post-1967 settlements but has more to do with the headlock the movement has had on Israeli politics.
  • Max Blumenthal: Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel (2013, Nation Books): one of the few books to detail the growth of racism in Israel, something inevitable in a nation built on the principle that one group should utterly dominate all others.

But the main point of the ad wasn't to explain why the Palestinians didn't have a state. The main point is that we shouldn't entrust them with a state now or any time in the indefinite future. The reason has something to do with the assumption that anywhere Arabs (or Iranians -- still Israel's biggest bugaboo) get the chance they jihadist terrorists, thereby increasing the danger to "Israel, the Middle East's only democracy and bastion of Western freedoms." Their conclusion (originally italics):

While Israel, the United States and other nations have worked in good fatih to create a Palestinian state, the Palestinians themselves have consistently rejected requirements that would assure Israel's security and survival. Today, explosive threats from radical Islamist terror groups in the Middle East, especially Iran, as well as the disintegration of social, economic and political order among the Palestinians, make a Palestinian state unrealistic. Rather, world leaders need to focus on stabilizing the region -- especially Palestinian society -- and put Palestinian statehood temporarily on hold.

As the books cited above show, Israel has never acted "in good faith" to allow the creation of a Palestinian state. (In 1948-50, Israel made sure that the sections of mandatory Palestine not under Israeli military control would be controlled by foreign powers -- Egypt and Transjordan -- and not recognized as Palestinian. In 1967 Aziz Shehadeh advanced a plan for an independent Palestine that would recognize Israel, but Israeli political leaders buried the idea. In Israel's 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, Menachem Begin promised to allow Palestinian "autonomy" but never did anything to implement it. The 1994 Oslo Accords did set up a framework for limited Palestinian self-government, but Israeli leaders -- especially Netanyahu and Sharon -- repeatedly reneged on promises and denied autonomy. Please forgive the Nazi analogy -- variations on occupation governments come from a limited palette -- the present Fatah government in Area A of the West Bank is about as autonomous as the Quisling and Vichy regimes in Norway and France, while Gaza is little more than an open-air prison, not unlike the Warsaw Ghetto.)

Most recently, in Netanyahu's latest campaign he made a big point of insisting that if elected he would never allow a Palestinian state to come about. Israeli politicians have rarely come out so explicitly -- indeed, Netanyahu started walking back his statements as soon as the votes were counted -- in large part because American politicians are so attached to the idea that Israel/Palestine can be partitioned into two independent states (the so-called "two state solution"). The good faith of those Americans is harder to judge: they seem to be less cynical but are so gullible to the Israeli's arguments that they not only invariably fail, they sometimes wreck their own professed plans. (See Rashid Khalidi: Brokers of Deceit: How the US Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East for many examples.)

Most often this has to do with Israel's "requirements that would assure Israel's security and survival" -- most notably presented as planks in the 2001 and 2009 "offers" that were effectively "poison pills" (items inserted into a bill or proposal that are so unpalatable they lead to rejection of the whole deal). For example, Israel often insists its security depends on keeping control of the Jordan Valley, but that would not only impinge on Palestinian independence, it would isolate Palestine from Jordan and the world, effectively leaving the country under Israel's thumb. If the US were at all an "honest broker" Americans would flag such debilitating planks as unserious, yet you almost never see evidence of that.

Likewise, Israel's oft-repeated claim to be "the Middle East's only democracy" is worse than a cliché: nearly half of the people living within Israel's effective borders are not allowed to vote or accorded civil rights -- a minimal definition of a democracy -- and even when some "Palestinian citizens of Israel" are allowed to vote, an informal cartel of Zionist parties makes sure that they will never participate in an Israeli government.

Admittedly, evidence from Arab implementations of democracy isn't very inspiring. Lebanon has been democratic for a long time, but the French left a system of "confessionalism" there meant to enforce ethnic power-sharing but often conducive to civil war. The US imposed a less explicit but effectively equivalent system on Iraq, with comparably bad effects. The Palestinian Authority's elections up through 2006 were relatively competitive, but when the wrong side won in 2006 the US and Israel effectively scuttled the system. Similarly, Egypt's democratic experiment was prematurely squashed by a US-backed (Israel-friendly) military coup.

On the other hand, the Arab nations that the US counts as its allies are dictatorships -- Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Gulf emirates, and Egypt (now that dictatorship has been restored): clearly we are more comfortable dealing with oligarchs, even fanatically Islamic ones (like Saudi Arabia) provided they (mostly) control their people and keep them from attacking Americans. FLAME's pitch, like most Israeli hasbara, is aimed at stoking American prejudices although it reveals more about Israeli ones. We are encouraged to take democracy as a common bond between civilized Israel and America, but also as something Arabs can't be trusted with: give them the vote and they'll just vote for someone who doesn't like us (like Hamas, or the Moslem Brotherhood in Egypt, or ISIS in Syria/Iraq). Of course, you've heard that line before: from every colonial power in history, as well as the segregationists in South Africa and Dixie. In other words, the whole pitch reeks of racism.

