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Monday, August 21, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28563 [28538] rated (+25), 378 [378] unrated (+0).

First, I want to single out a link from yesterday's Weekend Roundup that I added late, barely scanned, and didn't much comment on: Heather Boushey: How the Radical Right Played the Long Game and Won. I see now that I got it way out of my usual alphabetical-by-author order, but that's not worth correcting. It's a book review. The book is Nancy McLean's Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America. It's primarily about an economist who Charles Koch knows well even if you or I didn't: James McGill Buchanan. I've bought a copy of the book, and intend to read it soon. (I figured I'd read the new paperback of Rosa Brooks' How Everything Became War and How the Military Became Everything first, in honor [horror?] of Trump's new Chief of Staff, John Kelly.) Anyhow, if I hadn't been so rushed, I would have singled out this quote:

In the United States, promising and then delivering services and protections for the majority of voters provides a path for politicians to be popularly elected. Buchanan was concerned that this would lead to overinvestment in public services, as the majority would be all too willing to tax the wealthy minority to support these programs. So Buchanan came to a radical conclusion: Majority rule was an economic problem. "Despotism," he declared in his 1975 book The Limits of Liberty, "may be the only organizational alternative to the political structure that we observe."

Buchanan therefore argued for "curbing the appetites of majority coalitions" by establishing ironclad rules that would curb their power. . . . He knew that the majority would never agree to being constrained. He therefore helped lead a push to undermine their trust in public institutions. The idea was to get voters to direct their ire at these institutions and divert their attention away from increasing income and wealth inequality.

This is all stuff I had figured out, so the only surprise is the extent to which it was designed, and I suppose the frankness with which it was articulated as a strategy to subvert democracy and impose despotism. My own discovery started with the observation that while rich people strongly favor Republicans and poor people strongly favor Democrats in every state all across the nation, richer states tend toward Democrats (the exceptions are Alaska and Utah) while relatively poor states go Republican. The latter happens because people in those states have learned better than o expect help from their elected government, because governments long controlled by reactionaries have long disabused them of their hopes and faith in democracy.

People in richer states have more faith in government, because public institutions there serve them better, not least because a more efficient, more supportive state helps build the economy. (The Republican capture of Wisconsin is offering a real time example of turning a rich state into a poor one.) Of course, Republicans didn't need Buchanan's theorizing to understand that the first step in turning a popular program into one seen as worthless was rendering it incompetent: Richard Nixon provided a classic example of this when he put Donald Rumsfeld in charge of the Office of Economic Opportunity. Still, no one ever came out and said that's what Nixon and Rumsfeld were up to and why. They simply set up a situation which later Republicans could exploit by arguing that the OEO was a waste of money, that government never could have alleviated poverty in the first place. What Buchanan, and McLean's book, give us is the smoking gun: they show how disaster was planned, and why a few extraordinarily greedy people made it happen.

They also remind us that this is a program to subvert democracy and install despotism in its place. Once you grasp this struggle in those terms, you can see clearly how critical stealth and deception have been to their program, and start to see through them.

I've read a couple of pieces on Afghanistan in anticipation of Trump's big speech tonight. General themes: many antiwar quotes from his campaign, bits on how the hawks are delighted to have gotten rid of Bannon, and pretty much universal agreement that he's going to double down on the war and make things worse rather than better. The only twist I've heard of is a plan to coerce whoever's in charge of Pakistan this week to do its dirty work else face the wrath of America supporting India to bring Pakistan to heel -- as if nuclear brinksmanship in Korea wasn't bad enough.

Nothing really to quote yet. Meanwhile, here's Matt Taibbi misunderestimating Trump again: Why Trump Can't Quit the Alt-Right. Taibbi talks about how Trump's "secret technique" worked so well during the campaign: "He continually keeps his enemies off-balance by alternately playing the menace and the raving buffoon" -- then notes that the buffoon bit doesn't work so well for an actual president. I expect that Trump will stick to the teleprompter tonight, and therefore look semi-coherent, which in some quarters will pass as "presidential" given that he's doing what so many other presidents before him have done: blundering into a wider, deeper, and even dumber war.

Not much to say about music this week. Rated count is down a bit as I missed a day-plus cooking. Following my citation of Tim Niland's blog last week I checked out several Clean Feed and Hatology releases. Roots Magic makes two A- records I didn't get from Clean Feed (along with Eric Revis' Sing Me Some Cry, last week). I spent a lot of time on the Beth Ditto record that Robert Christgau likes -- I previously gave Waxahatchee's Out in the Storm an A-, Ivy Tripp B+(**), Paramore B+(***), and Valerie June B+(**), so we're fairly close this week. By the way, it wasn't really Ditto's solo debut: she released a quality EP in 2011, which I thought an A- at the time (and you all know how I tend to downgrade EPs).

The old music mostly came from trying to look for 2000 releases I had missed, although I poked around a bit more, not really finding anything very important. The 2000-03 period predates my Jazz Consumer Guide column, and therefore is the least well covered period as I try to collect my Recorded Jazz in the 21st Century: A Consumer Guide.

Jason Stein's album cover appeared, without mention, in last week's Music Week: I graded the record A- after I close my listings, but before I finished writing the post. Same thing this week with the new Chris Speed Trio album, Platinum on Tap.

New records rated this week:

  • Big Bold Back Bone: In Search of the Emerging Species (2015 [2017], Shhpuma): [r]: B
  • Jane Ira Bloom: Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson (2017, Outline, 2CD): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Beth Ditto: Fake Sugar (2017, Virgin): [r]: B+(***)
  • Miles Donahue: The Bug (2015 [2017], Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Floating Points: Reflections - Mojave Desert (2017, Luaka Bop): [r]: B+(*)
  • H. Hawkline: I Romanticize (2017, Heavenly): [r]: B
  • Ray Wylie Hubbard: Tell the Devil I'm Gettin' There as Fast as I Can (2017, Bordello/Thirty Tigers): [r]: A-
  • Max Johnson: In the West (2014 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)
  • Steve Langone Trio: Breathe (2016 [2017], Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Rob Mazurek: Chants and Borders (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(**)
  • Rob Mazurek: Rome (2014 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)
  • Marcus Monteiro: Another Part of Me (2017, Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Platform: Flux Reflux (2017, Clean Feed): [r]: B
  • Roots Magic: Last Kind Words (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: A-
  • Matthew Shipp: Invisible Touch at Taktlos Zürich (2016 [2017], Hatology): [r]: B+(***)
  • Jason Stein Quartet: Lucille! (2017, Delmark): [cd]: A-

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

  • Albert Ayler: European Radio Studio Recordings 1964 (1964 [2016], Hatology): [r]: B+(**)
  • Albert Ayler Quartet: Copenhagen Live 1964 (1964 [2017], Hatology): [r]: B+(**)
  • Albert Ayler: Stockholm, Berlin 1966 (1966 [2011], Hatology): [r]: B+(***)

Old music rated this week:

  • Jeremiah Cymerman: Purification/Dissolution (2011-12 [2012], 5049): [bc]: B
  • Jeremiah Cymerman/Christopher Hoffman/Brian Chase: Pale Horse (2013 [2014], 5049): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Jeremiah Cymerman/Evan Parker/Nate Wooley: World of Objects (2013 [2014], 5049): [bc]: B-
  • George Garzone: Moodiology (1998 [1999], NYC): [r]: B+(**)
  • George Garzone: The Fringe in New York (2000, NYC): [r]: B+(**)
  • George Garzone: Among Friends (2009, Stunt): [r]: B+(***)
  • Flip Phillips: Celebrates His 80th Birthday at the March of Jazz 1995 (1995 [2003], Arbors): [r]: B+(***)
  • Flip Phillips: Swing Is the Thing (2000, Verve): [r]: B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Mike Downes: Root Structure (Addo): September 27
  • David Lopato: Gendhing for a Spirit Rising (Global Coolant, 2CD): September 8
  • Wadada Leo Smith/Natsuki Tamura/Satoko Fujii/Ikue Mori: Aspiration (Libra): September 8

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Weekend Roundup

Tina Fey got flack for this skit on Thursday's Saturday Night Live news special, where she advised people to skip Nazi/White Supremacist counter-protests and express their frustration by eating cake instead. I followed her advice and made a pan of extra-rich brownies, but I had an occasion to honor: Frank Smith was passing through Kansas, returning home after an AFSCME conference in DC, where he also found time for a demonstration outside the White House. I fixed a little vegetarian (not vegan) dinner in his honor: a leek-goat cheese quiche, three Ottolenghi salads -- spinach with dates, onions, toasted pitas and almonds; roast eggplant with tahini sauce; sweet potatoes with maple syrup and pecans -- and the brownies. I was so exhausted afterwards I went to bed early and slept eleven hours. It wasn't so much the work as general world-weariness. I remember a sense of unease back in 2001 when a friend chirped "we survived one George Bush; we can survive another." Well, lots of folks didn't survive that second one, and hardly anyone came out better from the ordeal. And as you get older, you start to wonder whether you're ever going to see a better world. Still, cake tastes good. Brownies with 6 oz. premium unsweetened chocolate even better.

[PS: Also see Tom Carson: The Brilliance of Tina Fey's Cake Satire, Explained.]

Meanwhile, I offer these links and comments because I don't really feel up to working on anything more creative or constructive.

The usual scattered links:

  • Kurt Andersen: How America Lost Its Mind: I can't argue with the conclusion -- clearly, a huge swath of Americans have lost their minds -- but I'd offer a simpler explanation than the '60s and the internet. In fact, I'd argue that the '60s at least opened up a vein of critical thinking in stark contrast to the rampant hypocrisy of the 1950s. That led directly to the most important revolutions of the post-WWII era: civil rights and liberties, women's liberation, rejection of war, the movement for the environment, consumer and worker protections. Also, the internet help break out of the corporate media stranglehold that had consolidated in the 1980s. The problem was the 1980s, when a cabal of conservative businessfolk somehow convinced most people to ignore reality and pretend it's "morning in America again" -- a deception that has become increasingly unhinged as right-wing and/or neoliberal control has proved ever more dysfunctional. Indeed, it's gotten so bad that the naïveté (and relative egalitarianism) of the 1950s has started to look good again, not that anyone seriously wants to go back there. But there's more wrong now than just the notion that reality and truth are subject to political interpretation. It's that the political agenda of the upper crust demands deception, and they have the means to mass-propagate it. All we have to fight back is critical thinking and what's left of the decentralized internet.

  • David Dayen: More Trump Populism: DOJ Shuts Down an Operation That Was Successfully Combatting Consumer Fraud:

    The justice department plans to terminate Operation Choke Point, an Obama-era law enforcement crackdown on scam consumer transactions that conservatives characterized as an attack on gun sellers and legal businesses. It concludes one of the more brazen misinformation efforts in recent political history -- with misinformation triumphing. . . .

    Karl Frisch, executive director of Allied Progress, a consumer rights group, said in a statement: "Ending this program will make it easier for financial predators and other unscrupulous industries to get the resources they need to carry out their deceptive and frequently unlawful business practices."

  • Jason Ditz: Trump: Afghan War Decisions Made: Trump's promising a major speech revealing his Afghanistan strategy on Monday, following a round of meetings at Camp David mostly attended by hawks, including mercenary mogul Erik Prince, and excluding Steve ("skeptic of military escalation") Bannon. I could probably dig up some speculation on this, but we might as well wait for the ball to drop. Then on Tuesday Trump flies to Phoenix for his big rally there, a chance to meet up with his old pal Joe Arpaio and, one assumes, talk about The Wall.

  • Tara Golshan: Anti-racism protesters totally eclipsed Boston's right-wing Free Speech rally: I've seen reports of up to 40,000 anti-racism protesters.

  • Mehdi Hasan: Donald Trump Has Been a Racist All His Life -- and He Isn't Going to Change After Charlottesville:

    Consider the first time the president's name appeared on the front page of the New York Times, more than 40 years ago. "Major Landlord Accused of Antiblack Bias in City," read the headline of the A1 piece on Oct. 16, 1973, which pointed out how Richard Nixon's Department of Justice had sued the Trump family's real estate company in federal court over alleged violations of the Fair Housing Act. . . .

    Over the next four decades, Trump burnished his reputation as a bigot: he was accused of ordering "all the black [employees] off the floor" of his Atlantic City casinos during his visits; claimed "laziness is a trait in blacks" and "not anything they can control"; requested Jews "in yarmulkes" replace his black accountants; told Bryan Gumbel that "a well-educated black has a tremendous advantage over a well-educated white in terms of the job market"; demanded the death penalty for a group of black and Latino teenagers accused of raping a jogger in Central Park (and, despite their later exoneration with the use of DNA evidence, has continued to insist they are guilty); suggested a Native American tribe "don't look like Indians to me"; mocked Chinese and Japanese trade negotiators by doing an impression of them in broken English; described undocumented Mexican immigrants as "rapists"; compared Syrian refugees to "snakes"; defended two supporters who assaulted a homeless Latino man as "very passionate" people "who love this country"; pledged to ban a quarter of humanity from entering the United States; proposed a database to track American Muslims that he himself refused to distinguish from the Nazi registration of German Jews; implied Jewish donors "want to control" politicians and are all sly negotiators; heaped praise on the "amazing reputation" of conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, who has blamed America's problems on a "Jewish mafia"; referred to a black supporter at a campaign rally as "my African-American"; suggested the grieving Muslim mother of a slain U.S. army officer "maybe . . . wasn't allowed" to speak in public about her son; accused an American-born Hispanic judge of being "a Mexican"; retweeted anti-Semitic and anti-black memes, white supremacists, and even a quote from Benito Mussolini; kept a book of Hitler's collected speeches next to his bed; declined to condemn both David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan; and spent five years leading a "birther" movement that was bent on smearing and delegitimizing the first black president of the United States, who Trump also accused of being the founder of ISIS.

    For another background piece on Trump as racist: Klaus Brinkbäumer: The True Face of Donald Trump.

  • Janine Jackson: "Trump TV": How the Sinclair Merger Would Move Media Further Right: Sinclair is looking to take over Tribune Media.

  • Sarah Jones: Liberals Helped Create Trump's New Bogeyman, the "Alt-Left": Centrists assume that there must be some mirror-image faction on the left for every horror they see on the right, hence an "alt-left" to the white nationalist "alt-right." So when Trump needed to expand on his "many sides" Charlottesville claim, his apologists started looking for words to describe his hypothetical villains, and "alt-left" offered the symmetry they desired, allowing their guarded denials of the right to serve double duty as attacks on the left. By the way, self-proclaimed alt-rightists were more likely to refer to their opponents (a subset of their enemies) as "antifas" (short for anti-fascists). That at least is a label we can live with. However, what rankles most about "alt-left" is that it's primarily used by centrists/liberals trying to score points with conservatives for their willingness to throw their more principled allies under the bus (much like a previous generation's red-baiting).

    Unlike the term "alt-right," which was coined by white supremacists to give their age-old movement a modern edge, the "alt-left" is an insult. As my colleague Clio Chang wrote in March of liberals who choose to use the term: "A graver sin is the adoption of a term that was created by conservatives to smear the left and discredit criticisms of the growing clout of the racist right."

    It should go without saying, but the left does not promote hate crimes or commit them. It does not strive for an ethno-state. It is explicitly anti-racist and feminist. It demands the redistribution of wealth. You may find that terrifying, but it's not actually terrorism. And when a horde of white supremacists overran Charlottesville with their tiki torches and Confederate flags, the left was at the front lines, defending everyone else's right to freedom. A member of the left died for those rights. . . .

    Liberals often use "alt-left" to describe progressives they consider rude or with whom they have Twitter beef; it is personal animus disguised as politics. . . . The function of the term "alt-left" is to collapse the distinction between the activist left and the racist right. That's why reactionaries like Sean Hannity use it. That's why Donald Trump has taken it up. We are likely to hear a lot more about the alt-left in the coming months and years -- and if liberals continue to use it, they will be doing the right-wing's work.

    Shawn McCreesh, in Antifa and the 'Alt-Left', traces out the long history of leftists who specifically focused on opposing Fascist movements, a concern which dates back to the early days of Fascism and Nazism, and which in the late 1930s led some Americans to travel to Spain to aid in the fight against Franco there. I don't know whether there were counter-protests at pro-Nazi rallies in the US (such as the famous one Trump's father attended at Madison Square Garden), but there were certainly many people offended by and opposed to those rallies -- anti-fascism is a stance which many more people agree with than act upon. After Germany declared war on the US (and vice versa), American officials started referring to those individuals as "premature anti-fascists" (I've long thought that would be a good blog title, although the window of opportunity seems to be closing). Ever since WWII it's been pretty much impossible to hold an explicitly Nazi rally in the US (or Europe) without counter-protests. One might construct a similar history of white supremacists, except that the immediate threat of violence (at least in the US, especially in the ex-Confederate states, was always much greater, so there were fewer direct challenges to the KKK and its ilk. (And while the most dependable opponents of lynching in the pre-WWII period were American Communists, I've never heard anyone called a "premature anti-racist.") The thing is, anti-fascism and anti-racism aren't factions of the left -- those are widespread beliefs and sympathies, and to some extend spread even beyond the left.

    As for the "Alt-Left" in Charlottesville, Dahlia Lithwick: Here's What Witnesses Saw.

  • Fred Kaplan: Ugly History Shouldn't Be Beautiful: "What Germany can teach the US about remembering an ugly past without glorifying it."

  • Olga Khazan: The Dark Minds of the 'Alt-Right': Draws on an academic psychology paper surveying "447 self-proclaimed members of the alt-right." The article doesn't refer to the late-1940s work of Adorno and Horkheimer that created the "F-scale" -- a measure of affinity to fascism -- but that's essentially what they reinvented. If you hear about this study, it will probably be to argue that self-identified "alt-right" members don't suffer from economic anxiety -- they're mostly just racists with a persecution complex, and therefore a paranoia about others they see as being unjustly privileged by the system. That may be true, but the alt-right in its various guises is a small and marginal splinter of the public. What Democrats need to worry about is that people who do feel economic anxiety will buy into the alt-right's paranoia instead of more reasonable programs. Of course, it would be a big help there to actually develop some more reasonable programs, and to make them more credible by not sucking up so shamelessly to the very rich.

  • Kevin M Levin: Why I Changed My Mind About Confederate Monuments: This is as good a place as any to start as any. I was ten when the Civil War centennial started and I was very interested in history, so the Civil War made a big impression on me. As a dutiful Kansan, I never doubted the justness of the Union cause, and by then I was beginning to comprehend the evils the South had perpetrated, both in slavery and in the later Jim Crow period. Still, we frequently visited Arkansas and Oklahoma back then -- my mother's grandfather and great-grandfather had fought for the Union but after the war settled in Arkansas, so I had relatives both there and in Oklahoma. And one thing that always puzzled me was why there seemed to be a Southern cannon or other monument in every town square in Oklahoma, which wasn't part of the Confederacy nor even a state until 1908. I knew that monuments were signposts of history, and respected that, but in Oklahoma that history was clearly fake. It took me a while to understand that the monuments were part of a political movement, one that could be called the Counter-Reconstruction but these days is more quaintly known as Jim Crow -- the often-violent restoration of white supremacy in the former slave states (more than just the Confederate states, which is why you see so many Southern markers in border states like Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri, and Oklahoma). But the great era of Southern monument-building ebbed long ago, and has been in retreat along with the racist policies it was meant to foster. As Southern racists switched political parties from Goldwater on, their fetishism for the Confederate flag and generals should have waned, but we saw little evidence of that until 2015, when a flag-waver massacred nine in a South Carolina church, and Governor Nikki Haley took the lead on lowering the Confederate flag. Since then there's been a broad push to mop up all sorts of racist trash left over from the Civil War/Jim Crow eras, to the extent that nowadays the last folks defending the stuff are unregenerate racists -- a group that sadly features President Trump.

    I might not have cared either way before, but the crowd that came out to defend Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville convinced me that all such monuments have to come down, and the sooner the better: these are people way beyond deplorable, and they should be denied any hint of victory. [Note that former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson says pretty much the same thing: Confederate Statues Are Now 'Rallying Points' for Hate Groups.] As Levin notes: "The national debate over the monuments' future is not unlike what happened in Prague and other cities at the end of the Cold War. And I hope they meet the same fate." He could just as easily have mentioned Saddam Hussein's statues.

    For another example of how monuments and naming are used to shape (pervert really) political space, look at the group that has been working nonstop to institutionalize Ronald Reagan's name in every nook and cranny of the country. Hopefully some day he, too, will be as stripped from the current world as Joseph Stalin. Of course, like Stalin (and Robert E. Lee) he'll never be erased from history -- which, for students, is full of such cautionary tales.

  • Robinson Meyer: What Kind of Monuments Does President Trump Value? Obviously, he likes those Confederate statues -- mementos of a past when most white people were as racist as he still is. But it's more than a little ironic that at the same time he's defending monuments to notorious Americans, he's also "threatening to undo as many as 40 conservation parks" -- aka, National Monuments. Thanks to a law that Teddy Roosevelt signed in 1906, the president can designate any piece of public land as a National Monument. Clinton and Obama used this law a number of times (as did both Roosevelts), but occasionally land so designated is coveted by oil and/or mining companies, and nothing seems to rival profits in Trump's aesthetic sense. By the way, the article includes some gorgeous pictures of endangered National Monuments, plus one picture of a Nathan Bedford Forrest that must count among the world's ugliest (without even factoring its subject in).

  • Justin Miller: Paying for Trump's Tax Cuts Would Devastate the Poor: It's not just who pays less taxes ("90 percent of the taxpayers in the top 1 percent will get a pretty big tax cut") but also who loses out in the inevitable spending cuts needed to offset the tax cuts.

  • Jonathan Ofir: Trump uses Barcelona attacks for incitement to mass murder of Muslims: While Trump struggled with the facts when a white right-wing terrorist struck in Charlottesville, he had no problems at all identifying Muslim terrorists in Barcelona, nor did he make any effort to blame the victims there, as he had in Virginia. Ofir's title is more sensational than the one Yglesias uses below, but it does capture the gist of his tweet.

  • Alex Pareene: Charlottesville Was a Preview of the Future of the Republican Party: Key argument here is that the alt-right is the only group successfully recruiting young people to the Republican Party, so that's where future party leaders will come from. I'm not sure I buy that, given that the rich have never had much trouble hiring help, and they have a nice patronage system even if they can't get you elected.

  • Aja Romano: The President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities resigns, urging resistance against Trump: All 17 members signed the resignation letter. Not a major rebuke, as all were appointed by Obama, so Trump may not have realized that PCAH even existed.

  • Heather Boushey: How the Radical Right Played the Long Game and Won: Book review of Nancy McLean's Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America -- primarily about economist James McGill Buchanan. I've picked up a copy. Hope to get to it soon.

  • Mark Joseph Stern: Joe Arpaio Illegally Tortured Latinos. Of Course Trump Wants to Pardon Him. The former Republican Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona (Phoenix), a long-time grandstanding anti-Latino bigot, was recently convicted of criminal contempt for repeatedly failing to respect civil rights. He was an early Trump supporter, and several reports have Trump granting him a pardon -- perhaps at Trump's planned big rally in Phoenix next week.

    [Arpaio] set up "tent cities" to house overflowing jail population and boasted that they were actual "concentration camps." In the summer, the heat in these facilities reached 145 degrees Fahrenheit; inmates' shoes literally melted. Arpaio told the inmates not to complain, declaring: "It's 120 degrees in Iraq and the soldiers are living in tents and they didn't commit any crimes, so shut your mouths."

    In fact, many of these inmates had not yet been convicted of a crime -- but Arpaio treated all detainees as though they had already been found guilty. He introduced a number of schemes designed to humiliate inmates, including chain gangs for women and juveniles, and a live webcast that broadcast video of jailed pretrial detainees on the internet. One camera captured the toilet in the women's holding cell. The 9th Circuit ultimately blocked these webcasts, but not before millions of people had tuned in.

    Arpaio also worked with former Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas to investigate and prosecute their political enemies. Together, Arpaio and Thomas went after judges who ruled against them, attorneys who opposed them in court, and even a journalist who covered them critically for a local paper. The county wound up paying out tens of millions of dollars in settlement money to Arpaio and Thomas' victims, and Thomas was disbarred. Arpaio famously investigated President Barack Obama's birth certificate, as well, and concluded that it was forged.

    A pardon for Arpaio not only condones this sort of behavior, it promises a "get out of jail card" to others who break the law in ways that align with Trump's prejudices.

  • Matt Taibbi: Fire Steve Bannon: This came out on Thursday, a day before Bannon was actually fired. His reasoning is sound, although that doesn't really explain why Bannon was actually fired.

    The list of nitwits in the Trump administration is long. Betsy DeVos, in charge of education issues, seems capable of losing at tic-tac-toe. Ben Carson thought the great pyramids of Egypt were grain warehouses. Rick Perry, merely in charge of the nation's nuclear arsenal, probably has post-it notes all over his office to remind him what things are: telephone, family photo, souvenir atomic-reactor paperweight, etc.

    Lots of dunces, but chief strategist Steve Bannon, sadly, isn't one of them. The intellectual leader of the alt-right movement is no genius -- nobody with his political views could be -- but neither is he an idiot. He's one of the few people in that White House with even a primitive grasp of long-term strategy, . . .

    But Bannon is the one person in that White House who we know for sure both embraces a white supremacist ideology and has a vision for how to implement it. The mere threat of that, that Trump's political energy might somehow be married to a sober strategy, is terrifying and unacceptable. Bannon saved Trump's political career once. He can't be allowed to do it again; he has to go, and finally let Trump drown on his own.

    Taibbi had two stories to report on. One was to review how Bannon helped turn Trump's campaign around, leading it to improbable victory. The other was a report by Robert Kuttner: Steve Bannon, Unrepentant, which is probably what got Bannon fired, not so much for any particular gaffe as because Bannon stuck his neck out just enough to get it chopped off. We started hearing rumors about Bannon being out back on Monday, which seemed odd because Trump's off-the-rails appearance that day seemed like his most Bannon moment ever. Bannon clearly had enemies within the White House: especially the Goldman-Sachs crowd running the NEC and Treasury, and the hawks trying to dig a deeper hole in Afghanistan (and Syria and Korea and so forth). Sure, any of them could also have found Bannon's racism a little too uncircumspect, but those other issues affected business, not just optics -- and frankly they had given up any claim to shame when they signed up to work for Trump.

    Two takeaways from the Kuttner article: first, Bannon's main preoccupation is starting a major trade war with China, and he's willing to rattle sabres against China to get his way (on the other hand, he views military action against North Korea as hopeless and foolish, and he doesn't see China helping there -- he cites a recent Kuttner article, US vs. North Korea: The Winner? China, as the reason for his call; and second, he trashes the Charlottesville alt-right ("it's losers. It's a fringe element. . . . These guys are a collection of clowns"). The latter may make you wonder why he was reportedly elated when Trump came out defending Nazis and white supremacists, but I suspect that's because he thinks that a big part of Trump's appeal is his readiness to say things that piss off the mainstream media -- to his base, that establishes him as honest and forthright, as someone unwilling to read canned bullshit from a teleprompter.

    Some more Steve Bannon links:

    • Ashley Parker et al.: Trump gets rid of Stephen Bannon, a top proponent of his nationalist agenda: Stresses that Kelly got Bannon fired for being divisive, but here are some interesting quotes on divisions:

      [Bannon] became fixated in recent months on trade and immigration issues, and he had a large dry-erase board in his office that served as a checklist for promises in those areas. But some of his ideas -- such as a proposal to raise the top tax rate on the wealthiest Americans -- were easily batted away by other senior advisers in the White House.

      Bannon had been advocating internally against sending additional troops to Afghanistan, putting him at odds with national security adviser H.R. McMaster and others. Yet he was excluded from a South Asia strategy session Trump convened at Camp David on Friday with nearly two dozen senior officials.

      Bannon has told associates in recent days that if he were to leave the White House, the conservative populist movement that lifted Trump in last year's campaign would be at risk. One person close to him said that the coalition would amount to "Democrats, bankers and hawks." Bannon also predicted that Trump would eventually turn back to him and others who share the president's nationalist instincts, especially on trade.

      There's a link here to an important article that came out in March, essential for understanding Bannon and his political vision: Matea Gold: The Mercers and Stephen Bannon: How a populist power base was funded and built. During his campaign, Trump essentially became a vehicle for Mercer and Bannon and had a knack for selling their vision, but he never built any supporting organization, so once he was elected he fell back on whatever the Republicans already had, which idea-wise was a complete betrayal of Bannon's populist promise.

    • Zack Beauchamp: Steve Bannon tried to destroy "globalism." It destroyed him instead.

    • Tara Golshan: With Bannon out, will Breitbart News go to war with the Trump administration? Threats abound, and there will certainly be some kind of push against Bannon's enemies in the White House, who will be blamed as Trump continues to fail to deliver on many of his alt-right campaign promises. Still, my guess is that what happens depends mostly on Bannon's billionaire sugar daddy, Robert Mercer -- no reason to think he won't continue to be influential in the Trump administration as long as he wants to be (or thinks it worthwhile -- it's already beginning to look like a lost cause). [PS: Bannon was welcomed back at Breitbart; see: Bannon Returns to Breitbart Where He Plans to Keep Boosting Trump; also Trump Thanks Steve Bannon, Cheers On His Return to Breitbart News. Key quote there: "Bannon said that he will continue to fight for Trump's agenda from the outside." Of course, Bannon's view of "Trump's agenda" is uniquely his own -- literally -- and the "real" Trump is bound to disappoint him, though he'll have plenty of opportunities to blame the people surrounding Trump. Expect to hear a lot about how it's better to have someone like Bannon "inside the tent pissing out, vs. outside pissing in."]