Worse than that, it doesn't allow for any improvement. The old saw is that "democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the rest" -- I recall this attributed to Churchill (who won when he seemed to be most useful, and lost when he proved to be most useless -- but at least democracy saved the British people from having to kill him off, and gave Churchill yet another chance). Democracy can certainly be perverted, but it is a resilient system that allows for non-violent change, adaptation, and evolution. Had democracy been allowed to continue in Egypt, it's likely that Morsi's abuse of power (if that's what it was) would have been curbed by various checks and balances. (Of course, they could have been better designed into the constitution, but virtually no one has gotten it all right out of the box.)

Aside from its intrinsic racism, FLAME's argument suffers from two fatal flaws. One is that with few exceptions the most violent strains of jihadism were directly created by war and/or repression. Zawahiri and his pre-Al-Qaeda group, for instance, were forged in Egypt's jails, and the same was true of Zarqawi in Jordan and many others. I figure Osama bin Laden to be an exception: a man of great wealth and standing, what turned him was his sense of the hypocrisy of the Saudi royals. The ability of Al-Qaeda and ISIS to generate independent cells all over the Sunni Muslim world is a result of Saudi-exported salafism on top of political systems that do not allow non-violent reform. Democracy is the antidote here: extremism isn't worth the trouble if a non-violent path to reform is possible.

Secondly, democracy is the great moderator of extremism. Israel should have been delighted when Hamas decided to participate in elections -- even if that decision did not coincide with one to forswear violence, the net effect was to move toward positions which would be more reconcilable, not least by gaining more of a stake in the status quo. Same with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Israel and the US have partially undone Hamas' move toward moderation by rejecting Hamas electoral wins and by continuing to demonize Hamas as a terrorist group. But the fact is that the only way to end a "war on terrorism" is to convince the "terrorists" to give up armed struggle and to participate in the political system.

Israel has its own reasons -- its own logic and, if you look at FLAME, evidently its own facts -- here. They don't want to end their "war on terrorism," so they'd rather keep Hamas as an enemy than work with them. (A policy which, by the way, may change if Israel can replace Hamas with a more villainous enemy. I read a recent piece where an Israeli general argues that Hamas may be the most effective means to fighting ISIS, which is starting to appear as a problem: the point being that Israel will still have enemies, even if they change -- as happened before when the PLO ceased to be Israel's main enemy and gave way to Hamas.) Militarism has become a way of life in Israel, and they're enjoying it way too much to let a few rockets and an occasional stabbing bother them.

Then there's the whole identity question for Israel. David Ben Gurion famously decreed that "only what the Jews do matters." Nearly every nation in the world includes a mix of peoples and has to figure out some way for them to coexist, but Israel is close to unique in how the political, economic, and military dominance of its Jewish population allows it to set up and maintain a closed caste system. Those privileged by this system see and feel no need to dismantle it -- at least unless they realize how out of step it is with the rest of the world, and how counterproductive and dehumanizing it is.

As you should be able to see from this ad, Israel has developed a powerful, systematic, and seductive (for some people, mostly white Americans and Europeans) ideology which only serves to perpetuate inequality, injustice, hatred and belligerence in the Middle East. For Israeli Jews such arguments are merely self-serving, like the stock line that "God gave us the land of Israel." American interests aren't so narrow, and Americans don't get sucked through a draft where the "chosen" are indoctrinated in their specialness and the belief that their survival depends on fighting forever. One thing we should have learned by now is that life under war is vastly more difficult than life under peace. Also that peace is achievable through mutual respect, economic fairness, and a willingness to participate in a just order. And that such a society is capable of benefiting far more people than one that lapses into war.

Unfortunately, the political people in the United States who are in policy positions seem to be incapable of thinking beyond the old games of factional division of power relationships. (Not coincidentally, many of those people are effectively on Israeli payrolls.) In doing so they've made the Middle East a much more dangerous and destructive place than it needs to be. They are, at present, responsible for a number of civil wars that should be resolved in democratic power sharing agreements. And they are also responsible for a number of dictatorships that are future civil wars in the making. Their wars and their economic inequities have produced millions of refugees and have depressed the entire region for the benefit of a few ridiculously rich individuals and corporations. And they've left millions of people with little or no hope -- including a tiny percent so disaffected they're willing to kill themselves to register an objection. While many of "us" are so insensitive (or desensitized) we'll never even notice, nor understand if really bad luck means we do.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Rhapsody Streamnotes (May 2015)

Pick up text from here.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 24940 [24909] rated (+31), 402 [407] unrated (-5).

Did a count check late last night and was at 29 -- tempting to cut off there since that seems to be my number, but I filed two more discs before getting around to reshuffling the bits this afternoon. I made some progress sorting through the CDs in my work area, finding a lot of things I haven't seen in years -- even some CDs that I never managed to list in the database. Still have five baskets on the floor for sorting, but that should reduce to one for the incoming queue, or I might even manage to slip them into a mostly empty shelf right in front of me. Next step after that will be to clear off the desktop clutter. When I was working, I used to regard anyone with a clear desk as unproductive (to say the least), but it is nice to periodically get to the bottom of it all and clear out the most useless crud.

This week's new jazz mostly confirms old favorites, although I should note that five former A-list artists fell a bit short (David Berkman, Steve Coleman, Dave Douglas, Claire Ritter, Elliott Sharp; I haven't heard anything previous by Nisse Sandström, but Jonas Kullhammar is on the record). The Coleman and Douglas records will certainly have their fans, and will fare better in year-end polls than Crispell/Hemingway or Rempis.

As for old jazz, Red Allen's World on a String (RCA) is an old favorite, and accounts for the first half of the Hawkins/Allen compilation. Turns out I had heard, and almost certainly underrated, nearly all of the rest. I've often shied away from playing Fresh Sound's reissues -- often things like 4 LPs on 2 CDs -- on Rhapsody because it's hard to focus over such length. (At least with real CDs it's normal to absorb box sets piecemeal, but the extra work that demands when streaming usually defeats me.) Otherwise, they have a lot of recent releases that would tempt me (that I might even buy if the dollar was stronger and I was in an acquisitive mood): especially the 4-CD Lars Gullin: Portrait of the Legendary Baritone Saxophonist: Complete 1956-1960 Studio Recordings -- based on what I've heard, quite possibly a solid A. They also have two collections of George Russell's early work: the 2-CD Complete 1956-1960 Smalltet & Orchestra Recordings and the 4-CD Sextet & Septet: The Complete 1960-1962 Decca & Riverside Album Collection. You can find grades for most of the constituent LPs in my database, starting with the solid A (and long out-of-print) 1956 Jazz Workshop.

Most of the non-jazz below was suggested by Spin's Overlooked Albums Report. I didn't A-list anything there, but Ciara and LoneLady came real close, followed by Shlohmo and Young Guv. Nothing bad on Spin's list. I've started to include some limited grade info in the 2015 Music Tracking file, although there's little chance that I'll keep it up to date. Does help to give me hints as to what to look for.

Expect a Rhapsody Streamnotes tomorrow (or something like that). Draft file currently has 118 records, so if anything it's overdue. Note that I'm probably two (maybe three) weeks away from crossing the 25,000 rated albums mark.

New records rated this week:

  • Thomas Bergeron: Sacred Feast (2015, self-released): [cd]: C+
  • David Berkman: Old Friends and New Friends (2014 [2015], Palmetto): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Joshua Breakstone: 2nd Avenue (2014 [2015], Capri): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Chicago Reed Quartet: Western Automatic (2014 [2015], Aerophonic): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Christine and the Queens: Saint Claude (2015, Neon Gold, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Ciara: Jackie (2015, Epic): [r]: B+(***)
  • Steve Coleman and the Council of Balance: Synovial Joints (2014 [2015], Pi): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Marilyn Crispell/Gerry Hemingway: Table of Changes (2013 [2015], Intakt): [cd]: A-
  • Death Grips: The Powers That B (2015, Electro Magnetic/Harvest, 2CD): [r]: B+(*)
  • Dave Douglas: High Risk (2014 [2015], Greenleaf Music): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Lauren Henderson: A La Madrugada (2015, self-released): [cd]: B+(**)
  • LoneLady: Hinterland (2015, Warp): [r]: B+(***)
  • Lord Huron: Strange Trails (2015, Iamsound): [r]: B+(**)
  • Phil Maturano: At Home Everywhere (2015, self-released): [r]: B+(*)
  • Jure Pukl: The Life Sound Pictures of Jure Pukl (2014, Fresh Sound New Talent): [r]: B+(**)
  • Billie Rainbird: Deep Blue (2015, Phantom): [cd]: B+(*)
  • The Rempis Percussion Quartet: Cash and Carry (2014 [2015], Aerophonic): [cd]: A-
  • Claire Ritter: Soho Solo (2014 [2015], Zoning): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Harvie S/Sheryl Bailey: Plucky Strum (2014 [2015], Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Marta Sánchez Quintet: Partenika (2014 [2015], Fresh Sound New Talent): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Nisse Sandström Quintet: Live at Crescendo (2014 [2015], Moserobie): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Elliott Sharp: Octal: Book Three (2013 [2015], Clean Feed): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Shlohmo: Dark Red (2015, True Panther Sounds): [r]: B+(***)
  • Steve Smith and Vital Information NYC Edition: Viewpoint (2011 [2015], BFM Jazz): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Toro y Moi: What For? (2015, Carpark): [r]: B+(*)
  • Viet Cong: Viet Cong (2015, Jagjaguwar): [r]: B+(**)
  • Katharina Weber/Fred Frith/Fredy Studer: It Rolls (2014 [2015], Intakt): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Young Guv: Ripe 4 Luv (2015, Slumberland): [r]: B+(***)
  • Zun Zun Egui: Shackles' Gift (2015, Bella Union): [r]: B+(*)