    • Rosie Gray: Bannon Is 'Going Nuclear'

    • Mehdi Hasan: Steve Bannon Is Gone, but His Bigotry Stays in the White House: Argues that Bannon's fatal flaw wasn't in-fighting and sure wasn't ideological, just an ego clash with "the Narcissist-in-Chief":

      Thanks to relentless leaking from inside the White House, we have known for some time that Trump has been bothered by the rise and rise of Bannon. He was annoyed by the Time magazine cover story that asked whether the chief strategist was now "the second most powerful man in the world." He was irritated by the #PresidentBannon hashtag on Twitter and upset over the SNL sketch showing Bannon running the White House while the president sits at a kid's desk playing with toys. And, in recent days, Trump was angered by the much-discussed new book by Joshua Green, Devil's Bargain, which suggests that it was the former Breitbart boss who paved the way for Trump's shock victory over Hillary Clinton. "That fucking Steve Bannon taking credit for my election," Trump recently told a friend, according to BuzzFeed News.

    • Ryan Lizza: The Rise and Fall of Steve Bannon: Interesting bit of background here, with Bannon in Shanghai in 2008 giving up on a failed business venture:

      Bannon was looking for his next reinvention. "I came back right before the 2008 election and saw this phenomenon called Sarah Palin," he told me last year. The neo-populist movement that Trump eventually rode to victory was being born in the waning days of that campaign. Bannon thought that Republicans, who had become the party of tax cuts and free-market libertarian philosophy, exemplified by people like Paul Ryan, didn't yet have the right vocabulary to speak to its own base. "The Republicans would not talk about anything related to reality," he told me. "There was all this fucking Austrian school of economic theory."

      Bannon started making what are essentially crude propaganda films about people and issues on the new populist right, including ones about Palin, Ronald Reagan, Michele Bachmann, Phyllis Schlafly, and the Tea Party. He became a fixture on the conservative-conference circuit and befriended Andrew Breitbart, a former blogger and then a new-media entrepreneur who was the hidden talent behind the success of both the Drudge Report and the Huffington Post. Bannon helped Breitbart raise money for Breitbart News Network, including a ten-million-dollar investment from the Mercer family, which during this period emerged as a crucial patron for the populist right. When Breitbart died, in March, 2012, Bannon took over editorial control as well. Traffic exploded, from eleven million page views per month to two hundred million. "Frankly that's why, when Breitbart puts its fucking gun sights on you, your life changes," Bannon bragged to me once.

      In 2013, Bannon and Steven Miller were pushing Jeff Sessions to run for president. The piece doesn't explain how the trio settled on Trump. By the way, I'm pretty sure that Mercer's real politics are closer to the Kochs and the Austrians, but that he supports Bannon (and Trump) because he recognizes the need to cater to the Republican base, and because he's sure he can shut his hirelings down before they do any real harm to the rich. I'm reminded here of Robert Paxton's argument in The Anatomy of Fascism: that fascist movements rise in democratic countries by offering a popular base to the aristocratic/antidemocratic right. The rub there is that no matter how subservient they promise to be, fascists have their own agenda, one that can totally wreck nations. Bannon fits this model perfectly -- not least in thinking of Trump and Mercer not as patrons but as tools for his own glory. Lizza has written several other pieces on Bannon: How Steve Bannon Conquered CPAC -- and the Republican Party (Feb. 24), Can Steve Bannon Save Trumpcare? (Mar. 17), and Firing Steve Bannon Won't Change Donald Trump (Aug. 15).

    • Pter Maass: Steve Bannon said he learned to fear Muslime when he visited Pakistan. Except he was probably in Hong Kong.

    • Jeremy W Peters/Michael M Grynbaum: Steve Bannon, Back on the Outside, Prepares His Enemies List: Of course he has an enemies list. He defines his very being by who he hates.

    • Wil S Hylton: Down the Breitbart Hole: Long Sunday Times article, probably seemed like a good idea when it was commissioned but has been more/less overtaken by events, now that Bannon is out of the White House and returning to Breitbart.

    • Asawin Suebsaeng: Seb Gorka's Fate 'Extremely Uncertain' as His Boss Bannon Is Ousted: I'd say it's pretty much inevitable that Gorka, who worked for Bannon at Breitbart, will be axed soon. Some people think Steven Miller has deeper ties to Trump so may last longer. I'd say Miller's more salient trait is his extreme idolatry of Trump and how readily he's able to contort himself to Trump's every whim, but those traits also make him redundant and superfluous.

  • Matthew Yglesias: Donald Trump's tumultuous week, explained. More Yglesias: The real driver of regional inequality in America; Trump calls for the United States to imitate fake war crimes to fight terrorism; The huge problem with Trump comparing Robert E. Lee to George Washington; 7 things Republicans could do to check Trump without ditching conservative policy; The Trump Tango is tiresome and pointless; Rich CEOs are the big winners of Trump's race war; The real "deep state" sabotage is happening at the Fed.

    From the "Rich CEOs" piece:

    Trump embraces a politics of racial conflict because it works for him.

    As Bloomberg's Joshua Green recounts in his new book Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency, candidate Trump shrugged off media and political attention to his dalliances with the unsavory racist elements of the alt-right. "We polled the race stuff and it doesn't matter," Bannon told Green in September; "it doesn't move anyone who isn't already in [Clinton's] camp."

    The fundamental issue is that the United States contains very few committed and vocal white supremacists (turnout for the Virginia rally was dwarfed by counterprotests nationwide). But it does contain an awful lot of white people. To the extent that politics is seen as a crude zero-sum struggle between racial groups, most of them are going to back the side they perceive as supporting the interests of white people.

    Yet the reality is that while Trump is inflicting tangible disproportionate harm to racial minorities across the country, he's not doing anything substantive to advance the interests of his typical white supporter either. He's loudly embraced a brand of toxic racial politics while quietly creating a narrow winner's circle of C-suite executives and inheritors of vast fortunes. And it's the loyalty of the business class, not of neo-Nazi street brawlers, that ultimately ensures Trump's position of power and is in turn receiving its due rewards. . . .

    Trump and congressional Republicans, for example, deployed the Congressional Review Act to roll back many of the Obama administration's 2016 regulatory actions. Thanks to Trump:

    • It's easier for mining companies to dump pollution into streams.
    • It's easier for oil companies to bribe foreign governments.
    • It's easier for broadband internet providers to sell their customers' user data.
    • But it's now harder for state governments to set up low-fee retirement accounts so people could save money without getting ripped off.

    Trump doesn't tweet about it much, but it turns out that making it harder for people to avoid financial rip-offs is something of a passion for the Trump administration. He has, for example, gutted enforcement of an Obama-era rule that would have made it illegal for financial advisers to deliberately rip off their customers.

    None of this, obviously, has anything to do with helping white people any more than the Trump Federal Communications Commission's ongoing efforts to dismantle net neutrality or the Trump Treasury's efforts to reopen corporate tax loopholes are motivated by concern for the welfare of the European-American population. At the behest of the chemical industry, the Trump Environmental Protection Agency has approved the continued sale of a pesticide that poisons children's brains, and at the behest of for-profit colleges, the Trump Education Department is rolling back regulations offering debt relief to students misled by scam schools.

    The winners here are not "anxious" working-class heartlanders, but the owners and managers of big companies who have the government off their backs and barely even need to defend their stances in public with Trump's antics sucking up the bulk of attention.

  • Angelo Young: After more executives flee, Trump's advisory board, White House claims he planned to disband the council anyway. Related: Matthew Sheffield: Trump's big business CEOs are horrified by his Confederate excuses -- but his religious advisers have nothing but praise.

I wrote a bit recently about how my parents voted for George Wallace in 1968 (not a post, probably in the notebook): they had soured on the Vietnam War (after the next-door neighbor kid was killed there, and my brother and I turned hard against the war), intensely distrusted Dick Nixon, and had no particular fondness for Hubert Humphrey. They weren't particularly racist -- my father still resented the South from the Civil War (his grandfather was named Abraham Lincoln Hull, his father Robert Lincoln), and my mother hailed from an all-white Republican stronghold in Arkansas (her grandfather fought for the union before moving from Ohio to the Ozarks) but they weren't very sensitive about race either, and Wallace's "little guy" message appealed to them. I grew up with Republican leanings, but the war pushed me away from conventional politics. In 1968 I was very enthusiastic about Gene McCarthy's primary challenge to LBJ, and continued to support him through the convention. So I was trying to remember who I preferred in the 1968 election -- certainly not Nixon or Wallace, and while I probably wound up hoping Humphrey would win, I never thought of myself as supporting him. The most likely answer to my question died last week: Dick Gregory. I had long enjoyed his stand-up comedy, and when he ventured into politics in 1967-68, I bought and read his book Write Me In. I was too young to vote in 1968, but certainly would have written him in. He would have made a better "first black president" than the one we wound up having. I never noticed him much after 1968, but according to his Wikipedia page he remain active politically. And I'm sure he could still be funny (when he wasn't dead serious, and sometimes when he was). Here's an obituary.

I also see that Jerry Lewis has died. I was a huge fan, starting about as far back as I can remember. By that time Lewis had already split from Dean Martin (who I later loved for other reasons). I can't say as I ever noticed him much after his 1968-69 talk show (aside from The King of Comedy in 1982), but he was the funniest person in the world for the first decade I was conscious of.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Daily Log

My nephew Mike asked for a list of book recommendations on immigration in America. I didn't have much in my blurb file, but sent what I did have. I also made a quick search on Amazon and came up with the following titles -- most too old to bother with in my Book Roundup posts:

Marisa Abrajano/Zoltan L Hajnal: White Backlash: Immigration, Race, and American Politics (paperback, 2017, Princeton University Press).

Richard Alba/Nancy Foner: Strangers No More: Immigration and the Challenges of Integration in North America and Western Europe (2015, Princeton University Press).

Tyler G Anbinder: Nativism and Slavery: The Northern Know Nothings and the Politics of the 1850s (paperback, 1994, University of California Press).

Tyler Anbinder: City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York (2016, Houghton-Mifflin).

David C Atkinson: The Burden of White Supremacy: Containing Asian Migration in the British Empire and the United States (paperback, 2017, University of North Carolina Press): From 1896 to 1924.

George J Borjas: Heaven's Door: Immigration Policy and the American Economy (paperback, 2001, Princeton University Press).

George J Borjas: Immigration Economics (2014, Harvard University Press).

George J Borjas: We Wanted Workers: Unraveling the Immigration Narrative (2016, WW Norton).

Philip Cafaro: How Many Is Too Many? The Progressive Argument for Reducing Immigration into the United States (2015, University of Chicago Press).

Kitty Calavita: Inside the State: The Bracero Program, Immigration, and the INS (1992; paperback, 2010, Quid Pro).

Vincent I Cannato: American Passage: The History of Ellis Island (paperback, 2010, Harper Perennial).

Justin Akers Chacon: No One Is Illegal: Fighting Racism and State Violence on the US-Mexico Border (paperback, 2006, Haymarket Books).

Aviva Chomsky: Undocumented: How Immigration Became Illegal (paperback, 2014, Beacon Press).

Duncan Clarke: A New World: The History of Immigration Into the United States (2000, Thunder Bay Press).

Peter Morton Coan: Toward a Better Life: America's New Immigrants in Their Own Words From Ellis Island to the Present (2011, Prometheus).

Ted Conover: Coyotes: A Journey Through the Secret World of America's Illegal Aliens (paperback, 1988, Random House).

Roger Daniels: The Politics of Prejudice: The Anti-Japanese Movement in California and the Struggle for Japanese Exclusion (2nd edition, paperback, 1999, University of California Press).

Roger Daniels: Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life (1990; 2nd edition, paperback, 2002, Harper Perennial).

Roger Daniels: Guarding the Golden Door: American Immigration Policy and Immigrants Since 1882 (2004; paperback, 2005, Hill & Wang).

Edwidge Danticat: Brother, I'm Dying (paperback, 2008, Vintage Books): Story of a Haitian immigrant.

Martha D Escobar: Captivity Beyond Prisons: Criminization Experiences of Latina (Im)migrants (paperback, 2016, University of Texas Press).

David FitzGerald/David Cook-Martin: Culling the Masses: The Democratic Origins of Racist Immigration Policy in the Americas (2014, Harvard University Press).

Robert L Fleegler: Ellis Island Nation: Immigration Policy and American Identity in the Twentieth Century ((paperback, 2015, Haney Foundation.

David A Gerber: American Immigration: A Very Short Introduction (paperback, 2011, Oxford University Press).

Tom Gjelten: A Nation of Nations: A Great American Immigration Story (paperback, 2016, Simon & Schuster): Focuses on Fairfax County, Virginia, an area which has been significantly changed since the Immigration Reform Act of 1965.

Tanya Maria Golash-Boza: Forced Out and Fenced In: Immigration Tales From the Field (paperback, 2017, Oxford University Press).

Roberto G Gonzales: Lives in Limbo: Undocumented and Coming of Age in America (paperback, 2015, University of California Press).

David G. Gutierez: Walls and Mirrors: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the Politics of Ethnicity (paperback, 1995, University of California Press).

Timothy J Henderson: Beyond Borders: A History of Mexican Migration to the United States (2011, Wiley).

Tyche Hendricks: The Wind Doesn't Need a Passport: Stories From the US-Mexico Borderlands (2010, University of California Press).

John Higham: Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1925 (1955; paperback, 2002, Rutgers University Press).

Madeline Y Hsu: The Good Immigrants: How the Yellow Peril Became the Model Minority (2015; paperback, 2017, Princeton University Press).

Noel Ignatiev: How the Irish Became White (1995; paperback, 2008, Routledge Classics).

Deepa Iyer: We Too Sing America: South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh Immigrants Shape Our Multiracial Future (2015; paperback, 2017, New Press).

Kevin R Johnson: Opening the Floodgates: Why America Needs to Rethink Its Borders and Immigration Laws (paperback, 2009, NYU Press).

Desmond King: The Liberty of Strangers: Making the American Nation (2004, Oxford University Press).

Patrick Kingsley: The New Odyssey: The Story of the Twenty-First Century Refugee Crisis (2017, Liveright): British, writes for The Guardian. Details various stories of refugees struggling to flee dangers in Africa and the Middle East to reach asylum in Europe.

Erika Lee: At America's Gates: Chinese Immigration During the Exclusion Era, 1882-1943 (paperback, 2005, University of North Carolina Press).

Erika Lee: The Making of Asian America: A History (paperback, 2016, Simon & Schuster).

George Lipsitz: The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit From Identity Politics (revised ed, paperback, 2006, Temple University Press).

Patrick Manning: Migration in World History (2nd edition, paperback, 2012, Taylor & Francis).

Pilar Marrero: Killing the American Dream: How Anti-Immigration Extremists Are Destroying the Nation (2012, St Martin's Press).

Douglas S Massey/Jorge Durand/Nolan J Malone: Beyond Smoke and Mirrors: Mexican Immigration in an Era of Economic Integration (paperback, 2003, Russell Sage Foundation).

Douglas S Massey, ed: New Faces in New Places: The Changing Geography of American Immigration (2008, Russell Sage Foundation).

Natalia Molina: How Race Is Made in America: Immigration, Citizenship, and the Historical Power of Racial Scripts (2014, University of California Press): Examines Mexican immigrants from 1924-65, a period when legal immigration from Mexico was largely prohibited.

Hiroshi Motomura: Americans in Waiting: The Lost Story of Immigration and Citizenship in the United States (paperback, 2007, Oxford University Press).

Hiroshi Motomura: Immigration Outside the Law (2014, Oxford University Press).

Walter J Nicholls: The DREAMers: How the Undocumented Youth Movement Transformed the Immigrant Rights Debate (paperback, 2013, Stanford University Press).

Laurie Olsen: Made in America: Immigrant Students in Our Public Schools (paperback, 2008, New Press).

Linda Barret Osborne: This Land Is Our Land: A History of American Immigration (2016, Henry P Abrams).

Juan F Perea, ed: Immigrants Out! The New Nativism and the Anti-Immigrant Impulse in the United States (paperback, 1996, NYU Press).

Alejandro Portes/Ruben G Rumbaut: Immigrant America: A Portrait (4th edition, paperback, 2014, University of California Press).

Benjamin Powell, ed: The Economics of Immigration: Market-Based Approaches, Social Science, and Public Policy (paperback, 2015, Oxford University Press).

Margaret Regan: The Death of Josseline: Immigration Stories From the Arizona Borderlands (paperback, 2010, Beacon Press).

Margaret Regan: Detained and Deported: Stories of Immigrant Families Under Fire (2015; paperback, 2016, Beacon Press).

David Reimers: Unwelcome Strangers: American Identity and the Turn Against Immigration (1998, Columbia University Press).

David R Roediger: Working Toward Whiteness: How America's Immigrants Became White: The Strange Journey From Ellis Island to the Suburbs (paperback, 2006, Basic Books).

David R Roediger: The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class (paperback, 2007, Verso Books).

Peter Schrag: Not Fit for Our Society: Immigration and Nativism in America (2010; paperback, 2011, University of California Press).

Paul Spickard: Almost All Aliens: Immigration, Race, and Colonialism in American History and Identity (paperback, 2007, Routledge).

Helen Thorpe: Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America (paperback, 2011, Scribner).

John Tirman: Immigration and the American Backlash (paperback, 2016, MIT Press).

Ikuko Torimoto: Okina Kyuin and the Politics of Early Japanese Immigration to the United States, 1868-1924 (paperback, 2016, McFarland).

Eileen Truax: Dreamers: An Immigrant Generation's Fight for Their American Dream (paperback, 2015, Beacon Press).

Kim Voss/Irene Bloemraad, eds: Rallying for Immigrant Rights: The Fight for Inclusion in 21st Century America (paperback, 2011, University of California Press).

Tom K Wong: The Politics of Immigration: Partisanship, Demographic Change, and American National Identity (2017, Oxford University Press).

Aristide R Zolberg: A Nation by Design: Immigration Policy in the Fashioning of America (paperback, 2008, Harvard University Press).

Monday, August 14, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28538 [28508] rated (+30), 378 [375] unrated (+3).

Average week, although more old music than usual as I followed a recent Burnt Sugar album into their back catalog (still missing 2011's All Ya Needs That Negrocity), then also picked up old records from avant-jazz guitarist Joe Morris -- I found some new Ken Vandermark albums on his Catalytic Sound Bandcamp, although better still was a 2008 album Morris album with Vandermark. Unfortunately, a lot of the new Catalytic Sound albums don't come with any music, but I found several on Napster.

Another of the new Vandermark albums is under Eric Revis' name -- like his last several, a good one. It's the first album on Portugal's Clean Feed label I've reviewed since they stopped sending me CDs -- I hope they don't take the grade as positive reinforcement. I probably have download codes for more, but haven't chased them down yet. I did pick up new albums on ECM by Vijay Iyer, Tim Berne, and Gary Peacock. I spent quite a bit of time with the Iyer, and basically timed out in trying to determine whether it's an A-, so I guess it isn't. Still, the Fieldwork-times-two band dazzles here and there, and the mix is more interesting than his last couple ECM albums. Will get to the others sooner or later.

The Hamell Live album seems to be some sort of download-only bonus to the new studio album, but I figured I'd treat it as a separate release as that's how it appears on Napster. Figured it would slack off a bit, but I like it as much (if not more).

I'm a little confused about how the numbers add up, since I graded 5 CDs while only unwrapping 3 new ones, yet wound up with +3 unrated instead of -2. I've double-checked and haven't found the discrepancy.

No progress on the Jazz Guides this past week. I have started on collecting Robert Christgau's Expert Witness pieces at Noisey for a website update, probably by the end of the month. I've probably lost some of the corrections readers sent in. If you sent one in and haven't heard back from me, assume that I did and resubmit it.

I should also note that I've added @BirdIsTheWorm to my twitter feed. He probably tweets too much (13.1K tweets vs. 1815 for me, but he has 3588 followers to my 271), but I figured maybe he'd point me toward some things that I was missing, as in his latest The Round-up: What went unseen. Actually, I've seen 2 (of 5) of those new records -- both B+(*) -- but hadn't heard of the others (just added to my Music Tracking file). I also recommend following @TimothyNiland. At this moment, the front page of his Music and More blog has seven substantial album reviews on it: three of records I've heard [A-, B+(***), B+(*)], the others I will want to check out soon. (Playing Shipp as I write.)

New records rated this week:

  • Carol Albert: Fly Away Butterfly (2017, Cahara): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: All You Zombies Dig the Luminosity (2016-17 [2017], Avant Groidd): [r]: B+(***)
  • Downtown Boys: Cost of Living (2017, Sub Pop): [r]: B+(**)
  • Julian Gerstin Sextet: The One Who Makes You Happy (2017, self-released): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Laurel Halo: Dust (2017, Hyperdub): [r]: B+(*)
  • Hamell on Trial: Tackle Box (2017, New West): [r]: A-
  • Hamell on Trial: Big Mouth Strikes Again: Hamell Live (2017, New West): [r]: A-
  • Hard Working Americans: We're All in This Together (2017, Melvin): [r]: B+(***)
  • Vijay Iyer Sextet: Far From Over (2017, ECM): [r]: B+(***)
  • Lean Left: I Forgot to Breathe (2015 [2017], Trost): [r]: B+(**)
  • Charles Lloyd New Quartet: Passin' Thru (2016 [2017], Blue Note): [r]: B+(***)
  • Meredith Monk: On Behalf of Nature (2015 [2016], ECM): [r]: B+(*)
  • Richard Pinhas/Barry Cleveland: Mu (2016, Cuneiform): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Eric Revis: Sing Me Some Cry (2016 [2017], Clean Feed): [r]: A-
  • Mark Rubin, Jew of Oklahoma: Songs for the Hangman's Daughter (2017, Rubinchik): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Oliver Schwerdt: Prestige/No Smoking (2015 [2017], Euphorium, 2CD): [cd]: B+(***)
  • Ken Vandermark/Klaus Kugel/Mark Tokar: Escalator (2016 [2017], Not Two): [bc]: B+(***)
  • John Vanore: Stolen Moments: Celebrating Oliver Nelson (2016 [2017], Acoustical Concepts): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Matt Wilson: Matt Wilson's Honey and Salt (2016 [2017], Palmetto): [cd]: B+(*)

Old music rated this week:

  • Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Not April in Paris: Live From Banlieus Bleues (2004, Trugroid): [r]: B+(***)
  • Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: If You Can't Dazzle Then With Your Brilliance, Then Baffle Them With Your Blisluth (2004 [2005], Trugroid, 2CD): [r]: B+(***)
  • Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: More Than Posthuman: Rise of the Mojosexual Cotillion (2006, Trugroid, 2CD): B+(***)
  • Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Chopped and Screwed: Volume 2 (2007, Trugroid): [r]: B
  • Joe Morris Trio: Antennae (1997, AUM Fidelity): [r]: B+(**)
  • Joe Morris/Mat Maneri: Soul Search (2000, AUM Fidelity): [r]: B+(*)
  • Joe Morris: Singularity (2000 [2001], AUM Fidelity): [r]: B+(**)
  • Joe Morris Bass Quartet: High Definition (2007 [2008], Hatology): [r]: A-
  • Joe Morris: Mess Hall (2011 [2014], Hatology): [r]: B+(**)
  • Randy Newman: Live (1971, Reprise): [r]: B
  • Matthew Shipp: Duos With Mat Maneri and Joe Morris (1997-98 [2011], Hatology): [r]: B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Chet Doxas: Rich in Symbols (Ropeadope): September 8
  • San Francisco String Trio: May I Introduce to You (Ridgeway): September 8
  • Triocity [Charles Pillow/Jeff Campbell/Rich Thompson]: I Believe in You (Origin): August 18

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Weekend Roundup

Laura came downstairs yesterday playing Chris Hedges Best Speech in 2017 so I wound up listening to a fair chunk of it. We all know that Hedges in 2007 was a Premature Antifascist -- a term US "intelligence agencies" used to describe Americans who turned against Hitler before Pearl Harbor -- when he published his book American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, but is he still "premature" in 2017? The world he decries sounds an awful like the one we have come to live in. If there is a common theme to the stories below, it's that Trump and his crew have moved decisively into a fascist orbit: one that worships naked power while practicing shameless greed. Of course, Trump didn't invent this world. He's just risen to the top, like scum in a stockpot.

Brief scattered links this week:

  • Andrew J Bacevich: Yes Congress, Afghanistan Is Your Vietnam. Also by Bacevich: The Great Hysteria. The latter piece goes beyond his specialty area (losing hopeless wars) to spell out a political agenda which in its diagnosis of the symptoms afflicting America is remarkably similar to that of Hedges above (except, being a conservative, he doesn't blame capitalism):

    Yet these advances have done remarkably little to reduce the alienation and despair pervading a society suffering from epidemics of chronic substance abuse, morbid obesity, teen suicide, and similar afflictions. Throw in the world's highest incarceration rate, a seemingly endless appetite for porn, urban school systems mired in permanent crisis, and mass shootings that occur with metronomic regularity, and what you have is something other than the profile of a healthy society.

    He then follows this up with a ten-point political wish list, including a couple proposals I disagree with (mandate a balanced federal budget, return to a draft-based military) and other more sensible points sure to be rejected by his fellow "conservatives" (e.g., "enact tax policies that will promote greater income equality").

  • Dean Baker: The Zika Vaccine: The Miracle of Government-Funded Research. Also by Baker: Breitbart Strikes Out in Trying to Give Donald Trump Credit for Stock Market Run Up. And this tweet, introducing: Why Is It So Hard for Intellectuals to Envision Alternative Forms of Globalization?

    The upward redistribution from globalization was not an accidental outcome; it was the point of globalization.

  • Doug Bandow: North Korea Does Not Trust America for a Pretty Good Reason. For more history, see: Bruce Cummings: Americans once carpet-bombed North Korea. It's time to remember that past.

  • Celisa Calacal: These two Supreme Court cases protect police who use excessive force.

  • Marjorie Cohn: A Preemptive Strike on North Korea Would Be Catastrophic and Illegal: Well, the second point is bound to fall on deaf ears in Washington, where hardly anyone has any fear of or respect for international law. I'm not sure that Americans ever had any such fear, but for many years after 1945 they at least gave lip service to the idea of international law, and took some effort to pretend to respect it. I think this shift started with the developing Cold War in the late-1940s, as the US found it couldn't use the UN to automatically rubber-stamp its policies, but it was in the 1990s when the US stopped going through the motions. The obvious signal point was when Bush refused to sign the International Criminal Court treaty, but Bush's failure to even consider responding to the 9/11 terror attack via international law shows us how far Washington had already crawled up its own asshole. The two world wars led many people to believe that a strong system of international law was necessary to prevent further wars and genocides -- a goal which stalled under the Cold War, but should have been rekindled after the Soviet Union ended and the free market capitalism had become ubiquitous. Indeed, the mass slaughters in Yugoslavia and Rwanda spurred many nations in that direction, but the neocon ascendancy in the US derailed those efforts, and it's rare today even to find Democrats standing up for the UN, the World Court, and (especially) the ICC.

    There are still people in Washington who recognize Cohn's point about "catastrophic" -- and they're the only real defense we have against Trump's impulsiveness and recklessness. Possibly the most definitive statement of the hopelessness of Trump's evident policy of huffing and bluffing North Korea into submission is Jeffrey Lewis: The Game Is Over, and North Korea Has Won.

  • Esme Cribb: Trump TV Ad Attacks Democrats, Media as 'The President's Enemies': Several things about this ad campaign are unprecedented: I've never before seen a president actively campaigning for re-election six months after taking office, but Trump started a few months back -- especially raising money, in stark contrast to his "self-financed" 2016 campaign; Trump is actively building a "cult of personality" while at the same time claiming a false equivalency between his supporters and the nation; he takes every criticism of his program as a personal attack and tries to turn it into an attack on the nation, who in turn are at least implicitly implored to lash back; he adds an air of whininess, pleading to be allowed to be the dictator he imagined being president to be. In some ways I wish Obama had taken this tack -- if anyone ever had just cause to complain about vilification and obstructionism it was he, but he never would have proclaimed himself "our president," even though his efforts to be "a president of all the people" left his own supporters neglected.

  • Yochi Dreazen: The North Korean crisis won't end until Donald Trump stops talking.

  • John Feffer: Welcome to 2050. The 'Climate Monster' Has Arrived.

  • Katie Fite: Grouse Down: Focuses mostly on the sage grouse population in California, but her description of the political pressures has also been echoed here in Kansas, where Republicans have all but campaigned for the extermination of prairie hens -- a nuisance, evidently, to the local oil industry. Also, note that grouse hunting is a controversy in the UK: Mark Avery: Grouse shooting: half a million reasons why time's up for this appalling 'sport'.