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

  • PC Music Volume 1 (2013-15 [2015], PC Music): [r]: B+(**)

Old records rated this week:

  • Coleman Hawkins/Henry "Red" Allen: Reunion in Hi-Fi: The Complete Classic Sessions (1957-58 [2009], Lone Hill Jazz, 2CD): [r]: A-
  • Manfred Schulze Bläser Quintett: Nummer 12 (1985 [1986], FMP): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Stooges Brass Band: It's About Time (2003, The Gruve Label): [r]: B+(**)
  • Cecil Taylor Workshop Ensemble: Legba Crossing (1988 [1989], FPM): [bc]: B+(***)

Grade changes:

  • Coleman Hawkins/Henry "Red" Allen: Standards and Warhorses (1957-58 [1987], Jass): Playing Lone Hill Jazz's reissue of these sessions convinces me I underrated the record. Still, until I recheck the actual CD -- maybe there's something bad in the mastering? -- I'll upgrade cautiously. [was B] B+

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Alessio Alberghini: Inverso (Floating Forest): June 1
  • Aimée Allen: Matter of Time (Azuline)
  • Priscilla Badhwar: Mademoiselle (self-released): May 26
  • Lorin Cohen: Home (Origin)
  • Eugenie Jones: Come Out Swingin' (Openmic): May 12
  • Enoch Smith Jr.: Misfits II (Misfitme Music): May 19
  • Jeff Richman: Hotwire (Nefer): May 19
  • Henry Threadgill Zooid: In for a Penny, In for a Pound (Pi, 2CD): May 26

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Weekend Roundup

We had four or five straight days this week of "elevated" severe weather threats. Most of the real damage took place in Oklahoma and north Texas, but we did have one EF-3 tornado on the ground for 15 miles near Rose Hill, about ten miles west of here. Rain itself has been spotty, and most likely we're still below average year-to-date. More surprising to me is Tropical Storm Ana appearing a month ahead of the Atlantic hurricane season -- the earliest such storm since 2003. Wikipedia says the forecast for hurricanes this year is about 20% below the 1950-2014 average, but such an early storm strikes me as ominous.

This week's scattered links:

  • Mark Bittman: Obama and Republicans Agree on the Trans-Pacific Partnership . . . Unfortunately: I gather from Twitter (err, TPM) that Obama dismissed Elizabeth Warren's opposition to TPP by saying, "The truth of the matter is that Elizabeth is, you know, a politician like everybody else." Obama, on the other hand, is so far above the political fray that he's got George Will applauding TPP as "Obama's best idea." Of course, it's easy for Obama to dismiss the concerns of Democrats as "speculation" because he's spent the last five years negotiating TPP in secret. [Yves Smith: "There would be no reason to keep it so secret if it was in the public interest."] Indeed, it's only come up now because he wants Congress to write him a blank check to negotiate whatever without allowing future amendments. You'd think folks as paranoid as the Republicans in Congress would never go for that, but evidently the fix is in. Bittman normally writes about food -- I can recommend his cookbooks How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food and The Best Recipes in the World: More Than 1,000 International Dishes to Cook at Home -- so it's surprising to see him wander into political waters, but he points out:

    Even if you look "only" at food and the environment, the TPP should be ripped apart and put back together with public and congressional input. The pact would threaten local food, diminish labeling laws, likely keep environmentally destructive industrial meat production high (despite the fact that as a nation we're eating less meat) and probably maintain high yields of commodity crops while causing price cuts.

    It would certainly weaken food safety. For example, more than 90 percent of our seafood is imported, a figure that includes fish that were caught domestically and sent overseas for processing before coming back in, which makes the inspection process even more complicated. All told, that's more than five billion pounds of imports annually, and according to the Center for Food Safety, just 90 federal inspectors guarantee its safety. (The Food and Drug Administration inspects less than 2 percent of imported seafood.) By reducing restrictions on Southeast Asian imports, the TPP would allow more fish containing chemicals that are illegal in domestic aquaculture to reach our shores; by making inspections less effective, it would virtually guarantee that those chemicals make it to our tables.

    The agreement would even allow countries to challenge one another's laws, so that "equivalency" may simply mean that the least powerful regulations become the norm. The United States would have no special standing: If our laws are seen as restraining trade or limiting profits, they could be challenged in special courts, per the TPP's "investor state" clause. Philip Morris is suing Uruguay over that country's antismoking laws under just such circumstances; there are several examples of American companies' flouting local laws and citing trade agreements as an excuse; and Mexico has been sued repeatedly for theoretically diminishing investor profits.

    When individual governments have little say, corporate "efficiency" amounts to the global economy's being run as an ill-regulated business model (an equally egregious trans-Atlantic agreement is currently being negotiated). The projected benefits to the public -- as usual, "job creation" leads the list -- are mythical, and you don't have to take my word for it.

    Some other relevant links:

  • Paul Krugman: Race, Class and Neglect:

    Every time you're tempted to say that America is moving forward on race -- that prejudice is no longer as important as it used to be -- along comes an atrocity to puncture your complacency. Almost everyone realizes, I hope, that the Freddie Gray affair wasn't an isolated incident, that it's unique only to the extent that for once there seems to be a real possibility that justice may be done.

    And the riots in Baltimore, destructive as they are, have served at least one useful purpose: drawing attention to the grotesque inequalities that poison the lives of too many Americans.

    Yet I do worry that the centrality of race and racism to this particular story may convey the false impression that debilitating poverty and alienation from society are uniquely black experiences. In fact, much though by no means all of the horror one sees in Baltimore and many other places is really about class, about the devastating effects of extreme and rising inequality.

    Take, for example, issues of health and mortality. Many people have pointed out that there are a number of black neighborhoods in Baltimore where life expectancy compares unfavorably with impoverished Third World nations. But what's really striking on a national basis is the way class disparities in death rates have been soaring even among whites.

    Most notably, mortality among white women has increased sharply since the 1990s, with the rise surely concentrated among the poor and poorly educated; life expectancy among less educated whites has been falling at rates reminiscent of the collapse of life expectancy in post-Communist Russia.

    And yes, these excess deaths are the result of inequality and lack of opportunity, even in those cases where their direct cause lies in self-destructive behavior. Overuse of prescription drugs, smoking, and obesity account for a lot of early deaths, but there's a reason such behaviors are so widespread, and that reason has to do with an economy that leaves tens of millions behind.

    Actually, the adverse effects of inequality have been well documented (see, e.g., Ichiro Kawachi/Bruce P Kennedy: The Health of Nations: Why Inequality Is Harmful to Your Health and Richard Wilkinson: The Impact of Inequality: How to Make Sick Societies Healthier). Still, the Russian analogy is shocking (if I recall correctly, life expectancy for males dropped from close to 70 to 49 in a decade, which probably hasn't happened anywhere else since WWII). It's hard to believe that the US economy and safety net have sunk that far, but the sheer indifference of many political figures borders on cruelty, and the cult of austerity has convinced many people that public action is impossible. It's curious that one effort no one has lined up to celebrate the 50th anniversary of is the War on Poverty: even the heirs of its supporters don't seem to have the energy or vision (or memory) to recall that it actually was working until sabotaged by political indifference (Nixon) and contempt (Reagan) and cowardice (Clinton).

    Also see Jeff Madrick: The Cost of Child Poverty.

  • Dean Obeidallah: Muslim-Bashing Can Be Very Lucrative: Geller got more than the usual press this week when her "Draw Muhammad" cartooning event in Texas provoked a couple of overly sensitive American muslims to commit martyrdom-by-cop trying to shoot their way into the event. That may have seemed like a PR coup, but I haven't seen anyone -- even muslimphobes like Bill Maher -- stand up to identify with her. Author looks at the money trail, such as it is, citing a "Fear, Inc. report that found that certain key foundations have donated close to $60 million in recent years to these anti-Muslim advocates." Geller's only getting a small slice of that, but she's more than making ends meet.

Also, a few links for further study:

  • Dean Baker: The Reconnection Agenda: The Fun and Easy Route to Broadly Shared Prosperity: Review of Jared Bernstein's new book, The Reconnection Agenda: Reuniting Growth and Prosperity -- available as a free PDF, a cheap Kindle book, or a moderately priced paperback. Bernstein was briefly famous when VP Joe Biden hired him as economic advisor in 2009, although I ran into him earlier when I read his 2008 book Crunch: Why Do I Feel So Squeezed? (And Other Unsolved Economic Mysteries). As the Biden appointment shows, obviously not a flaming radical, but much of what he argues for -- like full employment -- proved unthinkable even within Obama's circle of "confidence men." Bernstein's book looks to be heavy on policy wonkery -- i.e., he describes what could be done if we wanted to do it, rather than exploring why such political will doesn't exist (at least at the level of practical politicians). Baker adds some quibbles, notably pointing out that the persistent trade deficit (and overvaluation of the dollar) is something that exists because certain US interest groups favor it.