  • Margaret Flowers: Improved Medicare for All Is the Answer: A rebuttal to the recent Nation article, Joshua Holland: Medicare for All Isn't the Solution for Universal Health Care. Flowers answers many point by positing an Improved Medicare for All Act. The real differences have to do with political will, especially in the face of special interests that make a lot of money off the current system, and stand to keep making more and more. One may critique Single Payer/Medicare for All schemes for not being able to fix all of America's many health care problems. But private insurance companies add very little value for their cut of the pie, which makes them the easiest target for reform, and therefore the obvious place to start. But also see: Steven Rosenfeld: Eleven Steps for States to Rein in Health Care Costs While Building Toward Single-Payer. Even if you support single-payer, here is a list of things that can be done (many at the state level) to help manage cost -- things that contribute to providing more/better actual care, which is what we're really looking for:

    1. Create a state-chartered body to process all medical bills with a single form.
    2. Require all private insurers to offer three uniform plans with simple rules.
    3. Create a single state agency to buy drugs for pharmacies and physicians.
    4. Restore hospital price regulation so all facilities charge the same fees.
    5. File anti-trust legal actions against monopolistic hospital networks.
    6. Put price controls in medical group contracts with private insurers.
    7. Reject spending caps for hospitals and patients as that hurts care.
    8. Ban drug company payments to doctors by their sales reps.
    9. Issue public reports on the few doctors causing most medical errors.
    10. Integrate other social safety net services with providing health care.
    11. Give the state subpoena power to review claims and find fraud.

    Also note what's going on in Maryland: Ann Jones: Medicare for All in One State.

  • Thomas Frank: Finally, Democrats are looking in the mirror. That's reason for optimism.

  • Ryan Grim: Gulf Government Gave Secret $20 Million Gift to DC Think Tank: That would be the UAE (United Arab Emirates) and the MEI (Middle East Institute).

  • Gabriel Hetland: Venezuela May Be on the Brink of Civil War: I'm having a tough time getting a coherent explanation of just what's the problem with Venezuela these days, and this doesn't answer many of my questions, but it's a start. (There's also Hetland's Why Is Venezuela in Crisis?, which cites government blundering but also a violent opposition supported by Washington, and the pre-election Greg Grandin: What Is to Be Done in Venezuela?) Of course, never underestimate the power of Donald Trump to make things even worse: Ben Jacobs: Trump threatens 'military option' in Venezuela as crisis escalates.

  • David Leonhardt: Our Broken Economy, in One Simple Chart:

    The chart measures income growth at every percentile starting with 5th, with additional subdivisions for the 99th, at two points in time: 1980 and 2014. There's also an animated chart showing the intervening years, which the lower percentiles being depressed before the top percentile really spikes after 2000. A third chart shows that average income growth dropped from 2.0% in 1980 to 1.4% in 2014, with the median dropping far more than that -- they don't pull the number out, but the median in 2014 is so depressed that only the top 15 percentile receive even the reduced average income growth.

  • Conor Lynch: Emmanuel Macron's Sudden Collapse: French 'Radical Centrist' Now as Unpopular as Trump: Oh my, that was an awfully short honeymoon. Could it be that shameless neoliberalism isn't all that popular? I've seen columns by so-called centrists speculating that Macron's model could be translated to the UK and even to the US. If the US had a top-two runoff like France, I could imagine a fairly charismatic independent (someone like a younger Ross Perot, say, but not Michael Bloomberg) getting close to Macron's first round vote (23.8%), then beating either Trump or Clinton in the runoff (although it's unlikely that either Trump or Clinton would sink that low).

  • Bill McKibben: The Trump administration's solution to climate change: ban the term. And for more on language chance on Trump government websites, see: Oliver Milman/Sam Morris: Trump is deleting climate change, one site at a time.

  • David McCoy: Even a 'Minor' Nuclear War Would Be an Ecological Disaster Felt Throughout the World: Just in case you were wondering.

  • Peter Montgomery: Trump's dominionist prayer warriors: Inside the "Prophetic Order of the United States":

    In the early morning hours of November 9, 2016, God told Frank Amedia that with Donald Trump having been elected president, Amedia and his fellow Trump-supporting "apostles" and "prophets" had a new mission. Thus was born POTUS Shield, a network of Pentecostal leaders devoted to helping Trump bring about the reign of God in America and the world. . . .

    POTUS Shield's leaders view politics as spiritual warfare, part of a great struggle between good and evil that is taking place continuously in "the heavenlies" and here on earth, where the righteous contend with demonic spirits that control people, institutions and geographic regions. They believe that Trump's election has given the church in America an opportunity to spark a spiritual Great Awakening that will engulf the nation and world. And they believe that a triumphant church establishing the kingdom of God on earth will set the stage for Christ's return. Amedia says that the "POTUS" in the group's name does not refer only to the president of the United States, but also to a new "prophetic order of the United States" that God is establishing.

    Related: Chris Hedges: What Trump Owes America's Christian Fascists.

  • Sarah Newell: Is Foxconn a Fantasy? The High Cost of Bringing Manufacturing Jobs to Wisconsin. Trump and Gov. Scott Walker are bully on a deal where giant Chinese electronics Foxconn would build a factory, adding 3000 jobs in Wisconsin, maybe 13000 eventually. All they need in return:

    In order for this plan to become a reality, the Wisconsin state legislature would need to approve $3 billion in corporate incentives to defray capital costs and workforce development costs. The math is startling: Wisconsin will pay out $230,000 in tax dollars for each one of the 13,000 jobs. This means Wisconsin taxpayers will shell out $66,000 per year to subsidize jobs that will pay less than the state average income.

  • Trita Parsi: For Netanyahu and the Saudis, Opposing Diplomacy With Iran Was Never About Enrichment: An excerpt from Parsi's new book, Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran and the Triumph of Diplomacy. I suspect that the real reason both Israel and Saudi Arabia decided to take such rejectionist stands against Iran was that they realized that they could push American buttons by doing so -- most Americans have harbored deep-seated grudges against Iran ever since the fall of the Shah and the Hostage Crisis -- thereby elevating their own importance in Washington's eyes. They've doubled down since the Iran deal, and while leaving the deal intact (so far), both countries have effectively increased their influence in Washington (especially with Trump).

  • William Rivers Pitt: We Have Been at War in Iraq for 27 Years: It started in 1990, when Saddam Hussein misinterpreted ambiguous signals from a US ambassador as a go-ahead to invade Kuwait, an oil-rich sheikdom that, following American inclinations, had made large loans to Iraq for its war against Iran -- loans it then insisted Iraq must repay. The first George Bush thought he'd get a nice political boost from a quick little war, but sold it by comparing Saddam to Hitler, digging a hole for political himself when the initial Gulf War came up short -- a hole which Clinton defended and deepend through his sanctions and no-fly zones until the Bush II decided to fix it by plunging the US into a massive occupation morphing into a civil war which led to ISIS and Obama re-entering Iraq. Throughout this whole quarter-century, official Washington doctrine has blocked out any and all dissent against the ever-expanding sinkhole of Middle Eastern carnage fed by the massive introduction of US troops in 1990. Actually, one can point to a few earlier signs of the wars to come: US inheritance of British outposts around the Gulf, Carter's declaration that the Persian Gulf is an US security area, Reagan's installation of American troops in Lebanon, and US support for proxy wars against Afghanistan and Iran. Any way you slice this, the only Americans with any clue as to how this might go awry were the antiwar protesters. And note that while Pitt focuses on Iraq, US involvement in Afghanistan started in 1979 -- 38 years ago -- and is at least as far from resolution (never mind success) there as it is in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, anywhere else you find American drones and/or special forces.

  • Aja Romano: Google fird "politically incorrect" engineer has sparked a broad ideological debate: Actually, I only see a relatively narrow debate here, which is corporations can fire employees for what we would otherwise deem constitutionally protected free speech. I would favor more such protections, but these days it's hard to stop a company -- especially one without a union -- from firing anyone for any reason. The two most obvious reasons for firing this particular engineer are that he's very stupid, and that by exposing that stupidity he's embarrassed the company. But I don't see him engendering any serious debate on his claim that women aren't competent at software engineering. More on this: Cynthia Lee: I'm a woman in computer science. Let me ladysplain the Google memo to you.

  • Anis Shivani: How we got from George W. Bush to Donald Trump: Liberals had more to do with it than we'd like to think: Big thought piece which is probably a bit harsh on Obama but reminds us how extreme the Bush-Cheney agenda was, and how little of it was rolled back by Obama.

    We need to remind ourselves that the early years of the Bush administration felt utterly radical, that the defense of freedom of speech and mobility, of the civility and respect that make a constitutional democracy work, never felt so threatened, never felt more precious and worth saving, as in those years. That feeling, unfortunately, is gone now, despite Trumpism and whatever else will follow, because the anti-constitutional innovations have become normalized. This happened particularly because the succeeding Democratic administration did not take any steps to counter, philosophically, any of the constitutional violations, or even the disrespect for science, reason and empiricism that had deeply saturated the public discourse.

    I think it's fair to say that Obama left most of his anti-Bush critique on the campaign trail. I'm not sure how to partition the blame for that between his wholesale adoption of Clintonites in his administration and his innate conservatism, with its emphasis on projecting continuity and stability. Clearly, he missed the opportunity to do important things: to roll back the corrosive effects of money on politics; to return to a previous American belief in international law and institutions; and to lean back against increasing inequality. One might counter that he had difficulty enough with more modest efforts on health care, finance reform, and climate change.

    Still, the main difference between the Bush-Cheney agenda and Trump's is the relative shamelessness of the latter -- the garrish greed, the naked lust for power, and the absence of any scruples over how to get the riches they crave. You'd think that would blow up in their face -- that if nothing else the American people and media are still capable of being shocked by corruption. But then why hasn't that already happened? Can you mark that all down to "normalization"?

  • Richard Silverstein: Bibi: "This is the End, My Friend": On the corruption scandal that threatens to bring down Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, with sideward glances toward Trump's own nest feathering. Silverstein also wrote Israel to Shutter Al Jazeera, Join Ranks of Arab Authoritarian Regimes Suppressing Press Freedom. As for everyday life in Israel-Palestine, see Kate's latest news clip compendium: Settler violence against Palestinians nearly doubled from 2016 to 2017. This includes a quote from Gideon Levy about how certain nations have held themselves to be above international law and norms:

    More than 100 states signed the international treaty banning the use of cluster bombs; Israel, as usual, isn't one of them. What has Israel to do with international treaties, international law, international organizations -- it's all one big unnecessary nuisance. Israel's fellow rejectionists are, as usual, Russia, Pakistan, China, India and of course the United States, the world's greatest spiller of blood since World War II. This is the company Israel wants to keep, the club it belongs to. Cluster bombs are an especially barbarous weapon, a bomb that turns into countless bomblets, spreading over a wide area, killing and wounding indiscriminately. They sometimes explode years after were fired. The world was appalled and disgusted by such a weapon of mass destruction, and for good reason. The world -- but not Israel. We're a special case, as is commonly known. We're allowed to do anything. Why? Because we can. This has been proved. We used cluster bombs in the Second Lebanon War and the world was silent. We also use flechettes, unmercifully. In 2002 I saw a soccer field in Gaza hit by IDF flechette shells, which spray thousands of potentially lethal metal darts. All the children playing on it had been hit.

  • Matt Taibbi: Is LIBOR, Benchmark for Trillions of Dollars in Transactions, a Lie? Well, sure.

  • Clara Torres-Spelliscy: Trump Is Already Profiting From His 2020 Campaign.

  • Jason Wilson/Edward Helmore: Charlottesville: one dead after car rams counter-protesters at far-right gathering: I skipped over several articles leading up to Saturday's right-wing rally to oppose removing a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a park in Virginia, and "counter-protests" against those defending the pro-slavery icon. However, the events were interrupted when someone droves his car into the "counter-protest" crowd, killing one and injuring 19, then managed to drive off. A police helicopter later crashed in the area, adding two to the death toll.

    Related links: Sheryl Gay Stolberg/Brian H Rosenthal: Man Charged After White Nationalist Rally in Charlottesville Ends in Deadly Violence; Summer Concepcion: David Duke: Charlottesville Rally 'Fulfills the Promises of Donald Trump; Esme Cribb: What We Know About the Man Accused of Ramming Car Into C'Ville Protesters; Michael Eric Dyson: Charlottesville and the Bigotocracy; Josh Matshall: "I'm Not the Angry Racist They See in That Photo" (complains a misunderstood white guy; but when you go around complaining about "the slow replacement of white heritage within the United States" -- when you even think "white heritage" is a thing -- you're racist); Colbert L King: These are your people, President Trump; Glenn Thrush/Maggie Haberman: Trump Is Criticized for Not Calling Out White Supremacists; Esme Cribb: Trump Didn't Want to 'Dignify' White Supremacy by Condemning It (but he has no qualms about dignifying "radical Islamic terror" or Rosie O'Donnell?); German Lopez: We need to stop acting like Trump isn't pandering to white supremacists; and, just for historical context: Philip Bump: In 1927, Donald Trump's father was arrested after a Klan riot in Queens. One thing I noticed during the campaign was that Trump was quick to reverse himself whenever he inadvertently blurted out something contrary to conservative doctrine -- as when he initially argued that women seeking abortions should be punished -- but he never apologized for the violence of his supporters, nor did he ever disown the white supremacists who rallied to his cause.

  • Jana Winter/Elias Groll: Here's the Memo That Blew Up the NSC: The author was Rich Higgins, a Flynn acolyte who has since been fired:

    The full memo, dated May 2017, is titled "POTUS & Political Warfare." It provides a sweeping, if at times conspiratorial, view of what it describes as a multi-pronged attack on the Trump White House.

    Trump is being attacked, the memo says, because he represents "an existential threat to cultural Marxist memes that dominate the prevailing cultural narrative." Those threatened by Trump include "'deep state' actors, globalists, bankers, Islamists, and establishment Republicans."

  • Zak Witus: To Combat Trump's Attacks on Democracy, We Must Understand Precedents Set by Obama: "Seven months into the Trump presidency, many people still deny how some of Donald Trump's most regressive and harmful policies directly continue the legacy of Barack Obama." That's true in a number of cases ranging from prosecution of "leakers" to brutal ICE tactics to Saudi arms sales and drone murders around the world, though the bigger problem is that Obama failed "to change the way we think about war" and many more things -- race, equality, the culture of corruption. Part of that was his "no drama" pledge to restore competency to government after the politicized corruption of the Bush years -- something he rarely claimed credit for, and which few Americans even noticed. One thing about Trump is that he has no quibbles about taking credit for "good" things, regardless of how little he was actually involved, while chalking all of his obvious failures up to "fake news."

  • Matthew Yglesias: What to know about the biggest stories of the week: We had a lot of loose talk about nuclear war; Trump feudud with Mitch McConnell; the opioid crisis gets an official "state of emergency"; Paul Manafort seems to be in legal trouble. Other Yglesias pieces this week: Trump's new immigration plan would make Americans poorer; Big business wants you to think a tax cut for big business will stop outsourcing; The looming debt ceiling fight, explained; Donald Trump gets a daily briefing all about how great he is.

When I looked at Crooked Timber I noticed that Laura Tillem had one of the recent comments. It was in response to Henry Farrell's Five Books, listing five novels:

  • John Le Carré, A Perfect Spy
  • Charles Dickens, Our Mutual Friend
  • Dennis Lehane, The Given Day
  • Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings
  • Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies

I had to look up the authors (although I guessed 3/5, maybe 4). We were recently talking about how much I enjoyed the 1998 BBC/PBS series of Our Mutual Friend, and we had recently watched the 1987 TV rendition of A Perfect Spy (which I didn't much care for). I doubt I've read enough novels (probably about 50, which wouldn't last my wife a year) to construct such a list -- only obvious one is Thomas Pynchon, V., though the unfinished Gravity's Rainbow might have wound up even better.

I probably could offer a list of non-fiction:

  • George P Brockway, The End of Economic Man: Principles of Any Future Economics
  • Geert Mak, In Europe: Travels Through the Twentieth Century
  • John McPhee, Annals of the Former World
  • Jan Myrdal, Angkor: An Essay on Art and Imperialism
  • David Quammen, The Song of the Dodo: Island Biogeography in an Age of Extinctions

My "recent books" roll currently runs 552 books, so that at least is a sample (roughly from 2003 to the present), although only one of the books listed above comes from it (Mak's magnificent history-qua-travelogue).

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Book Roundup

This is only the second Book Roundup I've done this year -- the last one was back on April 26, with the second most recent, on August 21, 2016, dating from almost a year ago. Limiting myself to 40 blurbs per post, I should be able to do one of these every other month (six times a year), but it's hard to get into the right research mode. Still, when I do, I tend to overshoot, coming up with two or more posts in rapid succession (five is my current record). Right now I only have 18 leftover blurbs in the scratch file, but I expect it won't be hard to round them up to a second post.

I suppose one thing that helps thin them out is that I recently started adding a section listing books without blurbs -- gives me a way I can note the existence of something without having to take the time to write much. I don't count those books under my 40 limit. On occasion I've also noted paperback reprints of previously noted books, and there are some of those below. The Thomas Frank and Jane Mayer books were written before the 2016 election, but they turned out to be the year's most prophetic books (note that both paperbacks have post-election I-told-you-so afterwords).

Most recently I've been reading Hacker and Pierson, a book that's been sitting on my shelves a fair while. Its paean to "the mixed economy" could be sharper, but its review of the political forces that stripped us of past keys to prosperity is reasonably thorough. I would add that the more you forget about how things work, and the more you adopt ideas that are just plain wrong, the deeper you enter into what the late Jane Jacobs recognized as "the coming dark age."

Going through this list, some books that I either already have or am particularly likely to pick up are Andrew Bacevich: America's War for the Greater Middle East, Michael Chabon/Ayelet Waldman: Kingdom of Olives and Ash, Michael J Hudson: J Is for Junk Economics, Ibram X Kendi: Stamped From the Beginning, Nancy McLean: Democracy in Chains, Nathan Thrall: The Only Language They Understand. I'll also note that my wife is currently listening to China Miéville: October. One thing I've learned from this book so far is that the Bolsheviks came out on top because they were the only party willing to walk away from the disastrous World War.

Tariq Ali: The Dilemmas of Lenin: Terrorism War Empire Love Revolution (2017, Verso Books): One expects that the centenary of the Russian Revolution will produce the usual spate of new books, so this is nominally one of them. But for a good while now we've known that in his last couple years Lenin was unhappy about the drift of his revolution, so it's never been quite fair to blame him for the whole dead weight of the Stalinist system. Not sure whether Ali can freshen him up in any useful way, but it's worth noting that the hopes that many people held for the workers' paradise weren't wrong, even if they were somewhat misplaced. Forthcoming [Sept. 19]: Slavoj Zizek: Lenin 2017: Remembering, Repeating, and Working Through (2017, Verso Books).

Jon Bakija/Lane Kenworthy/Peter Lindert/Jeff Madrick: How Big Should Our Government Be? (paperback, 2016, University of California Press): Looks like each author gets separate chapters around the question. The only one I'm familiar with is Madrick, who wrote The Case for Big Government (2008), so you know where he's going. Right-wingers have argued for shrinking federal government back to an arbitrarily small percent of GDP, a level not seen since Calvin Coolidge, although few of them are on record in favor of shrinking the federal government's most cancerous tumor, the Department of Defense, proportionately. Even so, they've shown no allowance for the ways the world has changed since the 1920s, such as the much greater complexity of the marketplace, the need for a much more skilled and knowledgeable workforce, the need for modern transportation and communication networks, the impacts of larger population and production on the environment, and many other things -- even if (like me) you think the growth of the "defense" and "security" sectors (i.e., war and repression) is largely bogus. I would go further and argue that public takeover of dysfunctional markets like health care would be a good idea, as well as some way to subsidize creative development of products that can be freely mass-produced (like software and many forms of art). I don't see how you can map any of these needs to a fixed size, so size itself isn't a very good measure.

John Berger: Portraits: John Berger on Artists (2015, Verso Books): Art critic and novelist, died earlier this year at 90, his early books Art and Revolution (1969), The Moment of Cubism (1969), Ways of Seeing (1972), and About Looking (1980) had a huge effect of me personally. This is a collection of 74 pieces on more/less famous artists, starting with the Chauvet Cave Painters but quickly jumping to Bosch (6) and Michelangelo (11), and ending with ten names born post-1950 (most, sad to say, unknown to me). The sort of book you're bound to learn a lot from. Tom Overton edited this, and also: Landscapes: John Berger on Art (2016, Verso Books). Also recent: John Berger: Confabulations (paperback, 2016, Penguin Books); Lapwing & Fox: Conversations Between John Berger and John Christine (2016, Objectif).

Heather Boushey/J Bradford DeLong/Marshall Steinbaum, eds: After Piketty: The Agenda for Economics and Inequality (2017, Harvard University Press): Large (688 pp) collection of essays on Thomas Piketty's pathbreaking book Capital in the Twenty-First Century and the myriad problems associated with increasing inequality.

Michael Chabon/Ayelet Waldman, eds: Kingdom of Olives and Ash: Writers Confront the Occupation (paperback, 2017, Harper Perennial): Connecting with Breaking the Silence, a number of well known writers (mostly novelists) took a tour of Israel and its Occupied Territories, and chronicled what they found as they bear "witness to the human cost of the occupation."

Frans de Waal: Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? (2016, WW Norton): Interesting question, most likely one the biologist/primatologist has much fun poking holes in. More or less related: Jennifer Ackerman: The Genius of Birds (2016, Penguin); Jonathan Balcombe: What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins (2016, Farrar Straus and Giroux); Charles Foster: Being a Beast: Adventures Across the Species Divide (2016, Metropolitan Books); Sy Montgomery: The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness (paperback, 2016, Avila); Virginia Morell: Animal Wise: How We Know Animals Think and Feel (paperback, 2014, Broadway Books); Carl Salina: Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel (paperback, 2015, Picador).

Bill Emmott: The Fate of the West: The Battle to Save the World's Most Successful Political Idea (2017, Economist Books): British, editor of The Economist, same basic shtick as Edward Luce: The Retreat of Western Liberalism. Blames Moscow, Beijing, but also Washington, and locates "the west" as much in Tokyo and Seoul as in Europe, the idea being the promise of neoliberalism (if not necessarily the reality): "It relies on the operation and staunch defense of several principles, first among them relative equality of income and opportunity as well as openness . . . An open society is thus one of porous borders rather than of walls, friendly to free trade agreements as opposed to protectionist tariffs, outward-looking rather than nationalist." Perhaps the idea wouldn't be fairing so poorly if the practice did a better job of delivering the promised broad-based wealth. The recent Brexit vote provides a detailed map of who wins and loses from open borders.

Niall Ferguson: Kissinger: 1923-1968: The Idealist (2015, Penguin Press): Hagiography, based on access to private papers, the first installment of a "magisterial two-volume biography," written by a pseudo-scholar with politics and morals flexible enough for the task. Anyone else would subtitle the second volume War Criminal, even if the time frame had to extend beyond 1976. But my guess is that Ferguson is thinking of The Realist, a suitable philosophical refuge for idealists once their hands get bloody. Myself, I'm more inclined to call this period The Bullshit Artist, then look for something even more scatological to follow.

Peter Fleming: The Mythology of Work: How Capitalism Persists Despite Itself (paperback, 2015, Pluto Press): Argues that "neoliberal society uses the ritual of work (and the threat of its denial) to maintain the late capitalist class order," despite all sorts of technological and cultural changes that could reduce the class-definitional role of work toward the sidelines. In the US you might want to substitute "jobs" for "work," and I-don't-know for "neoliberal society" -- the corporate-political system? Also wrote Resisting Work: The Corporatization of Life and Its Discontents (paperback, 2015, Temple University Press).

James Forman Jr: Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America (2017, Farrar Straus and Giroux): How many black politicians got wrapped up in the post-1970 "war on crime" and its attendant mass incarceration. Forman worked six years as a public defender, a stark contrast to other jobs on his resume, like Supreme Court clerk and Yale Law School professor.

Thomas L Friedman: Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist's Guide to Thriving in the Age of Accelerations (2016, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Anyone who can get away with as many clichés and as much cant as Friedman must truly feel blessed. However, the very facts and trends that makes him so optimistic signify little more than mental rot to me. For more, see Matt Taibbi's review.

Kelly Fritsch/Clare O'Connor/AK Thompson, eds: Keywords for Radicals: The Contested Vocabulary of Late-Capitalist Struggle (paperback, 2015, AK Press): Recalling Raymond Williams' Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1976), the activist-editors and forty-some contributors attempt to map contemporary movements by their jargon, terminology, language. Probably a worthy undertaking, interesting to me because I opened a file recently under the same rubric, but not to explore language so much as to offer a framework for hanging short topical essays on. Williams' book goes deeper into history and etymology -- he was, after all, primarily a literary critic. Best case this one does too. Worst case it tries to codify some form of "political correctness" -- to pick a term that postdates Williams' work.

Bruce Cannon Gibney: A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America (2017, Hachette): Author is a venture capitalist, a guy who made a fortune mostly betting on high-tech start ups, so it's rather ripe for him to blame a whole generation for the short-sighted squandering of the unprecedented wealth many Americans enjoyed after the Great Depression and WWII. He berates "a generation whose reckless self-indulgence degraded the foundations of American prosperity . . . [who] ruthlessly enriched themselves as the expense of future generations . . . turned American dynamism into stagnation, inequality, and bipartisan fiasco." That all happened, and I think it is fair to say that the Boomer generation, which grew up with postwar prosperity and its focus on individual freedom was further removed from the previous generation than is generally the case, but those effects the author describes as sociopathic were just one political strain in a broad spectrum, that of the resurgent right-wing and its promotion of often predatory greed. Perhaps the author has some other political agenda, but offhand this looks like he's representative of the rarefied class that captured the nation's wealth then blamed the less fortunate for their "entitlements." Just who are the real sociopaths here?

Joshua Green: Devil's Bargain: Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Storming of the Presidency (2017, Penguin): Campaign reporting, focusing on Bannon -- presumably the Devil in the title, although it's since become clear that he picked a very leaky and unstable vessel for his machinations. I have no idea what Bannon's been able to accomplish since moving into the White House. During the campaign he provided Trump with a gloss of fascist aesthetics and a whiff of ideological coherence distinct from the usual run of conservative nostrums -- that probably contributed to Trump's win, but was far less significant than Hillary's failures, the lock-step support of the Koch/Republican machines, and the amazing gullibility of so much media and so many people. On the other hand, one might cast Trump as the Devil, and explore why Bannon would invest all his hare-brained ideological fantasies in such a shoddy salesman. I suppose because doing so made him famous, and in America fame is merchantable (and money is everything).

Chris Hedges: Unspeakable: Talks With David Talbot About the Most Forbidden Topics in America (2016, Hot Books): Conversations, evidently the publisher has a series of these. Hedges was a divinity student who left the church and became a prize-winning war journalist, then the more he saw the more he moved to the left. Among his books: American Fascists, written back in 2007.

Michael Hudson: J Is for Junk Economics: A Guide to Reality in an Age of Deception (paperback, 2017, Islet): Presented as a "companion" to his 2015 book, Killing the Host: How Financial Parasites and Debt Destroy the Global Economy. Starts with an "A-to-Z" of key economic terms, nothing that "economic vocabulary is defined by today's victors -- the rentier financial class," and working to unmask their spin. Follows up with several scattered essays, like "The 22 Most Pervasive Economic Myths of Our Time," "Economics as Fraud," and "Methodology Is Ideology, and Dictates Policy." He was one of the first to recognize the real estate bubble of the 2000's and predict its bust -- a now obvious point that all but a few conventional economists missed.

Frederic Jameson: An American Utopia: Dual Power and the Universal Army (paperback, 2016, Verso): Marxist literary critic and political theorist -- I must have a copy of his 1971 Marxism and Form: Twentieth Century Dialectical Theories in Literature somewhere upstairs -- takes a shot at sketching out his utopia in the lead essay here, followed by nine responses edited by Slavoj Zizek (only other author I recognize is novelist Kim Stanley Robinson). I haven't read any of his later books, most recently (all Verso): Raymond Chandler: The Detections of Totality (2016); The Ancients and the Postmoderns: On the Historicity of Forms (2015); The Antinomies of Realism (2013, Verso); Representing 'Capital': A Reading of Volume One (2011); The Hegel Variations: On the Phenomenology of Spirit (2010); Valences of the Dialectic (2009).

Matthew Karp: This Vast Southern Empire: Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy (2016, Harvard University Press): When I think of southerners running US foreign policy, I think of James Byrne's decisive role in launching the Cold War, and later Lyndon Johnson plotting a coup in Brazil as well as "Americanizing" the civil war in Vietnam. But this goes back to the first half of the nineteenth century, before the South tried to secede from the union, a period when prominent southerners agitated to expand American power south and west, and thereby to buttress and advance their system of slavery. I suppose you can start with the Louisiana Purchase and the Monroe Doctrine, as well as the Mexican War and the annexation of Texas, but there were other schemes that didn't come to fruition, notably the desire to annex Cuba as a "slave state."

Ibram X Kendi: Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (2016; paperback, 2017, Nation Books): I've long thought that the "definitive" history was Winthrop Jordan's monumental White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550-1812, which won the National Book Award for 1968, but that book was focused more on the early development of Anglo-American racism. Those ideas have since been recapitulated (sometimes with mutations) in many ways up to the present day -- the key to Kendi's own National Book Award winning tome. Many reviewers describe this book as "painful" -- often citing the skewering of otherwise admirable abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison for adopting racial stereotypes (the book consists of five parts built around individuals: Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, Garrison, WEB DuBois, and Angela Davis). I don't know whether the author adopts a fatalist position on the racist ideas, but I believe that their persistence has everything to do with increasing inequality, much as the origins of those ideas had everything to do with exploiting negro labor. As Kendi argues: "Hate and ignorance have not driven the history of racist ideas in America. Racist policies have driven the history of racist ideas in America."

Naomi Klein: No Is Not Enough: Resisting Trump's Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need (paperback, 2017, Haymarket Books): Describes Trump as "a logical extension of the worst and most dangerous trends of the past half-century" -- trends Klein has made a career of writing about; e.g., No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies (2000), The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (2007), This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (2014).

James Kwak: Economism: Bad Economics and the Rise of Inequality (2017, Pantheon): A primer on how "Economics 101" is wrapped up in political biases which promote inequality, passing it off as the genius of markets. Another book along the same lines: Joe Earle/Cahal Moran/Zach Ward-Perkins: The Econocracy: The Perils of Leaving Economics to the Experts (paperback, 2016, Machester University Press); also Michael Hudson: J Is for Junk Economics: A Guide to Reality in an Age of Deception (paperback, 2017, Islet).

Guy Laron: The Six-Day War: The Breaking of the Middle East (2017, Yale University Press): Fifty years later, has the advantage of recently declassified documents. "The Six-Day War effectively sowed the seeds for the downfall of Arab nationalism, the growth of Islamic extremism, and the animosity between Jews and Palestinians." The latter started much earlier, but the war led to a massive increase in the number of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation, and started the great land grab known as the Settler Movement -- so, yes, it did much to poison relations. I don't know if Laron discloses anything new about the run up to the war -- 90% of the book is on the events before the war itself -- but it seems pretty clear to me that Ben-Gurion regarded the 1950 armistices as temporary stays while Israel gathered strength to launch new offensives to grab the various territories they've long coveted. Their military success changed the nation's psychology, as they stopped paying heed to world law and opinion, and set out on their own arrogant path, trusting only in their own brute force and cunning.

Chris Lehmann: The Money Cult: Capitalism, Christianity, and the Unmaking of the American Dream (2016, Melville House): A book on how often throughout America's history Christianity has upheld and celebrated economic iniquity -- "the pursuit of profit, as well as the inescapability of economic inequality."

Edward Luce: The Retreat of Western Liberalism (2017, Atlantic Monthly Press): British political writer, has covered both Washington and New Delhi for Financial Times. No relation to Henry Luce, but you get the feeling he'd like to occupy a similar perch, but where Henry proclaimed "the American century," Edward bemoans its eclipse, lamenting both the decline of western power in the world and the erosion of Democratic norms in the west. At first blush, this all has a whiff of "white man's burden" to it. Not sure if that's fair, but one should note that the assault on liberal democracy in America and elsewhere comes almost exclusively from entrenched elites whose "populist" pitch is purely cynical.

Nancy McLean: Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America (2017, Viking): This traces the Koch political machine back to the ideas of an Nobel prize-winning economist, James McGill Buchanan (1919-2013), a president of the Mont Pelerin Society, distinguished senior fellow at the Cato Institute, and professor at George Mason U. -- although the reality has more to do with the Kochs' money than with Buchanan's ideas (which included the book Why I, Too, Am Not a Conservative: The Normative Vision of Classical Liberalism). Should be an interesting book (in my queue, anyway).

Viet Tranh Nguyen: Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (2016, Harvard University Press): Vietnamese novelist, moved to US at age 4, won a Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Sympathizer, writes about how most or all sides remember the war and aftermath he grew up in.

Thomas M Nichols: The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters (2017, Oxford University Press): My own impression is that we don't lack for expertise, but as inequality increases so does the temptation for experts to hire themselves out to private interests, which in turn makes people more suspicious of experts. The author seems more inclined to blame the internet for 'foster[ing] a cult of ignorance" -- but that strikes me as a secondary effect.

PJ O'Rourke: How the Hell Did This Happen? The Election of 2016 (2017, Atlantic Monthly Press): Famed right-wing humorist, not that he was ever very funny -- if you ever bother to scan through conservative editorial cartoons you'll get a sense of how low the bar is -- but do you really want to bother with lines like this: "America is experiencing the most severe outbreak of mass psychosis since the Salem witch trials of 1692. So why not put Hillary on the dunking stool?"

Ilan Pappé: Ten Myths About Israel (paperback, 2017, Verso Books): Only ten? Some are big ones, long since debunked, like that Palestine was "a land without people" (therefore perfect for "a people without land"), that Palestinians who fled their homes in 1947-49 did so voluntarily, and that Israel had no choice but to start the 1967 war. I don't have the full list, but they evidently extend to Israel's rationalizations for its periodic assaults on Gaza and the question of why people who have repeatedly sabotaged the "two state solution" still insist it's the only one possible. Pappé has written many important books on Israel and the Palestinians, especially The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2007), and more recently The Idea of Israel: A History of Power and Knowledge (2014).

Keith Payne: The Broken Ladder: How Inequality Affects the Way We Think, Live, and Die (2017, Viking): Textbooks on inequality invariably start with lists or charts of numbers -- after all, the most straightforward thing you can do with money is count it. However, the problem with inequality has never just been who gets (deservedly or not) what. Every bit as important is how it makes us think and behave toward each other. Several books have explored these ways -- e.g., how inequality worsens health care outcomes, even beyond the correlation between inequal societies and crappy health care systems -- although this promises to delve deeper into experimental psychology.

Charles Peters: We Do Our Part: Toward a Fairer and More Equal America (2017, Random House): Founder and long-time editor of The Washington Monthly, a journal I've long admired both for its heart-felt liberal bearings and its shrewd analysis of what government can and cannot do. And while he would like to point us toward "fairer and more equal," the trajectory he's recognized since 1970 has been pointed the other way. (Although I've lately discovered that he coined the term "neo-liberal" and seems to have a dark side -- especially an antipathy to unions, which for many years were the most effective and practical advocates for "a fairer and more equal America.")

Kate Raworth: Doughnut Economics: 7 Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist (2017, Chelsea Green): The doughnut image depicts "a sweet spot of human prosperity" -- where economics should aim for widespread human satisfaction, as opposed to the 20th-century (and earlier) obsession with scarcity and growth. The seven ways are better captured by their subtitles: from GDP to the Doughnut; from self-contained market to embedded economy; from rational economic man to social adaptable humans; from mechanical equilibrium to dynamic complexity; from 'growth will even it up again' to distributive by design; from 'growth will clean it up again' to regenerative by design; from growth addicted to growth agnostic. The last few years have seen a rash of books complaining about how economic theory is shot through with false and damaging assumptions, so it was only a matter of time before someone tried to build a new understanding around more contemporary goals.

TR Reid: A Fine Mess: A Global Quest for a Simpler, Fairer, and More Efficient Tax System (2017, Penguin Press): Author of a very good international survey of health care systems, The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care (2009), tries to work the same magic by comparing tax codes around the world. While he's probably correct that the US tax code (plus the huge state-by-state variations and wrinkles for other taxing authorities) is "a fine mess," and that other nations have come up with "tax regimes that are equitable, effective, and easy on the taxpayer," the whole issue seems much less important. It is, however, something that Republicans obsess on, as with most things usually with an eye toward making it much worse.

Walter Scheidel: The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality From the Stone Age to the Twenty-First Century (2017, Princeton University Press): A rather depressing argument: he argues that inequality has been the default state of civilization ever since agriculture started producing surpluses that predatory elites could seize. The exceptional periods of leveling only seem to occur due to wars and other disasters. One might still hope that reason might come to our rescue, but empiricists are unconvinced.

Gershon Shafir: A Half Century of Occupation: Israel, Palestine, and the World's Most Intractable Conflict (2017, University of California Press): Fiftieth anniversary of 1967, when Israel dismantled its internal military occupation and seized new territory from Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, allowing them to bring back military occupation on an even larger scale. Author has written a number of books on the conflict, going back as far as Land, Labor, and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflit 1882-1914.

Thomas M Shapiro: Toxic Inequality: How America's Wealth Gap Destroys Mobility, Deepens the Racial Divide, and Threatens Our Future (2017, Basic Books): We certainly need more books that come up with vivid examples of how inequality poisons social and political and economic relationships, which is what this title promises. Focuses on race, which follows up from the author's previous The Hidden Cost of Being African American: How Wealth Perpetuates Inequality. One thing that should be obvious is that you can't achieve racial equality in an era of increasing wealth/income inequality.

Steven Slowan/Philip Fernbach: The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone (2017, Riverhead): "Humans have built hugely complex societies and technologies, but most of us don't even know how a pen or a toilet works." (For the record, I can answer both of those, although never having read about pens -- unless Henry Petroski's book on pencils ventured there -- I'd have to offer a guess there, based on other principles I understand.) But the basic idea is sound. I'm not sure what the authors draw from this, but I'd say that one important thing is that as we become ever more dependent on advanced technology, it becomes ever more important that we develop social relations that increase trust. This in turn implies several changes: we need to cultivate more widespread expertise; we need to make that information more open; and we need to shift incentives for experts toward openness and generosity and away from selfishness and exploitation. I should also add that this has generally been the direction over the last couple centuries, hand in hand with technological advancement. But all this is increasingly at risk because various business and political interests find it more profitable to appropriate and monetize "knowledge" -- for a sketch of the possible outcomes here, see Peter Frase's Four Futures.

Wolfgang Streeck: How Will Capitalism End? (2016, Verso): Depicts a world of "declining growth, oligarchic rule, a shrinking public sphere, institutional corruption, and international anarchy," adding up to instability, probably collapse, certainly a need for profound change. Contradictions of capitalism has been a staple of Marxist thought for 150 years now, so even if the author doesn't come up with an answer to his question, he has plenty of theory to build on. Streeck also wrote Buying Time: The Delayed Crisis of Democratic Capitalism (2nd edition, paperback, 2017, Verso).

Nathan Thrall: The Only Language They Understand: Forcing Compromise in Israel and Palestine (2017, Metropolitan Books): Hard to think about the conflict without considering how to end it, especially if you're an American, since we've long assumed that our mission on Earth is to oversee some sort of agreement. Thrall has been following the conflict closely for some time now, and writes up what he's figured out: that the only way it ends is if some greater power wills it. The title has a certain irony in that the Israelis, following the British before them, have often said that violence is the only language the Palestinians understand. But as students of the conflict should know by now, the only times Israel has compromised or backed down have been when they been confronted with substantial force: as when Eisenhower prodded them to leave Sinai in 1956, when Carter brokered their 1979 peace with Egypt, when Rabin ended the Intifada by recognizing the PLO, or when Barak withdrew Israeli forces from Lebanon in 2000. Since then no progress towards resolution has been made because no one with the power to influence Israel has had the will to do so -- although Israel's frantic reactions against BDS campaigns shows their fear of such pressure. On the other hand, one should note that force itself has its limits: Palestinians have compromised on many things, but some Israeli demands -- ones that violate norms for equal human rights -- are always bound to generate resistance. What makes the conflict so intractable now is that Israel has so much relative power that they're making impossible demands. So while Thrall would like to be even-handed and apply external force to both sides, it's Israel that needs to move its stance to something mutually tolerable. The other big questions are who would or could apply this force, and why. Up to 2000, the US occasionally acted, realizing that its regional and world interests transcended its affection for Israel, but those days have passed, replaced by token, toothless gestures, if any at all. It's hard to see that changing -- not just because Israel has so much practice manipulating US politics but because America has largely adopted Israeli norms of inequality and faith in brute power.

Bassem Youssef: Revolution for Dummies: Laughing Through the Arab Spring (2017, Dey Street Books): Egyptian, dubbed "the Jon Stewart of the Arabic World," had a popular television show during the brief period when that was possible -- the brief, unpopular period of democracy sandwiched between the even less popular (but who's counting?) Mubarak and Sisi dictatorships.

Other recent books also noted:

Gilad Atzmon: Being in Time: A Post-Political Manifesto (paperback, 2017, Interlink)

Nir Baram: A Land Without Borders: My Journey Around East Jerusalem and the West Bank (paperback, 2017, Text)

Mark Bowden: Hue 1968: A Turning Point in the American War in Vietnam (2017, Atlantic Monthly Press)

Noam Chomsky: Optimism Over Despair: On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change (paperback, 2017, Haymarket Books): interviews by CJ Polychroniou.

Joan Didion: South and West: From a Notebook (2017, Knopf)

Richard Falk: Palestine's Horizon: Toward a Just Peace (paperback, 2017, Pluto Press)

Al Franken: Giant of the Senate (2017, Twelve)

Henry A Giroux: America at War With Itself (paperback, 2016, City Lights Press)

Al Gore: An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power (paperback, 2017, Rodale Books)

Jeremy R Hammond: Obstacle to Peace: The US Role in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (paperback, 2016, Worldview)

Yaakov Katz/Amir Bohbot: The Weapon Wizards: How Israel Became a High-Tech Military Superpower (2017, St Martin's Press)

China Miéville: October: The Story of the Russian Revolution (2017, Verso)

Vijay Prashad: The Death of the Nation and the Future of the Arab Revolution (paperback, 2016, University of California Press)

David Roediger: Class, Race, and Marxism (2017, Verso Books)

Alice Rothchild: Condition Critical: Life and Death in Israel/Palestine (paperback, 2017, Just World Books)

Raja Shehadeh: Where the Line Is Drawn: A Tale of Crossings, Friendships, and Fifty Years of Occupation in Israel-Palestine (2017, New Press)

Peter Temin: The Vanishing Middle Class: Prejudice and Power in a Dual Economy (2017, MIT Press)

Also, some previously mentioned books new in paperback:

Andrew J Bacevich: America's War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History (2016; paperback, 2017, Random House): A self-styled conservative, but a useful critic of militarism in post-Vietnam America (see 2005's The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War). As the Cold War wound down, the military pivoted to focus on the Middle East, most dramatically with the 1990-91 Gulf War, which turned into a 12-year containment project aimed at Iraq, and boosted by 9/11 backlash into a massive war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and more clandestine operations from Libya to Yemen and Somalia to Pakistan.

David Daley: Ratf**ked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America's Democracy (2016; paperback, 2017, Liveright): More nuts-and-bolts on how the right-wing -- the financiers of the Koch Bros. dark money networks -- has plotted its takeover of American democracy, especially by targeting and capturing state legislatures.

Thomas Frank: Listen, Liberal: Or What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (2016; paperback, 2017, Picador): Shows how the Democratic Party, especially since the arrival of Bill Clinton in 1992, has triangulated its way into the good graces of bicoastal urban elites more often than not at the expense of the party's old base -- people they could continue to take advantage of because the Republicans have left them nowhere else to go. This was damning and embarrassing when it came out last summer, and after white working class voters flocked to elect Trump over Hillary people started pointing to this book as prescient. Paperback includes an afterword where the author gets to "I told you so." Real question is whether the Democratic Party moving forward can learn from its mistakes. A good place to start is here.

Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made America Prosper (2016; paperback, 2017, Simon & Schuster): Argues that ever since Madison and Hamilton crafted a strong federalist constitution, America has benefited from a strong activist government, one that regulated commerce to limit market failures, that made major investments in infrastructure, and eventually built a modern safety net -- lessons that too many Americans have forgotten as narrow-minded business interests have sought to capture government for their own greedy ends.

Jane Mayer: Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionairse Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (2016; paperback, 2017, Anchor): To assess the disaster of the 2016 elections, it is not only important to look at the shortcomings of the Democrats -- start with Thomas Frank: Listen, Liberal before you move on to Jonathan Allen/Arnie Parnes: Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign -- but also at what made the Republicans so effective, mostly a huge clandestine political machine only marginally connected to the RNC and/or the Trump Campaign, largely funded by the Koch Bros. and their fellow travelers. This is the best book on the latter, and the paperback as an "I told you so" afterword. Still, Mayer's excavation of these misanthropes has only barely begun.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Daily Log

Wrote the following letter to my Korean Dinner guests, following up on conversations they thought I'd inadequately participated in during the dinner. This partly follows up on a presentation we saw last week by Gretchen Eick, the historian author of Dissent in Wichita: The Civil Rights Movement in the Midwest, 1954-72, who actually studied a period of time I merely lived through.

I checked on the chronology of outside intervention in the Russian Revolution/Civil War. The Tsar abdicated in March 1917, and the US entered the war in April. The Bolsheviks seized power in October/November 1917 and signed the treaty of Brest-Litovsk withdrawing from the war in March 1918 -- between those dates they had largely disengaged from the war and demobilized the army, so they had little leverage and gave up a lot of territory. France and Britain wanted to intervene in Russia and sent some ships and troops sometime in 1918, but being short of troops they lobbied Wilson to send American troops, which arrived in the north (Arkangelsk) and east (Siberia) in August 1918. The war formally ended in November 1918, but US troops remained in North Russia until August 1919 and in Siberia until April 1920. The two US groups totaled about 13000 troops. Not clear how many British and French troops were involved. The only foreign forces with more troops than the US were Greece (briefly) and Japan (which held territory until a treaty in 1925). The Civil War had mostly ended by 1921, with minor skirmishes to 1923 and sporadic fighting in central Asia up to 1934. As I recall from Max Boot ("The Savage Wars of Peace"), the US forces in Siberia actively collaborated with White armies, but the ones in the north did not, so it seems to have depended mostly on the local commanders.

Boot's book, which came out in 2002, has chapters on a couple dozen "small wars": his argument is that, pace Colin Powell, America has no need to worry about blundering into wars without clear goals, overwhelming force, and/or exit plans, because they all work out fine anyway. Of course, he didn't count Korea or Vietnam, which were "small wars" that got out of hand (as did Afghanistan and Iraq). Actually, one could draw different conclusions from many of his other examples.

Long ago I read Moshe Lewin's "Lenin's Last Struggle," on Lenin's efforts to reduce Stalin's power. Laura has read a lot more on the Russian Revolution, especially Isaac Deutscher's trilogy on Trotsky. Seems like I must have read more on Russia, but I'm drawing a blank -- maybe E.H. Carr, long time ago, and some more specialized tracts like Richard Rhodes on the Soviet atom bomb project ("Dark Sun"), plus a few books on post-Soviet Russia: Andrew Meier's "Black Earth"; David Satter's "Darkness at Noon"; Tom Bisell's "Chasing the Sea" (actually on Uzbekistan).

I meant to offer some comments on my recollection of (de)segregation in Wichita, but I don't have anything very useful to offer. We lived on south Main, two blocks north of Pawnee. Newly built (1949) small houses sold for about $8k, mostly young families, at least half worked in aircraft plants; only a couple had older children than me, but there were close to 30 children on block by the time I turned ten. I went to Longfellow Elementary, which was all white except for two Chinese families (friends, but not real close ones). Then to Hamilton Intermediate, which was also all white except for a half-dozen Chinese (close to 900 students, I don't recall any Latinos), and finally to South High (about 2300 students, maybe 30-50 blacks, none in any of my classes). I dropped out of high school in 11th grade -- I think the year before the citywide desegregation plan went into effect. As I recall, they shut down the predominantly black elementary schools and Matthewson, bussed students (blacks) out, but didn't bus other (white) students anywhere. It was a pretty raw deal. As you know, housing was very effectively segregated then.

I remember the 1967-68 "riots," but not many details. I remember a Republican judge who was particularly vindictive over East High students. Of course, Democrats Vern Miller and Johnny Darr were no better. I recall that East and North had the only serious high school basketball teams in those year -- South's was especially pathetic, but I didn't attend any of their sports events. Janice went to South a couple years after me, so she remembers the post-integration fight over South's Confederate iconography. I don't recall even thinking about it, but at the time I refused even to attend PE classes, so I was pretty disengaged. I did know quite a bit about the Civil War by then, partly due to all the centenary focus, and partly because the only really good teacher I had at Hamilton was the history guy. (Years later I would go into bookstores, pick up a copy of "Cultural Literacy" and open it to a random page, then test whether I knew what was on that page. I never found anything I didn't know, and I could identify having learned most of the answers in Wine's 8th grade history class.) Until Vietnam turned me, I was super-patriotic, a big believer in all of America's idealistic, progressive wars, so I was pretty anti-South.

I remember A. Price Woodard, and was very happy when he was elected to the city council -- especially as he helped tip the balance of power away from John Stevens (the original one, a completely hideous person; I gather there have been more). I knew he was black, and noticed that he was never pictured on any of his campaign posters/ads. Council members were elected at large -- there were no districts then -- and mayor was an honorary position, passed round robin among council members. Woodard came in second in the election, so he had to wait a year before becoming Wichita's first black mayor. I had a friend who was constantly getting into trouble, and consequently was the only one I knew who had a lawyer: Woodard, and while my friend was the most conspicuously racist kid I knew, he worshiped Woodard. I always thought that added a personal dimension to the public figure.

I remember Dockums, but not the sit-ins. I remember my mother talking about going downtown to shop for groceries in the early 1950s, but by the mid-'50s we never had to go north of Harry for that sort of thing. And while there were still quite a few department stores downtown in the 1960s, we mostly drove to Sears on Lincoln, or later on (after the Pawnee bridge was built) to David's (Seneca/Pawnee) or Gem (Meridian/Pawnee). On special occasions, we went to church downtown (Central Christian), but even before the bridge was built we started going to Glenn Park (Glenn/27th). Virtually impossible to run into a black person any of these places. So we grew up more indifferent to race than anything else.

That's probably enough for now. I took a hard left turn as/after I dropped out, mostly prodded by Vietnam and by a more general disillusionment with school, church, and pretty much everything else. I started reading a lot, my first real political book being "The New Radicals" (a compilation edited by Paul Jacobs and Saul Landau), and veered toward Marxism after Eugene Genovese responded to an irate letter I wrote him by suggesting I read some of his work. I started college in 1971 after flailing for several years, and by then was deep into Frankfurt School Critical Theory, which I pursued (and burned out on) under Paul Piccone at Washington University (St. Louis). After that, well, that's another story.

Gretchen wrote back, saying "I'd love to read more on this" and "I am surprised by your memory that South and North were the big athletic teams, not East." I re-checked what I wrote, and obviously she misread. I wrote back:

I said North and East (although I probably should have reversed the order); South had terrible teams, despite being a huge school. Heights and Kapaun regularly beat South. In addition to cutting across the richest and poorest neighborhoods in Kansas, East had a big vocational tech program which drew students from outside its district. I think they also had the city's only real college prep curriculum. My sister went to East, although that was probably just a matter of redrawing district boundaries. Most Hamilton students went to East. The two older boys who lived next door went to West, which was actually the closest high school, so the district lines were frequently changing.

The Wongs lived a block south of us on Market. They owned a Chinese-American restaurant on Kellogg near the airport. Sammy was in my boy scout troop. His father invited the whole troop for dinner one time. No menu -- he just cooked what he wanted, which was all Chinese. First Chinese I had ever had, and while much of it seemed dauntingly weird at the time, one dish was the most incredibly delicious chicken I had ever encountered. Probably changed my life, though not immediately.

I'm not sure where the Marrs lived -- east of Broadway, I think, which was a dividing line we almost never crossed. I thought they had a laundry business, although my brother and a cousin worked for a while in a Chinese restaurant near Parklane they may have been involved in. Linda was in most of my elementary school classes. Linda was a year older, held back supposedly for language although she probably had the best command of the language of anyone I knew. I remember a test in 2nd grade -- seems like most of what I remember from those years were the embarrassments -- where we were asked to write a sentence with "but" in it and she was the one asked to read the correct usage. I ran into her sister Goldie much later at WSU, and she told me Linda was working as a translator in New York -- not sure whether at the UN or some international bank. I ran into another Chinese at Hamilton, Eddie Wong: A student, varsity jock, hard not to be impressed.

I never heard of any anti-Chinese prejudice back then. I think it probably has to do with a total lack of ethnic consciousness. I never witnessed any racism either -- obviously , in retrospect, because there were no blacks to take it out on. My father developed an ugly racist streak late in life, after a black family moved across the street, but I never had an inkling of that growing up. My mother grew up in an all-white section of Arkansas, and seems to have been spared all that. She talked about being afraid of Indians, from her time in Oklahoma. Nonetheless, they both voted for George Wallace in 1968: they liked his "little guy" talk, and didn't trust either Humphrey or (especially) Nixon to get out of the war. To do so, they didn't have to be racist, but they were remarkably disinterested in race. One little story: I was a big auto racing fan in my teens, especially Formula 1, and one of the great drivers ever, Jim Clark, was killed in a crash at Hockenheim in 1968. My mother made a special (unprecedented) effort to console me when she found out, but while I was moping, I wasn't thinking about Clark. At the time I was watching TV following the murder of Martin Luther King Jr., and found that much more disturbing. Can't say as she even noticed.

Unlike most Wallace voters, my parents both voted for McGovern in 1972. I suppose that having started out as an Arkansas Republican and a Kansas Democrat they always had the potential for breaking out of the conformism I always associated them with. I think that what disillusioned them was seeing what the school system did to me, and seeing the utterly senseless death of our next door neighbor in Vietnam.

Gretchen also provided some history on John Stevens:

>John Stevens, father of the John Stevens who ran for city council last week and didn't make it, was a millionaire Bircher who ran a business of candy and soft drink machines. He refused to pay taxes to the government, and when the state presented him with a bill for $36,000 in back taxes, he went out of business rather than pay. He was on the city commission beginning 1957, elected 4 times, and mayor in 1966 and 1967 . He assaulted another commissioner, which made the news. He ran for Congress on the American Party/Conservative Party of Kansas which endorsed Wallace for president. He is the reason many who worked hard for a city ordinance on fair housing thought they had won one. He hated fair housing and proposed a substitute ordinance in 1964 that passed unanimously and made the only punishment appearing before the Human Relations Commission and having your name published in the newspaper. Stevens thought the Supreme Court was a refuge for the enemies of freedom. He died in 1976.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28508 [28490] rated (+18), 375 [365] unrated (+10).

Basically took a break for the latter half of the week (Wednesday to Saturday). Main reason: Korean dinner. For this stretch, I mostly played CDs from one of my travel cases: Lilly Allen, Beautiful South, Bobby Bland, Manu Chao, Dance Floor Divas, Duke Ellington/Coleman Hawkins, English Beat, Franco, Girl Group Greats, Mighty Sparrow, Roger Miller, Van Morrison, Nigeria 70, Pet Shop Boys, Public Enemy, Wilson Pickett, Shirelles, Phil Spector, Velvet Underground, Mary Wells, Hank Williams. That, plus the work, kept me in a pretty good mood.

Before that, I was probably off to a typical week. The Tyshawn Sorey album took a bit of time, and I think I probably played the Elan Pauer (the only other CD in the list below) 3-4 times. Evidently Pauer is an alias for Oliver Schwerdt -- he also sent me a 2-CD under that name, one of a fair number of things in a suddenly resurgent queue (seems to be split evenly between September-October releases and things already out). For a long stretch the queue had been so depleted I stopped paying much attention to it, but I got more records in the mail last week than in any week for many months.

I spent Sunday playing Randy Newman. Robert Christgau proclaimed his new Dark Matter an "album of the year contender" on Friday. I still don't hear anything like that, but gave it five plays before parking it in the bottom half of my 2017 A-List -- didn't want to underrate it as badly as I had Harps and Angels, but I still doubt I'll wind up liking it as much. I had heard "Putin" on a late night show, and it seemed pretty awful at the time. It's funnier here with orchestra and "the Putin girls" chorus. But the opener (whence the title, but not its title) is an awkward, incoherent mess, and "Brothers" is just a bummer until it breaks into a celebration of Celia Cruz. Good song about the original Sonny Boy Williamson, and "She Chose Me" works for him.

I also went back through the Songbooks -- I had given Vol. 2 a B+(**), but missed Vol. 1 and Vol. 3, and wound up replaying the whole 3-CD "box" to pick up the songs Bob mentioned that were left off Vol. 3: "A Few Words in Defense of Our Country" as timely as it was in 2008 (the death of one of those Supreme Court Italians proving inconsequential), but I'm not hip enough to his irony to stomach his 2012 "I'm Dreaming [of a white president]" ("he won't be the brightest/ but he'll be the whitest/ and I'll vote for that"). The box does offer a really terrific "A Wedding in Cherokee County."

I bumped up the grade of Lana Del Rey's Lust for Life from where I had it last Monday. Among other things, it offers a sharper political commentary than Newman does. We need more people demanding "the fucking truth." And while she's right that "critics can be mean sometimes" I'm not feeling that now.