  • Andrew Cockburn: The Kingpin Strategy: Subhed: "Assassination as Policy in Washington and How It Failed, 1990-2015." I've been inclined to attribute Washington's jones for targeted assassination to a case of neocon Israel envy, but Cockburn finds earlier roots in the War on Drugs' "kingpin strategy": a program to put faces on various "drug cartels" and mark progress by knocking off their heads -- Pablo Escobar, of the Medellin cartel in Colombia, was an early target. (Of course, now that I think of it, this is the Vietnam Phoenix Program all over again.) Of course, it turns out that killing drug kingpins actually resulted in more drugs at lower prices -- the cartels, after all, were just that, so breaking them up only increased competition. With the War on Terror, drug kingpins gave way to HVIs ("high-value individuals"). Turns out that didn't work so well either:

    The results, [Rivolo] discovered when he graphed them out, offered a simple, unequivocal message: the strategy was indeed making a difference, just not the one intended. It was, however, the very same message that the kingpin strategy had offered in the drug wars of the 1990s. Hitting HVIs did not reduce attacks and save American lives; it increased them. Each killing quickly prompted mayhem. Within three kilometers of the target's base of operation, attacks over the following 30 days shot up by 40%. Within a radius of five kilometers, a typical area of operations for an insurgent cell, they were still up 20%. Summarizing his findings for Odierno, Rivolo added an emphatic punch line: "Conclusion: HVI Strategy, our principal strategy in Iraq, is counter-productive and needs to be re-evaluated."

    As with the kingpin strategy, the causes of this apparently counter-intuitive result became obvious upon reflection. Dead commanders were immediately replaced, and the newcomers were almost always younger and more aggressive than their predecessors, eager to "make their bones" and prove their worth.

    Cockburn, by the way, has a new book: Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins. Article also at TomDispatch.

  • Seymour Hersh: The Killing of Osama bin Laden: Much new detail here, if you're into that sort of thing -- I didn't bother with any of the Seal memoirs, although I wonder how clear they were that Bin Laden was an ISI prisoner, or that the raid was arranged with collaboration and consent of Pakistani officials. For instance:

    One lie that has endured is that the Seals had to fight their way to their target. Only two Seals have made any public statement: No Easy Day, a first-hand account of the raid by Matt Bissonnette, was published in September 2012; and two years later Rob O'Neill was interviewed by Fox News. Both men had resigned from the navy; both had fired at bin Laden. Their accounts contradicted each other on many details, but their stories generally supported the White House version, especially when it came to the need to kill or be killed as the Seals fought their way to bin Laden. O'Neill even told Fox News that he and his fellow Seals thought 'We were going to die.' 'The more we trained on it, the more we realised . . . this is going to be a one-way mission.'

    But the retired official told me that in their initial debriefings the Seals made no mention of a firefight, or indeed of any opposition. The drama and danger portrayed by Bissonnette and O'Neill met a deep-seated need, the retired official said: 'Seals cannot live with the fact that they killed bin Laden totally unopposed, and so there has to be an account of their courage in the face of danger. The guys are going to sit around the bar and say it was an easy day? That's not going to happen.'

    They did make the operation more dramatic by crashing a helicopter, which they then had to blow up while ordering in a replacement. Hersh's final lines:

    High-level lying nevertheless remains the modus operandi of US policy, along with secret prisons, drone attacks, Special Forces night raids, bypassing the chain of command, and cutting out those who might say no.

  • Costas Lapavitsas: The Syriza strategy has come to an end: An interview with the Greek economist, author of Profiting Without Producing: How Finance Exploits Us All (2014, Verso), on the various differences in Europe, especially between Germany and Greece, and how they're tearing the Eurozone apart.

  • Nomi Prins: The Clintons and Their Banker Friends: Adapted from her book, All the Presidents' Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power, recently reprinted in paperback. Although Bush and Obama did more to bail out bankrupt banks, no one made them more money, through generous legislation and hands off regulation, than Bill Clinton.

  • Sandy Tolan: The One-State Conundrum: What makes Tolan's The Lemon Tree one of the most accessible books on Israel-Palestine is how he uses a couple very real individuals as a prism for the big picture story. His new book, Children of the Stone: The Power of Music in a Hard Land, picks another such example, a Palestinian violinist who founded a music school in the Occupied Territories. Example:

    I have spent the last five years documenting both the harsh realities of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Ramzi Aburedwan's dream of building a music school that could provide Palestinian children with an alternative to the violence and humiliation that is their everyday lives. I sat with children in the South Hebron hills, who had been stoned by Israeli settlers and set upon by German shepherds as they walked two miles to school. I met a 14-year-old girl who was forced to play a song for a soldier at a checkpoint, supposedly to prove her flute was not a weapon.