New records rated this week:

  • Anat Cohen: Rosa Dos Ventos (2017, Anzic): [r]: B
  • Anat Cohen & Marcello Gonçalves: Outra Coisa: The Music of Moacir Santos (2017, Anzic): [r]: B+(**)
  • Lana Del Rey: Lust for Life (2017, Interscope): [r]: A-
  • Billy Flynn: Lonesome Highway (2017, Delmark): [r]: B
  • Paul Heaton + Jacqui Abbott: Crooked Calypso (2017, Virgin EMI): [r]: B+(*)
  • Randy Newman: Dark Matter (2017, Nonesuch): [r]: A-
  • Elan Pauer: Yamaha/Speed (2015 [2017], Creative Sources): [cd]: B+(***)
  • John Pizzarelli: Sinatra & Jobim @ 50 (2017, Concord): [r]: B-
  • Skyzoo: Peddler Themes (2017, First Generation Rich/Empire, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Tyshawn Sorey: Verisimilitude (2016 [2017], Pi): [cd]: A-
  • Tyler, the Creator: Flower Boy (2017, Odd Future/Columbia): [r]: B

Old music rated this week:

  • Bill Frisell: Ghost Town (1999 [2000], Nonesuch): [r]: B+(*)
  • Randy Newman: The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 1 (2003, Nonesuch): B+(*)
  • Randy Newman: The Randy Newman Songbook Vol. 3 (2016, Nonesuch): [r]: B+(***)
  • Randy Newman: The Randy Newman Songbook (2003-16 [2016], Nonesuch, 3CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • John Pizzarelli: Let There Be Love (2000, Telarc): [r]: B

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Laura Ainsworth: New Vintage (Eclectus)
  • Gerald Beckett: Oblivion (Summit)
  • Jane Ira Bloom: Wild Lines: Improvising Emily Dickinson (Outline, 2CD): September 8
  • Miles Donahue: The Bug (Whaling City Sound)
  • Fred Hersch: Open Book (Palmetto): September 8
  • Noah Kaplan Quartet: Cluster Swerve (Hatology)
  • Steve Langone Trio: Breathe (Whaling City Sound)
  • The Liberation Music Collective: Rebel Portraiture (AD Astrum): August 17
  • Paul McCandless: Morning Sun: Adventures With Oboe (Living Music): October 20
  • Marcus Monteiro: Another Part of Me (Whaling City Sound)
  • Dave Potter: You Already Know (Summit)
  • Chris Speed Trio: Platinum on Tap (Intakt): August 18
  • Jason Stein Quartet: Lucille! (Delmark): September 5
  • Omri Ziegele: Going South (Intakt): August 18

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Korean Dinner

I took a break from the politics and music this past week to cook a dinner served Saturday. I started my "birthday dinner" tradition back in the mid-1990s, where I would take a national cuisine and try to make as many varied dishes as I could muster. I suppose the original idea was just to show off: the first two dinners were Chinese, which I largely figured out in the early 1980s while living in New Jersey. Then I moved on to Indian -- another old interest although I didn't get to be really good at it until the birthday dinners started up -- and then Turkish. Later on I started using the dinners as research projects as I attempted to figure out other cuisines: Spanish, Thai, Moroccan, Lebanese, Japanese, Iranian, Italian, Greek, Brazilian, Cuban, Russian.

I've long felt like Korean would be worth trying. I've dabbled a bit, mostly from working from Charmaine Solomon's The Complete Asian Cookbook. My first Korean food came from a restaurant in Cambridge (MA): small nuggets of intensely flavored beef. A decade later, I had a friend in Boston who several times fixed huge feasts of homemade Korean food. One of the first times I tried cooking at a relative's home, we bought beef short ribs and I marinated and grilled them. But I never got out of the rut of habitually ordering bulgogi when I got the chance. A couple years back I bought a copy of Young Jin Song's The Food and Cooking of Korea, but until recently it languished on the shelf.

A few months ago I decided to give it a go. I planned out a menu, and knowing I'd need some lead time I went ahead and made a batch of classic kimchi. I did some shopping to figure out what could be found, but we couldn't schedule the dinner I had hoped for, and I wound up making a "practice run" with what I had bought -- a pretty substantial dinner in its own right. I finally got a chance to go all out this week. I started shopping on Wednesday, and made the first batch of kimchi that night. More shopping Thursday, plus an emergency run on Friday. Cooked some things on Friday, and finished up on Saturday, producing the spread (not very artfully laid out) photographed below:

I made an image map to identify the various dishes, but it only works on the unscaled image here. As I understand it, one can write some JavaScript to work around the rescaling problem, but I've wasted enough time on that already.

In addition to the Song cookbook mentioned above, I bought two more Korean cookbooks: Deuki Hong/Matt Rodbard, Koreatown: A Cookbook, and Maangchi's Real Korean Cooking. I ordered the latter after finding several promising recipes on the author's website. I built up a long shopping list with a tentative menu (16 dishes), noting what I already had and what I would need. Then I added various things as I looked through the books, trying to expand my options or just to get a sense of what's available. For example, I never found perilla leaves, bellflower root, or dried file fish (although I did something labeled "filetfish"); I found but didn't buy fresh burdock and dried fernbrake.

I started my shopping at Thai Binh, the largest Vietnamese grocery in town. They cover Chinese and Thai pretty well, with a smallish specifically Korean section where I had previously bought chili paste (gochujang), bean paste (doenjang), coarse chili powder (gochugaru), and coarse sea salt. They have a substantial produce section (although no water chestnuts this time) and a tremendous variety of frozen fish so I figured they'd be my best shot. Then I stopped at Dillons to get the beef, pork ribs, and some more conventional vegetables. Still, I came up short in several respects, so I googled for Korean groceries and found two more: Grace Korean-Japanese Market and Kimson Asian Food Market. I went to them on Thursday, and that evening went to Sprouts and Dillons. I didn't actually have much on the list by that time, other than English mustard, which I finally found at Dillons (Rock/Central).

Grace was small but had a couple things I hadn't picked up before. They also have a small cafe area which seemed pretty inactive. I picked up a couple "homemade" batches of seaweed and shrimp salads, but didn't particularly like either. Kimson only had about a third as much space as Thai Binh but was packed so they had almost as much stuff, including some things I had never seen locally (like frozen sea urchin for sushi). I wound up having to go out again on Friday -- Thai Binh and Dillons -- as I couldn't find the short-grain (sushi) rice I was sure I had plenty of.

Notes on the menu: Most Korean food is very hot (spicy, but aside from chilis, garlic, and ginger there are virtually no spices). The heat comes from chili powder, chili paste, or (much less often) chili oil or fresh peppers. I can barely tolerate hot peppers, so in all of the following recipes I either cut them way back or completely out (though I usually kept the garlic and sugar which are probably included just to draw out the heat). I thought about serving a hot sauce on the side, but doubted any of my guests especially wanted it. (The kimchis were still pretty hot in my book.) Also, virtually every Korean dish is topped with sesame seeds, which I also omitted (although I offered black sesame seeds on the side).

  • Classic Cabbage Kimchi (Song): I made this several months ago, and had enough leftover for the rice and to serve on the side. Start with a Chinese (napa) cabbage, split into quarters and soak in salt water 2 hours. Then dry, sprinkle with salt (working between the layers), and let stand 4 hours. Mix seasoning: daikon, Asian chives, garlic, ginger, onion, Asian pear, scallions, water chestnut, chili powder, fish sauce, sugar. Recipe called for a couple oysters. I think I used some smoked oysters, not really the same thing. Rinse the salt, then stuff the seasoning between the cabbage leaves. Then it's just a matter of setting, initially at room temp, later in refrigerator -- no need to bury in back yard.

  • White Kimchi (Song): Same basic idea minus the chili powder (chopped fresh chilis provide heat without color -- I used small Thai peppers, one red and one green). I just did half a head of napa cabbage: salted it, rinsed it, soaked it 24 hours in a kelp stock (with apple, pear, and a red date), then drained and stuffed with daikon, scallions, ginger, red dates, garlic. I didn't have fermented shrimp, so soaked some dried shrimp, chopped it up, and added a little shrimp paste. Also didn't have watercress. This then needed to sit another day.

  • Diced White Radish Kimchi (Song): I took about half of a very large daikon, peeled it, cut into half-inch cubes, and salted it. For seasoning I used sugar, chili powder, garlic, onion, scallions, sea salt, fish sauce, ginger, and brown sugar. Recipe calls for 5 tbs chili powder. I used one, plus some Spanish smoked paprika to keep the color up.

  • Boy Choy Kimchi (Hong): This cookbook has a "five quick kimchis to keep in your fridge" section, which all use the same basic cure (sugar and kosher salt) and the same marinade: Asian pear, chili powder, fish sauce, garlic, sugar, ginger. I cut the chili down to about one-third, and this wound up being the hottest dish I served. I cut the bok choy in half, sprinkled the cure, waited an hour of two, rinsed, then added the marinade and refrigerated.

  • Pineapple Kimchi (Hong); I bought a pineapple core, cut it into chunks, added the quick marinade, and refrigerated. Not a traditional kimchi, but something that struck the authors' fancy, and actually pretty tasty.

  • Griddled Beef with Sesame and Soy (Song): Aka bulgogi. Dillons has 12-oz. packages of thin-sliced steak which work perfectly for this (I've made it several times), so I bought two. Sliced the beef into 1-inch squares. Marinade: scallions, onion, Asian pear, dark soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, black pepper, garlic, a little lemon juice (recipe calls for lemonade). Recipe warns against marinating over two hours ("becomes too salty"), but Hong calls for overnight (and uses the saltier thin soy sauce, and more of it). To cook, I heated up a cast iron skillet and dumped the bag in. In retrospect I should have dumped the bag into a collander to drain more liquid from the marinade, as it almost turned into a braise, and I wound up cooking the meat longer than I would have had I not had to boil off so much sauce.

  • Deiji Kalbi (Hong): I originally planned on making Griddled Doenjang Pork (Song), using pork loin and fermented bean paste, then saw this recipe and merged them. I bought a side of spare ribs -- about three pounds -- and separated them. Mixed up a marinade in the food processor: Asian pear, apple, onion, chili paste (about 1 tbs), fermented bean paste (about 4 tbs), black pepper, mirin, soy sauce, garlic, sugar. Recipe called for 1 cup of chili sauce + 1/4 cup of ground chili (for about 50% more pork), with none of the bean paste, so they were looking for super spicy. I wanted something earthier, with just a little kick. I marinated this overnight, put it on the rack of a roasting pan with some water, and baked it at 350F for about an hour.

  • Seafood Salad in Mustard Dressing (Song): Recipe for 2 so my plan was to scale it up 3X, but I wound up exceeding that, then I forgot about the scaling when I made the dressing, so wound up making a second batch (and now that I think of it, probably should have made a third). Recipe calls for squid, shrimp, whelks, jellyfish, and crab. I got a frozen package of small squid tubes that had been crosshatched, and I substituted pre-cooked periwinkles for the whelks. I found a 1 lb. package of shredded and salted frozen jellyfish. I got a little more than a pound of snow crab legs, so boiled them and extricated the meat. The squid, shrimp, and jellyfish were also boiled briefly. I initially started with a half-pound of shrimp, then decided they were so much better than everything else so I made the rest of the 1 lb. bag. And I wound up only using about 1/3 of the periwinkles and 1/4 of the jellyfish. I chilled the seafood, then added julienned carrots, Asian pear, and cucumber, plus some shredded napa cabbage. Then the seasoning: English (hot) mustard, sugar, vinegar, salt, dark soy sauce, sesame oil (instead of chili oil). I decided it was piquant enough but could use some more mild mustard, so added some dijon, then honey dijon.

  • Stir-fried Kimchi and Rice (Hong): I made a pot of short-grain rice the day before: soaked the rice through multiple passes, then boiled and cooked over low heat. I started with two cups of raw rice, and only used three cups here, so I have a lot leftover. I got some thick-sliced bacon at Dillons, and chopped up three slices. I browned them, added a chopped onion, about a cup of classic kimchi, chopped ginger and garlic, then the rice. One suggestion is to serve this with two sunny-side up fried eggs. I had the idea that I could push the rice to one side, add some oil, and fry a couple of eggs in situ. I covered them briefly, then when the bottoms had set, flipped them over, and before the yolks set started folding them back into the rice. Garnished with chopped scallions.

  • Spicy-Sweet Shredded Squid (Hong): I found some dried whole squids, about 8-inches long and flattened, that were still pliable. Cut them into thin shreds. Put them in a pan with a little water and cooked them until the water evaporated. Mixed up a sauce: chili paste, sugar, rice syrup, mirin, sesame oil. (I think I added some hoisin sauce and ketchup to the sauce -- or maybe that was some other dish.) Added the sauce to the squid and continued to cook until it was well glazed.

  • Sweet Potato with Almond Syrup (Song): Two sweet potatoes, peeled, quartered and cut into half-inch slices. I baked them for 20 minutes, then deep fried them. Made a syrup of brown sugar and water, and after it thickened turned off the heat, stirred in some ground almonds ("flour"), then added the sweet potato chunks, stirring to coat. Several problems here: syrup got too thick and the almonds were ground too fine (recipe calls for 2 almonds, crushed, which might have worked better) so they acted more as a thickener. I wound up needing to add some water to the syrup, which thinned it adequately but also cooled it down. Ultimately minor problems.

  • Steamed Eggplant (Maangchi): I used two Japanese eggplants, cut into quarters then sliced into inch-long pieces. Steamed them, then served them in a sauce: fish sauce, soy, garlic, scallions, sesame oil.

  • Black Beans with Sweet Soy (Song): Start with a can of cooked black beans, then rinse, boil, rinse again, and boil again -- this time with sugar, thin soy, and maple syrup, until the water is evaporated. This actually wound up becoming a bit crunchy, as well as much more salty than sweet.

  • Sweet Lotus Root (Song): Bought a package of peeled, sliced lotus root. Soaked it in vinegar water, then boiled it a few minutes, then returned to pot with soy sauce and boiled for 20 minutes, then added sugar and maple syrup and boiled another 30 minutes, then add sesame oil. Before the last step, I still wasn't getting the look I wanted, so I switched to a deeper, narrower pot, and added some dark soy and maple syrup (and the sesame oil) and boiled it down to a thick syrup.

  • Beansprout Namul (Song): Recipe calls for soybean sprouts, but I used mung bean sprouts. Soaked in salt water, then par-boiled, then sauteed with scallions and sesame oil.

  • Spinach Namul (Song): Steamed a bunch of spinach. Mixed up a sauce: dark soy, garlic, sesame oil, rice wine. Added the spinach to the sauce, and let it sit for a while. Heated up a skillet, added a bit of oil, and quickly heated up the mix.

  • Braised Shiitake Mushroom and Onion (Song): Chopped a half onion. Trimmed stems from a package of mushrooms. Mixed them with garlic and sauce: dark soy, sesame oil, maple syrup. Dumped them all in a pot and braised until the water evaporated.

  • Sweet Rice with Red Dates (Song): Made this for dessert. Starts with glutinous rice, which is soaked, then put into a pot with brown sugar, a cup of water, chopped dates, chopped chestnuts, raisins, sesame oil, cinnamon, and a pinch of salt. Then "add water until it covers the rice by about 2cm (3/4 inch)"; bring to a boil, then turn low. I decided mejdol dates would be better than the dried red dates, and I missed the cinnamon, but the bigger problem was too much water. The result was a sticky mass with puddles of water. I dusted it with cinnamon, topped with pine nuts, and served, but it wasn't very good -- maybe not quite a disaster but the night's poorest showing.

I'm reconstructing this from memory, so I may not even have the right cookbook for several recipes that appeared on multiple books. I did what seems like more than the usual mount of fiddling, not just to adjust the heat and avoid sesame seeds. I did quite a bit of fiddling with various sauces to get an appealing mix of tastes. And aside from the dessert it pretty much all worked. Interesting that the dishes with the highest-percentage leftovers were the kimchi (although the rice, which is usually the least popular choice, was most nearly wiped out).

I scratched a half-dozen possible dishes at various points in the afternoon. I had bought groceries to make: zucchini namul, buckwheat noodles, braised bean curd. I could have done a chives namul. I had more bok choy which I could have fixed with the bean paste. I had cucumbers which could have been used several different ways (but I didn't have time to do proper pickles). I could have made the extra jellyfish into its own dish (similar to the squid). I also had dried anchovies that could be given the squid treatment. I bought red and green bell peppers and can't remember what they were for. I have a piece of barbecued eel in the freezer. I could have taken some of the rice, dressed it with sugar and vinegar, and made sushi, topped with wasabi, broiled eel, and sweetened soy. (Would have been better than the dessert I served.)

There's a lot more Korean food I could have made -- something to try out later. I wanted to have lots of little things (Koreans call them banchan) rather than a big main course. That's why I didn't consider doing a soup or a combo rice dish like bibimbap. In fact, I didn't want to serve plain rice, even though that's the foundation virtually all Korean meals are built upon. I also figured I should stay away from obvious Japanese imports like sushi, teriyaki, and tempura (all common in Korea). I figured the bulgogi was essential, and what sold me on the pork ribs was the possibility of sticking it in the oven and forgetting about it. Similarly, the seafood salad could be made early and out of the way, and having those three dishes really didn't leave much room for chicken or fish. One thing I was tempted by but figured was too tricky and/or marginally weird was the raw blue crabs -- Thai Binh stocks them, and they basically get kimchi'ed for a couple days before serving, so they wouldn't have presented a logistical problem.

Figuring out the logistics is a big part of these large-scale dinners. In fact, this one was relatively easy, the first critical task figuring out what I could (and could not) obtain, and where to shop for it. The kimchis had relatively long lead times (pickles were already out of the question), so that determined when I had to start. I've done meals so complicated that I've mapped them out using charts, but this one wasn't that mind-boggling. After I made the kimchis, on Friday I cooked the seafood, roasted the sweet potatoes, steamed the spinach and eggplant, cooked the plain rice, made the squid, and marinated the meat. Hardest thing there (by far) was picking out the crab meat. I got up a little after noon on Saturday and started working through the little dishes -- the braises sometimes took an hour or more, but I could plate them when they were done. While the braises were going on I julienned the vegetables and dressed the salad, then put it back in the refrigerator. I usually get desserts out of the way early, but this one could be cooked anytime, and there was very little prep to it. The final push could hardly have been simpler: put the ribs in the oven, fix the fried rice, then finish the steak. And I could wait until the guests arrived to do the latter.

So, a pretty memorable dinner. Learned a lot while doing it. The guests seemed pretty pleased. The dog tried crawling into the dishwasher to help with the prewash. I won't try to get into the dinner discussion and all that, which for me was probably the highlight of the evening. Had some leftover ribs and sweet potatoes for dinner this evening. Have some people coming over Monday to help clean out the leftovers -- and maybe I'll cook some of the scratched dishes then. Hopefully Trump won't start bombing Korea by then. I was born during the Korean War. I'd hate to suffer through a second one.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Midweek Roundup

Took a break today and glanced at the Internet and came up with the usual load. Noted a tweet from Kathleen Geier: "No one will look back at this era in American politics and remember it fondly. Absolutely no one."

  • Peter Beaumont: Former Netanyahu chief of staff 'in negotiations to become state witness': In a world increasingly run by the very rich, I reckon it's no surprise that merely powerful politicians should strive to become rich themselves. Of course, sometimes they get caught.

  • Julian Borger: Leaked Trump transcripts show his incoherent, ill-informed narcissism: not that you expected anything else.

  • Esme Cribb: NSC's Senior Intelligence Director Ezra Cohen-Watnick Fired: Reported a Flynn protégé, survived McMasters' previous efforts to fire him thanks to intervention by Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner.

    Cohen-Watnick was the latest casualty in a string of firings at the NSC. McMaster (pictured above) replaced Fox News commentator K.T. McFarland as his deputy in May, reportedly without seeking White House approval first. He also reportedly fired Rich Higgins, a staffer who worked in the council's strategic planning office on July 21, after Higgins authored a memo claiming Trump was under attack by "globalists and Islamists" and "cultural Marxists." McMaster also fired Derek Harvey, Trump's top Middle East adviser, in late July.

    Also see Josh Marshall on The Deeper Story on Cohen-Watnick.

  • Esme Cribb: Mueller Impanels Grand Jury in Federal Russia Probe.

  • Bob Dreyfuss: What Did Trump and Kushner Know About Russian Money Laundering, and When Did They Know It?

  • Joshua Holland: Medicare-for-All Isn't the Solution for Universal Health Care: I haven't worked my way through this piece, so for now will just note its existence. I was aware of the article before, but steered to it from Dylan Scott: What you need to know about the Senate's "right-to-try" bill. The latter was a broadly bipartisan bill that somewhat streamlines the options of terminally ill patients to try unproven treatments: Republicans evidently like the bill either because it gives patients more freedom/choice or because it helps doctors and drug companies commit fraud.

  • Sharon Lerner: EPA Staffers Are Being Forced to Prioritize Energy Industry's Wish List, Says Official Who Resigned in Protest.

  • Jeffrey Lewis: Scuttling the Iran Deal Will Lead to Another North Korea: "Tehran can already make an ICBM anytime it wants, and there's nothing Donald Trump can do about it." Still, isn't that the wrong way to look at the problem? The real problem with North Korea isn't that they have rockets and nuclear warheads that could be used against us. The problem is that the regime and people there suffered through a horrific war that devastated everything, and since then they've been isolated and paranoid, prevented from functioning as a normal country by the sheer spite of the United States. One forgets that Iran's interest in rockets grew out of their own horrific decade-long war with Iraq, where Tehran was regularly subjected to rocket attacks (which Iran reciprocated, unlike Iraq's use of poison gas). Clearly, Iraq isn't the threat it once was, but Iran is still surrounded by hostile regimes, with the US and Israel actively engaging in various plots of sabotage and/or insurrection. Scuttling the nuclear deal may or may not force Iran to develop nuclear-armed ICBMs -- doing so wouldn't give them an effective tool for attacking the US, but it might deter the US from attacking Iran -- but it will certainly leave Iran more isolated, paranoid, and repressive, much as the same sanctions regime has left North Korea. If Trump's people had any sense, they'd not only embrace the Iran deal, but seek to build on it, and use it as a model for opening up a modus vivendi with North Korea.

  • Paul Mason: Democracy is dying -- and it's startling how few people are worried; also Yascha Mounk: The Past Week Proves That Trump Is Destroying Our Democracy: These two articles came up in a row at WarInContext, on a day when I was already thinking not just tha democracy has been taking a bruising but that it's likely to get worse before (if ever) it gets better. Still, Democracy is in the eye of the beholder, so we get Mason worrying about Putin, Erdogan, and Trump (also Poland, Hungary, Venezuela, India, the Philippines, and China, but not Egypt or Saudi Arabia or Israel), while Mounk sticks to Trump.

  • Andrew Prokop: As Trump takes aim at affirmative action, let's remember how Jared Kushner got into Harvard: "a lot of money, and two US senators, were involved." By the way, the two senators were Democrats, albeit also multi-millionaires.

  • Jedediah Purdy: A Billionaire's Republic: Review of Ganesh Sitaraman's new book, The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution. As noted above, many of us are worried about the fate of democracy in the near future. There are various theories about various threats, but the most basic threat is that posed by significant inequality.

  • Bernie Sanders: Nissan dispute could go down as most vicious anti-union crusade in decades:

    Nissan is no stranger to trade unions. It has union representation in 42 out of 45 of its plants throughout the world -- from Japan to France, Australia to Britain. But the company does not want unions in the US south, because unions mean higher wages, safer working conditions, decent healthcare and a secure retirement.

    Corporations like Nissan know that if they stop workers in Mississippi from forming a union, wages will continue to be abysmally low in this state. Further, if workers are unable to form unions and engage in collective bargaining, Americans throughout this country will continue to work for longer hours for lower wages. As Americans, our goal must be to raise wages in Mississippi and all over this country, not engage in a destructive race to the bottom.

    Nissan is not a poor company. It is not losing money. Last year, it made a record-breaking $6.6bn in profits and it gave its CEO more than $9.5m in total compensation.

    Those kinds of obscene profits are a direct result of corporations' decades-long assault on workers and their unions. Forty years ago, more than a quarter of all workers belonged to a union. Today, that number has gone down to just 11%, and in the private sector it is less than 7%. And as corporations and Republican politicians succeed in decimating the right of workers to bargain collectively for better wages and benefits, the American middle class, once the envy of the world, is disappearing while income and wealth inequality is soaring. We have got to turn that around.

    I proudly support Nissan workers' fight to form a union.

    I wonder if any other Democrats have taken a stand on this. Also: John Nichols: A Nissan Victory Could Usher in a New Era of Southern Organizing. I've heard that the Games of Thrones showrunners want to do a new fantasy history series that posits what would have happened had the South won the Civil War. If you want to indulge in alternative history, a more promising precept would have been what if Taft-Hartley had failed in 1947 and the AFL and CIO had launched mass organizing drives in the South, as they had planned but chickened out on after Taft-Hartley -- and, of course, had they been successful. At the very least, that would have advanced the civil rights movement a decade or more, and prevented the decline of union membership, which would have kept the Democratic Party, and ultimately the country, from drifting far to the right.

  • Matt Taibbi: There Is No Way to Survive the Trump White House: "The tenures of Reince Priebus and Anthony Scaramucci represent two opposite, but equally ineffective, strategies for surviving the Trump White House."

    Some see in all these maneuverings an effort to purge GOP loyalists like Spicer and Priebus. Others see a Nixonian lunge to hire thugs in a crisis. This to me is all overthinking things. There is no strategy. This White House is just a succession of spasmodic Trump failures, with a growing line of people taking the fall for each of them. You can fall with honor, or without, entertainingly or not. But if you join this White House, fall you will. It's only a matter of time.

  • Sophia Tesfaye: Trump's next military scapegoat: Foreign-born service members targeted by Pentagon.

  • Sam Thielman: Stinger Missiles and Shady Deals: Ex-Biz Partner to Trump Has a Tall Tale to Tell: Felix Sater, whose CV includes a conviction for stock fraud as well business ties to Trump, as well as a stint as a Trump "senior adviser."

  • Matthew Yglesias: Democrats' push for a new era of antitrust enforcement, explained: Antitrust legislation, still on the books, was one of the great achievements of the Progressive movement, even if it could be (and mostly was) viewed as a way to defend capitalism from the capitalists. However, it has been little enforced since then, especially under the Reagan-Bush-Bush-Trump administrations, but Clinton's administration is mostly remembered for its antitrust case against Microsoft (on behalf of other high tech companies), and I can't think of any cases filed by Obama. However, Democratic-leaning economists like Joseph Stiglitz have lately noted the role of monopoly rents in generating skyrocketing inequality, and other researchers -- many summarized here -- have broadened that view. I suspect one reason many Democrats have gone along with new antitrust planks is that they've long been spouting the cause of competitive free markets, which is the primary goal of antitrust. However, the forces against antitrust enforcement are lobbyists working for dealmakers and brokers, who regardless of their general principles will invariably argue that their sponsor companies should be excepted. Still, an important plank, and not just because competition is good. You should also consider how industry consolidation destroys and undermines jobs.

    Yglesias also wrote Anthony Scaramucci, explained, as if you couldn't figure that one out yourself. Still, worth being reminded of this:

    Trump, who is very fond of zero-sum thinking, one-sided deals, and sketchy business ethics, would naturally find [Scaramucci's] background appealing.

    Some people make money by providing mutually beneficial win-win arrangements. . . . Trump doesn't really do that. His early real estate ventures in Manhattan and Atlantic City ended up being failures that went bankrupt.

    But in the mid-1990s, he started the process of spinning shit into gold by launching a publicly traded company, Trump Casino Hotels & Resorts, and bilking his investors for all they were worth.

    TCHR never made any money for shareholders. "A shareholder who bought $100 of DJT shares in 1995 could sell them for about $4 in 2005," according to Drew Harwell's analysis of the company. "The same investment in MGM Resorts would have increased in value to about $600." But it did make lots of money for Donald Trump. It spent more than $6 million on entertaining high-end clients on Trump's golf courses. It spent $2 million more on renting Trump's plane. It bought $1.7 million of Trump-branded merchandise. It bought a bankrupt casino from Donald Trump for $490 million. It paid Trump millions in salary for his work as CEO. And most lucratively of all, Trump was able to offload debts he had personally guaranteed onto the publicly traded company.

    From there, Trump hopped to starring in a reality television programming and then into a lucrative celebrity brand licensing business. He also launched a fake university that had to pay out $25 million to settle fraud claims.

    Trump is, in short, the kind of guy who'd look up to SkyBridge's "make money selling bad products" business model, not down on it.

Let me also note this trip down memory lane: Carl Boggs: The Other Side of War: Fury and Repression in St. Louis. I moved to St. Louis and Washington University after the events described here, and didn't know Howard Mechanic or anyone else mentioned in the article, but did know Boggs -- a political science professor at Washington U.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28490 [28462] rated (+28), 365 [364] unrated (+1).

Most of the following made its way into July Streamnotes, so not much news to report. Just seven albums in the August draft file so far: Arcade Fire, Hal Galper, Paul Jones, Manchester Orchestra, Vic Mensa, Vieux Farka Touré, Reggie Young. I think I gave Arcade Fire five (maybe six) plays. The others on Napster got one each.

Three of those came out last week. Checking AOTY, they scored: Manchester Orchestra (78/11), Arcade Fire (71/23), Vic Mensa (65/5). I'm surprised Arcade Fire has been reviewed so poorly (although it has 100 scores from NME and The Independent). They're a group I've generally admired but never felt much affection for: while I've graded their previous albums pretty high (B+ for 2004's Funeral; A- for Neon Bible, The Suburbs, and Reflektor), none of those albums scored especially high on my EOY lists (27, 27, 29). I expect this one will wind up lower (it's at 28 now, but we're only about half done -- big question is whether I ever play it again). But critics have generally liked their albums more than I have; e.g., AOTY scores for their four albums are: 95/15, 84/20, 89/33, 78/40; higher still were their Pazz & Jop finishes: 6, 5, 3, 14. Presumably this one won't fare so well, but I can't tell you why. Maybe in this day and age critics want something mopey? (Like Mount Eerie? Or Manchester Orchestra?)

On the other hand, the low critical scores for Vic Mensa's The Autobiography correlate with my disappointment, not that we necessarily agree as to why. Christgau liked his mixtapes, and there was at least something happening in There's Alot Going On. Not that there's nothing I like in Mensa's record; just a lot I don't. That contrasts, say, to Tyler the Creator's new Flower Boy, which was a total blank after one spin. I reckon that's an improvement given how offensive his early albums were. Got to it after the cutoff, so it's not in the list below -- nor is Lana Del Rey's Lust for Life, which I played a lot and like but wound up hedging. "God Bless America -- and All the Beautiful Women in It" may be the kindest patriotic anthem of the year, followed by "When the World Was at War We Kept Dancing" and "Beautiful People Beautiful Problems."

Milo Miles wrout about the remarkable Carl Craig album. Robert Christgau reviewed the Perceptionists and Oddissee (an earlier A- for me) at Noisey. Akmee and Alexander Hawkins are on Chris Monsen's 2017 Favorites list. Ergo, Led Bib, and several others were downloads I've been sitting on for a long time -- Roscoe Mitchell a more recent download. The Eddie Palmieri and Vieux Farka Touré albums are unlikely to disappoint their fans -- high HMs that might make the A- grade if I spent more time with them.

Finished adding the post-2000 vocalists to the Jazz Guide (currently 968 + 747 pages). Stalled when I got into post-2000 instrumentalists (currently 6% done). When I scrolled back to the top, I realized I needed to make some edits in the front matter -- in particular I changed the grade scale so that A or A+ is 10, A- 9, B+ 8-6, B 5, B- 4, C+ 3, C 2, C- or worse 1. I think this maps closer to my actual practice, where A/A+ grades have become extremely rare, as have sub-C grades. I asked several friends about this mapping and pretty much all of them wanted more spread on top (A- = 8) with adjustments shifting some higher grades up to 9 or 10, but I really needed something I could apply more mechanically. I also didn't mind cutting my artists and publicists a bit of slack here, while readers still have a useful curve: 10 is still pretty rare (especially post-2000), and 9 isn't very common (around 10% of the total, which is about what you'd expect in a decile system).

While editing I noticed that I started this project last August, so I've been working on it a full year, during which time I've done very little of the editing that will be needed if this ever sees the light of day, and nothing at all on several other possible book projects. Feels Sisyphean, even as time seems to be running out.

Already looks like it's going to be another good week for another Midweek Roundup. Last week I described Trump as having broke out of his cage and gone on a joyride -- evidence included promoting Anthony Scaramucci, purging Sean Spicer and Reince Priebus, and two of the most embarrassing and disgusting speeches in a career with little else -- but today the joyride ended in a crash as Scaramucci got fired. Now we're going to have to suffer through stories about how Marine General John Kelly restored order and discipline to the White House, as they buckle down on the great cause of "tax reform" -- a more efficient, and less damaging, way to feather the pockets of the very rich than repealing the ACA.

On the other hand, I may be pressed for time for a Sunday Weekend Roundup, as I have a dinner scheduled for Saturday. I've been planning for some time on doing a birthday-sized Korean menu, and will finally get the chance. (I started the classic cabbage kimchi months ago.) Perfect cuisine for a "birthday feast" with all the banchan -- small side dishes, kind of like tapas but they pretty much all get the same treatment. Art Protin told me I should do a full dinner report every few months, so I'll try to follow through on that.

I am trying harder to cook occasional small dinners for just us, and they've often been superb. Last week I made my first-ever lasagna, with sausage and lamb (recipe called for beef and veal, but I didn't find the latter and decided not to make a deep search). I was a bit disappointed in it (certainly compared to the pastitsio I made a while back), but the leftovers are good enough to eat cold, along with a little horiatiki salad.

New records rated this week:

  • Akmee: Neptun (2016 [2017], Nakama): [r]: B+(***)
  • Arcade Fire: Everything Now (2017, Columbia): [r]: A-
  • Richard Dawson: Peasant (2017, Domino): [r]: B
  • Ergo: As Subtle as Tomorrow (2013 [2016], Cuneiform): [dl]: B+(***)
  • Kevin Eubanks: East West Time Line (2017, Mack Avenue): [r]: B+(*)
  • Hal Galper and the Youngbloods: Live at the Cota Jazz Festival (2016 [2017], Origin): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Calvin Harris: Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1 (2017, Fly Eye/Columbia): [r]: B+(*)
  • Joel Harrison: Stump (2013 [2014], Cuneiform): [dl]: B+(***)
  • Alexander Hawkins: Unit[e] (2016-17 [2017], self-released, 2CD): [bc]: B+(**)
  • Paul Jones: Clean (2017, Outside In Music): [cd]: B
  • Steve Lacy: Steve Lacy's Demo (2017, Three Quarter, EP): [r]: B
  • Led Bib: The Good Egg (2013 [2014], Cuneiform): [dl]: B+(***)
  • Led Bib: The People in Your Neighborhood (2013 [2014], Cuneiform): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Let's Eat Grandma: I, Gemini (2016, Transgressive): [r]: B
  • Manchester Orchestra: A Black Mile to the Surface (2017, Loma Vista): [r]: B
  • Vic Mensa: The Autobiography (2017, Roc Nation): [r]: B-
  • Roscoe Mitchell: Bells for the South Side (2015 [2017], ECM, 2CD): [dl]: B+(***)
  • Mokoomba: Luyando (2017, OutHere): [r]: B
  • The Moonlandingz: Interplanetary Class Classics (2017, Transgressive): [r]: B
  • Sam Newsome: Sopranoville: Works for Prepared and Non-Prepared Soprano (2017, Some New Music): [r]: B+(*)
  • Oxbow: Thin Black Duke (2017, Hydra Head): [r]: B+(*)
  • The Ed Palermo Big Band: Oh No! Not Jazz!! (2014, Cuneiform, 2CD): [dl]: C
  • Eddie Palmieri: Sabiduria/Wisdom (2012 [2017], Ropeadope): [r]: B+(***)
  • The Perceptionists: Resolution (2017, Mello Music Group): [r]: A-
  • Vieux Farka Touré: Samba (2017, Six Degrees): [r]: B+(***)
  • Ralph Towner: My Foolish Heart (2016 [2017], ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • Reggie Young: Forever Young (2017, Whaling City Sound): [cd]: B+(*)

Old music rated this week:

  • Lisbon Improvisation Players: Motion (2002 [2004], Clean Feed): [r]: B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Carol Albert: Fly Away Butterfly (Cahara): September 1
  • Julian Gerstin Sextet: The One Who Makes You Happy (self-released): September 1
  • Tyshawn Sorey: Verisimilitude (Pi)
  • John Vanore: Stolen Moments: Celebrating Oliver Nelson (Acoustical Concepts): August 18
  • Matt Wilson: Matt Wilson's Honey and Salt (Palmetto): August 25

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Roscoe Mitchell: Bells for the South Side (2015 [2017], ECM, 2CD): B+(***)

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Weekend Roundup

I shot most of my war back on Thursday's Midweek Roundup, and have had limited time since then. But still I couldn't ignore these items:

Some scattered links:

  • Tariq Ali: Nawaz Sharif has gone. But Pakistan's high-level corruption survives:

    Sharif's party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, is fighting back, accusing the court of a vendetta -- which usually means that his billions could not buy a single judge. This is truly exceptional. Life in Pakistan has not been morally salutary for any of its citizens. The family politics represented by the Bhutto-Zardaris and their rivals, the Sharifs, is swathed in corruption. Each has learned from the other how best to conceal it, minimising paperwork and juggling accounts. Many years ago, when Benazir Bhutto was prime minister, she asked me what people were saying about her. "They're saying your husband is totally corrupt, but are not sure about how much you know . . ."

    She knew all right, and was not in the least embarrassed: "You're so prudish. Times have changed. This is the world we live in. They're all doing it. Politicians in every western country . . ." Her husband, the president-to-be Asif Ali Zardari, was imprisoned by Sharif, but no actual proof of corruption was discovered: Zardari's loyalty to his cronies was legendary, and they remained loyal in return. Sharif, it appears, has been less fortunate.

  • Dean Baker: How about a little accountability for economists when they mess up?

  • Robert A Blecker: Trump's "America first" strategy for NAFTA talks won't benefit US workers

  • Carole Cadwalladr: Al Gore: 'The rich have subverted all reason': Ten years after his documentary An Inconvenient Truth, Gore is back with a sequel and goes beyond simply remind us, "I told you so." One thing he's started looking at is the money:

    "I mean that those with access to large amounts of money and raw power," says Gore, "have been able to subvert all reason and fact in collective decision making. The Koch brothers are the largest funders of climate change denial. And ExxonMobil claims it has stopped, but it really hasn't. It has given a quarter of a billion dollars in donations to climate denial groups. It's clear they are trying to cripple our ability to respond to this existential threat."

    One of Trump's first acts after his inauguration was to remove all mentions of climate change from federal websites. More overlooked is that one of Theresa May's first actions on becoming prime minister -- within 24 hours of taking office -- was to close the Department for Energy and Climate Change; subsequently donations from oil and gas companies to the Conservative party continued to roll in. And what is increasingly apparent is that the same think tanks that operate in the States are also at work in Britain, and climate change denial operates as a bridgehead: uniting the right and providing an entry route for other tenets of Alt-Right belief. And, it's this network of power that Gore has had to try to understand, in order to find a way to combat it.

  • Alexia Fernandez Campbell: What McCain did was hard. What Murkowski and Collins did was much harder. I suppose McCain's vote to sink the so-called "skinny repeal" does qualify as "something useful for once" (a prospect I doubted when I cited Alex Pareene's I Don't Want to Hear Another Fucking Word About John McCain Unless He Dies or Actually Does Something Useful for Once). But McCain couldn't have cast the killing vote without Collins and Murkowski consistently voting against all of McConnell's ploys to repeal Obamacare -- in large part because they seem to be the only Republicans who actually care about the bottom-line assessments that the bills would deprive upwards of twenty million Americans of health insurance.

    Through all of this, the backlash against these two women senators was severe. Two House Republicans threatened them with violence.

    President Trump publicly shamed Murkowski on Twitter:

    Senator @lisamurkowski of the Great State of Alaska really let the Republicans, and our country, down yesterday. Too bad!

    Murkowski then got a call from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who reportedly threatened to punish Alaska's economy based on her health care vote, according to the Alaska Dispatch News.

    You might recall that Murkowski actually lost the Republican primary last time out to Tea Party fanatic Joe Miller, then beat Miller with a write-in campaign, so she's entitled to some independence (or maybe she's already written off the hardcore right). It will be interesting to see how much internecine blood is spilt over "repeal-and-replace" and other supposed Republican failures, but Reagan's so-called "eleventh commandment" has long vanished: it seems almost certain that each and every Republican who broke ranks even once will face right-wing primary challengers. Even more amusing is the pouting tantrum from John Daniel Davidson: I'm a conservative -- and I now see voting Republican is a waste of time: "The Obamacare fiasco reveals that once they are in power, Republicans in Washington refuse to deliver on their promises."

  • Tom Engelhardt: Bombing the Rubble: "Precision warfare? Don't make me laugh." Also: William D Hartung: The Hidden Costs of "National Security": "Ten ways your tax dollars pay for war -- past, present, and future>"

  • William G Gale: The Kansas tax cut experiment: Now that Sam Brownback's moving on to become Trump's Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom, a position that will better fit his sanctimonious twaddle and hopefully is powerless enough to limit how much real damage (as opposed to mere embarrassment) he does, the Brookings Institute is finally getting around to looking at his late, great signature tax scam (blessed in the beginning by none other than Arthur Laffer, his paid consultant). Some of the bullet points:

    • Under his plan, the tax rate on pass-through business income fell to 0. The idea was to boost investment, raise employment, and jump-start the economy.
    • The Kansas economy did not grow faster than neighboring states, the country itself, or even Kansas' own growth in previous years.
    • The experiment with tax policy was such a failure that a Republican controlled legislature not only voted to raise taxes, but did so over the veto of the governor.
    • Second, a lowered business income tax can be manipulated. While Kansas cut the tax rate on pass-through income to 0 in hopes of promoting economic activity, the growth simply didn't happen. In reality, many people in Kansas re-characterized income from labor into business-form in order to take advantage of the 0 percent tax rate.
    • There are other, more general, takeaways from the tax cut experiment. When Kansas cut taxes, its bond rating went down, and it had to cut central services such as education and infrastructure. After seeing this, a majority of Kansans decided they would not prefer to keep the tax cuts.
    • Therefore, another implication is that tax reform is not just about taxes, rather what taxes pay for. Taxes and spending are linked.

    The tax cuts threw the state into a permanent budget crisis, forcing spending cuts (and other desperate measures which ultimately weakened the state's credit rating) at a time when courts consistently found the state to be violating the requirement (part of the state constitution) to adequately fund local schools. As Republicans try to pass federal "tax reform" they'll be recycling many of the same nostrums Brownback used in Kansas, so beware.

  • Jack Gross: The American Model: Book review of James Q Whitman: Hitler's American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law. "What appears to be still difficult, even as it gets told in ever finer detail, is the simple and immense situation that America and Nazi Germany are two instantiations of a single history of white supremacist rule." It's well known that South Africa based its Apartheid legal system on America's Jim Crow laws. The Nazi case is less clear, but Hitler admired America in several respects -- white supremacy is the one detailed here. As I recall, he also saw America's advance across the continent as a model for his own Eastern conquests -- what we proclaimed as Manifest Destiny he called Lebensraum.

  • Jim Hightower: Fight for your right to fix your own iPhone: I'm not surprised that Apple is in the forefront of companies seeking to maximize their profits and control of customers by "repair prevention." Actually, I was recently was looking at a Microsoft Surface computer and read that you can't get into it to repair it without destroying the case -- one, I suspected, of many traits they copied from Apple. We live in an age where is it often cheaper to replace something than to repair it, which may be good for various companies but as a society it is wasteful and degrading.

  • Mike Konczal: This Small Regulation Shows Us How the Economy Could Work for Everybody: Part of Dodd-Frank the Republicans want to get rid of, because all that regulation limits the ability of big banks to goose up their profits by price-gouging and other fraudulent means.

  • Peggy Noonan: Trump Is Woody Allen Without the Humor: Unfair to Allen, of course -- I'd rather watch Interiors (possibly the most unfunny movie ever made, not merely the unfunniest by Allen) than a Trump rally speech -- but no one ever looked to Noonan for fair, or for that matter for insight. But as a piece of anti-Trump snark this rivals Maureen Dowd:

    He's not strong and self-controlled, not cool and tough, not low-key and determined; he's whiny, weepy and self-pitying. He throws himself, sobbing, on the body politic. He's a drama queen. It was once said, sarcastically, of George H.W. Bush that he reminded everyone of her first husband. Trump must remind people of their first wife. Actually his wife, Melania, is tougher than he is with her stoicism and grace, her self-discipline and desire to show the world respect by presenting herself with dignity.

    Half the president's tweets show utter weakness. They are plaintive, shrill little cries, usually just after dawn. "It's very sad that Republicans, even some that were carried over the line on my back, do very little to protect their president." The brutes. . . .

    His public brutalizing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions isn't strong, cool and deadly; it's limp, lame and blubbery. "Sessions has taken a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes," he tweeted this week. Talk about projection. . . .

    His inability -- not his refusal, but his inability -- to embrace the public and rhetorical role of the presidency consistently and constructively is weak.

    "It's so easy to act presidential but that's not gonna get it done," Mr. Trump said the other night at a rally in Youngstown, Ohio. That is the opposite of the truth. The truth, six months in, is that he is not presidential and is not getting it done. His mad, blubbery petulance isn't working for him but against him. . . .

    We close with the observation that it's all nonstop drama and queen-for-a-day inside this hothouse of a White House.

    Noonan closes with Anthony Scaramucci ("He seemed to think this diarrheic diatribe was professional"), without making the obvious point: that he's Trump's perfect "communications director" because he recapitulates Trump's own communications style -- just classed up a bit by extending Trump's third-grade vocabulary and grammar into puberty, as if that's all it's going to take to get the snooty sophisticates to stop laughing at him. Noonan cites historian Joshua Zeitz's comment: "It's Team of Rivals but for morons."

    Still, there is no reason to think that Noonan is transitioning into some kind of satirist. It's safe to say she's the same paid political hack she's been since Ronald Reagan signed her checks. What happened last week was that Trump, aided by Scaramucci, found a way to escape from his orthodox Republican chapperones and go out on a joyride. They did manage to ditch Reince Priebus, but while John Kelly will no doubt prove a sterner nanny, his job of containing Trump will likely prove taxing. Meanwhile, it's not just Noonan among the party hacks who are sounding alarms about Trump; e.g., Charles Krauthammer: Longing for a self-contained, impenetrable Trump:

    Transparency, thy name is Trump, Donald Trump. No filter, no governor, no editor lies between his impulses and his public actions. He tweets, therefore he is.

    Ronald Reagan was so self-contained and impenetrable that his official biographer was practically driven mad trying to figure him out. Donald Trump is penetrable, hourly.

    Wrong metaphor. Trump and Reagan were similar in one respect: neither had anything coherent going on between their ears, just chaos and bestial desires. The difference was that Reagan was an actor (and more importantly, a paid corporate spokesman) who could credibly read the scripts he was given, whereas Trump just improvises (often making shit up)-- not because he's any good at it but because all his life he's been a boss surrounded by ego-stroking sycophants. Krauthammer, like many conservatives, is upset over Trump's taunting of Jeff Sessions, who's been hard at work implementing the conservative agenda to undermine democracy and rig the justice system while Trump's been throwing his juvenile tantrums.

    Given how rare it is for such committed Republican cronies as Noonan and Krauthammer to break ranks, their attacks on Trump may mark the end of the honeymoon. Orthodox Republicans may not have liked Trump back in the primary season, but they figured he'd be manageable once he got the nomination, and they were suddenly delighted with him once he did the one thing they most coveted: winning. And indeed he has proven pliable in terms of policy and personnel, abandoning every shred of independent thinking he displayed during the campaign. As long as he was helping them get what they wanted, they could tolerate his idiosyncrasies. But evidently something has changed: not just that he's proving ineffective and unpopular -- the health care debacle is really more their fault than it is Trump's -- but that he's becoming needlessly dangerous and self-destructive.

  • Trita Parsi: The Mask Is Off: Trump Is Seeking War With Iran:

    President Donald Trump has made it clear, in no uncertain terms and with no effort to disguise his duplicity, that he will claim that Tehran is cheating on the nuclear deal by October -- the facts be damned. In short, the fix is in. Trump will refuse to accept that Iran is in compliance and thereby set the stage for a military confrontation. His advisers have even been kind enough to explain how they will go about this. Rarely has a sinister plan to destroy an arms control agreement and pave the way for war been so openly telegraphed.

    The unmasking of Trump's plans to sabotage the nuclear deal began two weeks ago when he reluctantly had to certify that Iran indeed was in compliance. Both the US intelligence as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency had confirmed Tehran's fair play. But Trump threw a tantrum in the Oval Office and berated his national security team for not having found a way to claim Iran was cheating. According to Foreign Policy, the adults in the room -- Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, and National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster -- eventually calmed Trump down but only on the condition that they double down on finding a way for the president to blow up the deal by October.

  • Matt Shuham: Trump Calls for 'Rough' Policing, Gives Blessing to Law Enforcement Abuses: Probably one of the ten scariest articles of the Trump era. Sure, there have been many instances where Trump looked to be endorsing ad-hoc violence against protesters, foreigners, other minorities -- why not suspected criminals? Well, because abuses eat at and eventually destroy the very notion that we live under a fair and equitable system of law and justice. And has become very clear over the past few years, what we have now is already way too permissive of police abuses. Indeed, quite a few police superintendents have come to recognize that bringing their forces under control is a major public relations concern. So what Trump is saying undermines responsible police as well as the entire system of justice, and helps to make American civil society coarser and more hateful.

    On the same speech: Dara Lind: Trump just delivered the most chilling speech of his presidency. In reaction, see: Cleve R Wootson Jr/Mark Berman: US police chiefs blast Trump for endorsing 'police brutality'.

  • Matt Taibbi: The Anthony Scaramucci Era Will Be Freakish, Embarrassing and All Too Short:

    In the space of a week, Trump's new press expert demonstrated that he a) didn't know how to hold off-the-record conversations b) didn't understand that cameras and microphones keep rolling even when the red light is off and c) doesn't bother to check the other public statements made by administration officials before he makes statements of his own. An alien crashed on earth and given a two-minute tutorial on dealing with reporters would have done a better job. . . .

    The Communications Director job in the Trump administration is a no-win job, because the real Communications Director is Trump's Twitter feed. The job that Scaramucci technically occupies is a thankless and redundant position that involves standing before reporters and reconciling avalanches of already-circulated lies, contradictions, and insulting/ignorant statements.

    Even a genius of the highest order couldn't make this work. Of course, Trump hasn't had geniuses available to him. The fourth-rate minds he has instead had in his employ just started raging trash-fires whenever they tried to logically explain Trump's utterances.

    They gave us statements like Kellyanne Conway's "alternative facts," or Katrina Pierson's bit about how Trump wasn't changing his position on immigration, but rather "changing the words that he is saying."

  • Matthew Yglesias: The most important stories of the week, explained: The Senate rejected three versions of ACA repeal; Trump named a new Chief of Staff; Trump kind of banned transgender military service; Trump feuded with his attorney general.

  • Reuters: US flies B-1B bombers over Korean peninsula after missile test: Not clear from the article whether they actually flew into North Korean air space, which would be daring the Koreans to shoot a plane down, dramatically escalating America's snit fit over North Korea's missile tests. Also: Tom Phillips: China and Russia have 'responsibility' for North Korea nuclear threat, says US. Reminds me that Casey Stengel once said that the secret to successful managing was keeping the guys who hate you (like North Korea) away from the ones on the fence (like Russia and China) -- a lesson Rex Tillerson never learned. The odds of Trump (or one of those generals he gives carte blanche to) doing something profoundly stupid over Korea have been steadily increasing -- much as it has with Iran (see Trita Parsi, above).

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Daily Log

Friday, July 28, 2017

Streamnotes (July 2017)

Pick up text here.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Midweek Roundup

Accumulated all this in half a week, and no doubt missed lots along the way. Will catch up a bit on Sunday, but I don't see much free time between now and then, and the supply seems to be fucking endless. My fellow Americans: you should be ashamed of yourselves.

Scattered links:

  • Dean Baker: Obamacare Isn't Just Dying, Trump and Republicans Are Trying to Kill It: Title could be phrased better. Although there is much room for improvement, Obamacare is only failing where political sabotage has kept it from being fully implemented (especially Medicaid expansion). Trump's predictions of failure depend mostly on his own administration's acts.

  • Dean Baker/Arjun Jayadev/Joseph Stiglitz: Innovation, Intellectual Property, and Development: A Better Set of Approaches for the 21st Century: CEPR publication.

  • Nina Burleigh: Alex Jones and Other Conservatives Call for Civil War Against Liberals.

  • Chris Cillizza: The 29 most cringe-worthy lines from Donald Trump's hyper-political speech to the Boy Scouts.

  • Esme Cribb: Scaramucci Vows to 'Kill All the F*cking Leakers' in Profanity-Laced Rant: And to think I was feeling uncomfortable watching Colbert doing his Italian mobster voices to paraphrase the new White House Communications Director, but once again satire gets gobsmacked by reality. Targets of the profanities include Steve Bannon and Reince Preibus as well as unnamed little people. For more, see Ryan Lizza: Anthony Scaramucci Called Me to Unload About White House Leakers, Reince Preibus, and Steve Bannon. Also: Amy Davidson Sorkin: When Anthony Scaramucci Fell in Love With Donald Trump:

    Perhaps Scaramucci admires Trump's knowledge of bankruptcy, perhaps especially moral bankruptcy, not as a degraded state but one in which some unprofitable principles can be written off and new, more marketable ones acquired. . . .

    Radical honesty doesn't seem like an option. Neither does actually useful information on the workings of the executive branch, or of Congress. When he was asked, on Friday, why he believed that the President would get "a win" on health care, he said, "The President has really good karma, O.K.? And the world turns back to him. He's genuinely a wonderful human being, and I think, as the members of Congress get to know him better and get comfortable with him, they're going to let him lead them to the right things for the American people. So, I think we're going to get the health care done."

  • Lucia Graves: John McCain had the chance to do the right thing on healthcare. He failed. I don't particularly begrudge the bipartisan standing ovation McCain received on returning to the Senate following surgery and a diagnosis of brain cancer. It is, after all, a famously collegial institution, and nothing counters ideological prejudices like personal contact. However, his purpose in returning was to advance a partisan scheme to deprive millions of Americans of affordable and effective health insurance while treating the richest Americans with a sizable tax break. And while McCain said that he was opposed to the act he voted to advance, he proved his bad faith both then and in a later vote (see Tara Golshan: McCain said he wouldn't vote for the Senate health care bill. 6 hours later, he did. The fact is that McCain is one of the great con artists in American political history, something the media have fallen for repeatedly. If you need a refresher, see Alex Pareene's post from February 17: I Don't Want to Hear Another Fucking Word About John McCain Unless He Dies or Actually Does Something Useful for Once -- since then the odds of him dying vs. doing something useful have gone up, but even then the odds of the latter were vanishingly slim. The only "useful thing" I can recall him doing was to derail Boeing's original tanker lease scam, but Boeing eventually managed to get their tankers bought -- after at least one Boeing executive went to jail. McCain's career low point was probably his sabre-rattling against Russia over South Ossetia in 2008 (while he was running for president), but the fact is that he's long been the most dangerous hawk in the Senate. As for everything else, he's just an ordinary right-wing Republican hack. David Foster Wallace missed an opportunity when he reprinted his McCain essay as a separate book instead of folding it into his previous collection, Interviews With Hideous Men.

    Also, from Charles P Pierce: The Price of John McCain's Republican Loyalty:

    It was an ugly day in the United States Senate on Tuesday, as ugly a day as has been seen in that chamber since the death of Strom Thurmond, who used to make a day ugly simply by showing up. The Senate took up the Motion To Proceed on whatever the hell hash Mitch McConnell wants to make out of the American healthcare system. . . . But the ugliest thing to witness on a very ugly day in the United States Senate was what John McCain did to what was left of his legacy as a national figure. He flew all the way across the country, leaving his high-end government healthcare behind in Arizona, in order to cast the deciding vote to allow debate on whatever ghastly critter emerges from what has been an utterly undemocratic process. He flew all the way across the country in order to facilitate the process of denying to millions of Americans the kind of medical treatment that is keeping him alive, and to do so at the behest of a president who mocked McCain's undeniable military heroism.

    As the last line indicates, and the rest of the article elaborates, Pierce is one of many who previously succumbed to an exaggerated opinion of McCain's forthrightness or integrity or heroism -- there is plenty of reason to deny all three. Still, Pierce may be right about where this thing ends. It is, as ever, a case where an ounce of prevention (or at least forethought) could have prevented a whole world of hurt:

    The Republicans have the votes now. Dean Heller and Rob Portman and Shelley Moore Capito have lined up with their party once, and the likelihood is their respective prices will be met again because this is not a policy issue any more, it is pure politics now, a promise made by an extremist majority to its unthinking base. That's what the end of this ugly day looked like, a day on which the final bloody death of Barack Obama's legacy was placed on the fast track by people who know better, and on which Susan Collins of Maine was more of a maverick than John McCain ever was. It was an ugly day in the U.S. Senate, and there was nothing but ruin everywhere you looked.

    Also: Mehdi Hasan: Despite What the Press Says, "Maverick" McCain Has a Long and Distinguished Record of Horribleness. By the way, here's John McCain's Tracking Congress in the Age of Trump vote card. To be fair, he has wavered a bit since getting diagnosed with brain cancer.

  • Ryan Grim: Steve Bannon Wants Facebook and Google Regulated Like Utilities: That actually makes a fair amount of sense, although I could come up with a better scheme based on non-profit public entities which would provide the same services without imposing ads on users. My favorite quote from the article:

    In 2011, Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., then the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, complained that Google had waited too long to hire an armada of lobbyists. . . . They have since caught up: In the first few months of the Trump administration, tech firms set new lobbying spending records in Washington.

    The latter probably became necessary because so many of them bet heavily on Hillary -- no need for lobbyists when you've already got the politicians in your pocket.

  • Cameron Joseph: Dem's New Slogan Is Lame, but GOP Is Giving Them a Populist Opening: Slogan is "A Better Deal," introduced by Chuck Shumer in (where else?) a New York Times Op-Ed, followed up by a press event involving Shumer and Nancy Pelosi. Unclear from this piece how the whole thing came about, but it starts to suggest some thinking along the lines of Newt Gingrich's 1994 "Contract" -- a hint of serious ambitions from a crew that more often seems bent on self-sabotage. I don't mind the slogan, but the actual platform could use some sharpening (see Corey Robin below), and it wouldn't hurt to come up with some more credible leadership than Shumer and Pelosi. (From a NYT letter: "Can it be a better deal, with the same familiar dealers?")

    One comment on this is Lee Drutman: The Real Civil War in the Democratic Party. He points out that it was relatively easy to find an agenda that Shumer, Pelosi, and left-favorite Elizabeth Warren could agree on, but that rank-and-file Democrats are much more divided -- he says:

    Among the Democratic rank-and-file, the more consequential divide is between those willing to trust the existing establishment and those who want entirely new leadership. It's a divide that Democratic Party leaders ignore at their peril.

    He goes on to babble nonsense about "political institutions" and the "pragmatism" of the Democratic Party establishment, but the real crux of the issue is that the Clintons and Obama, Shumer and Pelosi, cannot be trusted to deliver on their campaign promises, and indeed don't seem to be bothered by their repeated failures. On the other hand, they're quite effective at delivering favors to the interests that finance them.