    Farmers in villages shared their anguish with me over their lost livelihoods, because the 430-mile-long separation barrier Israel has built on Palestinian land, essentially confiscating nearly 10% of the West Bank, cuts them off from their beloved olive groves. I've seen men crammed into metal holding pens before being taken to minimum-wage jobs in Israel, and women squeezed between seven-foot-high concrete blocks, waiting to pray at Jerusalem's Al Aqsa Mosque. I've spoken with countless families who have been subject to night raids by the Israeli military, including one young mother, home alone with her one-year-old boy, who woke up to the sight of 10 Israeli soldiers breaking down her door and pointing guns at her. They had, it turned out, raided the wrong apartment. The baby slept through it all.

    Ramzi and the teachers at his school, Al Kamandjati (Arabic for "The Violinist"), see it as an antidote to the sense of oppression and confinement that pervades Palestinian life. And it's true that the students I talked to there regularly reported that playing music gave them a transformative sense of calm and protection -- and not only in the moments when they picked up their instruments and disappeared into Bach, Beethoven, or Fairuz.

    Hope they play some Ellington too.

  • Philip Weiss: 'NY Review of Books' says Tony Judt didn't really mean it when he called for the end of a Jewish state: A rebuttal to assertions made in a review of Judt's essay collection When the Facts Change: Essays, 1995-2010 by Jonathan Freedland (paywalled). The late historian's piece, included in the book, dated from 2003, and as Weiss points out included a number of predictions which have held up rather well. Weiss writes:

    I don't think I've seen anything like this before: such a retraction, issued after the author's death, of a signature portion of his beliefs. And I understand why; it anguished liberal Zionists to hear anyone thoughtful come out against the idea of a Jewish state, won so heroically over 80 years of battle in the chambers of western officials. It was a betrayal of an article of faith, by someone who had previously been a Zionist.

    The New York Review of Books has done all it can to bury Judt's essay. It never asked Judt to expand on his views in the years that followed, let alone ask Ali Abunimah or Ghada Karmi or any other Palestinian who can pick up a pencil to respond. No, this was an all-Jewish event. And the retraction here is being performed by a man who wrote a year back that Ari Shavit is a "liberal" and the right person to talk to American Jews about the conflict (Shavit who "opposed the Oslo Agreement, calling it 'a collective act of messianic drunkenness' and defending its most prominent opponent, Netanyahu, against charges that he was partly to blame for its failure . . . [who] during the Second Intifada, . . . praised Sharon for having 'conducted the military campaign patiently, wisely and calmly' and 'the diplomatic campaign with impressive talent' [, who in] the final week of the war in Gaza this summer that took the lives of 72 Israelis and more than 2100 Palestinians, . . . wrote that strong objection to Israeli conduct was illegitimate and amounted to anti-Semitic bigotry").

    As he's explained in his memoirs, Judt was very attached to Israel, even working on a kibbutz there, so his 2003 essay had the impact of a jilted believer -- Judt was a huge fan of a collection of essays by disenchanted ex-Communists, The God That Failed, so he would have appreciated that a comparable book could collect key essays by ex-Zionists.

  • Some links on the UK (and other) elections: I still have enough residual sense of international solidarity to at least root for left-leaning parties all around the world, although UK "New Labour" leader Tony Blair's "Bush's Poodle" act sorely tried those sympathies, and it seems like France's Socialists have long tended to be more enthusiastic about French imperialism than the competing Gaullists were. On the other hand, I keep favoring the Democratic Party here in the USA, even though they have the worst record of all, so I'm not unaware of how these travesties happen. My sense of solidarity even extends to Israel's Labor Party (if indeed it still exists). But beyond oft-frustrated sympathies, I haven't tried to sort out what's just happened in the UK. I'll just note some links for future reference:

Monday, May 04, 2015

Music Week

Music: Current count 24909 [24889] rated (+20), 407 [404] unrated (+3).

Rated count fell significantly this week. I'd like to blame it on Rhapsody, which did one of those redesign things "to give you a better experience" and got rid of the "Browse" option. My modus operandi of late has been to play a new CD when I'm not at the computer -- the stereo is set up to play in the kitchen/dining room and basement as well as in my office space -- then look on Rhapsody when I know I'm going to be on the computer for a while. Sometimes I have something I've searched for there, but often I just browse to see what pops up. Except I can't do that any more. I've written two angry letters. Maybe it's time to drop them and pick up Spotify? My experiments with the latter were far from satisfactory, but that was with their "free" account. I've never found much difference in what's available, so it's mostly a choice between one sucky/piggy UI and another.