  • Jamiles Lartey: 'I am livid': Donald Trump criticized for odd, disjointed speech to Boy Scouts.

  • Charlie May: Judge: Kris Kobach, vice chair of Trump's voter fraud commission, has been "misleading the Court": Much notice has been paid recently to how Trump's treated Jeff Sessions, the first member of the Senate to endorse Trump. Less so about Trump's other early endorsers -- with Sessions they'd pass for the four horsemen of the apocalypse: Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani, and Chris Christie -- none given positions in the new administration. But among lesser figures, take Kris Kobach, KS Secretary of State and the only elected Republican to endorse Trump before state caucuses here. Kobach famously showed up on Trump's doorstep with a binder of his brilliant ideas for running the country, but all he got was co-chair with Mike Pence on Trump's Election Integrity Commission, designed to play up Kobach's most scurrilous projects. That got him sued, in a case that he's repeatedly bumbled. And while he's also intent on running for governor of Kansas in 2018, Trump's appointment of Sam Brownback as pope of the State Department means Kobach will be running against an incumbent, Jeff Colyer. As the late Molly Ivins like to say, "lie down with dogs, get up with fleas" -- except with Trump it's worse, more like rats and bubonic plague (the fleas are just intermediary).

    By the way, the first clue about Trump was the nepotism. I should dig up Robert Townsend's quote on nepotism, but it's something like: if you practice nepotism, no first-rate people will ever work for you, because they'll know you're prejudiced against them, and you'll be stuck with your fucking worthless relatives.

    Also see, from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund: Sherrilyn Ifill: President Trump's Election Integrity Commission is illegal and unconstitutional -- that's why we filed a lawsuit.

  • Alex Pareene: It's Not Mitch McConnell's Fault That Your Ideas Are Bad and Hated: Written before McConnell engineered his vote to open Senate discussion of his secret Trumpcare bill, so his impulse to pardon McConnell may have been premature.

    Perhaps it is related to the mental block that causes them to regularly forget that the only reason a Republican is currently president is because he constantly and loudly promised not to be a conservative on issues like social insurance. Instead of confronting the implications of that victory, conservatives instead have responded like Trump's own budget director, who regularly brags that he is tricking the president into exchanging his (popular) non-conservative ideas for (unpopular) conservative ones.

    This is why it's absurd to blame Mitch McConnell. The role of the Senate is to be the place where popular things go to die -- in the popular (albeit fictional) account of our Founders' intentions, it acts as the "cooling saucer," where a good thing everyone likes (hot tea) becomes something you dump down the drain (old, room temperature tea). The rules of the Senate were perfected over many decades to turn it into a place where the will of the people is easily frustrated. It is extraordinarily difficult to get large, popular bills through the Senate. Imagine, then, how hard it must be to pass incredibly unpopular bills.

    Well, maybe not so hard, because Pareene seriously underestimates the contempt that Republican politicians have for voters they've found so easy to manipulate, and the fear they have of movement conservatives itching to primary them.

  • Heather Digby Parton: Trump's cynical jobs program: Dump your house, move somewhere else and work for less: "Maybe Trump supporters are glimpsing the truth: He has no plan to bring back high-paying jobs, and never did."

    The bottom line is that Trump doesn't care about American workers. His issue is with foreign competition for American companies, which isn't exactly the same thing. He said in a Republican primary debate, "We are a country that is being beaten on every front. Taxes too high, wages too high, we're not going to be able to compete against the world." His supporters had to pretend they didn't hear that: Their wages were too high.

  • Charles P Pierce: Sam Brownback Is Your New Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom: Remember The Peter Principle? It was a bestselling business book back in the 1970s that argued that people rise in organizations until they meet their level of incompetence, then they stay there. Brownback's appointment is evidence of an opposite corollary which rarely occurs in real life, but the only safety net Republicans believe in is one for their own failures, so the Trump administration sorted through all of their positions until they found the highest one where Brownback's incompetence will probably prove inconsequential. On the other hand, I suspect they've underestimated the Kansas governor, former senator, and almost instantly failed presidential aspirant. I mean, until now it's unlikely you've ever even heard that the US has an Ambassador at Large for Religious Freedom (the result of a 1998 law), so his acceptance has already made the US (and, let's face it, Trump) look more ridiculous. Brownback's chief qualification for this post is the fervor with which he's attempted to impose his own conservative Catholic religious beliefs on everyone else. But the cause of "religious freedom" has most often been invoked to defend bigotry and discrimination -- an interpretation that Brownback will be thrilled to adopt.

  • Corey Robin: A Party That Wants to Die but Can't Pull the Plug: "The Democratic Party is offering tax giveaways for corporations. So much for learning from its mistakes." Probably unfair to write the Democrats off for this one gaffe, but worth pointing out that it is wrong in multiple ways: it subordinates workers to business instead of giving them skills (as education would) they can use to get better jobs wherever suits them best; it sends the wrong message to business -- namely that politicians are eager to bribe them to do things they should be doing anyway; and it doesn't give workers the leverage they need to convert their training into better paying jobs (as, e.g., helping them join unions would). One problem that Democrats like Chuck Shumer have is that they're so used to sucking up to business they don't have any other ideas.

  • Marshall Steinbaum: Congressional Democrats Get Serious About Antitrust: Which would be a marked change from the Clinton and Obama administrations -- and, I agree, a necessary one:

    Antitrust must be a core component of any agenda that would address the slow economic growth, rising inequality, and wage stagnation that are our most pressing economic problems. At the root of all of these is the consolidation of corporate power. Corporate profits now account for over 15% of the economy's gross value-added, up from 5% in the early 1980s.

  • Hiroko Tabuchi: Rooftop Solar Dims Under Pressure From Utility Lobbyists: Just in the last couple years it's started looking like renewable electrical sources will get the upper hand over coal and gas (and for that matter nuclear), primarily due to dramatic cost reductions in solar panels. However, utility companies don't like distributed solar, coal and gas companies don't like competition, nor do domestic producers of solar panels (the cheapest are made in Asia). A government concerned about climate change would lean against those pressures, but Trump is likely to respond favorably to such lobbying. Those who laughed when Trump promised to bring coal jobs back might reconsider.

  • Matt Taibbi: Newly Released Documents Show Government Misled Public on Fannie/Freddie Takeover.

  • Trevor Timm: If Trump wants to fire Jeff Sessions, let him -- it would be a gift to America. One of the week's more popular stories has been Trump's tweet attacks on his attorney general for recusing himself from the Russia investigation instead of doing the right thing and protecting the president and his family. Trump's too self-absorbed to care, but after Sessions lied about his own Russia meetings, recusal was literally the least he could do. Still, Timm is right: although there'd be little change in replacing most of Trump's appointees with anyone else likely to get Trump's approval, Sessions is one appointee with his own well-defined agenda, and he's working hard to leave a huge gash through all of our previous expectations of what justice in America means. Also see: Jon Swaine: Why did Donald Trump turn on attorney general Jeff Sessions?.

  • Shaun Walker: Putin: Russia will retaliate if 'insolent' US lawmakers pass sanctions bill: Of course, American politicians think there's no risk in voting against Russia (not to mention Iran and North Korea), and maybe that's true as far as their own election prospects go. But they're making the world a more dangerous place.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28462 [28428] rated (+34), 364 [364] unrated (+0).

Very little new jazz in the queue, so I spent most of the week looking elsewhere -- including some old music by Taj Mahal and the late Larry Coryell following their latest albums. Seems like I'm increasingly diverging from Robert Christgau, although for once I like the Peter Perrett album more than he did (but Jay-Z less). He has yet to review my other A- records this week (Alison Krauss and Waxahatchee, though I'll be surprised if he doesn't like the latter). Only three records this week came from CDs.

On the Jazz Guides project, I managed to get 73% of the way through my Vocals 2000- file, bringing the 21st Century guide to 911 pages (vs. 746 for 20th Century). That's up 84 pages in one week. Some quick envelope math based on the remaining Jazz 2000- file suggests I'll wind up with about 1450 pages about three weeks into September. With some stragglers, probably best to nudge those figures out/up a bit: probably 750 + 1500 pages shortly after October 1. Assuming, of course, I keep at it reasonably hard, as I did last week.

I should publish Streamnotes on Friday or Saturday, before the usual Weekend Roundup and Music Week posts on Sunday and Monday (the last two days of July). Currently 121 records (94 new + 4 recent comps) in the draft file.

I filled out a ballot for the 82nd Annual DownBeat Readers Poll. So should you. Tried to spend as little time as possible here. Came up with this:

  • Hall of Fame: George Russell
  • Jazz Artist: Wadada Leo Smith
  • Jazz Group: Mostly Other People Do the Killing
  • Big Band: Satoko Fujii Orchestra
  • Jazz Album (since 2016-06-01): Houston Person & Ron Carter, Chemistry (HighNote -16)
  • Historical Album (since 2016-06-01): Don Cherry/John Tchicai/Irene Schweizer/Leonn Francioli/Pierre Favre, Musical Monsters (Intakt -16)
  • Trumpet: Wadada Leo Smith
  • Trombone: Steve Swell
  • Soprano Saxophone: Jane Ira Bloom
  • Alto Saxophone: François Carrier
  • Tenor Saxophone: Houston Person
  • Baritone Saxophone: Ken Vandermark
  • Clarinet: Michael Moore
  • Flute: Nicole Mitchell
  • Piano: Matthew Shipp
  • Keyboard: Craig Taborn
  • Organ: Gary Versace
  • Guitar: Mary Halvorson
  • Bass: William Parker
  • Electric Bass: Steve Swallow
  • Violin: Jenny Scheinman
  • Drums: Andrew Cyrille
  • Vibraphone: Jason Adasiewicz
  • Percussion: Hamid Drake
  • Miscellaneous Instrument: Erik Friedlander (cello)
  • Male Vocalist: Freddy Cole
  • Female Vocalist: Catherine Russell
  • Composer: Carla Bley
  • Arranger: Steven Bernstein
  • Record Label: Intakt
  • Blues Artist or Group: Taj Mahal
  • Blues Album (since 6/1/2016): David Bromberg Band, The Blues, the Whole Blues and Nothing but the Blues (Red House)
  • Beyond Artist or Group: Parquet Courts
  • Beyond Album (since 6/1/2016): A Tribe Called Quest, We Got It From Here . . . Thank You 4 Your Service (Epic/Sony)

That took about an hour, as compared to the 8-10 hours I usually spend on the Critics Ballot. I did look at my 2017 crib sheet about midway through, which encouraged me to be more consistent. I had also looked at Tim Niland's ballot, although I only wound up agreeing on 5-6 picks (for one thing, unlike Tim I didn't do any write-ins). The one thing that took some extra time was that I copied down the Album of the Year nominees, checked my grades, and added things I wasn't aware of to my 2017 music tracking file. I found that I haven't heard 40 of the nominated new jazz albums (of 126, so 31.7%). My grade breakdown was A: 1, A-: 12, ***: 17, **: 25, *: 19, B: 6, B-: 6.

I also copied down the nominated "historical albums": I've heard 9/43 (20.9%), which is probably better than in recent years (although the new album share is probably worse). I didn't bother with blues albums -- indeed, my pick there wasn't even an A- record. "Beyond" is a concept I don't find meaningful, even trying to pictures it from the magazine's jazz/blues perspective.

Recommended links:

New records rated this week:

  • 21 Savage: Issa Album (2017, Slaughter Gang/Epic): [r]: B+(n*)
  • Ryan Adams: Prisoner (2017, Blue Note): [r]: B+(*)
  • Big Boi: Boomiverse (2017, Epic): [r]: B+(***)
  • Benjamin Booker: Witness (2017, ATO): [r]: B+(***)
  • Larry Coryell's 11th House: Seven Secrets (2016 [2017], Savoy Jazz): [r]: B+(*)
  • Laszlo Gardony: Serious Play (Solo Piano) (2017, Sunnyside): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Haim: Something to Tell You (2017, Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • Arve Henriksen: Towards Language (2016 [2017], Rune Grammofon): [r]: B
  • J Hus: Common Sense (2017, Black Butter/Epic): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jay-Z: 4:44 (2017, Roc Nation): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jonwayne: Rap Album Two (2017, The Order Label): [r]: B+(***)
  • Alison Krauss: Windy City (2017, Capitol): [r]: A-
  • Brian Landrus Orchestra: Generations (2017, BlueLand): [cd]: B+(**)
  • Nikki Lane: Highway Queen (2017, New West): [r]: B+(**)
  • Carmen Lundy: Code Noir (2017, Afrasia Productions): [r]: B
  • Taj Mahal & Keb' Mo': TajMo (2017, Concord): [r]: B
  • Mura Masa: Mura Masa (2017, Polydor): [r]: B+(*)
  • Spoek Mathambo: Mzansi Beat Code (2017, TEKA): [r]: B+(*)
  • Ozomatli: Non-Stop: Mexico to Jamaica (2017, Cleopatra): [r]: B+(*)
  • Peter Perrett: How the West Was Won (2017, Domino): [r]: A-
  • Troy Roberts: Tales & Tones (2017, Inner Circle): [r]: B+(**)
  • Mavis Staples: I'll Take You There: An All-Star Concert Celebration (2014 [2017], Blackbird Production Partners, 2CD): [r]: B+(**)
  • Dave Stryker: Strykin' Ahead (2016 [2017], Strikezone): [cd]: B+(*)
  • Waxahatchee: Out in the Storm (2017, Merge): [r]: A-
  • Wizkid: Sounds From the Other Side (2017, Starboy/RCA): [r]: B+(**)

Old music rated this week:

  • Larry Coryell: Lady Coryell (1968 [1969], Vanguard): [r]: B
  • Larry Coryell: Introducing the Eleventh House With Larry Coryell (1972 [1974], Vanguard): [r]: B+(*)
  • Larry Coryell: The Restful Mind (1974 [1975], Vanguard): [r]: B+(***)
  • Taj Mahal: Taj Mahal (1968, Columbia): [r]: B+(***)
  • Taj Mahal: The Natch'l Blues (1968, Columbia): [r]: B+(***)
  • Taj Mahal: Happy Just to Be Like I Am (1971, Columbia): [r]: B+(**)
  • Rising Sons: Rising Suns Featuring Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder (1965-66 [1992], Columbia/Legacy): [r]: B

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Paul Jones: Clean (Outside In Music): August 4
  • Elan Pauer: Yamaha/Speed (Creative Sources)
  • Oliver Schwerdt: Prestige/No Smoking (Euphorium, 2CD)
  • Reggie Young: Forever Young (Whaling City Sound)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Weekend Roundup

I'm having a lot of trouble with websites making demands: that I pay them money, or sign up for things, or other demands I don't have the patience to parse. I understand that internet media businesses have a tough time making ends meet, and I'm not unsympathetic, but I'm not rich, and I'm not in the business of reporting on media, and I really hate where this is going: a world where information is locked up behind a handful of companies, where people have to decide something is worth paying for before they can find out whether it's worth anything at all. In such a world many people will only be able to read things that they value because they agree with, and most people will never read anything because the practical value of most information is vanishingly small. This is a hideous prospect promising a world that only grows more and more dysfunctional. Allowing paywalls to be bypassed by agreeing to look at tons of advertising only makes the information more untrustworthy and unappealing. Advertising may not be the root of all evil in America, but it's certainly contributed, especially by raising consumer manipulation to the level of a science.

I should probably compile a list of websites I'm boycotting -- or, effectively, that are boycotting me -- but I find the practice too annoying to obsess over. Looks like I should add the Washington Post to the list -- clicked on several pieces and all I get now are subscription screens. (The ad there started "I see you like great journalism" but the WP has rarely met that mark; e.g., see The Washington Post's War on Disability Programs Continues, and ask yourself: why should anyone pay these people money?) I'm especially annoyed at The Nation blocking me out, and have decided to stop linking to their articles. (We actually subscribe to the print edition of The Nation, which as I understand it entitles us to "full digital access" but I've never set that up before -- indeed, never had to.) I've started to avoid The New York Times and The New Yorker -- again, we pay them money for print editions, but they have "free article" counters, and I'd hate to waste my quota by looking at something stupid by David Brooks. We actually pay for quite a bit of print media, and my wife subscribes to digital things I don't even know about (and probably wouldn't be happy about if I did know). Still, we don't read so much or so widely because we find it entertaining or necessary for business. We do it because we're trying to be concerned, responsible citizens. And it sure looks like the goal of business in America is to make citizenship cost-prohibitive.

I'll add that I don't have paywalls, advertisements, or even any form of begware on my websites. I'm not paid for what I write, nor do I make any money off the occasional music discs I'm sent. I do this for free, and find that at least a few people find my analysis and information to be useful and worthwhile -- I guess that's my reward (that plus satisfaction in my craft). I even spend some money to make this possible, but I do feel the need to limit my losses. In this current media environment, that may mean limiting the sources I consult.

PS: Add Foreign Policy to that list, demanding about $90/year under the unsavory slogan, "Today, truth comes at a cost." The link I was following came from WarInContext: Trump assigns White House team to target Iran nuclear deal, sidelining State Department. This probably complements several links on Iran below.

Scattered links:

  • Binta Baxter: How the Student Loan Industry Is Helping Trump Destroy American Democracy: Also, how Trump's helping the student loan industry.

  • Cristina Cabrera: Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner Have Raked in $212 Million Since 2016.

  • Daniel José Camacho: Hillary Clinton is more unpopular than Donald Trump. Let that sink in: At least before the election, she polled better than Trump. You'd think she'd do even better after six months of Trump's non-stop scandals, but many recent polls show she'd still lose, and the Democrats have yet to register tangible gains by targeting Trump -- despite Trump's own favorability polling sinking into "worst ever" territory. Still, I'd take these polls with a grain of salt. Clinton's own favorability ratings have taken a hit partly because people who voted for her -- mostly people who would never have voted for Trump -- are still pissed at her for losing. As for the Democrats, they've yet to move on from her -- something that probably won't happen until the 2018 campaigns get seriously under way. Meanwhile, for all the scandal in Washington, there hasn't been a lot of evident everyday damage that most people can blame directly on Trump (immigrants are the exception here). Those things will compound over the next year -- something Democrats need to position themselves for.

  • Jonathan Cohn: Only 32 House Democrats Voted Against Reauthorizing Trump's Deportation Machine: Note, however, 9 Republicans also voted no.

  • Thomas Frank: The media's war on Trump is destined to fail. Why can't it see that? Wait, there's a "media war on Trump"? How can you tell? Didn't mainstream media gave Trump ten times as much coverage in 2016 as they did anyone else? The New York Times gave him an interview sandbox just last week. Sure, it made him look stupid, but doesn't that just play into his appeal? One might argue that Steven Colbert and Seth Myers are waging something like a war on Trump, but they're also catering to large niche market of people who can't stand Trump (and who have insomnia, possibly related). But mainstream media -- the so-called objective reporters -- are fatally compromised by corporate direction and an eye towards entertainment, and both of those factors have played into Trump while leaving the right-wing takeover of the Republican Party largely unexamined. One could imagine a responsible media going after Trump's administration, examining in depth the conflicts of interest, the money trails, the intense lobbying both of business fronts and other interests like the NRA and AIPAC -- and they needn't be partisan (all the better if they catch a few corrupt Democrats along the way). But that's not going to happen as long as the media is owned by a handful of humongous conglomerates. On the other hand, Trump's own war on the "fake news" media does seem to be working, if not to deter them from serious reporting, to reinforce the tendency of his believers to disregard anything critical they may come up with.

  • Glenn Greenwald/Ryan Grim: US Lawmakers Seek to Criminally Outlaw Support for Boycott Campaign Against Israel:

    The Criminalization of political speech and activism against Israel has become one of the gravest threats to free speech in the West. In France, activists have been arrested and prosecuted for wearing T-shirts advocating a boycott of Israel. The U.K. has enacted a series of measures designed to outlaw such activism. In the U.S., governors compete with one another over who can implement the most extreme regulations to bar businesses from participating in any boycotts aimed even at Israeli settlements, which the world regards as illegal. On U.S. campuses, punishment of pro-Palestinian students for expressing criticisms of Israel is so commonplace that the Center for Constitutional Rights refers to it as "the Palestine Exception" to free speech.

    But now, a group of 43 senators -- 29 Republicans and 14 Democrats -- wants to implement a law that would make it a felony for Americans to support the international boycott against Israel, which was launched in protest of that country's decades-old occupation of Palestine. The two primary sponsors of the bill are Democrat Ben Cardin of Maryland and Republican Rob Portman of Ohio. Perhaps the most shocking aspect is the punishment: Anyone guilty of violating the prohibitions will face a minimum civil penalty of $250,000 and a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison.

    Also see: Philip Weiss: Critics of US 'Israel Anti-Boycott Act' say even requests for information could expose citizens to penalties. For an example of a similar state bill, see Heike Schotten/Elsa Auerbach: National movement to silence BDS disguises itself in MA legislature as 'No Hate in Bay State' act.

    As this is happening, there are dozens of articles on the unfolding human catastrophe in Gaza; e.g. Gaza on Verge of Collapse as Israel Sends 2.2 Million People "Back to Middle Ages" in Electricity Crisis. There is also renewed violence in the West Bank; see: Jason Ditz: Six Killed, Hundreds Wounded as Violence Rages Across West Bank; Sheren Khalel: Three settlers stabbed to death and three Palestinians shot dead in turmoil over security measures at al-Aqsa mosque compound; also always useful to check out Kate's latest press compilation.

  • Benjamin Hart: Obamacare and the Limits of Propaganda:

    But now, Republicans control every lever of the federal government, and any illusion that replacing Obamacare would be simple has been well and truly shattered. Instead, the relentless news coverage around health care has finally revealed Republicans' philosophy on the issue: nothing more than knee-jerk opposition to the previous president combined with an overwhelming desire to cut taxes for wealthy Americans.

    And by thus far rejecting any reasonable fixes to the law, the GOP has inadvertently helped drag the American public to the left. A recent Pew survey found that 60 percent of Americans now believe that government has a responsibility to ensure health care for its citizens, the highest number in a decade. That includes 52 percent of Republicans with family incomes below $30,000, up from 31 percent a year ago.

    Propaganda works best when the enemy it conjures is hazy and easily caricatured; it works less well when everyday reality intrudes. Americans have now gotten a taste of what citizens in other industrialized nations have long become accustomed to, and they don't want less of it. They want more.

  • John Judis: The Conflict Tearing Apart British Politics: An Interview With David Goodhart: Judis' interviews have generally been interesting, but this one gets pretty stupid. Goodhart's distinction between Somewheres and Anywheres isn't ridiculous -- certainly they're more neutral terms than Provincials and Cosmopolitans, but that's pretty much what they boil down to. On the other hand, the way he maps British partisan politics onto his concepts is scattered and arbitrary, obviously intent primarily on marginalizing Jeremy Corbyn, who he clearly detests on all levels:

    Jeremy Corbyn probably represents the view of about five percent of the British people, but a lot of naïve people don't remember the 1970s and the 1980s and the thing called the Soviet Union. They live in this ahistorical world. Even older people who are not so naïve and realize that Jeremy Corbyn was not to their taste in almost every respect nonetheless planned to vote for him as a protest against Brexit on the assumption that he was not going to be prime minister. The things that pushed him up, gave him twelve points more than were expected, were the very high turnout of the blob youth left, the hard core Remainers, and enough of the blue collar voters coming back to Labour on anti-austerity grounds. . . .

    I think the traditional Labour coalition has blown apart, but on a one-off basis Jeremy Corbyn has managed to stitch it back together sufficiently to give him the uplift of ten percent in the vote. By going helter skelter for the educated or semi-educated youth vote and playing on the soft left ideology that so many kids come out of the university with, combined with this bribe to abolish student tuition fees, he is shoring up for his own political ends, the middle class welfare state. So he has this huge uplift of the student vote and enough of the blue-collar vote, but it's a one-off and I think Labour is still on the road to oblivion as a party.

    I don't know anything more about Goodhart -- e.g., I have no idea why he should be considered some sort of expert on UK politics -- but he seems like a prime example of neoliberalism, especially in his disdain for "the middle class welfare state" and his painting anything government might do to help out any but the poorest of citizens as a "bribe" -- and needless to say the poor who still do get some paltry dole will also face a substantial helping of shame. The left's counter to this is to establish a set of rights which raise everyone up.

    Goldhart's view of Labour as a declining, obsolescent political force seems to be stuck in the "end of history" fantasies prevalent in the US/UK after the collapse of Communism. Until the fall, the ruling capitalists in the West at least had a healthy fear of worker revolution, and therefore sought to make society and economy more palatable. After the collapse, they lost that fear, and went on a binge of greed that still hasn't subsided, even though they seemed to trip up severely with the 2008 meltdown. Meanwhile, the left tried to rethink and regroup. A recent, interesting piece on this is: Tim Barker: The Bleak Left. I haven't finished it, and have my own ideas which gradually formed as I was trying to write about post-capitalism in the late 1990s. One of the first things I did was to jettison Marx, reinterpreting his revolutionary impulses not as early-proletarian but as late-bourgeois. Paraphrasing Benjamin on Baudellaire, I saw him (and later Marxists) as "secret agents, of the bourgeoisie's discontent with its own rule." That brought me back to equality as the foundation seed both of liberal politics and any just society. No way to properly unpack this here, but given recent trends toward extreme inequality (thanks mostly to neoliberalism, although inherited money also has much to do with it, especially on the US right) it isn't at all surprising that the left would reform to countervail, and that it would draw both on liberal and on socialist traditions to do so.

  • Sam Knight: Trump's Environmental Protection Pick Is BP's Former Lawyer -- and May Preside Over Cases Involving BP.

  • Mike Konczal: "Neoliberalism" isn't an empty epithet. It's a real, powerful set of ideas. Centrist Democrats are getting touchy about being called "neoliberal" -- even in The Nation I've seen Danny Goldberg (link, if you can read it, here) insist that the left stop using the term. He doesn't offer an alternative, but the first one that pops into my mind is "corporate stooges" -- "neoliberal" at least suggests some degree of coherence and integrity. Konczal tries to sketch out how that ideology developed historically, going back to Charles Peters' 1983 "A Neoliberal's Manifesto." Since then, adherents have preferred to call themselves New Democrats (or New Labour in Britain), while British critics have tended to use neoliberal for macroeconomic policies that promoted free flow of capital and trade while forcing governments to adopt austerity, with no linkages to other issues (thus, for instance, one could be neoliberal on economic policy, neoconservative on war, and either liberal or conservative on social issues). However, at present neoliberalism is a cleavage line that splits Democrats -- even if Clinton had to compromise on trade and college tuition to secure the 2016 nomination. Indeed, neoliberal only became an epithet as it became clear that its promises of widespread prosperity turned out to be not just hollow but fraudulent.

  • Richard Lardner: Lawmakers Announce Bipartisan Deal on Sweeping Russia Sanctions Bill: Proves two things: (1) nothing brings a nation together like a shared enemy, even a phony one; and (2) the Democrats have still not made a serious review of America's habit of imperial power projection, even though it objectively hurts both their base and their political message. A crude way to understand the latter point is that the only times Republicans join with Democrats is when they intuit that doing so hurts (and helps disillusion) the Democratic Party base. Democrats wouldn't have to go full isolationist to turn the corner on the neocon fetish with single-power projection that has dominated US policy since the mid-1990s. (The Iraq regime change vote marked their ascendancy, again keyed to take advantage of an enemy Democrats wouldn't doubt.) Democrats could, for instance, revert to their early beliefs in international law and institutions -- a belief that led to the UN, an organization the neocons have managed to totally marginalize (except when they can use it). That reminds me of a third point: this bill again testifies to the singular anomaly of US subservience to Israel. You'd think at the very least that Democrats would defend Obama's nuclear deal with Iran, but their allegiance to Israel trumps party loyalty.

    One should note that while Congress is limiting Trump's power to reduce international tensions by curtailing sanctions, that same body is evidently giving Trump a free hand to start any war that strikes his fancy. See (if you can): John Nichols: Paul Ryan Hands Donald Trump a Blank Check for Endless War.

  • Dylan Matthews: President Trump's essentially unlimited pardon power, explained: Reports are that Trump has already started discussing using his pardon powers to obstruct the Russia investigation. Can he do that? Yes. Would that be grounds for impeachment? Probably. Will the Republican congress act on that? Nope. Also, where early reports merely stated that Trump was asking about his pardon powers, now he seems to have gotten the answer he wants: Cristina Cabrera: Trump Asserts His 'Complete Power' to Pardon. On the other hand, Laurence Tribe argues No, Trump can't pardon himself. The Constitution tells us so.

  • Caitlin MacNeal: Spicey's Greatest Hits: Trump spokesman Sean Spicer resigned this week, after Anthony Scaramucci was appointed as White House Communications Director. Link has videos of some of Spicer's more famous gaffes, but his root problem was the material he had to work with, and the so-called journalists who cover the presidency and can't seem to dig deeper than press briefings and Trump's twitter feed. Scaramucci is a hedge fund guy, which makes you wonder what he's doing slumming in the White House staff. His first job, of course, was to clean up his own twitter history: Cristina Cabrera: Scaramucci on Twitter Deletion Spree.

  • Tom McKay: Trump Nominates Sam Clovis, a Dude Who Is Not a Scientist, to be Department of Agriculture's Top Scientist: But he did work as host of a right-wing talk show back in Iowa.

  • Heather Digby Parton: Trump rejects his poll numbers as fake news -- but even his voters are starting to notice the scam.