But there's another reason for the rated count drop. I've spent several days on a woodworking project: building a wheeled cabinet on which I'll mount my cheapo Ryobi router table (basically designed as a table-top unit, although it's really too high on top of a full workbench). Got it assembled and a first coat of paint on it. Should take another coat plus some touch-up and a handle, so a couple days (depending on weather). I've never done much with it (or any of my routers), although it should be a sweet setup. Does at least get it off my floor, and adds a storage drawer which should be more than enough to hold all my router bits. Organization of the tools areas is if anything a more pressing need than clean up of books or CDs.

Probably a week away from May's Rhapsody Streamnotes (tempted to drop the brand name there). Currently have 75 records in the draft file. Four (of six) A-list records this week come from scrounging through the Expert Witness notices -- Booker from Christgau, Protoje from Gubbels, Marley and King Curtis/Champion Jack Dupree from Phil Overeem. I got hep to Rich Halley many years ago. I don't think the new one is his best, but it may be the hardest, and after six or seven plays I gave up my reservations. As for Davison, I still hold that the old jazz is the real jazz. A cornet player, he's a name I'm familiar with but haven't listened to much -- shows up mostly on Eddie Condon records -- but he sounds brilliant here, even way past his prime. Someone to look into deeper.

No time for Weekend Roundup yesterday. No telling when the tweet reviews will resume.

New records rated this week:

  • Tony Adamo: Tony Adamo & the New York Crew (2015, Urban Zone): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Harry Allen: For George, Cole and Duke (2015, Blue Heron): [r]: B+(***)
  • Roberta Donnay & the Prohibition Mob Band: Bathtub Gin (2015, Motéma Music): [r]: B+(*)
  • Lorenzo Feliciati: Koi (2015, Rare Noise): [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Rich Halley 4: Creating Structure (2014 [2015], Pine Eagle): [cd]: A-
  • Heikki Koskinen/Teppo Hauta-Aho/Mikko Innanen: Kellari Trio (2011 [2015], Edgetone): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Urs Leimgruber/Jacques Demierre/Barre Phillips: 1 - 3 - 2 - 1 (2012 [2015], Jazzwerkstatt): [r]: B
  • Joe Locke: Love Is a Pendulum (2014 [2015], Motéma Music): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Metallic Taste of Blood: Doctoring the Dead (2015, Rare Noise): [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Allison Moorer: Down to Believing (2015, E1): [r]: B+(**)
  • Protoje: Ancient Future (2015, Indiggnation Collective/Overstand): A-
  • Eli Wallace/Jon Arkin/Karl Evangelista: Cabbages, Captain, & King (2014 [2015], Edgetone): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Zubatto Syndicate: Zubatto Syndicate 2 (2015, Boscology): [cdr]: C+

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

  • James Booker: Gonzo: Live 1976 (1976 [2014], Rockbeat, 2CD): [r]: A-
  • Wild Bill Davison: The Jazz Giants (1968 [2015], Delmark/Sackville): [cd]: A-
  • The Kingbees: The Kingbees (1980 [2015], Omnivore): [r]: B+(**)
  • Bob Marley & the Wailers: Easy Skanking in Boston '78 (1978 [2015], Island/Tuff Gong): [r]: A-
  • Leroy Smart: The Don Tells It Like It Is . . . (1972-77 [2013], Kingston Sounds): [r]: B+(***)

Old records rated this week:

  • Jaki Byard and the Apollo Stompers: Phantasies II (1988 [1991], Soul Note): [r]: B+(**)
  • King Curtis & Champion Jack Dupree: Blues at Montreux (1971 [2005], Atlantic/Rhino): [r]: A-
  • Leroy Smart: Superstar (1977, Justice): [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Dmitry Baevsky: Over and Out (Jazz Family)
  • Thomas Bergeron: Sacred Feast (self-released): May 12
  • Joshua Breakstone: 2nd Avenue (Capri): May 21
  • Chicago Reed Quartet: Western Automatic (Aerophonic): June 23
  • Brian Landrus Trio: The Deep Below (BlueLand/Palmetto): June 16
  • Opus: Definition (BluJazz)
  • Billie Rainbird: Deep Blue (Phantom): May 29
  • The Rempis Percussion Quartet: Cash and Carry (Aerophonic): June 23
  • Marta Sánchez Quintet: Partenika (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Nisse Sandström Quintet: Live at Crescendo (Moserobie)
  • Steve Smith and Vital Information NYC Edition: Viewpoint (BFM Jazz): May 26


  • Courtney Barnett: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom + Pop Music)

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Leroy Smart: The Don Tells It Like It Is . . . (1972-77 [2013], Kingston Sounds): B+(***) [rhapsody]

   Mar 2001