  • John Quiggin: Can we get to 350ppm? Yes we can: A relatively optimistic forecast on climate change, based largely on recent technological trends like much cheaper solar power, but noting various risks, and assuming "the absence of political disasters such as a long-running Trump presidency." Links to a contrasting, downright apocalyptic view, not specifically linked to Trump: David Wallace-Wells: The Uninhabitable Earth.

  • Lisa Rein: Interior Dept. ordered Glacier park chief, other climate expert pulled from Zuckerberg tour

  • Sam Sacks: Trump Kicks Off Voter Fraud Commission With Innuendo That States Are Hiding Something. Kris Kobach's voter suppression racket is one of the most disgusting of Trump's programs. Still, it's rather a shock to see Trump so personally involved with it.

  • Matt Taibbi: What Does Russiagate Look Like to Russians? Kind of like Americans are war-crazed fanatics whose hatred of Russia is less ideological than genetic?

    For journalists like me who have backgrounds either working or living in Russia, the new Red Scare has been an ongoing freakout. A lot of veteran Russia reporters who may have disagreed with each other over other issues in the past now find themselves in like-minded bewilderment over the increasingly aggressive rhetoric.

    Many of us were early Putin critics who now find ourselves in the awkward position of having to try to argue Americans off the ledge, or at least off the path to war, when it comes to dealing with the Putin regime.

    There's a lot of history that's being glossed over in the rush to restore Russia to an archenemy role.

    For one, long before the DNC hack, we meddled in their elections. This was especially annoying to Russians because we were ostensibly teaching them the virtues of democracy at the time.

    The case in point was Boris Yeltsin's 1966 campaign, where "three American advisers [were] sent to help the pickling autocrat Yeltsin devise campaign strategy." Yeltsin then created the corrupt oligarchy we like to blame on Putin.

    Evidently, one of the rarest skills in the world is the ability to imagine how other people view us.

  • Trevor Timm: ICE agents are getting out of control. And they are only getting worse: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (not sure why the article refers to them as "Ice" rather than "ICE"). They've had the legal authority, for some time, so all Trump had to do to crank them up was "take the shackles off" ("eerily echoing the CIA's comments post-9/11 that they would 'take the gloves off' in response to the terrorist attack"). Of course, Trump is doing more: "stripping away due process protections for arrested immigrants via executive order, the US justice department has even attempted to cut off legal representation for some immigrants."

  • Robin Wright: Is the Nuclear Deal With Iran Slipping Away? Also on Iran: Trita Parsi: War with Iran is back on the table -- thanks to Trump. By the way, Parsi, who wrote the definitive book on why Israel decided to pump Iran up as "an existential threat" (Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States) has a new book Losing an Enemy: Obama, Iran, and the Triumph of Diplomacy.

  • Matthew Yglesias: The most important stories of the week, explained: the Obamacare repeal push died, then came back; John McCain has brain cancer; Donald Trump said some things; House Republicans released a budget plan. Other Yglesias pieces: Trump's new communications director used to call him an anti-American hack politician (not any more: see Cristina Cabrera: Scaramucci on Twitter Deletion Spree); Trumpcare still isn't dead; A new interview reveals Trump's ignorance to be surprisingly wide-ranging; The latest Trump interview once again reveals total disregard for the rule of law; Trump is mad Democrats didn't work with him on health care, but he never tried. Also, here's a Yglesias tweet:

    Look, just because Sessions hasn't actually been convicted of a crime is no reason we can't start seizing his property now.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Music Week

Music: Current count 28428 [28390] rated (+38), 364 [361] unrated (+3).

Sad to note that Joe Fields, still active at 88, died last week. Since the 1960s, when he started out with Prestige Records, he has been responsible for an extraordinary number of great mainstream jazz records. He founded a series of labels -- Cobblestone, Muse, Onyx, High Note, and Savant, running the latter two with his son Barney since 1996. Along the way he cultivated many artist careers -- perhaps most notably, Houston Person started with him at Prestige and followed him through Muse and High Note. If Fields had a signature, it was picking up artists discarded from major labels and giving them second (or third) careers.

Pending queue only has six albums in it, including the four that arrived last week. I only reviewed three records from CD last week (two came up A- after I played them a dozen or more times -- the other A- got three spins on Napster). Still, a pretty high rated count, so not much else got that kind of attention -- and the six EPs went especially fast.

As promised, I got into the download queue last week: 10 albums, mostly from ECM, none as good as Craig Taborn's Daylight Ghosts last week. I probably have another dozen saved up, and could dig up more if I went through my mail (although some may have expired). A few of the items below came from mid-year lists by Phil Overeem and Matt Rice (linked to last week). Others came from thumbing through the August DownBeat.

The latter has their 65th Annual Critics Poll results, which I voted in and annotated my ballot back in April. Especially pleased to see Don Cherry and Herbie Nichols added to their Hall of Fame (along with George Gershwin and Eubie Blake -- no complaints there either; the latter three came from their Veterans Committee). The category winners -- minus a few I care less about; RS = Rising Star; in parens: first number is my 1-2-3 pick (if winner on my ballot), otherwise my pick and finish (if on list); ergo: (1) means my pick won:

  • Trumpet: Wadada Leo Smith (1); RS: Taylor Ho Bynum (1).
  • Trombone: Steve Turre (8 Roswell Rudd); RS: Marshall Gilkes (9 Joe Fiedler).
  • Soprano Saxophone: Jane Ira Bloom (8 Sam Newsome); RS: Christine Jensen (16 Mike Ellis).
  • Alto Saxophone: Rudresh Mahanthappa (François Carrier); RS: Matana Roberts (13 Dave Rempis).
  • Tenor Saxophone: Charles Lloyd (14 David Murray); RS: Noah Preminger (5 Ellery Eskelin).
  • Baritone Saxophone: Gary Smulyan (4 Hamiet Bluiett); RS: Dave Rempis (5 Gebhard Ullmann).
  • Clarinet: Anat Cohen (5 Ben Goldberg); RS: Oscar Noriega (19 Avram Fefer).
  • Piano: Kenny Barron (Irène Schweizer); RS: Kris Davis (1).
  • Guitar: Mary Halvorson (2; 8 Marc Ribot); RS: Gilad Hekselman (Samo Salamon).
  • Bass: Christian McBride (6 William Parker); RS: Eric Revis (7 Ingebrigt Håker Flaten).
  • Violin: Regina Carter (8 Jason Kao Hwang); RS: Sara Caswell (10 Szilard Mezei).
  • Drums: Jack De Johnette (Gerry Hemingway); RS: Jeff Ballard (20 Paal Nilssen-Love).

Looking back, several of my picks were just whims. I probably should have voted for Bloom over Newsome, and I can't fault De Johnette (cf. this week's record -- drumming is amazing there, something I can't imagine anyone else matching) or Revis, or begrudging any recognition of Barron. Rempis started on alto, but I think his tenor sax is his main instrument now -- still, I don't think of him on baritone at all, so that came as a surprise. Two of my picks were write-ins (Schweizer and Salamon -- both serious ballot omissions), so of course they didn't finish. Smith and Halvorson also won other categories, so they were featured in articles.

Preminger was well down my list at tenor sax (a long list), but he's put together a fine series of relatively mainstream albums (two A-, one ***, two **), so I shouldn't be surprised that he's getting some recognition. I also credit Mahanthappa with six A- (or in one case A) albums, so he's a pretty reasonable pick (albeit in a real competitive category: Carrier has 10 A- records, Anthony Braxton 19, Steve Lehman 5 + 3 in Fieldwork + 1 with Mahanthappa [the A], not that I counted before voting).

Continuing to make progress on compiling my jazz reviews into two guides: a haphazard retro-survey of the 20th century, and a somewhat more systematic guide to post-2000 (21st century) jazz. I started by collecting the reviews from their various column sources into a huge text file. Since then I've been scanning through my database files, adding dates and instruments where I had them, pulling out whatever reviews I had, and adding any other rated but unreviewed records. It took many weeks to work through Jazz '80s-'90s (1516 artists). Since then, I picked up three much shorter files: Latin Jazz (147), Pop Jazz (249), and Avant-Garde (156).

The pop jazz list was rather depressing, as it is far from comprehensive: in fact, mostly concentrated in the early Jazz CG days (2004-06) after which it became clear that I wasn't likely to review those records favorably. It would probably be easier to cut them out than it would be to cover them anywhere near as comprehensively as I cover mainstream and avant jazz. One saving grace was that it lowered the grade curve, although probably not significantly.

The "avant-garde" list was more interesting, but again is far from comprehensive. The definition I tended to follow was AMG's genre classification, which itself stradled minimalism, experimental rock, and modern (or, a term I prefer, post-classical) composition, but only rarely avant-jazz. I tried to take an interest in such music back in the 1970s, so one thing I noticed was that several dozen LPs I vaguely recall never got into the database (e.g., I probably had five or so albums by Karlheinz Stockhausen, but none were listed). On the other hand, the "shopping list" included quite a few albums from Kyle Gann's 1998-99 Consumer Guides -- most by people I hadn't heard of otherwise.

The compilation files are now up to 746 pages (20th century, 288k words) and 827 pages (21st century, 403k words). There are a few odds and ends that I've been including but were tucked away in odd database files (e.g., Astor Piazzolla in "latin," John Fahey in "folk"), but basically the 20th century compilation is about as large as it's going to get. Page sizes are different, but that probably makes it about 25% of the size of The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings -- a human impossibility to match. On the other hand, the 21st century book will continue to grow, perhaps considerably. The Jazz (2000-) file will add 2248 artists, and Vocals (2000-) has another 484 artists.

Back in April I estimated that I might have the compilation done sometime from August to October. Looks like the most I can do in a day is about 150 artists, so I'm looking at another 20 days actual work time -- for various reasons I've had trouble spending more than 4 days/week on this, so let's figure another 5 weeks. Labor Day? Maybe. Not sure what happens then, but I'll try to convert it to some distributable format. Still needs a massive amount of editing to be publishable. Don't know when/if that will ever happen.

New records rated this week:

  • John Abercrombie Quartet: Up and Coming (2016 [2017], ECM): [dl]: B+(*)
  • Sebastien Ammann: Color Wheel (2015 [2017], Skirl): [cd]: A-
  • Theo Bleckmann: Elegy (2016 [2017], ECM): [dl]: B+(*)
  • Jaimie Branch: Fly or Die (2017, International Anthem): [r]: B+(**)
  • Charly Bliss: Guppy (2017, Barsuk): [r]: B+(**)
  • Avishai Cohen: Cross My Palm With Silver (2016 [2017], ECM): [r]: B+(**)
  • Jack DeJohnette/Larry Grenadier/John Meddeski/John Scofield: Hudson (2017, Motéma): [r]: A-
  • Bill Frisell/Thomas Morgan: Small Town (2016 [2017], ECM): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Golden Pelicans: S/T (2014, Total Punk, EP): [r]: B+(***)
  • Golden Pelicans: Oldest Ride Longest Line (2015, Total Punk, EP): [r]: B+(**)
  • Golden Pelicans: Disciples of Blood (2017, Goner, EP): [r]: B+(***)
  • Giovanni Guidi: Ida Lupino (2015 [2016], ECM): [dl]: B+(*)
  • Benedikt Jahnel Trio: The Invariant (2016 [2017], ECM): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Sean Jones: Live From Jazz at the Bistro (2017, Mack Avenue): [r]: B+(*)
  • Aaron Parks/Ben Street/Billy Hart: Find the Way (2015 [2017], ECM): [dl]: B+(*)
  • Nicki Parrott: Dear Blossom: A Tribute to Blossom Dearie (2017, Arbors): [r]: B+(*)
  • Nicki Parrott: Unforgettable: The Nat King Cole Songbook (2016 [2017], Venus): [r]: B+(**)
  • Chris Potter: The Dreamer Is the Dream (2016 [2017], ECM): [dl]: B+(*)
  • Karriem Riggins: Headnod Suite (2017, Stones Throw): [r]: B+(**)
  • Louis Sclavis: Asian Fields Variations (2016 [2017], ECM): [dl]: B+(*)
  • Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah: Ruler Rebel (2017, Stretch Music/Ropeadope): [r]: B+(**)
  • Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah: Diaspora (2017, Stretch Music/Ropeadope): [r]: B+(**)
  • Sex Mob: Cultural Capital (2016, Rex): [r]: B+(**)
  • ShitKid: ShitKid (2016, PNKSLM, EP): [bc]: B-
  • ShitKid: EP 2 (2017, PNKSLM, EP): [bc]: B
  • ShitKid: Fish (2017, PNKSLM): [bc]: B+(*)
  • Rotem Sivan: Antidote (2017, Alma): [r]: B+(**)
  • Bria Skonberg: With a Twist (2017, Okeh): [r]: B+(*)
  • Tomasz Stanko New York Quartet: December Avenue (2016 [2017], ECM): [dl]: B+(**)
  • Katie Thiroux: Off Beat (2016 [2017], Capri): [cd]: A-
  • Florian Wittenberg: Don't Push the Piano Around (2017, NurNichtNur): [cd]: B+(**)

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

  • Miracle Steps: Music From the Fourth World 1983-2017 (1983-2017 [2017], Optimo): [bc]: B+(***)
  • Allen Ravenstine + Albert Dennis: >Terminal Drive (1975 [2017], Smog Veil, EP): [dl]: B

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Satoko Fujii/Natsuki Tamura: Kisaragi (Libra)
  • Hal Galper and the Youngbloods: Live at the Cota Jazz Festival (Origin)
  • Laszlo Gardony: Serious Play (Solo Piano) (Sunnyside)
  • Brian Landrus Orchestra: Generations (BlueLand): July 28

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Weekend Roundup

Might as well go back to my original title, since this week I have more comments (albeit fewer than usual links), and "Week Links" never was a very good title. Browser limits are still keeping me from seeing as much as I used to, but now that I've figured out how to work around a couple serious bugs in Chromium I'm getting more done. Mostly rounded these up on Saturday -- good thing since I chewed up most of Sunday cooking a small dinner-for-two (a cut-back version of jambalaya) and doing some tree trimming (much too hot here to do that).

Getting very close to the end of Bernie Sanders' Our Revolution: A Future to Believe In. First half is a campaign journal where it turns out he was as delighted meeting us as we were finding him. Second is a policy manual which doesn't venture as far as I would but strikes me as a well-reasoned merger of the viable and the practical. I really don't get people who see him as too idealistic, or as too compromised. One thing that's missing is any real treatment of foreign policy. Some ambitious Democrat needs to stake out a radical shift there, returning to the belief in international law that Wilson and Roosevelt advocated, while paring back America's penchant for military and/or clandestine intervention. But while he touches most other bases, I do believe that Bernie is correct that inequality is the central political issue of our times, and the more we do on that, the better most other things will become.

Scattered links:

  • Dean Baker: Obamacare is only 'exploding' in red states: Most of the problems with ACA private insurance exchanges are concentrated in states with Republican governors/legislatures, who were also culpable for failing to expand Medicaid, leaving millions of poorer Americans without health care insurance. "Where Republican governors have sought to sabotage the program, they have largely succeeded. Where Democratic governors have tried to make the ACA work, they too have largely succeeded." That Trump thinks ACA is a disaster says more about the bubble he gets his information from.

  • Dean Baker: How Rich Would Bill Gates Be Without His Copyright on Windows? Gates' personal fortune is estimated at $70 billion, and the copyright is at the root of that, followed by various patents and business practices that led to Microsoft's conviction for violating antitrust laws -- the last major antitrust case any administration in Washington bothered to prosecute. As so-called intellectual property goes, copyright is a minor problem, as long as we're talking about works of art -- the latest extended terms are way too long, and we would be better off with a program to buy up older copyrights and move work into the public domain. Copyright of software code has rarely proved a problem: what killed Novell's efforts to produce a compatible DOS wasn't copyright: Microsoft's illegal/predatory business practices protected their monopoly. The real alternative is free software, which has been very successful even without public funding -- fairly modest investments there would pay huge dividends to the public. Baker also talks about patents, which are a much more daunting problem, even beyond their obvious costs. ("The clearest case is prescription drugs where we will spend over $440 billion this year for drugs that would likely sell for less than $80 billion in a free market.") Patents allow owners to stake out broad claims and sue others for infringement even when the latter developed innovations completely independently. Patents made more sense when they protected capital investments for manufacturing, but that's never the case for software patents -- they exist purely to line corporate pockets by harassing potential competition (including from free software).

  • Cristina Cabrera: Poll: Majority of Republicans Now Say Colleges Are Bad for America: The poll question is are colleges and universities having a "negative effect on the way things are going in the country." In 2015, 37% of Republicans thought that; today 58%. Before 2015, the Republican figures were relatively stable (56% favorable in 2010, 54% in 2015), and Democrats have become slightly more favorable, 65% in 2010, 72% today. The shift in Republican views coincided with the realization that the Republican presidential primaries would turn into contests between dumb and dumber, where candidates competed to show how little they understood the modern world and how everything worked (or, increasingly often, didn't work). As I recall, the first to stake out an anti-college position was Rick Santorum, and at the time I found his position shocking. For starters, it ignores the fact that we completely depend on science and advanced technology for nearly every aspect of our way of life -- what happens to us when we stop educating smart people to develop and maintain that technology? Nor is it just technology: the right's prejudices have a tough time surviving any form of open debate -- which is why conservatives have increasingly retreated into their own private institutions. Still, this is anomalous: colleges have always been institutions of, by, and for the elites, dominated by old money while occasionally opening the doors to exceptionally talented outsiders -- especially ones eager to join the system (Clinton and Obama are obvious examples, ones that have left an especially bitter taste for Republicans). And while the post-WWII expansion opened those doors wider for middle class Americans, if anything the trend has reversed lately, as prohibitive pricing is making college more elitist again. Still, this shows an increasingly common form of disconnect between Republican elites and masses: the latter are driven mostly by pushing their hot buttons, and all they have to do is get people so worked up they won't realize the incoherency of anti-elite and anti-diversity positions, or the fact that the rich still have their legacy privileges, so will be the last to be deprived of higher education's blessings.

  • Jason Ditz: House Approves $696 Billion Military Spending Bill: Includes $75 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations, which is subject to change if Trump approves more "surges." Of all Trump's budget changes, more Defense spending struck me as the easiest to pass, because the War Lobby extends beyond Republicans and well into the Democratic Party. More Ditz pieces: House NDAA Amendments Would Limit US Participation in Yemen War; Trump Wants Authority to Build New Bases in Iraq, Syria.

  • Dahlia Lithwick: Trump's election commission has been a disaster. It's going exactly as planned.

    As Kobach put it to Ari Berman last month, his whole master plan for world dominion was so simple: to create in Kansas -- where he is running for governor and has been secretary of state for a number of years -- a template for programmatic vote suppression nationwide. If he created "the absolute best legal framework," other states and the federal government would follow. Somehow, though, Trump's "election integrity" commission turned into one of the most colossal cockups in an administration already overflowing with them.

  • Marc Lynch: Three big lessons of the Qatar crisis.

  • Reza Marashi/Tyler Cullis: Trump Is Violating the Iran Deal

  • Josh Marshall: A Theory of the Case [07-08]:

    During the election I frequently referenced one of my favorite quotes and insights from the insight, which came from Slate's Will Saletan: "The GOP is a failed state. Donald Trump is its warlord." To me this clever turn of phrase captures at a quite deep level why Trump was able to take over the GOP. The key though is that once Trump secured the Republican nomination, once he became the Republican and Hillary Clinton the Democrat, all the forces of asymmetric partisan polarization kicked into place and ensured that essentially all self-identified Republicans and Republican-leaning independents fell into line and supported Trump. . . .

    Trump embodies what I've come to think of as a "dominationist" politics which profoundly resonates with the base of the GOP and has an expanding resonance across the party. Party leaders made the judgment that since they couldn't defeat Trump they should join him, hoping he would deliver on a policy agenda favoring money and using public policy to center risk on individuals. That hope has been entirely confirmed.

  • Jack O'Donnell: Trump put family first when I worked for him. It was disastrous.

  • Julianne Schultz: The world we have bequeathed to our children feels darker than the one I knew

  • Tim Shorrock: Kushner and Bannon Team Up to Privatize the War in Afghanistan: Also Erik Prince and Stephen Feinberg, who stand to make most of the money in the deal.

  • Tierney Sneed: Insurers Torch New Cruz Provision in TrumpCare: 'Simply Unworkable': The Cruz amendment that was supposed to save McConnell's Obamacare repeal/replace bill would allow insurance companies to offer lower-priced plans that don't meet minimal federal guidelines for health insurance. Of course, what makes such plans cheaper is that they don't adequately insure the people who buy them.

  • Timothy Snyder: Trump is ushering in a dark new conservatism: A historian stuck in Eastern Europe's "Bloodlands" between Hitler and Stalin tries to drive a wedge between conservatives and Trump:

    In his committed mendacity, his nostalgia for the 1930s, and his acceptance of support from a foreign enemy of the United States, a Republican president has closed the door on conservatism and opened the way to a darker form of politics: a new right to replace an old one.

    Conservatives were skeptical guardians of truth. . . .

    The contest between conservatives and the radical right has a history that is worth remembering. Conservatives qualified the Enlightenment of the 18th century by characterizing traditions as the deepest kind of fact. Fascists, by contrast, renounced the Enlightenment and offered willful fictions as the basis for a new form of politics. The mendacity-industrial complex of the Trump administration makes conservatism impossible, and opens the floodgates to the sort of drastic change that conservatives opposed.

    Pace Snyder, I'm not inclined to equate Trump with Hitler, but I'm also unwilling to credit "conservatives" with the moral or intellectual conscience or coherence to oppose either. The one constant in the whole history of conservatism is the belief that some people should rule over others, and more often than not they're willing to discard any principles they may previously have found convenient to accomplish their goal. You see that in how willingly pretty much the whole right, and not just in Germany and Italy, admired Hitler and Mussolini. Trump, too, captured the right by offering the one thing it most wished for: victory. But there is a difference: Hitler had his own agenda, one rooted in the smoldering resentments of the Great War and the collapse of Germany's Empire. Trump's notion of America the Great may not be much different, but his ideas and plans are strictly derivative, a parroted, almost cartoonish distillation of recent conservative propaganda -- a bundle of clichés and incoherent rage, selected purely because that's what seems to work. No doubt some Trump supporters, especially among the "alt-right" white nationalists, can dress this up darkly. One thing we can be sure of is that we won't be saved by conservatives.

  • Jeff Stein: The Kodiak Kickback: the quiet payoff for an Alaska senator in the Senate health bill: Looks like the fix is in for "moderate" Alaska senator Lisa Murkowski:

    Buried in Senate Republicans' new health care bill is a provision to throw about $1 billion at states where premiums run 75 percent higher than the national average.

    Curiously, there's just one state that meets this seemingly arbitrary designation: Alaska. . . .

    Republicans' health care bill will cost Alaska Medicaid recipients about $3 billion. In exchange, they're trying to buy off Murkowski with far less in funding for the Obamacare exchanges. We'll know soon if it worked.

  • Jonathan Swan: Scoop: Bannon pushes tax hike for wealthy: Technically, Bannon fills the same role as Karl Rove, but I've never seen anyone refer to him as "Trump's Brain," even though Trump clearly needs one. Rove was a political strategist in the conventional sense, a role that became more prominent under Bush than under Clinton or Obama because it was clearer that Bush needed one. So does Trump, but whereas Rove had a pretty good sense of public opinion even if only to manipulate it, Bannon seems to pull his ideas straight out of his arse. Besides, Trump's subcontracted every policy issue to his straight conservative fellow travelers, leaving Bannon isolated. So that Bannon wants something doesn't clearly mean a thing. Still, higher taxes on the superrich would be a popular (and for that matter populist) move, but don't stand a chance in a Republican Congress almost exclusively dedicated to the opposite. Besides, as this piece makes clear, Trump has others -- Gary Cohn and Steven Mnuchin are prominent names here -- pulling in the other direction. Biggest non-surprise in the article: "They're becoming far less wedded to revenue neutrality."

  • Matt Taibbi: Russiagate and the Magnitsky Affair, Linked Again: Much interesting background on the Magnitsky thing, which goes a long way to explaining why Putin remains so suspicious and ominous even if you reject the neocons' "new cold war" aspirations. I personally think the Trump Jr. meeting/emails are "no big deal" but also suspect that the Trumps would love to get in on Putin's corruption scams.

  • Jonathan Taplin: Can the Tech Giants Be Stopped? WSJ story, but you can read more of it in the link I provided. E.g.:

    The precipitous decline in revenue for content creators has nothing to do with changing consumer preferences for their content. People are not reading less news, listening to less music, reading fewer books or watching fewer movies and TV shows. The massive growth in revenue for the digital monopolies has resulted in the massive loss of revenue for the creators of content. The two are inextricably linked.

    The numbers cited for internet ad revenue are much larger than I expected, and seem to be almost exclusively concentrated in a handful of companies. Meanwhile, we need a new and different model, both for content creation and for internet services. What we have now is little more than a siphon for draining our money and concentrating it in the hands of a few vultures. I suppose WSJ thinks they're fighting this with their paywall, but they're just adding to the problem.

  • Kenneth P Vogel/Rachel Shorey: Trump's Re-Election Campaign Doubles Its spending on Legal Fees: So does this mean the campaign is at this stage mostly a slush fund to defray Trump's legal costs? Too bad Clinton couldn't run in 2000 when he needed something like to handle that sordid impeachment affair. As it was, he had to go bankrupt, then recoup his losses making post-presidential speeches.

  • Melissa Batchelor Warnke: Democrats are doubling down on the same vanilla centrism that helped give us President Trump.

  • Matthew Yglesias: The most important stories of the week, explained: Senate Republicans released a new health bill; Donald Trump Jr. has a problem; Christopher Wray is set to be the next FBI director; the CBO scored Trump's budget. Yglesias previously covered the same stories in greater depth: The revised health bill cuts taxes less without doing anything to boost coverage; I don't believe Donald Trump Jr., and neither should you; and CBO: Trump plan won't balance the budget even with his fake revenue-neutral tax reform.

  • Poddy looks into the Kristol Ball of Counterfactuals [No More Mister Nice Blog]: Attempts to counter an op-ed from John Podhoretz (link in article) called "Hillary's White House would be no different from Trump's," which argues:

    Trump hasn't done anything in office, other than nominating a Supreme Court justice and sending a raid to Syria, and Clinton wouldn't have been able to do anything either, with both Houses of Congress run by Republicans. Of course she would be more boring than Trump, since she is evil but not a sower of chaos, but we wouldn't know what we were missing. The Clinton family melodrama would resemble that of the Trumps in its ethical compromises, with Clinton Foundation donors hovering around the White House, which is identical to President Trump spending every weekend hovering around the golfers and hotel guests filling his personal coffers.

    Podhoretz has one valid point here: that Clinton was going to have a hard time separating herself and her administration from the taint of corruption surrounding the Clinton Foundation. Nor can we really credit much her promises to do so, given how Trump has found it impossible to fulfill his own promises to isolate himself from his business interests. Even so, with Clinton the thicket of corruption complaints would be mostly laughable, blown up by the hysterical "right-wing noise machine," whereas Trump's numerous conflicts of interest alrealdy seem to try the patience of mainstream journalists who'd rather play "gotcha" with Russia. As for everything else, what Trump has actually managed to do -- even discounting things that Clinton might also have done, like escalating the wars in Syria and Afghanistan -- has actually been pretty astonishing. Trump has signed dozens of executive orders reversing hard-won gains from Obama. He's signalled that the US government won't be enforcing its civil rights laws anymore. He's reversed some key openness protections for the Internet. He's launched a monstrous commission on "voting fraud" that's already having the effect of reducing voter registration. He's raising money for a "re-election campaign" four years off, and using that money to pay his legal bills. His Supreme Court pick is already paying dividends for the extreme right. He may not have a lot of legislative accomplishments yet, but he's perilously close on a measure to repeal Obamacare that will cost more than 20 million Americans their health insurance, while making health care more expensive and less accessible for pretty much everyone. That measure would be a tax bonanza for the very rich, and Republicans are working on more of those.

    The article also posits that a Clinton win would also have tipped the Senate to the Democrats. Perhaps, but I'd shift the focus a bit: a Democratic win in the Senate (and even more so one in the House) would have tipped the presidential election to Clinton. Perhaps she should have run on that, instead of trying to appeal to suposedly moderate suburban Republicans to split their ballots and let Clinton save us from that ogre Trump. Turns out Republicans are too shameless to care -- anything to get their tax breaks and patronage favors and to grind workers and their spouses and children to dust.

    Still, one lesson Democrats should draw is to never again nominate anyone so easily viewed as compromised and corrupt.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Daily Log

Looked through my Twitter notifications today for the first time in many weeks. Appreciate the occasional like and/or retweets (mostly from people I recognize), and a couple new followers (272 now), but especially:

nathan @dustybooks - Jul 6
@tomhull747 just fyi I know it's a thankless task but I really enjoy your Weekend Roundup and would miss it (though I'd totally understand)

Finished jazz-pop database file. Now what? Options: vocal-00 (484 artists), jazz-00s (2248). I did jazz-latin (147) in one day, jazz-pop (249) in two days. I figure that means 3-4 days for the vocalists, 15-20 days for the rest. Some while back I predicted it would take until mid-August to finish the database pass. I've only been getting 3-5 days per week, so now that looks optimistic.

   Mar 2001